Howdy friendly guitar folks! This past weekend I set up shop at the 4-Amigos Guitar Show in Nashville, one of Nashville’s finest annual shows. Man, I gotta tell ya, I LOVE guitar shows! Let me tell ya why!
First, it is, of course a fantastic place to see holy-grail dream guitars, like this ’59 Burst:
Or, this real-deal ’57 Gold-Top!
As a matter of fact, there are ALWAYS more Les Paul’s that you can shake a stick at!
And acoustic players, there are always plenty of holy-grail acoustics too.
Man, I LOVE seeing the cool, the weird, the wonderful, and the unique guitars like these original 60’s clear Dan Armstrong’s.
Vintage not your cup of tea? Maybe you are looking for a custom builder to lovingly craft your dream guitar from the ground up. Look no further, as plenty of top-notch builders are always showing, like these fine friendly folks from Rock Road Custom Guitars.
Of course, there was some goofy guy there selling some really fantastic looking custom hand-wound guitar pickups and amps!
And, while I’m on the subject of me … I did promise myself that I would NOT be dragging any more guitars home from the show, well … you guessed it, I just couldn’t help myself.
Now, if like me the price on vintage gold-tops is a bit out of your price range, you can ALWAYS find something unique and unexpected at a guitar show that you CAN afford. Here’s the bad-girl that I just couldn’t say no to … oh, and she was just as cheap as she is trashy :-).
As I pen this blog, the entire eastern half of the nation is in an icy, snowy deepfreeze. Everywhere I look I see downed trees, and the news is full of the snow and ice-induced carnage of collapsed roofs and interstate pile-ups. Okay, so I think we all agree that this type of weather sort of sucks … but the question every GUITAR PLAYER should be asking themselves is this: How does this affect my guitar? Let’s talk about that! Hint, if you want to go straight to the “what to do” check-list, feel free to skip ahead to the end.
My first lesson in how sub-freezing temps affect a guitars finish came back in about 1987. I was playing on the road with then country super-star Tom T. Hall. It was one of my first “buss gigs”, and for the most part the gear rode in the unheated bays below the bus. I was REALLY green and didn’t think to bring my acoustic up into the buss as we headed into the north-east states for a Christmas tour. You guessed it, the guitar that went into the bay perfect came out with a finished cracked to pieces. Today, I guess we’d call it “reliced”, but in 1987 it was just called UGLY. The lesson learned: guitar finishes can crack when frozen hard. Now, it’s true that certain finishes will crack worse than others, with acoustics being particularly prone to cracking, but given a hard enough freeze, nearly all guitar finishes can be susceptible. The problem is that the finish shrinks at an entirely different rate than the wood it’s on; the result is cracks, baby!
Which brings me to neck warping and bridge pull-away. Once again, the steel strings will shrink at an entirely different rate than the wood of your guitar. This can cause neck warping and twisting. Also, as the air gets not only colder, but drier as well, the glue holding an acoustic together loses much strength, which, combined with tightened strings, can lead to bridge pull-away on acoustics.
And last, speaking of dry air, even if your guitars are never anywhere near sub-freezing temps; they are almost undoubtedly exposed to much, much drier air in the cold winter months. Very dry air wreaks havoc upon ALL guitars, not just acoustics. ALL guitars can end up with the fret ends extending uncomfortably beyond the edges of the finger-board due to the wood shrinking up. You can also expect ANY guitar to need a little truss-rod tweaking in the cold and dry months (which will again need attention in the hot and humid months). When guitars get very dry, the wood shrinks and cracks, and the glue that holds them together shrinks and fails. Not good! Your guitar may in fact get SO DRY that is takes some drastic re-humidification to even get it acceptably playable again. The following list is from Taylor Guitars,
A dry guitar can exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
1. Low action. Strings are very close to the fret-board.
2. Hump on fretboard where neck joins body.
3. On NT necks, a slight gap around the fretboard extension.
4. Sunken top across the soundboard between bridge and fingerboard.
5. Back of guitar looks very flat when it is dried out.
6. Sharp fret ends extend beyond the edge of fret-board.
7. The plane of the neck angle on a dry guitar hits above the top of the bridge.
Yikes! That sounds like something to be avoided at all costs! The entire pdf from Taylor on “Symptoms of a Dry Guitar” can be found here.
