Sunday, July 30, 2017

Emerald Guitars

Alistair Hay

Alistair Hay grew up in the Irish seaside town of Creeslough, located in North West Donegal in Ireland. His father ran the family farm. His father was quite a craftsman and made whateve was needed by the family or at the farm. His father eventually took a job with an engineering firm as a designer and moved the family to East Donegal.




East Donegal Today
When the firm he had joined began to fail.  Mr. Hay set up his own business building products made from fiberglass that included boats, children's play equipment, and go karts.

As Alistair grew up, he went to work with at his fathers business where he learned about composites and fiberglass. This peaked Alistair’s interest in engineer and designing products made of composite materials.

Royal & Prior - Athlone Tech
Alistair went on to attend Royal and Prior College, and the from compounds. Upon graduating he went on to attend Athlone Institute of Technology to study Polymer Engineering.

Seebold Sports Formula One Racing
After graduating, Alistair Hay had an opportunity to take a job with Seebold Sports, a company that builds fiberglass bodies, motors, and parts for racing boats. The owner of the company, Bill Seebold, became his mentor.

He encouraged him to follow his own path and find a career based on what he knew and enjoyed. Hay chose to work with carbon fiber; a subject of which he has amassed tremendous knowledge.

Steve Vai with Custom Emerald Ultra
In 1994, while still working at Seebold, Hay had an idea to build guitars from composite material. But he had no knowledge of luthiery. Hay played guitar and was fascinated by guitar players, especially Steve Vai. But had no knowledge of guitar construction.

He learned to build guitars by reverse engineering his own guitar. He made many mistakes during his learning curve. He developed a friendship with a skilled luthier that offered him instructions that became a tremendous help.

The First Emerald Guitar
 to leave the factory
By 1998 Alistair Hay was confident enough to start Emerald Guitars and offer his instruments for sale. He admits it was trial and error, and continual improvement until 2001. The first Emerald Guitars were offered to the public in 1999.

During those early years, Emerald Guitars had partnered with Parker Guitars in a deal to use their fret boards. This was a great partnership until Ken Parker and his partner sold Parker Guitars to the musical instrument conglomerate US Music.

Richie Sambora with
Emerald 
The sale created a real problem for Hay and Emerald Guitars, since US Music quit sending fret boards to Hays’ company. In 2008 Emerald Guitars was unable to fulfill any orders and had to shut down operations.

Steve Vai  with Emerald Ultra LP Cover




As stated, Hay states he was always fascinated by guitars and guitar music. He found inspiration from listening to an album by Steve Vai. And later Hay built 3 guitars for Vai.





Wang Leehom & Alistair Hay
with Tay Kewei's Emerald Guitar

In 2008, while traveling, Hay met a singer from Singapore named Tay Kewei. She was in a band with guitarist Wang Leehom, who is very popular in his country. Kewei was looking for a new guitar, so Hay built one for her with a unique body and headstock that resemble dragons.

Hay with a custom guitar
This creation inspired Hay to start building guitars again, and restart Emerald Guitars.

It was almost four years before Hay was able to redesign his molds to include a carbon fiber fretboard. By doing this, the company is no longer dependent on outsourcing. Since resuming production in 2012, Emerald Guitars has come with with quite a line up.  Their guitars are well made and by no means inexpensive. However they are built for a lifetime.

The Opus line is the most available. These guitars only come with a black finish. They come in a full line up of guitars, ukes, and a bass. There are options that can be added if desired.

Opus 7


The Opus 7 is a parlour sized instrument with a 24" scale. The overall length is 30", so it makes a great travel guitar.  The Opus 20 has similar accoutrements to the 7 model, but is a full sized guitar, with a 25 1/2" scale, and a 40" overall length.





Opus 20



The Opus 20 is offered for right or left handed players. Both instruments come with a gig bag, and pickups can be added at an additional cost.






Opus Chimaera
The Opus Chimaera is a double neck 6 and 12 string instrument. Both necks have a 25 1/2" scale, and the instrument weighs less than a Fender Stratocaster; only 6.3 lbs (3 kg).

