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Archive for the ‘Guitars’ Category

Vangoa Ghost Fire Aluminum Pedal Board

Summary: If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced, lightweight pedal board, look no further. This is a sturdy board that should do well in any venue.

Pros: Very lightweight, yet super-sturdy. Board height seems specifically made for a Voodoo Labs power supply, but there’s plenty of room to mount one under the board (just don’t get one too wide). Included with the board are two rolls of velcro, cable ties, and stick-on cable mounts. Padded carrying bag includes backpack straps – very convenient.

Cons: The ONLY nit I have is for the carrying bag material. Though the bag is quite roomy and has a netted pocket for cables and other paraphernalia, it’s made of fairly thin nylon, so you’d have to be careful with the bag if you’re going to gig with it often.

Features:

  • Aluminum alloy construction
  • Dimensions: 22” x 12.6” x 2.36”
  • Includes everything you need to mount pedals and a power supply underneath the board.

If the carrying case was made of more durable material, I’d give this 5 Tone Bones. It’ll be fine for the weekly performer – which I am right now – but I could see it not withstanding the rigors of more frequent gigging. Other than that, I love it and recommend checking it out.

To be completely honest, I received this as a review unit from a fairly new Chinese distributor and manufacturer of music equipment – Vangoa. They had pointed me to their products on Amazon and I agreed to review their boards with the proviso that if I didn’t like their product(s), I wouldn’t write a review, but I would give them feedback on what I found wrong. That’s the deal I make of any manufacturer who reaches out to me directly. The board I’m reviewing here is the first of two of their Ghost Fire-brand pedal boards.

That out of the way, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality or accouterments. I am SO glad that they blew my expectations away! I’ve been increasingly impressed over the years of the quality Chinese-made gear, and this pedal is really a testament to the care and quality that Chinese manufacturers put into their products.

Fit and Finish

Here’s a little gallery of pictures I took of the board:

Though the welds underneath aren’t totally clean, they’re not cracked, and hold well. Besides, it’s the top of the board that matters and it’s totally clean. The crossbeams are nice and wide and the strips of velcro are cut to the perfect width. There’s enough velcro to cover the entire board! Very cool!

The pedals I mounted on the board are not ones I’m actually using right now, except for my wah-wah pedal. Those are on another board, and I didn’t feel like transferring pedals, so I pulled a few out of my pedal drawers to see how well the pedalboard accommodates different size pedals.

This pedalboard would work great as a fly rig! It’s lightweight and could easily be stowed in an overhead compartment on a plane. And the shoulder straps – which can also be stowed in a zip-up pocket – make it convenient to carry on your back.

Though probably not intended for this use, the inner pocket is big enough to hold a laptop plus my audio interface, so if I have to travel remotely and need to lay down tracks, I could load all my gear recording gear into the bag. Nice!

Overall Impression

Obviously, I can’t write about how it sounds and plays, but I will definitely use the board at my church gig this weekend (yes, I will transfer my pedals and run the wires). I use a 1-Spot, so it’s not going to be an issue making the transfer.

In a nutshell, I love this board! It’s nice and lightweight and super sturdy. The angling and the silicon feet elevate the board nicely, so if I was playing in a bar gig or a backyard party, I wouldn’t have to worry about spills near my board. It’s obvious the designer had the working musician in mind when they designed this board!

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In my recent “Stupid Gear Myths” article, a reader commented, “…Work with what you have. Simplify your set-up, tailor it to your needs, your music style…”

Wiser words cannot have been spoken. If you buy into the common wisdom that your tone comes from your fingers, then do you really need to have a bunch of gear, especially pedals?

I know and play with guys who have relative big boards compared to mine. They’ve got several modulation effects, overdrive pedals, etc., etc.. They seem to get new ones every couple of weeks. I was like that too, but at some point, you have to stop and see what tones you can get out of the stuff you have.

It’s like a friend of mine who was buying guitars at an alarming rate. One day when he showed up to a gig and had a new guitar, I asked him, “Are you going to spend some time getting to know that? Sheesh! You barely spent time with the last one you bought.”

Sure… says the man with a bunch of guitars. But truth be told, I sold off most of my guitars. The ones I have left, I play regularly in gigs and in the studio. And most of them will go to my kids when I’m too old and decrepit to play. But the ones I play, I take A LOT of time to get to know all their little idiosyncrasies.

