Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pedal Board Setup

Professional guitarists all have their tricks and most often these are found on their pedal boards.

These pedals change the guitars sound in various ways to suit your style of playing.

Here is my set-up.  Click on the picture to see it close up.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Fender D'Aquisto Models

Fifteen years ago I went to a guitar show in Cincinnati at the local National Guard Armory. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I met a reprentive from Vintage Guitar Magazine and I even got to ask George Gruhn a question about an old guitar. I was wandering around looking at all the great old guitars when some guy thrust a Fender D’Aquisto guitar in my hands and said, “Hey man, you gotta’ try this one out.”

This Fender hollow body jazz guitar was sweet. It looked great and it played great. The asking price was $500, which was a bargain. But then this fellow started to mention rather loudly to people walking by, “Hey this guy is buying the guitar, he's buying it!!” At the time I didn’t have enough to buy that guitar. I think I only had about $100. Besides the guy seemed a little bit loopy. I gave him the guitar, wished him well and made a hasty retreat to view some more guitars.

In 1984 Fender had created some guitars they called Espirts. Notably the Robben Ford models, which were solid body instruments. In this series were the first two D’Aquisto models.

About ten years later Fender once again to Jimmy D'Aquisto's design and created a couple updated models including the D'Aquisto Elite and the  D’Aquisto Ultra which was top of the line.

Of course all were designed by Jimmy D’Aquisto from Farmingdale, New York. D’Aquisto was THE luthier in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Although he was not able to secure the trademark, Successor to D’Angelico, he was the actual successor to D’Angelico since he worked for John D’Angelico for years and learned his skill from the master.

Besides making some of the most beautiful and interesting guitars and stringed instrument Jimmy D’Aquisto had created a guitar for Hagstrom that was a beauty. Following the Hagstrom collaboration, Fender hired him to design some of the nicest archtops that the company ever produced.

It was in 1984 that Jimmy D’Aquisto began working with Fender on the D’Aquisto Elite. This guitar was similar to the Hagström Jimmy except for the headstock. The Fender instrument bore a traditional 3 on a side headstock, while the 3 on a side headstock on the Hagström instrument was somewhat radical.

The Elite had one humbucking pickup located near the bottom of the neck with top mounted volume and tone controls. The control knobs were made out of ebony as was the pickguard.  The bound neck had white block inlays. The pickguard was narrow. This was a signature of many of D’Aquisto’s creations.

The Standard model was not nearly as fancy. The neck had circular dot position markers. The guitar came with top mounted humbucking pickups with volume and tone controls for each. Once again the knobs were made of wood. The control switch was on the top lower bout. The maple body on both models was laminated maple and the tops were spruce. The pickguard was bound and narrow. Both the Elite and Standard were manufactured in Japan

In 1994 the Fender Custom Shop took over construction of the D’Aquisto models. There were two models which featured hand-carved spruce tops.

The D’Aquisto Ultra featured a single floating humbucker that was attached to the pickguard. The volume and tone controls were mounted on the pickguard. Body size at lower bout: 16". The scale length: 24 3/4". The width at the nut was 1 11/16". The top of the Ultra featured bookmatched spruce. The sides and back were flamed maple. The adjustable three piece neck was maple with an ebony fingerboard adorned with mother of pearl block markers. The body was surrounded with triple binding as was the headstock, fingerboard and f-holes.

The headstock had a fancy inlaid design of mother of pearl marquetry. The gold plated hardware included a Schaller humbucking pickup on the Ultra. The tuning keys were gold plated. The tailpiece was contoured and made of ebony. The compensated bridge and a single volume control were all ebony as well. D’Aquisto’s signature was inlaid in mother of pearl. The pickguard is also made of ebony. This model could be ordered without a pickup.

The most popular model is the single pickup Elite. This guitar seems to be the hardest to find due to the limited quantities in which it was produced. The body is 2 ¾” deep. The Elite’s dimensions are very similar to Gibson’s ES-175. The construction on the Elite includes a laminated body which helps to reduce feedback in a hollowbody guitar and reduce wear. The D’Aquisto Deluxe had a single neck pickup with top mounted volume and tone controls, once again with ebony knobs and pickguard.

