I bought my Epiphone 339 back when they first released them in 2011. I missed that first run that delivered in the fall of 2011, so the one that I got was made in that second run. That means that I had to wait 4 or 5 months to get mine. I ordered it in November, and got it the end of March or first of April. One change that they made between the first run and the second that I didn't see them announce anywhere was that the original 339s shipped with their Probucker pickups and the second run shipped with their Alnico Classic Pro pickups. I had actually been looking forward to getting to try the Probuckers out, but the Alnico Classics sound good to my ear, so whatever.
Never gave it a whole lot of thought after that. Like I said, I wasn't unhappy with the pickups it came with. I had always heard that the Alnico Classics were Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics and the Probuckers were Epi's version of Gibson's Burstbuckers. I had put a pair of Burstbuckers in an old Les Paul I had, and I really liked them. Never really bonded with the guitar, but I thought the pickups sounded good. I had a Gibson 335 for a while that had 57 Classics and I really liked them too.
In my head, I always said I preferred the 57 Classics. I'm not really sure why. Honestly, I think I liked them better because that's what it seemed that most Gibsons I liked were getting when I started paying attention to that brand, and they were advertising them as being "like PAFs." In the last few years, I've realized that they now seem to be putting Burstbuckers, 490s, MHS, and another pickup or two in guitars as much as they are the 57s. When I saw that, I realized that several of those are also said to be "like PAFs." Now, I must confess, I'm not really sure what a PAF sounds like, but being a good gear hound and sometimes cork-sniffer, I know that PAFs are the sound that everyone thinks they should have. So, if it sounds like a PAF, that's the next best thing to actually having a PAF, right?
Now I'm just confused. All these PAF-like sounding pickups, and they all seem to sound a little different to my ear. What's the real PAF sound? No clue. At that point, I realized I had been sniffing a cork or two, and figured, I wasn't unhappy with the way that 339 played or sounded. As well, from a similarity standpoint, I had the real 57 Classics in that 335, and, to my ear, they didn't really sound all that different from those Alnico Classics. If I really sat and listened to them, I thought Epi version may not have been quite as clear and articulate on the low end, and they may not have been quite as harmonically rich when driven, but they sounded good. Just playing at church on Sunday or at the local blues jam, and nobody was going to hear a difference in the two. So there was no reason to change the Epi pickups.
Then last fall, I picked up that Epi LP Standard 50s (or whatever it's called). I immediately bonded with that guitar. Loved the neck! Loved the sound! And did I mention the neck? I had been playing that 339 predominately for nearly 18 months when I got that LP, and the 339 suddenly found itself relegated to hanging on the wall. One of the things I really liked about that LP were the pickups in it. They seemed super clear and articulate, and sounded good clean or driven. Maybe it was the guitars. Maybe it was the pickups. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, it had the Probuckers in it, so I was once again questioning what the 339 would sound like with Probuckers instead of the Alnico Classics.
So I started looking for a set of them. You could get them direct from Epiphone, but they were (1) $150 a set, and (2) out of stock. So Reverb was my option since I don't like eBay. Someone from Thailand was selling them starting at $50 a set with a wiring harness. That's a good deal, right? Seemed super sketch to me, so I passed on them. I'd see others showing up here and there, but they were running about $50 a piece (or more). I found a pair that someone pulled out of a new Epiphone where they were asking $70 for the pair. I messaged them for pics of the back of the pickups, and, when he sent them, it turned out they were actually the Alnico Classics like I already had. I let him know what he actually had, and that I'd pass since they weren't the ones I wanted. His ad hasn't changed. So be careful if you come across that ad; they're not actually Probuckers.
The next afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a set of Probuckers for a super price. Looking at the ad, the pics all looked right, so I was convinced they were real. According to the ad, the seller had just pulled them out of a new Epi LP Modern that they had gotten. Pics looked right, and the story sounded legit. Looked at the price again, and three other folks had already made offers on them and someone had them in their cart. So, since the price was really good without asking for a deal, I pulled the trigger. I will say that they are the Probucker 2 and 3 pickups where my LP has the Probucker 1 and 2.
Finally got them swapped out, and the Alnico Classics are now sitting beside me on the desk. What's the verdict on the 339 now that it has the Probuckers in it? I like them better! I think they have a clearer low end. I'm not sure the difference in the Probucker 1 in the LP neck and the Probucker 2 that is in the LP bridge and the 339 neck, but I still like the Probucker 1 best of all. To my ear it really sounds good. Either way, again, to my ear, the Probuckers have a clearer low end and are just a bit more articulate than the Alnico Classics. They also seem to be a little bit smoother and not quite as harsh when driven. When turned up, they also don't sound as hot to me. The Probucker 1 is easily my favorite, but the 2 and 3 I also like better than the Classics. Granted, in a blindfolded side by side, the only one I think I could pick out of the mix would be the 1. That is, if I could pick it out of a crowd. But trying to be objective sitting in my quiet little music room, I believe that I hear a difference in the two types of pickups.
