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Stringed Guitars

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

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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.

Truly Matchless

Big year this one, I finally managed to acquire a Matchless amplifier, something I’ve been wanting for a looooong time.

Being totally honest… I loved the way the look, that was the main reason I wanted them, something that looks that good has to be good too.

There are not that many artists that use matchless, but the main one I care for is Ricardo Mollo, guitarist from Divididos and probably the Argentinean Hendrix, the guy is an animal and a tone freak, very colourful playing, interesting rhythms and sounds.

A few weeks back as usual I started watching videos about it… then reviews, then more videos, then pictures… and then I found one in Reverb at a very decent price, so I pulled the trigger.

The seller brought it to my house that very same day, I was super excited, a few hours later… the amp arrives. Oh my god, what a feeling… I think level of excitement matched the one I had when I got the 71SG and the Jaydee.

 

I first plugged in the telecaster… don’t ask me why… but I wanted to hear a single coil pickup

They look great together!

Man… as soon as I started playing I was in a sensory overload, the cleans… the depth of sound, it was like the first time you enter a house of mirrors… you just look everywhere and think “what the hell is going on”

Every chord just sounded perfect, every string had its own character, suddenly you can hear how the guitar was truly designed, I think this should be Matchless’ moto: “hear your guitar for the first time”

Let me dig deeper into this concept, I’m a Marshall Man, I have like 10 of them and I’ve always loved them way more than anything else, I’ve always thought that any other brand with a similar sound was just trying to imitate them, so… why bother trying them.. just get the real thing. But… you know when you are playing with the band.. or with just background music and your solos don’t cut through or you can’t really hear that high E string on the G chord? I know of course you can tweak your sound, etc. But I’m talking about a different level of “hearing everything”

Matchless provides cut through 360 degree sound, I don’t understand how they do it, my Matchless is a Lightning 15 Reverb, so it’s not top of their line but everything they do is top of the line…. everything is done to a level of detail that is out of this world.

 

Every single terminal is shielded

I’ve started testing tones and everything just sounded incredible, the Treble and Bass control (yes… no mids) interact with each other in a ver intuitive way… and they are extremely responsive, you can go from scooped mids, high bass, high mids, high treble, etc but just playing around with these two knobs.

I play in an AC/DC tribute band, and I tell you… this amp does better AC/DC tone than a Marshall, and my usual setup is either the JTM45 or the 1987x with a 1960AX cab… so.. also top end stuff, but again… Matchless is just incomparable.

They are crazy expensive, but I suggest you find a way of trying them out, it’s a before and after experience, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing another brand any time soon… at least until I get to buy their flagship model… DC 30.

So… to summarise… Matchless is just that… something that is impossible to Match, something that has been done with so much care and thought that it can’t be better… everything has a purpose nothing was left to chance or to economic reasons, everything is there for a reason.

Comparing these two, Matchless still wins even with Marshall using the Matchless speaker… which was really clear and sounded awesome.
Small-ish at 15 watts, but being Class A amp… sounds like a 30 Watt amp. It’s also very very heavy.

Being in a successful band

Success is whatever makes you and the people that surround you happy.

Most of us want to play in a band, most of us started playing because the band was there first, some of us are no longer in that band and we have a room full of gear and we play by ourselves.

At least that was me, I’ve been playing for 20 years, I’ve been in numerous bands that never played live much but rehearsed a lot. All these bands had something in common… lack of direction.

I’m not talking about being a band leader and calling the shots, because to be honest… you need to be a renowned musician to behave like that and still have musicians following you. I’m talking about setting expectations and following them through.

At the moment I’m playing in an AC/DC tribute band that I formed with two good friends, and now that the band is fully formed… we are 5 good friends :). However there’s still a sense of “ownership” of the band, and again this doesn’t mean calling the shots (I’ll keep repeating this).

The band was my idea so I do have a responsibility of fulfilling what I pitched that night at the pub when my two good friends accepted to join the band. I knew what I wanted: to be out there enjoying the stage.

Maintaining a band together is no easy task, but trust me… it is a lot harder when there’s no reward, and what’s a musicians best reward? Tick tock tick tock… yeah.. you know it… it’s playing to an audience! Why would you spend 1 year rehearsing without at least having one gig.

Step 1: be ready sooner rather than later. How?

You need to book rehearsals, manage the diary, make sure everyone remembers there’s a rehearsal that day, if 1 person can’t make it… meet anyway… a rehearsal without one member can be just as productive and it will force the other member to do homework, because guess what… you are not slowing down!

Step 2: start talking about gigs

We all want to live in the 60s travelling in a volkswagen van and playing every night… but that’s not possible, if you are like me… in your late 30s, you probably have a job, mortgage, partner and maybe a kid, and if you don’t… someone in the band will.

