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Stringed Guitars

Created by a passionate guitarist, containing a bit of gear reviews and news

Author

Enzo

The Fender Telecaster Elite

I’ve never been a Fender fan…. I love many players that play fender… but I never got used to the scale Fender uses compared to a Gibson, it always took me too long to get used to it when switching guitars.. but that’s mainly on a Stratocaster, also the middle pickup always gets in the way of picking.

However the Telecaster is a whole different beast, for someone like me who likes good old rock and hard rock, a Tele is not a very desirable guitar, but they are very sexy and let’s not forget that Jimmy Page uses one every now and then. I’m aware that Keith Richards also is a tele man but I’ve never been a fan of him, also SRV has been seen with a tele a few times.

Anyway… I had a tele many years ago but I sold it to buy my first SG. and I haven’t played a Telecaster until 2 years ago when I went to the Birmingham Guitar Show and I saw an Elite hanging on the Fender area…. it was calling at me…. gorgeous finish, shiny frets, body binding… it was really beautiful, but that was not it… I plugged it in and it played phenomenally well, the fret finish was impeccable and the neck felt like part of my hand.

I went out of that guitar show impressed with that Tele.. 2 years went by and I convinced the boss to let me  buy one :), I went with the budget to buy anything up to a Custom Shop, I drove 2 hours up to Birmingham because that’s where PMT had a gorgeous custom shop I wanted, I went in.. sat down and started playing it… it felt really bad.. sticky neck, the neck was also huge and not comfortable… so I asked for an Elite.. and all those feelings I had came back, it was like playing a guitar you’ve had for ages, everything felt right, so I went ahead and purchased it!

I still have it but I rarely use it.. mainly because the music I play needs a humbucker and not a single coil but everytime I feel like SRV blues style I pickup that Tele and have a great time, if you are in the market for a Tele… do yourself a favour and go try an Elite, it is by far the best Fender I’ve played and possibly the most comfortable guitar out there.

Taming a big boy’s Marshall Amp

Marshall 8080
Marshall vs100
Marshall JCM 900 combo
Marshall JCM 900 head 5881 tube version
Marshall JCM 900 EL34 version
Marshall JTM 30
Marshall JCM 2000 TSL601
Marshall Class 5
Marshall 8040
Marshall VS102R
Marshall JMP 2200
Marshall JCM 800
Marshall ministack
Marshall 1987x
Marshall 5005 (lead 12 no reverb)
Marshall 5005 (bass)
Marshall JTM45
Marshall DSL15H
Marshall 2201

Those are all the Marshall amps (heads and combos) I’ve owned over the past 20 years, I’ve sold some of them and I must have around 8 or 9 at my home studio now, I’m only listing them so you have an idea of what my Amp Journey has been.

Once you enter the tube/valve world you don’t look back (sometimes you do :p) but this tube/valve world is complex, confusing, expensive, loud and heavy!!

Let’s talk about the Loud characteristic most of these amps posses, you can buy a 5 watt tube amp and it’ll still blow your pants off, there’s a number of reasons this happens, the speaker efficiency also plays a huge part of this, but let’s stick to the amp.

The guitar signal moves through the inside of the amp getting powered up and ready to come out of the speaker ready for you to enjoy, on this journey the signal acquires distortion, volume and EQ, now… valve amps have a “power section” which is where the famous power tubes come into play, this is where things get out of control on tube amps (mostly vintage jmp styles with no master volume) because this stage not only gets you the volume but it also gives you more distortion and a specific tone that you might be after.

Some Marshalls will have a Master Volume, and this controls the amount of voltage that gets routed to the power tubes, it also allows you to play with distortion at “bedroom levels”, but the most exciting Marshalls to play (plexi style) often don’t have a master volume…. what does this mean? Well… it means that you don’t have a gain control, so all the distortion comes from the volume, which means… you need a ridiculous amount of volume to get the distortion we all look for, this is THE distortion.. Page, Hendrix, AC/DC, etc. This is what we all want to hear from a Marshall.

