Hi Ya’ll! I have a confession to make: I’m not really a “Tele guy”. So the phenomenal Success of my Vaughn’s Velvet Tele pickups might seem a bit surprising … but wait … you haven’t heard the REST of the story!
Let’s start with this little piece that accompanies the product description of my Velvet Tele set:
I mean really, died-in-the-wool Tele players who readily admit that they really don’t LIKE Tele pickups. It seems as though Tele players have long ago learned to accept the limitations of their pickups and work around them. They LOVE the stripped-down serious 1940’s no-nonsense attitude of the world’s FIRST readily available electric guitar, but just ain’t equally smitten with the actual TONE of the Tele. Over the decades folks have turned to many potential solutions for their Tele tone dilemma. Let’s take a moment to discuss some of these attempts:
That’s why we see so many Tele’s with Humbuckers (full-sized and/or mini). They make appearances in both the neck and bridge position. We also see the “Nashville Tele” with a Strat pickup in the middle, and possibly neck positions.
No other guitar has so many options available as drop-in replacement pickups that sound NOTHING like the originals. Stacked humbuckers, single-blade pickups and twin-blade humbuckers, dummy-coils, shoot even no coils at all! The list goes on and on. It seems as though a bunch of folks have decided the only good thing to do with a Tele is to make it not sound like a Tele at all. It seems as though most folks have just given up on Leo’s original design. I wasn’t quite willing to do that.
I’ve been a member of the Nashville music community since 1985. I’ve been a recording engineer, record producer, professional guitar player, and recording studio owner. Oh, I should clarify …a “real” studio owner; from back in the days when owning a studio entailed reel-to-reel tape machines, huge consoles, grand pianos, and legitimate business locations, in my case on Nashville’s famous 16th Avenue. I’ve spent a BUNCH of time with the greatest guitar players in Nashville; shoot some of the best in the world, many of them with legit claims to being a “tele-master”. And, none of them would say they were 100% happy with their true Tele tone.
You see, I WAS a fully indoctrinated FENDER guy, and like most, I flat-out loved the sound of a great Strat. And certainly I was also totally in love with the sound of a great Les Paul. I just couldn’t accept the idea of someone “putting up with” the tone of their favorite guitar … or worse yet, giving up and making it sound like ANOTHER guitar! So you see, it actually HELPED that I wasn’t a Tele guy … because of that fact, I had never learned to “put up with” or “work around” the sound of a Tele. I had no prejudice against, or stereotype of, the TONE of a Tele!
So, what exactly DID I do? First, I listened to all the greatest examples of TRUE Tele tone over the years. From the classic Bakersfield sound of folks like Buck Owens and Haggard to the classic Stax Records/Memphis tones of folks like Steve Cropper and James Burton. From the classic country tones of folks like Ray Flack and Redd Volkaert to the modern Tele masters like Brad Paisley and John “Elmo” Szetela. And, of course so many more! Then, I talked to as many Tele players as possible, and asked: “in a perfect world, what would you want from your Tele tone”. It was surprising how many started out with something like “well, of course we know the neck pickup won’t sound good …” I had to remind them that we were talking about a perfect fairy-tale world, with NO limitations!
What I arrived at was that true Tele players wanted a Bridge tone that was the epitome of that great tone I just mentioned from folks like Burton, Cropper, and Volkeart; a good bit of Tele “spank”, but still nice and full-bodied and meaty with no “ice-pick” that is so common in the bridge position of Tele’s made in the last few decades or so. On neck tone, folks often referenced decidedly non-tele tones. Over and over tele players wished they could get the Stevie-Ray-Vaughn neck tone from their Tele, or a nice fat yet decidedly single-coil Jazz tone that was full-bodied yet still had some sparkle and definition. And, given the opportunity to REALLY dream, Tele players really wanted a truly magical middle position, with the ability to get the sparkle and chime of a Strat in position 2 & 4, and also be able to roll the tone back and arrive at a nice humbucker tone with both the neck and bridge pickups working together.
