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

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