Archive for February, 2011

Gibson just published a great article on their site: The Making of a Gibson USA Guitar. Very cool stuff.

But here’s a cool video of the making of a Les Paul Supreme:

What I found interesting in both the article and the video is how the neck is cut. Where the body is cut using a CNC, the neck is cut by hand. The dude in the video cuts the neck with a band saw, with no guide! And he’s fast!

As for the Les Paul Supreme, that’s a thing of beauty. But it’s wierd how there’s no access plate to the control cavity. I think you access everything through the bridge pickup cavity. This is definitely not a guitar for the do-it-yourself folks. But it sure is pretty…

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When Van Halen hit the scene as an opening act, no one wanted to follow them because of Eddie’s supernatural playing. Shred is old hat now, but even today, I still prefer EVH’s approach to shred than those who’ve followed; not just because he’s the original, but because his phrasing is so completely unexpected. He has a sixth sense with musicality of which even after all these years, I’ve never tired. Here’s a great video of an EVH solo back in the day…

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For my Les Pauls, I just dig the plain tops, and though I’m not averse to flame tops, they’re not my first choice – at least for Les Pauls. My ’59 replica has a very subtle flame that is only apparent when you look at the guitar from the side. But head-on, it looks like a very cool plain top, and that’s what really appealed to me about that guitar. Having said that, I dig flame tops on other guitars. For instance, my Gibson Nighthawk has this really cool flame that combined with the translucent amber finish, give it an incredible 3D effect. If it was a plain top or just opaque lacquer,  think it would lose its charm.

What are  your preferences?

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To get ideas for articles, I subscribe to lots of press releases and music manufacturing news feeds to stay current on the happenings in the gear world. Over the past few years, there has been increasing activity in the realm of guitar building materials; specifically, tonewoods made from increasingly reduced supplies. For instance, Indian Rosewood is becoming increasingly expensive and much less available.

But in addition to the discussions focused on scarcity and perhaps eventual complete lack of availability of tonewoods has been a lot of buzz about conservation law regarding the importation of various woods products. Recently, I happened upon an article that talked about the expansion of the Lacey Act of 1900 under H.R. 2419 Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. The Lacey act was put into law to prevent illegal harvesting of various protected flora and fauna. Apparently, according to the article, the expansion of the Lacey Act by the new act of 2008 dealt with not just the importation of newly taken or harvested material, but finished products consisting of illegal material, such as antiques made from Brazilian rosewood and tortoise shell.

Yikes! That’s really expansive. I suppose the gist of the law is to be extremely stringent with imported material and including processed material as well as raw material. I actually read the law (which you can read here), and in section 8204 sub-section (a) under Definitions, the law states:

(1) IN GENERAL- The terms `plant’ and `plants’ mean any wild member of the plant kingdom, including roots, seeds, parts, or products thereof, and including trees from either natural or planted forest stands.

The words “or products thereof” are the kicker that make antiques or other processed plant material applicable under the law.

So what is the law? Basically, this section of the law requires that any material imported that falls under the definition as a plant or plant produc, must have adequate documentation to prove its legality. So a company that imports plant products, i.e. exotic woods for guitars, must provide detailed documentation to customs officials when requested. If documentation is inadequate or non-existent, the company will be subject to fines.

That’s not unreasonable, and its strictness should be a great deterrent from importing illegal woods. BUT, as the Music Trades article discussed, it’s not the actual enforcement of the law that is really the problem, but the compliance with the law, as assembling and maintaining that documentation can involve significant administration expense. Companies wishing to file electronically may do so, but only through a special machine that costs $50,000! For small companies, that expense could possibly be prohibitive to running the business.

The law is well-intentioned, but I do feel that it is overly comprehensive. “Or products thereof” makes compliance difficult, especially with previously processed material like antiques that potentially could be 100 years old! I don’t disagree that there should be fairly stringent laws regarding the importation of illegal plant products, but to include already processed material, where the documentation just doesn’t exist, is a little extreme from my perspective. What this means to us as consumers is that you know what companies will do with the extra expense: They’ll have no choice but to pass that on to their customers.

