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guitars

with Alnico 3, and the later ones are made with Alnico 5. If someone doesnt want that typical shrill sound of a Tele pickup with Alnico 5, I would suggest one made with Alnico 3. I might suggest the Experience 50 if a player wants a more compressed, darker tone rather than a brighter Tele sound. A lot of guys dont want to read about all the options they can consider, but if we talk we can figure it out. I dont think it was really known until recently that Alnico 3 was in a lot of the early Tele bridge pickups. Alnico 5 has a little more zing and clarity, so you just have to talk about what they want. P90s varied wildly because there is a lot of space for wire in a P90 bobbin. Sometimes guys might have an idea that they want a specific DC resistance like 9.5K , but thats just one factor. I like to use proven formulas and guidelines because until we listen to it, its all theory. I like to have a good reason to do something thats based on prior experience. TQR: Whats the turnaround on your pickups when ordered?

RS Guitarworks

Slab Electro

Long-time readers know that we are big fans of Danelectro guitars. Our first review article appeared in July 2000 featuring an interview with James Pennebaker, who had acquired and optimized a 56-U2, DC-59 and a couple of baritones. The Korean reproduction Danelectros have typically provided good value, decent playability and tone, and we have favorably reviewed several 6-string models and an excellent 12-string and baritone in the past. Vintage? We bought a 59 copper U-1 at one time with the intention of featuring it here, but the pickup was so weak that we found it unusable. In those days we were unaware of anyone capable of fixing it, and the guitar was in such great shape that we didnt want to touch or modify the original electronics, so we returned it to the seller. We have also published two articles on Jerry Jones unique and excellent replicas, including a detailed interview with Jerry in June, 2004 with reviews, and most recently, a January 2010 review of a Copperburst Jerry Jones singlecut. Jerry Jones closed his shop in Nashville and retired in April 2011. Delta Moon guitarist Mark Johnson first brought the RS Slab Electro to our attention through the Rebel Guitars web site. Intrigued, we contacted Roy Bowen at RS Guitarworks, who arranged for us to receive a copperburst Slab Electro for review the last remaining guitar among the first batch of prototypes built in 2012. We asked Roy to describe his inspiration for the Slab Electro, and our review follows TQR: It seems as if your concept for the Slab Electro was to capture all the good things about the original Danelectro while leaving some of the not-so-good things behind. It plays like a real guitar.

If its one of the stock Experience sets I may have it on the shelf. If its a custom order with engraving it could be several weeks depending on whats in the works.TQ www.arcaneinc.com.

Lagniappe
OK, so by now you know that we luv La Carne for its unique style, superb feel and playability, and the excellent character and tone of the P90 and Firebird pickups. We view it as the quintessential rocker, but maybe you dont want a rough and ready beater Thats fine. We dont write these reviews with the idea that this is an exclusive all or nothing proposition. Were simply trying to give you some ideas, for now or down the road. In the interest of broadening your horizons, we suggest you check out some of the other models on the Echopark site as well. There is a lot to see, the images are outstanding, and the benefit of working with builders like Gabriel Currie and others is that you can often dream up your very own dream guitar, while supporting independent craftsmen and actually participating in the design process. Within specific solid and semi-hollow body styles you can choose different types of wood for bodies and necks, finishes, aging, neck profiles, fret size, and other optional apppointments. Thats what we mean when we say, Quest forth

Yeah, that was pretty much the idea. We wanted the sound, but in a more playable guitar. There is one change being made from the original prototypes. Initially Curtis Novak put a steel plate on the bridge pickup like a Tele, and we noticed that -continued-

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guitars
the neck pickup had the clarity we wanted, but it was lacking a little bit in the bridge, so with this second run he is using a fiberboard base in the bridge instead of steel. As far as construction goes, some people believe that the original Danos were all made with Masonite and poplar, but I have restored some that were made with fir and even pine. I think they used whatever soft wood was available, and since we already build some guitars with pine, we decided to use that. TQR: And just to be clear, were talking about the frame for the body, with the top, back and sides made from masonite and fabric strip on the sides. TQR: Did you use a standard Tele bridge plate?

Yes. We didnt need to modify it at all, but the bridge lipstick pickup had to be built with the Tele-style mounts for the bridge plate. TQR: Does painting masonite present any unique challenges?

