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Welcome to GuitarGear.org! Established in January of 2007, we’re still going strong and growing! I want to personally thank everyone for their support! You’ve made this site what it is today, and that’s a major destination for finding out about gear. I invite you to explore the site! There are over 900 articles and discussion on gear and the number grows each day. If you want to keep up to date, please use the subscription area to your right! Cheers!

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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

At noon today, I received an email from Preston Thompson Guitars. I always look forward to these emails because they usually contain news on their latest builds or cool stuff they’re working on. Plus, having met Preston Thompson at his shop in Sisters, Oregon a couple of years ago, I have always fondly remembered the time my youngest son and I spent in the shop learning about the guitars he and his team had built.

But this email was sad; announcing that he had passed away on April 11th. While I only met him in passing, and even though we didn’t have a long conversation, what I took with me when I left his shop was this sense of awe of the instruments that were being built in his shop.

I had the privilege to play one of his “Shipwreck” Brazilian rosewood guitars that was slated to go out to a customer. Based on the 1937 Herringbone Dreadnought, the deep lows and crisp highs, combined with an enormous projection was just about the most amazing acoustic tone I had ever heard. I couldn’t afford the $10k he was asking for it, but to be able to just play one of those fine instruments was simply inspirational.

They even had a custom-made ukelele for my son to pluck at, and we had a little father-son jam in the shop! Needless to say, we both left with big smiles on our faces.

Preson Thompson’s legacy will live on through his family and the wonderful team working at his shop. I wish them all the best!

Cleaning Your Guitar

If you spend much time on forums, you’ll see threads occasionally popping up about cleaning and maintaining your guitar. Based on the threads, it seems that there are some folks who are absolutely obsessive about cleaning and oiling their fretboards, like every couple of weeks. But having spoken to my guitar tech and a couple of luthiers about this very subject, they all seem to be in agreement that people tend to clean and oil their guitars way too much.

My guitar tech put it this way: “Think about it. Your guitar is like a nice piece of furniture. In fact, the wood used for making a guitar – especially the fretboard – is almost always a higher quality than used in furniture. But even if you have a furniture piece that’s made of high-quality wood, how often do you clean and polish it? Generally, you just wipe it down with a soft cloth to remove the lint and fingerprints and what-not. The same applies to a guitar. Wiping it down regularly with a soft cloth will prevent gunk building up. Oh, and please remove pick and skin dust from your playing area.” He directed the last statement specifically at me because I’m notorious for not cleaning that area. 🙂

I got that lecture a decade ago. And since then, I followed his advice on some simple things to do to clean and maintain my guitars.

  1. First off, if you don’t see any gunk buildup, don’t be tempted to do a cleaning. Most likely the guitar’s clean, but it’s always a good idea to wipe it down with a soft cloth.
  2. If you do see some gunk buildup, before you do anything, see if you can scrape it off with some soft plastic, like a credit card. Chances are that it’s just on the surface. Then finish that off with wiping it down with a soft cloth (seeing the pattern here? Have a soft cloth always handy).
  3. There are times where even a scrape won’t do the job. But for cleaning, DON’T USE OIL! For your fretboard, use a 50-50 mixture ratio of water to white distilled vinegar (a little stronger if you have a fairly nasty buildup). Dip a cloth into the mixture – you don’t want to pour it on – and work the cloth into the gunky area. If you have a particularly pesky area, use a super-fine steel wool with the mixture. Once you’re done cleaning, thoroughly dry the wood, then use oil. Personally, I use linseed oil, though many people say to use lemon oil. Martin guitars recommends against using lemon oil because the acids in the oil can break down the fretboard wire. Hmm… In any case, use it sparingly, applying a small bit on a cloth, then wiping and working it into the wood. And by the way, you should only need to do this once or twice a year – at most.
  4. As for the body, regularly wiping it down with a soft cloth should suffice most of the time. But if you have to clean it, use a highly diluted soap and water and use circular motions to clean. There are also various cleaners compatible with nitro or poly finishes. These can be picked up at either a guitar store or even a hardware store (but you’ll have to do your research on the types of finishes they can be used on).

These are really simple things to do. And you shouldn’t have to do more than wiping your guitar down very often.