So there ya go. That’s not so bad, is it? Now get to it, and I’ll talk to y’all again next week; until then, stay warm and keep those guitars happy!
Okay, there ya go. If you want the VERY short version, read no “farther”. If you want to know WHY … well then, read on!
Reason #1: because your ears are not on the back of your knees. So, a band I play with regularly rehearses in a hall that has a pair of half-stack Marshalls on one side of the stage. Since electric guitar players are a dime-a-dozen in the Nashville area, I usually am on the far side of the room playing acoustic guitar or keys. Guess what? Those dang Marshall’s are WAY louder where I’m standing than where the dudes playing through them are standing … and what’s worse? The tone is razor thin and harsh. . Why? Simple, because human ears are on the HEAD, not the back of the knees. Those dudes standing a couple of feet in front of the half stacks are having their LEGS blasted … but the sound of those closed-back lasers takes ten feet MINIMUM to reach ear-level. And, since HIGHER frequencies are very directional, and LOW frequencies are not … dudes THINK their tone is big & full when ten or twenty feet out it’s like an icepick being driven in your ear. UGG! Friends, your butt may be able to FEEL low frequencies, but it sure as heck can’t HEAR highs!
Reason #2: because NOBODY in your audience is going to be listening with their head only a foot or two from your amp! Seriously! When I teach audio engineering/mixing I always impress upon my students the importance of monitoring in a fashion that as closely as possible recreates the manner in which the end user will listen. Same goes for an electric guitar player on stage. Let’s say you are playing through an amp like my favorite, a Super Reverb, with the ability to angle up. Cool, that way you avoid the “only hits your knees” thing … BIG improvement! But wait, there’s more. If you are practically standing on top of the amp, you are not going to be hearing a tone that’s anything like the rest of the room is hearing. So, darn it, just step back a few feet and it’s “problem solved”.
One last note. An open-back amp or cabinet with its inherent ability to scatter sound around is much, MUCH more forgiving than a closed-back cabinet where either of my reasons are concerned, so unless you are playing BIG stages, stick to open-back cabs whenever possible.
“Big, little, short or tall, wish I could have kept them all … Lord I loved them every one”. This is a line from a Conway Twitty hit country song in the 80s; when Conway sang this line he was speaking of ladies, but for me it would be GUITARS. To me it’s like this … one person can look at a dog and say “that’s the ugliest dog I ever saw”, and someone else (usually the dog’s owner) will say “no, it’s the cutest dog in the world”. When it comes to guitars, I'm always the latter, what someone else may call ugly, I call awesome. To me, EVERY guitar is beautiful in its own way. I am particularly drawn to guitars from the golden period of the late 50s through the late 60s … and here’s where it gets weird, I actually love those unlovables that have many battle scars and owner hacked “modifications”. I call it “personality”.
Okay, so that brings us to today’s topic, a 67 Gibson Melody Maker SG that I recently found in a little junk shop. Here is a list of what owners have done to her over the last five decades:
So, interestingly enough, the only really BAD thing that had been done was the nut re-positioning. It essentially left the guitar incapable of playing in tune, because the spacing from the nut to the 1st fret was wrong. It would also prove to be the most challenging issue to fix, as I actually had to graft a small piece of rosewood in to the fingerboard to put the nut back where it belonged! As far as all the other mods go … well, I liked them, although I probably would have liked the original pelham blue.
So, having fixed the nut issue I proceeded to get to know the old gal. I can flat tell ya that there ain’t anything that feels as sweet as a good Gibby neck that’s been played for 50-ish years or so. Sweet! But the sound … well, it was thin & ugly. Not a real problem as I was planning to put a set of my own PAFs in her anyway; so, it was time to open her up. Inside, I found the good … the bad … and the ugly!
The good: The pickups were a nice set of PRS McCarty Archtops, which I quickly sold on eBay for a nice little bit of change.
The Bad: Of the four pots, only ONE was a proper 500K! The two volume pots were 100K (probably from Radio Shack in the 70s or 80s), and one tone pot was a 50K.
