New body wood options for your G&L Guitar

For years, the standard body wood offerings from G&L have been Alder and Swamp Ash. Mahogany is available too, but is generally reserved for the ASAT Deluxe and other maple topped guitars.

For a couple years G&L has been quietly offering pine as a non-price list option, and lately Empress Wood. Here is quick rundown on the two “other” woods currently in the G&L line up.

Pine – We’re personal fans of pine, most notably for its tone, and generally good weight properties. Pine has a slightly softer top end, and a touch of compression on the attack. So while as not punchy as some woods, it’s got a little “give” and responds nicely to pick attack. The low end is also very clean and clear. It’s good for basses as well as guitars. The heaviest pine guitar we’ve seen is 7.8 pounds, but they are more typically 6.8 – 7.4, with bass guitars being proportionally heavier. The grain pattern is nothing dramatic, and tends to be straight and clear.

Empress – Looks a lot like swamp ash, and is the welterweight champion of the current G&L lineup. This fast-growing and strong wood is native to Asia, and has historically been used for both musical instruments, and furniture. Empress guitars are typically right around 7 pounds, and our experience is that there is not a great degree of weight variation between guitars. Tonally Empress is on the brighter side with a very solid and punchy attack. The sound is a little less dimensional than swamp ash, with greater emphasis on the fundamental tone. If you like a forward tone with plenty of presence, Empress is a good choice. We really like it for bass guitars, and it has very solid low end response.

So two woods, with two very different personalities. With many guitar players — especially those of a certain age — looking for lightweight and comfortable guitars, both Empress and Pine offer alternatives to traditional woods, and with their own unique tonal spin.

David Allen Strat Pickups – Impressions

strat setDavid Allen makes a lot of different Strat® pickups, maybe almost too many to figure out what to select. The variability of available sound-clips and videos only adds to the complexity. So when we decided to carry the line we asked David himself what pickups were most representative of the range. He recommended three sets: TruVintage 54, Tru ’62, and the Voodoo Blues SSS set. So armed with our trusty G&L Legacy (swamp ash, hardtail, Emerson wiring assembly, maple fretboard) we set about trying out all three sets to see how they compared.

Dave Allen TruVintage 54

As with many of the David Allen pickups, they don’t attempt to completely follow every excruciating construction detail of the original pickup. Instead they focus on creating the sound of a ’54 Strat rather than just replicating the construction. The TruVintage 54’s are wound progressively in the mid-to-upper 5K range and use staggered, beveled Alnico 3 magnets. Having never handled a true 1954 Stratocaster® (tonally these pickups are modeled after an actual set of ’54 pickups) we can only say that they sound the way we “think” they should sound: Exceptionally clean, glassy, with a bouncy low end. Characteristically, the bridge pickup is pretty light, and to some may only serve to pair with the middle pickup. But the Alnico 3 magnets lend enough sweetness to the high end that it’s not shrill or brittle. So you can actually use a distortion pedal with the bridge pickup and get some decent rock sounds. The TruVintage 54’s are textbook Strat, and hit the mark for those putting together the ultimate vintage Strat.

David Allen Tru ’62

Like the 54’s, the Tru ’62 set is graduated set, but wound from the low to mid 6K range from neck to bridge. They also use staggered magnets but in this case Alnico 5. They are rounder and warmer than the 54’s and a little less glassy. But they project a more soulful nature, and have a deeper rounder bass. There is also a little less quack to the positions 2 and 4, but in return you get one great sounding middle pickup. It’s got good low end like the neck pickup, but more twang and bite. It’s my favorite position of this set, followed by the neck + middle. Overall, the Tru 62’s are a slightly huskier sound than the 54’s but certainly won’t be mistaken for anything else than a Strat.

David Allen Voodoo Blues SSS

The Voodoo Blues set is a light top/heavy bottom set with a twist. The neck and middle pickups are wound to about 5.8K with staggered and beveled Alnico 5 magnets. These are right out of the David Allen ’69 Voodoo set, and you  get one guess as to what tone they were aiming for. They are bright and glassy with a percussive and snappy low end. Just the ticket for some Jimi, SRV or Los Lonely Boys. The bridge is wound to 7.8K but instead of just more wire, it’s also a lighter gauge wire. The net result is more output without the loss of clarity and detail typical of a higher output pickup (technically a higher resistance without a big jump in inductance). So you get more punch and better pedal performance without a big tonal sacrifice. Players who want to rock their Strat but won’t compromise on looks or authentic tones will like the Voodoo Blues SSS set.

