Pine Body: CHECK.
All-maple neck: CHECK.
Genuine Fender brand: CHECK.
Big discount making it dirt cheap: SOLD!
I’ve always wanted a telecaster, for its elegant utilitarian simplicity. There’s beauty in non-embelishment in my opinion. And thanks to Musician’s Friend’s heavily discounted used gear, i scored a honeyburst for far less than retail. I’ve already demo’d it when one of my buddies bought a transparent charcoal-colored Modern Player Tele (as pictured on the left on the second picture below), and it sounded great as is!
But i like my telecaster a bit more traditional. So i made some changes, i.e., back to vintage specs!
Thanks to the super-low price i got the tele for, it allowed me to get the necessary parts for the project, and still be well below my tele budget. A genuine fender tele stamped ashtray bridge, 3 brass saddles, and a set of Fender Original Vintage ’52 reissue pickups (the one with AlNiCo III magnets). To round up the purchases, i got a BAKELITE pickguard, what the original telecaster in the 50’s had before switching to plastic.
the Modern Player had a tele chrome neck pickup, a strat middle pickup, and a humbucker with a coil-tap. GONE! well, except for the middle pickup which i have on now, but that will have to go as well (more on that later). The hardtail bridge, GONE! The plastic pickguard, GONE!
Although i like my teles traditonal, i always have to have some twist. I was enamored by a Nashville-style tele when i saw one- theres a middle pickup! Though it wont equate it to a strat sound, it will give it some extra tones. Ive learned that only a strat will ever sound like a strat from years of experience. You can get something close to a strat sound, but why do that when you can simply get a strat and be done with it, you know? With this tele, its more to add a few more versatile sounds for it. Long story short, i went to town with this tele to bring it back to a somewhat traditional look: two pickups.
Notice i said ‘LOOK’, i didnt say anything about getting exactly to vintage form. Remember the twist? in this case TWISTS! It already had the middle route with the middle pickup, might as well use it. i HID the middle pickup under the bakelite pickguard. i lowered the pickup enough to get it under the pickguard. This works, albeit not to my liking (more on that later).
I also turned the control plate around, making the toggle switch further back, and the tone knob now works as the volume knob- this makes the volume swell trick easier to pull off (one strat design i’m pretty impressed with, accidental or not).
One thing i did have some difficulty with is fitting the bridge pickup where the humbucker used to be. I had to make a bigger cavity to make it fit. Dremel to the rescue! I WAS able to fit the pickup in it, but it also shows a bit of the hole where the humbucker use to be on the side of the stamped bridge. It looks odd up close with the “wing cavity”, but i got used to it. The “imperfect” look does not bother me anymore.Once i pick it up and play it, it’s golden!
Another thing that posed a dilemma was when i overlayed the stamped bridge over where the hardtail bridge once sat. it lines up nicely with the string-thru holes, but there’s also the scale length itself i had to make sure i get correctly, or it’s going to sound out of tune. Bring out the scale ruler! 25 1/2 inches, and it was up to how far the 3 brass saddles can screw back. It was a bit close, but i got it precisely where they needed to be. Harmonics and intonation are in perfect order!
And for the wiring, i ended up keeping the stock 5-way switch, pots, and capacitor. I had an itch to change them to CTS pots and a Paper-in-oil cap, but thats for later. Get this up and running first! I also kept the mini-toggle switch. Instead of a coil tap, ill use it to get the 6th and 7th sound. Basically, the wiring is that for a strat (5 sounds). But with the toggle switch, i have the option to get the traditional middle setting of a tele, PLUS an all-on setting. SEVEN sounds!
i had already mentioned i turned around the control plate, this meant rewiring the whole assembly to make the leads reach. Online comments are correct: fender didnt put too much wire length in the OV set. no big deal- extension wires!
one thing about the middle pickup: it will be changed to a more powerful one. hidden underneath the pickguard, its too low to provide a decent output. I tried to lower the neck and bridge pickup to match the volume, but it only made the neck and bridge pickups muddy-sounding. The OV set is already “relatively” weak (7k ohm -ish), and coupled with a ‘weaker’ magnet in the AlNiCo III, it’s not the loudest pickups around. Time to rummage through my pickup stash, see if we have anything stronger (although i may opt for a GFS pickup that’s 8.7k thats reverse wound, made to hum-cancel when wired in a strat).
