Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment- Part 6 Telecaster Number Two

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 7:39 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo - If you have read these posts up to now, you will have gotten some understanding of the minds of rural Americans, who may be nearly penniless, yet have large amounts of guns and musical instruments. They don't find this extravagant at all. They say these are necessities and are part of what makes life worth living. That and "the good Lord." Guns, guitars and God (and pickup trucks, and for many, beer).

Tele2 aThis post is about what Doc calls Tele Number Two. This one is a 1971 Fender Telecaster that he has had for a long time. It has been heavily modded. In fact to a purist, it might be considered heavily ruined. Doc mentioned taking it to a guitar shop down in Virginia, and the guitar tech looked it over, and pronounced that while it lost some value due to it not being all original, that the modifications were old enough that some of them were considered vintage!

This guitar was modded more than thirty years ago.

Doc: This here Tele was what we called "hopped up" back then. We didn't say modded. It weren't rare back then, it was just an old guitar an' it needed to sound better. It is kind of rare, too, because it's got a maple plug up on the neck where the adjusting rod goes in. Most of them has like walnut. Mine don't.

Tondeleo: What is it with Americans that even ones like you, without much money, have this mad drive to customise EVERYTHING? Can't you leave well enough alone?

Doc: Well, we like to make things personal, Tondy. The factories make things for just average, like not for anyone special. So when you get it, whether it's a guitar or a pickup truck or bike [motorcycle], it's up to YOU to make it the way YOU want it for what YOU plan on doin' with it.

You might jack your truck up, for mud boggin' or lower it down for a low rider. Or custom paint it so it stands out. You gotta put rims on it and all that.

For your guitar, it's the same thing. Everyone is a individual and has to make it so it is just right for what you want to do with it, the kind of music you play and the sound you want. Out of the box, it's not really for anybody. Just everybody, if you know what I mean.

Plus, if you're poor, you might just want to have SOMETHING that is special just to YOU. You want to stand out and be different. It is kind of like showmanship but in real life.

Tele2 c On this Tele, I think it was about 1978 or 79 when we did it. We put on a Kahler whammy bar setup. It's got pulleys and springs and is for doing what was called dive bombs, and making the sounds bend, without the guitar going out of tune. That Kahler set up was $300 back then! I painted a boy's pickup for $300 and then gave all that money to the guitar shop for that Kahler bridge! They had to cut into the guitar to put it in and set it up. But I guess it was worth it. I couldn't have done it right!

Tele2 dOn a Telecaster, the strings go all the way through the body, so it stains [sustains] longer. The strings goes in through the back. That's else why I couldn't have put that Kahler on there. I woulda ruint it for sure.

Then we put more pickups on it. A Tele comes with with just two single coil pickups on it, so it hums a bit and is kind of limited. We wanted it to sound different - you see, I already had the other Tele, Tele Number One, and they weren't rare - still aint rare. Just old ones is rare now. Tele Number Two was like 8 years old back then. Just old enough to be ready to upgrade. Nobody thought it was stupid back then - just now, 30 years later! But I don't care, cause I ain't sellin' it.

It aint a collector's guitar, Tondy, it's a player's guitar. And it plays blues like you wouldn't believe, and rock, metal, country, you name it. It'll do it. And it should, with all this work done to it!

Like now, instead of just two single coil pickups like it came with, it's got two humbuckers and one single coil. We put in a five way switch so you can have five combinations of ways it can sound.

Tele2 bThey had a "brass works" option from Fender back then, I think them and Kahler was in on it together, so we got that, too. That was a few dollars, at least for a poor man back then. It was the back plates behind the knobs and pickups, and the whammy bar had a brass tip on it, and the knobs were brass.

Since the Kahler was black and the pickups were brass, I threw away the brass knobs and put black ones on it to match better. That Tele was the envy of most everybody who saw it back then. It looked so sharp, and sounded good, and just had "that look" to it. All the boys back then liked it and wished they could do somethin' to theirs. Some of them did, but not many cause nobody had any money. I worked hard because I had a desire for it, and saved my money for this.

