Category Archives: Uncategorized

Takamine EG334-SC

Takifront

It’s smiling.

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…

Accidental Soundport!

Accidental Soundport!

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.

If I get gored in Africa, we'll call it even.

If I get gored in Africa, we’ll call it even.

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.

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August 5, 2013 · 1:43 pm

There is no title.

I am here now.

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5 Years Ago

In 2006, I started this thing because of my affinity for guitars. It was a feeling so strong that for years before I accepted the terms of agreement for this website, I felt I should make a profession out of it. In 2007, while a Junior in college, I started to intern for a guitar company and my posting frequency (with what little precedence of dependability I created) began to dwindle. In August of 2008 I became a full time employee working for said guitar company. After that, you could see the posts became oriented to notion I was coming to — realizing my favorite thing was just a business.

Within the servers of this website are some unfinished drafts. Drafts of the thoughts I had while my brain went through the machinations of making this warm shelter of guitars I’d housed myself in into a cold industrial building (sometimes literally). Guitars became a job.

I’d go to sleep and wake up thinking about guitars; I’d go to work and talk guitars; I’d build guitars, working on and in guitars; the money I made went to buying guitars; the people I idolized all worked with guitars; my calendar revolved around guitars; I would read about guitars, watch videos of guitars and in the end did nothing but resent all of it.

A few weeks ago, I lost it. Something changed and I had no desire to build guitars. I never thought that I would get dejected and frustrated every time I looked at the thing I was in charge of creating. I was a race car driver waiting for the bus. I spent 5 years learning to be as good as I could within whatever I was doing, and I didn’t care.

Friday, I quit. I packed my car up with my tools, I cleaned up my workbench and left the building. I’ll be back there, programming myself out of everything I’d spent five years programming myself into but my life for the guitar is over. Now “guitar” is now just another language I know. I can express some thoughts through a few strings and my hands, I can draw pictures and express ideas in it, but it’s not all I am. That’s where I’m going from here. I’ve spent 5 years looking at life through a guitar catalog, and it’s time for something else.

In all honesty, this may be my last post in here or the first of numerous. I bought a camera, I’m going to get some new tires on my car, and I’m going to see things. I may share them here or start fresh somewhere else where I can figure out that I’m not only a guitarist.

I am now the recovering guitarist.

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The Fender Standard, Made in Mexico Stratocaster

Thus begins the task of writing about what is probably the most purchased guitar in the last 10 years. Ever since Fender got their Mexico factory, allowing them to charge a lot less for what is almost the same instrument as its American cousin, people have been jumping at the chance to own one. It’s the closest you can get to playing the same guitar as Hendrix, Clapton, Gilmour and Beck(the Jeff one) without spending more than 500 dollars. And the price has gone up, mind you. I remember about 6 years ago when I wanted one that it was 299 new at Guitar Center. I probably have one of their leaflets that showed a picture of a dark blue Made in Mexico strat which costs 299.99. But I’ll get to the price trend later, lets get to it!

The Specs: 21 Medium Jumbo frets on a Maple or a Rosewood board. Most people get maple, and I would too. If you’re going to buy something called a Strat, you might as well keep it a strat with a maple board. The Body is made out of Alder, a tonewood that many companies are using for their lower end guitars or guitars they know will not have a transparent finish. Fender uses alder on their American strats too, but I have a feeling that they come from better stock. I’m making an assumption, so it could be completely false. Alder isn’t exactly the prettiest of woods, but it’s similar to higher ones so they might as well use it if they got it. I have no idea about the state of Alder trees, so if you’re interested in that, go do some research and send it my way too. Satin poly finish on the neck, so it’ll last awhile. Vintage trem, 3 single coils. I’m trying to limit myself here considering there isn’t much about the strat people don’t know. I’m trying to point out the minor differences between one of these and the expensive ones. A few of the obvious ones are the size of the fretwire, the truss rod access being in the headstock, and the type of Alder.

The Neck: When I pick up a guitar, this is the first thing I go for. I wrap my left hand around the neck and feel the profile. This is a modern C, which means it’s a nice C shaped curve which is thinner. Reading Dan Erlewine’s book explaining the differences in neck profiles was a very informative thing. Through the 80’s and 90’s necks got REALLY thin, and even the standard Strat got pulled into the trend. I’ve heard thin necks promote fatigue, but the Fender modern C shape isn’t that thin, so it still fills the hand. As I said, poly satin finish so that will stay on for a good amount of time. On the other hand, it probably hinders the resonance of the guitar in comparison to a thin coat of Nitrocellulose. Then again, I could just be falling into the tribe of purists who claim Nitro is a better finish.  Judge for yourself, I think satin feels great play wise, but there is a certain feeling you get on a tinted poly finish.

