I'm In Love With My Guitar - by J. Blake

Posted on 6/08/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

I own several different models of guitars, but until recently I have almost exclusively played my Stratocaster when gigging; a dark grey, white and black mid-80s Japanese ‘phat’ Strat. Years ago I replaced the pickups with 2 Lace Holy Grails in the neck and mid positions and a Rio Grande Barbeque Bucker in the bridge; with an active onboard overdrive circuit replacing one of the tone pots. This guitar was my main ‘axe’ for years and it treated me well on stage, but times change and so do music styles.

These days I am playing much more rock than blues and I recently decided that maybe it was time to bring out another guitar. My backup has always been an Epiphone Les Paul that a buddy gave to me as a birthday gift. As I set out on a new musical journey, playing contemporary rock music, I decided to put my backup into the game and for the first time, bench my ‘first-stringer’. I began using the Les Paul exclusively, late last year and was enjoying its thicker/beefy tone, but as is my nature, a stock Epiphone Les Paul was not good enough for me. In my heart, I knew I could make it better, stronger, faster. So like my Strat, I gutted it and attempted to build the ultimate ‘rock-stick’. I asked myself “who are the ultimate rock guitarists of all time?”

Now I know, at this very moment, at least a few of you are saying to yourselves “Jimmy Page”!!! Some of you may even be thinking about players like Pete Townshend or Keith Richards or maybe Jeff Beck and one of you is even sitting there right now saying “Chuck Berry” quietly to yourself; feeling slightly annoyed by the fact that Berry was not mentioned first. The list could literally go on forever and I love all of these guitarists, but when I say “rock” I mean balls to the wall, rock your face in, make your ears bleed and your brains turn to mush ROCK!!! So as I embarked on this little experiment to create the ultimate rock guitar (while keeping it within a reasonable budget), I attempted something very over the top, very unpredictable and probably even dangerous…in fact it may be illegal in some states; I decided to summon the power of the two mightiest rock-guitar Gods I could think of, Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath) and Angus Young (of AC/DC).

A Gibson Signature Iommi humbucker replaced my stock neck pickup and a Gibson Signature Angus humbucker went into the bridge. I know it sounds ridiculous and I admit it may be “overkill”, but as my brother pointed out “Rock & Roll is all about overkill” and I have to admit that on some level I agree with him. In addition to putting in the new pickups, their 4-conductor wiring has given me the ability to tap them for single-coil capability; using push/pull pots for my tone knobs. I also rewired the two volume knobs to one master volume and in place of the now unused 2nd volume knob I added an active onboard distortion circuit that takes the concept of “overkill” to a whole new level.

Now when I say that this procedure was an ‘experiment’, I mean just that. I spent a few hundred dollars and took a gamble, but that is kind of the beauty of the electric guitar. You can change it and its sound fairly easily. You can alter it to find ‘your’ own tone, a sound that is unique to you and you can keep altering if you want to. The possibilities are endless. Am I happy with the changes that I made? On the whole, I’d have to say yes, but I will warn you that the Iommi humbucker in the bridge position has a very dark, almost murky sound. It is not a sound that I would imagine too many people would be striving for. Luckily it sounds great tapped and in combination with the Angus humbucker, its tone is fierce; I find that the two pickups actually round each other out nicely.

So I now have a rock guitar that not only sounds badass, but is very versatile; providing me with humbucking ‘meat’ and single-coil ‘twang’ and everything in between. At this point you are probably assuming that the title of this article is referring to my new Frankenstein Les Paul, but unfortunately you are wrong.

A funny thing happens when you play “out” regularly, you never really see your gigging guitar. When it is not strapped to your body on stage, it pretty much stays in its case (or gig bag), sitting by the door, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Well at least that is the way it is for me, living in a cramped NYC apartment, where finding a place to put things is close to impossible. So now as my Epi Les Paul sits in its case by the door, the Stratocaster hangs proudly on a wall mount in my bedroom. Last week I walked into my bedroom, as I often do, and I saw my Strat hanging there. It was like seeing an old friend and at the same time it was almost like seeing it for the first time. I hadn’t actually looked at it in years. I have to admit, as it caught my eye, I was kind of in awe of its beauty. There is something about a Stratocaster that just looks amazing. Its shape is so unique. It looks futuristic and yet classic. Its curves are sleek and sensual; almost feminine. Sure a Les Paul has its own look and its own beauty as well, but a Les Paul looks like a guitar. A Strat looks like something from outer space. Even its name, “Stratocaster”, implies something celestial.

What is amazing about the Strat is that was designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares and it really hasn’t changed in over half a century. They managed to get it right the first time. Yes the same could really be said for the Telecaster, the Les Paul, the Gibson SG and the ES-335, but the Strat is the guitar that most of the top rock and blues guitarists seem to eventually settle on and there has to be a reason for it. Clapton re-popularized the Les Paul in the 60s and played both an SG and a ES-335 with Cream, but has played a Strat almost exclusively since 1970. Even Townshend and Jeff Beck have become Strat converts in their old age and other music greats like Buddy Guy and Steve Winwood have always been Strat players; as was Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sure Gibson makes fantastic guitars and many people prefer them. Many guitar legends have stayed true to either the Les Paul or the SG throughout their careers, but really, does anything look cooler than a Stratocaster?

So now I have realized that my one true love is my beloved Stratocaster, but I will continue play the Les Paul. I spent the money and I put in the work, so I am sticking with my little Frankenstein Epiphone (for now) and in all honestly I am enjoying it, but with my recent revelation, I do see the irony in that by tapping the humbuckers and rewiring for a master volume knob, I inadvertently made my Les Paul sound and handle like a Fender Strat. What can I say? I’m in love with my guitar.

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