The Ugly: Well … everything I found inside! Some of the ugliest soldering I’ve ever seen and a real hack-job on enlarging the pickup cavity!
The cure for this old gal’s internal injuries was a set of four new Alpha 500K pots and new orange-drop tone caps … and a set of my Historic ’57 PAF pickups … aged to perfection! I’d also like to note that I wired the guitar using the earliest Gibson Les Paul wiring scheme from the mid-late 50s. Over the years, the value and position of the tone capacitor has changed several times. Most true Les Paul players swear by the original system, and I agree. The interaction between the four controls when in the middle position is extreme … but once you get used to that, it becomes an asset rather than a hindrance. Google modern vs. 50s Les Paul wiring to research the difference.
The result: a super-sweet vintage SG that sounds second to none, plays like a dream, and is a true one of a kind. Best part? My total investment was under $500 … and several long nights at the bench.
Here’s a video of my Gal strutting her stuff. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s0yGQrYTok
Hi gang! This blog marks a bit of a first, as it is the first time I am officially blogging about the pickups that bear my name! When I began making guitar pickups, I firmly believed that the best pickups ever made were in fact made from about 1952 to 1965, and my intention was to painstakingly reproduce these mid-century works of art. Where Stratocasters and Humbuckers are concerned, I was dead-on the bull’s eye. However, the Telecaster players were giving me something further to consider. The Strat players were on a magic carpet ride to Nirvana with my 1954-1964 sets, and “les Paul” players consider my Alnico II and Alnico IV PAFs to be truly “Holy Grail” tone. But those pesky Tele players. . .
When Tele players talk about “Holy Grail” tone, the usual statement made is something like this: “Well, I love the sound of a vintage 50’s Tele bridge pickup … but they CAN get a little ice-picky sometimes, and …well, I really don’t use the neck pickup much, it’s just too dead and woofy”.
Okay, y’all, think about this for a second. There are top-shelf touring Tele-masters out there gigging with vintage Telecasters worth tens of thousands of dollars saying, in essence “I’m not really in love with my tone”. Wow! That sucks, and I couldn’t help but feel as though something NEEDED to be done for these folks. Now, I could have gone the route of some, and simply thrown in the towel and conceded defeat on the neck pickup … and focused on the bridge pickup (can you say “Esquire”?). But, that would be against every bone in my body. I LIKE multi-pickup guitars for the tonal versatility they offer, and especially for the complex and uniquely gratifying tone that can only result from a fantastically combining pair of pickups! And so it was that I set out on a path that was already littered with the wreckage of past failures. Could I succeed where so many others have failed? Could a set of Tele pickups be made that truly left Tele players wanting for NOTHING? And, for the record, I strictly desired to keep to “true” Tele sets … I’m talking drop-in replacements here … not some crappily conceived humbucker or other aberration; plenty of folks have went down that road and wound up with the most God-awful sounding Tele pickups ever! My goal wasn’t to remove “hum” or to produce a pickup that looked good on an oscilloscope … no, I wanted tone to die for, true Holy-Grail tone.
I will admit that, living in Nashville, I have an advantage over many other pickup designers and builders. Here in Nashville, I have at my disposal what is probably the largest assembly of top-shelf Telecasters and the Tele-Masters who play them available anywhere in the world. And so I began quite a process of comparing everything that I tried to the “best of the best”. Guess what? It seems as though I did it. Rocket science? Nope, not at all. The recipe I landed on really isn’t that far from Leo’s first designs, in fact. Here is what I found:
So there you have it; almost all my secrets revealed. Nearly a year’s worth or R&D thrown out there for anyone to copy as they see fit. Why on earth would I divulge this? Well, Leo Fender is kinda my hero … and the man never even patented the Stratocaster or the Telecaster guitars; so, I guess you could say I’m following in Leo’s footsteps … and hopefully adding a little to his legacy.
Convinced? Be sure to check out these pickups … that we’ve named “Vaughn’s Velvet Telecaster” set.
Here is a video discussion and demo. If it doesn’t play, follow this link: http://youtu.be/oCJ9xAL2Ltg?list=UUqz2jjVBQhBK3oCSyp1UE9g
Rickenfaker? Fakenbacker? Humm, call it what you want, the bass I recently discovered in a little mom-n-pop music show was most certainly not the Rickenbacker it claimed to be!
