This entry-level shred machine flirts with greatness at a rock-bottom price.
Allen Eden first hit the scene as a guitar parts manufacturer that sold bodies and necks to DIY enthusiasts. They’ve always been very focused on affordability, and on their website you’ll see necks that sell for as little as $60 and bodies for around $80. In 2014, they opened a retail store in El Monte, California, and expanded their line to include complete guitars. The 1987 is one of their more striking new offerings: a neck-through-body “super strat” that features a Floyd Rose-licensed tremolo and streets at $439. The guitar often dazzles for its combination of features, quality feel, and price.
The 1987 is a fairly bold visual statement, but it’s a very practical, functional, and smart design. The neck-through-body construction means the body center is an extension of the walnut-and-maple neck. The burl maple body wings are peppered with wood grain craters and valleys that are neither buffed out, nor filled, nor sanded down. You can even fit your fingertips into some of the pits on the body. Clearly, using wood that other builders might pass over for cosmetic reasons means saving costs without any sonic penalty. But a surprising secondary result is a distinctive guitar with major mojo. The walnut stripes, reverse headstock, and diamond inlays also lend hot-rod flair and pay homage to Ibanez, Alembic, and BC Rich’s ’70s instruments as well as metal’s glory days on the Sunset Strip. The guitar even arrived with a fancy looking, tweed hardshell case that's a $90 option. Otherwise it comes with a gig bag free of charge.
I tested the 1987 with a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV amp and some pedals including a Pro Co Rat and MI Audio Tube Zone Overdrive. With the amp clean, the neck pickups sounds like the richer of the two Wilkinson humbuckers offered, tone-wise. The bridge pickup sounds a bit thinner and congested. In isolation, both pickups exhibited a lack of sparkle and pop that doesn’t quite match the guitar’s outward personality. Their relative neutrality isn’t all-bad, though. In a band mix they were often a blank slate that made them a better fit than pickups with a more dominant personality might be.
The 1987 was clearly born to rock, so I wasn’t shy about using it with the many sources of dirt, distortion, and overdrive I have at my disposal. With the Mark IV’s lead channel engaged, the neck pickup has a sweet singing quality that sounded especially nice on upper fret bends. With the guitar’s volume and tone controls maxed, the pickup sounded articulate with an ever-so-slightly soft edge to upper register notes. (This is when the neutrality of the pickups works out well.) Further down the fretboard, things get a little woofy on the E and A strings. But while that type of tone might be too ratty for a shredder playing three-notes-per-string scales in low registers, it was amazing for fuzzed-out, stoner-rock riffs. The bridge pickup sustains nicely and can be surprisingly smooth and warm for high-gain lead sounds. It's not the most dynamically responsive pickup around, but for shred-styles, it does the trick.
Shredders will also like the sculpted neck joint, which allows for unobstructed access to the 1987’s 24 jumbo frets. The 25.5", 5-ply maple-and-walnut neck and flattish fretboard work perfectly with the low-action factory setup. Even bends way up high on the high E and B strings never fretted out. And it was a kick to play against a D minor track, bend the 24th fret high E to F, and hear the note ring true. The playability was so good that I soloed often and readily above the 17th fret.
For distorted chord work, the bridge pickup has enough of the bite necessary for classic metal. More complex, prog-type chord voicings would benefit from better note separation, and some modern metal styles might call for a bit more aggressiveness. Of course, if you’re hell-bent on switching the pickups, the low cost of the instrument means you’ll have more money to treat yourself to replacements. And for an extra charge you can order the 1987 from Allen Eden with a pair of Seymour Duncans that might get you closer to the shred tone you need.
Typically, when a guitar offers this much bang for the buck, something’s gotta give. And, not surprisingly, a few minor quality control issues were apparent. The pickup selector switch felt a little tight, while the volume knob seemed pretty loose. I also noted a few protruding fret ends—which clearly did not effect the superb action. And the Floyd Rose-licensed locking tremolo, which is factory set for upwards pull of almost a major third plus deep dive bombing, sometimes failed to stay in tune as well as a locking tremolo should.The Verdict
For an axe that straddles the line, price-wise, between a beginner and intermediate guitar, the 1987 is leagues above many of its competitors in terms of playability. As is, it’s a solid-sounding instrument that could deliver for many heavy rock and metal gigs. Swap out the pickups (or opt for the Duncan upgrade) and maybe some of the tuning hardware, and you’re on your way to a pro-quality guitar at a bargain basement price.
