The Awesome Green Machine Gibson M2 Citron Review: Mod One!

Part One: The Awesome Amazon Exclusive Gibson M2 (Les Paul Shape) MOD ONE (Not Rogue One 🙂 ) Review!

Looking for the pictures and don’t want to read Jim’s wanderings: scroll down. I’ve put them in one convenient section!

Update: Gibson now has a product page for the M2 here!

I’ve really enjoyed playing my new Gibson M2. it’s a nice evolution to the Melody Maker type of guitars. It’s really quite nice, and is affordable. I wrote a review of it here My first-look Gibson M2 review.

One of the reasons I bought the M2 is because it has an easy, almost Fender-like means of changing out your sound. The neck is fixed, which is actually nice for sustain, but otherwise, it works like most Fenders: you can change the pickups and electronics very easily – even without re-stringing the guitar.

So what’s this review about? This one is the first of two I’d like to write: “What does the Gibson M2 look like under the covers – what can you do with it?”

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. They do have the nicer and better-sounding Gibson Firebird Zero!

Quick Opinion:
I found it super-easy to change out my sound with my Gibson M2. The on-pickguard electronics and top-routed cavities make it very easy to switch things out and easy to even put in a battery if you’d like to go active.

Everything about the Gibson M2 from the non-electronic parts is wonderful and well worth the price alone. The woods, the fit and finish, and the overall features of the body and hardware are really great, even at the low entry price. The electronics are average to excellent for the price range. In fact, the overall makeup of the electronics is as good or better than $900 (street price) guitars made in Asia.

The pickups, pots, jack, capacitor, and wires look almost like those included in Epiphone instruments. The switch is the very nice and extremely sturdy leaf-contact three-way toggle that looks a lot like Switchcraft’s switch and is extremely similar to those found in nice Epiphones. In replacing or modding this guitar, the switch is a keeper. In addition, the jack is pretty good, although a real Switchcraft 1/4” jack is a safer bet if you are going to actively play the guitar – particularly standing up and moving around.

The Amazon page lists the pickups as “Gibson ProBuckers.” It is likely they are some type of slightly-different humbuckers (from Epiphone ProBuckers). Looking at the pictures in this write-up as compared to pictures on the Internet (of Epiphone ProBuckers), there are key differences in the appearance. In addition, the weight of the pickups is a little different: the Gibson M2’s pickups feel slightly lighter than my older Epiphone Les Paul’s ProBuckers. This might be due to something very simple like differences in magnet weight or differences in potting/not potting… Overall, the pickups are great for an entry-level humbucker.

It’s a great guitar. If you’re not a modder like me, it is a SOLID value and a great little lightweight USA-made guitar that has a street value of about twice the actual purchase price.

What’s under the covers with the new Gibson M2?
When one takes the time to closely examine the non-electronic parts of the guitar, the materials, workmanship, and the assembly are excellent. The low-gloss finish is smoother and more comfortable than a matte or satin finish. The neck finish is nice, and the shape is good for a variety of hands, particularly the hands of beginning guitarists. The routing is clean and very well executed.

The tuners are new to anything I’ve seen with Gibson or Epiphone: they’re sealed tuners that have mount/stability pegs on them to go into holes on the back side of the headstock to keep them from turning. This is similar to the way some Taylor and Fender tuners are mounted on the headstock. As with the Gibson Firebird Zero, the tuners have a fairly wide ratio of wheel-to-machine-shaft turns. They look the same as those on my Gibson Firebird Zero: but with a catch – the tuners on the Firebird Zero are much smoother and require less effort than those on my M2. It might be a one-off issue, but my M2’s tuners feel a lot less refined and are actually harder to turn than most of the small-button tuners I’ve used. Overall, it gets to tuning pretty well, but just isn’t as fantastic as my Firebird Zero’s tuners.

I thought this would be a good place to post pictures of the electronics inside my M2. These are un-changed from the factory and are pre-modification: I thought it might be useful to share them with the world so some of the burning questions about pickups and wiring can be put to rest :-).

Pictures and captions!

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Neck pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Neck pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock front view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock front view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock and tunders back view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 headstock and tunders back view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Bridge pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Bridge pickup backside view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: alternative back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: alternative back guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long front guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green: long front guitar view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Maker's Stamp macro view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 Maker’s Stamp macro view. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed, pic 2. Photograph by VividPeace.com

The Gibson M2 in Citron Green. Pickguard electronics exposed, pic 2. Photograph by VividPeace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. They do have the colorful and sonorous Gibson Firebird Zero!

