So back the end of April I finally did it. For the last couple of years, I've been trolling the interwebs looking for a really good deal on a specific guitar. I bought my Epi ES-339 back in like 2012 or whenever it is that they started making them. I missed the first run of them the previous fall (although I had my order in at that point), so I got mine the following spring when production on them really ramped up. Although it hasn't been on the stand the entire time, it's a guitar that I have continually gone back to. Also, I pulled it out of the closet in 2017 for a blues jam I was going to, and it only went back into the closet when I did this thing.
I've really liked the size of the 339. Not as big as a 335 and not as heavy as an LP. When it's clean, it can get that airy sound of a 335, but can growl like an LP. When you play it, it's pretty obviously not either of those, but it can give a reasonable facsimile of either. It leans closer to the LP though. It can get that jazz vibe and still be rock and roll. Or it can be a total blues machine. The more I played that Epi, the more I liked it, and the more I wanted an really nice one.
So I started looking for one. I was looking mostly at Gibsons, but I had seen a couple of Collings that were that size that were really nice. The Collings would've been my first choice, but they are/were just soooo expensive. More than I could really rationalize paying anyways. If I ended up going for a Collings, I didn't care what the aesthetic or year would be. If I got the Gibson, I really wanted a light caramel version that was pre-Memphis factory closing. Also, if I got a Gibson, I wanted a real 339 and not one of the Studio models. That was mostly because I had gotten a 335 Studio (not the 2-knob version) and it just never did it for me.
Anyways, I had narrowed it down to those two models, and had just been looking for one that was a price that I was willing to pay. Being as selective as I was being, no matter how you sliced it, it wasn't going to be a cheap guitar. I had a couple pop up on my Reverb feed over the course of those couple of years that would've met my hopeful price range, but they went extremely quickly.
One afternoon, one showed up that fit the bill all the way around. And it was on the other side of the Metroplex and not somewhere across the country. I wouldn't call it a screamin' deal, but the price was actually the lowest I had seen for one like I wanted. Looking at the listing, it had been posted only an hour before. So I emailed the store.
Surprisingly, they immediately responded, and the sales person told me that I probably wanted to call on the guitar because it had already generated more than usual interest. I gave them a call and talked about the guitar. They asked if I wanted it, and I explained that, if I did, I was going to want to do some trading to get the cost down so I'd have to call him back. He told me, "I promise I'm not trying to pressure you on this one, but do whatever thinking you need to do quickly." Talked it over with Mrs Snarf, looked at a couple of guitars I had in the closet, and called them back. Told him I wanted it and asked if he could hold it until I could get over to the store the next day. He said he could only hold it with a deposit, and he wouldn't recommend on just hoping it would be there the next day. So I put down a 10% deposit.
Since I put the deposit down, I actually waited a couple of days to drive across the Metroplex to finish working out the deal. Got to the store, played on it for a couple of minutes, and then got my trade guitars out of the truck. We got the deal worked out and got the cash out of pocket down to about half of what they were asking. I paid the man and started to put it back in the case to bring it home.
That's when the sales guy told me this. He said that he really wasn't trying to do the sales pressure thing on me with the guitar. He said as he saw my email come in asking about it, a guy came into the store and picked it up. The guy plugged it in and sat down and started playing it. He sat there playing it the entire time (probably 20 minutes) that he and I were going back and forth with phone calls. He said that he could tell the guy was actually interested in the guitar and not somebody that was just killing time by playing it. After he hung up from the call where I put down the deposit, he said he walked over to the guy to tell him it had just sold on the phone. As he got up to the guy to tell him, the customer looked up and said, "I'm really liking this guitar. I think I'm going to take it." So the salesman had to tell him that he had just missed out. According to the salesman, if I'd drug my feet just a minute or two longer, he would've been telling that to me.
I don't know if that was him giving me a good sales story to make me feel better about buying it, but I felt like he wasn't feeding me a line with it. And if that's the case, I guess I got lucky with it. The guitar I had been wanting at a lower price than I had been seeing other places. So I present to you, my new-to-me 2007 Gibson ES-339. I know I've only had it a couple of months, but it is absolutely without question the best electric I own. There's a LOT to be said about Gibson's QC issues the last few years (the ES-335 I bought was a case in point for that), but when they built this 339, the got it right.
So I mentioned in my Best Gear of 2021 post that my new Epiphone 335 was the best gear I had bought last year. I still think that. I still don't see it becoming my main player, but, lately, it's the one that I've grabbed first when I walk into my music room. It's just a fun guitar to play, and it sounds really nice.
It's a gold top. Cream colored binding but all the rest of the plastic is black. Epiphone's Alnico Classic Pro pickups are in it. If I remember correctly, those are Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics, with the Pro signifying that they're 4-wire instead of 2-wire. Aesthetically, the one thing I wish they would've done would have been to paint the inside edge of the f-holes black instead of body colored (gold). The Gibson 335 I had for a while had that, and I just always thought it looked better that way. I haven't measured it, but I think it has the same neck that is on my Standard 50s Les Paul. It has that same handful of a feel that I've come to really like instead of the really thin necks that a couple of my older Epiphones have.
Sonically, it's not bad. That's not to say that it's not good. It is. But, remembering back to the Gibson, the Epi pickups sound nice, but they're not as articulate as the ones that were in the Gibson. Granted, that's sitting in the quiet of my practice space. It's not something I think I would notice if I were playing out somewhere. It may also be that I'm not remembering the 57 Classics as they really sounded. After all, it's been over a year since I traded that one off. I'm in no hurry to upgrade the pickups (they really do sound pretty good), but it is something that I will probably end up doing some day. Kind of like my Gretsch, one day I'll come across the right pickups for the right price, and I'll know that it's time to go ahead and upgrade them. Until then, they will definitely serve the purpose.
Playability is just fine. The action out of the box (out of the store?) was right about what I would've tried to dial in, so, after I got it home, all I did was clean up the guitar-store-funk on it and change the strings. After playing it for a while, one thing I do need to do to it is get it back on the bench and smooth some of the frets up in the squeaky-zone. I don't play up there on a real regular basis, but I've been working some stuff that has a bend on the 17th fret, and every time I hit it, I think it scrapes a little bit.
