Friday, August 16, 2013

Randall RG80-112SC Amplifier

Here is one that I thought would never get away. And not because it's not a good is. In fact it's a great amp that should be getting more respect out there in the vintage market. But sometimes it's just time to move something don't have room or you need the money for a different purchase or whatever it may be. I put this one up for sale on Craigslist and thought I'd have no problem finding a buyer...I put a very affordable price on it at $150. And I got responses. So I lowered the price, lowered it again, lowered it again, and finally asked if anyone wanted to make a trade. And that's how I finally moved it. But let's talk about the amp for a second.

I've always been a Fender amp guy over the years, and now I've become a Vox AC15 guy. Love that amp. On my second one. Well, sort of third...I bought one of them twice. But somewhere in the back of my peripheral amp vision, I have always thought there was something cool about those old early '80s Randall combo amps. You know the or gray strip of color across the front. Mostly I noticed the 1-12" combo amps and I can't really explain it, but I always wanted one. I'm more of a tube amp snob in some ways, and these Randalls are solid state. But I'd always heard good things about them and that they sounded as close to a tube amp as you could get. I've since read that this vintage RG80 is the gold standard among solid state amps and that a lot of manufacturers still use the same basic circuitry or electrical layout or whatever you call it for many amps today. I know nothing about it, so I have no idea. But I can tell you that this amp does sound really good and, although not quite as tasty as good tube amp of the same size, it's not a bad option if you happen to run across one. They are more famously used by The Edge of U2, George Lynch, Def Leppard and Dimebag Darrell.

Randall made a lot of different models in this era, but the RG80 seems to be the one that gets the most attention. It's got one 12" speaker...a Celestion G12-80...and it's got 80 watts of power at 8 ohms, 100 watts at 4 ohms. There is a speaker out, an effects send and return, and if you're lucky, it will still have the original footswitch with the funky 6-prong connector. The one I bought didn't have the original footswitch, but they are not too hard to find on the ebay for around $40. You can also buy nice repro footswitches for around $65. The reverb in these amps is really excellent and sounds just like an old Fender amp. As I've mentioned in previous stories, I'm a Tele guy and play fairly clean and this amp pulls that sounds off very well. With lots and lots of power. You'll need the footswitch to be able to channel switch, and I didn't have the footswitch with I really only got to check out channel one. But, for me, I'm really just going to kick in a Tube Screamer or something similar to get my dirty sound anyway, so it worked out very well. I've also read that you can run a speaker out to a bigger cabinet and this thing will blow your doors off. I've always liked my doors right where they are, so I didn't try that option. But it's there. If you don't need doors.

Since this blog is about the stories of how they got away, the quick version of how I came to own this amp, and then eventually sell it, goes something like this. Not too long ago I hit one of those patches where I just decided that I didn't need electric gear. I've done this once before and didn't learn from my mistake. I sold my Vox AC15, sold my Teles, and sold my pedals. Just took it all down to acoustic gear only. I play singer/songwriter gigs occasionally and I've been the acoustic music guy at a few weddings and charity events lately...but I am not in a band and haven't been playing live with an electric guitar in a long time. So, I sold my stuff. Dumb. After only a couple of months, the opportunity to get back together with some old bandmates arose...and I had nothing to play with. I did one rehearsal with my acoustic gear, but it just wasn't going to cut it. With very limited funds, I set out to find an amp and a guitar as cheaply as possible. I found a really cool (really) Xaviere telecaster copy for under $100. It's an inexpensive copy and I'll eventually replace it, but it's seriously a pretty cool guitar. More on that another time. Then I hit Craigslist for an amp. That's when I saw this Randall for sale and I knew I was finally going to get my hands on one of these things.