The Body: The Alder thing is an interesting subject. Most of Fender’s guitars are made out of Alder with a few exceptions. They make special strats out of Ash, a wood near and dear to my heart, having spent time working with it. It’s a spectacular looking wood, and is a lighter colored, but more dense version of mahogany. Looks great with maple. Anyway, Alder is just another tonewood which people will try to describe with words like “poppy” or “warm” when in reality it doesn’t matter for the MIM strat. The polyurethane finish is so thick and there’s probably filler in some bad spots on the guitar, so the resonating properties one could associate with a thin finished Alder body are probably hindered by all of the coating. Personally, I can’t hear it, but i’m drawing conclusions from what I read and assume. It looks like a strat, and that’s probably why you bought one or are reading this. It’s made on a machine, every one of them is cut identically, but has different wood stocks. Minute differences which most people who would buy a MIM strat wouldn’t notice.

Electronics: If every strat guitar used the same electronics as the Eric Johnson signature strat, this would be a different paragraph and a different toned article. But since they use what they use, it’s merely a situation of “It sounds fine” and move on. 3 Single coils, volume and 2 tone knobs. I still dislike the wiring of the tone, to the middle and neck. I use middle pickups so infrequently, I would just rather have it wired to the bridge. I was going to say have a master tone knob, but once you find the joys of different tone settings, you never want to return. Maybe they treble change when doing a switch from Bridge to Mid to Neck is so annoying they’d rather keep it gradual? I don’t know why. Actually, come to think of it, a tone knob for the neck and mid, and one just for the bridge would be better. Or one for Mid and Bridge, and one for the neck. I’ve heard a lot of players modding their tone to just Neck and Bridge, so it’s something to think about when you want an easy modification for different sounds.

Hardware: The tuners are decent tuners. They work pretty well. I would like the ones with a center post just because they look coolers and have better string locking ability, but they are probably a little complicated for changing strings if you’re just a casual player.  The current tuners however, are standard ones which are easy to tune with. The output jack is fine, but there needs to be a standard solution for those things loosening and weakening. It’s a 5 dollar solution, and i’d pay that much to never have to open up that cavity for any reason. The bridge, same deal. There needs to be some type of thread locking mechanism. Small set screws so the height of the saddles doesn’t change over time. A bigger sustain block on the bridge would be nice too. Just a little extra sustain isn’t too much to ask for?

The Whole She-bang: You’re spending 400 dollars on a guitar which is outsourced for labor purposes. You’re going to get what you pay for. It will play, it will sound like a strat, and you’ll tell people you have a Fender strat. It’s true, you have one. But the guitar as an entity runs on pedigree, not on quality. You’re getting the name, the look and the label, not the playability. The frets and nut are created for all of the guitars, not just yours, so variation is common. The neck pocket is done on a machine, but it doesn’t account for the thickness that the painter applies finish or color, so the pocket isn’t really exact. It’s good, but it’s not amazing. The neck will shift in that pocket with the right force. The action is going to be alright, but you’ll never get it as low as you really want it. Playing a guitar which can have mind bogglingly low action is something few guitarists experience. That book I referenced before, he sets his high E string to be .009 inches off of the first fret. That’s ALMOST enough room to fit another high E under that. You could blow on that string and the note would go sharp. You won’t find that on the strat. Everything will be fine. It’s something that will work. The Fender MIM strat is like the Ikea furniture of guitars. You get it because it looks good and works, but it’s never going to be monetarily worth more than what you bought it for unless you become the next Stevie Ray Vaughn or it’s signed by a celebrity. We live in a mass production world, and there are a LOT of MIM strats out there. They are gifts, beginner guitars, backups, projects, parts, and played until the strings dissolve.

Also, from a perspective of upgrades, it’s THE guitar. It’s the standard, and there are more parts for it than any other guitar. Broken neck? Get a new one. Want to replace the pickups? Do it. Some guitars out there, you’re stuck with what you got unless you do some major repairs. Every single part on the strat has ten to hundreds of options for replacement. Warmoth, Allparts, Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan, Planet Waves, Schaller. All companies that make new parts for the guitar you want to upgrade. Also, it’s the guitar that repair people have the most experience with, so chances are if you want a fret recrown, the repair guy is going to be able to do it quickly, cheaply, and well.

Thinking about it, the Fender Standard Made in Mexico strat is not a great guitar. Looking at it from a workmans perspective, it’s fine. The ones on the shelf are fine guitars, and even sitting on the shelves I’m not a big fan. But for something to work on, it’s amazing. I’m thinking about getting one just to Frankenstein it. And looking at it for what it symbolizes, it’s absolute perfection. It’s what gets people to start playing guitar. Priced just low enough to tempt people, and named perfectly so people will want one. Someone will as, “What kind of Guitar do you have?” “A Fender strat”, they say. It’s a guitar people want and are proud to talk about. And for that, it’s perfect.

Never played guitar? Buy one. Screw the value and the depreciation, it’s your first guitar, and it’s a Fender Strat.

Have a bunch of expensive guitars? Buy one. Tear it to bits, learn about guitar, mod it, paint it, crank it.

