Tag: stratocaster

Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster Review

Premier Guitar doesn’t often review anniversary edition instruments—most of them being marketing exercises in disguise. But the Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster genuinely seems to embody much about where Squier has been and the reliable source for quality, affordable, and, yes, beautiful guitars they have become.


At $599, the 40th Anniversary Stratocaster lives on the higher side of the Squier pricing scheme. But there is much—in terms of both style and substance—that makes this Stratocaster feel special. The mash-up of 1950s design cues (gold anodized pickguard) and 1970s elements (block inlays) really works in spite of how easy it is to screw up a Stratocaster’s graceful lines. And the spots where Squier added flash, like those inlays and neck binding, reflect a genuine concern for craftsmanship and executing the little details.

In practical terms, the 40th Anniversary Strat specs out and feels quite like a Classic Vibe Stratocaster, which is a good thing. The body is nyatoh and the fretboard is laurel, but apart from the 9.5″ radius fretboard, which always feels a bit flat on a Strat for me, neither result in major deviations from classic Strat weight or touch. Output from the alnico 5 pickups felt a little more contoured, less edgy, and less punchy on the treble side than the pickups in the Vintera ’60s Stratocaster and ’80s E Series Stratocasters I used for comparison. But apart from missing that micro-trace of extra spank that cuts through an intense spring reverb signal, there was little to upset the surfy state of very stylish bliss this Squier induced each time I plugged it in.

Michael Gregory Jackson: “Music Is Liberation”

During the climax of the final piece of an ensemble concert held at a gallery in New Haven, Connecticut, guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson climbed up a stepladder so tall that an acrophobic would have a heart attack just looking at it. Once high up in the sky, Jackson let loose a bucket of ping-pong balls in the direction of the audience. “Kinetic motion, sonically beautiful, startling, if not shocking,” recalls Jackson, “The concept was to break and disturb the plane and formality—the distance between the performers and the audience. To add a little mayhem and surprise. It also sounded great.”


Even as a youth, Jackson already had a rebellious nature. “I ran away from home to see Led Zeppelin’s first American tour. I knew I wasn’t going to get permission to go, but I had to go,” says Jackson. “It was as good as I thought it was going to be. It was great. You know what I mean? They were this incredible band and it was no frills back then. They didn’t have the whole giant stage. They were just four guys up there playing music. That’s my foundation.”

Jackson’s musical horizon has significantly broadened over the decades, to the point where it now defies categorization. Vernon Reid has noted, “Michael Gregory Jackson has always cut a singular musical path on his journey through the many genres that have been his wheelhouse, through many schools of jazz, through alternative rock, and even avant-folk.” Other luminaries like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, and Nels Cline have also sung Jackson’s praises. Unfortunately, the more outside the box you are, the harder it is to achieve mainstream notoriety. Jackson has largely remained an unsung guitar hero for decades.

Michael Gregory Jackson – “Prelueoionti” [Excerpt from the album ‘Electric Git Box’]

The Pathway to a Unique Musical Vision

Originally wanting to be a drummer, Jackson picked up the guitar at age 7 at his father’s urging. He took lessons at the local music store until he was around 14, and by that point he was already impressing audiences daily in his school’s expansive courtyard. In addition to Zeppelin, his early influences were classic rock acts like Hendrix and Eric Clapton. (“Clapton is a bad word these days,” jokes Jackson.) He later got turned on to jazz giants like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green before veering off and checking out more obscure artists. “I was always attracted to different music and still am to this day. My influences are definitely not only guitar players, by any means. I’m really influenced by drummers, saxophone players, and pianists. From the age of maybe about 12 or so, I would buy two records a week completely just based on the cover art. I would not know what the music was. So, one week I’d buy Tauhid by [saxophonist] Pharoah Sanders and the other album would be [rock band] Blue Cheer. And then I would also go to the library and take out all the Nonesuch recordings and anything else that struck my fancy—like Stockhausen and John Cage. There’s nothing that I won’t listen to. I don’t like everything, but I’ll listen to it. Of course, I have my mainstays. A Love Supreme [by John Coltrane] is my Sunday morning music. To this day, I listen to it every, every Sunday. The expansive feeling, emotion, and the meditative quality of that music are really attractive to me.”

