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Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

When my boys were playing roller and ice hockey, I coached their teams, head coaching for roller hockey and doing dry land training for ice hockey. Over the years, I had several players who would have a habit of getting down on themselves when they made a mistake, and it would throw their entire game off. Opposing players would see this, and use that to force them to make even more mistakes to mess with their minds and make them play even worse.

When I first started coaching, I didn’t quite know how to deal with this, other than pulling the player out of the game. But a good friend and fellow hockey player told me an important thing when I discussed my predicament with him: “You can’t get down on these kids when they make a mistake. You have to teach them how to play through it.”

I, of course, asked him how he dealt with it, and he said, “I explain to them that a mistake is 10 seconds. You’ve got the whole rest of the game to make up for it. And if you know what the mistake is, do your best not to make the same mistake twice.” Wise words for sure.

And I used these words over and over again throughout my coaching career. I didn’t ever want to be a coach that berated his players for making mistakes. I called the mistake out, and more importantly, ask them what they could’ve done differently. More often than not, they’d have an answer, and if they didn’t, I’d show them or draw on my dry-erase board what they could do.

But this isn’t just a sports lesson. It can be applied to pretty much anything…

At a recent gig, I was doing a lead, and go so wrapped up in what I was playing that I completely missed a change. It only lasted a few notes, but remembering what I had coached years ago, I simply bent up to a note that worked with that key, and lo and behold, I was back in the pocket! 🙂 After the song, we all just laughed. The only thing I said to the band was, “Oops…”

There’s no such thing as absolute perfection. But that’s the beauty of performing. Those spontaneous mishaps or misadventures can be easily overcome. You just have to not let it get to you…


Fender FA 135 CE Concert Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Summary: Part of the Fender Classic Design series, this lower-end model is a real surprise; especially in the sound department. Nice, low action, and a great feel. If you’re looking for a starter guitar or getting your child his or her very first guitar, you can’t go wrong with the FA 135 CE.

Pros: Some reviews have questioned the build quality of this guitar, but I’m very impressed with how solid this guitar is built. The guitar stays in tune and playing it is so, so easy. And for a smaller concert size guitar, this has a very rich sound; it’s quite unexpected.

Cons: The only nit that I have – and it’s really just a nit – is that the tuners are bit fast for my tastes. Fine tuning is a little challenging at first, but it’s easy to get used to.

Price: $179 street


  • Laminated bass wood sides and back
  • Laminated spruce top with X-bracing reinforcement
  • Nato wood neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Compensated rosewood saddle
  • Single cutaway
  • Fishman Ion-T Preamp with built-in tuner

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ For what it is, I can’t help but give this guitar a great rating. Fender really surprised me with this guitar!

My 12-year-old son has been taking Ukelele lessons for a couple of years, and after he finished his last lesson, he came out and told me that he wanted to start playing guitar. His teacher, Michael, had accompanied him out of the lesson room and told me that he was ready. And since his birthday was coming up, I thought I’d get him a new one, as opposed to fixing up one of my old ones. My thought is that just like my dad did for me, I’d give my son a brand new guitar for his first one.

So today I went to Guitar Center and spent a couple of hours in their acoustic room evaluating all sorts of acoustic guitars. I didn’t want to spend over $200 for this guitar, but luckily, as a big-box retailer, Guitar Center has a pretty wide selection of “value” guitars. I tried guitars from Mitchell, a used “Little Martin,” several Yamaha guitars, and even a Gretsch.

The Little Martin was impressive and solidly built and was at a great price of $189, but it wouldn’t be available until Wednesday due to some city ordinance about a waiting period for used guitars. I needed a guitar today. So I sat in the acoustic room, and my gaze fell upon the Fender. I immediately thought to myself that it looked really nice. But, the thought also occurred that it was a Fender acoustic, and my previous experiences with those haven’t been all that good.

But in spite of my preconceptions, I decided to give it a try and was immediately surprised by the tone of the guitar. For a smaller-body guitar, I wasn’t expecting much sound-wise. But this had a sweet, gorgeous, rich tone. It completely took me by surprise. Then I started playing it, and thought, This couldn’t be a Fender acoustic! It sounds and plays way too nice – especially at $179!

