I am going to take this opportunity to embarrass my friend Jakeb Stunz.

About 6 years ago, some good friends of ours asked me if I would be willing to give their son guitar lessons. I guess he was probably 10 at the time, but I’m really bad with judging how much time has passed. I agreed, thinking that he would probably quit after a few months (like many students do). Well, not only did he not quit, but he managed to be one of the most committed students I have ever taught.

Whenever I gave him something to work on, he came back the next week having practiced the crap out of it. I have gotten pretty good at telling when a student is faking it through a lesson, and I never got that from him (maybe he just got really good at faking it). If he didn’t practice, he told me so and I didn’t have to waste our lesson time looking at him practice. I watched Jakeb become a talented, confident guitar player over the next several years, and there’s only so much credit that I can take.

Anyway, the Stunz family moved to Singapore in June 2009. It’s a great adventure for them, but it really stinks for those of us who call them friends. They came back to town last week for Spring Break, and Jakeb was able to play with the church band again. It was good to see them again, and I was glad to have the opportunity to play with one of my favorite students.

State of the pedalboard 03/28/2010

Well, the board is pretty much together for now. I haven’t taken a pic yet, but I’ll get around to it eventually.

My signal goes Wah -Volume (tuner out – pitchblack) – io – PURE – DE-7 – DD-20 (w/external tap tempo)

Here’s the roundup:

Wah – it’s a Crybaby. It’s not “the best wah ever,” but it’s passable. I will eventually buy a new one or slap some new guts in this one, but for now it works.

Volume – I use this for swells and for killing my signal for silent tuning. It doesn’t have the smoothest taper, but it’s completely noise free and it works well once you learn where the sweet spot is.

Pitchblack – it’s a tuner, and it’s black. What’s left to say? It’s really easy to read on stage, and it’s pretty accurate (+/- 1 cent).

RAILhead Effects io – I have written a lot about this pedal, but I’ll write a little more. This pedal, as I understand it, is designed to be played in front of a clean amp. I think it’s based on a Marshall preamp gain stage (but I may be mistaken), and it gives you a reasonable facsimile of the fabled Van Halen “Brown Sound.” It’s basically a Marshall-in-a-box, and it is awesome. Discovery of the weekend: this pedal gets a really cool light overdrive tone when you roll off the volume knob on the guitar.

RAILhead Effects PURE – It’s a clean boost. I forget how many decibels of volume it adds, but it’s a lot. You can use it in front of an overdriven amp to push the preamp tubes, basically making the amp more distort more. If you have the headroom, it gives you a volume boost. I’m not really using this one very much at the moment – it doesn’t really fit in with my setup right now. I’ll probably replace it with the low gain overdrive that I’m working on (more on that later).

Ibanez DE-7 – This one is surprisingly awesome. I bought one because it’s known for it’s ability to self-oscillate and make crazy noises when you set it for high repeats and play with the delay time knob. Well, it does that and a lot more. The “echo” mode is a really great analog-sounding delay. The repeats are really warm and dark, and it just sounds fantastic. I used this all day yesterday at church and even managed to get some dotted-eighth type sounds (even though it doesn’t have tap tempo). Really cool, and cheap. They’re like $70 new and you can sometimes find them used for like $50. When I play with TLP, this one will probably go in the amp’s effects loop and I’ll just switch it on for solos or whatever.

Boss DD-20 – this is the working man’s delay pedal. It’s got presets so you can have up to 4 different delay settings to cycle between. This is really handy for going from an ambient/reverby kinda sound to slapback to dotted eighth to reverse (or whatever). It also has a jack for using an external tap tempo switch. It isn’t the best-sounding delay I have ever used (that would probably be the Damage Control Timeline), but it sounds pretty nice. It is extremely functional, and very affordable – I think I paid $150 for mine.

I’ve got a Voodoo Lab ISO 5 mounted underneath the board (Pedaltrain PT2) powering everything.

I still need to add a low gain overdrive. I used to have a Timmy, but I (stupidly) sold it after I bought my M13. I should probably get back on the waiting list, but for now I’m going to build my own. David Barber made the schematic for his now discontinued LTD Silver publicly available about a year ago, and a lot of DIY pedal guys have made circuit boards available. I bought one and ordered a bunch of parts, so I’ll need to dig out my soldering iron and get to work once everything shows up.

A couple of other things on the radar: the Strymon Brigadier Delay and the Strymon blueSky Reverb. I really want both of these. If/when I get the Brigadier, it will replace the DD-20.

