Archive for the "Reviews" Category

Mini-Review: Fano Alt de Facto GF6

Earlier this year, Fano Guitars announced the Alt de Facto GF6 model, which is inspired by and loosely based on the Fender Starcaster models from the 70s. I finally had a chance to play one for a short period of time and have a few thoughts about it.

One of the things you can’t really tell based on the pictures is the size of the guitar body. I’ve owned a few 335-style guitars, and I’ve always felt the body was too large for me. I would say the GF6 is roughly the same size as a 335, but the offset body makes it much more comfortable to me. While sitting down, the guitar didn’t feel too big, and my right hand and arm were able to rest comfortably on the guitar.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about factory-relic’d guitars and Fano can sometimes go over the top, but the sanded neck on the GF6 felt great. I would describe the neck size as similar to modern Fender C-shaped necks, which I find to be very comfortable. I should note that if you’re really not into relic’d guitars, Fano now has the option to not get the relic job on new guitars. The guitar I played had a light relic job, and I thought it looked pretty good and not as fake as some of the heavily relic’d models that you sometimes see.

The guitar I played had a maple body, which I thought would make it too bright sounding for my taste. However, perhaps due to the larger size of the guitar, it had a nice, sweet tone that had a really nice ringing quality to it. It also had Fralin P90s, which I’m sure added a bit to the ringing quality of the guitar. I think if I were going to spec one out for a custom build, I’d probably lean towards a mahogany body, a maple top, a rosewood fretboard, and the Lollar Imperial humbuckers that Fano offers as an option. However, the P90s sounded great, and I would give those another shot before making my final decision.

Overall, I really liked the Fano Alt de Facto GF6 that I played. It was very comfortable to play, sounded great, and it had a great vibe to it.

Posted in: Guitars, Reviews

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Review: Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus

Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology and language at NYU, decided in his late 30s to learn how to play the guitar after years of believing he couldn’t do it. He chronicles his journey in his book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.

In the book, Marcus examines how we learn in general as well as how we learn music specifically. He attempts to determine whether an adult can learn music as adeptly as a child. He also attempts to answer the questions of whether talent matters more than practice and whether you can become a great musician by practicing even if you have no talent. Marcus concludes that both are talent and practice are important. One without the other would likely not lead to greatness.

Throughout the book, Marcus weaves a narrative of his journey in between a scientific analysis of learning. He dives deep into the cognitive science involved in our learning processes in an attempt to determine what parts of the brain we use when learning music. I found it interesting that the grey matter in our brain changes as a result of learning new things.

Additionally, he talks to a number of professional musicians to get their insight on the process of learning guitar. For example, he gets to meet and talk with guitarist Tobias Hurwitz at his Day-Jams summer camp, which is a kind of school of rock. Marcus attends in order to write about his experience at the camp, and along the way he learns enough bass to join a band with a group of students. He also spends time with guitarists Pat Metheny and Tom Morello to explore more about how they learned.

All in all, I found Guitar Zero to be an interesting and enjoyable read. At times, it got a little too academic and a little dry, but Marcus’s personal journey and explorations helped offset a bit of the dryness. If you’ve ever been curious about the process of learning music, I think you would enjoy Guitar Zero.

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Jazz III 30-Day Experiment Follow-up

In November, I conducted a 30-day experiment of exclusively using the Dunlop Jazz III pick. I started using the Jazz III as my only pick on November 1. I thought I’d give this follow-up to discuss the results. I should note that my experiment consisted only of trying the red standard Jazz III picks.

Prior to the experiment, I had used the Jazz III pick sporadically, but had never tried using it as my only pick for any extensive period of time. I began using the Dunlop Tortex Standard 1.0mm (the blue one) many years ago, and that’s been my primary pick ever since I first picked it up. My main questions when I started this experiment were 1) Could I get used to the size, 2) Is there a significant difference in tone and feel, and 3) Could the Jazz III become my primary pick? I’ve been able to answer each of these questions.

Perhaps the most interesting question to me was whether I could get used to the size of the Jazz III pick. When I started the experiment, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get used to it. But, after just a day or two of use, I was able to adjust to the smaller size. As I mentioned in the initial post about my experiment, although I was able to get used to the size, I still had some issues related to the smaller size of the pick. I use a percussive right-hand picking attack, and the smaller size affects the nail on my picking hand index finger. Basically, my nail gets mangled when I use the Jazz III pick. I like to use my nails when I finger pick, and a mangled nail on my index finger affects my ability to do so.

