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Friday, 27 March 2009

I want to widdle

What ever happened to the Floyd Rose sporting, multi humbucker equipped, skinny necked, widdly widdly eighties Vai/Satriani type guitars? Of late Ibanez and Jackson seem to be the only ones still carrying the torch for the formula one cars of the guitar world. Nowadays it seems we have returned to vintage everything with a side order of relic and quirk….is quirk a word?

I can see why people got piddled off with Floyds…sorry Steve…you have all the hassle of having to carry around a tool kit to change a string, you have a complex chunk of metal as large as a small fridge balanced on the equivalent of two Stanley knife blades over a hole in your guitar body so large mist forms around it’s rim like a jungle sink hole! Yes it stays in tune while you do impressions of defective space invader machines and swanny whistles…….the trouble is that any well set up Strat bridge with a roller nut and locking machine heads will do nearly as well without the downside.

Yet all in all I rather mourn the fall from grace of the Monkey Grip and the wanky wallpaper finishes….the cheap Perspex pyramid position markers and ghastly dayglo pickup covers. There is a new seriousness in music that eschews frippery and humour….a new breed of rock and metal bands that would never dream of calling an album OU812, Eat ‘em and Smile or Slippery When Wet!

So I want a ‘widdly beast'….if only for old times sake…to wipe away fears of recession with remembrances of poodle rock and eighties excess. To play in the bedroom while pretending I could still get away with snakeskin PVC jeans……I want an Ibanez Jem 77 Floral with a Wizard neck and ‘tree of life’ inlays….Of course for gigging I’ll still use my Strat….or whatever other six string mistress I’m flirting with at the time….but I want a bit of guilty pleasure….a bit of Super Strat on the side!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Lean green and mean

Working on the SG has whetted my appetite......I have had a unfinished scratch built prototype from my old AMP days hanging around in a cupboard for the last twenty years. I had used it as a lacquer test bed at some time or another but the alder body, Honduras Mahogany neck and Rio Rosewood fingerboard are too good to either trash or allow to gather dust. It needs a fret job, the crap finish stripped (oh bum...dust city again) and a new one blown on. I think a black pearloid scratch plate (the one on there is a card mockup), a humbucker sized P90, a single volume control and perhaps an active preamp with three preset gain levels: normal...armageddon...and armageddon out of here! Top off with an old english white finish ...Yeah!

Don't fret mate...or rather the reverse

Something I did not mention with the SG project was my choice of fret wire. For my own use I equip all my guitars with en-friggin-ormous frets…the widest and highest I can lay my paws on. I play blues rock and R and B and perform vicious string bends and wide fast vibrato….high frets allow me to ‘dig in’ under the string better. If was a jazzer or a regular player of complex ‘suspended pregnant eleventh half demented flattened wassername’ chords I would choose smaller lower wire as it would allow better intonation within a given chord shape and better open string to fretted string intonation…..As my technique has always been just on the creative side of brutal I stick to my ‘railway track’ frets!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

SG gets a boner!

The single biggest cause of copy guitars and cheaper instruments in general not sounding as powerful as real Fenders or Gibsons is not weak pickups or duff wood, it this little beggar....

The humble and rather crap....cheap plastic nut. It sucks tone, stuffs up sustain and is as cool as a polyether anorak. I am going to replace this hunk of poo with a new nut made from a nice well aged bit of cow thigh bone. My supply of bone is our local pet shop. I buy a bone intended for fido, tantalise the cats with it for a while.....then boil the bejusus out of it for several hours..... leaving it to bleach out on our flat roof for a month or two.

Here I am cutting a blank from said bone.....music retailers will generously sell you a bone nut blank for six quid, I get about ten from a 99p bone!

Here I am using the old nut as a template to shape the new bone one, plus position and part cut the string slots. Some gutar repair men ponce about with graduated width nut slot files...I simply have a selection of junior hacksaw blades with some or all of the 'set' ground off of them. They do the same job and cost pence.
Here's the nut installed....
Note...the fret ends are still rough, the metallic blue is not cut back or clear coated...and in fact there's still loads to do. Will have fun choosing new hardware to replace the bust bits next week!