Its a real pain. A good friend of mine recently gave me a 59 copper Dano and it had a large arm wear spot and you could see that there was a clear sealer on the masonite that we determined was shellac. When you spray masonite with lacquer it gets real furry its basically card board, so what we did was shoot the masonite with one coat of polyester, and we may try shellac in the next run. For the first run we kept traditional Dano colors solid copper, copper burst, red burst with sparkle, and black with sparkle. TQR: What did you ask Curtis Novak to do with the pickups, specifically?

Right. I always thought the original Danos looked cool, but lately it seems that weve become known for building hybrids between other model designs and Teles, like hybrids between a Gretsch and Tele, Flying V or Firebird. Plus, the Tele has always been one of our favorite guitars and weve become known for our Tele style guitars. TQR: Most significantly, you chose to build a classic maple neck with a substantial profile and a slab rosewood fingerboard. Thats not the kind of neck you would find on an original Dano or even a Jerry Jones replica.

He had restored so many original pickups that I just told him we wanted a faithful recreation of the originals. On the second run he is doing now the neck pickup will be underwound by 5% to better match the bridge, and as I mentioned we changed the base plate for the bridge from steel to fiber board. TQR: What type of metal is used for the nut?

We actually experimented with a poplar neck and in terms of stability I didnt think it was worth the trade off. There wasnt anything about the poplar neck that seemed better than maple. We also kept the 16 radius for that original feel. There is something about the tone of the Danos that encourages slide playing, plus, they were often such bad playing guitars that slide was all you could really do with them.

Aluminum, like the original. We tried using Tusq and bone on one of the prototypes and the sound just wasnt there. One of the people that bought one of the first Slab Electros was convinced that the aluminum nut wasnt going to sound good and before even trying it he sent the guitar out to have a bone nut installed. Then he called to tell me the guitar sounded dull, and he hadnt even played it with the aluminum nut. It works. The saddles are also aluminum. Our first idea was to use brass, and that made it too lively. We tried steel and that made it sound too harsh. The original sound of the Dano was influenced by that rosewood bridge, and while Im not usually a fan of aluminum saddles, they just seemed to work on this guitar. We used 250K pots although most of the Danos had 100K pots, and we used Luxe paper-in-oil .05 tone caps. Tuners are Tone Pros Klusons, and we used 6125 fret wire a little wider than 6105 and not quite as tall. Its close to the original wire and a little taller. -continued-

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guitars
TQR: With the first run sold now, when do you anticipate that the second batch will be available? Some time in April, and there will be six built, but anyone can contact us directly or contact a dealer and place an order for one at any time. It also has a little bit to do with my winding process. For years I have been trying to convince people not to think of a pickup as an output device and that you shouldnt measure it by its output. Its really an input device and a sensor, just like a microphone. Its passive, and as in recording, the higher you turn the input volume up and the needle moves into the red, it starts losing fidelity and saturates. It sounds louder, but you lose all your fidelity, and thats the way pickups work. If you give the average person three pickups to listen to they will pick the hottest one because of the added punch. But they will get frustrated when they go into a recording studio or they need to get a different sound and all they have is that one Stevie Ray Vaughan hot sound. He used a pedal to get that, and he could get out of it whenever he wanted Thinking of the recording process, you want to get the clearest, cleanest, high-fidelity sound you can get and then post-process it. Thats also what you want with a pickup. With most vintage pickups, its not that there is a vintage tone necessarily, but they tended to wind them for fidelity and a certain sweet spot. There are certain pickups like the DeArmond gold foil that dont come alive until they are wound really hot, but the lipstick is known for being a 3.5K-4K pickup, and its got that massive magnet that creates a big orb field around the coil. When the wire is laying on the magnet, it rattles it a lot more than the modern versions with a smaller, tighter wind. They also wax pot the modern lipsticks, and using that plastic bobbin with a tiny magnet, its so much not what it was. TQR: So clearly you dont pot the lipstick pickups you make.

