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

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Angus

Mesa Boogie Studio Preamp

Mesa is one of those brands that we look up to… but sometimes we don’t really know why, it’s high end… but it’s mainly used by shredders, so…. I don’t know I just never really considered them however they always had a very respectable position on my Amp brand ranking.

This image changed how I felt about them.

So… I was born on 1983, my first AC/DC memories are from razors edge album and the famous 1991 Donington concert, this for me… is the AC/DC sound, this is what I listened to a thousand times, this is what I played air guitar to, this what I sang to, this is the VHS that I watched so many times that tape was beginning to stretch.

Why is this concert one of the best ever live performances not only of AC/DC but… of every band that has ever rocked this earth. well… I don’t know, it is beautifully shot, the crowd size is overwhelming, that little acrylic floor was a groundbreaking idea, Angus and Malcolm’s playing is just incredible, Chris Slade sitting on the drum throne with those massive ground toms up in the air… such an iconic image. The stage is also incredible, Angus walking up and down those ramps… it looked like something from the future.

Fast forward a lot of years! (Like 25) and I find out that AC/DC used Mesa Boogies in their late 80s, thanks to this Japanese magazine I now knew part of the secret recipe of why Donington sounded so good.

What is this preamp? Is it a combo? Is it a head? No rubber feet?

Well… this is a rack unit and according to the internet, these are not in fashion anymore… but that might change :p

This bit of kit is outstanding. 4 ecc83 + 1 ecc81 for the reverb, this is built like a tank!! Remember the boss pedals that you could run over with a car and still work? Well… this feels the same, metal enclosure, metal panel, the wiring is a mix of point to point and hand-wiring.

So what does it do? Well… it creates happiness, some say these are difficult to dial in, but… with a little bit of research… I was riding the good tone wave within a few minutes, this thing is awesome, I tried not to get carried over with the amount of gain you can get out of this thing just because at the end of the day I’m after an AC/DC tone and not Megadeth, the unit has a lot of mids! But… there is a graphical 5 band EQ to tame anything you want.

The sound is great, it’s very articulate, even at high gains… notes don’t get lost, the tone cuts through nicely and the sustain is just the sweetest thing.

Within a few knob adjustments I was able to get the donington sound I’ve been after for a long time.

This unit requires a power amp, which I’ve ordered and it is still in customs… (thanks brexit) but for now I’m using my trusty 1987x FX return to skip the Marshall preamp and use the Power Amp section only.

Ahh Tubes! What a sweet sight!
Very sexy wiring right there.

One of the things I love about this unit is that it sounds big… it sounds like an arena… even at low volumes… although… I’m always playing at at least 95db in my studio.

I never thought I would buy a Mesa, they always intimidated me, a lot of knobs… and… can I only shred? Well… it seems like they are just awesome amps… and a bit infamous… I think you need to know how to dial them in. I’ve heard great things about the Lonestar and the Stiletto.

Do yourself a favour and go play one of these bad boys! You’ll be surprised!

New AC/DC album Power Up!

I don’t really do album reviews and I’m not really a critic but… I’ve been waiting for an AC/DC album for 6 years! So I think I’ll try to express what this album sounds like, spoil alert… I love it!

Finally! AC/DC is back in the game, I suffered so much seeing Brian leaving the band, then Cliff, then Malcolm passed away, I saw Angus grieving his brother and it just shattered me, but I knew Angus can’t stand still, I knew he was itching for new things, I saw them live around 9 times and I know that Angus belongs with a guitar hanging from him and running around a stage.

The news came earlier this year (covid year) that AC/DC was about to release something, they are the quietest band ever! No one knows anything about them until they decide they want to be heard.

Alright… so… they release the single “Shot in the dark” instant AC/DC sound, sounded great but it was a bit too radioey, next… “Realize” came out… again… sounded awesome and unmistakably AC/DC, however… it was too radioey again.

I pre-ordered the album of course, I got the one that lights up! Looks awesome!

Ok… album arrives… oh wait… I don’t have a cd player… well.. I actually bought the album also on itunes at 5am that day and started listening to it.

Because I’m such a huge fan of AC/DC… thing take me a bit longer to process, the album sounded great, but the songs were different, Brian sounded awesome, Cliff can definitely be heard! And the drums sound like Phil of course, what about Stevie and Angus?. I’m amazed of how well Stevie has delivered so far, he not only sounds great.. he also adopted Mal’s style of playng!

What about Angus? He also sounds awesome but… there’s a general lack of solos…. his solos are shorter than usual (similar to last couple of albums) and sometimes they are more like fills… which do not gain that solo “momentum”

Well.. that was my first impression after the first spin…. I’ve now listened to it probably… 20 times, and I’m more in love than ever!

