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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Old neighbours & unexpected surprises


I'll give you a little back story first.

Prior to moving here and constructing my secret lair, I lived on the ground floor of a former toy pram factory, which was nestled behind a row of shops in a working class neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has been transformed through gentrification, but is still a hive of scum and villainy. Anyway, that's not the story.

The story is that, the guys who lived above me were also musicians.

We occupied the same building for a number of years, and frequently met at the bottom of the stairs. This happened to be because I'd setup a workbench down there and would tinker as often as the sun would shine.

One of the two gents had a bedroom window above my work area, so I was always careful to keep the noise down in the morning. Nobody I know appreciates hammering and power tool noises, when they're trying to have a bit of a kip on a Sunday morning.

It was this fine chap who befriended my family.
We bonded over a love of old guitars, effects pedals, good vittles, bad neighbours, leaky light fittings, rising damp and mushrooms growing in the ceiling (not to forget, a plethora of dead birds, vomit, human poop and young men who clearly missed the point of fight club).

Oh yes, it was a cracking place to live, in the heart of hipsterville.

He left the apartment block close to a year before me, and even though there was a bit of electronic communication, we never managed to get together, like the good old days.

A week or so ago, I saw a message in my inbox stating that he's leaving the country and would like to give me an old beat up guitar that needed some work.

This was quite a surprise, and extremely pleasant surprise mind you and I would not have cared if it was a broken down old $2 shop guitar. I was chuffed to be the person that he decided to bestow an instrument on.

It was an awesome gesture and I will always be grateful to be the lucky recipient.

The guitar, as it turns out is a seemingly rare beast from the dawn of Australian guitar manufacturing, from somewhere between 1959 and 1963. At least 15 years older than yours truly.

It's apparently an EG75 Single cutaway made by Maton.
Similar to the guitar pictured on this page: 1962 Maton EG75 (about half way down the page in a nice tobacco burst).
And according to this page it has a steel reinforced neck.

I mention this, because I can't find anywhere to adjust a truss rod.

My old neighbour mentioned that he thought that the pick guard might have been made by someone else. However, having seen the pictures in the above links and the quality of the workmanship on the guitar I have in hand, I believe that the guard is indeed original.

The pickups measure around 3.2k ohms each and drops down to 1.2k ohms. Going by experience, this is pretty low compared to modern pickups. That said, I have other low output pickup guitars and they have a certain charm, which work wonderfully with fuzz units.

I haven't got that far yet though as there is some work to be done. The first order of business in getting this instrument up and running was to fill the screw holes. Most of the scratch plate screws are missing and the ones that are there, don't bite into the wood anymore.

After that I checked the electrics with the multimeter, and everything seemed ok. Since the guitar doesn't have a truss rod, I decided to go with 11-50's. When it came to tuning up, the machines were pretty stiff, and the A tuner had me convinced that it'd snap if I tried to get to A440. So I settled for tuning half a step down, which seems ok.

The bridge is really basic, with little slots underneath to anchor the strings to the tail piece, not quite as annoying as stringing a Bigsby, but not far off.

Where the strings wrap over the bridge, there is a bit of wear and rust pitting. I'll need to tackle it sooner rather than later as some of the strings buzz like a broken sitar. Can be tamed with a bit of a palm mute.

When it came time to plug the guitar in, only one pickup worked.
It sounded pretty nice though, and as expected was very low in output. My Fender Princeton was set on 3, which is just at the beginning of the sweet spot, going from clean to crunchy, depending on playing dynamics (it's also fairly loud at this point). Not so with this guitar. It stayed clean no matter how hard I strummed. That's fine, it was a pleasant clean tone. Not particularly loud either.

When I re-opened the guts of the guitar I noticed that one of the leads had come off the pickup switch, which explained the dead pickup from before.

It took a bit of filling to get all of the wired back in, and to ensure the uninsulated braid wasn't shorting anything out. The latter of which was taken care of by a bit of electrical tape.

Anyway after wrestling the plate back into place and screwing it down, I finally got to play the guitar properly. The strings are still stretching in and time has been short so far, but my initial impression is mixed.

The neck pickup is big and robust sounding, while the bridge pickup is reminiscent of an old portable radio. The bridge itself has many burrs which need to be filed/polished out. Hopefully that will reduce the tendency to buzz on open strings.

 The body weighs barely anything (I think there's more heft to my open back banjo) but it sits comfortably when using a strap. I'll definitely find musical pockets for it, even if it isn't destined to be my main guitar.