It's turning out to be a great guitar. It didn't just blow me away like the Standard 50s Les Paul did. But, in all fairness, it was that Probucker 1 at the neck of the LP that continues to pull me back to that guitar. I just really like that sound of that pickup in that guitar. So, didn't blow me away, but it did reach out and grab me at the store, make me take it home, and continues to make me leave it out on the stand and grab it at some point most every day.
Bang for the buck, dollar to value ratio, whatever you want to call it, Epiphone continues to step up their game. This new 335 just further convinces me of that.
I'll just get this out up front. I really like gig bags. Truth is, unless there is a compelling reason to use a case, I'll grab a gig bag every time. Here are some of the ones that I've got along with a synopsis of each of them. I'll tell you which ones I use and which ones are only used as the closet keepers.
Fender Stock Gig Bags. I don't have a pic of one of these bags down below. It's the one that you used to get with some of the MIM instruments. I'm not sure they include them anymore. I'll tell you up front that, I guess you could use these as a real gig bag. They'll get your guitar to and from where you're playing so long as you're not banging it around. They offer some protection, but not a whole ton of it. There's a pocket on the front where you can stick a cable and book or something too. Clip-on back pack straps. I have (and use) several of these bags. They keep some of my Strats and Teles in the closet. If one of the guitars that I have stored in them decides to get played out, I move it to a better bag before I head out with it. From a price perspective, I'm pretty sure you could get one of these all day long for under $50.
Parker Stock Gig Bag. No pic of this one either. It's a bit more padded than the Fender stock bag. Outside of that, it's got an extra pocket on the outside that the Fender doesn't have, but feature-wise, they're pretty much the same. It keeps my Parker (P-44) in the closet, but I have also used it when I've traveled with that guitar. I trust it more than I would the Fender bags. Back when Parker was in business, they included this with all of their non-MIA guitars, and, if I remember correctly, you could buy one for around $80. Since Parker isn't making guitars anymore, I have no idea what they would cost if you went looking for one.
A couple of months back I picked up one of those Epiphone Les Paul Standard 50s. A gold top. Because everyone needs a gold top, right? Never expected to play it much because I've never bonded with an LP. Granted the only ones I'd played had been the entry level Epiphones and the entry level Gibsons. I'd never played a "nice" one from either brand, so some would say I had probably never given them a fair shake.
I think I got a pretty good deal on this guitar because it was being sold as a blem from American Musical. No big though because I fully expected to just hang this one on the wall because I think a gold top is a beautiful guitar.
It came in, and I pulled it out of the box. I'm not sure why American Musical was selling it as a blem. I'm guessing someone bought it and returned it, so they couldn't sell it as new. It was setup pretty nicely, and I couldn't find anything wrong with it. Once I got it on the workbench, I noticed that the nut is a couple of millimeters off center. I think it was cut weird because it's flush on the bass side and just barely not flush on the treble. Otherwise I have been all over this thing, and can't find anything wrong with it.
The neck is perfect. I wish all my guitars had the neck on this one. It's bigger than all the other electrics I've got. I've got an Epi acoustic that has a big neck on it that is bigger and borders on being uncomfortable to play after a few minutes. This one is big without being as big as that one. It's a good handful without making my hand tired. It's just a great feeling neck.
The pups on it are advertised to be an Epiphone Probucker 1 in the neck and Probucker 2 in the bridge. I've read that those are Epi's version of the the Burstbucker pups. I really like them. To my ear, they're clear and articulate. I especially like the neck pup. I've really liked the Epi Alnico Pro (Epi's equivalent to the 57 Classics) that are in my 339, but I think these Probuckers make the Alnico Pros sound kind of average.
It has the 50s-era wiring in it. From what I've read, that means that the highs don't get muddy if you turn the tone down. Honestly, until recently I've always dimed the tone and never messed with it again, so I'm not really sure if wiring like this makes a difference. Since I've started playing with the knobs on all my guitars more, maybe I'll eventually be able to hear a difference.
I think it looks as good as a gold top should. I think that the gold color is more yellow than the Gibsons I've seen. The Gibsons seem to be a greener gold that this one. You can look at the sides and see that it is a 3-piece body. Looking at the back, they have a veneer on it (albeit a nice looking veneer) that make it appear to be one piece, but it's not.
It's got the to-be-expected cream colored binding and hardware and gold knobs with pointers. There is binding on the neck, too, but the binding doesn't cover the fret ends like it does on a Gibson. It's got the vintage looking tuners with the off-white plastic tulip keys. The headstock is the new Gisbon-inspired headstock that I, personally, like better than the usual Epi headstock.
The one thing I don't like about the guitar is that this mug is heavy. Like orca heavy! I stuck it on the scale because I was curious, and this thing is 9.5 pounds. It is noticeably heavier than any other guitar I've got. I wouldn't want to stand and play it for long periods of time.
Other than the weight, this guitar is really a great guitar. My assumptions of the guitar when I initially bought it turned out to be completely wrong. It feels good and plays good and, to my ear, sounds really good. Since I picked it up, it has become the guitar that I play the most. For the last couple of years, I was typically reaching for my 339 when I played. This Epiphone Standard 50s Les Paul seems to be making the move to become my main player. I've played Gibson LPs that I didn't like half as well as this one. Over the course of the last 10 years I've bought several Epiphones (a 1962 anniversary Sheraton, a 339, a couple of different acoustics, this Les Paul, and others), and with every purchase, I am more impressed with Epiphone's offerings.
Those that know me know that I laugh at those that are often called cork sniffers. Whether online or face to face, I'm civil when I'm talking to them, usually. But there are times that they get on my last nerve.
