Saturday, September 10, 2011

More One-Pickup Wonders

Here's a another power trio for you; a garage-rock triple threat consisting of a Danelectro-made Silvertone, a Teisco-made Kay "Tulip," and an earlier American-made Kay Vanguard.  This is the second Vanguard we've had and about the third or fourth Silvertone, but amazingly this is our very first "Tulip," despite its status as a ubiquitous pawn shop beater that everyone seems to remember owning at some point.

The main attraction to a lot of funky old guitars like these is that they work great for slide - you can bypass the often "quirky" action and fretwork while still taking full advantage of the unique tones that these vintage single coil pickups can crank out.  It's hard to choose when they are all so wonderfully rude, but it's hard to go wrong with the Vanguard's sweet DeArmond "Zippo" pickup.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Silvertone 1415

Here's our store mascot Dan E. Lectro with a couple of his best bosom chums - a vintage Silvertone 1415 and a late 90s Danelectro reissue.  Like most Silvertones, though, this guitar was actually built for Sears by another American guitar company, and from the looks of that masonite construction and lipstick pickup, I'd wager it's also Neptune City, New Jersey gal at heart.

That one pickup really screams, and the wiring has been untouched since the late 50s/early 60s - it still has the original potentiometers and the big fat "tootsie roll" capacitors inside.  Although, unlike some old Danelectro/Silvertone guitars, the paint has actually dried - leaving it thankfully bereft of the infamous curse of the eternally tacky neck that plagues some of these models.

The one has the "dolphin nose" headstock instead of the earlier coke bottle shape, which dates it somewhere around 1959-1962.  These guitars are justifiably famous for their unique, funky tone that lends itself to prickly blues and clangy garage rock.  Come check it out - it's one of Dan's favorites!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DBX Sound Custom "Dark Back" Tele

Here's a truly unique one-off piece, a custom Telecaster-style guitar made by DBX Sound, which is basically a guy named Dave Carness working out of San Francisco.  He calls this the "Dark Back," and it's made out of an exotic tropical wood that I couldn't even attempt to pronounce - Pumajillo, with a Maple veneer on top.  The amp I've chosen for a backdrop is a super-sweet Fender Supersonic.  It has a preamp toggle that lets you choose between a Vibrolux or a Bassman circuit, and a second switch that lets you run either setting in a "vintage" or super high gain "burn" mode, covering just about all the tonal options you could want out of a Fender combo.

Yes, the top is pretty, but the most amazing thing about this guitar is it's weight, or lack thereof.  It tips the scales at just barely over six pounds - very easy on the old shoulders!  Even the neck feels light as a feather.  The pickups are Alnico Tone Riders, which have a nice vintage Tele sound - no one need know that you're not lugging around a seven-and-a-half-pound-plus monster to get that tone.  There's also something just a little bit...friendlier about that lower horn, as well.

The headstock shape just barely deviates from the standard Tele, and the aged tuners are a nice touch.  Overall this is one of the coolest guitars we have in the shop - and until Mr. Carness makes a few more, you certainly won't find another one anywhere else!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gretsch Tenor Banjo and Ukulele

Here's a pair of vintage Gretsches - a tenor banjo and a soprano ukulele.  Hard to date these guys exactly, but they're both very cool pieces that can instantly evoke the music of the early-to-mid-twentieth century.  Picture a little hot jazz band powered by a brisk strum on either of these guys and I'd say you're pretty much on the money. 

The "T-Roof" logo appeared on Gretsch models starting in the late 40s/early 50s, which casts a pretty wide net on the age of the banjo, so I would hate to take a wild guess and be totally wrong here.  It's showing a reasonable bit of age and tarnish on the metal parts but no obvious signs of being 50+ years old - hardly any checking, in fact.  The uke is a little easier to date, as most of the Gretsch ukes were made in the fifties.

