Monthly Archives: July 2012

We’re a fuzz museum!


We’re a fuzz museum! A “Ram’s Head” Big Muff and a Vox Tone Bender, two very different flavors that run the gamut from huge and furry to thin and buzzy. While they’re both amazing in their own way, I will say that this is the greatest Big Muff I’ve ever played. Ever.

And get this: next week we’re getting an original Dallas/Arbiter Fuzz Face!

If you’re interested in checking these out, give us a call!

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Guitars That Got Away #2: ’99 Gibson Les Paul Standard

That’s Beverly. *sniffle*

Recently, I was faced with a dilemma: either start playing my cherished first ‘real’ guitar or pass it onto its next owner. For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, the guitar spent the majority of its last two years in my stead tucked away in my closet, languishing in its case. It was a hard decision to make.

Beverly, as I’d come to call her, was the most constant companion I’ve ever had, remaining a part of my life through the ebb and flow of many relationships, changing locations and life events. I had the guitar since my graduating year of high school, took it with me on various tours and to college, and it even ended up following me across the globe during my time living in Prague, CZ as a missionary. When I moved to WA to get married, the guitar came with me.

While I’m usually the first to come up with reasons against selling one’s first guitar, in this case that sentiment was difficult to justify. Ultimately, I decided to sell. What led me there?

First, the guitar was 10.6 lbs. When I was younger, I loved the feeling of a boat anchor around my neck, daring me to defy the laws of gravity. As I’ve aged (30, my God!) I’ve noticed those same laws having their way with my back, and I’m not a fan of back pain. I wouldn’t say I’m of weak constitution, but after wearing that guitar for half an hour I was feeling it. My other electric guitars–a ’77 ES 355, a Thin Skin Fender Jazzmaster, and a ’73 Fender Precision–don’t even come close to that kind of weight. In the case of my back, I’ve found that even one pound less can make a huge difference in how I feel. As a result, this guitar didn’t see much stage time.

Second, as I’ve grown older (30!) my tastes in music have, of course, changed. When I acquired this guitar I was looking for hot pickups and a loud, brash Punk Rock tone; I wanted huge mids, easy distortion and kick-in-the-pants output. This guitar definitely got me there. While I wouldn’t say this guitar is limited to that genre, I would admit that the pickups no longer suit my tastes. These days, it’s medium-output pickups that really get to me, offering more in the way of dynamic range.

Also, I have a fetish for vibrato-equipped guitars. When I play a hard tail, I love the sound but miss the familiar warble of my Jazzmaster or 355. I realize I could have added a Bigsby to my Les Paul but that comes at the price of weight. No thanks.

What kept holding me back in the months that preceded the sale was history. I had some great reasons for letting go, but even though I put it up on Craigslist a few times, I never had the heart to give her up. All because I was attached.

We humans have an amazing capacity for bonding with inanimate objects. You’ll often hear folks talk about their first car, referring to it in anthropomorphic terminology, lending to it not only a name but personality traits as well. Hand made or mass produced, it doesn’t matter either way. Even if there are a thousand identical copies, invariably we will find one and fall in love with it. We even become possessive: it’s never ‘the’ car or ‘a’ car. Always my car. This is how it is for me and guitars.

In the end, it was a really hard decision to part with this old friend, but I’d rather have it out there being played rather than gathering dust in my closet. “Beverly” now lives in Alaska with her new owner, and I hope she couldn’t be happier.

When it comes to passing a guitar along to its next owner, what reasons come to mind for or against the action?

I miss this guitar.

-Michael James Adams

This is the last photo I have of me playing that guitar. Note: I look super burly in this one. The Three Men and a Baby shirt helps.

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Fastback Guitars: On the “Fast Track” With the Cabo

Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has been a hotbed of musical activity. Any casual music fan can name a bevy of well-known bands that hail from the area, and there are plenty of amazing musicians you’ve never even heard of before. One thing’s for sure: there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the Emerald City.

Home not only to big-name bands and weekend warriors but also its own share of destination guitar shops and talented builders, Seattle has much to offer to musicians from beginner to touring pro. Now, one more name can be added to that list: Fastback Guitars.

Spearheaded by Seattle natives Mark Naron and Bob Kelley, Fastback was birthed out of a love of music production and a desire to build the best studio-grade gear possible. Fastback is, at its core, a one-stop shop for most everything to do with making or recording music; at once a guitar and amplifier company as well as a first-rate recording studio, it’s obvious that Fastback knows what it’s doing.

Fastback’s motto is “From Stage to Studio,” and it shows in everything they offer; their recordings are pristine, their amps are ferocious, and their guitars? In a word, superb. Specializing in F-style bolt-on guitars, Fastback is quickly carving a niche for themselves by making instruments that are both fully affordable and fully custom. From the drafting board to final set-up, everything can be customized and tailored to suit the needs of the player. While Fastback has the ability to produce guitars with out-of-the-ordinary body styles, it’s the four models that currently make up bread-and-butter range that really steal the show.

While each one owes a certain amount of its heritage to Fender’s venerable Telecaster, but with subtle refinements–and a few not so subtle ones–Fastback has created tools of the trade that live up to their branding. Conjuring images of hot-rodded roadsters, these guitars have just as much in common with classic 1950s sedans as they do 1970s muscle cars. Vintage-flavored body styles  and color options coalesce with modern-radius necks and hot boutique electronics to form instruments that have that serve the needs of today’s musicians while appealing to the tastes of the discerning guitar enthusiast.

Though each model differs slightly in configuration, standard features on all Fastback guitars include a custom “Soft-V” neck shape, 9.5” radius necks, twenty-one 6105 frets, a special pin-up girl neck plate for each year of production, quality hardwood bodies and necks, American-made hardware, handmade pickups (Lollar and TV Jones on current models, with a Fastback brand soon to follow!) and 100% Nitrocellulose finishes. Bodies and necks are cut and shaped together in Tennessee and are guaranteed to stand up to the rigors of road abuse. Rest assured that Fastback guitars are already being used by worldwide touring musicians with great success.

The Cabo

Taking a design cue from a hugely popular guitar of recent make, Fastback’s The Cabo promises killer tone and playability at a fraction of the cost of the big boy’s toy. The Cabo can be ordered in 1- and 2-pickup models as well as in a variety of finishes. Our test model’s sonic horsepower comes from a genuine TV Jones Powertron, a pickup with that extra kick to push a tube amp into overdrive while retaining all of the vocal midrange and sweet highs you’d expect from a Gretsch-style pickup.

Superb playability is thanks in part to an expertly finished maple fretboard that doesn’t hang up, which is a lot to ask for from most gloss-finished necks. Thanks is also in order for the back of the neck as well, as Fastback’s semi gloss finish feels absolutely drag-free even with vigorous play. Frets are expertly leveled and crowned, preventing any choking out or dead notes in every position.

Being a T-style guitar, one won’t find any unnecessary contours on its alder body. True to form, the body is a plank, eschewing any fancy carves in favor of a great workhorse aesthetic; edges are, however, rolled for comfort. And, word from Mark is that future Cabo guitars will have double-binding, which will only up the class of this already uptown instrument. Weight (7.8 lbs) distributed evenly and balanced on a strap perfectly without any sign of neck dive.

All of this is nice, but the real question is this: how does it sound?

It’s no secret that a guitar that sounds balanced and loud unplugged will most likely sound great through an amp. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that The Cabo is an impressively loud electric guitar on its own. What’s most telling about the guitar is not that it’s simply loud, but that it possesses a certain acoustic clarity that’s unrivaled even by my favorite semi-hollow Gibson. When you strum a chord you can really feel this guitar resonate.

Played through numerous amps including a ’79 Marshall JMP, a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue, and a Fastback 18 combo, our test model was throaty and loud with equal amounts of punch and kick on tap. To be clear, this guitar certainly has a darker personality, requiring some treble adjustment on each of the amps to really draw out the twang we’ve come to expect from a TV Jones-equipped guitar. This may be due in part to the higher-output Powertron pickup, which does sacrifice some treble.

Our Cabo in an inky black finish. This is a guitar you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. “Ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”

Not that I’m saying that darkness is a bad thing; when played through the Fastback 18 with set for high gain, this guitar remained rich and full with a unique sag that can only be attributed to the TV Jones’ inherent personality quirks. It was only when I started pushing the limits of modern gain levels that it started to lose definition and got muddy, which could likely be said of any ‘Tron-styled pickup; they’re certainly not a proper metal pickup.

Even with its higher-output, this guitar can still tap into some very mid-century tones. Through the Fender Deluxe I was greeted with pure, round tones that worked equally well for jazz or clean electric blues. Picking dynamics were perfectly replicated, and full chords had that certain extra something that makes for a very luxurious, spanky clean tone.

Where the Cabo really shined was medium gain riffage. Through the Marshall, the Cabo really opened up, absolutely soaring with a moderately overdriven tone. Whereas the darker tone of the guitar might have been a problem on other fronts, this guitar is perfectly voiced for throaty, singing and stinging electric blues and ‘70s rock. Guitar leads had presence and body, and the sound of double-stop bends was enough to make you throw your hands up. Replete with 2nd and 3rd-order overtones, I couldn’t believe a guitar with a single bridge pickup could be so vocal and alive, thanks in part to its high-end electronics package which includes CTS 250k pots, an Orange Drop capacitor and treble bleed circuits. The icing on the cake is that this guitar seemed at home no matter what musical situation it wandered into. Jazz, Britpop, hard rock, country… this guitar just would not give up.

Obviously, I really enjoyed this guitar, but I did have a few nits to pick. For one, the nut material used on this first batch of Fastback guitars is of a synthetic bone, which I felt robbed the guitar of some zing and resonance. After I switched it out for the real thing, the guitars were suddenly slightly louder acoustically, and plugged-in tones were a bit fatter with increased clarity. (Mark tells us that the next batch of Fastback offerings will be using bone exclusively.) The guitar could also have used a bit more attention in the initial setup, but in that respect I could just as well be talking about most other guitar makers. With minor adjustment, the guitar played exactly as I hoped.


All things considered, I loved my time with The Cabo. It was definitely a treat to behold, and from the moment I laid eyes on it I knew I was about to play a guitar that I wouldn’t soon forget. Its loud acoustic ring coupled with high-octane electronics and slick playability amounts to a guitar well worth its asking price and then some. Though the guitar was a tad on the dark side, it more than proved itself in both live and session venues. No matter what amp I paired it with, the Cabo excelled at bluesy runs and any rock riff I threw at it.

It’s also worth noting that this guitar was genuinely fun to play, which is a quality that seems more like luck of the draw these days. Having played a few other Fastback guitars, I can honestly say it’s a quality that’s built into their entire line. If Fastback keeps this up, they’ll be a huge force in the guitar world in no time flat. Do yourself a favor and check them out! -Michael James Adams

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Guitars That Got Away #1: The Silver SG

Tonight, I remembered a guitar. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen; very often, while working or pretending I’m listening to my wife, my mind will drift through a catalog of all the guitars I’ve come across over the years, pausing on a few familiar favorites but eventually coming to rest on a particular instrument for whatever reason. I’ll dissect it in my mind, then open the laptop and do a little research. It’s a pastime of mine.

Tonight, I remembered a guitar, one from the early days of long drives and short shows. I was in a band out of central PA, performing in converted churches and fire halls. We played frequently in the area with our friends’ bands, and as is common, we’d all look out for each other and offer shows when a slot opened. One of these “Brother Bands” with whom we frequently rocked had a guitarist that favored Sunn amps and SGs.

Tonight, I remembered a mid-1970s Gibson SG Standard. What makes this guitar memorable for me is that it wasn’t the ubiquitous cherry red. Instead, it was silver. Yes, silver. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen in that color and I have no doubt in my mind that it was original. This guitar had all the standard features of the era: block inlays, a bound neck, harmonica bridge, the normal switch position and chrome hardware. Really cool guitar. But what really gets me is that color. It all comes back to that color…

When I say this guitar is silver, I’m not talking about silver sparkle or silverburst, I mean a gorgeous-looking silver. When you see a late ‘70s Gibson Les Paul Custom in silverburst, the color you see in the center is exactly the color of this guitar. Its color had faded ever so slightly, beginning to green but not losing its brightness. A breathtaking instrument. 

I only had the chance to strum a few chords on it in those days–if I’m honest, I don’t think its owner liked me very much–but I remember being immediately struck by how sweetly it rang out acoustically, with a low and slinky action with very little buzz to speak of. It also had old-style low/wide Gibson frets and a smooth rosewood fretboard. The owner of this guitar also had an early to mid ‘90s SG Special in black that was also nice, but that guitar never wowed me the way that silver Standard did. Mmmm.

The other crazy thing about this guitar is that I can’t find anything about it on the internet. No matter what search I perform, I can’t seem to conjure up a photograph or even a verbal acknowledgement that there are others out there. Now, I don’t think for a moment that it’s the only silver SG in existence, and knowing Gibson it’s highly unlikely that this specific guitar was a one-off. Even so, sating my thirst for even a glimpse of this guitar seems to be a nigh-impossible task!

I’m putting out an APB for these guitars. If you have one, I want to know about it!

EDIT: finally found a photo of one online. See above.

-Michael James Adams

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Buddy Holly’s tweed Fender “TV front” Pro

Here she is! Just as clean as when it was being regularly used in 1958.

A few weeks ago, while road-tripping across the Southwest, I had the good fortune of getting a chance to stop by the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, NM.  Now, being the young whipper snapper that I am, I was quite unfamiliar with Mr. Petty, but I was keen on some of the artists who recorded at his studio, the most prominent of which being Buddy Holly.  Since Norman passed on a few decades ago, the studio no longer is active in the traditional sense, but it is curated as a sort of museum and virtually the only tourist attraction of Clovis, NM.  Seeing that the studio was virtually on the way from Houston, TX to Seattle, it didn’t take much convincing for my lady to concede to drop by this fabled land of early rock music legend.

Before I go any further, I have to say that if you’re a stickler for originality, vintage vibeyness and Fender tweed amp perfection like I am, you are indebted to Kenneth and Shirley Broad who have been curating the Petty studio/museum for decades.  If you’re unsure, let’s take a test: How does the Fender CyberTwin make you feel? A) Warm and fuzzy B) Confused, but drawn to it’s warm glow C) Human centipede.  If you answered “C”, you do indeed love vintage goodness and might find the next paragraphs moderately interesting.  If you answered A or B, well, you’ve gotten this far and your mother told you to finish what you started, right?

Getting back on track, the Petty museum is a time warp like I’ve never experienced.  We’re talking NOS recording consoles and unreleased Buddy Holly recordings still hanging out on their original acetate tapes.  The museum is also completely hands on, which leads us to the focus of this blog, Buddy Holly’s Fender TV front Pro.  This was the amp that was used on virtually every hit the guy made in his short recording career, and also toured with the band in the days before the 1×15 speaker became too quiet for bigger venues. Given the amp’s history, you can imagine that I was amazed to find it proudly displayed in the middle of the main studio room as if Buddy had gone out for a smoke break mid-session.  Granted I was already dizzy with gear love, after getting cozy behind the recording console listening to an unreleased take of “Heartbeat”, playing a few notes on the Celeste used on “Everyday” and hearing the smooth tones from the Hammond Solovox keyboard used on the Fireball’s “Sugar Shack,” but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come next.  After coyly asking Kenneth if Buddy’s amp still worked, he quickly offered me his Fender Strat and told me to plug in.

Hammond Solovox to the left, Celeste to the right and the studio trap kit hiding in the back.

Now, I’ve always loved Buddy’s recordings and his use of the Fender Stratocaster, but I must admit I never had a deep appreciation for how unique his rhythm guitar tone was until I heard this amp.  Buddy’s sound was immediate and no matter where I set the volume or tone knob (granted I didn’t crank the amp out of respect for the tour guide and the stock 15″ Jensen speaker cone) the amp sparkled and growled with Buddy’d unmistakeable sound. The light compression and sag of the rectifier and the worn in sound of USA made 6L6 power tubes combined with the aforementioned 15″ alnico Jensen made for a highly desirable Fender tone that is often overlooked in favor of smaller combos or more efficient later tweed or blackface models with more headroom.  Now, I know we all can’t walk down to our neighborhood Guitar Center and plug into an old TV front Fender, but I would highly recommend one of these early Fender gems if you have the means to take one home!

Dialing in some tones with Kenneth

Here’s a better look at the faceplate. Super simple circuit and tone to die for!

Look at that glorious alnico 5 Jensen 15″ speaker. What a beauty!

All in all, Kenneth spent almost two hours touring our small group around the studio and adjoining apartment (also untouched and true to 1950s aesthetics) and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.  I can’t imagine that another 1950s recording studio still exists with the same caliber of cool gear and history in such an accessible environment, so the next time you’re in Clovis, give the Chamber of Commerce a holler and set up a tour.

Well, that wraps up the first “Spotlight” installment, and I hope you enjoyed it.  I’ve never done too much of this newfangled blog writing, so go easy on me!

-Mike Ball

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