Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Romanian A-style Mandolin

Story submitted by Karl Catteeuw

I've been to Romania quite often, and in spite of two decades of Mariah Carey tapes, stringed music is still hot there. Anyway, for the abundance of fiddles, mandolins and guitars at every party, there's really only one big place where they make them. And miraculously Reghin's also the brewery capital of the country. Here's something few people know: the Hora factory, the main manufacturer, originally made boats, which wasn't a great idea given the fact that it sits 500 km from the Black Sea. So in the 1950s they switched to musical instruments, which also involved bending woods, but they held onto the sloop logo until the 1990s.

Anyway, there I was, wandering through the town and walking into a record shop, and behind the counter full of CDs and cassettes they had all kinds of musical instruments. Behind the counter, mind you, so you had to ask to be served. Some cheap looking guitars, harps, recorders, and an odd A-shaped mandolin with a guitar pickup on it. Factory installed. I got away with it. Since it was the mid-nineties, it was dirt-cheap for me.

It was surprisingly loud, and an uncle who plays bowl-back in a mandolin orchestra actually liked this flat-back. It wasn't a pretty mandolin, with a varnished fretboard and stamped-in frets, but it sounded good. The pickup worked, but the pots quickly went bad - with some soldering, that's an easy replacement. I even sanded off the original sunburst, installed strap buttons, got it a plaid gig bag and put on a Gibson volume knob. Everything you'd do to an instrument you intend to keep.

And still it got away.

Too many instruments, too little time to play them all. The buyer got it dirt cheap as well, and complained about my postage rates. If not for the mandolin itself, I'd undo the selling because of the buyer. Until I opened up the latest Fretboard Journal, and lo and behold, what was David Lindley toying with?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gibson MK-35

I feel horrible telling this story. I've always felt like I did something wrong and wish I could fix it. Back in about 1983 I lived in the little town of Enid, OK, having just flunked out of Phillips University and not yet ready to move back to reality. They just opened a real live honest to goodness mall out on the edge of town and everyone was buzzing. I got a job at Hastings Records and thought I was pretty cool. I was the guy at the record store in the mall. Our regional manager was a pretty cool guy named Jerry from Dallas, TX and he would come check on our store quite often. We had an issue with an employee that was stealing out of the register (as it turns out) and they were trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I got along with Jerry really well...we both had a pretty sarcastic sense of humor and really loved music and knowing about music and all that geeky stuff that makes someone a good record store person.

I played guitar at the time, but was still in my very beginning stages. I had a pretty cheap Fender acoustic and didn't know much about quality instruments. One day Jerry walks into the store carrying a guitar case and says that he has this interesting Gibson that I could use if I wanted to. It was unlike any other guitar I'd played and, to be honest, didn't sound that good or play that well. What I now know is that it probably just needed some new strings and a set-up. I had the guitar for quite awhile and Jerry never really asked about it.

I guess I kind of figured it was pretty much mine, but in the back of my mind I knew it was still Jerry's guitar.

As it turns out, the guitar was a Gibson MK-35, or Mark 35, and was part of a new series that very much departed from traditional designs. The bridge was very different and modern looking and the soundhole had a sort of plastic ridge around it. From doing a little research I now also know that it had a completely different bracking system and, although pretty much a failure with the public, it gained quite a following with the Nashville picking community at the time for it's sound. They only made the Mark series from '75-78 from what I can tell. There were a few other Mark series models as well, featuring nicer woods and more elaborate features as you went up the scale.

So, fast forward a short period of time and I happen to walk into a little guitar store in Enid and fall in love with a 1984 Ovation Collector's Series guitar...what did I know? Although I'm not much of an Ovation fan now, I sure fell head over heals for it at the time. Blame it on Glen Campbell probably. You can read the story of this guitar here. So I start figuring out how I'm going to come up with the money for it and decide maybe I can trade in the Gibson. I guess I must have talked myself into believing Jerry wouldn't want it back. I just wanted that damn Ovation. Now fast forward again another short period of time and Jerry asks me about the Gibson. I didn't know what to say, but finally stammered something about it being gone and sold and I didn't know he wanted it back and whatever else came out of my mouth. Jerry looked bummed. Super bummed. I guess he also didn't know what to say and for whatever reason just let it go. Not much else we could do at that point.