The second question I wanted to answer was: Is there a significant difference in tone and feel with these picks? The answer is a resounding yes. The attack is much brighter, and the feel is night and day different. I really like the Jazz III pick. I felt like I could pick faster and more accurately. I can see why so many shredders like this pick. It’s a phenomenal pick for high-speed playing. However, strumming with the pick is not ideal.

This leads me to my third question: Could the Jazz III become my primary pick? The answer is, as of now, no. I consider myself more a groove oriented player rather than a speed player. I’m not much of a soloist, so the benefits of the Jazz III pick are somewhat lost on me. Furthermore, as a percussive style player, I’ve found that I need a standard-sized pick. As a result, I’m back to using the Dunlop Tortex standard 1.0mm pick as my primary pick.

What about the Tortex TIII picks that I mentioned in my initial post? (If you’re unaware, the TIII is basically a cross between the Tortex standard picks and the Jazz III picks.) I’ve added the TIII to my stable of picks, but I still find that my picking style works best with the rounded corners of the standard picks vs. the pointed Jazz III style edge of the TIII. However, if you like the tone and attack provided by the Jazz III but want the size and feel of a standard Tortex pick, I think the TIII is an excellent choice.

Even though I ended up returning to the picks I was using prior to the experiment, I really enjoyed changing things up. I’ve now got a new tool to add to my guitar playing arsenal, which is always a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Posted in: Accessories, General, Reviews

Review: NS Mini Headstock Tuner

The folks at D’Addario/Planet Waves recently sent me a review unit of their NS Mini Headstock Tuner. Headstock tuners have become more popular over the past few years. I tried one made by a different company in the past and was not impressed. As a result, I was skeptical of the NS Mini Tuner. However, I’ve found the NS Mini Tuner to be a great blend of simplicity and accuracy, two things I value in any tuner regardless of size.

Background Information

Before I go further into my impressions of the tuner, here’s a little information about it and what makes it different: The NS Mini Tuner uses a low profile design that fits easily on many headstocks and doesn’t stick out above the guitar. It uses a piezo pickup design that I’ve found to be very accurate. The display shows up as red when the string is out of tune and green when it is in or very nearly in tune. The note is framed when it is in tune. It can go from 430Hz to 450Hz, with 440Hz being the default. You can even change whether the display shows sharps or flats, which helps with an Eb-tuned guitar like I sometimes use. Trying to convert sharp notes to flat notes on the fly can lead to some confusion, and the ability to configure the display to show flat notes helps with this. Also, it clamps and releases from guitars very easily once you get the hang of the clamp. Another handy feature is the fact that the unit turns off after 10 minutes to help conserve the battery.

Is it accurate?

The most important thing that matters with any tuner is how accurate it is. To that end, I’ve found the NS Mini Headstock Tuner to be very accurate. It seems to be as accurate as any of my other tuners. I was a little concerned about how easily it would pick up the notes from my electric guitars, but my concerns were unfounded. It easily picks up the notes, and the display is clear and easy to follow.

Size matters

You can’t review a headstock tuner and not talk about the size of the tuner. The head unit of the other tuner that I reviewed was large and stuck out from the headstock. By contrast, the NS Mini Tuner sits flush with the headstock and easily fits behind most headstocks, even smaller headstocks like those used on Fender Telecasters. Because it is so small and fits flush behind the headstock, the tuner can be left on when storing the guitar in the case or gig bag. The NS Mini is by far the lowest profile headstock tuner I’ve seen.

A caveat

I have a mixture of guitars, some of which use a 6-in-a-row Fender-style headstock and others that use a 3+3 headstock design. In my experience, the tuner is easier to use on Fender-style headstock designs than those that use a 3+3 design. On Fender-style headstocks you can put the tuner anywhere on the bottom of the headstock that works best for you. On 3+3 headstocks, you either have to put the tuner before the tuning keys near the nut or at the end of the headstock. If you put the tuner by the nut, I’ve found that it can sometimes get in the way when playing in the first position. If you put it after the tuners at the far end of the headstock, your hand gets in the way when you’re trying to tune the guitar. Additionally, on PRS headstocks, there’s not enough room at the far end of the headstock, so the tuner has to go by the nut. You can still make the tuner work on 3+3 headstocks, but it is much easier to use the tuner on Fender-style headstocks.

Actual usage

I’ve tried the tuner in a number of scenarios using several different guitars. As I’ve mentioned above, the tuner is really easy to use. You just clamp the tuner to the headstock, and you’re ready to go. Using the tuner while playing is as simple as hitting the power button and tuning away. Because the tuner shuts off after 10 minutes, you need not worry about turning it off before starting to play again.

