Category Archives: Guitars

Bass GAS

Caveat: Let me start off by saying “I am not a bass player”.  Try not to be too critical of the neophyte thoughts below.

I’ve been going through a little bit of a “bass thing” lately.  Maybe it’s been a desire for something different.  My wife has been learning bass as well and she is progressing quickly.   (I’ll do a review of her awesome Squier Jaguar Short Scale bass soon)

Basses look like a lot of fun to play and it’s clearly a very different instrument than it appears to be on the surface.  The more I listed to familiar music, the more I found that the bass was doing something I’d never really heard before as a guitar player.

I’ve been on a GAS quest for an inexpensive, non-Fender bass.  I’m familiar with Fender Jazz and Precision basses but wanted to see what other brands might have to offer.  Sterling/ Music Man and Ibanez had caught my eye.  These are very different types of basses…. apple vs. elephants.  After doing a ton of forum reading and YouTube watching, I thought that these basses might be right for me – but I needed to play them to see what I liked best

Tonight, I made a quick visit to Guitar Center and started pulling basses off the wall.  Lots of them.  Luckily, I was completely ignored by the sales help and free to explore.  I tried a few different Ibanez Sound Gear (SR300, SR500, SR700 series).  These had skinny necks but felt really nice to play and the fretwork was surprisingly good.  Unfortunately, as most gear is abused at Guitar Center, parts were loose, batteries dead, etc.  I ended up with one good battery that I moved from bass to bass.  There was a nice mahogany SR 500 with active electronics that sounded great….modern and very un-Fender.  There were a couple of sharp fret ends but nothing that a quick touch up with a file wouldn’t correct.  And it looked and felt REALLY sexy and balanced perfectly in my lap.

Then, over to the Sterlings/Music Mans.  Sterlings are the less expensive Indonesian versions of the American-made Music Man basses.  There were a handful of Sterling Sub 4 models with nice colors.  A surf green one with a maple neck stood out.  That’s my look!  Unfortunately, it had a nasty buff through on the back of the neck and sloppy fret ends.  A shame.  The plain black one with a maple neck sounding great and played the easiest.  With no obvious flaws…..it was right.  At $280 it was hard to beat the price.   No, it’s not as pretty as the Ibanez but seemed to have much more character to the tone.  This was a utilitarian instrument…it meant “Business”.

Sterling Sub Series Ray 4

 

 

 

 

Yet, my snobbery caught up with me.  What did the $1800-$2000 Music Mans play and sound like?  I pulled a few down and marveled at the fancy neck wood. These were boutique grade instruments in every way.  The necks, fretwork and finish were impeccable. (it should be at that price)  Yet, in my awkward guitar player hands, they didn’t sound much better.  The bottom end was tighter but other than that, not tonally very different. I’m clearly not at the level to make the most of a high-end Music Man.

With a half hour to closing, I figured I’d see what 5 string basses did.  There was no shortage of them…in fact, there were only a few 4 string non-Fender basses hanging up.  I pulled a 5 string Music Man down and started messing around.  First discovery….you don’t play the open B string.  It flapped around in an ugly, unmusical way.  (doh).  I could see how playing halfway up the neck on that extra big string did add some cool low end punch.  There was something to this extra fat string. The 5 stringer was a big instrument and the neck was heavy and wide.  It didn’t balance well and the headstock seemed to yearn for the floor. I tried an Ibanez 5 string…a Fender…a Gibson…same thing.  I guess 5 string basses are something that grows on you?  The 6, 7, and 8 string basses looked even more ungainly to me then.

So, a Sterling SUB 4 string might be in future. The right one – as only one out of the five I played seemed great.

Instead, I found a set of bass strings in the discount bin – $4.99.  I’ll put those strings on my 10 year old, Series 10 Chinese Precision Bass copy.  It’s butt ugly but it works.  I’ll learn how to play a bit more bass before taking that next step.

 

Cool Axe Alert – Epiphone Limited Edition Swingster Royale

On the way home from a little guitar jam visit at a work friend’s place I stopped at Guitar Center.  I didn’t have long before closing so I looked for something I hadn’t played before.  Low and behold the “Epiphone Limited Edition Swingster Royale”.  A very cool axe with a too long name.  The finish was in a dark gray/black sparkle and silver sparkle bindings.  It’s a mixture of elegant and tacky all in one!  Regardless, the finish was perfectly applied – no ripples, orange peel, or buff throughs anywhere.  The inner edges of the “F” holes even got the silver sparkle details.  I’ll have to admit it – Epiphone is getting better at finishes. The guitar was fitted with a Bigsby and roller bridge and had the cylindrical handle for another touch of class. The pickups were Epiphone’s take on something between a Dearmond and Filtertron ….growly like a Dearmond with a little Filtertron twang.  Each pickup had push/pull series/parallel switch.  I really couldn’t tell which I liked better…both were cool but different.  They were a touch dark but worked well enough – nothing that a little amp EQ didn’t compensate for.  As usual, Guitar Center put the guitar out without bothering to stretch the strings. At first, I thought there might be tuning issues but once I started to work the strings in, everything settled down and the Bigsby stayed true with no tuner slippage either.  Frets were typical of a guitar in this price range – very playable but hardly bling PRS.  The neck felt comfortable with enough shoulder to fill the hand well.  Probably the best way to describe this guitar is Epiphone’s take on a Gretsch Electromatic 5120…with my nod going to the Epi for the slick paint job and added touches like the roller bridge, handle, and pickup switching.