So for all these years I have felt like I owe Jerry a Gibson MK-35. I came across the one shown in the pictures at my local guitar store, Buffalo Brothers, and it reminded me of the whole thing. I may have been subconsciously blocking it all these years. So Jerry, if you're out there, shoot me an email so I can properly apologize. I was young. I was dumb. I still feel bad.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sho-Bud Heart Model Acoustic Guitar

This story is not about "one that got away," but was left as a comment today on the entry about the
Sho-Bud Club Model. It was such a great story that I thought I'd post it as an entry to make sure it doesn't get passed over. So, without further ado...

Submitted by Gary

Love to hear that there are others who know about the Sho-Bud acoustics first hand! I bought my Heart Model brand new at The House of Guitars in Phoenix, AZ on 5/22/80. I still have the receipt and price tag that was dangling from the machine head. I was about 17 and we didn't have much money. I had to buy all my gear, and the Italian restaurant I worked at didn't pay much...I would ride the bus down and play the 100's of guitars on hangers. The guy was really cool, knew everything about guitars.

From the first time I picked it up I fell in love with it.

The sound was unlike anything else in the shop, and the inlay was just breathtaking. I was pretty sure I would never get to play that guitar anywhere but in the store, and each time I went there, I went right to it, surprised that somebody (!!!) hadn't bought it yet.

My grandmother died and left my mom a pretty decent chunk of change, and I asked my mom if she would buy a replacement for my Ross distortion box (I fried mine, and electric guitars just aren't the same without that option...). It was the first time she had ever been with me in there and, after we got the distortion box out of the case, I said "Hey mom, come here, you've got to hear this guitar." I played a little ditty and she fell in love with it. I said, "Before we go on vacation, ( which was rare ) would you buy it for me?" She said, "I'll buy it right now if you really want it." I was nearly in tears. The clerk said that for a guitar like that we'd better buy a real nice case too. It was easy to see that a guitar this special deserved a nice case, so we were pretty easily talked into getting a really plush case for it, where it has spent much of it's time when not on a stand.

It has brought me more joy than any of the guitars I've owned over the 30 years I have been involved in music. I have gotten so many sincere compliments on it and several envious looks. I had a high dollar pickup installed under the bridge quite a few years back, and to play it through a Boss chorus and then a Boss analog delay creates a rich, lush sound that has to be heard to be appreciated.

Mom's gone now, but I'll never be able to play that beautiful instrument without her in mind. I have another story about something just unexplainably unique involving this guitar, but I've gone a bit long here as it is. Perhaps another time, as I rarely get sick of recounting so many years of just pure joy that this sweet guitar has given me. She has been my best friend and truest love. Got a Sho-Bud story? Drop me a line: Gary's Email

Friday, September 19, 2008

1983 Fender Concert Amplifier

This was definitely one of my favorite amps I've ever owned. At one point I even bought a second one and ran them in stereo. How cool am I? This was a 1983 Fender Concert amp that was part of the series of amps that were designed by Paul Rivera. In 1982 Paul basically saved the Fender amp line that was floundering and getting off-track back in the early eighties...he also came up with the Champ II, the Super Champ (one of the most coveted modern era amps of all time), Princeton Reverb II, Deluxe II, and the Twin Reverb II. Maybe more. 

The specs I found on the 'net include: 1-12" speaker - 60 watts, all tube with 2 channel w/switching, point to point wiring - bright push-pull on clean channel, mid-boost push-pull on gain channel - gain channel has gain/vol/master for fine adjust of distortion level - effects loop has return send trim pots. 

The best part about this particular amp is that I found it over in the dirty, dusty corner of a pawn shop in San Clemente, CA that just had the word "GUNS" real big on it's sign out front. 

