Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sale?

We end May in the knowledge that the annual Great Singapore Sale 2015 is now taking place. Contrary to popular beliefs, not all retailers take part in this annual event, especially guitar stores. This issue isn't new, I've raised the matter before (Here: CLICK). There is evidently a (slight) spike in demand for instruments now that the school semestral break is here. The SEA Games athletes are also here so it's really a good time to make a sale happen.

Instead, guitar stores observe their own sale schedule (if there is any to begin with). City Music will dutifully conduct their end-of-year clearance which many of us are grateful for. Davis GMC has periodic brand discounts. Their last PRS SE, LTD & Blackstar promo was fantastic. We're not pushing the stores to conform to the GSS but it's definitely a plus to have a good bargain at mid-year. Figures need not be as generous as a year-end blowout, buyers will appreciate whatever considerations come their way, especially for off-the-shelf products (we can get good prices for pre-loved items elsewhere).

On that note, I wish everyone a good midyear ahead. Stay happy even if your dream guitar isn't on sale, yes?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ibanez: KIKOSP

This, ladies & gentlemen, is the most affordable Ibanez Kiko Loureiro signature guitar, the KIKOSP, retailing for less than $300. Despite the entry-level status, the QC is above average, very befitting of a signature offering. The only gripe I have with this guitar is that the hardware is rather stiff, ditto the electronics. The Kiko association here, honestly, is a passing association. I tried my best to embrace this in light of what it should offer (in terms of feel) but the guitar isn't any more pleasant than an average Ibanez GIO model. In fact, we have some GIOs which are more classy than the KIKOSP.

Tone-wise, the immediate impact is the instrument's rather harsh tones, both in clean & driven modes. It has everything to do with the Infinity pickups which aren't reputed to offer anything else but gnarly distortion (if you amp is up to it). This is quite a shame, really, in view of the association the KIKOSP has in terms of tonal progression but then again, Kiko himself has DiMarzios in his personal instruments & these are featured in his upper tier signature selections. I only enjoyed the single coil performance but it's not in Fender territory, mind you & we shouldn't be looking forward to own this guitar for crystal clean tones; it's just not meant for that intention. 

If you are into all things Kiko & think than you can celebrate the fact that his good tones are now available on a budget- not quite. The commercial intention is plain to see but please do not dismiss this one if you are in for an affordable instrument with above average specs. Tonal liking is another story altogether.

Rating: 65%

Ibanez: KIKOSP
Availability: Swee Lee Co.
Price: $299

Friday, May 29, 2015

Taylor: GS Mini

Today was a good day because I managed to squeeze in a little time in the evening to try Taylor's GS Mini seen here. It's a scaled-down version of Taylor's Grand Symphony model, hence the 'Mini' inclusion. To start things off, let's be clear that the GS mini is by no means a mini guitar. The real minis are Taylor's Baby models which are even more reduced in dimensions. The GSM represents Taylor's take on a parlour model albeit sporting a GS outline which defies the parlour definition by virtue of body width.

In the acoustic realm, Taylor's construction, fit & finish are the very definition of the brand's philosophy. The GSM, upon handling, is of immaculate construction despite being a Mexican. There is no faulting the fit & finish either; it's like anomalies & the Taylor name were never meant to be paired (ever). What seemed to be plain features in this guitar became glorified specs upon handling. We've come across too many acoustics featuring solid spruce tops & an ebony fretboard before but this one screams Taylor in terms of feel. A little more on the mahogany neck- it sports a subtle V profile at the nut area before rounding off towards the 14th fret. The shred dweebs would love this guitar because it feels more electric than acoustic. Instead of anticipating lethargy during play, one would feel more at home with such an accommodating neck profile, it just begs to be played. 

Tone wise, do not expect an auditorium type, bass-rich tone because it's not one to begin with. However, due to that body width, there is a healthy balance of the lower & mid frequencies despite manifesting that spruce brightness especially from the unwound strings. This guitar has lots of song writing potential on board due to its rich chord manifestations. 

All in all, the GS Mini is a winner in terms of the Taylor expectations. Some of us would question the body outline as it breeds a little discomfort for a guitar of this nature. Since it's not manifesting an auditorium type tone, why employ the design in the first place? The solid body players would be at home with this guitar because the neck is incredibly playable.  

Rating: 85%

Taylor: GS Mini
Price: $799
Availability: Swee Lee Co.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Affordable ice

New at Swee Lee- the most affordable Paul Stanley Ibanez Iceman, the PS40 (List: $299). Unlike it's bigger brothers, this one is of poplar body & features the Infinity humbucker pair. If you don't mind the signature association, this one's a no-frills & should be a good leverage for those of us starting out as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Poisoned King?


