Friday, May 18, 2012

1962 Fender Jaguar

Introduced in 1962, the Jaguar was Fender's top of the line model throughout the 60's. Historically that seems hard to believe, as the Jag is a short scale guitar, but it was significantly more expensive than any other Fender guitar of the era. The Jaguar and took its offset body shape from the Jazzmaster, and added some stylistic differences, including chrome control plates and a bass cut switch. Sales were brisk for through 1966, when the production numbers began to tail off as the guitar's twangy tones were becoming passe in the burgeoning psychedelic scene. The Jaguar was eventually dropped from the lineup in 1975, and was resurrected as a reissue by Fender Japan in the 80's, only to see a massive revival in the hands of Kurt Cobain in the early '90's.

For many, though, the Jaguar is the ultimate surf guitar, and was also seen in the hands of brilliant soul singer/ guitarist Barbara Lynn.

 notice the lovely Brazilian rosewood fingerboard
 closeup of Fender's 'clay dot' inlays; nobody has ever been able to properly duplicate them!

images c2012 Derek See; guitar courtesy of James Williamson.

1965 Silvertone 1454

 What a cool guitar! Stylistically, this model took its cues from the 3 pickup Gibson Switchmaster with a twist of Gretsch. this Chicago-made Harmony is a great guitar that sounds fantastic thanks to its DeArmond pickups.

The sticker on the headstock isn't original, but it looks BOSS on this guitar! The bridge saddle was also modified to improve the overall intonation.

All images c2012 Derek See; guitar loaned by Danny Allen (Baby Buck Studio).

Friday, April 27, 2012

1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom

The majority of the 1960's was mostly Les Paul Model free as far as availability of new guitars in the style. Introduced in 1952, the Les Paul model began to be considered passe and old fashioned by the late '50's. In an attempt to revive sagging sales, Gibson created the most collectable electric guitar in the world by replacing the gold finish with a vibrant cherry sunburst. The sunburst models marked a slight improvement in sales, but the run of the original 'burst Les Paul lasted less than three years (mid 1958 until 1960) when it was replaced with the SG style guitars in late 1960. Until 1963, these models retained the Les Paul name but were NOT used by Les himself who strongly disliked the new, aggressive looking double cutaway models. Gibson certainly revived their solid body sales with the SG, although they still did not remove Fender from their perch as top seller during the early '60's.

Around 1965, guitar heroes Michael Bloomfield and Jeff Beck began being seen playing these old fashion Les Paul's, and coaxing some incredibly powerful tones out of them to boot. In effect, the use of the Les Paul model by these stars not only created a ravenous market for used guitars but also forced Gibson's hand to resurrect the model in 1968. for some odd reason, though, Gibson did NOT reissue the coveted late '50's 'burst Les Paul; instead, a 1956 style Gold Top (w/ single coil P90 pickups) and a dual humbucker, ebony fretboard "black beauty" Custom model.

Not only is today's featured guitar one of the last Gibson's made in the 60's, but it is also a guitar that started a whole new sound in the hands of James Williamson on Iggy & The Stooges landmark 1973 album 'Raw Power". Plenty of evidence of James' aggressive playing style is seen on this guitar (namely, the wear around the bridge pickup ring, and even wear to the plastic itself, thanks to James' wild and fast right hand). Also, a studded belt buckle that James wore in the 70's is responsible for the marks on the back. Les Paul's were in transition between 1969-1970, and this guitar has some earlier "1969" features (one piece body and neck) and a few later "1970" features (reinforcement volute on the back of the headstock and the "Made In USA" stamp). The electronic code dates on the potentiometers are 1969.

Tonally, this guitar is like no other- the incredibly microphonic pickups contribute to the lively and bright sound of the guitar, which careens into squeal at the drop of a pin (heard all over the 'Raw Power' LP).

