CoffeeAndKlon #21: Fender Elite Strat And A Klon

This conversation was originally posted on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! It’s a (rare!) sunny day here. I hope it’s nice wherever you are too. For this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon, I want to talk about how I’ve been using my Klon these past few days.

Coffee Has Already Gone

I’m afraid that my coffee this morning has long gone. Yesterday was an 11 hour day at work, and I don’t think my coffee touched the sides on the way down today!

We’re drinking coffee beans sold as “Mexican Lion Boy” from @CortileCoffee here in the beautiful Welsh Valleys. It’s a single-origin coffee, and it’s a very easy drink indeed. It’s one of our favourites, and a great contrast after the Sumatran coffee last week.

Classic Klon Usage

So … back to the Klon. It’s been quite a while since I’ve talked about the Klon itself. And I think that’s mostly because I only use it in one specific way: as a clean boost. I never said that I was imaginative or creative in how I use pedals 🙂

Normally, I use a Klon as a clean boost for guitar solos.

The Klon’s characteristic mid-hump has the effect of lifting a guitar out of the mix. It’s a really easy way to add a bit of mojo when you’re recording something.

The exact same settings on the Klon can be used to make a completely clean Strat sound even better. Which is what I’ve been doing this week.

The Elite Stratocaster Has Noiseless Pickups

On the back of Fender announcing their new Ultra range of guitars to replace the Elites, I dug out my Elite for a bit. It hasn’t had as much use since I got the Player Strat earlier this year. That’s a story for another day though.

One of the reasons I have the Elite are the N4 noiseless pickups. They’re an absolute godsend if you want to record clean guitars in a very sparse mix, and you’re powering everything off a dirty, noisy electricity supply.

They also work surprisingly well into a rig that’s mainly voiced for Les Pauls. Not as important to me today, but it definitely was back when I got my Elite.

Compared to the great-sounding single coils in the American Performer, the N4 pickups in the Elites have:

  • a bit more low-end
  • stronger low mids
  • rolled-off highs

… and my Elite is an early one with a rosewood board, which accentuates the differences more.

I like the extra low-end. It’s a characteristic that I went after when I chose the new pickups for my Fender Player Strat. I like my low-E to go *plonk* and not *plink*.

The stronger low mids – combined with the rolled-off highs – can make the N4s sound different – and can be muddy if you don’t adjust for it. I suspect Fender switched from rosewood to ebony boards part-way through the Elite’s lifetime to help offset this.

I’ve been using my Klon to bring the best out of the N4s in my Elite Strat. The mid-hump of the Klon deals with any mud from those low-mids really nicely. And the treble boost makes the N4s sound a little more alive.

The Klon Makes Everything Sound Better

I’m delighted with the results. Best way I can describe it is that it sounds more like a Strat tone after it’s been mixed. And, of course, it’s dead quiet too. I get more noise from my Les Paul on really bad days.

In the room, just practicing or noodling around for fun, I do prefer the single coils I’ve put in my Player Strat. Thanks to some advice from Andrew @astringsuk, that guitar sounds really good. I can see me choosing Elite + Klon for recording though.

The Elite isn’t the only guitar where I’ve got noiseless pickups. I’ll do a follow-up on the decade-old set of passive EMGs in my old Charvel, and how the Klon helps there too.

And I *might* go and find out what the new pickups in the Ultra are like through a Klon … (that Texas Tea finish is very alluring …)

Anyone else using the Klon in this way with noiseless / stacked single-coil pickups? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on too.

CoffeeAndKlon #20: Giving Up Gear (That You’re Not Using)

This conversation originally appeared on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! This week’s #CoffeeAndKlon is a day late … because Kristi and I went to the UK International Guitar Show yesterday. Today, I want to talk about giving up gear. As in, letting go of gear you’ve outgrown or stopped using.

Today’s Coffee … Is My All-Time Favourite

First: coffee. Lots of coffee today, because at work I’ve got an immovable deadline coming up. A second cup of Sumatran, my favourite coffee. I’m going to pay for this later!

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Sumatran coffee is very dark, very bitter, and very strong. It’s an all-out coffee assault, and definitely an acquired taste. I normally can’t handle 2 cups of it in a single day. But I’ve missed it, and I forgot to photograph my first cup earlier 🙂

I could happily rotate between this and Rwandan coffee all the time. Which reminds me … I can’t remember the last time we had Rwandan. It’s a lot harder to get hold of than it used to be. I haven’t looked into why.

