Tuesday, November 25, 2014

1960's Kay Vanguard Electric Guitar

Here is another funky old guitar that was on its way to the auction block.  Now I'm not so sure as prior to listing it I spent some considerable time playing it and was having a great time doing so.  We'll see what happens.  My initial thought was that I have a few Kays with this zippo pickup and figured the sound would be redundant, but i was wrong.  This guitar has a nasty, garage rock tone(that is kind of what these cheaper old kays seem to do).  It seems to bite more and the pickup seems hotter.  It is a super lightweight guitar as the body is only like an inch thick and it is very easy and fun to play.  You see these for sale everyday on ebay, so they are far from rare.  I recently saw Guitarist/Producer John Levanthal playing one of these with a Ry Cooder setup.  He had added a gold foil pickup above the zippo pickup and may have had another below(couldn't get a good look at it).  Nonetheless, it sounded pretty cool..

Friday, November 21, 2014

1930's Oahu Acoustic Guitar

Here is another guitar that I have had for a while in hopes of resurrecting it.  Unfortunately this guitar just sold as well.  It is a 1930's Oahu that seems at one time to have been a square neck model, but a conversion attempt to a spanish style neck was done.  the conversion is not really bad, it just seems they didn't take it all the way.  The neck on this guitar will need some work for it to be a functioning instrument.  Nonetheless, as randy as the body looks, this is where the tone is!  The body save for an easily repairable crack below the bridge is solid and amazingly straight.  The tone is very cool as well.  i would have loved to have the time and money to get this old dog back into playing shape as you don't see that many of these around.  A reworked neck is going to give the buyer a very unique and somewhat rare instrument.  Adios to an old friend.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

1920's/1930's Tonk Brothers Sterling Parlor Guitar

I am going to put up a couple of posts showing a couple guitars that I have up for sale right now.  I hated to have to do it, but they have been projects that have been sitting around for quite some time.  These are a couple of cool guitars that need somebody's time and money and deserved to be in the hands of someone who can tend to them.

This guitar is a Tonk Brothers Sterling Parlor Guitar from the 20's/30's.  This guitar is in incredible shape for its age.  It is all original(another incredible fact) and about the only thing it will need is probably a neck set and setup.  The guitar is playable as is, but with the neck set properly she will be a beauty.  You do not see many of these around so the lucky buyer will have a rare and funky instrument to enjoy.  Hate to let it go.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Danelectro DM-25 Guitar Amp

Here we have a Danelectro DM-25 electric guitar amp.  Really fun and great sounding amp.  This model was made in the mid sixties and is another survivor.  You don't see many of these around and after getting it I can see why. I can't imagine why anyone would want to sell it.  This is in many ways simply a smaller version of the Silvertone 1484 series.  The Dm-25 has one 12" Jensen speaker and two channels.  The first channel has two inputs and controls for volume, treble and bass.  The second channel mimics the first with the addition of controls for reverb and vibrato.  The reverb doesn't work on this model, but the vibrato effect is in fine working order. 

It is quite amazing to be able to stand right in front of an amp with a 12" speaker, crank it up and not do serious damage to your inner ear.  That is the joy of this amp.  It is not high powered but makes up for that in tone.  What a wonderful sound and vibe.  Crisp, clean, transparent tone that is clear as a bell.  It is a joy to play through.  I have experimented with very little effects, only using a little delay to get a little rockabilly going and love it.  It's a blast to play and keeps you coming back for more.  It's hard to think of a better testament for an amp or instrument than its ability to make you want to play more.

This amp most likely won't suit you if you are looking to gig with it due to the fact that it is a fairly low output amp.  In the studio it will no doubt be a secret weapon.  It just begins to break up with the volume pinned and though I would be interested to hear how it responds to a tube screamer, i think I will hold off as the Jensen speaker is original and though it sounds great could potentially be a bit frail.

I am not much of a gear head when it comes to electronics and tube lineups, so I will spare you any attempts at technical talk.  Drop me a line if you wish to know the tube configuration and I will be happy to respond.

