A few months’ gig­ging, record­ing and every­thing that goes with it – wel­come to Gui­tarist’s longterm test re­ports

Guitarist - - Longtermers - Writer Dave Bur­rluck Gear re­views ed­i­tor, Gui­tarist Our Supro ver­sus Supro test con­cludes. Which is best? The one that ain’t broke!

Crap! And, in­deed, dou­ble crap! It seems our-old-ver­sus new Supro com­par­i­son has taken a turn for the worse. As part of our brief for the Long Term Tests we sup­ply the pic­tures, and while set­ting up a cou­ple of shots for my last in­stal­ment, I had my ’68 Supro Strat­ford lent up against a sim­i­larly aged Watkins Dom­i­na­tor. But, as I went to check the im­age I’d just taken, the ’68 slipped for­wards on the lam­i­nate-wood floor and came crash­ing down on its back with a sick­en­ing thud. I stood open-mouthed to see, as the dust set­tled, my vin­tage beauty in two pieces. The new Black Hol­i­day – on a stand – looked on as I picked up the pieces.

The im­pact had pulled the neck away from its four fix­ing screws, strip­ping the threads in the maple neck. It could have been worse I re­as­sured my­self. In re­al­ity it was an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen, as to cre­ate enough neck pitch to clear the sur­face-mount pick­ups there’s a size­able wedge-shaped shim in the neck cav­ity; it means the lower two screws only screw into the neck a min­i­mal amount.

Un­der the eye of luthier Chris Ge­orge, we pon­dered the re­pair, even­tu­ally de­cid­ing to drill the lower two screw-holes fur­ther into the neck, in­stalling longer screws. We also in­cluded an ad­di­tional thin con­ven­tional shim just to in­crease the neck an­gle slightly and get a lit­tle more air over those pick­ups. The re­pair im­proved things – the Strat­ford was play­ing bet­ter and I felt con­fi­dent that the neck and body were fixed.

But while the old Supro was wait­ing for its hospi­tal slot, the new one stepped up. Be­fore the ac­ci­dent, I’d been en­joy­ing its old-school charms, not least as a slide gui­tar, but with a gig upon me, I needed to tune it in more and con­cluded the pre-carved wood top on the bridge wasn’t help­ing. Swap­ping it for a Go­toh tune-o-matic was sim­ple and I guessed where the wooden foot should sit and screwed it tight to the body.

I dropped down a string gauge to .010s and re­set the in­to­na­tion and ac­tion notic­ing that the truss rod needed a small tweak to re­move the ex­ces­sive re­lief. I rechecked the pickup heights, then plugged in only to find the bridge pickup wasn’t work­ing. I thought it might be the three-way lever switch but, as we re­marked in our orig­i­nal re­view, there’s no way to ac­cess the electrics un­less you take the whole sand­wich-style body apart. It was work­ing; now it wasn’t.

Re­trac­ing my steps, I re­alised the only thing I’d done was to, via the unique height ad­just­ment (the outer pole pieces), raise the tre­ble side of the bridge pickup barely a mil­lime­tre. I low­ered it back to where it was and the pickup worked. Whether there’s a short wire in­side I have no idea, but I wasn’t go­ing to take the gui­tar apart to find out.

On re­flec­tion, our-old-ver­sus-new Supro chal­lenge hasn’t been about which is ‘best’, it’s been a jour­ney into the un­known. From play­ing old ex­am­ples and mod­ern pro­to­types at David Koltai’s Supro HQ in Long Is­land, through to eval­u­at­ing the new Is­land and Amer­i­cana mod­els, chanc­ing across our ’68 Supro Strat­ford, un­cov­er­ing ‘new’ pickup de­signs that were con­ceived in the 50s, not to men­tion track­ing down recorded ex­am­ples like J.B. Hutto and the elec­tric blues of early 60s Chicago, it’s been about restor­ing a valid sound that has been over­looked.

Supros have their quirks but they re­main a trea­sure trove for any player look­ing for dif­fer­ent sounds. For a (mainly) has­sle-free ex­pe­ri­ence we rec­om­mend the new ver­sions; if you’re pre­pared to look around, and maybe em­ploy a pro to sort any is­sues, the old ones (at least the less pop­u­lar mod­els) are out there at far from ‘vin­tage’ prices.

“Our chal­lenge hasn’t been about which is ‘best’, it’s been a jour­ney into the un­known”

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