Review: Gretsch Duo Jet

20184092_1255977797858630_8443339013066063872_nGretsch guitars have always occupied a very specific space in my mind. Great for Chet Atkins, good for all that rockabilly jazz. A compromise for anything else.

You may already see where I’m going with this – I was wrong.

Despite placing them in such a small pigeonhole, there’s been an attraction to Gretsches for me which stems from seeing some of my favourite players use them to great effect.

David Gilmour proved the point that, despite my misgivings, they can amply handle a sustained lead tone, Pete Townshend made his entire signature sound with his own Gretsch, even employing both a Duo Jet and a 6120 for live work, and I don’t feel like I even need to mention the Beatles connection! Somehow the cover of George Harrison’s Cloud 9 is hard to shake from memory.

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With all of that, actually buying a Gretsch never entered my head given the lack of examples to play locally and the hefty Australian import fees. But as luck would have it, I sold a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe to my brother on the same night I found a prime example of a Duo Jet on eBay.

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VERY price reduced, due to “scratches, dents, rust and lifting paint” but with images (above) which showed no front-on view and seemed to reflect none of those issues, I was very wary, but reasoning that I wouldn’t have to worry about putting some dings in myself when gigging, I took the chance. I needn’t have worried.

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I’ll save you the time of explaining the condition of my Gretsch, but it’s about fifteen years old, and has the wear you might expect. You can see from the photos that there is no cause for alarm over the condition.

The bridge isn’t pinned, but some double sided tape ($3.45AU) holds it in place with no movement. You can throw this thing around and not move the bridge, and the synchro-sonic has no intonation problems, unlike some of the other Gretsch offerings.

The bigsby is not one of my favourite tremolo systems by design, but the flutter it gives the sound of this guitar is brilliantly subtle. I like to play a lot with the trem arm in my hand, and although it’s a bit more of a stretch to where it sits than a Strat, because the arm doesn’t do a full rotation, it’s an easy adjustment to get used to.

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The pickups are Dynasonics. They are single coils, unlike the more common Filtertron pickups, and the difference in tone is not insignificant. People often refer to the Duo Jet as sounding bitey like a Telecaster, and with Dynasonics, there’s good reason for that comparison. These are very dynamic pickups. If you play aggressive, you can get pretty close to the Tele sound, although these pups are a little fatter. But soften your touch and they sound more like a sweet, articulate Jazzmaster. The bigsby, too, puts me in mind of the more ‘reserved’ travel distance of the Jazzmaster tremolo.

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The Duo Jet body is chambered, but not hollow, so it resists feedback a bit more than fully hollow or semi-hollow guitars with similar specs. Having said that, you wouldn’t want to push it too far, this is still a guitar for subtlety rather than heavy distortion. It’s more well-suited to crunchy Pete Townshend drive, and it’s anywhere between here and it’s beautiful cleans that it excels.

It’s also worth nothing the strangeness of using the master volume which is here located below the neck pickup. It’s a position I’m not used to at all, but it feels very natural. This feeling extends to most aspects of the instrument, it’s extremely well made. It’s my understanding that all Duo Jets are now made in Japan or Korea, and this Japanese model is extremely comfortable. The neck is very similar to a Fender standard ‘C’, not particularly fat, but not uncomfortably thin, and the fit and finish is perfect. There’s no fretting out, no sharp edges on the frets and fretboard, and tuning holds pretty well with the Bigsby, at least as long as you don’t go too mad with it. There’s a little more meat in your hand at the high end, so it’s arguably not so good for quick playing up there as something with a more accessible heel like almost any Fender or Gibson option.

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The only problem I have in dealing with this guitar is the treble loss with the volume roll-off. It makes it hard for me to control the gain with my volume, because you lose clarity as you reach the cleaner sound you want. But if you prefer to change your dirt balance by tweaking or switching your pedals or amp, you won’t have a problem with this. And it’s probably quite easily fixed with a simple mod to the volume control.

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So, to sum up. I’m blown away by this guitar. It handles any sound I’ve heard anyone else get with these pickups easily, and even does a passable imitation of the Filtertrons with the tone rolled off a little. It achieves everything I thought it would, while remaining far more versatile than I gave it credit for in the beginning. As long as you aren’t trying to do heavy distortion, this guitar has a beautiful, eloquent voice. For the foreseeable future, it’s not going anywhere.

