Sunday, January 27, 2013

1939 Gibson J-35, 3 tone bars of blues.

The model designation "J-35" showed up in the ledgers in late 1936.  It was a no frills jumbo featuring a Spruce top and Mahogany back and sides.  It was originally named the "Trojan" but not for very long.  It is my understanding that the word Trojan only shows up one time.  The Trojan guitar differs very little from the J-35, if at all.

-Edit-  As our friend mentioned in the comments section, the "Trojan" model appears 39 times in the surviving shipping ledgers from 1936.  Only one had an attached FON: 960-12 which shipped to Ridders Music Store in Atlanta.  This guitar still lives in Atlanta and while I do not know the owner personally I have interacted with him on the Gibson forum.  He is a well respected collector and I hope to one day be able check out the collection in person.  I live only 2 hours west of Atlanta!  There is a lot of TVG material there.  Thanks, Anonymous!

The J-35 was produced up until 1942 when Gibson introduced the next and more common J-45.  This J-35 was made in 1939 which was the first year that the natural finish was offered.  It was also the last year of the 3 tone bar bracing.  That makes this one a bit easier to date since Spann's Guide to Gibson does not have very many factory order numbers from 1939.

This guitar was being sold locally and was described as a "1939 Gibson L-00."  I am still trying to figure out how they nailed the year perfectly but were terribly mistaken on the model.  I tried to tell the seller what it actually was but, as is common with sellers, they don't want you to tell them what they should already know.

When I opened the case for the first time I was very surprised at how good of condition it was in.  This guitar survived in a chipboard case in someone's basement for many, many years.  The seller told me it had some water damage but he repaired it.  That was not what I wanted to hear but upon inspection, he did a pretty good job.  I was expecting sloppy glue work and half-assed overspray but was pleasantly surprised to find neither.  There was plenty of evidence of water damage but it was on the bottom near the end pin.  It wasn't a perfect repair but it was done well.  I wouldn't have expected much better from my own luthier.  He then told me he was a wood worker so it made a little more sense.

I bought this guitar 5 days before the Orlando Guitar Expo and had already bought a booth to show some guitars.  I took this one because I just couldn't resist.  It sold the morning of the first day to a very happy buyer.  I was sad, yes, but it had to be done.  I had spent the last bit of our savings including my wife's last couple of paychecks!  Not a great way to buy a guitar but I had a pretty good feeling about this one.  It seemed to work out but now there is a big J-35 shaped hole in my heart.  I guess that is one of the things that keep me going.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

1967 Harmony H59 Rocket... Version 2

If you have followed this blog for a while you might remember my first Rocket (Rocket Version 1).  If you read through that post then you might have seen the comment by a guy about his Harmony Rocket.  Well, here it is!

This Harmony Rocket was built in 1967 in Chicago.  Harmony made this version of the Rocket from '66 to '67.  Sometime between '67 and '68 they discontinued the single cutaway and produced instead the double cutaway version which I am not a very big fan of.

I am a huge fan of the second incarnation of the gold foil pickups though.  Some call these "double mustache" pickups.  They are very similar to the gold foils except these have adjustable poles and aren't quite as hot.  I played this guitar back to back with my Harmony Bobkat (Gold Foils).  It seems like the Double Mustaches wouldn't give me all the tube saturated goodness that I have been getting out of the Gold Foils.  It still needs a bit more set up so I'll have to keep working on it.

Let's mention the elephant in the room, as it were.  This guitar is so clean that you might think someone sold me a reissue.  This is not a reissue.  This is the real deal down to the date stamp on the back of the pickups:

I was skeptical at first too.  The finish is shiny and shows no checking.  The frets are tarnished a bit but have almost no playing wear.  The only thing that was wrong with this guitar when I got it was that the rivets in the bridge pup were loose.  I tweaked them a bit and popped them back in and it is good to go now.  I might clean up the pots a bit when I get the chance.

One unique thing about these Harmony guitars is that the necks don't taper towards the headstock but are one uniform width the whole way.  If you are used to a Fender or Gibson neck then the first 3 frets might feel a bit wide and the 12th fret area might feel a bit skinny.  It really doesn't feel that different to my hands unless you have just put down another guitar.

