Best Amp On The Planet?

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I should actually say: “Best REAL Amp On the Planet” because I am still enjoying the tones that come from my Axe FX 2 XL. But let me tell you that the Bludo Drive amplifier (this is the 70s voicing with optional FET channel) has been in my peripheral vision ever since my pal PF got one a few years back. The Bludo really came into focus for me a couple of weeks ago when PF and I had a few “Lugtreads” and proceeded to audition a few special guitars thru his Bludo.

A few years back...

A few years back…

Traditionally, when I start “the hunt”, everything becomes tunnel vision towards the new piece of sonic glory – and this time was no exception! I was fortunate enough thru a happy coincidence and the positive energies of some guy named Todd and some guy named Brandon, to acquire my Bludo Drive amplifier and Loopalator almost immediately! Good karma! Last night, my pal PF jumped in his Prius and headed for the Rancho (more good karma – thank you PF!) – mainly so he could show me the “ins and outs” of both the amp and the Loopalator.

Now these amps already have a huge reputation – you’ll see Santana with a couple, Larry Carleton loves his… there’s a long list. The Bludo Drive amps apparently were inspired by those “D” amps – made by the eccentric and brilliant Howard Somebody… or was it Alexander? I actually played a 100 watt “D” and wasn’t smitten – but, to be fair, I didn’t spend more than a few minutes with it. Back to the Bludo… this amp is like no amp I have ever heard – and I have owned 100s! Even when heavily over-driven, there is a depth of tone, complexity, and a big sound that you don’t hear in other amps. Most amps flatten out and become less-dimensional, smaller, as you increase the amount of distortion – not so with the Bludo. The cleans are also spectacular and very big, with no tendency to be “limited”. The FET channel adds an FET pre-amp and it makes the tone a bit “tougher”, brighter, and more focussed. A nice option. When I got the amp, I immediately flipped the 1/2 power switch to 50 watts, and all my auditions were done at 1/2 power. The 100 watt setting is obviously a tad “bigger”. The Master Volume works exceedingly well too – and I would have no problem using this amp in a small pub. The Loopalator is an impedance matching device that has a 12AX7 tube in it. I makes the amp sound ever so slightly fuller, and the effects loop is killer, I have never heard my delay pedal sound so good. Now I know why I don’t like the sound of my delay on my pedal board “in front” of the amp! This Bludo Drive amp is completely in a class of it’s own… best amp ever? Quite possibly!

So I guess there will be some amps for sale! maybe I’ll keep my Black Face Princeton Reverb, my Divided By 13 LDW (for Marshally tones), my Tex EF 86, and, of course, my custom Funk Farm “Hughbie” amp… hey, if you had a model of your own, you’d keep it too!

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The Fractal Audio Axe FX 2 XL… the end of amps?

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!

That Infamous Fractal Axe FX2 XL box!

 

When the man in the brown shorts arrived at my home on Wednesday – two days after I ordered the Fractal Axe FX 2 XL direct from the manufacturer – I was excited and somewhat expectant. There are lots of guitar players whom we all respect – with VERY good ears – who have embraced this particular box and moth balled their “real” amplifiers. This is one reason that I pulled the trigger on the Axe FX.

A second reason is that I have become increasingly frustrated with my “sound” in our band – a rock 3 piece that covers a lot of bases – everything from AC/DC to Stray Cats to ZZ Top to Stones to Elvis to the Hip… etc. I have close to a dozen amps, but finding the right volume, the right tone, the right saturation – especially with this wide range of musical material – well, I looked at my wall of amps and said: “this is not working!”.

I had heard so many positive things about the Axe FX 2 XL, not only in print from the pros, but from lots of great local players (thanks A.D.) – it’s naturalness, it’s response and feel – exactly like the tube amps and cabs and effects it emulates – and the pure and rarified quality of sound – that I decided to “bite the bullet” and get one.