Lots of surf boards and other crap and one dirty, dusty Fender Concert amp. I talked him down to $200 and loaded it in the car. Got it home and took the better part of a Friday night cleaning the whole thing up. Getting the dirt out of the inside of a combo amp always seems like the biggest pain in the ass, but once you get it all looking nice you feel pretty good about taking the extra time to do it right. The older style blackface look to this amp is really nice and, once I got the tolex all ArmourAll'ed up and shiny, it was looking sweet. 

I plugged it in and, man, this thing sounded great. The sixty watts were more than enough and it really had a sweet spot that you rarely get to crank up to unless you are gigging in a large club. I remember it being fairly heavy for a 12" combo and, now that I think about it, right about the time that I was lugging this thing to gigs I ended up getting a hernia. Now I'm not blaming Paul Rivera or Fender for the fact that I eventually had to have surgery, but I'm pretty sure that pulling that thing in and out of the truck didn't help. 

Anyway, great amp and I would highly recommend grabbing one if it wanders too close to you and no one is watching. The only reason I let mine go was because I hit a point where I wasn't playing live and I finally talked myself into believing that the space it was taking up (c'mon, it's only a 12" combo amp...not a stack) could be better used by a plant or something. My bad.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Humo Cigar Box Ukelele

Story Submitted by Karl Catteeuw

The trouble with ukuleles is that they are so small you lose track. In fifteen years of guitar playing I only bought four and sold two. In four years of ukulele playing I truly lost count. I even lost two by misplacing them somewhere. Try that with a double bass.

This one is one I’d like back though. It’s made by a luthier called Terry Horvath, presumably from Indiana, but was at one time owned by Dave Talsma, a luthier I admire very much. In fact, I bought it from Godfrey Daniels because we both presumed Talsma made it. If you think it looks crudely made, well… we thought that was done on purpose. A rough and tumble, distressed metal cigar box ukulele with a pickup literally glued on top. How much down-home sophistication do you wish for?

The other reason was that, although Humo cigars did truly exist, Humo is also a very popular weekly magazine here in Flanders, kind of a cross between Mad and Rolling Stone. So I dreamt about showing off this cool and odd looking cigar box with a pickup, and everyone would ask where I got it. Sure.

Rule number one: it’s the sound that counts. Not coolness.

Not eponymity. Not the maker. And this one sounded, well, like a tin box strung with metal (!) ukulele strings (which is not really good). The plugged sound was slightly better, but still… I tried turning it into a four-string mandolin, tried the best ukulele strings in town (worth browns and Aquila nylguts, in the odd case you were asking), but the sound never caught on. I happened to have another Terry Horvath cigar box ukulele (ukuleles breed, remember?), so, the minute I received it, I recognized the style and found the signature. Out went one reason to hang on.

So I put it on eBay and along came another reason to hang onto the Humo ukulele. Among the bidders was one ‘musicomic’ guy probably born in ’53, whom I immediately recognised as my musical hero, Jan De Smet of De Nieuwe Snaar, an exceptionally fine musician, clown, singer and collector of records and instruments. And he was outbid.

The Humo ukulele is now somewhere in France, but if I’d love to have it back, and then I’d give it straight away…”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Okatava MK-319 Microphone

Once again, not a guitar story, but since the last Guitar Center fiasco went over so well, I thought I'd share another one. The Oktava MK-319 condenser microphone is kind of one of those cult following kind of things It's a GREAT recording mic for a very good price and, a few years ago, Guitar Center made some sort of deal to be the exclusive dealer for some period of time. They must have ordered a gazillion of them or something and they had them on sale for $99 most of the time. I had read that they were good, so when I saw an extra special sale where you could get TWO of them for $99, I called up my friend Rob and asked if he wanted to go in on a pair...$50 a piece. He said yes and I headed down there to buy our mics.

