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.