Strings

I use D’addario 11-49. I used to use 10’s but wanted to make my hands stronger so went up to 11’s and never went back. I use a relatively high action on my Les Paul because the strings have more room to breath which improves tone and also trains your fingers better. One thing Ive noticed is after about 4 weeks of playing they are gagging to be changed and there are several indicators.

1) They get covered in dead skin and turn black. I don’t know if its my fingers but I play most days and have found that after playing for long durations its a good Idea to use a cloth to wipe the top and underside of the strings to remove any dead skin. This maintains them for longer and you can also apply fast fret before and after playing to coat them so they don’t react as quickly to the sweat from your hands and moisture in the air.

2) The intonation drops off due to a change in tension. As you make your way up the neck the Guitar will not stay in tune, depending on how fine tuned your ears are its audible and a pain. Remember though theres no such thing as a perfect intonation, if there were it would sound inorganic.

3) The action lightens, you can feel your fingers getting close and close to the fretboard as time goes on and the reason for this is that the strings have been under high tension for a long time. Have you ever gotten blue tack and kept pulling at it until it literally buckles under its own weight if you hold it up? Similar principle, its as if the molecular structure of the metal relaxes as it gets tired of the tension and so they don’t pull on the neck as much leading to reduced action.

Moral of the story, change your strings and maintain the to make them last as long as possible. Should save you some money that way.

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Jaw Dropping Consoles!

2 lovely, modular, analogue consoles! The Neve VR Legend (Left) and SSL G+ (Right) are in the 2 larger studios of SAE Liverpool. Both have extensive EQ’s, compression and a great many possibilities of bussing and routing to other channels as well as a small fader for mixdown and patchbays.  Also there is a selection of outboard gear including a Lexicon 480l digital reverb processor, with the external console seen sat on top of the SSL. Furthermore a TL Audio Ivory 5051 2 channel Compressor/limiter and 5013 EQ, SPL Gold Mic 9844 Pre-amp and more goodies ready for patching in on the patchbays of the Neve.

These are high end consoles that you’d expect to see in Dave Grohl’s garage. In fact he owns a Neve 8083. I have downloaded the manuals for both consoles which I’ll need to learn inside out. Before we can use them we must pass a test but that won’t be until the beginning of next academic year. The sooner I learn them inside out and also shadow the second years, the more efficient my time will be when I use them in the second year.

Liverpool

The view from the ferris wheel by the docks.

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I’m finally here. I applied for university and was given an unconditional offer by SAE Liverpool. Later I applied for a Scholarship which I have been awarded. I booked my halls and paid an extra £20 a month for a bigger room which was totally worth it and now I’m living in the city! The only down side is I’m the first one here as I moved in pretty much as early as you can so I have no room mates yet. I’m living in Liberty Living Atlantic Point which is on Naylor street, literally on the very edge of the City centre. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to Liverpool One where all the shops are and even less to Matthew street where the Cavern Club is.

I was in a relationship and was extremely unhappy which ended as she went to America, so I decided to come up north about a month ago. I packed my Les Paul, Firebird, Hot Rod Deluxe and Pedalboard as well as my clothes in my car and drove up. It was one hell of an escape, I had time to really think about myself and my life which really put things in perspective. Whilst I was up here I began talking to a girl I’ve always really liked so I dropped off the non essentials and went back to Bournemouth to spend some time with her. I learned Welcome to the Jungle the night before she came over and I cooked dinner, both of which blew her away. We spent a few weeks together in Bournemouth and she came up for a long weekend which was brilliant!

We packed my dads car and as you can see it was full. I left the Peavey and 4×12 cab at my grand parents so its up here if I want/need it. Nothing broke on the way up which is a miracle considering I had a lot of gear in there!

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So 2 days ago my dad and I humped all my gear up 5 flights of stairs into my room. I got my speaker monitors set up, my hot rod deluxe is here with the pedalboard in front of it and my Les Paul beside it. There is plenty of storage in the wardrobe, chest of drawers and under the bed. I also have an en suite shower. The room went from being completely clear to completely cluttered!

I moved the bed over to claim more floor space which I thought was sensible. The premises has high security with a fob scanner on every door. Also visitors must be signed in and out and theres a security guard on the gate all day. With everything set up its looking great!

Just waiting to get started at uni and then I bet ill hardly see this place! I’ll either be at uni or gigging hopefully! Time to kick ass…

Guitars

Everything that goes into a rig will define the output from pickups to speakers but I personally believe it all starts with the Guitar. Every Guitar has its own characteristics, you could get 2 off the same line and they’ll have tonal differences, if you’re eagle eared enough to notice them. Furthermore they all play differently, different shaped necks, scale lengths, sizes…

If you took the Telecaster off Hugh Cornwell and gave him a Strat would the Stranglers sound the same? If you took the Stratocaster off Andy Summers and gave him a Les Paul would The Police sound the same? If you took the Les Paul off Jimmy Page and gave him a Telecaster would Led Zeppelin sound the same? Well to be fair he started on a Tele with the Yardbirds. But now weve gone full circle, 3 Guitars and 3 bands and would they be the same?

So what Guitars would I like to make sure I could be in any band. Firstly lets go for a good old Telecaster.

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Leo Fender was an electrician who had no idea about Guitars so preceded to cut out what he thought would be an adequate body from a piece of Ash, bolted a maple neck onto it and people went what the F**k is that? Until they played it. The Tele is extremely distinct, just listen to; again, The Stranglers but also tracks like ‘Green Onions’ Booker T and the MG’s. The image above is of a 1960’s Tele which you can tell by the White pickguard (50’s were black) and Rosewood Fingerboard. All that plus the vintage Blonde colour makes that the Tele for me. And maybe a little bit of wear.

