Thursday, November 4, 2010

When the world turned upside down

Back in the 1990's thing got a bit strange in the guitar world. Squier produced guitars that looked like Gibson LPs and ES-335s, and Epiphone produced guitars that looked like Strats and Teles. Seriously. What were they thinking? Recently, an Epi strat style guitar arrived in a local shop. With a Strat style body, and a "hockey stick" headstock, this guitar attracted me as something that was just not quite right. The color scheme also really got to me. Unlike the example on the pic below, the guitar I tried had a red body, and a black pickguard with cream pickup covers and knobs. It looked pretty darned cool.

As you can see, this is an odd fish. I sat down, plugged it into a Fender twin, and went at it.

The guitar was not bad. It actually played about one notch above a Squier Affinity Strat. The pickups had the distinctive ceramic magnet/ice-pick sounding "scoop" to them, and the action was pretty low. The neck had an ever so slight curve that could easily be tweaked with a 1/4 turn to the truss rod, or it could be left as is. To top it off, this neato oddity was ¢heap: $112.00

Unfortunately, I am in the "no buy" doghouse right now, so I had to pass on it. But if I could buy it, I would swap out the electronics, give it a good setup, and have a real head turner for under $200.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cheaper by the dozen

How much have you paid for strings lately?

$6.99? $12.50?

How much for bass strings? $20? $40?

How about $1.99? Yeah... $1.99.

First Act is having a blowout sale and clearancing their strings for $1.99. Even the bass strings.
Check the below link:,193.aspx

Now, First Act may not be your first thought when it comes to strings, but how many times have you had an instrument that just needs to be strung? Maybe you picked up a guitar at a garage sale or from CL and after a setup you are trying to flip it. You may want to grab a few sets just to have them in case of emergency.

In all honesty, that is why I started using First Act strings, but I have to say that they are OK. I have no problems using them versus more expensive brands. Of course I only buy them when they are on sale, because I am so darned ¢heap, but that's OK.

Myself, I picked up 8 sets of bass strings.... for about $25 including shipping.

Now that is ¢heapo.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Testing the Prime Directive, or Patience, Grasshopper

Yesterday I was at a local shop, and saw that they had the new Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar bass. I was have heard good things about it, so I tried it out. The bass was well put together, and was well balanced. Compared to other basses, it was rather light, but not too light. Once I plugged it in, and played it a few minutes, I was impressed with the varying tones I could achieve. It felt right too. I really WANTED this bass. It was a good deal at $299. I even had the cash in my pocket to get it right then and there. Not credit, but cold hard cash. 

So why didn't I buy it? Because it would have violated the Prime Directive of ¢heapo guitars: Never, EVER buy a new guitar. Why? Because once you buy a new guitar, it is USED. Even if it is in perfect, flawless shape. Even if you babied it and polished it every time you played it. Even if you stored it in the best conditions possible, and never even played it. A USED guitar is worth about 30% less than a new one, simply because it is used. So, why would you pay an extra 30%?

A few pegs down from the Squier Jag bass was a great case in point: a USED Classic Vibe 50's Precision bass. I took it down and tried it out. The first thing I noticed was that the bass was perfectly set up, with nice, low action and no buzz. It was "Like New" with no dings, bings, scratches or, well, anything. It looked new. When new, this bass has a list price of $549, and is available for $349 nationwide. The "Like New", well set up but USED bass I held in my hands was marked $199. This is actually 43% less than the new price. No one ever actually pays list price, but why would anyone pay $349 when you could just buy a used one and pay $199?

The answer is simply a lack of patience. In order to get the best value when buying guitars, it is important to not succumb to GAS or hype about the newest model. If you are patient, someone else will get bored with their new toy, and you will be able to snap it up for a fraction of the original cost.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

bored to ¢heapness?

I haunt my local guitar shops quite frequently and my face is well known as the guy that "Likes those ¢heap guitars."  Last week, I was in a local shop, and saw this bass. It was blue, which I liked, but otherwise it was very generic.

The tag said $199. It also said that this was a Washburn XB200.  Any guitar or bass with an X or Z in its name must be good right? So I took it down and tried it out. My first impression is that this bass had been on a diet. I mean, it was THIN, and light. Like Paris Hilton thin. Unappealingly thin. The neck was thin, the body was thin, even the tone was thin.