So… why am I writing this? Because I’ve found ways to obtain this sound without going deaf, and believe me when I say…. these amps are loud! I wasn’t around in the 70s so I’m not sure how loud these bands would play in pubs, but it would’ve been deafening loud.

What you need is an attenuator, to attenuate the signal that the amp spits out before it hits the speakers, now… this is critical to remember. The Master Volume controls the voltage to the Power Tubes but the attenuator, lets the amplifier be and it attenuates the audio signal that goes to the speaker after it leaves the amp, so the amp tone is genuine… everything you want it to be. And why do we want this? Because power tubes are a component of the sound too so we need to let them be a part of the tone. The attenuator is a genius invention and gives us the ability to run these genuine marshall tones at bedroom levels

There are a lot of attenuator brands out there but I’m going to talk about the one I have but also give some pointers of what to look out for.

  • Don’t buy an L-pad attenuator. These can be found for like 30 bucks on ebay, they do work but they also catch fire quite easily if you overload them. Trust me.. I built one and once I tried to use it with a 100W amp and smoke started coming out even though it was for 100W. If you do use an L-pad attenuator get at least double the rating of the amp
  • Don’t buy attenuators that only work with one speaker load combination, THD hotplates, Palmer and some others offer attenuators at decent prices (£250) but they are designed for 4, 8 or 16 ohms, so you’ll need a new piece of equipment if you ever change your speaker combination.

I bought the Two Notes Reload, why? Because I found it at a good price and it has an ohm load selector along with other things, it’s a great piece of gear, it also has cab simulation and some other fancy stuff that I’ll never use.

Guitar volume pots are important!

This next experience is related to a few gibson SGs and humbucker pickups.

Do you know what’s inside your guitar? It’s safe to say that we all know more than before… you can find anything on the internet about your guitar specs and whether they are good components or not.

Pots are often ignored, we look at wood, pickups, tuners and of course guitar brand, however pots are critical, think about them as the wheels of a car, you can have the best and biggest engine ever… but if your wheels are worn out or cheap quality then your car will just spin out of control.

CTS. I’m sure you’ve all heard of this brand, it’s probably on 90% of guitars out there, and they are the best of the best, however… they can be even better… there’s a company called RS Guitarworks that worked with CTS to develop a more authentic vintage taper and a more realistic value of the pots, humbuckers almost always are installed with 500k pots, however… they are not always 500k, they can be 450, 510, 460, etc. And even though the number is not really important… there’s a reason why they need to be 500k, and this is how the pickup was designed to work, with a 500k pot, because that’s just how it sounds like the developer wanted.

I was tired of having different tapers on the guitars I use live, the taper defines how steep the volume increase/decrease is when you turn the pot. This can be ok for your home guitars because they can all have a different character and you might actually like this, but for live performances you want to be able to switch guitars and at least for me… hoping for a similar performance when using the volume, I manage how much distortion the guitar gets by using the volume on it.

So I bought 4 RS Guitarworks superpots for my main SGs, after 2 hours of dealing with my not great soldering skills I was able to test the first guitar, I was blown away and I don’t say this lightly, I don’t often go around changing things in my guitars. The guitar sound just became more clear and more alive, the old pot probably with a below than 500k reading was holding the pickup down.

The volume taper was amazing, the sound of the pickup was amazing instantly, I was now able to get a crunchier sound by setting the volume to around 5 and then getting an angrier sound when I turned it up to 10.

By the way… I’m not associated with them in any way.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band called Meanstreak, and being able to use the volume on the guitar to control distortion is key and absolutely necessary, to cut a long story short… I can’t recommend them highly enough, they are a bit more expensive than regular CTS but they are totally worth it! Give your guitar a treat and get one of these to try out.

Playing with tone

Don’t be a knob snob, that is my advice and second advice is… follow suggestions to prove them wrong or right.

I don’t have much patience when it comes to trying things out, usually I just try to plug in and play, I have little time to play during the week and I sort of think that I waste time when I find myself fiddling with gear for hours.

