Tag: guitars

Riversong Glennwood TS6 Review

The first and perhaps most important thing to know about Riversong’s Glennwood TS6 is that it aspires to hybridize elements of electric and acoustic guitars. This is not a new idea—certainly not in the amplified acoustic era, where the straightest route to eliminating feedback is by reducing the resonant elements that cause feedback in the first place. Some acoustic/electrics achieve these ends by slimming bodies down to electric-guitar thickness. Riversong, however, sticks to traditional acoustic formula by making the TS6 a full-sized instrument. Its dimensions are a little bit atypical: the 16″ wide body and 4 3/4″ thickness are about the same size as Martin’s “jumbo” J body and the Taylor Grand Pacific. The pretty silhouette also echoes the curvaceousness of those larger guitars. Those similarities sometimes feel like an exception, though. At nearly every other turn, the TS6 very happily breaks the acoustic design mold.

 A Nuts-and-Bolts Approach

You don’t have to look very hard or be an acoustic guitar construction expert to see that there is a strong deconstructive thread in the Riversong’s design. The gap in the top behind the bridge, the slim heel, and, above all, the bracing and neck-through build are major breaks from classic acoustic design philosophy. These very overt differences are also a clue to how the Riversong stretches the definition of what an acoustic guitar is.

Most tradition-minded acoustic builders would consider the small space aft of the bridge detrimental to a resonant top. And few would opt for the bolt-on neck and through-body re-enforcement that runs the length of the body. These obvious deviations from acoustic design dogma are just the start. Peek through the side port and you’ll see “skeletized” bracing that looks like sections of a cantilever bridge in miniature. Adjustment to the action and neck tilt? They’re made with an Allen key that you place through an access cavity on the back of the guitar at the heel.

All these very unconventional elements are executed at a very high level of workmanship. I failed to find a construction miscue anywhere. The fretwork is pretty much perfect and the solid wild cherry back and sides, Sitka spruce top, maple neck, and walnut fretboard are all shaped and put together with obvious care.

Electrified Vibrations

Considering that the TS6’s primary mission is that of a hybrid electric/acoustic—and that so many of its fundamental design elements would traditionally be considered detriments to acoustic tone—the TS6 sounds pretty good unplugged. If I had to guess, I’d venture that the Jumbo-like dimensions were adopted, in part, to offset the diminished volume and overtones that could result from the neck-through design. Yet the TS6 is notably resonant, particularly in the low-midrange, and exhibits nice sustain. It may not be as loud or detailed as a dedicated acoustic of similar dimensions, but it holds its own, and the combination of projection from the side port and soundhole creates a nice composite sound image that would be well worth miking and doubling with the pickup signal in a studio or on a quiet stage.

The combination of projection from the side port and soundhole creates a nice composite sound image that would be well worth miking and doubling with the pickup signal in a studio.

The TS6’s amplified qualities and its electric-like playability are the main attraction, though. The Fishman Flex undersaddle pickup and preamp hold up pretty well to hard strumming without getting quacky, but the guitar and pickup work best together in dynamic fingerstyle settings. I tended to work from fairly tame tone settings on both the TS6 and the Fishman Loudbox I used for amplification, but the TS6 left ample headroom for adding sparkle to the basically well-rounded tonal foundation. Playability, as advertised, is excellent for a flattop. The 16″ fretboard radius and jumbo frets make it easy to fret with a light touch. The 1 5/8″ nut width and the neck profile (which to me felt at various times like a 1960s Guild or a Rickenbacker) also conspire to lend a very electric-feeling experience. The neck-thru system’s ability to facilitate and withstand pitch-bending neck wobbles also checks out just as Riversong claims. I can’t remember using an acoustic in this fashion so readily, dramatically, and with such negligible effect on tuning stability.

The Verdict

At around $2,000, the TS6 is a flattop for players committed to the unconventional or performers that can also afford to keep a classic flattop around for recording pure acoustic tones (if they are concerned with such expressions). It’s a niche instrument, but it does a brilliant job of blurring the lines between acoustic and electric.

Solar GC1.6AFAB Review

Solar GC1

Ola Englund, YouTube sensation and guitarist for the Haunted and Feared, started Solar Guitars, his own line of high-quality instruments, in 2017. The company is based in Sant Gregori, Spain, and their guitars are made in Indonesia. But as the marvelously decked-out GC1.6AFAB reviewed here reveals, this collaborative formula is yielding killer results at relatively affordable prices.

