In praise of Anderson Guitars
Since 2013 my main electric guitar for pit work has been a beautiful Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic, a “fat Strat” style guitar, with two single coil pickups and a humbucker in the bridge position. It’s a stunning custom-made instrument with a dark cherry sunburst quilted maple top. There is an almost three-dimensional appearance to the high-gloss, quilted maple finish. It sounds amazing, plays like a dream and I’m very attached to it.
Departing for once from my usual long form articles on specific shows and scores, in this article I take a brief, appreciative look at my Anderson, describing some of the features that make it stand out from the crowded field of “S”-type guitars and how it has become an indispensable part of my rig.
THE IDEAL ELECTRIC GUITAR FOR PIT WORK
One of the best things about being a pit guitarist is the opportunity it provides to play a wide variety of styles on a lot of different instruments (for gearheads, this also means the added opportunity to collect a lot of instruments). Even so, you play six-string electric and acoustic guitars more often than any other instrument, which makes choosing these two guitars an important decision. Selecting an electric guitar is complicated by the bewildering array of designs and sounds available.
When I started playing musicals, I quickly decided that a three-pickup “Strat”-style instrument would be the most versatile go-to instrument for pit work. This configuration offers a wide variety of tonal options, and has a character which suits most musicals, especially modern Broadway scores. While such guitars usually have three single-coil pickups, putting a humbucker at the bridge (a “fat Strat” configuration), with the option to coil tap it to single coil, adds even more tonal options, and this is the configuration I settled on.
After a few years, I decided I was going to be in pit work for the long haul, and started looking to upgrade my main guitar (previously an Ibanez SA 260 FM). An internet search for information on what instruments other pit guitarists were playing led me to an article on Anderson’s website about Lou Garrett, the touring guitarist for “Wicked”, who plays an Anderson Classic.
My Drop Top Classic arrived on May 31st, 2013. I played my first show with it the same day and have played hundreds of shows with it since.
The thing I value most in my Anderson is its reliability, a result of uncompromising excellence and attention to detail in design and manufacturing. Everything is well thought out, and works perfectly, all the time. It’s a tough, durable instrument which has taken a few minor knocks, but the finish still looks almost new. There is a solidness and (for want of a better word) “tightness” to the guitar that underscores its dependability, which is a very important consideration for a pit guitarist. Imagine you are driving a Honda. It’s a good car; it gets you where you need to go. Then one day you get into a top of the range BMW, and you can just feel the difference in the engineering – the “tightness”. My Anderson is that BMW.
The frets are stainless steel, so they have no visible wear after seven years of heavy use. The base of the body has two strap buttons instead of the usual one, so that if you ever have to prop the guitar against a wall it won’t fall over (everything is well thought out). While the body has a truly stunning high gloss quilted maple sunburst finish, the neck is an ultra-smooth satin.
PICKUPS & WIRING
The guitar is fitted with hand-built Anderson pickups, and sounds great (Anderson makes a wide range of pickups, which have a great reputation and can be bought separately). It also has switching which expands the tonal range of the guitar – I can coil tap the bridge humbucker, have any combination of the three pickups (not just the standard 5-way switching), and there is a built-in passive boost. This flexibility adds to the all-important versatility of the instrument.
When you order a custom guitar, you get to specify everything the way you want it, and this has been another great benefit. In addition to specifying pickups, woods and finishes I was able to get the thin, flat neck profile I like, with a specific fret shape and a shorter scale length (3/4-inch shorter than standard), making the guitar very comfortable to play.
Of course, all this doesn’t come cheap, but you get a unique, top class instrument that really meets your needs as a player. You also get the benefit of dealing with a small business – over the years I have had questions about pickups and wiring options, and they have been answered by Tom Anderson personally.
I get an enormous amount of pleasure from playing my Anderson. There’s a lot of talk in the world of guitars about “mojo”. For me, the combination of reliability, beauty, playability and killer tone of my Anderson, added to my many years of getting to know this unique instrument equals exactly that – mojo.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak I had a lot of shows lined up for 2020, and decided to invest in a second Anderson, which arrived in July 2020. This one is another Drop Top Classic, a gorgeous guitar finished in quilted maple with a transparent “Maui Kazowie Green” finish. I went for three single coil pickups this time, but otherwise it is very similar to my first Anderson. I’m looking forward to using it in performance, which, sadly, probably won’t be until 2021. And then there is Anderson’s Raven Superbird…
Tom Anderson Guitarworks
Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic
Deepwater Guitars (my local Anderson dealer in the Seattle area)
Anderson “Guitar Tales” article on Lou Garrett – pit musician, June 2008