I mean, it played well, and despite the thin small body had no neck dive.
The sound was OK, nothing spectacular. 

It was simply boring. I mean, just look at it.

I have found that the original list price was in the $450 range back in the early 00's, and online sources indicate that actual sales prices were $220. 

So I am asking, "Why is this bass $200"? Based in its boring-ness, lack of a real heavyweight name, and an orignal sales prices of $220 only 5 yrs ago, this should be $100-150.00. I would buy a used Squier P or Jazz any day instead of this one. Even though it has an X in its name.

The verdict: a cheap bass, but not ¢heapo.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't hesitate when ¢heapness knocks

Well, I am back from my little vacation, and posting again.

While away, I took my Mom to an antique shop. I was bored with old glassware, tables and chairs, stuff like that. What's that? In the corner, behind a table, I spied a guitar case. One of those hardboard, faux alligator skin, guitar shaped cases from the 60's/70's. I asked the owner about it, and she said that there was an electric guitar inside. I opened it up, and saw a wonderful thing:

I was not sure what it was.... I knew it was Japanese made (the major clue being the words "Made in Japan,") but I was not familiar with Japanese made Epiphones.

The guitar was complete, with the tremelo arm and bridge cover that is missing from the one in the above photo. The condition was really, really great for a 1970's import guitar. The neck was straight, action pretty low, and: wonder of wonders, the guitar was in tune! The body had no knocks , scratches, dents or chips. It was in very nice shape. I really liked this guitar but did my best to hide the fact.

The asking price was $300, and I flatly said that was too much. The dealer knocked 25% off right away ($225). When I made a face at that, she dropped it another 10% to $202.50. I said I would think about it and left. Boy, I sure am ¢heap.

The guitar was stuck in my head, so I did some research when I got home. A half hour later, I knew that this was an Epiphone ET-270, retail cost $159.50 in 1971. It had two pickups, a tremelo and a bass boost switch. Ebay research showed that $175-$225 was the going price for one in good shape, and this specimen sure was. To top it off, I learned that Kurt Cobain played an ET-270 during the bleach era, and that it was used in the original "In Bloom" video. He later smashed it onstage.

So, now, I knew what I was looking at: A neat, playable 70's Japanese ¢heapo guitar with decent sound, playability, and a guitar hero association. 

Two days later, I went back to the shop. I opened the door, and looked behind the table. The owner saw recognized me and said: "It sold yesterday."

Grrrr... I should have trusted my instincts, and bought it when I had the chance.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

¢heapo parts

So you have a ¢heapo guitar, and you like it, but want to make it a bit better. Maybe you want to replace the super ¢heapo tuners, or swap out the pickups for a vintage tone or to add a humbucker. Maybe you want to redo the entire guitar and build a custom instrument into something you have always wanted.

Let's say you have a Strat. If you wanted to replace the pickups, brand F would cost about $120 a set. Brand SD runs around $150. Brand D would run about $180. Boutique hand wound pickups are even more expensive. Since the whole idea here is to be ¢heap, these high prices just won't fit the bill.

Enter Most know them simply as GFS. These guys are a web only, bare bones operation that sells replacement and upgrade parts for guitars and basses. There is no retail store, and no fancy showroom. The website lists a wide array of guitar and bass pickups and parts at good prices. They even sell whole ¢heapo guitars.

For example, a full set of vintage tone, alnico Strat pickups can be had for less then $50! Their most expensive set of "Boston Blues" alnico pickups are "only" $73. That sure beats just about everyone else. What about the quality? Everyone has their own opinion, but IMHO, you would have to buy boutique, hand wound pickups for a ton more cash to beat GFS pickups. In fact, I buy almost all of my parts from GFS. I have always been pleased with the quality, and it only takes a few days before the parts are at my door. 

GFS is the ¢heapo guitarist's best friend.

 Note: I have no connections with GFS. I do not know who owns the place, nor do I know anyone whe works there. I am simply a customer who is really glad hatthey exist!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just like Jimi's

My nephew received a Squier Affinity Strat for Christmas a few years ago. It looks like a Fender Stratocaster, and has all the feautires of one: 6 inline tuners, contoured body, three single coil pickups, 5 way switch, and a 6 point vibrato. But is this really a Strat?

