I Finally got my old Les Paul… Oh My! It’s a PRS!!!

Once again G.A.S. has gotten the better of me, and thanks to the “facilitator” extraordinaire: Brandon at Willcutt’s Guitars, it came in the form of a McCarty Burst DGT model… behold:

Brand Spankin’ new DGT in McCarty Burst

I’m a traditionalist by nature, but these dang DGTs have sort of “chosen me”, if you know what I mean. They are 90% of what I play in my 3 piece band, and for good reason. We cover everything from Stray Cats to Elvis to AC/DC to David Wilcox to ZZ Top to Stones to Black Crowes to country… and the versatility of the DGT with extraordinary tone can’t be denied. The 3/4 coil taps are super useful and, again, toneful! I use the whammy bar in some form or another on just about every song, and the DGT Trem just stays perfectly in tune… even after some sporadic dive bombing. Heck, I don’t even bother to lube the nut slots! So anyway, I have a couple of all “hog” DGT Standards that I use, but my hankering for the “‘Burst” of the DGT world led me to this spectacular McCarty Burst 10 top DGT.

Bee-you-tee-full and Toneful 1 pc mahogany back!

Notice the beautiful mahogany grain… PRS seems to get incredible, and incredibly resonant, wood! I saw a youtube clip of them randomly pulling neck blanks at the PRS factory – when they tapped them, the mahogany neck blanks rang like friggin’ marimbas!!! A pure musical note rang out! Now let me pull you aside here and say… “I am NOT a PRS guy!” by nature. Plus, I don’t work for the company or have a dealership! I’m not into “lawyer guitars” (apologies to any lawyers who may be reading this blog entry!:-) … as I said before, the DGT has sort of chosen me. I think that happens when you invest a lot of psychic energy in something… like being a student of the guitar, for example. I am playing and practicing a lot right now, and these guitars have come to the fore. I remember hearing the story about Stevie Ray that, when he saw the Strat that would become his #1, in a shop… he KNEW – without even touching it. Now, I do not put myself in the same company as Stevie (try working “Scuttle Buttin'” up to speed – I’m currently trying, me and my ol’ metronome – if you want to see where his technique was at!), but “as above, so below”.  But I digress… So maybe I’ve found my “‘Burst” with a PRS headstock?! I should also mention that I did buy one of the rare, maple necked DGTs (for sale on my site as of this writing), but even though it sounded great and played great, it was a little too “blingy” for me… JR calls it the Blingster!

The Blingster

Now before you start recommending an “intervention” for me, let me say that I still love Gibsons and Fenders… and Gretsches, for sure… and then there’s that old Eastpointe Reverend that I just got – and am re-visiting after inexplicably selling the last one I had (a great slide and jangly “Stones” geetar)… and obviously Gustavsson guitars… as well as those high end boo teek guitars like Suhr and Anderson and Grosh and Baker and McNaught and Underwood… and is there anything better than a good Telecaster??? A GOOD GUITAR IS A GOOD GUITAR! It just needs you to play it… here are a few from my past…

2005 The Herd Turning the Clock Back

The Herd from 2009

Notice the “un-tarted up” Gretsch Billy Bo in the second row… fated to become the “Blue Hugh Music” guitar after a makeover by Dave Connery of Connery’s Custom Paint!

 

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.

 

 

 

The Great PAF Pickup Debate

Here’s the culprit… a Gibson Humbucker (or 2)!

DISCLAIMER: Before we get too far down the “rabbit hole” when discussing the ins and outs of humbucking pickup tone, I would respectfully suggest, should your head start to spin when overburdened with all these bizillions of small details , that you set it all aside for a bit and learn how to play the guitar. The best tone isn’t worth #$@% if you can’t play. I might add that I am currently looking in the mirror as I type these words!!! Ultimately, it’s about THE MUSIC! …END OF DISCLAIMER!

OK … got that over with, now let’s talk about humbucking pickups. I have really been exploring the tones for a couple of years now. To get the ball rolling let me start by saying that it should be noted that certain sets of pickups mate well with certain guitars. For example, the PAFs that were in the “Stills” Les Paul when I got it – a set of ’61 (ish) short magnet PAFs sounded fundamentally different when I swapped them to another LP. Short magnet PAFs do tend to sound quite bright. I had some in my ’61 SG/Les Paul (they were original to the guitar). Now in the case of the SG, I tried a set of Sheptone Tributes. These are a bit darker sounding, and they sounded stellar in the SG – a guitar that is “bright” by design. Those Sheptones actually sounded better to me than the short magnet PAFs – go figure! They also sounded amazing in my 1994 McCarty. But the Sheptone Tributes really did not “turn my crank” in a single cut Les Paul. So there’s one thing… it very much depends on the marriage of guitar to pickups!

 

I recently installed a set of long magnet PAFs in my 2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster. Tone chef Pete F. and I noticed that these pickups had…  1. A percussive quality and…   2. And ability to “clean up” extremely well with a lighter attack. These qualities really weren’t as present in the other Gustavssons that we used for comparison. Those other two guitars had Peter Florance Voodoos in one and Duncan Seth Lovers in the other – both superb pickups in their own right. But definitely not “PAF” clones.