(And if you enjoyed the photos in this article, follow my instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thomaswilliamsmusic/ for more of the same, as well as sound and video of this guitar)

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Roger Waters’ Black Fender Stratocaster

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During the “Us and Them” Tour, Roger has been playing what appears to be a vintage Fender Stratocaster on a few tracks. There isn’t much information online, but it’s clearly a well-worn instrument, which if it’s a genuine Fender, suggests either a custom shop model or a real vintage instrument. There doesn’t seem to be a CS logo in pictures, so my bet would be on the latter.

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The small headstock and Transition logo suggest a 60’s instrument, earlier than the large headstock came in (very late ’65). To my knowledge, Fender don’t produce anything like this guitar at the moment.

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Instagram

My new album “Flowers” will be coming out shortly, and as the process nears an end, you can follow my Instagram page for some sneak peeks and updates. Not to mention a lot of other content to compliment the material on this blog.

Shortly releasing my new album "Flowers". Here's a quick sample! #flowers #newrelease #guitar #slide

A post shared by Thomas Williams (@thomaswilliamsmusic) on

30 Days, 30 Albums – The Challenge

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I have recently begun a 30 days, 30 albums challenge, in the hope that somehow it will help me mix and master my new album, which I hope to complete in the same period.

I’m only a few days in, but I strongly recommend the challenge. It’s only by doing something like this that I remember just how little time I manage to devote to actually listening to music, and just how much I actually enjoy it. So if you feel like you need a similar epiphany, it’s an easy way  (I gather the rules don’t necessarily state that the days have to be consecutive).

I’m going to keep this site updated with the list as I go, and you can follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/lapelcelery/ if you want to keep track of what I’m listening to in a more visually appealing way… Maybe you’ll get some ideas of your own!

Finally, below is a sample of the pre-master copy of the first track from the new, upcoming album “Flowers”. Enjoy!

Routing a Strat for humbuckers.

Last month, I posted a short entry talking about Andy Fairweather Low’s Humbucker Stratocasters, and frankly I’ve been more and more a fan of his work and in particular his extremely idiosyncratic guitar playing. So I thought a similar guitar would be an interesting project.

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Earlier this week, I received the parts in the mail to complete the project and since the routing procedure I had to perform was a little out of the ordinary for a home job, I thought I’d do a short post on it.

To begin with, I had a black Jimmy Vaughan signature Strat, and a fitting tremolo hanging around, originally intended to take some gold lace sensors.

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Needless to say, when I decided on humbuckers instead, the routing wasn’t exactly perfect to accommodate them, so a little woodwork was required.

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I decided to use a small handheld belt sander, to get into the small cavity of the route, without risking any cosmetic damage to the rest of the body.

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It’s easy enough to remove small ‘slices’ of wood from the center to the edge of the route (also possible to do it much more time-efficiently, but arguably with more risk using a chisel), and open up the entire section.

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In the end, I opted for a ‘swimming-pool’ style route because the pickups were yet to arrive and I wasn’t sure of the exact spacing of the custom pickguard.

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I installed the tremolo and the neck and finally, a couple of weeks later, the pickguard showed up in the post. Pre-wired and custom designed to my request by Sigler Music and their 920d custom shop*

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One snag in the plan was the humbucker mounting.

These particular humbuckers are Seymour Duncan Antiquities, in my opinion, the most pleasant sounding (non-custom wound) humbuckers on the market, harking back to theose ideal vintage Les Paul tones.

That said, they’re designed to be mounted in a Les Paul, and a LP has a deeper route for the mounts than a standard Strat.

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My solution, as you can see, was to clip off the deep screw-tips, which leaves the pickups at the perfect depth on the bottom of the route. Of course, If you were feeling brave, you could always drill some deeper holes in the body for the screws, but personally, I’d not be comfortable drilling that close to the tremolo cavity.

As it turns out, I ended up raising the pickups quite a lot anyway, so there remains a substantial portion of screw for adjustment.

Finally, all was mounted perfectly (humbuckers supplying the nice change of not having to attach the ground wires to the trem claw and shielding paint), and after some new strings, it was time for that all-important first photo!

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And that all-important first song:

 

* You can find the ‘Sigler Music‘ page of loaded pickguard options at:
http://www.siglermusiconline.com/collections/920d-loaded-pickguards
They’re a fantastic company, and have always been more than willing to accommodate any requests I’ve had at extremely affordable prices.

The Aves USA and Canada tour diary

Years after the fact, I have finally gotten around to uploading my video diary for our 2012 tour to YouTube. If you like seeing a jet lagged band pass out on public transport or annoy each other with a camera, you’re in for a treat.