Back to pedals

Well, it was an interesting experiment, but the M13 is now history. There were a lot of really cool sounds in that box, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.

First of all, the delays and reverbs are really great. Not as good as the Damage Control Timeline that I used to have, but much more flexible. If you want to run 4 delays at a time, you can do that on the M13. Likewise, there are lots of great reverb sounds. I will definitely miss the particle verb setting.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of drawbacks. For one thing, not all of the effects are great. The overdrive and distortion tones leave a lot to be desired. Ultimately, I was able to get some decent tones after much tweaking and EQing, but I still wasn’t blown away. I didn’t really care for the wah and filters either. I’m getting much better wah tone out of a used $40 Crybaby. The modulation tones are pretty hit or miss, but I don’t really use chorus, tremolo, flanger, or phaser (except for one song) anyway.

Finally, the thing is huge. It isn’t part of your pedalboard – it is your pedalboard. That’s fine if you’re totally sold on all the effects, but I wasn’t. I sold it a few days ago, and I’m in the process of reassembling everything. I still had some of my old pedals, and I ordered some replacements. My new board will look something like this once everything comes in:

Volume (Boss FV-500H)- Wah (Dunlop Crybaby) – tuner (Korg Pitchblack) – Distortion (RHFX io) – Boost (RHFX PURE) – Delay (Ibanez DE-7) – Delay (Boss DD-20 w/external tap)

As always, the pedalboard is a work in progress. I would love to pick up some of the new Strymon stuff. The Brigadier delay and Blue Sky reverb look really cool.

Bottom line: pedals are more fun than multi effects, and they usually sound better.

First impressions through the amp

I didn’t spend a ton of time playing through the amp, but I played enough to realize that this is a versatile guitar. I used my existing settings on the amp, and I can tell that they’ll need to be tweaked a little.

Basic tone – these pickups don’t seem as fat as the WCRs that were in my Les Paul, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are very PAF-sounding, and they really sound great when you split the coils. Not all humbuckers sound good when you split the coils, but these do. I’m hesitant to even consider changing the pickups for that reason. The split coils sound almost like a tele, which really doesn’t make sense.

The volume controls work really well. Many of the guitars that I have played have been pretty worthless unless the volume was all the way up. As soon as you lower the volume on those guitars, the treble goes away and you’re left with mud. Not so with this guitar. These volume controls clean up extremely well. On my amp’s high gain rhythm channel I was able to go from a big crunchy rock tone to light breakup just by turning the controls down a bit.

One little issue that I have with the guitar is that the volume controls are backwards. I mean, the bridge volume control is up front and the neck volume control is further back. I was constantly turning the wrong knob. I think I’m gonna have to switch that around before too long.

Anyway, I’ll probably write some more about this guitar as I discover new things about it, but so far I’m liking it.

Paul Reed Smith DGT (very) first impressions

FedEx delivered my new guitar today, and I spent about 30 minutes playing it. I haven’t plugged it in, so these are my first impressions of it’s basic playability.

- It weighs less than 8 lbs, so it’s noticeably lighter than my old Les Paul. That’ll be nice on the back.
- The contoured body is much more comfortable than the LP or my G&L. This guitar feels almost ergonomic.
- The neck feels good. It’s thin, but not so skinny that it feels like a shredder guitar.
- I’m not sure about the trem. I have never been a whammy bar guy, so I may need to grab a tremol-no to stabilize the tuning if it becomes an issue.
- It’s strung with 11s, but they feel like 10s on this guitar. I’ll probably stick with the 11s.
- It’s really easy to bend strings. That may be due to the extra jumbo size frets. I was a little concerned about the size of the frets, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Like I said, I haven’t plugged it in yet, so I can’t comment on the electric qualities yet. My amp is at our practice space, so I may have to run up there and plug it in for a little while.

So far, so good!

My new guitar

I did it. I bit the bullet and decided to trade my LP for the Paul Reed Smith. It’s a goldtop PRS DGT and you can read about it here. I showed Jack a picture of it and he asked “so how is that different from your old one?” I’m gonna have to work on that boy. [Side note: Jack and I had a guitar lesson this evening and he's actually starting to catch on a little bit. We're working on a simplified version of the main riff to Smoke on the Water and he's making some progress. Pretty awesome.]

This is the exact guitar that I’m getting – you can check out some more pics here if you’re interested, and I know that you are.

