Sunday, 22 September 2013

Westone Guitars

I've owned a couple of Westone electrics over the years and have always been pretty much blown away by their sound, look and build quality. I owe a strong debt to those Japanese manufacturers and retailers who built and sold my black Spectrum ST back in the early '80's: this was a guitar that was superbly set-up from the get-go and built like a tank. After owning and trying to play a couple of dud's (Kay's Les Paul and a friend's dodgy Tele) I could now get down to the serious business of learning barre chords, scale runs - generally just exploring the guitar and having fun.

Let's face it, that's the basic rule when you're a beginner, you just want something that stays in tune and you can fret chords and single notes without being Arnold Schwarzenegger - you don't want to have to fight the instrument every time you pick it up. 'Chasing tone' can come later on.

In the early 80's I didn't really know anything about string action or the weird and wonderful world of intonation, like many others in the pre-internet days I was fumbling in the dark.

It's sad to think how many budding Jeff Beck's got frustrated with their playing and truly believed they would never be able to play the guitar, and all they needed was some half clued-up geezer to come along and tweak the neck relief and nut, or just put a Phillips head to the bridge saddles. Knowing what I know now, I would have been a god back then, I could have made a few quid, not to mention a little kudos, unfortunately, my Kung Fu was pretty rubbish.

Anyway, to the rescue was my shiny little Japanese friend: two humbuckers, tremolo and a curly/pointy Strat style headstock. When I plugged it in, it actually sounded like an electric guitar, when I played along with a record the guitar sounded in tune with it - this was a revelation! Praise the Lord!!

Trawling E-Bay for guitars a few years back, for some reason my mind alighted on that old Westone and I did a search. It was funny seeing an ST for the first time in twenty odd years - the first one I saw was white, with a buy it now price of £75. I noticed most other models going for around that too. The only ones breaking the ton barrier were the Thunder models.

I'd always been a fan of the Westone Thunders since having a guy demonstrate one for me in a shop around 1985. I was actually in the process of buying a Japanese Fender Strat which was more expensive, but the guy was really doing a job of wowing me with this second hand Westone - very honest guy! He admitted that the Strat was better overall, but seemed genuinely surprised and impressed by this tatty 'no-name' axe that had wondered into his shop.

Thunders were built like tanks, with different versions having not just a coil tap as standard, but active circuitry, brass nut and bridge. The 'natural' finish models had beautiful book-matched wood combinations in the bodies, like exotic marquetry.

The problem was the name and the country of origin of course. Although the Japanese company had given their instruments a Western anglicized name, they were often sold out of mail order catalogues. Nowadays, Japanese instruments made in the 80's like Tokai, Ibanez, Yamaha, Aria and Squire sell for big money. But back in the early '80's Japanese stuff still had the whiff of sweatshops and bad construction about them. I even had that same feeling about my Asian Fender underneath - but it was as close as I could get to a 'real' Fender on my meager budget.

Anyway, for the sake of nostalgia I purchased an '83 Westone Thunder last year for £150 off E-Bay.
It was an itch that had to be scratched. It was odd seeing that natural finished, scratched and dented messenger from the past in my living room after all those years. And yes, I got the same finish as the one I remembered in that shop all those years before. You know what's going on right? It really could have been that very same guitar!

I kept it for about 7-8 months and then did a few mods on it - re-finished the body, new pickups, electronics - and then sold it again for a couple of hundred. There's a time to let everything go.

Maybe it'll come sailing on back to me again in my dotage. Westones are always good Karma.

Here's a few pics of the Thunder after it's makeover:

~ H-Allen