Autumn 2017

I took a break from blogging for a while last year, and didn't get around to posting these photos from Autumn of 2017.

It's been mentioned a few times that this blog, like The Doctor and his wandering blue call box, exists outside the confines of time and space. We don't take liberties with linear time, so much as we simply disregard it. This ain't twitter. In a world, and universe, where we are literally surrounded by beauty, if we choose to see it, absolute linearity is not a virtue.

Maybe next week I'll post photos from the winter's big snow storm. In the meantime, have a Happy Autumn.

All photos taken with a Lumix DMC-ZS25 pocket sized travel-zoom camera. Program mode, ISO 100-400, flash off, color setting Vivid, no photoshop. Click or tap on any picture above to access larger, higher def images.

Aerial View of Edinburgh, by Alfred G. Buckham, 1920

Quite possibly the greatest aerial photograph ever taken. Photographed by Alfred Buckham only 17 years after the first manned flight, this image must have been a thing of wonder, truly mind boggling at the time; almost 100 years later, it's still breathtaking. To learn more about this photo, and about pioneering aerial photographer Alfred G. Buckham, go to the National Galleries Scotland website.

Most online reproductions of this photo have been artificially tinted in a faint sepia tone in order to, presumably, make the image seem aged. Although it may not be apparent to those who choose to ignore the obvious, keep in mind that when this picture was taken, it was new, and not old. It looks a lot better in black and white.

Restyling an Ugly Epiphone Les Paul Junior / Special, Part 1

This is the tale of an ugly little Epiphone Les Paul Special that no one wanted, and how it got a style makeover. And now, even though it's still ugly, it gets a lot of attention everywhere it goes, appreciated not only for its one of a kind uniqueness, but also for its lovely voice. And really, that's all any one of us could ever hope for in life.

Every story has a beginning, and this one starts with an ugly little speaker cabinet that no one wanted, until it found a loving home:

Long ago, possibly in a faraway land, this cab started life as a solid state guitar amplifier, and there's no way to know what brand or model it may have been. At some point the amp circuit died, and its owner removed the amp chassis and tossed that into a dumpster. Then, he put in a really unattractive hand sawn plywood baffle that filled the entire front of the cab. It was even uglier than it is now, with an unpainted baffle, no grill cloth, and a chunk of MDF hammered into the back opening and glued crudely into place.

So far, this a really sad tale.

When my friend David from Massachusetts was rebuilding a late '60s Bassman head, he needed a speaker cab to test out his repairs and circuit mods as he went along, and found this ugly particle board cabinet on craigslist, really cheap. Besides its unsightliness, one reason it was cheap was that it didn't come with a speaker. I contributed an old Cerwin Vega 12", and that combination got David through his amp restoration project. Later he put the Bassman chassis into a beautiful JD Newell 2x10 combo cab, but that's another story.

Over the years, this ugly cabinet has had numerous 12" drivers in it, for auditioning various speakers, and as an extension cab for testing other tube amp mods and repairs, and it became known as The Test Cab. Which sounds better than The Ugly Cabinet. The Test Cab spent time both here and at David's shop, and when he moved back to Mass, I inherited it. Feeling sorry for the ugly little cab, I painted the baffle, put shiny new screws on it, took a hammer and knocked out the awful back panel, and cobbled up an input jack gizmo out of a Les Paul jack plate.

Out of all the 12" speakers that have been in The Test Cab, one of the best tonal combinations has been with an ugly old vintage speaker that no one wanted:

That's a Fender labeled CTS, original equipment in an early 1970s Deluxe Reverb Amp. I had replaced it with a late '60s Jensen C12N; a friend in Colorado now has that amp, but doesn't want the original CTS back at all - he's a guitar player, not a vintage hound or collector. I'm not a collector either, but old stuff seems to collect me, and I always have too many 12" speakers. I've tried selling that '70s CTS a few times - Reverb, eBay, craigslist, and nobody ever wants it. A real 40+ year old vintage Fender speaker that still works well and sounds great, for a low price, and no one wanted it, because it's ugly.

