Friday, January 29, 2010

I feel like cheating...

I'm a strat man. I've alway had strats, and strat clones, and superstrats... hell I even had a strat shaped acoustic once. My very first guitar was a strat clone (appropriately enough for this post though, it was an Epiphone). I own a superstrat now (a Jackson Dinky).

But the best guitar I've ever owned, my favorite guitar, the guitar I loved the most... Was a Gibson.

An early 80s production Gibson custom shop Explorer in mahogany and bound flame maple, with a clear on deep cherry red finish (it made the figuring just pop. Amazing chatoyance), bound top, board, and headstock, with no pickguard (the whole thing was backrouted. Nothing to mar the top), mother of pearl inlays on a rosewood board, dual gold covered hand wired humbuckers, a gold Kahler and matching hardware with custom knurled tone knobs (four, in a staggered configuration like a Les Paul. Individual volume and tone for each pickup. Each pot was a switch: On/off on each volume control, and coil splitting on each tone control. No toggle switches to mess up the lines), and custom knurled end tuning machine knobs.

The gold and red combo with the figuring... it was just beautiful. The post here from the current makers of REAL Hamer (there's cheap low end Hamer made offshore now. Not even close to the same) has the closest thing to the same finish I've seen in a long time.

The funny thing was though... It was essentially Gibsons custom shop doing a straight up copy of a high end Hamer Standard, which was itself a copied and improved version of the original Explorer.

The original electrics were toast, so I updated to EMG actives (two humbuckers of course) with an onboard preamp and EQ (one of the early sets. This was the early 90s that I picked it up. Got the parts from Stew-Mac Guitar Shop Supply... still remember that crappy pulp paper catalog with the black and red printing).

I was working in my uncles refinishing shop at the time, and I managed to pick up a cosmetically trashed sunburst ES-355; and I used the shop to VERY thoroughly restore and refinish it.

But I'm not a 355 fan (yeah, I know, heresy, especially for a blues fan), and nobody was willing to give me anywhere near what the thing was worth in cash. Lots of folks wanted it, but nobody who wanted it could afford it.

My guitar teacher had this fried Explorer, that he had taken in lieu of a debt... and he WAS a 355 fan... So a trade was struck.

One of those things where we both figured we got the best part of the deal, and we were both right.

Anyway, this thing... It was just beautiful; and the tone... Lord. I never knew an unamplified electric guitar could have that much sustain, or sound that good.

Unfortunately, the guitar was lost when my brother burned my house down... Damn, that was 13 years ago now... Hadn't thought about that in a while.

Thats a guitar that you can't replace... Even if they made them like that anymore, which they don't (well... Bill Conklin might make something that good now... but not many do, and it wouldn't be anything close to the same... just "as good"). You don't try to... you just remember it for what it was, and find something new and different.

Anyway, the other day, I was watching one of those "how it's made" type documentaries on TLC or discovery or somesuch and I watched them make a couple of Les Pauls.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the guitar gear queer world... There are Strat guys, and there are Les guys... It's kinda like Chevy vs. Ford...

For the first time, I found myself seriously wanting a Les Paul.

Unfortunately, the last few years, Fenders quality has been all over the place... and really I'm just not interested in another Strat (I want one of my old ones back, but that's another story entirely. A '94 Ultra in Beryllium blue with the ultrathin neck, and lace sensors. It was a gift from my dad)...

But Gibsons are still sometimes made well (though not as much by hand as they used to be. They now use computer controlled routers for much of the work, just like every other guitar maker)...

...and I'm kinda having a bit of guitar lust over a Les Paul.

Maybe a flame maple bookmatched top, with that deep cherry sunburst... blocks and bindings,, and no pick guard...

So, here's a chance for Billy Beck to show off a little bit... Seriously the man knows his Les Pauls and I'd welcome his advice, along with any good advice from Les Paul lovers and players... I'm a strat man, I don't know much about the details of production, what works and what doesn't, whether a straight bridge, a trapeze trem, or a Floyd works best... Anything really.

If I were to do it, what should I look for? What shold I look out for on the bad side of things?

Most importantly, is there any way to get a decent one without being raped (and god knows, you can't buy a new one in the style I'd like for less than the price of a used car... which is why I really dislike Gibson as a company. I mean, there is NO reason there are 60 different models of Les Paul most of which cost more than $3,000).