Friday, March 31, 2017

April 1 - Annual Diddley Bow Shootout

So it is that time of year again for our annual shootout. This year we will be judging the top five Diddley Bows in the electric Diddley Bow category.

The Diddley Bow

1.This is a stunning example with a flamed pine body, and a raised pickup section. The bridge saddle is an empty beer bottle.

Top of Diddley Bow

This is topped off with a genuine Condor pickup and one lone Grover tuner at the headstock.

Lalloguitars Diddley Bow
2.The competition increases with this stunner from Lalloguitars. This instrument has a gorgeous mahogany body with a hand rubbed tru-oil finish. It is topped with a rosewood fretboard. On board is one special design Italian handcrafted MAMA pickup.

Lalloguitars Diddley Bow
The string is secured at one end with a Kluson MG33N Grover button. (Wait a minute. Is it a Kluson or a Grover?) and at the other end it has through-the-body stringing. The nut is genuine bone. At the opposite end the flask saddle is secured between two maple strips.

This baby has built in tone and volume controls.

DaShtick Diddley Bow
3.Our next model comes courtesy of an Irish company called DaShtick.. This is their three string Celtic model made from a hurley stick. This handmade instrument utilizes ash, ebony, and mahogany. The bridge and saddle are genuine bone. The saddle rests upon a guard of leather, that come with a single volume control for the built-in piezo pickup. A Fender stratocaster jack is at the end of the hand polished body.

DaShtick headstock

Three open Grover style tuners with pearl buttons adorn the offset headstock. It even comes with a leather strap.

C.B. Gritty Crafter Supply Diddley Bow

4.C.B Gritty Crafter Supply brings us our forth nominee.

This do-it-yourself model includes all the parts you need including a Montesino cigar box body with a sound port, imported from the Dominican Republic.

C.B. Gritty Crafter Diddley Bow body

The wooden dowl is topped with 17 Home Depot supplied staples that are useful as frets. The string attaches to a single un-named tuning peg at one end of the dowl and attaches at the other.

A piezo pickup is built into the body to give this bad boy it’s bang-your-head-against-the-wall, funky, get-down-with-your-bad-self, heavy metal, Saint Louie Blues character.

Helldorado Diddley Bow
5.Our final entry comes is the Helldorado single coil pickup, single string model. This unusually shaped model is made of finest-kind pine wood with a nice red stain and the instruments logo running down the center of the body. The satin finish sets this instrument apart.

Helldorado Diddley Bow
It comes with a single Grover style tuner at one end and a trapeze style guitar tailpiece at the opposite end. The bridge is a cast metal cylinder. The built in controls feature a single volume potentiometer.

The judges have rendered their decision and it was a tough call between the Lalloguitars Didley Bow and the Irish DaShtick model.

DaShtick - Da Winner!
The 2017 winner is DaShtick. Who can argue with a hurley stick!

By the way, did I mention this was April Fools Day?

Enjoy yesterdays Guitar article and next week we will get back to profiling Unique Guitars.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Mini Acoustic Guitars

Ever since the origins of the modern guitar in the 18th century, the instrument has been available in various sizes. Antonio d Torres gave the modern classical guitar its form as we know it today. The modern classical guitar has a scale of 648 to 650 mm, which is roughly 26 inches. Full size electric guitars have a slightly shorter scale. Most Fender instruments are 25 1/2” while Gibson has maintained the 24 1/2” scale.

Sizes of Classical Guitars

Classic guitar builders have offered guitars that are 1/4 sized, 1/2 sized, 3/4 sized, and full size for players of different ages and differing physiques.

1830 Stauffer Terz

In the 1930’s C.F. Martin introduced the Terz guitar. It was based on the size of the Terz or Treble classical guitar. Joseph Stauffer, from whom C.F. Martin senior learned his craft, had built Terz guitars. So it would stand to reason Martin would continue the tradition.

Martin 5-18 Terz Guitar

The Martin Terz was a 3/4 scale guitar and offered in different styles. The 5-18 was probably the most popular. Marty Robbins used his on stage. This guitar was designed to be tuned three frets above standard pitch.

1937 Gibson L-00

In 1932 Gibson introduce the L-00 Flat top guitar. This was a small bodied instrument, and one of the nicer versions of the L series. By 1937, Gibson offered this model in a 3/4 sized option.

1950 Gibson LG-2 3/4 size

In 1933 Gibson had also introduced the very fancy LC model in a 3/4 sized version. In 1942 Gibson offered the LG-2 and by 1949 it was available in a 3/4 size version. This is the guitar that Arlo Guthrie favors.

Arlo Guthrie LG-2 

In 2002 Gibson decided to reintroduce this very model when Arlo Guthrie contacted Gibson’s craftsmen to ask for help In reconstructing a guitar that his father Woody had given him as a present. After painstakingly rebuilding the instrument, Gibson decided to offer the same guitar to the public as the Arlo Guthrie LG-2 3/4. This list price was $2079, but they are available for much less.