The D’Aquisto Fender guitars are very collectible, especially the Elite and the Ultra and fetch high prices. In researching this guitar I noted that Christies sold an Elite for $23,500. However this instrument was a part of Eric Clapton’s collection. They are still far less expensive than a handmade D’Aquisto.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Acoustic Control Corporation Amplifiers and The Black Widow Guitar and Bass

The Acoustic Control Corporation manufactured some of the biggest and loudest amplifiers that were ever produced. The company was founded by Steve Marks and based out of Van Nuys California.

Most of the company’s amplifiers were solid state although they produced a few tube models. Perhaps the best remembered model was the Acoustic 360, which was actually a preamp for bass guitar designed to be combined with the Acoustic 361 W-bins which contained a rear facing 18” Cerwin Vega speaker and a folded horn (similar to the old Voice of the Theater speaker cabs.) and a 200 watt power amplifier. The normal configuration was two of these monster amp/cabs with the preamp which was enough to power a coliseum. This was a huge amplifier that produced nearly 400 watts RMS.

Some of the company’s other versions would include the Acoustic 260 head and 261 powered cabinet and the model 270 amplifier, the Acoustic model 134 and the model 371 (which was a combination of the model 370 amplifier and 301 bass cabinet).

The company went out of business in the 1980’s and the trade name was sold to True Tone Audio. Steve Marks founded SWR amplification and sold it to the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation. Fender then sold SWR to Raven amplifiers in the late 1990’s.

Acoustics’ design did not contain any IC chips, but used only transistors, much like Kustom amplifiers. Acoustic was able to produce a huge and loud bass amp with nearly no distortion at extremely high volume.

During the 1970's the Church I attended brought in a Gospel singer to perform. Her name was Lily Knauls. Ms. Knauls was one of the Edwin Hawkin's group that had a hit record at the time.

The group also backed up Melanie on her song, Candles in the Rain.

Lily brought with her a pianist and bass player. I was enlisted as the chauffer and got to drive Ms. Lily around all day. This meant I got to attend her rehearsal. The bass player had this unusual instrument which had a black, glossy finish and no frets. This was the first time I'd seen a fretless bass. I looked at the headstock and it said Acoustic. Being curious I discovered that

Acoustic Amplifiers aka the ACC produced the bass and a guitar.

In looking back on the company's history the bass and guitar production only lasted a few years, from 1972 through 1975. Both instruments were built in Japan and based on designs by Paul Barth. (Barth was part of the group that founded the Electro String Corporation in the 1930's. The other members included Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp. These men collaborated on the first electric Hawaiian guitar also known as The Frying Pan. Electro String later became Rickenbacker.)

Semie Mosley claims that he built several hundred of the guitars for the company’s final run.

Both the Black Widow guitar and bass had a familiar body style similar to the Les Paul Junior only larger. The double cutaway horns had more of a flared shape. The bodies were made of maple and had a high gloss black lacquered finish.

Both guitar and bass had a German carve around the edges (as did Moseley’s guitars). The two octave necks were bolt-on, the headstocks were triple bound. The necks had a zero fret (as did Mosrite) and miniature dot fret markers. The strings went over a tune-able bridge and were held in place by a tailpiece that was set rather far back and was designed to increase sustain.

The fingerboard was made of rosewood. The scale length from the nut to the bridge was an incredible 27”. Although not uncommon for classical guitars, this was much longer than Gibson’s 24 ¾” or Fender’s 25 1/2” scale. Oddly enough, the Black Widow bass was short scale of 31” with 20 frets”

The guitar had 2 humbucking pickups with chrome sides and 12 poles hooked up to a 3 way selector switch with twin volume and tone controls.

The bass came with one humbucking pickup that had 8 pole pieces and was mounted in the center of the body. The jack was mounted on the top of the body. The bass came in a fretted or non-fretted version (that had lines for position markers). The pickups output was higher than most produced during this era.

Originally the guitar and bass were equipped with Grover tuners, however by the end of the run the bass tuners were changed to Schallers. One of the most interesting features was the red pad on the back of each instrument. This snapped on to the body just like some Gretsch guitars. On the pad was the design of a black widow spider.

The guitars were ahead of their time and somewhat reminiscent of Schecter guitars produced today.

