Author Archives: JT

Alvarez Prototype Semi-hollow Electric Guitar

Saint Louis has it share of rock & roll instrument history, thanks in no small part to Saint Louis Music, who over the years have brought us brands like Ampeg, Crate and Alvarez.

alvarez advert

Alvarez is an odd brand in particular. They are almost always solidly built, and cheap as hell. But, they suck to look at. Boring design. Pisses me right off. There is simply no excuse for boring, bland design when you’re dealing with something that you present live or record with. Probably why they aren’t respected as well as they could be.

SIDE ANGLE

Which brings us to this find I made last year- caught my eye on Craigslist. It was super cheap and looked amazing. The gentleman selling it works for STL Music, and informed me that it’s a prototype. One of only 2 or 3 made (same design but different colors) they were built by Alvarez to send out to their biggest dealers, in an effort to test the market. Sadly, Alvarez ditched more classic, cool designs like this, in favor the now laughable super-strat, heavy metal designs that fizzled away once the hair bands started hitting the methadone clinics.

CLOSE FRONT

But wow, is this thing cool. The build is crisp, and the finish is beautiful. Honestly, one of the most incredible sounding and feeling guitars I have encountered. Doesn’t hurt that it has two Seymour Duncan designed humbuckers- one of which is the coveted Seth Lover model (bridge position).

To me, this treasure, this haunting, screaming muse is a sad, rare ghost of what could have been at Alvarez. Most working musicians cannot afford the high end Gibson/Guild/Gretsch hollow-body designs. This could have worked so incredibly well for so many folks I have met and listened to, who are world class musicians, but commonly are forced to save for years in order to posses a guitar that is worthy of their abilities.

Looking for the right home. See it on Ebay here.

P.S.- next long-term is a 60’s Fender Champ Lap Steel. Going to take a while, as I have to find the bridge/pickup assembly. Got it off a old country boy out in Troy, MO. I get a lot of instruments from these older guys out in the country, who bought them new way back in the day, but don’t have the market locally to sell them. They have a nephew post to Craigslist for them, and I can usually jump on them before most even see the post. Fun for me, though. I speak their language. I’m 100% hillbilly, going back about 200 years.

P1240278

1961 Silvertone 1458 Guitar and Amp

Picked up this odd package from a guy who had bought it new back in 1961. Everything in the original ad was there- the guitar, amp and case. Amp still sounds amazing, even with the strange RCA-to-1/8” input system.

The guitar is straight as an arrow, and required minimal adjustments. I did end up replacing both tuning arrays with period-correct replacements.

The electronics on the guitar, however were (as always) perfectly destroyed. You will rarely find original potentiometers or paper-in-oil capacitors in working order.

This package is another beautiful testament to the durability and wonderful design of these early Sears-brand guitars and amps, made in the USA in the late 50’s to early 60’s. A period when even a cheap, catalog-bought instrument was made with the utmost attention to quality.

See my Ebay posting here

1966 Gibson LG-0

Threw the wife and dogs into the car one night after work for a trip to Gerald, MO to pick up this one. For those of you who are not aware, as I was not, Gerald is about 60 miles this side of Jefferson City. Long drive up some dark, curvy roads. Ended up having to meet the dude in the middle of town. Fine little town. Quiet.

The wood on this guitar was dry as a damn bone. Acoustic guitars, just like anything made from wood, require oil and the right balance of humidity. Acoustics especially, will almost always crack right down the middle. Not fatal- in fact I have a 68 Gibson B-25 N which I play out many times a month that has a repaired crack. Still a wonderful guitar, can barely tell the damage:

The LG-0 had no such cracks. Plenty of finish checking, and the top was Johnny Marred pretty good, but no cracks. Applying the oil was a bizarre experience. The wood literally drank the moisture, so much that it drastically changed the appearance. Look at the contrast with the pick guard removed:

For a period in the mid-late 60’s, Gibson experimented with plastic bridges. Most of them were trashed in favor of a wood bridge, however this one was still in great shape. Long story short, I had found an all-original, perfectly working model that just needed cleaning up. Worth the drive. Up for grabs on Ebay- see it here!

Italia Mondial Classic Electric Guitar

Pretty good looking bastard. Bought this off a friendly hippie in Illinois.

Modeled after the old Kay and Airline models, this is really a beautiful work of art. The design of it is just perfect, but in a flashy sort of way.  I want to do weird things with it, like make it little hats and cook it dinner.

The strings were probably 10 years old, and rusted through. There was also an extreme gap in action all the way down the neck. Cut the old strings off and popped the neck off for a quick shim at the neck heel. That set the angle of the neck almost perfectly parallel to the strings.

The neck had this bizarre 2-screw system that actually works very efficiently.

Even with the beautiful finish, there was a lot of sweat and dirt to get rid of.

Next step was cleaning up the chrome on the pickups and tailpiece. An amazing little trick is to rub it with aluminum foil. Just check out the job it did for this pickup-

before

after

The sound has a typical humbucker range on the normal settings, but when you fire up the piezeo pickup, it really shimmers with the res-o-glass construction. lots of fun to play.