Back in 1945, following the World War II, Harmony guitars of Chicago was back in business and reintroduced The Stella guitar. Stella had been a brand offered as far back as 1899 by the Oscar Schmidt Company. When the company went bankrupt in the 1930’s, Harmony guitars stepped in a acquired their assets.

Harmony "Stella"  H929

The 3/4 sized Stella H929 was in the line up from 1945 through 1970 and was popular as a student model. The guitar was made mainly from birch and used all solid woods. It was ladder braced. Despite being 3/4 sized, it still had a 24 1/2” scale.

Bob Taylor working on a guitar
Bob Taylor was working for a small guitar manufacturing business in 1972 when he was only 18 years old. Within two years, Bob, and co-workers Kurt Listig, and Steve Schemmer bought the company. They needed a brand name to put on the guitars.

Schemmer Guitars and Listig Guitar did not seem to sound as marketable as Taylor Guitars. So Taylor Guitar it was. None of the men had studied Martin’s guitar making techniques, so their ideas were fresh and had a new approach. By 1983 Taylor and Listig bought out Schemmer’s stake in the company.

1996 Baby Taylor (Baby on head stock)

Back in 1996, at a time when most of us were interesting only in dreadnought sized guitars,  the Baby Taylor made its debut and starts a new trend in guitar manufacturing.

Baby Taylor neck
Taylor Guitars had already come up with an interesting concept in its bolt-on neck, which utilized precision cut spacers and bolts to attach the neck to the guitars body, which made neck adjustments quick and painless and this same process was applied to the Baby Taylor.

The instruments heelless neck attaches to the guitars body by means of two screws that are flush with the fretboard and located between the 15th and 16th fret.

Baby Taylor arched back
The guitars back and sides are made of 3 layers of laminated sapele wood and the instruments back is slightly arched. Other guitar companies, such as Guild, Framus, and Gibson, have used this same method of arching the back through heated pressing for strength, so the back requires no internal back bracing.

The guitars top is made of solid Sitka spruce. Black matte veneer covers the headstock that bears the decal with the Taylor logo.

The guitar comes with its own gig bag.

Taylor Swift Baby Taylor

The Baby Taylor has a 22 3/4” scale on its diminutive 15 3/4” by 12 1/2” body. The guitar was an instant hit and notice was taken by many other guitar manufacturers. The first year offered the Baby Taylor sold over 1,000 units. Sales of the tiny guitar increased from there.

Martin guitars offered the Backpacker around 1993. Chris Martin IV had visited luthier Robert McNally’s booth at the 1993 NAMM convention where the luthier was displaying his 3 string Strumstick.

Bob McNally with a Strumstick
The original instrument was based on the mountain lap dulcimer, but was meant to be played like a guitar. A deal was struck up at this show for 5,000 units to be made. The neck was changed to a six string guitar design and it was dubbed The Backpacker.

1995 Martin Backpacker

Although the guitar did not have the greatest tone or volume, its compact size, and durability made it successful. The Backpacker was even taken into outer space by one of the astronauts.

Martin 5-15 & Backpacker

The design changed in 2002 when the instruments body was enlarged to enhance the tone and make the instrument easier to hold. Martin has also offered this same instrument with nylon strings, and a mandolin, and ukulele version.

Martin LXM
In 2003 Martin took the concept of a small guitar a step further a with the introduction of the Martin LXM. The LXM or Little Martin is designed as a modified 0-14 fret tenor Martin shape. The scale is 23’ in length. The entire guitar is constructed of high-pressure-laminate or HPL, which is essentially the same process used for making Formica. The neck on the Little Martin is made of Rust birch laminate. The fretboard is constructed of black Micarta, while the nut is made of white Corian. The saddle is made of white Tusq. The tuners are made by Gotoh.

Martin LXME

The original version was only offered as an acoustic instrument. Later on the LXME came with Fishman transducers and Mini Q electronics. The LXM models all come with a gig bag.

Martin LX1

The Martin LX1 is the same style of guitar, but it has a solid Sitka spruce top.

LX1E Ed Sheeran model

Ed Sheeran began his busking career using a Little Martin and Martin guitars offers the Ed Sheeran X signature series LX size guitar with built-in Fishman Isys T electronics.

Martin LX1e

Martin also makes the LX1e electric acoustic models, which feature a solid spruce top.

2013 Taylor GS Mini
In July of 2013 Taylor Guitars introduced the GS Mini guitar. After experimenting with changes to the Baby Taylor, a new design, the Grand Symphony, was decided on. The GS has a different body shape and different bracing.

