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And the answer is… whatever you f-in’ want to use! <woof>

I’ve been on a roll lately with my snarky commentaries probably because after a very long hiatus, I started lurking and participating in guitar forums. 99.9% of the time, it’s quite enjoyable, but there’s always that minuscule amount where I run across utter nonsense. The good thing is that these particular situations: 1) Give me a good laugh and; 2) Provide me with material about which to write.

There must’ve been something in the atmosphere around the globe yesterday because I ran across several comments in different threads where people were telling others that certain guitars were meant for certain types of music. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was this reply to a kid who wanted to choose between an ES-335, Les Paul Jr., and a ’57 Goldtop:

“If you play punk shouldn’t you opt for a telecaster? The 335 is a jazzy-bluesy dream, the goldtop and the lpj for classic rock / prog … maybe a gibson would entice you into something different”

I was reading this while I was having lunch at my desk in the office, and laughed out loud at this one, causing my office mates to give me queer, inquisitive looks. I just joked and said I just read something funny.

But the thing is… While that comment and comments like it are amusing to me, they’re also quite sad. Sad because the people behind them have drunk some kind of Kool-aid that’s lead them to believe that certain kinds of guitars should only be played with certain kinds of music.

That’s not to say that there is no such thing as a convention or iconic guitars for specific styles. For instance, think of jazz guitar, and you’ll probably think of an archtop hollow body. Think of punk, and the Les Paul Jr. comes to mind. Folk? A dreadnaught.

But let’s be clear: There is NO “right” guitar for a particular type of music. Despite that, people seem to continue to limit themselves; even those who probably shouldn’t be communicating that kind of limitation.

For instance, a few years ago, I was in a big box retail store that rhymes with “guitar center” 🙂 looking at some Les Pauls. The sales guy approached me asked if I needed help, and I declined at first, but then I saw a gorgeous Tobacco Burst high up on the wall that I wanted to play, so I asked the young man if he could bring it down.

He was quite gracious and retrieved the guitar and once he handed it over, I suppose he thought that that would be a good opening for him to start a sales conversation by asking me a leading question.

“So what kind of music do you play?” he asked.

I replied, “All sorts. But my latest musical endeavor is sort of a jazzy reggae.”

He lifted his eyebrows and said, “I’ve heard of Les Pauls being used for reggae, but jazz? Hmmm….”

When I heard that, I almost choked, but not being a vicious person by nature, I restrained myself from replying with a flip remark. But despite that, I guess I couldn’t completely hide my look of incredulity because the dude got obviously irate with my reaction. So I said, “Uh yeah… Maybe you didn’t know this, but the actual Les Paul who invented this guitar was a jazz player. So it has a long history of being played in jazz.”

I really didn’t mean to deflate the guy’s ego, but he moved on to another person… oh well…

But that wasn’t an isolated incident as the comments I ran across yesterday demonstrate. But case in point, several players over the years have bucked the conventions. Back in the ’70s, Ted Nugent played a Gibson Byrdland archtop guitar. I once saw a video of the aikido master, Steven Segal, who is also a blues guitar player, playing on a space-age-looking guitar that seemed more suited to KISS. Tommy Shaw of Styx plays a beautiful ES-335 (among many others) and he absolutely ROCKS it!

All that said, I always keep going back to this same advice: Get the gear that helps you make music. It can be cheap. It can be expensive. It can be any brand you want. It just doesn’t matter so long as it inspires you to create.

And lastly, while the opinions and perspectives of others can be useful, you don’t need ANYONE’s approval on what kind of gear you play.

Just when I think the fervor over this debate has all but fizzled out, it comes rearing its ugly head every now and then.

I was in a forum where one person said, “Solid state amps are more like 2D, while tube amps are 3d.” Looking back on it now, I think that maybe he was just flame-baiting. But throughout that particular thread, people were making all sorts of claims as to why tube amps are so much better than solid state amps. Then on the other side, the solid state amp folks we extolling the virtues of solid state amps.

It’s all bullshit.