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The alpha guitarist on building riffs, calling the shots, and borrowing mega-rock-producer Brendan O’Brien’s guitars for his band’s new album, Victorious.
One might need a flow chart (or perhaps an abacus) to keep score of the various incarnations of the Australian stoner-psychedelic rock band Wolfmother. In its still relatively brief existence, since forming in 2004, the group has seen only guitarist and frontman Andrew Stockdale remain a constant presence, with bassist/keyboardist Chris Ross, rhythm guitarist Aidan Nemeth, and drummers Dave Atkins, Will Rockwell-Scott, Elliott Hammond, and Hamish Rosser passing through its revolving doors.
After releasing two blistering, fuzz-riff fueled albums—2005’s eponymously titled debut and 2009’s Cosmic Egg—under the Wolfmother moniker, Stockdale briefly ditched the band concept altogether, issuing 2013’s Keep Moving as a solo album, despite the studio contributions of current group members Ian Peres (bass, keyboards) and Vin Steele (drums).
Stockdale admits that Wolfmother might appear to be an unstable entity to those on the outside, but he insists the lineup changes aren’t as dramatic or interesting as they seem. “The new lineup has been together for quite a few years,” he says. “Ian’s been with me six or so years. Vin has been in the band a while. Other lineups were a good amount of time. And, yeah, I did the solo album a few years ago. I wish it were an exciting story. I wish I had some juice to give you. There’s really nothing to it. It’s just scheduling and whatever else: geography, right time, right place, availability, or whatever.”
Reclaiming the Wolfmother name, Stockdale corralled Peres and Steele back into the studio for 2014’s big and bouncy New Crown. But on the band’s new album, Victorious, he went the almost-one-man-band approach, performing all guitar and bass duties with Josh Freese (Devo, A Perfect Circle, Nine Inch Nails) and Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M., Elliott Smith) splitting drum responsibilities.
Immaculately produced by Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Bruce Springsteen), the new set sounds nothing like a solo project. On the gnashing, walloping title cut or the wickedly turgid “Gypsy Caravan” or even the shiny, handclap-peppered rocker “Best of a Bad Situation,” Stockdale’s exuberantly thrashy, minimalist, and profoundly hooky guitar work achieves a right-in-the-pocket rhythm/lead balance. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear you were hearing two deeply intuitive axemen going at each other, giving as good as they get.
“If I had any kind of mission statement with this album, it was simply to play everything myself,” says Stockdale. “I just wanted to do it all and kind of cross it over to the Wolfmother sound. That’s what’s important. That’s what I wanted to honor—the Wolfmother sound.”
We spoke with Stockdale about his methodology for writing riffs, why he left his guitars at home and used Brendan O’Brien’s axes on the new album, and how band democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For most of its history, Wolfmother has been a trio, but the band was briefly a four-piece. Did you not enjoy playing with a second guitarist?Stockdale: Not really. I had another guitarist on the second record, and I don’t know… I think it was kind of a pointless exercise. The bottom line is, this is a three-piece band. That’s the design of the sound. Wolfmother is based around that setup. I like to hear one guitarist’s style come through. That’s what I’ve always been about.
I started off being the only guitarist, but after a while I thought I’d get someone else in, just to kind of change things a bit, mainly for a personal dynamic. I thought if we had four people it might be more fun. But then it became more of... I’m trying to think of a nice way of putting it. Put it this way: It wasn’t essential.
So you tried it, and you didn’t like it.
What we need is just guitar, bass, and drums. That’s when this band sounds most exciting and most dynamic. If you have too many people in the band, you can’t jam; everybody’s in the way. If you have a three piece, however, then you can jam. When I got another guitarist in there and I’d start making up stuff on the spot, I realized that I had to stop the jam and show every other dude what I was doing. The joy of playing was kind of lost. It was more like a big, organized machine, and I had to demonstrate everything every step of the way.
