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Stringed Guitars

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

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Tips & Tools

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 🙂

IMG_2236

Headphones for practice??

Touching on the “guitar practice” issues again, sometimes having an amp is not even possible, because someone in the household might have a problem with us shredding away… and sometimes like in my case… it cuts your inspiration.

I’m a keen user of iPhones and its useful apps for guitarists, from tuners, to amp modelers to track recording, but it always seems that each one of those apps is missing something, but most of them have one thing in common… they won’t let you play Spotify while you are trying to listen to your guitar, except for Jam-Up (find it here) this little free app let’s you plug in your guitar (with the use of an iRig) and also play some tunes on Spotify which means you can play along your favourite records while blasting the volume away!.

I’ve been using this app for a week and I love it, it’s just simple and free, you can also pay and get more options, but the free version is pretty good, you get a few pedals, few amps, tuner, recording facilities, etc. and the amp modellers sound very decent, just try the JMP 50 Watt with any guitar and you’ll love it (even more with humbuckers). I’ve also bought some headphones for practicing, since the iPhone in ear phones are not that great in terms of sound quality, cable is too short and you can’t headbang because they’ll fall out of your ear, so I bought some AKG K77 for £24.50, that’s a steal! you can also find cheaper ones with studio quality, just go to guitar sites instead of fancy technology sites and you’ll find decent headphones with a decent price tag.

 

 

A decent practice session

It’s a well known fact that musicians have a hard time getting a decent practice session where we live, doesn’t matter if it’s a house or a small flat you’ll always be bothering someone if you try to drive the tubes on your amp.

So we usually spend loads of money trying to find a perfect practice amp, and I’m not saying I found the perfect couple… but pretty close to it.

I purchased a Blackstar HT1-R it’s 1W with a 8″ speaker and reverb, but… it has an 12ax7 tube which makes a big difference, it’s a pre-amp tube so it won’t give you a true tube sound but this amp sounds so big! I mean… 8″ speaker but it just has loads of oomph and at really decent volume, the best thing about this amp is that it’s loud enough to be used in a full band practice session but it’s also appropriate for “bedroom practice”, and it’s not too expensive, they go used for £150 or so.

All in all I totally recommend this amp as a practice amp, it’s so much better than a small Marshall.

Marshall… Marshall… (echoes..) so… I can’t insult a Marshall and even less when I’m talking about blackstar, as you may know Blackstar was founded by ex Marshall employees.

Of course my other favourite practice amp is a Marshall.. and it’s the already mentioned on this website Class 5. this is superb… but slightly louder and you need a bigger space to drive the 10″ speaker and the full tube circuit, even if you get the model that comes with a master volume (or an attenuator) it still feels that it needs more volume to get the best out of it… I absolutely love this amp and it just screams AC/DC all over the place it’s not versatile at all.. but then who wants versatility, we only want one thing.. or maybe two… Blues and Rock!

Add this Marshall Class 5 to the practice amp list… but only if you live in a house and you got a room far away from parents and neighbours, because you’ll need to crank it! and this one can be used for a gig or practice at any time.

So there you go… my 2 favourite practice amps. Marshall for blues or rock and Blackstar if you want to blast some Megadeth from your guitar.

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