 The Wrap

These pickups are not radically different from each other. It’s not like we were testing Hot Rails versus a vintage reproduction pickup. But in each case as we changed sets there was an “oh yeah, I can hear that” feeling as soon as we plugged in. We were not in total agreement on what we liked best either. My favorite set was the Tru 62’s while our new Sales Tech Eric liked the sweet-but-glassy tones of 54’s followed by the Voodoo SSS. For the moment, the Tru 62’s are staying in our Legacy, but the discussion is not over yet….


David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge Pickup – Road Test

David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge pickup

It’s spring. Time for new projects around the house and the yard. New grass, new weeds, cleaning and fixing whatever you see. Also a time I decided to freshen up the JR.

Leslie West described the Les Paul JR as a plank with a mic on it, and he’s pretty much right. Not much there means there’s not much to go wrong. His tone was a very early influence for me so I’ve had a couple of JR-ish guitars over the years and now I have a stock 2009. Not Custom shop, not Billie Joe, just a JR. I bought it used and it was stock except for a Tone Pros adjustable wraptail bridge.

Stock Gibson P90’s aren’t junk. I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve had, but I felt the need for a change. The typical recipe for a P90 is 10,000 turns of 42 gauge wire on an A5 Magnet. Magnet strength changes whether by age or intent and has an effect on tone. So one A5 isn’t like every other A5 unless you seriously over or underwind or change magnets the sound is the sound.   And yet over the years I’ve had P90’s built by others and they do sound different from one another.

The David Allen “Cool Cat” P90 is an A5 42 gauge P90. It is built with the wood spacer and other original touches. It measured 8.9K at room temp, which does make a difference. If you measure a pickup you just took from the box UPS left on the porch in Connecticut in Febuary versus a pickup UPS left in a box on your porch in Arizona in July you’ll be surprised at the difference.

And so I installed the Allen CC P90 into JR. JR already had an Emerson wiring kit and repro Bumble Bee capacitor, so the spring freshen is complete, just add strings.

One am I use is a Tweed Deluxe Speed Shop 5E3 repro. It’s loaded with GOS (good old stock tubes) and a 1961 Jensen P12Q.   I also have an Emery Superbaby.   It is currently loaded with a 5751, JJ KT88, and a Mullard GZ34. The speaker is a large oval back pine 1×12 with a Warehouse Reaper 30 watt.

Just a note, I never use the tone circuit on the Emery. When I plug in, the signal is through the tubes, very few PTP wired components and to the speaker. Honest tones of what you plug in.

So what have I got? It sounds great. It’s alive and articulate and very responsive to my picking dynamic.

What did it do before? All of the above, but less so. Less enough to notice.

The Allen Cool Cat measures 800k hotter than the stock pickup. Sometimes those windings add up to a closed off congested kind of tone especially when the pickup is on “10”. In this case the stock P90 congested more than the Cool Cat when full up. So the tone of the Cool Cat on 10 is much closer to the tone of the Cool Cat on 8 whereas the Gibson goes through a much larger tone change and “darkens” from 8-10.

There’s more to pickup tone than windings though, and the Cool Cat sounds crazy good and wide open when you turn it down a few numbers. Turn up the amp and run the guitar on less than full volume and chords have a ring and a note separation that almost sounds like you stepped on a magic pedal.

Played into the Emery/Reaper combination I can get a really good LP bridge pickup sound. OK I’ll say it, like a good PAF, like an old Allman Bros tone. It’s got a real strong snarl if you want but that is more up to the way you attack the strings than the DNA of the pickup. Leslie West squeals and snarls are all there.

There are a whole lot of vocal qualities to be found on the first 7 frets. Picking style really brought this out. My pick choice and picking style is brighter than a friend’s who came over to try it, and it was very noticeable.

This isn’t an all mids kind of P90. There is plenty of treble, and it smooths out really well when you dial back the tone knob on the guitar.

Set the guitar on “10” and yes of course you can get all the Neil Young you can handle plugged into the 5E3.   The Cool Cat will do Cinnamon Girl all day. Cortez the Killer? Hell yes.

Yet the 5E3 and the P90 are so much more than Neil Young. Roll back the pickup and let the amp do the lifting and the beautiful lush chords of a Ryan Adams song come into full bloom. For Americana type music this really P90 works. For ripping power chord rock the Cool Cat really works.

I’m certainly pleased with this Cool Cat. It did what I wanted. It doesn’t do anything I don’t want. It’s a win on all accounts.

Neil Swanson

Vintage or Modern wiring for your G&L ASAT guitar?