I usually grade guitars on the guitar itself, but you can’t do it to this. Someday, I’ll rate an American strat like every other one i’ve reviewed, but this one is special and I don’t even own one.

The Pros: It’s a Fender strat. It’s just fine. It’ll work and play.

The Cons: That it’s just fine. Machinery is so fast and advanced now that even the lowest models of companies should be able to play as good or better than the cheap guitars of yesteryear.

The Grade:

aplus

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Filed under electric guitar, Fender, Fender Guitars, Fender Mexico, fender standard, fender stratocaster, guitar, guitar player, guitar rant, guitar review, Guitar store, Made in Mexico, strat, stratocaster, Uncategorized

“Music is a Business”: A Longwinded NAMM Recovery Story

I’ll probably get some flack here, but in this case, not from the people who I usually get it from. I am making plenty of assumptions, and most of these ideas are based off of opinions and views I have seen. Having said that, I don’t feel like i’m going out on a limb here. I think i’m verbalizing things we hoped weren’t true, but I don’t feel I originated these feelings.

These are my thoughts after going to NAMM. It’s been 3 months, and it’s taken about that much time for my euphoria to wear off, and ideas to settle in, or at least have some effect on me. So lets get going.

Going to NAMM was a life changing experience for me. It really was. Being someone who wants to spend their life involved in musical instruments and music, experiencing something like NAMM was valuable and necessary. And while the experience NAMM gave me was inevitable, i’m glad it happened early in my life. Rather than dancing around it with pseudoartistic jabber, I might as well just come out and say it:

Music is a business.

You hear those words spoken – “Music Business” is household fodder for future (un)employees – but it took a very large event for it to set in.

My pre-namm experience was involved in blogs and magazines, seeing all the new gear surrounded by musical A-listers and scantily clad women who wouldn’t know a Fender from a Gibson if the booths were right next to each other. And if you’ll excuse the self-righteous NAMM booth humor (something I’ll try to avoid it from now on) you’ll get a slight glimpse at what I mean by “business.” All I knew about NAMM were in journalist pictures and magazines, but they don’t show you who is really there, and why it’s really there.

I’m going to guess that 99% of the people there are just lookers, gawkers, rubberneckers and the like, enjoying the new eye candy of musical instruments that are being created. And out of a tens of thousands of people that go to NAMM, those (we, actually) aren’t the people that matter much. We are dressed in musical oriented clothes, walking shoes, and our wallets don’t have much in mind except for the food.

And then you see the people and sights they never show you in the magazines. The suits, ties, briefcases, back rooms, two-story booths, soundproof rooms, velvet ropes, business schedules, meetings, power lunches, special areas, the entire hotel 1st floor bought by Yamaha, the Roundtables with the candy dish in the middle, the paperwork, and the nicely combed hair. Guitar World/Player/One would never show you that. Well, why would they? It’s not like it would sell issues (Re: Business).

You start to realize that the stores that sell a lot of guitars are not guitar meritocracies. The best guitars aren’t sold at Guitar Center, Samash, Musicians Friend or Music123. They are merely (I should say “probably, because this is all hearsay now) there for their name, and the amount of money they bring in. For instance, a Fender Relic, now the basis for all things overpriced in the guitar industry, costs a few thousand dollars to sell. Chances are, that guitar cost the exact same to make as the Made In Mexico 70’s reissues, and even they are overpriced.

So the manufacturers sell them wholesale to one of these big musical instrument selling companies for a low price, and then the company sells them to us for a higher price. I’m going to make an educated guess and assume the reason all of those guitars are at the big-name stores, is solely because they bring in the most money. Thus reducing your guitar buying options at the big stores to profit margins, rather than quality. Gibson, Fender, PRS, ESP, are only known brands because the people buy them, and the retailers get a good deal. You’d probably never see a Suhr or a Vigier at a big namer because they probably couldn’t turn a good profit.

I think what solidified my ideas that it’s a business was being in the ESP booth. It was all rock-and-rolled, videos playing, cool guitars on the wall. Then I standing in a certain place, and a door opened. Out of the door came around 8 men in business suits, shaking hands and smiling. Not a single one looked like a guitar player, or even a guitar player in disguise. I am in the room which is a large upstairs conference room, dressed to the nines in the finest in metal regalia, and there went what looked to be wall street’s finest. They probably just sold a couple thousand guitars in futures, or made a deal with an overseas manufacturing company to lower the manufacturing costs of parts fifteen percent.

That’s when it dawned on me to look at everything there in a different light. All of the manufacturers of cheap guitars probably couldn’t play one if handed to them. They were there for a profit, and turning plywood, lumber scraps, and cheap mass produced parts into money was why they were there.

