Value Added

One of my co-workers recently got his car – a relatively popular imported model – stolen.

A few days ago, he got a call.  The car’d been found.  He went to the salvage yard where it’d been delivered.

He came back to the office, perplexed; the car, which was in mint condition (it was a ’94, but my co-worker likes to tinker, apparently), was actually in better condition than when stolen.  More to the point, it’d been heavily modified; upgraded suspension, new wheels, all sorts of new, cool parts.

All of them stolen as well, naturally.

They’re still trying to figure out how to settle that one.

The Car The People have been Waiting For®

Financial system events of late provide only a glimpse of the worldwide economic collapse that will be brought on by a capitulation of global equity markets if Barack Obama realizes a successful Presidential bid and unleashes the full faith and credit of the Socialist Party. In anticipation, American automotive enthusiasts are encouraged to recalibrate their choice of daily conveyance.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Citroen 2CV.

The 2CV celebrates its 60th birthday during the Paris Motor Show, on 7 October 2008. To celebrate the event, Hermes has designed a made-to-measure outfit that highlights the vehicle’s ever-friendly and generous forms.

The 1989 2CV 6 Spécial, repainted in brown, gains a natural leather trim on the door facings, interior rearview mirror, gear knob, steering wheel and driver’s sun visor. For an even more elegant finish, the two seats are upholstered in Hermès grey-beige cotton canvas and natural leather. As a finishing touch, the bonnet and interior trim at the rear of the vehicle also feature Hermès cotton canvas.

Like the Automobile that marked the other end of America’s industrial and economic world dominance, Henry Ford’s Model T, the 2CV is available in any color you like. As long as, in this case, it is brown.

Exhilarating is one word that one might imagine could possibly come to mind considering the power under the bonnet. The little engine that could, a SOHC 602cc Twin, breathes easy through a twin-choke carburetor and churns out an adequate 29 horsepower at 6,750 rpm. The 2CV’s 5.3 Gallon gas tank allows for a full week’s ration!

Need to put on the binders? Sturdy drum brakes in the rear, and in a generous government factory upgrade since 1981, you’ll enjoy disc brakes in the front.

A comfortable but durable rear bench will allow for catnaps between your day job, wherewith you feed your children and pay the rent on your government-owned town home and your night job wherewith you pay your United Nations Income Tax, Grocery Loans and Global Warming Assessment.

Savor the nostalgia of a vehicle introduced to the world in 1948; your very own piece of history! Enroll now for subsidized 96-month financing offers and neighborhood Carshare Agreements via government lottery selection.

Citroen. The Car The People have been Waiting For®

Hot Gear Friday – The Short Magazine Lee Enfield No. 1 Mk III

The first were built in 1907. The last were manufactured in the late thirties. They were among the British Commonwealth’s standard rifles until the late fifties,

In the hands of the “Old Contemptibles” – Britain’s tiny force of regulars in 1914 – they held off massed waves of Germans during the original blitz through Belgium. They fought at The Somme, Passchendaele, Second Marne, Dunkirk, Narvik, El Alamein, the Bramaputra and Cassino, Sword and Gold and Juno beaches, all the way across France and Belgium and Holland and Korea and the Suez.

A refinement of an 1888 design that had been tried and found wanting during the Boer War, Irish and Indian and South African reservists carried them well into the seventies and early eighties. After the AK47, they were the most common weapon in the hands of the mujahedin in Afghanistan early in their jihad against the Soviets. It’s still seen in the hands of reservists and policemen throughout south asia.

The SMLE reminded me of Winston Churchill; pug-nosed, but a smooth operator. I fired one at a range in 1988 (and a few more times thereafter). It was the rifle equivalent of an aged single-malt on a mahogany table; old-school in that way that all the great antiques are. The short-throw bolt action, worn down after goodness-knows how many people cranked it over the years (its receiver was stamped sometime in the late twenties, as I recall) was the fastest, smoothest turnbolt I personally have ever fired.

(Note: No, this is not the one I shot. I just pulled it off the net).

