Marshall Vintage Modern

 

This month Marshall have launched their first new Guitar amp range for several years. The Vintage Modern essentially updates the JTM 45/ Bluesbreaker type amplifier using KT66 type power tubes rather than the more traditional EL34 power stage. Its their first KT66 based amp for 30 years.

The amp takes the original Marshall concept : IE- of 2 channels running simultaniously, one for the high end and one for the low, to build an overall tone a stage further. Except rather than pissing about with jumper cables and excessive volume, the amp has 2 seperate gain controls labelled Body (low end) and Detail (high end) as well as a midrange boost, Master volume and a digital reverb. The FX loop is serial and I’m not sure why in the 21st century it is not a parallel loop, but maybe if your more of a trad rock, blues player you don’t need such things. But in my world a serial loop is pretty much a waste of time as soon as you start using any serious Modulation/Delay effects.

Having seen a DVD of guitarist Chris George demonstrating these new amps, they seem to give a slightly warmer and more bluesier take on the famous Bletchly tone. I admit nothing really knocked me out, but demo’s rarely do.

Now I’ll be sure to give my own thoughts on this once I’ve had the chance to try one out. But I do wonder about the timing of such a launch.

Back in 2003, The Darkness seized the cultural zeitgeist of our musical landscape and Marshall introduced the ModeFour, this was essentially their attempt to get in on the, by then, already fading Nu Metal Market share populated by amps such as the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, Hughes & Kettner Warp 7, and of Course Randall’s various solid state and hybrid heads.

Now I’ve only ever seen one guy gigging a Modefour and that was in a Indie Rock band rather than a metal act, the mediocre guitarist who’s name escapes me was weilding a PRS Custom 24 but I have to admit, the rather fizzy and non descript tone didn’t knock me out, It didn’t sound like a Rectifier and it didn’t sound like a JCM 800, it sounded like a Boss Distortion pedal through an old Randall tranny head and I was glad I’d bought a TSL 60 some 2 years earlier.

I’ve no idea of official sales figures, but I reckon that if the Modefour was a big seller there would have surely been a ModeFour combo out by now. I do see a few MF350′s on Ebay and they never seem to go for much.

Now with The Darkness reduced from national heroes to something of a laughing stock, Marshall have decided that this is the time to release a “Classic Rock” type head and combo. As many guitarists are dubious of too many knobs on a Marshall. I suspect these will do very well. However the combo version looks rather non descript.

Now If I ran Marshall Amps I’d have built the Vintage Modern 50 watt chassis into a much cooler & sexier looking Bluesbreaker type cabinet. Then they could really cash in on the affluent ‘Weekend Warrior’ market, who need a stylish amp that fits comfortably into the boot of a Chelsea Tractor.

But surely Marshalls priority as a company now is to update the now ageing JCM 2000 range of professional valve heads. Much as I love the DSL & TSL. There are certain issues of switching and better FX loops that need addressing. Burying your head in the Classic Rock soup will not do you any good, time marches on.

While companies like Hughes and Kettner seem to have stolen Marshalls Thunder on the multi functional channel switching amp with the Triamp and Switchblade ranges. Its easy to forget that Marshall had a midi switching 3 channel all valve head on the market some 14 years ago in the shape of the 6100LM . If Marshall mated the JMP-1 midi preamp front end into an EL34 based 100watt power amp. They would have a programmable head to rival the Switchblade.

So come on Marshall pull the collective finger out eh?

Chicks with Dicks!

Theres been a big boom in Guitars aimed at girls in the last 3 years, with ‘Daisy Rock’ and Fender’s ‘Hello Kitty’ range getting lots of press recently. Although these guitars are aimed at the younger player. I was impressed to see a teenage girl in a guitar shop trying out an Epiphone Explorer the other day.

Gibson’s Les Paul Vixen seems to go for the idea that a Female guitarist would want a guitar with reduced weight and simple controls in some girly colours.

I’m all for more people playing the guitar as I feel learning such an instrument breaks down barriers and encourages personal growth. But I can’t help feeling that all this is somewhat patronising. Reducing the guitars weight sure, but Gibson already do the Cloud 9 Les Paul, and surely the weight issue applies to men too. Steve Steven’s, Billy Idol’s one time axe-slinger once suggested in an interview that guitar companies make different sizes of guitar according to physical size (he is 5’5″ and built like a pipecleaner) but simplified controls? Bit sexist really. Are two tone controls too much for the female brain to comprehend, surely not?

