Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lollar Charlie Christian Pick Up

In the world of aftermarket Pick Ups, Lollar is a breath of fresh air.  Started by expert guitar luthier, Jason Lollar, Lollar specializes in boutique PUs for guitar, bass, and steel guitar.  Unlike most aftermarket PU companies, which are geared toward high output, modern tones, Lollar makes classic, vintage-styled PUs – using modern technology to achieve classic tonality.  Their product range is probably the most unusual and diverse of any PU company, making Stratocaster, Telecaster, Humbucker, P-90,  Jazzmaster, Charlie Christian, and “Miscellaneous” PUs.  Within these categories are many classics, like the Stratocaster Vintage Blackface, Dog Ear P-90, ’52 Tele Neck PU, and special PUs inspired by Peter Green, Johnny Smith, and Charlie Christian.  Jason Lollar also makes some unique, one of a kind PUs, like the Chicago Steel, designed for slide playing, Single-coil within a Humbucker, and “the Broiler,” which has a bell-like tone a la John Lennon.  Ultimately, Lollar is constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional PUs, creating exciting and new inventions to compliment any playing style and achieve any tone.

For those of you who don’t know Charlie Christian, he is one of the original guitar legends.  Christian was a key developer of Bebop, the language of improvisation, guitar technique, and was one of the very first people ever to take an amplified guitar solo!  He was most well-known as a member of Benny Goodman’s Sextet, one of the first integrated bands, but has become legendary for his influence at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem – the birthplace of Bebop.  Here, in after hours jam sessions, Christian would exchange choruses with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and other Bebop greats, as they developed this new style of Jazz.  Christian’s improvisational style is his greatest legacy.  Often said to be “horn-like,” Christian was one of the first guitarists to play single-note solos instead of chords, emulating the solos of a horn.  Through his single note improvisational style, Christian invented many phrases, licks, and ideas that would become building blocks for the language of Bebop.  His influence can be most strongly heard in Wes Montgomery, who learned to play by transcribing Christian’s solos.  Adding to his legend, Charlie Christian died at age 25 from tuberculosis, leaving an incredible legacy behind.

The style of the early pick ups used in the first electric guitars have become known as Charlie Christian PUs.  Preceding Humbucking technology, these PUs were single coils, but had a different sound than the modern-day single coils you would find in a Strat.  They had a depth and richness more akin to a P-90, and a unique fullness that set them apart from other PUs.  Today, Lollar makes Charlie Christian PUs designed to be housed in a traditional arch-top guitar, but their most popular CC model is designed for neck position in a Telecaster.  This is the PU I have put in my Telecaster, and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” associated with the Telecaster, you gain a new dimension of tone that is sweeter and richer than the conventional Telecaster sound.  I originally used this PU to adapt my Tele for a Jazz setting, but as I have experimented more, I find it’s a perfect sound for Blues, Rock, Pop, and Folk-Rock.  It makes my Tele sound more like a Strat, but even more harmonically rich.  The only downside was the shape of this PU required my local shop to cut my pick guard, an operation they weren’t too familiar with.  However, they learned, and did just fine, leaving me with a unique and great sounding modification to my Telecaster.

So if you’re interested in after market pick ups that will help your guitar, and your tone, stand out from the crowd, check out Lollar Pick Ups!

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Bach: Sonatas and Partitas For the Violin

Since the 1980s, the electric guitar has had a romance with classical music.  From neo-classical shredders, like Yngwie Malmsteen, to Eddie Van Halen’s baroque styled tapping, to Steve Vai playing Paganini’s 5th Caprice in”Crossroads,” electric guitarists have been fascinated by the techniques and harmony used in classical music.  Although written for acoustic instruments, distortion and amplification can breathe new life into classical pieces and add an intensity otherwise unattainable.  Also, many of these pieces are technically demanding, particularly when adapted for electric guitar, an instrument for which they obviously were not intended.  For this reason, almost every accomplished guitar player emphasizes the importance of studying and performing classical music.

Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for the Violin are some of the most popular classical pieces for electric guitarists to learn.  Aside from being great compositions, they’re a good place to start your journey into classical music because all the pieces are written in treble clef and the violin has a comparable range to the guitar.  A collection of six works composed by J.S. Bach, this book is a great introduction to the language of classical music, covering major and minor tonalities, various tempi, different rhythmic meters, and a wide range of keys.  The most famous movement is “Chaconne” from Partita No.2 in D Minor, but you’ll be surprised how many melodies you recognize throughout all of the pieces.

And don’t think this is just applicable to modern guitar shredders!  This book was originally recommended to me by the great Jazz guitarist, Adam Rodgers, who, like many other guitarists, has spent years studying these pieces.  J.S.  Bach has also been a huge influence on Ted Greene, Joe Pass, and Tommy Emmanuel, just to name a few guitar masters.  And let’s not forget about Bach’s massive influence on music in general!  Overall, studying classical music is an amazing way to improve your technique, knowledge of harmony, compositional skills, and sight reading ability – plus, gain exposure to some beautiful music.  So follow in the footsteps of many guitar greats and get yourself a copy of Bach’s Partitas and Sonata’s for the Violin!

And now, enjoy a performance of the “Giga” movement from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor by one of my all time favorite guitarists, the amazing Paul Gilbert!

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Charvel San Dimas, Style 1 HH Snow White

If you can’t tell by the dirt on the neck, this guitar is my weapon of choice.  The playability of an Ibanez and the look of a Fender Stratocaster, for me, this guitar is the perfect combination of old and new.  As much as I love the sound and feel of my Ibanez guitars, their styling is a bit too aggressive to be applicable to all gigs.  Whipping out a pointy, neon yellow axe at a session or live gig can scare the audience or client, and turn everybody off – even if it does sound good.  At the same time, you don’t want to show up with a knife to gun fight, and bringing a vintage Strat to a modern sounding gig can be just as bad.  Hence the best of both worlds – the Charvel San Dimas, the original “super-Strat.”

Charvel was started in the 1970s by Wayne Charvel, a former Fender employee.  Emerging out of “Charvel’s Guitar Repair,” Charvel eventually started making complete guitars.  By the late 1970s, the company became most well-known for its invention of the “super-Strat,” modernizing the traditional Stratocaster configuration with humbucking pick ups and tremolo bars.  These “super-Strats” were perfect guitars for the popular heavy rock and metal of the period and earned Charvel an association with Eddie Van Halen, Shawn Lane, Richie Sambora and many other top players of the era.  Fast forward, in 2002 Charvel was bought by Fender Corp.  Today, Charvel operates as a major manufacturer and full custom shop, producing lower-priced Japanese made guitars, more expensive American made axes, and taking individual custom orders.

This guitar is a Snow White San Dimas model, part of the “Pro-Mod” series, made in Japan – but don’t let that turn you off.  The Japanese Charvel luthiers are expert craftsman who easily rival any domestic makers, and although it does shave off some $ signs, these guitars don’t carry the stigma of, let’s say, Mexican made Fenders.  At $900, this guitar is all business, using the highest quality materials and parts to make a no-nonsense, professional axe at a reasonable price.  First, unlike any other comparable guitar in its price range, the San Dimas has a real Floyd Rose Tremolo system, not a “Floyd Rose Authorized” knock-off.  Along these same lines, it comes stock with a Seymour Duncan ’59 PU at neck position and JB PU at bridge, not Seymour Duncan “authorized” PUs.  It also comes with Grover tuners, chrome hardware and Dunlop Straplok strap buttons – amazing features that almost always need to be added post purchase.

But the real bread and butter of Charvel is their compound radius necks.  Neck radius is the amount of curvature on the fretboard – low radius being more curved, and high radius being flatter.  Fenders typically have a low radius, while Ibanez use a higher one.  Although just a preference, low radius necks are said to be better for bends and chords, while a high radius is optimal for legato and tapping.  Of course few of us are tapping and using legato at the 1st fret – that’s why Charvel invented the compound radius neck.  Charvel necks have a low radius at the lower frets, and slowly increase radius(get flatter) towards the higher frets – 12″ to 16″ radius to be exact.  This gives the feel of a Strat at lower frets, and the feel of an Ibanez up high – perfect for rhythm and lead.  Aside from that, Charvel necks are unfinished, giving them a very smooth texture that wears in nicely.  Also, the neck shape is licensed by Fender, so it is literally the exact same headstock you would find on a Strat – cool!

