built-in or on board EFFECT GUITARS
What else? Once you have collected guitars and pedals you naturally go for those wacky hybrids for sure! They seem to be hot again as Danelectro has issued a nice cheap line of these gremlins. But my heart will always go for vintage monsters.
Let us start with this
real rarity; The WEM project 4 guitar !!! Charlie WATKINS 's brother,
Reg, started to make electric guitars for the WEM brand around 1961.
The RAPIER 22, 33 and 44 electric guitars were born. They are quite
rare now but everybody in England have fond memories of these lovely
guitars. Reg also invented a guitar-organ predating VOX by several
years, which sank with no visual or aural traces. WEM manufactured a
fuzz box called PROJECT 5 , which, while very rare, is well known to
collectors. Here is what Brian Eno said about it :
What kind of fuzz box do you have?
I have a great one. It's very old. It's called a Project WEM. I've never seen another one. But it's a lovely fuzz box. It's been used by many famous guitar players, because they say it's got a unique sound. People have actually tried to make copies of it. They took down all the components and tried to build another one, but they never really got quite the same thing. I've used it on all my records, actually, from the first record I made. Whenever you hear my particular fuzz guitar sound, that's the fuzz box. Sometimes what sounds like guitar is really synthesizer or vice versa.... Then the less essential things, things that aren't always there: I sometimes use phasers, though I'm pretty uninterested in them. They work with certain types of sounds, but I dislike the regularity of the sweep. I might be more interested in one that switched between different phase angles, for instance, rather than sweeping between them. I use a pitch-to-voltage converter sometimes.
But what about this project 4 guitar???
The fifth man logo is quite obscure but the WEM is the usual one. Now, let us have a look at the first group of commands: drive, edge and level are really bass, treble and volume, no mystery. But the selector is another thing. The fact that: 1- you can have a mix of the fuzz sound and the clean tone 2- you can choose from guitar alone or project 4 off are quite puzzling.
These are the 2nd group of commands concerning the effect itself. First, the sting switch, which has nothing to do with the project 4: it is very dynamic preamp that make monsters out of these British pick-ups. The selector is the pick-up selector but the 3 other pots control the project 4 effect. What is project 4? A nice fuzz effect with a slight swooshing back, like some kind of light static phasing. But , I was surprised at first by the fact that the clean sound was louder than the fuzz.
How come such an
over-engineered effect like this one is not disgusting loud? There
must be an answer.
( While you are here, take a look at the beautiful English veneer and stunning sunburst)
Here is my interpretation: as you may see, there is a hole all through the neck, finishing here at the zero fret. In this hole, run a wire connected to the complicated circuit ground. My theory is that the project 4 fuzz is produced by some kind of transducer hidden in the bridge. Therefore, as the bridge is used for this application, the only way to connect the strings to ground is to use this strange connection reminiscing of organ guitars. This could explain why you can have both clean and fuzz sound at the same time. Furthermore, when you use project 4 only, the guitar pick-ups really seem disconnected: no real sound when you tap on them.
Here is a close-up of the weird bridge. For me, the transducers are those rusty hole the strings pass through, thus not touching the ground. Notice the chisel saddles. Definitely not a Floyd rose.
To solve this mystery, I have contacted by email Mr.Charlie WATKINS himself as no one else could give me more accurate information. He was very kind to answer me and I thank him again so much to give from his precious time for my humble site.
The bare and precious facts:
-This guitar really evolved from the WEM guitar-organ. Here are Mr.Watkins comments: "It grew from my original Guitar Organ conception (which played an organ generator from the fret board. About the biggest commercial disaster I ever invented. It was too big, heavy, expensive and took too long for me to realise that a guy buys a Guitar because that's the sound he wants in his ear. If he wanted organ sound he probably would buy an organ."
- The project 4 fuzz sound comes from the bridge itself and not from the pick-ups, exactly as I have guessed. "The drive comes from the funny magnet arrangement by the bridge designed for me by a professor at Sussex University in 1965, which is about the year we started to sell them."
This really is precious information from the creator of this guitar himself. I here thank Mr. Charlie WATKINS again for enlighting this article with the original truth.
This is the last effect guitar of my collection up today. Asama was an ubiquitous Japanese brand, present in almost every instruments field. Besides lame guitars and stuttering basses, they made famous incursions in anaemic drums and obtuse stepwrite prehistoric drum machines. The brand name Asama , Japanese for "fat bottom" (in the sentence: my girlfriend has such an asama) , was not famous for quality. This rare effect guitar is quite an exception.
While the luthery is not D'Angelico, the overall looks are nice. Watch for example these imitation Grover tuners from hell. But let's face it: if it was only for its luthery , this guitar would never make it to a website. Follow me and jump to the effect deck, Mr.Zulu.
Well this is quite a different story: at last a no-nonsense effect arrangement on an effect guitar. I don't know why but when it comes to effect guitars, makers has all the same obsession: to be the weirdest possible. Recent Danelectro still feature the same attitude with their only-usable-for-'50s-sci-fi-movies-soundtracks distortion. Here we get a normal , useful layout. Not only this, but these 3 effects, boost, distortion and phasing, are among the best sounding in their categories. I have yet to hear a better phasing+squealing-distortion mix than the one you can obtain with this wonder guitar, and with a single 9v battery please.
In this setting, it becomes quite suspicious that the "humbuckers" are just cheap single coils in disguise, as occurring feedback is too savage to be true. In conclusion , an incredible instrument for post-modern noise maker.
Only forget the treble/bass switch which just cut off the bass frequencies for an ugly, vain and weak tone. Incorrigible guitar engineers: they had to do at least one weird little thing!
Eagle eyed stompbox fans may have noticed the LED indicator, which unfortunately does not pulsate with the phasing rate and simply indicates your battery fitness.
Note the colour coded switches: black for the forgettable treble switch, white for the booster/distortion and blue for the phasing, while I doubt these wee colour codes could have any use on a dark stage.
These stunning beauties were marketed under the Almirez brand in Europe and under the ever ubiquitous Kay brand name in the USA. Before going effects, it is worth noting than the luthery of these pauls is quite fine for a Japanese of this vintage, including triple binding and gorgeous hand-made sunburst. The necks are bolt-on but have given satisfaction to their owners for more than 30 years without a complain.
Here is a full view of the effect deck.
While it seems that you
will benefit of 5 different effects, the group
echo/trem/wha/whirlwind can be considered one. This effects are quite
puzzling as they do not sound like their name suggest. It will be
more correct to imagine a mix of all these effects together. When you
all switch them on, you are in the whirlwind. If you then play a good
solo, you will find the yellow brick road. Good luck. Anyway , as any
weird effect is very valuable, consider this guitar a premium
collectable. And as a bonus gift , you get the inboard headphone amp
to practice when your wife is watching telly. Or to blow your amp
speakers in case you plug your cord in the wrong output jack.
Sadly enough, the fuzz is anaemic. Nobody's perfect.
WESTWOOD EFFECTS STRAT
Well, looks like the ASAMA effects unit to me. Exactly the same. Made in Japan, while the Westwood brand seems to belong to a US musicshop on the west coast. So what did they add to this effect guitar to make it special ? Answer is : a freak-brothers speech .
I read it again and again but I really don't know what this sentence means....but you know in the '70s there was a choice of substances that could provide enough inspiration to come out with such weird tech trip. But they are the only one to have actually print it on a guitar. Bravo.
P.S. : These guitars were all made in Japan.