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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Pick up pick-me-up ...

For some while my business partner in crime Tim and I have been developing our range of Eastend Custom T-cycler custom guitars as well as a range of boutique T-Cycler pickups. The pickup end of this enterprise kicked up another gear today as my mark 2 home brewed coil winder has come online. It’s mostly a drill press with a face plate made from a grinder hub and a turn counter that used to be the tape counter from an old valve tape recorder. It allows me to scatter wind a single coil pickup in an hour or so.

We have a thing about lo-tech ... Leo Fender produced legendary guitars in the early fifties with virtually no tech at all. We love reclaimed wood, re engineered and up-cycled components and low environmental footprint construction.

The first working result of this is the T style bridge pickup below. It meters up at a nice vintage 7.5k

Observations: pickup winding is made more difficult with the ‘help’ of several playful cats trying to catch the wire on its way off the spool!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Weasel's myth buster

An occasional series with my take on the common beliefs and voodoo that surround the guitar world.

Myth: they used to build guitars better in the old days ... Arggggggggggh have you ever played a nasty seventies Les Paul copy? Never mind that some twat says that because it’s ‘law suit’ you have to pay a couple of hundred notes for it. It was a turd when it was squeezed out of the factory ... it’s still a turd thirty years later ... okay perhaps an old, rare turd ... ill give it that. Today you can buy a guitar new for a couple of hundred quid that will destroy a Kay or Columbus or even an exalted Ibanez. Yet I see so often, Avons, Jedsons, CMIs Antoria and Ibanez ... going for silly money on e bay. They are okay guitars ... but they don’t really feel or sound like the instruments they copied. If you like old curiosities buy one ... but do everyone a favour and don’t pay daft money. After all, Austin Maestros are rare cars nowadays ... that’s because they were crap and people couldn’t wait to scrap them!

Fender Strats, even old fifties ones are not rare ... that is because in general they were superb instruments and people have ensured they survived. Rosetti Lucky Sevens and Top Twenty guitars were sold in Freemans catalogues and Woolworths all over the country... and yes they are now quite rare. Ever tried to play one?

This was the worst set up bass I have ever bought ... being honest ... whether it was as bad from the factory or just got bad through being owned by a plonker I don’t know. Well it all amounts to the same thing really: A perfectly well made Westfield Precision bass copy: nice feeling neck, adequate fret job, nice, deep, rich punchy pickup ... a match for any Squier really (except for the plywood body perhaps). However when it came to me the truss rod was slack, leaving the neck bent forward like a banana and the action six miles high. A cheap plastic nut (too narrow for the slot and broken at one end) was ruining the sustain; there was no neck set angle, so the bridge saddles rested on the bridge base –plate ... the one remaining strap button was held in with Blue-tac and the strings were actually rusty!

Okay so it was super cheap ... well it had to be really ... and sounded potentially nice, so I set about putting it right. Firstly I made and installed a new bone nut, re strung, tightened the truss rod until there was only a small amount of ‘relief,’ then shimmed the neck joint until the action came right down. I ordered new, oversized strap buttons from my old friends at Axes-r-us, and a new set of bass strings. The ripped-out strap button holes were plugged with maple dowels (after drilling out the Blue-tac gunk)

What’s this bass like now you might ask? Well pretty much like any Precision really: chunky, clunky, conservative, non – threatening yet punchy ... we’ve all played them ... they are ubiquitous. Sure the US made Fender originals are better made ... but I’ll stick my neck out and say there’s not a lot to choose between them in the sound ... through the right bass rig. A Precision is a bit of a ‘blunt instrument’ anyway.

So what am I going to use it for? Well I don’t like carrying expensive instruments to jam nights (even if I owned them these days).I am planning to sing and play bass on a few numbers at local pubs and I want a ‘beater’ I’m not too fussed about scratching. I’ve owned BC Rich basses, vintage 60s Fenders, Warwicks and Shergolds ... lord knows I owned a whole shop stocked with expensive basses I could chose from when I came to gig ... but so long as the neck is nice and the pickups good ... there is not much difference to me between a £100 bass and a £1000 one. Sure the expensive one will feel better finished, survive a bit longer perhaps, and will have snob value I suppose. But getting a cheepie to perform well has its own satisfactions.

Recipe for guitarists wanting to ‘double’ on bass: take one second hand, cheap far eastern bass ... Richwood, Westfield etc, etc, with solid hardware and a reasonably straight neck (remember, cheap bass pickups are far better than cheap guitar pickups). Put in a decent nut and have a pro setup done (or do it yourself). Enjoy!