Tag Archives: Stratocaster

The Ibanez RG350M – Such a JEM . . .

I have a fixation with Ibanez guitars.  The company’s retro styling, commitment to playability, constant innovation, and  iconic neon color schemes make them truly original (which is ironic as they faced law suits in their early years for plagiarism of competitor’s models).  As a result, many of their guitars are works of art, and have become collector’s items.  One of the guitars that helped establish Ibanez as a serious company for the serious player was the JEM.  Introduced in 1987, and co-designed by Steve Vai, the JEM was a Super Strat that came in Shocking Pink, Desert Sun Yellow, and Loch Ness Green.  Probably the most iconic features were the “Monkey Grip” handle cut out and the multicolored disappearing pyramid inlay – cool!

Of course, today these guitars are fairly rare and infinitely more expensive than they were in the late 80s.  I mean, we’re not talking 1954 Stratocaster rare, but a vintage JEM in good condition will definitely take some research and cost upwards of $2700.  Not horrible, but you’re still buying a vintage instrument, which means all of the problems that may come with it.  So in my quest for a JEM, I had to face the reality that it was not in my best financial interest to purchase a real vintage JEM (although they will probably appreciate nicely).  Luckily, Ibanez still produces a guitar that bears resemblance to the mighty JEM – the RG350.

 

So, for roughly $430 I got a new Yellow Ibanez RG – the foundation for the 2011 JEM project.  Now there were a few elements I would never have – the Monkey Grip, the disappearing pyramid inlay, and the pink tremolo bar depression cut out.  I mean I could have gotten these things, but at that point and cost, I might as well have shelled out for the real deal.  So first I scoured the online community of JEM fanatics – Jemsite – until I found a parts supplier, Ibanez RulesFrom Ibanez Rules I ordered authentic neon green (with black writing) Volume and Tone knobs, and a Pink selector switch tip – all to match the original.  Next, it was time for the PUs, which were obviously to be Dimarzios, the only company still producing the late 80s aesthetic.  To sound like the best, Paul Gilbert, I got two PAF Pros for Neck and Bridge, and an  FS-1 for Middle position.  To match the original JEM, I got neon pink PU covers, and one creme/black zebra cover for a personal twist.  Lastly, I installed a neon green Dimarzio ClipLock strap – my late 80s JEM reproduction was complete!

Ultimately, this was a fun project!  Of course, it’s no spitting image of the original JEM, but it’s a modern progeny with the same general character and a much smaller price tag.  The Dimarzios sound killer, and at the very least, the guitar is a great conversation piece that fills the void in my arsenal of a late 80s shred machine.  So if you’ve got a thirst for some rare, vintage axe but lack the funds to obtain – make it yourself!

For more on the Ibanez JEM, check out Jemsite.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan

I recently visited the “live music capital of the world” –  Austin, Texas – a city drenched in American culture.  Although its roots date back to the mid 19th century, in the last 50 years Austin has become well-known as a hotbed for musical artists.  From country blues to Texas swing to “South by Southwest,” Austin is a city on the pulse of American music culture.

One of the greatest musical treasures and cultural icons to emerge out of Austin was Stevie Ray Vaughan.  From local guitar hero to international blues ambassador, Vaughan is now a legend.  Achieving great success with his group, Double Trouble, Vaughan pioneered the sound of modern blues guitar, evolving what Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix had previously made contributions to.  But more than just a blues artist, Vaughan crossed over into pop culture.  His debut album Texas Flood went double-platinum, and he was a featured musician on David Bowie’s infamous Let’s Dance.  SRV continued to make groundbreaking records and give inspirational performances until his early death in a tragic helicopter accident following a show with Eric Clapton.  At age 35, SRV made an early departure, leaving behind a legacy that is still shaping the music world today.

Aside from his amazingly innovative and identifiable playing style, SRV is known for his guitar tone.  Although he used other guitars, Vaughan is almost exclusively depicted using Fender Stratocasters, most often a 1962/63 model called “Number One” – his favorite.  He used “heavy” .12 gauge strings which, like many other blues greats, he tuned down a half step, thus allowing greater flexibility when bending strings.  Another crucial element to his distinctive tone was a 40-watt Fender Vibroverb amp, which he often blended with other amps, most notably a 150-watt Dumble.  SRV was also a huge proponent of the infamous Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which became a staple of his dirty sound.  Fascinated by the endless combinations of all elements of guitar tone, Vaughan created many iconic tones that enthusiasts everywhere are still trying to emulate!

