Guitar Geekery, or Why the Godin SD is a slice of design genius.
Prompted by answering a couple of questions about the sounds on Ghosts & Heroes (no, seriously, people ask these things!), I thought I’d write a short piece on the guitar that did most of the heavy lifting in those sessions. Some of this is going to be a little heavy on the guitar-geekery, but I’ll do my best to keep it interesting for a broader audience.
There are many things to love about my favourite electric guitar, a 1998 Godin SD. It is beautiful. It is, I believe, a unique and clever hybrid. There aren’t many of them on this side of the Atlantic. It was also a screaming bargain on eBay, which always helps.
Why Godin guitars are so relatively affordable is hard to understand; they’re all made in Canada (with the exception of some of their electrics, like this one, which are assembled over the border in the US state of New Hampshire from Canadian timber for reasons that I suspect have to do with minimum wage laws/healthcare/dental plans). They depreciate significantly, because they’re not Gibsons or Fenders, I suppose. The loss of the crowd-following types is the gain of those of us in the know!
This one is nicer than your average SD for a couple of reasons, first and foremost the Seymour Duncan Custom Custom pickup that the previous owner had the good sense to install at some point in the first decade of its life.
One of the most remarkable things about my SD in particular is that it was made within a month of its stablemate, my Gordon-Smith GS1 (of which more later, perhaps), in 1998. I was 10 years old and had scarcely touched a guitar, but in two places thousands of miles apart within a few weeks of each other, two guitars were made that would eventually find their way to me.
What led me to start looking for one in the first place was a gentle curiosity for all things Stratocaster-shaped culminating in a blinding epiphany when borrowing a friend’s Strat when sitting in for one song at their gig (in the Packhorse in Leeds, for those keeping score).
Technical language warning! Stratocasters have three pickups and a five-way switch. Why five-way? I hear you cry, when there are only three options? Because, my curious friend, positions two and four on this switch select the middle pickup with either the neck or bridge pickup in parallel. On my Godin, position 4 is half single-coil middle pickup, half humbucker bridge pickup, which further adds to the sonic alchemy going on . It is these in-between settings that give the likes of Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler their distinctive Strat sounds. On said night, I suddenly realised that these in-between settings reveal details in your right-hand pick/finger attack that are otherwise inaudible, and make really, really cool sounds in the process. I grew up a little as a guitarist right then and there.
Why not get a Strat then? Read on!
Those of us raised in the late 90s and early 00s are scarred by the presence of millions of cheap Chinese Stratocaster copies, and I think it puts a lot of people off the notion. I’d count myself among that number; it’s tough to shake off the image of every beginner guitarist you’ve ever known struggling to play an F chord on their plasticky Strat copy. Even proper, nice Stratocasters are a bit, well, bland for some of us. By the time you’ve specified an attractive translucent finish and a humbucker at the bridge, you might as well sort all the other things you don’t really care for at the same time…
Enter, then, a hybrid. The SD has the bridge and pickups of a Strat grafted onto the curvaceous body that is Godin’s signature. It is, if such a thing is possible, a refinement of a classic. It ditches the just-plain-irritating (and also ugly) top-mounted jack plate, the too-close-to-the-strings volume knob placement and instead opts for a side-mounted jack and global tone and volume controls, decluttering the top. It is further hybridised by having a 24 ¾ “ scale (the measurement between the bridge and the nut). This makes it like Gibsons and almost every steel-strung acoustic guitar in the world. This is a Good Thing for those of us who grew up playing guitars of that scale and never really enjoyed adapting to Fender’s 25 ½” malarky. Combined with the skinny-but-not-too-skinny rock maple neck, it makes for an easy, smooth playing experience (that is, once you’ve taken some steel wool to the gloss finish on the back of the neck…sticky!).
It’s a compromise, of course. You no longer look like Hank Marvin, Buddy Holly or Eric Clapton. You might, however, look like your own man.
You retain, crucially, the in-between-pickups sounds. With a maple neck and a traditional Strat-style sprung vibrato bridge, it covers most of the sonic territory of a Strat with ease. With the Seymour Duncan humbucker replacing the factory one in the bridge position, this particular one has an authentic rock voice as well.
It plays something of a starring role on Ghosts & Heroes, mostly through a Vox AC15 surrounded by a small forest of microphones that included Sennheiser e906 and MD918U and an AKG C414.
I’m going to put my inner guitar geek away now, but if anyone finds this remotely interesting I could talk about amps and mics, the aforementioned Gordon Smith, a couple of basses… GuitarGeekery Chapter 2, perhaps? Leave a comment and let me know.