You go to a hardware store, and there are rows and rows and rows of screws, big and small, costing a couple cents. Metal door brackets and hinges, a few dollars. Plastic knobs and plates for switches, a dollar or two. Lumberyard’s full of wood, a couple bucks for large pieces. All of these mass produced parts parallel to guitars. Tuners, bridges, knobs, switches, plates, and all of the simple things don’t add up to the cost of a Squier strat, especially when they are being mass produced. Necks, bodies, pickups, and everything but painting and assembly are automated, but we are still paying big bucks. It’s what we expect, as guitar players.

Want something with a clear finish? Extra 70 bucks. Gold plated hardware? 50 bucks. Floating bridge? 200 bucks. Hollowbody? Upper range. Thin nitro finish? Upper range. Locking tuners? Extra 100 bucks. New pickups? 70 bucks. You all know this, and you’ve come to expect this.

But knowing the details is not very rock and roll. This hobby of mine was born and raised in the ear canals of rock and roll Venice, and I didn’t want it to be sold to the lowest bidder. I didn’t want to know that the reason Guitar Center had my Gibson SG was because they probably made a huge deal of money off of it. I didn’t want to know that my gear heaven known as NAMM, is really just for big businesses to make deals. I didn’t want to see the Chinese manufacturers sitting at a table, waiting for one of the big companies to come to them so they could make the most profit.

You try and justify the price you pay that there’s some guy working in a factory on your guitar. That the measly 400 dollars you spend on a Mexican Strat is worth it. Then you realize that there are a good amount of people who specialize in that part, and they spend the better part of 5 minutes on it. Bolting on a neck, clamping the sides, installing tuners, drilling holes, removing things from giant machines. They get paid wage a few bucks above minimum, if not minimum. Aside from the paint and finish drying, it probably spends very little time in someone’s hands. Probably a good 15 dollars out of the company’s pocket worth of labor, and that’s pushing it. 20 bucks total for the parts, pushing it again. Manufacturing has been paid off, so probably a dollar or two for maintenance of the machines. We’re talking anywhere from 8 to 30 times the profit for something people yearn for.

The problem is there’s no competition. I’m beating the dead horse of my ill-fated “Why I Hate Guitar Center” post, but unlike the computer industry all prices just keep going up for us while quality drops.

I saw NAMM. I saw the celebrities paid to be there. I saw the small companies trying to break into the market. I saw the new gear, the booth babes, the lights, the smells. I got the blisters from walking, I saw Johnny Demarco (!!!), I saw the elaborate booths. And I realized that none of it was for me. Any guitar player would be happy with a booth full of guitars, and had the bar not been set so high, i’m sure that’s what NAMM would’ve been like. Instead it was the largest building i’d ever been to, enormous booths, louder than hell, and it was an overload.

But what does it all mean? Will it change a thing that I know this? Nope. I’m still going to go to Guitar Center, i’m going to pay 1700 dollars for the Eric Johnson Strat (someday…) which cost probably under a hundred to make. I’m going to keep on truckin through the business part of it. Pay a dollar for a song, 2 for a ringtone,
50 for a doorknob or whatever I buy, and continue to realize that music is a business. But so is everything else, so I should shut my mouth because some day i’m going to be in this business, and you’re going to pay for my Eric Johnson strat.

The end.

I await loads of criticism, both foreign and domestic. Including the job offers from Fender and Gibson for a billion dollar a year contract for me to sit around in the Charvel office or the Gibson Supreme office being the guy who criticizes everything, but still enjoys it all.

Me and music, we have a love/hate relationship. I love all of this stuff, but I hate seeing people in suits.

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Tis been quite awhile.

It has been some time since i’ve written anything here, so I figured i’d check in and give some musical instrument related thoughts on the current status of music and such.

gibsonrobot

Technology keeps getting better, but it makes us lazier.
Case and point the cyber-Gibson or whatever it’s called that tunes itself. It’s a really good idea, but I think they should limit the ownership of that to people who already know how to tune a guitar well. People who seem to never progress in the tuning area don’t need more reason to be lazy, and by giving them this guitar it’ll just mean they’ll be bad at guitar in tune, instead of retaining the somewhat redeeming quality of trying to accomplish something out of tune. Kind of harsh words, but I imagine guitarists know what i’m talking about. Either that, or make this guitar only allowed to do alternate tunings and to go to standard from alternates. It doesn’t change the fact that I want one, but I want one in a Les Paul Custom, not a studio, and not in a color that looks like it’s the background to a Bob Ross painting.

