Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ESP George Lynch Kamikaze I Guitar

Hi there! This is one of the most ridiculous guitars I have ever owned, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for it. It is a gorgeous ESP custom shop George Lynch Kamikaze 1 guitar. Remember George from Dokken, or the Lynch Mob? I do…

Obviously, this is a shredding-quality rock guitar. It sounds incredible, mostly due to the electronics sound package. The bridge position pickup is a super-intense Seymour Duncan Screamin’ Demon, and the neck position is an ESP SH-100 single coil. There is a single push/pull pot for the pickups. Simple.

The other component of the hard-edged sound of this guitar is that it has a solid 2-inch maple body. Not mahogany, alder or ash. Maple. Harder and heavier than hell, but worth it. The maple neck has 22 extra-jumbo frets on its ebony fretboard.

The bridge is a genuine Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo model. All of the stock black hardware is there, and straplocks have been added. Good idea on those strap locks.

It is a one-trick metal-god riding pony, so it did not stick around long. But it has the looks that make the girls’ knees go weak, and when it is plugged in babies cry and old ladies faint.

The list price for this guitar is an astounding $3999, and Musicians Friend sells them for $2999. Pretty heady stuff, eh? But, if you are looking for a rock and roll monster this could be the guitar for you!

By the way, I had the opportunity to meet George Lynch at a trade show last year. He was very personable, and was nice enough to spend some time chatting with me. And he is a damned nice-looking man.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

1980 Gibson Les Paul Silverburst Guitar

Here is guitar you do not see every day, unless you are Adam Jones from Tool (this is just about all he will use). It is a rare 100% complete and original vintage 1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom in the desirable and very hard to find Silverburst finish.

Maybe I should provide a little history on these. The original run of Silverburst Les Pauls was made between late 1978 and 1982. There were a few differences between these and other Les Paul Customs of the era. Most noticeable is the color, of course, but these also received chrome hardware (instead of gold) to better match the finish. Also, these were built with maple necks (instead of mahogany) which give these a distinctive sound.

Over time, the finish on these did not hold up well. Usually all of the finish comes off the neck, and sometimes on the backs as well. Another issue is that the finish usually turns green, making them look like more of a phlegmburst.

This one has a carved maple top over a mahogany body, with multi-bound top and back. The binding is in great shape.

Overall, it is in excellent condition. It has the original finish. As with almost all of these Silverburst finish models the color is somewhat greened, but not as much on this one as a lot of them I have seen. There is only extremely minor surface wear and one barely visible hairline finish crack.

It has a great playing neck with great original fretless wonder frets. It has an ebony fretboard with pearl block inlays, and it is bound as well. The headstock is multi-bound, like the body.

The original pickups sound amazing, especially in this body with the metallic finish and the maple neck. It has a really classic tone. The original pots have the standard 2 volume and 2 tone set-up, with a 3-way pickup selector switch.

The hardware is in really good shape. It has a raised 3-ply pickguard, a tune-o-matic bridge with stop tailpiece, and Gibson logo tuners with keystone buttons. These tuners do not have the built-in speedwinders, but some Les Pauls from this era did come with them.

This one is relatively light, given the usual weight of Les Pauls from this era. It weighs in at right around 10 ½ pounds

So how does it play? I owned over a dozen real Les Pauls over the years, and played dozens more. This one has got to be one of the best. The tone, the action, and even the look are unsurpassed.

Amazingly, this one still has the original Gibson protector hardshell case. It is in pretty good shape, especially when compared to a lot of these I have seen. All of the latches work fine.

Sadly, I had to let this one go, only because I had a buyer that willing to pay top dollar for it to go with all of the other ones he had already collected. It could not have gone to a better home.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ernie Ball Musicman Silhouette Bass

Here is a bass/guitar that never really worked out for me. It is an Ernie Ball Musicman Silhouette bass. There are not very many of these around.

Believing the “Bass” in the name is probably where I went wrong. It is really a 30-inch scale baritone guitar. Generally they are sold as a baritone guitar tuned A to A (0.013 to 0.072), or as a bass tuned E to E (.010 to 0.090). There is no difference between the two other than the strings and set-up.

These are fine instruments that are made by nice folks in San Luis Obispo, California. This one has a poplar body that was sprayed with the metallic Sapphire Black finish, which is really more of a dark gray. The build quality and finish are first rate.

The 22-fret necks are only available with a maple fretboard, and have a gunstock oil and wax finish. As with all Musicman guitars, it is fitted to the body well, with no unseemly gaps. The nut is compensated to proved better intonation. The truss rod can be easily adjusted via an exposed wheel at the heel.