Ultimately, you can’t beat this guitar in its price range – or maybe even at all!  With the highest quality parts, fantastic compound neck, and classic look, it’s the best of all worlds.  You may note the lack of a tone knob – there is only a volume knob and 3 way selector switch – but I have never desired one while playing this guitar.  Any EQ alterations I have needed could be done on an amp, and believe me, you won’t want to change this killer tone much.  For Rock, Blues, Metal, Pop and even Jazz, I’d say this guitar can’t be beat.  Also, it comes with a TSA approved hard case, perfect for air-travel – no more stressing about your axe during the flight!  Need I say anything more . . .

For more on Charvel, check out the Charvel website.

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Taylor Guitars Factory Tour – El Cajon, CA

Although many of us view guitars as works of art, few of us know anything about the creation process.  Great playability, sonic characteristics, aesthetic beauty, and price are just some of the factors that guitar luthiers have to consider when creating their masterpieces.  From raw wood to completion, the nuances and attention to detail that go into the final product are mind-boggling.  I’m just glad I’m on the playing end of this arrangement!

Taylor Guitars is an American guitar company based in El Cajon, CA.  Started in 1976 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, the company has become one of the most successful acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world, rivaling Martin and Gibson.  Today, Taylor production ranges from mid-level acoustics to professional quality six strings, and has even expanded to electric solid, hollow, and semi-hollow body guitars.  Some of their endorsers include Leo Kottke, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Peter Sprague, and Taylor guitars have become the gold standard in modern country, folk, and bluegrass music.

One of the coolest things about Taylor Guitars is their free, daily tours of their factory.  Located in El Cajon, an inner region of San Diego County, these tours cover the entire process of the acoustic sector of production.  You start by viewing their extensive lumber collection, consisting of exotic woods like Hawaiian koa, Indian rosewood, big leaf maple and tropical mahogany.  Then, you view the shaping process, a mixture of machine and man effort to craft necks and bodies from slabs of wood.  There is a specific neck area, where fretting and sanding occur, and a specific room for inlay work on headstocks, necks and sound holes.  You also get to see the wood bending process that creates the sides of body, and the binding station, where the body parts are attached.  And of course, you get to the see the finish room, where different wood stains and varnishes are applied, followed by a final set up station.  Ultimately, you get to see the entire process of creating an acoustic Taylor guitar.  Plus, the tour ends right where it started – in the TaylorWare store and showroom, stocked with the entire array of Taylor products, ready for immediate noodling.

Probably the most different, progressive, and desirable aspect of Taylor guitars is their patented bolt-on neck technology.  To put it simply, most acoustic guitar manufacturers use a strong glue adhesive to attach necks to guitar bodies.  Over time, due to string tension, climate, and sound vibrations, the angle at which this neck was glued becomes warped, altering the intonation and action.  Because the neck is strongly glued, the only way to fix this problem is to take it to a professional and get a “neck reset,” a very expensive repair.  Aside from this inconvenience, glued necks run a high risk of snapping, and give the player little freedom in altering the playability of their guitar.  Taylor solved these issues with their bolt-on neck technology.  Instead of gluing their necks, they use a specialized neck joint and bolt system to attach necks and bodies.  This system uses special spacers to establish the perfect neck angle.  Over time, when the neck angle becomes warped, the repair procedure is greatly simplified – you just need to unscrew the neck bolt and insert bigger spacers.  Furthermore, if the player ever wants to change the neck angle or replace the neck altogether, it’s as simple as unscrewing the bolts and making the change.  A very practical and innovative solution to an age-old problem. 

Lastly, although hugely successful, Taylor is still run like a small business.  Bob Taylor is almost always present at the factory, and the faculty are very friendly and knowledgeable.  Taylor is also greatly concerned with sustainability and environmental protection.  In a business that often misuses lumber and disregards the scarcity of resources, Taylor has stepped up with the creation of non-profit organizations supporting responsible foresting, and have pledged to use responsible business and manufacturing practices.   Right on!