Not being used to a digital box like this, the supposed “user friendliness” was lost on me. But after struggling for a few days, I was able to use the Axe FX in rehearsal today. I would have loved to have an amp and cab to play it through – you use a linear SS power amp and a flat response speaker cab – so that you don’t colour the models coming out of the Axe FX – but they are hard to get due to the demand. The Atomic CLR Powered Wedge Monitor is my proposed weapon of choice – if I can ever get one! So anyway, for our rehearsal, I went straight into the P.A.

I was going to just try the Axe FX for a couple of songs, but I ended up using it for the whole rehearsal!

Here are some observations:

  1. The type of guitar becomes even more important than with a conventional rig. I had thought that it might be less of a factor, but these “amps” sound MORE like the pure article and so the sound of, say, a Strat through a model of a perfect Plexi and a 4 X 12 just sounds “right”… very much like the “Jimi” thing. Maybe “not so much” with a Gretsch Hollowbody through the Plexi!
  2. Although I had my pedal board in front of the Axe FX adding, say, a Plexi pedal just sort of took away from the tone – whereas a clean boost seemed to add a nice grit and a little more volume to the sound – pushing the “amp” harder.
  3. Certain presets gave me more articulation and a better depth of tone with certain guitars, one that I haven’t often previously experienced with my real rig. For example, my Gretsch Phoenix hollowbody with Filtertrons had a certain complexity that was amazing… not less distortion or funky artifacts… just a certain ability to make the nuance of the selected amp/cab/effects very audible. I could hear ”more” in the sound. Thus, it just “felt” right and made me play better!
  4. I felt the same interaction that you feel when your rig is sounding just right and it acts as an inspiration, creating a feedback loop between the gear and the player – inspirational!
  5. As M.G., our bass player/singer said, “there is a sweet spot between the P.A. speakers where the stereo image sounds amazing!”
  6. Another observation… guitar players still like to play too loud!

I’m a total “newbie” in this new digital world, and I have no idea whether it’s the “end of amps” or not. I definitely have a lot of learning to do with respect to this new box, integrating it into my music, so there’s lots of work ahead. But it’s fun work. We’ve come a long way since those early Line 6 amps and Pods. The road ahead will be rich and fruitful, I’m sure.

The Plexi Hunt… A Ceriatone Surprise!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 - Custom Color 1969 'you know what' below!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 – Custom Color 1969 ‘you know what’ below!

Every so often I re-activate my search for a great Plexi. I’m one of those players who loves the sound that my favourite players get with vintage Marshalls, but I’ve always had trouble bonding with most (including the “knock-offs”). For one thing, I don’t play super loud, so that issue has to be dealt with – either with my Brake Lite attenuator or maybe even with a Master Volume on the amp itself, when available. Also, I find that there are so many variations on this Plexi theme, many of which don’t sound right to me or fit with my band – or perhaps I admire certain amps but just can’t see myself using them for my own sound. One thing I have come to pretty much accept these days is that: “bigger bottles equal bigger tone”! So even though I play with some degree of authority (a little loud!), my amp is often running at only “3” on the Volume knob… but, still, I am currently using more powerful amps. Because I have a 3 piece band, there’s always room for a fuller sound. The last excursion into Plexi territory for me was a Roccaforte with 2 – 6V6s and a Plexi tone (they said) – and I am in no way running down the amp – but it just wasn’t “me” and it was quickly sold. So fast forward to last week, and I begrudgingly took a trade – this Ceriatone Yeti 50 head – something I had never heard of. I was even more skeptical when I heard that the amps were made (or sold in kit form) in Malaysia – not exactly the boutique amp center of the universe. Anyway, suffice it to say that this amp is astounding! I LOVE IT!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 "gut" shot

