Category Archives: Guitars

1975 Fender Precision Bass with Jazz Bass Neck

Sometimes getting clear dates on vintage guitars and basses is a mess. It’s an easy enough question; “what year was this made?” It’s not unreasonable to think doing a little research for about 20 minutes on the internet will answer it for you, but in a lot of cases (especially this one) the ride towards the truth is damn bumpy.

I came across this on craigslist, which was advertised as a 1976 Fender Precision Bass with Jazz Bass neck. Lot’s of parts had been replaced years ago, but with the first look I knew I could sell it. Sometimes mojo and sheer coolness make up for a ton of non-original parts. I’ll pocket that one for a future blog perhaps.

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The Story:
I was told that the original owner ordered this bass from Fender with an ash P-Bass body and a Jazz Bass neck. The previous owner took the bass to a reputable, Fender-licensed shop to have a new identical label placed on the headstock. Before Fender would release the label, the guitar had to be verified to be original, which it was, based on the details and serial numbers present.

I come across intriguing stories like this all the time. I know that back in the day you could call up the factory and order guitars however you wanted them. The major Detroit car makers did the same thing at the same time.

My thing is (I guess it’s a thing? What’s a thing, really?) I can’t really believe these things until I investigate myself. In a lot of cases these dudes don’t want you popping the neck and pickguard off to look at dating codes, so when negotiating a price you have to take that into consideration. I got a great deal on this one so I sprung for it.

The Facts:

Here’s where I turn into Professor Propeller-Head and you’ll have to pay attention to the details.

Around 1976, Fender started what we consider today to be the modern serial number system. It’s pasted on the headstock and the first two characters tell you the year (S7 = 1977, E1 = 1981). This is generally accepted to be the year the guitar was made, and you have little to worry about unless the neck doesn’t match up with the body or other shit like that.

So the guy whom I bought it from claimed it was a 1976. Great. That means the serial number is on the headstock….but wait…he didn’t like how “old” it looked so he did a pro refin job on the headstock, and had the label replaced with one identical. Nothing against this guy- he was nice…but why oh why do people to this?

So here is a pic of the “identical label” that was replaced. Notice anything? The label is actually a label from the early 70’s era (up through 1975).

Early 70's Era Label

Early 70’s Era Label

This led me to think that what I had here was not in fact a 76, but likely a 75 or earlier. Time to pop the neck off, and look at the date code on the heel:

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The code on the neck heel reads (from what I can tell) 02011713

Generally this means:
02 – Jazz Bass
01 – Rosewood Fingerboard
17 – Week code
1 – 1971
3 – Wednesday

1971. What the hell?

Here’s where you start banging your head against the wall.

It’s known that sometimes with these Fender neck heel date codes the last two numbers were transposed, so there’s a good possibility that the “3” actually represents 1973. It’s also possible that the numbers are faded enough that I’m reading them wrong. Take a look at the picture.

The neck plate serial number reads 508162, placing the date around 1973, 1974. I’m not a huge fan on relying on a removable part to determine the date of the guitar body, but in this case the date matches up to the era of the neck.

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Going a little further, the neck pocket, while not having any date codes to read, does have period-correct quality assurance markings. The name “FRANK” is the name of a dude that worked in the Fender factory and shows up on other period-matching guitars and basses.

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This is a huge hassle, and you might wonder, as I have, why Fender didn’t take better care in providing trackable dates?

Look- the answer is that these guitars were made in a mass-production factory environment. The folks putting them together grabbed parts from boxes, and it wasn’t uncommon to have a year-old neck slapped onto a new body. They worked with what was around. They also didn’t know that there would be nerds like you and me desperately working to curate and determine specific years of manufacture. They simply weren’t in the business of making that clear and traceable.

The bottom line is I could determine with some certainty that this was a body and neck from the same era. For Reverb posting purposes I called it a 1975, but the the fact is I don’t have a clue exactly what year it was assembled and sold.