In making Vaughn’s Velvet Tele Pickups, I accomplished all of these objectives. It was most definitely NOT a case of throwing away Leo Fender’s original design and going with something new and golly-gee-wiz … I’ve heard too many of these awful sounding designs! No, it was simply tweaking the design to augment all the STRENGTHS of the original Tele pickup design, while finessing out the weaknesses. The result is 100% TRUE Tele tone … with everything you LOVE about the Tele … but ALSO with everything you dreamed of, but had grown to believe was impossible. And, it took someone who was NOT a Tele guy to deliver it.
I’ve been buying and selling on eBay for over 16 years, almost since day one of eBay; my history on Craigslist is about the same, and like many of you, I have started buying and selling on Reverb. And so I propose that I am about as qualified as anybody to offer up some general guidelines for both buyers and sellers, so here goes!
I’m sure there’s more I could add, but I’m going to resist the urge to beat this drum any further. Now, Ya’ll go out and do some good friendly buying & selling!
I recently composed a blog in response to an email from one of my pickup affectionados in Germany asking a question that I realized is of ULTIMATE importance in Strat tone: “what is the best distance from the pickup to the strings for the best results?” Since that time, I have received several requests to do a similar blog on Tele pickup height adjustment … and so, here we go!
Once again, I need to make it clear that I am talking about real-deal vintage pickups and real-deal quality pickups like the ones made by Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, And myself. Those crappy Ceramic Bars glued next to steel slug things that come standard in so many inexpensive Tele’s and Tele copies today cannot really be made to sound good, so a trip to the waste-basket is the only course of treatment for them.
I also MUST mention 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.
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: 4.46mm / 0.175"
Hi E : 5.0mm / 0.198"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece)
As with Strats … but even MORE so with Telecasters, folks will often place the bridge pickup too high (close to the strings), with a VINTAGE set this destroys the tone, making it sound too narrow, focused, brittle, and harsh. The reason so many folks get used to placing this pickup as close as possible to the strings is because it gives more output; however, this will result in the terrible Tele icepick! Also notice that I generally position the bridge pickup with the high strings just slightly farther from the pickup than the low-strings. Once again, many folks do it the other way around, but I believe my setting results in a much more balanced and uniformly useable bridge-position. As with all truly fine Tele sets, my pickups certainly do NOT suffer from this lack of Tele bridge spank!
Low E: 5.00mm / 0.198"
Hi E : 3.50mm / 0.138"
This is a bit closer to the strings than many folks go with, and I should mention that this measurement is from the metal COVER on a Tele neck pickup to the strings … remember the actual magnetic pole pieces are a half a millimeter or so below the cover … so it’s not really quite as close as these measurements may make it seem. It, by chance you are using a fully un-covered neck pickup, like my Velvet Telecaster set, then you will want to measure to the magnetic pole-piece and add aprx. .5mm to each setting. Okay, there are three goals here. First, we want a great neck tone that sings beautifully and does not fall apart into mud even with a lot of gain added. Second, we want to be able to roll the tone back a little and have a truly rewarding experience playing big Jazz chords and lines. And last, we want to ensure it blends perfectly with the bridge pickup for a rewarding and beautiful middle position..
A couple of final important notes:
First, don’t be confused by the typical lack of adjustment screws showing on the Tele neck pickup, simply remove the pick-guard and you will find them hiding beneath!
Second, if the bridge pickup uses rubber grommets (tubing) as tension devices (rather than springs), and these have shrunken due to age or over-tightening, you might need to replace them. If the tensioning devices on the three mounting screws do not provide enough tension (force) holding the pickup to the Tele bridge-plate, unacceptable noise/feedback may occur. And, if you do replace them, also make sure the copper/steel base-plate remains firmly against the bottom of the pickup, or the same noise may occur!
Hi-diddly do fair blog neighbors! In my first couple years of this blog, I often featured amps that I considered “sleepers” … amps that could be bought for fairly cheap money and deliver more than expected. I think it’s time to revive the sleeper-amp concept! Let’s dig in with this week’s choice, the Bogner Alchemist. Ready? Let’s go!
