Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

It was in 1972 that the Gretsch Guitar Company sold its’ name, business and assets to the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company of Cincinnati Ohio. Of course, the biggest endorser and innovator of Gretsch guitars was Mr. Chet Atkins.

And though he played Gretsch instruments for years, his obligation with the company ended and did He chose not to sign on with the new owners. The quality of Gretsch instruments was slipping and Mr. Atkins was well aware of this fact.

It was around 1980 when Gibson and Chet Atkins began a relationship. Gibson started by designing the Chet Atkins CE (classical electric) thin body nylon-string guitar. This guitar was first offered for sale in 1981.

By 1987 Gibson designers had come up with the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. The design was loosely based on the Gretsch 6122; however there are quite a few differences.

Gibson used twin alnico humbucking pickups which include an alnico 492R humbucker on the neck and an alnico 490T on the bridge. These pickups are slightly hotter than Gretsch Super-Trons.

Chet's Guitar - note red markers
This guitar came with three volume controls, much like its Gretsch predecessor. The master volume is on the cutaway and there is one volume knob for each pickup.

Unlike the Gretsch Country Gentleman, which had tone switches, Gibson’s version included a single tone potentiometer.

The Gibson Country Gentleman featured a 17” wide body. This shape is wider than an ES 335 and similar width to that found on a Gibson L-5 CES or Tal Farlow guitar. The body is quite narrow and is 1.75” thick, which is the standard depth for most Gibson thinline models.

The cutaway is Venetian style.

The guitars three-ply laminated top features Curly Maple/Poplar/Maple, as does the instruments back. The rim between the guitars front and back is made of Maple wood. The guitar is surprisingly light. In fact it is lighter than an ES 335. Perhaps this can be attributed to the internal block in the center of the body being made of a combination of Balsa and Mahogany.

1996 Gibson Chet Atkins
The binding around the body is white on the top and back sides. The bottom lower bout features a tortoise shell Pearse style arm rest. The arm rest and pick guard have white/black bindings. Some models come with f-holes that are bound in white material, while others have no binding.

The neck is designed of three-ply Maple capped with an Ebony fret board. There are thumb print style red pearl or abalone fret markers on the bottom edge of the fret board. The guitar has 21 frets and a scale of 25.5”, which is slightly longer than most Gibson thinline models. The width of the neck is 1.75” at the nut and tapers out to 2.102” at the 12th fret. The headstock is black and capped with a crown inlay. The Gibson logo is inlaid at the top of the headstock.

The truss rod cover has Chet’s name engraved and features a surrounding white binding.

All hardware on the Country Gentleman is gold-plated, including the Schaller tuners, the tune-o-matic bridge, the Bigsby vibrato (some did not come with a vibrato), the ring-nut on the pickup selector switch and the strap buttons.

The tune-o-matic bridge is seated on top of a beautiful rosewood saddle with white inlays inlaid on either side.

The guitar features four speed knobs. Included is one volume control for each pickup, a single tone control and a master volume knob. The master volume is located on the upper bout and the selector switch is on the lower bout.

Ray Cummins with his CA model
The initial models were initially offered in wine red or brown. Later on sunrise orange became an option.

Scotty Moore's Guitar
As an oddity, Country Gentleman guitars that did not include the Bigsby vibrato option were shipped with block fret marker inlays in addition to the thumb print inlays.

This guitar was manufactured in Gibson’s Memphis plant.

How does the Gibson Country Gentleman sound? I will let you be the judge by watching and listening to the videos below. In my opinion, it sounds like a Gibson guitar.

Due to the use of the Super-Tron pickups, Gretsch guitars have a very unique sound. But keep in mind most of a guitars sound is in the player’s hands. I love the comment that Mr. Atkins once made to an admirer. He had set his guitar on a stand, when someone came over and said to him, “that guitar sounds great.” Chet looked at the resting guitar and said, “Well how does it sound now?”

Out of Gibson’s relationship with Mr. Atkins, several other styles of guitars were created, most of which bore his name. One worth mentioning is the Gibson Tennessean.

This guitar is sort of a stripped down version of the Country Gentleman, but it still remains an incredible instrument. The Tennessean was introduced in 1990. Many of the accoutrements were similar to the Country Gentleman. This guitar was equipped with chromed hardware.

