It's no secret that I like Epiphone guitars. I also like Gibsons. And Fenders. And a good Gretsch. Gosh, I just really like guitars. I also like modding and even fixing them sometimes.
That said, if I were to pick my top 5 guitars from my woodpile, they would probably be these, and in this order.
Four of those guitars have been modded in some way. The Strat is the only one that is bone stock. I kept saying I was going to swap out the pickups in it, but every time I decide it's time to do so, I pick it up and play it, and like the way it sounds. So it has managed to remain untouched. I guess I did add a couple of springs to it to deck the trem, but I'm not sure that completely counts.
The Gibson ES-339 is mostly un-modded. The only thing I've done to it is to swap out the bridge. I didn't like the bridge that came was on it when I bought it. I'm not completely sure it was the original bridge either. So I bought one and swapped it out. It came with 57 Classics in it, and that's how I'm leaving it.
The Epiphone 339 has had the pickups swapped out and two of the knobs have been swapped. The original shipment of those that Epiphone sold were advertised to come with their Probucker pickups. When I ordered mine, and even when it came in, they were still advertising those as the pickups. However, when I got mine in and checked it, it had the Alnico Classic pickups. I found out that, after that first batch that came over, they had swapped the pickups in all the 339s, but they hadn't updated their ads or specs on the website. I was disappointed, but the ones in it didn't sound bad. Still, I always wondered what the Probuckers would sound like in it. A year ago, I ended up with an extra set of Probuckers, so I finally got to hear what the 339 sounded like with them in it.
The Epi LP originally came with Probuckers in it. A Probucker 1 in the neck and 2 in the bridge. I really liked them. In truth, I saw no reason to change them out. Played it for a year and a half or so with those in it. Then one day I got a wild hair and decided to grab a pair of Burstbuckers (a 1 and a 2) and drip them in to see what they sounded like. Honestly, I liked the Probucker 1 better that the Burstbucker in the neck, but the Burstbucker 2 sounds better than the Probucker 2 in the bridge. Because I'm lazy and didn't want to mess with it again, the Burstbuckers have stayed in the LP.
Those Probuckers out of the LP were what went into the 339.
The Epiphone 335 came with the Alnico Classic pickups. I was quite happy with those. They sounded as good as the 57 Classics that were in the Gibson 335 that I had traded off a couple years previous. I had no plans to replace them. I played it for a year with it being bone stock. Then, back in December, I unplugged my cable from it, and the jack fell back into the guitar. Then, while I was trying to fish the jack out and back into the hole, I screwed up one of the pots. So, since I didn't feel like I had the time to I decided to carry it into the my local luthier. And, since I was carrying it in for electronics work, I started making a list of what I wanted him to do to it. Basically, put in another jack and replace the push/pull pots in it. Since I was doing that, I decided to pick up a couple of 57 Classics to put in it. When I dropped it off to the luthier, I have him do all of that at the same time. Got it back, and have been super happy with the sound of it.
You'll notice that, by and large, it's the pickups that have been swapped. I know that there are a LOT of different pickups out there, and a LOT of those pickups sound really good. You may notice that all of the pickups that I have talked about are Gibson branded in some way. That's mostly because I know what they sound like because I've played them at some point in time. So I've stuck with them. I know that Lollar Imperials are supposed to be super good. I've also been told that the Bare Knuckle brand is super good.
By my own admission, with the humbuckers I've always picked, I have always seemed to chase that PAF sound. In the Gibson stable, the 57 Classics and the Burstbuckers are both supposed to get that sound. Of the Burstbuckers, the Burstbucker 1 and 2 would be closer to that vintage 50s LP kind of sound. In the Epiphone world, it has been my understanding that the Alnico Classics are the Epi version of the 57 Classics and the Probuckers are the Epi version of Burstbuckers. I once read that, from a PAF perspective, the Burst/Probucker 1 & 2 combination would be that 50s sound. The Burst/Probucker 2 & 3 combination would be that 60s sound. And the 57/Alnico Classic combination would be that 70s sound.
So, except for the Epiphone ES-339, all of the pickups were just swapped from the Epiphone version to the Gibson version. In that 339, I just swapped from one Epiphone version to another Epiphone version. In the case of the ones being swapped from the Epi version to the Gibson version, the Gibson pickups do sound better. The Epiphone ones sound good. They're not bad. I could absolutely play them and be happy. But, since I swapped them out, I'll say that the Gibsons seem to have the edge when it comes to clarity and range. I think there's a reason that they cost twice as much, and isn't just the name on the box they came in.
Maybe some day I'll try some other pickups like the Lollars I mentioned. I hear the low-wind Imperials are just the best. In fact, I've got a buddy that said that's what he has in his 335, and his guitar sounds amazing. Course his overall tone is a step above mine too.