I picked them up and dropped one at Rob's house on my way home. He checked his out and it was in excellent working condition. Sounded great. There are websites that do mods to these mics that make them sound even better...some people say that with the mods they rival some of the top mics. I got mine home and...dud. Something wrong with it. So I saved the receipt and a couple of days later head back to Guitar Center to exchange it. Uh oh. Houston we have a problem. They don't have any more in stock. These were the last ones they had. They call around Southern California and can't find one anywhere. The guy that helped me out was actually a big jerk about it and said he'd try to figure something out. Never heard from him. I finally call back after a few days and the guy has an attitude again. I decide it's time to talk to the manager.

Here I am...trying to be nice when the product I bought doesn't work and they are being rude about it.

I talk to the manager and he is very apologetic and gets on the phone himself to try to track one down. He finally finds one somewhere in the USA and does the request to get it sent to my store. Not only does he do that, he decides to give me 50% off for my trouble. So now I'm getting TWO Oktava mics for only $50. For you math geniuses, that's only $25 a piece and that's one heck of a deal. Now, a few years later, they are selling used for anywhere between $100 to $150 and I'm not sure how much they are new.

I actually have this one on eBay at the moment for $125 with a shock mount and case. It's a great mic and a great deal, even though I only paid $25. You should buy it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hartke 4-10 Bass Cabinet

I'm really only writing about this because it's got a funny story. It's not an amazing item or anything and hardly worthy of the original thought behind this blog: "Man, I wish I had that one back!" I could care less about this one. But on to the story...

One time when I went to Guitar Center to buy something and after I left I cruised back to the back of the store to look in the dumpster for a box to ship a guitar in. When I looked down into the dumpster I found a whole bunch of electronic drum parts, some booms for mic stands and a few guitar stands. At first I thought they must be all broken or something, but not so. I grabbed them all and eventually sold the drum parts on eBay for over $200. I'm still using the boom stands and gave the guitar stands to friends.

So, the next time I went to Guitar Center I couldn't help but cruise back to the dumpster for a look see. This time I found some new cables and an Ortofon backpack for a DJ. Kept the cables, gave away the backpack.

Next time I go the Guitar Center I go straight to the dumpster and, sure enough, find two brand spankin' new padded drum gig bags, still in the box. Kept those. So, now I'm obsessed. Now I'm finding reasons to head down the freeway towards Guitar Center just to look in the dumpster. I have a couple of visits without any freebies and I'm kind of thinking my luck has run dry.

Then one day I actually needed to go to GC and I go inside and buy some stuff. I decide to give it another try and cruise around the back and about crapped the front seat. Sitting right next to the dumpster is a pretty decent condition, vintage Hartke 4-10 bass cabinet.

I pull up and take a look around...am I on Candid Camera or something? Am I about to get punked?

I opened up the front seat and put the cab in the car and headed down the road. I kind of figured it didn't work or something. Surely it's not a perfectly fine speaker cab. I head straight to my buddy's house and we plug 'er in. Works perfectly! Yet I have no need for a bass cabinet.

I took this photo and put it on Craig's List and by the next day had it sold for about $225. Just for checking the dumpster. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that the next time YOU go to Guitar Center you just happen to mozy on back and check the dumpster. Let me know what you find.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lafayette Model U-750A Amplifier

Story Submitted by Alex Herrlein

This amp got its own story not so much because I miss it, but because it was an odd one. I don't know what I was searching for on eBay, but I found, bid on and won this 1968 Lafayette combo for probably less then $200. It was pretty obviously made by Univox, since they didn't do anything to change it from the equivalent Univox except make the logo read "Lafayette" in the same font. These were made in Japan and featured a circuit board with the words "muscal amplifier" printed on it (see the picture). That's not a typo, that's how they spelled it!

The amp had two 12" speakers mounted vertically, one of which was an original Jensen C12S, which must have been the bottom of the line for Jensen. I replaced the mismatched one with a reissue Jensen C12Q. The power tubes were weird--6973 I believe, which I found out were much more common in jukeboxes than in guitar amps. I think the amp put out around 15 watts. The rest of the amp was all tube, and it had just tone, volume, and tremolo controls. I remember the tone knob after a while working more as a midrange control than a treble roll-off.

