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Archive for February, 2010

You know… For the most part, I have few regrets about my life. Yeah, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and have learned from them, but there are some things that just seem to stick in my craw, especially when I reminisce about gear that I’ve had.

Back in the 80’s, I was a big Michael Hedges fan, and must’ve seen him play live more than 50 times. I remember the day I saw him and he had added chorus to his chain. Mind you, he was an acoustic guitarist, and before he became widely known, it had always been Michael and his guitar, straight into the PA. Then he added a rather sophisticated EQ. But what struck me the hardest was when he added a chorus. For as much of a fan that I was, I don’t know which one he had. But when he came out with “Breakfast In the Field” in 1981, and used the chorus to amazing effect on songs such as “The Magic Farmer” and “Rickover’s Dream” which, incidentally, I had already heard live before the album came out, I knew I had to get a chorus!

At the time, I didn’t know an amp from a refrigerator. I was your classic folk acoustic player who happened to know cowboy chords. Be that as it may, I saved some money and went down to Guitar Center where I bought a cheap in-hole pickup for my guitar (which I still have 30 years later – it’s a Yamaha FG-335), a Roland 25 amp, and a Boss CE-2.

Even through all that cheap equipment, there was something special about the CE-2. It had just two knobs: Rate and Depth, and you could dial up incredible chorus tones with it! I can recall the warmth of the tone, and the magical way notes danced in the air. Hey! I sucked at the time, but I remember the feeling I got. Perhaps part of it was due to the satisfaction that I could cop some similar tones to Michael Hedges (though I could never play like him). Who knows? But that was one special pedal. And I traded it back in the late 80’s for some DigiTech multi-function reverb/flange/chorus pedal that I thought was “neat.”

Okay, hindsight is 20/20. Who could’ve known at the time that a cheap $79 pedal could define the chorus tone. I don’t care what other people say about other choruses that have since come out. I recall someone “correcting” me in the early days of this blog about the TC Electronic chorus being more of a standard. I was pretty new to the blog scene and didn’t want to piss anyone off at the time, so I didn’t really come back with anything. But had I more balls at the time I would’ve said, there’s a reason why people are paying for the MIJ green and black label choruses for over twice the price of the original. There was something extremely special about that Roland JC-120 chorus circuit. Everyone else who followed with their own version just did a tweak. Mind you, there are some GREAT choruses out there. But in my mind, the CE-2 had the goods!

EBay here I come!!!

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Man! Haven’t written a full song with vocals in awhile. Life happens, and it’s not the easiest thing to get the time to write. So the other day, I came up with a funky groove. It started out as a simple blues in Em, bouncing back and forth between Em7 and Bm7. I knew I didn’t want to just stick to a 1-4-5 kind of pattern, so I added some altered chords to kind of “jazz” it up a bit. The title has nothing to do with the music. 🙂 It’s the subject matter of the lyrics, which is divorce. Don’t know how I got on that line of thinking; maybe it was from people around me who have gone through it. Anyway here’s the song:

Equipment Used:

Rhythm (left and right sides): Squier Classic Vibe Tele (50’s)

Lead: Gibson Limited Run Nighthawk 2009

Amp: Aracom PLX18 BB w/Trem

Notes:

  • I originally laid down the rhythm with Pearl, my MIM Strat. But those Tex Mex pickups were just too bright for an already bright vintage Plexi-style amp. Way too much high-end attack. So, I switched to Blondie. That Tele is just so damn versatile!
  • I just love that vintage Marshall tone. Funny thing, I was never into Marshalls until recently, but since I’ve been playing Aracom amps, that’s the tone I just love!
  • The Nighthawk is just awe-inspiring! The tones that guitar can produce are simply phenomenal. The mix between the P-90 and the Burstbucker is to die for! I love that guitar!

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I dig the folks over at Catalinbread, and even though I haven’t gotten any of their gear – yet – I do like what they produce. Earlier this month, they released a second version of their WIIO overdrive pedal. Admittedly, I didn’t even know they had a first version, but it’s here.

From what I could gather about the WIIO, it’s supposed to be a Hiwatt in a box – very cool – and apparently, it is designed to be super-responsive to pick attack and volume knob levels; much like an amp. Here’s a demo video I found:

Sounds very nice indeed… 🙂


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How gear performs in the studio is one thing, how it performs in a public venue is an entirely different matter. Unless it’s just not practical, I almost always take gear I’m testing to a gig because to me at least, that’s the best test of gear as gigs are so unpredictable – you never know what might happen, and good gear will almost always be adaptable to the changing environment of a gig.

