Archive for the GUITARS Category

GRETSCH 5022-CE RANCHER, flyin’ out the door faster’n flapjacks off a chuckwagon!

Posted in acoustic electric guitar, acoustic guitar, GUITARS, music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 11, 2012 by Joseph Allen Popp's Cellular Multiverse

What is there not to love about this Savannah Sunset beauty?!!!

It’s the new GRETSCH 5022-CE RANCHER 

$490, and the nicest acoustic guitar I have ever owned. Okay, I admit to not having owned many great acoustic guitars, but still, I’ve played a million of them. And, I have had some nice ones. But, this one is definitely a keeper. I already had my eye on one of these for a few months when I noticed the review Michael Molenda did on it in Guitar Player Magazine. Basically, he mentioned having done a review on a similar, much higher priced model a few years back, and how he regretted not buying that one back then. He mentioned that the high price, and the lack of a built-in pickup had sadly put him off, but that in retrospect he really wished he had purchased it. Now this one comes along for $1000+ less, with a built in pickup, AND a cutaway, and every bit as nice as the pricier model he’d previously reviewed.

He gave it an Editor’s Pick Award. So do I! This baby is so lovely I have it sitting in the living room right next to my chair, for easy access. I have been playing this guitar more in the past month than I have played any other guitar in years! It plays like a dream, with or without a pick, it sounds wonderful…and the setup is so comfy, perfect for playing either with my fingers or with a slide! The Savannah Sunset red stain shows the beauty of the solid spruce top’s woodgrain below. The rounded triangular soundhole, the thumbnail fretboard inlays, the stylized pickguard, the horseshoe headstock inlay, the laminated flame maple back and sides, the full body, neck, headstock and soundhole binding…all add up to a piece of artistic beauty that looks as pretty as it sounds. It even has a nice onboard tuner, so you’ll keep your audience happy, too!

I had to call several places in order to find one in stock. They must be flyin’ out the door faster’n flapjacks off a chuckwagon! I found mine at Sweetwater. A couple of weeks later, my friend Pat asked me to order one for him, on my word that it was too cool! Sweetwater had sold out, I found him one at Sam Ash. When I called to ask about availability, they even knocked another $40 off for him, to out-sweeten the Sweetwater deal! Nice! He loves his, too. We each found nice cases for our guitars for $90. I got mine online through Musician’s Friend…it’s made by Gator, and it’s beautiful. He got his here in town. This is a JUMBO body acoustic, so it was a little tougher to find a case than it would have been for a dreadnaught.

The Fishman® Isys + Pre-Amp System sounds killer through my Roland Cube 80XL amp. I could play it for days on end, if only time permitted.

This isn’t a major write-up, but I just had to get the word out about how great this guitar really is. Do yourself a favor, and buy one now, before they discontinue the model or something. You will be glad you did.  And, hey, it’s a Gretsch! How cool is that? George Harrison and Chet Atkins played Gretsch guitars! Here’s one most anybody can afford! No mods necessary!

DR. FRANKENSTEIN and the QUEST for the PERFECT GUITAR, or the DIABOLICAL CREATION of “OLD BLUE”

Posted in electric guitar, GUITARS, music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2012 by Joseph Allen Popp's Cellular Multiverse

“OLD BLUE”

What makes a guitar special?  Is it the way it looks?  Is it the way it sounds?  Is it the way it plays and feels?  I say, “Yes, yes, and yes.”

There are many things combined that ultimately make a guitar special. But, why do different people find different guitars to be the special one? Everyone has a different agenda when it comes to picking the right guitar. I’ve been playing guitars since I was about 12 years old (I’m now 57), and I was pretending to play guitars long before that! Over the years, through trial and error, good choices and bad, I’ve gone through a lot of different guitars. Have I finally found the special one?  Well, yes, you could say that I have. But, it goes a little deeper than that.

Let me take you back a bit and explain what led to my even knowing what I was looking for in a guitar…

I have been lucky enough to own some fine instruments.  Each of them had something special, but was lacking in some way that eventually led me to want something else, or something more.  I’m not going to go through all of them, that would take way longer than this already lengthy entry.  I’ll concentrate on two readily available models…

My Gibson Les Pauls’ (I’ve had a few) humbucking pickups sounded good, but they didn’t come with a vibrato bar.  The Fender Stratocasters I’ve had (there’ve been a bunch) have had the vibrato bar, but the single coil pickups sounded a little thin to me, at least the one closest to the bridge.  The original vibrato bar design is also imperfect, and puts the guitar out of tune all of the time.

