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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2007 10:07 am 
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in this thread I tell the story of my vintage Electra Les Paul from the 70s. It's been sitting in a stand for a while because of two issues.

#1: the pickups can't handle above-average overdrive gain. They squeal too much, not in a good feedbacky way, but in an uncontrollably high-pitched microphonic way. From what I've heard, pre-lawsuit era guitars had shoddy pickups that couldn't handle high gain distortion at all. don't take me wrong though, this guitar sounds very good in a clean classic Les-Paul-sound way. however, it isn't all that useful to me when I can't turn the gain dial too high for leads because of the subsequent squealing.

an option: I have a set of hot Eastwood pickups, splittable 17K output. the pickups themselves are highly rated at Harmony Central but I am yet to try them. I am thinking about doing the PAGEBUCKER mod, the wiring scheme of Jimmy's 59 Les Paul, four pushpull knobs: tone1&2 split-coil each pickup, Vol1 phase reverse, and Vol2 parallel/series. And I still retain the clasic 2 vol/tone configuration.
(I wonder if that scheme was invented by Tom Presley himself?)
should I do this? what can I do with the stock pickups?

#2: the ultra-thin tunning pegs are too ugly and unreliable. I got a set of clasic-looking tulip diecast tunners lying around. Should I change them?

here's the guitar:
Image Image

thanks for your suggestions and advise.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2007 5:17 pm 
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here's a picture of the Super2 Eastwood pickups (copies of DiMarzio Super2). they are actually 15k, with 7.5k split coil, which I expect to sound like overwound single coils. the Humbuckers get rave reviews on the Eastwood Ovation Ultra GP entry at Harmony Central for having powerful tone, some going as far as saying better than gibson PAFs. I take it with a grain of salt but I expect them to at least ofer me the options the stock Electra pickups do not.
but I'm still hesitant...

Image

and these are the tulip tunning pegs.

Image

I am worried about having to damage the headstock with new holes. the stock machines are a hard to find Kluson-style and I only have diecast 3x3 pegs. quite frankly, I want them for the looks. but I guess I could tighten the stock pegs to eliminate the tuning problem.
decisions decisions....


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:39 am 
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Wow, that's a third really rare and interesting guitar you have there. :)

And this is a really interesting question, and the answer is far from clear. Ultimately it'll come down to the quality of the guitar and what you want out of it, both of which are pretty much up to you to determine. But here's some info to help:

This is a PCM Electra, not an SLM Electra. As such you'll find precious little if any information on it. Here's what that means: From the beginning two companies used the name Electra simultaneously, which seems unthinkable except that they were owned by two brothers in different parts of the country: Pacific Coast Music and Saint Louis Music. The biggest difference was that SLM became a large national distributor selling to music stores all over the US. I can't say for certain that PCM was only a single store, but it was certainly nothing like the scale of SLM. As such. the vast majority of Electras out there seem to be SLM. I say 'seem to be' because unlike SLM, PCM had no catalogs that we've yet been able to find. (we would LOVE to talk with anyone who worked for PCM in the 60's-80's, and who can help fill in the blanks and verify our info)

Almost all of the Electra models featured on the Electra site are SLM Electras, 1) because there are so many more of them, 2) because we only have catalog info on SLM models, and 3) because the reputation of PCM Electras is poor. If you had asked on these forums a few years ago, you would have got a resounding chorus of "Eww, PCM, beware!" And that's not without reason, because some of them are awful. I know, I've got at least one that's godawful.

But the story isn't so simple, and since they bear the Electra name, PCM Electras deserve to be included with all the others (just like Crate Electras, which also will be included very soon) So far we have little information on them, and we don't really know how many models there were. However, I've started to leave room for them in the new revised Electra site- you can see the list of models here:

http://www.rivercityamps.com/electrapag ... _of_models

And besides all that, I have at least one PCM (I think) Electra which is really quite good, and another which sounds great despite some technical challenges. In other words, much like Teiscos and other imported guitars of the 60's.