However I’ve decided to start locking some time in and try to record a few things (I also don’t like recording) just to see if I could come at peace with this tedious and boring task. To my surprise… I still found it tedious and boring… but… it helped me re-discover my amp controls and equalization, I know this sounds obvious and most of the amps have had those 3 basic eq controls since the beginning of time, but I’m sure that most of you keep everything in the middle… (noon).

We all know what they do… but we often play with treble or bass controls and leave the mids in the middle right? I learnt what the mids does when I started playing heavy metal… I had one of those valvestate marshalls that had the “contour” control which scoops the mids, scooping the mids means taking out mids, remember that U shaped eq on your dad’s hi-fi system? Well it’s the same thing.

What does this does to my tone? Well… it adds “tightness” it changes the way distortion sounds, it’s an awesome thing to play with, suddenly everything sort of sounds better, the problem is that if you scoop them too much your sound will not cut through the mix, but a little bit of it can get you to that sweet spot you’ve been waiting for.

Even though I knew about mids (of course… I’m not a rookie… right? :p) when I finished my recording tests I found that the guitar was too much in my face… like a gritty sound, I tried mic placement (another art) which it changed the sound but I still wasn’t happy, so I went to the Eq section and started moving things around until I remembered that U shape!!, so now even though I mainly play AC/DC I still scoop the mids a bit… if listen to “Shoot to Thrill” you’ll see that mids are heavily scooped.

Long story short…. spend time playing with the knobs, try recording and playing with the eq on the computer/ipad, you’ll be surprised how closer you’ll get to the sound you are after and then you can try yo mimic those settings in your amp. Remember that all the records or live concerts you hear have a myriad of experts sorting out every detail of the sound until it’s perfect. Remember that old story “guitar straight to amp”? Well… it is true… but remember there’s a team between the amp and the sound you finally hear.

Marshall 1987x

We are in constant search for our sound… and I don’t think it’s a one way journey… it’s got many many curves, loops and we sometimes go back to places we’ve been, it’s definitely something that characterizes us musicians, there is always something we are missing, but I don’t want to come across as “hard to please” there are many many moments were you feel you have  the perfect rig, the perfect setup, the perfect tone, that moment during rehearsal or a gig were you just feel you are sounding exactly as you think you should.

But the journey must continue :p. what’s the thing that we bump into a lot of times in our journey? Amps… and which brand? Marshall…. there is just nothing like it.. I’ve tried many many brands and models in fact I went ahead and tried a Friedman… and a Victory… and you know what they all compare themselves to? a Marshall… and what is everyone trying to sound like? a Marshall… but don’t get me wrong… Marshall was at the right place at the right time, anyone could’ve done it… but Jim was there in his shop when Eric Clapton came in looking for an amp, and that is the sound my generation relates to, not Eric.. but Marshall.

But… which Marshall? would any of them do? YES! try them all please, some are crap.. some are awesome… some of them work for different stages in your guitar life.

Anyway…. yes.. as the title says this is about the 1987x a Marshall that looks as good as it sounds and as loud as your mom calling out for lunch while you were out playing with your friends.

I owed it to myself… a Marshall with no master volume, were the distortion would come from turning that bastard all the way up to 11 (actually.. anything above 3 or 4 just creates more distortion and not volume.. 7 is about right for AC/DC) I knew that this amp would only be useful in a rehearsal with a really loud drummer or in a gig…. (stadium gig) but I wanted it anyway, even if I didn’t have the right attenuator.

This amp sounds so good! it’s just so 70s in your face guitar distortion… not too distorted, not too clean.. just about where you want it. I bought mine used… as like everything I buy because it’s cheaper and it’s just as good as new or even better… it has been broken in already 🙂

This is probably the purchase that I did more research for…. I’ve tried as I stated above… Friedman, Victory, JTM 45 and Cornell Amps (British made), the 1987 is the one that I liked best…. the one that represented the tone I was after… the Cornell one was awesome.. that came in second.. but I always knew that I would’ve still wanted a Marshall after buying  a Cornell.

it’s got the basic controls but the difference here are the inputs.. it’s got 4 inputs… but.. what for!! well.. they are actually 2 + 2… two of them are high and 2 normal…. brighter vs less bright….  but you can combine them… I only use the high input, but you can connect a short cable between a input 1 and input 2 and then you can mix high and low so you have a bigger spectrum of sound.