Down to the Details

At a glance, the GC1.6AFAB evokes great all-around instruments like the PRS SE or even the Tom Anderson Atom. It looks sharp, and even a bit traditional, with its flame maple top on a mahogany body and gold hardware down to the pickups, bridge, and tuners. Only the pointy reverse headstock, lack of inlays (other than the Solar logo around the 12th fret), and glow-in-the-dark side dots betray a possible metal-oriented lineage.

The guitar is meticulously crafted and there are no visible construction flaws. The low-action factory setup is perfect. The GC1.6AFAB’s design is very ergonomic, too. A belly cut adds a nice contour to the backside of the guitar, and the neck-through-body construction with sculpted neck joint allowed easy access all the way up to the 24th fret.

With jumbo stainless steel frets on a graphite-reinforced neck, a dual action truss rod, a 13.78″ radius fretboard, graphite nut, and locking tuners, the GC1.6AFAB is thoroughly modern. The EverTune bridge is another contemporary distinction. It uses a system of floating saddles and springs to keep each string in tune no matter how aggressively you play. It can also be configured in a multitude of ways. On our test guitar, the EverTune was set up to permit bends on the top three strings, while the lower strings were set to resist pitch bends entirely. It was a weird experience to bend away at those strings, or add vibrato, only to hear pitch that never wavered. And I was certainly thrown off when I instinctively tried to make low-string notes growl by adding a little bend. Set up this way, the EverTune will take some getting used to. However, it’s a killer feature if you pick hard or inadvertently pull some of the notes sharp while chording. If you’re recording and need to nail a pitch-perfect take, it can be invaluable. And you can always reconfigure the bridge for a more conventional but still exceptionally stable setup.

It Chugs, It Slugs, It Sings

The GC1.6AFAB’s pickups, a pair of excellent Fishman Fluence Modern active units, also display Solar’s forward-thinking approach. They have independent volume controls with a shared tone knob that has a push/pull function for the Fishman Fluence’s voices: “active” (voice 1) and “passive” (voice 2). (Here, the phrases active and passive refer to voicings rather than the strict definition of active and passive pickups.)

With the bridge pickup and active voice engaged, pick response is crisp and fast on the low strings. With help from with the EverTune’s unwavering tuning stability, individual notes and picking nuances are super articulate. Digging in harder rarely revealed any flubby ambiguities. And fast alternate-picked sequences felt super precise. Be forewarned though: If you’re having a sloppy day, the Fluence pickups’ immediacy can be unforgiving.

In clean settings, the GC1.6AFAB’s bridge pickup sounds very hi-fi, and very loud in both voices. Multi-finger tapping phrases are punchy and pop out loud and consistent along the fretboard. Cascading arpeggio runs have a harp-like clarity and individual notes sound consistent and even across the guitar’s whole range. And while the pickup isn’t overly bright, there is a ton of presence. Until the tone knob is all the way down to about 2, you hear little in the way of “darkness.” The neck pickup in the active voice has more bass focus than the bridge. When I held an open-G chord, the 6th-string resonated with a bottom end that you could call boomy. Comparatively, with the passive voice, the neck pickup seemed a bit more balanced.

The Verdict

If I imagined a shredder creating a custom guitar, it might look and feel a lot like GC1.6AFAB. There’s a lot about the style that feels relatively traditional, save for the many cutting-edge components that Solar included here. At $295, putting an EverTune bridge on an existing guitar (a process that would involve routing and probably devaluing your instrument) is an expensive proposition. Add a set of gold Fishman Fluence Modern pickups at around $260 and you’re looking at well north of a $500 investment even before you pay to have your upgrades installed on an existing instrument. Given how seamlessly Solar brings these elements together in such an impeccable-playing guitar, the $1,349 you’ll pay for a GC1.6AFAB is a pretty amazing deal.

Solar Guitars GC1.6AFAB Demo | First Look

A Barney Kessel Custom Saved From the Buzzards

A Barney Kessel Custom Saved From the Buzzards

From the sparse, smoky ballads of Julie London to the hard bop of Sonny Rollins, Barney Kessel could back up just about anybody. The bandleader, session great, Wrecking Crew member, and sideman was one of the most accomplished guitarists of his era. His chordal complexity not only got him steady work and accolades, but also a collection of signature guitar models bearing his name.

This 1968 Gibson Barney Kessel Custom is a top-of-the-line example. It’s the higher-end counterpart to the Barney Kessel Regular, both built from 1961 until 1974. They followed a trio of Barney Kessel signatures that Kay sold between 1957 and 1960.

Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately.

