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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!!

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 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

The Fender Telecaster Elite

I’ve never been a Fender fan…. I love many players that play fender… but I never got used to the scale Fender uses compared to a Gibson, it always took me too long to get used to it when switching guitars.. but that’s mainly on a Stratocaster, also the middle pickup always gets in the way of picking.

However the Telecaster is a whole different beast, for someone like me who likes good old rock and hard rock, a Tele is not a very desirable guitar, but they are very sexy and let’s not forget that Jimmy Page uses one every now and then. I’m aware that Keith Richards also is a tele man but I’ve never been a fan of him, also SRV has been seen with a tele a few times.

Anyway… I had a tele many years ago but I sold it to buy my first SG. and I haven’t played a Telecaster until 2 years ago when I went to the Birmingham Guitar Show and I saw an Elite hanging on the Fender area…. it was calling at me…. gorgeous finish, shiny frets, body binding… it was really beautiful, but that was not it… I plugged it in and it played phenomenally well, the fret finish was impeccable and the neck felt like part of my hand.

I went out of that guitar show impressed with that Tele.. 2 years went by and I convinced the boss to let me  buy one :), I went with the budget to buy anything up to a Custom Shop, I drove 2 hours up to Birmingham because that’s where PMT had a gorgeous custom shop I wanted, I went in.. sat down and started playing it… it felt really bad.. sticky neck, the neck was also huge and not comfortable… so I asked for an Elite.. and all those feelings I had came back, it was like playing a guitar you’ve had for ages, everything felt right, so I went ahead and purchased it!

I still have it but I rarely use it.. mainly because the music I play needs a humbucker and not a single coil but everytime I feel like SRV blues style I pickup that Tele and have a great time, if you are in the market for a Tele… do yourself a favour and go try an Elite, it is by far the best Fender I’ve played and possibly the most comfortable guitar out there.

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.

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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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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Epiphone SG Prophecy EX

So… Of course your question is… “what the hell is an Epiphone doing here?…” Well, I like Epiphones, and let’s be honest… loads of us have started this amazing hobby/profession using an Epiphone or a Squier.

But this is no ordinary guitar, this is the angriest Epiphone of them all, it’s got world class features such as: ebony fretboard, Grover tuners, flame maple top, and last but not least EMG active pickups (models 81 and 85). This combination is a killer, also the fretboard is quite chunky like an SG standard so it’s great for shredders which I’m not one of them but I do enjoy every now and then picking up my axe (keeping the shredders lingo) and play a bit of Megadeth or Judas Priest.

Apart from all the amazing hardware this guitar is beautifully made, the transparent black flame maple top is very neat and let’s not forget about the inlays which now they have taken a blade type of shape… they just add up to the sort of dark theme going on, and this is the reason why I got this guitar. I used to play my Heavy Metal/Trash Metal tunes on my SG or on my Strat, but that just doesn’t feel right, I’m not sure if it’s just me but certain types of guitar make you play certain types of music, is like trying to play Back in Black (yes… by AC/DC) with a Sratocaster, it just doesn’t work.

So, now I can plug in this beauty to my Marshall TSL, hit the third channel and shred away (ahem… pretending to shred) with a nice biting sound.

These are not that easy to find and I like to think of them as bit of a unique guitar and probably one of the best ideas Epiphone has had, so if you can find one… buy it! and keep it! I’m not sure how they were able to produce this amazing guitar and still maintain the Epiphone budget but hey… I only buy and play guitars, I don’t make them, at least for now! _DSC7450 (2) _DSC7449 (2) _DSC7443 (2) _DSC7441 (2)

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