A revelation led Jackson to follow and stay true to his own musical path. “I realized very early on that I had something to say, and I wasn’t going to get to the point where I could say it by emulating someone else. I knew that Wes Montgomery was amazing, but I knew I wasn’t going to take the kind of time it took for me to work on that style of music, even though I loved it. I just felt like there’s one Wes Montgomery, there’s one Miles Davis, there’s one John Coltrane, and on and on. So, I had no desire to occupy that particular space.”

I was putting my Superman as opposed to my Clark Kent into it, you know?”

Jackson’s musical inclinations have always reflected an uncommon eclecticism. In the ’70s, he immersed himself in the NYC loft-jazz scene. Not the famed loft scene with jazz giants Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, and Steve Grossman, but its counterpart: the avant-garde jazz scene with the likes of Henry Threadgill, Oliver Lake, and Anthony Braxton. But playing free jazz was only one facet of Jackson’s musical personality. Simultaneously, he also enjoyed and pursued other musical interests.

In 1979, he landed a deal with Arista Records as an R&B artist and recorded Gifts. Jackson’s rebellious spirit soon came to the forefront. “After Heart & Center, my second record for Arista, I thought that I’d have a deal quickly, as I knew a lot of record people. I was meeting with Clive Davis and he wanted me to be an R&B singer, which I am, but at that particular point in time, that’s not what I was interested in,” recalls Jackson. “I was told if I wanted to play jazz or R&B they would sign me, but they would not sign me playing so-called ‘rock’ music.” In those days, the music business was extremely segregated, and record labels strictly cast white artists as rockers. The record companies pigeonholed Jackson as an R&B singer, not a rock singer. Seeing no pathway for a creative outlet, Jackson asked to be released from Arista Records.

“That [being an R&B singer] wasn’t my plan at that time. I was interested in the punk-rock scene and I started my rock band, Signal,” explains Jackson.

Michael Gregory Jackson’s Signal toured extensively up and down the East Coast between 1979 and 1983. But even with a new, harder-edged focus, he was still in tune with his more introspective side. In 1982, he recorded Cowboys, Cartoons and Assorted Candy for the German label Enja, which was originally going to be a live solo performance from the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1981 but ended up being a studio album.

This period turned out to be particularly productive for Jackson. In 1982, he collaborated with the late Walter Becker of Steely Dan. That same year,Nile Rodgers heard him at Seventh Avenue South in NYC, the Brecker Brothers’ club, and proposed getting together. This meeting resulted in Situation-X, an album Rodgers produced for Island Records in 1983, which saw Jackson on lead vocals and guitar, and featured Steve Winwood on keyboards and backing vocals for the track “No Ordinary Romance.” Jackson had shortened his stage name to simply Michael Gregory for that album, to avoid confusion with the pop phenom who shared the same name.

Michael Gregory Jackson’s Gear 

Michael Gregory Jackson guitarist vintage 1959 gibson sg

Guitars

  • 1959 Gibson SG
  • 2006 Fender Stratocaster Deluxe
Strings & Picks
  • Ernie Ball Regular Slinky (.010–.046)
  • V-Picks Medium

Amps

  • Polytone Mini Brute with Eminence Texas Heat speaker
Effects
  • Pigtronix Echolution
  • Pigtronix Disnortion
  • Modified Boss DS-1
  • DigiTech Supernatural

Jackson was very prolific in his rock explorations. At times, he would write five songs a day. But past Situation-X, he couldn’t get Island Records to record and promote another rock album. Disillusioned, Jackson left the music business and took on work helping people with disabilities.

The Healing Power of the Git-Box

In 1988, Jackson returned to the music business with an RCA/BMG album called What to Where. He has since rekindled his passion for improvised music and formed Michael Gregory Jackson’s Clarity Quartet and Trio, among other pursuits.

“The concept with that particular band is to make the songs as concise and powerful as possible within four to five minutes,” Jackson explains. “You hit the ground running. Obviously, there are times when we do a long-term build up into something, but sometimes I just really enjoy getting to it right away. That’s the way playing solo is. I’m not going to generally play a piece for 10 minutes—not that I couldn’t—unless it’s really happening for me at the time. So, I try and make the pieces concise, powerful statements. And structurally, when I’m playing solo, I can move the time around. I can slow down. I can speed up. I can do all these things. ’Cause I have the freedom to do that.”

