Tuesday, December 24, 2013

1949 Gibson Southern Jumbo

In 1942 the folks at Gibson's decided it was time to redesign the J-55 into something flashier, something that the folks south of the Mason-Dixon line would like.  What they ended up with was a model called the Southerner Jumbo which featured their split parallelogram inlays down the fretboard.  A few of the original batches even had Rosewood back and sides which command quite a premium over the Mahogany versions.  All further batches featured the J-45 base with the fancy inlays and thicker binding around the body.

This guitar was manufactured just after the war in 1948 or '49.  There's no record of which factory order numbers were manufactured when but there are a few aspects on this one that help nail down the date.  The headstock features the block logo which was introduced in late '46 or early '47.  The sides are solid Mahogany indicated by the vertical spruce sticks that help avoid splitting.  Gibson began manufacturing the sides with laminated wood starting in 1951.  The sunburst finish on the top has the "Cremona Brown" style burst that is much lighter than what they did starting in the 1950.  The kicker has got to be the belly down Rosewood bridge.

These bottom belly bridges first appeared on Southerner Jumbos in 1942.  They were soon phased out and by 1943 they were mostly rectangular.  But, throughout the 1940s the employees sneaked in a few bottom belly bridges on Southern Jumbos and even a J-45 or two.  That's just Gibson for you, the only consistency is inconsistency.

You might notice that the sunburst is a lot lighter than that of a 1950s era Gibson.  This burst is called Cremona Brown and Gibson first used it on their mandolins in the late 1920s.  They went to a darker burst sometime around 1951.  I am quite fond of the lighter burst.

This SJs tone can be described as the quintessential Gibson round shoulder tone.  It's got that warm mid-range with a woody low end thump that is so perfect for vocal accompaniment and songwriting.  I tend to lean towards fingerstyle blues and this one does that thing in spades.  

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Friday, November 22, 2013

1940 Kalamzoo KG-12 shade top

The shade top Kalamazoo KG-12 is a bit of a rare bird and was worth the time it took to find a good one.  You'll more commonly see the natural finished version called the KG-12N or Oriole.  Those have the Oriole decal on the headstock.  The shade top version was devoid of the Oriole but received an attractive sunburst and darker natural stain on the back.  This time period at Gibson is known for great craftsmanship and is considered the peak of the golden age of lutherie.

This model is constructed of an Adirondack Spruce top, solid flame Maple sides and a laminate flame Maple back.  The neck is made of Honduran Mahogany, the fretboard and bridge of Indian Rosewood and the nut of hard Ebony.  This model is one of the few branded Kalamazoo that has a hidden truss rod that's adjustable at the heel of the neck.   The top bracing is standard ladder bracing adding to the bluesy, boxey tone these are known for.  The Maple rounds out the package with nice sparkly top end.

This particular guitar

required a neck reset and a bridge reglue to be back in tip top shape.  I asked my luthier to add an access hole in the block so the truss rod could be adjusted after the neck was reset.  The hole is not visible unless the guitar is held at just the right angle.  Suffice it to say that you won't find it unless you know where it is and what to look for.    My luthier only needed to freshen the hide glue under the bridge and reclamp to reattach it to the top.  I like this method since it doesn't require removing the bridge from the top and leaves almost no signs of the repair.  


It took about a year for me to find this guitar.  They aren't the rarest Gibson or the most desirable but something about the combination of rare features and how few I've spotted in the wild drove me to seek it out.  I have no hard of evidence of its rarity other than my own opinion.  This guitar was worth the wait.  There's something about sitting on the couch with this gem and lightly fingerpicking a tune or two.  The top takes very little drive to have sweet tone and good volume.  The sunburst, flame Maple and tortoise shell binding are ever so aesthetically pleasing.  The lacquer is lightly checked but still smooth and glassy to the touch.  The original Geib soft shell case with leather handle and purple interior complete the time capsule feel I get every time I open the case.  

Do you have on of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Rare Amplifiers: The DeArmond R5T

The 1959 DeArmond R5T

may be the perfect recording amplifier if you are looking to compliment the tone of your guitar.  You could gig it but you aren't going to be blowing out your local amphitheater or even small club with it.  These were made by Rowe industries in Toledo, OH from 1959 to 1961.  It features a 5 watt "Champ" style circuit with a 10" Jensen C-10.  They came stock with a Tung-Sol 6X4 rectifier tube, a Magnavox 6V6 power tube and an Amperex "Bugle Boy" 12AX7 preamp tube.  The T versions included a tremolo circuit with another Bugle Boy 12AX7 to run it and a foot switch to toggle it on and off on the fly.  