So, in a nutshell, from owning/playing Les Pauls and Stratocasters I’ve discovered:

  • I like the scale length of the Fender Stratocaster
  • I like the Fender Stratocaster’s surfy looking, solid color body style over the fine-furniture-finish Gibsons
  • I like the Fender vibrato bars, despite the inherent tuning issues (hey, Jimi dealt with it, right?)
  • I like the sound of the Gibson humbucking pickups in the bridge position
  • I like either single coil or humbucking pickups in the other positions
  • I like the mix-and-match Henry Ford modularity of the Fender design (necks bolt on, rather than glue in like the Gibsons)

Okay, there’s something to shoot for: a Fender scale, vibrato-equipped guitar with some sort of combination of single coil and humbucking pickups.

Over the years, many guitar players have settled on this same set of choices, for much the same reasons that I did.  Because of us, there have been lots of big guitar companies, as well as independent luthiers, trying to design the instrument we all want.  As time went on, there were more and more builders using these criteria as their blueprint for the dream guitar.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s, though, that a couple of hardware designers finally came up with a vibrato design that could be used without throwing the tuning of the guitar into never-never land.  Floyd Rose and Kahler were the first two makers to solve the problem, and make their systems available to us.  Both of them came up with the idea that once the strings were tuned, they should be locked in place.  That is, at the bridge and at the nut the strings would need to be somehow clamped down so that the length of string beyond that, in either direction, had no effect on keeping the string tuned.  Look them up.  They both work fabulously, although, like everything else about a guitar, there are advocates and detractors for both makes.  When I first discovered the magic of locking whammies I was on the Kahler side of the fence, but I quickly jumped over it into Floyd-land. They work equally well, but feel completely different from one another.

I bought and played several Floyd-equipped guitars, very happy with their ability to stay in tune, even under the heaviest abuse, and I loved them…until I experienced breaking a string in the middle of a song while standing on stage in front of an audience!  Because the string is clamped in on both ends, changing a string means finding a hex wrench (also know as an allen wrench) to unlock the clamps!  What a major hassle! After a number of years of dealing with this, and bitching about it right there on stage, we players had made enough of a noise to thankfully catch the attention of some other hardware designers.  Along came the locking tuner!  Yay!

“OLD BLUE”…FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER…MY DREAM GUITAR…

As far as the carcass of the guitar, I have found the special one.  The body is an early 1980’s Surf Green Wayne Charvel Strat-style, made of alder.  The neck was blasphemously pulled from a 1963 Fender Telecaster.  It has a rosewood fingerboard.

Sperzel Locking Tuners were the first ones made readily available to the parts buying market.  I bought a set, daringly re-drilled the holes on my Fender Tele headsto0ck, mounted them, and removed the locking nut. Relieving myself of that hex key locking nut was like finally waking up from a whammy nightmare.  Way better not needing to unlock that nut with every broken string. That being said, I still must the hex wrench on the Floyd Rose bridge.  Having only one end of the string clamped has made my whammy life way easier, though, if not perfect.I replaced the FR Locking Nut with a self-lubricating graphite nut, and added a couple of graphite string trees where the old metal Fender ones used to be.

The pickups are an ongoing project, still.  Although I’ve found a number of beautiful sounding models, I have yet to come up with the perfectly matched trio.  Right now I’m playing with an EMG Select single coil-sized humbucking pickup in the neck position, a PJ Marx single coil in the middle position, and a TOG dual blade single coil-sized humbucker in the bridge position.  They all sound fantastic.  My only complaint is that the TOG is just a bit louder than the other two.  I use it as an advantage when I want to kick in a little extra punch for a solo, but I would rather be able to kick the pickup selector around at any point in a piece of music and retain the same overall volume…just changing the tone.  “Tone is more important than volume” has become my maxim. I’m hoping that some day it will all come together, as I continue on my quest for perfection.

I’ve recently been experimenting with yet another pickup system. I installed a Roland GK-3 synthesizer pickup on the guitar, but I really dislike the bulky control box that accompanies it; mounted right on the face of the guitar.  Not only is it inconvenient, I also find it rather unsightly.  It’s a pretty large footprint, blocking out my nice Surf Green body.  I will be removing it, and using another guitar to perform synth duties.

