• info@eastwoodguitars.com

Author Archive

Peavey T-15 blog

Peavey T-15: the “Mississippi Mustang”

Some players seem to have a natural dislike for Peavey amps, which is often unfair. But what about… the Peavey T-15 guitar??? Now here’s an  obscure little gem! In this guest article, Rob Roberge reminds us why this guitar and Peavey itself deserve a bit more love…

Peavey T-15 guitar - sunburst

Peavey T-15 guitar – sunburst

I was talking to my buddy – a professional blues player – a great player who has an impeccable ear for tone, telling him about my new (well, used…but new to me) really outstanding amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. He said to me, “you lost me when you used Peavey and Blues in the same sentence.” And while I could have gone on about some of the southern blues players that, in fact, did and still do use Peaveys (both guitars and amps), I kept my mouth shut. I could have even gone into a minor history lesson about Lynyrd Skynyrd using the very powerful and tuneful competition for the 70’s Fender Twin Reverbs – the Peavey Mace (with SIX 6L6 power tubes inspiring all those Zippos to flame up every night during “Free Bird”).

But if you think many guitar players’ reaction to Peavey amps is dismissive, just try selling them on the brilliant (Yes. Brilliant. There. I said it.) T-Series of Peavey guitars (many made from the late 70’s-mid 80’s, though most dying a quiet death in the early 80’s). At best, you may get a chuckle that suggests you know nothing. Or a comment about how ugly they are (not an uncommon thought…and actually, with some models, perhaps the most valid criticism of the series). Or even an incredulous reaction: “Are you kidding? Peavey? Peavey guitars? Please.”

But why this reaction to Peavey guitar equipment? Especially the guitars themselves. So long as we’re not talking about an abomination like the pink Adrian Vandenberg signature model of the late 80’s…ouch. Yes…Peavey deserved all mocking and humiliation for that clunker.

One of my main theories for why Peavey is taken most seriously for their PA’s and audio equipment, and at times very seriously for their amps, and almost not seriously at all for their guitars (especially, paradoxically and oddly, for what is their classic period when they were making as good or better guitars than either Fender or Gibson) is for one unfortunate reason: they had almost no recognition at the time as a guitar builder. And they committed a cardinal sin in the guitar business: they were (and still are, for many players) pretty uncool and, at best, aesthetically boring. No way to get a new line of guitars off the ground.

Peavey T-15

Peavey T-15 and some better-known models

And while we guitar players tend to think we are somewhat radical and hardly conservative, consumers in the guitar market are like consumers in most other markets – they go with brand names they know other people think highly of. And in the late 70’s, that meant—more or less—Fender and Gibson. Even if those companies were producing, it is now widely agreed, some of the worst instruments they have ever made.

Of course, this is an oversimplification—the very existence of Eastwood Guitars points to the fact that there is a market for guitar players who want to stand out from the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul crowd. But, I’d argue, that market was pretty much absent in the late 70’s. It’s only over the last 15-20 years that we have seen a steady growth of interest in some of the most interesting and wild guitars of the 60’s.

The Rare Guitars Revival

The (steadily over the last fifteen/twenty years) increasing interest in Harmonys, Danos, Valcos, some of the best Kays, and others has been caused, I’d argue, by a two-prong desire among guitar players:

  1. As vintage Fenders and Gibsons—and brands Guild, Gretsch, and Epiphones and others—started to skyrocket in price, players on a limited budget still wanted to get their hands on a piece of guitar history and vintage gear. And,
  2. Players discovered (or rediscovered, as many baby boomers first instruments were affordable 60’s models) that a lot of these budget/catalog guitars from the garage boom of the mid 60’s just happened to be pretty great guitars.

And they were—and this is not to be minimized—cool. In 1979, just about everyone was playing a guitar by a major company. And many of these were the traditional, yet boring designs that hadn’t changed much from the 1950’s.

Even before players such as Jack White brought his radical, funky red resolglass Airline to the masses, you’d had a quiet, yet growing groundswell of underground 80’s and 90’s bands playing inexpensive guitars that are now classics—but were, at the time—simply affordable, weird guitars that set them apart from mainstream bands. Hey, if your band wasn’t mainstream, why play a mainstream guitar? This was even true of some of the higher profile players/bands, with people like Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine and Steve Wynn dusting off Jazzmasters—which, by the late 70’s, were considered pawn shop crud. Or, if not crud, hardly a guitar that had been by far Fender’s most expensive guitar in the 1963 catalog. By comparison, Strat was very fairly priced (by comparison…it was still pricey for the day), and Teles and Esquires (not to mention, later, Mustangs) were positively relatively cheap.

But even lower on the food chain were the Airlines, the Silvertones, the Harmonys, the Danos. In the early 80’s, Karl Precoda used a Silvertone-branded Harmony H78 (with a missing middle goldfoil) on the Dream Syndicate’s classic The Days of Wine and Roses, an album that was widely praised at the time for bringing back long and aggressive duel guitar to underground rock—with a band that owed more to, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Velvet Underground than to any South Bay Hardcore. All of this with Precoda’s feedback-laden killer tone out of his Harmony.  East Bay Ray, from the Dead Kennedys, was famous for using off-brand guitars, often seen with then forgotten/unknown various Valco/Airline resoglass models over a decade before Jack White hit the national stage. No one was like him in bands of the time.

And then perhaps the band who perhaps most single-handedly showed their audience a plethora of cool 1960’s rare and funky and (at the time) forgotten guitars: Anton Newcome’s hollowbody Vox Cheetah he uses this day…over the years, he’s also used a Silvertone 1454L (the Silvertone model number for the Harmony/Airline H78—one of Eastwood great Airline reissues), Vox 12 strings…while brilliant former lead guitar player Jeff Davies was seen on stage with Hagstroms and Harmonys, and sometime bassist/sometime guitarist Matt Hollywood was often seen with a two pickup Rocket.

Brian Jonestown Massacre live

Brian Jonestown Massacre, dusting off vintage guitars…

Peavey T-Series

But, back to the Peaveys of the early 80’s. In some ways, picking a guitar (at least in part…no one plays a piece of crap just because it looks radical and unique) because it looks cool seems like a pretty shallow reason for picking you main/stage guitar. Because it is.

Still, I can understand why players might have shied away from the T-Series at first. The flagship and top of the line, the T-60, is a pretty unattractive guitar. While some people who LOVE them tend to say things on forums like, “it’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.” And while there are some people who do actually think the T-60 is a good looking guitar, they are in the vast minority. And remember, these are on forums for people who absolutely love these guitars. The general guitar playing public, if they are at all familiar with the T-60, tend to think of them as pretty uninspired designs at best, and pretty damn ugly at worst.

Peavey T-60

Peavey T-60: ugly, or so-ugly-it’s-beautiful?

But the T-Series was built in a way that revolutionized the guitar making industry. Peavey was the first to construct necks with a computerized copy lathe. By using computers, every neck came out exactly the same for the first time in guitar making history. This is now used throughout the guitar industry. This technology also allowed Peavey to produce guitars that were at least the equal to the quality of Fender and Gibson, yet significantly lower their production costs.

In 1978 (the first year of the T-60’s production), these were the prices of Fender’s Strat, Gibson’s Les Paul, and Peavey’s T-60:

Les Paul: Nearly $1,000

Stratocaster: $790

T-60: $375

And maybe that was another problem for Peavey. Maybe guitarists had the perception that a guitar that sold for so much less couldn’t possibly be the equal of the big names. But that simply wasn’t true (even if they weren’t nearly as good looking).