This particular amp was not played very much before it was put aside for many dormant years.  The owner bought it and a 3 pickup Kay Style Leader guitar but never really got into it.  Eventually the owner passed and the new owners had no use for it.  It wound up at my house in all original condition.  The cord had all but disintegrated so I replaced it with a proper grounded cord.  I don't like getting electrocuted.  Call me new fashioned.

Amperex Bugle Boy 12Ax7

There may not be anything magical about these Holland made gems but I can understand why you may think so considering the price for a good NOS matched pair.  They are well made tubes and I enjoy having them in my amp.  Don't ask me to pick them out from the tone over another well made 12Ax7 though.  That little dude is playin' the hell out of that bugle!

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

1936 Gibson Trojan

The first Trojan shipped in October of 1936 and was marked in the Gibson Shipping ledgers as "Trojan."  This guitar has now been confirmed in the old Gibson ledgers as a Trojan shipped on November 26, 1936.  A gentlemen posted about this guitar on the Gibson forum and was kind enough to send me a bunch of pictures.

The Gibson Trojan preceded the J-35 by a couple of months (October to December, 1936).  This Gibson Trojan matches all the features for a 1937 J-35 with the exception of a couple of key things.  The main difference is the lack of back binding.  J-35s were introduced with a single layer of binding on the back which this guitar lacks.

It also has 3 scalloped tone bars.  The standard J-35 would most likely have had 3 unscalloped tone bars.  I'm very curious about the tone of this guitar.  I'm going to guess that this thing is awesome.  Just wait until you scroll down and see the deep scallops.  Amazing.

The Ebony nut is cool but not entirely out of line.  It could have been Ebony or bone but either one would work.  It's just another aspect of this guitar that makes it so darn cool.

This guitar was made for export as evidenced by the "Made In USA" stamp on the back of the head stock.  This was fairly common at the time.  My 1937 Gibson L-00 had the same stamp and Grover branded open back tuners.  It also had the same pumpkin colored sunburst on the top but did have back binding.

I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this beauty.  Many thanks to the owner for letting me post about it.

Hear it:

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for one.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gregory Alan Isakov and his 1967 Gibson J-50

"It was a gift from a friend of mine" 

Gregory Alan Isakov muses over his guitar as he rolls a cigarette.  It is the last day of September 2013 and Gregory was kind enough to chat a while about his beat but sweet 1967 Gibson J-50.  The weather was nice and it was time for a post sound check smoke.  We talk about how his guitar lay dormant in a barn in Colorado for about 40 years, just resting up for its second career.

John: Do you mind if I check it out?  It looks like it has seen some miles.
Gregory: Please.  Yeah it's a '67.
John: did you say he brought it to Vietnam?
Gregory: Yeah and he brought it back.  I used to work on his farm and we had always been really close.  One night he said, "Well Gregory, I left you something in the barn."  I thought it was weed since he smokes a lot of weed.  He took me out to the barn and there was this big buffalo skull and a guitar case.  I took the guitar to a friend in New York who got it set up for me.

Gregory's J-50 has had a neck reset, refret and had the adjustable bridge "fixed".  The tuning keys are reproduction Kluson keystones.  It has the slimmer, late 60s neck and the setup is spot on.  It has nice mid to low range with that classic Gibson Americana rumble.

J:  ... and you play this guitar pretty much exclusively?
G: Well I have another guitar with me, it's a Stella.  Actually, I almost bought another guitar last week.
J:  What was it?
G:  An ES-125.  It was the nicest one I've ever played.  Most of the mid range was gone, it was just super warm with a really buttery high end.  But the mids were gone.  It played so well and it sang really well.
J:  What year was it?
G:  '52.  It was $1800 which was pretty much all I had.  I didn't buy it but I've been thinking about it all day.  It's in Austin at Austin Vintage Guitars.  It's like my favorite shop.

G:  I don't love electrics, but I like electrics with just a little bite to 'em.  The ES-125 has my favorite tone that I've found.