Jackson’s latest release, Electric Git Box, is an honest reflection of the strife that weighed heavily on the guitarist during the period of the recording. It was a pivotal time in his life. He had made the trip from the East Coast to the West several times a year to escape the cold and had finally decided to permanently relocate from Maine to California. After about six months staying in Airbnbs, Jackson finally found a home in Pasadena. Then, abouttwo months later, just as he was about to immerse himself in the new scene, Covid hit.

Structurally, when I’m playing solo, I can move the time around. I can slow down. I can speed up. ’Cause I have the freedom to do that.

Jackson fell into a deep funk and found it hard to reinvigorate his musical passion. “Maybe a year or more into Covid, I was not feeling that great,” recalls Jackson. “I wasn’t feeling like playing music. I was pretty stressed out by all that was happening—between Covid and the police killings of black people. You know, I was in shock. That first year, especially, was particularly rough and it was a lot to grapple with. When you have things in you and they’re intense, sometimes painful things, sometimes the urge is you don’t feel like letting them out or talking about them. I really had to go inside and do some work on feeling better about things and feeling motivated to play and make music.”

As his spirits slowly lifted, he started picking up his git boxes (Jackson’s endearing term for his guitars) again. He was asked to do some streaming concerts and that kickstarted his musical reawakening. “I decided that I would record the music with some of the edge and angst I was feeling,” says Jackson, who found the timbre of an overdriven guitar sound instrumental in expressing his inner void. “It’s not like I’m playing heavy-metal distorted guitar. It’s a kind of distortion that’s based on blues distortion. Whether it be a harmonica or a guitar, there’s a certain overdriven edge to the music, because a lot of the music is really coming from that expanse of black music. The culture is historical, and the depth of that music is incredible. For me, this was very, very personal music that I really was feeling. I was putting my Superman as opposed to my Clark Kent into it, you know?”

Electric Git Box was recorded over a three-day period and features reworked solo arrangements of Jackson’s earlier compositions, in addition to some new songs. Unlike Jackson’s previous solo guitar release, Cowboys, Cartoons and Assorted Candy, there are no overdubs or loops on Electric Git Box.

Other than slight delay and reverb, it’s pure-toned solo guitar, which is an extremely difficult format to succeed with. Even the late, great Jim Hall has remarked that solo guitar albums can tend to get boring fast. Electric Git Box is a compelling listen, not because of any Joe Pass-style fretboard wizardry, but because of its undeniable raw emotion and the explicit heart-on-sleeve expression of Jackson’s inner turbulence.

It is akin to a public viewing of emotional surgery, with Jackson’s git box being the only doctor capable of mending his wounds. “I was really feeling it intensely and my feelings were very, very on the surface,” he admits. “It was kind of a fight to play the music because some of it’s difficult, but luckily I’m in touch with that part of myself. I was really in the right place to convey what I was feeling. It’s real and raw, but it’s also with the intensity, fire, and emotional push that I really wasn’t going to keep bottled up. It was really liberating, and it was really saying, ‘I am free. I am powerful. I can say what I want to say.’

“Music is liberation. I am free. It’s not like I don’t face what I face here in this country—systemic racism, and all of that. And you know that’s not designed to support me, exactly. So, I, we, have to find ways to live our lives and make our lives enjoyable and functional, and not just be eliminated by that, you know? ’Cause that is the goal of it—to eradicate me—which is a strange thing to live with.”

Pieces like “Karen (Sweet Angel)” and “Theme-X (For Geri Allen),” with their question-and-answer phrasing between haunting chords and despair-filled melodies, explicitly reflect Jackson’s inner turmoil. The wistful, African-influenced “Prelueoionti” sees Jackson using a fingerstyle approach to make his guitar sound like a kalimba—before using his thumb to strum a funky chordal figure with a grooving bass line embedded. “Sweet Rain Blues” opens with angry double-stops, articulated with right-hand thumb and index fingers, in a call and response with fluid pentatonic runs.

The pieces on Electric Git Box reflect a fluidity of form. “I’m not really that concerned with that aspect of the music—song form. Music is a funny thing, you know. It can be analyzed according to anybody’s system. People say the blues is a 12-bar form, and I say the blues can be any form. It was never meant to be one thing and that’s it. I mean, same thing with quote unquote jazz. No one stayed in the same place—Miles or Coltrane or anybody that you’d like never stayed in the same place. There are people that stayed in similar spots because they have a style. But you know, Miles never was interested in going back and doing Sketches of Spain. He just kept moving. And that’s the inspiration for me.”

