someone said their drip-edge Bassman was a 1968 because “that’s the only year they made drip-edge amps”. [Buzzer sound] Wrong! And by the way, just in case you don’t know, the term “drip-edge” refers to the aluminum trim surrounding the grill cloth on the earliest silver-face Fender amps (see highlighted drip-edge in the photo above). So, let’s talk drip-edge years of production. Are y’all ready to settle this question once and forever? Good, then let’s go!
Okay, to be fair, dude WAS partially correct, in as much as that 1968 was the only FULL year of production for the drip-edge models. However, the first drip-edge models appeared in late August of 1967 as the black-face cosmetics were being replaced by silver-faced amps. The most popular amps, like the Deluxe Reverb, were the first to receive the new look, which included not only the silver face-plate and aluminum drip-edge, but also a slightly different grill cloth with added subtle vertical blue stripes. A few models during this early silverface period actually have the new silver face-plate and the old blackface style back-plate, and the earliest silver faceplates have the mysterious slim black vertical lines (more on this later). It makes sense that the amps that were not selling as well were the last to receive the new look, as they were the models for which the old black-face parts lasted the longest, and inversely the most popular models were the first to get the update, as their black-face parts ran out the earliest. What does this mean? It means that you may see a drip-edge Deluxe Reverb with a build date as early as mid-1967, and a black-face non-reverb bandmaster or Vibrolux as late as February of 1968. Now, as for when the drip-edge was eliminated. Once again, the most popular models were the first to lose the aluminum trim in mid 1969 and the least popular were the last to lose it in late 1969, with the Bandmaster Reverb (TFL5005D) as the very last. By January of 1970 all fender amps being produced were the more common non-drip edge silverface models, those cosmetics continued on unchanged through the entire decade.
Got it? Good, now let’s talk specifically about the earliest of the drip edge amps, the “black line” models. These amps can really be “sleepers” as most are in every way a blackface amp with silverface cosmetics.
There is no clear consensus as to why these lines exist; they appear just before the Volume controls and on either side of the amps name. In contrast to every other aspect of the silkscreen printing, they just don’t seem “right”. They are non-symmetrical both vertically as well as horizontally and are extremely thin compared to all other lines. Many believe they were lay-out reference lines that were never intended to make it into production; that makes sense since they only appeared for about the first 4-6 months. At any rate, these lines are a great clue that your amp is one of the earliest with the silverface cosmetics, many of which were otherwise UNCHANGED from the blackface design. Cool, a blackface amp at a silverface price!
This Deluxe Reverb was listed on Craigslist as a “70’s Silverface”. From the one picture with the ad, I could see the drip edge and black lines, and new she was probably a 1967. When I saw the amp in person, I confirmed that it was indeed a ’67 from the serial number, AB763 tube chart, and blackface footswitch. Yep, I gladly handed over the $725 asking price :-)
Now, when you hear someone state that all drip edge Fender amps are 1968s, please set them straight!
See y’all next week, it’s gonna be one you won’t want to miss.
So … After my initial blog about the 1957 Strat at Goodwill, I’ve had numerous inquiries as to if that was real or just a hoax; I assure you it was real. Man, the truth is, Up until that time the Goodwill auction site was totally off my radar as good hunting ground for vintage instruments. But ever since, I’ve been keeping my eyes on that site. Here is a super clean 1959 Gibson Melody maker that just sold for a very reasonable price, check it out!
It was listed as “Gibson Burnt Coffee Electric Guitar-Powers On”. What the heck??? Burnt coffee? And how exactly does a guitar “power on”? Because of the hilarious description, I thought maybe I could sneek in and get her for a steel, but it ended up selling for about $1,500; a great deal for someone, but still too rich for my blood.
Next, I’ve just gotta mention this guitar I found on Goodwill; the title was “Gibson Mahogany Bass Electric Guitar”. Now, this one is REALLY hilarious because 1) it’s not a Gibson, 2) it’s not Mahogany, and 3) it's not a bass! They got EVERYTHING wrong! So the lesson is “buyer beware”, Goodwill doesn’t know a thing about guitars, so you the buyer had better! Oh, and it only sold for about fifty bucks, so I guess nobody was suckered into believing it was a “Gibson Mahogany Bass Electric Guitar”. Have fun y’all, keep pickin’ … and keep grinnin’.
