Sunday, October 26, 2008

1961 Harmony Rocket

Story submitted by Alex

Besides the fact that I can't afford a Gibson or a "real" vintage guitar, I actually always liked the old Harmonys. I remember seeing a kid in high school's Harmony Meteor, and maybe I had that image stuck in my head when I bought this one. I was in Yellow Springs, Ohio one day and saw a little shop that had a bunch of older-lady-looking crafts in the front room, but...some guitars were peeking out from the back. I got this one for the tag price plus tax, which made it $106. The neck pickup didn't work, it was missing half of the original white pickguard, and a couple knobs were mismatched.

Otherwise, it was pretty cool. Great sunburst finish, quite playable action, and a good sound out of the remaining DeArmond-Rowe pickup. I had no idea they would be more collectable down the road, so I installed Ping tuners on it, since I really wanted it to stay in tune more than anything. I also found a sort-of-replacement tortoiseshell pickguard to replace the broken white one, which helped the looks a lot. I strung it up with heavier strings to get a little more acoustic volume, but it was definitely a garage-a-billy guitar more than a jazzer, which was fine with me. After being pretty happy with it for a while, I decided to try to fix the silent neck pickup.

That became one of those "can't leave well enough alone" events.

The inside didn't look like other guitars with the wires inside these coiled metal shields. To make a long story short, I never got the pickup working, but did manage to unground it in a howling, buzzing kind of way. Since I couldn't figure out how to undo that, I took it to a vintage-oriented store, and got $150 back on my $106 investment. I've tried owning some other cheaper hollowbody guitars before and since, but none that I actually missed playing. Maybe one day I'll buy another one when I really need to dispose of some disposable income.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Magnatone High Fidelity Custom 480

This one will make you feel like throwing up in your mouth just a little. There is an Amvets thrift store somewhat near my house that used to always have pretty good stuff (not so much any more). Weird swirly bowling balls and cool vintage bags, interesting furniture, cool western shirts before everyone including surf companies started making western shirts, and I even found a couple of lap steels here. One day I walked in and sitting in the middle of some dog cages and fake plants and old people's walkers was a Magnatone Custom 480. I walked over to it very quickly so as not to draw attention to myself, but not let anyone else get there though that was going to happen.

To be honest, from a distance I wasn't 100% sure it was an amp at all. I thought maybe it was one of those old style console stereos or something. But as I got closer I knew it was an amp. I didn't know much about Magnatones, but in the back of my mind I sort of remembered something about Robert Cray playing one. I plugged it in and got nothing. I noticed that the fuse was missing. This would be obvious to anyone with some amp knowledge because it was right there on the control panel. I went over and sweet talked my way down to $25 for the amp and it was a done deal. I picked it up...I should say I tried to pick it up...and, man, it was heavy. Finally lugged it out to the car and headed to Moonlight Music, which was a local guitar store. He actually had the correct fuse with the screw on cap built in, which was a very lucky score.

We turned it on and, SWEET. It worked!

It had inputs for guitar and accordion and maybe something else. For you geeks I found this info and the photos at (a very cool amp site): The Custom 480 originally sold for $499.95. It has 13 tubes, 1 transistor. The 2 input channels (each with high & low gain) are preamp'd by 6EU7's. Each has a Loudness, Bass, and Treble control. There is also a stereo input. Stereo vibrato is handled by 6CG7's and a 12BH7 to amplify the oscillator. A 6DR7 drives the input to the reverb pan, and a 2N306 transistor takes care of the return. Phase inversion is acomplished with twin 12AU7's. Four 6973's drive the stereo transformers along with two 12" Oxfords. It had approximately 50 watts.

Anyway, I kept the Magnatone for awhile but didn't feel comfortable gigging with it. Plus, it was just too heavy to drag around. I eventually traded it in at a guitar store and now can't remember what I traded it for. I do remember getting $250 in value for it. Not bad for a $25 thrift store find. I'm sure Robert Cray would have wanted this one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fender Princeton Reverb Silverface

I'm pretty sure everyone should own a Princeton Reverb. I've owned at least two and maybe three...I've lost count. There is a good and a bad side to these amps though...they're really not loud enough to gig with, but they sound absolutely fantastic. I'd love to have one again just for recording purposes and I'll probably keep hoping that one day I'll come across one at the Swap Meet or at a Pawn Shop somewhere and the owner won't know how much it's worth. "What? That old '70s amp in the corner? Heck, I'd take $30 for it I guess." We can all dream can't we?

And what's the deal with pawn shops these days?

Do they all think that they can charge more for a guitar than it's worth? What happened? Pawn shops used to be places that you could find a good deal on a guitar for the simple reason that when you go pawn a guitar in the first place they give you about four nickels and a couple of dimes for it and act like they've done you a favor. So, they could sell them for a good price and still come out way ahead. At some point in about the late '80s all pawn shops decided that they were retail shops and started jacking up prices on crappy Squiers and Johnsons and other weird brands from Pakistan or somewhere. They've all got those little Gorilla practice amps too, don't they? I digress.

