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    Some time ago I had the opportunity to play on a real “Burst”, a 1960 Les Paul Standard. You will probably know that Les Paul Standards between 1958 and 1960 are something like the ‘Holy Grai’l for guitar players and collectors, with prices ranging over $ 200,000. (And yes, Mark Knopfler has even two of these!) As you might guess from the surrounding in the video, the guitar belongs to the same collector as Mark Knopfler’s sunburst Schecter Strat, or the blue 1961 Stratocaster I played in one of the last videos. Only about 1,700 of these were made (possibly 434 in 1958, 643 in 1959, and 635 in 1960). After that the model was discontinued because it failed commercially, as it was too conventional looking for Rock’n’Roll players who prefered Fender solid-body guitars, and not conventional enough for jazz players who prefered Gibson arch top guitars. It was some years later when players like Eric Clapton or Peter Green made the model famous and sought-after again when they played these guitars and showed them on their albums (e.g. a probably 1960 Les Paul on the Bluesbrakers album). So these Les Paul became something like the first vintage guitars. Gibson made Les Pauls again starting in 1968 but these had some different specs than the old sunburst Standards.

    Early 1960 Les Pauls are almost identical to the 1959 model, however, later in 1960 the neck became flatter, and the red colour that is known to fade when exposed to sunlight was replaced with a more resistant and darker red dye.

    What does it sound like?

    This is probably the most important question everyone asks himself. Is such a guitar really worth all the money? The answer is surely “no” as it costs more than 50 times as much as a good replica with original features, and the sound cannot be 50 times better. Still, those old guitars have a magic that the new ones don’t have, and the sound also might have some details thatmake it different from newer ones (apart from the simple fact that each guitar is an individual piece and sounds different than any other), so the question is rtaher how much you think these little details are worth for you. And it is all a matter of taste so you might like some new ones really better.

    I recorded some minutes of video, and I recorded some sound samples directly into my recorder so that I can compare the guitar to any other later.

    This first video has the directly recorded sound which I reamped with a software amp.

    In the second video the guitar was played over a Tone King Metropolitan amp and was recorded with the camera mic. Obviously these do not like the volume typically produced by a guitar amp and thus heavily compress dynamics or cause distortion.

    And here I finally compared it to my own 1974 Les Paul Custom. I recorded my guitar into the same recorder, and reamped it with the same software amp, all settings 100% identical. The Custom has an ebony fingerboard instead one of Brazilian rosewood, and some other construction details are different so it will never sound the same. My guitar is equipped with Haeussel 1959 pickups so you can listen yourself to how these compare to the original PAF pickups.

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    Those beautiful 1958/59 Les Paul Standards are probably the holy grail not only for Mark Knopfler fans – Mark owns a 1958 and a 1959 and plays them on all his tours – but for all guitar players. Unfortunately the prices for these are in the region you’d normally pay for a house, so most of us will hardly ever get the chance to touch one of these. They came with those legendary original PAF humbucker pickups. Germany’s top pickup winder Harry Häussel has tried to replicate all tonal nuances of these with his 1959 model. Here is what the manufacturer himself says about his pickup:

    The “Häussel-1959″ model gives you that legendary old PAF sound, still sought-after by professionals the world over. Manufactured with original wire, original-sized magnets and our optimally-matched winding, this pickup will captivate you with its silky, ‘woody-warm’ sound – on chord work, the sound of each string is clearly defined, while the overall sound is breezy and slightly nasal, but never muddy. The extremely agreeable, sweet highs make each tone a desirable delicacy for sound gourmets, while solos become a symphony of soaring sonic satisfaction. The 1959 model ‘smacks’ beautifully each time you strike the strings, gliding effortlessly into harmonic overtones and feedback. This is a pickup with a powerful ‘hook’ -and perfect if you want to get that truly authentic PAF sound.

    Of course I don’t own a 1958 or 59 Les Paul, just an ‘ordinary’ 1974 Les Paul Custom . With its cherry sunburst finish it looks nice, especially after I replaced the black plastic parts to cream ones, and I also like the sound.  I was really satisfied with the original pickups – and many commentators on my youtube clips on which I played this guitar agreed with me. Nevertheless, I recently installed the Häussel pickups to hear for myself what all the talk about the silky, woody tone of the Häussel 1959 is about.

