Sunday, July 24, 2011

Columbus #2 - 'Les Paul Custom' black

A while back I expressed a nostalgic urge to own a 70s Columbus Les Paul Custom like my first guitar. They're not hard to come by so here I am with one. It's spent a while being fettled into a state where it's nice to play as opposed to the filthy mess it was in when I got it.

With the nut replaced so it's closer to how it would have originally been, it's surprisingly playable. I don't really like the small 70s frets, I'm definitely a fan of modern jumbo ones but still if I were a skint teenager there's essentially nothing wrong with this. Its modern Korean equivalent (you could get a Washburn WI64 Idol secondhand for £100 if you're lucky) would be much better, but this is hardly unplayable junk.

I remembered the plastic parts on mine seeming nasty but actually this is pretty solid, although the scratchplate is somewhat brittle. The switch toggle for example is really quite nice and the witch hat knobs are better than the ones I bought to stuff on the BFG.

It's very obviously a cheap plywood bodied guitar, the binding is uneven and finish is bad with numerous little crusty bits and imperfections that look like they've always been there rather than it having gained them over its 30+ year life.

The ABR-1 style bridge and tailpiece however are nicely made and have survived very well, with little in the way of corrosion. The diamond back machine heads are perhaps a weak point, while they're intact and work OK they're really kind of wobbly/loose. They don't seem to hold tune that well, they're not terrible but even cheap modern guitars seem to come with very decent Schaller style sealed tuners that are rock solid.

All the controls still work with a crackle at the bottom end of the neck volume, but that's it. Pretty good for 30+ years, I imagine I won't be able to say that about many of my other guitars if they ever reach that age.

The pickups are weird things, being like one coil of a humbucker under a full humbucker cover. They were terribly microphonic when I got it but I've wax potted them and they're much much better now. Oddly they don't really sound like single coils. They sound like somewhat bright Alnico magnet humbuckers with a side order of electrical noise. You'd kind of expect them to be like P90s but they're not. They seem to have more in common with the EMG Selects in my RS8V. The output doesn't really suffer, I could manage my usual assortment of 80s/90s thrash on it without resorting to extra gain.

The only real damage to this are cracks in the neck pocket that almost look like the ply has separated after an impact as they run along one of the layers, which you can see in the finish. Having said that the neck is stable and the guitar plays fine so I'm not worried about it. If you heave on the neck when playing it does move more than most other things I've got but it's a fairly lightly constructed guitar so that's not unreasonable.

There's some wear to the skinny 70s frets but it's not terrible and the neck is straight enough. There was a tiny bit more relief than I like which I tried to take out with the truss rod but it got very tight very soon so I stopped fiddling with it.

This is obviously not quite the sublime toy that things like my EC29s are but it really does play perfectly well, I could hammer out all the same old stuff easily even if I did find the small frets vaguely irritating. The combination of pickups, bolt-on construction, thinner neck, light weight and so on contribute to it really 'ringing' in the way a more accurate Les Paul copy doesn't, at the cost of some sustain. It has a character of its own that doesn't disappoint, despite it being in the end just a piece of nasty 70s tat.

However if I were to ever utter the phrase 'vintage mojo' about one of these feel free to slap me.

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