Hot Gear Friday: The Tool, And The Craftsman

Today’s “hot gear” is, along with the Bowie knife and the K-Bar, perhaps the most legendary piece of cutlery in the business – the Khukri.

The Khukri is a strange knife, to western hands; oddly-balanced, weirdly-shaped, more of a machete than a knife.  It looks, and to western sensibilities, feels odd.

So clearly, the legend is less in the hardware than in the software.

The Khukri is the traditional blade of the “Gurkhas” – members of tribe from rural Nepal that, in 1815, not only stymied a British/Indian invasion, thus securing Nepalese independence, but so impressed the would-be conquerors that it led to an agreement to allow the Brits to recruit tribe members into the British Army.  Being selected into a Gurkha regiment is not only one of the greater honors in the tribe – it’s also the only career path that doesn’t involve farming and raising yaks.

Given a choice between living more or less the same way they did a thousand years ago, or jetting into the 21st century (or 19th, for that matter), getting into the Army is an incredibly competitive process.  And it shows; the Gurkhas have been an elite force in the British Army for the 200 years since.   Sometimes they step beyond “elite” to just plain legendary.

But here – learn some more:

Hot Gear Friday: The Four Engined Bomber

It was about this time seventy years ago that World War II was heading toward its climax; Germany had surrendered;  Marines and soldiers were mopping up on Okinawa.  The world didn’t know about the atomic bomb yet.

And the idea of Air Power was at its peak; after three years of strategic bombing over Europe, and about a year’s worth over Japan, the idea that one could bomb ones’ opponents out of a war – very much in vogue before the war – still held great sway.

Of course, strategic bombing over Europe had had a ghastly toll; the US Army Air Force lost more men in the air than the Marines did in the entire Pacific War.

And the bulk of those casualties came among the crews of the roughly 6-7,000 bombers lost over Germany (among the Americans alone; the Brits also paid a horrific price).

There was the most famous, the Boeing B-17…:

…with its legendary toughness without which the toll might have been vastly worse.

And the B-24 Liberator – newer, faster, but less popular, and generally regarded as less tough…

…and the B-29, which costs as much to develop as the entire Manhattan Project, carried most of the weight in the Pacific.

Why do I bring it up?

Because as we discuss the idea that our younger genration of twenty somethings, raised during the Obama economy by helicopter parents and made into a cause – the “Millennials” – by a generation of Baby Boom media who want to have someone to poke and prod the way they were poked and prodded and examined – many of whom are out in the streets protesting for $15 an hour to run a shake machine (for a while, maybe), it’s worth remembering this;  the officers, the pilots and navigators and bombardiers who flew these planes, averaged 22 years old.

Their enlisted crewmen?  The flight engineers and radiomen and 3-4 gunners on each plane?  They averaged 19 years old.

And this was what they did just to get the planes – in this case, the B24 – into the air.

Pretty amazing.

Hot Gear Friday: The Energizer Machine Gun

Between its partition from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, and its down-the-river sale at the hands of Neville “Like Obama, Only Just Clueless Rather Than Malevolent” Chamberlain twenty years later, Czechoslovakia actually had a brief vogue as an a-list industrial economy, backstayed by a weapons industry that rivaled Europe’s most legendary names; Brno, Czeskoslovenska Zbrojovka and Skoda were in the same league with Krupps, Enfield, Bofors, Hotchkiss, and Springfield.

They were behind some of the premier weapons of the inter-war era.  The Skoda Model 38 tank was among the best in the world at the beginning of World War II

So superior was it to contemporary German designs that after the annexation, the Wehrmacht took the tank into service; they played a major role in the conquest of France (Rommel’s 7th Panzer, which led the charge to the Channel, led it in Panzer 38s) and the first part of the invasion of Russia.  Outmoded as tanks by 1943, the Germans converted them to self-propelled artillery, anti-aircraft vehicles, and the famous “Hetzer” tank destroyer, which served into the 1970’s in Switzerland.

In the early 1930s, the world’s armies were starting to re-arm; war was clearly imminent, and their stockpiles of World War I-vintage weapons were old and wearing out.

During the war, machine guns were either heavy, water-cooled weapons fed by canvas or metal-link belts, capable of immense sustained fire but weighing 80-150 pounds loaded…:

A British “Vickers” heavy machine gun. Eighty pounds, with a jacket full of water but without ammo loaded. Ammo, and a water condenser can that accompanied the gun in action, not shown.

…or “light” guns extemporized during the war for infantry to haul around more handily.

The French Chauchat light machine gun. With its clunky, complex long-recoil system full of fragile moving parts, and its open-sided magazine practically designed to scoop up the mud that is synonymous with “trench warfare”, it may have been the single least reliable firearm ever issued in numbers.  And it was close to 30 pounds – a heavy “light” gun.

The products of desperation, the “light” guns were rarely especially light, and often frighteningly unreliable, and incapable of much sustained fire before their barrels overheated, stopping them entirely.

The Czech Zbrojovka Brno – “Brno Weapons” –  works developed a light machine gun in the mid-twenties which served as the starting-point for a new line of design.   The “VZ26” was light enough for an infantryman to haul around…

A VZ26 in Czech service.

…but heavy enough to remain accurate when firing full-automatic, it had one other radical feature; a quick-change barrel.  After a few magazines of sustained fire (interrupted by magazine changes, which slowed the overheating process a bit), the assistant gunner could unlock and (while wearing an asbestos glove) remove the barrel, and replace it with a spare that he carried for the purpose.  If the crew was in heavy action, they could swap the two barrels back and forth, allowing one to cool while the other was firing.

The British Army, looking for a new light machine gun to replace its World War I-era Lewis guns, held trials in the mid-thirties – and the ZB26 swept the field (as it did for armies all over the globe; it still serves, in modified form, in the Paraguayan Army).

The British made two key modifications; they added a handle to the barrel (in case a gunner lost his asbestos glove in the heat of battle), and they rechambered it to their .303 Enfield round – a clunky old round with a rimmed base that necessitated the curved magazine on top.

And, using the peculiar British habit of the day of making new compound words for their weapons, they named it the “Bren” gun – short for “Brno”, where it was designed, and “Enfield”, where it was built in the UK.

The Brits had intended to adopt a rimless round – like the German 7.92 Mauser (which the ZB 26 used) or the American 30.06 – but their staff judged, correctly, that time didn’t permit such a radical change before the war would likely start (they didn’t finally retire the .303 from front line service until 1957).

No matter – the Bren worked just fine with the new round.  They were built in mass lots, and equipped the British Army (and the parts of the Canadian and Australian armies that went into action) by the beginning of the war.

Reliable, relatively simple to manufacture, and ideal for its role – providing covering fire to a squad of 8-12 men as they leapfrogged forward and backward and around enemy positions, the Bren served out the war.