I’m reading an advertisement from a fret protectant product by Zymol called “Bridge”; the advert says EXACTLY what I want to say, and so I’ll repeat it here word for word:
Boy … sounds like something to avoid, doesn’t it? Let’s talk about that.
First, I’ll mention that this blog is NOT about re-fretting a guitar, or about polishing frets; that might be a good topic for another day, but today we are talking specifically about cleaning and protecting the wood of your fretboard.
If your fretboard is sporting only the usual player’s grime, then I recommend cleaning it with nothing more than a good bit of old fashioned elbow grease, a cloth with water and a mild soap, like dish detergent. Personally, I like old socks as the cloth. If you are cleaning a board with decades of ground-in grime, then I use a product like LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner and/or naphtha. Be aware that the stronger the cleaner, the more likely you are to wind up with a dry oil-depleted fretboard. Which brings us to…
Here is where my opening quote comes in, and here is where I like coconut oil (which just happens to be a main ingredient in Zymol’s Bridge product). Some folks prefer lemon or some other oil on fretboards while others shout “use nothing at all”. Personally, I am among the use nothing crowd when we’re talking about say, a maple board finished in a bunch of polyurethane. I mean, really … nothing’s going to penetrate that PLASTIC anyway; any oil you try to apply will just rub/drip off! However, if we are talking about an unfinished board, especially rosewood or ebony, or an old board with little to no nitro left on it … then I oil the board, especially if it’s noticeably dry.
Why coconut oil instead of lemon, orange, or one of the other oils? Because it kills fungus, bacteria, and viruses. Yep, it kills all that crap that would like to eat your fretboard. A couple of nice side benefits are that it’s super easy to work with since it is a paste at room temp, and that it just might keep you from catching a virus! When working coconut oil into the board, remember to use it sparingly. Just a couple little dabs on a cloth will get you through the average fretboard. If it’s a super dry board, you might repeat the process. And, you will always want to thoroughly rub the board down with a dry cloth afterwards … unless maybe you want a little to rub off on overly dry finger tips!
Oh, and if you like the idea of using a product specifically for guitars, by all means ... I sugest using the Zymol product ... with all it's coco-nutty goodness :-)
I’ve been “retired” from the road for over 20 years now. When our first daughter was born I decided that being home to be a husband and father was more important than being a road warrior. That daughter is now out of college and more-or-less on her own, but my wife and I have a new little girl who just started kindergarten, so again, I have a pretty good reason for still keeping my little lily white hiney home. But yesterday I was listening to Paul McCartney on Pandora while driving and it hit me; if Paul were to call me out of retirement, I’d say yes without hesitation.
Why? Well, it’s certainly not just because of the opportunity to play with a “living legend” before it’s too late. I assure you the majority of music icons don’t interest me a bit. But McCartney … well … wow. Yes, as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a McCartney fan for sure (read the blog). But from a GUITAR PLAYER standpoint, here are the bullet points:
Varity: Holy crap, McCartney’s catalog of hits, both in and out of the Beatles is more varied in styles and textures than ANY other artist! That’s what hit me as I listened to a smattering of his stuff from many decades. I mean, there isn’t a single guitar tone that he hasn’t used on record. As a certified TONE guy, I can TOTALLY appreciate that. I mean, I might actually be able to come up with a totally genuine answer to my wife’s question of “why on earth do you have so many guitars, amps, and guitar gizmos?” … “Because, sweetie, I need each and every single one of them to cop the tones on Paul’s songs”. How cool is that fellow gear addicts???
The man himself: I learned many years ago that if you are going to squeeze into an aluminum tube with a dozen or so other musicians and call it home for weeks or months at a time, all it takes is one JERK and the experience becomes miserable. I just cannot imagine a jerk ever gaining entrance to McCartney’s band. He’s just too darn nice a guy (he IS a Knight after all).
So there! Sorry to my lovely wife Kim, but if Sir Paul calls me up, I’ll be on the road again. Of course there are better odds that I’ll win the state lottery while being hit by a bus on an ocean cruise …
How about y’all? What artist would be YOUR ultimate gig and why? I’m curious!
