Showing posts with label gear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gear. Show all posts

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Guitar Next Door: 1991 PRS Custom 24

Paul Reed Smith (PRS) has become one of the top guitar makers (what better measure of success than to be sued by Gibson) and is known for its exacting attention to detail. The Custom 24 that Paul Reed Smith showed at his first NAMM show in 1985 still represents the core of their line and is one of the few recognized classic designs done outside of the 1950s. This unique and very red 1991 Custom 24 is today’s Guitar Next Door.

PRS moved to their new automated factory in 1994, so the pre-factory guitars are valued more by collectors even though the quality of the factory guitars sets the bar for how to do automation without compromising quality. This guitar was custom ordered completely in red, even around the top edges where PRS guitars normally have a contrasting stripe. It has the bird inlay option, locking tuners, PRS tremolo bridge, a 5-way rotary selector, and a sweet switch (filter in place of standard tone control). It also features the PRS hallmark carved and figured maple top with the flame option.

I plugged the guitar into my DSL 401 Marshall and wow; these pickups are hot; “native” at your local Thai restaurant hot. The switching positions weren't doing much for me either so I was disappointed that something so beautiful sounded so bad. Figuring it was just me I persevered and was glad I did.

Step one was to look up the switch positions so I could correlate them to the more traditional pickup switch options I’m used to. The switching options according to PRS are:

Position 10: Treble pickup
Position 9: Outside coils- deep and clear - parallel
Position 8: Series single coils – Warm version of the "in between the treble and middle pickups"
Position 7: Parallel single coils – Crisp version of the "in between the treble and middle pickups"
Position 6: Bass pickup

Then I started tweaking switch position, guitar volume, and amp settings and turned out some great sounds. This thing rocks! It still retains its own identity even though you can give it a Strat or Les Paul character. The “sweet” switch is sort of a kludge way of doing a tone control if you ask me and not surprised they did away with this option after 1991. I just moved it back and forth until it sounded ok but didn’t focus on it much.

Action, fit, and finish (the flame is a work of art) are all perfect as expected. I've never played a guitar where the neck meets the body at the 22nd fret. The neck keeps going long after I expect it to run out. It takes some getting used to but opens up a lot of possibilities. The tremolo is silky smooth with great tuning stability.

This guitar has its own sound. While you can replicate a Strat or Les Paul character with it why would you want to? Since your goal as a guitarist is to create your own sound a PRS may just be the ticket!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Aging Rocker Demographic and its Impact on Guitar Sales

I was discussing my perception that aging rockers must be having an impact on guitar sales worldwide with another blogger at World of Baby Boomer’s fudge. So, I did a quick search on Google and quickly came upon articles showing that a large number of aging rockers are either picking the guitar back up or learning it for the first time as a cure for the midlife crisis.

While the aging rocker demographic has helped fuel the increased demand they also benefit from the explosion of innovative new gear now available as a result. There are guitars, associated other gear, and resources available at all price points to make it easier than ever before to start back up if you are a lapsed rocker or get into the guitar for the first time.

Let's Rock!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Guitar Lore: The Marshall Mystique

I recently went to visit my good buddy at Guitar Center on a quest to add a Marshall amp to my gear collection. " want a piece of the Marshall Mystique", he says, which conjured up images of Jimi Hendrix with a backplane of Marshall stacks behind him as he burned his guitar at the Monterey Festival. Just seeing the logo is enough to do that. I had to get a Marshall stack of my own to tap into the mystique.

My salesman outlined the history of tube amps, why they sound like they do, and demoed spring reverb by shaking the unit. Cool! Of course, I wanted to get the stack, even though my primary use would be in my home but he talked me out of it. Something about if you put the volume to a level where it would warm up enough to get good tone; you wouldn't have any paint left on your walls.

With that said, he pointed me to the Marshall DSL 401, a 1 X 12 all tube combo amp. At 40 watts it is the smallest of the JCM 2000 family. “Not much mystique in this” I recall thinking to myself even while acknowledging I had no place to store a stack much less be able to play it with family and neighbors around. He recommended I try it out and set me up in a back room and let me go at it.

