NAMM 2018: Meh…

Back in the early days of this blog, I used to look forward to news from NAMM, anxiously waiting with bated breath for quips and news articles from manufacturers and magazines. NAMM was always such an exciting time. But now? Not so much. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in gear. If anything, I’m even more interested in gear than ever (though I realize due to time, I just haven’t been able to write as much about it as of late).But I  think what has happened with my attitude towards NAMM is due to a few things.

First, I’ve found my sound. I know that whatever gear I play, I will sound like me. Talk about finding the tone unicorn. Because of that, I’m not as compelled to buy gear on a whim. Back when I started this blog, I was completely new to tube amps, and GuitarGear.org was my online diary of the gear that I was buying and trying. But as I started to find my sound, the list of things that I’d look at to help shape my tone narrowed significantly. It’s now at the point where I’m treating effects purely as that: effects. I don’t use them to achieve my tone, but to provide different textures as I need them.

Second – and perhaps this may be erroneous on my part – I kind of feel that there are only so many ways to skin a cat, as it were, and so much gear that comes out simply seems to be a variation or incremental improvement over previous versions. That’s not to say that there isn’t some great gear that’s hitting the market. But my attitude – bad or good – doesn’t help compel me to dig as deep.

Thirdly, my gear focus as of late has been on improving my stage and recording gear. Last year, I actually started having GAS attacks on some awesome guitars and effects I ran across. But life happens as they say, and I had to replace some road-worn stage gear, and I needed to upgrade my DAW for home recording. My next major purchase is going to be a Heil Sound PR35 mic for stage and recording. After doing a gig with the PR35, I just could not believe how good that mic sounded! The cool thing is that while it won’t break the bank, it’s definitely not cheap.

Finally, I’ve just been too freakin’ busy with my career these last couple of years to evaluate gear. In addition to my day job as a technology architect, I still gig over 100 days per year, so my schedule makes it fairly prohibitive to research gear. I know, that’s probably not much of an excuse. But truth be told, I’m having the most fun I’ve had in my 30-year career as a software engineer that I’ve ever had, and I have to be honest, I’ve been pouring a lot of my energy into my career.

So circling back to NAMM… I have seen some pretty cool things, but the things that have piqued my interest have been in the recording and pro audio areas; areas that are outside the scope of guitars. But despite that, I’m still a bit “meh” about the whole affair.

2231200000_amp_frt_001_nrI haven’t had much time to devote to GuitarGear.org in the last couple of years, so when I do post something, it has to be meaningful to me. And surprise, surprise… I got an email in my inbox this morning that kind of intrigued me. It was an announcement from Fender that they were releasing version IV of their popular Hot Rod Series of amps.

Normally, I’d be like “whoop-dee-doo,” but after reading what they’ve done with the amps, I got really intrigued. I’ve had a Hot Rod Deluxe for years; it was my very first tube amp. So I’ve kept tabs on the various changes the lineup has gone through. I haven’t been all that impressed with the previous releases, but the new features in the new version – at least in the Hot Rod Deluxe and Deville – are pretty significant; significant enough for me to plug it. So here’s what Fender has listed on their site for major features:

  • 40 watts; Normal, Drive, and More Drive channels
  • Celestion 12″ A-Type speaker
  • Modified preamp circuitry for increased overdriven note definition
  • Spring reverb modified for improved smoothness
  • Lightweight pine cabinet
  • Includes 2-button footswitch and cover

To me, the two features that stick out are the pine cabinet and the preamp circuitry for better overdrive. In particular, the overdrive on the Hot Rod has been pretty weak in previous versions. In fact, I would rarely use the drive channel on my own amp, and just use the amp as a pedal platform. But if they’ve improved the overdrive channel, that’s intriguing enough for me to check out.

I almost bought a Series III amp from my buddy a few years ago. It was much lighter in weight than my Series II, but the overdrive of the amp was simply, well, uninspiring, and way too open and choppy for my tastes. I even tried running the amp through a different speaker, and it still didn’t improve the sound. But if they’ve tightened it up with more note definition, this really gets me excited.

What about the change to a pine cabinet? Damn! Not only would that significantly lighten the weight of the amp, it would make it much more resonant. I absolutely love pine cabinets. They just resonate so, so beautifully! Combine that with the silky smooth Fender cleans or even with some tight overdrive, damn! Yet again! Interestingly enough, with the Pro Junior IV and the Blues Junior IV, Fender has replaced the birch/plywood cabinet with MDF. Maybe it made more sense sonically to them; hard to know what a manufacturer is thinking.

I can’t wait until that amp is available in stores so I can test it. But in the meantime, if you’re curious, you can check out the product page on the Fender site.