But the best—or most compelling and surprising—guitar in the T Series may be the T-15. This was a guitar that Peavey marketed as a beginner’s guitar, or a professional guitar for “players with smaller hands.” It’s become known over the years as the “Mississippi Mustang”—a reference, obviously, to Fender’s much more famous short scale classic—the Mustang.

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

The Fender Mustang had/has a 24” scale and a fast, comfortable neck that not only makes single note runs easy to speed up, but also offers a comfortable reach for more complex chords than many longer scale guitars allow and, lastly, makes bending easier up and down the neck. 

If you’re a player who enjoys playing the Mustang’s 24” scale, you might well love the T-15’s 23.5” scale. This, combined with a thin, flat, very fast neck, makes for an ease of playing that’s hard to describe. I’ve never player another guitar quite like it. It not only allows all of the benefits I mention above with the Mustang, but it makes double country bends enormously easy once you get used to the effortlessness of the bends. It may be why the guitar found early popularity with country players—with its ability to lend itself to complex country pedal steel-like bends. I have fallen in love with the 23.5” scale—which happens to be very rare and the same scale as the Gibson Byrdland (a short scale that’s also a favorite of Ted Nugent, which I pray is the only thing he and I have in common with the exception that we are both carbon based life forms).

Though, while the whole T Series of Peaveys first found the majority of their players in the country field, the T-15 is becoming more and more popular in indie rock. Some of the big reasons for this could be the one of a kind Peavey Super Ferrite pickups, which sound like a powerful cross between P90’s and some of the twang of a bridge Tele. But they have a sound all their own. Peavey also has the nice feature of there being no treble loss when you roll off the volume knob—the guitar keeps its tone no matter how low you roll off the volume.

Peavey T-15 in natural

Peavey T-15 in natural

Other features of the guitar are a three way pickup switch and a single tone and volume knob that controls both pickups. There’s a metal nut much like some of the classic Danelectros, which is nice because they never seem to wear down like many of the plastic ones that need to be replaced after many years of work. And while some of the higher end models, like the T-60, are famous for their excessive weight (some are reported to weigh more than a Les Paul—though the colored and sunburst ones supposedly weigh less than the more common natural wood finish), the T-15 is a very light and comfortable instrument. It, too, came most often in a natural wood finish, with much more rare versions made in both sunburst and walnut. According to Peavey’s literature at the time, the T-15’s body is made of “southern hardwood” whatever that might exactly be. The radius is 12”. And the neck is made of hard rock maple. It all adds up to a first-rate guitar. A Mississippi Mustang, indeed.

Lastly, while most of the T-15’s came with Peavey’s custom fit plastic cases, some (hardly all, but some) came with a 10 watt solid state amplifier in/with the case—harkening back to the classic Silvertone (made by Dano) Amp-in-Case of the 60’s.  The better one, of course, being the one that came with the two pickup 1457. Complete with a deep tremolo and a great tube sound driven by a single 6V6. While the T-15’s Peavey solid state amplifier hardly comes close to the greatness of the Silvertone Amp-in-Case, it does have some beautiful cleans and serviceable overdrive. But it’s hardly the same, even if it’s a cool and nostalgic feature.

For now, the T-15’s are still pretty affordable for such a great, professional grade guitar. They play like butter, and they have pickups like you’ve never heard, but will want to her a lot more once you do. Grab one before the price starts going up. The T-60’s have already been discovered. Grab the T-15 while you can.   

– guest article by Rob Roberge.

WATCH: PEAVEY T-15 DEMO 

Rob Roberge

1960’s Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

I’ve only owned two Kay tube amps, and they were both keepers. One was a pretty standard (for its era) dual 6V6 with tremolo (a really rich and deep tremolo). It had a tone pretty close to the Silvertone 1482, its Dano-made Airline counterpart, the rare 1964 Ampeg Reverberocket with 6V6’s (wow, what an amp!) Lectrolab 600B (though this is the best of the bunch, IMO) and any number of other cheapie versions/variations of a Tweed Deluxe. It’s interesting that all these Chicago and New Jersey bargain companies were churning out these amps that now get called a “poor person’s Tweed Deluxe”—these great 6V6 amps with tons of snarl and growl long after Leo Fender had left Tweed pastures for the cleaner, tighter sound of the Tolex models. By 1964, when Danos and Lectrolabs were still sounding like proto-Neil Young dirt, Fender had long left behind the loose sag and grit of the Tweed Deluxe, replacing it with the much tighter, much stiffer (though still a cool amp) Deluxe Reverb.

Don’t get me wrong. The Deluxe Reverb is a great amp. But the Fenders I love pretty much all fall in the tweed era, where there wasn’t a ton of great headroom and you got into a nice snarl pretty early in the sweep of the volume knob.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

You don’t see a bunch of the dual 6V6 single 12” Kays. The models you tend to see the most are the little (and somewhat anemic) single-ended practice amp, the 703. And the Kay tube amp you tend to see the least is the VERY cool duel 6L6 (sometimes) Kay 507 Twin Ten.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

As the name suggests, the amp pushes two (ALNICO) 10” speakers powered by a pair of 6L6’s. What’s weird is that a LOT have 7868’s as output tubes and use a 7199 in the circuit. 7868’s have a great tone, in general. They are, from what I’ve read, essentially the same tube as a 7591, but with nine pins instead of eight. 7199’s got used a lot in Ampegs and Sanos and they are very rare and they aren’t made anymore, so they tend to cost a lot of dough. So, buyer beware (especially about the 7199) on this amp. BUT, the model I have has what are obviously original 6L6’s and no rare or obscure preamp tubes (five 12AX7’s do the preamp and phase inverter jobs) and the old stand-by 5U4 for rectification. Mine is all original—as the schematic inside matches what’s in the amp. But there seem to have been some variations on the construction of the 507—so, ask the seller about/check the tubes when buying so you know what your 507 has in it.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

Also, it’s one of the coolest looking amps you’ll see. It has two channels (two inputs per channel), a VERY snazzy chrome rear control panel with six knobs (tone and volume for each channel and speed and intensity for the tremolo). And it has a very 50’s-looking two tone appearance (even though it lists that they were made 1960-1963), brown rear and light brown front with a white swirl on brown cloth grill. It’s a great size—not too heavy and 24” wide by 20” tall.

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay 507 Twin Ten Vintage Guitar Amp

OK, it looks cool, but how does it sound? Pretty freaking cool. It sounds a lot like the other great Chicago amps of the same period. And this is where things get kind of interesting—who made these Kay amps? It has a tone very much like the great Valcos (which ended up branded, at various times, Supro, Airline and, in the 400 series, Harmony). And, like a Valco, it has a tone a bit like some of the great Lectrolabs, too (I’ve seen Lectrolabs branded under their own name and also with Philharmonic and the 300 series of Harmony amps). But, it’s not made by either Valco or Lectrolab (I get this info from a friend of mine who knows more about off-brand amps than anyone I know and has a collection to prove it). It also doesn’t look like a Valco or Lectrolab under the hood. It’s simply made differently (though it is point-to-point like both of those brand—no hand stuffed circuit board like on a Tweed Fender). According to my friend, it was Kay who actually made these Kay amps over these years (go figure). As I say, this friend knows a lot more than me and has written several books on the Chicago giants. Plus, it’s easy to tell from looking that it wasn’t made by Valco or Lectrolab. So, if it isn’t easy to tell who DID make it, at least we know who DIDN’T.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Whoever made it, though, it’s a wonderful amp. At low volume, you get a VERY rich and textured clean sound. The two ten inch speakers sound great and the cleans are very complex, much like a Tweed Fender Super from the early 50’s. This is one of the richest, thickest (without being overly dark) cleans I have ever heard in a vintage amp. And when you add the tremolo, wow! It moves from a VERY slow, pulsing tremolo, to a pretty fast one—but it never gets totally choppy and helicopter-sounding like a lot of the late 60’s tremolos. Throughout the range of the “strength” control, the tremolo stays watery and smooth. Just a killer sound.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

Turned up, it sounds more like a 6V6 amp than most 6L6 amps I’ve ever heard. Very Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If you push the volume on the channel you’re using to 6 or higher, it starts to really snarl and have a complex great sounding distortion. The volume and tone controls are interactive, too, so you can get some very nice textures of distortion by either coupling the channels with a short cord, or just playing with the volume of the channel you’re not using. Open it up full and put the other channel around 5 or 6 and it sounds VERY much like Neil Young’s tone on RAGGED GLORY—that opening of “Country Home” sounds spot on when this amp is cranked.

