Lunch time came and I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I pulled a power cable off of another amplifier and took the new (used) Vox AC15 for a spin. Much to my surprise it actually works. Jen was still working so I didn’t test the volume, but I did play it clean with the master volume and the channel volume low, and I played it dirty with the master volume WAY down and the channel volume cranked. I can still smell the tubes cooking. Nice.
Fortunately, while I was noodling UPS came with the missing power cable. The amp was eight days late. The cable was nine. It’s here though. My ES-335 is feeling like it might need some new strings. Other than that I think I’m ready to record some guitar tonight.
I should note that I still haven’t actually plugged in the new power cable yet. Am I counting my chickens before they hatch? Probably. Oh well. I’m sick of this shit. It’s over. Let’s boogie.
You know those super annoying Facebook adds? You know how they pull things from cookies on your machine? They just got me. There was an add for a sale on reverb.com for one of my guitars. It’s not really my guitar, it’s just the same year, make, and model. 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro. I bought mine on ebay for $700 in 2000. Mine is a factory second, so the sales price doesn’t actually apply here, but this reverb add is currently listed at $3,285.
That’s not why I’m writing this though. One of the pictures included in the sale listing looks like a magazine add for the 335 Pro that is complete with the specs. Cool!
My favorite part of this add is all the things that are white that, thanks to a heavy smoker in the guitar’s past, on mine are yellow. Maybe I should name my guitar Nicotine. It would be fitting.
I took my laptop into my room to record some guitars. I had every intention of working out the kinks in the KTR/D&M Drive combo and then without really planning it I unplugged the board and plugged in the new RYRA The Klone pedal. Then I did something that would not have happened without Coronavirus.
I was planning on selling a guitar (my Strat) and some pedals so that I could buy another amp. With the lock downs and all there was no selling anything so all of that stuff is still here. When I took the D&M Drive out of storage I also pulled a few other pedals, thinking I might experiment. One of them was the Keeley Super Phat Mod. I bought that pedal a couple of years ago and I tried but I never really connected with it.
Tonight I put it into the chain after the RYRA and… it sounded really good.
It worked pretty much perfect with the first two songs I worked on. On the third I should have lowered the gain on the Keeley by a lot so the tone is way heavier than it should be. The fourth and final song of the night was just the RYRA because it’s freakin’ awesome.
i still only have seven songs in progress, but now they all have rhythm guitar. As for the guitar itself, I used the ES-335 and it went really well. No issues at all. The intonation is good, a lot of the buzz is gone (not all, but a lot) and it just felt and sounded good.
I spent my lunch break dicking around with my ES-335. There was a horrible buzz on the first and second strings between the 3rd and 5th frets. Bad. I played around with the action, trying to get rid of that buzz. I brought the bridge up a couple of screw turns and the problem is about 85% fixed. There is still a little buzz on the 3rd fret of both strings, but not nearly as bad as before. The 4th and 5th sound pretty good. I also checked the tuning at the 12th fret and the intonation seems to be pretty good still. I was pleased so I took a couple of faux artsy pictures.
I should also note that I have no idea what I’m doing. Is raising the bridge a little the correct way to deal with some fret buzz? I am guessing not. I probably need to play with the truss rod, but if anyone knows for sure, it’s not me. Maybe I’ll do some youtube research and see if there’s a better way.
A few weeks ago I sent a message to Gibson’s repair facility with some questions on what they can do for my poor, mistreated guitar. They never wrote back.
I Googled “luthiers near Boston” and this was one of the things that came up. 40 or so Luthiers to research. I didn’t count the Guitar Centers. They’ve let me down once.
I also may have just sent a message to Gibson’s repairs department. Wiring, frets, and a nut. What would that cost me? They also offer a service that they call “total restoration.” I’m going to be honest here and say that I drooled a little when I read that. I also asked what that entails.
I’m not doing any of this until COVID-19 is dealt with. I’m likely not doing any of it even then, but we’re in quarantine so why not fantasize a little?
This is going to be long and lame. The tldr is that I put lead guitar on one song and then mixed it and it’s done.
That Pedal Show. That Effin’ Pedal Show. Easily the best thing for guitar players that I have seen on youtube. Nothing I’ve seen is even in the ballpark. They keep messing with my head. It’s getting down right freaky now. It’s like they somehow can see into my soul. What the hell?
Due to COVID-19 they are scrambling a little to keep producing content. When the lock downs started (they are in the UK, though that doesn’t actually matter) they had a big backlog of shows they could release. No one expected this would last as long as it has and now their backlog is gone. So they started projects that they could do at home, and both hosts hit on the idea of writing and recording some music.
Hey, that’s the same thing I’m doing with my quarantini time!