Some notes about the use of a bakelite pickguard. 1) it’s what was used in the 50’s teles 2) more than cosmetic and getting that traditional look, it’s static free! unlike the plastic that retains a static charge that you can hear thru the amp crackling (annoying and distracting!), the bakelite eliminates this issue 3) the black matte look at first looks odd, but in context, it looks good (to me anyway) against the high-gloss body. Plus i dont have to worry about smudges that a glossy pickguard always gets.
After making adjustments between the neck and bridge pickup height to juuuuust get the volume level for both about the same, and to get the true tone of the OV set, i am done! ANd wow! the set did NOT disappoint! The tone has a more focused cleanness to it. The neck pickup feels warm, while the bridge pickup just has that quite-right tele chime!
Boy, that’s a mouthful of a title. But after playing through it, it’ll leave you speechless! I got this about 6 months ago. Scored for a lot less than retail, thanks to musician’s friend’s open box sale items. It was condition 2, but the discount on it was deep enough for me to take the plunge. And since it was condition 2, i have the option to send it back within 30 days. I considered returning it after a couple of weeks, but something told me to hang on to it. I’m glad i listened!
Still a hefty price for the likes of me and my budget, but at the time i’ve been looking at a hollowbody Epiphone Casino, and was ready to go in that direction. I decided to call MF, and i asked if there was still some chance of them taking something off the discounted price. They did! And that was the clincher, so it was on my doorstep in 4 days. I love fast shipping. Correction: i love fast FREE shipping!
I got the black one, as im not a big fan of bursts. Plus its the only one that was currently discounted anyway (i had no choice 😛 ). The guitar over all looked amazing- no scratches i can find, no dings or issues. Was simply out of the box and briefly demo’d from what it looks like. As for the sound, it took a while for me to warm up to it. As i mentioned earlier, i almost returned it, as it felt ordinary at first, and sounded kind of flat.
I already had a 12-string semihollow electric guitar in the Dean Boca, which sounded alright, but it didn’t excite me much to play it often enough. It was another one of those can’t miss price tags i simply could not pass up. I even took the stock pickups off and changed it to a couple of DiMarzio pickups, though that didn’t improve it (it actually sounded bad). Not the pickups’ fault- The DiMarzios are simply made for straight up rock, on a solidbody electric. I was looking for the jangle, what 12-strings are known for.
And THIS 12-string Gretsch has it. In boatloads! I would say this guitar now ranks highly in the pecking order of my guitars. lately i’ve been mostly playing clean stuff, and not much gain added. Man, the sound is phenomenal!
It uses 2 blacktop filtertrons, which according to Gretsch, is inspired by their Baldwin era blacktops. I can tell right away it’s not a hot pickup at all, as i seem to turn up the volume a little more to coax the clean sound to decent playing levels. I did adjust the pickup heights and polepieces to get the balance juuuust right between the neck and the bridge. If anything the bridge can get closer to the strings, but it’s maxed out- may need a couple of pickup ring spacers.
But as it is, the output is definitely not hot at all. And theyre quiet! turned up on the clean channel, it doesnt give any stray noises. Though it IS technically a humbucker, and by definition it shouldn’t have hum at all, but some humbuckers still exhibit some type of noise, not necessarily the 60-cycle hum it picks up like single coils do.
i recently did sone online research on the new blacktop filtertrons, and it seems it has a ceramic magnet. That would make sense, since the original blacktops were produced with a thick ceramic manets. Possibly why it contributes to a clean sound as well. That and the purported resistance of the filtertrons are around 4-5k only.
What made me keep this guitar was 2-fold: the amazingly balanced jangly/chimey clean sound, and when overdriven, it retains great definition and clarity! I’m basing this on the Fender Prosonic (with the 2-12 greenbacks), with Gain 1 rolled up to 3 for basic grit, and playing around with Gain 2 (from adding a bit more grit, to getting real crunch, to simply dimed for a screaming out-of-control madness!). I can set the Prosonic to a medium gain on the 2nd Gain knob, and i can play around with the guitars volume knob to tame it back a bit. This allows me to play dynamically on the strings, either dig in for a great crunch with volume, or softly hit the strings for a much cleaned-up tone. So versatile!
