As a bit of an artistic diversion, I “make” a few guitars every now and then, a habit I’ve had since I made my first guitar in Jr. High wood shop at age 15. Lately, I’ve been making Tele style guitars, since Nashville guitar slingers need top-shelf hard-core road guitars at a working-man’s price. There seem to be plenty of Strats in this category, but Tele’s … not so much. The process of making vintage Tele style guitars has really brought fret size to the forefront; as the traditional 3-saddle bridge really makes intonation difficult, which makes fret selection extra-important. At a later date, I’ll delve into what separates world-class Tele ELECTRONICS from the simply mediocre; but for now, let’s talk frets.
First: a note: while some of what we are discussing here relates to both acoustic as well as electric guitars, we are specifically talking about ELECTRIC guitars at this time! So a good place to start where frets are concerned would be a basic frame-of-reference; problem is, there is no such thing! Over the 70 years or so of the modern electric guitar’s life, quite a variety of frets have made finger-board appearances. So, dispel the belief that there is a “normal” that can apply to ALL electric guitars. There are a few very GENERAL observations that can be made, however.
Here is the single most important nugget, taken from an earlier blog my buddy Dave Hunter did on this topic: “While larger frets do seem to result in a rounder tone, perhaps with increased sustain too, they also yield a somewhat less precise note than narrower frets”. Please read Dave’s fine blog for his always dead-on thoughts on this topic!
So there ya have the view from 50,000-feet! Big frets = bigger tone, smaller frets equal more precise intonation. Ah, if it were just that easy; if there were only TWO fret sizes … big ones for those who want maximum tone, especially on single-string big bend solos, and small ones for those who want precise intonation. But take a look at this fret size chart, and understand that these are ONLY the most common guitar fret sizes! Yea, these waters are getting murky!
Yes, we have heard about Stevie Ray’s using enormous “bass” fret wire on some of his guitars, something his long-time guitar tech says is hogwash … but he DID play big frets, but unless you also plan to play with the huge strings he played with and only in HIS style, don’t even consider it! On the other end of the spectrum is the infamous Norlin-era Gibson “fretless wonders” of the 1970’s. With frets so small you “won’t even know they are there”. Again, unless you only play chords and play VERY light gauge strings, don’t even THINK about going there! So, that leaves us …
For MOST guitar players, this will translate into either Dunlop 6110 “Jumbo” or Stewart-MacDonald’s #150 (SRV). These are the frets to go for if you DO want the tone and playability of someone like SRV, and if you are willing to sacrifice a little precise intonation on chords for a big ballsy tone on single-note bends. Also remember, big frets require big strings! As far as I’m concerned Jumbo frets arte only for medium gauge or bigger strings … unless you play very lightly, you will undoubtedly bend chords out of tune with light-gauge strings and big frets … ugg!
Like Pre-CBS Fender’s and modern Dunlop 6230 or Stew-Mac #141 & 147. These are the frets for folks who are picky about tuning and are precise players. I especially like these frets on a Tele with a vintage 3-saddle bridge, as intonation is so compromised on these guitars anyway! Inverse to the big frets, I’d say these are for those who use light(ish) gauge strings … say 10’s or smaller.
This is what most “modern” guitars are equipped with, like the Fender “standard” size and Dunlop 6130. And, I believe these frets are a great “best of both worlds” compromise on most any Strat or Les-Paul style guitar. They bend nicely, offer full-bodied tone, intonate fairly accurately, and are friendly to all but the most extreme string sizes. There is a reason why the major manufacturers have almost all adopted this fret size as their standard … it just works!
As for stupidly wide or tall frets, I would certainly avoid them unless you really don’t care about intonation or play stupidly lightly. But always remember: these are just my recommendations. Folks have really taken the fret thing to extremes with scalloped fret-boards … and then there is the “glitter” guitar that is ALL fret ... with no fret-board at all ... but I’m gonna say these just flat ain’t for everybody!
It’s been five years ago now that we said goodbye to my old runnin’ buddy Rosie, and now we say goodbye to the little guy that’s shared our home for nearly the last two decades.
