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:
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:
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
As if spending close to £10k over the last fifteen years or so on guitar related kit didn’t give it away, I’ve now realised I have an official problem with G.A.S.:
This last weekend, and for the first time in ages, I had a couple hours spare so thought it would be a great opportunity to practice. So after setting up my amp & pedal board I went to youtube and started watching a few videos to try and pick up some new licks. About two videos in and I thought – wow that guy has great tone, maybe I need a new overdrive pedal. I then spent the next half-hour looking for overdrive pedals, and then the next hour or so comparing reviews. Although I didn’t buy anything, I suddenly realised that instead of practicing for two hours I had practiced for ten minutes, and spent the rest of the time looking for new gear – doh!!
Still I think I am going to get myself both of these for Christmas!
Vanity of vanities – I have started playing bass in a band again so got the old musicman out and decided it needed sprucing up. I’ve decided that I like my guitars looking beautiful so bought a new “cream pearl” pickguard from an extremely helpful company called www.guitarpartsworldwide.com Initially I was somewhat flabbergasted that it would cost £50 however after asking the guys on the talkbass forum (http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f18/source-scratchplates-870990/) it seemed this was par for the course so I went for it. I’m actually rather pleased with the effect:
Glad to see that even the great Van Halen balls up on occasion, but why didn’t they just admit defeat?
And then there is this band – from 1 minute 10 in the video – it was an accident, but oh, what an accident!
Sadly I never took any pictures of what was my teenage “dream guitar” (this is the closest I can find online). When I was 18 I went to the States for the first half of my (inappropriately named) gap-year and worked in a drive through to afford this guitar. I had borrowed a squire strat for years whilst at school and my dream was to get a “proper US strat”. I settled on a US standard, candy apple red, rosewood fretboard and pearl pickguard. I remember the day I paid for it in autumn 1996 – bringing $800 in $100 bills into the music shop – and remember the smell as I opened the case once getting back home! I then brought it back to the UK with the case wrapped in more bubble-wrap than was strictly necessary!
How does it sound?
The problem with teenage dreams is that they are quite often unrealistic. I had bought my dream guitar but forgotten about what to plug it into! For the first year or so of owning this I cobbled together a make-shift amp with old bits of radio plus the smallest practice amp you’ve ever seen (I think it was a “Kustom”) before finally borrowing someones better Trace Elliot amplifier for a few months. However I do remember spending a day in a friends studio and plugging this into a Marshall half-stack and wow – I was in heaven. I love the variety of sounds you can get from the five-way pickup switch, the feel of the neck and the contour and lightness of the body. In fact I go teary-eyed even thinking about it!
Keep or sell?
And then we get to the sad bit. I played bass full time for a year in a band with an excellent electric guitarist whose ability was way beyond anything I could hope to achieve. However, for occasional songs we did use two guitars but with me playing a bit of acoustic. This meant for a whole year of touring I was exposed to blistering talent on an electric whilst carving a niche for myself on bass & acoustic. So when I finally went to university (and having little money) I traded this strat in for my Fender Acoustic guitar (reviewed below). In one way I do not regret this as I still have and love my acoustic which has served me well in literally hundreds of gigs, however I do regret not being able to hold on to what I consider my “first” guitar. Sometimes I think that when I am old with lots of money and children off looking after themselves I might indulge myself with an identical guitar, just for “old times” sake.