What’s on tap for what I’m going to do to mod mine?
I’m leaving the body, pickguard, and tuners alone on my M2. They’re just fine and nicely done. What’s on my agenda to mod the M2 is to switch to either Bournes low-effort pots, a Switchcraft jack, better wires, a nice PIO (paper in oil) capacitor, and some type of pickup upgrade. I’ll be using the existing switch and pickup trim rings/springs.

I’m still debating which pickup work to do. I have a killer pair of matched Seymour Duncan Blackouts (series 1, gold covers), and I have a really nice non-matched pair of Seymour Duncan pickups in which I’ve switched the magnets to Alnico 3 (neck) and Alnico 4 (bridge). A third choice might be a pair of odd-fellow DiMarzio humbucker from my parts drawers that have nice output and can be nicely split with some Bournes push-pull DPDT pots I’ve picked up.

If I go with the Seymour Duncan Blackouts, I’ll be using the factory pots, jack, and wiring plus a nice PIO capacitor. With my one-off Seymour passives or the DiMarzios, I’ll be using some of the really nicely matched and assembled pots and jack from my goodies box. Since the DiMarzios are four conductor pickups, I’ll split them for sure, one pickup per knob.

In all cases, the slick-finished black hat knobs are not easy for my hands to grip or to do swells with a pinky while playing. I generally switch to either knurled dome knobs or speed knobs to make things a lot easier for my playing style. (Suffice it to say I have a couple of bags of genuine Gibson hat knobs. 🙂 )

If I can get time to write a post-modification review, I’ll post it here with pics!

Why Mod my Gibson M2?
I wanted the M2 for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I wanted to see what Gibson was doing, how well it was being done, and to see what sonic possibilities there might be found with a very low-cost instrument. The other (strong) reason I wanted an M2 was to use it as an easy-change recording mule: nice bright body; lightweight; and a snap to change out the pickups and wiring.

If I were a beginner, or if I were recommending a guitar to one of my students, I would recommend the M2 based on its merits, not on its mod-ability: it’s a great guitar on its own.

Note that I’m saving the original wiring of my M2, because it uses the connectors found in the Gibson Quick-connect system. I have several sets of different Gibson (and Seymour and Dimarzio) pickups with Gibson Quickconnect connectors on them, so I might reverse the mods and just use QC-capable pickups in my mule.

zZounds does not have the Gibson M2. Here’s the Firebird Zero: they back what they sell and the people are the nicest in the business!

Stay tuned. I’ll finish my mods and post pictures and a short review as soon as work and life permits.

The Schaller Fine-Tuning Stopbar Tailpiece Upgrade Extravaganza Review!

The Schaller Fine-Tuning Stopbar Tailpiece Upgrade Tuning Masterpiece on a Budget!

I record music with a dizzying array of instruments almost every day of the year. It’s part of my life force: create; express; make impressions of sounds with lots of different tools and instruments. One of the things that is very important to me as an artist is tuning. If one records a one-take solo, some wiggle room can be OK for a recording – a guitar can drift a bit in its tuning during the recording as long it is not drastic or irritating. On the other hand, once one starts recording multiple tracks with the same instrument over a period of an evening, the tuning drift can be quite annoying, as the creative process becomes all about re-tuning and re-playing.

In addition, not all guitars (even not all super-well-made guitars and basses) intonate properly or are even easy to tune. As much as Grovers have meant to me for the past 4 decades, even the little Mini Grovers on 6 inline headstocks or 12-string headstocks can be a real hassle to tune just right. The ratio is too low, they’re too close together, and the tiny buttons don’t have a lot of smooth travel to get micro adjustments. This isn’t a ding specifically on Grover! It has to do with small tuners with low tuning ratios in cramped spaces. I’ve been tinkering with tuners and tuning in my recording studio for more than a decade now. I’ve gone from all Grover modern to trying a HUGE number of locking tuner brands and models to tailpiece and nut adjustments.

So what’s the point of this review? The most important part of tuning for recordings is getting the temperament and sweetening of a guitar’s innate tuning JUST RIGHT so different instruments can play nice together in the same piece of music. It’s astonishing how a little tiny fraction of fretboard length in front of the nut or a tiny fraction of an inch of the bridge mounts or saddles can completely ruin an attempt to record two instruments together.