Each Gibson model has a hulking 17″-wide and nearly 3″-deep body, with two humbuckers, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a bound rosewood fretboard. The attractive Barney Kessel tailpiece is also common to both, while the controls will be familiar to any Gibson player: two volume pots, two tone knobs, and a 3-way selector switch. The dual Florentine cutaways—a design first seen in these Barney Kessels and later used in Gibson’s Trini Lopez signature—cut a striking silhouette.

Of the two Gibson Kessels, the Custom alone is dressed to the nines, swapping in gold-plated hardware for the Regular’s nickel, and bowtie inlays for the Regular’s fretboard parallelograms. There’s also a 3-piece maple neck with two pinstripe-thin mahogany strips taking over for the Regular’s solid mahogany. And the Custom tops off its outfit with a pearl headstock inlay in the shape of a musical note.

Such features were a huge upgrade to the art-deco stylings and Kleenex-box pickups of Kay’s Kessel signatures, which Kessel snubbed, reportedly saying, “I don’t play that Kay. It’s a terrible guitar!” Interestingly, he often chose not to play these Gibson signatures, either, instead typically using his favorite 1940s ES-350.

When they were introduced, Gibson’s Barney Kessel Custom model had a list price of $599, while the Regular’s was $399. Both sold in respectable if not incredible numbers, with sales peaking in 1968. However, the following decades were not particularly kind to the guitars. As the vintage market took off for Les Pauls, SGs, and other classic Gibsons, Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately. You can still find Barney Kessel husks on the market—project guitars looking for a new owner to rebuild them. And many of the complete Barney Kessels you’ll find for sale have been rebuilt.

That’s what makes the particular Barney Kessel Custom featured here so special. It’s nearly all original, with Patent pickups intact and even its Custom-stamped hang tags. The only modification is one replaced tuner (along with a couple patched screw holes from a previous replacement). The cherry in its cherry sunburst finish is one of the most vibrant we’ve ever seen, and the condition of the finish overall is in impeccable vintage shape.

Because of the wide array of Barney Kessel Customs on the used market—many with non-original parts—you can find them across the price spectrum, from about $3,000 on the low-end to $12,000 or more on the high. This Custom, listed on Reverb now by Nationwide Guitars, fittingly lands on the higher end, with an asking price of $8,999.

Sources for this article include Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, American Guitars: An Illustrated History by Tom Wheeler, Reverb’s “Player Profile: The Hard-Swinging Barney Kessel” by Greg Cooper, Premier Guitar’s “Gibson and Barney Kessel” by Jim Bastian, and Reverb listings from Retrofret Vintage Guitars and Vintage Correct Parts.

First Look: Guild Surfliner

First Look: Guild Surfliner

This nifty three-pickup solidbody delivers a host of versatile tones with retro-inspired style.

Reader Guitar of the Month: A Tribute to Two Mentors

Reader Guitar of the Month: A Tribute to Two Mentors

A love for Ry Cooder, Dave Bernstein, and good Tex-Mex were combined into a sentimental 6-string.

Here is my Tres Hombres Coodercaster. Look, as much as I claim to be a “serious musician,” a songwriter, and a player who is trying to develop his own original voice, I freely admit I’m a hopeless, pathetic wannabe and a fanboy of Ry Cooder. I was first introduced to Ry via his Borderline album: a masterpiece that blew my ever-loving mind in the way it combined many of my favorite genres in one cohesive, unique sound. Ry became my distant mentor, teaching me about “less is more,” the relationship between fingers and strings, the magic of open-string voicings, and the importance of listening and creating space.

Recently, I decided to refurbish my “D” Strat and go full Cooder. My Strat was already a solid working tool dedicated to slide guitar. It sounded and looked close to Ry’s main guitar but just needed a few iconic pieces. I started with a sunburst Fender Robert Cray model for the body: a great hardtail with a vintage-style bridge. I heard that Ry had a very wide neck on his Strat to help with fingerpicking, so I went with a custom 1-3/4″ nut width, ’59 roundback neck by Warmoth that’s about as wide as an acoustic guitar neck. Like Ry, I put a P-90 in the bridge position and was really happy with what I heard when I played.

But, you know, once you start moddin’, you just can’t stop. I knew I would need to make the “Supro move.” When I had the means, I began to build a guitar that would truly serve as a platform to emulate the sounds that I’d fallen in love with. I finally got a Lollar Supro in the bridge and a vintage Teisco Gold Foil towards the neck. The Teisco was not the Teisco as you can see from the screws. But it sounds fantastic, so, I’m okay with it. I kept it simple with one master tone and a Tele volume knob for faux pedal-steel tricks.

