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Stringed Guitars

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

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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.

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Instant Angus

This is the reputation the SD Storm earned, a pedal that you plug in and Angus Young sound comes out of the speakers… so, is it true?

Yes!, definitely the pedal gives you that extra bite that Angus achieves with his tone, this is not a distortion pedal, in my opinion it’s a combination of an aggressive booster and a compressor, allowing you to have sustain and overdrive without loosing clarity on your tone.

The pedal is simple… 3 knobs, Power, Storm and Snap, which I think they mean Input, Output and Compression, I could be wrong though but to my ear this seems to be the effect they cause on the tone.

The achieved tone from the pedal is very affected by the Amp setup (duh) but really… you can’t just set your amp to clean and plug and play like a distortion pedal, because it’s not a distortion pedal… so it needs the right level of gain and volume from the amp.

IMG_2555 (2)

I tested it using my 71 Gibson SG and the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. I’ll comment on both separately:

Gibson SG: I used the OD1 channel with very little distortion (3) and on volume on 7 on the Marshall TSL, with the overall master on 1 (Yes, I got neighbours), the pedal configuration was: Power:10, Storm:7,Snap:5. I loved the tone that came out of the speaker but I was missing something… and it was volume… as we all know, great guitar tone is achieved by volume so I switched to my Blackstar HT1R using the emulated output straight to my headphones, used the clean channel with gain on 6 and master on 9, and it just blew my mind, everything was there the clarity of Angus’ tone but also the heavy “distortion” he has, Angus has a very distinctive E Chord sound.. it just sounds so bassy but clear… and you get just this with the Storm, using the guitar volume on 6  and 10 for the solos.

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EC Stratocaster: Marshall TSL on the clean channel, with gain on 5 and master on 1.5,the pedal: Power:10, Storm:7 and Snap on 5. SRV instantly came hrough my amp, using the neck pickup I fell in love all over again with my Strat, (tuned half step down), that classic glassy sound you get on the Strat but slightly overloaded it’s a very addictive tone, and again the clarity remained there, every note and string sounded as clear as it would be coming out of the clean channel.

Overall I liked the pedal very much, it’s very hard to describe the sound, sometimes I think it is similar to what you can achieve with a distortion pedal, but it’s also far away from it, because the clarity that your tone has with the Storm can’t be achieved with a normal distortion pedal. If you are after a classic rock sound THIS is the only thing you need to add to your rig.

The price tag on this baby is $335 US dollars, it’s not cheap but you have to think that this pedal is hand built by one guy… not an assembly line in a massive factory, so this impacts directly on the cost of the product.

The presentation was very good, I got a T-shirt and a big picture of Fil and Angus, signed by Fil, there are no instructions manual, which of course are not needed, however I feel that this should’ve included some sort of ideal set up to achieve Angus’ tone, Fil has worked extremely hard to achieve this and I’m sure he has a few tips that we would all love to hear.

Head to www.solodallas.com to get the pedal.

MXR Dyna Comp

Review of a classic… this pedal has been around for ages, more precisely it was released in the 70s and according to Wikipedia it instantly became a “Nashville Standard” I’ve only had this pedal for 6 months or so, so it’s not a classic for me but as soon as I plugged it in something snapped.

I first tried it with my Eric Clapton Stratocaster, as we all know compressors are sort of associated with chicken picking… and so are guitars with single coil pickups, the sound instantly becomes “studio” like, that was the first thought that came into me… everything just sounds tidier… compressed (of course), if you play “under the bridge” by RHCP with this pedal… you’ll think you are listening to the studio version, it’s pretty amazing.

So… first impressions were great I fell in love instantly and I said to my self “I’ll stuck this pedal to the amp with Velcro and never turn it off again”, however not everything that shine is gold, the pedal is a bit noisy, and what happens is there is a lot of noise when you are not strumming the strings and as soon as you strum.. the pedal compresses the sound causing a “volume difference” all the time which is a bit annoying but I do understand that this is the nature of a compressor, but it could have a noise gate of some sort.

I then moved on to the  SG (humbucker guitar) and tone was ok, the best thing about combining this pedal with distortion is the sustain you get out of it… however the sustained note seems to vary in volume as it sustains for longer and longer, making me think the pedal is not entirely designed for this task… however I did hear that Angus Young uses a bit of compression on his Schaffer Replica to get that extra sustain, but we’ll touch on that later since I’ve already pre-ordered a Solo Dallas Storm (mini Schaffer Replica).