The tremolo was pretty nice and I think made to sound more Vox than Fender. Since there were two channels with two inputs apiece, you could jumper the channels and get a little more gain. However, gain wasn't really the issue so much as headroom. The sound was pretty nice at low volumes; somewhat more jangly than a Silvertone, but not as lush as a more expensive amp. The headroom was stupidly low--when you got it past normal speaking volume it started to break up. I tried a Groove Tubes plug-in solid-state rectifier in place of the 6CA4 tube, but it was what it was. Ultimately, I realized that it was too much amp for too little wattage. It would have made a better 1x12" combo, but as a vertical 2x12", it was too tall for what was otherwise a cheap low-wattage amp.

I took it to a music store and pitched it as a poor man's AC30, but I don't think they were buying it.

I ended up putting it on consignment and eventually someone else got intrigued for $199. It's just as well that I don't have it anymore, since I might have tried to cut the cabinet down at some point and ruin what little collectibility it had.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

1984 Fender Flame

Story submitted by Alex Herrlein

Back when I was in high school, the place to buy guitars was the Starving Musican in Santa Clara, CA. I think it has changed some over the years, but, in the early and mid-'90s, it had a lot of used gear at good prices. I was ready to move up from my first guitar (an Ibanez Roadstar in white, with a black neck from another Ibanez) to a better one. I saw a 1984 Fender Flame and figured since it said "Fender" and was black (which was where my heavy-metal color preferences fell in those days) it had to be good.

The price tag was $250, and I got $75 in trade from the Ibanez. These guitars were supposedly made only in 1984 in Japan, around the time when Fender wasn't doing any American production. They made a very similar Esprit and eventually they became the Robben Ford model. I guess the idea was to compete more with Gibson, since this had humbuckers, a set neck, a quasi-Tune-o-matic bridge, and a slightly arched top like a Les Paul. From what I heard, the slightly smaller humbuckers were made by Schaller, and I think the tuners and bridge were too. I believe the body was alder with a maple top. It was gleaming black, with cream binding around the body, neck, and headstock.

Too nice for a high schooler's second guitar, but there you have it.

I didn't care for the stock humbucker, which I thought was kind of muddy, so I had Starving Musician replace the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan Hot Soapbar P-90, which I believe fit pretty closely. That was my main guitar in my high school band, but got less play afterwards when it became the backup to a 1979 Gibson "The SG," which I still have. Predictably, it played great and was well-made. I sold it for $300 a few years later to a friend and band mate who I believe still has it. I've considered contacting him to buy it back, but I decided to let it go.

this picture is not of mine, but looks just the same.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dixon Mandolin

I think this might be the first in a long line of mostly inexpensive (except for the Eastman) mandolins I have owned, then realized I don't really know how to play more than five chords, then eventually sold. Not a long story here...I decided to try to learn a few chords and started looking on eBay for a cheap, but cool mandolin. I came across this one by Dixon. I wanted something I could plug in and this met the requirements. It was made in Japan and I have seen at least five different brand names slapped onto this exact model mando over the last few years. They usually go for around $125-150, but somehow I snagged this one for $95.

It came with an old, original hardshell case that smelled like Charles Barkley's shoe closet.

No offense, Sir Charles. It actually had pretty good action and the electronics on it worked perfectly. Knobs mounted on the pickguard and some quality plastic in the pick-up. The acoustic sound was okay...nothing spectacular, but it did stay in tune. Plugged in sounded just about how you'd imagine it...somewhat cheap...but mess around with it a bit and it was acceptable. It would actually be good for the acoustic group I play with right now...again, nothing amazing, but very affordable and would add a nice little touch here and there without breaking the bank.

I hung onto this one for about a year and, when I decided that maybe I could use a slightly better mando (again, I'm delusional regularly), I sold it back on eBay for $135. Hey, nice little profit (and I do mean little) and someone else got a good deal as well. But, would I want it back? Well, if someone handed it to me and said, "Here you go doofus, it's all yours!"...I'd take it for sure. Might be fun to have lying around. Especially since I've long since sold the one I got to take it's place.