As James' touring guitar tech, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life handing this guitar over to him as he took the stage for the first time in over 35 years with Iggy in Sao Paulo, Brazil a few years back. The guitar was retired from the road after that one gig, although it did make an appearance last December at the Warfield in San Francisco. Luthier Brian Michael made a replica of this guitar for James (complete with reverse engineered pickups wound by Jason Lollar) which is used for all Stooges European touring.

c2012 Derek See. Guitar courtesy James Williamson. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

c1966 Hofner Galaxie

What a cool guitar! Looks amazing and sounds great as well.

From Hofner in Germany (of course most famous for the 500/1 "Beatle Bass", coming soon to this site), this guitar takes typical-of-the-time stylistic cues from Fender's Stratocaster and Jazzmaster and adds a strong European flavour.

With a complex set of switches, this guitar can produce a mind numbing amount of tones, most of them excellent and usable. The neck is big and chunky (unusual for this era) for all those folks who like "baseball bat" style necks as well.

I believe that this particular guitar was built around 1966. Earlier examples have horizontal fret markers that run the length of the fretboard as opposed to the more elegant dots as seen here.

All images c2012 Derek See; guitar loaned by Danny Allen (Baby Buck Studio).

Monday, March 26, 2012

1966 Vox Bulldog

Looking as if a Mosrite Ventures Model and a Fender Stratocaster went on holiday in Italy and mated, the Vox Bulldog was one of the first guitars designed and marketed in Italy for Vox by the Eko company. UK Vox could not keep up with the demand for their guitars, so in addition to the Phantom and Mark (tear drop shape), unique, ultra-mod designs such as this guitar were put into production.

While the body is beautifully carved ala Mosrite, the body wood itself seems to be balsa. While balsa is indeed a hardwood, it has a very negative stigma attached to it as being flimsy, cheap and disposable. Critics be damned, I think this guitar sounds fabulous (especially the neck pickup), balsa wood or not. My only complaint is that the wiring only allows for one pickup on at a time with no possibility of more than one at once.

The price for this guitar in 1966 was a whopping $399, which translates to $2700 in today's money; practically the price of a top end Fender or Gibson of the time. It's my speculation though that the marketing of these guitars was that of fine Italian fashion or exotic cars; an exotic guitar built in the land of high fashion just for the jet age! You gotta admit; it IS a sexy design.

images used courtesy of the author; c2012 Derek See.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

1966 Maestro FZ-1A fuzz box

It's a unique coincidence that the fuzz box, one of THE most ground breaking sounds of 1960's guitar work was first 'isolated' in 1960 on, surprisingly, a country western record. Session man Grady Martin was cutting a six string bass track for a Marty Robbins record called 'Don't Worry' and a faulty mixing board channel was overloaded into severe distortion (eight years later the Beatles intentionally did this on the "Revolution" fast single version for some of the most extreme distortion ever cut to wax.)

The record became a big hit, and Grady Martin went on to duplicate the effect on a record called "The Fuzz" in 1961. At the urging of engineer Glen Snoddy (who pulled out the fuzzy circuitry for Grady martin), Gibson agreed to produce the fuzz box, with production beginning in 1962. 5000 pedals were built in '62, and most remained unsold until a record called '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' by rising English stars the Rolling Stones hit number one in the summer of '65, driven by an unforgettable Maestro fuzz driven lick played by Keith Richards as a way of emulating the sound of horns on soul records.

While the fuzztone *does* emulate a saxophone-like raspiness, instead it caused a revolution of psychedelic guitar tones that went on to define the tones of rock 'n roll, blues and soul records of the sixties and beyond. Fuzztone production exploded post-Satisfaction, and other famous 60's models include the Mosrite Fuzz-rite, and the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face (UK) made famous by Jimi Hendrix.

