Saturday, June 28, 2008

1984 Ovation Collector's Series Guitar

Everyone has an opinion about Ovation guitars. Mine has certainly changed over the years. Yes, I've become a guitar snob. However, back in 1985 I fell in love with this guitar and it became the very first "guitar obsession" I ever had. At the time, I lived in the...let's see, how do I say this..."not-my-idea-of-where-to-spend-forver" town of Enid, Oklahoma. I had gone to college there at Phillips University (which has since closed it's hallowed doors) and was spending a year or so finding myself (at the bar, that's where I was). There were a couple of small music stores in Enid and I walked into one of them one day for the first time and up above everything else was a collection of every Ovation Collector's Series guitar up to that point. Ovation began the Collector's Series in 1982 and continues it to this day. However, being 1985, there were only 4 guitars in the series.

I fell in love with the 1984 model, which looked different than any other guitar I had ever seen at that point. I inquired as to how much it was and the owner of the store told me that it wasn't for sale. His intention was to collect 'em all! I just mentioned that if he ever decided to break up the set to let me know and I left my number. I'm not sure why because I had no extra money at the time and couldn't really afford the guitar. I think it was around $1200 but I can't remember for sure. Way out of my league at the time.

I went about my business for a time, my business being bartending, drinking beer, and bartending while drinking beer. One day I got home and there was a message. "This message is for Jaimie Muehlhausen. This is Bob at the guitar store and, if you want that Ovation, it's yours." Evidently the store was not doing well and he needed to sell what he knew he could sell. I couldn't figure out how the hell I was going to pull this off, but I knew I would have to try. At the time I had a Gibson acoustic that was some weird model they only made for a couple of years. It had a plastic, yes plastic, ring around the soundhole and a very aerodynamic looking bridge. It sounded like crap and played poorly (hence the short model life I assume) and I really didn't want to keep it. Problem was, it had been given to me by a former coworker. And, to top it off, I wasn't sure if it was actually mine or if I was supposed to give it back at some point.

On that day, I made the decision that I wasn't supposed to give it back.

I took it in and asked the guy at the shop if he would at all be interested in taking the Gibson in as a trade. I mean, it was a Gibson after all. Had to be worth something. I don't recall how much he gave me for it, but it was a decent price. Somehow, some way, I talked the guy into letting me make payments on the balance. He even let me take it home with me. You can bet I made the payments on time.

I loved this guitar. Round plastic back and all (okay, my new bias just slipped out). It had a pickup in it, and that was first and foremost. I was starting to play some open mic nights and wanted to be able to just plug in. In retrospect, it was very quacky of the very first of the piezos that came out. The guitar was really nice looking with a really dark walnut stain and those little leafy looking things around the cluster of soundholes that Glen Campbell made famous singing the Wichita Lineman. It was the super shallow bowl model and was actually pretty comfortable to play. Plastic bowl back and all...oops, I did it again.

I had this guitar for a few years and really did like it at the time. If you happened to read my story about the '74 Telecaster recently you know how this one ends. I'll keep it brief. I moved to California in '87 and a year or so later walked into my first Guitar Center. Up on the wall was an amazing looking Martin D-41 with extra fancy neck inlay. It was the second guitar I became obsessed with and I had to sacrifice my very first obsession to get it. I traded the Ovation, the Telecaster and some cash money to get the Martin. I'm glad I did, but I have to be honest in admitting that every now and then, just out of curiosity, I search eBay for a 1984 Ovation Collector's Series, just to see what they go for and to remind myself of what they look like. I don't really want one, but I guess it's like looking at a photo of yourself from high school...the haircut seemed cool at the time, but you don't really want to go that direction again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sanremo Solid Body Electric Mandolin (project)

Here's a cool one...I actually still have it, but it's in parts. So, technically it hasn't gotten away yet, but I just don't know when I'll get around to restoring it. Especially since I'm not really a guitar restoring kind of guy. I'll start the story off with this...if anyone is interested in owning this, I'd probably sell me. Now for the story...

