Friday, April 18, 2008

Surgery for a Starlet

Any guitarist worth the salt in his goddamn tears knows that guitars from the 50s are the most desirable. Unfortunately, classic guitars cost thousands of dollars for examples in poor condition. Old axes in prime condition will cost you more than you can imagine. The emotional and nostalgic value of a classic guitar is, like anything else, subject to the crassness of capitalism.

Alot of American companies now produce replicas of classic guitars in Korea and China, to cut costs. This was once thought to be a sign of poor quality, but experts these days are having a hard time telling the difference between the copies and the copied.

Companies like Eastwood, Dillion, Mosley and Waterstone are all producing affordable copies of classic instruments at high levels of quality. Some large companies are even copying themselves, as is the case with Gibson's Epiphone line and Gretsch's Electromatics.

The main thing I like about this however, is when small companies reproduce guitar classics at low prices. This allows a low rent schlub like moi to buy them and avoid paying huge corporations like Gibson thousands of dollars for their generic product.

Hence my sick hearts and flowers love-crush on the designs of one Mr John Dillion of Dillion guitars. He makes very high quality mid priced guitars that look like the classics of yesteryear, but with modern features and upgrades. He manufactures these guitars in Korea. Not in sweatshops, but in modern factories that are offering jobs to local peoples.

Perhaps my favorite guitar of all time is the 1950s style Les Paul Junior, originally by Gibson. Dillion makes a very high quality replica of the '58 Junior, and I was lucky enough to score one on eBay. I've had two Gibson LP Juniors, Three Epiphone LP Juniors, and several other copies. All were pretty good guitars except one horrible piece of TV Yellow crap by Hondo that I'd rather not talk about. But this Dillion is truly special. It's not perfect, but no guitar is. I love the hell out of this thing.

I like the lightness of the Junior (as well as it's cousins the Special and the Melody Maker), and the biting tone. Of course, the cool retro 50s look and Johnny Thunders connection doesn't hurt either. However, there is one problem here. I also have a huge fetish for the Bigsby vibrato. A device that, when bolted to your guitar, enables you to make cool snazzy rockabilly and surf sounds and look cool as hell doing it. That is not the technical explanation, but you're smellin' my guacamole, no? I basically don't want to play any guitars without a Bigsby, ever ever never ever. Get it?

The Bigsby comes stock on alot of Grestch and Gibson guitars, and you see 'em on Fender Telecasters sometimes, but seeing one on an Lp Junior is very rare indeed.

I looked on the web, though, and found this gorgeous original 1958 sex-beast:

And I decided I needed me one of those,right quick like. So I set about turning my new Dillion LP Junior replica, pictured below, into one.

First, I set the Bigsby on the guitar to determine string angle and placement. Then I used some meat string I stole from work to simulate the path of the string.

Then, I very carefully drilled the bastard a new one. Five new ones actually. Then I drove the screws in and voila! Bigsby goodness! You string it up (always a bitch) and it looka like dis:

And now the thing sounds like Brian Setzer playing Johnny Thunders' guitar. Hipsters, you need to know what I'm talkin' 'bout. This guitar makes you wanna take off your girl's jeans, shave your ironic beard, throw out your Mastodon CDs and be a real man!Like Eddie Cochran! Except not dead!

And it was easy, and only caused me a little bit of nausea. Which for me is a light afternoon.

I'll be talkin' guitars more on this here blog, so if you liked this, check back. If you didn't, go play Guitar Hero or something, you useless little chunk of My Chemical Romance fan!