Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SMASH it again!

This is perhaps my final addition to 2008; a Smash S2 Lite. To many of you out there, it's a sheer waste of good money because it's an entry-level, subsidiary brand name product, made in China. However, I'm not one who exalts a guitar by virtue of its brand name, exclusively. I love this one for its downright appeal on grounds of production QC & tone; it's very affordable as well.

Thanks to Mike @ Standard Value for a superb set-up!

Smash S2 Lite
  • List price: $270
  • Product availability: Standard Value
Final reminder: SV year end SALE ends 31st Dec...

Monday, December 29, 2008

The precaution

This is what I always do when applying string protection fluid (in this case the DR Extra Stringlife); I lay a piece of paper underneath to absord the spills/ excess. What you see here is a string envelope put to good use before going into the waste bin.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

RG321- wish...

Really wish the above RG321 finishes are made available here- I think everyone's quite nauseated with the black & blue version. However, I'm not one who judge a guitar by its looks, more particular with QC & tone.

Thank you!

Dear friends, since I started this blog in Feb '08, I've had >100,000 hits/ views (unexpected, really, it's not even a year's worth of activities). The statistics mean nothing to me, more importantly, I really appreciate you reading the entries here (apologies if they are repulsive). I was a little skeptical when I started out because there are people out there who would deem this platform as my design in celebrating lavish excess. I only have one objective in perpetuating this blog- I love to share for the greater part of knowledge is sharing.

The parties you see at the right column have been my friends in understanding my indulgences (the links are active, by the way...), I have received no remunerations whatsoever from them by acknowledging their trade, here. I am eternally grateful to them for making things happen hence the acknowledgment.

It's been a great 2008, best wishes (despite the economic gloom) to everyone & a whopping 2009 ahead!

Ibanez GIO series: Which one to buy?

From time to time, acquaintances ask me which is a good Ibanez GIO model to own (they want to get something affordable for their kids/ they want to own a good back-up unit). My immediate reply to this query would be to abstain from buying them, save a little more & get something more rewarding in terms of QC (my primary consideration when buying entry level guitars) & tone. Please don't ge tme wrong; I'm not being dismissive of the GIO series (I used to own one) but reputable entry level units are very affordable these days, it's prudent to invest in something respectable than make do with compromises.

However, I do have the above 3 GIO models to recommend if you insist on owning one. I had better results with the non-vibrato bridge models as Ibanez equip their GIO series with the dreaded ILT1 bridge when it comes to locking vibrato bridges. The above 3 recommendations also displayed consistent QC, especially the GRG121, (whose default pickups are very acceptable when it comes to high gain/drive applications) when I played them.

If you insist on owning a vibrato bridge GIO model, the GXR370 is a good model to own attributable to its design ergonomics as well as the reputable Edge 3 bridge it is equipped with. Do not expect stellar performances from the default pickups.

  • the GAx70/ GSZ120 are discont'd but still available in the shops
  • I have tried more than 1 guitar of each model to keep track of QC standards

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More re-stringing

I'm having this sinking feeling, a by-product of having to go to work on a Saturday... So how do I pick myself up? Nothing beats guitar therapy; managed to re-string my RGR321 today. Trying a set of .009 Darco strings (by Martin) which I bought during the City Music sale but didn't have the opportunity to use. Darco employs a steel make for the unwound E-B-G strings & nickel wound for the D-A-E so you get that differentiated feel as well as tone. Interesting.


I was at Standard Value today to have a final look at what I'd be missing at the end of the annual SALE (till 31st Dec if you are interested to get anything) & Mike told me to give the Smash (by Swing) guitars a go. We know how it is with a subsidiary brand name product; plenty of compromises just to appease fans of the original article with shallow pockets.

But not this guitar.

The S2 pictured above is a true value-for-money product which gets a thumb's up from me in terms of playability & tone, far surpassing what others have to offer in this price bracket.

Frank Gambale: BOSS

Frank Gambale is the recent endorser of BOSS products as evident above but that's the least of my interest, really (no offence BOSS fans, I own BOSS pedals too...). I'm actually keen to know the availability of the new Frank Gambale signature (the prototype of which is seen in this picture as well) which is a resurgence of the forgotten MSG series. We'll have to wait till NAMM 2010 for futher news, that's how soon the release would be...

Friday, December 26, 2008

DR: Extra Stringlife

DR's Extra Stringlife is a fluid-based polymer coating which acts as a blanket for your strings, acting against the elements, to promote your string's 'life' so to speak.