By 1975 the company went back to what it did best...produce amplifiers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Fender Coronado

In 1966 Fender developed a guitar to compete with Gibson’s ES-330. This was an era when double cutaway guitars were popular since they were being played by many British groups.

Gibson had several models, from the ES-125T to the ES-355. So did the Epiphone with the Casino, Sheraton and others, which by now were being manufactured by Gibson. The Beatles were seen with a pair of Epi Casinos. Guild, Gretsch and even Hagstrom had come out with hollow body, double cutaway instruments.

Fender once again went to guitar designer/luthier Roger Rossmeisl to come up with a hollow body, thin, double cutaway instrument and Roger came up with the Fender Coronado.

Just like the ES-330 the Coronado did not have center block. It was a true hollowbody instrument. Even the horns were hollow.

The Coronado actually looked more like Hagstrom’s Viking guitar than the rounded horn Gibson ES design. The upper cutaway bouts were sharper and the lower body appeared to be wider.

Fender offered four versions of the Coronado within their catalogue. The Coronado I featured a single pickup below the neck. The Coronado II had a neck and bridge pickup. The Coronado XII was a double pickup twelve string version. Plus two Coronado basses were offered.

The top, back and sides of the Coronado body featured laminated beechwood. The tops were arched. The Coronado I was a rather plain instrument. The body was bound, but the “f” holes and the neck's fingerboard were not bound. The rosewood fingerboard featured white circular dot markers. The body came in a variety of colors, however the headstock on the Coronado I was always black with a gold Fender decal.

The Coronado I bridge was a very plain, non-adjustable, non-anchored, rosewood arch top guitar bridge. The trapeze tailpiece was also very plain. All the Coronados featured a glossy nitrocellulose lacquer. Incidently, the nitrocellulose lacquer process is what Fender uses on it's new line of Thin Skin models and custom shop guitars.

Coronado II with added Bigsby Vibrato
The Coronado II was a much fancier instrument. Its two “f” holes were bound with white plastic as was the rosewood fingerboard. The fingerboard also featured white block position markers. The body was bound with a sort of semi-herringbone trim. The color of the headstock was either black or matched the color of the body. Once again the decal was the gold Fender logo. This guitar featured an archtop guitar bridge with a chrome adjustable poles for each string. The bridge was not anchored to the body. The tailpiece was deluxe and embossed with a gold “F”.

It could also be ordered with a rather unique vibrato unit. The arm on this vibrato was the same long one used on Jazzmasters and Jaguars.

The Coronado XII featured the same appointments as the Coronado II except for the headstock. The headstock on these guitars was the same one used on the Fender XII  guitar which came to be known as “the hockey stick” style, however the headstock was painted to match the body color.. The decal on this instrument was located on the downward curve at the top and read Fender Coronado XII, instead of just Fender.

The Coronado II bass also had the same fancy appointments of the Coronado II. The pickups were of course different and the headstock was painted to match the body and featured the 4 on a side style similar to that found on the P or J bass. The decal read Fender Coronado Bass II. The Coronado II bass featured bound “f” holes, deluxe binding on the body, a neck and bridge pickup, a bound rosewood fingerboard with white block position markers. Both basses featured Fender’s bolt-on neck. The bridge on both instruments was sort of a staggered stair step type of bridge for compensation.

As I've mentioned the Coronado basses came in two versions. Once again the Coronado I bass had one neck pickup, no binding on the “f” holes and white dot position markers on the fingerboard.

As on the Coronado I guitar, the Coronado I bass headstock was always black.

The potentiometer knobs on all the guitars were black plastic with a silver top. The single pickup models featured a volume and tone control. The double pickup models came with two volume controls and two tone controls plus a three-way pickup selector switch which was located out of the way on the bottom horn. The tuning keys generally had chrome buttons and posts.  The chrome bass tuning keys were the open Fender oval style. (Although I have seen the bass with the cloverleaf style pegs.)

The fancier models were available in a variety of finishes including “Wildwood”. Wildwood was a process developed by a Danish inventor in which beech trees were injected with dye prior to havesting. This created a unique veneer that contained the dye in the grain.
Fender also offered the Coronado in what they referred to as Antiqua. This was a finish that created a dark gilt effect on the parameter of the guitars body and “f” holes.
Probably the most unusual feature for Fender was the use of DeArmond pickups for the Coronado line. DeArmond pickups made in Toledo Ohio were somewhat popular with jazzers. That is the only reason I can imagine Fender would outsource the manufacturing of pickups.