If I had a Tele and a Strat they’d be called Boing and Twang. Those 2 words just explain their tones. Angling the pickups away from the bridge on the lows and towards on the highs gives more twang at the high and and less at the low. Then with a small ‘Lipstick’ Pickup in the bridge you have a nice mellow tone. These have a 3 way pickup allowing for bridge, bridge and neck, or neck. Originally Strats had the same thing so people such as George Harrison and Eric Clapton used toothpicks to get the switch to sit between the Bridge and middle or Neck and middle.

Enough talk lets see a Strat.

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Probably the most popular guitar and most recognisable for its shape. This is a classic 60s stray with a sunburst body that would be built with 2 pieces of ash glued together, maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, vintage tuners (that are a pain in the ass to restring until you figure out the trick), mint green pickguard and aged white pickup covers and knobs. The adjustment for the truss rod is at the other end of the neck hidden in the body which means you’d have to unstring and unbolt the neck for every quarter then of adjustment which was the only down side to the 60s Strats!

when the first strats were built around 54 they had only a 3 way pickup selector and fender never thought of using the bridge and the middle or the neck and the middle together until players like George Harrison and Eric Clapton began using tooth picks to hold the pickup selector in between to get an out of phase tone due to the distance of the pickups, the same way you get phasing from the distance of microphones from a sound source. Tracks like Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix and Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam belong to the Strat for these reasons. No other guitar can reach the tonal characteristics of a Strat.

The most notable difference between the Tele and Strat is the addition of the spring loaded Tremolo Bridge and Whammy Bar. This allowed you to adjust the pitch up and down whilst playing but could be very temperamental with tuning until the Floyd Rose was built which featured a locking nut and tuners on the bridge for easy adjustment. Furthermore the strings would be installed the other way round with the ball at the headstock. David Gilmour used the Whammy bar consistently. A great and very 80s use of this system is called a dive bomb where you slowly tune the whole guitar down until the strings are loose, then back up again.

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The 80s ushered a new breed of stratocaster named superstrats which would have extremely hot (high output) pickups, usually a floyd rose and some were even made of carbon fibre. Also the action would be extremely low for fast playing and guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn came to the limelight. These usually have a humbucker in the bridge and neck with a single coil in the middle (H S H) rather than classic strats were all single coils (S S S).

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There are a number of countries of manufacture for Fender Stratocaster; made in Korea MIK, made in Japan MIj, made in Mexico MIM and made in America MIA. They tend to flow that direction in quality however some Japanese Strats, specifically from the 70s were better than the Americans. As you flow upward in quality, naturally the price increases but what do you get for the money? Japanese and Korean bodies won’t be alder or ash but imitation wood such as birch that doesn’t oscillate as well. Mexican Strats may be lower quality alder or ash or may even be more than 2 pieces glued together. However sunburst Mexican Strats are 2 pieces glued together it’s only solid colours where you can’t see the wood that may be 3/4 pieces. You may get a lesser quality piece of wood compared to the Americans but it won’t  be far off. The value for money of a Mexican sunburst Strat is better than an American made sunburst Strat. Furthermore you can buy parts online and assemble the guitar yourself for significantly less money. You can tell an American or Mexican body as the have a hole drilled in the neck slot and below the pickup slots (then 2 more either side on a Mexican body) which are for a jig to slot into to cut the slots for the pickups, bridge and so on.

the electronics In a Mexican Strat may be from Korea, and  on a Korean Strat may be from China. The quality of metal is lesser and lesser meaning less conductivity specifically with Chinese pot metal where they melt down anything they can before losing all conductivity to save money. But Squire (owned by fender for budget entry level guitars) make Strats with incredibly comfortable necks. You may find a Squier more comfortable than an American custom shop, however they will sound different! It’s all a balancing act so choose carefully before buying.

Another query is do the springs from the Tremolo Bridge reduce sustain and impact tone? I’d say yes, it works like suspension in your car or bike if you think about it. Clapton put a piece of wood behind his bridge to stop this but Billy Corgan has fixed bridges on his Strats to get more sustain. Id like to have 2 Strats, one that works each way so you’re covered for the style of the song you’re playing.

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Well that was a tonne on the Strat so let’s get to my favourite! The Les Paul! Manufactured by Gibson in 1952 after fender brought out the telecaster, these were the first solid body electric guitars that were amazing! The first les Paul had a trapeze style bridge, p90 pickups and solid gold top. Typical single piece of mahogany as the back with 2 pieces of maple on the top. Over the next few years they changed the bridge eventually to the best functioning tunimatic bridge and stop tail. These allowed you to adjust the intonation and had no tuning issues. However the guitar was not selling as well as they’d expected so had to come up with an idea to make it sell. In 58 they dropped the solid gold top and rocked the cherry sunburst. Also they installed the new PAF humbuckers for even more output. The difference was so slight but you were able To see the beautiful maple top and no 2 les Paul’s look the same because the wood is always different. You could see the flame effect the wood gives which is sexy!

