The Great Epiphone Swindle

You don’t have to spend $6,706 to sound like a punk. And don’t ask what the six cents are for!

My pal Linda B. is a killer rock and roll drummer who also plays a pretty mean guitar. She’s decided to form an all-female Sex Pistols cover band, with her assuming the duties of guitarist Steve Jones.

An avid rock historian, Linda did her research, which quickly led her to Gibson’s limited edition Steve Jones signature model Les Paul Custom, a slavishly accurate replica of Steve’s iconic axe.

(The original, which had previously belonged to New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain, was not used on the Sex Pistols’ early singles or the Never Mind the Bollocks album, but was his main stage instrument.)

Just one problem: the $6,706 price tag.

So Linda bought a used white Epiphone Les Paul Custom for $299, ordered the same pickups that are in the original and the signature model (a Gibson 490T “Hot Alnico” humbucker in the bridge position, and a 496R “Hot Ceramic” humbucker at the neck), and found some sketchy online vendor who sells replicas of the original’s pinup-girl stickers, plus an even sketchier vendor who sells fake Gibson logos. We popped in the pickups, slapped on the stickers, and made a darn good replica for a bit over $500.

Wanna hear it?

Granted, your basic Epi copy isn’t in the same league as a great Gibson. But as with Fender Squiers, the modern Epiphone’s weakest link tends to be the pickups, and replacing them delivered a big sonic upgrade. And of course, if I may misquote Lebowski, the stickers really tie the whole sound together.

Never Mind the Bollocks boasts fascinating production that pretty much defines the phrase “deceptively simple.” Producer Chris Thomas (who also recorded large chunks of the Beatles’ White Album, Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and classics from Roxy Music, Elton John, Pete Townshend, and many other artists) somehow wrangled dozens of loose overdubs into a cohesive, genre-defining sound. As with the early Pretenders albums (which Thomas would produce a couple of years after Bollocks), you can learn the riffs in minutes. But you can listen to the disc for decades and still have only a general notion of what’s actually occurring in those dense mixes.

I’ve gazed at the Gibson logo every day for decades, yet I still managed to apply this counterfeit Gibson sticker at the incorrect angle. (“That’s okay,” said Linda.”I think it’s even cooler if it looks a little janky.”)

Believe it or not, Jones played through a Fender Twin Reverb amp for all his tracks. (Yes, like Hendrix, he’s often thought of as a Marshall man, but he favored Twins in the studio. He also used them live, though he subsequently switched to Marshalls.) He was also the album’s bassist.

I don’t have a Twin, so we just plugged into my awesome little Orange AD15. Linda’s tone in the video may be a bit more “gainy” than the ones on the album, but that’s probably a good choice when playing in a live power trio, rather than erecting walls of overdubs. Our only stompbox: an MXR Phase 45, also used by Jonesy. (Listen while Linda’s plays “Bodies.”) Correction: Nope, no stompboxes in the demo video.

Anyway, I’m smiling. Linda is smiling. Somewhere Johnny Lydon might be smiling too, though with him, it’s hard to tell.

So what’s your favorite Sex Pistols track? I’m going to have to go with “Holidays in the Sun,” though to be honest, I’m much more into Lydon’s second band, P.I.L., especially the dub-wise bass playing of Jah Wobble, and the highly original (and highly underrated) guitar work of Keith Levene. (See my pet theory about Levene creating the U2 sound two years before U2.)

33 comments to The Great Epiphone Swindle

  • Linda B

    I’m a really crappy guitar player( :thumbdown: ), but Joe did a killer job on the modifications.
    Thanks, Joe! ( :thumbup: )

  • George A. Harvey

    Nice work, Linda & Joe. Oh, and Levene is totally proto-Edge.

  • Great stuff.
    Guitar sounds good.
    Never Mind The Bollocks is a timeless classic and still manages to piss people off (well, at least my guitar students).
    Thanks, Joe

  • First time I saw the Pistols was on a news show. I was15 yeasr old and sitting in a Kansas City hotel suite, partying with members of Head East, REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent and Climax Blues Band. Some of the musicians were yelling at the TV, saying the Pistols sucked. Others, self included, loved it. When the album finally came out, I bought it and a guitar. The first song I ever learned was Submission, so that’s still my fav. But Bodies, with it’s subject matter and rip-off-your-face bridge always amazes me. Great post, joe. Thanks!

    • joe

      Yeah, I heard of them first in the “news” — some dopey, scare-Middle-America article in Time magazine, I think. I was a pompous classical music student in LA at the time, and definitely not a punk, though I was an instant sympathizer, and I got to see a lot of great shows at now-legendary venues such as the Masque and Madame Wong’s. I never saw the Pistols, though my roommate drove up to SF for that final Winterland show. I saw P.I.L. in many versions, and always dug it. But my fave band of the era, hands down, has always been X. Those late-’70s Whiskey shows were transcendent!

      Post-punk always meant more to me than punk. Once a modernist, always a modernist. ;)

      • Digital Larry

        I’ll admit that even though I was 18 in 1978, punk was over my head, or under my arm, or whatever, but it didn’t really say much to me that I wanted to hear. Then one year in college, my roommate, who mostly wanted to make sure that I didn’t go a day without hearing a new Springsteen bootleg, turned me on to X and made me go see them at the Mabuhay Gardens in SF. I was agog at the 3-foot mohawks but also how tight the band was, especially the drummer and guitar player. This was not people who didn’t know how to play being wasted and screaming at the audience.

        They also presented a somewhat hard to fathom stage presence, with Billy Zoom smiling at all throughout the entire proceeding, while (then) married couple Exene and John Doe seemingly worked out some of their personal problems in song. That vocal sound is still haunting.

        I’d been into the Doors so I liked that Ray Manzarek produced and played a bit on their first album. I think they lost their way once Billy Zoom quit, but those first few albums are really powerful.

      • I never got to see the Pistols, but I did see the Professionals, the post Pistols band formed by Steve Jones and Paul Cook. And they played right down the street from where I currently live, which is now a vacant lot, but was once the somewhat famous Dirt Club, in Bloomfield NJ.

        Besides hosting a vibrant local music scene in the late 70s’/early 80s, they had a lot of acts such as Wall of Voodoo, the Delta 5, The The, and more I can’t recall. My band the Jetsonz, got to be friends with Wall of Voodoo, so they would put us on the guest list when they played in NYC, which was fun.

        I was playing a lot of prog rock and fusion in the end of the 70s, and then I heard the B-52s song “52 Girls” on the radio. And then the Talking Heads and Adam and the Ants. That was it for me! I started writing new wave songs, with too many notes in them! I guess they were prog wave songs! Ha!

        Larry, I got to see X when they played at the Ritz in NYC. They were always one of my favorite bands.

        Joe, I was also a classically trained tubist. But I was also playing guitar and bass at the time. I haven’t touched a tuba in a few decades now.

  • Linda B.

    I’ve been listening to/deconstructing the record since I first heard it in ’79 or ’80 and even now I can’t make out everything going on there. Pretty remarkable.

    Classic Albums: Never Mind The Bollocks unveils some cool bits, but most of it is still a mystery. Think that’s part of the reason its endured. That and it’s still a pretty damn dangerous record.

    You can see the whole thing here or in pieces on YouTube. (Joe, I’ll drop off the DVD this weekend…)

    http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTMyMTQ3Njg4.html

    P.S. No Phase 45 on Bodies. Only used it on Anarchy, which was mercifully not used in the demo video. :)

  • s.huck

    It’s true the Epi LP’s aren’t bad. Some of them need a fret dress but swap out the pickups and you’ve got a damn fine guitar. And I would go with Holidays in the Sun too. @Ted, She M.I. LMFAO!!!

  • jeremy

    band name suggestion: Never Mind The Lack Of Bollocks :)

  • Oinkus

    I have to say all switches , jacks , pots and wires MUST be removed/replaced because they generally use crappy cheap stuff.It sounds great,really like that little orange nicely punchy.

    • joe

      Yeah, that Orange AD15 is cool. I bought it new while recording the Eels’ Shootenanny, and used it a lot on that album. I didn’t know until recently that they’ve become a bit rare and collectible (the amps, not the Eels). It’s kind of similar to a good Vox AC15, but more aggro-sounding, perhaps a cross between an AC15 and a Marshall 18-watt. I love how it sounds on Linda’s riffs. We had most of the controls turned up pretty high, with the gain and treble knobs near the tops of their ranges.

    • joe

      Shhh… Don’t tell Linda. I told her I’d make her guitar nice, but all I did was replace the pickups and set the intonation.

  • A Promo Suggestion For Posters,etc “NEVER MIND THE SANDRA BULLOCK HERE’S THE SEXY PISTOLS” Amazing Guitar Tone Linda B. I’m a news collaborator @ http://www.sex-pistol.net

  • Has ‘Pretty Vacant’ been done? It seems like a natural. Also my favourite Pistols’ tune.

  • Linda B.

    Great links, Carlos!

    Joe seems convinced I can get this band off the ground in SF. I aim to prove him wrong. Luckily, I have what I need back in NYC, so once I get back there…(my “Sid” there is ridiculously perfect.)

    Also, has anyone listened to the Filthy Lucre recording from the ’96 reunion tour? The key is dropped on everything and they’re slower but damn they sound great. Like a (sloppy-ish) freight train at certain points.

  • Peter

    Best of luck on the project Linda and a nice looking iconic guitar. If it looks like Jones’s and sounds like Jones’s and you can play it like Jones, then never mind the bollocks.

    But I’ll always associate Steve Jones with the black LP Custom. Xmastime 1977 my Les Paul Custom was stolen, and a few weeks later I went to see The Sex Pistols at Winterland. When the band hit the stage my first thought was… F#ck, he stole my guitar! (already knowing a bit about Jones’s reputation for “acquiring” equipment). After coming to my senses and realizing it probably couldn’t have been geographically possible, I had a great time. But the thought’s ingrained. And I don’t think he played the white LP that night (I still haven’t gotten around to watching the Winterland footage, some things are best left as memories).

    Can’t say I have a favorite song. But back in the day, late 70s, the album was my favorite “listen to in the shower” LP when having to leave for work at 7:30am after having stayed up too late the night before. Remember police incursions/confrontations at 18th and Castro with The Sex Pistols and The Clash blasting out of speakers stuck out of someone’s window. On White Night too.
    It all held a big meaning for me and at a time when I was ready to vomit if my jazzbo friends played another Return To Forever side; yet I was still busily buying up all the cheap used copies of Miles, Coltrane, Shepp, Ayler, Ornette etc I could find.

    I agree with Joe about Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and PiL, though I have some very twisted memories of their first SF show (with Flipper opening).

    Sex Holsters (too obvious?).

  • Linda B.

    Maybe worth mentioning…

    Jonesy used a Burny replica LP for a while there, too, which is what he’s playing in the video I posted (link above somewhere). I think the LindaJoe version is more faithful to the original and the Gibson re-issue than the Burny, though.

    Funny thing is, I actually think of the Firebird first, then the pin-up girl LP. But the LP is more iconic so for my purposes it was the better way to go.

    http://a1.ec-images.myspacecdn.com/images01/122/e9cfe99f600320811cd3b2ecebf11619/l.jpg

  • http://www.cookandjones.co.uk/fernandes.htm Check The Cool Photos of The Jonesy’s Fernandez Burnys He Used For a While.Not as cool as the original Gibsons but I wouldn’t mind owning one of those models :)

  • J-DuB

    “Her Name Was Pauline”, maybe a bit too obscure…

    @Ted: She M. I is a GOOD ONE though… And XX Pistols too. Pretty Vacant from @double d

    Lot of good names one can cull from.

  • Jimmy Devlin

    call it Sex Pastels;-)

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