Guitar Geekery – Les Paul Jr on a budget

This was going to be a tweet or an instagram post but it quickly got too long (because of course it did.)

I’ve long wanted a classic 50s or early 60’s less paul Jr double-cut (not the SG shape one, which was referred to by the same name during some dispute between mr Paul and Gibson).

I love the body shape, the stripped down look. I love the commitment to one pickup only, and the snarl of those original p90’s.

However, after many years of being an affordable starter guitar, people finally figured put how great they are and the vintage ones are absurdly expensive. The one pictured here, for example, is selling for $12,500 on (and is still available, if you should happen to want it).


I considered having one made to my spec (vintage 50’s style pickup with 50’s wiring, classic body shape, big baseball bat of a neck), but while that’s not so bad as the vintage ones, it’s not cheap, and frankly i’m not a good enough player for it to be worth a couple grand for a deluxe instrument. I tend to favor the fun of many instruments the persuit of one perfect one.

So I opted to go another direction and just buy a cheap replica and upgrade the parts that don’t match 50’s spec (the pickup and wiring), and maybe the bridge/tuners if I want to be silly about authenticity.

I settled on two options, which are both cheap, and relatively well reviewed; the Harley Benton (which can be had for under 200 bucks + shipping), or the Vintage Guitars v130, which goes a bit over 400.

Quality overall seemed pretty similar based on a half dozen reviews and comparisons, but what finally decided for me was one review praising the thicker and authentic feeling neck on the Vintage; since i’m really a big-fat-neck guy (personally, as well as in terms of guitars – my neck is HUGE),  I figured i’d prefer that one, even if it set me back a bit more; I found a Vintage v130 on with free shipping, from a shop that was willing to cut a deal, so the price difference wound up being less than 200. That seemed like a decent deal, and even with 300 bucks more for pickup upgrade, still left me with an affordable guitar.

However, what I got in the Vintage was less than I hoped.

The finish – and I should have taken some decent photos – was just unattractive. What claimed to be a cherry finish like vintage gibsons was a milky satin, that showed every fingerprint, but con cleaned most of the woodgrain. It make the guitar feel way cheaper than I expected, cheap in a bad way.

The pickup – and yeah, it’s gonna get replaced, but still, one hopes a 400 guitar would be ok; comprably priced Danelectros, for example, sound fucking mega fir under $400 – was just lame. It’s not a true p90, but instead has some sort of stacked design that’s supposed to be hum canceling. But it seemed to be just tone canceling; I really could not get a good sound out of it, even when I turned my vox ac15 way up loud. I didn’t spend enough time trying to analyze what was wrong with it, frankly, but, for 400 bucks I expected more.

Worst, though, is that it showed up with a cracked neck. I didn’t notice this when I first unpacked it, but after giving it a couple of hours play, I noticed the neck just felt wrong. When I actually examined the neck, I noticed what I thought was just a scrape in the finish, but which turned out to be a crack a couple inches below the nut, which when all the way through.


I’m not at this point blaming the place I bought it – i’m assuming this is a manufacturing defect, and that shipment and temperature changes worsened it, though It would have been nice if they’d caught the issue pre shipment. But, given the other things that felt very cheap about this guitar, i’m guessing this is manufacturer QC issue.

It’s now in transit back to the seller, and I have not gotten my refund yet, but, am expecting to do so in a few days.

So, that left me with the Harley Benton; I found one in ‘b stock’ (which means minor cosmetic defects usually), for 25 bucks less than the already low price. While i’d intend to go for a cherry finish like the authentic ones, i’m a huge fan of the Gibson pelham blue color, and this is pretty close, so I pulled the trigger on that.


Today when I unpacked it, I found everything about it to be better; the finish is beautiful (even with a couple of minor, acceptable flaws). The neck feels better, and the tone is far better, sounding much more like a modern p90. While I have not yet had a chance to turn it up and get some real playing it, i’m just far more stoked with it, at literally half the price of the the Vintage.

