A Story of Strange Solidbodies


Here is just a story of the short-lived but crazy world of Japanese Stella guitars.

Seems the only person who has knowledge of these Stella guitars is the legendary Yukichi Iwase, who worked for Teisco in the early days and later went on to create his own Voice-branded instruments. Back in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, when Iwase worked for Teisco, the factory was located in the Furukawa-Bashi area of Tokyo. That neighborhood is notable because Guyatone was within walking distance of Teisco, and this made it the epicenter for electric guitar production in Japan at that time. The two companies seemed to have a healthy competition, which allowed them to share ideas, employees, and guitar components.

What makes these Stella electrics even more wacky is the logo. Facta Japonica? It even appears to be spelled STe11a—with two numerals subbing for the two “l” letters.
For instance, the bodies for Teisco and Guyatone guitars were made by a subcontractor named Mr. Tosaka, who basically used a bandsaw to cut and shape almost every guitar for both companies. And then the pickups for both companies shared similar coils, pots, and wiring. Early Guyatone guitars went for a Valco-like design theme, and early Teisco guitars went for a Harmony look.

But then there were these “other” guitars from the same era that bore the Stella brand. These instruments seemed to share the same bodies and electronics as the other Tokyo-made electrics, yet they were somehow … weirder. And dig this: I’ve rarely seen two Stella guitars that looked the same—seriously! Some have six-on-a-side tuners, while others have three-on-a-side tuners. Some Stellas have intricate pickup surrounds. Others sport thumbscrew pickup adjusters or reverse headstocks, or have oddly shaped bodies.

Just compare the two Stellas in Photo 1 (top) and Photo 2 (bottom). Okay, the headstock, fretboard markers, bridge, and tailpiece appear to resemble each other, but that’s where the similarities end. One thing all these Stella electrics have in common: They’re extremely rare and typically found in the U.S.

What makes these Stella electrics even more wacky is the logo (Photo 3). Facta Japonica? I mean, a Latin phrase on a 1950s Japanese guitar? It even appears to be spelled STe11a with two numerals subbing for the two “l” letters. So strange!

For many years the prevailing theory was that these oddities were re-branded Guyatones, but thankfully Iwase remembered these guitars and the small Kurosawa factory nearby in Tokyo. This factory produced only solidbody electric guitars for a few years, likely from 1958 to 1961. Then Kurosawa also made some early hollowbody models that were among the first Japanese electrics to feature humbucker-sized pickups. The designers at Kurosawa certainly had some interesting ideas and flair, but as I was soon to discover, the Stella solidbody electrics have a major design flaw that becomes very pronounced with the passage of time.

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King of Toes


Gear/Tone education #1

A new pedal for everyone to argue over!

In the following demo video, I prefer the new Wampler Pantheon but I was previously of the opinion that the Analogue Man King Of Tone would be one pedal I would spend the money on as some of my favoured guitarists use them to great effect (Kenny Wayne Shepherd for one).

(The KOT has a 2 year waiting list by the way… £300+ with customs and taxes or £400+ to buy from a ‘list flipper’ from ebay/Reverb.com etc.)  https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/153183196383

However, the Wampler  – £189 – has the edge here.

However #2 – I love videos like these ‘cos I take their lead for the best dialed tones and go off and experiment with my existing pedals so as to emulate them and often I find more tone options with what I already have to play with. I also delight in the fact that my go-to, often already great sounding everyday pedals don’t even total the price of a King Of Tone… deposit!

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‘Space Age’ Guitars


It was the fad of guitars made ‘for the masses’ in the 1960s for them to be somewhat space-age in their design. This nurtured  a generation of wide-eyed youngsters to not only believe that you had to actually plug an ‘electric guitar’ into the mains  (don’t !)  but that they were something that would take you to another world if you owned one!  Even notable artists of the newly burgeoning scene were not all brandishing Fenders and Gibsons (in the UK these USA imports were prohibited following the end of World War II) and so many other left-field manufacturers and models are to be seen in old footage of the day on Youtube.

One make of guitar many kids saw regularly and probably exclusively were Teisco guitars sold in FW Woolworths stores and branded Auditon. 

60s-woolworths wolverhampton

Teisco produced over a million guitars during the course of its history, but there are also a few million more Japanese–made guitars that are decidedly not Teiscos.

However, it’s important to note that all of these companies were Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) producers for a variety of brands both in Japan and abroad.

