Friday, August 11, 2017

Ordering A Kiesel Vader V6X

Took the plunge yesterday and put down a deposit for a Kiesel Vader V6X. 

Do I really need another guitar? Nope.

But do I need a headless guitar? Most definitely!

Before I get too excited, let me backtrack just a little bit.

I'm not sure why, but there was a spate of orders of Kiesel guitars by a few of my guitar playing friends recently. And everyone who bought one was raving about their build-quality, stunning wood tops, and all-round great tones and playability. 

I'm quite familar with the Carvin brand, now known as Kiesel, having pored over their advertisements in Guitar Player magazine back in the 80's where the ad copy guaranteed the action at the twelfth fret be 1/16th of an inch! Not too shabby, especially for a time when most guitars seemed to ship set up for slide playing.

I made several pilgrimages to Sunset Boulevard and the now-defunct Carvin store in the early 2000's. On my first visit, I remember trying out the very first few Allan Holdsworth models to be produced, marveling at how the Wilkinson tremolos were so well adjusted that they seemed to flutter unfettered for several seconds when you flicked the trem bar.  

And all this recent hubbub about Kiesel had me revisiting their website again after quite a number of years. It was nice to see Kiesel still producing the good old Carvin staples like the DC, Holdsworth and Bolt series, along with a bunch of new models I was completely unfamiliar with. 
But I must admit, one glance at the new Kiesel Vader immediately drew me in with its sleek profile and delicious curves. And all for a ridiculously low base price of $1199 for the 6-string model.

Essentially a neck-through instrument with body wings, the Vader is available in a myriad of wood and finish options. 'Myriad', in this case, is an understatement -- the options available are staggering. 

Did I mention that the Vader is also available in 7 and 8 string versions, in regular and fanned-fret 'multiscale' configurations? So if you're the OCD type and prone to option anxiety, it's best to browse the cool Guitar Builder tool with the supervision of another adult.

Ah, that Guitar Builder tool. What a slippery slope it is.

Kiesel Vader Guitar Builder
Kiesel Vader Guitar Builder -- hours of fun

After a couple of hours with Guitar Builder I actually hit the checkout button all set to pay for the Vader V6X. But when I clicked for shipping options, only a $27 Ground Shipping option was available. So off went that first email to Kiesel.

Strangely, I didn't hear back from them for almost two weeks. In the meantime, a near mint 2011 '61 Reissue Gibson SG floated past on Ishibashi's U-Box which I pulled the trigger on. But that's a story for another article.

When I did hear back from Keith at Kiesel, he informed me that the $27 covered shipping by FedEx Air to Singapore. Which is an amazingly good deal!

So off I went to the races again with the Guitar Builder tool, trying to envision in my mind what the different wood and finish options would not only look good together, but work well sonically, while keeping within a budget of around $1500. 

Here's what my initial specifications looked like:

Kiesel Vader V6X with Hipshot/Tremolo System

  • Maple Neck/Alder Body 
  • Clear Gloss Finish
  • White/White
  • Clear Gloss Finish Back Of Neck
  • Rear Body/Neck Natural Clear
  • Birdseye Maple Fingerboard
  • Staggered Offset Dot Inlays
  • Abalone Inlay Material
  • Stainless Steel Jumbo Frets .055"H .110"W
  • 20 Inch Fretboard Radius
  • Kiesel K12B Passive Bridge Pickup
  • Kiesel K12N Passive Neck Pickup
  • White Coils With Black Bezels
  • Black Hardware
  • Black Logo
  • Metal Knobs With Abalone Inlays
  • Dunlop Straplocks
  • Black Ultimate Soft Guitar Case

Browsing the web further, I came across a white Vader with a beautiful Kiesel-treated, baked maple fingerboard that showed off the grain of the birdseye very impressively. Jeff Kiesel apparently hand finishes each Kiesel-treated fingerboard personally, with, some say, an upgrade from a special wood stash with extra grain and figure. Beautiful indeed. Unfortunately the baked maple and Kiesel treatment would have put me over budget. 

It'll have to wait for my next build...

Instead, I decided that I was going to bling out the fretboard with nice blocks of abalone on a birdseye maple fingerboard.  But I had a feeling that the blue-green of the abalone wouldn't stand out as well on pale maple. At any rate, I already have several several guitars with maple fingerboards and only two guitars with ebony fretboards -- a Gibson ES347 and my trusty Ibanez Pat Metheny PM100. So ebony it was going to be, to contrast against and really make those abalone block markers pop! 

