5/27/2015

1961 Harmony H306A 1x12 Tube Guitar Amplifier


Yeah, it's cool! A friend of mine dropped this off for me to tinker with. His buddy had picked it up at the dump and no one knew what to expect. Last night I pulled out the old 2-prong power cord, snipped the "death cap," installed a 3-prong cord, did an enormous amount of cleaning, and plugged it in. All happy (and I'm very lucky not to have to do anything else for the moment)!

People like to claim these sound like X-Y-Z small Fender "Tweed" -- but in reality they sound like themselves. I get the point folks are trying to make: these have an excellent clean sound which gets just mwah-enough to do old-fashioned rock when you push the power full-out and control everything on your guitar. That's not my style, though, and I absolutely love the clean low-power tone this pulls.

This guy (click for link) thinks these were made by Lectrolab/Sound Products for Harmony. That sounds fair enough to me! I know it's a '61 because it's stamped April 1961 right on the chassis on the inside.

Wallhanger: 1960s "Folk Boom" Dulcimer


Well, I suppose someone could put the hours needed into this dulcimer, but right now it sure would look good gracing someone's wall. I'm pretty sure it's a 60s "folk boom era" dulcimer and it's obviously handmade and quirky. To get it back into use would require re-boarding, new tuners, strings, bridge modification, new nut, yadda yadda. So -- do all that or put it on your wall. To me it's better used as sculpture -- especially with the coloration!

1980s? Shure 520D "Green Bullet" Microphone


Well, I used this mic a lot as a secondary mic for shows where it'd have effects tied to it for interesting sounds (or for our harp player from time to time). Since I've been playing mostly natural-sounding stuff "out" for the past couple years, however, this has only come out at recording time.

I'm pretty sure this is an 80s model 520D and made in Mexico -- but it has use-wear that gives it the look of a classic 50s model and looks great on an old mic stand with chrome goosneck. It also sounds like the old models as it uses the same-style element ("controlled magnetic microphone") and high output into a 1/4" jack (stick it in your amp, harpies!). The new Green Bullets simply are not "Green Bullets" anymore as they use a modern dynamic capsule instead (like an SM57 or similar). It's a totally different sound. This has the classic honk.

1982 Peavey Classic VTX 212 Tube/SS Amplifier


Hunting for classic US-made Peavey on the cheap? This is a nice-sounding one I got in trade. It has way more power than I'll ever need, works as it should (Peaveys are mostly indestructible), and certainly has that "lived-in-charm." These are well-built amps and have a solid state pre with a tube power section... in this case two 6L6s giving a roughly 60w rating. It's loud.

This does "clean" best as it's got a lot of headroom but if you're a shredder type it'll do that, if'n you want... but why not play to its strengths? Apparently these are popular with lap and pedal steel players and the (real) spring reverb tied into a nice clean setup sounds awesome for that sort of stuff.

1930s/2015 Regal-made 4-String Archtop Ac/Elec Mandolin


Sound clip soon!

This is the latest incarnation of this mandolin which has been on consignment. I noticed recently that, due to the ladder-braced top, the top was sinking a bit under 8-string tension. I decided -- what the heck -- to convert it to a 4-string mandolin and add a K&K acoustic pickup "under the hood." At the same time I leveled/dressed the frets again, intonated the saddle, and set it up with a heavier gauge set of single strings (40w-11).

The top is now perfectly stable, it has a full "jazzy" sound -- think a more acoustic version of Western Swing mando sound -- and the pickup sounds excellent. I used it at a gig last Friday and was very happy with it. The bigger neck profile, long scale, and 4-string setup is a thing of beauty for those of us who like a little more space to play on.

Workshop: Tubes-tubes-tubes!


1:27 AM -- Holding the switch with a rolled-up rag... hoping all connections were soldered the right-way-round... fingers crossed. Death cap snipped. Thrown! Lovely glow of a red pilot. Slight crackle, hiss, crackle as the tubes warm up and the electronics crank open for the first time in 30 years...

5/26/2015

1890s/2015 Buckbee-made Wurlitzer Fretless 5-String Banjo




I spied this nicely-made (but plain-Jane) Wurlitzer-branded 5-string and picked it up, though it did have 2/3 of its (thin) fretboard missing at the time and also lacked a tailpiece, head, and bridge. I knew I was going to convert it to a fretless from the get-go and did so by swapping in a nice slab-style (5/16" thick!) old rosewood board that was sourced from some sort of closed German guitar factory (my guess: Framus). The conversion went well and the neck has a good, stable, serious feel to it with the big board installed. It plays spot-on and looks authentic enough, too, though the all-plain Aquila "Reds" give it a definitive modern touch (though vintage sound).

