Sunday, February 7, 2016

ADHD Reviews: Playing the Fender Frankenstein copy

Back in 2007 or 2008 (I really don't remember which) Chip Ellis who worked for Fender Corp got permission from Eddie Van Halen to build a limited run exact replicas of Ed's famous Frankenstein. According to legend they wanted to build more but could only find the exact parts for 300 of them. That last part (only finding exact parts) has been disputed by various self proclaimed experts but we do know that they released 300 of these and only 180 were released in the USA.

even the case is cool
So imagine my surprise when, right after they announced it, an old friend of mine called to tell me he had one on order. This really surprised me because the ticket price on these were a whopping $25,000!!! This guy was a HUGE Eddie Van Halen fan so I knew owning this guitar was going to be very special for him. A few months later when it arrived he called to set up a time for me to drive up to his place and spend an evening checking it out.

dig the wiring in the center cavity

While he had checked it out he had boxed up the guitar so I could have the fun of opening the box. This of course added to the excitement of the whole thing. Every scar on this thing tells a story, and it looks like it's been dragged through battle. Burn marks from Ed's cigarettes, screw holes where he tried something and then moved it, areas where the paint has rubbed down... all tell stories.

Not gonna lie, I got a little giddy at this point!
The guitar plays well, but the action is not particularly low. The neck is super comfortable, I've gotten into fat necks the last ten years and prefer them to thin necks but the Frankie neck hits a sweet spot, not too thick for fans of thin necks but I certainly wouldn't call it a thin neck. Just very very comfortable.

 The pickup is fairly hot, I would describe it as a PAF on steroids. Similar to but not exactly like the current wolfgang pickups they are dropping in the EVH line.

a close up of the 1971 quarter

The scars of battle and the reflectors 
all of the these layers of paint are very smooth 

We had a great time that night, trading Van Halen riffs, drinking beer, swapping stories and catching up the way friends do. I'm not nearly the Van Halen player he is. I know a bunch of the licks but I've never worked on getting that swing down that Ed has. This guy has put the time in, and it shows. Some people are almost offended by limited run copies of famous guitars with exorbitant price tags. And while I wouldn't buy one I don't have a problem with people who do, or those companies who make them. I love that this guitar exist, it's as close as I will ever get to playing THAT guitar! If you've dedicated time in getting those licks perfected you can do them on most guitars. I remember this my friend playing a Les Paul through a solid state Marshall (a mosfet 100) with a tube screamer and sounding damn close to the Van Halen I tone. So him owning this guitar made sense to me. He's got the chops down perfect. He has since sold the Frankenstein guitar for a nice profit and of course he has picked up one of the new EVH striped guitars (the bumblebee).

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Five Lottery Guitars

You know the game, if you win the lottery what would you buy? For those of us with Gear Acquisition Syndrome often times it's that guitar we've been wanting to buy that's just out of reach but really we're talking lottery here, no hold barred, anything you want. And with Powerball nearing the billion mark someone asked me about my top 5 the other day which got me to thinking...

Zemaitis Pearl Front

Zemaitis- Tony Zemaitis may have been the first boutique builder in the electric guitar world. He had built guitars for Ron Wood, George Harrison, and Gilby Clark among others. He built his guitars completely by hand with an eye for detail. Originally all of these guitars were built only by Tony but after he retired in 2000 a Japanese company Greco got permission from his estate to carry on building Zemaitis guitars. I absolutely love the look of these guitars. The hand engraved metal fronts and the Pearl fronts are gorgeous and unique looking. Original Zemaitis guitars built by Tony easily hit $30-40,000. Most of them were owned by some big named players at some point and so the history of them plays into that as well. Greco versions of these guitars run in the $4-6,000 range.

PRS Dragon II

PRS Dragon II- A couple of years after I started playing guitar I walked into a large guitar shop in Orlando Fl to see one of these guitars behind the counter. It was a deep blue flamed guitar but what catches your eye is that amazing fretboard inlay. There have been a few different versions of the Dragon guitars built over the years but this one is my favorite. Only 100 were built of the Dragon II (only 50 of the first one) making it a collectors item forever. They don't turn up often either. Of course there is always the PRS Private Stock guitars but I would be on the look out for one of these.