I love that I’ve found the special one, as much for knowing that I have more changes ahead as for enjoying it’s already perfected parts.  I hope you find your dream guitar, too, and that you recognize it underneath it’s as of yet unperfected wardrobe.  Mine has gone through lots of changes. Change is a good thing, as long as you know what you are looking to improve.  Examine what you have, and ponder what you would like.  And have fun stitching together the parts!

more than you wanted to know?  some things bare repeating.

OLD BLUE (THE BEST GUITAR IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD)
1983 Wayne Charvel surf green body
1963 Fender Telecaster neck/rosewood fingerboard
Floyd Rose whammy with baby doll arm attachment
Graphite nut
Graphite string trees
Sperzel locking tuners
Custom cut Bakelite pickguard
EMG single coil neck pickup
P J Marx single coil pickup
TOG dual blade humbucker (single coil size) bridge position pickup
Roland GK-3 hexaphonic pickup

…just for the record, a nice sounding and playing instrument doesn’t have to be pretty…some of the monsters can be downright frightening! Below you can see a good example of that…

JAP

“THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH GUITAR”

Ugly and wonderful.

LIGHTNIN’ BUG TRICONE GUITAR ~ BUILT by JOHN COOK

Posted in GUITARS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2012 by Joseph Allen Popp's Cellular Multiverse

I’ve wanted a National Tricone guitar for years.  They sound like God.  I’ve seen photographs of the old blues players with them since I was a young teenager.  I didn’t know much about them, but they certainly looked amazing.  I could only imagine what playing one would be like.  Over the years I began to see them in the hands of more contemporary players.  Living in San Francisco during the 1980s I worked at Guitar Center for a while.  We didn’t carry them there, but a guy named Gary Brawer had a little shop around the corner at 15 Lafayette Street, called Real Guitars.  He’s a top-notch luthier, and he was doing work even back then for people like Joe Satriani.  Besides building killer instruments and doing fabulous custom work on guitars he also sold used gear.  He had the cool shit in there.  Old acoustics, electrics, lap slides, all kinds of amazing stuff.  Hanging on the walls with the rest of his merchandise were several beautiful old Nationals and Dobros.  This is where I got to hold a National Tricone for the first time.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much they weighed, being that the bodies are made of either steel or nickel plated brass.  They are hefty.  Some of them came with regular guitar necks, or round necks, as they’re called.  Others have square necks and are made strictly to be played lap style, lying on your lap and played with a heavy slide.  These square necks have the strings on them elevated so high over the frets that you can’t play them at all without a slide.  Being that I didn’t play much lap slide, I naturally gravitated toward the round necks.  I fell in love with with them immediately.  The Tricones were totally different sounding than the single cone resonator guitars.  The sound was unlike any other guitar I’d ever played, simultaneously brightly metallic and deeply rich in tone.  They were also very expensive.  Being a young starving artist, they were way out of my price range.  I eventually sought out an affordable resophonic guitar and discovered that Regal Guitars offered a model that was being made right in South San Francisco by a company called by Saga Guitars.  I called around town until I came across Peacock Guitars over between the Castro area and Noe Valley, actually right near downtown.  I talked to George Peacock, the luthier who owned and operated the place.  He told me he had one there and asked what style of guitar I played, standard or slide.  I told him I played a little of both and he said to give him a day to make a new bridge for it that would accommodate my playing, and that I could have it for $350.  New.  My kinda deal!  I’ve had it ever since, and I still really love it…but it ain’t no Tricone!  That was 30 years ago.  National Tricones have done nothing but gone up in price since then…and I still can’t afford one.  I had been talking about them with my good friend Lon over the past year or so.  Lon likes guitars, too, and he’s got a very nice collection which includes a Fender resophonic acoustic, though he hasn’t got a Tricone.  Knowing how much I love them, he mentioned it to me when he ran across a company (one I’d never heard of) online called Republic Guitars that offer a couple of Tricone models.  I was happy when I looked at the website and saw that Johnny Winter is an endorser.  Good sign.  They had several variations, including a couple with cutaways, that came with your choice of  a steel body or a nickel plated bell brass body.  And all of them were priced at under $700.  My kinda Tricone!  I read a few reviews and they looked worthy.  This was about a month before my birthday, and I kind of decided that my wife Karen was going to splurge and get myself…oops, I mean “me” one.  Over the course of the next month, while looking around online, I discovered another Tricone on eBay; from yet another company I never heard of called Lightnin’ Bug Guitars.  Upon further investigation I found out that this luthier named John Cook, owner of Lightnin’ Bug Guitars, was buying Republic Tricone guitars and replacing the Korean made necks on them with ones he hand-made, calling it a serious upgrade.  He said that Republic bodies are as good as any Tricone body available on the planet, and that his replacement necks were the equivelent of what you find on an old National, including a nitrocellulose finish on the back.  I sent a note to him asking about the one he had up for auction on eBay.  He said he was testing the market on eBay for his instruments, and that this one was actually one he had built for himself.  There’s even has a video of him playing this specific instrument on his website.  He told me that his upgraded models sell for around $1650, and that they are every bit as nice as a new National which sells for around $3600.  The starting bid on the eBay model was less than the new Republics sell for.  I put it on my watch list.  I was drooling all over my computer looking at how beautiful John’s work looked.  He said he hadn’t kept track of how many hours he worked on this one because it was for himself, but that he had never done finer work.