Ceriatone Yeti 50 “gut” shot

So here’s the “skinny”… This amp is part of the HRP Series – meaning Hot Rodded Plexi… and they have many of the “Jose” mods – Jose being a famous amp tech who modded amps in the 80s for even more famous clients. The “Era” switch has a Plexi mode, an 80s mode, and a “Modern” mode. I pretty much stick to the Plexi mode – the others being a little over the top for my style. But even so, this amplifier is one versatile tone machine! There are 3 volumes at different stages of the circuit – and for a “one knob” guy like me, they are still very intuitive and easy to use. Gain 1 at the first stage, Gain 2 comes after (duh!), and then there’s a Master Volume – easy peasy! There are 2 Bright switches – one at Gain 1 and the other at Gain 2 – and they add lots of different tones – each switch having bright/off/bright with a touch more gain… and because they are at different gain stages, they affect the tone quite differently, and add to the versatility of the amp. The Resonance control adds a low end “thump” that I just love! This amp is certainly more flexible than my real ’69 Plexi… it’s a keeper! Talking tubes with my pal and bandmate Mark G., I just had to open up the amp to see what the heck the power tubes were – KT77s – hmmm. These are a JJ re-issue of a rare 50s tube that is said to be a great alternative to an EL34… more headroom, better balance, less compression, and a little cleaner. Nice!

Ceriatone Yeti 50 Trannies

Ceriatone Yeti 50 Trannies

I am currently running the Ceriatone with one of my 2 PRS open back 4 x 10 greenback cabs. As a footnote, here’s a little anecdote about Ceriatone owner Nik Azam. He’s a bit of a legend for his great customer service, and when I got the amp (used), the jewel light was burned out, but the seller had graciously supplied a replacement. Well this replacement also had a small resistor included, and not being a tech head, I had no idea what to do with it. So I emailed Nik, in Malaysia (!), and within 2 minutes I had an email back (results may vary) instructing me in simple terms how to solder in the new jewel light (the resistor being a new feature to extend the bulb life). Good on ya, Nik! I’ve dealt with other boutique amp manufacturers – one of the feline variety – who needed their cages rattled numerous times to just get a pulse… so there ya go, a Ceriatone surprise that’ll be front and center on my next gig!

 

 

 

The ’63 Blonde Bassman … the “Setzer” Amp

 

Famed 1963 6G6B Fender Bassman amp

Famed 1963 6G6B Fender Bassman amp

Being a huge Brian Setzer fan, I have always been interested in the early 60s Blonde Bassman with the solid state rectifier – the 6G6B circuit – the one that Brian Setzer has always favoured. Apparently, the 6G6A circuit had a few bugs, and it is the “B” circuit that fixes all that. I really didn’t expect to own one of these great amps for a while, but it’s certainly been on my radar. The fact that Mr. Setzer has publicly stated that these are his favourite amps, aided by the fact that “his people” buy as many as they can get their hands on, has driven prices up. So I had little hope… Anyway, the other day, one of these amps came up on ebay, and it was located only an hour drive from me! I put in a low bid (the ask was 4k!). Needless to say, I was successful (thanks, Gord!), and in a couple of hours from auction end, I had the the new (to me)amp home!

What I almost always do with old Fender amps, is to take them apart, grab my nylon brush, some Armour All RIM CLEANER, a bucket of hot water, and scrub the Tolex and the grille cloth. The grille actually comes out really well, as it’s a tough synthetic material and it cleans up like new… most of the time, anyway. It’s great to do this on a sunny day so you can dry the cab and head box quickly – particularly the grille. You don’t want this stuff wet for too long. And be careful not to get the paper tube chart wet! Anyway, after an hour or two, my 6.5/10 condition Bassman was now 8/10!

So what’s the story with these amps? Well, you can see from the next pic that there’s a plug where the rectifier tube should be. The SS rectifier gives us a tighter, cleaner tone. I should add that the amp had already been gone thru (and re-capped) by the most excellent amp tech, Tim Dudley at Superfuzz Audio, so I was really pleased about this – added value and a promise of reliability.