J:  So are you a Gibson guy or do you like all of them?
G:  No not really, my favorite guitar right now is the Stella.  It was $35 and I got it in Buffalo, NY.  It was in a big pile of old Stellas.  The guy was like "how about $50 with a set up?"  I said, "You're just going to WD-40 the tuners, I mean there's no truss rod on the thing."  "Oh okay, $35."  I really didn't even mind paying $50, he was a nice old guy with a great shop.  I had told him I was just looking for a plywood guitar because I don't care to keep it in a case.  My Gibson usually stays in the case but the Stella just goes in the van and everyone plays it.  That's what I tell people who ask me about playing the guitar, I say just get a piece of junk and don't keep it in the case.  You'll play it more often.

G:  I won this [hand made] guitar in a songwriting festival a while back and they said it was worth like $15,000.  I never play it.
J:  Who made it?
G:  It was the owner of Santa Cruz.  He had made his own company and they only make about 100 guitars a year.  I got it in 2009 and have never changed the strings.  The thing is still too bright.  Still.
J:  I guess it's still a little green.

G:  [while strumming a few chords] Gibsons have just like a nice dark tone, where the high end isn't in your face.
J: Yeah, they have a good mid range where the Martins have the big booming bass, harsh top end and scooped mids.  
G:  But the Martins have a good tight string tension which I like.

J:  What gauge strings do you normally play?
G:  I normally play lights since I play every day but when I record I use mediums.

J:  There was a Silvertone that you were playing for a while right?
G:  Yeah, a Hollywood.  I love that guitar.  It used to have an old pickup from the 60s in it, a little single coil.
J:  Like a DeArmond?
G:  Yeah it was a DeArmond, and it sounded great.  I recorded a lot of our last record with it.  But most of the record I just made was on this guitar [the Gibson] and the Stella.

The Weatherman

J:  I heard that you recorded your last record all analog.
G: Well we did dump it onto Protools at the end but, yeah, we tracked it just in an old studio with a tape machine.  It was just something I wanted to try.  I don't know if it's the way I record, or if I've even found the way to make records.  I feel like, five years old in that realm.  It was fun to try since I've never been able to afford it before because that gear is just so expensive.  So, we found this studio up in the mountains and did it in a few months.  I usually don't go to studios because I don't like them and I don't like the time constraint - because I take forever.  I like to find the perfect sound for something even if it's hardly audible.  It gets expensive fast.

J:  Are there drawbacks to analog recording that you kind of enjoy?
G:  Yeah, oh yeah.  It was amazing how once you play the song and you go into the control room and listen to it, you know that's the take.  In Protools you think this [take] might sound fine in about a month, let's just keep working on it. But [with analog recording] there's none of that.  Do we like it, or do we feel it, or does it make us feel something?  Some of the stuff we'd spend hours and hours really perfecting and the next day we'd listen to it and not really feel anything.  Then I'd play kind of a crappy take and it was the one.

J:  What can you think of from The Weatherman that was like that?
G:  There were a couple songs that ended up that way, like "Second Chances".  We made like 13 tracked versions of that song, 13!  I could put out a double record of just that song.  Different takes, tempos, feels but the one we kept was just really simple and live.  Same with "Suitcase Full of Sparks" and "Living Proof" was live.  There was this one song I wrote when I was 19 called "Honey It's All Right" and that was sort of like a throwback.  I don't why I just thought we'd try it.

J: So "Amsterdam" and "St. Valentine" weren't like that?
G: They were too, they were very simple.  On our previous record called This Empty Northern Hemisphere we had songs that were 90 tracks but you would never know it.  We had like 3 mics on every cello...
J:  and was "The Stable Song" like that?
G: No, that was like probably 16 channels but this record was almost nothing.  It hasn't lived long enough for me yet, and I haven't listened to it since we made it so I don't know if it's good.  Sometimes [the records] have to live for a while before you can figure it out.  I didn't have that kind of opportunity with it because I wrote it so close to when we needed to put something out.  I had been working on another record for years before that, that I didn't like.