The chrome hardware is good quality. The non-locking tuners are made by Schaller, and the bridge has Schaller roller saddles. Silo basses string through the body, which always makes me happy. I like the feel and sustain of guitars that have this feature.

The electronics are quiet, and the DiMarzio custom split humbuckers are killer. There is a 5-way position switch and a 2-way rotary series/parallel selector (in addition to the normal volume and tone pots) so you can get a nice variety of tones from it.

Saving the best for last, this instrument is amazingly light, coming in at around 6 pounds 11 ounces. w00t!

So far, everything sounds good, right? Unfortunatley, the deal-breaker for me on this guitar was that the nut is fairly narrow (1.75 inches) so the strings are awfully close together for fat-fingered me. Meaning that I had a lot of trouble playing this as a bass. And, I am not a super guitar player, so I kind of came up short when trying to approach it as a baritone guitar.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vintage Power: Tokai Love Rock Lawsuit Guitar

Do you love to play rock music? If so, you need to track down an old Tokai Love Rock!

First, a brief history for ya’all. In the 1970s and early 1980s there were a number of Japanese guitar makers that built replicas of Fender, Gibson and (to a lesser extent) Rickenbacker guitars and basses. They were generally very good guitars, and priced very reasonably. Aria, Yamaha, Greco and Tokai cranked these out like pitchers of beer at a crowded Karaoke bar, and guitar players around the world rejoiced. The only problem was that Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker got their panties in a knot, and sued the crap out of them for copying their distinctive designs.

One of the more popular designs to copy was the Gibson Les Paul. Today I will be discussing a fine example: a 1980 Tokai Love Rock. This is analogous to a Les Paul Standard model.

I found this one during a business trip to Japan, and scooped it up pretty cheaply. Generally, Japanese guitar players want old American guitars, and they consider old Japanese guitars to be junk.

Figuring out when this guitar was built was pretty easy. The serial number is 0103XXX, which is printed in ink under the clear coat on the back of the headstock. The online Tokai registry indicated that this means the guitar was built in 1980.

The body is mahogany, with a bound thick maple top. It is a solid body, not chambered, so it has the more classic Les Paul tone that you cannot find on the newer Gibson products.

It has a set Mahogany neck with a bound rosewood fretboard and a 44mm wide nut. The neck is nicely rounded, and has more of a 50’s style Les Paul feel to me The neck is straight and there is plenty of life left in the original medium frets. My tech set it up with 0.010 Slinkies with a medium action and it plays like a dream.

It has the original Tokai PAF humbucking pickups with plenty of output. It has a super-thick sound and it sustains seemingly forever. One odd thing is that the pots are seated in a printed circuit board, instead of being connected via a wiring harness. This would make service a little more difficult.

It had Grover tuners on it when I got it. I found a set of NOS Gotoh Klusen-type tuners when I was in Japan (on yet another trip), and had them professionally installed by my luthier. There were no extra holes drilled for the Grovers, so it was no hassle at all to put it back to original. The rest of the hardware appears to be original and is in good working order.

One rare thing about this guitar is that it came with the original Tokai hard case, which is in good condition. It is very uncommon to get a hard case with a guitar in Japan. Generally, they prefer gig bags, because they take up less space, and make it easier to use public transportation. Score!

So, what are the downsides to buying one of these instead of a Les Paul of the same era? There is no downside. The early 1980s were not the high point for Gibson quality, and this Love Rock is built better than any 1980s Gibson I have ever seen. Also this guitar weighs a little less than 10 pounds, while Les Pauls of the era come in at around 11 to 12 pounds.

Another thing you are not going to miss out on is the value of the guitar. These lawsuit-era Love Rocks go for very good money, between $900 to $2500, depending on condition, and model. Ones with highly figured tops go for the biggest cash.

Keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist and at your local pawn shops, and you might be able to make a good buy on one of these.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spector Euro 4 LX Bass

Hi there! Ever since I saw my first Spector NS bass, I have thought they are the sexiest basses ever built.

The Spector Euro 4 LX shares the same contoured body shape as the NS, at a considerably lower price than the US-built Spectors. The Euro models are made in the Czech Republic. So, the Euro designation is not just a clever name. This model has been in production for almost 10 years.

Other features that it shares with the US model are the neck-through construction and the electronics package. The build quality is very good. I have played quite a few of these basses and have never found major issues with any of them.

The bass we are looking at today has a transparent blue finish over a figured maple top and alder body. There is a pretty large control cavity routed out of the back, which needs to be removed to access the battery..

