Recently…

A gorgeous Suzuki copy of a Martin D-45 from the '70s! Sounds just as big as the real thing!

This beauty came in last Saturday for some slight adjustment, and we all had a blast taking turns strumming dulcet chord after dulcet chord on this beauty, with the owner looking on. We’ve got some great guitars in the shop, but sometimes one comes in that leaves us slack-jawed and awe-inspired. The only thing this guitar needed was the filling and re-cutting of the E, A, and D nut slots, which took no time at all!

Our good friend Chae's newest acquisition: a '96 Fender 52 Telecaster AVRI. A stunning example with immaculate tone.

Another treat from last week was a Craigslist deal from my good friend and band mate, Chae. He picked up this 1996 ’52 AVRI Telecaster for a steal, and immediately had me set her up for 11’s and re-wire the guitar. The original 1950’s style wiring wasn’t conducive to his low-down and dirty blues/rock stylings, so I converted the guitar to a more modern wiring scheme with a few sexy tricks thrown in for good measure. Also, we replaced the ceramic tone cap with a honey-toned oil-filled capacitor, and the high degree of sonic clarity and treble sweetness added was immediately palpable. It was great before, but after that change, each of us in the shop threw our hands up in a “that’s it!” gesture. It was a “Moment to Remember”, starring Mandy Moore and Lou Diamond Phillps.

This author's personal 1977 ES-355TDSV. Re-wired from stereo to mono a few years back, this sweetheart is having a THD Quintet installed.

I bought this guitar back in ’08, and ever since then I’ve been enamored with this instrument’s complex and downright magical tones. At first, I’ll admit that I wasn’t certain how the semi-hollowbody tone would fit into my playing style. I’m overjoyed to report that I barely play anything else now, and I’m feeling guilty for allowing my Les Paul to go virtually untouched for what seems like years.

Vintage buffs will probably balk at my having re-wired a perfectly kept, completely original vintage guitar worth a good-sized chunk of change. Well, I hear ya! It’s not a financially sound decision, I know, but while I have a guitar collection, I don’t buy them to be collector’s pieces. I buy guitars to play them, and I play them hard. It breaks my heart watching pristine guitars languishing behind display glass or in cases. These instruments were built as instruments, meant to be played and loved! With the recent spike in guitar values, the fate of these guitars seems to be sealed. It’s just sad that guitars are being kept out of the hands of players that would use them, like myself. (If you’ve got any sweet guitars you’d like to donate, come see me!)

The original stereo wiring was cumbersome, both figuratively and literally. Having the original wiring intact equated to something like 3 or 4 extra pounds of heft added to the guitar’s weight, with two large inductors hiding underneath the bridge pickup to split the signal to the Varitone. Add to that the enormous amount of tone suck from all of the added components, and you’ve got a recipe for muffled, indistinct tone when simply changing to a mono jack. Stereo wiring also meant having two amps you’d like to plug into; The rhythm pickup splits to one amp, the bridge to the other. Unfortunately, neither space in my small apartment or my overworked back will allow me to keep more than a modest 50 watt Marshall 2×12 stack, so I took it all out.

I took special care to keep the original harness entirely intact, using a dummy pot in place of the Varitone on the body, in case I’d ever like to sell the guitar, but I honestly can’t see that ever happening. She’s my main squeeze, with a tone so versatile and vibrant that I can’t remember ever being closer to that sound in my head.

For my birthday in January, I asked for the THD Quintet, which is a six-position rotary tone generator like the Varitone. Essentially, it’s everything the Varitone required to work including inductors and caps of different values, altogether in a compact, incredibly light package. Is it the same? No. The Varitone had a lot more quack and honk on tap, but the Quintet still gives some really compelling midrange choices. If I want the sound of a half-cocked wah, I’ve got it right there. If I want my T-top humbuckers to sound more like Strat singles, voilá! I can easily nail some vintage ZZ Top tones with this thing and a high gain pedal like the Fromel Electronics Death Is Gain. Positions 5 and 6 are smooth and dark, both slightly different variations of jazzy goodness. Oh, and did I mention it’s true bypass? No. Oh, it’s TRUE FRIGG’N BYPASS!!!!

All in all, even though I’m really happy with the tonal variation (hey, that’s where they got the name!) available on-board my guitar, I do wish there were more outrageous settings available to me. One cool thing that I’ve modified about this unit has to do with the intensity trim pot.

The THD Quintet, ready for installation. TRUE BYPASS VARITONE?! Yes, please!

Right there in the middle of the unit, there’s a control meant to adjust how intense the effect is when engaged. Since I’m mounting this in a 355, there’s no way to reach it short of drilling yet another hole in my beloved guitar. So, I’ve removed that trim pot and instead, mounted a Bourns 100K thumbwheel pot just on the rim of the control side f-hole! Pretty slick, yeah? When I’ve got her put back together I’ll furnish all of you, my esteemed cyber-pals, with photos galore!

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