Archive for the "Guitars" Category

Gibson Memphis ES-390 with P90s

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Photo credit: Wildwood Guitars

Last year Gibson introduced the ES-390 model, which a smaller-bodied version of its fully hollow ES-330 guitar. The ES-390 shares the same body size as the ES-339, which is a smaller-bodied version of the ES-335 model. I own a ES-339 and find it much more comfortable than the larger body size of the ES-335 and the ES-330. At roughly the same size as a Les Paul, it’s a very comfortable guitar. It’s actually much more comfortable than my Les Paul.

When the ES-390 was introduced, it included Gibson mini-humbuckers rather than the P90s found in the ES-330. I can’t really attest to how the mini-humbuckers sound, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have P90s like the ES-330 that it’s based on.

Other people must have agreed because this year Gibson introduced a version of the ES-390 with P90s. I’m really curious to hear how the combination of the fully hollow smaller body and the P90s sound in person.  Here’s Greg Koch demoing the guitar at this past Winter NAMM show:

I’ve been interested in P90-equipped guitars lately, and if I were in the market to buy another guitar, this one would definitely be on the list to check out.

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5 Reasons Why I Love the Stratocaster

I got my first Stratocaster almost 20 years ago, and it has been my favorite guitar ever since. Here are 5 reasons why I love the Stratocaster:

1) The second time’s a charm - Many people claim Leo got it right the first time with the Telecaster, but I think the Strat is his most significant achievement. He tweaked his Telecaster design after receiving feedback from players and the result was the Stratocaster, a guitar that added to, rather than took away, from the Telecaster.

2) Versatility – Three pickups and a five-way switch lead to almost infinite tonal options. The Strat can give you a sparkling clean sound, a raunchy funk sound, a bluesy sound, a rock and roll sound, and much more. If you want a metal sound, slap a humbucker in the bridge and you’re ready to go. It can do just about anything.

3) Comfort - With both front and back contours, the Stratocaster is an extremely comfortable guitar to play. The guitar seems to sit perfectly when sitting down, and the contours make it very comfortable to play standing up, too.

4) Innovation – If you compare guitars before the Stratocaster and guitars after the Stratocaster, it’s clear that Leo’s design was not only innovative but highly influential. The design of the electric guitar was forever changed when Leo introduced his Stratocaster design to the world.

5) Inspiration – The comfort and playability of the Stratocaster inspires me to play more, and that’s the most important thing about any guitar, in my opinion. If a guitar inspires you to play, then it’s a good guitar.

The Stratocaster isn’t the perfect guitar for everyone, but it’s the guitar that seems to fit me the best. I own and play other types of guitars as well (I’m especially enjoying my ES-339 right now), but the Strat will always be a mainstay in my collection.

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Gibson Custom Shop Joe Bonamassa Skinnerburst 1959 Les Paul

skinnerburst

If you’ve been following Joe Bonamassa’s career for the past few years, you probably know that he has amassed a number of original Les Paul bursts in his collection. One of those is a 1959 Les Paul called Skinnerburst (#9-1951). Gibson and Bonamassa have teamed up to create a Custom Shop model based on the Skinnerburst:

Of all of today’s Les Paul-wielding artists Joe Bonamassa is among the most revered, and the astounding 1959 model that he affectionately calls “Principal Skinner” is the most beloved guitar in his extensive collection. Now, following a long-coming collaboration between Joe and Gibson Custom, we are delighted to present “Skinnerburst,” a detail-perfect recreation of what is possibly the hardest working 1959 Les Paul in the world today. Through unrestricted access to the original and Joe’s generous cooperation, Gibson Custom has scanned, studied and measured every spec, curve and parameter of this guitar to bring you an instrument that reproduces this prized ‘burst in every possible way, exactly as it looks, feels, and sounds today.

From its delectably faded Dirty Lemon finish, to its custom-wound humbucking pickups, to its precise top carve and neck profile, the Joe Bonamassa “Skinnerburst” 1959 Les Paul gets you as close as is humanly possible to a priceless artist’s guitar. Historically accurate binding colors, aged cellulose trapezoid inlays, hot-hide glue neck construction, and period-correct hardware all complement a breathtaking rendition of Joe’s constant stage and studio companion. Of 150 guitars hand-aged by unparalleled ageing artist Tom Murphy, 50 will be played and signed by Joe himself; a further 150 will be treated to Gibson Custom’s VOS process, making a Limited Edition of 300 guitars in total.

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Billy F. Gibbons Goldtop

gibbons-goldtop

Gibson and Billy Gibbons have teamed up to create the Billy F. Gibbons Goldtop:

Billy F. Gibbons doesn’t pull any stylistic or tonal punches, so you’d expect his take on the seminal Les Paul Goldtop to be a knockout—and it is.

