Archive for February, 2011

“Repro” Studs and Stops: How Can You Tell?

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

The are DMC stops. These are scary good repros. Not cheap either but, in keeping with the Japanese' uncanny knack for knockoffs, these are astounding.

Here's the Montreux "Time Machine" Stop. A good repro but you can definitely tell them apart from underneath.

Call them repro, call them replica, call them replacement or call them fake-which is, of course, what they are. They look nearly the same and, in some cases, exactly the same. They work the same and nobody will know. The plastic parts business for Les Pauls has become a cottage industry. Fortunately, most of us aren’tspending huge amounts of money of Les Pauls, so this problem doesn’t cause us to lose any sleep. The parts that are making me very nervous are metal. Stop tails and studs are the main concern but also pickup covers, pickguard brackets, screws and saddles. Tuners aren’t much of an issue, although there are real Klusons that are relic’d and even have the shrunken keys. How do you tell the difference between real and fake?  The truth is that sometimes you can’t. I’ve gotten so that I consider every single part on every guitar I buy and sell to be suspect. This is why I like original owner guitars. In most cases, if I am looking at a guitar that has changed hands many times, the owner doesn’t have a clue what’s real and what isn’t. Fortunately, the really good fakes are fairly recent, so if an owner has had the guitar for a few years (and isn’t a liar) then I can be relatively certain about the components. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard…”the original owner told me it was a 65 and all original…” while I’m looking at a 68 with half of its parts changed. The first thing I look at when I go to see a guitar is consistency. Is the wear pattern reasonable for the year of the guitar and the overall condition. If the gold is gone from the tuners on a 345 but not the pickups, then there is suspicion. If the reverse is true, then it’s probably legit. The backs of the tuners see a lot less action than the pickup covers. On a nickel guitar, it’s tougher. You can look at how much shine or tarnish is there and make an educated leap based on the overall condition of the guitar. If the guitar appears close to mint but all of the parts are worn, you have to scratch your head and wonder. I look at the case. If the case is close to mint and the finish is too and the parts are worn, I might consider it legit. I’ve seen plenty of owners who play their guitars to death but take unbelievably good care of them. That red 59 ES 345 was played every day for more than 25 years but looked almost new. In any case, it should all make sense. When everything looks right, then it’s time to start taking things apart. Recently, I bought a set of stop tail studs from one of the big players in the fake market, DMC (Dead Mint Club). They were aged nickel plated steel of the correct vintage length. When I got them, I compared them to the real ones I had on my 61. Almost dead on. The only give away was the very slightest roundness from the top of the stud to the side. there should be a hard edge. And since studs have no markings -like a bridge would-it’s hard to tell for sure. In fact, it’s impossible. So, I go back to the guitar’s story. Does it make sense that the studs were replaced? Did it have a Bigsby at one point? That’s a pretty good indicator that they might be fake since they usually get lost. I picked up a stop tail from another manufacturer, Montreux Time Machine. These were very close but not dead on. The tooling on the back was ever so slightly different. The one from DMC was nearly dead on. There is some variation in the tooling marks on Gibson’s, so who’s to say that the DMC one you’re staring at isn’t correct? What to do? Go back and reread this post. Buying from a reputable dealer can be a start. I try to buy instruments that have had only one owner and are complete. I pay a premium sometimes but I know what I’m getting. The closer to mint a guitar is, the more comfortable I am that nothings been replaced. Also, the less the seller knows about guitars, the more I believe him. Most of these sellers wouldn’t even know that such good parts are available or even worth the money (“Hey, I’ll spend an extra $125 in case the buyer doesn’t think this Gibson Historic stop tail looks authentic enough…”) I think not.  Fake plastic is another story all together.

Here are the studs on my 61 dot neck.

DMC Vintage Aged. These are awfully close.

Ebay ES of the Week: Call Me Al

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Al Caiola Deluxe. The most switches on a guitar until Bernie Rico showed up.

Same number of switches but with P90s. Who swiped the f-holes? This was before they had ergonomics, I guess. Let's see you turn off one Varitone switch, turn on another and change pickups without dropping a beat. Uh, I guess not.

This is a little closer to a 330 but I find these mega cool anyway. I remember when I was in Junior High School back in the mid 60’s (they weren’t called Middle Schools yet) and I was writing to the various guitar companies to get catalogs from them. That was pretty much the only way to get them back then. The guy at Hermie’s Music Store in Schenectady wouldn’t let me take a Fender catalog (he didn’t like long haired hippie weirdos). The guys at Georges Music Store were just as bad with the Gibson Catalog. Only the guys at Westgate Piano and Organ let me have a Vox catalog. When I got them all, I would take them to school with me and drool over the ones I liked. I was a sucker for guitars with lots of switches and none of them had more than the Epiphone Al Caiola. I didn’t know who Al was but I knew he wasn’t a rocker. It didn’t matter, I thought it was the coolest guitar this side of a Mosrite (great shape but only one switch). I’ve never owned one but it’s a fairly close relative and quite a bargain these days. The guitar was launched in 1963 and it came in only one model with mini humbuckers. Later, they added “Standard” and “Deluxe” to the name which denoted P90s or mini hums, respectively . There’s actually one of each on Ebay this week. Both are a bit on the pricey side considering what I’ve seen these sell for in the past. These are not popular guitars. Maybe it’s the bad rap the Varitone gets or maybe no one likes old Al. Basically, it’s an ES 330 with a longer 25 1/2″ scale. It’s a completely hollow body, like a 330 but it has no f-holes. There’s a master volume and a master tone and 5 on off switches. Why five when a Varitone has 6? Simple. You don’t need a bypass position because that would be all of them off. You would think that 5 2 way switches would give you a zillion combinations but you couldn’t engage more than one at a time. Well, you could but it only saw the last one if I’m reading the schematic correctly. There is pickup selector switch as well. They were all either trap tails or Bigsby equipped. As far as I know it was Gibson’s only long scale guitar at the time and the only one with a mono Varitone. They’re pretty rare so they don’t come up all that often. they were expensive in their day, so not too many were sold. You can find the auction for the ’66 Standard here. The humbucker equipped ’66 Al Caiola Deluxe can be found here. I’m kind of partial to the dot necked standard but the block neck Deluxe has its charms as well. Check out the bizarro headstock inlay on the Deluxe. What is that, a headstone? A mushroom growing out of an English policeman’s hat floating upside down in a stream?

What the...what is that thing on the headstock? And, of course, if you hate the 345's Varitone, you're going to hate this one even more.