Saturday, May 31, 2008

VOX: Virage

This is the new Vox Virage guitar, a fresh idea by the manufacturer in a long time but worth noting nevertheless. The outline is a little jaded- another singlecut guitar, nothing too different from the Gibson you-know-what.

However, take a look at the body design here, it's actually angled back to give more default resonance upon amplification. The manufacturer also included a pair of triple coil DiMarzio pickups hinting at a more contemporary tones while still retaining those classy, vintage bits.

And the chap responsible for this arguably formidable guitar is non other than Rich Lasner. If you don't already know, he's the guy who laid hands on the very successful Ibanez RG, Yamaha Pacifica/ Weddington/ Attitude & Modulus basses, among others.

Seymour Duncan: P-Rails

Seymour Duncan, the name in pickup innovation, gives us the P-Rails. As depicted, the pickup is a regular sized humbucker, housing a rail type as well as the regular pickup pole-pieces. However, the discerning enthusiast would realize the pickup is actually a P-90 unit with an additional fused single coil at the top. The manufacturer promises 3 distinct tones from the single unit- a regular humbucker, a true single coil & of course, that fat P-90 tone.

ESP has already incorporated the P-Rails into one of the LTD Pot Belly models, as you can see, the neck version is also available. Already ordered mine...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Gibson: Slash LP Std (2008)

I'm not particularly a Les Paul fan, yes I do own them because the models I tried were good guitars per se; I appreciate what an instrument has to offer regardless of the brand name. So what's this appraisal about?

The Slash LP Std signature model (new for 2008) is a good guitar regardless of the Gibson tag & artist association although the top hat dude was largely responsible for how good this guitar is, feel & tone-wise. When I played it recently, I was expecting that typical LP feel; fat neck + sticky as your palm sweats but I was greeted by a slimmer profiled neck, very much like the '60s slim taper make of the LP Classic, this promotes playability for those of us whose palms aren't too expansive. It's also a wise enticement for those shred proponents.

The tone has to be one of the most defined at higher gain/ drive settings not just because the humbuckers on board are uncovered units but because they are Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro- arguably the pickup to own if you wish for a fusion of both vintage & contemporary tones.

Those of us who are genuinely attracted to this guitar's offerings but not keen on the Slash inclinations would have to live with that signature skull/ top hat decal on the instrument's headstock. How you'd wish it was ebossed on the truss rod cover instead, yes?

Lastly, we also have to thank Slash for making this guitar rather affordable (it's a signature model but tagged enough to make it less extravagant compared to the Custom Shop units, but it's still a significant amount, mind you... $5K); if you don't mind the quirks, it's a good consideration.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wilkinson: E-Z Lok

I am currently having a set of Wilkinson locking tuners in my Ibanez RG321. Unlike other locking mechanism, the WJ-807 actually requires the user to wrap-lock the strings so it is devoid of any rotable parts when in use (of course, the tuner itself must be rotable- duh!). This is also the reason why it's affordable.

The tuner post actually features a pair of holes. The user passes the string through one hole (you choose either the top/ bottom hole), make a wrap round the post & insert the remaining length through the other; the string is now locked & ready for tuning.

Like my other locking tuners (Sperzel/ Gotoh), the tuning in this guitar becomes more stable, more notably after deep bends & much thrashing of the lower, thicker gauged strings.

  • Product availability: Standard Value
  • Price: $46 per set
  • Variation: Available in both 6-a-side/ 3+3 arrangements, in black/ chrome

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I tried this active pickup recently; it's the only active unit in the impressive TESLA lineup. The big deal here is its ability to sound very organic in clean mode; we know too well how active units excel when propelling distortion but fall short when a no-frills clean tone is conjured. The neck unit's particularly jazz-friendly voicings should appeal to players who are seeking warm tones for chords.