You need to be realistic, and set achievable expectations, so maybe after 6 months of getting the band ready, try to set your self to get at least 3 gigs for the next 3 months.

Step 3: maintain the band spirit

Wait… so the next step is not getting gigs? Well… hold on. Getting gigs is freaking difficult and no one wants to do it, trust me… everyone has suggestions… But it is very hard to close a deal, so while you plan your “getting the gig” strategy, make sure to keep a motivated rehearsal plan, maybe now that you are ready… reduce the rehearsal schedule to once every two weeks, and bring beers to rehearsals, bring ideas, and keep the guys up to date with the plan

Step 4: get those gigs

Ah yes… this is the “secret sauce” how do I get gigs, facebook, email, go to the pubs, facebook groups, phone calls, be pushy but not desperate, offer a trial gig.

Alright let’s break that down: facebook and facebook groups. You got to setup a facebook page for your band, once all your relatives and friends are following you (they won’t go to your gigs) you need some real followers.

Get some studio shots, rehearsal audios, maybe a bit of video, all to attract attention and also to have content to share with the pub/bar you want to play at, but… don’t be too serious about it, remember which business you are in….”entertainment”

Get to the pubs: this actually doesn’t work that well unless you know the pub owner, I’ve shown up at places with CDs in my hand and talking about how great and cheap we are… and none of them materialised, but it was a crucial step for me… it made me realise how the pub dynamics work, any tip you can get from them it’s extremely valuable.

What worked for me was basically contacting venues/pubs through facebook messenger where it is very easy to be cheeky and share a video/picture with very little effort and of course your facebook page link

Step 5: prepare for those gigs

Ah yes… the good old 1-2-1 formation, or maybe 1-3? Or 1-1-2-1. It is critical that you don’t just show up to the venue unprepared about positioning yourself on stage. This is your chance to shine, it is your sunday match… you need to blow these people heads, so make sure you turn up with a plan and everyone knows what to do, act professional so the landlord sees that you know what you are doing. So make sure you rehearse stage presence… a lot!!

Step 5.1: design your gig, invest!

Let’s be honest, you are not impressing anyone with your guitar solos, or drum solos, and if there is a musician in the audience… he’ll be trying to pick on your mistakes. There are 3 things that the audience will remember.

How good you sounded overall (not just you… yeah you… you know what I mean), how good was the singer AND how much fun they had.

Let’s break these down again.

A) How good you sounded: of course… making less mistakes means that you’ll sound better, right? Well… yes but no. You need to learn how to recover from mistakes, everyone, EVERYONE screws up a few times per gig, most of them goes unnoticed… but… if some one does.. we need to cover up for him. Together we stand, divided we fall. If the singer misses the start of the chorus, if the drum started on the wrong beat, if the guitar player is going for a longer/shorter solo… you need to adjust the song.

Everyone needs to listen what each band member is doing and make sure you are constantly adjusting to make the band sound good. Not just yourself.

B) How good is the singer: Well… anyone can sing, right? Wrong! There is nothing more annoying than seeing a band with a bad singer, the singer is the most important member, the songs need to suit the singer and the singer needs to suit the songs, there will always be a song that you love and your solo is great on it… but if the singer is not feeling it.. then you are not playing it. The Singer is the face of your band, they present the band to the public and the public will judge the band based on his performance. So.. keep the singer happy and do the songs he likes and the one he sounds better at. Remember… the performance is not for you… it is for the audience.

C) How much fun they had: oh yeah, my favourite!! Don’t just stand there like lemons… move around, engage with the audience, buy props, lights, banners, be different, give the audience some gifts.

This has really made a difference for us. Lights, smoke machines, confetti cannon. The look on people’s faces when you fire that confetti cannon… it’s priceless, suddenly you’ve become the center of attention even for those that don’t like your music… who cares.. confetti! Let’s dance. Simple as that, if this was an equation… fun = confetti and confetti = fun.

Step 6: be consistent and step up your game everytime

Have something new every time you return to a venue, not necessarily songs… but props, lights. Be consistent on you performance quality and step up your game on how you engage and entertain your audience. For example… last time we returned to a venue… we filled up the place with balloons! And we don’t have roadies.. it was just us inflating balloons (over 100).

So that’s it…. basically… follow your heart and lead the way. Not everyone in the band will have the same passion for the songs, but everyone in the band is up for having fun, and that’s your responsibility.

Am I (the author of this post) credited to give advise on this? I think so… I’ve moved to a new country and managed to setup a band that ir is regularly gigging and does not need constant rehearsing, so the fun to homework ratio is very high.

Follow my band here: Meanstreak UK

Last but not least… none of this would’ve been possible without the encouragement of Chris, so… Chris if you are reading this… THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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.

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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