Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Guitarbecue II

This isn't a story of one that got away...but I hope you'll find it useful. Earlier this year one of my buddies that is into gear as much as I am had a great idea. He suggested that we get all of our "guitar friends" together for a barbecue and bring whatever guitar gear we wanted to share with each other and just sit around and geek out on gear. It seems like every time one of us gets some new pedal or finds a great deal on a cool amp on Craig's List or comes up with a new guitar, there is an email that goes around, bragging about the new acquisition. We're always happy for each other, but we also want to check out the new gear and see how it sounds. Especially when there is a new pedal we've never played through before.

So, combine a bunch of amps and guitars and pedals and whatnot in a large living room with a couple of grills working overtime and plenty of cold beer and you've got...Guitarbecue!

My group of friends actually just had our second Guitarbecue and it was amazing what new gear had been acquired since the last one only six months ago. Everyone traded guitars and plugged into other rigs and jammed on way too many three chord blues progressions to make the normal person comfortable. It was truly only an event that a real guitar geek could identify with. And I'm proud to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you've got a group of friends that you geek out with, I highly suggest launching your own Guitarbecue.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1962 Fender Jaguar/1965 Kent "Mutt"

Story Submitted by Keith Campbell

So here's the story. It's a "gone, but not far" type of story.

I was about 15/16 years old (so the purchase happened in 97/98), and I was on vacation visiting my grandparents in Florida. I was at the Daytona Beach flea market, which is one of the larger flea markets in the country, when I come across a guitar that's certainly seen better days. It's a 4-pickup, sunburst guitar with a Bigsby-ish trem and a Fender neck. I didn't quite know as much about vintage models then as I do now, and I thought, surely, this would be worth something. I ask the guy running the booth how much he wants, and he says $50. I had $30 in my pocket and didn't think to negotiate, so I tracked down my mother and pleaded my case for buying this instrument ("It's gotta be some rare production model!" "If I don't like it, I could probably sell it for a lot more!"), and got the extra $20 to buy the guitar.

So I got it home to my grandparents' house, and got ready to put new strings on it (the guitar had four strings that were at least 10 years old still on it), when I realized a couple of problems: one) the bridge had no saddle, two) the pickups were extremely high, and three) to compensate for the pickup height, the previous owner had done a terrible shim job to jack up the neck. The fixes for problems two and three were simple enough at the time: I super glued down the stripped pickup screws at an acceptable height, and removed the shims (should I ever get the guitar back, I am going to attempt replacing the screws).

When I removed the shims from under the neck, I found something out: the guitar neck had a 1962 stamp on it. Jackpot! A '62 Fender!

(Sort of, the tailpiece read "Kent," a brand I recognized from my grandfather's mandolin).

The bridge required some problem solving. My grandfather had previously made a jackplate replacement for my first guitar, a department-store Yamaha Strat copy that I later traded in toward my MIM Fender Tele (which will appear later in the story). So, back to the workshop we went, and Grandpa took a piece of scrap pine, trimmed it down, drilled holes for the bridge screws, and slapped some stain on it to match the burst. In the meantime, we had found an old machine spring to get the trem working properly.

Once that was all in place, time to plug in. Here's where I noticed some nifty features on the guitar--each pickup had an on-off switch right next to it, and each pair of pickups had a "rhythm/solo" switch. At the time, my rig was the Yamaha practice amp that came with the aforementioned Strat copy, and a Tubescreamer reissue. The pickups on the guitar had that beautiful "aged distortion" sound. I jacked up the gain on the Screamer and you could still hear every note in an arpeggio without that nasty "fuzz blob" sound where distortion makes everything sound like an amorphous mass. I should note here that I've always been a neck pickup guy, and prefer the mellow, round tone of the neck pickup even on my Tele to the bright, cutting tone associated with the bridge pickup. [Editor's note: Me too!] Well, the old single-coils on this guitar were smooth and mellow, exactly as I like 'em.

When I got home to New Jersey with the guitar, I took it into my local music shop (Bach to Rock), where I had executed the Yamaha/Tele swap, to get it appraised. The repair/gear guru there, Doc, told me he couldn't do anything with the body, but the neck was a 1962 Jaguar neck, and I could probably get $500 for it on consignment. I realized that, while that was a nice chunk of change, I would prefer to keep this sweet sounding guitar intact.

So I kept it around for a while and played it, along with my Tele and a Dano reissue, pretty happily. When I moved to the city in 2005 I couldn't fit all of my gear, so I kept it at my father's, and my Tele and the mutt ended up in storage (I brought along my nylon-string acoustic since I couldn't do totally without my guitar). The Dano ended up at my in-laws.

So flash forward to last year, when my little sister decided she wanted to play guitar. I had my Dad get the Tele and Mutt out of storage and realized I wanted to bring an axe back to the city. So I asked my sister to choose, and she chose the Mutt. I would have been happy either way, but felt that, while the Mutt had more mojo and is probably more fun to play, the Tele might have been easier for her to keep in tune. C'est la vie. If she ever wants to trade back, I'll be pretty happy.

