Ephemera: Third Wheel (c.1915)

...#3 being the guitar keeping these two at arm's length.

In other news: for the moment I'm not accepting any new repair jobs as I'm trying to get caught up and back on track in a number of areas. This doesn't really apply to folks needing quick setup work or maybe a fret level/dress and setup but structural repair jobs are backed up and need to be taken care of to keep on schedule.


c.1920 Gibson A-2 Carved-top Mandolin

I meant to grab the serial number and record a clip of this mandolin before its owner came by but ran out of time... so the date is a guess. My work on this mandolin was a slight bridge recut/fitting and setup. It's actually in great overall shape but the neck does show a bunch of fretwear and a light warp. Still... because it's a Gibson... it miraculously plays just fine with proper action at the 12th fret and a good, woody, classic old-timey sound.

What makes it an A-2? Binding on the board, top, and back and a slightly nicer rosette. And who can blame the original owner of this for choosing a nice brown-stained beaut? A fella loves a dark horse.

Review: Blackstar HT-1R 1w Tube Amp

Yesterday the family and I visited friends up in Montpelier and I happened to stop by Guitar Sam to chat with owner Kevin Crossett. After much catching-up and shop talk (he showed me a really fun tenor-necked faux-cigar-box uke he'd just finished up building) he was taken away by customers and I glanced over the stuff available in his shop. I like to check out the current market because I like to redirect folks that are looking for first instruments or more modern instruments up to Kevin's to see if he has anything more "in tune" with their needs.

As I hovered over the amps I spotted this white and black little number and within a half hour I was out the door with it. And the best bit...? My Esquire matches it!

c.2010 Crafter M70E Acoustic-Electric Mandolin

Audio soon!!

This instrument is a near-mint trade-in but after a light fret level/dress, new strings (a set of 34w-10 lights) and a setup it plays quite fast (spot-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret) and has a good plugged-in sound. It's not going to break any tone records but being an undersaddle pickup I expect it to do very well in a band setting with electric instruments blaring around it. It'd be obvious that it's a mandolin in the mix rather than a mini electric guitar. The factory setup when I received it in was pretty harsh at the nut and the saddle needed slight lowering. Typical of Asian import stuff! This one happens to have been made in Korea.

The build (like a mini x-braced guitar but with Ovation-style back and laminate top) is curious but does give it a folky, Celtic-y sort of tone. It's definitely not loud unplugged but it's enough to jam with a buddy or two and if you're playing on your own the extra warmth of the pin-bridge style loading of the strings is nice to have for singing. It's sweeter.

August Parts: 1960s Fender JBL D120F 12" Speaker

It's not often "holy grail" speakers pop out of unremarkable cardboard boxes coming into the shop but this one was certainly nice to find! If you know what these are... you know what these are. They famously came on Fender Twin Reverbs and it's likely that this is where this speaker originated considering the Fender part number stamped on the side of its grey frame.

This speaker has apparently been reconed at one point with an official JBL parts-kit E-series cone and what can I tell you...? I popped it in a cab for testing and it sure rocks it. This thing is bright as heck (Tele or steel players look no further) but very full and rich. It seems to be pretty efficient, too, because when I pulled in my micro 1w and 2w tube amps they screamed on this. No wonder there's a following for these...

August Parts: Seymour Duncon SP90-1 Neck Pickup

I yanked this out of a Tele's neck when converting it to an Esquire (that's just how I roll) and it's 100% functional and ready to go. Good buttery tone (I love P90s!) but it's excess at the moment. I'm guessing this is mid-2000s in age? These run around $76 new.

August Parts: Speaker Roundup

Above is a 50s Jensen 16-ohm 12" speaker suited for 25w or under. Great, warm but clean-sounding unit. I only use single-speaker cabs these days and have nothing that makes use of 16-ohm speakers so it's up for grabs.

Review: Blue Chip Picks

I've been meaning to review Blue Chip picks for a while. Whatever these things are made of... they're amazing. I initially got sucked into them by a friend of mine (I was at that time in the camp of unbelievers... "What, a $35 pick? You're kidding me!") who gave me a CT-55 on the house.

All I have to say is: try them yourself. I was into them bad enough to order another CT-55 "wid me name on it" and a 40 of the same shape as well. The 55 is my standard mandolin, electric bass or lead flatpicking guitar pick while the 40 is my strumming, crosspicking, and electric guitar unit that I also use for just about everything else. When one of my picks had the name engraved slightly off they sent me the flawed pick as well (nice)!

What I find about these is that they just pull more everything out of an instrument: you get more depth and richness as well as more cut and volume. They might not be the perfect pick for someone who strums really hard with thin picks (to get that chimey sound) and are terrible for tenor banjo (where a flexible, very thin pick is ideal) but for use in trad or Americana-style music of all stripes they really do sound great and the thicker varieties can be a very useful alternative for Gypsy jazz and archtop guitar backing work as well.

So: there.


Ephemera: Early British Invasion? (c.1925)

This should probably be labeled under the "just a little too much" pile. Note the zither banjo and tiny size 1 guitar. This shot was taken in the England and was up for auction on eBay UK.


Best picture all week...

Mr. Gary -- thank you so much for the opportunity to wrap you in duct tape!

Now that's how to take your ES-330 home!


c.1900 Bay State Bowlback Mandolin

Bay State instruments were made by Haynes in Boston and this one probably dates from around 1890-1900. This one is all original save a new bone nut. It's got a sweet bowlback sound that's not as dense and low-end resonant as something like a Vega or Larson product but it actually sounds surprisingly alike to the last Martin bowlback I had in the shop: rich and focused in the midrange.

Work included an endblock reglue, seam repairs and a hairline crack reglue on the top, a fret level/dress, headstock repair reinforcement, new nut, cleaning, and setup. I also glued up a bit of the crackling celluloid pickguard to keep it intact for the time being. I have this strung with 32w-9 (GHS A240 set) strings which are much closer to gauges and tension of period sets compared with "regular lights" at 34w-10 or the usual "bluegrass" gauges you might find at most guitar shops running 38w-11 or so.

c.1935 Slingerland "May-Bell" Pearloid-board Parlor Guitar

Jeez, another one of these! I've worked on so many old Regal-made Slingerland parlors it's getting a little silly. This one has a solid headstock like a "College Pal" model I worked on in 2012 but it's gone a step further with a cool cherry sunburst and pearloid board and headstock veneers. According to the Slingerland Guitars website it's perhaps a Style #0.

This had some old drop-filled/glued-up hairline cracks on it already but my work was a neck reset, new rosewood bridge install, fret level/dress, bone saddle install, and setup. It plays spot-on (3/32" bass at the 12th fret, 1/16" treble with 50w-11 strings) and has that chunky, fundamental old-time/country blues sound. It's got a 1 3/4" nut over a big D-shaped neck so, to be honest, I think this is mostly suited to fingerpicking though it does hold water as a flatpicker, too.