It pays to be a good customer of a local, independent retailer. When I first saw the Electromatic at Gelb Music in Redwood City, I fell in love with it; unfortunately at the time, I didn’t get it. I came back a few days later wanting to by it, and Jordan (the guitar gear manager) reported that he had sold it. 😦 In fact, he hasn’t been able to hold onto any of the walnut finish Electromatics for more than a couple of days. So I told him that as soon as he got one in to contact me. Well, after a couple of months (which was good because I could set aside some money for it), Jordan finally got one in, sent me an email, and I put a down-payment on it over the phone on Thursday. I picked it up yesterday and immediately used it at my weekly restaurant gig.
Jordan had even set up the guitar for me knowing that I might gig with it on Friday, and set the action and intonation perfectly! But that’s a testament as to why I’d rather deal with small-box retailers than big-box ones like GC. The folks at the small-box retailers get to know you, and over the years, you establish a great relationship with them, if not a friendship. I’ve gotten to know all the great folks over at Gelb, and if you’re in the area, you owe it to yourself to get to know these guys. They won’t steer you wrong! Anyway, enough of that, let’s get on to the guitar, shall we?
So, so pretty…
Usually, I’m less concerned with looks than I am with tone, but the finish on this guitar immediately drew me to her when I first saw her hanging on Gelb’s Gretsch rack. By the way, I’ve already named her “Rose,” for her rose-wine-hue, walnut finish. As with any Gretsch, it’s all about classic styling, but the finish on Rose is simply incredible, as it takes that classic styling and dresses it up with a gorgeous finish that immediately draws your eyes to it. The picture I’ve provided does not do her justice at all. Suffice it to say that the translucent walnut finish gives her a red wine hue that is so alluring – sexy, you might say. Last night, several customers commented on her beauty. I gotta tell you, it was like showing up to a party with the prettiest girl hanging on my arm! 🙂
In any case, I shot a few pictures of her this morning. Rose is AMAZING!!!
…sings like an angel…
Playing a G5122DC at Gelb made my decision for me. While it doesn’t have the deep tone of a standard body Gretsch, it still has lots of depth, and as with any Gretsch, the tone is as smooth as silk, no matter what pickup you’re playing. I love the scooped, ringing tones (but not twangy) of the bridge pickup, and the neck pickup has an eery, ethereal, three-dimensional tone that’s perfect for finger-style. I used the middle selector last night quite a bit as well to blend in both pickups for certain songs.
Last night, I was plugged directly into my DigiTech Vocalist Live, that adds some reverb and chorus, then goes directly into the restaurant’s PA board. While it sounded great, coming out of the PA speakers, monitoring was an issue, as the restaurant only has a single 6″ monitor that just doesn’t give a good representation of the sound. But hearing it in the house, I was just blown away! The tone was rich and full, and seemed to fill the room, even at a lower volume. That kind of three-dimensional sound is inspiring! It floats in the air, and feels so close that you can almost touch it.
I’ll be recording clips really soon!
…and I could hold onto her all night!
Rose’s neck is very much like a 60’s Les Paul neck, so playing her felt immediately familiar. I had her set up with 10’s, which are on the light side for “acoustic” playing but provide a real versatility – and heck, with a four-hour gig, lighter strings are just easier to play. 🙂 The guitar is fairly lightweight – probably in the vicinity of 7 to 8 lbs., so prolonged gigging will not be an issue with Rose. Last night, everything about her felt so great. I love the position of the master volume, and with the pickup switch being in a similar position to a Les Paul, switching pickups mid-song was a breeze!
I didn’t quite like the action that Jordan had set on Rose originally, as it appeared to increase towards the bridge, so once I set up my rig, I made a couple of adjustments to the action on both sides of the floating bridge. What a different that made! It actually took me a few minutes to get used to how easy Rose was to play. And being that I’ve been playing this gig with an acoustic, I had to remind myself to really relax my left hand and not dig in. 🙂 That’s actually a good problem to have, and a testament to just how easy this guitar is to play.
1987 Gibson ES-335 Custom St (St = Standard? Studio?) Summary: A rare beauty with a natural blonde finish with classic ES-335 tone!Pros: Absolutely tip-top shape for a guitar of this age. No major dings, but has been well-played. Sounds amazing!Cons: None.Features:
Bound carved flame maple top and maple sides and back
Bound ebony fretboard
Medium jumbo frets
Original chrome hardware (look like Tone Pros)
Original chrome pickup covers
60’s-style lower profile neck
50’s-style pickup wiring (either volume knob acts as a master, but the tone controls have a different cap value that doesn’t throw a blanket over your tone when you turn it down – this is crucial for playing in the bridge pickup).
Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ This guitar sounds and plays like a dream! While the action is a just a tad higher than I like it, the guitar still plays ultra-smooth.
I already talked about how I happened to get this guitar, so I won’t bother rehashing the details. Suffice it to say that I got this guitar for an absolute steal. In a way, this guitar is sort of redemption for me having sold my original ES-335 a couple of years ago when times were tough. So getting this guitar is a real milestone for me.
Fit and Finish
For a 23 year old guitar, it is in absolutely amazing shape. The body has some very minuscule dings in it that fortunately don’t penetrate the finish. I didn’t notice any checking in the gloss either, though that may occur after a few more years if the finish Gibson used was a nitro lacquer. The hardware is aged as to be expected, though there’s a little oxidation in the brass stop tailpiece that can easily be removed. The pick guard has pick marks on it, but no scratches and all the joints are perfect. There’s some fret wear, but nothing major where the frets would have to be replaced. As for the fretboard itself, it’s gorgeous. I love ebony fretboards as they’re so smooth to the touch, and it makes bending a breeze. The back of the guitar has a few nicks that don’t penetrate the finish – and no buckle rash. All in all, for as much as this guitar has been played, I’m just amazed at its overall condition.
Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone. Sorry if the quality is low. I’ll have better ones later…
Click to enlarge. Sorry, phone pic
How It Sounds
This guitar has all the tone I was expecting out of an ES-335, but as it has been broken in and the wood aged, the tone is A LOT richer than what I remember with my original ‘335. As far as pickup positions go, there are three as usual, though I understand that some models did have coil-tapped humbuckers; not this model, though.
I’ve always loved the gorgeous, deep tones of the neck pickup on an ES-335 and this guitar doesn’t disappoint in that department. This is where the ES-335 gets very close to the deep, rich tones of an archtop, but it’s well, different…
Kicking in the bridge pickup in the middle position gives the ES-335 its distinctive “hollow” tone. It’s really hard to describe, but that I’m a firm believer that that middle pickup selector position is what draws people to this guitar. It certainly is one of the main things tonally that originally drew me to the ES-335 in the first place! With the bridge dimed and adding more or less neck pickup, you can get tons of great tones!
The bridge pickup is bright as to be expected – perhaps a bit too bright – but the wonderful tone knob nicely takes the edge off the brightness. I did notice that the bridge pickup is not significantly louder than the neck pickup, which leads me to believe that the original owner lowered the height of that pickup. When I get home from vacation, I’m going to raise it a bit because I prefer to have that dramatic change in volume.
In any case, here are some clips:
Neck pickup, clean
I love the haunting character of the neck pickup on and ES-335. The wonderful thing about this pickup is that it produces a very deep tone, without sounding like an acoustic. Adding a little reverb “grease” only accentuates the haunting effect.
Middle position, with some grind for rhythm; bridge pickup for lead.
In this, I have the bridge dimed, and the neck about halfway for the rhythm part. The lead is just the wide-open bridge pickup. Notice that it’s bright and almost twangy.
Middle position, clean; both rhythm and lead
I had to do a bit of a tribute to the great Andy Summers with this last clip… 🙂 I added a touch of reverb and chorus to get that “Every Breath You Take” vibe.
For all the clips, since I’m on vacation, I don’t have an amp, but I always carry around an IK Multimedia StealthPlug to facilitate my songwriting or, in this case, create clips. I used AmpliTube Fender. For the clean clips, I used a ’65 Twin Reverb model, and for the crunchy clip, I used a ’59 Bassman.
Cool Funk Lead
There are two parts to this next clip. In the first part, I play in the neck position, then switch over to the bridge in the second part plus attack a lot more. Unlike a Les Paul, the 335 doesn’t sustain as much, but that’s not a bad thing. The net result is that overdrive tones tend to be much more tight and focused. BTW, the amp used here was an Aracom PLX18BB in its drive channel.
This guitar really moves me. She plays so sweet and sounds so good that I truly am inspired. Of course, the price I happened to pay for it didn’t hurt at all, but irrespective of my price, I’d still give this guitar 5 Tone Bones. It’s really an incredible guitar! I can’t wait to get it home and to a luthier for a professional setup. The shop owner did a pretty good job of setting the guitar up, but he strung it with 11-53’s which, while certainly playable, aren’t really my cup of tea. I’ll have the shop put on a set of pure nickel 10’s.