    I recorded a youtube video when I plugged in the guitar directly after putting in the pickups, so you will really witness my first impression of these pickups. Check out why I will leave them in my guitar and why I cannot go on with the original Gibson pickups anymore.

    The Häussels are not cheap but if you like me become addictive of this warm but transparent sound, you can get them for a top price here in my online shop.

     

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    This week I had a nice guitar here – a Gibson Chet Atkins CEC. The CE stands for classical electric, in other words a solid-body guitar with nylon strings and a piezo pickup, while the last C stands for conventional neck width (2″/5.1 cm  at the nut, a CE model with a neck width of 1.825″ / 4.6 cm was also available).

    This guitar model was developed by Chet Atkins who approached Gibson with his prototype. The model appeared in Gibson’s catalogue in 1982, right at the time when Dire Straits recorded the Love over Gold album. This album features two songs – Private Investigations and the title track – on which a classical (=nylon-strung) guitar was used. Note that on the album it was NOT the Gibson Chet Atkins, however, Mark  Knopfler started to play it on stage for the Love over gold tour, right after recording the album. You can hear it e.g. on the Alchemy live album where it was used not only on Private Investigations and Love over Gold but also in the outro of Romeo&Juliet. Knopfler (probably) also used it on many sessions with other artists in the early 80ies,  e.g. with Phil Everly or Paul Brady.

    Specs

    The body is not all solid mahogany but features sound chambers to reduce weight and to make the sound more acoustic. The top is solid spruce or cedar. The neck is mahogany with a neck joint location at the 12th fret – like a classical guitar. The scale is 25 1/2″, the fingerboard and the bridge are from ebony.

    The pickup system consists of six individual piezos that are installed under the bridge. The pickup signal is preamplified in the control cavity (that consequently houses a 9V battery), a volume control and the (active) tone control is located on the rim of the guitar (later models have a bass and treble control). A really useful feature are six trim pots inside the control cavity that allow to adjust the volume for each string individually so that you can equalize volume differences easily.

    The guitar here i a CEC with the wider nut, I suspect – it is not easy to see on pictures – that Mark Knopfler had the CE model with the more narrow neck. For me the wide neck is nothing I am used to, nevertheless the guitar is not really difficult to play.

    Sound

    The Gibson Chet Atkins produces a faithful classical guitar sound, and can be played even at high volume without the risk of feedback. Of course a ‘real’ classical guitar might produce the typical sound even better – for this reason Mark Knopfler probably replaced the Gibson with a Ramirez on the On Every Street tour in 1991/2.

    One problem of many classical guitars – and also of the example shown here – is intonation. As the bridge does not have individually adjustable saddles like on an elctric guitar, and neither  a ‘compensated’ bridge design with different lenths for the different strings, the guitar never perfectly intonates all notes. If you tune the open strings, the bass note on e.g. the low e string is out of tune at the higher frets, and there is almost nothing you can do against it.

    Here is a video I recorded with this guitar (if video jumps make sure slide show above is not running):

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    With this article,  I want to feature my good old acoustic guitar: a Gibson MK-81 from 1976.

    I got this guitar more than 20 years ago. I was looking for an acoustic guitar and was trying out all the guitars in that shop. After a while the shop owner brought one more from some room in the back,  saying I should try out this one, it was special. This was the Gibson MK-81, and in fact it sounded different from all the other guitars, it sounded more ‘expensive’ in a way, with a warm bass and brilliant treble, like a great HIFI speaker compared with a cheap one. He told me that this guitar had been damaged damage and was not professionally repaired (the bridge had solved from the top and had been glued back to its position, additionally fixed with two screws), and that it normally costs more than 3 times the money I wanted to spend.
    Well, we agreed on a deal (I had to part from a nice Tokai Telecaster copy I had back then) and I took this guitar home with me. The damage could be repaired professionally for about 100,- € by the way.