And then, like most “light machine guns”, it was supplanted by the latest military fad.  The German military had dispensed with the separate categories of Heavy and Light machine gun, and generally equipped the Wehrmacht with just one machine gun – the MG34 or, later in the war, the dreaded MG42:

The MG42. Remember the machine gun in “Saving Private Ryan” that fired so fast it sounded like ripping carpet? That’s this one. The post-war German army kept the design, and it serves to this day in the German, Norwegian and (I think) Spanish armies.

That was it. They hung a tripod from the barrel, and issued it to their squads (of 8-12 men) for relatively light close-up covering fire; they’d mount it on a tripod, and issue it to crews of 3 men to haul it and its ammo around as a heavier fire-support weapon for companies of 160 or battalions of 800 men.

The world’s militaries jumped on that bandwagon hard.  When the Brits re-tooled their ammunition and retired the Bren and Vickers guns, they adopted the Belgian FN-MAG as a “General Purpose Machine Gun”…:

The FN-MAG. It serves in most of the western world’s militaries today – including the US, as the M-240, as a company-level support weapon.

…capable of going into the field with a bipod as a squad support gun and a tripod in the weapons platoons of larger units.

The US adopted the M-60, which served from the early sixties into the nineties, but is probably most famous to non-serving Americans of a certain age range…:

Admit it.

…in Sylvester Stallone’s hands.

But along the way, an interesting thing happened.

During and among the world’s various brushfire wars of the sixties and seventies, infantrymen had a word or two with the world’s military theorists; the “light” version of the General Purpose Machine Gun wasn’t all that light when one was hauling it, a load of person gear, and a few belts of ammo through a jungle, or through the backstreets of Belfast.

And quietly, some of the world’s military units that had the clout to do so (or, conversely, the lack of clout that allowed them to get away with it), went back to the past.  The British military – especially the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines – who depended on foot mobility, and needed something lighter than the clunky MAG for use in their rifle squads, quietly pulled the Brens out of the armories, and re-chambered them for the modern 7.62x51mm NATO caliber (same as the MAG and M60), and built some straight-walled magazines, and re-issued the Bren to elements of the British Army that needed a light, light machine gun:

A British Marine, armed with a rechambered Bren, in action in the Falkland Islands in 1982. An MAG gunner is in the background.

And it served in British reserve units through the 1990s, and in reserve units of the Irish army until 2006.

And that bit of tapdancing to fill a need for lighter, handier, but still reliable and powerful weapon at the squad level led to a wave of design of genuinely *light* machine guns, including the US’ modern “M249 Squad Automatic Weapon” – which is another light machine gun.

“But wait, Mitch”, you may say.  “Hot Gear Friday is supposed to refer to hot gear – guitars and firearms, mostly – that you’ve personally used, yourself.  What gives?”

Well, you’re right.  But we’ll be fixing that tomorow, with any luck.  Rumor has it that a .303 Bren is among the pieces for rent at Bill’s Gun Shop and Range – where I’ll be tomorrow for the Shooter Show.  And I’ve been putting away a couple bucks a months since last March, getting ready to light up some targets with it, about this time tomorrow.

Hot Gear Friday: The Dream Is Always The Same

A Ford GT40 – one of the dream sports cars of the ’60s and ’70s – found in junk-filled garage:

From the article:

This isn’t just any Ford GT40, either. This is chassis No. 1067, and while it appears to lack the racing pedigree of some other GTs, it is among the rarest. The World Registry of Cobras & GT40s says it is just one of three GT40 MkI cars to come with the MkII’s rear clamshell, and of those three, it is the only survivor. Furthermore, it was the last GT40 to be produced in 1966 and was the last GT40 to use a Ford serial number—all subsequent GT40s wore the serial numbers of J.W. Automotive Engineering.

But that’s not all. 

On the door? Salt Walther – a race car driver from the sixties and seventies renowned for having less success than almost any other driver of some of the best, hottest cars around (including the GT40), and survivor of one of the most spectacular Indy car crashes of all time:

And that goes back far enough to trip the trivia meter on my very, very, very brief infatuation with racing, back in 4th-7th grade.

But enough of that. Let’s check out the car again:

Ah. Much better.

Hot Gear Friday: The Steyr AUG

It’s that gun. The weird one that looks like some propmaster built it.

You know the one. That one.

That weird, space-age-looking thing that “Karl”, the cyborg-y looking “terrorist”/thief (Alexander Godunov) in Die Hard, all uncustomary lines and strange curves and fussy, funky handgrips…:


…that blazed away at John McClain on the roof of the Nakitome Building.

Or the one The Governor used to rub out his voter base in The Walking Dead…


…all foreign and threatening-looking (moreso than regular assault rifles, even).

It’s the Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr, or “Universal Army Rifle”) – and its’ even more space-age than it appears in the movies.

Developed in the seventies by Steyr-Mannlicher Arms in Austria, the AUG was an attempt to build one gun to fit just about every need an army has for firearms below the company level.

By simply changing out the barrel, the bolt and bolt carrier, and the magazines, a single AUG can switch between being a squad support light machine gun, an infantry rifle, a short carbine, or (with pistol-caliber components) a submachine gun.


It’s not just a space-age toy and movie prop, of course; it’s the issue rifle of the Austrian, Australian, New Zealand, Irish, Argentinean, Saudi and several other armies – as well as the main battle rifle of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, keeping America safe from the invasion of contraband duty-free booze or whatever the hell ICE does other than watch the border.

The biggest thing to get used to is that it’s a “bullpup” – the magazine is mounted behind the trigger and pistol grip. Which means that when you’re shooting it, the chamber is right next to your cheek.

Not to say that I thought much about it when I finally got a chance to shoot one, at the Bill’s Gun Range “Shooter Show” last month; the adrenaline of getting to bust off a few caps with an AUG took my mind off the fact that there was an explosion with 40,000 PSI of pressure going off inches from my head, not 6-12 inches in front of me like a regular assault rifle.

I didn’t think about that ’til afterward.

Three things I did think as I shot it?

Hot Hot Hot: During shooting? That little folding vertical foregrip is a nifty feature for holding the gun on target in rapid fire (I shot a semi-automatic version) – but you’ll notice that it leaves nothing between your off-hand and the barrel.

Which gets very very hot after 100 rounds or so!


My friend from high school, Mark, shooting an AUG at Bill’s last month.

High And Tight: The bullpup configuration makes it a very compact piece – which means your stance is a lot more closed than with a conventional rifle, even a small one like an M4-pattern carbine. That makes shooting it feel more…up close and personal?

Tactical:  It was the first time I’d ever personally fired a gun with a modern tactical scope – which is an important accessory on a piece with such a very, very short sighting radius.  Not great for precision point-shooting (there are other scopes for that); excellent for putting lead into paper in a big hurry.  I can see what the fuss is about.  C’mon, tax refund time.

Hypothetically, at least. 

How to describe it?  There is no way not to feel like a paper-shredding animal shooting the AUG.

Hot Gear Friday: The M1928/M1 Thompson

It’s high time I reprised “Hot Gear Friday” – the feature wherein I write about…well, hot gear.