Cable talk: Ibanez Series DS

This is one of my recommended cables for those of you who require a low-noise set up & do not wish to spend excessively on such contraptions. The Ibanez DS series cable (DS=Double Shield) was conceived to be durable & its double shielding property means you get quality signal transfers without external interferences. It does what the manufacturer claims- low noise (noiseless to me...) performance without being costly. Oh, is that the Cabletek plug Ibanez is using?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cable talk: Speaker cable

For those of us employing a head + cab amp format, we'd definitely need a cable to connect the amp head to the speaker cab. The question is, are we using the correct cable? Why this matters:
  • This cable carries larger currents (compared to the current produced by the guitar pickups), heavier gauged wires are more appropriate for the job as oppossed to the thinner-wired guitar cables.
  • No shielding should be employed (guitar cables are shielded to prevent signal interference- otherwise, your amp would amplify radio signals) as it affects impedence & could cause transformer failure (especially for tube amps)

It is therefore a prudent move to invest in speaker cables like the Planet Waves model depicted above- would you pay a little more for one or spend much more for amp repairs?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Curt Mangan/ D'Addario

I have a set of .0095 gauge string in all my 24.75"-scaled guitars. The industry recommends the use of a .010 set instead to maintain a more useable tension in standard tuning but it seems that these are too thick for me (frail fingers, lack of calcium maybe?). I'm currently employing the Curt Mangan & D'Addario sets on specific guitars. Thusfar, I've become accustomed to both string brands but I have a preference for the former's tone durability even when they are quite weathered. Nevertheless, I would pledge my support to the latter for being environmental darlings- less envelopes, less trash, less trees being sacrificed.

Cable talk: Horizon

I bought this cable more than 5 years ago & it's still very functional today. It's a Horizon Neon Brites series, very much the preference of a certain Mr. Vai back then (wonder if he's still using them) but I bought it out of a genuine willingness to try. The cable is of a sturdy built to withstand tramplings hence its longevity. The plugs were shrink wrapped with a rugged layer of polymer so there's no real access to the innards unless the owner is willing to dissect the overcoat.
I'm very happy with this cable in terms of durability but it manifests a certain brightness in the upper frequencies which is to my liking because it makes my Les Pauls sound less muffled. You'd say the cable, being a secondary tone implement, wouldn't be of much significance but if you take time to compare what the market has to offer, you'd know the ones that kill your tone & the rest which would make you smile.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Carcass: Swansong

Was Swansong the worst Carcass album, ever? If it is so, then same goes for Metallica's black album (I've thrown away mine). Too much expectations were placed on this album, people were expecting it to be another Heartwork at least but they got some hard hitting rock-n-roll instead.
Swansong was indeed a fine release, people were utterly upset with the nature of the tunes, Carlo Regadas wasn't a dud replacement for Mike Amott because the solos offered here, in addition to Bill Steer's excellent noodlings, were some of the best in terms of technicalities & phrasing. However, the cowbells in some of the tracks were indeed out of place because it failed to conjure the blood-soaked, slime-infested body parts imagery very much associated with the band. It is also helpful to know that Bill Steer, at this point in time, was preparing to incarnate his Firebird outfit.

Marshall: MG15 MSII

If you have some experiences with Marshall's lower wattage MG series amps, these are really entry level units with a limited tonal offering but lots of attraction due to its mere brand name. I feel that on the solidstate front, one is better off with a Peavey amp (subject to taste, of course...) but the MG15 MSII is something different when it comes to tone.
The MG15 MSII or the micro stack as it's often referred to, indeed hails from the manufacturer's MG series but it's a real stack mind you; head + a pair of 1x10 cab. The tonal diff here (to the discerning ears) is mainly attributable to the cabs' closed back nature. You might think that it's a petty difference but that's how tone speaks- through subtle differences in features.
Heard from this amp are the more commanding bottom end, both in the clean/ driven modes which makes this amp more enjoyable- honest! If there is too much upper midrange/ treble, even a full-blown half stack would sound tranny & repulsive.
So for those of you looking for an above-average Marshall without selling a kidney, the micro stack is recommended.