Also, I am becoming more and more convinced that at first PCM and SLM were ordering the same models- so some of what we consider early SLM Electras, LP's and Teles and such, could actually have been sold by either.

Certain examples and details are known to be PCM however- in your case the logo printed in black on a white plate affixed to the headstock. Another clear sign of PCM is a large inlay 'X' on the headstock. Also a particular headstock shape like this:

Image

Note that the same logo and typeface were used on these as on the SLM Electras. To my knowledge all others such as the diagonal style and the Peace sign logo were all SLM (the exception being one example of a weird '60's computer font' on a P-bass copy from the 80's- that's PCM too)

Why so confusing? Well as near as I can make it out, PCM and SLM started out sharing some of the guitars they ordered, while some others were exclusive to each. (We think the models with white plates and X headstocks were early PCM-only models) Basically in the early days the two major Japanese distributors were Hoshino, who also sold to Ibanez and a host of smaller names; and Arai, who sold Aria Pro and some others. One of the reasons Electra guitars are so interesting, and so uneven in quality, is that unlike most brands which came from only one source, Electra guitars came from all different factories. To make it more complicated, Hoshino subcontracted manufacture to Matsumoku (who made all the SLM Electras of the 80's and late 70s) and Fuji Gen Gakke (who made Ibanez and Greco, and who in the 80's manufactured for Fender Japan)- meanwhile Arai made some of their own, but subcontracted all or part to Kasuga (who later made Cort and Epiphone), Terada (who later made Gretsch) and... Matsumoku! Yeesh... and apparenlty 'Uncle Matt' started out by making components likenecks instead of whole guitars... the mind boggles... but we're working on it.

In the early half of the 70's, all of these guitars were overt copies of Fender, Gibson, or Rickenbacher guitars. Dealers like SLM and PCM simply picked out models they wanted and had their own brand put on the headstock- exactly like modern-day 'white-labelling' of electronic goods.

Around the mid-70's, the infamous 'lawsuit' came up, which we point out again was never actually a lawsuit. What happened was that Fender and Gibson became dismayed at the flood of copies, especially from SLM who by that time was a major wholesaler in the US. In this CBS era, it is no stretch to say that Electra teles and strats were as good or better than what Fender could make in the US, more like the classic pre-CBS versions, and they were considerably cheaper!

Fender and Gibson (or Norlin, its parent company) began expressing their concern, and although no legal action ever happened, is was clear that it was no longer possible to sell overt copies without being sued. At this point you stop seeing the 'open book' headstock, at first changing to a single hump, then to obviously different shapes like the wave headstock.

At that point the japanese makers stopped selling copies to the US market (although they continued selling overseas, and still do today, for example under Hoshino's Greco brand in Japan). Fender, which was on the verge of bankruptcy and could no longer afford to build in the US, wisely engaged Fujigen to become the official maker of Fender guitars- all the Fenders of the 80's, including some excellent MIJ Squiers, were made by Fujigen. If you can't beat em, join em.

The other direction, as followed by Matsumoku with SLM, was to start designing original guitars. Having demostrated they could make good guitars, they then set out to make great guitars with advanced wiring options which until then were only available to rock stars like Page and Hendrix who knew the right people to custom wire for them. Realize that it wasn't until 83 that Fender offered a strat with a 5-way switch for the first time, so options like coil tap and phase reverse were exotic- and inexpensive compared to their perceived value- and musical usefulness. SLM's strategy was to appeal to the serious or working musician who wanted pro quality at a reasonable price.

At this time, in the mid-70's, SLM hired brilliant guitar designer Tom Presley (yes, related to Elvis) who had been experimenting with custom wiring since the 60's. He was charged with coming up with new innovative designs, moving away from LP's and strats and starting the wave of original guitars designs which became the norm in the 80's. All late 70's and early 80's SLM Electras were designed by Tom. Since they were designing their own guitars, SLM stopped buying through Arai and Hoshino and began working directly with the factories, mostly Matsumoku but also Terada (for the Outlaws at least).

What about PCM? No longer sharing models with SLM, they began importing new PCM-only models from Kasuga (possibly through Arai, but maybe not). For the most part these continued to be derivative copies, having much in common with early Cort and Mako models, but since overt copies were no longer feasible, they changed the headstock to the 'thorn' type pictured above (it had already been demonstrated that Gibson had primarily only managed to defend their trademark of their headstock shape, not the whole guitar).

Although there's no evidence, it's plausible to imagine that SLM's decision to drop the Electra name and use Westone instead may have been because while SLM was making really high quality guitars, PCM was selling some pretty poor ones at this time. In fact, closer inspection of some PCM Electras from this era show that they likely are some of the first to be made in Korea- Kasuga being the first manufacturer to move production out of Japan. Unlike today's excellent Fender and Epihones, many early Korean guitars were dreadful, worse even than the first japanese efforts. SLM would not have been blamed for thinking that the Electra name was not only besmirched by its history as a copy brand, but that PCM was now selling Electras that were no more than entry-level toys. Makes sense to transition to a new name, Westone, which Matsumoku had used for its own house brand name- this is also when the Alvarez name started appearing.

So with that history in mind... how good are PCM Electras? I think of them in three periods- early, middle and late. Since the middle period was (theoretically) sharing models with SLM, we really have early and late. Early PCM Electras are not unlike other late-60's japanese brands- fair to middling in quality, in some cases with good pickups. LIke a Teisco, if you can deal with the flimsiness and odd manufacturing, they can be made into decent playing guitars, especially for jangly 60's pop and surf- and certainly fine as a slide guitar where intonation and action are unimportant. Late period varies even more- the Korean ones are awful, nonstandard pickup sizes, weird small knobs, and the telltale small pots which now are pretty standard on Squiers and such but in the 80's were almost excelusively seen on Korean guitars.

But... never say never. I also have a PCM tele which is quite excellent- natural finish with white binding. Like all makers, Kasuga had budget lines and premium lines, and it just depends which a particular model was drawn from.

So... what about your guitar? As you can see, it's impossible to say from here how good it is. And this is important, because the question that remains is whether it's better to leave this one intact as a rare guitar (which it is), or to mod it to make it a more playable guitar (which might or might not work) or to simply have fun with it- which you could certainly do too.

Some of the details to check as far as evaluating it would be:

Intonation- not just 12th fret intonation, because that can be adjusted. A more serious problem is intonation between the nut and the first fret. With some guitars the action of fretting at the first fret stretches the string so the note is sharp. This takes some doing to fix- adjusting the truss rod certainly, but likely also modifying or replacing the nut.

Action- can you adjust the neck so as to get a nice playable action that's not too high, with no buzzes anywhere across the fretboard? Some guitars are so far out that there's no way to adjust them to get the frets to function above the 14th fret or so. Action that's too high can be fixed by shimming the neck pocket, effectively changing the neck angle. Before you get worried about this changing the tone or resonance of the guitar, realize that a great number of bolt-neck japanese models, especially early on, were fitted with neck shims right fromt he factory- often a piece of sheet plastic about 1/4" wide by the width of the neck. It usually takes half a dozen dismounts and remounts before you get it right, but sometimes it will suddenly get very 'right'.

Electrical components- do the pots work smoothly? Are there scratchiness or dead spots in the knob travel? Does the 3-way switch work ok? All this can be fixed by repair and replacement, but the question is always whether it's worth the effort or expense. Same with the pickups- btw, you can fix that squealing problem by wax potting the pickups, which is essentially dipping them in wax to stop extra vibration. (careful, don't get the coils too hot though, or you'll melt the lacquer insulation on the coil windings). More on pickup potting here: http://www.guitarnuts.com/technical/ele ... /index.php BTW- this site also has excellent articles on hot rod wiring mods: http://www.guitarnuts.com/wiring/menu.php

And here's the bottom line: when you've done all that work, what will you end up with? A great guitar? Maybe, maybe not. Will it be better than a modern Epiphone? Hard to say. I can tell you firsthand that it's way too easy to put a lot of wotk into bringing a guitar back from the dead, only to have it be a mediocre guitar you don't want to play.

So what's the alternative? Well, treat it as a rare vintage guitar, and let it be. Keep it original and hang it on the wall, or sell it on ebay. Despite their poor (and sometimes unwarranted) reputation, PCM Electras consistently sell for fair to good money on ebay, probably because collectors have realized they're rare. If you go this route, definitely keep it stock.

But then again... what about the mods you mention? Well, I would worry about the action and intonation before the rest of it. Exotic wiring mods are little value if the neck sucks. Definitely try new strings, because old strings will cause all the intonation problems you mention. Change the tuners? You could... although I think it's much cooler to have the vintage small-shaft tuners on a vintage guitar. the larger shafts like on the tulip-knob tuners you have, look modern. Think about it- this is why a modern Squier or Mexican Fender looks so different from a 50's vintage or modern Fender custom shop headstock- large vs. small tuner shafts.

If you do decide to install larger shaft tuners, then you MUST NOT drill out the holes- a drill will tear out chunks of wood, guaranteed. the correct way is to use a hand reamer, which is surprisingly easy and effective. But I would caution against this, because it's relatively hard work to undo this change- much harder than swapping pickups or wiring mods.

If the tuners do suck (which I can understand they might) I'd consider these which should require little or no reaming:

http://store.guitarfetish.com/viniklsttufo.html

or these, ooh ooh:
http://store.guitarfetish.com/3x3vikegkekl.html

(check his ebay auctions too- this guy is a guitar builder and active member of the hobbyist community, and has great quality imported parts at excellent low prices- no relation, I'm just a happy repeat customer. He's a nice guy, too. His GFS pickups have cause a big stir for the same reason)

If you swap the tuners without reaming the hole, that's ideal because you get modern quality and it could also be reversed- for sure keep the originals with the guitar, prefereably in a ziploc bag with a note as to what they are.

Pickups- as mentioned above, potting them should end 100% of the squealing problem, and you may find they are excellent. If you do want to swap them, unsolder them in the control cavity and save the originals as above too.

So I'd call the tuners the most important change; pickups a nice-to-have; and wiring mods extremely optional. If the action sucks it won't much matter how cool the wiring mods are- although to be honest you could still mod it (like with the Jimmy Page mod), save the entire wiring harness, because you'll need to make a new one anyway.

So if max fun is your goal, that might be the ticket. However, if you are looking to make this a working instrument... what can I tell you? There's probably going to be a limit how good you can make it- just like a Teisco or a Squier or an Epiphone. What you want to do is figure out as early as possible what that limit is so you don't end up banging your head against the wall.

If you want a good player, and if this is not it, then by all means leave it 100% original and sell it on ebay, and buy another guitar- a vintage Electra maybe, or a modern Epiphone or some such. Unless modding this thing is your idea of fun (which it might be) you'll get more bang for your buck that way.

What do I suggest? Well, I'm guessing that this is a fair to middling guitar, and your best return will be to sell it or hang it on the wall. But I could be wrong, it could be a great guitar too. It's hard to say unless it's in front of you. At first glance I imagined that it was early, but those shiny pickup covers really look more modern. Start looking at catalogs of Cort and Kasuga LP's and see if you can spot any details. I would also pull the control cover and see if it has small pots- most likely Korean, although it could possibly be good quality nevertheless.

Hope all this helps. I'm glad you asked, because this is useful info for anyone dealing with PCM Electras- and your guitar is the best example of a PCM Electra LP that we have. If it's all right, I'd love to post your pics in the models section of the Electra site.


Last edited by X189player on Sat Mar 08, 2008 4:03 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:45 am 
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Wait... those plastic bridge saddles.. they're copies of plastic bridge saddles on 60's Gibsons, and they're a detail I've seen on early PCM's. Although of course anyone could have swapped hardware....

You might also pull one or both humbuckers. In the late 60's and early 70's you frequently woudl see inexpensive guitars (like Electra 2221's and such) with what appear to be humbuckers but which actually are single coil pickups under a double-wide cover.

It would certainly be helpful to see pics of the pickups, especially the backs and under the covers. I'd also like to see a closeup of those tuners, because darned if they don't look close to tuners I've seen on Crown guitars... another possible Matsumoku brand, but distributed by Hoshino! Iv'e seen those bridge saddles on Crown guitars too.

If that's true, then it's good news, because all the Crown guitars I've seen have been really quite good.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2007 10:49 pm 
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my god, I'm printing this out to study over the weekend! Electra class finals: next week! and as for my lab final project: Research & Assesstment of vintage specimen: restoration.

I wish I lived in your neighborhood so I could visit you over the weekend, invite you out for breakfast or some hot tee on an Autum afternoon, and talk about this stuff like ol' times chat. what I mean to say is, thanks.

I gotta go to sleep so I'll focus on the guitar findings:
check this out, the pickups are single coils as you said they could be!

Image

that about makes me look like a fool. no wonder this thing farted hiss. I suppose it sounded good clean because of the chambered body:

Image

which looks pretty old to me. and it seems to be plywood. I gotta say though, this guitar felt right when I held it the first time. I was afraid it would be like bag-of-bricks heavy. it didn't have the greatest sustain, but what else could I espect from the shitto pups. the bridge is indeed like old LPs, with bone saddles. there is dust and webs in every nook. here's a pic of the electronics:

Image

I must say they worked pretty good, as in a non-scratchy or uber sensitive way. the tone knobs were very helpful at killing the screeching too. I would dump them if I buy four switching pots anyways.
and here is the headstock. you convince me, I gotta leave this beautiful machines untouched. I might open them to tighten the cranks but that's all. (and by the way, not even those GFS machines fit. the placement of the screws is different.) check it out:

Image

These machines are the best coserved part of the guitar.

my assesstment: The neck is good quality, it's straight and accurately built; action can be set very playable and probably near shred-heigh when I install a new bridge and do the joint shimming you mentioned. I've always been amazed at how easy and nice it feels to the touch, a neck so freaking old. it's smooth on bends and 'snuggly' on altered chords.
the body has an incredible finish. the gradients are very good and the binding is fair. I now find the tunners quaint, ain't changing nothin'.
the pickups are junk. the stoptail is good, the bridge saddles are too deformed now to hold strings at even height. I could change it for a silver Gotoh I've lying around.

and now on to the goods.

I have three different sets of pickups. all coming from highly rated Eastwood guitars (the guitar nut from canada, like the Guitar Fetish fellow)
all of them splittable 4 wire pups. the middle set I've already talked about. the first set is a very high gain split humbucker similar to those seen on some telecasters. the far right set has a unique filtertron pickup shaped like a humbucker. From what I've heard, it has the chime and jangle of Gretsch. I'm yet to try it though.
Image

after those changes, if I do them, I would have a fairly equiped, playable vintage Les Paul with exotic wiring. In theory at least. what there is, is good. but ain't no expert here so.
how's this case looking now?


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2007 5:18 am 
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Sounds great and looks great too! You should definitely trust your intuition when it comes to the neck and action. And don't let the 'plywood' laminated body put you off- there are some superb guitars built that way. (some clinkers too).

In that case, I'd definitely think about replacing the pickups, so while you're at it, why not replace the whole wiring harness with the mod of your choice? I've always meant to try the Jimmy Page mod, never got around to it- although I've certainly wired guitars to cover all those possibilites and they're definitely useful.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 3:53 pm 
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I am going to butt in here and give you my .02 worth... Are you collecting this guitar or playing it? If you are playing it,
this guitar will have more value as a player than a collector.

I think you should removed those tuners and fix that split on the headstock (shoot some glue in that crack and clamp it down, removing the excess glue that comes out of the crack). After that headstock crack is fixed (and if you want to play it) put some better tuners on it. You will likely need to widen the holes (as stated above) and drill new mounting holes, so be careful or even have someone you trust do it for you. I say this because if you want a nice old player, new tuners will help the playability greatly.

Also, a replacement bridge would help if you can get one the right size. That does not take the same tunomatic that the SLM Electras take, as it has the threaded thumb screw/washer type adjustments on a small diameter threaded post. You will need to take measurements to make sure the bridge will fit. I replaced one on a similar era Memphis guitar, and the small diameter gotoh fit it - but if things don't line up it won't. It might be nice to have some you can try before you buy (or at least take measurements off of). Yours actually is more like the gibson type, I just don't know if it is spaced the same.

I play my electras (they are all SLM models), and upgrade many of them. I think it is a shame when people rip apart an MPC guitar, because the quality of the parts is a notch or two higher typically than the hardware on that one. It is generally worth saving. However, I even replace the bridges (and sometimes the tuners) on my player SLM MPCs simply because I think they play and sound better (and SLM bridges pit and corrode so badly).

I recommend potting pickups on MPCs first, because they are pretty good pickups. Yours aren't the same at all, probably the single coils in a humbucker shell (common in that era), and they are not worth trying to use if you are going to play it in my opinion. So replacing the pickups makes sense. Put in what you like. You can save your originals to put back in if you want to sell the guitar.

So - in a nutshell - I recommend:
- fix the headstock crack, replace the tuners (be careful installing)
- Replace the bridge with a better one (get one off of ebay or another guitar possibly if you can determine it will fit)
- replace the pickups and electronics (you were doing that anyway)
- set it up, adjust the neck as needed, if you know how to do a setup with the frets and nut, set the intonation, and so forth do that

Most of us that work on guitars usually started to do so becuase we were more curious and ambitious than we had money. Does that make sense? In the 70s I grew up the youngest in a family of 7 kids - I was lucky to have a cheap POS guitar. So I upgraded things as I could. I bought that used Memphis. I changed things one at a time as I had the money. I could barely afford the Dimarzio I put in it back then, and i could not afford to pay someone to put it in. So I learned to do it myself following the diagram in the box. I read books and asked people questions and some trial and error to learn how to do the electronics and to setup a guitar. That is also how I learned to work on amps too (that was a bit more difficult, but the same mentality applies).

You may want to take another look at this. Does the truss rod adjust? How is the neck? How are the frets? If you want a solid player, the guitar is structurally sound, and you don't mind the work and expense - do it! You will ultimately enjoy it. You will learn stuff in the process. It won't likely turn out perfect, but you will likely get a good solid guitar if it does not have any serious structural problems. You won't get your money back out of the guitar after all that work, but if things turn out you will have a great player at a low cost. My old Memphis played excellently, but when I sold it I got a little more out of it but I didn't get all the extra cost out of my pickups, bridge, and tuners. It was an excellent player though. Any I used it for several years until I grew out of it. Those changes were worth it to me.

I am convinced you could hand my buddy Paul there a box of parts and he would be able to fashion an excellent working guitar out of it. Not everyone can do that, and neither he nor I could do that when we started.

If this is simply too much work, put it all back together and sell it and start with a guitar that is closer to what you need. That is good advice. An newer inexpensive Dean, Epiphone, Cort, or other guitar starts as a much better player, and can be had for cheap. I have seen some pretty amazing guitars on ebay for $100. Your guitar looks nice and you will get something out of it. It's quality is typical of inexpensive early 70s copies. They all improved quite a bit the next five years or so after that one was made for the most part. Just about all of them in the price range of that one in that era were made the same way.

Let us know what you decide.

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