Now for the uninitiated, let me define what a cork sniffer is. A cork sniffer is one of those that is so fixated on that specific piece of gear that nothing else is deemed worthy. Granted, we've all got that piece of guitar, like one of our guitars, that is absolutely the best thing ever and we wouldn't trade for anything. We've modded the heck out of it, and, despite what others tell us, there is no other guitar in the world that plays as well and sounds as good. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ones that look down their noses at a Squier or MIM Strat because it's not an MIA Strat. They're the ones that will crap all over Epiphone because "it'll never be a Gibson." You get the idea. They look down their nose at a piece of gear and call it inferior based on its location of manufacture, the brand on the label, or some other seemingly important factor. That's a cork sniffer, and, in my humble opinion, there are 2 types.
There are those that are just uneducated. Those are the new players that are basically parroting what they hear others say and have no real basis for their opinion. They're the ones that say Gibson is the only brand to play because that's what they see their hero talk about and play (although their hero may've played a Tokai until they got their endorsement deal). I, generally, will give these folks a pass. Give them some education and experience, and they'll grow out of this stage. They'll eventually realize that, yes, Gibson is the premium guitar, but bang-for-the-buck there are some Epiphones that may be better than a Gibby.
Then there's the other kind, and they're the ones that really bug me. I call them "ignernt." Now, ignernt is a good Texas term. Around here, if somebody gets called ignernt, the speaker is saying that the speakee is smart enough, they just have chosen to act the fool and be stupid. They're ignernt. These are the cork sniffers that I have been known to make fun of sometimes. They're the ones that are so fixated on a brand (or whatever) that they can't see past the end of their nose.
I was reminded tonight that I used to be one of the second kind of cork sniffers. Maybe that's why they bug me so much. And I was reminded of this fact tonight.
Way back when I first started playing, all I knew was acoustic guitars. The first really nice acoustic that I was exposed to was a Martin. In fact, through a series of events, after only playing a couple of years, I was blessed to be given my own Martin (a D-35). Still have that Martin. It currently needs to have the bridge replaced, but is probably still my fave acoustic. It's a workhorse of a guitar. But I digress.
I had a Martin. All the pro players I knew either played Martin, Taylor, or something really high end like an Olson. Consequently, outside of Martin and Taylor, I really didn't know anything about guitars. I had played enough of each of those to know that I knew I liked the traditional Martin sound more than the modern Taylor sound, but they both sounded really nice.
Where I lived, I'd get together and play with a buddy once a week or so (we played in the same band), and we both played Martins. Another acquaintance at work was given a guitar for Christmas one year by his dad, and asked if my buddy and I would take a look at it and tell him what we thought. Bless his heart, that was during my days of sniffing corks.
The day that he brought it over to my house, I remember thinking one thing about the guitar and saying something completely different. In retrospect, I really wish I would have been honest enough with myself to give him an honest review. All I remember at this point was that it was a jumbo bodied Guild of some sort. From what I remember about the inlays on it, if it was chosen from their current lineup (although this was 30 years ago now), it would've probably been the equivalent of the F-55. And that would make sense as, from what I remember he used to say about his parents, they only bought the best.
Anyways, this guitar had a really great sound. However, it didn't sound anything like a Martin or Taylor. It was a very full, rich sound. Very balanced sound. All around, it was just a really great guitar. However, because it wasn't a Martin, I don't think I had anything good to say about the guitar that wasn't a backhanded compliment. "It has a really nice sound for something that's not a Martin." The other guy that was playing it with me was pretty much like me when it came to guitars. So he didn't really have anything positive to say about it either. The guy that had gotten it for Christmas left that evening disappointed that "it'll never sound like a Martin."
I've come a long way since then in both my musical journey and my overall view on life. I still very much like the sound of a Martin, but I also have a Boulder Creek and a Tacoma, and an Epiphone acoustic. For electrics, I've got Squiers, MIM and MIA Fenders, as well as Epiphones and Gibsons. For pedals, I have real live, green Tube Screamers and all kinds of TS clones (including the cheapest, Chinese made ones on Amazon). I've got a closet full of gear spanning the spectrum of price.
Growing up, my parents tried to teach me to always give people the benefit of the doubt; just because they're different than me doesn't mean they're bad. Give them the benefit of the doubt until they give me a reason to do otherwise. As the Disney song says, "if you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew you never knew." When it comes to gear, be open minded. Just because the headstock doesn't say what you think it should doesn't mean it doesn't have a song in it. Pick it up and play it and see what it says.
And, Joel, if you ever happen upon this to be reading, I really hope you still have that Guild. Had I not been in the middle of my "Martin or nothing" days, I would have told you that it was a dang skippy nice guitar that had a great, warm sound and anybody should be ecstatic to be able to play. I'm sure that guitar was full of music if I'd only taken a moment and listened to it.
I discovered John Bohlinger a couple of years ago. It may've been more like several years ago. I remember he was doing a gear review for Premier Guitar on youtube, and I thought the guy was awkward and not really that good at it and really needed to quit having his hair colored because it looked...fake. Fast forward a couple of years, and he had become much more polished, let his hair do its thing so it didn't look bad anymore, and I now find his rundowns and reviews engaging so that I watch most all of them. I, also, enjoy his backpage of the magazine article every month that's called Last Call.
In his monthly column, he seems to try to give out that fatherly/brotherly advice to other players. Sometimes it's pretty practical and is something that can be used in very substantive way. I like these columns because I tend to be a very hands-on, practical person. Other times he comes across as being contemplative and trying to pass along something profound. I don't pay quite as much to these columns because I've never really been a theoretical kind of person. When I realize it's one of those columns, I just kind of scan through it.
I've always been this way. I realized it in 9th grade Biology class when I got the first C I had ever gotten on a report card. For the first time in my elementary/middle/junior high career, my name was not listed on the All A's or A/B Honor Roll. Everyone but me was surprised. My folks asked me what happened, and my response is that I didn't care about the class. They asked why, and my response was that it wasn't a fun class, the teacher was a sadistic idiot, and I couldn't see the practical application of what we were learning, so there was no point in learning it. So no ethereal, theoretical profundities for me. Start spouting them, and you quickly lose my attention.
Enter the December column. Mr Bohlinger was riding the line between practical application and trying to be profound. Then right there in the middle of the column, he said this.