I recently went on vacation and took one of my Strats with me. I decided to try taking the NS Mini Tuner as my only tuner. It worked great! The tuning was accurate, and it stored easily in my case and was ready whenever I needed it.

Conclusion

After spending some time with the tuner and using it in a variety of situations, I would recommend the NS Mini Headstock Tuner by D’Addario/Planet Waves to anyone looking for a small, easy to use headstock tuner. It’s particularly well-suited for Fender-style headstocks, but you can also use it on 3+3 headstocks with a little work to find the position that works best for you. The street price of the NS Mini Headstock Tuner is less than $20.

Check out the video below to see the tuner in action (notably with a Gibson-style 3+3 headstock):

Posted in: Reviews

Review: Essential Fretboard from StevieSnacks.com

Anthony Stauffer of StevieSnacks.com has been providing free blues guitar lessons in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan since 2007. He started out by providing free lessons on YouTube and later progressed to providing premium guitar lessons that cover a number of specific topics related to playing Texas-style electric blues. For example, his most recently released premium lesson series covers the techniques employed by one of Stevie’s greatest influences, Albert King. Some of Anthony’s other lesson series include Essential Fretboard, Essential Theory, The 5 Essential Blues Boxes, 5 Boxes Essential Licks, Essential Techniques, among others.

A hallmark of each of these lesson series is Anthony’s attention to detail and quality. It’s clear that he has put a lot of time into designing and creating these lessons. I don’t know about you, but I’ve purchased a number of lesson DVDs that appear to be nothing more than an artist sitting in a room playing while someone else comes in later to transcribe it with no real thought to how the lessons are laid out. Watching the artist play can be fun, and maybe you can get some licks out of it, but it really doesn’t qualify as instruction, in my opinion. Anthony’s lessons are the opposite of that. They are clearly thought out to cover the topics within each series without a whole lot of unnecessary fluff.

The series I want to focus on in this review is Essential Fretboard. In this series, Anthony provides a roadmap for beginning blues guitarists learning the fretboard. Basically, this series provides a fretboard map that illustrates the essential chords and soloing shapes for playing blues and blues-based music. If you’ve been playing blues-based music for a while, then much of what’s included here will be review; this lesson series is intended for beginning-to-intermediate-level guitarists. However, I think this lesson series includes a lot of great information for those new to playing blues music.

The Essential Fretboard series includes thirteen separate video lessons, broken down as follows:

1. Introduction
2. Building the Fretboard Map
3. E Form Bar Chords
4. A Form Bar Chords
5. Partial G Form Chords
6. The 5 Essential Boxes
7. Backdoor Pattern
8. Sliding Box 1
9. Triangles
10. 7th Chords
11. 9th Chords
12. Shuffle Patterns
13. Putting It All Together

The lessons are, for the most part, delivered in three distinct sections: theoretical illustration, practical demonstration, and exercises. In the beginning of each lesson, Anthony discusses the theoretical application of the concepts, but this doesn’t mean that he introduces a lot of music theory (this is a good thing). After illustrating what the lesson is about, he shows you what he is talking about by demonstrating the concepts on the guitar. He follows this in most lessons with some exercises that you can follow to apply the principles that he has taught in the lesson.

In addition to the video lessons, there are several supplemental materials. Backing tracks are included so that you can play along with the examples. Additionally, Anthony has included PDF files containing tabbed exercises and diagrams of the fretboard.

I really like Anthony’s teaching style. He is thorough enough to cover the concepts that he is teaching, but does not get mired down in the technical details like some other teachers can do. And, because Anthony plays and enjoys the style of music that he’s teaching, you can get a real sense that he’s enjoying himself in the videos, which makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable video.

I’d also like to point out a little something that isn’t necessarily related to the lessons directly, but which I think is almost equally important. You’ve probably seen other online teachers that try to sell you the “secrets of the pros” or some snake oil that will magically make you a better player. I’ve visited those types of sites before, and I always feel like I need a shower afterwards. Anthony doesn’t do that, and I appreciate that. Instead, Anthony’s site is geared simply towards providing information about his lessons and highlighting the latest free lessons. He even provides a flowchart to help you figure out which lesson series is right for you.

Over the years, I’ve taken a number of different types of lessons, including in-person lessons, lessons from books, and video-based lessons. While in-person lessons will give you the most feedback, I’m coming around to really liking video-based lessons. I’m more of a visual learner, and it’s nice to be able to rewind a lesson to revisit a particularly tough section. Fortunately, we live in an age where video-based instruction is as easy as opening up YouTube and typing “guitar lesson.”