In a sad turn of events, the daughters of the late BB King is having their dad'd death being probed as a poisoning case. Suspects: 1) LaVerne Toney (business manager) 2) Myron Johnson (personal assistance). I sincerely hope that this investigation would not turn it into a Michael Jackson-eque post-mortem circus.

RIP, BB King.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vapoured


This is the next generation of treated strings by La Bella - vapour 'coat'. It's a simple concept by the manufacturer & involved a smoking/vapourizing process which affects the strings' surface. So the manufacturer claims a one-up victory so to speak because their method involves no tangible coating that has a potential to flake. Interesting.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shrouded

Now you see it...

Now you see less. I'm fighting dust.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

It's a wrap



One of the fundamentals of playing the guitar is to keep those unwanted notes from being heard during play. This is a pain for beginners, it requires discipline. For seasoned players, sometimes those ghastly notes could be heard especially when we let our guards down. Some of us would choose to let it be because we know, a tremendous amount of distortion would mask things somewhat but it's a poor excuse for being sloppy. It's a different story during recording when such minor accidents could be heard under compression. Players like Greg Howe (read some stuff here: CLICK) who employs a fair bit of two-handed techniques into his playing, would see to it that such notes are muted during play. 



A simple remedy here is to wrap a hair band (aka scrunchie) at the nut area to hush things up. However, manufacturers like Gruv Gear (they manufacture instrument bags as well), invests some thinking into this idea & they came up with the FretWrap. In addition to a more cushioned approach, the FW features a buckle so you can vary the grip; some of us would want more damping than muting. As for me, I'm thoroughly enjoying this product because it helps me address the muting issue when I tap or employ some sweep picking. Yes, we should be more professional when it comes to notes muting because it's part of knowing how to control one's hands while we're at it but after prolonged play, I always realize that lethargy would overwhelm us & that's where contraptions like the FW for instance, helps.

The Fretwrap is available @ Sound Alchemy.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ibanez: KIKOSP

If you've been wanting that gorgeous Ibanez Kiko Loureiro model but do not have adequate finances to acquire one, the most affordable model, the KIKOSP, is now available at Swee Lee. The good thing about it is that it features a non-locking whammy bridge (maybe not a good thing for some of us as we prefer a locking unit to maintain tuning stability). However, the pickups on board are Ibanez's own Infinity models so don't expect some DiMarzio-esque responses from it. (List: $339)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Selling: STB J-bass

I bought this bass for a one-time performance last week. It's a definite value for money, incredible sustain.

However, it's a little too heavy for me. My back hurt the night after playing it. Maybe for you youngsters out there, it won't be an issue because your back is still in good shape but not the case for me so it's going for a good price. 

Aria: STB JB-DX (bag included)
  • Condition: 9/10 (one week as at date of posting)
  • Self-collect: CCK mrt stn
  • Query/ confirmation: subversion.sg@gmail.com
  • No trades, no reservations
  • Price is final: $165

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Plucked

I've just stopped playing for the day. For the night. For the moment. Whatever. I've just rediscovered the joy of nonsense-free guitar tones; the sound of the acoustic guitar. That elation of knowing the goodness of guitar tones coming from the instrument itself, nothing else should get in the way. Then my guitar moment got amplified.

That about killed the purity of it all, yes? Not quite. Acoustic amplification aims to capture the string & wood resonance in its fundamentals but there's an overlooked issue here- you don't get much true acoustic tones from placing pickups under the bridge saddle. It sounds amazing though, but it's contradictory to the fundamental intention. The best acoustic resonance happens, you guessed it, at the sound hole area. This is the reason why acoustic wizards like Andy McKee, Don Ross & Thomas Leeb, among others, make sure there's a form of pickup or microphone at that vicinity. OK, enough acoustic philosophy.

Every now & then, I would feel abysmal when it comes to guitar technicality. After much practice & invention, I thought my abilities are rather formidable but then the acoustic guys will always be on another level. I am of the opinion that playing with a pick breeds singular perspective. Subconsciously, it's the reason why I listen to those acoustic guys; there's minimal reliance on amplification & they are outstanding plucking those strings without a pick in hand. It opens up perspectives & redefines co-ordination. So that's the reason why I have my acoustic moments; to feel totally pathetic about my abilities then try to refresh some perspectives so as to renew my music.

Seen above: 1) Takamine GX11ME 2) Fender Acoustasonic 15

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Double hush

Here we go- double the noise gate goodness by Rocktron. It's not a serial noise gate but a 2-in-1 function so you can 1) Hush your pedals & at the same time 2) Hush the signals at the amp as well (via FX loop), that's how it works. For the gain-inclined among us, definitely.