Man what a great album, apart from sounding incredible, every member is on their top shape! Brian belting vocals like if he was back in the 80s! Phil… well… just being Phil, and the rest of the gang just ploughing through like a freight train!

Every song has something… that makes you want to listen to it over and over, and you still discover more little things with each listen.

“Through the mists of time” made me shed a few tears, great track! Unusual for AC/DC. And according to angus this was written around the era of stiff upper lip! This one is for Mal, and even Brian says he gets the shivers!

“Money Shot” oh man, I love this one, brian is almost rapping again! The beat is great! Guitars are well defined and it sounds tight! At a nice pace.

“Code Red” is this the new “Back in Black” great track, again… Brian’s vocals are just great!

all the other tracks are awesome too! It’s great to hear the band again, this has made me very happy and I can feel some songs becoming classics already.

I still would’ve loved to hear some more signature solos from Angus, but… it’s ok, it’s still a great record that I listen to at least once a day.

THANK YOU!! You turned 2020 into a great year! And you’ve also made all the songs available for free on YouTube, well done! For always being there for us, for being humble but determined and for only caring of delivering the best to your fans.

AC/DC we salute you! And I’ll be attending as many shows as possible next year!

Gibson SG 61 Standard Custom Shop

Yes… another SG, this one took me a while to get, and I sold a few to get it, I found my self having 9 SGs and only using 3 or 4, it seemed wrong and I wasn’t comfortable with having unused guitars just hanging there.

So I published a bunch on on reverb and sold within like 3 days. I bought a few Marshall cabs and then this gorgeous SG came up for sale on reverb, my first Gibson Custom Shop

What an instrument! I don’t know what they do in the custom shop but playing one of these is like playing your favourite guitar, the one that just fits you…. maybe I got lucky but I doubt it… i think that is the purpose of a custom shop Gibson, to just… deliver what you need.

The finish is perfect, the intonation… perfect, the looks… perfect, the thin nitro finish… perfect, the smell of the case… perfect too! It smells like the nicest Gibson ever, Gibson owners know what I’m talking about.

Sound

It comes with PAF pickup replicas, in theory they use the same machinery used back in the 60s and pickups back then had uneven amounts of turns of wire… because apparently no one counted them, so they also replicated this process and people go crazy for these PAFs! I only just realised this. Owners are always changing pickups around but apparently Gibson Custom Buckers PAFs are probably the only ones that doesn’t get swapped.

The sound is nice, well formed, very balanced, slightly mid rangey, I’m not sure if this is the Custom Bucker or the bumblebee capacitor, the resistance is 6.8 on the bridge and 7.86 on the neck, I think the bridge could use a little more power, but the sound is still great and you can get very sweet sounding cleans and devilish distortion too!

The Looks

So… is it just another SG? Yes… of course, 2 horns, fat bottom and 6 strings, so what? Well… this one has the nice bevels, great looking tuners, the hardware is nickel which I loge because it looks like it’s been there for ever, and the most important of all… it has a very thin coat of nitrocellulose paint… which in theory allows the wood to breathe and resonate more, I don’t really think that’s true or at least impossible to prove… but… I love a nitro finish, it just looks great!

How does it play?

This is what I’m most amazed at, it just play as the nicest guitar you can possibly have, the first time you pick it up is like you’ve had this guitar all your life and you know everything about it, it might be the setup, it might be the size is just right, it might be the shape of the neck… the thin nitro on the back of the neck helps too. I truly don’t know what it is but… they have something different to Standard ones, it feels exactly like my 1971 Standard, like the wood has already settled in the instrument and the wood said “ok… this is my job for the rest of my life… I accept it… and I’ll behave”

Is it worth it?

Ah! The million dollar question. For me… it’s a resounding yes, I bought it used (like all my gear) so I paid half of what it costs new and getting a good deal always makes you feel better about the instrument, but money is relative… and the question here is… does it play twice as nice as a regular standard? I think it does… maybe not twice as good as my favourite Standard…. but it plays nicer than that one too… and I’ve bought many SGs before keeping only one standard…. definitely spent more then 4 thousand dollars on that journey, but the journey was great and it makes me realize how good this custom shop is.

So… should you buy one? YES! Go and play one somewhere… but don’t buy a new one… these custom shop cost a fortune and they lose a LOT of value as soon as you take it out of the shop.

you can see her in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNbn6GB0JI4

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.

Going custom

“Custom”… that is such a sexy word for guitar players, for some of us getting a custom is just reaching the top! -of guitar shopping that is-

So 2 years ago I decided to give myself a birthday present… and this in fact was a Jaydee guitar, made by John Diggins, John is the genius who came up with the Lightning bolts on Angus Young’s guitar, -our good friend Solo Dallas has this info covered on this link– back in late 70s and early 80s John used to repair Angus’ guitars, to a point were Angus’ original 1971 Standard only had the Gibson headstock left from the original guitar… everything else had been rebuilt by John.

