To each his own
For years the guitarists who wanted to get closer to the sound produced by the coodercaster (Cooder has always used a myriad of instruments in the studio) ignored their hero’s opinion and experience (if he couldn’t clone the Coodercaster…) transplanting on their Stratocasters pickups from old lap steels and unlikely Japanese guitars.
- expensive (the cost of the old lap steels is enormously grown, and while in the ’80s you could buy a Supro in good condition for less than 100 dollars, and now you should pay around 500, due to the recent “Larkin Poe effect”),
- risky (the magnets were painted and on some economic models Valco installed a piece of wood instead of one of them, compromising the sound, another possible and frequent malfunction is constituted by stuck poles, since in such pickups the adjustment of the height of the poles is crucial).
In addition it is a solution that involves that people like me, who play the old lap steels as they are, will curse you for life, you are warned!
Today, however, there are cheaper and safer solutions to “make your own Coodercaster”.
Ready made Coodercaster
As far as I know, there are at least two brands that will sell a beautiful and ready “Coodercaster”to you.
Eastwood: is a Canadian brand that designs and distributes Asian sourced instruments (from Indonesia, Korea and China, depending on the lines and models) inspired by rare and unusual vintage models, or designed by famous luthiers (such as the Rivolta series by Dennis Fano).
They have always offered models with goldfoil pickups; recently, having revived the Valco brand, they launched a string through pickup, similar to the original Valco (but probably made in South Korea), at first made available as an accessory, then added a bona fide Coodercaster to their Warren Ellis line, which includes instruments designed in collaboration with the well-known multi-instrumentalist.
The instrument is available in sunburst and light blue (the color of the other Strat formerly owned by Cooder) with a gold foil pick up in the neck position. Another allusion to the original is the “leopard skint” pickguard. The shape is more Mustang than Strat, but the scale length is 25.5″, not 24″ like a Mustang.
The only missing detail is a crucial one: it lacks a spring loaded tremolo bridge, replaced by a with three saddles cut- tele style hardtail bridge.
The decidedly high price for a Far Eastern guitar and the online only distribution (making impossible to test it in store) could put off the potential buyer, but the quality seems good and it’s still the only “entry level” Coodercaster on the market.
For the irreducible Cooderians it’s worth noting that in the same line there is also an electric mandocello similar in function if not in appearance to the one Cooder made from an old Vox bass.
Waterslide Guitars is a Californian assembler of instruments featuring high quality parts (selected American made bodies and necks, Lollar, Mojo and Gemini pickups) and relic finishes, and makes a wide range of instruments inspired by the Coodercaster, from faithful reproductions to models with the typical electronic features but onb Telecaster or Jazzmaster bodies, sometimes also equipped with string bender levers (by Duesenberg or Certano) for the second and third strings.
I could not find any other information (on the site there is no address and they sell through a virtual store on Reverb.com).
The main line (with prices over 2000 dollars, depending on harware and electronics) has been recently joined by a cheaper line with parts of Asian origin, simpler finishes and only one high quality pickup (usually lap steel, Lollar or Mojo) for $1250.
There are many luthiersbuilding custom instruments inspired by Coodercaster. Among them, Roberto Reani from Como, Italy, who offers the typical combination of pickups on his Bellagio (an offset with a futuristic and retro design) and Tonale (a variation on the Tele theme also available in a thinline version).
If you choose the custom route, I would advise to contact someone who already has experience in fitting string through pickups (if you want to follow this path, as we will see later) because they necessarily influence the geometry of the whole instrument.
You could apply just some of the typical Coodercaster features, and add your own mods, such as a different neck pickup, a fixed bridge, a different shape or a chambered bodys, or even a shorter scale neck that, combined with a metal slide, will result in a lap steel quality to the sound: apart from the essential pickup at the bridge there is ample space for the creation of a “Myselfcaster”.
Do it yourself Coodercaster
Among the many options, of course, there is also the one adopted by Ry Cooder, namely the modification of an existing instrument or the total D.I.Y. construction.
Unlike a few years ago, sourcing the electronic parts does no longer require to cannibalize a poor defenseless vintage lap steel or buy dozens of vintage Goldfoil on Ebay just to find one that works: you can buy more or less faithful replicas of the pickups you need (we’ll talk about this later) from several manufacturers.
But which guitar tyou should use as the basis for the construction of a Coodercaster? The first advice is to do as Ry: if you have a guitar that seems to resonate well in open tuning or you have already destined to slide playing and lends itself to the transformation the search is over.
Which are the guitars that lend themselves to transformation? It depends on the degree of fidelity to the original that you crave. In general, however, it is preferable a model with bolt on neck to optimize quickly and economically the crucial neck to body angle required by the string through pickup.
I would not object on cheap guitars: new inexpensive instruments are getting better and better; moreover, the playability of a guitar set up for bottleneck use is evaluated with criteria other than the standard ones, and in the case of a Coodercaster it might make sense to install an expensive string through pickup on an instrument that while sounding good does not allow “racing” action or is equipped with a rudimentary tremolo.
I would avoid a neck that’s too thin (that’s why Classic Vibe series by Squier, that otherwise would be perfect, do not seem ideal), but it is a matter of personal taste.
As I have already mentioned, a short scale instrument (like a Fender or Squier Mustang, Duo Sonic or Jaguar) might sound more like a lap steel, which in itself is very interesting, but it is limited if you plan to use low tunings.
The important details
Even if you managed to get a perfect clone of the original Coodercaster, you cannot replicate its sound without some very important details:
The strings: contrary to what is often reported in poorly updated articles and in many forums, for at least 40 years Cooder uses rough strings for the slide; moreover, unlike other slide guitarists who use big strings, he strings the Coodercaster with a 12/54 set with a plain third string. The action is not too high, allowing the mixed use of fingers and bottleneck.
The bottleneck: Cooder prefers a real bottle neck, flared in shape, made of industrial glass, with a slightly irregular surface not and some weight, and considers it an essential ingredient of its sound. Using the bridge pickup of a Coodercaster with a polished heavy metal slide brings you closer to the sound of a lap steel. Here you can find all the bottleneck models made by QP Slide.
In the next article we will explore the Coodercaster pickup options on the market (have I already told you that the pickup removal from vintage lap steel will expose you to the deadly wrath of ancient Hawaiian gods, as well as being a morally reprehensible act?).
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Image source: Fretboard Journal