Monday, May 18, 2015

... of doom!


A new one by Randall amps- the EOD 88. It's a seemingly simple amp with a singular objective- heavy tones, no compromise. This is a first by the manufacturer to incorporate a fuzz circuit so in addition to the regular gain, one can inject instant Sabbath-esque tones just by dialing the fuzz in. Hear it in action:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Matt Garstka: Beyond drumming

I'm no drummer but I get inspired by drummers more so than guitar dudes. That's right, Hellhammer, Frost, Namtar, Dominator, Pete Sandoval, George Kollias, Tomas Haake, Steve Shelton, Brann Dailor, Neil Pert, Gary Husband & the list goes on. A good drummer makes the band- keep this in mind.

Matt Garstka is a drum geek. More often than not, such individuals would turn out to be outstanding players in their respective turfs. It's good to hear how he got to where he is now & it's all hard work, nothing less. More interestingly, I get to hear what goes on inside a drummer's mind when he's plying his trade. I believe drummers are excellent multi-taskers & their brains are something to be reckoned with; their abilities to compartmentalize instructions & assigned them to the different body parts simultaneously is simply outstanding. Matt Garstka's drum approach is very technical, he isolates ideas, permutates them & runs them all through the timing gamut. It's all about timing & the creativity manifested within the chosen time-based limitations. He's also a very disciplined individual, investing a ridiculous amount of practice time during his younger days & a religious devotion to reading & exploring styles. 

Matt Garstka started the clinic with some timing anecdotes. He stressed the importance of slowing things down, refining the ideas before adding speed to the equation. The reminder here was that speed is an ego thing, it does little to accentuate refinements. The reason many of us play fast has everything to do with second nature; the more familiar we are with certain movements, the more natural it becomes. We are so familiar with it to such an extent that it's immune to time-based variations. This is something that I would like to incorporate into my playing ritual with immediate effect. 

The clinic concluded with Mr. Garstka playing along minus one tracks which were not limited to Animal As Leaders tunes. We heard a trance, pop & rap tune given the Matt Garstka treatment & they were all beyond awesome. I find them extremely inspiring because they showcased a very learned application which, despite the technicalities, reflected good taste. Being technical is a very dangerous inclination because one tends to get boring very quickly, especially in the presence of a non-technically inclined audience.

At the end of it all, it dawned on me that Matt Garstka had very little mention of metal or prog as his music domains. He is just doing his job in Animals As Leaders, playing in the style of what his mates required. Lesson learnt here- if you know what you are doing & required of you, there will be no problems fitting in, regardless of the music genre. 

Thanks, Swee Lee, for the opportunity.

Pic: Swee Lee Co.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pink!

This very much concludes my Fender Japan adventure. To be appraised (soon).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Boogie in the house (3)

Besides the inherent drive voicing, in my opinion, the Mark V 25's EQ section is quite the make-or-break factor here. You'd be surprised that the sweep isn't as wide as many of us would expect. In fact, I wasn't convincing in terms of detail.

That's where the other EQ section comes in. The slider range here is like the EQ's equalizer; an internal check of what's already there to begin with.Without hearing the amp in action, many of us would consider this an overkill but this is an important feature in ensuring the amp doesn't stay bland when only the rotary EQ is in use. I particularly fancy the fact that I can tailor my top end to make it sound more pronounced without sounding excessively screechy. On that note, the slider set can be activated via foot switch so it means you have the option to use this as a 'boost' so to speak, especially handy if you are the type who favours some solos via the neck pickup.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

GH24

So Greg How's Carvin is called the GH24 & it features some departures from its predecessors:
  • Chambered body- this one is really something different as Mr. Howe's ESP/ Fender et al feature solid bodies. According to the manufacturer it's not meant to address weight issues primarily. There's a resonance formula going on & taming some brightness as well.
  • EVOJ frets- supposedly an alloy that has qualities in between steel & nickel 
  • Standard whammy bridge- yes, no Floyd Rose this time
  • Carvin pickups- yes, No DiMarzios as well. So does this dinish the Greg Howe vibe? Hear it for yourselves:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Boogie in the house (2)

I'm not a MESA fan. Just like I'm not a Gibson fan, I make it a point to own a Gibson (& then some) in appreciation of guitar workmanship & tone philosophy. I bought the Mark V 25 here because it's the most likable tone in my books & acknowledge the fact that it's one of the landmark amp tones out there in terms of drive/distortion. I also like the fact that it says 'Boogie' there instead of 'MESA' so I believe I'm not drawn to hype but more to functionality & tone. If the Mark V 25 isn't available in this smaller construction, I wouldn't have bothered. Whatever Rectifier models came thereafter, they simply failed to draw me to whatever believable American-esque tone there is to behold; I'm just not a fan of this kind of voicing. Don't remind me the fact that some of the most commercially celebrated bands out there had their tones made by a MESA rectifier of some incarnations, I'm not obliged to tread their paths.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fender: TL Rose- string retainer

That's how the original string retainer looks like; it's the vintage type with a very steep break angle, it sat flushed against the surface. I couldn't slip the strings sideways, the string must be threaded through so this increases the chances of the surface being scratched.