The top is made of solid Sitka spruce and the back and sides are sapele laminate. The body is approximately 2” larger than the Baby Taylor. The scale is 23 1/2”, and the body is an inch deeper than the Baby Taylor. Once again, it features the arched back design.

Taylor GS Mini E

The neck on this model, although a bolt-on featuring Taylor’s NT design, does have a heel. The action is low and feels quite good. The original models were only offered as acoustic guitars, but could be equipped with the optional ES-Go acoustic pickup.

ES-Go Pickup System

This unit is built exclusively for the GS Mini guitar. The ES-Go is stacked humbucking magnetic pickup which clips onto a bracket in the sound hole that is underneath the fretboard section. Once in place, the player swaps out the end pin and replace it with the one attached to the ES-Go unit. It is made to be paired with Taylor’s “V” cable, which has a volume control. The unit sells for an additional $100.

Taylor GS Mini Mahogany-Spruce

Since its inception, Taylor has improved this guitar, by offering it with optional body woods, such as a mahogany top or spruce top with laminated walnut back and sides. The electronics have also been updated.

2015 Taylor GS Mini E
The Taylor GS mini e is now is available with a built-in Taylor Expression System 2 electronics, which places 3 pickup sensors behind the guitars bridge. Taylor feels this is superior to under the under the saddle method that many designers have used. This also comes with a built-in preamp.

This option adds $100 to the guitars price, but eliminates the need for putting on or removing the ES-Go unit.

Back in 1997, just a year after Bob Taylor introduced the Baby Taylor, Tacoma Guitars of Seattle Washington introduced The Papoose mini guitar.

The Tacoma Factory - Frets magazine
Tacoma Guitars was a division of The Tacoma Lumber Company.  In 1991 this company was processing hardwood that was milled into piano soundboards exclusively for the Young Chang Piano Company of South Korea.

The lumber company's general manager, J.C. Kim persuaded Young Change to build a guitar manufacturing plant nearby, and the company started turning out some rather unique instruments. Among these was the tiny P1 Papoose guitar that was designed by luthier Terry Atkins and George Gruhn.

1997 Tacoma Papoose

The Tacoma P1 Papoose had a short scale neck with only a 19.1” scale, and  it was built to be tuned a fourth higher that normal guitar tuning. In other words, the strings were tuned from A to A.

Paisley Soundhole on Papoose
This guitar introduced the Paisley sound hole, which became a Tacoma trademark, and the Voiced Bracing Support system. This was a system designed to minimize the bracing as much as possible down to what the instrument needs to remain stable.

Back of 1997 Papoose

The heelless neck on the Papoose was bolted on and secured by two screws. The bridge was uniquely shaped and had 3 unusual C-shaped cut-outs to secure the strings. Some later models came with bridge pins.

Papoose 12 String
The Papoose was available in a variety of sound board woods. Tacoma also came out with the P112 Papoose 12 string. Towards the end of the line, Tacoma had introduced and electric version of The Papoose.

Young Chang put the company up for sale in 1999 and it was sold to Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in 2004.

Sadly in 2008 Fender closed the plant and laid off the staff. Though the Papoose is no longer produced, it can still be found on auction sites at a fairly reasonable rate.

Since the Baby Taylor and the Little Martin have proved to be successful, many major guitar manufacturers, too numerous to mention, have developed and offer 3/4 sized mini acoustic guitars in their line up.

Dean Flight

Among them Dean Guitars offers the Dean Flight that retails for around $150 USD. It is a laminated guitar with a 22” scale. The neck is mahogany, and the headstock is done in the Dean-wing style. It comes with a gig bag.

Fender MA-1
Fender offers the MA-1 Parlor 3/4 size guitar. The top is laminated Agathis and the back and sides are laminated Sapele. As with most of the mini acoustic guitars a gig bag is included.

Yamaha JR1

Yamaha’s product is the JR1 Mini Folk.

Luna Safari

Luna Guitars offers a similar 3/4 sized guitar called the Muse Safari guitar.

Takamine GX18CE-NS

Takamine has the GX18CE-NS, which retails around $400, but it does have a solid spruce top, rosewood fretboard and electronics with a built-in preamp.

KLOS Mini guitar

One of the more unique mini guitars comes from a company called Klos. Their instrument has a carbon fiber body. The neck is made of mahogany and topped with a rosewood fretboard.

KLOS Mini guitar
Despite being small in size, the scale is 24 3/4”. Plus the neck is removable. It comes with a gig bag and sell direct from the manufacturer for around $600 USD.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry: His Career and His Guitars

Chuck Berry playing a Gibson ES-335
Chuck Berry passed away on Saturday, March 18th, 2017 at his home in St. Charles County Missouri. He was 90 years old.

