Alternative to Gibson ES335


For the last ten years or so I have been really keen to get a Gibson ES335. I almost got one as a 30th birthday present but my wife found out she was pregnant just before so we saved the money instead! In lieu of getting one I have been making sure I play ES335’s whenever I visit music shops just as a dream. I found a beautiful 1970s one that felt amazing, but have been less than impressed with the newer ones. Indeed I tried some head-to-heads with the epiphone copies and slowly started to realise that the extra 10x the price isn’t worth it for a “real” gibson – the epiphone are not ten times as bad! On realising this I started trying out alternative ES335 copies, and came across the Ibanez artcore AS93. This was way better than the epiphones, better than some of the Gibsons and at a really reasonable price. Infact I was so impressed I bought one almost straight away! I’ve now had it for six months and love it:

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Top blues guitarists


Being a white boy living in the home counties and with parents who only listen to classic FM, I didn’t exactly grow up listening to blues! I pretty much had to discover it myself over a period of about twenty years. Here’s a list of my favourite blues guitarists pretty much in the order that I discovered them:

Eric Clapton

Stevie Ray Vaughn

B.B. King

Robert Cray

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Gary Moore

Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)

Joe Bonamassa

Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule)

Derek Trucks

Larry Carlton

Robben Ford

Albert King

Walter Trout

Best overdrive pedal (Lovepedal Eternity review)

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Of all pedal types overdrives are the hardest to get right. They seem very specific to the guitar, amp and player with some classics working amazingly for some people, but not at all for others. Finding the “right” pedal is also quite hard as what sounds great in the shop doesn’t always sound so good a few months later once I’ve had a chance to put a few hours playing and tweaking in. As a result my approach is now simply to buy pedals that look good from reviews and test drive them for a year or so. If they are any good they stay in use, otherwise its into the back of a drawer or ebay.

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Why did I buy it?

As I have been playing less guitar recently (due to bass duties in the band) I have been using a much simpler rig of guitar into blues junior. I wanted a wee bit more drive from the amp but without losing the responsiveness of the amp. Capt. Anderton of the Chappers/Andertons guitar videos rates the Lovepedal eternity drives highly and has a great blues tone, so I decided to try one. As far as I understand from the range Lovepedal makes “eternity overdrives” and changes the model every few years. The one that was in production when I got mine (just over a year ago) was the E9.

How does it sound?

Transparency in a OD pedal means keeping the same response from the amp after you’ve stepped on the pedal. With a lot of OD pedals you lose some of the “squishiness” when you step on the pedal. This particular pedal is quite clever as it combines a clean boost with a treble boost and a distortion, each controlled with a separate knob. Granted when the distortion knob is turned above about 11 the pedal isn’t transparent any more, however by keeping this one down to about 9 you can dial in a lot more dirt from the amp using the two boosts. Used like this means most drive comes from pushing the amp and hence you keep the great valve OD without losing the response through too much transistor dirt.

Keep or sell?

I’ve had this over a year now and am still impressed. Granted I’ve only used it with a full band set-up twice as I’m not currently gigging on the electric guitar, however it performed admirably both times. I’ve used it more often at home jamming at various volumes to backing tracks and youtube videos. Here it works great and keeps my sound inspiring enough to keep going! As a result this one is certainly still in favour after a year or so of use. I also rather like the design philosophy of the pedal, and find myself using the boost functions a bit more than the distortion circuit.

Real Guitar games


I steadfastly avoided the guitar hero computer game craze a few years back because I thought it was a complete travesty wasting people’s time when they could be learning instruments properly. However, about a year ago, I realised there were computer games that could be played with real guitars. I thought these sounded like a great idea, especially for “too tired to practice properly” evening jams. It also gives an opportunity to play guitar whilst my kids are in the room as they like watching the games and strumming along on their little guitars (baby sitting + guitar playing = major win).

The first program I came across was http://guitarbots.com . It works quite well with my guitar going into the computer through a tapco usb interface, although I put an A-B box in the signal path so that I could hear my guitar through a proper amp at the same time as the computer sounds are quite nasty. I really liked the user interface and steamed through all the tuition and songs, and even bought a months subscription to complete everything except Mr Fastfingers (horrendously difficult). Luckily I could already play “Rondo a la turque” which was the other very hard one, and it didn’t seem to mind me using different fingering.  However, the thing that annoyed me about this program was the horrible synth backing and lack of proper songs. Once I got everything done I tried the feature of loading new songs using song pro, however this didn’t quite work as well as it should of.

Next I moved onto http://jamstar.co . The first awkward thing with this is that the tab is displayed upside down compared to guitarbots. This really messed with my head! Then I couldn’t get my usb interface to work with it so had to use the external microphone. This worked well in a quiet room with either an acoustic guitar or using a clean signal on my amp, but not at all when my two kids were watching and making noise, so no baby sitting with this one (major downer)! Finally you have to pay to access any content worth playing, and since I never quite got the hang of the interface, I didn’t think it was worth spending any money or pursuing further.

So finally I figured I’d spend some money and get Rocksmith 2014. This is head and shoulders above the other two programs, and will be the subject of an upcoming review.

It’s all about the music…


I haven’t been very good updating this blog over the last couple of years mainly because I have actually been playing music rather than just thinking or talking about it.

Indeed recently I have been less “into” gear because I am actually into the music, and in a way I don’t really care what I play through as long as it works for the music we are playing. Of course there is the element of feeling comfortable with my kit, and inspired enough to add something to the music when necessary, however sometimes this is as much about EQ’ing myself appropriately as it is about spending another £1000 on the latest guitar or amp. Likewise I find guitar based forums less interesting now because my hobby is the music, not collecting gear or trying to show off.

Something else I have noticed is that my practicing is less about technique and more about running through our songs trying to work out if my bass lines are the best for the music. This isn’t about playing something technically demanding, it’s about playing something appropriate. As the bass player the vital thing is keeping the groove – I’ve really noticed how I can screw whole songs if I don’t nail the feel with the bass line. As a guitarist at heart I sometimes get frustrated by how simple some of the bass lines are, however at the end of the day making the music work is more important than showing off my chops.

So it’s been an interesting epiphany – when I actually DO music I spend less time coveting gear, writing blogs and contributing to websites. At the end of the day perhaps quality is to do with the music one makes rather than the gear one owns or the licks one plays?

Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 Review


Why did I buy it?

Started playing bass in a band again and my old Trace head was a bit unreliable. I read quite a bit on the talkbass forum and these seemed to have a great reputation. I then saw one going for a reduced price at the bass centre because the 6.2 had just come out, so I snapped one up without even hearing it! When I got it the first thing that impressed me was quite how small and light it was – no more struggling with huge bass heads!

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How does it sound?

Wow – I have never had a class D amp before so was a bit skeptical that something so small could sound so good – but this is the best sounding bass amp I have played through! As a class D it has a valve in the preamp stage (which you can see glowing through a small grill on the top) meaning you also get a gain knob that dirties things up a bit if turned up – I like it just past 12. Straight out of the box and through my Trace 2×10 with the EQ flat it sounded impressively tight. Volume wise it is ample for playing with a full kit, and switching to my Marshall 4×10 the tone gets even better (and louder). I have comfortably played with a full kit using the 4×10 with the Shuttle on half volume. There are three “shape” settings of which I use the LF boost the most (the others are HF boost and mid scoop) especially on songs which do not require fast licks, but do need the bass to have lots of presence. Live I generally keep the EQ flat although do play with the 3 band EQ on my musicman bass’s quite a bit. I’ve used it as a DI in the studio to great success and even impressed the engineer with how quiet yet good sounding it is – and the ground lift switch is very handy. The mute switch is really handy on the front for live use, although I do wish I could get a small foot-switch to control the mute. The speaker out’s are both speakon types, again something I quite like.

Keep of sell?

This one is a keeper. I’ve had it for two years and used it almost exclusively live plus for a few studio sessions. It sounds great and critically is very small. Indeed it does look a bit ridiculous on top of a 4×10 but hey it still pumps out the volume! I have thought about upgrading to the Shuttle 9.0, but realistically for the sorts of gigs I play I do not need anything with more features or power. I might rack mount it one day as I do worry about pulling it off the top of the cab’s sometimes.

Snark Tuner Review


Why did I buy it?

I’ve always used Boss tuners in the past however in the last few years these uber handy vibration based tuners have come out. I decided to try one and managed to convince a shop on Denmark street to give me one for free at the same time I was buying some pedals.Image

How does it sound (or in this case “is it any good”)?

The absolute best thing about these is being able to tune when your volume pot is turned down. Although it looks a bit unsightly on the head of the guitar, I tend to clip it with the display on the back of the headstock. Tuning on a guitar is easy and accurate, however on a bass it has problems picking up the open A, and never gets the open E. This isn’t a major problem on my fretted bass as I can tune both strings with a twelfth fret harmonic, however obviously this wouldn’t work for actually setting the intonation in the first place, whilst the fretless bass also causes problems. As a result I tend to only use this tuner during practices with the bass, preferring my TU3 for gigs. The note tracking isn’t as quick as with pedal tuners, however is much better than tuners from say ten or twelve years ago.

Keep or sell?

For a free gift that is quick and easy to use it’s a definite keep!

Holy Grail Nano Reverb Review


Why did I buy it?

After breaking the reverb on two separate amps I decided it was easier and cheaper to go with a pedal. I’ve always like the quirkiness of EHX so originally had one of their normal Holy Grail Reverb pedals. However when I managed to break this after about six years (I don’t have much luck with reverb!) I went for the more solid feeling and very much smaller nano version.Image

How does it sound?

Exactly like the original to my ears, although I only really use the “spring” setting dialled to between 10 and 11. I really like the sparsity of knobs as I don’t like having to think about reverb any more than “I want more/less”.

Keep or sell?

Given my luck with breaking reverbs its a keep for my pedal board as it gives me the option to go direct in to a PA and have every effect. However when I am feeling more in a blues mood I tend to use the reverb on (my now fixed) blues junior amp, just for the ease of not having to plug in and carry a pedal.

Dunlop Cry Baby Review

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Why did I buy it?

I’ve always liked the extra textures a wah pedal gives especially when kicking into a lead solo. For a good few years I had a Morley wah pedal on my board which was the only one I could afford as a teenager, however I wasn’t satisfied with the range of sweep on that pedal. As the Dunlop cry baby is the archetypal wah pedal, I picked one up about eight years ago and it has been on my board ever since.Image

How does it sound?

It has a wider tonal sweep than my old Morley which I like, although I seldom rock right to the extreme. To be fair I do not use it a huge amount, however whenever I want the sound it seems to provide it very adequately. I normally use it in conjunction with my higher gain lead sound, but have placed the wah before the dirt box.

Keep or sell?

It does everything I need it to and although it is not the most used pedal, it is definitely a keeper. I can see why big wah fans might want to try different pedals with more features, but for my relatively limited use this is perfect.

Guitar Store Southampton – update


guitar-store1Ok so I posted a good review of this shop a year or so ago, however have been back in three times since then and am now not so impressed again. The first time I wanted to get a bass I had bought from ebay set-up. I walked into the store and hung around for ages before I finally managed to get the attention of a member of staff. They then tried to send me away without a receipt for my £600+ bass, and reacted scornfully when I insisted on one (that was Jamie – the owner). A week later when I picked up the bass it was the worst set-up I’ve ever seen with the intonation out and the strings buzzing horrendously. I re-set everything myself and vowed never to pay for a “professional” set-up again. (oh and I ordered a new hard-case which they said would have come in within the week except it hadn’t, and three months later after chasing them up a couple times I gave up and bought one from ebay).

A couple months later I went back to the store just to browse. I tried to go up to their mezzanine level where they keep the Fenders and was told rather rudely that they were vacuuming and I should come back later unless I wanted to buy something!

Sadly these two experiences are consistent with what they used to be like when I visited more frequently as a student in their old premises. It seems that the good experience on which I based my last review was a one off, and in fact they are still as grumpy and arrogant as I remember. Of course their stock is still great, but no better than Nevada music down the road in Portsmouth which I visited two weeks ago and spent £500 at – I’m not giving any more of my cash to this southampton store!