Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The KIKO experience

Kiko Loureiro was here for an Ibanez clinic last Saturday, 26th April. There was a warm reception, the crowd (majority of them) knew Kiko for who he is- one of the most respectable shredders to embrace melody, not just senseless noodling. I must say that his live tone- well at least for this clinic- has more bottom end clarity than his recorded tones. Throughout all his four solo releases, Kiko's tones are thin but the distortion heard during the clinic was outright impressive. I'm still wondering why his LANEY cab was made to face the window instead of the crowd. Anyway, some pointers by Kiko in addition to the showcase of his awesome finger works:

  • Practice is the only way. For musicians to accomplish a level of proficiency, practice is everything. The jest was to focus on a certain practice regiment for 10K hours before one can say one's versed in a certain technique. Seriously, it need not be 10K hours but just a significant amount of dedicated time to embrace some learning.
  • Lefty playing the right way. Yes, Kiko is a Southpaw but he adapted to the standard guitar & did not relent in acquiring a lefty instrument instead. He added that guitarists are the only snobs who demanded an inverted version of the standard instrument. We don't see this happening with piano & harp players, among others. The message here: There is no harm in re-learning & adapting.
  • Time & melody. Guitarists often forget the fact that timing is of the essence to music, the average guitar dweeb (especially the electric guitar) wants to play faster than the other guy so this individual ends up being more mechanical than musical. Kiko also stressed the importance of melody, knowing what to play & playing it on context, not just playing it your way. He encouraged players to drop gear (in terms of speed) & be creative.
  • Tap. Someone wanted him to shed some aspects of 8-finger tapping & he started by highlighting the fact that many people are doing it wrong- each & every finger is supposed to hit the strings outright, not legato the notes. Also, avoid senseless tap phrases, arrange them so that octaves are heard & this is a part of playing in context.
  • Ibanez. This was probably the primary conversation but churned out subtly, there were no aggressive product or brand name highlight. Personally, I'm glad it was done this way, we are not obliged to embrace what others prefer, if there were any up-side to a certain product pertaining to features & innovation, we appreciate them in context & understand why the endorser & manufacturer went the extra way to have them manifested. Kiko confessed that his first 'proper' guitar was an Ibanez because it was the guitar to have one playing 'more' in terms of technicality. Along the way, ESP & Tagima got into the fold but eventually it's Ibanez. Someone wanted to know why he's sporting an Edge bridge when the Lo-Pro version is better. Upon hearing this, I thought that at this day & age, there would be less unfounded item preference largely because we are more knowledgeable, educated & exposed to aspects of application but I guess some of us are still inclined to champion what we think are exalted items. Kiko explained that he's somewhat old school, preferring the ones that had been there all along but he highlighted the fact that Vai & Satch are two of many long time Ibanez players who personally embrace the Edge in their guitars as opposed to other versions & we need to reflect why this is the case.

All in all, it was an entertaining & educational episode. I was there when Kiko did his Laney clinic here & I thought this session was more engaging. Maybe it's the fact that the host this time round got the audience into the clinic rather than let them drown in restraint. 

I look forward to more clinics of this nature here. I certainly benefited from the knowledge shared in addition to some product exposure which we can do at our own personal time. On that note, thanks to Swee Lee Co. for the opportunity.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Parlour comfort

Whatever you have to say about Chinese production, please do it in context. When it comes to guitars, a China-made unit could manifest some of the most desirable standard of production out there, you just have to know what to look at. The Takamine GY93E here is Chinese. I tried it earlier today & it's one of the most congenial parlour-type model out there. Due to its Chinese pedigree, it can be had for less than $600. I'm with acoustics sporting smaller bodies; it's less of a struggle for me to play.

This is how things are from the back- absolutely beautiful rosewood-maple-rosewood combo.

