The October Blues Goes On, And Some Building News!

October’s two jam camp sessions were sold out successes! We are continuing to plug in and jam on the blues. This time we were still basing our jams on Cream’s Crossroads (RIP Jack Bruce!) but changing keys and trading solos at a fast and furious pace. These guys are really getting it, and we are having a lot of fun in our sessions together! Their progress is very impressive.

Now that the weather is turning colder, the workbench is busier than ever. Some very nice guitars are coming together in our building sessions, and a couple of these guys are getting very ambitious with beautiful stained finishes. We get so far into it I forget to take pictures sometimes, but promise to mend my ways, so you all can see what we are getting up to. Check it out in the blog, and elsewhere on the site. Fun stuff!

Fall Jam Camps Kick Off With Cream’s “Crossroads”!

I hope everyone had a great summer, and for those who partake, I hope you logged a lot of guitar time, too.
My lesson studio is now above West Chester Music, and is a very nice space, though I still have plenty of unpacking to do. Moving was, as anyone who’s seen my studio knows, a LOT of work. Also I was able to set up the workbench and drill press for guitar building classes, and am happy to say there are several guitars that will be born on that bench this fall.

So, JAM CAMP! It’s Cream’s iconic Wheels of Fire performance of Crossroads this time. Sessions will be either Saturday or Sunday morning this week (the 13th or 14th), and Saturday the 20th. We’ll start at 11:15, and roll for our usual 75 minutes of plugged-in, cranked-up blues mayhem. There are six spots, three are spoken for, and more details in the Jam Camp section on this site. Lots of fun and plenty of playing, so sign up soon!

Fender of Japan HMT Acoustic-Electric Telecaster For Sale!

HMT frontHMT backHMT bridgeHMT LaceHMT neckplateHMT f-holeHMT peghead frontHmt peghead back
These were made for only a few years in the early to mid-nineties. There are two pickups: in the bridge there’s an undersaddle piezo, and in the neck position a magnetic Lace Sensor. The controls in order are volume, pickup blend, and a cool-and-crazy eq/filter control that dials in a very wide range of tones. The neck has a Strat-shaped headstock finished on the front in gloss black, with sealed black tuners. The nut is not original (I prefer bone) but I have the old one.

The top is solid spruce with beautiful grain and the semi-hollow body is mahogany. The neck is maple with a walnut(?) skunk stripe and a rosewood fingerboard. There is plenty of fret left, and they have been recently leveled and crowned, so there no divots or flat spots. The guitar plays cleanly with a nice low action.
The piezo is nice and clear without too much quack, and the Lace balances that with a smooth fullness. The active electronics run off a 9-volt battery and work perfectly.

Cosmetically you can see the guitar is in great shape. There are a few dings, very hard to photograph. The peghead face has some finish lifting in a few spots as you can see. The neckplate has lost most of its black plating, which seems to happen to all of these guitars. It’s weird, because it didn’t wear off; it’s more tarnished looking.

All in all a very cool, useful, and great-looking guitar, lightweight and fun to play. They seem to have gotten very scarce; as of today there are none on eBay, go figure. Interested? Questions? Need more details? Hit me up!

Guitar Building: A Walnut-Topped Tele

Figured, bookmatched walnut!

Figured, bookmatched walnut!

NICE!! My fellow guitar nut Andy and I put this guitar together in a solo building class. It has a gorgeous figured walnut top, and the rest of the body is a single piece of swamp ash. To set off the top, Andy decided to install gold hardware and not to use a pickguard. Pretty cool! Check out the stone accents on the control knobs.

Andy opted for a glossier finish on the top, for maximum grain pop, and the results speak for themselves. He did his own finishing work. At the same time I’ve been continuing to work on my mahogany Tele, and also opted for more gloss, for the same reason. Love that grain!

Of course, a pretty face doesn’t count for much if the guitar doesn’t also play and sound great. This one does not disappoint. The Clearfork Designs body and unfinished Allparts neck combination has always been predictable and reliable in the past, and this guitar came together and set up easily. The Joe Barden pickups are their usual sparkling and ferocious selves, and I like that. Dead quiet, too.