The guy wanted $125, but it had been for sale for a little while and I figured I could offer him $100. I got there to check out the amp and it was a little dirtier than you'd hope for and had obviously just been sitting around for a long time. I plugged into input #2 and it was super scratchy. Made a lot of noise. We all recoiled in horror. But when I plugged into input #1, all was fine. Sounded great and no problems. You only need one input anyway, right? Reverb sounded good, everything else worked fine....I shook my head a few times, hemmed and hawed, and finally offered the guy $80. Surprisingly he took it with no hesitation. I had an amp. Got it home and it sounded great. I cleaned it all up and took it to the next band rehearsal. Still sounded good, but I guess I'm just used to tubes and if I'm 100% honest, as much as this amp sounds good for solid state, it's just not a tube amp. And there IS a difference. I knew I was going to need tubes. The following week I got paid for a freelance job and had a few extra bucks. I looked on Craigslist again and, lo and behold, a guy was selling a Vox AC15 for $300. I talked him down to $275 and I was back in business with my favorite amp. I immediately listed the Randall on Craigslist and...well, you read the intro...had a bit of a tough time selling. I won't go back through all the markdowns again, but the bottom line is I ended up trading the amp for a nice Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-9DX. Since I paid $80 for the amp and really only had to put a little cleaning work into it, the trade worked out okay financially. Similar value I suppose. But mostly I was just really disappointed that no one recognized what a great deal the Randall would have been, even at my first price of $150. Would I buy another one of these amps? I don't know...I guess the answer is "maybe." Just depending on the circumstances and price. I'd definitely recommend it to someone looking to get a whole lot of amp for the price and looking for something that is going to be reliable for gigging. No doubt about it. But I think I'm always going to want tubes. That's just me.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Aloha Magnatone Lap Steel Guitar

Here's yet another in a long line of lap steels that I thought I wanted...but then realize I just can't seem to figure out how to play one of these well enough to keep it. I've said the same thing before in other posts...I always think I want a lap steel for recording purposes. And I do manage to get a few usable sounds out of them if I record and re-record a million times. But when it comes right down to it, I just can't get the hang of it enough to justify keeping one around. I will learn a lesson about this someday. Maybe.

The interesting part of the story about this lap steel is that I was looking on Ebay for an inexpensive lap steel and I noticed one for sale by a guy in my town. I emailed him and asked if I could just pick it up at his house instead of having him ship it, since that wouldn't make a lot of sense and would save time and money. He said SURE! So, long story short, that's what happened. I got the lap steel I won on Ebay home and there was a problem with it. So I took it back to his house and he had a few others that he was also selling. He exchanged mine for this Aloha and everyone was happy. It all worked out great and this was actually a little nicer than the one I had paid for.

I looked it up online and, lo and behold, the only documentation I could find had two photos of an Aloha exactly like mine, case and all. The closer I looked, it turns out it was actually the same exact lap steel! What are the chances? The instrument itself is nothing special really. It's your standard late '40s gray mother-of-toilet-seat lap steel that I've seen a hundred times by other brands like Dickerson and Magnatone and Supro, etc. Turns out this Aloha brand was actually made by Magnatone, as evidenced by the serial number plate on the back. The headstock decal says ALOHA Music Company, Corpus Christie, Texas. It was probably just a local company that contracted with Magnatone to make a generic lap steel and put the Aloha brand on it. It has Kluson tuners, a volume, a tone and a pickup. What else do you need?

After owning it for about a year, I turned it around on the Ebay and I think actually took a loss on it. Which is rare for me. I almost always make at least a little profit on things or break even. But that's the way it goes sometimes.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ventura Bruno V-35 (Martin D-35 Copy)

This is a great guitar that I recently found at the Oceanside California swap meet for the bargain basement price of $75. I didn't really need another guitar, but I just couldn't let it go and possible be bought by someone else who didn't know what it was or would have let their teenage kids beat the crap out of it or paint a peace sign on it. When I walked up the aisle at the swap meet and first spied it, another guy was checking it out pretty thoroughly. I had a bad feeling he was going to buy it, so I hovered close by. As soon as he put it down and walked away, I moved in for the kill. It had the original case, which is not always the case (no pun intended) and was in pretty nice shape overall. There was a small piece of binding near the neck joint that had come loose (which I later fixed), but otherwise it was all there and good to go. The guy originally asked $125, which wasn't a bad price really. But the picker in me just couldn't at least try to get it down a bit. I offered him $75 and, to my surprise, he took it.