'59 Gibson Les Paul- The 59 burst Les Paul is currently the most sought after guitar in the world.
Collectors Choice 
Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Slash, Gary Moore, Billy Gibons... the list goes on, have all talked about the magic of these guitars. Only around 1700 were built and less than 700 have been accounted for. Gibson makes 59 reissues as well as Collectors Choices runs that are close copies of originals. Still for some people they are not close enough and so check out Historic Makeovers that pull apart R9's to get them even closer to the real thing. I've seen the painstaking process up close and the work they do is as extensive as it is impressive. Because real 59's have become worth so much some artist such as Joe Bonamassa have had Historic Makeovers make them guitars to take on the road. That's some high praise. Possibly the most famous of these guitars is Greenie.

Fiesta Red Custom Shop Relic
Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster - I might catch some flack for this but I really don't want a real 60s strat. The reason is that I've played some that are great but I've played some that are not, they are not consistent at all. I feel like the stuff coming out of the Fender Custom Shop is consistently better and there are a lot of boutique builders who have learned how to get that old school vibe but with a more reliable quality than buying an old strat. That said if I came across an old one that was magic of course I'd hop on it. But when it comes to strats I'd rather spec out a custom build with the features I want. My 96 MIJ strat is very close to everything I want in a strat. That said I might have Fender build me something similar to the pic on the left. Fiesta Red, Brazilian rosewood fretboard. But I'll beat up the finish myself.

USRG30 photo credit MAEGuitars
Ibanez USRG30 - The Ibanez USRG custom guitars in the late 90's were by far the best Ibanez guitars I've ever played. These guitars were built by Dave Bunker in the USA with a special tension free neck that feels unlike anything else. I played three of these guitars and the feel and sound is fantastic. When I came into a little bit of money a few years ago I searched for one but sadly only found a couple that were pretty beat up. Still prices on these are not crazy and can be found for under $1000 up to $3000. Even though my taste have moved away from superstrats in recent years I still want one.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pete Thorn on Overdrives

If you don't know who Pete Thorn is look him up on youtube! He has a pretty impressive working resume, as well as being an exceptional guitar player. And his reviews always give me GAS! He posted this on the different types of Overdrives on his Facebook page. 

Someone asked me to quickly describe the differences between TS9 or 808 Tubscreamer pedals, Klon types, OCD, and Carl Martin Plexitone. Here's my response: TS-types- mid forward, softer, overdrive, some bass attenuation going on, nice for BF Fender amps (because Fenders have a mid-scooped tone and lots of treble and bass so it's a perfect contrast). Think Stevie Ray Vaughn. Klon- also an OD, but can almost act like a clean boost. Also mid forward but less so than a TS type, way more "neutral". Just very natural- a "more" pedal. Takes your core amp tone and just beefs it up, giving you "more" of it. OCD- kind of like an 18 watt Marshall grind, in a pedal. Nice amp-ish overdrive. Plexitone- really a distortion, a harder edged gain pedal, best into a neutral clean tone (a tone with not too much bass or treble a flat clean sound will work best) that's quite clean. Ample bass (certainly no bass cut), sizzly top- much like a real plexi or early metal panel Marshall!- Pete Thorn

This would pretty much sum up my experiences with these pedals as well. When I first started playing there were not near as many options of overdrives. And the Tube Screamer quickly found it's home on my board. I keep trying to get away from it but it just feels like coming home. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Five Signature Guitars I would buy

Signature guitars are occupy an interesting space in our strange musical world. On one hand playing what your heroes play is kind of cool. On the other hand most of us get into music to express ourselves and to find our own voice. It used to be that signature gear didn't mean that the artist really played that guitar, that it was just a name and a paint job but these days most artist won't put out gear that they won't use.