Ihsahn... anticipations

This is perhaps my most anticipated release this 2008 not because it's a consolation in lieu of Emperor's absence but because it's a product of one of the most intelligent musician in the black metal circle.
Release date: May 27th...

1349- Simple political wisdom

Some political quotes from a recent chit-chat with the black metal band 1349:
"Oil & heroin- there's a lot of money involved in both countries (Iraq & Afghanistan). So now Americans control the drug traffic & the oil supply- no wonder they picked these strategic countries. But people just don't get it! Wake up!"

Joe Satriani: Prof Satchafunkilus...

I've just finished listening to Satch's latest offering, although it's not miles apart from the previous release, the guitar guru did well in redefining his tone, thanks to the new Vox Saturator, of course.

We also hear Satch's fine fretboard tapping skills in more than one track in this album. There are specific tunes here which simply conjure the atmospherics of his prior releases (eg: Out of the Sunrise sounds very much like Friends...) so it sounds jaded to a certain extent but being a Joe Satriani material, it sounds splendid in terms of musicianship.

Carl Martin: Noise terminator

Many of us do not consciously consider a noise reduction unit in out FX chain until the gain/ drive-related hums & hisses drive us nuts. The Carl Martin Noise Terminator here is a wonderful noise buster offering 2 thresholds of noise gating. The Soft mode is constantly switched on, if your gain/drive settings are rather low, this is all the control you need, the Hard option should be set to zilch. However, as oppossed to resorting to the Hard option exclusively when one adopts a high drive/ gain settings (you metal maniacs, especially), the NT lets you operate the controls in tandem. What's the benefit of this employment? If you are familiar with many noise reduction units, if the noise threshold is set high, your weaker guitar signals would be muted or prematurely silenced, which is especially true for notes emanating from the plain strings. The 2 options available in this unit means you can manipulate the threshold limits to cull both the noise from the lower & higher gain/ drive settings. Neat.

Ibanez: GRX40

The current GRX models by Ibanez are made in China. The RX models were discontinued in 1998 & they trickled into the Gio series of entry-level units then, selected models were also offered in the anufacturer's starter pack range. The guitar per se is a good player for the money. The current incarnation is much heavier than the ones before the Gio tag kicked in, giving the instrument a much need bass propulsion. Many of us couldn't be bothered by this model but when it was hot back then, it became the working model for Andy Timmon's first signature unit.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

LED... noise

Most amps are equipped with light emitting devices (LEDs) to indicate power status or channel slections, it's nothing new, majority of the amp manufacturers do include this feature, my JVM head included. The LED is located inside the power switch so every time it's switched one, the light comes on, it's that simple.

But this light isn't one which offers much help when one plays facing one's amp; your guitar gets too close to the light & the humming starts. I would've thought it's rather harmless but it gets you like other light emmitting devices should (TV screens, computer monitors, ceiling lights, etc); it causes hum.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The singlecut week

It had been a singlecut week; my Ibanez AF & LP BFG are the only guitars I played.
The AF has some wonderful deep tones, very intriguing for metal type riffing. That's the last thing you'd expect from this kind of guitar, yes?
The BFG was played excessively for review purposes & because I was testing the GOTOH tuners (Magnum Locks) just installed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gibson: Les Paul BFG scrutiny (Part3)

The BFG deserves some tuning stability so here are Gotoh Magnum Lock tuners & a truss rod cover to hide that unsightly cavity.

*FYI- the later batch of BFGs are indeed equipped with a truss rod cover as depicted on the manufacturer's web page

The kill switch, to this user, is totally unnecessary so it made way for the traditional 3-way pickup toggle switch. In place of the original 3-way toggle position is another tone knob. So you noticed the wrap-over stringing as well- you are sharp. It must be those carrots finally paying off, glad you listened to Mom, eh?

On the flip side, the original capacitors were replaced by a pair of Orange Drops. What it does to the guitar is add more top end when the tone knobs are turned down. There is therefore more difinition & less mush especially at high drive/ gain settings. If you prefer the signature nasal, woman tone often associated with a Les Paul, stick to the originals.