There were 14 million of them made (possibly including the “modernized” versions, the Mark IV and Mark V, from the forties and fifties).  Back in ’88, they were running for under $100. Yet another deep lifelong regret.

Hot Gear Friday – The Fender Deluxe Reverb

In the world of gear, there are toys – things that’ll give you that little burst of pleasure instantly – and then there’s machinery, the things you have to work to get what you want with.

A fuzz box?  It’s a toy.

I don’t mean, by the way, to disparage toys.  Toys have their place, and it can be an important one.  They give adults, like kids, something they need; a learning experience, something to enjoy, something that ties learning to fun, or just that little jolt of fun you need.

The Fender Deluxe?  It’s machinery.

I bought my Fender in 1978, for $100 worth of paper route money.  It was 50 watts of power through a 10 inch speaker, the bare-bones two-knob tone controls, a simple spring reverb tank and a tremolo unit.

That’s it.  No overdrive circuit.  No power soaker.  No EQ.

The basic tone, after you got done cranking on the tone controls, was basically…clean.  You had to crank it to get overdrive distortion – and 50 watts cranked was very, very loud.

But this was the fun part; after a while of noodling around with it, you found (or I found, anyway) a combination of things that made it, with all its faults, mineMy sound. In my case, sometime after I moved to the Cities and after maybe seven years of playing the thing, I cracked the code:  My guitars (a Fender Jazz and an Ibanez SG), into a cheapo preamp stompbox, thence into a DOD rackmount delay line (that I left sitting on my amp, since, sheesh, who’s gonna buy a rack?), and then into a switch pedal (to jump between the Fender and my Peavey Bandit, when I wanted a wash of cheap, overdriven fuzz.  The preamp gave the Fender a little film of crunchy distorition, while the DOD could be tweaked to give just the right amount of slapback to fill things out, making the Fender sound…

…damn good.

It, and the DOD, got stolen probably in 1989.  That thief, unfortunately, I don’t know.  Hope you enjoy it, douchebag, whoever you are.
Anyway – one of these next tax refunds…

Hot Gear Friday: The M1 Garand

It’s Memorial Day Weekend – so today, I’m highlighting the “hot gear” most familiar to “the greatest generation”.

It’s the M1 Garand, America’s standard infantry rifle from the mid-thirties until the late fifties.

A rugged, solid, deceptively compact rifle in .30-06, with a simple gas action, it was the rifle the US military carried in World War II and Korea; indeed, the first men to use it in combat were the North Dakota National Guardsmen of the 164th Infantry Regiment on Guadalcanal about whom I wrote last year for Memorial Day; fighting at the Matanikau River and Bloody Nose Ridge in 1942 (the Marines, being far down the supply chain as they were, still carried World War I-vintage M1903 Springfields, of which more in a later installment).

I’ve shot a few Garands – indeed, I’ve come || <---this close to buying Garands a couple of times.  They’re sweet, accurate rifles; the only problems are the peep sights, which I can’t stand,  and the top-loading, eight-shot, “all-or-nothing” block clip magazine.

The rifle was such a solid, reliable concept that when the world started changing to high-capacity magazines in the late ’50s, the Army simply rechambered it for the shorter .308 Winchester round, tacked on a 20-round box magazine, made a few mechanical changes (including “selective fire”, the ability to fire in full automatic, like a machine gun), and called it the M14 – which still serves today, and is reportedly especially favored in the desert for its long range, accuracy and hitting power compared to the relatively lightweight M16/M4.

And since it’s Memorial Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some more gear; the M1911A1 pistol…:

…which was designed almost 100 years ago during America’s last insurgency against a seemingly-intractable Moslem insurgency, in the Philippines.  Designed to knock a charging, drug-crazed attacker down with no questions asked using a big, bulbous .45 round that was designed for relatively minimal efficiency (so as to leave its kinetic energy in the first thing it hit), it’s mechanically simple but metaphorically rich; “everyone speaks Colt”, it’s said, since the sound of that big metal slide racking a round is reportedly usually enough to scare burglars into the next zip code.  It’s on my agenda for one of these next tax refunds – along with a nice jacket.

