Epiphone Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar – Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection

By Jim Fusco:

On this edition of “Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection”, I bring you one of my newer guitars in the Epiphone Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar.  I got this as an amazing birthday gift- one I picked out, but had never actually seen in person.  So, it was a surprise on a couple of counts!


I decided on the Epiphone for a couple of reasons.  First, I found the Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 50s tribute guitar online for a massive $2,000.  The price has come down a bit since then, but man, I fell in love with that guitar.  And why did I fall in love with it?  Well, because of my brother Mike, of course!  He’s always searching for new and exciting things that he will eventually convince me to buy. 🙂  And when he got his incredible Gibson Les Paul Supreme electric guitar (which I hope he’ll write a blog post about someday, too), I knew I had to have one.

But, I also knew I didn’t want to drop that kind of money on just one guitar.  When your “wish list” of guitars is as long as mine was (is?), sometimes you have to make some compromises.  So, I looked around and found this- the Epiphone Les Paul Standard.  It’s the cheapest model they make, but that didn’t matter to me- it was in Pelham Blue, the same color as the Gibson Traditional Pro!  It’s this kind of metallic blue color that was an old car color.  Match that with some cream-colored binding and you’ve got a winning combination.  Plus, it was “only” $399!

So, what makes the Epiphone different from the Gibson?  They’re both owned by the same company.  Well, the Gibson is made in the US.  So, that doubles the price alone.  Does that mean it’s made better?  Personally, I think not, especially after inspecting every square millimeter of my Epi- the thing is made incredibly well.  The Gibson did have a few better features- it has a Plex setup, which is a computerized way of making sure every fret is perfectly in tune.  Ain’t gonna get that on a $399 guitar.

The Gibson also has better pickups- I think they were Burstbucker Pros or something like that.  The Gibson has a full maple cap while the Epiphone only has a maple veneer top.  But honestly, if the guitar is painted an opaque color like my Epiphone is, why pay extra for a higher grade of wood?  Some may say that the tone is altered.  That may be true, but just because a certain tone is slightly “different” doesn’t automatically make it slightly “better”!

So, when I finally got the Epiphone, I knew that I wanted to do some upgrades, both sonically and cosmetically.  It looked great to begin with, but I didn’t like the amber volume knobs.  So, I replaced them with cream colored ones to match the binding.  I then added a great nameplate that my brother got me- see the photo below!

Epiphone Les Paul Standard Pelham Blue with Sheptone PAF Pickups

And finally, I did the biggest upgrade of all- I did a ton of research and bought Sheptone PAF clone pickups that are made to exacting “Patent Applied For” Gibson pickups that were used on the original Les Paul model guitars of the late 1950s.  The output is so much higher on these pickups and the sound is airy and bright.  It’s a whole different league from the stock pickups.  I’m sure those weren’t bad, but I wanted to make this “Jim Fusco Custom” Epiphone as good as a Gibson.  I honestly think these Sheptone pickups are better than the stock pickups on the Gibson LP Traditional Pro!

Oh, and I swapped-out all of the wiring (the wiring harness), volume, and tone pots (potentiometers).  I did all the wiring myself and had a ton of fun doing it.  Now everything in this guitar is in tip-top shape and sounds amazing.  I’m so happy I chose this one, as it was a fun project.  I now have something truly unique.  You’ll be hearing me play my Epiphone Les Paul on many future songs- this is my first LP guitar, so it should offer some vastly different tones than I’ve ever had before!

Stay tuned for more Guitar Reviews from the Jim Fusco Guitar Collection coming your way on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!

Martin MMV Acoustic Guitar – Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to my new series: “Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection”!  I was going to go with a more search-engine friendly name like “Singer-Songwriter-Musician Jim Fusco’s Acoustic and Electric Guitar Collection”, but figured I’d go for simplicity on this one. 🙂

The first entry in my guitar collection series is my acoustic guitar.  That actually kind of sounds odd to me- my singular acoustic guitar.  Yes, I also have an acoustic-electric guitar from Seagull, but the Martin MMV is my one and only true acoustic guitar.  It doesn’t have any electronics in it, and that’s 100% fine by me.  I actually didn’t want an acoustic guitar with electronics in it because I wanted an old-fashioned heirloom type instrument that I could play for the rest of my life and pass-down to my family for generations.  I think I found the perfect guitar for that purpose!Martin MMV Acoustic Guitar

The Martin MMV acoustic guitar was originally made in 2005, though I bought mine in 2009 (and it was made in 2008, I believe). The guitar features all-wood construction with a solid Sitka Spruce top, East Indian Rosewood back and sides (that smells wonderful, by the way), a mahogany neck, and an ebony fretboard.  It has a mortise and tenon neck joint, which I know some people frown upon, but honestly, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to hear any differences between that and a set-in neck.  Plus, I think this method actually makes the guitar stronger so it’ll last in its current condition that much longer.

