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Full and Narrow Spaced Vintage Gibsons

j45

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I was just admiring our own Bill Morgan's "NGD" 1953 ES-350 thread and wishing that any of the ES-350T's I owned in the past would have had the full spaced pickups like Bill's instead of the cramped, narrow spaced p/u's located at atypical harmonics on the scale which cause (to me) sometimes unfavorable voices when compared to standard spaced Gibsons. Notice the proper wide spacing of Bill's 1953 ES-350's P-90's compared to the ES-350T and Byrdland models that followed just a few years later. This is my biggest complaint with all of the Gibson's that have the pickups placed on a different harmonic point on the scale. Does anyone know what harmonics a neck and bridge p/u are placed at on standard Gibson models and then what harmonics on the scale are the narrow spaced p/u's? To me a good Gibson neck pickup tone should have that flutey, blowing-into-a-Coke-bottle voice and that's what's missing on the narrow spaced models to me. The narrows can be a good sound but they just don't have that same voice. Justr like on a Strat, all three p/u's are basically the same, it's just that slight space between the neck p/u and middle p/u on the Strat that places it over harmonics that give that middle position that "quacking" voice compared to the Fender version of the flutey neck pickup voice. If you reposition the pickup even a 1/4" forward or backwards, you can sometimes land on a harmonic that will give a pretty harsh or nasty tone. I find this has been the case with quite a few vintage narrow spaced Gibson's I've owned (1960 Les Paul Special, Late 50's ES-350T, mid 60's SG Specials, etc). Don't get me wrong, some can sound pretty good but none can have that classic flutey Gibson neck position voice unless it's placed under the proper hatmonic in the scale.

What bums me out even more with the "narrow spacers" is that you really lose that sweet funky and sparkly middle position because the interaction betweeen the neck position harmonics and the bridge pickup's harmonics are not the same as a standard Gibson's spacing. Again, it can sound good just like if you blend the neck and middle pickup on a three p/u guitar but the sound of a"narrow spacer" is a little closer to that voice than the big, sparkly, and funky tone of a neck and bridge position blended on a three p/u guitar. To be honest, the majority of close spaced Gibson's I've owned just did not have an exceptionally musical voice in the neck and middle position when compared to a standard space guitar. A few of them were actually slightly ugly, constipated, and phasey sounding (not in a good way) compared to my standard spaced Gibsons which leads to my upcoming question..

In some cases it's obvious that Gibson just slid the neck pickup down out of necessity because of a poor initial neck joint/pocket design like the '59 LP Special where almost 100% of them have a weak neck joint to the point they eventually separate if not just crack off. I guarantee you that 9 out of 10 '59 Specials have some kind of issue there. So Gibson just moved the pickup away from the neck joint but did they even try to locate a musical harmonic? On some it almost seems they didn't even try.

So my question to the more technical minded guitar geeks here, do all of the "narrow spacers" (LP Special, Byrdland, 350T, SG Special, etc.) have the neck p/u mounted at the same harmonic on the scale, or... are some models different and does it appear that on some no consideration was taken for locating a musical harmonic but rather they just scooted the neck p/u down far enough to make a stable neck joint without any regard for the harmonic voice and the effect it would have in relationship with the bridge p/u when switched to the neck position? Anyway, it's pretty obvious the Gibson's with either a weak neck joint and repositioned p/u or the scale requires a different position have a slightly different voice in the neck amd position when compared the classic Gibson Neck and middle voices. Does anyone know if Gibson uses a standard "secondary" or alternate harmonic positon for the "short spacers" or are they just random depending on the model and also what was most convenient when having to compensate for the weak neck joint designs?


Bill Morgan's 1953 ES-350 will full width spaced pickups:
53350.jpg


1957 Byrdland with narrow spaced pickups
57-byrdlandnn-1.jpg
 
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abalonevintage

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Kerry, great discussion. :salude

I can't answer your question but I can add more commentary. If I had to "guess", I would say The original PU placement was done around the harmonics, and it was change to less sonically acceptable position out of necessity.