The guitar played reasonably well out of the box. It needed a bit of tweaking of the intonation and the string height, but every guitar does. The frets were decently dressed with no sharp ends, or buzzing. The sounds was a bit shrill, but given the fact that the pickups do not have seperate magnetized poles, but are iron poles with a ceramic bar magnet underneath, that was understandable. The major difference I found was that the body was thinner than a stock Fender Stratocaster. All in all, the guitar played rather well, and considering the $179 price tag, it was rather impressive.

But it could be improved, and for very little cash.

About a month ago, he and I replaced the tuners with GFS gotoh style tuners, and replaced the pickups and electronics with a GFS pre-wired pickguard. This made the swap a breeze, as only the bridge ground wire and the jack wires needed top be soldered. The change in tone was truly noticable, and he is very happy with the guitar. Soon we will also replace the stock vibrato (Fender called them Tremelos in error) with a GFS replacement that has a full steel block, and that should help more with tone, as well as increase the sustain .

For someone starting out, the Affinity Squier Strat is a great way to go. They are still available for $179.00 at many major guitar retailers. If you are really ¢heap like me, check Craigslist. I have seen some go for as little as $50, although $75-$125 is more common.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The one that got away

So about a month ago I was looking at the used basses in a local shop. I saw a bass that with all of its bare wood, brass knobs and brass nut just screamed 1980 at me so I took it down to try it out. I was expecting a chunky, cheesy feel and a weak or mushy sound. What I got instead was a well fitted, comfortable and easy feel to the neck, and a surprising amount of tone response. All this for $199.

The instrument I was playing was a Electra Phoenix 630N Bass. I was right, these basses were produced Japan in the early 1980's. Electra was known as a producer of import copy guitars, and the 630 bass was one of their first post lawsuit designs.

Operationally, this is a P-bass, with a differently shaped body and headstock.
There is a very P-like neck, with a split P-style pickup. The natural wood and brass fittings were just a reflection of (godawful) design styles at the time and this bass would be right at home in what was then known as a "Fern bar" decorated in Oak, polished brass, and potted ferns. Wearing slacks might even be a requirement while playing it.

So this little time machine felt pretty good, played nicely, and had a decent sound. But I did not buy it. Why not? I am not really sure. It was a good instrument, but I guess the styling just did not immediately grab me.  

To the left is an Electra Phoenix 630N as pictured on Guitar Hunter's blog. (Thanks for sharing the pic!)

The Guitar Hunter has more details about this bass, as well as info about how Electra became Phoenix and is now Westone/Crate.

I went back and played this bass a few more times over the next week. Each time, it grew on me. Finally, about a full week after I initially saw it, I decided to buy it. When I arrived, and looked up on the wall, it was gone.

So, the lesson here is, as much a patience is a factor in seeking out ¢heapo guitars, it is important to be ready to buy when you do find one or someone else will beat you to the punch.

Oh, and one more thing... The Electra Phoenix 630N, as with most other ¢heapo guitars, are not rare. If you miss one, another will surely come along. It may even be ¢heaper.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How ¢heapo can you really go?

The ultimate question (well for this blog anyway): When is a ¢heapo guitar too cheap?

Case in point: I picked up the below First Act ME301 Strat-like guitar for less then $40, used. Given the quality, I was pretty stunned to see it yesterday at a Stuff-R-Us store for $129.00! Honestly, I bought it for two reasons: I liked the "you cannot sue us" pickguard shape, and I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could get it to play. The guitar was not damaged, but needed a serious truss rod adjustment (as almost any used First Act guitar does), and it was missing the high E string saddle. I called First Act and they sent me one for $2. Once I had the saddle, I strung it up with a set of those .010 Wally World close-out strings that I blogged about last week. You know, the ones that cost me $1. Boy I sure am am ¢heap.

The guitar has all of the usual Strat style features: three pickups, a 5 way switch, 1 volume and two tone controls. The guitar also has an imitation Strat-style tremolo. Oddly enough, the six-inline headstock is angled back like a brand G guitar, so there is no need for a string tree.

