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Archive for September, 2018

Science Project

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Basket case EB-2. The mad scientist in me says that this can be something pretty cool. Or two somethings.

When I was in seventh grade (there were dinosaurs then), my science project was to build a solid body guitar. The science part of it was how you didn’t need a resonant body to generate musical tones; you only needed strings and a pickup. I kind of cheated in that I didn’t make the neck (I took it from a junk Teisco) and I didn’t wind the pickup (I bought a used DeArmond) but, hey, I was 12 years old. I made the body in shop class (remember shop class?-for boys only-girls took home ec). It was a slab of poplar that I shaped into a Vox Phantom (easier than cutting out a Stratocaster). The guitar worked surprisingly well and I got an “A” on the project. Fast forward 55 years and I’m still doing projects. Here’s the latest.

About 18 months ago, I bought a blonde Gibson EB-2 bass that had completely fallen apart. The top was no longer connected to the sides and the back was off as well. The neck was still glued to the center block but the center block was completely detached from the body. The easy project would have been to put the EB-2 back together and replace the missing parts. But that’s too easy. I had a better idea. I have the great advantage of having a good relationship with the best 335 builder there is. So, I asked Ken McKay if he could take the back of the EB-2 and turn it into the front of a 335. I figured we would use the sides for my project 335 and Ken would make a new back. I wanted to use the EB2 center block but Ken thought it made more sense to make a new one and to use the original block and EB-2 neck to make an EB-2. We had the top already-he would just need to make a new back and sides. Two for the price of one. Ken would have to make a new neck for the 335 which would be made to my personal specs (kind of a 64 at the first fret but a 59 at the 12th). Let me back up a little.

I am a big believer in old wood. Even old plywood. You can’t really call plywood a tone wood but the age of the wood seems to make a difference in the tone of the guitar. I’ve played a few hundred vintage 335’s and at least 50 new ones. The new ones play great and sound good too but they don’t have the ability to vibrate and project like the old ones. I’ve put PAFs in a newer guitar and I’ve loaded up a newer 335 with all vintage parts but it still lacks the liveliness that the old guitars seem to have. I think it has to do with moisture content but I’m not a wood expert, so I’m shooting from the hip here. The old ones are more resonant, they have better sustain and they seem to generate more harmonics. So, my project should sound pretty good. The wood that Ken used to make the neck and center block for the 335 was carefully chosen and properly dried. The plywood for the back was sourced from the same folks who used to supply Gibson back in the Kalamazoo days. The fingerboard is from a big old slab of Brazilian which I sourced back in the 90’s. I sent it to Ken and I think we got around 15 fingerboards out of it.

So, a little over half of the project 335 is old wood. The project EB-2 is probably around half old wood. The EB-2 is still missing some parts so it isn’t complete yet but the 335 is done. All of the parts are vintage except for the pickups which are Wizz Clones. I may drop a set of PAFs into it if I get ambitious. The guitar feels exactly right which isn’t surprising. Ken’s new 335 builds feel like the real thing so there is no reason why this one wouldn’t. But feel is one thing. Tone is quite another.

Playing the 335 unplugged tells me a lot. It is resonant and loud. You can feel the vibration in a way you can’t in a new Gibson-they simply don’t respond like that-at least not yet. Maybe in another 50 years, they will do that. Plugged in, it sounds like a vintage 335 which proves to me that modern boutique PAFs have come a very long way. Will it sound better with a good set of PAFs? Probably. But the scientific conclusion here is that there is no substitute for old wood. They’ve been “roasting” wood lately in an attempt to duplicate the resonance of old wood and, apparently, the results are pretty good. I’m pretty sure nobody is doing it with plywood however. So, I’m sticking with old wood. The next question is what is this thing worth? It sure looks authentic (except the back looks too new but we can fix that by playing it). It plays great and sounds great but it’s only around 55% vintage. So, let’s see…a blonde 59 335 is worth around $95K and 95 times .55 is, uh, carry the two and move the decimal point…$35,750. OK, I’m not going to get $35K for it but I’ll be happy to listen to offers. The EB-2 needs a bridge-the ones from 66 onward won’t fit and nobody seems to make a repro that will fit a 59.