Even though I got this news via a press release, it doesn’t surprise me at all that DBZ won the Best In Show award this year. I’ve been quietly following DBZ since they hit the scene, and I’ve appreciated what Dean Zelinsky (founder of DBZ and famous for Dean Guitars) has been trying to accomplish with his guitars from the start; that is, build great looking, great sounding, and great playing guitars at a GREAT price. Yeah, that’s a common formula, and lots of people try to do that, but Dean has accomplished that.
Take, for instance, the Imperial Premier model to the left. I had the chance to hold and play around with one of these exact models in Transparent Wine a couple of weeks ago (didn’t get to plug it in, though hopefully the DBZ rep will let me borrow one for a review). The Imperial has some classic styling – it’s shaped very similarly to a Gibson SG, but that’s where the similarities end. If you look at the picture to the right, you’ll see how incredibly thin the body is. That makes for a super, super, super light weight. All I could say when I first picked it up was, “Wow!”
Now you might think that that would never fly, but I have to tell you, that guitar felt absolutely wonderful, and I could feel the string vibrations resonating through the body as I played. The soft v-shape of the neck stands for Very comfortable. The fretboard is nice and smooth. DBZ calls it “ebonized” rosewood – not sure what that means, but it’s as smooth as ebony, and I just love the feel of ebony fretboards.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to plug it in because I was busy picking up my Fishman Solo Amp. But just based upon my initial inspection, and just holding it it in my hands, if I wasn’t getting the Fishman, I wouldn’t have let the rep leave the shop with the guitar. Yup, I was THAT impressed! Even the store manager was completely blown away by the guitar. He’s a jazz player, and while he said he prefers archtops, he loved that guitar.
Here’s the real kicker: You can get this guitar for $649 online!!! Fat Tone Guitars outside of Chicago has these in stock. So how is the price so low? Simply put, it’s due to technology. Dean Zelinsky isn’t shy nor embarrassed by this blatant use of tech to build guitars. And why not? With computerized routers, you can ensure build consistency. Plus, I believe all the heavy work is done overseas, so that keeps the prices down. Even though I try to stick to US-made gear where I can, in the end, geographic location is far less important to me than how the gear plays and sounds.
DBZ is still trying to build its dealer base, but I encourage you to check one out if there’s a shop near you.
That’s right! As I mentioned in episode 1 of the series, the Dumble can shred, and it sound unbelievable. In this part, Doug talks in-depth of the tonal capabilities of the Dumble amp and demonstrates it versatility by shredding on it!
Summary: Yamaha got it right with its Acoustic Resonance Technology (ART) pickup system. Plugged in, the tone shaping possibilities are amazing. If you’re looking for a mid-range performance guitar, this is a guitar you have to consider.
Pros: ART pickup system rocks the house! Incredibly playable guitar with a great-feeling neck. Action out of the box was just right.
Cons: A little bright and thin-sounding unplugged, but this is a thinline, so that’s expected. But despite that, it has a nice, rich tone.
Features (from the Yamaha web site):
Back & Sides
Thinline with Cutaway
3 1/8″ – 3 9/16″
Natural, Mocha Black, Ultramarine, Crimson Red Burst
System57 (3-way A.R.T.)
Price: $699 street
Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ This guitar offers the best of both worlds: Fantastic plugged in tone, and rich (though bright) unplugged tone.
My very first brand-new guitar was an old Yamaha FG335 that my dad gave me for my birthday. Up to that point, I had been playing hand-me-downs from my cousins. Not complaining about those old guitars, but getting a brand-new guitar is always special. That FG served me well for 15 years before it had a bit of an accident, and I had to retire her (I had named her “Betsy”).Since owning “Betsy,” I’ve always been partial to Yamaha acoustics, though the FG was the only one I’ve ever owned. They make great-sounding and -playing guitars at an affordable price. What’s to complain about that? 🙂
As you may know, I just purchased a BOSS RV-5 Digital Reverb that I recently reviewed. At the shop where I did my evaluation, I just happened to do the evaluation with an APX900; hence, this review that you’re reading. But before I continue with the review, this is my next acoustic guitar! For what you get for the retail price, you just can’t beat it!
