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Stringed Guitars

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

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The mini mighty Marshall SV20H

These are cute, aren’t they? Like little monsters before they get angry and start roaring!

The SV20H is part of the new series of Marshall, attempting to deliver classic rock sounds at friendly volume levels, they also have a re-vamp of the jcm800 called Studio Classic.

The SV20H is a 1959SLP but with 29 Watts instead of 100, or… a 1987x at 20 Watts instead of 50.

It also has the ability to go down to 5. Now… you might think… oh good, I can use this at bedroom levels… wrong!

5 watts is borderline ok for a rehearsal, the full 20W is loud enough for a gig and no microphone required for the cabs.

The SV20H is an awesome bit of gear, the tone is there, the classic Marshall tone we all want.. is there, I used to have a 1987x and sold it on, It was heavy and I was always carrying an attenuator I also sort of fell out of love when I bought the Mesa Boogie 295 + the studio preamp.

I honestly think that the SV20H is an improved version of the 1987X and also a friend of mine has the same feeling… and he owns an original 1987.

It cuts through better… it creates better feedback.. more responsive, better clarity. It’s an improved Marshall, companies seem to have taken the chance to make things better and not just repeat history… I also cover this subject on my latest Gibson SG Custom Shop.

Technology is better than 50 years ago, this doesn’t mean we live in the future and we stop using the same concepts as before, there’s no need to revolutionise the gear we use… but… better components, more reliable, and more importantly… better testing environments, more time… smarter people and… a bigger customer always gives you more feedback. There is more competition than we ever seen before and brands are listening.

Rock On!!

2020 Gibson SG 61 Custom Shop

Yes, another custom shop added to the collection.

Is this different to my other 61 Custom Shop? Yes…

For starters.. the colour is different, 61 CS Standards used to have this very light cherry colour with a fine nitro finish, now this have this much darker wood with of course a fine nitro finish.

As all Custom Shops, they come with Custom Buckers which for me are one of the finest pickups out there, it pairs so well with the SG.

But this guitar feels different, Gibson seems to have stepped up their game and are putting a lot of energy into every guitar, I’m not talking about accuracy of recreating a specific year, I’m just talking about making a damn well made guitar, this is an absolute rock machine, and I might have uses this term before… but I mean it this time.

I have now 9 SGs, 4 are custom shops and the other 5 (including the SG) are somewhat special SGs, I only have one standard from 2006 that I kept.

So You can trust me when I say that this SG is just badass, it has become my number 1 straight away, replacing the 64 reissue… which is now my number two.

So what is it? Well… to be honest… is everything, everything belongs together in this guitar. It just feels like home and the pickups are extremely perfectly balanced, I get just the right amount of feedback when needed, and it’s the nice type of feedback… the one Angus gets on stage.

Rocking the main stage a few weeks ago with this guitar
Look at that grain!
61 on the left, 64 on the right

Monty’s Guitars Montypresso

I’m not one that buys into hype when it comes to guitar care products, after over 20 years of playing I sort of know what my instrument needs.

But a friend of mine had sent me a cup of this “Montypresso” which is to be used on rosewood fretboards, giving you a better vintage look whilst hydrating the wood.

I’m not sure if you noticed before but all rosewood necks have different colour. To not be confused with ritchlite which is what Gibson is using now for standards.

Rosewood is a beautiful wood, but like all woods, there are different levels of quality and of course companies store this wood in different ways.

It’s most obvious on some lower end guitars how light the colour of the fretboard is, but I have also seen this in some Gibsons. This is often due to poor treatment of the wood or maybe a lower level of quality.

Well… this product darkens up the board and it gives it a beautiful shade.

The picture above shows the progress of applications.

Left picture: this is how the guitar came, this is the Gretsch G5422TG

Center picture: after leaving 12 hours a first application

Right picture: 12 hours after 2nd application

This is how you apply it

The product is like the old shoe shine mixture we used to use back in the day, but… for guitars and… it doesn’t stain your hand after wiping.

You can see on the neck pictures how the shade of the wood changes after the applications, giving you better accents on the grain. It just looks awesome, not only that… it’s also as I said before.. hydrates your fretboard and protects.

I don’t use this product on my most expensive guitars… only for those ones that come with a fretboard that looks dry or cheap.

This is their website: https://www.montysguitars.com/collections/department-of-component/products/montys-montypresso-relic-wax

I’m not affiliated to them and I didn’t get this product for free from them.

Gretsch G5222

Ah yes, Malcolm Young, the oil that made the AC/DC engine run.