J:  One thing I noticed about your songs, well, another website (indie-music.com) said about "Amsterdam" was that it was a "richly vintage delight."  I thought that was a good way to put it.  Dreamy, poetic.  Do you write spoken word poetry as well?
G:  I write a lot of prose and stories and stuff.  I like short stories, poems, I like this guy Billy Collins a lot.
Elizabeth (my wife & photographer):  Did you say Billy Collins?
G: I love Billy Collins.  It's really funny when I talk to my nerdy writer friends and they say he's like the Coldplay of writing.  But I think that's why it's so good.
E: I teach Billy Collins to my 9th graders.
G: He's so good, you know that poem "Aimless Love"?  It's the most beautiful love poem I've ever heard.  He's talking about a field mouse that he found that was dead, it's on 9 Horses I think.  I love that book.

G: [Billy Collins] has a similar approach to writing that I do where I don't want anything in there that isn't important for the piece of music.  In Billy Collins's writing, every line in his poem is necessary and there's nothing extra; it's so bare.

J: What's the song on The Weatherman that's like a minute and a half?
G: You mean "The Astronaut"?
J: That's it, so awesome.  Very stripped down and just ends when you wanted it to end.  There's no fluff, there's no room for fluff.
G: We did have this really long, really ornate introduction to that song with a big string line and it was really dark and cool with a Rhodes and lots of feedback.  Then, the last week before the record came out we just cut that part out and started over with just the lyrics.

J:  I really love that song.  Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about your guitars and the new album.
G: No problem.

Gregory lets me check out the aforementioned Stella parlor guitar before I leave the venue of his show for that night.  It's got that great lo-fi, dark tone that only a $35 plywood guitar can produce.

Elizabeth and I return after dinner to the venue to hear these guitars in their element.  The show shares many similarities with our chat - engaging, personal, relatable.  Gregory and the band even unplug from the PA for a couple of songs letting us have a real taste of how this music sounded when they first wrote it - gathered in the kitchen of Gregory's home in Boulder, CO.

Visit Gregory's website for a full tour listing and purchase The Weatherman everywhere good music is sold.

Photography by: Elizabeth Shults

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The first appearance of the Epiphone Texan - c.1958

These guitars baffled me for some time with their odd features.  I tried to get my hands on one but I just couldn't find an early example.  This 1958 Texan ended up coming to me.

What makes these so special

is the fact that they are an enduring example of Epiphone and Gibson history.  The body and the neck on the early Texans were made in 2 different factories.  When Epiphone sold to Gibson they shipped all the leftover parts to Philadelphia to Kalamazoo.  Gibson began building guitars out of them using everything they could.  This guitar uses two parts from Philadelphia and the rest from Kalamazoo.

The first part from Philadelphia is the mostly finished neck.  The back of the neck shows off the 5 piece laminate construction and subtle V shape found on 1950s era Epiphones.  It appears that Epiphone used Mahogany-Maple-Mahogany for the main neck structure and glued Walnut wings on the sides of the headstock.  The thrust rod cover is direct from Epiphone as well housing the hex nut on the end of the rod.  These covers must have run out early because many of the Philadelphia necked texans have a plastic cover that was most likely made by Gibson.  It's rare to find these with the shaped brass cover.

The second part that Gibson decided to re-use from Philadelphia is the laminate, unkerfed lining.  I had heard stories of solid lined Texans but I had never seen it up close.  My 1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway has the same lining so it must have been in the parts shipment from Epiphone.  

The tone

One major tonal difference in these Texans and a similar year J-45/50 is the fact that these necks are designed for a longer scale length.  A longer scale length means that the strings have to be tighter in order to sound the same note.  A higher string tension generally results in 2 things: a slightly stiffer feel and a bit more volume.  

If you haven't played many late 50s J Gibsons then this difference will be unnoticeable.  Even if you have played a lot of them the feel and tone is very familiar.  The biggest difference in player experience is the smaller nut width and subtle V shaped neck.  I found the neck to be very comfortable but a bit smaller than what I'm used too.

Is a buyout era Epiphone Texan for you?

If you interest in vintage guitars find its roots in history, design and the search for great tone then they definitely deserve a hard look.  I joke with friends about how having an American made Epiphone is the quickest test for people who like guitars.  The majority of players will see the name one the headstock and associate it with the current day market.  That guy will keep on walking and buy him a Taylor.  But every once in a while this guitar will stop someone in their tracks and make him question whether it was made in New York, Philadelphia or Kalamazoo.

