Epiphone Les Paul SL Review

Well, here it is!    It sill has the plastic on the front and it’s hang tag on it.  All I did was stretch the strings and tune it up.  Literally right out of the box.   Here’s a fun fact:  in 1964, when I bought my first electric guitar, if you could factor the current price of $99.00 back to the equivalent in 1964, it would cost $12.67!   Obviously, in any sense we’re dealing with a bargain.

So why did I order one of these as soon as I could?   The whole idea appealed to me.   Aside from the name “Les Paul” on the headstock, this is about the most unpretentious electric guitar as you can buy.   You can read all the details about it on countless websites, so I wont go into all that.  I’m just going to give you my subjective impressions.

First off, although it really does have it’s “own sound”, it reminds me of all sorts of guitars, from all the mahogany “slab” guitars from both Gibson and Epiphone in the 50’s and 60’s, to Gibson “Melody Makers”.    Perhaps the strongest reminder, at least visually, would be the Kalamazoo brand guitars built by Gibson in the mid 60’s.   It even reminds me of my own 1963 Telecaster that I bought in 1965 for $175. There’s even a little bit in there that reminds me of a couple of solid body Gretsch guitars.  I will tell you that it is a much higher quality instrument than any of the inexpensive guitars of my youth, both in sound and playability.

An actual “Les Paul” is probably the last solid body guitar I’d compare it to, even though the folks at Epiphone state: “new players will develop skills and techniques that directly translate to one of the most popular electric guitars ever made, designed to give you the looks, feel and vibe of a real Les Paul, for less.”   Although it does have the basic Les Paul shape, the guitar really makes no attempt at trying to replicate the sound of one.  Not that that bothers me a bit.

I do have plans to give it a good set up, after I put a 10 to 46 gauge set on it and let the neck settle in to that tension.  But, right out of the box it plays decently and is even fairly well intonated.   I have yet to find any high frets and I can bend the strings a considerable distance without it fretting out.  The nut, often a sore point for me on inexpensive guitars, (and even some expensive ones) is cut perfectly, and there is really no string buzz to speak of.  None of the parts seem “cheap”, and everything works as it should.  Acoustically, guitar is quite resonant unplugged and chords just ring out of it.  It reminds me of a Les Paul Jr. in that respect.

As I said, it has it’s own thing.   But, it does respond quite will to how far away from the bridge you pick, and with both pickups on, I found you could get a hellacious twang out of it, or a rather Gretsch-ish sound, with a few hints of Rickenbacker thrown in for good measure, all depending on where and how hard you pick it.   Despite the 24 3/4 in scale it does feel more like a Fender to me, but I might alter that when I get around to restringing it, as I’m having some difficulty adjusting to the lighter strings.

This little guitar, (it seems to weigh about 5 pounds) doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, being powder blue and all.  (I’d love to see one on stage with a death metal band)  But, I found that it ends up being really fun to play, and it’s taking me forever to type this, because I keep sneaking back to play it.

I plan on bringing it to the next band rehearsal, as I think I can find a couple of our tunes that would benefit from some of the unique sounds I’m discovering.

What I don’t plan on doing, is modifying it.   I predict you’ll see a lot of that sort of thing, with the temptation to “improve” it and make it sound like a budget version of something else being strong.  I’ve already got the Les Paul, Strat, Tele and 335 bases covered, I want this little guy to have his own voice.    I think I’ll call him “Lester”———

Come Back Baby, Rock & Roll Never Forgets

It might seem a little odd to use a quote for a tribute post to Chuck Berry to use the lyrics to a Bob Seeger tune, but it was precisely the action of downloading the line below from that tune when it fully hit me what the loss of Mr. Berry meant to me.

Well all Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks,
                               Get into your kicks—
                                  Come back baby,
                        Rock ‘n Roll never forgets”

It always takes a while for any loss to hit me.   It took a couple years for my mom’s passing to really hit me, and this was no exception.  I had to go to the bathroom to get a towel to absorb the tears, and I found myself sobbing and took a couple gulps of air.

Being a guitar player is one of the ways I define myself.   I’ve been a guitarist for over 50 years now.   The original inspiration for this was Mr. Berry’s recording of “No Particular Place to Go”.  It was the summer of 1964 and the British Invasion was in full swing.   My favorite song at the time was “I get Around”.

I was in the back seat of my parents car when the tune came on the radio.   I’d never heard it before, and I really had no idea who Chuck Berry Was, in any case.   I liked it right from the start but the guitar solos electrified me, I’d never heard anything so exciting and badgered my parents to turn up the volume.   It just sounded like so much fun, I wanted to learn how to do it.

At the time, I had a stepbrother who was still living at home and had a guitar.   At this point in my life I had taken three years of violin lessons (In addition to a year of organ lessons)and had played in my schools orchestra.   The left hand dexterity quickly transferred to the guitar and my stepbrother showed me basic surf music riffs like wipe out and pipeline and I began listening to Dick Dale and Ventures records.   I also bought the single “Carol” by the Rolling Stones, but having no idea it was a Chuck Berry song until I noticed his name on the label.

My stepbrother moved out in the fall of 1964 and took his guitar with him.    I traded my violin in on a single pickup Kay archtop as it was all they had within my price range at the local music store.   My parents, at this time, made me a promise they would, in a years time, buy me a better quality guitar.   (You can read about that story here:  Guitar Story)

Strangely, the first real guitar solo I ever learned off a record, was the Keith Richard solo off of the record “Carol”, and it took me nearly a year to figure it out completely, and I was still working on barre chords, so it took me a few years to actually play the tune.

In any case, after the Beatles recorded “Rock & Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”, it became obvious that Chuck was a huge influence.   At some point in high school, I bought Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, and slowly learned most of his licks.   I was also learning  stuff that was current, but I never really strayed too far from the basic rock foundation.  I really like that era of rock & Roll as well as anything:  Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and that sort of stuff always made me feel at home.  I do have my own style, but most anyone will spot the Chuck influences.

