Gear Wolf is a new column exploring gear and instrument options in today’s marketplace.
I have always had an affinity for vintage instruments. As a kid, I grew up playing my dad’s ‘70s Ovation, and as a teenager my first acoustic guitar was a 1950s Gibson LG-O flat top. There’s nothing quite like a quality guitar that’s been passed through the generations, with every scratch and scuff on its body adding to its character, the wood sweetened by age, the neck smoothed down by the hands of each previous owner. I enjoy the worn feeling of old instruments, the special way they sit in your hands. Playing an instrument with a deep history can energize you and inspire you to make your own music with it. From Willie Nelson’s Martin N-20 named “Trigger” to B.B. King’s Gibson ES-335 “Lucille,” there is a mystique and spirituality that only an old instrument can provide.
Despite the beauty of owning vintage gear, if you’re an active player, running into issues on the road is more likely to happen. Eventually, you end up spending too much money on repairs, and the stress factor of dealing with broken gear gets out of control. All of this has me thinking – is vintage gear really worth the hassle for the modern touring musician? Should we leave our beloved antique guitars, amps, and pedals at home or at the studio? Without a guitar tech, I am left completely on my own to mend the situation when something fails, and most times, it’s not a pretty sight.
From Ernie Ball’s Music Man amps to Silvertone’s reissue of the same model 1478 guitar that I play, to Eastwood Guitars’ reproduction of the Airline “Map” model ’59 (that Jack White and PJ Harvey made famous), nowadays almost all of the major guitar and amp companies have some sort of reissued gear available. There is obviously a group of consumers out there looking for reliable instruments that were built to the same specs as their counterparts from previous eras but will hold up to the touring schedules and daily use of modern musicians.
I will be writing more about these reissues here over the next few months, exploring the build qualities, tonal properties and durability of these new (old) instruments. First, let’s check out a company I’m familiar with, Silvertone.
Before I got the Silvertone 1478 reissue, I played a vintage model from 1968 on the road for several years. When I played the vintage and reissue side by side, I actually enjoyed the sound of the new guitar more. Like I said, I’ve always been a vintage junkie but the single coil pickups on the reissue have a cleaner, crisper, brighter sound, and I love having the Bigsby vibrato, which my old guitar didn’t have.
The body of the reissue is a solid mahogany core capped with maple on the front and back. A nice improvement over the 1960s era guitars is the four bolt neck to body connection, which provides more stability in the neck. The Sears-era guitars had a strange three bolt connecting point which could prove weak in some instances. The C profile neck is a little bit on the thin side, which makes for easier handling compared to my vintage model. The neck has beautiful mother of pearl inlays and features 20 medium nickel silver frets. I had the action of my guitar set up higher for playing slide, a simple adjustment made on the bridge.
There are two pickups on the guitar, one towards the bridge and one closer to the neck. Each pickup has its own volume and tone control—exactly like the original model. There is also a three-way switch which allows you to move between pickups. I typically play the up position with all four tone and volume knobs cranked. This gives me a bass-rich sound that doesn’t sacrifice clarity or precision in my slide playing.
With the heavy touring schedule I keep, I have had a few screws come out on the pick guard and tuner pegs, so it’s important to keep an eye on them if you’re moving around a lot. I actually have taken the neck off the guitar twice when traveling on airlines who charge ludicrous fees for instruments, and the guitar goes back together quite easily. The reissue Silvertone 1478 may not be a collectors dream, but as a working musician I have found it to be totally roadworthy and much more reliable than my vintage gear. I’m also happy to leave my rarer 1960s guitar at home where it’s safe, and take this new guitar on tour, but still have the consistent tone and look that I loved about the original guitar.