But irrespective of the requirements of the law creating expense, let’s face it: Exotic woods are becoming more and more scarce, so prices will go up anyway. But perhaps this impending scarcity or unavailability could be used as an opportunity to find suitable replacement woods. For instance, I have a guitar made of walnut. Walnut has the warmth and resonance of mahogany, and better yet, it’s a easily renewable resource, in abundant supply. For forward-looking companies, this could an opportunity to move the market.

All this may have no bearing on our purchase decisions now, but it is certain that in the future the woods we’ve come to rely on for our tone today, will most probably radically different. The litigation revolving around this only enforces that idea.

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…high-end Yamaha acoustic/electric guitars haven’t taken off in the US? It’s not as if Yamaha instruments aren’t known in the States. But what you most commonly find in US shops are the sub-$1000 guitars.

I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I didn’t know Yamaha had a whole lineup of high-end acoustics until I started doing research for a new acoustic-electric last year, and I happened to go their site to see Yamaha’s handmade line of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars. These appeared to be on par with any American high-end acoustic with respect to materials and design, and they’ve been building these for years!

When I finally made my decision on a new acoustic-electric and comparing many different brands I ended up buying a Yamaha APX900, which is just about the best stage acoustic I’ve ever played! But a couple of months after I got that wonderful guitar, I saw a press release that Yamaha picked up Steve Lukather and he was playing their LJX26CP model. Curious, I looked through the Yamaha site and saw this beautiful lineup of various handmade guitars.

The LJX26CP is a handmade, medium-jumbo guitar with a natural finish. Here are some specs:

Top Solid Engelmann Spruce A.R.E.
Back&Side Solid Rosewood
Neck 5ply (Mahogany + Padauk)
Finger Board/Bridge Ebony
Body Depth 100 -125mm (3 15/16″-4 15/16″)
Nut Width 44mm (1 3/4″)
String Lengh 650mm (25 9/16″)
Tuning Machine Open Gear
Color Natural
Finish Gloss
Preamp System62
Standard Accessory Hard CaseX

The very cool thing about  this guitar (and others in the new lineup) is the new SRT pickup system, which is an improvement over the incredible ART system, which is what I have in my APX900. I chose the APX900 over all comers because of this pickup system. It is by far the best pickup system I’ve ever used in any acoustic, hands-down. But SRT goes even further than this by adding microphone modeling and other tone-shaping features to further enhance the natural sound of a guitar while plugged in. I wish I had that in my APX!!! OMG!

What got me thinking about Yamaha guitars was recording this song:

With this, I mic’d my APX900. It sounds pretty good, but I really had to do a lot of EQ and other adjustments to get a richer sound. As you can tell, the tone is pretty bright, which works pretty good, but I really don’t like applying EQ to guitar tracks as I want to capture the natural sound of the guitar, whether it’s an acoustic or electric. Anyway, I was thinking to myself that it would be great to have a guitar that has a killer tone both plugged in and unplugged. That’s when I thought of the LJX26CP.

What I wanted was to have my cake and eat it too. While my APX900 sounds absolutely fantastic on stage, from what I’ve been able to gather on the LJX26CP is that it also sounds killer unplugged!

So circling back to my original query, it’s amazing that these amazing guitars with amazing electronics haven’t caught on more here in the states or why Yamaha hasn’t invested more in marketing their top line in the States. Maybe they think the market’s too saturated. Who knows? It’s not as if the guitars are completely inaccessible. You can special order them, and if you’re in Europe or Asia, you can get them online. But as someone once told me, “There’s room in this world for people who are good.” That totally applies to gear. And if Yamaha brought these guitars to shops, I have no doubt that they’d do well here. It just takes getting the word out and coming up with messaging that differentiates it from the competition.

