Does your Telecaster measure up?

21 04 2014

We know these guys in Montana who build guitars for “US Soldiers far afield”. They call themselves “The Secret Strat Project”. Since 2009, they’ve been eating Macaroni and Cheese and building guitars for the boys… and (gasp!) girls… out there flapping from the handlebars in harm’s way.

We KNOW these guys.

They were studio cats when making music was far more important than making money. These guys made their bones when Classic Rock was King.  They played for the sport of it.  They placed for the scars. They never really learned how to “understand” money.

They’re still proving it to this day, pouring their hearts and souls into Alder and Ash, Tolex and capacitors, so that they can give the products of all that labor away for free.

Capt America3-webThey don’t play “pointy necked guitars” and they don’t wear make-up or grow their hair long.

They aren’t “Boulevard Pretty Boys” or “Starbucks Babies”. They’re the guys that you walk quickly past in dimly lit parking lots. They moved to “places farflung” about the  time that “Hair Bands” and “front men covered in wild make-up” started moving into the limelight.  They figured that it was just safer for all those young guys. No “Young Turk” wants to have to admit to getting his butt kicked by an “Old Lion”…

They’re kinda scary if the truth be told. These are “serious guys”. When they “Maple Up”, They can make you cry. For all the bars, scars and wars, they just connect to that Alder and Ash like “Bees to Honey”. What happens when they put the headphones on is almost magic.

But don’t let that fool you… these are also the kind of guys that came back from hard places and then venture out into the night with a knife to return the next day with a deer or an elk thrown over the hood of their truck.

Speaking of knives, they’re the kind of guys that will look you in the eye, laugh in your face and then say stuff like;

“That ain’t a knife… THIS is a knife. And it’s girlfriend is a ’52 Tele…”

Case in point;

NIghtcrawler gets a GFApparently, if you don’t fit the axe they’re building, they just use one to carve you down, until you do. 🙂

They mock up guitars for construction using inspirations from a lot of different places. Apparently one of them is from watching too many “slasher” movies. 🙂

Oh yeah, they’re also Vets covered in scars and bad dreams – trying to insure that kids out there on the rim of the world don’t have bad dreams. You see, they give these kids “Maple Mistresses” to help them get through the long nights, waiting until dawn.

Black BettyIf you have a guitar, an amp, pedals, or other gear burning a hole in your closet and you ‘d like to see it get to a good home, please contact “The Secret Strat Project” Guys by leaving your information here. We’ll see to it that the message gets there ASAP. These guys are doing something great and we’re proud to be a part of it.

Swampcaster 02



What are we working on NOW?

7 04 2014

Well, right this minute, in collaboration with the fine folks over at “The Secret Strat Project“… we’re working on THIS:

Green Dragon - web

They call her “The Green Dragon”.

These guys can not only rock with the best of them (there’s about 150 years of  guitar playing between them), they build their own axes  to do it with. They build axes to die for. They build axes to kill people over. They build axes that will kill you… rather you’ll kill yourself when you come to the grim realization that YOUR axe will never sound like that.

Tone to the bone, man.  Tone to the BONE.


An “OPEN” Fan Letter to Frank at JOE BARDEN Engineering – JBE Pickups!

10 07 2012

After a brief… okay, okay… extended hiatus –

We’re back with a vengeance.

NO! Despite what you may have heard, we were NOT;

(A) In Rehab,

(B) Incarcerated, or

(C) Hiding out in Mexico from Lawyers…

Right now, we’re building axes like Zombies were at the front door!

Our Project Telecaster needs to meet Joe Barden pickups.

Everyone who has ever played a Fender Telecaster has heard of Joe Barden.

Their pickups are legendary. Love ’em or hate ’em, these pups really make Teles do what they were designed to do, while negating some of the “flaws” our Teles all suffer.

Many of you have heard about “Ronin’s Secret Strat Project“.

The “Secret Strat Project” is a mission driven by a small handful of  Vets and reprobates that buy, rebuild and then donate Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters to American Soldiers far afield, who spend their life in combat zones flapping from the proverbial handlebars.

The four of us use our paychecks (well, the part of our paychecks that we can wrestle away from our wives) to build these guitars… and then we arrange for them to be shipped to the front.

We’re building a project Telecaster for a brave soldier in “The Sandbox” – Afghanistan. That’s not really unusual as we do this all the time.

However, we recently became aware of a “bomb catcher” in Afghanistan that spends his days and nights clearing roads and keeping people safe. While he’s doing that, they’ve buried his best friend… his father, a Tele player of over five decades. Our guy borrowed his dad’s “Hot Rod Tele” (without asking, no less) before he was deployed, for “one last fling” before his ship sailed. He left it in a car, in a parking lot when they headed off into the sunset for one last night of drinking and watching the locals. Do the math. You can figure out what happened. He returned to his car, surrounded by broken window glass, to find his father’s favorite Joe Barden hot-rodded Telecaster missing.Let’s jump ahead, shall we?
Said bomb catcher is now flapping from the handlebars in Afghanistan, having lost his dad, trying to get thru grueling days filled with danger and peril
If ever a guy needed some “Maple Love”…. this is the guy.
We’ve found him an “almost” identical Wine colored Telecaster, albeit an MIM (Made in Mexico). We’d love to send him a Fender Am Standard (Made in America), but our budget won’t stretch that far. (We find it ironic that we have to send IMPORT Fender Guitars to American Soldiers.) That “soon to be beautiful” MIM Telecaster guitar is now sitting here on our workbench cradled safely in a Fender TSA case.

