Guitars, basses and other noisemakers

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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I haven't played a guitar with a thick clear coat like this one in a long time, so it feels a little weird to me. When I have time to set it up properly it will probably feel better (why are they never set up right?), but the gloss is blinding.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
Nice. It's like an ES-330 but slightly smaller, right? Everybody should have one of those. I should, but I don't. I need to get one. Congrats.
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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It's like an ES-330 but slightly smaller, right?
Yes. The size is ideal, unless you're into really big guitars. It still looks big, for some reason, but it's only an inch wider than the Gibson Special at the widest spot.

I set it up yesterday and it's better now (to me, anyway), but for a cheap guitar (handcrafted in China!) it was actually pretty good right out of the box. It has things that comparably priced Gibsons don't have - like an inlaid headstock logo and felt under the strap buttons. Minor things, but you don't see them on the low-end Gibsons from Nashville.
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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Designing a 24-string Bass

The article asks the question, why build it? and answers: "The best response is: Why not?"

While that answer is very tally ho! and George Mallory-esque, it's not the real reason, of course.

The real reason is bass players are salty because they aren't allowed to play the guitar in their band(s), so they keep adding more strings to the bass in the desperate hope that doing so will finally cause girls to look at them when they're on stage.

Of course, as all of us who are not bass players know, it has the opposite effect. Adding superfluous strings to a bass just makes the girls go, "Eww!" and look away from the bass player even more.
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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These things are not what they seem, of course, since a cigar box or an oil can couldn't withstand the tension of the strings tuned to pitch (and even if they could withstand it for a minute or two, they'd be impossible to tune before they broke in half). So there's wood (or something stable) in there under those pickups and bridges, which just goes to show you that what an electric guitar body is made out of isn't that important.

"But this half inch thick roasted maple top really gives this Les Paul a distinctive snap!" Sure it does.

Don't get me wrong, I love a nice slab of mahogany under my pickups, but that's just aesthetics. It's mostly the pickups and amplifier you're hearing when you listen to an amplified electric guitar. If it weren't, a set of vintage PAF humbuckers wouldn't cost more than a whole brand new custom shop Les Paul.

I mean, wood doesn't not matter. Wood vs. non-wood, wood wins. Guys like Ned Steinberger tried to prove that it doesn't matter, but then he made a headless guitar with a wood body and it sounded better than his first graphite composite-bodied guitars so he kind of proved himself wrong (I had one of those original wood-body P-series Steinbergers that were built when Ned still ran the shop, and it was cool and I loved the neck, but eventually I sold it because I hated those god damned stock EMG (passive) pickups...and because the going prices at the time were twice what I paid for it).

So wood, yes. But the subtle differences in sound some people claim between different hardwoods...I'm not so sure about that. Sometimes people hear with their eyes.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
Some of the best sounding guitars were the Travis Bean aluminum neck-through-body guitars from the 70's. Garcia played one in the late 70's and arguably his best tone came during the guitar's tenure. That said, I do believe in the-old-wood-sounds-better argument. Guitars made before 1965 sound and feel better to me. It is widely understood to be a result of the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan in '64. Before that day guitars were rarer and less desired by the masses, after Sullivan '64 the entire world wanted to play electric guitar and the good wood vanished quickly. Almost every major builder switched to cheaper, more abundant wood in the late 60's.
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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My scientifical brain knows the wood doesn't matter much, but my heart and soul will always side with the old guitars and the wood they rode in on.

I heard years ago that Gibson still has (had?) some really old blanks that they will carve up for you if you want to pay the custom shop premium (and then probably another premium on top of that).