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

1961 Silvertone 1446L

One of the greatest guitars Harmony (Silvertone) ever made was the 1446L commonly referred to as the "Chris Isaak" model.  Chris posed with this model for a couple of advertisements and also named an album "Silvertone."  What makes this guitar special is a combination of dashing looks, Gibson made and Seth Lover designed mini-humbuckers used only on this model and the Bigby vibrato.

The Gibson made miniature humbuckers really are the big attraction to this guitar.  If you want a guitar with these pickups you must buy this model or find some loose pups for sale (good luck!!).  Early production 1446 pickups came with the same "Patent Applied For" stickers as the highly sought after "PAF" pickups that came in 1957-1960 Les Pauls.  The PAFs in those Les Pauls are worth about $2000 each in good shape.  I think the 1446L is very undervalued at $1500 for one in great condition from a big vintage dealer.

The rest of the electronics are good, solid American made just like what came in an LP from that time period.  It has the same setup as well with two pickups, 2 volume and 2 tone knobs, and a 3 way switch.  The whole guitar just seems so solid even though it was manufactured by a budget company.  

I'm a big fan of the Bigsby B3 vibrato that came on these guitars.  The subtle, wavy, almost dreamy vibrato is a lot of fun to play around with.  I naturally lean towards blues licks when I'm playing so I haven't sought after guitars with vibratos.  I did seek out these pickups and I'm glad I was introduced to a good solid vibrato as a result.

If there was one drawback to this guitar it would be in the neck construction.  It does have a truss rod but doesn't taper in width from the heel to the nut.  It seems a little "cheap" at first but I got used to it very quickly and grew to really like it.  The nut width is small but I haven't measured it.

Bottom line:

This is a professional grade vintage instrument at a "prosumer" grade price.  It has the tone and feel of the early 1960s and the looks certainly don't disappoint.  This model shows no sign of declining in popularity and therefore value so it would likely be a good investment as well.  However, because of the nut width and neck construction this guitar may not be the answer for the player looking to own just one guitar.  

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway

Here's a rare bird!

Epiphone's Deluxe Cutaway

Here's a very cool 1954 Epiphone FT-210 Deluxe Cutaway.  This was Epiphone's competition to the Gibson J-200 and was actually 3/8" wider at 17 3/8" at the lower bout.  This ladder braced, long scale flat-top featured flame Maple back and sides and beautiful inlays on the neck and headstock.  The compensated Rosewood saddle would not have been my choice but is certainly an interesting addition by Epiphone.


This flat-top derives much of it's construction and aesthetics from Epiphone's line of archtop guitars.  The arched back of laminated flame Maple lends a punchy response when plucked and strummed.  The large, ladder braced top adds a dark and open timbre with medium volume.  

The compensated Rosewood saddle attempts to improve intonation problems with straight saddles.  This guitar currently needs a neck reset so I can't remark how much it helps.  Theoretically, the compensation is a good idea.  The Rosewood, however, doesn't seem to transfer vibrations to the top as well as a traditional bone saddle.  

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

1965 Epiphone Frontier

In 1957 Gibson bought a failing manufacturer of musical instruments called Epiphone.  This company had been their biggest rival until management issues started affecting it around the late 40s.  In 1970 they moved the production of the Epiphone brand overseas and made budget instruments.  But, for about 12 years Gibson manufactured guitars in their own factory with Epiphone on the headstock.  The product line was just as high of quality or higher than their own brand.  The Epiphone Frontier (FT-110) was the same build of the Dove but had a different style motif and headstock shape.

I don't normally look for 60s era Gibson acoustics but I fell for this one really bad.  It has flame Maple back and sides, a scale length of 25.4" and of course, a lasso and cacti motif on the pickguard.  The most surprising part of this one was of course, the TONE.

This is a big, rumbly strummer through and through.  I was always told that the ADJ bridge was a tone killer but this one has a couple of secret weapons.  First, the Maple back and sides.  It's a harder wood and seems to reflect volume really well.  Second, the longer scale length.  This takes a little more string tension to get up to pitch resulting in a little more volume.  The downside is that it is a bit more tiring on the fingers.  

If you are a cowboy chord strumming songwriter then string tension is much less of an issue.  What that person needs is a guitar that will make him/her pick it up and strum some chords.  After a morning of fruitless writer's block the only thing left is to play your favorite song.  A subtle twist of a melody or chord change is all it takes to get those creative juices flowing.  

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.