And no Hot Gear “Greatest Generation” edition would be complete without the red-headed stepchildred of the bunch – the Browning Automatic Rifle…:

…which was what they’d call a “squad automatic weapon” today – designed to put a hail of lead over your target so they’d keep their heads down so the guys with the Garands could close in and lob grenades at them. I’ve never shot a BAR, although I met a guy at a re-enactor show who owned one, and took it apart for me.  It was big, heavy, and used a sliding-block bolt that wasn’t at all unfamiliar to me, shooting my Ljungman at the time.  My overriding impression – having been on a brief jag of learning about machine-tooling metal at the time – was “this receiver is one big beautiful piece of metal”.  Which was true, although in wartime not necessarily a good thing.

Quite the opposite of today’s final Hot Gear submission, the M3 Grease Gun:

Designed in the middle of World War II to be cheap, simple and easy to manufacture, it was almost entirely built of stampings; only the barrel and bolt were actually machined.  So bone-simple was it that it didn’t even have a cocking handle;  you stuck your finger in the ejection port into a hole in the bolt and hauled it directly back yourself.  I’d read about this for years, of course; but when I actually got a chance to shoot an M3 back in 2000, it actually wasn’t as weird as I’d thought it would be.  And – for the record – there are few things as cool as firing something on full-automatic; (I fired ten shots.  In three bursts.  Booyah).

So – thanks, veterans!

Hot Gear Friday

Today’s gear isn’t “hot” in the sense of “really really great”.  Indeed, in the great continuum of electronics, especially electronics available today, it’s a comical throwback.

But 20-odd years ago, it was the stuff of dreams.

Not long after I started playing guitar, I started having delusions of grandeur.  The delusions were not unlike the ones I got shortly after starting this blog, things like “getting back into talk radio…” – well, you get the picture.  My delusions back then centered around “being able to dub multiple instruments onto the same piece of tape, so I could make records without needing a whole band”.

Sort of like “Multi track tape” – reel to reel tapes with many “tracks”, each with its own record and play heads, so you could record and synch many instruments and vocal tracks – without having to spend what it took for a multi-track tape recorder back then.
Which was a lot.  A four-track recorder was usually well over $1,000; eight-tracks were pushing $2K, as  recall, and 16, 24 and more tracks were the province of recording studios that cost more than most houses I grew up around.

So money was an obstacle.  So was my own lack of technical ingenuity; my first attempt at recording more than one instrument involved playing a guitar track into a cassette recorder, then replaying it as I played along and recorded the whole thing onto another cassette recorder.  It worked, except that the first track was buried in playback noise from the first cassette player; by the third “track”, the background noise from the multiple layers of cassette players made the whole production sound like “guitars playing in a gale”.

In college, I experimented with “bouncing” tracks back and forth on a reel-to-reel player, which had two tracks (known to most stereo-listening laypeople as “left” and “right”.).  It worked, sort of – I got four instruments down, once – before the overlaid layers of track noise overwhelmed the instruments.

There had to be a better way.

And in 1984, it came along.

Now, there’d been cassette-based four-tracks since the early ’80s; Bruce Springsteen recorded his Nebraska album on the first of them, a Teac “Tascam” four-track cassette; the unit cost about $1,000, which was still a little lot too spendy for me.

But in ’84, along came the answer, the vehicle to my megalomaniac recording dreams:

The Fostex X15 was the first “inexpensive” ($400) cassette recorder.  It let you record on two tracks at a time, mix down four tracks into a stereo two track mix…

…and, since it had an internal monitor circuit, allowed you to record tracks to other tracks.  Which meant you could “bounce” mix two or three tracks onto one, to clear a track or two for more recording.  This was a common technique in high-end studios in the sixties, when the four-track reel-to-reel was high technology (Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded on four-track decks, although “decks” is plural).

And so in January of 1985, I sat down in the pump room at my college chapel with a drum kit, a 1916 Steinway, and my guitars and bass and a Farfisa organ I’d found under a stack of old programs, and started recording entire band arrangements of songs.