Some price checks to convince you that the domestic prices here are absolutely the best considerations:

  • MSRP: USD799
  • USD549

Monday, April 28, 2014

Perpetual acquisition

The weekend- it's forgettable. Today, Monday- the day ended on a bitter note. Not an entirely wasted day because I bought the Seymour Duncan Perpetual Burn humbucker. It's now available at Davis GMC, $125ea.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Re-string Saturday: Ibanez RG460

The morning was spent re-stringing my Ibanez RG460. It was the most played guitar for the last 2 weeks or so. Those D'Addario .009s are something; they sound real crispy when fresh. This got me playing unplugged for a while, just to enjoy that moment. It's like wearing a nice pair of fresh socks; you just want to keep wearing them till it's time to stop walking. Anyway, I just wanna share the benefits of playing unplugged as a warm up routine (if you want to try something new):

  • playing without amplification compels us to pick a little harder to make ourselves heard, especially with a solid body guitar. This would make us pick 'properly', it makes us put in a little more effort & control to discipline our picking hand.
  • ditto the fretting hand; we push down our digits harder to make every fretted note heard & not pick a muted note.
  • playing without distortion & especially unplugged, makes us think differently. Shredding is pointless because it makes us tired very quickly. We end up playing 'nice', melodic arrangements because we subconsciously tell ourselves to give into a different objective- one which doesn't emphasize technicality but a routine that avoids mistakes.
  • finally, when we plug in, we feel things are much easier to play & we continue playing with less tension coming from both hands. We automatically tell ourselves to ease up a little & realize that those moments when we play without a proper/ dedicated warm up session, we were actually exerting more force than necessary. In addition to affecting our motor skills, it's taxing our minds & tired minds manifest more mistakes than the ones in control.

808 in

Ibanez's TS808DX is now available at Swee Lee. Price is to be confirmed but do expect a $300+/- range.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gibson: Les Paul Classic 2014

Four months after its official release, I get to handle 2014's take of the Gibson Les Paul Classic. When I first listed a list of Les Pauls for pre-purchase considerations (that was a decade ago...), the Classic was right there at the top. Back then, it was the Classic +, equipped with a pair of uncovered 500T/496R pickups which was a lethal pair in terms of distortion (they still are!).

This year's version has a pair of '57 Classic pickups so this immediately raises the question of authenticity in terms of details. But I was also bothered by a missing tone knob which is a real bummer for LP fans due to the inability to have independent tone controls for each pickup. However, for those of us who are oblivious to the instrument's tone controls, the boost switch in place might be a good thing. After plugging this guitar into a high gain amp, that boost switch, to me, is necessary to reinvigorate the 500T/496R character. The '57 Classics are not as progressive when it comes to cutting edge distortion but it's nothing mundane. In fact, they manifest some of the finest cleans; fine details & lots of definition. The upside to the electronics make-over is the fact that it's equipped with coil-split circuitry- just pull up the volume knobs & you get single coils at the helm.

Everything else about the 2014 Classic is praise-worthy but as it is these days, the Gibson QC might just let you down with occasional failings; in this aspect, you'd question the instrument's asking price before you settle for it at the cashier. Personally, without being too blatant in my disappointment with this one, the nut finishing could have been better.

I was in the market for a Gibson, really. Thought this one would make a pleasant birthday acquisition but no :-)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The drive BOSS

Guess I'm not much of a distortion person these days so the OD-1X was it. Tested it thoroughly at the store- clean channel, drive channel, stand alone, cascade, single coil, humbucker, active pickups- I had to be convinced that it was a taker at this price. Not too keen on the BOSS brand but I'm willing to ignore any brand name if the product performance is worth. This one's worth it. Definitely.

Thanks to Master Faizal @ Swee Lee (BB showroom) for the assistance.

End: Ovation

Fender is set to cease production of the US-made Ovation guitars. This will be effective come June 2014. If you are still interested:

  1. Grab whatever's in store in the mean time
  2. Look out for price blow-outs by mid-year (mostly online offers)
Treasure yours, my friends.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Went, bought

The intention was to check this out...

... but since this was there too & they were on my to-get list for 2014, it was a done deal. Never assume that a trip to the guitar store with a singular intention would not end up in an outcome quite different from the intended plan. Distractions, distractions...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Theta- in...

If you've read the reviews, if you've watched the demos, if you've wished it'd be here then be informed that it's available now at Davis GMC now. List: $399...