The term "Lawsuit Guitar" gets thrown around pretty loosely these days, but this Ventura guitar really is from what is known as the lawsuit era. 

I'm not an expert on it myself, and some of you can correct me in the comments if I get this partially wrong, but basically the lawsuit era was in the 1970s when some of Japanese factories were making pretty much exact copies of some of the classic premium guitar brands. Everybody and their dog were knocking off Les Pauls (maybe most notably Ibanez and Tokai) and their were a lot of Gibson and Martin acoustic knock-offs. Takamine pretty much make a name for themselves copying Martin and Guild acoustics, right down to the logo look-alikes. Electra made Teles and SGs and 335s and Les Pauls. And there were countless others. One of pretty decent brands was Ventura. Even though the factories were in Japan and they were copying the big boys, that doesn't mean they weren't making good sounding instruments.

This Ventura Bruno V-35 is basically a copy of the Martin D-35, with the three piece back and the dreadnought body shape. This particular guitar that I bought has an adjustable bridge, which may or may not be original. It doesn't appear to be changed out, but in the catalog sheet I found, the bridge is not adjustable. So, that's up for discussion. The inlays on the neck were nice and the bound headstock looks very high-end. Many people claim that these guitars were made with Brazilian Rosewood, but they were not. The top is spruce, the neck is Honduran mahogany, and the back and sides are Jacaranda. This is where people get sidetracked on the Brazilian thing. They claim Jacaranda is Brazilian Rosewood and it's not. It's still nice and sounds fantastic, but don't be fooled.

The guitar sounded beautiful and I really wanted to find a good home for it. I put it up for sale on Craigslist hoping to find just the right person. The first guy that came to look at it was someone who collects '70s era Japanese guitars. In fact, he was Japanese himself. He took a very thorough look at it, determined that the top was laminated rather than solid, and immediately said thanks but no thanks. The next guy that came to look at it was also well versed in these lawsuit guitars and he determined that it is a solid top, but there were just little things about it that he felt weren't right for him, including the adjustable bridge question, and he passed as well. I began to think that maybe there was something up with this guitar...I mean, it played really well, and it sounded even better. It just needed the right person to fall in love with it. I lowered the price and tried again. Sure enough, a young musician who was looking for something vintage, beautiful and affordable came to look at it. He played it for about a minute, smiled and knew it was his. Perfect! The right person found the right guitar and I love it when that happens. We packed it back in the case and away it went. Another successful guitar adaption.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

First Act Paul Westerberg Model PW580

Well this is an interesting one and just by the title, it probably got a few scoffs. But I'm telling you, this was/is a great guitar and fun and cheap if you can find one. The word seems to be out on these finally, and they are becoming harder and harder to get. I had heard about them from a guy I sort of knew who worked in A&R for First Act. But, like most everyone else, I thought there is no way First Act is going to be making a guitar that I would be interested in, no matter what. They are known for their less expensive starter instruments at Walmart and Target, etc.

The story I have read is that Paul Westerberg (The Replacements), was on tour a few years ago and was wandering around a Walmart or similar big box store. He came across a First Act guitar and decided to buy it and try it out. He played it at sound check and liked the way it played. So...he started using it every night in his set. First Act heard about this and offered to make a "Paul Westerberg" model for him. And this guitar is the result. Well guess what? It's got a really great sound and it plays pretty well. Maybe somewhat one dimensional, but a great addition to your sound if you play more than one guitar. It's a little bit Telecaster-ish, but with one pickup that looks cheap but sounds pretty unique.

