SwapMeet!

With the recession firmly biting in the United Kingdom. The used market for guitar equipment has taken quite a pounding. If you’ve had a spare grand lying around recently, you’ve had your pic of some sweet secondhand private sale deals.

As commodities and fuel prices have risen. The price of new guitars however has leapt up to a point where I cannot see how some dealers will be able to continue.

A good example of this is Fenders new Mexican made Roadworn player series priced with an RRP of around a grand new (although most big dealers sell em for just shy of £800), but when a mid range instrument is selling for nearly £1K, you know the worlds in trouble.

Meanwhile as redundancy and casualisation looms and people try to control their household budgets, a plethora of high dollar guitars are hitting the used market at very very reasonable prices. So the near grand you’d spank on a brand new Mexican…ahem… “relic”… Fender would buy you a lot more used guitar for your money… Im talking American Deluxe Stratocasters, Yamaha SG1000′s, Gibson Les Paul Classics, PRS Standard 24′s etc etc. If you spend another £150 or so then your talking PRS McCartys ( A boxfresh Mk2 McCarty Std went for £1100 on Ebay recently) and even the odd Les Paul Standard as well.

Its a buyers market for sure. However thats not good. Most of us will want to upgrade and make changes to our equipment from time to time. So the idea that everything we own is devalued considerably is not great, especially if you have a larger collection of instruments.

A good alternative however is the Swap Meet. Lots of musicians are now advertising their equipment with not only a price, but the line “Will exchange for XXXXXXXXXXX” sometimes advertisers are even asking ” Will exchange for WHY – What Have You” as a way of seeing how far their unwanted item will take them.

I recently tried out this process. When I went to see Rush recently at Birmingham NEC. My brother started telling me he wanted to offload his rarely played Gibson Les Paul Standard and buy a PRS McCarty, he was thinking of swapping guitars rather than selling one and buying the other.

2002 McCarty

As I had bought a very nice used PRS McCarty some 4 months ago, I guess I was number one for his first refusal. As much as I liked my PRS, I was missing a Les Paul since I sold my LP Classic 1960 in 2007. Id bought the McCarty on a whim thinking it was a bargain, and much as I liked it. I was missing owning something with more low end prescence and grunt.

LP 2001

The following week we spent a day at his house trying out both guitars and seeing how we felt. My brother has a dislike for neck binding which means his Gibson Les Paul Studio is played far more than his Standard.

From my point of view, I knew the complete History of his LP Standard, my brother had bought it from new in 2001 it was the best of 4 we had tried that week and I knew he had played it minimally compared to his main guitars (a hideous flip flop teal LP Studio and his 62 Jap Strat-another guitar I’d once owned), so condition wise it was much cleaner than my already gigged and slightly dinged PRS McCarty. However my brother had fallen in love with the PRS’ playability and construction. He wanted it, more so than I to be honest.

For me the decision was harder. I loved both guitars, while I thought perhaps the Gibson had the edge on tone for hard rock, the PRS was far more articulate on cleaner tones and the coil taps actually worked. Something dawned on me…

As Gibsons Quality Control has always, and will always be….patchy (Charles Sharr Murrays recent column in Guitarist mag about his mates Gibson J 200′s faulty pickup system and Gibsons incompetent aftercare seems to bear this out). I suspect it’ll take me a while to find another Les Paul this well made. Meanwhile as PRS have the consistency of build other makers would kill for. I know that at some point I could always buy another used McCarty and not spend decades looking for one that was put together properly.

So as both instruments were of similar value we just swapped guitars. We put in a gentlemans agreement of 28 days that if one of us wanted to cancel the deal, they could do so without question. But in the end 1 month on both of us are happy.

So far this experience has been a positive one and Im wondering if I’ll be looking to swap rather than sell stuff in the future. I would suggest sometimes these things can be difficult. Most of us have fallen in love with an instrument only to fall out of love sometime later. Plus theres always fakes and charlatans around every corner of both Ebay and the classified ads.

However if you stick to relatives or just your Muso mates or their mates, this is probably a foolproof way of getting new kit without all the stresses of dealing with haggling and accurate descriptions.

I’d reccomend it.

