Weekend Mod Project: BillM Blues Jr Mods, Part 2

Last week I posted about my decision to jump headfirst into the world of amp mods, performing some simple tweaks to my Fender Blues Jr using a popular kit from online Jr guru Bill Machrone. This included the “TwinStack” mod, replacement orange drop tone capacitors, power supply stiffening capacitor, and adjustable bias trim pot, as well as a presence control and more robust input jack. Sounds complicated, but in reality the mods involve only a handful of components. What could go wrong?

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6-String Web Roundup: Winter NAMM 2014 Edition

I’ve been on a long hiatus from the blog for reasons both musical and professional, but it’s about damn time to resume posting. The 2014 Winter NAMM show wrapped up a couple weekends ago, which means new gear announcements galore. Here are some of the highlights.

Fishman debuted its new “Fluence” electric guitar pickups (Premier Guitar has a good feature on the technology). A lot of guitar companies  have been touting “revolutionary” products in recent years that fail to live up to the hype; this is one development that seems to have real potential.

AXL won the prize for hippest sub-$1K guitar announcement — the $750 street Bel Air is assembled in America and features a LP Jr-inspired body, single TV Jones humbucker, and cool-as-beans Bigsby tailpiece.

Huss and Dalton took the +$3K prize for the DS Crossroads acoustic guitar, a slope-shouldered mahogany dreadnought with a Gibson-style 24.5″ scale length — this one’s on my “must try” short list.

The offerings from Fender were a little disappointing this winter, save for a super-cool Custom Shop replica of the Nile Rodgers “Hitmaker” Stratocaster. It’s always nice to see a behind-the-scenes session ace rewarded with a signature instrument.

P-90 equipped jazz boxes are a rarity these days; D’Angelico has stepped up with the EX-59, a full-depth 17″ archtop with two 1950s approved single coils and a gorgeous burst finish — this one’s built for pickin’ “Chitlins Con Carne.”

Electro Harmonix — which previously announced an affordable Klon Centaur-inspired overdrive — also announced the Satisfaction Fuzz, which promises Keef tones for $70; you’d be hard-pressed to find an original Maestro Fuzz Tone for anything less than three times that figure.  

I’ve been jonesing lately for a compact acoustic archtop a la Dave Rawlings’ 1935 Epiphone Olympic. Lo and behold, Gretsch showed off the G9550 New Yorker, a solid-topped sunburst 16″ archtop. at an uber-reasonable price.

Finally, Taylor announced a revamping of its 800 series guitars, including a new bracing approach that’s supposed to yield bigger tone. I’ve never really been blown away by any Taylor I’ve encountered (admittedly I’m biased toward the Martin sound) — maybe these guitars can shift my perception.


6-String Web Roundup, December 2013 Edition

Happy Holidays from NewOldStock, sharing the best of the guitar web this merry month!

The Bob Dylan Newport Folk Strat sold for $965,000, breaking the previous record held by Eric Clapton’s “Blackie.” The lucky bidder remains anonymous.

The Winter NAMM show is coming, which means a month of new gear announcements! Early press releases include:

  • Paul Reed Smith is expanding its affordable U.S.-made S2 line with the addition of the S2 Singlecut and S2 Custom 22.
  • Fender has added the 12W, 2×10 Vaporizer to its “Pawn Shop” line of 50s-inspired amps. The $399 combo is the first in the series to sport reverb.
  • Gibson is rolling out twenty-seven new models for 2014, including a raft of Les Pauls to celebrate the company’s 120th anniversary. Robot tuners and exotic pickup switching options abound.
  • Electro-Harmonix is now offering the “Soul Food” overdrive, which is designed to put Klon Centaur-inspired tones within reach of the working guitarist.

Slate, of all publications, posted a great explanation of how the ubiquitous wah-wah pedal functions. Bow-chicka-bow-wow.

I usually tune out the Grammys, but it was reassuring to see a who’s who of classic rock guitar bands among this year’s nominees — Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and the Rolling Stones all received well-deserved nods.

Speaking of guitar gods, Keith Richards turned 70 on December 18th. It’s hard to believe that he’s been at it for more than fifty years now; you can read about some of the highlights in his highly readable and entertaining autobiography. So many great riffs.

Shredders unite! For only a couple grand, you too can spend a week in August 2014 with Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Andy Timmons, and Mike Keneally as part of the G4 Experience. Sweeping arpeggios will rock the peaceful forested hills of Cambria, CA.

On a sad note, legendary pickup designer, guitarist, and all-round nice guy Bill Lawrence passed away last month. Bill earned his reputation through a combination of innovation, word-of-mouth marketing, and emminently reasonable prices — contenders in the increasingly crowded boutique pickup market can still learn a thing or two from the humble pioneer.

Finally, it always pays to protect your guitar with a quality case. Also, you never know when it might come in handy as an improvised cold weather survival shelter.