The last Princeton Reverb that I had, I traded away exactly because it just wasn't loud enough. I was in a band that was rehearsing in a small little rehearsal spot and I could just never hear myself over the Carvin half stack our other guitarist cranked through. And by the way, while I'm digressing, why won't people admit that Carvin makes some pretty darn good sounding gear for the money? Their amps have always sounded really good...they make a tweed called (I think) the Bel Air that sounds nice and their stacks always sound very crunchy...I'd rather have a Carvin half stack than a lot of those other non-Marshall brands that try to pull it off. And I will go on the record that their PA gear is unbeatable for gigging folks like you and I and extremely cost effective. This sounds like one of those sneaky blog ads or something but it's not. I just believe that Carvin should get some credit and I don't think you're going to find many folks willing to say it. Especially when they're supposed to be writing about Fender Princetons.

Okay, no more digressing. Fender made the Princeton way back in the '40s, but the Silverface version I have owned were made from '68 to '82 when Paul Rivera released the Princeton Reverb II. From what I remember and have barely researched just now, these put out about 12 watts, which is perfect for recording and fine if you don't mind micing the amp and not being able to hear yourself, but not really practical for most guitarists on stage. Over the years of this model they had lots of different specs and small variations on features. The last one I owned had a pull pot, amazing clean tone and beautiful reverb. Man, I'm talking myself into wanting another one even more as I write this.

The best part of this story though is how I eventually ended up trading it. There is a fairly well known guy in vintage circles named J.R. who owns Sunset Music in Idaho. However, before he moved to Idaho he ran a small guitar store in Encinitas, CA called Blue Ridge Guitars. He was always fair with me, so one day I decided I really wanted a Gibson ES-125 Cutaway he had that had suffered the classic neck/headstock repair, which dropped it's value but didn't change the way it sounded...amazing. He had been sitting on this guitar for awhile and it was worth approximately the same as my Princeton Reverb. I walked in with my amp and just said, "Hey, no one is buying that 125 and I don't have any extra cash to sweeten the deal...why don't we just trade straight up fair and square and you'll have an amp you can more easily sell and I'll have a guitar I want." This kind of bargaining never works. But for some reason J.R. saw the logic in my deal and shook his head and said, "Okay, let's do it." He asked if the amp worked fine and I said it did. We didn't even write up a receipt...the whole thing took less than 5 minutes and I was out the door with a pretty cool guitar.

So, thanks J.R. for a cool deal. Wish I had that amp back though.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

I think it's about time to run through a few amps again. I did a whole week of amps here on the site and it seemed to get quite a few responses, so, since no one else is sending me stories, and I've told most of my guitar stories, we'll go with amps.

I saw this one listed on Craig's List and I was jonesin' for a new amp. It's a pretty standard Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and it was made in the USA the first year of production. A guy had bought it in 1996 (I believe that's the correct year) and put it in his living room and played it about once a month. He had a cover for it and it basically looked brand new. I went over to check it out and he couldn't turn it up much because he had a toddler asleep. So, not only did he not play it much, he didn't play it over about volume level .5 or so. It had the original footswitch and was just a really sweet amp.

These Hot Rod amps from Fender are great sounding stock amps in my opinion and I'm sure you can download about a gazillion mods and tweaks from the internets and I'm sure you could upgrade the speaker(s) and the tubes and you could even hire a cool guy with a Stevie Ray Vaughn hat on to make it sound just like Texas. But you know what? It sounds pretty darn good just how it is and, for the money, that's a good deal.

Not everyone can spend an extra $600 on a used $350 amp.

Now the downside of this amp, and the reason the guy who originally owned it sold it, and the reason I eventually sold it is that they are just too much amp for most of us home guitarists. I don't gig electrically any more (though I do play lots of acoustic gigs...who woulda thought?), so I don't need a whole heck of a lot of amp. I've got my Blues Junior which is really a scaled back version of this Hot Rod Deluxe when it comes down to it. That's pretty much what I did...I sold the Hot Rod Deluxe and downsized to the Blues Junior. I'm pretty sure that if I had an electric gig I could actually do the gig with the Junior mic'd in the PA. I've got some friends that tour and they have three guitarists in the band and they each tour with Blues Juniors and their own distinct pedal boards and they save a ton of room in the van, they save their backs each night hauling gear, and they sound great.

Anyway, the Hot Rod Deluxe is a great amp if you need lots of power and have a strong back. Cranked up to 11 it sounds fantastic.

You can hear this amp on my MySpace page, click on the song Gone Long Gone and (after the intro) all the lead guitar work was done by the great Dave Quillen using this amp and a Nash Telecaster I have profiled elsewhere here on the ol' blog. One take Dave.

Monday, October 13, 2008

1969 Martin D-41 with Custom Inlay (maybe 1970)

I've been holding out on this story simply because I don't have actual photos of this guitar...and to properly tell the story it would really help to see the inlay on the neck. But, since I'm running out of my own stories, and you folks are starting to send in a few...but not many...of your own, I decided to go ahead and write this one up.