    The MK series

    I had never heard about these guitars before, and there was not much information available. Remember, this was before the Internet, so you had to look through guitar books at the shop when searching for a particular information. Today it is so much easier. The story behind the Mark series seems to be like this:

    In May of `73 Gibson began the Mark story by contacting Dr. Adrian Houtsma, Professor of Acoustic Physics at MIT, to confirm some research Gibson itself had initiated. Receiving a favorable review, Gibson then went to Dr. Kasha, who was at the time, a chemical physicist working as Director of the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University. Combining the findings from Gibson` R&D department and Drs. Houtsma and Kasha, the company finally landed on the doorstep of well known luthier Richard Schneider, who was charged with making the scientific information practical, designing a guitar that fit with Gibson`s aesthetics and capable of being put into production. The Mark series was born…

    The Mark series was no commercial success, rather the contrary as it seems. It turned out that science alone was not capable of building perfect guitars made of wood, a material that is unpredictable  because each piece of wood has individual features. After only 3 or 4 years Gibson dropped the Mark series again.

    But these guitars were not really bad, and I heard from many owners how much they love their MK’s. The complete series consisted of 5 models, the MK 35, the MK 53, the MK 72, the MK 81, and the MK 99 (the higher the model number, the better the materials, and the higher the price).

    Here is a page from a Gibson catalogue from that time that shows the different features of the different models:

    The MK-81

    Both the rim and back of my MK-81 are made of solid (!) rosewood (possibly Brazilian, but not sure), the top is solid spruce. The neck is curly maple, the fingerboard is ebony with mother-of-pearl inlays. There are some fancy details that make sure that this was the top-model of the production range (in fact, the MK-99 seems to be custom-made by luthier Richard Schneider himself only) like  the gold plated hardware or the black and red bindings.

    It is a special guitar in fact. It is very deep, and the body and headstock shape looks somewhat unusual. The sound is warm and bright, a bit bell-like. With the heavy Gibson jumbo frets and the “fast” neck shape it plays almost like an electric.

    Pictures of my MK 81

    The soundhole ring looks like wood but is plastic

    Note the red bindings

    Ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl block inlays

    The sides and the back are solid rosewood (probably Brazilian)

    Youtube videos

    Two of my latest youtube videos feature this guitar.

    If you want the full story and more details of the Mark series, see this article in vintage guitar magazine.

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    Mark Knopfler owns two beautiful vintage Gibson acoustic guitars which he seems to play a lot on his studio albums these days. One is a 1953 Gibson Southerner Jumbo, the other a 1938 Gibson Advanced Jumbo which I would like to feature in this article.

    The 1953 Gibson Southerner Jumbo is the acoustic guitar in the centre, the 1938 Advanced Jumbo the one on the right side

    The 1953 Gibson Southerner Jumbo is the acoustic guitar in the centre, the 1938 Advanced Jumbo is the one on the right side (picture courtesy Guy Fletcher)

    Both have a sunburst finish and thus look a bit similar at first glance. Besides the different body shape, the different fingerboard inlays tell you the model when you see Knopfler playing one of these on any pictures or videos. While the 1953 has double parallelogram pearl fingerboard inlays, the 1938 has the so-called diamond and arrowhead inlays.

    Left: parallelogram inlays on the 1953 Southerner Jumbo, diamond and arrowhead inlays on the 1938 Advanced (right)

    Left: parallelogram inlays on the 1953 Southerner Jumbo, diamond and arrowhead inlays on the 1938 Advanced (right)

    The Advanced Jumbo was only produced this way from 1935 to 1940 (but was reintroduced in 1990) , and only about 300 of these were made. It was the top of Gibson’s acoustic guitar line back then. The neck has a slimmer shape than on some other Gibson models. Maybe for this reason Knopfler prefers it for playing licks and different stuff on it, and possibly rather uses the 1953 for strumming.

    The back and sides are of rosewood, while the neck is mahogany. The Advanced Jumbo was only available in sunburst, note that guitars from before 1938 had less yellow than the 1938 on the following pictures (courtesy provide.net/~cfh/).

    gibson-advanced-jumbo

    If you want to learn more about all special features and specs of this guitar, I recommend this great site.

    I played a few old Gibsons but not an Advanced Jumbo, but all I played sounded great, sometimes even “too good to be true” (like an 1958 LG-1, which I could not afford at a price of about 1,400 € in the early 90ies, wish I had sold whatever back then and would own the best acoustic I heard now). So I can imagine that Knopfler’s Advanced Jumbo is a great sounding guitar, something way beyond the stuff we normal mortals come along.

    You can watch and hear Knopfler playing it on this BBC video:

    Or watch this guy on youtube playing another 1938 AJ:

    I am still dreaming of buying one of these on the next flea market for a few bucks (dream on, Ingo…)

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