BOSS: The X factor

So BOSS revamped their indestructible duo to sound intriguing. I was fortunate to hear them in action at Swee Lee (BB branch). The X-factor was there alright, no contest.

The DS is not the meek version of its traditional incarnation. At full-on distortion, it's metal as metal should be- intense. Within that turn of the (distortion) knob, you can have at least 3 voicings at your disposal- the traditional DS-1 tone, a hard rock crunch & that metal-esque thunder as mentioned. Moving on to the OD, as opposed to distinct voicings, this one offers saturation excellence. At maximum drive, you won't hear anymore of that signature, meek, OD-3 type hump. Instead, you have one of the smoothest, fusion-worthy drive at your disposal; it's something a boutique unit would churn out as staple. I'm also totally happy with the EQ sweep on offer (despite being only 2-band); they offer extremes but usable ones & that's saying a lot. The level of response here is rightfully next-gen looking at where BOSS is coming from. Impressive.

Let's just stop here & do a little thinking. Let's work our little grey cells to opine if these are really worth their (more than) $200 price tags. Let's be fair, shall we? The outright answer to this is a resounding YES. However, the mod dweebs had beaten BOSS to this if you have not realized it by now. These X pedals are nothing a modded version of the standard DS-1/ OD-3 wouldn't cover (in terms of tone & voicings); you just have to know what kind of mods need to be done & who to go to. But let's give it to the BOSS chaps; they did it their way & they did it well. More importantly, they did it to impress you. After a personal encounter, I won't say the DS-1X/ OD-1X are game-changers in terms of distortion & drive aspects. They are different & they are good. The purists wouldn't be pleased, though. These pedals just sound 'too much' when measured against their traditional versions. You can't stretch the traditional voicings without eventually sounding different. However, it might be one of the costliest non-true bypass pedal you would be buying.

Avaialbility: Swee Lee Co.
Price: $209 each
Rating: 88%

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ibanez: IL15 (1)

This is just in at Swee Lee Co.- the Ibanez Iron Label IL15 combo amp. I managed give it a good run in all settings- review soon :-)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The joy indeed

The bass-less trio are back. With every release, I have to say these chaps know what they are doing but this one is a little undoing so to speak. I'm not one to acknowledge the existence of this genre called djent. There is no djent, on Meshuggah & the music thereafter. It's metal dwelling in odd tempo intelligence, that's what is is. The Joy of Motion moved away from the djent domain to manifest some lethal prog prowess. It's proving that Animals as Leaders are fine musicians in their own right. There is no denying the fact that the music here gravitates towards metal more than anything else but everything is kept tasteful.

The band also moved away from technicalities as their staple. We can hear very careful arrangements all over the songs with no compelled taps & sweeps to prove a point. The ardent fans can sit back & appreciate the music & acknowledge the band's fine moments in music while the newbies here wouldn't be averse to the brand of instrumental music peddled by this trio. In fact, I believe new listeners would be intrigued to discover the older materials to experience the other Animals as Leaders, the ones who were uncomparable when they first unleash their music to the world.

Guitar-wise, do not look forward to a fresh set of tones, we can still hear Abasi & Reyes' Factal at work. Despite being without an individual to propel real bass notes; listen to how the band layered clean tones to make sure we don't start by asking where the bass is. It's sheer intelligence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Schecter Custom PT... only if

Should I be given the chance to customize my own Schecter, this is how it'd look like & it would cost me USD2.4K... that's a lot of money & I still can't get what I really want- there's no custom electronic options. I only need a bridge humbucker & a volume knob.


You know 'Kustom'? Chances are you don't. The company traces its roots back to 1964 but the brand circulation was only signification in 1999 under Hanser Music Group. It's also more acquainted with European players but the amp is available here at Davis GMC.

This isn't my first encounter with Kustom, I used to have a bass amp; rugged & very functional (CLICK). The Defender 5H is a guitar amp, an all tube affair (EL84/ 12AX7) with only a single volume knob to get you going. With an amp of this nature, it probably means the player has already settled for a preferred clean tone to propel other considerations & that would namely be the effects line up.

