Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gibson Super 400

1938 Gibson Super 400
I watched an old episode of Antiques Road Show last night. One of the featured articles was a pristine Stromberg Master 400. It was a beautiful instrument with a natural finish.

Stromberg Master 400
The lady that inherited the guitar had it appraised at a music store and they valued it at $1500 to $2000. It was actually worth around $25,000.


The Strombergs of Boston and Mr. D’Angelico of New York City based their guitar designs on the Gibson L5, which was not only one of the finest guitars ever produced but also one of the most historically significant guitars.


D'Angelico Excel





Paul Yandell's 400
Each luthier attempted to build a better instrument than a Gibson. Not to diminish Gibson guitars in anyway, but both succeeded.

Stromberg’s idea was bigger is better, so their Master 400 was an inch larger than the Gibson Super 400. D’Angelico's Excel was much more elaborate.



1928 Gibson L5
This guitar was introduced in 1923 as the Gibson L5, during an era when guitarists in big bands were looking for a guitar that could cut through the horn section.





1934 Super 400

By 1934 the guitar was renamed the Gibson Super 400. Its grand auditorium body shape is not unlike Orville Gibson’s 1902 Style O model. The L5 was part of what Gibson called the Master Series. This included the legendary F-5 mandolin, H-5 mandola and K-5 mando-cello and of course the L5 guitar. All were created in an era when Mandolin orchestras were popular.


As with many Gibson guitars, the numerical designation depicts the instruments original price tag. Four-hundred dollars was quite a price in 1930’s America. (The current suggested retail price for a brand-new Super 400 CES is $17,292. A new Gibson L5 acoustic will set you back $6,774. Gibson does not offer a Super 400 acoustic model.)

The Super 400 is perhaps the finest Gibson that was ever produced. It was also the largest guitar that the Gibson Guitar Corporation had produced. The original models came with a hand-engraved tailpiece and finger rest support. The early models had engraved truss rod covers that still stated this was an L5 Super.

By 1939 the model the truss cover were changed and the designation Super 400 was official. Changes were made to the design. The upper bout was enlarged and there was no hand engraving on the tailpiece. The f-holes were enlarged on this instrument. A cutaway model was also offered. This was designated the Super 400P or premiere. Later on Gibson changed the cutaway designation to C.

It was not until the 1950’s that Gibson electrified this instrument and designated it the Super 400 CES for Cutaway Electric Spanish. This model came with twin P-90 pickups with black plastic covers and individual volume and tone controls for each pickup and a three way toggle switch. On mid-1950 models the pickups were changed to Alnico V pickups. By 1957 twin humbuckers were standard. On the CES, the top was slightly thickened to eliminate feedback.

Beautiful neck heel cap
The Super 400 had an 18” wide body, an adjustable bridge and manufactured with a carved spruce top, figured maple, back and sides. The tailpiece was a gold-plated Y shaped model.

The f-holes had triple binding. The pick guard was a brown pearloid model. The beautiful bound ebony fretboard came with split block inlays.


Click to see L5 logo
The peg head had diamond inlays and open-backed Grover tuners. All of the hardware was gold plated and the heel cap was engraved with the model name. The original models were produced in brown (tobacco) sunburst. The first batches with Super L5 engraved on the truss rod cover are very rare and most coveted by collectors. These are also known as the Super L5 Deluxe.

As I have already mentioned, in 1939 the guitar was offered with a single Venetian cutaway and known as the Super 400P. Other changes occurred to this model including the switch to Kluson tuners with amber tulip shaped buttons and a natural finish became an option.

This model was the Super 400PN.

Super 400N
The following year Gibson offered the Super 400N, which had a natural finish, but did not have a cutaway.

Production at the Gibson factory was halted in 1941 due to the war effort.

Guitar operations resumed in 1948, after the war ended. The Super 400P was re-christened the Super 400C.

With P-90's
It was in 1951 that Gibson released an electric version of the Super 400 called the Super 400 CES for cutaway-electric-Spanish.

This guitar had a slightly thicker top, to eliminate feedback. It originally came with twin P-90 pickups, each with its own volume and tone control and a three-way toggle switch to control them. The P-90's were updated to Alnico V pickups and in 1957 Gibson used twin humbuckers.