The 335 came out great. The jury is still out on the EB-2 since I don’t have all the parts yet but they both look like real 59’s because you see the top and the tops are the real deal. The top and sides of the 335 is the back and sides of the original EB-2. The top, center block and neck of the EB-2 are still the original. Brazilian boards. Two blondes for cheap (sort of)

A Tree Falls in the Woods

Friday, September 14th, 2018

No sign of a sticker here. If the pickup has never been out of the guitar and it’s a 61 or earlier, you can call it a PAF. If it’s a 62 or later, it’s the tree in the woods. It may have once had a PAF sticker but you can’t ask someone to pay a premium for a PAF if it doesn’t have a sticker. How do you know it isn’t a patent number with a missing sticker? They are identical. Otherwise, I could buy a 62 with patent number stickers, take them off and call them PAFs and charge more.

You all know that age old question about the tree in the woods. I think it applies to pickups in a parallel way. If a PAF has no sticker, is it a PAF? The difference between the tree and the PAF is that I know the answer. Let’s take a critical look at a PAF. A late PAF is exactly the same as an early patent number except for the sticker. We can all agree on that. So, the sticker has fallen off your 62’s pickups and you insist they are PAFs. It’s in your listing and you price the guitar accordingly. Except that you shouldn’t. If the only difference is the sticker and there is no sticker, it can’t be a PAF whether it once had the sticker or it never had a sticker. Well now that doesn’t seem fair because a 62 can certainly have PAFs and how can I possibly know whether the sticker less pickup was a PAF or a patent? I can’t-it’s the tree in the woods. ┬áNo sticker means no PAF and the reason for that is very simple. If I can price my stickerless PAF as a PAF, the I can simply remove the stickers from all my early patent number pickups and make the same claim. From where I sit, any unstickered pickup from 62 on is a patent number or at least priced like one. You can speculate all you want but no sticker, no premium.

OK, supposing my guitar is a 61 and the stickers are gone? If the pickups have never been out of the guitar, you can assume with relative certainty that those no sticker pickups are PAFs but the way I see it, you still don’t get the entire premium for the sticker. The sticker itself, while it has no effect whatever on the tone of the pickup still has intrinsic value simply because it is your verification that it is what the sticker says it is. Of course there are fake stickers but none of them are perfect-at least not yet. Truthfully, I think none of us should care whether a pickup is a late PAF or an early patent because they are the same. But we do care. Just like we care about white and zebra bobbins and will pay stupid money for them even though they sound the same as a double black.

Granted this sticker thing is a really small point but every time I see a 62 or 63 for sale with stickerless “PAFS”, my blood pressure goes up. It’s all I can do to not write a nasty little note to the seller asking how he (or she) can possibly know. OK, I actually have done that. The answers? “I just know…” “It’s a 62 and all 62’s have PAFs” (they don’t). How about “it had stickers when I got it and they fell off…” “the guy I bought to from said they were PAFs…”or my favorite “wait until you hear them-you’ll know they can’t be anything else…”

I’m not the PAF police and you can list your guitar any way you like. It’s up to the buyer to call BS when necessary. My concern is that not every buyer has the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about a vintage 335, 345 or 355. That’s why I write this stuff. I can’t tell you how many times someone wants to trade their vintage 335 to me for something else or another one and I have the unfortunate task of telling them they were sold something other than what they thought they were getting. And it isn’t just stickerless PAFs. It’s 68’s that are sold as 65’s. It’s undisclosed changed parts. It’s repro bridges, tailpieces, switch tips, knobs and any other part that can be reproduced convincingly. It’s undisclosed overspray and repairs. It’s sometimes deception and sometimes just ignorance. it doesn’t matter why, it only matters that it happens.

I get dozens of emails asking me to look over the 335 you’re about to buy from somebody other than me. I always answer, I always tell you what I see and I never try to sell you one of mine unless there is something drastically wrong with the one you are looking at and I have a similar guitar in stock. My goal is for you to get the guitar you want and to make sure the guitar you want is the guitar you think you’re getting. That’s a free service I’m happy to provide. So, a PAF sticker falls off a pickup out in the woods…