Through the Marshall DSL15’s clean channel with a gobs of reverb, this guitar sounded very retro Gretchey-twangy-Setzery (lots of “eys” eh?).  I wanted to plug it into a reverb-equiped Fender but time ran out.  In the mid $700, this is a great stage guitar for anyone that wants to Rock This Town.  It begs for dirt and reverb.  A blast to play.

http://www.amazon.com/Epiphone-Limited-Edition-Swingster-Electric/dp/B007L56OIE

Here’s a couple of shots including a close up of the sparkle finish and binding.

Royale-2 Royale-1

 

 

New Guitar – Godin Kingpin 2 w/2x P-90s

I’ve been looking for something hollow. I sold a Sheraton 2 recently that I really liked to pay for another purchase. It seemed to be the best bet after auditioning a number of 335 style guitars. But, I was missing those tones.

On a recent trip to Guitar Center, I was trying every hollow/semi-hollow guitar on the rack. I tried $3K Gibsons to $300 Dots…and ran into the Godin Kingpin. (reviewed in a recent post) I’ve never tried one but heard that they were quality guitars. The one I played had a burst which was nicely done and a single P90. The burst color was a little odd but attractive. It sounded so much better than anything else. The fit and finish were impeccable and it sounded amazing through a Princeton and Hot Rod III. Very bluesy and also could work as an acoustic. I thought…”too bad it doesn’t come with two P90s”. After a little research I saw it was available with two P90 or even two humbuckers. Better yet, Amazon was selling them for not much more than the price that GC wanted for the single pickup model…and a couple of hundred less that other dealers.

It arrived yesterday and it’s been impossible to put down. The playability is excellent for this style guitar. What I mean by that is that it’s an archtop and not for crazy soloing or bending. But, it sounds great for blues, jazzy tones and acoustic style strumming. I tried it with some dirt pedals and it can cover heavier tones using the bridge pickup but I suspect it could feed back if I got the volume up too high with that sort of gain. I’ll experiment with string gauges although I suspect it’s going to like heavy ones.

Anyway, great instrument, amazing value, perfect setup, and versatile.

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Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin – Mini Review

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Sometimes, you happen upon something unexpected. After checking out that Albert Lee at Guitar Center, I was noodling with a bunch of semi and full hollow body import guitars (Epiphone Dots, Casinos, Zephyrs, Sheratons, 339s). They were OK. (I once had a fabulous Sheraton but sold it to a friend)

In the middle of the rack was this interesting baby. It’s a Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin. Godin is a Canadian company that’s known to make great guitars but they don’t see a lot of distribution in the states. On a whim, I pulled it down and plugged into a Fender Blues Deluxe. All I can say is WOW. The socks were knocked off and landed in the store’s drum department. The 5th Avenue sounded huge with the single P-90 single coil pickup (my favorite type of pickup). I dialed in a little dirt and notes jumped out. It was articulate and touch sensitive…with an almost biting Gibson 335 tone but with more bottom. With the amp turned off, it had a nice acoustic sound that would be great for around the house playing.

Fit and finish were flawless with fretwork on par with something from Fender’s custom shop. The matt/satin finish was nice enough – subdued. This was clearly a product of fine CNC machine work and hand finish.

Even better news, there’s a two P-90 version available! (and a no-pickup model too)

Here’s a very tasty jazz video featuring the guitar: Some cool jazz with the Godin

and another video with more blues/rock (and some raunch in the middle) Second Video

Music Man Albert Lee – Mini Review

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I made a little visit to Guitar Center after dinner tonight (a dangerous habit). I’ve been looking at these Music Man Albert Lee models for quite some time but have never played one. This one isn’t much of a looker with the plain wood finish. (kinda boring actually) The all-rosewood neck had perfectly finished frets but was too skinny for my taste. It’s too bad, it played great and the 5 different pickup sounds were very versatile. Les Paul, Tele, and Strat tones in one guitar. Fit and finish were flawless. It even had a compensating nut (Buzz Feiten) to improve the intonation. And that all-rosewood neck!! MM needs to offer a more traditional neck contour as an option – they’d sell a lot of them.

While I was there, I picked up a couple of MM John Petrucci models. Again – beautiful finish, very versatile pickup system, great playability but the necks were too small for me.

These guitars are on par with the high-end, boutique brands out there. But, I’d recommend trying one out to see if you like the neck size first.

Insurance?

Not exactly a rock and roll topic. But, after some research I realized that my homeowner’s policy basically was useless. It turns out that you must have specialized musical instrument insurance if you have anything valuable. Clarion insurance seemed to be the best deal out there with the most comprehensive coverage. Anyway….this ended up being a new topic in the book!

The Hard Part & Taylor Solidbody Electric

Wellllll….for me that is. The editing process has begun. I’ve printed sections of the book and will do the review on paper. For some reason, changing media helps me see problems. Anyway, this will just be a slug-fest until I push through the material.

I had a little renewed love-fest with the Taylor Custom Walnut top solidbody electric this weekend. I can’t fathom why these guitars are not a huge hit. The playability is amazing, great tones, comfortable feel, light – it’s all there. New, this guitar was $2K but I’ve seen a number for sale on Ebay for $1.5K. That’s a steal for an instrument of this quality.