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The original 58 les Paul’s are highly sought after due to their ultra tone and go for up to hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately things have changed including laws and trees. In the 60s mahogany was all natural but consostenly used in furniture as well as these guitars. Eventually it ran out and is now farmed which has had an effect on the wood, potentially because it’s being cut at a much younger age than it would have been in the late 50s and 60s. Also the glue that stuck the tops on and set in necks was insect based which meant it would dry to a glass like state which would oscillate much better. Modern polymer based glue isn’t the same and it’s for this reason the custom shop 58 reissues are still extremely expensive but not as much as the originals. During the 70s  Gibson hit a bit of a lull in terms of manufacture and the quality dropped. Also they have barely catered for left handed people which has put them under scrutiny. They’re crap at coming up with names, for example SG stands for solid guitar… but their guitars are out of this world!

The original les Paul’s were extremely heavy due to the amount of wood involved but around 82/83 they began drilling holes in the upper left quarter of the body to relieve some of the weight. This is called 9 hole weight relief. Later and more contemporary measure of weight relief are called chamfering and full on chamfering where larger sections of the mahogany are removed before the top is glued on. However purists, such as myself, argue it kills the tone. The wood is the most important part of the guitar in my opinion and cutting it out is cutting your nose off despite your face. My lespaul has 9 hole weight relief and is still very heavy but I’m man enough to take it to keep that tone.

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You just have to listen to tracks such as Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin or Love Is The Law by The Seahorses to see why the Les Paul and Marshall amps combined were so popular. It’s a mighty roar but you can easily clean it up or get some fantastic tones with the volume and tone pots as well as switching between pickups. Peter Green physically turned the bridge pickup in his Les Paul round so it gave him a more nasal out of phase tone due to the windings of the child when the switch is in the mid position (both pickups selected). Other guitarists had phase flip switches installed on the pots to do this electronically as well as coil taps (turns humbucker into single coil by bypassing one of the coils) to further experiment with tones. Les Paul’s are a huge canvas of tone for you to explore which is why I love them and it’s something that the stratocaster somewhat misses but they are chalk and cheese in fairness.

 

Complete Pedalboard…Maybe

Got me a few more pedals. Well my girlfriend did for Chrismas and my birthday but I think I’m there!

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Ok signal flow…

Guitar – Buffer (bottom right) – Tuner (top right before wah) – 2 loop bank – Loop 1 – Rotovibe – Cry Baby – Whammy – Pog – Loop 2 – OS-2 – Big Muff – Small Stone – Ph-50 – Small Clone – Flashback – Hot rod/Polara – Windsor.

The buffer is to try and gain back some signal degradation from the 10ft cable I’m using so I can move around. Should ideally be using 6ft. The Korg Pitch-black Tuner I’m not a fan of, it seems to just be really lenient and not very precise. Admittedly its winter so I’m in a cold garage with a little heater in front of me so some of the guitars cold, some of its getting hot air and that plays havoc with tuning, especially on the firebird. The reason being the tension of the wood against the strings really does change due to the temperature of the wood. But thats not such a massive thing with the Les Paul its just not a great tuner. Doubles up as a mute though.

This is mostly a repeat of what I’ve said in previous posts but I like the Rotary and Wah before the distortion/fuzz (Big Muff/OS-2) plus the octave effects work better as close to the guitar as possible so all expression and octave effects go in the first bank. That way I can then bypass 4 effects at once. The Big Muff and OS-2 are in the second bank so if I’m getting that Billy Corgan Buzz Saw Tone I can turn it all on or off at once. Also the pedals are at the back of the board and I can turn them on/off from the front which is more ergonomic. Then if I had a third bank I’d put the Modulation (PH-50, Small stone – Phasers/Small Clone – Chorus) in it but I don’t so they’re in series after the distortion. I like the sound of the Phasers after the OS-2 which is used as a boost.

This is where it gets fun! The Flashback (Delay) and Polara (Reverb) are both stereo I/O. So a mono signal enters the Flashback, then if I want to use a Stereo Ping Pong Delay then one output goes to the Hot Rod and the second to the Polara. Reason being the Hot Rod has a built in Spring Reverb. The Peavey Windsor doesn’t so the Polara can give it one. Ideally I’d prefer the reverb to be in the effects loop but I don’t want to run 2 more cables to and fro 1 amp. Already got about 15ft of cable, don’t want another 10! Id rather have the polara in the loop because then you have a nice clean reverb, not a distorted one as its sounding off before the Pre-amp. But its all sounding pretty good.

The really fun part is putting the Polara on reverse and using the volume pot on the Guitar to create a bow like sound for songs such as ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘How Many More Times.’ This setup is how I would gig however the possibilities are endless for a studio environment. For example there are Wet and Dry outs on the POG which so you could run one to one amp and the other to another. Or you could put the Reverb before the Delay and then a stereo output to both amps with the Reverb down on the Hotrod to get a more coherent tone of the amps in unison. Or you could throw away the pedal board and play just with 1 amp. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS!

Les Paul

Christmas has come and gone…I got myself a present. My very first Gibson Les Paul!20170111_140841

No idea what to call it. Think I’ll wait until I get another 1 or 2 to decide, more on that later. This is a Les Paul 2016 Traditional T. Believe it or not the T stands for Traditional. The alternative is a LP 2016 Standard. Traditional Traditional, what are gibson thinking? The finish is an Ice Tea Sunburst and in different light you can see different levels to the flames which ill show later.

