Repair log – EBAY purchase, Daphne Blue ‘Stratocaster’ assembled from parts.
Owner – James Stratton, London Guitar Academy, 07957 230354, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purchased for £500, estimated parts value £889.21
© Terry Relph-Knight 09/05/19
Weight = 3.5kg or 7.72lbs.
An EBAY purchase Stratocaster style guitar, presumably assembled by the EBAY seller, from various bits. It is not surprising that the original owner / assembler sold this guitar, because they had made such a poor job of assembling it that it didn’t play well or sound good. Fortunately most of the parts they used are high quality and the damage caused by poor workmanship can be fixed.
The guitar has a high action. The most obvious thing wrong with it is that the neck is not screwed down / has not been properly fitted into the neck pocket. There is a visible gap between the neck and the bottom of the pocket of 1.5mm on the bass side narrowing to about 0.5mm.
Although the neck probably came with a nut fitted, it had been removed and a very poor attempt made at replacing it with a Graph Tech white Tusq nut, now trashed.
The Fender locking tuners were all sitting at odd angles on the headstock because the holes for the dual locating pins on each tuner had not been accurately drilled.
The guitar was fitted with a 1.22m thick, gold anodised Aluminium pick guard. A poor choice because eddy currents in metal pick guards muffle tone, as confirmed by later measurements.
The volume and tone controls sound like they are the wrong taper (first tone is wired to the neck and middle pickups, the second tone is wired to the bridge pickup). Later measurement shows they are all 250K 10% log law pots and the wiring is neat, tidy and apparently without flaws, so I’m not sure why the control characteristics seemed odd, it may be a grounding issue.
Whoever wired up the pick guard (obviously it wasn’t the previous owner as the wiring is quite neat and tidy) did not fit a daisy chain ground wire across the back of the pots. The anodising on the aluminium pick guard is a very good insulator, so the guard cannot be relied on to ground the pots. And if the guard itself is not solidly grounded it won’t act as an electrical shield.
Body – The body has MJT stamped in the neck pocket and is from MJT Aged Finishes of Carthage, Missouri, USA. This body is (probably) a two piece Alder body, finished in a very heavily reliced Daphne blue with a white undercoat. Fitted with standard reliced strap buttons – the button on the upper horn was fitted upside down. There is no tremolo cavity cover and no screw holes have been made to fit one, which is fortunate because the previous owner drilled the holes for the two bridge spring tension screws at quite a steep angle and the springs and spring claw protrude above the level of the back of the guitar. Although fitted with a modern Fender two point vibrato bridge, the body was originally drilled with six holes for the screws of a traditional vibrato bridge and four of those holes remain, between the two-point posts. Originally routed for three single coils, the bridge pickup route has been expanded to a humbucker route, after the body was painted. None of the body cavities are screened.
Neck – There are no identifying manufacturers marks on the neck. It is a single piece, heavily flamed (tiger flame) maple, 9.5 inch radius neck with 21 medium jumbo frets. Abalone dot fret markers, all off centre towards the bass side of the neck by about 1mm. Dark skunk stripe with some staining from the stripe bleeding over into the maple by 2 or 3mm on either side of the stripe. The stripe stops before the end of the truss rod route inside the heel and the remainder is filled with an off cut and some other filler. Finished in a high gloss. The truss rod is a bi-flex rod adjusted at the neck heel (4mm hex key adjustment). I think the neck is a cheap Chinese neck similar to necks listing on EBAY for £88. Like many guitar related Chinese products it looks amazing on first look but has several flaws, poor fretting being the most critical. Bogus water slide Fender decals have been applied to the headstock and roughly over sprayed (Voodoo Decals £5.15 on EBAY).
Hardware – Three, modern stagger, Fender Custom Shop pickups with cream covers (middle pickup is RWRP for hum cancellation in the in-between positions). Prices for a set of Custom Shop pickups vary, but £122 is perhaps typical for a set of Custom 54’s. The pickups are mounted in a gold anodised aluminium pick guard with SLF 4.28.16 written on the back in black felt tip. Cream knobs and switch tip. The tip of the screw-in trem arm is a non matching white (the arm has some unpleasant looking goop on it). The tremolo/vibrato bridge looks like a genuine Fender two point trem with a chamfered steel block and block sintered steel saddles with offset intonation screws. The two bridge pivot posts are screwed down as tight as they will go into their threaded inserts. 3 springs fitted. The neck plate is a square, four bolt Fender Corona plate, with a fifth hole for micro-tilt adjustment, unused on this guitar as delivered (I have now added a Micro-tilt kit).
Fender branded locking tuners, staggered 3 tall for the low strings 3 high for the trebles – typically £ 71.99 a set. The bevelled washers on three of the tuners are fitted upside down. One white Graph Tech string tree.
250K nominal value CTS pots all 10% log law, Volume, 281.2K tone, 233.3K bridge tone. OAK 5 way switch. The three cream with gold lettering knobs are the universal fit type with smooth centre holes. Although these smooth hole knobs can be problematic, they seem to fit tightly on the control shafts for the moment. There is no daisy chain ground between the pot cases, circuit ground relies on the mechanical connection between the pot case to the front metalwork and then through the anodised pick guard.
Pickup measurements –
A set of three Fender Custom Shop pickups
The first set of measurements are no strings, with the pickups mounted in the old aluminium guard. The second column measurements are with the pickups mounted in a plastic pick guard, no strings.