This means that a company (for example, Strum and Drum of Wheeling, Illinois) could approach a Japanese manufacturer (in this case, Sakkai) and ask it to produce a guitar branded for that contracting company’s in–house brand name (Norma).

Often, these guitar brands would source guitars from multiple manufacturers to fit different price points in their catalogues. The Norma brand has guitars that were made by Teisco Gen Gakki, Sakkai, and Tombo, as well as several other manufacturers.

This guide looks at all of the different guitar manufacturers working in Japan in the 1960s so that you can begin to differentiate between their products and get a better idea of what you’re buying.

Teisco

C.1964 Teisco WG-4L

 

If we’re talking about guitars that are often mistaken for Teiscos, we need to start out talking about Teisco, which has a bit of a confusing history.

Teisco started making lap steels in the late 1940s, and by the ‘50s were making solid bodies and archtops. The company enjoyed increasing success right through the big Japanese guitar boom in 1965, but a 1967 downturn in fortunes resulted in the company and brand being sold to Kawai.

Teisco’s subsidiary manufacturing plant Teisco Gen Gakki (Japanese for “Tesico Stringed Instruments”) was not included in the sale, as Kawai decided to transfer manufacturing to its own plant in Hamamatsu.

Using Gold Foil Pickups to Identify Teiscos and other Vintage Japanese Guitars

Original Teisco factory guitars from before the Kawai sale can be some great players, and many of them feature highly sought after gold foil pickups made famous by Ry Cooder. But beware, many Japanese manufacturers made gold foil pickups that share some characteristics with Teisco’s, yet are not the same.

How can you tell these gold foils apart? Look for the fake set–screw pole pieces. On a true Teisco gold foil pickup, these six screws are on top of the pickup. But with Zen-On’s (or several other manufacturers’) gold foil pickups, these set–screw pole pieces run through the middle.

True Teisco Gold Foil Pickup

 

Non–Teisco Gold Foil Pickup

Teisco Gen Gakki

Originally the subsidiary manufacturing plant supplying bodies and necks to Teisco from 1963 to 1967, Teisco Gen Gakki continued as an independent company and continued to manufacture bodies and necks for a number of new companies (Honey, Idol, Firstman) emerging from the original Teisco ashes. All of these shortly went bust.

It also manufactured OEM guitars for domestic and overseas brands (most notably Norma) before going bankrupt sometime around 1970. Interestingly, guitars made at this factory never used plywood for bodies.

C. 1967 Idol PL-24

 

C.1968 Teisco Firebird Bass

Kawai

Kawais are probably most often mistaken for Teiscos because Kawai bought the Teisco brand name in 1967 and continued to make familiar Teisco guitars, while adding new models every year. Though sometimes sharing some similar looks, Kawai guitars tend to be a bit inferior to original Teisco guitars, especially when it comes to the wiring and pickups.

C.1964 Kawai S-180 String Bar

 

There is one good way to distinguish a Kawai (or a Kawai–era Teisco) from an original Teisco: look for a string bar on the headstock. Kawai used this feature on a majority of its solid bodies, while original Teisco guitars never used string bars and instead favoured pitched headstocks.

Kawai continued to produce Teisco–branded guitars, amps, and even synthesizers in dwindling numbers up through the mid–‘70s. Occasionally, Kawai has periodically produced reissues of the most famous Teisco guitars: the K-series shark fins and the Spectrum 5.

Zen–On

Zen–Ons are No. 2 on the list of guitars most often mistaken for Teiscos. The Zen–On brand name is relatively unknown outside of Japan, but it produced a large number of OEM guitars for overseas brands.

As mentioned earlier, many of its guitars included a gold foil pickup that looks deceptively like the original Teisco’s. Zen–On also used plywood on almost all of its guitar bodies, though its top of the line and Morales–branded guitars sometimes featured two–piece sandwich style construction.

C. 1965 Zen-On ZES-170

 

C.1965 Zen-On ZES-220

Fujigen

C. 1966 Greco 912

 

Fujigen went on to achieve lasting fame as the manufacturer of Greco guitars in the ‘70s and Fender Japan in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. But Fujigen’s work in the ‘60s is our focus. The Fujigen hardware is the easiest way to tell these guitars apart from Teiscos. For example, Fujigen embossed “mic 1” and “mic 2” into their metal control plates, while Teisco did not. This is just one example, but it requires a bit of reading and studying about the nuances of that hardware to positively identify the Fujigens for what they are.