Just like the 1484 series the head on this amp can be packed away in the back of the speaker cabinet.  What a great find!!

that is the reverb tank behind the tubes - wish it worked, but you can't have everything.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1960's Kay Value Leader Single Pickup Electric Guitar

What a beauty!!  Here we have a 1960's Kay Value Leader guitar.  This particular model has been on my "want" list for quite some time.  I had to wait to get a good deal, but finally came across one.  The prices on a lot of these "budget brand" guitars are creeping up at a pretty fast rate.  I have seen versions of this guitar priced at $800-$900!!  Again, it's capitalism and you can ask whatever you want.  Whether you get it is a whole other thing.  Generally, I see Kays and the like that are way overpriced sit for very long periods of time unsold.  It seems that many of the sellers are trying to manufacture more of a market for these instruments than there really is.  Maybe someday they'll be worth what people hope, but my love for these guitars not withstanding, the vintage market is still ruled by Fender, Martin and Gibson.

A while back I put up a link to a video on you tube of the great Lonnie Johnson doing a song called "Another Night To Cry".  That link was disabled due to some apparent copyright infringements.  No harm was intended, but I'm not quite sure who's rights were being infringed or who even owned the video.  Nonetheless, it is a video that every guitarist should see.  No facial contortions or guitar neck choking, just smooth, soulful blues played not only by a master, but a man who knew the blues first hand.  This was not a man on a mission to search for reasons to have the blues like many of the white blues players who followed him.  Hell, he didn't even really want to be considered a blues artist.  Lonnie thought of himself as a Jazz guy who had to play the blues to get by.  I've always liked the blues, but really gravitate towards those who reference the blues as opposed to those who straight out co-opt it. Lonnie was an original, and he wasn't co-opting anything, but it seems that if Lonnie had his way he would have been a player that chose to reference the blues in his playing.  There was apparently a lot more than just a strict blues artist standing behind that guitar.  Just listen to his work with Eddie Lang to hear what I'm talking about.

Lonnie Johnson was by many accounts the creator of the single string solo on the guitar.  This is mind blowing and sad at the same time as Eric Claptons, Jimi Hendrix's, and Jeff Becks estates are all doing very well I would suppose.  Lonnie died penniless in 1970.  Lonnie seemed to be a complete musician who was competent at a number of instruments and was a wonderful vocalist.  To this day he has yet to really receive his due.  Two of the biggest bullshit quasi musical enterprises in history - Rolling Stone magazine and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - lack paying any sort of tribute to him.  This is the man who invented the guitar solo!!!  Nothing against ABBA, but i have to feel that Lonnie Johnson just might be a little more important to the history of music and a bit more worthy as an inductee.  I could go on and on.  Hopefully you get the point and spend some time with Lonnie Johnson.

The reason for going off on a Lonnie Johnson tangent is that in that previously mentioned video, Lonnie is playing a Kay Value Leader guitar.  For me, it is pure proof that it is the guitarist and not the guitar.  He is using a very simple and inexpensive guitar and he is not using any effects, yet his tone is beautiful.  Its all in the hands.  I think Ry Cooder would tell you the same thing.

Like I said, this guitar is simply made and constructed in a way that it allows for easy repair and setup.  The neck is a bolt on, there is a truss rod, single pickup and easy access to the electronics which lie attached to and underneath the chrome pickguard.

I've said in the past that I am a sucker for a single pickup guitar and this one is no exception.  It's all right in front of you.  Keep your volume dialed in below half way and you get smooth blues and jazz tones.  Turn your volume up all the way and things get nasty.  I love the neck on this guitar.  It is wide, yet very easy to play.  The fact that the fretboard is maple is pretty cool as well.  You don't see that on a lot of Kay products.  I would say that the maple reminds you of a strat or a tele, but you will never play a fender with this wide of a neck.  I think these wide necks are one of the major reasons I love the Kay product line.