About six weeks ago, I inherited the guitar to the left from a friend, who had it passed to her when her uncle passed away in 2003. Since I got it, I’ve been playing it every day. The only thing I’ve done to it is to replace the strings, add a strap peg to the heel of the neck, and remove a slight bow that developed after long years in storage. Other than that, this guitar has been absolutely perfect.

It has that classic dreadnought sound: A deep bass, combined with slightly shimmery highs. And it projects sound like no other acoustic guitar I’ve had. I can’t put it down! Combine that sound with a playability that is out of this world, and I’ve got – at least for me – the perfect guitar.

This guitar is going to be my new “Number 1” when I gig. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with any electronics, and I’ve taken a LONG time deciding on a system; though I’m leaning heavily towards the Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic. I’ve tested it out against others, and I like its warmth. But I will have to save my pennies to get it. So in the meantime…

I’ll mic the guitar.

That’s what I did at yesterday’s service. I have an SWR California Blonde – yes, it’s an original, model and still the best damn acoustic amp I’ve ever used – and I hooked up my trusty Sennheiser e609 instrument mic to it, mounted on a gooseneck stand and… #blownaway!!!

I knew when I got it that it was a special guitar. It’s loud all by itself, but miked and amplified… yeah… it’s going to be Number 1 for me.

The guitar has so much character, and she just begs to be played! She can belt out her voice but can dial it down and sing sweet notes that just float in the air.

The guitar’s neck is a slightly “D” shape, which is a change for me. All my other guitars have “C” shaped necks. I wasn’t sure how I’d like it for performance, but I didn’t have an issue. In fact, the neck profile forced me to play in a proper position, and that’s a good thing.

But the sound… Oh, that sound!

This is a guitar I’m going to lovingly care for. In fact, just as I call my firstborn daughter “Baby,” this guitar will now officially be called: “Baby.” So there you have it: The official naming of my new guitar!

If you’re curious about Simon & Patrick, it’s a Godin brand, completely assembled in Canada. My “Pro Rosewood” is no longer made, and has been replaced with their top-of-the-line Showcase model. If the new guitars are anything like what I have, then these guitars are definitely worth a look.

I know, Godin is known for less expensive guitars, and at around $1100-$1200, you might think they’re not quite as good as more expensive Taylor or Martin guitars. But I’d stack my guitar up against any of the high-end guitars. If I were to describe how my S&P compares to those venerable brands, I’d have to say that it has the projection of a Martin, but the playability of a Taylor and a sound all its own.

It’s hard for me to imagine that I had never even heard of Simon & Patrick prior to getting this guitar. But from here on out, I’m going to be keeping an eye on this brand.


Earlier today, I was watching a video demonstration of the Seymour Duncan Mag Mic acoustic guitar pickup. It was a great demo and really showed off how the pickup performs and sounds with a variety of musical styles.

Several people made some negative comments on how they wanted to hear the mic or the humbucker isolated, or others just posted rude comments on the guy’s playing (which is actually quite good). Others commented on how they got lost in the great music and forgot that it was a demo for the pickup. I too got lost in the great music the demonstrator was making and to me at least, that was the whole point of the demo: To show off how the pickup helps you make music.

I get it. Getting an idea of how the independent components function has its uses. But for this video, I think it was more important to show what kind of sound you could get within the context of making music.

But here’s the downside of isolating the components or hearing the raw sound: Your mileage may vary. Think about it. How many times have you purchased gear based on a video or audio demo and it sounds completely different from what you heard online?

Especially with pickups, you’ll never know how it truly sounds until you’ve installed it. And make no mistake: Once you get a pickup – or any gear for that matter – you’re going to have to balance out the EQ to make it fit in your rig.

One guy commented that the video was completely useless. I totally disagree. For me, I wanted to hear certain things; actually one thing in particular: Does the pickup make a “quack.” I certainly couldn’t detect it. And that alone made the video totally useful for me because no matter what style the demonstrator played, there was no quack at all. The thing about acoustic pickups is that you have look for that because – and I don’t care what anyone says about this – pickup quack cannot be EQ’d out.

So the next time you evaluate gear, keep in mind that your mileage will vary. Your gear is most likely completely different from the person demonstrating. So look for other things like dynamics and voicing and attack. Those are things that will translate over to your rig. Also, you have to take a bit of a leap of faith with a lot of gear with respect to voicing. You should ask, “The dynamics are wonderful on this, but it’s voiced a little high, so can I EQ it?” You’ll never know until you get the gear…

Rock on!