Fender, Keep Quiet for Awhile.tripletele
Every week or so, Fender releases another guitar, only making one simple adjustment which they believe qualifies them to add a few hundred dollars to the price tag. If you look at the New for 2007 page on Fender’s website, you’ll know what i’m talking about. Models from different years, signature models for people no one wants to own. For example, I love John 5, but no one will want to own that guitar of his, the Triple Tele. Anyone who would want that guitar would want to make theirs custom because NO one wants a guitar that specific unless they’ve been playing guitar for a long time, in which case they probably know about custom shops, and don’t want something like that. Tele body, 70’s headstock, 3 humbuckers, mirror pickguard, all with a tremolo? This is barely a telecaster. They should name the guitar the John 5 25% Telecaster, 25% Stratocaster, 25% Gibson 3 pickup, and 25% awful tremolo. Seriously, it needs that long name on it so the telecaster people know what it is when they put their standard teles down, look up and see this thing. It’s a cool idea, but is this really profitable?

mascis

And the J. Mascis Jazzmaster? Jazzmasters look awesome and sound awesome (feel wise and hardware wise, not so much) but is it really necessary to release a custom shop model just because it’s purple?

Gibson, Why did you Guitar Hero?                                                                                             
Why? Why? Why? Why couldn’t they have just made their guitar shapes and not haveGibson logos on thegibherom? If it’s not a musical instrument or directly connected to the use of one, then what the heck is Gibson’s name doing on it. Same goes for their flash drives! I mean, I want one of the flash drives, but really, Gibson, you’re GIBSON! Of the two household names of guitar, you’re one of them. You’re the Coca-Cola, the Hershey’s, the Gatorade of the guitar world, and you’re putting your name on a plastic guitar-shaped device which has absolutely no connection to real musical talent. 5 buttons, a switch and a stick of metal. It takes a 10 year old an hour to master Jessica by the Allman Brothers, but how long did it actually take the Allman Brothers to collectively get the musical talent to create such a song?!

Still a fun game to play though.

Alright. I’m done for now. I’m “interning” at a guitar company around here, and I want to get there early.

Your friend in bitterness,

The Guitarist!

Yes, i’m looking for things to rant about because i’m bored as hell, but there are some things that just need to be said.

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Filed under complaining, Fender, Fender Guitars, Gibson, guitar, Guitar Hero, guitar player, guitar rant, music, Nay-saying, negativity, player, Rabble Rousing, story, Uncategorized

Why did I start guitar?

It’s been awhile, and lucky me the end (sort of) of the hiatus/sabbatical/laziness comes to fruition in a self-serving post about what provoked me to play guitar and not quit. It’s just me writing about why I am not one of those kids with a poorly maintained no-name acoustic guitar in the corner with the same set of strings it had in the moving crate on the Hyundai Super Tanker on the way over from Korea.

As much of a veiled crack at guitar mass production as that may have been, it doesn’t change the fact that slave labor, awful wages and quality control indicative of Yugoslavian cars probably had a large effect on most of the guitarists in the last three decades. The reason many of us took to the instrument was because one of these easily available tree-destroyers was sitting around somewhere that we saw it, and instead of leaving it there, we just kept going back to it. In my case (technically, my Dad’s case – guitar case, that is) it was an Aria nylon string acoustic guitar my dad had under his bed. When I was really young somewhere in the range of monosyllabic numbers (Seven inched its way in) , after I figured out that one of the latches on the case had to move sideways to open the damned case, I would just sit there with it on my lap and hit the strings. The first instrument I’d ever owned was a drumset with paper heads on some of the drums, and stainless steel heads on others. It was basically something for me to move my arms against that didn’t consist of electrical wires or sharp corners. At the age of 2, I was just beating something to get out the aggression that developed from my parents not getting the correct brand of steamed carrots (I demanded carrots from non conflict countries. Sorry, Gerber-Libya) but in a fit of unadulterated preschool tricycle induced road rage, I broke the drumset. I was a mini Keith Moon (Half moon?) I dare say, but that still didn’t change the fact that I was, as a child, someone who was fond of percussive response.

So, back to the Aria Nylon string. I would remove it from the Pandora’s Box of a case and just lay it on my lap, hitting all of the strings with my hands. I was just happy getting some musical response from anything, despite having no connection to music with the exception of yelling at my sister playing her annoying radio on the oldies stations*. I was another radio kid listening to the pop stations; some of the first albums i’d ever owned were Hootie and the Blowfish, the Beastie Boys and Alanis Morisette. And even those were stretches.

Then came middle school. 7th grade requirement was to take a guitar class. The rules were simple, you only play the strings where you learned songs from. For instance, if we had only been taught Aura Lee or Yankee doodle on the high E string, we would lose our guitar privileges for playing any other strings. This is the quality of music instruction you get from a high strung (Had to do it…), anal retentive choir teacher who had no business teaching guitar. I didn’t particularly like the class, but most of it consisted of us sitting around learning some simple song for an hour while talking to our friends. I did well in the class because I had my dad’s Nylon string at home, and I could practice whatever I wanted, when I wanted (Back when I was a little overachiever, oh how times changed.) I was the kid people looked up to because I could play the first few notes of Walk this Way by Aerosmith, and to this day I still don’t even know the whole song. By the end of the class, we were still only allowed to play the G, B, and high E strings. I guess the teacher didn’t think wound strings were appropriate for innocent little middle schoolers, because that’s where power chords lie.