I clearly remember when the Alchemists first appeared in stores like Guitar Center, and the supporting ads in the guitar mags. Man, they really caught my attention, at over a grand or so, they certainly were not inexpensive, but they WERE a lot less than any other amp to bear the Bogner badge. I’d played other Bogner models and knew they were truly top-shelf amps. However, at the time I already had a stable plum packed full of vintage Fender and Marshall amps and had just started making my own glorious tube amps, so I just couldn’t justify purchasing an Alchemist.
Fast forward to 2015. The $1000+ Alchemists now routinely sell used for in the $400 range, some as low as $250 to $300 … now that’s a DEAL! An Alchemist head showed up in the local Nashville Craigslist for cheap money “or trade”. A deal was struck and I finally had an Alchemist! The amp had a highly microphonic pre-amp tube and a tired set of 6L6’s, so I did a total re-tube and bias. While I was inside her, I checked for sloppy solder joints or anything else that looked sketchy, and found everything looking excellent. I’ve heard stories of these things looking kinda sloppy inside, leading to failure, but I can attest to the fact that this one looks excellent, with a layout and design that seems very tech-friendly; more so than most modern PCB construction tube amps. If reliability is a concern, I’d say just take an Alchemist to a decent tech for a quick look-see, but don’t expect him to find much to “fix”. It’s a good solid design and implementation.
By this time Bogner/Line6 had ceased production on the Alchemist line, and I noticed that Bogner was blowing out empty Alchemist 1x12 combo cabinets for a hundred bucks, so I bought one. I figured having the option of a head or 1x12 combo was a plus. As it’s turned out, I put her in the 1x12 and haven’t looked back. As you might imagine, I tried every speaker imaginable in the cab, and I chose the WGS ET65. This speaker really brings out the uber-rich honest and organic vintage vibe of this amp. It really tips the scales towards making this amp a true top-shelf boutique rig. I can’t help but feel as though the Vintage 30 speakers, with their overly charged upper-mid spike, that came stock really did a disservice to these amps.
Okay, so … apart from the afore mentioned poor stock speaker choice, let’s talk about why the Alchemist never really got the respect I believe it deserved, and still deserves. In a word, the Alchemist is a race car, and those accustomed to driving more pedestrian vehicles just couldn’t handle it. Let’s talk about that.
I’m a Fender guy through and through, and I love the way you can take most any vintage Fender amp, set all the controls most anywhere, plug in, and sound great. The Alchemist ain’t like that! Here is a quick quiz to see if an Alchemist is right for you. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, stick with something simpler!
There ya go! The long and short of it is this: be prepared to WORK a little more for your ultimate tone. If you get an Alchemist, plan to spend a fair amount of time learning the amp before you take it out on your first gig. Here’s what I have found. Yes, channel one in the “clean” setting CAN nail a super fat-n-juicy blackface Super Reverb tone, but ya can’t be afraid to twist some knobs. In the “crunch” setting it can totally nail a Marshall Plexi … but again, don’t expect to simply flip the switch to crunch and expect it to be there. Same goes for channel two; this channel can go from slightly driven singing Dumble Overdrive to full on Scooped Metal … but again, don’t be afraid to do some serious knob twisting and switching.
On to effects. Personally, I find the delay with tap-tempo and digital reverb with hall, plate, and spring settings to be the ultimate choice for a gigging amp … I consider Reverb and Delay to be the “meat & potatoes” of guitar effects … with things like tremolo, phase shifting, etc to be “spice”. One area where folks dis on the Alchemist is in the fact that the Reverb and delay intensity changes with the input gain settings. Personally, that doesn’t bother me a bit, because it’s exactly the same as running a verb & delay pedal in front of a driven tube amp … something I do all the time!
Okay, so is there anything I DON’T like about the amp? Yes, there is one: It’s HEAVY! As a 2 6L6 all-tube amp with big-iron transformers and heavy-duty cabs, these things ain’t light, but the top-shelf tone, combined with the current bargain-basement prices, make it worth the heavy load-in.
