Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fender Jazzmaster Pickup Covers - the details of the Jazzmaster look

Today I want to talk about a subject near and dear to every Jazzmaster owner's heart: pickup covers! This will hopefully be the definitive post on the subject, and more info than anyone could ever need.

The East Village NYC, circa 1992

Believe it or not, there is a better reason for this blog being named Alphabet City than just a stretch at the figurative, or a play on words. I used to actually live in the East Village, and afterwards I still went to school and then worked in both the East Village and Alphabet City. But this blog is nearly ten years old, if you can believe it, and I've since moved on with my life.  And I've just never renamed it.

I've had this long-term scanning project going on that I'll probably never finish on my own. These are photos I first scanned 5 or 6 years ago now and just found again tonight, but that I actually took when I lived on 1st Avenue in 1992, just after the Tompkins Square Park Riot and just before the Squatter Riots. It's hard to find photos of the area at that time so I thought somebody might enjoy these. The neighborhood back then was a lot different than the New Jersey bar-hopping crowd is used to these days...

There was a lot more creative graffiti at that time - it wasn't just the stupid tagging that exists now. The neighborhood was so ugly in parts that a lot of landlords actually contracted stuff like this, or at least encouraged it to cover the tags.

Dig that 3D effect. That is actually crazy hard to do. I mean, from what I understand.

I used to love this dragon. Whoever painted that had some serious skills with a spray can.

But this is what most of the neighborhood looked like. I am not sure why I took this photo. The most interesting thing to me about it now is that according to the sign in the top right, something apparently cost 25 cents. Nothing costs 25 cents in New York City anymore.

6th Street. I'm sure I was trying to show all the Indian restaurants, which are mostly still there.

You could pretty much count on seeing a couple of cop cars and an ambulance close by any time you stepped out your front door in those days. This was a high crime area. It's hard to overstate that - it was really a whole different way of thinking about life, and I am glad now that I don't have to live that way anymore. This scene was common but I think I took this photo to show a friend somewhere else.

This was one of the common tags around the neighborhood - you'd see this everywhere.

The 9th precinct, as seen at that time in "NYPD Blue." (They called it the 15th, but it was the 9th.)

This was also typical of what most of the neighborhood looked like. This was the middle of the day.

This was a junkyard or something on Avenue A; I am not totally sure because I didn't go there that much even though I only lived one block over. At that time, unless you lived there, you probably didn't have much reason to venture beyond 1st Avenue, and crime got progressively worse the further east you went. I knew a guy who lived on Avenue D and he told me he got chased home pretty much every night - it was almost like a game. I always pictured it like that sped-up scene in "A Christmas Story" where Scut Farkus is chasing Ralphie home. Or like the Keystone Kops, except with bad guys instead of cops.

This was my street - 3rd St. and 1st Ave. (The corner is right behind me here.) Dance Tracks was a pretty cool indie record store that sold (wait for it) dance music.

And that was my building on the left. The Hell's Angels headquarters was more or less across the street and I could watch them out my window. The NYPD hated them and did all they could to shut them down, but they were really good neighbors. They were quiet and kept to themselves, and believe me, nobody messed with anyone on 3rd St. because that was their territory. This was the safest block in the neighborhood. I never even heard so much as a car get broken into.

Maybe I'll post more after I scan some more stuff, or find more scans I've already done and lost (I swear I remember more from this era than this).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vintage project guitar! Teisco? Kawai? Silvertone?

Meet my new project - my first ever vintage guitar. m0j0!  tonz!

I have no idea what it is. Something Japanese and from either the 60's or 70's. I have not been able to find this exact model anywhere. Here's a 1965 Silvertone that's close, with obviously the same pickups, but it's not the same guitar. It's the only one I've seen with these exact pickups, though, and in this configuration. If anybody knows what this really is, please email or comment! (Update: looks like it's probably a Kawai/Teisco. This Apollo shares many of the same features, including headstock shape, "string tree", false nut, neck shape, tremolo and truss rod style.)

It's missing the screws and springs for one pickup, something's not right with the knobs or pots because they don't fit together, and it's not wired.  The switches above are not the problem they appear to be - I have those two white ones that actually are wired to two pickups, but the seller also sourced four vintage black ones that I could use if I wanted to. I kinda like white, though - I may try for two more white ones.