I picked this LP as it is true to the late 50’s Les Paul’s where it has weight relief in the form of 9 hole (earlier LP’s had no weight relief and weigh a god damn tonne, newer ones have limited/full on chambering where they rout out huge amounts of wood. In fact the Gibson Memphis LP’s are damn near completely hollow usually with F holes. Weight relief will effect the tone, dramatically, as you are cutting out chunks of wood so there is less substance to oscillate when the strings are struck. You tend to get a lot more sustain from the wood being there so I prefer them heavier. However the early 50’s LP’s were so damn heavy that after a while of use, your shoulder will ache. To be honest I even have that with my one.

The top is 2 pieces of Maple stuck to a single thick piece of Mahogany. The neck is set in (glued into the body) with a single piece of Mahogany and a Rosewood Fingerboard. The inlays are acrylic with cream inlays around the whole body and neck. One way to spot a fake LP is looking at whether the Inlays cover the sides of the frets.

What I really want this to look like is a 59 LP which will require changing a few things. For examples the knobs are more like the earlier ones Gibson used, I prefer the bell shaped ones as they feel more ergonomic. Also the Jack plate is made of metal, originally they were nylon I believe but ill keep this as its a bit more sturdy.

Also the Pickup covers are Chrome as well as the bridge pieces. The original Covers were made from nickel, which if these were, would be quite easy to relic using some chemicals. Instead ill just replace these keeping them incase I ever decide to re-use them. Also I have top wrapped the strings. There are multiple purposes for this, most notably it will stop the bridge from caving over backward if the strings are resting against the back of it from the tail. Also it arguably improves the tone and loosens the tension of the strings making them feel ‘slinkier.’ Also it looks awesome. A trick I learned from Mike Hickey (Joe Bonnamassa’s Guitar Tech) for top wrapping which you can see in the image below is cutting the balls off a dead set of strings, running them down each new string which will offset them by a few mil to to pull the winding further back into the tail piece. That’ll stop you catching your hand on the sharp ends and stop the strings snapping from the tension. The other thing to note however is the angle at which the strings are from the Stop Bar to the Tunomatic bridge; if its too shallow then you will get buzzing. Once you adjust the height of the Tunomatic bridge for playing action, then adjust the stop bar to fix any unwanted buzzes.

The Machineheads are in fact the vintage 50’s style tuners that Gibson used. The Tektoid nut has been nicely rounded off which is a really great touch to the headstock.20170111_154719.jpgI originally wanted a gold top and there was one on Dawsons where I got this, but it was more money and not really what I wanted. It was a Standard so had the later machine heads and cost £300 more than this. Once Christmas and New Years had gone by, both Guitars dropped by £300 also so I grabbed this up as they only had 3 left, on a 12 month interest free finance at £1399. Its a lot of money but breaks down nicely to around £116 a month and is a worthy investment.20170111_154627.jpg

I also bought a strap and some strap locks; the trick with these, in some cases, is to use the screws already holding the strap eyelets in place, not the ones provided in the pack. The reason being the hole will already be the right size for the screws, using new ones may crack the finish or be too small causing the straps to pull out. However, over tightening the old ones may cause them not to grab so if the screws provided are slightly bigger then they might be better.

One thing that i found irritating was the disk around the toggle switch that says Rhythm and Treble was slightly the wrong way around. Also the angle of the toggle switch, so I took the cover off the back, taped the disk in the right position with black insulation tape and held the switch in the right play. Then I used players to tighten the switch in place but it damaged the metal ring slightly. Not massively obvious but a bit annoying.

The strings that were on it were 10’s so I got it out the box and played them for about an hour and replaced them with 11’s. From the get go this Guitar really stood out against the others in my limited collection. Its incredibly loud and going from the LP to the Firebird is a drop in intensity and volume. The LP just roars! Opening up the backplate it has ceramic Capacitors which still give you that gentle curve when adjusting volume or tone, not a drastic one. There is also a plate that the electronics are connected to that acts as the grounding which i found interesting (as opposed to soldering to the top of the pots.

I wanted the tone in the bridge to be a bit heavier, the covers on the pickups can negate noise and protect the pickup but also dampen the sound somewhat. So the idea was to take it off. I took the pickup off and you can see in the cavity just how the top piece is about 15mm thick in the centre! The cover is held in place by the two bits of solder either side of the pickup which are dense and were difficult to melt. I kept a soldering iron on them and used a stanley blade to cut through as quickly as possible trying not to heat the pickup and the coiled wire at all. Too much heat may cause things to move within the pickup which may cause damage. Once the solder is cleared you can just lift the cover off. The Pickups are also covered in a coat of wax after they are wrapped to hold everything in place, some of which was coated over the top of the pickups once they were bear so i used an old credit card to carefully scrape it away so it looks nice and clean.

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The finished product with my preferred knobs. I saw a video from Stu Mac on youtube where they had a bridge pickup from an old Telecaster that wasn’t working very well, its output was incredibly low. As they opened it up they thought it may have been rust from a single pole piece that had spread but instead it seemed to be a dink in the coil possibly from a pick sliding through the side. They had to remove all of the wire and re-wire the pickup which is a long painstaking process so I’m extremely conscious not to do a similar thing.

Pheonix

Pheonix is the name of my Gibson Firebird V 2016 T. As said in the previous post I bought it for £850 and it has really opened my eyes to a lot of things to do with playing Guitar. Unfortunately I crushed the end of my little finger beneath a concrete block working with the bricky’s which was extremely painful but even more painfully I havent been able to play guitar properly for a couple of weeks. Things like this really open your eyes to what you’re doing in life.

