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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Waiting for “The One”

Singer-songwriter Laura Zucker has a good post up on Guitar World, describing her quest for “the one.” No, not Keanu Reeves. Rather, an instrument with the elusive combination of sound, form, and aesthetics that best suited her as a player. She eventually chanced upon a custom Breedlove that fit the bill. Besides maybe concert violinists, whose instruments are an art form unto themselves and routinely command eye-watering prices, I’m not sure many other musicians obsess over finding “the one” so much as guitarists.

I worked in guitar shops throughout high school and college, which is basically indentured servitude for gear addicts. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that the number of guitars I’ve personally owned is in the (low) double digits. That number includes at least three Strats and five Teles, a couple pointy guitars with Floyd Roses, and even a Les Paul for good measure. The vast majority of those guitars didn’t last long before I traded them away. The longest-standing instrument I still possess is a sunburst Fender Mexican Strat purchased in high school, my first “serious” guitar. It was my go-to electric for the better part of a decade, and has gone through innumerable hardware mods and pickup upgrades; just last year I was rewiring it yet again for a bridge pickup blend pot. I traded away a lot of guitars because they just didn’t feel like home in the same way.

Over time my preference shifted toward Telecasters, and I’ve cycled through a few before arriving at the American Special that currently gets most of my attention. While it’s a great guitar, I still can’t say I’ve necessarily found “the one.” Zucker writes that she only chanced on the Breedlove when she wasn’t really in the market for a new guitar. “It just came to me,” in her words. It also helped that she threw monetary caution to the wind, buying “the guitar that I really wanted, and not just the one I could reasonably afford.” My recent experience with a certain Gibson ES-330 seems to validate Laura’s insight. That said, I can think of at least 4 or 5 guitars that I really want, so putting her advice into practice might be an expensive proposition…

6-String Web Roundup, Nov 2013 Edition

The interwebs abound with great guitar content — far more than most of us can keep tabs with. For my latest N.O.S. posting experiment, I’m going to aggregate some of the highlights on at least a monthly basis. Obviously the roundup is skewed toward my preferences, so feel free to submit additions in the comments!

The sunburst Fender Stratocaster strummed by Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is up for auction. Just like that landmark performance, there’s some controversy surrounding the guitar.

Speaking of famous Fenders, two of the company’s master builders recently had the opportunity to examine two heavily modded Mustangs used by Kurt Cobain on the In Utero sessions. Talk about a dream job. More video please!

Another live preview of Jim Campilongo’s upcoming Dream Dictionary is up on YouTube. I can’t be the only who thinks that a Tom Waits-Jim Campilongo collaboration would be epic. Check out “Nang Nang” to hear why.  

Vintage Guitar profiled a 1965 Supro combo amp that may or may not be the same model used by Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin I. It’s a whole lotta amp in an 18-watt package.

Reverend announced several new signature model instruments, including a fifth Pete Anderson guitar. The hollowbody PA-1C features two humbuckers and a fixed tail piece, offering a more conventional alternative to the Bigsby-equipped PA-1 and PA-1RT.

The organ trio of Peter Bernstein (g), Larry Goldings (org), and Bill Stewart (b) was featured on NPR’s “Live at the Village Vanguard.” Killer stuff. Also, check out Peter’s latest album Live@Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club.

Gruhn Guitars has a 1940 Stromberg Master 400 for sale once owned by none other than Freddie Green. The ad for the 19″ acoustic archtop is accompanied by an amazing vintage photograph of the Basie band with electric jazz pioneer Charlie Christian. 

Finally, no matter the bond that may exist between picker and ax, perfectly good guitars don’t belong six feet under. Dear Prudie agrees.

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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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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Weekend Test Drive: Pro Guitar Shop Edition

Fender 1958 Telecaster Reissue and Fender Total Tone Stratocasters Reviewed

I went to a wedding in Portland this past weekend, with some time to kill between festivities. Unbeknownst to me before I arrived, Portland is home to the Pro Guitar Shop showroom, located in the downtown Pearl District. Readers may be familiar with Pro Guitar Shop’s online presence, including their collection of YouTube demo videos in which drool-worthy boutique gear is put through its paces by Andy, gear exhibitor extraordinaire. Visitors to the Port City should definitely make some time for the showroom; the staff are great and the collection of pro guitars and amps on display is pretty spectacular.

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Another new-fangled Gibson Guitar-X

Following on the heels of the summer NAMM show, Gibson Guitar Corp. just announced the new “LPX.” For all practical purposes, it appears to be the electronic guts from 2010’s much ballyhooed Firebird X vivisected into a more conventional Les Paul-style profile. I say Les Paul-“style” because — despite taking a step in the right aesthetic direction — the LPX still borrows the clunky headstock, multicolored mismatched knobs, spartan trim, and excess chrome from the Firebird X. There’s a fair debate to be had regarding the necessity of self-tuning, built-in effects, wireless connectivity, and the myriad other features cluttering this instrument. But seriously Gibson — if you want folks to give these features a fair chance, incorporate them into one of the attractive, classically appointed guitars upon which your company’s 100+ year reputation has been built. A standard series Les Paul, for example, with its gorgeous (and proven) blend of old-world craftsmanship and modern functionality. Especially if the instrument is going to list for five freakin’ grand.

Musical instruments (particularly upscale examples) are as much works of art as they are functional tools of the trade, something that seems to be lost on Gibson’s design team. Despite the name of this blog, I think most guitarists (including myself) are open to innovation, particularly when it actually improves upon the existing connection we have with our gear. That includes the aesthetic.

Alex Skolnick’s Guitar Player blog commentary on the original Firebird X rollout aptly captures my feelings:

“By bringing the costs of their genuine Custom Shop items back down to Earth, presenting (and pricing) the mass-produced assembly line models for what they really are and focusing on remaining “timeless,” Gibson could help get more guitars in the hands of players at all levels, remain profitable and earn back something much more valuable than sales figures: it’s [sic] integrity.”

Enough ranting for today. There are still plenty of great guitars out there (including more than a few Gibsons) waiting to be picked.

Nils Lofgren Shreds on “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

N.O.S. is going to be Bruce-heavy for the next couple weeks. I’m checking out the Boss on the 15th at Fenway, and am pumped to say the least. The performance in the video is one that makes you want to strap on an electric guitar and join a rock & roll band. It’s also worth checking out Tom Morello’s solo on this tune (from the same tour I think). A similarly great performance, but I have to say I prefer Nils. Minimal effects other than some intense overdrive/distortion; the tone is mostly his fingers, a Strat, and a cranked amp (or two).

In case you’re wondering about the funky attachment on the headstock, check out the video below from Fender.

Weekend Mod Project: Frequent Flyer-caster, Part 1

My day job requires quite a bit of travel, with the frequency having gone up significantly in the past year. Until recently, the travel has created a conflict with my resolution to get back into music. As anyone who plays an instrument knows, constant on-and-off gaps in a practice routine do not facilitate progress. Unfortunately, getting anything oddly shaped – like a guitar – onto an airplane these days is a challenge. I see other travelers doing it from time to time, but the idea still makes me nervous. It only takes one stubborn gate agent to relegate your number one axe to the hold and the mercy of the baggage “throwers.” So I needed a solution for getting a playable (and ideally gig-able) guitar with me from Point A to Point B.

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