I happen to like the sound of the single pickup which many call a pancake pickup or, I think the more descriptively accurate "zippo" pickup.  They are not the hottest pickups, but I usually don't concern myself too much with that.  I get all the volume that I need from them.  These pickups have often been mistaken for Dearmonds, which they are not.  They were actually manufactured by Kay in the Kay factory.  There were three versions of the value leader - a single pickup, double pickup and triple pickup.  Their model numbers were k1961, k1962 and k1963 respectively.  The pickups are dated on the underside of them.  I have yet to pull the pickup, but I would suggest that this guitar is mid sixties - 1964 or 1965.  They came out with this line in 1960 and the earlier versions did not have a truss rod, but came with a "steel reinforced neck".  Mine has a truss rod and I am thankful for that as I have read that many who owned the earlier versions, own a guitar with a warped neck.  The neck on this one is amazingly straight.  I took a bit of a chance on buying this one and it worked out.  The guitar plays and sounds wonderful.  I haven't been able to put it down since I got it.  Let the vintage snobs fight over their Gibsons, Martins and Fenders.  If the Kay Value Leader was good enough for Lonnie Johnson, than it is most certainly good enough for me.
Some honest wear on the neck.  This guitar didn't just sit in someone's closet.  It was played, and I love that.  Would be great to know of its history

Sunday, June 15, 2014

1966 Harmony/Stella H927 Acoustic Guitar

If you collect guitars or you are a player, you have probably dreamed of stopping off at a yard sale and finding your holy grail model(whatever that may be) sitting there with a $15 price tag hanging off of it.  The reality is, instead of finding a 50's Tele or an unaccounted for Bigsby, you would be more likely to come across this model.  A 1966 Stella small bodied acoustic guitar.  This is the classic yard sale find.  A student/beginners model that could have been sitting in a closet for years because little Johnny never took an interest in it after mom and dad bought it for him for Christmas one year.

These guitars come with a painted on headstock logo indicating that it is a Stella, but these guitars were made by the Harmony company and produced from 1963-1970.  They must have been made by the thousands as you can find them anytime you want floating around ebay.  The cool thing about these guitars is that you have a chance to buy it for about the same price that it was selling for back in the sixties.  Back then, you would have to shell out around $30 for one of these.  I own a few of these because they make great projects for the hobbyist luthier and I've paid between $25-$50 for them all.  You will see them listed for as much as $150 on ebay.  It's a capitalist society we live in - if you can get someone to shell that out then more power to you. The fact is I would never pay that sight unseen.  There is always something wrong with these guitars, which as i said is why I have a few because they are fun to work on.  If you mess things up you're not out a whole lot for the learning experience.  With that said, if i were to find one of these in perfect playing condition, i would have no problem shelling out $100-$150 for one.  These guitars are a blast to noodle around with.

These Harmony's come from a time in this country when the words "mass produced"  didn't mean cheap. This guitar is built like a tank even though its production numbers were probably some of the highest for any guitar ever made.  Until Japan caught up, Harmony was outproducing every other guitar company by a mile and student models like this were its bread and butter.  Nice, chunky "steel reinforced" neck and stocky body make it a comfortable ride.  Painted on graphics and cheap appointments and hardware allow for affordability.

I pulled this out of the case after it had been hidden away for some time with the intent of having to do extensive work on it.  Turns out it played quite well.  I just cleaned her up, polished the frets, shimmed the bridge a bit and off we went.  I have a lot of fun playing these clanky, small bodied guitars.  She won't be going back in hiding for the foreseeable future.  This guitar can be strummed or fingerpicked, both to good effect.  They are far from perfect and I love that.  As i have said many times in this blog, I love how these guitars force you to play a different way.  I like being in this very small club of people who do not need perfect action, intonation and playability in order to get off on a guitar.  I can't tell you how many people I've come across who can't get out of their comfort zone and would be turned off by a guitar like this.  Their loss!!

I happen to love the unrefined, boxey, ladder braced tone of these guitars.  The tone is a bit more cranky than their predecessors, not as mellow.  Perhaps the models from the 30's and 40's have just had more time to mellow out.  If you can find one of these guitars on the cheap, i would highly recommend having one around.

I'm not some "Made In The USA" freak.  I don't have American flags hanging everywhere and cheesy Lee Greenwood tunes blastin' from the radio.  Nonetheless, I love the products from the 50's and 60's and feel that in terms of style they have never been matched.  How cool was it that at one time in this country we had three major guitar manufacturers open for business in Chicago and not to far to the northeast in Detroit you could see an Impala coming off the line.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

TK Smith

I have long been enamored by craftspeople and their trades.  One of the greatest assets this world can have are people who make things, real things that you can touch and see and pass on down to children and grandchildren. These things represent us and allow a piece of us to continue living in the lives of the ones we love.

