Archive for June, 2008

It just occurred to me that I haven’t gotten any new gear lately. Okay, I just got a new PRS SE Soapbar II guitar a couple of weeks ago. But the thing that struck me was that I wasn’t really even in the market for a guitar when I got it – I wasn’t even thinking about getting a new guitar! The opportunity just kind of presented itself, and I acquired it.

My approach to guitar gear lately has been much like the graphic to the left. Think of the signs being different pieces of gear that point the way to different paths in a journey for tone. I’m at a huge fork in the road right now, and don’t quite know which path to take.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Come to think of it, I’m pretty happy with my tone right now. Unless something mind-blowing comes along, I’m probably not going to be looking to get any new pedals for my rig. I would still like to get a new amp; especially one that has a tube rectifier in it because I love the voltage sag you get from a tube rectifier and the reverb-like tone it can give you. But I can live with what I’ve got for probably years to come.

All that said, I think I’m in a good place with respect to gear, and you know what? I’m actually okay with coming to this fork in the road. It’s a bit liberating because unlike the picture, I’m not really scratching my head trying to figure out which way I want to go tonally. I’ve got my sound, so all things being equal, any path is good – at least for now.

But ever one that has dreams of attaining gear, here are some things completely beyond my current budget that I’m dreaming of getting one day (not necessarily in order of acquisition):

  • Either a Victoria Double Deluxe or a Victoria Victorilux
  • King Amplification Uptown 33 (Kenny Neal plays one and it SCREAMS!)
  • Vox Virage
  • Gibson Les Paul Double Cutaway (this actually is not too far out of reach, but it would be tough now).
  • Vox AC30 (I dig that tone!)

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Yesterday, I received the following comment on my rating system page:

Hey , I just purchased a SAINT GUITAR COMPANY “bechmark” model From MESA/Boogie  Hollywood. It is  by far the nicest custom instument I’ve ever Played . Y’all should  check them out. The only reveiws I’ve seen for these is on harmony central.Any who . .  check em out .

At first, I thought it was spam, but wanted to be fair and do some research first before I marked the comment as spam. So I called the Mesa Boogie store in Hollywood to see if they carried the guitars, and they confirmed that they did, but only sold them on consignment. The sales guy did say the guitars both played and sounded awesome, so that was encouraging and piqued my interest even more. Then I read the reviews on Harmony Central. Every review just raved about how playable and sweet sound the guitars play, which made me a little leary because it’s entirely possible that they could’ve been planted. I did find the company’s web site, but it’s so new that a lot of stuff doesn’t work on it. I also left a message for what appears to be the founder of the Saint Guitar Company – hopefully he’ll call me back.

It has been a long time since I’ve heard of any truly new guitar brand; I mean, this brand came out of the blue for me! It’ll be interesting, to say the least, to get the low-down on these guitars.

BTW, if you have any other information on the Saint Guitar Company, please let me know!!! 🙂

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Lots of people ask me if there’s a process I go through when I want some gear, if I have any tips for buying gear, so I thought I’d share some ideas. Before I dive into details, let me advise that you should first evaluate your need. I came up with a great way to do that – as long as you’re completely honest with yourself. Check out my GAS Management Page.

So let’s say you’re definitely going to get some gear. You’ve done the GAS test, and it says, “buy, Buy, BUY!!!” You still need to come to terms with acquiring it. If you have the resources, it’s a simple matter of ordering, but if you’re like many of us with limited financial means, you need to find some creative ways to get the gear. So here’s some do’s and don’ts….

