Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wall Paper Guitars

I don't remember much about my Grandmother, but I do recall the flowery wall paper on her parlor walls. Large pink Chrysanthemums and big green leafs engulfed the room.
What I also recall is that in the 1960's I was growing up and trying to fit in with my school crowd. The British Invasion had come and brought with it not just music, but fashion as well. To be cool you needed a paisley shirt with puffy sleeves and bell-bottom trousers. And that was for the guys!

Fender took a queue from this era and came out with four new guitars and a bass. All used wall paper on their finishes. Yep! I did say wall paper. There was a flowery Telecaster finished in light blue and floral Stratocaster and a Telecaster and Stratocaster finished in hot pink paisley. Not to forget the bass players,

Fender also produced a Telecaster bass in a pink paisley finish. Why they didn’t do a grandma chrysanthemum and leaf Tele?

Fender used self-stick adhesive backed wall paper that was cut and applied to the front and back of the already painted bodies. Another coat of spray was applied around the perimeter of the body to create a sunburst effect.

The body was then lacquered. The pickguard Assembly was clear plastic so the finish could be seen throughout the guitar.

The effect appeared as if someone had taken a great deal of time to carefully hand paint each guitar. These guitars were only produced from 1968 through 1969. At the time sales were flat. Fender saw this as a marketing ploy gone badly.
But the old versions are extremely collectible now. In Japan the guitar became very popular and in 1984 the Japanese arm of Fender began producing reissues. They continue being produced only in Japan through the present.

When Fender opened its Mexican production plant in the 90's they stopped importing Fender guitars from other countries.

Paisley/Floral Teles and Stats were sold through non-approved channels through 2003. Since then FMIC purchases them through Japan for sale in the US using the Fender logo. The newer versions have eschewed the use of wallpaper and instead use preprinted clear plastic that is embedded with the paisley or floral design.

Brad Paisley and James Burton devotion to Paisley Telecasters have popularized these guitars. Brad Paisley now has his guitars handmade by a luthier named Bill Crooks.

Fender is not the only company using wallpaper or a variant as a finish. Ibanez came out with a series of guitars they call the Talman.

These come in an electric verion and also an acoustic-electric version.

Many of these guitars appear to be made of an expensive flamed or quilted wood. However it is actually a photo of wood that is processed and glued on the particle board top and back and then heavily lacquered. The process is called Photoflame.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Les Paul Recording Guitar

It was in 1971 Gibson introduced the Gibson Les Paul recording guitar. This guitar was designed to be much like Paul's specially designed personal guitar which was equipped with low impedance pickups.
As you may know one of Les’ inventions was multi track recording. He incorporated this with sound-on-sound recording. The problem with sound-on-sound aka bouncing was with each addition the sound would degrade.

Les discovered the solution to this was lo-impedance input. Gibson added this feature to their Les Paul Recording model. The guitar came with two slanted low impedance pickups with Gibson logo molded on covers.

The guitar was equipped with integral transformers to make the output impedance compatible with normal high impedance amps or low impedance.

In other words, with the transformer off for recording in a studio plugged directly into the board, the low-impedance mode gave much cleaner tracks and broader frequency bandwidth that could be tweaked in the mix.

For live performances, the Les Paul Low-Hi Impedance Tonal Circuitry was switched to high impedance, allowing the guitar to be played directly through standard guitar amplifiers.

The guitars two Low Impedance humbucking pickups that were stacked and angled.

This guitar was designed to sound best when plugged into a mixing desk at (Low Impedance setting). When used with a regular amp, you had to engage the inbuilt impedance transformer. Controls were relatively complex — Volume, Treble, Bass, “Decade,” Microphone Volume, Pickup Selector, Tone Switch and Phase Switch on its large inlay panel. The Decade switch was designed to “tune”/alter treble harmonics, for "biting" or "silky" highs. And the Decade switch was feasibly the start of a guitar culture joke: although called the Decade, the selector switch had one more position. It actually went up to 11

The pickups were designed by Les Paul for this guitar. He had similar pickups on his own version of the Les Paul Black Beauty.

