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Stringed Guitars

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

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A day in NYC…(support the locals!!)

So I recently went on holiday to the Big City, did the typical touristy stuff but I wanted to do something special with the music stores… of course we can go to Guitar Center and fool around with pretty much anything they have there… but I wanted a “true” NYC experience…
I woke up that day and added to my google maps all the music stores up to Central Park, after 30 minutes of research, my itinerary looked like this:

guitar-stores-nyc

 

I’ll go into more detail later… but it took me around 2 days to do the whole thing , it was a tremendously rewarding experience, I used to skip local stores and go to big chains like Guitar Center or Samash, mainly because I used to find it a bit uncomfortable asking to play a specific guitar to the owner in a small store where “everyone” is watching you or expecting to buy something or “get the hell outta my store”, but this was just my perception of being just a kid and not realizing how annoying big stores are… filled up with kids treating instruments like toys or people shredding away at high volume disturbing everyone else at the store.

So I packed up by bag put some comfortable shoes and headed to the streets.

From South to North.. these are the stores I went into:

Rudy’s Music  Shop(461 Broome Street): had an extremely luxurious selection of guitars, it was just breathtaking seeing not only custom shop guitars but also guitars owned by famous artists and some limited runs. A great place to visit and admire some gems they have there…

 

 

Rivington Guitars 73 East 4th Street: As the owner describes it “Little guitar store” it is little but packed with some gorgeous SGs, most of them vintage and at a great price! he had a 68 for like 3 grand or something, so you can tell the guy is not trying to pull one on you by selling you overpriced vintage stuff! I wish I had gone back to that store because my visit didn’t make it any justice,

 

 

Chelsea Guitars (224 West 23rd Street): This is the one that will steal all my good memories from New York, I went into the store presenting my self as a “blogger” I’m sure that’s what every store owner wants to hear… I almost wanted to tell him… “I have a blog.. but I’m still cool”, anyway… I think I spent 2 to 3 hours in total ( I visited the place twice) Danny had so many cool stories and he dedicated time to each one of them, he had some exquisite and beautiful guitars there… some old and some newer ones (he did take the time to explain what really is an Old guitar!, thanks Danny). This is a must visit and please dedicate time to it and of course buy something! although he won’t force it on you, if you don’t have much cash on you (we musicians never do!) just buy a t-shirt they are very cool.

 

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30th Street Guitars (27th between 6th and 7th ave) : This store reminded me of Rudy’s but it’s “friendlier” you can browse around without any guilt, they had some beautiful guitars, I spoke to the technician or the owner.. (who knows) and he confessed that he had spent time fixing Angus’ guitar for the show of the 14th of September at the Madison Square Garden, (my whole purpose of the trip). again… great place to visit

Rogue Music (30th between 6th and 7th ave): Another cool store this one, I don’t think they had any of my particular interest… I mainly care about SGs, but the owner was exceptionally nice.

I won’t comment on Samash or  Guitar Center… you probably already now what a chain store looks like :).

That’s my list… those where my best 2 days in NYC, I loved every minute of it, everyone was exceptionally nice and now I understand the concept of supporting local business… I’m sure they have plenty of customers in NYC… but if you have local stores in your area that you haven’t been to, please do… go there talk to people and get involved, they’ll surely appreciate your custom.

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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.

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.

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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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.

1984 Squier Bullet by Fender (Japan)

This is definitely an odd one, it is a Squier by fender (like all Squiers claim to be) but it’s not only that. The guitar just looks weird doesn’t it? well.. there are a couple of reasons for that.

Back in the 80s when Fender was switching manufacturers (I think they were moving production to China) they had shortages of guitar parts, so word on the grapevine is that they just combined stuff, and this model is a perfect example of this, the neck pretty much gives it away right? it’s a Telecaster neck! and who doesn’t love a Tele neck, and even more when it’s maple (yes I do like maple for Fender style guitars and Rosewood for any other brand/type of guitar). The body also looks odd apart from being somewhat deformed (fatter) on the bottom it also has only 2 knobs and a weird (maybe Gibson style?) input jack, I actually like this design I always felt that Fender inputs are somewhat annoying because you can’t use L shaped cables, so you need your L shaped for your Gibsons and your straight ones for your Strats, this just takes care of that situation, and the 2 knobs instead of 3? also a great idea! who uses 2 tone knobs when you only have 1 volume control…. just doesn’t make sense.

Pickups… probably not the best, but… they are covered! and white covers! makes the guitar look just a bit cooler right? (and yes it matches with my EC Strat) they actually don’t sound that bad at all, they are a bit muddier than normal Squier pickups so it’s like you almost don’t need a fuzz pedal, just crank up the volume, add some distortion and you are sorted.

This guitar was a bit of a project for me, and my first “real” guitar project, I only paid £70 for it (such a steal!) but it was in a very poor condition, I took the frets off and added Dunlop 6100 (the same SRV used to use), I also sanded the neck to take all the gunk off and leave it nice and clean, it’s not the most tidiest job because to be fair changing fret is a nightmare! and it’s extremely easy to damage the fretboard, but after a few attempts and a fret levelling tool it now plays really nice and it has got quite a unique sound, even though I barely use it… I like it because it has survived my DIY so it just feels special.

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1989 Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster.

Apart from the Gibson SG (of course) this is probably my favourite guitar.

Eric Clapton used this exact model on his tour around the late 80s.

The main difference with a normal Stratocaster is the pickups and the wiring, it features 3 active Lace Sensor pickups which are amazing! best pickups a Stratocaster can have, they don’t make a lot of noise and they are just really versatile.

The wiring consists on having a mid-boost, and it’s really useful when you are playing leads, just crank up the tone knob and you get extra loads of distortion, of course you can also use the volume knob for this but who doesn’t need a bit of extra gain when everything is already at 10???

The colour is also quite unique, “Pewter Grey” is the actual name, and I believe it came in other colours, the neck is absolutely beautiful being maple you can actually see the pattern, but it does come in glossy mode… which I dislike, but I used a really thin sanding paper and took that right off, it doesn’t affect the guitar in any way but it improves the payability, otherwise your finger sort of drags on the glossy finish and it just feels slower.

The tremolo is quite useful and it does not go out of tune, however due to Eric’s specification this model has a small piece of wood in the cavity which blocks the tremolo so you just need to take the back cover off and remove the piece of wood, and it works just fine.

They are not too expensive…usually around £1,200 but if you are looking for something similar but don’t want to spend that much, you can always get a Stratocaster Plus, which are pretty much the same thing.

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