HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
I found Neville Marten’s column in issue 475 regarding how many guitars we need very interesting. I always considered myself very minimalistic, unlike some of my colleagues with 40-odd guitars. For 20 years I gigged the same Strat with a Yamaha Pacifica as a backup. I managed to get all the sounds I needed from the Strat, despite covering the majority of styles. It did – and still does – have two single coils and a humbucker with a coil-split.
However, on my 50th birthday a few years back I was lucky enough to be gifted a Music Man Luke III [pictured] and an Ibanez semi from my wife and a playing colleague. Now I never know what to take to the gig – so many lovely guitars! I have always used a Yamaha APX for acoustic work, but now have gained a Cort Luxe (Frank Gambale Series) acoustic strung really lightly, which is great for rock covers on an acoustic. A great addition with so many gigs being smaller affairs due to the obvious recently. A Yamaha nylon-string for Latin stuff is essential and I use a Yamaha bass for recording rather than sampling. Just think I need a jazz box with flat-wounds on it now!
Barry Kitchin, via email
Hi Barry, thanks for your commonsense and helpful perspective on the question of how many guitars one really ‘needs’. Of course, if you’re Tommy Emmanuel, you could make do with just one – and we always liked the story told to us by a friend of how the late Bert Jansch left for a support slot on a Neil Young world tour with just one acoustic in a gigbag. That’s what you can do when you have huge experience, confidence and ability – plus a very clearly defined musical mission. It’s a little harder, as you say, for players who have to cover a lot of ground. On the electric side, an HSS Strat or similar is probably king in terms of pure versatility with a standard Strat, Tele or 335 (or variations thereof) not far behind in most players’ estimation. Of course, there’s no upper limit on how many guitars one should own, but there’s something about knowing a few guitars really well that encourages us to focus on the music rather than restless experimentation.
Shortly after attending my first big gig, watching Thin Lizzy at the Hammersmith Odeon, I bought a Japanese Shaftesbury LP Deluxe Goldtop and loved the sound the mini-humbuckers gave me. I sold it, regretted it and then spent 10 times as much on a 30th anniversary reissue Deluxe Goldtop 20 years later… only to hunt down and recover my old flame in 2019. (There’s another story there, trust me).
To the point. When I saw Dave Burrluck’s review of the latest Deluxe offering in issue 476, my hopes went skyward. At last, a Deluxe being manufactured as a regular production model in what history may consider a ‘good’ Gibson period. They’ve used a one-piece neck, a one-piece body, lush-looking plain top, smaller headstock, slightly rounded heel (hallelujah!) and great hardware. I could barely contain the credit card.
However, as I read on, a familiar sense of missed opportunity started to envelop me. The body isn’t weight relieved, the neck profile is a generic 50s, and there’s the irritating sloping front pickup you’ll always notice. I can’t help thinking that with more imagination and a little extra attention to detail, Gibson could have made a capable guitar into a really noteworthy offering. The return to original specs compared to models from the 70s are laudable, but why does the Les Paul Deluxe always get the also-ran treatment by Gibson? There’s a sense they still haven’t given it their full attention here.
I enjoyed Richard Barrett’s video demo during which he expertly displayed its ability for mid-gain grit and
the snap of the mini-humbuckers. For me, though, the Deluxe’s real strength lies in its ability to produce wonderfully rounded crisp clean tones, with more girth than a Telecaster but without the harshness of P-90s. Perhaps more time spent reviewing these tones with a dusting of delay and chorus could convince a lot of single-coil players to consider it as an alternative?
Rob Connor, via email
Thanks for the interesting reflections on the underrated Deluxe, Rob. The new Deluxe is an interesting one as, having made the (probably correct) decision not to pursue an accurate warts-and-all reissue format for the revamped Deluxe, Gibson had a relatively free hand, design-wise. The guitar we reviewed wasn’t a featherweight to be sure, but it wasn’t a ‘boat anchor’, either – so weight relief would, for us, have been a nice-to-have rather than a must. The pickup tilt you mention was less welcome. As for the neck choice, we confess we liked the extra girth of the 50s profile.
Really, all this demonstrates that when one moves away from an accurate reissue towards a guitar that is merely built in the spirit of an older design, the success of what emerges is often down to somewhat nebulous questions of taste and tonality. Does a given feature depart from the template too far to be credible? Does the instrument evoke enough of the sound and character of the original to warrant bearing the same name? In sonic terms, we really enjoyed the minihumbucker bite you so rightly admire – and those cleans really are a hidden ace up the sleeve. Pickup issue aside, we think the guitar is a well-priced and toneful workhorse that’s just a little different, and so on balance we’d say they didn’t go all that far wrong here.
What’s this now? An old Fender Tweed Deluxe or something? Nope, it’s a Super Champ X2 transplanted into a bigger cabinet in order to utilise a 12-inch speaker, with its controls facing backwards and using yellow hessian fabric instead of the expensive Fender tweed material [see image, above]. Looks suitably old and tatty – quite chuffed with myself. It sounds great, with a big sound from the 40-watt speaker in the open-back cabinet. It gives good approximations of the Deluxe Reverb, Princeton and Tweed amps with tweaks from the Fender Fuse software and judicious use of the gain control. I originally had the speaker facing forward, but I think it’s neater and more vintage-looking this way. Now I know it works, I really should do it again in a less amateur way!
Al Murison, via email
Nice work, Al. There’s a lot of fun to be had re-housing amps in new enclosures provided one is savvy about electrical risks involved in handling an unprotected amp chassis – for instance, some large capacitors can hold dangerous levels of charge even when power supply is off, so even inadvertent contact can be dangerous. On the whole, though, such work should be within the reach of most practically minded players with some knowledge of amp design.
If you don’t feel up to the challenge, however, companies such as Zilla Cabs down in Cornwall will re-cover or build a new enclosure and cab for your treasured amp, and they’ll also tackle things like Kemper heads and modelling gear just as happily. As long as you’re not bothered about the amp staying original, it can be a great way to unlock new potential from your amp and a great new look.
Please have a listen to Black Midi, both their debut and new album, and do a feature on them. Strange avantgarde, jazz-rock oddness with amazing musicians – and the guitar work is very interesting. Another band you really should feature is Glasgow’s Mogwai, without doubt the best live guitar band in the world. Also, Johnny Marr has a new album out soon; he’s always worth listening to, both music-wise and in interviews.
Dave Poustie, via email
Thanks, Dave. Such leftfield suggestions are always welcome – we’ll look forward to checking out Black Midi – and, of course, Mogwai have been a force to be reckoned with in postrock guitar for many years. Have any other readers got any artists or bands they’re dying to see in these pages? Do you want to see more left-of-centre or alternative artists in the mag? Let us know and we’ll do our best to oblige.
AND THE WINNER IS…
In anticipation of a full feature next issue, we would like to congratulate the winner and runner-up of our Britain’s Best Amateur Guitar Builder competition, Nigel Greening and Richard Fletcher respectively. Prepare to see stunning photography of the winning instruments, hear from the builders themselves on how their builds came to life, and find out from the judges at StewMac why these impressive guitars were selected as the final winners.