  • DO: Try bartering first. I’ve bartered my talents as a web developer for lots of things. It’s a win-win for both you and the seller, and most of the time, all it takes is time.
  • DO: Wait a week or two to see if your wanting settles down. In many cases, you’ll find that you don’t really need the gear, though it would be nice to have.
  • DO: Put gear on layaway. It’s a financial commitment to buy within a certain period of time, but you don’t get charged interest.
  • DO: Negotiate the price. Everything is negotiable in some respect. If you can’t get the price lowered, see if the seller will throw something in with the gear. You’ll find that even major retailers will do this. I’ve gotten lots of sets of strings this way, to the point where I haven’t purchased any strings for a few years. 🙂
  • DON’T buy on credit or financing, unless you plan to pay off the entire purchase within a couple of months. I’ve racked up thousands in the past doing this, and it’s not a pretty sight getting rid of that debt.
  • DON’T be impulsive. Make an acquisition plan, and stick with it.
  • DON’T bail and settle for something cheaper. You’ll be sorry you did. But let me qualify that.  If that something cheaper  fits your need better than the  more expensive item, by all means get it. I did this with my Strat, literally saving $2000!

Oh well… that’s it for now… If I come up with more DO’s and DON’TS, I’ll post more…

Rock on!!!

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Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Sollophonic Guitars, UKMy blog buddy IG wrote this article on a DVD for guitar maintenance the other day, and as oftentimes happens, his article sparked an idea – what if I set up my guitars myself? So, guitar tools in hand, I set off to do it. In short, now I know why I’ve sent my guitars to a tech… 🙂 Well… now that I’ve done it a couple of times, I think I’ll be doing it myself from now on.

While IG’s article did play a huge role in motivating me to set up my guitars, I had a pressing need to set the action and intonation of a my brand-new PRS SE Soapbar II. When I got it, it played like a dream, but the action was set a little high for my liking.  I knew I’d have to have it set up, but I didn’t have the time to bring it down to my tech, and I was going to gig with it this coming weekend! So with a deep breath (actually several to calm myself down), I set up a clean, padded workspace, and went to work.

Thirty minutes later, I was done! It really didn’t take all that much time to dial in after all. A few twists of a screwdriver and allen wrench, and I had my SE ready to go. That said, I was lucky because there wasn’t any bow in the neck that I had to adjust – this time. But I’m really jazzed that I finally did some instrument maintenance myself – other than changing strings. I immediately went to work on my Strat and ES-335 guitars, and they’re in top form again!

So for all of you who have even the slightest inkling of working on your own guitar(s), let me share some things I learned from this experience:

  • First of all, it’s totally worth it to learn this skill. Not only is it personally rewarding, you’ll save yourself tons of money. Think of action, neck bow and intonation adjustments like doing simple maintenance on your car. That said, if I need fretwork done, I’ll still bring my guitars to a tech. I don’t trust my feeble skills with major work.
  • Lots of small adjustments are way better than a few big adjustments. You’ll make minute tweaks anyway to get your adjustments spot on, so have the patience to make your adjustments in small increments.
  • After each tweak, re-tune all your strings. This will ensure you’re measuring against playing tensions. I didn’t do this at first, and would have to tweak and re-tweak a few times.
  • I mentioned patience above. I’ll mention it again. For someone like me, if patience was a virtue, I’d be a slut. It really took all of my will power to just relax and go with the process.
  • Floating bridge adjustments are much harder to dial in than fixed bridge adjustments – you really have to make very minor, incremental tweaks with a floating bridge (my SE and 335 both have floating bridges). Fixed bridge axes have individual saddles, so they’re a bit easier to dial in


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My blog buddy IG, wrote this article today about the power of short practice sessions. I totally agree that short, daily practice sessions are a great way to keep your chops up. My only problem is that while I normally set a time limit of about 30 minutes to practice each day, my practice session oftentimes turns into a couple to a few hours. For instance, I was practicing arpeggios one day recently, and happened to do an arpeggio “run” in Am that sounded like it would fit with an acoustic riff that I had come up with a long time ago. I was having problems coming with suitable lyrics and a song structure, so I had just laid down the riff to save it for posterity and let it sit.

So I opened up the song in GarageBand, played the arpeggio run along with the acoustic riff, and voila! I had the basis for a new song. That turned into a two-hour recording session, but the result was a really cool instrumental.

The point to all the anecdote is that you can use your practice time to open up possibilities for new song ideas. The original riff for “RESOLUTION” was the result of practicing a rhythmic strumming technique and chord/picking pattern that I wanted to get a lot cleaner than I had played it in the past. It turned into a song.

