Archive for the ‘My guitars’ Category
The Aria Diamond series bass guitar I bought together with my brother somewhere in 1988 for around 800 guilders (325 Euros, with inflation taken into consideration that would nowadays mean a 500 euro bass, so a decent mid-priced bass), because we wanted to make our own completely arranged recordings.
I had also bought a Yamaha MT-100 4-track cassette recorder and a second hand Roland TR-707 drumcomputer. My brother had got a Roland D-10 synthesizer and Cakewalk sequencing software on his IBM XT (or AT?) clone computer. It has been one of the episodes in my musical life when my playing improved dramatically, just by recording myself over and over.
Years later I bought the other half of this bass from my brother as well.
It’s quite a basic design when it comes to looks, but it does have quite an extensive electronic scheme making several kinds of sounds possible. It has volume knobs for the pair of neck pickups and then one for the bridge pickup. Also, it has a balance knob for mixing the pickups, and a tone knob (which I typically never use).
This enables you to get your own preferred balance of deep, heavy lows from the neck pickups and sounds that pack a bit more of an attack from the bridge pickup.
It’s not a high end bass, but typically for Japanese-built Arias of the 1980’s of very decent quality nevertheless.
Sometimes you pick up a guitar and right after the first few notes you go “Yes!”. This Taylor 114 was one of those guitars when in 2012 I went to Elderly Instruments in Lansing (a true heaven for guitarists, by the way; I rarely saw such a big choice of top range instruments and you’re allowed, even invited, to play them all).
I live in the Netherlands but my girlfriend lives in Michigan. 2012 was the third summer I was travelling there, and the fees for excess luggage had been going up so steeply that I figured it would be cheaper in the long run – and safer for my guitars – to just buy one in the US and leave it there instead of taking one on the plane every time.
I wanted to buy a second hand one (most of my guitars I bought second hand), and I discovered that Elderly instruments actually had about five second hand ones available. Within minutes it was clear to me that out of five candidates it was going to be this 114 or a slightly more expensive Taylor 210 series. It was this one that sounded the best though.
The 100-series being the cheapest series of Taylor guitars, it still has your typical chrystal clear Taylor sound, but with warm basses as well, and equally typical perfect playability. It’s got laminate sapele back and sides and a solid sitka spruce top.
This Em11 (named after a chord that I like) is a so-called kit guitar from Stewart-MacDonald. I had been wanting to build a guitar myself for some time, but especially with building acoustic guitars there’s a lot that can go wrong. Subscribing for a course and building one from scratch was an option, but then I hit upon this thing called kit guitars, where the parts that require expensive machinery to manufacture come more or less prefab, which you only have to finish or make to size. That seemed to be a more flexible way of working to me, so I opted for that kit guitar.
I chose a Stewart-MacDonald kit, because their kits come with an extensive manual and a demo DVD, which is something you really need with your first build. They had only two models to pick from, a Dreadnought model based on the Martin HD-28 or a Martin OM model. I picked the dreadnought because that was a model I didn’t have yet (I opted for the rosewood version).
It has been a great experience to build it, and if I ever have time for it again I’ll build another one. I was very pleasantly surprised by its great, deep sound as well, the materials for this kit are really top notch. The hardest and most critical part is to get the neck set up right (which is why I picked the bolted neck rather than the dovetail construction). Second hardest thing is to get it finished nicely, in which I didn’t succeed entirely. That’s typically a matter of experience.
The kit and additional materials cost some 450 euros and I spent about 550 euros on tools. So in total this cost me some 1000 euros, but it definitely sounds as good as many guitars of such a price, and I also have played more expensive ones that weren’t as good (also cheaper ones that WERE as good; there’s quite a wide variety in price-quality ratios with acoustic guitars). It definitely sounds a LOT better than my 550 Euro Crafter GAE-30, but without its pickup system that guitar would cost less than 500 euros, to be fair.
This 1973 Gibson SG Special was bought secondhand by my brother somewhere in the mid-eighties, when he played rhythm guitar in our band and needed a better one than his old Maya Stratocaster.
Anyway, two weeks after that it nearly had gone again already, when it appeared that we had left it standing outside leaning against the car, the morning after we came home from rehearsal. I rushed outside the moment we discovered it but it was nowhere to be seen. After we put a note on the wall in the hall of my apartment block, to our immense relief someone appeared to have spotted it early that morning when leaving for college, and had taken it inside. We got him a nice bottle of wine.
After the band stopped my brother didn’t play it very much anymore, playing his acoustic guitar mostly. Three years ago I made him an offer on it (his daughter plays music as well, and I thought she should have first choice, but she proceeded on piano) and since then it has been mine.
I have used it in several recordings ever since, mostly for its open, transparent rock sound, partly due to its mini-humbuckers (only used during one year on this model) which almost sound like Gibson’s famous P90 pickups: clear, but warmer than Fender style single coils. It’s a perfect guitar for playing rock chords with a light touch of distortion. I am always amazed by its sustain, despite it being very light weight.
In 1987 I was planning on going to a music college, specialized in jazz, which required a real jazz guitar. I bought this secondhand Aria Pro II PE-175, Herb Ellis signature model (its serial number starts with a 2, so probably it’s from 1982).
It has been made in the Matsumoku factory, known for manufacturing many quality guitars for several Japanese midrange brands. Aria also was a midrange brand, but with this model they wanted to make a real quality guitar. Its model number, PE-175, seems to suggest a reference to the Gibson ES-175, although it really isn’t a one-to-one copy of that. It sooner resembles a compact kind of Gibson L5.
As often is the case with midrange brands, when they do make a quality guitar the price-quality ratio can be very good. Because of their midrange image they can’t really ask a top price for their instruments, even when they are (almost) top quality. Back then it was a guitar of around 900 dollars (new) (a Gibson ES-175 then already would have cost 1400 dollars), nowadays – if you can find one – they’ll sell for around 650 dollars.
Nowadays I often use it when being asked to play in a big band. This guitar plays very easily and has a warm yet transparent sound. With its pickup switch in the middle position, it’s even possible to get a very usable, clear funky rhythm sound out of it.
When I bought this guitar it was with the idea in mind that this would become my ‘second’ guitar, only to be used for the specific Stratocaster sound.
But ever since I’ve played it in an allround coverband for several years, I’ve discovered why Stratocasters are such popular guitars: they’re so very versatile. Of course they’re perfect for certain specific styles, but actually you can play any other style in at least a reasonable fashion on it. The built quality is actually a bit less than that of my Ibanez, but the concept simply always works.
I bought this guitar as a second hand one around 1990, after it had been brought back to the store by someone who, allegedly, had bought it without consulting his wife first. I, at the time, fortunately didn’t need to consult with anyone when buying it.
At Stratcollector.com I found information that seems to suggest that this is a Torino Red American Standard from around 1987, just after Fender had become independent of CBS again. Also, its serial number starts with EE, which is a bit special, meaning it was specifically meant for export. I replaced the tuning machines with Sperzel locking machines and the standard white pick guard by a pearloid one.
This was the first quality guitar I ever bought, in 1980 at the age of 16, after my guitar teacher had told me I needed a new one. Until then I had been playing a Suzuki of 200 guilders (less than $ 100, 30 of which had been provided by the grandfather I’ve been named after, although he didn’t quite approve of me spending that money right away I seem to remember. If only he knew how much happiness he has given me by sponsoring my first guitar).
My guitar teacher had mentioned Hopf as being a good brand, but only from 1000 guilders onwards. At the store where I went they had indeed a Hopf for sale. Normally that one would have costed 1300 guilders, which was way too much for me at that time. But the top was slightly damaged (a superficial dent) and therefore the shop owner had been able to buy it for half price. As a result I only had to pay 800 guilders.
Since then I know how to recognize a good guitar: it keeps surprising you every now and then with its sound, even after more than 30 years. It has been built in 1978 according to its label. The sides and back seem to be made of beautiful solid maple, and it’s got a cedar top, accounting for its mellow sound.
This guitar was very likely made by Willy Hopf, as his son Dieter Hopf once mailed me after a question I had about this guitar. Dieter Hopf is a very prestigious luthier, building guitars ranging from a 1000 to 10,000 dollars.