March 16, 2015

Fender Super Champ by Paul Rivera

I don't know anything about amp guru Paul Rivera or his current offerings.

However, I do know he worked for Fender in the early to mid 80's.
While there, he designed one of the finest recording amps ever: The Super Champ

  In production from 1982-1985, this amp is a BEAST in a small package.

- 1 x 10" 8ohm speaker
- 18 watts
- A compact 16 7/8″ x 13 7/8″ x 8 3/8″

- This amp is versatile and LOUD if you need it to be.
- It takes pedals very well.
- It doesn't take up a lot of space and won't throw your back out when transporting it.

I made a few changes...

 - Switched out the stock Fender speaker to an Eminence
which tightened up the low end. I can't stress how much bottom end is
hidden in this small wonder.

 - Installed a pair of NOS RCA 6v6 power tubes.

 - I also replaced the stock 6C10 tube with a NOS GE.
It's now dead quiet, sounds amazing and I use it for just about
every session; it never lets me down!

It boasts some of the finest clean headroom an amp can have.
This must be partially due to the beefed up 18 watt output stage.

It also has a nice "thrust" (quick reaction time) that balances well
with the tube input and output sections.
I'm thinking this may have to do with the faster reacting solid state rectifier.

What about the distortion channel? It's cool and reminds me of classic Joe Walsh.

However, because the clean side is friendly to crunch pedals,
I rarely use channel B.

Pat yourself on the back Mr. Rivera, these totally DROP-KICK ASS!
I like this amp so much, I just bought a second one.

October 22, 2014

"BOWTIE" 1961 Gibson ES-335

Weird things happen inside the world of vintage guitars.

In my case, if I search for something specific, it hardly ever works out. More often than not, a great old guitar will step in front of me with no warning.

*And when that vintage guitar cosmically delivers itself, a man will materialize many plans inside his head to attain the prize. This includes massive gear sell-offs, juggling impossible financial numbers and conjuring up excuses to the wife as to why we both need this guitar!

For years I'd been looking for a killer early 60's Gibson ES-330. My plan was to play it and let it accrue in value. Then after a few years, I'd sell it and work my way into my dream guitar:


I met my friend Jim Wolf at Gruhn's Guitars to check out the new arrival of a '61 Gibson 330. I played the 330 for a while and after comparing it to a few guitars I thought, it's ok but it's not "the one."

Then, for some unknown reason, I blindly went to the guitar
rack and randomly pulled off a Gibson 335 to compare. That's how I met Bowtie.

With the first cowboy G chord, I realized the 335 was balanced tonally. My friend Jim was listening unattached, which was a good thing. He said when compared to the others, it sounded really good to his ears. As I played and spent time with it, I realized it was a great 335 but my emotion needed checking and further testing was needed, for science of course!

Note The Bound Headstock

I talked with Keith Gregory and asked him to put a hold on Bowtie. This way I could bring my amp and pedal board down to Gruhn's, restring Bowtie with .011's and give it a thorough workout. When Keith said the price they would except was much lower than the tag indicated, my mind started racing... *see 2nd paragraph.

(L) Keith Gregory (R) Jim Wolf with Me and Bowtie

I found out through Keith that Bowtie had sat in Gruhn's for two years and hundred's of people must have looked at and played that guitar. The story is a gentleman in North Carolina wanted this dot neck guitar to match his Gibson RB-250 Banjo. An appraisal by Walter Carter says the bowtie inlays were more than likely done at the Gibson factory.

Gruhn's chief guitar tech, Andy Jellison, said this is one of the finest playing 335's to come through the store since he began there in 1994.

If there's a lesson here, it might be: "Don't judge a guitar by it's bowties."

August 21, 2014

Two Favorite Pop Rock Guitar Albums

It's always nice to find albums you can relate to years after your
"musical upbringing."

When I stumble on music later in life that hits me like the early days, it just "clicks" with complete honesty. This inspiration opens the door for new tones, creative ideas and a fresh approach.

Two of my favorite band guitar albums are Spoon's "Girls Can Tell" from 2001 and
Collective Soul's "Youth" released in 2004.

On "Girls Can Tell," writer, singer and guitarist Britt Daniel has bold, solid ideas.
The parts are simple and the tones are raw. And guess what else?
He uses something called space.

Daniel is a master at using space to make the songs bigger and yet they breathe.
Overall, this album is superb. It's a great piece of work that
I return to time and time again.

Collective Soul's "Youth" album has a more slick, commercial
thing going on. Big guitar octaves, small tones and everything in between.

I swear, there must be at least 25
different guitar sounds on this record and they're
all great because they're appropriate, add nice color and they seem
to be mixed just right.

Ed Roland is a killer songwriter.
IMO, it's in large part due to his understanding
of hooks and paying attention to details in every facet of a song.
I've listened to this album countless times; it totally works for me.

