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Guitars

Yamaha SG1000

In the early 80s, I was a guitarist who was very much a product of the 70s Rock decade. I’d learned songs by guitar greats such as Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Steve Hillage, Tony Iommi, Steve Hackett, Robert Fripp, Mike Oldfield, Dave Brock and the rest. But, this was all becoming a bit comfortable and safe.

I became aware of a new breed of guitarists who were less like stars, but were bringing a whole new range of sounds to the party. These new guys included Robert Smith, The Edge, Will Sergeant, Bernard Albrecht, Hugh Cornwell and John McGeoch.

Yamaha SG1000

I found myself writing heavily effected angular warbly guitar parts. This was probably due in no small part to my obsession with a string of albums by Siouxsie and The Banshees. So, I guess it was inevitable that I would one day acquire a Yamaha SG1000, McGeoch’s weapon of choice in Magazine and The Banshees.

It’s not really a guitar hero’s guitar. It’s nicknamed the Les Paul Killer after all. It’s not very sexy, it’s not a classic guitar, and it’s not that common. In fact, in all my years, I’d not actually seen one in a shop until recently. But, there it was, in Johnny Roadhouse in Manchester, this summer.

I had to give it a spin. The first thing I noticed was its weight. It was heavier than all my guitars. But it is crafted beautifully. Solid resonant mahogany, faultless build, with an exquisite glued in slim C neck and 10″ radiused ebony fretboard, gold hardware, a belly cut, front neck and body binding, and fancy inlay. It oozed quality, with a matching price tag. But, when I realised that its pickups worked as humbuckers and single coils, I bought it.

Since leaving Crimson Creatures, I decided to make it my current workhorse. It’s a real Swiss Army Knife of a guitar. Expect to hear it on my next project.

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Guitars

Kasuga “Deluxe” LG-480BS

I didn’t have much disposable income as a teen. So, when a friend bought an electric guitar, I made lots of measurements, got a luthiery book from the local library, and made my first electric guitar from plywood and cheap hardware. It worked, but it wasn’t great, and it wasn’t pretty.

The Plywood Plank (TM)

A year or so later, I went halves with my parents, and got a used electric guitar for my 16th birthday, from Reidy’s in Blackburn. When I saw that tiger maple hanging on the wall, it was love at first sight. It was heavy, well built, with cream binding, a gorgeous rosewood fretboard and medium frets, smooth Grover style machine heads, and it played very nicely. But, all that was written on the guitar were the words “Kasuga Deluxe”. It was a mysterious mahogany beast from the Far East.

I decided that the wood finish was too gorgeous to spoil with plastic. So I removed the cream pickup selector ring and pickguard, and replaced the cream pickup rings with ‘cool’ black ones. Phwoar!

The Kasuga served me well. For 10 years, I recorded numerous songs and played a dozen gigs in several bands across the Northwest. And then, the thing which happens to many people in their 20s, happened to me. I got a job, got married, and had kids. The guitar hung on a hook on the wall for almost 3 decades. Occasionally, it would come down for a dusting, and I would struggle to remember how to play anything. A couple of times, I tried to restart the playing, but it never lasted long.

70s Kasuga catalogue

In 2018, I joined a group of mature amateur musicians. This was the catalyst I needed to resume my passion for playing guitar. The Kasuga got a good clean and a set of new strings. I also decided that I was long overdue that fancy guitar I’d always dreamed of, and the Kasuga ended up back on the wall.

Meanwhile, as the internet had become a thing since I acquired the Kasuga, I decided to do some research. I discovered that the Deluxe was actually called an LG-480BS, and it originated in a Japanese factory sometime around 1976. Kasuga was a respected if little-known company, which had made good midrange electrics and acoustics for a range of well-known Japanese and western guitar manufacturers for many years.

As my renewed guitar obsession progressed, I started to feel sad about the Kasuga, which was being betrayed on a daily basis. I’d even tried out a few real Les Pauls. But none of them played as well as mine. So, one day, I decided to make it up to her. I was going to give her a deluxe make-over.

Off came the nut, revealing a rather chunky slab rosewood fretboard.
On went a new bone nut.
Those strings were made to sit nice and low.
The gloss neck was exfoliated with fine grade sandpaper, giving it a silky satin finish.
I splashed out on some used Seymour Duncan Seth Lover PAF pickups, and cream pickup rings. These pickups are supposed to be the closest thing to Les Paul gold that you could buy without a mortgage.
The crackly old pots were replaced with new vintage taper pots, wired 50s style, and the speed knobs were replaced with early Standard style bell knobs.

I also replaced the knobbly old bridge saddles with smart shiny new ones. The Kasuga was hot to trot.

So now, it looks a little more and sounds a little more like a £250k 1959/1960 Les Paul Standard. The bolt-on neck (neatly hidden from view) still sustains almost as well as a glued-in neck. The comfy 10-inch radius fretboard and satin slim C profile neck is a delight to play. The pickups sound old, expensive, and like they’ve seen a few things in their time. And she still looks gorgeous. Not bad for approaching 50!

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Guitars

In Search of the Perfect Guitar

There are a lot of guitars out there. Millions of them. Trying to find a good one can be a difficult and a never-ending task. Obviously, guitarists have their own preferences too. So, it helps to know what to look for. I decided to investigate this more closely.