With Alnico's
 By 1952 a natural finish version of the 400 CES was available and named the 400 CESN (N for natural)

It was in 1955 when Gibson decided to discontinue the Super 400 and Super 400N guitars from their product line up. By 1982, slumping sales of the Super 400 CESN brought an end to this model and in 1987 the Super 400 CES was no longer being manufactured.

One rather rare model I have come across is a Gibson Super 400 CES with a Florentine cutaway manufactured in 1966.

There have been some reissues in the 1990’s on a limited run basis. In 2000 Gibson had a very limited run of Super 400 CES models with the Charlie Christian pickup.

The Super 400 CES is currently being offered on Gibson’s home page. The only other current models that would be close are the one pickup Wes Montgomery L5 CES and Lee Ritenour L5 CES models and the twin pickup Custom L5 CES model.

There are some very notable players of the Super 400 CES other than Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Ritenour. Scotty Moore played one on Elvis’ 1968 live concert.


Merle with Super 400
Merle Travis favored this guitar. His instrument was highly stylized. His son Thom Bresh plays a similar instrument.. Both men added Bigsby tailpieces with extended bars.








Eddie and Alonzo Pennington
photo by Michael J. Stewart
Well known Kentucky thumbpicker Eddie Pennington plays a 1956 model of the Gibson Super 400 CES.



If you watch the following videos, pay attention to how massive a guitar this is.










Before Merle Travis passed away, the Gibson Guitar Company asked him to donate his guitar to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. In turn, Gibson built an exact replica of his special modified Super 400 CES. It is interesting to note that Merle's new guitar had a wooden center block similar to what is found on ES-335 models.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Linda Manzer Guitars

I have read stories about the beautiful guitars made by Linda Manzer, and thought it high time to learn a little more about her and her instruments.



Linda  - Jean - Jimmy









Manzer is a Canadian master luthier who studied under Jean LarrivĂ©e from 1974 to 1978. She also studied with Jimmy D’Aquisto and learned the art of building archtop guitars.

Metheny with Pikasso
She has built many custom guitars for years, but the instruments she built for jazz musician Pat Metheny won her the most public attention. This would include the Pikasso. This guitar is an odd instrument and has 42 strings and four necks. She also worked on the 30 Guitar "Metheny-Manzer Signature 6" project - a special limited edition celebrating 30 years of working and designing over 25 instruments for Pat Metheny.

She also builds a 52 string model that she calls The Medusa.

In addition to those guitars, Metheny also has several baritone guitars which she designed. He plays these instruments exclusively on his album One Quiet Night. This work also features his Manzer Pikasso.

Paul Simon with his Manzer
Other fortunate artists that own a genuine Manzer guitar include Julian Lage, Tony McManus, Carlos Santana, Hennrick Andersen, Stephen Fearing, Gary Larson, Milton Nascimento, Liona Boyd, Heather Bishop, Bruce Cockburn, Paul Simon, Roy Patterson, Marie-Lynn Hammond, Susan Crowe, and Gordon Lightfoot.

Linda currently only builds 12 to 18 instruments per year in her Toronto, Ontario workshop and has a wait list of several years.

Her instruments are not for the faint of heart or the short of cash as her flattop models start at $18,000 and for her archtops guitars are priced $25,000 and up.

The Pikasso













Her custom instruments such as the 42 string Pikasso and the 52 string Medusa guitar are priced individually. Consider that her instruments are works of art and a wonderful investment that is bound not just to last, but to increase in value.

Looking at her catalogue, which includes “standard” models, I have to say there is nothing Standard about these guitars.

Each guitar is handmade by the builder and uses the best quality woods and materials. Each is a one-of-a-kind work. The tops are carefully tuned to ascertain the guitar has a terrific sound. Linda carefully chooses the wood to perfect the guitars sound.

Details, including peg head veneer and inlay, abalone neck inlays, binding, kerfing, bracing and abalone sound hole rosettes which are carefully formed and placed by the hands of Manzer. Flat tops are made of European Spruce, back and sides are Indian Rosewood and the bridges and finger boards are constructed of Ebony.

