It is believed that this instrument is one of only 38 ever made and was originally known as a Gibson Twin-neck guitar "Mandoline". Most of us have seen Twin-necks by now; some of us have even seen Guitar/Mandoline hybrids but this is the first time I have seen a standard guitar combined with a half-length Octave guitar.
There should be a photograph somewhere on this page and if you look on the cover you will find a colour shot of Steve playing it. Now it would be absurd to review this guitar as if it were for sale (— it isn't) or even as if I had given its workings my usual thorough inspection (— you can't just go into a man's house and start taking his guitars apart). Nor would I presume, in such company, to be able to stretch the instrument to its limits. What I can do is to look at it, play it, measure it, take note of how it is adjusted, and between the lines, tell you how I react to it. Building a twin-neck is not quite as simple as it might appear. It is relatively easy to arrive at a heavy, unplayable monster. This guitar manages to avoid the more obvious pitfalls, and is generally soundly made and very playable, but it does show some small faults which could almost be considered part of the Gibson tradition and time has exposed some design and assembly weaknesses.
The octave neck has a scale length of 353 mm. so any attempt at true octave-up tuning involves a higher string tension than usual, and the strings fitted were very light, (starting from 8 thou.) This is not a regular set, but was made up for Steve by Sam Li. It corresponds roughly to extra-light with a light bottom string (I think this may be a replacement) and a solid 3rd.
String spacing is 33.5 mm. on the 40 mm. wide nut and 46 mm. at the bridge. The top E string is unusually far in from the edge of the fingerboard, (3 mm.).
I suspect the frets are Mandolin wire; they are 1.2 mm. wide and finished to 0.5 to 0.6 mm high. Although well rounded, like most mandoline frets, they feel higher, and more square and lumpy than they really are. There are 19 frets to the body joint and 24 in all, but the highest frets are too close together for my fingers, and the intonation up there leaves something to be desired.
The ebony fingerboard is inlaid with diagonal pairs of "Mother-of-Celluloid" and there are the usual gaps and slightly irregular holes around some of the inlays. This may be due to shrinkage but it really need not happen at all. The smaller string spacing means that standard bridge and tailpiece units are unsuitable; consequently, the tailpiece is a metal strip, screwed to the face of the guitar, with a hookshaped projection running along its length, slotted to take the string ends and space the strings apart. This loses the small advantage of an adjustable height tailpiece, but in every other way seems strong and efficient. The bridge is less well thought out and is basically a piece of round bar bent to a curve with a hole through each end. It is supported by adjustable flat nuts on threaded pillars in a small rosewood base. (Why not Ebony like the fingerboards?)
The octave strings have one Humbucking pick-up near the fingerboard, (with a non-standard screw spacing of 46 mm), one tone, one volume and a switch to select octave neck, standard, or both. The present action is 1.4 mm under the top string and 1.1 mm under the lowest string. This is unusual, but presumably is set the way Steve likes it. Action measurements are confused by the somewhat erratic stage of the (Ivory?) nut, and if this were better adjusted, the top string action might well appear lower, the way I measure it.
The standard neck has a 625 mm scale, and string spacing is 37 mm on a 42 mm wide nut and 50 mm at the bridge. There are two (apparently) standard humbucking pickups fitted, both with a 1-6 screw spacing of 49½ mm. This means that the pole screws line up nicely with the strings on the bridge pickup but are wrongly spaced for the narrower string spacing near the fingerboard. This is not really so important, but I have seen standard Les Paul models where the two pickups differed by about 1 mm to line up correctly with the strings. As the octave neck pickup has to be a special anyway, why not get the standard-neck pickups correct as well? I have the distinct impression that the designer did a good job. Then the production manager took one look at the delivery time on special pickups, and decided on standard issue.
The present action is 2.1 mm treble and 2.5 mm bass, and the nut is worn unevenly in the same way as the other one. This neck has a selector switch for pickups 1, 2 or both, and 1 tone and 1 volume on the output of the selector. While the mechanical operation of the controls is a bit rough and there are plenty of scratches and crackles, this is perfectly reasonable on an old guitar. In between the crackles, volume and tone controls on both necks work smoothly and evenly, as one would expect from an elderly Gibson. This neck is fitted with an old type solid-guitar Bigsby. I suspect it may have been an afterthought or a later addition, because from the players position it completely obscures the volume control and one has to grope for it like coins in a coat lining. The bridge is the standard Tune-o-Matic type with metal 'saddles' (plated brass) and this appears to be original.
Inlays in the ebony fingerboard are the same as in the octave neck but larger in proportion, and just as badly fitted. The frets are 1.8 mm wide and between 0.7 and 0.9 mm high, and they are quite rounded except where worn. I think this is probably the same wire which is used on the 'Fretless Wonder' fingerboards, except that for these, it is filed away almost entirely and left with a smooth flat top.
It may not be obvious from the photographs, but the two neck joints are quite different, as if they came from different models of guitar. The heel of the octave neck joins straight on to the body so the two cutaways seem to meet the neck at the 16th fret, in fact a narrow stub of the body extends back to the joint at the 14th fret. The plastic binding on the body and cutaway edges also continues, inset into the neck, as far as the 14th fret. Including those on the body, there are 20 frets in all. Both necks have cracks in the lacquer around their joints to the body, but this seems to be due to shrinkage in the laquer, not loose necks.
I find it interesting that while the standard neck is tilted back from the body axis by the usual angle of about 5 degrees, the octave neck leans back by about 20 degrees to give better visibility on the longer neck. This a clever idea which most of the copy twin-neck miss: although it could be difficult to apply to two full-length necks, even a slight change in angle would make the average twin-neck look less like a pickle fork. It is a nice subtlety that the head on the octave neck, while appearing the same shape, is actually longer than the other head. This makes the octave neck look less stubby and in better proportion to the rest of the instrument.
Incidentally, the strings Steve uses on the longer neck are Gibson No. 340L but with an Ernie Ball 0.17 thou, plain third string.
The body of this instrument is about 50 mm deep and a little shallower around the edge and both top and back seem to be machine-carved to shape. The back has just a slight curve, while the front is carved in two levels like a plateau, flat in the centre and slopping down sharply to the edges. The inside of the guitar seems quite hollow and the front and back seem to be thick in the centre, but not supported anywhere except the edges. Steve thinks that this construction gives a slightly better middle quality to the sound, and a different sort of sustain, when compared with a similar solid bodied instrument. I suspect that it also makes the instrument more liable to feedback troubles at one or two particular notes, but so far, it has only been used in the studio. At the moment there are so many doubtful glue joints that it would not be safe to take it on tour. Thanks to a previous owner, the side around the jack socket is in shreds, and sooner or later the whole socket is going to pull loose; it really should be fixed while all the pieces are still there.
Thinking back to the body construction for a minute, I do remember that the body was microphonic to all the pickups, to about the same extent as the Microfrets guitars, and that notes played on the octave neck would often set off sympathetic vibrations in the standard strings at the first harmonic. (I could not persuade the standard strings to affect those on the octave neck.) This is one possible explanation for the claimed 'singing' quality of the shorter neck.
This guitar seems to have most of the good points and most of the bad points of Gibsons. In the right hands it sounds great, however not only are both necks warped, but each neck is warped differently on each edge. The 'plateau edge' of the top is blended into the neck fixing angles in the area around the neck joints and in neither case is the angled top level with the end of the neck joining it — hence the kinks in the fingerboard. This is obviously not a self-playing, superfast, actionless guitar; what comes out of it depends on what you put in. It also demonstrates that, as I often claim, not all old American electrics were perfect exhibition pieces, however well they may perform.
In the limited time I had to play this guitar, I liked it. Perhaps if I could take it home, I might like it better still after a few days, or perhaps I might like it less.
(c.1957) estimated value £800
Review by Stephen Delft
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