About the Schecter A-5X and other "celloblasters"

Discussion in 'Extended Range Guitars' started by mrspiral, Jan 18, 2011.

  1. mrspiral

    mrspiral what's an 'aebea'?

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    I've seen a few posts about the Schecter A-5X and thought I'd throw in some user data for those folks who might be curious. New poster here, I hope I don't step on any toes...

    I've had my A-5X for about ten years now. I got it in 2001, right around the time that Alex Gregory started legal action against Schecter, when the remaining inventory went up on sale for reduced prices. As a former bassist who hadn't played any string instruments for years and was curious to get back into it, there was something about the A-5X that really appealed to me. I got mine from the rapidly dwindling stock at Drum City Guitarland in the Denver Area... big shout out to Jason for his help on that.

    I have played the A-5X as my primary instrument ever since, and it's become something of a trademark for me in the music circles I hang in (mostly ambient electronica, which needs more guitar players, thank you very much), having appeared with me in live shows and on albums many times.

    Originally it was sold to be tuned completely in fifths, and you could get two kinds of strings for it directly from Schecter: the NeoClassical strings promoted for the original CB-2000 Celloblaster by Alex Gregory, and Schecter's later Decimator strings. The former were used for a cello tuning CGDAE bottom to top, and the latter for the AEBF#C# tuning. I've had decent luck putting together string sets to replace my Decimators, which ran out years ago; the NeoClassicals are of a very odd composition ("Blastwound copper") and I haven't been able to find anything quite like them. I bought a box of the string sets when they went out of stock, and have been hoarding them ever since; I still have a few sets and take them out for new recordings when their very bright pianolike tone is called for.

    I am not bad at setting up the A-5X and adjusting its intonation when I swap string gauges, which happens every year or so as I change mood. A while back, I developed my own tuning for the A-5X, AEBEA, from which I took the name "aebea" (rhymes with "idea"). This lets me play power chords easily with one finger on the bottom strings, but allows for traditional scales on the top strings, letting me leverage my bass guitar training. Using the heavier strings I use the AEBEA tuning 90% of the time, the rest being AEBF#C# or an Irish Bouzouki tuning of AEAEA. With the higher strings, I more often use the all-fifths CGDAE, but also CGDGC as well.

    The only down side to the alternate tuning is that it affects sustain adversely. If you have an instrument tuned in all fifths, the resonating strings don't interfere with one another as much as they do on an instrument with fourths and thirds in the tuning, so sustain is markedly improved. It seems like black magic, but it works: with a fresh set of NeoClassicals and CGDAE tuning, the A-5X will sustain for a week.

    The body is swamp ash and the fingerboard is rosewood, chunky but not a baseball bat. It holds tuning and intonation decently well, although if you mess with tuning as much as I do, the strings start to go pretty quickly. The real problem with the NeoClassical strings is that they sound dynamite when they're brand new, but exposure to sweat deteriorates them rapidly and they get muddy and characterless. My rule for them is: string on Friday, record like mad on Saturday and Sunday, and hope they're still good the following weekend.

    Since the instrument was originally designed for heavy rock and metal, its pickups are blisteringly hot Duncans. For my uses, they're almost too much, and I tend to dial them back a lot. While the coil tap and pickup select are nice tweaks, I find for my uses that I tend to leave the coil tap off, leave the tone all the way up, and simply switch between the bridge pickup and both pickups. The neck pickup is too muddy on its own, which is why the CB-2000 (which has only a single pickup near the neck) doesn't sound as good as the A-5X. I am contemplating turning the coil tap into a kill switch, which is much more useful for my genre (I do a fair bit of looping).

    If folks have questions about this beastie, I can try to answer them as factually as I can; I will try to stay away from theorizing about Alex Gregory's motives for killing this exceptional instrument in the cradle, and just be glad I own one. If anything happened to it, I'd be heartbroken; I have a relatively rare matte-silver model and it would be hard to replace in any finish, let alone the silver.

    Thanks for letting me ramble.

    mike
     
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  2. Demiurge

    Demiurge Intrepid Jackass

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    Awesome first post; however, you've gotta post some pictures of the silver one.
     
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  3. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    It's worth noting that the Gregory-patented "PentaSystem" is based on a few centuries of prior art. I think that a company, armed with a small amount of research, could slap the patent out of Gregory's name.