The first ground-up revision of Gibson’s stunning original solidbody electric in over 60 years is a masterpiece of style. In addition to its luscious goldtop finish, it features a unique pinstripe design created by Billy himself, which is hand-recreated one at a time by respected hotrod-pinstripe artist Rick Harris and a Gibson artist trained personally by Rick. Sonically and visually, the guitar blows the doors off the venue with a neck profile measured precisely from the Rev’s own Les Paul, ultra-light construction, custom electronics, and a pair of Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups.

150 Billy F. Gibbons Goldtops will be carefully hand-aged, with 50 of them played and hand-signed by Billy himself; each of these will have the added kitsch of a Texas-shaped “buckle rash” wear pattern adorning its back. A further 150 VOS models round out the Limited Run of 300 guitars.

One interesting feature of the Billy F. Gibbons Goldtop not mentioned in the description above is the lack of a pickup selector switch. There is a volume control for each pickup and a master tone control. At $5,665 and up and only 300 being made, it’s not a guitar for the masses, but it looks like a pretty cool guitar for those that can afford it.

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Fender Reclaimed Wood Guitars

Fender has recently introduced an interesting new limited series of guitars that are made from old-growth pine and redwood timbers:

RECLAIMED EASTERN PINE

The Fender Eastern Pine guitars revisit the earliest incarnations of Fender instruments, when Leo Fender created the first Telecaster® guitars from the very same tone wood. To maintain the natural beauty of the wood, accentuate special anomalies such as knots and holes, and allow the guitars to truly breathe, builders left the wood intact and unconcealed with the exception of a hand-rubbed stain.

RECLAIMED OLD-GROWTH REDWOOD

Because this batch of redwood varies in weight and density, each guitar projects a complex tone that is completely unique. To offset the antiqued elegance of the aging wood, Fender craftsmen enhanced each understated instrument with modern features for a true combination of past and present. The necks and bodies are also hand-stained and left untreated to accentuate a natural look, feel and sound.

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Writer Steve Hochman on the Fender American Design Experience

Fender commissioned Los Angeles Times rock critic Steve Hochman to write about their new Fender American Design Experience, where you can design your own Fender guitar and order it exactly how you want it directly from Fender. Here’s what Steve had to say:

By Steve Hochman

There’s an impending arrival in Amos Heller’s life that pretty much overshadows everything else. Home in Nashville between world tours playing bass in Taylor Swift’s band, Heller and his wife are expecting the birth of their first child.

But another upcoming delivery has him excited too. He’s one of the first artists tapped by Fender to explore the new American Design Experience — creating an instrument to his own specifications via an easy-to-use online interface that lets you choose the materials, hardware and accessories to get the sound and look that’s just what you want. And the result is on its way from the Fender factory in Corona, Calif.

“When Fender asked me to participate, I think I built about 1,800 combinations on the website before ordering,” he said. “I bored my wife to death asking things like ‘How about the pearl white pickguard?’ She’d answer, ‘I don’t care!’ But who doesn’t fantasize?”

Heller made his fantasy into reality, using the modular features, step-by-step, to create his own bass.

“I wanted something that would have a lot of character in it,” he explained.

His hand-picked model: A Jazz Bass with a maple neck — “famous for that distinctive jazz midrange presence that can cut through” — coupled with the 1964 Jazz Bass pickup — “because the first one I ever got from Fender had that, and it was the best sound I ever played.”

The one he designed has a nice classic look and feel: Lake Placid Blue body made of alder, tortoiseshell pickguard, black knobs, ‘70s Jazz Bass maple fingerboard, high-mass vintage-mount bridge, the ’64 Jazz Bass vintage pickups he mentioned and nickel hardware. All this for a cost comparable to an off-the-rack model.

“You see all these great signature series, instruments that great players have tweaked to be their own,” Heller said. “This gives you your own signature, something uniquely yours.”

He then paused for a much-needed breath.

“I’m way into this,” he continued. “As you can probably tell.”

He’s not the only one.

“Getting a custom guitar for this kind of money is pretty damn good!” said Telecaster devotee Dale Watson, master innovator in the long line of country, rockabilly and roots players with nearly two dozen twang-fueled albums to his name, the latest being 2013’s El Rancho Azul.

“Being able to order your own type of neck and fretboard and hardware and pickup and body combination kind of floors me, really,” said Watson. “We could all go in and buy a 1957 Strat or Tele if we could afford it, or if we knew where it was. But even then, I’ve played some and the neck wasn’t right. I have two Fenders I bought off the rack—a Thinline Deluxe and another Tele Standard I bought on the road. They play fine, but one has a maple neck where I’d rather have rosewood. The other has rosewood, but I’d rather have the traditional Tele pickups.”