*Thank you, master Beez, for the excellent job!

D'addario: Half Rounds

I've been trying D'addario's Half Rounds recently, just to check out if the heat treatment does make any difference in tone/ durability.
I'm into the third week of use, the strings in question are more resistant than the XL version, however, this set costs about twice more. The manufacturer's claim of brigthness restoration is somewhat believeable because the strings do not feel dead as quickly as the XLs but they aren't as bright as they were when first installed either.

Slash & VM

The guitar player above...

...has a recent liking for the amp above. Quoting what he said about it:

"I'm combining it with a Slash model... It's a very simple amp that has a lot of kick & punch. I'm a huge Marshall guy, but I don't necessarily promote all Marshalls- just the ones I like."

So he joins Paul Gilbert in acknowledging the amp's worthy tones.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

ESP: Phoenix II

I thought a guitar of this outline never existed in the ESP catalogues but hey, presto! It is rather obvious which Gibson model it's emulating, even the name is a sneer of the Gibson's: Both refer to mythical birds of great majesty.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gibson: Les Paul BFG scrutiny (Part 2)

Here's how the BFG's internal looks like. Heretics have deemed this guitar a hollow-body in disguise. While Les Paul purists consider this exessive chambering blasphemous, the BFG wasn't conceived to propagate the vintage goodness of its predecessors. It is therefore not a representative of the typical Les Paul tone which is arguably the signature bottom end growl under loads of distortion. Nevertheless, this cavernous internal has given the guitar more definition in the midrange.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Deicide: Till Death Do Us Part

Mr Benton & company are back with the latest serving of death metal like no other; if you thought The Stench of Redemption was a hard act to top, Till Death Do Us Part sits above its predecessor.

A shocking realization when I received this CD- there were no signature Deicide pentagram or inverted crosses to be found on the album sleeves. What we get is an inlay of classical paintings reprinted with permission, of course. Taking great strides in this release is also the involvement of drummer, Steve Ashiem, in guitar works. Unknown to the masses, much of Deicide's great tunes were indeed penned by him. Ralph Santola is currently the band's interim member but contributed significantly in this release.

What you get here is the typical cookie-monster like vocal serving of death metal but if you know the band by now, the music speaks. Heard in this release are restrained passages which made the song structures very palatable &, dare I say it, melodic. It seems that Santola has notched a mark up in terms of guitar technicalities as well. The band also showed the world that they can serve instrumentals very tastefully (opening track is a vocal-free number).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gibson: Les Paul BFG scrutiny (Part 1)

The Les Paul BFG is a very affordable & rather popular Gibson available currently. Before you deem yourself to be the victim of some scam, please understand the philosophy of its production; it's a very stripped down, fundamental Gibson, displaying some crude finishing which would offend the players who feel that they should be getting a better deal for this asking price ($1,699). These are selected quirks that you should be aware of:

There is a chunk of wood missing between the fretboard & the chamfered cutaway area. I initially thought it was the exclusive blemish of this particular model but a quick check with others revealed the same peculiarity. As the P-90 pickup is coverless, it looks shrunk in that cavity.

As you can see here, the kill switch is either smaller than the production cavity or this contraption doesn't align itself well against the measurements.

The toggle switch cap is also not provided by the manufacturer; it's not missing & by no means the fault of the seller (be it the individual in the after-market or the dealer in the first instance).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Seymour Duncan: PATB Distortion (Part 2)

I spent last night & this morning enjoying the fullsome goodness of what the PATB Distortion has to offer- superb drive response.However, this pickup is very much a master of a solitary trade as the label suggests: Distortion.

The PATB-2 had no problems manifesting great distorted tone through all my amps, it particularly excelled with my solidstate Sound Drive amp, not that this amp is the exclusive pairing for the two wares but more attributable to the aforementioned amp's inherent good tones.

