In light of our columnist’s hero’s passing, this month’s guitar is an unconventional Teisco model built with plywood and formica.
This month’s column was a little somber for me, because I learned about the passing of one of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. Here I sat, watching an actual snowstorm (which is rare these days), and writing about an obscure German guitar, when I got a message from an expat in Japan who learned about the passing of a true legend: Yukichi Iwase. He was one of the early innovators of Japanese instrument making. I’ve written about him a few times before because of his Voice Guitars company and his contribution to the early days of Teisco (he was among the original employees).
I learned about Iwase through my American book publisher, Ron Middlebrook, who has known a bunch of excellent pedal-steel guitar players all over the world. In Japan, he knew a fine player named Kiyoshi Kobayashi, otherwise known as “Lion.” Lion referred to Iwase as the “maestro,” and in a few months, arranged for us to meet in Tokyo. So imagine this, good reader: Here I am, about the size of a refrigerator, and I’m ambling into this old jazz club to meet all 5'4″ of Iwase-san, smiling as wide as the moon! One of the first things he said to everyone was to the effect of, “No wonder Japan lost the war, because of the size of Americans!” He had an excellent sense of humor and an excellent memory, and provided me with so much of the early guitar history of Japan, and I am forever grateful.
Iwase-san had left the original Teisco Company in the early ’60s, so I wanted to highlight one of the guitars he helped to design and produce during his tenure at the first factory. The uber-strange Teisco SD4L was introduced to the guitar-playing world in the spring of 1962, and was apparently inspired by an old Italian electric guitar of the time. Perhaps a Wandre? Iwase wasn’t quite sure.
Yukichi Iwase, who passed away earlier this year, was one of the early innovators of Japanese instrument making.
The SD4L features an offset body design with extreme and abrupt lines. I believe this was the only truly made Teisco to feature a plywood body. Made with a lot of thin veneers, the guitar is on the heavy side, and at the time of its design, the thought was that a plywood construction of this sort would survive the climate changes of players outside the Japanese mainland. To be honest, not many of these left Japanese shores.
But the coolest feature of this model is the hard kitchen formica covering on the front and back. Simply glued on and formed to the shape of the plywood body, this guitar has a tendency to dig into your body in unpleasant ways, but who cares! It’s like something straight out of an old American diner! Iwase described the material as what was found on “kotatsu” tables, which were like coffee tables, but heated.
“Here I am, about the size of a refrigerator, and I’m ambling into this old jazz club to meet all 5'4″ of Iwase-san, smiling as wide as the moon!”
The cutout on the headstock was another Iwase original, as was the electronics layout. This earlier model features four pickups that were taken direct from the lap-steel guitars that Teisco was producing at the same time. Later editions of this model have the very first, and now famous, Teisco gold-foil pickups that became popular with all sorts of American players, including Ry Cooder.
Each pickup has an on/off switch, two volumes, and preset tone controls for rhythm and solo settings. The sound of these early SD4L guitars can get a little destructive since the pickups can be a little microphonic, but they are controllable in the hands of a capable player. There is a nice hint of resonance that tends to come from all the guitars that were designed with a thick metal plate attaching the pickups to the body. It’s subtle, but cool.
I have all my interviews taped, and I went back to watch all the times that Iwase and I met. Of course, we had to have translators, but we were able to enjoy our time together, and I am extremely happy to have known him. I remember that he was surprised that someone from outside of Japan had an interest in him, as are most of the older people I have interviewed over the years. He was humble and creative and kind, and I will miss him dearly.
1962 Teisco SD4L Guitar Demo
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Dig into the weird wiring of the Hofner Beatle Bass and 172 guitar.
Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage! In this column, we will have a look at the famous HA2B control-panel wiring from the German Höfner company (often written as “Hofner” without the German umlaut). The control plate became famous on the Höfner violin bass—the model 500/1 that was released in 1956 and is often referred to as the “Beatle Bass” because of Paul McCartney.
Höfner also used this wiring on a lot of their early solidbody electric guitars, like the famous model 172. These models were covered in colorful vinyl rather than receiving a paint job. The demand for electric guitars was very high in the ’60s, and a paint job was very time-consuming and expensive, so this method was a welcome alternative to cut costs and save time. The vinyl is still an eye-catcher today.
My first real electric guitar was such a Höfner, a later model without the control plate, but still covered in gorgeous red vinyl. Eventually, I removed the vinyl and put some dilettantish paint job on it. When I think about it today, I feel like a lemon.
Frank Meyers recently wrote a cool column about the Höfner company and its history, which appeared in PG’s March 2023 issue, so if you want to find out more about them, please check it out.
So, let’s have a look at the control plate and its very special wiring. It might be considered weird from today’s perspective, but at the time, this wiring was state of the art. The control plate itself and the fancy “tea cup” knobs are still available today—it is called HA2B with an additional letter indicating the color of the plastic control plate, e.g. B (black), C (cream), T (tortoise), and so on.
Photo courtesy of L’instrumenterie, Baptiste Zermati, Villeurbanne, France (https://linstrumenterie.com)
This wiring is designed for a guitar with two pickups and sports an individual on/off switch and volume control for each, plus a rhythm/solo switch, resulting in a total of two pots and three switches. Please note that the plate is labeled in English and not in German, which clearly shows that Höfner was targeting the international market while still selling large quantities inside Germany.
Here is a short summary of what the individual controls are doing, using Photo 2 as our reference:
• neck pickup volume pot
• solo = full output signal / rhythm = output attenuated to about 70 percent
• bass off = bridge pickup on / bass on = bridge pickup off + treble filter
• treble off = neck pickup on / treble on = neck pickup off + bass filter
• bridge pickup volume pot
The way the bass and treble switches are wired up is the real weird part. Back in the day, a neck pickup was often referred to as the bass pickup and the bridge pickup the treble pickup. In this case, the bass switch is for the treble pickup and vice versa. So when the bass switch is off, the bridge pickup is on; when it’s on, the bridge pickup is off. And when the treble switch is off, the neck pickup is on; when it’s on, the neck pickup is off.
This results in the following: When both switches are in the off position, both pickups are engaged (in parallel), and when both switches are in the on position, both pickups are disabled, which works like a kill switch to mute the whole guitar.
This is, for sure, one of the fanciest guitar wirings ever. But believe me, compared to some wirings that were used in the electric guitars of the Musima company in the former GDR, this one here is as harmless as can be.
"There is no law against experimenting with the values of the caps and resistors to tweak the tone to your personal preferences."
Let’s have a look what’s under the hood:
2 x 250k audio pots
3 x DPDT slide switches
1 x 270k + 1 x 100k resistors for the solo/rhythm switch
1 x 0.01 uF treble cap
1 x 0.1 uF bass cap + 1 x 8.2k resistor
You can use any cap and resistor you want. I like to use small film caps and 1/4-watt metal film resistors. It’s nice working with these parts because they are small enough to fit the control plate.
The wiring works as follows:
Solo/rhythm switch: While the solo position has full signal output, the rhythm position engages two resistors to reduce the output to approximately 70 percent by bleeding some signal to ground.
Bass switch: In the on position, the bass capacitor and the resistor filters some highs off to ground.
Treble switch: In the on position, the treble capacitor filters some bass off to ground.
So, here we go for the wiring:
Illustration courtesy of SINGLECOIL (www.singlecoil.com)
This is the real deal circuit that Höfner used in the early ’60s. The modern overhauled wiring of the HA2B circuit looks very similar, but uses a 0.1 uF treble cap and has no additional resistor in-line with the bass cap. To my ears, the vintage version sounds better, but this is a matter of taste and there is no law against experimenting with the values of the caps and resistors to tweak the tone to your personal preferences.
I would like to thank Baptiste Zermati from the L’instrumenterie company in France for the photos of the vintage Höfner 172—a big shoutout to him.
That’s it! Next month, we will talk about the brand new PRS “Dead Spec” Silver Sky wiring for John Mayer and how you can adopt this for your own Stratocaster, so stay tuned!
Until then ... keep on modding!
ESP Guitars hit the ground running in 2024 with the introduction of 19 new additions to the company’s popular LTD Deluxe Series.
Two new models were added to the Arrow Series with the Arrow-1000 (Dark Brown Sunburst Satin)and the Arrow-1007 Baritone EverTune (Black). Both guitars feature the beveled body and completelyunique V shape of the ESP Arrow, and both offer neck-thru-body construction, stainless steel frets, and aset of Fishman’s multi-voice Fluence Modern Humbucker pickups. The Arrow-1007 Baritone EverTune isa seven-string model at 27” baritone scale that also includes the EverTune constant tension bridge.
The SN-1 HTBaritone (Black) is another 27” baritone scale guitar that’s built with bolt-on construction. It features adense swamp ash body and a bolt-on five-piece thin u-shaped roasted maple/purple heart neck,Macassar ebony fingerboard with 24 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, scalloped from frets 17-24.Components include a black bone nut, a Hipshot hardtail bridge with string thru body, and a multi-voiceFishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active bridge pickupA new addition to the Viper Series comes with the LTD Deluxe Viper-1000 (Vintage Black). This double-horned guitar is built at 24.75” scale with set-thru construction. It features a Macassar ebony fingerboardwith 22 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a TonePros TOM bridge and tailpiece, and a set of multi-voiceFishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active pickups. The XJ-1 HT (Black Blast) offers bolt-onconstruction at 25.5” scale, with a textured sandblasted Black Blast finish on its swamp ash body. Otherfeatures include a roasted maple neck, tilt-back reverse headstock, Macassar ebony fingerboard with 22extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a Hipshot hardtail bridge with string thru body, and a Fishman FluenceOpen Core Classic bridge pickup with two voices accessible via push-pull control.Detailed information and specs on the entire LTD Deluxe Series is available on the ESP web site at www.espguitars.com.
ESP’s single-cutaway LTD EC Series received several new additions that include the EC-01FT, availablein Black, Olympic White, and Vintage Burst finishes. The EC-01FT is a streamlined take on the ECdesign, with a flat-top body and clean electronics layout. Features and components on the EC-01FTinclude set-thru construction at 24.75” scale, a slightly wider 43mm nut, 22 extra-jumbo stainless steelfrets, and a recessed TonePros TOM bridge with string thru body. The EC-01FT also features the Custom14, a new custom pickup designed exclusively for ESP by Seymour Duncan that is purpose-built to coverthe specific needs of the ESP player, with a push-pull control to split the coils. Other new additions to theLTD Deluxe EC Series include newly-updated EC-1000 (Black) and EC-1000 (See Thru Black Cherry)models that now feature Fishman Fluence pickups, and the EC-1007 Baritone EverTune (Black), whichis a seven-string guitar at 27” baritone scale that features an EverTune constant tension bridge.
LTD Deluxe H3
The LTD Deluxe H3-1000FR (Metallic Silver) offers set-thru construction at 25.5” scale, an extra-thinmaple neck, Macassar ebony fingerboard with 24 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a Floyd Rose 1000 SEdouble-locking tremolo with stainless steel screws, and a direct-mounted pickup set that includes theexclusive Seymour Duncan Custom 14 paired with a cosmetically-matching Seymour Duncan APH-1Alnico II Pro humbucker in the neck position. The new M-1001 (Charcoal Metallic Satin) provides a flat-top alder body and satin-backed, extra-thin u-shaped three-piece maple neck. Built with bolt-onconstruction at 25.5” scale, the M-1001 includes a Macassar ebony fingerboard, 24 extra-jumbo stainlesssteel frets, a Floyd Rose 1000 tremolo, and a direct-mount Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker multi-voice active pickup.
The LTD Deluxe M-1007 Baritone (Charcoal Burst Satin) is a seven-string guitarthat features set-thru construction at 27” baritone scale, and an alder body with quilted maple top. This model also includes an extra-thin u-shaped three-piece maple neck, Macassar ebony fingerboard with 24extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a Floyd Rose 1000 SE tremolo with stainless steel screws, and a set ofdirect-mounted multi-voice Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active pickups.— more —The MH-1000 EverTune (Charcoal Burst) combines design elements of ESP’s H/Horizon models, like itsarchtop body, and from the M/Mirage guitars, like its inline headstock and extra-thin u-shaped neck. Itoffers set-thru construction at 25.5” scale, a mahogany body with flamed maple top, 24 extra-jumbostainless steel frets, and the innovative EverTune constant tension bridge. Pickups on the MH-1000EverTune are Fishman’s innovative active multi-voice Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker activepickups. The MH-1000NT (Charcoal Burst) is a similar guitar that offers a TonePros locking TOM bridgewith string thru body.ESP’s new LTD Deluxe Phoenix-1001 (Tobacco Sunburst) is a neck-thru-body guitar at 25.5” scale witha three-piece mahogany neck, a Macassar ebony fingerboard with 22 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, aTonePros TOM locking bridge and tailpiece, and the versatile and dynamic Seymour Duncan Custom 14,a new pickup made exclusively for ESP that offers high output and extraordinary tonal balance.
Three new additions have ben announced in the SN Series. The SN-1000 EverTune Koa (Natural Satin)offers bolt-on construction at 25.5” scale, and features a mahogany body topped with Hawaiian Koa. Itincludes a satin-finished thin u-shaped maple neck, and a Macassar ebony fingerboard with 22 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, and is scalloped from frets 15-22. Other features include the innovativeEverTune constant tension bridge, and a special set of pickups with an ESP-exclusive Seymour DuncanCustom 14 and a cosmetically-matching Seymour Duncan APH-1 Alnico II Pro humbucker. TheSN-1007HT Baritone (Fire Blast) provides the SN shape in a 27” baritone scale, with a sandblasted FireBlast finish on its swamp ash body, a 48mm black bone nut, a Hipshot hardtail bridge with string thrubody, and a set of multi-voice Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active pickups.
The SN-1 HT Baritone (Black) is another 27” baritone scale guitar that’s built with bolt-on construction. It features adense swamp ash body and a bolt-on five-piece thin u-shaped roasted maple/purple heart neck,Macassar ebony fingerboard with 24 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, scalloped from frets 17-24.Components include a black bone nut, a Hipshot hardtail bridge with string thru body, and a multi-voiceFishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active bridge pickupA new addition to the Viper Series comes with the LTD Deluxe Viper-1000 (Vintage Black). This double-horned guitar is built at 24.75” scale with set-thru construction. It features a Macassar ebony fingerboardwith 22 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a TonePros TOM bridge and tailpiece, and a set of multi-voiceFishman Fluence Modern Humbucker active pickups. The XJ-1 HT (Black Blast) offers bolt-onconstruction at 25.5” scale, with a textured sandblasted Black Blast finish on its swamp ash body. Otherfeatures include a roasted maple neck, tilt-back reverse headstock, Macassar ebony fingerboard with 22extra-jumbo stainless steel frets, a Hipshot hardtail bridge with string thru body, and a Fishman FluenceOpen Core Classic bridge pickup with two voices accessible via push-pull control.
Detailed information and specs on the entire LTD Deluxe Series is available on the ESP web site at www.espguitars.com.
Our columnist considers why we love to accumulate so much gear.
I’ve got stuff. Lots of stuff. It fills up my home and my shop. One of the many things that I’ve collected over the years are backstage passes. My occupation has taken me to a lot of shows—sometimes two or three a night. I’d come home and throw the evening’s pass into a box on a shelf in my coat closet. When the box got full, instead of tossing it, I’d put it away and start another one. This went on for decades. I probably just saved those passes for the same reason I’ve wound up with a lot of things—I like stuff. But not just any stuff. I like good stuff, quality stuff, interesting stuff. As a consequence, I have a lot of it. I’m betting a lot of you do too. Maybe you started young, by collecting trading cards. Maybe you came to it later in life. Maybe you’re thinking of tossing off the anchor and sailing away free.
In my dreams, I have a grand garage sale. I see table after table of NOS tubes, capos, cords, pedals, and straps, all laid out neatly and tagged with reasonable prices. There would be cabinets full of tools and electronic gizmos from ages past. I imagine a spread of guitars on stands and amplifiers lined up neatly like buildings on a boulevard—all plugged in and ready to demo. I’d say goodbye to all those years of guitar and automobile magazines organized neatly on my bookshelves, along with books about those two subjects. There would be a section for microphone and music stands, photo lights, cameras, and microphones. It would be a picker’s dream come true. Somehow this exercise gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and I’m not sure why, because I love my stuff.
So, why do we cling to these artifacts? You might say it’s your hobby, or if you are a pro, they are work tools. But that’s not the whole story. When I started playing, guitarists didn’t have collections. Professionals had one or two main guitars and maybe a 12-string. If you broke a string onstage, you’d either change it while talking to the audience or grab your one backup guitar. Studio cats might have accumulated a small array of stringed instruments (like banjos or mandolins) that they could deploy as needed in order to secure more work, but even some of the legends would borrow when the situation called for something different. Running parallel with the normalization of mass consumerism, it has become acceptable to own more than one or two guitars—maybe even 20.
"When I started playing, guitarists didn’t have collections. Professionals had one or two main guitars and maybe a 12-string."
That’s probably why when you think of the classic acts, you naturally picture those players with a certain guitar. John Lennon had his black Rickenbacker and George Harrison had his Gretsch. Paul McCartney is forever associated with Höfner. Clapton you have to define by era, but a few, like his “Fool” SG and his Bluesbreaker Les Paul—superseded by his now ubiquitous Stratocaster—were and are touchstones. When you think David Gilmour, you see a Strat. Likewise Rick Nielsen with his Hamer “Explorer” and Randy Rhoads on a white Les Paul. As different as they are stylistically, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, and J Mascis converge on the Jazzmaster. I could go on. For the first 40 years of its existence, the electric guitar wasn’t much of a collectible. But as we stand here today, most of us have a gaggle of guitars that may or may not be a collection.
So, do we or don’t we have collections? When I use a good piece of gear, whether it’s a guitar or a chisel, I feel joy. It’s a feeling that goes beyond mere possession, and it’s not just that the widget works. It’s recognizing that years of experience have led me to the point of knowing what quality is and why it’s important. I’ve read that holding on to physical things is hanging on to the past when we should be living in the present. I’m not going to dispute that, but my stuff and I have a grip on each other that’s more like a friendship than a psychological hardship. I’m not a working pro, but music has been my life since I was 12, and I don’t apologize for that.
Should I pare down my tools? Would I be happier without a selection of fine instruments? Perhaps purging the tonnage of stuff that anchors me down would open up a whole new take on life, but I’m not ready. Maybe you’ve thought about this too, but I wouldn’t worry too much. Chalk it up to whatever you like, but I’m fine with it for now, and I adore finding new things that make my life a little easier, and maybe a little more joyous.