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…

“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!