We found Squeak by the side of a little country road one Sunday morning in obvious distress. My now 24-year old daughter was but a pre-schooler then. It turned out that Squeak had been shot and the bullet had entered his left jaw and exited on the right side of his throat. He was pretty messed-up, but we paid the vet to have him put back together as best he could be. That was the first of several surgeries, and the poor little guy always looked a bit funny because his jaw didn’t align properly. Dogs are amazing, though, in their ability to live in the present, and squeak never thought of himself as sub-par. That was lesson #1 squeak taught me.
Squeak was Kim’s dog (my wife); he loved her and tolerated me but I loved the little guy all the same. As is often the case with small-breeds, squeaker had his idiosyncrasies, seemed to always bark at inappropriate times, and was generally a pain in the kiester, but I loved the little guy all the same. That’s the second thing Squeak taught me; how to love like God does. I can soooo see God shaking his head at me and mumbling something about how he wishes my behavior was better, but oh how he loves me.
Daughter two is now about the age daughter one was when we brought squeak home; she and the little man were great buds. Callie, Kim and I all feel the sting of loss and the emptiness of our home. Squeak you were truly loved in your time on earth, and you are missed.
Howdy gang! I just received an email inquiry from a pickup customer in the UK … asking such a fine question that I thought it would make for good blog fodder. So, let’s get started with the initial email, and the questions and answers to follow. Good stuff!
… I tried Fralin vintage hot singles found them flat, tried his pafs, too nice and soft no grit, then I tried lollar imperials loved these in my LP but the neck was muffled which is why I replaced it with an Alnico II pro for its sweetness and clarity, then I tried his single coils and they didn't live up to his reputation either perhaps because of expanding his business like you said. And I have tried others like Bareknuckle in the uk none come close to the real three dimensionality of yours, when I'm playing I really feel I am talking through my guitar.
Will the 57 pafs still provide proper grunt and grit for heavy rock in the bridge? Not sure how to go on the LP re: covered uncovered, and bobbin colours.... Is covered neck open bridge the norm here? I think I prefer the feel and tone of uncovered pups but two black might not look so good here.
Q: "Will the 57 pafs still provide proper
grunt and grit for heavy rock in the bridge?"
Well ... it depends ... Yes, if you like the high(ish)-gain tones Slash and Billy Gibbons get in the bridge position. ...but... No, if what you are really going for is more along the lines of Dimebag Darrell ... or even say, Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) or Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake).
I will say that with either set, I do more "calibration" between the neck & bridge pickups than is typical ... so my bridge pickups are always a good bit meatier than the neck (as is required in my opinion). And, all my humbucker sets are lightly potted in my own special system that retains true PAF tone ... but also allows high-gain without ugly feedback!
Go Alnico II (57) if you get most of your gain from pedals and want great string/note definition, a lot of sweet and complex harmonics, and a magical ability to clean-up as the volume is rolled down.
Go Alnico V (59/60) if you get most of your gain from the
amp and need a tight and powerful tone for heavy palm muting with very high
Q: "Not sure how to go on the LP re: covered uncovered, and bobbin colours.... Is covered neck open bridge the norm here? I think I prefer the feel and tone of uncovered pups but two black might not look so good here."
First, I love your UK spelling of "colors" :-) Soooo .... yes, if it comes down to old chrome over brass covers, I certainly prefer uncovered as well! However, I use only Nickle-Silver covers, which are darn-near sonicly transparent, so go with what you want it to look like! Personally, I prefer bare (unpolished) covers ... they ESPECIALLY look the most authentic and "right" on straight-up LP Bursts like yours, and they naturally age beautifully. Open black would be fine ... like the look of so many bursts that had their covers removed in the 70's and 80's. The one thing I would suggest against is shinny covers, they only look right on closet-queen shinny girls!
Hey gang, I had somthin’ cool pass through my shop that I thought y’all might just want to know about. An AT-100 that had had its treble and contour knobs busted off. I spent a little time under the hood replacing the two pots and then played through her for a while.
