Jol Dantzig's Esoterica Electrica: When Uncool Becomes Cool
Our author striking a pose circa 1978. It’s hard to believe that chunky glasses and a Jazzmaster were once less than zero.

Grading the hip factor of rig components for those who cannot remember the past.

Who hasn’t heard the expression “cool kids” to describe disenfranchised youths who couldn’t care less about playing basketball or swinging a bat other than to break something? Of course, this moniker has been co-opted by the so-called popular people who tread the well-worn path of “normal” behavior: sports teams, after-school clubs, and the like. I’m referring to the days when sunglasses at night and black clothing were feared, and tattoos were for sailors, bikers, and prison inmates. Ever since Fonzie jumped the shark, however, the line between cool and clone has blurred.

You have to work hard at keeping current with what’s cool and what’s not today, but a sure bet is that it wasn’t cool yesterday. Your dream guitar may become hopelessly out of step in a minute as the throwaways of yesterday live again. The poet Anne Sexton famously said: “One can’t build little white picket fences to keep the nightmares out.” And so it goes with our guitar gear. Following are a few items that inexplicably have risen from the dead.

T-top pickups. For those who still prefer humbucking equipped axes, the PAF pickup has been the Lord God of tone for a long time. The T-top superseded these rare pickups during the guitar boom of the 1960s. The nickname refers to a molded letter “T” on the bobbins, which was presumably to identify the proper orientation of the coils during assembly. These pickups sounded worse than the PAF, so, in the 1970s, smart guitarists ripped them out of instruments and replaced them. The T-top is almost exclusively responsible for the aftermarket pickup industry as guitar players sought a cure. Today, however, pedals love the thin, sad sound of a T-top.

Curly cords. If you can’t get your Les Paul to sound like it has T-tops in it, buy a curly cord. Once an icon of the Woodstock-era backline, these capacitance-laden devices will ensure that your signal is in need of a Fuzz Face just to make it to the stack with enough oomph to wave your bellbottoms. Once again, pedals love it. The best thing about a curly cord is that it reminds you of your grandparents’ telephone.

3-bolt necks. After CBS bought Fender in 1965, one of the milestones on their march to ruin the brand was the introduction of the 3-bolt neck. Reducing the number of screws holding the neck to the body may seem counterintuitive, but apparently this is something that people are talking about revisiting. Fewer screws mean lighter weight, right?

The T-top is almost exclusively responsible for the aftermarket pickup industry as guitar players sought a cure.

Every little bit adds up during a two-hour set in the bedroom. If they used glue it could be lighter still. The ability to micro-tune your guitar by shifting the neck is a bonus.

Mini switches. These tiny distractions are making a quiet comeback disguised as push-pull pots. Pioneered by Alembic and turned into high art by B.C. Rich, the mini switch was once a staple of the DIY crowd. Rumored to actually do something useful, they provide any number of pointless, fake, single-coil sounds that only you can hear. If you’re a guitar-repair specialist, you know this is a profit center because you’ll be paid to remove them after being paid to put them in.

Ripped jeans. Of course, jeans aren’t really musical instruments, but if the pedal and the amp can be an extension of your guitar, why not ripped jeans? They provide ventilation and show a sexy bit of skin, which is as essential as monitors and fog in a live performance. Make sure they’ve got the right tightness at the ankle for this week’s fashion.

Shaved heads. Guys, jump on this if you suspect your thinning hair is becoming a liability. Take advantage of the one time in modern history that bald heads are cooler than hair. This again isn’t gear, but you will thank me.

Beards. Essential for the authenticity audiences yearn for. Even Jimmy Page wrote more of his heartfelt material while sporting a beard. Once the domain of old men, the beard is de rigueur for the sensitive artist today. Add a hat and you’re gold, Ponyboy.

There’s a lot more of this than I have room for, and I’m testing the publisher’s patience, so I’ll leave you with this. Not long ago, shiny guitars with bowling ball finishes and elaborate inlays were lust-worthy icons of young rock. Then, seemingly overnight, the forgotten gear of the 1960s started hogging the spotlight. It reminds me of the 1980s all over again—except with hats instead of hairspray. All hail Elvis Costello.

It’s not difficult to replace the wiring in your pickups, but it takes some finesse. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. After numerous requests, this month we’ll have a closer look at changing wires on a single-coil pickup. As our guinea pig for this, I chose a standard Stratocaster single-coil, but it’s basically the same on all single-coil pickups and easy to transfer. It’s not complicated but it is a delicate task to not destroy your pickup during this process, and there are some things you should keep in mind.

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The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

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Need an affordable distortion pedal? Look no further.

We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.

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