So, I have to say that I think the Probuckers are great pickups. They're half the price of the Gibson Burstbuckers, and, to my ear, they're not that different. Granted, I haven't A/Bed them at this point, but from what I remember of that pair I had, they're pretty close. Given the chance, if I had another Epi with those quick connect ends, if it didn't have the Probuckers in it, I'd see about finding another pair. I'm not sure that all the hype around the Probuckers isn't at least a little marketing, but, I think, they're well worth the money. Like I already said, they're not the Gibson (or Duncan or Lollars), but they're close enough that nobody but us gear hounds are going to hear the difference. Bang for your buck, especially if you get them used, I don't know that you're going to get anything better.
So I've got my ES-335, my Sheraton, and my ES-339.
My Gibson ES-335 is a 2016 Studio version. As I recall, it has a few differences from the regular ES-335 model, but, overall, it's still the same guitar. It has the 4-knob arrangement (unlike the Studio version from a couple of years earlier), and it has 57 Classic pups in it. I think the bridge used was a different bridge from the regular version. I also think that the neck is a torrefied neck. I think there were a couple of other minor differences, but those two are the most significant changes in the Studio and regular versions.
The Sheraton is a 1962 50th Anniversary model. It's biggest differences between it and an actual 335 are that it uses Gibson mini-buckers instead of full size ones and it has a Frequensator tailpiece (closer to a trapeze) instead of using a stop piece tailpiece. It has CTS pots and switches, and it has GIbson cloth wiring inside. Those are also differences between it and the regular Sheratons of the time that it was built. For the purpose of comparison, when I bought the Sheraton nearly 10 years ago, it cost approximately 50% more than a regular line Sheraton and half the price of an ES-335 (which is the model I would've gotten).
My Epiphone ES-339 is from the second run that they produced. The first run was during the summer or fall of 2011. I had been looking at and toying with the idea of buying a Gibson ES-339 for a while when they announced that Epi would be producing that model as well. I got my order in late enough that I missed that first run and had to wait on the second. The only difference in the two that I recall is that the first run had Epi's ProBucker pups in it (their equivalent to Gibby's BusrtBuckers) and the second run had the Alnico Pro pups in it (their equivalent to the 57 Classics).
Although, mine have some pretty significant differences in them, the 335 and Sheraton are very similar guitars in theory. However, I believe that the Sheraton was an Epiphone creation and not a Gibson copy originally, but it's a little more ornate than the basic 335; it's closer to an ES-355. I actually like my Sheraton better than my ES-335, and, moving forward, I'm going to talk about them as if they were the same unless specified otherwise. Also, I'm not covering the differences in Gibson vs Epiphone. This is 335 vs 339.
The 335 guitars are bigger bodied. I'm too lazy to look up the actual dimensions, but they're huge guitars. They're big enough that I know at least a couple of folks that won't play them because they're "just too big." They're also pretty heavy. I attribute the weight to the fact that they're so big. Although I've always said that the 339 is the same size as a Les Paul, I've read (and seen when they're side by side) that they're not quite the same size. But they're close. See the pics at the bottom for a comparison. It's not a huge difference, but that little bit makes a pretty big difference in weight and comfort when playing.
If it makes a difference to anyone, the 335 has the jack on the face of the guitar where the 339 has it on the hip like a Les Paul. I don't usually think about where the jack is, but every time I pull out the 335 and plug it in, I'm afraid I'm going to hit the plug and crack the face of the guitar or break the jack. I've never done that and probably never will, but it's always in the back of my mind.
From a parts standpoint, they're not really that different of guitars (and I'm not talking about the the Gibson vs Epi difference, this is the 335 vs 339 difference). They both have the same control setup. Both have 2 vol/2 tone setups with the pup selector down by the knobs. They both have a stop tail bridge. They both have humbuckers for pups. There's the jack location, but, other than that, they're similar.
Tones from both are very nice. They both have that nice semi-hollow sound. The longer I play, the more I really like that airy sound that you get from a semi-hollow like a 335 or 339. The difference is that the 339 can get into those Les Paul-ish kind of darker sounds that a 335 can't do. I imagine that's because the wings of the 339 are smaller so it's as close to a solid body as it is to a semi-hollow. The 335 is the standard for a semi-hollow, in my opinion, the semi by which all others are measured. The 339 does an adequate job in that semi-hollow arena, but it also can get into the LP territory. The 339 is a good balance between the two.