As Duke Ellington once said (I’m paraphrasing), “If it sounds good, then it is good.” With respect to an amp – or any gear for that matter – if it inspires you to be musical because of its sound and dynamics, who the hell cares whether or not its circuits are tube-based or solid state?

I have ten amps, 8 of which are tube amps; though one of my tube amps is actually a hybrid tube/solid-state amp. Each of my amps has a different character. But when I gig with a band, I invariably use either my hybrid (DV Mark Little 40), or as of late, my BOSS Katana 50. The Katana is a modeling amp, but it still has solid-state circuits. And guess what? It has a badass sound!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my tube amps, but the thing about a tube amp is that each different tube amp has a fairly unique sound and character. And for me, that uniqueness kind of boxes it into a particular style. When I’m playing in a band though, the styles of music we usually play are pretty diverse, so I need something that is a bit more versatile. My hybrid and the Katana provide that for me.

In any case, so sorry if this is a bit of a rant, but I find the whole debate a little annoying.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been religiously using my EHX Soul Food overdrive as my go-to dirt pedal. Sometimes, I’d stack it with another overdrive such as a TubeScreamer, or Tone Freak Abunai 2, or my Timmy.  And no matter what amp I put behind that pedal or pedal combination, it sounded awesome; that is, until I got my BOSS Katana 50. And then it sucked… Badly…

For my set at church this past weekend, I knew I was going to be playing some up-tempo songs and knew I was going to need some dirt in a couple of songs. So I configured my board to include my Soul Food. I just needed something subtle so I didn’t bother doing a stack. I set up my rig and did a sound check, and when I switched on the Soul Food, the sound was horrible! I couldn’t understand it, and no amount of tweaking got the sound dialed in. So I opted to set one of my channels to dirty and played that. Very disappointed.

That pedal has worked with all my tube amps; absolutely faithfully. But for some reason, even though the Katana has a similar dynamic response to my tube amps, it did not take to that pedal well at all. 

So later in the evening when I got home, I took out a few of my overdrive pedals to see which one(s) worked. The TubeScreamer worked great, though I did have to dial down the mid-range a bit. My Tone Freak Abunai 2 work incredibly well in Asymmetric mode. And my Timmy worked as expected. It’s a wonderful pedal. I took out a couple of others like my TC Electronic Mojo Mojo. That was just alright.

Surprisingly enough, my old Kasha Overdrive worked incredibly well with the amp. I kind of lost hope with that pedal a few years ago because I just didn’t like the sound it produced with my set of amps. But it sounded great with the Katana.

And that just goes to show that it’s a good idea to have a few dirt pedals; especially if you have a few amps. It has been the rare pedal – at least in my experience – that works with every single one of my amps. I got lucky with the Soul Food for my tube amps. But since my main amp now is the Katana 50, I have to use a different set of dirt pedals.

Plus, having at least a few overdrive pedals gives you different overdrive options. Some, like the Tim or Timmy are meant to react with your amp. Others, like the Soul Food (and other Klon derivatives) can be used reactively, or sound great all by themselves. On top of that, different overdrives clip or boost differently. Like I said, you give yourself options.

Truth be told, there was a time where I didn’t use any overdrive pedals and just relied on my amps’ natural gain. But as of late, I’ve been using overdrive pedals again, and I’m damn glad that I have several handy.

And mind you, you don’t have to spend a lot on drive pedals. As with any kind of pedal, you need to try out as many as you can. The great thing about overdrive pedals is that there are TONS out there. So grab a couple or a few. Give yourself some options.

Not sure, but for whatever reason, I’ve always been deathly afraid of working on my guitars beyond changing strings or straightening the neck; in other words, doing stuff on the outside. 

But when it comes to electronics, I’ve always been a total chicken shit. Maybe it’s a healthy fear in that I know my limitations: I really don’t know much about electronics. Oh, I can look at connections and determine where stuff goes, but when it comes down to the intricate stuff like soldering, I’ve always deferred to the experts. 

But a few years ago, I thought I’d give it a whirl by trying out a drop-in replacement to my CV Tele’s control panel which promised to offer a wider range of tones than the standard three-way switch could offer by adding a couple of other switches. My thinking at the time was that since my CV Tele only cost me a couple of hundred bucks, I could mess up and not take too big of a loss.