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Why go through all of this? Well for one I can’t assess the value and place an accurate and fair price until I play this “who-the-hell-are-you” game. The biggest reason though is this is EXACTLY what sellers like me are responsible for. You have to commit to due diligence and make sure people know the full story. The folks I sell to aren’t collectors or high rollers- they’re dudes and ladies like me who don’t make a ton of money, but want and frankly deserve to play cool vintage guitars.

Just call me Ray Zalinsky: I sell guitars to the American working man because that’s who I am and that’s who I care about.

I sold this via my Reverb store to a fellow in Georgia, seemed to really like it. He asked for a copy of the research, and I was happy to comply.

Thompson Thrift Comes to Life

Happy Tofurkey Day to all!

I think I’ve mentioned it here on the blog before but JT and I have always dreamed of one day doddering away our time in a joint venture, “Thompson Guitar and Thrift” – a store full of amazing guitars and vintage furniture and objects – kind of just a place you would want to hang out in all day.  Add in Sophie and Shenanigan as two lazy shop dogs and you’re painting my dream picture.

At any rate, a brick and mortar store isn’t something we’re ready to commit to at this point in our lives.  We both have full time day jobs and frankly like the security and 401ks those bring.  But we still dream of the shop and so we’ve both taken (online) steps to make our dream a reality.

JT has been doing the guitar thing for a while now, first on eBay and now on Reverb.  Reverb has been great for him – the percent they take from your sale is way less than eBay and Reverb is geared right at him and his fellow musicians.

Reverb Store

JT has his very own Black Friday sale running until Sunday evening.

Reverb Store Inventory

He’s got some good stuff squirreled away — the ’78 Fender Telecaster, a whole Strat or just a Strat body and pickguards galore.  You can see his store here.  He has 24 reviews right now and I think they’re all five star – he’s a responsive seller and he knows his guitar stuff.

Etsy Homepage Screenshot

Not to be left behind, I decided to open my own store on Etsy, focusing on the vintage goods side of things.  It kind of grew out of necessity as I was bringing so much stuff home that the house began to feel like it was overflowing.  The online shop became a reality last week and I already made my first sale – you can find me at Thompson Thrift!Shop Inventory To DateBoth JT and I have the same philosophy when it comes to curating our shops – we make it a point to only offer items that we would buy for ourselves.  In fact I keep making side eyes at the copper colander I have up right now … maybe I will set it out as part of my Tofurkey Day table setting.

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I made a little photo shoot spot in the breakfast nook window as it faces north and gets nice diffuse light.  The Ikea faux sheepskin has been working hard as a nice wintery neutral background for my photos.  I’ve actually been photographing everything with my iPhone using the Camera+ app – it has great controls for focus and brightness along with handy little grid lines to help center things up.  I also started using the Google photo drive to quickly send all my photos to the computer where I can edit and upload them.  I don’t think this Etsy venture is going to be a path to quick riches but it’s a fun hobby and helps justify my weekends spent at the thrifts.

Have a great holiday all.  Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year.  Food, family and relaxation can’t be beat.  And I’m going to try out this vegan Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe for dessert.  Cheers!  CT

 

 

1978 Fender Telecaster

The guitar in this post is available (although probably not for long) in my Reverb store. Check it out along with my other offerings at Thompson Guitar & Thrift by clicking this button:

Shop My Store on Reverb

All around the guitar-nerd thunder-dome I exist in, I hear a lot of bad-mouthing of guitars made in the 1970’s. I definitely get some of it, and anyone can see it in the bizarre offerings from Gibson especially in that era. Quality control standards and just the sad state of the economy in general are often cited as reasons for these “less-than” products.

I’ll admit I wasn’t around in the 70’s (CT and I were both born in 1980), so I’m quite honestly not sure what the big deal is? For example, I found this 1978 Fender Telecaster recently. This guitar is absolutely solid, totally playable and has that vintage look/vibe.

1978 Fender Tele in awesome brown finish

1978 Fender Tele in awesome brown finish

This is a great guitar that (as a player) I would put up against any pre-CBS era tele.

