Guitar Comparison: Gibson Hummingbird versus Epiphone Hummingbird Artist

The Gibson Hummingbird has always been my dream guitar. It had that rock and roll pedigree, mellow mahogany tone, and just enough flamboyance to make it a legendary instrument. There’s just one catch, it’s really expensive.

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I fell in love with the Gibson back in my teens, and more than 20 years later, I finally have one (used, of course, I’m not crazy). However, needing another guitar for boating and camping, I was very curious as to the real differences between the Gibson and the very affordable Epiphone Hummingbird Artists. In fact, I found a blueburst B-stock Epiphone Hummingbird Artist for only $169.

Aside from the headstock you’d think the Epiphone would be a spitting image of the Gibson, but it’s definitely not. First off, their bodies, while both mahogany, are not quite the same size. The Gibson is slightly wider and deeper than the Epiphone with a more pronounced curve to the back.

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Both guitars have a 24.75″ scale neck, which is probably my favorite aspect of the guitar. It really helps me reach some of those chords with wide spreads. While the Gibson neck does feel more refined, when switching back and forth between the two guitars, you essentially feel like you’re playing the same instrument.

The Epiphone has a synthetic bone nut and a truss rod cover with three screws while the Gibson has a real bone nut and a truss rod cover with only two screws.

The rosewood bridges are similar, but once again, the Epiphone has a synthetic saddle while the Gibson has a real bone saddle. However, the Gibson still has cheap plastic pegs to hold in the strings. Being outside of the saddle, I know they don’t affect tone, but for the price, you’d think Gibson would spend $1 for real bone there as well.

There’s a HUGE difference in the tuners. My Hummingbird has sealed grover tuners, and the newer Gibson models have sealed Gotoh tuners. Epiphone doesn’t even mention the brand of their cheapo tuners in any of their collateral. They’re pretty terrible. I had some serious trouble keeping the Epiphone in tune for the first few weeks I owned it, although it has gotten better. With the Gibson, it’s usually in tune when I open the case, and it never goes out. With the Epiphone, I have to make sure and tune it before I start playing, and I might need to readjust it once or twice throughout the course of a three-hour jam. (This is about on par with every sub-$400 guitar I’ve ever owned.)

Of course, the real signature of a guitar is it’s tone, so I made a short video comparing the Gibson Hummingbird to the Epiphone Hummingbird Pro. Both guitars have Elixir Custom Light strings, and the audio was recorded on a Zoom H2n set to 4 channel mode. If you’re reading/watching this on a phone or laptop, you’ll probably have to plug in some headphones to really hear the difference.

So there you have it, a detailed look at the differences between a Gibson Hummingbird and an Epiphone Hummingbird Artist.

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What does it cost to replace the mainsail?

Gimme Shelter is a 1982 O’day, and she still has her original mainsail. Yes, our main is 33 years old and so baggy that you could probably cut a storm jib out of it, re-stitch, and never even notice the material was gone.

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Unfortunately there is no cheap way to replace a sail. Sure, you can scour eBay and resale shops for used sails approximately the same size that might be in slightly better condition, but you’re still going to spend several hundred dollars and wind up in the same boat as you were before (both literally and metaphorically).

Therefore, I’ve begun the quest for Mary’s Christmas present by contacting several sail lofts in the area and overseas. Locally I contacted North Sails, Quest Sails, and Banks Sails. We know at least one person who has had sails made by each of those shops. Nobody gave any of them absolutely glowing reviews, but nobody gave them poor reviews. It was generally something like, “Well, I wanted local support and service, so I went with X, but they measured the Y wrong the first time, but they fixed it, and it turned out really nice in the end. I’d use them again.”

Yes, we heard tales of both a strong track being mis-measured by one company and a sail cover being mis-measured by another company. Both companies fixed the issues, but on the sail cover you can definitely see where it originally ended, then they stitched on another 18″ of fabric to make it reach the end of the boom.

To give you perspective of the sail size versus cost, our current sail has a 37’4″ luff, 11’6″ foot and a 39′ leech. A quote request was made to six different sail lofts with the following specs:

  • A new cruising mainsail for an O’day 34
  • P (height of mast from boom) = 38′
  • E (length of boom) = 11.75′
  • 2 reef points
  • Bolt rope foot
  • Logo
  • Sail numbers

Here are the results we got from the local lofts:

Quantum Sails (10% seasonal discount) $2,037.09

Construction: Designed using Quantum’s, iQ suite of computational tools, constructed from Charter 7.0 CC woven polyester. Cross Cut panels are laser cut, and assembled with oversized, tear drop shaped corner and reef patches, wide seams with triple throw stitching, extra layering and extensive reinforcement of high load areas throughout, with multiple webbing straps, stainless steel rings or Rutgerson press rings at head, tack, clew and reefs.

