Other Guitars

Belated NGD x2

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Part One: I Sing The Body Atomic

it might surprise folks in the greater DC area that i had never visited Atomic Music before 3 weeks ago, but such is the case. it's kind of a long schlep on spec, and i didn't quite understand the situation. i was expecting a buy/sell along the lines of Starving Musician in Santa Cruz, which is to say a single storefront with sales space all the way to the back wall/office like a 1970s record store.

the place is heckin' HUGE. seriously, it's the size of a Kroger store, though given the arched roof line it may instead have been a bowling alley like Amoeba Records in San Francisco. i could barely cope. i had to stop and collect myself twice because i was so overloaded by the amount of visual information. i originally estimated there were 500 electric guitars; in retrospect it was probably more like 350. so many amps you wouldn't even believe it. literal alcoves made of amps spaced all down one of the long walls. i still haven't seen the acoustic room because i wasn't ready for the additional input.

so like any intrepid explorer i traversed miles of aisles with racks of guitars at floor level and shoulder level, past an endless array of Strat-oids, an entire aisle of shredder guitars, more Epiphone Les Pauls than you could shake the proverbial stick at, and all the garbage and occasional gems you'd expect to find in the musical cloaca of a major metropolitan area. Gretsch-spotters might be amused by the TK-300 bass; Proteus would get a kick out of the Electra MPC bass with the effects modules still in. and then among the various oddballs i spotted a guitar i'd heard about but never tried. i picked it up and played it for ten minutes without even plugging it in, but it felt so ineffably right that by the time i was halfway home i was already conspiring on how to get it home with me. which brings us to:

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Well I have been going since 1995.... seen it go from a small tiny space about a mile down the road with about 25 guitars to what it is now. Who knows how many 1000s have been spent there -- even that kool Gretsch Gadabout came from there just a few months ago. And there is some degree of organization in mayhem... like yes, the shredders kinda segmented off and a hidden corner of Kustom heads and cabs that no one knows about.

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Part Two: The Discreet Charms of the Aristocracy

the guitar in question is/was a 2013 Guild Aristocrat in nearly mint condition. after the initial impression, i was driving home thinking "OK, what can i sell to make this happen? the Gretsches are projects with no great added value; same for the Fenders. i don't want to sell the Tokais...OH, YEAH, THE RICKENBACKER." i had a Rick 360 which i bought 4 years ago; great guitar, but it just wasn't suited to me. i think it was that Ricks have a very fast attack where coming from acoustic guitar i like notes to bloom a little after the attack. i could hear stuff in that guitar that should work with the music i'm working on, but it just didn't feel natural trying to dig them out.

so having been there on Thursday afternoon, i went back on Saturday. the first thing i did was plug in the Guild, and if possible i loved it even more when i heard it talk. the Franz P-90s are very different to Gibson types, clearer and with better note-to-note separation. the guitar itself is what the Epiphone Wildkat should have been, an honest-to-gosh baby archtop with no f-hole. it's about the lightest good guitar i've ever handled, and it barked up a storm at the Underground Roundup.

some of you might remember me wondering how to get Guild LB-1s into a guitar that could get me near the Duane Eddy model Stephen Stills played. it strikes me now that the answer to that question is an Aristocrat with LB-1s dropped in and one of the Guildsbys they sell on the official site. but not this one...i don't want to change a single thing about it.

but given the price differential between the Guild and the 360, that still left me with $400 to play with. which inevitably leads to...

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(please excuse the lack of photos...the site is not cooperating at the moment)

Part Three: Every Noble Needs A Clean-Up Guy

so there i was, off to spend my free $400 on something interesting and useful. i'd seen a few things i thought were interesting on my previous visit, but each got dismissed in turn. the two Epiphone Thunderbird basses were the cheap bolt-on version. there were three of the First Act Volkswagen guitars which i find interesting and i even had the perfect NGD post title--"MEET THE BEETLE"--but the one i played didn't inspire. i probably passed the Squier Jazzmaster 2 or 3 times before focusing in on it. i've been wanting a JM for ages now, but this one needed some help. there were problems with the wiring, and in general it just felt weird. it was also candy apple red, which is not my favorite Fender finish, and had been refitted with a very dark tortoise guard and all black plastic parts which hid the tortoise pattern due to lack of contrast so it looked drab and rather beaten-up. but i'm not such a fool that i'll turn down a useful tool with the wrong color grip. $300 out the door.

