Odds & Ends & Pixies

jazzm (1)

Oh man — the gods have been generous this week.

I just received from Warmoth all the parts for my next DIY guitar. I loved testing eight sets of P-90 pickups for Premier Guitar, but I don’t own any P-90-eqipped guitars.I will soon, though!

This one will be a bit of a platypus — as opposed to, you know, all my other other platypi. (The actual plural of “platypus” is “platypuses,” but “platypi” is more fun to type.) It’s built from Warmoth’s “split Jazzmaster” template, with a korina body, bound neck, Tune-o-matic/stop-tailpiece bridge, and a pair of hum-cancelling Fralin P-92s. Yeah, it’s kind of a stab-in-the-dark experiment, and not a inexpensive one. But hope springs eternal. Prepare to be bored with details!

I’ve also just received an amazing-looking pair of condenser mics from Portland, Oregon’s Ear Trumpet Labs. ETL kingpin Philip Graham’s business card identifies him as “proprietor and bricoleur.” Bricolage, of course, is the ten-dollar word for “making stuff out of junk and other found objects.” Dig the steampunk vibe of that repurposed hardware! I haven’t even plugged these in yet (though the reviews I’ve read have been stellar). I just like staring at them! But I’m going to try them out at my monthly Strung Out! show tonight.

Ear Trumpet Labs' Edwina and Edna models: a higher calling for found objects!

Ear Trumpet Labs’ Edwina and Edna models: a higher calling for found objects!

Which brings me another of this week’s highlights: I got to perform last night with my dear friends Teja Gerken and Adam Levy. Teja is an astonishing acoustic fingerstylist and a fine composer. His vocabulary has hints of Bensusan, Hedges, and classical, but he’s molded those influences into a thoroughly unique sound. And Adam, who I’ve known since my Guitar Player magazine days, is equally renowned for his jazz work and for accompanying such singer/songwriters as Norah Jones and Tracy Chapman. (I get to play some of Adam’s cool parts when I gig with Tracy.) These days Adam’s focusing on songwriting, and he his sings his “smart Americana” songs (my description, not Adam’s) in a sweet, soulful voice. Man, what a treat to hear both of them up close. And tonight, Adam, Shelley Doty, and I perform at my local dive, El Rio. Can life get any better?

Apparently so! Yesterday Premier Guitar posted John Bohlinger’s piece on the Pixies, which includes a pic of Charles “Frank Black/Black Francis” Thompson’s pedalboard, with my grubby, hand-built Duh fuzz pedal front and center. I’d originally made if for Joey Santiago, the other Pixies guitarist, but I guess Charles swiped it. Hey, I’d be honored if either guy spat on the thing! They’ve been heroes since I first heard the band in a small San Francisco club back in ’88. (Everyone went to hear the Sugarcubes, but left talking about that awesome opening act from Boston.)

Lookit! I'm Pixies-approved!

Frank Black’s pedalboard: Lookit! I’m Pixies-approved!

It’s funny, because I really was thinking “Pixies” when I sound-designed the Duh. I was going for “bubblegum metal” — a thick, heavy sound, but not a macho one. The tone is too fizzy and funny for 100% sincere heavy rock, IMHO. It’s more of a “greasy kid stuff” distortion. (Note to readers under 45: That was once the tagline for a “dry look” mens hair product, referring to the outdated coiffures that would return with a vengeance when punk broke a few years later.) It’s a vaguely Muff-like sound, but with less compression, less scoop, and one big, stupid knob. I also like building that circuit into guitars. Like this one:

So it’s been a grand week, but a hectic one. Thanks for reading this far. Next week I promise a proper post, and not another collection of … odds & ends.

21 comments to Odds & Ends & Pixies

  • are you thinkin' pink, or thunkin' punk? Inquiring minds….what a cool version.

  • mwseniff

    That guitar kit looks cool and a pair of P90’s is probably my fave of all pickups (except for the low impedance humbuckers Gibson and Epiphone use way too infrequently). I will be most interested in how it turns out, I am also a big fan of TOM/stop tailpieces on guitars they sound great (I put the fine tuner style stop tailpiece as a replacement on my guitars to soothe my ears). It’s been a while since I built an instrument maybe I should build my next guitar from parts (I do need one more guitar to get me up to 37 guitars after all 🙂 ). Hopefully you will do one or more posts on the build as it can be fun and very instructive to build a guitar.