So how did the Nighthawk perform? In a word, spectacular!

In my recent review of the Nighthawk, the word that came to mind for me to describe the guitar was “comfortable,” and that was completely evident when I played it at my church gig this evening. The Nighthawk is comfortable in every way imaginable; from its light weight to its playability, and its ability to fit into any genre of music.

Now before you poo-poo that a church gig is not a “real” gig, guess again. I’ve played in a variety of venues over they years, and playing at church is one of the most challenging venues to play.

The reason for this is that the music at a church service isn’t the same style from song to song. Since I do kind of a “rock” service, we usually start and end with rockin’ songs with copious amounts of overdrive. But in the middle or meat of the service, we have to back it off a bit. Sometimes it’s bluesy, softer, classic rock with a bit of overdrive, but a lot of the songs are much softer: ballads and slower tunes that require playing clean. So versatility is absolutely crucial with the gear that I use for the service, and the Nighthawk delivers the versatility I require in spades.

For this particular service, I kept my rig very simple. For my amp, I used my trusty Aracom VRX22 hooked up to my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, then out to my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N. In front of the amp, I used just one pedal: my Boss TU-2. 🙂 I normally bring my entire board that has a variety of drives and modulation effects, but this time I wanted to capture the raw tone of the guitar, and all I could say after the service was, “WOW!”

The Nighthawk can produce some very nice grind with the P-90 and Burstbucker 3, but it can also produce rich and pristine cleans; cleans that’ll just make you close your eyes and soak up all the tonal goodness. The P-90 produces lush, fat cleans, while the BB 3 – as expected – produces bright cleans. But engaging the middle selector position allows you mix the two in varying quantities and this lets you dial in all sorts of clean tones, from super fat to ringing. The thin body of the Nighthawk is exceptionally resonant, providing great sustain and tonal complexity, producing an almost reverb-like effect. I was absolutely floored by the gorgeous clean tones I was able to dial in. It was purely inspiring!

For more overdriven tones, the middle pickup again makes this guitar so versatile. In fact, I played most of the service in this position, and simply varied the amount of neck and bridge pickup volumes to get the overdrive tones I wanted. For our more rockin’ tunes, I switched the amp to the drive channel. On the Nighthawk, I dimed the treble pickup, and when I wanted more heavy crunch, would just dial in more P-90. It was so cool! Dialing in more P-90 didn’t result in significantly more volume; a slight amount, but nothing significant. When I got to a lead break, it was a simple flick of the toggle to the treble pickup, and I could get that classic Les Paul treble pickup tone! F$%kin-A!

Interestingly enough, the Nighthawk isn’t a bright guitar. In fact, its tone is the deepest of any guitar I’ve gigged with, save my old ES-333, which was both darker and boomy. But that darker tone isn’t a bad thing at all because the Nighthawk has BIG HAIRY BALLS. There is nothing subtle about its tone. It’s incredibly expressive and in your face, whether you’re playing clean or dirty, and it forces you to engage in a never-ending musical conversation while you play it. You can’t be timid with this guitar. It won’t let you. There were times when I was playing where I would normally hold back, but with the Nighthawk in my hands, it seemed to coax me to go outside my comfort zone and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Damn! If I were single and the Nighthawk was a woman… no, I better not go there. 🙂

As you can tell, I quite simply dig this guitar. I know, I say that about a lot of gear, and it’s genuine. But there’s gear that I dig and there’s gear that I REALLY DIG, like Blondie, my Squier CV Tele, and all my Aracom equipment. The Nighthawk definitely falls into that REALLY DIG camp!

By the way, not that it really matters a lot to me because I didn’t even think about what number guitar I got in the limited run of 350, but to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered that I have #29 in the lot. Like I said, I didn’t even think to check this, but a member on the My Les Paul forum asked me what number I got – it was first time I looked. Not sure if this really means anything because I’m not really a collector – I’ll never sell this guitar. But it’s still kind of cool to get a low number.

There’s a certain magic about the Nighthawk that harkens me back to the first Harry Potter movie when he went to the wand shop. The shopkeeper told Harry (paraphrasing), “The wizard doesn’t choose the wand. The wand chooses the wizard.” And in the case of this guitar, despite the fact that I was going to pull the trigger on an R9 Les Paul, this guitar reached out and chose me. I have absolutely no regrets about passing over the LP in this case, and I’m looking forward to the magic the Nighthawk and I can create!

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Click on the picture to see an enlarged view.

Gibson Limited Run Nighthawk 2009


Summary: After a 10 year hiatus, Gibson returns the Nighthawk to market, with a slightly different look and electronics. Make no bones about it; this guitar is SWEET!

