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Stringed Guitars

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

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vintage

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

 

 

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