Back in the summer of 1969 I discovered a Gibson SG Special at Coast Music in Costa Mesa. I remember it was on sale for $250; I think it was brand new but had been hanging on the wall for a year or so at that point. I went in there several times to look and play it, and thought it would be a nice complement to the Telecaster I had at the time.
I think the reason it had been in stock for so long was due to the fact that the guitar had a loud 60 cycle hum to it through the amp that they had set up to demo guitars with. It functioned as well as a electrical field detector as it did as a guitar. I think the amp they had was an Acoustic or other solid state amp with a distortion circuit that rendered the 60 cycle hum into a door buzzer. I still loved the way the guitar sounded, and I knew the pickups were a big part of that, noise be damned.
It might was well been $2,000 as I had no means of putting together $250 for that guitar. The next summer when the “Woodstock” movie came out, I was quick to notice that both Pete Townshend and Carlos Santana were using SG specials. I felt like my taste in cheap guitars had been vindicated. That winter I found a 1952 Gibson Les Paul for sale for $25 in Albany Oregon, and so I did manage to find a P-90 equipped guitar that I could afford. But that’s another story.
Flash forward 40 years or so and I found myself in possession of a pair of Jason Lollar P-90’s without a guitar to put them in. On a whim, I bought a Jay Turser JT55P, based on this review in guitar player: JT55P Review I bought it, brand new, off of E-bay for around $150.
I pretty much agree with the review, except the nut on mine was correctly installed.
Careful examination will reveal that this isn’t really a replica of an SG. the main difference being that the neck is set further into the body. The bridge on an SG special is about where the pickup sits in this guitar.
The entire neck on an SG is accessible, whereas on the Turser, they join at the 19th fret. The tradeoff is that you loose a little in terms of upper fret access, but you gain stability in the neck and the guitar doesn’t have the SG tendency for the headstock to head for the floor if you let go of the neck when you’re playing with the guitar strapped on.
Other differences are that the “horns” on the Turser are asymmetrical and the upper one is a little longer. The SG has a stop tailpiece (Modified in the above photo by the use of a Leo Quan bridge: This is the guitar Townshend used at Woodstock) and the Turser has a Tune-O-Matic style.
The body does appear to be mahogany, but I’m not sure how many pieces of mahogany, and the opaque finish precludes any examination of the neck. It can be accurately described as a “cutting board glued to a baseball bat with $200 of pickups”. It surprised me with how good it sounded right out of the box. I did very little work on the frets, recut the nut, tweaked the truss rod a bit, reset the intonation and lowered the action. It now plays quite well.
I gutted the electronics and installed the Lollars. A P-90 in a solid mahogany guitar is a proven combination (evidently, mystery wood as well) and this one is no exception. If you’re a P-90 fan, it doesn’t get much better than this. I’ve had my P-90 Goldtop for over 40 years and so you know I’m well aware of what they can do. I think the Lollars are just a tad brighter than the ones in my Goldtop, but that could be because the Paul’s pickups are 62 years old, and the Lollars also have a little more output. The brightness isn’t harsh in the least and makes the pickups quite articulate and the guitar is just full of harmonics there for the finding.
Lollar says that good P-90’s should be just a little bit microphonic, and along with that brightness add to the touch sensitive nature of the pickups. There’s enough power and heft in the midrange to propel the front of most amps into distortion, but the clear treble keeps the signal from turning to mush. Back off the volume pots and you can get a great chime-y (Beatle-ish) sound out of the bridge pickup and a nice faux-jazz tone from the neck pickup. My favorite rhythm setting is just on the edge of crunch and you can get a great sound that might remind you of the sound of the rhythm guitar played by John Lennon that all the guitar playing Beatles jammed over during “The End”.
So, does it make send to mount $200 worth of pickups on a $150 guitar? (Actually, new ones seem to go for $250 on E-bay)
It doesn’t “feel” like an expensive guitar, but neither did the guitars it’s based on. Nobody is going to ever put one in a nitrogen filled display case and in 40 years have it pay for their kids college tuition. Sound guys will laugh at it. They might even think you’re nuts if you tell them it has pickups in it which cost more than the guitar. It’s a tool, which isn’t any sort of derogatory remark, and it is a really fun to play guitar.
This is guitar that one has for what it does rather than what it is. It plays and stays in tune, only weighs six and a half pounds and makes a bunch of cool sounds. The budget construction doesn’t seem to get in the way of the sound at all. It won’t win you any points with the other guitar players in the crowd. You can take it into a dive bar and not worry that someone will view it as something they can turn into a large bag of white powder. It also sounds good enough that nobody that isn’t a guitarist will care one little bit what the name on the headstock is…