I saw this for sale on eBay one day and I got just a little obsessed with it. I bid more than I should have and won...and now it's just sitting around in my studio. It's an eight string solid body electric mandolin made by Sanremo. Ever heard of it? Me either. I think it's just a Japanese company from the '70s that probably made things under different names. If you know anything about this please let me know. I'm dying to find out something.

This mando looked like someone had left it out in the backyard for the winter under some leaves or maybe in a shed. Bill Nash can try to make his relics look beat to hell, but you can't fake this. It's a mess cosmetically. But, interestingly, the action on it was pretty decent and it works fine. The problem was that the bridge had cracked into two pieces and the nut is broken. I actually reglued the bridge and it went back together pretty well. But the nut had a chunk missing and it needs a new nut made. The electronics work well and you've got to love that tortoise shell covering on the pickup. Tuners and neck are good.

My original intention was to take it apart (which I did), sand it down (which I started and quit) and completely refinish the body in Sonic Blue and give it that cool old Fender Mustang look...the Sonic Blue with the tortoise shell guard would look sweet in my opinion. Or maybe Shoreline Gold. Seafoam Green would look cool too, but if you're going to go with Seafoam Green you might as well go one better and do the Sonic Blue. Olympic White would look really nice, but a bit plain and I like things a bit different. Of course I could always go back to the yellowed looking Vintage White. I'll even admit, I gave some thought to Shell Pink, which would look cool with the tortoise. It's a really underrated Fender custom color that I'm sure is overlooked because everyone is afraid to look gay (there, I said it). But I think it can look pretty cool on the right instrument, though admittedly not very manly. Hell, it's no Lake Placid Blue! Now there's a manly color for you. And no one's going to get beat up playing a sunburst Strat. Very safe.

I was thinking I would ask you, my readers, what color do you think I should do the refin? Please, leave a comment!

It's all there and I think it would be a really cool instrument to bring back to life. I just don't know about having the time. I'm sure I could get a new nut made. And my next door neighbor is a fine craftsman woodworker who knows everything about everything when it comes to this stuff. Maybe I just need to man up (so forget the shell pink) and get to work on this thing.

Anyone know where to get a nut custom made?

UPDATE (March '09): A reader named Virginia just contacted me and let me know that she, too, owns a Sanremo electric mandolin. Hers is the same color as mine, which leads me to believe I should refinish mine in the original color. Maybe. Anyway, here is a photo (left) of hers and it certainly matches up exactly with mine. Thanks Virginia!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

1963 Fender Tremolux Amplifier

I had an opportunity to get an old Fender Tremolux once in a trade situation and completely blew it. When the opportunity came up a second time, years later, I wasn't about to let it get away. I'm pretty sure I've told the story of the first chance I had...I needed an amp for the first actual band I was going to be in. All I had was a really nice, extra fancy Martin D-41 (MAN, I wish I had that one back). I took it to the local guitar store to trade it for an amp and a lesser acoustic guitar and I blew it. I did get a really sweet, cherry sunburst Gibson Dove from the late 70's that played like buttah and sounded great. But when the guy said, "You can pick from those two amps over there in the corner," that's when I blew it. The two amps were a 1963 blonde Fender Tremolux with 2-10" cabinet and a Roland Jazz Chorus 120. You guessed it folks...I picked the Roland, god help me. Suffice it to say, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to amps at the time and I'm sure the guy from that shop still tells the story of how some schmuck traded a D-41 with thousands of dollars of additional inlay for a Dove and a Jazz Chorus.

It's probably his shining retail moment.

So, fast forward a few years, and I come across this second Tremolux, identical to the one I missed out on. That's how I say it..."missed out on." Prior to the world of eBay and Craig's List you had to rely on local papers and entertainment publications and the Penny Saver. In San Diego we have The Reader, which has the listings for all the live music in town, movies, articles about local politics and stories about all kinds of goofy local people, usually with a parrot on their shoulder and wearing Hawaiian shirts. The best part of The Reader for a musician though is the ads for musical instruments. That's where I found this The Reader. I actually don't remember the details in any way...I'm completely drawing a blank. But I do know that this amp sounded like a million bucks and I fell in love with tremolo.