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Jackson’s Clarity Quartet is an outlet for him to explore new sounds in an ensemble context. “My goal for that quartet is to have them know what their voice is. Obviously, voices are always changing, but to have them know and be secure and strong enough in their voice that they could keep up and play with me,” says Jackson. “Because when I go out and play, I approach it as … I wouldn’t call it a battle, but I’m not leaving anything on the stage.”




Caroline Jones’ Polymathic Picking

Country singer-songwriter Caroline Jones names her guitars. Her current go-to, a Collings I-35 Deluxe, is “Ruby.” Her Taylor Custom GS 12-string is named “Big Mama.” There’s a 1963 Strat on loan from her coproducer, Ric Wake, that she calls “Heaven.” And you’ll also see her with a 1961 Fender Esquire—called, “Tenny”—that also belongs to Wake.


“Ric lets me borrow his Esquire,” Jones says about using the instrument in the studio and sometimes at shows. “He is very sweet about it. What’s the point of having it sit at home on the wall? You want people to hear it. You want to play it. That’s what it’s for. I know it’s extremely valuable, but I just feel, what is the value if you can’t play it?”

Jones is a player, and from a young age she’s been on a quest to create the sounds and parts she hears in her head. That’s resulted in her learning multiple picking and slide techniques, tunings, and instruments. The Connecticut native spent time in the Gulf Coast where she collaborated with Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown, but eventually she relocated to Nashville. In Music City, she has a rack of guitars to choose from in the studio, and she’s very picky, often choosing a specific guitar for just one melody, and then using another for an accompanying line or different part of the song.

Caroline Jones – Big Love (Fleetwood Mac Cover)

On her 2018 debut, Bare Feet, Jones played every instrument except bass and drums—and she spent weeks honing parts, layering rhythms, and doubling leads. But for her follow-up, Antipodes, which was released last November, she brought in a few Nashville pickers, like Danny Rader, Jason Roller, and Derek Wells, as well as special guests like Joe Bonamassa, Zac Brown, and Matthew Ramsey (Old Dominion). The initial sessions were recorded in Nashville, although most of the vocal and guitar overdubs were cut on the other side of the world in New Zealand (hence the name, “Antipodes,” which describes two locations on opposite sides of the earth), where Jones was living at the height of the pandemic.

Antipodes is an excellent showcase for Jones’ prodigious talent and versatility. The album features barnburners, like the twangy, chicken-picked single, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable),” and also more subtle, acoustic fingerpicked songs like “No Daylight.” She also composed two songs on a New Zealand-built, Weissenborn-style lap steel: “So Many Skies,” which features Ramsey, and the earthy and bluesy, “Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Tiffany,” featuring a somewhat restrained Bonamassa playing slide (as well as Jones on harmonica).

“Fingerpicking was the first thing that I ever learned on guitar, so it’s very natural to me. It’s probably the home of my style.”

“My now-husband wanted to get me a guitar in New Zealand to commemorate our time there,” Jones shares. “It was his idea to get the Weissenborn made by this Kiwi luthier named Paddy Burgin, and it’s beautiful. It’s made from this wood that he had sitting around for a long time. It’s really one of a kind.”

When Jones writes songs, she usually hears a version of the production in her mind that she wants to bring to life and evolve in the studio. A big part of that process also involves working with Nashville session players, who she says challenge her, and force her to up her game. “It’s extremely hard to get to that echelon of musicianship,” she says. “A lot of people don’t realize that only a few musicians are playing on almost all the Nashville records, and their level of musicianship is off the charts. For you to be comparing yourself to those people is, at times, disheartening. But I think you get a realistic picture of where the bar is for musicianship, which is something I always want to hold myself to, even though I’m very far off.”

Not that she’s that far off. The cornerstone of her right-hand work is her exceptional, yet unorthodox, fingerpicking style. She wears plastic fingerpicks on three fingers, as well as a thumbpick, which is a technique she started on banjo. It’s a style that transferred easily over to acoustic guitar, and—with a little more effort—to electric guitar as well.

“I couldn’t get any sustain or ring from my fingers,” she says. “I don’t like having long nails. I feel really dirty—although a lot of my guitar heroes have long nails or fake nails—and I just don’t like that. The picks that I use, Alaska Piks, mimic the nail. They’re not steel like banjo picks. They’re plastic, and they’re just mimicking what a long nail would be. I wear it on my ring finger—as well as my index and middle fingers—which I know is not as traditional, but I do use that finger. Fingerpicking was the first thing that I ever learned on guitar, so it’s very natural to me. It’s probably the home of my style.”