All of her archtop guitars are hand carved and made of a combination of Curly Maple and European Spruce.


All of Linda’s guitars are constructed in a climate-controlled environment to ensure that each instrument will easily withstand seasonal changes in temperature and humidity.

For electrifying Flat tops, Linda’s choice is a Fishman under-the-saddle piezo pickup. She also is fond of AMT microphones, placed in the guitar. She uses Kent Armstrong pickups on her archtop models

She states, "I've been making guitars for over 30 years. I love what I do. The most important thing to me is that the player is inspired by the guitar and plays it."

If you have the money, contact her at her website for a custom built instrument.












Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Misa Kitara and Hyper Touch

It has a guitar body and a neck, but I don’t think it qualifies as an actual guitar. However it sure has that Unique factor. So I'll feature it in today's blog.  As the manufacturer says, We took an electric guitar, removed the parts that we didn't need for electronic music, and replaced them with the latest touch technology.”


The instruments name sounds like something Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars fame might say.


Despite the guitar-like appearance, the Misa Kitara is a digital MIDI controller and musical instrument. It allows for a guitar player to produce a synthesized sound using techniques and similar motions to guitar playing.

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It is manufactured in the shape of an electric guitar, complete with a full twenty-four fret neck. Although the frets function only as position markers, since this guitar has “no strings attached.”

The instruments name, Kitara, comes from the Finnish word for "guitar".

The Kitara makes use of touch buttons in the spaces between each fret to simulate strings. An 8.4-inch 800-by-600-pixel resolution LCD touchpad screen is used to control the instruments sounds by allowing the player to controls sound effects and parameters through on display.

The display allows for comprehensive control as well as a wide-variety of noise/effect production. The produced sound changes based on the position, number, and movement of fingers on this display.



The player triggers notes and sounds by touching the screen, how you place and move your hand determines how the sound is processed. Strum, tap, drag, multi-touch, whatever, every touch is control over a parameter, instrument, or effect. You get to choose how the instrument functions.

The touchpad is set up on an x/y coordinate pair where you will assign your desired effects. Striking or dragging your fingers in different areas around the touchpad will produce different modulations of the effects.

The touchpad is also pressure-sensitive, so the harder you strike it, the louder the notes will ring, just like a real guitar.

The Kitara fretboard lets you choose the notes, much like a keyboard. Unlike a synth keyboard that has up to 88 keys, the Kitara has 144 keys/buttons on six rows which in fact are sensors. Each button corresponds to a musical note.

It's configured out of the box like a traditional guitar neck. This instrument allows the user to change the tuning. The neck is modular - and new neck types will be available soon

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The Kitara uses an internal wavetable synthesizer with effects to generate sound and is actually an advanced type of MIDI controller that is powered by a 500MHz AMD Geode CPU.

Uniquely, the instruments processor is powered by a Linux based CPU. Being that Linux is open-source, it is possible to reprogram the Kitara, modify existing sounds, and even program new ones.

Although the Misa Kitara looks like a guitar, it is actually a polyphonic synthesizer designed to provide the player with a guitar feel. Other company’s such as Casio and Yamaha attempted similar projects in years past.

The Kitara has a layout that is very familiar to guitar players. A guitarist can easily use the chord voicing and runs they play on guitar to this instrument. The synth unit has lots of guitar-like tones, plus a bevy of out-of-this world sounds and effects.

Because the instrument is MIDI based, the player can use it as a controller to play other synthesizers.

With the built in synthesizer engine, the user can experiment with internal sounds and apply any number of digital effects, including distortion, delay and modulation.


You can save sounds as presets, and you can swap preset files online. You can assign one sound to all six strings, or assign different sounds to different strings.

Manufacturers suggested retail price is $899 USD.

The Hyper Touch Guitar is an instrument with a premise similar to that of the Kitara.

This instrument enables the user to change the setup of the instrument at the touch of a button, so one can go from six-string to twelve-string.

Recalling double neck guitars, the Hyper Touch delivers six and twelve string sound and and so much more. Hyper Touch makes certain you can have your sound and still travel light.