With the pickguard, I decided to pay tribute to another mentor: Bay Area guitarist Dave Bernstein, who passed away in 2008 after a heroic struggle with cancer. Dave was one of the strongest personalities I’ve ever met. To many, he was a caustic, bitter, rude bastard. For those who knew him, he was the sweetest, funniest, most patient, most generous friend you could have. Dave had two rare gifts: an extraordinary love and appreciation for music and being totally blunt. He was a respected blues guitarist, backing harmonica artist Mark Hummel for years. Dave had an enormous impact on my life, and I miss him a lot.

Once, Dave and I were having a passionate discussion about Mexican food and where we would go that night to have some. He said, “Let me show you something.” He pulled out his LP copy of ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres and opened it up to reveal a giant image of a gorgeous Tex-Mex spread. That’s the thing about LPs that still matters—the folded image! As I was savoring that spread, Dave, as usual, remarked, “Now that is the shit.” He was right of course … about so many things. In a strange way, that image has always represented my memory of Dave. So, I had Carmedon Guitar in Jacksonville, Florida, print it onto my pickguard. I love the way it plays, and it sure looks terrific. Thanks, Ry. Thanks, Dave.

Two Necks Are Better Than One: A Brief History of Multi-Neck Guitars

Two Necks Are Better Than One: A Brief History of Multi-Neck Guitars

[Originally published December 16, 2009]
As far as anyone knows, doubleneck guitars have been around as long as the guitar itself. Even still, guitars with more than one neck have always been a bit of a curiosity, never the norm. The far majority of players seem to have more than enough on their hands just working one set of strings. Some players, it seems, need more. So while we may take multi-neck guitars for granted as mere novelties, the roots of their existence, like many innovations, lie in necessity. The impetus for a guitar with more than one set of strings lies in two needs: tone and tuning. The player needs either an alternate sound or pitch from the main instrument.

One of the earliest examples of a multi-neck guitar is dated to circa 1690, and built in the style of the famed Alexandre Voboam. It is a small-sized guitar with an even smaller, almost ukulele-sized, guitar grafted to its treble side. This instrument would have been made for a professional musician who performed with an ensemble or orchestra. The purpose of the second set of strings was to allow the player to transpose on the fly.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, multi-necked guitars appeared on a semi-regular basis, but never in any kind of large-scale production. It wasn’t until the 1890s, when modern manufacturing methods facilitated a sharp increase in instrument production, that multi-neck instruments could be made and distributed in the kind of scale that would allow for widespread usage. As multi-neck guitars began to be used more frequently, there became a greater and greater demand for the instrument—it built upon itself.

The double-neck guitars of the 1890s reflected the tastes of the times. What became popular were things like harp guitars, lute guitars and mandolin guitars. The playing method differed from instrument to instrument. On the harp guitar, the extra strings were intended to mostly drone along with the guitar. On a mandolin guitar, one neck was played at a time. While none of these instruments set the world on fire, they did achieve enough popularity to establish the concept of a multi-necked guitar as a viable instrument.

The Early Lap Steels

As we know, the popularity of Hawaiian music in the late 1910s and ‘20s led to the emergence of the guitar—particularly the lap steel guitar—as an accepted instrument in popular music. The portability and accessibility of the guitar lent itself to usage across the entire spectrum of society, from front-porch pickin’ to ballroom jazz. The need for more volume from the instrument lead to the amplification and electrification of both lap steel and Spanish-style guitars in the late 1920s.

The earliest multi-neck electric guitars were lap steels. The famed lap steel guitarist Alvino Rey, who seemed to have had a hand in a multitude of early electric guitar inventions, claimed to be one of the first electric lap steel players to use instruments with more than one neck. Rey, like many other lap steel players before and after, knew that the instrument required multiple tunings to keep up with a band or orchestra. He found that the ultimate solution was to have more than one set of strings on the same instrument. By the mid-1930s Rey had commissioned a dual-neck steel from Gibson. By the end of the decade there were a number of steel players utilizing two- and three-neck instruments.

Immediately after the end of World War II, a number of different builders—Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby to name two—made businesses of building multi-neck steel guitars. Indeed, multi-neck steels were a core part of the Fender business throughout the 1950s. But steels were not the wave of the future, and both Fender and Bigsby would focus the bulk of their efforts on the single-neck electric Spanish guitar. But that didn’t mean the end of multi-neck guitars. In fact, it was just the beginning.