Monday, 23 March 2009


Here's a free plug for the place where I get most of my guitar hardware http://www.axesrus.com/
they've got loadsa stuff and deliver faster than a speeding fast thing.....

The SG

Shot the colour coat on the SG......in the parlance of the students in my place of work......well sweet innit....

Friday, 20 March 2009

Naughty...very very naughty!

The SG headstock is getting the Weasel once over...the victimised Vintage stringy-fixy-end has transmogrified into a relic 1960's Gibbo SG Special. I am making damn sure that there are elements on this guitar that scream fake in case I ever sell it...but this is a beware to all of you who buy guitars on Flea Bay, I can fake Gibbos and Fenders that you would never know didn't come from the good old US of A...don't fool yourself you could tell...you couldn't. I use 'the force' for good Luke...there are loads who can do what I do and will happily rip you off BEWARE!

Is it real or fake?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Sometimes there is a defining moment in your life….I had already had my brush with the 1970 IOW festival to whet my appetite to be a muso….It’s odd that fishing should lead to the other shaping event in my youth.

I fished in my early teens from the shore and from Sandown pier and I used to sneak of for a spot of underage drinking in the Blue Lagoon bars opposite the Pier while my folks thought I was casting my line upon the waters!

The Blue Lagoon was a real dive, occupying the floor above some seedy amusements and the floor below a dodgy nightclub called the Birdcage. It had a full length balcony covered in roaches and a largely leather clad biker clientèle but the music there was fantastic. The Mecanix played there regularly and their punk/pub rock versions of Whisky in the Jar and Cherry Red kept me riveted. I watched their guitarist like a hawk and modeled my emerging style on his. I started to devour LPs as fast as I could get them, and that was pretty fast. My parents dealt with a local cash and carry for their hardware business and it had a record section……I bought albums by the clash, the Vibrators, Dr Feelgood and just absorbed everything I could.

If anyone asks me my favorite guitar solo though after all those years it’s still Eric Bell's brilliant jewel in Whiskey in the Jar…..if you cover the song you play it as is, because you can’t improve on perfection…..even the mighty Metallica in their version, like the Mecanix all those years ago, leave the solo largely true to the original.

Eric Bell

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

My most embarrassing band: Loodaxe!

Finding a cool name for your band always used to be a problem. I remember drunken evenings after band practice back in the twilight of the seventies when we all dreamt of being the next Deep Purple and ‘breaking it’ big and we needed to find that ‘sweet’ name.

Colours seemed to figure large…..Silver Fox, Black Rose, Blue Pearl…..Barry’s Plastic Moon Hoppers….we thought of them all. The problem was that the singer with the band at the time, Dave the one eyed welder, wanted us called Bloodaxe…..ho hum….I still shudder at that. Mind you, he owned the PA and the van so Bloodaxe we became!

Our first major gig, in fact our first gig, was booked to be playing for Cowes (Isle of Wight) carnival, on Cowes seafront, on the back of a lorry. First of all they printed the flyers all wrong when they copied the band name off of Dave’s van…..The vinyl B had fallen off so all our pre-publicity had us listed as Loodaxe.

Come the day of the gig it poured with rain and we played nervously eying the rapidly filling canvas awning over our lorry bed. It finally gave way and our generator got swamped killing all the amps!

If I remember rightly I left the band shortly thereafter! Interestingly they soldiered on and under the singer’s influence blended the influences of heavy metal and Chaz and Dave to unbelievable effect…advertising themselves as exponents of rockney music and singing covers of Deep Purple and Sabbath in a gor-blimey accent!

'Ee's a got sum-oke on da waw-ter....aaaaaaand fire inna sky......ah!'