My previous Rocket had a rather serious design flaw: no adjustable truss rod.  By 1965 Harmony realized that wouldn't fly any more especially with their weaker Poplar necks.  This one is lucky to have one but really doesn't need any adjustment.  In fact, I don't think any of the screws/nuts had been turned before I took the pickups off for cleaning.  Unfortunately there is really not a good way to tell if that is true until you try to turn the screws!

Here is Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes with her favorite guitar:  1966 Harmony Rocket H54/1.  It is very similar to the H59 except it has only two pickups and is the double cutaway version.  Have you heard the Shakes yet?  Go check them out.  Here is what Brittany says about her Harmony Rocket in an interview for 
"I have a '66 Harmony Rocket that I am in love with.  It's cherry red.  I play it out of a '66 Silvertone 1483 with an intact Jensen 12" speaker.  It can glitter, it can growl, it can rock, it can lull you to sleep.  So far, it's the perfect rig."
I have GOT to get me a Silvertone 1483.  I have been looking for a good 60s Silvertone amp for a while.  I think it is safe to say that Brittany is a fan of her rig.  What do you think about her tone?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vintage Guitar Artist Spotlight: Brad Barr and his '51 Gibson J-45

I love watching youtube videos and finding within them little vintage gems that somehow don't get mentioned in the comments.  This video was recorded by KEXP in Seattle at the 2012 Pickathon:

That is Brad Barr of the Barr Brothers playing a beautiful 1951 Gibson J-45.  I think that this is where the J-45 really shines.  The mid-range rumble is just about perfect for the singer-songwriter types.  

The fact that the guitar is a beautiful work of art and has played 62 years of wonderful music is what begs the songwriter to do what he or she does best.  I get that feeling when I play these old Gibsons.  I want to play that guitar just because of what is, how it looks and how it sounds.  I am a better guitar player because the instrument begs me to play it

From a interview with Brad:
"I have a J-45 from 1951 that is the sweetest sounding acoustic.  It has a great midrange and a real growl...."
Maybe you have been there before when pen, paper, a bottle of whisky and 3 and a half hours produce nothing but balled up paper in a trash can.  You decide that your done writing tonight because its 1:30 in the morning you aren't really feeling it anyway.  You start playing your favorite chord progressions and licks just because that guitar feels and sounds so good.  After a minute or two you modify that chord progression a mumble a melody without any words.  The next thing you know you are belting out a strong chorus from your couch when you notice the sun peeking through your window.  You've just spent the whole night writing that song but you didn't realize it because it just had to come out.

I don't know if this has been Brad's experience but there is something about a big rumbly Gibson jumbo.  Here are some shots of my current J-45 lineup:

Oops, that J-50 just sneaked in there.  In order they are '46, '43, '54 and '55.  They are all so sweet and have their own special nuances.  They are certainly guitars worthy of staying up all night just to spend time with them.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Another Nick Lucas.... This one is probably a little later

This Nick Lucas walked into the local shop that I frequent.   My ears perked up when I heard about it even though I knew it was a bit rough.  Since there were only 57 (but about 200 have been found/documented, an estimated 400 total produced thanks to some forum knowledge, thanks TM) documented Nick Lucas Specials produced in any body style, one showing up locally is quite an occurrence.

I told you it was rough, but I could not care any less.  The Gibson Nick Lucas Special is my favorite flat-top guitar ever.  What makes them so special is the combination of appointments, scarcity and body depth.  Of course, I am not the only one who thinks the NL is special.  Here is Bob Dylan with his.

The first Nick Lucas Special is believed to have been produced in 1928 with a list price of $125.  The first models shared the same body dimensions as the L-1 and L-3 (like the previous NLS that I wrote about).  This guitar features the 0 and 00 body width but retains the deeper body much like the L-1.  It also has 14 frets clear of the body instead of 12.  The serial numbers on NLS guitars often date to '28 or '29 even though they were often made much later.  I don't have the FON on this one but I would guess '34, '35 or '36 because of width of the burst and the Maple back and sides.  

Here is a shot of the interior.  I don't think the interior of this guitar has been worked on much because I don't see any ugly reglued braces.  You can pretty easily see the loose back braces.  I would venture to guess that they would just fall out if you nudged them.  The top braces are probably in about the same condition.  The owner is taking no chances on this guitar: he is sending it to Ren Ferguson of Gibson Montana fame.  Ren is not only responsible for turning Gibson's acoustic offerings around at the end of the 80s but is also a top notch guy.  He took the time to talk to me (just a nerdy guitar kid) about how they came up with the idea for using Walnut on the Gibson Jackson Browne Signature model among other things.