"Many people (particularly Americans), live their lives doing what they don’t want to do so they can earn enough money to continue doing what they don’t want to do. People struggle like this for a lifetime and then teach their children to do it. If all your job is providing is a paycheck, you have the wrong job."
Now I don't have an issue with his first 2 sentences. He's spot on. Too often, we Americans get trapped in that cycle of a job we don't like that we don't leave because we want the stability of paycheck. After all, it takes money to live, and, when we don't have that money, even the daily grind gets difficult because you still have to put gas in the ride, food in the belly, and a roof over your head. However, that last sentence. I just have so many problems with that one.
"If all your job is providing is a paycheck, you have the wrong job." That's painting with as much of a broad brush as I would be if my response was "no you don't." More accurately, he should have said that, if all your job is providing is a paycheck you might have the wrong job.
I have a job. I've been in the workforce for the better part of 30 years. I've had all kinds of jobs. Changed careers a couple of times as well. The one thing I've learned is that, if you're miserable at your job, it's time to move on. However, just because a job is just a paycheck, doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot.
While I appreciate what I think he's trying to say, I think he's falling too far into that mentality that "if you're not following your passion, you're unfulfilled," and that's an extremely idealistic place to be. I'll use myself as the example, and say up front that, if I were to follow my passion, I'd probably be alone, homeless, and living in my car (if I had one) right now.
In my teens, I told everyone that I was going to fly airplanes. I got out of high school, got my first real job, and let the president of the company where I worked talk me out of going to flight school. It wasn't difficult to do. At the time, I was about as idealistic as I have ever been, working at a non-profit, and felt like I was living the change and making a difference. Fast forward a few years, I had seen the politics, problems, and blatant hypocrisy in the place I worked, become pretty jaded, and realized it was time to go. At the first good opportunity, I moved from the big city back to the town where I grew up and took a job, among other things, driving a tractor out in the field all day. Oddly enough, that job was the job that I look back on these days saying, if I could've made money doing that, I'd still be on that tractor. Believe it or not, that job was therapeutic, and just what I needed after leaving the situation I had been in.
While I was working on the farm, I had a friend ask me what I would do if I could do anything. My response was "be a studio guitarist." He asked me why I wasn't doing that. Simple. I wasn't (and am not) good enough. As recently as a year ago, as I was planning to leave the job I had at the time, I had one of my senior execs ask me that same question. That's still my answer when asked. If I could do anything I wanted, I'd be a studio guitarist.
Over the years, music and, especially, guitars has become my passion. One whole room of my house is dedicated to music. When I'm not in there playing or sitting at the computer looking up the latest gear or how to play something, you can bet it's probably what I'm thinking about. And, yes, I have viewed my job as just a paycheck for years.
You see, I have loved the guitar since I first started playing in high school, but was out and in the workforce before I was good enough at it to make any money with it. Add to that, I am NOT a good teacher (tried that with a few kids, and not a single one of them kept playing after their parents stopped paying me), and, although I will play in front of folks just to have the opportunity to play with skilled musicians, I'm one of those folks that would really rather not be up on a stage. And, generally, to have followed my passion of guitar playing, I would either have to teach or play out consistently.
Add to all that I started a career that required me working 80 to 100 hours a week, which left no time whatsoever to really practice and get better. For quality of life, after 5 years, I changed careers. Would have loved to have done something music related, but needed to put gas in the car, and my preference was to not live in said car. So I've always said that, at that point, I accidentally ended up in another industry. It paid well enough, and, although I would never have said that I really enjoyed it, it was also something that I didn't hate. It was a paycheck. Now I'm 20 years down the road, on the 3rd company in that field, and would still never be heard even hinting that it was my calling. It wasn't. And it isn't. And it won't be.
In fact, at the first company I worked in that field, my supervisor pulled me aside one day and said, "you really need to find your calling, and this isn't it. I know this because, when I bring a problem to the team, you are the only one in the room whose eyes don't light up thinking about fixing it. You're as good or better than most of the rest of the team, but I can tell that this is just a paycheck to you and not your passion. You need to find that calling and pursue it. As good as you are here, if you were really passionate about what you were doing, you'd be the best in your field." I told him that I couldn't argue with him. It was indeed just a paycheck for me, but a good enough paycheck that I wasn't planning on leaving. It took care of the bills, and gave me enough extra to fuel my real passion, guitars and gear. When I told him that, he just looked at me like a cow looking at a new gate.
Even though I am now a much better player than I was even 10 years ago, and am discovering that I can usually hold my own when called upon to play, I still don't see how I could be earning even half of what I earn in a music related field. And I'm still not good enough to be a studio musician. Truth is, I'm still one of those that's good enough to make the non-musicians think I'm a pretty good player while the real musicians know the awful truth. Or at least that's how I view my playing.
In fact, how is it any different than someone that likes off-roading and spends all their extra money on their jeep? There are jobs out there where you can make a living off-roading, but they're few and far between enough that not everybody with a 4-wheel drive can feed their fam or even repair their jeep doing it. It'd take at least both hands and a foot to count the number of folks that I know in that community that have a day job that has nothing remotely to do with the outdoors, and spend their weekends out on the trail.
Just because you have to have a paycheck and your passion appears to play 2nd fiddle doesn't mean that it's any less of a passion. Truth is, most of the folks I work with know that, given the right opportunity, I'd ditch them without a thought to go play guitar somewhere. Mostly because I've done it in the past and will do it again I'm sure. I just haven't come across that right long term opportunity (and probably won't), and I like my salary enough that I don't mind the grind 5 days a week so long as I have a guitar in hand when I'm not in the office.
With all respect, good Mr Bohlinger, you're wrong on this one. Just because it's only a paycheck doesn't mean it's wrong. Sometimes without the paycheck, the passion has no fuel and would die. If it's just a paycheck, it might be wrong. Or it might just be a paycheck. Like you, I also sell out. It's just that, with my skill set, the highest bidder means I'm an analyst somewhere during the week.
That said, on a different yet related note, having been there and learned the hard lesson, if you ever find yourself miserable at a job that's just a paycheck, you need to get out as quickly as you can. Life's too short for that nonsense.