In addition to the pickup location in relation to location of the harmonics, the phasing between the pickups changes with their relation.

In the 1990's Seymour Duncan introduced the Little '59 and the JB Jr. They are "full sized sounding" humbuckers in a single coil size. As an experiment we tried to tap a Duncan JB Jr. and kick it out-of-phase. Because the two coils occupy the the width of a single coil Strat pickup, we thought it might be a cool new sound. Instead, the overall output of the pickup dropped to the degree it was completely unusable...not what we expected.

Your criticism of the PU spacing is exactly why PRS came out with the Custom 22. Several pro players voiced their concern that the pickup spacing was wrong on the Custom 24. That forced Paul to rethink his original PRS design.
 

Litcrit

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At first I thought you were talking about the WIDTH of the pickups (like narrow-spaced PAFs on Jazz guitars) but then I woke up and realized you're talking about where the pickups are placed on short-scale guitars (Byrdlands, 350Ts) and weak-neck joint guitars (double-cut specials).
Given the design of those guitars, where else could the pickups go?
 
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gtrfinder

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Every time I think I know something about guitars, it turns out that I don't...
Simultaneously enlightening and frustrating.
 

jhmp

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I agree that the change was out of necessity, some great players have used these narrow spaced models to their advantage, but you are right - the voice is totally different.
The early double cut specials are great guitars! The '59's in particular have a huge neck and perform like monsters. I think the reason a lot have problems is they were inexpensive and abused. If something is more expensive and harder to come by more care is applied. There is definately less wood in the SG and more examples of stress failure in that design - but a whole lot of love for them as well. As we've all experienced with any model, you have to go through the haystack to find superior examples especially in the vintage lineup.
Bill Morgans 350 is quite a peach! Breathtaking...
 

abalonevintage

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Abalone, it's funny that you mention the PRS. I remember reading a Roman Rant about how PRS ruined the line when they shifted to the 22 fret models

I was selling new PRS guitars when the 22 came out. There was a huge uproar about the square neck at the heel. It didn't bother me at all....but some people thought it was the dumbest thing ever! :rofl
 

captaincanada

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Apr 13, 2004
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What about ES-175s, where the neck pickup is further in from the neck? Is that neck shorter, making the placement at the same harmonic as other regular Gibsons?

What about those funky ES-330s and 225s that have just one P-90 in the middle? I've never played or heard those, but I imagine that the tone might be a little weird...
 

j45

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And there is an excellent applet that shows these calculations in real time:

http://www.till.com/articles/PickupResponseDemo/index.html

This is amazing. I guess I was wondering if anyone knew if all "short spaced" Gibsons have the neck p/u located at a similar harmonic or is it random. Some good points have been made, the "short spacers"can be taken advantage of and some good sounds can be gotten, just frustrating for me in the past when I wanted to get that "Gibson" sound, those guitars wouldn't do it, and I had no idea why. I always loved the SG Special but never could find one that had the same funky sparkle in the middle position as other Gibson's and didn't realize wh until maybe 10 rears ago. And if you like the sound itcertainly makes it equally as good, I just find them frustarting. I wonder if someone builds an SG Special with standard Gibson spacing...that would be something I'd love to hear. The 175's someone brought up are most affected in the middle position IMO....never quite as sweet as a full spaced and a little too "middy".

Those single p/u Gibsons with pickup in center like the old single p/u 330's are great sounding guitars. I think Gibson was aware of what they were doing with p/u placement with those. Someone said those '60 and '61 (most 59's had full space that I've owned)LP Specials can sound good if you "go with" the more midrangey sound. Those LP Specials are some of the ones that come to mind when wondering if the pickup move necessary from the weak joint was thought out in terms of what it would do to the guitar's voice. They seem to be the worst to me but I do know some like them. As another member said, I also avoid those for that reason. I would bet the Byrdland was a calculated effort even though the middle position always suffers as compared to what I want or expect to hear from a Gibson. It would be interesting to know what interval the "chime" harmonic is on the "short spacers" compared to the full.
 