Folks, this guitar is a sleeper, and it reminds me of the experience I had with my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. Great sound, great playability at a SUPER-affordable price!

Fit and Finish

The build quality of this guitar is awesome, just like my CV Tele. There are no uneven paint lines, and all the seams are clean and straight. The neck is straight, and the action is set up low, though it does raise just a little bit in the higher registers; but it’s not so bad that it’s not playable. This is a great guitar for fingerstyle playing, but even strummed, there’s no buzz. But more importantly, the setup is perfect for a beginning guitarist like my little boy.


Quite frankly, the main criterium for choosing a guitar for my son was playability. I could live with a guitar that had only okay sound just as long as it was easy to play. The frets are medium wire. Not great for bending and vibrato, but hey! This is a beginner’s guitar, so that’s not a big issue. The spacing is great between the frets as this is a shorter-scale guitar. For a seasoned player, this guitar plays with ease. For a beginner and a young player at that, the short scale will help them build up confidence.

How It Sounds

For a low-priced guitar, the FA 135 CE is amazingly articulate. As expected, it has a bit brighter voice as compared to a larger body guitar. But it has some nice sustain, and the spruce soundboard resonates with a surprisingly rich tone. Projection is great with this guitar due to the X-bracing under the top to provide stability and to help with projection. What also surprised me about this guitar is that it’s louder than I expected.

Tone-wise, as for me, I prefer a brighter-sounding guitar. While I liked the Little Martin, doing an A/B with that vs. the FA 135, it was as if a blanket was put over the Martin. The sound was much warmer and a bit too subdued for my tastes. That guitar projected very loud, but it would get lost in the mix when played with other guitars. This shouldn’t happen with the FA 135 CE.

Quick Demo

Here’s a quick demo I recorded just before posting this review. Sorry for the sound quality – and background noises – as this was recorded using my MacBook’s built in microphone, my new puppy was being a little playful across the room… 🙂

Preamp Test

As mentioned above, the guitar comes equipped with a Fishman Ion-T preamp. It’s a pretty simple preamp, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It’s not a bad preamp as preamps go, but it’s nothing special. In fact, its output is only okay. In order to record, I had to peg the guitar’s volume and add a lot of gain on my audio interface. Not a big deal. What was important to me was if I could get a good enough guitar signal to use the guitar in a song.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the result. I didn’t have to tweak the EQ at all. Of course, I did some production processing, but that was the point of the exercise, which was to see if I could get a good, mixable acoustic guitar sound from a plugged in guitar.

Overall Impression

I love this guitar! Who cares if it was manufactured in China. I have to commend Fender for finding an overseas manufacturer that does a great job at building guitars. The build, play and sound quality of this guitar have far exceeded my expectations. I think this is a guitar that my son will enjoy for years to come!

Try this: No effects. Not even reverb. Just you, your guitar, and your amp. No cheating. Plug your guitar directly into your amp, and if it has built-in reverb, turn it off. Another thing: No cranking up your gain to get into full overdrive. Set your amp such that you have to hit it hard to break it up.


So what’s the point? The point is that you will see just how much you depend on your effects. But even after this “test.” Try playing and doing leads without any effects. For some, this isn’t an issue, as they normally play plugged straight in. But for others like me, we use effects and doing leads without them might just surface issues with technique.

Mind you, I’m not advocating for doing away with effects altogether. That would just be silly; especially if what you hear as your “sound” is from effects. But if you can be expressive without effects, imagine how much more expressive you will be when you have effects.


At my last band rehearsal, I totally flaked and forgot to bring my pedal board, and it was too far to go back home to fetch it. So I said oh well, wtf… I’ll just deal with it. What the hell was I going to do? Call off practice? No way. That rehearsal turned out to be one of – if not – the best rehearsals we’ve had as a band since I joined. Our frontman came to the restaurant where I solo last night and we talked about how great that rehearsal was. So organic, and every song – even ones we were learning – felt tight.

For me, playing without effects forced me to work my guitar and get all my sustain with my fingers; not pressing hard and digging in, but making sure I fully sound out notes.

Might seem obvious to some players, but what I realized right away was that I was depending a lot on my effects to give me sustain and frankly, I got lazy. The net effect was that I slowed down my solos, and made sure that I was really taking my time expressing whatever message I had in a song.

Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing. I could hear that I was cutting off my notes a bit so I simply slowed down just a tad and let my guitar sing in its natural voice.

At the end of practice, I was so satisfied. Combine that with just having a great time with my bandmates, and that was simply an inspirational rehearsal.


Some guy on Facebook accused me of pulling the “guitar machismo” card with this post. I guess he responded to me using the word “cheating” above within the context of turning your reverb off. Oh well, I actually found that to be quite amusing. But he did have a point just the same.

I guess we’ve all come across players who look down on others for using effects. They plug straight into the amp and that’s it and they look upon others using effects as somehow less of a player. Let’s just call it what it is: Bullshit.

It’s the same thing as people calling a capo a “cheater.” My feeling is that however you need to get your sound, use it. There are no rules. Just as I responded to someone saying I was cheating by using a capo that he should tell that to James Taylor, anyone who looks down on people using effect pedals should tell that to Satch, or Eric Johnson, or The Edge.

In any case, my post was about how my effects were masking deficiencies in my technique. Not having my effects on hand made me go back to basics and use my fingers to get my tone and sustain. It was a great exercise that will just enhance my sound when I have effects.

For instance, at my solo acoustic gigs this weekend, I took what I learned to heart, and though I played using my effects, I felt my sound was so much better because I was eeking out as much tone and sustain with my fingers and NOT relying on my effects.

So I apologize to the person who read this who may have been offended. Hopefully, with this explanation, he can see what I was getting at… Or not. 🙂

I was browsing YouTube this afternoon for Peter Frampton videos from his days with Humble Pie; specifically, the 70’s version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” and comparing it to what he’s doing now. Amazing how he can still rock. While I watched one of the videos, I saw a related video of Mark Knopfler talking guitars.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link and was immediately drawn into his discussion. The video isn’t so much of him doing any teaching, but describing the various techniques that he employs. It is a bit instructional in that he says things like, “You can do this, or this…” But really, this video is a revelation, a view into the mind of a master, and how he approaches music and playing.

This is just too awesome to miss!

Though I don’t post nearly as much as I used to, I still check my admin dashboard to see what articles have been the most active in the recent past. When I looked this morning, I saw that an article I wrote about Wyres strings and how they’re the best I’ve ever played. That was back in 2009 and I still use them for acoustic. They provide a certain brightness that livens up the natural warmth of my APX900. BUT, I no longer use them for electric because I love the sound of Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt strings. That’s not to say that Wyres electric strings aren’t great. They are, and the coated strings last a LONG time. But they’re just a bit too smooth-sounding for my tastes.

BUT, I no longer use them for electric because I love the sound of Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt strings. That’s not to say that Wyres electric strings aren’t great. They are, and the coated strings last a LONG time. But they’re just a bit too smooth-sounding for my tastes.

But the point to this post is that in our search for that “Tone Unicorn,” what we might find as the do-all, be-all gear one day, may just go into our archives down the road. We will rave about gear that we come across or acquire, then a little bit down the road, we’ll rave about a similar product. As the title of the article suggests, it makes us look a bit fickle.

I laughed out loud when I read the headline to that Wyres article. My blog was only a couple of years old then, and to be completely honest, I have to admit that I was in the midst of GASsing out, wide-eyed with wonder over all the new gear I was evaluating. I was getting amps, guitars, effects, accessories. Each one was the latest and greatest at the time.

But now that I’ve calmed down – and now that I don’t have the “budget” for all that new stuff, I look back on all the gear that I got, and how 90% of is just sitting. For instance, I have a lot of overdrive pedals. A lot. Some are these awesome boutique pedals that I spent hundreds of dollars on. But I now just rotate between three that serve my purposes. And truth be told, I’ve mostly been using my $65 EHX Soul Food exclusively as of late.

Part of it is that I’ve found my sound and though different gear might color my tone in different ways, I still sound like me.

But I ask myself this: Were I again to have the means to acquire even more gear, would I go on another GAS binge? I’m not sure, but chances are I probably won’t. Part of not having the budget for new gear meant that I had to learn to play with the stuff I already had. Turns out that I already had some pretty awesome gear, and other than replacing worn out stuff, I don’t think I’d get worked up into a frenzy.