EVH red stripe- One of my closest friends owns the black and white version and another one of my close friends owns the bumble bee, so I kind of have to get the red one don't I? There are several versions of this guitar but the red is my favorite, and I'm pretty sure I'd put some 5150 stickers on it. I really dig the wolfgangs too but if I had to choose I'd get one of these. I've read some mixed reviews but everyone of these I've played has been amazing.

Keith Merrow KM-7- If your into shred guitar and don't know who Keith Merrow is go to youtube right now and type in his name. Keith made a name for himself 1st playing along with his own music, then demoing gear on youtube and then making music with other shred heavy musicians. This guitar comes in 6 and 7 string versions and they have an extended scale making down tuned riffage pop a bit more. I really dig the Lambo Orange version of this guitar with the carbon fiber binding but that new green one with the sustainer looks pretty awesome too.

Zach Myers PRS- This is hands down the best looking PRS SE guitar in the line up. It looks like a custom shop model and the SE series are the best built budget models on the market. There are a few different versions but that Trampas green has a unique look to it and the satin finished neck feels great. Say what you will about Shinedown but they have carved out their own notch in a time period where many hard rock bands are struggling to stand out.

Jim Root Jazzmaster- All of the Jim Root models are pretty killer. These USA built guitars are straight forward hard rock machines. They aren't made to look pretty but somehow make me think of a killer built hot rod. I would love to get that flat black Jazzmaster and let a friend of mine do some pin striping on it. Check out more of Jims gear here.

Andy Timmons AT10- If you spend a moment looking around on my blog you'll know I'm a big fan of Andy Timmons. He always inspires me to to work on my craft and his signature guitar has much of the same features I've been looking for in my own guitars. The new White one with the Rosewood board is my current favorite. check out more of Andy's gear here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ibanez JD9 Jet Driver Review

The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is a big favorite of blues and rock players everywhere, whether your playing through a high gain metal amp or a Fender twin it's great for boosting solos and cutting through the mix. It's also the most copied drive pedal circuit in history, almost every overdrive, amp in a box, and even quite a few fuzz circuits are tweaked versions of the classic TS9. Even Ibanez has put out more than a few variations on their classic pedal. I love overdrives and I almost always have some variation on the TS pedal on every board I've ever used. But this classic circuit does have it's share of complaints. Some people feel it needs more gain, more output, true bypass, more bottom end... ect.

Ibanez JD9 Jet Driver
I recently picked up an Ibanez JD9 Jet Driver. Ibanez markets it as a distortion which in my mind is a mistake. It's a TS9, with a few tweaks. First off it's true bypass, there is no tone coloration when this thing is off. There is more output (level or volume, what ever you want to call it) so it's great for pushing an already crunchy amp into drive just by doing that. There is also noticeably more gain than the typical TS pedal. It still has the famous JRC4558D chip, which some people feel is a big deal. But the real selling point of this pedal is a mids knob that allows you to adjust the 650 Hz frequency of the pedal. Mids are an important part of the guitar sound and help you cut through a band mix, but a lot of todays pickups are wound hotter which naturally boost the mid frequencies and paired with an already mid heavy pedal can sound muddy. With the mid knob on the JD9 you can take the mids to as flat as your pickups. It doesn't scoop the mids it just flattens the eq of the pedal.

With vintage single coils in my strat this thing can nail the Stevie Ray Vaughan sound that he used various TS pedals to make. Keep the Drive low and give it a bit of Volume boost in a cranked Fender sounding amp. Start with the Mids and Tone knobs in the 12 o'clock position and dial in your tone from there. I'm pretty familiar with the TS sound so I start with the Tone knob and then roll the mids to where I need them.

Most players will use this pedal to boost and cut through the mix for solos and the JD9 excels. All TS pedals are perfect for this but as I stated earlier a lot of todays hotter pickups are already mid heavy and can sound muddy when paired with a TS style pedal. So having the Mid knob comes in handy to roll back those mids a bit. Of course with vintage sounding PAFs or single coils this isn't a problem. The extra gain is nice and I guess that's why Ibanez decided to call it a distortion pedal but I always think of distortion with a bit of scoop in the mids and more bottom end. That is one thing to note: this pedal cuts the bottom end like a typical TS pedal. If your looking for more bottom end check out the TS9dx which also has a bit more gain than the standard TS9.