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Plugging into the Bassman, I was struck by how HUGE the tone was… basically clean at 3-4… BUT HUGE SOUNDING. Of course, the closed back 2 X 12 with a pair of Weber speakers (at 4 ohms) didn’t hurt. Now something I found out was that the “Bass Instrument” channel is basically different in that it has an extra stage of gain, and that some guitar players (yes, this is not considered a bass amp by today’s standards) prefer that channel for it’s lower volume (dunno why it’s quieter, but it is), slightly mushier, rich (cholesterol laden) tone. The “Normal” channel is the classic Bassman sound – nice and tight and chimey and on the clean side – until you get over 5 on the dial… and LOUD (I use an attenuator to knock it down just a tad – maybe 4-8 dB). Another known fact about these amps is that the Treble and Presence controls are very interactive. I found that moving the Treble control from 6-7 changed the whole character of the amp… very useful – and really a huge addition to the versatility of this bad boy!

You can actually get these amps to scream as well… a very convincing AC/DC sound is easily do-able. I’m mighty impressed and I keep saying “best amp I own” with each new acquisition (I said that with my red 1969 Tremolo 50 Marshall – thanks, Nige!)… but, man, this time I MEAN IT!… this may be the best sounding amp I own!!!

Gut shot of the 63 Bassman

Gut shot of the 63 Bassman

 

 

 

 

 

Gutting and Re-Wiring a Vintage ES-345 Doesn’t Phase Me!

 

None More Red!

None More Red!

 

Gotta Be Red!

Gotta Be Red!

 

G.A.S. got me again, and I drove to Sudbury (3 hours each way, give or take) for this 1962 Gibson ES-345… a nice outing for me and the wife (who co-incidentally had a piece of her Mum’s furniture to pick up there… so it was “all good”).

The skinny – there’s a Bigsby repair, and a re-fret, but not much else touched. Even the pickups are still sealed! I just can’t live with Stereo or Varitone, so the first thing I normally do with these is rip out the Varitone and harness and put in a premium mono harness with great caps and pots. Better tone – plus a savings on the weight – this guitar now Varitone-less, weighs in at 8lbs 5oz. I actually bought a teeny weeny little circular saw for my Dremel Tool – my best bet at opening one pickup to flip the magnet, before gently re-soldering the cover back on. You may not know this, but most ES-345s have the pickups out-of-phase. It doesn’t affect the middle position when you’re using 2 amps in stereo, but it sure does if you use one amp! When I say “most” ES-345s have out-of-phase pickups, according to my 300 series guy, Charlie Gelber at OK Guitars, this was a bit “random” at the Gibson plant, and some ES-345s actually have in-phase pickups…

Well, low and behold! It’s a miracle! This ’62 has in-phase pickups! And it’s double good fortune, because these are sealed PAFs, and although I was prepared to molest one (delicately) in the name of TONE, I actually don’t have to.

Let me add that this guitar is a monster! The tone is full yet articulate.

The Bigsby works great – SO GREAT, that I wasn’t prepared to pull off the “Custom Made” plaque and use the pre-drilled stop tail holes (often another “standard practice” for me) to ditch the Bigsby and save another 1/2 lb or so. The neck is wide and a medium depth front to back, yet it has “shoulders” – and is therefore very comfortable to play.

All-in-all, I’m smitten (again).

Never messed with...!

Never messed with…!

 

The ’59 Gibson ES-345 Mod… Deja Vu All Over Again

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This is my third kick at the 1959 Gibson ES-345 in only the last half dozen years. I had one that reputedly belonged to Duane Allman – and I had a letter from Greg Allman’s record producer to prove it… he even said he had the original case, totally beat to uselessness… and I could have it for the cost of shipping… which I never got around to… but that’s another story!

In the later part of 1959, the necks on these beasts changed from a whopper to a more sedate “60s slim rounded profile”, and the ES-345 that I have now (courtesy of my pal Stephen S.) has the smallest profile of the 3. That may be why I just had it re-fretted in jumbo 6100 frets. “I don’t usually comment on my own fret work” said luthier Russ L., “but this one came out particularly well!”. Indeed it did! And the lack of girth is not missed as a result.

