Three Les Pauls

Three Les PaulsI’ve been playing an Epiphone 1960 Les Paul Tribute Plus for the last couple years, and loving it.  On a whim, I recently tried a couple of these unbelievably inexpensive Monoprice Route 66 guitars.  A couple weeks ago, my birthday rolled around, and I ended up purchasing a new Gibson 2013 Les Paul Studio.  The Gibson is twice the price of my Epiphone and nearly ten times the price of the Monoprice.  What are the differences?  How do they stack up?

There was a brief window of time before I returned the Route 66, where I had all three guitars on hand- my trusted Epiphone, the low cost Route 66, and my brand new Les Paul Studio.   So being the obsessive guitar nut that I am, it seemed like a good opportunity to film a comparison:

Three Les Pauls

Les Paul 1952 Ad

Ted McCarty and Les PaulThe Les Paul. 

It’s an iconic guitar- first introduced in 1952 as Gibson guitar’s response to Fenders solid body telecaster.   It was Gibson’s first solid body, and was designed by then Gibson president Ted McCarty in collaboration with the man himself, Lester William Polsfuss

As with most things, this guitar is available at all different price points and quality levels.  Today I’m taking a look at three Les Pauls, at three different price points.  First up is  this beautiful 2013 Gibson Les Paul Studio, at around $1100.  Next is this gorgeous Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus, at around $600.    And last is this Monoprice Route 66 imitation Les Paul, which can be had for a mere $100. 

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.  

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Grover Locking Tuners

Locking Romomatic 106 SeriesMy Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus came with Grover locking Rotomatic tuners.    These tuners work phenomenally well. They stay perfectly in tune no matter how much I bend and beat on the strings- and adjustments are smooth and accurate.

These Rotomatics are different from typical locking tuners, like the Sperzel’s or Grover’s own Roto-Grips, where you lock and unlock the string using a thumbscrew around back.

On the Rotomatics, you just insert the string, and give it a wind, and an inner-cam rotates, locking the string into place under the string’s own tension.   I always feel a little uncertain when changing strings on these because the process is a bit different from other tuners.  Here are the instructions from Grover:

Locking Grovers Method1. Turn tip of string post until it clicks into place. This aligns string post holes.
2. Note string hole is off center. Turn knob to rotate post until string hole is positioned away from knob. Thread string up through bottom of hole and pull firmly. See drawing.
3. Turn to begin tuning. At first, only inner “Locking Cam” is turning, securely locking the string. Once the string is locked, outer post will turn.
4. Bring string to pitch.

Les’ Sustain for Days

Gibson Les Paul TraditionalA couple months ago, I had an unexpected revelation.  An eye-opening, earth-shaking, revolutionary enlightenment.   Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating and obsessing, but it was an honest-to-goodness WTF!

I was at a local music shop (ok, I admit it was Best Buy), and out of curiosity, I picked up an absurdly expensive Gibson Les Paul Traditional from the wall-o-guitars, plugged it into a Vox Night Train, and gave it a spin.  I’ve never really given the Les Paul guitars much attention.  Despite their iconic status and near ubiquity, I’ve always thought the Les Paul was just too heavy to consider. But…

I was shocked! This guitar had so much sustain, it felt like there must be an active sustainer circuit in there.  But no- just passive ‘57 Classic humbuckers, a Nashville Tune-o-matic, and a whole bunch of mahogany and maple.  I was stunned. I always thought my G&L ASAT III with its Saddle-Lock bridge and my Vox SSC-55 with its MaxConnect bridge both had reasonably good sustain, but this was in a whole ‘nother league.   It actually felt like a different breed of instrument, one that may even require a different playing style to accommodate and leverage such an impressive sustain.  And those 57 Classics sounded fantastic!

So, ok, I walked out of there telling Chunling “Wow- that was mind-blowing.  But $2400, forget about it!!”  I convinced myself to let it go, and stopped thinking about it. Until…

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April and the Summer Music Project Gig

2012-04-28 Summer Music Project - SOL Food Festival gigWell, April just came and went, didn’t it?

It’s been a super busy month at work, and what free time I had was filled with preparing for a gig with my band, The Summer Music Project

The set list ranged from some classic rock, right up to the present:

  1. Shine On – Peter Frampton
  2. Get Back – Beatles
  3. Penny On The Train Track – Ben Kweller
  4. Taste of Danger – Jonatha Brooke
  5. Stop – Joe Henry
  6. Wonderwall – Oasis
  7. Animal – Neon Trees
  8. Cough Syrup – Young the Giant
  9. Perfect Situation – Weezer
  10. I’m Sorry – Charles Besocke (original)
  11. Don’t Take It Easy – Laura Whitmore (original)
  12. The Only Exception – Paramore
  13. Help Me (She’s Out of Her Mind) – Stereophonics
  14. Level – Raconteurs
  15. Revelry – Kings of Leon
  16. Chocolate – Snow Patrol
  17. Loving Cup – Rolling Stones
  18. Had Me A Real Good Time – The Faces