As a general rule, the “gear” is either musical instruments or firearms.  Johnny Roosh used to do other stuff – razors, motorcycles, the like – but i’m more narrowly focused.  Also, guns and music gear are about the only hot gear I ever deal with.

The other rule was, the “hot gear” I feature was stuff I’d actually used, played, fired, or even been in the same room as.  Which narrows things waaaa-aaaaaay-hey down.  I’ve led a fairly boring life, in terms of toys I’ve gotten to play with.

But things have been moving slowly forward in recent months.  And so it’s time to exhume the feature, at least until I run out of hot gear to write about.

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Hot Gear Friday: Special Tuesday Government Shutdown Edition

It’s Day One of the Government Shutdown.

 So as we watch society collapse all around us due to the lack of government, and await the hordes of crazed bandits, hungry for human flesh, that will doubtless be descending on society, people are asking me “what sort of collection of firearms do you recommend for a post-shutdownpocalyptic world?”

Let me make sure I’m clear here; I’m no expert.  Far from it.  But if I had to bet my life on it – and with the government shut down, I do – I’d bank on the following.

The Task At Hand

With the government shut down, we’re naturally all completely on our own.  There is no law enforcement out there; picking up 911 will at best get you a dead line, and at worst an insane reaver on the other end of the line shrieking for your intestines on a stick.

So what do you need?  Well, for my two cents, you really need four basics:

  • An absolutely reliable battle rifle
  • A solid combat shotgun
  • A defensive handgun
  • A “working” gun, useful for foraging as well as defense in a pinch.

We’ll go through each of the categories below.

Battle Rifle:  While this past year has brought a lot of attention to the AR15, this is (IMO) not an ideal weapon for a post-apocalyptic world.  The AR (like the M16 on which it’s based) is a fine rifle, but it is also widely known as an incredibly temperamental piece that is very prone to jamming if you don’t keep it immaculately clean, and sometimes even then.  And since you’ll be too busy scraping for food to keep your rifle clean, this might be a matter of life or death.

The point of a battle rifle is to never, ever, ever, ever jam, and to not run out of ammunition until  your oppponent runs out of attack.  No matter how many of them there are. 

So I recommend an AK-series piece:

The classic AK47

It’s a little heavy, and its accuracy drops off at 100 yards or so – but be honest, not only are you probably not that great a shot even at a rifle range on a clear day, but the odds that you’ll get a clean shot at a horde of bandits beyond 100 yards are pretty nil anyway.  And with the AK, you can dip the bullets in toothpaste and roll them in dirt, load the magazine, and the gun will still work.  And in a post-collapse world, that’s all that’s going to matter. 

Added bonus – its ammunition (7.62mm Communist) can actually be found, unlike the AR’s 5.56mm round.

Combat Shotgun:  One of the benefits of every police department in US being awash in DHS counterterror money is that they all went out and bought M4 Carbines and H&K MP5 submachine guns to replace their good old Remington 870 Express police shotguns. 

Which means they are on the market modestly cheaply these days.

It’s not as “tacti-cool” as an M4, but it’s short enough to use indoors, its reliability is every bit as legendary as the AK, and there is no better close-in weapon in the world for when a gang of cannibalistic bandits breaks into your family perimeter at 4AM and you need to, er, organize your community. 

Defensive Handgun:  Let’s call a spade a spade; for the time when you absolutely need a handgun to defend yourself against an immediately, lethal threat to your life, any gun you have is better than any gun you don’t have. 

But when you’re facing a ravenous cannibal in a dark alley while you’re dumpster-diving for oats, there is no substitute for the best man-stopper there is – any handgun in .45 ACP caliber. 

A Colt 1911, a Kimber Pro-Carry, an HK45, a SIG P220, or even a P250 with the conversion kit?  A Paraordinance 15/45?  Take your pick.  There is no substitute. 

Working Guns:  These are the guns that you use for dealing with varmints and foraging for small targets of opportunity to throw in the stew pot.  For this, I recommend the Taurus Judge revolver…

….which has the huge advantage of firing both the .45 Long Colt cartridge (not to be mistaken for the .45 ACP above) and .410 gauge shotgun shells – making it useful for dealing with large varmints like wolves and bears, as well as rodents and fowl that haven’t been already hunted to extinction and stripped to the bone by ravenous refugees. 

Your mileage may vary, of course – but this is intended as a starting point.

Except that with the government shut down and the ravenous mobs of bandits and reavers already dominating the streets, the time to start was yesterday.

Oops.  Sorry about that.

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Hot Gear Friday: The Glory Of Capitalism

After a too-long hiatus, I’m back with Hot Gear Friday.

This series – allowing for a few of Johnny Roosh’s swerves into motorcycles, cars and nose-hair trimmers. and mine into audio gear – has always been about two things that made America great; guns and guitars. .

And as I noted a few years ago in this series, capitalism – the vigorous growth of the music mass-retail industry – has led to great things in the world of the guitar; “cheap” guitars used to be shoddy dreck back in the 1970s; today, even a $150 Fender Squire or Epiphone Les Paul knockoff is a work of at least modest quality.

Of course, guitars are a subject whose moral and emotional resonance isn’t wrapped up in layers of partisan social and political myth.

America – real America, not the America of Heather Martens and Wes Skoglund and Ellen Anderson and Mark Dayton and Alida Messinger – is a land of shooters.  It’s an America that takes its Second Amendment seriously.

Of course, that other America – the one that believes government is a lullaby, there to waft them off to sleep at night, comfortable in the notion that their benefactor is there to protect them – has another take on things.  And in the 30-year-stretch from the late sixties to the mid-nineties, they did their level best to not only make it difficult to own firearms, but to try to turn Americans, on an emotional and moral level, against them.

For a good, long time, gun controllers had the upper hand.  They passed laws, more or less at will for many years, that not only chipped away at the right to keep and bear arms – but also at the social implications of doing so

One of their first acts, over forty years ago, was to try to price guns out of the reach of lower-income Americans.  Laws about “Saturday Night Specials” – handguns that were both inexpensive and “cheap”, in every sense of the term, but were designed to be affordable to people who didn’t have a whooole lot of money to spend – were entirely designed by the Democrats to drive poor Americans, especially  black ones, out of the firearms market.

And, unlike most liberal policies, it worked.  Between the escalating price of legal firearms and the fact that so many of them wound up warehoused into cities that were the most hostile to fireamrs, it’s America’s law-abiding low-income poor who are most aggressively disarmed (and, “unexpectedly”, who live in the areas most in need of the law-abiding gun owner).

But like the Second Amendment movement itself, capitalism wasn’t done yet.