Fujigen was the largest exporter of guitars to the USA, with Kawai coming in a close second. Fujigen also used solid woods for the bodies, and worked closely with Matsumoku factory in the city of Matsumoto.

Many of these models still exist (in largely varying degrees of non-playability and incompleteness) and are increasingly finding their way onto ebay and Reverb.com to be met with a degree of nostalgic aspiration-over-logic all over again!

 

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The Thrill is Gone….


RIP BB King…

B King Lucille - Thrill is Gone

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Star-struck – Letter to the Editor!


guitarorama article - letter

It struck me, as I eagerly picked up my latest copy of Guitarist magazine and settled down to have that first flick-through of the edition’s offerings, (not too intently at first so that I could eek-out all the goodies a bit at a time over the month) that it was like being fifteen again! Fifteen for me was 1973 when there was no ‘Guitarist’. You got your miserly snippets of music and ‘God’ goss and gear gen from rags like NME or (less so) Melody Maker – you were in either one or the other camps; aspiring players NME, more ethereal LP deep thinkers, Melody Maker.

Back then a trip to a music shop too was an exclusive experience filled with wide-eyed, otherworld wonderment and massive intimidation. One of the largest names in music retail was Bell Music in Surbiton that by the virtue of their producing an annual mail order catalogue meant they reached out to other teenage-angst sufferers across the country. Bill Nelson was one such in Wakefield, relatively local boy Eric Clapton was another in Ripley…and me.

I remember the first time I got on my bicycle and made what seemed a massive two-hour cycle through alien territory to just ‘have a look through the window’. On my second trip I actually pushed the door, the bell went ‘ding’, faces turned to stare at my audacity and I walked in, closing the door behind me with reverence, Men were walking around in grey dust ‘lab’ coats, expensive guitar brands were locked in mahogany and glass cases. There were no Fender twins or Marshall stacks on the floor. Back then more familiar names such as Sound City, Carlsboro, WEM and Watkins dominated proceedings and stood amongst brass things on stands and ‘Pearl’ drums… oh and accordions!

With a heart racing, I could only stand about five minutes of being asked if I was buying anything that day and then I would grab a catalogue off the counter when no one was looking and race out.

Back home, I would settle down to have that first flick-through of the edition’s offerings, not too intently at first, so that I could eke-out all the goodies a bit at a time….

(This letter was indeed successfully published in the July 2014  issue of  Guitarist  – issue #382)

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10 Questions Asked…


Many Guitar Magazines have sections where they ask artists some fundamental Questions that I am sure we all find fascinating and often gets us thinking of our own answers… well – here are mine!                                             Pick amongst the irony!

 

1: What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
…in 1973 an AVON SG Japanese made copy – looked brilliant and rang quite nicely. Wouldn’t mind trying it through my ‘proper’ amps now!

2: The building’s burning down – what one guitar do you save?
I have two hands – 73 Strat and Vintage Hofner 457… I might dive back in for the 335 and the PRS Soapbar No – ’87 Yamaha SG2000s and f&*k the scars!

3: What’s the oldest guitar that you own?
My 1973 Fender Strat that I bought new in ’75 as it seemed no-one wanted a natural Hardtail…

4: And the next piece of gear you’d like to acquire?
62 RI Fender Tele with a Bigbsy – Prob Black/white binding

5: What strings do you use?
10s… Not fussy about make as I can make them sound good whatever.

6: If you could change one thing about a recording of yours, what would it be?
The first time I posted on Youtube I was so excited by the guitar I spoke way too much…sounded a right knobhead…!

7: What are you doing five minutes before you go onstage?
Tuning up & making sure my hair looks cool…(!)

8: …And five minutes after?
‘Counting the money’ (!) and wiping the spit, beer and sweat off my pedals…

9: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Eric Clapton said – “over to you” for the main solo at the Royal Albert Hall and I had no idea what song we were playing… I then woke up in a Cold Sweat!

10: What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?
Copy and learn from every style – don’t be so pompous that you must be seen to be playing the current fad only. That ‘Fad’ has a basis in the unfashionable. Oh, and spend the majority of your budget on a good amp. Great tone encourages you more than what you look like in the mirror.
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http://boss-pedals.jimdo.com

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ICONIC GUITARS… #1


1961 Epiphone Casino and 1959 Epiphone Devon amp

This 1961 Epiphone Casino was a near twin to Gibson’s ES-330.


