After years of losing Allen wrenches on my locking nut, I finally replaced them with thumb screws. If anyone else wants a set, I can put a package together, shipped and everything for 15 dollars total.
Category Archives: guitar
It’s a peculiar thing to realize that one of my favorite activities is make musical instruments easier to play. Peculiar may not be the right word, but it’s got enough syllables for an opening sentence. I like making something easier for someone, especially if it’s the barrier between playing and not playing music.
If you have any musical instrument, tell to me about it. I want to know what, if anything, is getting in the way of you making music?
The Vigier Excalibur is the only guitar I have ever purchased on reputation alone. I had never played one, only seen them at trade shows and in videos. Every week for a few years, I would check Ebay for one that didn’t cost the full $3000+, and finally bid on this…this thing. A guitar collector was thinning out his herd, and I got it for $1500, still the most expensive guitar I own. It’s a gaudy grey-blue type of camouflage finish with a mirrored pickguard. I saw the pictures and could not believe that such a thing was ever ordered from a factory, but I still abide by the rules that guitars should be played and not seen, and I bought it for the purpose of playing it, not looking at it.
Getting it: I had UPS hold it at their shipping hub because I would rather pick it up myself than let a driver leave it on my front porch. I went to the South San Francisco UPS hub, which is almost an entire zip code of brown, lunch boxy trucks.
I opened the box and was laughing at the finish, chrome hardware and the pickguard. Also, the all-maple neck looks like a bright offshoot from a decorative scheme better suited for a monster truck.
The details: of it that matter to me are: Dimarzio pickups, 24 fret, one piece maple neck with no truss rod (a Vigier 90/10
neck, which I will explain shortly), Gotoh tuners, Vigier spec Floyd Rose with bearings instead of knife edge, a zero fret and locking nut. Yes, all a bunch of jargon that means nothing to anyone other than a guitar nerd, but I kept it short so I could get to the part in the narrative that matters:
The “duh” moment: Then I plugged it in and played it. (What did you think I was going to say? Then I stir-fried it with sesame oil and kale)
It’s easy to play. Really easy. What this means is that the wall between inspiration and creation is much easier to scale. (Zing!) The easier a guitar is to play, or any instrument for that matter, it means one less hurdle between hearing something in your head and recreating it with your ears. Some guitars are difficult to play, but make interesting music too, hearing a musician tackle a difficult instrument for our amusement. The Tuba comes to mind…
The Vigier is a super-strat. After years of Jackson, Ibanez, Charvel, ESP and whoever else had long haired humans in their advertisements, the Vigier Excalibur is one that fits me better.
No truss rod: Goodness no. It’s so nice to have a neck which is just one piece of something. It’s all glued together to make a solid…thing. No nuts, bolts, steel or air pockets in it. The relief is perfect, and I leave the same gauge strings on it (46-9 hybrid stainless slinkys) so I have no idea what would happen if I put anything else on.
What I did to it: I put a Tremol-no in to stop the bridge from floating, I put a push pull pot for the volume to get single coil sounds, rewired the pickup selector to change what each setting did, and the person who bought it put a much bigger brass block for the bridge. All of these make this my deserted island guitar. Well,
as long as I had an amp, my effects, plenty of power, and a recording studio. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you probably aren’t reading this sentence because you stopped earlier.
Conclusion: I have always wanted to write about my Vigier Excalibur, but have just realized that most of the things I like about it are hard to put into words.
There’s a lot to be said about a guitar I have left plugged in for 3 years with amps turned on for 3 years (Not hyperbole…) so I can always pick it up and play electric guitar. No switches to hit, just a volume knob and wham. Immediate. It would almost be more suited for a Youtube video of me playing it for 20 minutes. This little vignette on one of my favorite objects on earth hardly does it any justice. I’ll work on it.
My aspirations for main purposes in owning a home revolve around two major themes, the limits of space and volume, both sonic and spacial interchangeably. As I watch that Vince Gill video, I have no idea what type of squalor and or grandeur his house may embody, but that guitar room is some sort of dream sequence.
As a young guitar player, if you asked me to imagine the future and where I’d be living, “Guitar Room” was always part of it. The first thing I usually reference is the montage at John Entwistle’s house where he goes down the stairs with a guitar case (with a record breaking [watch the video on Youtube to see what I mean…] Thompson submachine gun inside) and there are guitars everywhere.
As a Californian, it stirs up my fear of earthquakes. I hope my house is in tune.
I’d like a music store version of the show Survivor. Lock a few musicians in a store and see what happens. Lateness would decrease, but not as much as you’d expect…
I’d make a guitar string hammock for a bed. Nylon strings, of course.
Music stores contain a seemingly infinite amount of potential — energy, creativity, emotion, you name it. Like an art supply store, but a different flavor of pretentiousness. Instead of the snarky paintbrush aficionado, there’s the drumstick guy, brand sycophant or the amplifier guy. Same essence, different clothing.
Music stores are usually poorly organized, an interesting nuance to something so arrangement driven. Temperamental objects and people crammed into a small room.
A silent cacophony at night. Dog pound chaos by day.
I want to live in that. I imagine it in the middle of nowhere, in my head it’s usually a 5000 acre Nebraska field so I can play as loudly as I want and not worry about neighbors calling the cops.
Almost forgot about tornadoes.
Until 3 weeks ago, the email I had associated with TheGuitarist (The collection of words and letters you are currently reading) was one I hadn’t had access to in 5 years leftover from an educational institution that deleted my internet existence 6 months after graduation. Now that this account is associated with me as a person in real life with a real business, and not an anonymous internet entity, I am experiencing some fear.
The people of the internet frighten me, and I am one of them.
Yesterday an article about the zeitgeist of internet negativity (Psychology and Online Bullying) was enough to remind me that I was guilty (is there such thing as excessive guilt? ++guilt?) of the “online disinhibition effect”. I abuse the internet from my throne of anonymity, spewing opinions under the assumption that my unique and valuable (eyes currently rolled, crying sarcastic tears) opinion of whatever I’m opining will change the world. Is there a megalomania clause in the Terms of Agreement for the internet?
I put a post on here titled “Why I Hate Guitar Center”. I seriously put that I hate a business? A need fulfilling mixture of people with a goal? Hate?
A verbal extremist reflects: Hyperbolic speaking is the best thing on earth. Ugh. It’s a shame moderation and being reasonable hasn’t my first inclination for the internet, but rather a divisive, active attempt to rally the battle cry and shun something I spuriously disapprove of. I question why I can’t merely pose a question and let others decide for themselves. Although I did reflect on why “I” didn’t like something, it’s still a testament to where I put my priorities.
I pause to trademark the phrase “Comment Section Phenomenon”. I’ll be waiting for a stipend for the rights, National Institute of Health.
I realize hatred is the go-to response for most internet opinions. Positivity and gratitude — rarefied air that is hard to make funny. The question I ask of myself (rhetorically, of course) is whether I want to continue this onslaught of words intended to spark strong opinions. I’m not a fan of trying to get people to care about things that have no meaning. Gossip, fashion, music reviews, movie critics, sports, and to a greater extent, political punditry are are somehow responsible for inciting fierce debate? Is that the writing style I look to? I have to make a concerted effort to not write that way any more. It’s too easy, and I’m doing it right now in a way. I feel my difference is that I don’t want people to hate anything anymore. What a useless sentiment.
Back to guitar: For a long time I’ve had a desire to write how much I dislike acoustic guitar pickups (Such controversy!) and realized I was radicalizing my feelings because I felt it would get more attention. I like having an opinion on things; it’s a real testament to creativity and free expression, but I really would like to eliminate extremist, all or nothing, black or white, smooth and crunchy from my blog about such lofty topics as strings and capos. I write this as a reminder that I’d like to write about things I like and don’t, but not turn the things I don’t like into exiled thought lepers. Internet opinion is sadly slanted towards the incitement of riot, and realizing that this is a blog about guitar, I’d rather stay out of it.
I look to the Fender Stratocaster vs. Gibson Les Paul debate as my template. There is no better. “Better” is not the word. Choice is the word. I would like to continue trying to create a culture where your mind is your bed: don’t get hateful at the way I make mine up. Dialogue v. Monologue.
As for my opinion on the matter of Strat vs. Les Paul?
I used to try and write reviews for guitars, but now I’m just going to write my personal experiences with them. Paul Riario does enough work for everyone.
This is my Takamine EG334SC. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. For 4 years running, this is a guitar I have always had handy, and it’s also the guitar I will never sell. It’s a 600 dollar guitar that was a correction of a mistake: I drunkenly purchased a different acoustic guitar the day before and in a bit of generosity the salesman gave me a “Learn from your mistakes” deal. I still think the guitar feels good to play no matter how hungover I was. Here are some unrelatable facts about it.
The Specs: Laminate ovangkol back and sides on the body, I don’t have to worry about the back getting broken. The spruce top is as memorable as any top on a sub-1000 dollar guitar (it’s not memorable). I have taken it with me to be the “Guy in the park with a guitar” many times, and the only thing that’s ever happened to it was a guy with a mohawk, Black Flag t-shirt, and studs everywhere put a sticker on it. (Sticker application is apparently a territory marking statement for Punk Rockers, but I’ll save that for my anthropology blog.) Luckily the finish is a thick coat of gloss Polyurethane, so it can stand up to some stronger solvents like acetone.
The Neck: 20 frets with cutaway access, an average C-shaped neck profile, Grover tuners, rosewood fretboard, dot inlays and all other standard neck-related things for an acoustic. Acoustic necks need to be a bit more robust to handle the extra tension of acoustic strings, but this one fits me fine. Reminds me a bit of my Telecaster neck. It’s not a well built neck. The fret tops are level, but the fretboard isn’t. It looks crappily made, but it plays fine. It adheres to my rules of guitars being played/heard and not seen. It’s an acoustic guitar, any more talk about it and I’ll end up convincing myself it’s worthwhile to buy a 6000 dollar acoustic guitar…
What I did to it: This is the fun part: it came with a big set of electronics (Stay tuned for an anti-electronics-in-acoustic-guitars post…). It was a large black plastic box with a built in tuner and some equalizer junk cut right into the side of the guitar. Like any reasonable guitar owner, I removed it and threw it away, leaving a large hole in the side. I had read about sound ports in guitars, but I have never been gutsy enough to cut one into my own (I’ll happily do it to yours. and by ridding my guitar of the extra weight of cheaply made electronics, I got an added bonus: it sounds great. The sound comes straight to me as a player, and I get more nuances. I also put a microphone near the accidental hole for recording. Makes me feel like I’m Jimmy Page doing some weird recording voodoo.
After removing the “box of gross” I needed to put a new saddle in the bridge. I wanted something fast and cheap so I spent 3 hours making the slot bigger and lowered the bridge so I could use a piece of water buffalo horn. That sentence is nonsense, but truthful nonsense. I wanted water buffalo horn in my guitar, dammit. So I made my wish come true. I noticed no difference in sound, but I felt great about my choices in life. I would love to say I could hear the differences in all of these things, but I’m not Eric Johnson, and I might even doubt that Eric Johnson is Eric Johnson.
More to the story: I leave this guitar out in my apartment in hopes that someone I live with might pick it up and start learning. It’s also a conversation piece to see a big ugly hole in a purely utilitarian acoustic guitar. It’s my campfire guitar (by the fire, not in it) that I can take with me. I’ve had the same frayed Elixir strings on it for 2 years, and it’s still a dream to play with its “almost-too-buzzy” action. It’s the guitar I keep around in hopes that when I’m famous, I can sign it and sell it for charity and get a gigantic tax write-off. It may be the next Blackie hanging in a billionaire’s music museum. That would be a shame, I want it played. Alright, I’ll keep it.
If only guitars could talk. Wait.
Greetings from the land of entrepreneurial whimsy. The last post I put in here was a remarkable bit of foresight for me. The recovery part at the end wasn’t as symbolic as I’d hoped. By making an active effort to recover from the tornado of crisis I had parked my metaphorical motorhome in, I sought to improve my predicament. After a little help from some friends, I started to go in a new direction — my own. In May of 2013, I filed with San Francisco to start doing business as San Francisco Guitar Tech, or SFGT. I am now the proud owner of a baby company — a sole proprietorship — in San Francisco that is dedicated to all things guitar. As I said in the last entry, I still stick to the idea that the guitar no longer defines me, rather I define it. I can teach lessons how I want, repair instruments on my own hours, take tax deductions for my work, and I even have a clever phone number with SFGT in it. You can find proof that this isn’t some elaborate hoax (ranking just below Roswell and just above the Kennedy assassination) on my website http://www.sfguitartech.com. It’s all my website, and I keep in my tone, something I was glad to reclaim.
I now own a few more musical instruments (25+), and I figure I should write about them here. Every one of them has an odd story to it, and I still have that camera from the last post. This blog is a bit more open now than I used to make it, but it won’t be a diary.
Also, to be honest, I want to make money off of this site. Without any work it gets a few hits a day, so I might as well monetize it. Hopefully it will turn into some real life bay area repairs and lessons, but I keep hearing about sleeping money. Not to mention a desire to start writing, and what better outlet than a blog with a committed (pun intended) Google following.
So, a hearty “to be continued…” to myself and you all. Looking forward to it.
For those of you to whom NAMM is a fabled event, full of mystery and wonder…you are somewhat correct. NAMM is like MACWorld/CES for the music related industry. It’s where new products are released, companies get to show off their products, dealers look for, umm, deals, and where the famous people who are sponsored by the companies have to pay their dues and show up. All the big music companies spend what I can only assume to be hundreds of thousands of dollars on booths, publicity, models and personel aimed at getting people to buy what they’re selling. From the smallest of companies (the reason I’m going) with 10×10 booths, to Fender, Gibson, Steinway and Yamaha with their own rooms in the Anaheim Convention Center. The fact that we are right across the street from Disneyland is not lost, as it is a musical Disneyland. Basically every piece of gear you’ve ever heard of is there, and every company that matters is there.
That’s a lot of stuff, and speaking of stuff, here’s some random facts about NAMM 2009 I learned reading the 45 page exhibitor’s manual:
If your booth cannot be assembled in 30 minutes by one person, you must hire union labor.
You may not have performances, only “Demonstrations”.
Demonstrations can only be 5 minutes.
Those 5 minute demonstrations and all demonstrations cannot exceed 85 Decibels.*
If you know you are going to exceed 85 decibels, you must have a sound booth.
If you have a soundbooth, a notice must be posted, warning people of the loud noises.
All 2 story booths (There are plenty…Dean Markley, Sennheiser, Kaman music) must be approved by building engineers by December 12th.
No one gets a building permit on site, so if you mess up your booth, you’re outenze.
If you have more than 900 square feet of indoor booth, you must install a smoke detector.
You are not allowed to talk in the aisles.
There is a special area for exhibitors and dealers to talk in private. There is a receptionist, copy machine and beverages.
You are not to have food brought in. Food may only be supplied by the hired union food specialists on site.
Brochures with an adhesive inside constitute stickers, and are prohibited.
No one under 16 is allowed at NAMM, at all, unless they are an artist or registered, documented employee accompanied by parents at all times.
*Having been to NAMM, I know for a fact no one pays attention to this. Ambient noise in the place probably hovers near 90 decibels. Try selling acoustic guitars when your in the same isle as a drum manufacturer.
Those are just a few of my favorites. There is a whole lot of legal going on at NAMM. People are building house-sized structures inside of a convention center, and they have to have real contractors build it up. Not only that, but they have 4 days to do it. The floor opens on monday, and the show opens thursday. The whole thing is just insanity. I’d love to be there from when the floor is blank to when the place turns into a circus.
I am going to be there this year as an exhibitor (I think…I hope my boss got me an Exhibitor’s pass) attempting to sell things in a time of economic downfall. It’s going to be an odd atmosphere, and despite the fact that i’ve been hearing some companies are closing up shop, the show is about 98% sold out in terms of booth space.
And for the good stuff: The things at NAMM i’m looking forward to.
Ibanez 17 MM Super Wizard neck.
Actually, any new Ibanez things.
Paul Gilbert is going to be there every day.
Whatever Ernie Ball does.
Whatever Charvel doesn’t do.
Bernard Purdie performing.
Whatever Suhr does.
The Blackbird Super-OM…read their description in the pamphlet…yikes.
Trem-king’s new bridge.
Schaller’s new bridge design.
And basically everything new. I look forward to meeting/seeing famous industry people like Rick Turner, Thomas Nordegg (techie to the stars), Seymour Duncan, Bob Taylor, Dick Boke (of Martin), Dean Markley, Ed Roman, and damn near anyone else. Not to mention the famous people: Kerry King, Paul Gilbert, Billy Sheehan, Mike Portnoy, Terry Bozzio, and basically everyone else who is sponsored by a big company.