That's exactly what I am doing here; this amp will propel my effects should I choose to play them on days when I require processed inspiration. I can easily plug those gadgets into my Marshall- which I did- but having other than the volume knob there increases the chances of me meddling with amp tones when I know I should be focused on my playing instead. 

Kustom: The Defender 5H
Availability: Davis GMC
Price: $135

Friday, April 18, 2014

Electro Harmonix: EHXtortion

Despite being a 2-in-1 device, EHX's EHXtortion is a straight forward offering in terms of functionality. It's aimed at us dweebs who like a little reinforcement when it comes to drive/ distortion. So you get 1) A stardard drive/ distortion channel 2) A boost channel which works independently as well 3) 3 arguably essential drive/ distortion voicings which are selectable via the pre-gain knob. 

There is no metal-type intensity so be warned but the boost feature is there for a reason. Upon activation, it helps the primary drive/ distortion unit to achieve a harder edge. You have a pair of gain controls to work with so you dial in your preferred propulsion. Keep in mind the volume knobs; they are there to work some mojo when it comes to gain as well.

Personally, I find the EHXtortion highly attractive & tasteful. It offers the gigging player a quick solution to up the ante when intensity is concerned so I foresee one lesser pedal in the signal chain & that would clean things up in terms of gain-related background noise. Despite not paying homage to the metal horde specifically, I do not see why a fan of good, saturated, solo tones should look away. Chances are, if you can get your amp's pre-amp section to slave some gain for you, that would solve the problem (from this perspective). 

Rating: 85%

Electro Harmonix: EHXtortion
Availability: Davis GMC
Price: $199

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Order in Kaoss

It's a little late- we are way past the year's quarter turn- but better late than never. Ibanez said these are protos for 2014, come next year they hope it'd be standard production. Korg's Kaoss pad isn't something to propel 'proper' guitar playing, it's for the adventurous to include weird, otherworldly beeps & blurts to manifest creativity. If you are familiar with what the whammy pedal could do, it's nothing too different.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BOSS IX series

If you've been waiting for these darlings they are finally here @ Swee Lee- expect to pay at least $200 each...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

The rich

If you are into all things Gibson, dreaming of owning an LP Custom is a legit aim. At USD4,199 the Custom is one of Gibson's revered offerings in terms of quality per se but if you take a closer look at that fretboard, you'd wonder why Gibson did this to the guitar- it's not wood.

The LP Custom to date (correct as at time of publishing), features a richlite fretboard (richlite = paper + resin). This, ladies & gentlemen, is a composite material often used as kitchen tops for its industrial strength & somewhat pseudo organic nature (to put it simply, it emulates wood). The ultimate reason for incorporating this material into one of their finest instruments is really beyond our understanding. Not too long ago, the authorities took possession of Gibson's 'illegal' wood & that got the manufacturer scampering for substitutes. While majority of the the guitars that used to sport rosewood fretboards made do with other wood type substitutes, the richlite consideration is quite frankly, desperate & distasteful.

I don't wish to talk anymore about such compromises especially when it concerns Gibson but it's difficult to leave something alone if it's wayward. From many of my entries here, I could be seen as a Gibson basher but hey, why the heck do I keep buying Gibsons from time to time? But you need to know your wood before you fork out the cash. The draw to 'Gibson' these days is largely due to the manufacturer's heritage more than anything else.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ISP: Theta

This is so... my kinda pedal! The ISP Theta: Pre-amp + double gain distortion with an in-built noise gate- what's there not to like? We note the inclusion of noise reduction features in the current high gain pedal designs- noise is being curbed at the source, this is a good thing. Also, we note the inclusion of extra gain for those of us who are into distortion overdose. Having 2 gain adds to saturation in addition to intensity. For many of us, it's the saturation consideration more than intensity issues, it helps us with our pick attack. On my to-get list before the year end.

Where's Wally?