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This 1961 Epiphone Casino was a near twin to Gibson’s ES-330. Gibson had purchased Epiphone four years before this guitar rolled off the assembly line.

In 1957, Gibson purchased Epiphone, its major rival of the 1920s and ’30s. Production of new Epiphones began in 1958 in Kalamazoo, Michigan—home to Gibson at the time—using a few parts left over from the old Epiphone factory. (Most Epiphone parts had been destroyed in a suspicious fire.)

Familiar model names were used on many guitars in the new line including Triumph, Deluxe, Zenith, and Emperor. The electric thinline guitars (except the Emperor) had new names like the Sheraton (introduced in 1958) and the Casino (introduced in 1961).

The Casino was meant to be a counterpart to the Gibson ES-330 (which made its debut in 1959), and was nearly identical in every way except its cosmetic appearance. The Casino, like the ES-330, was fully hollow without a solid block running down the center of the body, as on the ES-335 and Epi Sheraton. The absence of the maple center block required that the neck join the body at the 16th fret, rather than the 19th.

The early Royal Tan Epiphone Casino pictured this month has features that distinguish it from later models. The headstock, like on all of the earliest Casinos, appears a little wider than a typical Gibson headstock with slightly different top curves. By 1963, it had become more elongated and narrower by the D- and B-string tuners. The dot fingerboard inlays on this early version would change to a wider parallelogram shape by ’62. The black plastic P-90 pickup covers were changed to metal covers by ’63. The 3-ply, white-black-white pickguard remained standard until the end of the model’s original run in 1970.

The original price for an Epiphone Casino E230TD in 1961 was $314.50, plus $50 for a case. The guitar’s current market value is about $4,500.

Our featured Casino rests on a 1959 Epiphone Model EA-35 Devon combo amp. The name Devon had previously been used for a budget Epiphone archtop before the Gibson buyout. The original information sheet included in the back of the amp reads: Its unbelievable value includes top mounted, four-tube chassis; top mounted control panel; 9 watts output, two instrument inputs; Jensen 10″ speaker, volume control, on-off switch, jeweled pilot light, protective fuse. Large professional size 20″ wide, 16″ high, 9″ deep; weight 20 lbs. The Devon’s original price was $95, and its current value is $500.

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Like its counterpart, the ES-330, the Casino has a thin, yet completely hollow body.

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The 9-watt Devon sports a 10″ Jensen speaker and a single volume control.

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A toneful pair: Our ’61 Casino lounges against a 1959 Epiphone Model EA-35 Devon combo.

Original price Casino: $314.50 plus $50 for hardshell case in 1961

Sources for this article include Epiphone: The Complete History by Walter Carter, Gibson Electrics—The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, and The Gibson 335: Its History and Its Players by Adrian Ingram.

 

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“HOW DID YOU GET STARTED ON THE GUITAR?” – Part 1.


FIRST OF A SERIES OF TALES OF HOW SOME CLASSIC PLAYERS GOT INTO PLAYING THE GUITAR… OFTEN FROM VERY HUMBLE BEGINNINGS!  – SO THINK YOURSELF LUCKY AND GET PRACTICING!

1. Eugine Hideaway Bridges  

Image   <click !

“Today I sit and hold my 1967 Gibson S-330 guitar as I call my Father  – ‘Hideaway Slim’ –  on the phone in Louisiana. We have a long talk and think back to Jan 2nd 1967 when he walked in and saw me with a plastic shovel with rubber bands on it, I was trying to bring out the sound that was playing in my head.

Daddy had a 1964 Harmony Rocket H59 guitar that was given to him for Christmas in 1964 by a friend of his.  He loves this guitar.  Back then you could get them mail order.  Daddy’s was sunburst black trimmed.

Back then, that day he sat me up in the middle of the bed where I could not fall and placed his beautiful guitar on my lap, it was too big to hold on to. I didn’t know what to think when he put the strap around my neck and placed my fingers in the frets.  This was my first chord.

The first thing Hideaway Slim showed me was a Honky-Tonk riff, like Jimmy Reed. As a nearly 4 year old it was hard to bring out the full sound at first.  You ever heard of Black Diamond Strings? Well, they were the strings on that guitar and it felt like cable. He told me, it’s going to hurt before it sound good but you gotta work it through.