The tune-o-matic bridge is mounted directly to the body.

Gone is the Bigsby vibrato which has been replaced with a stop tail piece.

The body is bound in white trim. However, there is no binding on the neck, arm rest or pick guard. And the pick guard is molded in a slightly different shape than what is found on the Country Gentleman.

The fret board on this instrument is made of rosewood, instead of ebony and the abalone thumb print markers are replaced by dot markers on the bottom edge of the fret board with a double set of markers at the 12th fret.

The logo is silk screened onto the headstock. The controls are essentially the same as the Country Gent. The guitar comes with two 490 alnico humbucking pickups.

I cannot say for certain what material was used for the center block. The body size, depth and width are the same as its big brother. This guitar also features a 25.5” scale.

Players have commented this instrument is one of the finest guitars that Gibson has ever produced and that its tone has more of a midrange character than an ES 335.

Both of these instruments have been discontinued, but can still be found in music stores and on eBay.

Below is a video by perhaps the greatest interpreter of Chet’s style, my friend Ray Cummins, who is playing his Sunrise Orange Gibson Country Gentleman.

Here is Chet playing his Gibson Country Gentleman
with Stanley Jordan and Paul Yandell.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Line 6 Variax and Fender VG Stratocaster

In my early years of playing guitar, I noticed two phenomena regarding guitar players.

1. Many guitarists wish their guitar would sound like a different guitar. Why they didn’t buy that guitar in the first place is a mystery. Subsequently they modify the instrument to make their Strat sound like a Tele or their Tele sound like a Les Paul.

2. Guitarists and those innovators associated with the guitar want the guitar to sound like a different instrument. When I was 14, I bought a Maestro Fuzz Tone.

In the instructions I was promised this “synthesizer” would make my guitar sound like a trumpet or trombone and get fantastic effects. All I wanted was to sound like Keith Richards guitar on Satisfaction. It never delivered on that sound.

My personal pedal board
So from the 1960’s to now, a plethora of stomp boxes, rack-mounted modification units and guitar modifications have hit the market. These are all designed to make the player get his or her “sound.”

The guitar synthesizer allowed players to use their instrument as a “trigger” to summon up all sorts of guitar and non-guitar sounds. Though they have come down in price considerably, guitar synthesizers are still fairly expensive.

The Line 6 Company launched a patented technology in 1996, with the world's first digital modeling guitar amplifier, the AxSys 212.

This was the first amplifier to provide the player with models of classic guitar amplifiers, as well as a complete arsenal of stomp boxes and effects..

In 1997, Line 6 launched the next guitarist tone revolution: The POD. This kidney bean-shaped desktop device went beyond just the modeling of many classic amplifiers; it was created to solve another critical problem that had plagued guitar players: recording great guitar tone. In 2000, the company went on to develop a POD for bass players, a professional version of the POD and a rack mount version. Line 6 also came out with the Flextone II amplifier.

In 2001, the company created the Vetta amplifier, which allowed the player to have the stereo sound of two amps playing together at the same time.

Variax 500

It was in 2002 that Line 6 engineers hit upon the idea of using the electric guitar as a stand-alone processor of differing sounds and alternate tunings, all of which were at the players’ fingertips by just repositioning a knob. This guitar was dubbed The Variax 500. The guitar used as the controller was an inexpensive bolt-on instrument.

The other guitar was an upscale solid-body instrument named the Variax 700. The guitar was expensive, $2009 suggested retail as opposed to $599 for the model 500, but the guitar was a beauty.

Variax 700

The body was mahogany with a carved ash top. The neck was maple. The 22 fret finger board was rosewood.

The model 300 and 500 had apathies bodies, while the model 600 came with a basswood body. All three guitars had maple necks. Models 300 and 500 had rosewood fret boards, while the Model 600 came with a maple fret board.

Variax Acoustic 700
In 2003, Variax produced two upscale versions. One was an acoustic guitar called the Variax Acoustic 700. This instrument came with a basswood neck, a mahogany body and a solid cedar top. The top was later replaced with solid spruce.

Variax Acoustic 300

Line 6 also came out with the less expensive Acoustic Model 300. This guitar came with steel strings and was available as a nylon string instrument. These acoustic/electric guitars featured modeling technology allow the guitar to sound like over a dozen acoustic instruments as well as play in alternate tunings, all done through the Variax control. The acoustic line-up was discontinued in 2010.

