A Tale of Two Wraptails or a Wraptail Tale

Two ’55 Series Gibson Les Paul Wraptail Customs… relaxin’

NO… don’t “adjust your set” … as they used to say… These are two eerily similar guitars from 2011. It all started when I purchased the “’55 Series Les Paul Custom Wraptail” from Wildwood guitars in 2011 (oh, thank God it’s not a 2012 with a 2 piece lam fingerboard!!! Well I have news for you… I have a LP from 2012 … CC#3 “The Babe”… and it KILLS!… there are no rules!…but I digress…). Well, this ’55 Wraptail guitar “has the magic”! It went back and forth between my pal Pete F. and I until, when the music stopped again, it had landed back with me.

’55 wraptails close up and personal

So, to pick up the thread, next thing I know, Pete has tracked down a second Wraptail at a music store in USA… it’s used… and it’s ostensibly the same DNA as the beast that I originally bought. Well, Pete was scooting off to his day job at the Juno Awards (yes, I do sometimes rub shoulders with the rich and famous – or in this case, not so rich and only moderately famous… but rich in spirit and famous amongst his peeps) ( … did I save that???), and since I owed Mr. F a large sum of money, I purchased the guitar for him, took delivery, and began my mad scientist experiments.

Back(s) In Black

You know, you can’t really isolate a single factor and say that’s why a guitar is magical. Some are and some aren’t. It may be somewhat in the ear of the beholder – it’s a tough thing to analyze. Anywho, getting the two geetars together, Pete’s is a bit heavier (8.7lbs vs 8.3lbs) and they both sounded 90% similar and 10% different – if that makes sense. The Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups just sound killer (another prejudice trashed!) – spec-ing out around 8.2k for the bridge pickup and around 7.55k for the neck (similar in both guitars). Initially, Pete’s guitar lacked a certain “immediacy” and “presence” that mine had. Well, I had taken the covers off my pickups – that not only gets the gold plated covers (gold covers=loss of tone=evil) out of the way, it also allows one to lower the screws in order to bring the slug coil closer to the strings and more even with the screw coil. This is a fairly strong modifier of the tone – at least on the subtle level that we are listening here. By the way, there is speculation amongst the Tone Police that the worst effect on a pickup’s tone can come from the gold plating on the covers… just sayin’. With permission, I removed the covers on Pete’s guitar and set up the pickups the same as mine – better. My wound strings seemed to have more twang and spank… “I know, I’ll put the same strings on Pete’s guitar as I have on mine!” Again, the two guitars moved closer together in tone… more spank in the low end from Pete’s guitar with the perky Cobalt strings. I should say that some of the subtle character difference between the two guitars did remain – Pete’s guitar had a tiny bit more sizzle in the high end and a little more response in the low end. My guitar had a tiny bit more in the mids and upper mids. But basically, these guitars are now 98.5% similar… or was that 97.9%… or 99.2%? We’ll have to check these two out at the next Tonefest!!!

Not exactly consecutive serial #s!





Les Paul Madness

Five years ago, I never would have predicted this… a Strat was the only geetar that found it’s way around my neck! Now I can hardly tolerate them! (OK, Strats are great guitars, classic guitars… but I’m going for a sense of the dramatic here!). What were you thinking, Leo!? The addictive and cool thing about these Lesters, is that there’s no “Les Paul sound”. They are all different. And that’s the magic! Right now I have a CC#3 “Babe” with a Bigsby… and then a ’55 series Wraptail all mahogany Custom with humbuckers… and a 1 pickup Jimmy Wallace Les Paul (oh, dang! Pete’s got that one now!). Anyway, for me, it’s the humbucker guitars that turn my crank, and I am just starting to feel shameless about “converting” older models to ‘buckers. At least I’m currently confined to “rescuing” guitars with “issues”… rather than assaulting “cherry” vintage instruments (but that could change!). There’s something about the old growth 50s wood that makes a great starting point for a killer guitar – although there are no rules – my ’55 wraptail is a couple of years old and it sounds as good as anything – new or old!

So the latest project (and I might add that by tomorrow, I will probably have a 2nd vintage project in the works) is a ’52 first year Les Paul that I got with a bad refin and a repaired headstock break (known as the “Gibson smile” due to the shape the break line most often takes) – a perfect candidate for a “Conversion”, methinks! Behold…

1952 Les Paul 8 months ago… in need of help!

The “Gibson Smile”!