Revamping The Rig

After having not gigged for over 2 years now. Im now relocated, rejuvinated and feeling the itch to play live again. This has also been compounded by moving in with my girlfriend. So with domestic issues of space at the forefront of my mind Ive had a rethink about my gear recently.

I guess my main amps for the last decade have been Marshall JCM2000 TSL heads with a 4 x 12 (in both 60watt and 100 watt varieties). The plus side of the TSL has been its ability to give me both an impressive jangly clean and a choice of modern hard rockin crunch type sound. However nothing is ever ideal, while the 60watt version has a brilliant transparent and footswitchable FX loop, channel 2 is on the whole rather undergained.
tsl60

The 100 watt version has seperate EQ’s and master volumes for each channel, also the 100 watt has an awful 2 loop FX design that sucks tone from the amp in a rather blatant way.
tsl 100
The good thing about the TSL 100 is that all 3 channels are very useable, the channel 2 is basically a JCM800 sound, while Channel 3 is a little fizzy, but as I never run my gain beyond 1 o’ clock, its a perfectly usable beast, the mid-boost control on the clean channel has always been impressive, especially with my telecasters vintage style neck single coil.

But in a modern new build apartment space is paramount, so the head and 4 x 12 cab idea is gone for now. Sold to a lovely bloke in a hard rock covers band.

With the cash burning a hole in my back pocket, I made a decision to return to the 2 x 12 combo format.

In some ways the 2 x 12 combo is actually much better for smaller gigs. While a 4 x 12 cab with its air sealed back is very directional in its output, plus you don’t really get the sweet spot tonally unless your about 15 feet from the rig. A 2 x 12 combo on the other hand with its exposed back gives a nice even spread of volume across a much wider area, the sweet spots probably only 8 or 9 feet away from the amp. Theres also a psychological advantage when dealing with sound engineers, with its global master volume a TSL60 must be about the most quietest head Marshall currently make, but the sight of such a huge rig always encouraged the majority of sound engineers to tell me to turn it down. Often before I’d even played a note. I’d say the TSL60 was very much a sheep in wolfs clothing

With the decision made on a combo, there was then the question of which one?

At one point i’d decided to go for a single channel amp and just use pedals to get my sound. This would make for less cables and less time on setting up and breaking down. I’d seen some video footage of the band Fiction Plane (featuring son of Sting Joe Sumner) playing live in a club in Holland, their guitarist Seton Daunt seemed to have a very versatile rig consiting of a Vox AC30 or Two Rock head & Cab being fed from a comprehensive pedalboard made up for various Pete Cornish,Pro Co, Sansamp, Eventide and Dunlop pedals. Stylistically he seemed to go between Edge like textures and Frusciante type clean sounds. With the odd heavy moment thrown in. I could see that his solution was useful. Less cable and less faffing around.

Ampwise I was wary of Vox AC30′s. I did play a gig with one once in 1992 and it sounded heavenly, but I’ve heard so many things over the years about “reliability” that I had my concerns. The AC30 Heroes of Switzerland borrowed to make our album was a 1960′s one that had been extensively rebuilt. So again even with the new chinese made AC30′s coming onto the market at very affordable prices I wasn’t sure.

My next thought was a single channel amp like a JCM800 combo or even a 900, 800′s are becoming stupidly priced and I was unsure about finding a decent one. So I even looked at the Vintage Modern series amps by Marshall. But after trying one out I was underwhelmed. I love the look of the Bluesbreaker combo’s but again I wasn’t sure it’d do what I asked of it.

Blackstar Series One

I then got to try a Blackstar series One 45 watt combo, which I liked, although the control knobs felt a bit cheap, it did sound good, but new they are like a grand. My Budget was £600. no more

I went to see the Cult with a friend of mine last month and during our pre gig pint I reflected over my choices. My friend (who’s a bass player) basically thought I’d gotten a great sound out of Marshalls over the last 10 years so why change. He felt the only time I had a bad sound was when I went down the rackmounted route about 15 years ago, when I was “trying to have a rig that was all things to all men”.