If you’re more into the music, you can skip to part 9 to see us at Seaside Lounge recording studios, Brooklyn, recording our 2012 EP “Anywhere Else”

James Mercer’s Guitars

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One of my personal favourite bands in recent years has been The Shins, in no small part due to the amazing talent of frontman James Mercer.

As well as being, in my opinion, one of the finest lyricists of his, or any, generation, Mercer is a very gifted songwriter and skilled multi-instrumentalist.

Although the lead guitar sounds of the Shins often belong to Dave Hernandez and his Guild S-100, or lately Jessica Dobson and her Fender Elvis Costello signature Jazzmaster (below), Mercer is heavily associated with his own guitars, and they make up an important part of his personal sound, as well as the soundscapes of the Shins records.

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The Shins perform for ACL Live at The Moody Theatre, Austin - 18/03/12

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Gibson Les Paul Special.

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This has been James’ main guitar for the past few years and tours with The Shins, starting in 2007. A double-cutaway Les Paul Special. Likely a modern reissue from the early 2000’s judging by the body dimensions, pickup spacing and Tune-O-Matic + wraparound bridge combination.

This example is in TV yellow, a colour reportedly developed by Gibson because it looked white on black-and-white TV, without causing the camera glare their white finishes did!

On comedian Marc Maron’s podcast WTF with Marc Maron, James talked about loving the sound of P90 pickups, a fact many of his guitar selections support.

 

Guild Starfire.

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Heavily used by James for a long time.

“Recently I’ve learned that James has an equal fondness for both his Les Paul Junior (I believe that’s what it is) and his Guild Starfire. Possibly troubling to him.” – Joe Plummer (Shins drummer), ‘Drowned in Sound’ interview*

The “Les Paul Junior” to which he refers may be a mistaken reference to the LP Special, or it may refer to some of the following…

Gibson J-45.

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James’ main acoustic guitar. He has used this guitar on countless Radio and TV appearances, solo shows in support of Shins albums, and with Broken Bells.

 

Harmony Silvertone Stratotone.

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The first guitar James ever bought with his own money.

During an appearance on 360 sessions **, James gave a small tour of his home studio, and showed some of his guitars. I cannot identify the guitar on the right, though other images of it show that the heastock bears a sticker which reads “Del Rock”, but the one on the left is a Harmony Silvertone, which I have heard referred to as both a Jupiter and a Stratotone. The bridge is non-original (and very similar to one I talked about in an earlier post about Elvis Costello’s Jazzmasters), and interestingly enough, although Jessica Dobson played a similar silvertone on tour with the Shins, it didn’t have this bridge (this can also be seen in the same 360 sessions.)

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Les Paul Special.

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Owned by James and used as his main guitar for a while, before being essentially replaced by the yellow double-cut in 2007. This is a single cut, in a red finish. It can be seen in a lot of 2006 appearances with The Shins, as well as the video clip for ‘Saint Simon’. Photos of Mercer’s studio in Portland in 2016 seem to suggest he still owns this guitar.

 

Green Vintage Airline.

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‘This is an old Airline guitar that I got at a pawn shop in Albuquerque for 40 bucks. I think I tried to talk the guy down even lower, but he was like “Come on man, it’s 40 bucks.” It was a very cheap guitar. It was designed for kids to… ruin basically. And it sounds great. ‘  – James Mercer, 360 Sessions: The Shins .

 

VOX hollowbody.

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There are a few images of this one in James’ home studio, and he’s been using it on tour with Broken Bells.

Then there are some oddities. Guitars with pictorial evidence that James has used, but which don’t necessarily seem to have belonged to him.

Gibson Les Paul Junior.

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All footage and photos of James using this guitar seems to come from the same session for KEXP radio, so it could well be a borrowed instrument, but it does seem to foreshadow the double-cut special in TV yellow which he would acquire later. And remember Joe Plummer’s quote about the Les Paul Junior from earlier? Maybe there’s more to this one than pictorial evidence suggests.

Gibson SG Special.

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All the images of James playing this SG seem to date (by clothes) to the same concert, so I presume it was borrowed, perhaps after a broken string.

Fender Telecaster.

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Again, this guitar seems to have only been used at the one performance. I don’t recognise the band either, so perhaps it is another instance of borrowing.

In any case, the guitar appears to be a heavily reliced Fender Telecaster to 50’s specs in butterscotch blonde with a single ply black scratchplate.

At the time of writing, The Shins Instagram has been full of images from new recording sessions, so the future looks exciting!

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*  You can find the interview at http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4144596-the-shins–introducing-the-band

**  https://vimeo.com/63616371