As you can see from the photos, this amp has a separate head and cabinet. The Tremolux came with a 2-10" cabinet with Jensen speakers, though sometimes you'll find one with 2-12". I'm pretty certain that if you come across that, you're not looking at an original pairing. The old Bandmasters and later Bassmans came with 2-12's and, although they still sound great, it's the 2-10's that I think give this the sound. The head has a sort of built-in bracket system that keeps it attached to the cab with large thumb screws and it had tilt-back legs as well. I was always scared shitless to actually use the tilt-backs because I was afraid the whole thing would tip over and KA-BAM, no amp. I had a custom road case built for this amp with a red finish, so if you happen to own this amp with it's red road case let me know. I'll trade you for a Jazz Chorus...wink, wink. Not that I still have the Jazz Chorus...that's another story.

The end of this amp came about when I was playing a gig one night at a local San Diego bar called Dreamstreet. It's one of those bars that has 4 local bands a night playing and no one's crowd supports any other your band plays, your people come in and hang out, then your band finishes, your people go back outside, and no one ever builds up a local following because no one supports good live music...just supports their friend's band. But I digress. We got set up as quickly as we could, being the third band of the night, and got ready to kick into our first tune. I was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. I stepped up to the mic to sing the first words and my lips slightly touched the mic and BOOOM...I literally got the shock of my life. That old Tremolux wasn't grounded and, even though I had used the same amp successfully for a long time, the situation that night all added up to massive electrocution. It literally blew me backwards just a bit and I had a burn on my lips for quite a few days. We kept playing but I stayed about a foot from the mic the rest of the night...rock'n'roll must go on.

It didn't take long for me to decide to get a different amp. I suppose I could have had that one altered with a grounded cord, but I didn't want to alter the originality of it and I just decided to get something else. I'm pretty sure I sold it and ended up with a Music Man 4-10 Sixty Five, which was no slouch. Hey, I wish I had that one back too.

Once again, I can't find photos of this actual amp, so I have resorted to stealing some from the 'net. These photos are EXACT though, so pretend this is the one I had and no one will know.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vox T-60 Bass Amplifier

Vox is a brand name that brings up thoughts of both really cool and really marginal instruments and amps. I love Vox Mando-Guitars, Vox AC-30 amps, and some of their guitars look pretty cool (and some are even decent sounding). I've got a friend who owns one of those Vox Tonelab guitar amp modeling things for recording and he swears by it because it's got a tube you can see. One thing that I always think of is that Vox is always very identifiable as Vox.

So, when I opened up Craig's List one day and saw a Vox T-60 bass amp for sale I was very curious. I owned an inexpensive bass at the time and thought it would be cool to at least have a small bass amp around the house in case an impromptu jam session broke know, like in Josie and the Pussycats. So, after a little online research, I emailed the guy and offered him $200 for the amp and he accepted. I went and picked up the bass and got it home and couldn't wait to plug it in. This amp has 60 watts of power, a 12" speaker with a horn, active and passive inputs, that cool Vox vintage amp look, and, most importantly, what they call the "Bassilator" circuit for low-end enhancement. It's a button you push that's sort of like the "loudness" button on those old silver-faced Sanyo stereos from the '70s that sound so good.

It just fattens things up with a nice bottom my lady. D'oh.

Since I'm not really a bass player I won't (can't) go on and on about this amp, but I can tell you that it is definitely worth the price of admission and makes an excellent practice amp or for smaller gigs. It can kick it out pretty well with some nice tone. A few times a jam session did actually break out (but not like Josie and the Pussycats) and each time the bass player was more than happy and always asked me about the amp. There are some other Vox bass amps that look sort of similar...maybe a Vox T-40 or something like that...and those really suck from what I've heard. But this T-60 is a nice buy and, in the theme of this site, I wish I had that one back.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book review: Guitars: A Celebration of Pure Mojo

By David Schiller

I came across this new book and I thought I would do my first book review. I know, it's not really the theme of this blog, but if you're like me, and god help you if you are, you live and breathe all things "guitar" and you've probably got a few books lying around. I'm fairly certain that every relative of mine has bought me at least one guitar related book over the years at Christmas or birthdays.