The guitar features a light gloss finish.  It has some very simple inlays around the sound hole and fake pearl inlays in the fretboard.  The Martin logo at the top is a stick-on gold nameplate, as opposed to the inlayed “C. F. Martin” that’s featured on the much more expensive models.

The tone of this guitar is, in my opinion, truly amazing.  It’s loud, punchy, and projects the bass very well.  The sound is very “tight”, as well.  I thought my Seagull acoustic electric sounded fantastic when I first got it.  But then I played it next to my Martin and it was no contest.  The Martin just sounds great from the start.  It almost sounds like it’s already been recorded, if that makes any sense.  The guitar’s sound is just perfectly in tune and sparkles, especially on a standard “D” chord where it’s mostly higher-pitch notes.Head of Martin MMV Acoustic Guitar

I truly believe the Martin MMV acoustic guitar to be the best overall value in higher-end acoustic guitars.  It has the high-end sound without a high-end price.  The only sacrifice is that it doesn’t look very flashy.  But, I didn’t buy it to look great.  I bought it to sound professional on all of my future recordings.  I’d be happy to field any questions on the sound, the materials, or anything else regarding the Martin MMV acoustic guitar!

Fender Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster – Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection

By Jim Fusco:

Today, I’d like to discuss my Fender Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster!  I wanted this guitar after playing my brother’s exact same model (just different colors).  I couldn’t believe how nice it was to play his guitar.  The string action was low and it just felt so “fast” to play.  It was like it played itself!  The only thing I didn’t like was the “tinny” sound coming from the single-coil pickups, but we both know how to get the correct sound nowadays- get a great tube amp!  So, I decided I wanted my first Strat- a Deluxe Player’s Strat!

Fender Deluxe Player's Stratocaster

This model has a couple of unique features.  Cosmetically, it features gold hardware that you don’t find on a normal Stratocaster.  It also has Vintage Noiseless pickups, which appear on the much more expensive Eric Clapton model.  The guitar also has a button on the front that activates two new pickup combinations, allowing you to use all three pickups at once.  Unfortunately, though, these other pickup combinations don’t sound that good at all  So, they’re not especially useful.

My blue version of the guitar came with a dark brown burled walnut-looking pickguard.  That looks great on my brother’s honey blonde Strat, but not so great on a dark blue one.  I don’t know what they were thinking with that thing…  Anyway, my wife bought me an awesome cream/white pearl pickguard that made it look amazing!  Problem was that stupid button I mentioned earlier.  I had to drill a hole for it in the new pickguard and mount the housing for it on the back of the guard.  It was such a project- no glue I had would hold it in the right spot!  It took a few days, but I finally found a solution.  Oh, and also notice the upgraded volume and tone knobs that match the gold hardware that my brother Mike got me.  They also go to 11- just like in the movie “This Is Spinal Tap”!

These Deluxe Player’s Stratocasters are made in Mexico.  I know some people think less of these guitars, but I can say first-hand that there is almost no difference at all.  The metal pieces are fabricated in the Corona, CA plant (my brother and I took a tour) and the workers…well, even in the US plant, they’re still of Mexican descent!  So, if you have a Mexican guy making it in Mexico or in California- what’s really the difference?  These people all do great work- the quality and craftsmanship on both the Mexican-made and American-made Strats is impressive.  I just can’t justify the cost of having a guitar made literally a 4-hour drive down the road out of the same materials and probably by people in the same families! 🙂

Fender Deluxe Player's Stratocaster

A couple years ago, my parents got me a great present- a tuner that’s built-in to the guitar! It’s called N-Tune and it requires tapping-in to the current electronics and putting a tuning ring under the volume knob.  The volume knob then turns into a pull-knob that activates the tuner.  It’s so convenient and always fascinates people.