I found this one at the Oceanside Swap Meet in Oceanside, CA for $35. I was trying to get the lady down to $30, and she told me okay because she was just selling stuff to buy food for her kids. And I don't think she was joking. So I went ahead and gave her the $35 because I started feeling bad. The guitar was had no case and they obviously didn't know much about guitars in their family, so I was surprised to notice that it was in pretty good shape overall. There was one pretty noticeable scratch on the pickguard, but otherwise pretty good. I got it home, plugged it in, and bingo! Great sound. A little bit twangy, but with some bite. Good Replacements sounding jangle punk pop sound. I hung onto it for awhile and, at one point, it was my only electric guitar. But recently I have found out that I have developed severe asthma, and my singing voice is being affected by the medicine I now take. So, I went on a kick and sold my electric gear thinking I wouldn't need it any more. That didn't last too long. I tried to sell it on Craigslist, but just didn't find any takers. Finally I broke down and put it on Ebay and sold it for about $125 I think. I even included a First Act gig bag I just happened to own for some reason, so someone got a pretty good deal on a great little guitar.

If you happen to come across one of these for any kind of decent price, BUY IT. I promise you that, as long as it's set up okay, you'll be happy to have this gem. I have seen a few people get custom pickguards made for it because they didn't like the plaid version that comes stock with this guitar, but I figured this is one to keep stock for future value purposes. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for another one.

Note: I just checked Ebay after posting this story, and the prices on these have really jumped. As recently as a year or so ago you could get one for just over $100. Now they are consistently up in the $225-250 range. That's still a good price for a good guitar, so don't let the "First Act" name throw you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tulsa Blues Legend Steve Pryor's 1964 Stratocaster

This isn't one that got away...thank goodness. But it's a guitar that I have seen and admired countless times in the hands of my personal favorite guitarist of all time, Tulsa blues legend and Oklahoma Blues Hall of Famer, Steve Pryor. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has a rich musical history, and I was fortunate enough to see some amazing Tulsa musicians, famous and not, over the years. There was even something called "the Tulsa sound" at one point. Steve Pryor is my all-time fave.

To me, the Tulsa sound is a mix of blues and rock and country and grit and soul and sweat. Steve Pryor embodies all of that. He was once called the heir apparent to Stevie Ray Vaughn, and I can understand the comparison. Steve can start with a slow burn and build and build until the building is on fire. He's got that gritty vocal quality that just oozes life experience and countless nights playing in bars and on smoky stages. In the early nineties, Steve started getting quite a bit of national attention. He released a more commercial album produced by Dwight Yoakam's guitarist and producer, Pete Anderson. He toured nationally, blowing the Fabulous Thunderbirds off the stage every night. But, like a lot of musicians, his career got derailed by drugs and personal issues. Eventually, in April of 2004, Steve ended up in a one-car accident that left him seriously injured and put his music career on hold throughout a long recovery. But Steve Pryor is back and, most would say, better than ever. If I still lived in Tulsa, you can count on the fact that I would be at one of his countless shows as often as I could.

I was curious about Steve's well-worn 1964 Stratocaster, so I sent a note to his Facebook page. Gretchen Mullen, who runs Steve's social media, was nice enough to respond to me and let me know that she had just written a story about Steve's famous guitar. She has been extremely kind enough to allow me to reprint it here. I will include photos from Steve's Facebook page and link up a little video for you as well. Without further ado, here is Gretchen's story of Steve Pryor's '64 Fender Stratocaster:

The Story of a Guitar: Steve Pryor and the Stratocaster

By Gretchen Mullen

According to music legend, guitarist Chet Atkins was in a Nashville studio warming up for a session. A young technician came into the studio and stood watching open-mouthed until Chet finished.
”Gee, Mr. Atkins, that guitar sure sounds fabulous,” the tech exclaimed. Chet placed the guitar on its stand, smiled at the tech and said, “Well, son, how does it sound now?”

In 1975, Norman’s Rare Guitars opened in Reseda, California.  It was a small, word-of-mouth shop specializing in vintage instruments known among musicians as the go-to location for the finest guitars available in the United States. In 1978, Tulsa blues musician Steve Pryor walked in to Norman’s, knowing he wanted to buy an L-series black Stratocaster. The only specification he wasn’t sure about was the year. After a bit of discussion, ten black 1964 Stratocasters were brought out for Pryor to inspect. He spent his entire day there, trying each guitar with equal interest. By the end of the day, he walked out with the black Stratocaster he still plays today. It cost him $200 and a Music Man Amplifier which the store agreed to take in trade.

