Monday, April 27, 2009

Pickup Guru Jason Lollar to Re-release Pickup Book on CD

Jason Lollar Announces The Re-release Of His Famous Guitar Pickup Winding Book On CD!

Legendary pickup maker Jason Lollar single handedly launched an entire generation of boutique pickup makers with his book. “For the Guitar Enthusiast, Basic Pickup Winding & Complete Guide to Making Your Own Pickup Winder”. The book was only in print for a few years and has subsequently become the Holy Grail to those looking to break into the pickup making world. Since then old copies of the book have gone way up in value. However, Jason has recently noticed a rash of folks selling bogus copies of the book on line for hundreds of dollars. “I am sick of chasing down people selling bogus copies of my book,” says Jason Lollar who has worked hard to combat the rip-off artists. “ So I am going to re-release it on CD in the next couple months…” Jason asks that those who are interested in the book-turned-CD not contact him about it. Instead you can keep an eye on his website where the new CD version of the book will be announced. In the meantime DO NOT pay big bucks for the old book as it might not be real and you will be kicking your self in a few months.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The story of two 1930's Kay Kraft Guitars (Part 6...)

So…. Now I have two of these. The one on the right is the one I have had for 20 years and now I'm thinking I might finally start collecting info on what it needs to be playable again. The one on the left is the “New” one. I adjusted the neck (which is adjustable!), lowered the bridge, and removed the shim someone had installed under the nut. It’s actually in very good shape for a nearly 80 year old guitar. The "new" guitar is 100% original accept for a re-fret it got sometime in the 50’s or 60’s judging by the tiny fret wire used and the fact that they are warn down too. It's missing about 2" of binding on the body and the whole treble side binding from the fret board is gone. I'll track down a new one.

These guitars are officially called the Kay Kraft Venetian - Style B. They were made by Stromberg-Voisinet for the Kay Musical Instrument Company in Chicago. They were built from 1930 to 1935 and were absolutely revolutionary for the time. Actually, some of the features are revolutionary even today. I guess I'm not exactly objective here but I don't think there has been a more beautiful guitar ever made. The Neck joint is unlike anything I am aware of any where else in the industry. But using a radiused neck block and a bolt and wing nut one of the most tricky and expensive

repairs in luthiery, a neck reset, is now as simple as loosen the string, loosen a wing nut, adjust neck joint, tighten... Brilliant!

The arched back is not braced at all and after nearly 80 years neither guitar shows any damage of distortion of the back. The top has a kind of hybrid X bracing system not unlike those on Martin guitars.

LittleBrotherBlues.Com has some great pictures of how the bracing in these great guitars work along with a few other Kay models that were based on these ideas. You should check them out.

Although the two guitars have different bridges they are both original as this guitar was offered with both types over the 5 years they were made. The bridge on guitar #2 has a very fancy bridge made of Bakelite and is reversible. It is straight on one side and compensated on the other for better intonation. There is also some small difference in the pick guards and clearly the left guitar is much darker in color than the right guitar. The #1 guitar on the right has replacement tuners from the 60's I think. It still has the original bar frets. The tails are slightly different as well but again they are both original as there are no additional holes inducting one of them may be a replacement. The tuners on the #2 guitar are original and come from the Guitar Prod. Co. in Cleavland Ohio.

My plan is to restore one back to original and make the other more of a player.I may use the binding from the trashed fretboard of the #1 guitar to fix up #2 and then just make a new fret board for #1. Well see what the next 20 years bring...

If you would like to hear this guitar just click on this picture below.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

1930's KayKraft Guitar (Part 5 of the Kay Guitar Story)

The next day was Friday. It was a crazy day that had Alicia and I running errands all over town. We finally stopped to eat lunch. While enjoying my hamburger I started thinking about the Kay again. If Barry was selling his privet collection he might be in real trouble. I hatched an evil plot and ran it by Alicia. I would offer him a stupid low-ball price and see if they would take it. We were only a few blocks away at this point. Then I would be able to sleep soundly knowing I had offered them a good price and they were simply too foolish to see. I walked in and headed straight to the old guitar. I snatched it up and plunked around on the high action a little bit making sure the half-fretted notes and out of tune strings spoke clearly about what a junk heap this guitar was to anyone within earshot. Then I looked at the guy behind the counter and said “Hey… take $300 for this old thing?” “He looked back and said…. “Well…. If you pay taxes on it. $330 and you're out the door.”

Damn…. He called my bluff!

Stromberg-Voisinet Kay Kraft Venetian - Style B (Part 4 of the Kay Story)

I was near Barry’s on other business and thought I would just drop in. I didn’t even notice at first that the old privet collection of guitars was not up on the wall any more. My eye made it’s way down the line of “for sale” guitars. There was a nice Alverez, an Epiphone an Ovation and a pair of old Yamahas 12 strings, some banjos, lot's of junk electrics, a new Fender Tele, cool stuff … but nothing I had to have… until I saw the old KayKraft hanging with all the other “for Sale” guitars. It even had a price tag on it. I took a peek… $500.00 “wow…” I though, “Barry is selling his privet stuff… times must be hard. But this old Kay can’t be worth that much.” I picked it up and played it a little. The action was way too high, as if someone had been playing slide with it but I knew it could be adjusted. The intonation was off a little but that could be fixed too. Then there was the sound. It sounded like a thousand old blues records I’ve heard over the years. It sounded like the opening run to “Black Queen” from Stills first solo record. Not as much bottom end as Steven's Martin but tight lead run tone.

I wanted it… But $500 was a little too high and I had never had any luck haggling at Barry's so I hung the guitar back on the rack and walked out telling myself that the guitar was too old and too beat up for that much money.

I got back in the car and told my wife Alicia about it. “Is it playable?” she asked. "Yes…well, it could be. ” I said “You should go get it. You have the money. I love that guitar!” We talked about the old Kay Kraft we had at home. We talked about doing to Ed's with it all those years ago. ABout the plans that I had that never seemed to come to pass. We have been working on some music together that could use some acustic guitar. She was right, I did have the money but I couldn’t pay that much for the guitar so we just drove home and I tried to forget it. But I found myself looking up at the wall. At my old pawnshop find from 20 years ago. She was still pretty but she been silent for over 10 years. I had forgotten what she sounded like until this afternoon. But $500... that was just too much money.

1930s Kay Kraft, Recording King, Deluxe (Part 3 of the Kay Story)

In 1993 Alicia and I moved to Nashville and old habits followed us. It could be hard to find a good guitar deal in a guitar store in Nashville before Ebay came along. So I would check pawnshops and thrift stores for deals. One day in 1995 I walked into Barry’s Pawn and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There on the wall hung the exact same 1930’s KayKraft guitar that I had at home. It was hanging high up on the wall with about 7 other old guitars. I couldn’t see it well but it seemed to be in good shape. I asked the guy at the counter, “Hey… How much for the old Kay?” He didn’t even look up from his paper, “Sorry man… Those aren’t for sale. They are part of Barry’s privet collection.” Oh well. I figured if I pushed too much he would want way too much for it so I just let it go. It probably wasn't any good anyway.

Over the past 20 years I have only seen two more of these guitars person. One in a high-end vintage guitar shop on Ft. Laud beach and the other at a Nashville guitar show. Both were way out of my price range for a nostalgia trip. As time went on I forgot about playing the KayKraft, it just became a thing on a wall to me like so many other little knick-knacks that sit around a house. They just sort of fade into the background with time. When I ran into Barry’s on my regular bargain hunts I didn’t even look up on the wall at the old guitars any more. Just stroll in, look at the amps and the stomp boxes. Maybe see if they have a fretless bass this month. Then on to the next shop.

Until this month...

Friday, April 24, 2009

1930's KayKraft (Part 2 of the Kay Story)

The guitar sat in a box for a week or two while I talked about all the crazy things I could do with it. Finally Alicia said "You should let Ed have a look at it. He might know more about it." So we decided to take a trip down to see our friend Ed Oleck, owner of Ed’s Guitars in Miami. I had bought and sold a lot of gear with Ed over the years and always valued his opinion where instruments were concerned. Ed told me I really had a neat guitar there and I shouldn’t mess it up by painting it. “In fact, check this out… “ Ed wet a little bit of cloth and rubbed on the top a bit. Under the caked on dust and attic crud there was a fantastic sunburst with a gold guild work. “…See? Just clean the guitar up and put it back together. Then if you don’t like it I’ll trade you something for it.”

Thus began my first trip into restoration and vintage guitars. I polished all the crap off the guitar with some Meguiar's classic car polish. I put all the parts back together and played it for a few years. She was a good guitar. She had a small crack along the bass side of the body and at some point someone had carved the initials J.M. in to her finish. But even so she sounded good and loud. Alicia taught me chords with it and it got dragged all over Florida. Eventually we moved to Nashville and the old Kay went too. But my early amateur attempt at a restoration was far from perfect. Over time the old, original bar frets wore down, the fret board warped and the arch top started to slightly sink in. I started to worry that the top would crack some more so I loosened the strings and retired the guitar to wall hanger status. I told myself I would rebuild it someday when I had more knowledge of what to do about that top. But the years ticked by and I never did rebuild it.

to be continued...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

20 Years with the same guitar (Part 1 of the Kay story)

This may be hard to believe but not everything around Searcy String Works is about guitar and bass pickups. Once in a while I actually sit down and record music. Sometimes is just for fun. Sometimes it's for a project like the Six String Bliss records. Once in a while it's just because I like to do fun things with my wife Alicia who I have been with for 20 years. She and I have been through a lot. Take this old guitar for example.
It all started in a pawnshop in 1989. Alicia and I weren't married back then. We were broke as broke can be. That's what started our habit of looking in thrift stores and pawn shops for deals on the things we needed. That’s why , when I neded a drill one day we headed to the local Ft. Laud pawn shops to find a deal. I managed to find an old one at a decent price but I also found a 1930's Kay Kraft guitar that was totally disassembled in bits in a box. Now, I didn't know it was a 1930's KayKraft guitar. The guitar had so much dust on it you couldn't even tell what color it was. The fret board was off the neck. The neck was off the body. The binding was off the body. The pick guard and bridge were off the body. It was a mess but
Alicia loved the lines of the thing and I didn't have an acoustic at the time and thought maybe I could paint this pile of junk and make it playable. I asked the guy what he would take for it and he said, “If you buy that drill I’ll give you that box of guitar parts. It came out of some old ladies attic.“ and that’s how this bass player came to own his first old guitar.

To be continued...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't bother Star Grounding your guitar (Buzz Kill?)

Every once in a while I get an email from someone asking me about the wonders of the Star Grounding wiring system featured on the GuitarNuts website. Now I like the Guitar Nuts site and there are loads of great information there but this one article is starting to drive me GuitarNuts. The original claim was that by adding shielding and removing ground loops from a guitar or bass equipped with single coil pickups you can drastically reduce hum and noise. But like any good myth the claim has been embellished by time and repetition. Now I'm getting emails from folks claiming that Star Grounding can totally remove all noise from single coil guitars and even help guitars with humbucking pickups. On the other side of the fence there are those who now claim that Shielding and Star Grounding your guitar is a "tone suck" that will harm your carefully crafted tone.
So, is this Shielding and Star Grounding practice worth while or is it just a lot of B.S. ?
Well, just like any good myth it has elements of truth and exaggeration. Let's start with shielding the guitar. Shielding is a conductive enclosure around one or more signal conductors ( pickups, pots, switches ect...), used to keep out electrostatic fields that can cause hum, buzz, or other noise. Shielding is often a good idea on many single coil guitars. Particularly Strat copies that often didn't come with much shielding to start with. A good practice for shielding a Strat type guitar is to use either copper foil tape or conductive paint to shield the pickup cavities and the control cavity including the back of the pick guard. Then this "Shield" is connected to the guitars ground. It's pretty simple and very effective at getting rid of noise. But it will never make your single coil pickups hum free. When folks tell me they have fallowed the Shielding and Star Grounding instructions on the web and noticed dramatic improvements, well, this is why. Shielding helps!
On the other hand trying to reduce noise by hunting down and removing "Ground Loops" inside the guitar via the Star Grounding method is a waste of time. Why? Well let's start by looking at what a ground loop really is. Ground loops are real and they can be noisy little buggers that occur when you can trace a loop in the ground connections between separate pieces of AC powered equipment in your signal chain. Hank Wallace wrote a great article about this over at Atlantic Quality Design. So why can't a guitar have a ground loop? To put it simply it's because a guitar only has one ground path. That being the cord. Because every component in a guitar or bass is grounded at the output jack it was already "Star Grounded" when you bought it. No matter how you wire the guitar all the grounds must converge at the output jack. So basically there is no way to wire it that isn't "Star Grounded". In fact the only way you can get a ground loop inside a guitar is to wire it up with two separate outputs that run to two separate amps and star grounding the wiring inside the guitar won't fix that either.
Some like to argue that the neck pickup lead might be longer then the bridge pickup lead causing a voltage drop that could create a ground loops. But there simply isn't enough wire or voltage inside a guitar to make this a reality. Want to test that assertion? Find a stock Fender Jazz Bass that has RWRP single coil pickups and is noise free with the volume on both pickups all the way up. Now open it up and measure the pickup leads. See? The neck pickup leads are much longer.
So, will shielding your single coil guitar or bass help reduce noise? Possibly. Will it kill the tone of your instrument? Not unless you wrapped your pickup coils in cooper foil. That can cause you to lose some of the high end.
Will Star Grounding your single coil guitar help reduce noise? Absolutely not! No way. It's a total waste of time and should be avoided. Am I being unclear? The problem is that most of the folks who attempt the Star Grounding system on a guitar or bass are electrical novices that might not be too skilled at avoiding cold solder joints or over heating pots or capacitors.So why trip them up by giving them a pointless project to fallow that just adds to the confusion?

Well, I guess that's it for now. Next time we'll tackle the "Aged Magnets" myth.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Queensryche - If I were King

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Magnus Fredholm Bass Humbucker

Jared over at JC Basses is working on another of his fantastic master work basses. This time it's a 5 string Black Widow that is just staggeringly beautiful. The guy who ordered the bass is from Jared is Will R. , a long time Searcy String Works pickup user. Will has a Benford guitar with some SSW pickups and wanted to be sure his new bass was just as packed full of tone.
I am extremely proud of the Magnus bass humbucker. Originally introduced in 2004, this brilliant pickup design was the result of a discussion with Swedish bass player Magnus Fredholm. Magnus was looking for a 5 string bass pickup that would offer a modern humbucker sound but that could also be split to offer a vintage J-Bass sound. The more I thought about this project the more excited I became with it.
To fully realize this concept I decided that vintage components would be used. The bobbin shape was made to fallow vintage specs exactly. They are loaded with Alnico5 magnets, and then wound to around 7.k ohms with vintage style magnet wire. Each pickup contains two of these coils arranged in reverse wound / reverse polarity manner. This is all wired up to a four-conductor lead that allows for a wide array of switching and phasing options. Finally the entire assembly is wax potted and cast in wood grained epoxy for a feed back free pickup that looks as great as it sounds.
The do require a propriatart rout and are not exact replacments for anything. I have gotten them to fit into EMG routs with some slight clearancing but if that bothers you I am working on a more direct replacment option.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ben Prevo and his Duo Sonic

Remember the Duo Sonic pickup that went out to Ireland last week? Well that pickup belongs to Ben Prevo. Ben Prevo is probably one of the greatest guitarists you have never heard of. He has performed with such legends as Jaco Pastorius,Brian Downey,Noel Redding,Levon Helm and Pee Wee Ellis and held the coveted second guitar seat in Jorma Kaukonen's band. Whether playing a sweet soulful blues,a raucous rockabilly rhythm or a Hendrix inspired ride Ben does it all, tastefully and with superb phrasing and feel.

Keep the Change...

"I can make a firm pledge, under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.... you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mad Season - Lifeless Dead

Remember the 1972 Jazz Bass pickups I fixed a little while back? They were microphonic and the neck pickup had the wrong magnetic polarity. Well, I got a letter back from Nelson who owns the bass and it turns out the bass has a little history that you might find interesting. It was once owned by Mad season bassest John "Baker" Saunders.

Here is part of the letter I got from Nelson.

Clint, you are awesome. Thanks for fixing up my pickups... By the way, I thought I would let you know that these pickups are from a bass with a little history. I bought the bass on ebay a few years back from a guy who was roommates with "Baker" the bass player for Madseason. Madseason was a side project band by Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Mike McCreedy of Pearl Jam. I confirmed this after buying the DVD "Madseason live at the Moore. Sure enough it is the exact same bass and hes playing it on stage. According to the roommate, "Baker" died of heroin overdose, not unlike Staley himself... I feel lucky owning a piece of history, but even luckier playing such a great instrument. Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains were my idols when I first started playing music.

How cool is that? I grew up a Metal Head and I made the full jump to Grunge when Heavy Metal pussied out and became Happy Metal. I remember these guys well as being the first Grunge super group. They had a radio hit with "River of Deceit" but I like the groove of "Lifeless Dead" better.

So, want to hear this bass in action? Here it is.