Ditto for Butch Walker, who in addition to his own albums has a long list of writing and production credits from Taylor Swift to Pink to Panic! at the Disco to Keith Urban.

“I was never a kid growing up who liked stock items off the shelf,” he offered. “I would wear a different color sock on each foot, put patches on my jackets — still do! — and dye my hair different colors, just to not be like everybody else in the classroom. When I would see guitars on the walls at music stores as a young gun, I would say to myself, ‘Oh, I love this Strat with the white body, but I wish it had brass tuners or a pearl pick guard, and a rosewood neck instead of maple.’”

For Walker it’s more than just having a guitar you like. It’s about a full sense of self-expression.

“Being able to go to the site now and just design your own Tele or Strat from the ground up gives you that same feeling of personalization and individualism that makes you feel good about yourself,” said Walker. “And chances are the guy next door won’t have the same exact thing. I just designed a Tele that I can’t wait to get. It’s going to be my very own model. Who doesn’t want that?”

For Watson, the American Design Experience allowed him to find a sweet-spot guitar that had previously seemed elusive — and it’s not the strictly ‘50s vintage outfit you might expect. Well, not entirely.

“I’m not a big fan of the early ‘50s neck that was really fat and round,” he says, noting that he has relatively small hands. “I like the ‘60s neck. But I like the ‘50s body that was really light and made of ash.”

The key for him is the bridge. Rather than the six-saddle bridge with each string to itself, he went for the three-saddle model, pairing up strings.

“This is just my ear and I could be totally wrong — but I have talked to some people I respect, and for the most part everyone agrees that the six-saddle – even though you get a lot of great adjustment possibilities – you can make it where every string is in tune all the way down the neck,” he said. “With the traditional three saddles on the tailpiece, they seem to me to lay against the body and the bridge plate a little better to give you more sustain. I picked a less powerful pickup so my sustain isn’t going to be as good as someone with a more blues-oriented, honkin’ pickup. So a six-saddle would be good for them. But with me, a three connects to the body in a more solid fashion. I like it when you hit a chords and it rings, stays out there a while.”

The upshot is the guitar he ordered is specific to him, in a way that would have been difficult — and expensive — to find before now.

“When I went on the site to play around, I basically built an old style guitar, which is beautiful,” he said. “If you get one of these old guitars you’re lucky to find them for six or seven grand. I was able to build a new one for a lot less.”

Now, these guys are pros, with the knowledge, experience and access that allows them to know just what they want and, now more than ever, how to get it. Arguably, though, the American Design Experience is an even bigger boon to the regular guy or gal, the amateur player, the folks who don’t know a humbucker from hummus or those who are intimidated walking into a guitar store. For lefties (your humble scribe included) who have largely had to settle for picking from whatever handful of southpaw models may (or may not) be at any given store, it’s a near miracle, as both guitars and both basses in the ADE program can be made either way.

Picking a look is very simple. As the user “builds” the instrument on the site, the image takes on the specific characteristics. It’s simple to switch bodies and necks and hardware and see any combination almost instantly. As for what any choice might sound like, each pickup, each wood selection, has an accompanying description of its sonic characteristics. For example, the American Standard Stratocaster SSS pickups are known for their warmth while the Custom Shop Texas Specials have “increased midrange, punch and presence.”

And to further help, a growing roster of Fender artists, including the three quoted here, share their choices and insight into how they approached the process on the Collaborate page, where these demanding experts give you a head start with their own designs.

In may ways, says Fender Electric Guitars Vice President Justin Norvell, the American Design Experience fulfills an ideal held by Leo Fender himself when he started experimenting in the ‘40s and ‘50s, laying the foundation of what would soon become iconic musical instruments. Essentially, modularity was built into Fender guitars and basses from the very beginning.

“As the company grew, we’ve tried to stay close to these roots,” he said. “The Internet affords the opportunity to increase that scale for more people. But every customization has always been nothing more than a couple of screws away. This further levels the playing field where you can build a signature instrument to your specs.”

It’s also a great way for people to step into the world of Fender and learn from the ground up — whether they buy a guitar at this time or not.

“That was the challenge, to be techy enough for the real professionals, but not make it a thing where you’d have to go to school to navigate,” Norvell explained. “A lot of people want to learn things, but in a way that’s not intimidating.”

After all, Leo Fender’s founding philosophy was that a guitar should be something the player wants to play, something that suits him or her perfectly. That’s something Dale Watson learned directly from Leo and something he explicitly incorporated into his American Design Experience Telecaster.