There is a craftsman out in California doing some pretty amazing work in the world of guitar parts fabrication, guitar builds and custom design.  His name is TK Smith and his website is tksmith.net

It seems TK has had his hands in a lot of different activities over the years, all of which have helped inform him when it comes to the world of guitar design.  TK is heavily inspired by the work of Paul Bigsby and is doing his part to keep Bigsbys legacy alive.  Bigsby guitar designs are some of the most beautiful pieces of art that you will ever see in the guitar world and TK clearly takes the passing of the torch seriously.

I strongly urge you to take a trip to TK's website as it is filled with amazing photos of his work as well as many video clips of him and his customers playing their TK Smith instruments.  These guitars sound and look great.  The kind of instrument that you hold on to for life and pass down through the generations.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gibson Hummingbird

This is an early 2000's reissue of an early 1960's Gibson Hummingbird.  This guitar is pretty high cotton for a lover of department store models like myself.  I have my wife to thank, as it was a gift from her.  Well over a decade ago,  I provided her with an engagement ring and she reciprocated with this instrument that she had noticed me playing every time we went to the music store.  Yes, I'm a lucky guy.  If not for her I would never have purchased such an instrument.

Nonetheless, I have an interesting relationship with Gibson in that I really can't think of too many electric guitars in their arsenal that I feel like I need to own.  I know this is heresy in some forums - especially in the Les Paul laden world of southern rock(which I am a fan of).  I love some of the ES models - there is a post on this blog that covers an epiphone ES-295 that I own and love, but I don't feel compelled to own a Les Paul, SG, etc.

Gibson's acoustics are a different story.  They have created some beautiful models over the years and if we are talking depression era/war time guitars, you would be hard pressed to find more coveted instruments.  They stand in line only behind Martin in terms of their collectibility and value.  For me, the real draw towards Gibson relates to their production of the Recording King line for Montgomery Wards back in the 1930's.  These are some of the most beautiful acoustic guitars that I have ever seen and sit atop my wish list, though I don't see myself being able to obtain one at their current price point.  I have yet had a chance to play a Recording King dreadnaught, but would love to experience it first hand.  I did play an RK archtop and loved it.  The RK's fit most of the specs for this blog - Depression Era, relatively short production period, department store models that have stood the test of time.  Though I suspect they were a little more pricey than the average Regal or Kay, taking them a step above the average working mans guitar.

The Hummingbird that is pictured here is from an era of Gibsons production that remains in question by many, though just about every decade since the 60's has been riddled with production quality issues.  It is quite amazing to read of the discontent and the inconsistency that followed the storied Gibson name as they struggled to regain their identity of quality hand made instruments.  I think many feel they have it worked out now by maintaining their acoustic production in Montana.  Some felt that the building of acoustics in the moist climate of Nashville and then sending these guitars out to dryer climates was part of the production issue for a time.  There were many fine guitars built by Gibson over time, it just seems that they were incapable of being consistent.  In the end, it seems that if you stick with the 1940's/1950's or with the newest models you will be okay, although it will cost you a pretty penny in both cases.

If i am being a little hard on Gibson, it is because this Hummingbird has a little problem that shouldn't exist in a guitar at this price point.  The neck has a little twist in it that causes some intonation problems when I capo up the neck.  It is something that can and will be fixed one day when I feel like shelling out the cash.  A little fretboard plane should take care of the problem.  Unfortunately, when the guitar was purchased around 15 years ago, I was not as astute and by the time I had discovered and understood what the problem was, it was too late to get any warranty help.

 Regardless of this issue, I can see the voracious commitment that many have for Gibson guitars.  I would have to say, that in terms of comfort, this is the best feeling guitar that I have ever held in my hands.  I love the shorter scale, which makes the guitar feel a little stockier.  Everything just feels closer to me and more within my reach.  I feel really in control of this instrument.