In 2005 a budget model of the Variax became a hit on such sites as Musicians Friend, American Music Supply and Sweetwater. The model 300 retailed for around $600, but was deeply discounted to about half of that price.

The guitar unit was functional, but nothing special. Many players bought a Variax 300, took out the inner workings and mounted them in a nicer instrument.

The Variax solid body guitar provides the user with 26 different models of electric and acoustic guitars, plus a model of a Gibson Mastertone Banjo and a Coral/Danelectro Sitar.

You can quickly change from playing a Telecaster Thinline to a Rickenbacker 360 twelve string, then to a Gibson Super 400 and finally to a Martin D-28 just with a twist of a knob.

Here is the list of possibilities:

* 1960 Fender Telecaster Custom * 1968 Fender Telecaster

* 1968 Fender Telecaster Thinline * 1959 Fender Stratocaster

* 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard * 1952 Gibson Les Paul "Goldtop"

* 1961 Gibson Les Paul Custom (3 PU) * 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior

* 1976 Gibson Firebird V * 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special

* 1959 Gretsch 6120 * 1956 Gretsch Silver Jet

* 1968 Rickenbacker 360 * 1966 Rickenbacker 360-12

* 1961 Gibson ES-335 * 1967 Epiphone Casino

* 1957 Gibson ES-175 * 1953 Gibson Super 400

* 1959 Martin D-28 * 1970 Martin D 12-28

* 1967 Martin O-18 * 1966 Guild F212

* 1995 Gibson J-200 * 1935 Dobro Alumilite

* Danelectro 3021 * Coral/Dano Electric Sitar

* 1928 National Style 2 "Tricone * Gibson Mastertone Banjo

The original Variax models were made with no visible pickups. The bridge of a Variax electric guitar has individual piezoelectric pickups for each string. Each of these 6 signals is converted individually to a digital signal in the guitar's electronics. This allows for separate processing of the signals from each string. This allows two technologies to occur. The modeling of effects caused by one string on the others, and virtually altering the pitch of each individual string, allowing guitarists to switch between different tunings using a pedal or a switch on the guitar.

The newer Line 6 Variax guitars are comprised of three models designed by James Tyler. This 2010 line up of instruments replaced the original models. All of the newer models incorporate the original piezo based bridge along with magnetic guitar pickups.


The JTV59 is a single cutaway guitar, with a modified Les Paul shaped body comprised of mahogany with a flamed maple top. It comes with two PAF-style alnico humbucking pickups and a tune-o-matic style piezo bridge fitted with the R.L. Baggs Radiance Hex piezo pickups.

The mahogany set neck is capped with a rosewood fret board and the headstock features 3 on side tuners. This is the most expensive model with a street price of $1500.

JTV 69
The JTV69 is a Strat-style body that is comprised of an alder back with a flamed maple top. The bolt on neck is maple capped with a rosewood fret board. The tuners are 6 on a side style. The bridge pickup is a custom wound humbucker, designed by Mr. Tyler, while the neck and middle pickups are single coil. These are controlled by a Strat-style blade switch.

The guitar comes with a tremolo unit that has been updated from the usual Fender through-the-block style. The bridge on this guitar contains the R.L Baggs Radiance Hex piezo saddle pickups.

The guitar is topped with a Tusk XL nut that makes staying in tune easier. This guitar has a street price of $1400.

The JTV89 is a Super-Strat style guitar that comes with dual custom wound humbucker a five-way blade switch. The body is solid mahogany, the bolt on neck is maple capped with a 24 fret rosewood finger board that has a 14” radius, which is designed for the shredder.

Additionally the neck heel is recessed to make reaching those high notes easy. The headstock is reversed. The tailpiece is designed with an R.L. Baggs Radiance Hex piezo system. This guitar sells for $1300.

There are some unique features on the guitars in this line-up that were not found on the original models.

The dual-core processor allows for faster tracking and a cleaner, clearer sound. This makes the guitar respond more like a traditional electric guitar.

Line 6 has designed a computer program the call Variax Workbench Software. This can be downloaded for free from the Line 6 web site. Custom models can be created on your computer and downloaded to the guitar via its built-in USB port.