With that in mind I returned to the idea of the Marshall TSL, but this time in combo format. The Marshall TSl 122 is essentially a TSL100 built into a 2 x 12 cab. Theres usually a fair amount of them in the classifieds and Ebay. Prices range from around £450-700 depending on age and condition. I bought a cleanish one on Ebay for £450.00

New Rig with TSL 122

The big problem with this is basically putting such a huge amp chassis into such a small cab. They weigh around 30+ Kilo’s so its not an amp for the faint hearted. In terms of playing round the house even with the master volume on 1, this is screamingly loud dumping its 100 + watts of sheer power into 2 x 8 Ohm Celestions, also the lack of space for the tubes in such a cabinet means it gets very hot, much hotter than the equivalent head as I recall.

My first thoughts on this amp are that I need to go back to using an Overdrive pedal as it doesn’t seem to like the Pro Co RAT 2 I was using for solo’s before, so my immediate thoughts are towards a Boss SD-1 or similar, maybe a Keeley modified one?

I’d also like to add a compressor pedal to the rig and maybe a chorus/flanger of some description. But my immediate thoughts are towards a new pedalboard. My Electro Harmonix Gigbag style has been ok, but in reality offers little protection and the pedals simply do not bond to velcro pads easily.

I’ll update when Im gigging next.

Gary Moore: RIP & the sadness to come

In the 80's with a PRS

I was sad to see that Gary Moore passed away last week on holiday in Spain, from the various press accounts it looks like he’d suffered a heart attack in his sleep after one brandy too many. he was 58 years old.

In the past I’ve been quite negative about Gary on this blog, which has mainly reflected my frustration with some of his quotes in the press for example on the release of a blues album in 2007 Gary declared that older musicians should just not be playing hard rock music etc (try telling that to Rush, AC/DC, Kiss, Whitesnake etc etc). This blog also thinks he made a pickle out of selling the Peter Green Les Paul, which seemed to be an incredibly naive decision (Gary got very angry about the buyer Phil Winfield of Maverick Music trying to commercially exploit one of the most famous electric guitars on earth, this blog suggested at the time that floating the guitar to private investors would have enabled Gary to keep the guitar and yet still make money from it, why none of Gary’s people didn’t think of that is quite beyond me, I thought Rock N Roll managers were supposed to manage after all).

But his brief 2 times in Thin Lizzy aside the Gary Moore I grew up with is the solo artist from the 1980′s albums Victim Of The Future, Run For Cover and Wild Frontier. Here was a singer songwriter in the Hard Rock idiom who had guitar chops to die for. I saw him live twice in the 80′s and each time it was a 90 minute lesson in tone, dynamics and phrasing. he was fucking loud and yet the playing still had intimacy. It is this Gary Moore that I will mourn. I liked Still Got The Blues, but to me why bother, Clapton has never publicly aknowledged Moores playing neither when he was alive or posthumously. So why pay tribute to such an insecure man in the first place.

But the real sadness for me is that Gary’s death is just the beginning of the end. Gary is a second generation blues player, one of the guys who picked up the guitar after hearing The Beatles,Stones,Cream, Clapton and Hendrix, thats a pretty exclusive club of some of the greatest players of the last 40 years. Dave Gilmour,Eddie Van Halen, Alex Lifeson, Steve Lukather, George Lynch, Toni Iommi, John Sykes, Michael Schenker, Neal Schon…. All men in their late 50′s or early 60′s now. Once they have passed on, there will be little in the way of successors. All we will have outside of the Metal World in mainstream culture is careerist indie bands with haircuts and skinny jeans and TV Pop talent show winners, with no one to look up to or be inspired by will be left, the guitar will finally slip into the role of fashion accessory rather than musical instrument and the kids will certainly not be allright.

PRS McCarty: My Life with the Dentist’s Guitar of Choice

The Lawyers favourite

If your a British guitar player of a certain age. PRS guitars conjur up a rather negative association with a certain type of well heeled player. Mainly middle aged professional “baby boomers” men who cashed in on the rising equity in their homes in the early noughties and bought into the brand big style. While over in America younger players such as Dave Navarro, Wes Borland, Chad Kroger and Linkin Parks Brad Delson made PRS the most populated guitar brand on MTV and VH1 (and before you ask yes the big 3 guitar companies actually do market research into this sort of stuff). In the UK despite the arrival of the affordable SE (student Edition) imports, the image of the PRS player in the United Kingdom is the stereotypical weekend warrior, the doctor, the lawyer,the accountant, the dentist. The guy who turns up at a blues jam to sing songs of pain and hardship (without any irony whatsoever) in a BMW Z5 or an Audi S4 estate (well…the golf clubs have to fit in the back too).

