Choose Your Weapon!

I’ve been through many, many guitars in my day… and many have been the coveted vintage instruments that are so treasured today. First thing, I should say that we are definitely in the midst of a Golden Age of instrument building! 80% of the higher end guitars are great – plus there are some absolute gems out there! We even have an advantage over the guitars from the 50s in that, these days, rather than just making guitars (like they did in the 50s), builders actually think about the design of what they are building and the effects on tone and playability. I believe that, while they did design guitars in the 50s and 60s, it was more of a “shoot from the hip” approach. I’m one who believes that the big advantage of the “good old days” was the proponderance of old growth, toneful wood stocks. I think we can take a different example – pickups to illustrate the point of “intention” in guitar building. In the early days, it was just a matter of winding a bunch of wire on a magnet. These days, we really think about what makes a great sounding pickup, plus there are many, many different flavours available. And even in the case of old pickups – say PAFs – there are lots of “duff” sounding examples (I know, I’ve owned some!), while there are some amazing sounding ones too! (my ’61 ES-335 has a killer set. But even in the case of pickups, it’s speculated that the materials were of much higher and purer quality. My pickup making pal, Mike Turk, says that he finds it much easier to make a great sounding pickup with old wire, whereas it’s a trickier (but very do-able) proposition with most new wire. The old wire just defaults to a great tone. Let’s take a picture break…I think I’d better throw in some guitar porn … so here’s a vintage treat for ya…

A pair of Gibson ES-355s from the early 60s.

Now in meandering ’round to my point, I can safely say that lots of new guitars have found their way into my Classic Rock band. I still have a few great vintage instruments, but most of what I play is from this century! For example, somehow, the Paul Reed Smith DGT “found me”. I feel like those guitars found me rather than the reverse. I’ve never been a huge PRS fan – and they have all come and gone – at least until the DGT! I have 3 and a 4th on the way! Great pickups that sound like over-wound PAFs, great (the best, actually, IMHO) coil taps (3/4 taps – 1-1/2 coils), 2 volumes for easy blending, super-smooth playing, a traditional trem that stays perfectly in tune for me, uber-resonant all mahogany or maple topped mahogany body, plus a comfy clubby medium rounded neck profile with big frets – what’s not to like!? Here are my 3:

3 Paul Reed Smith DGTs Relaxin’ – 2 Standards and a Maple Top Gold Top.

I also play a great 1 pickup Les Paul that was recently built for guitar man Jimmy Wallace. I have one other Les Paul… a black wrap-tail Custom (recent build) with humbuckers and a ’55 style “V” neck… lightweight at only 8.3lbs …add a couple of Underwood Teles and a Relic Strat (all my vintage Fender stuff is gone)… plus a 1960 one pickup single cutaway Melody Maker for slide… that’s about it… But I can’t really play the Strat after the DGTs… a traditional Strat trem just dosn’t cut the mustard after a DGT trem…

Oh yes, I do still have the Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird Billy Bo that is part of the banner on my site (beautifully designed by guitar player extraordinaire and artiste Pete Faragher)… the one that Mr. Dave Connery of Connery’s Custom Paint pinstriped… BTW that guitar has been modded to death… big stainless frets, TV Jones Filtertrons, added Bigsby,… and of course, the added paint. I love that guitar! 🙂

Fragment of a Billy Bo geetar

Leaving That Old Guitar Better Than You Found It… Paying It Forward!

Call me crazy, but there’s something invigorating about respectfully restoring those vintage instruments for the next generation! As I move through middle age, I finally realize that these wonderful vintage instruments will be around alot longer than all of us. It’s partly a tribute to future players and collectors to make sure that these instruments are left in better shape than we found them – at least, that’s my view. If you have taken a vintage Tele (this was long ago, I assume!) and routed it for a neck humbucker or a middle pickup (I know I have…), don’t feel disheartened. We didn’t know! That was the time! One of my first projects was to take a 1959 Gibson ES-345 that had been mercilessly hacked under the Varitone knob and to have it properly restored with a proper, matching, circle of wood grafted as invisibly as possible. Not inexpensive. But a joy to see it through (sometimes it’s as simple as finding the “right” vintage knobs or tuners or plastic for a guitar – so it’s not always a monumental task)! BTW, that was a GREAT 345… maybe THE best… I wish I still had her! Here are the before and after shots… thanks to Russ L. for the work… it might not look like a big change to you…

1959 ES-345 With Nasty Work

1959 Gibson ES-345 BEFORE…

1959 ES-345 mod after Russ' repair

1959 Gibson ES-345 AFTER…

The Varitone ring ended up concealing 80% of the damage… so even what you don’t see at least has a measure of CLASS to it!

Another cool thing I had been inspired to do concerned yet another ES guitar. I found an absolutely killer 1961 ES-335 that was perfect from the 2nd fret down… but the rest of it… broken headstock, plain black overlay glued over the face of the headstock with no logo or cutout to access the truss rod, non-original tuners… yuk! So I had a new neck made and relic-ed. We used the original Brazilian fingerboard, binding, and truss rod from the old neck! A brilliant job by Gord B.! Also a great, great, guitar!…

1961 ES-335 re-neck

1961 Gibson ES-335 re-neck… with the old neck in the foreground.

'61 ES-335 Headstock

’61 ES-335 Headstock – new construction but aged to look authentic and fit with the rest of the guitar.

There have been countless other “interventions” on my part!… piecing together a ’59 Fender Esquire from all the right parts, re-doing worn-through neck block inlays and binding on a 1964 ES-335 and then finding the right knobs and plastic, finding the “right” period correct neck for a 1965 Strat, poperly re-setting the neck on my ES-350 (it had been re-set slightly out of alignment), … Re-setting the neck, converting to humbuckers, re-finishing and aging a 1952 Gold Top Les Paul (currently in progress)…and finally (there are many other projects that I haven’t room to detail here)… fixing, as invisibly as humanly possible (thanks Gord!), the baby fingernail sized “bo-bo” on the back of my 2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster… behold…

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster "bo-bo"

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster “bo-bo” on the headstock back.

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster front view

Ahh!… now that’s better… the sunny side up pic of the glorious Gustavsson Bluesmaster.