Since that time, Steve Pryor and his guitar have travelled many miles, played thousands of venues from nice to not so nice, and shared the stage with the likes of such blues greats as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Paul Butterfield, Bugs Henderson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The guitar has accompanied him to his 2006 induction into the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame and his 2009 induction into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame as a blues inductee.

The first Fender Stratocaster appeared in 1954. The body of the Stratocaster was more sleek and contoured than any other guitar that preceded it. The guitar’s build allowed the musician to move more freely and allowed for greater showmanship on stage. Once it was embraced by rock icons such as Buddy Holly, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, the guitar’s popularity soared. Simply put, the Stratocaster looked “cool.”

Interestingly, this is one of the reasons, aside from sound, that Steve Pryor went into Norman’s Rare Guitars that day way back in 1978 and requested a black Strat. Pryor’s guitar needed to be black for one reason and one reason only: Jimi Hendrix’s last guitar, a 1968 Stratocaster, was black, and photographed with his black Strat, Hendrix looked very cool.

Pryor has made some unique modifications to his instrument, thanks in good part to the expertise of Tulsa Guitar and Electronic’s own Steve Hickerson, known affectionately among musicians as “Doc.” Pryor explains the modifications, which involve terminology such as “bridge pickup,” “saddles,” and “open string harmonics.” Suffice it to say, the modifications have made the guitar sound better—in fact, the modifications have made the guitar sound like no other.

While many musicians have given their guitars nicknames—Willie Nelson and “Trigger;” B. B. King and “Lucille;” Stevie Ray Vaughan and “Number One”—Pryor’s Strat has never had a name. But this does not mean the guitar isn’t treated well. When at home and not in its case, the guitar rests high up off the floor on a soft pallet. And only once did the beloved guitar get mistreated by its owner. In a frantic and hurried restringing session, Pryor lost his temper and threw the guitar across a concrete dressing room floor. The guitar did indeed suffer an injury, which Pryor repaired himself with a vial of super glue. Fortunately, it did not change the sound.

So, has Steve Pryor been asked to sell his guitar? Absolutely. Has any offer tempted him to date? Nope. Pryor predicts his Strat will always be repairable, though he does occasionally toy with the idea of retiring it and getting a new one.

Has anyone else ever played Steve Pryor’s Stratocaster? Pryor hesitates, and has to think about that for just a moment. “Well, yes, sometimes, but only if I’m standing there. There’s no borrowing.”
So, now for the big question. Is it the guitar that makes the musician, or is it the musician that makes the guitar, or is it a combination of both? On this question, Steve Pryor does not hesitate. With complete humility, he asserts that the guitar does not make the musician. What does help is a level of familiarity with the instrument. “It is really more a matter of personal comfort,” he explains.
In other words, harkening back to 1978, Steve Pryor could have walked out with any one of those ten Stratocasters that day and the results would have been the same. Thirty four years and five albums later, thousands of live performances, and Steve Pryor would still be the guitar virtuoso that he is today. As the world renowned Andres Segovia once explained, “Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart.”


Entering the serial number printed on Steve’s guitar into a database called “The Guitar Dater Project” produces the following information: “Your guitar was made at the Fullerton Plant (Fender - Pre CBS Era), USA in the Year(s): 1964.” Leo Fender sold his company to CBS in 1965 and pre-CBS Era guitars are highly sought after by collectors.

If you place Steve’s guitar next to Strats owned by Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer, the scuff marks above the pickguards on all three guitars would line-up almost exactly, reflecting similar styles of playing and hand movements.

Pryor’s black Strat, upon closer inspection, has an undercoat of Sherwood Green. Fender frequently painted its guitars with two layers, sometimes to hide flaws, and sometimes to meet customer demand for a particular color. The colors chosen for undercoats were used by Fender based on availability, and combinations of primers and finishes are inconsistent. Fender custom colors were highly influenced by the colors of the most popular automobiles of the day.

Please note: all photos were "borrowed" from Steve Pryor's Facebook page. I know the top three photos of his guitar were by Seth Lee Jones. I don't have credits for the others. My apologies.
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