I own three high end electric guitars. For the past nine years or so they haven’t really been used outside of my home. Just songwriting and recording projects and a couple of jamming with friends situations.
Then a couple of months ago I joined a band. They have been playing together for a couple of years, so I have had a lot of catching up to do as far as repertoire is concerned. There are also a bunch of questions I have to answer about my own equipment. Some things quietly died while sitting in my gig bag for years. Rest in Peace my trusty DoD Octopluss pedal. Other things made sense to me in my last band back in 2003–05 that might not get a lot of use now.
The biggest question of all is which guitar will be the go to instrument. Who is my #1?
This is my 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom:
I bought this guitar in 1990 after my first Gibson, a Les Paul Deluxe, was stolen out of my car. When I bought it there was a Bigsby Vibrato screwed into it (you can still see the holes) that I removed literally within minutes of getting it home on the first day. It didn’t have stock pick ups, the tone control for the bridge pick up has never worked, the pick up switch won’t snap into the neck position, and lets politely say that she often seemed to prefer being out of tune to in tune.
Back in 2006 or 07 my friend Larry did some mods to it. I bought two Gibson Classic ‘57 pick ups and he installed them. I’m still not sure how I feel about them. They are surprisingly bright, and the output isn’t nearly as hot as it used to be. Harmonic feedback is no longer easy to come by. He also changed the machine heads and the difference is night and day. I have to strangle the life out of the thing to get it out of tune now.
The upside is that it has the fastest neck I’ve ever played. The action is just marvelously low without any buzz at all. It’s as perfect a set up as I’d ever dreamed of playing.
This is my 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro:
I bought this guitar on Ebay in 2000. When I opened the case for the first time I was blown away by the smell. Yes, the smell. Someone in this guitar’s past had played it a lot, and apparently chain smoked the entire time. The cigarette smoke smell almost killed me. It also had the greasy grime coating that smokers leave behind. I went through a ton of guitar polish and I don’t know how many rages just scrubbing the thing down. It has other issues as well. Obviously it’s missing a knob, and the tone pot that has a knob doesn’t work. There is a loose connection somewhere in there for the neck pick up. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. It doesn’t have the heavenly neck that the Les Paul has so it’s a little harder to play, but not much.
What it has is the most amazingly killer tone. This guitar sounds incredible. The pick ups are Gibson Dirty Fingers and I love them so much that I may someday put a pair into the Les Paul. The guitar coos like a baby bird, screams like an eagle going in for the kill, and roars like a lion claiming it’s prey. It can do absolutely everything. And the harmonic feedback? Oh my goodness! Just breath on the thing and you’ll get a perfect tone one octave up.
This is my 2000 Fender American Standard Stratocaster:
This is the new kid in town. Last May I was in a music store with my wife. I was looking for a bottle of finger ease. That’s all. I swear it. My wife was looking at the guitars and started trying to goad me into buying one. I’m a lifelong Gibson man, and there was a sweet SG on display, but I’ve always thought about owning a Strat. Still, I said no and we left the store. We met my wife’s folks at a restaurant across the street and had lunch. By the time lunch was over I was willing to let myself be talked into spending money that didn’t need to be spent. This Strat was $300 cheaper than the SG, and it was something new and different so I bought it.
I was really surprised by how different the neck felt. I knew it was going to take some getting used to, but I did not expect that it would be significantly harder to play than either of the Gibsons. Eventually I started getting a feel for it and was able to play it without a struggle. If there is one thing about it that stands out it is the sound of the neck pick up. The bridge pick up sounds good. The middle pick up… well… not so much, but the neck pick up? With a clean tone, or maybe a slight bit of overdrive, it is just fantastic. I understand now why just about all of my favorite Gibson playing guitarist eventually became dedicated Strat players. It’s also cool to have a whammy bar for a change, although it needs to be replaced with a locking nut because just looking at the bar puts the guitar out of tune.
So back to the question at hand. Which guitar is the #1?
In the last band, from 2003–05, the ES-335 was usually my first choice. I didn’t mind sacrificing a little playability for that monster tone. Occasionally I would focus on the Les Paul, partly because I had so much history with it, partly because it just feels so damn slick to play, partly because the other guitarist in the band bought a Les Paul too and it was cool to be a duel Les Paul kinda band, but mostly because it sounds great and I love it and hate to ignore it.
Going into the new band, the first guitar I brought to a rehearsal was the ES-335. I had already decided that it would be the main guitar and the Les Paul would be the main backup. For the second rehearsal I brought the Strat. The reason was that I had never played it through my Marshall amp before. At home I am a headphone amp kinda guy so I had never plugged it into the real thing. It felt pretty good in a real band situation, but the tone was no match for either of the Gibsons. Single coil pickups are supposed to sound thinner and weaker than humbuckers, and that was definitely the case. For the next couple of meet ups I played the ES-335. Yesterday though I brought the Les Paul. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just an equal time sort of thing. How could I relegate my oldest guitar friend to the second chair without at least taking her for a spin.
It was like old times. It just felt great and it sounded fantastic. I worked pretty hard that day and my finger tips got pretty torn up and tired quickly, but the guitar is just so comfortable to play that I was able to push myself much further than I should have. It just seems like home.
So now I don’t know what to do. The Stratocaster is definitely my #3, although I will give it some band time now and then. The two Gibsons? I’m torn. I think next week I’ll bring the Les Paul again and see if my attitude changes.
I’ll let you know.