Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Epiphone '57 Reissue Les Paul Junior, 2007

I haven't been adding new posts in the last couple of weeks because I've been playing my new guitar instead. I've sold a couple this year and was hoping to snag a single (bridge) pickup Valco, but even the 3/4 size Supers and Tosca brand ones are out of my price range now, plus a lot of US sellers are refusing to send stuff abroad these days because of changes with Paypal seller protection... So I decided to go for one of these Les Paul Juniors as a reasonable substitute - solid mahogany neck and body, rosewood fretboard, Grover tuners, and a lot cheaper than the '59 Gibson Melody Maker RI that I tried and didn't like last year. These were produced as a "limited edition" of the Epiphone Custom Shop - if you equate Epiphone with crap this might sound like a contradiction in terms, but I thought long and hard about this, read all the reviews and forum posts before taking the plunge. It's a basic instrument, but well made and finished I think. If I didn't like it I could sell it on easily. From what I can gather from the serial numbers of various examples found online, they were made in two batches in Feb-March 2006, and a longer period in spring-summer 2007, at the Daewon factory in Dalian, Northwest China - there's a video of the place in 2005 here that gives some idea of the environment. I think the first batch were are all Vintage Sunburst, which looks cheap to me, I got an approximately 'TV Yellow' one instead, made in March 2007 - most of the second batch seem to be this colour. Of course it isn't "real" TV Yellow, and it's thick polyurethane, not thin nitrocellulose lacquer. It's very shiny and new looking, and it's not an exact copy of a 1957 guitar, but that's what Gibson's VOS ('Vintage Original Spec') series are for if you have a spare £1,300 to spend.

It was off ebay from a young guy, but basically brand new, with all stickers etc and protective plastic stuff intact. The yellow ones aren't available new anywhere anymore, but some German suppliers still have the sunburst. Some people have a problem with them being made in China, like it's automatically suspect, but they've been making stringed instruments there for hundreds of years, so I don't think it's an issue per se. I feel slightly bad about supporting the exploitation of Chinese workers - it's cheap because labour is cheap - but that's international capitalism, right? I didn't buy it new, but still. All my other electric guitars are 40-50 years old, so the newness was more of an issue. It felt big and heavier than I like, almost 8lbs. Some of the fret ends were a bit sharp, but I sorted those out. Frets are chunky, but ok. The neck itself is apparently thicker than a '60s neck, but not a true '50s thickness - I would have liked it thicker but it feels fine really. The fretboard is dense-grained and dark, and felt very dry at first, not like old rosewood at all (surprise!) I dabbbed on some lemon oil and rubbed my greasy fingers into it for half an hour to simulate some kind of preliminary wear. I also sanded along the edge of the fretboard so it wouldn't be so sharp, and dulled down the finish on the back of the neck with 00 steel wool, so it wouldn't be so sticky. These things all helped a lot with the playing 'feel'. I made some other changes too - what can I say? I'm a tinkerer. The tuners were perfectly good, but I changed them for some nickel plated Grovers I had; I cut the nut slots down by a bit and rounded off the sharp edges around the nut so my hands don't catch on them; I swapped the wrong-looking chrome wraparound compensated bridge for a repro '50s uncompensated bridge/tail, in nickel, naturally. I'm even going to change the strap buttons for nickel ones. I like it! I tightened the truss rod a bit as it was totally loose, and improved the action (though it was ok as it was). I was really willing to give the P100 a go, because I don't have any other guitars with humbuckers and I didn't want to be swayed by the fact that everyone else has replaced it, but after various experiments I decided I'd swap that out too, for a GFS P90 I had in a kind of frankenstein Supro neck Junior I flung together earlier this year (the neck didn't really work with that body...). The consensus on GFS pickups is they're good for the money, and better than the stock Epiphones, but not as good as the £100+ boutique hand-wound ones (surprise no.2) With the pole pieces slightly down on the bass side, and screwed right down to the top, it does sound pretty much like a brighter dirtier Supro pickup. I was surprised to see the treble bleed (tone) capacitor was was a whopping 0.068uF - I changed it for a '50s 0.05 WIMA ceramic I had, but I might replace it with a smaller value in time. Tinker tinker tinker. The verdict so far is - yes, I like it and it's not going straight back to ebay, but I would still sell it quick if a Supro Belmont came my way cheap. Been playing it every minute I get though, which is a good sign, still need to fine tune the intonation and action.... The acoustic sound is quite twangy, but not as bright as the oldies.