Playing my Gibson over the phone as I talk to Daddy I get him to remember that day and how he called out the names of the chords. You see, most of the older players did not have guitar lessons, or knew the chords by name or even knew they had a name! They played from the heart the truth of life came out in your guitar picking. As a black person in America, this was your voice, how you got heard, before Dr Phil, Oprah and all the talk shows, before the equal rights movement, this was how we told our story.

So lessons were not to be. Daddy would call 1st change, 2nd change, 3rd change. As we know it today the 1, the 4 and the 5 of a 12 bar blues.  You make do with what you got.  I was so eager to learn that he would show me something to practice and then off he went to shoot basket ball. On his returned I would be playing what he showed me, as well as what was in my head all those sounds were taking over. There was so much I wanted to say. I also reminded him of something he told me:

TO BE A GOOD LEADER, YOU MUST LEARN TO BE A GOOD FOLLOWER’

He would tell me to keep the timing with my feet, pat your feet to the song.  If you miss it, catch it the next time it comes around.

Talking to daddy makes this day special and made who I am today.  He helped me bring out the music, the sounds that were playing in my soul. The sound today is as strong as it was in 1967.  I named this Guitar after you Daddy, as it is Hideaway Slim that is with me around the world, in every song, in every riff, in my teaching and in my living.

Daddy still has the H59 Harmony Rocket, but it’s laid back these days. I will always remember that guitar, the sound of the blues.

One day Daddy came home with an unbranded guitar with only 4 strings on it, we made the best of it. I would earn the other 2 strings, by working hard. If Daddy broke a string, he would teach me how to repair it and re-use it as my 5th string, and eventually I had all 6.

My 1967 Gibson S-330 was made the same year, but a far cry from the price back then. Whatever guitar I happen to have over the years along this road, I will always remember where I came from and the roots of the music that I have taken all over the world.”

~ More Stories from Guitar Greats coming soon!! ~
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Can you Believe your Ears?! (part II) – How becoming a Tone Junkie F*cks you up!


It has been a while since I have put finger-pad to ASCII character but I thought it was about time to do the follow-up from my entry of over a year ago entitled “Can you Believe your Ears?! (part I)” so this is in effect (part II)! Has something happened in the interim to change anything in my pursuit of tone?? YES – damn right it has and enough for me to stop hankering and GAS-ing for more Amps and tone-boxes… Guitar’s though are something else as they look good and you always have a model that connects you with an era or icon in your rock development..!
 
So, the big revelation is: You cannot have a one ‘size-fits-all’ approach to achieving tone utopia. No one amp or stompbox will deliver all you need to satisfy your quest. Is a sad fact that tone is learned and cultivated and sometimes stumbled-on by mistake. Is seldom emulated by owning an exact copy of another’s setup. If so, then HiWatt would probably be the most dominant of backline logos…
 
So the typical scenario goes something like this: You hear something on the wind, on a radio station as you are dialing past or in a record shop (remember those?) where it is allowed for the staff to be self indulgent and submit customers to their preferences when busying and re-collating  stock. It is not immediately obvious who it is but boy have they nailed a tone and vibe that you feel in a way has been ‘stolen’ from inside your head! So starts the long slog of getting all the low-down. Then you realise that either you don’t have the budget or the space to equally adopt such a setup so then the dreaded compromise sets in. Of course it is only dreaded
to us guitarists, to the companies providing the masses of halfway-house measures its a cash cow. They badge-up and add aesthetics to make it look that with a 1watt shoebox-sized amp you too will sound like Hendrix or Clapton or Page… is never gonner happen! All that will happen is that you will initially be sidetracked into thinking this new toy is great, but in reality it is just ‘different’ from what you are used to using and may have a few tricks to keep you occupied, but they are never going to make you stand out from the crowd. That plug-in  socket for your headphones or MP3 player should have given the game away at the offset!
 
Good tone relies on many things, but as the Amp is concerned, it is all about harmonic resonance. It isn’t really about the amount of signal Gain or the amount it can distort by. No, without a crucial clean harmonic resonance then there is nothing to build upon. As such, the cabinet housing the amp (if a combo) or the speakers is important. A good design and proportioned cabinet will allow the sound waves to resonate – think of a choir singing in a cathedral and then imagine them singing sitting in a minibus… So it is for a reason that certain setups are used over and over. There are variations on a theme, but these tend to be more at the upper end of the market, refining and distilling.
 