I’m currently using it with a Torpedo Reload, it’s an attenuator with a lot more functions…. apparently it is also awesome for recording… but I haven’t tried that part yet.. I can say the attenuation bit works like a charm… you can control the volume with a normal knob…. and not with those stupid decibel steps like the Palmer or many others… it also has a multiple OHM selector… so it will work with 4,8 and 16ohms, easily changeable.

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If you are into Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Hendrix, Ac/Dc or  any thing that uses an electric guitar and has classic distortion… do not hesitate.. and try this amp.. it is Loud! you WILL need a good attenuator.. and they are not cheap so you need to budget at least half of what the amp costs for an attenuator.

Gibson SG Classic Custom

I’ve chosen the SG as my type of guitar since I saw the VHS of the Ac/Dc Show at Donington on ’91, I was in love with the band and the SG, what a powerful beast! those devilish horns yet so sexy with those feminine curves.

I’ve been trying to purchase all of the models I’ve seen Angus using… but the one that was harder to find was the Custom SG he uses on the back in black tour… and that he still uses every now and then, the black and white SG… such an iconic instrument that I’m still struggling to understand why Gibson hasn’t released a Angus Young Signature of that specific model.

Anyway…. I’ve been after this guitar for quite sometime. I know that I could’ve  just purchased a 70’s custom with 3 pickups and make some mods… but… I wouldn’t feel too comfortable with that… I would’ve kept the 70s custom with 3 pickups and try to buy another one with 2 pickups :).

I finally stumbled upon the Guitars of the Week. something Gibson did back in the mid 00’s, I remember vividly these  models coming up… one of the most sought after is  the Diablo SG, but I didn’t remember the Guitar of the Week number 38… this is an almost exact replica of Angus’ black and white…. apart from the fact that it is not Black… it is Dark aged cherry or something like that.. but it really looks the part.

I went ahead and pulled the trigger, and man… is this a great guitar or what! I know it might not be the best investment I have… because no one really is after this specific model.. but who cares… this instrument is stunning in every way, I could make a few more adjustments to make it more similar to Angus’… but I choose not to… I even left the string gauge it came with it… ’10s even though I’ve been using 09’s for years… I fell  in love with the ’10s again.

I sort of believe in leaving guitars  as original as possible because that’s the way it was designed and intended to be played, every component and even the setup were carefully thought to work together

The guitar itself is a Standard SG built with Custom Shop parts, so for example you get:

Grover Tuners and an Ebony Fingerboard, the previous owner had replaced the bridge ’57 pickup with an Angus Young model, I’ve read mixed reviews about this pickup… and of course Angus does not really use it but I like it… it’s a hot bright pickup it’s pure raw hard rock.

I almost forgot to mention… who doesn’t love a split diamond on a Gibson :).

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Recording guitars at home

I’ve read so many forums about recording at home… there is loads of info out there.. but as always… I can’t find someone normal with a normal budget who is not a purist and is just trying to get some decent tone out of his gear.

I’ve decided to just buy a few mics and an cheap interface to get me started.

Interface: Alesis IO2

Mics: SM57, SM58 and SEX1R Ribbon.

The interface was recommended by my guitar teacher who said “I’ve used this for years and has never failed me” and he records a lot… so I just bought it without hesitation.

The microphones… well.. the SM57 is just a must have according to everyone out there… the SM58 is more for vocals and I just wanted one, but the unusual one here is the Ribbon mic. Don’t know about you but when I recorded in the past I always found the guitar to be too dry… too much “in your face” creating an unnatural Tone… I believe that sound should have enough space to develop itself before it reaches a “reverb” ish state.

The Ribbon mic does this.. it picks up signal in an 8 shape giving you loads of space for the sound to develop, and the SM57 gives you that “in your face” sharp guitar tone, the combination of those two gives you an awesome result, a very natural tone without any effort, I downloaded Audacity which is a free recording environment without too many tricks but it gets the job done and did I mention… it’s free!

