What happened was, ever since the Gibson BB King Lucille landed, I've been kicking myself for not checking out an ES-333 first. I finally made a trip in to town just to "feeeel" one...
I tried out a faded brown one at my favorite local music store, and thought immediately that, hey, THAT'S neck I'd been looking for. Geez, I gotta get me one of these...
To keep the wife involved, I let her pick the color - so, we have ANOTHER Blondie!
Money has changed hands, Lucille is now Mychael Moaze's "The KING!"
So, after just a quick once-over at the shop (I actually got to open the Gibson shipping box), we pay for it and it's, like, Come To Papa! But, once I get it home, right outta da box, get this: there's a screw missing on the bridge pickup mounting ring. So much for Gibson's eagle-eyed QC...
First thing, I went after the trussrod and bridge height. I had to notch out one of the saddles to get proper "arc"... While I had the strings off (changing from the factory .010's to my regular Ernie Ball .009's) I did a required MAJOR fret level - these things just are NOT setup well - and "down ramp" of the highest three or four frets - I've been doing the down-ramp thing on almost everything I touch, nowadays... Then, recut the nut - but this one was VERY CLOSE there, I guess I couldn't call my work much more than a slight "personalization" of it. So, the action was pretty close to where I want it, after an hour or so.
For vanity's sake, I swapped out the black knobs and mounting rings for gold speed knobs and cream rings. While I had the pups out to swap the rings, I opened 'em up and soldered in coil-shunt leads.
It came loaded stock with Gibson's 490R & 498T humbuckers, and this is the same set that Gibson has used in many Les Paul models. They weren't too shabby, tone-wise (especially now that I've added shunt leads).
Fit and finish of this axe right out of the box was just OK, EXCEPT for the missing screw and rout for the control cavity - and, geez, that's horrible! To make the poor routing job worse, someone went around the edge with, like, a black magic-marker or something, to try and make the fact that the plastic cover is about 1/16" too small all the way around less visible - hey, pal, it didn't work! Vanity at work again, I painted the entire "shelf" (or "lip") of the control cavity opening flat black - now, THAT actually works to make it look better... IMHO, the fit and finish of the MIK (Epi) stuff I've seen is MUCH BETTER than this Memphis stuff.
Oh well, I guess this WAS one of their low-end models - ya, MSRP at $1600!!!
But, don't get me wrong - this was an axe I'd been jonesin' for - it'll probably be at the top of the playing rotation for a long time to come. I'm very glad I finally picked one up (before they were discontinued!). It has that solid Gibson feel and sound, and of course, I love the access panel on the back - my gateway to mischief!
After a few months, I swapped the bridge pup out for a zebra Seymour Duncan JB and put a S-D Jazz in the neck spot. Other hardware I've replaced would include a TonePros bridge and stop-tailpiece, and I now have a set of Grover Rotomatic tuners on it.
Now, I know you've been waiting for this part...
The axe now has FOUR push/pulls: the neck vol p/p is the coil-shunt for both pups (which may be over-ridden by a pup's coils-parallel p/p); the bridge volume does the series/out of phase option; and the tone p/ps for each pup does coils-parallel (over-rides the shunt for that pickup). Lotsa nice tones with this axe!
Take a peek at the wiring scheme... and here's the tone chart as an MS Word doc.
Wuzzat, twenty pup combos? That'll do, for a little tonal variety! OK, to be fair, the first ten tones on the chart are really just subtle variations on a theme...
When I pulled this one out for our annual reunion, PalmJalm '04, and wouldn't ya know it, it was the only axe I played - ALL DAY LONG! Never picked up a Strat, the Gretsch, or even the Rickenbacker (no Beatles set that year). That's saying something!
For my year of gigging again, this was the main axe. Here I am ripping it up on the big outdoor stage at the Viejas Casino:
This guitar has become pretty much my "standard" for tone and playablity. So, I just HAD to do this...
Whaddaya think - too much?
Whaddaya think - too much?
Some notes on how I set up my humbucking pickups:
As with all the Gibbie humbuckers I've modified, if you coil-shunt to ground (the most common option), you leave the slug coil playing and shunt (cut out) the screw coil (same with Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio). To keep the screw coil active you have to shunt to HOT, not GROUND. My latest notion on this idea is to shunt one pickup to ground and one to hot, so that when you play them together in coil-shunt, you still have a noise-cancelling pair.
Taking that idea one step further, I rotate the bridge pickup 180 degrees so that its slug coil is closest to the bridge. It's a bit tough to see, but look closely at the pictures of my ES-333 and my Les Paul Studio. With the pups both oriented so that the both of the slug coils are on the "bridge" side, and both of the screw coils are closest to the neck, I wire the coil-shunt switch to shunt the bridge pup's slug coil (now closest to the bridge), and the neck pup to shunt the screw coil. This leaves the "inside" coils playing, which are now a noise-cancelling pair, AND are the two coils that will "quack" the best, IMHO.
And then, I do my other lastest tweak: un-screw UP the bridge pup's polepieces so that they stick out of the top of the bobbin a bit - 1/8" to 3/16" or so. You may have to lower the pickup for the raised polepieces to clear the strings. Now, do the opposite to the neck pup - screw the polepices IN, to below the top of the bobbin, by about the same amount (if possible).
In my imaginary world, that makes the bridge pup's screw coil hotter than the slug coil (it actually does), and vice-verse for the neck pup (though not quite as pronounced). So what...?
So, now we've shunted the weaker coil in each pickup, and are playing the stronger coil - to my ear, the coil-shunt sound doesn't have the dramatic drop in gain from full-humbucker/series mode.
AND, a second beneficial side-effect is, if we really have managed to "unbalance" the coils with this adjustment, the pups will be a tad brighter and (to my ear) sweeter. The unbalanced coils idea is presumed to have been ONE of the factors that made the original PAFs sound so great.
It goes without saying that I have configured the Seymour Duncan replacements in this axe as prescribed above. The original Gibson pickups from this guitar are now loaded in a Les Paul Studio I rebuilt in '06, where I like them very much. And yes, they are mounted and tweaked in the same manner.
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