After loosely restringing this beastie, I cranked on the truss rod, and tuned it up. The neck was really bowed so I had to adjust the truss rod a few more times, but I was finally able to get it straight under string load. The intonation was off so I set that as well, and then I lowered the string height. After about 30-40 minutes of adjusting and set up, the guitar was ready to play.

As an aside, setup is my real gripe with any imported guitar. These ¢heapies are meant to be a kid's first electric. If the setup is awful, which they almost always are, then that makes the instrument difficult to play. Additionally, most beginners do not know what a setup is or that it is even needed. The last thing they need is a guitar which presents additional hurdles while they are learning. I know that not much can be done about starter guitars sold through major discount chains, but it really bothers me when I pick up any guitar at a shop, and it is not set up. There is just no excuse for that. To me, that is like trying to sell a car that needs a front end alignment.

Back to the ME301: Did it work? Pretty much. I was able to get the action pretty low, and the playability increased from awful, all the way up to not bad. The pickups are super ¢heapo ceramics with that "ice-pick-to-the-ear" sound, and the neck felt sort of unfinished, but for what it cost, I cannot complain. A kid could certainly use this as a first guitar for their first year or so. This little monster looks ¢heap, and sounds cheap, but with a little work, it does play reasonably well. It is not a great guitar, but it does work. With a bit of fine neck sanding, new tuners, and some electronics work, I think I can make even this little troll into something worth playing. GFS here I come.

This is a back burner project, so I will post more once I get a chance to really dig into it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Look before you ¢heap

A word of warning when going the ¢heapo route: Before plunking down your hard earned clams, make sure that the guitar you are interested in is all that you think it is. Last night I stopped into a local shop, and saw what at first glance was a great ¢heapo deal: a new Epiphone LP Junior guitar marked: "Scratch and Dent: $99."  Being someone always interested in a blue light special, I could not resist trying this little sucker out. List price for this pretty basic one 'bucker beginner's Epi is $215.00, so this just might have been worth picking up. 

I sat down at an amp and before I plugged it in I gave her the once over. The front appeared OK, but when I flipped the Jr over there was something like a scratch, or a crack in the finish from the neck area down to the bottom of the bout. OK, I thought to myself, that is the scratch and dent part. Closer examination was still inconclusive as to the depth of the scratch/crack, but that $99 tag was still persuasive.

Just as I was about to plug it in, I saw something on the neck up near the headstock. Is that crack in the neck? Yep. Not was this just a crack, but it was a crack that ran from one side of the nut, around the back of the neck to the other end of the nut. YIKES! Somebody dropped this baby on its noodle and cracked the neck/headstock joint but good. This is not a scratch and dent, it is a repair job that costs more than the value of the guitar. I put this one right back before the headstock came off and I was blamed for the breakage.

So, the moral of this story: Look closely at the gift horse's mouth. You want a ¢heapo guitar, not something that is unplayable garbage.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

¢heapo Bass Guitar Alert!

Last Saturday I was on the road and stopped into the Sam Ash store in Paramus NJ. I spied a Danelectro Dead On 58 Longhorn Bass. The price tag read $199, so I had to try it out. I was impressed. The bass had the sort of plinky, hollow sound that I expect from a Danelectro. Yes, that "My Generation" sound. No, it will never sound like a P-bass, but it was never supposed to. I guess I would say that if you do not know what a Dano Longhorn is, you probably shouldn't buy one.

Henway, I tried this one out, and it is on clearence at $199. I examined it, and it was not beat up, warped, or trashed. This puppy is new. I called today afternoon and the bass is still there. List price was $349.00, but you can find it for $249-299.00 all over the place. $199.00 is a great deal, and pushes it down into our self imposed $200 ¢heapo guitar territory.

I really, REALLY want this bass, but right now it would mean instant divorce, so I am passing the info to you. Otherwise, I would have already bought it.

Now, go get ¢heap!

Sam Ash
50E Rt 4
Paramus, NJ 07652

Phone: 201-843-0119

Monday, August 30, 2010

P's little brother: Squier Bronco Bass

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a bass player, who also plays guitar (rather sloppily). Throughout the many years I played bass I always preferred a full 34" scale bass. However, once I started playing guitar, I have had problems switching between the bass and guitar due to the differences in scales. 30” scale basses however, are close enough that I can switch easily.