I used the Strat almost exclusively on my 2012 album, “Those Around Us”.  It’s so versatile and sounds great clean or distorted.  Plus, it plays very nicely with my Fender Blues Jr. amp.  It’s also the only single-coil guitar I have (other than the P-90s, but that has its own sound) so now it will fill a very important space of my overall sound.  I think this Stratocaster is one I’ll have for a very, very long time!

Ibanez ARX300 Electric Guitar – Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to another edition of “Jim Fusco’s Guitar Collection” here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!  The Ibanez ARX300 electric guitar, the subject of today’s post, is one that I loved at first sight.

Ibanez ARX300 Electric Guitar with EMG 60 and 81 pickups

I remember the moment quite well- looking through a Musician’s Friend catalog and seeing  its wonderful double cutaway body and flamed maple top.  I noticed that it was from Ibanez, my favorite guitar company at the time.  Then, I only had two real guitars- my Ibanez Artcore acoustic and my Ibanez AM73T electric guitar.  So, I knew it would be another Ibanez in my collection after seeing this ARX300!  The funny thing is that I only just now learned that this has a CARVED maple top!  That’s the kind of top you only see on much higher-end guitars, like American-made Gibsons.  Most guitars in this price range (I think it was about $300 to $350 at the time) have laminated or veneered tops.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a carved quilted maple top is oh-so wonderful.

I was also interested to learn today that this is the ARX300 and not the ARX320 like I’ve been calling it for so long.  I guess the ARX320 came out a bit later.  It looks essentially the same, except mine (the ARX300) has a black painted faded edge and the 320 doesn’t.  The 320 also has silver-looking rings around the pickups where the 300 has cream-colored rings.  Personally, I think I like the cream color better- I guess more “shredders” (who this guitar was made for in the first place) like the more “metal” look.

Of course, anyone that knows the style of music I play here on the music video blog knows that I don’t “shred”.  But, I wanted this guitar for the look alone.  I was getting tired of everyone pigeon-holing my musical style because of the look of my AM73T guitar.  That looks like an old-fashioned electric guitar from the 1950s.  I wanted to be known as a more modern rock’n’roller while I was in the band Masters of the Universe, or MoU.  So, the Ibanez ARX300 would be my “harder rock” guitar.

So, I played it for a few years before I got another electric guitar.  I actually didn’t even have another 6-string electric until I bought my Fender Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster many years later.  So, this was my only alternate to my semi-hollow electric I love so dearly.

When I realized I had too many electric guitars (that was before I got the newest two, mind you), I decided that the best way to quench my thirst for new stuff was to upgrade the guitars I already have.  So, I started thinking of ways to give each guitar its own identity.  I already had the semi-hollow guitar with the Gibson Burstbucker Pro pickups in it, the Strat with single-coils, the Epiphone with hand-wound PAF pickups, the Gretsch with its own signature sound, the P90s with their own type of biting sound, etc.  So, what would the identity of the beautiful Ibanez ARX300 be?

Well, I decided to go back to its “metal” roots and make it my hard rock/soloing guitar.  I did a ton of research and eventually decided on something completely different- new active (battery-powered) pickups from EMG!  I chose the same pickup combination that James Hetfield from Metallica uses.  I didn’t do that on purpose- just turned out that way.  After removing my old pickups and doing an intricate splicing job (as the Ibanez was wired much differently than a normal guitar- just my luck), I was greeting with a great new look on my guitar (as these are “blackout” pickups that have just a matte-finished black covering on them) and an axe that was ready to rock.

Ibanez ARX300 Electric Guitar with EMG 60 and 81 pickups

To be honest, I’m not in love with the bridge pickup.  I think it’s the EMG-81.  It’s too tinny for my tastes- sounds like a fly buzzing when you play it.  I’m sure it’s great for certain types of music, but for my style, I just don’t hear it fitting-in.  But, the true magic of this set is the EMG-60 pickup in the neck position.  Good God.  The thing has this full sounding overdrive without even turning it up- it’s so “fluid” sounding.  I just love the way it makes you instantly feel like a better player.  I can’t wait to bust this out on a future recording- I’m telling you, my guitar solos are going to sound so much better than ever before.  I hope that these new EMG pickups will make my solos stand-out better in the mix, as well!

So, that’s it- I now have an upgraded electric guitar for soloing that looks the part, as well- I’m so glad I was able to breathe new life into my Ibanez ARX300 guitar because I think I’ll always be in love with its amazing looks.  Listen for it on my future original songs!