That is, until a couple months ago. I put the CTS up for sale again on local craigslist as a combo deal with The Test Cab, since there's now more than one empty cabinet in my shop for testing. Only $35.00, and no bites for over two weeks - until someone answered the ad, and asked if I was up for a trade, and sent this picture:

Hey, I've seen that Epiphone Les Paul Special II before, and I know that out-building, which is a cozy music studio in a little town a few miles west of here. I had some clue who had answered the ad, and I replied: John, you don't have to trade that Epiphone, you can just have that speaker cab, I'm happy it's going to a good home.

But John loves to barter and trade for stuff, almost as much as he likes making music and building unique and interesting guitars. He wanted that ugly old cab with the unloved speaker, and wouldn't accept them as a gift. So I did end up with that funky Les Paul, but I took the pickups, tuners, and most of the hardware bits off and gave them back to John, keeping just the control pots and switch.

Although these inexpensive low-end Epiphones are made of some strange space-age faux wood, they're really okay, except for the low-quality tuners, bridge, and pickups. This particular guitar had a neck I really liked, with a chunky, solid feeling '50s profile, and no fret wear at all. Almost unplayed, and pretty much like new, except for the badly done "relic" job on the body:

I'm not a fan of the whole relic thing in general - you know, if you want a beat up looking guitar, get a new or used one and play the shit out of it, and in the process become a better guitar player too. But I'm also a believer that whatever you own, you have the right to mess it up. And mess it up is what the original (or second?) owner did, to this poor Epi LP Special.

First, he (or she, but probably a he) sprayed red enamel over the original finish, without sanding or putting a primer on first, then applied a black coat on top of the red. After that, all layers of finish were sanded down through to the top veneer wood in a few spots to simulate wear, probably with an orbital sander. The final step in the uglification process was he applied a very tough epoxy-like clear coat (or clear nail polish) over those areas that were sanded through to the fake wood.

This also is a very sad tale. It's hard to believe anyone could be so mean to cute little guitars.

Soon after I got this Junior / Special from John, I noticed that small paint chips, red on one side and black on the other, were being left behind wherever I'd lain the Epi down - on the couch, the kitchen table, or the workbench. Since the relic job didn't include a primer or sanding between coats, the new finish was beginning to lift off. One night I absentmindedly started picking away at it with a fingernail, and a whole bunch of paint came quickly off:

At the same time, I grabbed an unused Telecaster pickguard and placed it on the Epiphone body:

Wow and amazing - the Tele bridge plate cutout on the 'guard perfectly fit the P-90 bridge pickup rout, and the neck cutout was only about 1/8" from fitting. The bottom horn was way too big for the smaller Les Paulish body, but still, it's something to think about.

Next day, I set up a couple sawhorses with boards laid on top, and started scraping off the ugly new finish:

Here's a picture taken as soon as the bulk of the relic paint was removed; I kept the two bridge mounting studs screwed in, to keep paint chips out of the stud anchors:

Next step was rubbing it all down with steel wool to get the last paint remnants off, and smooth it all down:

Here are close up shots of two of the fake worn-through spots on the body; note the tough clear coat that resisted scraping:

In the next picture, the top had been steel wooled as much as possible without wearing the original finish down too much. It's hard to see the wood grain of the top veneer layer beneath the semi-transparent black satin finish (possibly called "Worn Ebony"?) in this outdoor shot, but it's a very nicely done, subtly attractive top coat:

The last five pictures are slightly out of sequence - a pickguard was made after the red and black paint was removed, but before the body was steel wooled. You can see the newly drilled pickguard mounting holes if you look closely.

In Part 2, we'll make (or actually, adapt) a new pickguard - actually the first 'guard this Epi ever had - and look at a couple other mods that might work with the Epiphone Les Paul Special II. In the meantime, we'll end this installment with another view of the restyled ugly little Epiphone:

Peavey Combo Amp to Speaker Cabinet Conversion

A few months before I picked up the well-worn solid state Peavey Pacer that's being converted into a combo tube amplifier, David in Massachusetts had gotten a similar vintage early '80s Peavey guitar amp that needed some repair. In the end his Heritage VTX 2x12 was beyond help, but he was able to salvage the cabinet, speakers, and various circuit components.

