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Stringed Guitars

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

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rock and roll

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

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.

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.

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

 

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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