It all got a bit laborious and exhausting. I’m talking about two or three years of effort, with me trying to persevere being that kind of bandleader. I didn’t enjoy it. Now, I want to have a great time with the band and the music. I want to have an out-of-body experience. I want to bond, musically speaking. It’s better having a threesome because I don’t have to explain myself. It’s much more spontaneous.
On this record you worked with drummers Josh Freese and Joey Waronker. How did that come about?
Stockdale: Well, I asked Alex Carapetis if he could do it, but he was on tour with Julian Casablancas and the Strokes. It was more based around the availability of the producer, and when we could schedule everything. See, again, this isn’t really a band. Creatively speaking, I wrote everything on Cosmic Egg, the majority of the stuff on Keep Moving and New Crown. I’m the primary creative force. I’m the writer who gets everything going. I pull together whatever lineup is suitable to do a tour.
Take a bit of advice from me: It works. You want to stand in a room with a bunch of dudes and try and write together all the time? Do everything together? You can do that at the start, but it has an expiration date, I think. At some point, someone is going to step forward and really start contributing more than the rest. Then you’ve just got to think, “Are these people really adding to the sound?” Maybe not. Maybe they’re just having a couple beers and going on tour and getting paid and seeing the world. That’s fine. You don’t have to sell this age-old idea of the band that does everything together and chips in and everything. They all do this, they live together…
I get it. You like calling the shots.
I’m a 39-year-old man. I have a wife and daughter. I wake up and I write a song—it takes me five hours. Maybe not even that, maybe three hours. I wrote this record in two-and-a-half weeks.
What was it about Brendan O’Brien that appealed to you?
He was recommended by management. He was working on Chris Cornell’s record, and my manager was like, “You’ve got to meet this dude, Brendan O’Brien. He’s great. He’s just what you need.” They wanted someone who could get their teeth into a Wolfmother record.
What did Brendan bring to the recording process, as far as your guitar playing goes?
It was all very quick, the recording process. We would go into the studio and be like, “Let’s do ‘Gypsy Caravan,’” and we’d just start playing it. I’d play electric, he’d play electric, and we’d just play it from start to finish. Then he might say, “How about we stretch that chorus out a bit?” I thought, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” He was good at talking through arrangements very quickly as another guitarist. I respected his opinion, because he’s got a track record for making good records.
Did you use any of his guitars or gear?
Only his guitars. I didn’t take anything with me to make this record. This is the first time I went in and didn’t take a band or guitar or anything. I emailed my demos, like, three months in advance, I went in, and, a month later or something, it was done. I played guitar and bass. Ian came in for two or three days and played keys. Joey Waronker did half the record and Josh Freese did the other half.
Whether releasing albums under the Wolfmother name or his own, it’s clear that everything Andrew Stockdale writes, records, and plays is the result of his own vision. Photo by Debi Del Grande
What guitars of Brendan’s did you use?
He had a cool SG with a whammy, more like a Bigsby. I thought it was damn good, so I used it. And I played a Rickenbacker, too. Those were the only guitars I used on the record. He’s got a lot of vintage gear, stuff from the ’50s and ’60s. Lots of analog gear.
What kind of amps did you use?
I’m pretty sure I used a Marshall 50 watt.
You’ve been known to play a Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck onstage. Have you ever found a reason to record with that guitar?
[Laughs.] No, no. I don’t know what you’d use that for in the studio, unless you wanted to switch right away to the 12-string, which could be handy. Gibson gave me that guitar. I didn’t even know they were going to give it to me. I just turned up to a gig, I think it was in Nottingham in the U.K., and there were 16 guitars at soundcheck. That was one of them. But you know, maybe I should write something for that, to use it in the studio. That’s it—I’m going to do it before the end of the week.
In the press release for Victorious you said you played a “weird-looking ’90s metal guitar.” What was that?
Ah, that was on my demo. That’s an Ibanez. I forgot what it was called. But I didn’t use that on the record. I just used Brendan’s stuff. He had a Big Muff distortion—I used that.