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I completed my UCAS application with the exception of the Reference which my former boss Dave the Bar Manager will be filling out when we finally get together. I’ve applied to a couple of University’s but the one I’m gunning for is West London to do Mixing and Mastering. Managed to write my Personal Statement in 15 minutes at about 11 at night whilst I was in bed. My dad said he thought it was incredible, obviously hes biased but I guess I showed myself how eager I am to more forward now. Been sitting still or stepping sidways going from job to job which have nothing to do with Music. The Bar work was fun and I drank a lot for free, which I shouldn’t have done but had they paid me accordingly i’d have played by the rules. Labouring is good money but hard work and not particularly rewarding. Its nice to have weekends to myself though. The biggest issue is how its weather dependant, living in england that’s pretty dire!

I saw a video of Joe Bonamassa talking about tone and it got me experimenting. He says leave the pedals out (we know how much I love pedals!) and just use the toggle between Pups and the Volume and Tone pots to get different tones. He uses a Les Paul and explains how its a plethora of different sounds. A Firebird has the same pickup arrangement and a bit of a different Tone to a Les Paul but hes really opened my eyes. With a track like Since ive been loving you, as a novice I’d have the Volume and Tone up on the bridge and player the first part of the opening, then when it gets louder engage a pedal for an extra push. However, simply using the neck with the volume down slightly will clean up the tone and add a lot more mid range, then switching to the bridge will add the distortion and extra high end.

Using the neck with the Volume up and the Tone all the way down will give you a wolly dull tone (Dull can be negative when used to explain a person’s personality but with a tone can be desirable) similar to that of ‘Out of the Tiles’ Led Zeppelin. taking the Volume down slightly on the bridge to clean it up can give you a twang that matches that of coutry music extremely well. I much prefer this arrangement of pickups found on Les Pauls and Firebirds compared to that of the Stratocasters. You can set the guitar up in 2 ways then just switch. I’m not particularly a fan of 3 pickups on one Guitar but I guess I’ll warm to it eventually.

The Firebird uses Minubuckers and I’m 100% satisfied with the neck, I have been playing with the Volume and Tone Turned down to about 8 fingerpicking a little blues number I’ve made up and it sounds lovely. But even then switching to the bridge for a lead tone seems to almost duck. For me its not kicking enough so I may look at getting a Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio Minubucker with a lot more kick.

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The guitar itself its impressive to look at, particularly with its 9-ply Mahognay-Walnut through neck which runs the length of the Guitar and a Rosewood fingerboard, then 2 Mahognay wings for the bass and treble that are reversed. This is quite an interesting design as it came from the Explorer but a Car designer got his hands on one and sanded off the edges resulting in the Firebird. Something else that I found quite interesting is that Gibson, as well as imprinting a Serial Number to their Guitars, place a magnetic tag beneather the Fingerboard that can be read at their Offices to confirm the Authenticity of a Guitar. Thats right, people out there try to fake Gibson guitars to make more money.

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Another notable feature on this Guitar is the Very different Tuning Method. The Steinberger Gearless Tuning Keys unscrew on the front of the Head allowing you to pass a string through the pin, then tightening the screw locks the string in place. When you then wind the Keys on the back it pulls the pin down into the Head creating the tension on the string as opposed to winding it round the peg. They stay in tune and tune very finely.

Finally I use D’Addario Regular Light Guage strings ranging from 10 to 46. On my Big Mumma, which I’ll talk about in another post, I use 11 to 49. I dropped a Guage after watching a video of Billy Gibbons doing Guitar Moves (WATCH IT!), he says BB King told him to use lighter strings because the strings he did use made it too much work. He now uses 7’s! I cant imagine using anything that light because I somewhat follow the Jack White way of doing things where you make things more difficult to make yourself better thus settling at 10’s.

Guitar Rig

History of the last year or so…

It has been about a year since I last posted so thought I should get back into this. I have done hardly anything to do with sound except play Guitar so now need to reboot my career as…what ever the hell it is that I want to be. Haven’t figured it out but will do soon hopefully. I’ve been to a few gigs, saw Garbage twice, Placebo in December, Gary Numan in September but not a gig. My dad and step mum paid of me to go along to a rehearsal which is a 3 hour session where you can chat to the band and play all the instruments. I’ll ask him for a job and throw loads of humour at it. Whats there to lose?

I have been playing a lot more Guitar than before but think I need to play more so need to work out a job that accommodates that more. I was working on the bar and got bumped up to bar supervisor, effectively a bar manger but paid a lot less so ended up being really pissed off and left to start labouring for a brick layer. Ive been doing that for a few months and have gained a lot of muscle and the cash is really good but its prodominantly  12 hour days, 6 day weeks at the moment. Not giving me much time at all. This week has given me time to think and I’m realising I’m not very happy with the way things have gone over the past few years but I’ve learned skills that I can take anywhere in the world and get paid in case I’m in a jam. And I partied hard and finally got with the girl I need to be with from the beginning!

The Guitars

Pressing on, my Guitar Rig is pretty awesome. Got myself a brand new Gibson Firebird Reverse; but need to take it to a specialist to get the neck sorted. Buzzing really badly on the E, A and D but cant relieve the truss rod so the frets may need stoning. Still sounds noice! Almost like a Les Paul but les sustain (if youre playing a real les paul which has minimal weight relief or non at all!) and a bit woolier. Very Jonny Winters. I got it on a 12 month interest free finance for £850. My girlfriend Nicknamed it Pheonix. The reason why I went for one goes back to when I was trying a 70’s Twin Reverb in Wunjo guitars in Tin Pan Alley,  which was up for £700. The first Guitar I picked up was a vintage Firebird. It felt right dispite its length and it played like a dream. Together they sounded incredible! I asked the dude how much it was to which he replied its around £4000. I imediately put it back seing as I couldnt even afford the amp. Youll have to excuese the state of my garage in this post, I promise I will tidy one day!