Jamstack…

I purposely made the title hanging like I did because I’ve made a name for myself by not panning products. But there are some products that really don’t make a lot of sense to me. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of ads pop up on my social media for the Jamstack portable amp; you know, the one that attaches to the body of your computer. It’s a novel idea, and the demo videos certainly do the product justice, BUT…

  1. I’m not sure where I would personally find this device useful. Now I realize that it’s really not meant to be a performance amp. And I can see some real usefulness for jamming at home. But if I’m just jamming and practicing, it’s just as easy for me to plug my guitar into one of my amps, or attach my iRig to my guitar and mess around with AmpliTube on my computer.
  2. At $249, it’s a pretty hefty price to pay for something that will never leave my house. Yeah, I suppose I could take it to friends’ houses to play. But when I’ve done jam sessions in the past, there’s usually some kind of drum kit. No way could this keep up with a drummer, even if he or she played really softly.
  3. I searched long and hard and couldn’t find a single review from one of the major guitar gear magazines. Maybe I missed them, but the only reviews I’ve seen on this are mostly from tech gadget sites that aren’t guitar focused. And the reviews that are on general musical instrument sites seem suspiciously like paid advertisements disguised as reviews. And more than anything else, the absence of a review from a major trade rag despite all the money that’s being spent advertising this gives me pause.

If the cost was more in line with some of the micro amps that are out there, I’d probably take a more serious look. But at more than twice the price of a micro amp, it’s a tough proposition to get me to even consider equipment like this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that Jamstack works great for what it does. But there aren’t enough compelling features to get me to buy one.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen that I have a fairly sensitive bullshit radar. It’s not that I’m a natural skeptic, but I’ve been around gear for so long that when I see something that has a super high price and claiming all sorts of improvements to my tone, I become quite a bit wary. And especially when it comes to cords and wires, I tend to be quite a bit of a skeptic. But the exception to that is instrument cords.

Now this is not going to be a comparison article where I say one particular cord is the best, blah, blah blah… When I see articles like that, that’s when my BS alarm goes off. But by the same token, I’m also not of the belief that you can just use any old cable and you’ll sound great.

On Low Capacitance

Since the ’90’s, cable manufacturers have been touting their low capacitance cables, and how a low capacitance cable opens up your sound. The argument is that with a lower capacitance, less electricity will be stored in the cable, allowing more signal to pass through. Amazingly enough, I actually agree with this. The effect of capacitance in a cable is that it acts like a low pass filter, essentially rolling off the highs. By lowering the capacitance, more highs pass through the cable, thus allowing much more of the signal to get to your amp.

BUT… Low Cap Doesn’t Mean It’s Better for YOU

Manufacturers of low cap cables will make you think they are simply better because they allow more signal to pass through to the amp. In general, that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. You see, more of something doesn’t mean it’s better. Sometimes, it’s just more.

I have a couple of low capacitance cables, but I only use those for certain guitars, like my acoustic, where I want the full range of signal to pass to my acoustic amp or a board. But I actually tend to use a cable that has a higher capacitance for my electric guitars because my entire chain is set up to be pretty bright. I actually like to have some of the highs rolled off.

And since I started using my Godin Artisan ST-V, I’m actually in search of an even higher capacitance cable for that guitar. It’s bright, Bright, BRIGHT! And though I roll off the highs on my amp when I use it, I want a little help prior to my amp. That way, I can effectively set up my amp one way to serve a couple of guitars during a gig. It’s a kind of a convenience thing.

Does Low Cap = Better Quality?

Yes and no. I say this because in general, it seems that higher quality materials need to be used to achieve lower capacitance.

But as we all know, build quality varies from manufacturer. For instance, hands down, Mogami makes about the best cables in the business, at least as far as build quality goes. They use really high-quality materials and have all sorts of features built into them. But you pay for that quality and those features; on the order of at least twice as much as a similar cable.

I use Mogami XLR cables for vocals. Even my cheapo Sennheiser e835 and my Sennheiser e609 instrument mic sound much better with my Mogami XLRs. And with a great mic, it’s like removing a blanket from the mic. Admittedly though, the sound difference is subtle – the “blanket” is thin as it were – but it counts. But I cherish those (read: I don’t want to “f” them up), so I rarely take them to gigs. For gigs, and frankly because the audience won’t be able to tell the difference, I just use some generic brand cables like Monster or whatever the house may have.

