Report - Mercury Magnetics



Report - Mercury Magnetics
Mountainview Publishing, LLC
Eastwood Guitars
“Radical vintage guitars
that play better than the
Eastwood founder Michael
Robinson on building
replicas of the most
bizarre vintage
guitars from
Europe & Japan
ToneQuest Eastwood
Valco Airline
Univox HiFlyer
The Player’s Guide to Ultimate Tone
$10.00 US, February 2006/VOL.7 NO.4
Eastwood Guitars
Acquiring and maintaining even a modest collection of desirable, toneful and truly playable “vintage” guitars has become increasingly challenging and costly within the past decade. As prices
for the most coveted and familiar Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Martin models have doubled,
tripled and more, players who bought these instruments early and at low prices are now being
severely tempted to cash in on their investments, sending their rare guitars to non-playing
investors and collectors where these instruments will remain largely unplayed, out of sight and off
the market – effectively reducing supply and ratcheting up prices even more. You may recall a
similar surge in prices when just a few well-known vintage guitar dealers began shipping the most
sought-after Gibson and Fender guitars to Japan …
Wandre ‘Doris’
Fargen Amplifiers...
Benjamin Fargen
The Fargen Blackbird
Avatar Speakers & Cabs
Aged Hellatones – broken
in is better than new!
Avatar cabinets
Reader Q&A...
The vocabulary of tone –
What do the words really
The ToneQuest Clarksdale
Amp is born!
In fact, shifting supply and demand now affects prices for nearly every type of guitar ever made
as collector markets for even the most obscure instruments continue to grow. Blues and swing
players have been gobbling up Harmony Strat-o-tone guitars from the ‘50s within just the past
few years, driving prices up from $150 to $600 and beyond, while even ‘70s era Fender and
Gibson guitars have reached collectible status among nostalgic players whose first garage band
guitars included many of the worst instruments ever made in the USA (including our own 1971
Les Paul Custom). Name any early model from the more obscure guitar companies and a cult of
collectors exists for them all – from Leo Fender’s Music Man electrics and the earliest G&L’s to
Baldwin, Carvin, Dean, Hagstrom, Hofner, Magnatone, Micro-fret, Ovation, Schecter, Vox and
One of the very earliest resources for rabid guitar collectors was the Guitar Trader’s Vintage
Guitar Bulletins mailed from Redbank, NJ. If you prowled a pawnshop or urban music store wellstocked with used instruments in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the “dregs” on the wall would have included
cover story
bizarre imported and domestic electric guitars with names
like EKO, Airline, Aria, Guyatone, Hondo, Kent, Kay,
Harmony, Teisco, Electra, National, Supro, Tokai and Samick.
And as the Internet became populated with online dealer networks such as and auction sites like eBay, global
access to used guitars exploded, rendering even the most
unlikely instruments “collectible” due to their availability,
mass exposure and low prices.
Sadly, the inefficient but
romantic strategy of jumping
in the car at dawn and
spending an entire day or
weekend hitting pawnshops,
music stores and estate sales
has come and gone in most
areas of the country; the
pawnshops have discovered
eBay, many small, independent music stores are gone,
and having become unwittingly imprisoned by our
desire for affluence, most of
us couldn’t find the time to throw the damn cell phone in a
drawer and hit the blue highway anyway.
One of our favorite secret stops for used guitars was
Chambers Music & Golf on the hillbilly side of Rossville
Boulevard in Chattanooga, TN. Slow down when you pass
Big Hearted Smiley’s (Buy Here, Pay Here – Everybody
Rides!) and Chambers’ was on the left in a cavernous downtown space that resembled a gutted supermarket. As a
younger man, Charlie Chambers could have passed for
Johnny Cash’s brother, and while he never had much to say
(“that ain’t for sale” meant get your wallet out and start
peeling) he did maintain a chaotically organized stash of cool
and bizarre guitars in the midst of piles of ancient golf clubs.
Hanging on the wall or buried beneath stacks of mysterious
guitar cases you might could find an assortment of mildewed
Gretsch Chet Atkins
models with cracking belly pads, boat
anchor ‘70s
Fenders, and an
odd assortment of
off-brand guitars
and amps in disrepair. But for some
odd reason, ol’
Charlie was really
hot for Mosrites
and Standel stacks.
Strange – because Charlie was old school – a Brylcream and
AquaVelva man who would proudly pull out his custom-built
Hank Garland model Gibson archtop (one of only three ever made)
signed by Hank on the back.
Best of all, right next door was a
cool, dark and narrow hillbilly
bar with fifty cent Budweisers
and a good juke box – the perfect
spot for talkin’ yourself into
another guitar during a break
from horsetrading with Charlie
on a hot summer day.
Our taste in collectible guitars
never veered far enough from the
middle of the road to include a
Mosrite (we did score a Thinline
Tele from Charlie that could blow
mighty chunks of nasally tone and a 1952 Gibson J45), but
one of Semie Mosely’s custom axes divinely inspired a
Canadian guitar freak by the name of Mike Robinson to
begin re-creating obscure vintage guitar models that were
“even better than the real thing.” Fueled by vintage acquisitions and sales on eBay, Robinson ultimately founded
Eastwood Guitars and set out to build reproductions of the
most radical and obscure instruments that uniquely resonated
with his eclectic taste in vintage guitars. Robinson’s story is a
classic example of how an enthusiast’s passion can be successfully leveraged into a thriving business, and his guitars
are indeed radical, affordable, and they play better than the
originals. With thanks to Billy F Gibbons for alerting us to
the world of Eastwood, it is our pleasure to introduce you to
Mike Robinson and Eastwood Guitars. Enjoy …
TQR: How and when did your
interest in vintage guitars develop
and what were some of the specific
models that interested you the
Growing up in the Toronto area during the early to mid 1970’s, I got
my first guitar – a Japanese El
Degas SG copy – and proceeded to
learn every Rush song from their
first three albums. I was hooked at
the age of 13. As I could not afford
an amp, I remember playing my
guitar through one of those all-inone stereos that had an 8-track,
AM/FM tuner and a turntable on
top. I spent endless hours in my
bedroom listening to a riff, lifting
the needle from the album, trying
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
cover story
the riff, putting the needle back down, trying the riff again.
Those were the days.
Somehow 15 years
flew by and I found
myself as the owner
of a high-tech company in the process of
acquiring a competitor in Silicon Valley,
and in 1991 we
moved from Toronto
to California.
Although it had faded
somewhat, my interest in electric guitars
soon began to resurface through frequent
trips to local shops in
the area, particularly
Guitar Showcase in
San Jose. They had
an extensive collection of vintage guitars on display – certainly the largest in the area. You name it they had it, in fact,
they had ten or twenty of each! I made a few purchases there
in the mid ‘90s – a Gibson Tennessean and a Rickenbacker
330 come to mind – but my deep passion for the world of
Vintage Bizarre surfaced in 1998 when I discovered eBay. I
could sit in my office and shop through an endless sea of guitars available for sale. Everything you can imagine was for
sale there, and within a few short weeks I was buying 5-10
guitars a month.
My goal was to get as much guitar as I could for as little as
possible, sticking with the $100-$300 wacky Japanese models. To justify this new obsession without introducing divorce
proceedings, I would repair, set up and resell the guitars on
eBay. After a year or so I was up to 15-20 guitars a month,
my positive eBay feedback was growing, and I was beginning
to streamline the process of buying and selling.
During this time I started a website – The idea was to catalog the collection for reference that other people could use to help identify
their eBay treasures. Before long I had a few hundred guitars
photographed and a short story of each on the website. This
became a helpful resource for many others like myself that
wanted to know about a Norma, a Teisco, a Domino, or an
EKO, but had never touched one. You won’t find one of those
at the local Guitar Showcase. So, eBay was the shop and became the technical expert in all
guitars Bizarre. Within two years there were very few guitars
of this style that I had not owned and that I did now have a
first hand opinion on.
Somewhere along the
way (I think it was
spring 2001) I stumbled
across a Mosrite sale on
eBay. There were 35
new old stock Mosrite
guitars being auctioned,
one by one. I bought
#13 for $2,200. It was a
magnificent guitar, and
for the first time I began
to realize the levels that
can be achieved through
the marriage of quality,
design, style and tone in
an electric guitar. It was
leaps and bounds away from the wacky ‘60s Japanese guitars
I had been collecting – so good, in fact, that I feared taking it
out. This inspired me to find a “Mosrite-like” guitar that I
could play out without fear of damaging it. After going
through 5 or 6 different attempts, I found a winner. I was so
impressed with this instrument that I wrote an article about it
called “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and posted it on
my eBay website. That was five years ago and I still get people sending e-mail about it today.