Big Al

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Apr 24, 2002
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The 350t is a short scale. The pickups are closer spaced but still have the same relationship to the node points. It is where the 24th fret would be on the neck pickup. The spacing is due to the overall shorter length between bridge and nut. A lot of the tonal difference is due to scale length. Much as a long scale Gibson like a 25 1/2 inch scale L5S sounds much different to a 24 3/4 inch scale like a Les Paul. The 24 and 22 fret PRS have the same scale length and the pickups are in a different relationship.

My issue on the wonderful T models isn't scale length as much as nut width. I wish they had a 1 11/16 width!!! My sausage fingers need some space!
 

j45

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The problem with the 350T, or at least the several I've owned was the close spacing interfered with what I think is the optimum relationship of harmonics between neck and bridge p/u when placed in the middle position....not nearly as sweet as the mid position on a standard spaced model. And while we're talking about it, here are pics of three of my 350T's for "visual aid". I never found the mid positions to be nearly as musical and sweet as my other Gibsons. Didn't stop me from owning them but did prevent them from ever becoming some of my favorites. I just think a Gibson with standard spaced pickups is an all around better balanced guitar when taking all three positions into consideration.

56350w.jpg


58350web.jpg


1959ES350csb.jpg
 

tonar8353

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Oct 16, 2007
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I love reading your observations because they are always highly informative and steeped in accurate tonal wisdom which much of the internet lacks. I do tend to play mine only on the neck pickup, I will use the middle position occasionally, and I hate the bridge pickup by it's self. But...... boy do I love my 350T.
Every time I play it in front of an audience they love it and every guitar player that has played it loves the sound of it. They do struggle over the neck width and scale length but the sound is wonderful. It's not great for all applications because of feedback issues at certain volumes but I think they are one of the best deals on the vintage market.
Tonarportrait.jpg
 

Danny W.

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When I bought my first thinline carved-top, a '60 Byrdland, I found that it had something of a squawky sound. I wasn't sure whether to ascribe it to the thin body, short scale length, close pickups or the name "Byrdland" on the tailpiece. :) It was still a great guitar and I played it a lot until I decided that I was much more comfortable on a longer-scale, wider-neck instrument.

Later on I got some thin bodies with a 25.5" scale and eliminated the body depth from the equation, since they didn't squawk. That still left scale length, pickup spacing and the Byrdland name. I eventually eliminated the latter with a long-scale Byrdland that, not too amazingly, sounded very similar to my thin L-5's.

Here's a photo of two squawkless thinline Gibsons, long-scale Byrdland on the left, L-5 CT on right:

9b3c233f.jpg


Since I much prefer the longer scale, finding the cause of the squawk problem no longer intrigues me.

As for neck pickup location, when I had a guitar with a moveable pickup, I seem to have left it in this location:

L-4CDeArmond_zpsabefff22.jpg


The guitar is a 1959 L-4C. (Sorry for the poor photo--it's a 47-year-old print from a Polaroid Swinger and has seen better days).

As you can tell, I really have nothing useful to add to this thread--just felt like posting a few photos.

Danny W.
 

j45

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My statement about the 175 was a bit irresponsible and I should have kept my comments on topic with the guitars that I was asking about in original post as to not get myself confused. Keeping somewhere in the numbers between 180 and a little more than 200 vintage guitars at home at all times over the past couple of decades was a burden in more than one aspect.....confusing details is one for sure. I found that coupling the top with a soundpost helped on 175's when wolf tones and phasing caused dead notes... another topic altogether but drifted between the two. I also wonder what luthiers are listening for when they "tap tune" spuce tops for archtops and how ofen the inability to do so with laminated tops significantly affects a guitar. My experience with laminate fully hollow guitars is that they vary most widely in consistency of voice. Quite a few have dead spots as well as wolf tones compared to spruce top and especially compared to semi hollow bodies. Violin and cello builders use a soundpost to "tune" the top and back so the instrument has favorable resonant frequencies. The luthier that fit a soundpost in my 175 works with violins and showed me how the random tuning of the pressed plywood tops pose a problem when compared to the "tap tuned" spruce tops. No two laminate top guitars are the same when it comes to the relative pitches between top and back... it's like have drum heads that are tuned in random fashom with no way to correct if you have cancellation. I post some pics of the process and had pone guitar than really came alive when top and back were couples and tuned. One particular 330 had terrible wolf tones and dead spots as well as a 1959 ES-175. Both responded to the violin type tuning and sounded "sweeter" when plugged in. I was confusing guitars when i mistakenly mentioned the 175 while discussing the "short specers". I never got the '62 330 to sound as sweet as my '59 which just happen to have extremely favorable resonances from the factorybut the '62 improved quite a bit and especially got rid of those wolf tones that sound like a ghost note slightly detuned and phasey from the note you are playing in certain spots. This can be fixed with a sound post and a violin/cello builder who knows how to find the proper location friction fit the post with just enough pressure to "tune" the top to the back in a way that rids the guitar of phasing issues..