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These guitars typically come from the factory both “stereo” and with a somewhat lame (at least by modern standards) Varitone with 6 different tonal positions. What I did here – and what I usually do with these guitars, at least eventually – is to take the guts out, lose the Varitone, save all the wiring, pots, caps, etc. intact (in case any future owner wants to restore the guitar to original) – and then to install a new, vintage inspired set of pots, caps, etc. This means the guitar is now in mono – thank goodness – and the Varitone is just a dummy switch (for cosmetics). What we also do here, is to save about a pound or so in weight – “light” being “right” here. This ES-345 is around 7.65lbs… and she rings like a bell – very woody!

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One of the other ES-345s I owned – a particularly nice guitar that did have the whopper neck – had a particularly nasty hole cut under (and beyond) the Varitone switch. I say this to illustrate my tendency towards “guitar rescue”. Doris Day would be proud! (you may not get the reference, that’s OK). Here are before and after pics of the rescue on that other guitar:

AFTER

AFTER

BEFORE

BEFORE

So back to this year’s project… the current ES-345 had replaced pickups – the PAFs were long gone – and for some reason, although this is an original “stop tail”, there was a long tailpiece on it for a while… leaving some extra holes in the top… these two issues got me this beauty at less than 1/2 it’s book value. She’s a “player’s guitar” now! I ended up putting in a real PAF that I had in my stash (although nickel covered and from 1962 rather than 1959), and it’s THE MAGIC in the bridge position – aggressive, woody, open… The Voodoo pickup that I threw in the neck position, while a killer pickup, turned out to be the wrong pickup for this guitar – a brighter, more open sounding pickup being, IMHO, more appropriate. I found a very cool aged gold covered Duncan Antiquity on ebay, and it’s the tone of the Antiquity that my friend Pete F. thought would work best – and I agree. We’ll see when it gets here…

Duncan Antiquity Pickup

Duncan Antiquity Pickup

I’m also a huge proponent of “paper-in-oil” caps or anything but those ceramic disk caps! The paper-in-oil caps have a much smoother taper and a transparent tone that has a broader, wider sweep – very useful – and we now have them in this 345!!!

I’m really pleased with the changes in this vintage 345 so far… there’s a total 10/10 tone from the bridge pickup (and I can see the possibilities for the neck pickup), uber playability, lightweight ergonomics… tone that you’ll rarely find in a newer ES guitar – all good!!! I might even keep this one for a while!!!

ES-345 - Guts... Varitone, Pots, Caps, n Wire

ES-345 – Guts… Varitone, Pots, Caps, n Wire

 

 

Letters From The Tonal Edge – Two “Babes” Get A Makeover

My friend Pete and I just had two Gibson CC#3 Les Pauls made over by Historic Makeovers – in very different ways – here’s our email exchange, with a little Tele love thrown in (Pete traded me a “69” Masterbuilt Paisley Tele with a real ’68 neck that he had installed)…

Two Babes on a bench!

Two Babes on a bench!

Hey Hugh,  A quick review….

Plugged into the Medvick modded Keil.

Looks and finish…..perfect. Nothing much more to say than perfect. This is exactly what I wanted. And it’s got that greenish tinge in person.

Playability……like an old glove…superb !!!! Very similar neck to the Rigby burst but slightly larger…maybe more like the 56′ conversion in size but the carve is the R-B. The action is low and completely even with no buzzing anywhere. It’s so easy to play.

Definitely a big change to the original feel. Not that I didn’t like the original, I just prefer this.