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

1960's Kay Dual 6V6 Vintage Guitar Amp

It’s a sleeper. And there don’t seem to be too many of them out there. I haven’t heard the 7868 output tube version of this amp, but I’d sure like to. In any case, if you see one of the 507 Twin Tens with 6L6 output tubes, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. I’m doing a MAJOR purge around here—selling at least five guitars and five amps. And I kept going back and forth on the Kay 507. Then I plugged it in to write this and I decided I’d be nuts to get rid of it. There simply aren’t that many of them. And I don’t want to feel like I felt about letting go of my 4X6V6 Danelectro Challenger with a 15 inch speaker. That was another super rare amp I let go of, and I still get angry at myself. From now on, I’ve vowed to only get rid of stuff I could easily replace if I truly regretted the sale. So this one stays.

Rob Roberge

1960’s Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

A buddy of mine (thanks, Garrett!) tipped me to this model on eBay. I’ve long been a lover of 1960’s Italian-made guitars. One of my great regrets is letting go of a Sano hollowbody that was, in all but name, the same as the hollowbody Galanti Rangemaster.

What makes these guitars special? The necks, mostly. If you like think, very fast-playing necks, vintage Italian guitars may be your thing. This “Jetstar” model has the normal zippy neck, plus some other very cool feature—not the least of which are the (typical to Italian guitars made by factories more accustomed to cranking out accordions) push buttons for the pickup selectors.

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

This model has a rather strange tone set-up. The buttons are labeled 0/1/2/M. You can either have the bridge pickup selected (setting 2), or the neck pickup (setting 1), or some cross between them that’s choked with a treble-cutting resistor (setting M). Or, you can hit the button closest to the strap on the treble horn (setting 0), which cuts the guitar off entirely (?!). Why anyone would need a kill switch on a guitar is beyond me. Unless you wanted to do that cool Morse-code sound at the end of “London Calling” (I may have answered my own question). But that Morse-code on/off only works with a toggle switch, not so well with a slower-to-operate button. But several 60’s Japanese and Italian models seem to have a button that turns everything off. Odd.

But the guitar plays like butter. Fast and slick—and the intonation is easy to set correctly. The bridge is pretty high-end, made very solidly with smooth slots and a center-loaded whammy bar with the feel and sweep of a Jazzmaster or Jaguar. And that’s who this guitar would probably appeal to the most—people who dig Jags and Jazzmasters, with a slightly more lo-fi, garage vibe to the tone. The tuners are high-end, as well—teardrop shaped with slightly pearloid plastic. Pretty.

And how is the tone? Like I say, very garage, very 60’s. Raw enough to play overdriven punk and grungy blues. The pickups sound a bit like a combination of a P-90 and a Teisco gold foil. Fair amount of snarl if you want it, but also full of some pretty cool surf tones if you want. For a single-coil guitar, there’s a good amount of sustain, too—plenty more than the Fenders mentioned here. The down-angle of the strings at the bridge eliminates the plinky lack of sustain that can plague a Jazzmaster (much as I love them). The tone is very balanced—overall, the guitar sits dead center in a midrange between the brightness of a Strat and the rich darkness of a Les Paul or 335.

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

1960's Galanti Jetstar Electric Guitar

Put it together with the Magnatone 431(the one sitting behind the Danelectro in the pictures), and you have a great surf machine with some reverb and that wonderful Magnatone vibrato (OR tremolo, as this model Maggie has both choices—too cool). Plus it into the other amp pictured, the Lectrolab R600 (a truly amazing dual 6V6 amp that I’ll cover in a review soon), and it’s straight out 1950’s Chicago blues. Crank it up and you’re in Neil Young and Crazy Horse RAGGED GLORY territory. Really—play this through a fully-open overdriven amp and the tone is incredible.

The neck pickup is fat and rich, while the bridge has a fair amount of bite (less than a Jaguar or Strat—closer to the bridge PU of a Jazzmaster). The only thing that can be an issue (or it can be sonic joy, depending on who’s playing) is the pickups are very microphonic and the guitar can squeal feedback a little quicker than most solidbodies tend to do.

For anyone who’d be interested in buying a Jazzmaster, Jaguar or Mustang, you could do well (and save a few bucks in the process) grabbing one of these Galantis. They aren’t that easy to come by, but they aren’t super rare, either. Mine was beaten up and needed a neck repair, so I got a great deal on it (along with the original, form-fit case). But, if you’re looking to find a mint one, they seem to be out there in the $400-600 range as of this writing (Oct, 2010).

It’s not the MOST versatile machine you’ll add to your collection. But it sounds and plays great, and looks pretty fabulous, too. It’s become my number one guitar in my main garage/roots band. Really—plug it straight into a good amp and it sounds like you’re in a nice two-car garage in 1968, with mom and dad’s Falcon and Mustang (my family had cool cars) pulled out in the driveway. It’s not just a guitar—it’s a time machine!

Rob Roberge

Two Guitar Bands

There is nothing quite a great two-guitar rock and roll band. By this, I don’t mean just any band where one guitar strums rhythm, while another player does the lead, but a band where the two guitars work together so symbiotically, they become almost a single great instrument in the band. When two guitar players are truly locked in, the give and take creates a tension that just doesn’t, can’t, happen when there’s only one guitar player.

This doesn’t mean you NEED two guitars to make a great band—I’d be leaving off a lot of great guitar music if I scratched Hendrix, Cream-era Clapton, The Who, early Uncle Tupelo and a ton of other great bands. Nor do you need to have the kind of two-guitar interplay I’m talking about to have a great band—there are fabulous bands with two guitars playing standard rhythm-lead arrangements that don’t fall into the category I’m talking about here. Bands like CCR, the Beatles, the Byrds, Big Star, the Replacements and the Kinks are filled with great guitar work. But great guitar work done (usually) in the traditional rhythm/lead style.

No, I’m talking here about bands where the two guitars are so intertwined, so filled with communication that the players seem to be operating on a telepathic level when playing. There’s nothing quite like it (for the player or audience) when two guitars really have that going on.

Here’s a list of some great twin-guitar bands. I’m not claiming these are the GREATEST twin-guitar bands, as music is largely an issue of taste. And my greatest is not your greatest. For instance, while I greatly admire the dual-guitar work on King Crimson’s DISCIPLINE record, I don’t really love the record, so it’s not on the list. But that’s no dig on the talent and ability and chops of Belew and Fripp—you’ll find a bunch of players on this list who are, technically, nowhere near as good as the guys in Crimson. But here are some bands who, if you love dual-guitar, you just might love. Some of them are big and you’ll have heard of them, some of them should be bigger and you might want to check them out. In no particular order:

  • The Rolling Stones: While there may not be a “particular order” you kind of have to put them first because, well, they’re the Stones…not named “The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” for nothing. While early Stones is incredible, and Brian Jones had a wonderful genius for playing, well, for playing things that weren’t guitars (sitar, dulcimer, and so on), the band really starts becoming a major two-guitar band in the Mick Taylor years (1969-74). Listen to the interplay that drives through EXILE ON MAIN ST and you’ll hear Richards and Taylor at their best. Ron Wood, the “new guy” (all 34+ years of being the new guy) is no slouch, either.