i've spent most of the last two weeks futzing with it, and will say without hesitation that the Jazzmaster is by far the most fiddly guitar design i have ever encountered. once everything is adjusted it's fine, but getting to that point is sheer bloody torture. the bridge...oh, god. even though it has the Mustang bridge replacement, the amount of fine adjustment required to keep the strings from fretting out either on the front lip of the bridge or the tip of the saddle adjustment screw was painful. and i don't ever want to go under the pickguard again. i did a mod where you rewire the rhythm circuit so it works with all 3 toggle switch positions, and it was like trying to navigate the London Underground without a map. it could stand to be completely rewired, but no.

the previous owner had wrapped the bridge posts in electrical tape, presumably to keep the bridge from rocking. when i took the tape off it increased the resonance about 180%, from sounding like a rather dead Strat to a living thing. one thing that really struck me while going over and over the guitar is that when everyone talks about how when Leo et al. designed the Jazzmaster they were concentrating on pickups that would appeal to jazzers, they completely ignore the ways in which it was engineered to physically reproduce some of the odd characteristics of archtop electric guitars. The slack string angle behind the bridge can simulate the characteristics of a trapeze tailpiece, and the oddly resonant bridge makes for loads of sympathetic vibrations when you e.g. hit a big open A string. in general, it acts all contrary to what you'd expect from a heavyweight guitar with a body almost as large as a Jazz Bass.

i changed the plastics to "aged white," which i think goes much better with the body color and pickguard. i treated the fretboard repeatedly with a product called F-One Oil which i got from Guitar Center; the fingerboard was dried out and streaky, but looks fine now. if the server ever lets me, i'll show you before and after shots.

so all in all, everybody was happy. they got 30% off retail for the 360; i got two guitars i'll use the h*ck out of for one that i never played. and i didn't even have to use my AK.

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"a hidden corner of Kustom heads and cabs that no one knows about"

the Kustom PA ghetto cracked me up. it was like 1975 all over again.

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Congratulations, macphisto, it sounds like you got a couple of good ones! Trading off a rarely used item for two that will be used prolifically, is always a good thing! Enjoy!

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Oh yeah, that's a great day at the music store. (And I'd like to see this place.)

Both irreplaceable, inimitable guitars. My Aristocrat is one of my Cold Dead Hands instruments. It's a gorgeous design, in every possible way, and it's got that completely-hollow-articulate-pickups thing going on. Sounds great clean and grits up gorgeously. Mine sits somehow in a distinct place in a continuum which starts with the (equally wonderful, assuming a glass bridge) Eastwood Tuxedo on one end - which has a woody kwank nothing else of mine achieve - runs through the Aristocrat, and ends at the Dyna Jet. The three voices fit together like the Andrews sisters (if the Andrews sisters sounded different from each other).

Anyway, a premium ride in every way. Sure love mine.

And a player's gotta have a Jazzmaster - at least for long enough to "get it" and then decide if it produces some authentic version of his voice. As you say, it's the solidbody for guys who aren't going for sustain and focused purity of the fundamental - who like some of the resonance and enharmonic overtones its features assure. (The long, shallow harp between bridge and tailpiece, and the devoted-to-compromising-string-energy bridge being chief among them. BUT it is possible to get even finger-picker-friendlier plunkity-plunk from a "solidbody." See the Wurlitzer electrics from 1966-67, which to the above recipe add a vast swimming pool rout under a resonant plastic pickguard and nylon bridge saddles.)

As Jazzmasters (of any range) come from Fender, they're generally much closer to optimal for playability, tone, and response. But they are remarkably easy to screw up (especially if the guy doing the screwing has no experience with such guitars and/or finds it doesn't make the kinds of noise he expected in the first place and tries to tweak it in his direction). Thanks to the previous owner's ministrations, your JM took more tweaking than most to get lively.

For the full Jazzmaster experience, though, you MUST put a set of flatwounds on it. At least 11s, if not 12s. Then it will teach you just how different it is, and coax playing approaches from you that you may not have known were there.

In some moods, I'll swear JMs are my favorite solidbody guitar. I'm able somehow to distinguish that category from chambered solids or centerblockers, both of which have their own representatives on the podium. Alas, to make room for the other favorites, I have to slice the genome ever more finely - so the JM can be favorite solidbody offset, leaving room for the Tele, TV SpectraSonic (favorite chambered sandwich solidbody/double-coil), Les Paul (favorite sandwich solidbody), and LP Jr/Special (best mahogany slab).

ANYway...I haven't found Jazzmasters quite as tweaky/pertickiler as Jaguars or the Bass VI (though maybe it's because I have Squier versions of those, whereas my JM is a CIJ).