Here's a subject for you that seems to come up every now and again. And even John Bolinger is talking about it again in his most recent vid on the Tube of You. Reliced guitars. I know these aren't the only opinions out there, but if you read the interwebs, there seem to be two prevailing schools of thought. The first group says that reliced instruments are stupid, idiotic, and should all be burned, and those that buy them, play them, or otherwise look upon them any other way are nothing more than wannabes that can't tell a guitar string from a climbing rope and don't deserve to ever pick up a guitar. The other prevailing thought is the group that seems pretty apathetic towards them and basically say "if you don't like them, then don't buy them."
As I recall, reliced instruments were started off primarily in the domain of custom shops. They were making guitars that were replicas of famous instruments and NOS type for the collectors. Then the manufacturers realized that they could make good money on heavily reliced instruments. So they started making those too. They eventually figured out how to do the relicing a lot more cheaply, so the reliced guitars left the domain of the custom shops and entered that of the affordable. Disclaimer: I don't know that this is exactly how it went down, but, from this consumer's perspective that appears to have been what it was. So take this last paragraph with a grain of salt. Or the whole shaker. It may or may not be totally accurate, but that's what seemed to happen to me.
Back around 2008-ish when Fender released their Road Worn line, all of the guitar forums I was on erupted with the most hate-filled, vitriolic commentary on them that you can imagine. "Wear should be honest." "Only posers will buy these guitars." "These guitars are made for folks with more money than sense. And kids that haven't put in the time to have worn in a guitar." "Stupidest idea ever." And a lot of really troll-ish things a lot worse than this by those that I know not to be trolls.
Everyone had an opinion, and most of those sharing their opinions had less then complementary things to say about them. Including me. At that point and time, my thought was that wear should be honest wear, but I sometimes balanced that thought with the fact that other folks can spend their money on whatever makes them happy. But that doesn't mean I wasn't parroting a lot of the things that some of the others were saying.
About 2010, I decided I needed to get myself a Tele. I test drove Tele after Tele, and didn't like any of them. They either didn't sound right or didn't feel right or something. None of them were any good. Didn't like them. Every time I'd hit the local stores (the mom and pops and the big boys) I'd start pulling Teles off the wall, and not a single one of them spoke to me. I tried to like them. I really, really wanted to like them. Squiers, MIM Fenders, MIA Fenders, even a G&L or two. But not a single one of them was it. Did this for a couple of years.
I avoided the Road Worns just because they were...Road Worns. FInally pulled a 50s Road Worn off the wall mostly to exercise my confirmation bias against them. At that moment I think I heard that proverbial angelic choir, because there was absolutely no question that was the guitar for me. It felt good. It had the right weight to it, and the neck was the most incredible neck ever. I once described it to a buddy as being like that pair of jeans that you've had for years that you just don't get rid of because they fit perfectly and were worn in all the right places. I bought it.
Yes, it's a Road Worn. Yes, it looks like every other Road Worn Tele that was being made at that time. Yes, the neck has the same wear spots as every other maple necked Road Worn Tele (and Strat) since they started making them. Call me a poser and wannabe if you like, but it's the best feeling poser guitar I've ever picked up.
That very much started changing my opinion on reliced guitars. Then, in 2012, I got the chance to tour the Fender factory and they took us through the Custom Shop. We passed the area where the Master Builders do their work. I felt in the presence of royalty when John Cruz stepped out of his work area and watched as we awkwardly stared at him as we walked by. Then they took us over to where the Journeyman builders were working on the more mass-produced custom shop stuff. There was a line of 5 red Strats that he was working on that were all identically reliced.
I figured that they would be sold to the masses just like most of the others that come off the line. But then the one working on them told us that all 5 were going to the same individual (a famous player who we all know that is known for playing Strats). The player had recently decided that he didn't want to carry his famous guitar out of his studio anymore, so he was having the guitars in front of us built so he could grab one and carry it where ever he was going and not have to worry about his old, beat-up one being lost, stolen, broken, etc, but everyone seeing him play would think it was still the old trusted #1 axe he'd always used.
That changed my mind for good. If some of the famous players played guitars built as relics, then they're definitely not just for posers, and honest wear may not always be the best. I've got my Road Worn, and I've recorded with it, but, honestly, I've never played it out. It's a fun guitar. It feels wonderful, and plays nicely. And shouldn't that be what it's all about? Does it fit you like you want it to and give you the sound that you hear in your head? Then it shouldn't matter if it got its scratches on the road or in the factory,
Honestly, what's the difference in a "poser" buying a Road Worn or other reliced guitar brand new and that same person going to Reverb (or the local Guitar Center) and buying a guitar that is just well used? Either way, both of them look used. One just happens to look like 1000 identical guitars because their wear patterns are the same. Either way, they both look like a used guitar. And who cares if it's a 15 year old in a high school garage band playing it. Maybe that beat up '65 Strat they're playing was something they inherited from a relative that gave it all that wear "honestly." Are they still a poser because they didn't give it that wear?
I'm firmly in the "I don't care" camp. You know what? I also don't care if you salt and pepper your eggs more than I like because it's not me eating them. If you like the look of reliced guitar, and that's what gets you to play it, then buy it. If you like the look of a brand new, pristine axe then buy that one if it's what's going to get you to play it. Be sure it feels good. Be sure it sounds good. Be sure that you can live it. Just get whatever guitar makes you happy.
Whether it's brand new with not a scratch on it or reliced so much it's bare wood, more power to you. If it's the guitar that will get you to play more, then that's the one that you need. Because when it all comes down to it, who cares whether you're playing rock or blues or country or dubstep or whatever, and who cares what you're playing it on. Just be sure that you're playing it. Too often we confuse ourselves and make it about who we're a disciple of or the tools of the trade, but it should be about the music. If it wasn't for the music, then we wouldn't have a guitar to begin with.
Like a lot of guitar players, I have enough wood and steel to fill a closet. So it can get pretty expensive to carry them in to a real live luthier every time one needs a setup or repair. So I try to do a lot of the work myself. Over the years I've accumulated a bag full of tools to use when working on a guitar. However, I've never had anything gig bag sized that I could drop into a pocket and have that cover any setting up I want to do on the fly.
