Agile Pics

So here it is. Pretty cool, huh? Especially for the money. Feels GREAT to play. I love it.

Son of El Cheapo: Agile AL-3010SE

So here’s the thing. I hate spending more money than I have to and I like to think I am fact based in my decision making when it comes to buying stuff.

Since El Cheapo left for a new home I have definitely felt that the guitar rack at home has been a little empty (ironic because due to one thing and another I have hardly managed to pickup a guitar in the last 4-5 weeks) and I figured I wanted to get another Les Paul type guitar; mahogany body with dual alnico humbuckers, but this time with a set rather than bolt-on neck. I began researching the options.

The obvious choice would be a Gibson Les Paul Studio. The Studio model is about the same as the classic Les Paul Standard (which is way out of my budget at around $1200 used), but the maple cap that sits on the mahogany body does not have the same kind of figuring, the finishes used are plainer and there is no binding on the body. It’s a Made in the USA Les Paul without the bling. The cheapest of these guitars retail for about $800 new, so let’s say $720 after tax and a bit of haggling.This should put them in the $450-$550 range second hand. Add a case and we’re talking $500-$600. With the $250 I got for El Cheapo and the little Mustang amp, plus maybe another $150 from selling my bass and I would still be at least $100 short.

So then I started thinking about Gibson’s budget brand; Epiphone. You can get a very cheap Epi Les Paul Special II for as little as $150 new, but they are unworthy of the name, being made out of plywood, having a bolt on neck and cheap ceramic pickups.

In order to get a mahogany, set neck Epiphone, you have to look at the Studio or Standard models starting at about $400 new. In theory it should be possible to pick one of these up for $300 or less, but whenever I have tried these guitars out in the store I have been deeply unimpressed.

So I started casting the net a little wider. Ibanez, ESP-LTD and Schecter all do nice looking Paul-alikes starting at about $400. But in the entry models, ceramic pickups seem to be the norm and I really want alnico. You also have to add in the cost of a hard case. These brands also seem to gravitate to metal/shredder guitars as you go up in price point, adding active EMG pickups. This is not the classic Les Paul vibe I’m after.

Michael Kelly do a nicely specced line of guitars called the Patriot, but the body shape is somehow a little off. A Paul Reed Smith Singlecut SE also could’ve been an option, used. But they are pretty rare and are also reputed to have a tone which is lighter and airier than a ‘real’ Les Paul.

But while surfing the web, doing searches such as “best Les Paul under $1000”, then one particular brand kept on popping up– the Korean made Agile guitars, in the US only sold on-line via Rondo Music. The higher end AL-3XXX guitars have specs that you would find on Gibson/Epiphone guitars costing twice as much. Agile has won a devoted following on the web. The quality of the intstruments is said to be excellent. They also, right now have a discounted line of Les Paul style guitars, the AL-3010SE, which seems to be the same as the regular AL-3010, but with plainer appointments (binding, maple top figuring) and a different bridge, but selling for $299. With a flame maple top and ebony fingerboard (as opposed to rosewood), you’d have to compare it to the higher end, Korean (rather than Chinese) made Epiphone Les Paul Plus Customs, which start at about $600.

But after adding in a case and delivery I ended up paying about $380. I should receive my new Agile TODAY! Can’t wait!

ATG Live And Unedited from a Pub in San Diego Airport

Yeah that’s me in the middle in the shiny suit saying “You know if you hurry you could get a haircut” to the muppet on the right.

I really don’t have much to write about at the moment, but I find myself with time on my hands and alcohol on the brain at the airport in San Diego, way to early too early for my flight home to Phoenix and I realize that I haven’t written anything for a while. So I figured I’d just ramble a little.

My guitar playing has kind of stalled recently. I finished a song called Winter Storms about 2 weeks ago and since then I haven’t done much at all. (By the way, if you find yourself clicking through to Soundcloud on that link go check out this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this. (and of course this and this) It’s frickin’ nuts how much good stuff is being cranked out by amateur/semi pro musicians there. (sorry about the nested parentheses there, I don’t want this blog to start looking like C# code…))

Winter Storms contains a guitar break. I hesitate to use the word ‘solo’ as I am clearly no Jimmy Page. And that is my problem. Right now I feel like my creativity is limited by technique. I have more ideas for songs, but I am hesitant to ‘finish’ them. I plan on working more on guitar technique for the rest of the year, getting into a nice practice routine, rather than cranking out the songs. Hopefully by doing this, when I go back to writing again I’ll be doing more interesting songs.

Of course GAS continues to gnaw at my bones. Although I like my Cheapo Les Paul, I worked out that if I could sell that for approximately what I bought it for, plus offloaded my Fender Mustang I amp that I hardly use and maybe sacrificed my Squier P-Bass then I might have the funds to get a Gibson Les Paul Studio second hand. Upon realizing this, I began advertizing El Cheapo and the Mustang on Craigslist. So far no takers. But let’s see.