After a couple of days of sleeping on it, I came up with these fresh specs which I emailed to Keith at Kiesel:

Kiesel Vader V6X with Hipshot/Tremolo System

  • Maple Neck/Mahogany Body 
  • Clear Gloss Finish
  • White/White
  • Clear Gloss Finish Back Of Neck
  • Rear Body/Neck Natural Clear
  • Ebony Fingerboard
  • Block Inlays
  • Abalone Inlay Material
  • Stainless Steel Jumbo Frets .055"H .110"W
  • 20 Inch Fretboard Radius
  • Kiesel K12B Passive Bridge Pickup
  • Kiesel K12N Passive Neck Pickup
  • White Coils With Black Bezels
  • Black Hardware
  • Black Logo
  • Metal Knobs With Abalone Inlays
  • Dunlop Straplocks
  • Black Ultimate Soft Guitar Case

Kiesel's mahogany stock is of the Honduran variety, close-grained and with a beautiful reddish-brown hue. I figured it would be a shame not to take advantage of this option -- it would look really good in contrast with the neck-through maple neck, visible on the back of the Vader which will be finished in clear gloss. 

Maple and ebony are both really tight sounding woods so I'm hoping the mahogany body wings will temper the brightness a little.

This will also be my first guitar with a very flat 20" fingerboard radius. Definitely Holdsworth-approved. 

The stainless steel jumbo frets are also a first for me but I've always been fascinated by how smooth and slick stainless steel feels -- .010 to .046 string gauges play almost like a .009 to .042 set in terms of bendability. And the fact that fretwear over time will be next to imperceptible is a huge plus. The guitar will likely not need to be refretted -- ever.

Browsing the Kiesel Vader V6X picture library, I couldn't find another guitar with the exact same specs as what I have in mind so I cobbled up this picture composite -- just to have something to look at before the real thing comes in in a couple of months.

Kiesel Vader V6X White/White
Kiesel Vader V6X

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Larry Coryell | Memorable Quotes

This article is dedicated to Larry Coryell who left us on February 19th 2017 at age 73. Thank you for the inspiration and the music, Sir.

On composing and improvisation: "We felt that we had to build the structure and then do the freedom within the structure, and if the structure was strong enough, the freedom within the structure would give us enough freedom to do what we wanted."

"I tried to change my philosophy and to make music first. But I know that very often I will fall back into 'guitaristics' and techniques, and I accept that."

"It's really hard to do an imitation of a Charlie Parker solo, but by the same token, it's not that easy to do an imitation of Eric Clapton when he was on the Bluesbreakers trip."
Larry Coryell
Larry Coryell (pic source: Wikipedia)

On studying Wes Montgomery's solos: "I would listen to Wes Montgomery and not have any idea how he did it. Not the technique but just the mind. Not because I wanted to play like Wes, because that would be like asking a Ford to be a Rolls Royce."

"I would go out with the boys in the old days and laugh at Paul Desmond, just because I wanted to go along with my peer group, and now I really listen to him, and he can make me cry."

"Jazz goes beyond music -- it's enlightenment. Enlightened to those things which cannot be seen or felt. Rather than, 'Oh man, I boogied all night, and I threw up and had a great time getting loaded."

"There's a big difference between performing and creating, and I feel the really great jazz performers, even though as a sidelight they may be entertaining, feel it their duty to create."

"That was what made Cream so great, they were considered a pop rock group but they were creators. When Cream came on, Eric Clapton never repeated himself, Jack Bruce never repeated himself, and Ginger Baker had to get some repetition going. But they were all creators."

"You can get down there and play four-four, but if you're not cooking, you're not creating."

"I think people are looking for enlightenment, not escape. And I think that enlightenment is just one degree beyond that musical escape that really gripped our musical fabric."

"That was Elvin Jones' philosophy, "You go up there and play like it's the last time you're ever going to play."  If there's one person in the club, he'll be up there playing up a storm."

"I've just been lucky enough to be around musicians who have given me the knowledge that I've gleaned from them. It lets me know who I am, and who I'm not."

On great musicians: "I think what they are projecting is the music which comes out of the cosmos and out of the earth, and they just allow themselves to be an antennae. All this music is in the earth, in the sky, and it comes through some people, their bodies, their hands, and their instruments, and what comes out is pure music."

On the ego: "Needless to say you've got to have some ego just to check into a motel, but ego is a double-edged sword. You can either fill a house with it or cut yourself."

"When I'm improvising I'm not conscious of anything I do, but when I'm practicing it's all mind. When I practice I'm all mind and when I'm improvising I'm all heart. I try to turn the mind off."