Guitars: A Celebration of Pure Mojo is a surprisingly cool book. At first I thought it was going to be one of those fluffy little books you find up by the cash register at Barnes and know those smaller books that make bad gifts, never get read, and somehow end up in the bathroom. It's not a large book by's only 4" x 6" in size, but it's thick (320 color pages) and full of every cool guitar you could ever dream of owning. And the content goes deep. Author David Schiller has somehow managed to compile sections on every category of guitar, from classic icons to classical harp guitars. The book starts off with a great intro called "The 6-String Spell"...something we can all relate to. As Schiller says, "Even the cheapest guitar can possess mojo." If you've read some of the entries in this blog, you know that not all of the guitars I've owned have been expensive collectors. So I can definitely relate to that theory.

What's interesting is that this isn't just an impressive photo gallery of great guitars, although there are over 500 photos. For instance, in the section on archtops you'll find a condensed history of archtops, great photos of a variety of these instruments, as well as an explanation of how an archtop works. There are celebrity instruments, like a really clear photo of Willie Nelson's Trigger, and there are exotics like the Rickenbacker Light Show guitar and my favorite, the Vox Mando-Guitar.

Another thing I found to be of note is that this book is extremely contemporary. These aren't the same old photos of Jaco's bass and the guitar that Hendrix lit on fire. You'll find custom instruments by Linda Manzer that I just saw online last week for the first time. You'll see custom creations from Martin that seemingly just came out this year. There are the usual Teles and Strats, but there is also an obscure '70s Gibson Mark 53, which had some sort of plastic sound hole and weird bridge, and it reminded me that, "Oh yeah, I used to have one of those. There's another story for my blog."

If you are looking for a nice addition to your guitar library or a great gift for a guitarist that won't end up in the bathroom (the book, not the guitarist), be sure to check out Guitars: A Celebration of Pure Mojo by David Schiller.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Way Huge Swollen Pickle Jumbo Fuzz

You may have a different opinion, but personally, I don't think it matters too much what guitar you play through when you use a big, fat fuzz pedal. It all sounds the's like playing through a Line 6 amp...what difference does it make if you use a Strat or an SG if all you are doing is dialing in some modeled sound of a "British Stack" with delay? For me it's the same with a fuzz all sounds the same. I'm sure there are variations that I'm not discerning enough to grasp, but for me, no need for fuzz. Which brings me to the Way Huge Swollen Pickle I used to own...for about a week.

The good news is that Way Huge is about to reissue some of their pedals. The bad news is that those of you who own some of the originals might be getting ready to lose some of the enormous value that these pedals command. Maybe not...maybe the fact that they are "originals" will keep the prices high. A Way Huge Aqua Puss analog delay pedal easily goes for $800 or more. Back when they first came out I remember reading something about them and that some famous guitarists were saying they were the best pedals ever made. I stopped in a well known guitar shop in Huntington Beach one day to gawk at the super rare vintage Marshalls and old Fenders and other cool stuff and, lo and behold, they had a couple of Way Huge pedals. I didn't know much about compression (still don't), and I already had a delay pedal, so I migrated toward the Swollen Pickle, which was categorized as "Jumbo Fuzz." Not just regular fuzz...JUMBO fuzz. I think that I forked over around $200, which was unheard of for a new pedal at the time, and walked out the door feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Maybe I should have tried the pedal out first.

I got home and called my fellow bandmates and bragged about my new possession. We had band practice the next night and I was the first one there. I got all plugged in and powered up and kicked in my new Way Huge, cream of the crop, coveted by many owned by few, Swollen Pickle and...FUZZZZZZ. Big fat fuzz. Jumbo Fuzz if you will. Man, I'd heard that before in a $45 pedal and it didn't sound much different than the thing on the floor that I just paid two hundred bones for. Let me note right here that I know some of you are reading this right now and thinking to yourself, "Holy shit, this guy's an idiot. Fuzz is awesome and there is good fuzz and bad fuzz and the Way Huge Jumbo Swollen Fuzzy Pickle Machine is the best f*$%in' fuzz known to man!"