As previously noted, I moved to California in 1987 and, at the time, I had an Ovation 1984 Collector's Series guitar (story here) and a 1974 Fender Telecaster (story here). I was pretty happy with my guitars at the time, but one day I walked into Guitar Center down in San Diego (the old one down on El Cajon Blvd. for you San Diegans) and saw a guitar I just had to have. It was a 1969 (if I remember correctly) Martin D-41 and, in addition to the standard fancy inlay on the body, it had a sort of non-standard vine inlay down the neck that was really intricate and I later found out was added to the guitar after it left the factory. It was just stunning and it caught my eye from all the way across the store. It was far from perfect though...whoever had owned it previously either played it very roughly or had flipped it at some point and played it left handed. There was quite a bit of abnormal wear around the top of the soundhole and a fair amount beyond the edges of the pickguard.

I decided that I had to figure out a way to get this guitar even before I knew how much it was. I asked the guy to get it down for me and I'm fairly certain it was the first really nice, expensive guitar I ever had my hands on. He told me it was $2000 (I think) and gave me the line about having a couple of other people very interested in it. I inquired if they took trade-ins and he said they did. I went home and got my Tele and my Ovation and set out to come as close as possible to trading even. Of course that never works out and, although I don't remember how much additional money I had to come up with, I do remember that it was more than I could afford at the moment. I had only been at a new job for a short time and wasn't making all that much. But I knew I had to have this guitar and somehow, some way, I made it work.

I was only slightly sad to see the Ovation go. I take that back...I wasn't really sad to see it go at all.

But I was sad to see the '74 Tele go. It was sweet and definitely one of those ones you wish you could have back. I think the word for it would be "pristine."

I played the Martin with great pride for a number of years. At that time there weren't a lot of acoustic gigs around and almost no coffeehouses...this was pre-Starbucks, etc. But there was a small coffeehouse down by San Diego State University that had an open mic night every Tuesday and I would drive 40 minutes down there every Tuesday to play my three songs. Eventually I became the host of the open mic night and I'm pretty sure I was sort of known as "that guy with the really fancy Martin." Probably no mention of how awesome a guitarist I was.

You can read about how I ended up selling the Martin here...I was finally joining my very first band and needed an amp. The short version is that I traded the Martin for a Gibson Dove and an amp so I could rock the house. The Dove was actually a much better sounding and playing guitar to be quite honest. Although the D-41 was an awesome guitar in many ways, it was never the best sounding guitar I have owned. Now that I know more about these things I could probably take the time to get it dialed in better. But at the time, not so much. I could barely afford strings let alone the money to have someone spend time adjusting the guitar.

One other note about this guitar: One day I was at work and thinking about the Martin and wondering if the inlay had been done at the factory or afterwards. There is a label inside the guitar from McCabe's Guitar Shop, which is a very well known store that hosts really cool acoustic shows and sells some darn fine instruments. I actually called the Martin factory in Nazareth, PA and it was after hours. A gentleman named Mike Longworth answered the phone and spoke to me at length about my guitar, pretty much assuring me that the inlay was done post-factory. What I now know is that Mike Longworth is one of the most historical figures in the history of Martin and I now feel honored to have spoken with him about my guitar.

No matter what, this is one of the guitars that probably inspired this blog in the first place..."man, I wish I had that one back!"

As noted, the photos shown are of a D-41 from the same year, but the inlay on mine was so fancy and intricate that I have simply blurred out the neck in the photo so as not to cause confusion.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Walnut Gibson SG

Submitted by Matthew Malin

I had an Alamo Fiesta that my parents had bought me for Xmas of 1977. My buddy and I were going to bust out of this small Iowa town and be the next band to be bigger than KISS! For that we needed some real equipment. The Alamo just wasn't cutting it so I decided I needed to get a 'real' guitar. The summer of 1979 I detassled corn for eight solid weeks. I was able to make a whopping $370. After I got all my checks from the seed corn company, my dad and I headed off for the 'big' music stores in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Iowa. This was a major shopping trip.

We went to a few stores in Iowa City and really nothing caught my eye. Finally we went to Carma Lou's House of Music in Cedar Rapids. Hanging on the wall was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. It was a solid walnut SG. Satin finish and open pickups. It was pretty cool to me. I was about $30 short on the price so my dad kicked in the rest. I walked out of that store on Cloud 9. That guitar was my lifeline. I played in my band on theweekends. Played in high school jazz band and swing choir with it during the week and just played the hell out of it.

After HS I took off and bummed around Iowa dragging my SG and silver face Deluxe Reverb with me. About 1987 I was in a real bind. I had no money for rent and I was paying for college. I found a sympathetic house mate that bought my guitar only as a 'bridge' loan. Well I never really got back into the black for about 10 more years. By then I'd lost touch with the house mate and that guitar was long gone. I've thought about calling the guy up but there are about 50 people in the US with that name.

Also, I don't want to hear some horror story about how they traded it for a dog or something.

So listen up, if you get a good guitar and you get in a bind, don't sell your guitar! Good times and money come and go but you're guitar is a part of you and you should always keep them!
Note: photo is not of actual guitar in the story.