What also made me keep the guitar was the change i did- removing the octave strings on the wound strings (Low E, A, and D strings are now single strings on their own). I kept the octave string on G, and the unison (for lack of a better word) strings on B and high E. This allowed me to keep that jangly sound on the higher strings, but keep the bass/wound strings clear. I find that (to my taste), the low strings sounded muddy and lacked clarity, even in clean settings. Now that the E, A, and D strings are on their own, im able to play it like a regular 6-string with more integrity, while retaining the jangle on top. So now i have a 9-string! Another thing- once i kick in the overdrive, the dirt sounds more focused, less dispersed. There’s some power in them power chords now! Granted it wont jump at you like a ferocious thrash metal tiger, theres just no way with low output pickups to have that kind of a sound, but then again this 12-string gretsch isnt the target guitar for shredders, and vice versa. This was made to sound jangly, and it performs 100% like it. Bonus is that it sounds great overdriven as well!
On a side note, i mentioned also that i had my eyes set on an Epiphone Casino (cherry!). But as it is, i already have a copy of it- a cherry hollowbody in the form of the mid-70’s lawsuit guitar that i equipped with chrome P-90s. The Casino sound is roughly there already, plus i already have another P-90 guitar in the Epihone Riviera P93. A Casino will just duplicate (even triplicate) what i already have. Now ive never had a Gretsch before, and really didn’t think much of it til the G5120 from a couple years ago. I held back since i knew the pickups on those werent the best- in fact they sounded bad! i got a pair on ebay to try out, and they never sounded good on ANY guitar i installed them in. Too mid-rangey, and not much bottom, and ice-picky highs. But getting a small bonus gave me the chance to try out the new gretsch lineup with the newly redesigned pickups. If they sounded bad again, i can grab real filtertrons, or the ones made by TV Jones. I didn’t have to. The stock gretsch blacktop filtertrons sound amazing!
If i was to play on stage or any gig again, this will be my main guitar, the guitar that’s to be mostly associated with me.
Presenting the Epiphone Wildkat. One of Epiphone’s (relatively) NEWER original designs, not just a copy of a Gibson original, nor is it a reissue of any sort. It’s one weird guitar, and it’s named quite appropriately.
From its looks, it echoes that of the big hollowbodies, with the round shape and a single soft cutaway on the lower side, but with a much thinner profile, like most of semihollow bodies. But unlike the semihollow guitars, it’s smaller, so it’s a lot less unwieldy when playing standing up or sitting down.
The pickups used were of the more traditional P-90 dogear kind, but in chrome metal, much like the Casino. Measured with a meter, it clocks in at around 11k ohms for the neck, and 12k ohms for the bridge – quite hot, when a traditional vintage P-90 specs are in the 7-8k ohms range.
It uses a bigsby for some trem action, and the controls have a MASTER volume on the lower bout cutaway.
What makes the Wildkat curiously different from a regular semilhollow body guitar is that it’s NOT a true semihollow. Whereas a semihollow guitar has a solid block of wood running down the middle from the neck ot the bottom bout (which counters pickup feedback), the Wildkat is fully hollow under the pickups – the solid block only runs from the edge of bridge pickup closest to the bridge going down the bottom bout. If anything the tone is closer to that of a hollowbody casino and yes, it’s one reason it can (and WILL!) feedback more than your usual semihollow guitar. Keep that in mind when thinking fo getting this axe.
One complaint that most people have is that the pickups sound muddy for P-90, and keeps blaming the chromed metal covers of the P-90s, insisting on replacing them with either plastic, or true nickel/nickel-plated metal covers. The real contributor to the muddy tone is the very high output itself – at around 12k ohms, the pickups tend to lose some definition with the high frequencies, thus making it seem darker, which to some people equate to muddiness.
There are ways around this – get another set that’s underwound, or wound to vintage specs (8k is already considered ‘hot’, vintage would be around 6-7k). The chrome covers may also have something to do with it (though i think to a lesser degree than the actual number of windings) so change those too to nickel (or even plastic, as pastic has little to no effect on the signal itself), or if you are adventurous enough and have the equipment and know-how, underwind the stock pickups down to 8k! There’s a good chance you can ruin the pickup and render it dead, but it can save you the cost of getting a new set, and you more or less keep the guitar stock, with a more usable set of P-90s.