Over a period of 5 years, I have gone on a long and in-depth journey into tone… but where I have ended up is not where I expected. As with us all, I tried to make use of the amount I had available at any one time. When the 59 Bassman came along, I wanted it to do nice clean and jangly, warm rich blues and a fair degree of those 60s Brit rock sounds. Everyone acclaimed the Bassman as ‘THE’ amp… mine wasn’t – it sucked. It was WAY TOO LOUD, it was SHRILL in every setting, it spat and hissed every time you moved or switched gear knobs – it was BAD in a BAD way… It did though look divine and it made me feel important, valid. Nonetheless it went to the crossroads and was swapped for something more acclaimed – a Cornford… every member of the press and guitarist elite loves Cornfords… So I got one but sorry, I don’t ‘love it’ especially. Is a bit like those skinny jeans that look great on everyone else but make you look like something akin to a second world war floating mine. Yes it is a good amp – a beautiful (and British hand made) amp… but I am not confident enough with it. Oh what to do? where had I shunted myself tonally? Up a dead end it seemed. Then came a glimmer of hope. I didn’t stop looking around for clues (and ebay) and then two amps came my way without any planning. A Tweed Deluxe was being passed-on as was realised was way to much of an amp to be used as a pair live, so an brand new model came at a fraction of the normal cost. Better than a Bassman? Yes not as loud, but just as raucous an amp. The massive-for-it’s-size voluume is max’d out at just past position 2 be jeezuz! You need to play ‘it’, take control of it, be confident with – is certainly not a plug and play amp! It’s Sound? well some days exquisite some days so-so… It depends entirely on how you are playing into it – ‘you’ are the sound with a Tweed Amp, a very organic and fluid arrangement…
 
Not so long after another amp appeared on the Radar – another Fender…a Supersonic 60 combo with ‘some transit damage’… 50% off! Hmmm…It arrived – in perfect condition! Not a scratch! But with its array of 10 valves and massive transformers, is a brute of an amp – perfect for Glastonbury though! Sound? Blimey so many… where to start..? And there lies the rub – it sounds great in so many ways but do I want to sound great in that way, or this one..? or maybe this one..? Are any of these sounds me?? It sits in the corner… threatening to sound good if only I am Man enough… So, I got a SuperChamp XD… just for the Black Face tone you understand – I did not want it to replicate a Marshall stack or Rectified Boogie. I did though fancy the Tremolo and Varitone settings amongst all its on-board FX….. To be honest I have since seen this little amp used for the definitive Pink Floyd/Gilmour sound (click here to hear) and one day I will find out how to make mine sound the same! Is another case of too many options.
 
And, then, about 8 weeks ago another ‘damaged in transit’ casualty appeared… a Fender 65 Super Reverb – a massive 65Lb 4×10″ speakered 45 watt classic amp…this time 65% off and guess what? Yes is perfect – not a scuff! Then I set-to finding out what this amp is all about and DING! – an Epiphanal moment – it is a beauty… clean, chimey, resonant, harmonious and well behaved. It is like a soundtrack to the 60s in your room, and then I tried some pedals… Loud pedals with loutish gain and it said… “Gently, dial them down and listen to Me”… Finally the tone in my head had arrived and it spoke!
 
So now it appears I am a Fender-head… I would never have guessed. I would have had me down as a classic Marshall (pre JCM) kinder guy or a HiWatt, even a Boogie-man at a stretch, but never a Fender junkie! Then that moment came – dialing through the radio airwaves and I heard some great amp and guitar tones and I immediately cried out – “Oi! that’s MY tone!” For the first time ever, I heard something to die for that I ALREADY HAD… Journey end.

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GET IN TUNE…


As a Guitarist you have to add a further criteria to the old adage that there are two certainties in life – Death and Taxes – and append ‘Tuning Issues’…

Is a given fact that you will have to spend time always getting ‘in tune’, even after you may have well, ‘just tuned-up’! This is because so many variables affect the guitar being in tune from the materials making it up, the way it has been made, the temperature of it and it’s surroundings, humidity, your sweaty fingers, your degree of enthusiasm(!) and the shape your axe has deformed to over time. Even whether you are sitting down or standing up can have an effect! It can be an all-consuming and almost obsessive barrier for many and ultimately, destroys your enjoyment and creativity. So, before it eats you up, let’s just see what we are up against and how to work round it.