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I had been using the Squire Esprit, which is like a double cut Les Paul except a bit wider and heavy as an elephant round your neck so I named it ‘Big Mamma.’ It has 2 Duncan designed Humbuckers in the bridge and neck with volume and tone for each. It has been a faithful companion, never got bored of playing it. I flipped the neck pickup to try the Peter Green thing but it literally did absolutely nothing.

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As well as that I have a Squire Stratocaster which is the signature Simon Neil version. Didn’t realise that until way after I bought it. I got it before I knew anything about guitars really 🙂 Took the scratch plate off and went to town on the shine with sand paper to give it a worn relic look knowing that it was only a £400 guitar so wasn’t bothered about resell price or anything. The pickups in there will be made from Chinese Pot Metal and the Bridge single coil sounded Tinny and awful so replaced it with a DiMarzio Tone Zone BC-2 (DP226). This is a Humbucker the Size of a single coil. I wanted to get the Billy Corgan Buzz Saw Tone but I’ll talk about that later. My ex girlfriend (when we were together) named this one Lexie the Slut “because I finger her more.”

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Just to clarify for people who don’t know, because I didn’t until recently, the Difference between an American and a Chinese Stratocaster: The Chinese ones are thrown together but the Americans take time on their Strat and cost a lot more because of the quality of parts and the cost of labour. The metal parts in Squiers (pickups, bridge, machine heads, electronics) are made of Chinese pot metal which is where they will throw a lot of nickel and other low quality metals (in terms of conductivity), as well as a small amount of steel, to make their steel go a lot further. The conductivity of the electronics is almost at the diminishing point, the gear ratio of the machine heads is very low which is why they can be hard to tune, the wood will be a similar version of Ash or Alder such as Birch because it is cheaper but does not oscillate in the same fashion therefore impacting tone. That is why a Squire Simon Neil Strat costs around £400 and a brand new Fender USA Strat costs on or around £1000. This is not to say that every Squire will sound shite compared to a USA but it gives you a reason.

I had an ESP explorer in red but could not get on with it so bought the better version (Firebird) and gave it to my girlfriends little brother. I also have an Ibanez Gio which was my first Guitar which came with a tiny crackly amp that never sounded good and a video of a Guitar Lesson…All for £100! I’ve relic’d that too and striped out the electronics. Going to put a Seymour Duncan Humbucker in the bridge, not sure what one yet, and just use a single volume knob to turn it into a Jerry Cantrell style of Guitar. I also switched the bridge for a Floyd Rose and installed a locking nut on the headstock.

The Amps

My first proper amp is the Peavey Windsor Head and 4×12 Cabinet that I still use. I purchased it for £300 from a Guitar shop just up the road from my house after I got a huge Tax Rebate. Its a 100w Head with a single channel and Effects loop plus a Boost which boosts the Mids. In the Pre you have the typical gain and 3 band EQ, then in the Post you have the Master Volume, Resonance, Prescense and texture. The texture is very interested as it lets you fade between a class A or A/B amp effectively halving the power to 50w which really makes the amp compress more like lower powered amps do. I tend to keep it all the way up to class A/B because it pokes the high end right out.

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It has 3 12ax7’s in the pre of which I have the Electroharmonix version because I love EHX! The edgier scratchy tone they give works really well with the Big Muff. It also has 4 EL34’s, of which I use groove tubes, in the post. The 4×12 is a beautifully balanced cabinet which tends to favour the higher mid ranges but I went on to buy a Laney 2×12 cabinet off a guy who lived near me. I swaped out the Celestions for Peavey Valve Kings and it screams! I use both of the cabinets and its loud but a really nice blues rock tone for the sorts of things I play.

I went to Tin Pan Alley again the other day in search of something of the Fender variety and came back with a 1960’s Harmony H305a. Bought it for £300 as well and its very different. It has 4 Inputs, 2 Gains (2 Inputs per Gain) and a crossfade between Bass and Treble. Thats it. I’ts a Combo with a 12″ cone made by Jensen. With the Gain and Treble up all the way it sounds Awesome! Extremely Bassy when you play a bit quieter but when you play hard it breaks up into a beautifully vintage driven tone. It has 2x 12AX7’s, 2x 6V6 and a single 5Y3. It’s the sort of thing that Jack White would sit on his portch whilst watching the cows in a field, sliding blues on a Guitar he made himself out of wooden shoe. I didn’t find what I was looking for when I got it but I found something Extra that is special that I couldn’t leave behind.IMG_1229

What I was looking for whilst I was there was a Fender Blues Deluxe or Hot Rod Deluxe. Or Ideally both Side by Side. The Tweed Blues deluxe from what I have seen has a brighter tone but the Hot Rod Deluxe has a bit more gain available. I play a lot of Blues Rock and so both amps should suite really but I wanted to head towards something with higher Gain for when I play heavier rock. The Windsor, is relatively heavy but cumbersome which is where combo’s are ideal. Some people would just say why not use pedals? To which I reply: Be minimalistic and have a much true-er tone. I’m not saying I dont use pedals, because lord knows I love them! But less is sometimes more, certainly for blues. I have seen both the Blues and Hot Rods on Gumtree for £450 which makes them a very affordable amp and they’re always ready for collection somewhere with 30miles of your house. They’re that popular. I’d like to investigate some 70’s Silverface amps but the Twin Reverb I tried was Fecking Deafening! All of which however are Combo’s which make them so much more convenient for gigging. I did infact travel down the road and bought a Hot Rod Deluxe II from a dude who in fact did the same course at college as I did.