I’m playing lead guitar on all of these, and some definitely push the limits of my abilities- so it’s been a great challenge.  Also, and rather more nerve-wrackingly, I sing on most of the songs- mostly harmony with our lead singer Laura Whitmore, but I also had to sing lead parts on a couple songs.   I’ve never been thrilled with the timbre and range of my voice, so I spent a lot of time working on the songs. As with anything, it’s definitely true that the more you practice, the better you get, but I have a looooong way to go.  I’ll be writing more about voice training in another post.

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Tone Pot as a Low Pass Filter

A reader recently asked me a question about the low pass filter in a guitar tone circuit:

Will a 250k tone pot with a .02uF capacitor sound the same as a 500k pot with a .01uF capacitor (all else being equal)?

This is an interesting thought experiment, and the answer is simultaneously obvious and non-intuitive.

imageAt first glance, you might be tempted to look at this standard low-pass filter schematic (borrowed from the LPF wiki), imageand the associated formula for cutoff frequency as 1/2piRC, and conclude that the two circuits would behave identically (since 250k*.02uF is the same as 500k*.01uF).  However, the problem there is that the R in the formula is not the tone pot!   That R is really the internal resistance of the guitar, or the resistance of the pickup.

Circuit with toneIn the tone circuit, the pot actually sits above the capacitor C, but below the branch to the output Vout, as shown at left.   So, the formula for the cutoff frequency is more complex.  In this analysis by a guitarist/mathematician named Bill, he suggests a formula for the cutoff frequency as follows:

How’s that for insanely non-intuitive?!  Bill points out that the lower square root term only works with tone resistances less than about 20k (since otherwise the value would go negative producing imaginary numbers in the square root), thus explaining the often limited useful range of tone pots, and why log taper pots are more useful for tone than linear.  Nevertheless, this seems to be an over-idealized formula, since in practice, I do see more variation in the tone pot even at higher resistances.   This formula doesn’t seem to capture the full complexity of the reactive network made up of pickup inductor, and overall circuit resistance and capacitance (including cable capacitance).

Ok, so math is clearly the wrong way to think about this!!  Too complicated!   Back to the original question.  Let’s think of it more simply.  Imagine you turn both pots down to zero- you’re basically eliminating the variable resistance pot and wiring the cap directly to ground.  Of course, the larger capacitance .02uF will sound darker than the .01uF.  So they’re obviously not equivalent circuits.  

Next up, experiment!  Grab a couple pots, caps and some alligator leads and try it out!  You’ll find that they do indeed sound quite different.  The larger capacitance with the smaller pot resistance sounds darker, no matter how you slice it, when compared to the 500k pot and .01uF cap.  Even with both pots up full, the larger capacitance with the smaller pot sounds a bit darker. 

This all begs the question, why do guitar manufacturers often pair a 250k tone pot with a .047uF cap,  versus the .022uF cap with 500k pots?   The former will produce a darker sound both because of the larger capacitance but also because of the increased load on the pickup from the smaller resistance.   “Double whammy” as Bill points out at the end of his paper.

AlNiCo Magnets in Depth

Following last year’s All About Pickup Magnets, here’s another excellent article on guitar pickup magnets, courtesy of Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe Guitars.   Thanks Pete for the permission to post this here!

In this article, Pete consolidates his own expert research on pickups, along with a bunch of information from the Wikipedia magnet entries and Magnet Kingdom, to give us an overview of magnets in general, as well an in-depth look at AlNiCo magnets for guitar pickups.


June 2011


A recent question from a customer made me think that it was time to go back and review the properties of AlNiCo magnets as used in guitar and bass pickups.

Historical documents suggest ancient Greeks living in the prefecture of Magnesia in Thessaly (modern Manisa, Turkey), first discovered and observed the properties of naturally occurring magnetic materials.

The earliest known surviving descriptions of magnets and their properties are from Greece, India, and China around 2500 years ago. The properties of lodestones and their affinity for iron were written of by Pliny the Elder in his encyclopedia, Naturalis Historia.

Naturally occurring lodestone attracting paperclips

Figure 1. Naturally occurring lodestone attracting paperclips.

First a few magnet basics:

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Rock This Shirt

ThinkGeek Guitar Shirt

Amp up your mojo with this strummable guitar shirt.

You touch the frets and strum with a magnetic pick and it plays through a little clip-on amp stack, which goes to 11 naturally.

Who says we can’t be both geek and guitarist? 🙂

They also have a drum shirt with the speaker/battery-pack embedded in the hem.

See the ridiculous band video here.