Through my all-tube Marshall JVM, the pickup manifested some racous midrange responses which would please the death/ black metal horde.

Finally, the PATB2 did well with pedals at the distortion helm. It was deliberately made to satiate my (distortion) overdose; I hooked up my tube equipped Duncan Twin Tube Mayhem which was boosted by Guyatone's OD2+, into the Epiphone Valve Jr head. What the PATB2 retained in all settings is clarity. If you peddle bass notes throughout a good part of your song, you'd appreciate this capacity. Good distorted tones often mud out at higher volume settings which is rather prevalent during live shows.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Joe Satriani (new album)

OK, here's a mouthful: Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock

It's not the scientific name of Satch's new guitar but that of his new album; now try asking for one in record stores...

Seymour Duncan: PATB Distortion (Part 1)

Just had my Ibanez S540 equipped with Duncan's PATB Distortion (b)- have not plugged it in yet... performance notes to come.
Thanks Master BEEZ for another fine job!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Candy Dulfer: Candy Store

Candy Dulfer is one of the non-guitar playing musicians I make a point to listen to, especially when my ears are overworked with too many guitar voicings. I have better appreciation of legato passages after every attemt to play her music on guitar. I then know why Alan Holdsworth finds the saxophone very intriguing in this context hence his style of playing. Candy Store is the latest album by Ms Dulfer which I own but my definite favourite was her What Does It Take release.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ibanez: SZ2020 (disct'd)

This isn't quite the familiar Ibanez headstock. It was originally spotted on the S-Classic before its implementation in the SZ series which are (sadly) phased out to date. The pic above is my SZ2020 (disct'd) which is dear to me. Some people said I spent too much on a Korean guitar when they don't yield a tremendous gain for the money but in perspective, it apllies to other guitar brands in general; is it justified to spend excessively on an upper tier model knowing the returns are marginal?

I chose the SZ2020 because first & foremost, it sports a satin finish which is still my preferred finish type. Secondly, the default Seymour Duncans (American) are superb in this guitar through all my amps. After actually handling this guitar during its pre-purchase scrutiny, its playability & feel are simply appealing. This guitar was manufactured by Korea's World Music Company which currently handles all PRS SE models; doubting its QC would be the last thing to do.

I like this guitar also for its quirky scale length: 25.1". Not as snappy as a Fender, not as boomy as a Les Paul either, very individual in its lure.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Mayhem: Blasphemer (Part 1)

Two years ago, I witnessed Mayhem's sonic assault here in Singapore; the black metal pioneer was indeed lethal in their live performance in terms of delivery & musicianship. More importantly, I was there to witness how good Blasphemer was.

Blasphemer aka Rune Eriksen, was (still is) a very talented player but not one to highlight his presence by doing a million notes per second solo- the band needed a musician & he was there to propel the band in this context. Blasphemer took guitar playing for Mayhem to a higher level by displaying praise-worthy commitments given his role. Wolf Lair Abyss was the E.P. which brought Mayhem back from the dead. Through this recording, we heard how his guitar multi-tracking proved to the world black metal wasn't about getting away with minimal instrument capacity. Subsequently, A Grand Declaration of War fused black metal's hostility with the decade's avant garde nuances, the product of which was deemed a genius of its time (Listen: A Bloodsword & a Colder Sun Part 1).

Prior to his departure, Blasphemer underscored his intentions with two arguably important releases with the band; Chimera & Ordo Ad Chao. The former showcased his perfectionist practices which were evident in the tight rhythm delivery. Also, the tone purist in him necessitated the lengthy process of an amplifier selection for this recording; if you think black metal is about going lo-fi & quasi-discernible in terms of guitar, with lots of corpse paint to hide the lack of taste, this album proved otherwise. However, having said that, Ordo Ad Chao was indeed lo-fi extravaganza (guitar-wise) but this release's stamped intentionwas that the black metal genre is currently forging an alliance with the artistic (Read: Deathspell Omega) but Ordo Ad Chao was on top of proceedings.

