Replica or “Lawsuit” Guitars

I suppose the hottest thing in the world of guitar forgeries (maybe that’s too criminal a word) are the Gibson Les Paul replicas. Jeeze, you can pay a ton of money for them – Max Les Pauls come to mind – and they seem to fill a niche that, for example, Gibson hasn’t been able to fill (although I might argue that they are getting closer – but will the 2 piece “lam” fingerboard terminate all that?).

Anyway, one might assume that the guitar companies “victimized” by such practices have the moral high ground, but I would argue that it’s all about following the money trail. Case in point: Slash’s main “Les Paul” in the early days was in fact a replica made by luthier Kris Derrig (it’s OK – he’s dead). Do you think the big “G” cobbled together a “cease and desist” order? … Sorry… Didn’t happen. Slash sold millions of guitars for them by being the poster boy for Les Pauls in a time when they weren’t enjoying alot of popularity! But if you’re a small builder, and you want to build a few “‘bursts”, you probably fear the cease and desist letter from the mighty “G”. Hey, the El Presidente at G is a LAWYER by trade. We all remember when G sued PRS for their single cut because we were all going to run out and buy PRS Singlecuts – thinking that they were really Les Pauls! Well, PRS did even have to stop building Singlecuts for a while – until they were vindicated. This lawsuit was NOT good for guitar players! But then, as I said, the boss at Gibson was a lawyer… and have you ever heard him play guitar? I have. Nuff said!!!

It’s interesting that at one point a judge ruled that it’s the headstock shape that determines the individuality of a guitar. That’s why companies can copy, say, a Fender Stratocaster down to the last detail – as long as the headstock is different! Good news for Suhr and Anderson.

There are rumours that many of the Gibson guitars built for Billy Gibbons were actually built by John Bolin (who we know does build many of Gibbons’ guitars) – even ones with Gibson logos. Would Gibson care? Don’t think so. It sells Gibson guitars. I believe that some of Billy’s Gretsch guitars have been built by Bolin (hey gang, the guitar that graces my website banner is a REAL Gretsch Billy Bo aka: Jupiter Thunderbird – just re-fretted, Bigsby added, Powertrons changed to FilterTrons by TV Jones and masterfully pinstriped by Dave Connery of Toronto’s Connery’s Custom Paint – the only guy I know who blasts Hendrix in the shop while he paints!) But I digress…

So if you’re a small builder building high quality replicas who do you fear more? … Blue Oyster Cult’s “Reaper” or the Cease and Desist Order? I’ve heard rumours, but I’ve never actually seen such an order. I remember a few years back when I got a magnificent Strat body that had been painted as an exact replica of Clapton’s Crash “Over The Rainbow” Strat. I put Fender parts on it and bought a superb Fender Custom Shop maple neck off ebay (for a lot of money!). It was a great axe! When I went to sell it on ebay, they pulled it off. Jeeze, this is a real Fender, I thought. There were rumours that Fender was scrutinizing ebay at that time. I put it back on and tried to explain my position by email. They kicked me off ebay for 2 weeks. Hey, WHO”S THE CLIENT, I thought? Me! I pay the ebay fee… I’m the client… who’s got the $$$??? Well, the Big “F” probably has more than I do! Nuff said

Finding A Guitar That Speaks To You!

Sometimes we forget that “you don’t choose a guitar, a guitar chooses you”. There are plenty of stories about great guitarists we all know simply seeing a guitar – not even touching it – and just knowing it’s THE ONE! But let’s be practical here… for mere mortals it may be a lesser epiphany, but you can still know.

Below is one I did bond with… 2005 Gustavsson Bluesmaster

I recently aquired a Les Paul Sunburst with my ideal flame top, THE neck profile… just a great weight… Anyway, I put in my favourite pickups… but the bloody thing doesn’t speak to me!!! The Les Paul that does, is a ’55 Wraptail Custom Reissue… and I don’t even LIKE black Les Paul Customs!!! But that guitar just has “something” – at least to me. I took it to a gig and just wasn’t able to put it down all night! What’s with that?

But basically, and this is “Professor H” speaking here: you can add up all the attributes and still … if it’s coming from “the mind”, it doesn’t guarantee that there will be a bonding taking place – as much as we would force the square peg into the round hole. Sometimes it just takes time to bond with a guitar, sometimes it’s instantaneous, sometimes we desparately want it to happen – but it never does!

