January 2015 Archives

Added another one to the stable



Man, I love craigslist. Well, I love it and my wallet hates it... I was browsing their site the other day when I stumbled across a rather innocuous looking post. The title read, "Vintage Stratocaster mint condition all black" - nothing too out-of-the-ordinary, but for some reason I clicked on it to learn more.

What I found was equivalent to a white whale: a 1986 Fender Stratocaster Contemporary Series, Made in Japan, single pick-up, completely blacked out, with a Series 1 tremolo, and all of the original paperwork and case. And it was $400.

The reasons this particular Stratocaster is so rare are many, and perhaps best illustrated by a photo comparison. On the left is a traditional Stratocaster. On the right is the one I bought.


All-black Strats (as they're usually called) are super rare. Even more rare is the single pick-up configuration. If you look closely at the two guitars, the one on the left has three "lipstick" (coil) pick-ups in the body. Mine has a single humbucking pickup (rectangular). The instrument jack is located in the body on classic Strat; mine is in the base of the body. The headstock on nearly every single Strat is always wood grain; mine is black. Even the tuning knobs are black.

Anyway, you get the idea. It's sort of unique and cool. And the price was ridiculous; the cheapest I've found these anywhere else online was easily twice the price that I got it for, and none were in nearly as nice of condition as this one.


The guy who sold it was the original owner... he's had it for nearly 30-years, and he took incredible care of it. Kudos to him, and sorry that he didn't really realize what he had, in terms of value. But I'm not complaining. :-)


I'm not normally a fan of tremolos (aka "Whammy Bars") because I don't really use them, and they require extra know-how in terms of set-up and maintenance, but this one is a bit special as it's a Series 1 tremolo that was licensed to Fender by a company called Kahler. According to my friend Jeremy from the Guitar Center, it's a pretty awesome tremolo.

So, there you have it. The thing is gorgeous, it's in like new condition, it's pretty rare, and most importantly, it plays like a dream. I'm still quite stinky at the guitar, but getting better every day. :-) I'd say I practice 4-5 times a week for around an hour or so each time. YouTube has been a big help with finding drills and songs to practice.


Auf Wiedersehen


"So long, farewell, auf widersehen, and good-bye!"


The Mercedes has hit the road - on to someone else's garage.

I have to admit, I sort of miss the car, but not really. I don't think that 2011 was a great year for the Benz family. My car, while awesome for long road trips, and while comfortable and technologically amazing, was very unreliable, very finicky, and in the shop more than any other vehicle I've ever owned.

Here's a brief list of the things I loved about it:

  • 400+ horsepower = 0-60 in under 5-seconds
  • Super awesome 7.1 surround sound system
  • Very comfortable seats; heated and cooled/ventilated
  • Massaging seats with active bolstering/support
  • All glass, panoramic roof
  • The overall feeling of solidity - the car was a tank and tomb

Unfortunately, that "nice" list didn't outweigh the "naughty" list... there were so many issues with the car, most of which went unresolved due to the incompetency of our local Mercedes-Benz dealership, Zimbrick European.

I'm not able to recall the total number of times the car was in the shop, but looking back at my Yelp check-in history, I show 14 distinct check-ins to Zimbrick European... and I bought the car in late January of 2013. And it had 30k miles on it when I bought it...

Things that regularly didn't work or had gremlins:

  • Cruise control. It was radar guided, but the radar regularly had issues, and when it did, the cruise control wouldn't work at all. Mild rains/snows would render it useless.
  • Blind spot detection system and parking assist. Similar to the cruise; they'd quit working about 2-3x per week.
  • Navigation system. Quite possibly the worst system I've ever used. One of my friends commented that it seemed like it was based on the TRS-80 (an old 1980's Radio Shack computer system).
  • Bluetooth integration. It was essentially non-existent. It didn't work well with my iPhone at all.
  • Fuel economy. Driving down the interstate at 80mph, the car would return 30+ mpg. Driving any slower, or around town, and it would return at best, 19mpg. And premium fuel, only.
  • The 4MATIC all wheel drive. It was virtually worthless. I struggled, even with brand new tires, to make it up certain snowy inclines.

Some of the more comical problems the car had?

- Driving home from the twin cities in July and the climate control decided to go into full heat mode. It wouldn't allow me to turn it off, nor turn it down, nor turn down the fan speed... Stopping and restarting the car didn't do anything; it was quite literally like an oven in the car within a few minutes. And, after 10-minutes or so, the car announced to me that it "detected driver drowsiness" and that I should "pull over immediately."

I ignored the message, as it was around 2:00pm in the afternoon, and aside from sweating profusely, I wasn't drowsy. After ignoring the prompts for a while, the car decided I was unfit to drive and proceeded to pull itself over onto the shoulder and park. Honestly. I called Mercedes-Benz, who dispatched a tow truck to get me home... in addition to the climate control issue, the car had 17 computer issues - the cruise control, the blind spot detection system, and others (it has a total of 88 computers in it). Those 17 needed replacement and/or updating.

- Suspension issues. The car had "AIRMATIC" suspension, which combined magnetic and air systems to control the ride height and firmness of the suspension. Unfortunately, the air suspension was always failing. Earlier in the year, the car wouldn't lower itself to a normal ride height, so it looked like a jacked-up 4x4 all of the time. The dealer discovered that a $3800 manifold had failed and replaced it under warranty.

In November, upon my return from Boston, I discovered that the car had yet another suspension issue... I was at the Milwaukee airport, about ready to head home, when the car literally slammed itself to the ground. It was sitting so low that I couldn't have slid my wallet between the car and the ground.

I called Zimbrick, and their response was comical. "Hmm. Yep, that's a problem. We could maybe get you into the shop on December 9th."

I said, "But today is November 20, and I'm in Milwaukee, unable to drive the car."

They said, "Yeah. Well, sorry about that."

And that was it. No help. None. So, I drove it back to Madison, flat as a pancake, with it yelling at me to stop driving it the entire way... I called Zimbrick again and told them I was going to keep driving it, and they could deal with the damage that may occur. Miraculously, they were able to schedule me in later that week.

And then the car sat at the shop for nearly 3-weeks, waiting for parts and/or technicians. Apparently no one wants to work at Zimbrick because I received several calls that explained they were "short on technicians and wouldn't be able to fix my car until who knows when."

So, when I finally got the car back, it still had issues, and to make matters worse, the maintenance that they were supposed to have completed as part of the service schedule, was only partially completed. They didn't replace several filters, and they overlooked a few other items.

But the final straw that broke Himmler's back was that someone hit-and-run my car the very same day that I got it out of the shop (after it had been there for 3-weeks).


I got a few estimates to repair the damage - it was right around $1500, all-in - but ultimately decided to ditch the car. Zimbrick European had become impossible to work with on any thing, and the thought of future suspension or electrical issues led me to trade it in on something else.

So, what did I buy?

A one owner, 25k-mile, certified pre-owned 2012 Ford Fusion, with all wheel drive and a V6, with every available option.


So far, it's a decent car. The navigation and bluetooth work flawlessly - yay! The cruise control and blind spot detection are perfect - yay! The climate control system behaves as expected - yay! The all wheel drive is *awesome* - very sure-footed.

My only complaint is with the fuel economy... I'm getting around 22mpg at best, but from what I can tell, that's about normal for the car, so it is what it is. I'm just relieved that I can work on it myself, and that I'm not at the mercy of an incompetent dealership, nor am I held hostage at the parts counter (the brake job that I did on the Benz over the summer cost me over $800 in parts alone).

So, we'll see how this car holds up over time. So far, so good....

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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