The craze for ukuleles is definately a cyclical thing - hitting in the 1920s, the 1950s, and right now, apparently!  The twee indie pop machine - "iPod rock," if you will - just gobbles these things up nowadays.  In fact, both of these instruments have gained a little more hipster appeal nowadays - this tenor banjo is tuned in fourths like a mandolin, making it perfect for a variety of folk/ethnic styles (Celtic, Gypsy, etcetera) that are also big with the kids these days.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gibson US-1

Lately we've been on a 1950's nostalgia trip - a time of poodle skirts and hairdos slicked down with pomade.  Today, just for a change of pace, let's visit the 80's - time of poodle-like hairdos held together with plenty of aquanet.  Back then, the "Superstrat" was the very latest craze, a tricked-out amalgam of traditional Fender-style curves and shred-geek gizmos that upstart companies like Kramer and Charvel made their name on.  Even Gibson got in on the act, as you can see by this 1988 US-1. 

As you can see, this guitar has the single-single-humbucker configuration that defined a "Superstrat," along with the near-ubiquitous Floyd-style tremolo.  The pickups have individual on-off toggles instead of a three-way switch, and the finish and binding straddle the line between the guady neon era and something a little classier.  What you don't see is the "Chromyte" that Gibson used as a lightweight filler in the chambered body.  You and I would know it by a different name - balsa wood!  Odd as it sounds, it actually works pretty well, adding some air to the bright, spiky-sounding pickups.

Design-wise, the headstock was obviously borrowed from the Explorer, with the Grover tuners and locking nut checking off the last boxes on the shredder checklist.  Even though Gibson has long since passed through it's midlife crisis and now mainly sticks to the classic designs of old, this axe serves as a neat relic of it's day and a great deal for anyone looking for an American-made Gibson that you can do dive-bombs on.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gibson Trini Lopez

Here's another one that a friend brought in to show off.  Yes, the same guy that had the Supro amp, the lap steel, and the National Belaire.  Some people have all the fun.  This is a Gibson Trini Lopez from the mid-sixties,  a semi-hollowbody with a distinct look that sets it apart from its closest cousin, the ES-335.  Trini Lopez sang mostly pop and strummed with a bright, infectious feel, but the eye-catching diamond soundholes and inlays of his signature guitar have given it a cult following amongst well-off rockers like Dave Grohl and Noel Gallagher.

The owner swapped out the original pickups for these high-output coil-tappable beasts sometime in the 80s, though he swears he's got the original pickups squirreled away somewhere.  These pickups have have a good tone, though they do look a little conspicuous next to that yellowed binding and checked, aging finish!  Also - that amp in the back is one of ours; a nice little small-wattage Gibson Skylark with built-in tremolo.

As you can see, the headstock is similar to the ones used on the Firebird models.  I don't know how well you can see from this picture, but a "friend" of the owner's apparently took it upon himself to drill extra holes in the headstock, to change the tuners to a "3x3" arrangement.  The holes have been filled in since then, but yeesh, with friends like these... Still, this is a fantastic old Gibson; a little piece of history that you can still play!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gibson ES-330T

More vintage finds - the guitar is a 1960 Gibson 330T, and the amps are a Gibson GA-18 Explorer and a Premier 120, both from around the same era.  Both amps sport a funky, darker tone that would have been an alternative to the bright, spikey twang of the new-fangled Fender amps of the day.  On-board reverbs were an unknown quantity at the time these amps were built, so a swampy and moody tremolo is the only effect available on either.

The ES-330T is basically a one-pickup version of the more famous ES-335, and this one has aged beautifully, with a some nicely yellowed binding and some fine, subtle checking on the finish.  The 'burst   Like the similar one-pickup ES-125, this stripped-down model is a great value for a vintage Gibson!  Who needs two pickups, anyway?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Silvertone 1413

This lovely piece is a Silvertone 1413, a stripped-down single pickup guitar with a sound and look that were surely pitched to appeal to the hordes of clean-cut young Americans in the early 60s who were starting instrumental bands inspired by the thriving surf and hot-rod subcultures.  Interestingly, the date stamp reads March 26, 1964, which means that this guitar was built, shipped and sold while the Beatles were rapidly conquering the world of American pop, drowning the sound of surf in a deluge of "yeah, yeah, yeahs" and shaggy haircuts.

But even though the Kay-built 1413 model was short-lived, it has an enduring appeal, thanks to a unique color (surf teal?) and a great twangy sound.  The neck and action are most definitely not conducive to shredding or fluid bending, but are great for whacking out punchy chords riffs.  Add in a glass slide and you can gracefully glide over the frets to produce sweeter sounds.