(And on that note, if you haven't spent at least a few hours with a properly-functioning Jaguar, you can't dismiss it as a candidate. It does have something in common with the Jazzmaster in terms of build and overall geometry - but those spiky pickups and the short scale make it very much a beast of its own, disintinctly different from the JM. In Squier livery, it's an eminently affordable enterprise, and you might consider thinking about it next.)

Also, I fully understand and endorse getting rid of Rickenbackers. I've tried, I really have - but I've offloaded more (three) than I've kept (two - the bass and the 12-string).

You made very wise choices, and I'm glad those guitars spoke to you. I know you're having a blast. With a Rickenbacker, you have to spend more than half of the psychic resources guitar ownership requires in making excuses for it, trying to justify being sucked into spending that much for something you can only dimly imagine being useful.

Anxious to see the pics.

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Well looks like I may have SECOND fully routed Warmoth Jazzmaster body coming for even more mayhem that will be fully reported on here. The first one is just a week away from being unveiled here.

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i'm definitely interested in the Jaguar, but they really haven't meshed with me most of the times i've played them. there was one in the 70s that i shredded "Sympathy For The Devil" on for about 15 minutes that was lots of fun. i suspect that setup is as crucial on a Jag than a JM if not more, and that many people set theirs up too "hot." i've found that with a lot of Fender pickups one needs to back the pickup off considerably from the string to get the inherent sweetness out of them rather than just a loud, rather brittle bark; the Fender '54 bridge PU in my Strat is a good 3-3.5 mm away from the strings, where i have to set many pickups' 1st-string polepiece within 1-1.5 mm to get that string's tone to match the other strings and sound full (the Jazzmaster bridge PU polepiece is somewhat closer, but still in the 2-2.5 mm range; IIRC the Duo Sonic is as far as the Strat or more). thinking about the Jaguars i've played, the recent ones seem to be set up to be loud rather than subtle, so i think i'd have to find one that was properly set up to connect and unfortunately they're not going to let me go wacko with a Phillips screwdriver on the demo model at Sam Ash. i guess i could always listen to demos, see if it's in the ballpark, and order one from Sweetwater with the no-hassle return policy, but i have other arcane projects on the horizon i'm more intrigued with.

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it's also my good luck that the Guild is a FMIC Newark Street model rather than the more recent Cordoba-produced guitars which apparently aren't quite as nice. i love this guitar so much that after i got home from the Underground Roundup i immediately ordered the fitted Guild case. i don't love spending $150 on a case, but it's impossible to find cases for guitars with a 14" lower bout other than official Guild, Gretsch Jet, and Epiphone Kat cases. seriously, that case is so nice i could sleep in it if i was the size of my cat. an average $60-70 hard case is good for keeping your instrument from getting dinged in your car trunk; i believe i could drop the Aristocrat in its case down a flight of stairs and have it come out unscathed. it's so padded that you have to push a little bit to get the body so settle down in the cushioning.

i can't say it's my favorite electric guitar, especially while Curt's working on my ES-335, but it's right the heck up there. it's a wonderful thing when you bring a guitar home and it needs absolutely nothing other than adjusting the polepieces. in a world of guitars that almost get it, it's a shining example of the perfection of simplicity and of adapting old design concepts to a new world.

this is only the second time i've ever connected with an electric guitar like that...the other was in the winter of 1982-83, when i played a 1958 Country Gentleman which also sat in my lap and whispered "Daddy, take me home." but it was $600 ($6000 now) and i was literally homeless. i'm still chasing one of the 1958 reissues which sadly were deleted from the Gretsch lineup.

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Congratulations, Mac --- sounds like a great score! And it makes me smile at the synchronicity of you, a left-coast longhaired veteran of the Bay Area music scene being transplanted to the East Coast and ending up with a Guild Aristocrat, which was (and may still be) the preferred instrument of a well-known East Coast dude who migrated to the northern Bay Area to attain his fame and fortune (such as they are). You know of whom I speak --- one Lowell "Banana" Levinger of the Youngbloods. That's him on the right. It's likely the opening strains of "Get Together" were recorded with the Guild, and mayhaps the classic tribute to Merle Haggard, "Hippie From Olema" as well. I saw theYoungbloods several times back in the late 60's, and when Banana played guitar (rather than his Wurlitzer electric piano), it was always the Guild.

Enjoy 'em!