Look, don’t get me wrong. If you want to get a ton of gear, that’s entirely up to you. But you should ask yourself why you’re getting it. Is it because you feel there’s a sound you just can’t get with the gear you have? More likely than not, that sound is there. You just haven’t discovered it yet.

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Got this press release this morning:

GIBSON INTRODUCED three new guitar collections at an event in Nashville on April 29: the Original Series, the Modern Series, and the Custom Shop Original Collection.

Gibson’s Original Collection evokes the guitar maker’s “golden age” in the ’50s and early ’60s. Gibson Chief Merchant Officer Cesar Gueikian explained, “With this classic line we are paying tribute to our iconic past, bringing back the guitars which shaped the sounds across all generations and genres of music.” The collection includes faithful reproductions of the Les Paul Standard ’50s; Les Paul Standard ’60s; Les Paul Special in TV Yellow; Les Paul Junior in Tobacco Burst; SG 61 Standard with factory stop-tail; Maestro and Sideways vibrolas; SG Special and Junior; classic ES-335 Figured and DOT; Firebird; Flying V; and Explorer. For the acoustic market, the collection also includes J-45, Hummingbird, and J-200 models.

The new Gibson Modern Collection builds on Gibson’s tradition of innovation, incorporating in-demand features such as lighter-weight bodies, push-pull systems to switch between pickup configurations, innovative slim-taper necks with asymmetrical profiles, and shaved heels for easier access to higher frets, as well as improved sustain and stability. The Modern Collection includes the Les Paul and SG Modern; Les Paul Studio and Tribute models; new ES-235 and modern versions of the ES-335; Flying V and Explorer B-2; and modern Hummingbird, J-45, and J-15, as well as the Parlor acoustic models.

With the Gibson Custom Shop Original Collection, the company “offers the pinnacle of craftsmanship, quality, and sound excellence. Each instrument celebrates Gibson’s legacy through accuracy, authenticity, and attention to detail,” said Gueikian. “This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Les Paul Standard, the holy grail, with our most historically accurate re-creation of the most iconic guitar in history.”

What’s great about this is that for years, Gibson didn’t clearly segregate the different products into specific groups. They just called certain product lines “Traditional” or “Tribute,” and being absolutely unclear as to what the product lines actually represented; leaving it up to the consumer to do their research as to what was the most appropriate guitar. It confused, and frankly, pissed off a lot of people. Being a longtime Gibson fanboy, I could only shake my head and sigh, wishing the company would get their shit together and help players in their decision-making process.

I realize that there will be some people that will say that nothing has really changed. The guitars are still all the same. But you have to realize that by creating groups in their merchandising, it makes it so much easier to separate the guitars in their catalog, be it online or hard copy. It used to be so daunting to go to the Gibson site because they lumped everything together. Now it’s so easy to see the guitars in the collections – it’s much more mentally manageable.

Kudos to Gibson for finally wising up!

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WTF Was I Thinking?

I had a little chuckle this morning. I went into my garage, looking for my Ibanez TS-808 overdrive in one of my pedal drawers. I went to my overdrive drawer and looked at all the different ones I have. That’s when I chuckled. I looked at some of them and had a WTF moment. I had no idea why I got some of them in the first place.

One for sure I bought on pure impulse based on forum discussions. Another was because I heard a dude using it live and loved his sound. But I never could bond with it (goes to show it’s the whole signal chain and not just a component). But some of the others? I just scratched my head and asked myself, WTF was I thinking at the time? I seriously had NO idea why I bought them.

And maybe that’s the point. The fact that I don’t know why I bought some gear is kind of an indicator that I probably didn’t put too much thought into the purchase of that gear. But for all my really major purchases, I literally took months and sometimes years before I pulled the trigger. I put a lot of thought into those purchases. I did a lot of research. I talked to a lot of people.

But that gear that I don’t remember? Not so much. It most probably was a compulsive buy. And that’s the danger of being a gear slut. We are extremely prone to compulsive spending. I’m so much better at it now and don’t give in to my whims, however strong. But I know of guys who’ve literally accumulated truckloads of gear. One, in particular, wasn’t even in a band! He just hoarded all sorts of guitars amps and pedals!

He passed away tragically, and my buddy purchased all his gear. It took two full-size car transport trailers and the bed of an F-350 pickup to haul all his gear away. When I saw all the gear, my jaw dropped. There were dozens of amps, hundreds of pedals, an insane amount of guitars. It was like the dude had a shop all his own!