I have had plenty of absolutely perfect guitars that didn’t work out. Maybe I’m just not THAT kind of player anymore (recently a 1956 Strat and a 1963 Strat). Who knows? But for whatever reason, there’s no connection!

So try as you will to bond with your latest aquisition – it’ll either happen or it won’t – and I don’t get the feeling that we have too much “say” in the matter!!!

Cheers to finding your Muse! Hugh H.


The One Pickup Esquire Can Work!

So I get this really great lightweight (6.4lbs of swamp ash goodness!), big necked beast of an Esquire off of one of the Forums, and it turns out that someone formerly had a neck pickup in there. In order to “restore” the guitar, apparently the solution was to simply remove the neck pickup and replace the Esquire pickguard. We all know that Teles and Esquires were all cut the same way – with potential for a neck pickup if you replace the pickguard…

Anyway, the guitar didn’t work because Esquires are just not wired the same way! Solution: I set about to find a useable wiring schematic for an Esquire. Seymour Duncan has a great resource, but there are lots of other ones on the web. Back in the early 50s, an Esquire was wired with an “always on” .047 micro farad cap in the 1st position (or sometimes 2 of them!), a working tone pot in position 2 with the same value cap and then a straight through “no cap, no tone pot load” in the back position of the switch.

I could discuss the merits of caps of different voltages and different types – ceramic disk vs paper in oil, for example… let’s just say that there is a difference (contrary to what some people will say) and you want an audio cap of a higher voltage – in my experience.

So, in wiring this Esquire, the main thing is to get the “always on” cap to be usable – rather than the bassy muffled tone of the older Esquires. I used a nice .047 paper in oil cap for the tone control setting – where we can control the amount of tone roll off – but for the “always on” position, I used a .0047 cap – note the extra zero! Using a .0033 cap is also popular, but the point is to get a lesser treble roll off – so it’ll be great for rhythm playing! The other thing… since you don’t have to remove the strings to swap caps, I simply left the control plate open and in seconds auditioned several different caps.

A few caps from my vintage stash!

There’s a diagram on the web that showed me how to wire this guitar so that the tone control was active in the back postion of the switch and the middle was the straight through pickup. This I like!


Esquire New Pickup Day

Esquire pickup day…

The magnificent Chad Underwood Esquire…

The back end of two fat necked siblings. Esquire/Broadcaster.

Had a Lollar Special in there…

Nice pickup with a nice blend of twang and fatness…


So I tried the Duncan Custom Shop BG-1400 It’s a stacked Humbucker … fairly high output… I was hopeful… the Rev uses them…

I thought it lacked liveliness and not enough highs… but then again that’s what I think about the pickups in the Billy Bo (I replaced them in mine with Filtertrons)

But I do LOVE Duncan’s Custom Tapped ’53 Tele set with a 9k/6k bridge pickup – Jeff Beck used ‘em on Guitar Shop – they’re in my Underwood Tele.

Anyway, back to the Esquire… I finally tried a Don Mare Model #0038 pickup(wound with the same guage wire as the oldest Broadcasters and lap steel pickups – a little thinner wire)… it specs at a whopping 12.5k DC resistance… I figured it would suffer in the highs and twang department… NOT SO… fat and twang! Quite nasty… LIVELY too!

That’s what stays in!!!

Historic Makeovers Les Paul Thoughts

Not sure how many of you are familiar with the superb work being done by Kim and his crew in Florida these days. Kim is a maniac (in a GOOD way!) and has a passion for his craft. What is his craft, you might say? Well, check out the Historic Makeovers site… that’ll tell ya! Basically, Kim and the boys will take your Historic Les Paul apart – taking the neck off, removing the fingerboard and truss rod, stripping the finish, etc. – then he’ll put it all back together with a Brazzy board, proper vintage truss rod (with no rubber sheath), hide glues, proper inlays, proper binding, top and neck re-carved to vintage spec, nitro finish, etc. and the best damn aging job you’ve ever seen!

I really think that HM are at the top of their game and that they are in fact “artists”. Kim just finished my pal Steve’s guitar… and it looks spot on “real”. How do they get the lacquer checking, wear, and patina to look so REAL??? It’s absolutely amazing. Take a look at Steve’s guitar…

I currently have my real ’56 Conversion at HM for an aged Gold Top finish… and it’s gonna kill!!!