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I have also been looking at the JCM800 2203’s because 2 of my favourite Guitarists use them; Billy Corgan and Tom Morello. Marshall are absolutely loved, which in fact puts me off them, but I cant deny how awesome their amps sound! By put off i mean in the way Josh Homme is put off a Gibson Les Paul, as it seems almost everything has been done with them. He wanted something different to everybody else. They JCM800’s do However cost around £750-800 second hand and thats just for the Head. I’ll get one one day! Then a Vox but I’m talking in like 5 years time once I have all the Pedals and Guitars I want!

The Pedals

I have always liked Pedals. My first was a Digitech RP50 Guitar Modelling Processor. It had everything I had never dreamed of! Distortion, Reverb, Delay, Phasing, Flanging, Compression, event Whammy and Autowah! This was great because it taught me about different effects that existed and I got to play with them all the time! I remember putting on the Whammy effect and talking through it with a Microphone that came with a Karaoke Machine my Dad got. A couple of years after that and after getting Big Mamma, My mother bought me a Boss ME-20 which is another Multi Effects Pedal but with an expression pedal for Volume/Wah. I could use them together too and was able to play things like the opening to ‘I am the Highway’ Audioslave. I put reveb on the RP50 and put the ME20 before it so you can strum a chord and then fade it in using the Volume Expression Pedal. I’d play things like ‘Bulls on Parade’ RATM, and even tried to get the same sound as ‘Black Hole Sun’ Soundgarden, using the Whammy and then a Rotary effect on the RP50.

When I bought Lexie I bought the Boss Dyna Drive, Mooer Blues Crab and some patch cables. As well as a strap and strap locks so the lad in Absolute Music had Quite a good sale that day! The Blues Crab is an emulatiuon of the Boss Blues Driver which I got because they didn’t have it in stock. The Dyna drive is a nice blues wooly pedal that breaks up a bit when turned right up. I went on and got an MT2 which is just disgusting. The only thing that its kool for is a phaser effect which you can do by turning the mids up and down as it has a 4 band EQ on it. This is similar to what Jeff lynne did on an ELO track I believe, not sure which however. I eventually got a Whammy during one of my trips to Tin Pan Alley for all of my Tom Morello needs. This was before I got into Jack White so when I started listening to the White Stripes I was like YES! I CAN DO THAT! Until I heard Blue Orchid and realised I needed a POG! I got the Boss OS-2, Digitech Grunge and a Cry Baby Wah off Amazon and I had myself a myriad of pedals!

I did however need a place to put them so had a wooden board and taped them on there but they’d still move. So I built a huge pedalboard out of MDF with 3 levels, one of which was cut short to allow room for the expression of the Whammy and Cry Baby. I replaced the ridiculous coloured plastic coated, low quality, chinese pot metal patch cables I had with the Cheapes Stagg Patch Cables off of Amazon and the Tone was vastly improved. At this point I didn’t really know what I was doing because before I had a tiny amp that was just zeroed and clean to just amplify what was coming in to be heard. I tried doing this with the Peavey and realised many moons later, that I was wasting a great Head. I got rid of the overcumbersome pedalboard I built as much as it pained me to do so. I took all the pedals away, which were in series straight into the front of the amp, and plugged my guitar in and played. I primarily have been playing Big Mamma as shes my most faithful companion and although shes taken a back seat whilst I get accustomed to the Firebird, I know shell make a huge return. Together Big Mamma and the Windsor head sound fantast. Quite an Edgy tone which can turn from blues to rock just with the change of playing style. I began experiment with the wah, whether it sounded better in the pre-amp or effects loop and began to learn about the science behind it. I was at college at this time so was learning about gain stages, EQ, effects, how they all interect and why they interect in a certain way.

I got a Big Muff due to how much I was listening to the White Stripes and just used it with the Whammy and POG. This is where my love for EHX began! All of this was In series with the Whammy first, then Big Muff, Then Pog.  I now actually put octave effects before distortion as it can sound extremely muddy the other way around. The Whammy always comes first though as it tracks the guitar a lot better than when its further on down the chain, again due to muddying other effects and signal degredation. Then adding in the Wah Pedal it makes sense to put on in the effects loop as it is a band pass filter that sweeps with the expression pedal. If its put before the distortion or Pre-amp then its just EQing, if you will, the Guitar. After distortion or Pre-amp it has a lot more harmonics for it to play with. I actually at the moment use it before, as when its in the loop it can sound a lot more intrusive. You have harmonics that remain constant when its in the Pre but when its in the loop everything jumps around so I want it to stay sounding grounded. I did actually try putting the Cry Baby after the Big Muff which sounds wicked! I wouldn’t use it all the time though but may leave a cable on the Pedalboard so I can quickly change it for a single song or something because It does sound awesome.

Taking this understanding of effects, it makes sense to keep distortion in the Pre but other effects such as a Phaser can sit nicely in the loop, as well as flangers, rotary effects and other effects that change the EQ. Next thing to understand is where you may want to put Reverbs, Delays and Tremelo’s. The last effect in a Chain effects everything that preceeds it more than the other way around. If you were to put a Tremelo after a Reverb (like a Fender Twin Reverb) then the Reverb would cut in and out with the Tremelo. The other way round and there will be a consistent flow of sound as the Reverb Shimmers. This works the same way with a Delay and a Reverb.