So I installed the new control panel with little fuss or problem, but after playing with it for a few gigs, I just didn’t like what it did to the sound of my guitar. So I decided to go back to my original control panel. 

And though I marked the connections with colored tape, in the process of removing the replacement, I somehow removed the markers. Shit! So I had to take a bit of a guess as to where wires went, and after quite a bit of trial and error, I finally figured out which wires went where. 

So I hooked everything back up, and all seemed to be well. At least, that’s what I thought, until I went to play a solo and moved to my bridge pickup, and all I got was a whole lot of silence! Luckily I had another guitar, and mid-song, I swapped out guitars and finished the gig with my backup.

But that experience kind of turned me off to my CV Tele, and I’m just a little ashamed to say that I let it sit in its gig bag for a couple of years. But the other day, I was on the /guitar Reddit and a few people were showing off their CV Tele’s. I got this guilty feeling from being neglectful of my guitar, so I pulled her out, cleared a space on my coffee table and proceeded to take off her control panel.

Looking at the “work” I did a few years back, I realized that I had been extremely messy with my work, so I reconnected some wires and put new terminals on and just made the whole thing a lot neater. But upon doing a test of the guitar, my bridge pickup was still acting a bit wonky. So I started jiggling wires. What I found was that my original solder of the bridge pickup wire to the switch was tenuous at best. So I took out my soldering iron, and re-soldered the wire back into place. Wow! Everything worked!

After I finished and got everything screwed back into place, I sat back and played for awhile. Then I just laughed at my fear of electronics. It literally took me less than five minutes to get that wire put back into place. Oh silly me…

But I still have a healthy fear of electronics. What I did was a pretty simple fix. If I couldn’t figure it out, I would’ve brought the guitar to my tech. But this particular exercise was a lesson in trying to figure things out myself first. After all, you never know until you try…

Picture this: You go to a gig. You have your guitar gig bag, your pedal case, and of course, your cord and accessory bag. You take another trip to the car to get your amp or, as in my case, you do it in one trip because you have a handcart and have mastered the art of carefully loading it and everything miraculously gets to the stage without having fallen. 

You scope out where you’ll be setting up. You get your amp placed, you remove your guitar and put it on your portable stand to start acclimating to the environment. You place your pedal board near your mic. Now it’s time to get your cords.

You open up your gig bag, and your cords are neatly coiled, and you’re proud of your over-under coiling technique because they’re put together so nicely. You pull the cords out, careful to separate them by the velcro ties. You take one cord, undo the velcro, then holding onto one end, toss the coil out to unravel it. Then you fill the space with a resounding,

“F&%K!”

Because despite all your meticulousness in properly coiling your cable at your last gig, you happened to pull the jack through the coils as opposed to making sure it was outside the coils and the end result is that you have a pretty string of knots that you have to undo individually. And that process elicits another string of expletives as your bandmates laugh at your misery, but they’re not laughing at you. They’re laughing because the same shit has happened to them MANY times in the past.

Tell me I’m wrong… If you’re a gigging musician you can’t. You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

There Truly Is a Light at the End of the Tunnel!

But finally, there is a solution to this and it’s called the “Cabli” by the brilliant guys at Singular Sound, creators of the famed “Beat Buddy.” Rather than just talking about it, the following video will explain what it is and what it does:

After seeing the pre-launch version of this video, I literally had a “V8” moment. Remember that commercial where the actor hits his head with his palm and says, “I shoulda had a V8!” Well, after seeing the video, I started laughing because not only did that commercial come to mind, but I also said, “Damn! Those guys at Singular Sound did it again!”

Here are the features and specs of the Cabli:

  • Holds any audio cable including 1/4″, XLR, MIDI, Right Angle, SpeakOn, and more.
  • Can hold up to 30′ of braided cable and 20′ of rubber cable cable.
  • Built in detangler automatically detangles as you wind. This is HUGE!
  • Included clip lets you hang the Cabli on your gig bag or cable rack.
  • Durable plastic shell keeps your cable protected, helping to extend your cable’s life.
  • Included handle and 2 sided mid-plate wind both ends of your cable at the same time, resulting in lightning quick winding times.
  • Weight: 10 ounces
  • Price: $19.99 (but it’s $16.97 right now as an introductory price!)