Last Christmas, I purchased a Squier Bronco bass with some gift money. Although the list price is $249.00, most retailer actually offer the bass for $149.00, and that is what I paid. To keep costs down, you can have any color as long as it is black or red. I chose a black one, but only because it played better than others I tried. This lil' guy is the descendant of the Musicmaster and Mustang basses of the 1960's. It has a 30" short scale, and a single pickup. As with most imported guitars with mediocre quality control, I had to try several before choosing one with proper construction and fit. Although The action is OK, the sound left a lot to be desired. Again, an Internet search helped me learn more and identify what could be done.  I learned that lurking beneath the pickup cover is a 6-pole guitar pickup. That accounted for the thin, anemic sound.

Overall, I would say that a stock Bronco works fine. The short scale is great for people with small hands, or kids starting out on bass. The only real issue with it is that the cheap ceramic guitar-in-a-bass pickup does not carry much oomph at all, and short scale basses need all of the oomph they can get. 

What I wanted to do to make this Bass my own. The goal was to have a bass that looks attractive and interesting, yet still sounds and plays well. Looks wise, I am shooting for something that looks like a 60's Japanese import short scale bass. So far, I have completed the following mods:

1) Upgraded the electronics with new American made pots and cap and new wiring.
2) New pickup: That stock cheapo 6-pole guitar pickup was replaced with a GFS Lipstick pickup.

3) New bridge: the stock is a top loaded 2 saddle bridge, I added a string-through-the-body, 4 saddle Musicmaster bridge for better intonation and sustain.

4) New tuners: the stock 3/8" tuners even look cheap. I like my basses to have classic ½” tuner posts and elephant ears.

At this point, I am very pleased with the bass. It the sound and sustain are much better and due to the hipshot tuners it has more of a tendency to stay in tune.

What is for the future? My next big mod, will be the installation if a bridge pickup, along with a custom one off pickguard. Of course I will then refinish the bass, and I am shooting for a 60's red with black pickguard look.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It Came From Under the Stairs Part II

When I got home, I tried the hollowbody out through my VOX AC15, and I was still pretty happy.
Then, I cranked up my laptop for some research. I have found out that this is a First Act CE540 "Delia." It is made in China, and supposedly had a list price of $499. Based on my internet research, they actually were listed at $250-$300. The Delia came in several versions, This one with a bolt on neck, another version with a set neck, and a Limited Edition model for $1799.00!

I was happy with the action of this guitar, but not so much with the pickups, and was thinking of replacing them. Then, it hit me: I had a set of GFS Memphis "Rick" style pickups in the basement. These plus a hollow body guitar should give me something to jangle with. When I took the guitar apart to add the pickups, the GFS Memphis pickups did not quite fit the First Act pickup mounting rings. Five minutes with a round jeweler's file, and some sanding sticks took care of that. I unsoldered the old pickups, threaded in the new wires, and soldered them in. I was very pleased how easily this went. I re-attached the neck, then restrung and tuned it. Then came the moment of truth: I plugged her in, and both pickups worked. I was having another great ¢heapo Guitar day.

The pickups really, really change the sound of this guitar, and they look killer. But I really wanted some single coil edge...The new GFS Memphis pickups are supposed to mimic the Rickenbacker sound, but Rick pickups are single coil. So I was thinking of splitting the coils, and to avoid the mess of new switch holes, I should replace each volume with a vol/push-pull pot. I also figured that while I was at it, I should replace the caps and tone pot as well. The following night I took the plunge and rewired this lil' puppy.
Each of the two volume  knobs was replaced with with a Bournes 500K push/pull pot, the tone with a 500K CTS pot. Also added was a .022 orange drop cap. The pot mounting holes had to be massaged just a tad to 3/8", as the originals were just a hair smaller in diameter. Then is was just soldering from there on in. With the push/pulls I am able to split each pickup, individually, into a single coil. The sound is super thin, which is what I was looking for.I am able to get some neato, almost fuzz like distortion from the bridge pickup. Frankly, I am always nervous when I do a major rewire, and am afraid that I might plug in, and nothing will work.... But this time, I was really happy. Not bad for a $99 guitar.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It Came From Under the Stairs...part I

I know...I told this story on the Squier forum, so please bear with me if you have seen this before. It is just too good a ¢heapo Guitar story not to tell again.

