Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Great Guitar Haul!
OK, a confession: One of the big draws for me, in coming on a trip to the States, was the prospect of scrounging around for unloved, mistreated, orphaned, or otherwise somehow affordable vintage American guitars.
Living in Australia is pretty much always going to be a hefty hindrance to the enjoyment of such a past time, simply due to the distance and cost of importing guitars all that way, which has led to a much lower saturation of these instruments in Oz, as compared to the alluring potential for finding them kicking around in the States at an affordable price for the fresh faced Aussie visitor - and at a good exchange rate, at the present moment! At least that was the assumption I was working with, and I wasn't going to give up before thoroughly putting my hypothesis to the test by exploring all avenues...
And what better place to seek out an old classic than California, the home state of Fender Guitars, pioneers of the mass production and dissemination of the iconic Stratocasters & Telecasters from the beginnings of Rock 'n Roll? Leo Fender & Co. produced, in my mind, absolutely the best combination of styles and features to be packed into the six stringed format, even going back to their earliest designs, now around 60 years since initial inception!
So, over the course of my two week stay cycling and busing around LA, and with the additional untiring aid of my amazing mate Heather, who drove me all around to this place and that - pointing out iconic landmarks and illuminating historical and contemporary anecdotes along the way - I traversed the vast metropolis multiple times, following up leads on some 60's and 70's gems to take along with me for the onward journey..
So, here's what I rounded up over the course of these past days leading up to departure from LA..
A motley crew, by the professional collector's standards, but for me, a veritable booty score. Left to right, you can see the Gibson SG Melody Maker (1968), which was my first find (see Aug 5th post). Then the gold/copper coloured guitar (pictured below) is a Silvertone, available back in the 50's from the Sears department store. These guitars were the everyday beginners guitar of the day, built economically and ingeniously from basic materials by the Danelectro company, and have had a resurgence in recent decades, with some well known artists sporting them on stage, and a bunch of reissues now available.
The old original "lipstick" pickups (which were literally constructed using surplus lipstick tubes from Avon!) have been switched over at some stage and some regular "VanZandt" Fender-style single coil pickups have been installed. Also the switching and output jack have been changed around, but overall, it's still got some old 50's charm going on. Actually I reckon this was originally the "1317" model, which came with just one pickup, and the addition of a second pickup is a home job.
The third guitar along is also a Silvertone guitar, but a later model, from the 60's. This one originally came with a carry case that has a little valve amplifier and speaker built into the lid, so you could carry your entire practice rig and guitar in one hand! I got just the guitar, in a disassembled condition, from a very nice fellow on Craigslist who used to play a bunch of guitars like this in bands throughout the 70's. Back home and a trip across the road to the hardware store for screws and I got it all re-assembled, and fashioned a simple bridge to complete the picture - Nice! And it sounds great, too! This one has the original lipstick pickups installed. I've seen Beck using this model on stage.
Finally - unfortunately not a 60's original from Leo Fender's prolific tenure at his own company, but maybe the next best thing -> a 1970's model Fender Musicmaster, with some more recent modifications. Most obviously in the mod department, this thing has a crazy pattern of plastic rhinestone diamante gemstones glued on the face of it! It could arguably be very cool in this crazy crafty state - and it probably looks quite groovy under glittering stage lights - but the gluer obviously ran out of gems midway through the precarious undertaking and left an otherwise inexplicable blank patch behind the bridge. It rather detracts from the effect. Anyway, it may be an excuse for me to strip it back and repaint it at some stage, to more of a vintage 60's style colour tone, like the great old car colours they used to use on everything back then.
This Musicmaster has also been modded functionally, with the addition of a Seymour Duncan "JB Trembucker" (hotted up humbucker) in the bridge position, as well as an "N-Tune" in-built tuner in the volume knob! Good thing is, the Duncan pickup and other installations have all been professionally executed, and the set-up is nice.
Tricky bit was then deciding what to carry on with me and which guitars to send back home ahead of me to Australia, and how! Turns out this is quite tricky (and pricey), as I suspected. Again, it was Heather to the rescue! I got to experience first hand what makes her such a great producer. After carefully squishing the Gibson and one of the Silvertones in a single acoustic shaped case, all padded in between and around the edges, we headed for the box+packing supply store, picked up a large guitar shaped box and a whole lot of "peanut" foam and chugged down to the Post Office. After cutting down the cardboard box some, and packing the cased guitars inside with a bunch of little squishy peanuts, we had an oversize issue, so we headed along to the next post office where the lady was working to a different set of rules. Awesome.
$175 later, and every available finger crossed, I pray nightly that my beloved new gitz find their way safely into the care of the ever faithful twin bro, Murray, back in Melbourne.