ToneQuest Report: July / August 2024 – Vol. 25, No. 7-8


In this issue of ToneQuest Report, James Little’s Aluminati Guitars in Asheville, NC, uses sustainable materials like Lucite and aluminum. Aluminati collaborates with artists such as Kevin Scott and John Mclaughlin. The PRS Silver Sky, inspired by the ’59 Fender Strat, has gained acceptance for its modern design. The compensated wraparound tailpiece for vintage Les Pauls enhances tone and is easy to install. Jay Jay French customized a Telecaster with various experts, emphasizing collaboration. Todd Sharp’s VTLD1 Loop Driver preserves signal integrity in pedal chains. Beetronics FX, led by Filipe Pampuri, creates innovative pedals like the Wannabee and Abelha Tropical Fuzz. Jim Weider’s Guitar Camp features prominent guitarists teaching various techniques, and more!

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What's Inside This Issue:

ALUMINATI GUITARS – Just outside of the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina, we caught up with James Little in his Aluminati guitar shop to get a sense his approach to guitar designs and builds, deviating rather dramatically from the majority of instruments created by most luthiers, who are likely more interested in 100-year-old barnwood than Lucite and aluminum. Sustainability is a significant driver for Aluminati for sourcing materials. If you’re at a Live Nation show this summer, you may see a large metal container with guitars on it. That’s where you will want to throw your cans so they can be turned into guitars. They have six new traditional models coming out and work in collaboration with players like Kevin Scott of Government Mule and John Mclaughlin. They are fantastic guitars, all hand built by the Aluminati team of experienced artisans. By the way, rock stars don’t get their guitars any sooner than yours. ̶ Scott Ulrichs

PRS SILVER SKYA PLAYER’S PERSPECTIVE – Think about the finest solidbody…. a hardtail ’59 Fender Strat with a rosewood fingerboard comes to mind. A pro brought it to a Nashville NAMM show many years ago and generously let musicians try it. Once it was in my mitts, I couldn’t put it down for 45 minutes, and even today that specific Stratocaster remains an important benchmark. With that as a useful comparison, let’s look at the strat-acular evolution of the PRS Silver Sky, a solidbody that has proved both exciting-and wildly controversial-in its brief lifespan. Six years after its introduction, the headstock of the Silver Sky John Mayer Model really isn’t controversial anymore and players have grown accustomed to seeing a 3+3 headstock on a Strat-shaped body and unaware, brand-wise it’s a PRS. Paul Reed Smith (PRS) has pushed its way into the fray with the Silver Sky and if you’re open to modern tweaks and wicked upper-fret access, it’s a serious contender. ̶ Pete Prown

MUSIC CITY STUD FINDER – COMPENSATED WRAPAROUND TAILPIECE – Vintage sunburst Les Pauls are absolute no frills rock and roll machines. What surprises many is the range of tones and music that can be covered with them simply by tapping into the single volume and tone pots. We encourage all of you to actually use your pots, especially with great fuzzes. We love to crank the heck out of the amps and simply ride the volume pot on all of our guitars set around 5 to 8, or just back a bit from 10, even. Our junior is a 1955 with original everything. The tail piece is weathered and pitted. Having seen Tom Bukovac rave about the replacement wraptail bridge he and Joe Glaser and their team in Nashville designed and also knowing Scotts ’55 Junior already has one, we called Joe and he sent us an aged bridge with locking 1” studs. We recommend you go for it, and you will learn a lot about your guitar, plus it’s a no-harm, no-foul, very simple drop-in you can change anytime. Get your tail wrapped and enjoy. ̶ Riverhorse

JAY JAY FRENCH – MY JOURNEY TO A PARTS-BUILT TELECASTER – About six months ago, I was playing my ’66 Tele and started thinking about Muddy Waters’ guitar and thought about going online and buying a red Telecaster. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that doing it this way was the easy way out. Maybe I should really work to make this Telecaster something really special, with my fingerprints all over it. Cody Gleason, Gleason Custom Necks, took me through the process of body shopping, neck profile, color, finish, and fret size. Dwight Devereaux, TonePros sent me his last set of vintage Fender replacement tuners. My old friend Larry DiMarzio sent me some great Tele pickups, the Twang King neck and the Chopper bridge. Legendary fusion/jazz monster guitarist Oz Noy is a neighbor, and he gave me a pair of Duncan Antiquity Tele Pickups. After all the parts were delivered, I went to see Tom Crandall at TR Crandall Guitars, East Village, NYC to configure the guitar to my liking and make these parts come alive. To make a great Tele, it takes a village. ̶ Jay Jay French

WHAT DREAM GUITARS ARE MADE OF – CODY GLEASON’S DETAILS ON JAY JAY FRENCH’S PERSONALIZED TELE – When Leo Fender made his decision to incorporate a bolt-on neck design in the late 1940s while developing what would eventually become known as the Telecaster, he probably didn’t realize the rich subculture of tinkerers that his decision would ultimately spawn. More than seven decades later the “partscaster” industry is alive and thriving. With all of the available options, it’s never been easier to assemble your own “dream guitar” at home and on a budget. Pryor to selecting parts for Jay Jay French’s Tele build we had a conversation about playability; the comfort of the neck profile, how it feels in your hand. Is it how low the action is set or how easily the strings bend? Or perhaps it’s the weight of the guitar, or the way the tremolo responds to your fidgeting. Every guitar player has his or her own set of preferences when it comes to a guitar’s specifications. There’s nothing wrong with buying a genuine Fender. But an aftermarket “partscaster” can be just as fulfilling and the possibilities are endless. ̶ Cody Gleason