    Richard Hell & the Voidoids on stage at CBGB in 1976

    Richard Hell & the Voidoids on stage at CBGB in 1976

  • Richard Hell and the Voidoids (first album, especially): Ivan Julian and the late, great Robert Quine offer up a killer dose of dueling guitars on the first album. Great tones, great playing and great intertwining parts—while showing each player’s distinct style in their solos. Check out the traded leads on “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” and tell me you don’t love guitar.
  • The Dream Syndicate: For their whole career, but especially on the still fresh and incredible sounding DAY OF WINE AND ROSES. The original lineup of the band (with Karl Precoda and Steve Wynn on guitars) brought back long guitar songs—reclaiming them from boring patchouli drenched jam bands and given them back to rock and roll. Examples? The title track, with Precoda torturing a Harmony-made Silvertone awash in feedback, or “Halloween” with Wynn showing us why those plinky Jazzmasters are such great guitars when used right. And they are used right here.
  • Luna: Again, most of their recorded work. But the live version of “23 Minutes in Brussels” from the fine movie of their final tour TELL ME DO YOU MISS ME is a good place to start. They were always a great night out for lovers of guitar (or of great songs) and this has some great live footage of underrated guitarists Dean Wareham and Sean Eden (along with a fabulous rhythm section…actually every band on this list has a great rhythm section, which should tell you something about what guitar players need to soar) making some great guitar rock. Also, anyone who doesn’t own PENTHOUSE has missed out on some of the best music of the last 15 years. I wouldn’t stop there, but it’s not a bad start.
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse (especially in the Danny Whitten era): Later versions of the band have Young handling (quite capably, btw) all the lead guitar. But to listen to the interplay between Young and Whitten on EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE is a true joy.

    Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers

    Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers

  • Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers: Maybe a surprise pick, but damn if LIVE AT THE SPEAKEASY doesn’t show the 2nd-Generation Heartbreakers (after Richard Hell left) as one of the great two-guitar bands of all time. Walter Lure and Johnny Thunders learned all (or at least most) of what was great about Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and R&B and tossed it into this great mix. If there had been less heroin and better lyrics in this band, they might have conquered the world.
  • Television: Wow, three bands that Richard Hell was a part of at one point (though he isn’t on any of the classic Heartbreaks or Television material). But Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd set the bar for punk-era dual guitar bands. Listen to the majesty of the building guitars of the title track on MARQUEE MOON, or the incredible intertwining guitars on “See No Evil” or “Prove It.” One of the all-time great bands for guitar-heads. These two guys play together, as Richard Lloyd once said, “like the gears of a watch.” No doubt.
  • Wilco: Another, perhaps, surprise pick. And while, if I had to choose (and I’m glad I don’t), I’d take the Jay Bennett era Wilco over any other lineup, the current lineup is a better live band and able to show off a range than would stun most rock bands. Nels Cline has been showing the world what had been one of LA’s biggest secrets prior to his joining Wilco—that he’s one of the best guitar players alive. A man able to play a three hour show and not play a cliché. Not easy. And for anyone who doubts Jeff Tweedy is a great guitar player, listen to “Kidsmoke” (off A GHOST IS BORN) and tell me differently. One of the great guitar songs of the last ten years. Also, check out any live footage of the current band doing “Impossible Germany” which blends not two, but three guitars (thanks to multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone) in about a beautiful a fashion as possible.

    The Velvet Underground and Nico in 1966

    The Velvet Underground and Nico in 1966

  • The Velvet Underground: Really, any of the records, but check out how Reed’s “ostrich” guitar (the strings all tuned to one note) and Sterling Morrison’s standard-tuned guitar go together on the classic “Run, Run, Run” or the gothic drone of “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Or, to jump to the third album, the classic rhythm/lead combo of “What Goes On.”

So, there you go. A short starter-list of great two-guitar bands. Buy some CDs, or download the MP3s or add it to your phone or the chip in your head or whatever it is you kids do to get music these days. But, remember, PAY the artist for it!

Rob Roberge

Report from NAMM 2010

So, once again, I got to hang out at the EASTWOOD booth at this year’s NAMM 2010 show. I wrote a report for these pages on my first trip, but haven’t done one since mostly because the show is pretty much the same every year.

  • Some very cool products come out.
  • Some slimy companies try to sell their (generally) useless products with scantily clad women (and, hey, I’m all for scantily clad women, but it seems out of place, silly and kind of skanky in a bad way at a trade show).
  • There are rooms and rooms of guitars and amps and pedals to check out.
  • And there is what seems like a whole floor of drummers and drum products to avoid. (Only the most aurally masochistic of us should ever have to endure the “World’s Fastest Drummer” competition.)
  • A surprisingly large amount of guys (most in their 40’s, but some younger, however this is an offense that even youth offers no excuse for) walk around with sunglasses inside and look pretty much like their trying to win a “look like a pathetic moron” contest.
  • And so on.

But, it’s still a blast and a half to go—largely because the Eastwood crew (Mike Robinson, et al) are some of the greatest people to hang with. So, what happened this year at NAMM? What follows are some random notes and observations, things I saw and heard, from the NAMM show, this year’s model.