Sound…. Here’s the best part….they don’t sound like Throbak’s. They don’t have that grainy-ness that I’ve heard before. These Throbak/richards pickups are complex. I definitely do not have a set like them. While the readings are 8.0 and 8.3, they sound lower output than that. They have a more low 7’s sort of vibe. And they have their own thing going on. Which is something I like when pickups have a definitive/original signature sound. Their low output allows for sweet chording. And for soloing, they are right on the edge with the Keil turned up to 12 o’clock. You can hear their microphonic nature which allows you to sustain just about any note but, they didn’t squeal. Really nice.

Here’s the rub…..after playing the LP for a while, I plugged in the Lonnie V….I had not plugged it in since getting it back. I was completely bowled over. Why did I ever sell that guitar before ?!?!?! Still has the Sheptone BK’s in it.

Then I plugged the historic Explorer…..I was maybe even MORE knocked out.

So those pickups may not last long in there. I’ll use it (along with the V) tonight and maybe think about alternatives.

Interesting to note the original pickups from the Babe have no markings at all on the bottom. But their propaganda on the Gibson site says they are custom buckers….

“Gibson Custom has accurately recorded the specs of the original PAF humbucking pickups on ‘The Babe,’ and used them to recreate a pair of Custom Buckers used on Collector’s Choice™ #3 1960 Les Paul ‘The Babe’ “.

“Made with Alnico III magnets and accurate numbers of turns of period-correct coil wire, these pickups meticulously recreate the specifications, look, and—most importantly—the tone of the original late-’59 PAF pickups, offering all the characteristic warmth, depth, edge and clarity of some of the greatest pickups ever created.”

Pete's Babe with Horseshoe Bigsby

Pete’s Babe with Horseshoe Bigsby

Here’s my response:

Hey Pete,

Thanks for the review… Here’s mine…

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I can’t put the Paisley Masterbuilt with the real ’68 neck down! The choice of 6100 frets was definitely the way to go! And Russ has created an uber playable neck! I was a little hesitant to put the Duncan Tapped ’53 in the bridge position of the Paisley, but it was definitely the right move! The 5.53k Abby wound pickup had a great Tele twang, but now I have the 6k and 9k bridge – which would sound stellar even with one sound – it’s the Shiznitz! Jeff Beck used that pickup on Guitar Shop – so there’s an endorsement!

The Abby neck pickup is clear and yet punchy, and it works well with the Tapped ’53 – plus it was in phase! Bonus! No work necessary at the pickup wires.

The RS kit with POI cap and great pots gives a nice gradual tone spectrum – a no brainer. Why do they use a crappy ceramic “on/off” sounding cap and a treble bleed cap originally in a very expensive Masterbuilt guitar? But I digress… This is supposed to be about CC#3 “The Babe”.

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As you can tell, due to my Tele interest, it’s been tough for me to get to the Historic Makeovers “Babe” RDS Les Paul.

Like your Babe, Pete, the neck on mine really has a silky playability. I did not have the neck carve altered, so it’s the original fatty neck carve – with shoulders – and I love it! – supposedly an accurate repro of the original – so they did make a few fatties for the late 50s Lesters!

The finish and aging are spot on – I’m still fresh from assessing my pal’s REAL ’59 Les Paul, and comparing the two, they have similar vibes. Nice to see an original “in the flesh”. It’s been a while!

I find the Custom Buckers that Gibson put in this Babe to be superb. Of course, I’d heard them prior to sending my guitar to HM, and they seem even more percussive and clear in the newly made over Babe. Like the “Beast” there’s something about the bridge pickup that will do Tele tones, and yet nasty and aggressive ZZish sounds are all there too. Great pickups!

I absolutely love the guitar – Kim and the boys at HM keep up-leveling their game – but you know that!

Since we’ve completely modded these guitars, I figured I’d add a 5 latch repro Caligirl brown case – with the lovely faded pink lining – and I’ll sell the 6 latch custom shop brown case with the hot pink lining!

I have a second Caligirl case for you, Pete, if you want to flip me your custom shop case?