I've read that this pedal doesn't clean up well with your volume knob and while it doesn't go to perfect cleans from the higher end of the Drive knob it does clean up. With vintage single coils and PAFs if the gain is around 1 o'clock or less it will clean up just fine. With higher output pickups or the gain up around 3 o'clock it rolls back to a nice crunch tone. I've also read of a loud audible click when engaging the pedal but mine doesn't do that. It does add to the background noise with single coils but that's to be expected.

Interestingly this pedal averages $10 less than the typical TS9 and often gets discounted even more, so pedal snobs won't like it. There are more amp like screamer pedals, many with a different mid hump frequency or less of a mid bump. But I feel this pedal is a gem in the Ibanez TS line, in fact I would go so far as to say this is my new recommendation for a budget TS pedal! If your looking for a pedal with more gain, volume, less mids, or true bypass while keeping with the overall tube screamer flavor you owe it to yourself to checkout the Ibanez JD9 Jet Driver.

This review was completely unsolicited, I received no compensation for it and all views and opinions are my own

David Grissom Gear Guide

ADHD's Gear Guides at any Budget. I'm a firm believer that the tone comes from the hands. If your trying to achieve a certain guitar hero's tone you have to not just have the chops but you've got to get down their style of attack with your picking hand as well. That said every step you take toward finding the right gear is often very inspiring and WILL get you closer to “that” sound. I'm going to break these down into Guitars, Pickups, Pedals and Amps.

David Grissom Gear Guide

David Grissom is not one of the more famous guitar heroes in the world of guitar. But among those in the know he is deeply respected for his tone, tasty chops and resume. He has a unique style that blends Texas Blues with Americana and Nashville chops. He has played with Joe Ely, John Mellencamp, Buddy Guy, and The Allman Brothers Band as well as being a musical director for the Dixie Chicks among others. As with many players his style of playing is more important than his gear choices. 

Guitars- David Grissom was an early adopter of PRS guitars in an effort to stand out in the Texas Strat crowd. Finding a guitar that falls somewhere between Strats and Les Pauls while still retaining and vintage tone and feel. 

PRS DGT- The Paul Reed Smith David Grissom Tremolo model began as a custom ordered McCarty model with a tremolo. David then had the neck reshaped the knobs changed and the pickups custom wound to sound more like the pickups in an old 335 he had. While doing sessions in Nashville several players started ordering guitars with the same setup from PRS so Mr Smith finally made it it's own signature model.
PRS S2 Custom22

PRS S2 Custom 22- Unlike the custom 24 the Custom 22 pickups are wound closer to vintage sounds. The S2 models are made in the USA and even though there have been a few cost saving measures they keep everything that is important to the tone.

PRS SE Custom 22- The PRS SE line is made overseas but Mr Smith was adamant that the quality had to surpass other lines made in south east Asia. They really are great guitars for the money.   

Pickups- David's choice of pickups are a vintage voiced humbucker. On his signature guitar they used PRS unique coil split that still keeps the hum in check. You will have to look on eBay or Reverb  for them because at this time they are not available through retailers without buying the whole guitar. 

Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates set- Made to replicate the pickups in Billy Gibbons favorite 59 Les Paul these are an excellent cost effective replacement set for vintage humbucker tones. 

Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues set- A little cleaner and smoother than the Pearly Gates set the Vintage Blues uses the popular Seymour Duncan 59 pickups and make an killer drop in replacement set for anyone wanting a great PAF sound.

Pedals- David likes to play around with pedals but keeps things pretty simple. He likes several delays and a couple of boost pedals to push the amp. A chorus and sometimes a tremolo round out the set. He says he'll throw a wah in the front if he needs it. Everything goes into the front of the amp. 

Psionic Audio Telos Buffer/Overdrive/Boost- The Telos pedal that David has been using for a while uses a fantastic buffer as well as a clean boost and drive pedal. The reviews on it are really great.