Though I think a lot of the desirability of that "old wood" comes from it being handled and used for decades, so I'm not sure a blank that has been sitting around in storage (or outside) for decades has the same magical properties.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
About Gibson having old-wood blanks left over, it's a theory that people mention often but has been widely debunked. Companies like Gibson/Fender, even in the golden years, were not in the business of letting any usable wood go to waste. If anything it is a myth bandied about by people with grossly over-priced custom shop guitars who don't want to be left holding the bag when they realize that these mass-produced guitars are not worth what they paid. They used to say that the first L.P. reissues beginning in '68 when they brought back the classic LP body shape were made with 1950's body blank left overs. A look at the construction proves this to be false. If they were left-over from the 50's then they would have to be routed the old way. They are not. (If anyone really cares about this I can show photos of what I'm talking about). In the 50's a body blank had the maple top glued on before any other production, so it was routed for electronic cavities in a certain way. On the '68 they cut and routed the body before the top was glued on, so it is routed in a different way. There wouldn't even be any mahogany blanks laying around the factory without the maple cap glued on. Nothing went to waste at the Gibson factory. Nothing was held onto for posterity, they used pieces as-needed. If enough wood was left for another guitar, it was turned into another guitar.

The famous Replica builder/Forger of 1950's Sunburst Les Pauls, Max Baranet, went to extreme lengths to obtain the old-growth Honduran Mahogany that was used by Gibson in the 50's, it was wood from trees that grew at the top of a hill, after mid '65 the only wood left in British Honduras (Belize) was the valley wood which had a lot more moisture due to water draining downhill, (the good, dry, uphill wood was extinct). He also sourced old-growth Brazilian rosewood for the fret board (also damn near extinct, all you can get today is stump wood -- see CITES Treaty) and he used horse-hide glue as Gibson did in the 50's, his copies routinely sell for $20-50k even when people know they are copies. I've owned two of these, and they were some of the best sounding/playing guitars I've ever touched, the closest thing you can get to a real '58-'60 sunburst.

Of course, I did have real 1959 pots/caps/and PAFs loaded in there, so who knows.
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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Nothing was held onto for posterity, they used pieces as-needed.
Well, that makes sense. I don't suppose they were sitting around in the lunchroom eating bacon sandwiches and chain smoking while they talked about the awesome, classic instruments they were building. "You know fellas, we ought to save some of this wood, it'll be very valuable in 50 years!" They were probably talking about their lawn mowers (or snow blowers), fishing poles and rifles.

So I guess I'll just have to stop having visions of some dusty stack of 60 year old mahogany slabs jammed into a sagging, rusty rack out in the far corner of the Nashville parking lot, where all the old office chairs are stacked up. ;)

It's too bad though, that would be pretty awesome. And I'll bet that someone, somewhere has a stack of wood like that squirreled away. Some crusty old woodworking hoarder in Ohio. And his family will probably burn them in the fireplace when he dies...
real 1959 pots/caps/and PAFs
I've never bought in to the idea that pots and caps hold any special magic (a.k.a. mojo), since electrical current is electrical current. A capacitor's tolerance will certainly fade over many years (they are the first thing you replace when you pick up any vintage audio gear). But all you'd have to do to match vintage faded specs is measure an old one, get the value, and stick in a new capacitor with that value and, viola!, you've replicated the circuit.

Though I'm sure there are a million people who know more than I do and own more expensive guitars than I do who would involuntarily spit out their brandy at such a preposterous idea.

I'm not saying that electronic components don't affect sound, they do (and sometimes they create the sound). But capacitors, specifically, are a weird component to hang something like specific sound on.

Pickups though, those are more difficult to replicate, what with the magnetics and the way the magnets interact with the specific wire over time and all that voodoo. But I think the good pickup builders have come pretty close. And I sure haven't owned any PAFs, but I have read that they weren't all winners...some sounded a lot better than others. You've owned some, you tell me. And there are those pickup manufacturing "mistakes" that created unique sounds. But it makes sense that they wouldn't all be great, considering the specs were so variable when they (hand) made those things.