Do I need another looper? No, but I am heading somewhere with this one so it's a done deal after testing it at SV Guitars. Rather inevitable.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cynic: Kindly bent to free us

After grappling with this album for weeks, I have come to accept that it's a departure from its predecessors; this isn't the Cynic which everyone revered in metaldom. There are no death metal growls, only clean vocals & the guitars are not very engaging in terms of intricacy. In fact, it barely scratches its fine form offering only crunch-type distortion & no flash. It's all about delivery, Paul Masvidal & Co. have embraced necessity rather than release an album to prove a point. Whatever was to be proven was delivered two releases ago & the band had moved on. This isn't metal in my opinion, it's geek prog & should attract a fresh fan base. Personally, I think I've wasted my time trying to interpret where Paul Masvidal & gang are heading. To me, this is a down release, I have other albums to relate to. Upset, to put it mildly. Kindly release another album to assure us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hotone: Wally looper

Hotone, the name that gives you some of the little-est pedals around, has a new one- the Wally. It's a looping unit & it's as simple as it looks. Wally records your guitar phrases, enabling you to layer as many tracks as you wish subject to the internal memory's capacity (up to 15min of recording time). The controls are functional & it offers a down-tempo knob, slowing or speeding up your playing. In use, the Wally is responsive but at this size, one really has to strap it down to a board, just placing it there isn't good enough. I've no other negative highlights in this aspect other than the fact that any tempo adjustments would entail a change in pitch. If it's your first time dealing with a Hotone, be informed that they don't do batteries. Recommended for those of us who wants to keep things simple & portable.

Rating: 85%

Hotone: Wally looper
Availability: SV Guitars
Price: $145

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ibanez: TS808DX... screaming price

Things are a little slow here so I trawled the 'net in the hope of getting a birthday present for myself. The TS808DX comes to mind- not in the mood for another guitar/ amp, so a pedal would be nice but this one is USD249.99... Forget it.

Yesterday's struggle

A very good Monday morning. Wishing you a good start to the week. For those of us who dread this week, it has already begun & it'd be over before you know it. 

I had been sticking to the above gear combo for a week: 1) EVH 5150III amp 2) Guyatone OD2+ 3) Ibanez RG460 (Seymour Duncans on board). Despite having variety, I choose what I'm comfortable with, namely an Ibanez guitar, a mild overdrive & a very high gain amp. The purpose of which is to eliminate poor gear selection during practice so when something goes astray, I know it's me, not my gear.

For the last few weeks or so, I've been working on legato phrasing; nothing new just a regurgitation of what I am very at home with. However, the stuff I was listening to (Quayle/ Howe/ Garsed) had an imprint on me; I was thrown into the depths of the unknown aka, working with 4 notes per string arrangements. There is a way to 'cheat' of course- just tap every 4th note but that would take away the legato feel. So it was a struggle compounded by the fact that I have short fingers. I couldn't get a good 4-notes-per string arrangement & it dawned on me that going back to basics was it. For a good hour yesterday, I developed some exercises to address the situation- yes, address it first, get creative later, much later after proficiency is attained. Speed is not a consideration here, just getting things properly done. Repeating mistakes is not learning.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mooer: Spark distortion

I've finally gotten down to try Mooer's Spark distortion, currently available at SV Guitars. It's the only one in its series shipped here, the rest were produced enough for promo use only, they will be available in due time.

As you can see, the Spark D sports cute dimensions. The immediate concern is its inability to hold itself down in use should the player yank his/her cable. The economics of its design is such that the controls were made minute & relegated to the top end, facing the audience so to speak. The player has to be very familiar with them because most of the time it's tweaking without looking. If you are the pedal board geek, this one saves space & its squarish design means it takes up equal space length & width-wise. If you dream of an economy pedal board, one which you can slip into your guitar bag, it would be quite possible. Please note that the Spark D is strictly adapter powered.

I think it's rather obligatory to relate the pedal's distortion intensity to that of the industry standard, BOSS' DS-1. The Spark D is a hard hitting distortion unit, it even offers a boost function for you to take it one-up if the need arises. In this aspect, if you wish for the Spark D to emulate a DS-1 in terms of voicing, you have to keep the gain at bay. Personally, I like this pedal for its ability to saturate the gain as the dial reaches its upper settings. With the BOOST function engaged, the Spark D manifests a sweet zing intensity-wise but it won't bring you into metal territory. 

The TONE control has an arguably wide sweep with an 8 o'clock setting giving off a fat, lower end boost. Turn it up & it adds nicely to the treble end. I must say that the LEVEL control adds a tad of top end to the overall voicing so one needs to recalibrate one's tone if things get a little excessive. 

The Spark D played well with both single coil & humbucking pickups. It has a strong inherent response so it won't lose its definition if you switch between pickups. If you are into all things smooth sounding, the Spark D can be a little annoying due to its rich top end but I see this as a plus. It makes you reach for your guitar's tone knob to balance things up so you end up working with a palette of pedal-guitar tones instead of just meddling with what the pedal has to offer. The Spark series of pedals face stiff price competition from Modtone & Hotone especially when the latter brands offer quality-for-price tones. We are spoilt for choice but it's definitely a good thing for us buyers.

Rating: 80%

Mooer: Spark distortion
Availability: SV Guitars
Price: $135

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Fender: Modern Player Jazzmaster (2)

This is in response to an e-mail pertaining to my pickup covers; it's absolutely plastic & it's not costly. It fits the standard humbucker & requires no mods. Just insert the humbucker into the cover & it's good to go, no wax potting or rear sealing necessary. It somehow deceives others from a distance because it looks like an active unit but that's strictly a novelty. This cover protects your pickup from the elements, especially your sweat. Say you are selling it away for other replacements, you'd then have a working & good-looking pickup to offer.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fender: MP Jazzmaster HH... pickups

Most of the time, I'm at odds with what the manufacturer offers in the guitar in terms of pickups. It's namely due to the fact that I'm inclined towards what I like to hear rather than what the manufacturer suggests. The default humbuckers in my Jazzmaster HH were replaced with a pair of Tesla Plasma X-1. The default pickups fared rather well when it comes to clean & crunchy tones but at saturated drive settings, they made the instrument sound below par. The X-1 gives off a spiked midrange tone in the bridge while the neck counterpart bags lots of clarity for solos- my kinda duo. The ones you see here are covered, you can purchase these covers at TYMC for under $5 (for a pair).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PRS sale @ Davis GMC

PRS sale now on at Davis GMC. Not to be confused with the PRS SE clearance which is still applicable. You are basically looking at a generous price reduction for the US selection.

I was there & a little too late to grab that little something as an early birthday present but that's fate.

PIC: Courtesy of Davis GMC

Earth hour 2014

We have been commemorating Earth Hour & it was no exception this 2014. Unlike previous years, there was absolutely no playing last Saturday (29-3-2014), I actually read in the dark for the entire 60min. There was less EH promotion this year or so I noted. I remember the media making it a big deal in 2013, asking people to come down to town & join the rest of the participants in the name of awareness. The news did some pre-EH coverage to play their part.

This year, the focus was at Marina Bay where Garfield, Fox & gang were part of the EH 2014 event so it was an Amazing Spiderman Earth Hour so to speak. Imagine the amount of electricity used for this event, regardless if it's gagged for an hour to observe the event proper. Gee... Hopefully, it had been an amazing EH in terms of awareness but once again, having looked around on that day, just in my neighbourhood vicinity, people were largely oblivious to EH. The love for Mother Earth, it seems, appeals to only a certain fraction of the national demographics. The typical Uncles & Aunties here had no clue what it was all about. This had been the case for the past few EH commemorations or so. In terms of reach, in my opinion, it failed quite miserably.

Whatever it had been, we did our part in our own special ways. Some of our ways were more EH than others.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Washburn: N4CV

Washburn's Nuno models have been around for a while. Nuno Bettencourt is in fact Washburn's premier endorser who is off the radar when it comes to guitar technicalities but he's a proven player. No issues there. You might be mistaken for seeing another Nuno regurgitation but the N4CV here differs from its predecessors by sporting a carbon fibre fretboard & steel frets. The idea here is to induce a different feel under the fingertips so that one can get up to speed when it come to some fast runs during play.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Them fuzzes

Maxon released their TBS range of fuzzes recently- each & every fuzz unit features a replication of flagship tone. For instance, the Void is based on Ampeg's Scrambler so you get that iconic octave-laden tone. I'm not a fuzz fan but I'm putting the 'Maxon' name in good stead because it means something in terms of quality.