Without a doubt, the big differentiator for Yamaha’s guitars is the SRT system. As if ART wasn’t impressive enough in previous models, SRT looks like it will blow ART away! I definitely want an LJX26CP! Luckily for me, the local shop where I get a lot of my gear is a Yamaha dealer, and they can order one for me. I sure wish I could play it before I order it; hopefully, they’ll have a return policy, or allow me to not buy it if I don’t like it. Chances are that I will indeed like it.

In any case, from personal experience with Yamaha guitars over the years – my first acoustic was a cheapo Yamaha FG335 that my dad gave me for my 18th birthday. Those inexpensive, it had a fantastic voice that was comparable to high end acoustics. I performed and recorded with it for years! To me, Yamaha totally gets it with acoustic guitars, and even its budget models sound and play great, plus they’re very well-built.

For more information on the Yamaha guitars that have the SRT pickup system, visit the SRT site! You’ll notice that the site’s in Japan. It took me A LOT of digging to find that site. There are clips and interviews on the site that will provide you with tons of information on the line.

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Okay, I’m a Les Paul/Gibson guy, but I hate Gibson just the same. Why? Well, lemme tell ya:

  1. Just looking at Les Pauls gives me serious GAS!
  2. My Les Paul GAS makes me spend my money.
  3. I lose countless hours playing my Les Pauls because they sound so damn good, I lose track of time.
  4. Because of my Les Pauls, I’ve had an itch to get appropriate amplifiers to showcase their incredible tone (call it “ancillary GAS”).
  5. That ancillary GAS further drains my wallet.
  6. They keep on coming out with kick-ass new Les Pauls that I want. For instance, this one. Then I get even more GAS.
  7. I’ve become obsessed with Les Pauls, dammit! And I’m not an obsessive person – or am I? 🙂
  8. But besides Les Pauls, they make the ES-335. I want yet another – dammit again!

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! I hate you Gibson! You ROCK and I hate you so much that I’m giving you my hard-earned cash! 🙂

Yeah, yeah, I know all you anti-Gibson naysayers out there. I’ve heard your arguments, and I’m not getting into a debate. Gibson guitars just do it for me just as PRS, Fender, Taylor, etc. do it for others. Give me a Les Paul, or Nighthawk (2009), or ES-335, and I’m a happy man!

But I still hate Gibson for triggering my frequent GAS attacks.

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Never Trade is about a working mother whose life is busy and chaotic, and she just wants to get away, but her devotion to her family overrides her sense of breaking free; thus, as I say in the song: She’ll never trade in her life…

It’s also the first song that I’ve written and recorded in a LONG, LONG time, and this time, I finally figured out how to properly master in Logic Express. Really satisfied with this recording. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t use any electric guitars in this. I wanted to kind of leave Alt-Poppish. Give it a listen let me know what you think.

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This video has gone viral since it was posted! ‘Nuff said!

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I’m an avid golfer, and one of my all-time favorite golfers is Arnold Palmer. During his heyday back in the 1960’s, he was known as a hard-charger who seemed to take a lot of risks. But he was rewarded with several wins and an appreciative fan base who could dig what he was about.

So it was a real pleasure to come across an article he wrote in the latest issue of GolfDigest magazine. Each month, GolfDigest has a “10 Rules” column, and this month, the 10 Rules were entitled, “On Being a Savvy Risk-Taker.” After reading it, I got inspired by a couple of the rules and especially how they relate to guitar gear. Here’s the list of rules from the article:

  1. Measure risk against reward
  2. Think twice before reaching deep
  3. Bold putting isn’t risky
  4. Don’t compound mistakes
  5. A low ball means lower risk
  6. Don’t try things you haven’t practiced
  7. Be true to yourself
  8. Reduce risk from the rough
  9. Know the difference between risks and gambles
  10. Don’t let a partner tempt you

The two rules that got my attention in particular were rules #2, #4 and #7.

Rule #2, “Think twice before reaching deep” is related to something that I frequently say in this blog: You’re the one responsible for your own buying decisions. In the GolfDigest article, Arnie described how when Jack Niklaus arrived on the scene, he could crush the ball, and it was difficult to not try to keep up with him. The only problem was that “reaching deep” to get that extra distance usually resulted in a total loss of accuracy.