So lately I've been seeing some of the guitar multi tools, and figured I'd give them a test drive. I noticed that there seem to be 4 main ones: Gibson, Ibanez, CruzTools, and D'Addario. They were all priced between $15 and $20. The Gibson, the D'Addario, and the old CruzTools options all looked like they were made by the same company and were mostly the same. I read somewhere that the Ibanez version was included with their premium guitars, so I figured that one may be specific to Ibanez gutiars (which I don't have any). Looking at pics, whether it is or not, it also looks bigger and bulkier than the others. The old CruzTools and the D'Addario tool neither had a 5/16" socket on it. So I discounted those and didn't get them. The new CruzTools version and the Gibson did. So those were the two that I picked up to try out. Here are my thoughts on them.
I recently heard one of the YouTube personalities I follow mention that they have the Gibson version and think that it's the best guitar tool out there. It's got the 5/16" socket, a slotted screwdriver, a #1 and #2 Phillips screwdriver, 7 allen/hex wrenches (which I suspect are a mix of standard and metric), and something described as a lever that is laser engraved with marks at 3/64" and 5/64" for measuring string height.
The first "guitar tools" that I ever bought was a set by CruzTools, that I use all the time. I noticed that the new version of the CruzTools option had the 5/16" socket, so I got it as well. It has the same 2 Phillips screwdrivers, a slotted screwdriver (just a touch smaller than on the Gibson tool), 9 allen/hex wrenches (that are engraved with their size), and a standard/metric ruler for setting string height. It also has the tools, particularly the sizes of the allen/hex wrenches on the side of the tool.
As far as using them, they work about the same. They're both multitools that seem to do the trick. Both have, pretty much, the same tools on them. However, I think I prefer the one made by CruzTools for 2 reasons in particular. First, it has the sizes of the allen/hex wrenches on the wrenches so you know which one you're grabbing (no guess work). In case you forget, it's also written on the side of the tool, and the 4 standard sizes are grouped together on one side and the 5 metric on the other. Second, it has the standard/metric ruler that actually shows more than 2 lines like on the GIbson. The CruzTools tool is slightly larger than the one from Gibson.
The CruzTools multitool seems to me to be a little more user friendly (it's labeled). It also has a real ruler on it instead of the just the two tick marks, so it's a little more versatile. It will be the one that gets to ride in my gig bag.
So last week I talked about how I have been upgrading the Gretsch 5120 the last couple of weeks. This week, I'll tell you what all I did and throw in some pics.
The big thing was that I have heard the Ray Butts pups, and decided that I wanted those in the guitar instead of the stock Gretschbuckers that have been in it since I bought it. I found out that to put those pups in it, I was going to have to make major modifications to the guitar. So I set out to try and figure out what that was going to take.
The first thing that I'll mention is, if you think you might want to work on your 5120, there are a couple of things that you are totally going to want to do.
First, if your bridge isn't pinned (which, unless you pinned it, it's not), get yourself some painter's tape, and tape the edges of the bridge. That way you know where to put it back when you get done. Or at least it will give you a much better place from which to start to get it put back in the right spot.
Second, see all the life support tubeing coming out of the holes in that first pic? 1/4" aquarium tubing is your friend. I've cussed and spent countless hours being frustrated on a couple of semihollow guitars I've got that I worked on in the past using the "let them just fall out and try to get them back in" method as well as the method where you tie some string around the pots. Neither one has been really successful for me. A while back, I saw someone on a forum I frequent mention the aquarium tubing, and it was an absolute lifesaver this go around. It wouldn't fit the pup switch, but it did the pots. The tubing plus a 1/4" plug attached to the end of a coat hanger for the output jack, and you're pretty much set. You're on your own for that pickup switch though.
Oh - and let me add the following disclaimer right here, right now.
I am by no means a luthier, trained or otherwise. Everything that you read here is what I did to my guitar. My woodworking skills are limited, and everything I do is pretty much trial and error and making it up as I go. So use what I did with not just a grain of salt but instead the whole dang shaker of it. Also, by the time all is said and done, although I have added several hundred dollars worth of parts to the guitar, I fully understand that the work that I have done has probably severely devalued the guitar, and I could never get my money back out of it, and that was never the goal. The goal was/is to make the guitar a better sounding, better playing instrument that will encourage me to play it. So, if you decide you need to mod your instrument, proceed at your own risk.
I started trying to find pics of the guts of a "real" Gretsch online, and they were amazingly difficult to find. The few that I did come across basically looked like the pickup holes had more wood and bracing inside the hole for the pickup.
Now I should stop here and mention that the Filtertron pickups don't mount like regular pickups. All of the pickups I have ever swapped out of guitars (at least humbuckers) have had little tabs on either side where the pickup is attached to the pickup ring and you have to try to get the screw through the spring. Once you get the pickup setup in the pickup ring, then you attach the pickup ring (and, thus, the pickup) to the guitar.
This isn't how a Filtertron works. It attaches directly to the guitar using that extra bracing that is inside the pickup routs. Notice the difference in the two pups below. The regular bucker has those little tabs. The Filtertron has the screw holes on the edge casing. Where the regular bucker has the screw/spring thing for height adjustment, the Filtertron doesn't. For height, you have to shim it inside cavity using foam rubber or something.
So the first thing to do was to get the bracing added to the inside. I wasn't sure the size of the bracing on the inside, so I probably went the most difficult direction possible for this part. I had some paint stirrers that I started gluing together until I got what I felt was probably the right thickness. Then I started measuring the inside of the guitar (as best I could) and looking at the pickup routs to try and see where the bracing should go and how far out it needed to come. Then I broke out the wood glue and clamps and started making the changes that I think needed to be done.
In the first pic, you'll see the the clamps holding the bracing in while the glue initially started drying. Note that, to keep from damaging the guitar, you need to be sure that you're using some kind of non-marring clamp. You'll also see that I clamped opposite sides of the guitar each time. There was a specific reason I was doing it this way, although I don't remember at the moment why. I think it had to do with getting the brace and the clamp in and positioned to get it glued...it was easier to get everything in on opposite sides. But I honestly don't remember right off.