Doubleneck Spanish-style electric guitars may have existed prior to World War II, but these would have been one-off pieces. In the years just after the war, most manufacturers—players as well—were just trying to get their footing with the new standard of electrification. Once this new standard was accepted, people began to expand their vision of what an electric guitar could be, and what it could do. It was the economic and cultural climate of the 1950s that brought the doubleneck electric guitar from the freak show onto the main stage of music.

Doublenecks With a Purpose

One of the earliest examples of a doubleneck electric guitar made for onstage use was a doubleneck electric guitar and mandolin made in 1952 by Paul Bigsby for country singer Grady Martin. The guitar was a solid maple instrument featuring a standard six-string guitar neck paired with a mandolin neck. The six-string neck used a Bigsby vibrato and three P-90-style pickups. The mando neck had a single pickup. Martin used this guitar throughout the ‘50s. The Grady Martin model wasn’t the first, or last, doubleneck that Bigsby would make. All totaled, it’s believed Bigsby made about a half-dozen doublenecks.

Doubleneck guitars were still an extreme rarity when Jimmy Bryant stepped in. Bryant, the six-string virtuoso whose many recordings from the late 1940s and early 1950s brought a Django Reinhardt-fluency to country swing soloing, was an early adopter of the solidbody guitar. Possibly the first Fender endorsee, Bryant used an early Broadcaster to great effect. In 1954 Bryant was looking for new levels of showmanship in his playing, and new ways to get the sounds in his head out to the world. In a nutshell, Bryant was looking for an instrument that would allow him to play melodic harmonies without having to team up with another guitarist. He paired with Stratosphere Guitar Manufacturing Co. of Springfield, MO. Whether it was Bryant who approached Stratosphere or the other way around, Stratosphere owner Russ Deaver had just the thing to solve Bryant’s dilemma: a doubleneck electric guitar that was different from any before or since. The Stratosphere had both a six- and twelve-string neck, maple fretboards and P-90-style pickups. The body on the Stratosphere was a bit of a blob. The Stratosphere Twin is acknowledged as the first doubleneck electric—as well as the first 12-string electric—offered to the public for sale (unlike the Bigsby, which was custom order-only). The tuning of the Stratosphere was a big departure: on the twelve-string neck the courses were tuned in either major or minor thirds. The complex tuning of the Stratosphere required the player to almost completely relearn the fretboard. Bryant used a prototype Stratosphere Twin at a session in September of 1954. Chet Atkins himself also used a Stratosphere on the tune “Somebody Stole My Gal.” Not much was seen of the guitar after.

Semie Mosely may have done more for establishing doubleneck electric guitars than any other individual. As an apprentice with Paul Bigsby when he was barely out of his teens, Moseley got the opportunity to work on the guitars of many famous players. Picking up the luthier’s trade rapidly, Moseley learned how to craft every single part of the guitar himself, including pickups, vibrato tailpieces, knobs and other plastic parts. They were also durable, with many examples still in existence. He also learned to be unafraid of invention, innovation and making guitars way, way out of the norm. Going into business for himself in about 1954, he began building solidbody guitars for players in and around Southern California. In 1954, Moseley made doublenecks for Joe Maphis and Larry Collins of the Collins Kids. He became known as the go-to guy for multi-necked instruments and eventually made more pieces for Maphis and Collins, as well as for stringburner Phil Baugh and others.

Throughout the ’50s, one-off and homemade doublenecks made appearances across the scene. Herbie Treece and Sherwin Linton are two that come readily to mind. Both pickers in the country circles, each played homemade doublenecks. Treece’s guitar was a stylish axe with dual six-string necks of differing scale, and Linton’s homemade doubleneck had a revolving cast of six-, eight-, and twelve-string necks with features such as B-benders and headstock-mounted vibratos. Linton used his doubleneck on the aptly named album, “Hello, I’m Not Johnny Cash.”

The Big Boys Step In

In 1958, Gibson introduced two doubleneck electric instruments, the EDS-1275 Double 12 and the EMS-1235 Double Mandolin. The first Gibson electric doubleneck, however, was built a year or two earlier as a custom order. Seeing the possibilities in the model, Gibson built a number of samples, some of which they exhibited at the 1957 NAMM show. Enough positive reaction was garnered that the company put the models in the next catalog, but very few of the instruments were actually produced. Initially, both of these instruments were thinline hollowbodies, 1-7/8″ deep. The EDS (Electric Double Spanish) had two 24.75″ scale necks, the upper a twelve-string, the lower six-string. The EMS (Electric Mandolin Spanish) had a 13-7/8″ scale six-string neck in the upper position and a 24.75″ scale six-string neck in the lower position. Both models had a two-piece solid spruce top with maple sides and a one-piece maple back. Colors available were white, black and sunburst. The dual-cutaway shape of the thin-lines was a precursor to the SG-style solidbody which both instruments transitioned to in 1962.