1978 Tele Close

So much value is placed around the pre-CBS (before CBS bought out Leo Fender) Fender guitars. So much so, folks like me (and likely you) have an almost impossible time buying or even playing them. The average guitar player, and certainly the average musician just don’t have the tens of thousands to get our hands on one.

What we do have however for vintage Fenders is the 70’s era guitars. As much trash talk as I have heard about them, I have yet to come across one that hasn’t been a delight to play. I played a 78 refinished tele for years and absolutely loved it. They look every bit as vintage, have the same tone as those a few years older, and are guitars that you wouldn’t think twice about bringing to a bar gig.

So what the hell is it exactly that makes them so inferior? Cheaper components?These were guitars made by hard-working Americans who I’m sure took great pride in what they were doing, and did the best with what they had. I for one would like to send my thanks out into the universe to those folks who made some great guitars. Not all of us think they’re sub-par.

1978 Tele headstock

Charvel Model 2 Project PART TWO

So I completed the Charvel Model 2 project! Totally awesome guitar, but since I started building my own superstrats (look for a future blog on this) I decided to sell it in my Reverb store. It’s on sale the weekend of October 8-11, 2015 if you’re interested- just use code GUITAR1 at checkout to save an extra 6%. Check out this and everything in my store by clicking this button:

Shop My Store on Reverb

Finished and in original case

Finished and in original case

Since it was gutted and the original tremelo was destroyed, the list of work is pretty long:

-Replaced original (and destroyed) Kahler tremolo with a Wilkinson (which fit the original bridge posts)

-Added Guitar Fetish VEH (Vintage Extra Hot) Brown Sound pickup

-New gold-plated Switchcraft input jack

-Push-pull split-coil pot

-All-rosewood volume knob

I gotta sat that guitar fetish pickups are where it’s at. This VEH has this amazing tone- just think of a hot PAF humbucker, or Eddie Van Halen’s mystery pickup he had on his frankenstrat. I loved this pickup so much I bought a white one for one of my superstrats (again- look for a future blog post).

Rosewood volume knob

Rosewood volume knob

The push-pull split coil pot was a first for me. It’s a complex wiring job, but I knew that the variance it would add to the tone would be necessary. With the split coil, simply pull the knob up and the hum bucker is now a single coil. It really sounds great and even with the single coil engaged there is minimal to no noise. This is such a great thing to have with a single-pickup guitar.

Completed wiring for push-pull volume pot

Completed wiring for push-pull volume pot

The brand new Wilkinson 2-point tremolo has a big block and keeps nearly perfect tune. What’s great about the Wilkinson is it matched the two posts that were there for the old tremelo. No drilling or filling. This is also great for anyone who would want to find an original Kahler tremelo, as it would fit right back on there.

Wilkinson tremolo mounted on original Kahler mounts

Wilkinson tremolo mounted on original Kahler mounts

This was a really great project, and a real treat to play if you’re into Kramer, Jackson, Charvel or Fender super strats.

Check out more pictures of it, along with a short demo video of me playing it at it’s listing here.

Charvel Model 2 Project PART ONE

New to Phoenix, with the itch to find guitars to work on, I have found one very surprising thing. What you can find on Craigslist in Phoenix is no where near what you can find in St. Louis. Perhaps it’s St. Louis Music/Ampeg being headquartered in STL? Not sure. All I know is I could consistently get my hands on great, cheap vintage and hard-to-find guitars in the midwest. In Phoenix all you get is a bunch of busted Squires and the occasional guy wanting $1000 for his sad-sack-of-shit partscaster. It’s alright buddy, I build them too.

Welp, old JT managed to find himself an awesome group of guys to play music with, and what’s really interesting is we are all in love with New Wave music. I finally get to play Duran Durn, Depeche Mode, The Fixx, Talk Talk…all the stuff I grew up with and listen to every day.

This got me in the mood for an 80’s guitar. Something somewhat flashy, but simple and refined. I was lucky enough to find exactly what I was looking for: a circa 86/87 Charvel Model 2.

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I’ve always wanted a one-pickup one-volume guitar, and I finally found me one.

