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.

Weekend Test Drive: Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb & Gibson ES-330 TD VOS

Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb and Gibson ES-330 Reviewed

I’ve posted some critical musings lately regarding recent marketing decisions from Fender and Gibson. I scorn because I love. Both companies still churn out some great products and are — for me anyway — still the point of departure for classic American electric guitar design. Last weekend I stopped by Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, and had a chance to put two solid products from both companies through their paces.

Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb

I expressed skepticism a few weeks ago regarding the ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. From the online product specs, it seemed as though Fender was making a questionable decision to resurrect amps from its controversial “silverface” era. So when I saw a shiny new example of the Custom DR at Levin’s, I had no choice but to grab a Tele off the wall and plug in (though it did take some willpower to ignore the boutique offerings from Bogner and Carr sitting to either side).

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Another new-fangled Gibson Guitar-X

Following on the heels of the summer NAMM show, Gibson Guitar Corp. just announced the new “LPX.” For all practical purposes, it appears to be the electronic guts from 2010’s much ballyhooed Firebird X vivisected into a more conventional Les Paul-style profile. I say Les Paul-“style” because — despite taking a step in the right aesthetic direction — the LPX still borrows the clunky headstock, multicolored mismatched knobs, spartan trim, and excess chrome from the Firebird X. There’s a fair debate to be had regarding the necessity of self-tuning, built-in effects, wireless connectivity, and the myriad other features cluttering this instrument. But seriously Gibson — if you want folks to give these features a fair chance, incorporate them into one of the attractive, classically appointed guitars upon which your company’s 100+ year reputation has been built. A standard series Les Paul, for example, with its gorgeous (and proven) blend of old-world craftsmanship and modern functionality. Especially if the instrument is going to list for five freakin’ grand.

Musical instruments (particularly upscale examples) are as much works of art as they are functional tools of the trade, something that seems to be lost on Gibson’s design team. Despite the name of this blog, I think most guitarists (including myself) are open to innovation, particularly when it actually improves upon the existing connection we have with our gear. That includes the aesthetic.

Alex Skolnick’s Guitar Player blog commentary on the original Firebird X rollout aptly captures my feelings:

“By bringing the costs of their genuine Custom Shop items back down to Earth, presenting (and pricing) the mass-produced assembly line models for what they really are and focusing on remaining “timeless,” Gibson could help get more guitars in the hands of players at all levels, remain profitable and earn back something much more valuable than sales figures: it’s [sic] integrity.”

Enough ranting for today. There are still plenty of great guitars out there (including more than a few Gibsons) waiting to be picked.

Weekend Test Drive: Northern Virginia Edition

I just relocated to the DC area, and now that I’ve finished unpacking, it’s time to scope out the musical territory both in and outside the beltway. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of great guitar shops in DC proper (feel free to message me if you know differently). It turns out that Northern Virginia has a few standouts though. This past weekend I made the test drive rounds at Crossroads Guitar Store, Action Music, and the Falls Church Guitar Center. I tried out some great gear at all three shops, including electric guitars, amps, and acoustic guitars.

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