  • One of the things about booth placement at NAMM, is that you’re pretty much at the mercy of the gods…or, at the very least, whomever it is who decides what booths go where. The Eastwood booth was in the company of several very cool booths. It was, however, maddeningly placed kitty-corner to some “carry it in a bag” acoustic amplifier. The theory behind this gizmo seemed to be that any singer-songwriter could carry this tall thin speaker and amp and play a gig anywhere without back strain. Unfortunately, the makers didn’t seem to consider ear strain when making this. The sound quality was not helped by the fact that everyone who demo’d the thing seemed to be the first handful of people they could find off the street who knew a G C and D chord and who promised to howl out of tune at any public opportunity. But the amplification system itself sounded so bad that I don’t think Bob Dylan himself could have sounded good through it. As the great and funny Peter Robinson said at one point, “That thing sounds like someone strumming a screen door.”
  • The booth directly behind us seemed to be for some brand of bass. However this wasn’t some company trying to take business from, say, people who play Fender Precisions. People who play, you know, actual bass. No, this bass was for guys who thought holding down the bottom and playing tastefully and melodically were archaic notions and quaint ideas of the past. Not for them subtlety or musicality…bass is made for playing as fast as possible. And it gets even better if you can tap and snap as often as possible. Spend four eight hour days with this tuneless rumble directly behind your booth, and you will go insane. You’ve been warned.
  • Relic guitars are, inexplicably, as popular as ever. I may get some flak for this but, damn it people, if you want a beat-up looking guitar, beat up your own damn guitar. For one thing, there’s something truly disingenuous about having a fake cluster of wear on your guitar. Do it yourself! Play the hell out of it. It’s not hard to beat a guitar up—I’ve done it to several. However, the worst thing about these “relics” is that they LOOK fake as all hell (including the ones that cost about as much as a car coming out of various custom shops in, not to name names or anything, places like Corona, CA). I have a 1969 Telecaster I’ve had since 1982. It was beat up when I got it. In the twenty-eight years I’ve had it, I’ve played it more than any other of my guitars. It’s been on several tours. It’s been through THREE sets of frets. It has acquired beer and sweat and blood (all, literally) in its electronics. It’s been banged around by luggage carriers, band-mates, tour vans with crappy suspension and questionable brakes and played night after night for years by yours truly. It’s full of dings, scratches, wear marks and a couple of cigarette burns. Why do I tell you all this? Because, as beat up as my Tele is (and I’ve hardly taken great care of it, physically) is has NOWHERE near the “wear” of the average “relic” guitar. I checked out several “relics” (from several well known brands—all the big players) and they, without exception, looked extreme, ridiculous and phony. I can see the logic of wanting to feel a worn-in neck, but these relic bodies are goofy. Most look like a stoned teenager took a belt sander and mallet to them in shop class.
  • Boy, are there a LOT of pedals for guitar players available. Many of them seem to have so much gain, it has NO importance what amp you put behind it. It kind of cracks me up that people will buy a three thousand dollar amp and then put a pedal in front of it that so blocks the tone and personality, they might as well be playing guitar through a Radio Shack PA.
  • There are, and this is an estimate, about five thousand guitar players at NAMM better than me (I say this estimating the number of guitar plays at NAMM at about five thousand). Somewhat reassuring in this estimate, however, is that fewer than a hundred of them play anything I’d want to play. There’s an astounding amount of truly stunning, and truly awful, noodling out there.
  • Based on the purely anecdotal evidence of walking around the NAMM show, I would say that there are a LOT of bass players who don’t know what a bass player’s job is. Yes, Jaco Pastorious and Stanley Clark may have been geniuses, but I think they may have ruined a generation or two of bass players. I’m not saying you have to play Nashville bass and just sit on the root, or that you can’t play it as a lead instrument at time—hell, I love Mingus, for instance, or Entwistle, and they didn’t play “traditional” bass. But, damn, I heard so many profoundly AWFUL bass players just cramming a bunch of notes and slapping and pulling and not seeming to know a thing about the bottom or the melody. It’s an epidemic, people. If you have a bass player like this in your family or band, it might be time for a thud staff intervention. This “style” of playing needs a drastic reaction. Say, public shunning, or something.
  • I had to listen to a guy, some “artist” at a pedal booth demo (wearing a purple suit and purple fedora and more makeup than Tammy Faye Baker) play “Pride and Joy” and (yes, really) “Mustang Sally” several times in four days. He was, sadly, on the way to the bathroom, the food and the beer. He was also, sadly, on the way BACK from the bathroom, food and the beer. He played a Strat through a Tubescreamer and a Wah and he sounded exactly like Stevie Ray Vaughan, except for those ever so subtle little things we like to call originality and genius.
  • A lot of guys (the ones not shredding like someone named Blackie, or Sinister, or Diabolical Jones or Really Scary Larry or whatever their mascara-stained faces are) play “Pride and Joy” when they sit to test a guitar.
  • An otherwise stunningly attractive woman in her mid 40’s with a “SCORPIONS” tattoo tramp stamped at the small of her back. Just sad.
  • Along with the bozos who wear sunglasses indoors (and NO, I will never let up on you clowns until you’re swept from the Earth), there were plenty of guys trying to dress like rock stars—long coats, silly boots, one Goth guy trying to look all scary with those weird “look! My eyes are red! Ooooh, scary,” contact lenses, and so on. Really, NAMM is an interesting place to go to see how pathetically some men handle middle age. Guys, the pencil-thin mustaches, the pancake makeup, the black wigs…it would be funny if it weren’t so obvious and so naked in its Peter Pan desperation.
  • I checked out the Peavey booth, thinking I’d been unfair a couple years back saying everything they made was ugly. But, no, I was right. They make fine, dependable, at times first-rate products. But they slap that hideous early 80’s ‘lightening bolt’ Peavey logo on everything and they seem to have the worst aesthetic sense in the business. Obviously they’re doing something right, having been in the biz since 1965, but boy, their stuff is tough on the eyes.
  • What else? Well, lots of cool guitars. Some fine looking amps (it’s hard as all hell to tell if they’re good sounding at NAMM, since you can’t turn the volume up, which is good, in the long run). More Ukuleles than I’ve ever seen in one place. A Paul McCartney impersonator at the Hofner booth who didn’t look much like Paul McCartney. And, perhaps much sadder, a Catwoman impersonator at the Hallmark booth who didn’t look nearly enough like Julie Newmar. But, then, not enough people in this world look enough like Julie Newmar, so what’s one to do?
  • I’d be remiss not to mention National Treasure Deke Dickerson and his annual Guitar Geek Festival. The man knows how to put on a show and this year was no exception.

So, that’s something of a wrap on this year’s NAMM show. In between all the guitars, the amps, the goofy guys with sunglasses indoors were many hours spent laughing and hanging out with the guys from Eastwood (and I would quote some of the jokes and conversations, but none of them approached anything like a G-rating, so you’ll have to be out of that vulgar loop, my friends)—truly some of the greatest guys I know and people who make even a casual gathering in a hotel room better than most parties. Even though I’m still hearing really bad folksingers and slappy bass bozos as I try to sleep at night, I can’t wait until next year.

Rob Roberge

1960’s Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

I wasn’t in the market for any more amps, but how could I pass up this Lafayette LA-75? A buddy of mine (thanks Rob S.!) sent me an email, letting me know that this baby was on eBay for a really good price and that I should snatch it up. “If you love the (Valco-made) Harmony 415,” he said, knowing it was one of my favorites, “you’ll love this one. Similar output and tone, only out of one 12” instead of two.” And he was right—and then some. I do love the duel EL84 Valco/Harmony 415, but I think I like this little sleeper even more.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

What’s to love? First of all, its Jetson-era Mid Century Modern styling that makes it pretty as a piece of vintage furniture. It’s a classy looking little box—the only American made amp it resembles is the nearly-equally cool looking Dano-made Silvertone 1432 (itself a bit of a sleeper, as it was a predecessor to the classic and easier to find 1472 and 1482 series). But while the 1432 relies on the classic duel 6V6 setup for its bluesy grind, the Lafayette runs two 7189s for output.

What’s the difference? Not much, actually in the tone of the amp. The design of an amp has at least as much to do with its tonal makeup as does its output tubes, and this little Japanese combo sounds much like Danelectro’s and the Chicago beasts of its era (Valco, Lectrolab and so on). It’s got the familiar thick, dark, lush tone at under 4 on the volume knob, and it has an impressive and small gig volume when it starts to get into its grind around 5 and up on the volume knob. And it has two channels, which you can jump to enrich both the chewy grind and the thickness of the amp.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

Mine seems to have the original ALNICO speaker (Japanese amps don’t always share our speaker codes, so it’s hard to say what make it is) that sounds very much like a Jensen ALNICO I have in a 1958 Ampeg Mercury (I switched them and the tones are nearly identical).

What makes this amp unique among some of the great Japanese made amps of the same era? Its tone is actually very Valco. Dark, chewy, biting and fat, fat, fat. While some of the Guyatone’s and Univox’s have a tone all their own (which, no doubt, is very cool), the Lafayette 75 really has that great thick grind that the Chicago (and New Jersey, in Dano’s case) amps had that is perfect for jump blues and, when pushed, unhinged overdrive into Neil Young territory.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

And now that Valco’s have become increasingly expensive (though still worth it in many cases), it’s put the amp lover on a budget hunting for other great amps that are still super affordable. Brands like Premier (in some cases), Hilgen, Univox, Guyatone, Alamo, Lectrolab and some Danelectro’s can still be found in nice shape in the $300 range. For hand-made point-to-point (or hand stuffed circuit boards) amps with good iron and great tone, you’d have to pay a lot more for a new boutique amp. And these can be had needing only minor work (in many cases). What’s not to love?