I wound up with two overriding impressions: 1) that this is a well thought-out and easy to work on amp, and 2) that it sounds damn good. Given it’s VERY reasonable price, that officially qualifies it as a “sleeper amp” in my book!
She IS a Chinese made PC-board amp … as are most under a grand tube amps these days, but … she is well laid-out and very tech-friendly inside. Any amp-tech that says these are tough amps to work on needs to stop telling folks he is a tech! There ain’t nothing but good old-fashoned Marshall style layout and a bunch of caps, resistors, and diodes inside her … easy-peasy!
This is one super-versatile 100-watt head! The clean channel can do a great fender-like spanky clean tone, and the two overdrive channels can be set-up for anything from mild JTM-45 crunch to full-on mesa scooped metal tone. I’ll highlight several things to know about the controls.
The two tone-stacks have very different frequency-ranges, especially the mid control which is centered around 800Hz on the overdrive channel, and apx. 1.5K on the clean channel.
The “Low-Res” control boosts everything below about 100Hz and is superb at making small cabs at low volumes sound huge … but … be careful, with 100 tube-watts all that bottom end can easily over-excurt and blow speakers at higher volumes!
The bright switch on the clean channel is an ENORMOUS boost, and it shifts the treble control from about 3.5K up to about 5K. Use caution with this switch if you value the upper portion of your hearing!
The “contour” knob is exceptionally effective at sucking out a big swath of midrange for a classic scooped metal tone. Just remember, the lower this control is, the more it’s sucking mids OUT! (At full-on, the control does nothing.)
The reverb is a true tube-driven long-spring tank and is perfectly useable, but it will not keep with a blackface Fender on full-tilt surf!
There ya go! See below for my full-length video review of this cool “sleeper” … one caveat: at 53-pounds, she ain’t for folks with weak backs!
Banjo, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, dulcimer, and my favorite, the Bouzouki. Shoot, if ya REALLY want to get in over your head, add sitar to the list. The point is: Get outta your “normal” zone where stringed instruments are concerned; when you do you will encounter a refreshing creativity like none other. Sure, a little experimentation with alternative tunings can breathe a bit of freshness into your creative atmosphere … but it’s not even close to the creative cyclone of a truly DIFFERENT instrument … one that not only has a different tuning, but also a different string arrangement, scale, and totally different tone. Seriously, I mean it, if you think you might be in a creative slump, go down to your local pawnshop and walk right past all those Squire Strats to that lonely, dusty old banjo in the back and take her home with you.
Ah, and let me now explain the OTHER benefit of playing an “alternative” instrument: the “WOW” factor. You see, my first “alt” string instrument was a fiddle I played for a while as a teenager in my little country-rock band in the early 1980’s. The country group Alabama dominated the charts back then and several of their big hits featured fiddle … the parts were prominent, but in all actuality they were not all that difficult. And so I bought a cheap fiddle and learned to play it a little, affixed a clip-on mic and vola’ … I became a fiddle player. Now, here’s the big deal: we were the ONLY local country-rock band that could boast we had a fiddle in the band, and that meant two things: first, we got a lot more gigs, and second, whenever I brought out the fiddle folks started whooping it up before I’d even played a note! Was I good? No. Was I a hit? Hell yea!
Fast-forward about 25 years to the present. I now have a little hobby band that plays every now and then, mostly at air shows and car shows. We play a smattering of “pop” hits from the 1940s all the way up to present hits. Nobody really pays us much attention … until … I break out the mountain dulcimer. In a live music scene awash in guitar-based rock, all I need to do is start into a little Celtic feeling stuff on the dulcimer (loud-n-proud through the PA) and everyone stops talking and turns around to pay attention. If only for a few minutes, I OWN that audience. Then I kick into “Copperhead Road” playing the entire first verse just me and the dulcimer before the band kicks in. It may not be as dramatic as the bagpipes, but it has the same effect! Now, some might say the dulcimer isn't a very "sexy" instrument; I dissagree.