How that translates to buying gear is that while other people’s input can indeed be helpful, in the end, it’s your decision and only you can determine if some gear will work for you. And it’s also fine to want to get gear like your favorite artists, but no matter what gear you play, you’re going to sound like you. Overshadowing all this is that you shouldn’t feel pressured to “keep up” with other people’s rigs.

Rule #4, “Don’t compound mistakes” may on the surface seem to not have anything to do with gear, but from a certain, very real perspective it has a lot to do with gear, and it’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way. Most gearheads have LOTS of gear; I mean LOTS. I’m no exception. In my  quest for the Unicorn we call tone, I’ve spent a lot of time going down various paths of gear acquisition, only to find that that path is not the “right” path, and as a result have left lots of unused gear in my wake. Sound familar? To me, that’s the result of compounding mistakes.

Picture this: I get in my mind that I want a certain effect or flavor in my tone. I do some research, and finally decide on a piece of gear. I take it into my studio and gig with it, only to find that it’s missing some quality. A reasonable person would just return the gear – maybe even take a bit of a loss and take a “learning tax.” But noooooo, the stubborn gear freak in me thinks that everything can be “tweaked,” so I buy let’s say a pedal to compensate. But that doesn’t get me there. Then I buy NOS tubes. Still that doesn’t get me there. Then I swap out speakers. Almost there. And so on and so forth.

That happened with my Fender Hot Rod. To be completely honest – and hindsight is 20/20 – the Hot Rod is all about clean headroom. In stock form, its clean tones with just a tad spring reverb are simply gorgeous. But its dirty tones leave much to be desired. So I swapped tubes and swapped speakers. And I did that quite a bit. It took me about three or four rounds of changes to finally get a good dirty tone, only to find that I really didn’t want to use the amp as a dirty amp. Talk about compounding mistakes! 🙂

Rule #7 “Be true to yourself” is pretty self-explanatory, but of all the rules that impressed me the most, it was this one. The reason for this is because if it’s one thing that I’ve learned in all my gear purchases, it is to look at acquiring gear from the perspective of what it will do for the music I play; that is, is it relevant? I’ve come across and played some REALLY cool gear, and in my less wary days, if it was cool, I’d buy it. But now, I’m realistic about my gear purchases. If it doesn’t help what I play or perhaps plan to play, then chance are, I won’t buy it.

Take, for instance, the Dumble amp. Having listened to one and briefly played one, I was thoroughly impressed! But that’s also way beyond my spending limit, and musically, I don’t think it’ll get me much more than what I can get with my current rig.

Finally, here’s a funny thought. A friend of mine told me of something he read: I get the best gear that I can get because if I suck, then I know it’s not the gear. 🙂 Love it! Rock on!

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Mind you, I’m saying that a bit tongue and cheek, and am writing this after I read a thread on The Gear Page from a user who was ranting about people asking total strangers, “What amp should I buy?” I can see his point. There are so many amps out there, each with their own character, that it’s virtually impossible to suggest an amp to someone.

I’ve been asked that question more than a few times, and here’s my answer: Go to a music store and start trying amps out. If it’s a tube amp that you’re after and  you’re new to tube amps, go with something very simple and inexpensive, but the important thing is to try out a bunch to see if the sound pleases you. If you’re not new to tube amps, you should know better than to ask that question. 🙂

I know, the second part of the answer is a bit on the facetious side, but puh-lease! Just like with the the newbie to tube amps, you have to try out a bunch to see what you like. Period.

I’ve said this before: No one can tell you what’s good and what’s not. They can tell you about build quality. They can tell you about reliability. They can describe in great detail what the tone of an amp is like TO THEM. But in the end, you have to try it out for yourself to see if you like it. There’s no other alternative.

Find your tone is work, and they say, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess. ROCK ON!!!

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