Unlike the Montego, Fender shipped these guitar complete with cases made by Victoria Luggage, a USA company.

The instruments were expensive to make and were never the hit Fender expected. Jazz players once again did not like the bolt on neck and Rock players did not like the hollow body because of feedback from loud amplifiers. Gibson kept it’s hold on the hollow and semi-hollow body market.

In 1970 Fender ended construction of the Coronado I and in 1972 Fender stopped manufacturing all Coronados.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Fender Montego - Fender's Jazzbox

I may be wrong, but I recall first seeing the Fender Montego in the 1965 or 1966 Fender Catalogue. The guitar was offered in two versions; The Montego I & II

It was advertised as being "a magnificent duo created for professional guitarists.  Appreciated by top pros for warm singing tone." Although I don't know which top pros they were referring to since I do not recall anyone regularly playing this guitar.

This guitar was Fenders top of the line and featured all the bells and whistles. It was essentially hand made or as they would say today, "from the Custom Shop."

Both Montegos had a contoured spruce top and came with either one or two humbucking pickups. I suppose because humbucking was trademarked the catalogue described them as; specially designed pickups with hand-wound hum-canceling coils totally shielded from outside interference.

The inlay was genuine hand-cut Australian mother-of-pearl.

The body was 42 ¾ in length, 17” in width and 5 1/2,” deep with a single Venetian cutaway. Both sides of the body were "contoured", which I assume means arched and carved.

The top was select spruce. The back and sides were made of flamed maple. The guitar came in only one finish which was sunburst. The double "f" holes featured white binding on the Montego II. The Montego I's that I have seen do not have bound "f" holes. The Montego II guitars pickguard was 3 ply black/white/black laminate.

The Montego I featured a faux tortoise shell guard with the volume and tone controls mounted on it. The Grover rotomatics and tailpiece were chromed. The Grover tuners featured white perloid buttons. The guitar came with 2 strap buttons which was unusual for the day. Fender finished it with what they called a "thick-skin high-gloss finish."

Instead of saying the guitar had a bolt-on neck, Fender's copy writers called it, Detachable hard rock maple with fast-action design and a curved ebony fingerboard that featured a completely adjustable truss rod. The neck was bound in white plastic.

The headstock was unusual for Fender since it was a tilt-back head. It also featured an inlaid decorative pattern made of genuine Australian mother of pearl. The nut was hand-cut ivory nut with custom hand-filed string notches. There were 9 rectangular custom made Australian mother of pearl inlaid position markers in a rectangular design. The bridge was hand-made of ebony wood.

The Montego II had one pickup with two hum-canceling coils which was actually a floating pickup attached to the pick guard.  The Montego II had two hum-canceling pickups. The pickups featured 6 individually adjustable pole pieces.

The Montego I had one volume and one tone control.

The Montego II had two volume and two tone controls, plus a 3 way selector switch which were all mounted in the body.

The hardshell plush lined case was extra; however each guitar came with a cord, polishing cloth and a black leather guitar strap.

Both Fender Montego were designed by Roger Rossmeisl of Rickenbacker fame. He joined Fender in 1962. Rossmeisl had been trained in his home country of Germany as a luthier. His father Wenzel was a German guitar maker of much renown.

Rossmeisl joined Fender during The Folk Scare to design a line of acoustic instruments for the company. During this hick up in music history the demand for acoustic guitars was as great as the demand during the Brit Invasion. We will talk about Fender acoustics, the Fender Thinline Tele and the Wildwood guitars later. All of these guitars were designed by Rossmeisl.

Rossmeisl was in all probability mostly responsible for the design and creation of the Fender Montego guitars. Although in reading the specs carefully you can determine Mr. Fender also had a hand in the guitars creation.

At this time I cannot find any data on how many Montegos were manufactured or how many were sold. It was listed in the catalogue through 1972 and perhaps beyond.

Possibly due to the bolt-on, excuse me, detachable neck, the guitars popularity was overshadowed by other instruments. And that was too bad, because the Montego was a fine guitar.