On a recent trip to a small Kentucky town not many hours out of Nashville, TN my eyes caught something not often seen in this types of music store, a cool vintage-looking Rick 4001 bass. I took a quick look at the price and got a little excited … five hundred bucks! Here is the bass, I handed it to my buddy Brad to snap a quick pic of my “find”.
Then I decided I’d try to determine its approximate age. Here is a pick I snapped of this “MADE IN U.S.A.” 4001:
Then I flipped it over:
Hey … wait a minute! A bolt-on Rick 4001? No way! This thing was as fake as a three dollar bill. What had made it look so convincing was the fact that it looked like an old club-gig war horse. This thing reaked of cigarette smoke and sported what appeared to be the signs of a lot of actual play time. And, so I figured the somewhat strange pickup and a few other things were just unknown “battle scars” from less than professional “fixes”. But the bolt-on neck … nope. My poor little heart was broken.
Now, possibly the weirdest part of this story is this: on my last trip to this same small town I looked at a “Gibson Zack Wylde Les Paul” in a pawn shop that was also a fake. What the heck? Are fake guitars really that rampant? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, but I do know this, when buying a guitar second-hand, be sure it’s REALLY what it claims to be … especially if the deal is too good to be true! Consider yourself warned.
Thanksgiving. Is it possible to be thankful in 2014? I think so, let’s talk about that.
I’m 5-foot, 3-inches tall and that makes me downright short by national standards. It’s been proven time and time again that folks as short as me don’t generally get a fair shake. Let’s take a peek at the list of “disadvantages” folks like me have:
And it’s a “double whammy” in my case because I’m now also going bald, and guess what, bald men undergo the exact same prejudices! So, right about now you may be asking what this has to do with being THANKFUL. Well my friend, that’s an easy one; I’m thankful to be a short, bald man living in the United Stated of America, where there is only one disadvantage that really matters: a bad attitude. I’m reminded of the catch-line of Russian-American comic Yakov Smirnoff: “America, what a country!”
I love this country, where disadvantaged folks like me can parlay a “glass is half-full” attitude and a good work ethic into a seriously great life. From the moment I hit kindergarten, I’ve known I was fighting an uphill battle. I was the shortest kid in my class, and kids can be really brutal in letting you know just how inferior a thing like that makes you! It could have destroyed me, but it didn’t, it made me stronger. I began to instinctively know that I would have to be better than average at everything I did if I were to see any real success in life. A Tall, dark, and handsome guy may be able to be an inept idiot and still get whatever he wants when he flashes his 100-watt smile, but not me! And I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I get the job, it’s a damn sure thing that I earned it. When someone is my friend, they probably REALLY like me. And, chances are my wife really loves me, too. See where I’m going with this? Yea, I’m thankful God made me just the way I am; I’m a better man because of the built-in adversity I continually face.
And so, on this Thanksgiving, please dear friend, take whatever disadvantages you may be facing in life and put them to work for you. If, like me, you are fortunate enough to be living in the USA, consider yourself blessed. This country has a rich history of disadvantaged folks from all walks of life rising to astronomical success, both personal as well as professional.
Seriously folks, I hope yours is an attitude of gratitude, because if it is, you are probably a happy person with a bunch of real friends and folks who love you for who you are … and on this Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to propose that having true friends is what we should be truly thankful for.
Oh, and if that isn’t enough, there’s always the “black Friday” sale here at WGS! If you enter the code: GIVETHANKS2014, you'll get 15% off all speakers, pickups, and other goodies. Ha! Feeling a little more thankful now? Yep, I thought so.
Hello once again fellow tone-seekers! Sooo, I build electric guitar pickups … and amps … and am a part of this great WGS family that builds electric guitar speakers. However, this week I want to pay homage to an ACOUSTIC guitar! Hey why not? Acoustics ARE a huge part of the guitar experience, right? And, it’s probably been the better part of a couple years since I last featured an acoustic on this here blog (Read here). So ya ready? Let’s jump in!