The video they released today is titled “5 Things We’ve Learned Recording Guitars & Amps At Home.” They are more or less coming to conclusions that I’ve already come to in the past. Namely, that recording guitars using amp or cabinet simulators or impulse responses can sound pretty good, but it feels wrong. I used to use amp sims built into GarageBand and it was fine but it always felt a little wrong to me. Next I used the cabinet sims built into my Fender Bassbreaker 15 and Vox MV50 amps. It was a little better, but it still didn’t really sound really real… really. Eventually I decided to just cut the crap and put a mic on an amp for all of my guitar parts. I think I made that official in February 2019’s RPM Challenge. Did I do it in 2018 too? I can’t remember. Whatever, I haven’t used an amp or cab sim in a long time. Putting a mic on an amp sounds better to my ears, but even more important it feels better when I’m playing. It doesn’t feel like gigs or rehearsals feel because I can’t turn up the volume enough to have the sound pressure physically effect me, but it still feels real.
I’m getting to the point, but first I have to tell a back story that I am positive I’ve written about here before.
In 2000 I bought a 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro on ebay. I’ve always wanted a 335. Not as much as I wanted a Les Paul, which is why the first high end guitar I bought was a Les Paul, and when that was stolen the second high end guitar I bought was also a Les Paul. My 335 has had a rough life. I’ve taken care of it the best I could, but some previous owner treated it badly. When I got it, it was seriously beat to hell. It was also covered in a thick nicotine grime. The binding around the edge of the body is supposed to be white, but thanks to some heavy cigarette smoke it is now yellow. I used the 335 and my Les Paul interchangeably during my time in Break Even (2003-05), including using the 335 exclusively on our CD. More recently, the years have been catching up to it. The electronics are starting to fail. I can’t tell if the solder is letting go, or the components are rotting away or what. Because it is a semi-hollow guitar, there is no way to access the electronics without actually taking the body apart and there is no way I am ever going to do that on my own. I may someday pay a luthier to do it for me, but that’s likely going to cost me a lot.
In 2018 Lizardfish played a gig where I decided I was going to give my beloved 335 a retirement party. One last gig using it as my #1 and then I declare it’s service complete and it stops leaving my house. As bad luck would have it, I had all sorts of problems with it during that gig. The signal kept cutting out. I had to switch to my Les Paul for about half of the show. It was sad, but it proved that I was making the right move. A short time later I bought my 2018 Gibson SG to replace the 335 as my #2. I brought the 335 out for one song during February’s RPM Challenge project because I wanted to have all three Gibsons on the same song. I think I also used it for some feedback on another song. That was it though. Other than those two little things, the 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro has been retired.
Until today’s episode of That Pedal Show.
Both of the show’s hosts are Fender guys mostly. Dan goes for Telecasters and Mick goes for Stratocasters. They both own a gorgeous Gibson custom shop model that they often go to when they need something with humbuckers. Dan has a ’58 Les Paul reissue and Mick has an ES-335.
Now as I’ve mentioned, I have been doing a lot of recording lately through an amp at low volume. As I’ve also mentioned, that is the topic of today’s episode. At round about 29:35 of the video, Mick was talking about needing to feel a physical connection to the guitar as he’s playing (didn’t I just say I needed something like that?). He also said that when he’s playing loud he wants to play his Strat, but when he’s recording at low volume at home he wants to play his 335 because it resonates more. It’s partly hollow and when you’re playing you can actually feel the guitar vibrating a little in a way that a solid body guitar doesn’t.
GOD DAMN IT! HE’S RIGHT!
My memory immediately flashed back to one of the first Break Even gigs in… 2003, I think. We were on a small stage, all five of us close together, and we were loud. Like… really loud. Playing my Les Paul at a sick volume like that is a wonderful experience. I had never played my ES-335 in that setting though and when I did it was absolutely magical. The hollow portion of the guitar has two F holes and as we were roaring away, the air was rushing through those holes. Every time Bob hit the bass drum air would literally flow out from inside the guitar. Every time Dave hit a note on the bass it happened. Every time Steve and I hit a chord just right it happened. I never even imagined I would be able to actually FEEL THE AIR MOVING THROUGH MY GUITAR. Like I said, it was friggin magic.
Lizardfish never gets loud enough to reproduce that effect. Every once in a while I’ll feel a little breath of air and it will bring me back to that first night, but it never happens consistently and it’s rare. When Mick talked about his guitar resonating I knew exactly what he was talking about and I realized that I was actually missing it. Back in February when I was recording with two amps I was playing louder than I ever get to play at home. I thank my wife and step kids for not losing their shit every time I played, but I haven’t done that since and in March, April, and May I’ve been quiet and I think it’s noticeable in the recordings because I am not connecting to it in the same way.
Well screw that, I thought, and I went straight down stairs and grabbed my ES-335. After work I took the two year old, rusty strings off, put some fretboard oil on the neck, and polished up what little finish is still on the body, put a new set of Stringjoy strings on, tuned it up, and started recording.