“Leo Fender gave me a guitar for the first video I ever did,” he recalled. “I went down there and played it and was tickled to death. And he’s there with his glasses on, with all the different magnifying glasses attached, and he had a pocket pen protector but with screwdrivers and wrenches. I was playing the guitar and he said to play the B string again, and then he made a little adjustment and said ‘That’s better.’ I told him as soon as I finished the video I’d keep it safe at my house. He said, ‘Give it back then if you aren’t going to play it.’ I said, ‘But, I play 6, 7 nights a week. It will get beat up.’ He said, ‘I’m not a musician; I’m a maker. My biggest joy is knowing that something I made is going to someone who can feed their kids, put a roof over their heads.’ He also talked about how he hated people buying his guitars and putting them under glass.

So I said, “Ok, it’s going to get really beat up,” and he said, “It’s just a hammer, Dale. A hammer.’

“And that’s what I had them put on the neck plate of the new American Design Tele I just ordered: ‘Custom Made for Dale Watson.’ And underneath that, ‘It’s just a hammer.’”

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Fender MLB-Themed Stratocasters

I’m a little late in posting about these, but Fender has released a series of MLB-themed Stratocasters:

The victory chant. The walk-up song. The anthems we know and love. Rock ‘n’ roll is the soundtrack that captivates fans during baseball’s most memorable moments. The ballpark is a classic scene for some of the greatest musical performances of all time. America’s pastime and America’s sound are made for each other.

With ballpark-worthy looks and sparkling Fender tone, the Fender MLB Stratocaster® guitar celebrates the coming-together of these two cultural institutions. Each highly collectible guitar features unique team imagery alongside genuine Fender craftsmanship for a long-lasting instrument that appeals to generations of sports and music fans.

Commemorate 60 years of Stratocaster history and more than a century of sports greatness—from the bleachers to the bandstand and beyond.

As a life-long Braves fan, I’m sad to see that the Braves were not part of this initial run. The teams currently available are: Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.

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Gibson Les Paul Recording

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This is an interesting reissue that I missed a few weeks ago. Gibson is bringing back a limited edition version of the Les Paul Recording guitar:

A major part of Les Paul’s original vision for the solidbody electric guitar was to incorporate features crucial to studio musicians, and that dream was realized in the famed Les Paul Recording Model of the 1970s. The new Les Paul Recording guitar from Gibson USA—hand-crafted, American-made, and impressively affordable—pays tribute to Les’s original concept while adding key updates for superior sound and performance.

The Les Paul Recording couples Gibson’s legendary tone and playability with the very best of today’s electronics to create a dream instrument for studio guitarists. Two versatile new pickups route through a premium, industry-standard Jensen audio transformer for a balanced low-impedance output that can go direct into pro mixers or computer audio interfaces. Or, select the High-Z out for traditional guitar amps. “Fat Tap” coil splitting on each pickup, a phase-reverse switch, and ground lift switch for the Low-Z output dramatically extend the Les Paul Recording’s versatility.

Select Grade-A mahogany and a Grade-A rosewood fingerboard, with frets over binding for extended playing surface, form an unbeatable foundation; Grover™ kidney-button tuners, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a classic Bigsby™ B-7 vibrato tailpiece provide accurate tuning with serious sustain. The high-gloss natural nitrocellulose lacquer finish lets the wood’s natural beauty shine through, while a multi-ply bound body and headstock, “Custom” style split-diamond headstock inlay, and small pearloid block fingerboard inlays complete this first-class musical instrument.

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NAMM 2014: New Martin Models

Speaking of Martin, they have announced all of the newest 2014 models on their website. A few that stuck out to me are the CS-00S-14, the SS-000S-14, and the 000-28K Authentic 1921. Like I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for a slot head. None of these are very cheap, but they sure do look nice!

CS-00S-14

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SS-000S-14

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000-28K Authentic 1921

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NAMM 2014: Private Stock Alex Lifeson Thinline Signature Acoustic

For fans of Rush, PRS and Alex Lifeson have teamed up to create the Private Stock Alex Lifeson Thinline Signature acoustic guitar:

“During the 2013 Rush Clockwork Angels Tour, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a PRS Angelus Cutaway. It quickly became my pre-show warm up guitar, and I spent many hours in many hotel rooms lost in the gorgeous sound and tone of that beautiful instrument. I’m very happy to announce that I have collaborated with PRS to develop an Alex Lifeson Signature model based on this superlative platform. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to put it down,” Alex Lifeson.

While the craftsmanship and attention to detail are very consistent with other PRS Private Stock acoustics, this instrument embodies some new design elements that take the instrument in a unique direction. The Alex Lifeson signature PRS acoustic is slightly thinner than the company’s Angelus Cutaway and Tonare Grand and is constructed in such a way that it lends itself to louder stage volumes and the rigors of the road. The Alex Lifeson signature acoustic features a bearclaw spruce top and koa back and sides with a mahogany neck and ebony bridge, fretboard, and headstock veneer. It is adorned with Mother of Pearl and Paua “Birds in Flight” inlays and Paua purfling along the top, fretboard, and headstock veneer.

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