Once I understood that what I was hearing was a semi-hollow sound, I've liked the 335 and played one at least as often as I played my Strats. I've always wanted to like a good Les Paul, but have just never bonded with one. Since I started to migrate from primarily playing an acoustic to playing an electric, I have always been drawn to my Strats. However, about a year ago, I pulled my 339 out of the closet, set it up really well, and have been playing it almost exclusively since then. It's just a great guitar that covers a lot of area.
The 335 vs the 339. Both are great guitars that are very similar. If you like the humbucker sound, give them a shot.
And, yes, I've ripped those from the interwebs at some point. Don't remember where so I can't give credit like I should.
...for several months now.
Here's something I posted on my favorite guitar forum back in January. Realized I had never posted it here, so figured I'd do that today, along with some of my updated thoughts on it.
Used the last of my Reverb credit over the holidays, and ordered a pedal I had been eyeing since the summer...the Danelectro The Breakdown. It's supposed to be their take on the Univox UD50 only without the treadle part of the pedal. I've had it since the weekend and been playing around with it. Here're my initial thoughts on it.
I really like the 2-knob simplicity of it. Volume and Break-up. Volume is just that, volume. The Break-up is the gain knob except that, rather than being a rheostat kind of knob that smoothly transitions around the dial, it has 6 clickable spots. The first one doesn't do a whole lot to my ear. Settings 2 and 3 I've read would work as the always-on settings. Settings 4-6 can get pretty gnarly.
Jumping back to the Volume knob real quick, one of the things that I like about it is that it doesn't seem to have much affect on the gain. On some pedals I've used, if you want to retain the drive/fuzz when you turn the volume down, you have to turn the gain up. On this pedal, volume is just volume. It doesn't seem to do anything to the gain. So, if you have the right amount of fuzz clicked in at 3 and then turn the pedal down, the volume will drop accordingly, but the gain doesn't change; the fuzz remains.
I really like the 3 and 6 settings. I don't ever see this as being an always-on pedal even on the lower settings. Maybe I would if I was big into garage rock, but it doesn't really fit that bill for blues. I like 3 because it gives that loose, starting to fuzz sound on the low end, but doesn't really do a whole lot on the higher strings. 3 is almost perfect if you're wanting to play some fuzzy power chords. Starts getting pretty fuzzy on the low end, but the highs only get a little crackle. At 5, and especially 6, it gets that full on Hendrix Purple Haze fuzz.
They've been advertising this as an overdrive pedal (they released a fuzz pedal in conjunction with it called the Eisenhower), but to my ear it's more of a fuzz pedal without the octave. I make the distinction because, to my ear, OD is usually pretty tight, and fuzz can get kind of loose and floppy. This one leans much more to the floppy side.
Overall impression so far: I like the simplicity of it. I like that the volume doesn't seem to affect the gain at all; it just makes it louder or quieter. I like that the gain settings are clickable. For instance, I know I like the 3 setting. If the pedal gets changed, I don't have to try to find that perfect spot on the dial anymore. I just click back to 3 and voila. Easy peasy lemon lawn chairs.
Definitely not going to be a pedal for everybody I don't think. I ordered it thinking it would be another OD pedal (since that's how it was advertised), and was pleasantly surprised when I started playing it and thought it sounded more like a fuzz since I've recently been looking to buy another fuzz pedal. To my ear, it can do the Hendrix thing pretty well on 5 and 6. On the higher settings, I could also hear it being used for that garage rock, Detroit Cobras, Black Keys kind of thing.
As always, my ears aren't yours so you may hear something completely different than I do with this pedal. YMM-definitely-V.
After having had it and using it for the last few months, here are my more recent thoughts on it.
I'm still convinced it's closer to a fuzz sound than an overdrive. The lower settings (1-3) are a bit OD-ish, but the higher settings (4-6) get really fuzzy.
I still, very much, like the fact that the volume will affect the volume and not the level of fuzz. I'm not sure that I've got another pedal that does this quite as noticeably. You get the amount of drive/fuzz that you want, and you just tweak the volume button to turn it up or down. No need to adjust the volume knob and then find that perfect level on the gain side again. It's also a very responsive pedal. You dig in, and it digs in. You lay back a bit, and it lays back with you.
I still like the 6-click knob. You can't get anything between the clicks if you want it, but the simplicity of finding the the right amount of fuzziness really appeals to me. There's no wide range from which to choose. 6 options. You either find one that you want or you don't. And you you do so quickly.