I totally recommend this pedal by all means this should be in your arsenal, you can have loads of fun with it but I’m not sure if it would be the 1st pedal I would buy, I think the Ibanes TS9 or a Vox 847 Wah Wah should definitely come in first.

Ohhhh the pick!

I’m not trying to be “picky”  but… plectrums are important.

They are the ones responsible of translating our amazing right hand ability to our strings, and we can never have enough of them.

I’ve decided a few weeks ago to buy all sorts of different picks, I’ve always played with Gibson’s medium/heavy until I discovered the Dunlop Tortex (1.14) they are for me the best picks available, they are very rigid but not thick… the strength of your picking action translates straight to the string without much effort and they last a lot longer than other normal picks, and most importantly they just feel right for me, and that’s the key here… It’s not about what someone else uses it’s about what makes you feel comfortable because when you are on that stage and the pick falls out of your hand in the middle of the solo… You are pretty much living every guitarist’s nightmare.

But… What is it that is right for us? guitarists are usually very mood dependent, anything wrong with our rig can throw off our mood for that perfect solo.

There is a great variety of picks out there, and it’s very hard to choose, so just buy them all! fortunately picks are cheap (compared to your vintage TS9!) and we can test them out as we please.

This is what I got from Ebay.


From left to right and top to bottom:

Carbon Fibre Dunlops, Bone, Beehold (back and front), Coconut shell (back and front), Dunlop Tortex (1.14, 1.0, 0,9 and 0.79)

They are all different and yes… They produce a different sound, I was very sceptical of this but different materials affect the tone.

Dunlop small

The Dunlop Jazz carbon fiber: They are very hard but too small… They have a pattern that helps you keep them on your fingers, but because they are so small they are not very comfortable and it’s very easy to drop them.

 

bone

Bone (made by Steve Clayton): I really liked these the sound is so warm and natural… but you can still get harmonics…they are good for blues and any kind of strumming… so I’m sure they must be a killer for any acoustic guitar, really worth a try!

bee hold

Beehold (made by Steve Clayton): I didn’t liked them as much.. it’s got an hexagonal hole to enhance grip but the hole it’s too high for me… the actual pick quality is decent… but the sound you get is a bit trebly and the pick is flimsy.

Coconut (made by Steve Clayton): it’s ok… I think it might be good for acoustic guitars, the main issue is that it’s curved, they are gorgeous though.. but it takes some time to get used to them and they are fairly big.

Dunlop

And finally my favourites!

Dunlop ULTEX Sharp: oh man, these picks are incredible, I prefer the 1.14 they are very stiff but thin, you get great control of the pick because the size is just right and it’s very hard to wear them out. If you want an ULTEX but you are more of a soft/medium pick guy/girl… I recommend 0.73 or 0.9 they are great as well.. but too soft for my taste.

 

So there you go, get a few picks and try them out, don’t just settle with the ones you get for free at the music store, picks are important to your tone and it will help you shape your signature sound.

My guitar bleeds?? [treble]

Modding… I don’t like that word, mainly because it’s been associated with atrocious modifications to anything… from cars to guitars you name it, however we are always thinking that our guitar can sound a bit (or a lot) better with certain modifications/enhancements.

I’m not a very good solder, in fact… almost 70% of the times I tried soldering something to my guitar it didn’t go well and I needed expert’s assistance, but this time it seemed pretty easy.

We are al familiar with the volume knob, right? if not… go back to your guitar and experience with using the volume knob to get less or more gain, it’s a whole new world. Anyway we might not all use it but we know where it is… but for those of you who use it, I’m sure you all noticed that when you roll down the volume not only you loose volume but the treble goes with it and the tone that we get is not very exciting, it goes pretty.. what’s the word?… unexciting.. yes, it’s just not great, So I started researching a found out that it is a very common “issue” and there is also a very common “mod” for it.

All you need is a resistor and a capacitor… which is basically two very small things that do something to the signal going through cables, this link explains it very well.

You can see in the picture the little blue fella (the resistor) and the green fella (capacitor), this is the inside of my 1971 Gibson SG Standard.

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It’s not very hard to install and if you checked the link above… you’ll see it for yourself, it’s a 5 minute job even for a very bad solder like me.

The results?… well it does it’s job, now when I roll down the volume I don’t loose any treble and I do loose gain and volume, which is my intention… using the volume at 6/7 for rhythm and all the way up on 10 for the solos.

The experience is very rewarding and mainly if you are a beginner on these things… it’s like getting a bit intimate with your instrument, knowing the inside… how everything is connected and understanding how stuff works, you also get some collateral knowledge from the research you have to do to install this little thing and this may sparkle some more exciting modifications/enhancements.

Just be careful when you solder.. don’t burn the wood on the guitar! I’ve done it way too many times.

I leave here a short video of myself doing the mod.

 

 

Emulated what?

This may be irrelevant to loads of people, but it is something I have recently “discovered” on one of my amps.

It’s called “Emulated Output”, I’ve seen this for ages in loads of amps, but it’s a little different on my Blackstar HT-1R, it’s got a 1/4″ standard guitar jack, and this means I am able to use it with my headphones, usually these outputs (at least in my experience) are XLR outputs and they are made so you can connect your amp to a console and get reproduce the sound through other speakers (not guitar cabinets), this is useful for live gigs, however I never liked the sound yo can get out of this. Anyway… going back to the Emulated Output on the Blackstar, I’ve connected my headphones… and I was blown away! you feel that the sound you hear is from a 100W amp at a stadium gig (if you use a little reverb :p).

To my understanding this output allows you to hear the sound that you would get if you could turn your amp to 10 without going deaf or to jail (pesky neighbors) and it is addictive you could just sit and play riffs for hours and still fall in love with the sound, and not only that… you can also plug in your phone to the input and hear the music through your headphones, so you can play along your songs without anyone hearing a thing but most importantly with an impressive quality.

If you don’t have a pair of decent headphones I’ve already recommended in previous posts the AKG K77, they are very decent and dirt cheap. I found that this output did not work well with my Marshall headphones, I think it’s got to do with the amount of power they can take, because it sounds all distorted, so you may need some studio headphones.

Blackstar

 

Strings, the soul of our guitar

The title of this post is not an understatement… Strings are very important just as important as tyres are for cars, surely you can drive with worn tyres, but you’ll probably slip at some point!

Every time I change my strings I re-discover the guitar tone, that first strum… the first lick you play… it just sounds great and for me it goes… “oh.. have I played this song since I changed the strings? I gotta try it”, but let’s face it changing strings is a pain in the neck, and 70% of the times I end up stinging one of my fingers with the high E so it’s a task that I usually don’t look forward to, the good thing about it? apart from the tone is that we get to buy something for our beloved guitar, whatever it is we just love buying stuff.

But… which is the right string for me!? and this is as hard as searching for your tone or more likely… it’s part of searching for your tone, because as the title states the strings are the soul of your guitar (and your fingers are the engine) and every gauge, brand, material, etc. sounds different some brighter, some darker, some just break all the time and some just “do the job” and we stick with those, but is this ok? should we not experiment a bit more? I mean… they are only like £6 a set, so why don’t we try more brands and gauges and materials? I bet is because you also hate changing strings!

Well… I always used Ernie Balls, either 0.010 or 0.009, because that’s what everyone uses, and it’s just what they usually have at the stores, however we now have Ebay! (I know it’s been around for ages… but I’m trying to prove a point here) and we can buy all sorts of different strings, there are tons of brands out there now, but there is something that recently has caught my eye (or ear?) I saw an interview with Billy Gibbons, and he talks about the time he met BB King and how BB asked him if he could play his guitar… of course Billy was more than happy to do this! and BB goes “your strings are a bit heavy”, Billy of course says “well.. we are just looking for a specific tone and sound”, and this is probably the reason why most of us go with 0.10 because we feel that 0.09 is just too thin and the sound it’s just too thin as well, but BB says “that’s all fine, but the question is… why are you working so hard?” BB was one of the first bluesmen to use low gauge strings (I think they were 0.008) so Billy listened to him and he swapped his 0.011 with 0.008 and never looked back, to the point that he went down to 0.007, and this is where my story begins…

I saw the interview and I thought… I need to try this, so I went online and bought a set of Rev. Willy’s 0.007 and man… was I impressed! they are so good! and the playability is just effortless, bends are easier and the tone is all there! it takes a bit to get used to them because they are thin! you can barely feel the high E, but trust me they sound amazing, I equipped my ’71 Gibson SG with them and I love it.