Includes: Hand sewn luff and foot hardware, spreader patches, pre-stretch or high modulus leech and foot cords with cleats and purchase systems as necessary, telltales, draft stripes, cunningham, sail ties, drawstring sailbag, 1 Full, 3 Mid Batten Pockets, RBS Epoxy 15mm Battens, Reefs (2), 2 insignias, 4 sail numbers

North Sails (unspecified seasonal discount) $2,170

2 standard reefs, 1 full batten, 3 leech battens, cunningham, integral foot skirt, insiginia

Banks Sails $2,230 – $2,685

We’d like to thank you for the opportunity to build a new mainsail for your O’Day 34. Our Cruisemate Plus would be great performing sail for your boat. Your sail would be constructed from Dimension Polyant’s OC, CB or AP cloth. This is a superior woven Dacron material that surpasses the longevity and performance of other cloth manufactures. The biggest difference between them is that the AP has more of a UV inhibitor (like sunscreen) to help it last longer, a slightly tighter weave and the highest quality yarns available on the Market. Dimension’s QA procedures grade their yarns in 3 categories (A, B & C). ‘A’ yarns are used in the warp and fill of the AP cloth. Our prices also include custom measurement and design to provide a guaranteed fit to your boat. Additionally, unlike other lofts, you would be welcome to stop by during construction and see your sails being put together. Also, if you have any specific thoughts about the design of your sails you can talk/visit with Trent, our designer, to have input on the sail design to get the exact performance that you desire. Also removal/disposal of your old sails and installation of your new ones are included as well. We are the only loft in the area doing 100% of the work right here in Kemah!

  • Cruisemate Plus Main Sail: Crosscut Cost
  • Mainsail @ 257 sq/ft, 4 Full Battens, and 2 Reef Points
  • 308 OC Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Standard) $2,230.00
  • 301 CB Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Upgrade) $2,415.00
  • 280 AP Cloth @ 6.5 oz (Superior) $2,685.00

Here are the responses from the overseas sailmakers:

Rolly Tasker  $1,570

Standard Mainsail Coastal Cruising                                                   US$

  • 7 oz US Dacron Crosscut                                           1,168.00
  • Luff 38:  Foot 11.75:  Area 250 sq ft 
  • 2 reefs                                                                            180.00
  • Logo (both sides)                                                             60.00
  • 4 numbers both sides                                                       48.00
  • 1 sail UPS door to door USA                                          114.00

Hyde Sails Direct $1,313 – $2,915

Note: The Hyde website has a huge database of vessels, and you can just choose your boat model and then spend hours selecting fabrics and adding all the bells and whistles to your sail. The breakout below was the the Cruising Mainsail (Challenge Hi Modulus Dacron) option with full battens.
Sail Cloth: Challenge Hi Modulus HA 7.3 Dacron
Design: Crosscut
Wind Range: Usually under 20 knots, occasionally to 25
Reefs: 2
Batten Type: Tapered Fiberglass
Battens: 4 full battens
Trim Stripes: Yes
Free Shipping
$1,628.00

Then there was the Do-It-Yourself option. We also got a quote from SailRite for a mainsail kit.

SailRite (10% custom discount) $1,126.48

Obviously the big catch to this option is that Mary would have to sew it together, which means purchasing a much heavier duty sewing machine. I’m not going to make her assemble her own Christmas present, but it is worth noting that if you wanted to make your own sails, the cost of the mainsail kit and a SailRite sewing machine is about the same as having your sails made by a local loft — but when you’re finished you still have a SailRite machine for the rest of your projects.

O’Day 34 Main Kit, 8.4oz SC Dacron, crosscut, two rows of reef points, 2+2 full battens, RBS tapered E-glass batten set, leechline, boltrope on luff and foot, slugs on luff, outhaul slug at clew, P 38’, E 11.75’
Subtotal $1,225, Custom Discount -$122.50, Shipping (UPS Ground) $23.98

As you can see, the difference in price between our local lofts is negligible, $2037 – $2,230. Yes, Banks came in highest, but they bid 4 full battens while the others bid 1 full, 3 leech battens. All of them offer a 1 year warranty on their sails.

However, the mail-order sails do create significant savings — they’re almost as cheap as a SailRite kit. The scary part with the overseas sail lofts is that if it doesn’t fit correctly, I could be looking at hundreds of dollars spent and weeks of waiting to ship it back to them for alterations. On the other hand, if the mail-order sails do fit, we’d have enough money left over for solar panels or a nice chunk of change to put towards upgrading the autopilot. Is it worth the gamble?

