Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Here is an early to mid 1990's Indonesian made Fender Telecaster.  That is a mouthful of an instrument title and a description that should disqualify it from this blog.  Nonetheless it is here, mostly because I wanted to write about the Telecaster and its place in music.  I don't have an American made Tele(for good reason) so this guitar will have to be as good a stand in as you will find out there.  The Tele is one of the most historic and revered guitars on the planet.  The fact that I don't own a $30,000 model from the 1950's shouldn't disqualify it here.

If I was allowed only one electric guitar in my arsenal, than this Indonesian Tele would be it.  This guitar as well as a little tiny 5 watt fender amp comprise my main recording rig and they give me everything that I need.  I have played hundreds of contemporary American Telecasters in the $700-$1200 range and have yet to find one that I would trade for this one - which was incidentally purchased for around $250.

It has its quirks.  the input jack tends to loosen up, the volume and tone knobs have a little wiggle in them and its not as hefty an instrument as the American made guitars.  This last point may be a pro or a con depending on how heavy you like your instrument.  The point was that it does not feel as substantial as some of its American made brothers.

I am able to live with all these quirks because I would repeatedly find similar quirks in the American made products when I would test them out.  Why pay more to get the same(or lesser) instrument.

I can remember buying this guitar in a little shop called Maple Leaf Music in Brattleboro, VT.  I had never heard a solid body electric guitar sound so good acoustically played as I strummed it without any amplification.  If I couldn't have plugged it in, I probably would have bought the guitar anyway - sound unheard.  I did get to plug it in and was very pleased.  I can't tell you how many contemporary American Tele's I've played only to hear an extremely muddy neck pickup.  This guitars neck pickup was right where I wanted it to be tonally and the bridge pickup sounded as Telelike as I could hope for.

I couldn't stand the bridge and saddles on the guitar so I had them replaced with an old school vintage style bridge plate as well as the vintage style brass saddles.  This one upgrade/conversion gave the guitar a whole new look and vibe.  I set the guitar up myself and have to do this rarely.  The intonation holds, the neck has the right amount of relief in it and it sounds great.  I use a heavier gauge 11-56 or 13-56 string on this guitar and it responds nicely to them.  I can't stand the feeling of floppy super light gauge strings beneath my fingers on an electric guitar.  I keep the action higher than most players would like - between the higher action and the heavier gauge strings, I can get the tone I want.  Fast flyers would probably have a breakdown trying to play this instrument

Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico - It is hard to see these countries scrawled across the headstocks of these guitars.  The Fender Telecaster is as American as it gets, yet here we stand in a new world of manufacturing where outsourcing is the norm.  Would I pay one hundred more dollars for this guitar if it could be made in the USA, probably.  Would I pay seven hundred more for the same privilege, probably not.  It's my opinion that the loss of our manufacturing history is the biggest blow to the culture of our country.

You can read telecaster history just about anywhere, books have been written on the subject, so I won't get deep into it here.  Nonetheless, the history is incredible.  The amount of telecasters that came through Bakersfield, CA alone during the 50's and 60's is as good a piece of American music history that you will find.  From Buck Owens and Don Rich to Merle Haggard to James Burton to Danny Gatton, Marty Stuart, Bruce Springsteen, Prince.  The list of guitar players who work their trade with one of the most utilitarian and beautifully designed instruments ever is endless.

I hope to someday own an American Tele.  I would particularly love to own a 50's vintage Tele, but I missed that boat a long time ago.  Thankfully, the one I have is good enough for me.
here is the back of the amp that is record with when i use the Tele.  It's even simpler than the Tele.  Only one knob.

the Vox Tonelab is a pretty handy little unit in the studio.   I run the tele into the vox and the vox into the amp.  wouldn't recommend for the stage as a fair amount of manipulation is required.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

1960's Old Kraftsman/Kay Dreadnaught

Here's a few photos of another Kay product that is waiting its turn to be fixed up.  This is an Old Kraftsman made by Kay.  Old Kraftsman was the house brand name for the Spiegel catalog back in the day.  Kay produced guitars for Spiegel under the Old Kraftsman name from the 1930's - 1960's.

I love the big pearl fret markers and the fat frets on these 1960's Kays

From The Workbench - 1960's Kay Dreadnaughts

A couple of posts ago we had a look at a 1960's Kay Dreadnaught.  This is a really unique instrument so I thought I would share a few photos of a couple of other Kays that are being worked on.

Here is a Kay Dread that I have on the workbench right now.  This guitar is in need of a lot of attention.  I initially had to shim the nut and make a new saddle for it.  The neck angle was a bit off so I was hoping to avoid having to do a neck reset by monkeying with the saddle and nut a bit.  No such luck.  The action was screwy and with the neck angle being sufficiently off as well as some space showing between the heel and body a neck reset was needed.

The difficulties of restoring this instrument have been compounded by the fact that it has been worked on before.  This was clear to me before I took the neck off as I could see some glue between the heel and body.  There were numerous other tell tale signs that this guitar had been worked on before.  A cardboard shim for the nut, a poorly cleated crack, etc.  None of the work is professional and only makes things more difficult now.  But hey, I'm not a pro either.  I'll have a go at getting this guitar back together again properly.

These guitars deserve our diligence.  They are made with quality, solid woods and are usually built like battleships capable of withstanding some blows that many other guitars might not be able to handle.  In terms of the woods that are used - I'm not sure who was using what back in those days.  Was Kay using a less quality spruce than Martin or Gibson?  I would think the wood quality was pretty similar.  This guitar is spruce and mahogany with a rosewood bridge and fretboard.  The difference I would guess would be in the craftsmanship.

We have to assume that the attention to detail in the old Martin and Gibson factories was a bit superior to the attention being given in the Kay factory.  You can generally see something on many Kay guitars that could have been done better if the object wasn't to just push out as many guitars as they did.  I don't doubt that there were many skilled craftsman in the Kay factory.  I just believe they were probably forced to take some short cuts or work a little quicker.

Have to repair the heel joint as a few pieces pulled off when I steamed the neck off.  I can usually get the necks of quite cleanly, but this neck had been off before which may have compromised the joint.

The second photo shows the kluson deluxe tuners that Kay often used on many models.  They are in good shape as you can see.

The third photo is the Kay bridge.  A singular design and good piece of rosewood.  Kay often attached their bridges with a bolt on both sides of the bridge along with glue.  The design for the bridge is one you will see on most Kays and is a great way to help identify their products.

I really like these guitars, but they can be a bit persnickity with regards to the repair process.  I have seen them cause really skilled luthiers to pull their hair out.  A lot of work to do on this one.  We'll see how it turns out.