The interface is as simple as it gets and it’s very sturdy, I also use it to listen to music from my computer, it’s got 2 inputs and a separate gain control for both, it’s got phantom power, stereo/mono and master volume, very simple.

“Recording” is a very “scary”/”tedious” process… every time we see that red light suddenly our fingers get nervous and they don’t want to play as they always do… very frustrating, however.. having the interface at home means you can get used to this feeling.. of being recorded.. you can also do as many takes as you want or just leave it recording for hours without spending money on a studio. the other very useful aspect of Audacity + Audio Interface is that you can play along recordings/songs with great quality through your headphones… getting the true tone of your microphones wherever you are sat in your room, it also allows you to experiment with mic placement.

Conclusion… buy stuff and try… there is just too much information out there and too many good salesmen trying to get you to buy the expensive stuff.. talk to normal people.. approach your teacher or someone at the rehearsal place and ask them what they use, you’ll be surprised by the results!

I love what I achieved with all the little gadgets.. I bought everything 2nd hand except for the ribbon mic.. spending  a total of USD $370 (interface + microphones + cables) which is very cheap compared to what a lot of people spend on this first approach.

The 61 Reissue, best SG out there?

Why is it always that guitar manufacturers do reissues of the first year they released a design? 61 Reissue for SGs, 52 for Telecasters, 54 for Stratocasters, Les Paul is probably the exception…

Whatever the reason is, it works. I’ve always found the 61 reissue to be the easiest to play, with a thin neck but a flat fretboard it’s just butter.

It sports two 57′ humbuckers, which for me are  the finest pickups ever produced by Gibson, they have a really smooth tone and crazy sustain, almost Les Paul like. The hardware is nickel instead of chrome, that means it’s not annoyingly shiny so you get this sort of faded metal colour which ages very nicely.

These where produced until 2013 where they were replaced by the SG Standard, the Standard from 2013 is not the exact same guitar as a 61 reissue.. but it comes pretty close, they use 57′ humbuckers and half pickguard, although the hardware is all chrome instead of Nickel.

The 61 reissue actually started under the name “62 Reissue”, which wast first produced somewhere in the 80s and around mid 90s the name changed to 61 reissue, I think the specs and hardware were maintained.

If you are in the market for an SG standard… which will set you back roughly 1200 US dollars.. try to find a used 61 Reissue… they will hold their value a lot better than a standard and for me… it’s a superior guitar, just be careful with the fretwear.

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Marshall JMP 2200 & vintage Celestions

I was in the market for some Celestion Greenback speakers (G12M) which are supposed to be the holy grail of speakers… together with the GH12.

Browsing on ebay… -as you do- I found someone selling this odd looking Marshall supposedly from circa 1976 which some Rola / Celestion speakers designed for Jim Marshall.

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The seller was claiming that these speakers were in fact the famous GH12 -50 watts in this case- so I started doing my research, there is almost nothing about the JMP2200 all the Internet knows is that it’s a mid 1970 Marshall and it appears to be one of the first Solid State amps created by them.

I then moved on to researching the speakers, checked the serial number.. and boom! again.. 1976 Rola Celestions, I was so excited! long story short.. I went ahead and purchased the amp. It is probably the heaviest amp I’ve ever carried! after 3 days my arms are still in pain.

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I plugged in my Gibson SG tinkered around with volume and… it was pure magic, the tone that comes out of this thing is unreal, I’ve owned probably around 20 Marshalls from different price brackets including of course 100% valve amps… and to me this JMP 2200 is the best thing I’ve heard, you get Ac/Dc tones without any effort, just plug in and play.

These beasts are not easy to find… but if you do see one on sale, do yourself a favour and purchase it! I paid around $180 US dollars for mine but I would’ve paid a lot more knowing it sounded this good.

Controls are pretty simple, the only thing that stands out are the inputs, it’s got 2 + 1 inputs, being bright and normal (?) -at least that’s how they sound to me- and one that combines and a volume for each.

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