Pros:Looking for a super-light but versatile guitar? Look no further. The Nighthawk has it all, and can do it all from swampy blues to all out RAWK! Its thinline body makes it absolutely comfortable to play, and the neck is perfect!

Cons:None.

Features:

  • Style: Contoured single-cutaway
  • Top: AAA Maple
  • Body: Bound mahogany
  • Neck: Set mahogany
  • Scale length: 24-3/4″
  • Neck profile: ’60s thin
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard radius: 12″
  • No. of frets: 22
  • Nut width: 1.69″
  • Neck pickup: P-90 single-coil
  • Bridge pickup: BurstBucker 3 humbucker
  • Controls: Volume, Volume, Tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector
  • Hardware: Chrome
  • Tuners: Kluson
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Finish: Lacquer
  • Case: Hardshell
  • Other: Certificate of Authenticity.

Price: $1400-$1700 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about love at first strum! The Nighthawk is like a cross between an SG and a Les Paul, and I can’t say enough about how great this guitar plays and sounds!

When I have enough time to go to my favorite shop near work, like any gear freak, I’m like a kid in a candy store; especially this little place in Redwood City, CA called Gelb Music. I’ve known the guys there for a number of years, and they’ve always steered me in the right direction. Unfortunately for me, they also know that I have a HUGE weak spot for non-mainstream gear. Such was the case when I walked into the shop today to ogle some Les Pauls. They’ve known that I’ve been jonesing for one for awhile, but they must have a sense about what appeals to me, because one of ’em will say, “Dude, those Pauls are nice, but you gotta check out this…” And in “checking it out,” I’ve since ended up with a MIM Strat, a Roland Cube 60, a Squire Classic Vibe Tele, an Ibanez GSR200 Bass and numerous pedals.

So here I was, minding my own business, admiring the Les Pauls hanging from the ceiling, when Tommy did the “dude you gotta check this out,” I told him, “Tommy, don’t do this to me. You know what happens when you do that.”

“I know, man,” he replied, “And I know you’ve been looking at the Pauls, but you gotta check this out [pulling down this gorgeous honey-colored Gibby from the hanger]. It’s the most playable f-in guitar in the shop, and dude! The tone this thing produces is incredible. Here. Check out the neck!” Handing me the guitar in the process.

I was immediately overtaken by the light weight of the guitar. If that axe weighed 6 lbs, I’d be surprised (a look at the Gibson Nighthawk site lists the average weight at 4.6 lbs). Then as I moved the guitar into a playing position, I noticed how absolutely perfect the neck is. I love that 60’s thin neck! It’s a shallow “C” with a slightly wider profile. It’s faster than all get-out, and oh so comfortable to play! But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

This is one beautiful guitar! The bookmatched figured maple top is absolutely stunning, and the transparent amber lacquer brings out the three-dimensionality of the wood grain. The high gloss of the lacquer further enhances the effect – it’s like liquid sunshine. To provide definition both body and neck are bound with a white binding.

Speaking of wood, the light mahogany is flawless and all the joints and seams are perfect.

The Nighthawk 2009 is quite a bit different from the original that came out in 1993, even though it retains the same body shape. The original seemed to be Gibson’s answer to the HSS Strat, and had a 5-way pickup selector. With this version, Gibson has gone with a BFG setup with a P-90 in the neck and an awesome BurstBucker 3 in the bridge. The pickup selector switch is now a 3-way toggle and has been moved to the upper bout like a Les Paul (which I love). The neck sports a solid mahogany base with a rosewood fretboard and medium-jumbo frets with a scale length of 24 3/4 inches – just like a Les Paul.

The hardware provides an added touch of vintage feel to the look of the guitar, from the Kluson tuners and chrome Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tail piece, to the gold top hat volume and tone knobs. Even though the Nighthawk 2009 is a limited run guitar, it’s clear that Gibson didn’t just want this to be novelty guitar where they could get away with using cheap materials. Everything about this guitar screams high-quality down to the little details. I’m impressed!

In fact, at a distance, you might easily mistake this guitar for a different Les Paul model. I certainly did when I saw Billy Joel in concert. His guitarist was slinging this gorgeous Gibson that looked like a Les Paul. But it kind of confused me with its body shape and three knob setup. I kept on wondering, “Did Gibson create a new model Les Paul?” I’ve since been corrected.