Over the years, I’ve listened to countless people and have read article after article about good tone. I’ve joined in or lurked on message boards discussing tone and who knows or who has good tone. It’s all bullshit, and let me tell you why.

First, by even saying the word “good,” we automatically get into the subjective. What might sound good to one person might sound horrible to another. For instance, lots of people rave about Jeff Beck’s tone. Personally, I’m not a fan. Without a doubt, he’s a great player with incredible technique, but I could take it or leave it as far as how he sounds. On the other hand, I love Santana’s tone. But a friend of mine can’t stand it. See what I mean?

Secondly, if we want to take it closer to home and talk about our own tone, even there, we’re standing on thin ice. The reason is that over time our perceptions and tastes change as we evolve as players. I went from playing clean amps with an overdrive and/or distortion pedal in front which was perfectly fine to my ears, to discovering the complex distortion provided by overdriving my amp and using an overdrive or a booster which is now the overdrive sound I prefer.

To this day, I hate my recorded tone. Part of that has a lot to do with the microphones I use and part of it has a lot to do with my cheap DAW software. I’ve gotten better at processing my recorded tone, but I’m still in search of good tone on my recordings – at least for overdriven amps. I’m fine with my clean and acoustic tones.

I shared my own displeasure because I found that my displeasure has often times led to extreme cases of GAS where I’d buy gear that I think will improve things. At one point, I was running two interconnected pedal boards in my studio with 25+ pedals between the two. It started out with just a few, then grew as I added overdrives, and modulation pedals and a few different expression pedals. In the end, I have a single board with 6 pedals for my live sound, and just plug straight into my amp and record the natural signal. That was a lesson that literally cost me thousands of dollars.

So is there really anything such as “good” tone upon which everyone can agree? Technically no, because as I said above, what might sound good to one person might sound uninspiring or even horrible to another. However, that said, it’s probably a good bet that a player has good tone if there is a general consensus that their tone’s good. Take Robben Ford, for instance. It’s generally accepted that he has great tone. Same with Eric Johnson. Sure, there may be outliers who don’t like their tone, but if they’re few and far between, chances are if someone mentions that these guys have great tone, it’s safe to accept that.

That said, I would caution you against just taking anyone’s word on what’s good tone and be especially wary of those people who say another person “knows tone.” I’ve seen a lot of that on forums; someone saying to listen to someone else’s opinion about tone because they “know good tone.” Usually, that stems from a newbie asking about how some gear sounds and others might pipe in and say, “Take this dude’s word on it. He knows tone.”

I think that’s the biggest crock of shit perpetrated on people who just want to get people’s collective perspective on how some gear sounds. That person who “knows tone” is usually a “forum bully.” But as they say, opinions are like assholes: Everyone has one.

Yeah, I know… it’s rare that I rant. I’m a generally “glass half full” kind of guy. But I got to thinking about this subject over the weekend, and some memories of previous conversations on this subject kind of pissed me off, so I decided to write about it. So… Flame off!

I’ve had a couple of custom guitars made for me. One was under my direction (Goldie, by Saint Guitars, to the left), and the other was like it was made for me, even though I didn’t specify anything in the build (“Katie May,” by Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars). And even though I didn’t specify materials in Katie May, in order to write my review of her, I had to have a deep discussion on the materials and build process in order to understand the guitar better. At the end of the conversation, I told Perry that Katie May was built exactly how I would’ve specified. Anyway, I digress…

So you want to have a custom-built guitar made for you. There are lots of considerations. But to help you along, I’ll give you some pointers on what you’ll have to consider. Mind you, while I will cover materials and such, there are so many other things you need to think about, and I’ll do my best to share my experience.


There are lots of reasons people choose to get a custom guitar. For me, it was to fill tonal or versatility gaps with the guitars I had and to create something that was truly unique to me. For others, the reasoning may be different. But whatever your reasoning, you should visualize what you’re after.

  1. First off, it’s helpful to visualize the tone you’re after. With both my own custom guitars, I was after a hybrid Strat/Les Paul sound. With that in mind, I was looking for either a P90 setup or coil-tapped humbuckers. It also meant I’d like to have jangle of a Strat but the sustain of a Les Paul. For me, versatility is a key issue.
  2. Next, think about what your application will be. I tend to be a lot more pragmatic about my guitars. I have to be able to gig with them. So my reference point for their use is in a live setting. Weight is then a concern.
  3. Do you like burst finishes? Opaque? Natural? What does that guitar look like to you?
  4. As far as body shape is concerned, do you want something with a more traditional body shape or something more avant-garde?

