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Stringed Guitars

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

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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, who 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’ and he toured with it during the tour of ’81, 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, and 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 need 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 jumped on stage… you find yourself talking to someone that is part of rock history, and also… you get to be in a place where Tommy Iommi’s been… he is local to Birmingham, UK 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.

 

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.

Reading material

It’s pretty obvious that I’m a Gibson SG fan, and as soon as I saw this book coming out I had to have it.

The best thing about it it’s that it’s new… so you’ll find up to date info  and great quality pictures, the data seems to be correct  as well, I know the history of the SG quite well and I didn’t find any mistakes which is a good thing.

The book takes you on the journey since the SG was designed and went on the market for the first time, it also tells us about the most famous guitar players that use the SG as a main guitar, giving us detailed pictures on their custom models and also what was different about their guitars.

This book is intended for someone that:

a) wants great quality pictures of SGs

b) is really into the history of the SG

With this I’m not trying to say it’s a boring book… but you have to be a keen SG person to fully enjoy the book as it takes us through every change on the model over the years, and that is the main reason I love it.

I recommend the book for any Gibson SG fans out there, it’s a great read and also a very good reference book to have, if you are someone that collects SGs this will help you identify your new guitar on the Gibson timeline

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.

 

 

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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