 

One of the advantages of modern boutique pickups is that you can get away from that typical range of PAF tones… plus, you can split the coils. We all remember the coil splits that have (to quote JR from The Sandbar, Canada) that “doink-doink” sound. Not so good. But my beloved DGT Standard has killer splits… pretty much like a Tele when the bridge pickup is split. I might add that I compared my DGT to my ’61 ES-335 with PAFs and the DGT sounded tonally very, very similar – but just louder and more gainy – kinda like the 335 on “11” or maybe “12”! Then I remembered that Paul Smith and David Grissom used Grissom’s beloved 1959 ES-335 as a benchmark when designing the pickups in the DGT. Makes sense – another piece of that puzzle!

 

I tend to agree with PF’s assessment of the pickups that he has evaluated in his post, but I’ll give some opinions… forgive the repetition…

Mike Turks – big and clear – best of both worlds. Neck and bridge are perfectly balanced. Neck pickup is warm, yet it “cuts” and is great for soloing!

Haussels – bright and clear. Almost single coil in character.

Throbaks – quite bright and often microphonic to the point of being a use-ability issue.

Voodoos – lots of heat and compression, I like ‘em. Nasty!

Burstbuckers – these are a moving target. They keep changing the formula. The “Bloomfield’ LP pickups are a case in point… amazing! I have BBs in my ’55 Wraptail LP Custom and I wouldn’t change them. Early BBs can sound overly thin, bright, ice-picky IMHO

Duncan Seth Lovers… great but bright… sometimes not the best in the bridge, but sometimes just dandy!

Duncan Antiquities – like a funky Seth Lover pickup!

Sheptone Blue Skies – balanced, lovely, great middle position tone

Duncan ‘59s – the clarity and balance of Alnico 5. A great buy on a budget. Can sound stellar in the right guitar.

Duncan JB – I love them… supposedly “hot”. With a 250k pot in the bridge position of a Fender … “yes!” Like a hot PAF.

PRS DGT – Like a hot PAF although the neck pickup is very traditional in output and tone. Great splits!

Duncan Bonamassa’s – Great vintage tone. A bit understated. No ice-pick. Very easy on the ears. Patterned after one of Joe’s favourite vintage sets.

 

I could go on and on with more pickups… but I think that’ll do for now!!! Time to practise (or maybe I’ll just have a nap!)

The Devil made me do it!… Chasing Tone on a Saturday Night

I love that Starwarsian phrase that my friend JL coined (either he coined it or he’s lying… again…kidding): “the sickness is strong with him”. Of course, we’re talking about the tendency for guitar players to chase tone with multiple aquisitions. I have friends like that! (yes you, JR!!!) Not me, of course. But I know people…

Last night I went to my long time (younger) pal’s CD release and he gets a killer, killer, tone. He’s not “one of us”… he’s had the same rig for a few years now (not unusual, my bandmate MB has played the same white Strat for 15 years now) – a recent red ES-335 dot neck (more on that later), and a 1966 Fender Tremolux Head through a 2 x 10 cab. I know. I sold him the Tremolux/cab. I also sold him a Dr. Z Brake Lite attenuator – but you’d swear he never uses it… the band was LOUD! But “GOOD LOUD!”. He’s a wonderful player, this I.R., and he’s honed in on a magical tone with this rig. I have to tell you that I felt superior last night, because, of the mostly older crowd, it seemed like all those over 60 had their fingers in their ears! Hey, if it’s too loud, you’re too old. Ha! I should tell you that the only time I actually saw a headstock broken before my eyes was from the stage (that I was sharing with our young IR), when he carelessly grabbed his beloved Gibson ES-335 off it’s stand… lost his grip… and the guitar fell forward and hit his pedalboard, breaking the headstock. Oh well, some rock stars claim that their guitars sound better after having had the headstock glued back on. Oh yes, he then did it again later down the road! X2. Same guitar… sounding 4X better maybe?

Anyway, last night, also playing in another town, was “not quite as young” PF. He’s also a killer player, but unlike IR, he changes gear like he changes his underwear (at least, I hope “like he changes his underwear”). I must confess that I fall into this second group. And although alot of what I do is for Blue Hugh Music, I do have my own multiple gear cravings. My store allows me to be an enabler, and I’ve been know to drive 4 or 5 hours round-trip on the spur of the moment to deliver a guitar – provided the universe is calling me to do so (don’t get your hopes up!) 🙂 I should tell you that since it seems like the appropriate place to randomly insert some guitar porn, I recently got back a very beloved and toneful instrument – the exquisite Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top. Not coincidentally, also owned by PF at one time. Behold:

2004 Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top

Gustavsson “up close and personal”.

I feel better already! 🙂

So back to Saturday night… I also made a stop at my friend RDs rancho – that was to deliver a particularly toneful brown 1962 Fender Super amp. While we were playing his exquisite Suhr “S” guitar – attractively finished in the traditional “early Campbell’s soup can” colour, RD mischieviously (as it turned out) said: “here, try this amp…” Now I always thought my Retro King sounded superior to any 18 watt Marshall clone, but last night, sweet mother of Robert Johnson, RDs 18 watt Marshall 1974x combo (if you must know, also with Mercury Magnetics transformers as a later upgrade) sounded like the music of the spheres… I MUST HAVE ONE! So here I am today, a pitiful sight, ordering my 3 Mercury transformers and scouting for a local Marshall 1974x that I can scoop up…    oh, woe is me! Only Nigel would understand this AMPLIFIER obsession!!! Time for more porn… this time “amp porn”… see you next time… and BEHOLD!…

1962 Fender brown Super amp with 2 x 10″ Jensen speakers

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.