In their 1959 catalog, the Carvin Guitar company introduced two doubleneck models. The #4-BS Professional Doubleneck featured dual 25-1/8″ necks; one a six-string guitar, the other what would amount to be a (very) short-scale bass. The #1-MS was a guitar and mandolin combination with one 25-1/8″ scale guitar neck. The body was maple and similar in shape to their other guitars. The electronics on the Carvins were a bit unique. Each unit had two P-90-style pickups on the guitar and a single pickup for the bass and mandolin, respectively. Whereas many other doubleneck models would have had a switch to select which neck you were playing, the Carvin used the pickup selector to do this job. Position 1 of the pickup selector would be the bridge pickup of the guitar. Position 2 would be the guitar’s neck pickup and position 3 would be the single pickup of either the bass or mandolin. Carvin continued to offer the #4-BS and #1-MS throughout 1964 when they redesigned the pair. Carvin offered the doubleneck option throughout the ‘60s, and continued to help players satisfy their doubleneck cravings consistently throughout the years, making them one of the longest-lasting and most prolific producers of doubleneck guitars and basses.

For the 1961 model year, Gretsch introduced one of the more unique multi-neck offerings ever to come from a major manufacturer. The Bikini was actually three units, a guitar (6023), a bass (6024), and a doubleneck bass and guitar (6025). The concept was that you could use one body and slide in either a bass or a guitar neck. To make things slightly more complex, the body also folded down the middle on a piano hinge, becoming known as a “butterfly.” A player also had the option of combining separate butterfly back components to make a doubleneck. The guitar was 25-1/2″ scale and the bass was 29-1/4″ scale. Electronics, pickups, tone and volume controls were self-contained in each respective neck shaft. The guitar was a good idea in theory but not in practice, and was difficult both to produce and to operate.

Throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s, Gibson was the only major manufacturer to consistently offer an electric doubleneck. Mosrite kept the Joe Maphis doubleneck in its catalog up until the latter part of the decade, and Rickenbacker occasionally produced guitar and bass doubleneck combos. Other manufacturers produced doublenecks only as a custom order. By and large, the doubleneck moved into novelty status with only Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin using one to any effect. Rick Nielsen famously paired with Hamer on a number of extreme multi-neckers, and in the 1980s some metal bands made use of the shock factor of the instrument to add to their visual appeal. In the late 1990s and early parts of the 2000s, retro appeal brought back some doublenecks into the realm of “guitar geek” status.

Some of the most enlightening moments in guitar learning have come for me at the Museum of Making Music. Located at NAMM headquarters in Carlsbad, CA, the Museum not only preserves the history of the music instrument industry but teaches the history of music instruments to the public. I was lucky enough to work at the museum doing a number of things, none more gratifying than giving tours to youngsters. Once while giving a tour to a group of Brownies—girls between the ages of seven and nine—I walked up to a case holding an incredibly rare Bigsby doubleneck built for J.B. Thomas. It’s a beautiful piece with a maple top and one regular-scale guitar neck and one mandolin neck. I asked the Brownies the question, “Now why would a guitar have two necks?” The girls were silent until one of them, in a whisper quiet voice, said, “So you can rock and roll?”

A great answer, and probably not too far from the truth.

How Joe B. Met Johnny B.

How Joe B. Met Johnny B.

These days it’s difficult to imagine any vintage Gibson Les Paul being a tough sell, but there was a time when 1960 ’bursts were considered less desirable than the ’58s and ’59s of legend—even though Clapton played a ’60 cherry sunburst in his Bluesbreakers days. Such was the case in the mid 1990s, when the family of a local musician who was the original owner of one of these guitars walked into Rumble Seat Music’s original Ithaca, New York, store with this column’s featured instrument.

Les Paul 0 8145 is a typical 1960 ’burst in most ways. A vibrant cherry color is prominent in the finish—which is a result of a change in dyes Gibson made when owners complained of their new ’58 and ’59 model guitars fading in ultraviolet light—and the neck is thinner than the late-’50s models, similar to what you’d find on the SG-body-style guitars that debuted not long after this 6-string left Kalamazoo.

vintage 1960 gibson les paul burst

The maple top is hardly the most figured, yet neither is it plain. But one thing certainly jumps out on this guitar: The original owner applied a name plate on the top for all the world to know it belonged to “Johnny B”! Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because Rumble Seat was never short on amazing guitars on display to compete for attention, the guitar we named Johnny B. hung on the wall for close to eight months.

