The annual Marin County Guitar Fair was held in January. This was the second year in a row that we’ve gone along to see what’s on offer. Not with any intention of buying or selling, of course, but just to admire the work of local luthiers and to maybe catch a glimpse of a genuine ’53 blackguard tele, or similar.
Last year I joked to Lisa that there were only two possible models of guitar that we might find that would put me in a “difficult position”, one of which is the Gibson ES-Artist, as played by Steve Howe on all Asia albums in which he contributes; and a Gibson L6-S Deluxe, as played by this guy shown on the right.
Oldfield’s playing has a particular tone and quality on these albums that I covet, and it was always tempting to think that the guitar was partially responsible. I’ve kind of always wanted one.
Last year I remember seeing a related model, a black L6-S Custom but it didn’t pique my interest at all.
This year, the real thing showed up.
After a couple of seconds careful thought*, it came home with me.
According to Wikipedia, Gibson only made 3500 of these models, from 1975 to 1980. They are not really considered collectable by guitar experts – at least, not currently – and so prices vary. I consider this particular purchase to be good value, while “true collectors” who wet themselves over $30,000 blackguard teles and 50’s Les Pauls probably haven’t even heard of the L6-S, and might think it too much to pay for an old, “unknown” Gibson.
The body shape is somewhat unique. It looks like a classic Les Paul that has been left out in the sun: Thinner and “spread out”. I like to think of it as a cross between a thin Gibson SG and the Les Paul profile. Also unusual is it has 24 frets, with a thin neck joint and body cut-away making runs up the fretboard a breeze.
I think the pickups are designed by Bill Lawrence – they were on the original L6-S but the Deluxe model could be using something different. Either way, I know they are factory-original**, along with the guitar case.
Both the guitar case and guitar smelled rather musty, but after I brought the guitar home, I have been airing the case out in the sun, and I stripped the guitar down and cleaned off all the accumulated gunk from the hardware and rubbed the body down with Murphy’s Oil Soap. Now it has a pleasant, vintage wood aroma.
To celebrate the addition of this first “vintage” instrument to my collection, I spent some time recording some excerpts of my favorite Oldfield tracks with the L6-S.
The first thing I noticed is that this guitar is BRIGHT. Very trebly, not at all Les Paulish at all, despite the humbuckers. Secondly, the guitar is seriously resonant. Play almost any note on the high E string above the 12th fret and you can hear various harmonics on the other open strings singing along. Also, the pickups are very microphonic, reproducing clicks, and pick noise, and even my cursing at duff notes. I think these factors contribute to the tone of the instrument and do explain some of what you can hear in the Exposed recordings. The “honk” of this guitar is definitely present on the Oldfield albums.
So here’s my attempts:
I don’t have an amplifier, so I couldn’t try and replicate that wonderful sustained feedback on the original version of First Excursion.
These were all recorded with the same settings on the L6-S: bridge pickup with the treble control rolled all the way off.
(*) Actually, I went back the following day and bought it.
(**) Often, owners will swap out the factory-original pickups and put in their favorite brand of humbucker. When considering a vintage guitar purchase, it’s always better to have the original components.