When you write, do you practice riffs and sing at the same time to make sure you can do both easily? Knowing that you’ll have to do both onstage…
No, I just play the guitar. I walk in and just press “record” and start playing. Then I listen back to it, lay down some drums, then do bass, and then I sing over it after that. Sometimes I might be at home playing something and I start singing at the same time. Sure, I try it both ways. There’s no set way of doing things.
What do you do to get live-energy performances in the studio?
I like to have everything set up as soon as I walk in, and then I just pick up the guitar and start playing straight away. Sitting around waiting can kill your mood. I find the first thing I do is usually the most exciting. You want to be excited to be in there, and then you just go for it and something happens. Something magical happens.
Your solos are nice little bursts of melody. Who are your influences as a soloist?
Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, George Harrison. I like Robby Krieger from the Doors. I like guitarists who don't necessarily just shred. I’m into people who try to bring some kind of melodic structure to the solo, so it’s almost like a hook.
Do you ever feel like you want to go “outside” it a little bit? Take the solo somewhere else harmonically or structurally from the song?
Yeah. I think there’s one song I do that on: “Remove Your Mask” [from the Zoolander 2 soundtrack]. On the outro, that’s definitely a different chord progression where I was really trying to emulate, in some ways, the guy from Mountain, Leslie West. I really like his stuff—how he does a little move and then he leaves it and comes back later. I really like that style.
Do you play around with different pedals and go into the unknown just to see what will happen?
The last gig I did I just took a Vox AC30 with me. I didn’t even take a pedal, and I really enjoyed it. I love playing all the Wolfmother songs without any pedals. I turn the amp up to 10 so I have this natural distortion, and then I play with the volume knobs on the guitar turned up, and then I just switch between the two pickups. It’s simple. When you do that, your playing really improves. You can rely on the pedals to the point where you get boxed in a corner. Take yourself out of that and it makes things exciting.
On the album, how many guitars would you usually layer for rhythm tracks?
Probably two. That’s as far as we went. We didn’t get too crazy.
Halfway through the title track, it switches to a riff and a rhythm that’s not unlike Black Sabbath's “Paranoid.” Intentional? Really? You think? No, it’s different. That’s way different timing from “Paranoid.” [Picks up a guitar and starts playing the riff.] It’s a bit more upbeat. [Plays the main “Paranoid” riff.] Okay, okay, maybe once the verse starts on “Paranoid,” I can see that. But how many songs could you say have similar chords like that? It’s consistent with an E blues song.
I listened to the demo of “The Love That You Give,” which is on YouTube. It’s very similar to the studio version.
Yeah, that’s right.
The riff is very simple but dramatic. How many iterations do you go through before ending up with the perfect riff like that?
That one was straight off the bat, as soon as I walked into the studio. I think it was, like, New Year’s Day or the day after Christmas. I went into the studio, and there it was. That was interesting. That’s one of those days where you just get lucky.
Do you have a methodology for coming up with riffs? My main thing is just to dig deep from my gut. Play it from my soul. Get out of my head and play it like I mean it.
“Pretty Peggy” is an acoustic-based song. What guitar did you use on that one? Oh, that was a 1960s Gibson. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it looks like a Martin.
Do you have a different approach to playing acoustic than you do electric?
I guess acoustic is more rhythmically driven—for me, anyway. When you play acoustic, the rhythm is more pronounced. Also when you’re on an acoustic, fingerpicking goes a long way in making it a little more interesting for the listener.
Riffs galore power Andrew Stockdale’s performance of “Joker & the Thief” with Wolfmother on Chicago’s live-in-the-studio JBTV. Just past the 3-minute mark, he stomps on an overdrive box and plays a stagger-stepped solo that also draws upon his faded brown Gibson SG’s whammy bar and some ’60s psychedelic-era tone.
Do you ever fingerpick on an electric?
Sometimes. On “Vagabond” [from 2005’s Wolfmother] there’s some fingerpicking. Whatever the song needs.
You get a great fuzz tone all over the record, but it’s particularly massive on “Gypsy Caravan.” What’s the secret for that sound?
It’s all in the way I play it. A lot of my riffs are power chords. For that one, I thought I would just do it in a single-string style. Then I guess maybe the last note kind of captures the tail end of the beat. It’s like goosing it a little bit. When you do stuff like that, it seems to give it more of a groove. I think people love a good groove.
That’s my thinking to a lot of this stuff. Get in there and make it matter, make it groove. I see people try to riff, and it’s far too exact. It’s like a big ritual. That doesn’t really make people feel anything unless you’re very good at that and you’re a very technical metal guy.
A visit to a yard sale and $50 yield a rare amp with some very cool history behind it.
I acquired this amp at a yard sale for $50. I played a little guitar when I was younger and I love vintage gear, but have never seen an amp like this before. I haven’t plugged it in to see if it works because of the age and all the dust, but it appears to be mostly intact. I would love to know the approximate year it was built and how desirable it is today. Any information you could provide is appreciated!
Lance in Tucson, Arizona
I don’t think whoever held this yard sale knew what they had! Amplifiers under the K&F Manufacturing Corporation brand name represent some of Leo Fender’s first commercially available amplifiers, prior to his starting the company we are all familiar with. Very few of these amps are known to exist, so they are quite hard to come by. First, let me provide you with a little background.
As most amplifier enthusiasts know, Leo Fender was interested in electronics at an early age. He opened a radio repair shop in 1939, about the same time that guitar amplifiers were appearing on the scene in appreciable quantities. One of Fender’s customers in the early 1940s was Clayton Kauffman, who designed electric guitars for Rickenbacker in the 1930s and invented one of the first vibrato units, called the Vibrola. In 1943, Fender and Kauffman collaborated on a guitar pickup/test guitar, and, in 1945, they began producing guitar amplifiers and lap steel guitars that were typically sold in sets under the K&F name.
In 1946, Don Randall (who would become a large part of the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and went on to found Randall Amplifiers) approached Kauffman and Fender about becoming a distributor for K&F. Kauffman, however, soon left the company and Leo went on to start FMIC, moved to a larger facility, and began building Fender-branded amplifiers that were very well received for their clean, bright sound. The rest, as they say, is history.
The amp you purchased is indeed a K&F amp from either 1945 or 1946, and was part of a set that included a lap steel guitar that is apparently long gone. These K&F amps came in a few slight variations with either an 8" or 10" speaker and a tone/volume knob set-up or no controls at all, like yours. Insofar as electronics go, these amps were constructed with a simple 3-tube chassis consisting of a 6N7 preamp tube, a single 6V6 power tube, and a 5Y3 rectifier producing an estimated 3 watts of power. The chassis is housed in a simple wooden box that’s covered with a thin, gray “crackle” material, and the removable front panel allows access to the Jensen speaker.
Your amp is designed to work with a lap steel guitar, which is why there aren’t any volume or tone controls. (They were mounted and controlled on the guitar itself.) Before the era of multiple channels, effects, etcetera, it made perfect sense to control the output on the guitar. However, with the lap steel missing, the abilities of this amp are somewhat limited since it is always run wide open.
These hard-to-find amps boast approximately 3 watts of power and house either an 8" or 10" speaker,
and a simple 3-tube chassis.
The original, leather handle on your amp likely deteriorated over time and necessitated the woven replacement. The power cord is wrapped with quite a bit of electrical tape and could use replacement as well (even though it appears it was replaced once before). Other than that, your amp appears to be original with minimal wear, which is noteworthy considering it is 70-plus years old. I’d also recommend bringing it to an amp repair shop to have it looked over. It’s a fairly simple circuit so there shouldn’t be too much involved, but you always want to have a professional take a chassis apart, mainly due to the high voltage associated with it.
Since these were sold as lap steel/amplifier sets, you typically see instruments and amps paired up. Values range widely for these sets: anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500. It’s also a situation where the sum is worth more than the value of the parts, kind of like vintage amp/cabinet pairings. Since the lap steel is missing, I estimate the amp on its own is worth between $750 and $1,000 in excellent condition. Because your amp has some replaced parts and a little wear and tear, $500 to $750 is probably more realistic. Of course, this all hinges on whether the amp is operational.
There are some great amp restoration companies out there that could probably shape your amp up with little effort, but, regardless, this is definitely a treasure when you consider what you picked it up for.