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My Guitars

by Johnny Olsa

I bought my first guitar on July 30, 2003.  I talked at length with the guy at the guitar store about whether to get an acoustic or an electric.  He convinced me to start with electric, so then we discussed styles.  The two most popular styles of electric guitar are strat-style (either Fender Stratocasters or those modeled after it) and Les Paul-style (Gibson Les Paul guitars or those modeled after it.)  They have distinctively different sounds and feel, but the compelling argument at the time was Les Pauls are a lot heavier and a lot more expensive.

I bought a very cheap strat-style electric guitar and a little amplifier because I didn’t want to invest lots of money if I wasn’t going to stick to it.  I started playing and I really enjoyed learning...  and I had lots of musicians to talk to and I practiced every day.  My first guitar is a red Peavey Raptor and looks almost exactly like this:

Red Raptor

About a month later, I felt I needed an acoustic guitar.  My friend Stephen, whose playing I’ve admired since 1983 when we met, recommended the Seagull.  His comment was something like, “A $300 Seagull is better than most $1000 guitars.”  I found one I liked that looks very much like this:

Seagull Acoustic

(Only without the electronics… Mine is pure acoustic.)

I soon realized I needed to practice more and figured I could practice at work, but I wasn’t good enough to allow people to hear me and the acoustic would be too loud, but an unplugged electric would do the trick.  I didn’t want to haul my guitar to and from work every day, so I bought another Peavey Raptor.  This one was blue:

Blue Raptor

I started frequenting my local guitar shop occasionally buying stuff I didn’t need, but eventually decided I needed a bass, so I picked out a cheap one that felt okay and sounded good… a Peavey Milestone III:

Milestone III

(Couldn’t find a very good picture…)

I started writing and recording and needed a bass, so it came in handy.  In one of my visits to my music store, my new friend (who sold me my first guitar) told me they had just repossessed a Peavey Wolfgang guitar and they were selling it at about half price.  They had it next to a brand new one and it looked and sounded identical to me… and it was the “Eddie Van Halen Signature Guitar” designed by Peavey and Eddie Van Halen, so I bought it:

The Peavey EVH Wolfgang Quilt-Top Special EXP:

Wolfgang

Shortly after I bought it, Eddie had a blow-out with Peavey and they discontinued the guitar.  I’m hoping that makes my guitar valuable.  It’s a good guitar and very pretty, but it’s now my least used guitar.

After reading about guitars and guitar players and having numerous conversations, I was getting the impression from some that Les Paul’s were the best guitars around.  Some people hate them, but many hate them because they’re heavy and expensive.  I could buy 15 Peavey Raptors for the price of one Les Paul, but the recommendation was so high, I decided to “try” one, knowing that I could return it in 30 days if I didn’t love it.

I ended up loving it and it’s definitely one of my favorites, but I’d be hard-pressed to choose a very favorite.  It looks very much like this (but every one is different… mine is darker.)

Les Paul Standard

Then, my guitar buddy introduced me to two of my current guitar heroes:  Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.  I actually went to see Joe in concert in March of 2007.  The concert was actually a G3 where I also got to see Paul Gibert and the incredible John Petrucci.  I got my picture taken with Joe.  Here’s a link to the picture:  Me and Satch.

I had just gotten a big raise and decided to get Joe’s signature series guitar and Steve Vai’s favorite guitar.

Joe’s Ibanez JS1000 Guitar:

Ibanez JS1000

Steve’s favorite:  Ibanez JEM7V:

Ibanez JEM7V

How many is that?  8?  Only 4 more to go!  Bored yet?

A few months after I bought these 2, I changed teachers.  My new teacher (the teacher I still have) was a “thrash metal” guitarist who now plays mostly classical, acoustic, and jazz.  He got me started on the one classical piece I know, but it was painful to play on my Seagull because of the steel strings.  Classical guitar demands more from your fingers, so I bought an inexpensive but nice-sounding classical guitar (classical guitars are smaller and have nylon strings...  Not to mention a very different sound!)

The Cordoba CP-110 Classical Guitar:

Cordoba CP-110

Eventually, I started working on a bluesy Pink Floyd song and I learned all the notes, but couldn’t duplicate the sound.  My teacher, Rob, told me that it was because I didn’t have a real Stratocaster, so I started looking at Fender Stratocasters.  When I went to Guitar Center, the sales guy put about 30 different Stratocasters in my hands hoping one would “call my name” including a 60’s strat with a $40,000 price tag!  I got frustrated and was about to go home heart-broken when I saw a very unique looking one.  I asked him to get it for me and I tried it out and it was the one.  I haven’t seen another like it, so this picture is the closest, but doesn’t do justice to the color and look of the wood grain.