When it comes to 'Fender', many of us are bent on keeping the features original but I simply can't stand the fact that such details offer me nothing in terms owner attachment; it makes me feel really dumb having something there which I did not approve of. So that string retainer, however 'true' it was to its original incarnation, made way for the more contemporary Fender American Standard version; the rounded contact surface means tuning is smooth & snag free.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Boogie in the house

Finally, my birthday present. But my birthday is over...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Wampler: Plexi Drive Deluxe

Two days ago, I tried this pedal; it's Wampler's Plexi-Drive Deluxe. It's a deluxe version by virtue of an added pre-gain feature that boosts the primary signals in addition to being an independent boost function. This means, you can activate the pre-gain function even if you have the primary channel in 'off' mode. The catch is, that solitary pre-gain button is wired exclusive to the primary/ post-gain channel so all the 4 knobs above it have no controls over the pre-gain feature. Once you activate the pre-gain button, you only have the pre-gain knob to deal with.

The good thing
This works very much like having a Tube Screamer or any other light-type overdrive hooked onto your primary drive/distortion source: Guitar into boost drive into main drive into amp. That's putting it crudely. If we connect our pedals this way, we know that our boost drive (ie. the pre-gain push) would have zero influence in terms of EQ once the main drive is activated because the main drive's 'more powerful' being would reduce the pre-amp's function to supplementary status. That's how the pre-gain feature in the Plex-Drive Deluxe works; it's job is to boost gain by virtue of saturation, everything else doesn't matter.

The not so good thing
Thank you Wampler for making it as simple as it is but for the price we are paying ($345), having some other controls manipulating the pre-amp feature would be splendid. This means, we can further sculpt our tone without having to add another pedal to the set up. Also, we know of many 2-pedal combinations which lies below the $345 mark. 

On hindsight, the manufacturer would want the Plexi-Drive Deluxe to work this way because this is the most accurate way to manifest the tone of an amp with a boost drive in the pre-gain stage. I prefer the PDD's overall tone with both features activated- saturated drive with lots of picking dynamics complement. If you are not a Marshall fan, all this might sound over-rated to you because you can get away with a similar tone using other pedals for less money. If you know what 'Wampler' has to offer, this one is a very convincing reproduction. 
 
Thanks to the good people at SV Guitars for the warm accommodations.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fender TL Rose: Duncanized

This familiar pose- yes, it's Beez at work. Brought my Fender TL Rose to him today.

I got these fixed in:
  • Neck: Seymour Duncan Vintage Stack
  • Bridge: Seymour Duncan Hot Stack
I can't quite live with vintage (output) pickups. That's the primary reason the default pickups made way for these Duncans. However, I was bent on keeping the tones in the neck below scorching hot. I realized that I might want to keep things a little 'vintage' (whatever that means) this time round hence the Vintage Stack in there. Whatever 'vintage' tones it needs to churn out, there's a high probability that it would be fed into lots of distortion so it has to hum-free.

So this marks the 2nd Japanese Telecaster in my possession to sport Seymour Duncan pickups instead of their default ones. I'm happier this way, I don't don't play much clean tones anyway so my needs are first & foremost. It had been a rewarding Saturday :-)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Flat!

The low-enders/ bottom-feeders among us will like this- EB strings now has flatwound cobalt strings for your sonic pleasure. What's the point? Cobalt- for that definition in the low frequencies. Flatwound- for that smooth factor + longer string life. I'm not an EB fan (not any more) but this is good news nevertheless.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ibanez JS 25th

Satch fans- the Ibanez JS25art (this is model number #10) is available at Swee Lee. As the name implies, it's a token model in conjunction with the endorser's time with the manufacturer. So... do you have $12,999 to spare?

pic: Swee Lee Co

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Clinics ahead


Here's a summary of the great instrument clinics coming our way this month, all courtesy of the good people at Swee Lee Co (L-R): Matt Garstka, Jeff Berlin, Tosin Abasi. On a personal note, I prefer clinics to performances because of the educational value. Visit Swee Lee Co's homepage for registration instructions- see you there :-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Stereo trem

If you are into the Seymour Duncan pedal effects range, you'd know that a tremolo pedal is already in the catalogue but with this latest addition, the Shape Shifter, we get a smaller, more pedal board-friendly footprint. It also has a stereo capacity. On that note, it'd be great if SD revises the dimensions of all its pedals for us pedal board geeks :-)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pedal-ing

Some amps out there sound more awesome given a little boost in terms of drive. In this aspect, we are looking at connecting drive/distortion pedals either through the conventional guitar-pedal-amp set up or letting them work some magic through the FX loop. Nobody should tell you how you should be connecting them, it's what works for you.