I’m continuing my research. I have to decide by Friday if I want 4 full battens, 2 full battens and 2 leech battens, or 1 full batten and 3 leech battens. Then I have to pick a sail loft and pull the trigger.

What would you do?

Three easy boat meals under $5

So thanks to a request from a gentleman on reddit, I am going to give you three meal ideas for a day on the boat.  Using ingredients that will all fit into a small cooler, and can be cooked with only a grill. Also I tried to use things that are in season (summer), and are inexpensive.  The cost is estimated for 2 people, and for the percent of the item you would use.  For example the pancake mix listed below is $5, but it makes two meals, so therefore $2.50 per meal. Obviously, cut all costs in half if you are by yourself.

Meal 1: Pancakes with strawberries on top. (cost per 2 people) $3.95

1/2 package of strawberries: $1.25

Bisquick shake and pour pancake mix: its a little more per pancake, but its sooo easy.  Makes enough pancakes for 4 portions this size.  Stores for a week.  $2.50

Syrup: maybe .20 worth of syrup?  That’s hard to estimate…

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Lunch: Toasted Turkey, bacon and cheese sandwich with side salad. $3.65

Turkey: 1.00

Cheese: .40

1/2 bag salad: $1.25

Bacon: $1 (on salad and sandwhich)

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Dinner: Grilled Chicken thighs, corn, and a side salad (Cost $5.00)

Chicken Thighs: .88/lb..so at the most $2

Corn: 6/$1  so .40

Other half of the salad from lunch: $1.25

Raspberry vinagarette: .10

Other half of Strawberries: $1.25

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Flying, connections, weather, and the total breakdown of all customer service

Maybe I’m spoiled from the years of business travel, but I prefer direct flights. If I’m going to fly, I want to get there fast.

Mary, on the other hand, prefers cheap flights. She doesn’t care how many connections we have to make as long as it is cheap.

For our trip to Port St. Joe, we found cheap flights on American Airlines from Houston to Tallahassee via Dallas. I’ll admit, they were a bargain. Stress free mass transportation without the hassle of driving, right?

Not exactly.

We had to leave the house at 5 a.m. for the hour-long drive to the airport to make our flight at 8 a.m. Mary had booked us seats together, but when we checked in, we were in different rows. However, American Airlines offered to move Mary back into her original seat beside me for only $28.50. Then they charged her another $25 to check a bag.

We made it to Dallas by 9:30 a.m. Our flights were being handled by American Eagle, a regional carrier, and I think Oscar the Grouch might have been their hospitality trainer, but at least we were on time, and we still had high spirits in Dallas while we sat around all morning waiting for our connection.

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We finally made it into Tallahassee by 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rental car for the two-hour drive to Port St. Joe. We pulled into the rental house, just after 6:30 p.m.

At this point our total Thursday travel time was 13.5 hours. We had also paid $150 each for the flights there and the rental car was going to be $200 for the weekend plus gas.

Total drive time from Houston to Port St. Joe is 10 hours, and it would have cost us about $75 in gas.

I kept trying to convince myself that we had avoided all the traffic jams, road construction and crazy drivers, but by the end of the day I was thinking that maybe those cheap tickets weren’t such a good deal.

Then it came time to fly home on Sunday. The weather in Florida was great. The weather in Houston was great. Unfortunately, the weather in Dallas was terrible. They were having thunderstorms and tornadoes all afternoon.

After making the two-hour drive from Port St. Joe to Tallahassee we arrived at the airport by 1:30 p.m. for our 4:15 p.m. flight and attempted to check-in. Due to flight delays the automated kiosks wouldn’t issue boarding passes. We got in line. While still standing in line to check-in at 2 p.m., it was announced that all flights to Dallas were canceled. While still standing in line to change our ticket at 2:30 p.m. an announcement was made to call the American Airlines 1-800 number to change our tickets over the phone. Upon calling this number we were greeted by an automated message that said, “We are currently experiencing high call volume, please try your call again later,” which was followed by a click as it hung up on us. We continued calling periodically as we waited in line for the next hour and never got through. When we finally hit the ticket counter at 3:30 p.m., American Airlines had nothing to offer us and no way to get us home before Tuesday at midnight.

Needless to say, we decided to just have them issue a refund for the return flights and headed back to the car rental desk.

Since we had just turned in a car with Budget, we decided to rent from Budget again. We told the lady at the desk we’d be driving the car back to Houston Hobby Airport. She said that she could give us the Mother’s Day Special on an economy car, and it would only be $89. That sounded expensive for a small car but great for the distance to Houston, so we carried our suitcases down to a VW Jetta and headed out.