Not only was the amp in very good cosmetic shape, it turned out to have a well made and lightweight solid pine cabinet with finger jointed corners. While converting the Heritage cab into an extension speaker cabinet, David sent a few photos, and those were inspiration, and motivation, for my own Peavey conversion project. Here's his notes about the process:

"Alright, about the Peavey - from what I can remember the VTX chassis is nearly the same size as a silverface Twin, and the same goes for the cab - with the only difference being the slight angling back of the baffle. While I was cleaning the Tolex it lifted at the bottom seam and clearly revealed finger jointed construction. Sorry, but I don't have a photo of that. I did take a pic of the interior corner joint where the glue seeped out from in between the fingers.

Anyway, I could tell the wood was pine from the small knots in the side panels (and during drilling). Only the baffle was MDF. I replaced it with 5/8", void free, 11 ply Baltic Birch and framed it with 1-1/2" x 1/4" pine furring strips.

T-nuts with epoxied down mounting bolts, rear speaker mount.

I'm not 100% sure where the grill cloth was taken from - I was told an old Ampeg 2x15 bass cab. I repaired any holes by hand with black thread.

The Fender tilt-back legs are vintage, from a barn sale in Oregon.

New Neutrik locking jack. 12" Cerwin Vega ER124 and 10" Eminence Ragin' Cajun (1st version).

The chrome hardware was cleaned with naval jelly. New stainless steel screws and bolts.

I think that's everything about the cab. I probably invested around $50 into the refurb and half of that was for the plywood. The amp cost me $40 on craigslist but I recouped that by reselling the 2x12 Peavey Scorpion speakers on CL, and covered the project costs by selling the knobs and transformers on eBay. Net cost for the entire project was $0 (or a slight profit)."

Peavey Pacer Tube Amp Conversion Project, Part 1

Recently I bought an old funky Peavey Pacer from someone who had it on craigslist. Even though the seller was asking less than a couple Jacksons for it, and re-posted it every couple days, it was still unsold after a month. That's not surprising, since there were only two rather claustrophobic looking photos in the listing:

I replied to the ad after noticing something almost hidden at the bottom of the second pic - the speaker was a Carvin branded "British Series", made by Eminence and known to be an excellent guitar amp speaker. At the asking price for the entire amp, I figured it was worth it if the speaker alone was in good shape. On the phone, the seller said the price was negotiable since the Pacer had some "issues" - it would shut down after a couple minutes of playing, but might stay on long enough to check it out. Well, why not - it was only about three blocks away, so I grabbed a guitar and walked over.

Although solid state, Pacers have a solid rep for decent tone, as well as being really loud, and that's the way this one was. Right away it was obvious that the Eminence speaker was in good shape; I turned the Pacer up to ear bleeding levels (60+ watts!), and the Brit Series didn't flinch. As predicted, the amp's volume soon dropped to less than 1/4 what it had been, but okay, I'm sold. I handed over some cash and took it home.

The picture at the top of this blog post shows the Pacer as it was at that point, and here's a couple more:

 Here's the speaker:

Yup, that's an Eminence, and also yup, that's a boo-boo on the cone, repaired with a bit of black goo. Luckily, the hole in the cone, and the goo, don't affect the sound of the speaker at all. However, it took quite a while to clean the Brit up, in fact, the whole amp was pretty cruddy.

As a double check, the Pacer's amp was bypassed, and the Carvin British hooked directly up to a known good tube amp here, and it sounded very very good - efficient, balanced across the tonal spectrum of an electric guitar, able to handle a lot of power without becoming overly compressed, yet with just the right amount of breakup at higher volume or on dynamic peaks when you're really digging into the strings - nice.