So if you’re in San Diego be sure to check out the Taylor Guitar Factory @ 1980 Gillespie Way  El Cajon, CA.  For more info on tours, check the the Taylor Factory Tour website and for more on Taylor Guitars, their products, and sustainability, check out the Taylor Guitar Website.

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The Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store, Los Angeles

Alas, another new section for ROW – “Shops.”  Boutique guitar shops are some of the most unique and interesting stores.  Often owned by passionate enthusiasts, each shop has its own niche specialty, and the few authentic guitar shops that remain are quickly becoming historic icons in their given communities.  From vintage rarities to custom builds to quirky items, boutique shops offer refuge for the true guitar aficionado, fed up with the mass cookie-cutter production of chains like Guitar Center and Sam Ash.  So, in the “shops” section, I’ll highlight some of my favorite authentic guitar shops from around the nation.

First up is one of the finest modern guitar shops, geared towards helping the contemporary professional – Mesa Boogie Hollywood.  As many of you know, Mesa Boogie is an American amplification company.  Started by repair man Randall Smith, the company has its roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, with original clientele including Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and Keith Richards.  What initially started as “hot-rodding” Fender amps turned into the development of an entirely new amp company, MESA/Boogie.  Today, Mesa Boogie is one the premier amp manufacturers, and has a wide range of products, from classic rock tubes to modern heavy metal rectifiers.  One thing that’s unique about Mesa Boogie is their authenticity.  Although equally popular as some of the name brand amp companies, (Marshall, Vox, Fender) Mesa Boogie operates like a boutique manufacturer, not supplying mass-produced gear to Guitar Center or Sam Ash.  That is one of the very reasons for the Mesa Boogie Shop Hollywood.  Directly across the street from a booming Guitar Center, this store is an understated showroom for a refined company, stocking only the finest gear for the true aficionado.

Primarily, the Mesa Boogie Store is an outlet for Mesa Boogie amps.  They keep a great selection of new and used MB amps that exemplify their entire range of product.  Mesa Boogie is a custom shop – they take custom orders, and build custom amps one at a time – so this store is sort of showroom to give you all of the potential options in person.  Aside from testing out all of the amps, they are also swatches from all of the custom finish options and great examples of all the possible customizations you could order.

But aside from being a custom shop, the Mesa Boogie Hollywood store is just one of the best guitar shops in the world.  Their pedal selection is immense. This photo features one of about 7 cases filled with boutique pedals from Xotic to Suhr to Maxon and beyond.  As for guitars, they have a huge selection of amazing axes from some of the finest boutique builders.  Nash, Suhr, Collings, Mike Lull, and Sadowksy are just a few of the great brands they always have in stock.  They also have a massive selection of accessories, featuring tubes, pick ups, picks, and a custom-length cable station.  And did I mention they also have dozens of Mesa Boogie Amps?  Basically, this store is a dream come true for any modern guitar player looking for cutting edge gear.  You can walk in, grab a great axe, a fine pedal, and plug into a world-class amp – it’s a must visit.

So if you’re in Los Angeles, make sure to check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store @ 7426 W Sunset Blvd.  Also, for inventory and a list of suppliers, check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood website – you’ll be impressed!

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Gibson Custom ES-359, Vintage Sunburst

Like a lot of guitarists, and musicians in general, I went through a period when I was fascinated by Jazz music.  Not that I don’t love and appreciate Jazz now, but during this phase I ate, drank and slept Jazz 24/7.  My Jazz guitar heroes were Pat Martino, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, John Scofield and Jonathan Kreisberg, to name a few, and like my idols, I needed an appropriate Jazz axe.  Eventually, I acquired the gold standard of Jazz guitars, a secondhand Gibson ES-175.  This was a beautiful, full hollow-body guitar, with black P-90s and a AAA Flame Maple top.  However, it soon grew wearisome.  It was huge, and carrying it to gigs and rehearsals was a major pain.  Also, because of the size of the body, it would feed back at even moderately high volumes, and had such a dark tone that it was hardly applicable outside of the Jazz idiom.  That ES-175 served me well on many Jazz gigs, but after a while I decided I needed a guitar that was more convenient, smaller, and could play Jazz, Rock or any other style equally well.  That’s when I came across the ES-359.