That article was the spark that ignited Eastwood Guitars. To
get the idea, here is an excerpt from the original article:
“For the past few years I had been looking for a really nice
Mosrite Ventures Model vintage guitar. Prices ranged from
$1,500 to $4,000 depending on the year and the condition.
Last year an angel descended on eBay with 35 NOS Mosrite
built in
never been sold and were stored in a warehouse for 14 years.
Unbelievable! They were auctioned off one by one, week
after week, until they were all gone. I bought the 13th one
that sold and I was not disappointed.
The first day I stared at it, the second day I touched it, and on
the third day I played it. The fourth day I told the family. The
fifth day I told the neighbors. The sixth day, everyone came
to look at it. The seventh day I rested. What an incredibly
beautiful guitar! In fact, I soon realized that it was too beauti-continued-
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
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ful. How could I risk pulling it out of the case every day and
playing it? It was like having a bad addiction. I needed a fix.
It drove me crazy to know that it sat right over there in the
corner, taunting me, yet at the same time I could not risk
opening the case for fear of damaging such a wonderful
instrument. I needed a solution. Then it hit me … Buy a really nice reproduction Mosrite that I could play everyday!
So how did this initial idea evolve into Eastwood?
What were the major challenges you faced in
developing the Eastwood line?
About the
same time I
bought that
Mosrite, I
had started
to discover
the bizarre
Europe, especially EKO from Italy. The collection started
veering in that direction, and soon I discovered that the EKO
brand had been resurrected in Recanati, Italy. I called and
asked for the USA distributor. There wasn’t one. I asked what
it might take to become the USA distributor, and the answer
was, “How about an order for 20 guitars?” Well, I figured I
could get five different models, four of each, keep one of
each for myself and sell the other three on eBay to pay for
the whole exercise. I sold the first shipment within a few
weeks and ordered 60 more. Strange thing though – some of
these guitars were made in China, shipped to Italy with the
EKO brand, then shipped to me in California. Something was
wrong with that picture. That year
the sales manager at EKO was planning a trip to the 2001 NAMM
show in Anaheim and asked if I
could meet with him. I agreed. At
the show I placed my last order
with EKO, and I also began to
research the manufacturing capabilities of Korean and Chinese guitar
makers. That was a real eye-opener.
In hindsight, I had the good fortune
to sell the high-tech company in the
late 1990’s, and began to focus
more time on the website. At this
point it was still a hobby and I really had no plans for it to evolve into
a new career. Most of our family
and friends were back in Toronto
and my wife’s parents were heading
into their eightieth year on the plan-
et, so we decided to move back to Canada in 2002. Before
leaving for Canada, I decided to make another trip to NAMM.
This time I went with the intention of starting a new business
– making reproduction electric guitars that were “Even Better
Than the Real Thing.” I met with a number of different suppliers from China and Korea, one in particular that had VOX and
Mosrite copies as samples in their booth. All I had to do was
step up to the plate and order 650 guitars…
On the Saturday
evening of the
show I went back
to my hotel room
with the catalogs
and started to formulate the purchase order – Les
Paul copies, Strat
copies, Beatle
Bass copies, Teles,
etc. That is what
everyone was selling at ridiculously low prices. I tried to stick with the
Mosrites, VOX and other oddball stuff, but 650 guitars
seemed an impossible number, so I had to back-fill the order
with some vanilla stuff. Now, all I needed was a name. I
turned on the TV and there was a Clint Eastwood movie
marathon. Hmmm … The next morning I met with my new
Chinese supplier and wrote up an order. “What brand name
did you want?” he asked. “Eastwood” was my reply.
Six months later, a 20 foot ocean-going container on the back
of a truck was unloaded in my driveway in Toronto. All the
neighborhood kids helped unload it. We stuffed them in the
basement, the living room, the dining room and the attic.
Needless to say, that month we set some new personal
records on eBay.
As each Eastwood model has been developed with
actual examples of vintage instruments available
for reference, how closely have you followed the
original designs? What were some of the most
unique construction features found in the original
guitars and were there features found in specific
vintage models that you have actually improved on?
My big first lesson was that the copy guitars – Les Paul, Tele,
Strats, etc. were not profitable. Everyone was doing it under a
bunch of different names from the same factory. But, at the
time, filling an order of 650 guitars was hard to do with only
the obscure reissue stuff. The next NAMM show I focused
my attention on the Korean suppliers. Prices were a lot higher, but so was the quality, and I could order as few as 200
guitars in each order.
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
cover story
of the
to hit
it big on a worldwide basis. He played an old Valco Airline
Jetsons model. I had a few of those in my collection, so I
took one with me to NAMM. I met with three or four
builders, and all but one said, “No way.” However, one company sat down with me and discussed many ways to improve
upon the original design yet retain the look and feel. We
agreed on a tone-chambered mahogany body – no need for
Res-o-glas, it was never any good – and a 25 fi" scale maple
neck, Alnico humbuckers, etc. Only ten weeks after the
NAMM show I received by courier the first prototype. It was
absolutely stunning.
I invited some local musician friends over to take it for a test
drive, and all agreed that it was a winner. It needed a few cosmetic adjustments, pickup upgrades, etc. but other than that it
was ready to roll. I contacted a local machine shop and
by with
an original
a solid
tail that
looked much better than the prototype harp piece. We took
five different humbuckers through trials – surprisingly different tonally with the tone-chambered body – and settled on the
Alnico Hot-10’s. We also contacted the original knob manufacturer for Valco in Chicago. To my surprise, they were still
in business and still had the original moulds from the 1962
Airline knobs! These knobs were used on most Valco products – Supro, National and Airline guitars and amps – and
had not been made sine the 1960’s. We dusted them off and
made a thousand of each. Next, I found a dealer in Florida
that was selling replica Airline metal headstock logos and
combined all these pieces – along with some minor mods to
the prototype – and the Airline re-issue was born.
Through this entire process I constantly consulted with my
customers. I posted pictures on the website of the original
design drawings; I posted questions around some of the
design difficulties we were experiencing, asking for their
input. For example, the original version was two piece Res-oglas and therefore had a white rubber grommet that held the
two pieces together. It proved to be a very complicated manufacturing task, so much so that it would drive the price of the
guitar up significantly. Initially I thought the lack of the
“stripe” would severely impact sales, however, after polling
my customers they convinced me that it was not so important.
A better playing, better balanced, more stable guitar was
more important than some esthetic details.
These customer-driven lessons helped me hone my skills in
recognizing the delicate balance between original authenticity
and modern playability. After all, there is no point in
Eastwood Guitars if the re-issue ends up costing twice the
price of the original. Might as well buy an original! Our goal
is to seek out the vintage models that have a certain appeal to
today’s players, but due to vintage pricing they are out of the
reach of most budgets. The original Airline’s are now selling
in the $2,000-$3,000 range. The Eastwood version is $699$899, and if you read the reviews at Harmony Central, the
Eastwood is a far superior guitar.
Another success story for Eastwood has been the Eastwood
GP. Every day, through we receive
e-mails from customers suggesting models from the past that
might make a great re-issue. One in particular, the Ovation
Ultra-GP, was already on my list. Josh Homme from Queens
of the Stone Age was getting a lot of publicity at that time
and damn, the guitar just looked so cool! I had one in my collection about six years ago, bought and sold for far less than
today’s eBay price, which was now topping $2,000 on its
way to $3,000. A friend in Europe had cataloged a great
series of photographs from a few different Ultra-GP guitars
and sent them along with some detailed measurements and
specs. Admittedly, I was unsure of the potential market for
that guitar, but in the end I just wanted one for myself and a
few friends. Sooner or later I would sell the rest, so we went
ahead with the prototype. Once again, when it arrived I was
floored. We sourced an original pickup and had them modeled by our supplier. We changed the headstock and came up
with a new Eastwood logo. The first production model went
to my friend in Europe, and a resounding thumbs up came
across the Atlantic. The initial production run sold out in six
weeks with no advertising, and the power of the Internet still
amazes me to this day. Then, the reviews started coming in.
We had another block buster hit.
Again, I think the success of this model was due to the constant communication with our customers before, during and
after the introduction of the new model. People know what to
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
cover story
expect and when they get it they are more than satisfied and
tell their friends.
our customers as we would expect to be treated ourselves. In
fact, better.
Where are the Eastwood guitars built today and
who builds them?
We have two factories
we currently work
with, one in Korea and
one in China.
Basically, we have two
price points to reach.
As discussed earlier, if
you can buy an original for less than the
Eastwood, you’ll probably buy an original.
Therefore, we have
some models that
require building in
China to keep the costs down. Two of those, the Hi-Flyer and
the DELTA-6 are among our top-sellers. The Delta 6 is loosely based on a Mosrite DOBRO resonator guitar ($399) and
the Hi-Flyer ($399) is a re-issue of the early 1970’s UNIVOX
Hi-Flyer. Again, we made some upgrades to deliver a guitar
that is superior to the original. For example, the Eastwood
Hi-Flyer has a set neck. The other advantage to these models
is that the price point makes it a relatively easy purchase for
the first time on-line buyer. At $399-$499, the risk is relatively low, yet the reward is unexpectedly high. Most customers
are “blown away” when they receive their guitar.
Manufacturing in China has come a long way in the past five
years and you can get a lot of guitar for your money.
Our higher-end models are made in Korea. I’m not the first to
say it, and you may not agree, but I believe the quality of
manufacturing from Korea today rivals what you get in the
USA, yet still comes in at one third of the price. This allows
us to re-create many fantastic designs from the 1960’s and
keep the price of the guitar well below the going vintage rate.
Most of our Korean built guitars fall in the $599-$899 price
range. The fit and finish of these guitars are among the best
you will find from Korea. We work with a fairly small builder
that gives us the attention to detail that you simply can’t get
from the big boys. Where the larger manufacturers will insist
on using stock items (pickups, tails, bridges, etc), most of our
models – like the Airline custom tail-piece – have design features and components that make them unique to Eastwood.
With the multitude of players in the electric guitar space
these days, there are two things that we remain firmly comLollar
mitted to, in order to insure ourJason
growth. They are
1) a steady supply of completely unique guitars designs and
2) customer service beyond anyone’s expectations. We treat
Let’s briefly review each model and the various
features and materials that are unique to each.
We are adding 3-5 new models each year. Here are
some details on our current models (in alphabetical
AIRLINE: Based on the early 1960’s VALCO Airline model
found in Montgomery Wards catalogs. Available in two models 1)
– two
trapeze tail and 2) 3PDLX – three pickups with BIGSBY
Tremolo. Both models feature tone-chambered mahogany
bodies with center block, Alnico Hot-10 pickups with individual Volume and Tone controls, Master Volume and fully
adjustable bridge. Bolt-on Maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. The classic “Gumby” headstock features the original
Airline raised metal logo.
DELTA 6: Inspired by the Mosrite
Celebrity but becoming a resonator
along the way, it is a semi-hollow
body resonator guitar featuring laminated maple body, set maple neck
with rosewood fingerboard, P-90 neck
pickup, and a Piezo bridge pickup
with volume and tone controls. The
guitar also features a blend knob that
dials between the neck and bridge
pickup. This is our best seller. I suspect because you get a lot of guitar
for $399, and for the average player
that wants to add some versatility to
their recording arsenal, it’s a nobrainer.
HI-FLYER: Based on the early 1970’s UNIVOX Hi-Flyer
(which itself was based on the Mosrite Ventures Model) giving it the rare distinction of being a “copy of a copy.” It is
available in stop tail
or tremolo tail. The
Hi-Flyer features a
basswood body with
set maple neck,
rosewood fingerboard, two P-90
pickups, 3-way
switch, Volume and
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
cover story
Tone controls, fully adjustable bridge and a wide variety
of colors.
ICHIBAN: Eastwood’s first proprietary design (hence the
name, which is Japanese for Number One) was the culmination of some of
my favorite guitars –
Mosrite, Teisco and
Galanti to name a
few. It is available
in stop tail or tremolo tail. Both feature
two mini-humbuckers, adjustable roller
bridge, German carved mahogany body, satin maple neck
with rosewood fingerboard. Oozes sixties style!
Eastwood GP: Based on the rare early ‘80s Ovation UltraGP. Less than 400 of the original were made and they are
extremely hard to
find these days with
the vintage market
driving the price up
into the $3,000
range. The GP features a mahogany
body with contoured
maple top, set
mahogany neck, 5-ply binding on entire neck and body,
dual humbucker pickups, two volume and tone controls.
The deep carve on the back makes it one of the most comfortable guitars ever designed.
NASHVILLE: It is difficult to find a high-quality 12string guitar these days at an affordable price. When we
looked, all we
could see was the
Rickenbacker 360
with a street price
of $1,200, and the
Epiphone Elitist
Riviera at $1,500.
The Nashville fills
the void at half the
price with a no-nonsense 335 style semi-hollow body
model featuring two mini- Humbuckers, trapeze tail, laminated maple top back and sides, set mahogany neck, 22
frets with a 1 11/16" nut. Most guitarist own more than
one guitar, but many only own one 12 string. If it’s not a
Ricky it should be the Eastwood Nashville.
SAVANNAH: Imagine you merged the styles of a Gretsch
Falcon with a Gibson 335. That’s the Savannah. Featuring
two covered humbuckers, trapeze or tremolo tail, laminat-
ed double cutaway flame-top maple body
with set maple neck. The Savannah continues to receive rave reviews on Harmony
Central and is a favorite with our rockabilly customers.
SIDEJACK (image pg.3): The very first
Eastwood model to hit the streets in 2002,
it remains one of our top-sellers. The intent
was to develop a Mosrite style guitar, but
with road-worthy characteristics like a set
neck and rugged P-90 pickups in the under
$500 category. Judging by sales and reviews we really hit the
mark. It is available in tremolo or stop tail and a wide variety
of colors. The Sidejack features a basswood body, set maple
neck, two P-90 pickups, and adjustable bridge. It is also
available in a 27" scale baritone model.
SUPRO: This Limited Edition reproduction of the Supro
Coronado was made in 2005 under license from Supro USA.
The Supro is available with custom trapeze tail or with a
Bigsby tremolo. Both
models feature tonechambered mahogany
bodies with center
block, Alnico Hot -10
pickups with individual Volume and Tone
controls, three way
switch and fully
adjustable bridge, and bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. The headstock features the original Supro raised
metal logo.
TOKAI HUMMINGBIRD: In this case, to retain the authenticity of the original Hummingbird, we licensed the Tokai
name and used a pearl inlay of the logo on the headstock. In
1967, the Hummingbird
was one of the very first
guitars to be made by
Tokai, who later became
arguably the best reproduction guitar manufacturer during the lawsuit
era. A radical shape in
the already radical
1960’s, the Hummingbird has become a very hard to find
original – the tip of the iceberg when the Japanese imports
started to show the quality they are now renowned for. This
one features two p-90’s, maple bolt-on neck, zero-fret and the
traditional sixties tremolo. The surf crowd has been embracing the Hummingbird.
ROCKET: Based on the bizarre EKO ROKES guitar from the
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
cover story
late 1960’s, the Rocket delivers a “what the ^%# is that?”
stage presence with modern day playability and tone, right
down to the pointy headstock. This is an unmistakable ‘60s
classic. The
Rocket is available in stop,
string-thru or
tremolo tail with
P-90 or humbucker pickups.
Also available
in a 30" scale
bass model.
WANDRE: Obscure Italian designer Wandre Pioli created
some of the world’s most bizarre and beautiful design in the
early 1960’s. A fusion of art and function, his rare guitars
have since become extremely valuable collectors pieces. As
many of
his guitars had
and aluminum
parts, this
Eastwood model was based on one of the few designs that
can actually be replicated with today’s components and manufacturing capability. The result is
a stylish and curvaceous guitar
that is wonderful balance of tone
and playability. Features three
mini Humbuckers with individual
on/off switches, volume, tone and
is available in stop or tremolo tail.
The maple neck has s rosewood
fingerboard with star shaped
markers and the very sixties zerofret.
Have you chosen to re-develop obscure pickup
designs? How was this done, specifically? Were
actual vintage pickups used to determine the specs
for the Eastwood pickups?
other considerations are met, we consider tone. That might
sound a bit odd considering that you are reading this in The
ToneQuest Report – but such is the harsh reality of this business.
As discussed earlier, we are in the
business of delivering top quality,
playable, reproduction guitars,
or, as our marketing exec says –
Radical Vintage
Remakes – at an affordable price that is well below the going
rate for the vintage equivalent. Therefore, in some instances
(many of our Chinese made models) we are bound to the
most “cost effective” standard humbucker or single coil that
will fit the bill. However, in most instances the new Eastwood
pickups are far better than the original 1960’s Japanese pickups.
In the case of our Korean models, we obtain multiple samples
from our suppliers – ceramic, Alnico, P-90’s, humbuckers,
single coils – everything they have available. We test and
apply the most appropriate tone to the appropriate model. For
example, we went with the Alnico Hot -10 humbuckers for
the Airline models but found them a little too aggressive for
the Ichiban. As the Ichiban was planned as a punk/surf guitar,
it needed some high-end clarity to stand out in drenched
reverb. The Hot-10’s were a wee bit muddy for that.
Consequently, we use the same mini humbuckers in the 12string Nashville to give it that Ricky chime. At the same time
we did not want to leave out the die-hard customers asking,
“The original Airlines were single coils – why aren’t mine?”
So, we sent an original Airline pickup to our supplier and
asked them to closely replicate the output characteristics yet
mount it under a standard nickel humbucker cover. We now
offer the Airline VVSC (Vintage Voiced Single Coil) pickups
as an option. Likewise for the GP, we sent an original Super
II pickup for evaluation which resulted in the open humbuckers found today in the Eastwood GP. It is a delicate balance
between style, function and affordability. Fortunately every
now and again, as in the Airline and the Eastwood GP, we
knock the cover off the ball.
Basically, each new potential Eastwood model has to pass
two fundamental rules. First, is it possible to closely replicate
the look of the original guitar with our available materials and
manufacturing procedures? Second, can the final product
retail for a price well below the current vintage price of the original? If these conditions can be met, then a plethora of other
issues come into play before the model will be considered, such
as trademarks and patents, available market, etc. Lastly, if all
Are most of the models found on the web site kept
in stock, ready to ship?
You will find some unique differences with Eastwood Guitars
compared to other companies. First, having started the business as an Internet based company, we do not follow the traditional cycle of national importer > regional distributor >
storefront. Yes, we do have a small number of dedicated and
successful dealers – and that number is growing rapidly – but
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
holes. A real looker! We are also currently working on prototypes for a Barney Kessel Airline model and another based
loosely on the Harmony Rocket, which will be available later
in 2006.
most sales are direct to the customer. Consequently our
inventory is not “pre-paid” by a distributor and “pre-sold” to
the stores. As such, we must have a complete inventory onhand of all models at all times to satisfy the end user. Each
guitar is pulled from inventory with receipt of the order. It is
professionally setup by our technicians, packaged and
shipped UPS Air – all within 24 hours. Most guitars arrive at
the customers’ door anywhere in North America in 3 days, 35 days in Europe.
What type of warranty is offered?
First, we have a NO QUESTIONS return policy for on-line
buyers. Basically, if you receive your guitar and you are dissatisfied for any reason, return it for a full refund, less shipping. If you are returning it because it was damaged or you
feel it was misrepresented, then we will pay all shipping
costs. Second, we have a Three Year Limited Warranty. This
is a basic industry standard warranty against defects.
What are the most popular models among the entire
The Airline and the GP have been runaway successes. At first
I thought it could be attributed to the connections with Jack
White and Josh Hommes. Indeed, these connections certainly
helped it get kick-started, but it is the guitar itself that catapulted sales. If you read the reviews at Harmony Central, it is
all about the quality and playability of the guitar, not about
its star appeal. People initiate their interest in Eastwood
Guitars based on the cool and intriguing designs and style
from years gone by. Then, much to their surprise, they find a
guitar that becomes their favorite player – head and shoulders
above what they were expecting. That is the funny thing in
this business – we start out with the best of intentions to
replicate the look of the original, because for the most part,
many of the originals were not-so-great players in the first
place. So the look is what the appeal is. Then, somewhere
along the way we end up developing a guitar that stands up
on its own as a professional player. The look ends up as a
bonus. TQ
Do you have any plans to introduce new models,
and if so, which ones?
As stated earlier, we are introducing 3-5 new models each
year. We already have gone into production with three new
models that will be available in January 2006. They are:
JR DELUXE: This model is a close replica of the Mosrite
Mark II guitar made famous by Johnny Ramone, yet another
model that the vintage market has taken into the stratosphere.
It features all the nuances of Johnny’s – odd knobs, single
coil matched with a mini humbucker. Expected price will be
in the $699 range.
SATURN: Here is a very
unique guitar that was originally made in the early
1960’s by HOPF, Germany.
It was never popular in
North America, but had the
notoriety of becoming the
poster-boy for the famous
STAR Club in Hamburg.
This guitar pushed our manufacturing acumen to new
levels, featuring chrome pipe
binding on the body and f-
After surveying the Eastwood models on the web we asked
Mike Robinson to send us a Stormbird, Airline, Wandre and
Hi-Flyer, and when they arrived from Toronto we had them
out of their boxes and tuned up in minutes. Your first reaction
to the Eastwoods will be, “This doesn’t really look, feel or
play like a cheap guitar …” and they really don’t. Of course,
the “cool” factor is also off the charts, which will appeal to
all but the most seriously afflicted guitar snobs. These guitars
are not only economically yet well built; they are also intended to be fun. “Serious” guitarists who fail to grasp and
embrace the concept that guitars can be fun might consider
another instrument to take so seriously. Try the harp – a wonderful choice for art gallery openings and other serious
But you do deserve a serious, critical review … The finishes
on the Eastwoods aren’t painstakingly applied in a multi-step
process with nitro lacquer, but they are void of orange peel or
other visible flaws and the poly finishes are artfully applied
and vibrant. The hardware, tuners, jacks and switches aren’t
the most costly available, but they work well for now, and far
better than most of the worn out junk you’d find on an original. Heavy use will hasten the need for replacement.
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
Playability and feel
are outstanding,
especially when
compared to the
overall quality of
the original, vintage
models that inspired
the Eastwoods, and
we have no quibbles
whatsoever with the fret and nut work or fine details of fit
and finish. At a time when we frequently see tooling marks on
rosewood fingerboards of $2,000 guitars and new tuning keys
that simply don’t work with acceptable precision, the
Eastwoods hold up quite nicely for the bucks, thank you.
Among all of our review guitars, the Stormbird was the heftiest at 8.2 pounds, while the others were surprisingly lighter
and well-balanced. And what about tone?
The Airline we received is a featherweight with a remarkably
resonant, ringing voice unplugged and a completely cool
retro look and feel. A
chambered mahogany
body and precise CNC
precision endow the
Eastwood Airline with
features that clearly
surpass an original in
appearance and overall
playbility. These guitars are all great players without exception. The dual Alnico HOT-10 humbucking
pickups very much reminded us of the original pickups in our
vintage 1965 National Westwood, with very strong bass and
midrange emphasis and diminished treble presence and bite.
Call them “fat” if not sparkling or particularly bright.
Resistance measurements were 7.8K/neck and 8.3K/bridge –
fully within the normal range for traditional humbuckers –
but these pickups display what we would describe as an
authentic ‘60s budget humbucking guitar tone that is appropriate for the era in which the original Airlines were built, if
not a sound we would want to claim as our every day signature tone. Is the Airline worthy of a pickup upgrade?
Definitely. The economical Gibson ‘57 Classics would be an
outstanding choice.
How could anyone fail to appreciate the style of this guitar?
The HiFlyer feels as good as it looks, it’s light, resonant and
a great, great player equipped with P90’s. Like the Alnico
Hot-10 humbuckers, the P90’s are heavy on the bottom, mids
and upper mids, with a perceptible roll-off on the top.
Resistance measurements were 7.2K/neck and 7.7K/bridge.
We would prefer more treble tones, especially since the
design doesn’t allow
for much height
adjustment on the treble side of the pickups.
You can back the polepieces out a bit, but
not quite enough to
boost the highs high
enough for our taste.
Your experience may
vary – tone is subjective – but whether you choose to roll
with the stock pickups or replace them with your favorite set
of P90’s, the HiFlyer is one to own.
We had to have this one, in gold no less, and it didn’t disappoint. The P90’s are identical to those in the HiFlyer and our
preceding comments apply to
both – ideally
we’d like a bit
stronger treble
tones from these
pickups. On the
other hand, contemplating a pickup swap isn’t a big negative for us … we have routinely
acquired new “Custom Shop” guitars and replaced the pickups the very same day. Similar to the earliest vintage reissues
from Fender Japan, the Eastwood guitars are also built with
miniature Alpha pots. Swapping them for standard 500K CTS
pots is easy enough, but on the Stormbird you’ll be required
to enlarge the mounting holes in the body to fit the standard
pots – easily done with a sharp hand-reamer. We plan to
replace the original pickups with a set of stock Gibson P90’s,
leaving the original plastic insulated wire intact. The results
should be impressive, because the Stormbird is a great player
right out of the box.
Wandre Doris
There is a note on the Eastwood web page for the Doris stating that the original Wandre guitars built by Wandre Pioli in
Cavriago, Italy can
sell for as much as
$50,000. The
Eastwood version
impressed us as
being the most
eccentric and quirky
design of our four
review guitars, with an array of three on/off toggles for each
of the three mini-humbuckers, and single volume and tone
controls. The neck pickup selected alone was predictably
woofy (causing the normally well-behaved #2 12AX7 in our
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
brown Vibrolux to audibly rattle), but it’s a good sound for
old school blues where a little unfocused, low distortion is
appropriate. The middle pickup produced a full midrange
tone which is very usable, and the bridge throws a cool, trebly honk. Various combinations of the three pickups also produced interesting and usable tones with the exception of all
three pickups being on, which was pure mud. Overall output
was predictably high for mini-humbuckers with resistance
readings of 14K/Neck and Middle and 14.6K bridge. The
Wandre is super light, fun to play, and it will pull things out
of you that might not emerge from a more traditional guitar.
We could even suggest that the radical nature of the
Eastwoods encourages radical playing beyond the scope of
what you would usually defer to on more familiar instruments. Who says style doesn’t count?
The entire Eastwood line impresses us as economical yet
well-built replicas of vintage guitar art, originally designed
and produced by companies that bravely marched to the beat
of a different strummer. Michael Robinson’s vision of re-creating these unique and rare designs is completely valid; his
guitars succeed not only as supremely affordable replicas of
rare and offbeat instruments, but as guitars that deserve to be
played and enjoyed. Their winsome and charismatic appeal is
contagious, and a welcome change in an industry where the
wrong things are often taken much too seriously at the
expense of our sheer enjoyment of the instrument we love so
much. Quest forth, and by all means … have fun.TQ
Like many of us, Benjamin Fargen fell in love with the tone
and timeless versatility of Fender blackface-era amps, and
the blackface Deluxe Reverb in particular. Unlike some other
vintage Fender models (the brown Concert immediately
comes to mind), the sound of vintage Deluxe Reverb amps
that have escaped modification or abuse seems to have
remained very consistent throughout their production. Some
players are perfectly happy with them as is, others like to
substitute 6L6’s for more clean headroom and volume, and
you know all about our fondness for adding a 25K or 50K
midrange pot using the hole that exists for the extension
speaker jack. The most common complaints about the Deluxe
design are a low threshold for clean headroom, loose lowend that can fall apart, and a predominant trebly tone (good
for Gibsons!)
When Benjamin
Fargen sent us his
30W Blackbird running on a quad of JJ
6V6’s for review, we
had yet to interview
him and we were completely unaware of the
genesis of the
Blackbird. Only later
did we discover that
he had accumulated a
short list of “fixes” used to delight blackface Deluxe owners,
and while the 30W Blackbird is entirely unique, we confess to
having favorably compared it to our own Deluxe during our
evaluation. We’ll elaborate on the Blackbird in a minute, but
first, meet Benjamin Fargen…
How were you first exposed to electron ics and guitar amplifiers specifically?
I actually started getting into electronics in high school. My
high school electronics teacher was a musician (actually he
was an early member of what would later become Credence
Clearwater Revival – he played keyboards and grew up with
both of the Fogerty brothers. I showed a real dedication to the
class and electronics in general, so he kind of pushed me to
build some of the music related kits that were offered like a
fuzz box and such. It was a great class and where I really
learned how to solder and read schematics, etc.
What were some of your favorite amp designs, and
I have always been a huge fan of the “Vox” tone – players
like George Harrison, The Edge, Mike Campbell and Johnny
Marr all epitomize that sound for mE, so I guess the AC30 is
definitely one of my favorite amps. I have also repaired and
restored hundreds of classic blackface Fenders over the years
and the brilliance of all the classic blackface designs always
makes me smile.
When did the idea for the Blackbird emerge and
how was it inspired?
Speaking of those
classic blackface
Fenders, in the early
days I used to repair
all the local guys’
Deluxe Reverbs and
listen to all the complaints that went
along with them –
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
shrill high end, loose flabby bass response etc., so as I
tweaked these amps over the years I documented all the mods
and repairs I did, which encompassed a multitude of
improvements and solutions for these amps. I rolled them all
together and made some big changes to the power section
and the Blackbird was born, so it’s not a clone at all – but it
still makes you feel the way you think a great Blackface amp
should sound.
Describe the various amp models you build and
how they have resembled or offered significant
departures from specific, well-known vintage mod
els of the past. Please also include information on
the amp you’ve been designing with Jim Weider.
The Blackbird certainly covers the Vintage Blackface sound
with a new twist. The VOS is my new overdrive amps that
take the best of smooth singing overdrive but with a more
British flair than a Dumble etc. The Bordeaux is my dual
channel switching offering that encompasses the blackbird
preamp and the VOS overdrive section. The Mini Plex is a
12-8 watt SE Class A miniature british plexi style amp for
low volume club and studio use. The Mighty Plex is the Class
A/B push pull big brother to the Mini Plex.
Jim Weider is a great
guy and diehard vintage Fender player, so
we have come up with
a two channel pure
tone amp that captures
the magic of several
classic blackface models rolled into one
chassis. We have made
many important
tweaks here and there
as Jim puts the prototype through its paces
out on tour. Jim is a
killer player and a
great guy, and we have
had fun working on this project over the last six months.
What was the process involved in determining the
kinds of speakers that would go in your amps?
These days there are so
many great choices that
it’s hard to choose.
Since I cut my teeth on
pure custom work in the
early days, I used to
choose each speaker for
each client, but now we
have our staple speakers
we use based upon maximum flexibility – a
mixture of Webers, Celestions, and recently I have been very
impressed with the new Eminence Wizard and Cannabis Rex
Which brands of tubes do you use?
At this point reliability is the most important aspect followed
closely by tone and consistent availability. It is unacceptable
for an amp to reach its destination and not work due to a tube
failure, and we have found the EH12AX7 and 12AT7 to have
the lowest noise floor and reliability for preamp tubes. They
have a smokey tone to them that sounds really nice for overdrive
applications. We
also use
EH or
winged C
EL34’s, JJ
6L6’s and
6V6’s followed by JJ or Sovtek 5AR4’s. Each amp is burned in for a
full day before they ship out.
How are your cabinets constructed? What types of
wood do you use and why?
Can you summarize some of the unique things you
like to do as a builder?
I definitely use a recipe of different caps and resistors in specific areas of each amp to coax out different elements I like.
They are subtle things, but when you listen to amps all day
every day you start hearing these little things. Recently, I am
really excited over switching to Mercury Magnetic transformers. I have not been this impressed with amp parts since I
started building them in my garage 8 years ago!
We use hand-built
pine cabs for all the
Blackbird amps featuring marine-grade
birch ply baffles and
hardwood rails for
strength. We also
use birch ply for all
the English-style
amps. My brother’s
company (J. Design
cabinets) builds all
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
of the cabinets for Fargen. His company does killer work and
it’s such a pleasure to work with someone who has a vested
interest in quality and long term solutions so I can concentrate on building amplifiers.
How do you describe the sound of your amplifiers,
and from a builder’s perspective, what makes them
sound the way they do?
I would say my amplifiers have a familiar vintage feel that is
smokey sounding – never shrill or hard sounding. I am into
really smooth tones that remain pleasant even at high sound
pressure levels, and I would like to think we offer solutions
for modern players who love vintage amps but may be tired
of fighting with them.
What’s ahead? What do you want to accomplish in
the future?
I am currently working with another major artist to develop a
new signature amp that will then be manufactured by another
well known musical instrument company. This type of design
work is exciting and something I have wanted to do for quite a
while. It allows me to keep the focus on Fargen Amps, where
it should be. Innovation and quality rather than quantity. TQ
The Blackbird is a
compact 1x12 rated
at 30W (dual 6V6
20W or dual 6L6
40W versions are
also available) that
will meet the needs
of players seeking
warmer ‘Fendery’
tone at volumes
appropriate for
home use, recording
and small clubs.
Using our stellar blackface Deluxe as a benchmark for comparison, we found the Blackbird to be inherently warmer
sounding due to the Fargen’s circuit design, the added
midrange control, EH and JJ tubes, and the Celestion Vintage
30 speaker. Players fond of brighter single coil pickups
should appreciate the enhanced warmth that the Blackbird
offers. Darker humbucking pickups may call for a different
speaker – we preferred the Eminence Private Jack and Texas
Heat over the Vintage 30 with our humbucking guitars.
Unlike a
Deluxe, you
won’t find
fault with
ability to
handle bass
frequencies – the piggish output transformer has obviously
been designed to provide solid, unyielding low end, which
also results in a higher threshold for clean headroom. Even
when pushed hard, the Blackbird doesn’t break up as intensely as a typical dual 6V6 amp, which we found refreshing. If
you’re looking for thick sustain and intense overdriven tone
you’ll need a pedal, but as you probably know, cleaner amps
often match up best with your favorite overdrive and distortion effects, and it’s a fact of life that amps that excel in producing brilliant overdriven tones rarely also offer gobs of
clean tones at usable volume levels (unless you’re ready for
channel switching). The overall character of the Blackbird is
warm, clean
and very
quiet with
reverb that is
rich and lush
without the
hard splash
present in so
many compact reverb
amps built today. Fargen has also added a Hi and Lo power
toggle on the back. We preferred the Hi Power setting, relying on the volume pot on our guitars to manage volume,
power and distortion.
The Blackbird is well-built with meticulous attention to detail
under the hood. Fargen’s layout and soldering skills are
admirable, the cabinet is solid with no detectable buzzes or
rattles, and at 35 pounds it’s an easy carry.
At a time when more custom amp builders seem to be chasing mighty distortion with British roots (Fargen also builds a
12W “Mini-Plexi” and a 40W “Mighty-Plexi), we like the
idea of a clean 30W custom-built cousin to the Deluxe
Reverb. The Fargen site features lots of soundclips, and in
addition to building his featured amps, Ben Fargen also consults with players on custom designs. Stay tuned for a report
on the new amp he’s been developing in the past year with
the King of Tone, Jim Weider! TQ, 916-971-4992
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
Based on the feedback we’ve received, our April 2005 issue
on speakers was a big hit. Thanks to everyone who has written or called to discuss their next speaker adventure – we’re
happy to help and especially pleased when your projects
result in inspiring tone.
Since the April issue
was published we’ve
been busier than ever
before evaluating
speakers for review
articles and the debut
of the TQ Clarksdale
amp. Add the Eminence
Wizard to our list of
absolute favorite 12’s,
along with the
“Hellatones” from Avatar – an aged Celestion G12H 70th
Anniversary or Celestion 60W that rock. If you aren’t familiar with Avatar, we suggest you bookmark their web site for
future reference now. In addition to selling Eminence and
Celestion speaker s at the lowest prices we’ve found anywhere, they also build very affordable, top notch cabinets in
every possible configuration you might need, and as we said
… we love the Hellatones.
Avatar is located near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and we asked
founder Dave Noss to give us the skinny on his background,
the development of Avatar, and what’s hot in speakers and
cabs. Enjoy…
What is your background and what inspired you to
start Avatar?
I have been playing guitar for 40 years and I worked in
stereo/electronic stores as a teenager and after college. I started Speaker Center in 1983 in the SF Bay Area, which was a
chain of speaker stores carrying raw speakers, crossover parts
and quite a bit of car stereo speaker separates and amps. I
was on the ground floor of the car stereo explosion – you
know – filling the trunk with eight 15’s with a few 1000 watt
amps … That lasted into the early ‘90s and that is also when
I saw other stores selling 2x12 and 4x12 guitar cabs for what
I thought was way too much money. I immediately recognized that I could make similar speaker systems as good as
the top brand names. I could use the best speakers and sell
them factory direct to musicians out of my stores at a much
lower factory direct price. I ordered pallets of Celestion
Vintage 30’s from the UK and since I had all of the best connections with the best factories for speakers and cabinets for
car stereo, it was an easy transition to cabs with guitar speakers. I started with 2x12’s and 4x12’s loaded with Vintage 30’s
and sold them for about half of what other stores were charging for Celestion-loaded cabs.
How did the concept of “aging” speakers come
about and how is it done, specifically?
I heard about aging speakers in the forums, so I decided that it
would be a great service to offer to our customers. Then I took
it one step further and decided to come up with my own proprietary speakers. I came up with the idea of taking the most
popular Celestions, breaking them in and marketing them
directly to musicians at a very fair price as Hellatone. I was
buying the Celestions in large container quantities anyway, so
it was a natural transition. We break them in by playing them
on audio amps with bassy CD’s for at least 15 hours at night
when we aren’t here. We also do a very minimal, subtle treatment on the speaker which I should keep to myself.
With so many choices available today, choosing
speakers can be tough (and expensive). What are
the best selling Eminence and Celestion speakers
you sell, and which among them are your personal
favorites, and why?
My favorites are the Celestion G12H30 and Vintage 30, which
is why I chose them to use for the Hellatones. The Vintage 30
has the pronounced mids to cut through the mix and the
G12H30 has the nice low end and that nice warm break up
when overdriven. And of course, those two speakers really compliment each other well when used together in the same cab.
Eminence has many 12’s
to choose from and most
of them are pretty popular. In the beginning
when they first came out,
the Governor and Wizard
were the most popular
because they are voiced
similarly to the Celestion
Vintage 30 and G12H30.
But trends change, and
lately the Texas Heat for crunch, and the Swamp Thang for
good clean tones and big low end have increased in popularity.
You also offer incredibly good deals on cabinets.
Can you describe how they are built, the materials
used, and how you are able to sell them at such a
reasonable price?
Again, volume and great relationships with cab makers. We
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
don't make
the cabs here
– we farm
them out and
buy in volume. Our
new colored
tolex premier
cabs are
made in a
nearby town
by a shop that only makes cabs for us. They are 3/4 inch
birch ply with dovetail joints and are available in black,
blond, red, green and brown and we willspruce
be circa
orange in
a week or two. My son Eric Noss is in charge of all operations so he and his team do all of the assembly, testing, QC,
packing and shipping.
What are the most popular cabinet configurations
and speaker combinations you sell?
We do offer lots of
choices but the favorite
guitar cabs are the
2x12’s, usually with
Vintage 30’s or
G12H30’s (Hellatones)
or a mix of the two.
Another favorite for the
lower wattage amps is
one Alnico Blue and one
G12H30 or Hellatone
30. Our most popular 4x12 is the straight cab with four
Vintage 30’s for hard rock and metal.
In your opinion, are the Celestion speakers now
made in China equal to, better, or in some ways different or not as consistent as those previously made
in England? (This is a subject of constant debate
that no one seems to agree on).
I know there is a lot of debate on this. I’ll give you the quote
from my FAQs because it pretty much wraps up my feelings
on Celestions. “Do the UK Celestions and the Chinese
Celestions sound the same? Technically, no two speakers are
identical. For most guys there are no appreciable differences
between the two but Tone is very subjective, so when a real
tone tweaker expresses his opinion that he can hear a difference between the same model speaker from the two different
factories, he has the right to his opinion and you can’t argue
with him. We’ve sold thousands of Celestion guitar 12’s over
the years and found them to be of the same very high quality
that Celestion has always been known for. Our guitar cabs get
great reviews and most of those cabs are loaded with
Celestions, most of which come from the China factory.”
What’s ahead for your company – are there any
new products on the horizon?
We just introduced the new, larger Premier Vintage cab styled
after the Bluesbreaker cab and it’s working out very well. We
are constantly looking for new things to do. I find it very
helpful to read the popular forums because that’s where I can
learn so much about what musicians really want. TQ, 208-762-5251
“Aging” new speakers is a great idea and you can hear the
difference. Speakers are essentially mechanical devices that
definitely improve with time, and we often hear new speakers
begin to bloom with a smoother, warmer tone even during the
first few hours of play. It’s this smooth musicality so often
present in vintage speakers that we all crave in new speakers
(wish you could hear
our 1968 Marshall
4x12 cab), and to
receive new speakers
already broken-in is a
definite plus. We
directly compared an
aged G12H 30W
Hellatone to an identical, new G12H 30W
from Avatar and our
results confirmed our own experiences with new and “naturally aged” speakers. The new G12H lacked the lush low-end
of the aged speaker and midrange and treble tones were
sharper and not quite as smooth and musical sounding.
Overall, the new speaker sounded tighter, stiffer, and harmonic content was more raw and aggressive while the aged
speaker sounded much sweeter. Granted, 15-30 hours of playing time may produce similar results, but why wait if you
don’t have to?
We also auditioned
an Avatar Premier
2x12 cabinet loaded
with a Hellatone
G12H 30 and
Hellatone 60. At 21"
x 28.5" x 12 " with a
“football” oval back,
the 45 .lb Premier is
acoustically full and
warm with the ambi-continued-
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
ent character of an
open back while
maintaining some
of the punchiness
and projection of a
closed back design.
The Premier isn’t
as linear, tight or
“beamy” as a
closed back 2x12, but if that’s what you like, Avatar builds
closed back cabinets as well.
Avatar’s build quality is excellent with no compromises and
includes 13-ply Baltic Birch, rabbett and dado interlocking
side joints, steel (not plastic!) recessed handles, steel corner
caps, and a deep selection of speaker combinations and tolex
and grill cloth options. Loaded with aged Hellatones the price
is phenomenal – $289.00 plus $34.00 shipping. See the
Avatar web site for more information on 1x12’s, 1x15’s,
4x10’s and 4x12’s.
What could be more rewarding than loading up on new
speakers for your favorite amps or adding versatile new tones
with different cabinet configurations? Try playing your
Marshall-style 50W head through a 4x10 cab … Add a little
reverb and you’ve got a strong blues rig that will have other
players wondering why that hadn’t thought of it. Call it the
Honey Dripper. And if you have a vintage Fender black or
silverface amp with blue ‘Fender’ label Oxfords (EIA code
465), please get over the thought of keeping it original, put
those Oxfords in a closet where they belong, and make that
amp whole and honest with new speakers. As Jeff Bakos
says, “Changing speakers is one of the easiest and most significant ‘mods’ you can ever do.”TQ
“As I read various portions of Tonequest, I am always mystified by certain phraseology that is used to describe sounds
from guitars or amps, for example:
“Greasy” – what does this mean? I have an idea what a
greasy sound might be but I’m not really sure. Can you give
an example of a greasy sound in a song or by an artist?
From the Oct 2005 issue, page 19: “The Cream-Tone transformed the tone of our humbucking guitars into a greasy,
brokedown, almost-single coil tone that was seductive and
unique.” What does this mean? Greasy? Brokedown? I can
only guess. Later, same page, ‘the same EQ changes we
noted with humbucking pickups push the character of Strat
forward, enhancing the scooped, tinsley tone, low-mid
response and snarl … The out of phase #2 and #4 positions
really quack through the Cream-Tone, the neck pickup thumps
like it should, and the bridge rips …’
‘Push the character of the Strat forward?’ What does that
mean? ‘Scooped, tinsley’ tone – what is that tone? I suspect
that means the frequency response is scooped, with the mid
frequencies 3db or more below the bass and high frequencies.
‘Snarl’ – what does this mean? ‘Really quack’ – is this the
sound that Albert Collins got from his telecaster? ‘Thumps
and rips’ – I don't know what this means. What is ‘headroom?’ There is always a lot of talk about headroom and I
don’t know what that means.”
Randy Brei
Lake Ridge, VA
Dear Randy:
The vernacular of tone can be odd indeed. Have you ever
been in a recording studio and listened to a discussion of
what is (or isn’t) being created and recorded in terms of
tonality and feel? While the interpretation of terms used to
evaluate tone can be as subjective as the act itself, you have
inspired us to take a stab at defining some of the more familiar terms used by us and others in specifically describing
amplified guitar tone. Why is a separate vocabulary for guitar
necessary? Well, think about it … Every instrument in an
orchestra is what it is – a viola is a viola. It’s the music being
played in a symphony by all the instruments that creates the
mood and collective tone of the piece, while the tone of an
electric guitar and amp can vary by design or modified and
manipulated to create a palpable range of moods and tones all
by itself. Wouldn’t it be fun if someone could build a guitar
tone meter with a needle indicator that would simply point to
the following “readings?”
Airy – The opposite of tight, dark or compressed. We often
refer to specific pickups as having an “airy,” open tone and
we view this quality as being broadly preferable for most
players and styles of music. Of course, for those who relish
Mesa Triple Rectifier stacks, C-tuned Les Pauls, body art and
face hardware, “airy” is for pussies. Fair enough. You’re reading PussyQuest, then.
Awesome – given the source, usually very loud and very bad.
Mature, sober human beings don’t find much to be truly awesome very often, otherwise, how could it indeed be awesome? Any Guitar Center on a Saturday is busting with awesome tones.
Bluesy – You won’t find this in the Court of the Crimson
King. Bluesy tone is raw, rich, honestly contrived and
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
unadulterated. Albert King set a
standard he will forever own alone
on an electric guitar, Bloomfield
did, too, steel player Freddie
Roulette’s “Puppy Howl Blues”
with Earl Hooker must be ranked,
and you can take your pick of any
number of Delta blues players on
acoustic guitar, Robert Johnson
being the most celebrated.
“Bluesy” is something that’s either
runnin’ in your veins or it ain’t,
and for way too many “blues”
players today, it ain’t.
Ballsy – Bold. Unapologetically so, which is to say that a
solid statement is being made. It may not be a statement you
would (or could) make, but it always gets your attention and
respect. Jeff Beck has always been amongst the ballsiest of
players, as demonstrated on the classic Jeff Beck Group
album featuring Bob
Tench, Max Middleton
and the late Cozy Powell
that includes “I’m Goin’
Down.” Learn to play this
song the way Beck did in
1972 and you will have
accomplished something
very significant – but
don’t play it out. Ever.
This is your little secret.
Cut live in a Memphis studio and produced by Steve Cropper,
this album proves that the true tipping point for ballsy tone is
90% attitude. Beck’s 50W Marshall was merely an appropriate instrument to be used, abused and exploited.
Brokedown – Raw
and flawed to perfection. “You’ll get a
worried mind learning my mistakes.”
Jimmy Reed must be
counted, and Jimbo
Mathus makes every
guitar he touches
sound brokedown (as
most of them are).
Listen to Jimbo’s “Mule Plow Line” or Buddy Guy’s Sweet
Tea for brokedown guitar tone.
Brutal – Possibly pleasing, but often only when you are the
one dealing. A Firebird played through a Peavey 5150 and a
Rat pedal is brutal.
Bad – Really good, which could mean anything, including
truly bad. Consider the source.
Bad ass – Totally bad
and defines “the
shit.” Doyle
Bramhall is a truly
bad ass guitar player.
Buy all of his music
and if you should
catch him live, ask
him why he hasn’t
been featured in
ToneQuest since he’s
above anything else
(but he ain’t above this). Meanwhile, buy Welcome and get
Blistering – Faster than you can play and totally bad ass to
boot, as in early Jimmy Page. Vai and Satriani are blistering,
but they don’t possess the heavy traction Jimmy did, and of
course, they’ve never had the songs. But take heart – you can
also play one note and be blistering … Albert Collins defined
blistering. It ain’t the gear (although it helps) – it’s the heat in
your heart.
Crunchy – Distorted,
tight and compressed
with lots of midrange shizle biscuit. Very unFendery. A Dallas-Arbiter
Sound City 100W head is
very crunchy, as is the
Marshall JCM 900. Hell,
Michigan’s native son
Michael Katon is the
Sultan of Crunch. Buy his
music for your zestiest parties, and should you find your wife
dancing on a table and trading mescal shots with your boss,
please send Mike a note of thanks. He’s from Michigan … so
of course he’ll be proud.
Deep – 3-dimensional. Ry Cooder is deep. Adrian Legg is
deep. Lindley is deep. The Beach Boys album Surf’s Up is
exceptionally deep (with a couple of lame exceptions penned
by Mike Love). Vintage Leslie cabs, Fender reverb units,
Brown Pro amps and some Dumbles are deep. Back to Surf’s
Up for a minute … try learning to play the guitar like Brian
Wilson sings. That would be deep (volume pedal required).
Evil – Dark, brooding, threatening tone, as found in any
Nordic metal band or our very own Brian Hugh Warner.
Canton, Ohio must be so very proud …
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
Funky – Like a monkey. This is a lost art in guitar and there
are many different nuances of funk. Sure, The Ohio Players
were funky, but The James Gang’s “Funk 49” was really not
funky at all. ‘Nawlins players are all funky, and Bryan Lee is
among the funkiest.
Sonny Landreth
Greasy – Back to Ry Cooder
… Billy Gibbons … Lindley
… Sonny Landreth! (how you
whisk lightning into that
greasy roux, boy?) Harry Dean
Stanton is the poster boy for
skinny greasy, which is much
harder to pull off than fat
greasy. Buy the Paris, Texas
soundtrack or rent the movie.
Very greasy.
Headroom – The amount of volume available in an amp
before clean tones melt into distortion. A silverface master
volume 1979 Fender Twin loaded with JBL’s has a cubic shitload of headroom. A Fender Champ has none.
Loose – Most often refers to low end that falls apart rather
than producing a solid thump. Ever eaten street food in
Mexico? The vintage 2x10 Fender Vibrolux Reverb is a great
amp, but it lacks the
famously solid bottom of the 4x10
Super Reverb. Ditto
with the vintage
blackface Vibroverb,
which is why César
Diaz always replaced
the output transformers in SRV’s Fender amps with Bassman trannies and subbed
silicon diode rectifiers for the GZ34. So, you’re a serious
amp collector? Well, where is your Diaz, playah?
Muddy – Poor note definition
on chords, smeared tones lacking presence and sparkle. Dull.
Appropriate for forays into
authentic blues requiring
cheap pawnshop tone. Can be
acquired from old Harmony,
Kay and Supro guitars, Valco
amps and other cheap-whenit-was new gear. Joe Barden
once called these instruments
“toys.” It takes a full grown man to play a toy. Lindley was
one of the first to plug his toys into a Dumble, and you know
the rest …
Overwound – The Deadboys’ (Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome,
Jimmy Zero, Johnny Blitz, and Jeff Magnum) debut vinyl
release Young, Loud and Snotty. Otherwise, refers to pickups
built with more turns for increased output. Usually darker
sounding as a result with an edgy tone.
Papery – Thin, razory, edgy tone with very little punch or
perceived power. Older, cheap speakers with undersized magnets produce papery tone, as did the dashboard speakers in
yer daddy’s ‘65 Impala.
Quack – The #4 out-ofphase position (middle
and bridge) on a Strat.
For an example of snarly
quack, reference SRV’s
wah wah-laced rhythm
track in Lonnie Mack’s
“Hound Dog Man” on the
Strike Like Lightning CD.
Yes, we’ve said this
before and we’re tellin’
you again ‘cuz you didn’t listen the first time!
Rippin’ – Sharp and clear with great presence and power.
Single coils rip better than humbuckers. If a saw rips, a humbucker hammers. Joe Bonamassa and Buddy Whittington rip.
Kal David rips. Johnny Winter holds the original patent on
Scooped – Diminished midrange presence and emphasis
when compared to low and high frequency response. Fender
blackface amps typically produce a scooped tone, which is
not a bad thing, but we do enjoy adding a 50K midrange pot
to Fender blackface amps (Deluxe Reverb and Pro Reverb) to
merge Fender and Marshall tones in one amp. My Deluxe
will kill your Deluxe …
Signature tone – Your uniquely identifiable sound and hopefully what you’re chasing here.
Snarl – Tone with a
thick edginess. Strat
players chase this
tone endlessly when
all they really need to
do is move up to a
good Telecaster or get
a set of Lollar “TQ”
Strat pickups. Roy
Buchanan invented
snarl. Got a light?
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
Tinsely – No, not Tinsley Ellis … Liberally sprinkle some old
school Christmas tinsel on a tall mound of Spam, spread out
your meditation mat and release the muse. Should this fail to
reveal the essence of tinsely tone, try any old Police records
and bring on the night.
Uber Tone – “Above all others,” and in reality a complete
fantasy since you cannot possibly hear “all others.” Harvey’s
basement tone in Akron might be better than yours, yet we all
harbor our own concept of Uber Tone, real or imagined, and
they are completely valid. It may not be the best sex anyone
has ever had – it only matters that it’s the best sex you’ve
ever had …
Underwound – Kenny Chesney
Wide glide – Big,
smooth, wide open
tone, whether it’s the
stylized surf tones of
James Calvin Wilsey
on Chris Isaac’s early
work, the broad horizons evoked by The
Edge, or a Paul
Franklin pedal steel
solo. Wide glide
makes you want to
fill the tank with $3
gasoline, drive the
two lane highways
only and stop at the
joints where the locals eat. Well, whaddya waiting for?TQ
A full year in development, we’ve completed the first two
prototypes of the ToneQuest Clarksdale amp and you’re
invited to order yours now. Long-time readers will recall our
previous reviews of the rare DeArmond amplifiers built in
1959-60 in
Toledo, Ohio
by Rowe
Industries – the
same company
famous for
DeArmond pickups and
effects. Guitarist
Steve Kimock first
turned us on to
the DeArmond
1x10 with
tremolo, and
thanks to
Montana guitar
builder Larry
Pogreba, we
received an original “C.F. Martin”
DeArmond 1x12 in
2004 that really shook us up. To put it bluntly, this little dual
6V6 amp roared with a deep expressiveness, rich harmonic
content and an intensity that we had never heard in any other
1x12 amplifier from any era, and our reaction was consistently echoed by all who heard it. We’ve never seen a DeArmond
that dated from any years other than 1959-60, making them
rare and nearly impossible to find – until now.
The original cabinet and steel
chassis were sent
to Mojotone and
CAD drawings
made for exact
reproductions, the
original transformer set was
sent to Mercury Magnetics to be cloned, and Jeff Bakos blueprinted the original circuit and is building each amp chassis
personally using Zoso caps. After evaluating over a dozen
speakers we selected the Eminence Wizard with Evidence
Audio speaker cable by Tony Farinella. The 20W, dual channel, 4 input, cathode biased Clarksdale can be run with dual
6V6’s and a 5Y3 rectifier for ultimate overdrive, or a pair of
6L6’s and a 5AR4 for slightly more power and a bigger attitude. While it can also produce brilliant clean tones at moderate volume settings with
single coil
we re-created this
amp for
remarkable overdriven tone. The only non-original feature is
a direct out jack enabling larger amps to be slaved for more
power. For more information or to place your order, please
see the Clarksdale Amp page at or call
1-877-MAX-TONE. Price: $1,950.00 excluding shipping. A
deposit of $1,000 is required, and because each amp is custom built, please allow four months for delivery.TQ
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006
coming in
Future Issues
John Mayer
Mick Taylor
Editor/Publisher David Wilson
Associate Publisher Liz Medley
Graphic Design Rick Johnson
Tom Anderson
FEATURES: West Coast Swingers!
TV Jones
New Gear from Carr Amps
Tom Anderson GuitarWorks
Mark Baier
Victoria Amplifiers
Jeff Bakos
Bakos AmpWorks
Dick Boak
CF Martin & Co.
The ToneQuest Clarksdale
The Dumble OD
Joe Bonamassa
Phil Brown
Dan Butler
Butler Custom Sound
Don Butler
The Toneman
Steve Carr
Carr Amplifiers
Mitch Colby
PICKUPS: AlNiCo P90’s…
Peter Green Humbuckers
Ben Cole
Lindy Fralin
Peter Frampton
Billy F. Gibbons
ZZ Top
Joe Glaser
Glaser Instruments
John Harrison
A Brown Soun
Johnny Hiland
Gregg Hopkins
René Martinez
The Guitar Whiz
Greg Martin
The Kentucky Headhunters
Richard McDonald
VP Mktg, Fender Musical Instruments
Terry McInturff
Terry McInturff Guitars
James Pennebaker
Scott Petersen
Harmonic Design Pickups
Vintage Amp Restoration
Phil Jones
Gruhn Guitars
K&M Analog Designs
Mark Karan
Bob Weir & Ratdog
Ernest King
Gibson Custom Shop
Chris Kinman
Kinman AVn Pickups
Paul Rivera
Rivera Amplifiers
Tommy Shannon
Double Trouble
Todd Sharp
Nashville Amp Service
Tim Shaw
Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
Chris Siegmund
Siegmund Guitars and Amplifiers
GHS Strings
Jol Dantzig
Mike Kropotkin
John Sprung
American Guitar Center
Hamer Guitars
Dan Erlewine
Winn Krozak
Paul Reed Smith Guitars
Peter Stroud
The Sheryl Crow Band
GUITARS: Why you need an SG
The ToneQuest King Daddy
Larry Fishman
Fishman Transducers
Sonny Landreth
Albert Lee
Buzz Feiten
Adrian Legg
Bill Finnegan
Dave Malone
Klon Centaur
Ritchie Fliegler
Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
The Radiators
Jimbo Mathus
Laurence Wexer
Laurence Wexer Limited
Fine Fretted Instruments
Buddy Whittington
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers
Don Young
National Reso-phonic Guitars
Zachary Vex
Z Vex Effects
The ToneQuest Report TM (ISSN 1525-3392) is published monthly by Mountainview Publishing LLC, 235 Mountainview Street, Suite 23, Decatur, GA. 300302027, 1-877-MAX-TONE, email: [email protected] Periodicals Postage Paid at Decatur, GA and At Additional Mailing Offices. Postmaster: Send address
changes to:The ToneQuest Report, PO Box 717, Decatur, GA. 30031-0717.The annual subscription fee for The ToneQuest Report TM is $79 per year for 12
monthly issues. International subscribers please add US $40. Please remit payment in U.S. funds only. VISA, MasterCard and American Express accepted.
The ToneQuest Report TM is published solely for the benefit of its subscribers. Copyright © 2006 by Mountainview Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. No
part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any form or incorporated into any information retrieval system without the written permission of the copyright
holder. Please forward all subscription requests, comments, questions and other inquiries to the above address or contact the publisher at
[email protected] Opinions expressed in The ToneQuest Report are not necessarily those of this publication. Mention of specific products, services or
technical advice does not constitute an endorsement. Readers are advised to exercise extreme caution in handling electronic devices and musical instruments.
PO Box 717 Decatur, GA. 30031-0717
TONEQUEST REPORT V7. N4. February 2006

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