Friday, August 19, 2011

Gear Review: Peavey T-15

'Way back in 1989, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to start playing guitar. It was just a few days before the National Guard unit I was assigned to took a tour most of the way across Florida to a little town called Live Oak.

Once our camp-out-in-the-fair-grounds was over and the military stuff was put away, we got our pay...and I went hunting through Live Oak's pawn shops and music stores.

The first thing I saw was a pawn shop no-name red guitar for under $100, but when I plugged it into an amp, nothing came out. I wasn't looking for a project, didn't know what else might be wrong with it or even what to look for, so I passed.

I ended up at a proper guitar store, explained that I was a newbie, and the salesman took me directly to a shiny black one with a short-scale neck. It wasn't an exciting neon speed-metal axe; just a quiet, unpretentious instrument. I shelled out the $149 for it and bought some music books. The next day I went back and bought a little practice amp. Still have both of them 22 years later.

The T-15 is styled along the lines of Fender's legendary Stratocaster with two large single-coil "blade" pickups. The short neck is closer to a Gibson's scale than a Strat's (23.5", 20 frets; Gibson typically uses 24.75"; Fender uses 25.5" on the Strat). This puts less tension on the strings, making for a looser and easier instrument for a beginner or someone with small hands.

From what I could find online, this Mississippi-built guitar's probably got an ash body. It feels solid without being heavy, but it's heftier than the poplar-bodied Tux. Mine was almost immaculate, but it's accumulated a few dings and scratches over the years. It's smoothly rounded, with rib and elbow reliefs blended into the curves.

The neck is maple with a clear-coated fretboard. I've rarely ever had to mess with the truss rod, never done more than tweak the intonation from time to time. The lower body cutaway gives very good access to the upper frets without much interference from the neck joint.

Most of its chrome hardware is still bright after minimal care, but the bridge has some pits and scratches.

The bridge and neck joint are the most unusual aspects of the guitar's setup: instead of individual saddles for each string, there's a single metal bridge saddle that can be positioned via a pair of set screws. You can raise or lower the strings slightly by turning a different pair of Allen screws under the bridge block, but for larger changes you have to crank out the 4 neck screws, then adjust the neck's "tilt" with yet another Allen screw.

The control knobs are solid aluminum, a nice touch for an entry-level guitar, and my only complaint has been that their set-screws don't hold them on very well. Fortunately, both control pots have solid shafts instead of the splined split shafts you'd find under cheapie plastic knobs or modern low-end instruments. I drilled small holes right where the set screws had marked up the shafts. Very simple fix.

The only hardware/electronics failure I've had was in 1994, when the pickup selector switch disintegrated. I couldn't find a proper replacement (Peavey wanted $50 or so!) and ended up using a tiny 3-position toggle. It did the job for another 17 years.

Swapping that dinky toggle switch into the guitar forced me to rewire the guitar slightly so that I could still get the same Bridge/Both/Neck pickup choices as before. I tried a few other mods over the next 17 years, but I've never really liked how the thing sounded after the last change. Compared to my other two electrics, the T-15 sounded brittle, harsh, and unmanageable if there was any distortion. Its clean tone was a bit thin.

I finally decided to do it all over again--new switch, same wiring as the original (fortunately, I drew up a schematic every time I changed something)--and now I really like the sound. With those single-coil pickups, this guitar's never going to have much bottom end, but it's got a pleasant bluesy twang to it. Output is hot and bright. Get the right amp and distortion behind it and this little axe will sing. It's never sounded better than when I was playing through a borrowed Fender Bassman amp head and 15" cabinet. I just wonder how it would sound with a pair of humbucker pickups, instead....

Overall, an excellent $100 to $200 guitar, and not just for a beginner. It's well-balanced, solid, comfortable to play and easy to maintain. You won't get Metallica tone, here--not without humbuckers or maybe some different capacitors in the tone circuit--but it's good as-is for surf, country, rockabilly or similar "twangy" tones.

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