So first I’ll set the stage: It was a dark, rainy night in London when I walked across the creaky threshold of Wan’s shop of ancient oriental oddities and first laid eyes on a guitar the likes of which I’d never seen in all my years. Okay, actually it was middle of the afternoon when I entered Nashville Used Music. My friend behind the counter said “dude, I’ve got an acoustic in that you gotta check out … you’re going to BUY this one!” Nope, I was most certainly NOT going to buy ANOTHER acoustic, I explained. Yep, I bought it. But that’s not the truly crazy part, I’m always buying guitars I didn’t intend to buy; the crazy part is that before that moment I hadn’t even HEARD of this particular guitar. Yea, that was a first!
This guitar was really seriously unique (read: different), and my experience has been that “different” usually equated to “bad”, especially in the world of acoustic guitars. The time-tested designs of C.F. Martin are just flat impossible to top; no matter how boring and predictable they may appear. And so, when I laid eyes on my first ’81 Daion Caribou, I simultaneously thought “man that looks cool” and “Bet that sounds like crap”. I was about to be surprised.
The guitar truly has some of the most aesthetically pleasing lines I’ve ever seen in an acoustic. Somehow, the Caribou managed to be DIFFERENT in almost every possibly way … yet look absolutely, totally “right” all at the same time. I’d NEVER encountered that in an acoustic before! From the totally unique hemispherical cut-out at the bottom of the body, to the brass saddle, to the oval soundhole, to the brass nut, to the headstock … it was all so different, and so RIGHT. I marveled at the solid tiger-stripe fully un-braced maple back, and once again thought “looks great … bet it sounds awful”. There was NO WAY this guitar was going home with me, or at least there wouldn’t have been if I had just left well enough alone and not actually PLAYED it!
Holy crap, she sounded sweet! How on earth? That unusual shaped body, strange soundhole, brass nut & saddle, unusual wood choices … it shouldn’t have sounded like this; or so my mind kept saying. But, it did sound good, really good. Like any acoustic made from fine woods, the years had been good to this guitar, opening her tone up in a most beautiful manner. I was expecting a guitar very heavy in upper-midrange, lacking especially in body and depth. But what DID it sound like? I would describe the sound as very much like a Taylor “grand auditorium” body guitar … very full, yet very balanced with a bit more extra-top-end sparkle and a “bigness” about its bottom end. Yep, write me up, she’s coming home with me :-)
In the couple of years since, I have had the opportunity to both record with this fine guitar as well as use her “plugged-in” on stage on a handful of occasions, and it’s always a rewarding playing experience. To those of you considering one of these fine vintage guitars, I will suggest you make note of the fact that the pickups in these are passive, as was the norm in the late 70s/early 80s. That’s not to say that the pickups sound bad, they sound great actually, but you WILL need an external acoustic pre-amp to obtain that great sound.
My epilog to this story is bitter-sweet, as I’m just packing her up to ship to Connecticut. Yep, she’s on her way to be the muse of another. My wife recently bought furniture for our dining room, which I had been using as a storage space for spare musical gear; she laid down the law: the stuff had to go! I love my gear, but I love my little woman more, and so I put the guitars, amps, and drums stored in the dining room up on eBay. The Caribou was the last item to be put up on eBay, and I secretly hoped she wouldn't sell. She sold in the first day to a collector who informed me he had been looking for one for years. So if one of these guitars crosses your path and you are smitten … you had better gobble it up right away because the word on the overall greatness of these fairly rare guitars seems to have gotten out. They don’t come up for sale often, and when they do, they don’t stay for sale long. Now, a few pics of this fine gal … I call these sexy shots “guitar-porn” :-)
Hi fellow tone-seekers! I just had some EXCELLENT questions about Stratocaster pickups come in via my site, VaughnSkow.com. So good I think I might use tham in a blog :-)
Q: Besides hum - does Non RW/RP mid pup really sound better and deliver more "quack" to in-between positions 2 & 4, than RW/RP?
Q: What NOS tone capacitor (& value) would complement your historic '64 set, best... do you suggest. Does it play any role at all tone?
Q: NOS cap or not?
Q: Some of the most respected pickup builders (C.Novak, M.Gray, D. Mare, M. McConachie...), as a matter of fact tend to differ on their opinion to these subjects. I was just wondering what's being the truth, out of your vast experience and knowledge.