Howdy friendly guitar friends! So, any of you who know me know that I’ve always got my guitar “deal radar” up; man, I LOVE finding gems at pawn shops and yard sales. But, Goodwill? I mean, sure, we’ve all picked up some cool stage clothes at Goodwill … maybe even a pseudo-vintage microphone. So, how about a near mint 1957 Fender Strat? Impossible you say? Well right now, as I pen this blog, one is up for sale on Goodwill’s auction site, I kid you NOT!
With four days to go in the auction, it’s already over 13-grand, so it’s not like you’re gonna totally STEEL it … but when you consider that this is a guitar with a full retail value of close to six-figures, there is certainly an opportunity here for a deal.
And, if you think this is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke, here is a nice clean 1967 Gibson SG Melody Maker that sold for about $1,200 last week. Sweeeet!
So, there ya go bargain hunters, if Goodwill is not on your gear radar, it should be! Oh, and can you imagine who donated that Strat to Goodwill? I can hear it now “Let’s donate grandpa’s old guitar to Goodwill, I’m sure it’s not worth much”…
Okay gang, as you all know, I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for guitars and amps that I consider “sleepers” … you know, they are awesome, but somehow the awesomeness has been undetected and so they can be bought “for a song”. Today’s entry is the Yamaha G50 and G100 amps of the late 1970’s - 1980’s. I had one come through my shop, and it turned out the only problem it had was a tired speaker. With a new WGS ET65 in her, she was a superb clean amp. I’m going to keep this short (I promise), but let’s talk just a little bit about why these are cool and VERY under-rated amps.
Okay, first, let’s start with this: these amps are often able to be bought for under a hundred bucks. Got your attention? Good, let’s dive in.
These solid-state amps were Yamaha’s take on Fender’s Twin Reverb, the reigning heavy-weight combo king of the late 1970’s. Their 50 and 100 wat versions are as loud as comparable 50 and 100 watt tube amps; this was far before the days of inflated solid-state output ratings. Yamaha was, and is, a great Japanese company that takes quality seriously. Designed with help from Paul Rivera, they are built well and can fill a big stage.
They were made in the original series as well as the II and III versions. With all three variants, the clean tone is big, fat and juicy with acutronics long-spring verb; in other words, a GREAT clean amp for Jazz, etc. … but also a great pedal platform! With all three variants, the “distortion” is downright awful; unless cheesy buzzy 80’s solid-state distortion is your thing (hey maybe you’re in a Devo tribute band), you will NOT like the amps distortion. Put a pedal in front of her!
A final note: As is soooo often the case with mass-produced amps, the one place where Yamaha cheesed out was on the speaker(s). Just like with Gibson’s excellent Lab Series amps of the same period (see my blog), they stuck speakers in that didn’t really sound great and couldn’t really handle the power of the amps. So, be prepared to drop a WGS ET65 (or two if you get the 100-watt 2x12 version) in to unleash these amps true potential!
Several months back I “accidentally” acquired a 1958 Gibson ES-125TD, I had no plan to purchase it … it came and found me; I have grown to flat-out LOVE that ol girl, and I just gotta gush!
First a (very) quick bit of history. The hollow-body P-90 equipped ES-125 was considered by Gibson to be a “beginner” electric guitar, think of it sort of as their version of a Fender Musicmaster/Mustang/Duosonic, etc. The guitar was first introduced in 1941but none were made from late 1942-1945 due to WWII. From there, the guitar stayed in continuous production until 1970/71 … yep, that makes a huge 30-year run!
Along the way, the guitar had several notable options added. There was the ES-125-T or “thin” model, the ES-125D “dual-pickup” model, and the ES-125-C or “cut-away” model. And yes, they could be combined in every imaginable way; for instance, an ES-125TDC was a thin body model with two pickups and a cut-away. My 1958 model, the ES-125TD is thin body with two pickups and no cut-away.
Okay, so why do I consider these guitars to be “sleepers”, well, let’s talk about that!
First I MUST say this, not all ES-125 models are anywhere near equal to each other. These are really guitars that you will want to actually physically play prior to purchase, unless the seller offers a generous return policy! Why?
