may 2011

"Premier Guitar" hops over the Atlantic to Frankfurt, Germany, to drool over teeming aisles full of attention getting new gear at Musikmesse 2011—the world’s biggest gear show.

Acres upon sprawling acres of instruments and ever-flowing taps of ale (or

bier, as the locals say) aren't all that differentiate Musikmesse from its gear-show counterparts in America and elsewhere.

Of course, the NAMM shows in Anaheim and Nashville have tons

of titillating tone toys, too, but this annual gathering of music manufacturers in Frankfurt,

Germany—which was held this year from April 6–9—is a refreshing opportunity to sample

sonic and design flavors that aren’t quite as common at stateside gear shows.

Here, luthiers like Switzerland’s Claudio Pagelli and Hungary’s Balázs Mihályi, Zoltán

Mihályi, and Zoltán Ughy (from Blasius Guitars) parade eclectic designs while heavyweight

European manufacturers like Warwick, Framus, and Hughes & Kettner host visitors in

huge, bustling, and often loud exhibit spaces. US-based outfits like Fender, Gibson, and

PRS usually take advantage of Musikmesse’s springtime schedule to unleash at least a

couple of new items, too. And then there are promising upstarts like Stark Amps and Nick

Page Guitars turning heads with unique, beautifully built designs.

LEFT: This dashing dandy at the Gewa Bags booth

had us wondering if we weren’t letting our sartorial

standards slip. In the end, we decided our garb was

rock ready but that we could also use a little more sun.

Still, Gewa’s gigbags are pretty nice way to tote your

axe.gewamusic.comRIGHT: Frankfurt’s New.MusicAcademy promoted its

forward-thinking educational efforts by deploying several

young ladies with a portable Vox amp, a Vox Virage

electric, and an iPad stocked with song transcriptions.

LEFT: While we totally dig classic instruments, we also contend there’s not enough envelope pushing

going on when it comes to stringed instrument design. That’s why we were psyched to come

across the ViolaFon, an axe that lets you play standard guitar on frets 1 through 9, and then rip

like Stéphane Grappelli—in wicked fi ddle style—higher up on the neck. We couldn’t help wondering

what Page would have done to “Dazed and Confused” with one of RIGHT: Bassist Alain Caron (left), drummer Damien Schmitt (behind Caron), and Frank Gambale tear it

up for a big crowd at the plexiglass-enclosed Markbass performance

LEFT: A crowd gathers to watch Hiwatt’s Alfonso Pinzon (back), an unnamed demo player, and PG’s

Charles Saufley (right) and Shawn Hammond (middle) shoot a video demo of the new Hiwatt

Custom 20 and Custom 50 heads (, which are now being handwired in the US. Watch

this and other Musikmesse demo videos at

Premier Guitar perused all this and more as we tirelessly walked the aisles of

Musikmesse to chronicle the newest, most intriguing guitars, amps, and effects we could

find. Actually, “tirelessly” isn’t quite the word—our dogs were barking pretty hard as we

journeyed back and forth from one cavernous hall to the next—but the coolness of it all,

in addition to our steadfast commitment to bring you as many drool-worthy demo videos

as possible from the floor, kept us trudging onward despite the blisters and parched

throats. So be sure to visit to check out our lineup of professionally mic’d HD videos after reading about what we’ve assembled here. Enjoy!


Pagelli Andre Archtop and Ekolette Solidbody

Few luthiers design with so little regard to boundaries—real or perceived—as Swiss builder Claudio Pagelli. He builds inspired acoustics,

archtops, and electrics with an irreverent aesthetic that rarely stays on one path very long. The Andre archtop (left) was built to celebrate

his 30th anniversary in business and features a body and neck of Canadian maple, a top crafted from moon-cut Swiss alpine spruce, ebony

binding, Schertler tuners with tagua-nut buttons, and a Häussel pickup. Like so many of Pagelli’s designs, it pulls off the tough act of

being classic and deconstructionist at once.

As for the Ekolette (right), it seems to be a blend of the extroverted stylings of Italian electrics from Bartolini, Eko, and Gimelli. Its

name, says Pagelli, is a mix of Eko and Echolette—a German amp company from the ’60s and ’70s—and the shape is based on a bass

design from years ago. “We always thought it would be a great shape for an electric guitar.” Specs include a mahogany body and neck,

a maple top, an Indian rosewood fretboard, Q-tuner neodymium pickups, Gotoh bridge, and Kluson-style tuners. “The back and sides

match the color of the pickups,” Pagelli explains, “but the rest is covered with vintage-stock Italian mother-of-toilet-seat [pearloid]. The

sound is very open and clear—almost acoustic—but with lots of sustain.”

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A solid-state acoustic amp, with built-in cushion!

Left: The Guild G-1000—a 2-channel “acoustic” amp with a built-in seat cushion. Right: The G-1000 boasts a 90-watt tri-amped power section with stereo tweeters and an integrated subwoofer.

Hey Zach,
Here’s a weird one for you, but I know you like them that way! I bought this Guild amplifier at a guitar show in the late 1990s. Not only does it look cool, but the padded seat allows me to keep it in my living room and use it as an extra chair—talk about versatile. I believe it’s from the late 1980s or early 1990s, and I think it might be one of the first acoustic amps ever. What do you think? —Ethan in Dayton, Ohio

Hey Ethan,
Cool amp, man. You rarely see these amps around, and to find one in working order (solid-state technology was far from perfect in the early 1990s) and in this condition is especially unusual.

Guild produced a variety of tube amplifiers during the 1960s and 1970s that have much vintage-collector appeal. After Guild’s founder and president Alfred Dronge was tragically killed in a self-piloted airplane crash in 1972, Guild found itself bought and sold several times over the next two decades. Through the 1970s and most of the 1980s, Guild offered a line of solid-state electric guitar amps that seemed to exist simply for the sake of having amps in their catalog. And by the late 1980s, Guild’s focus was mainly on acoustic production.

In the early 1990s, Guild introduced a line of amplifiers designed specifically for use with acoustic-electric guitars. The first was the G-1000, and it featured a unique hexagonal cabinet with a cushion-seat top. According to a 1993 brochure, these new amplifiers “accurately reproduce that unique natural acoustic sound—without alteration.”

The G-1000 has four 6" speakers and a 10" subwoofer, all driven by a tri-amp power section with a total RMS output of 90 watts. The four 6" speakers are split into two groups and configured in stereo, with a pair of speakers on each side of the cabinet. Each side is driven by a 30-watt amp and the remaining 30-watt amp is dedicated to the 10" subwoofer. Other features include a preamp that users can switch to match either active or passive pickups, reverb, a 5-band graphic EQ, an isolated effects loop, instrument and balanced XLR mic inputs with separate level controls for each, and an unbalanced 1/4" output jack. A fiber travel case with footswitch and removable casters was also included. Lastly, the G-1000 was available in ebony or mahogany with a mother-of-pearl Guild logo, and, of course, the padded seat cushion!

As acoustic guitars with piezo saddle pickups became increasingly popular in the 1980s, many guitarists complained that their instruments sounded unnatural when heard through a standard guitar amplifier. Specifically, most acoustic guitarists sought clarity—not distortion—in their amplified sound. To meet this demand, manufacturers began building “acoustic” amplifiers with multiple speakers, clean power sections, and even stereo output. These devices typically offered anti-feedback capabilities and multiple inputs for both guitars and microphones—features you often don’t find in regular guitar amps.

Believe it or not, Marshall is probably the first manufacturer to offer an acoustic style of amp. Their Club and Country series were tube amps designed for country musicians and were produced during the late 1970s. They even had a brown covering and a straw grille! While not specifically considered an acoustic amp, they were wired to sound clean and clear. The first official acoustic amplifiers appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Peavey introduced the Reno 400, Trace Elliot launched the TA Series line of acoustic amps, and Guild presented the G-1000. All three thrived early on, and Peavey and Trace Elliot continue to offer acoustic amplifiers. Guild introduced a full line of acoustic amplifiers called the Timberline series, which were produced until circa 1994. When Fender purchased Guild in 1995, they ceased amplifier production.

Just about every other major manufacturer jumped on the acoustic amplifier bandwagon in the mid to late 1990s. Fender introduced their Acoustasonic series in 1998. A newer company, Ashdown Engineering, launched their Acoustic Radiator series in 1999. Genz Benz produces their popular Shenandoah series and Rivera offers their tube-driven Sedona line. Today, guitar amplifier companies exist that focus solely on acoustic amplification including Ultrasound, Acoustic Image, and AER. You’ll also find that most of the large manufacturers offer at least one acoustic amplifier in their lineup.

While I can’t say that your Guild G-1000 was the first acoustic guitar amplifier out there, it was certainly on the forefront of acoustic amplification in the early 1990s. This amp is too cool not to be a treasure!

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A Maybell banjo uke in need of some work on the tension hoop.

In the 1920s, Chicago-based Slingerland Banjo Company was one of the largest manufacturers of banjo ukuleles. Slingerland is best known to collectors of banjo ukuleles as the maker of the Maybell line of instruments. The company also made a variety of other stringed instruments under this name, such as traditional banjos, banjo mandolins, guitars, and mandolins. Most of them were conservative in appearance and modestly priced, although Slingerland also made some very fancy and elegant instruments.

In later years, Slingerland started to make drums and at that time the company’s name changed to Slingerland Banjo and Drum. Yet to follow was another name change in the 1930s to The Slingerland Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company.

Over the years, I’ve seen an assortment of banjo ukuleles of different grades, and the Maybell line remains one of my favorites. The neck and rims were crafted out of maple. Some were lightly stained and then sealed with a thin topcoat of clear nitrocellulose, and designed with a 7" or 8" head. Some fretboards were stained and others were made of rich ebony with dot or diamond mother-of-pearl inlays. The rare instrument has an assortment of nicknames, including “banjo uke” and “banjolele.”

With an overall length of 20 1/2", the Maybell banjo uke that came into my shop for restoration has a 13 1/8"-scale fretboard with a 1 1/4" nut, 16 frets, and three pearl-dot fretboard inlays. The instrument sports friction tuners and a calfskin head. The 7" diameter laminated maple rim is 7/16" thick and 2 1/2" deep, and the tension hoop secures the head with 12 bracket hooks. It’s interesting to note that the 7" rim provides room for the 16th fret. Maybell banjo ukes with 8" rims have only 15 frets.

The tension hoop had taken a blow at some point, and it was my job to work those kinks out. I loosened the 12 bracket hooks using a 1/4" bracket hex wrench (a nickel-plated steel tool for installing and tightening banjo heads) and removed them carefully to avoid damaging the original calfskin head. As I removed the head I saw its underside was stamped “White Mount – Calf – Selected – Slingerland Bros.”

After attaching a short-throw pipe clamp to my StewMac Ultimate Vise, I used a Deadblow fretting hammer to pound out the kinks in the tension hoop and correct its curvature. I then used X-Treem metal polish to clean the hoop and remove any corrosion before reattaching it to the instrument.

After cleaning the hoop brackets, I tightened them evenly until the head was firm but not overly tightened. To avoid tearing the calfskin head, I worked slowly and cautiously. As I tapped around the outer edge of the head, I discovered it consistently rang at F#.

Because the uke arrived without a bridge, I had to install a new one. I used a Grover Non-Tip 4-string banjo bridge that works well for ukulele banjo, once it’s trimmed correctly. After I removed wood from the waist and feet portion of the bridge, it fit the size and shape of the instrument nicely and allowed the strings to fan out from the tailpiece with a 1 1/4" width between the outer two. To cut string slots in the bridge, I used gauged nut-slotting files. I enjoyed shaping the bridge—it reminded me of when I use to trim violin bridges to give them a distinctive appearance.

There are a few different tunings and strings for banjo ukes. The customer requested a more standard format, so as you look at the nut from left to right, the strings are tuned G–C–E–A. These ukulele strings are made of crystal nylon and are gauged .025, .036, .032, and .021.

Information is extremely scarce on the Slingerland Maybell ukulele banjo. If anyone has info, please post it at in this article’s feedback section. I appreciate it!

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