I don't know how I got myself into a position arguing that old guitars weren't special when I think they are. Ha. Maybe I just think it isn't any one part, but the amalgamation of all those parts and all that playing over all that time that make them great. And we've talked about the smell. You can't beat the smell. ;)

I mean, the Doc Marten factory couldn't replicate these boots I've been wearing for 15 years (not continually, thank you). Though maybe a skilled boot forger could make a pair that looks similar. But the smell? Can't copy that.



Speaking of smell and old electrical components, have you heard the pedal that replicates an old oil drum reverb? It's pretty cool. I don't know if it sounds like a genuine old oil drum reverb, but then it isn't as toxic or dangerous as one of those, so it has that going for it.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
Those Brandy cork sniffers would have you shot while their $300k 'Burst remains safely ensconced in the old wall safe.

I'm dubious about the caps, those old Bumblebee paper in oil ones from the 50's are at a premium, probably because they are "correct" for certain big-money cork-sniffer guitars, but the pots I can vouch for. Those old Centerlabs 500k audio taper pots are very distinct from the later non audio taper pots. When you have them in a guitar you can hear a difference with every tiny little twist of the knob. Thats what Clapton did for his early "Woman Tone." When you see these guys playing vintage Gibsons they are always manipulating the knobs. Its because they do a lot more than simple attenuation. It's like the vintage Tube Screamer with the old pots and chip, when you dial the knobs slightly, the Tone changes sweetly and noticeably. Further, the pots add value to the pickup readings. A PAF reading 8.7 ohms measured at the jack (with vintage pots) would read significantly less measured wire to wire. Now, wether pup resistance measurements mean anything to tone is a whole new argument.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
The smell is the very first thing you go to when authenticating a vintage guitar. It's the one thing that even Max Baranet can't reproduce. Any day now the forgers will rectify this and find a way to fake that too.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
Well, that makes sense. I don't suppose they were sitting around in the lunchroom eating bacon sandwiches and chain smoking while they talked about the awesome, classic instruments they were building. "You know fellas, we ought to save some of this wood, it'll be very valuable in 50 years!" They were probably talking about their lawn mowers (or snow blowers), fishing poles and rifles.

So I guess I'll just have to stop having visions of some dusty stack of 60 year old mahogany slabs jammed into a sagging, rusty rack out in the far corner of the Nashville parking lot, where all the old office chairs are stacked up. ;)

It's too bad though, that would be pretty awesome. And I'll bet that someone, somewhere has a stack of wood like that squirreled away. Some crusty old woodworking hoarder in Ohio. And his family will probably burn them in the fireplace when he dies...
When they were building these guitars they were the least revered thing at the factory. That's why the classic Les Paul was completely discontinued in late 1960. It was considered a dog at the time. It wasn't until 1968 after players like Bloomfield/Richards/Clapton/Page made these guitars famous. So I'm sure nobody was thinking about anything like preserving the excellent wood for some future day when it would become valuable. They were craftsmen of a caliber that arguably has vanished, but they had no notion that what they were building would some day be revered to the extent that it has.

Also, the original Gibson factory was in Kalamazoo, not Nashville. The Heritage guitar company took over the old Gibson plant and they didn't find any magic wood slabs laying around.

I know guys who actually went and sought out old Gibson employees in hopes of finding old wood, construction secrets, maybe even the left over original Gibson Moderne that was supposedly made in 1958 but nobody has ever seen.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
Funny you mention Ohio, back in the day when guys first started searching yard sales, estate sales, anywhere there might be a 1950's Les Paul, they found a disproportionate number among the oldsters of Ohio, and Michigan (of course). These were just old used guitars then and it wouldn't be unusual to find them in various states of abuse, exposed to the elements and such. They were only worth a couple hundred dollars when new and now they were just used old instruments, never popular to begin with. Clapton used his as an ashtray and put his cigarettes out right on the maple.