I doubt that it'll ever be regarded in the same way that early Fenders & Gibsons are.
Its a nice piece of Australian history none the less.
The guitars worth for me is not in the monetary sense, but in appreciation of the awesome gesture that was the gift from an old neighbour.

UPDATE: 10 June 2013

I left the guitar hanging on the wall for a week or so and tried tuning up from Eb (where it wouldn't stay in tune) to E.

Now I'm not sure if the strings took longer than usual to settle, or of that extra bit of tension was needed to stop slipping, but now the guitar stays in tune for longer than 20 seconds.

It's still a little rough on the hands due to the action and lack of truss rod, but I've played worse.

The guitar sounds old and with a little bit of a short delay, is excellent for old timey surf riffs.




Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 Temporary possession of a Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster

Good day dear readers.
Once again, I must apologise for the dearth of posts.
I have been side tracked by various pursuits, mostly maintenance and renovations to the family home.

This week I have been afforded the temporary custody of one Squier Jazzmaster J Mascis edition.

I had been looking forward to playing one of these guitars since they were first announced way back in 2011.

Sure there were other offset shapes on offer from Squier, but none of them offered the classic hardware that the Jazzmaster & Jaguar are known for prior to this release.

I think maybe all of us cash strapped guitarists interest was piqued when Squier began issuing their classic vibe and vintage modified editions. These in my mind laid the ground work for the introduction of a true budget Jazzmaster, which in turn has seen the development of Squier producing not only a budget Jaguar, but also a budget Mustang

Exciting times for paupers and mortgagees alike!

Anyway, that's enough free advertising. Er...
On with the review!

I found this at my favourite second hand dealer and knew that one of my old friends was in the market for one, but couldn't justify ponying up the price of entry (also he lives 725km away, where there is a lack of competition).

This one was a good price, not absurdly cheap, but too cheap to ignore. I jumped on it right away. Even before asking him if he was ready to buy (I'm not rich, but the price wasn't going to cause me to default on the mortgage), I put down a deposit and collected swiftly thereafter.

I have to admit it, I was sorely tempted to keep this find to myself.
But hey, I guess I'm nice enough chap after all.

The first thing I noticed about this guitar was that it is exquisite on the eye. Photographs do not do it justice. The vintage white is just classic.

The second is the weight.

Even though it's supposed to be made from a light timber (Basswood), it has some serious heft to it. Not uncomfortably heavy, but not model-aeroplane light either.

Neck:

Compared to the Mosrite, the neck width feels alien and broad. 
At the same time, it actually allows for my chubby digits to land in their accustomed positions with ease that always isn't possible on other guitars.

The finish allows the left hand to glide along the neck with less friction than a painted or gloss finish.

I suspect that the factory setup is still in place, the stings are higher than I am used to on my electrics, but easier to manage than those on my Goldtone Resonator.

Pickups:

They look like the classic Jazzmaster, but underneath is a lightly different beast. The coil is rumoured to be a little more like that of a P90, which by all reports is just a little hotter than the standard Jazzmaster.

Sure they're not some fancy pants set of pickups, but they are actually really quite nice.

I spent a number of hours A/B testing with various amps, effects and guitars.

I liked the neck best when playing a slightly hot clean tone, it has a nice aggressive country twang and good clarity across the board.
Compared to the neck pickup on my Mosrite, it does lose note definition when playing overdriven or fuzzed out settings.
I don't think this matters too much as it's great fun just pounding away with pretty much every setting.

The bridge pickup on the other hand, keeps its definition even with the amp on ten with the output tubes in overdrive. To bring back the Mosrite comparison, the bridge pickup on the JMJ has it beat, no question. Much more bass and not so much ear hurting top end fizz. Feels really god when pretending to be metal too!

Vibrato:

The vibrato isn't quite 100% faithful to the original Jazzmaster/Jaguar design as it lacks the lock button. I don't know if it's such a big deal as there isn't one on my Guyatone and it stays in tune just fine. In fact, this type of vibrato unit is my favourite, followed closely by the el-cheapo Teisco stamped metal and the Mosrite Vibrato (Teisco wins because it doesn't rely on a ridiculous roller bearing).

Bridge:

A simple tune-o-matic style. No rollers here.
Some people prefer a roller bridge, but I don't really know if they help or hinder tuning as my guitars with both styles keep their pitch fairly well (the Mosrite can be a bit sticky in the string guide).

This is budget guitar, but I don't think that it feels like one.
Anyone who has followed my blog for the last couple of years, will know that I am a habitual modder. This is one guitar that I wouldn't bother touching as I think it's pretty much perfect.

Can't think of a single thing to criticise at this price point.

Well done Squier/Fender!



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