Friday, November 29, 2013

Indiana Strat Copy

Whammies and surfers and lipsticks, oh my!

Okay, I admit it. The main reason I bought this guitar was because it was dirt cheap. And also because it had a whammy bar. I'd never really worked with a whammy much, and I wanted something cheap and "expendable" to experiment on.

I ended up getting more than I bargained for (as I've found you often do with these inexpensive and/or old guitars). In addition to a dedicated "whammy" guitar, I discovered that the bridge pickup on this guy is perfect for playing old surf-style and psychedelic rock -- even better than my mainstay Ibanez, which can play just about any style or tone I ask it to. But the Ibanez has a humbucker at the bridge; and its two single-coils, although close, just couldn't match the authentic "honk" from this Indiana's bridge single-coil. I discovered this quite by accident: While fooling with the Indiana one night, I started playing "Walk, Don't Run," and my jaw dropped at the sound that came out of the amp. Spot on tone! (I discovered later that it does a pretty darned good imitation of late-60s/early-70s Jerry Garcia as well....)

This ability to play a tone that no other guitar in my arsenal could play immediately kicked the Indiana several notches up the pecking order. It was certainly no longer "expendable." Now it had a real purpose in life. But I was a little disappointed with the other two pickups, which sounded kind of bland. Until one day, an idea was born...

If this is going to be the surf/psychedelic guitar, let's buy a couple of lipstick-tube pickups and replace those two bland single-coils. So that's what I did. (And I managed not to wreck the guitar while changing them out.) They sound pretty good, although I'm not yet sure if they have anything really "unique" to offer. We shall see....

And, yes, the stickers were all on the guitar when I bought it. From the pictures (I bought it online) I thought I might have to refinish it, because they looked pretty bad. But they looked a lot better when I actually saw the guitar in person, and they've since kind of grown on me. So they're there to stay. Just a little more personality on the guitar whose personality continues to evolve.

Indiana Strat Copy - Before
Indiana Strat Copy - Before

Indiana Strat Copy - Before (Close-up)
Indiana Strat Copy - Before (Close-up)

Indiana Strat Copy - After
Indiana Strat Copy - After

Indiana Strat Copy - After (Close-up)
Indiana Strat Copy - After (Close-up)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Applause AE-15 12-string

Space-age technology, indestructible neck

Found this guy on eBay listed as a "project" guitar. I asked the seller what was wrong with it. He said the action was a little high. Huh? That's a project? I learned to play guitar on a cheap Kay acoustic in the '60s... high action don't bother me! (The action on this guitar wasn't really all that high, anyway, until you get up around the 7th, 8th, 9th frets. And who plays a 12-string up there??) Anyway, I think I got the good deal because nobody else bothered to ask what "project" involved.

This is a cool, and rather unique, guitar from the late '70s or early '80s. It is one of Kaman Music's great experiments. (Kaman is the maker of Ovation guitars.) The Applause line, of course, had the standard Ovation rounded "Lyramold" back. But Kaman was always on the cutting edge, and for these new guitars, the entire neck and headstock assembly was redesigned. Rather than a standard, pieced-together wood neck/headstock/fretboard combination, the Applause neck contained a piece of die-cast aluminum combining headstock, fretboard, frets, and central core in a single assembly. The neck itself was made from molding material called Urelite, made up to look and feel like mahogany. I think the only thing wood on the entire guitar is the (laminate) top. Here is an Applause brochure from the period, detailing how the guitar is constructed, with pictures.

Unlike later Applause models, which were manufactured overseas, this one was made at the Kaman/Ovation factory in Connecticut. Also, Applause was a separate company from Ovation at that point. Notice the soundhole sticker does not say "Applause by Ovation," as they do now, but instead simply "Applause - A Kaman Music Product." Kaman did not combine the two companies until later.

Sounds nice. Plays nice (if you stay away from those upper frets...). Has an under-saddle pickup, so you can plug it in, and it sounds pretty good that way, too. About the only negative is that the neck feels very heavy and unbalanced. But if you play it sitting down, you really don't notice. At this writing (July, 2013), I still have this guitar. It's kinda cool.

Here is a little more info on the history of Applause guitars (and these aluminum-neck models in particular), for those who are interested.