This was a somewhat painful decision to make. I loved the tone of my Les Paul, but I didn’t love playing it. Keeping it wasn’t really an option because of the fat neck. I may (and probably will) get another Lester in the future, but it will be one with a modern neck carve.

I had a lot of options on the table, but I decided on the PRS in spite of the fact that I’ve never played this exact model. I kinda took a leap of faith, knowing that I can easily trade or resell it if I decide that I don’t like it. Remember that I paid $1450 for my LP 3 years ago, and this guitar usually sells on the used market for ~$2000 ($2500 new). Not a bad deal.

I really think that this guitar is going to work for me. At least for a while. It should be here by Friday. Once I’ve had a chance to play with it, I’ll post some kind of review.

Decisions, decisions

As I mentioned in my last post, I have decided to sell my Les Paul. My main issue with it is the neck. I am primarily a lead guitarist, and the neck on the LP is so fat that it makes soloing fairly difficult. It’s great for rhythm and some minimalist lead stuff, but anything too fancy just becomes pretty tough.

Anyway, I’m currently toying with these choices (among others):


First of all let me say that I am not a PRS fan. I think that most of them look extremely gaudy with all the highly figured maple tops and extreme bursts. I would much rather see a natural-looking woodgrain or a solid color paint job. Anyway, the DGT is a signature model (another thing I try to avoid). This guitar is the product of a collaboration between PRS and David Grissom, a long time user of the PRS McCarty model. Grissom added a lot of tweaks to the basic McCarty such as a trem, modified pickups, a coil tap (to switch between humbucking and single coil modes), separate volume controls for the neck and bridge pickups, a thinner neck, and fatter frets.

I think that this guitar would be like a Swiss Army knife. On paper, it looks like if should be able to cover all kinds of tones. I have been talking to a guy on TGP for the last couple of days about a potential trade. The values of these two guitars are pretty similar, so it’d be an even swap.

2) Gibson ES-339

You are probably familiar with the ES-335. Well, the 339 is a slightly smaller version of the 335. This guitar is about the same size as a Les Paul. Obviously (maybe), this is a semi-hollowbody guitar, so it’s very lively and resonant. I like the looks of these guitars, and they have really good access to the upper frets. I would choose the 30/60 neck option, which is basically the modern/slim neck profile. I think I would like these guitars, but I really need to play one before I make a decision.

Again, several guys on TGP have inquired about trades involving this guitar. One guy even offered to throw in a WCR pickup of my choice. That’s a pretty attractive trade. Most of those trades have been for the cherry finish. I’d prefer the tobacco burst, but I guess it’s not that big of a deal.

I guess I need to plan a trip out to Guitar Center to take a few out for a spin. I hate going to that store, though. It’s so hard to hear anything with all the Hendrix/SRV/Creed/Metallica wannabes wanking away.

I can’t believe that I’m writing this

I’m afraid that I may be falling out of love with my Les Paul. There. I’ve said it.

There are many great qualities to this instrument. It has really great sustain, it sounds really nice into a dirty amp, and it’s pretty much perfect for chunky rhythm guitar parts. Unfortunately, it has it’s share of issues that I can’t really come to terms with.

Number one with a bullet is that it just won’t stay in tune. I have to retune after every solo, and that just shouldn’t happen. There’s not much worse than playing a solo, then going back to the rhythm part only to realize that your B string is about 1/4 step flat because of that big bend that you ended the solo on.

Another issue is that the neck is just too big. I liked it at first, but it has started to get on my nerves lately. It’s really hard to play fast on this guitar. It’s one of those guitars that fights you tooth and nail. There’s something inherently rock and roll about that, but I’m just tired of fighting it.

The last thing that I’m going to mention is that the cleans are weak. This is a pretty common complaint about Les Pauls in general. I guess the mahogany body paired with the humbucking pickups makes the guitar really dark-natured.

Ugh, I don’t know. I feel like I have been making excuses for this guitar for a long time because I have always wanted a Les Paul.

I’m not really sure what I would replace it with. The main contender is an ES-339 with the 30/60 neck. This would pretty much be an even trade, but I’m unsure about doing modern rock with a semihollow.

I have heard a lot of great things about the Hamer Studio, but it seems kinda generic. A lot of people have suggested a PRS Singlecut, but I have always been leery of those. I do not like those highly figured maple tops – they just look gaudy. Maybe a Gretsch Duo Jet? I want something kinda classic, but with a modern sensibility. Does that make sense?

I anyone could give me any leads or anything about this, I would greatly appreciate it.