That’s what i’m about to do. 😀
While i’m at it opening up the pickup and unwinding a bit of the copper wire, i may also want to replace the magnets themselves. Though the preferred magnet is already on there with the AlNiCo V bars, originally the magnets used on older P-90s were AlNiCo II or AlNiCo III. ALniCo V were introduced for a stronger output, and later on ceramics were the norm for their crispness and stronger output, and the fact that they’re less costly to manufacture.
Yes, i do have AlNiCo II AND III magnet bars lying around. 🙂
The unwiding of the copper coils to vintage specs and the use of weaker magnets is a sure recipe for lower output, but the point is to get the vintage tone, not just the vintage vibe the guitar exudes. This will help get more clarity with the tone. In a way, it may even be less prone to feedback, as there’s not much strength compared to a hot pickup, so less signal can bounce back to it. Then again it also willd etermine how hot you run your amplifier. And you ARE using a tube amp with it, aren’t you? No? to which i ask, why not??? so many affordable (and dare i say, CHEAP) reliable great-sounding tube amps nowadays, it’s tough to ignore them for (gasp!) solidstate amps. Anyway, that’s just me being a tube amp snob – to each his own, if you like the sound you’re getting, no matter how or where you’re plugging in, and you’re happy with it, that’s all that matters.
(but seriously, get a tube amp – your guitar will thank you for it)
I brought up this article to note the changes i made since scoring a Wildkat for cheap. I mean seriously cheap. Reason being that it had a crack on the neck. where the nut is. WHen i got it, it had to look real hard to figure out where the crack was – it was that tiny! i did find it, and talk about a hairline crack. it was small enough that i didnt even have to bother with it – the way the crack was running , then string tension is holding it firm shut. But nothing like a simple wood glue would fix. had to get seriously small syringes (ones used for insulin) to even get any glue in. overnight it cured and was even stonger if it hadnt had any crack at all. a light buffing and the neck is good to go.
I really have been looking at the Wildkat for a while – i always did like the natural color of it. Plus it was very affordable! But to be honest about the purchase, i didn’t care about the body, i wanted to mine the “broken” guitar for its parts, namely the chrome hardware to put it on the Riviera P93 (to replace the gaudy easily-tarnished gold parts- never did like them). And man, do the chrome bigsby look GREAT on the Riviera!
Now, having “fixed” the broken neck, i found the the Wildkat to still be playable as hell, and doesn’t go out of tune at all! man, this was a keeper, and a great one at that. I had initially decided to simply swap parts – chrome on the Riviera, gold on the natural-colored Wildkat. But i ended up NOT putting the gold hardware anywhere – yeah, i really do NOT like gold hardware. I had enough parts to keep the wildkat with chrome parts. I even had an extra chrome bigsby (though it was shorter and was for a totally different brand, possibly a D’aquisto). In the end, decided to use NO bigsby on it, and instead use a stop tailpiece, albeit on a funky angle (using the same screw holes where the bigsby anchored on the body top). the wild is back on the Wildkat!
On to the pickups – i ended up taking them off and putting them on another project which i called the Poor Man’s Casino. It’s basically the red 335 copy from the 70s (really a lawsuit guitar). It was fully hollow like a casino, and has a trapeze like a casino, and shaped like a casino, why don’t i just make it copy a casino? all it needs are the chrome P-90s, which the Wildkat had, and i’m set!
But that was before i found out the semi-full hollowness of the body. Now i want to use the sexy natural body of the Wildkat for something else other than a wall art or sell it off. Like i said, i’ve always had my eye on one, and now i have one that’s still very usable. hell, the poor man’s casino is built less beautifully (though it is from the mid70s, almost 40 years old now), i sure can still use the wildkat body.
right now, i’m leaning into using mini-humbuckers, seeing as the only other guitar i have that has a mini-HB is the firebird, and that’s on a solid body. Minis on a hollow/semi/whatever body should sound different and interesting. Yeah, the Wildkat has given me two wonderful guitars from its parts, and it’s not giving up on me. I sure as hell ain’t giving up on it!
I first got one back in march of 2011 as a condition 2 discounted musician’s friend deal. The problem listed is some light play scratches on the front. When i got it, i couldn’t even see it, unless i look 3 inches close and under a bright light, at a very specific angle. Absurd, but i guess some picky people would do that. I prefer to play my guitars, not show them behind a glass cage, and eventually it’s gonna have wear. Like it’s supposed to!