My pride and joy?  One song where I…:

  1. laid down a metronome track
  2. played the rhythm guitar part to guide the whole song
  3. Laid down a drum track
  4. Cut a bass track
  5. Bounced the bass and drums over the metronome on track one
  6. Played a big, broad piano part
  7. Bouned the piano and rhytm guitar together
  8. Played an organ part
  9. Did a last with the vocals (with the lead guitar fitting in where I wasn’t singing).

I think I worked on it until 5 one morning.  And listened to it  the whole next day.  It sounded…

…cool.  LIke I could actually do this recording thing.

I went on to work wtih much bigger, better recording gear later on.  And of course, today you can record on your computer across dozens of tracks (with the aid of a decent sound card, at least) for a fraction of the price of an old reel to reel player.

But the Fostx made it all possible for me.

I still have it, somewhere…

Hot Gear Friday – The Big Muff

What was that term we used to use to refer to nebbishy guys who’d suddenly get all ten-foot-tall-and-armor-plated when they’d get a couple of Sex On The Beaches down the hatch?

Oh, yeah – “Liquid Courage”; the phenomenon whereby someone with no aptitude at something becomes an expert, maven or badass after marinading their brain in ethanol for a bit.  It has analogues in the worlds of philosophy, sex, music and so on (Liquid Intellect, Confidence and Talent, respectively).

The kicker is, “Liquid” attributes aren’t all bad.  How many of the world’s great works of art have been created by people who were more bombed than Atomizer on a Saturday morning at Byerly’s?  How much of the world’s great music was created by people who washed their great ideas down a chaser?  Not just booze, of course; drugs and mental illness have both helped artists, thinkers, creators of all stripes to unlock their inner genius.  Or at least swing for the fence.
Of course, anything the human mind and body can do on ethanol, it can do with technology.  Photoshop has given almost anyone the ability to alter photographs in a way that used to take LSD or spyrochaetal paresis.  The reversible turntable allowed people who can’t play music to…play music.

And in the days before the Line Six computer-based modeling preamp, there were two ways to sound like Jimi Hendrix or Jimi Page: great drugs, or the Big Muff.

The Muff was a “fuzz box”; it introduced distortion into the signal chain between the guitar and the amp, making an amp at normal indoor-level volume sound like it was being overdriving until the speaker cones were red-hot. The three knobs controlled the tone, volume and…er, flatulency of the “fuzz” effect, while the big stomp-switch allowed you to turn the effect on and off with your foot.

It didn’t put out the really nice, high-quality harmonic and overdrive distortion that you got from cranking a Marshall stack to 11.  It was more the kind of farty-sounding “fuzz” you heard on songs like “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, George Harrison’s “What Is Love”, and a zillion other sixties and seventies songs. Which wasn’t a bad thing in its own right; psychedelic, gassy fuzz has its place.

But here was the cool part; if you turned the “fuzz” off, but cranked the output volume on the unit anyway, it would make your clean amp (me: a 1960-ish Fender Deluxe) sound just a tad dirty; the difference between sounding like George Benson and George Thorogood.  It’d add that little edge of drive that’d put just a sweet little tinge of distortion around the edge of you “clean” tone.

In other words, there were the Two Stages of Big Muff:

  1. the Psychedelic Hummingbird phase – where you wallow in fuzzy pseudodistorition because it makes your notes bleed together enough to make you sound really cooo, maaaan, and…
  2. The Preamp phase – when you realize that the Muff sounds best when it’s “off”, yet still “on”.

Mine got stolen in high school, by the way.  I know who did it.  And I know where you live, and I’m just biding my time.

Hot Gear Friday – the Martin D45

Everyone has that “what could have been” moment” in their lives; the date with the perfect gal or guy that somehow slipped away before you could get the phone number, the chance at the break that might have changed it all if you’d have heard opportunity knocking, the glimpse of the sunset that brought the great American song or the epic poem just soooo close to the surface.

For me, there were two.

One day, I stood outside the Cartoon Network studios holding in one hand a paper carton with the unduplicated master copies of every episode of Squidbillies ever made, and in the other, a five gallon can of kerosene. In my pocket was a blowtorch.

What could have been.

And the other? The Martin D45 that my college English major advisor had picked up at a Greenwich Village flea market in the late sixties for about $100.