It's not cheap, $16 per bottle (the size of an average string cleaning fluid) but it lasted me more than half a year.

Does it work? Yes, it helps prolong that fresh, out-of-the-pack feel provided you wipe your strings down after each play.

Do strings rust? The coating itself has its useful life, once it wears out, strings deteriorate like they always do.

So why buy it? If you wish for your strings to last a little longer, more importantly, if you want that freshness to last a little longer, it's quite worth the asking price. Which would you endure:
  • $16 for a bottle of string protection fluid (which you can re-use),
  • or $18 for a fresh set of coated strings each time?

Tune-o-matic bridge: Which way round?

Some people (experienced repairmen included) would tell you to align the intonation adjustment screws of the tune-o-matic bridge facing the nut (as per above pic) which they claim is the correct way.
If you visit Gibson's homepage, you'd see the unit on the Les Paul Standard '08 with the screws facing the hard tail instead.

So which way is the right way? Both ways are acceptable, as long as the intonation is done right.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ibanez RX40

I used to own the Ibanez RX40, it's a model not too different from the RG in its outline but with a more sumptuous edge curves of the body; very Strat-like. The neck profile was a rounder C-shape as opposed to the flatter D-outline of the Wizard units. The headstock was also not angled.

Why did I buy this guitar? I saw Andy Timmons played one, but that was his AT100 model & I thought it looked very Strat-like but still 100% Ibanez. The RX40 was of course, a very different guitar...

So what was the lesson learned? It didn't make me play like Andy Timmons (even after I had a DiMarzio humbucker in there). Never buy an instrument because one's idol plays one, it only fulfills the hero association factor but has very little in store in terms of personal fulfillments (for the record, I don't own any signature model guitar, ok maybe the Gibson Les Paul...).

The RX series were discontinued in 1998, it trickled into the GIO series as the GRX40.

How I spent Xmas

Well, how did I spend this holiday? With my Ernie Ball SUB1 guitar, of course...
  • removed the strings
  • re-conditioned the fretboard, it looked very pale but no dry spots detected
  • re-string with a set of .009 GHS Boomers
  • checked intonation
  • played for hours
I managed to have the action done to a very low setting for this guitar since I bought it, which was possible because the nut was factory-slotted to be deep. Wish EBMM didn't discontinue this one...

Everly strings: B-52s (9209)

I bought a pack of Everly B-52s strings while I was at Zen Guitarworks a few days ago- trying them in my Ibanez RGR08LTD.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Am I being too nice?

After more than 15 years dealing with people on matters pertaining to guitars, I wonder if I'm being too nice to some of them, considering:
  1. They leave horrible scratches on my guitar body after an agreement to borrow & 'take care'
  2. Misplacing my equipment when it's time to return them to me
  3. Letting them pay in installments stretching over years
  4. Accompanying people to guitar shops & putting them in good stead to the sellers knowing they would end up buying nothing
  5. Letting people dictate the prices of items they are buying from me
  6. Letting people own the items for sale first & agreeing to defer payment
  7. Letting people come over to my place to try my prized possessions (& mishandling them)
  8. Mailing free strings, cables & picks to complete strangers knowing they need them more than I do
  9. Etc.
  10. Etc...
But my good doctor (pic above) says he had known people like me who are, on the outset, very passive & accommodating but remain to be the most ferocious & damaging should their limits be traversed. According to him I am the type who are subliminally vindictive but are in denial about it because things have been rosy all along. I am too busy pacifying myself with my indulgences (must be my guitars, yes?)rather than taking account of the bitter episodes that came & went.

Oh really?

Marshall MS2 + PPE

The pocket Marshall (MS2) is another addition in my mini amps line up which sound pleasant with the Pocket POD Express. It seems the smaller/ pocket amps accept digital signals better than the regular pedal outputs.

Ibanez RGR08LTD: Tone!

Ibanez's RGR08LTD is a great offering by the manufacturer for those of us who wish for a no-frills guitar with lots of high gain/drive potential (active humbucker). However, it's also one of the most nonsensical in terms of electronics.

The guitar features a kill switch & volume knob which make the instrument excessive in terms of volume control. I had plans to remove the kill switch & install a tone control instead but knowing the active nature of the pickups, it would mean more effort scouingt for a suitable pot & capacitor. I decided to keep the kill switch (I don't vary volume with this guitar, it has to be an all out affair so the kill switch is useful after all) & turn the volume knob into a tone control instead by adding a capacitor, so no removals were involved.