I dropped my Wife off at the mall a few weeks ago, and took the opportunity to stop into one of my local guitar shops. This place is the local proshop so I was simply wasting time drooling over high priced new Jags and custom shop Teles. One of the things I like about this shop is that they have a "wall of shame" under the stairway where the ¢heapo, traded in guitars dwell. There is always something interesting under there, even if it is just due to its wonderful junkiness.

Today, there was a hollow body guitar. Now, I am a sucker for ¢heapo guitars. If the ¢heapo is a hollowbody, then the ¢heapy goodness is multiplied. This sparkle black guitar appeared almost new with the exception of the headstock logo. The previous owner must have been embarrassed about owning it as the logo was scribbled/painted over with a Sharpie!. I tried the guitar out through a Fender Blues Jr and really cranked on it to see what it could do. I was frankly impressed. The clear channel gave me a nice bright, semi hollow sound, and when over driven I got some pretty great, if a bit thin crunch. The guitar felt great to play, and the sound was OK, but lacked oomph. I was however impressed with the neck, which was pretty shallow for a ¢heapo guitar. The bolt on neck was straight, and the action was low. The best part was the price: $99! Here is the kicker: This was a Delia by First Act.

I picked up my Wife from the mall and burted out: "I found a guitar that I really liked, and it was only $99!" Now, I presently have 6 guitars and basses, and my Wife has told me before that 6 is enough. To my suprise, she said: "Do you still have that $75 VISA card you won as a bonus from work?" I said, "Yeah".... She went on: "Well then, the guitar will only be $24 then, right?" I said "Yeah!!"  We drove back to the shop, and I brought it to the counter. The shop owner said, "Wait, this has a case." Huh?... I was sure it would be a soft guitar bag, but he came back with an Ibanez hardshell case.

Cheapo guitar and a hardcase for $24 out of my pocket. What a great day!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cheapo Guitar Alert!

I normally do not plan on two posts per day, but fellow Cheapo Guitar enthusiasts may want to check this out:

My local Wally World is having their pre-Christmas clearance. I found the following in their clearance aisle: 

First Act .009 electric guitar strings electric $3.00  
First Act guitar straps $3.00
First Act pick assortment, 1doz. $2.00
First Act single pickup electric guitar: $60.00  

Your local Wally World may or may not have something similar.

I grabbed a few straps. After all, a nylon strap is a nylon strap.
I also spied a shelf layout for Musical Instruments, and there were no First Act items on there.
I am not sure if W-World will be carrying them this X-mas.

Last year I scored 1 doz sets of .010 strings for $1 a set. They are great for having around just in case, and they work fine for Cheapo Guitars.

The one that restarted it all: the Squier 51

I actually quit playing guitar and bass for almost 15 years. 

In 2007, I wandered into a local GC, and spotted some really weird black and white guitars on the wall. I dig weird. When I took a closer look, I saw something like a Stratocaster, with a Tele neck and Whaaa??? a 51 P-bass style pickguard !?! These puppies had a humbucker at the bridge, a slanted single coil at the neck, and were labeled Squier on the headstock. Wildest of all was that the dozen or so of them on the wall were all marked $149!

Even though I had not played since 1994, I simply had to try one out. The guitar was lighter than a Strat but not too light, and was well contoured. The neck was like a chunky strat, but it felt good. The frets... well they damned near cut my hand! I put it down and wandered out. This was the last guitar I touched for another 4 years.

In January of 2008, I saw an article online about the Squier 51. Apparently, these were a bit of a cult guitar due to their low cost, and that fact that they were easily modified. I started searching and found an online forum chock full of people who who loved this little crossbred bugger. I found the gang there to be very personable, and knowledgeable. It seems that the odd looks of the guitar, as well as the poorly designed bridge did not make for good sales. Most feel that snobbery amongst guitar salesmen did not help either...

The more I read, the more the love and enthusiasm shown for this much maligned Cheapo guitar got me hooked. I soon started searching for my own 51. When I wandered back into my local GC, and there was a sunburst 51 for $125! For some reason I hesitated. When I went back a few days later it was gone. I started searching everywhere. Sure, they were on eBay, but I wanted one NOW. Plus, I hate to pay shipping.