It has his lightning bolt inlay on the headstock, plus something I’ve never seen anyone do; a lovely little scoop of shell inlayed right up against the nut on the fretboard side!  Very cool!

There aren’t position markers on the fretboard, only on the side of the neck, except for at the twelfth fret, where he did a beautiful little triangle with a watch gear inlayed in the middle of it, “To help keep time,” he said.  Man.  This is just WAY too cool.

The fretboard is ebony, and there is a gorgeous ebony veneer over the face of the headstock.  Tortoise celluloid binding adorns the neck all the way around the fingerboard and the headstock.  The shape of the neck and headstock is based on John’s favorite old Martin guitar, and he finished it off by using Waverly banjo tuning pegs.  A true work of beauty from a very fine craftsman.

The body is, as I said, nickel plated bell brass, and he’s right; it’s just fantastic.  It’s set up perfectly for my playing style, which still is a mix of standard and slide.  I’ve been attempting to use a National metal thumb pick on it because it sounds so nice.  I’ve tried about ten different slides on it; brass, steel, porcelain, glass…even aluminum.  Strangely enough, the one that works the best for me is the steel one I’ve been carrying in my left pants pocket for nearly 30 years.  My favorite, by far, on every guitar I play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t tell you what a fabulous instrument this is.  I would be just as happy having paid John his $1650, but I was able to win the eBay auction at $800 + $50 shipping.  Only about $150 more than I was about to pay for the stock model Republic.  I feel kinda bad for getting it so cheap…except that I can’t imagine it going to a better home!  John said he will never post another guitar on eBay.  I don’t blame him.  He deserves his regular asking price, easily.  I highly recommend you visit his website, and place an order immediately.  Even if you’re Johnny Winter!  You won’t be disappointed.  And while you’re there, check out the nice little video of him doing a fingerstyle tune on MY guitar!

here’s the link for you…  Lightnin’ Bug Guitars

…coalescing thoughts from the Cellular Multiverse

JAP

FOR GUITAR PLAYERS ONLY ☞ NATIONAL ➡ EASTWOOD ➡ METROPOLITAN ➡ following the “Map”

Posted in electric guitar, GUITARS, music, retro guitar, Uncategorized, vintage reproduction guitars with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by Joseph Allen Popp's Cellular Multiverse

I remember going into Subway Guitars in Berkeley California for the first time, back around 1982.  It was like walking into a used bicycle shop, junk everywhere, guys working on countertops, customers looking at and touching everything like kids in a toy makers shop…only everything there was guitar.  They had lots of old stuff.  You could smell the vintage wafting off of the wood and metal parts, mildew from troves of lost-in-the-basement-age.  Cheapo non-collectables brought up to players standards by the loving hands of wacko pickers digging their work.  Everything was priced the way it should be.  Fatdog, the proprietor, was doing this because he loved it, not because he wanted to get rich from it.  Very usable instruments built and rebuilt from salvaged and scavenged old parts, put together way better than the original instruments from which they fell.  Looking at the carpet padded racks filled with pawn-shop prizes made me want to move in and never leave the place.  Paging through the Kays, Silvertones, Harmonys, Teiscos, Baldwins…I thought I was in heaven.  And, then…there they were.  My first encounter with the most beautiful guitars I had ever seen, the National Glenwood 95…also known, due to its shape, as the National Map guitar!