And why is the speaker called a "British Series"? Good question; maybe Carvin was trying to capitalize on the tonal reputation that the older English made Celestions had. But this doesn't sound anything like a Celestion, but rather, just like what it is - one of the better models from Eminence, and in many ways superior for most styles of music than any Celestion. If I had to compare it to any other speaker I've ever played through, the Carvin Brit's tone and efficiency is very similar to that of a late '60s Jensen C12N.

I wasn't going to repair the Pacer; just happy to get a nice toneful speaker, which I was planning to put into a Leslie cabinet. However, the speaker output plug looked a bit suspicious:

I should have taken a photo of the inside of that plug - it was a mess, and the resistance between the plug tip and the the other end of the wire was over 120 ohms. Whoa - maybe that might have something to do with this Pacer's "issues", as the seller called it. I clipped the plug off, and soldered on a new old stock Switchcraft right angle plug:

Turned it on, plugged in a guitar, and torture tested the amp for over a half hour - no problemo. The repair, if you can call it that, only took ten minutes; so cool, now I have a usable amp for not very much bucks, even if it doesn't have any tubes.

My hypothesis is (could be wrong, I'm not a transistor amp repairman) that the incredibly high load on the pair of output devices, 1,500% of rated value, caused them to run so hot that the thermal sensor on the chassis, located between the two big TO-3 sized transistors, went into protect mode, and lowered the circuit voltages enough to save everything from going up in smoke. When the transistors cooled down after shutting the amp off, the sensor would allow the amplifier to run at full power again, until it overheated and go into fail safe mode once more. The Pacer's designers knew what they were doing, and that's great.

Here's a picture of the innards - note the thermal sensor sitting between the two output devices, which use the amp chassis as a heat sink:

As long as I had the amp torn apart, I cleaned it up as well as possible, got a new plug for the AC cable, and since one of the control knobs was missing, a set of old-school radio knobs were put on:

That amp was filthy, but now it's all cleaned up and ready to take to a jam, which I did. I thought the Pacer sounded okay enough for a $20 amp, but wow - I sure wasn't prepared for all the rave reviews it got. Here's a couple examples: "Your new amp sounds horrible!" "That's the loudest piece of sh*t I ever heard!", and my favorite: "I never thought I'd say this, but suddenly your tone really sucks!"

Well okay, the people have spoken. But the Pacer isn't really a crappy amp, it's just me not knowing how to use it. I've played exclusively through tube amplifiers for so long, maybe I've become overly dependent on the natural compression and singing sustain that comes with glowing hot vacuum bottles in a cranked tube amp. But whatever, they were right: suddenly, my tone really did suck.

As a reality check, over the next week I played through the Pacer at home for hours, and it sounded not great but good enough. The problem was that in a band situation, I didn't sound good playing through it. At the next jam, I used a Fender Blues Junior, and all was good again. Oh well, I ended up with a great sounding speaker, and that's why I bought the amp in the first place.

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A friend, David in Mass, hipped me onto the fact that some of the Peavey amps of this vintage had finger or dovetail jointed solid pine cabinets, and suggested I take a look at the Pacer's cab. Sure enough, it's a quality made, lightweight pine cab, although the baffle is a heavy piece of low-grade particle junk board. As a bonus, the amp chassis seems very suitable for a tube amp conversion build, so my course was clear: I decided to turn the Pacer into a home brew tube amplifier.

After a tear down, all of the Pacer's components besides the baffle, cabinet, and chassis, were sold on eBay for what the buyer, a Peavey aficionado and experienced repair guy, considered a fair and low price for a working circuit board and misc useful parts:

Minus listing and sales fees, and PayPal's transaction charge, I was able to net a bit more than what I'd paid for the amp, and the aluminum trimmed baffle board was given to a neighbor who thought it would look cool as a decoration in his music room:

At this point, I've ended up with a fine sounding speaker, as well as a usable amp chassis and a well made combo cab (minus baffle), for a total cash outlay of less than zero. My kind of no buck/low buck project, for sure.

*               *               *

In Part 2 of the Peavey Pacer Tube Amp Conversion Project, we'll make a new baffle from a piece of 60+ year old solid core plywood, and start laying out the chassis for a tube amp conversion. In the meantime, here's a photo in process: