2019 Review: Guitars For Home Playing

Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m going to do a rundown of what guitars I’ve had my hands on, and what I’ve learned from the experience.

This post covers guitars I play at home for fun. I’ll cover the guitars that I gig with on Thursday.

tl;dr

Fender’s Mexican factory has made some great guitars this year. Not just great guitars for the money; really good guitars that are more than good enough for home players. But if I was gigging with Fenders, I’d still choose their USA-factory guitars.

I prefer PRS Core / Artist Pack / Wood Library guitars over PRS Private Stock guitars. There’s a refinement, a polish to the tone of Private Stock guitars that doesn’t suit me. It’s a sound that I think would be perfect (and maybe even essential) for a highly technical player. For a hack like me, the raunchiness and rawness of the Core / Artist Pack / Wood Library guitars works much better.

Oh, and PRS necks are still too sticky for me.

If I ever get a Gibson Made-To-Measure Les Paul, I may have found my ideal neck carve. It’s really not what I expected either.

And I owe Vintage guitars (the brand!) an apology, because their Lemon Drop Les Paul knock-off turned out to be a far better instrument than I said it was.

Want A Strat Or Tele? Consider A Mexican One

This year, I picked up a Fender Player Stratocaster and a Fender Vintera 60’s Modified Telecaster. Since I got them, I’ve played them more than any other Fender guitars that I have.

I love the neck on the Fender Player Strat. It’s the perfect neck carve for me. The stock pickups aren’t bad; the trick is to roll the volume down to about 8. Replace them (and the pots!) with after-market pickups, and it sounds just as good as a USA-factory Strat does, for quite a bit less money.

Fender’s new Vintera 60’s Modified Telecaster brings the mojo in spades. It’s the third Telecaster that I’ve had, and the first one that I’ve bonded with. I wish that the truss rod could be adjusted without taking the neck off, and I wish the intonation was a little better, but hey – that’s how it was for those old Telecasters, right?

Gigging? The American Performer Strat Is What I Would Use

I picked up one of the new American Performer Stratocasters back in January. I wanted to get something to celebrate running my own business for four years, and one of the new Strats comes in a satin blue that’s very close to the colours I use in my business’ branding.

I didn’t just get it because of the colour, though. I bought it because it sounds like a Strat should.

It might just be the only USA factory Strat that does sound like a Strat right now. The (now discontinued) Elite sounds great, but those noiseless pickups inevitably sound a little different. The less said about the American Professional series, the better IMHO.

If I was gigging with a Strat or a Tele, I’d choose the Performer series for the job.

They’re gig-ready straight out of the box. They don’t need any mods of any kind at all. If anything terrible happened to one at a gig, you could go out and get a replacement off the shelf and be ready to gig the following night. It’s something to consider if you’re gigging on a regular basis.

The neck on my Performer Strat seems a little more stable than either of my Mexican guitars. I haven’t had to adjust the Performer’s neck once, while both Mexican guitars have needed multiple adjustments.

I’ll go into detail about this in a separate blog post in January.

PRS Private Stock …. Mmm

I’m not going to pretend that PRS Private Stock guitars are “home tone” type of guitars. They’re pretty much at the opposite end of the price spectrum as you can get. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to play great, heirloom-quality instruments if you have the means to do so. I’ve no time for the “you’re not worthy” bullshit that is sometimes thrown at people who’d love to own a guitar like these.

Back in 2017, when I was shopping for my PRS McCarty 594, I got to play a PRS Private Stock version of the guitar. It was a fantastic guitar, and yet I didn’t bond with it, and I didn’t bring it home. This year, I got to understand why.

My local shop AStrings.co.uk put on a PRS evening, and Jez from PRS was kind enough to bring over something like a dozen Private Stock guitars for us all to see. Not just see; Jez encouraged all of us to pick them up and play them. These are guitars costing up to £12,000 each. PRS deserve a lot of credit for letting ordinary people play that level of instrument.

I got to play pretty much all of them. It was very educational.

Having played quite a few now, I can tell you that the difference between Private Stock and everything else PRS makes isn’t just the wood choices or artistry that goes into them. They also sound different to any other guitars that PRS make.

They are precision instruments, with a surgical nature that reveals every nuance of your playing. Perfect for technically-accomplished musicians who need a guitar to truly express themselves. I don’t fit that description at all.

I need the raunchiness, the rawness, that’s still part of the PRS Core, Artist Pack and Wood Library ranges. That suits my level of playing far better than PRS Private Stock does.

And, at the end of the day, the right guitar for me is one that I’ll actually play.

PRS Necks Are Still Too Sticky For Me

I was hoping to get another PRS guitar this year. It didn’t happen, for a couple of reasons: lack of availability, and sticky necks.

My first choice was a 2019 Paul’s Guitar. I’m interested in this for the flexibility that it appears to offer. It could be one of those guitars that just inspires the player every time you pick one up. Unfortunately, 2019 has been and gone without any of them making it to the UK.

The same issue happened with the Silver Sky. My wife Kristi thinks the Silver Sky sounds fantastic. She’s one of those people with off-the-charts hearing, so if she says something sounds great, I’ve learned to trust that completely. I was interested in the Orion Green model, but once again, they just didn’t reach the local shops this year.

Which leads me to the main thing I want to talk about.

I almost bought a single-cut version of the McCarty 594: found one I really liked, and agreed a good price for it (thanks Jez!). Unfortunately, it was the wrong guitar for me, so I had to (very reluctantly!) pull out of the purchase.

The problem? My hand kept sticking to the gloss on the back of the neck.

Now, this isn’t a new problem for me when it comes to PRS guitars. Back in 2015, I passed on a PRS and bought Ghost (my Les Paul Custom) instead because I found the neck too sticky. It’s been a problem for me with most PRS guitars I’ve tried ever since.

These are my experiences. I want to be clear on this. Most people I know don’t have any trouble at all with the gloss on PRS necks. It’s just that whatever formula they’re using for the gloss on their necks seems to react with my natural skin oils. Probably won’t happen for you.

And it’s not every PRS guitar with a glossy neck either. I’ve got a PRS Custom 24 with a gloss neck, and I’ve never found its neck to be sticky. The finish on that neck is (in my experience) unusually hard, and feels more like glass than goop.

My mate Andrew once told me that it’s the neck that sells a guitar, and I think he’s right.

Have I Found My Perfect Les Paul Neck Carve?

Back in March, I rescued an unusual Les Paul from gathering dust on the wall of a guitar shop that I won’t name, but certainly won’t be recommending to anyone either.

Have you heard of the Les Paul Custom Special 2017? You probably haven’t. Even the Trogly’s Guitar Show has never documented one. I certainly hadn’t. I’ll leave a full discussion of this guitar for its own blog post. It deserves its own post, because this guitar’s got quite a few things that I don’t have from any other guitar.

Including the neck.

Everyone – and I do mean everyone – who has held this guitar has fallen in love with its neck. Which is ridiculous really, because it’s got the biggest baseball bat of a neck that I’ve ever come across. It makes a 58RI’s neck seem positively thin.

Until I came across this guitar, my preferred Les Paul neck carve was the one on my Les Paul Custom. It’s not fat – it doesn’t even feel as big as a 59 neck carve – but it’s just really comfortable in the hand for me. While I still love the v2 neck carve on a 60RI, I can play the Custom’s neck for far longer without any discomfort at all.

Well, forget that. The neck on my Custom Special is my new #1.

If I ever have a Gibson Made-To-Measure Les Paul (there are good reasons why I won’t, but those are for another day), it’s going to have to have the same neck carve as the Custom Special does. I have no idea why the Custom Special’s neck works for me, but it really does.

An Apology To Vintage Guitars

Here in the UK, there’s a brand of budget guitars called Vintage. They make knock offs of expensive guitars – especially Gibsons – for about the price of a couple of brand new guitar pedals.

As part of my #PlayAlternative idea, I tried one in my local guitar store … and I hated it. Hated it so much, in fact, that I told Andrew that I thought it was “trash”.

A month or two later, they put the same guitar up against a Gibson Les Paul 58 Reissue, in a blind test on their podcast (33 mins 23 secs in). I’ve been fortunate enough to have played Adam’s Les Paul that they used … and I still got the blind test wrong.

So I bought the actual Vintage Lemon Drop that they used in the blind test, fitted it out with a great set of aftermarket pickups, and I’ve been using it heavily ever since.

I’m going to be talking a lot more about this guitar in 2020. It’s set the standard that any other #PlayAlternative guitars have to at least match.

Because it isn’t trash.

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