Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Time Washburn Told Me the A20 Never Existed

I remember it like it was Autumn of 2001, because it was. I just moved to Michigan and started frequenting the local instrument and pawn stores looking for guitars. One place by the name of National Pawn Brokers Outlet of Waterford was where I spent most of my money. On October 4th, I went in and saw a Krylon granite green explorer style guitar and just had to give it a test. The gentleman working there was a small older guy named Gunther. He was extremely kind, soft spoken, and seemed to take a deep interested in my hobby of playing guitar. Seriously, great salesmanship! After a visual and audible inspection of the guitar I decided to put it on layaway and make payments. At the counter, while the business was transacting, I was told they did have a case that came with the guitar. This turned out to be a lie, but that's neither here not there this many years later.

The actual sales stub from Rosetta's purchase.
If you want to know more about Rosetta you can read this article, so that I don't have to repeat myself too much. Needless to say I was bummed when I paid her off and they told me there was no case, but I still owned the guitar and that's all that mattered. A Washburn A20 for $150 today would be a steal, back then it was just a good deal. What came into my possession as a single humbucker, green granite explorer style guitar quickly transformed into a project I've still yet to finish, much to my dismay. I was, and still am, so disheartened that this guitar isn't playable that I keep her in a homemade coffin in my closet. Which is where she was in 2005, when I decided to go directly to the best source, Washburn themselves, and ask questions about this guitar. HA! Yeah, right!

Even though the internet and email had been a thing for quite some years in 2005, the 1-800 number was still a much better way to contact a business back then. I know, actually having to call and talk to a person scares the shit out of me too, so you can already begin to understand my trepidation. After dealing with Washburn's phone menu system I finally found myself talking to someone who was to represent the company. I told the person I had a Washburn A20, and asked if they could date the guitar by the serial number. Immediately my question was met with confusion. The person eventually seemed to catch up with the conversation and asked for the first few digits of the serial number and explained my guitar was "most likely" a 1980 guitar, but they didn't recognize the A20 style. I explained that it was an explorer style guitar and that Howard Leese used one. Sadly I totally forgot Carlos Cavazo (SORRY CARLOS!) used a black one with red binding.

The Washburn representative was still stumped and had no clue what I was talking about. Their  response to my previous information was an immediate denial that Washburn ever made an explorer style guitar, and the A20 never existed. Knowing Washburn makes both acoustic and electric guitars I thought explaining that it was an electric would help. Nope. They've never made an explorer style electric guitar and the A series did not exist - ever. I said well it was called the Stage Series. Nope. Those never existed either. I suggested they had to have some information on these guitars, which was met with the person telling me all of their records were lost in a flash flood. The longer I sat on the phone with this person the more I felt like I was secretly being recorded for a prank show, so I reluctantly accepted their denial that such a guitar line ever existed and politely let them get back to whatever else they did in the office - perhaps it was the cleaning lady answering the phone for a laugh.

Guess what happened next? In 2006 Washburn reissued the A20. I'm not sure they reissued the whole Stage Series but I know there were very nice looking brand new A20s on the market. I was so fucking mad when I saw the reissues in 2006, having been told a year prior that this guitar never existed and in not so many words either the guitar is fake or a figment of my imagination. I've since found out they were also reissued in 1996, which makes even less sense that the person on the phone would fight me Dokken style, you know, Tooth and Nail, about a guitar they should have plenty of information about while sitting at a desk in a Washburn office. Oops, guess I forgot about that flash flood. Since I own an original I never saw any reason to throw the money at one of the 06 reissues, but I really wish I had now! It's funny how in a matter of a year, give or take a few months, as far as Washburn was concerned the A20 didn't exist, and then it was miraculously reissued.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Kalamazoo Model 1 Appreciation

In May of 2013 Kali came into my life. I remember it like it was ten years ago, which it was. I was standing in a line of people at my favorite Goodwill outlet store visually surveying the blue bins that were being pushed into the room. What caught my eye was what looked like a 1970s practice amp, which turned out to be a late 60's Kalamazoo Model 1, I've dubbed Kali. It was among the last bins being pushed into the room, and I was on the opposite side of the aisle, so I wouldn't be able to snatch her up and run off with her as I had hoped.