As an extra cool touch, these fuzzbox has the same type of knobs as seen on the guitars of the era. In fact, they match the knobs on my SG Custom as seen in the video!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1965 Gibson J-160E

By 1965, the J-160E had changed a bit from the 'Beatles specs"; namely, the soundhole now had a double ring rosette and the pickguard shape changed slightly. Being as this was Beatlemania at its peak, this variation is most commonly seen, as many were built.

images courtesy of Gryphon Stringed Instruments.

1961 Gibson J-160E

The image of the Beatles as they conquered the world throughout 1963-1964 is not only synonymous with the hair, suits, and songs but also the instruments played by the lads. The Beatles choice of instruments (Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Hofner, Ludwig) reflected their uniqueness as much as the fact that the group was limited in what they could get in the UK in the early '60's.

As soon as the group was signed by manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon and George Harrison requested a pair of Gibson "Jumbos" which were ordered by their local music shop. John and George with matching guitars was a fantastic image on its own, but the fact that these "acoustic" guitars could plug into an amp was seldom seen, even though Gibson had introduced acoustic electric flat tops in 1951 (the CF-100 E model).

The J-160E itself was introduced in 1954, and was a variation on the popular J-45 model. However, the J-160E was different in that its neck joined the body at the 15th fret, and also for the fact that the guitar was ladder braced and made from laminate wood (aka plywood). While the ladder bracing and laminate top provide a less-than-desirable acoustic tone, the lack of resonance helps keep the guitar from feeding back at loud volume (although the J-160E feeding back is the signature sound of the intro to "I Feel Fine"). For those who mock the tone of the J-160E (and there are many), one must remember that this guitar IS the sound of the early Beatles, and their use of an "acoustic" guitar in a rock n roll band setting has been UN-measurably influential. I personally love the sound of my J-160E, and it's mellow voice is an excellent home strummer and one that I use often for writing and recording demos. I won't argue that the vibe of the guitar is an inspiration.

This particular J-160E (one of 141 built in 1961) is in the same specs as the Beatle guitars, which were early 1962 (or perhaps even late 1961) models. Also, this guitar was reported by the former owner to have belonged to Gene Clark, and I had no reason to not believe her. This keeps in line with David Crosby buying a Gretsch Tennessean and Jim McGuinn purchasing a Rickenbacker 12 string under the influence of the Beatles.

See the changes the model went through with this 1965 model.

all images c2012 by the author.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

1967 Epiphone Casino

Until 1957, Epiphone was an independent New York instrument company, founded and run by the Stathopoulos family. Epiphone built high quality guitars (arch top and flat top), mandolins, banjos, upright basses and violins, and the company was the main competitor to Gibson, until Gibson bought out the Epiphone company in 1957.

Gibson took all of the remaining parts from New York and began building Epiphone instruments side by side with Gibson's in the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI until 1970. This move was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Gibson; in a way to open up more dealerships and sell more instruments, Epiphones (many of which mirror Gibson models) could be sold through other dealers at a slightly lower price than the Gibson branded instruments, and not violate dealer agreements.

The Epiphone Casino mirrors Gibson's ES-330 model, and while it looks similar to the semi-hollow guitars (ES-335, ES-345, ES-355) this model is fully hollow, and has a neck that joins the body at the 14th fret. Other subtle differences are the longer Epiphone headstock (early Casino's such as McCartney's have a short headstock), and ultra-cool trapezoid inlays.

The Casino found its way into the hands of many major players of the British Invasion; while the model is most famously associated John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, Casinos were also spotted in the hands of Keith Richards and Dave Davies. Paul McCartney has stated many times that his Casino is his favorite electric guitar (and it's heard in glorious fashion on tracks such as his solo played on The Beatles "Taxman", and his solo "Oo You".) The image of John Lennon with his stripped finish Casino (which was originally sunburst) is virtually synonymous with late period Beatles and early solo period John.

The vibrato arm is not original to this guitar, and unfortunately it lost its pickguard at some point.

Production of Epiphone guitars moved to Japan in 1970, essentially ending the era of this fine American name.

images courtesy of the author; c2012 Derek See.