But back to this model 75. The lush depth of the 7189s is apparent throughout the volume range of the amp. The tremolo is rich and VERY 60’s sounding. It has more of a rounded, gentle wave than a sharp cut-off helicopter tremolo, with no noticeable (or apparent) volume drop when the effect is engaged.

Also, one of the cool things about the 7189s is that they are not like the 7189A’s that are in some great amps, such as the killer Magnatone M10 (and most of the Magnatone Suitcase series). Whereas the very expensive (and increasingly rare) 7189A can’t be substituted with 7189s OR with EL84s (without modification), the 7189 CAN use a rugged EL84 with no modification.

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

1960's Lafayette LA-75 Vintage Guitar Amplifier

So, an amp with rich clean tones and a super overdrive sound that looks rad and weighs well under 30 pounds. Keep your eye out for this amp (and other Lafayette models—some of which were made by the same factory that made Univox amps—some don’t seem to be. It’s a crapshoot with 60’s Japanese amps).

Are there any problems with this amp? The handle rattles. Annoying, but hardly the end of the world…just use a little form when you’re recording. Not so bad.

It also digs pedals. I’ve added a germanium boost to this and it positively blooms on the notes. Add some reverb and the lower volume cleans are lush and astounding. In an amp/tone world where so many players are looking for the tone and range of the classic Tweed Deluxe, there are so many great tonal options in the 15 to 20 watt range. Enjoy and explore.

Rob Roberge

On The Road With The Urinals (Sept. 2009)

It wasn’t even a tour…just a few dates in the Midwest over a long weekend. But it sounded like fun. Even a short time on the road is usually a good time, and we’d be playing with our buds from Chicago, the fabulous Mannequin Men, for all three dates. And it proved to be the great time it promised to be. If you want a cure for the blues, hot the road with the Mannequin Men for a few days. They remind me while I love rock and roll—seeing them on a good night reminds me of when I got to see the Replacements on a good one. A band that’s at once tight and loose, with great songs and killer hooks. What’s not to love?

The Urinals: Kev, John & Rob (2008)

The Urinals: Kev, John & Rob (2008)

Plus, we’d second on the bills to Midwestern legends Killdozer, which sounded fun.

And a few days on the road with John and Kevin (the founding/original members of the Urinals) is always great. So, off we went.

I realized on this trip they don’t pay you for playing shows—they pay you for getting on planes and driving though seemingly endless fields of corn with billboards for Cheese and Fireworks. The shows are a blast—but you earn your money eating crappy road food and praying you’ll never see another stalk of corn.

So, it was up early Thursday and off to LAX. I’d brought my Tele (a new one as I can’t replace my ’69 of something happened to it on the road) and my Eastwood Airline Tuxedo, some pedals and cable. We’d be using a backline on the shows—i.e., other people’s amps and drums—so I just brought a good overdrive pedal, not knowing what kind of tubes I’d be pushing (none, it turns out).

We got to Chicago, got stuck in truly dreadful traffic and found the hotel. A 30 minute nap was followed by more hideous traffic—complete with tolls! In Chicago, not only is driving a slice of hell, but you pay cash for the privilege of sitting sucking diesel fumes and doing less than one mile an hour.

We finally get to the club and, despite being late, we get a sound check. My guitar sounds pretty terrible, as I’m using a new pedal and a borrowed amp (a Roland Jazz Chorus this night). My Tele’s too brittle and bright. I decide to use the dirt pedal I know better at the show.

Using borrowed amps is one of the things you get used to on the road. Normally, at home, I use, for various gigs: a little Lafayette duel EL84 (for small gigs with the other band), a late 50’s Magnatone 260 (modified for more gain and volume), or a Mack Skyraider (for louder Urinal gigs). In the studio, I’m spoiled with a bunch of lower wattage vintage Valcos and such. So, I’m kinda spoiled amp-wise.

But, out of town, you come to realize that most of the crowd couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your tone. They’re out for a fun night with good songs played well. They don’t really, hard as it is for a guitar geek to admit, know the difference between a Tweed Deluxe and a Line 6. And, while you might more readily play better with an amp you love, part of being a pro is not letting that kind of thinking affect your playing. That positive mindset is hard to keep when you end up playing, as I did once, through a 70’s Peavey PA head that a club thought was just fine for guitar.

So, the Chicago show goes well, the Abbey is a great place with great sound, and the show goes off without a hitch—I don’t even break a string. Kev, from the MM, joins us for a spirited “I’m a Bug.”

A hot woman thanks John for playing “Strip Club” (Kevin and I look at each other like, “we were there too” but she’s only talking to John. Some other woman at the merch table tells John he has the “Sexiest voice in rock and roll.” She’s cute, too. I get a bunch of geeky guitar guys asking about my guitars and my elbow. No fair.

Day two consists of much driving though Illinois and Wisconsin. We stop for photos under an enormous metal cow and a giant “CHEESE” sign. At every road stop are billboards for cheese and fireworks. On seemingly every mile of travel is…corn…corn…more corn. It’s a good thing that John and Kevin (the other Urinals) are two of the funniest, easiest tempered guys in the world.

Much kidding John about the Sexiest Voice in Rock and Roll.

Before the show, we hit what’s purported to be a great St. Vincent DePaul (recommended by the guys in Killdozer, who know the town well). Men from Killdozer don’t lie—this is a great vintage shop. I get some cool vintage plaid pants and some odd bean that I wear onstage that night. Michael, the bass player from Killdozer, tells me about a Goodwill in town that is organized by color. All the green clothes, men’s or women’s, in one section, all the orange in another and so on.

Night two, in Madison, at the High Noon Saloon, is a blast. The owner, Kathy (Cathy?) is super cool, the green room is comfortable and clean, and each band has a huge cooler of beer and water. Stylin’

Show goes pretty well. Pop a string on my Tele on the fourth or fifth song. The Tuxedo sounds fatter, anyway. The amp the 2nd night is a Silverface Twin Reverb….a fine amp, but not one you can get into distortion without peeling the faces of the first twenty feet of the audience. So, once again, most of my distortion comes from a pedal.

I go out to have a smoke after our set in Madison, still wearing the beanie from St. Vincent DePaul and some guy says, “Nice hat, faggot.”

Later, at merch table, a guy says, “You sounded pretty good for a hippy.” (Kev from Mannequin Men offers to punch him for me. It’s good to have passionate friends, but I tell him not to punch the guy. “Say the world, and I’ll go Miagi on his ass.”).

I wonder what I did to Madison to get this treatment from strangers. Also, why hippie? I don’t mind being called a faggot, but hippie is another matter. Hippies are annoying. I have no hair. The guys in the band start calling me “the faggot hippy”.

Later, a woman wants the band’s autographs, but the last CD doesn’t have me on it, so I don’t want to sign. But it’s too hard to explain, so I had to sign Rod Barker’s name on a CD for a drunk woman who wanted autographs on WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS NOT.

The guys start calling me “Faggot, hippy Rod Barker” (Seemingly endless hours on the road leads to sophomoric humor).

At the merch table, a woman comes on to John. I get called more names. A woman says, “I NEVER thought I’d like a band called the Urinals.”

Next day’s drive to St. Paul. More corn. Eventually, blissfully, replaced with lakes and rivers.

Before the last night, we have dinner with the Mannequin Men and some of their cool pals. That puts our group at nine or ten for dinner. We try to go for Ethiopian food, but the place is packed, so we settle for pizza—a road staple we were hoping to mix up a bit, but no such luck. We make plans to do a cover single with the MM, where we cover one of theirs and they cover one of ours on a 45 (remember them? They’re back!). There’s talk of past tours and future tours and the general good-feeling of hanging with pals on the road.