 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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Those old Centerlabs 500k audio taper pots are very distinct from the later non audio taper pots. When you have them in a guitar you can hear a difference with every tiny little twist of the knob.
So I learned. The first 50s Junior that I owned had a scratchy pot and I took it to the repair guy at Pete's (I think it was called Pete's?) vintage guitar shop in the twin cities and told him to replace it. He looked at me like he wanted to knock me upside the head and said something along the lines of, "What are you, stupid? We don't replace those, we clean them." I had no idea. I was (and am) more of a turn-it-up-all-the-way-and-leave-it-there kind of artiste.

Two years later, in 1984, I bought a stock 1960 cherry DC Junior at Pete's, in the original cardboard "alligator" case, for $300. Those were the days.
the original Gibson factory was in Kalamazoo, not Nashville.
Yeah, in my fantasy they still have them though, so they'd be in Nashville. ;)
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
I should have sprinkled a few of those "smiley" emojis around my posts, I'm starting to sound like one of those insufferable guitar assholes with the Hugh Hefner pajamas and brandy snifter. The word artiste at the end of that paragraph was hilarious. :)
The best I ever did looking back was a 1968 black maple cap neck Strat I bought from Rudy's on 48th street for $600.00 in 1986. Those are upwards of $25k now. Now they call those Hendrix era Strats, the ones with the big headstock and maple neck, 1967 - 1971. They told me that mine had the nut flipped at some point and it may have been in Jimi's possession, but I didn't believe it then, and still don't, but who knows. It was just like the one on the cover of the Band of Gypsies album from Fillmore east.

The second best was when I traded two non-vintage Strats for a 1958 double cut LP TV junior, just like Johnny Thunders' and Keith Richards'. I want another 50's junior, preferably a TV, but being from the "cheap junior era" I just can't wrap my brain around paying $4-6k for one. :eek: Although, having had a few, I know they are really worth every penny.:agb:
 

mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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I know, those Junior prices are sad. They went down for a while after 2008, but now they seem to be right back up where they were before. The prices still seem almost reasonable though, when you consider that buying a brand new custom shop Junior would set you back almost as much as a vintage one.

By the way, I sold that $300 Junior for $700 five years later, in 1989. Ha ha ha. Idiot. I knew I was stealing it when I bought it for $300 and it really hurt me to part with it for $700, but there you go. Wasn't the first time (or the last) that I felt bad about letting a guitar go.

On your Strat, I think I mentioned somewhere else in this thread that I paid $600 (or more?) for an Olympic white '69 Strat back in '78 or '79, so $600 for a '68 in '86 seems like a pretty good deal.

What's funny to think about is that Strat was only 9 or 10 years old when I bought it, and I bought it as a "used guitar," not a "vintage" guitar. I bought it because I'd always wanted to try a Strat but I didn't want to pay full price for a new one. Ha. "Full price" was probably only $200 more, but I was 18 or 19 years old and living on my own, so $200 was a lot of money.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
50's juniors are some of the best sounding guitars ever built, and you don't really have to worry about bringing them out of the house. Even at $4-5k they still have a way of not letting you baby them. The best thing about Juniors (aside from the sound) is that to the untrained eye, they are too ugly to steal. They don't appear valuable. I think they are beautiful.

Try not to think about the money you could have if you had held on. I try to think of buying and selling guitars as Monopoly money transactions. As long as you buy what you love, do to the guitar what it likes having done to it, and sell it later for at least even money, you have reaped the dividends of joy. If you keep guitars long enough they have a nasty habit of getting stolen. It's happened to me twice. First two guitars, then five.

I'm looking to sell my '55 gold top because it's just too much money to have tied up in a "thing" that is so portable and fragile and can damage me financially if someone walks off with it or if it falls over and breaks. When I sell it I'm getting a Junior and a TV junior. One single cut, one double cut.