The new Variax line up comes with an Alt-Tuning knob that provides for 12 settings. The knob has Model and Standard settings. The Model function allows you to create tunings using Variax Workbench and save them.

The Standard setting overrides the saved tunings to set to standard tuning. The remaining 10 settings are made up of commonly used alternate tunings.

The guitar also has a virtual capo, which allows the player to transpose your playing to any key. Ever try to play in Db, Bb or Eb? With this baby, you can play everything is C or G.

These are the built in alternate tunings:


*1/2 DOWN: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb *DROP Db: Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb





The digital signal processor is powered by a lithium-ion battery that stores up to 12 hours of performance time. An LED meter shows you how much life you have in the battery. By rolling down the volume knob, the battery is put to sleep. It wakes up instantly once the volume control is re-engaged, thus saving even more battery life.

VG Stratocaster
Not to be out-done, The Fender Musical Instrument Company came out with the Fender VG Stratocaster. This guitar is not only a virtual synthesizer, but a high quality American Standard Stratocaster as well. The technology is much different than the Variax.

Fender teamed up with the Roland Company to design this model.

It comes with the normal three single coil Stratocaster pickups, plus a built-in Roland GK Hex pickup right above the bridge that controls the guitars built in synthesizer features.

The guitar is made of an ash body Ash body, along with a maple neck and a maple or rosewood fretboard. The 3 ply pick guard comes with 3 single-coil pickups and chrome hardware.

Aside from the single Volume and Tone controls are two smaller knobs that are labeled Mode and Tuning.

The Mode Control Knob between a Virtual version of the Ash bodied Strat (for use of the tuning function), a virtual Telecaster, virtual 2-humbucker Strat, and an assortment of 5 acoustics, from Dreadnought to Resonator.

The 5-way blade switch switches you between sounds in the modeling modes just like on a regular guitar.

The Tune function knob lets you choose between regular tuning, Drop D, Open G, DADGAD, Baritone/Low B, and 12 string. The tuning function does not work in Normal mode when circuit is bypassed. Tuning function is also relative. For instance, if you tune down to E flat, all of these tunings will transpose down a half step. The benefit of the tuning feature allows the strings to stay at the same tension, although the sound of each will change.

The sounds of the VG Stratocaster include:

*American Series Strat® (no synthesis) *Virtual Ash bodied Strat (for use of tuning function)

*Virtual Telecaster *Virtual Two-Humbucker Strat

*Plus an assortment of 5 acoustics, from Dreadnought to Resonator

The Tune function rotary control allows for:

*Normal — regular tuning *Drop D


*Baritone/Low B *12 string

The guitar runs on four AA rechargeable lithium batteries with a 10 hour life. A small blue LED found between the Volume and Tone Controls dims when the batteries are low. Even without the batteries the guitar continues to function as a normal Stratocaster.

On the back of the body are 3 compartments. The center one houses the tremolo unit, as found on most Strats. The upper compartment is for battery storage. While the bottom compartment houses the synthesizer.

I believe this guitar was an excellent idea, but it just didn’t sell. It was introduced in 2007 and discontinued two years later.

This video features a custom-built guitar with the Variax built in to give and idea of the different sounds.

Here is the Line 6 James Tyler JTV69

Here is a video released by Fender Musical Instrument Company about their VG Stratocaster featuring Fender demonstrator, Greg "Gristleman" Koch.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1st Unveiling of Gibson Custom Shop Prototype ES-335 Model

One of Gibson’s most original and best guitar designs is the ES-335. For rock music it stands above its cousin the ES-330, because the 335 comes with a solid block of wood under the pickups. This eliminates the feedback that results when you plug a hollow body guitar into a cranked amplifier.

The ES-335 has gone through numerous revisions throughout the years. The ES-355 is a fancy version that included the varitone control.

The Trini Lopez Standard model is essentially an ES-335 body with diamond shaped F-holes and a six-on-a-side headstock.

The latest version that Gibson has implemented in its lineup in the ES-339, which is a smaller sized version of the ES 335.

Recently the Gibson Custom Shop unveiled the ESMM-335 model. I think they have come up with a winner.

Did I mention it is April Fools Day?