As messed up as it looks now, I've already made some progress on it since last night:

I attached everything to see what's missing (pretty important first step) and I really cleaned it up pretty good. The fretboard was (and really still is) kind of a disaster - all gunked up with caked on dirt and oil, and the frets themselves were actually brown - that's not just the lighting. I cleaned the fretboard really well and polished the frets as much as I could - they're as shiny as they're gonna get now. They're still in pretty bad shape, though, but then I bought this guitar as a piece of wall art that I can play at parties, so I'm not too worried about it.

You'll notice above that it came with a new, custom made pickguard. It actually looked like this before I got it:

I'm convinced that somebody dropped a bowling ball on this thing. One of the original pickups is also smashed (one pickup in the top photo is an exact replacement - it's not the one you think!). The previous owner was good enough to order a new pickguard for it.

I'm debating with myself about trying to go all vintage for the parts I need, or just getting it in playing shape with modern parts.  Leaning toward the latter - this guitar isn't worth anything and likely never will be.  As long as it looks the part and works, that's probably good enough.

My only real challenge is the wiring, but then that's partly why I wanted it - to learn how to really wire an unfamiliar guitar basically from scratch. I have no idea what I'm doing with four separate pickup selector switches like this. And three of the pickups have three wires (huh?) while the fourth has two. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that, but I guess I need to LEARN OR DIE.

I'll post a new update when I'm done!

MINOR UPDATE: I believe with 99% certainty that this guitar is a 1970's Kawai-made Teisco. I found a 2-pickup version of it with otherwise the exact same body, hardware and features in a 1977 JC Penney catalog, with a Teisco badge on the headstock. It also just looks like Teiscos of that era and uses the same pickups and other hardware. So I'm pretty confident in my diagnosis.

24 Hours Plus Before Dawn

This is a B-SIDE. Yikes - I can't wait to hear what the new album sounds like if this wasn't good enough to be on it. This is how I've wanted Scandal to sound for years. I think this might be the first time I've heard a song that sounds like a natural progression from 2009's Doll, which was their first song on a major label.

English lyric translation borrowed from Scandal Heaven - it is just the kind of song it sounds like:
The end of the day that's like peeling off a scab
Is the setting sun hurting my eyes
A crow cries out that I'm a fool
The end of the day that's like peeling off a scab
Is my ideals hurting my eyes
I cry that I'm a fool

Hey, if I think about the reasons for love
I'll become an old lady before long
Hey, the reasons for my tears have swelled up
In the end there's no answer

Good, good, good, goodnight; life goes on
The spring shakes off flowers
But still, life goes on
The summer stands on top of someone's sweat
But even so, even so
I'll live on

The 24 hour plus of the night dawns and I yawn once
With a poker face on, the crow searches for breakfast in the trash
I hope that the blood coming out of my scabs stops
With my game face on, I throw yesterday in the trash

Hey, if you look for the meaning in love
You'll want to immediately run away
I already know the meaning of my tears
The answer to life is in this hand

Good, good, good, goodnight; life goes on
The fall makes hearts wander
I'll live on tomorrow too
The winter depends on warmth
Even if you're overwhelmed and defeated
You'll live on

But even so, even so
I'll live on
Obligatory link to buy this single, because otherwise what am I posting this for?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mini guitars! From F-Toys and Media Factory

I love mini-things. Take anything and make it mini and it's instantly cute, but do that while retaining all the detail of the original and then you've really got something amazing. I really couldn't help but pick up all of these that I saw on my trip to Japan last month - they're just too cool.

These are all limited edition and they only produce certain ones at certain times. Right now they're doing the 1962 Jazzmaster (how could I not buy that?), the 1968 Stratocaster and the 1962 Precision Bass. People seem to snatch these up as soon as a new batch is out there, so this is all they had at any of the stores I went to.

Each one comes with a pamphlet that has info on the exact guitars that served as the inspiration for the model. (All in Japanese, unfortunately, but... pictures!) I'm not sure they're all like this but the ones I have all show an original vintage guitar on the left and a reissue version on the right, so you can play spot-the-differences.

I've since picked up a couple more! I found the Gretsch and the 1954 Strat on Amazon Japan. They have a few others too, but it's not like I can just blow $100 on toys whenever I want. (These are about $20 each, plus shipping.) Yes, the cases do work and they look like a real case inside - I have that exact Jazzmaster case, so it's easy for me to compare. Some of these also come with accessories like bridge covers and back plates. All come with straps. It's probably hard to see, but they even have real strings!

I've decided to eventually collect all of these. Quite a project, especially since it seems difficult to figure out what's already been produced, and by whom - and all are limited. What I do know is that there are two companies producing mini guitar toys - these are from Media Factory, but there's a competing line from F-Toys. The standard scale is 1/8, although there are some anime-based collections that are 1/12 scale for some reason. This is what I know exists - please help me fill in the gaps if you know of any others:

Media Factory:

I may skip the anime stuff, although maybe not because they are real guitars and you can't get some of them otherwise.

I think it'll be fun to try to get all of these!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Aldious - District Zero

One of the cool things about my job is that I get to meet really cool people. Last year we met, shot some video and then got to hang out for a little while with Re:NO, who is now the lead singer of this band, Aldious. She's actually really nice and very friendly. This kind of music was actually probably more my style when I was a little younger, but I still want to promote people that I like.

They're another type of band you don't often see in the United States - the all-female virtuoso metal band.

You can get this CD on Amazon Japan.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Random Picture Dump - Japan 2013 trip report END

After every trip report I do, I end up with a bunch of photos that don't really belong anywhere else but that I think are funny, weird or just have their own little story behind them. I like to share those in one big picture dump at the end, along with any random thoughts I may have had about Japan this time - the country's in a constant state of change, and is now almost unrecognizable from when I first visited in 2000.

Some of these have already appeared individually on my Facebook and/or Twitter - sorry if you're seeing them a second time!

Japan's crazy about corn soup right now. (That's a pretty unlikely combination of words, if you think about it.) Here you can buy it in a vending machine. Of course, I had to.

This is vending machine corn soup. Looks like your basic cup of bile, right? It actually tasted good and hit the spot - it was cold that day.

This is a corn soup lollipop. Yes, I'm serious.

This is what that thing looks like. It is literally frozen corn soup on a stick. It even has real kernels of corn in it. This was... a little weird. Too sweet.

We hardly did any geeky, otaku or "moe" type stuff on this trip (am I outgrowing it? No!), but this @home cafe ad made me nostalgic for last year.

Also, you see the AKB48 billboard below... no, I still did not manage to get tickets. Sad face. I did notice that Japan didn't seem nearly as gaga over them as the last couple years, though. I think Maeda Atsuko leaving had a big effect. I didn't see nearly as many ads or other things on TV (I did see one show they co-hosted, but that's down from about 100 last year). There are a lot of new girl groups that it seems like are being groomed to replace AKB48 as a cultural phenomenon (in the same way AKB48 replaced Morning Musume), and meanwhile, a few of the individual girls are being heavily promoted on their own... without the rest of AKB.  I feel like it's the beginning of the end. Some of the girls are almost 30 now, which is "old" for an idol group. And the new girls they bring in never seem to get as popular, because people always compare them to the original members. So idol groups like them always have a limited shelf life.

Doesn't this look like some sort of practical joke? Or the beginning of a carnival fun house ride? This was difficult to stand on!

This is the first ¥2,000 bill I've ever seen - I didn't know they existed before. It's like a $2 bill in the US - many people in Japan have apparently never seen one, and a lot of people just keep them as collector's items if they get one. I spent mine, because what the hell. Apparently these are more common in Okinawa, because the scene in the art is Okinawan.

What, you think I didn't go to McDonald's while I was there? Believe it or not, I don't post everything I do! I'm pretty sure I went four times, and on one of those trips, I tried out the "TeriTama" - or teriyaki egg burger. I like the regular one (no egg) better.

We had a little trouble figuring out the climate control in our Okinawa hotel, and came back one night to find actual ice on the windows. This is not because it was cold outside, but inside. That's condensation from the warm outside humidity that froze on the glass because we couldn't figure out how to turn off our air conditioner.

This is sake with real gold leaf. Nobody I was with knew this existed before - everyone was taking pictures! (It's cropped so close because this is my in-laws' house.)

We were very impressed with how clean this escalator was. You could eat off of it!

One of the interesting things about Japan is how many different types of jobs there are that we just don't have here. I could write a whole blog post about how their entire culture is geared towards providing full employment, whereas our culture rewards companies that cut workers, which we think of as "efficiency" (and then we wonder why nobody can find a job). But in Japan, there is literally a person whose job it is to stand at the end of escalators and just hold a rag against them as they slide by, thereby cleaning it. They do this on the steps and on the railings, all day. They just move from escalator to escalator, holding that rag in one place while the escalator moves under it.

In the US, we would consider this a waste. In Japan, well, the escalators need to be kept clean, and people need to work. There's no debate about these facts.

This was kind of sad, and weird. This is the remnants of the Grand Prince Akasaka, which was once our favorite hotel (I'm surprised to find that this is the closest thing to a writeup I ever did on it). It was a rotting husk after 2010 until the big earthquake, when it housed evacuees for a while. Now it's under demolition, using a new and very odd process that I had to look up just now - we had no idea what was going on when we took this photo. It looked like it had been converted into a four story office building for some reason.

We went back to Hooters! Both I and my wife actually really like Hooters in Japan. (This was her idea, seriously.) The food is actually good and Rina was cute.

I didn't post about it because it'd basically be redundant, but we actually did a ton more guitar store shopping this time - we literally went to at least 15 different guitar stores in both Shibuya and Ochanomizu, plus a bunch of thrift stores too. I bought these pedals plus the pedal case - these are both rare and really expensive outside of Japan (in the $400 range). I bought them at a thrift store for pretty cheap intending to resell them, but I can't part with either one!

The earthquake-bent tip of Tokyo Tower is finally FIXED!

Incidentally, you'll notice this is the same view we had the last two years. This is still from the Grand Arc Hanzomon, which has been a favorite of ours since the Grand Prince Akasaka closed, in large part because of this view, but also the big rooms and ridiculously low rates they charge. We were a little disappointed in their service this time, though - they seem to be getting very popular and I think the staff was a little overwhelmed when we were there.

Well, that's probably it for this trip. I'm sure I'll be back next year (at the latest), so look forward to that, I guess.

Shuri Castle - Japan 2013 trip report part 13

The weather may have limited our options in Okinawa, but it's kind of obligatory that you go to Shuri Castle (Shuri-jo), so we braved the rain and fog. It actually ended up giving the place kind of a period-movie look - somehow it's easier to pretend you're really in the 1500's when the atmosphere's a bit dank. This castle was the seat of both political and military power in the old Ryukyuan Kingdom, when Okinawa was an independent country.

The path upward. Like most castles in Japan or China, Shurijo is up on one of the highest hills in the area - so you do a lot of climbing.

And the view downward to the surrounding area from inside the castle grounds. You can imagine how the king would have watched over his minions, and kept attackers at bay. It actually is genuinely interesting being in a place like this - it's very easy to put yourselves in the shoes of a castle guard and imagine what he would have been thinking as he saw this same view 500 years ago.

This is the main building, where the king would have lived.

Actually, Shuri-jo was almost totally destroyed during WWII, and this is a rebuilt structure. This doesn't mean as much in Japan as it does in the US - we're very hung up on originality, mostly because our country is so young that we still have a lot of our original historic buildings. Those we've lost have been replaced with strip malls more often than not, making us even more protective of the ones that remain.

But Japan (and Okinawa) are old enough that their historic buildings have often been rebuilt many times over already. By the time our country was born in 1776, this castle had already been here for 400 years, and had burned down and been completely rebuilt at least twice. So what's another rebuild after WWII?

This is one of those little things about Japan that I think most people probably don't realize (including tourists at these types of sites). I don't think any of the historic buildings I've been to in Japan are really more than about 40 years old, yet they remain major tourist attractions because the Japanese don't care about how old a piece of wood is, they care about the history of a place. And there seems to be a defiance about letting anyone destroy that history - they are going to rebuild things exactly as they were, whatever the cost.

This is part of the interior. My wife says you couldn't go inside at all when she came here during high school - probably it hadn't been rebuilt yet! Anyway I believe this is where the king's wife would have sat (I'm not sure if she was actually ranked a "queen"). The king's throne room is a lot more understated - basically just a raised platform in a plain room; not even a chair. All this ornate painting and decoration was associated with femininity.

I love miniatures. This is what the outdoor plaza above would have looked like during the coronation ceremony (at least I think that's what the sign said here).

The weather cleared up enough for me to buy this crazy ice cream. I actually don't remember all these flavors but none of them were what you'd expect by looking at it. I think one of them was persimmon, and I do remember the purple was sweet potato!

Like anyplace else touristy in Japan - including religious sites - there's a little village of souvenir stands and snack bars on the way down the hill, and there's a real restaurant that my wife said was also new.

The hill going down is lined with these trees with creepy above-ground roots!

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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