A close look at the headstock reveals a double-stamped logo, a neat little "flaw" that adds to the charm.  The stock tuners have unfortunately been replaced with generic ones, and if we hold this one long enough we'll probably get around to installing old-school tuners with plastic buttons.  Overall, though, it's a gem - this one just jumps up in your hands sometimes! 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gibson ES-125 and BR-9 Amp

Here's a pair right out of the 1950s - a Gibson ES-125 and a BR-9 amplifier. We've had another ES-125 in the store before, but like we say, you can never have too many guitars from the 50s. Playing through this rig makes me want to play some jazzy jump blues licks, or maybe some western swing.  Much like those bygone musical styles, this guitar and amp have authentic roadhouse appeal, but also a certain sweetness and delicacy that often goes unappreciated.

The body has been re-finished somewhere along the line, but it's in an attractive cherry burst, very professionally done.  That lone pick-up is all original, though.  Sure, it's only one pickup, but if you can only have one pickup, an old Gibson P-90 is a damn good one to be stuck with.  ES-125s have a reputation as the "best deal" in vintage guitars because the basic design and single pick-up layout have kept the prices well below the likes of an ES-335, ES-175, etc.

The BR-9 was built between the late forties and fifties.  It has a single 8-inch speaker and a very distinctive tonal identity: whereas most of our small low-wattage tube combos very quickly break up into snarling distortion, the BR-9 stays clean and crisp even with the single volume knob wide open.  The most you'll get out of this one is a little extra warmth, a little "blurring" around the edges.  Early amps like this were designed with "hi-fidelity" in mind, so conspicuous crunch and grind tones were to be avoided.

The control panel is about as simple as you can get!  No tweaking necessary.  I also believe these amps were also meant to be played with a lap steel guitar.  This amp would certainly be a boon to any tone connoisseur and/or studio rat.  I can't think of any piece of gear that so effortlessly conjures up the sound of early honky-tonk, Hank Williams, and big Cadillac cars with new whitewall tires.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Squier Cyclone (with mods!)

I know, I know...a Squier?  But this Cyclone has a little extra mojo, thanks to the Strat pickup in the neck and a special "I meant to do that" wiring mod that puts the two pickups out-of-phase when you flip to the middle position.  Not to mention that both pickups are quite loud by themselves.  So basically, you get the distinctive Mustang body style and some of the extra tonal quirks while only having to contend with a simple Gibson-esque three-way switch.

I have to admit, I often feel cramped when trying to play on a short-scale guitars, but with the nice fat frets this one has I seem to fare a good bit better.  Add in a pearloid pickguard and a Strat-style tremolo bridge and this Cyclone gives you a lot of guitar for the money!

Here's the Cyclone being paired with a cool new gizmo we just got in - the Dan Electrode adjustable power supply.  You can use it to "starve" an effects pedal by adjusting the voltage, simulating the effects of a weak battery.  The end result is that you can pull twisted sounds out of your plain-jane distortion pedals that you'd normally associate with fancy boutique setups and modded-out "circuit bent" stuff.  Check it out!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Engelhardt Bass Part 2

Here's a bonus for fans of the Engelhardt upright - a cool slap bass workout by Josh McCoy, who's selling the bass here on consignment.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

1973 Engelhardt EC-1

Yesterday we had somebody come in wanting us to sell his old Engelhardt EC-1 upright bass.  An Englehardt of this era is known affectionately as an "EngelKay" due to the company's close association with the Kay Music Instrument Company, and the super-desirable uprights they made in the 30s-50s.  More on that later.  First soak in that beautifully constructed and finished top.  There's something downright intimidating about an upright - this is one of the 3/4 scale models, and it still stands about 6 foot tall at the tip of the headstock! 

The Engelhardt story really begins with the merger of Kay and Valco, a move which ultimately failed to save either company from their financial doldrums.  When the Kay/Valco company was dissolved in the early 70s, former Valco president Robert Engelhardt and VP Al Link started a new company called Engelhardt-Link that bought up the assets and inventory from Kay's bass and cello division.  They also retained some of the same builder/luthiers, so that the first Engelhardts that the company produced were essentially the same classic Kay uprights with a new brand name. 

Needless to say, this is an example of great old-school American craftmanship.  No cheap composites here, just a whole lot of nicely aged maple!  