Did you hear that loud “Pop”? For Gibson guitar lovers, it was a sweet sound. Word on the street is that it was the sound of Gibson Guitar’s proverbial head popping out of a very, very dark place.
Just in case you, dear reader, are the one guitar player who didn’t catch it, Gibson really screwed the pooch in 2015, imposing “improvements” upon almost every model guitar. It was by all accounts guitar atrocities. The most offensive of which were:
Yep, EVERY 2015 model had those awful e-tuners; and what the heck, an “adjustable” zero-fret nut? Flatter frets?? Man, remember those 70’s “fretless Wonders”? Ugg. And, who the heck this side of 1989 has been calling for wider necks on Gibson’s? I guess the same folks who wanted a compound-radius fingerboard. No one!
To me, the ultimate example of how insane the 2015 line-up was would be the 2015 Les Paul Junior … long the hallmark of striped-down punkish rock energy. Imagine this guitar with its electronic tuners, big adjustable brass zero-fret nut, high-gloss finish, and wide neck with flat frets and a compound radius. Holy crap batman, it looks like an evil guitar villain has been at work. It's like putting automatic transmission, air shocks, and cruise control on a vintage hard-tail Harly!
But today is a new day, as Gibson has just announced a return to the pre-ridiculous 2015 models! Yep, Gibson is gonna scrap such 2015 “improvements” as the Zero nut, Les Paul commemorative headstock inlay and automatic tuning machines on every guitar. The line-up will be similar to that of 2012 including faded finish guitars. Whoo-hoo.
There was one more issue with the Gibson 2015 lineup: the price. All models were priced through the freeking roof, some called it criminal, I just called it stupid, kinda like Gibson saying “we really don’t want to sell any more guitars”. Again, 2016 brings good news; Gibsons will still be a bit pricey, but will be right back on-par with the pre-insanity 2014 models. On average, this will be about 20-30% below 2015 prices. Woo-hoo again.
So there, Gibson fans relax. For now at least, the craziness has subsided.
Okay, this harkens back to the early days of my blog. I’m basically taking you all along for the ride as I search for the best 10” speaker to pair with my new Quilter amp, a MicroPro Mach II. I fell in love with the Quilter stuff at this Summer’s NAMM show in Nashville, and sweet talked them into selling me a head with an EMPTY 10” combo cab so I could choose my own speaker. I’m a tube-amp guy, and I make my own … so my ponying up with some greenbacks on a decidedly solid-state amp is quite a statement! In later blogs I plan to do a full demo on the MicroPro, but for now, it’s all about that speaker!
My main objective is to have the amp be as “gigable” as possible. Here are the key points I’m looking at:
I don’t have to worry about it simply getting LOUD enough, the MicroPro has plenty of power on tap to ensure I’m heard; the question is, will it be sweeeeet?
The speakers I’ll be running through and comparing include:
Okay, y’all watch the video & feel free to gimme your thoughts. I’ll warn ya, this is a 38-minute epic, so settle in for the ride.
Every now and then I get a question on the forum something like this: “Speaker A has a listed sensitivity (SPL) of 99-db, and speaker B is listed at 98dB, yet you say speaker B is the louder one … what’s up with that”. Okay, that’s an excellent topic for a blog, let’s dig in!
In its pure form, Sensitivity is defined as the speakers’ ability to convert power into sound. The standard way of measuring a speakers’ sensitivity is using 1 watt/1 meter, meaning a microphone is placed 1 meter away from the speaker to measure the sound output (in decibels) with 1 watt of sound played through it. Man, so many problems with this … where to start?
Most of these measurements are taken at 800Hz or 1000Hz. That only tells you what the speaker’s efficiency is in THAT frequency (the heart of midrange). A speaker with an enormous bottom end may have a very un-impressive looking sensitivity spec … but still be VERY impressive in actual use … because a measurement at 800-1000Hz just doesn’t address the speakers real strength. In my perfect world, we would use white noise (consisting of all frequencies from 20Hz-20,000Hz in equal amounts) for the SPL measurement … that would help.