Fit and Finish
Even with the “cheap” product lines, I’ve always been impressed with Yamaha’s build quality. No errant coating, nice and straight joints, and well-dressed frets. The APX900 was no exception in this department. The frets ends were rounded off nicely, the action was perfect – not too low, not too high. I dig the “bookend” triangular mother-of-pearl inlays on the neck. It’s a real nice touch; and the binding about the sound hole and body add nice definition to the look of the guitar.
With a nice “C” shape neck, the APX is a very comfortable guitar to play. Cutouts are must for me to play high up on the neck and the action is such that high notes are easy to fret. I detected no buzz at all anywhere on the neck, and the intonation was perfect – at least from what I could tell. The neck is a bit on a narrow side, much like an electric guitar, but that’s the way I personally like it, so whether playing chords or picking individual notes, the key word with the APX900’s playability is “comfort.”
How It Sounds
As I mentioned above, as a thinline guitar, its natural, unplugged tone is a bit thin. But that doesn’t mean it’s tinny. It just happens to sit a bit higher up in the mids, which could actually be very useful when playing with larger acoustics. And despite its thinner body, the solid spruce top really helps to project the sound out, so it produces more natural volume than you’d expect.
Plugged in is a completely different matter, and this is where the ART pickup system comes into play. As I understand it, the ART system isn’t your traditional EQ. It is a system of three individual pickups placed at specific points in the body that produce or emphasize different EQ frequencies. Unlike traditional tone controls that act as frequency cut or boost, each slider for low, mid and high is a volume control, and your output signal is a mix of the three pickups.
How does it work? In a word, AWESOME! I took several minutes to play around with the controls, and just fell in love with the system! Where traditional EQ controls may muffle or muzzle the tone if you turn down, this doesn’t happen with the ART system. Clarity is retained, no matter what you do because after all, all you’re doing is adjusting a volume control. I have to admit that it was a little unsettling at first because I was expecting the tone to muffle, especially as I bled off some highs. But that didn’t happen at all. For instance, when I first started playing, I thought the tone had a bit too much high-end. So I adjusted it down. The cool thing was that the high-end was still there, it just wasn’t as prominent as it was before I made the adjustment. I found that to be incredibly cool! I also set up the ART so I could play an arrangement of Sting’s “It’s Probably Me” where I play sort of a bass line on the 5th and 6th strings. With that, I brought down the mid and high, and turned up the bass. I was rewarded with a rich, bassy tone that was not boomy at all.
The ART system makes this guitar a winner in my opinion. If it worked this well with the APX line, I can only imagine how well it works with the top-of-the-line LX series. I’m duly impressed!
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!
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.
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:
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.
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!
Could this be the last tuner pedal you’ll ever need?
I don’t see how I missed this! I scour the ‘net daily for new stuff, especially from companies that are known to create really high-quality stuff – like TC Electronic. These Scandinavians are incredible inventors, and I haven’t seen or played one one thing of theirs that I didn’t like – though I could rarely afford it. But they’ve come out with a new tuner – yes, a tuner, of all things – that is completely different from any other tuner on the market. It’s called the “Polytune.” As its name implies, it is a polyphonic tuner; that is, the tuner can detect all your strings at once, and you can see which ones aren’t in tune at the click of a foot switch. Unlike traditional tuners that require you to check each string individually, with the Polytune, you strum your open strings. The LED’s will show you which strings are in tune and which aren’t.
In my experience, more likely than not, at any given time only one or two will be out of tune. So imagine the time you save by NOT having to check and tune each string – only the ones that need it! Check out this video to see how it works!
And at $99 bucks… SOLD!!!
Here are some features:
0.5 cent accuracy
Standard size box
Tune by strumming
Can automatically switch between chromatic and polyphonic tuning (it will detect if you’re hitting a single string)
Customizable preference settings
Has a 9V output jack for powering other pedals
Adjustable reference pitch from 435Hz to 445Hz
Supports drop tuning all the way down to B!
Works with 4 and 5 string basses as well
It may not have the accuracy of a TurboTuner, but who the hell gives a flying f$%k! .5 cent accuracy is nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that you can see the tuning of all your strings at once is incredible! Can you say KICK ASS!!! I’ve never even seen this thing and I want to give it 5 Tone Bones! Check out the TC Electronic web site for some detailed information!
Could this be the last tuner I’ll ever want? Until someone comes out with something better – and at a better price, for that matter, probably not. I want to get one right now. Unfortunately, they’re only available for pre-order. Hmm… oh well, I supposed I can wait. 🙂