The last night, at the Turf Club, I’d planned on using Ethan’s (from MM) Twin again, but the guys in Killdozer blew one of its speakers the night before. So I end up with the sound guy’s Fender Deville, which he tells me is a “great amp”. I’m not so sure that’s true, but it’s his and I don’t say anything, and it sounds fine…it gets loud and has a good clean channel (which sort of defeats the whole idea behind a tube amp, but whatever), so I can crank the clean and get, once again, dirt from the floor.

We have, maybe, our best show in St. Paul. Much fun. Miles and Kevin from MM join us on “I’m a Bug”. We close with a very fast version of 13th Floor Elevator’s/Roky Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

We hang out at the club. It’s 1AM. Killdozer is playing a pretty great, over the top cover of “I Am, I Said.” We have a flight back to California in 5 hours and I’m wondering if I should nap or stay up all night. A woman hits on John after announcing, “I’m not a stalker, but I needed to see you!” Clearly, a stalker. To add insult to injury, her boyfriend stands there while she just about pins John to the pool table. Interesting. No one hits on me. More questions about the eBow and my guitars (well, my guitars are kind of cool). Ah, well. Rock and Roll.

Rob Roberge

Odd’s & Mod’s

Last year at NAMM, Eastwood grand poobah Mike Robinson and I were talking about hot rods and custom jobs. He’d said one of the truly fun things he dug about motorcycle riding was tripping out your bike with custom touches that made it your own. This led into talk about custom guitars and some of his favorite custom shots people had sent in to him with their modified Eastwood’s and Airline’s. He sent me a couple of cool pictures at one point of wild things people had done to their guitars, and it got me thinking about a long-neglected project of mine with an old Silvertone/Danelectro. Most of the mods I do are on amps—and they tend to be unseen, unless you look under the hood—but here was a guitar job that would be obvious to anyone who saw it.

While I spend most of the time in this column writing about very cool pieces that came as they are from budget factories in the 60’s, sometimes a piece begs for modification. Sometimes (adding a Bigsby on anything I can, for instance), the mod is minimal and reversible. Sometimes, a beat up guitar or amp shows up begging for more than a simple mod and they become a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster. Case in point: this Silvertone (Danelectro-made) 1448 (i.e., the one pickup “Amp in Case” guitar).

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (Before)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (Before)

As you can see in the “before” pictures, this one came with no electronics, a smashed in Masonite top and years of major neglect. I grabbed it off Craig’s list for $50, figuring I could at least use the neck. But then, other than the smashed top and no electronics, it seemed like it could be an interesting project on its own—not just a parts donor. What was there to work with/keep? A short but good list:

  • One good neck—with Brazilian rosewood we can’t get anymore. Odd to see on such a low rent “cheap” guitar. But Danelectro necks were incredibly study and stayed very straight—which is good, since they didn’t have truss rods, after all. And, it may seem minor, but Dano’s aluminum nut contributes to the tone and is a very cool part.
  • One set of tuners. The Dano/Silvertone open back key tuners are not the best ever made but they actually hold tune of the guitar is set up well.
  • Original Dano bridge, with the “semi” (emphasis on semi) adjustable rosewood slab for intonation. Or something kinda close to intonation.
  • The back of the original guitar and the pieces of wood that all hardware would/could anchor in to. I’m no expert on Danelectros, but the wood used in the Amp-in-Case models (the hollow ones, at any rate, before the solid wood versions of 67 and 68, after the MCA takeover) is usually quoted as pine or poplar. In any case, there’s not much wood in there—enough to anchor a bridge and to hold down the Masonite top.

So what did I need? Electronics and a new top. I had the cracked and beaten old Masonite top, so I used it as a template to cut a new top.

My options were to restore it and find some old Danelectro pickup, if I wanted to keep it original. OR, I could add two lipsticks and make it a custom job, while retaining the materials of the originals.

Or, the option I went with, I could make it a total one-off custom job. A buddy of mine owns a custom car shop and he was headed to a junkyard and then a metal yard and asked if I wanted to come along. Figuring a day at a junkyard and a sheet metal shop were more fun than a day of working on a book, I jumped at the chance.

Along with a bunch of crap I probably didn’t need, I left the yard that day with a nice sheet of brushed aluminum. I used the old, broken top as a template and cut the meal the shape of the top of the guitar. Then I ground down the sides, so no metal would come sharp off the edges.

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

On the old Danelectro body, there was about a ¼ inch of wood—perfect for mounting the new metal top with some sheet metal screws, which gave it a cool (to me, at least) industrial look.

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Danelectro 1448 Electric Guitar Project (After)

Now for electronics. The first version had some top-mounted old DeArmond Silverfoils off an old Harmony that was broken beyond repair. These sounded ok, but the look wasn’t quite right. So, next, I took off the metal top and cut out its center and mounted a modified after-market loaded Stratocaster pick guard. This took some trimming of the pick guard so it would fit the top properly but, once it did, it looked pretty snazzy. The meal also offered some of the best shielding I’ve EVER heard on a Strat-style guitar. The single coils sounded great with almost no single coil hum or buzz—not even when standing under neon sage lights. Go figure.

And the best thing? Something odd happened when I put the Strat electronics onto the Dano body and neck: the tone became a strange hybrid of both guitars. It sounded sort of like a Strat, but the short scale neck, along with the odd bridge and aluminum nut and (probably the biggest factor) the hollowed-out body made it sound different than any Strat I’d ever heard. It had the twangy jangle and snap of a Dano, but higher output on the pickups. A very cool combo—all for under $100 in parts and a little fun work.

If you’ve got a busted up old Danlelectro, it’s a modification/custom job I’d highly recommend. You’ll have the only one on your block, and it’ll sound pretty darn good, too. Happy hod-rodding!

Rob Roberge

1960’s Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Last month, I was talking about the very cool little Guyatone 535 model that takes 2 EL84s (6BQ5s) for a clean, very chimey, shimmering tone. Plenty of British sounding chime and a great amp for 12 strings and clean tones. And this month, I’m going to talk about the Kalamazoo Reverb 12. Here’s another dual EL84 combo that gives further evidence that the circuit design has a lot (most everything) to do with the tone of an amp as, beyond sharing the same output tubes, it has very little in common with last month’s entry in the cheap amp chronicles. This amp has some great cleans, too, but they are nice dark, woody cleans—not the glassy chime from last month’s entry.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

There are some great amps to be found in the Kalamazoo line (Gibson’s cheaper amp line in the mid to late 60’s). Among these are the Kalamazoo 1 and 2, which are single-ended EL 84 amps, the latter with a nice tremolo. These are killer little practice and recording amps with a nice clean and a good over-driven tone. If you’re looking for a good alternative to a Champ, here’s a frugal way you might want to go.

For giggable power, check out two of the real sleepers of the Kalamazoo line: the Bass 30 and Bass 50 models. These are pretty lousy bass amps, but pretty wonderful and affordable guitar amps (how many sub-par bass amps, from the Fender Bassman, to the Ampeg Bassman, to these Kalamazoo models have been used for an unintended purpose as guitar amps to stellar results?). The Bass 30, with its funky, very simple flip-out control panel, runs on 7591s and has two sweet sounding 10” Jensens in a closed back setup. Loud, with lots of nice crunch and not too heavy to lift. If you can find one, you’ll be surprised at what great tone you can get out of it—especially with single coil guitars.