Emerson vintage style Tele wiring kit with treble bypass

The Internet and blogosphere is full or articles and how-to’s on the differences of the so-called “vintage” versus “modern” wiring for guitars like the Telecaster® and Les Paul. So briefly, what is it and does it matter?

In short, in a typical two-knob volume and tone arrangement, the major characteristic of “vintage” wiring is that the tone capacitor (low pass filter) is wired between (connects) the volume and tone controls. On a “modern” circuit, the tone capacitor is connected from one lug of the tone control potentiometer to ground (usually the top of the tone pot). There are several variations on this theme, but in general terms this is the biggest distinction between vintage and modern.

Why Modern?

The modern tone control circuit allows for totally independent tone control regardless of where the volume control is set. Essentially, the tone control directly shunts high frequency single to ground, the amount depending on how much the tone knob is turned. In a modern four-knob setup (such as a Les Paul) the volume and tones controls are independent from each other and each pickup. In a true vintage Les Paul circuit, turning down one pickup all the way actually turns off both pickups (this can be remedied without changing how the capacitor is wired).

The characteristic of the modern circuit is that there tends to be a high end roll-off as the volume is turned down. This can be compensated by using a “treble bleed” or tone bypass circuit, which lets through a small amount of high frequencies no matter where the volume control is set. On G&L guitars there is a .001-microfarad bypass capacitor on the volume pot of every guitar. The capacitor acts as a high pass filter, and some treble bleed circuits use a capacitor/resistor combination.

Why Vintage?

In a vintage circuit the capacitor is connecting the volume and tone controls, and the signal going to the tone control passes through the tone capacitor first (in a modern circuit the full signal passes to the tone control before the filter capacitor is applied). As a result, the signal being fed to the tone control pot is dependent on the setting of the volume control.

The characteristic of vintage wiring is that there tends to be less high-end attenuation as the volume is turned down. Even without a bypass circuit, the volume control has little effect on tone. But the and volume controls are now interactive, and the tone control works differently depending on how the volume control is set.

Is One Better Than the Other?

The modern wiring setup provides independent operation, and with the addition of a treble bypass circuit the volume control is quite functional. On some guitars a little high-end reduction via the volume control may be desirable, but on a darker sounding guitar a volume control without a treble bypass may be all but useless.

With vintage wiring the volume control is usable – and possibly better sounding – without a treble bypass. But how the tone control works depends on where the volume control is set. To some this may be annoying, but I like the range of different sounds available via the interactive nature of the two controls. I also think the volume control plain works better too, and I prefer it without the bypass. On a two pickup four-knob guitar like a Les Paul, the vintage wiring setup allows a vast array of tones just not available with the modern wiring scheme.

I’m a vintage wiring proponent, but if you can solder it’s pretty easy to switch back and forth and see what arrangement are most comfortable with. There is no right answer, just options.




Improve your Guitar Tone: Optimize your Volume and Tone Controls

I would wager that if you took an informal survey, you’d find that most guitar players play with their volume and tone controls full up 90+% of the time. More likely than not most players get their tone figured out at the amp and just leave the guitar up at the max.

We don’t we use our guitar knobs?

On many of guitars, turning down the volume control causes an unacceptable loss of high frequencies and dulls the tone of the guitar. This might be desirable in some instances, but not if you like the sound of your guitar but just want less of it. The volume control is a potentiometer – which is really a variable resistor – that is supposed to attenuate all frequencies equally. But the sensation is that more high frequencies are lost first. This is partially the nature of signals and partially that human hearing is not linear, and we hear high frequencies less at lower overall volumes. The tone control is a potentiometer with a capacitor, which is a passive electronic component that filters out specific frequencies. The tone control on most guitars is a “low pass filter” that bleeds off increasing amounts of high frequencies as the control is turned down.

How To Optimize Your Volume And Tone Controls

Step One: Turn your amp up. The gain section of a guitar amplifier is often not linear, and amplifier barely cracked open may far from developing optimal tone. We’re not necessarily talking distortion, just nice harmonically rich sound. If your amplifier volume is at 2 or 3 and your guitar is at maximum, try turning your amp up to 4 or higher and turning your guitar down. On most amps this will start to get them into the sweet spot of their range and you may notice a noticeable improvement in overall tone. You may also notice that even with the guitar turned down the tone is not so muddy. Oftentimes the controls on the guitar appear to work much better once the amp is getting some exercise. Plus now you have some room to play with volume-wise on the guitar, and a whole bunch of new sounds open up. Many amplifiers – especially early tweeds – don’t really get a lot louder past “5” on the dial, they just get dirtier and richer. If you’re amplifier is just too loud anywhere past 2 or 3 on the dial no matter what, go amp shopping. While you’re at it get a smaller one.

