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Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category

Click to enlarge. Sorry, phone pic


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:

  • Mahogany neck
  • Bound carved flame maple top and maple sides and back
  • Bound ebony fretboard
  • Medium jumbo frets
  • Bone nut
  • 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…

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.

Overall Impression

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.

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bwb
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I purchased Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” series. After a month, I still haven’t moved past Volume 1, but that’s only because I’m going slowly and methodically with the process. Besides, the one thing that I found is that Chuck throws A LOT of stuff at you in a very short period of time, and I’m one of those types of learners that has to let information soak in before I can move on.

There aren’t any step-by-step lessons in this series. It’s very free-form, which I find is totally cool. But as I mentioned above, there are several places where Chuck throws in lots of material in a short span of time, so I’ve found myself going back and forth and listening and practicing for a couple of days before moving on. This is a real change of approach for me because I’ve operated by this little saying for quite awhile: “If patience were a virtue, I’d be a slut.” 🙂 But this time ’round, I made a conscious decision to not move on until I could execute on what the teacher was talking about proficiently.

What about the fruits of my labor? Well… I know I’ve used this clip before, but it’s a good example of applying what I’ve learned:

Excuse the obvious mistakes, the song’s not really in a finished state (can’t decide what guitar/amp combo I want to use). But here’s what I’ve learned so far that I’ve applied to this song:

  • I now pay lots of attention to the current chord being played and playing notes that “fit.” I used to be a real pattern player – especially the minor pentatonic – but I’m learning to break free of those patterns.
  • I’ve lately put a lot of emphasis on learning various triad shapes up and down the neck. This not only helps with getting the proper fingering at a particular place, but it also helps in coloring.
  • I’m also learning to let my solos breathe. One thing that I haven’t heard Chuck mention yet – though he’ll probably share it – is taking some time to let my idea sink in, then playing to build on it. Yeah, that song is somewhat composed, but it came about through playing over the rhythm track underneath. The themes you hear are ideas that I came up with while just playing around!

Regarding that last point, that is probably the salient point that I’m getting out of the lessons thus far, and that is taking an idea, then developing it and building upon it. It’s incredibly freeing!

 

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4.5 Tone Bones - Very solid performer, and has almost everything but just missing a couple of thingsFane Medusa 150 Fane Medusa 150 12″ Speaker Summary: If you’re looking for a speaker with a big bottom end, while retaining the clarity of your mids and highs, this is the speaker for you.

Pros: Huge bottom end on this little beasty. Played clean, it’s very acoustic-sounding and quite pleasing. With a sensitivity rating of 103, this speaker puts out some volume!

Cons: With the prevalence of the lows, this speaker really belongs in a 2 X 12 cab, balanced out by a more mid-rangy speaker.

Features:

Nominal Chassis Diameter 12″
Impedance 4 /8 /16 Ω
Power Rating (AES) 150 w
Sensitivity 1w – 1m 103 dB
Chassis Type Pressed Steel
Voice Coil Diameter 2” / 50.8mm
Coil Material Copper
Magnet Type Ferrite
Magnet Weight 50 oz
Usable Frequency Range 80 Hz – 6.2 kHz
Resonance FS Hz 84
RE Ohms 6.3 Ω

Price: $209 direct from Tonic Amps

Tone Bone Score: 4.5. I really dig the sound of this speaker, but as I mentioned above, it really belongs in a 2 X 12. Granted, I say that within the context of the type of music I play, which leans towards classic rock and blues.

Fane has been around awhile, providing the classic British tone of the Hiwatt and Orange amps of the 60’s and 70’s, and their speakers have helped define the sound of rock and roll, having at one time provided up to 75% of all loudspeakers in England. They’ve been around since 1958, so they know their speaker technology.

The Medusa 150 is one of their most popular models. With its ferrite magnet, it pumps out HUGE bottom end, but amazingly retains the overall clarity of sound throughout the entire EQ range.

How it sounds

Played clean, the Medusa 150 has a very acoustic-like response. This has a lot to do with the big bottom end that helps to give the clean tone a much bigger sound. Here’s an example:

I played this clip in the neck pickup of Goldie, my Saint Guitars Goldtop Messenger, which is a Duncan Custom Custom, which is usually put in the bridge position because it’s a pretty hot pickup. Despite that, I still got a real acoustic response that was VERY pleasing.

Turning up the gain on my amp, and getting lots of power tube distortion really brings out the true character of the Medusa 150. In this next clip, I’m able to cop a pretty close Neil Young:

That’s a fairly simple progression, but I chose it because it’s a good test of how clear the speaker would be in a high-gain situation playing low on the fretboard, which almost always has the potential of muddying your tone when you use speakers that aren’t well-defined. A lot of speakers wouldn’t be up to the task, and would definitely “flab” out. Not the Medusa 150.

Overall Impressions

For my style of playing, which leans toward the classic rock and blues, this is a speaker that I’d pop into a 2 X 12 with a brighter, more mid-rangy speaker, like my Jensen P12N, or if I was to use a Fane, I’d mix it with an Axiom Studio 12L or an Axiom AXA-12 Alnico. But for much heavier metal, this speaker would be ideal, especially for detuned songs.