Blasphemer parted ways with Mayhem on 22nd April 2008 & currently in pursuit of personal musical commitments.

To be cont'd...

PS: The pic above were moments before Blasphemer snapped a string & his Warlock made way for a Washburn. If you visit the band's homepage, the pics featuring the Washburn guitar was the Singapore date.

Vox: Satchurator

Joe Satriani, in collaboration with Vox, has a new pedal for you distortion dweebs- the Satchurator. It's a distortion unit specified by the guitar sage himself which features a boost section aptly called the MORE switch. This is akin to having a drive boost cascading into your primary distortion source, without having to employ another pedal; a neat 2-in-1 concept, nothing too different from StevVai's Ibanez JEMINI unit. In store soon...

Seymour Duncan: SH-2N (Jazz)

I used to dismiss the Jazz (SH-2) humbucker to be a one-trick pony; it's ony good for jazz. Back then, I was only interested in high output pickups because believeably, they are better for high gain/ drive music. Along the way, what became more important to me was achieving the end, regardless of the means; I should be checking the Jazz out because it might give me what I want to hear after all, regardless of its label, no harm trying, yes? So I swallowed some pride & bought the SH-2...

...which is now resident in my Ibanez RGA121 (neck). The Jazz sounds exceptional clean, I've heard it in use in a hollow body instrument & it's more appealing to me instead of the favoured '59 humbucker by many clean tone purveyors. The clean effect is indeed a bonus to me because in a driven setting (I rarely play without distortion), the Jazz is able to articulate individual notes very clearly which is what I wanted all along as I often solo in the neck position. So what I thought was a niche pickup is indeed pliable in other tonal settings. So the lesson learnt here- never dismiss a pickup by its label.

PS: For those of you who wish to have the Jazz in your RGA guitar, be informed that there is a need to round off the angular pickup mounting flap. As you can see in the pic above, the guitar's cavity necessitates such trimmings.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yamaha: BB714BS (New Billy Sheehan bass)

Q: What's a bass update doing in a guitar blog?
A: Well, it's not just another bass, it's the latest Billy Sheehan signature bass, BB714BS.

Q: It's still a bass isn't it?
A: Yes it is but it's the blogger's accolade for the player- Billy Sheehan.

Q: Why bother?
A: Billy Sheehan can out-play a guitar player any time, if you have not see him play, you'll be asking too many questions.

Q: So the Attitude bass is gone?
A: Nope- it's still in the Yamaha line-up.

Q: The BB714BS isn't exactly new...
A: It's definitely adapted from Yamaha's BB design but the electronics are to the endorser's specs.

Digitech: Hardwire pedals

Digitech too has a series of more affordable pedals in store, the Hardwire units (but how costly are the Digitech units that they necessitate these derivatives?) but there aren't any 'Digitech' labels on the products per se. One thing's for sure- these are true bypass pedals. More updates soon...

Danelectro: Cool Cat pedals

Remember the very affordable FAB series pedals by Danelectro? Well, these have been given a make-over & are now known to the world as the Cool Cat series.
I did buy the FAB Metal but found the pedal to display a dodgy switching mechanism. Nevermind what it's called now, hopefully the reiability issues have been given some revision as well.

PRS: SE Singlecut Trem

PRS has added a variation of the very successful SE Singlecut in their offerings; the SE Singlecut Trem. This is a whammy-able version of the SE Singlecut whose tone is somewhat different to the discerning ears; it has added boom due to the overall heftiness of the body & not primarily due to the addition of a different hardware.

There are some of us who find the stop-tail PRS guitars (SE or otherwise) a little too challenging when it comes to picking hand palm mutings, more so for the metal lads who chug their bass notes; the aforementioned hardware doesn't easily respond to such playing due to its flushed radius design but it's still possible with a little more effort in trying. If that's the case, the whammy type bridge would provide a good alternative.

The PRS SE Singlecut Trem is now available @ Davis GMC for less than $1K...