Weekend Test Drive: Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb & Gibson ES-330 TD VOS

Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb and Gibson ES-330 Reviewed

I’ve posted some critical musings lately regarding recent marketing decisions from Fender and Gibson. I scorn because I love. Both companies still churn out some great products and are — for me anyway — still the point of departure for classic American electric guitar design. Last weekend I stopped by Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, and had a chance to put two solid products from both companies through their paces.

Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb

I expressed skepticism a few weeks ago regarding the ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. From the online product specs, it seemed as though Fender was making a questionable decision to resurrect amps from its controversial “silverface” era. So when I saw a shiny new example of the Custom DR at Levin’s, I had no choice but to grab a Tele off the wall and plug in (though it did take some willpower to ignore the boutique offerings from Bogner and Carr sitting to either side).

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Fender Really Wants Us to Give the CBS Era Another Chance

Last month I wrote about Fender’s reissue of the Coronado and Starcaster, idiosyncratic guitars that were originally released during Fender’s controversial CBS period and have since enjoyed a cult following. Another week, another CBS-era resurrection. FMIC has brought back — in “vintage modified” form — the “silverface” amplifiers of 1968, including the Twin Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, and Princeton Reverb. This marketing decision is a little more perplexing.

Fender’s silverface (a reference to the silver control panel) amplifiers represented more than just a cosmetic departure from the “blackface” era of 1964-1967. While sharing model names, the silverfaces featured circuit tweaks that arguably affected the tone of the amps, in ways that have made them less sought-after than their predecessors (though the 1968 changes were more subtle than variations later introduced in the 70s). Granted, original silverface Fender amps have enjoyed new-found popularity in the past decade, in large part because they can be had for cheaper prices on the vintage market (while still sporting hand wired point-to-point construction). Nonetheless, the internet abounds with discussions of how to internally modify these amps to pre-CBS specs.

Fender already offers popular reissues of the ’65 Twin Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, and Princeton Reverb. These amps use modern (though less durable) printed circuit boards to keep costs down, which appears to also be the case with the new silverfaces. By contrast, the silverfaces are not strict reissues, offering tweaks not seen in the originals. For example, the ’68 Deluxe Reverb features a “modified Bassman tone stack” in one channel, which is supposed to be better suited to effects pedals. So maybe there’s something new here. Still, it seems that buyers (who may already be confused by Fender’s myriad product lines) basically have the option to purchase a cosmetically different amp, of comparable construction quality and price to the ’65 reissues, with an historically less popular (albeit functionally modified) tone profile. Am I missing something here?

Cosmetic comparison — 1966 Princeton (left) and 1974 Princeton (right).                     Image credits: Drmies and Bubba73 of the Wikimedia Commons.

It’s ALIVE (again): Bizarre Guitars Resurrected

Fender recently announced the return of the Coronado and Starcaster to its regular lineup. Both models were introduced by Fender in the late 1960s, in a not-too-successful attempt to introduce new blood into the line and break into the hollow/semi-hollow market. The two models blended Fender’s bolt-on neck with Gibson-inspired bodies and unconventional pickups; it’s not hard to see, at least from a design standpoint, why these instruments didn’t attract a wider following. That said, I’m hard-pressed to argue with Jonny Greenwood (left, via wonker on Flickr). Or Elvis. maybe Fender was on to something.

Fender isn’t the only company resurrecting oddities from its past. Gibson has been leading the way in recent years with reissues of guitars like the L-6 and RD. All of these instruments have enjoyed a certain cult following, in some cases because they can be had for considerably less cash than their more conventional vintage peers. The reissues update these often-finicky guitars with better hardware, improved playability, and more attention to quality control (the originals emerged during rather shifty times for both Fender and Gibson).

The revived Fenders are also a sonic departure from their predecessors; the Gretsch-style FideliTrons on the Coronado and reissue wide-range humbuckers on the Starcaster share little in common (other than a superficial resemblance) with the original ’60s pickups. Beyond the pickups, it’s hard to recreate the vintage pawn shop mojo of an original, which is why I have a hard time seeing these new-build instruments lasting in either company’s catalog for long. But I’m willing to be proven wrong…

Weekend Test Drive: Guitar Vista Albuquerque Edition

Eastman E10SS, Bourgeois Slope D, 1949 Epiphone Broadway, and 1959 Gretsch Anniversary Reviewed

Guitar Vista occupies unassuming real estate in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area. Don’t let the modest facade fool you though; inside you’ll find the best selection of high-end acoustic and electric instruments to be found in the Land of Enchantment. It’s a niche that was seriously lacking in the city, particularly since Encore Music shut its doors several years ago. Stan Burg is the man behind Guitar Vista, and he was instrumental (pun intended) in helping me navigate the inventory on a Saturday afternoon several weeks ago.

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