Monday, June 13, 2011

Chicago Music Exchange Trip

The Fender Wall at Chicago Music Exchange
This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to the midwest mecca for vintage guitars that is Chicago Music Exchange. This place is loaded with tone from many different eras of the guitar. I went knowing I wouldn't be buying anything on the wall that I really would love to have but it is still free to play! So I went with a list of guitars I wanted to play after doing a little browsing on their site.

I currently own a Fender Custom Shop 1960 Relic Stratocaster, so I wanted to find an early 1960's, pre-CBS buyout, Stratocaster to see how my Custom Shop compares in feel and tone. Now I do know that with age, wood opens up and resonates much better, so many vintage fans vow to only play "old wood". I wanted to see for myself if there was much difference in a $35,000 vintage guitar and the $2,500 guitar that I've already been mesmerized by. I found a 1960 Fender Stratocaster. This Stratocaster is a one-of-a-kind guitar built for a trade show in 1960. That means that this was slightly different than most stratocasters of the time period. This one actually has a factory painted 3-tone sunburst neck. It features a slab wood brazillian rosewood fretboard. One would expect a guitar of this era to have already worn through the paint on the neck, but to my surprise, the neck had the same feel and comfort of my own, sans the peeling painted/nitro finish in areas.
1960 Fender Stratocaster
I plugged the guitar into an amp by a manufacturer that I had been dying to play: Two-Rock. This model was the Two-Rock Studio Pro. Its advertised as a low watt (22) hybrid of the Custom Clean and the Classic Reverb. These guys have been gaining alot of steam in the boutique market and are now fully endorsed by many touring artists, one being John Mayer. Any way, this Stratocaster was all original down to the ashtray cover. The body wasn't battered like many vintage guitars you might see, but it does have the regular finish checking as you would expect running all over the body. The neck felt like a dream, and played like a dream. I think the coolest part of playing this was listening to the pickups. They were a very bold warm/mellow tone that was very reminiscent of the warm-clean tone of Jimi Hendrix, SRV or even John Mayer, with this Two- Rock. Overall, I am quite pleased with the build quality of my Custom Shop. I feel they have successfully captured the aura, feel and tone of these guitars at a fraction of the price. The Custom Shop Stratocasters are still among some the best Fenders that I have played, but with that said, nothing beats the feel and mojo of an old guitar.

1962 Gibson ES-330
Next on my list of guitars were semi-hollow and archtop guitars. I found a beautiful 1962 Gibson ES-330. I've been eyeing something with P-90 pickups for quite some time now and I think I finally found the one. This guitar was just unbelievable in all facets of tone and playability. It was lightly checked around the body. The neck was smooth as well as chunky, like most of the pre-1964 ES models. The guitar came with a Bigsby instead of a trapeze tailpiece which didn't both me or the tuning surprisingly. The guitar had the original Kluson tuners which were a little stiff but held their ground nonetheless. I demoed this beauty through the same Two- Rock as the 1960 Stratocaster but cranked up the gain little bit more because I wanted to hear these old P-90's light up as they were fully intended. I quickly found out why so many people love these old ES guitars and also new this would be the next one my list of purchases. Hands down, the best tone in a guitar I've ever played. I quickly did some research when I got home to find that the Gibson Custom Shop has reissued this guitar with the ES-330L, but they changed the neck! Instead of mounting at the 17th fret, it now joins at the 19th, like regular ES-335 model guitars do. And, for the price point of new vs. vintage, I'm going vintage on this next purchase.

1947 Gibson ES-300
Recently I've been looking at buying an old archtop. They are cool old guitars with an interesting acoustic/woody tone that might be fun to throw on a record someday. One of the most interesting guitars I had the chance to play was a 1947 ES-300. I didn't plug this in as I was just interested in the acoustic properties of the instrument. I played this guitar all finger-style to get a better grasp on the tone that this guitar was intended for. I tried out a handful of these guitars and found they were all about the same in volume projection, which the room wasn't designed for because of the many people walking around me and two electric rooms blaring familiar musical riffs synonymous with guitar stores. Nonetheless, I had the opportunity to play a few other old archtops like the 1938 Gibson L-7 and the 1951 Gibson L-5. Both of these guitars were very ornate and fun little jazzy guitars. All 3 of these guitars played remarkably well for being as old as they are. I'd still like to get something of this type but more than likely after the vintage ES-330 and most likely an old Kay or Regal model will suffice for the playing time it would see from me. It's not very often you can play $100,000 worth of guitars in a matter of a few hours (or minutes if you find the 1957 Les Paul Goldtop currently hanging for sale in there). I fully enjoyed the trip and recommend Chicago Music Exchange to anyone with a vintage craving!
The Les Paul and SG wall at Chicago Music Exchange

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