    I am a big fan of all things Frank Black. I’ve seen him solo and with the Pixies several times (I also totally dig Joey Santiago’s guitar work). IMHO Frank Black is a great writer and excellent rhythm guitarist. I like how Frank starts most songs with the rhythm guitar thus controlling the tempo for the song which is genius on his part. When Frank starts the song he sets the tempo he is comfortable singing and playing with as opposed to allowing the drummer et al to start the tempo too fast due to energy on stage or level of excitement. This “tempo control” by Frank keeps him from rushing the vocals more than he is comfortable with and is the hallmark of a true band leader. I’ve played in bands where we would practice a song at it’s normal tempo allowing me to add flourishes and really dress up the tune with my slide guitar. But when we get on stage everyone gets excited or slightly drunk (particularly in the 2nd set) and all of a sudden the tempo races compared to the tempo in practice and it is difficult to add all the little things and they have to be tossed in the rush. I am not trying to blame any other band members (my drummer is fantastic and the bassist is er’ a bassist). It is a natural occurrence on stage but it could be so much better if we didn’t rush thru the tune. The audience never notices and the band has energy so it’s not a huge thing but it is a bit maddening. I could easily do my thing for the songs at the faster tempo if we practiced them at that tempo but it’s just one of my pet peeves (named Fido, it’s good to name your pets whether they are peeves or dachshunds 🙂 )

    • joe

      I have literally never tried those low-impedence Gibson pickups! How would you describe the sound and feel?

      Charles is like a frickin’ train. He’s brash and LOUD. When he starts a song, get out of the way! Cool guy too.

      • mwseniff

        I have a 1998 Epiphone Les Paul Signature that is like the 70’s Gibson guitar it is a semi-hollow body but it has less wood than a 335 inside there is a solid block under the TOM/stoptail but there is space between the top and the center block and no block after the tailpiece (probably the minimum you could have with the TOM/stoptail). The pickups have Electar molded on the top.The pickups actually sound three different ways since it uses a impedance matching auto-transformer:
        First position 50 is like a lipstick pickup, nice open almost acoustic like tone.
        Second position 250 is sort of like a lower output P90 but flatter in response almost strat like but with fuller low end
        Third position 500 is like a big roaring humbucker that would make make most Les Paul players have a big goofy grin. Fat but still having plenty of definition the neck pickup gives a wonderful woman tone with a bit of shine. There is a phase switch for both pickups on that gives a nice upper mid sound in positions 50 and 150 and the 500 position sounds like a hot strat with both pickups engaged but out of phase. In phase sounds are nicely balanced and it is easy to hear both pickups. It seems like a more useful setup for me than a varitone on a 335. After over 15 years of being played and hanging on the wall in my studio it has really developed into a gorgeous sounding guitar. The multiple output levels gives the ability to really find some unused sonic real estate in a combo. When you turn it all up it sustains nicely but is very controllable. I always wanted a Gibson version but all the ones I’ve found were either too expensive or too beat up. Michael Ward who I saw playing with John Hiatt a few times uses one he gets so many different sounds that it worked for all Hiatts songs without it he would have needed a Les Paul and a Strat (and maybe a Dano) at minimum to cover the songs they played. He also played with Wallflowers and he had a band called Tiny Buddy that out out a great CD (Tiny Buddy was warm up for the Hiatt tour) The Jack Casady bass is basically the bass version of this guitar. It has an asymmetrical body with the top cutaway like a 335 and the lower cutaway like a Les Paul. Mine is a gold top, the finish is gorgeous. Epiphone outdid themselves on this model.
        It’s a shame they haven’t continued making these they are the Swiss Army knife of guitars. I play this guitar several times a week. You could probably play any type of music on this guitar rock, blues, jazz and experimental whatever.
        The multi-tapped auto transformer is very key to the sound of these instruments I would love to find a set of these pickups and the auto-transformer to put in other guitars. Might be very cool in a lap steel.
        If you ever get a chance to try either the Epiphone or Gibson do it the guitar will surprise you.

        • I also love the Gibson low impedance pickups. BTW, the LP Signature pickups and electronics were designed by Bill Lawrence! He took a very different approach than with the LP Recording pickups, which used heavy 24 gauge wire and were stacked humbuckers with coil taps. The Electar pickups were standard side-by-side humbuckers would with 42 gauge wire, but with only about 1,500 turns of wire per coil. The tapped transformer gets the same effect as the tapped pickups in the Recording guitars.

          The Jack Casady pickups are a little different in that they are wound with the heavier wire and have an extra magnet in them.

          • joe

            Thanks for the info, guys! I’ve always been sort of curious about these, as I am about most interesting inventions whose time just isn’t right. Gonna have to track down an instrument to try!

  • mwseniff

    A platypus is a keytar IMHO.

  • Oinkus

    Would put a Babicz TOM on that way better in every way,one day I will just have to put one in your hands somehow. I have a huge beef with the overpriced guitar parts people you got that from , should be a fun project. I am leaning to the normal sized hum cancelling P-90s Lindy makes and I think my next guitar s going to be this ,Melody Maker spinoff https://www.musiciansfriend.com/guitars/esp-ltd-hybrid-ii-electric-guitar?pfm=rv

  • An amazing rendition of that song by the alternative reality band Meatwood Flack.
    So many tones from that single pickup guitar! Even the silly pink Hello Kitty guitar looks cool.

    I hope the P92s work out for you in that funky new build. It makes so much difference to have the notes come out of silence instead of a sea of hum, but so far all the hum rejection single coils I have tried don’t quite have the tone of the straight single coils. But I guess you tested the P90s so you at least got to choose a tone. I might have mentioned them before but there’s a guy called Scott Lawing who makes Zexcoil pickups – http://www.zexcoil.com. His noise canceling pickups look interesting, I’m very tempted to order just a Strat neck pickup to see how they sound.

    I’m building a couple of guitars myself right now, having finally found pickguards with at least some of the patterns that mimic real tortoiseshell, rather than that horrible spat out tobacco leaf brown yellow pattern most pickguard suppliers call tortoiseshell.

    • joe

      Hi Terry! Meatwood Flack — hehe.

      I know what you mean about hum-cancelling single-coils. I’ve never heard a set that sounds as nice as the with-hum variety, and I’ve tried a lot of them. I mean, some don’t sound bad, but they’re inevitably a bit pinched and unresponsive compared to the simpler design. And to be honest, I slightly prefer the sound of Lindy Fralin’s humming P-90s to his non-humming P-92s. (You can hear both in the Premier Guitar piece linked to above.) But I’m considering this guitar for use with all my digital crap, and while I’m the sort of player who seldom minds the hum of single-coils, in that particular context, hum sometimes is an issue. I’ll let you hear how these sound once I get it wired up. 🙂

      • mwseniff

        Have you ever tried the dummy coil humbucking circuit where there is a coil in the body that is used to cancel the hum. I recently saw a system that used a flat printed coil on the trem cover of Strats that looked interesting. I love P90s so much that hum is worth the tone and hum might be part of the P90s tone anyway. Besides most sets of P90s are humbucking when combined and P90s sound fabulous in the middle position.

        • joe

          Nope, haven’t tried that either! Do you mean printed coils in the same sense that the new Fishman Fluence pickups are printed? (https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/20082-unwound-fishman-rethinks-the-electric-guitar-pickup)

          I’ll let you hear these hum-cancelling P-92s when I slap the guitar together. If I don’t love them in this particular instrument, I’ll probably swap them for more conventional P-90s and repurpose the Fralins for something else.

          • I think it’s Suhr that I’ve heard of doing a noise-canceling dummy coil system on the trem plate. Never tried one–more expensive than most of my guitars.

          • mwseniff

            Yes they are sort of like a flat coil that is close to the size of the trem cover, they are very thin hardly thicker than the cover. I’m not sure if they are printed. They also make them for Les Paul style control cavity covers. There is a little circuitry involved like potentiometers AFAIR and I believe they are passive. I’ll look thru the history on my browser and see if I can find the link. I believe they are a fairly new product that is just starting to ship. Can’t remember the name of the company tho’. Seems like they were a bit pricey.

          • mwseniff

            Here is the URL they explain things pretty well.

  • I had seen the Duh on Joey’s board before. Good to be on either.

    The Duh concept is a such a Grail quest concept for pedal builders and the pedal obsessed: the un-Muff Muff. Just to have the Muff sound available, I spent small cash on a clone that reminds me exactly of what my old 70s or 80s red and black EHX sounded like, good and bad. So I barely use it. I swear half the version obsession is about a leap of faith that in one version the common circuit elements won’t sound like they do as a normal matter of physics. (The difference occurring because wizards? Who knows.) Unscooping mids in an alternate circuit is less of a trick than a wall-of-sound fuzztone without excessive compression, though. If you’ve uncracked that one, the Duh is genius.

    • joe

      Thanks for the kind words, Bear. Actually, the Duh topology is a little closer to a three-transistor Tone Bender, but with some unusual transistor choices.

      Or is it? One thing I’ve discovered is that the Muff circuit sounds WAY better when you omit the passive tone control and the fourth transistor stage (which makes up for the signal loss of the tone stack). Sure, the super-scooped tone section IS the character of a Muff. But when you remove it, you get a thunderous distortion sound, minus the Muff’s tendency to vanish onstage and in a mix, despite its volume. I’d offer a pedal like that — except Phillipe at Caroline Guitar Company beat me to it: https://carolineguitar.com/products/olympia_fuzz/

  • NicPic

    Love the guitar sound Joe. You look like your havin way too much fun there…You must drink coffee like a fish,LOL…nice article. Im also a big fan of Korina wood. And yeah. You can build some great stuff with Warmoth parts. I bought a Warmoth built strat for a cool #140.00 in a music store back in 98 thats been My 2nd main axe ever since..The only Mod that needed to be done was swap out the pickups and I put sperzel tuners on on it. Everybody that plays it loves the hell out of that guitar.

  • NotSoFast

    Platypus Maximus

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