    As it is, there are quite a few five-string electric mandolins and bouzoukis which draw on that prior art... and Gregory hasn't said a word. I remember groups like Steeleye Span and Silly Wizard playing electric instruments since the '70s/'80s, so I have no doubt he knows on what side his bread is buttered, and takes no action that will rob him of his attempt of claiming to have developed what had been around for a few decades.

    ----

    I'm curious as to the composition of the "blastwound copper" strings. From the patent, it looks like the strings were steel, wound with a copper winding. I don't think the copper would react with the pickup, and would purely be for mass. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't think that copper was magnetic; the only magnetic field from copper would actually be the one generated by running a current through that copper.)

    If that is true... I wonder what would be the result of using a slightly more corrosion-resistant string like a equivalently gauged phosphor bronze string. Have you ever tried this? For the cost of a few bucks, I'd give it a shot.

    Just a thought!
     
  4. ixlramp

    ixlramp SS.org Regular

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    Good post! I'm a fifths tuning enthusiast. The A-5X is a fascinating instrument.
     
  5. arsonist

    arsonist SS.org Regular

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    PICS!!!!!!!!! :]
     
  6. signalgrey

    signalgrey Ambiente Savante

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    id love to get one and try it out. sounds really interesting.
     
  7. All_¥our_Bass

    All_¥our_Bass Deathly Chuuni

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    The mirrored "AEBEA" tuning is much like how some people set up their chapman sticks, fifths on the bottom, fourths on the top, I think the opposite would be cool for pianistic tapping, you could easily do walking bass lines-which are awkward in fifths, but easy in fourths, and I find chords easier in fifths.

    I play a sixer in FCGDAE and I now like it so much better than standard, stacked fourths comes in second, and I'd love to try a major thirds tuning and a minor third one too.

    I'm now enthused with the idea of getting/making a multiscale guitar to go all the all the way from Gary Goodman's high B to a bass Bb or sub-bass Eb completely in fifths.

    :agreed:

    :worth:

    Pics or it didn't happen!! :lol:
     
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  8. All_¥our_Bass

    All_¥our_Bass Deathly Chuuni

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    DELETED DOUBLEPOST
     
  9. ellengtrgrl

    ellengtrgrl SS.org Regular

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    You're right, copper is not magnetic. About all the copper would do, is affect the vibrating mass, and hence the tone from the string, due to its movement/vibration in the magnetic field of the pickup being a bit different (also due on part to tonal interactions between the strings and the guitar [copper would sound different, just as phsophor bronze strings on an acoustic, sound different, than nylon or steel strings on an acoustic guitar]) than a more conventionla string's movement/vibration in the pickup's magnetic field.
     
  10. Mordacain

    Mordacain Formerly 1-watt brigadier

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    Excellent first post! :welcome: and thanks for the great information!
     
  11. thrashcomics

    thrashcomics SS.org Regular

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    i have been thinking of these things the past few weeks. didnt tommy lee have a sig model?
     
  12. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    Although I have since converted my 8-strings back to electric-bass/whole-step-detuned guitar (E1-A1-D2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4), I had all of them in full fifths previously, from Bb0 to B4 and from Ab0 to A4. It was interesting in terms of playing, but I finally decided that it was easier to achieve good horizontal positioning in terms of root notes on chords with dropped standard combined with the bass notes.

    I know that a lot of people debate whether detuning with a 25.5" scale sounds good or not. Those who actually use strings which match the tension of the upper side of the instrument insist it works for them. Those who say it doesn't work... well, if they give any details at all, a quick calculation shows that they didn't go with the appropriate gauge, but normally it just seems they may not even have tried it themselves.

    Anyway, I made it work for both 25.5" (Bb0 to B4) and 28.625" (Ab0 to A4). If you want suggestions regarding string gauges for any scale length, send me a PM with what you current use, and at what scale length, and I'll do some quick calculations.

    Cheers!
     
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  13. mrspiral

    mrspiral what's an 'aebea'?