Note: I wasn't able to get pics of the actual guitar, but found a 1965 Kent catalog cover that has the body at Bob Gatewood's Kent Collection page: CLICK HERE. My guitar's body is the top left sunburst beauty with four pickups. Pictures, perhaps, to come.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Phantom MandoGuitar - NAMM Show Model

I am a huge fan of Vintage Guitar Magazine. It's probably like when you're a kid and you got the Sears catalog in the mail in about November and you just sat and looked at all the toys for Christmas and circled the ones you wanted. Dr. Steven Stone is a columnist for VG and many years ago he wrote a review of a Phantom MandoGuitar. The Phantom is a faithful recreation of the famous Mando-Guitar or Mini-12 made by Vox in the '60s. If you haven't seen one, they are half the scale of a regular guitar and strung like a 12-string, giving you the sound of a mandolin but played using the fingering of a guitar. George Harrison made them famous...well, maybe not famous, but at least known, and in recent years lots of country players have kept them in their arsenal to add a really nice, pseudo-mandolin sound.

They are solid body and shaped like Ren's (or is it Stimpy's?) head. They sound fantastic and really give you a different texture when recording. Plus, who's got time to learn to play mandolin? This will give you a good fake in a pinch. So, as I mentioned, Steven Stone wrote a review about a mandoguitar made by Phantom, who makes lots of cool Vox-style replicas and the guy who owns the company used the be the guitarist in Quarterflash...remember them? Later that year, I saw an ad (I think in VG) for a MandoGuitar for sale and I contacted the person. It turns out it was none other than Steve Stone and the mandoguitar for sale was the one from the review. He had liked it so much he bought it from Phantom and it had been the very first, NAMM show model that Phantom had made. It was a beautiful sunburst and had a yellow-orange/gold pearloid pickguard that really set it off. They never offered that gold pickguard on a regular model, so this was really a one-of-a-kind. It had two single-coil Bill Lawrence pickups and was very well made.

I really loved the MandoGuitar and kept it for many years. It always got some weird looks when I used it on stage each night and guitarists always came up after a show and asked about it. As I said, it really adds a nice sound in recordings. Not only can you capture a fake mandolin sound, you can even get a very chimey, almost keyboard-ish sound too. In fact, me not being the most amazing guitarist of all time, whenever our band recorded our CDs, our main guitarist extrordinaire Dave Quillen usually recorded all the guitar parts.

However, the one thing they let me do was record the MandoGuitar parts. I wasn't a complete loser.

I don't have any photos of the MandoGuitar I owned (sadly), so I have included a shot from the Phantom website. Their website leaves a lot to be desired (it used to be a lot better...not sure what happened), but the instruments are top quality. If you ever run across one I would highly recommend giving it a try. They are not easy to get used folks out there with sausage fingers might as well forget it. But if you can manage to get your fingers in place and get used to the added string tension of the short scale, you can have a blast and come up with some very useful sounds.

UPDATE: It's many months later and I just found a photo of myself (yes, a rather gay looking photo...not that there's anything wrong with that...when I was in a band in the '90s) holding the mandoguitar I'm talking about. Gold pearl pickguard and all. Here you go...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

'73 Fender Telecaster Thinline

Have you ever owned a guitar for quite awhile and you don't remember much about it? Must have made quite an impression, huh? I had owned a Telecaster Custom at one point and really like the way the humbucker in the neck sounded. I also really loved Thinline Teles. In fact, I really want one right now but I can't afford any purchases at the moment. I have a sweet Tele with a humbucker in the neck and it sounds great and I need to get over the fact that I'd love to have lots and lots of electric guitars, but I only NEED one.

Anyway, I came across this guitar clue where...hence the "don't remember much about it" comment at the beginning. I'm sure this was pre-eBay days, so that's not it. It wasn't at Guitar Center, though that's where I ended up selling it. It wasn't at the little guitar store down the road, so I'm really confused by where I bought this guitar. If I remember someday I'll come back and update this story.

The main point of this guitar was that I had come to the conclusion that two humbuckers are better than one, Thinline Telecaster is better than standard Telecaster, this is going to be one hell of a sounding guitar! Wrong.

It didn't sound remotely as good as the Custom I had before. It was brighter and fairly brittle sounding. And oddly heavier than I thought it would be. It was in beautiful condition, but I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not the guitar for me. But, not wanting to admit defeat, I ended up hanging on to it for awhile, hoping it would grow on me. It didn't.

I remember trading it in or selling it outright to Guitar Center for some reason. Like I said, this was pre-eBay and there weren't a lot of options back then if you wanted to get a great price. I remember the guy at Guitar Center trying to tell me that it wasn't that desirable of a guitar and wasn't worth all that much. Asshole. He would say he needed to get another guy to come look at it, then some other dude would come parading in and check it out and leave and then another. I think they were just all coming in to look at the "sucker" that was dumping the '73 Tele. I remember taking a lot less for it than I knew damn well it was worth, but I didn't have a lot of choices if I wanted to unload it. Today it would be worth over three grand but at the time I practically gave it away. Yes, I'm not too bright sometimes.

Note: Once again, no photos of the actual guitar, so I found these of the same exact model. Hope you can use your imagination to pretend this was the one in the story (but it's not!).