Monday, September 1, 2008

1971 Black Fender Telecaster Thinline

This story shapes up to be a little embarrassing to tell, but the guitar is so cool...and I REALLY wish I had it back...that I will tell it anyway. Hey, we've all had our problems. I live in the San Diego area known as North County. As the name implies, we're still in San Diego county, but north of the city of San Diego itself. This puts us in pretty close proximity to Los Angeles and some of the cool vintage guitar stores around L.A. At least the ones that used to be there...last time I was up that way they seemed to have disappeared for the most part. One day I headed up to the Hollywood area to look around at Guitars'R'Us (Bruce Springsteen was in there when I walked in...he was friendly and we even talked about a particular Tele on the wall). Around the corner from G'R'Us was a place called Voltage, which always had SOMETHING I wanted, and there is Freedom Guitar on the corner...a store I dislike quite a bit. They also have a store in San Diego and my personal experience at both stores has been a staff that is less than helpful, a bit arrogant, and prices that are less than desirable. But how do you really feel?

Anyway, Springsteen left the store and after a few minutes I decided to go down to Voltage to see what they had. I had some money in my pocket to buy a pretty nice guitar, but was trying to be very patient and not just buy the first thing I saw. I turned the corner and saw The Boss walking into Voltage. I didn't want him to think I was stalking him, but I did want to check out the guitars. When I walked in the door I saw my favorite electric guitar I have ever owned. It was a black vintage Telecaster Thinline. I'm guessing here, but I think this was around 1995 or so. It was slightly relic'd looking from wear and tear, but in pretty good shape overall. It sounded fantastic and played perfectly. Great action and the pickups had that sweet Tele spank. I have been a Thinline fan for years and always wanted a black one. Most of the vintage models you see are sunburst or natural, so the black was a custom color at the time. I later added a vintage italian pin-up water decal on the front...I know, it's not original and may cut the value, but I was planning on keeping this one forever. FOR EVER. If I remember correctly, the pin-up girl was on a blue flower.

Have you seen this guitar? Can you send me photos? Or sell it back to me?

On my way home I stopped in a store in Huntington Beach to try out a Way Huge pedal (they were new at the time). The singer for Los Lobos walked in and was looking around. He saw me strumming my new guitar, checking out the pedals and came over and asked about the Thinline. I told him I had just bought it up at Voltage. He asked if maybe I'd be interested in selling. Man, I'd only had it a couple of hours and famous people were trying to buy it right out of my hands. No sale.

When I bought it the guy told me it was a '69, though I later found out it was a '71 (if memory serves me correctly). This didn't matter to me that much until the fateful day I had to sell it. I work as a graphic designer (for the amazing Tony Hawk these days) and, at the time, I was working for Snowboarder Magazine. For a couple of years prior to that I only did freelance work and had not been good about paying my taxes (yes, here's the embarrassing part). So, one day, just after payday, I go to get my rent money out of the bank and find out I have a balance of zero. What the F? Turns out the nice folks at the IRS had taken all the money out of my bank account. With a 3-year old daughter to house and feed, and being a single dad, I had no choice...sell the guitar. AAAAHHH. Luckily I had a back-up guitar to get me through, but this was the most painful loss of a guitar I ever had. And there was nothing I could do about it.

I went down to the local guitar store to see if he was interested in a sweet, vintage custom color Thinline Tele and, of course, he was. We struck a deal for less than I had paid for it, but what was mostly fair under the circumstances. Of course, since it had turned out to be a '71 rather than a '69 there was some loss of value there. But I practically cried when I walked out the door. That guitar was just me. I loved everything about it. Man, I wish I had that one back.

Note: I don't have actual photos of this one, so I have found a few that match up pretty well. If you know the guitar I'm talking about (it's pretty distinctive) send me a photo!