And last, don’t get me started on the creativity the Bouzouki conjures. The first time you sit with a Celtic-tuned Bouzouki on your lap be prepared for time to stop. Hours later you will come to, aware that you have been under one heck of a seductive spell. Check this out:
Okie dokie gang, this is kinda part three in this series which started with How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster for ULTIMATE STRAT TONE! And then came How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Telecaster for ULTIMATE TELE TONE! So, what about setting the height on humbucker equipped guitars like Les Pauls? Well, let’s get into it!
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.
as far as pickup height is concerned, humbuckers are a whole different animal from single-coils. Because the magnetic field, or the part of the string being sensed by the pickup, is soooo much smaller and more focused with a single-coil, even microscopic changes in pickup height make a perceivable sonic difference; humbuckers are different. 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.
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: 3mm / 0.125"
Hi E : 2.5mm / 0.1"
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 2.3mm / 0.09"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece screws)
Yep … that’s CLOSE! But here’s why: The old PAF design using Alnico III or II magnets has a single small bar magnet in the base providing the magnetic charge for both the steel pole-piece screws and slugs in both bobbins of a humbucker. The measured magnetism (gauss) at the actual pole screw in these humbuckers 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 original humbucker designs, that’s EXACTLY what makes them come alive
Since the Alnico 5 humbuckers have an increased gauss (about 350-500 at the poles), I generally won’t smack them up against the strings quite so close, as they would tend to get a bit “bitey” as close as what I just outlined for Alnico 2 or 3. However, they DO tend to still sound their best fairly close, as compared to single coils. Here are my general starting point settings:
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 3.1mm / 0.12"
Low E: 4.0mm / 0.16"
Hi E : 2.8mm / 0.11"
I find their tone to be terribly sterile and uninspiring, as such I’m not going to give any recommended settings here, other than my usual suggestion of properly tossing them in the waste basket, don’t worry … there’s nothing in them that will hurt the environment.
As stated earlier, quality humbuckers with AlNiCo magnets are quite forgiving of height adjustments compared to Fender style single-coils. 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). 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.
There ya have it, see y’all next time.
First a shout-out to my buddy John Scott at Bluesman Vintage here in Nashville for helping to make this blog (along with the restoration) possible … Thanks John! Now, let’s get into this story.
This bass is currently owned by Georgia picker Wayne Kistner who traded for it it way back in 1971 from super-picker Les Dudek who, in addition to his solo material, has played guitar with The Steve Miller Band, The Dudek-Finnigan-Krueger Band, Stevie Nicks, Cher, Boz Scaggs, The Allman Brothers and many more uber-cool cats. So, this bass has some History with a capital “H”!
Okay, so take a good look at the above pic of the bass; kinda makes you think “what the heck?” … right? Looks like some of the guitars that were found floating in a swamp after hurricane Katrina. But no, this guitar was not the victim of THAT kind of natural disaster … it was ANOTHER kind of natural disaster! You see, that early plastic pickguard (a concoction of nitric acid, sulphuric acid, cotton fibers, and camphor) was just doing what nitric acid and sulpheric acid naturally does over time … it was an agent of corrosion! If you have a vintage instrument with any plastic parts made from this highly unstable and corrosive early acid-based plastic, here is a key: Don’t keep it shut up in a case for long periods of time, because if you do, when you open the case you might well see somthing like the horror pictured here! For more on this dangerous off-gassing, read this Gibson blog on “Plastic Explosives”.
And so, this is the condition the bass was in when it hit the shop of Bluesman Vintage. They carefully disassembled her and lovingly put her back together again, cleaning and re-using as many original parts as they possibly could. The dead-as-a-doornail pickup wound up (no pun here :-) in my shop. She looked terrible … but in a cool vintage kind of way! When I cut and removed the coil, I found just what I expected: a LOT of corrosion on the magnetic pole pieces; this was probably what led to the pickups demise!
So I stripped her down and cleaned and polished her up on the inside, but left the outside looking fully “vintage”.
Next, I fully covered the pole pieces with Kapton tape prior to winding, to ensure corrosion would never again suppress this gal’s voice.
Then I re-charged the magnetic poles, which were reading nearly fully dead. Luckily, they charged nicely up to a very healthy level for AlNiCo 5!
Then it was on to the hand-winder for about 10,000 turns of period correct Plain Enamel coil wire.
The original lead wires were re-used for historic integrity. The cotton jacket on them was flaking just a bit, and the black lead had turned more blue-ish in color, but they were fully serviceable.
Then she got a nice comfy cotton-string protective wrap, just like she was given at birth back in 1968.
And then it was on to a nice dip in my own proprietary vintage tint lacquer potting.
And last, we checked her vitals, just to make sure she was fully recovered and ready to once again make folks realize that, after all is said and done it really is “all about that bass”. She clocked in at a perfect 8.7K resistance and 3.66 Hernies of induction, those numbers combined with her average pole gauss readings in the 1,100 range mean she is just flat PERFECT.
And, doesn’t she look sweet!
Speaking of looking sweet, I’ll end this blog with some pics of the fully restored bass. Contrast these to the pic at the top of this blog. And remember children: watch that old plastic “explosive”!
FYI: The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) shows are held each January in Anaheim California and July in Nashville, Tennessee; they are the biggest music gear trade shown in America … historically, most companies announce their new products at a NAMM show. As I pen this blog, I am completely snowed-in and feeling a bit “under the weather” at my home in Nashville while the NAMM convention is in full swing with a sweeeet 72-degrees temp in California. Okay, yea, I might be feeling just a teeny, weenie bit sorry for myself. But, let’s not dwell…
Luckily, every music media outlet in the world is present at the show, and so we can ALL vicariously be at the show in a 2016 virtual-reality world built by modern media/social media. And so it is that every morning I drink my first cup of coffee while virtually walking the isles at Anaheim. Cool stuff, too! Oh, and of course the WGS/Vaughn Skow family IS FULLY represented at the show with David, Dean, and Wayne walking the show floor in the not-so-virtual, legs hurt at the end of the day way. And so, here are some cute little insta-gram shots of stuff that caught their attention. Personally, my fav is the Flux-Tone Plexi amp … literally, all plexiglass :-)
And now, for a little more NAMM goodness, here’s yours truly at Winter & Summer NAMM 2015. A little fun watching for those of you currently snowed-in!
Howdy friends! Here is PART of the story of my long journey to develop truly holy-grail level P90 pickups … the part about treble bleed circuits! Now, most treble-bleed circuit discussions fall into one of three general camps: 1) what values to use, 2) Parallel vs series wiring of the cap & resistor, and 3) how pleasant the treble content is as you roll-down the volume control. My discussion is a bit different, as it primarily is about P90 equiped guitars, I DO NOT recomend treble-bleeds on already spikey single-coil guitars ESPECIALLY Telecasters! And, this blog is mostly about the resultant sound with the volume controls all the way up ... yes, this mod DOES affect the tone of the guitar even BEFORE you start rolling down the volume! The story is kinda long, skip towards the end for the results without the lead-up story.
I INSTANTLY realized that these P90s sounded spectacular, easily the best P90 tone I had ever encountered. And so, I chose this guitar to be the “standard” for my own P90 R&D. What made the tone of these P90s so different was … well … everything. The bridge pickup just felt SOLID, weather bell-like clean tones on classic Tele stuff like the Folsom Prison signature lick or Jazzmaster-ish surf licks … and right up to heavy Marshall Crunch and AC/DC licks … the bridge tone was always impeccable. The neck tone was maybe not quite as spectacular, but still my personal favorite P90 neck tone ever. P90s in the neck can tend to get a bit too “woofy” (or muddy if you prefer), especially with a good bit of gain added. This particular guitar had absolutely NO muddiness at all in the neck position, and practically nailed SRV neck tone. However, I did find myself longing for just a little bit of the signature P90 neck woof … and the combined tone (middle position) was both a bit sterile and boring, and with no RW/RP accommodations, it also buzzed even worse than either pickup on its own. But STILL … overall, the best sounding dual P90 guitar I’ve ever heard! So, the question was: why? Are ya ready for the answer?