This one has the 34-inch scale 3-piece rock maple neck (35-inch is available as an option). As I said before, it is neck-through, and the neck is graphite-reinforced. There are 24 frets on the rosewood fretboard (with mother of pearl inlays, no less). The fret work is adequate, but not quite up to the standards set by other basses in the price range. This one had to have the frets leveled and dressed. This one also came with a brass nut (1.64-inch), which kind of takes me back to the 70s. The fretboard is fairly flat with a 16-inch radius.

The hardware is first-rate. Euro models come with Schaller tuners (D-tuner optional), and a solid brass zinc alloy bridge. Schaller strap locks are included. The gold finish is standard, which is my only visual gripe about the bass. Gold hardware is played (like brown Louis Vuitton, IMO), and shows fingerprints and smudges like nothing else on the plant.

The electronics are where I think these basses really shine. All of the Spector Euro LX 4-string basses are outfitted with P-J EMG pickups, and a TonePump pre-amplifier. Controls are two volume pots as well as treble and bass pots. The treble and bass controls are boost-only, which would not be my first choice, as I would like the option to cut as well. The output is thunderous, with considerably more output than any of my Stingrays.

It plays well, and sounds very good. There is a lot more versatility than I would normally expect from the EMG pickups, which I have always considered to be a one-trick pony.

This one weighs in at 9 pounds, 10 ounces according to my scale. This is not bad for a neck-through bass. It balances nicely, and does not feel heavy on a strap.

Spector stands behind these basses and has a limited lifetime warranty for the original buyer. An odd thing is that these basses do not ship with a case, so you will have to buy one separately.

The list price for this bass is $2299, with a street price of $1899. You can usually find them in good used condition for around $800 to $900. You will be hard-pressed to find a better bass for the money.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fender Japan Custom Shop Jeff Beck Telegib Model Telecaster

Fender’s Japanese Custom Shop cranks out many really cool models that never come to the United States, and this is yet another fine example.

It is a very rare ’52 re-issue Shop Jeff Beck Telegib Telecaster. I found this one in Japan a few years back. My understanding is that they were only made in this color and configuration for a few years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

Many of you have already heard my rants about the superior quality of Japan-built Fenders, so I will give it a rest. For now.

This guitar was crafted with a ash body and sprayed with a transparent butterscotch finish, so that the grain shines through. A period-correct single-ply flat black pickguard is mounted.

The maple neck has a true V profile with medium jumbo frets. As usual, the fretwork, nut-detailing and finish are superb. The neck pocket fit is as tight as they come.

The hardware they picked is surprising correct for this model. It has vintage style tuners and a 3-saddle bridge (with one slight modification). Usually this is an area where Fender Japan will use the wrong parts, and kind of mess up the whole re-issue effect.

Ah, the pickups. This is where the Telegib really shines, and which makes this guitar unique amongst the other offerings in the Fender line. The Custom Shop installed 2 DiMarzio Virtual PAFs. Sweet! This is one really super crunchy guitar, and is as close to a Les Paul tone as you will get with a Telecaster. And, since they were installed at the factory, the body routing is a clean as a whistle.

This limited edition guitar is just about impossible to find outside of Japan, and this is the only one that I have ever seen for sale anywhere. Rumor has it that the Ishibashi chain of stores recently ordered a bunch of these, so more might be showing up on the market soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sadowsky Metro UV 70 Bass

Roger Sadowsky builds the best bolt-neck guitars on the planet in his New York City factory. Period. The only downside is that they cost a metric ton of cash. They can easily run $4000, and the lucky buyer gets to wait 6 months if they special order it.

Fortunately, for the gigging man (or woman), there is a more cost effective solution to getting their hands on a new Sadowsky.

Back in the early 2000s, Roger came up with the idea of having a line of basses built overseas (gasp!). No, not by shoeless starving kids in China, but by the best luthiers in Japan. These were originally called the Tokyo line of basses, but have since been renamed the Metro series. The idea was to use the same electronics and hardware, but cheaper bodies and necks and have lower labor costs.

The subject bass today is a Sadowsky Metro UV70. It is a doppelganger of Geddy Lee’s legendary 1970s Fender Jazz Bass. It has the look nailed with the black finish and the maple fretboard with black block inlays.

This is a fantastic bass. It sounds great, and plays like a dream. The construction is very good, and the neck and fretwork are perfect. It is better quality than anything Fender or their Custom Shop is producing today.

Sadowsky says that these use the same electronics as the New York City basses, so it has Sadowsky humcancelling coil pickups, and the much-copied Sadowsky pre-amplifier with Vintage Tone Control. But, I have had the opportunity to compare these basses to real NYC basses, and they do not sound quite the same. Maybe it is the wood they use for the bodies, but the Metro basses generally do not sound quite as sharp.