National Glenwood 95

The Res-O-Glass (National’s trade mark name for the fiberglass body) art deco beauty was created in the 1960s.  So cool, this map-of-the-united-states shaped two piece sea-foam green bodied, two pickup, multi-switch, mother-of-toilet-seat inlay clad splendiferous temptress.  I was in love.  National was well-known and highly regarded for their resophonic acoustic guitars, but these electrics were not of the same quality.  They were more “lookers” than “players”, but I loved them anyways.  I’m the kind of guitarist that can see the special qualities in any instrument and put it to good use.  Now, these guitars (he had a few in various colors and configurations, the green having the most appeal to my eyes) were selling for around $300 or so, depending on the model.  Despite the low price tag, being a young starving musician, and barely getting by, paycheck to paycheck, they were out of my reach.  All I could do was dream… Over the years I have always kept my eyes open for one, and it came to my attention during the 1990s that a company called Metropolitan was remaking these babies, only they were boutique quality, high-end, expensive instruments.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only guitar player who saw the beauty in the original Nationals.  The Metropolitan Tanglewood Custom, as they called it,  was a set-neck guitar with dual humbucking pickups + a piezo pickup in the bridge to give an acoustic-like amplified sound, and has stereo outputs to boot.  A stunning guitar, visually as well as functionally!  But, the going price on a new Metropolitan was around $3500.  Again, more than I was willing to muster up for another guitar, even though I wasn’t young and starving any more.  I have several nice guitars, and adding to the fold would be a luxury, to say the least, especially in this price range.  Then, over the past few years, a THIRD company called Eastwood Guitars started making the Airline Map model, their version of my coveted Res-O-Glass wonder.  Theirs, however, was more in line with a mid-priced Fender, price-wise, selling for under $800.  The quality, too, compares to a Fender.  The neck is a bolt-on style, and it has two humbucking pickups.  The one thing I don’t like about it is the way they did away with the cutout on the Southern California corner of the body!  Why would they want to lose that killer detail?

Eastwood Airline Map

Earlier this year I decided to bite the bullet and spend the money on an Eastwood and finally realize my dream, despite the design change.  Their prices were right enough to make me willing to compromise.  The search was on for the right model, the right color, and the right price.  Ebay is the place to start these days, so I began looking.  The search led me through a few original Nationals in various states of repair, or, more often, disrepair.  And, yeah, there were some new Eastwoods in assorted colors, both right and left-handed.  I was feeling good about it, and then…there it was!  A one-owner, sea-foam green Metropolitan Tanglewood bought by a guy who never played it, had the original case and had kept all the hang tags!  DAMN!  He paid $3500 for it and had bought it brand new back in ’95.  Now he wanted to get rid of it, why, I don’t know.  I put it on my watch list.  I drooled on my keyboard for a few days as I eyed the bids coming in on it…$700…$800…$900… I thought it was sure to go well over $2500.  Mint condition, collectible, killer player, the works.  I have only bought from eBay on a few occasions, but I know that if you really want to not get outbid, you wait until the last minute and bid the highest amount you’re willing to pay then.  Well, I pooled all my resources, sold a couple of pedals, and came up with enough money that I felt I could at least try.  I was ready to be disappointed when my maximum bid was minimized by some cabinet collector with nothing better to do than indulge their guitar fetish while killing mine.  Down to the last 15 seconds with my bid armed to drop the enemy, I let go and hit the PLACE BID button… YES!  I WON IT! Snagged my dream for far less than I was ready to pay!  It’s everything I had dreamed of and more.  The originals, like I said before, are not great instruments…well, let me qualify that statement…they ARE GREAT instruments, but, really, not in the way that you think of when you think of a really nicely built Gibson, or top-of-the-line Fender.  The Metropolitan, however, is possibly the nicest guitar I have ever owned.  Just look at the specs!

Metropolitan Tanglewood Custom


  • Fakimba body with “setneck” construction
  • One piece Mahogany neck with Rosewood fingerboard
  • Fingerboard bound & inlaid with Abalone & Mother of Pearl “Butterfly” pattern
  • Front & back of body “scooped” at edges creating a “raised” top & back
  • Polished chrome, nickel & stainless hardware and body edge molding
  • Custom Art Deco hardware including Tailpiece, Truss Cover & Pickguard
  • One Rio Grande Barbeque Bucker at Bridge & one Genuine Texas Humbucker at Neck
  • One Volume & Tone Control each for the two pickups
  • Three-way selector switch for the Rio Grande Humbuckings, plus coil-splitting for both pickups via push/pull volume knobs.