Emerald Synergy Opus 7 and Synergy Opus 20 Harp Guitars
Emerald Guitar's forte is their harp guitars. Not a lot of companies specialize in harp guitars. For their Opus line, Emerald offers two instruments. The Snyergy Opus X7 pairs a 24" scale guitar neck with six bass strings that jut out of the upper bout and are attached to the top of the instrument. The overall length is 37 1/2". A few years ago, one of these instruments was being offered as a test guitar to anyone who signed up and agreed to pay $45 to keep it for a week and then ship it to the next person that wanted to try it out.. This guitar is acoustic, but a pickup can be added.

The Synergy Opus X20 is a full sized harp guitar, with a 25 1/2" scale on the guitar neck. It too has six bass strings, and a pickup system is an upgrade-able option. Both harp guitar come with a gig bag.

Balor Bass Opus
For bass players, Emerald offers the Balor Bass Opus. This is a five string, 34" scale acoustic bass guitar that can be upgraded to add a pickup. It comes with a padded gig bag, and Gotoh GB707 bass machine tuners.

Emerald keeps limited stock on hand for all their instruments, so check this link to the companies web site to see what is on hand.



Emerald Artisan Chimaera
in Wooded Bubinga

Emerald Guitars also offers their Artisan Line, which are custom, made-to-order hand built instruments. These include the L.R. Baggs Element active pickup system in the cost



The instruments are offered in your choice of these colours; black, blue, green, red, and amber. The guitars are sized much like the Opus series, X7, X20, the Chimaera six/12, and both Synergy series harp models.

Emerald Amicus Artisan models
Added is the Amicus Artisan model, which is a 12 string guitar, with a short 18" scale length. It is meant to be tuned down one whole step from standard E tuning. All Artisan models come with a deluxe padded gig bag.



Custom Shop X20 Woody Cocobolo


And if you want more, Emerald Guitars can create the guitar of your dreams through their custom shop.







Alistair with custom creation



If you want to, Alistair Hay will personally design and build and Emerald Guitar to your specifications.







Emerald custom made "Cello" Guitar

Such was the case with this custom guitar that he built for someone that wanted a nylon string guitar that resembled a cello. Click on the line below the picture to learn about this amazing creation.


Click on the links below the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)







Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eric Johnson's 1957 Fender Stratocaster

Eric Johnson's 1957 Fender Stratocaster
I was recently made aware that Eric Johnson sold one of his favourite guitars. This was his 1957 sunburst Fender Stratocaster. The guitar was offered through Gruhn Guitars of Nashville.

There are probably very few Stratocasters of that era left in such pristine condition.

1957 Fender Stratocaster

Johnson purchased this guitar in 2001 to use mainly in his home.

The original bridge and middle pickup were replaced, as were the tuners, and frets.

The original tuning machines, frets, pickup, and back plate were placed in the guitar case and included in the sale.



Eric Johnson Stratocaster



Johnson eventually took this guitar on the road, and used it for the past nine years.  This strat became his touring guitar of choice.






1957 Strat serial number


The guitars serial number is 17882. Fender guitars made in 1957 have five digit serial numbers starting at 17000 and ending in 25000. The guitar has the original spaghetti logo. 






Eric Johnson's 1957 Stratocaster
It is a lovely instrument and has been sold for $60,000 USD.

 All information from the Gruhn Guitars website.

(Unfortunately I am unable to find a video of Johnson playing this guitar.)



Friday, July 21, 2017

Doctor Who's Guitar

Doctor Who
I have been a fan of the British television series, Doctor Who, for many, many years. For the past two years, the Doctor has been played by Peter Capaldi, who has done a wonderful job in the role as the Time Lord. In fact he is my favorite incarnation of the Doctor.

William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the original Doctor Who was played by actor, William Hartnell from 1963 to 1966. Due to his poor health, he resigned from the series.

The show is about Doctor Who, a Time Lord, who is from another world, who travels throughout time and space in his craft that is disguised to resemble and old British Police call box. He usually travels with one of more companions. In doing so he solves problems, and sometimes changes the course of history. The older episodes had delightfully quirky special effects, For the past decade, the writing, effects, and backgrounds are all wonderful

Because of the shows popularity, the writers decided that the Doctor would occasionally be regenerated, through elaborate visual effects, and then morph into a different person, that would still be The Doctor, but have a different body (and be played by a different actor). This allowed the show to continue, remain fresh, and attract a larger audience.

Peter Capaldi, as Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi was cast as Doctor Who in 2013, as the Twelfth Doctor Who, when actor Matt Smith left the series. It was recently announced that Capaldi would be stepping down this years and would be replaced on a special show to air during the Christmas season.