Guitar shops loved the baby boomer, before the recent arrival of his replacement (in Denmark St anyway) of the privately educated Stage School musician in his architypal Indie Landfill band (usually on Warners via BIMM or the BRIT school). These people kept Denmark Street turning over in the early to mid noughties. I used to see them ogling over the latest Mesa Boogie multi mode Combo or reliced Fender 52 whateverwecancashin…. nextocaster. You could always spot them as they were the only people in the shop who were not a sales rep wearing a suit. Future Publishing even started its own magazine for these people the woefully titled “Guitar Officianado”.

But back in 2000 Guitarist magazine named the PRS McCarty the number 7 guitar in its ’10 Greatest Electric Guitars in the World’ cover story, considering it was launched only 6 years earlier, thats pretty high praise. The McCarty is in raw terms is PRS’ homage to Ted McCartys presidency of the Gibson guitar company from 1950-1966. The guitar is essentially a thicker bodied Custom 22 with a thinner headstock, vintage style machines, 1 piece stop tailpeice and simpler controls (one volume and tone with a pull coil tap).

The vintage Gibson vibe came over very well at its launch in the mid 90′s and at the time (pre Singlecut) was seen as the biggest challenger to the hegemony of the Les Paul and found favour with many American musicians of the time. There were later hollowbody and semi acoustic variants too.

But 16 years on I get the impression that since the mid 2000′s lawsuit over the PRS Singlecut and the recently launched Dave Grissom signature guitar(basically a McCarty with a tremelo and revised pickups and electronics) have perhaps overshadowed the original McCarty model itself. The McCarty has somewhat fallen by the wayside. The McCarty II launched in 2008 featured a strange active circuit and barely lasted a year. The new McCarty is now the McCarty 58 which is essentially the same guitar with revised neck shape, tuners, pickups and finish. But neck shapes & the usual high end guitar marketing guff aside, its essentially the same guitar it was in 1994.

I stumbled upon the idea of buying a PRS recently. I’d set my sights on a CE22 or CE24 as in terms of my playing style I think I gravitate to a bolt on necked instrument, however the basic moon inlay McCarty is appearing in the classifieds for around £1000-1200. Thats a lot of guitar for the cash. Also the baby boomers don’t usually gig much, so these instruments are usually very very very well maintained.

I had a look around a few and didn’t buy mine from a stockbroker in the end Im glad to say, but a female blues guitarist in Gloucestershire. Aside from 2 dings on the lower bout (she gigged quite a lot I think) the guitar was pretty clean. Fretware was minimal for a 9 year old instrument.

The wide fat neck carve is a joy, reminiscent of a 1950′s Les Paul neck. But the whole feel of this guitar is upmarket. Its been put together from high quality woods with love and care, even when its not plugged in it sounds inherently toneful. Plugged in, its a fat big clear sound, more articulated than a Les Paul. I dare say It’d cut through live a bit more in a 2 guitar band than a Gibson.

The biggest suprise is the coil tap, usually this means we get some extra tones that are weedy and unusable, but with the neck pickup tapped, it sounds almost strat like, warm, fat and tubey. Perhaps this is the best coil tap I’ve ever heard.

All in all this is lighter and more comfortable to play than a Les Paul. As a guitar its very expressive and a joy to play. I am dissapointed that PRS fit all guitars with 009-042 strings though. Having ‘Jeztoned’ up the guitar with a set up of slightly heavier strings (009-046) and a medium to high action. Everything sounds even better than before.

The only niggle I have with PRS is considering the thought gone into both the guitars design and manafacture. The PRS hardshell case is a crock of shit. Its too big, too heavy and way too narrow. When placed as an upright rectangle on the floor it just falls over as its simply too thin. This is a terrible oversight and something you’d never find on an instrument costing even a third of the price. Whats the point of all that fancy guitar if its housed so badly.

As grim as it is to say, once the recession bites proper,combined with the brands seeming unfashionability in the current UK music scene. I expect to see more US made PRS guitars at very affordable prices. These are THE guitars purchased in the early-mid noughties credit orgy, many on hire purchase or plastic. As unfortunate and horrible as it is for anyone to have to sell their gear in hard times (and believe me I’ve been there). Im pretty sure we will see a large amount of these up for sale at very reasonable prices in the coming month. Cast aside the Yuppie guitar tag and these instruments richley deserve their reputation for build quality, tone and playability. With that in mind as a secondhand purchase I cannot see how one could go wrong.

A Faliure to Bond: Why No Two Guitars Are Ever The Same

Moi onstage in 2003

I will always have a warm place in my heart for the Gibson SG. In 2000 after a long break I made a conscious decision to play more guitar and perhaps join a band again. In 2001 I had relocated back to my home town in the Midlands and had heard some great demos by a friend. Musically it was like stoner rock, but with an uptempo fast rifftastic vibe Anphetamine rock anyone?…. or Sabbath meets Marylin Manson. My friend thought my rig at the time was pointless and wishy washy…..and he was right. The best phrase I can offer any guitarist looking to buy equipment and what he told me was “to just get stuff that does what it says on the tin”.

I bought a Marshall JCM2000 TSL60 & 4 x 12 , at that time non of my guitars suited the vibe we were going for, as my friend had let me use his Gibson SG Standard for recording more demos. I had grown to love it. A lightweight, simple guitar that could rock out hard. When funds allowed in 2001 I decided to buy one. As my local guitar shop was suffering from unrealistic pricing syndrome I decided to look further afield.

I’d never bought a guitar mail order before and with a Gibson I soon learnt the lesson that that Nashvilles finest were all prey to poor quality control. Hank and Earl were so absobed by the heritage at Gibson they kinda forgot to check for basic finish flaws, I found that my SG had subtle annoyances in fit and finish that you’d never find on even the cheapest chinese made Squier or indonesian (child soldier) made Yamaha Pacifica. The neck binding at the body end had cherry stain on it and the inlays were full of filler, the original spring on the ABR-1 was falling off, so I had to get my brother to mod it back to a workable shape.

In short this was not a great example of the breed.

BUT!!!!

I bonded with it, that guitar re-invigourated both myself and my playing. The Stoner band did 6 moths of rehearsals and nothing else, but my guitar playing self was re-energised. I found myself in another band and finally gigging again, the other band led to a better band and….a better me!

Along the way I had bought a Gibson Les Paul Classic and then in 2005 I bought my Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster. That was a landmark guitar, able to both play strident rock riffs and delicate licks it pretty much became my main instrument. The fender bolt on twang was perfect for cutting through the guitar heavy Heroes of Switzerland mix, especially live.

In light of my allegance switch, I started to play the SG less and less and in 2006 I decided to offload some guitars to keep my bank manager happy. Along with 2 Yamaha SG’s The Gibbo went on Ebay.

After I sold it, I missed it almost immediately and in 2009 when funds allowed I bought another one. This time I hunted around the classifieds and bought a mint 2005 example (off a bassist who’d gotten pissed one night watching a Who live DVD and decided he wanted to be Pete Townsend, after an orgy with his credit card, he’d bought it strummed it at home and realised he wanted rid). I turned up with a wad of cash and he was happy to let me have it.

My new SG was an altogether tastier proposition in terms of both build quality and finish, it was a far better made example with less of a Scarlet finish and more of a proper Heritage Cherry colour. The body was far tidier, the newer SG’s have a Nashville Style bridge which is much more heavy duty and it played like a dream.

However….

I never really played it that much beyond the first 2 weeks, if I wanted to play guitar I still went to my Telecaster or if I wanted to widdle out, my floyd equipped Ibanez Roadstar did the job admirably. So the SG sits there in the case looking at me. Im tempted to sell it from time to time, but if Im honest I restrung it yesterday and it sounded and played great. But this morning I played my Charvel and this afternoon my Tele.

I think the problem is that Ive failed to bond with it, when I bought my original SG it was used in both rehearsals and recordings, both it and myself had a musical sense of purpose. That situation made us grow together. Ive no pressure to bond with my new SG, I realise now that I bought it out of a sense of nostalgia, it represents a time when I was finding my feet again as both a player and a person.