We have decided from time to time to include in the Guitar Check pages a review of the sort of instrument which is probably someone's dream guitar, irrespective of price, condition, or availability. This month I review the "Switchmaster", courtesy of Messrs. Rod, Craig and Ken of Top Gear, Denmark Street, London W.C.2.
I must admit that the legendary Switchmaster is not what I expected. While it is perfectly true that "They don't make 'em like they used to", and this is no exception, I expected to see something a little more 'handmade' and ornate. I think it is probably fair to say that Gibson have produced finer workmanship. On the other hand, practically every guitarist who sees my photographs of it passes, stops, drools, and asks "where is it and how much?" None of them has been able to explain his enthusiasm completely, but some reasons given are:—
1. Eric Clapton has one.
2. Steve Howe has one; he often plays "classical style" with right-hand fingers, and this sort of deep-bodied instrument hangs in a way more suitable for playing with fingers.
3. In addition, very few deep-bodied Semi's have more than 2 pick-ups.
4. This is apparently the only Gibson fitted with a (approximately) Fender-type selector switch. The switch has 4 positions: 1, 2, 3 and All. It is possible that with the switch in good condition, one could just obtain 1+2 and 2+3 also.
5. I noticed that while it certainly has the tone of a hollow-bodied guitar, it can be played near to speakers at high volume, without the tendency to feedback at one or two particular notes, which is uncomfortably common in hollow-bodied electric guitars.
6. It is a rare instrument and a good investment.
It would appear that the Switchmaster is prized, not so much for itself, but for what can be accomplished with it. Perhaps, as with many dreams, analysis could prove uncomfortable and unfruitful.
Most of the tone and volume controls on the guitar were worn and noisy, when turned, and the switch was so worn and/or damaged as to make it difficult to move from 3 to 2, or from "All" to 3. (It is apparently Top Gear's policy to leave "Original Condition" guitars untouched if possible, to preserve their rarity value. Small repair and replacement jobs are subsequently done free if the purchaser so wishes. I hope I've got that right.
The frets and action were remarkably good for a guitar of this age and the lacquer had hardly any serious blemishes. Usually I like to try guitars through various amps, but as it was necessary to examine the Switchmaster at Top Gear's shop, and as (while they were most helpful) I obviously could not stay there all day, I settled for a Twin Reverb. Two things were immediately noticeable: first, the neck is dead straight, and second, apart from the crackles of old age, the tone controls work properly. Both these make a pleasant change. Otherwise the tone is that of a deep-bodied semi with Humbuckers and the addition of a third pick-up midway between sharp and mellow.
All pick-ups appear to be connected in phase. I am sure there must be something unusually comfortable about the way this guitar balances — when you are used to it — but as I find it too large, perhaps someone should ask Steve Howe.
I did like the way the fingerboard edges were bound, and the decorative end to the fingerboard; also the shape of the neck at the back.
Conclusion: I find it a pleasant but not terribly exciting guitar, however, that is partly the reaction of a guitar maker; and most of my visitors today consider that I undervalue it. It costs a lot of money, but if the rare guitar market continues its present direction, you should be able to re-sell it privately at a profit after a few years.
Retail Price £450
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