Letting Go Is Hard

So … giving up gear. Yesterday, we drove all the way from Wales over to London to visit the UK International Guitar Show*. And in the boot, I took a couple of guitars to trade.

*subject for another day!

(Just for clarification: I didn’t take the gear to the guitar show to trade. I swung by a major guitar shop on the way home to trade them there.)

I’m terrible about letting go of gear. Well, guitars in particular. Amps and pedals, I’ve moved on. I wouldn’t say ‘happily’, but definitely much more easily than guitars. I don’t feel the same attachment. Guitars though …

Part of it is definitely fear … fear of the guitar not surviving delivery to its next owner. The idea of killing a guitar genuinely fills me with dread. They’re more than tools to me.

That’s why I took these guitars to a major retailer to trade. I’d get a lot more selling them privately, but I struggle with the stress that brings. This way, I know the guitars are going to safely make it to the next person who needs them.

Another part of it is a sense of loss. I (try to) seek out guitars that have their own voice. Trading away one means never hearing that voice ever again. I find that hard.

What Did You Trade?

Yesterday, I traded away my Taylor T5z. It’s stunning to look at, and (imho) the best sounding T5z I ever played or heard. A hybrid electro-acoustic with the neck carve and playability of a Les Paul. Great for anyone who doesn’t like acoustic guitars.

It played an important part of my recent musical life. It was the guitar I bought to start the band. Found it up in Glasgow in 2017, and it was the first acoustic-like guitar is played where I still sounded like me.

We used it to start exploring our sound. It was the guitar we used to choose our gigging amps. A good 50% of the set at our first gig was written on it. And it was up there on stage at that first gig.

Since then, it’s largely been a case queen.

Our gigs have taught us that a traditional acoustic guitar works best when playing in small rooms like pubs and cafes. Spaces where the audience can feel and react to the guitar’s unamplified tone.

It was incredibly important as a catalyst and a bridge. And once we’d crossed that bridge and gone full-acoustic, its journey with us was done.

Driving home last night, I didn’t feel any regret at moving the Taylor T5z on. The only regret I had was that I hadn’t been able to trade away the other guitar I’d taken along too. That inspired me to write about this today.

When Gear Serves A Bigger Purpose

Despite all the gear I talk about on here, the band has been my main musical focus for all of 2019. And the gear I use in the band has all been about serving the band’s needs better. When the Taylor no longer did that, I was alright in letting it go.

Why did the other guitar come back with me? I couldn’t get the trade-in price I needed for the next set of gear for the band. That one, I will need to sell privately. Stress be damned.

Having the band as the main focus of my music has *forced* me to start treating guitars as tools. Even though the band is just a hobby. Even though we’re not trying to become professional musicians.

It’s going to take a quite a bit longer for me to actually get comfortable with that though …

Thanks For Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon, please do let me know. And I’d love to hear what you think about hanging onto gear vs trading it away.

Gear News: The 2020 PRS McCarty 594s

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

A couple of very interesting bits of new gear announced today.

  • PRS are updating the McCarty 594 range to sound bang-on like a vintage burst.
  • And UAD are releasing new Apollo desktop interfaces, including something I’ve always wanted: an Apollo x4.

Tim Pierce has a video up about the McCarty 594 changes:

Chicago Music Exchange has a great comparison too:

And Sweetwater has a good video about the Apollo x4 here:

The 2020 594’s Have A New Sound

I’ve mixed feelings about the updates to the McCarty 594.

As much as I adore the Les Paul, the 594 is simply a better designed instrument. Better intonation, better tuning stability. I would gig a 594 over a Les Paul every single time.

There’s two flavours of the 594: singlecut, and double cut (which is what I have). In my experience, they often sound quite different.

I like the double cut 594 because it doesn’t sound like my Les Paul. Yes, it’s vintage-voiced, with that emphasis on the upper mids. It has its own tone, and it suits me perfectly.

I literally spent a quarter of a century searching for that tone.

The singlecut 594 is different again … the best way I can describe it is to say it’s like a muscle car in guitar form. Big, deep tones. Some distance away from the sound of a Les Paul.

Singlecut 594s with ebony boards can get quite close to the Les Paul. The sharper attack and snappier top-end is just gorgeous. The only reason I don’t own one is that my hand sticks to PRS gloss necks 🙁

I can understand PRS wanting to revoice the singlecut 594 to sound like the holy grail of guitars: the vintage bursts. But I’m glad that I have one of the older doublecuts. And I’m sad that the 594 tone won’t be a thing in future years.

New Arrivals For September 2019

August was another really slow month on the second hand market, and things didn’t pick up for September. Instead, I’ve ended up concentrating on the first guitar of my #PlayAlternative series.

Vintage V100 Lemon Drop Guitar

Vintage are a UK brand, who specialise in making their take on big-brand guitars for the budget end of the market. The V100 Lemon Drop is based on Peter Green and Gary Moore’s famous 59 Les Paul – the one that Kirk Hammett owns and gigs atm.

It’s the exact guitar Adam played in this video:

It’s the first guitar I’ve bought for my #PlayAlternative challenge, and fingers crossed it will become the benchmark to measure all the other alternatives against.

Boss GE-7 Graphic Equaliser Pedal

In person, through my rig, the Vintage Lemon Drop doesn’t quite sound like a Les Paul. It has a bit more of a modern, mid-scooped tone, with deeper lows and brighter highs. Through modern-voiced amps, it’s probably a good voicing for its target audience.

I was curious. How can I make it sound close enough to a Les Paul that no-one will know or care? A pickup swap is the obvious thing to try (see below), but that’s expensive, and possibly beyond the budget of someone who would be looking at the Vintage Lemon Drop in the first place.

But a Boss pedal would be firmly in-budget. Can the venerable GE-7 alter the tone enough? I decided to buy one to find out 🙂

Sigil Pickups Bluesman Snakebite PAF Humbuckers

Once I decided that the Vintage Lemon Drop was a keeper, I really wanted to hear how it would sound with a great set of PAF-like pickups. What happens if you take a set of pickups intended to be an upgrade over Gibson’s Custom Shop pickups, and drop them into (possibly) the most shafordable Les Paul knock-off available in retail stores?

There’s plenty of great UK-based pickup makers out there, including Monty’s Guitars and OX4 Pickups to name two I’ve been delighted with in the past. If I was playing regular gigs with Les Pauls, they’d all have OX4 pickups in them.

For this project, I wanted to go back to Canada’s Sigil Pickups.

David made the Bluesman 57 Ltds that went into Ghost (my 2015 Gibson Les Paul Custom). He was a delight to deal with, and the pickups were simply fantastic. They completely transformed that guitar. I always told him that I’d buy the pickups for my next Les Paul from him … and haven’t bought a humbucker Les Paul since.

He’s greatly expanded the range since 2015, and these Snakebite pickups caught my eye. If you haven’t come across it before, Snakebite is Joe Bonamassa’s #1 vintage Les Paul. It’s a phenomenal-sounding instrument, even amongst original Bursts. A set of pickups that can chase that tone should be perfect for this project.

More details – and actual sound clips of these! – will follow. For now, all I’ll say is that these pickups sound so good, the guy who installed them for me kept the Sigil Pickups business card, because he wants a set for himself.

#CoffeeAndKlon 15: First Impressions Can Be Wrong

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I hope you’re having a great weekend so far. What’s on my mind for this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon? I want to talk about how a first impression doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny.

Today’s Coffee

I’m already most of the way through my coffee. It’s the last of the Jamaican Blue Mountain. If you normally drink darker roasts, esp ones with that delicious burnt after taste, give Blue Mountain a go. It’s a complete contrast, in a good way IMHO.

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We’ve been shopping for coffee during the week. Found a couple of roasts we haven’t tried before. And then, when we were putting the coffee away in the cupboard, we found a bag of beans hidden away at the back that we’d forgotten about 🙂

On The Board Atm

Here’s my practice / test board atm. I’m still using the Tweed 57 and Black 65 as tone shapers. One or the other has been on the board ever since they arrived in August. I’m currently trying them with other drive pedals, and I’m still loving the results.

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It’s not pedals that I want to talk about this week though. There’s a story behind my decision to buy a Vintage guitar, and I think it’s worth sharing.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I’ll Begin …

Yesterday, I bought a new guitar for my #PlayAlternative challenge: a Vintage Lemon Drop. It’s a (very) budget / shafordable Les Paul knock-off. Over here, it’s probably the cheapest singlecut guitar you’ll find in the stores.

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I first played a selection of these guitars what – about two months ago? – when they first came into stock. I really didn’t like them.

Then, just over a week ago, we were listening to the @astringsuk podcast in the car. They did a blind tone challenge, between Adam’s Blues Master Les Paul and one of these Vintage guitars.

And I got it wrong.

In a blind tone comparison, I couldn’t identify the (lush!) Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul from the shafordable Vintage Lemon Drop. That convinced me that my first impression of these guitars was wrong, plain and simple.

It also reminded me of a piece of advice that Brian Wampler had shared up on his YouTube channel.

Brian Wampler put out a video recently where he tried to make a great point: get the gear in your own hands and find out for yourself. Because recordings aren’t the same as your guitar through your rig, played by you.

The interesting thing here is that it was the recording that convinced me to get this guitar – NOT trying one in person.

Isn’t that the exact opposite of what Brian said?

I don’t think Brian’s advice is wrong. It’s just that sometimes there’s a gap between what you can get out of a piece of gear in a shop, and what that gear can actually do. Sometimes, you need a recorded demo to show you the potential.

So that’s the backstory to how I came to buy a Vintage Lemon Drop for my #PlayAlternative challenge. And why it’s going to be a few months before I talk about how I’m getting on with it.

I hope you enjoyed it.

#PlayAlternative: The Search Begins

#PlayAuthentic … Or Else!

By now, you’ve probably heard of Gibson’s notorious #PlayAuthentic PR and legal stunt.

If you haven’t … basically, Gibson published (and then pulled) an official video saying that the only authentic Les Paul is one made by Gibson, and that they were coming after other people who make similar guitars. Very shortly afterwards, there was a lot of publicity about them suing the owners of Dean Guitars, and then their failure to trademark aspects of the flying V body shape in Europe.

It was the beginning of a PR nightmare that’s still continuing to this day, as the new Gibson management continue to lurch from one PR misstep to another.

There’s been some backlash, especially in the form of ridicule. As always, there’s been some folks loudly declaring that they’ll never buy another Gibson, but mostly it’s served to knock the shine off the mid-2019 relaunch of the Les Paul.

Is Only A Gibson Good Enough?

In the midst of all this, Gibson’s been using another PR slogan: “Only A Gibson Is Good Enough”. It started under Henry J, and is still in use today by the new management team. You’ll often see it on their Instagram photos.

When the #PlayAuthentic thing blew up, it got me thinking about this slogan. Do Gibson really make the best Les Paul-type guitars? Or are there perfectly good alternatives out there if (for whatever reason) you don’t want a Gibson. Are there better Les Paul-type guitars out there?

I know the answer is yes because I own a couple of them. But are there more?

Self-Confessed Les Paul Fan

Let’s not pretend otherwise: I absolutely love my Gibson Les Pauls. They’re not my desert island guitar, but I’m more likely to be playing a Les Paul of some kind than anything else on most days.

I’ve never agreed with all the Internet claims that Gibson has only (or mostly) been making poor quality guitars for years now. There have been increasing design mis-steps since 2015, coupled with pricing themselves out of the market and the self-destruction of their dealer pool … but that’s different to saying that they have been doing a bad job of constructing and finishing guitars.

I’ve lost count of the number of Les Pauls I’ve played since 2012. Many of them haven’t been for me, but every single one of them was well made and perfectly usable as an instrument.

And whenever I’m in a guitar shop that stocks Les Pauls, I’m always trying what’s hanging on their wall, to see if they’ve got anything I want to add to my collection.

So why am I publicly looking for alternatives?

So Why Look At Alternatives?

For now, Gibson seems to have wound its neck in a bit, and calmed down on the whole #PlayAuthentic front. If that changes, and they become lawsuit-happy, I’ll want to vote with my wallet and take my money elsewhere.

But even if things stay as they are now, there’s another good reason to start looking into what else is out there …

I love trying out gear that’s new to me. It’s my way of learning more about what’s possible … and more about the gear that I’ve already got and already love.

But today, if you asked me what I would recommend instead of Gibson Les Paul, I wouldn’t be confident enough to recommend anything right now.

So here’s what I’m going to do.

The #PlayAlternative Plan

When I’m out at guitar shops, I’m going to start looking at what Gibson / Epiphone alternatives are out there. If I find something that I think will be a good choice, I’m going to buy it so that I can spend enough time with it alongside my Les Pauls to form a solid opinion.

That way, I can put these guitars through the rig I know best, and really get to know them.

I’ll write blog posts on them as I go – just like I do with all the pedals I buy – looking at why I bought them, how I get on with them with various rigs, and ultimately if I feel they’re worth an entry on the #PlayAlternative list.

There’s going to be alternatives out there that I personally wouldn’t buy – just like I’ve passed on the vast majority of Les Pauls I’ve tried over the years. That’s down to personal preference. You can go to other blogs – and almost any forum – if you want to read trash-talk about brands or guitars. I’m going to try and find a way to discuss these guitars that’s also fair to the people making them, and to the people selling them.

And there’s going to be plenty of guitars out there that I wouldn’t buy because I don’t think they’re close enough to be considered a viable Les Paul alternative. I might maintain a list of these (if I’ve tried them in person), just for reference, mostly noting what they’re missing compared to a Gibson Les Paul.

What Makes A Les Paul, Other Than The Name?

So what am I looking for? What are the features on a Les Paul that make it a Les Paul?

Vintage-voiced dual humbucker or equivalent: A Les Paul typically has two humbuckers, two P90s, or a single P90 in the bridge. Gibson has used a range of humbucker flavours over the years, but the quintessential humbucker for a Les Paul is one that’s attempting to recreate the magic of the old PAF pickups.

Independent volume and tone controls: on a Les Paul, each pickup normally has its own volume control and tone control. This control layout is an essential part of the Les Paul experience. Most of the great Les Paul tones come from working these controls in tandem with the 3-way pickup selector.

24.75 Inch scale length: an important part of playing a Les Paul is the feel, and that comes (in part) from using a shorter scale length than Fender does on Strats and Teles. It doesn’t have to be exactly 24.75 inches, but it does need to be in the ball-park.

Tune-o-matic bridge: the shorter scale length moves the bridge closer to the centre of your body, making it easier to play closer to the bridge, and to use your right hand at the bridge to control string noise and string muting. The Tune-o-matic style bridge is a big part of making that easy and comfortable to do.

Low action: Les Pauls feel great to play because they come with a much lower action than your average Fender does. Combined with the shorter scale length, they just feel like they take less effort to play.

What Isn’t Quite As Important?

What about the other things that make up a Gibson Les Paul? Are any of those must-haves for my #PlayAlternative recommendations?

Tone woods: a Les Paul Standard is a mahogany neck, mahogany body, maple cap, and rosewood fingerboard. Are these all essential? After all, it’s a formula that Gibson itself keeps deviating from. Two of the best Les Pauls I’ve ever owned used different woods, as does my Desert Island guitar.

Nitro finish: most manufacturers today use a poly finish of some kind, rather than the nitro finish that Gibson Les Pauls are famous for. Is it an essential part of the Les Paul tone? After all, PRS don’t use nitro finishes, and they make some of the greatest tone machines around today.

What matters, at the end of the day, is the quality of the tone we can get out of any alternative to a Les Paul. Does it sound like a Les Paul when we play it?

Flame maple cap: playing a Les Paul isn’t just about the tone; it’s also about the iconic look. I’m guilty of that: I went out hunting for a Les Paul specifically on looks. For many people, the pretty maple tops are a big part of that look. But, while I’m an absolute sucker for great looking wood, I’m very happy playing Les Pauls that don’t have a very flamey maple cap.

The single-cut body shape: a second part of the iconic look is the body shape. It’s synonymous with rock-n-roll like no other. Many people are going to feel that a guitar isn’t a Les Paul alternative if it isn’t a single-cut shape. I get that.

The headstock: there’s something about the shape of the Les Paul headstock that completes the iconic look of a Les Paul. Many people won’t buy an Epiphone because Gibson won’t let them use the same headstock shape.

But that’s the thing: the only way to get a 100% Les Paul look is to buy a Gibson Les Paul. Any other guitar is going to look different in some way or another.

Made in America: one of the big appeals of a Gibson Les Paul is that it’s made in the USA. America doesn’t have a monopoly on making great instruments, and it’s unlikely we’ll find many viable alternatives that are American-made. If you want to #PlayAlternative, you have to be open to playing something made somewhere else.

My Final Criteria

Away from the guitar itself, what other criteria am I going to use to help me in my search for a #PlayAlternative list of guitars?

Try-before-you-buy: I wouldn’t buy a Gibson Les Paul without trying it first. For me, the magic of a Les Paul is about finding the ones with their own distinct voice. Practically, that means that any Les Paul alternative has got to be hanging on the wall in a music shop that’s within travelling distance for me … which is basically any music shop here in the UK.

That does rule out Thomann’s in-house brand Harley Benton, along with several other brands that are only available through Thomann. If you’re comfortable buying a guitar without hearing it first, there’s plenty of YouTube videos from Thomann themselves, the Guitar Geek and Henning Pauly on the alternatives you can get from Thomann.

If we manage to stop Brexit, maybe I should celebrate by going shopping at Thomann’s store? 🙂

Current production model: I’m not comfortable recommending a guitar if you can’t get it yourself. I think it’s easier to satisfy that if I only look at guitars that are brand new and still being made.

Does that disqualify boutique guitars, which are typically one-off instruments or made in small batches? I’m going to say ‘no’, because boutique guitar makers are often at the forefront of making the very best tone monsters today.

It does disqualify second hand instruments. As a general rule, a recent factory-made guitar is normally better made than one from (say) five years ago, especially if the factory is in Asia. Year on year, they’re getting more experienced in how to build instruments, and getting better at how to consistently build them.

By all means, if you like something I recommend but want it cheaper, do look at second hand examples.

Price points: this is an area where we can try and improve on Gibson’s current range. One of the things I love about Fender is how they make perfectly fine instruments at a range of prices – especially more affordable prices.

So let’s see if I can find anything to recommend at similar prices to Fender’s main lines here in mid-2019:

  • Fender Player – around £550
  • Fender american-made – starts at £1000-£1200
  • Top-of-the-line factory made, non-limited edition – between £1800-£2000
  • Custom-shop money: £3000+

That last one is there to basically cover anything that’s boutique or PRS 😉

Especially at the budget end, I’m expecting to have to mod the guitars (pickup changes, for example). These price targets have to cover all the costs of any mods too – parts and labour.

What’s On Your #PlayAlternative List?

I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to build up my list. It’s definitely going to be a work-in-progress kind of thing.

To help me get started, what do you think should be on the list of guitars for me to go and look at? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

New Arrivals For July 2019

This month has been a month of two very different stories: guitars and pedals.

On the guitar front, I’ve been very fortunate to find a couple of guitars that blew my socks right off. Proper love-at-the-first-note through an amp fairytale stuff. Fairytales don’t always have a happy ending, mind, so do check back in the months ahead to learn whether these do (or don’t)!

Pedals have been much more of a mixed bag. Good deals have been hard to come by this month, with a lot of people chasing a smaller pool of 2nd hand gear. Maybe it’s the summer months, or maybe it’s the renewed uncertainty here in Britain atm? Either way, I hope things pick up.

I’m doing something a bit different this month. Rather than try and squeeze my first impressions into 3 or 4 paragraphs (to keep these ‘New Arrivals’ posts short), I’ve started breaking them out into separate posts that I’m linking to from here. It gives me a bit more space to talk about each piece of gear. Do you like it? Or do you prefer the ‘all-in-one’ format I’ve been using up to now? Let me know in the comments below.

Auden Artist Bowman 45 OM Acoustic Guitar

We did another small gig at the end of May – a 20 minute slot at a new open-mic night up in Malvern. I took the Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster, and ran it straight into the PA. I did not enjoy the sound at all, and on the drive home I made up my mind to see if I’d be happier with a traditional acoustic guitar.

To be honest, I’d already started looking around for an acoustic guitar back in April, just after the first two gigs we did. I think there’s a difference between a recorded guitar tone and live guitar, and I think it matters for the kind of gigs we’re doing. The problem is that I don’t get on with acoustic guitars. They commonly have low, flat frets (which I find difficult to intonate well on), and normally when you plug them in, the magic goes away.

I’ve got a lot more to tell you about the Auden … but I haven’t been able to gig it yet. Once I have, I’ll feel a lot more confident about my opinions.

Fender Vintera 60s Modified Telecaster

This is what happens when I pop round to AStrings to take a look at new arrivals!

Earlier in the year, when I got my Fender American Performer Strat in Lake Placid Blue to celebrate a personal anniversary, I also took a look at the American Original Tele (also in Lake Placid Blue) that they had in stock … and I kinda warmed to it. I thought they’d make a nice pair together, but I took too long to make up my mind about it, and the guitar sold in the meantime.

The new Vintera (‘VINTage ERA’) guitars are Mexican-made homages to what Fender guitars were like in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I don’t want to say they’re a poor-man’s Fender Original, because I think that does them a big disservice.

Are they period-correct in appointments and sound? I’ve no idea, sorry. Do they sound good, and are they enjoyable to play? Very much so. The one I’ve bought had more magic than some USA Teles I’ve played. That’ll do me nicely.

Here’s my first impression of this excellent new Telecaster.

Mad Professor Big Tweedy Drive Pedal

I’ve made no secret of just how much I love the drive pedals that BJFe designed for Mad Professor. They are consistently some of the best sounding – and best stackable – pedals that I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. And I think that I have all of them in my pedal collection here at The Hermit’s Cave.

That partnership came to an end some time ago, and since then, Mad Professor has been launching new pedals that (presumably) are entirely their own design. I’m curious to discover … did the magic leave the building with the BJFe deal, or will these post-BJFe pedals stand up well against their older siblings?

The real problem with answering that question is getting hold of them. Twimble-family pedals have been turning up on the second hand market for a few years now, but the other drive pedals are still extremely rare, making good value deals even harder to find.

Follow this link to read my first impressions of the Big Tweedy.

Mad Professor Little Tweedy Drive

Like the Big Tweedy Drive, Mad Professor’s Little Tweedy Drive doesn’t often turn up to buy second hand. And I’m kinda settling on the sound of small tweed-like amps as part of ‘my’ sound, the more I think about what would go into my desert island rig.

It turned up on the same day as Danelectro’s Pride of Texas, and by popular demand, I compared them both together.

Long and short of it, though, is that the Little Tweedy Drive has a characteristic that almost ruins it for me. Follow that link for the full details.

Wampler Sovereign Distortion Pedal v2

Before I discovered and fell in love with the pedals that BJFe designed for Mad Professor, I used to have a few Wampler pedals. My wife and I both loved the demo tones we found on YouTube. In person, though, I really struggled to get tones I liked out of them, and eventually I gave up on Wampler and moved all the pedals on.

A lot has changed (for me, and my rig) in the years since, and when the right deal comes along, I’m picking up the pedals from back then to try them again. I’ll turn the results into a series of posts called ‘Second Bite’.

IIRC, the Sovereign was the very last Wampler pedal I tried back then. I was looking for a pedal to help me craft a good lead tone. I failed. Will I fail a second time?

Here’s my thoughts on my #SecondBite at this pedal.

Lovepedal JTM Drive Pedal

A lot of the non-BJFe pedals that I love (like the Tchula, and the Speaker Cranker), are all descended from the Electra Distortion circuit. I’ve had such fun with them that I’m always on the lookout for other pedals from the same family tree. It’s a bit like collecting TubeScreamers 😀

If I’ve got this right, the Electra Distortion was a module that could be fitted into an Electra guitar in the late 70s. It seems to be a really simple circuit that pedal makers have found to be very flexible and versatile. Lovepedal in particular are said to have based many of their designs on this circuit over the years.

I’m expecting the JTM to be a bit like the Big Tweedy Drive: more of a foundation pedal than a traditional overdrive pedal. Something to act as a base layer to shape the tone, if you like. Sounds like the perfect pedal for me to feature in #CoffeeAndKlon once it’s here 🙂

Here’s my first impression of the Lovepedal JTM. There’s a lot to like, when it’s boosted by the right pedal.

#CoffeeAndKlon 10: My Desert Island Guitar

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I hope you’re all having a great weekend so far. I’m still buzzing from playing all those PRS Guitars over @astringsuk on Friday night. Or is it just the coffee? #CoffeeAndKlon

Coffee this morning is the very last of the Sumatran that I was drinking last week. I forgot that the machine was almost out of beans. It’s got about half the coffee it should have. I might have second coffee in a bit.

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Last week, I started talking about my Desert Island rig. One thing I didn’t do was establish any rules or constraints on what could be in the rig.

I’ve been thinking that over, and I’m feeling torn about that.

An #AnythingGoesDreamRig, where the only limit is your imagination, has its own appeal for sure. I’d love to learn what kind of gear you’d choose if you could – and why you’d go for that gear in particular.

So that could be a thing.

The rig I’ve been thinking about though is more of a #MySoundMyRig kind of thing … the gear that gives me ‘my’ sound, whatever that is. I don’t know about you, but if I was stuck on a desert island, I’d be happier with that than any other kind of rig.

My rig starts at the guitar. And it’s not a Les Paul. It’s my PRS McCarty 594, in the only colour they should ever be made in.

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I’ve got two stories to share about this guitar, which is affectionately named Deadnote. I’ll save the story behind its name for another time 🙂

When I bought this guitar, I had two 594s to choose between: this, or a Private Stock model. The Private Stock model was an amazing instrument. It rang like a bell, with a clarity that I loved. It very nearly came home with me.

But it was actually this one that I bonded with, right there and then in the shop. This one’s got a bit more bark to it. Stick it in front of some dirt, and it does the growl thing that I love.

I had the same experience Friday night, playing some gorgeous Private Stock guitars. As instruments, they were perfect for highly technical players who could make use of that extra clarity. But the tier below had that bark, that attitude that works better for me.

The second story?

I’ve been collaborating musically with Tess on and off since 92. The moment she heard me playing this guitar, she told me that this gives me the sound I’ve been searching for all that time. When others hear it, you know you’ve found it.

The 594 gives me what I love about the Les Paul – the scale length, the control layout and location, the vintage voicing. It also has tuning stability, intonation, and usable coil split sounds that I haven’t found on any Les Paul.

I would gig a 594 over a Les Paul every time.

So yeah, the first piece of #MySoundMyRig for the desert island is the PRS McCarty 594. What guitar would you be shipwrecked with? I’d love to hear how you found the guitar that gives you ‘your’ sound.

Have a great weekend, and next week I’ll talk about the next piece of my signal chain for this rig: the tuner 🙂

Changing Pickups Part 2: A Nice Surprise

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed. You can find Part 1 here.

Well, the green Strat is back, and the result has been quite the surprise.

Quick recap: Fender Player series Strat, which I’ve really taken a shine to. Dropped it off @astringsuk yesterday to replace the stock pickups with a (mismatched) set of 63 Veneers from Bare Knuckle. Wanted a more vintage Strat tone.

First off – these pickups definitely deliver that vintage Strat tone. There’s a much bigger difference between the stock Fender pickups and these 63 Veneers than I expected. Might be too big a change? Still getting used to it.

The bridge pickup is really nice. The stock one was very usable, this is even better. It’s got more low end than I’m used to from a Strat bridge pickup, and I really like it.

IIRC, one of the things John Mayer wanted from the Silver Sky was a bridge pickup that wasn’t all treble. This bridge pickup delivers that.

I’m still experimenting with the right height for the neck pickup. Struggling to put my finger on why it’s not quite right for me atm.

However, I don’t really care … because position 4 (neck + middle pickups together) has turned out to be a fantastic surprise. It’s basically the clean tone I had decades ago, before I swapped the stock pickups out of my Charvel. Wasn’t expecting that.

Kristi can tell you better than me how deeply I’ve regretted losing that particular sound, and how I’ve been searching for it ever since. And now I have it again … or at least close enough to fool my memory 🙂

So yeah, these pickups are a keeper 🙂

Changing Pickups: Part 1 – Why?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Just dropped the green Strat off for a pickup swap. I was going to wait until I could do a before-and-after demo, but honestly I’m not a very good (or musical!) player. You’re not missing out.

I think the pickups that Fender use in the Player Strats make sense, if you assume it’s a budget guitar aimed at newer players. They’re a little more mid-rangey than the classic Strat sound, a little hotter, and quite forgiving.

I’m dropping a (mismatched) set of 63s from Bare Knuckle into it. Originally bought bit by bit for other guitars, but for various reasons never got fitted.

Pickup swaps are always a bit of a gamble. Until you try them, you never know if they’ll suit that particular guitar, and your rig, and your playing style.

Pickup swaps in Les Pauls seem to be the worst. Raven (my Sig-T) took 5 different sets until I finally found ones that worked in that particular body. All great pickups, just a difficult guitar.

Why swap pickups at all? Why not stick with the stock pickups in a guitar?

Honestly, if you’re happy, stick with them. It’s your guitar. Don’t swap pickups just because others do.

I swap pickups either because I don’t like the originals, or because I’m looking to change the character of the guitar in some way.

I started swapping the pickups on Raven, for example, because the stock Gibson pickups sounded too shrill and ice-picky. Raven’s quite a bright guitar, and it needed pickups that would tame that.

With the green Strat (it doesn’t have a name yet), I’m swapping the pickups because I want to get closer to the Strat sound in my head. I want to make a guitar I like even better.

I’ll let you know what I think when the guitar’s back 🙂