Mystique! Somehow this amp channels the Marshall Mystique. Between use of gain on the clean and overdrive channels and use of your guitar volume you can get some great tones out of this amp. Best of all, you can get all this at near bedroom volumes if you need it.

I gave it a home of course. The mystique isn't the stack; it's the tone! Once you hear that tone you feel a direct connect to Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, and of course, Jimi. That’s some mystique!

Doesn't mean I still don't want a Marshall stack....

Monday, December 17, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: Acoustic vs. Electric

I recently posted a comment on a blog that was asking one of the perennial learn to play guitar questions; acoustic vs. electric, which told me I should outline what my own experience has been. After going through the startup process my conclusion is that you should learn to play on both guitar types and starting on an electric gets you there the quickest.

In my first post I described how an umpteenth listen of Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" got me to finally commit to pursuing my life long dream of learning the guitar. No surprise that I started off with an electric guitar. However, I believe my interest in the electric also helped me make quicker progress, and picking the guitar up in middle age should be all about maximum results in minimum time.

I started off with a borrowed guitar, Danelectro single cutaway U2 model. Although I tried using an acoustic several times early on, I found it difficult compared to the Danelectro in both playability and production of decent tone. After each attempt, I would return back to the electric and keep working on building my chops and ability to produce better tone. My hypothesis on the difference is that the Danelectro had a thin narrower neck with lighter gauge strings compared to the acoustic; meaning better playability for someone starting out. In addition, you can derive some tone out of an electric earlier than an acoustic given you have an entire signal chain between your playing and the tone that comes out. Granted, this is somewhat of a crutch given you can be more effective at improving if you hear everything in its lack of glory. On the other hand, when you first start out you want to have enjoyment from day one and part of that is that you can generate some tone you appreciate right away.

I continued primarily on the electric for the first eighteen months and then decided to allocate half my practice time to the acoustic. By this time, I had built up my chops, purchased an electric guitar with higher gauge strings and a wider neck, and developed better tone. In no time, I found that I could finally extract something out of the acoustic guitar. I think the progress I made on building my chops plus development of tone got me to the point where I could appreciate what an acoustic has to offer sooner.

In summary, my opinion is that if you want to learn to play the guitar, you should plan on learning to play both electric and acoustic. The objective when starting out, especially if that is later in life, is maximum progress in minimum time. View starting out on electric as a training aid that lets you build technique and tone so you can more quickly appreciate the acoustic guitar for what it has to offer.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Guitar Tone: Tips and Tricks on What Works for You

How you tweak the components in your signal chain has a major impact on your tone. I have written a couple of posts regarding guitar tone; suggestions on how to duplicate your favorites plus an example of how I duplicated the tone on AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” using equipment I already had. Here are some more suggestions I left out of the previous posts.

GuitarWorld magazine features transcriptions in each issue. For each transcription, they also show suggested Boss effects pedals, their settings, and what order to chain them in for reproducing the guitar tone. If you have effects other than Boss, the information is still valuable so you can extrapolate it to the gear you have. GuitarWorld includes video lessons where the instructor addresses how they duplicate the tones.

Concert or instructional DVDs with your favorite artists are a great source of insight into guitar tone. As I outlined in a previous post about guitar lore, the more you dig into the guitar, the more information there is that you never would have noticed previously. At minimum, you will gain insight into where the pickup selector on the guitar is set to as well as views of effects pedals and amps they are using.

I have a PODxt amp and effects modeler from Line 6 that comes with preset tones for a wide variety of songs. When I am interested in a particular tone, I just open up the preset and look at the amps and effects used along with their settings to get some ideas.

The recording studio is also an “effect” that influences the sound you hear on a commercial recording. For example, a guitarist may double or triple track their parts in the studio. Knowing that, you may reproduce a similar tone by adding a chorus and a delay pedal to your signal chain.

When I first started playing, I grabbed the nearest guitar picks on the counter and went with those. Since then I have learned the type of pick has a big influence on your tone. Just pick up a large variety and experiment with the different materials and thicknesses until you find a type that creates a sound you like and fits your technique.

Always remember that the volume, tone, and pickup selection on your guitar make a big difference on how the elements further down the signal chain sound.

