AlanGustin Blog2

My First “Real” Guitar

Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 11, 2009
1969 Les Paul Deluxe

1969 Les Paul Deluxe

In the small, Pennsylvania town of Lansdale, there was one music store; Stuart’s Music. It’s where I took two years of guitar lessons beginning when I was twelve years old. My dad had bought me two guitars prior to me buying this one, but this was my first purchase. When I bought it, my Les Paul looked just like the one pictured above. Lots and lots of rock players were using this guitar back then, and I wanted one — probably not so much for the sound, but for the look.

I held on to this axe for many years, even though I bought other guitars to play. This guitar had sentimental value, as it was the first guitar I had ever saved up my own money to buy. I also liked playing it — it had a distict sound that could only be called, “classic rock”. I did eventually end up selling it, but it returned to me years later, after it had undergone quite a metamorphosis.

The Les Paul had changed hands once or twice after I sold it, but oddly, it managed to stay in my hometown. One day, my good friend and fellow guitarist Steve Hill brought a guitar case in to the house where I was living (probably my parent’s house), and said, “Guess what I’ve got here?”

He opened the case, and there was a Les Paul Deluxe. But I didn’t recognize it at first, because one of the guys who had owned it for a while had stripped off the finish. No longer was it a gold-top. The gold paint had been stripped, and all the lacquer was sanded off so that what remained was just a bare-wood body. The neck had also had its finish removed and was sanded smooth to match the body. So what my eyes were looking at was my old gold-top Les Paul Deluxe… naked!

I don’t know if the indignity of this abomination caused my heart to sink, or if a sentimental nerve was touched; whatever the case was, I bought it back. I started playing it again, but never did put a finish back on it. So the raw grain of the birch top started soaking up the sweat from my right arm where it rested on top of the body, causing a slightly darkened stain to form there. The “naked Paul” sounded slightly different due to having no paint on it. It lost some of its sustain, and a little bit of high-frequency overtones. It sounded… mellow. The sound was good — it was just different.

During this time in my life, my dad was in the middle of building a 44-ft. Cherubini sailing yacht, similar to the one pictured below:

The Cherubini 44 sailing yacht

The Cherubini 44 sailing yacht

Needless to say, my dad possessed skills beyond description, and he needed every one of those skills to finish his project, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful boats I have ever had the privilege of sailing on. So, since my dad had “mad skeeelz”, I asked him to use those skills to make me a couple mahogany pickup covers for my naked-Paul to replace the cream-colored plastic ones. Since the sides of this guitar were now naked mahogany, I thought that matching naked mahogany pickup covers would look incredible. Well, my dad pulled off a crafting miracle, shaping the solid blocks of mahogany, exactly like the plastic ones, then routing out the inside so that the pickups would fit into them. There was no ready way to attach the pickups to the new covers, so dad suggested we epoxy them to the new wood covers. This was a permanent solution, but I didn’t think I would ever need to replace the pickups, which I didn’t. I wish I had a picture of the guitar in this new configuration, but I pawned the guitar some years later after I had moved to Los Angeles. My affair with drugs was continuing, and I often used the pawn shops to get money.

And so ends the story of the Les Paul that wouldn’t die. I wonder where it is today.

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Another Lost Friend…

Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 10, 2009
1970s Stratocaster

1970's Stratocaster

I purchased a brand-new 1970’s era Fender Stratocaster like the one pictured above and fell in love again. (Every time I bought a new guitar, I fell in love with it… I fall in love easily.)

Our bar-band was gaining noteriety and getting lots of gigs at this time in my life. We were all so young back then. Seeing a picture of this guitar takes me back to those magical days. But as magical as those days were, they were also rife with bad behavior on my part. I got a bit cocky back then because my talent as a guitar player was praised by many of the “groupies” that followed our band around. So my carefree attitude and growing drug problem combined to cause pain to my friends and family. Many of them didn’t know how deeply involved in drugs I was at that time. They were all too aware however, of my penchant for alcohol, and many times I was carried out at the end of a gig by one of our loyal “roadies”. My bandmates put up with this behavior, and were unknowingly enabling my continuing spiral down into the pit of addiction.

There were no shows like “Dr. Phil”, or “Intervention” on TV back then. If there had been, I’m sure my friends would have sat me down to have a “serious talk”. But life is strange, and I was allowed to live on in my addictions and stay in the band.

You will have noticed by now that I will try and relate life experiences from the era when I owned particular guitars. I hope this will make these posts a bit more interesting than just bad-memory reviews of guitars I’ve owned in the past.

Whatever was going on in life during those “Natural Stratocaster” days, this guitar introduced me to the whole “Fender Sound”, and I quickly took to playing songs by Clapton, Dire Straights, and other “Strat-inspired” music. I even played me some Grateful Dead.

Another Guitar I wish I still had…

Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 10, 2009
The Hagstrom Swede

The Hagstrom Swede

I had one of these guitars in the seventies. Same color as the one in the picture. This was a great guitar, as I remember. I can’t remember why I got rid of it. Probably wanted a Les Paul, which was much more popular in those days, and had a reputation as being the guitar for rock.

The Swede was not as heavy as a Les Paul Deluxe, but was similar in other ways. It had an ebony fingerboard, which was jet-black, which looked cool while still being wood. I remember the playability of this guitar was very good.

And that’s about all I can remember about it. Another very pretty guitar.

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Koa Beauty – Travis Bean TB1000

Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 10, 2009
Heavy Beauty - Travis Bean TB1000

Heavy Beauty - Travis Bean TB1000

In the late seventies (I can’t remember the exact time era), I owned one of these Travis Bean guitars. This guitar was one of the most beautiful pieces of playable art I have ever seen or played. This small picture can’t show the deep beauty of the solid Hawaiian Koa wood body, which had a thick layer of clear laquer over the natural Koa, which gave it an absolutely awesome appearance close-up. If you turned the guitar slowly in your hands while holding it in the light, the grain of the Koa wood body would actually change and shift as you moved the angle of the body to the light. Truly amazing to look at. I used to find myself hypnotized — just staring at the body of this guitar while I was in an ‘altered state’.

The concept of a metal neck is a good one, but it’s just very difficult to pull-off in reality. The neck and headstock were machined from a solid piece of aluminum, and polished smooth. The neck actually continues on down through the body to where the bridge assembly mounts to it. This allowed the strings at both ends to be mounted on a single, solid piece of aluminum, which — in theory — produced the longest sustain and most audible harmonic overtones of any guitar.

The problem, in ‘field-use’ was that I could tune this guitar to perfect pitch, start playing it, and it would drift out of tune once the aluminum started expanding from the heat of my left hand on the neck, and the warmth of my body on the back of the guitar. This guitar produced such a wide range of audible harmonic overtones, that the ‘de-tuning’ affected the sound on multiple levels, which turned out to be extremely frustrating to me — so much so that I ended up selling it. I tried to reason with this beauty, but I just could not get past the tuning issue. While it remained in tune, this guitar sounded awesome! The humbucking pickups were some of the best for the overdriven, “Tom Scholz” sustain/distortion sound, but it also sounded extremely sweet on a clean setting. Tonally, an exceptional sounding guitar.

Another negative about the TB1000, was that it wasn’t quite balanced on the strap. The neck was so heavy, that the guitar tended to drop down on the neck-end and I needed to constantly ‘hold it up’ with my left hand while playing it. This wasn’t as distracting as one might think, but it was a distraction none the less.

The following is borrowed from an article by Art Thompson of the on-line version of Guitar Player magazine: view the complete article

Travis Beans were expensive in their day. A 1978 price list shows the Model 500 retailing for $500, the Standard Guitar (later called the TB 1000) going for $995, and the Artist Guitar (later known as the TB 1000A) listing for $1,195. Lefty models added another $200 to the price. By 1979, the company’s investors began calling for the prices to be lowered. Not willing to cut corners and diminish the quality, Bean chose instead to stop production.

It’s unclear how many guitars and basses the company made during its short life. Some put the total at 3,650—others at 1,700. Nevertheless, the abrupt end of Travis Bean closed an exciting chapter in the modern guitar story that yielded some very significant achievements in terms of construction, sustain, and design. Like maverick automaker John DeLorean, Bean pushed the envelope by doing something radically different with a familiar product. Bean’s extraordinary focus on preserving string vibration may have resulted in an instrument that was too costly for the working players it was intended for, but the metal concept would stick around for years via his ex-partner’s line of Kramer-brand aluminum-neck guitars. The caveat, of course, was that Kramer’s design incorporated wood inserts that were set into the neck to provide a more natural feel—a detail one might conclude was a harbinger of wood’s ultimate triumph in the great metal challenge.

Saddened by the negative issues inherent in this guitar’s design, I believe many players who have had romantic interludes with this beauty wish that it would have worked out better. If I ever have the cash, I would like to have one of these beauties around just to look at. Truly, a marvelous looking guitar.


Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 9, 2009
Taylor 314ce

Taylor 314ce

I used to play a Martin D-25. It served me well for several years. But as most guitars get better with age, this particular Martin did not. It developed a “hump” in the fingerboard where the neck meets the body, and all the truss-rod adjusting and humidifying wouldn’t cure it. It caused the guitar to buzz when the action was set to my liking. So I sold it.

I started seeing so many players — particularly worship leaders — playing Taylors, that I became curious, and after some hours in Guitar Center’s acoustic guitar room, I decided on the 314ce. To be honest, I would have liked to have been abe to afford an 800 or 900 series Taylor, but my budget limited me to the 300 series. I do a fair amount of lead work, and play chords high on the neck, so a cutaway was a must. Built-in pickup was also a must. The 300 series is missing most of the fancy accoutrements of the more expensive models, but it turns out that I shouldn’t own the more expensive guitars… I’m just plain too hard on them.

I have been playing this guitar for several years. I play it so much, I had to have several worn-out frets replaced about two years ago. It has been the best guitar I have owned to date, as far as durability and playability is concerned. Live presentations at churches and other events have come and gone and continue to happen on a regular basis. There are dings and scratches in the body from rough handling, and though I have never dropped it or allowed it to fall over onto the floor, it has taken it’s share of abuse.

Since it’s older, it’s got the old-school Fishman sound control system, which is incredible. I can shape the sound of this guitar in seemingly infinite ways. I’ll never know why Taylor went to the new “three-mystery-knobs” on their new guitars. Maybe Fishman doesn’t offer the old preamp model anymore. Too bad, if that’s the case.

I can count on this guitar to play the same way every time I strap it on. It is a solid workhorse of a guitar, and I am so glad I bought it.

Me and my hawse

Me and my hawse

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Do I covet?… you bet!

Posted in Guitars I like by alangustin on April 7, 2009

Ever since I heard the Beatles’ “Ive Just Seen A Face”, I’ve wanted a guitar that would reproduce the sound of that song’s intro. The deep tones and big sound were no doubt partially a result of George Martin’s excellent engineering skills, but to obtain a great guitar track — you first need a great sounding guitar. A good friend of mine claims that McCartney played a Gibson Jumbo on that song, and I have recently re-acquired a longing for this guitar. But not just a jumbo… no, no… I want the SUPER JUMBO! This guitar is just plain beautful. I have never played one, but I will. Oh yes… I will!

The hefty price tag keeps me from owning one, but I hope that if I’m extra good, and eat all my vegatables at dinner time, say my prayers at night and get good grades… maybe God will bless me with one someday.