Eliot Michael, Rumble Seat’s owner, insisted that what Johnny B. lacked in flame was made up for in spades via its monstrous sound. The two original PAF humbuckers are incredible. It’s now common knowledge that many of the best sounding ’bursts do come from the later run in 1960, but it took some convincing for one of my friends and good customers to finally plug Johnny B. in to hear it for himself. Upon doing so, he immediately declared it “the best sounding guitar I’ve ever heard.” And Johnny B. left the shop for a new home.

As tends to happen, the guitar eventually found its way back to Rumble Seat Music, after we moved the store to Nashville, Tennessee. Another friend and customer agreed with that assessment of its sound. His name is Joe Bonamassa. Johnny B. went to live with Joe B., where it took on a new chapter of life on the road and in the studio for several years.

Joe wielded this truly exceptional-sounding guitar in many shows across the U.S. You may have seen it onstage. While some Les Pauls are known for their sweet sound, Johnny B. wants to rock. This is one of the most aggressive, raunchy, and downright rude-sounding Les Paul Standards out there, which seems appropriate for an instrument sharing a name with a Chuck Berry song. It doesn’t get much more rock ’n’ roll than that!

As I mentioned earlier, guitars we sell have a habit of finding their way back to our store, and so it goes with Johnny B.–now returned to our walls after some serious adventures. Typically, good condition 1960 Les Pauls carry tags in six figures, and this one is no exception at $278,000. That’s within the same current range for ’58s and ’59s, since players and collectors have gotten hip to the virtues of 1960 models. And although it was initially overlooked, Johnny B. has earned its place as one of the most recognizable ’bursts around.

What Kind of Tone Would You Expect From Plywood, Diner-Booth Vinyl, and Acrylic?

What Kind of Tone Would You Expect From Plywood, Diner-Booth Vinyl, and Acrylic?

Growing up in the shadow of the Martin Guitar Factory, I learned a thing or two about tonewoods. Quite a few of my friends got jobs at the factory right out of high school, and over the years, I’ve seen how woods are cured, selected, and cared for. The Japanese factories I’ve visited really took this idea to the next level. I’ve seen curing rooms with classical music being played to stacks of wood. I’ve seen huge storerooms with different woods sorted by age (some well over 100 years old), country of origin, and quality of figuring. Hell, I’ve even seen logs that were dragged out of Mississippi swamps, shipped to Japan, and cured.

If you’ve ever had conversations with high-end collectors, then you’ve probably heard all sorts of poetic waxing on birdseye and flame and such. But what would you, good reader, say about a guitar that featured a plywood body wrapped in diner-booth vinyl? Oh, and then this same guitar had a layer of acrylic screwed to the top! How do you think a guitar like that would sound?

Much like the Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took cues from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, going way out there with enough sparkle and pearloid to send you trippin’

Your first response may be informed by taste and income level. As for me, I’m indifferent. A guitar will sound good or it won’t. After listening and playing so many guitars, I’ve developed quite an ear for “zing” or “pop” as I like to call it. And the budget-class Hagstrom F-11 guitar has some zing for sure.

The F-11 comes from the mid ’60s and was part of a line of guitars to make it to the U.S. via Sweden, from where it was imported by Merson Musical Products in Westbury, New York. Sometimes these guitars are called H-I models in European catalogs, but in the Merson catalog these were billed as the F-11 and cost $129.50 in 1966. The F-11 came in red, black, white, or, as in this case, blue—my favorite guitar color.

Hagstrom’s accordion-making roots date back to the 1920s. When they began manufacturing electric guitars in 1958, the company immediately offered some of the craziest examples seen in Europe and soon developed a reputation for fine guitars and basses. Much like the Italian guitar factories, Hagstrom took cues from accordion design and applied them to electric guitars, going way out there with enough sparkle and pearloid to send you trippin’!

Even the most affordable Hagstrom electrics came with several effective features. Inside the F-11’s slim neck lies the worldwide-patented H-shaped truss rod that was dubbed the “Expander-Stretcher.” It’s a nice design, and these old Hagstrom necks have held up over time. The vibrato was also a design wonder that, for a period, was copied extensively by various Japanese makers. Hagstrom called the unit an “In Motion” vibrato, and the upper plate floats over the base plate with proper string tension. The vibrato takes some time to dial in but works rather smoothly. Although Hagstrom’s “Micro-Matic” bridge was found on more upscale models, allowing for better string spacing, adjustable intonation, and a sharp break-over for the strings, budget models like this F-11 have a simpler wooden bridge with non-adjustable metal saddles.