One final note and the point of all this is to keep experimenting. By learning how to reproduce the guitar tones you like, you gain the insight on how to design your own unique tones, which is the ultimate payoff.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Middle-Aged Rocker: How to Avoid Guitar Store Angst

I bought the stereotypical sports car for my midlife crisis before learning to play the guitar. The guitar is much more satisfying and the gear doesn’t depreciate like an automobile either. To get this gear you have to go to a guitar store of course. I researched prior to heading out to my local guitar store the first time but research didn’t prepare me for the angst I felt when seeing that the oldest worker in the store was half my age! In spite of my angst, I received great advice on finding what I needed to get started and keep the hobby rolling.

I definitely had the sense that the people working these stores love music and are enthusiastic about anyone learning an instrument. Beyond that though is that aging wannabe rockers like us are helping guitar sales skyrocket. The instrument makers and retailers love us! As I continue to age, I plan to keep rocking out instead of going quietly into the night.

When you go into one of these stores, just keep in mind you are part of a valuable demographic of like minded rockers and the retailer is more than happy to help you meet your musical goals.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guitar Tone: How to Duplicate Your Favorites

When I started out, duplicating the sounds from favorite songs was (and still is) an exciting aspect of the hobby. “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, a long time favorite of mine provides a good example of how you can crack the code on the guitar tones you love.

An AC/DC saying I like is that they have one song but man, is it a good one. I recall late nights in college, beer and buddies, standing directly in the path of speakers driven beyond their distortion limit listening to classics such as “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Highway to Hell”, and “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”. So, when I finally took up the guitar, learning some AC/DC was a no brainer. I started with acquisition of “Play Guitar With…AC/DC”, a guitar tab book accompanied by a CD.

This guitar resource is valuable because it outlines the gear and effects used by the artists to reproduce each track. A great feature is that it provides backing tracks with and without lead guitar. This way, you know what it should sound like but can then play the lead part with accompaniment. Most importantly, this resource stresses the open power chords used by Angus and Malcolm Young to create their sound. If you use bar chords instead of the open chords, the equipment and effects pieces will not matter. I spent some time learning some new chord shapes as well as the lesson that there is more to this than just gear!

On the gear side, The AC/DC songbook provided the gear list used by the artists that recorded the backing tracks so I did a gap analysis between the list used on “Shook Me..” and what I already had.

Guitar - I had a Gibson Les Paul Special with hot pickups that would provide the humbucker tone.
Overdrive – I had an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 reissue pedal to provide the overdrive tone. BTW, if you are going to get one pedal, it should be the Tube Screamer.
Amp – I did not have a Marshall stack but started by substituting my Fender Hot Rod (TM) Deluxe.
Delay/Reverb – I did not have a pedal as outlined in the list so I played with the reverb settings on my amplifier.

In my next article, I will outline how I tweaked each component in this signal path to achieve a satisfying approximation for the lead in the original recording.

>>Related Posts
How to Tweak Your Signal Chain and Nail That Elusive Tone
How to Build a Pedal Board

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Guitar Strap Revelation

When practicing I prefer to stand up and use a guitar strap so I decided to upgrade to something wider made out of a suede material that I felt would be more comfortable. I had been using the ubiquitous nylon guitar straps usually thrown in free with any gear purchase. On my next practice session, it seemed my speed and accuracy was up a bit.

I marked that down to it was just a good day. However, I noticed improvement on subsequent practice sessions as well. What I conclude is that the suede material on the strap keeps the guitar from sliding around like a seesaw effect. My fret hand doesn’t have to chase a moving target. I switched back to the nylon strap as an experiment and I definitely noticed a difference.

My goal was comfort and the improvement in speed and accuracy was a bonus. I don’t know about you, but any way I can identify a shortcut I’ll take it! A trip to the local guitar store (fun any time) and $15 was a small investment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Guitar Resources: Gear Fundamentals

For those readers who are pet owners you found out quickly that the pet is the cheapest part. You have to acquire accessories as well as learn the care and feeding part. Your guitar is the same way. Reading up will ensure you do not waste money and quickly learn the care and feeding of your guitar.

I brought home a copy of “Electric Guitar Handbook” by Alan Ratcliffe along with my new guitar and read it through. This single step saved me a ton of time and money. The coverage is a mile wide and an inch deep, which works out just fine when you start out. This way you know the full guitar landscape up front and can turn to additional sources such as guitar magazines, the Internet, and your local guitar shop for additional details on areas of interest.