Back to instrument cables, I generally get cables whose quality is good enough, so I tend to go with middle-of-the-road Hosa cables. Their build quality is solid, though nowhere near on par with Mogami. But I’m also a real stickler for treating cables well, so my instrument cables tend to last a long time.

And by the way, Hosa makes a line of low cap cables that are very affordable and work just fine; no hiss, no crackle when the tips move. That’s all you need right? You can get a 10-foot cable for around $20.00.

The point to this is that yes, you can get the ultimate build quality with something like a Mogami or some boutique cable maker. But low cap can be had at a decent build quality and you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get it.

So… Does It REALLY Make a Difference?

Yes. But you have to look at it from the perspective of how the cable fits in with the rest of your rig. I know I took some time to get this conclusion, but I wanted to take some time illustrate this very important point: Low cap cables will give you more of your signal, but you may just find that you don’t like getting everything.

ROCK ON

I’m a cradle Catholic, so Catholicism – and its associated dogma – are a large part of my life. But while I fully accept and believe in my religious dogma (for instance, Jesus is the Son of God and there is only one God), what I have always had a problem with is how that dogma has often gotten translated into rigidity in the practice of said dogma, or used as a way to demean, destroy and take advantage of others who either may not be aware or fully versed in the knowledge of the dogma.

So what does this have to do with guitar gear?

Lots, actually. I’ve been playing guitar for close to 50 years now and one thing that has always annoyed me is the dogmatic perspectives I’ve encountered during that time. You’ve all heard them:

A modeling or solid state amp could never be as good as a tube amp.

You pay more for a piece of gear because it’s better.

Gibsons and Fenders and other brands have a signature sound.

People say this stuff all the time. And they believe it so fully that they become demeaning and dismissive of anyone who may disagree with them. The way these people interact with others is with something akin to religious zealotry.

In the past, my more confrontational self would love to engage with these people. But I have to admit that my reaction was just as militant and dismissive. Now I just roll my eyes and say, “Whatever, dude…”

The problem with rigidity or fundamentalism in general is that it prevents people from seeing or even accepting; much less tolerate, alternative viewpoints. And from the perspective of gear, there’s so much fantastic gear out there that often gets overlooked because people can’t see past their personal dogma.

I’m writing this because I too can be accused of having been dogmatic. But especially since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had to be much more open to the different ways people approach gear.

For instance, I used to be of the belief that I had to have a big pedal board with lots of effects to create great sound. As a result, I have lots and lots of pedals, especially overdrive pedals. Now, I just use three, maybe four pedals to get my sound. Admittedly, part of that is that I’m older and don’t want to lug around a lot of gear, but a large part of it is that I’ve found my sound, and only need a few pedals to enhance my sound as opposed to define my sound.

But I also know that others will differ with my approach. I have a friend who plays with no pedals whatsoever. He plugs directly into a 50 Watt Marshal Plexi and lets his fingers do the talking. On the other hand, I have another friend who has 20 pedals on his board and stacks overdrives and distortion boxes and has three different delays.

Look, we all have our personal truths, and they’re all valid. For me, I have a very “you do you, I’ll do me” attitude about gear. Where I have a problem is when those truths are used to exalt over others. I’m a firm believer in ecumenicism – there are many paths to God. So too with gear. There are many ways to make music.

Rock on!

I have to admit that I haven’t been too impressed with Fender’s offerings for quite awhile. I have three Strats and a Tele, but I haven’t seen anything coming out of Fender that got me really excited; that is, until now.

When I checked my email this morning, I saw one from Fender entitled, “Alternate Reality | The Powercaster.” At first, I rolled my eyes, but when I went to read the email, I was immediately intrigued by the body shape. I thought that it looked like a Jazzmaster or Jaguar. Then on closer inspection of the picture, I saw that it has a P90 in the neck and a humbucker in the bridge. The very first thing that came to my mind was: Rock Machine. So I decided to take a closer look.

So I went to the Powercaster product page. Maybe I shouldn’t have because now I want one of these!