But i digress. I got a honeyburst, and this looked immaculate. Had all the papers and warranty cards unfilled and the plastic covers and everything. super mint! For a nice discounted price (i never pay full price anymore for anything). Ever since i woke up from my guitar coma, i’ve trolled around and found the original Gibson nighthawk and had lusted for one ever since. That staggered/slanted bridge humbucker pickup was something i’ve thought of for a long time now, and seeing it on a production guitar was a pleasant surprise. And reading the specs- it had a longer (fender) scale, an odd one for a Gibson guitar, and the arrangement of the pickups echoes -no , screams!- FENDER! Mahogany body with a non-carved simple book-matched maple top, the 5-way switch for more variety of sounds. And small and light with that sexy Florentine shape body? I want one! But sadly it ranged somewhere beyond my acceptable guitar affordability. And then epiphone reissued it.
Elation! At a very good street price too! sure – it’s not made in the USA (Indonesian), but the workmanship and detail showed instant desirability, and best of all, it’s well within my acceptable guitar affordability. And now one of them is priced much less? sold! I actually wanted the amber, but the honeyburst was a close second -good enough!
When i got it, the finish was almost flawless, the binding was tight, there was hardly any finger-cutting frets. What i can’t get over with are the ornate crown inlays and bindings – all this for under $400??? I’ve seen more expensive no-frills guitars with less workmanship than this!
Then i played it. I was expecting strat sounds, but sounded NOTHING like it. Even in the coiltap settings. It sounded much closer to a Gibson guitar (les paul, SG, explorer, etc). Which i should have expected. And even then it’s not very… exciting.
so THAT’S where the cost-cutting went. The pickups, though usable, were not very inviting. Regardless of what amp i plugged it in, the tone was flat. In any setting, whether clean or distorted, they were uninspiring. Maybe the middle pickup had some zazz (yes, i said zazz). It was strong and clear, and evoked a full sound on its own. But with the neck or the bridge pickup, it wasn’t very satisfying.
The neck pickup itself, being a minihumbucker from a firebird, you’d expect some chime when it’s set to clean, and some grit in the high-end when overdriven. None of that here. Even worse when you coiltap it – it becomes weak, and even for an under-wound coil, it hand no spring to it’s single-coil sound.
The slant humbuckers were decent on their own, which evokes a classic late-60’s vintage kerrang when overdriven. Nothing overpowering here, but quite usable. Just don’t coiltap- it too sounded weak and flat. Clean or overdriven.
The 2 and 4 position on the 5-way switch is the big question- does it even evoke ANY fender strat quack? Answer is NO. There is NO trace of any quack or even a cluck here. Pffft! I guess the only thing that can sound like a strat is, well, a strat! (duh!) But you’d expect something close. Nope, not one bit. Even just taking what those sounds put out, it was still not quite enough to make you want to stay on that settings. Quite disappointing.
So i stored it away, and after several months, i sold it.
Yep, this guitar i lusted for did not live up to my expectations. I truly wanted to like it, it just didn’t have the sound i was looking for.
Several months later after i sold it, i thought about it. Actually i’ve BEEN thinking about it since i sold it. It felt great, the price was great, it was just the tones that didn’t sound great. I could replace the pickups… i’m a guitar tech, i could do that easily. oh man! what did i do???
well, if there are guitar angels, they must’ve heard me think out loud, and told my thoughts to the guitar gods. Within a couple of weeks, i trolled musician’s friend again and what do i see? ANOTHER DISCOUNTED HONEYBURST! but this time it was priced well more than half their retail price! WTF? this one had pictures of the actual guitar, and looking at them i see no breaks or deep scratches or broken headstocks or chipped parts. It was the electronics – it said it produced no sound. Bah! i fix those all the time! i snapped it up immediately, and within a few days it arrived.
HELLO AGAIN! AND WELCOME BACK! immediate inspection showed it was in super mint condition, still had the pickup cover tape, had all the paperwork and warranty cards, pretty much like the first one. When i plugged in, there was sound! it was playing well – where was the problem??? After a few minutes of twiddling with it, i figured out the problem – the 5-way switch was really just intermittent. Thanks, musician’s friend! Thank you for that can’t-be-bothered-to-fix attitude and generous markdowns, you give techie guitar junkies like me reason to spend unnecessarily. 🙂
A simple swap of the 5 way switch solved the problem – no more intermittent sound when switching. As usual the pickups still had the same lousy uninspiring tones, but this time i planned to replace them. Only the middle pick up will stay, as it held its own robust sound. A very good thing, only because it’s not going to be easy to replace it. What held it in place were two screws in the middle of the pickup (like a P-90 without the dog-ears). Researching for it, i can find NO direct replacement for it anywhere.