I am absolutely thrilled that the owner decided to send this guitar to Ren.  The guitar may even be more valuable just because Ren worked on it (at least it is to me!).  It will probably take him a long time since Ren has been quite busy as of late.  You may have heard that he is working with Fender (Guild).

Here is the back of the Nick.  You can see the gorgeous flame maple peeking through that Cremona Brown sunburst.  It has plenty of nicks and scratches but it really isn't that bad.  I don't think it was even dusted off at the time of this picture.  Looks like whoever played it used one of those nasty capos that took chunks out of the back of the neck.  Pet peeve of mine.

Here is the label on the Nick.  I love seeing the hand written model numbers/names.  The handwriting is usually very elegant which is very rare these days.  I know my handwriting is terrible!  This appears to have been filled out in error though.  The space after "Gibson" should say "GUITAR" and the style should say "Nick Lucas Special."  I thought at first that this was even the wrong label but a friend from a forum informed me that the they used this label on the Maple NLSs.  The original label looked like this:

I'm not sure if they ran out of them or just stopped using them.  That is one interesting thing about Nicks is that they often have strange features.  As my friend says about Gibsons, "If it perfectly matches the description then it is probably fake."  They had a couple of different body shapes, 3 different types of wood for the back/sides and many different style bridges.  These are true custom made guitars.  It is estimated that 300-400 were produced over 11 years in a time where Gibson was slapping guitars together with whatever they had around.

Here is one repair we can clearly see.  The fretboard has been planed about halfway down.  I'm not sure if that was a result of a neck set or a couple of refrets.  I will guess that it is a result of a whole bunch of refrets because the fret wire they used was much softer than what they use now.  I didn't really see any evidence of a neck set either.  Although, I know it will need a neck set now. 

Leave it to Ren,  he will get this sad looking Nick in tip top shape.  I'll do another post when it comes back.  I might be able to include a video!  We will see what the owner will allow.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

1928 Gibson Nick Lucas... from an email

I'm active on a couple of guitar nerd forums and I like to look out for cool guitars.  The Gibson Nick Lucas Special is one of my all-time favorite guitars ever produced.  Here is an email that I got from the grandson of the original owner of this guitar:

My grandfather bought a new Gibson Nick Lucas back in the twenties. He never got around to learning how to play it and it sat in its case until he gave it to my brother in the late Fifties. It sat under his bed until I found it in the early Sixties.

It had been strung up and ignored for decades. The action was redunkulous. I didn't know any better since it was the first guitar I had ever touched. Many sore fingers later I heard about light gauge strings and tuning down. In the meantime it was handled with absolutely no care by an ignorant teenager - me. I dropped a clock radio on it, several times - note the huge gouges. 

Eventually i took it to a guitar shop where they "improved" it by filing down the original bridge to get the action a little better. I took off the open gear tuners and drilled holes for shiny new closed gear Grovers. The tuners were a great improvement, but - now the guitar wouldn't fit in the case unless I took off the D and G pegs!

I got a Dearmond soundhole pickup and played slide for quite awhile. I had a neck reset in the Nineties and have been playing fingerstyle with it tuned down a whole step ever since. 

According to the guys at Gibson, the serial number (in pencil) on the label indicates it was made in 1926 but that doesn't match up with the description on the Gibson Nick Lucas reference page. Mine has the pearl "The Gibson" and the notched diamond inlay at the third fret. It is a 12 fretter so my best guess is late 1928. That makes it 85 years old sometime this year. August 22 is Nick Lucas's birthday. :)

This guitar has been rode hard and put away wet. It is LOUD! It sounds clear and true. Rings for days. Playing up towards the neck produces a wide warm tone and playing down by the bridge gets a crisp sound. This is true of every guitar but is really remarkable on my Nick. The "improvements" and hard wear probably make it a lot less desirable to a collector, but I have no plans of setting it loose in this lifetime.  

Neither of my sons plays guitar but maybe my grandson will someday.   

It is very rare to have a full history on a guitar.  Thank you BmoreTele for sending me this.  A very cool guitar indeed.