Now you should understand that I am currently crazy enough that I’ll probably buy a few early 60s SGs – just for their glorious PAF pickups! I have 1 set left for one more LP… and after that… I’ll need more! But I digress. Anyway, the above pictured “piece of work” was beautifully converted by the luthier extraordinaire, Mr. Russ “Rusty” L. He kept the neck angle low enough when he reset the neck that the guitar just “has the magic” now – and rings like the proverbial “bell” that all guitar players speak of. Here’s a picture after frets, neck reset, new bridge and stop tailpiece, plus a route for “them” true toned vintage Gibson pickups!

The 1952 Les Paul begins it’s “transition”

I stripped the finish myself – great on the front, not so great on the back when I ran out of patience and energy! Another thing that’s cool about this 1952 Lester, is that it’s an “export” model from that year (’52s had NO serial #, by the way) – we find a “Made In The USA” stamp engraved in the wood on the back of the headstock… what we have here is a Canadian guitar, eh!!! Cool!

1952 Les Paul – It’s a Canadian guitar, eh?

So where are we “at” with this beast? Well, the most excellent Kim Lafleur at Historic Makeovers has taken our mongrel into his care for a complete restoration to a distressed “Gold Top” – probably very much like the guitar was when it was 20 years old. Kim has done work for the likes of Joe Bonamassa … as well mere mortals. Here’s a pic of one that Kim did for our pal Steve Rigby in Sunburst. Close up, it looks like the “real deal” – a 1959 Gibson Les Paul – if you don’t have $300,000, this one makes a great substitute. Even if you do have $300,000, this one STILL makes a great substitute! A great example of Gibson’s second golden age and HM’s great aging and finishing:

Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Makeover – dubbed “The Rigbyburst”

A closeup of The Rigbyburst’s superb aging and distressing.

My next project is to get an original Gold Top pre-1957. If it has the original finish and is from late 1953 up to 1956, then all I will need to do is route for humbuckers… and possibly do a re-fret… the neck angle and bridge will already be correct.  Donations gratefully accepted! 🙂

Sounds like a plan!!!



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

Whaaaa…??? Two Volume Controls… NOW I Get it!

G’Day, I believe my Blog readership is up to about 4!!!… and that really has me chuffed to keep on writing! First thing, I just have to post a pic of a sign I saw at a store in Parkdale (a Toronto neighbourhood) the other day…

“Milk, Eggs, Cereal, Guitars…” All the essentials!!!

OK, Now down to business… Last night my friend RD and I got together for a little Tone Fest and we turned our attention to the much heralded Paul Reed Smith DGT guitar. We had 3 in the room (two all mahogany Standards and a maple topped DGT), and I must say that – last night anyway – they seemed to kick all the other more traditional humbucker equipped guitars to the curb. If you haven’t tried a DGT (co-designed by David Grissom and Paul Smith), you owe it to yourself to do so. It’s fairly universally accepted that the coil splits on these great guitars are just the best you can get – no big volume drop and very cool Tele and Strat style tones. One of the things we noticed is that these great humbuckers have a whole range of tones that you can coax out simply by manipulating the 2 volumes and the tone. Lots of Gibson players do this – just by leaving the pickup selector in the middle and manipulating the volumes (my friend JL recently mentioned that Clapton used to leave the selector in the middle on his “Fool” SG, open everything up and then roll the tone on the neck pickup to “0” – then you get the articulation of the bridge pickup with the fat rolled off quality of the neck pickup – “woman tone”! … but I digress!) . We got some great “horn-like” sounds simply by manipulating the 2 Volumes!  And it certainly brings to light the fact that you don’t just run a pickup at “10” all the time if you’re trying to get musical sounds! RD is totally sold on “11”s on his DGT Standard – and he ain’t swapping them out for 10s anytime soon! (as many of us do). Comparing the two Standards, my DGT sounded a bit “zingier”, and RD’s was a bit “chunkier”… perhaps due to three factors… strings (I use 10s), pickup heights (RD’s treble pickup was lower), and guitar weight (RD’s was a pound heavier).  Also – and you only really notice it when the guitar is turned down – I took out the 2 treble bleed caps because I felt that they imparted a tinny, thin tonality. 2 minute job, big improvement IMHO.

So that’s the latest foray into the bottomless pit of guitar tone… please enjoy the “guitar-porn” featured below… and maybe I’ll be up to 5 readers by the time I’m ready for my next post!!!

Sea Foam Green PRS DGT Standard

Here’s the maple topped DGT Custom… a little more top end and a little more bottom end than the standard! This one’s for sale on my site!

“None More Black” PRS DGT

Here’s the original “None More Black”…

The Original “None More Black” ’55 Custom Wraptail LP




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.