Circa "Boys Don't Cry," Robert Smith's favorite tones came from a Japan-made model that reached these shores under several brand names, but with the same distinctive voice.
So, the other day my wife and I were having this wonderful conversation about music from the '80s and great songs from our youth. She is a huge '80s music fan who sings along anytime she hears "99 Luftballons" or "Take on Me" (her favorite). Heck, if I play Devo, it's game over! While immersing ourselves in the old classics, I came across the first album by the Cure, 1979's Three Imaginary Boys. I was never a big Cure fan, and only knew a few songs, but the first LP was really something. The band had an incredibly interesting sound with some creative guitar stuff going on, and I was really digging on "10:15 Saturday Night," "It's Not You," "Faded Smiles," and, of course, the total classic "Boys Don't Cry."
Our house had this album playing nonstop for about three days, and I was continually struck by Robert Smith's tones. He had a rather large palette that ranged from raw and grinding to a bit thin and echo-like. The latter I kept pondering, because it sounded like a vintage Japanese guitar, with that thin, trebly quality combined with a soft attack. So off I went to search out Smith's guitars and—lo and behold—I found that he then favored playing a vintage Japanese guitar! I was shocked, because for some reason I always associated his playing with a Fender Jazzmaster. But then, as I studied further, I discovered that he actually put a small single-coil pickup in the middle position of his Jazzmaster. And the pickup came from his old Japanese guitar. He even stated in interviews that he favored the pickup and used it all the time while the band recorded that first album.
I was never a big Cure fan, and only knew a few songs, but the first LP was really something.
The guitar he played in the early days was a very common model sold both in the States and in England. Across the pond, the most frequent brand name affixed to this model was "Top Twenty," but over here it came with a few different brand names. Robert's model was basically identical to the one I have, pictured here, except his had two pickups. Mine carries a "Recco" logo.
The maker of these guitars was almost forgotten to time but for the memory of one man: Eddie Wakayama, who I met in Japan. I discovered Eddie through interviews with Ron Sackheim, whose father owned Strum & Drum, which imported guitars to the U.S. with the Norma brand name. Eddie acted as the buyer for Strum & Drum, and almost always partnered with a small woodworking factory named Sakai Mokko, located outside of Nagoya, Japan. Eddie has many old memories of the factory, which was primarily operating in the late '60s and early '70s. Basically, Sakai Mokko produced the wooden parts. Not coincidentally, Eddie also had a small electronics company named Mitsuya that supplied electronics for guitars. The Norma brand's version of the same guitar had the model name EG 413-2T, and I suspect my Recco was made around 1968. It has a simple control set: an on-off button for each of three pickups, and tone and volume dials. There's also an adjustable bridge.
Smith so loved those pickups that he put one between the P-90s of his well-known white Fender Jazzmaster.
My Recco here is rather unremarkable, and I had several during my early days of collecting. The bodies are plywood, and many of the necks don't have adjustable truss rods. The tone is thin and really epitomizes the sound that I usually attribute to average made-in-Japan electric guitars from that era. I found it very surprising that Robert bonded that much with his Top Twenty—to the point of using its old pickup rather than the revered Jazzmaster pickups when he made the switch to Fender.There is a real lesson here for all of us: Great music can be made with any guitar, and I think it's important to think of instruments as colors in your palette. Plus, when you bond with a guitar or a sound, the bond is usually lifelong. I gained a new level of respect for Mr. Smith. And hey, if any of you know him, please have him reach out so we can talk old guitars! I wonder if he still has that Top Twenty?
Late 60s Recco Japanese Guitar Demo
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.