Brands like Colt, Kimber, Kahr, Beretta, Smith and Wesson, Glock, Heckler and Koch, and Schweizerische Industrielle Gesellschaft – known to most as “SIG” – weren’t covered by the Saturday Night Special ban.  They – especially H&K, SIG and Kimber – had a long-earned reputation for painstaking craftsmanship in building firearms, which were renowned for impeccable quality.  And you paid for that quality; pieces like the H&K (the USP was “Jack Bauer’s” on-screen pistol in the last six seasons of “24”), SIG (whose P226 is the sidearm of the Navy SEALs) and Kimber (whose custom-made Colt M1911 adaptations outfit not a few elite shooters themselves) would usually be bargains if they got below $1,000.

But in the nineties, as Bill Clinton’s administration briefly tried to ratchet up gun control laws, American gun owners reacted by buying firearms in numbers that seemed, at the time, immense.  9/11 accelerated the buying spree.  And both of those surges were pikers compared to the buying binge that erupted when Barack Obama – who’d been funded in his earlier endeavors by a various anti-gun organizations, and whose sympathies were clearly pro-Orc – took office.

And during the first of these binges, some of Europe’s great gun companies saw the opportunity in the US Market, and started opting to do some of their manufacturing here.

That’s right – gun nuts are causing jobs to be imported to the US.  You’re welcome.

In 1992, SIG/Sauer – a Swiss/German company, to get around Switzerland’s strict weapons export laws – built a factory in Exeter, New Hampshire to serve the booming US market for his premium handguns (Glock and Heckler und Koch also set up shop in the US).

And this new, immense capacity, combined with the SIG tradition of engineering excellence, has led to one of the great manifestations of Adam Smith in recent years; the SIG P250.

Designed to cut into Glock’s stronghold, the affordable high-quality point and shoot semiautomatic, the P250 adds a few slick features of its own. The whole piece – the steel slide with the SIG-standard port-lug-locking barrel, the high-impact polymer grip frame, designed for .45ACP, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W and .357 SIG calibers and coming in three different size combinations from subcompact to full-sized – is wrapped around a common, modular, stainless steel trigger assembly. The owner can swap a 9mm Compact up to .45 Full Size by changing out the slide/barrel, grips and magazines, for much, much less than the cost of a full separate piece. The shooter can thus customize a 250 very quickly and easily.

It’s aimed, naturally, at the same market the Glock serves; it’s double-action only, with a shrouded conventional hammer instead of the Glock’s striker.

But Glock-y though it’s market may be, after a few thousand rounds in a dog’s breakfast of different loadings (in my piece, a 9mm Compact) in the past few months, I have yet to have a stoppage. Which is very, very SIG-gy.

And the best, Adam-Smithiest, Milton-Friedmaniest, coolest thing of all? This piece of hot, flaming, lead-spewing Swiss gear runs in the low $400’s. And if you watch for specials – as I did – you can get it for under $400.

God Bless Switzerland America!

Hot Gear Friday: The Paul Reed Smith Guitars SE Singlecut

So I’ve been playing guitar for a long time.  33 years next month, in fact.

And back when I was 14 and was just starting to play, “cheap” guitars were really, really awful.  By “cheap”, of course, I meant the kinds of guitar you found in department stores and catalogs for under about $200.  They had anemic electronics, terrible workmanship, necks that felt like polished telephone poles, and wouldn’t stay in tune for more than half a song.

The advent of the global economy, computer-assisted manufacturing and mass-marketing of musical instruments has had the sort of effect that the free market was supposed to; not only can you find guitars for under $300 today that rival the quality of some of the axes that went for $600 1980 dollars thirty years ago, but it’s even dragged up the quality of some of the few remaining knockoff brand guitars you can find at Target and WalMart, which aren’t professional-quality, but aren’t embarrassments either.

Anyway – I’ve been playing a long time now.  And that whole time, I’ve been playing three guitars:

  • A mid-seventies Ibanez “Lawsuit” SG that I wrote about a while ago.  It’s my most recent purchase, by the way, in 1979.
  • A 1960 Fender Jazz that’s been hotrodded way out of spec, and will be the subject of an upcoming HGF.  I got it for $150 in 1978.
  • A “Ventura” acoustic I bought for paper route money when I was 14.  It was $140 in 1977, which made it kinda low-end, but it has a nice high-end tone that actually made it a decent recording guitar.  Needs some bridgework.

And so I’ve been thinking – maybe it’s time for a new toy?

I’m spurred somewhat by my kids.  I’ve been teaching them how to play.  Bun plays a Yamaha acoustic that she got for Christmas two years ago.  She’s picking it up at her own pace, and she’s not bad.

Zam?  He’s got mad hand-eye coordination; he’s picking it up real fast.  I got him a guitar – a little Jackson electric, on mind-warping special at Guitar Center before Chistmas – and a Peavey amp.  And he’s doing really good.  He could have some talent.

So the other day we went to Guitar Center – which, it occurred to me, was the first father-son “hobby” junket we’ve taken in many many years.

And we both fell in love with the same instrument; a tobacco-sunburst single-cutaway beauty with hot electronics, a gorgeous, smooth action, a slick neck, a dense but comfortable body…’

I looked at the headstock.  “Paul Reed Smith”.

“No wonder it played like a dream; it’s a Smith”.  I braced for sticker shock as I reached for the price tag.  Paul Reed Smiths are traditionally hand-made wonders that sell for well into four digits.

I looked.

Under $400.

Turns out Smith’s new SE line are factory-built guitars – and while a discerning guitarist can no doubt tell the difference between one of the hand-built high end models, the SEs are pure joy expressed in wood and wire.

So if I get a bonus this year…

Just saying.

DISCLOSURE:  Nobody paid me to write this.  But they sure could.

Hot Plan Friday

So I’ve had a Hot Gear Friday post written about my favorite bit of hot gear – my highly-hotrodded 1960 Fender Jazzmaster – for almost a year now.

But can I get my daughter – who has the family’s only camera – to take a Glamour Shot of it?


Soon.  Really.

Road King

On Thursday and Friday, email and voicemail will be on Autopilot as I roam the hills and bends of Minnesota and Wisconsin, avoiding nature’s fury on a bike I haven’t tried before.

The 2009 Road King, courtesy of Hopkins Hitching Post.

Don’t call me I’ll call you.

Hot Gear Friday Redux

With yesterday’s passing of Les Paul, there was really only one option for Hot Gear Friday today.

I wrote this piece about 18 months ago:

It’s a ’57 Gibson Les Paul Standard, one of perhaps the three most sought-after electric guitars in the business. I recall reading that they went for $279, brand new out of the Gibson catalog, during Ike’s second term. When I first started playing guitar during the Carter administration – before the guitar collectors market went insane – they were already going for a stellar $3,000; thirty years later, some of them fetch mid-to-high five figures.

The tiger-stripe lacquer finish and the brick-heavy body create an afternoon’s worth of sustain. The action, like most Gibsons, is nice and low; your fingers just race, which is disconcerting to a Fender player like me. Even thirty years ago, the whole assembly – aged nicely even then – yielded a sweet, round, weathered tone that was the tonal equivalent of James Earl Jones’ voice; it had credibility just because of how it sounded.