I bought Chuck’s “Back Home” album in the fall of 1970 when I was a college freshman, which probably marked me a somewhat odd (amongst other things) by my fellow dorm mates.

Fast forward to the 90’s and I found myself in a series of bar bands and discovered that most of Chuck’s tunes were as reliable as anything to pack dance floors.   Most of my guitar buddies were playing in “classic rock” bands that played a somewhat heavier sound, but I sort of soldiered on as if Eddie Van Halen had never existed.

It was practically a requirement to play Johnny Be Goode, and I always got the feeling that many guitarists didn’t really enjoy playing it, and I’ve heard a number of nearly comical versions where the guitarist could resist the urge to “shred”. Other songs, like the Georgia Satellites “Keep your hands to Yourself” provided me with a wonderful canvass to paint on, it was just made for my style of guitar…..

For me it was supreme fun and some of my best memories are people dancing like nobody was looking and grinning like monkeys.  I find that tremendously inspiring and it’s a form of communication/feedback loop that produces a high like nothing else.   There’s not much that I enjoy more.  It’s going to get heavy playtime if my life ever flashes in front of me.  There’s something primal about early Rock & Roll, yet it still manages to retain a sense of innocence.    I’ve been doing it long enough that it’s become a part of who I am.

These days, I play in a band that plays all original tunes.   And wherever one of Chuck’s licks will fit in, I’m not shy about using it.  Chuck “inspired” is probably more accurate.

In any case, the thrill has never gone away for me.  I still find a full dance floor a totally intoxicating experience and if I can execute a perfect full step bend of the “G” sting to ring out in unison with what I’m fretting on the “B” string, leading to a series of double and triple stops at the same time, I’m probably as close to heaven as I’ll ever get.

Chuck, you’ve given me a gift which I cherish and will remain eternally grateful.

I know you’re still rockin’, wherever you are.

The Start of The Summer of Love

1967Byrds2I recently discovered this handbill for a Jefferson Airplane/Byrds show I attended in May of 1967.    I was 15 years old and nearly finished with my first year of high school.    The Beatles Sgt. Pepper was going to be released in 4 days, and the Airplane’s single “Somebody to Love”, for the album “Surrealistic Pillow”,  was #17 on the charts, and on it’s way to the #5 position.   The Byrds “Younger than Yesterday” album had been released a couple months before the concert and the single “So you Want to be a Rock & Roll Star” had already been up and down the charts, reaching #29.   (There is a certain irony in this being the last hit single by the Byrds, a band that didn’t play any of the instruments on their first recond, except for McGuinn’s guitar.)

This was a period of transition for pop music, the “underground” was just beginning and FM stations playing “album cuts” were just starting to pop up.    LP sales were just about to overtake singles.    Both the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane were about to play at the Monterrey Pop festival in a couple of weeks.

I can’t recall much about the opening acts except they both sounded pretty ragged and one of them played “300 pounds of joy” by Howlin’ Wolf.   I wasn’t familiar with the tunes and the sound system was not very good, so they might have been much better than I thought.

This was perhaps the first show in the Coleseum that featured music played at this volume and the quality of the sound system was mediocre at best.    This impacted on the Byrds in a major way as they didn’t really sound too much like their recordings, especially the vocals.   Neither McGuinn’s or Crosby’s guitars sounded too good, either: and Crosby complained a number of times about how Sunn Amplifiers were “terrible”.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve heard a Rickenbacker 12 string through a Sunn amp, before or since.   Not exactly a match made in Heaven.   In any case, it seemed that there were signs of strain between group members: Crosby was the only one who talked on stage and a couple times I noticed both McGuinn and Hillman seem to cringe, especially during one of this tirades against Sunn amps.

Considering how things sounded out front, I could only imagine what it must have sounded like on stage, and I wondered if they could even hear each other.   I also missed Gene Clark’s vocals in the mix, especially as the song “Feel a Whole Lot Better” was my favorite Byrds tune.  I understand how difficult this must have been for them, but as a 15 year old kid, they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

By the time the Airplane hit the stage, the PA system seemed to be better sorted out as you could hear the power in both Marty Balin and Grace Slick’s voices.   Neither Paul Kantner, nor Jorma’s guitars suffered much from being distorted, and in fact you could hear Kantner much better than on any of their records.   On tunes like “Somebody to Love” he really stood out and added an urgency that made the tune really powerful without upstaging the vocalists.

You often heard the phrase “They didn’t sound much like the record” in those days.   The sound quality on studio recordings was getting better and more sophisticated, but live sound was often inferior.    The local bands in the Northwest, like the Sonics, Don and the Goodtimes and the Wailers usually sounded better than their recordings in a live setting, as the PA systems of the era were up to the task of filling a National Guard Armory or a skating rink.   Sound quality in a large 10,000 seat arena meant for basketball or hockey was often hit or miss, and usually the latter.

Some bands stopped touring during this period, (The Beatles come to mind) as being able to re-create the sound on their records was literally impossible.  By 1969 or thereabouts, most concerts were featuring decent quality sound with systems up to the task.  In fact, the sound at the Monterey Festival was regarded as groundbreaking and added to both the mythical status of that festival and the impact that acts like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who had on the audience.

The other thing that distinguished “concerts” from the local bands was that they weren’t “dances”.     On one hand, this gave the bands a new sense of freedom, as they didn’t need to worry about if people could dance to what they recorded.   But they also gave up a certain sense of the connection with the audience: that symbiotic relationship that could create a runaway feedback loop.

One could go on for a while about this, but it was all just part of the era.   A lot of memorable music made during the 60’s and 70’s wouldn’t have happened if it would have had to pass the “It has a great beat and you can dance to it” test on American Bandstand.

A few days after I attended the concert, the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper record, and it was suddenly everywhere, on everbody’s record player and most of the songs also got played in the radio.   Rock & Roll started taking itself seriously and people were self consciously creating “art”.

Seemingly overnight, the focus switched from fan magazines promoting “teen idols” to critiques of guitarists techniques and guitar “heroes” like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix became “stars” by being guitar virtuosos.   Musicians political views were openly discussed, and we no longer were privy to what their favorite colors were.