Because today’s solid state amplifiers do a good job across the board of maintaining a voltage output of 2.83 volts, many companies consider this as their standard of measurement. Here again, 2.83 volts are inputted and measured at 1 meter. [Note: 2.83 volts into an 8 ohm load is equal to 1 watt. Ohm’s Law: Power (watts) = Voltage (V) x Current (I) or Power = V_/R (impedance in Ohms)] In the good old days, 1-watt was always 1-watt RMS … today, ya gotta watch out, it may be 2.83 volts! Because a speakers’ efficiency in transforming (transducer) power into sound is greatly determined by the impedance of a speaker, (see more on impedance below) 2.83 volts becomes greater … about 1.5 watts at 6 and 2 watts at 4 ohms — a 3dB increase, which to our ears sounds significantly louder.
This is huge, because a speaker’s impedance is never a static number; it changes given the frequency it is attempting to reproduce … and it especially fluctuates in tube amps, which “reflect” the speakers impedance to the tubes and vice-versa. Some speaker companies give frequency-specific impedance charts, but this can get confusing, and it still doesn’t address the issue fully.
And last; how many guitar players gig using about 1-watt RMS anyway? I’m going to say absolutely none! This is probably the most important of all my points. You see, audio follows a logarithmic, not a linier scale. Check this little chart out of an “AVERAGE” speaker with a rated sensitivity of 97dB:
Power in watts
Volume in dB
At the bottom end, adding just ONE watt (going from 1 to 2-watts) gives you that noticeable 3-db increase in actual volume (Sound pressure level) … but by the time you get up to actual stage levels of say 115dB or so, you are needing to add an extra 60-watts to get that same 3-dB increase. Wow.
Well, first, a guitar player should always take all T/S specs with a grain of salt! Beyond that, we should be more concerned with the sensitivity of a speaker at average gigging levels and at the actual entire frequency range of out instrument. The T/S specs were birthed in 1925, and haven’t been updated since 1972. Yes, they still are of some aid, especially when building and/or tuning a speaker cabinet to complement a given speaker … but to consider any T/S spec as the holy bible of speaker performance is a mistake
See Ya’ll next week, it’s gonna be BIG!
Hi fellow tone seekers, great to be with you once again on this fine day. Hey, hows about we talk “partscasters”? In particular, let’s talk about the value of a partscaster in cold, hard cash. Cool, let’s dig in.
As I pen this blog, in the summer of 2015, I can say without reservation that the partscaster phenomenon is in full-tilt boogie. From boutique “builders” charging multiple thousands of dollars for their beat-up and bolted together “custom builds” to the average Joe having a little fun in his garage, this trend is huge. Some online music retailers even have a business model based merely on buying complete guitars, dismantling them, and selling the pieces individually. It’s hard for me to understand why a guitar … especially an EXCELLENT one like, say, an Eric Johnson Strat, is worth more in pieces than it is as an entire, exquisite instrument, but hey, that’s exactly the way it is as of 2015. Go figure. What’s up? Let’s talk about it.
Least you think this shaping up to be a general bashing of the partscaster movement, now would be a nice time for a confession or two. First, I am currently working with a quality boutique builder, Rock Road Guitars on my own Tele-style build. Not exactly a “partscaster” since he actually carves his own necks, but … Second, I am seriously considering the purchase of a Strat style partscaster from a local hobbyist who simply bolts parts together. So there! No snobbery here, we’re just going to ferret out the facts as best we can. And, the two options I just laid out in essence comprise the biggest question: Is it a guitar made by a for-real builder who does some actual woodworking, or a hobbyist who bolts readily available parts together? Either can wind up with a nice guitar, but chances are better with the former.
Now, I’m not going to name names, but I am aware of quite a large number of boutique “builders” who simply bolt off-the-shelf parts together, “relic” them, and sell them as a multi-thousand dollar piece of artwork. Personally, I don’t get that … and from what I have witnessed, those guitars on the used market bring about 20 to 25 cents on the dollar of what you pay for them new. I.e.: your $2000 “custom” Strat has a real-world value of about $400-500. How about a guitar put together in a garage with components all sourced from somewhere like All-Parts or Stew-Mac? Well, you’re probably going to end up with a minimum of about $400-500 in the parts, and if you do a nice job of putting it together, it’ll be a guitar worth about that much on the open market … especially if you put a Fender water-slide decal on the headstock … or better yet, have your own decals made, and call it a “boutique custom build”.
Let’s talk about that $400-500 price range. Although the sky seems to be the limit when placing an order with a custom builder, from what conversations I’ve had with fellow Nashville guitar players, and what I’ve seen on the forums, there seems to be a consensus that five hundred bucks is about the most people feel comfortable paying for a “partscaster” on the USED market. And, to pay this price, ya gotta be in LOVE with it. In a way that’s too bad, the honest truth is that the average $500 partscaster … even bolted together by a rank armature … is far superior to a “Standard” made-in Mexico Strat. I mean, it’s almost impossible to actually BUY electronics and pickups as poor as what's in a Mexi-strat, unless you buy direct from Chinese mills! But, on the flip side, I get it; once the partscaster hits the real-world, it’s just plain an unknown commodity, even if it is comprised of quality “parts”. Even those with botique decals are often seen as mearly "off-brand" by the vast majority of the general guitar buying public.
Okay, so there, I’ve went ahead and said it: five hundred bucks, pay more than that for a “Tele” or “Strat” that’s been bolted together by someone other than a Fender employee in the USA and you need to be prepared to lose money on it if you ever sell it. So the question is why would you (or anyone for that matter) ever want to pay more than that? That’s easy, because you LOVE the guitar! It speaks to you in the voice of a true love. It whispers your name and gives you inspiration. It’s your one true muse. When you find this instrument, “resale value” has no place in the conversation; you’re gonna be buried with this guitar. Your wife will complain that you “love that guitar more than you love me”, and she’ll be right. So there, I think we’ve arrived at our final value: five hundred bucks max … unless love is involved.
See Ya’ll next week.
I recently received an email from one of my pickup affectionados in Germany asking a question that I realized is of ULTIMATE importance in Strat tone: “what is the best distance from the pickup to the strings for the best results?” Now that’s a question EVERYONE who owns or works on Strat’s NEEDS to know the answer to!
I need to make it clear that I am talking about real-deal vintage pickups and real-deal quality pickups like the ones made by Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, And myself. Those crappy Ceramic Bars glued next to steel slug things that come standard in so many Strat’s and Strat copies today cannot really be made to sound good, so a trip to the waste-basket is the only course of treatment for them.
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! I also should mention that these measurements should be taken from the High & Low E POLE-PIECES, not the plastic cover. Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.
Low E: 3.80mm / 0.149"
Hi E : 4.74mm / 0.186"
Often people will place the bridge pickup too high (close to the strings), with a VINTAGE set this destroys the tone, making it sound too narrow, focused, brittle, and harsh. The reason so many folks get used to placing this pickup as close as possible to the strings is because many of the currently made Strat pickups are muddy and severely lacking in the characteristic chime and sparkle we all love in a Strat! As with all truly fine Strat sets, my pickups certainly do NOT suffer from this lack of sparkle!
Low E: 4.75mm / 0.186"
Hi E : 4.13mm / 0.163"
Here, for me, it's all about making the middle pickup truly magical when combined with the neck or bridge pickup (positions 2 & 4). Yes, these measurements sound exquisite when using the middle pickup all by itself, but it REALLY brings out the glassy, airy beauty that folks crave in the "in-between" positions on a Strat!
Low E: 5.25mm / 0.207"
Hi E : 4.37mm / 0.172"
This is actually a very standard placement, and about where most Strats will come set from the factory. There are three goals here. First, we want a great "SRV" type tone that sings beautifully and does not fall apart into mud even with EXTREME amounts of gain added (think dual daisy-chained Tube Screamers). Second, we want to be able to roll the tone back a little and have a truly rewarding experience playing big Jazz chords and lines. And last, we want to ensure it blends perfectly with the middle pickup for that air and glass we mentioned.