That’s where fine tuners come in! My Floyd-Rose-equipped guitars already have fine tuners and lots of adjustability (and rock-stable tuning!). They are the vast minority of my instrument library, and Floyds just aren’t a good thing to do to guitars not built for them. In addition, my baritones and basses just don’t “Floyd.” With that said, there are stop-tail fine tuners out there for 6-string guitars. Several brands have made attempts at making fine-tuning stop bars, some with more success than others. I love the Gibson TP-6 tailpiece: it’s not as inexpensive as I would like, but it works great. I have several and use them frequently.

That’s where the most recent iteration of the Schaller Fine-Tuning Stopbar Tailpiece comes into play. They’re great, and they’re relatively inexpensive. And I can install them without modifying my stoptail-built Gibson at all! Read on…

zZounds does not have the Schaller Fine-Tuning Tailpiece, but they do offer a variety of fine Schaller products.


Quick Opinion:
Honestly, I have seen them for years, but haven’t come to the point of buying some until recently. A stand-up guy on eBay and Reverb sells Schaller parts as an authorized retailer and gave me a good price on a box full of them. I couldn’t be happier! These things are amazing!

If you have a Gibson Stoptail guitar, try one of these! Especially a Firebird or Explorer – these make tuning the 6-inlines a real breeze!

You can read the official Schaller page for these fine fine-tuning tailpieces here on the Schaller.com site. (opens new window)

Features:
The simplicity and function of the Schaller Fine-tuning Stopbar Tailpiece is stunning. They work with existing Gibson USA stop bar tailpiece studs and are just as easy (or easier) to string than the originals.

Here’s what you can expect when you buy a Schaller Fine-tuning Stopbar Tailpiece:
* The tailpieces come in a wide variety of finishes including nickel, chrome, gold, copper, and black chrome – as well as brushed finishes
* The tailpieces come in a nicely-done safe-padded box with two body studs, two mount screws, and the fully-assembled tailpiece
* Each unit has its six fine-tuning wheels ready to go – just back them out to about 3/4 the way out and drop it in
* The string ball mount is very easy to use (nothing as hard as the little posts on a Bigsby trem, for example – just push in the ball and add tension)
* The Schaller Fine-tuning tailpieces I’ve installed have been directly easy to replace in each Gibson I’ve tried. The two mounting screws have a thread that works with your Gibson’s original stop bar studs already in the body. I haven’t yet had to pull the studs out of the body and replace them with the Schaller-supplied ones (NOTE: you might have a Gibson in your AXE-enal that has different threads. I can’t account for absolutely all ages and types of Gibson stop tails)
* The fit and finish on all of the Schaller Fine-tuning tailpieces I’ve used has been flawless. Great fit on all threads and edges, the finish is really well-done

zZounds does not have the Schaller Fine-Tuning Tailpiece, but they do offer a variety of fine Schaller products.

Playability
I can now tune to the cent on even my most stubborn of Gibson stoptail guitars. It’s easy to do, and works very quickly. The simple lever-based mechanism in the Schaller tailpiece is very efficient and effectively has a huge ratio between turns and tuning: that is, it allows for VERY fine tuning with a simple turn of the thumbwheel on a given string. I’m very happy that it works so well!

Also, unlike the Gibson TP-6, the FEEL of the stopbar under the palm is VERY smooth and doesn’t feel rough at all. It’s a pleasure to play and use.

I can even do little twists of the thumbwheels and make micro adjustments in-between measures when there is enough of a rest in the track to reach down and tweak things. This just doesn’t happen with lots of different types of tuners at the headstock.

Sound
One concern I think many guitarists have made about multi-part tailpieces (as opposed to a single-piece forged or cast tailpiece) is that the different component can reduce sustain and proper decay of a given note. To be honest, I have not found this to be the case with the Gibson TP-6 or the Schaller Fine-tuning tailpiece. On my neck-through 2010 Firebird V (“standard”), I have not noticed any reduction of sound or sustain.

If one were to measure actual open-note sustain with scientific instruments, it might be that some ultra-tiny amount of sustain is lost, but to be honest, in practical terms, I can’t hear or feel a loss of sustain. The sound is just fine on the instruments on which I’ve installed the stop bar. I really love having them in my retinue.

zZounds has lots of awesome things in their inventory, and they guarantee what they sell!

Wishes and Wants
I don’t really have any substantial wishes and wants for the Schaller fine-tuning stop bar tailpiece: it’s affordable, easy to install, doesn’t alter the instrument, and really does a great job without messing up the sustain.