Another noticeable thing you do not get with the Metro series is the amazingly light weight of a New York City Sadowsky. Generally Metros will weigh a pound or two more. This one weighs in at 9 pounds, instead of the usually 8 pounds for a NYC Jazz Bass.

Perhaps I am coming off as a whiny turd. These are still great basses, but there are trade-offs in everything. If you are going to save $1500, you are going to have to give something up.

Metro basses come in the same Sadowsky semi-hard case that the New York City basses used to come in (they have since changed to a deluxe hard case for NYC basses).

The UV70 bass sells for $2775 new, and Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. I guess I do not understand what price-fixing is.

Anyway, if you do not need a fancy top, a left-handed bass or a fretless bass (none of the options are available) this is a viable alternative to a NYC Sadowsky. Buy one. I would.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cave Passive Pedals Grunt Mk II Review

I am sure some of my friends are getting tired of me spouting off about Cave Passive Pedals. Well, tough luck. Here is another review!

Cave Passive Pedals is an Australian company that hand builds small batches of boutique guitar and bass effect pedals. They are very involved and customer-focused, so when you call them or send them an e-mail, you are dealing directly with the people that make them. A bonus is that they are very friendly and are great to deal with.

Their basic hook is that their pedals do not require a power supply, so there are no batteries, and no need to plug in an AC adaptor. All the power that is needed is provided by the output signal from the guitar or bass. There is more to the pedals than the hook, they work well too.

I wrote a review of the original Grunt pedal last month, and was very impressed with its function. It has very simple controls: an ON/OFF switch, and a Clean/Dirty selector switch. It provided a great-sounding distortion or a noticeable boost in output. One small drawback to me was that it could not do both at the same time. Well, it turns out that the Cave dwellers already had that in mind, and they have since issued the Grunt Mk II. Bass distortion pedal

The Mk II is a compact pedal that looks sharp. The pedal measures about 2.75 inches wide, by 4.5 inches long and 1.75 inches tall. The chassis is powder coated glossy white, with a clean-looking sticker for the logo and control labels. There are no feet on the case, so it is easy to add Velcro to attach it to your pedalboard.

New controls have taken the original Grunt and made it more versatile. It now has adjustable drive and level controls. An oddity is that the levels increase as the knobs are turned counter-clockwise. Is this because of the Coriolis effect? Anyway, this allows varying amounts of boost and distortion.

Not surprisingly, the Grunt Mk II will respond differently depending on how you have your bass and amplifier controls set. I have found that this pedal seems to work best with my passive basses, and with the volume and tone controls dimed (as usual). I also dial in a lot of gain (12 o’clock +) into the tube pre-amp on my Genz Shuttle 6.0, and do not boost the low frequencies. With this set up the tone is pure 60s/70s overdrive. Nice!

My results varied quite a bit when using active basses (Musicman, Spector, Sadowsky), and I will have to experiment more with them as time goes on.

As with the other Cave pedals, the Grunt Mk II comes in an eco-friendly waxed MDF box along with a microfiber cleaning cloth and some basic instructions.

All Cave pedals come with a lifetime warranty, which shows the confidence they have in their products. There have been no problems with my pedals, but I am sure they would be happy to help if something went bad.

The Grunt Mk II is priced at $129 AUD, or a mere $110 USD (as of today). It can be ordered directly through cavepassivepedals.com.au and they accept PayPal or bank wire transfers. Shoot them an e-mail for details of shipping costs.

Also, be advised that the original Grunt pedal is still available, so you can choose your poison, pardner. BTW, I took it a step further and have hooked the Mk II up in series with my original Grunt Pedal, so I can control the distortion and boost separately. Bwa Ha Ha!

Disclaimer: I am an endorsing artist for Cave Passive Pedals, but I paid for my first one, and was totally blown away. I would never represent a product that I do not 100% believe in.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Osu Kannon Market, Nagoya Japan

There is a market tucked away in the middle of Nagoya Japan that is heaven for anyone that is into electronics or anything funky. It is a sprawling outdoor mall and neighborhood built behind the Osu Kannon temple.

The temple is a 20th century reconstruction of the original temple that was moved to this site in 1612. It is usually full of tourists and pigeons, and there is an endless supply of gravel in the yard to get stuck in your shoes. Meh.

The shopping area to the east is huge, with hundreds of shops that sell everything from souvenirs to toys, to vintage clothing to high-end electronics. There are also shops where you can buy second-hand high-end consumer goods, including brands such as Louis Vuitton and Rolex. Sadly, Uncle Meat has moved out of the mall. That is the best shop name. Ever.