I cannot help but wonder if the name, Montego, was trademarked by Fender? 

Although the Montego guitar no longer exists, Fender's color chart includes a color called Montego Black.  This color is sort of a gun-metal black and a shade lighter than the Black on Clapton's well known stratocaster.


Friday, March 5, 2010

The Fender Starcaster

As I see it, there seems to be a recurring theme in the guitar manufacturing industry.

A company creates a great signature product and then becomes envious of their competitors product, so they make an attempt to create a guitar similar to their competition's instrument, only to find out sales of the imitation are flat.

The Fender Starcaster was an excellent instrument. This was Fender’s attempt to move forward with a semi-hollowbody guitar, in a market dominated by Gibson.

In the 1960’s through the 1970’s Gibson’s semi-hollowbody guitars, the ES-335 and ES-345  model guitars ruled the roost. There was a period of time the Les Paul lead the pack as the required solid body rock guitar.

However through the 1950’ to the present, Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster are THE solid body guitars.

The Starcaster was designed by Gene Fields, a guitar builder who worked for Fender for 23 years and participated in the design of several of their well known products.

Fields sought to build a high quality semi-hollow body instrument during the CBS era. Gibson had already set the standard with their set neck design. Guild thin line guitars featured a set neck. However Fender's Starcaster featured a bolt on neck with 3 bolts.

The Starcaster production lasted from 1976 ending in 1980 (or 1982 depending upon sources.) Unfortunately the Starcaster was commercially unsuccessful. At the time guitarists envisioned Fender guitars as solid body, single coil pickup instruments and Gibson as hollow or semi-hollow instruments with humbucking pickups.

The Starcasters headstock design was quite different from other Fender guitars. It retained the six-on-a-side tuning pegs, but the curve at the headstocks end pointed up instead of being rounded off.

The headstocks bottom curve was painted to match the color of the guitar body. Click on photo 3 & 4 for headstock close-up

The body was asymmetrical. The fingerboard featured a maple fretboard. The controls consisted of volume and tone controls for each pickup and a master volume control.

The Starcasters humbucking pickups were designed by Seth Lover and first appeared on Telecaster Customer and Thinline instruments. These pickups were known as Fender Wide Range Pickups. Two of these were mounted on each Starcaster.

The Starcasters body, neck and fretboard were all made of maple. The 25.5" neck scale was typical of most Fender products. The bridge was fixed on the bodies top and the strings went through the body and the ball ends were held by grommets. The color choices for the Starcaster were White, Natural (Blonde), Sunburst, Tobacco, Mocha Brown.

Due to the guitars unpopularity when first sold, Starcasters are not considered to be high value collector instruments. However they were well designed players.

Possibly Fender should have stuck to what they do better than anyone else and stick to making high quality solid body guitars. Who knows?

The Starcaster name was revived recently for Fender's budget quality, Asian manufactured instruments sold at Wal-mart and other big box stores.

These guitars resemble Stratocasters and are distributed by Fender, but do not bear the Fender or Squier logo.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Fender Mustang

I was thirteen years old when my friend Greg had just bought a beautiful white Fender Mustang. I had no idea how much different it was compared to my old ’57 Stratocaster (aka the one that got away), except it had two pickups and my guitar had three pickups. Greg's guitar came in a shiney brand new case and all I had was this old tweed case (aka known as the one that got away – part two).
At thirteen I really didn’t know Steve Belew but I knew about the Denems, which was a band based out of the Covington/Erlanger Kentucky area. I had seen them a number of times around town and I knew one of the other guys in the band, but not Steve. He was their drummer. Later on Steve Belew learned to play guitar and changed his name to Adrian and notably played customized Fender Mustangs. More on him later.

The unique features of the Mustang make it a unique guitar.

In 1964 Fender introduced a new student model guitar called The Mustang. The Mustangs body style and pickup design were based on Fender’s two previous short scale student models, The Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic. Production of the Mustang lasted until 1982. It was revived in 1990. There are several factors that make this a unique instrument.

The original Mustang had a 22.5” scale neck which was designed for smaller hands. The neck scale measures the length from the nut to the bridge saddle. In comparison a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster has a 25.5” scale neck. Although the Mustang was not considered a Jazz guitar, a similar short scale neck of 23.5” was used on Gibson’s Byrdland. The necks purpose on the Byrdland was to make it easier for Jazzers reach those complex chords and single note runs.