I have this thing about gear and that is that it has to “speak” to me, and it’s probably why I’ve taken so long to get gear the last couple of years. I’ve pretty much found my sound, so I’ve become incredibly discerning. It used to be that if I thought something was cool, I’d just get it. As a result, I ended up with a lot of stuff that I just didn’t use and ended up selling usually for less than I paid just so I could move it.

But the universe works in mysterious ways, and it brought me a 1994 Simon & Patrick Luthier “Pro.” It was a gift from a friend whose uncle passed away 15 years ago, and it had been sitting in storage for all that time. As opposed to giving it away to charity, she asked if I’d like it, and if not, find a home for it. Well, it wasn’t an “either-or” thing for me. I fell in love with the guitar from the moment I first sat down and played it; 15-year-old strings and all!

When I love an instrument, I write music with it or do sound tests. Here’s something I recorded right before writing this article:

This was recorded pretty much raw with no EQ. I laid down the backing track yesterday when no one was home, but this morning, I recorded the solo – there were kids and dogs moving around in the background. I recorded both tracks using a Nady RSM-2 Ribbon Mic. Pretty cheap, but it does a great job. I just have to be careful about proximity as this mic is really prone to proximity effects.

For this next one, I was actually re-working a reggae song I wrote several years ago. My third son heard me laying down the tracks and asked if I could put a hip-hop beat underneath it. He’s an aspiring rapper. So I played around with some beats, laid down a big sub bass line with my trusty Squier “P” bass, and mixed it down. I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s cool

Here’s a new song I wrote last weekend, using just this guitar for all the guitar parts. It’s called “Shine Your Love.”

Funny thing is that I haven’t changed strings on the guitar yet. I know, I know… I’ve just been extremely busy this past week with work. Plus, I’m going to have an LR Baggs Anthem SL pickup system installed in it and have a full setup done on the guitar. I don’t want to put on a new set of strings, only to have them replaced when I get the setup done. So… I’ll live with the strings on it for now.

All in all, every time I pick up this guitar it’s like magic. There’s a great spirit in this guitar and this is something that I will lovingly care for in the years to come!

So I did a little digging on my “new” guitar and contacted Godin directly to see if I could get some provenance information. By the way, the folks at Godin are awesome! Michel, the support person who answered my query originally, was so very helpful. If you have any Godin product, rest assured that you will get support! But I digress…

The guitar I’ve got was built in 1994. It was called a “Pro” model and replaced with the “Showcase” in 2002. It originally sold for $1200, though as a “Demo” model, I doubt it sold at full retail even back then. They’re worth about half as much now, but who cares? This guitar plays and sounds incredible!

For specs, here’s what Michel shared with me:

That’s an S&P Pro Rosewood. It actually has a solid spruce top, but the nitro finish has yellowed over the years so it looks darker than a spruce top. It also features a solid rosewood back, laminated rosewood sides, a mahogany neck and an ebony fingerboard and bridge.

So my thought that the top was cedar was wrong, but that’s totally cool that this was finished with nitrocellulose!

Here’s a gallery of some of the shots that I sent to Godin.

It is hard to explain the feeling I get when I play this guitar. It’s not because this was a gift or it was one of those fabled “closet gems.” This is just a damn good guitar, and to find out its provenance makes it even more special. I’m looking to get an LR Baggs Anthem system installed in it within the next week or so. So excited!

Sorry, no official pictures yet. But I will follow up…

Out of the closet…

Wow! It has been a LONG time since I announced an NGD! (New Guitar Day) Part of it has been due to the fact that since I found my sound, I haven’t been that compelled to get any new guitars. But a rather big part of it has been due to a lack of funds. But that’s another story…

In any case, I didn’t pay a cent for this guitar. A very close friend gave this and two other guitars – which I’ll talk about in later articles – to me yesterday. The story behind them is that they were her uncle’s guitars. He passed away in 2002, and they had been sitting in storage since then. Her mother had been hanging onto them for nostalgia, but recently decided to give them away. She was going to give them to Goodwill, but my friend stopped her and said that she should give them to me because if I don’t keep them, I will find a home for them. I’m probably going to keep all three.

As to the guitars inherited, here they are:

1991 Godin Artisan ST
Hiroshi Tamura P40 Classical Guitar

1994 Simon & Patrick Showcase Rosewood

The Godin needs a bit of work. But I think a thorough setup will set it right. The Tamura, well, I’m not too sure about. It’s by no means an expensive guitar, but it does sound pretty nice. Always good to have a classical guitar around just in case… As for the Simon & Patrick, well, that’s what this article is about.

