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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Improving the beasts: Vintage V100 Les Paul copies

Les Paul copies have improved immeasurably since I was a teen and was bought the Antoria, bolt on neck variety. Now revered as a ‘lawsuit’ model in some quarters, actually it was pretty crap! The top, far from the tone-sharpening  maple cap of the real thing … the Antoria had a pressed ply top to get the arch … that left gaps and pockets all over the place … and the body was certainly nothing that in any way resembled mahogany.  The weedy, asthmatic pickups were soon replaced in my old Antora with a pair of (then newly available) DiMarzio Super Distortions … and I rocked out fairly happily for some while. Did it feel or sound like a Les Paul? Absolutely not, but it was the best I could manage at the time.

Shift ahead to the present day. There’s a much better choice of cheaper Far Eastern built LP clones. From the ‘Gibson approved’ Epiphones to Encores. Many now sport proper set neck joints and many are worth serious consideration as gigging tools for the less flush!  Being in the pickup business, and developing new models all the time, I was in the market for a couple of LPs to act as demonstrators for new pickup models … and so after having had a chance to work on a Vintage V100 for a customer, I decided they would be a good start.
The V100’s construction closely mirrors that of an actual fifties Les Paul , with a mahogany set neck and a thick slab mahogany body … all capped with a thin maple ‘top’.  This means that the weight is suitably back breaking … as with the originals … and the sustain should be naturally pretty good.
After a search on line … I located and bought two V100s second hand, the pair together costing me way less than £250! One … the ‘Iced Tea’ sunburst model was still fitted with factory standard Wilkinson PAF pickups … while the other had been fitted with a pair of OLP high output humbuckers  … taken (I assume) from a Peavey Wolfgang replica. Both had small diameter pots … and the usual rubbish Far Eastern wiring and capacitors. 

First job was to decide what mods I was going to make to each guitar: ‘Iced T’ (on the right in the pic) with the Wilkinsons sounded better to my ears than ‘Tobacco’ with the hot-rodded OLPs. It was a little smoother,  perhaps more characterful and versatile. However, to my ears, more than a little muffled and woolly on the top end. That would have to change!
I always like to try a guitar for a while 'stock' before I decide the best course of action and I enjoued the heck out of both of them for over a month before diving in with the soldering iron and screwdriver!
The thing that finally decided me on the pickup choice for ‘Iced T’ was the neck: a big chunky fifties profile that cried out for a really traditional pickup choice.  I’ve been gathering the research material for some while … so the pickup set would be my new prototype Alnico 2 ‘Blitz Spirit’ humbuckers.
The Blitz Spirit follows that formula of low(ish) resistance, asymmetrically wound coils and lower output magnets that characterised early Gibson PAFs. I find that lower output 'buckers' overdrive in a smoother, more controlled manner, and part of the ‘PAF’ sound is that smooth breakup.
So off into Oily Towers Winding dungeon I went and produced this: 

Well actually a pair, with the bridge unit being ‘zebra’, and the neck unit having plain black bobbins … much as would have happened in the early days of the Les Paul. With Neck at 7k and Bridge at 7.5k these little beauties sport solid nickel silver base plates and hardwood spacers as per the originals. There is a nod to modernity however, with four-conductor wiring … but hell, I wanted to leave my options open … and of course I potted them in my 80/20 wax mix. The original PAFs would not have been … but then high gain rock and not been invented then! There is barely any describable difference on clean tones between potted and un-potted anyway ... and none when overdrive is used ... except an un-potted one will whistle and screech like a total git.

Of course others improving the breed could go for any of the great pickups from manufacturers such as  Tonerider, Bare Knuckle or DiMarzio/Duncan/Armstrong.
Anyway, to see what joys we have in store for ‘Tobacco’ and to see the electrics mods started on Iced T … see you in part two ... coming soon!

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