Like most Les Paul's it was designed with a single cutaway bound body, however the Recording guitar was made of solid Honduran mahogany. The necks were three piece laminated Mahogany with bound ebony rosewood fingerboards and mother-of-pearl block inlays. The Les Paul Recording was manufactured between 1971 and 1980.
The first version was produced through 1977 and a second version with a slightly different control arrangement was produced from 1977 to 1980. The first models were available in only a clear finish or a walnut finish. The later version was available in brown, black, white or sunburst.
Aside from the Hi-Lo impedance switches, the guitar had a phase switch, which put the pickups in phase or out of phase with each other. The Tone Selector switch was unique in that it could bypass the treble and bass controls for a flat frequency. The bridge was a new version of the Tune-O-Matic bridge. The routed area for the control panel was completely shielded with a metal casing.
The Les Paul Recording was designd to be clean and noiseless, which is probably why it did not do well in sales. It was designed to play the music that Les played.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Gumby Guitar by Guild

Here is a little history lesson about Guild Guitars, the manufacturer of the Guild S-200 Thunderbird, which sort of resembles the little claymation guy, Gumby.

In 1873 Anastasios Stathopoulos made his own fiddles and Turkish lutes (oud, laouto). He was living in Smyrna, which is now Izmir, Turkey.  Stathopoulos moved to the United States of America in 1903, and continued to make his original instruments, as well as mandolins, from Long Island City in Queens, New York.

When Anastasios died in 1915, and his son, Epaminondas, nicknamed Epi, took over. After two years, the company was known as The House Of Stathopoulous. In addition to the instruments that had been their mainstay, the company began manufacturing banjos under the Recording brandname.
It was in 1928 when the company produced their first guitars under the brandname Epiphone. 

Epi passed away in 1943 and his two brothers, Orphie and Frixo, were left running the business. The partnership lasted only five years when Frixo sold his share of the company to his brother. Orphie continued to run the company. 

He moved it out of New York to Philadelphia when he workers threatened to strike. Finally in 1957 when he had enough and sold out to Gibson Guitar's owner Chicago Musical Instruments.

The craftsmen that worked for Epiphone were left without work when Gibson/CMI moved production to their headquarters in Kalamazoo Michigan.

Former Epiphone executive Alfred Dronge and a music retailer George Mann banded together in 1952 to found Guild Guitars in Manhattan, New York. They purchased a building close to where the old Epiphone factory had been located. Not too far away was the factory where Gretsch guitars were being built. 

Dronge and Mann were able to hire some of the craftsmen that had been working for Epiphone and lured a few away from Gretsch.

In the mid 1960's Guild were not only producing fine acoustic guitars, but also were building outstanding electric guitars and basses.

But the one that stands out in my mind is the Guild S-200 Thunderbird aka The Gumby Guitar as it sort of resembles the little clay guy when you stand it up.

And by the way, you don't need a guitar stand for the Guild S-200. In the back of the body tucked away in a routed out cavity was a spring-loaded, hinged, nine inch flat chrome bar to allow you to prop the guitar up vertically.

This Guitar was equipped with two pickups, 2 tone circuits for each pickup on/off switches and phase switch. The body shape with the three slider switches looked somewhat like a Fender Jaguar.

The lead pickup knobs go to up to nine. The Guild S-200 came equipped with a Hagstrom tremolo unit. Later production models switched from the Humbucking pickups to DeArmond single coil pickups. As far as I can discern the guitar was produced from around 1963 to 1968.

I call your attention to the asymmetrical headstock shape, the carved and contoured body and the inlay on the bound neck. The neck on the Guild S-200 was a set neck. In essence it was a quality instrument.

All of us who are old enough to remember Shindig, Hullabaloo, Where The Action Is, Ready Steady Go and other TV rock shows of that era may recall Zal Yanovsky, lead player of the Lovin' Spoonful rocking out on his Guild S-200 Thunderbird.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Gibson Gospel Guitar

The Gibson Gospel guitar originated in 1972-73 and was manufactured at Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory. These were the days of a spiritual awakening throughout North America. Perhaps that was the impetus behind the creation of the guitar and this guitar was designed to be a deep sounding vocal backup instrument. I've played my friend Terry Fisher's Gibson Gospel and I concur. It does have an excellent, big sound.

The Gibson Gospel guitar was designed with a flat top, had square shoulders, arched back, maple neck, laminated maple back and sides and had a tortoise style body binding and pick guard. The guitars were only available with a natural finish. The headstock featured the image of a Dove below the Gibson logo.

The guitar had a unique laminated arched back with no bracing. This type of back has been a feature on several other guitars. Guild used the arched back on at least one model and Framus of Bavaria used it on most of their acoustic instruments. The arched back provided its own support, so there was no need for bracing. 

The consumer focus of the guitar was for accompanying  Christian music. As I previously mentioned, this era was known as the Jesus Revolution. A Gibson advertisement bears this out by showing a typical Christian coffeehouse singer of the era testifying about why the instrument was his choice.

added cover plate

Whatever the target audience was, the Gibson Gospel acoustic guitar was also an excellent instrument choice for bluegrass, folk, country music and even blues.

