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.

Friday, March 9, 2012

1967 Hagstrom III

The Hagstrom H model guitar (they were available in I,II, and III designations) resemble what would happen if a Gibson SG and a Fender Jaguar were to have made love and procreated on a romantic holiday in Sweden. While quirky, these instruments sound great and are of typically excellent quality.

This three pickup model III was the most deluxe of the H series guitars, and this one is finished in a European equivalent of Dakota red to cap off this ultra cool guitar. Tonally, the guitar is very similar to a Fender Stratocaster, and does the "in-between" nasally tones quite well when the neck/middle or middle/bridge pickups are turned on together. There's also some other switches that muffle and thin out the tone that are basically useless, in my opinion. In addition to all those excellent features, this guitar has a thick Brazilian rosewood fingerboard capped onto a very slim, low profile neck, with a low tension 24 1/2' scale.

A fantastic buy on the vintage guitar market, especially for those players who are smaller/ shorter in stature.

all images courtesy of the author; c2012 Derek See

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

1967 Epiphone Bard

As part of the emerging folk-rock boom, every major manufacturer of guitars in the sixties took a ride on the 12 string train, doing their best to appease those that wanted to jangle away the days.

This Gibson-made Epiphone is a rarely seen model from the era that was made in very limited quantities. On top of that, the immense pressure that 12 strings puts on an acoustic guitar has insured that even fewer have lasted through the years.

Images courtesy of Gryphon Stringed Instruments.

Coral Electric Sitar

I think this model is best summed up by what my friend Larry (who graciously loaned me this instrument for this site) said when he told me he was gonna pry it away from me: "I hope you had a chance to get your swami on!"

I certainly did. This thing is a real gas (but don't try to play chords on it, as they do not properly intonate).

Built by Coral (an offshoot of the Danelectro/ Silvertone empire), the Coral sitar features a "buzz" bridge designed by session musician Vinnie Bell in response to the call for sitars on recordings after the introduction of the exotic tones to the western world on "Norwegian Wood". With movable frets and drone strings, true sitars are incredibly difficult to master, which put Bell's wheels in motion to create an instrument that could be played easily by a guitarist but still brings out the inner swami in all of us. The drone strings don't drone in sympathy a whole lot, but they make for a fun racket when struck.

The Coral sitar was heard on many fine records, including The Box Tops "Cry Like A Baby", many early '70's tracks by the Stylistics, "It's A Shame" by The Spinners, "I Was Made To Love Her" by Stevie Wonder, "Hooked On A Feeling" by BJ Thomas, and "Monterey" by The Animals.

Guitar loaned by Larry Chung; images c2012 Derek See

1968 Vox Aristocrat

Cutting an iconic mod image with his white, teardrop shaped English-made Vox guitar, Brian Jones sparked a six string revolution. With the emerging radical styles seen in the hands and on the backs of the British bands, the coolness factor of a Vox branded guitar was and is a perfect match with Chelsea boots, white 501's, shaggy haircut and a striped pullover. Problem was that UK based JMI (Vox' parent company) simply could not keep up with the demand of amplifier and guitar production. In 1965, amps bearing the Vox name were built in southern California, and EKO in Italy was contracted to build more Vox branded guitars (including the legendary MARK series teardrops and the trapezoid like Phantom).

In 1967, Vox (in what can be seen as a last gasp effort) introduced four guitars in this shape which was clearly inspired by Gibson's ES-335. However, these guitars are fully hollow, making them more like an ES-330. The other three models (Cheetah, Ultrasonic and Viper saw the installation of the same built in effects as the Starstream model that I featured a few weeks ago. The Aristocrat, however, had no built in effects and therefore is a much "cleaner" design.

This Aristocrat is fairly unusual, as it features more deluxe fretboard inlays (most had solid blocks without the diagonal hash as seen here) and a plain headstock with only a large VOX logo; this one has the more intricate floral inlay and a smaller VOX logo.

With their microphonic pickups, bolt on maple neck and fully hollow construction, these guitars have a VERY psychedelic, haunting sound. Trivia: Pete Townsend smashed a Cheetah in the famous performance of THE WHO on the Smothers Brothers show in '67.

Images courtesy of the author; c2012 Derek See.