9/02/2014

c.1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Electric Guitar


The owner bought this new back in the day and I just gave it a light setup as it hadn't had service for a few years. He's played it religiously since purchase but it's still in great shape as he's kept it in the case and clean. The original pickups are stowed away and in their place are a set of humbucker Strat-style units but the Les Paul sound is unmistakable when you plug this in though it does have a slightly more 50s, slightly more clean-cut sound with these pups installed. You can almost get something like that Carl Perkins sound from the bridge.

8/30/2014

c.1969 Harmony-made Silvertone Parlor Guitar




I picked this up locally and couldn't resist because other than a couple loose braces and a split bridge this guitar was actually in decent structural shape. This one has a very faint 1969 date stamp on the back and while its model number is unclear it's a lot like a Harmony Stella or similar parlor model (H929) but with a pin bridge rather than a tailpiece load. It's solid birch throughout (but poplar neck) with a 12-fret neck join and except for cosmetic changes it could've been built in the 40s with the same general makeup. This has a 24" scale and a 13 1/4" lower bout so it's sort of like a squashed 0-size guitar.

Work included a fret level/dress, new (parts bin) rosewood Martin-style belly bridge, reglue of the two main top braces, new bone saddle and new bridge pins, a bit of cleaning and seam repairs, and setup. It plays perfectly (3/32" bass and 1/16" treble action at the 12th fret) and has that sort of old-time blues or fingerpicking sound that's associated with the birch and ladder bracing. Being relatively late in the game the bracing is a bit stiffer than the older (30s, 40s) Harmony makes of similar specs but that also means it'll string up fine with 12s even though I have it setup with 11s currently.

8/29/2014

c.1890 Bay State 5-String Banjo




Another customer's banjo: this one is a Boston-made (by Haynes) Bay State 5er from the gut-string days. I've installed a new Elite (Remo Renaissance-style) head, given it a fret level/dress, and set it all up properly. It's also sporting a new set of those Aquila Red Nylgut strings (unwound low D!) that sound/feel great. They're a little snappier like true gut compared to something like nylon which is so-so as a replacement. They're also loud as heck. I often see a bit of shock on players' faces when their own steel-string openbacks get somewhat drowned-out by a nylon-strung one. Har har.

She plays spot-on for gut/nlyon (3/32" at the 12th fret) and has "that tone." I think its owner will be very happy getting this one back. There's nothing quite like playing an old gut-strung banjo setup as it was intended to be... they're just... different.

c.1890 British-made Zither 5-String Banjo




This is a customer's instrument that came in for a new skin head, fret level/dress, setup, and the usual etc. sort of work needed to get something up and running. It also came in with something startling for a British zither banjo: a straight neck! I've never seen that. It's shocking!

By the way: if anyone knows what maker built this, please let me know.

Zither banjos are distinct in that they have a tunneled 5th drone string that pops out at the 5th fret. They also tend to have geared (guitar-style) tuners and a head that's stretched over a metal rim that sits suspended inside what on most banjos would be a removable resonator. This all adds up to instruments that have a very different sound compared to most American banjos. I find them a bit more overtone-y, darker (usually), and thuckier-sounding. This can be a big advantage for the player who's over-bright in his/her attack or someone looking for a spooky old folky sound.

Old '41 Epi Bass Available Again


I'm looking at probably a year-plus where I won't be bringing a double bass to shows... so it's actually up for grabs again to make little room in the house. I'll be updating my original post with current details and a adding it to the inventory pretty soon but this is what she looks like right now after a fresh bridge re-cut and setup. Plays like butter! -- and comes with case, bow, rosin, and stand.

c.1935/2014 RCA 2w Tube Combo Amplifier


I was originally using this as an extension cabinet for a different small amplifier but just the other day I decided to install the Fender Greta I've been using in an old B&H cab into this and also "hot rod" this cab with the big Jensen 12" that I'd been using with that amp. The reason is: that bigger brown B&H cab was re-purposed to hold our band's #2 big PA amp as the cab I had it in rattled too much at high volume. At the same this cool old box begged to be used more, anyhow... and now it's got all of the great sound I had coming out of the B&H configuration but with a bit more bottom-end warmth and power (to my ears) due to the closed-back construction.

If you want to hear what this amp sounds like on record you can hear it in use on basically everywhere an electric part comes in (all tracks) on my last album: Feeling Lousy. Those are all direct outs from the amp (a nice feature it has, by the way) but they're fairly accurate in describing the tone... which is very 40s/50s in nature -- simply, slightly warmed up in the trebles vs. a crisp clean modern sound, and easy to get warm drive at lower volumes.

8/28/2014

c.1972 Harmony H6365 000-size Mahogany Guitar




The H6365 is the 70s version of the venerable Harmony H165 all-mahogany guitar and not much is changed save the neck profile (super thin for a Harmony) and the decal-applied rather than bound soundhole rosette. It also had an adjustable bridge from the factory but for setup purposes here it's non-adjustable.