In late 1964 or early 1965 the neck scale of 24” was offered. This was still short by Fender standards and comparable to the Fender Jaguar. In fact some of the features on the Mustang took their queue from the Fender Jaguar.

The Mustang features two single coil pickups with an unusual switching configuration, and a unique tremolo system. Though the body shape is similar to the Musicmaster/Duo-sonic. By 1969 the body shape changes from a slab to an offset and contoured style.

The twin pickup Mustang was first introduced in Red, White or Blue. The red and blue models came with a fancy white pearl (mother of toilet seat) scratch plate and black slider style pickup controls. The white model came with a tortoise shell pickguard and featured white covers on its slider switches. The bodies were either poplar or mahogany. The necks headstock was larger than the one found on Stratocasters of this era. The Kluson tuning keys featured white ovular knobs. There was one string guide on the headstock. The guitar had a chrome control plate for the volume and tone potentiometers and cord input.

 Mustang with Bridge Cover
The guitars unique pickups did not have exposed magnetic polepieces like those found on most other Fender guitars. They had a plastic covering. They also were slightly larger than those found on a Strat or Jaguar and included a brass shielding plate. The pickup controls were ahead of their time. In 1964 most of us had no idea what pickup phasing was. The Mustangs slider control could not just be off or on, but the phase (or magnetic flow) of the pickup could be reversed. This could not just create a unique sound, but could get rid of that pesky 60 cycle hum since one pickups signal was inverted from the other.

Aside from the pickups, the other unique feature found on the Mustang was its unusual tremolo system called the Dynamic Vibrato system. The design was different than any other Fender vibrato. The key to the bridge/vibrato was a heavy chrome plate.

Attached to the plate is a chrome cylinder that holds the tremolo arm which sat behind the adjustable bridge. Screwed into the bottom of the cylinder are two large bolts which are notched in the center.

These bolts are attached to two heavy metal springs that create the vibrato tension. The springs can be attached to different holes in the plate to tighten or loosen the tension. As on most Fenders too much pull can cause the guitar to go out of tune.

By 1967 the guitar was offered in a variety of colors and the competition model was introduced. The competition model had a racing stripe across the lower bout. The competition model was discontinued in 1972.

By 1984 interest was waning in this guitar and production halted.

The Mustang experienced a revival in the 1990’s when Grunge bands picked up old Mustangs, Jaguars and Jazzmasters.

Kurt Cobain asked Fender to design a unique Mustang with a body shape that combined features of the Mustang and the Jaguar. This was offered for sale by Fender for a few years and called the Jag-stang.


Fender also offered a Mustang Bass. This was produced in 1966 as a companion to the Mustang. It featured a 30” short scale neck. Just like the larger Precision bass, this guitar came with one staggered split pickup in the center of the body.

The Mustang Bass pickups were of a different shape than those found on the P-bass and came with rounded corners. Some of the other features were similar to the Mustang. Originally the body only came in only red or white. By 1969 it was offered in a variety of colors and competition models were produced.

The original models came with a string mute. Most players removed these. So Fender quit offering the mutes on later models.

The Mustang Bass was offered until 1981. It was replaced by some other Fender products including the Squier Musicmaster bass and the Bronco bass.

Other than Cobain, the guitarist most noted for his use of the Mustang is Adrian Belew. As I have already eluded, Adrian grew up near the area of the country where I live. As a teenager he was known as Steve Belew and played drums for a local garage band called The Denems. They played Beatle covers at high school dances. I recall seeing him back in the day.

One year when he became ill and confined to bed for several months, he asked one of his band buddies to lend him a guitar. By the time he was well he became more proficient on the guitar than his friend. Steve changed his name and has gone on to be a guitar legend as a player for King Crimson, Zappa, David Bowie and others.

Belew asked Fender to design a customized Mustang for him. He had three of them built. They have three pickups with different colored covers that were made by Don Lace. The control switch is on the upper bout. The guitar also features a built in Roland GK-2 synth pickup with separate controls. The design on all three is different. Belew states he likes the Mustang because of its short neck.