This guitar totally caught my eye when I opened the hard shell case. I took it out, gave it a relative tuning and started playing some chords and picking notes. The neck was PERFECT! Totally straight, and even with 15+-year-old strings, the sound was amazing! I wish it had electronics because I would’ve tried to gig with it last night. Oh well…

When I got home after my gig, I set out to do a bit of research on the guitar. I found a serial number lookup and found that it was constructed in 1994. I’m actually not exactly sure that it’s a Showcase model because the model space on the label was stamped with “DEMO.” Obviously, my friend’s uncle got this for cheap. I’m assuming it came from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA as a Gryphon tag was in the case that said, “This guitar was strung with D’Addario strings.” That actually impressed me even more because if it indeed came from Gryphon, it meant that it was a quality instrument as Gryphon only sells high-quality gear, even with there economy pieces.

Build… well kind of…

As for the guitar itself, as I mentioned, the sound was absolutely amazing! I had done a bit of research on my smartphone before my gig and found that it was made by Godin under the Simon & Patrick Luthier brand. I’ve known about Godin for awhile and knew that they started out as a parts manufacturer then went into selling high-quality, affordable guitars under different brand names. S&P is one of those brands.

But this “Showcase,” even if it started out life as a more budget guitar (it is actually the top-of-the-line in the S&P family), doesn’t sound, feel, or play like a cheap guitar. It has a warm, deep, and woody tone that simply speaks to me. Here’s what I have been able to glean from close inspection thus far:

  • Solid Rosewood Sides
  • 2-piece rosewood back
  • Mahogany neck with a slightly flattened “C” profile
  • Mahogany headstock with no laminate. Very nice.
  • Solid Cedar soundboard
  • Bone nut (?). Looks and feels natural.
  • It appears to have spruce bracing on the back and sides
  • Spruce X-bracing to support the top. Super cool!

The reason why I’m not completely sure about this being a Showcase model is that it has a cedar soundboard. All Showcase models now come with Adirondack spruce soundboards. BUT I absolutely love Cedar soundboards! My first Yamaha FG-335 had a cedar soundboard, and though it too was a budget guitar, it had an incredible sound. Cedar produces a warm, deep and resonant tone. It’s the kind of tone that penetrates your body and just resonates. I can’t wait to perform with it!

Another thing that I noticed that differs from the spec sheet on the S&P site is that the neck finish is actually semi-gloss as opposed to high-gloss. I need to confirm, but it appears to have a 25 1/2″ scale length. This seems to be in line with the spec sheet as well.

The fit and finish on this guitar are amazing. Other than a little pick wear on the soundboard, there wasn’t a scratch on this guitar when I opened the case. It’s obvious that original owner loved this guitar and took very good care of it.

This particular guitar coming to me comes at a very fortuitous time. My trusty Yamaha AP900 is finally showing its weariness of the road. After a couple of thousand gigs, it’s ready to be retired. I’m going to get it set up, then give it to one of my kids. And I was thinking a couple of months ago that instead of getting another OM, I’d like to go back to a Dreadnaught. I like the scooped tone of a dreadnaught, and for how my playing has evolved over time, a dreadnaught’s sound really appeals to me.

How It Sounds

I made a couple of quick recordings of the guitar this morning to demonstrate just how good it sounds. The guitar was recorded with a Nady RSM-2 Ribbon mic positioned about 4 feet away from me. I did a tiny bit of EQ by adding a little low cut to compensate for the mic that seems to boost lows way too much. Other than that, I kept the EQ flat. The ambiance that you may detect is not reverb, but room ambiance from my hardwood floors and walls that the back of the ribbon mic picked up.


Funky Strum

What’s so amazing about the sound of this guitar is that while the tone is deep and woody, there is clear note separation. This guitar is actually quite loud. But it doesn’t have a mushy tone at all. All the notes ring well together.

Moving Forward

I’m going to get the guitar set up and will have a pickup system installed. I’m probably going to go with an LR Baggs Anthem system. Yeah, it’s a bit on the pricey side, but I’ve listened to several independent demos and this system seems to provide the most natural sound when plugged in. I like the fact that it has a pre-amp built into it. I’d go with a more minimalist pickup setup, but the thought of having to run through a dedicated pre-amp means that I have to lug more gear to gigs; plus, it’s yet another thing that I have to plug in. So the Anthem is it for me.

Overall Impression

This is definitely a keeper and has given me a newfound respect for Godin. I went on some forums and most people talking about them loved theirs. I think I’m a new convert to this brand. But then again, I also think I got very lucky. With all commercially-available gear, no matter how expensive, you have to play a lot of them. I’ve played some Martins and Taylors that sounded like shit compared to this.Update

Update 12/18/2017

I reached out to Godin to get some provenance on the guitar, and it turns out that the guitar is actually a “PRO” Rosewood. This line has been replaced with the “Showcase” line.