In 1992 Gibson again offered the Gospel acoustic model. The reissue defers compared to the original. Gibson chose mahogany over maple for the reissue. The new version of the Gospel guitar has multiple white binding, solid mahogany sides and back. The unbound maple neck was topped with a rosewood fingerboard with pearl dot inlays. The braces were scalloped like those on the more expensive models. 

The Dove logo remained on this instruments head stock.

This time it also was adorned with black pick guard that was not as large or fancy as the original. Finishes were offered in either natural or sunburst.

In 1994 Gibson produced a 100th Anniversary Model 
Gospel Guitar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Gibson Norlin Creations

The Gibson RD Guitar Series

In 1977 Norlin owned several companies including Moog which manufactured synthesizers designed by Robert Moog

Due to the popularity of personal synthesizers during this era, Gibson partnered with Moog to design the RD Guitar (research and development) which brought electronic circuitry to Gibson instruments for the first time.

RD Custom
Many of these guitars were fitted with a Bob Moog designed compression and expansion preamplifier. Gibson soon discovered that many players did not like the advanced electronics.

RD Standard

The guitars shape could be described as a weird looking reversed firebird with a Les Paul head stock. 

The Gibson RD standard had a double cut solid body, 2 humbuckers, stop tailpiece, rosewood fingerboard, dot inlays, chrome parts, large back plate, and were made in natural, walnut or sunburst finishes.

(Note the 2nd and 3rd guitars have an extra toggle switches on the bottom that engages the active circuitry.) 

The Gibson RD Custom had basically the same specs like the rd standard but with active electronics and was made with maple fingerboards.

1978 Gibson RD Artist
The stunning Gibson RD Artist also featured active electronics, 2 humbuckers, a tp-6 tailpiece, tune-o-matic bridge, large back plate, ebony fingerboards with block inlays, 3 piece mahogany necks, gold plated parts, pearl logo and was made with various finishes. The line was discontinued in 1982.

Gibson also offered the RD Artist bass guitar.That had an rather unique pickguard that made this instrument stand out. The bridge and saddle were also a rather unusual and futuristic design

The RD Standard was not as fancy and was not equipped with active circuitry.

The Gibson L-6S Series

The Gibson L-6S was really a nice instrument. It was a cheaper descendant of the L5S jazz solid body electric guitar. It was the same shape - very much like a wide Gibson Les Paul. It was the first Gibson to sport a 24 fret two-octave neck.

The L-6S was designed by a young Bill Lawrence in 1972, who had been given the task of designing a "multi-sound system" under a very tight budget. The final production guitar was somewhat different from the Guitar he had in mind but as he stated, "even with these changes, the early production L6-S was still an excellent performer.”

The guitar had a small following and at the time was favored by Al DiMeola, Keith Richards and Carlos Santana among others.

The L-6S came in three variants; all were maple-bodied with twin super-humbucking Lawrence designed pickups.

The L-6S Custom was the best known version with total production of over 12,000 instruments. It featured a Maple body, and set neck with a choice of maple or ebony fingerboard. Controls include a six position pickup selector, master volume, mid-range and treble roll-off controls. 

The first production models were simply called the L-6S. Later Gibson renamed the guitar the L-6S Custom and added a badge on the truss rod cover.

The L-6S Custom is noted for its six way rotary selector switch, complete with "chicken head" pointer knob. Starting with switch position #1, in the most clockwise position, the available pickup switching options are as follows:

1 Both pickups, in series
2 Neck pickup, alone
3 Both pickups, in parallel
4 Both pickups, parallel out of phase, with the neck pickup's bass response restricted thought a series capacitor*.
5 Bridge pickup, alone
6 Both pickups, series out of phase.

• The capacitor in the #4 position gives a fuller tone than the otherwise very nasal out of phase tone. The capacitor serves to limit the low end response of the neck pickup, and also phase delays the signal from that pickup, resulting in a fuller tone, not too unlike the #2 and #4 switch positions on a Fender Stratocaster guitar.

The mid-range control on the L-6S Custom uses a 1.8Hy inductor, which is split wound for hum-cancellation, along with a capacitor. This is a variation of the notch filter concept introduced by Gibson with the VariTone circuit. In the VariTone, however, the resistance is fixed, and different capacitors are chosen.