After selling my ES-175 on eBay, I had a sizable sum to put towards my next purchase, but still nothing compared to what would be necessary to buy a brand new Gibson Custom Shop guitar.  One thing I had learned was that if I was going to spend a large sum on a guitar, it had to be perfect – no exceptions.  For me, that meant it played well and looked amazing – no P-90s or AAA Flame Maple top (cool, not my favorite finish).  Luckily, I had located a Gibson ES-359 at Guitar Center on Pico Blvd., but it was out of my price range and had a AAA Flame Maple top.  Now (and especially at the time) ES-359s are both a very recent and somewhat of a novelty model, making them extremely hard to find second-hand.  Nonetheless, after quite an effort, an employee at the Guitar Center Platinum Room in Hollywood located a used Vintage Sunburst ES-359 in the computer system.  It had been returned by a dissatisfied customer somewhere in Kentucky, but he assured me that 95% of returns were not due to malfunctions, but incompatible buyers.  So we made the transaction, I got my discounted price, and about a week later the guitar arrived – flawless.

As Gibson says, “there is no truer sign of the Gibson Custom Shop’s dedication to improvement and innovation.”  The ES-359 is most closely related to the ES-339, but both are offshoots of the more popular ES-335 model, the main difference being that the “9”s have a much smaller body.  Although it still retains the tonal qualities of a larger semi-hollow-body guitar, the Es-359 comes in a much more compact package.  In contrast to the ES-339, the ES-359 is its better looking brother.  With gold hardware, Grover tuners, mother-of-pearl block inlays, and a unique neck profile most similar to the BB King signature “Lucille” model, this guitars looks and feels spectacular.  The cream binding and tortoise-shell pick guard also give it a classic charm.  One of the most unusual things about this guitar is the audio taper pots designed to persevere high-end as volume decreases, giving it “a consistently sweeter, brighter, punchier tone than other guitars of its ilk as it gets quieter.”  With two ’57 Classic Humbuckers and a three-way selector switch, this guitar can soulfully accomplish any style, from Jazz to Blues to Rock N Roll to Country.  And let’s not forget it is absolutely gorgeous.

So if you’re in the market for a semi-hollow-body guitar but want something unique, if you want a guitar for your Jazz and Rock gigs, or if you just want one of the greatest guitars made by one of the greatest guitar manufacturers, look no further than the Gibson ES-359.

For more on the ES-359 check out the Gibson Website.

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The E.W.S. Arion SCH-Z Chorus/Vibe Mod, The Ultimate Chorus Pedal

The original Arion SCH-1 Chorus pedal is a legendary guitar accessory.  Coming to prominence during the 1980s, the SCH-1 became a staple on many professional pedal boards.  Known for its deep, lush chorus sounds and tonal versatility, the Arion SCH-1 secured its spot in stomp box history.  However, the SCH-1 has long since been discontinued by the Japanese based company, Arion, which today produces its modern brethren – the SCH-Z.  Many tone freaks argue the superiority of the SCH-1 to the SCH-Z, citing circuitry, country of origin (the SCH-Z is made in Sri Lanka), and most importantly, sound quality, but most professionals will tell you that there is very little difference, if any at all.  Save price of course – while a new SCH-Z is $50, the SCH-1 can easily fetch upwards of $100 on eBay.  This discrepancy is most likely due to rarity, as vintage pedals are very collectible.