The original "Varitone" was an adjustable screw that allowed the owner to tune his top to taste until Gibson had to remove the accessory due to wararnty issues from over enthusiatic owners over-tightening. We've discussed this as well. I'm still wondering if the move Gibson made due to neck joint failures on '59 LP Specials was a harmoncally calculated move or only to get the pickup rout out of the tendon to increase strength. each "short space" LP Special i've owned had ands awkward voice in neck and middle position and wondering if that is the cause. Also, do SG Specials have the standard harmonic relationship between neck pickup and bridge pickup? This is another guitar that I never could warm to due to the middle position not sounding like what I expect from a Gibson.
 

c_wester

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This is totally of topic sorry.

But J45...

Of the vintage SGs Les Pauls and ES you have had.
Did you ever have one that was totally without deadspots/wolftones.

I suspect the ES and SG most if not all of them had some wolfnotes/phase cancelleation??
 

j45

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But J45...



.....I suspect the ES and SG most if not all of them had some wolfnotes/phase cancelleation??




No, for example out of several ES-330's one in particular had almost perfect balance everywhere and every note "sank" deep into the wood with superb give and take. It was like having power assist steering on a car compared to crude manual. Let me add that some of these are things I noticed when geeking out with other enthusiasts,builders, and luthiers doing shootoutsfor research, or for me to upgrade or make decisions on which to keep for my collection. In my "other life" I play guitar for a living and for that I find just about any decent guitar will do in a pinch. But, when weighing one against another searching for the best example, some models in particular had less inconsistency and ease of getting a "great example"...... more inconsistent than others. For example, I don't think I ever had a pre-1964 335, 345, or 355 that wasn't a very good guitar. For me, the full hollow bodies with laminate tops and narrow spaced p/u models were most inconsistent. When it came to 330's, 225's, and 175's, I did have some excellent examples but found that about half were sub-par in the big picture of vintage Gibsons. Then every now and then...not that often but it did happen... one would come along that was just plain raunchy. Lots of dead spots on the fretboard and the ove all thing fought back like the body had a resonant frequency of its own that would clash against the fundamental voice. Kind of like when you may be singing into a mic and the acoustics of the room are creating a pitch just slightly off from where you are with a waivering ghost note. Very offputting.

This is another reason I had a hard time justifying the keeping of my collection when prices went so high. The idea that seemed to be going around that all vintage guitars are really great just because they are old was pretty misguided. Most of them are good guitars but pretty average within that classification and those really special guitars where everything lines up just right to create the "magic" that everyone seemed to be chasing after in vintage are few and far between. A very small percentage are truly "special" IMO. I think there is a lot of truth to the "cork sniffing" stereotype that somehow is presented as a stigma. There are different ways to looking at and appreciating everything from wine to guitars. I don't see anything wrong with being a "connoisseur" whether it's appreciating the small nuances of fine wines or the most delicate minutia of what makes a fine musical instrument. Outside of my work where a balance of utility vs. quality is important I still love to spend time geeking out over the finer nuances of guitars. I think it's important to understand that making music with a guitar and appreciating fine instruments are two completely different things and one does not necessarily have any bearing on the other.
 
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