Think about it. Lady Bo, Chrissy Hind, Justine Frischman, Melissa Auf de Mar, Paz Lenchantin, Alison Robertson out of the Donna’s, Carrie Brownstein……

These women compete in a mans world on the same instruments that we all play. Paz Lenchantin is built like a 12 year old girl, but was playing a Fender Deluxe Precision when I saw her live. If we want old school, Suzi Quatro has actually said she is dismissive of instruments aimed at females. She’s got tit’s but finds a Precision Bass just fine.

I did a bit of my own research the other day on my teenage neice and she concluded that she’d rather play the Explorer than a Daisy Rock and that “only trendies, who aren’t into the music would buy one”.

I personally see this development in ‘Female’ friendly guitars as a cynical marketing ploy as the big guitar companies go looking for a new market as another one dies.

For the last 10-15 years, small bespoke luthiers and the high end market have been fuelled by the Baby Boomer generation, cashing in it’s stock options an blowing an increasing amount of wedge on the latest Custom Shop Fender, Gibson, or PRS Private Stock. If you go into Soho Soundhouse on a weekday lunchtime you’ll see no end of 45-55 year old ‘Weekend Warriors’ in suits, perusing over the latest Mesa Boogie amp or PRS 513.

But all good things must come to an end and as the baby boomers have lowered wages and robbed the young of their free education, and job security, the generation behind finds itself up to its eyeball’s in debt and lacking the big pensions and stock options of their fathers. The Guitar companies need to find a replacement market….and fast.

I expect to see more guitars aimed at ‘new’ markets. But where will it end? ‘Bling’ guitars for Urban musicians with more gold hardware and fancy inlays maybe???? Or female orientated effects pedals with colour co-ordination. Could we have a guitar suitable for one’s religion or sexual preferences???? The mind boggles.

Back to those Daisy Rock guitars, I have seen one being gigged recently, but the player was male, unwashed, and seemed to think he was playing the bass as some kind of ironic fashion statement. He was also rather crap

 

The Holy Grail…

…of Les Pauls is probably this one, once owned by Peter Green who sold it to Gary Moore for very little money, shortly before his descent into being a recluse.

This months cover story in Guitar & Bass Magazine is the rather sad story of a falling out between our Gaz and the recent buyer of said instrument Phil Winfield of Maverick music. Apparently Mr Moore is pissed because he always thought he was selling it to a private collector. He wanted a discreet sale to someone who was gonna lock it away in a vault and not use it for…….. er… tasteless commercial purposes.

Wheras Mr Winfields stance is its his guitar and he can do what he jolly well likes with it. This is to include Gibson making a limited run of reproductions of the instrument and displaying it at guitar shows where people can pay their respects.

Their was also a pullout lifesize pornographic wall poster of the LP’s body in a recent issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine for those of you who like to drool over such things (it wasn’t wipe clean as far as I’m aware).

Currently it’s for sale at Maverick music, with an asking price of a cool $2 million dollars. Not a bad return on the estimated £400,000 + he payed for it. A pretty good return for Gary Moore who allegedly payed £125.00 for it back in the days when I was a white blood cell in my old man’s left nut.

While I love Gary’s playing as much as I love his facial gurning. I cannot help that he’s been a little naive about how people make their money out of guitars. The two Americans with bad hair who run Guitar Centre in America bought several iconic instruments of Clapton’s at auction in 2004. Yeah the money went to old Slowhand’s Crossroads Drug Treatment centres, but that was far from their only motivation.

Given that a Gibson reproduction of Claptons Cream era 335 sells for around £9000 and that Fender are about to launch a Custom Shop repro of “Blackie” this Novemeber.  It’s safe to say that the so called “Burst Brother’s” have made some considerable money on their investments.

Back to Mr Moore as someone who has always seemed like such an authority on the instrument. I’m suprised he never saw this coming. Surely his management, guitar tech or the alleged Vintage dealers he approached to put word out he wanted to sell it, surely could have warned him of the likely prospect of someone wanting to buy the guitar and exploit it in this way.

In fact wouldn’t it have been cleverer to do it himself?  Float the guitar to a group of private investors and let them exploit every tasteless marketing/re-issue angle possible. Gary would have probably had to play some cheesy guitar shows and do some promotional work/ videos etc, but I reckon he’d have made more than £400,000, still get to play the guitar when he wanted to, and not be so angry that someone took advantage of him.

On a last note if you look up Gary on Wikipedia, you’ll see in the first photo he’s playing a PRS Custom 24. Given the value attaching itself to early “handmade” (well not done by C3PO anyway) PRS Custom’s maybe he should give Mr Winfield another call;)

The Death of an Artist

 

One of my earlist memories of this guitar was writing away to FCN distribution and getting the Ibanez Guitars catalog sometime in late 1983. The Ibanez Artist was the companies alternative to the Gibson Les Paul. Although it never had the Landmark status of the Yamaha SG2000, it was one of the first high quality Japanese electric guitars that showed good quality instruments of original design could come from somewhere other than the USA.

Essentially a twin cutaway Les Paul, the Artist always seemed an elegant and pretty guitar. Probably one of the best designs ever IMHO. It’s rumoured that Mick Ralphs of Bad Company was offered an Ibanez LP replica as a signature guitar and he suggested the cutaway design, although that remains an urban myth.

Since Ibanez’s glory days of 1988-1991 when they seemingly ruled the roost in desireability stakes thanks to the RG series and Jem guitars becoming the “ROCK” Axe of choice for an entire generation of lead players. Post Kurt Cobain and Post Britpop, The RG has just about survived and has been reborn in various “nu metal” guises, usually played and endorsed by people who would struggle to play a Van Halen solo and instead detune to the point of prolapse (bless em).

Meanwhile no longer the hottest guitar company on Planet Rock, Ibanez have had to descale the amount of Japanese made guitars in their range, such is the value of the Yen that there affordable RG’s, semi’s and other designs are made in either Korea, Taiwan and now ironically China.

It is here where the latest versions of the Ibanez Artist are made and quite frankly they are ugly son’s of bitches.

However whats more shocking is their attempt to copy Yamaha’s AES range of singlecuts, as seen below.

Now I think its one thing to be influenced by the Gibson Les Paul, but copying your competitors midrange Les Paul inspired singlecut electric is quite another thing.

These Chinese made Artists have been gaining good reviews in the guitar press and for around £300.00 seem a good to go bargain for someone wanting set neck, humbucker loaded tones without alerting their spouse or parents to having spent £1500 on such a prospect.

However there are a few “original” Classic shape Korean made Ibanez Artists out there in dealerland. Expect to pay £400 ish, or better still hunt down an original Japanese Classic on Ebay. There are sites such as  Ibanez Vintage with a focus on the 70′s guitars, but check out the Ibanez Collectors Forums if you want to know more about these beautiful guitars.

When I were a Lad…

I was round at my Brothers house tonight, as a forty- something player with a reasonable level of disposable income, theres always a few tasty guitars about. He generally keeps an acoustic in the living room and rotates an electric on another stand. Currently its a PRS SE Tremonti. But sometimes its a Strat, a Les Paul etc etc. My nephew is 15 and just starting to take his first steps on the instrument after spending the last year learning bass. Lucky him…..I grew up in a house of books and didn’t see my first pro level instrument til my 21st birthday.

Now the Tremonti is not exactly a beginners axe, but for most people buying one, it’s likely to be either their first or second guitar.

Not wishing to bang on about my age, but from then to now, what you get for your money is shocking!

My first electric (A Sakai Strat copy handed down to me by said brother as he headed off to his first graduate job in London) had a plywood body and the shittest electrics ever, zero fret, sharp edge binding and just sounded nasty. The neck was like a club and the action quite horrible. I used to borrow my schools orange Hondo II Les Paul copy, made in Korea, by World Musical Instruments and on sale in Littlewood’s Catalog if I remember rightly.

Mrs Bolt the music teacher used to loan it to me at half term, she also had a fabulous Sloane Ranger type voice, great breasts and wore stockings on a Thursday, but I digress;)

Having said that, I did learn to play Guitar and this was before endless tuition DVD’s and internet tab. I slowed records down on my dads BSR 4 speed turntable and borrowed a few books from the library, mainly by US folk guitarist John Pearse. I watched 80′s music show The Tube and tried to look at what the guitarists in bands were doing, what equipment they were using.

A long way from the spoonfed culture of todays transcriptions and “play like…” aspirations. But the fact of the matter is I made quick progress, I wonder if thats because I had to seek out the information rather than have it handed to me on a plate.

But back to the Tremonti, built in Korea by……wait for it…….World Musical Instruments (nice to know they got better at doing it eh kids?) 22 fret rosewood board, Mahogany neck & body, fixed bridge. It plays like butter and feels really good in the hand. It weighs about six and a half pounds, much lighter than a Les Paul and with better balance than an SG. My only niggles would be the electric’s. The generic Korean made Humbuckers are unrefined and lack warmth and punch thru my brothers Marshall DSL 50. But aside from changing the pickups and gutting the pots/switch for something higher in quality (the volume pot travel is all or nothing) I could go and gig this straight away.

The biggest upset with the Tremonti is the player association. I’m not against signature guitars as I currently play a Richie Kotzen Telecaster in my current gig, but the signature on that is a subtle addition to the normal Telecaster neck transfer. Here the Tremonti logo is a crass violation of the headstock and spoils what is really a brilliant little guitar.

A mediocre sub grunge guitarist, Tremonti must surely have the smallest penis in all guitardom, such is the Napoleonic nature of the Tremonti logo. It’s big, imposing and crass. Kinda like he wants you to remember his name rather than remember names like….ooooh Stone Gossard, Mike McCready or Jerry Cantrell…and suddenly exclaim ” I knew I heard that lick before!”

But back to that logo…..its Crass and offensive rather like many peoples views of Americans. Not mine I might add, most of the ones I’ve met have been lovely kind sensitive souls, and besides if your media is run by an Australian facist, maybe we’d elect a right wing Christian Lunatic too ( Oh……yeah it is…..and we did – Thats Globalisation for you!).

Now I’ve played a variety of PRS, SE (Student Edition) guitars and have always been knocked out by the bang per buck factor. In both Quality and Finish, at UK street prices, theres little to compete with them. I’ve seen these go new for £350-£400.

My big niggle with PRS is not their build quality or consistancy or innovation, no it’s how stupidly priced the American guitars are in the UK. Fair enough if its got a fancy top and inlays, but I’ve seen some very silly prices for plainer instruments and While I quite enjoyed playing the various McCarty’s and Custom 24′s I’ve tried in Music shops over the last 2 years. I’m aware that these guitars are a lot cheaper in America. PRS makes sure it’s US dealers don’t list street prices. But a guy I worked with went Stateside bought a CE 24 in plain old black, with no inlay packs etc. For around £750.00 in a sale (excluding import duty & VAT). That was 5 years ago mind and I’m sure with PRS current brand status as the must have guitar of Nu Metal, that gap will soon close.

Now I’m aware that people have to make a living, but I object to the whole, “If it cost $1200.00 in the US, we will price it at £1200.00″ ethos of the UK guitar industry. Soho Soundhouse have a Custom 24 in plain black with bird inlays for a remarkable £2499.00. Thats absurdly priced.

Now the reason this situation exists is more to do with PRS owners (many of whom are clogging up the Classified ads in Guitar magazines trying to sell used PRS guitars at nearly new prices), who seem quite content to buy a guitar thats almost entirely machine made. Robot Buffing, CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) woodworking machines and an automated fret installer (PRS can’t make a stock production guitar with an Ebony board as the machine would split the board during stamping), Robot paint machines…. Ok a human being puts the electrics in and sets it up. But aside from Private Stock guitars, these instruments are hardly “handmade”. They are a built in the same way that Fender, Yamaha, Gibson and Ibanez make guitars, it’s just modern production methods, and if you tear your eyes away from the pretty maple tops and OTT inlays long enough I have a suggestion.

I’d go onto Ebay and look at what used PRS Guitars go for in the US. I’ve spotted a McCarty at around $1300 for a fairly standard model. Thats just over £700, and a long way from some of the unrealistic prices being peddled out there in the UK. Do your homework on VAT/Duty/Exchange rate and have an adventure. Remember Kids its a Global Marketplace, just ask Mr Murdoch.

However the real issue facing PRS is what are they going to do when they become unfashionable? It wasn’t so long ago that you could buy a used Gibson Les Paul for £300 and Ibanez RG series used prices have taken a massive nosedive since the Widdly widdly glory days of 1988. One day Linkin Park will be as fashionable as Herpes and there albums will be in the bargain bin.

What then?