Hugh's finished Babe

Hugh’s finished Babe

 

Detail 1

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 2

Detail 3

Detail 3

Detail 4

Detail 4

That’s all folks… a tale of 2 Babes!

 

 

 

The 1968 Fender Telecaster Un-wrapped.

Close up and personal ’68 Tele

 

Full view of the glorious ’68 Tele

I took a flyer on a 1968 maple necked Telecaster that was on ebay. It’s “all there” (including the original case) … nice vibe… pretty worn. Just a REAL relic in spades! There’s 50s-like neck wear on the nitro fingerboard. A very cool nicotine orange to yellow to white to blonde body. This was a somewhat unexpected purchase… I threw in a low $4500 offer and it was accepted! I received the guitar a couple of days ago, and I must say that this seller should have been a little more careful in his description. There were a few undisclosed issues. The neck pickup was wired out of phase and had a 2.5k DC resistance – indicating a potentially broken/shorted out pickup. The frets didn’t seem like the stated “original frets”…but that’s OK, the slightly larger than stock size wire and perfect condition just saved me a re-fret! I plugged in my “Bri approved” Weller WESD51 soldering station, reheated the neck pickup wires at the pickup… and low and behold, the pickup was fixed!

This guitar, despite my initial disappointment, turned out to be a great Tele! Plugged in, the 7.2k bridge pickup really rocks! Lots of metallic clang and twang, with plenty of output… just fabulous! A winner. The neck plays smoothly due to 45 years of love. The guitar weighs 7.3 lbs – nice and light. The 5.5k neck pickup sounds musical, but it doesn’t seem like the best match for the bridge pickup – a little weak. And it therefore doesn’t give us the best middle position sound either. I’m not opposed to reversible mods – so I took note of the this issue.

It’s interesting how after a while playing around with guitars you sometimes get an intuition about what changes might work, and I immediately thought of the Fralin wound Jim Weider “Big T” neck pickup. It’s got bigger magnets and a moderately low wind for a nice clear, but robust, punchy, and slightly dark tone (at least darker than all those other “tall” neck pickups like the Twisted Tele pickup that Fender makes). So the Big T went in the guitar and it’s “the magic”, the “Shiznitz”! I also replaced the severely corroded switch while I was at it. The ceramic .05mF disk cap was really “on / off”… no taper at all… so given the fact that I’d already done some (reversible) mods to the guitar, I threw in a paper and oil cap of the same value – one of those big, fat gold cylinders. I think they call it a “guitar cap” or something. Wow! Don’t let anyone tell you that all caps of the same value sound the same. The new cap had a very gradual tone roll off with numerous very musical tones built in – a whole rainbow of sounds!

So there you have it! I put ‘er all back together and I’ve been playing this great ‘ole Tele for the last day or so non-stop! Don’t let anyone tell you that great Fender guitars stopped in 1965 when Leo sold the company! This is one GREAT Tele! Compared to my favorite Tele (and I’ve compared my favorite, “keeper” to many others) – a lightweight knockoff Top Loader with a fatty neck – this ‘68 is at least it’s equal… maybe better. Mission accomplished.

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Voice… The RIGHT Guitar

OK, we’re into serious “guitar geek” territory here. But I am talking to the right people here… “singing to the choir” – as they say. Sometimes I forget that not everyone cares about this stuff! After years and years of listening to me go on and on about this stuff, my wife still got the following question wrong in a game of Trivial Pursuit: “The Les Paul is… (a) a Gibson guitar (b) a Fender guitar.” … so not everyone cares about this stuff!

