The OSC Toy-Box - The "Guitarsenal" Update 2023
The "OSC Toy-box" articles look at some of the instruments and equipment I use when making my music. My ethos regards equipment is always to avoid getting the latest product, or whatever is fashionable at any given time. Instead, aim to get something that's more of a long term investment and/or a little bit quirky and unusual. Learn this equipment like the back of your hand and really exploit its every potential.
Whatever you do, don't break the bank or get in to debt. You can make very cool music that's distinctive and uniquely your own sound without spending a fortune on the latest hardware or software. As you read these article, please remember, this collection of instruments and equipment has been amassed over the course of 15+ years, and wherever possible, I've avoided paying full retail prices, instead opting for second hand, ex-demo, or in some cases even rescuing from the trash!
It's been a while...
It's been a long time since I've provided an updated on the tools and toys I use in my music making, but there have been some additions and updates at OSC HQ, so let's get into it (warning: it's very guitar-centric 🎸).
Fender Telecaster Update
Gone, is the P90 in the middle position (documented here), as I decided it was overkill. It's now returned to its original, 60s re-issue spec (only difference being that I flipped the control panel, as I prefer it this way around).
I had a Squier Stratocaster (which I rescued from a skip and fixed up). Despite my best efforts, it seemed that every time I wanted to use it, I would lose time remedying a new problem that had arisen (mostly, the frets seemed to all want to remove themselves from the fretboard 🤷🏻♂️).
One day, whilst trying to use my Squier for a commission (and it being a dog to play), I dropped what I was doing, went to my local guitar shop and bought a brand new Stratocaster.
Like my Telecaster, it's Olympic-White and Mexican-made. It has a 2-point tremolo, superb-sounding Alnico-V pickups, and an incredible satin neck, with a gloss fretboard.
There's not a whole lot more to say about it. It's a Strat! If you play the guitar, you know what that means, and you know what it sounds like. It's already proving to be a workhorse, featuring on numerous OSC works in the last 6 months or so (although some aren't yet released at the time of writing this blog).
Taylor 410 Update
A while back I noticed some unpleasant lacquer peel on the back of the neck and headstock of my Taylor 410. I contacted Taylor, with photos and details of how it had been stored. To their credit (keep in mind that this is a 20-year old instrument), they said the fault was with the lacquer and manufacturing process and they offered to repair it free of charge, even though it was out of warranty (they even covered the cost of shipping). I sent it to their repair workshop in the Netherlands, and 8 weeks later it was returned to me as good as new.
Whilst it was there, I asked for a full setup and fret-dress, which incurred a relatively small fee (which I didn't mind paying, considering I was having the neck and headstock re-lacquered free of charge).
With its re-lacquered neck, new nut and bridge, fret-dress, and full setup, it looks, feels and plays like new. However, it has all the depth of tone that twenty-years of aging will give a premium acoustic guitar like this.
It now plays better than it ever has, thanks to the setup, and it's stunning appearance demands me to regularly pick it up and give it a play. I rarely have a use for it on OSC stuff, and it's only featured on two or three OSC tracks over the years. However, I play it a lot for personal enjoyment.
Admira Concerto Classical Guitar
As mentioned recently, in my blog about Happy Place, I needed a nylon string guitar for that commission. I didn't really do any research. I just spent a morning playing every classical guitar under £300 in my local guitar shop. This happened to be my favourite, so I bought it.
It's a pretty little thing, with wooden binding and ovangkol back and sides (which is a tone-wood similar in character to rosewood). As it happens, my Taylor has ovangkol back and sides. I didn't realise this Admira had the same woods as my Taylor, until I looked it up after buying it. Perhaps I have a bit of an unconscious preference for ovangkol 🤷🏻♂️.
It makes a lovely addition to the studio, as it encourages me to explore things in a different way to steel-string guitars, on account of its neck dimensions, nylon strings, and overall tonal characteristics.
It records nicely and more than served it purpose for the Happy Place project. I expect it'll find its way into other projects in the future, most likely some ambient work, and/or if I happen to make more music like Happy Place.
The Baby Taylor Resurrected
This guitar is (was) somewhat bricked! I think the bracing has failed under the bridge, as the top is very bulged (when it should be flat). The bridge is lifting and it's not worth pursuing a repair as it's a battered old thing that isn't worth anything, in monetary terms.
As I'm unable to flatten out the top, I have instead fitted a fairly sizeable neck shim, under the neck joint, to counter the raised bridge. This has changed the neck angle sufficiently that it can be playable again.
It looks awful, and it probably doesn't sound as good as it once did, but it works! I leave it in open tuning and it's a fun thing to noodle on with pretty, open-tuning chord-voicings (you know the kind; sprinkled with seconds, fourths and sixths, etc).
For better quality guitar-repairs and workmanship, let's turn our attention to what I did with my resonator 👇🏼.
The Renewed Resonator
This resonator (which I outlined in a previous article) hung on the wall and gathered dust (like it's doing in this picture). It was good for one thing: slide guitar. The problem is, I'm not particularly bothered about doing that one thing anymore.
Being a budget guitar and assuming it was destined for a life of slide guitar, it was shipped from the factory with an action so high you could drive a bus under it. The frets had also been crudely run-over by a coarse file; they had flat tops (as opposed to crowned) and visible tooling marks (it had also developed some fret-sprout in the last few years). The shoddy frets never bothered me, as I only wanted to play slide guitar. However, as mentioned, I don't really do that anymore.
I wondered if I could make this resonator play nicely in a finger-picking style, and decided to sort out the fret-work and setup. However, this cheap-as-chips resonator fought back and turned out to have more problems than I first realised. The cheap lacquer on the neck had hardened like old plastic and begun to chip and flake off around the heel. One of the "mushrooms" (wooden support pillars on the inside of the guitar) had also come loose and was rolling around inside.
I went all in... I sanded the neck back to bare wood and stained it with a mahogany-red colour.
I "finished" the neck with approximately 10 coats of gunstock oil, with high/fine grade sanding in between coats.
I levelled, polished and crowned the frets, as well as lowered the bridge and nut slots.
I re-glued the "mushroom" in place, cut a hole near the neck and fitted the P90 I had removed from my Telecaster (and fitted the associated volume and tone controls, and jack socket).
I restrung the guitar with resonator-specific, nickel-wound strings, which have a very different, softer tonal quality to the bronze-wound strings I was previously using.
What I've ended up with, is a resonator guitar that has an action (just about) high enough to play slide on (if I want to), but low-enough to comfortably finger-pick without straining or struggling to fret accurately. Importantly, it is nice and easy to play on, for the first time in its life! It also looks considerably better than it used to, and sounds delightful when finger-picked.
I've not yet used it (acoustically) on an OSC release, but you can hear it in this Instagram post (albeit through my phone's microphone). The P90 sounds very cool, and you can hear it in use on this collaboration with Sonic Gap. Since the above-mentioned recordings, I've been keeping the guitar in standard tuning (but down a tone; D, G, C, F, A, D), to compensate for the stiffness/weight of the 16-gauge strings (heavier-gauge strings are necessary to activate the cones' resonance to their fullest). It's a joy to play, extremely expressive, and I hope to be able to incorporate it into some future projects.
Despite all of the above-mentioned guitars, I've got more guitar-related antics to discuss, but they deserve an entire blog-post all to themselves, so I will save that for a future blog.
As always, I hope this Toy-Box article has been of interest and inspiration. Whilst some of the above was the result of investing money in new equipment, I've also used a great deal of spare-parts, research, intuition, and elbow grease, to turn unplayable instruments into great-sounding, inspirational tools for the studio. I encourage you to explore your own instruments in a similar (and safe) way. Watch YouTube tutorials, fix things yourself, tinker with things to hear the changes, experiment with tonal possibilities, etc. It's all incredibly rewarding.
If you have any questions about any of the things in the OSC Toy-Box, don't hesitate to get in touch.