Of the myriad online guitar lessons that are available, Anthony’s lessons at StevieSnacks.com are some of my favorite due to his approachable teaching style and well-thought-out lessons. If you’re looking to learn SRV-style blues guitar, I highly recommend Anthony’s lessons. If you’re just getting started with learning blues guitar, then I can specifically recommend Anthony’s Essential Fretboard series. You can view details about the Essential Fretboard series on StevieSnacks.com, as well as view some sample videos to see if the lesson series is right for you.

Posted in: Education, Reviews, Videos

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Samamp VAC 40 Series II

This past weekend I attended the Nashville Amp Expo. It was a great time checking out a bunch of new gear and chatting about guitars with some great people, including Anthony Stauffer of StevieSnacks.com. He and I spent a good amount of time speaking with Sam Timberlake, creator of the Samamp line of amps.

I first heard about Samamp through Anthony’s demo of the VAC 23 and have been curious to learn more about them ever since. Sam has developed a system of using appliance lights to lower the wattage of his amps without negatively affecting the tone like other attenuation methods. He calls this feature Variable Amplitude Clipping (VAC). By using this feature he is able to provide multiple wattage options in one amp. For example, the VAC 23 amp has the following wattage options: 3, 5, 11, 18, and 23. These power options make the amp suitable for both home hobbyists and gigging musicians.

I was really looking forward to hearing this amp in person. However, when I visited Sam’s room at the show, I saw that he has released a new model called the VAC 40 Series II, which builds upon the VAC 23. As its name implies, the VAC 40 can go up to 40 watts, but it can also go down to 4 watts. Like the VAC 23, the VAC 40 clean tone is similar to Fender amps. In addition to the clean channel, the VAC 40 adds a second, gain channel. The gain channel is really smooth. Sam has developed a foot pedal to use with the amp to switch channels that also has a configurable volume roll-back knob for use with the gain channel, so you effectively get two levels of gain out of the gain channel.

Check out Anthony’s review of the VAC 40 for a little more detail about the features of the amp. Additionally, in his review he has posted a video that I shot of him playing through the amp. Note that the video was shot using his iPhone, so the sound quality suffers a little, and I’m apparently a shaky camera operator.

I really liked the Samamp VAC 40 Series II amp. The amp is really versatile, and the features are well thought-out. If you’re looking for a hand-made boutique amp, then I recommend checking out the Samamp line of amps. The VAC 40 starts out at about $1600, so they aren’t the cheapest amps around, but they are very well-made and sound great.

Posted in: Amps, Reviews

Review: Fulltone Supa-Trem

Editor’s note: This review is written by my friend Jim, a self-professed guitar- and pedal-junkie based out of Nashville, TN. Check out Jim’s blog for more reviews like this one.

The Fulltone Supa-Trem brings back memories of old tube amps with vibrant tremolo sounds. This pedal is true bypass with a LED status and speed indicator. It also has two large knobs for Rate and Mix that you can easily move with your foot.

This pedal is perfect for bringing some twang filled country licks or can be used to bring a unique flutter at will with the mix knob. The hard/soft button changes the sound of the pedal entirely going from a smooth wavering type sound or to extreme stutter.

The build quality is impressive. This pedal is more than ready to take any abuse from the road that you can throw at it. The pedal even has two internal trimmers to offer more options. One trimmer adjusts the volume of the pedal, and the other adjusts the amount of current that is used when the “soft” option is engaged. This changes the feel from intense to smooth.

If you are looking for one of the best tremolo pedals available, look no further than the Fulltone Supa-Trem. The cost is $190 new and approximately $120 used, which is pretty reasonable for a durable, high quality pedal packed full of features.

Posted in: Reviews, Videos

Premier Guitar Reviews the Fender Pawn Shop Series

Premier Guitar recently posted this video review of the new Fender Pawn Shop Series of guitars that were released earlier this month:

I find these to be fairly interesting, as they’re nothing like anything Fender currently produces. There’s a Pawn Shop ’51, which has a Strat body with a Tele neck and Tele-like appointments, aside from a humbucker in the bridge position. There’s a Pawn Shop ’72, which has a Thinline Strat body with a wide-range humbucker in the neck and a regular humbucker in the bridge position. It also has a Tele neck. Finally, there’s the Pawn Shop Mustang Special, which has a Mustang body, a 24″ scale neck and dual Enforcer humbuckers.