The sound of the F-11 is quite Strat-like and gives players a Fender-y experience with a little more oomph. I’ve always been impressed with Hagstrom pickups. I’ve liked almost every example I’ve heard, and the pickups also hold up well with the passage of time.

Measuring around 7k, they are a little hotter than Fender pickups from the same era. The F-11’s electronics include a cute little control panel, straight out of a spaceship, with one master volume and four mini-switches for high, low, tone, and mute functions. These are essentially preset tone switches that most players would probably find redundant, but they’re kind of neato. And who could miss that crazy mesh inlay between the pickups. Why? Why not!?

These mid-’60s Hagstroms are really sweet guitars, and I own three different models that I use quite a bit. Hey, go search one out if you can—as long as you’re not bothered by plywood and acrylic.

Rig Rundown: Nir Felder and Will Lee

Rig Rundown: Nir Felder and Will Lee

For the Band of Other Brothers, this dynamic duo carries a light load.

Nir Felder has been called “the next big jazz guitarist” by NPR and hailed by The New York Times as a “whiz kid.” Will Lee is the Grammy-winning Musician’s Hall of Fame member you’ve likely seen and heard playing bass as part of Paul Shaffer’s World’s Most Dangerous Band on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows.

Currently, Felder and Lee are touring together with drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Sting), Jeff Coffin on saxophones and woodwinds (Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones), and keyboardist Jeff Babko (James Taylor, Toto) as Band of Other Brothers. On April 20, the Other Brothers made a stop at Nashville’s City Winery, supporting their second album, Look Up. Lee and Felder took a break pre-soundcheck to usher PG’s John Bohlinger through their rigs.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XS Electric Strings]

First and Best

Although Nir Felder has plenty of guitars, he usually gigs with his stock 1995 Fender Tex-Mex Stratocaster—his first electric guitar. The Strat has high mileage and plenty of battle scars.

He plays with Dunlop Jazz III picks and keeps it strung with D’Addario NYXL strings. And no nets for this musical high-wire walker. Felder has been touring without a backup axe.

Deluxe Redux

Felder plays Fender Deluxe ’65 reissues on tour, speccing the model for backline amps. It’s a ubiquitous 1×12, so he can always get a consistent tone.

The Tenacious 10

Felder’s uptown sound—on the ground—includes a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer with a Keeley mod, and a Klon KTR. Those two overdrives usually stay on, and he rolls down the volume of his Strat to clean up the signal while giving it a warm, rich undercurrent of dirt. From there, it’s a King Tone Duellist, King Tone Octaland, Meris Ottobit, Line 6 DL4 MkII, Strymon BigSky, Boss DD-3, and a Neunaber Wet Reverb. Power comes from a Strymon Zuma. The board is by Stompin-Ground, and cables are from L.A. Sound Design and Nice Rack Canada.

Fab 4-String

Will Lee plays his signature 22-fret Sadowsky bass. This J-style features master volume, a pickup blender, a push/pull treble roll-off, a bass boost, treble boost, and a mid-boost on/off switch. There’s a push/pull pot that’s a preamp bypass switch for playing in passive mode, and the instrument is equipped with a Hipshot Bass Xtender that Lee tunes down to low C. Strings are Dean Markley SR2000s.

The Haunt of Eagles…

is what the Latin word aquilare means. And linquists believe Aguilar, a common town name in Spain, is derived from it. But Lee’s amp for this gig—an Aguilar DB 751 pumping through one of the company’s SL 210 400-watt, 8-ohm bass cabinets—was from SIR rentals.

The Rig for This Gig

Lee says he has a rig for every gig, and with Letterman he had to have enough pedalboard to cover every sound he might need to cover a wide variety of guest artists and genres. But for the Band of Other Brothers, Lee plugs into a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, an MXR Bass Envelope Filter, and a POG, a Mod 11 Modulator, and a Canyon—all by EHX. Juice comes from a Truetone 1 Spot Pro.

Verso’s Minimalist Sheet Metal Guitars Are Inspired by Rickenbackers and … Eames Chairs?

Luthier/designer Robin Stummvoll talks about unlikely guitar-building materials, movable pickups, and product design.