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

SG body in primer

I've bitten the bullet and shot the first primer coat on the beater SG.....woo hoo there's some flaws to fill!

Monday, 16 March 2009

One more time...with feeling!

Here's a blast from the past....Back in the last big recession when I still had my music shop.....me on the left.

Here’s the next installment of my SG beater project…..in which the destroyed Vintage V6 copy SG gets to live again (cue manic laughter). I took the opportunity of having to strip off the dreadful, thick, sound choking polyester lacquer to do some surgery to the headstock. The Korean makers of Vintage guitars obviously couldn’t bring themselves to use the proper Gibson ‘open book’ headstock shape for fear of being slapped with a lawsuit….I would like,for my own amusement I hasten to add, to make this as close a ringer for an early sixties SG as I can, so the dreadful bumpy original shape must go.

See below.

There was not enough length to the Vintage headstock to convert it to the Gibbo shape by simply cutting…..so I had to graft on a shaped piece of Jarra hardwood.

The finished job will be hidden by the black lacquer on the front of the head, and by the solid metallic 'Pelham blue' finish on the back of the head and indeed the rest of the guitar.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Tom Taylor Music

Flavour of the year for 1978.....when I worked at Tom Taylor Music.....The Sunn Mustang. Actually licensed by Fender and made in India. This was before the era of the Squier Strat, when if you couldn't afford a yank plank you couldn't have a Fender at all. We sold truck loads of them!
The old ones are rock solid and still a damn good Strat. They come up regularly on e bay. See my previous post about my guitars over the years for my relic 'Old Red' Mustang.

Working in a music shop on the Isle of Wight in the late seventies was a real blast. Tom Taylor Music was a hub and meeting place for local musos, I had my little workshop out the back building and modifying guitars, the electrical repair side of things was taken care of by the brilliant Ron Fairweather.

I was nineteen and Saturdays were the highlight of my week. ‘Big Tom’ would lord it over bass lessons in his office, supplied by myself or Ron with cups of strong varnish like tea. ‘Prince’ Dave Kahn would teach guitar in the store room, clad in pvc jeans and posing on the table while playing Hendrix licks.

It was a glorious optimistic madhouse…Di marzio pickups were the latest craze, and with abandon we ripped and routed old Fenders and Gibbos…slapping in Super Distortions and little coil tap switches. Ibanez, Antoria and all the other ‘Law suit’ Japanese guitar makers were in full flow, and tasty instruments flooded in and were snapped up just as quickly. I have fond memories of demonstrating a twin neck Jimmy Page style Ibanez 6/12 string to customers.

The summers seemed to be long and hot then…perhaps just selective memory…I often played with the Alan Thomas Dance Quartet in the evenings, knocking out the St Bernards waltz and the Gay Gordons for the old folks on their SAGA holidays…..while in the days learning the punk and heavy metal genres and forming short lived but gloriously high energy bands every few weeks…or so it seemed. Few of those proto-bands ever gigged more than once, but man was it fun.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My Guitars over the last 30 or so years.

Me with my latest Strat

For those of you who are nerdy enough to like this sort of thing.....here is a list of just about every guitar I've owned.....I have tried to find pictures of similar instruments to illustrate the more unusual gems.

1. Old “parlour” acoustic guitar bought for me at an auction sale when I was eleven. Cost about three bob, and had a completely busted off headstock. Made a new head, and knowing nothing about guitars at the time turned up violin style tuning pegs on my Dad’s lathe.
Strung it with nylon strings (I think now it should have had steel) and hammered the hell out of it! It was German or Italian and very old…….Wish I still had it!

2. Black D28 copy acoustic: bought from Freemans Catalogue. Can’t remember the make, had a horrible action, dead sound due to several gallons of thick lacquer……Looked
fantastic, but a plank! Sold it (or gave it away in disgust).