I haven’t had a chance to play one yet, but the ’72 looks like the most interesting model to me. If you’ve played one of the Pawn Shop Series, let me know what you think of them.

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Recent Listening

This is a list of interesting albums that have crossed my path over the past few months, listed in alphabetical order.

Randy Kohrs – Quicksand Nashville-based musician Randy Kohrs is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer. He played dobro on Dierks Bentley’s #1 hit “What Was I Thinking” and won a Grammy in 2008 for producing Jim Lauderdale’s album The Bluegrass Diaries. In addition to his session and production work, Kohrs records as a solo artist. His latest album, Quicksand, features Kohrs playing and singing roots-based music with a bluegrass flavor. I don’t typically listen to this style of music, but I enjoy Kohrs’ take on it. Not to mention that his playing is fantastic on this album. I had a chance to see Kohrs play with Johnny Hiland at the 2010 Summer NAMM show, and it was great. If you have a chance to catch him live, I’d recommend it.

Bryan Lee – My Lady Don’t Love My Lady I first heard of Bryan Lee when he opened for and played with Kenny Wayne Shepherd at a concert I attended in the late 90s. Lee is a blind blues guitarist from Louisiana who has released 13 albums. His latest album, My Lady Don’t Love My Lady, was released in 2009 and was produced by Duke Robillard, who also guests on the album. Other guest stars include Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Buddy Guy. On this release, I found some of the songs to be a little weak, but Lee’s guitar playing makes this an enjoyable listen.

Dudley Taft – Left for Dead The copy of Dudley Taft’s album Left for Dead that I received included a note written by Taft himself telling me that he enjoyed this site, which pretty much guaranteed that I was going to give it a listen. Upon listening to the album, I was treated with an interesting blend of SRV and ZZ Top. Of the 12 tunes on the album, 7 are written by Taft. The other songs include covers of songs by Willie Dixon, Charlie Patton, Peter Green, and Billy Myles. Although not ground-breaking, this is an enjoyable blues-rock album.

Tierra Negra and Muriel Anderson – New World Flamenco Muriel Anderson is an excellent fingerstyle guitarist who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on a number of occasions. New World Flamenco is a collaboration between Anderson and Tierra Negra (Leo Henrichs and Raughi Ebert). I think the players complement each other well on this album. There’s a flamenco undertone to each song, with some nice melodies played over it. A friend of mine was able to see them playing at a house show here in Nashville not too long ago and said that they sounded really good.

Will Tucker – Stealin’ the Soul Will Tucker is a young blues guitarist based out of Memphis, TN. His debut album, Stealin’ the Soul, features an original song by Tucker (“Your Sacrifice”) as well as covers of songs by Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry, and Jimi Hendrix. Tucker’s playing is solid on the album, but some of the songs are a little predictable. He currently plays weekly at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, which is pretty impressive for such a relatively young artist. He will be releasing his second album in the summer of 2011.

James Blood Ulmer – In and Out I had never heard of James Blood Ulmer before receiving a review copy of his In and Out album, which was released in 2010. This album is perhaps best described as avant-garde blues. There’s a definite blues undertone to the music, but Ulmer doesn’t let that stop him from taking the music in different directions. In some cases, the music seems like what Hendrix might have created if he was making jazz music. The music isn’t easily categorized, but is a lot of fun to listen to.

Posted in: Reviews

Review: Shred Master Exercises and Studies by GuitarNoize.com

Jon Bloomer, who runs the guitar blog GuitarNoize.com, has recently released an ebook titled Shred Master Exercises and Studies to help guitarists improve their speed and dexterity. The book contains 25 exercises that cover a ton of different techniques, including pull-offs, hammer-ons, sliding, tapping, string skipping, right-hand picking, and legato techniques. The exercises are presented in both standard and tab notation, with suggestions for fingerings and picking.

In addition to the exercises, Jon has created videos for each of the lessons. The videos show the exercises in both slow and normal speed; you can start slowly and work your way up to playing at the speed Jon intended. I’m more of a visual learner, so I find the videos to be the best part of the package. And, the videos are well done and show the exercises in great detail.

Another nice feature of these exercises is the fact that you’re learning licks that are musical. You could use some of these licks in your own music. Not only are you gaining speed and dexterity, you’re learning some interesting licks.

Shred Master Exercises and Studies costs just $12.99 for the book and videos. However, if you don’t need the videos, you can purchase the ebook without the videos for just $8.99.

Below is a sample video from the ebook:

Posted in: Lessons, Reviews

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