After that class was over summer came and I went to a summer camp. The summer camp had a guitar class in it, and I decided to take it. It was something easy to do, despite them having steel strings, something beginner guitarists usually avoid like the plague. The idea of pressing your fingers against things which are used to cut cheese and clay usually deterred most from touching the guitar. The thing was, I did pretty well in the “class.” Considering the teacher only knew Free Falling by Tom Petty, a three chord song consisting of the most basic of finger positions.

After I got home, I decided to take lessons at a music store. I’d been taking them for awhile when I had to take the same music class again. The first day, I still remember, we all got guitars and I started to play a Green Day song. The class was listening to me and the teacher yelled at me for playing other strings. I stopped and she pulled me outside and asked what I was doing. By then I was up to chords and some scales, so the teacher turned me into the TA for the class. Every day while most while sitting inside the class playing the second year songs consisting of most of the strings (They never played the low E string) I would sit outside in the sunshine of the lunch area with whatever guitar book my Guitar Teacher got for me, attempting to squelch out anything related to pop culture.

And thus brings me to the major factors in why I didn’t put the guitar down – it’s the reason I’m writing this. There are a few guitar related moments in my life which changed my outlook on music.

I remember in 7th grade english class, Nick Ferrantello and Nick Konapasik (I believe I messed up their names, but who cares) the “Nicks” as we all called them were the cool kids in school. They were good skateboarders, and one of them played Blister in the Sun on guitar in front of the class. A lot of the class was jealous, and I remember wanting to play that song too. I spent a long time trying to learn that, and I wanted to be the kid in front of class wanting to play like that, albeit remedial, it still got their attention.

Those guys made me want to play better in middle school, but few had as big of an effect on my guitar playing as Kenny Relethford, the oldest brother of my best friend at the time. He had an electric guitar. The electric guitar. It was always sitting out with the strap in a certain orientation so he’d know if someone played it. It was an Ibanez Destroyer II from the 80’s which his dad bought. I had been playing my Yamaha acoustic with Medium strings for the longest time (only a year) and when I played the electric guitar, it felt like heaven. Light strings, great action, comfortable, and it sounded amazing.  It was eye-catching, so it was impossible to not notice any time I was at their house. Every once in awhile i’d go in there and play it, hoping he wouldn’t find out. A few times he did, and he was angry, but he was the reason I ever wanted to play electric guitar. Guitar Center was too far away, and I was too afraid to play plugged in anyway. This Ibanez Destroyer was always the beacon of light which I wanted to get to. After Kenny gained some trust, he’d occasionally let me play it if I played songs he wanted. I’d always talk a good game and attempt to coerce him into letting me play that guitar. Still to this day, I would buy that guitar off of him. It’s the first electric guitar I ever played, and started my love for electricity and guitar.

The shred phase of my life, and the aims for musical skill are all due to one man my dad worked with, Dorian. A church mandolin player with long hair who worked for the Government. From the sounds of him now, I would’ve brushed him off, but seeing is believing. He invited my dad and me over to see his guitar stuff. Long hair should’ve given it away, but I didn’t know any better at the time. I got to his apartment with my dad and his wife was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was a small apartment, but upstairs was the gateway into the world of guitar. I wasn’t a fan of shred metal or anything with guitar skill in it yet. I was a fan of some guitarists, but they were in pop bands or ska bands, nothing to aim for. My dad and I went upstairs and he pulled out his Charvel Model 6. It was a pink/red guitar with the black crackle finish on it (If I remember correctly) and a floyd rose. I remember him saying it was a bit temperamental, and at the time I thought he was just discouraging me from playing it, but now I know what he was talking about. Now owning 3 guitars with Floyd Roses, I know exactly what he was talking about. Anyway. He plugged into a rackmount effects processor and started playing. He introduced me to a guy named Randy Rhoads. He pulled out the tribute book, and I looked at the guitar tab. I’d never seen so many notes. A few days later, my dad bought me the same guitar tab book, and I bought the CD. I spent months looking at it, but still didn’t learn much. This opened up the door to Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, System of A Down, and all of the metal bands i’d never been exposed to, and that was the nail in the coffin, so to speak.

And now we come full circle.

Just an hour or two ago, I was playing my Ibanez RG1570, and since it’s blocked up, I can tune it to whatever I want. I tuned it down a half step and Flying High Again by Ozzy Osbourne came on. All of a sudden, I started jamming with it, considering I usually can’t because i’m in standard tuning. Playing to the song opened up a door to a room full of guitar oriented memories I hadn’t seen in a long time. I played the descending tapping riffs, the chords, and the inflections i’d become such a fan of when I started playing electric guitar.

All of it reminded me of why I do this stuff. Why I continue to pick up this stringed instrument every day, why I spend so much money on it, and why I always attempt something new, despite the fact that there really is no overall gain for anyone but me. Everyone has a reason they do something that means the most to them, and they spend too much money/time/effort on something which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t necessarily help anyone.