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This guitar came completely gutted, with no pickup, no electronics of any sort or input jack. On top of everything else the original Kahler tremolo was totally trashed, like someone pulled it off the guitar and hit it with a shovel for a few hours.

Stay tuned for PART TWO!

Pine Barncaster Build Part 3

I gotta say, I had a lot of fun doing my first nitro spray. I started by picking up 3 cans of Behlen nitrocellulose musical instrument lacquer online. You really have to order this stuff- no store around the corner is going to carry it.

Nitro!

Nitrocellulose Lacquer was used early on by Fender, Gibson and all the other bastards making guitars back in the 50’s and 60’s. Basically each spray treatment ‘melts’ into the previous layer, forming a kind of crunchy candy shell (think M&M’s) as opposed to polyurethane, where each spray forms it’s own layer (think Gobstoppers).

Anyway- in order to use it, you gotta warm it up in hot tap water. Otherwise it will spatter and fart out big globs (which as it turns out it might do anyway).

Warm it up

Warm it up

The plan I developed was to spray 9-12 coats, 2-3 coats a day, 1-2 hours apart. From what I have read, this allows the layers to melt into each other. I would hold the guitar flat, spraying about 1ft from the body with the can at a slight angle. I started and ended each spray away from the body, doing a cross-hatch pattern on the front and back. Look up Will Kelly on Youtube for more details (I did).

Spray!

Once it cured for about 14 days, I wet-sanded it using 800-2500 grit sandpaper, to get it smooth and shiny. I wet the sandpaper and the body down with a detergent/water mix.  Again, Look up Will Kelly’s videos. They really helped me out.

sandpaper

The end result was absolutely awesome. I love it. Just look at this monster.

Lacquered

 

Not sure these pics do it justice:

Barncaster 009

I even brought it in the house and put it under sexy lighting to show the ridiculous colors:

Barncaster 011

Close up of the ‘big red spot’

Barncaster 012

Next up, I’m gonna show you how I relic’d all the brand new shiny parts using melt-your-face-acid…so stay tuned…

Barncaster 007

 

Pine Barncaster Build part 2

Let me start by saying that I know there’s steps you have to take in order to seal in sap so it doesn’t mess with stain or paint. I’m not going to do that. I simply don’t care. Is this a mistake? Yeah probably. But, in the end I’m building it for myself as my Merle Travis machine, so as long as it doesn’t explode, I don’t care about discoloration or whatever.

Barncaster

That being said, I do care about how the guitar looks overall, and am critically concerned as to how I would like to stain it. I already decided it will get a clear coat of nitrocellulose lacquer, so picking out the stain will be critical. What I am interested in is enhancing all of the natural colors and features, while, if possible, making it “pop” even more.

One option is going with a kind of driftwood, bleached-out effect, which should pronounce the dark coloring more heavily. To get this, I mixed ebony and natural stain together at a 1:6 ration (respectively). Here’s a pic of the little stain guys and my bigger mixing bucket:

Stain

The result on my pine test board is pretty great, as the mixture really penetrates the grain brings out the hidden features well:

Ebony/natural 1:6 ratio

The other option I landed on is just going with a straight natural stain. I did this for my first guitar build, and it adds a slight “yellowing” to the grain. While it overall darkens the pine, it doesn’t necessarily show any kind of hidden details:

Natural stain

So after much hem-hawing, pissing and moaning I decided to go with CT’s advice, and apply the 1/6 ebony/natural mix. Here’s the results:

Barncaster fully stained front

This worked perfectly, as the ebony really penetrated all the cracks and imperfections, and even brought out a few features that were otherwise invisible.

Barncaster side stained

I’m also glad that this mix didn’t mask the dark features.

Barncaster back stained

When we were living back in St. Louis, it would literally take at least 7-10 days for stain to fully penetrate my guitar bodies, given the heavy mid-west humidity. Here in Arizona that process cuts down to about 2-3 days, which is awesome.

Part 3 will cover my first attempt at a nitrocellulose spray lacquer finish. Wish me luck…

Nitro