6-String Web Roundup: Winter NAMM 2014 Edition

I’ve been on a long hiatus from the blog for reasons both musical and professional, but it’s about damn time to resume posting. The 2014 Winter NAMM show wrapped up a couple weekends ago, which means new gear announcements galore. Here are some of the highlights.

Fishman debuted its new “Fluence” electric guitar pickups (Premier Guitar has a good feature on the technology). A lot of guitar companies  have been touting “revolutionary” products in recent years that fail to live up to the hype; this is one development that seems to have real potential.

AXL won the prize for hippest sub-$1K guitar announcement — the $750 street Bel Air is assembled in America and features a LP Jr-inspired body, single TV Jones humbucker, and cool-as-beans Bigsby tailpiece.

Huss and Dalton took the +$3K prize for the DS Crossroads acoustic guitar, a slope-shouldered mahogany dreadnought with a Gibson-style 24.5″ scale length — this one’s on my “must try” short list.

The offerings from Fender were a little disappointing this winter, save for a super-cool Custom Shop replica of the Nile Rodgers “Hitmaker” Stratocaster. It’s always nice to see a behind-the-scenes session ace rewarded with a signature instrument.

P-90 equipped jazz boxes are a rarity these days; D’Angelico has stepped up with the EX-59, a full-depth 17″ archtop with two 1950s approved single coils and a gorgeous burst finish — this one’s built for pickin’ “Chitlins Con Carne.”

Electro Harmonix — which previously announced an affordable Klon Centaur-inspired overdrive — also announced the Satisfaction Fuzz, which promises Keef tones for $70; you’d be hard-pressed to find an original Maestro Fuzz Tone for anything less than three times that figure.  

I’ve been jonesing lately for a compact acoustic archtop a la Dave Rawlings’ 1935 Epiphone Olympic. Lo and behold, Gretsch showed off the G9550 New Yorker, a solid-topped sunburst 16″ archtop. at an uber-reasonable price.

Finally, Taylor announced a revamping of its 800 series guitars, including a new bracing approach that’s supposed to yield bigger tone. I’ve never really been blown away by any Taylor I’ve encountered (admittedly I’m biased toward the Martin sound) — maybe these guitars can shift my perception.

 

6-String Web Roundup, December 2013 Edition

Happy Holidays from NewOldStock, sharing the best of the guitar web this merry month!

The Bob Dylan Newport Folk Strat sold for $965,000, breaking the previous record held by Eric Clapton’s “Blackie.” The lucky bidder remains anonymous.

The Winter NAMM show is coming, which means a month of new gear announcements! Early press releases include:

  • Paul Reed Smith is expanding its affordable U.S.-made S2 line with the addition of the S2 Singlecut and S2 Custom 22.
  • Fender has added the 12W, 2×10 Vaporizer to its “Pawn Shop” line of 50s-inspired amps. The $399 combo is the first in the series to sport reverb.
  • Gibson is rolling out twenty-seven new models for 2014, including a raft of Les Pauls to celebrate the company’s 120th anniversary. Robot tuners and exotic pickup switching options abound.
  • Electro-Harmonix is now offering the “Soul Food” overdrive, which is designed to put Klon Centaur-inspired tones within reach of the working guitarist.

Slate, of all publications, posted a great explanation of how the ubiquitous wah-wah pedal functions. Bow-chicka-bow-wow.

I usually tune out the Grammys, but it was reassuring to see a who’s who of classic rock guitar bands among this year’s nominees — Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and the Rolling Stones all received well-deserved nods.

Speaking of guitar gods, Keith Richards turned 70 on December 18th. It’s hard to believe that he’s been at it for more than fifty years now; you can read about some of the highlights in his highly readable and entertaining autobiography. So many great riffs.

Shredders unite! For only a couple grand, you too can spend a week in August 2014 with Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Andy Timmons, and Mike Keneally as part of the G4 Experience. Sweeping arpeggios will rock the peaceful forested hills of Cambria, CA.

On a sad note, legendary pickup designer, guitarist, and all-round nice guy Bill Lawrence passed away last month. Bill earned his reputation through a combination of innovation, word-of-mouth marketing, and emminently reasonable prices — contenders in the increasingly crowded boutique pickup market can still learn a thing or two from the humble pioneer.

Finally, it always pays to protect your guitar with a quality case. Also, you never know when it might come in handy as an improvised cold weather survival shelter.

Dialing in Tube Screamer Tone

This is probably the best explanation I’ve heard on how to dial in an Ibanez TS9 (or any overdrive for that matter). The gist: you want to begin by dialing in a neutral setting (with no gain) that colors the amp’s sound as little as possible when the pedal is engaged. From there, start dialing in additional volume, tone, and drive as needed. My sense is that most players (myself included) tend to turn up the drive knob at the outset, erring on the side of too much dirt and burying their sound in the stage mix. After watching this video, I dug out my Analog Man-modded TS9DX and rediscovered the pedal.

I’ve learned over the years — as much from listening to other players as myself — that less gain is usually the path to tonal nirvana. I think most of us over-estimate the amount of drive our favorite players dialed in on stage or in the studio. Cats like Jimmy Page, Angus Young, and Stevie Ray Vaughan primarily relied on the distorted sound of overdriven tubes, which is relatively mild by comparison to what most pedals have on tap — even at ear-splitting volumes. Give one of your favorite guitar albums (of the non-metal variety) a good listen, preferably through a solid pair of headphones. Focus on the guitar, and you may be surprised just how clean the fundamental tone is; the sound is memorable because the chops aren’t buried under an indistinguishable blanket of fuzz.

Noise Boxes

My friend and former acoustic collaborator Jana Pochop has been on the road recently with Susan Gibson. Jana recently picked up an uber-cool Epiphone Riviera and has been brushing up on her electric chops. That includes dusting off her collection of effects pedals, which inspired me to do the same. As discussed in a previous post, I went through a slightly unhealthy effects acquisition phase in college. I’ve been studying jazz mostly for the past couple years, which means my pedals haven’t seen much action.

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