Still, with all its perfection, many players sought improvement to the Arion Chorus pedal.  That’s where another Japanese based company, Engineering Work Store, comes in.  Partnering with rising pedal stars, Xotic effects, E.W.S. has created their own Arion SCH-Z modification.  Starting with an original Arion SCH-Z pedal, E.W.S. makes a series of modifications to improve durability and sound quality.  They make the pedal True Bypass, add a brighter LED light, improve the tone adjustment knob, create a more durable foot switch, and most significantly, change the “Direct/Stereo” control switch to “Chorus/Vibe.”  As opposed to having the option of producing a stereo signal, E.W.S. has created two different chorus options within a single pedal.  “Chorus” mode is a more traditional, subtle chorus sound, akin to a Boss CE-5 or TC Electronic SCF.  The “Vibe” channel is a deeper, more intense chorus, emulating the sonic phenomenon of a Leslie rotary speaker.  Although you lose the option of having a stereo signal, you gain an exponential amount of tonal range and diversity.  Plus, how many of us are really using a true stereo set up on stage anyway?

Overall, this is a flawless chorus pedal.  From George Harrison-esque Leslie sounds, to Eric Johnson chorus sparkle, to Stevie Ray Vaughn styled blues chorus, to just plain far out, this pedal does it all – and well!  A great blend of classic tone and modern technology, the E.W.S. Arion Chorus/Vibe Mod is a great purchase for anyone looking for a unique addition to their pedal board.  At $195, this is a professional-grade pedal that will exceed your chorus expectations and last a lifetime – just ask some of the pedal’s biggest proponents, Joe Bonamassa, Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, and Allen Hinds!

Check out the E.W.S. website for more information on this pedal

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“American Guitar” with Doug Morier @ Westwood Music Center, Los Angeles

Once again, I am introducing a new section to Riffs Of Wisdom, two in fact -“Happenings” and “Players.”  One of the most significant and educational ways to progress on your journey towards musical nirvana is to learn from other players.  Whether it’s through books, videos, or a good old-fashioned face to face meeting, other musicians, more or less experienced, can teach you valuable lessons.  It’s often said that one hour of practice with another musician is worth ten alone, and you never know what kind of helpful knowledge someone might have – don’t judge a book by its cover right?  Plus, isn’t that what all this practicing is about, actually playing music?  So without further adieu, I present our first “happening” and “player” . . .

Doug Morier is a Los Angeles based guitar player who specializes in Bluegrass and Old-time American Music.  A fellow New England immigrant, I first met Doug a few years ago when I joined the UCLA Old Time String Ensemble.  Ever since, I’ve seen Doug act as the unofficial spokesman for Old-time music and all things Americana, this side of the 405.  Doug also performs his own original music, drawing influence from the aforementioned styles, and performs locally with his group, the L.A. Bluegrasshoppers.

As long as I’ve known Doug, he has always been a great teacher, totally open to revealing the secrets of the craft.  At last, Doug has created his own weekly teaching series called “American Guitar,” every Wednesday night at 6PM at the Westwood Music Center.  For those of you that don’t know, Westwood Music is one of the coolest guitar shops in the world, with an amazing staff and inviting environment – but I’ll save that for another post.  “American Guitar” will cover all the bases of Old-time American music.  Flat picking, finger style, accompaniment, basic music theory, traditional songs, and lots of licks, this class will give you everything you need to begin your quest for musical nirvana – American style.  Plus, Doug is a great player, with knowledge far beyond these parameters, who will gladly entertain any special requests, and make great recommendations for outside resources.  So grab your gi-tar and head down to the Westwood Music Center this Wednesday for an Old-time American musical education!

“American Guitar” @ Westwood Music Center, 1627 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles CA – All classes $20 or 2 for $35

For more on Doug Morier, check out Doug’s website, and for more info on the Westwood Music Center, and their classes, check out the Westwood Music Center website.

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The Ibanez RG 350 DX – To shred, or not to shred?

Like many guitar players, when I began, I was all about the classics – Fender and Gibson.  Nothing appealed less to me than a Parker, BC Rich, or even Ibanez.  These companies were associated with a mentality I didn’t like – I didn’t want to sacrifice soul or character for playability or a Floyd Rose.  But as I progressed as a player, and became more interested in “shredding,” it seemed as though my old friends just couldn’t handle the heat.  Single coil PUs with hum, low radius necks, heavy strings – not a recipe to sound like Eddie Van Halen.  Plus, I was ignoring one major factor – I thought that “soul” came from the guitar, when it really comes from the player.  Since then, I have witnessed many character-less solos on classic guitars, and some extremely emotional, original ones on the newer breeds.