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Re: Jazzmaster vs Jaguar - gimme a Jag! I've gotten along well with my Jaguars (and I very much regret getting rid of the CIJ '66 Reissue I had to sell 10 years ago, because I was broke, and the oh so rare CIJ Thinline Jaguar, I was an idiot to sell [especially after I replaced the so-so Japanese pickups, with a set of Curtis Novaks]). Jazzys - I love their sound, but I CAN'T STAND the volume knob location. I play with my right hand resting on the bridge, and as a result, my right fingers constantly hit the Jazzmaster's volume knob, whenever I pick. That issue resulted in a very expensive failed experiment with an American Original Jazzmaster late last year, that I bought new, and spent $400 to boot, on getting refretted, with hypoallergenic Jescar EVO Gold frets. I loved the guitar's sound, and its neck was decently hefty, but that volume knob location - ugh!!! Never again!!

I'll stick with Jaguars for offsets. I've never had problems with the Jaguar's volume control placement, and I like the way they snarl when you crank things up.

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Well that sounds like a good few days fun. Just the thing to keep the spirits up. I have a Squier JM and I fitted it with a Staytrem bridge which I do prefer to the stock item. Staytrem offer two radius options in order to match the fretboard radius -- I may be wrong but I think the Squier VM JM differs from the Fender reissues. Certainly I notice a playability improvement over my old Squier VM Jaguar which had a Mustang bridge -- I could never get a consistent string height across the board with that. Could well be just me, of course.

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i'm considering the Staytrem bridge. if i had the right equipment the Mustang bridge could be immensely improved by milling about 2 mm off the top of the front edge of the bridge plate, which would allow for lower placement of the saddles. but i'm happy with the setup now. the neck is very straight, and i was able to set the action lower than on my Strat.

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i hate to close the barn door after the horse is lost, Ellen, but couldn't you have had the volume knob relocated by moving it to the tone-knob spot and adding a hole for the tone pot between its original location and the output jack?

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i hate to close the barn door after the horse is lost, Ellen, but couldn't you have had the volume knob relocated by moving it to the tone-knob spot and adding a hole for the tone pot between its original location and the output jack?

– macphisto

I could have, but I was so fed up with it, that I didn't want to screw around with that. Besides, since the American Original Series Fenders are basically vintage reissues, I wanted to keep it stock. It's too bad. But, I am contemplating replacing it, 10 months after the fiasco, with a Vintera 60s Jaguar.

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i'm considering the Staytrem bridge. if i had the right equipment the Mustang bridge could be immensely improved by milling about 2 mm off the top of the front edge of the bridge plate, which would allow for lower placement of the saddles. but i'm happy with the setup now. the neck is very straight, and i was able to set the action lower than on my Strat.

– macphisto

Congrats on your acquisitions. I too have recently acquired a jazzmaster. A 2012 cij jm66 and have been procuring parts to upgrade it (though it sounds damn nice now) pickups (fender ‘65) new wiring harness and an American trem from Fender. The tuners have already been replaced as has the bridge. It’s a Mustang. Though I’ve been tempted to get the Staytrem bridge and tremolo, I’ve learned that they are not currently being sold outside of the UK as they are having a hard time meeting demand. If I’m wrong, or you know of another source (fella’s??) I’d appreciate knowing.

play them and smile

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I too have recently acquired a jazzmaster. A 2012 cij jm66 and have been procuring parts to upgrade it (though it sounds damn nice now) pickups (fender ‘65) new wiring harness.

Don't know that I'd recommend swapping out the pickups. I went through that exercise on my CIJ JM, replacing the stock Fender Japan pickups with American AVRI. I recorded before and after, and have never been able to tell the difference. I also doubt you need to change the wiring harness.

The tuners have already been replaced

Geez, someone was overachieving. I doubt that made a difference.

as has the bridge. It’s a Mustang. Though I’ve been tempted to get the Staytrem bridge and tremolo

I have the Mustang bridge on my JM, and a StayTrem on my Squier Bass VI. The StayTrem is inherently handsomer, but I don't find it functionally better than the Mustang bridge. I wouldn't panic over that swap.

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I too have recently acquired a jazzmaster. A 2012 cij jm66 and have been procuring parts to upgrade it (though it sounds damn nice now) pickups (fender ‘65) new wiring harness.

Don't know that I'd recommend swapping out the pickups. I went through that exercise on my CIJ JM, replacing the stock Fender Japan pickups with American AVRI. I recorded before and after, and have never been able to tell the difference. I also doubt you need to change the wiring harness.