Look… this device is stupidly simple. But it solves a HUGE problem that I frequently have with my cables. And the fact that I now have a way to pay out only the amount of cable that I need makes this so incredibly useful to me. But a $16.97 introductory price and $19.99 regular price? I’d be stupid not to get a few of these! By the way, if you buy 4 or more, you’ll get a free storage bag!

Saving Time and Space

Having been in a few bands that do clubs and private parties – and even church, stages are pretty tight. So I typically have my amp pretty close to me, and having that extra cord going from my guitar to my pedal board, then the extra cord going from my board to my amp is a bit of a pain because I tend to step on the excess from my guitar and I have to strategically place the cord going from my board to my amp so no one trips on it.

Not any longer. The fact that I only need to pay out what I need is a so awesome! Even if I have to remove the cable entirely from the Cabli, at the end of the gig, I just have to snap and crank! Cable put away in seconds! Love it!

I’m going to get a few of these when they hit the market in the first quarter of 2019. So excited!

Those guys at Singular Sound… They’ve done it again! Click here to check out the Cabli product page.

Of Wine and Gear

I’ve mentioned this in the past but one of the passions in my life is wine. To me, there is nothing like the taste of a gorgeous wine; a wine that fits perfectly with the venue, the food, the atmosphere. As I was contemplating this, as I am wont to do, I began thinking of parallels between my experience of wine and my experience with gear. Amazingly enough, there are some great parallels.

Fine Wine and Fine Gear

My appreciation of wine centers specifically around fine wine; that is, wine that is meant to be appreciated for its quality, sophistication, and complexity. But like guitar gear, fine doesn’t necessarily equate to being expensive. In general, yes, you get what you pay for, but some of the finest wines I’ve ever had cost less than $25.00.

The same goes for guitar gear. Take, for instance, the very popular EHX Soul Food overdrive pedal. Built as a Klon Centaur replica, this sub-$80 pedal is my go-to overdrive. Some people say it’s nothing like the Klon, but I had never played a Klon, so I didn’t know any better when I got it. All I did know was that it was a great pedal and it has stayed on my board ever since. And the fact that I paid under $70 when I got it; well, that was vindication of my stance that you don’t have to pay a lot for great sound.

Getting Better with Age

The great thing about fine wine is that in general, and as long as you store it well, fine wine will get better with age. The tannins smooth out, the flavors balance, and overall, it gains complexity. The same goes with guitars. My 1990 Simon and Patrick PRO, now almost 30 years old, is really coming into its own. The wood has had all this time to set and dry out and acclimate to my particular area, and it sounds absolutely amazing.

Same thing with my R8 Les Paul, whom I call “Amber.” It was built in 2003, and as of late, I’ve noticed a definite change in how she sounds and how she plays and even feels. I believe it has a lot to do with the aging of the wood. I had a similar experience with how a Les Paul sounds with aged wood with my former “Ox,” which was a ’59 Replica.

Though built in 2008, it was constructed with very old wood, and an earmark of that was that it resonated incredibly – you could feel the vibrations in the body and neck. I spoke with the luthier about it and as he was the manager of instrument wood at a wood company, he hand-picked all the wood that went into the guitar. That guitar could sing! I don’t feel bad for selling it, but I do have fond memories of how it sounded.

Going back to my R8, one of the things I noticed was when I was playing her through my trusty Aracom VR22 recently. This is a combination that I’ve used for years. When I turned up the gain on the amp, I noticed some high-end frequency elements in my tone that weren’t there before.

My bandmate looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked if I was playing a new guitar. I told him that it was my same Les Paul that I’ve been playing for years, and he remarked that it sounded so much richer than he remembered. I replied that the wood must have aged to the point where I’m now experiencing its tonal beauty. 