Obviously, the dude had hoarding issues. Once I saw all that gear, I resolved to never get to that point. I thought I had a lot of gear at the time, but despite filling up half my garage, it didn’t even come close to what this guy had amassed.

Still though, looking at those pedals was a great reminder. I need to keep my impulses in check. I don’t want to have that “WTF” moment again!

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Stupid Gear Myths

Over the years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time in shops and in forums, and I’ve heard some really stupid or uninformed opinions. I thought I’d share some of the juicy ones.

Tonewood Makes All the Difference in the World

Well… kind of…

I realize that this is a point of contention, but the only time tonewood makes a significant difference is with acoustic guitars. A spruce top on a guitar will sound different than the same model with a cedar top. A rosewood body will sound different than mahogany or walnut or koa.

But with an electric guitar? I will submit that wood has an effect on tone in that a different kind of wood resonate differently from another, thus affecting the vibration of the string. But with electric guitar, wood is just a part of a combination of things that affect a guitar’s tone. Bridge, nut, pickups, strings, amp, etc. all contribute. So whereas with an acoustic, wood plays prominently in how a guitar sounds, with an electric guitar, it is only partially responsible.

Fretboard Woods Sound Different

I know, more on the wood thing, but this is something you hear – a lot – and it deserves its own section. Fretboard wood has mostly to do with feel and very little or nothing to do with sound. My personal preferences are rosewood and ebony. I love rosewood for that “woody” feel and ebony is like playing on a smooth sheet of ice.

That said, one could argue that the feel makes you sound different because you feel comfortable. That’s actually valid, but stand two of the same model guitars side-by-side with different fretboards, and they’ll sound the same.

Cheap Guitar Cables Are Just as Good As Expensive Ones

‘This one is actually a bit of a trick. The actual factor is capacitance. It’s just that most low capacitance cables do indeed cost more than your run-of-the-mill cable because to achieve the type low capacitance that opens up the highs (which low-cap cables are known for), cable manufacturers tend to use higher quality material.

But there is also a bit of truth in the “myth” and it depends entirely on what you’re after in your sound. For me, I use regular cables – in fact, I use inexpensive cables constructed at a local music store – simply because my entire electric rig is set up to be on the bright side. These higher capacitance cords help tame the high frequencies in my signal. I have some low-cap cables, but I only use those for my acoustic guitar, and only when used with my acoustic amps. I use a regular cable when plugging into my Fishman SA220 SoloAmp PA because it’s a little on the bright side.

So “just as good” is kind of relative…

Vintage Gear Is Better Than Modern Gear

I will submit that there’s a certain “mojo” about vintage gear. Hell! I have a ’58 Fender Champ. But here’s the thing: Vintage gear is fragile, especially if it still has its original parts. My Champ still had the original oil caps when I got it. But I had to get them replaced with new ones because they leaked and I was getting shocked when I touched my strings. Yikes!

Not only is vintage gear fragile, quality varies wildly because so much of that old gear was completely handmade. The only “gear” that I can actually say is better than modern stuff is NOS tubes, especially the mil-spec tubes. Those were built during a time when almost all electronics were valve-based. Manufacturers got real good at building them.

Boutique Gear Is Better Than Mainstream Gear

Sometimes, boutique gear is just more expensive. Take, for instance, overdrive pedals. I have a few overdrive pedals that are merely hand-made reconstructions of one of the TubeScreamer versions. I got them thinking that they’d somehow be so much better than my trusty Ibanez TS-808, addressing some odd discrepancy in the original circuit. But truth be told, while these overdrives certainly sound a little different, the difference is so minuscule that it almost doesn’t matter, and at high volume in front of an audience, the ONLY person who’d be able to tell the difference is ME. 🙂

On top of that, quality control varies wildly between builders of boutique pedals, especially if the builder is just a single guy. Paul Cochrane, who makes the Tim and Timmy pedals puts out really high-quality stuff, as does Dereck Tabata of Tone Freak Effects (btw, both my Timmy and Abunai 2 have been through literally thousands of gigs and nary a problem other than tightening loosened knobs). But I’ve purchased pedals from other single-man outfits where I had to get two or three pedals before I got a decently working one.

On the other hand, what you can rely on with mainstream brands like BOSS is superior quality control. Their shit just works right out of the box.