Applause AE-15 12-string
Applause AE-15 12-string

Applause AE-15 12-string soundhole label
Applause AE-15 12-string soundhole label

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4, 1976: The Bicentennial of the U.S. My story...

I was living in Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty.

I spent the night of the 4th in a Philadelphia jail, after squinting too closely at the badge number of one of Philly's Finest, who was in the process of dropping a series of f-bombs on a poor foreign tourist couple who barely spoke English and who had the audacity to appear to have been asking the cop for directions. Welcome to Amerika...

The cops, of course, had been ordered by Hizzoner Frank Rizzo to round up all the radicals and hippies, who he said were planning on blowing up City Hall, Independence Hall, or both. Police in riot gear ringed City Hall, which is where the unfortunate foreign couple and myself had our little run-ins with them.

My cellmate for the night was the Chief of Staff for New Jersey Congressman James Florio. I forget the guy's name right now, but I actually still have the business card he gave me around here somewhere. He said they brought him in for walking the wrong way down a one-way street. Yes, you read that correctly... WALKING the wrong way down a one-way street. Again, welcome to Amerika... welcome to Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty....

Of course, in the morning they just turned us both loose. No hearing, no trial, no lawyer, not even any charges. Just pull us in because they didn't like our looks (and to fill up the jails so Hizzoner wouldn't look like a paranoid fool when the riots he'd been predicting for months never happened), whack us with billy clubs a few times, hold us overnight, then turn us loose.

We did file complaints and, so they tell us, got reprimands placed in the cops' records. But I never saw any reprimands. I suspect they were just talking out their you-know-wheres to shut us up. (And, yes, I made a point to MEMORIZE the damned badge number during my ride in the paddy wagon....)

I was not yet 22 at the time, and I remember thinking I'd have something interesting to tell my grandchildren sometime when I got older. They would be studying about the Bicentennial, and I'd say, "Kids, do you know what I did on the Bicentennial?"

Now I have those grandchildren... so now you guys know how Grandpa spent the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. And in Philadelphia, no less.  :-)

So that's my 4th of July story. Just remember that your liberty is far more fragile than you realize. And that the biggest threats to it are generally internal rather than external.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nuclear Anniversary

I was running around all day Thursday, and it wasn't until late in the day that I noticed the date: March 28th. That's a big day for me. The anniversary of the Three Mile Island fiasco.... er, accident. Thirty-four years this year.

I was there. I lived just a couple of miles away from the plant. As a reporter for Harrisburg Magazine, I covered the entire thing, so I got -- literally -- the inside scoop. I went on a tour of the damaged plant, I attended a press conference with President Jimmy Carter, I went to the NRC briefings every day, the works.

I saw the "refugee camp" they set up at HersheyPark Arena for the families with kids who wanted to evacuate but had no place to go. I talked to parents who didn't know whether their kids were going to live or die. I talked to expectant parents who didn't know whether their still-unborn kids were going to live or die... or live as some kind of freakish mutants.

If you weren't there, you probably wouldn't understand that kind of fear. Reporters who covered war zones said that this was scarier than war, because the bullets you knew where they were and where they were coming from. The radiation you couldn't see, you couldn't hear, you couldn't feel.... You just knew it was there, somewhere. Maybe enough to kill you.

Three Mile Island proved to me that there is no way commercial nuclear power can be made safe. Yes, the Navy can do it (mostly) safely, but they throw unlimited billions of dollars at it to make it safe. And when a nuclear ship has a problem, they can take it out of commission until it's fixed. But commercial nuclear plants have limited budgets, have to make a profit, and can't come offline often or for long stretches. It just ain't gonna work if you've got to make a profit.

Plus, even if you could generate the power safely, you still have all that waste... which, if you've forgotten, lasts for 25,000 years and could wipe out the entire planet hundreds of times over....

Yet, after all that, I still have to admit that one good thing actually came out of TMI, which is that I met the girl I was going to fall in love with and marry. If TMI had not happened, we would not have met. And we are still going strong.  :-)

The other positive thing that came from this is that I got my first "big break" as a writer -- an article in The Progressive magazine, a respected national publication, co-written with my editor at the time. If you're interested, you can find the article at the link below. (It was originally published in the summer of 1979. It was posted on this website on another anniversary of TMI, shortly after the Fukushima accident... people never freakin' learn....)