I say necessarily because if Nick didn’t play Blister in the Sun, Kenny didn’t have that Destroyer, and Dorian didn’t play a perfect rendition of Crazy Train on his Charvel, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this remembering why I’m sitting in a room full of creatively trimmed trees, oil-based plastic parts, and shop manipulated metals which cost way too much money. It’s why I sit here trying to learn a Derek Trucks song when i’m the only one who really enjoys the outcome. It’s why I spend time I could be doing classwork or trying to get a job harnessing the power of vibrations for musical joy.

Go ahead, complain about the democrats, republicans, Israel, Palestine, global warming, global cooling, oil, hippies, pacifists, war, hate, peace, jews, christians, muslims, athiests, hindus, buddhists, taoists, mormons, gays, lesbians, abortion, 9/11, homeland security,  taxes, homelessness, government and whatever else you worry about.

But me?

I’m just going to play this here guitar for awhile.

Then i’ll worry about the rest of it.

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Sorry for my lack of posts. Again

It’s been rather busy around here, and my access to anything new and exciting has been limited to the things I already own. Some day i’ll head out to a Guitar Store and check out some stuff to see if there actually is anything worth writing about in detail.

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The Fender Standard, Made in Mexico Telecaster

Chances are, if at any point in your life you’ve ever considered purchasing an electric guitar, you’ve picked one of these little things up. It’s Fender’s attempt to make sure that every human being on the planet can own something with their name on it. Fender bought a factory in Mexico, slapped their name on it, and now they kick out versions of their most popular guitars, the Telecaster and the Stratocaster faster than Hostess kicks out Twinkies and Cupcakes. Moving past my comparison of the most famous guitars to cream-filled snack foods, most of these Fender Mexico guitars, aren’t really discussed on the Internet. For the most part, if you see someone talking about a Fender, it’s worth more than $1000, it’s custom, or it has someone’s fingerprints on it that make it worth more than its weight in gold. And I must admit that I am also guilty of such a crime; almost all of my reviews are guitars that cost more than a thousand, but there’s no better time to rectify my mistakes. So, to fill the void that exists due to reviewers penchant for trying to keep guitars like expensive jewelry instead of something like a toaster oven, I will write about this guitar in detail, so you can read it before you go to a Music store or a music website. I’m not going to deny the power of a music website’s comment section, but for the most part, if you read those you will read only one of two types of reviews: the person who is so happy about their instrument that they can’t be quiet about it, or the person who is so angry at their instrument that they too, can’t be quiet about it. There aren’t many contemplatory posts in the comment sections, just 30 words, more or less, explaining 1 of the 2 aforementioned categories. So, now that that’s out of the way, lets get to it.

The Telecaster being the first mass-produced, solid body electric guitar already gives it some well-deserved pride in the realm of guitars. And since it is the first solid body, it sets the bar for conservative looks in solid body guitars. A plain finish, 2 single coil pickups, and a basic neck set the definition for the minimalist electric guitar. Oddly enough, it became one of the most iconic items in amplified music. Known to break out blues, rock, rockabilly, country, jazz, punk, and – Courtesy of John 5 of Marilyn Manson – even metal. The telecaster will be around forever, but the question this entry asks is, is the Made in Mexico Telecaster doing a good job to continue the legacy?

The Specs: The standard telecaster shape carved from a block of Alder, a maple neck, and your choice of a maple or rosewood fretboard. I’ll discuss the differences later, but for the sake of this post we’re going to be talking about the one with a maple fretboard. 21 Fret neck with Medium jumbo frets, fender Made in Mexico (MIM) telecaster pickups with a 3 way pickup selector, 1 volume and 1 tone knob. Unlike classic telecasters, the bridge on this has individual saddles instead of the 3, and this is another thing i’ll address later in a little bit more detail as I try to keep my opinions and judgement out of the specs section.

The Neck: I’ve been wrestling with the possibility of being able to call a neck “boring.” It might be a good thing because it gives you time to think about the other things on the guitar, but if being able to ignore the neck is what defines “boring”, then the neck on the MIM Telecaster is far from boring. It has Fender’s standard C neck profile (Still looking for exact measurements out there. If anyone has first fret and 12th fret measurements, send me an email or leave a comment) which has, to my knowledge, remained similar for a very long time.

Now I get to the maple vs. rosewood discussion (with myself, mind you) that I intended to come back to, and now here we are. There are a few pros and cons, each of which one should consider when purchasing a MIM Telecaster. On the maple pros side, the tone is brighter and classic Telecaster. On the rosewood pros side, it’s warmer, has a little softer feel to the fingers because it doesn’t get satin finished, and has the dark rosewood look, giving a very unique telecaster look. On the cons side of each, maple gets visually dirty quickly, you can see bad fretwork (Another issue I intend to come to in the neck section, guaranteed to be a long section) very easily, and the finish they use on the MIM Tele for the fretboard is pretty bad. On the rosewood side, you’re not getting a truly real telecaster, it gets dirtier and is a lot harder to clean than a satin finished maple fretboard.

