I’m always looking for new ways to expand my arsenal of available tones for performance; to get new and interesting sounds to play with. I recently started – slowly – trying to learn some harmonica parts to add to certain songs. That started with “Piano Man” by Billy Joel; I recently transcribed the piano part to guitar, and have been performing the song, but that harmonica part is so iconic that I just had to learn it. It’s coming along, but not ready for performance just yet…(EDIT: After a mostly-successful performance of the song at a recent open mic night (at La Ristra New Mexican Kitchen, hosted by friend Kevin Crum of “The Cover Ups” the first Tuesday of each month), I can say that I’m ready to go with the harmonica and will be adding it to my live shows!)
(Side note: I still chuckle that I perform a Billy Joel song – named “PIANO Man” – with no piano whatsoever. I’d change the lyrics to “Sing us a song, you’re the guitar man…”, but it just sounds odd….)
The other thing I’ve wanted for quite some time is the ability to play some electric guitar parts when I perform; particularly during live-looping. I wanted to rip some leads and play some spanky blues! But the last thing I wanted to do was haul yet another guitar to gigs, and switching guitars in the middle of a song only works on very rare occasions. I needed another solution….
Enter the GraphTech Ghost piezo bridge system with AcoustiPhonic preamp!
Most acoustic-electric guitars use what is known as a piezo-electric system that allows them to be plugged in to a PA or amplifier. In the simplest terms, the piezo crystal sits under the bridge saddle, and reacts to vibration, turning it into electrical signals that can be amplified. The GraphTech Ghost system uses similar technology, but can be added to an electric guitar, allowing it to sound like an acoustic instrument!
Originally, I was going to purchase a guitar with this system pre-installed; I had my eye on a Parker PDF35. I’ve had a secret lust for a Parker guitar for many years, but they used to be fairly expensive. However, recently they came out with a far more affordable (read: foreign made) line of instruments, and I immediately was drawn to the beautiful PDF35. But this guitar in on a lengthy backorder (perhaps due to the recent labor negotiations and strike threats going on at our ports), so being the tinkerer that I am, I decided to buy the bridge system and install it into a guitar I already own and like; my blue Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plus (the same guitar I can be seen holding in the header image of my website!).
The GraphTech Ghost system that I purchased includes the bridge itself, a volume control (which has a push/pull switch to activate two EQ variations), a toggle switch (which allows the guitar to output signals from the piezo bridge, the magnetic pickups, or a blend of both), and the AcoustiPhonic preamp. The preamp is what gives the signal a “boost” and it’s tonal character.
The installation wasn’t all that bad once I figured it all out. I had to drill several holes in the guitar; 3 below the bridge for the six wires (2 per hole) that correspond to the six piezo saddles that hold the strings and pick up the vibrations, and a hole for the mini-toggle switch.
I chose to drill an entirely new hole for the switch (I could have put it in the control cavity with the other knobs, but decided not to crowd the controls).
I still haven’t found a suitable cover for the 3/4″ hole that’s now in the back of the guitar….but I will!
The GraphTech system sounds INCREDIBLE! It really does sound like an acoustic guitar. The two available EQ curves are subtly different, but noticeable.
I also installed a pair of my favorite humbucking pickups; Seymour Duncan (Jazz neck, JB bridge).
The standard configuration for a Les Paul guitar includes separate volume and tone controls for each humbucker pickup; four knobs. I decided to combine the tone controls (thank you, seymourduncan.com for the great wiring diagrams!), so the pickups each have their own volume control, but the tone control is a “master” for both. The tone knob is also a push/pull, and pulling up on the knob “coil splits” the pickups, giving them a sound more similar to a Fender Stratocaster guitar. Single-coil pickups have a “twang” to them, whereas humbuckers (dual-coil) are warmer and have more output. I now have both tone options available in this guitar.
Because I combined the two humbuckers’ tone control, I was able to install the GraphTech volume control in the remaining spot, so the guitar retains the four-knob configuration.
And now it’s time to practice! With all the new sounds available to me, I have to re-learn how to arrange some songs to get the most out of my performances. I’ve already been experimenting with some high-gain distortions (from my Boss RC-300 looper), and I’ve got a smile a mile wide. Being able to lay down some acoustic loops and then do some electric guitar shredding over the top of it is already expanding what I can do in a live setting. I just have to perfect all the switching on the guitar and the effects on the pedalboard and I’ll be ready to add yet another dimension to my performances.
Once I’m comfortable with the setup, I’ll take my Dean Exotica FM acoustic/electric six-string out of service, and replace it with the modified Les Paul and be ready to rip at my solo gigs! But the Dean will still see plenty of use as my go-to guitar for Open Mic Night hosting (and you’re welcome to play it if you forget your own guitar!). I’m working hard to get it all perfected and I’ll be rocking’ out even harder very soon, so come on out to a show and say hi!