Using this MIM Telecaster as a “base”, now we’re going to replicate the tone, the voice of that axe (to the best of our abilities) by replacing the standard pickups and bridge with JBE‘s best…

Why would we spend $300 on an entire guitar, just to rip out it’s guts and replace them with carefully crafted components from JBE Pickups™ that cost almost double what the guitar did?Here’s why:

Our pal’s dad KNEW that JBE pups (pickups) made you a better player.

(And that’s why players either love or hate these pups.) Joe’s pups actually force you to become a better player.
JBE pickups are unforgiving in that they are so clear, so lacking of the “ice-pick fingernail on a chalkboard scratching”, so tight in the bottom that you hear every nuance of tone. The mids are clearer than a summer day of sailing off the Southern Cali coast.

These pups will teach you “tone control”, I assure you.

Play Joe’s pups hard and tight and you’ll sound like Danny Gatton (you wish). Play ’em sloppy and loose and you’ll sound like a hack with thick fingers and no ears.

And, unlike many Telecaster pickups, JBE Pickups™ are “dead quiet”.

Our guy’s dad used a “bootlegged” Callaham Telecaster Bridge to give those pups even more like, getting rid of that thin Fender Vintage bridge.

We’d like to use JBE‘s Vintage Bridge if possible, as we LIKE the increased  thickness and that cool inset that gives a player even more room to “pick like ya mean it”.

We’d like to, but JBE doesn’t make a lefty bridge and that makes us sad. My wife says it’s like wearing a prom dress with old shoes…

No Bueno… 😦

For those of you accursed righties, it should be noted that Joe’s version of the Telecaster bridge has that thicker bridgeplate goes miles to adding more tone and sustain.

And in the end, it’s the tone that is important. 

So, if we put these pups into a Tele equipped with Joe’s Vintage bridge, you have a Telecaster to die for. But we can’t. Bah! A pox on all you “righties” that screwed the pooch. LOL!
Many of you who follow the blog know that I’ve played for years, decades in fact. I’ve played Joe Bardens personally. 
Here’s the warning label they should be forced to install on the guitar once you’ve installed these pups:

“After JBE Pickups™, there is NO turning back.

Your Telecaster will NEVER EVER be the same again.”

They’re THAT good. .Seriously. GOOD Tele players would kill to have one of these Joe Barden equipped guitars in their personal arsenal. They literally DRIP the difference.

The tone is so sweet, so thick… that you can cut it with a Kabar…

Our guy grew up listening to THESE pups in that Telecaster, carefully voiced by his dad’s talented hands. It’s what our guy needs to rebuild that bond with his dad.
It’s what our guy needs. Period.
All that said, you guys know that we spearhead this project by finding and buying used gear to rehab. And, we’ve come to the grim realization that you don’t find JBE pups USED.

Look, JBE Pickups™  either get installed into a cherished Tele “forever”…

… or they go into a drawer, for re-installation later – “for someday when I’m a REAL player”…

July 10th, 2012 – Never ask the guy who makes the pups for advise.

Frank, the “Main Man”  at Joe Barden Engineering stepped up and made this Telecaster Lefty “right”.

We contacted Frank to ask him for advise while we built this left-handed beast;

“Frank, will this work?”

His reply was pretty much to the point.

“Not if you thumb-fingered bozos do it! Send ME the damned pickguard and I’ll do it myself.”

When this pair of Telecaster Angels are completed, I’ll run photos of both Tele’s – the Wine MIM “Soldier of War” and my own Candy Apple Red “Seller of Sorrows”…

Stay tuned, you ain’t gonna wanna miss this one.

And to those of you pounding the aisles and booths at NAMM –

Sadly, JBE Pickups™ will not be there, but you can easily call them or visit their website at

If you’re not considering JBE Pickups™…

You’re either a thumb-fingered hack, or an idiot.

Which ARE you?

The Ultimate Guitarist?

8 03 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

The kid walks into the music lab, all smiles and “tra-la-las…” so I already know that something’s up.

He comes over and hands me a URL he’s crawled on the back of a Gibson Dark Fire pamphlet and says: “Dad, you’re pretty cool and all, but when you can do this, I’ll be impressed.”

Now, I wasn’t even gonna look at the note, because of the pamphlet’s origin. I’m still hacked off  that Gibson isn’t gonna release Dark Fire left-handed. “Nuh-uh!  Not gonna do it!” I talked to the guys there, and they told me “there isn’t enough market.”

Where was I? Oh yeah…

It looks like Ethan Winer might give Edgar Winter some competition, huh?

The Fender Telecaster is one of my favorite guitars! People see them, and immediately think they won’t go anywhere but their “Rock Roots…” but they’re wrong!

This guy reminds me of working with Steve Winwood. That guy could give you nightmares. Being in the room with that much focused talent can be scary, if you ain’t got licks of your own! 😉

If this guy ever answers your ad for a “solid guitarist to fill out the band…” just close the door. Nobody can get any spotlight action with this guy in the room!

And, even “appearance challenged” as he may be, a guy with that many skills is gonna get all the ladies, too! When you see him comin’, I only got this to say; “Run Forrest, Run~!” 🙂

Sez’ Me.

100lft_guitar_ava1PS. As it turns out, I found him again… by accident, on It turns out he’s also a myth-busting audiophile engineer type! So, not only can he play any instrument known to mankind, he can build the studio, all by his “onesies!” I bet he could probably solve world hunger, and create “world peace” too, if he put his mind to it!  I bet he didn’t get those skills watching MTV. Can you say; “Practice, practice, practice!” Kudos, bud! You re making my head hurt! 😉