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Inside the Pro Shop with Sean Nicholson: That One Thing That Changes Everything…

I love gear. Though, it is sometimes more of an addiction. We all have thought back to all of the gear we sold or traded off and now wishing we still had it in our tear-soaked hands. I feel a country song coming on… Before I start writing that country song, I would like to talk about some guitars I never owned, but wish I had.

Peter Stroud is an incredible musician from Atlanta. He has played with numerous headliners, such as Sheryl Crow, Don Henley and Sarah McLachlan. Years ago, in the late ’80s, I was browsing the used guitars at Rhythm City. At the time, Peter was working the guitar shops and playing in the bars at night. I was standing right by Peter as he was doing a trade deal. The consumer was trading in a Les Paul Standard for some crazy looking, leopard skin print, Floyd Rose, 6-string, poor excuse of a guitar. I waited until the deal was done, and immediately ask Peter how much they wanted for the LP. I put the guitar on layaway right then. And thanks to my former girlfriend who had a brand new credit card, the guitar was mine the next day. Peter sold me my first Les Paul.

Fast forward 10 years or so, I get a call from a Gibson Artist relations rep wanting me to answer a few set-up questions about an artist’s guitar. Low and behold… it was Peter Stroud on the phone. Peter has ordered a handful of guitars from the Gibson Custom Shop since then.

So, one of my favorite guitars I wished I owned was one we built for Peter. It was a ’57 Les Paul Custom Reissue. The historic LP Customs at the custom shop have mahogany tops. The Faded Cherry color was produced using the old red aniline dye mixed into the wood filler, giving off an almost 3D effect. The hardware was typical except no ABR bridge. Just a wrap-around, two humbuckers and all the mojo you can stand. When I finished the set up on this guitar… it changed me. I was so bloody jealous of Peter getting this guitar.

Pete’s B7 has probably been around the world five or six times. Every once in a while I will see it on TV or surfing the web. And, I will sit back and reflect… Damn, I wanted that freaking guitar!  


Posted: 9/12/2011 4:36:45 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

15 Seconds or Less: Hand Sanding

Even the most routine-looking process on a highly crafted guitar requires a sometimes-unperceivable level of skill. In the latest “15 Seconds or Less” video, we feature a clip of one of our hand sanding craftsmen sanding the finish between coats of nitrocellulose lacquer. 

If you’ve ever run an orbital sander over your “classic” car in high school (a.k.a. the “Bondo® Mobile”), you can attest to a pretty forgiving process with room for error. However, consider that nitrocellulose lacquer is not about forgiving or providing ample room for variation.

In several steps of spraying and sanding, as a guitar travels back and forth between the isolated spray booth and the hand sand area, the sanding process requires a strict vigilance to pressure, stroke length and pattern. Whether high gloss or VOS (exemplified here), the workable surface of lacquer is only microns thick. Too heavy a hand and the current layer is breached, causing potential unevenness in the finish.  Too light and you’re likely to see scuff marks in the final finish process. As you watch the video, you’re seeing a nearly perfect amount of process and skill, made possible by years of training and practice. 

Posted: 9/2/2011 4:22:58 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Inside the Pro Shop with Sean Nicholson: What Catches My Eye

So, I have been at the Custom Shop for 15-plus years. I have seen a lot of guitars. I mean a lot of guitars…

When I walk through the Custom Shop, I see reissues with insane maple tops. I see carved tops with incredibly matched back and sides. But, you know what catches my eye? A Les Paul, double cut, Junior. I know, I know. You’re saying, “Tell me it isn’t so, Sean!” Well, it’s true.        Walk with me here:

My ’97 LP Florentine has an outstanding flame top. I love the guitar. I love gigging with it. I have been gigging all summer. Almost every weekend with a wide range of music genres.  And, something I noticed… I do not switch my pickups. I stay on my bridge pickup all night long, with all three bands. I never move that toggle. Does this make me a sterile player with no color or imagination? I don’t care. I spend most of the gig’s time tap dancing on my pedal board.

 I have a 1955 LP Junior that I occasionally pull out of the closet. I used to play it all the time. But, then the value went up on those vintage treasures. So, being a father of two and home owner, I decided to retire it and hold onto it till the kids get to collage. But… I loved the sound of single pickup P-90. It was fantastic! So, I pulled the single cut Junior out the other night. FANTASTIC! As with the ’54, ’55 LP Juniors, the neck pitch is a very low and the strings come very close to the top of the cover, but it was still FANTASTIC.

Lately, when I walk through the Custom Shop, All I see are the LP Juniors being built. I do not see the quilt tops or the flame ’59s. I see a simple, single pickup, funky-looking double cut Junior. I really do not care of the color. The TV yellow is a timeless color. Last week I was into the faded cherry Junior, because Keith Urban was pictured in Premier Guitar magazine with one. This week I am digging the TV white. The TV white and TV yellow finish process is a bear to produce. The TV finish is a product of filler and color in a particular order to achieve utter color creaminess.

The simplicity of the wraparound tailpiece is just plain sexy. No need for an adjustable bridge.  Just wrap it and go. Some players believe the tone is much more pronounced with a wraparound versus a guitar with a Tune-o-matic and stopbar configuration. The jury is still out, for me. But, I do love the simplicity of a wraparound. Simply FANTASTIC!

Some boutique amplifier builders in the past five years have been going simple. One volume and one tone gives you all the spiritual smack down you could possibly ask for. Why clutter your signal path with tone circuits? An Old Tweed Deluxe through a 2X12 or 4X12 cabinet? It’s “slap your mama” good tone!

Posted: 8/31/2011 3:34:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

15 Seconds or Less: Removing Lacquer from Binding

Among the dozens of craftsmen and women of Gibson Custom, each has their own area of expertise. Within each expertise, there are an incalculable number of individual techniques and tools that develop out of the person whose skill we rely on to craft the world’s finest guitars. 

In today’s blog feature, we bring you a quick look at one example from our scraping department.  In this week’s “15 Seconds or Less” video, Wanda makes removing lacquer from binding look as simple as peeling an apple, when in reality the margin for error is zero. 

Without the decades of training and practice, not to mention the skill, removing micro-thin layers of nitrocellulose lacquer from binding while leaving it on the wood of the guitar would require a machine that the world has yet to invent. In fact, the tolerances are highly dependent on the individual personality of each guitar we make. For that reason, only human skill and patience can provide results within the standards of Gibson Custom. If ever you have the chance to come by and visit us personally, take the time to watch Wanda and her fellow craftsmen patiently remove exactly the right amount of lacquer from our binding using razor blades, shards of metal or whatever each of them has developed into their own personal tool of the trade. It’s literally mesmerizing to see the level of skill.

Posted: 8/17/2011 4:20:28 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Inside the Pro Shop with Sean Nicholson: An Introduction

Hi, my name is Sean Nicholson. I have been working at the Gibson Custom division for 15-plus years. I am the lead man in the Pro Shop. The Pro Shop is a small band of guys that do anything from building carved tops, repairing artist guitars, quality control for overseas distribution, and sometimes, just a shoulder to cry on. They call us the cavalry. When a department needs some extra hands, we are called in.

I am an active musician in Nashville, playing with up to three bands at a time. Mostly playing covers (it is the only music that pays in Nashville). But, frequently get out to the writers nights, around town. I am also an avid pedal and amp builder. Nowadays, it is like building model airplanes, but I get to gig with them.

Playing as much as I do, I know what instruments work for me. I am usually the Les Paul guy in the band. And lately, I switch back and forth with my acoustic. Over the years, like most guitar players, I have had a boatload of gear. Vintage, reissue, boutique, cheap, chic, and not so cool gear. I have found, for myself, simplicity works. I once had a pedal board as big as a car, and carried two heads with matching cabs. But, in Nashville… you just cannot do that. Most bars downtown, you need to park and walk to the bar. Having a smaller rig definitely pays off in that respect. Secondly, I am not getting any younger. Lugging a 4x12 down two blocks is not fun for me anymore. There is not a stage in this city that would let you turn up a 50-watt half stack to a comfortable tone. Even with my Deluxe Reverb (with replaced 2x10 baffle, sounds awesome!) I can only turn up to three… maybe. My pedal board has shrunk to six pedals… OK, sometimes seven pedals; depending on the gig (please don’t judge me). Now my rig is compact, and easy to lug around.

This brings me to my favorite Gibsons for gigging. My acoustic is one of the first Gibson Songwriters with the Ovangkol back and sides. It is a very simple guitar with a great tone. No frilly inlays or diamond-encrusted rosette. Just... simple. The sound is kind of a cross between Rosewood and Mahogany. I always get comments on how good the tone is, probably because I am a rockin’ player… maybe?

My Paul is a guitar that we built in 1997. It is a Les Paul Florentine with Standard, appointments and one F-Hole. Like a Thinline. The tone is very even. Not too woofy, not too light , with just a hint of 335. It is not hard to spot all of the guitar players in the audience. My Les Paul attracts them up to the stage like the pied piper. They see the Gibson logo on the headstock, but cannot fathom the single F-hole. The feeling is like pulling your hot rod into a gas station and everyone checking it out. Though, I can only think that… I drive an Escape…

See you next time.

Posted: 8/17/2011 1:52:00 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Neck Construction – Custom Shop “Shot of the Day”

Gibson Custom’s Thom Fowle discusses the fine art of neck construction with a group of Japanese Dealers.

Posted: 4/14/2010 3:09:14 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Color Preparation – Custom Shop “Shot of the Day”

Below, operators are busy preparing the guitars for color and nitrocellulose lacquer coating material.  Much hand sanding and other artisan work must be done before these legendary instruments are ready for moving on to the Finishing Department.

Posted: 4/12/2010 12:01:49 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hangin’ with Jimmy – Custom Shop “Shot of the Day”

Gibson Custom Operations Manager, Mike McGuire hangin’ out with Jimmy Page in the Gibson Custom break room.

Posted: 3/30/2010 2:26:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Kee Marcello at MusikMESSE – Custom Shop “Shot of the Day”

Kee Marcello rocking out and wowing the crowd on a Gibson Custom Les Paul Axcess Standard at this year’s Frankfurt, Germany Music Trade Show, MusikMESSE.

Posted: 3/29/2010 2:42:39 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Final Prep – Custom Shop “Shot of the Day”

At Gibson Custom, every little detail is reviewed before a product is deemed worthy of being shipped to a customer. Below, Buffing and Final Assembly Supervisor, Ted Brown is putting the final touches on this Les Paul by cleaning and polishing it before it moves on to Shipping.

Posted: 3/26/2010 7:58:53 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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