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Stringed Guitars

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

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guitar practice

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.

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.

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

 

Headphones for practice??

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

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

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

 

 

A decent practice session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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