Words & Photography by Neil Boland
Don’t judge a book by its cover. In the world of wacky and obscure musical instrument design, one can easily assume that if it looks clunky, old and quite frankly, uncomfortable to play, it might sound a little bit off. A little bit too indie. A little bit, well, out of tune and scratchy.
But if you just grab a random cheapie off the wall and just play the damn thing, the results may surprise you.
First up at Found Sound is a Tonika EGS-650, a late 60s/early 70s slab of weirdness built in the then Soviet Union. It’s not easy on the eyes – it looks like it was built with the lights off, and is shaped like a mangled steak, or an American state – but upon navigating its fencepost neck with internally-inlaid fretboard binding(!) you realise that, when played with the single-coil pickups in front position, you get a sweet and warm jazz tone.
I can only imagine what the bridge pickup sounds like, as the four-way varitone switch needs a little bit of love to be able to turn. I’d like to imagine you’d be able to get some Bill Frisell-ish countrified modern jazz twang out of it.
Now, to a little bit of German class and precision: the 1962 Framus 5/120 Billy Lorento, a hollowbody electric guitar (‘semi-acoustic’, if forum geeks wanna argue), with a beautifully-distressed red sunburst finish. The surprise here is the funk factor. In the bridge, depending on your playing attitude, the pickup can fly for 60s funk as well as Atkins-approved country music. And if you like pearloid, the block inlays on this beauty go right to the edge of the fretboard!
Both guitars were played through a Yamaha G50-112 FIFTY112 solid-state amplifier. Solid state you cry? Yes. This little Japanese clean tone machine from the 80s, modified in the 90s with a Crate Custom Design speaker, will blow many tube-driven guitar amps out of the water in this price range. Try this thing, and leave your ‘I only use valve/tube amps’ cliché at the door. Do some interwebs research and you’ll read of many famous players with gorgeous tones who used reliable solid-state amps in the studio for clean tones, while their tube Marshalls and Boogies did the less-refined grunt work in the distortion department. Add lush reverb and you have a clean dream with soul for days.
Speaking of the 80s: if you love 80s synths and glossy pop music, the Roland Juno range (the 106 was present on the day of review) is an economical way of adding anything from shiny New Wave plasticity to Van Halen-like padding to any band’s sound, without forking out for an ultra-obscure and expensive Oberheim OB-X or similar. But these things rotate through Found Sound faster than a Spinal Tap drum stool, so ‘like’ Found Sound on Facebook, or better still get on to their RSS feed so you know the very second new instruments get added.
Check out www.foundsound.com.au for more info