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Science Project

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)

5 Responses to “Science Project”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie! How cool! Two blondes for the price of one! Sort of! RAB

  2. DavidK says:

    Fascinating project and a great looking result. I’d put some nickel covers on the pups but that’s just my personal preference!

  3. Hey! My ’62 Epiphone Professional needs a new top as well! 🙂

  4. okguitars says:

    Ken McKay could do it. It isn’t easy (or cheap).

  5. Leedsy says:

    It’s a beautiful thing, this near-alchemy. Brings to mind Arthur C Clarke’s observation to the effect that any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic. And with due respect to scientists this is even more wonderful to this music nerd because musicians and new-world artisans are involved. Charlie, you and your colleagues are ballers.

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