I played a ’57 once – not a tiger-stripe, but a Gold-Top, its first cousin – that a friend of the bass player in my very first band had picked up ten years earlier for maybe $100, before the collectors value became established. I’d been playing guitar for maybe two years; I had a long way to go. And yet strapping that bad boy on was like sitting in an F1 Lotus after learning how to drive a combine; it’s hard not to feel like a guitar hero playing a ’57.

The Standard is the iconic representative of the line, but “Les Paul” is to guitars as “Europeans” is to people; there are many different varieties, some of them very dissimilar.

There was the Custom…:

…which added a pickup (usually) and a bunch of extra ivory, and switched to a mahogany rather than maple top, giving a mellower tone (which has translated to lower values on the collector market).

There’s the Deluxe…:

…originally with either mini-humbucker or P90 pickups, which didn’t really take off.

The Les Paul Studio…:

…which was a high-end “just the basics” version aimed at studio musicians, omitting the ornamentation and binding but going high end on the body construction and electronics.  Playing a Studio is an interesting experience; it handles like, well, a high-end Les Paul.  But there’s something about guitar marketing; while it probably played the same as a Standard, there was something that just felt – emotionally, not physically – downmarket.  There’s something about the whole “Les Paul Experience” that’s as much look as sound.

Of course, I always preferred them to the Juniors…:


who certainly have their adherents (Billy Joe Armstrong, Paul Westerberg), but always felt thick and unresponsive to me, a Fender guy.

With all the mythology based around the Les Paul, it’s hard to realize that Gibson was actually losing market share to Fender and their lighter, less-expensive Stratocaster.  To the threat, they responded with the SG – basically a lighter, thinner body with a double-cutaway body:

I never cared for them – I always liked my Ibanez knockoff better – but they did sell like hotcakes.  Looking at video clips of seventies bands, SGs were everywhere.
But it’s the Les Paul that is the rock and roll icon – from the sixties,

…the seventies…

…the eighties…


…well, you get the picture.

Hot Gear Friday

My posse and I are heading to Wisconsin later today and decided to jump in last-minute with a bunch of other colleagues that are going on a seven-hour tour bike tour of the Milwaukee area tomorrow morning. Normally, the three of us are Harley guys but the dealership didn’t have enough units due to our late entry.

So we’ll suffer along on these three machines…

…a 1203cc V-Twin Buell Ulysses XB12XT

…an 1125cc V-Twin Buell 1125R

…and a Harley Street Rod.

You won’t be hearing from me for a few days.

Hot-But-Underutilized Gear Friday

This isn’t exactly news; it’s almost three years old in fact.  But I just heard about it the other day, as a couple of guys from Kansas (who knew they were still together?) talked about it on the KQ Morning Show; Billie Joe Armstrong has an endorsement deal with Gibson for the reissued Les Paul Junior.

Well, the big news in signature guitars last week [in 2006] was Gibson’s announcement of their new Billie Joe Armstrong Signature Les Paul Junior – an apparently accurate reproduction of the Green Day front-man’s original 1956 LP Junior affectionately known as “Floyd.” (Hehe, you can’t make this stuff up!)

Now, I have nothing against Green Day; truth be told, I like some of their stuff.  Dookie is a great rock ‘n roll record; Nimrod was that plus all sorts of signs that the band wasn’t just a bunch of nutslap punks without a brain; American Idiot proved that they were smart-ish nutslap punks with delusions of intellectual grandeur but who gave us the everlasting gift of the most indelible mental map of the 2000’s liberal, via the spectacle of a bunch of pot-addled barflies yammering about how stupid everyone between the Sierra Madre and the Hudson were; watching bass player Mike Dirndt trying to explain his higher state of awareness through his chiba-monkey’s stammer was one of the better bits of found comedy back in 2006, in those days before Minnesota Progressive Project.  Politics aside, they have an undeniable way with a hook.

But one thing they’re not – with the arguable exception of drummer Frank “Tre Cool” Wright – is really, really great musicians.

Billie Joe Armstrong is a serviceable guitar player at best.  There’s nothing wrong with that; in a power trio (a guitar/bass/drums band, like Green Day), holding down the rhythm is the most important part of the job.  Not only is not everyone an Eddie Van Halen or a Steve Vai or a Richard Thompson – it wouldn’t be a good thing if everyone were.  There’ve been many excellent guitar players who don’t set the fretboard on fire with solo pyrotechnics; Tom Petty, Joey Ramone, Joe Grushecky, John Lennon, Tom Fogerty, Neil Finn, Colin Hay, Paul Stanley, Chrissy Hynde, Joe Strummer – all were perfectly capable guitar players who held down an important place in their various bands, playing rhythm.  All of them are perfectly respectable guitarists.  None of them are renowned as great guitarists, although all of them are good musicians in the same way a second violinist in a string quartet might not get the virtuoso solo nod, but still has to hold down a vital part in the ensemble.

But it used to be that getting a guitar named after you took years of diligent practice and a level of technical accomplishment well above the merely capable.  Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend – they got guitars named after them.

As to the Les Paul Junior?  It’s a single-pickup solid-body single-cutaway; the necks always struck me as hopelessly thick and clunky, and the inflexibility of the one-pickup electronics – one volulme pot, one tone pot, and that’s it – always drove me nuts (although I suppose if you were playing through a modeling amp, like a LineSix, it wouldn’t be such a problem).  Punk rockers loved ’em; Paul Westerberg (a much better guitar player than Armstrong_) played ’em, among many others.

Hot Gear Friday: The Sten

It was 1940.  Britain had been tossed from the continent, leaving most of its equipment behind in France.  It was facing an imminent invasion, and was being choked off from supplies from the outside world by the German submarine offensive.

Britain needed weapons.  It needed ’em fast. And it needed ’em cheap.

And so the “Sten” gun – the Saturday Night Special of submachine guns – was designed.

The Sten – named after its designers, Shepard and Turpin, and its factory, the Enfield works – must have been kicked off by Scots.  It was not only designed to be ruthlessly cheap to build (the Mark 2 shown above, similar to the one I shot many many years ago, cost $11 in 1944 dollars to manufacture), but designed to be fed by captured ammunition that no other Brit firearm used (the Brits had captured immense stockpiles of 9mm ammunition from the Italians in North Africa; British pistols of the day used a .38 caliber round).

It was a cheap expedient that jammed constantly. And it was light enough that the recoil of the 9mm round and the bucking of the bolt back and forth in the receiver made it extremely difficult to control when firing full automatic (which was,with the Mark II, the only option).

And yet it was a symbol; that the ingenuity of Democracies would find a way to muddle through in the face of fascism.

And it’s a hoot to shoot, too.  Not especially because of any redeeming qualities of its own; I believe the old saying is “the worst full-auto shooting is more fun than the best semi-auto”.

Or something like that.

HGF: Click and Shoot

With all this talk of torture of late it would be easy to overlook the fact that American forces, often at their own peril, have taken extreme measures to minimize civilian and even combatant casualties in defense of our interests around the world.