This is also a good time to mention that several guitar makers have moved to printed circuit board (PCB) volume and tone control assemblies. This clearly optimizes their manufacturing and assembly process, but makes modifications more difficult if not impossible. The subjective tonal quality of a PCB assembly is a hot topic, and there are many players not happy with the notion of a $3000 guitar having board-mounted pots and capacitors. In general, if your guitar has a PCB assembly and you want to tweak it, you’re going to have to take it out and start from scratch. With that said, let’s look at possible control improvements.

Install quality potentiometers – Guitar manufacturers must watch cost, and they’ll sometimes skimp on the quality of the electrical hardware, knowing that most players never look under the hood. But like anything, some stuff is better than others. Many import guitars use the “mini” pots, which due to physical construction limitations, often just don’t work as well. A high quality audio taper pot will make a difference in the ability to control volume and tone. Our Emerson Custom wiring kits use their own special version of CTS pots, and Mojo and others offer high quality replacement parts too.

Change Potentiometer Values – Traditionally, single coil type guitars use a 250K ohm potentiometer, and humbucker guitars most often use 500K. The higher impedance of a 500K pot for the tone control will retain brightness a little better, while a 250K pot will sound warmer. For a very dark guitar, you might want to even try a 1meg pot for the tone control.

Try a treble bleed – While this sounds painful, it’s a small resistor/capacitor network soldered between the input and output lug on the volume pot. The purpose of the treble bleed is to bypass the volume control with a small amount of high frequency signal regardless of where the volume knob is turned. The effect is to retain acceptable high frequency response at lower volumes. It works, and it’s a matter of taste and experimentation whether you like the effect or not. Emerson wiring kits all come with this feature (installation is optional), and you can find lots of information on this little circuit on the Internet and guitar magazine websites.

Vintage versus Modern Wiring – This is another topic that is all over the Internet. The primary difference is that modern wiring has the tone capacitor grounded to the tone pot case (shunting high frequencies directly to ground) while the vintage wiring has the tone capacitor connected between the volume and tone pots (the entire signal is being sent through the capacitor before it is attenuated). Modern wiring allows for independent control of volume and tone, while vintage wiring produces some interaction between the volume and tone controls (the tone control works differently depending on where the volume control is set). Many players feel that vintage wiring retains tone better as the guitar volume is turned down. I would agree, and find that the vintage wiring schematic gives a greater, more musical range of tonal options. If my guitar isn’t wired this way, I change it.

Change Capacitor Values – The general rule of thumb is that for tone controls “Gibson” guitars use .022 mfd (micro-farad) capacitors while “Fender” guitars use .047. Generally speaking, the greater the capacitor value, the more aggressively they roll off high frequencies. With single coil guitars being typically brighter, the .047 value makes sense (although many G&L guitars with the MFD pickups use the .022 value). One trick on neck humbucker pickups is to use a .015 value, which roll off highs even less abruptly and helps to keep the pickup from getting too muddy. If your tone control does not seem to “do anything” try a higher value.

Capacitor Construction – Here we enter the world of Voodoo. A capacitor can be made of many different materials, and for cost purposes guitar companies will often the lowest cost component, typically a ceramic disc capacitor.  These are felt to be the least “musical” sounding, and there are various varieties of “film” capacitors — usually a foil and mylar film construction – that are preferred for audio applications. The Holy Grail capacitor is thought to be a paper-in-oil capacitor, and tone freaks will spend big bucks finding old “PIO” caps from the 50’s and 60’s. The PIO capacitors are expensive because they are expensive to make, and are made in small volumes for special purposes, like high end audio circuits. As with tubes, the mainstream world dropped this style of capacitor years ago due to cost. Capacitors can affect your sound, and also how your tone control reacts. PIO capacitors do tend to have a very smooth tonal effect on the high end. But don’t think you have to spend $50 on a NOS Cornell Dubilier oil filled capacitor to get good sound. The hands down bargain cap is a 715 or 716 “Orange Drop” film capacitor, which is typically under $2.

Optimizing your guitar controls can be a fun and low cost way to improve your sound. You can buy complete drop-in kits, or if you like to solder, it’s a great DIY project. The Internet is full with information and there are countless variations of control schemes. But the most important lesson is to use your amp and guitar controls together as a team – not separate components — and explore the full range of what your rig has to offer.