This example came to me in trade and the work over here was as minimal as possible to get it playing well because these don't hold a lot of value. The neck got a bolt-through reinforcement, the bridge got a shave, the frets got leveled and dressed, and it got a good bit of cleaning. Unfortunately for Harmony necks of this period they're structurally under-built: they're too thin (think gaining on 60s Gibson necks) and made of poplar rather than a nicer-grade wood. This means that to keep the neck happy with the long Harmony scale (25") I've strung it up with extra-light 10s for standard-pitch stringing. The truss rod manages to keep it straight at this tension but even slightly heavier at 50w-11 the truss maxed out and left a touch of relief. I suppose this makes it a good folk-singy or fingerpicking guitar, however, with its light touch.

8/27/2014

Ephemera: Michigan Glee Club (c.1896)


Pretty fancy duds, fellas! I'm spying many nice old 5-string banjos in various configurations: banjeaurines, piccolos, full scale instruments... and a bunch of old bowlbacks from the day and a surprisingly-large pair of guitars (one of which looks a lot like an old Washburn). Interesting! This was dated 1896 on the back in its original eBay auction.

Anyhow -- it was brutal hot and humid all day long and right before I was going to take pictures of some of the day's work (including a gorgeous old customer-owned Bay State 5-string banjo) it simply poured down! Now it's too late (and wet) outside to take pics... so we'll wait until tomorrow.

8/25/2014

c.1935 Regal-made Slingerland MayBell Tenor Guitar




I've been meaning to get to this guitar for so long now. It's an interesting thing and it has many old folky repairs (lots of cracks cleated on the top with bits of popsicle sticks, tehe-he-he). My work on it included regluing and fixing up the fretboard extension (it was splintered and off), new bone nut and saddle install, new pins, some top brace reglues a fret level/dress, new endpin, new tuners, cleaning, and setup. It plays perfectly with 1/16" action at the 12th fret and a fast feel despite the bigger D-shaped neck profile.

What's weird about the design is the almost 0-sized body (18" long, 13 1/8" wide, 4" deep) and the 12-fret neck. What makes it even weirder is that rather than a 14-fret joint (as I'd expect for a 30s tenor) it has a 12 fret joint! Combined with Regal's light transverse ladder bracing this gives it a huge, warm sound that's like a breathier version of a Kalamazoo KTG-14. It also has a long 24" scale which makes it sit somewhere between a tenor guitar and a plectrum guitar which means it's not very useful for standard (CGDA) tuning as the A will inevitably snap all the time. I find it just about perfect for DGBE (Chicago) tuning but I think it'd also be "swell" for octave mandolin GDAE tuning so long as the A string was kept as a plain (maybe a 16, 17, or 18). The warmth and volume of this instrument should give that low G some boom.

8/24/2014

c.1900 "Hoffmann" 4/4 Cello




Update: I've updated some information about this.

This is another bogus label story of the string world. This one is labeled "Martin Hoffmann, in Leipzig 1688" but it's certainly not that old. My guess is that it's a German factory-built instrument from the 1890s at the earliest and probably the early 1900s to be more exact. It's well-made (just check out the tight grain on the top, jeez!) and mostly original (strings, tail, endpin, and bridge are new) but has a slightly rough interior build (sides not sanded-down but the back is cleated nicely for extra support) and the ever-present Romberg bevel on the fingerboard found on late 1800s/early 1900s cellos. The fact that this bevel is present and appears to be original to the board and on a board that's original to the instrument means this was built in the mid-1800s at the earliest.

Anyhow... it's a grand-sounding beast all strung up and playable with a smooth, round sound and plenty of power. The owner of this instrument chose Thomastik Spirit strings, however, which I didn't like at first (they were metallic-sounding and felt too tense when strung to pitch). After a few days settling in they sound really wonderful with this instrument: the clang of the metal was gone and they're smooth, rich, and big-sounding. This puts out a lot of sound and the neck and body seem quite happy with the 30lb tension per string.

c.1900 Storioni-copy 4/4 Violin


This is a customer's old violin that was in for a neck reset, seam repairs, and setup. She sounds awesome and (now) plays great. The owner is a fiddler and has the odd choice of Thomastik Peter Infeld strings ($100/set) on this instrument. They're a perfect choice as the clear, smooth, sweet synthetic-core sound of these strings really suits this instrument's high-octane sound. I like.

Like many other late-1800s, early-1900s violins it bears a bogus "Storioni" label in the bass f-hole. It's certainly not from the 1700s and to my eyes doesn't even fit a the Storioni looks from instruments I've seen on the web... but who cares? As its own thing it sounds great.

8/23/2014

c.1923 Weymann Style #140 Openback Tenor Banjo




Weymanns are always a favorite of mine when passing through the shop! Big, robust builds with plenty of structural reinforcement are their hallmark and they sound tops, too. This one is essentially built like a Vega "Little Wonder" with a hoop-in-sleeve tonering though the heavier hardware and bigger rim give it a distinctly warmer sound. It's got plenty of volume but the 10 1/2" head and short 21" scale length mean that while the fingering should be ideal for Celtic (low GDAE-tuned) banjo the tone is much more suited to "Chicago" DGBE tuning (which it's in) or standard CGDA tuning.