3. Maya solid body electric: Cheap, ply bodied Stratish thing, bought from a junkshop for twenty quid. The first guitar I ever sorted the action out on……Couldn’t sort out the fact that it had a neck like a cricket bat however. Played it through an old valve tape recorder cos I couldn’t afford an amp. Sold it for £25……RESULT!

4. Strange Les Paulish thing I built myself: Got some bits of Mahogany counter top, copied the fret spacing from my Maya, body shape from the old Parlour guitar (adding two cutaways). Got a new Framus pickup from Stentor Music, a tunomatic bridge and a semi-acoustic tailpiece. Copied the fret spacing wrong so the damn thing would not play in tune above the fifth fret…….Learned to play slide on that one! Smashed it up at some point……Can’t remember why!

5. Antoria Les Paul copy: This was my first “proper” electric guitar. I will always have a soft spot for this instrument, it was truly lovely to look at, a la “sunburst 1959”, and its build quality was fantastic (man was it heavy). As so often happened in those far off seventies, the pickups let the whole shooting match down, so in went new fangled Di Marzios. Kept it a couple of years, till I got a yen for a “semi”.

6. Hofner President semi acoustic (1967): I worked part time in a music shop at the time (I was about 16) and fell in love with this old beauty. Someone had already bodged the pickups by fitting cheap Jap Telecaster pickups under the Hofner chrome Humbucker covers, so I fitted the Di Marzios off my Antoria, carved bigger pick up holes in the top, and the old girl really flew! It was my first gigging guitar and I even used it for Punk and Heavy Metal. Had it for a few years but eventually I got hard up and sold it to a mate for a silly-cheap price and I think he still gigs with it.

7. Fender Telecaster USA 1972: Black with maple neck (to be like the guy in the Stranglers). Thought it was time I got a real Yank guitar. Bought 2nd hand “sight unseen” from Telecoms music in Portsmouth for a couple of hundred quid. It played like a dream, but I have never really been a Tele convert so I sold it on……Should have kept this one, could have got a grand for it now!

8. Fender Precision bass: White, early seventies. What can I say? The best thing to drink tea out of is a cup, the best thing to play bass on is an old Precision. Sheer class. Never played it as much as I should……Feel quite guilty about that. Wound up passing it on to someone who would love it so that was alright in the end!

9. Manson solid body electric one and two: My Tele wasn’t driving my 50 watt Marshall “Plexiglass” head hard enough so chopped it in for British made Manson. Sexy thin neck, Ebony fingerboard Kent Armstrong pickups, lots of little switches and weighed a TON!
Many years later I bought another of these cheap (well battered). The second one was rubbish compared to the first!

10. Ibanez Flying V: Bought on a whim……Went into shop to buy strings……Came out with V! Super low action, lovely feel, sexy shape. Pickups were low powered so put on Di Marzios. I was mad to sell it, but was gigging with a band that had a real problem with the V’s image……Bye bye V…..Sob.

11. Another home made Les Paul Junior sort of thing: I seem to have a thing about building LP Junior copies. Built this one, never bothered to paint or varnish it slapped the ubiquitous Di Marzio Super Distortion pickup and rocked. I wish I could remember what happened to it!

12. Hofner (Japanese made) semi acoustic: Looked lovely, played like a dog, bent neck, gutless pickups…….I was given it what can I say! Sold it to a mug.

13. Westone 335 copy: I love BB King so I thought I’d love this guitar. Finish looked muddy like a half melted Malteaser, pickups were muddier…..Nice case though!

14. Casio Synth guitar: Why I bought this I don’t really know. Cheap and nasty “Super Strat” with unreliable synth tracking. Who wants to play a flute solo on a guitar?

15. Fenix or Phoenix Super Strat thing.

16. Ibanez Roadster: Funny guitar this, Strat shaped with two Humbuckers, nice maple neck, low action and lovely feel. I was teaching guitar at the time, and a student pestered me until I sold it to him.

17. Encore Strat. Bought it for peanuts at a local music store, stuck a Di Marzio Humbucker on the back, slim fast neck, but cheap locking bridge. Another one I flogged to a student!

