What your gear says about you: Humbucker edition

Posted by Andrew Backover on

I started to wonder how and why I have accumulated the guitar gear that I own and where my tastes might evolve in the future.

I am pretty much an (average) intermediate player. I have made steady gains in the past two years, particularly the past year. I play at home, or with other guitar-playing friends in the neighborhood, or at camp outs. But not in a band and not in front of a serious audience. I play a lot of Stones, Zeppelin, Allmans, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and some Dylan, and the like.

I have never paid more than $1,000 for any guitar I have ever owned, and I have only purchased two guitars brand new from a retail store (that I can recall). I want good, quality, great-playing guitars, however, so I am always looking for a bargain or hidden gem on the used market. With that in mind, consider my two humbucker guitars.

1995 Gibson Les Paul Studio

Classic tone, great build quality; not a lot of money.

First up is a 1995 Gibson Les Paul Studio. It was my first higher-end guitar. I purchased it used at Competition Music, in Fort Worth, Texas, during a Christmas/New Year holiday family visit -- probably at the intersection of 2004 and 2005. I think I paid $749 with a hard-shell case, which I thought was a great deal and still do for a great guitar.

I flew that Les Paul back to New York City with me, where it resided in our apartment in the Flower District on West 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, essentially around the corner from Penn Station, Madison Square Garden and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

What I love about the Les Paul are the gritty and powerful humbuckers and the relatively short scale that makes reaching for chords a bit easier. It has an ornery, yet classic and warm tone and it sounds fantastic through all of my amps but I love to pair it with my Marshall Class 5 and Marshall JTM60-212 amps for Zeppelin songs.

However, I will say that the neck, while slender enough, is nowhere near as comfortable as my Strat and Tele, and the narrower fret space sometimes causes some challenges with cramped finger placement. Still, my keeper Les Paul.

1989 Epiphone Sheraton (Made in Korea)

A well made guitar for the money. So solid!

Sometimes I like to play in Open G. A lot of great Zep songs are in Open G, such as When the Levee Breaks, Traveling Riverside Blues and In My Time of Dying. That means that I really could use a second humbucker-powered guitar, similar in tone to my Les Paul, to keep in Open G. Which brings me to my next guitar, a 1989 Epiphone Sheraton semi-hollowbody, made in Korea. Since I am not really in a position to get a second Les Paul at the moment, I am very glad that I can turn to and count on this Sheraton.

I purchased the Sheraton in a driving rainstorm about 11 years ago from an eclectic little gear and memorabilia shop called Shake Rag Music Store, in Dallas. I purchased it along with another guitar I will talk about later for around $1,100 total, so let's assume the Sheraton comprises about $400 of that.

Regarding the Sheratons, I have found – and I have also heard and read – that late ‘80s Made in Korea Sheratons, are great guitars period, but especially for the money. I have seen this quality in guitars made during that era and in that locaton in other models, such as the Epiphone Emperor. The Korean Sheratons from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s are less money than the Japanese models from the early to mid-‘80s, but, many (many) hundreds of dollars less than what you would expect to spend on a Gibson semi-hollowbody.

You might decide to upgrade the pickups (I didn’t) or electronics (I did), but it is a very well made guitar that plays and feels great. I am more than happy with it, and at least one well-respected Dallas repair tech told me that I should hang onto it. I really wasn’t playing it as much as I should have been but tuning it to Open G gave me a great excuse to have it in the rotation more. And I am really glad it did.

The moral of the story and tale of the tape, if you will: you don't need to spend a lot of money to have great-sounding and great-playing guitars.

Next up: my Teles and Strat.


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