Last week’s standoff between pirates and the U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean ended famously with three sniper shots, as a drone watched overhead. In 2008, French special forces captured six pirates on land after ransom had been paid. “There were four helicopters involved,” The Independent reported at the time. “A sniper [in a Puma helicopter] shot out the motor of the pirates’ four-wheel drive vehicle. A second helicopter [a Gazelle] then landed nearby, allowing the six pirates to be arrested” — without any casualties.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) uses helicopter-borne snipers to take out drug-running boats. They are accurate enough to knock out engines without harming the crew or damaging fuel tanks. “The driver just threw his hands up,” concludes the description of one such action in Men’s Vogue, after all three engines were disabled with three shots.

The latest installment in technology designed for the precision required for this policy: behold our latest Hot Gear Friday Installment, the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System

Sniping from a chopper currently takes tons of skill and training. But ARSS is literally point-and-shoot for the operator on the ground, using a videogame-type controller. The software makes all the necessary corrections, and the system should ensure first-round kills at several hundred yards. The secret is in the control system and stabilized turret (on the right in the picture above), which is currently fitted with a powerful RND Manufacturing Edge 2000 rifle specifically designed for sniping work, using the heavyweight .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge.

HT Dr. Dave

Hot Gear Friday Wednesday

May I present for this week’s Hot Gear Friday Wednesday installment, the Phillips Norelco Nose and Ear Trimmer Model NT9110.

This high-performance, smartly-designed and thoughtfully-engineered grooming aid is a quiet, yet powerful hair removal system for the demanding, highly visible, metrosexual lifestyle of prominent bloggers like Mitch Berg and your own Johnny Roosh.

The NT9110 is 100% water resistant for easy use and cleaning, runs on one widely available AA Battery and includes:

  • 2 eyebrow combs, long and short
  • 2 trimming combs
  • Protection cap
  • 2-year world wide guarantee

I especially appreciate the motor’s turbine-like smoothness, the body’s quality feel, it’s sensuous form factor, and the tactile pleasure of holding my Phillips Norelco NT9110’s Soft-Grip rubber jacket as I advance it’s humming proboscis ever deeper into my aural and nasal cavities so as to keep my nostrils and ears free of follicular overgrowth for many hours at a time.

The business end of this precision-designed grooming machine is intuitively canted to maximize comfort and reach.

The water resistant design allows full-stream rinsing to remove the bounty of organic debris that collects as you comfortably navigate the aforementioned body cavities.

The efficacy of this appliance is demonstrated here in recent photos of me “before” and “after” employing my Phillips Norelco NT9110 before a recent MOB Gala.

As you can see, I’m no April fool. So if you’re like me, and of course you are – who wouldn’t want to be – you will appreciate the ease and efficiency with which the Phillips Norelco NT9110 keeps unwanted follicles at bay, leaving you with that just-groomed look for gatherings both business…

…and pleasure.

国产 (Made in China)

Hot Hosiery Friday

I have been wearing Gold Toe® hosiery for as long as I can remember. I prefer the Metropolitan over-the-calf in Black and Brown. The stretch nylon holds up to months and months of wear and they never lose their elastic so, they never come back down your calf.

During the early part of last century, two German immigrants founded a small mill in Bally, Pennsylvania to manufacture men’s hosiery and as a tribute to the country that adopted them, they named their company Great American Knitting Mills. From the start, Great American set out to look for “golden opportunities” in the marketplace. Ironically, the most fruitful and long lasting reward was to come from Great American’s humble efforts to answer the needs of Americans hard hit by the Great Depression of 1929. Consumers wanted hosiery that would wear better and last longer than ever before, so Great American introduced a sock with a gold reinforcing yarn sewn in the toe. Before long, Americans everywhere were asking for the durable “sock with the gold toe.” Gold Toe® hosiery had emerged as one of the leading brands in America, and The Standard of Quality in the Industry. During 2002 the Company changed its name to Gold Toe Brands, Inc.

Hosiery. Damn good hosiery.

Not so good with shorts though. Word to the wise.

Next time: Boxers or Briefs, Pros and Cons.

Hot Gear Friday: Waiting For The End Of The World

The Obama Administration apparently now thinks the economy isn’t going to revert to subsistence farming and roving gangs of thugs led by carnivorous warlords.

But I got to thinking; what if he’s wrong?

What Hot Gear are you, fellow American, going to need to get through a real crisis – not the kind Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want to waste, but the kind that’ll have Rahm Emanuel heading to Camp David with a company of Marines and a truckful of MRE’s?

Here at Shot In The Dark’s “Hot Gear” Department, you ask, we’ll answer.

If the balloon really goes up, there are three categories of Hot Gear we’ll cover:

  • Defensive Firearms
  • Working Firearms
  • Guitars

Other equipment – farming, security, milling, and other gear – is outside my immediate expertise; there are other blogs available for this.  “Hot Gear Friday” is, and has always, been about guns and guitars.
Without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Defensive Firearms

There are really three categories of survival firearms:  a close-defense shotgun, a pistol capable of both stopping a threat and being concealeable enough not to be a visible threat, and a big honking battle rifle.

For pistols, the “sexy” points these days go to the big German/Swiss guns, the Heckler and Koch USP (left) and the SIG 22x-series (R) automatics:

Both are excellent firearms.  But for my money, I’ll stick with the good ol’ Colt M1911:

Any of them are big, reliable manstoppers; if faced with a pack of roving cannibal looters, any of them will get you out of a jam.

Of course, any mention of defensive handguns invokes the inevitable argument between automatic shooters and revolver fans.  And while under normal circumstances – i.e., today, with a functioning police department and a civil society that values human life – six rounds should be plenty.  In a time of complete economic and social collapse?  It’s not for nothing the Tutsi saying “it’s always the seventh through 12th looters that get you” has been burned into the consciences of anyone who has one; the seven rounds (plus one in the pipe) of the Colt, or the 15+1 of the SIG or H&K, make the difference between life and death when the only backup you can call is you.

For shotguns?  Remember – a sporting shotgun works in times when you can take a broken feed ramp up to Cavellas when it’s convenient.  When you have a houseful of angry looters to deal with, though, reliability is king.

Which should lead you to the Remington 870 slide-action.   Ubiquitous, time-tested, and rugged as week-old pizza crust, the 870 covers a lot of territory, from hard-core close-defense shredder to utility piece:

Stick with cylinder bores, and if you can, get the barrel cut down; you don’t need a tight pattern for a room-cleaning heater.  The folding stock and pistol grips look cool and aid concealability, but if you’re not a constant 12-gauge shooter, the pistol grip increases the felt recoil.  Just get one and start practicing; worry about the furniture later.

Finally, the question that really gets the wonks spitting tacks: which assault rifle to pick.