18. Dreadnought twelve-string: Can’t remember the make. Looked fantastic, flamed maple veneer top, big blond and beautiful…….Tough on the fingers: I was using .08s on my electrics at the time so I wussed out and sold the 12.

19. Avon “EB1” Bass copy: I either bought or was given this sad specimen when I started to rehearse with Pete Hogman’s “Jukes”. 1970s vintage with a damaged neck/body joint, it used to self destruct on a regular basis. It was lovely for a guitarist to play due to its shorter scale. The finish looked like it had been attacked with a chain-flail, the electrics worked when they felt like it, another one I wish I still had!

20. Home made “Explorer” fretless bass: Wanted a bass, so I built one. It turned out pretty good, and got me the commissions to build several other instruments for local musos. It had a mahogany neck and body, with an ebony fingerboard and a single Di Marzio EB1 pickup. Played it for several years but in the end the light neck construction failed in a big way! I was adjusting the truss rod when the neck literally exploded! I gave the body to a mate……so it might still be about.

21. Fernandes BC Rich Mockingbird bass copy: Played this with the “The Jukes” when the EB1 copy used to get temperamental. A good bass with lots of punch but too rock and roll looking for a blues band!

22. Squier Heavy Metal Strat: Crappiest of the most crappy! Sick pink in colour, would not stay in tune, crap action, so gigged it a few times as a “slide plank”.

23. Gibson Les Paul special 1974 re-issue: This was my once in a lifetime guitar. As a guitar repair/set-up expert I had looked after this beauty for its owner for several years. Flat topped with twin P90 soap bar pickups it was as loud, raucous and typically American as the Gerry Springer Show! Its Light mahogany construction had lead to it getting a broken neck at some point in its history, so I bought it cheap (for a Gibson). Lord could that guitar wail out the Texas Blues!
WARNING: The second to worst crime in the world is to sell your guitar cos your hard up…….The worst crime is to sell your Gibson.

24. Squier Strat, candy apple red: Yawn! I mean this guitar was boring! Bought it as a “clean” option to gig with my Gibson LP. OK action, OK sound OK looks……Ended up smashing it up on stage to relieve the tedium……. The damn thing wouldn’t even break in an interesting way!

The Wilderness Years:
I sold all my instruments and amps in 1991 when my music shop folded, and gave up playing for nearly ten years. When I wanted to play again I was too skint to afford a decent “name” guitar, so I started scouring the junk shops for hidden gems!

25. Burton (or some similar name) black pointy super strat copy. Bought this off an American bass player in a mate’s band……cheap as he had a habit to feed! Not too bad an axe but I’m not really into super strats so I gave it away.

26. Trashed looking blue 1970s strat copy with no name….Kay or Kimbara or something perhaps: Bought it in a pawn shop when I was really hard up. Spotted that it had a solid brass bridge and a Bill Laurence Blade fitted….Got it for £35.00……Sold it after a few months (for a profit) to buy something trivial like food!

27.Italian acoustic D28 copy: 70s or early 80s (perhaps EKO). Bought from e-bay on the spur of the moment for £21.00 this is a cheaply produced but lovely sounding guitar. I set the action quite low for an acoustic, and repaired some of the old girl’s battle scars! She made me want to come over all finger picking. It got nicked!

28.Gallan 1970s Gibson SG copy. Bit of a rare beast this one. Bought off e-bay for under £80.00. I don’t think Gallan guitars were ever officially imported into this country, though they were probably made in the same factory as the Antoria and Ibanez copies that were! This model dates from the “lawsuit” era, and is a copy of one of the least popular SG models: the short lived “front routed” 72/73 type. Sold this guitar again a few months for a fat profit.