There are so many ways you can tune and numerous keys you can tune in, but for the sake of simplicity I am talking in the key of E whereby the six open strings spell out EADGBE – or some fictitious bloke named Ed Gabe -‘E(A)D-G(a)BE’as I have always used as a mnemonic for remembering this. (The Moody Blues album ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ is taken from the student-way-of-learning mnemonic for the lines of the treble clef: E-G-B-D-F.)

Now comes the daft bit. Even though you may have tuned to what you believed to be the correct tuning, suddenly, when attempting to join in or play along with another recording or player, you find that it doesn’t sound right… You recheck and no, is out… why? Well, strange as it might sound, the Guitar (along with the Saxophone) is always ‘out of tune’. This is, in the Guitar’s case, due to, well, actually a lot of physics and if you really want to delve into this then I have put some interesting links bellow* but just take it as ‘read’ for now.

As part of this conundrum, there is one string out of the six that is always the main culprit and ‘offender’ that being the 3rd string the ‘G’ (the number of the strings start at the high pitch E (skinniest) being #1).

As a matter of course you will mostly find that electric guitars are strung with steel strings that when inspected, are thinner steel wires strings #1 #2 and #3 (the G) and the remainders #4 #5 and #6 are ‘wound’ and thus thicker. You can elect to also have a ‘wound’ G string and this is then thicker and actually can reduce the problem, but it is harder to play with and makes normal rock and blues licks extremely tough on the fingers. If playing rhythm, then is OK.

However, this G string inconsistency will vary from instrument to instrument and even high value famous makes suffer, so without suggesting you spend good money taking your guitar to a good Guitar Tech or breaking out the screw driver and those Allen keys that came in a little bag with your instrument (yes these are for solving problems like this!), then here is my working solution which is as much about compromise than anything else.

When you tune to E you adopt the chord of E Major and incrementally pluck each string up or down the scale and set each string accordingly. You can even tune to E without adopting this chord shape. You do have to have at least one of the 6 strings in tune and depending upon which, work the other 6 into tune likewise by adopting this trick. Remember the open stings are E-A-D-G-B-E(#1=thinnest!). So just say you have the bass E referenced in tune (string #6). On that string fret it at the 5th Fret (just that string) and play it and its neighbour ‘A’ (string #5) and tune the A to match the fretted string. Now similarly, fret that (now in-tuned) ‘A’ at the 5th Fret and do same for the neighbouring ‘D’ (string#4). BUT for string #3 the ‘G’ string we have to make a slight change in that you fret this string at the 4th fret! (see – G always upsets things!) and to finish, move the ‘B’ (string #2) back to the 5th fret and tune with the open E (string#1). Now although this is a useful trick, it seriously depends upon the integrity of your initial reference note. Whatever, the guitar is now at least in-tune with itself!

Now having got this trick as part of your tuning ‘toolkit’, we can try some more tuning variances. So you have tuned to E major using either or both combined as already discussed but that ‘G’ is throwing things out.

So, play the D Major chord but just pick those first 4 strings. by ear, if that G is out, tune it slightly so it resonates nicely with its neighbours in the D chord. Then throw a C Major shape and do same, and then the F major and then the E and even the A, each time making fine adjustments to accommodate that nuisance ‘G’. Now with luck you will find a nice balance of ‘tunality’ across most of the common chord shapes/progressions in the lower – mid section of the neck/register. It may mean some inconsistency at the 12th Fret (the full octave up) but this is again common and to cure this is often a matter of some actual hardware work which is another in-depth topic!

It has to be noted that many notable players have many various preferences when tuning their instruments and is maybe why when you try to play to a Rolling Stones or Neil Young song the chords don’t sound the same! But until now, you have never noticed anything ‘odd’ other than the songs sound great! So – what’s the problem if you are not
strictly ‘in-tune’? The answer is nothing, just as long as those you are playing with are equally not ‘in-tune’ but ARE ‘in-tune’ with you! ~ Now go and make nice music and stop fretting!


Good Chords to cross reference your tuning to...
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* Further Reading and Explanations…

http://www.bsharp.org/physics/guitar

http://www.endino.com/archive/tuningnightmares.html

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