But the bridge pickup does – Seymour Duncan came out with a drop in replacement for the nighthawk’s bridge, with 2 of their most popular humbuckers: The 59 and the JB. After doing more research on those 2, i settled on the JB which had a very strong and very musical output, whose coil-tap was no slouch either. Thousands of JB users over the past 30 years have sworn on its sound – its been used in a ton of records over it’s production lifetime. The 59 was a Gibson PAF derivative, sweet sounding and classic, but with a comparatively lower output than the JB. I need something stronger and more versatile.
As for the neck pickup, there are MORE options. Thanks to the firebird and other guitars that employ the use of mini-humbuckers, there’s a plethora of boutique and production-run replacements, not just from Seymour Duncan. I decided on GFS pickups, also known as Guitar Fetish online.
I’ve purchased several types of pickups from them before, i even made a stealth replacement pickup for a re-built early 60’s Kay Speed Demon, and they all sounded brilliant.Best of all, they don’t cost an arm and a leg, and are fairly priced. But after hearing how the pickups sound like, they really are a bargain! No i don’t get paid by them, nor am i endorsed (i wish!). This is simply a testament to how good the pickups ive purchased from them are.
After checking the prices, i decided to do the more affordable one first – GFS neck pickup (the JB was a bit more – i’ll update this when i get that).
but which one? There are the exact look – all chrome cover replacement for firebirds, there’s the mini-humbucker with the pole piece screws. And then there’s the minitrons!
Basically, minitrons are the size of mini-humbuckers that look like small Gretsch Filtertron pickups (hence MINI tron). GFS makes them in several flavors: different windings, and different magnets. Ceramic magnets are stronger, accentuates the highs more with a tighter bottom end, Alnico V magnets have a warmer tone, with a bit more emphasis on the mids. Alnicos are also the de facto magnets in most vintage guitars. I opted for the ceramic magnet, with the highest output. In this case It’s the Nashville model (the alnico models were called Liverpool), but i went for the strongest output for the BRIDGE, even though i’m going to use it for the neck. If i need to coiltap (and i DO want to coiltap the neck), it will still be strong enough to be more than usable.
It took about a week, and as soon as i got it, went straight to work. But not without some snags. The minitron’s holes for the pickup height adjustments were TOO BIG! even for the screws they sent. Apparently these were made for guitars where the screws go INTO the guitar wood. Larger screws could go in, but that would look odd, and i don’t relish going to a hardware store at the moment. So i decided on an easier solution: cover the hole with solder and drill a smaller hole. It worked like a charm!
The other issue: since i bought a pickup made for the bridge, the pickup wire/lead is shorter. MUCH shorter! An inch longer and it would have been ok. I can understand that if it’s for the bridge, the wire would be shorter. But with DiMarzios and Seymour Duncans, their leads are about a foot long, even longer in some cases, giving you the option to move the pickups where you prefer. The solution: soldering another inch or two to the leads that need it. Easy enough!
After installation, the real test is on.
on its own, the minitron sounded more full, the low-end is strong but not boomy, but best of all, the chime is there! the high end is well more what you would expect from a bridge humbucker, but with more emphasis on the higher frequencies. And the coiltap? MUCH better sounding! Stronger, and much clearer in tone. No mush at all!
What was even better was position 2 on the 5-way switch. The humbucker and middle pickup mix was more what you would expect from a strat derivative – not quite the quack, but the cluck is there! Even more so when you coiltap the neck. This guitar has come alive – amazing!!!
Talk about inspired tone! i played the nighthawk for a good 90 minutes AFTER i installed the minitron, just doodling around without any effects, just the guitar plugged straight into the amp, CLEAN!
This already is sounding better – makes me wonder how much better it can get with a JB in the bridge!
But wait – there’s more! (ha ha!)
The simple strat-like wiring of the 5-way is good, and made better with the tone control coil tap. BUT! Im a guitarnerd techie with a semibackground in mechanical engineering. I CAN NOT LEAVE THINGS WELL ENOUGH ALONE! he he he…
I plan on rewiring this to include an option to run the neck AND bridge together, and also the option to play ALL pickups at once (kinda like a blow switch to turn all the pickups on). And all without having to drill anything new, just replacing the volume control with one that has a push-pull switch (like the tone control).