This instrument is designed and marketed by Max Battaglia at Givingshape Design Studio.







Much like the Kitara, this unique instrument replaces the strings with a multi-touch screen, which allows the user to adjust the number of strings and frets and provide tuning changes and sound effects. A wireless command center permits customization and expression.
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Friday, June 1, 2012

The Moog Guitar

Robert Moog passed away in 2005, however the Moog Company lives on.

In 2008 the company went into the guitar manufacturing business by offering the Moog Guitar. This is not your father’s guitar. As I have mentioned in the past, many players have strived to make the guitar sound like anything other than a guitar. The Moog Guitar fulfills this goal.



Designed by Paul Vo, the Moog guitar was inspired by Vo’s love of Jimi Hendrix’s’ sound and style.

The guitars secret is its ability to send energy into the strings to allow for infinite note sustain. It can also pull the energy away from the strings to allow for a staccato sound. This technology allows the player the ability to sustain all six strings at once.


An added feature, the harmonic blend control, allows the modification of the instruments sonic qualities. The added filter control has the ability to control the resonance of the instruments output.

One of the secrets of the Moog Guitar’s sound is that the customized string metallurgy is designed to provide optimal tonal response to the guitars unique pickups. The guitar is outfitted with two custom Moog pickups.
In addition, the guitar features piezo saddles in the bridge that use piezoelectric sensors to pick up sounds acoustically and with less feedback than conventional pickups.

The Moog pickups hold the guitar's ability to control the levels of energy within each string. Within these pickups are six separate transducers that feed energy back into the strings magnetically.

Although standard strings work with the guitar, Moog provides stings with a different magnetic make-up to facilitate the guitar's ability to control string energy levels.

The pickups are designed to listen to the strings and control them, resulting in the infinite sustain. Historically, this is the first guitar in which the pickups and strings have been this interdependent.

Moog offers sets of strings in 3 different gauges and sells them in sets of 3 packs. The cost is between $35 to $40 USD.

The Moog Guitars controls consist of:

FULL SUSTAIN MODE –  infinite sustain on every string, at every fret position and at any volume with power and clarity

CONTROLLED SUSTAIN MODE – allows you to play sustained single or polyphonic lines without muting technique. The Moog Guitar sustains the notes you are playing while actively muting the strings you are not playing.

MUTE MODE – removes energy from the strings, resulting in a variety of staccato articulations. The mute mode is unlike any found on any guitar in the past.

HARMONIC BLENDS –. This feature involves using a foot pedal to shift between full sustain mode and mute mode, allowing for the playing of unique harmonic sounds that would otherwise not be possible with the conventional techniques of creating natural or artificial harmonics.

MOOG FILTER – control the frequency of the built-in, resonant Moog ladder filter using the foot pedal or a CV Input.

Gibson RD Custom with Moog Electronics
In the past, Moog had developed circuitry for the Gibson Guitar Company, however the Moog Guitar is totally a unique kind of beast from any previous guitar.

The Moog Guitar E-1 model features a double-cutaway, set-neck. It weighs around 7 pounds and is made of solid alder wood. The neck is capped with a 22 fret ebony fretboard and the headstock is set at a 7 degree angle. This guitar has a 25 ½” scale.

The headstock finish matches that of the body. The guitar comes with MIDI output and features twin custom designed Moog pickups along with Graph Tech piezo saddles in the custom bridge. The metallic parts are either finished in chrome or dark chrome. The guitar is shipped with 10- 52 gauge Moog guitar strings.

A Moog Foot Pedal Controller to control Harmonic Blend and the frequency response of the Moog Ladder Filter, Powers the Moog Electronics is included. The guitar package also comes with an external control voltage input (0 to 5VDC) for use with optional Moog accessories

The E1 model comes in red, butterscotch or black and sells for a street price of $2500 USD.

The Paul Vo model is an upscale version featuring AAAAA maple cap, a maple or swamp ash body and the ebony fretboard and has a street price of $3300.

Starting around $4000 USD, Moog’s custom shop will design the guitar of your dreams.

Moog guitars offers a lap steel model for $2900 USD. The shape of this instrument is reminiscent of a Weissenborn acoustic lap steel.