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After I gave the ME20 away.

The Pedalboard!

I eventually got a Pedaltrain Novo 32. I was looking at the Terra 42 and thought that it may be excessive but now im not sure whether or not i made the best decision. The truth is I wont know until I get in a band and get gigging and have to lug the thing around, as well as, put it to the test seeing which pedals I actually use to see whether or not they have a place on the board. A lot of Guitarists will in fact use a range of different sized boards depending on the Style of gig they’re delivering and how far they’re travelling. Carrying a Terra 42 on planes on a tour of america consisting of 20 dates in small venues would be awful. However travelling around the UK in a van playing larger venues would be more managable. Same goes for Combo’s.

I am pretty OK with a soldering iron and my OCD makes this job a lot easier, so I cut a lot of cables to length after deciding on the placement of my pedals which somewhat works around signal flow. I tend to put the expression on the right (Wah, Rotovibe, Whammy) and everything else on the left. With the 2 effects loops you can put pedals to the back of the board where it tends to be harder to hit their bypass switches and then turn them on from the bottom (Big Muff and OS-2). When routing the cables beneath the board its wise to, where possible, run power cables from north to south and signal cables from east to west so that they barely cross eachother. You can cause a lot of electro-magnetic interference when they are run side by side so its a good method of prevention. Everything running through the first loop is on the right, then the second loop at the top, then the right hand side of the board is all in series. This is how its worked for me so far but I’m itching to change it at the moment.

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Please excuse the low quality camera, I am looking to get a new camera for the purpose of images for the blog but I’m also thinking about a VLOG on Youtube.

Another trick is to wack cardboard over the top of the board and place the pedals where you think they may work best on top, so they dont stick down, use it for a week or 2 then decide whether you are to keep it that way. It’s much more of a pain in the ass to pull them all up and then try and sit them roughly in the right place, bit the slightest adjustment to the right means pulling it off the board completely. I bought some shrink rap also to cover the solder inside the patch cables but tend to cut them in half so they barely poke out the bottome of the jacks making the cables difficult to bend around the place. I use insulation tape beneath the board to stick the cables down to the board so nothings flapping around. I also moved the Power block from the top to beneath the board which gave a lot more space.

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How the board was before.

Another Great idea is pedal Risers which are relitively inexpenisive and may save your bacon during gigs. They do what they say on the tin raising the bottom of the pedal upward raising the Bypass switch making it much easier to reach without touching the pedal below it. They come in different sizes and I even bought one pre-emptively for the Flashback X4 when I finally get one which will go on the top left of the Board. You can also see I hage added a buffer to the board which is the point of entry for the signal.

The New Beats – Tobacco Road

This is a great Track the lyrics are so dark, its beautifully written and played and the band did a great cover. They wanted to put their mark on it which is a cr*p load of reverb but like the other tracks i worked around that for them. There is a Piano played in the original version but these guys skipped that part and just had 2 Guitars. This was recorded the Same night as the other songs so I wont go too much into the capture but the mixing instead. The kit, of course, is pumping with the BF-76 with all buttons in blasting the room into the mix through the 2 overheads that were distant as well as the Glynn Johns closer up. I EQ’d the bass again to stop it booming at 150Hz which was an issue as it was jumping out of the mix. I boosted the High end of the lead Guitar to let the lick it plays to open and at the start of each verse grab your attention and it would then sit better with the Rhythm. I DI’d the Guitars and actually used the Clean DI signals in the mix also. Lead DI is panned hard left, Lead Dynamic Mic is central, Rhythm DI is panned half right and the Rhythm Dynamic Mic is panned hard right. I zoomed into the waveforms from the DI and Mic to make sure they match up and arent out of phase. This can be an issue as the signal from the DI comes way before the signal from the Amp because of all the distance of cable it travels.

I inserted Reverb into the Vox Aux as it would make the Reverb more obvious as per the performers taste. I talk more about this in a later post. When the Mix is done I bounced and created a new session the imported the song. I didn’t know much about mastering at this time but I managed to make a very punchy mix just by using the BF76 set to pump with a faster attack and slow release. In my opinion I would have re-mixed and re-mastered this track but it sounds great. I used an EQ in the Master to boost 215Hz by +2dB, 5K by 3dB and then a high shelf from 15k ramping up to add some sparkle. To finish I then used the Maxim to push the level of the songs overall level closer to 0dB in line with the other tracks.

50ft Wide Kit.

I find this really tough so thought I’d put it up here. When doing the Griffo assignment for college one of Mike Seniors responses to a mix was that the spread of the Toms was far too much and said it was the Classic 50ft wide kit. For a drummer to actually achieve the sound that the mix is relating back he’d need very long arms and the kit would need to be placed very wide. I totally understand where hes coming from but this seems to be very much like recording and mixing needs to create a very perfect image of what its capturing which again I understand but I personally think there is beauty in the manipulation of the captured sounds to create an atmosphere that is beyond physical reality. It opens up a whole new sonic world. I’ve achieved a very wide kit using Glynn Johns due to the proximity of the left Mic with the Low Tom. I thought that it adds interest to the stereofield. Listening to Tusk by Fleetwood Mac would not be anywhere near as interesting if the drums weren’t as spread as they are. This is all pretty abstract/contextual as it really depends on the tonality of the song and kit plus performance aspects.