"You have to practice to use your mind in the woodshed in order to free your mind when you're up there onstage."

"Music is everybody's property."

"My calling on this planet is to be a searcher, in search of something new. But I won't be disappointed if on the day I die I don't find it -- at least I'll be searching."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Les Paul Junior Kit Build

Our guitar wiring expert friend, Arnold, has always been a fan of Les Paul Juniors. And while browsing the net recently, he came across a seller offering a double cutaway Junior-style neck and body for a little over 300 bucks.

Taking the plunge, the beautiful raw wood kit that arrived featured an Indian rosewood fingerboard, mahogany neck, and a one piece mahogany body. Our luthier buddy, Luca Quacquarella, was tasked with assembly, painting and final setup.

Les Paul Junior kit mahogany neck and body
Raw mahogany neck and body

Arnold chose to not have the mounting stud holes for the bridge drilled. The kit maker would only provide metric sized screw holes whereas Arnold wanted to use a compensated MojoAxe bridge that came with Imperial sized studs.


Some Les Paul Junior History

Originally issued in 1954, the Les Paul Junior was Gibson's foray into the budget and student market. Featuring slab mahogany bodies and very simple electronics in the form of a single P90 bridge pickup and basic volume and tone controls, the Junior eschewed all accoutrements of its more expensive Les Paul solidbody cousins.  

No carved maple tops, binding, or fancy inlays for this little guy!

Les Paul Junior kit mahogany neck and body
Checking the neck to body fit

While the very first Les Paul Juniors were single cutaway instruments finished in a brown sunburst, Gibson later made available a TV Yellow finish model in 1955. In the days of black and white television, white guitars tended to 'wash out', appearing overly bright on-screen. The TV Yellow finish made the guitar appear a more natural white.

The double cutaway Junior, like Arnold's kit, was released in 1958 in response to player's requests for more access to the upper frets.

Assembly and Paint

A little bit of play was evident in the neck to body joint when the kit arrived -- they could have cut it more precisely for a snug fit.

After gluing the neck to the body, Luca proceeded with applying a light dark stain to bring out the grain of the wood a little more under the final paint. Three coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, closely matching Gibson's original TV Yellow, were then applied, with the paint allowed to dry thoroughly between coats.

Les Paul Junior kit TV Yellow
Spraying the first coat of TV Yellow

On the black painted headstock face, Arnold chose to go with a smaller, stylized Luca Custom Guitars logo for simplicity. 
Les Paul Junior kit headstock face
Luca custom logo and Kluson tuners


Hardware and Electronics

In the spirit of the original Les Paul Juniors, Kluson button vintage-style tuners were chosen, along with a black, single-ply pickguard. Luca also installed a bone nut he cut and polished from scratch.

Next came the tricky task of drilling the screw holes for the bridge studs.

Because the Junior used a simple stopbar tailpiece that functioned as a bridge, the measurement had to be very precise as there are no individual saddle screws for intonation adjustment. The MojoAxe stopbar bridge is compensated for better intonation by way of subtle ridges molded into the top, but its placement is still crucial nonetheless.

Instead of measuring from nut to bridge, Arnold suggested attaching a high E and a low E string to an anchor point on the workbench. Sliding the bridge along the body and checking with a strobe tuner until intonation was achieved, the stud holes were then drilled and the bridge mounted. No room for error here!

Les Paul Junior kit Porter P90 pickup
Porter P90 hot wound pickup installed

At Luca's suggestion, a hot wound Porter P90 pickup was chosen, with Arnold supplying his own wiring harness for the electronics -- Emerson pots, in values of 500k for the volume control and 250k for the tone, with a .022uF paper-in-oil capacitor. Apparently, pot values of 500k for volume and 250k for tone are the magic numbers for P90 equipped guitars.

Les Paul Junior kit wiring harness
Emerson volume and tone pots and paper-in-oil capacitor
Relic'ing

To give it that lived-in, played for decades look, Luca gave the guitar a tasteful relic finish.

Les Paul Junior kit relic TV Yellow finish
Relic'd TV Yellow finish

So many guitar manufacturers these days use templates to map out wear spots and dings on new guitars. It saves a lot of time, but one can't help feeling a little cheated that almost no thought went into relic'ing the instrument. Not to mention that you would have guitars with about the same wear spots in the same places.

Les Paul Junior kit relic TV Yellow finish
Nitrocellulose TV Yellow finish

Luca still does it the old fashioned way -- artistically and with much deliberation for where a guitar might receive its dings, scrapes and wear spots after years of gigging.

And damn, does this thing look like a real Les Paul Junior from the 50's!

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