Tondeleo: What are the four little holes up there on the part where the tuners are?

Tele2 e Doc: We had the locking nut which was part of the Kahler set up, up there for a while, but it was a hassle to tune, so I took it off and threw it away about a year after putting it on. I never filled the holes from the screws. It'd look worser than it does with the little holes in it. I still like how it looks and sounds. It is good for rock and blues and country, pretty much anything. It's been good to me.

By the way, that guitar was worth maybe $300 at the most when we did all that work on it! A $300 guitar and maybe $500 or so in making it personal. At the time, it DID make it worth more. I weren't doing it to make it worth more in money. I did it to make it worth more to ME.

But now after 30 years, some of them boys say it cut the value in half or less. Ain't that somethin? But I ain't care. It's not for sale. Probably when Marilyn gets married someday and has some youngin's I'll give it to the one what'll learn how to play guitar and treats me good.

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Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment- Part 5 Telecaster #1

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:53 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: Doc has several electric guitars, as do most of his friends. Most of these Americans, as is stereotypical of Americans, do not leave their instruments the way they came from the factory. They all seem to want to personalise their instruments, with different parts, to get that special tone or increased playability or reliability.

Doc Stevens Tele smallAs you've seen on the guitars that I have posted about so far, Doc, like a lot of rural musicians has an eclectic group of odd, cheap instruments that have been adapted and modified to meet the preferences of the owner. He has two home made electric guitars that I am trying to get him to tell me more about. But he wants to build up to them, for later. Actually, he used to be embarrassed by them, because they were home made, but recently, a visit from a musician from Wyoming who saw them and raved about them got him to rethink them.

As for factory built guitars, Doc favours the Fender Telecaster for its sound and tone. He has at least two Telecasters that are about 40 years old.

Tele1aOne of them seems relatively original. He calls it "Tele Number One. " It is very well used and has an awesome sound, at least to me. Doc says that the pickups were modified several years back, and that is what makes this guitar have that sound that many guitarists search for and never find. He will not tell me what was done, other than it was not just some cheap wiring trick. He had the pick ups wound differently by an "electronics dude" and he is not going to tell me just what was done, because I would "tell everybody."

I don't think that most people would care what was done, and whatever it was, I am sure that there are thousands of "Tele" owners who have had the same mods done. Also, after knowing him for so long, I think it is because maybe HE doesn't know exactly what was done, and doesn't want to admit it. Rural Americans can be very secretive towards outsiders and I am fortunate that Doc and Marilyn trust me so far. I think they are amused by me, actually.

Tele1 c To be quite honest, I do not know much about guitars, and am hoping to learn more. Apparently some of these old guitars are worth a few quid. For example, this Tele, Doc does not use for busking anymore, because it is old, and he doesn't want it to get rained on anymore, and also because someone may want to steal it. He plays it at home and in some of the inside venues that he and Marilyn get. He also has stopped loaning it out, except to Big Dave. He says Big Dave is like a brother to him, and can borrow anything he wants.

To me, a tele is rather plain and primitive looking, but to those who love them, they are beautiful. Doc thinks they are beautiful - "prettier than a yellow dog." He says they are beautiful because they are simple and are very tough guitars, and have a good tone. They definitely can sound twangy, and have what he and his friends call "the Nashville sound," whatever that is. Doc says that the mods done to his pickups have given it a "dirtier" but more mellow sound for blues, while also being able to be twangy as a buck toothed squirrel.

He played some country style music using both pickups, with the Tele1bswitch set to the middle. Then he did some Creedence Clearwater style music (that's my description, not his) using the bridge pickup, and it was very twangy. Last he switched up to the neck pickup and played some blues licks,and it sounded like a totally different guitar. More of a Rory Gallagher or Buddy Guy sound. It was very bluesy and gritty sounding. Doc said that it was the "hot rodding" that gives it such a variation of tones.

The next post will be about Tele Number Two, a very much modded Telecaster.To me, it looks more modern, or more like what I would call a rocker's guitar.

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Doc Stevens, Guns,Guitars and Equipment - Part 4

Monday, March 22, 2010 12:56 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I'm trying to learn more about the guitars and equipment that Doc Stevens uses, because I have noticed that when I have been with him and Marilyn, that other musicians come up to them and ask about their equipment, and apparently whatever equipment a musician uses denotes some level of status or another.

As I mentioned earlier, many of these rural people who barely seem to have life's necessities may have, for example, a couple of dozen or more guns. It is not uncommon for a rural American to have maybe ten or more rifles; (a long gun that shoots bullets) These typically would be what are called, "22's" referring to the calibre of the bullet. A 22 is a "rabbit gun" or "squirrel gun," and yes rural Americans intentionally shoot squirrels so they can eat them! I cannot imagine this, but Doc, Marilyn and their friends have served squirrel to me, without telling me what I was eating. If I had known, I would have been ill. Doc says that a 30 ought six is also common. I am not certain what that means.

These same Americans with maybe ten or a dozen rifles would also have several shotguns of various sizes, mostly, from what I hear, .410's, 12 gauges and 20 gauges. Twelve gauges seem the most common. So a poor American may have more than two thousand dollars worth of guns, yet live in a small bungalow!

In addition to rifles and shotguns, rural Americans typically have a few handguns. These seem to be in the following sizes: 22's, 25's, 38's, 45's, 380's and 9 mm's. I am not certain what these mean. Doc says a 38 or 45 is good for home protection, but not as good as a 45.

He says if you shoot someone with a 45 and he is still standing, you want to stick your head through the hole to see what is propping him up. In America, that is considered humourous. And Doc said to tell the world that he has not shot anyone before.

I said that to say this. In addition to having small arsenals of weapons, rural poor Americans may also have collections of musical instruments and equipment. I find this a bit odd, since they are clearly poor.

I mentioned already some of Doc's guitars, and will continue with this, as long as he will let me. I have seen some that are clearly special, and I hope he will let me take pictures of them.

He has several small guitar amplifiers, and at least three bigger ones. His small ones are mostly home made, and I am including pictures of them in this posting. Some of them are mains powered, and some are battery powered for when he and Marilyn are busking.

For busking, he says all you need is about 15 watts of power for the guitar, and a mic for Marilyn's harp. He says a busker shouldn't need a mic for vocals because a busker "develops pipes" by playing out in the street singing louder than the traffic. I know that he and Marilyn definitely can sing loudly without amplification.

Here is a pictures of one of his small amps, with brief explanations:small amp 1

Doc: "This here is one of my favourites for busking. I made the box for it, so it would be strong, but easy to carry. I put a battery pack holder in it so I don't need no 'lectric. Takes 6 D cell [torch] batteries. Them bigger batteries give you longer play life.

Then I wired in the plug in adaptor for if you DO have someone who'll let you plug in. I fastened the adaptor inside and then plugged it in to a small extension cord.

Last, I hooked in a adaptor for a car cigarette lighter, so I can run it off a car if I need to. I've done that plenty of times, like at car shows what is outside. I plug in and play.

The front with the speaker in it is hinged so I can aim the sound up a little bit so it carries. It's got a pin on the side to fasten it shut when I'm carryin' it. This amp is 15 watts. Loud enough for busking and is two channel, so me an Marilyn can play and she can plug her mic in for her harps.

Lookin' at the picture I can tell it needs somethin' to make it stand out. I will put a couple Cadillac emblems on it when I get a chance. I got some out in the shop I will put on it.

Small Amp2 I put a shoulder strap onto it as you can see, so I can carry it and a guitar and still have a free hand. That's pretty much all on this one. Got a handle on the top. Got a eight inch speaker with two cones.

I got others. Some made from old amps and old radios. But they all do the same thing. Ain't nothin' to write about, if you know what I mean."