Up for grabs on Ebay! See it here!

Harmony Marquis

Just last week we rescued this Harmony Marquis from the Tower Grove area. I made CT wait in the car with it running, because I was certain the dude selling it was an ax murderer.

Anyway- didn’t get murdered. I did however pick up a great old guitar with a few issues. Chiefly among them- the electronics made a horrible noise when plugged in, and the neck was pitched so far forward it was impossible to play.

Step one: rip off the strings, and start some general cleaning. I generally only ever use warm water and a soft rag. When it comes to old guitars, removing dirt and sweat grime is absolutely necessary, as it can break down the wood. What you don’t want to do is use any harsh chemicals that can Johnny Marr the surface, and take away that amazing, aged patina.

Cleaning the neck is a delicate matter- as it collects the most sweat and grime. Solution is spit. Saliva actually the safest and most effective way to clean a fretboard. Cheapest cleaner in town. Once cleaned and dried, I rubbed in a thin coat of fretboard oil.

To fix the neck pitch, I unscrewed it to install a shim. A shim can be anything- credit card, pick, etc. In fact, the Fender guitar factory used to shim most of it’s guitar necks with guitar picks. I like to use a tone wood (in this case, basswood).

Simply drop the shim into the neck pocket like so, and screw the neck back on. This should pitch the neck angle backward, bringing the strings closer to the neck. Good way to test this is to quickly string up one string to see how it plays.

Harmony guitars were cheaply mass produced, with all of the electronics wired to the pickguard. When I tested the wiring away from the body, everything looked and sounded the way it should. Contact cleaner cleared up all crackles and noises.

When I placed the pickguard back on and plugged it in however, I got the same horrible noises. Upon further inspection, it looked as if the input cable was hitting the inside of the body cavity (impact scar pictured), effectively dispersing the current into the wood. Solution- I made the hole bigger, allowing for the cable to input without hitting the wood. It Johnny Marred up the inside surface a bit, but no one sees the inside anyway.

Here it is now, sounds great and plays easy. Before you would have sworn it was one of Jandek’s guitars (perhaps it was). Now it’s ready for the house, if I may make another obscure reference.

Up for auction on Ebay this week!! Click here

Lawsuit Les Paul

Picked this guy up in Belleville, IL as just a neck and body. Had enough pickups, pots , wire and bridge pieces in stock to bring it back to life. There are way too many gutted, forgotten instruments out there that need a second chance! Gotta recycle that rock & roll.

Finish is still amazing, white binding in great shape.

These are often referred to as “lawsuit” guitars, as many were built in the 1970’s, almost perfect copies of Gibson guitars. Obviously these companies were sued into stopping production, leaving a few of these great quality guitars out in circulation. A few, like this one, were produced without any kind of makers mark. Can’t sue em’ if you don’t know who made em’.

Currently up for bid!

See it on eBay here.

Kent Bass Rebuild

Sometime between 1964-1966 in Kawai Japan, this Kent 833 violin style bass was created, and not long thereafter, ended up in the able hands of an Ohio junkyard hillbilly, with desperate dreams of becoming Paul McCartney. My father managed to gig this graceful, sublime instrument behind chicken wire and strippers for a great deal of the mid to late 60’s.

 

For the next 40 years or so, the Kent became a sad reminder of past glories. Every aging rock & roller has at least one- under their bed- in the attic. Lots of old widows are ending up with them, desperate to find someone to take off their hands, carefully albeit.

The design is an obvious tribute to the Hofner that McCartney played, but with delightful horns that paint a pretty damn tasteful picture, considering this was a budget model.

Well, the old fool decided to take up the ghost again, and in his retirement can’t seem to stop playing.

I decided to do a full restore of the Kent. No small feat folks. Luckily, the neck was still straight as an arrow. Just needed a little shim at the heel. Solid triple-bound construction. Back then, even the cheap stuff was made to last. Still quality. Novel.

Neck screws removed

The electronics, on the other hand, were frightening.  I had no idea if the pickups still worked. Plugging it in was risky, and produced screams and farts that would make your hair stand up. I thought of it as cries for help, or confused curses from an angry old man.

The tone and volume potentiometers might have been the best a Yen could buy back in the day, but now they were totally fried. Most of the solder points were broken clean as well.

I bought new pots and wiring, but had to end up reaming out the power plate holes to make the new ones fit. This was approached gingerly, as these guitars are brutally rare, and their little plastic parts more so. (This is the bane of all vintage guitar enthusiasts- the plastic parts that break like brittle little bastards).

New switch, input jack and capacitors. Tighten those tuning pegs (original and still in good shape), adjust the bridge. Clean off a heavy layer of dirt, dust, sweat, beer, blood……you get the picture. Fortify with oil. Beautiful and comforting in a way that can’t be articulated.

The pickups still worked. Success. Tone as tinny or creamy as you like. Loud and wild- like any good guitar. One of those instruments that jump up in your hands, begging to be played. Gave it back to the old man for a birthday present. He was pleased. I’m just glad he’s playing again.

The Newcomers. Dad's got his leg up.