I'm sorry. It's me, it's not you. I just don't like you that way.

Let's continue...I had no use for a fuzz pedal for the kind of music I play. I quickly realized my mistake and thought about seeing how fast I could pack it back up and put it in the car before anyone else showed up for practice. Too late. Door opens and in walks our lead guitarist, also not a big fan of the fuzz. I decided to get his very valued opinion. Quote: "You paid HOW MUCH for that?" Damn. And at the time there was no such thing as eBay or Craig's List. I honestly don't remember how I sold it or for how much. I do wish I had it back right now to sell on eBay since the value has gone up so much. And, by the way, I have played through other Way Huge pedals and they really are amazing...I don't want anyone to think I'm bagging on Way's the fuzz that I'm not excited about and the fact that I bought a fuzz pedal is my own mistake. I'm a little stupid.

Ironically, just last year I got an email from Jeorge Tripps, the original inventor/owner/mad scientist behind Way Huge and he had seen my website about Locobox pedals. He asked if I would be interested in building a tribute website for Way Huge pedals. I was gung ho and we were going to do a trade out for some Way Huge pedals he still had...but Jeorge is a super busy guy who now designs pedals for Line 6 and MXR (Jim Dunlop) and it just never came together. From what I understand, MXR just came out with an analog delay pedal called the Carbon Copy that is supposed to be as good as or better than the Aqua Puss for less than $150. I believe Jeorge designed it. I think I'm going to need one.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fender Telecaster 1974

The first really nice electric guitar I bought was a 1974 Fender Telecaster back in the mid-'80s and there is a really cool story to go with it. If you've ever seen ads for the Texas Guitar Shows and other big guitar shows produced by the Four Amigos, you might recognize the name Larry Briggs. Larry is from the Tulsa area, as am I. He used to own a store called Strings West and I LOVED to go to his store and wander around. It was in an old musty smelling building and it was packed full of cool guitars and amps from the floor to the ceiling. When you first walked into the place there were photos in a case of Larry with just about every famous rock god of the day buying a guitar from him. There was ZZ Top and Nancy Wilson from Heart and Ted Nugent and the list goes on and on. Larry had figured out the appeal of the vintage guitar long before most others and his store was a treasure trove of guitar history. There was also a huge metal building next door to Strings West that was a giant pawn shop that had quite a selection of guitars and pedals and stuff too, so a trip to that part of town was a real treat for someone like myself. I can't imagine that it could exist the same way these days with the explosion of the vintage market.

One day I had saved up enough pennies to get serious about buying a real electric guitar. I'm guessing this to be around 1986, so prices were a lot different. I had noticed some cool Telecasters in his store before with the F-hole...which I now know to be a Telecaster Thinline. When I walked in I asked if he had any of those and he said he had JUST sold one the day before to Clint Black or some famous country musician at the time. So I started checking out what he did have. He pulled down a '74 Telecaster with a white pickguard and that sort of see-through creamy yellow-ish stain. You could see the wood grain through it just slightly and it was in absolutely mint condition. I have to admit that I wasn't completely sold on the color combo, but it was such a nice guitar and he really started giving me the hard sell about how nice it was. I asked how much and he said $400. That was all I had to spend. I sat and thought about it for awhile, strumming a D and a G and an A over and over.

The phone rang and Larry started talking to someone on the other end, describing some of the guitars he had in the store. I heard him mention the one I was playing and he said, "I've got a really nice, super clean '74 Tele that would be perfect for what you are looking for, but there's a guy who might be buying it right now." Right about that time is when I had decided to go ahead and buy it, so I walked up and mouthed the words, "I'll take it!" to him. He turned back to the phone and said, "Okay Billy, he's going to take it. If I find something else for you I'll call."

He was on the phone with Billy Squire. I had stolen a nice Tele right out from under Billy Squire's nose.