Xotic EP Booster- While not exactly a neutral boost the EP booster has become a favorite booster of
players everywhere. The boost circuit was taken from an echoplex another studio trick of famous tone seakers. David loves using to push his amp and other pedals past crunch and into distortion.

Fulltone Plimsoul- The Fulltone Plimsoul is renowned for being a versatile overdrive with a ton of amp like gain. One of the neat features is a blend knob that brings in a harder clipping section.

Joyo Ultimate Drive- The Joyo Ultimate Drive is an exact clone of the Fulltone OCD. It's known as a very versatile amp like overdrive pedal. While the OCD is better made the Joyo it is a favorite pedal of budget boards. I did a review of it here, and while it's not my favorite pedal I keep it a round for adding a vintage flavor drive when I need it.

Arion Chorus- The Arion Chorus pedal is one of those secret weapons that shows up on boards all the time. David uses a modded pedal that has true bypass to get an organ sound when he plucks chords. The original version sounds killer and is cheap.

Line 6 DL4- David like versatile delays and has used this as well as a Line 6 M9 both of which sound great and are programmable. But he has also warned that they are not the most road worth of tools.

Amps- David likes straight forward vintage style amps. No effects loops or no scooped tones here.

PRS DG30- David worked hand in hand with PRS's famed amp designer Doug Sewell for several years to develop a 30 watt and 50 watt version of an amp with a blend of vintage Marshall's and Vox's. The result is a beautiful and fantastic sounding set of amps that he makes sound like gold.

Vox AC15- Vox is one of the original big three amp builders and has carved out their unique sound in the amp world. They have several AC30's and AC15's at all price points.

Egnator Tweaker- The Egnator Tweaker became the darling of guys on forums for a few years and
with good reason. They are versatile, well made, and sound very good for the money. They also play great with pedals.

Obviously there are a lot of great pedals out there but these are a great place to start your tone search.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joyo JF-12 Voodoo Octave Fuzz Review

Joyo has been cloning circuits and releasing super cheap versions of them for a while now. They have their fans and their critics. I had been wanting an octave fuzz to play around with for a while but I wasn't sure how much I would use one. So I picked up a Joyo JF-12 Voodoo Octave Fuzz. It fits the bill, switchable octave, versatile fuzz, crazy sounds and cheap.

Ocatve Fuzz pedals are a strange breed of fuzz. Distortion and Fuzz pedals create upper and lower octave harmonics as part of the distortion that you hear. An octave fuzz pedal doesn't create a pitch shifting effect, it emphasizes the octave frequency at the upper register (or lower in some cases). That's why you can hear the effect better on certain parts of the fret board better than others. The Joyo Voodoo Octave fuzz is NOT an Octavia clone but a clone of the Foxx Tone Machine.

JOYO JF-12 Voodoo Octave Fuzz
It has three knobs, volume, tone, fuzz, a normal/mid cut switch, and two stomp switches, one to activate the octave and one with true bypass of the whole pedal. Some of the things I like about this pedal is that it has no problems with buffers like a lot of fuzz pedals. There are a lot of fun fuzz tones in this box for how little it cost. It sounds equally nasty with humbuckers or single coils, and the foot switchable octave was a selling point for me.

There is a graphic of a ram's head on the pedal and I wondered how close it would get to a Big Muff Rams Head.... not really. In mid cut position it is closer to the Big Muff Op Amp. This means it will handle early Smashing Pumpkins riffs all day long. In the normal position it's a nasty midrangy fuzz that will cut through a mix. Kicking in the octave switch in the normal position doesn't exactly nail Hendrix, you'll hear the octaves more in the lower register of your guitar than in the middle of the neck like on an octavia. In the mid cut position the octave switch takes out the bottom end. It also doesn't stack well with other gain pedals, and while your volume and tone knobs on your guitar do make a difference it doesn't clean up or respond to picking dynamics very well.

I don't think an octave pedal will ever end up on my permanent board but I like having that sound to throw in there when I need it or just want to experiment with some new sounds. If your looking for a fun, nasty, versatile, and cheap fuzz pedal check out the Joyo JF-12 Voodoo Octave Fuzz.