Note that the question is not “whether”; it’s “which”.  Despite the best efforts of the gun controllers, there are many excellent choices out there.  The Belgian FN-FAL and the Italian BM59 are excellent, but rare and somewhat pricey choices:


The Springfield M1A – the civilian version of the M14 – is also an excellent choice…

…although you have to be very careful you buy one with a genuine Springfield receiver; many M1As were built in the seventies (during the last economic panic) with badly-welded knockoff Garand receivers; bad idea.

But for the upper midwest, with its wild extremes of weather, the standout choice is the Heckler and Koch HK91.

It’s spendy, and out of production, but incredibly rugged.  The best testimony for those of us in the frozen north? The Norwegian Army uses a variant, the AG3, and is in little danger of replacing it any time soon; when the weather is awful, the G3/HK91 platform is without equal.

(Budget shopping secret; if you prowl through Shotgun News you can find Spanish CETME Model Cs – the weapon from which the G3/HK91 was derived – at a decent price)

You’ll note I stuck with 7.62x51mm rifles, eschewing 5.56x45mm; I figure since most of us will be defending our homes and neighborhoods from marauders, the 5.56’s main advantages, light weight allowing you to carry bigger loads of ammo, aren’t as important.

Of course, while the various AK and SKS-series derivatives are highly overrated in terms of hitting power and tend to be woefully inaccurate, they are inexpensive and ubiquitous.  If they’re all you can get, by all means, do; it can’t hurt to have one around as spare.  I recommend Bulgarian AKs, or if all else fails the Chinese SKS


And it should go without saying that the M1 Garand – relatively inexpensive, available everywhere, and sporting the old but powerful 30.06 cartridge – is way more than merely useful:

It saved Western Civilization during World War II; it can save you this time, too.  Just lay in a big supply of the troublesome eight-round en bloc clips.
At the end of the day, the key isn’t so much which one, but that you have one.  Because if the economy is as bad as the Minnesoros “Independent” seems to say it’s going to be, you’ll need something to keep your food supply safe from “progressive taxes” imposed by those who weren’t so foresightful.

Working Firearms

Things get a little more nebulous here – but suffice to say, a working battery is different from a self-defense battery; while your defensive guns need to be high-capacity, lethal and utterly reliable, with your working battery’s main features are flexibility and economy; killing varmints and putting “targets of opportunity” on the table with minimum expenditure are the bellwethers.

There are many choices – but a good working battery should have at least a good .22 rifle. .22 Long Rifle rimfire rounds are cheap, so you can lay in a HUGE stockpile, and against small varmints and less-determined enemies it’s a good caliber.  There are innumerable good examples; the Ruger 10/22 and Remington Nylon 66 are both excellent semi-auto .22s.  But for pure reliability, it’s hard to top the Savage Mark II; it’s a turnbolt, so there are very few moving parts, and the action is simple, rugged,and foolproof.

To that, I’d add a good large-frame working revolver.  Revolvers beat autos as working guns, since they operate just fine with any kind of load, from hot factory loads to crap your brother in law loads in his basement; you can keep shotshells in a couple of chambers for squirrels or birds, wadcutters in a couple more for nastier varmints, and Glasers in a couple more in case a couple of famished conceptual artists decide you’d make a fine pot roast; I recommend something in a .45 Long Colt (11.43x32mm), which is a little lower-pressure than a .44 magnum, and easier to reload.  I like the Ruger Redhawk…:

…but there are many excellent pieces using this excellent, versatile, reliable caliber.

The bitch of it is, complete economic meltdown means no electric power, which means no electic guitars.  You’re best off finding some protected closet, out of the light, putting some Dampits in there (and checking them periodically) to keep them from drying out, and holding onto them for better times.

So what’s the best guitar for a complete societal breakdown?  Some wags suggest a Dobro.

It seems tempting to opt for one of the classic metal guitars with the internal resonator cones – because of their extra volume, and because their metal bodies afford extra protection from small-caliber gunfire and make a better close-range defensive weapon – but the resonator cones are hard to replace under primitive conditions; unless you the foresight to stock spare parts, you could be stuck with a big metal box.

Beyond that, really, it’s a matter of personal preference; some theorize a good dreadnought-body guitar might have lower string tension…

…lowering breakage and reducing demand on your stockpile of spare strings (but lay in as many as you can afford anyway).   At any rate, your choice in guitars isn’t all that differnet from your choice in assault rifles; find something rugged, well-built, that is as unlikely as humanly possible to break down when you need it.

There.  You should be ready now.

(Except for that whole “Food Supply” thing).

UPDATE:  Oh, good lord.

OK, I’ll break it down, for those of you dumb enough to read “Minnesota Progressive Report” (aka “Minnesota Short Bus”, among people of all parties with brains in their heads); the piece is tongue in cheek; a sendup of all the gloom and doomers out there (including in the local blogosphere). 

Oh, it’s true – it is the duty of every real, law-abiding American to own and become proficient with a firearm.  Of that, there’s no rational doubt.

But, um, yeah.  “Satire”. 


Hot Technique Friday: Just When I Think There Are No More Frontiers

This March will be 33rd anniversary of playing guitar.  And sometimes it feels like there are no more frontiers.

Which is not to say I’ve conquered everything I want to on the instrument; merely that after attempting certain frontiers (being a convincing speed-metal player, copping Chet Atkins licks, getting Terry Kath’s solo for Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4 down note for note), I’ve decided they just didn’t mean that much to me.

Other frontiers hover out there like Moby Dick; getting Nils Lofgren’s pick harmonics (without adopting fingerpicks), getting the alternate-string thumb bass line in Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lighting sounding like I’m not playing after a severe stroke, figuring out Brian May’s guitar tone, that kind of thing.

But it’s time to try something new.

I’ve never really tried to sit down and gnosh out anything on Television’s Marquee Moon.  Which makes me nekulturnii, I know; I’m being honest here.  It occurred to me that I’ve wanted to figure out Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s parts in Venus for a very long time.

So there’s a project for the long weekend.

Hot Gear Friday: The FN FAL/SLR

If you show this image around the world…

…of the “Avtomat Kalashnikov” model 1947 assault rifle, people think “marxism”, “revolution”…

…or “gangs of teenage thug “militiamen” here for your stuff”.

The AK47 is one of the iconic images of the past 100 years. More than 100 million AK-series rifles have been built – the vast majority of them serving the militaries of totalitarian dictatorships, he private guards of warlords and thugs, and “revolutionary” groups around the Second and Third Worlds from the 1950s to today. It’s the AK-series (colloquialized as the “AK-47” in the US, although it covers the vastly more-numerous AKM, the more modern AK-74 and others) that served everyone from the guards at Red Square to the Viet Cong to the militias of Mogadishu. The AK was romanticized by the American left (Che uses ’em!) and then, as the Cold War wound down, demonized (so do the Crips!).

It developed a substantial mythology that largely obscures the political and social aspects of its design; designed to be rugged and easily maintained by illiterate peasants, it is not an accurate rifle; it’s designed for badly-trained people to spray automatic fire in your general direction, to scare you away, or to keep your head down long enough for someone to throw a grenade at you. It is the very antithesis of the American tradition of marksmanship.
But I’m not going to write about the AK.