Eventually, my interest in the other side prompted me to make a purchase.  I went on eBay and bought a factory second, White Ibanez 350DX for about $350.  It was the first guitar I ever purchased with a locking nut, “Floyd Rose”-esque system.  At first it was weird – the neck was so thin and flat, there were 24 frets, there was a usable whammy bar – but soon it became one of my favorite axes.  I loved the way it felt, but the stock PUs were terrible, so I replaced them.  Knowing I would hardly use the middle single coil PU, I just put a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 at neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB at bridge.  With this change, this guitar became my weapon of choice.

Now, a good guitarist can play on any guitar – but playing with this axe was like using training wheels.  So many techniques – legato, tapping, string skipping – that were previously impossible on my Strat or Tele were suddenly pretty easy – and sounding good!  Using high output humbuckers, I could finally achieve a distorted tone with cleanliness and clarity.  This guitar also became my number one studio axe.  It’s totally silent when not being played, and can create a wide array of sounds, from sparkling cleans to death metal overdrive.  And the best part – after playing on this guitar for a while, I could suddenly do all these complicated techniques on my classic guitars.  It was as if practicing these techniques on a guitar built for them allowed me to better understand their mechanics, and how to implement them on any guitar.  Basically, I am so thankful that I purchased this guitar.  It has taught me so much about my own playing, and how to coax classic charm out of even the most modern beast.

In conclusion, I advise every guitar player to spend a little time with an axe like this.  They are generally foreign made, very inexpensive, and easy to find second hand.  I equate them to “rice rocket” racing cars – they are the perfect blank slate, ready to be modified into the ultimate Rock machine.  You can learn a lot from having 24 frets and a high neck radius, and may be surprised how much “tone” you can actually get from one of these “shredders.”  If you’re into modern guitar playing, yielding a weapon like this is a must.

For more on Ibanez, check out the Ibanez website.

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Dunlop Jimi Hendrix ™ Fuzz Face®

The Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face has one of the most instantly recognizable tones in Rock history.  Popularized by Jimi Hendrix, this pedal has been used by David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and more recently, Eric Johnson.  Producing a thick, distorted, “fuzzy” tone, this pedal adds grit to any signal, creating something akin to the sound of a blown speaker.  This pedal is also equally popular amongst bass players, from Jaco Pastorius to modern Rock players.

Although originally produced by Arbiter Electronics, Dunlop Manufacturing assumed production in 1993.  Today, Dunlop makes four Fuzz Faces – the Fuzz Face, the Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face, the Joe Bonamassa Fuzz Face, and the newly released Eric Johnson Signature Fuzz Face.  Each one of these Fuzz Faces has a different aesthetic, and slightly altered circuitry, but strives for that classic Fuzz Face tone.  The Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face is a “meticulously faithful reproduction of Jimi’s 1969-1970 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face.”  The silicon transistors and hand-wired circuitry match Jimi’s pedal, and the turquoise casing and knobs match the original Fuzz Face Aesthetic.

Overall, at roughly $140, this pedal is a solid purchase for anyone striving for that Fuzz Face sound.  With only two knobs, Volume and Fuzz, it’s easy to use, and offers a wide array of tones, from mildly distorted to extreme fuzz.  The sound of the Fuzz Face can be a bit harsh if used incorrectly, but once you are familiar with the pedal, it’s easy to dial in the tone.  The biggest downside to this pedal is that it’s powered by 9V battery, with no AC adapter.  However, this can be solved by purchasing a special 9V power adapter for about $5 at your local guitar shop, making the pedal power source friendly.  Another downside is the size and arrangement of the input/output jacks.  Although the looks is very cool and authentic, it takes up valuable real estate on the pedal board and isn’t designed to work well with patch cables in a signal chain (I have a roughly 5″ cable I use from its output).  Nonetheless, these issues aren’t major, and are well worth the effort to get killer fuzz tones a la Hendrix, Cream and EJ.

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