 I also love the feel of the neck.  It is a perfect width and depth.  There is a bit of meat to it and though it doesn't rival the neck size on many of my beloved Kays, it comes in a pretty close second.   As you can see in the photos, this guitar is in amazing condition.  Unfortunately, the condition is based on the fact that it doesn't get a lot of work out of the house because of the neck issue.  I also love how the body is squared off.  There is a post of a Kay dread that I own on this site that has a similar feature.  Both guitars are really comfortable to play and I suspect the body shape has something to do with this.

Note the parallelogram inlays - Not a feature you see on many of the budget guitars that I own.  They sure are purty, but in terms of practicality, I would rather pay for sound quality than aesthetics.
Another feature that I like about Gibson acoustics is the low profile heel that they carve.  This is a distinctly Gibson trait and a handsome piece of work.  Though no ones having trouble identifying a Gibson - this is quite an identifiable trait.
The tone on this guitar is also in a world of its own.  Sounds nothing like my Taylor or Martin.  Distinctly Gibson, which is a good thing.  I love the darkness of the tone, although on this model it is a bit to muddy/midrangey.  I suspect that could be a production thing as well.  Nonetheless, it is worth hearing and worth playing.  The darkness of the tone is something worth exploring.  I have to find out what it is that creates that characteristic.  Woods, bracing, body shape - all three?
Beautiful headstock with grover tuners that are just so so

Saturday, April 26, 2014

1930's Harmony Valencia Round Hole Archtop Guitar

Here we have a 1930's Valencia Round Hole Archtop Guitar.  This guitar has a classic depression era look from a classic depression era guitar maker.  I love the old time smoky/tobacco colored sunburst as well as the original appointments - bridge, tailpiece and pickguard.

This guitar has seen its share of the road as it looks to have been banged around a bit.  It is in need of a bit of work in order to be made an optimum player.  Neck could be reset and some work to the fingerboard which has a number of cracks from drying out would help this guitar become a nice player.  As it sits, it is a first position player or slide guitar as the action gets a little high after the fifth fret or so.  Nonetheless, I still find myself grabbing this instrument now and again just because it looks so cool.  I never really mind high action anyway - it's a character builder.

These round hole archtops are a curious bunch.  They give off a nice old-timey sound and have some interesting construction characteristics, such as a lack of back bracing.  The tone(somewhat obviously) falls in between that of an archtop and a flat top guitar, though on this one it is tough to describe because of a need for a neck reset.  The string break angle is not forcing enough pressure down on the bridge to create the volume you would like to hear, which in turm muffles the tone a bit.

here is a shot showing the lack of back bracing

some ugly repairs on the back
side view gives a good look at the arched top

Friday, April 18, 2014

1960's Harmony Master Acoustic Archtop Guitar

Here we have a 1960's Harmony Master archtop guitar.  This is a good example of  a mass produced instrument by harmony.  The painted on headstock logo as well as the painted on fret markers are just a couple of the cost cutting methods used .

Not only were they cutting cost with the paint but with the process as well.  You can see that they weren't that concerned with creating perfect boxes for the fret markers as the paint shadowing and spill out is pretty evident.
They must have had a better stencil for the logo as there is no bleed.  These guitars and the building process are such a curiosity, which is why I love them.  You would think it would have been a lot easier to master the block paint on the fretboard than it would have to ornament the headstock nicely. I would have loved to been there in the factory to see how things operated in their effort of mass production.  Harmony was outproducing everybody back in the day, making millions of guitars.  As wonderful as it would be to see a craftsman work individually on an instrument, it would also be pretty cool to see how Harmony, Kay and Regal mass produced their instruments.

This guitar is a pretty spunky player and a bit of a survivor as she is in pretty good shape for her age.  It's tough to find these lower grade instruments in good shape.  I wonder if they were thought of as being somewhat disposable because of their lower price point and people just didn't have any incentive to take care of them.  A friend of mine said it all when he said "once you get used to it, it's a lot of fun to play.  If you are used to the sound of your dreadnaught, than this guitars feel and tone might take some getting used to. Once you dig into it, it is a bunch of fun to play.  I keep a Kay or Harmony archtop with a 17" lower bout on my wish list as that bigger lower bout would probably round out and balance the tone a bit better.  Plus the ones from the 40's are really sharp looking guitars.