One last thing: I just downloaded Spoon's newest release from iTunes:
"They Want My Soul"  They explore some new territory on this one, I dig it.

July 11, 2014

A Masochists FUN: The Pedal Board Rebuild

      Oh the oy!
Assembling a pedal board is one of three banes of my existence. Mosquitoes and replacing the string on an Ernie Ball volume pedal are the other two.

|ˈpedl|  |bôrd|  |rēˈbild|    
verb:  the reassembling, cleaning and maitainance of a board with guitar effect pedals or sawing a steak knife between your toes.


Why do I dislike the pedal board redo?

- Even ordering ahead of time, I never have all the supplies needed.

- It's a logistical nightmare.

- It's time consuming.

- And it's likely I'm going to do this all over again in a year or two.

While one can learn something new during rebuilds, there's always a new challenge. It's incredibly labor intensive and there's a headache waiting to happen in the decision making process.

 Not to mention there's this:
"Damn, I gotta run to Radio Shack and Lowe's again."

For the working musician, pedal boards take a beating and they need maintenance. I must admit, I could do better in the upkeep category.

I'll look at a loose pedal coming off the board and think, "That's an easy fix, I'll do it later" and run to the next session. After a while, the pedal next to that will get banged around from the first loose pedal and it'll start freeing itself from it's velcro chains. Then, a stretched cable between those pedals will develop a short and yet another pedal comes loose. The next thing you know, it looks and sounds like a hell hole down there!

The board takes on a life of it's own... Real estate issues mysteriously form, magnetic dirt particles settle, intermittent wiring problems, materialized stains of an unknown origin, you find what looks like Dorito chip crumbs and you don't eat Dorito's...

And when it comes to powering that "Three Ring Circus" of sound, nothing on a board is standard aside from the Boss style power cables.

Yep, there's always a new wall wart to deal with...  9v, 9.6v, 15v, 18v, 24v 300-1500ma. AC, DC, arrrgh!

                            Perhaps I'm not doing this right... I'll pay someone to do it next year.
                                                            Where's that steak knife?               


June 13, 2014

I replaced the electronics on my 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop Reissue

Not long ago, I purchased a new Gibson '59 Les Paul reissue. I'd been looking at R9's for years but there was always something I thought the Custom Shop missed or the guitar gods couldn't agree on.

Be it a cardboard colored fret board, too heavy or light in weight, a mismatched top, uneven colored binding or it was tonally unbalanced.

The one I finally purchased has a gorgeous washed cherry top, a perfect feeling chunky neck and a vintage looking dark colored fret board, nice!

I try all electric guitars acoustically before plugging in. This one rings out evenly, just beautiful.

This reissue is a VOS model. This is defined by Gibson as, "vintage original spec."

I played it for a good while and decided this is "the one" and I took it home... all $4,600 of it.

I took the new acquisition to a recording session and noticed the factory intonation was pretty good right out of the box.

After playing for a few months, I discovered the volume and tone potentiometers were not "vintage original spec." Here's how I found out:

Working along side other guitarists, I played and compared their Gibsons to my R9. I had my own '66 ES-335 as well.

It became obvious the Burstbucker pickups on mine lacked the character and tone of the other pickups... Nowhere near the sound of a real PAF or other modern replacement. My pickups were thin with none of the "slap" and toughness of a classic PAF.

Before the hate mail rolls in, let's be clear: This is only one man's subjective opinion.

Needless to say, I replaced the pickups.

While changing pickups, I had to replace the bridge volume pot because it developed a dead spot a few months earlier. No output right around number 9 on the knob.

However, I ended up replacing the entire wiring harness with an RS Guitarworks harness because I discovered the Custom Shop installed 300k pots... An original '59 is supposed to have 500k volume and tone pots!

After replacing the wiring harness. It became obvious how poorly the stock Gibson pots had functioned all along. When turning down the volume, I used to lose a lot of treble. Also, the volume levels were "all or none" with very little room for finer adjustments.

In conclusion... When someone pays top dollar for an instrument advertised as "vintage original fuc*^#* spec," shouldn't something like the electronics be of good quality and as close to the original blueprint as possible?

Since the upgrades, I've talked with other guitarists about their experiences with the electronics on Gibson reissues and we're all in agreement:

Paying a small fortune for a Gibson reissue is merely a good starting point. You'll have to pay even more to replace most of the electronics to have the guitar you always wanted.

March 3, 2013

Alan Parsons Masterclass

I just finished up two days with Legendary Artist / Engineer / Songwriter Alan Parsons. We had dinner and worked together at Nashville's Ocean Way Studios. For those of you who don't know, Alan is an amazing artist and engineered Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. He also worked on The Beatles Abbey Road.