In fact, the new Doctor is to be named on the same day I am writing this article; July 16th, 2017.

Peter Capaldi as Dr. Who playing guitar
You may be asking, “What does this have to do with unique guitars? Well Capaldi is the first Doctor ever to play guitar during the series, and he does a bang-up job.



Doctor Who on guitar with Clara
The 60 year old actor probably grew up listening to some of the same music of the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s that many of us have, and it certainly shows in his playing.



Dreamboys - 
Capaldi in front Ferguson in back
Back in the mists of time Capaldi, now the Time Lord, was in a rock band called Dreamboys – formerly The Bastards from Hell – with comedian and talk show and game show host Craig Ferguson.

Capaldi stated, “I was really delighted to open the script and find the Doctor playing guitar”. “I think I’d sort of half mentioned it in joking, but I was really delighted that these guys went for it as an idea.”

Doctor Who with his guitar


He also revealed that – just as when he hand-picked the Twelfth Doctor’s costume – he had a say in which axe he’d be wielding.



Denmark Street London, music shop

“We had a great day when I went to pick the Doctor’s guitar,” he recalls. “We went to Denmark Street and went to various vintage guitar shops, looking for Doctor Who’s guitar.


And at first I thought it should be like a Stratocaster or a Telecaster, one of those old classic guitars, but they all started to look like I was having a midlife crisis.” “We ended up with a guitar that looked like a Fender Stratocaster that had been described to someone who had never seen one.”

Yamaha SVG300



The guitar chosen was a Yamaha SVG300. This is an offset guitar that was made by the company from 2000 to 2007 and is based on the Yamaha SG reverse cutaway design first seen in 1966.




Yamaha SVG 300

The SVG300 came with a single coil pickup in the neck position, two single coils in the bridge position that can be set out of phase, for a humbucking sound. The electronics include a single volume control, a master tone control, and a blend control for the bridge single coil pickups There is also a three position pickup selector switch.

Yamaha SVG 300

The body is made of alder, and the bolt-on maple neck features a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets, and a 24.75” scale. The narrow six-on-a-side headstock comes with Yamaha die cast tuning machines.


The string attach on the body to a Yamaha roller style bridge. The input is located on the lower edge of the body.

Doctor Who


The Doctor’s guitar is finished in black and gives he impression of a very futuristic looking instrument.



Here are Dreamboys with Peter Capaldi and Craig Ferguson

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Collings Guitars - The Passing of Bill Collings

Bill Collings
Collings guitars got its start in Houston Texas, when Bill Collings began working in a machine shop back in 1970. He began building his first guitar in 1973.

Bill Collings in the 1970's

By 1975 he was working as an engineer with a pipeline
and oil field company. At night he continued building guitars.

Lyle Lovett with a Collings Guitar
He developed a reputation among local musicians and caught the attention of Lyle Lovett, who asked Collings to build a guitar for him



By the early 1980’s Bill decided to move to California, but he never got farther than Austin Texas.

It was there he met fellow luthiers, Mike Stevens, and Tom Ellis. Ellis built handcrafted mandolins. Collings began working with them, but after a few years before he moved into his own shop which was in his garage.

Bill Collings in his shop

It was in 1987 when Nashville based vintage guitar collector/seller George Gruhn hired Bill Collings to make 25 guitars for his shop. This had a wonderful impact on Collings reputation.


1989 Collings made for Gruhn
Shortly after his products were soon requested by music stores and featured in magazines.

By 1989 Bill Collings was able to hire his first employee. Since then Collings guitars have become one of the most recognized and respected instrument manufacturers in the business.




Collings Acoustics

Their forte is acoustic guitars, but they also build  archtop guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles.



2006 Collings City Limit



In 2006 the company moved into the electric guitar market and were featured at that years Summer NAMM, National Association of Music Merchants convention.




2006 Collings OM


As of 2012 the company employees 85 people and manufactures six acoustic guitar, three electric guitars, two mandolins, and two ukuleles per day. In fact Collings Mandolins are highly regarded in the Bluegrass community.





2014 Waterloo WL-14L

By 2014 it was announced that the company would be making a guitar based on a currently popular Depression-era design and resemble Kalamazoo guitars of that era.  These guitars are sold under the "Waterloo" brand and are based on an old guitar that Collings had sitting in his office.




Colling WL -14 -  Kalamazoo Sport

He decided to repair the instrument by removing the back and put new bracing in it. After reassembling it, he realized these old guitars had a much different sound than that of today’s instruments due to their construction and size. The brand has become a success with Blues and Country players looking for that old tyme sound.


Bill Collings 1948-2017
Sadly the following statement was just issued on the Waterloo Guitars website:

”We lost our dear friend and mentor Bill Collings yesterday. He was the amazingly creative force behind Collings Guitars for over 40 years. Through his unique and innate understanding of how things work, and how to make things work better, he set the bar in our industry and touched many lives in the process. His skill and incredible sense of design were not just limited to working with wood, but were also obvious in his passion for building hot rods. 

To Bill, the design and execution of elegant form and function were what mattered most. Perhaps even more exceptional than his ability to craft some of the finest instruments in the world, was his ability to teach and inspire. He created a quality-centered culture that will carry on to honor his life's work and legacy. He was loved by many and will be sadly missed. Our hearts are with his family.”

William R. Collings  8/9/1948 – 7/14/2017.

Click the links under the pictures for the sources. Click the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)





Saturday, July 15, 2017

Eastman Guitars

The Seldom Scene on Jubilee
One of the best quality Chinese made guitar are now being used by some major industry guitarists. I’m referring to Eastwood guitars. I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do I find myself gravitating to music shows. And in my part of the world, there are a lot of shows about Bluegrass music.

'53 Martin D-28 - '23 Gibson F5


Traditionally Bluegrass music is played on an old Gibson F-5 mandolin and a Martin guitar, preferably a D-28 or a D-18. But in the past few years I’ve noticed a change. Players are now using Asian made guitars and mandolins.




Perhaps it is because the price of Martin and Gibson instruments are beyond the reach of many working class players, or possibly it is because the value of a well made instrument is not worth the risk of taking on the road only to have it stolen. In any event the quality of some of these guitars currently being made in Asia is excellent.

1957 Guyatone LG-50H

Going back historically we know Japanese musical instrument builders that began building guitars back in the 1920’s and 1930’s for domestic use. In the late 1950’s some of these companies started building electric guitars, not just for domestic use but for import.


1960 Teisco


By the 1960’s, due to the popularity of Folk music, then the music of the British Invasion, importation of cheaply made, Asian imported guitars skyrocketed. In doing so they gained a negative reputation, since the quality of those instruments were inferior to the Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild guitars, and even Harmony and Kay guitars that were produced at the time.




1978 Ibanez Iceman JC 210
But by the mid 1970’s the quality of Japanese and Korean made guitars had greatly improved. Some of these companies, such as Ibanez and Takamine were building acoustic and electric guitars of superior quality that rivaled the USA made instruments that these guitars copied.

In 1977 a lawsuit ensued that was instigated by Gibson guitars against a company called Elger Music, who was the US agent of Ibanez guitars. The suit was brought about partly due to the much improved quality of these copy guitars. The parties settled the suit before it went to trial and the results caused a great change in the way Asian made guitars were to be made in the future. Though these instruments now had similar features to Martin, Gibson, and/or Fender guitars, there needed to be some originality added.

Gibson v Elger Co.
At first the results of the lawsuit may have meant just a change to the headstock design.  However through the years Asian engineers and designers have come up with original ideas and improvements to their guitars.

The results have ostensibly put their instruments on par with guitars made in Western countries.

Qian Ni
Founder Easman Music Company

As stated at the onset Eastman Musical Instruments are building high quality musical instruments. The company is a relative newcomer to the musical instrument manufacturing business. They began in 1992, when a man named Qian Ni visited to the United States to study violin making. At that time, the Chinese were using the factory line way method of manufacturing musical instruments. Ni discovered that a different approach was needed to build violins.

He implemented a handcrafting method of building violins and bows in a manner similar to that of 19th century European violin workshops. This change resulted in a much improved tonal quality.

After this Mr. Ni established workshops to further this art. He states that early on, “I would load up his car with instruments that his workers made and drive from city to city selling them to violin shops and music stores. Those shops that did not buy his instruments gave me excellent advice.” This is almost verbatim the same story I have read about Robert Godin during his early days of building his instruments.

Eastman Strings
Now Eastman Strings is a world class company building stringed and bowed instrument for players of all ranges and abilities.