Of course, with an upright, the set-up is just as important, and this thing is good to go cat, go -  it's been professionally set-up for very fast and loud rockabilly-style slapping.  Very playable, even to a pampered putz like me who's never really held an upright before.  Throw a transducer in there and it's ready for the stage!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Competition Mustang Re-issue and '68 Super Reverb

Here's a cool pair.  The guitar is a Japanese-made Competition Red Mustang re-issue, and the amp is a genuine 1968 Super Reverb.  Being a '68 means that though the amp has the look of a silverface, the insides are still the same as an older (and more desirable) blackface model.  I myself play a later Super Reverb from the early 80s, and I firmly believe that if you seek to play rock and/or roll music (as opposed to metal or hard rock), you can do no better than one of these babies.  The ten-inch speakers sound vicious when they break up, and the shattered glass roar you can unload still leaves plenty of room for the dynamics of the rhythm section.

We've had older Mustangs in before, but this one being a reissue puts it in a more affordable price range - ironically the reason why old vintage Mustangs and the like became so popular (and gradually less affordable) back in the 80s and 90s.  Of course, there are more virtues to the "student" offset models - the short scale and comfy slim neck are a boon if you've got smaller hands.  And of course, racing stripes rule.

We often take it for granted, but the amazing thing about Fender is the wide range of players that their products appeal to - from the snooty types whose noses fly up if it isn't covered in tweed and/or nitrocellulose, to the punk rockers scraping up enough to buy some scrappy Japanese Squier.  Of course, here at the shop we try our best to do the same!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Univox Hi-Flier Bass Phase Three

Here's a cool find that might seem kind of familiar.  Yes, we like our Mosrite copies, and none are quite as cool as the Japanese-made Univox Hi-Fliers of the 60s and 70s.  We've had one of the Phase One basses before, but this one is a later (mid-70s) Phase Three.  You can tell right away because the Phase Threes were the first Hi-Fliers to be available in a natural finish.

The Phase Three was also the where they switched to using the clear plastic-covered humbucker pickups instead of the older P-90-style single coils.  Those funky-looking pickups have the bruisingly loud output that has helped make the Hi-Flier guitars and basses the weapon of choice for many a rock-and-roll noise merchant.

The Pac-Man-esque Univox logo is the cherry on top.  No wait, I take it back - one of their purple-and- teal-tolex'd bass amps from the same era would be even sweeter, but we haven't got one...yet!  As you can tell, we're pretty big fans of the old Univox stuff here, but check out this fan page for a nearly exhaustive look at pretty everything they ever made.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vintage Spanish Cittern

The guy that sold us this piece told us that his family bought it in Spain, but he didn't know what it was called or how it was supposed to be tuned.  A peek in the soundhole at least reveals that it was built in December 1969 by a Mr. Alfonso Checa, a well-regarded classical guitar builder from the town of Baza.  It's not a guitar, though - it's another mystery instrument!

Here it is with our store's spokes-robot, in another flyer I made.
Well, it was.  Somebody sent us an email explaining that this thing was a varation on the Spanish cittern called a "laud."  It's got six double courses, tuned in fourths.  That's what the man said, anyway, and who am I to argue?  When it comes to stringed instruments, it's amazing how many variations there are in the world.  Needless to say, this thing can do a pretty good job of covering all the cittern parts in the band, but what about the mandola?  The oud?  The tres?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Armstrong Deluxe Archtop

Well, hello there...

Here's one that took me buy surprise - a woman brought this in for us to restring.  See, someone had pulled all the old strings off at once, causing the floating bridge to fall off.  She told me that it had been her father's, and that it was "nothing fancy..."
I covet.

Yes, nothing fancy...and then she reaches into a gig bag and pulls this gorgeous vintage archtop.  Wow!  This has got to be one of the coolest archtop guitars I've ever seen!  The finish is quite fetching, being a few shades darker than your usual sunburst - I'd call it a "sweet tea-burst."

The Art-Deco headstock stencil says "Armstrong Deluxe," but everything else screams "Harmony!"  This would have been one of the nicer guitars they made, likely  from around the late 50s to the early 60s.  Uncle Freddie was kind enough to come over from next door to take a look, and he commented that it looked similar to the "Cremona" series, mostly because it has a spruce top and maple back and sides.