The handbook also includes clear instructions on how to tune the guitar, change the strings, adjust the action, and check intonation. If you are not familiar with these terms, it shows the importance of finding a reference like this up front! Playing (or trying to play) a guitar with a bad setup can be difficult and will hold you back. Why deal with that when you can learn how to keep it in shape in an hour or two?

The bottom line here is that starting guitar at our stage in life means making up for lost time. The best way to do that is not waste time figuring out small but consequential details of the hobby universally covered in print and online. You need to spend that time rocking!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: More Shortcuts for Baby Boomers

Practice time invested plugging in wires and adjusting settings reduces my rate of return. Sure, an acoustic guitar is a solution; you just pick it up and go. However, I wanted the benefit of backing tracks, metronome, tuning, and effects with the ease of picking up an acoustic; so I put together a touch and go practice rig.

At the top of Figure 1 is the TASCAM Guitar Trainer outlined in previous posts. Next is the Line 6 PODxt, another wonderful device, and a Fender practice amp. Here is how they go together:

1 - Guitar cable (1/4 inch) plugs into the input of the PODxt
2 - Another ¼” cable runs from the left output jack of the PODxt
3 - The same cable as in 2 plugs into the Guitar/Mic input of the TASCAM Guitar Trainer
4 - Mini plug splitter to RCA jacks run from the line out of the Guitar Trainer
5 - RCA jacks into the line in inputs of the Fender practice amp (most practice amps include this feature)
6 - Headphone output from the Guitar Trainer

Figure 2 shows how it is setup currently in my practice space. I stacked it up in an audio rack to keep it compact. All the gear runs through a power strip. With this setup, if I have 15 or 20 minutes to spare I just pick up the guitar, click on the power strip, and I’m rocking!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Midlife Crisis: How to Buy Your First Guitar

For every guitar that is played, there are many more gathering dust in the closet, possibly to become “vintage” a few decades from now. You want to start out with an inexpensive model initially. If you later decide the hobby is not for you, you are not out a lot of money. I got into the guitar based on an interest in exploring blues driven vintage rock, but the comments would apply to any type of guitar you wish to acquire. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker who loaned me a guitar out of his 20+ guitar collection, a great option if you know any guitar enthusiasts. However, with a little research, you can purchase your own and will find that inexpensive does not mean poor quality.

The major makers produce guitars that range from a couple hundred to many thousands of dollars. Manufacturers such as Fender and Gibson and many others produce quality guitars with good playability for a low price point.

Playability is especially important when you first start out because you are building new muscle memory for fretting notes, picking strings, forming chords, and building calluses on your fingertips. You are not going to progress as quickly as you are capable of with a poor quality guitar unless you are especially gifted. Just because Jimi Hendrix started out on a ratty guitar with one string does not mean you have to or can. Think of it the same way you would about golf clubs with perimeter weighting for a larger sweet spot. To find the guitar that will give you that sweet spot playability, your best chance of finding it for the right price is to do a bit of research.

Bookstores such as Borders® and Barnes & Noble stock a large variety of magazines devoted to the guitar, all of which include gear reviews in each issue. Experienced players conduct these reviews and clearly outline the pros and cons of each model. In addition, these magazines provide web links and other resources for further exploration. For example, the Epiphone Dot Studio, pictured at right received high marks in GuitarWorld magazine and sells for under $200 at "Guitar Center" stores. Through research, narrow down the options that appeal to you and then head out to your local guitar store!

Guitar stores feature electric guitar starter kits (guitar, amp, cable, strap) especially during the holiday season. Likely, the guitar options you are interested in based on your research will not come packaged like this. Starter kits will likely have a lower price than the guitar you have decided on but remember that the goal here is the best playability for the lowest cost. This enables you to maximize the practice time you have available. Stick to the research you have done and leverage the knowledge of staff at your guitar store.

I have yet to visit a guitar store where the staff was not knowledgeable and enthusiastic about more people learning to play guitar. Outline to them what you are looking for, the research you have done, and go from there. Worse case, if you do not like your purchase these stores usually have generous return policies.

Lets Rock!