Neither the Byrds or the Jefferson Airplane had any hit singles after 1967.    Crosby was fired later on in 1967, and eventually went on to Crosby, Stills and Nash, after sitting in with Buffalo Springfield at Monterey.   Jefferson Airplane morphed into Jefferson Starship and had hit singles in both the 70’s and 80’s.   How quickly things seem to go full circle.

AM (Top 40) and FM continued to co-exist for quite some time, and some acts continued to appear on both formats and sell albums as well as hit singles, but some groups like “Paul Revere and the Raiders”, “Three Dog Night” and the “Guess Who” got branded as “Singles Bands”, and generally weren’t treated kindly by “critics”, nor a lot of airplay on “Classic Rock” stations that became popular in the late 70’s early 80’s.

1967byrds

The Urge to Tinker

People can’t just leave well enough alone.    At least I can’t.    I’ve never left a guitar, amp, car or motorcycle in “stock” condition for long.  “No user serviceable parts inside” might as well be a challenge instead of a warning.    As time goes on this is getting harder and harder.   Modern cars don’t leave that much room for “improvement”, and the tools required to work on them, along with the skill necessary to perform much of that work are much more complex, or at least different.

I grew up in a working class small town culture where seemingly everybody worked on their own cars and owning things like a grease gun, timing light and a dwell meter were common place.  My dad took tubes out of our TV to the drug store to test them, and my first car was a Ford Falcon station wagon with a good body but a tired engine that my dad and I rebuilt over one summer.

I’ve never been what one would call proficient as a mechanic, but I know enough to “get by”, with the aid of a shop manual and basic mechanical knowledge.    I also know when I’m in over my head and when I should take things to a “pro”.    I used to do front end alignment on my VW’s, following instructions in the “How to keep your VW alive for the Complete Idiot” book.   (An apt title if ever there was one) After I rebuilt the suspension on my 98 Z3, I didn’t think twice about driving to somewhere that they used lasers and other sophisticated stuff to set everything straight and was happy to get a “You did all this without a lift lying on the ground?” comment.

Okay, I’ve wandered a little off track here, but I think there are lots of people out there with a similar story.

Many guitar players are as much “into” tinkering and modifying their equipment as they are into actually playing them, and for many, part of the fun involves the time they spend working on guitars and amps.  (For some, it’s probably most of the fun.)

By 1966 I owned a Fender Bandmaster and a 1963 Fender Telecaster (which I still own) along with an Alamo reverb tank.    I probably could have played every gig I’ve had with that particular rig and 98% of the audience would have not noticed a difference.

Guitarists, unless they are fairly wealthy, usually develop a degree of expertise in performing routine maintenance on guitars and amplifiers.  Over the years I’ve picked up a few skills like leveling and dressing frets, filing nuts, setting intonation changing pickups, switches and pots, replacing transformers and I even learned how to set the bias on my Bandmaster.   I’ve even worked on a few of my friends guitars for minor stuff.   I have several mongrel “parts guitars” and a couple of heavily modified Chinese Strat knockoffs that have become mainstays onstage.

Virtually every amp I’ve owned has used vacuum tubes, which renders the technology involved to be on the same approximate level as a 55 Chevy.     Most of us can perform simple tasks and modifications and perform limited “experiments” while avoiding catastrophic failure or electrocution.  I suspect this could be one of the reasons that guitar amps still use tubes when most other electronic devices haven’t used them since the late 60’s………

I recently acquired a Quilter 101 amp head.     I’ve addressed this in the last three blog entries, so I won’t go into details about it.  But it seems about as likely to need repair or maintenance as a crowbar, nor does modification seem too likely, at least in my lifetime.   I’m also running out of stompboxes and speakers to try with it.   At the age of 64, this might be the last amp I will buy——–  maybe I’ll wear out a pot or a switch——–

But, who knows?

There’s still plenty of “fun” to be had working on my guitars, and I’m in the middle of turning this nice ash Tele body into a working guitar.   I won’t deny that working on the gear and trying new stuff has been part of the appeal of being a guitarist, so nobody will get the lecture: “You’d improve your sound by practicing more.” from me.   I discovered long ago that there’s only so much difference that your equipment will make.    “Wherever you go, there you are.”

I don’t actually think I was born to tinker, but I’ve been conditioned that I should do whatever needs to be done myself and only pay people to do stuff that I can’t.   The thought of taking my Sportster to a mechanic and pay them $120 an hour to work on something about as simple as a lawn mower just didn’t sit right with me and the only time anyone other than myself took a wrench to it over seven years was the guy who put new tires on it.

The world is changing, fewer and fewer people work on their own cars and nobody even thinks of repairing a toaster.  Home electronic devices change so fast that by the time something wears out buying a new one is cheaper than repairing an old one.

I remember selling one of the first 63″ Fujitsu Plasma TV’s back in 2003 for $25,000 dollars, and you can now buy a 65 inch LCD TV for $1200.   Probably not a lot of them will ever go to the shop.

I have no grand conclusion to make here.   The world isn’t going to drop out of orbit because we’re all surrounded by things we don’t understand.

It does strike me though, that someone from, say, 1890 probably understood more about everything he or she was surrounded by. The “world” was much simpler to behold on a day to day basis.    Human beings are naturally control freaks to the extent that some of our activity has to be directed at controlling the number of factors that are “just out of our hands” that the simple act of repairing something yourself provides a degree of comfort.

In an increasingly bewilderingly complicated world, each of our “spheres of influence” is shrinking and the era of the “jack of all trades” is surely coming to a close, along with the “mechanical” era.

But, people will still “tinker” with stuff, they’ll just be playing with computer programs and such.   Much like people now modify their vehicles by adding a different “chip” to the engine management software instead of replacing the carburetor.

 

Does Size Still Matter?