Since I'm mostly a bedroom player, I generally run a couple of ODs on my board. I keep a klone of some sort on it as a clean boost kind of pedal that's almost always on, and then a TS of some sort for that extra push to make it stand out during a solo. I had initially envisioned this Danelectro pedal as one that would be a different type of boost pedal to run as an always on kind of thing. The more I play it, this is not that pedal. This is a pedal that has a great sound and would work as a good boost or drive, but isn't one that I'm going to leave on all the time.
As much as I like a couple of the settings on it, it's not a pedal that is going to be on my board and stay there all the time. It definitely has it's place, and is one that, honestly, is still giving me some inspiration and being used regularly, but it's also one that I pull out for a week or so to get a particular fuzziness to my tone, but then goes back on the shelf for a week or two. I think, when I've used it, it's almost exclusively been on either click 3 or click 6.
All in all, I think it's a great pedal. I've enjoyed playing with it enough that I really want to try out Danelectro's new 3699 Fuzz. If that one's as good as The Breakdown, it'll be a great pedal for the cash.
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.
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 don't use my pedal board as often as I could these days. Truth is that I often find myself just running straight into the amp I'm using. That means that sometimes I get a pretty clean tone, especially at the house, because you can't really turn up loud enough to get good overdrive on some amps. However, I do use it occasionally. Used it last weekend in fact. Ran my guitar through the board and then straight to my mixer to do some recording.
Now the board itself is pretty small. I saw some of those ads for the Holeyboards that Chemistry Design Werks makes, and really liked them. So, being the cheap dude that I can be sometimes, I headed down to the local Home Depot and picked up a couple of 2'x4'x3/4" boards. The first board I made was about 18"x36". Painted it surf green, and then loaded it down with pedals. That one lasted until the first time I moved it. That's when I realized that it was just too big and unwieldy. That's when I made the next one. Didn't paint it or anything, it's just a piece of raw wood. This second one is about 10"x15" and seems to be about the perfect size for what I need. Like the Holeyboards, I've got it drilled up so that the pedals attach with zip ties. Unlike the Holeyboards, I don't have room for a power supply on it so I use a TrueTone One Spot with it.
I actually had disassembled it for about 6 months, but recently put a board back together for what I wanted. Here's the path. Guitar > TU2 tuner > Wampler Tumnus > TS9 TubeScreamer > GarageTone Axle Grease Delay > Danelectro Big Spender Spinning Speaker > Mooer Acoustikar > whatever amp I happen to be using. Now here's why.
I've got the TU2 tuner for a couple of reasons. First, everyone seems to be using a Snark or some other clip on tuner. I do too. But, when you're playing out, sometimes the clip-on is a bit awkward, and, the tuner, when turned on, will immediately silence the guitar. Who hasn't been in a situation when you wanted to be able to do that for some reason. In my head, between the guitar volume and the pedal, that solves that problem. Plus, it tunes accurately and is bright enough that you can see it in most cases.
From there, signal goes to the the Tumnus. It's pretty much an always-on pedal. I use it as that magical boost. In my head, it just makes whatever amp I'm using sound a bit better as it hits it a little harder and adds a bit of sparkle (how's that for a one of those meaningless guitar player adjectives). Like I said, it's almost always on. At the moment, it's the Tumnus because I'm a huge Chronicles of Narnia fan, but it just as often is my Soul Food. To my ear, using them as just a boost, they do about the same thing.
From there, it's into the Tube Screamer. I use a TS9 just because it was the least expensive Tube Screamer that the store had when I bought. I kind of like the Tube Screamer sound...mid boost and all. I use it to get a little overdrive when I'm not quite getting as much as I want. It doesn't really add a lot of drive. It mostly just pushes the amp a bit more.
From that, it goes to the Axle Grease delay. These were made by Virtual Sound (now Truetone) several years ago. The GarageTone pedals were budget-priced and great pedals for the money. For a simple delay (I have it set for just a touch of slapback), this pedal is the best bang for the buck (imho). I wish they hadn't discontinued this line.
Then to the Danelectro Spinning Speaker. It's supposed to do the Leslie thing. Mrs Snarf got it for me for Christmas, and it's been a ton of fun. It replaced the tremolo pedal I had been using. This is another one of those pedals that, bang for the buck, you just have to try. It's a great little pedal.
From there, to the Mooer Acoustikar. This pedal does a good job of simulating an acoustic. I've got it set on the piezo setting rather than the unplugged acoustic sound just because, in a worship setting especially, you're always plugged in using the piezo. Got this one used off of Reverb, and, for what I paid, it does the job well.
Now there are a whole bunch of other pedals in the closet, but these are the ones that currently make me happy. The others will eventually get rotated out I'm sure. Just not at the moment. Maybe I'll do a more thorough review of the pedals later.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. If Coca Cola was alcohol, he'd be a raging alcoholic. He dislikes going to the grocery store. And he still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 2 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.