So you never know what might come out of your practice…

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In my previous post today, I wrote about the value of using and evaluating gear in the place you’d normally use it before buying because you never really know how something will perform until you use it outside of a controlled environment. I got the chance to do that this past weekend, and in a word, this guitar is impressive. It’s incredibly playable, and even though the action is a bit higher than I like it, the neck is fast due to the slightly shorter scale length.

With a shorter scale length than my Strat, I was expecting even less sustain, but the solid mahogany body and neck combined with the beautifully polished rosewood fretboard provide for a warm, resonance with lots of sustain. It was pure joy bending a note, applying a bit of vibrato, and hearing the note just float in the air (sorry, couldn’t help but wax rhetorically).

Tonally, the P-90’s being single coils sit very close to the Strat, but without the chimey sound normally associated with a Strat. The tone is just a tad thicker and a little darker, but nowhere near as dark as humbuckers. I’ve been really diggin’ on the clean tone from neck pickup. It’s surprisingly deep without being boomy – almost like a plugged-in acoustic. It’s really great for playing clean leads. Switching to the middle position introduces the bridge pickup, and this setting is great for crunchy rhythm parts. Finally, I can finally say that I’ve found a guitar that has a single-coil bridge pickup that is usable to me. I’ve found bridge pickups on single coils to be just too trebley. The bridge pickup on the SE is indeed bright, but not so bright that it’s displeasing to me.

As far as saturated tone is concerned, my initial thought was that it would be thick – similar to humbuckers. But amazingly enough, it’s hard to get this puppy to break up a lot without boosting the drive on either my amp or my stomp boxes. This is NOT a bad sound at all. You get a bit of breakup, but loads of sustain. Very much like a Santana sound, and that’s never bad in my opinion.

I also love the simple two-knob volume and tone layout. The volume knob is positioned perfectly and doing volume swells is a breeze! Just extend your pinky. The guitar is very responsive to the volume knob as well, and you can clean up your tone just by rolling off the volume. The guitar is also very responsive to the tone knob, and unlike my other guitars, I found that I was actually using the tone knob in middle of songs to add or subtract edge and bite to my sound. Normally, it’s a set it and forget it affair.

Finally, one of the coolest things I found while playing this guitar is how responsive it is to how you attack the strings. Even with the gain cranked, playing lighter really cleans up the signal. But dig in, and you get a pleasant growl. I love this guitar!!!

In closing, I used to have this negative vibe about P-90’s. They always seemed way to bright for my liking. But the PRS SE Soapbar II has cured me of that negativity. It’s a truly playable and versatile guitar that definitely would fit in with any axe-slinger’s arsenal. Even though they’re not made any longer, you can find great deals on E-Bay. Imagine a tone machine like this for under $400! Simply awesome!

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In my humble (or not so humble 🙂 ) opinion, there’s no better way to evaluate gear than to gig with it. It’s one thing to play with a piece of gear in a controlled environment; it’s an entirely different matter when you use it to perform your music. Gigs can be a chaotic affair, and when you gig with something, its quirks and strengths show themselves.

For instance, let’s say you want to evaluate a new amp. It’s easy to twiddle with the knobs in the shop or in someone’s garage to evaluate the sound it produces. But when you gig with it, there are a lot of factors that come into play such as transport weight, the ability to cut through a mix, tonal quality when played in a crowd – lots of things that aren’t apparent when you’re in a controlled environment.

So if you’re evaluating a new piece of gear, ask the person or shop selling it if they lend it to you, or if you can rent the gear so you can try it out before you buy it. That way you can bring it to where you’ll be using it the most – studio, rehearsal, etc. – to see how it performs. Personally, I wish I had done that with my Line 6 Flextone III amp. Once I got it, it was great for studio work, but transporting it was painful (the damn thing weighed a ton), and it sounded horrible when I gigged with it. Had I evaluated it before I made a decision to buy it, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Oh well, as a friend of mine once said, “You just got levied a learning tax.”

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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