The biggest issue on the neck is the fretwork. I dare say some of the poorest i’ve seen. What’s odd is that i’ve watched videos of the Made In Mexico factory, and they don’t look like incompetent workers. They look like people who know how to make a guitar, but when I see the fretwork on the maple necks of MIM Teles, I start to cringe. I think of how my finger is going to feel running over those sharp edges when I move up the neck too fast. Stewmac sells fret finishing files for pretty cheap, so I can’t imagine that they can’t round the edges like Ibanez does on their Prestige models. It would take a few passes, but would make a world of difference.

The Body: Alder accompanied with maple is a pretty bright combination for a guitar. The old telecasters were made out of Ash and the Fender American classics are made out of ash, but Alder is the choice for the MIM. And one thing that made the telecaster notorious, leading to the invention of the Strat was the lack of a beveled body and carved arm rest. Players sitting and playing guitar would get the same fatigue they get from sharp acoustic edges, but faster because the body was heavier and more compressed into certain areas. I’ve seen modifications on the idea through Peavey guitars. They make a tele-style guitar for Jerry Donahue, the guitarist for the Hellecasters, and they round the edges just enough to keep the telecaster look but take away some of the faults of a squared body.

The Electronics: The MIM uses slightly more powerful pickups to make sure that their reasonably priced guitar doesn’t have a sound too focused in one tonal direction. The lower output pickups being more aimed towards clean playing, and the hotter Highway One pickups aimed to be a little more rock oriented. These seem to land in the middle to be as versatile as 2 single coils in a bright body could possibly be.

The Hardware: The tuners are fine. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But what I did say was different was the use of a bridge with individual saddles for each string instead of a 3 saddle classic style bridge. Fanatics out there will say that it’s not a telecaster unless it’s got the classic brass 3 saddle bridge, and I completely agree. However, this is trying to be as real of a telecaster as possible to the guitarist on a limited budget. The thing about the 3 saddle bridges is that they aren’t that great for intonation, and just when you think you can angle one of those suckers, it moves. So for the sake of this guitar, I think a six saddle bridge is good. You can adjust each string’s action and intonation, a necessity on a guitar with a neck that probably isn’t as straight as it should be, and frets that aren’t as level as they should be.

One of the big gripes about teles is the output jack. It’s one of the worst parts of teles, and uses some seriously bad ideas. In order to have it stay in, you need to tighten a screw on the inside that pushes out a bent metal piece and locks it in place. Warmoth creates a jack plate with 2 screw holes so you don’t have to blindly fiddle with the output jack to get it back into the guitar. It’s too bad Fender didn’t pick up on it or just switch to a recessed input jack like an ibanez or a standard flat jack plate. I’ve fussed with this thing for long times after some repair sessions, and this is definitely some bitter icing to put on a cake made with hours of guitar work.

The Whole She-bang: When you plug it in, you get something reminiscent of a telecaster tone, and reminiscent of a telecaster feel, but all in all this isn’t such a great guitar. The only true possibilities for it are as a base for some massive Frankenstein experimentation like pickups, sanding, paint and finish. When you get one, it’s poorly set up, it has bad fretwork, mediocre neck finishing, and the burdensome input jack plate that you know you’re going to have to worry about in the near future. If you walk into a guitar store and you look at it from afar, and it looks like a telecaster, but when you get closer you figure out really fast that it’s not a real Telecaster. There are some guitars that when you pick up, you feel like there’s a reason you’d spend the money on it, and i’m not going to lie, this isn’t one of them. I have yet to be slightly impressed, let alone blown away, by anything that has ever come out of Fender Mexico. I mean, at least Fender Japan created some good instruments and had some quality control, but Fender Mexico is about the same as a Squier, except the spelling is different on the headstock.

Do yourself a favor, if you’re planning on getting a Fender MIM Telecaster, have a game plan. Plan on re-crowning the frets, filing the edges, replacing the bland pickups with ones more suitable for whatever style, be they tele-sized humbuckers or classic Fender Pickups, and plan on setting this thing up from scratch. If you can work magic on a guitar, this might be right up your alley as a project guitar. In fact, I think it’s most redeeming quality are how much you can do to it to make a Tele unique. Say you get it at the start of your guitar career, you can update it to your preferences as you go along because it’s a Fender, and has more replacement part options than a Honda Civic. On that note, it might be a perfect beginners guitar after a little TLC from someone experienced, but if you plan to buy the Fender MIM Telecaster and hand it to someone straight from the box/store without someone looking at it, be sure to give them the receipt too.

The Pros: Tele styling, semi-tele tone, Fender name, Fender neck feel, easily upgradeable and changeable

The Cons: Poorly done frets, mediocre satin-finish, boring sound, output jack, and pretty much everything else I missed.

The Grade:

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