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.