Today, the brand-new ones run between $7,000 and $11,000. The classic ones, from the thirties through the sixties (Dr. Blake’s was from the late forties, if I recall correctly, and I may well not) go for waaaay more than that.

I used to noodle around on Dr. Blake’s D45 when I was over at his place for English department get-togethers.

Keep your heroin. Nothing can top the D. The tone was like something Peter Jackson would have used CGI to generate for some deity speaking to Gandalf – rich, nuanced, with harmonics that played about your perceptions like little pinpricks of joy – and an action so smooth it felt like I could sit back and let it play itself for a while.

As I go through this Hot Gear Friday series I’m rapidly figuring out how I could burn through a big Powerball purse.

(H/T to Anti Strib, who are finally featuring a genuinely hot chick)

Hot Gear Friday – The Ibanez SG

Generally, knockoffs aren’t as good as the original.

Our Man Flint? Not as cool as James Bond.

Mello Yello? Not Mountain Dew. Not by a long shot.

John Cafferty? A great night out at a bar, but no Springsteen.

Hot Gear Friday? Can’t hold a candle to Hot Chick Friday.

But every once in a while, the copy confounds expectations.

Everyone who deserves the right to vote knows the Gibson SG:

Originally putatively a lighter, double-cutaway version of the Les Paul, (whre “lighter Les Paul” makes about as much sense as “Lamborghini with a Hyundai engine”), it’s most famous as Angus Young’s main guitar this past thirty years or so.
And I always hated ’em; after years of playing the slim, elegant neck of my Fender Jazz, playing the SG felt like a thick piece of firewood; the fingerboards always seemed soft, almost porous. Maybe I’ve tried bad guitars – but every SG I’ve ever played felt cheap.

So you’d think the cheap knock-off would be a real doozy – right?

Well, no.

Ibanez guitars was, and is, a company based in Japan that started in the late sixties and early seventies making knock-off guitars. And one of their mid-seventies efforts was the SG:

If you look online, sellers will refer to various early-mid ’70s Ibanezes as “Lawsuit Models”, because – well, in 1975, Gibson sued Ibanez for copying Gibson guitars down to the absolute finest details of their designs (tuning machines, headstocks, truss rods…everything). Ibanez responded by changing some of the details…

…which is where my old SG comes in. It is a virtual dead-ringer for the red Gibson at the top of this post – but for the “Gibson” marque on the headstock, it could be the same axe.  I bought it from a friend in 1979, after he’d gotten it from a second-hand store for $90. I’m not sure if it was built immediately before the lawsuit (it looked exactly like a factory SG) or immediately after (the neck was thinner and slicker; the rosewood fingerboard was much nicer than any SG I’ve ever played). But it is a sweet guitar – especially after I dropped a Seymour Duncan “Jeff Beck” pickup in the bridge position (think “Hyundai with a Lamborghini engine”).

If you can find one, and you have a choice between saving your significant other’s life with a rare but relatively inexpensive surgery, and buying the SG – well, save you significant other. Duh. And then buy the SG.

Hot Gear Friday – The Supro Thunderbolt

This week’s Hot Gear Friday – done with a nod, as always, toward Anti-Strib’s “Hot Chick Friday” – focuses on the “Speed Racer” of guitar gear, the Supro Thunderbolt.

When you were a kid, did you ever dream about finding a bunch of parts in a second-hand-parts store, tossing them together, and – via an improbable series of empricial vicissitudes – accidentally build a go-cart that could go 200 mph? Or do the neighborhood show or skit that would get seen, randomly, by some Hollywood agent?

The Supro amp was sorta like that.

Supro was a budget-model line of guitars and amps, just a couple of steps above the makes you’d find in Penneys and Sears catalogs of the day, but nowhere near the A-list amps of the day, the Fenders and Ampegs and Marshalls and Hiwatts. They were priced accordingly, when they were new – outside the catalog range, but toward the lower end of the music-store brand range.