Take a look at the photo below and if you look close you can see the relative sizes of the speakers in each cabinet behind the grill cloth.   The one on top is 8″ in diameter and the one on the bottom is a 15″.    Common sense would seem to suggest that one could draw some conclusions just based on what you can see in the photo.
sizeAnd chances are, you’d be wrong.   The little cab actually will reproduce a lower frequency than the big one and the two cabs are actually pretty close in how loud they will actually play. When people see the little cab, they invariably think it’s almost a toy.

I spent much of my working days in the consumer electronic industry including working for a speaker manufacturer in the 80’s, so I know speaker size is also a “big deal” in that world.    Speaker size is also as much as a marketing concept as an actual physical one.    Back in the 80’s, it was common to see a speaker described in advertising as a “12 inch three way” or a “10 inch two way”, along with some low price indicating Value for money: as if the speaker size and number of drivers were primary considerations.

50 years or so ago, when I first started playing electric guitar, I quickly learned to equate speaker size with quality.    Look at the 1966 Fender Line up and you went from the Champ, which had an 8″ speaker, to the Princeton, which featured a 10″, then up to the Deluxe which had a single 12″ speaker.    Some models had two (or even four) speakers and then you also have the Piggyback series of amps (with a separate sealed cabinet) that went on up to the top of the line Dual Showman with two 15″ JBL speakers.   Along with bigger speakers, the amps also had more power as they got more expensive, so there was an obvious corollary between speaker size, amplifier power and quality.   Not only would the top of the line amps play louder without distortion and have deeper bass, but they would also “sound better”.

Over the years, I’ve owned examples of most styles of guitar speaker and cabinet: open back combos with single 8 speaker, single 10, single 12, dual 10’s, dual 12’s, and four 10’s, and as you can see in the photo, a single 15.   I’ve had sealed cabinets with single 10, single 12, dual 10’s, dual 12’s, and four 12″.  Whew.

But, prior to a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never used a single 8″ speaker in a sealed cabinet.    My previous experience with an 8 has been limited to several example of a Fender Champ.   I always thought of a Champ as a practice amp, or maybe something to record with, but never gave much thought to using one on stage playing with a drummer.  I posted a blog post a few years ago about my experience with a Champ, although I entirely missed the role the smaller speaker played in my enjoyment of it.    http://fauxsuperblogs.com/477/champ/

A couple of years ago, I played through a Quilter amp that, unbeknownst to me, had a 8″ speaker, specifically the Celestion TF-0818.    I noticed that it sounded pretty full for such a little amp, but I was more focused on the guitar I was playing through it.  I WAS also a little surprised that it was also a solid state amp design.   It was also a $900 amp, as well, a price that would purchase any number of other amps with “real” guitar speakers in them——-

I started reading favorable reviews of quilter products and when they came out with the 101 Mini head for $299, I figured I could pair it up with one of a number of speakers and  cabs I already owned, and thus try it out for little financial risk.

I have mostly been happy with the results of running the 101 into a couple of 12″ cabs with various speakers.    I read a couple of posts on the Quilter Facebook forum about people taking existing 8″ sealed speaker cabs and fitting higher quality speakers in them.   I also listened to a few clips and read positive reviews about the MicroPro with the 8″ Celestion.

So, now I have the little cab you see in the photo, which now has a Celestion FT-0818 speaker inside.  My total investment in cab and speaker is under $120.  It weighs 14.3 pounds.   I’ve mounted the 101 on my pedalboard, which also weighs around 15 pounds,  so I now have a rig that I can easily carry into a club in one trip with a couple guitars in gig bags on my back.  Sweet

entire rigI’ve discovered that it has more than enough power to use a band rehearsals and since I usually turn things up louder in the garage than I do on stage, (proximity of the drums in a small space) once the band starts gigging again (new lead singer) It will work there as well.

I REALLY like the sound of it.    I particularly like the way chords and arpeggios sound with it.  The string to string balance is superb and it has unusual clarity.   It also goes down lower in the frequency spectrum than any of my other speakers, including that 15″ in the photo.

To be clear,  this bass is there because of the sealed cabinet and the other speakers at my disposal seem capable of playing at louder volumes than the Celestion with the bass cranked, although I don’t actually do that in practice.  But set a microphone in front of the cab, and you’ll hear it produces more bass than the open back cabs do, as you will probably have to adjust EQ to deal with that.   I used the controls on the Quilter to reduce the bass to suit my preferences.

The other thing that is noticeable is the relative lack of “beaming” or directionality compared to other sealed enclosures I’ve used.  You can put it right on the floor and yet walk right up to it and practically have to be standing on top of it before you hear it start to sound muffled.   At band practice, I set it up where I usually have a 12″ cab which I have to tilt it up to hear the full spectrum out of it.  I don’t have to do that with the Quilter.    It still doesn’t quite have the spaciousness of an open back cab, but the dispersion is wide enough that the sound is bouncing around off the walls, ceiling and floor a lot more intensely than it does with a larger speaker in a sealed cab.   The sonic difference between open and closed back cabs with a speaker this size would seem to be much less: so it also might be less “objectionable” to folks who prefer open back cabs with larger speakers.

It might be helpful to look at a couple of charts to explain why some of the differences between speakers exist.  Below, find Frequency response curves of both the Eminence Texas Heat 12″, and Celestion FT-0818 8″ speakers.
texas heattexas heat vs celstionIn addition to this information, this little table might come in handy:
guitar-tableFirst off, it should be stated that these figures were obtained with the speaker installed in a flat baffle and measured with a microphone at a distance of one meter.   Installing the speaker in an actual cabinet will have a large impact, particularly in the area below around 2-300 Hz.

A sealed cabinet of the correct volume will allow the speaker installed in it to reach lower frequencies than one installed in a cabinet with an open back.

Further, all speakers tend to become directional when the wavelength of the the frequency the speaker is producing becomes shorter than the diameter of the speaker.  A 1,000 Hz wavelength is about 13.5 inches long and 2,000 Hz is about 6.5 inches.   This explains why the little 8″ driver has better dispersion than a larger driver in a sealed cab.

