This site is on Facebook now: check it out here. From now on you can follow interesting news there as well, or simply let the world know that you like this site 🙂
I admit I am still rather new in the world of Facebook, and probably do not fully understand all possibilities and options of Facebook yet, but I am sure that good ideas will come after a start has been made (your input is – as always – appreciated!)
Visitors of Mark Knopfler’s latest Get Lucky tour might have wondered about one of Knopfler’s new guitars which he used on stage for the last song each night – Piper to the End. This song features (live and studio) the Electrajet built by Luthier Don Grosh.
Don Grosh started his company Grosh Guitars in 1993, “with the singular goal of producing the world’s finest custom electric guitars and basses” (quote Grosh website). Each guitar is built from high-quality materials and parts by a small team of experienced luthiers under control and direction of Don Grosh himself. The product range covers models with both Fender or Gibson influence.
Mark’s guitar is the Electrajet, a Fenderish design which looks like a blend between a Stratocaster and a Jaguar or a Jazzmaster.
The Electrajet normally has an alder body, although ash or mahogany are optional. Grosh uses only hand-selected (“tap-tone matched”) old-growth tone woods. Unfortunately at the moment there is no information on the details of Mark’s guitar but it does not seem to differ much from the standard configuration except the brown tortoise pickguard instead of the standard one in aged white. The neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard (brazilian rosewood is available at a 400$ extra charge). The tremolo system is a vintage-style Gotoh or Wilkinson Stratocaster bridge, while the jack plate seems to be adopted from the Telecaster.
The pick-ups are two handcrafted P90 – manufactured by Grosh, or optionally by Fralin. The original P90 is a Gibson single coil pick-up which has a warmer and fatter sound than a Fender single coil like in the Stratocaster.
Knopfler’s Electrajet seems to be in aged white. All Grosh guitars feature a hand-rubbed ultrathin nitrocellulose laquer finish which allows the wood to “breathe”.
The Electrajet is priced at $ 2,950 (base price, additional costs for optional features) for the custom version, or at $ 2,000 for a standard version. A detailed list of the differences between both and much more information on the Electrajet can be found on the Grosh website.
I can’t tell whether Mark used the Electrajet for other songs than Piper To the End. Here he played the bridge pick-up. I had the impression it did not went through his Reinhardt amps but through the Tone King Imperial. The sound was sharp (because of the bridge pick-up) with some warm distortion.
Below are some pictures from the recent tour which show Mark with the Electrajet.
Over the last days I was working on a Strat project. I had some parts from a 70ies Japanese Strat copy, which together with an American Fender neck and a loaded pickguard should make a nice part-o-caster.
In the seventies many guitars were finished with polyester. This finish is like a coat of hard plastic (actually it is rather a resin). It is easy to apply because you can sand it without much danger of sanding through. This was Fender’s main reason for changing from nitro to polyester in about 1968. Before, a finish that was sanded through had to go back into the production process and had to be repainted, one of the reasons why it was common to find a finish over some other colour.
As far as sound is concerned, almost everyone agrees that a thin nitro finish that allows the body to vibrate much more than the thick plastic-like polyester allows a better sound with clearer treble. This might surprise those who think that an electric guitar is like a blog of wood and the sound depends only on the pick-ups and not on the acoustic qualities of the wood or other parts. But this is really the case, I can definitely hear how a Strat or any other solid-body guitar sounds from playing it without amplifier.
So it makes sense to remove a polyester finish and replace it with a nitro finish. Many modern guitars are finished with polyurethane by the way, which is a bit similar to polyester but thinner so the sound is not that much affected.
Removing polyester is tricky. The problem is that chemical paint strippers in most cases will not work. There are some types that are said to work more or less but the ones I tried did not. I solved the task twice some yeasr ago by sanding down the finish, but believe me this is nothing that you ever want to do. It takes ages to sand through such a thick plastic coat.
This time I tried something else, something that was recommended in a guitar forum: heat. I used a cheap heat gun and a scraper, and with these tools the finish was off in about 2.5 hours, including the control cavity. I did not heat until the resin bubbles (which others have described) because then I could only remove rather small pieces. With less heat it was possible to move the scraper under the poly coat and to run it between the wood and the poly so that I could remove rather big pieces of the poly coat. The wood was not hurt and looked almost untouched. I can imagine that if a guitar was refinished with poly over an existing nitro finish, it might be possible to restore the original finish this way.
All the poly chips had a weight of about 125 grams (4.4 ounces), and in the case of one of those jobs I did a few years ago it was even 200 grams (7 ounces), so the guitar becomes noticably lighter.
As said, there is definitely a difference, but it depends on the thickness of the poly coat, and it is still a subtle difference. The high end is clearer while the poly sounds more compressed. Some years ago I made a sound sample to document the difference between the poly finish and the bare wood so you can decide for yourself. The sound difference when playing the guitar yourself appears even bigger than on this clip. The sample was recorded with the same strings and the same setup, one time before the job, and again immediately after. What you hear are the harmonics at the 12th fret. You can click into the blue status bar to a/b compare it at different positions.
Should I or shouldn’t I?
The question if the amount of work and the costs are worth the increasement of sound or not cannot be answered generally. First it must be said that refinishing an original Fender – even if it is one of the least desired, heavy 70ies Strats – drastically decreases the value of the guitar! Even those Japanese vintage guitars like the first Squiers, Tokai Springy Sounds, Grecos and so on, will be worth more with the original finish, even if it is poly (the more expensive ones were sometimes nitro anyway).
If you however have a guitar that was refinished anyway, you have not much to lose. If you are not sure if your finish is nitro or poly (polyester or polyurethane) you can find it out with the following trick: take some ordinary paint thinner and apply it to a tiny spot of the finish (e.g. under the pickguard or near the tremolo springs). If it solves the finish (paint is removed or it becomes dull) it is nitro, if not it is poly.
I think almost all of Mark Knopfler’s guitars are nitro, at least his vintage guitars, the Schecters, the Pensas and the MK signatures are. I can’t think of one that might be poly, maybe his blue Fernandes (but maybe not), but I don’t know about some of the odd ones like his Teisco Spectrum, the Eco on “Song for Sonny Liston”, and some more. His two red Fenders from that early Dire Straits days were both refinished but these do not seem to be poly, either.