But what you got…

…was a value priced piece of equipment with a tone that’d strip the chrome off a trailer hitch. With a good, high-output guitar, the Supro would get the perfect overdrive. It was like that mythical, fictional, fantasy go-kart built out of odds and sods that just happened to work better than the sum of their parts.
Jimmy Page reportedly used a Thud on Led Zeppelin I, II, III and/or IV, depending on the legend you choose to believe. This introduces a chicken/egg question; would people have noticed this humble, budget amp without the Jimmy Page history/legend, or would that legend/history have ever existed had the Supro not been a diamond in the rought?

Who cares?

All I know is, I got to play one in college; when my Fender Deluxe Reverb was in the shop (a long, gruelling process in rural North Dakota at the time), I borrowed a Thud from a friend of mine.

And until the dawn of amps with “modeling” processors (subject of an upcoming HGF) I’ve never played an amp that just felt so perfect, before or since (short, perhaps, of the occasional Mesa/Boogie that, at that time of my life, would have cost a couple months’ salary). And apparently others think so, too – once humble Thuds seem to go for princely ransoms on EBay these days.

If you get the impression that I could burn through a Powerball purse on guitar gear, you’re probably not all wrong…

Hot Gear Friday – the Hamer Sunburst

Today’s Hot Gear Friday (with a nod to Anti-Strib’sHot Chick Friday”) is the Hamer Standard.

They say that, when it comes to people of the opposite (or, for some of us I guess, same) sex, we’re attracted to people we find “exotic” – different than those we grew up around.

I saw this first-hand a few years back. I grew up in North Dakota, where tall, blond, Northern-European-descended women are as common as wheat – like Minnesota, only more so. I worked with a guy on a project, an Italian from Newark named Vito. He’d fly in to the Twin Cities to work on a project – and as we’d walk about downtown from one meeting to another, he’d be in a constant froth; “Gawd, Mitch, I should move out here. How do you get any work done with all these tall gorgeous blondes around here?”

“Enh”, I said, remembering when I’d been flown out to the east coast, and spent a couple of days wandering about all bobbleheaded over all of the non-blond, non-tall, non-north-European women.

So if you’ve noticed that I’ve been focusing a lot on big, dense-bodied guitars – the Les Paul, the Yamaha SG2000, and today’s special, the Hamer Sunburst – then you catch the drift of the anecdote above. I’ve been playing light guitars for thirty years now. Fenders, like my old Jazzmaster, tend to be relatively lightly-built (although as Pete Townsend found to his chagrin, lightness can be deceiving – the Strat is nearly un-smashable; it can serve as an axe, as long as all you want to chop up is amplifiers), with fairly high actions. My other electric – a mid-seventies Ibanez SG – is a fairly light little thing. Sweet tone, sure (having a Seymore Duncan “Jeff Beck” pickup down by the bridge forgives a lot of sins), but that light build doesn’t retain vibrations…

…like an armored beast like the Hamer. Playing a Sunburst is to playing my Jazz like driving an M1 Abrams is to driving a dune buggy; both serve their purposes; one feels very different than the other.

And the Sunburst is right up there on my “things I wanna buy when I get an unexpected windfall” list…

Hot Gear Friday – The Ljungman AG42

The next installment in Hot Gear Friday was Sweden’s answer to the M1 Garand – the AG42, better known in the US as the Ljungman, after its designer.

And better known to me as “my first real rifle”.

Developed in 1942, during World War II, as the Swedes realized they were going to need something a little more modern than their early-century Mausers, the Ljungman was ahead of its time in many areas – for better or worse.

A fairly conventional design in many ways, with a 10-round box magazine (usually loaded with the same five-round Mauser-pattern stripper clips that the Swedish Mauser bolt-actions used), it had one feature well-known to any current American serviceman; its operating system used direct gas impingement.

