Ivan’s Belman ‘Albatross’

Belman Albatross

Belman Albatross

Thanks for checking in to our blog. From time to time we like to share our experiences in upgrading our own instruments, as distinct from customer repair work. This week we discuss an Australian made instrument – the Belman Albatross (standard). The most recent similar blog was published November 24 2013, regarding a ’52 Tele (reissue) upgraded with the marvellous  Pete Biltoft pickups, plus an upgrade of an ESP Tele. We purchased the Belman at the beginning of this millenium from East Gosford Music (NSW). The proprietor, Trent Crawford, was one of the first stockists in NSW (as far as we were aware) of the Belman guitar and was a Belman player himself.

Belman Albatross

Belman Albatross

Trent enthusiastically promoted the Belman, and quite a number of local Central Coast players (including myself) purchased the Albatross and subsequent models such as the double-cutaway. The thing that struck us all was the consistent quality of construction and assembly of these instruments, especially when making direct comparisons to the leading imported brand (at that time), selling for twice the price or more. Another unique aspect of the Belman was the use of exotic Australian tone woods.

 

Belman headstock & logo

Belman headstock & logo

Belman guitars were hand-made in Melbourne, Australia from 1994 to 2007. I recall visiting their factory in Thomastown (Victoria) in the company of Bob Spencer, who was in the process of ordering a customised model. Belman was only ever a small operation, involving just a handful of people. Like many such small businesses in a highly competitive industry, they were under-capitalised and had no choice but to stop production in early 2007. For a more in depth discussion of the Belman models – see the Jedistar Belman Page. East Gosford Music also closed their doors a few years back, due to the shift in musical instrument retailing from bricks and mortar to on line. Trent, however is still very much involved in the music industry – see Trent Crawford Music.

location of the serial number

location of the serial number

With the Belman Albatross – I always thought that the electronics let the guitar itself down very badly. The pots, 3-way switch and jack socket were all just a bit cheapo, and were upgraded to Switchcraft and CTS components a.s.a.p. All the other Belman hardware was excellent. We don’t understand the reasoning behind these choices, as the RRP of the Albatross at that time was $2,399 ! Please note: when replacing cheapo guitar pots, the mounting holes will usually have to be carefully enlarged to 3/8″ diameter with a suitable reamer.

rear view with EGM sticker still in place

rear view with EGM sticker still in place

I was never happy with the high output pickups either, and didn’t feel that they were bringing out the best in this instrument at all. This particular issue of course applies to thousands of guitars out there, a fact which supports a whole after-market guitar pickup industry. Next, I installed a set of Lindy Fralin humbuckers which also were too hot and therefore too muddy. I probably should have researched my requirements a lot more, as Lindy Fralin offer many choices from underwound to overwound. I went through a P90 obsession phase, and installed a set of Seymour Duncan Phat Cats, which are P90 pickups modified to install in a standard humbucker mounting.

new Seymour Duncan neck humbucker

new Seymour Duncan neck humbucker

I still wasn’t getting the combination of warmth/sweetness/clarity/articulation that I was craving so badly by now. I knew the problem wasn’t the guitar itself – the solution could only be achieved by matching up the right choice of pickups. Last year I upgraded the neck pickup in my ESP Ronnie Wood Telecaster (also purchased from EGM), with a Seymour Duncan ‘Seth Lover’ humbucker, with the best results so far in that guitar, paired up with the ‘Jerry Donahue’ bridge pickup (both Alnico II). I ordered a set of Seymour Duncan ‘Seth Lover’ pickups, SH-55b (8.07K) and SH-55n (7.33K), from a dependable supplier Darren Riley, for around $100 ea USD.

I could have spent well over $400 AUD acquiring the new Joe Bonamassa signature pickups, or some other more exotic boutique models, but exercised some restraint and I’m pleased I did, because these pickups have worked wonders for my Belman which now has mucho warmth without compromising on clarity, and the amp can be easily cleaned up from the guitar volume control, which is always a good thing. The tone is vintage PAF to be sure, but these pickups can still supply enough boldness and punch for most applications short of heavy rock and metal. IR.

 

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