Now I have a guitar for my needs, not something which the manufacturer deems acceptable for general application. No offense Ibanez, I still like my RGR08LTD.

Abgott: Fizala

My final purchase for 2008 is the re-issued copy of Abgott's Fizala (pic here is the original album cover). Majority of the black metal legion release their albums under obscure record labels, getting them is hell.

I make a point to keep track of Abgott's releases because guitarist Tanathos is a guitar teacher so my expectations of his technicalities is very high. The issue with such individuals is that they often do not manifest their true individual capacity because it gets them nowhere, they prefer being recognized in a band context. However, Tanathos' guitar authority is all over this album & it's one of the most varied guitar works I've come across in this music genre thus reflecting the mastery of his accomplishments. It won't appeal to the average Vai/ Satriani fans but if you worship guitar, this one's a respectable attainment.

Volume, up!!

Apologies if I'm hitting hard at rookies but there is a need to turn the guitar volume up when trying the instrument, in fact, turn it all the way up!

Why is this crucial? The guitar's volume knob doesn't control loudness as primarily as the amp's volume knob. Its more exclusive job is to vary the amount of current flowing through so when you have an amp's drive/distortion channel engaged or using a distortion pedal for that matter, a turned down guitar volume won't manifest maximum ouput. Instead of hearing a full-on drive/distortion, you'd hear a crackle-grade buzz. This is the reason why a BOSS Metal Zone sounds like it's milder DS-1 Distortion sibling; something is amiss- it's the guitar's volume knob not turned up!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ibanez RG321MH (Indo)

I was at Standard Value today, Mike has the RG321MH in stock. Somebody decided to buy this guitar & I managed to get a closer look at the instrument while Mike was doing a pre-purchase set up. I had come across this model earlier this year at Swee Lee & was impressed with the overall QC manifested by the Indonesian factory hands. The fact that the subsequent batch of guitars procured by Standard Value maintained the impressive QC standards, implies that the good people over at the Indonesian plant had good supervision in this aspect, consistency is also a key reflection of what the instrument has to offer. I own the pre-2008 Korean make & the following are some comparison notes:
  • Fretboard edges are superbly finished. The Korean model did manifest an equally high standard of finishing but it's quite evident that some extra steps had been taken with the Indonesian version as the edges are stain-free as well
  • The mahogany used for the body has close-grained pores, compared to the Korean. Is this better per se? It's not quite aparent but a close-pored plank gives off a tighter punch (bottom end) to the discerning ears (please do not stethescope your guitar body to convince yourself). Ditto the fretboard wood, much lesser dry spots seen on the Indo units.
  • The nut of the Indonesian is also well slotted- the models I've tried (since March '08), which include the RGRs are all good production materials, minimal choking noted.
There's been much fanfare with Korean guitars but as proven here, having instruments made elsewhere does not sacrifice production standards, in fact, it's been one-up with the Chinese & Indonesian Ibanez makes.

Distortion overkill

This is quite a distortion overkill: A Marshall amp in its most blistering channel with drive set to full blast & an overdrive pedal set to maximum effect as well. Adding fuel to the distortion incendiary would be a guitar with an active humbucker; my formula for a face-splitting aural assault.

It's only wise to include a proceedings referee here; my Beta Aivin Noise Gate unit. I played this scorching set up last evening- room door closed & the ceiling light threatening to spill its guts with that excessive rumble. You've heard what they say: Nothing beats an angry Marshall. Well, try beating an angry Marshall on Red Bull...

Had to stop because the spouse was in need of assistance to shower the daughter... there will be a next time anyway.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yamaha: BB414 (mine!)

I did try this bass out last month while hunting for a new bass; I need something full-scale not that my shorter scaled Fender Mustang isn't up to it.

The BB414 is made in Indonesia & would trigger dissent among people who deem this country to be a better holiday destination than doing justice to good craftsmanship. In that case, seeing (or inspecting for that matter) is believing. The QC of this one is fantastic to say the least. The other 2 units hanging on display (in the store) are very good in this light but they manifest little anomalies which might be due to the repeated try-outs by customers. I'm also oblivious to colours these days; a black/ red BB414 doesn't make me play better than this white piece.

Tone-wise, the pickups here are Yamaha's own electronics but they sound superb in terms of clarity & impact. They give off 2 contrasting tones for those of us in need of a good slap fundamentals & some great top-end for solos. The slector switch is also a good complement in this aspect as opposed to individual volume knobs for the respective pickups. However, those of us who are into (pickup) tone blending would think otherwise.

All in all, a great bass for the rookie or pros alike, highly recommended (especially so when the festive SALE is still effective, he he...).

Bill Steer (Carcass)

In the recent Carcass reunion tour, while Mike Amott was seen enlisted in the Dean camp, co-guitarist Bill Steer left his Ibanez at home in favour of ESP (he actually got some ESPs to play with through bassist Jeff Walker's connection with the manufacturer). If I were Ibanez, I'd do well to put the new Ibanez stuff in Mr. Steer's hands because:
  1. Steer was an Ibanez endorser prior to his Gibson-wielding Firebird days
  2. The Ibanez players in aggressive music are numbered & Steer is one heck of a player if you've been following CARCASS
But I guess that's just me.

Gibson: Les Paul Axcess

The Gibson custom shop offers a Floyd-Rose equipped Les Paul aptly named the Axcess.

The interesting thing about the guitar (no, not the Floyd Rose bridge- this is so yesterday...) is the rear bevel making the upper frets more accessible for the more adventurous among us. It implies that Gibson can actually make their guitars more reach-friendly in this aspect which I'm sure many of us would like, especially the shredder dweebs out there.

Corroded/deteriarated electronics

The above pots & 5-way switch were recently removed from my Highway1 Strat after 4 years of service. The 5-way switch was affected the most as this was the item most handled by me during play. No, I did not touch the entire switch per se during play but I keep flicking it so my sweat evidently seeped into the innards & deterioration occurred.

If you look closely, the pots are CTS units.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

PPE: Regular batteries

I'm using regular batteries in my Pocket POD Express in defiance of the manufacturer's recommendations- they believe in alkaline power. The device ran out of power today after some 3hrs worth of total playing time.

Resurrected: BFG!

This 2008, the Les Paul BFG was discontinued by Gibson (it's limited production anyway...) but brought back to life in another incarnation: Gary Moore Les Paul BFG

It's interesting to know what GM has to say about this guitar but if it's a personal preference, then the man has earned more respect from me as the specs of this guitar & its predecessor aren't too different, just the knobs & an obligatory truss rod cover.

Fender: Malmsteen Tribute Strat

This is the new Malmsteen Tribute Strat by Fender, not cheap (>USD 12K...) & you get all the cracks & gunk courtesy of the Malmsteen rigours.

I remember reading something about this guitar of his & it came to me today- the headstock snapped/cracked. I'd say Fender would recreate this mishap in the tribute series but would you buy something quasi-destroyed?

Ibanez RGR08LTD- mine!

This is a new one for me- I still fall for single pickup guitars. It's another Ibanez *yawn* so you say but my liking this guitar is about the pickup there.

I'm not a keen fan of active units, they are good for distortion madness more so than any other tonal applications but hey, I am distortion inclined & I am a fan of Seymour Duncan- that's right, the humbucker there is Duncan's Blackout model, not EMG (no offence EMG fans, my ESP & RG8 both sport EMG pickups).

I'm still not keen with the 1xVol + Kill Switch combo, would be doing something about this soon.
I do truss rod adjustments myself, it's not that complicated but it's an exercise in due care; excessive adjustments could lead to irreversible neck damage.

For those of us who do neck adjustments ourselves, here's a tip: How do you determine, other than resorting to the use of capo at the first fret & pressing the 14th fret of your guitar while checking relief, your neck has straightened/ moved after turning the wrench? You use a tuner.

Before you turn that wrench, make sure your guitar is in tune. Proceed to tighten/ loosen the neck accordingly (depending on the relief issue of your guitar's neck). Wait a little while (5min or so) & re-check your tuning- it should be a little flat/ sharp, indicating the occurrence of neck movements. If your tuner fails to register any changes, it would mean the truss rod is not in working order so stop any neck rectifications immediately.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mini Marshall: Red edition

I'm getting good results plugging in my Pocket PODs into pocket amps. I did own a Marshall MS2/ MS4 but were given away so when I came across the red MS-2 today, I decided to buy it (@ Davis GMC).

Fender H1: Duncanized! (Part 2)

Another Highway 1 of mine getting Seymour Duncan pickups: Classic Stack for Tele. I've decided to install a stacked set because I play with drive/distortion all the time, some noise elimination would be useful. The Classic Stack (neck & bridge) give off a brittle sounding midrange which isn't too quacky/ nasal, this is the preferred Tele single coil tone for me.