By the early 2000’s, Mr. Ni applied similar principles to crafting the guitar, and by 2004 his company, Eastman, had started a line of archtop electric guitars.


Eastman E20D guitar
and MD515 mandolin
A few years later his craftsmen applied this same approach to building flat top guitars and mandolins. I have seen several Bluegrass and Country player using an Eastman acoustic guitar. Like the Eastman Strings bowed instrument line, their acoustic flat top models come in models for intermediate players and pro's.




Eastman Guitars
Most of the wood used on Eastman guitars is grown in the United States. This has lead to a controversy since the State of California does not require guitars assembled offshore to be labeled with the country of origin, as long as the wood used is domestically grown.

Eastman guitars and other Eastman musical instruments are made in China.

Eastman AC-DR1
Unlike most guitar companies the wood used on even Eastman's less expensive models is solid. Though there are several models with a suggested retail price of $250 to $350 that have laminate back and sides.

Some of the intermediate models with a suggested price in the $650 ranges are made using a solid Sitka spruce top and solid sapele back and sides, while others have laminated rosewood back and sides. I find that outstanding since most

These models come in Dreadnought, Orchestra, Grand Auditorium, Grand Concert, Double O, and Parlor guitar sizes.

Where Eastman Guitars really excels is in their Archtop Jazz line of guitars.

Eastman solid carved archtop guitars

There fifteen electric models to choose from and one acoustic archtop guitar. They all have a solid hand carved top and back. Most feature a Kent Armstrong floating pickup. These guitars have a suggested retail price of $2050 to $3750 USD which includes a hard shell case.



Eastman solid carved top archtop guitars

There is also a line of six "Solid Carved Top" guitars, that have laminate back and sides that sell in the range of $1450 to $2300 USD. Most come with Kent Armstrong pickups, however two models have TV Jones Filtertron pickups.

Eastman Guitars also makes ten all laminate models. All laminate sounds bad, but consider the Gibson ES-175 has always been a guitar made of maple/poplar/maple laminate.

Eastman laminate models

Six Eastman models are based on the Gibson ES-175. Three models have a similar body shape to the Gibson ES-350, but have a single Kent Armstrong pickup. Two models are similar to the Gibson ES-125 and have a single Kent Armstrong P-90 pickup.



Eastman also offers a line of four unique archtops designed by two of the world's cutting edge luthiers and one series of guitars designed by jazz guitarist John Pisano.

John Pisano Line-up

Pisano's line includes four models ranging in price from $1600 to $3750 USD.



Eastman Pagelli models

Eastman also has two models designed by luthiers Claudio and Claudia Pagelli. The Pagelli's have been building amazing guitars in their own unique style since 1982. Eastman offers two models that were designed by the couple.



Otto D'Ambrosio began working at the Mandolin Brothers music store located on Staten Island New York when he was only 13 years old.  He learned the craft of repairing and restoring fine musical instruments, and then began building his own guitars.

Eastman El Rey models
Around 2004, he designed a new model that he called The El Rey. This was a hollow body electric guitar with no sound holes. A year later he traveled to Beijing, China and licensed the design to Eastman guitars. Two of the Eastman El Rey models do have F-holes. The El Rey models have retail prices range from $1925 to $2350 USD.

Frank Vignola model
The last signature archtop model that Eastman makes in the Fank Vignola signature guitar, This guitar was based on Vignola's guitar that was designed by Utah based luthier, Ryan Thorell and based on Thorell's FV Studio model, which has a base price of $8500. However the Eastman version is about one-third the price, at $2995. The difference between the Eastman Frank Vignola models and the Thorell version is the pickup. The Eastman version includes a Seymour Duncan Johnny Smith floating pickup.

Other features include an ebony fretboard with no position markers, a very unusual sound hole on the lower bout, a sound port on the guitars upper side, and a slotted headstock. This guitar also features a beautiful ebony pickguard.

Ryan Thorell FV Studio guitar
These are all the same features found on the original Thorell verion, but the Eastman guitar is manufactured in China.

You can order the Eastman FV guitar direct from Frank Vignola and Ryan Thorell, for $2495 and Ryan will set it up for free. Click on this link for the phone number.

Most all Eastman guitars come with either a hard-shell case or a gig bag.

There are currently only a handful of stores in the United States that stock Eastman guitars

Click on the links under the pictures for the source. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)