A Visceral Experience

When I drink a truly fine wine, it’s not only my olfactory and taste senses that get activated. The experience is truly visceral in that the wine sparks memories that in turn translate to feelings that can be felt through my entire body. The same thing happens when I’m playing and I get in the zone. I feel that I become one with my guitar. Every note, every chord resonates throughout my entire body. I become hyper-aware of my surroundings and with whom I’m playing.

Wine Is Meant to Be Drunk; Gear Is Meant to Be Played

I’m not a wine collector. I usually have no more than 30 bottles of wine in my possession at any time. Right now, I’ve got 12 in my wine cooler. If I want to get some expensive wines, I’ll usually go to an auction – either online or in-person – and get the wine(s) that I like. Then eventually, I’ll drink them; usually within a month of purchase. 

I’m the same with guitars. To me, they’re meant to be played, and the reason I went from 25 guitars down to 6 is that I just don’t like things sitting and collecting dust. I did the buy-and-sell-for-a-higher-price thing for a while, but that was just laborious. I’m a player, and I don’t have time to do the research that’s necessary to be an astute gear investor. So I use all my gear. When it wears out or breaks or I retire it, I get a replacement or perhaps move onto something else.

I’m less this way about pedals. Truth be told, I tend to hoard them. 🙂 But less from a collection standpoint, but being much more pragmatic in that when I want a particular sound, I have it available. For instance, I was recently working on a song that required a delay. I thought that my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay would work, but I just couldn’t dial in the delay sound I had in my head. I even tried my MXR Carbon Copy, but it too was an analog delay. I realized that I probably needed a digital delay. So I broke out my Vox Time Machine and voila, I set the timing and got the sound I wanted. There have been times when I put The Time Machine up for sale. I never got any offers and I’m glad I’ve held onto it. 

Just Because Everyone Else Likes It, Doesn’t Mean You Will Like It

There’s a storied and extremely expensive wine brand called Screaming Eagle. A bottle of the current, first-flight release is around $900. Second-flight bottles are less expensive at $400-$600. It’s a good wine and people rave about it. In fact, it has evolved into a cult wine of sorts. I’ve had it. It’s good. But I could get the same experience with a far less expensive wine.

Case in point: A few years ago, I went to a silent wine auction. I had been a fan of Beaulieu Vineyards Gorges Latour Private Reserve for years. On auction was a single bottle of 1981 vintage. Very few had bid on it because it was placed next to a three-year vertical of another wildly popular wine brand called Silver Oak. There were lots of bids on that. So I placed my bid on the paper, then when someone came along to bid, I just outbid them. In the end, I won the bottle for $96. You couldn’t find it for less than $500.

That wine was PERFECT in every way. Very well-balanced, and even being that old, still retained this beautiful acidity that made the wine feel “alive.” Compared to the Screaming Eagle I tasted, it simply blew it away. I have to admit that I kind of fell for the hype of “Screagle” from wine lovers and forums. I really thought when I had the opportunity to taste it, it would change my life. And the fact that though excellent, and well-deserving of its ratings, that it didn’t completely wow me, well, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Okay, it’s good, so what’s all the hype about?”

If you read any gear forums, after awhile you’ll begin to see patterns of people’s reactions to gear. Take the Dumble amp for instance. So many people have raved about it over the year. Boutique amp manufacturers have reversed engineered it and/or gotten a hold of circuit diagrams. I’ve played one. It definitely has a certain mojo about it, but it doesn’t do enough for me for me to even consider getting one even if I had $40k-$100k to spend on one.

So the point to all this is just because a lot of people rave about something, or there might be a lot of hype around the industry, do your best to ignore the noise, and find out for yourself.

Your Mileage May (And Probably Will) Vary

I suppose this is a bit of a corollary of the previous section, but the main point of this section is this: Only YOU will know if something works for you. For instance, most of my wine-loving friends are cabernet sauvignon drinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great cab now and then. But I prefer the subtlety and nuance of a great Burgundy or Pinot Noir. 

