When I first got into guitar in the early 1980s, there really wasn’t “vintage” gear. There was old and new, with “new” generally being judged superior. Of course, a ’59
When I first got into guitar in
the early 1980s, there really
wasn't “vintage" gear. There was
old and new, with “new" generally
being judged superior. Of course,
a '59 Les Paul has always been
revered as a Holy Grail guitar, but
nobody went gaga over a '61 Tele.
Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters
from the late '50s and early '60s
were considered geek guitars that
nobody other than Elvis Costello
would play. Given the choice
between a battered, TV-yellow
'57 Les Paul Junior and a brand-new,
tiger-striped, pointy bodied,
whammy bar-equipped Kramer,
the vast majority of young players
would choose the flashy new guitar.
Those “unfortunate" enough
to be stuck with the '57 Junior
would do their best to update the
When I was about 15, I got a job working for a very busy luthier who kept a small shop in the basement of the local music store, where he toiled away six days a week “improving" old guitars. Walk in with an original pre-CBS Strat suffering from a weather-checked finish, and he'd quickly strip and repaint it with a shiny, bulletproof poly finish. Those original pickups giving you 60-cycle hum? No problem, he'd route out that body and stick in three new humbuckers. The stock, noisy, “inferior" pickups were unceremoniously tossed in a junk box under his bench.
By '85, nearly every week another old Les Paul or Strat would have its body routed for a Kahler or Floyd Rose whammy bar, leaving mountains of sawdust around the shop. The original nut was tossed in the garbage and the headstock was forever gouged out to make room for the locking nut. Prefer a stop-tail on your Strat? Or how about a brass nut? It seemed like every guitar and bass got one.
I watched as '61 ES-335 tuners were upgraded to new Grovers, the originals tossed. Original volume and tone pots were dumped every day in favor of a grit-free new replacement. The few goldtops from '52 to '56 that came in the shop left with humbuckers, the original P-90s tossed into the junk box.
For some reason, the out-of-phase switch enjoyed a lot of popularity. My boss would swap out your original pickup, drill a hole in the top of your Les Paul, and—shazam—with the quick flip of a switch, your 1970 Les Paul Custom could sound thin and trebly through any amp.
It seemed like the majority of guitar greats modified their guitars, as well. Look at Clapton's “Blackie"—which was put together using parts from several old Strats—or Alvin Lee's red 335 with its Strat middle pickup. Or Pete Townshend with that middle pickup and those weird switches on his Les Paul Deluxe. Dickey Betts stripped the finish off his '57 goldtop and painted it red. John Lennon hacked up his '56 Les Paul Junior with a new bridge, neck pickup, and an LP switch, then stripped off the finish. He also stripped his Epi Casino and Gibson J-160E. Eddie Van Halen, SRV, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Albert Lee all similarly defaced old guitars. Hot-rodding was the norm, not something esoteric.
With all that routing, stripping, painting, pot-changing, pickup-swapping, whammy-bar-installing, tuner-upgrading, etc., etc., going on for most of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, one has to wonder where all of these non-original guitars have gone. Look on eBay, and all you see are “all original," “completely stock" guitars from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. It just doesn't add up. Twenty years ago, if you randomly checked 100 Strats from the '70s owned by working musicians, more than likely at least half of them would have a humbucker routed in the bridge. But check eBay and it's unlikely you will find even one, so unless somebody has a Delorean and a flux capacitor that they employ to travel back in time to a period that predates the hot-rod '80s, somebody is lying. There simply cannot be that many old guitars on the market that survived the '80s unaltered.
I don't mind modifications. Vintage buffs may consider this heresy, but there are times when old guitars need a little updating. I have a 1969 Gibson ES-340 with original “patent-sticker" pickups that I never played. This incredibly cool guitar just laid there like lox until I installed DiMarzio PAFs (although I did safely store the original pickups in case I should ever sell or trade the guitar). Now the guitar sings. I love it and use it often. Here's the irony: This great modded guitar is now technically worth less then the bad-sounding stock version.
If a guitar needs a little tweak, I do it without regret. Every year, I change tuning keys that break, pots that go bad, switches that break, knobs that fall off, and cases that are destroyed by airlines. I've also changed saddles when I've had tuning issues (Graph Tech is my go-to brand). I replace and repair whatever needs it, and I don't worry about it—because I'm a player, not a collector.
A good deal of the used gear for sale today has at one time been owned by players like me. This gear has seen wear, tear, and mods. Original gear retains more value, and that being the case, buyers should get what they pay for. Regrettably, there are some unscrupulous people selling gear as “all original" when it's not, effectively swindling buyers in the process. There are also sellers that have no idea they are selling gear that is not original. Be skeptical about a pristine, 40-year-old guitar. Unless the instrument was purchased and then stored under a bed until it went up for sale, more than likely something has happened to it. You don't want to pay “10" prices for what is actually a “5." Be cautious about buying a guitar you've never played. But if you find an old player's guitar with nothing original on it, it may be amazing because somebody spent years getting the guitar right. And it will cost you less.
John Bohlinger is
a Nashville-based guitarist
who works primarily
in TV and has recorded
and toured with over 30
major-label artists. His songs
and playing can be heard
in major motion pictures, on major-label
releases, and in literally hundreds of television
drops. Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
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Mojotone will manufacture and market over 60 of their speaker cabinets and amp kits as “Licensed by Fender.”
This partnership marks Fender's recognition of Mojotone’s dedication to its craft, quality of products, and dependability of knowledge. Beginning November 29th and ranging from $327 - $1,016.
Amplifiers were among the first products to wear the official Fender seal. A qualified electronics technician by trade, Leo Fender developed his iconic amplifiers during the mid-1940s putting innovation at the forefront. To this day, Leo’s influence and innovative spirit can still be heard in today’s amps, as that same iconic, clean Fender tone continues to color new music around the world. As a result, the process for completing the exclusive licensing deal required Fender to carefully audit Mojotone’s amplifier kits, wiring diagrams, electronics, hardware, construction methods, and more to ensure this innovation carried on through the partnership. Mojotone’s many years of intense research, quality production, and favorable reputation solidified the deal.
Mojotone has always been determined to provide its customer base with the most sought-after parts with their insider industry-knowledge. They have spent the last 25 years helping musicians recreate what they deem to be the most famous and easily-recognized tones and aesthetics in the music industry. When purchasing Mojotone products, like Fender products, customers can be assured of unmatched quality and craftsmanship.
For more information, please visit mojotone.com.