For two years I had been making P90 prototypes and NONE sounded as excellent as the previously mentioned Les Paul 60’s Tribute. Early on I took a peek at the pickups in this guitar during a string-change, and found them to be the stock Gibson models (which by the way looked quite nicely made). So, I bought ANOTHER guitar just like the first to try my pickups in for a direct apples-to-apples shootout, and guess what, the “new” one, stock, didn’t sound nearly as good as the first one. What was going on here? That’s when it hit me: I hadn’t even peeked in the control cavity of the first “magical” Les Paul. So I did, and I got quite a surprise!
First, holy cow was it a clean job … and second, it was most certainly NOT factory wiring.
My God, why hadn’t I peeked in hear earlier? Quite an over-sight on my part! So, I opened my new guitar up and found it’s wiring to be stock … and … miserable. By comparison, it was downright ugly. I wish I would have taken a picture … but I guess it’s better to let that horror live on only in my own memory.
A-ha! Now it was clear why my P90 designs were always falling short of my “standard bearer” guitar … even though I wound pickups to the exact same specs, with the exact same ingredients, and with pole gauss numbers at the same readings!
So, I re-wired the “new” Les Paul to 50’s style, added in orange-drop .022 tone caps (I did not have any .033uf caps on-hand), and began to play with different values of treble-bleed cap/resistor networks.
The “standard bearer” first guitar had a treble-bleed circuit consisting of a 470 pico-farad capacitor and a 220K resistor in parallel on both pickups. I experimented with a number of values, and here is what I ended up going with on Les Paul number two … with my vintage-wound P90s installed (which spec almost exactly the same as in the “standard bearer”).
My ‘new” Les-Paul 60’s tribute now sounds BETTER in every way than the original “standard bearer”. The Bridge sounds exactly the same as my holy-grail P90. The neck sounds better; it still avoids being too “muddy” … but DOES allow for just the right amount of P90-ish woof, which was missing in the original. And, possibly best of all, with both pickups on the tone is spectacular! Complex, rewarding, and simply inspiring … and due to employing RW/RP on the pair, it’s also dead-quiet and buzz-free! As a note, as I roll back the volume controls, the tone remains nearly unchanged (that's why most folks install treble bleed circuits), and the taper of the pots are actually MORE to my liking ... more gentle over the travel of the pot. All in all, I accomplished everything I set out to do. Below are some notes on treble-bleed circuits you might want to take into consideration:
So there ya go! Now, go out and experiment for yourselves. The clip-on mod circuit the good folks at Stew-Mac advocate is a great idea if you don’t want to do any soldering on your guitar until you’re sure you have it right! You can even find inexpensive capacitor/resistance boxes cheaply on eBay ... which makes the experimentation VERY easy!
It’s almost Christmas, 2015 as I pen this blog. Over the years I have written a number of blogs on what you could call “Pro-America” topics. I just can’t help it. I feel so genuinely blessed to have been born in the time & place where I was. And, I’m totally grateful for having been born an American. In the history of the world, there has never been a better place. I won’t re-hash old feelings here … at the end of this blog I’ll have a list of OLD blogs for you to get that! So, let’s move on to my thoughts as of TODAY, December, 2015.
We have all heard that overseas manufacturing is getting “better”, especially in China. Quality is still all over the map, but at least is seems as though the Chinese are CAPABLE of making a decent product. Furthermore, we are a decade or so into the Wal-Mart economy of “Always the Cheapest Price, Always”. We love cheap stuff … so why not just have our stuff made wherever we can get it the cheapest? Well, as you’ve already guessed, I happen to have some answers to that question. Here are some compelling reasons.
Darn it folks, when you are buying your Christmas presents, look to see where the stuff’s made, and consider what you want to support and encourage. Okay, that’s it. It’s been a while since I’ve stood so proudly on my lil’ soapbox. For earlier installments, see: