Monthly Archives: May 2013

Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar at the Spring 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show

IMG_7084-impYesterday (May 19, 2013) was the 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, and it was a blast! A veritable feast for the eyes for any one even mildly interested in guitars, the Guitar Show is always the perfect way to showcase the dealers, builders, artists and players as well as the fine instruments that inspire the music we connect with on a day-to-day basis.

A Plan, a Van, a Can-Do Attitude

IMG_7078-impFor Mike & Mike’s, the show started well before Sunday. We’d been carefully plotting what we would take with us for the last two weeks, when ol’ Ballsy went on a gear-buying spree using his talent for sniffing out great deals to ensure our having a bevy of beautiful guitars, amps and effects to excite the senses. (Mission accomplished!)

Last week sometime we started really deliberating on the virtues of taking some pieces with us; some were no-brainers on both sides of the spectrum – you know, this goes, that stays – but others were somewhat nebulous. For instance, we have these two massively cool Fender Twin amps, one blackface from ’66 and the other a silverface drip-edge model from ’68. Now, if you don’t know, Twins are great amps but also unwieldy, being as big and heavy as they are. The question: do we really need to bring both? At first it seemed that no, we did not. Last minute though, Mike had a change of heart and there we were, at the show with twin Twins. For the record, I’m glad we took ‘em both! Our table looked quite nice…

When you’re a dealer at the show, it’s always a good idea to get there as early as possible. The loading dock at Meydenbaur usually opens around 6:30, and because there’s only a limited number of hand carts available, the many shops and each of their host of gear translates to a LOT of waiting around. In order to get the jump on the day, we got all of our gear sorted out on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning we packed our rented van at 5:30am shoving off at 6. Not too shabby.

Staking Our Claim

IMG_7085If we’re being honest, setting up our three tables took a good hour at least, not counting carting our belongings to the fourth floor via Meydenbauer’s only service elevator. But the real problem (and biggest time sink) is creating an attractive display that invites wandering eyes to hover – nay, dance – from piece to piece; while it might be easy to simply ‘put out’ guitars in some random fashion, it takes a keen eye to present them in a well-executed, thoughtful way. The three of us brought everything out, and from then on it was a series of friendly, barked opinions which sounded something like “DOES THIS GO HERE” and “I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING PLEASE CONTINUE” and “YOU’RE FIRED”, but only in a j/k sort of way.

As Mike and I later conceded, three tables was exactly the right amount of space for the gear we brought; we didn’t have to stagger any of our instruments, with something like 25 guitars and 5 amps alone, not to mention the other odds and ends we had with us. And did we mention the kick-ass banner our good buddy Jake made for us? Sex appeal to the max, right there.

It Starts

After I was thrice fired and re-hired, the doors opened and the game was afoot, Dear Reader! New friends and potential customers trickled through the door and I’m proud to say that we drew a lot of really great reactions! Also presenting at the show were many of PNW’s guitar elite: Emerald City Guitars, Thunder Road Guitars, Rick King and Guitar Maniacs, amongst others. But for the first time in my life I felt like we were running with the big boys, even drawing the attentive and discerning eye of Jay Boone of Emerald City Guitars, who commented about how impressed he was with the calibre of gear we had with us. From him, that’s a huge compliment!IMG_7089

As the show carried on, it was clear which of our instruments were the stars of our show. Our 1967 Antiqua Fender Coronado, for instance, was the source of many hushed gasps. Also on display was the amp we’ve been calling, “the cleanest Deluxe Reverb on the planet”, a silverface Fender that is downright immaculate, shiny, and perfect. If you were ever curious what old amps looked like when brand new, do take a look at that one at our eBay store!

What was most moving for me personally was the amount of kindness and attention directed toward our stock of Mike & Mike’s Guitar Guards. Nearly every person that dropped by the table, many of whom I’m sure wouldn’t have engaged us otherwise, deliberately stopped to tell us how much they liked the idea of pickguards made from old vinyl records. Many of them took photos, asked how much we charged, how we made them, and if they could send us a particular record. Almost everyone was floored by the idea, and I shook a lot of hands simply because they’d “never thought of it!” Plainly stated, it just felt good to have that little labor of love be recognized on a large scale, and anything that gets our shop that kind of attention is a blessing.

Gear Highlights

IMG_7090

The Teye “La Canastera”

I’m certain that what I thought was cool is going to disappoint most of the guitar lovers around; I don’t have any photos of the ’59 Gibson Les Paul across from our table, nor do I have any of the ’55 Fender Stratocaster adjacent to us either. Both were superb instruments, of course, but what really impressed me this year was the range of gear available. There were plenty of instruments that I’d either never seen before or hadn’t seen in years – things that most guitar buyers might overlook or pass on simply out of ignorance.
IMG_7109



The first thing that caught my eye in the morning was a few tables down from us: a Teye “La Canastera”, an alluring work of art that I’ve only ever seen in magazines. I didn’t dare pick it up, but I really enjoyed being able to glance over at it throughout the day like an especially attractive young thing, too shy to strike up conversation. Honestly, it’s even more beautiful in person. The same vendor – I forgot to ask the name – also had more S-series Teye guitars in stock, including the models adorned in three-dimensional abalone pearl.

IMG_7095Another surprise waiting for me at the show came in the form of two nearly identical Squier Vista Series Jagmasters, one with original pickups and one with replacements. These were guitars I greatly admired when I was in high school, but back then nobody wanted anything to do with the Squier brand, so of course we had no idea how great the guitars of the Vista Series were. I did have occasion to play a sunburst model just as they were released and I loved it, but that headstock decal made me wonder if something was going to go wrong after I bought it. I regret dismissing them so quickly, but seeing these two at the show reminded me how far I’ve come from being the biased idiot I was in high school. (SPOILER ALERT: I’m still pretty biased!)

Winner of the ‘Silliest Bass at the Show’ award was this Pink Floyd-themed Fender Jazz Bass, with airbrushed The Wall graphics all over its body. It’s sort of cool in a way, but the sad thing is this bass is actually a very early 1960s model, so I’m really curious to know what’s underneath the paint scheme. The neck, which I neglected to photograph, had new tuners and was modified for fretless play, but had its original nicotine-soaked finish.

Vendor Highlights

IMG_7094Out in full regalia was the table and offerings of our good friend Joe Riggio, a Tacoma luthier that builds the most breathtaking ‘50s and ‘60s F-style guitars I’ve ever seen. Not only are his neck and body shapes super authentic but fully customizable, his finishes are hands-down the most beautiful and right I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the quality and attention to vintage detail belies the true youth of his instruments, and if you ever get a chance to just touch them, you’d likely agree that there’s no way these are new guitars. They look, feel, sound and play far better than any relic you’ll run across, and if we ever start making our own brand of custom offsets, we’re gonna give this guy a call. He’s our favorite.

Also at the show was another of our favorite guitar finish gurus: Gord Miller. Say you had a 1950s Les Paul Jr. double-cut that was stripped and had a broken neck. If you brought such a guitar to us, of course we’d be happy to repair the neck, but when it comes to restoration, it’s Gord for us all the way. Seriously, his finishes aren’t your run-of-the-mill kind of relic job; with a dedication to authentic finish techniques, the right laquer colors and formulas, and dead-on wear and checking patterns, you’d be hard-pressed to tell his work apart from the real thing. Go to his website, which has a quiz of sorts on his website, begging you to guess which guitar pictured is a refin, a near impossible feat! Just check out that Les Paul Custom! He even had a display of vintage-correct colors sprayed on squares detailing the original look and his various levels of aging! Really impressive!IMG_7102

The most truly exciting discovery I made that day came by way of the proprietor of eBay store fenderparts, and let me tell you, I’m completely stoked over this guy’s work. He stopped by the table to congratulate us on our vinyl pickguards, asking questions and telling me how great the idea was. He mentioned that he made pickguards himself, and while I was interested I didn’t expect the level of work he was doing. He showed me his wares at his table, and in all honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a guard from any one else, ever. Why? This man is fighting the good fight!

His guards are exactly the right color, shape and are cut with an attention to vintage detail that I just haven’t seen from other parts resources. His mint green ‘60s guards are the perfect color and has the correct middle black layer, and his tortoise shell is not only more beautiful than most repro guards, but they’re actually made of genuine celluloid sourced from Italy. Add to that the fact that his aging process – which he wouldn’t divulge – is both tasteful and produces a guard that’s a dead ringer for the real thing. Seriously, you honestly cannot find another retailer that’s doing it as right as fenderparts. If you didn’t know better, it would be hard to tell it apart from the real thing. I’ll be picking one up ASAP! And if fenderparts is reading this, I am SO sorry for forgetting your name. I’m the worst. I’ll be ordering my Jazzmaster guard very soon!

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies, but not the Other Way Around

IMG_7100

Detail of the Stratocaster guard made by fenderparts, which you can find easily on eBay. Amazing stuff!

Look, honestly the reason we go to these guitar shows isn’t that we think we’re going to clean house and sell everything we bring; to think that way would be a total error of logic and purpose. The Guitar Show is really about connection with customers (we’ll call them new friends) and other vendors, and when that’s your criteria for success there’s no way you can lose. We made a lot of great connections throughout the day, gave out a bunch of business cards and price lists, and if that was it we’d be thrilled. Job well done, all of that.

Icing on the cake: we sold a few things, among which was the dreadnaught case we provided to the husband of the elevator attendant at the convention center, which was a great way to start the day. We also sold two very old parlor guitars (one from the 1880s and the other from 1920) to Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. And yes, we were all pretty excited to speak with him, especially Matt. We’re all big fans!

What a day. A 12+ hour day, but a great one nonetheless.

All in all, the 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show was a lot of fun and we loved meeting all of you that came by the booth! Thanks for making us feel like the belle of the ball!

And to think, I didn’t hear “Smoke on the Water” even once…

IMG_7101

Gord Miller finish sample goodness!

– Michael James Adams

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Demystifying the Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar Part 3: Free your mind and your [tailpiece] will follow.

IMG_3126-imp
By Michael James Adams

We’ve been talking about some of the more widely misunderstood features of our favorite Fender Offsets, the Jazzmaster and Jaguar. Seemingly innocuous but often blamed for tuning problems, the humble offset vibrato lies in wait at the butt-end of your guitar just hoping that one day it will be taken seriously. 

Thing is, that day has likely come; with players ranging from Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Thurston and Lee from Sonic Youth, and Wilco’s Nels Cline – amongst others – wringing every lush, wiggly note they can out of the ‘wang bar’, it’s as if a fog has lifted and the guitar-playing populace is more willing to accept this brilliant, but somewhat confusing, design.

Design


Leo Fender couldn’t have designed a simpler mechanism for his new, top-of-the-line instruments: the strings anchor on a plate which has both the trem arm and spring attached to it, with a screw threading through the middle of the spring to adjust tension. When you’re pressing down or lifting up on the bar, you are directly moving that plate, which the spring counteracts with just the right amount of resistance, lowering or raising the pitch of the strings. Voila.

trem1

Image taken from The Higher Evolution of Offset-Waist Guitars

Easy, right? One would think, but like I mentioned, this design carries with it the undeserved stigma of ruining everyone’s good time. But why?


I think one part of the general problem with this system is that it needs to work in tandem with the bridge to achieve any kind of stability. The stock bridge is meant to rock back and forth with the actuation of the arm, and in a perfect world it returns to its zero point, no problem. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and because of the great confusion surrounding these guitars they often aren’t properly maintained. The tremelo (ha, Leo) gets blamed for tuning maladies aplenty but it’s really the bridge that’s at fault.*



The other big problem with this seemingly easy-to-understand system is the fact that it’s not visible in the way that a Stratocaster bridge or a Bigsby might be – those systems are easy to work on, and if problematic, even easier to diagnose. Guitar players tend to be an uneasy bunch when it comes to guitar maintenance, and many of my customers come in to the shop telling me, “I didn’t want to mess it up!” In many cases, their fears are justified, but to be honest there’s usually nothing to worry about when removing a screw or tweaking the truss rod lightly. I’ve gotten an ear full more than a few times about the near-hallowed nature of the bolt-on neck joint, that the sacred bond of neck, screw and body should never be broken. (I think that’s bollocks, personally)

The point I’m trying to make is, guitars aren’t so fragile as some might think! Yet, because of the secretive nature of this body-mount system, many players are hesitant to take the strings off just to access the vibrato, worried that something about their guitars will change the moment the final screw is loosened. This is simply not the case, so no need to be hesitant!

Staying in Tune

I’ve previously touched on the most common offset objection is that they just don’t stay in tune, but this really isn’t the case once these guitars are properly set up and understood. What’s more is that, since it seems like everyone and their brother is using a Jazzmaster or Jaguar these days, it’s hard to make sense of all of this popularity for a guitar that isn’t pitch-stable. So, what gives?

In our last Demystifying article, we gave you some history and pertinent information about the offset bridge, and even a few tips and tricks to keep it in perfect working order. Much of the tuning instability folks complain about comes from the bridge, but the vibrato certainly can contribute.

The first, best advice I would give to those that have caught the Jazzmaster/Jaguar bug is to use a heavier gauge of string. 10s will work fine, but these guitars are made with 11s and 12s in mind, which is why we so often have problems with strings jumping out of their slots. The key with the offset bridge is downward pressure. With the vibrato, it’s all about finding the right amount of tension for the gauge of string in use, so that when the vibrato is actuated there’s an appropriate amount of resistance. I usually use the Trem-Lock as a guide, especially if the player intends to use it. 

There’s an amazingly in-depth article on setting up the JM/Jag trem over at The Higher Evolution of Offset-Waist Guitars, an amazing resource for all things Offset.

String Breakage

Though I’m very much an offset activist, I’ll concede to this complaint! Strings sometimes just flat-out break on these guitars, and it sometimes seems a futile effort to continually string the thing up when your high E is just going to snap in ten minutes. If fact, this happens so often that when I stroll into Guitar Center and see used Jazzmasters on the wall, they’re almost always missing the high e string, which leads me to believe that this problem was just that frustrating for its former owner. I’m jumping to conclusions, I know, but it’s really not that far-fetched.

IMG_2063-impOne of the main reasons that strings break on these guitars – especially new ones – is that the strings aren’t given the proper amount of clearance over the two outer screws near the anchor on the plate. These Phillips screws were lower and flatter on older units, and the anchor itself was negligibly higher, so strings were afforded more room to freely pass over them. 

On current models, the screws are more rounded and a little taller, providing a sharp edge for your strings to rub against when you’re playing even if you don’t use the arm all that much. If you bend a string, use alternate tunings or retune your guitar, you’re basically sawing through the string. Add to it, the place the stings rub is exactly the worst spot for this kind of contact: the closing wrap at the ball end. That’s why I’m never surprised when one of these guitars come in without an e string; this is almost always the culprit.

To solve this problem, I’ll recall one of my favorite axioms: “Flip ‘em over!” I’ll elaborate:

If you remove the six bolts affixing the trem to the body, you can see that the offending screws poke through the little pivot plate that keeps the anchor in line. Remove the screws under both E strings and thread them upside-down with the Phillips head facing the inside of the cavity instead of toward the string. Don’t worry, if you tighten them down they shouldn’t move, and the threaded end of the screw is just short enough to avoid the strings entirely.

  Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 2.29.57 PM

The second source of frustration would be the anchor plate itself. After months or even years of heavy arm usage, those little holes that hold the ball end of the string are likely to develop burrs, little sharp bits of metal that love to eat through string ends. Some light filing will almost always do the trick here, either with a small round file, or my favorite, Mitchell’s Abrasive Cord, which is like the Soap on a Rope of sand paper. It can be found in many woodworking shops or at Stew Mac, and boy, is it a lifesaver! Just thread it through the eyelet as you would a string, then floss away!

Those afflicted with chronic breakage would even do well to keep a roll of the larger diameter cord in the accessories pocket of the guitar case for emergencies; on the road or at a show, that stuff can make all the difference.

One more trick to prevent premature string death: solder the string’s ball ends through the wrap! I do this religiously to my e, b and g strings, and since I’ve started I have yet to break any of them. BONUS TIP: Don’t do this with the strings at tension; they’ll simply unravel, and then you’ll turn blue phrases the likes of which haven’t been heard since George Carlin’s untimely passing.

Bar-ectile Dysfunction
Wow. That one was a bit of a stretch.

If you’re like me, having the vibrato arm stay in place is a huge plus; when I’m on stage absolutely losing my musical mind, it’s nice to have the arm stay in a dependable spot. For some, this spot is against their output jack, especially if the arm is loose in its socket. This does not fly with me. I like it to be mobile but stiff, so that with my eyes closed there’s no question of its whereabouts. I can’t stand playing a brand-new guitar with the arm swinging wildly about like the tail of an excitable puppy.

This problem isn’t usually as persistent with vintage guitars, but on newer models the collet and arm aren’t exactly the same size or shape as the old ones, so more often than not there will be extreme amounts of play on the arm. Some people wrap tape around the end of the arm (which can be messy and sticky) and others will try to ‘gunk them up’, squirting some glue or something in there to cause more friction. I say nay to the above solutions, and instead point to a trick I first learned about on Offset Guitar Forum, a haven for the offset-obsessed.

Forum member theworkoffire suggests clamping the arm in a vice, with the collet-end exposed. Tapping that end gently with a hammer, it’s quite easy to put a nearly imperceptible bend in the tip at the end of the bar, causing it to rub up against the walls of the socket, and thus, stay in place. This is the method I’ve used time and time again, and I couldn’t be happier. Lasts forever, too!

There are also replacement arms and collets offered by a company called StayTrem, and their work is stunning! Completely solves this problem.

What the Hell is that Little Button?
IMG_4062-imp

That’s called the “Trem Lock”, and it’s awesome. That little bit of machined metal is your ticket to easy street, my friend, especially in the event of string breakage.

Because this system is what’s known as a ‘floating’ vibrato –  which refers to the trem’s ability to vary pitch up and down because it isn’t resting against the body – the string tension is balanced against that of the spring in the vibrato unit. The downside is that when a string breaks, this offsets the balance between spring and string, causing your guitar to go out of tune, pulling sharp. That’s where that tiny, unassuming button on the front of the Fender plate comes in handy.

Also taken from The Higher Evolution of Offset-Waist Guitars

Also taken from The Higher Evolution of Offset-Waist Guitars

If the unit is properly setup, that little button simply slides between the anchor plate and the Fender plate, stopping the anchor plate from raising, which in turn puts everything back in tune when engaged. Effectively, it ‘remembers’ how your guitar was tuned before you lost a string. When the proper tension on the spring is reached, you’ll be able to slide that little button back with no resistance.

Said button is also VERY useful when using alternate tunings. Unless you’re Thurston Moore, you may not be able to afford a fleet of Jazzmasters to handle every tuning you’re likely to use, but with the Trem Lock you may not need them. Slide that button in and tune at your leisure. Use drop-D, open G or C-minor? Pushing that button back turns the trem into a kind of hard-tail! You can still use the trem, but only to lower pitch.

On Vintage Units

My personal preference is mainly for the units found on vintage guitars. Reason being, the springs used on the old ones were more heavy-duty than those found on reissue instruments, especially imports. This makes for a tighter feel and greater touch-sensitivity.

Vintage Jazzmasters and Jaguars also had different springs! When the Jaguar came out, Fender quickly realized that because the shortened scale length of a Jaguar meant lower string tension, the vibrato felt far too stiff. Consequently, they started cutting one coil off the spring, resulting in better tension.

On my ’07 Sonic Blue Thin Skin Fender Jazzmaster, I’ve installed a Jaguar vibrato from 1963. When I compared the feel with that of my 1960 Jazzmaster, the difference was really pronounced, with the older unit feeling much more stiff, requiring more work to gliss notes. I love that, don’t get me wrong, but the trem on that blue Jazzmaster is heavenly!

So there you have it! I know I’m long-winded and probably providing too much info at once, but I really do hope this little series helped! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

And hey, if you need your Jazzmaster or Jaguar expertly set up, look no further!

*If you want proof, drop a Mastery Bridge in your Jazzmaster or Jaguar and see for yourself how stable that thing is! Because that bridge doesn’t rock in its thimbles, it provides a far better tuning experience.

-MJA

%d bloggers like this: