Wednesday, January 23, 2008, 11:19 AM - Models

Bolt neck double cutaway with maple body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, black hardware, graphite nut and tekglide (vintage style) bridge, two humbuckers, one single-coil pickup with three pull-switch knobs (V-T-T) for coil tap, fat (center on) and phase; and 3-way selector switch.

X185RM (H-S-H)(rose metallic)

X185BL (H-S-H)(blue burst)

X185GR (H-S-H)(graphite)

X185SS (H-S-H)(Silverstone= metallic bronze)

X185RD (H-S-H)(red)

The X185 marked the debut of Tom Presleyís H-S-H wiring plan, the result of his work in the 60ís on experimental wiring. It combined the best of different kinds of pickups to produce a remarkably versatile sound. Best of all, the controls were intuitive, allowing the guitarist to merely twiddle or to very deliberately shape a tone.

Other guitar companies, notably Ibanez, have also released H-S-H guitars, but none with this particular configuration before or since.

The full potential of the H-S-H was also made possible by innovative unbalanced coil pickups that Tom had developed in concert with Matsumoku technicians. Normal humbuckers have a pair of equal coils, and coil tapping one out leaves a single remaining coil that isnít very much like the rich overtones of a strat or tele single coil, itís just thin.

The new MMK45 pickups that were included in all the Electra Phoenix had a pair of coils with different cores, magnets, and windings. One coil was wound for rich high frequencies, the other for lower response. The effect was akin to upgrading from a single stereo speaker to a woofer and tweeter- both ends were better represented.

When coil tapped, MMK45ís drop the bass coil, and the remaining treble coil is more like a tele neck pickup- strong and sweet.

By using humbuckers that would coil tap this way, the H-S-H plan spanned a tonal range including those traditionally held by tele and LP players. This was activated by pulling out the volume knob, which in the 83 models was a nice chunky speed knob with notched edges.

The second knob activated the center pickup, which was a strat-like single coil pickup that added the rich piano-like overtones of an overwound single coil. Add that to any of the other combinations and you spanned the tonal range traditionally held by strat players.

Finally, the third knob, which was also the bridge tone knob, pulled out to reverse the phase of the bridge pickup. This was a sound that had suddenly become popular in the 80ís pop radio- think Joe Walsh- although it was a wiring trick that other greats had used. Somebody noticed that if you put the 3-way selector switch inbetween positions on a strat, it phase reversed one of them, giving this funky quack sound.

In 1983, Fender (who had stopped making guitars in America and had licensed to Fuji Gen Gakke in Japan) offered fot eh first time a strat with a 5-way switch so that those sounds could be deliberately selected.

The same year, Electra Phoenix offered the X189 with more wiring variations and tonal range than any guitar before.

Best of all, you could use the variations without understanding them at all. By experimentation you find out, say, that by pulling the bottom two knobs out you get a much wider treble-to-bass range when using the 3-way selector, so you dial that up and go without having to think about what youíve done or how it works.

What went wrong? Why didnít such innovation take off as the next great thing? Perhaps it should have. Probably the greatest strike against Electra Phoenix was that it was a $400 guitar. This was halfway between the $125 starters and the $800 and up Ďseriousí guitars. Real rock stars played the serious stuff, we thought.

True to SLMís marketing strength, Electra was a brand that offered top-quality features at a mid-range prices included entry level models with serious student quality, no junk. Today we take it for granted that companies sometimes offer surprising quality in lower priced lines, and sometimes these things become standard.

But in the early 80ís imported guitars were still Ďjunkí, and people barely registered that Fender s were made by the same factories as Ibanez. The world was not looking to find innovation in low to mid-range guitars at that point.

And no doubt they were far ahead of their time. The average amateur guitarist in 1983 had no idea about phase reversed guitar wiring, and was skeptical that it really had anything to do with making music. A few did get it, and we treasured our Electra Phoenixes, adn they remain excellent versatile players today.

Saturday, February 23, 2008, 08:15 AM
Thanks for the info. I just bought one of these little sweethearts and have been playing around with the knobs to see what it can do. This may replace my Westone Spectrum DLX as my favorite, we'll see.

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