Hand-wired Gear Is Better Than PCB-based Gear

Not necessarily. A perfect example of this is the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. I have an original, hand-wired version for which I paid over $300. A year later they came out with a PCB version at just over half the price I paid and guess what? I can’t tell a bit of difference in sound and dynamics! Granted, they didn’t have a PCB version available when I got mine, so if I wanted one, I’d have to get the hand-wired version – which I did. But if the PCB version was available, I would’ve just gotten that one.

All that said, in the case of amps, hand-wired amps may not necessarily be better, but there is a certain “mojo” about them. Typically, the circuits are fairly simple and uncomplicated. I look at the wiring for my ’58 Champ, and there’s just not much there. But it sure has a fantastic sound. But it’s not better, per se. It’s different. Frankly, for safety’s sake, I’d probably get a reissue had I to do it all over again (though I don’t know if I’d be willing to part with $1000 for a Fender reissue).

A Low Wattage Amp Can’t Keep Up with a Band

This is the biggest hunk of BS I ever heard! I particularly get annoyed when I hear sales guys say this. I’ve been in a number of bands over the years, and I have always used low wattage amps. While I can’t get super high-gain out of them, the classic rock and reggae I play don’t need it. It all depends on the style you play, how you position your amp, and your sound reinforcement. But if my word’s not good enough, tell that to Don Felder of the Eagles who uses a Deluxe Reverb at 20-Watt and a Tweed Deluxe at 15-Watt, or Jeff Beck who uses a Champ and has monitors on stage to hear himself.

You Should ONLY Use True Bypass Pedals

The general thinking is that true bypass pedals are somehow better-sounding. But that’s a bunch of hogwash, and it’s a lot of hype that manufacturers have used. The plain fact of the matter is that you need some sort of buffering to account for signal loss over a long cable runs. Some very popular pedal manufacturers like TC Electronic have consciously chosen to build their pedals based on buffered circuits. I have several TC Electronic pedals. No tone sucking there…

And here’s my all-time “wanker” statement:

If You’re Just Starting to Play Guitar, Buy a Cheap One

This one annoys me to no end, and seeing a similar suggestion on a forum actually inspired me to write this article. First of all, the person who says this is projecting their own values on someone else’s purchasing decision, and they have zero knowledge of that person’s financial position. Secondly, a cheap-ass guitar is usually super-hard to play and that can be discouraging. Thirdly, a more expensive guitar will typically have better action and much better sound; both of which will help inspire the beginner to build their skill. I realize the suggestions are well-intentioned, but to me, it’s just bad advice. Besides, if someone buys a more costly instrument, chances are they’ll be aware of the fact that they’re making an investment, so more likely than not, they’ll stick with it.

I know, I’ve probably opened a can of worms with these things. But no worries, I’m wearing my virtual protective cup! 🙂

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The Case Against Reverb

Truth be told, I’m a huge reverb fan. I’ve been using my trusty TC Electronic Hall of Fame for a few years now, and it has never let me down. But that said, I only dial in enough reverb to help grease the wheels and smooth out potential harshness. And I always use a relatively short decay because I don’t want the reverb effect to take over my sound. Like I said, just enough to grease the wheels.

But I’ve played with other folks who slather on the reverb; to the point that there’s so much reverb in their signal that the only way they can be heard in the mix is if they turn up their volume. In some cases their tone is okay, but most of the time their tone is muffled and muddy and ick! When I hear that, I stop the music and tell them to dial back their reverb because they sound horrible. I don’t mince words. Too much reverb has the equivalent effect on me of nails scratching a blackboard.

Admittedly, I used to be the same way. Reverb adds a bit of a sustaining effect, and it can help hide your mistakes. Back in the days when I was just beginning, reverb helped me cover up a lot of the shit. But that’s really the problem. Whether or not you’re conscious of it, reverb can become a serious crutch.

I think that part of the issue for people using too much reverb is that they use the same setup live that they use at home. To their ears and without the context of other instruments, it probably sounds just fine. But when you play live, it’s a different story. There are other instruments with which to contend. There’s also the room in which you’re playing.

Another thing, and probably more important than setup is that those players who use too much reverb don’t fully trust their fingers. Decades ago, when I realized that 99% of my expressiveness comes from my fingers, I stopped dialing in so much reverb. I had all the sustain I needed in my fingers. The reverb was added to provide some smoothness. That’s it.

Trust your fingers. They’ll give you all the sustain you need.

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Summary: This has all the classic, balanced mojo of a J-45, but in a thinner, “jumbo” body. And though some might consider it heresy that it’s a cutaway, having reasonably easy access to the upper frets makes it so nice for playing solos.