Not enough electric guitars

Being a bit of a nerd, I made a spreadsheet of measurements of each guitar I own, from weight to fret size. The logic was that I would probably find clues buried in the data, and a pattern would emerge.

Half of my guitars have a Fender scale, the other half a Gibson scale. I seem not to care. Using 10-gauge strings, Gibson scale guitars tend to be slightly slinkier, but that’s a double-edged sword where you trade lightness for grip sensitivity. However, all of my guitars have Rosewood fretboards. So I can definitely tick that box.

The number of frets seems not to matter. I have a mixture of 21, 22 and 24 fret guitars. I generally don’t get up that high. But what about the frets themselves? After straining to check, it seems that I have acquired a mixture of Jumbo, Medium Jumbo, Medium, Modern (tall thin), and Small.

Nut width seems to be pretty consistent around 42.2mm to 43.2mm. I doubt that 1mm makes a lot of difference. If anything, the neck profile is more important, and I think that I’m very much in the slim ‘Oval C’ camp. My guess is that the neck has to be comfortable in your hand, and I have a nasty habit of wrapping my thumb around. A satin finish helps with mobility too. Gloss necks can be a bit sticky.

I had thought that fretboard radius would be important, because I love the 7.25″ radius of the 1960-style Strat. But it turns out that 9″, 10″, and 12″ fretboards can be just as nice to play.

What about string spacing? The narrowest is 49mm and the widest is 55mm. That’s a 1.2mm difference in string gaps at the bridge. That’s quite a lot, though I’m not so sure it matters. I’m starting to think that I’m missing something.

What about tonewood? Besides the rosewood fingerboards, it appears that maple necks and mahogany bodies are a common factor — apart from the alder Strat and the ash 12-String. Maybe we’re getting somewhere. Or maybe they’re just the most common tonewoods.

I know, weight. The Les Paul and 335 style guitars are both almost 9 pounds and have great sustain, but so does the SG, which comes in at a rather skinny 6.6 pounds. Hmm.

Looking at three single coil guitars and three humbucker guitars, I decide to quit while I’m ahead. Finding the magic formula is harder than it seems. The only commonality betweeen my guitars is the neck profile (slim/oval C) and fretboard material (rosewood). I am disappointed that the results of my experiment are so uninteresting.

On the other hand, I’d look pretty silly if all my guitars were the same. Vive la difference!

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Guitars

Fender Custom Shop ‘1960 Super Relic’ Stratocaster

I’m ending my mini review series with the guitar which helped get me back on my musical journey — the Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. It’s the guitar I never wanted. Ever since my youth, I’d seen the Strat as a symbol of Rock machismo, and the choice of Guitar Heroes around the world.

Fender Custom Shop 1960 Stratocaster in Shell Pink

So what changed my mind? I actually played one.

Well, I played a few, to be fair. They were unremarkable, but this one was a completely different ball game. It felt like it had been made specifically for me, apart from the colour — I might have chosen something other than pink — but when I found myself playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond in the shop, Pink seemed a strangely appropriate colour.

Nearly 2 years on, and I wonder what it is about this guitar which makes it special. It’s not just me too. The shop salesmen all commented that it had been getting a lot of praise and admiration from the punters. They were a little sad that I bought it, because they wouldn’t be able to play with it when the shop was empty. So, what is it?

The first thing I always notice when I pick up a guitar is the neck, and this one has an unbound oval C profile maple neck with a worn-in satin clear nitro finish, a dark rosewood 7.25″ radius slab fretboard, 21 medium frets, and a 42mm bone nut. It fits my left hand perfectly. Rhythm and lead styles work equally well, and I love the vintage radius.

The Strat’s belly cutaway was a revelation when I first tried one, and cannot be underestimated for a person who equally enjoys pies and pints. Relearning the guitar after 30 years was definitely made easier with the Strat’s ergonomic touches.

The 2-piece alder body also has a nitro finish. There is something special about the weight, solidity and resonance of this guitar which seems to help with its tone. Maybe it’s the alder. Maybe it’s the nitro. Maybe it’s the ideal weight, at just over 8lb. Maybe it’s the custom shop builder’s attention to tonewood selection. I can’t put my finger on it.

The pickups are vintage 60s style, and look nothing special. Like the rest of the guitar, they are made to look older than they are, and this includes the vintage pole piece stagger, which has the side effect of boosting the 3rd plain string. Looks can be deceiving. They sound amazing, and have bags of chime, warmth, and character.

The bridge is a vintage style 6-point floating tremolo with cast steel block and saddles, just like you’d want. The saddles are artificially aged, but this doesn’t seem to have affected their capacity for fine adjustment. I’m not a fan of tremolos, but they do seem to add a certain character to the tone, even if you don’t use them.

The rest of the hardware is pretty standard for a 60s Strat. Vintage Kluson tuners, 5-way pickup selector, witch hat pots, and a triple-ply white pickguard (which has gone a bit green), concealing a neck-butt-end truss rod screw.

To complete the illusion of age, the finish is what Fender calls Super Relic. I do feel that this can be likened to buying pre-ripped jeans, but I can appreciate that the pale green plastic, tarnished nickel, eroded finish, and scratches and dents galore, gives the guitar a certain feel. And not only that, as the most expensive guitar I own, I’m not so worried about bashing it.

Next time, I’m going to look a little deeper into what maybe makes a guitar good. But will I ever find out?