The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Guitar Review: 1933 Gibson L-50 Archtop (a video in progress)

I had decided to start a video review of one of my my guitars, a vintage 1933 Gibson L-50. 

I taped it in three parts, but decided to keep only part one, which was the musical intro. I started it off in a sort of grungy black-and-white, and the next two parts were in color, which seemed jar me out of the mood, and I figured it would do the same to somebody watching.

Also it occurred to me that maybe I would rather not review the guitar model, and make it more of a story about that guitar. You have to figure that any guitar that started that's life in 1933 must have a lot of stories attached to it, and seen a lot of places.

My feeling was that it was a lot more than what some experts would consider it's collectible value, the fact that it uses parallel and cross bracing rather than the more modern X type, or any of the modern considerations about whether it's design or success as a product have any real bearing on it's value as an instrument.

After all, it only has to be valuable to one person, the one playing it.

In any case, here's part one of the video review. Basically the musical intro that was going to lead to the slideshow about it specs.

It won't exactly tell you everything you need to know about the instrument, obviously, but maybe it's voice will. I'll put out part two and three after I've revisited the concept a bit, and redo it.

1933 Gibson L-50 review intro:



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guitar Review: Fender Classic Player Jaguar (and how a guitar goes from failure to a best seller)

The Fender Classic Player Jaguar is a Mexican made, midline priced (600-800) version that updates the original design, and in particular addresses the most common complaints that users have had over the decades.

Which of course drew complaints from owners of the vintage versions, that the Classic Player was no longer a real Jaguar, and so on...and the usual wide range of totally subjective comments and opinions, often by people who hadn't actually played that model or tried it out for a few minutes.

I chose to review this jaguar because it's actually a good example of how a guitar can initially be regarded as a failure, or cult item, and due to a change in fashion become a premium model.

In fact, the Jaguar and it's close cousin, the Jazzmaster, are now one the most popular models for the current generation of players.

The story goes back to when Fender tried to come up with a premium replacement, or at least a step up, to the then current telecaster and stratocaster lines. 

The jazz master was first, and it was an attempt to create a versatile guitar that could play anything from rock to jazz.

One problem was the guitar introduced a series of switches and dials that made the guitar look complicated. 

The Jaguar was a similar guitar, but a newer design based on input from users, to create a guitar that basically had a jazz master body but with a shorter neck and different pick ups.

Neither guitar was ever seen by the mainstream consumers as a replacement for the telecaster and strat, but it became a favorite in the surf guitar scene.

Some of the image of the jazz master and Jaguar being the ultimate surf guitar is somewhat mythical. Some of the most famous surf sounds were actually done by session men who used telecasters and strats also (and Mosrites, etc).

But make no mistake, these two were and are quintessential surf guitars.

That didn't make them a huge commercial success though, and a fairly large number of these languished in pawnshops or were priced at steep discounts in guitar stores.

What changed all that was the punk rock boom in the late 70s and early 80s. A lot of the young rockers who couldn't afford a top line Fender found that these two guitars were a way to get a good quality guitar on the cheap.

Artists like Elvis Costello, Tom Verlaine of Television, and later, the group Sonic Youth used Jazzmasters, and that started the steady climb of both guitars to first-rate status again.

Coming to the present, with this Classic Player model, we do have a slightly different guitar.

The string bridge has been updated, so the old complaint that the strings slip off the bridge pieces when the guitar was played hard is no longer a problem. 

Also, the angle from where the strings originate to the bridge has been moved up so the angle is sharper, which puts more string pressure on the bridge, which also changes the tone a bit by increasing sustain.

The tremelo bar, is still the old original design which was different than the strat, and with its special lock does a better job of staying in tune, even if a string breaks.

I should note that it's called a tremelo bar, but it's really a vibrato bar, and not designed to do the wide and wild tonal gyrations that a metal guitar would be able to do.

The switching system was kept, which actually, if you take the time to learn it will give you an extremely wide range of tones. 

To go into the details would take a manual in itself, but suffice to say that the switches can give you a thick rythmn guitar sound, a sharp lead tone, and a quick way to switch pick ups on and off and control the volume from a more convenient place than the knobs.

There's Jazzmaster and Jaguar models that don't have those switches, but most people who like those guitars prefer to have those switches left on. It just looks cooler.

The key change is the pick ups. These pick ups are noticeably hotter than the ones on the original vintage Jaguars. 

One reason is that the younger players of today prefer it that way, as the Jaguar is a popular guitar in grunge and alternative music (particularly the type Curt Cobain used, one with humbuckers instead of the single coils here),

In my case I prefer the hotter single coil pick ups. In the past, I've owned and played some Jazzmasters and jaguars of various types, including the US and Japanese models, and more recently the Squire Vintage Modified version at 300.00 (which I got used for 200).

I've read the detailed and occasionally cork sniffing toned complaints about the modern models on the Internet by vintage owners, who as a rule come from an older age group or or surf guitar players.

It's all valid stuff if your intent is to get a vintage Jaguar or jazz master, or play surf music with the kind of tone that it's aficionados approve of. 

Though at times, it feels that all it proves is a large segment of the guitar population is more conservative than the most right wing Republican when it comes to guitars.

The fact is this guitar can play surf just fine. When it comes to surf music, it's probably just as, or more important to have the correct amp. 

The most common amp for surf music is the Fender Reverb Amp with s good reverb unit. Just about any guitar, with the right amp settings, will sound like a surf guitar through that thing.

In my case, I didn't buy it to play surf, but to play music on clean with perhaps some surf overtones for some Cubano stuff I'm planning to do. 

With the correct settings, it also does as good a job at being a trash guitar as any overpriced vintage Silvertone or Harmony, or to play blues for that matter.

The thing about a lot of American players is that they think that this or that model is used to get this or that sound. The reality is most guitarist can sound like anything with a good amp, and if it can't quite do that, you can add a pedal or two.

There was a 20 year period in my life when the only electric guitar I had was a telecaster. During that time. I played blues, rock, and also was in a punk band. It frankly did the job fine for all three. 

That isn't to say guitars are all the same. Some guitars are simply set up better to help you get a particular sound.

Now don't get me wrong, as I don't want to come off as self-righteous. I admit that I've gone through periods where I probably owned more electric guitars than any normal human could use because I felt that each one was a different color on an imaginary artistic palette (it was just GAS though).

Also it's fun to have different guitars, particularly if you're collector. Plus each guitar model, because of it's design and shape, and the way it produces sound can bring the music out of you easier than other guitars.

The experts can make it sound very technical, but the truth is what makes you respond to a particular guitar is emotional. Even the technical details tend to enhance that emotional response.

The most intelligent comments on any Internet discussion board always come from those who listen to what everyone says, and simply add, it's best to just play the guitar for yourself and decide.

One comment that I do see about this classic player guitar, and it's a valid point to discuss, is that the Squier vintage modified version is probably a better choice and a better deal.

The Squier vintage modified jaguar is a good deal at 300.00. It's also more period-correct in all of the details. The cost cutting is in the cheaper switches, electronics and the basswood body, but all in all it's a solid guitar that looks as close to a vintage jaguar as you're going to get short of buying an American or Japanese reissue.

My problem with that model was that the switches did feel cheap, and didn't engage smoothly. Always felt like they were about to break. The sound if you wanted to play alternative was excellent, but the clean tone wasn't very good for my purposes. 

Also, I'm not sure why, the balance felt off. It didn't play easily for me. It may have been the use of Basswood that changed the balance but I'm not sure.

The particular classic player I got felt fine in both the standing up or sitting position, and the tone range was was exactly what I was looking for. The hardware and electronics have a nice solid feel, the switches flick on and off smoothly, and I like the extra sustain.

At it's price range, which is around 800 steet price, you have another one of those medium priced Fenders that are excellent values. Most of the parts were made in United States, and sent to Mexico to be assembled with the body, and to be painted, etc.

I tried the full range of Jaguars, and as I've said, I've owned some, but the Jaguar isn't my primary guitar. Having an expensive US or vintage model is overkill for what I consider an occasional use guitar (or one I don't mind traveling around with) or one I can use away from home (in cases where I don't feel like exposing one of my top line guitars to damage).

If I was a collector, my thinking would be different.

Since I use a telecaster most of the time, it's the best I can afford. For instruments that I don't use as often, I look for the best value. Which in this case was the Classic Player Jaguar.

To answer the question of whether it's a real Jaguar though, the answer is simple.

It's made by Fender, and they call it a Jaguar. That makes it a Jaguar.

That doesn't REALLY settle the question, of course, in the various discussion boards on the Internet. But it's like sports teams, arguing about what's good or bad, or if it's real or not, is all part of the fun of owning a guitar.