An open back cab will disperse some of the energy out the back of the cabinet, which will lesson the directionality somewhat, but is unpredictable, depending on what is behind the cab: curtains, glass, a brick wall, nothing, or more likely a drum set.   Also, multiple drivers in a cabinet, such as a 4 X 12″, will also couple and act much like a single large speaker, with directionality starting at an even lower frequency.

It should be clear that the frequency response characteristics of the two speakers are most different above 1,000 Hz, aside from a slight rise in the Texas heat between 500 and 1,000 Hz.   The fundamental frequencies on a guitar neck are virtually  (except for the last three frets on a 21 fret guitar) all below this range.  What differences you hear are going to be largely a matter of harmonics.    Start a blues based solo on the fourth string 10th fret “C” and end it on the “F” on the 13th fret of the 1st string, and your fundamental tones will be between 262 Hz and 698 Hz.  As you move up the neck, more harmonic information moves you into an area where the Texas Heat is becoming somewhat non-linear.    Those harmonics will be noticeably louder than they are with the Celestion.  This doesn’t mean the Celestion is better, just different.   One man’s “smooth” is another man’s “dull”.

In my own particular case, I have a suspicion that the extended flat response is part of why I like the Celestion so much.   The guitar just sounds so “clean” and clear and I also hear the progression from clean to dirty when I use distortion.    I’m also noticing that I seem to prefer using the amp’s overdrive instead of stepping on a pedal.

Looking at sensitivity of the speakers, the Celestion is rated at 95 dB (with a one watt input averaged from pink noise response, measured at one meter distance) and the Texas heat is 99.5 dB.   You’ll also notice that for much of the guitar’s frequency range they are only around 3 to 4 dB apart and that most of the difference only begins above 1.7 KHz or thereabouts.   If you look at something like an Eminence Red Fang, (which is rated at 102.5 dB sensitivity) you typically find that it has an even more elevated response at around 2 KHz.

Keep in mind that the test signal is created by a noise generator and it is at the same level at all frequencies.   A guitar signal, on the other hand, is going to tail off as the frequency rises through the harmonic sequence.    By 5,000 Hz most harmonics are barely audible.   The level of power required from the amplifier at these frequencies is going to be considerably less.   The reality of this is that looking at a sensitivity spec and then predicting that one speaker will require 4 times the power to play at the same loudness level is not likely to hold up in the real world.   there WILL likely be an audible difference, and maybe even enough to make you favor one speaker over another, but likely  not as dramatic as the numbers might indicate.

What a speaker will sound like to the audience depends on a lot of other information you won’t find on a specifications chart.   Much of the sound, if not most, is going to have bounced off several surfaces.    A cabinet that disperses well is likely to sound more even through out the venue.   I once had the unsettling experience of standing out on a dance floor with a wireless unit and discovering that my 4 X 12″ had a laser like beam that seemed to be confined to a narrow spot and was delivering a piercing sound suitable of one of those sonic pest control devices rather than the warm, balanced sound I was hearing on stage—–

The 15″ Weber that’s in the amp you see in the top of the page photo isn’t rated for efficiency by Weber, but comparing it to other speakers I’ve had, I’d estimate it to be around 97 dB.  It’s rated for 50 watts input which is about what the amp puts out.   The little Celestion is rated for 100 watts which is about the maximum output of the 101.   For my style of guitar the two rigs have nearly the same level of volume available before they begin to show some signs of distress.  (making sounds I find unpleasant)

I’ve seen comments on various internet forums where people dismiss a single 8″ speaker out of hand as a viable guitar speaker option.  I think the speaker just says “Cheap Practice Amp with No Bass” to them.

Those who play metal are not going to go out and buy one of these, nor are those who like to feel the impact of a loud guitar.    But for those of us who play a moderate levels, a smaller speaker can handle the signal for an Electric guitar just fine.

I know this is an oversimplification as there are all sorts of other factors that come into play here.    I’ve spent over 2000 words here to barely scratch the surface.   I’m hoping the broad strokes will at least give the impression that new technologies have made it possible for guitar amps that are much more lightweight and compact than previously thought possible, that still can perform like, and maybe, in some ways, superior fashion to older technologies…….

A Brief, and Incomplete History of Guitar Amplification

My recent purchase of a Quilter 101 amp head has made me think a lot about guitar tone and how it has “evolved” over the years.    One thing that sticks out to me is that MOST of the amps that have a “signature” tone, achieved that sound mostly by a happy accident.

quilter101I think the first recorded incident of a guitar amp being created with the idea that users would deliberately drive it into distortion was the Mesa Boogie in the late 60’s.   You can see Marshall advertisements in the 1960’s touting “distortion free sound”.

By the 50’s pickups and amplifiers evolved around each other, as did speakers, which in the early amps, were off the shelf items, rather than devices especially created for electric guitar.   None of these devices seemed to be designed with the idea of a “flat response” in mind.    Pickups, amps and speakers were all considerably “colored” and all evolved rather slowly: but everyone who designed a pickup designed it with the idea it might be plugged into some other manufacturer’s amplifier.

That said, the electric guitar never does seem to actually be an attempt to just make an acoustic guitar louder.    Right from the start, you can hear 1930’s and 40’s guitarists driving their amps into distortion and using that capability as a creative tool.      At the same time, the quest for a clear, undistorted rhythm sound lead to increasingly powerful amplifiers.   The Fender Blackface series of amplifiers hit the market just as baby boomers inspired by the Beatles exploded into garage bands, and needed amps.     These amps had a big dip in the midrange response which was a psycho-acoustic slight of hand designed to make the amps seem louder and more powerful.

Since most of the information in a guitar signal is concentrated in the 100 to 2,000 Hz range, “scooping” the mid range area had a HUGE impact on the perceived volume the amp was capable of.       A Fender “Dual Showman” with two D-130F speakers (you could see the bright aluminum cones through the grill cloth) was considered, (at least in my circle of friends) as the ultimate guitar amp.