The west never developed a counter-icon with the counter-culture romance of the AK – indeed, since so much of the survival of the west involved refuting the idea of the romantic totalitarian hero, that’s completely appropriate.

But if the west did have a counter-icon, it’d likely be the FN-FAL:


Designed and built at Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale (FN), the Fusil Automatique Leger (“Light Automatic Rifle”), or “FAL” served the west from the mid-fifties until the present – although it’s been falling out of front-line service with the west’s militaries for the past 15 years or so. It’s big. It’s powerful – unlike the AK with its short 7.62x39mm “intermediate” round, it fires a full-powered 7.62x51mm round (known as “.308 Winchester” in the US).

The big difference? It’s accurate in a way the AK never could be. It’s a marksman’s rifle; while it could spray automatic fire (at least in its Belgian version; the British and Canadians adopted a semi-automatic only version, the “SLR”, from 1957 through the mid-eighties), it was way too light to use as a machine gun. It’s rugged like the AK, but it wasn’ “simple”; where the AK was a cheap specimen that could be manufactured in any third-world machine shop, the FAL was the product of old-world European craftsmanship, painstakingly machined to fairly tight tolerances.

And yet, in battle after battle around the world for fifty years, when the forces of “revolution” and thuggery took to the field with their AK47s, they were as often as not faced with troops with the FAL. As the USSR and NATO stared each other down from the fifties through the ’80s, many of the NATO troops that stared back across the border – the Dutch, the Belgians, the British and Canadians and many others – carried the FAL.
As did the US – almost:

[In US trials to replace the M1 Garand in the ’50s, the FAL prototype that the American procurement establishment called the “T48”] competed against the T44 rifle. The T44 was a heavily modified version of the earlier M1 Garand. Testing proved the T48 and the T44 comparable in performance, with no clear winner. However, the supposed ease of production of the T44 upon machinery already in place for the M1 Garand and the similarity in the manual of arms for the T44 and M1 ultimately swayed the decision in the direction of the T44, which was adopted as the M14 rifle.

The various civilianized semi-auto versions of the FAL are a joy to shoot, although they buck like mules, firing the full-power .308 cartridge from a frame that weighs only about eight or nine pounds.  Compared to heavier weapons firing the same cartridge (the similar German G-3, in its civilian incarnation as the HK91, which’ll be featured in an upcoming episode of HGF), or even the M-1 Garand with the slightly more powerful old American 30.06 round, the FAL series is a handful.

The FAL is falling out of front-line service with the world’s marquee armies; the Brits traded the SLR in for the space-age looking IW; the Dutch, Belgians and Canadians traded theirs in for more modern weapons using the lighter 5.56x45mm round developed for the American M16; the Australians, the Austrians and even the Irish traded theirs in for  the space-age looking 5.56mm Steyr AUG.  And yet the FAL soldiers on around the world, in places like India and Brazil and South Africa and, in places like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, alongside its old nemesis, the AK.
One of the great regrets of my life; at a gun show in Saint Paul in the late eighties, I found a guy unloading a British SLR semi-auto version, in the case with all the original parts, for $595. I thought about it – hard – but took a pass. I figured “I need the money for other things – and hey, there’ll be other gun shows”.

As, indeed, there were. But in the intervening time, the Stockton Massacre – where an insane man shot up a California playground with, what else, an AK) led to talk of draconian restrictions on “assault weapons”, which led the price of most such weapons to nearly triple overnight.

One of these days.

Hot Gear Friday: The Hiwatt Stack

Growing up as something of a wannabe rock star, my dreams as a teenager were probably more focused on guitar gear than on cars than for most teenage guys. 

And in fact they still are.

And the big mack daddy of ’em all, to a kid who grew up a Who fanatic and who played guitar for two years before he knew there was a way to strum the guitar other than windmilling, was the amp that Pete Townsend, more than anyone, made famous; the Hiwatt.

Famous largely for getting smashed during Townsend’s “destruction is art” phase from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, the Hiwatt was also famous for being clear, powerful, reliable and very, very loud.  It was part of the “big three” of Brit guitar amps of the sixties and seventies, along with Vox (which was the Fender of Brit amps) and Marshall (which was, hello, Marshall).

Of course, being all Brit and exotic and all, they were impossible to find in North Dakota.  Although rumors from travelling musicians had it that you could occasionally – rarely – see one at Marguerite’s Music in Moorhead.  And so, one day, when I was finally old enough to do road trips to Fargo/Moorhead with my friends, I made the pilgrimmage.  I walked into Marguerite’s…

…and found nothing.

So the second time I took a road trip to Fargo, I tried again.

And there it was.  No, not the stack, but the “Studio Stage” combo…

…which, truth be told, may or may not have been up to the standard of the original “stack”, with its two cabinets with eight 12 inch speakers and 100-120 watts of pure electonic meth.  It’s hard to say..

…and it prompts the question; if you’ve never tasted, say, scotch, and you walk into a bar and someone gives you a glass of six-week-old WalMart scotch and, next to it, a glass of 30-year-old LaPhraoig, do you think you could tell the difference?

I dunno.  The little combo was a joy to play, but then everything at Marguerite’s was.

Even if they’d had an honest-to-goodness stack, could I have cranked it to the stops to get any idea of its real performance, in the middle of a music store?  Probably not.  It would have blown half of Moorhead and all the topsoil in Clay County over the Red River into North Dakota.

Someday.  Someday.

HGF The Bond Cars

Car and Driver tests several Bond cars and is left underwhelmed. It turns out they may have actually used special effects in the production of these films! 

There are two ways James Bond’s cars are portrayed in film: seductively sitting still (often draped with beautiful women) or blazing across the screen in some of the most exciting car-chase sequences ever made for the big screen. But in many cases, there’s got to be some serious lens trickery going on: upon reviewing our test data for some of James Bond’s coolest cars, we found that not only are Bond’s rides seldom the fastest cars of their time, some of them couldn’t catch a bad guy on a bicycle. This could explain why some of those chase scenes take so long.

In any case, enjoy some of my favorites. The rest can be found here.

Aston Martin DB5 – Goldfinger (1964)

  • 4.0-liter inline-6 (282 hp, 288 lb-ft)
  • 0–60 mph: 8.1 seconds
  • Quarter-mile: N/A

BMW 750iL – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

  • 5.4-liter V-12 (322 hp, 361 lb-ft)
  • 0–60 mph: 6.3 seconds
  • Quarter-mile: 14.8 @ 98 mph

BMW Z8 The World is Not Enough (1999)

  • 4.9-liter V-8 (394 hp, 369 lb-ft)
  • 0–60 mph: 4.5 seconds
  • Quarter-mile: 13.0 @ 111 mph

Aston Martin VanquishDie Another Day (2002)

  • 5.9-liter V-12 (460 hp, 400 lb-ft)
  • 0–60 mph: 4.4 seconds
  • Quarter-mile: 12.9 @ 115 mph