Jones also prefers fingerpicks because they have more attack, which became more important as she got deeper into country music. She uses them for chicken picking, as well as when she’s going for a cleaner, indie-type sound. Although recently, after the death of flatpicking legend Tony Rice, she’s been doing a deep dive into his catalog and figuring out those techniques.

Caroline Jones’ Gear

Guitars

  • Collings OM1 named “Sweet Annie”
  • Beard Custom Resoluxe electric named “Blaze”
  • Burgin Guitars Custom Weissenborn-style
  • Collings I-35 Deluxe named “Ruby”
  • 1961 Fender Custom Esquire (sunburst) named “Tenny”
  • 1963 Fender Stratocaster Hardtail (sunburst) named “Heaven”
  • Gretsch G6120-HR Brian Setzer Hot Rod named “Loretta”
  • 1947 Martin 0-18 named “Rosie”
  • Martin 00-21 Kingston Trio named “Surfer Dude”
  • Nechville Universal 5-String Banjo named “Starfish”
  • 1958 Rickenbacker Model BD Lap Steel (1958)
  • Taylor Custom GS 12-String named “Big Mama”
Strings, Picks, Slides & Capos
  • D’Addario Nickel Bronze .012–.053 Regular Light Set, .013s for lower tunings (acoustic)
  • Ernie Ball Super Slinky .009s or .010s (electric)
  • D’Andrea custom CJ V-Resin flatpicks in Trans Aqua (equivalent shape/gauge as Fender 351 Medium)
  • ProPik Metal-Plastic Thumbpick
  • Alaska Pik plastic fingerpicks
  • Scheerhorn Stainless Steel Bar Slide (for lap steel and resonator)Dunlop 212 Pyrex Glass Slide (electric)
  • Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Slide (electric)
  • Kyser capos

Amps

  • Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III
  • 1964 Fender Bassman AA864 head
  • 1980s Yamaha G100-210 II 100-watt 2×10
  • Vox AC50CP2 50-watt 2×12
  • Rivera Silent Sister 60-watt 1×12 Isolation Cabinet with two Celestion V30s
Effects
  • Fishman Aura Jerry Douglas Signature Imaging Pedal
  • EV-1 Volume/Expression
  • Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuner
  • Vertex Effects Boost
  • Boss FV-500H
  • Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer with XTS Mod
  • Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe Compressor
  • Xotic EP Booster
  • Nobels ODR-1 Overdrive
  • JHS Pedals Bonsai
  • JHS Pedals Muffuletta 6-way Fuzz
  • Klon KTR
  • Electro-Harmonix POG2
  • Electro-Harmonix Mod Rex Polyrhythmic Modulator
  • Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble
  • Eventide H9 Max Dark
  • Strymon Mobius
  • Strymon TimeLine
  • Strymon BigSky
  • Electro-Harmonix 1440 Stereo Looper

“Tony Rice is one of the godfathers of flatpicking,” she says. “I’m forcing myself now to learn more flatpicking because it’s a very different sound. Even if some of the patterns are very similar—or they might sound in the same family—they’re totally different skill sets.”

Jones also says there’s no shame in using a capo. It’s an important tool in her toolbox and enables her to access many guitaristic devices—like drones and harmonics—that don’t necessarily work in every key, especially when it’s in a key that sits better with her voice.

“I’ve been a capo snob in my life, as in, ‘I’m not going to use the capo, because that’s cheating,’” she says. “But then you see the best players on earth in Nashville, capo-ing up their acoustic guitars—because the open voicings just sound better. I’m like, ‘If they’re doing it, then I’m allowed, too.’ In the end, it’s music. It’s about what sounds good. It’s not about forcing yourself to do the hardest thing so you can prove you can do it. It’s about what’s going to serve the song, and sometimes that means capo-ing up, or forcing yourself to learn a different voicing without a capo, or using an open tuning. There’s a reason all the guitar songs are in D and E and C and G and A. Those are the voicings that are natural to guitar. Sometimes we get a little too in our heads as guitar players and forget that we’re trying to make it sound good.”

“There’s a reason all the guitar songs are in D and E and C and G and A. Those are the voicings that are natural to guitar. Sometimes we get a little too in our heads as guitar players and forget that we’re trying to make it sound good.”