Ever since Gretsch launched their tribute to Malcolm… I’ve been annoyed with them, I felt 10 grand was way too much and not targeted to the real fans ($7k should’ve been the custom shop price). The. They launched the cheaper alternative, which looked exactly the same… however… the neck pickup hole had two painted pieces of wood to the sides…. Instead of being all black like the custom shop. So I guess Gretsch said, let’s make sure people can tell from far who has purchased the expensive one. Poor marketing from Gretsch.

Anyhoo… for those who remember, these models I mentioned above are not the first attempt to do a Malcolm replica, this might be the 2nd or 3rd attempt.

But there’s now a 4th attempt!! That all Malcolm Young fans have noticed… and this is the G5222, a Korean made affordable guitar, and there’s nothing cheap about it! Well… the price is low.

This is actually my first Gretsch, since I play Angus at my band Meanstreak I never had the need to buy a Malcolm lookalike guitar.

I was so impressed with this guitar as soon as I picked it up, setup was excellent, intonation was excellent, great sustain and the pickups… they sounded great! Very distinct sound, not a normal gibson type humbucker.

I of course already started the conversion to Malcolm’s Gretsch, I wasn’t totally sure originally… I felt the guitar was too good to butcher it, but… the guitar is for the band and… it needed to look closer to Mal’s.

I removed the neck pickup, removed toggle switch and one of the knobs, I bought bolts which I only used their heads to replicate Mal’s buttons. I’m now waiting for a 455 Schaller bridge to replicate the Donington look. I’m excited!!

Mesa Simul 295

Continuing with the Rack units… but… I’m not getting a rack… I’ll just use them as heads…

Man is this thing powerful or what?!? So… specs are: weighs around 22 kgs it has 2 output transformers capable of delivering 2x 95 watts each, you can push a lot of cabs! 4 in total if you use the outputs… however… with a cab switcher… you can push 4 16 ohm cabs per channel… a total of 8!! That’s a full Stadium rig!

6L6 and El34 tubes, so each channel has 2 modes.. Class A through the EL34 at 30 watts, or Class A/B at 95 watts using also the 6L6. What’s cool about this… well… apart from having different tones… you can run the channel at 30 or 95 Watts, which makes quite a bit of difference.

In total this unit has 12 tubes, which translates into £200 for a whole set of JJ tubes… it has 2 channels with independent stand by switches and volume knobs, it has 2 presence controls… one for each channel.

The volume knobs are just great, they behave like a hi-fi knob, you can just tame the volume to any level you want, but more importantly the volume sweeps in a beautiful way, there’s no sudden increases or drops like on Marshall amps.

I use a custom made amp switcher.

I’m running this power amp together with a Studio Preamp, this is pushing 4 cabs at a total of 4 ohms, and man…. this thing sounds huge! Also loud… but the sound has this 3D sort of thing about it, pretty much like a Matchless, I’m not entirely sure if this Power amp colours the tone or not… but I’ve read that some people are actually using it for hi-fi, so I’m guessing the unit just amplifies whatever the preamp is putting out.

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’m after the AC/DC Donington 1991 sound, during the razor’s edge tour, this combination of the 295 and Studio Preamp pretty much nails the tone, it’s almost addictive!

I’m yet to use this in a live environment (thanks Covid 19) but I’ve played relatively loud at my studio (100db) and it is just a gorgeous tone! Of course I’ve been testing it with my SGs.

I hear that rack units are out of fashion… and people are buying 15W combos or heads… I’ll tell you what people are not thinking about… headroom… 100W is loud… but… running a 100W amp at half volume sounds much nicer than a 20 W amp at full volume, the articulation that you get with the massive transformers of a 100W cannot be achieved with a 20W head/combo.

The Power amp plus the preamp weighs a total of 26kg. My Marshall 1987x weighs around 15 and an SLP 1959 weighs 20Kg… so… yeah.. these Mesa are heavier, but can you put a price on tone? Would you care carrying an extra 6kg if you know your tone will be much closer to what you want?

Of course not… 6kgs is nothing… just ditch some other crap from your rig. These units are outstanding and I’m pretty sure that they will come back into fashion soon.

Gibson SG 1964 Reissue Custom Shop

The late part of 1963 was an important year for the SG, this is when the SG earned its own identity, they stopped calling it “les paul” and it also lost the “les paul” branded truss rod cover.

Some say that this is when the SG really took off, I’m actually not sure what was holding it back… but when you look at a 61 and a 64, the differences are obvious.

First, let me state that the 61 Reissue that we all know (and love) it is not period correct, the vibrola was a sideways one… the one that is used on the 61 Reissue actually came about on 63/64, this was a considerable change in design, the vibrola became more useful and stable.