On a sidenote, i already replaced the capacitor with a paper-in-oil one, with a different value (also known as the “woman tone” cap).
After the JB bridge and the rewiring, this baby is gonna be sounding WAY better! And by the way, her name is Honnie. 😉
The holidays have come and gone, and it’s a brand new year! Hello, 2012! And Hello, readers! I guess you can consider this an update. Im not going to fill in the blanks of my absence with boring life-happenings (no, i did not go to jail, unless you consider corporate work to be a prison… which to me it is! ha!). Instead i’ll bring you a worthy acquisition: a 1981 GIBSON LES PAUL XR-1, in GOLDBURST! Again a craigslist find, brought about by relentless trolling the site due to boredom.
This is significant to me in a whole host of ways. I have been craving a TRUE Gibson Les Paul since the first fake set-neck les paul i bought. That was what started me in learning how to be a proficient guitar tech. The fake les paul was black with chrome hardware, and it was a dog and a pig. So I tore-apart the cheapo pickups, changed the tuners, replaced the plastic nut and cut up my own bone nut from raw beef bones, peeled and sanded down the paint, cut-up and carved the body, successfully refretted the frets (yes, on a brand new, off the rack guitar), re-radiused and scalloped the fretboard. It was frankenstein beautiful when i got done. I miss that monster.
Fast forward to 2007, and i revitalized my craving for guitars, and subsequently my craving for a les paul. or something similar that i can cut up. again. towards the end i figured out i STILL like and love guitars and modding them, that im done experimenting for its own sake, and go out there and get a decent guitar for my own. 32 guitars later, and im STILL craving.
I looked at the army ive assembled (and took apart and re-assembled), and thought ” my god, im a fucking hoarder!” DISGUSTING! I need to stop, and trim the herd to the absolute minimum! I still love a lot of them, so i figured a rough number would be good – say, 13. My favorite number.
And finally drew up 12, and left off one spot. This was for an upcoming and imminent purchase of a current production Les paul GOLDTOP studio. It was well within reach ($849, not over $2000), and it was no frills, no superfluous bindings, all wood, WITH a carved maple cap (not just all mahogany body). Just the way i like it.
At first i wanted the 60’s tribute, even though the pickups were P90’s. That’s cool, i love that tone, i can deal with it. Then Gibson came out with a 50’s tribute, but with HUMBUCKERS. Finally!
What i had in mind was to get that, and then drop in a set of Seymour Duncan P-Rails, the combination i had in the Epiphone Oxblood lp. Like i said, i love that P90 sound, but this gives me a humbucker AND a single coil rails option as well.
Now let me backtrack a bit.
About a couple of years ago, i stumbled on an article online that exposed Gibson’s dirty secret – THERE ARE HOLES IN THE LES PAULS!!!
Apparently, unbeknownst to the majority, Gibson has been drilling out holes in the mahogany right before the put on the maple cap, to give it weight-relief. And theyve been doing this since 1982!!!
Les Paul players know about it and have complained about it for years – Les Pauls are HEAVY! The older les pauls weigh in at around 10-12 pounds. On stage for 2 to 3 hours, it can break your back. ANd gibson thought theyre losing their customers to lighter guitars, so to offset this weight issue, they started boring holes, some 9, some 14, in the mahogany, and then capping it off with a maple top. And then more drastically in the early 2000s, they started CHAMBERING the mahogany. This is basically routing a good chunk out of the solid body. Gibson finally released a press statement in 2008, saying they’ve done this without any effect to the “classic” les paul tone, and at the same time gave the player the guitar they can play for hours on end.
The reason you want an electric guitar is to rock! Those classic sound and tones you hear from Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and and peter Greenwood and countless other les paul slinging rock guitar icons from the 60s and 70 is because they played an all-solid body les paul thru those tube-saturating amps.
If i want to play something SEMIHOLLOW ill get me an ES-335.
It may not really mean much to most people, a guitar is a guitar is a guitar, its how you play it. Its the guitarist. Sure. But since i want something classic, i want it to BE classic. Purist? Sure. Guitar Snob? hell, yes! Simply put, i know what hear, i know what i want, and i know what i want to sound like. A “chambered” les paul is NOT what i want.