Speaking of the back - yes, it looks like curly maple, to boot!  But looks aren't everything...luckily, with the intonation properly set and a fresh pack of strings, this thing sounds as rich and vibrant as it looks.  The woman said that her son had been learning how to play on this one - man!  Somebody out there has earned my guitar envy....

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More new arrivals - Hondo Guitarlin and Checkmate 14

We just got these pieces in the other day.  The guitar is a Japanese-made Danelectro copy that's technically called a "guitarlin," a crazy 31-fretted beast that lets you soar up into the stratosphere and pick in the range of a mandolin.  At least, that's the idea.  This one was made back in the late 70s/early 80s by a company named Hondo, and as far as I know this was the very first in a long line of guitars built around the reviving the old Danelectro/Silvertone mystique. 

The Hondo II Guitarlin upgrades the masonite-constructed body of the original with one made from solid mahogany, and the single humbucking pickup is active-electronics-boosted, coil-tappable, and phase-flippable.  It's about as far from lipstick tubes as you can get!  The amp in the picture is a Checkmate 14, another retro Japanese-made piece.  I think Teisco built these back in the 60s and 70s.  This is one of the solid state models, built it does have a nice queasy tremolo built in.  We found the original manual and schematic in the back - neat!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ralston Electric Bass

This one came to us courtesy of a customer who found it while cleaning out the back room of an old church.  When we first plugged it in, we were greeted only by the sound of the input jack howling in protest.  But one fresh jack and tone cap later, and this thing was ready to kick out the jams.

The headstock says "Ralston," but the back neck plate says "Japan," and that tells you a bit more - cosmetically and tone-wise it fits right alongside most 70s-era stuff that Teisco, Kawaii, etc, pumped out.  This is no short-scale featherweight, however - it has a long-scale neck about as fat as Louisville slugger, which surely contributes to the meaty tone of that one single coil pickup.

I love the overall look, with the not-quite-a-jazz-bass body and a nice roughed-up finish.  The grubby metal pickguard is a nice touch, and helps shield the electronics, to boot.  Even though this bass was found in a church somewhere, I have a hard time imagining it being played for gospel music - it justs seems too wonderfully hip and grimy to not be a disciple of rock-and-roll.  I dunno, maybe somebody got saved and had to leave it at the door - "Gee, I think Bob will be a lot less likely to stray if we can keep this durn thing away from him!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Planet X

Here's something different - one of our regulars, Dennis Redd playing his composition "Planet X."  Here Dennis is picking on "Bessie," our repair tech Donnie's 1964 ES-335, and playing through a Univox tape echo into a Peavey Classic 50.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


A guy came in a few weeks ago to show off a couple of really cool mandolins.  This one is made by Beltona, a New Zealand-based company that specializes in resonator instruments built with non-traditional body materials - carbon fibre, resin, etc.  The combination of a metal cone and non-wood body makes for some extremely loud acoustic instruments, though the tone is never harsh or shill. 

They also make some very cool guitars and ukuleles, but the Koru mandolin is maybe their snazziest looking in terms of design.  Very high-quality stuff; you can check out their website and hear audio samples, though the most amazing thing is, again, the remarkable projection and power - this little guy had as almost as much volume as a small tube amp!

Here's another stunning mandolin - a Gibson A-style from gee, maybe the 1910s?   Very good condition, too, considering it's age.  Sometimes pictures speak louder than words, so I'll just let everybody soak up the gorgeous detail pics of the top, inlays, etc...

There you go.  In a few more years, Gibson would reach a peak with the F-5 mandolins of the 20s, probably the mandolin pickers' equivalent of a '59 Les Paul.  Still, even the more modest A-styles have a simple elegance that you'd be hard-pressed to beat.

And, finally, here's the shop's very own vintage mandolin.  It was sold to us as an old Kay, although somebody last week suggested that the flame back was more indicative of a Harmony from the 50s.  It's obviously showing more wear than that old Gibson, but when you rake a pick across the strings this thing jumps to life with a bright and still-vibrant tone and very smooth playability.

So there you go - a trio of mandolins, from the mighty Gibson down to our humble "no name" A-style.  Of course, you can pick this one up and take it home with you for far less than you'd pay for a Gibson!