Well, think about that 30-year span. Why, the 41/42 “pre-war” models were during the absolute infancy of the electric guitar. They were really made as beginner level f-hole acoustic guitars with a primitive pickup thrown on. These guitars are really best at only one thing: being an authentic blues box. On the other end, the last three years of production occurred during the dreadful years of Norlin ownership of Gibson. The guitars from this era often have sketchy materials and workmanship. Ha, but what about those models made during Gibsons “Golden Era”, the 1950’s. This is where it gets good … really good! Now mind you, guitars with more than a few decades on the odometer have undoubtedly lived extremely varied lives … and this will greatly affect weather they have aged gracefully or terribly … so again, it’s best to actually play before you buy!
1958, the year my 125 was made, is considered by most to be right in the pinnacle years for Gibson. Les Paul models from this era are priced waaaaaay out of the reach of ordinary folks like me. Now, my 125 was made from the same stash of Brizillian rosewood as a ’58 Paul, most likely the same hands made both guitars, and they have aged for precisely the same amount of time. My guitar has two P-90 pickups of the same build as those used on ‘50s Pauls … but my 125 cost about 1/50th to 1/100th of what a Les Paul from 1958 generally brings these days. See, sleeper!
A couple of important observations where the ES-125 is concerned. First, if you plan to play with a lot of gain and/or loud, be sure to get a thin body model; I’ve played both, and the fat bodies howl outta control when ya crank em up. Second, unless you are specifically looking for a blues or jazz guitar, get one with dual pickups. It’s amazing how truly versatile the dual pickup ES-125 is. Man, on that bridge pickup I can pull off surf-rock, AC/DC and Bakersfield Tele, the neck will go anywhere from straight-up jazz and blues to SRV, and with the dual volume and tone controls, the in-between position is like a chameleon that can go from Scotty Moore to Contemporary Christian chime and everywhere in-between.
Seriously, the thin body dual pickup ES125 is a truly versatile guitar that holds its ground against all contenders. I kinda wish mine had the cut-away for easier access to the highest frets … but like I said, I didn’t come looking for her, she came to me, and I love her just the way she is!
There are a lot of famous ES-125 players out there and you can google up all kinds more info if I’ve wetted your appetite, but here is, I believe a must-read blog if you want to learn more about this fine “sleeper guitar”:
So, I just finished covering the Summer NAMM show here in Nashville for Vintage Guitar Magazine. I’ve been attending the NAMM shows for decades now, they are where manufacturers of musical stuff show off their latest creations in hopes of drumming up sales. For us guitar players, this year’s show was interesting in as much as there was a notable divide between the folks offering up decidedly vintage style guitars, like the historic models from Fender’s Custom Shop, and those offering all-out digital guitar-like thingies. Let’s talk about that!
Digital technology has been grafted into electric guitars for at least a decade and a half now, so this ain’t nothing new … but … what IS new(ish) is the idea that a guitar can be ALL digital. Hummm.
Now, I was an early adopter of the add-on digital capabilities of the Roland 9-pin system for a long time, and I currently have two electrics and one acoustic equipped with Roland pickup systems; I am particularly fond of mixing the sound of an acoustic guitar with a lush string pad, and I’ve enjoyed playing horn lines on disco tunes … but when all is said and done, I was still playing a REAL-DEAL electric guitar. For the record, the Roland rigs can be darn cool!
During the time Roland was rolling their first 9-pin stuff out, there were a few other companies (most notably Casio) that jumped on that bandwagon … but most have now jumped off, although there are a few companies that still offer guitars with factory-installed Roland 9-pin pickups, my fav is the Godin nylon-string. Where Roland guitar synths are concerned, man, don’t fear the ones and zeros, they behave themselves.
Way back on ‘07 Gibson offered the “Digital Les Paul” which mangled and strangled the guitars signal in all kind of strange proprietary digital ways, but all in all offered nothing the public wanted at a price no one could afford.