But there are only two ways to get an all-solid, non-routed, non-hole, non-chambered les paul these days: either get the newer one that’s called “VOS”, or Vintage Original Spec, or get one thats 1981 or older. Anything AFTER 1982 is suspect, and most likely “tampered” with.
Being poor and always short of funds, i decided to just deal with it, and get me a Goldtop Les Paul, especially since the new 50’s tribute is very close to what i’ve been looking for. the chambered insides is, well, tolerable enough. I shall therefore save up and get me one in the near future, maybe in three months’ time, be done with it.
Until that fateful day of Tuesday, December the 27th, 2011.
I was bored, and was surfing online on my cell phone, trolling craigslist when i stumbled upon a simple, no-nonsense ad about a Gibson Les Paul. XR what? What’s an XR-1?
A few google clicks later on the main computer, and i saw what it was.
An XR-1 was a precursor to the Les Paul Studio. Stripped down of all bindings and ornate inlays, it was made from 1981 to 1983, then discontinued. Around 1983 was when the first Les Paul Studio was made.
The XR-1 had two Dirty Fingers humbuckers (arguably the loudest, hottest output pickups Gibson made, and only recently have been re-issued), and a nifty coil tap mini-toggle switch. Everything else was pretty much a les paul.
It came originally in 3 factory colors: Tobaccoburst, Cherryburst, and Goldburst. Although later models and maybe custom colors were known to exist.
The ad said it was from 1981, and it was HEAVY. which piqued my curiosity even more. Could it be?? The ad did not specify a specific price, only a best offer. Another google and ebay expired listing search showed the averaged the price as something i can actually afford!
So i responded to the ad with my best offer, and didnt wait long. a counter offer was put forth, which still was well under my spending limit. I didnt push it any further and commited to it, and the guy replied back and committed to me, not withstanding the issue where funds wont be available to til that friday (payday!). I spoke to the guy on the phone, and aside from the 30 years of dings and scratches and usual wear, he guaranteed it didnt have any neck breaks or repairs (my main deal breaker), and it wasnt a “FACTORY SECOND”. Friday was no good for him, so it got pushed back to saturday.
The longest 3 days of my 2011. ha ha!
Saturday came, and i was ready by 10AM with the cash. I even had some problems before that – apparently my bank doesn’t allow more than a certain amount of cash to be withdrawn in a single day. FUCK! Good thing i had this issue before, and the trick is to go to those stores which allow you to debit cash along with a purchase. had to do TWO transactions, but problem solved!
I called him up, and he should be ready by 3:45pm, as he was helping his GF move furniture. More waiting! but good things come to those who wait…
Finally drove over to the dude’s place, and there it was! a bizarre color indeed – A GOLDBURST! Looks like a tobacco burst, only the gold is gleaming thru the burst in its yellowish greenish gold hue, depending on which angle the light bounces off of it. The whole back and neck are all dark, almost but not truly black, more of a dark chocolate color. There are some considerable finish flaking off around the top of the headstock, but that’s it. No factory “SECOND” stamps, no breaks or repairs on the neck at all.
The body showed scratches more on the back than it did the front, but no buckle rashes. There were small dings here and there, more on the bottom parts. The lower bout top edge had a sliver of the finish rubbed off, showing the maple top grain, along with the two layers of gold and dark brown coats. By Rubbed off i meant not flaking off or scratched off. it was smooth, as if it was worn down by constant use over time.
What’s great is the finish on the carved top- compared to the rest of the body it was relatively pristine. No big gashes, cracks, dings, residues. It was simply decent looking.
The best part was the neck. Neither baseball chunky or ultra thin, it had a middle of the road feel to it – perfect for my freakishly disproportionate large hands. And it was smooth without any dings to trip you up when sliding up and down the neck. There werent any part of it sanded off or flaking off – the finish was completely intact. And it had a LOW action!
I got to talking to the guy for another hour, just talking shop, and playing the guitar (his other guitars) to demo it. It was cool to meet good people with the same interest.
As i drove off, i noticed my grin start to creep across my face, til it reached from ear to ear. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!! I have a les paul – THE perfect les paul ive always wanted!!!
1) it’s NON-chambered (full solidbody!)
2) it’s older – over 30 years old (a vintage!)
3) it’s no frills (more wood – just the way i WANT it!)
4) it’s a LES PAUL.
5) it’s a GIBSON les paul.