The point to this is that you should spend some time getting a mental picture in your head about the guitar before you go out and find a luthier.

Speaking of Luthiers…

There are probably thousands of luthiers around the world. The one thing I found with pretty much all of them is that they’re pretty creative people who, in general, do a good job of building guitars. Of course, some are just better than others. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a luthier:

  1. If you find an interesting luthier, call them. Better yet, if they’re close enough, pay them a visit if you can. Don’t email. Strike up a conversation. Establish a personal rapport. Pick their brains on how they approach building guitars. You want to gauge how well you can work with the builder.
  2. When researching builders, you might peruse forums like “The Gear Page” to see if you can get feedback on others’ experience. People might be satisfied with the end product, but in some cases have complaints about the process or the length of time it took, etc. Despite the negative feedback, you may still go with a particular luthier. But never go into a build blind.
  3. You might also want to consider how long a builder has been at it. My friend Perry Riggs hadn’t been building guitars for very long when I first reviewed one of his guitars. But he had some real talent from the get-go, but some builders need to more time.
  4. One thing you might consider as well if the builder is doing stuff that’s a bit off the beaten path and if that appeals to you. Again, with my friend Perry Riggs, I was intrigued by his “neck-through” designs. What this allowed him to do was create a thinner, tapering body, as most of the tone would be generated from the neck. The result is a much lighter guitar that still has TONS of sustain.
  5. Finally, an important thing to consider is how good of a business person a luthier is. I’ve met some luthiers such as Preston Thompson of Preston Thompson Guitars who is a great businessman. He spells out everything in detail. Many of those details can be handled online, but if you visit his shop in Sisters, OR, you can speak to him directly. On the other hand, you might want to stay away from builders who are a little “open-ended” with their business practices. You might luck out, but it is a risk.

What About Tonewood?

Here’s an excellent article on tonewood published back in 2008 by Guitar Player. It’s still relevant, so I needn’t rehash. This will give you an idea of what to expect out of the woods you can choose from. The thing about wood is that it’s a real personal thing. But whatever wood you decide on and subsequently discuss with a luthier, make absolutely sure that they’ve built guitars with that wood. For instance, some woods, such as cocobolo are now being used in place of Brazilian rosewood. It’s not easy to get, but the one thing about that wood is that it has a high oil content, which makes gluing an issue unless you know how to pre-treat the wood so it can be glued. If a luthier hasn’t worked with it and you’re set on wanting that wood, you should probably move onto the next builder.


Again, this boils down to personal preference. But have a conversation with the build on what they prefer. With both my custom builds, the builders used my favorite hardware: Gotoh 510 bridge and tuners. I love the tuners as they not only keep their tune but they also have a very low gear ratio so you can tune in minute adjustments. As for the bridge, I dig the wraparound bridge. The string literally wraps around the bridge which seems to me to impart more of the string vibration into the bridge. It’s pretty cool.

Put Your Ego Aside

This is perhaps the most important point I’ll be making, so I saved it for last. Let’s say you spent a lot of time visualizing your custom guitar. You’ve researched wood and hardware and picked a color. You then find a luthier with whom you want to work. When you describe what you’re after, he tells you that your wood combination won’t work. At that point, just shut up and listen to their reasoning. Chances are that they’re giving that feedback based on personal experience. Instead, ask what a viable alternative might be. If you don’t like it, then move on. But the worst thing that you can do is get pissed and argue. I’ve heard of stories like this which is why I’m sharing it. It could very well be that your wood combination is something that doesn’t work with that particular builder’s designs. But hear them out, then see if there’s another luthier who has had success with it. But in any case, just play nice.

You may have probably expected something else with respect to this particular subject, but I wanted to offer a different perspective. Having a custom guitar built is a very personal decision and frankly, a little soul-searching is thrown into the mix. It’s easy to get hypnotized by your prospective new toy. So what I’ve provided are some pragmatic insights based on my own experience.

To me, a custom guitar is the ultimate expression and extension of who you are as a player. You want to get it right.