Marceau Standard Basse

Marceau Standard Basse

Year: 2007

Made In: France

Specs: Ash body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Marceau J single coils

Controls: Volume, volume, tone

Things have been quiet in these parts, so I’m quite pleased to add the first new addition of the year. I’ve just acquired this one having never heard of this brand previously. It’s a defretted Marceau Standard Basse, No. 2. First impressions are very good. It’s well built, sounds quite lovely, balances and plays very well. The hardware is by Hipshot, CTS and Switchcraft. A little bit of investigation into Marceau instruments and I had no worries about making the purchase.

I was attracted to it by the pickup positions, the neck pickup is 35mm closer to the bridge than a standard Jazz type, with the bridge pickup also 10mm closer to the bridge than standard, and the body is an elegant take on the J shape. It was originally fretted but no has maple inserts nicely in the fret slots, done by Tom Marcaeu himself last year. The nut with a zero fret meant the action was quite high at that end, so I’ve done a little work bringing that down more to my liking and the action is now low along the fretboard with tasteful levels of mwah. I will spend a little bit more time on the zero fret and get it just right, but that will be about as much work as it needs.

As I get to play it more I will update this entry.

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Green Strat

Green Strat

Year: 2016

Made In: Ireland

Specs: Poplar body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: DiMarzio Fred humbucker

Control: Volume

Built as a twin, this guitar is what I need from a gigging guitar boiled down to its functional essence. It’s three-piece hardtail poplar body mated with a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard, in a fetching Sea Foam Green finish. Points of failure are, hopefully, few and far between, with a single DiMarzio Fred humbucker providing the fire. For a while I did consider leaving out the volume control. No frills, basic and to the point.

Strat Building, Part 2

Happily, all the parts required were received in good time. The internet age has made building instruments a breeze, certainly as far as sourcing parts goes. As ever, Warmoth’s neck is really excellent quality.  This one is a standard maple neck with a rosewood fretboard – the old neck being quartersawn maple with an ebony fretboard. I was lucky to find one with a reverse headstock in their pre-built showcase section. I had 6105 frets installed.

I went with Gotoh for the bridge and tuners, they make solid, high quality equipment. The GFS bodies and Warmoth necks went together with minimal fuss with only minor tweaks to get the necks and bridge holes lined up. I did a minor fret level and dress on the new neck, rolled the edges a little, and I used a bar rather than traditional string retainer on both necks. It makes more sense to have a consistent break angle across the nut for all the strings than stick to an old idea for the sake of it.

Once the necks were on and lined up and lightly shimmed, it was straightforward to put the rest together. A single volume control ensured soldering the wiring together wasn’t an onerous task. Both necks have a similar feel and I have set them up as close as possible to each other, from nut to neck relief. Aside from the rosewood fretboard, the only other significant difference was using a DiMarzio Fred in the green strat, my trusty JB from the black strat moved into the yellow one. Both are tuned down to A with 14-68 strings.

Job done and I’m very pleased with both. Time to put them through some live testing!

Strat Building, Part 1

For my current gig with Two Tales of Woe, I’ve been using my black strat so far. We tune down to A and I built this guitar for gigging in B, so it was the logical choice. It has never let me down, I’ve used it at every gig I’ve played since 2009.

It’s a two-guitar band, my first time ever playing with another guitarist, and I’ve no need for the Kahler bridge. Indeed, I’ve started to worry – for the first time ever – about breaking strings and going wildly out of tune as a result, though I’ve no idea why. I love the simplicity and feel of this guitar for live work so I decided to replace the strat body and build a hardtail.

After shopping around I decided to go with an XGP poplar body from GFS. Actually, I decided to build a backup too. Today, this pair arrived, Sea Foam Green and Monaco Yellow. For the money, I’m happy enough. They’re both three-piece bodies and the paintwork is decent enough.

Both will be single humbucker, single volume and I’m looking forward to receiving another reverse headstock 22 fret neck from Warmoth next week.

Ibanez SR800LE

Ibanez SR800LE

Year: 1989

Made In: Japan

Specs: Basswood body, three-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Ibanez Lo-Z P+J pickups, YE262 EQBII preamp

Controls: Volume, blend, bass cut & boost, treble cut & boost,

The SR1300 didn’t really work out for me. I’ve long been a fan of the SR series but the one I always wanted was the SR800LE. This probably goes back to the late 80’s when they were wielded by the likes of Roger Patterson and Tony Choy on some of my all-time favourite albums. I do like the basic 2-band EQ too, though, and there’s just a purity to the design of the SR800 which appeals to me.

