What is the quintessential solid body electric guitar? I suspect most people would say it's one of the vintage Gibson Les Paul models. Others might vote for the versatile Fender Stratocaster or one of the Gibson SGs.
For this writer, though, it has to be the Fender Telecaster — one of the few electric instruments that have developed a real identity and mystique. For those of us who grew up in the American Southwest in the '50s and '60s, the mere sight of a Telecaster brings back a rush of memories. And the instrument's sound evokes even stronger recollections. There was the late Mike Bloomfield at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, backing Bob Dylan and Paul Butterfield with screaming, penetrating Telecaster sounds that we swore could be heard around the world. A few years before that, we could often see the great James Burton on television, bending his Telecaster strings way up, making the instrument talk in ways we hadn't thought possible. Then there were the unmistakable Telecaster sounds on some of Jeff Beck's early Yardbirds recordings. Ray Davies had one hanging around his neck while he shook his finger at us in '64. And when the 70s came in, playing country and blues Telecaster became an art form unto itself — players like the late Clarence White (with the Byrds), Amos Garrett, Roy Nichols and Arlen Roth brought their string bending, pedal steel-like techniques to perfection. And, I would suggest, Bruce Springsteen's live show would be at least a little less powerful — both musically and visually — if he used any other guitar.
Over the years, Fender (now owned by CBS) made modifications and "improvements" on the Telecaster, only to find that the older, vintage models had greater appeal. So, in a smart marketing move, Fender is now offering a model called the "Vintage Telecaster". It, I gather, is an attempt to come as close to the original 1950s instrument as possible. How well they've succeeded in reproducing a classic depends on the taste of the individual who tries it out. It has the keening, hot, single-coil pickup sound that Telecasters are famous for, but somehow it just doesn't seem the same. Maybe a few years of ageing will balance everything out.
Fender is keeping busy these days. Other new instruments introduced by the company lately include the Bullet, the Bullet Deluxe and the Lead III. Let's take them one by one.
The Bullet and Bullet Deluxe are aimed at the younger market; they're designed for maximum quality at a fairly low price. Both Bullets feature two single-coil high-output pickups which, according to Fender, provide good sustain capabilities. Both instruments are full-scale (25% inches) and include curved rosewood fingerboards, six individually mounted keys and six adjustable bridge saddles, allowing variation in action, height and intonation.
The Bullet has an innovative self-shielding pickguard/bridge combination that increases sustain by creating a fuller mounting surface. The powder coating on the pickguard is durable and scratch resistant. The Bullet Deluxe model, however, features a standard six-section bridge and separate pickguard. The standard case provided with both models is a new vacuum-formed model. Suggested retail prices are $249 for the Bullet and $299 for the Bullet Deluxe.
Also new from Fender is the Lead III, an addition to the company's moderately-priced Lead Series. It features two humbucking pickups, designed for high output and maximum sustain. The guitar also includes a pickup selector switch and a coil tap switch for additional tonal variations.
Other features include six bridge sections for perfect intonation and action adjustments, electrostatic shielding for low noise performance, sturdy switches and a solid ash body. It's available with a rosewood or maple fingerboard and comes fitted with six individual machine heads. Case is included in the $479 suggested retail price.
On the amplifier scene, Fender is offering a new Bassman Compact Amp, a 50-watt unit with a 15-inch heavy duty speaker. A special feature is a compressor with threshold control and an LED indicator, intended to prevent overload and expand dynamic range. It has high and low inputs to accommodate instruments of differing output levels; controls include bass, treble, midrange, volume and master. The amp's rear panel includes preamp-out and power amp-in jacks for effects patching. Retail price is $395.
Other American companies have some new guitar and bass designs coming off their drawing boards. One of the most intriguing is the Steinberger Bass, designed by Ned Steinberger of the Steinberger Sound Corporation. I first saw this instrument being played by Andy West of the Dregs, who was plucking the bass while sitting in a hotel hallway. On first sight, it looks rather ridiculous, since the instrument has no head and not much of a body; it looks as though the musician is playing a slightly elongated guitar neck and nothing else. When it's all plugged in, however, it has a great sound and undeniably striking visual appeal. According to a Steinberger spokesman, the bass relies "entirely on plastics for its shape, breaking with the traditional assumption that electric guitars must imitate the look, sound and feel of their electric parents".
Another nice new bass on the market is somewhat more traditional in design but is innovative nonetheless. It's the JB-2 bass from Evans Guitars in New York State. It includes Seymour Duncan high output pickups, Schaller tuners and a Badass #1 bridge. It's available in 21 or 24 fret models and can be purchased in fretted or fretless versions. The instrument has a smooth neck/body joint that provides easy access to all notes. The strings cross high over the body, making it easy to get those funky popping, snapping and slapping sounds. The JB-2 is totally handmade and weighs 7.5 pounds.
New amplifiers coming out of the U.S. include a couple of new models from St. Louis Music Supply. This company has had considerable success with its low priced, compact, versatile Crate amp line, and, at this point, they've decided to try their hands at marketing larger amp units. Their initial try at this market is the Crate Condor CR-260, a 260-watt stack that should provide sufficient amplification for any performance site smaller than the Grand Canyon.
The stack consists of three units that include two 130 watt amps — one preamp/power amp in the head and a second slave amp down below in the lower ported enclosure. Each enclosure is fitted with two 12-inch Celestion speakers.
The preamp includes a special "sequential cascading gain". According to the manufacturer, this allows the player to "add gain on top of gain, providing the advantages of greater reliability, more control and greater sound potential than conventional tube amps". A balanced low impedance line out and separate high impedance line out is regulated by a line out level control like the control used by studio musicians. Other controls include an active bass, fat switch, active midrange frequency and level controls, active treble, bright switch, reverb, gain and master controls in both the normal and overdrive channels. A full effects loop is also included.
Crate's other new entry lies at the other end of the amplifier spectrum — it's called the CR-110 and has only 15 watts RMS and a 10-inch speaker. It has a lot of features for its size, though: overdrive gain and level controls, a manual overdrive switch, volume for the normal channel, bass, midrange, bright switch and treble controls. It also has high and low inputs, channel footswitch jack and a line out jack, with the low input doubling as a channel footswitch jack and a line out jack. The amp is available in two different cabinet styles — Crate's well-known dovetail ponderosa pine design and a textured black tolex model.
On the sound reinforcement front, new things are coming from Shure Bros., including the PE-1 and PE-2 Series "Suede coat" mics. These series consist of six models of unidirectional, dynamic microphones for vocalist or instrumental use. The special features of the PE-2 Series mics include two built-in, recessed tone-shaping switches for presetting either high frequency boost or low frequency cut-off, eliminating boominess and enhancing presence.
Also new from Shure are two microphone mixer models, the M267 and M268.
Owners of the Bose model PM-2 Power-mixer will be glad to hear of the availability of the Bose SB-2 Series Box, a new "black box" accessory designed to expand the capabilities of the PM-2. The unit plugs directly into the output jacks of the PM-2 mixer and allows impedance-corrected connection of two to four pairs of 802 speakers without the need for any additional amplifier power. Its suggested retail price is $38.
And, for those of us whose ears need a little help now and then, there's the Accupitch 440, a microcomputer tuner accurate to 1/100th of a semitone. The Accupitch, which is available from Guild Guitars, can be used with either electric or acoustic instruments. It features dual LED indicators and metered readout, plus a seven-tone generator including "A" 440. An output jack is provided so that the unit can be hooked up to an amplifier. Suggested retail price is $89.95.
Companies and manufacturers mentioned:
Fender/Rogers/Rhodes, CBS/Arbiter Ltd, (Contact Details).
Steinberger Sound Corp., (Contact Details).
Evans Guitars, John Hornby Skewes & Co Ltd, (Contact Details).
Shure Electronics Ltd, (Contact Details).
Bose (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Guild Guitars, (Contact Details).
News by Tim Schneckloth
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