Other details: three-way selector switch, a NOS Sprague Black Beauty tone cap at .05 mfd, and the 22nd fret, for when you just gotta get a little higher. Andy’s got another cool guitar!

June 2014 Jam Camp: Our One Year Anniversary!

Yep, we’ve been at it for a full year! The program keeps evolving and, in its current plugged-in, playing-the-blues phase, is more fun and inspiring than ever. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of it so far! I hope we can grow the family of jam campers even more in the next year.

This month’s focus will be to revisit the six blues tunes we played in the April and May camps. The consensus is that there’s much more to discover in this material, so rather than just lengthen our song lists, we’re going to dig a lot deeper and see what new ideas we can find.

We’ll meet Saturday, June 14th and/or Sunday the 15th. Check back for exact times as all that falls into place. I have made a few changes: again, the consensus is that having fewer players in each session offers a better experience (more chances to play!), so I’ll limit each group to three (plus me). As a result, the price per player is going up to $35. Still a screaming deal for 75 minutes of very small group coaching and instruction, with song sheets provided. Join us, we’re having fun!

A Mahogany Tele With Humbuckers, Part 1


Mahogany Tele frontMahogany Tele back
This body is a single piece of African mahogany, and weighs a bit over four pounds. As you can see, it has belly and arm cuts similar to a Strat’s, and is routed for two humbuckers. I got it from Larry Robinson at Clearfork Designs.

Finishing this thing really made me step up my game. I like to use Tru-Oil on my guitars, because it looks amazing, and is easy to use…or was, before this.

Usually I take 0000 steel wool and rub out the finish until I get a nice satin gloss. On my swamp ash Tele and Strat and my catalpa Tele (check out my earlier blog posts for pictures), there was still plenty of grain pop with the satin gloss. Rubbed out, the mahogany still looked nice, but after I saw the striped grain with a gloss finish, I couldn’t go back.

The problem is, getting a good-looking gloss finish takes a lot more skill with this stuff. Even applying it with my fingers looked a bit “brushy” when it dried. It looked pretty good at a distance, but up close there were problems. It doesn’t flow out much when drying, and successive coats sit on top of each other, rather than blending like lacquer.

I didn’t want a thick finish, and I didn’t want a shiny, buffed-out gloss. I was hoping for the right blend of gloss and satin. The pores still show, since I didn’t want to fill them, and I like that, but I just couldn’t find the right look…until I found out Tru-Oil comes in a spray can.

I sanded the existing finish pretty hard with 400 to get it really flat, and then very lightly between coats with 600. Three or four spray coats later…DONE, and looking just the way I wanted. I did no sanding or rubbing out on the last coat, and I really like it!

It’s pretty straightforward in the telling, but I did a lot of experimenting and sanding to get to the point where I figured this all out. The internet helped. And now, time to start assembly!

May Jam Camp: More Electric Blues

Plugging in and playing the blues is shaping up to be the direction for the next several jam camp sessions. We are meeting this month on two Saturdays, the 17th and the 24th, at 11AM. The session on 5/17 is full, but there’s still one open slot on the 24th.

On the playlist this time: John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen, Sweet Home Chicago (usually associated with players like Buddy Guy, but actually a Robert Johnson tune), and Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign. As always, there are song sheets to help you get ready. This time, I made a complete transcription of Bad Sign so we can get it right; it’s trickier than people think. We’re not slack.

More general details and the all-important Jam Rules can be found in the “Jam Camp” section here on my website. Check it out and come  play!

New Swamp Ash Strat Project

Ash Strat frontAsh Strat back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After assembling three Teles and re-necking a Strat, I thought I’d go ahead and put together a complete Strat from scratch, just to see what would happen. I found my way to Larry’s booth (Clearfork Designs) at the November 2013 guitar show in Oaks, and picked out a swamp ash body made from three pieces. That became part of the “angle” – I always have an angle – on this project: would I hear a difference that could be traced back to using a body made of so many pieces? The other project guitars I’ve done are one or two pieces. That costs more, but there’s no science I’ve seen that proves using fewer pieces guarantees “better” sound.

