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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 G5422TG Snow crest White

Maybe some day I will understand Gretsch’s naming convention, but who cares… they make some of the coolest looking guitars out there!

My main motivation for buying Gretsch’s is to get closer to Malcolm’s sound, I already have his number one copy… but I’ve been searching for a White Falcon for years! Well.. not THE white falcon, but something that would get me there without breaking the bank.

How cool is this?! These are limited editions of the G5422TG as you can still buy new in other colours but not in White.

It’s a hollow body with a center block which is where the pickups go, in theory this helps with feedback problems and fattens up the sound.

It just looks like a White Falcon, however… it’s much mush smaller, it really is like a little brother version of the WF, this doesn’t take anything away of how good this sounds and plays. Like every Gretsch, it was great out of the box and ready to rock.

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!!

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.

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.

Playing with tone

Don’t be a knob snob, that is my advice and second advice is… follow suggestions to prove them wrong or right.

I don’t have much patience when it comes to trying things out, usually I just try to plug in and play, I have little time to play during the week and I sort of think that I waste time when I find myself fiddling with gear for hours.

However I’ve decided to start locking some time in and try to record a few things (I also don’t like recording) just to see if I could come at peace with this tedious and boring task. To my surprise… I still found it tedious and boring… but… it helped me re-discover my amp controls and equalization, I know this sounds obvious and most of the amps have had those 3 basic eq controls since the beginning of time, but I’m sure that most of you keep everything in the middle… (noon).

We all know what they do… but we often play with treble or bass controls and leave the mids in the middle right? I learnt what the mids does when I started playing heavy metal… I had one of those valvestate marshalls that had the “contour” control which scoops the mids, scooping the mids means taking out mids, remember that U shaped eq on your dad’s hi-fi system? Well it’s the same thing.

What does this does to my tone? Well… it adds “tightness” it changes the way distortion sounds, it’s an awesome thing to play with, suddenly everything sort of sounds better, the problem is that if you scoop them too much your sound will not cut through the mix, but a little bit of it can get you to that sweet spot you’ve been waiting for.

Even though I knew about mids (of course… I’m not a rookie… right? :p) when I finished my recording tests I found that the guitar was too much in my face… like a gritty sound, I tried mic placement (another art) which it changed the sound but I still wasn’t happy, so I went to the Eq section and started moving things around until I remembered that U shape!!, so now even though I mainly play AC/DC I still scoop the mids a bit… if listen to “Shoot to Thrill” you’ll see that mids are heavily scooped.

Long story short…. spend time playing with the knobs, try recording and playing with the eq on the computer/ipad, you’ll be surprised how closer you’ll get to the sound you are after and then you can try yo mimic those settings in your amp. Remember that all the records or live concerts you hear have a myriad of experts sorting out every detail of the sound until it’s perfect. Remember that old story “guitar straight to amp”? Well… it is true… but remember there’s a team between the amp and the sound you finally hear.

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.

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