No, what appeared to be a pair of brothers put her in their cart and continued on their hunt throughout the outlet store. I was mildly disappointed, but I had to buck up and continue on my own hunt. Later on I passed a clothes bin that had the amp laying face up within it. I thought to myself this was a good bit of luck and decided to give her a closer visual inspection. The speaker cone looked fine, and there were tubes! Sadly the power cable looked like it was in horrible shape, so I knew it was going to need a little work. As I often did I would take larger items up to the registers and weighed them before I committed to the purchase. I can't remember what she weighed, or what the price per pound was back then, but I did go back and read an entry from May 2013 in which I said I paid $8 for the amp and some other things that day. So, for sake of brevity we'll say I paid $8 for Kali.

It was about six years later, in 2019, that I finally decided to take the risk and remove the "death capacitor", change out the power cable and replace the filter capacitor(s). I'm not a professional, but I have to say I must have done an ok job because that brought this little amp back to life. After hearing what this little amp sounds like I wish I had done this work many years earlier, but at least I had it completed before I started building guitar pedals. You see, I'm not sure whether it was having Kali in working order that inspired me to build pedals, or whether the joy of playing new pedals through Kali urged me to start/continue building guitar pedals. Either way, Kali is the reason I build pedals.

I often wonder who, and even what was played through Kali before she came into my possession. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow to an email from someone famous saying "Oh! That was my first amp, and I want it back! Just name a price!", but with the amp being made in the late 1960s we can surely say someone had a damn good time with this little amplifier. Maybe someone was a fan of The Rolling Stones? Maybe Albert King? Lynyrd Skynyrd? What type of guitar did they use? Was a Kalamazoo guitar plugged into her? Some, now, vintage and highly sought after Fender or Gibson guitars maybe? Was Kali ever on the stage at someone high school band recital? Maybe a band at prom? Who knows, but it's a part of her history therefore it's something I wish I knew.

I would also like to know what year she was built. She has a Model 2 chassis, because there is a hole covered by the woody faceplate for the tremolo control for the Model 2. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you anything else that might give us a date. In the scope of things it doesn't really matter, because she exists and she has a lovely voice. She can be super clean, sparkly and even glassy depending on the pickups, all the way to screaming, heavy overdrive. While I use my little DIY guitar amp for initial pedal circuit testing, Kali is the final word on whether a pedal circuit is up to my standards or not, because she is always extremely honest on how the pedal speaks through her. Even though she's a tiny little practice amp, what more could a bedroom rockstar ask for?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

DIY Pedal Building Milestone

It's happened! I've reached a DIY guitar pedal building milestone. At the time of this entry's publication I have built 50 total circuits. Now, I have to be pedantic for a moment and specify that I've built more than fifty, but most of those were Bazz Fuss circuits that I used for testing and later dismantled for parts. In the circuits I've actually been keeping a tally on, 49 of those are pedal circuits and one of them is my Noisy Cricket MKII guitar amp. It's not a pedal, but it is a circuit that I've built for the purpose of testing pedal circuits, so it counts. I've also included circuits that still need work done to them to make them viable pedals, simply because they are functional and will eventually become pedals.

Another milestone is surpassing the fourteen builds per year mark. In 2021 and 2022 I built fourteen pedal circuits per year, but on June 3rd I built my fifteen pedal of 2023. I still have eight to ten circuits to build, depending on when parts can be ordered, making 2023 the biggest build year with a potential total of twenty-five builds completed. I do plan to build another LM386 based amp with a preamp modeled after the Soldano SLO-100, so again that will be marked as a build, but they won't be pedals.

Since I last updated this blog with my build progress I've built a bit of an experiment in a Lovepedal Eternity Burst clone using an oddball SIP chip. The circuit sounds killer, but the issue is I used a TA7325P chip from an old radio I tore down, and the mute pin is a bit finicky. Simply grounding the mute pin doesn't seem to work, I need to tap the mute pin every single time to get it to turn the chip on. It really does sound awesome, so I'll just need to keep doing research and experimenting with how to get it to work without needing outside interaction.