Where a conventional gas system uses a piston in a tube next to the barrel (like the tube above the barrel in the infamous AK47), the Hakim’s gas tube directly vents back into a little cup-shaped gas-catcher on the front of the bolt carrier – much like the operating system on the American M16 rifle and M4 carbine. The blast of gas pushes the bolt carrier back, camming the bolt (a tipping bolt, similar to the FN49 or the FN-FAL, and very unlike the rotating-lock M16-pattern bolt) out of its locking recess to open the action. It’s simple and fairly rugged – provided you’re using decent ammo. With 6.5mm Swedish Mauser, that’s rarely a problem. But for the Ljungman’s most famous descendant, the “Hakim” (an Egyptian rifle in 7.92mm Mauser caliber, built with the same machinery the Swedes used for the Ljungman, which Sweden sold to Egypt in the late forties), it’s been rather a different story; the widely-varying quality of 7.92 ammo can yield weak rounds that won’t cycle the action, or – worse – extra-powerful ammo that’ll push the bolt carrier back so violently that the extractor will rip the rim right off the round, causing a nasty jam that usually takes a cleaning rod and a lot of swearing to clear.

But in 6.5mm Mauser – a ballistically-sweet if fairly small round – the Ljungman was a joy to fire; fairly reliable, bone simple to maintain (for me; given the problems the M16’s similar system has had, I have no idea how it’d have fared tramping through some north-Swedish bog), and a joy to shoot.

Hot Gear Friday – The Yamaha SG2000

In my continuing homage to hot gear, we now enter the realm of the broken heart.

Remember that girl you went out with, once or twice, twenty years ago, where there was that brief, fleeting moment of connection, followed by…well, nothing? Or maybe that “pal” from high school where you realize, thirty years later, it could have and maybe should have been something else? The one where you could have probably gone a lot further, and there was potential, but something – it’s hard to remember exactly what, even – got in the way?

The Yamaha SG2000 is that.

The SG2000 is one of the most gorgeous guitars ever made. As dense as depleted uranium (meaning in terms of “weight per unit of volume”, not “Matt Snyders”), the body and neck are heavy, almost like carrying a guitar made out of steel railroad rails – so the sustain, fed through the SG’s gorgeous electronics, was just out of this world. It was a sweet-toned marvel with a low, slick action that made even the Les Paul feel clunky, and made playing Fenders (like my primary axe) feel like you were tryin to bend rebar.

It was built from the late seventies into the mid-eighties, and it never quite caught on like some of the others in its weight class – the Les Paul, of course, but also the Hamer Standard and the various Paul Reid Smiths – but it was a beautiful instrument that played just like ringing a bell.

I came across one on a frigid January Saturday in 1987 at the old Benedict Guitar store, on 34th and Lyndale. Visions of Stuart Adamson’s celtic guitar gymnastics skirling through my head, I sat and played it for close to two hours, putting it through every pace I could think of. And I fell madly in love.

And it was just on the high end of my price range. And prudence got the better of me.

And for 21 years, I think, I’ve regretted it.

Now, the Hollywood legend would have it that when you finally meet that girl who totally smote you back in high school, 25 years later, it’s all different; the thrill is gone (although the women in my graduating class have done really well, actually – can I get an amen, JHS ’81 guys?), with the SG2000, it’s a whole ‘nother thing. I found one, at Capitol Guitars in downtown Saint Paul, last summer.

And oh, my. Better than I remember.

Next year’s tax refund? Could be. We’ll see.

Hot Gear Friday – Browning HP35 “Hi-Power”

Today’s Hot Gear Friday feature (with a nod to Anti-Strib’s Hot Chick Friday only with, like, gear instead of chicks – although please, guys – Barbara Eden? Yeep) is the Browning HP35.

A first-cousin of the legendary Colt M1911A1, this 1935 design was the standard pistol of most British Commonwealth armies from the end of World War II (it was served with Britain’s paratroopers and commandos during the war), and the standard sidearm of the SAS’ hostage rescue teams until, reportedly, quite recently.

I never much liked 9mm handguns – but the Hi-Power is perhaps the one handgun in the world that fits my hand perfectly and points like no other I’ve ever shot, including the M1911. They’re not cheap, these days, but ooooh nellie, I tell ya – one of these next tax refunds…

Hot Gear Friday

Tracy and the Anti-Strib gang have the market cornered on “Hot Chick Friday” – where they take a moment to post pictures of gorgeous women that I’ve nailed – so it’d be unseemly to horn in on their act.

And I love being unseemly.

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.