In the L-6S's mid-range control, the resistance is variable, while the capacitance is a fixed value. The result is one which allows decreasing of the middle tones, while retaining a large degree of "sparkle" or "brilliance" to the tone of the instrument. The volume and treble roll-off controls work as they do in most other electric guitars.

There were two versions of the L-6S produced without the sophisticated tone swithing control. One version was The L-6S called The Midnight Special with total production of around 2000 instruments Maple body, and bolt-on maple neck with a maple fingerboard. 

Controls include a pickup selector, master volume, and tone control. This guitar was strung through the body.

The L-6S Deluxe was less popular than the Custom with total production around 3500 instruments The Deluxe had a set maple neck, with a rosewood fingerboard. Controls include a pickup selector, master volume, and tone control. Strung through the body. The guitars production was ended in 1979.

The Gibson Mark Series aka MK Series

Perhaps due to the popularity of Ovation guitars, designed with the parabolic sound bowl that was said to increase and improve the guitars sound, Gibson Norlin jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to design the ultimate acoustic guitar based on the principles of physics.

This effort was initiated by collaboration between Dr. Michael Kasha, a physics professor at Florida State University and Richard Schneider, who at the time was an apprentice of Mexican Luther Juan Pimentel. The collaborative result was the Gibson Mark series.

Dr. Michael Kasha had been working on improving the classical guitar circa 1965. Encouraged by the classical guitar establishment he began to measure the sound response of great classical guitars. He had already been aided in his effort by Richard Schneider.

By 1971, Kasha was publishing many of his conclusions. Kasha loaded weight in or near the headstock to increase the transmission of string vibration down through the neck. (Many of us as young guitarist had discovered that placing the headstock of your guitar against a wall or the headboard of your bed resulted in transferred vibrations and increased sound. 

In fact there is a company that builds a flat piece of metal called the Fathead that is designed to fit on the rear of a guitars head stock for this purpose.) Kasha counterbalanced this by adding a weight in the tail block.

The soundboard received a radical revision to the bracing system.

MK Series top bracing
Systems varied for classical and steel-stringed models, but basically it involved two transverse bars under the bridge and above the sound hole, then a sort of hybrid X and fan system. 

X bracing was used on the upper bout and fanned bracing on the lower, with braces get graduating from thick to thinner as they moved from bass to treble sides. FYI, steel string guitars normally use X bracing and classical/flamenco guitars use fan bracing. So this design was very unusual.

Kasha also came up with an impedance-matching bridge that was basically wide on the bass side and tapered on the treble.

Ironically in 1972 Kasha and Schneider signed an agreement to sell classical and steel string instruments through the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company, owners and builders of Gretsch and Baldwin/Burns guitars. 

That arrangement lasted only about a year, perhaps due to the financial problems Baldwin was experiencing at the time due to their purchase of Burns.

Kasha and Schneider then signed with Gibson in 1973 to develop a line of scientifically designed acoustic guitars, with Norlin picking up the development tab.

The Gibson Mark line consisted of five steel-stringed models. All were jumbo-bodied, with more rounded shoulders and lower bout than a typical square-shouldered Gibson dreadnought. They could be had in either natural or a sunburst with dark upper bout and a fairly thin band of stain around the lower.

All sported 25 1/2" scales and had a plastic ring around the sound hole. The top of the line was the Mark 99 in spruce and rosewood with an ebony fretboard, gold hardware, and bow-tie inlays ($2,199). These were basically custom-made by Schneider.

The Mark 81 was the top production model, differing only in large pearl block inlays ($999).

The Mark 72, a plainer rosewood model with less binding, chrome hardware, rosewood fingerboard, and dots ($749).

The Mark 53 was maple-bodied with rosewood 'board and dots ($649).

The Mark 35 had a mahogany body with rosewood 'board and dots ($569). Cases were an extra $109. Two 12-strings were briefly offered, the Mark 45-12, probably made of maple (two made in '79), and the Mark 35-12 (12 made in '77).

The Mark guitars were only offered for four years, until 1979. Only one custom Mark 99 was ever produced and sold. Of the Mark 81s, 431 were produced. The second most popular was the Mark 72 clocking in at 1,229 units. The maple Mark 53 saw 1,424 produced. The most popular was the mahogany Mark 35, with 5,226 made

I have played a Gibson Mark 53. It is a fine American-made, solid wood, extremely well constructed instrument.  

I am of the opinion that despite all the scientific research that went into producing and designing the Mark Series guitars produced an excellent instrument, but when it is compared with a Gibson Hummingbird or a Martin D-28 the Martin and Hummingbird produce a better tone.