As Fender was one of the leading amp manufacturers for professional musicians, this sound, however colored was taken as “just how an amp is supposed to sound” to most of us.   All we knew is that those “tweed” amps we saw in pawn shops got fuzzy at low volumes and sounded rather “dull” in comparison.

Looking at these photos generated by the “Tone Stack Calculator”  on the Seymour Duncan page it’s obvious how scooped the mids were on a Blackface amp.     If you look at the photos, you can see the response curves generated by various positions of the tone controls, which are shown to the lower left corner.  Look at the positions of the controls in the photo that shows a relatively “flat” response.  To this very day, Fender is still selling replicas of this series of amps (along with ones that feature “tweed tone”) by the thousands.   They’ve undoubtably sold more “re-issues” of both the black and Silver faced amps than they did back in the day.

Curve FenderThe above photo shows the response curve of a typical fender Blackface amp with all the tone controls set at “five”.  The “scoop” is quite severe, something around 12 dB in this case.

Below is a more typical tone control setting for a black face amp, in fact, this is my starting spot for my own Fender.

curve fender typicalThis one is what one would need to do to the tone controls to get a flat response out of  a Fender amp from this period.

curve fenderflatFinally, a graph showing a rather extreme setting with the treble control turned fully up.

curve fenderextreme

Most Baby Boomers will remember walking into a pawn shop and  discovering lots of old amplifiers sitting around and remember some that were actually painted or dyed black or maybe even covered with black vinyl in an attempt to make them more “modern”.    The period I’m speaking of was the early to mid 60’s and we all wanted to sound like Dick Dale or the Ventures.    When listening to amplifiers in music stores we determined that the ones that sounded the most like a Showman were naturally the best ones.

At this point in time it wasn’t common for rock & roll acts to show the actual guitar amps they were using.  (Also well before the “Guitar Hero” era)   I remember the first time seeing the Beatles on TV with these strange looking amps with a three letter name that I couldn’t quite make out on my parents B&W TV.   (A friend of mine thought they were VOC amplifiers)

Later on in the 60’s and early 70’s, most of the Guitar Heroes seemed to use Marshall amplification.  Most of us know the first Marshall amps were heavily based on the tweed Fender Bassman.     If you look at the control panel on an early Marshall it’s a dead ringer for what you’ll find on a Tweed Bassman.    The amps didn’t sound like the tweed amps, particularly when coupled with two 4 X 12” cabinets with British made speakers in them, but the sound was a lot closer to a tweed amp than a Blackface Fender. Below is a typical Marshall amp response curve.

curve MarshalThe mid bass dip is far less extreme than the Blackface ones.

Below is a typical curve out of a Vox amp.

curve voxVox amps fall somewhere in between and you also have the “Top Boost” option on the AC-30 to add it’s own personality.    The result of all of this is that people usually purchase a guitar amp with a particular “personality” in mind.    Mesa Boogie, Marshall, Blackface Fender, Vox AC series, Tweed Bassman all conjure up sonic signatures of one sort or another.   It’s not at all like purchasing a PA or Hi-Fi amplifier where the standard is fidelity to reproduction of the original signal.    A guitar amp is seen as a tool for the production of sound, as important as the guitar itself in determining the overall sound and many guitarists “play the amp” as much as they play the guitar.

The above is a huge oversimplification with all sorts of factors one can’t account for by frequency response alone.  We’re just isolating one factor.

Obviously, the above response curves are then added to the ones generated by the pickups and further on down the line by the speakers they run through, effects used and even the cable the guitarist is using to connect his guitar to the amp.  And on top of this, every guitarist has his own tone to add to the equation.   Plug Carlos Santana into Eddie Van Halen’s amp and he’s still going to sound like Carlos.

Introducing a new amp head in today’s market is a rather brave proposition as it has to sound like other guitar amps, particularly TUBE guitar amps in order to fit into the signal chain that’s been developed for use with those amps.    Indeed, Quilter has provided a “Voice” knob on the 101 to emulate the sonic signature of several common amp sounds: “Surf”, “Tweed” and “Jazz”.  They have accomplished this to a degree that would seem to be regarded as a breakthrough.

I’ve been using the Quilter for a while now and it is a veritable “swiss army knife” able to get most of the amp tones I regularly use and some I’ve not been able to make previously.

The Trunkslammers, (the band I play with) only do a couple of covers, so the Quilter works well for me, I only have to sound like me.    Once I convinced myself the amp sounded “tube like” I relaxed and started to explore the wide range of tones that ARE available.  The amp’s lack of a “sweet spot” that most tube amps have where they sound best and the fact that the distortion level is totally independent of the amp’s volume give one  a big advantage that the tube amps I’ve owned don’t have.

On the Quilter Facebook page, there have been posts from people who are not satisfied with some aspect of the 101’s performance.    I would be amazed if this was NOT the case, given the amazing variety of guitar amp sounds out there and all the possible combinations of guitar, pickups, speakers and cabinets, not to mention a range of tastes.   The odds of making all guitar players happy are not too great.

When someone purchases a Fender, Vox, Marshall, Mesa Boogie or Dr. Z amplifier, it’s often done (depending on amp model) with the idea of getting a few specific tones being paramount.    One doesn’t buy a Marshall stack with the idea that it also would be able to sound like a Fender Twin Reverb or a Vox AC30.   While some amps do have a reputation for being versatile, most brands do seem to have certain tones they are associated with.

Given all the attempts of manufacturers to make amplifiers without vacuum tubes sound “like a tube amp” over the last 40 or 50 years, it would seem at this point that arguably Quilter has managed this to an unprecedented  degree with several lines and models on sale.

Sounding “like a tube amp” is only the first stage, and we’ll discover if Quilter is “here to stay” when someone describes an amp as “Sounding like a Quilter”.

 

 

The Doors of Perception: Making Peace with a Solid State amp.