It came with a nice black tolex case and I was tickled to death to be walking out of the store with my new Telecaster. I kept it for around two years and moved to California somewhere in the middle. I owned this Telecaster and an Ovation 1984 Collector's Series guitar at the time. I walked into Guitar Center one day and saw a guitar that I just HAD to have. It was a late '70s Martin D-41 with a lot of extra inlay all the way down the fretboard. It was stunning and I decided I had to have it. I ended up trading the Telecaster and the Ovation plus some cash to get it. I'm sure the guys at Guitar Center were stoked to get the Tele and I was ecstatic to get the Martin. It was one of the only times I've walked out of Guitar Center feeling really good about getting hosed. Now I'm going to have to find photos of the Martin, which was definitely one-of-a-kind, so I can tell you about it.

Note: I couldn't find any photos of my actual guitar from the '80s, but these photos I grabbed off eBay are EXACTLY the same and in the same excellent condition as the one I had. It's almost spooky!

Fender Bronco Amp

Finishing up amp week (although I've got many more amp stories to tell), I'll go with one that would be fine for sitting around in the living room with, but not much else. This is a modern era Fender Bronco amp with blonde tolex and ox blood grill. I think I got this around the time they came out with the Blues Junior amps, which I highly recommend, and I thought maybe this was a baby version. I didn't really do my homework. I found it in a pawn shop nearby and talked them into a price that I couldn't refuse. In fact, now that I think about it, I wasn't even all that excited about the amp, but I talked them into such a good price I felt obligated to go ahead and buy it.

I got it home and realized it was really just another cheap Fender practice amp wrapped in a pretty package.

I wonder if there are any cool mods for an amp like this out there...anyone? It's definitely a cool lookin', retro styled amp complete with the leather handle and the chicken head knobs. It's got an 8" speaker and puts out 15 watts RMS. Otherwise, pretty basic. I'll keep this story lookin' amp, not much meat. I would definitely recommend passing on this one for the most part. For not a whole lot more, if you really keep your eye out, you can find a Blues Junior and be much happier. I just looked on the eBay and it looks like recent Bronco auctions sold for anywhere from $85-150. I found a pristine Blues Junior on Craig's List recently for $225, so keep that Bronco money in your pocket and you'll be much happier.

UPDATE: I fixed the incorrect wattage I had listed previously. Sorry for that brain fart. Also, lots of comments about people liking this amp. I think that's great. I still stand by my personal opinion...the one I had sucked. Yes, I realize there is a price point difference between this and a Blues Junior...what I'm saying is, keep the $100 you'd spend on this amp in your pocket and wait until you can afford a Blue Junior or something similar and you'll be happy you did. I see Blues Juniors for sale on Craigslist for as little as $200-250 regularly. A MUCH better use of your money. OR, if your budget is low, find one of the Fender Sidekick Reverb amps used or especially check out the Fender Sidekick Switcher. This is a small solid state amp with fantastic sounds, footswitch, great distortion and nice reverb. I see them on Craigslist and eBay all the time for as little as $40! My buddy Dave gigs with his with me and I plan to find one for myself as well. I would personally recommend these above the Bronco that I had. Now...on to all the comments below telling me what an idiot I am...
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Monday, June 9, 2008

Swamp Thang Update

If you are a regular reader,
you may have read my previous posting about Swamp Thang tremolo pedals. I was seriously bummed about the two that I had previously let go and wanted to find another one...they aren't easy to find. Tonight I got one back. I just won ownership of my third Swamp Thang pedal and I plan to keep the damn thing this time. If I don't, will someone come smack me upside the head? Here's the original post, now updated: click

Model 780 Guitar Amp

Third up for amp week is a weird one I found at the swap meet for a whopping $10. Come to think of it, I think the guy would have paid me $10 to take it with him so he didn't have to lug it back home. This will be a short entry because there just isn't any information about this amp on the internet and I don't recall much about. However, what I do know about it is the only reason I bought it in the first place...the built in rhythm machine. That's right, all the standard rhythms at your fingertips: Waltz, Bossa Nova, Samba, Rhumba, Swing, Rock Beat, etc. along with a tempo control knob and a volume knob to control how loud the rhythm is mixed with the guitar.

