The other day I got an email from the National Lottery informing me that there was yet another big rollover jackpot to be won. Having watched a few YouTube videos recently from various custom guitar builders, I decided to spec up my own “fantasy” guitar. The one I would have built if my lucky dip ticket delivered the goods. Here’s what I came up with…
First of all, the choice of timber. I’m loving the sound of my mahogany Harley Benton LP copy at the moment, so it would be a mahogany body & neck. The construction would be of the “set neck” type, like a Les Paul, but with improved top fret access – take a look at the Harley Benton SC450+ (my LP copy) and you’ll see the kind of thing I mean.
So, it’s starting to look a lot like a Les Paul, then, right? Well, yes and it would also include such Gibson attributes as a figured maple top on the body (I think “birdseye” maple, rather than the traditional “tiger stripe” bookmatched variety) as well as a rosewood fingerboard.
Where it differs mainly from a Les Paul, though, would be the scale length. Years of being a habitual strat & tele player have instilled in me a preference for the Fender 25.5” scale. On the traditional Gibson 24.75” scale, I just start to feel a little cramped when I go much above the 12th fret.
Right then, a Les Paul with a strat scale length? Well, yes, but now we come to the body shape. It would have to be a tele. There’s just something about this particular outline that I find aesthetically pleasing in a way that no other body shape stirs me. While we’re on the subject of the telecaster, has there ever been a more elegant headstock shape? I think not. Certainly, the “3-a-side” Gibson arrangement would not be on my “ultimate” guitar. Apart from anything else, it is a design flaw… it makes keeping a guitar in tune a nigh-on impossibility due to the angle at which the strings have to travel over the nut.
Now, the neck… I think you’d have to go a long way to find a more comfortable playing experience than the current crop of American Standard Fender guitars, so in terms of neck profile, fingerboard radius, fret wire etc. it would be a carbon copy of an American Standard tele with (of course) 22 frets. One attribute I particularly like in a guitar is that slight “rolled” edge to the fretboard. It just makes everything feel “played in” & comfortable, so that’s on the list too.
Are you picturing it yet? A mahogany, set neck tele with a rosewood fingerboard, improved top fret access & a birdseye maple top. Well, it gets better…
If money isn’t a factor in the spec (and why would it be if I’d scooped the Euromillions?), then I’d go for the uber-expensive option of a “drop top”. If you’re not familiar with this idea, it was invented (I think) by Tom Anderson Guitars in the ‘90s. It basically means that the maple top is formed over the curved top of the mahogany body enabling you to have all the comfort coutours you find on a strat. Expensive & difficult to do, but hey… I’ve won the lottery, remember? It goes without saying that I’d also have the ribcage contour on the back of the guitar too.
Now, how about the hardware? Well, starting at the headstock, let’s have some nice tuners… Grover… Gotoh… Schaller… anything with a nice 18:1 ratio for smooth tuning. I’m not a big fan of locking tuners – if you put your strings on correctly by tying them off properly, you get just as good tuning stability & it’s less to go wrong. They would have to have nice looking buttons though… we’ll come to those later when we talk about the finish.
Moving to the other end of the strings, let’s talk about the bridge. A “hardtail” would be my choice. I’ve never been a big fan of the trem/whammy bar, so it would be a beautifully crafted but simple affair with through-body stringing. A “hardtail” strat bridge, basically. But there would be one twist – it would have to have piezo saddles to allow me to get a pseudo-acoustic sound. I’m not trying to sound like a Martin Dreadnought or Gibson J200, but it would be nice to add a little acoustic-type texture to a mix.
OK, so as we’re talking about the actual sounds the guitar is going to make, let’s have a look at the pickups. It would be a two-pickup instrument, with a big, warm, meaty vintage voiced humbucker in the bridge comparison. Not for me, the screaming “tear-your-face-off” squeally shred-bucker. No, it would have to be something more like a Seymour Duncan 59 – a great “old-school” sounding pickup.
When it comes to the neck position, I have always favoured single coil sounds. Be it Stevie Ray Vaughan or David Gilmour or Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, I just love the lyrical quality you get from the open sounding tones of a neck single coil. Therefore there is only one choice of neck pickup for my lottery win guitar… the venerable P90. It would have to be a noiseless variant on the theme, though… I haven’t checked it out, but I’m sure such a pickup exists.
Finally, on the topic of pickups, they would be controlled by the usual 3-way switch. A “blade” style switch, like a tele, in roughly the same place (mounted, like the pickups, directly into the body – no scratchplate or pickup rings on this instrument). The pickup selector would have one final trick up it’s sleeve, though: in the middle “both pickups” position, it would have to have that Peter Green “out-of-phase” tone you hear on Need Your Love So Bad.
All the pickups, including the piezo system would be controlled by a master volume pot & a “blend” control balancing the output of the magnetic & piezo units. No tone control – in nearly 40 years of playing the guitar, I have never, ever used one. The master volume should also have a treble-bleed capacitor installed so I can go from a ballsy overdriven sound to a clean tone without losing any high frequencies, simply by rolling off the volume.
And finally… the finish: A lovely dark, tobacco sunburst. Coupled with that birdseye maple top it should end up looking reminiscent of the dashboard on an old Jaguar. The body edge will have the “faux-binding” effect that Paul Reed Smith pioneered back in the 1980s. Oh… and those tuning buttons on the machine heads? Well, I’m torn between having mother-of-pearl or maple, to match the body finish… erm… mother of pearl… no, maple… no…mother of pearl… Oh to hell with it, I’ve won the lottery so I’ll have two guitars with a set of each!
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Until next time,
John Robson Guitar Tuition
John Robson… Guitarist