One of the non-vintage Strats I traded for my '58 TV Junior was an Olympic White '70 with maple neck. Those are fetching big bucks now too. If you had a '69 Olympic white Strat, you don't even want to know the ridiculous money they are going for lately. For the Hendrix era Strats, Olympic white is the most desirable followed by black. Maple cap neck is the most desired, followed by regular maple neck (skunk stripe) and then rosewood fretboard. Everything else is priced logically.

The best strat I ever owned was a black Clapton strat with the lace sensor pickups. I didn't even like those guitars, the lace sensors look silly to me, but I picked one up off the shelf at Rudy's one day and it was simply the best feeling/playing strat I ever touched. It was $700 (in 1996 or so) and I had to have it. It was everything a Fender is supposed to be. I could play better on that guitar.

It's funny how the 70's Fenders and Gibsons (even though they are decades older than the 50's guitars were when they became desirable "vintage" guitars) are still not selling for much. They made too many guitars. If you think about how many guitars and basses were made in the 60s/70s/80s, and you see how many tens of thousands of them are for sale on ebay/CL/etc. you wonder why there is ever any need to buy a new one or the need for retailers like Sam Ash or Guitar Center. There should be a moratorium on building guitars. There are more than enough existing to satisfy every human who ever wishes to play one.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
VEE.PNG


A guy came to buy one of my Max '59 replicas and was bragging about his collection. I didn't believe him until he showed up with this 1959 Flying Vee. I recommended a guitar tech and they've been doing business, it came in for service again today.
 

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
This is White African Limba (Korina) that is used for Explorers, Flying Vees, and Futuras from the 50s. They ran out of one-piece slabs big enough to make the Explorer by the time they reissued them in '67. I wanted to build some Vees and Explorers, so I had to find the right size slab. Couldn't find it anywhere for years, then I found a guy in Africa who had it. One day I will make the Explorers and Vees. Each slab yields one Explorer body and half of a VEE.

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This is my Max Baranet replica next to a real 1959 burst.

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My '70 Olympic white Strat.

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The most Strats I ever owned at the same time. All but two are gone now.

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mjp

The stone that the builder refused
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White African Limba (Korina) [...] I found a guy in Africa who had it.
How much did you pay for those slabs? They are impressive.

I didn't believe him until he showed up with this 1959 Flying Vee.
I always wonder what those guys on the floor at Gibson thought when they were making those guitars. The V and Explorer. They must have thought the bosses had gone off the deep end.

It's funny how the 70's Fenders and Gibsons [...] are still not selling for much.
Yeah, a '79 Les Paul can be had for what you'd pay for a new Les Paul, so they're very reasonable.

I watch every '79 Deluxe that comes up on eBay and a couple other sites, because I'm sure that one day I'll have a chance to buy back the guitar I used in my punk rock days. Ha ha. Actually I know I will never have that chance, but if I do see it, I'll be able to recognize it because of a distinctive crack and the two holes I drilled into the top below the tailpiece to mount a metal BOYS TOWN winged emblem.

Funny, I sold that guitar to a guy who used to come to Los Angeles in an RV and buy up all the guitars in the Recycler (that broke musicians were selling to pay the rent) and take them back to his store in Las Vegas, so I was surprised to see it show up a few months later in some house band on an MTV show. But one day she will be mine again! ;)

They made too many guitars. There should be a moratorium on building guitars. There are more than enough existing to satisfy every human who ever wishes to play one.
Isn't that the truth. I often wonder who is buying all the new guitars, but I suppose it's kids who don't even consider buying an old instrument.

Then again, maybe no one is buying them. I read some articles recently about the "collapse" of the electric guitar market, because the kids don't care anymore. If they don't (and I'm not sure that's true), it's because all their rock stars now are so bland and ordinary that they would hardly inspire a young kid to try to become a rock star. What's the point when they all look like they work at Starbucks or a bicycle shop or at H&R Block.




And just to prove that if you can remember it, the Internet can show it to you, here's the Boys Town emblem:

boystown.jpg
 
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