So… don’t just use 0.009 just go ahead and try! SRV used 0.013 but BB used 0.008 and they both sound amazing so there you go, spice is the essence of life, in our case it could be strings!

Also there is something “new” out there called Polyweb… from Elixir, I haven’t tried those but they are supposed to be great as well!

Have a look at the video, enjoy “La grange” but also at the end you’ll listen at Billy talking about his strings.

Is it worth buying the real deal?

We choose this “profession” because we like music… and we probably have a favourite band and a favourite musician, and this guy/girl will use certain type of gear, so when we start our guitar playing journey we always try to sound like someone and we use all sorts of excuses like “when I get my proper Gibson SG my technique will improve, everything will be easier”, and then we have the amplifiers…. “I can’t get that sound because I don’t have a Marshall JTM45 with Celestion green backs ” and so on…

The list of gear is immense and infinite but there is one thing we can’t buy or get as fast as we would like… and that is ability which needs practice… which is achieved by being a disciplined guitar player and practising a couple of hours per day.

But do we really need all this gear to sound like our guitar hero? debatable… I don’t think we actually need the big brands but I do think it adds mojo to our playing, for example…. an Epiphone will cost £200, the same model built by Gibson will cost £1000, does that mean there is an extra £800 of quality? or, that our tone is going to sound £800 better?

Not really…. yes they use better quality electronics and better wood…. but I’m sure one of the reasons why American brands are so expensive is due to salary wages, an average Chinese factory worker earns 1/3 of their American colleagues, and this is all translated to our beloved Guitar/Amps cost, not only the employees but also management, real estate, etc.

The first time I picked up a Gibson I couldn’t believe it… the smell of the wood.. the quality of the finish, and of course… the similarity with Angus’ guitar, which I think is the most important aspect of my Gibson, because let’s face it… we need to be in a good mood to be able to perform well and what gets us in a better mood than having a real Gibson and a real valve driven Marshall, I don’t know what it is but they have a different mojo and when I pick up my Gibson I feel in heaven and I just play better… maybe it’s because there are no excuses why I should make mistakes? since there is no where to hide in a pro guitar,  you can’t get anything better than what you already have.

It takes loads of time and money to find your tone and if you are just beginning this process of buying stuff… enjoy it… and buy as many guitars and amps as possible, all of them will sound different and all of them will have a different effect on you, and try not to sell your old gear, although in my case I had to keep selling to keep buying but this allowed me to go through tens of different guitars and amps.

On the images you’ll see all the gear I have owned throughout the last 15 years, unfortunately I only own a fraction of it now, but everything I owned as helped me shape my sound and way of playing.

It’s a beautiful journey but it is expensive and sometimes frustrating, but as I previously said… enjoy it because you will only go through it once.

Guitar ListAmp List

 

Keeping your guitars safe

We all love our guitars (main reason why you visit this great website) but one of the issues I had in the past was… storing them, because we don’t want to actually store them, we want to have them handy so we can pick them up and maybe play for 5 minutes and put them back in their place, but that urge of picking up the guitar happens when your guitar is visible, and for them to be visible… they have to be outside their case and easy to reach, not in your closet or under the bed.

Having your guitars visible sometimes means that you’ll use a stand and just have them in your livingroom or in your bedroom but those stands are not really safe… they have a few downsides…

  • They collect dust
  • Anyone can walk past them and knock them down (I appreciate Hercules do some pretty tough stands)
  • They just don’t look that nice

So I adopted a better and really cool solution… I have a guitar cabinet! and I love it. it also looks amazing! I found on ebay a really old piece of furniture for like £35 so I drove 1 hour to pick it up… and I engaged with the well known modern term “upcycling” which basically means picking up crap and making it look better.

I painted it white and added some guitar hangers and voila… masterpiece! I must say it’s not the tidiest work I’ve done on this… but I suck at DIY however it was a pleasure building this little “house” for my beauties.

I can now have my guitars in my living room (since the cabinet is cool enough for my wife to approve it) and I can easily pick up a guitar for 2 minutes if I want to, not only that… it’s also extremely easy to swap from one guitar to another one in matter of seconds without dealing with those pesky cases.

The guitars are really well protected, the don’t collect dust and for some reason they stay in tune for longer.

It even has spot lights inside! needless to say this has become the feature of my flat 🙂

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