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Will Ray's Bottom Feeder

On a tip from Mod Garage guru Dirk Wacker, the famed Hellecaster bags a Filtertron-fueled prize.

I always keep my eyes and ears open for new gear. A few months ago, I was conversing via email with fellow PG contributor Dirk Wacker, who writes the Mod Garage column. He was telling me about a European company called Harley Benton that makes good, inexpensive guitars. So I started searching eBay for that brand. After a while, I found this guitar, which looked interesting. It was a TE-90 FLT SB Deluxe T-Style that had Roswell Filtertron pickups, a reverse headstock, an S-style bridge, a Mary Kay-type finish, and a maple fretboard. It had a “Buy It Now” price of $195 plus $55 shipping.

“The Roswell Filtertrons didn’t exactly sound like the Gretsch versions, but they sounded really good and seemed to have their own personality.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but after several days I pulled the trigger. After taxes and shipping, the total was $268. It wasn’t a great deal, but it was okay. Then the seller informed me that he was going to remove the neck for shipping. I almost threw a fit over that, but finally reasoned that if I was meant to have the guitar, it would be fine. Bottom Feeder Tip #367: Make sure you read the fine print on an auction.

Note the additional hole our columnist drilled through the Wilkinson ashtray bridge he installed, to allow more fluid movement of the B-string without snagging or popping off the saddle.

It arrived a week later from California, and it looked stunning. I quickly assembled the neck, put on a set of strings, and, I have to confess, it really had me at hello. It felt solid in my hands, stayed in tune, and played easily. I plugged it in and it did not disappoint. The Roswell Filtertrons didn’t exactly sound like the Gretsch versions, but they sounded really good and seemed to have their own personality. After a few hours playing my new 6-string, I made a decision reserved for only a select few guitars: I was ready to slap on a Hipshot B-Bender.

Here’s a close-up of the reverse headstock, with two double-string retainers and chrome hardware.

So, I took the strings off, shimmed up the pickups with stiff foam rubber to be closer to the strings (there are no springs), then went to my bridge drawer and grabbed a Wilkinson half-size T-style ashtray bridge with 3-way compensated saddles. It’s a handy bridge to keep on hand for all kinds of projects, because it can work on top-loading as well as bottom-loading guitars.

The contoured rear body is a nice ergonomic touch. The semi-transparent, pink, Mary Kay-type finish also nicely displays the grain of the ash.

I could’ve used the existing hole for the B string, but since the angle over the B-string saddle is critical, I like to drill a second, higher hole in the back of the ashtray for tuning stability. Too steep an angle and the string tends to hang up, not going back down to pitch properly. Too little angle and the string will pop out of its slot on the saddle, especially if you use a pick and fingers like I do. Finally, installing the Hipshot was the easiest part.

Everything took about three hours from start to finish, but I wound up with a nice playing and sounding guitar with a bender. So, is it a keeper? For now I’d say it is. The guitar really feels solid, sounds great, and is fun to play. What else do you need?

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Slash onstage with Guns N’ Roses, backed by a fleet of glowing Magnatone M-80 amps, the inspiration for his current signature model, the SL-100.

Photo by CQPhotographer

The guitar icon revisits his roots with a feral 6-string rager featuring guests Billy Gibbons, Gary Clark Jr., Chris Stapleton, Brian Johnson, Steven Tyler, Beth Hart, Demi Lovato, and others. His guests onstage for the accompanying S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival tour will be a rotating cast of the Warren Haynes Band, Keb’ Mo’, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Robert Randolph, Larkin Poe, Eric Gales, ZZ Ward, Samantha Fish, and Jackie Venson.

Many of us have been transfixed by Jimi Hendrix’s acoustic 12-string performance of “Hear My Train A Comin’,” in the 1973 documentary A Film About Jimi Hendrix. Including Slash. But Slash, being Slash, took it a step further.

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Solid gold: The Midas touch helped this SG Special recover from a botched and abandoned refinish job. And it’s got a brighter-than-usual-Gibson-humbucker sound that appeals to our columnist’s P-90-loving ears.

This scarred 2001 keeper is low on ROI but high on playability and tone.

I'm primarily a Tele player, but I have to profess my love for non-Fender-type guitars as well. I've owned probably a dozen or so Gibson SGs, for example, including some first-year models. Sadly, I let them all slip through my fingers over the years.

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Photo 1 — The Hipshot string-bender is our columnist’s mod, but otherwise this offbeat blend of body and build styles arrived as is, with a P-90 in the neck slot and a single-coil slung T-style in the bridge position.

Three offers and a partial refund—the beginning of a beautiful 6-string friendship.

I was surfing on eBay a while ago and checked out some of the auctions that a favorite seller of mine had going on. My seller is a Cozart dealer and specializes in China-made instruments. This month’s guitar caught my eye. It’s kind of a cross between a Tele, a Mustang, and a Les Paul Special. It has a mahogany body and neck, a T-style headstock, and an ashtray bridge with a 3-way adjustment. The bridge is top-loading and has a T-style single-coil pickup, and the controls are mounted on a T-style chrome control plate. The neck pickup is a P-90 (Oh yeah, mama! My favorite flavor!), and the guitar has a Mustang-like body shape. The headstock says “King.” I’ve bought a few King-labeled guitars before, with good luck, so I bookmarked it and kept an eye on it.