Once I got the bracing in, you'll see in the next pic how the wood extends a good inch or more into the pickup cavity. That was the ultimate goal here, to get the pickup bracing so that the pickup had somewhere to attach. Also, you can barely see in the second pick the holes that have been filled where the original pickup rings were attached. To fill those, I used some highly specialized dowels that seem to fit just about perfectly. These dowels are available at your local supermarket. They're just toothpicks.
Once I got the bracing in, I could go to work on getting the pups added.
Now, since I wasn't sure how this was going to work to begin with, I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on pups if I wasn't really sure I was going to be able to put them in. So, I initially hit Reverb looking for some cheap Filtertron pups. For something like this, I would usually have hit GFS because I think they are the best source for inexpensive pickups (I've actually got them in several guitars - try the Mean 90s...best P90 pup around imho), but all of their Filtertron-style pups have the regular humbucker mount. And that was what I didn't want.
So I found some pups made by a company called FrankenTone. They had an actual Filtertron looking pup for about the price of the GFS pups. So I initially bought a couple of Franken'Trons from them just so that I could see how I was going to get them into the guitar. That way, for the price of one Gretsch Filtertron (and less than a TV Jones of any variety), I could see if what I was planning was going to work. It would bug me less to lose $40 on a pup I couldn't use than it would to spend $100+ only to find out that what I was doing wasn't going to work.
So, after some careful planning and proceeding with much caution, the pups were installed. One thing that I always do when putting new pups into my guitars is to add my own type of quick connects to them. Not because I swap them out on a regular basis, but because my soldering skills totally suck monkey butt, and that way, if I burn out a pup, I don't do it every time I work on the guitar. It's more so that I only have to attach a wire to a pot once. I got the quick connects attached to the pots and to the pups and started getting everything ready to go back in the guitar.
When I started the work, I also had decided that I didn't like that the output jack was nothing more than the washer attaching the jack to the side of the guitar. It suddenly occurred to me that left a lot of room for the side of the guitar to get munched. Plugging and unplugging constantly can't be good for the guitar, and, at least in my head, it just will weaken that wood over time. So I added an output jack cover. That part was quick and easy. The biggest thing was drilling the pilot holes, but that's mostly because I'm always more than a little nervous putting new holes in my guitars.
Now I mentioned earlier that the height for the Filtertrons is adjusted by shimming the bracing. In the first pic below, you'll see what I did with that. I pulled out the ruler, and played around with the Franken'Trons and tried to figure out how high they needed to be. Then I went back to those paint stirrers, and, once again, started gluing them together until I thought they were about the right height. Then added little pieces of foam rubber until they looked right, and taped the whole concoction together.
I didn't want to glue the shim in, so they just got attached to the bracing with double-sided tape. I don't believe that they needed to be attached to never come out. I figure they just needed to be secured enough that they didn't move around. Then the pups kind of set on top of that with the ring risers and pickup rings.
Sidebar and spoiler. I've mentioned the Franken'Trons several times now. My thought was when I bought them, and is still that they are the temporary pups that I used to be sure I could make this work. I always said that I would put TV Jones Classic pups in it. Then I heard the Ray Butts pups, and decided that I wanted them instead. The Ray Butts pups are $350 a pair. I really didn't want to spend that much on pickups at the moment. The TV Jones Classics are $260 a pair. That's more than I wanted to spend on a pair of pups that I am already planning to ditch at some point before too long.
Thinking that I would still end up with the TV Jones Classics because they were less expensive than the Ray Butts, in doing some research I realized that the newer Gretsch HS Filtertrons were getting really good reviews, and I could get a pair for $144 shipped. So I put that order in a bit ago, and am waiting for them to come in. Everyone seems to have them back-ordered at the moment...seems to be a shortage of the bridge pup for them. So, as soon as the place where I ordered them gets on in, they'll be headed my way to replace the Franken'Trons that I have in there now.
Now back to where I was...bracing and shim in and pups inside the pickup rings. Next task was to put some strings back on the guitar so that I could get the pups lined up properly. Just before doing that, since I haven't done it in a while, I did a lemon oil treatment to the fretboard. Once I got done with that, I started restringing her.
Looking at the next pic, you'll see that that is not your typical Adjusto-Matic bridge as is found on a stock 5120. A couple of years ago, I swapped that out for a Tru-Arc rocking bar bridge in brass.
Now that I have pointed out the bridge, it's back to the re-string. Everyone has their favorite brand of strings. I am no exception. I'm sure that in a blind aural test I probably couldn't hear the difference, but I use Rev Willy's Mexican Lottery Brand Fine Electric Guitar Strings in 10s. To me, I believe that they pop and twang a little more than others. When I first tried them on one of my guitars, they're the first string (on an electric) that I thought actually sounded different than every other brand I had ever played.
Once the strings were on, I could line up the pups and get the polepieces centered under the strings. Then it was time to drill the ring holes and get the pups attached.
There were 3 holes that the original B60 left. I chose to only fill one of them. I had to. 2 of them would be hidden under the B6, but the third one had to be filled in order to not have a wallowed out, too big hole for the strap button. So I filled that hole, and then placed the B6 on the guitar to try to get it placed.
Here's where I made the mistake. I got everything lined up making sure that everything was centered and on the center-line, and then had trouble getting the screw holes marked through the Bigsby. I tried my usual scribe-y marker thing, and it wouldn't go all the way through the hole. Hole punch, regular sharpie, pen, screwdriver, and nail set all had the same problem. They either wouldn't fit in the hole at all or they would go in most of the way, but not enough to actually get to the guitar. I finally managed to make the marks with a pencil. Finally got them marked, and pulled out the drill.
Problem was that, when I started drilling I didn't check the marks against the center-line first, and as I was brushing the saw dust off the guitar from drilling the first 2 holes, I realized that the marks, and, thus, my screw holes, were ever so slightly off center. Maybe a millimeter. Not much at all, but enough that it wasn't centered.