Pros: Fantastic, classic J-45 tone that’s expectedly just a little brighter than the original Dreadnought – more midrange. This guitar has a full, articulate voice that the Sitka Spruce top projects in a BIG way.

Cons: The ONLY con I have is for the LR Baggs Element piezo pickup that comes installed in the guitar. But I would give negative marks to any guitar that has just a piezo. But that said, the guitar sounds okay plugged into an amp. But as with any piezo, plugged directly into a board or into an interface, the sound is lifeless.

Features:

  • Body Style: J-45
  • Back: Walnut
  • Top: Sitka Spruce
  • Bracing: Traditional Hand-Scalloped X-Bracing
  • Binding: Multi-Ply Top, Single-Ply Back
  • Neck: Two-Piece Maple
  • Neck Profile: Advanced Response
  • Nut Width: 1.725”
  • Neckjoint: Compound Dovetail Neck-To-Body Joint
  • Fingerboard: Richlite
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Nut: Tusq
  • Inlay: Mother-Of-Pearl Dots
  • Bridge: Traditional Belly Up, Richlite
  • Tuners: Mini Grover Rotomatics
  • Plating: Nickel
  • Pickup: LR Baggs Element
  • Controls: 1 Volume  
  • Case: Gibson Hardshell

I have to be completely honest here. If this guitar had no pickup, I’d give it a 5 on its natural voice alone. But I have to be fair and take down marks for the pickup. It’s serviceable in a live situation and plugged into an amp, but directly into a board or interface, you know you’re using a piezo.

Getting a J-45 has literally been a dream come true. Ever since I played one a few years ago, I have had a goal of someday owning a J-45. As I mentioned in a previous post, the J-45 represents the archetype of acoustic tone for me. And to finally have one and play it, well, it’s rather awe-inspiring.

So to address the purists, no, it’s not a traditional J-45. It has a cutaway. The body is made of walnut, not rosewood. The fretboard is Richlite (which feels like ebony). The nut is Tusq, not bone. I DON’T CARE. This is a great guitar regardless of its build materials. Others have brought up that it couldn’t really be a J-45, but I beg to differ. It has the same profile as the J-45. But more importantly, all the tonal balance that I expect out of the J-45 is there, and how it sounds is incredible!

Fit and Finish

I posted these pictures previously, but I’ll post them again:

I snapped those pictures right after I unboxed the guitar. There were no flaws or scratches. No gaps. The walnut back is freaking incredible! It looks like a piece of ultra-fine furniture.

How It Sounds

Again, I posted these previously, but I’ll post them again:

I had to back off the mic for the percussive strumming, so it turned out a little thin on the recording. But in a live situation, this guitar is LOUD! I played it at church over the weekend, and in that volume challenging environment, when I was really strumming hard, I could barely hear my amp! That’s how well the guitar projects. How naturally loud it is is a bit mind-blowing.

And compared to my Simon & Patrick PRO, which is a dreadnought, to my ears at least, it’s easily twice as loud when comparing them both with a light strum.

How It Plays and Feels

It actually took me a few days of regular playing to get used to the neck. The “Advanced Response” neck is both thicker and a touch wider than all my other acoustics. And with my small hands, wrapping my hand around the neck to use my thumb took a little while to figure out. But to be honest, in order for me to do that, I have to put my arm in the correct playing position with my elbow out away from my body. Once I’m in the correct position, I have zero issues playing the guitar.

As for the Richlite fretboard, this is the first time I’ve played a guitar with a fretboard made of this material. I once thought that it would take away from the guitar. But truth be told, it’s as smooth as ebony and makes the guitar an absolute dream to play. I played several solos yesterday and the fretboard felt like butter. Combine that with the absolutely perfect action and I was in solo heaven!

Overall Impression

What can I say? I love this guitar! And because I didn’t dig the piezo pickup, I just installed my Seymour Duncan MagMic into the guitar. Now I have no issues. With that pickup, the Tone Bone score automatically goes to 5.

A Word on Sustainability

No, I’m not a tree-hugger, but one thing that Gibson bills about this guitar is that it’s made from sustainable material. Walnut is absolutely plentiful and Richlite is made from resin-infused paper. The Sitka Spruce is started to get a little less plentiful, but from what I understand, Gibson is part of a coalition to help harvest Sitka in a sustainable way. So while I’m not a tree-hugger, I do appreciate Gibson’s efforts.

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