Jones often tunes her guitars down a half-step to make it easier to play in keys that work with her voice, and a lot of her songs are in F and Eb. It’s something she’s discovered that the Zac Brown Band does as well. “Their baseline is Eb,” she says. “They tune all their instruments down a half-step, just because it’s better for Zac. All their songs are either in Eb or Db or Gb, for the most part.”

As choosy as Jones may be when it comes to gear, that’s not a luxury she has when playing live, although she makes the best of it. She’s outfitted her acoustic guitars with Barbera Transducer Systems pickups, which she feels is a must when performing primarily on acoustic—which she’ll be doing as a special guest with the Zac Brown Band for most of summer 2022.

“I am an acoustic-pickup freak,” she says, “because that’s all anyone hears. The sound of your guitar matters to a certain extent, but the pickup matters a whole lot more because if you don’t have a pickup that’s doing justice to the sound, even if you have the best acoustic guitar, who cares? We really did a lot of R&D and the Barbera pickups are the latest top-of-the-line for me.”

She’s been forced to become a minimalist with her amps and effects as well. In the studio, her go-tos are a Fender Bassman and a 1980s-era solid-state Yamaha G100 amp that shines for clean tones, as well as an army of programmable digital pedals and transparent overdrives and boosts. But live, everything, including her acoustics, are run through a digital modeler.

“Live, we usually just recreate those sounds in the Fractal Axe-Fx,” she says. “Especially when I’m singing. When you’re trying to sing and perform and be the frontman, your energy is too scattered—for me at least—to be able to be tweaking and making sounds at the same time that I’m trying to sing and play guitar and entertain people.”

But despite her success and mastery of many different instruments, styles, and techniques, Jones, at the end of the day, still sees herself as a student. “It sometimes takes me time to find the parts and the melodies that I really love,” she says. “It’s a lot of trial and error. I’ll go home and figure out parts, usually by myself. I’m definitely not in real time like those Nashville musicians. They’re trained to come up with incredible parts in real time, and so they’re very practiced at it. For me, a lot of times, I try a lot of parts that don’t work before I find one that does. Guitar parts, especially rhythm parts, do so much for a track, and it really takes me in one direction or another. That’s what fascinates me so much about production.”

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Caroline Jones’ precise and unique fingerpicking is on fine display during this solo-acoustic performance for the Navy Exchange’s Founded on Freedom July 4th celebration in 2020. She breaks out the resonator on “Tough Guys,” just after the 20-minute mark.




Hot-Rodding at Home!

For our annual guitar mods issue, we asked readers to share projects from their own workbenches.


Anthony Pereira: Jackson with Warpigs

Not as elaborate as others I’ve seen, but I’ve always been a sucker for Jackson guitars, and I’m not even a shred player. I wanted to do something different to my SL2, so I installed FU-Tone Noiseless Springs, an FU-Tone Brass Block on the Floyd Rose, a trem stopper, and Bare Knuckle Warpig pickups. The kicker is that I put a P-90 Warpig in the neck position for the punchy leads. The pickups are much darker than the stock pickups, but they scream through my 1982 Marshall 2203.

Gregg Ledoux: Meet Mavis

This is Mavis. She has a Warmoth swamp-ash body, a Warmoth Goncalo Alves neck with pau ferro fretboard, and stainless-steel frets. I chose a Lollar P-90 and Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates for the pickups. I assembled this guitar in the last couple of months. She rocks!

Jin J. X: Covering Serious Ground

Hi Premier Guitar!

This may look like a “normal” Ibanez Artcore, though it has some extra goodies. This is an Ibanez AFJ85 with a Stewmac Golden Age Parson Street alnico 2 PAF-style pickup in the bridge, and a custom alnico 3 neck pickup made for me by David Magazzi out of Connecticut. Instead of a 3-way switch, it uses the middle three notches of a 5-way rotary switch with the outside positions acting as a “mute.” The “top” master volume and tone pots are dedicated to the magnetic pickups with their own input jack.

You may notice a small wire coming from the bridge—this is a Fishman Powerbridge posted to the floating posts. That wire goes to the “bottom” volume and tone and to a separate jack. Historically, I’ve not been the biggest fan of piezo pickups in solidbodies, but in a hollowbody it actually sounds more real (a trick I picked up from the mighty Gilad Hekselman). So, this guitar covers some serious ground: legitimate jazz and R&B sounds in the neck, bright twangy sounds in the bridge, and a whole separate circuit for acoustic sounds that, in the studio with EQ, sound very much like a dreadnought we all know and love.