Bashing out the tunes on a Blues gig

Being a gigging musician (when I can get a gig!), I have a chance to run different rigs all the time, and so I get a chance to hear instruments in a band context as well as in the music room. Obviously, different guitars inspire different playing styles as well as taking one into uncharted musical territory. At a recent “Les Paul Fest”, full of both vintage and modern guitars, I earmarked a certain newish Collector’s Choice “Beast” Les Paul for it’s superior tone (yup, it surprised me a bit that a modern Lester can go toe to toe with vintage wood), and I now own it. I have to say that this guitar is so solid in the mid-range (and clear) that rolling back the treble pickup a tad inspires the country boy in me – no need for a Tele! It is also, surprisingly, is also a fairly aggressive and higher output (for a PAF style set of pickups) guitar. I love it! It takes me where I need to go! It inspires a new voice!

The Beast – a new treat from Gibson

It’s interesting that for many years I used to play Strats and nothing but Strats… now I’m seen with my beloved Underwood Tele, a few Lesters, and my workhorse guitars – the DGTs. I won’t spend any more time on the DGT – I’ve done that in several previous posts, but it should suffice to say that the PRS DGT was NOT the intellectual or instinctive choice for me. But man, it sure scratches my itch!!!

I think it’s also worth saying that an integral part of finding your voice with a guitar is finding the amp that works with a particular model of guitar. For example, my Dr Z “Z Wreck” seems to be the perfect amp for a Telecaster… this is no surprise because the first Z Wrecks were built for Brad Paisley. If you are a Tele-meister, I highly recommend the Z Wreck.

Dakota Red Underwood T – as good as it gets!

Da ‘Most Inspiring’ Z Wreck Amplifier

Check out one of these Z Wrecks with your favourite Telecaster… the “Comfort” and “Speed” switch is very cool… it changes the plate voltage of the output tubes for either a stiffer, cleaner, louder tone or a slightly “browner”, richer, softer tone. No, I don’t sell these amps! And you can’t have mine! 🙂

I recently read something about how: “you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a guitar… and that’s almost the same thing!”. Find your voice or die trying! Life is good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Those Old Tele and Les Paul Bridge Pickup Tones Really Converge?

Nasty, nasty… Broadcaster bridge pickup

Just as nasty… Lester bridge pickup.

The other day I was watching a clip of Joe Walsh, and then I was struck by something he said: “A great old Tele bridge pickup will sound and feel quite close to a great old Les Paul bridge pickup!”. Right on, I thought! (hey, I’m a child of the 70s culture… I still say “right on”… but, fortunately, I no longer say: “solid”). Anyway, this is something that I myself have come around to over the years – a great old bridge PAF in a resonant piece of wood (that doesn’t weigh a ton!) will have single coil articulation and clarity… but with just enough “fur”. A great old Tele in the bridge position will have the same thing – the clarity you would expect, but with a nice microphonic bite, no harsh trebles, and a bit of fatness in the mids and low end.

As far as traditional guitars go right now, I use Les Pauls and Telecasters – and I think there’s no accident there. There is THE CONVERGENCE of these models. Look at the “Rev” – Lesters and Teles (or Esquires)… not a lot of Strat action there. My tone pal (and general all-round pal) “PF” agrees – it always seems to be the measure of a good Les Paul. Particularly in Gibson-land, the Les Paul sort of became something different from the 50s to the 70s and 80s… and not in a good way. A lot of the younger guys seek out the 70s Les Pauls – maybe due to nostalgia or something, but I wouldn’t seek one out. Oh sure, there are “happy accidents” where a great piece of wood came together with an unusually fussy Gibson factory worker, but generally, I believe the thread was lost (although it may have been recently found again).

’52 Les Paul Conversion with some Sweet PAFs

I guess that’s why we seek out “old wood”… and a killer pair of 50s or early 60s humbuckers… we’re not fooled! We know what a Les Paul CAN sound like! Above is my ’52 Gold Top. Converted and reset neck by Russ L. and then a very cool distressed finish by Kim at Historic Makeovers. Oh sure, it has had the mandatory “Gibson smile” (headstock break), but dang if it doesn’t sound a whole lot like my Underwood Broadcaster when I crank it up!

I should really say that this doesn’t mean that there’s no place for a good old Stratocaster… heck, I’ve had a few myself…