So, what are the differences? Well… apart from the vibrola change, the neck is also different, the scale and amount of frets are the same, however it is no longer a 60s slim taper neck, it is much more C shaped, making it more like a “baseball bat” type of grip, this is similar to a regular production standard that you can grab off the shelves today.

The playability is great, I also own a 61 Custom shop and it also plays great… but the changes on the neck of the 64 certainly fit the SG well, in fact, the black SG that Angus uses almost exclusively on live shows is a 1964 which he removed the vibrola and painted black.

The finish is also quite different, the 61 has a much lighter cherry tone whereas the 64 is darker, which looks great with the vibrola.

In this particular example that I own, the pickups are also quite different, they are the same type… Custombuckers alnico III however the resistance is much larger, the 61’s bridge pickup reads around 6.9 whereas the 64 reads 7.8! It is much hotter and you can tell the difference when playing it, the neck pickup of the 1964 is also 7.8 and the 61 is 7.86, so much closer. Even though the bridge pickup is hotter, it still cleans up very nicely when the volume is turned down.

The feel of the volume control is also different, you don’t loose that much treble when rolling down the volume and the tone control is also quite nice to experiment with. I found myself for the first time being able to tame some of the brightness by just rolling the tone down, I believe this model has “black beauty” caps as opposed to bumblebee caps on the 61.

You can hear the 1964 in action here: https://youtu.be/J8UK_X6VTDA

The grain is beautiful and again.. the colour is not like any other SG I’ve seen.
The vibrola is probably one of the most luxurious additions to the SG, even if you don’t really use it, it dresses up the guitar quite nicely.

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

Truly Matchless

Big year this one, I finally managed to acquire a Matchless amplifier, something I’ve been wanting for a looooong time.

Being totally honest… I loved the way the look, that was the main reason I wanted them, something that looks that good has to be good too.

There are not that many artists that use matchless, but the main one I care for is Ricardo Mollo, guitarist from Divididos and probably the Argentinean Hendrix, the guy is an animal and a tone freak, very colourful playing, interesting rhythms and sounds.

A few weeks back as usual I started watching videos about it… then reviews, then more videos, then pictures… and then I found one in Reverb at a very decent price, so I pulled the trigger.

The seller brought it to my house that very same day, I was super excited, a few hours later… the amp arrives. Oh my god, what a feeling… I think level of excitement matched the one I had when I got the 71SG and the Jaydee.

 

I first plugged in the telecaster… don’t ask me why… but I wanted to hear a single coil pickup

They look great together!

Man… as soon as I started playing I was in a sensory overload, the cleans… the depth of sound, it was like the first time you enter a house of mirrors… you just look everywhere and think “what the hell is going on”

Every chord just sounded perfect, every string had its own character, suddenly you can hear how the guitar was truly designed, I think this should be Matchless’ moto: “hear your guitar for the first time”

Let me dig deeper into this concept, I’m a Marshall Man, I have like 10 of them and I’ve always loved them way more than anything else, I’ve always thought that any other brand with a similar sound was just trying to imitate them, so… why bother trying them.. just get the real thing. But… you know when you are playing with the band.. or with just background music and your solos don’t cut through or you can’t really hear that high E string on the G chord? I know of course you can tweak your sound, etc. But I’m talking about a different level of “hearing everything”

Matchless provides cut through 360 degree sound, I don’t understand how they do it, my Matchless is a Lightning 15 Reverb, so it’s not top of their line but everything they do is top of the line…. everything is done to a level of detail that is out of this world.

 

Every single terminal is shielded

I’ve started testing tones and everything just sounded incredible, the Treble and Bass control (yes… no mids) interact with each other in a ver intuitive way… and they are extremely responsive, you can go from scooped mids, high bass, high mids, high treble, etc but just playing around with these two knobs.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band, and I tell you… this amp does better AC/DC tone than a Marshall, and my usual setup is either the JTM45 or the 1987x with a 1960AX cab… so.. also top end stuff, but again… Matchless is just incomparable.

They are crazy expensive, but I suggest you find a way of trying them out, it’s a before and after experience, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing another brand any time soon… at least until I get to buy their flagship model… DC 30.

So… to summarise… Matchless is just that… something that is impossible to Match, something that has been done with so much care and thought that it can’t be better… everything has a purpose nothing was left to chance or to economic reasons, everything is there for a reason.

Comparing these two, Matchless still wins even with Marshall using the Matchless speaker… which was really clear and sounded awesome.
Small-ish at 15 watts, but being Class A amp… sounds like a 30 Watt amp. It’s also very very heavy.

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