Before I go on, here are the basic specs:

  • Alder body
  • Roasted maple neck (wood is roasted to remove all moisture)
  • Pau ferro fingerboard
  • Synthetic bone nut
  • 24.75″ scale length
  • 9.5″ neck radius
  • Modern “C” neck shape
  • Adjusto-matic bridge with hardtail
  • Comes in 3-color Sunburst, Surf Green and White Opal (it’s like a translucent grey)
  • Made in Mexico
  • Street price (so far): $899.00

One of the first things I noticed was the scale length and neck radius. Look familiar? It should because those are Les Paul neck specs. When I saw the scale length, I started salivating because the feel would be like a Les Paul. And being a Les Paul guy, I imagined that I would be right at home with this guitar.

After reviewing the Powercaster site, I went to the forums and gear blogs to see what others thought. The reviews were mixed. One person didn’t like the Tune-O-Matic style bridge (I actually would’ve preferred a more modern bridge like a Gotoh 510). Another didn’t like the thought that Powercaster didn’t have a “Fender” sound based on demos he saw. Another didn’t like the Gibson scale length.

Others like me, love the features. But the person who didn’t like the scale length also brought up a couple of valid points. First, they didn’t quite know who the target consumer of this guitar would be. He also pointed out that considering the price and where it’s made, the price point sits just below American-made prices. These are very valid points that I’m sure will need to be sussed out a bit more.

Personally, I think that this guitar is aimed at someone like me who doesn’t have a dogmatic perspective of brands; for instance, if something is branded Fender, then it has to have a Fender sound – whatever that is. I tend to judge gear based on their own merits, and I LOVE that P90/Humbucker combination! I also love that roasted maple neck because dry wood is very resonant. And as far as the price is concerned, while it’s about $150 more than other MIM guitars, I don’t think it’s really all that out of line.

Of course, while I’m excited by the features and possibilities this guitar has on offer, I need to get my hands on one and play it. But it sure shows a LOT of promise!

As with anything we learn over time, playing guitar is a journey replete with ups and downs, feasts and famines, motivations and let-downs. It’s a never-ending, circuitous path that always guarantees that there’s something else around the next bend to discover and explore.

As guitarists, we’re seekers. We’re explorers. We’re trailblazers into a wilderness that is simultaneously both familiar and new; familiar in the sense that we can see the paths that others have taken, and new in that while we may tread the same ground as others, the tracks we make are ours and ours alone.

There is no wrong journey. Some journeys have several stops along the way. Some go at a snail’s pace. Others, like my own, meander all over the landscape. Others take a straight path and reach higher and higher pinnacles of skill and technique quickly. But no way is better than the other.

Along the way, we may pick up things from other sojourners. But we make the choices in how to apply and use those things in our own journey.

The gear we use is also a reflection of the nature of our journey. Some travel light with only a single guitar. Others need a wagon or large transport to get them along. Others use the latest in high-tech gadgetry while others go unplugged. And still, it’s all good, no way is better.

And the nature of our journey will change over time. Sometimes, we may just need a guitar and an amp and perhaps one or two pedals if any. There will be times when we’ll be lugging a stack and two full-size pedalboards and three backup guitars. At other times, we may go digital or may go completely analog. And still, it’s all good, no way is better.

Along with our journey, we may experience doubt about our equipment. We can see what others have and wonder if our own equipment is good enough. Furthermore, we will encounter people on our journey who are passionate about the right way to travel. They’ll tell us to follow their path and to provision ourselves with the same things they’ve provisioned for themselves.

Sometimes it’ll make sense. Other times it won’t. Just remember that those who give out the free advice are speaking from what they see through the lens of their own experience. We have to live with our own choices and the choices others have made well, they have to own.

As a humorous aside, here’s a video clip from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”

As the dude said: Remember, no matter where you go, there you are… In other words, if we translate that to our own journey, wherever we’re at, we have what we have, we know what we know, we play what we play. And the cool thing with that is that what we have, know or play can be in flux depending on wherever we’re at. Chew on that for a bit!

You see, the journey of playing and learning guitar is intensely personal. Even if your primary motivation is to emulate a guitar hero or someone whom you idolize, you still have to make your own choices and YOU have to be the one who learns. It’s fine to seek advice and mentorship from others; in fact, I’d say that one of the beauties of being on a guitar journey is that there is a large, global community with which to interact and from which to learn.

So Sojourner, JOURNEY ON!