The following week I stopped back into GC, and there it was: A Butterscotch Blond with a black pickguard! This is exactly the color I was searching for. On examination, the salesman told me that another salesman had just traded it in. I spoke to the original owner, and he told me how he had the bridge replaced, and the bridge pickup replaced with a Carvin. Oh yeah, he had the frets dressed, and the whole guitar setup. Did I care about the 1/4" chip near the jack? No way. All this time, I did not put the guitar down. Why? It was marked $99. Needless to say, this 51 went home with me.

So far, I have made no other modification to my 51. Like many of today's import guitars, it needed a few tweaks, but it I play it just about every day. The guitar has a good feel to it, is not too heavy or too light, and there is quite a tone pallet with the single coil at the neck, and the bucker at the bridge which can be split using the stock push-pull volume knob.

The stock model did have several issues: The bridge and tuners were pretty bad, and both really should be replaced. GFS offers great affordable parts that fit the bill. (I will post more about GFS in an upcoming blog entry.)  The quality of the fret job varies from guitar to guitar, some are OK but some are sharp on the edges, and almost feel unfinished. A fret end filing fixes this. Many also dislike the harshness of the stock ceramic pickups, but again, GFS comes to the rescue with an almost dizzying array of affordable and attractive, good sounding replacements.

Despite the fact that the guitar was discontinued in 2007, there are almost always a few available on eBay, craigslist, or on GC's used section of their website. These days, the going price varies from $125-$200, and although many have been modded, there are still plenty of stock ones if you want to have a go at modding, or just want to own a truly undervalued Cheapo guitar.

Left: A stock Butterscotch Blond Squier 51 with a black pickguard. This is the most desirable color combo.

Below: Limk to the Squier 51 Modder's Forum:

The Squier 51 Modders Forum

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just what is a Cheapo Guitar, and what is the point if this blog anyway?

Just what is a Cheapo electric guitar? I am not talking about junky, useless, unplayable blobs that sorta look like a guitar. I am talking about junky guitars that can be coaxed into decent playability, and that cost less than $200. Sometimes all that is needed is a decent setup, and sometimes more drastic measures are called for.

Cheapo electric guitars have been around almost as soon as since Leo started pumping out his factory produced planks. Kay, Harmony, Danelectro, and the various rebranded Silvertones were the Cheapos in the 50's and 60's. As were the various wacky Italian designs such as EKO. The 70's ans 80's saw the rise of the far east imports: First from Japan and then to Korea, Taiwan, etc.  These guitars were typically aimed at teenagers, and untold thousands were sold through the big catalog retailers of the time. For a fraction of the cost of a Fender or Gibson, a kid could get a Cheapo electric and attract all of the girls in the neighborhood. Back in those days, my own 1967 Kay "Speed Demon" 2 pickup electric (pictured below) cost $89.95 brand new. By comparison, the cheapest guitar in the 1967 Fender catalog was the Bronco single pickup student model guitar listed for $149.50, and a Stratocaster was almost $400! These Cheapos remained cheap... as in garage sale cheap for decades. In the 1980's, I used to buy Kays, Harmonys and Silvertones for $15-$20 a pop. Of course, these Cheapos have become Vintage Collectibles these days, and an original Dano can set you back a thousand dollars or more.

These vintage Cheapos may look cool, but most of them still don't play well or sound very good. Most are only good for hanging on the wall as a decoration, and they tend to be expensive. This blog is about new Cheapo guitars. Why? Because they are cheap.

Today almost all Cheapo electrics are made in China or Indonesia. Some are just dirt cheap, retailing for under $100. As with vintage Cheapos, some were are copies of more famous brands, some are "sorta like" famous brands, and other designs are, well, "imaginative". I am not sure if some of these designers were trying to avoid a lawsuit, or if they just saw a picture of an electric guitar once and just made the design up as they went along. Finally, some Cheapos are actually branded by the big name brands, adding caché to what would otherwise be just another import brand.

This blog will take a look at various modern Cheapo electric guitars and basses. I will discuss the various merits and demerits of each, as well as provide some advice on the care, feeding and modifying of Cheapo electrics.

So, onward we go, delving into the world of  modern Cheapo electric guitars....

The blogger's own 1967 Kay Speed Demon, purchased for $75 in 1986.