29.Squier Korean Strat.
Bought this for eighty quid or so on e bay, lumpy neck, ply body, weak pickups………….So stripped it for parts, flogged the neck and body on e bay. Other good bits went into………

30. Mongrel Strat no 1 built from bits sourced on e-bay features: a vintage Japanese Squier neck serial no 15587 fitted to a Squier Affinity series solid Agathis wood body for lightness.
I added Kent Armstrong pickups and naturally aged covers to give it
a honky Stevie Ray Vaughn type tone, with plenty of sustain. And with the slim-line body, no strain is put on my shoulder. It was a real looker with light relic work, and a mint scratchplate it is finished in “yellowed” white. Sold!

31.Epiphone “1957” Korina Flying V
A pissed conversation lead to me bidding on this beauty: At 200 quid with fitted case it was a bargain. Pots are awful, and machines are cheap and not very cheerful……….Neck heavy…….had to go!

32. 1962 Hofner Colorama: Bought this to do up and sell....sold it.

33. Sunn Mustang 'Old red' relic: built it, flogged it.

34. Squier Tele Custom: Nice body and pickups, nasty neck…ditched it.

35. Cruiser Tele: turned it into a 51 clone then flogged it.

36. My current strat: Korean neck, mahogany body, 1967 pickups…Luvverly!

37. Vintage SG Copy:

Amps I have had/used over the years:

My Dad’s tape recorder of course!

Some crappy Freemans catalogue 10 watt practice thing…..Two in fact as the first one blew up within a week!

Marshall “Plexiglass” 50 watt lead head with 2x Fender 2x12 cabs (early sixties). My first good amp that I ended up using for years. With a valve, tweed covered Watkins “Copycat” sat on top, this combination really rocked. Got a pint of best in the top at a gig and self destructed!

Marshall 100w lead head and two 4 by 12 cabs. Good but not as good as my old 50.

Crate 40 watt combo: Little and very heavy metal. Not quite loud enough for rock gigs, and the distortion was very “fizzy”. All well and good for bedroom Van Halens to do low volume widdley-widdley bits on!

Various Proamp combos: I had the music shop at the time and got these at cost price. They were very expensive all valve “Mesa Boogie” type amps, but they had a design flaw, or quality control problem: They sounded great, really rocked out, then they blew up. Often quite spectacularly. I remember one time the other guitarist was using one at a gig, when it started to ooze greenish smoke that smelt of prawn cocktail crisps! We had to put it outside to cool off in the rain. The company refused to acknowledge there was a problem with their products, and blamed their customers. I believe Proamp went bust in the end……..Like their amps really……..good riddance!

Peavey 120w piece of junk

Carlsbro GXL 80w Combo. Duff amp lovely speaker…….so I drove it with my Laney

Laney Lc15 All Valve Class A and Sweet as they come...but too small.

Laney Lc30.....now this rocks, and is what I use all the time now.

SG beater

I’m just in the process of re building a Vintage V6 Gibbo SG copy at the moment……not that a 250 quid plank is worth fixing after having a ‘Townsend’ done on it like this one ……it’s just that this one came to me as a freebie and I have always had a soft spot for SGs, even fake ones.

The body was split completely in two when it was given to me in a sad plastic bag….the neck was smashed off, headstock split and several frets badly damaged. Normally I’d have stripped off the hardware and consigned the splintered woody bits to the nearest bin….adding the Wilkinson pickups and other bits to my parts store. I hesitated with this axe - I had played it before its violent demise and it was quite smooth but not remarkable in any way – I just could not bring myself to junk the not-so-old girl.

I started the SG’s resurrection by carefully sash-clamping and gluing the body back together while juggling the remains of the neck into position and gluing and clamping that back too. I fixed the split headstock last

I now had a cherry red Frankenstein’s jigsaw guitar….all in one piece again, but a mass of chipped glue lines. I am still making my mind up what finish I am going to put on the damn thing once I have sanded the stubborn thick polyester off the instrument. Chemical strippers don’t touch ‘Poly’ unfortunately.

For those of you interested I will catalog my progress until the beast is singing once more.