I've been revisiting my Marshall JCM 800, was happy with a Tube Screamer in the FX chain but upon close listening, this didn't quite increase the amp's ferocity. The Tube Screamer increased some cream factor in there but the amp could be edgier in terms of drive. So out came some distortion pedals: BOSS DS-1, EHX Metal Muff, Montreux Knebworth & One Control Anodized Brown Distortion. The JCM 800 simply prefers a growling distortion that does not overpower its own voicing & my One Control Anodized Brown distortion was it. In addition to more growl, I could still hear the Marshall tone in there. If it is flipped to sound otherwise, then what's the point of having a Marshall to begin with.

Sometimes, it's easy to overlook a preferred set up simply because we embrace a certain hype pertaining to a tried & tested formula of matching a certain amp to a particular drive pedal (Oh, man you gotta try a Twin Reverb with a Tube Screamer- sounds familiar to you?). Do ask yourselves, first & foremost if that adventure was yours to begin with. There is nothing wrong with emulating a well-known set up of a certain guitar icon but do keep things objective. If it doesn't work for you then you have no obligations to embrace it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Gravity's gold

Gravity picks has the new Gold series for fans who wish to move away from the acrylic offerings. There's no gold elements involved here at all, just the manufacturer's take on thermoplastic plus an in-house beveling system for precision cuts. Together with the laser-engraved details, it'll set you back a good USD29 for one.

pic: Gravity Guitar Pics

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The sound of SG50

You want a piece of history? Here it is- the Takamine SG50 (available at Davis GMC). It's an upper tier Takamine so be wary of the asking price. You know what, there should be more SG50 commemorative goodies, maybe an SG50 Swatch, SG50 New Balance, SG50 Cornetto ice-cream, SG50 Giordano jeans, etc. It's not about materialistic commemoration but rather getting the MNCs out there to acknowledge your history.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Boutique picking

Nothing like spending the holiday with personal engagements (especially when nobody's home); nothing extensive, just evaluating the 'boutique' picks I have lying around here: Chicken Pick, Gravity & V-Pick. All 3 picks aren't for the sentimental, especially the strummers among us. They have a certain degree of retaliation that inevitably singles them out for specialist applications- speed & precision.

As mentioned above, these picks are distasteful when it comes to strumming; there is no flexibility whatsoever so be warned. Due to their rigid pedigree, there is an element of absorption here so they're not too kind to acoustic applications because they make themselves heard. The clicking/clunking contact noises might drive some of us nuts. 

The Gravity & V-Pick are cold-hearted assassins; they are similar in such a way that they make their inorganic presence felt all the time. In use, we can hardly tell them apart in terms of tone. Feel-wise, that's where the difference sinks in, the Gravity has a harsh, very abrasive contact against your strings, while the V-Pick manifests a more gliding performance. The Chicken Pick did well in differentiating itself in this aspect. There is a certain degree of contact pleasure to such an extent that you need to convince yourselves it's not plastic. In fact, it feels & sounds like a bone composite but the manufacturer specified it to be plastic with a dash of personal formula & I must say it's definitely a winning one. It's also the smoothest amongst the trio with a very exclusive presence to boot.

Where I come from, wimpy picks are out of the question. I hit my notes hard (as opposed to fretting them hard) & need my picks to stay put with every attack. Majority of the picks which are less than 1mm thick have a high tendency to die a quick & terrible death as they break & snap under pressure. Investing in the trio you see here is a matter of personal embrace, simply put, I can't play anything else. If you are new to such thick picks, it is definitely an immediate put off because it takes a different handling approach to get one going unlike your preferred thinner picks. Do keep an open mind, we need different tools to get the different jobs done & these picks require you to embrace them objectively. If you don't have the urge to speed up or pulverize every single note you play, you probably won't need them. Despite treading on the hard pick turf, I still have thinner picks within reach just to give some perspective to my playing every now & then. 

Seen above:
  • Chicken Pick: Tritone III
  • Gravity: Stealth Standard
  • V-Pick: Pearly Gates