The Jetta left a lot to be desired. For one thing, the brakes felt kind of funny. The pedal would nearly hit the floor before the car started stopping. Then we found the cigarette lighters were dead, so we couldn’t charge our phones. However, at this point it was already past 4 p.m., and we just wanted to get home. Going back to the airport to complain wasn’t an option.

Mary drove us through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi before we finally crossed into Louisiana and stopped for gas and food.

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Then I did the second stretch across Louisiana and back to Houston. We finally rolled into bed about 3 a.m.

Monday Mary went to work, and I had planned to take the morning off and recharge, but by 7:45 the phone was ringing with office issues. I got up and dealt with those, then headed to Hobby Airport to return the rental car.

When Budget scanned the car’s tag, a receipt printed out for $305. Yes, $305 was quite different from the $89 we’d been quoted in Florida. As I mentioned before when we rented through Priceline, the experience was great. Renting straight through Budget, not so much. They’ve definitely lost our business after that bait and switch deal. It’s not like the rental agent wasn’t aware that Houston was more than 200 miles from Tallahassee, but there was no mention whatsoever of a mileage charge if we went more than 200 miles.

Running on zero sleep, I only had the energy to briefly argue the situation, and it was clear the Budget rep was not going to budge. I finally shrugged it off since American Airlines would be refunding us $300 for the canceled flights, and I took the shuttle to the parking garage to pick up my car.

About the time the shuttle pulled into the terminal I had the horrible realization that I hadn’t actually brought my car keys. They were still in my suitcase.

There was nothing to be done.

I walked into baggage claim, had a seat on a bench and called Mary. I didn’t move from that spot again until my lovely wife showed up to rescue me two hours later.

She’d had to leave work, drive home to the north side of Houston to retrieve the key, then drive all the way to the south side of Houston to drop it off, then drive back to work.

By the time I was finally on the road, it was 2 p.m., so I just gave up on life, used another vacation day and headed home for a nap.

A week later, American Airlines has issued the refund for Mary’s ticket, but they have not yet refunded my ticket. Budget refused to listen to any complaints regarding the $89 Mother’s Day special rental rate and says we should have read the contract.

I’m done with cheap flights with connections. From now on if the trip is less than 12 hours, we’re either spending the money for direct flights or we’re driving because the cost of cheap flights is too damn high.

Going topless at Port St. Joe

Sometimes there’s just no way to avoid renting a car. Our weekend trip to St. Joe, Florida has us flying into Tallahassee, which was almost two hours away. Then, our adorable rental house was within walking distance of downtown St. Joe, but it was a few miles from the beaches.

I first investigated the average cost of rentals. It seemed like we were going to pay about $35 per day for a mid-size sedan while a convertible sports car was $90 a day. An extra $55 per day didn’t seem justifiable, but I had this fantasy in my head about driving down the coast in a convertible that just wouldn’t go away. Plus, Fred always had a convertible back in his bachelor days, and I knew he missed driving one, and I really wanted to surprise him.

I decided to try the Priceline name your own price tool, and I put in $50 per day for a Mustang convertible. Boom, it was accepted by Budget Rental Car. Thanks, Shatner!

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Driving that car around with the top down was close to the funnest thing about the trip. (After hanging out with my sister, of course).  Fred really loved driving it too, and we had no shortage of friends willing to ride with us to the beach.  All in all … I think it might be my new favorite splurge.

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Now, it did tend to make our hair a bit unmanageable, but hey, that’s the price you pay for fun.

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It’s a very pretty drive from Tallahassee to Port. St. Joe, and we got a unique view of the scenery.

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We were still envious of the boaters anchored out along the route, enjoying life on the Florida coast … but not AS envious.

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The 2015 Mustang handled well, and the top was quick to move up and down. We had space in the trunk for multiple folding chairs, coolers and bags during our treks to the beach. And while Mustangs have never had a luxurious backseat, we had no complaints from the two medium-sized adults riding with us. However, the car electronics proved a bit glitchy. The entire first day there was a “hood open” warning on the dash even though the hood was definitely shut and latched. It wasn’t until Fred finally popped it and shut it again that the warning finally went away. Sometimes the back-up camera would stay on for what seemed an extended period of time after shifting back into drive and moving forward for quite a distance, and the entire info-tainment system was laggy. The Eco-Boost engine was zippy, but not what I would call “fast,” and averaged 25.8 mpg during our four days of driving.

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But probably the coolest (and definitely most unnecessary) feature of this car was the fact that when you unlocked the car in the dark, the side view mirrors project the running horse Mustang emblem onto the ground beside the car!

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Despite quite a bit of driving, when we returned the car Sunday afternoon there were no hidden costs or additional fees. The Priceline price was solid, which was more than we can say for the next car we rented straight through Budget Sunday evening — but that’s for another blog.