It’s going to be insane this year. I hope all goes well and billions of dollars are made, and that all of the cheap overseas knockoff companies don’t show their poorly made guitars. I want them to just sit there and wait for the big companies to hire them to produce their budget models in a room marked “Outsourcing”.
In my firefox bookmarks, I have a set of about 20 blogs in one folder. Most are guitar and music related, but others are about technology which can be applied to guitars and things to look at for inspiration. About 6 times a day, instead of going RSS feed and streamlining, I just click “Open All in Tabs” and in a few seconds, all of them open in one window for my reading enjoyment. I check each one religiously to see if anything has been written, and I’m always happy when something new is there. I’ve decided to share them because I want to give these people credit for writing great stuff.
First blog I found when I started seeing that they were valuable. Good reviews, short and to the point. He’s doing a project which I’m totally digging reading about. And with what i’ve been reading in his blog over the past, it’s a sign that guitar bloggers have a very good, supportive community. We’re not competitive, we don’t bicker or argue, we just like the stuff, and we like to talk about it.
Adrian Belew’s blog. Adrian Belew has played guitar for some of the most progressive acts in history, and on some remarkable albums. King Crimson, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Paul Simon, to name a few. I’ve seen him live 3 times with his Adrian Belew solo band, and every time it’s been my absolute favorite. He posts thoughts, artwork and songs. Well, he used to. But there are some GREAT hollywood-music style stories in there.
Press releases and a constant flow of good music industry news. Good to read for those who like to stay up to date.
Writes often, and writes well. Posts good videos and is a good discussion starter with a humorous side. Nice guy, too.
Probably the most polished of all of them. Sadly, you have to sign up to read more and click links. But when they posted a blog about Godin, I had to sign up to read the rest. I don’t regret it.
If you’re reading this now, check out the June 26th 2008 post of the Malt Whisky guitar. Guitar Noize finds GREAT stuff, obscure and otherwise.
All things strat. Odd strats and mods, and just all the things one ever wanted to know about the strat and what’s happening with it.
Probably the best at finding the weirdest guitars ever made. Seems that the United Kingdom has the craziest guitars on ebay, and luckily Guitarz finds them all and we get to see. Not to mention one of the few who documented the London Guitar Show of 2008.
This is the one I look forward to reading the most. LOTS of great pictures, he makes awesome guitars, posts his animals, and posts great captions below everyone. Hand made guitars, amazing woods, and everything amazing that you’d imagine from a guy making amazing guitars in a shed in the UK.
I need my fix of technology, and Wired posts a LOT. All the time, new energy sources, gear, phones, computers, and gadgets of all sorts.
For the DIYer in all of us. Quirky, unique objects, faires, and devices. Great read.
Written by a product designer/marketing guy for a big design firm in San Francisco. It’s extremely well written, and there’s a lot of stuff which applies to the guitar industry. Also some tech and weird stuff too.
This one is a great one. Written by Guitar Designer, someone I aspire to be. Doesn’t hurt that he’s Jol Dantzig, the guy for Hamer. He also got most of us loyal readers a subscription to my new favorite magazine, Premier Guitar. Great documentation of some insane products that some of us only wish we had the resources to create. It’s a big “Holy smokes” type of blog.
For sheer interesting factor, this one takes the cake. Reading about advancing guitars instead of letting it stagnate in the realm of strats and les pauls is a fascinating read. On the blog, they talk about designing their own bridges and bend the perception of what’s possible in guitars.
Seems i’m not the only frightfully opinionated blogger on the internet, but the great thing is that it’s from the perspective of an upstart company. I was forwarded this blog by an owner of one of their guitars, and from the little written, it seems like there’s an interesting future ahead…
For quirkiness, my favorite. San Francisco guitar repair guru Gary Brawer has a shop, and one of his guys posts short, funny blurbs on what happens in one of the busiest (and smallest…wow) guitar repair shops on the planet. Great pictures too because you can see he’s dealing with some high profile people…
All things music and weird. Just found out about this one, and i’m liking it a lot.
And there you have it. My favorites. Drop a comment and recommend some, and i’ll start adding more and updating this list. But those are the ones I see multiple times a day in my browser window, so I thought i’d share, though I bet the people who see this already know about most, if not all of them.