1950's publicity photo
For those of us that grew up in the era of the 1960’s and who learned to play rock guitar, it was essential to learn Berry’s songs and guitar licks. The Beach Boys hit song Surfin USA was set to the music of Chuck Berry’s song Sweet Little 16. Even the intro to the Beach Boys song "Fun, Fun, Fun" was cobbled together from the intro to Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven".

In the Beach Boys song "Do You Remember", Brian Wilson wrote "Chuck Berry's got to be the greatest thing that came along, He wrote the guitar beats and the all time greatest song". Chuck Berry essentially defined early Rock and Roll with his 3 chord songs, guitar introductions, and lyrics.

Young Chuck Berry
Berry grew up in St. Louis and by high school showed an interest in music and guitar. During those years he got in trouble with the law and spent 3 years in a reformatory. He worked briefly in an automobile assembly plant, before meeting Blues musician T-Bone Walker, who was impressed with Berry’s guitar riffs and showmanship. Walker encouraged him to get into the music business.

With Jimmy Johnson Trio
 Chuck holding his Gibson ES-295

In 1955 Berry traveled to Chicago and began performing with the Johnny Johnson Trio. It was there where he met Blues player Muddy Waters. Waters introduced him to Leonard Chess of Chess Records who signed Chuck Berry to the label.

Chuck’s first hit song was Maybellene, which was an adaption of an old Country song called Ida Red. The recording sold over one million copies and was on Billboard Magazines’s Rhythm and Blues chart list. This lead to more hit songs and a lucrative touring career.

Chuck Berry in the 1950's
Berry had hits in the mid 1960’s, No Particular Place to Go, You Can Never Tell, and Nadine never matched the chart toppers of his earlier songs such as Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, and Rock and Roll Music.

Chuck Berry inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Chuck Berrry was ranked fifth on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Chuck Berry with an ES-335
However his success became an encumbrance for him. His income was derived from touring and he was playing the same three chord songs night after night. In an interview he stated that his success stripped him of an artistic credibility. He felt as if he were a relic people came to see. Touring became so mundane that he stopped using his own band. When he did a show he played with whatever local band the promoter had hired to back him.

Westbury, NY Fair 2004

I knew a keyboard player that once backed him up at a state fair show. He said that Berry pulled up in a rented Cadillac convertible with his guitar in the back seat. He walked on stage, plugged into an amp that was already set up, and began playing to the crowd.

When his set was over, he thanked the crowd, walked off stage without saying a word to the band, and drove off.

Doing the Duck Walk
Berry was not just an excellent singer/songwriter, but a consummate performer and showman. His “duck walk” and facial expression he did while playing guitar became his trademarks. And he was an excellent player. He often borrowed “Hillbilly” guitar licks, inserting them into his songs. Throughout his lifetime Berry had some skirmishes with the law, but eventually came out on top.

Chuck Berry
playing a Gibson ES-350TN

When Chuck Berry first started out he is probably best known for playing a 1956 Gibson ES-350TN (thin natural finish) on several TV appearances. In fact he is probably best known for playing Gibson electric guitars.

'59 Gretsch 6121

He also owned and played a 1959 Gretsch 6121 Roundup in appearances.

With Gretsch
stereo White Falcon

For a movie called Rock! Rock! Rock!, Berry is seen with a stereo Gretsch White Falcon, however that was possibly a prop guitar provided by the production company.

Berry also played an early to mid 1960’s model of a Gibson ES-335. He is seen playing a number of different ES-335’s. Possibly some were provided for him so he didn’t have to fly with his own instrument.

Berry with Gibson ES-335

The most iconic and photographed guitar he played was the Gibson ES-355. You can tell this guitar by the split diamond inlay on the headstock. He played a number of versions of this instrument. Some had Maestro vibratos, some had Bigsbys, and some had no vibrato.

Berry with Gibson ES-330

Berry can be seen playing a Gibson ES-330 hollow body electric.

With '67 version of a Flying Vee

There is but one image of an older Chuck Berry playing a red 1967 Flying Vee.

Berry playing a Gibson Lucille model

Berry was also known to use a Gibson B.B. King Lucille model guitar.

Chuck Berry with Gibson Super 400

And Berry brought this guitar to the 2012 Awards for Literary and Lyrics Excellence.

As for amplifiers, Chuck probably insisted on the venue providing one. He was fond of Fender Dual Showman amps with reverb, and Fender Twin Reverb amplifiers. In fact a concert rider states the venue should supply: "Two Dual Showman amplifier heads and two Dual Showman speaker cabinets. Any alternative equipment must be in above watts and speaker size."

Chuck Berry's amps - Dual Showman - Pro Amp - White Dual Showman - Ampeg - 2 Dual Showman Reverb Heads
However he was also photographed playing through a Marshall amplifier, and a large Ampeg amplifier.

Themetta (Toddy) and Chuck Berry
He married his wife Themetta in 1948 and the two were still married at the time of his death.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)