Fender: Parts swap

I recently did a neck bolt plate swap as depicted above; the Fender spare's a Japanese product (under licence, of course...). Just a caution to you chaps out there who'd like to spruce up your instruments cosmetically (hardware-wise, especially); some of the Japanese spares don't fit into Mexican Fenders/ most makes of Squiers. Aparently, the Americans & Japanese wares are more compatible.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Yes, I do install coated strings in some of my guitars. I have the above DR red set...

...in my RG1550. So what's the big deal? Coated strings last longer, they would not corrode till the coating wears off. People are wary of coated strings because these affect feel- not quite. the coating here is minimal, it won't bump your .009 wire much thicker, it's negligible. However, people still feel the difference, some said the coating restrict movements but if one's accustomed to the feel, it's not a hindrance. A friend also told me the coating restricts (pinch) harmonics triggering. I've not encountered this problem thus far; the fact that my gain/drive/distortion is always at overdose levels might be the assurance.

The real setback here would be the cost of these strings; $18 per pack, that could get me 3 packs of D'Addarios...

Also, for us dweebs who grind our strings, the coating over the picked length disappears more rapidly than the bits over at the fretted section.

DR strings are available @ Davis GMC.

Fender H1: Duncanized! (Part 1)

Hot Rails! That's the new Seymour Duncan resident in my H1 Strat; another great installation by Master Beez!

Did I desecrate my Fender tone? Not really- despite being a humbucker, there's still some twang in there but the overall tone's fatter in the lower frequencies, great for metal-type distortion. I have 2 other Strats with an all single coil line-up so this did not go to waste.

Ibanez: MIMX amp

Managed to try this Ibanez amp (MIMX65) at Swee Lee today (was actually testing a guitar, requested to try this amp as well & they obliged- thanks Swee Lee chaps!) & was impressed by the drive voicings on board, in particular the Psycho & Guitar Hero patches- superb gain, clarity & saturation. There's also a drum section on board for your jamming pleasure. Also included are some preset modulation & time-based effects. An overal great amp, not for the picky.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fender: Highway 1

The Fender Highway 1 guitars are good instruments per se. My Strat you see above is the first generation H1 model, the Tele is the current 2008 make which features a thicker satin finish & larger frets. However, people tend to put them down on accounts of 'purity' & cost.

  • The H1s are American by make but the manufacturer includes hardware & electronics from non-American sources. By virtue of this consideration, people feel they are duped because an American product isn't actually 100% American.
  • On accounts of cost, the H1s are priced rather closely to the Japanese Fenders. If you've owned/ played one, you'd attest to the superb build & tone of these instruments. There'd be heretics out there advocating the worthiness of buying the Japanese model (no offence, I own one) instead
I simply regard these Fenders as good contemporary offerings by the manufacturer. The older, more historically appealing Fenders always get the accolades when it comes to tone & craftsmanship refinements but I'd say the H1 Fenders aren't bad at all.

Dean Markley: Hendrix strings

A cool Jimmy Hendrix sticker comes free with every set of Dean Markley Jimmy Hendrix strings. The manufacturer has so much confidence in the icon to such an extent that no brand names/details were indicated on the packaging- people see Hendrix & they want to try.

Did I fall for that? I bought this set because it's pure nickel as opposed to nickel coating. I need to hear the difference...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

GHS: Fast Fret

As misleading as it is, GHS' Fast Fret isn't a product to enhance fret longevity; it's a string cleaning/ preserving accessory. One simply applies some via that shaving cream brush-like contraption & one's ready to go.

I did try the FF some time back (like 10 years or so ago...) & couldn't come to terms with the sticky feeling on the finger tips. The wax-like by-product lodged itself into the pores of my rosewood fingerboard as well. I got rid of it before it was used up. I've nothing against the FF in particular but it's something that would not work for me. These days, I'm with any fluid-base cleaning solution. If the FF works for you then, well done...

Generic body

Was preparing my Highway1 Telecaster for a pickup swap today, saw this under the pickguard: There is a cavity above the neck pickup slot despite the neck not having truss rod access there (it's over at the headstock). It implies that Fender is using a generic body for their guitars.


What's the big deal with this headstock? The original plastic nut made way for a bone version. The benefit of this change: It gives the clean tones a brighter ring which is especially beneficial for neck pickup employments. Thanks Mike @ Standard Value for a great job!