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    Thank you all for the generous welcome and the interesting thoughts. I have toyed with the idea of an 8-string with two sets of four strings for bass and midrange, but my real interest is actually going to FEWER strings with an extended range; I am looking into building a 3-string baritone instrument tuned BEA like the bottom three strings of a 7-string. I think this would work well with a scale length like the A-5X's, and would be suitable for my playing with larger ensembles, which frequently feature anywhere from one to five other guitarists at any given time, not to mention a bassist or two. (Yes, eight string players on stage at once. People need to rethink what they think ambient electronica is.) :)

    I could experiment with phosphor bronze strings easily enough, and that's a valid thought. The blastwound copper ones have such a unique timbre, it would be a real facepalm to discover I could get reasonably close so easily!

    As for a photo of Betty, I don't have many of them, but I have a couple that were taken during rehearsals at the Different Skies music festival. Let me see if this interface will let me post links to them... nope it won't, I'll have to load entire webpages. Sorry about that.

    Shots from the 2006 Different Skies

    This isn't perfect because it loads a full page of images from the 2006 festival, but you can see me playing Betty partway down the page on the left.

    Another one that shows the color a bit better is the shot of me mugging for the camera while restringing her just before tech rehearsals in 2007, found partway down the page on the right, here:

    Shots from the 2007 Different Skies

    Sorry I don't have anything more closeup and easy to load than these. The second pic in particular will hopefully give you all a feel for the lovely finish on the silver A-5X. If I can, I'll shoot some direct photos and find a place to post them; it hadn't occurred to me before that almost all the extant shots of the A-5X on the web are in fact of the black and red, which aren't nearly as pretty as the silver!

    And yes, if you wander around the above site, you will see many guitars, basses, and Chapman Sticks, tarantulas and other spiders crawling over gear, lots of absinthe, some truly amazing architecture, some truly funny-looking musicians, and a sh!t-ton of synthesizers. This was my life for the past 8 years. :)

    mike
     
  14. Explorer

    Explorer He seldomly knows...

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    Here's a few pics of the main instrument for any traditional music gigs:

    Sevenstring.org - Explorer's Albums

    I can understand the appeal of extended range with only a few courses. In my case, since it was just as easy to cover so many mando-family instruments, along with their double-strung-course sound, with just some relatively minor changes to a stock instrument, it cost me much less to go this route, especially since a mandocello can run much more than what it cost me to buy this and get it set up correctly.

    The usefulness of the mandophone, and my wish to cover a range of bowed instruments in a similar way, is leading me to get a fretless electric six-string in the next year. The eBow does just fine in terms of tone, but the frets prevent my really getting the pitch slides....
     
  15. ixlramp

    ixlramp SS.org Regular

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    Unison courses in fifths, very nice. I much prefer unison courses, the chorus effect is richer.
     
  16. ElRay

    ElRay Mostly Harmless

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    What is the string spacing like? Especially at the nut. The neck looks about 1-1/2" wide at the nut, which would give about .3" (8mm) spacing at the nut. That's pretty roomy.

    Ray
     
  17. foxyguitars

    foxyguitars SS.org Regular

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    necrobump for the father of them all :

    this original Schecter CelloBlaster serial number 1 built by the USA Custom Shop in 1998 paved the way for the A-5x and Cb-2000 used by Robert Smith of the Cure and many others

    Celloblaster serial number 1 was built by the USA Custom Shop in 1998

    [​IMG]
     
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  18. ixlramp

    ixlramp SS.org Regular

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    I love 5ths tuning and the concept of this, but it is also a little odd that they did not just simply tune a 6 string in fifths and avoid the effort of having to produce a 5 string guitar. More range and still on a narrow neck.
    I'm not sure if you were misled by Alex's naive nonsensical claims of the time, but this is not the case. The resonance between pitches depends on what actual pitches are played, not the open tuning, so the open tuning is mostly irrelevant. People don't just strum the open strings when they play.
     
  19. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    I think not tuning a 6 in 5ths makes sense commercially, and allows this more uniquely attractive product to exist (as opposed to a 6 string someone can just restring in standard). 5ths range on a 6 without a fan is pushing it even though it works - It's not something I'd want to release commercially especially not back then (trying to convince someone they can tune up to high G or so safely, or that pitches an octave down are useful/can work on a standard scale/have strings available etc). CGDAE works really nicely. Though I do love doing that on a baritone and adding a low F :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
    Zhysick and I play music like this.
  20. ixlramp

    ixlramp SS.org Regular

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    Yes some good points. A low F back then would have seemed extremely low and un-guitar like, we're more used to F# recently.
     
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