I actually gigged with the speaker tonight. The only beef I had was that the bottom-end made the general tone a bit too close to the bass, so I was getting a little lost in the mix and had to crank up my amp a bit more, much to the chagrin of my other guitarist. 🙂 But overall, the speaker performed quite well.

For more information on how to obtain Fane speakers here in the US, go to the Tonic Amps web site.

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Courtesy of zentao.com

Courtesy of zentao.com

This will be a pretty short entry, but it is something that it seems I’ve spoken about with various young guitarists I work with on a constant basis, so I thought I write my thoughts about it here. BTW, this is not necessarily going to be an instructional article. For that, do a search on “guitar right hand technique” and you’ll be rewarded with lots of sites that provide instruction on right hand technique.

But that brings to light a problem I’ve seen with a lot of guitarists I’ve worked with over the years, young and mature alike. Many playes focus so much on the left hand and playing “lead” guitar that they completely forget about the right hand! The left hand my make the notes, but the right hand makes the sound and just as importantly, keeps the tempo. Music is a function of making notes and playing those notes in a rhythm.

Don’t forget about the right hand!

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kiyosakiBack in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!

Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!

It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.

I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.

This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”

One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”

What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…

That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…

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Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I’m normally very methodical in my approach to writing music. But sometimes, I just get carried away with playing that I’ll just create a riff, and jam over it again and again until my fingertips are numb. Writing my latest instrumental was exactly that experience. I came up with a riff, added some bass and a basic drum kit loop to it, and spent the next several hours trying to cop my best SRV. 🙂 Believe me, no one can play like that dude! He was special.

But the point of this is that after hours and hours of playing, I really got inspired to not just let it be a jam track, especially after I came up with a phrase that felt like it could define the theme of a song. So over the next few days I tweaked with the song, and this is the final result. Note that I had a version of this up as of a couple of days ago, but I remixed it, added an echo part for the last section, and removed a bunch of layered on effects from the first cut. I ended up with a much more raw sound, which was really what I was after. Here it is:

All the guitar parts were played with “Pearl” my 60th Diamond Anniversary Strat. After playing ‘buckers for awhile, I forgot how fun it was to play my Strat! My amp, of course, was my ever versatile tone machine, my Aracom Amps VRX22. For effects, I used a Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster, and a Voodoo Lab MicroVibe.

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Back in the late ’80’s to early ’90’s when getting your “personal power” was all the rage, I’ll admit, I took several of these courses designed to help me face my weaknesses, conquer my fears of success and learn to grow; gaining my own sense of personal power. Most of the ground we covered in these seminars has proven to be invaluable over the course of time, and while they were fairly expensive, I consider them a great investment, as I don’t think I could have grown both personally and professionally had I not taken them.

As I alluded to above, the courses covered a lot of ground. But over time, I’ve learned to distill and refine the subject matter into much more condensed versions. An area of particular interest to me is personal performance; that is, how I honestly perceive my performance in any situation and evaluate whether or not I’m showing up 100% and providing myself with opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge, efficiency, or output. Granted it’s not always an easy thing to determine whether or not I am, but I’ve come up with a little saying that has helped drive me to constantly look for ways to improve and at least do my best to “show up.” Here it is:

If you know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good.

The idea behind this is many of the limits we place upon ourselves and thus growing and developing in anything in which we’re engaged have much to do with what we believe the outside world – our culture, society,  or peer groups – may accept to be the line of good or satisfactory performance. Hey! There’s nothing wrong with performing satisfactorily or good, and meeting the standards placed before us. But to me, that’s just maintaining the status quo. I suppose you’ll eventually grow by meeting the standards, for as soon as you hit a particular standard, you go to the next harder level with its own set of criteria for satisfactory or good performance. Meeting the standards is safe. But those who truly excel at their endeavors take the standards into account and draw their own line of optimal performance; especially if they know they can exceed the commonly accepted standards.

But what really holds us back? I will submit that it is an inherent fear of being successful; of breaking free and traveling beyond the comfort of the pack. Excelling at anything can cause anxiety, especially if you’re always used to doing what everyone else does. That inner voice will tell you, “You’re going too far too fast.” You may have waking dreams filled with images of your peers saying, “Don’t leave us behind!” I will say this: Ignore those images! You inherently know of what you’re capable, so use that as your guide.

That’s not to say that you trudge forth with a vengeance that is lacking in compassion, wreaking havoc with your friends and close relations; rather, you march forward with the conviction and determination that you are who you are as the result of your choices, and no one else’s; that no one else can be accountable for the progress you make in life but YOU. So I will say again, if YOU know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good!

So how does that apply to playing guitar? If you’re like me, you interact with other players, be it locally or globally online. As you encounter various personalities, you’ll get lots of opinions on what people agree is “good” playing at a particular place in your development. And while there’s lots of great and helpful advice, you’re still the one who has to develop your skills. My point is this: Don’t let anyone define what your ability should be. Don’t be discouraged by the haters out there – especially in the online forums – who have very little good to say about anything, and are quick to criticize. In other words, don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t! That’s just the pack speaking.

So you want to get better at playing guitar, or better at doing anything in life? This has been expressed in many ways: Break free of the pack, find your own voice, make your own luck. For me, it’s not settling for just being good. Be good, but work to be even better than good.

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