TODD SHARP – NASHVILLE AMPLIFIER SERVICE – SONIC SOLUTIONS VTD1 LOOP DRIVER – It’s always a privilege connecting with longtime friend and ToneQuest Advisory Board Member, Todd Sharp. His day-to-day focus is directed towards building exceptional handcrafted amplifiers and expert amp repair and restoration. He also designs new, forward thinking, tone shaping devices. Todd’s released VTLD1 (Vacuum Tube Loop Driver 1) caught our attention as a logical piece of gear designed for today’s stomp box fever. There’s no doubt we’ve all come up against the difference of how our signal sounds when we plug directly into our precious tube amplifiers with short, high-quality cable and the same setup with many pedals in between. Todd explains why it was important to create the VTLD1 for musicians who will benefit and appreciate restoring signal and dynamic integrity and dig its Vacuum Tube Boost feature! ̶ Scott Ulrichs

SHARP VTLD1 – DRIVING MISS DAISY CHAIN – “I just wanted something that preserves the ability for the dynamics and feel to come across, meaning you shouldn’t even know it’s there, and that’s hard to demo.” Mission accomplished. Todd Sharp’s VTLD1 (Vacuum Tube Loop Driver 1) is the solution to maintain and in some cases elevate, what we may discern to be the fidelity in tone coming from our cherished tube amplifiers. Not only does the VTLD1 preserve what Todd refers to as our “true north,” but we quite enjoyed giving the loop a little extra signal pre-boost. The output impedance plays nicely with finicky pedals and engaging the Boost creates the perfect spongy grind. This is all about feel and what response we’re getting from the notes we play. If you’re a touch and feel kind a player then, we agree that the VTLD1 is for you. It’s a timely, thoughtful and high-quality antidote to consider if you love to line up myriad alternative stomp box sounds, but dislike what happens with their “true north” compass. ̶ Scott Ulrichs

FILIPE PAMPURI – BEETRONICS FX – There is no greater feeling than creating satisfying art that resonates with artists you respect. Led by guitarist and CEO Filipe Pampuri, Beetronics FX is a family-owned business based in Los Angeles doing precisely that. Initially based in Brazil, Beetronics FX has come a long way in a short time to expand the artistry of guitarists all over the world. Their client list includes Adrian Belew, Wes Borland, Josh Smith, Jeff Tweedy and Sean Ono Lennon, to name a few ̶ and the list is growing. Felipe admits it was always his choice to make what he likes to hear… “I don’t need to make things because it pleases the market. I care about making something I find cool.” He’s a “rock guy” who loves this stuff. Now with more circuit knowledge and business experience, they are working on a lot more than expected, more collaborations with musicians, other brands, and new products besides pedals. ̶ Oscar Jordan

BEETRONICS FX – WANNABEE BEELATERAL BUZZ – Dual overdrives are all the rage, and Beetronics FX’s contribution combines two classic circuits in one pedalboard-friendly package. The Wannabee houses two drive circuits: the Bluesbreaker and the Klon Centaur. Beetronics branded these iconic circuits with their own touch, and the Wannabee also features routing options with cool ways to combine these sounds to produce everything from beautiful to truculent. The Wannabee produces rocking tones that will inspire, from ZZ Top to Brit-rock. Priced at $299, the Wannabee is guaranteed to fatten up the dinkiest guitar setup and conveniently powers up with a 9-volt adapter. ̶ Oscar Jordan

BEETRONICS FX – ABELHA TROPICAL FUZZ – Abelha is the Portuguese word for “bee” and the name of Beetronic FX’s latest fuzzy stomp box. The Albelha Tropical Fuzz takes the classic fuzz tone and gives it a Brazilian tropical makeover. Not for the faint of heart, the Abelha offers myriad fuzz sounds with three distinct tone colors via a conveniently located Flavor toggle switch: Polen delivers a sagged low-gain buzz, Nectar unleashes round high-gain fuzz, and Honey yields sweet high-gain overdrive. Powered by a 9-volt adapter, the Abelha is a psychedelic wonder that yields smooth, warm, high-gain tone in Honey Mode or screeching high-pass filter grittiness in Tropical Mode. The Albelha bridges the gap between vintage sweetness and modern aggression. ̶ Oscar Jordan

INTERVIEW – JIM WEIDER’S MASTER OF THE TELECASTER GUITAR CAMP – The Telecaster has been a religion to itself for over 70 years. The guitar’s iconic status is intertwined in rock and roll history and has made its way into just about every style of music. But the Telecaster is more than wire and wood: It’s a character, a personality, and a musical way of life. From Jimmy Bryant to John 5, the Telecaster remains ubiquitous. We caught up with Telecaster disciple Jim Weider to talk about his Masters Of The Telecaster Guitar Camp (September 30 to October 4, 2024), that teaches all things guitar. “I’ve been wanting to do this forever.” Along with Jim, this year’s camp includes Joel Harrison, G.E. Smith, Albert Lee, Bill Frisell, Brent Mason, Larry Campbell, Gutherie Trapp, Joe Louis Walker, Redd Volkaert, Jon Herington, Adam Levy, Carolyn Wonderland and Cindy Cashdollar. The classes are loose, and students can take what they’ve learned and use it at the jam and experiment. All of these great players are there to teach and answer your questions ̶ you’re going to have the time of your life. ̶ Oscar Jordan