There have been so many times people have said, “Dude! You have to try this cab from so-and-so.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come away disappointed. It’s not that the wine is bad. And if I was rating the wine, I’d probably rate the wines in line with the experts. But as I mentioned, wine is very experiential to me. And I don’t get the same kind of experience as often from a cabernet as I do with a great pinot. 

The same goes for gear. I have a budding young guitarist who plays with me in my church band. He reads my blog so he trusts my knowledge about gear. He has asked me on occasion what kind of gear he should get, and I answer the same thing: “Find the gear that appeals to YOU.”

I also realized that he was still trying to find his sound, so I’m very judicious about my gear advice. I just tell him to spend a lot of time playing amps and pedals and guitars. Eventually, he’ll find what works. He finally decided on a PRS amp – great choice. He has a collection of pedals already and has asked me about types of pedals he should have. I again just tell him to play a bunch of stuff. I can’t tell him what will work for him and him alone.

Look, I’m not saying don’t buy gear. But having spent lots of time and money buying gear, I’ve learned to trust my own ears…

It’s funny how one train of thought can lead you down pathways you didn’t know existed. To be honest, I’ve thought about this parallel between wine and gear before, but it was only now that I could put it into words. Maybe it’s because at the time I thought it, I hadn’t found my sound, and I was still very attached to the gear I was buying. Who knows? In any case, it was fun thinking about the relationship. 

The other day, I had a plumber come to the house to replace several worn-out fixtures and replace some corroded pipes that were close to busting. Matt, the plumber, and his helper Cody replaced two bath and shower assemblies, and kitchen and bathroom faucets. Cody even had to crawl under the house to cut the pipes and do the valve replacement on the guest bathroom tub. They did all this work in about 3 hours time. 

Then this morning, I was reading an article in Wine Spectator written by a chef who was recounting a previous article he had written about making filled candy bars. What he said he failed to mention in the original article, which also happened to be the crux of his new article, was that it was important to have the right tools for the job. He stated that the right tools make the job so much easier.

That got me thinking about the recent plumbing work done in my home. My wife asked me if I could change the stuff out and I said yes I could, but my argument for hiring a plumber was two-fold: 1) Plumbers are experts at what they do, so they’ll be able to do the installs without having to read the instructions which I always have to have beside me and; 2) They have the right tools to make the job fast. I normally have to improvise a bit with the tools I have. I can accomplish most jobs for sure – though I have to admit that I just won’t do toilets other than changing an old float or chain – but my set of tools are for much more generic work.

That thought process got me thinking about all the gear I have, especially the 50+ (I think I’m probably being a little conservative in this number) pedals I have. There are some pedals I use all the time: They’re just part of my sound. But depending on the gig, I add others. For instance, my standard overdrive is an EHX Soul Food. But if I’m playing out with a band doing classic and country rock songs, I will invariably add two more overdrives to my board: A Paul Cochrane Timmy and an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. I will use either the Soul Food or the Timmy as base overdrives, then use the Tube Screamer to get a bit more upper-midrange bite.

I will also use a different amp than my normal BOSS Katana 50. While I love that amp for most venues, if I’m doing a mixed set of music, I will use something a bit more versatile; namely, my DV Mark Little 40 with its incredibly responsive EQ that will allow me to get either Fender or Marshall sounds. 

The point to this is that at least for gear, I have a fairly big tool box. Admittedly, I originally built this tool box in search of my sound. But now that I’ve found my sound, I have this wonderful set of tools that can color my sound in different ways. 

I think many gear sluts come to this point eventually. They figure out that they sound like themselves and then they use different gear to affect their sound as opposed to discover it. Changing out pedals and amps or even guitars could also be likened to choosing the right outfit. For instance, for a black tie event, you need to wear a tuxedo. Period. For a more casual event, a tuxedo would be completely out of place.

The same goes for gear. If you’re playing classic rock, you don’t bring gear that’s optimized for thrash or hard core metal. You’d sound funny no matter your virtuosity. 

So don’t feel bad if you’ve amassed a ton of gear and don’t use it all at once. Just think about your tool box. Sooner or later, you’ll need one of those pieces that’s currently collecting dust in your garage. 🙂

ROCK ON!