So in a nutshell, Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most innovative guitarists and musicians of his era – a true American musical icon.  As you walk the streets of Austin, Texas today, you can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan everywhere – in every club, band, and musician contributing to this musical hub.  The echos of his legacy still ring loudly, and his playing continues to inspire generations.  Next time you’re in Austin, be sure to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial statue to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural icons, SRV.

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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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“Francesca,” the LSL Saticoy

About one year ago I was on the hunt for the perfect Stratocaster.  Wanting something more unique than a brand new, stock Fender, and not wanting to spend a fortune on a real vintage Strat, I was checking out boutique guitar makers like Nash Guitars and Mike Lull Custom Guitars.  Then, during a lesson with guitar great Carl Verheyen, he recommended a local company called LSL Instruments.  He was a big fan of their guitars, and told me to contact Lance, the owner of LSL.

So I called up Lance about getting a guitar, and he recommended I come by the factory.  I live in West LA, so it was about a 20 minute drive to Van Nuys where I pulled up in front of the understated LSL headquarters.  Hanging outside was a group of guys, all clad in work clothes and covered in paint and sawdust, the kind of crew that reminded me of my grandfather and his bronze casting foundry.  Out of the bunch came an older gentleman, Lance, who greeted me and led me on a tour of the factory.

Inside, the place even looked liked my grandfather’s foundry – raw materials, tools, paints, chemicals, interesting smells.  Lance explained that he and the crew make everything (except for some plastic and metal components) in house.  They shape the bodies and necks from raw wood.  They cut the pick guards, and lay the frets. They hand wind their pickups, mix their own custom paint colors and do their own aging.  Basically, this small, in house operation is the closest thing to what I’d imagine a pre-CBS Fender factory to be like.  Pretty cool!

Needless to say, I was completely sold.  This was definitely the company that could deliver that ideal Strat – and I loved that I knew exactly where and who it was coming from.  Lance and the crew gathered up a few various guitars and had me plug into a Bogner amp, testing all of the different combinations of elements.  LSL offers bodies made of Swamp Ash, Alder and Pine – yes, Pine.  They have the option of 50s or 60s wound PUs, Maple or Rosewood Necks, and various neck shapes, widths and radius options.  They also have an essentially unlimited amount of finish colors and designs, done to your liking, complete with Nitro Cellulose Lacquer and topped off with a signature aging process.

That day I was playing a lot of Eric Johnson and Carl Verheyen inspired, intervallic rock type licks – and this is what I ultimately hoped to do with the axe.  Upon hearing this, the crew recommended the following combo: Pine Body, 60s PUs, and Rosewood Neck.  Unable to take orders directly, Lance sent me down the street to California Vintage Guitars where I placed my order.  I opted for a thick, V-shaped neck, minimum aging (LSL requires some amount) and a Surf Green finish – The Strat of my dreams!

Long story, made somewhat shorter, about 8 weeks later my guitar was ready.  I picked it up from CVG and was stunned.  There she was, “Francesca” (LSL gives all their guitars a woman’s name with  a name tag on the neck plate).  The Pine body is so lightweight, the guitar easily weighs under 6 lbs – built for the stage. The NC Lacquer allows the guitar to vibrate with the strings, giving it a very “live” feel.  And the PUs perfectly capture that hand wound vintage sound.  Ultimately, it’s an awesome guitar, and as close as you can come to a vintage Strat without breaking the bank!

LSL has been on a steady rise ever since.  They now have a Carl Verheyen signature model, and an ever expanding list of distributors, where you can purchase already crafted guitars or place a custom order.  LSL models include the Saticoy (Stratocaster), the T-Bone (Telecaster) and the newest addition, the Topanga ( Les Paul Jr. Double Cutaway).  For more info check out the LSL Instruments website.

“Never sell a guitar, that you don’t want to keep.’ – LSL Instruments

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