But, I go there for the guitar shops and the vintage stereo equipment stores. This is a great place to find used Japanese guitars in shops like Komehyo and Big Boss, as well as a few smaller dealers that are tucked away in dark corners of the arcade. The stereo shops have early hi-fi equipment at truly breathtaking prices. Who ever thought that stuff would be valuable some day?

If you get hungry, there are plenty of eateries, including traditional Japanese noodle huts and octopus ball places, as well as a few Brazilian cafes that are outstanding. There are even a few of the hard to find beer vending machines. Such a shame that those are going away…

Twice a month (the 18th and 28th) there is a flea market where locals bring piles of crap that you can poke through. Communication can be a little tough, but they usually have a calculator that they can use to communicate prices. Negotiation is Japanese style, which means that you do not hardball them and try to talk them down by pointing out every little flaw in the item. They will shut you down and negotiations end right there. It is better to praise the item, and just tell them that it is priced a little too high for what you can pay, and they will usually come down a bit on the price.

You can reach Osu Kannon by taking the Tsurumai subway line to the Osu Kannon Station.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aria Pro II SB-1000 Cliff Burton Re-issue Bass

Here is another gem from the Japanese guitar market that you will not see every day.

This is a current production Aria Pro II SB-100 Cliff Burton signature model bass. These were styled after the old black and gold Arias that Cliff used to play before his untimely demise. Aria started making this model a few years ago, and they are very hard to find in the US.

These are pretty much the same as the revered SB-1000 that was introduced in the late 1970’s, with the exception of the all-black finish, and a brace of black hardware.

It is a neck-through bass, with 24 frets and a brass nut. The fretboard looks like ebony to me. The tuners are not marked Aria Pro II, but they are manufactured by Gotoh.

The electronics package is standard Aria Super Bass, with an MB humbucker, 18-volt pre-amplifier, a six-position tone switch and an LED. Everybody and their brother wants an LED on their bass…

One improvement over the original basses is that it has separate battery boxes on the back of the bass, so you do not have to find a screwdriver to crack open the control plate on a regular basis.

These either come with no serial number, or a hokey serial number sticker that falls off, so figuring out when they were made is next to impossible. Equally difficult is find out where they are made. I have heard both Japan and Korea. I guess it does not really matter much, because the build quality is first-rate.

The one downside that I have found with these is that they all sound different, and some of them have an awful tone. I sold the best-sounding one that I ever had to a friend of mine, and it was exceptional (you have to take care of your friends). So, the moral of the story is: do not buy one sight-unseen, or you may be sorry.

Despite the inconsistancy of tone, all of the ones I have seen play well, and come with level frets and a spectacular finish. They are worth the money you would pay for one in Japan, but not in the US (unless you are a die-hard Cliff Burton fan.
US sellers are asking $2300 for these new. In Japan they run about $500 to $800 for a used one, and about $1200 new.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Micro Cmoy Headphone Amplifier

I had never even heard of headphone amplifiers until last month, and now I am totally sold on the concept.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that my new headphones were a bit anemic due to their high resistance, particularly when used with an iPod. I had borrowed my boss’ HeadRoom Total Airhead amp, and it made the headphones sound exactly the way I wanted them to.

This amplifier is available online for about $100, but I was hoping to get the job done a little bit cheaper. A friend suggested that I build my own (?!) and pointed me to a link with detailed instructions and a parts list to build a Cmoy amp. I researched what people had to say about these amps, which are commonly built inside an Altoids tin, and there were very positive reviews of the amps. Plus there was a note that somebody was building these and selling them on eBay for $35, which is about $15 more than it would cost me to make my own. Hell, it even comes with a battery! As an added bonus, he has a number of different mint tins to choose from.

I bought one from seller juice2214 on eBay, and it showed up quickly, and was well-packed. The first thing I did was pop it open and look at the insides. I am really glad I did not try to build my own because all of the components are REALLY tiny. The build quality is first-rate, with neat soldering and plenty of shrink wrap to prevent shorts. There was no skimping on the parts, either. He used an Alps pot, Nichicon capacitors and a TI Burr Brown OP AMP chip.

The controls are simple, a volume control potentiometer with an ON/OFF switch, a 1/8” input, 1/8” output and a bright blue LED to let you know it is on.

I plugged it in, and it does everything the Airhead did, and really brings the headphones to life. I have used it about 10 hours so far, and the 9-volt battery is still going strong. I have not noticed any change in tone, so I do not know if the amp will burn in and sound better as time goes on. Either way it is cool with me, because I the way it sounds right now.

The only downside that I can see is that it might confuse the TSA airport security folks when they see it with their x-ray machines. It does kind of look like a home-made bomb…