I decided to stick pretty much with Fender parts, except for the Allparts neck, the bone nut, and the electronics. The pickups are from Ron Ellis, and are his 50/60 set with the hotter bridge. Ron mixes magnet types when he winds, the idea being to tailor them to the sounds of the three plain and three wound strings. Whatever, it works, and his pickups sound great! They’re not really an attempt to recreate a vintage set, to my ear. He has his own thing happening.

The body sanded beautifully. I had more work to do this time because it was just off Larry’s CNC machine, and he hadn’t had time to do the finish sanding he usually offers. I waited until I was in the mood to sand (it can be very peaceful, but I need to feel patient), and had at it. Different curves than a Tele’s, of course, and the arm and belly curves had to be smoothed, but it went quickly and, as you can see, looks great.

Assembly and setup went without a hitch. I always get a great fit with Larry’s bodies and the Allparts necks; very little fitting needs to be done there. I went with the three-ply black pickguard and white knobs and pickup covers because the woods would work with the high visual contrast. Translation: I think it looks cool, so I did it. So there.

And the sound is great, very open and articulate. All these thinly-finished guitars “speak” quickly. I can’t hear anything that I can definitely say has to do with the three-piece body. For all I know, it sounds better this way!

April Jam Camp: Electric Blues!

These jams are getting even jammier, and by that I mean we’re improvising more. A lot of jams are about getting together and playing songs, but to me, without the improv element, those aren’t really jams at all. I guess they’re song circles, and definitely a cool and enjoyable form of music-making, but…not really jams. Your mileage may vary, but I’m sticking to my definition.

At the Jam Favorites session in March, we turned a corner in this respect. We played The Weight and Wagon Wheel, two songs which are simple and so wide open that they really invite solos. After talking through how to get the groove and the chord changes tight, we went right around the circle, taking turns soloing, and it went GREAT. Everybody stepped up and went for it! At the end of the session, it was declared to be the Best One Yet.

Some changes were therefore in order. We’re plugging in this time, and we’re playing blues songs. Another important element in a successful jam is the notion of finding common ground between all the players, and I don’t know a better way to do that than playing blues. There’s room for everybody to contribute in any way they can. What could be better?

We’re meeting on Saturday, April 26. The morning session is full, and there is only one slot left at the 4PM session. Dust My Broom, The Thrill Is Gone, and Sittin’ On Top Of The World (done Wolf’s way) are on the menu. General info is here on the site. Someone’s going to grab that last slot, so don’t wait around. It’s time to play!

Tele-Building Classes: Questions Answered

Tele Trio 1

Tele Trio 2

Tele Trio 3
I’m very happy to say that the guitars we built in the first Tele course have attracted a good deal of interest. You have to take my word for it about the great sound, at least until I can get some clips up. But everyone can see they look beautiful. We’re not into doing this halfway!

So, from the mailbox:

Q: Can I bring my own neck and body from XYZ vendor?
A: Better check with me first and in many cases, I have to say no. Proper fit of the neck to the body is critical, and a mismatch can’t be easily fixed, if at all. With the AllParts necks and Clearfork’s bodies, that issue doesn’t even come up. If you were to order both the body and neck from the same vendor (Warmoth or USACG), then we’d probably be OK. Going that way is a lot more expensive, though.

Q: Will my guitar keep up with the commercially-made guitars I’ve bought before?
A: Absolutely, and the combination of the thin finish and carefully selected and assembled parts will give you a sound you can’t get from a guitar with a thicker finish. Choosing your own parts (I provide recommendations here) will mean you don’t need to mod it later, because you can get it right the first time. Of course, down the line you can swap out parts and pickups all you like.

Q: I’d like a sparkle/metalflake/bass boat finish with binding on everything! Can I get that?
A: Sorry, no can do. I recommend and offer a very thin finish, carefully applied and rubbed out, because it both sounds and looks great. If your body or neck comes with binding installed, we can work with that. But options like fancy custom finishes and the like are available from the $4,000-and-up builders. We’re all about getting a great guitar that you really helped to build for a total cost of $1,100 to maybe $1,400.

More to follow!