The American Deluxe Fender Stratocaster:

Stratocaster

The wood grain is different on mine and has a red tint.  The pick guard on mine is “mint”, but it looks more like an aged white to me.

In 2007, Gibson announced their new “Robot Guitar”.  A guitar with computer chips and a piezo pickup and little motors that allow it to tune itself.  I thought, “That sounds cool” when I heard about it, but didn’t think too much more about it.  Then music web sites started sending me info saying “buy the first run of Gibson’s Robot Guitar”.  I read about it and got really interested… It’s a Les Paul model with the robot electronics and its pickups are “hotter” than the pickups in my other Les Paul.  The price was high, but less than I paid for my other Les Paul plus I read that Gibson’s first runs tend to appreciate in value because they make very few… so I ordered one… but not in time!  I lucked out and found a seller in New York that had one I could buy… It seemed silly that I had to have a guitar made here in Nashville shipped to me from New York, but that’s what I had to do.  They made 4000 of them and I got one.  The regular run has since begun and they’re more expensive, but not better and I hate the new colors.  The first run was a cool metallic blue and the regulars are either metallic green or metallic purple.

Here’s what it looks like:

Les Paul Robot

In March 2009, I felt like I needed a new project, so I ordered another Raptor (purple this time.)  I thought it was on its way along with all the upgrades, but the order was cancelled.  I know it would be cheaper and easier to buy a better guitar, but this is more fun and gives me a unique guitar that no one else has.  I used conductive shielding paint instead of copper foil in the cavities of the guitar, which had its advantages and disadvantages, but I think if I do this again, I’ll stick with the paint.  Everything else was like my last upgrades (see below) except the pickups and I added (to all 3) a Fender LSR Roller Nut for tuning stability.  The pickups are all DiMarzio - one DP159 Evolution Bridge Pickup and two DP116 HS-2 Guitar Pickups for the neck and middle.  The purple Peavey Raptor turned out to be hard to find, so I ended up buying a black one on eBay on April 12.

Here’s the black one:

Black Raptor

In April 2012, I got into acoustic guitar again and wanted a practice guitar I could take to work.  I ended up finding a repaired BreedLove Passport Plus that I liked.  It was marked down because of the repair, but felt nice, so I ended up spending more than I planned, but got another decent guitar.

Here is the best picture I could find:

BreedLove

Whew!  That’s 13!  I hope the history of my guitars didn’t bore you too much.  I didn’t even get into all the other equipment I have.

Upgrades

In March 2008, I shielded and grounded my raptors and upgraded the pickups and potentiometers (500K on the volume and 1M on the tone.)  The red raptor now has a Gibson BurstBucker Pro Humbucker Pickup (a la Gibson Les Paul Standard) in the bridge and 2 Fender SCN Samarium Cobalt Noiseless single coils in the neck and middle (a la Fender American Stratocaster Deluxe.)  The blue raptor has a Gibson 498T Alnico Humbucker in the bridge (a la Les Paul Studio) and 2 Fender Hot Noiseless White single coils (a la Jeff Beck’s Fender Stratocaster) in the neck and middle.  The upgrades took me hours, but the guitars look and sound much better and are worth a lot more.  I also put Fender locking tuners on both.

I frequently refer to my red and blue raptors as “Les Paul Raptor Strats” since they combine the features of both.  The red raptor has the same bridge pickup as my standard Les Paul and the neck and middle pickups of my Stratocaster.  The blue raptor has the same bridge pickup as my Robot Les Paul, but the “Jeff Beck” single coils in the neck and middle are very distinct.

Learnings

I’ve learned that guitars are never equal.  The raptors are mass-produced and I’ve set the necks and action the way I like it, yet they feel different.  The red one doesn’t sound exactly the same as the Strat when using the single coils, nor exactly the same as the Les Paul when using the humbucker.  Likewise, the blue one doesn’t sound “just like” the robot at the bridge.

Whenever I think I have too many guitars, I realize that I don’t have any I want to give up and I still want more!  (I’m still thinking about the Ernie Ball® Music Man® John Petrucci 6 Guitar as my next guitar!)

Music room

Here’s a picture of the Seagull, the bass, and the Wolfgang in their natural habitat next to my piano...  with a saxophone, trombone, and clarinet close by:

Natural Habitat


Here are some expensive guitars that I found interesting (but I don’t own!)
Expensive Guitars