Like I said, not that anyone else will ever notice, but I do. I try to do some woodworking stuff occasionally, and I don't think I have ever gotten anything perfect. So I picked up a phrase my dad uses sometimes. "It's not perfect, but it's good enough for who it's for." It still works fine, and most folks won't notice it I don't believe. And I think it looks awesome on the guitar. So I went with the it slightly off kilter, and that's the way it's going to stay.
Once I got that on, I got her re-strung again. Then came the final piece for now. I picked up a Texas pickguard form Greasy Groove and added it too. The cutouts for the pups are just a little oversized, but I'm sure that it would've fit the Gretschbuckers just fine. Got that added on, and the guitar is once more a rockin' machine!
The only thing left at this point is to replace the Franken'Trons with the Gretsch HS Filtertrons once they come in. I've talked about putting locking tuners on the guitar some day, but didn't do it this go around because they were going to take more work than I originally wanted to put in. However, after the added effort in having to get that Bigsby installed, I should've gone ahead and done it too. I guess I'll go ahead and start researching which ones I want so I can get them ordered in.
I've got a couple of project guitars. They're the ones that I have learned the most on as far as working on guitars. I never planned on this guitar being a project guitar. I guess it's still not, but I have learned more on this one than I think I have any of the others.
Check out my shop on Reverb if you might be interested in a couple of Gretschbuckers or a Bigsby B60. As of the moment, they're still looking for a new home.
I started playing when I turned 16. Since I was brought up in a pretty conservative home, that meant that I started off playing (or trying to play) hymns and Scripture songs from church and maybe the occasional Michael Card song. Now that's not bad, but that just meant that I played very little beyond big, open, cowboy chords. After a couple of years, I fell in with some friends from work that introduced me to bluegrass and country gospel. So I started playing that. Actually learned a few major scales on the neck, but still never played much beyond cowboy chords.
In one of the little bands I played in, another guitar player and I would swap off between playing some melody lines and chords. In retrospect, I can only imagine how bad we sounded, because, other than the occasional "leads" we were both playing big, open, ringing, cowboy chords. Maybe it wasn't as bad I I think it may've been. Back then though, we were having a ball.
I played in another little duo (me and a harmonica player) that played about twice a month at a weekly fellowship group. He and I also played once a month at a church that liked what we were playing. About that time, I managed to get in with a group of "real" players. And, by "real" I mean that I considered them actual musicians. They played out most every weekend somewhere, and they let me sit in with them every couple of months. Because of them, I was also introduced to a flute player who formed a trio out of herself, a violin player, and me. We put together some hymn arrangements and played at a couple of churches in our area three or four times. I was slowly learning to get away from cowboy chords, but it was a very slow process.
Then I moved. I became the worship-leaderish-person-by-default for my singles group at church because I played the guitar. So I was playing once a week at a minimum for that. Then I got a job that, for all intents and purposes, kept me from playing for probably 5 or 6 years.
Moved again, and started going to a local BBQ restaurant. it was at this restaurant that I first heard some music that just reached out and grabbed me. The buddies that I used to go with would sometimes laugh at me because I didn't really care about the BBQ (it was good - don't get me wrong), the whole time we were there I was keyed in on the music being played coming out the speakers above our heads. And then, when we left, we would head to the Borders not too far up the street, and I would search the cd section trying to find what I could remember hearing while we ate.
The blues had reached down and grabbed me. BB King, Stevie Ray, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Howlin' Wolf... What was this music and why had I never heard it before?? So I decided I needed to learn this music.
Over the next few years, I half-heartedly tried to learn on my own. This wasn't pre-internet days, but it was back when video was just beginning to get a useful foothold and social media was limited to your personal blog and maybe a forum or two. No one had heard of Tom from MySpace yet, and Facebook was still several years away. You could order stuff online, but it was still a hardcopy that was sent to you in the mail...digital content wasn't nearly what it is today.
So I picked up the occasional lesson book from the local Guitar Center or Amazon and tried to learn from them. For the most part, unsuccessfully. I managed to learn the pentatonic scales, but couldn't figure out what to do with them. Sometimes I can take a concept and run with it. For some reason, this time, I'd be given the concept, but then couldn't translate it into something useful.
Fast forward a few years, and let youtube gain its foothold into all things instructional, and at the very end of 2009 while I was between having been laid off and the start date at my new job, I discovered Griff Hamlin and his 4 note solo video. It looked like a simple way to take some of what I had managed to teach myself and turn it from something scale-y into something musical. So I signed up for his emails. After receiving a few of them and actually being able to put what he was talking about into practice, I ordered his course, Blues Guitar Unleashed.
Back then, he only had 2 courses. A beginner course, and BGU. Since I had already been playing for a long time, I started with BGU, and it has set me on the blues path I've been traveling for several years now. At this point, I consider Griff to be my teacher even though he and I have only ever actually spoken on a couple of occasions. He now has a LOT more than just the 2 courses, and each one that I have picked up, I have learned a ton from. His teaching style is simple and understandable. If you purchase his courses, he invites you to join a forum that he works hard to be sure is a welcoming place full of friendly guys and gals where you can get answers to your questions (not like a LOT of internet guitar forums where, if you ask a question, everyone that knows the answer makes you feel stupid for asking since everyone else already knows the answer). He is also active on his forum and interacts with a lot of the discussions that are there.
Because of Griff and his courses, I have progressed beyond cowboy chords and being a pretty one-trick-pony-player to being a confident guitar player that knows I have a whole heck of a lot to learn but knows enough to have a good time in almost any situation. I'm now like a two-trick-pony-player. :-)
Griff has since updated his 4 Note Solo and his flagship Blues Guitar Unleashed course, and, like I said, he's gone from just 2 courses to having an entire catalog. But if you're looking for a good, solid course of instruction, I can't recommend him any more highly. If you're that struggling player that needs a shot in the arm to get your playing jump started, take a look at his material. He's probably got something you'd find useful.
I may do a more in-depth review of his BGU V2 course later on.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.