All that to say, if you don't like the sound of the guitar, try some new pickups. Heck. Even if you like the sound, try some new ones and see if you like them better. Or leave them the same. At least for me, half the fun is in the tinkering.
I bought that ES-339 back in April (I think), and it's about all I've played since then. I kept a 335 out hanging on the wall for a bit that I would pick up occasionally. About a month ago, I put the 335 up and pulled out a Telecaster, and it's the guitar that I've picked up about once a week when I wasn't playing the 339. I've been reminded how much I like some single coil pickups.
Now the Telecaster has always had a couple of issues. I bought it a little over a year ago. Back in the great gear purge of 2020, I traded a 50s Road Worn Tele because I never played it. Like never. It was one of the original Road Worns. Or at least one of the first couple of years they were making those (I think). It wasn't a color that I really liked (blonde), but the neck on it was the best strat/tele neck that I had ever touched. It was for that reason I bought it. And pretty quickly realized I wasn't a Tele kind of guy. When I traded it, I think it had sat in the closet pretty much untouched for at least the 3 years we had lived in this house.
Then I started seeing that purple Tele from Anderton's over in the UK, and really liked the look of it. Like really liked the purple look of it. Then I saw that GC was selling a Road Worn version of it. It had been out a year or two, and I could already see that they were becoming more scarce. So, when I saw Musicians Friend put them on sale in the summer of 2021, I pulled the trigger and am pretty sure that I got one of the last new ones. When I ordered it, MF had them on sale, but they were listed on both the MF and GC website. I ordered mine, got the ship notification, and the next day the listing on both sites showed them as no longer available.
So back to the couple of issues. Had I played this one at the local GC (I ordered it from MF, but it came from a GC across the country), I probably would've passed on it. It had hung on the wall long enough that the hanger had burned the neck up by the nut. The neck didn't feel anywhere near as good as the one on the previous Road Worn, and the skunk stripe wasn't sanded real smooth. But the biggest thing is that the fret ends were terrible. I don't think it had a case of fret sprout. I think it was that whoever cut the frets just did a bad job or maybe had a dull set of cutters. But, I figured that everybody needed a Tele, I had traded away one that wasn't bad for one that wasn't as good, but I really like the purple, so I ought to keep it since it doesn't look like I can get another one for the price I paid. So I kept it and figured I'd do something about the frets at some point.
That was the long way around the bush to say that, after playing it a few times this month, I finally pulled out my tools to try and smooth out the fret ends. And, since i had my stuff out and was taking up all the space on the kitchen island, I pulled out a couple of Strats since I haven't one of them out in at least a year.
After I got them out and cleaned them up and changed the strings, I decided that I was going to do something I had never done before. I decided to A/B them for a few minutes. Not that it really matters, but they're both MIA, but one cost twice what the other cost. They're both great guitars! The fit and finish on them both has always been outstanding. Even never having played them back to back like this (I always seemed to have one or the other out, but never both at the same time) I knew that I liked the way one felt and played better than the other. So it was time to check out if I still thought the same thing about them.
One is a Highway One. Mrs Snarf bought it for me at the beginning of 2010. It's the one that I've always preferred the feel of. It just sits in the hands right and the action is pretty much just like I like it. It sounds like a Strat should. It's a bone stock 2009 model. Although I've talked about it for years. I've never changed anything on it but the strings.
The other is a Fender American Design Experience from 2013. It is from before they put that option online. When I got mine you had to go to the factory, and, in that little room off to the side of the gift shop, you would pick out your body, neck, and all the rest of the specs that you wanted that they had available. Unlike what they started doing when they started doing it online, you had your choice of what was in the room at the time. If they didn't have it in the room, you couldn't choose it. The day I spec-ed mine out, there were maybe 20 Strat bodies and maybe 10 necks.
There are several differences in the ADE and the Hwy One, but one of the biggest is that it has Custom Shop '69 pickups in it. Those weren't actually on the list to choose from (although other CS pickups were), but when I asked about them, the builder that was in the room that day noted that's what I wanted and said those were in short supply at the time so they took them off the list, but he'd be sure mine got them. With that, he put all the components from around the room that I had picked out into a box, put my name on it, and set on the side of the room with a couple of other boxes with names on them. About 2 months later, the guitar showed up on my doorstep. The cost of it was somewhere between an American Standard and an American Deluxe, and is probably the closest thing I'll ever had to buying a Fender Custom Shop.
That was another bush to take you around, so back to playing them back to back.
Spent about 30 minutes just playing the same riffs and licks and chords through the same amp set the exact same way. I was actually a little surprised at the results.
I didn't expect that I would so quickly be reminded that I really prefer the feel of the Hwy One. It still just feels right to me. Something about it that I'm not sure I can describe. Theoretically, the two guitars should be really similar feeling since I set them up myself and aim for the same thing on every Strat and Tele I have. I follow the same process, and I try to get them all to feel the same way. Maybe it's the cut of the neck or something. I don't really know. But that Hwy One just feels better than the ADE. If I was just going off sound, I would go with the Hwy One every day.
I think the sound of the two was what really surprised me though. There is no question that the Hwy One sounds like a Strat. It very much does. But I think I made the comment when I first started playing the ADE that I finally understood what they meant when they said a good Strat sounds glassy. Those ADE pickups just sound sooooo good to my ear. The Hwy One has its own unique Strat sound, but the ADE sounds like a Strat should sound. The Hwy One plays better than the ADE, but, when I try to be objective, I think the ADE almost runs circles around the Hwy One when it comes to sound.
So, after working on the Tele last night and getting those fret ends down so they don't cut you, I've almost decided to put the Tele back in the closet and leave out one of the Strats instead. The question now is which one. It'll probably be the ADE since it sounds so nice.
The Strat that has been my main go-to for nearly 10 years is my Hwy 1 Strat in 3-color burst. You know how you always seem to grab the same guitar or two in the end? This is one of those for me.
I got it back in 2010. Prior to that time, I had played primarily acoustic, and didn't play it all that well (I only had 1 electric at that time). I was really good at cowboy chords, and could play some bluegrass-y, sort of country-ish leads, but that was it. I had decided a couple of years before that I wanted to learn to play the blues. I had picked up a couple of book/cd combos, and worked my way through them, but was having trouble finding my way outside of their canned solos for some reason.
The end of 2009, I found myself laid off from work. While I was sitting at the house looking for work one day, I came across an internet teacher that seemed pretty good. So I bought his course (more on this in another post later). He was actually making sense to me, and I was progressing through his coursework. I had decided that, once I finished the course, I was going to reward myself for sticking with it and buy myself a nice Stratocaster. It was several months later, and I was about half way through the course (and actually back to work by this time), and had already showed Mrs Snarf the guitar I had picked out. She walked in from work one day, nice little bonus in hand, and announced to me that I needed to go ahead and order the guitar that I had picked out. So I did.
Since then, no matter what other guitars I may pick up for a while, they always end up back in the closet, and the Hwy 1 stays out on the stand. I've talked off and on about upgrading her a bit, swapping the pups for a good set of Zexcoils or putting some locking tuners on her. Somehow, though, she always makes me happy just like she is, and has remained bone stock. And, yes, she's a her, and her name is Cali because she's the first MIA Strat I got.
When I got her, she was the entry level MIA Strat Fender made. Rumor has it that she's half MIM, but, I actually asked someone at Fender once, and they assured me that she was made in the factory in Corona. Not that it matters...I'm of the opinion that if it plays easily and sounds good, it can be made where ever it came from and I'll be happy with it. Regardless, just like any guitar, after I got her, I gave her a good setup, and she played as well as any guitar I have picked up.
As a Hwy One, it has the Greasebucket tone control. I can't say that I'm unhappy with it. According what Fender used to advertise, it rolls off the highs without adding any lows. Ummmm...a tone control pot can't add any lows. It reduces the highs which accentuates the lows. But it doesn't add them. To my ear, it just cuts some of the lows with the highs. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It sounds good to me. I have heard of people that got Hwy Ones and immediately changed that circuit. I'm not sure why.
The pups are a bit hotter than any other Strat that I've got. Again, not a bad thing. It just gives it a different voice. And a nice one at that. In one of my other Strats, I've got a set of CS 69s dropped in that I really like. I never really understood "that glassy Strat sound" until I heard those. The pups in the Hwy One aren't super glassy. Don't get me wrong; they still sound like a Strat, but they've actually got more growl and drive a lot quicker than the 69s. Iv'e also been told that I'm a but odd because I seldom use the neck pickup which some of my buddies tell me is the only way that God intended a Strat to be played. I prefer a bit more of that Robert Cray-ish treble, and almost always have it in position 2 for that bridge/middle sound. That's the one that makes me happy. I've also got it set with 5 springs to keep the bridge flush on the body.
It's nothing short of a great guitar, and a total player. Mine has more bumps and bruises on it than my other electrics, but that's because it's the one that I play more than any single other electric. When I got this one it was because I wanted a MIA Strat, and this was the cheapest on the block by about $350. In retrospect, imho, these guitars were total sleepers. Or maybe I just got an outstanding example of one.
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 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.