Thank you for all you do, and I appreciate that you give readers the opportunity to get in on the fun.

Justin Lee: Smashing Pumpkins Squier

Hi Premier Guitar,

Love all your content, especially the Rig Rundowns! I’d like to share with you my quarantine guitar project. It’s my first-ever guitar that had been unassembled for the longest time. I’ve since gone on to own much better guitars but there’s still something very magical about this one.

It’s started life as a Korean Squier and I thought the white finish was a bit boring (no offense to Jimi), so I painted it, inspired by Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album. I guess the choice of red and white was inspired by Van Halen.

During this whole period of quarantine, I decided to get it back up and running with some help from my local guitar shop. I changed the tuners and nut, and I wired in a few old pickups I had around: a Gibson pickup in the bridge and a DiMarzio Vintage Pro in the neck. I’m still not sure what to do about the space for the middle pickup. I might just leave it empty, which makes it more Frankencaster-esque. I’ve set it up with .011s and raised the action with the intention of trying to play slide (again!). I’m also waiting to get the right (free) knob for the second tone pot.

It’s probably not worth the money that I’ve just put into it, but I can’t give it up and it should be played. Also, it seems to be my kids’ favorite one of them all.

Kind regards,
Justin (currently living in Singapore but spent a lot of time in the U.K. and Canada)

Justin Motander Jones: Berto

This pine-bodied “Berto” was made from a beam from a neighbor’s 1930s patio here in the Kensington neighborhood of San Diego, California. The purpleheart fretboard pays tribute to the now-defunct historic Ken Cinema. The guitar has a TV Jones Magna’Tron, and a McNelly CC neck pickup. The anodized aluminum knobs are made locally by Forney Guitars. Berto has a Schroeder bridge and Gotoh tuners. I make guitars in San Diego and my IG handle is @justinmotanderjones, if you’d like to see some others.

Kato: Tilt-Back Banana

I put together this beautiful guitar out of some parts that were made to my specifications. It’s a Strat-style body but it’s a little bit thinner than normal. The neck is custom-made and the closest replication of the tilt-back banana headstock like George Lynch’s. The pickups are alnico 2 in the bridge, alnico 4 in middle, and alnico 5 in the neck. The neck has a slightly slimmer profile, so it’s easier to play blazing-fast leads. I had the neck plate custom-engraved with my logo and the headstock is currently out being painted to match the body and I’m having my logo applied. Hope you like it. Took me quite a while. Can’t wait to play her!

Mark Cully: Two-Fer

I have two guitar projects to share. The first is my ’90s MIM Squier Telecaster. I put a gold-foil pickup from a 1960s Teisco guitar in the neck position along with CTS pots, orange drop capacitors, and a proper Fender switch.

The second project is my Lotus guitar. It started out as a double-humbucker guitar with a Tune-o-matic bridge. I installed a Tele-style bridge and pickup, and a P-90 in the neck position. It’s now a string-through body. I handmade a hardwood shim for the neck pocket to make the neck angle suitable for the lower bridge. It has all new electronics, including CTS pots, orange drop capacitors, etc. Great mag, by the way!

Matt Dunn: Best of Both Worlds

This guitar started its life as a cheap Strat copy under the Stadium brand. I’ve always loved HSS Strats because of how versatile they are in terms of sonic possibilities. But you rarely ever see P-90s put into a Strat, let alone P-90s for an HSS configuration! So, I ordered a custom pickguard with the help of WD Music, loaded the guitar with some GFS pickups, and decided to see how a pair of P-90s and a Wide Range-style humbucker would sound. It ended up sounding wonderful, with more of a Gibson flavor than I anticipated or expected. As a Les Paul Junior fan, this guitar provided me the best of both worlds and is quite the conversation starter!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEeyqFcns31/

Michael Menkes: Modded Explorer

This bass was a stock Epiphone Korina Explorer. These are the mods:
  • Hipshot A Bass Bridge with string through
  • Bartolini Classic Bass humbuckers
  • John East Uni-Pre preamp
  • Hipshot D extender tuner
  • Alperious Custom pickguard, pickup covers, and truss rod cover

It took a full year to complete! Worth it.