Vacuum tubes are a romantic concept, in addition to being electrical circuits.    There is a lot of near mystical pseudo-science surrounding them.   For many people, they are left-overs from another era: when it became common knowledge in the 1970’s that Russian military aircraft were still using vacuum tube technology it was taken as proof they were behind the USA in technology.

rig3In most arenas, transistor technology rapidly replaced tube technology during the late 60’s/early 70’s era with two notable exceptions: high end audio and guitar amplifiers.    Google “Tube VS Solid State” and you will busy for eternity sorting through 11 million entries.

I’m not going to attempt to sort all this out here, as it would go on for pages, but for the guitar world at large, (even if it is a couple years out of date) this is a good primer on the basics of the history of the conflict:  Tube vs Solid State

Reading the comments will tell you this is a controversy that won’t be settled soon.

Unless one is in a band that becomes famous, spending thousands for a guitar rig is beyond the reach of working musicians, yet there is an entire cottage industry of “boutique” amp builders who are building  $2,000 to $3,000 amps to power handbuilt $5,000 “Custom Shop” replicas of guitars were built by hourly workers in a factory.

Fender also makes fairly close replicas of most of the famous amps from it’s past, some of them are even hand wired, and costing up to around $3,000.

On the face of it, this sounds like a snarky comment, but I’m just trying to make a point.     These trends are driven by mostly baby boomers who played in garage bands when they were kids and have turned their guitar playing into a hobby of sorts and play at home for their own pleasure or have regular jam sessions with friends.   A lot of them now have the money to buy the guitars and amps they lusted after as kids..   (And not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Working musicians tended to use much less exotic fare and some of them mock the “cork sniffing” that goes on amongst victims of “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”, otherwise known as “GAS”.

Part of this hobby is the instruments themselves:  pride of ownership and that sort of thing: a little bit of your identity .  (A little like Hi-Fi people who derive as much pleasure from owning the equipment as listening to music on it)  I used to host a jam session in a local tavern, and for some people the jam session was also a place to show off one’s pride and joy.

Guitar playing became a “hobby” for me (as I wasn’t in a band) during the 80’s, and I had a wonderful little Fender “Super Champ” and also a Yamaha Rex 50 effects unit.   I had managed to retain two of the guitars from my youth: a 1963 Fender Telecaster Custom and a Les Paul Goldtop on which I’d installed a Leo Quan Badass bridge so I could damp the strings and set intonation.   (Both of these guitars are “players” rather than mint examples of the breed, I’d refinished the Tele when I was a teenager.  I still have both of them. )

I started playing out again in the late 80’s and have always used tube amps.   And I’ve owned bunches of them.     Of all types and sizes.    And nearly all of them had at least one or two amazing sounds in them and I’ve enjoyed nights where all the stars were in alignment and I could hit the amp’s “sweet spot” where it sounded the best.    Tube amps are also temperamental, one night they sound great and the next, well——-

I’ve been through the “quest for the perfect tone” for years.     For the last 3 or 4 years I’ve used the same basic amp: a Magic Valve clone of a Tweed Fender Deluxe, circa 1957.    For the last couple of years I’ve used the amp along with a Badcat Unleash, and attenuator/re-amp device that I’ve reviewed on these pages: http://fauxsuperblogs.com/3383/badcat-unleashone-year/

The reason for the Unleash is to provide scalability.    I finally managed to be able to hit the amp’s “Sweet Spot” and then adjust the volume to what was required in a particular venue.   I could get the rig to sound the same at rehearsal, a small bar, an outdoor gig, or a birthday party on someone’s patio.   No small feat, that.    I’ve got to the point where I’ve taken this ability for granted and really didn’t give much thought to my equipment and for the first time concentrated on playing guitar,  not being on a “Quest for Tone”.

A recent injury (a fall on ice while walking my dog) forced me to re-think about the hassle involved with my current rig, which mainly is the time it takes to set it all up, making connections, finding ways to get AC power to three different places, running wires on stage and making sure I don’t trip over them, ensuring it all works, and doing all this in a hurry while others are tearing down on a dark stage and my bandmates are setting up their stuff.    And then quickly tearing it all down and carting it off.   Many of our gigs are in venues featuring acts doing original material and there are usually multiple acts on the bill doing one set each.  A couple times I’ve had to schlep stuff for several blocks in questionable neighborhoods due to lack of parking.   (One of the reasons I use inexpensive “parts guitars” to gig with.)

The above photo (at the start of this post) shows my current stage rig.   The large black box with the white knobs on the left of my pedalboard is a Quilter 101.    It is capable of 100 watts of power and it’s a class D amplifier.   It doesn’t sound like a typical solid state amp and responds to your touch in a satisfying manner.   It is totally scalable and can make great sounds at any volume I’m ever going to need and the longer I have it, the more useful sounds I’m discovering.

Does it sound exactly like a tube amp?   No.    Does that matter to me?   Not really.   It does make all sorts of useful sounds that fit in with the tunes and styles my band plays.  It does some things better than any amp I’ve played through.  It also responds well to all of my overdrive-boost and distortion pedals.    I’ve had many moments where I find myself thinking: “Damn, this thing sounds good!”   Yesterday at band practice my drummer said to me: “You really are enjoying your new rig aren’t you?” while laughing at my childlike glee.  (He also plays guitar in another band, and has since purchased a Quilter.)

It’s really added a layer of fun to playing guitar and I think I sound better than I ever have.   And there’s not a single tube anywhere to be found.

The bottom line:    You should try one, take the time to learn how the controls work, and make up your mind for yourself.   The amp costs $300 and from my standpoint worth the risk of buying it without hearing it first.  (chances are you already have a speaker to try it with)    There are plenty of examples on you tube of people using one, if you place any credence in that sort of thing,  (which I really don’t) and lots of testimonials from people you might assume have “drank the cool-aid” after reading what they have to say.  It’s replacing about $1,100 worth of gear in my former rig, and it’s more versatile to boot.

My pedalboard weighs 18 pounds as you see it in the photo.   And the Ear Candy Cab with the Texas Heat ($250 total investment for cab and speaker) inside it weighs in at 22 pounds.   All I need to do to set it up is get AC power to one spot, run a speaker cord to the Cab and plug my guitar in.    (The Ear Candy cab sounds wonderful and sonically fits the Texas Heat perfectly and that’s another story altogether.)