We also spoke with pickup builder Curtis Novak about the lipstick pickups he makes for the Slab Electro, and we plan to feature an expanded interview with additional reviews later this year

Curtis Novak
TQR: You mention on your web site that building the original Danelectro lipstick pickup is a complex process

Yes. I was very active in reverse engineering and having to re-work processes when I worked for the government at Los Alamos, so Im always fascinated by repairing and re-working pickups to see how things are done. Most of the modern lipsticks are made with a Firebird or mini-humbucker bobbin because they just happen to fit in the tube really well. The real original lipstick pickup magnet is much thicker than a Firebird or a mini-humbucker magnet, and the magnet wire was originally wrapped directly around that, so the coil is taller and longer, and with it riding right on the magnet the sound is is a little livelier. Its also really hard to mass produce, which is why modern builders use a pre-made plastic bobbin. Since its such a smaller bobbin and magnet, they use a thinner gauge wire and overwind it, so the resistance is very high and that changes the tone a lot from an original lipstick pickup. TQR: And you are using a historically correct Alnico magnet.

Yes, I have repaired quite a few vintage lipstick pickups and the magnets are as tall as the actual tube. They are taller and a lot thicker, and thats where much of the beefy tone comes from. Along with the magnets drastic difference in size, the vintage lipsticks also used an Alnico 6 magnet, which most builders miss.

No, I dont. Fender was the only company that potted pickups among the big companies like Gibson and Gretsch. Leo was an electrical enigineer and thats what you do with transformers. There is a lot of this on my FAQ, but if you think of a pickup as a Jews harp, its fine when its on your lips and youre playing it, but once it touches your tooth it rattles really loud. The microphonics and squealing in a pickup are caused when two rigid parts come in contact with the coil and it creates a feedback loop. You could dip a Jews harp in Plasti-coat and it could be on your teeth and it wouldnt rattle, but it doesnt sound like a Jews harp anymore all the brass is lost. The idea is that you isolate the musical part the coil, from all the rigid, rattling parts. You either isolate or fuse them so when they resonate they resonate as one. Mosrite pickups are known for being really squealy, and people will say that they solved the whole thing by dipping the pickup -continued-

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guitars
completely in wax. You can save that pickup by pulling the screws out and dripping some hot wax down on each screw and fusing all those parts. They used Bondo and epoxy when they built the Mosrite pickups, and sometime they will break loose and be rigid and they will rattle. But you can stop all the rattle without touching the coil. TQR: Roy also mentioned that you had used a copper plated steel base plate on the first batch of Slab Electros, and then switched to a bridge lipstick with a fiberboard base. and let it cool as you are grinding it, the same side of a magnet can read both north and south and the pickup will sound out of phase. So the properties of a magnet can change, but I dont think its from aging. TQR: How popular are the lipstick pickups you wind compared to the other types you make?

Thats true. The last batch I wound for him had the fiberboard base. The copper plated steel base used for the Telecaster pickup acts as a reflector. The thing I think a lot of people dont get about pickups is that the coil does all the work. You can have a pickup with just a coil and no magnet or steel. It will be kind of weak, but you dont need any magnets or steel. All they do is create a large magnetic field around the coil, and ferrous metals will do the same thing, so that big plate under the magnet just changes the field and enlarges it a little bit. TQR: Have you gotten any of the old Danelectro pickups in for repair that were just too weak to be used?

They are becoming more and more popular. The Jerry Jones were a pretty good replica, and with him making them there wasnt a need for anyone else to be doing anything different. Where I get most of my business is in trying to cram a Chevy engine into a Ford (laughing). I do lipsticks for Teles, Jaguars I can fit two lipsticks in a Firebird or a Gibson humbucker cover. I can do side-by-side in the same tube, and with that you can get a good lipstick sound in a Gibson guitar and with four wires you can choose single coil or dual-coil humbucking operation.

Slab Electro
Danelectro founder Nat Daniel was a clever and resourceful designer and businessman. In an effort to manufacture affordable some might even say green products, he used Homasote in place of wood to build his amplifier cabinets the first recycled, post-consumer product developed in 1906 made from a slurry of recycled paper. Today the Homasote company continues to recycle 100 tons of cellulose fiber, conserving nearly 750,000 trees and eliminating 30 million pounds of solid waste that otherwise would go into landfills. Daniel similarly chose masonite for the tops and backs of his guitars, invented in 1924 by William H. Mason in Laurel, Mississippi. Production of masonite began in 1929, and it was used for doors, roofing, walls and household siding among other products. No doubt Daniels resourceful approach was driven by a desire to sell his products at price points that would appeal to a larger market, but whether by accident or design, his guitars also have a very cool and unique tone all their own. Unfortunately, the output of the lipstick tube Alnico bar magnet pickups was inconsistent, and being -continued-

Not really. Usually its something else. In all my years of repair I have never really seen a magnet gracefully degrade. When they degrade it is usually because the polarity is not consistent across the magnet. There is a lot of theory about vintage magnets becoming weak over time and that some of the vintage tone comes from that, but I havent found that to be true. I used to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory with some world renowned metallurgists and scientists, and they didnt see it either. Heat can do it there are things that can change the properties of a magnet, but any kind of extreme heat like that would destroy the plastic in the pickup. I rewound a Firebird two or three times and it wasnt sounding quite right but I wasnt catching what was going on. I finally took a polarity tester and went over the entire magnet, and when I got to the very last 1/8 of an inch the polarity flipped. When I do a custom pickup I may grind 1/8 of an inch off a bar magnet, and if you arent careful to stop

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interview
budget instruments, tuning stability and overall playability were mediocre at best by todays standards. The Slab Electro takes the basic foundation of the Danelectro to an entirely new level with custom-wound pickups that are true to the original Dano tone, and a neck and fretboard that allow this guitar to transcend the narrow role of a somewhat clumsy slide guitar to an every day player. Weight freaks will swoon over the 5.6 pound featherweight feel of the Slab. The medium C-shaped maple neck profile and medium jumbo 6125 frets create a comfortable and effortless playing experience, and yeah, if you want to tune to open G, break out the slide and capo up, the 16 fretboard radius makes sliding a breeze. If you arent familiar with the sound of these pickups, perhaps its time At 4.94K bridge and 5.37K neck you can expect less volume and output than a typical Telecaster, for example. Unlike most replica lipstick Dano pickups, Curtis Novak uses full-size Alnico bar magnets, and he also makes hum-canceling lipsticks and lipsticks for Stratocasters. Again, compared to Fender single coils we found the Novak lipsticks to have more depth, detail, and chime, sounding slightly warmer overall rather than sharp and thin. The neck pickup has the clarity and character of a great Strat neck liquid, full, vocal and moody. The bridge pickup is less sharp and biting than the typical tone of a Fender-style bridge pickup, with lots of complex chime and harmonics. Overall, expect a more finessed sound that is less penetrating, linear and direct, with the percussive character of a semi-hollow body guitar, yet the aluminum saddles seem to encourage excellent sustain and a very stringy tone. The aluminum nut doesnt influence the sound of the guitar nearly as much, because, of course, you only hear it on open strings. Played through an overdriven amp or overdrive effects, the Slab Electro retains a more acoustic character rather than being confined to a tight, compressed, driving sound. In terms of feel, touch and aesthetics, the build quality and finish work are flawless, the Slab stays in tune with precise tuning from the TonePros Klusons, and we found the fretboard familiar and comfortable. The biggest adjustment for the uninitiated is the tone and dynamic character of the guitar. This isnt a thrasher, so if you play with a heavy hand and thrive on the sound of an exploding guitar loaded with humbuckers or other high output pickups, the Danelectro vibe may be new to you. Thats OK Guitarists paint with tone, but there are no rules that say you have to use every color and hue. The Slab Electro is one of those guitars that should be pulled out when you want to make a memorable statement that cant and wont be confused with anything else. TQ www.rsguitarworks.net, 1-859-737-5300 www.curtisnovak.com, 760-820-4434

Fender Amplifiers

Endure and Evolve

The landscape of guitar amplification has changed dramatically during the past ten years, with more amps being built at every price point than ever before, and many manufacturers utilizing factories in Asia to remain competitive. Even relatively small custom builders like Steve Carr are now competing in a global boutique market, and while we still seem to receive more inquiries about obscure custom builders, we also like to stay abreast of whats happening at Fender. We have reviewed many of the reissue Fender blackface amps, the Vibro-King, Cyber-Twin, 64 Vibroverb developed with Cesar Diaz, Blues Deville, Pro Junior and Woody, the hand-wired 57 Twin, and most recently, the handwired reissues of the tweed Deluxe and tweed Champ. We contacted Shane Nicholas, product manager for amplifiers with a request to receive three amplifiers for review that represent Fenders diverse range of products from the $299.00 retro Excelsior 1x15 combo, Shane Nicholas $999.99 Super-Sonic 22, to the $2,999.00 Eric Clapton Twinolux. We also asked Shane to describe the inspiration for each. Enjoy TQR: Shane, before we jump into the amplifiers weve selected for review, could you summarize your background and give us an idea of what your job -continued-

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