I just couldn't help myself. I thought it might be fun to use to practice with at the very least. And maybe, just maybe it would be cool to make a whole CD of recordings utilizing the cheesy beats. Unfortunately, the quality of the guitar sound could not come close to the cool factor of the beat box section. Add that to the problem of it being rather large, and every time you picked the amp up, the front grill fell off with the beat box attached. The only markings on the amp were the model name on the front, Model 780. No brand on the back. No Montgomery Wards sticker on the inside somewhere. Nuttin'.

I have included a photo of my daughter, who was looking pretty sassy at the time, standing next to it for size reference. She was practicing her best "The Price is Right" modeling techniques. She's still slightly sassy, but the amp has moved on to greener pastures.

I actually sold this amp at a garage sale to a gentleman who spoke very little English. I tried to explain the amp to him and let him know what he was getting into, but he was too busy giving me $50 for it and trying to get moving on to the next garage sale to care. Or perhaps I needed a better translator than my hand gestures. Es muy okay, man! Adios!

UPDATE 2-3-09: I just found an auction on eBay that has allowed me to figure out this amp was made by Kay. Thanks eBay!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fender Ultra Chorus

Continuing on "amp week," here is an amp that was actually a pretty decent amp despite the fact that it was solid state. These were made from '92-'94 from what I can tell and were replaced by the Fender Ultimate Chorus. It has built in chorus and channel switching with a distortion sound that's okay. It's a 2x65W stereo amp with chorus, reverb, two inputs, and mono and stereo send/return loops. The footswitch switches channels and turns the chorus effect on/off. Plenty of power for small gigs, came with casters and 2x12" Fender Eminence speakers standard.

From a distance you could easily mistake it for a Twin Reverb.

I found this amp in a pawn shop in Redmond, Oregon. I had driven up to visit friends for Christmas who live in Bend and decided to take a drive around the area one afternoon to look around. Redmond is nearby and I came across a pawn shop...the dustiest pawn shop in America. They had a bunch of weird stuff in there including what must have been the very first solo musician's personal PA ever made. I would have bought it too if I'd had enough money. But this amp caught my eye and so I made my way over to the corner of the room to check it out. It was literally covered in dirt and dust and I have no idea why a business would let something get so dirty and think that it doesn't hurt business. Although this amp turned out to be in excellent condition once it was cleaned up, it definitely didn't look like it and made me question whether is was a decent amp or not. The good part was that I was able to bargain the price down from $250 to $150 and we had a deal. I also bought a couple of effects pedals they had for super cheap as well...all of it destined for eBay or Craig's List.

I put it all in the back of my rental van and made my way back to my friend's house. After borrowing some paper towels and some windex I was able to clean it all up fairly well. That night I watched my beloved Oklahoma Sooners beat Oregon in their bowl game, which was especially sweet given that I was actually in Oregon at the time and surrounded by bearded guys in Oregon football jerseys. Once I got home from the holiday trip I was able to test the amp out and discovered that this amp really wasn't too shabby. I'm one of those guys who has got to have tubes, so I wasn't really thinking at any point that this was going to be a keeper. But, after plugging in and playing for awhile, I have to admit...if it was the only amp I could own, it really wouldn't be the end of the world. The clean sound was nice and crisp, the channel switch over to distortion was okay...very rack system, programmed Top 40 band sounding distortion. But it was plenty powerful enough and was...let's see...non-offensive. Not my number one choice, but again, not bad.

I finished up the cleaning job and listed it on Craig's List for $300 and had it sold later that afternoon. A nice little $150 profit just for taking a cruise around town on a cold Oregon day. I'll take that in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Music Man 112 RD One Hundred Amp

I think maybe I'll make this "Amp Week" here at The Ones That Got Away. So I'll start off with a favorite. It's my opinion that Music Man amps just might be the most underrated vintage buy out there. They've got all the right bloodlines, they sound fantastic, they hold up well, and they are priced right. Well, I think they're priced wrong...I think they should be selling for a lot more than they are. I have owned a few Music Man amps over the years and I've owned a few old Fenders as well, so I have a good point of reference for that sound. I'll take the Music Man at less than half the price.