So to me… ordering this guitar wasn’t only a big deal because it was custom made… but also because it’s something very unique that was  built specifically for Angus’, he toured with it on 1981, and they are not that many out there, in fact there are only 4, so it is pretty unique!.

The whole experience of ordering the guitar is such a surreal thing, you feel special… the fact that you are talking to the guy who is a legend and will be building your guitar is just… incredible.

Fast forward 12 months, I started getting updates via their Facebook page and you see how these guys create a masterpiece from just a piece of wood.

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And you also see your name on that wood! might not mean much to some… but it does mean a lot to us!.

Fast forward 2 months and I got this:

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All sanded and ready for spraying!

and just 2 weeks later I get this:

Step by step… built, paint, finish!

I was so excited! of course…I drove up to their office in Birmingham that same Saturday to pick her up:

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It was such a mix of emotions… because you wait for so long you get the updates and then that’s it… it’s done… and you are there… playing it… it feels that it doesn’t still belong to you… feels like you need to tame her… for me it is such an iconic guitar… that I felt I needed to gain her respect, which I’m still doing… and playing her as often as I can.

It’s such a massive experience, I don’t know why it has hit me so much, I think the combination of such a great instrument but also being one of Angus’ guitars… is just too much to take in.

The instrument itself is flawless, the craftsmanship that goes into this thing is out of this world, but I think what I enjoyed the most was the whole treatment I got, the way these guys deal with you.. they make you feel like a rock star, they reply to your emails in record time, they send you updates via Facebook and also.. you get to meet them and have a chat with them at their office. I got to hear some stories from Mike -John’s son-  of when he was in the show that Angus’ received this guitar from John and Angus just jumped on stage with it… you find yourself talking to someone that is part of rock and roll history, and also… you get to be in a place where Tommy Iommi’s been… he is local to Birmingham and John builds guitars for him.

Waiting 18 months is not easy… but the reward is so big… you’ll be wanting to wait another 18 months pretty soon!.

If you do have the chance… treat yourself to something special.

Personal review of the Jaydee SG

 

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.

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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.

1979 Gibson SG Standard

This SG belongs to the loved/hated Norlin era.

This means it was built between 1970 and sometime around 1986, loads of guitar enthusiasts hate this era and they will swear that they are the worst guitars Gibson has ever built, but to be honest most of them probably have not tried a Norlin era Gibson, and this feeds the inflated price of the pre-norlin era gibsons, this is why a 1968 SG will set you back around £8k and a 1971 will cost around £1,5k.

This is a great guitar, it’s incredible how fast the neck is and how effortless you can go through the fretboard, this is the reason why they earned the nickname of “fretless wonder” this happens because the action is really low and the frets are not very tall.

Playing these “fretless wonders” does require some time to get used to, it does challenge your ability to perform bends and you have to get rid of the “heavy hand” habit (if you do have it) but once you get used to them, they are great.

Of course this guitar is also part of Angus’ arsenal, (and this the reason why I bought it) you can see him using it on the “Flick of the Switch” video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWKcJwuZnzE) and he also used it live on some occasions.

On this model Gibson implemented 2 curious changes: the inlays changed to a rectangular shape and the output jack changed from the top of the guitar to the side. Personally I love these inlays, they do look great and you get an extra one! (the 1st fret gets an inlay as well, where as before only custom guitars would bring an inlay on this fret). It also has the “speed knobs” not sure how “speedy” they are, but they move smoother than the black top  hats.

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1971 Gibson SG Standard

Iconic guitar and of course my favourite.

This is not just a great example of Gibson’s craftsmanship but it is also Angus Young’s first SG, featuring the addition of the volute to the headstock and the “made in USA” stamp, this guitar is the one we can hear in many AC/DC songs.

I’m sure everyone remembers Angus’ lightning bolt model, well… the first version of that guitar was created by John Diggins (Jaydee Guitars: http://www.jaydeecustomguitars.co.uk/) using this exact same model.

John used to fix Angus’ guitars, to the point were the only original part left on the guitar was the headstock, and when he had to rebuild the fretboard he decided that some lightning bolts might look cool, so he added them to the 1971 SG Standard, making it the base for Gibsons’ later Angus Young signature guitar.

This is my 1971 Standard after many years of playing I finally was able to find one and actually buy it this time around.

It doesn’t have any modifications, of course it has some dings here and there but nothing major and it all just adds character to the instrument, the only noticeable “issue” is a small hole on the pickguard which I covered with black tape (I know.. not ideal), I’ll probably buy a 1971 pickguard of ebay at some point.

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gibson sg 1971 standard

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