I have not taken a good picture of it as yet, that will come shortly, the above pic is from the Harley Benton web site; it’s way prettier in person than that.

Soon, i’ll take a crack at replacing the pickup (i’ve never done it, and while it looks easy, i’m waiting til I have enough time to work on it). Meanwhile, I need to give it some more time as is, to see if anything jumps out as cheap. So far, though, it seems like a hell of a lot of guitar for the money. I’ll go into details on which pickup i’m going with in a later post.

Silvertone 1457

I’ve been a guitar nerd far longer than i’ve been playing, at least, far longer than i’ve been playing with any consistency. I loved guitars since my very first experience with music, and I grew up around music, my mom lived and breathed music so it was always there.

There are a few guitars I remember saying, I need to play, because I need THAT guitar.

There are some obvious ones (a classic tele, for example), and some less (a Rick 330 or 360 6 string).

But one that caught my attention a long long time ago was a classic Silvertone amp-in-case my friend had, which won me over with it’s cheap, trashy look and feel, as well as it’s unique style and sound.

These things were total contraptions; made for Sears as part of thier house brand for music gear, they were built by Danelectro in the mid sixties.

Built to be affordable for beginners, they used inexpensive materials (Masonite top and back, pine) with a semi hollow body, they have a made-from-spare-parts aesthetic. Pickups were housed in surplus lipstick tubes.

They sold for under a hundred bucks at the time, and most notably, included a 3-5 watt amp built right into the case, allowing a beginner to get both guitar and amp and be rocking out wthout any need for further gear.

Like the guitar, the amps look like they were built out of spare parts, but surprisingly, actually sound great; the higher end models even have a tremolo circuit.

In collectible condition (all original) these go upwards of 1600 bucks today; i’m finding some currently priced as high as $2000.

I’m not a big collector of things like this; the slope from collector to hoarder is slippery, I feel. When I buy a guitar it’s because  I want to play it. So those collectable all-original, don’t-fucking-touch-it examples are wonderful, but, not worth it for me (particularly given my rather rudimentary guitar skills). And, I already own more guiyars than I can play.

A couple weeks ago, however, one if these  – a Silvertone 1457, in original case –  just more or less fell into my lap.

This is a longer story and not really mine, but, a brother-of-a-friend-of-a-friend passed away suddenly (Addiction is a terrible thing); he was a collector/hoarder of various thigs including guitars. SO this instrument was one of the things I saw posted on facebook as available.

I need that, I commented on it, assuming it would be going for far more than I was willing to spend. By my friend said, make an offer; I threw out an amount I felt was fair given that the thing was partially dissembled and in unknown state. My offer as accepted, to my surprise.

When I picked it up, we found the original parts that had been pulled off; the bridge was new (upgraded), and the tuners had been removed but were still in working shape. SO my local luthier, Keith Holland, was able to get it playing with only a little TLC. Everything worked, once they cleaned the tuners up; switches, knobs, pickups, all of it was fully funtional. The did a little fretwork, and I have it back.

IT’s clearly been played a lot; this wasn’t someone’s collectable. It’s got dings and chips like a guitar someone played a lot, maybe even gigged with. The pick guard is yellowed, so it’s been out of it’s case a lot

This is an absolutely wonderful guitar. Light, with a great feeling neck, it’s easy to play, easy to get good sounds out of, and sounds amazing with some dirt through my Vox ac15. It’s gotten me playing again, after a year or more of having my gear all put away. I have yet to try this with clean/fingerpicked tones or slide, but it feels like it would be amazing for slide.

I’m completely in love with it.

I do not yet have the case/amp back; that’s the big question, is the amp salvageable without a lot of money. It was missing some tubes, but the amp tech at Keith’s shop is looking at it and will let me know what i’ll cost to get it working. I’m hopeful, given the generally good shape. Because the amp has the serial and any other info for authenticating date, I don’t yet know the year on this thing, but i’m guessing it’s ’65, just from pictures I’ve found on line. I’ll post later when I get it back, and hopefully can report that it’s playable (and maybe even so a sound demo).