PS As I am now sat in an airport pub with all the other cattle class passengers, I feel obliged to point out that I wrote a bitter and sad song about how horrible it is to fly in planes these days and then I tried to do an experimental remix of it which has some good elements, but doesn’t really work. But I’d hate you to think I only write miserable slow songs, I also did a funky little one recently that I’m quite proud of.

Cheapo Les Paul addition — what was I thinking?

So, despite saying I was going to hold back on a Les Paul for the time being, I went and did it. I was perusing Craigslist and a PRS Soapbar 2 SE came up for $175, Although I don’t own one, I am a big fan of PRS guitars and getting a solid mahogany, set neck example for less than $200 just seemed too good a chance to pass up. It’s difficult for me to track down the new price for this guitar as it is no longer made, but a similar PRS Single Cut SE is a $600 guitar when new. So $175 seemed an absolute steal for this one. By the way the ‘Soapbar’ name comes from the fact it has a pair of P90-type ‘hot’ single-coil pickups rather than humbuckers. But it’s quite easy to get ‘buckers that fit those slots. P90s have also been used in Les Pauls since the 1950s and punk rockers such as Mick Jones of The Clash actually preferred these examples to the humbucker versions because of their cutting tone.

I exchanged emails with the owner and he agreed I could come and see it, but didn’t specify when or leave a phone number. Then he went quiet. I assume he found another buyer. Would’ve been nice of him to let me know, but he didn’t.

By this time I was of course GASing bad. After a couple of days I began to scour Craigslist again, looking for Les Paul type guitars. I had two criteria; the guitar had to be mahogany with a set neck and less than $200. Ideally with humbuckers, but OK with P90s (like the Soapbar).

This should put me in Epiphone Les Paul Standard territory, but ownership of these budget, Chinese-made Gibson versions seems to indicate a tenuous grasp of reality. Unlike Telecasters there is always quite a few on sale, but the prices sought are usually unrealistic: “No I am not going to pay you $350 for a used guitar I can get for $400 new, even with a ‘deluxe gig bag’ “.

But I found one interesting option; a dude selling a Chinese-made Les Paul copy for $200 including a hard case. Mahogany, set neck. Checked all the boxes.

From the description in the ad it appeared to be a SVK ELPC400. From some sniffing around the web I found out that these guitars seemed to be highly regarded. They’re also no longer made as the manufacturer had been sued by Gibson for copying the Les Paul design too slavishly. When available then they seemed to sell for $350…$400 without a case. Here’s the spec run down which the seller had clearly copied from the importer’s webpage:

SVK Guitars ELP-C400 Single Cutaway Electric Guitar Features:

Set-Neck 50’s Body shape
Solid African Mahogany Body
Maple Top
Canadian Hardrock Maple Neck
1960’S Neck Profile
Bound Indian Rosewood Fingerboard
24.75 Scale
Thin High 190NS Fretwire Exclusive
Pearl Block Inlays
Bound Top and Back
Bound Head
Two Way Truss Rod
Tune-O-Matic III Die-Cast Bridge Tailpiece
Die-Cast Vintage Tuners
EVJ-Alnico 5800 Humbucker Pickups

The above basically equates to a Les Paul Standard, with the exception of the maple neck. Gibson use mahogony on real LPs. I figured that this would be at least as good as an Epi Standard. Possibly better.

I went to play it, thought it was OK and then tried to haggle. The seller was claiming he had paid over $300 new for the guitar plus another $100 for the case. I was GASing and I caved, giving the guy $200 and took it home.

On opening the case at home I felt sick to  my stomach. I’d made a mistake. Because the ad had said ‘set neck’, I hadn’t even noticed that in fact the neck was bolt-on. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid that I hadn’t noticed. After some research I realized that the guitar was actually the slightly cheaper ELP-C300 like this one but in black. Identical specs to the 400 but with a bolt-on neck.  Man I was pissed. I only blamed the seller slightly (could even have been an honest mistake, copying the wrong specs to his ad) but I was really angry at myself. The only criteria I was really focusing on was that set neck — supposedly essential to true Les Paul tone, but I hadn’t noticed the bolts. Dammit.

I nearly re-listed the guitar on Craigslist immediately. But then I calmed down a bit. It’s a great looking guitar. It’s in good condition. It has a pair of supposedly Alnico humbuckers and perhaps a fair price for what I got would still have been about $150, so I haven’t done too badly. It’s also a nice addition to the arsenal of guitars. It does sound like a Les Paul. It doesn’t feedback like my other humbucker guitar, the Ibanez Artcore hollowbody. I cracked open the can marked Jimmy Page riffs and started to enjoy it. I then put a lead line on a Garageband track I’d been working on and enjoyed it some more.

So now I figure I’ve got a guitar I quite like. I paid more than I should for it, but it’s not going to kill me. I can also use this as a guitar to experiment with doing home setup and modifications without getting too scared I’m going to damage something valuable. I could even swap out the pickups. Put on a Bigsby tremolo. Whatever I feel like.

Also as a bonus, that slot for a ‘real’ Les Paul style, set-neck all-mahogany guitar still remains open in my collection, waiting to be filled at some point down the line…