The tuners have already been replaced

Geez, someone was overachieving. I doubt that made a difference.

as has the bridge. It’s a Mustang. Though I’ve been tempted to get the Staytrem bridge and tremolo

I have the Mustang bridge on my JM, and a StayTrem on my Squier Bass VI. The StayTrem is inherently handsomer, but I don't find it functionally better than the Mustang bridge. I wouldn't panic over that swap.

– Proteus

Thank you for your insightful and informed comments regarding my Asian import. Just the kind of info I was looking for prior to my purchases, lol.

I’m deep into this pursuit, though I know not what I’m chasing. Never stopped me before.

When contemplating a Jazzmaster, I was initially befuddled by the variety of choices.

My MIJ was (!) an affordable gateway. Upon arrival the trem collet came unscrewed. Research led me to the staytrem collet.... then the trem.... then the bridge. And ..... oh, well.... it’s nice to have a project I can learn from.

I’m particularly intrigued by your assessment of the pickups. Never having spent much intimate time with a jm, I’ve no real reference point. From what I’ve read online, the pickups on the MIJ and CIJ guitars are wound more like a strat on a JM bobbin. Hence my interest in the AVRI replacements.

No discernible difference? I’m crestfallen. Lol, well at least I can practice soldering.

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I’m deep into this pursuit, though I know not what I’m chasing. Never stopped me before.

Me neither! And I usually don't know what I'm after till I find it.

When contemplating a Jazzmaster, I was initially befuddled by the variety of choices. My MIJ was (!) an affordable gateway.

Well...in this case I knew what I wanted was a straightforward, classic Jazzmaster. No interest in the rocked-up "alternative" or "post"-rock mutants which have evolved over the last couple of decades of (rationally inexplicable, in my view) revived interest in the model.

I didn't want to spend American standard series money on it because who knew if we'd bond? My research at the time turned up the general sufficiency of the CIJ series. At the time (2008 or so), there was considerable buzzhype about "Q-series" CIJs of the 2003-2004 timeframe (mine's a 2004). "Q" is officially just part of the date code, but they are presumably guitars meant for the Japanese domestic market which found their way to the US, possibly because Fender brought in a batch - either to supplement domestic production or as a test run for Fender-Japan-in-the-US (or a specific feature set) which might have marketing legs at the time.

So I bought the CIJ, and have been happy enough with it not to shop for more Jazzmasters.

Upon arrival the trem collet came unscrewed. Research led me to the staytrem collet.... then the trem.... then the bridge.

I vaguely recall I changed the trem on mine to a USA version as well. It certainly works better than the vibratos in my Squiers so equipped.

I’m particularly intrigued by your assessment of the pickups. Never having spent much intimate time with a jm, I’ve no real reference point. From what I’ve read online, the pickups on the MIJ and CIJ guitars are wound more like a strat on a JM bobbin. Hence my interest in the AVRI replacements. No discernible difference? I’m crestfallen. Lol, well at least I can practice soldering.

Well, OK. The Q-series debate raged (and you can still find evidence of it), with most seemingly well-informed and experienced aficionados maintaining there's no spec or build quality difference between the Q series and the surrounding P and R series - but everyone agreeing that every Q they'd played was really nice. (Extra-ordinarily nice, who knows?)

Part of this discussion was whether the pickups (and other specs) were upgraded over usual Fender Japan practice. Most have held that the pickups are the usual Fender Japan fare you describe: cosmetically enhanced narrow-bobbin Stratpups. On that basis, I ordered the AVRIs. When I got the guitar apart, the installed pickups looked essentially identical (but for the plastic color) to the AVRIs I was putting in. But once I had it apart, I put them in anyway.

And, as I say, no difference. So maybe some Q-series did have more traditionally Jazzmastery pickups - or maybe mine had been replaced before I got the guitar (on Ebay).

Moral of story: yours may have the Strattier pickups, in which case the AVRIs will make the guitar more fully the Jazzmaster it's meant to be.

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Jazzmaster after replacing plastics, multiple fingerboard treatments, and general setup. doesn't it look happier now? i lowered the pickups so the bridge one doesn't clang so much since this photo was taken and put .010s on to get more tone out of those great big flat coils. '65 Jazzmaster knobs--the cream witch-hats that look like albino Fender amp knobs--are on the way because life is short so why not use the cool knobs?

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the Aristocrat when it first arrived at home.

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resting comfortably in the fitted Guild case.

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i played the Guild for a little while today and though it wouldn't have occurred to me, my sloppy attempt at the intro to "Get Together" sounded plausibly close to the original. solid-state amp, i think?


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