Usually 5 to 10 percent lower than asking price is still in the ballpark. What do you have to lose?

After a few days, I started thinking more and more about this guitar. You know how it is. A guitar starts speaking to you in your dreams or something. There was a buy-it-now price of $189.99 with free shipping, but the listing also said, “or best offer,” so, being the bottom feeder I am, I made an offer of $165. The bid was automatically declined, so I inched my way up to $170. Declined again. So, finally, having only one bid left, I said $175. That seemed to be the magic number. The offer at that point was sent to the seller, who accepted it within a few hours, and the deal was made.

Photo 2 — Note the Will Ray signature Helle-Bender, the standard T-style control dial plate, and the ashtray bridge with 3-way adjustment. Despite the latter, fret-filing was required to knock out this guitar’s buzzing upon arrival.

Bottom Feeder Tip #377: Since eBay allows you to make a total of only three offers during the auction cycle of an item, I try not to offend the seller with an offer that is too lowball. Usually 5 to 10 percent lower than asking price is still in the ballpark. What do you have to lose?

Photo 3 — This instrument’s exact origins are a bit unclear, but it’s ostensibly made in China and it’s not the first King in the Bottom Feeder collection.

I received the guitar about four days later. I was excited to unpack it. It had a cool look. I did a quick setup. The King T-Stang played very well, but there were a few high frets that bugged me. I kept adjusting the bridge and truss rod to minimize the problem, but the buzzing still continued to bother me.

Photo 4 — With its bolt-on neck, mahogany body, and poly finish, this instrument appears to have gotten some genuine love on the production floor.

I finally made the decision to email the seller and explain the problem. I made a suggestion: How about a $25 partial refund so I could get the problem addressed by a good guitar tech? To his credit, the seller immediately PayPal’d me the $25 and we were both happy campers. I decided to work on the buzz problem myself by filing down the high frets in a couple of areas, and then I slapped a Hipshot bender on the guitar—a sure sign that an instrument is a keeper. I can’t explain it, but this King is just a fun little guitar to play. Listen to my MP3 online and hear it sing!

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Photo 1 — Will Ray dubbed this guitar “Old Glory” for obvious reasons, but it arrived in a less-than-glorious state and was almost returned to the seller.

After a time-consuming series of tweaks, our columnist is glad he didn’t can the can.

I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve always been fascinated with guitars made out of big metal cans. The first can guitar probably started out when some mad scientist—or an African street musician—decided to make a guitar out of a gas can.

I spotted this baby on eBay about five years ago, made by Bohemian Guitars, a reliable maker. It had a humbucker in the bridge position and a Strat pickup in the neck. I ended up getting it for $160 including shipping. When I received it, it was unplayable. The action was really high and the neck had a large bow to it. The truss rod allowed me to eliminate the bow, but the action was still a little high, even with the bridge maxed out.

Don’t be a dumbass. Make sure you know how to solve a problem before you sign off on a guitar.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep it, so I emailed the seller with my concerns and offered a solution of a $30 partial refund to compensate me for my time and trouble of working on the guitar. Otherwise, I was happy to send it back. They PayPal’d me the $30 and I was happy.

Bottom Feeder Tip #189: If you receive a guitar that is different from the description, you can either send it back or ask for a partial refund. Sellers usually choose the partial refund to avoid problems with the next buyer.

Photo 2 — This close-up shows this oil-can guitar’s basic controls: a 3-way toggle with volume and tone pots.

I figured I could probably just shim the neck and that would solve the problem, but I was wrong. When I first opened it up, I saw three big bolts that I assumed were holding the neck on, but the neck was actually glued onto a wooden plank and the bolts were for securing the bridge to the guitar’s top from underneath.

Bottom Feeder Tip #201: Don’t be a dumbass. Make sure you know how to solve a problem before you sign off on a guitar.

Photo 3 — Simple machine, simple wiring—and the three large bolts hold the bridge in place. The neck is glued onto the center wood plank.

I ended up solving the action problem by simply removing the two thumb-adjustment screws from the bridge. Just that little bit of height reduction made it easy to play. In fact, after a few weeks the neck settled in and I ended up putting the thumb screws back in to raise the action, and that’s where it sits today. It’s still easy to play, too.

After I solved the playing issue and used the guitar for a few weeks, I started thinking about better pickups. The neck pickup was weak and weenie sounding, and the bridge humbucker was very microphonic and howled when the amp was turned up.

Photo 4 — A set of six screws holds the back plate in place, providing easy access to the electronics cavity, which is large enough to carry a couple sandwiches to the gig.

I searched my boxes of pickups and found an Epiphone humbucker and a G&L S-500 pickup that were perfect. I now have the guitar where I want it. It plays nice and sounds great.

So, is it a keeper? Yeah, I’d say it is. I’ve named it “Old Glory,” because I love the flag motif. It was definitely a journey worth taking. Metal-can guitars are pretty fun to play, and they have their own sound.

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