Around that same time Line-6 began offering their digital “Variax” guitars, which digitally sampled each string and then mangled the ones and zeros to make it sound like something else. While the Variax line has matured greatly since its inception, most players still see the guitars as a novelty item to give them a little something different on a song or two. (I know, Variax lovers, feel free to voice your disagreement … but ya just don’t see many players out there with ONLY a Variax on stage).
Last year I bought my first fully digital guitar-like thing, the “You Rock Guitar”. All I can say is that there is most definitely nothing about this so-called “instrument” that rocks. Cheese city baby!
Then there are the Peavey guitars with Auto-Tune built-in. They basically sample the analog signal, turn it into digital, run it through the auto tune software and spit it back out … in essence giving you a fully digital “representation” of what the strings did. As a geek I think they are kinda neat, but as a tone guy, I can’t use the words that accurately describe the sound; I’d get in too much trouble.
Two 100% digital guitar offerings caught my eye. What do I think of them? Man, I just don’t know; in the digital guitar world, the line between cool and cheesy is VERY thin! And so, I’m just going to report my findings here and let you all make up your own minds whether these fall on the side of coolness or stinky cheese.
First, the feature-packed Cyber-Axe with built-in CPU and buttons out the ying-yang Check this wild-child out!
And last, yep … it was only a matter of time … the latest iPhone/iPad based guitar, the “Fusion Guitar”:
Wow! So, this has turned into part four in this series:
But man, it was brought to my attention that I totally forgot about the lowly old P-90s! Well, let’s rectify that situation!
Once again, I need to make it clear that these are my personal recommendations. You may be going for something totally different, and as such may want to totally disregard my suggestions; if so, I fully understand, and rest assured, my feelings will not be hurt in the least bit.
Okay, now this is important, as far as pickup height is concerned, P-90’s are an entirely different animal from either humbuckers or single-coils. With a Strat or Tele style single-coil pickup the magnetic field, or the part of the string being sensed by the pickup, is soooo small and, even microscopic changes in pickup height make a perceivable sonic difference. Humbuckers are sensing a much larger portion of the strings movement, and as such are a little more lenient on pickup to string height adjustment. From nearly as close as the pickup can get without touching the strings to as far away as it can be adjusted, decent tones can be had.
Now a P-90 is an “interesting bird”; tone-wise it’s in the same camp as the early PAF Humbuckers, in fact, the design goal of the first humbuckers was to sound just like a P-90, but without the hum! But, of course from a physical standpoint, the P-90 is much more akin to a Fender-style single-coil pickup. However, there are some very important things to keep in mind when setting the height of a P90:
The P-90 IS a single-coil pickup, but that coil is way wider and more shallow than on a Strat or Tele style single-coil; the P-90 is also wound with a lot more turns of wire ie: it’s a lot fatter and hotter. As a matter of fact a 1957 P-90 has about the same output as a 1957 PAF. Result: Tonally, the P-90 is more like a PAF humbucker than a Strat single-coil. The narrow coil and (relatively) low output is a big part of the Fender spank ... and the P-90 has neither!
Fender’s designs employed pole-pieces that are the actual MAGNETS, whereas the P-90’s use steel screws/slugs (same as the humbuckers), with magnets on the back-plate wedged up aginst those steel pole-pieces making them somewhat magnetically charged. This means the Fender pole pieces have a gauss (magnetic pull) of about 3-4 times what a P-90 has. So again, the result: Tonally, the P-90 is more like a PAF humbucker than a Strat single-coil. The strong magnetic pull is a big part of the Fender chime!
And so, setting the height on a P-90 is a lot more like setting a humbucker than it is a Strat/Tele pickup. Because the magnetic pull is fairly low (in the 300-Gauss range compared to 1100 for a typical Strat pickup), you can get by with placing the pole-screws very close to the strings without worry about it sacrificing string resonance. Because the coil is so wide and the gauss so low, the P-90 is also quite forgiving placement-wise, although not as much so as a humbucker which has even less pole gauss and more coil(s) width.
One last thing to mention: P-90’s are an archaic design from the 1940’s; really, they are the oldest pickup designs still in regular use. As such, they were never really designed to be very adjustable. In fact the earliest versions (often called the “A-90”) didn’t even have adjustable pole-screws, just fixed steel slugs. Now, the soap-bar versions generally have a decent amount of height adjustment available … but those old “dog-ear” versions, well … if ya want to make any drastic height adjustments to them, you gotta actually “shim” them. Yep … archaic!
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.
Low E: 2.6mm / 0.10"
Hi E : 2.35mm / 0.092"
Low E: 4.5mm / 0.18"
Hi E : 3.43mm / 0.135"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece screws)
Yep … that’s CLOSE … even a little closer than a humbucker on the bridge! But here’s why: That old design used a pair of magnets forced head-to head with a poor old pole screw/slug smashed in between to “charge” the pole-piece. The measured magnetism (gauss) at the actual pole screws in these is only about 200-300gauss, compare that to the 1000+ gauss of a typical Strat or Tele style pickup … there’s a HUGE difference here, buddy! As you raise the pickup closer to the strings the tone gets brighter and more focused … now with a super bright single coil, that’s usually a bad thing, especially on the bridge pickup. However, with the relatively warm tone, wide detection area, and inherently low magnetic pull of these archaic designs, that’s EXACTLY what makes them come alive
A P-90 sittin’ far away from the strings produces a downright fluffy/thuddy tone (with a lot of 60-cycle buzz, too) … hey, if that’s what you’re going for then do it! Personally, if I want that tone, I just roll down the tone pot and maybe the volume a little. The truth is that you might find the tone you are looking for anywhere from the closest you can get those puppies to the strings all the way to as far as you can get them away from the strings (about 6-7mm is as far as you can go on a Les Paul style guitar). As always, just remember this:
The closer you get to the strings the brighter, louder, and more focused the tone will get.
The further you move the pickup away from the strings the warmer, quieter, and less focused the tone will get.
And here is my last comment on this subject; I have a 1958 Gibson ES125TD with a pair of original “dog-ear” P90s that are sitting WAAAAY further away from the strings than the recommendations I just gave above, and I wouldn’t even consider shimming them up closer. Why? Because that warm, sloppy, sweet, fat tone is exactly what I’m looking for out of that guitar … so there, I just discounted everything I’ve said. Go figure!
There ya have it, see y’all next time.
I’m a Fender guy through and through, my first amp was a Brown Deluxe, and my first workhorse gigging amp was a silver-face Twin Reverb; with the JBL D130F speakers, the thing actually weighed more than I did at age 15! Since then I have played a plethora of vintage tweed, brown, blackface, and silverface fenders. For the last decade or so, a ’67 Super Reverb has been my gigging amp of choice. But several months back a ’67 blackface Pro Reverb followed me home from a used music store … and she’s giving the Super a real run for the money!
The Pro is an amp that has all the right stuff to be a fantastic club amp. She’s tube rectified, for nice early sponginess, and she does not quite have the huge trannies of say the blackface Bassman or the Super Reverb, so again, she gets juicy a little earlier, but she DOES have enough clean headroom on tap for a loud club date, unlike say a Deluxe Reverb. She IS about the same size as a Twin Reverb, but with half the power section and WAY smaller transformers, she’s a LOT lighter! And then there’s the TONE…
Tone-wise, the Pro Reverb has its own beautiful niche. It’s way bigger and bolder than a Deluxe, or even Vibrolux Reverb, but not quite the all-out force of a Super … and a LONG way from the hard-hitting Twin. She really sits in that sweet spot of having enough of everything without having too much of anything … which makes her VERY rewarding to play at medium-loud stage volume. And, the sound is uber juicy Fender tone at its best. And maybe it’s just the one I have … but of all the Fenders that have rode through my stable, this one has the best reverb of ANY of them! Oh, and the tremolo sounds super sweet, too.
I just happen to have an old Twin-Reverb road case that the Pro fits in perfectly, so I’m definitely seeing this Pro Reverb under the buss on my upcoming shows!
One SPEAKER related side-note: My Pro came with fully healthy stock Fender/Oxford speakers, and she sounded sweet … but she just started to loose bottom-end solidity and “fart-out” as she was pushed. I took my own advice (given on the Q&A forum many times) and installed a pair of ET-65s and man … it went from sweet to sweeeeeeet … and no more farting out. Probably a good idea to keep those original speakers safely boxed and stored anyway.