“Light Is Right!” Really???

Here I was last night running around looking for my trusty “fish scale” – which I use to weigh  guitars – ironical considering that I’ve been stewing about writing a Blog entry about how the weight of an electric guitar affects the tone (I love it when a guitar seller says “8lbs on my bathroom scale” – you get it – and it’s 10 lbs!!!).

I used to be 100% in the “light is right” camp until I began to notice that sometimes a heavier instrument just sounds better. Case in point – I had a lovely 7.2lb Korina PRS with 3 X P90s for a while… I sold it…and, you know the story, I had to have another! Well, the next one was the same guitar exactly but it was 8.2lbs – a full pound heavier. And, my goodness, it sounded better than the lighter guitar! What’s with that? As Bill Collings, no stranger to guitar building – both acoustic and electric – says (I’m paraphrasing here): a really light guitar will have less of the fundamental, less middle, that can make a truely great guitar!

Now there are exceptions… for me, Teles with maple necks and ash bodies – the lighter the better. I currently can’t put down my 2 Underwood T style guitars… 6.9lbs for the Blackguard Tele and 6.4lbs for the Esquire… and they RING LIKE A BELL!

Welcome to the Blue Hugh Blog… and Mike Turk Limited Humbucking Pickups

G’Day and welcome to the Blue Hugh Music Blog… !!!

I’m going to be posting as frequently as I see fit, and today’s a good day to start!

As many of you know, I have been working with pickup guru and genius winder Mike Turk to create a set of PAF style “limited” pickups – limited because we intend to do a run of maximum 100 sets and minimum 50 sets. I am pleased to say that we are pretty much ready to go!

These new pickups will be based on Mike’s highly regarded “Killer ‘59s” that were originally sold through Mark’s Guitar Loft (…based on… but not the same – for one thing, the original Killer 59s used Alnico 5 magnets and Mike has gravitated towards Alnico 2 for this run). The nice thing is that Mike has had quite a few “mini-epiphanies” since those original Killer 59s – Mike’s got very good and fussy “ears”! I am delighted to say that I think he’s nailed it! Mike talks about the complexity of the PAF tone, and replicating that is a priority here. It’s interesting to me that the toughest job – getting the nuance right in the neck pickup (you need clarity and warmth WITHOUT losing the punch and articulation… plus the ability to solo on the neck pickup) – has been the first thing that’s come together for Mike. In this whole process, Mike’s done stuff like taken the wire and magnets from a 50s P90 and wound a perfect PAF with these materials – just so he knows he can do it!

In the last couple of days, armed with a nice R9, loaded with the Mike Turk Prototype Limited set, I’ve been A/B-ing the new pickups with all my other sets… REAL PAFs, Sheptones, Duncan Bonamassas, the newer Burstbuckers, Voodoos, Throbaks… and I am pleased to say that not only do these pickups sound as good as anything I’ve tried, they actually kick some of these aforementioned pickups to the curb. My pal, and a man with very good ears (and fingers), Mr. PF, has been instrumental in helping me assess these new “bad boys” (and you’ll be hearing about our Tonefests – often followed by a good and proper Vietnamese noodle bowl or perhaps the best Chinese BBQ pork in the City – in future Blogs – hey, you gotta eat sometime!).

Here are a couple of quotes from Mike regarding his research… a time in which he did a fair bit of “tail chasing”, he says… I thought I’d share them, because they say something about the man’s passion:

“I have always used a certain PAF magnet as a reference for strength when building my pickups. For example when I get to the magnet part of assembly I get out this PAF magnet and take measurements of it with my gauss meter and slip in different magnets to find one with the correct gauss level and adjust if necessary (usually, it is necessary)…”

“I have programmed the winder to wind in multiple steps to replicate the scatter and pattern of what I was doing when I was hand winding.”

I could go on, but I’ll let you decide if you just don’t think that they’re the best… the Blue Hugh Music Mike Turk Limited pickups will be sold un-aged and uncovered, in various black/creme bobbin configurations… $299 a set (SHIPPED) and if you don’t like ‘em, I’ll offer a FULL REFUND (INCLUDING SHIPPING BOTH WAYS) FOR 30 DAYS AFTER PURCHASE!

Hugh H.