Playability

There’s one word that comes to mind when I play this guitar: Comfortable. My favorite guitars have always been those that sound, play, and feel comfortable, and the Nighthawk is all about comfort. The 60’s thinline neck with wide profile is so easy to play. I found myself not worrying at all about where my fingers were and just playing. The action is low and fretting notes is so easy. But with the medium-jumbo frets, wiggling your fingers creates some very nice vibrato without even bending the strings! The pickups are in the perfect place for where I strum, which is right between them, so no chance of banging my finger on a pickup in a hard strum as well.

To me, this is a player’s guitar. I know that some people have complained that it doesn’t faithfully reproduce the original. But I believe that the original was just too quirky and didn’t really have player ergonomics in mind. For instance, the pickup selector switch. I dig that it’s in the classic Gibson position. It is so much more accessible – I don’t even have to look to switch pickups.

The Les Paul scale length on the Nighthawk makes bending – even the slightly brittle shop strings which I will replace today – a breeze. The setup is perfect and there’s nary a string that frets out or dulls. Like I said, this is a player’s guitar.

How It Sounds

Gibson states, “Today’s version is still all about a guitarist keeping his options open. With two volume controls, a master tone knob and two heavy-duty pickups, guitarists can experiment with endless sounds.” In other words, the Nighthawk is all about tonal diversity, capable of producing super-smooth and sexy cleans to all out snarling dog drive. I’ve played the guitar a little less than a couple of hours, and I’m absolutely blown away by the tones this guitar produces.

The big surprise is the P-90 in the neck. I was expecting it to be bright, but it’s thick and ballsy, with a real emphasis on the lower mids. It might get lost in the mix when played dirty, but the cleans is where this pickup really stands out. The voicing is creamy smooth, and very acoustic sounding.

The treble pickup is classic Les Paul, but just a tad darker which I absolutely love! The Burstbucker 3 produces a rich tone that’s full of harmonics and overtones, without being overly bright.

But the real magic comes in mixing the two pickups in the middle position. Holy crap!!! Talk about tonal complexity! The guys at the shop said that the middle position was their favorite, and I now see why. I immediately fell in love using this setting.

As far as volume balance is concerned, both pickups put out about the same volume, so there’s not this big gain boost when you switch to the treble pickup like you’d get from a Les Paul. I’m thinking Gibson did this to emphasize using the middle position, and blending the pickups together. Nice.

In any case, I got ambitious and put some sound clips together:

Neck Pickup

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

Both Pickups

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

Treble Pickup

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

All clips were played with the Nighthawk (with both volume knobs set at about 7 and tone at 10) plugged straight into my Aracom VRX22 which then ran into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator then out to a 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N. I used a Sennheiser e609 instrument mic, and recorded directly into GarageBand with no volume leveling.

Overall Impressions

I’m still getting acquainted with this axe, but with all the tones that it can produce, I can easily see it becoming my go-to axe, and it isn’t just initial infatuation speaking. This guitar – at least to me – is so sexy from its looks to its sounds! If you get a chance to play one, you’ll see what I mean.

As a limited run, there are not many out there. In fact, some online stores no longer carry them. But you can still find some at online retailers, and if you’re lucky, your local shop will have one. Give it a try!

For more information, please check out the Nighthawk site!

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As you may know, I own a Prestige Guitars axe – actually one they no longer have in their current model lineup (though they list it in their models area) – the Heritage Elite, which I call “Sugar” because she actually smells sweet in addition to sounding sweet. The Heritage Elite is a very ornate take on a Les Paul copy; a lot of people actually don’t like how busy all the decorations are, which might account for why it’s not on their current model lineup. But the tone and sustain are wonderful, so that guitar is a keeper for sure. But I suppose in an effort to be a bit more “true to form,” Prestige has come out with a new axe, called the “Classic,” that I am sure will turn heads.

The Classic is a very nice take on a classic Les Paul design. It features a AAA flame maple top, on a super-light, carved, mahogany body and mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. As with the Heritage, it sports the classic Seymour Duncan 59/JB Neck/Bridge pickup combination, independent volume and tone knobs, and a 3-way selector switch. Not sure what the bridge is, but when I last spoke with Prestige, they were moving away from Gotoh Tone-o-matic to GraphTech. Sure looks like a Gotoh to me, but I’d have to see it up close to tell.

When I look at the picture, if it weren’t for the lower horn, I’d swear this was a Les Paul! I dig the mother of pearl inlays on the fretboard, and the graceful lines of the body; speaking of which, the back is contoured, so in addition to being light, it is apparently incredibly comfortable as well. Great combination!