I only had one song that was ready for lead guitar, and it was one I was sort of avoiding. It was a 12-bar blues and I had left a ton of space for guitar solos. Like, waaaay more than I usually do. On the two occasions I set out to record leads I had skipped it because I feel like I am not playing well enough to justify giving myself that much solo space. I had actually written a song that intimidated me… like… what the hell, dude?
I plugged the 335 into the overdrive pedal I bought myself for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and just started playing. What I came up with is sloppy and hacky and not very good, but it felt good doing it. That’s what was important. It felt good. Also, fortunately the electronics didn’t give me any problems, which was helpful. If it had failed this would have been a much less happy post.
So first, the song. Then some pictures.
And that, my friends is how watching That Pedal Show inspired me to do something new with my music… again.
My Gibson ES-335 Pro was the 127th guitar stamped in Kalamazoo on Wednesday December 5, 1979.
My Gibson SG Standard doesn’t follow the same serial number method as my two 70’s Gibsons. There is much less to play with now as the first two digits are the model year (not necessarily the year the guitar was built, kinda like cars) and the remaining seven digits are just a counter for that model year. My guitar is the 22,586th 2018 model guitar.
I never noticed it before, but there is a Made in USA stamp on my Les Paul. My ES-335 does not have a Made in USA stamp, but it does have SECOND in it’s place. It was a factory second, kinda like clothes were a slight defect will keep the item from passing Quality Control, but it isn’t bad enough to stop it from selling at a slight discount. I believe my 335 is seconded because of a hole in the finish on the back of the guitar. It’s never bothered me in the slightest.
My SG includes both a Made in USA stamp and a 2018 Model stamp. Just in case the serial number didn’t give it away. I bought the SG new and I have all of the case candy. That includes a filled out QC checklist card that is dated 10/12/17… so my 2018 guitar was actually made in 2017. It has a model number too, SGS18HC… something or other… CM1, or CH1, or something like that. The hand writing is a little tough to make out. They also sent a picture of my guitar sitting on the QC work bench where it was apparently plugged into a Boss tuner pedal…. I don’t like Boss pedals. That actually makes me sad.
As for the model number, SGS is SG Standard, 18 is the model year, HC is probably hard shell case. The rest? I don’t know, and Google doesn’t tell me anything.
Well, that’s it for serial numbers for my electric guitars. I suppose I could go look at my Takamine acoustic 12-string but… I don’t wanna.
After all the fun I had with the serial number on my Strat yesterday, I figured I’d try Googling about serial numbers on Gibson Les Pauls. I learned a couple of things, but most of what I found I already knew.
It was just a few years prior to my guitar’s creation that Gibson switched to the eight digit serial number format. I knew that the first digit and the fifth digit combine to form the year. That’s how I figured out my guitar was from 1978. I also knew that the other six digits represented the rest of the date and the production count for that day. I didn’t quite know how though.
The pattern is this: YDDDYRRR
YY is year
DDD is the day of the year
RRR is the counter.
From that, with a little Googling to figure out what day the date counter corresponded to, I learned that my guitar was made on September 18, 1978.
So what does the counter mean? It turns out that three digit counter is actually two counters in one. Numbers between 1 and 499 are for guitars made in the old Kalamazoo, MI factory while numbers from 500 to 999 are for guitars made in Nashville, TN. The actual number represents the number that was stamped that day. So a guitar stamped with 123 was the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Kalamazoo, where the number 623 would be the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Nashville.
My guitar was made in Nashville. I never knew that. It doesn’t matter even the tiniest bit, but somehow that little fact made this whole pursuit worthwhile.
The only other outstanding question for me is, what kind of pickups did it have when it left the factory? I bought the guitar in 1990 and neither of the pickups were stock. In 2006 (I think), in an attempt to make the guitar sound more like a stock Les Paul, I had Larry install a set of Gibson Classic ’57’s. Gibson was marketing those pickups as being close to the original PAF pickups that were first added to Les Pauls in 1957. (PAF stands for Patent Applied For, and they were Gibson’s first humbuckers. Prior to that Les Pauls had single coil P90 pickups). It turned out that I didn’t really like the sound of the Classic ’57 in the bridge position and a few years ago I had a tech at Guitar Center swap it out for a Gibson Dirty Fingers. I was familiar with those because they came stock in my ES-335 Pro and I love them.
But that doesn’t answer the question… what did my Les Paul originally come with? I Googled that too and was pretty surprised to find that there is almost no definitive information online. I did find a couple of forum posts though that said a 1978 Les Paul Custom would have come with what Gibson called “Original Humbuckers” which unfortunately is a name that they’ve used for a few different models of pickups. To the general public though, the pickups in my guitar would have been known as T-Tops.
I don’t know anything about them except that some people like them and some people don’t, and lots of people were swapping them out for non-Gibson models anyway. The two pickups in the guitar when I bought it were perfect examples of that.
So now I have to dig into T-Tops and see if I can score some on ebay. Insert maniacal laughter here.