The first Music Man I owned was a 410 Sixty-Five. Basically it was a Super Reverb knockoff. That thing really sang. I don't know why, but I've always liked 10" speakers teamed up with my usual Telecaster for a nice rhythm guitar sound. A few years ago I was sitting around, not having been in a band for a few years, and decided I didn't really need an amp. I have never really stopped home recording, but decided to just give it a go with a Line 6 Pod 2.0 for all my recorded electric guitars. It worked out fine, though a bit generic and my decision to own zero amps and take up less space was working out. Then a friend from an old band gave me a call and said he was getting married. He wanted to get all the former bandmates together to play at the reception. Sounded like a lot of fun, but...oh shit...I've got no amp.

I had a little time, so I started watching Craig's List and poring over eBay, looking for something that would fit my paltry $250 budget. I came across a Music Man 112 RD One Hundred that had a replacement Jensen Neo speaker. I don't know if the non-original speaker made people shy away, but somehow no one ever really bid against me and I got this for less than my budget. I was a little concerned about shipping across the country with a heavy amp, but I got lucky and no issues. I broke it out of the box and set up in the living room. Checked the tubes to make sure they hadn't come loose. Pulled out the original footswitch. Plugged 'er in.

Ssssshhhiinnnggg. Beautiful! That classic clean Fender sound was immediate and amazing.

Music Man amps from this era are pretty easy to figure out by the model name. The 112 RD One Hundred has one 12 inch speaker, reverb and distortion, and one hundred watts of power. Pretty loud and powerful for a 1-12" set-up. This little baby can keep up with just about anything. I am no expert on one is going to confuse me with Gerald Weber...but from what I understand, Music Man amps were really the first successful semi-hybrid type amps. They have a solid state preamp section and a tube power amp section. So, the guys who started Music Man, whom you may have heard of before...Leo Fender, Forest White, and Tom Walker, all historic Fender folks...really got it right. They originally called the company Tri-Sonics, but later changed the name to Music Man. The reverb was excellent, the switching between channels worked well and the distortion was fine, but I really prefer to just find a good sound and kick in a Tubescreamer for some overdriven distortion.

The reason I got rid of this amp was kind of the reverse of how I got it. After I got it, I played it a little here and there, but mostly it sat with my gear, not getting played and taking up space. I realized that I had really never used it for recording since I tend to record late at night when the kids have gone to bed, and waking them with a hundred watts of guitar ain't gonna work. So it went on Craig's list for $350 and sold fairly quickly. I think savvy players have started to come around about old Music Man amps and are keeping their eyes peeled for bargains. I know every time I see one for sale locally I want to hop in the car and go pick it up. If you like that nice old Fender sound, be sure to give a Music Man a chance. You might be surprised.


Sorry, I've actually had real music gigs getting in the way of writing about guitars. How awful. I'll have a new entry for you shortly. Thanks for reading. Be sure to leave comments and please, please, somebody, write a story of your own and send my way.

I will add this about a guitar that will never, ever get away. This past year I custom ordered a dreadnought acoustic from one of the best, soon to be well known, luthiers in the country: Mike Franks. His M.J. Franks guitars are amazing and are a bargain compared to some of the big time names out there. But, some of the best guitar stores in the country have discovered him, so they won't be a bargain for long.

The guitar he made for me is just cream of the crop in every way, from the custom headstock inlay to the pickguard I picked out that he doesn't really care for to the brazilian rosewood back and sides he was able to get his hands on for me. If you are ever looking for a high-end acoustic, you owe it to yourself to check out an M.J. Franks. I have been playing quite a few acoustic gigs recently and this guitar makes me a better musician. Thanks Mike.

Above: Me with guest musician Matt Hensley, accordionist with Flogging Molly. Photo by Randy Laybourne.