Having lusted after one for years, I finally encountered one in good enough condition and made the deal, this one coming from the Fujigen plant in 1989, the year I started playing bass. It’s a different beast to later SRs but, for me at least, it’s closer to what I want than what the SR range has developed into. I do like the new ones but this is the one I was always after.

The biggest difference is the neck. It’s a meatier neck than the too-skinny wenge neck on the mid-90’s SR1300 I had. It’s thin, for sure, but it’s much more rounded. There’s more wood under hand which works for me. I couldn’t really get on with the 1300 neck, proving just too thin for my hands. It’s the kind of neck which doesn’t cause fatigue in your hands. It’s quick and balances well.

I much prefer the red logo’d Lo-Z pickups to the AFRs which came afterwards. Again, it might be because of the sound of the Lo-Z pickups on some of my favourite albums, but this is the sound I like. In fact, it’s not too far away from a Warwick, tonally. There’s a lot of modern growl in there but it’s easily tamed by the simple onboard EQ.

While the outline of the body shape is the same, the contouring is vastly different to latter day models. There’s a pronounced forearm contour and the body is more of a slab than the refined and continually rounded bodies Ibanez make now. It’s very lightweight though, combined with Gotoh tuners and the robust Omni-Adjust bridge, is sturdy enough for any occasion.

It’s hard to believe this is a 26 year old bass. In some ways, the ideas employed on this bass are still far ahead of what other manufacturers are doing in 2015. Then again, this 26 year old design is the one which speaks to me moreso than their contemporary offerings. This is the SR I’ve been after all that time.

Hamer Centaura

Hamer Centaura

Year: 1990

Made In: USA

Specs: Alder body, one-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Seymour Duncan SH4 Humbucker & SSL1 single coil, DiMarzio Fast Track humbucking pickup

Controls: Volume, Tone, 5-way pickup selctor switch, “thick” switch

I definitely have a thing for superstrats. Presented with the opportunity of picking up this Centaura from the golden age of superstrats, I sacrificed a nice USA Fender Strat without blinking an eye. A reversed headstock, Floyd bridge and stock JB humbucker tick all the right boxes for me.

Hamer are somewhat of an overlooked brand both now and when the company actually existed. My first experience of one was when the guitarist in my band in the early 90’s had a really nice Chaparral he picked up second hand. They weren’t the kind of guitar you’d see in the shops over here. I have always kept an eye out since for a good deal on one.

This guitar needed a bit of work, for sure. The guy selling it was a little liberal with the details but there was nothing I couldn’t sort out quickly.  I levelled and dressed the frets and replaced the two bridge posts, bringing this guitar back to the standard it should be at. What a standard it is, too. It’s a large radius fretboard mated to a slim but rounded neck which is very, very comfortable. It feels quite traditional but is deceptively thin. It’s only when you play a more standard neck that you realise how thin it actually is. Initially, the return to pitch wasn’t good but, after replacing the two worn bridge posts, the German Schaller made Floyd Rose bridge is solid as a rock.

You can’t go wrong with a JB, so there are no worries on the tone front. The guitar would have had a pair of SSL1 single coils as stock but the neck pickup was replaced with a DiMarzio Fast Track at some point. This is a fine pickup in its own right, so no concerns there either. There are no clever wiring tricks with the pickup switch, both humbuckers remain in serial mode when individually selected and when combined with the middle single coil. Each position has a unique sound to it and all a very usable.

This guitar also features a “thick” switch, a little mini-toggle which engages a treble bleed circuit which is a nice feature, meaning you can get a fatter tone without changing pickup.

The slightly smaller body is light and comfortable with the output jack on the rear end and strap button moved slightly up from centre to accommodate. The blue colour of paint changes depending on the amount of natural light. It brightens up, much like in the pictures, in daylight and turns almost navy blue under artificial light. There’s a metallic gold layer of paint under the top blue coat and, somehow, they both interact in this unusual way.

All in all this is a very nicely put together guitar, compact in size but rich in quality and versatility. It is a great neck shape, rivalling the feel and comfort of Charvel but with a much more accessible truss rod. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time together in the future.