I've also built a Zendrive clone that is a bit underwhelming. The tone control does very little to nothing, and nobody seems to know why. It also doesn't seem to have the amount of drive that the original does. It's not a bad circuit, it's just not what I was expecting. So it too needs a little more work. Next up is the Bespeco Weeper Wah clone, and there really isn't much to say about it other than it works. It's an inductorless wah that does exactly what you would expect from it. Sounds good, exceedingly simple build and it could make a nice little compact wah sometime in the future.

Next I built a Prince of Tone clone that is also a bit of an experiment. Because I liked it so much on the Crunchbox clone I built a few months ago, I decided to use the layout that makes the presence control external for this circuit also. While it's pretty useful, I feel it could also just be set with a resistor, so I'm not sure which way I'll go when it comes time to put this in its enclosure. This one has a few hiccups and the output seems to be pretty low, maybe this is in keeping with the Bluesbreaker circuit, I don't know. I still need to work on a few other things for this circuit before it's completed, but it does work and sounds pretty good.

Finally we come to the 50th build, and that is a Mark IV distortion clone. The layout I used is based on the Caline CP-16 Mark 4, which is supposedly based on a Mesa Boogie Mark IV, and regardless of whether this actually sounds like a real Mesa Mark IV, this pedal is fucking awesome! You have two gains and one volume, that's it. With those you blend and mix together whatever level of gain structure you need, and you can dial in almost anything you could ever want. From edge of breakup crunch to all out screaming distortion, and everything in between, this pedal can pretty much do it all. While this was my fiftieth build, it was also my sixteenth build this year, but as I said above I'm still not done.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Guitar That Got Away

Throughout the twenty-seven years I've played guitar I've had to let a few of them slip away for a variety of reasons. I owned a B.C. Rich Warlock that I just didn't completely connect with and sold to a friend. I also owned an Ibanez GIO GAX70 that I actually liked quite a bit, but I sold to another friend looking to get into playing guitar. I owned a Jasmine S-34C, which was my very first acoustic, but I didn't connect with it, so I returned it. A bit of a TMI overshare on that guitar is that within the first week of owning it I was trying so hard to connect with it that I actually took it to the bathroom with me to play while I did a numero dos. Nothing foul happened, it just sat on my lap as I strummed and did my business. I want to publicly apologize to whomever got that guitar after me. I'm sure the retailer sold it as a used item.

But above all there is one guitar that I still think about to this day. In about 2008 or 09 I was looking to get into seven string guitars. A big box retail chain had a good deal on an LTD SC207 and I snatched it up from their online sales page, as I had done with many other guitar related items previous and never had an issue. When the guitar arrived I was elated. It was comfortable, the neck felt amazing and the guitar sounded really good for an entry level seven string guitar. The problem reared its ugly head when I settled down and started focusing deeper than my initial excitement. It was the dreaded fret buzz. Oh sure, the truss rod could be adjusted, the string height could be adjusted, a lot of things could be adjusted, but what couldn't be adjusted was the now noticeable twist in the neck.

I took the guitar to the local big box chain store from where I purchased it, and their guitar tech told me it was beyond repair. The best they could do was refund me my money, so I reluctantly accepted and left the store without looking at any other seven string guitars they had in stock. I was so excited to finally have a seven string guitar, and it met all my expectations with flying fucking carpets, but that neck just could not be unfuckulated. I was heartbroken. Again, this was an entry level guitar that completely blew me away, so I doubt even if I had looked that any of those guitars would have healed my heartache in that moment.

I've played low-end and mid-range LTD guitars, and even a few high-end ESPs, so the brand has my respect from top to bottom. For a while I lusted after a red LTD H 207, but the SC207 really had me wanting another one of those. More recently I've thought about buying one of the highly unfortunately named MH-17s. I'm just a bedroom rockstar so all I need is something to make noise with, and I think something like the MH-17 would do me just fine, but I know I will always want another SC207.

The saddest end to the story is, just like my returned Jasmine S-34C, that SC207 was put back up on their used sales website for double what I purchased it for days after I returned it. Did they lie and fix the neck? Did they not give a shit and just put it back up for sale? Who knows, but I can say Guitar Center is a shitty company, and that's probably why they knowingly sold me a guitar with a twisted neck, and some other poor sap who unknowingly bought it online after me.