Here are specs from the Prestige Site:

  • 24 3/4” scale length
  • 1 11/16” nut width
  • Carved mahogany, maple bound body
  • AAA Grade flame maple top
  • Mahogany neck
  • Bound rosewood fingerboard
  • Mother of pearl trapeze fingerboard inlay
  • Mother of pearl prestige logo & decal
  • Seymour Duncan SH1-59 (neck) SH4-JB (bridge) humbucker pickups
  • 2 Vol. / 2 Tone / 3-way toggle controls
  • Grover tuners
  • Tune-o-matic bridge & Stop Bar
  • All chrome hardware
  • Available in natural sunburst finish

And to top it of, here’s a Guitar World video demo of the Classic:

Even with the low quality video, you can hear how that guitar just sings. It has a sweet sound, but can also get really aggressive. That’s one of the reasons I love playing my Sugar, which is a great guitar. But I might just have to get me one of these classics to gig with… OMG! More GAS!!!!

For more information, check out the Prestige Guitars product page!

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Last night I had the privilege and pleasure to see Elton John and Billy Joel in concert. That in and of itself was absolutely phenomenal, and seeing these two in concert together – two of my favorite musicians – was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me! But what had me going even more was the fact that Elton had two of his original bandmates playing with him: Nigel Olsson on drums (my favorite drummer of all time for his heavy beats), and one of my all-time favorite guitarists and guitar influences, Davey Johnstone.

As Elton John’s musical director, Davey Johnstone enjoys a prominence in a big-name act that most of us would die for! Yet despite his longevity with the band (he has been playing with EJ for over 37 years), and his reknown in the music industry in general, he is seldom mentioned in the guitar community, which has always puzzled me. He has a wholly distinctive sound, and his instincts as a guitarist are quite simply hard to match.

In any case, when the show started, I didn’t know if Davey would be playing – or any of the original band for that matter – but I whooped out loud when the lights came up and there he was standing coolly composed in front of his amp as he always has since the first time I saw Elton in concert (I’ve seen EJ in concert 3 times since 1980). In his hands he held the custom “Captain Fantastic” Les Paul that he had commissioned by the Gibson custom shop. It’s pictured in the photo I provided at the top. Don’t know the specs, but that is one freakin’ cool guitar!

As the concert wore on, I took note of the axes he slung. Sorry, didn’t capture the songs he played with them. I was too busy singing along. 🙂 Here’s what he played:

  • Custom Captain Fantastic Les Paul
  • Double Neck Ibanez
  • Takamine Acoustic with a single cutaway
  • Black Les Paul with three pickups
  • Ovation Elite
  • Dark Burst Strat
  • Double Neck Gibson EDS-1275
  • Cool red guitar (couldn’t get the make from where I sat, and the jumbotron shots never showed the headstock. (click on the pic for a larger view)
  • Red Gibson Explorer
  • Honey Burst Les Paul
  • What looked like a R9 Les Paul

As far as his amplification, I could only see one amp onstage, and it had the size and shape of a California Blonde acoustic amp (though it was definitely not that). He ran two tilt-back 4 X12 cabs – probably in stereo – on either side of the amp. From the diminutive size of the amp, it was clear that this wasn’t a high-powered amp. I suppose he was just getting stage volume, and relying on the PA to project to the audience which, by the way, was absolutely incredible. He’s yet another musician who realizes the power of using a lower wattage amp. It saves your ears, and it really allows you to get great pushed tones!

As far as Davey playing, he’s the ultimate sideman. He has got licks and tricks up his sleeve that don’t necessarily stand out – because his guitar takes a back seat to Elton’s piano – but weave in and out of the songs and fit perfectly. Even when he was playing rhythm in Billy Joel’s tunes last night, I was watching what he was doing. He was all over the neck, playing little single or double-string embellishments that you could actually make out in the mix, but blended so well, that if you didn’t know what to listen for, you’d never hear it! That just blew me away! To me, that just demonstrates incredible instinct as to what to play when and where, but also an incredible humility and awareness that he doesn’t have to be a “star,” but mixed with a confidence that he has nothing to prove.

Make no bones about it. Elton John’s hits are nothing without Davey Johnstone’s guitar. He has had artist credit on every hit Elton has had. With the exception of the addition of the great Caleb Quaye doubling on guitar on “Blue Moves,” Davey has been THE Elton John guitarist. Last year, he celebrated his 2000th show with Elton. 2000!!! How’s that for a defining career?!!!

If you’re an Elton fan, you probably know of Davey Johnstone. But I would highly suggest in any case, to give some of Elton’s hits a listen, and you’ll see the absolute mastery of Davey Johnstone’s guitar playing!

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