The Bass 50 shares the cool flip-out panel and the closed back cabinet, but generates its output from two EL34s through two Jensen 12” speakers. Tons of grind—and great overdriven tones with single coils AND humbuckers. This is even more rare and hard to find than the Bass 30, but it’s definitely worth hunting down for some awesome overdrive tones on the cheap.

And in between the little practice amps and the converted bass amps? Well, there sits the tops of the Kalamazoo line (such as it is): the Reverb 12. This is often cited as Kalamazoo’s answer to the Fender Princeton and, it’s true, it shares several of that amp’s makeup on the surface: Both are low wattage (about 12 watts) push-pull amps with 10 inch speakers and tremolo and reverb. But, beyond the surface, the similarities end. The Kalamazoo is not as loud as the Princeton, for one, and you’d need a pretty quiet drummer if you were going to use it along (without an extension cab) on a gig (not impossible, but the drummer would have to play pretty light or with brushes). Also, the Kalamazoo doesn’t really start to get into overdrive until pretty late in its game (between 8 and 10 on its “Loudness” control)—whereas the Princeton starts singing a little earlier in its volume range.

What do you get in the trade-off? Some great tone in that wonderful zone between total clean and full-out distortion (think that early great Jimmy Bryant tone—slightly clean, but with a nice textured amount of grit and hair in the mix).

Also, the reverb and the tremolo are VERY nice for such a small amp. It’s a very versatile, great sounding little combo that’s great for bedroom playing, small band practices and, of course, recording.

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

Kalamazoo Reverb 12 Combo Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple, easy to work on design. Three 12AX7s (running the reverb driver, the tremolo oscillator, and the preamp and phase inverter duties), solid state rectification and two EL84’s for the output into a 10” speaker. I replaced the tired original CTS speaker in mine with a very efficient Celestion, and this really brought the amp to life—bringing out a LOT more volume and clarity and tonal dynamics. It’s a great little amp.

It’s also surprisingly versatile, as a result of the extension speaker output on the back. Run this little “practice” amp into a 4X10” cab, and wow, you suddenly have plenty of power for a gig! The amp also has an odd (for the era) RCA mono phono input (if you want to play along with a CD or one of those old-fangled records you hear us old timers talk about from time to time).

The control panel is simple, but kind of fun and funky, as it has, from left to right Loudness (instead of “Volume”), Treble (which also serves as the on/off switch, Bass, Frequency (for trem), Depth (also for trem), and Reverb. It has two inputs, but only one channel, and the inputs are the same level (that is neither is hotter than the other). The cab is ½ plywood and the construction is true point-to-point (not the hand-stuffed circuit board that often, erroneously, gets called point to point). It’s an easy to follow point to point—easy to work on, which you’ll probably have to do to at least replace the filter caps on these (which were a good deal cheater than the ones used by Fender, and they tend to go bad).

So, you get great cleans…a sweet singling overdrive when pushed to its limit and you can actually gig with it if you run an extension cab. AND they frequently (at least for now) sell for between $200 and $300. What’s not to love? Get yours now, while you can. A very cool amp, with its own sound—and a very usable sound at that.

Rob Roberge

Vintage 1960’s Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

A few months back I talked about how great the Univox U-45 is. And I figured I’d talk about more vintage Univox’s this month—specifically the 305-B which is a really great amp with 6973 output tubes. And I will (promise) do a column about that model Univox, but I stumbled onto this rare Guyatone this month and wanted to share this rare bird with the My Rare Guitars world. So, while I am stepping away from the Univox models, I’m still stuck in Japan in the 60’s with this Guyatone GA-530A.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Japanese-made tube amps from the 60’s represent, in general, one of the great values left in the vintage market. Frequently, you can pick up little combos like this Guyatone (or the Univox U-45B) for under $300. Real vintage tube tone for under $300 (and frequently even lower)? What’s not to love?

This Guyatone, along with coming cheaply and sounding great, is a looker. In white Tolex (or Tolex-like material), this is a stunning looking amp that was a popular model (though not for export) in the Mid-60’s Japanese “Group Sounds” movement. A great amp for chiming Beatles-inspired sounds or tremolo-drenched surf-styled instrumentals, the GA-530A is one to keep your eyes peeled for. It’s a classy looking amp, and one that probably looked just fine gracing the stage of the 60’s Japanese TV show Kachinuki Eleki Gassen (“Electric Guitar Tournament”—a highly-rated audience-participation guitar show…something of a Ventures-inspired proto-American Idol for guitar players—guitars were HUGE in the 60’s in Japan).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

What’s under the hood? It’s a pretty simple and well-made amp. Three 12AU7’s (for preamp, tremolo and phase inverter duties), two EL84’s for output and a solid state rectifier and not much else. The speaker is labeled “Guyatone”, though I’m not sure if it was made by Guyatone or rebranded (there are no codes on it). Whatever its source, this is a sweet-sounding ALNICO speaker in the 20-watt range.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

The sound of the amp is very cool and unique. Where most of the Univoxs I’ve heard are little blues and garage-rock machines, this amp is all about chime and cleans. Part of this, of course, comes from the low-gain 12AU7’s. A 12AX7 has, for instance, an amplification factor of 100. The 12AU7’s have an amplification factor of 17. The amp is voiced for cleans and isn’t (as you might guess from the tube line up) the loudest dual EL84 amp you’ll ever hear. Without mods, you can heat things up a bit with a 12AT7 in the preamp, but anything much higher than that makes it start oscillating and wailing a bit. Without some mods, it’s not going to be a high (or even mid) gain amp.

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

However, played clean (which it stays until about 7 on the volume knob), this thing really shines and sparkles. Byrds and Beatle type tunes sound incredible and it takes to a 12-string really well. Chords are articulate and well-voiced and the amp rings like a bell. Pushed into overdrive (from 7-10 on the volume), and the amp retains its trebly voice, but pushes the EL84’s into a Vox-like chime and grind (albeit at a lower overall volume than, say, an AC15).

And, while this combo may lack reverb for true surf tones, it’s got the awesome gritty sparkle to base your surf tone on, along with an absolutely KILLER tremolo. With tremendous range of depth and speed, it’s a very musical tremolo effect. One of the best I’ve heard in ANY amp. Add a ‘verb pedal, and you’re catching a wave!

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Issues? Well, you are going to have a few when you buy a mid 60’s amp for under two hundred bucks. First of all, unless you know how to do relatively simple work like cap jobs and basic trouble-shooting for bad resistors and so on, the trip to the tech could cost more than the amp is worth. So, it’s probably not a great deal unless you know some basic repair and maintenance.

AND, there is a design flaw on this amp. The tubes are not mounted separately on the chassis, as they should be, but, instead, they’re mounted on the printed circuit board. This is problematic for a few reasons—the main ones being that it’s not nearly as study or durable as the proper mounting on the chassis and that it’s much easier for microphonic issues to arise (whether from the tube or the circuit board and then amplified through the tube).

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Vintage 1960's Guyatone GA-530A Guitar Amplifier

Also, it’s not nearly as easy to modify a printed circuit board amp as it is on a hand-stuffed circuit board or a point-to-point amp. And you might want to modify this model for a little more gain on the preamp, via a nice 12AX7, pushing the rest of the signal down the chain. Or add a bypass cap to fatten up the sound. Both of these are still easy mods—just not quite as easy as if it were a point-to-point amp with a lot of space to be noodling around in the chassis.

Still, you want perfect for under two hundred clams? These are great-sounding, great looking little tone machines. And while the build quality may not equal Fender or Marshall (or even Univox), they are still pretty easy to fix and modify, and you can’t beat a little 12” combo with two EL84’s jangling and grinding for this kind of price. The Guyatone GA-530A is worth checking out—if you can find one!

Rob Roberge