I'm almost certain this was made for Wurlitzer by Buckbee in New York, but I could be wrong. It's just very much after a Buckbee fashion with a double-edged spunover rim (its nickel-plated brass "sleeve" is curled-over on either side which creates an integral "tonering" on the top edge) and "figure 8" headstock shape. The neck carve, dimensions, and original fretboard material also all point to Buckbee to my eyes. The main departure, however, is in the fantastic neck brace mechanism which is my favorite from the time and more often seen on British banjos than American makes.

5/25/2015

1950s Favilla Baritone Uke




This is a consignor's baritone uke and it just came in on Friday. It's definitely been around the block, what with all of the finish crackle and use-wear, but it was thankfully unmolested save a couple of old repairs to seams on the back. Favillas are excellent baris, as any vintage uke collector will let you know. This one sounds great and, after work, plays as it should, too. I'm fairly certain this one was made on the earlier side of production as it has the simple "burned in" mark in the soundhole rather than a paper label.

Work included a fret level/dress, saddle shave, and also conversion of the tie-block bridge-end to a pin-bridge setup. This was to facilitate getting better back-angle on the saddle. I've done this a lot to old Harmony baritone ukes but this is the first time I needed to do it to a Favilla. Action is a hair above 1/16" at the 12th fret -- right where it should be on a bari.

5/24/2015

1941 T. E. Daniels 4/4 Violin




This very interesting fiddle came my way in a local walk-in. It's labeled (in a position I can't photograph) "T. E. Daniels, Jan 1941" on the inside. It's obviously a home-brew affair and more than likely American-made. I didn't do the instrument justice in the soundclip but it does give an idea of the pure, clean, forward (and loud) tone the instrument has. It's a great voice for use as a fiddle.

Work on this included regluing most of the back seams, a portion of the fingerboard, cutting a new soundpost and fitting a new (old stock) bridge, cleaning, and full setup for fiddle-style action. I also added some uke-style friction pegs to replace missing wood pegs. They're easier to use day-to-day and suit the oddball character. The instrument is crack-free, has nice-quality materials, and is so quirky and odd (in home-made stylings) that it begs a corner in your heart.

1980s Yamaha G-235 Classical Guitar



Well, I'm usually impressed by old Yamahas when they come in. They're well-thought-out instruments. This one is all-laminate but the construction is quite good. When regluing the nut I noticed that the mahogany neck actually has a big square rod of rosewood set into it quite similar to the way Martin installed ebony rods for neck reinforcement in the 1940s. The bracing is also light and the board and bridge are "real rosewood" rather than junk-wood. It's also sporting wood bindings and fancy-looking trim above its station.

Anyhow, my only real work on this one was to clean off some stickers and give it a good setup. The older GHS strings were still good to go and this now plays accurately (3/32" at the 12th fret action) and has a good, round tone. I'm guessing it's an early-80s make rather than a 70s make and it's one of the Taiwanese-made Yamahas.

5/23/2015

Ephemera: Odd One Out (1920s)


Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Schmick Lyric!

Vega made the Schmick "Lyric" banjos with this resonator/pot setup and they're very cool. Here's one I worked on.

5/22/2015

1939 Gibson-made Kalamazoo KG-14 Flattop Guitar




So, this is #3 KG-14 guitar in the last few days and it's also a consignment. This one is the most played-in of the batch and has the most general use-wear, though it's also the most "classic" of the bunch. Typical KG-14 style applies: L-00 body shape with ladder-bracing, 24 3/4" Gibson scale, and 1 3/4" nut width. Because this is a '39, the neck profile is a little more of a hybrid C/V shape rather than a typical V neck. It feels closer to that 40s/50s Gibson profile.

My work included a bridge shave and reglue, new bone saddle, new ebony pins all around, fret level/dress, tuner lube, and general setup. It plays like a champ and sounds especially nice for fingerpicked ragtime, blues, and folky styles. As usual, when used as a flatpicker it has a punchy, loud voice that sits nicely in a mix if you want some clarity and volume to cut through.