If you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve probably come across some solid state amp at some point in time that sounded good to you, a Roland JC120 or a Lab Series amp, but those usually rivaled tube amps in price and usually were associated with players who tended towards the clean end of the amp spectrum.    The fact that Quilter can do this in a small package that costs less than $300 is a true breakthrough.    Quilter has an entire line-up of amps, most of them more elaborate than the 101.  They just might be worth taking a look at.

Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster review

If you’re somewhere around my age, which is 64, and you’re a guitar player, you probably wanted either a Jaguar or Jazzmaster when you first started playing guitar in the mid 60’s.     They were the top of the Fender line at the time and both of them were priced at nearly $400, a princely sum at the time.    This was before the whole “Guitar Hero” thing was happening.

jazzmaster

The best teenage guitarist in my hometown at the time was a guy named Steve Carter.  He had a Jazzmaster that he played through a Sears Silvertone amp.   He played in a band named “Grant and the Blueboys” and they were actually really good, two of them were fabulous singers.    For me, however, the real attraction was Mr. Carter.   He was very fluid and could improvise solos on the spot.    One thing that sticks with me is the time he played with the keyboard player playing piano and his drummer at a high school assembly playing instrumental boogie-woogie style R &B.   His tone was something I’ve remembered ever since: clean, round, full and sweet and using the neck pickup.    I knew that some of this was due to the fact that he was a really good guitarist, but some of it was due to the sound of that guitar.

blueboys

As the 60’s moved on, The Jazzmaster and the similar Jaguar came to be associated with surf music and the whole guitar hero thing was happening and suddenly everyone seemed to be lusting for either a Stratocaster or a Les Paul.    “Whammy bars” had gone totally out of fashion (this was before Van Halen) and  you could find examples of both of these guitars 2nd hand for around $50 to $75 bucks.     Hendrix at one time played a Jazzmaster and one wonders what the guitar landscape would be like it he had continued to use one.

hendrix jazz
In the 70’s, amazingly, The Jazzmaster made a comeback, adopted by folks such as Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine, and became associated with “New Wave” musical styles, and overnight, pawnshop prices shot up to the point where the guitars were no longer big bargains.   Later Lee Reynaldo of Sonic Youth and J Macsis of Dinosaur Jr.  developed a cult following and thus assured that a cheap supply of these guitars was nowhere to be found.

Over the years, I’ve probably played a couple dozen Jazzmasters in guitar stores, and always thought it would be nice to have one.    But, I was never sure I’d play it much and at best it would be a “stunt guitar”, and so even spending $500 for a used Made in Japan one seemed a little unwise.

A couple of years ago, I borrowed (vintage 60’s) one from the drummer in my band, who also plays and collects guitars.   Played through my own guitar rig at the time I found it could make sounds other than surf oriented tunes and found it had a rather cool, if strong, personality.  I also found the “Steve Carter” tone was in there, which was a happy discovery.   A friend of mine also sat in the band one night and used his vintage Jazzmaster and got all sorts of sounds out of it I didn’t expect.

When I noticed Squier was building one (in Indonesia) that seemed to be accurate in details and selling it for $299,  I got quite interested.   I noticed a few online reviews, including some with you tube videos, and decided to order one in Sonic Blue.

It looked good when it arrived on my doorstep (once I took it out of the box) and I was astonished to find that it was almost in tune.   It was strung with a set of strings that I think were 09 to 38 or something like that and gentle movement of the tremolo arm didn’t seem to throw the Guitar out of tune.   The frets seemed quite well done (they DID feel a little rough when bending strings) and the ends were nicely rounded off.   There were no rattles or buzzes and the guitar’s intonation wasn’t bad at all.   I plugged in to a couple of amps and, yep, it sounded much like the one I’d borrowed, which, obviously, what I was hoping for.  Cosmetically, everything was perfect,  No flaws in the finish, and looking at the back of the guitar, one can’t find any seems and the paint reflects a fairly mirror like image  The tuners work smoothly and hold the guitar in tune.

Out of curiosity, I put a straight edge to it and the neck was straight as an arrow with any relief at all.   The action was fairly high, but I was amazed there weren’t more buzzes or rattles.    The next day, after giving the frets a nice polishing, I installed  set of Ernie Ball Slinkies, 10 through 46, which is what I normally use on a guitar with a 25.5″ scale.   I set the action to my liking (a quick look seemed to indicate that the heavier strings gave the neck a touch of relief) and then got out the strobe tuner to set the intonation.  Every guitar I’ve bought over the last decade has needed to have the nut slots filed down in order to play properly in tune.  Usually the manufacturers do this to avoid warranty complaints about buzzes and rattles.     Playing a “E” formation barre chord on the first fret usually results in a few strings being slightly sharp.    The Jazzmaster played great down near the nut and  I quickly adjusted the intonation.   Amazing.   It plays in tune everywhere and I can’t find fault with any of the frets, they are uniform in height.   For a $300 guitar, this was amazing.

Jazzmaster1
Of course, I had to plug it into the Fender amp you see behind it in the photo and turn up the reverb.  As I’d hoped, it pretty much sounds like I expected: it’s a Jazzmaster.     The “rhythm circuit” doesn’t roll off the highs as much as it seemed to do on the original one, which means I might actually use it.    The guitar stays in tune when the whammy is lightly used, which is how I plan on using it: no dive bombs here.

Plugging it into the amp rig I use on stage and for rehearsals (A Magic Valve 5E3 clone and a Badcat Unleash) I found it to be rather like my 63 Tele in a lot of respects, but one wouldn’t mistake it for a Tele, or a Strat for that matter.   In a couple days I’ll take it to rehearsal and see how it sounds with the band and at stage volume.

So far, it looks like a keeper.     I’ll do a full update after a month or so and we’ll see how this all holds up.

Jay Turser JT55P with Lollar P-90’s

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.

SONY DSC
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.
atownshend2
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…