NeckD.C. resistance = 6.2K
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.503 2.499 0.25 0.25 6.26 6.25
120Hz 2.5 2.506 0.3 0.302 6.27 6.25
1000hz 2.381 2.525 1.957 2.39 7.64 6.61
Magnet polarity = South
Low E gauss = 1110 gauss
High E gauss = 1110 gauss
Middle D.C. resistance = 6.28K
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.579 2.583 0.255 0.256 6.35 6.33
120Hz 2.573 2.587 0.304 0.308 6.36 6.33
1000hz 2.429 2.605 1.953 2.44 7.81 6.68
Magnet polarity = North
Low E gauss = 1110 gauss
High E gauss = 1110 gauss
Bridge D.C. resistance = 6.47
L in H (Al, plastic) Q (Al, plastic) ESR in K (Al, plastic)
100Hz 2.686 2.69 0.258 0.259 6.52 6.5
120Hz 2.684 2.684 0.309 0.311 6.53 6.5
1000hz 2.539 2.712 1.99 2.48 8.01 6.84
Magnet polarity = South
Low E gauss = 1180 gauss
High E gauss = 1110
The magnet strengths indicate they are Alnico 5, so these aren’t Fat 60’s. The low E and high E are extraordinarily well balanced for strength. Which may just be coincidence, or an indication of the care taken in manufacturing the Custom Shop pickups. At these strengths the damping effect of the magnet field on the strings is quite noticeable and the pickups must be set low in the pick guard to avoid the low E from warbling / pulsing.
As the measurements show the aluminium pick guard has a significant damping effect on the higher frequencies, about 8% lower inductance at 1000Hz. Compared to the Bare Knuckle Mothers Milk pickup set – neck and middle are around 2.3H and the bridge is 3H at 1000Hz – in the clients other Strat, these pickups will be a little darker in the neck and mid (2.5H, 2.6H) and a little brighter for the bridge (2.7H).
Fender custom shop pickups
Fat 50’s Alnico 5 Neck: 6.0K 2.4H. Middle: 6.3K 2.75H. Bridge: 6.2K 2.8H Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Fat 60’s* Alnico 2 Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Custom ‘54 Alnico 5 Neck/Middle Pickups: 5.9K 2.4H. Bridge: 6.5K 2.75H Formvar wire, Black Forbon flatware
Custom ‘69* Alnico 5 5.8K 2.2H Enamel wire, Grey Forbon flatware
Texas Special*Alnico 5 Neck Pickup: 6.2K 2.4H. Middle: 6.5K 2.6H. Bridge: 6.5-7.1K 3.58H
Enamel wire, Black Forbon flatware
The three pickups in the guitar are only labelled with a Fender Custom Shop sticker. They have Formvar magnet wire wound on black Forbon flatware. Identifying exactly which set of Fender Custom Shop pickups they are can be determined by a process of elimination comparing the magnet wire type, the flatwork colour and the measurements of the pickups, with the Fender published specifications above. Right away the Custom ‘69 and the Texas Specials are eliminated because the pickups in the guitar have Formvar magnet wire, not Plain Enamel.
The closest match between the measurement and the published Fender specs is the Custom ‘54s.
Work done – Disassembled the guitar. Screened all the body cavities with self adhesive copper tape.
Transferred the pickups and electronics from the old aluminium pick guard to the new orange ‘Big Cat’ pattern plastic pick guard (actually the pattern looks like amber toned blotchy vintage tortoise shell). Modified the tone control wiring so tone one is on the neck pickup and tone two is on the bridge, partly because the protruding tone-two, bare wire link on the back of the pickup selector switch was shorting to the copper tape screening. Previous to screening this was pressing on the bare wood of the control cavity and didn’t allow perfect seating for the pick guard. Replaced all the rusty pick guard screws with stainless steel screws, which I spin polished.
Also spin polished the heads of the four original stainless steel neck screws.
Sanded the neck and body neck pocket to improve the neck fit. Used a blade scraper to remove the hump from the back of the neck where it fits the pocket, which made a big difference to the fit. Drilled out the over large screw hole in the neck, plugged it with a glued in hardwood dowel, re-drilled the screw hole the correct size and threaded the neck screw in with a little wax. Reinforced all four screw holes in the neck with superglue. Drilled the neck pocket in the body and fitted an M5 T nut ( three for £2.43 or £1.08 each) and M5 by 8mm grub screw (£0.16 each, 3mm hex key for adjustment) Micro-tilt neck angle adjustment. Drilled a shallow 19mm diameter hole on the back of the neck heel and glued in a 5p coin to act as a Micro-tilt pressure plate. Reversed the upside down strap button.
Corrected the uneven tuner fit by plugging all 12 tuner locating pin holes and then re-drilling them, so the tuners now sit in a straight line. Reversed the three upside down tuner washers.
Removed the old, very poorly fitted Graph Tech nut, cleaned the lumps of glue from the nut slot and replaced the nut with a new Hosco bone nut. Smoothed the sharp ends of the nut and filed the nut slots for correct string height.
Improved the fit of all the frets using a Stewmac Jaws Fret Press and smoothed numerous sharp fret ends. Unfortunately the first experiment with the fret press and 7.25” radius brass caul to put extra pressure on the high fret ends resulted in one fret, fret 6, ending up far too low under the high E string. By switching to a 9.5 inch caul I managed to get the rest of the frets levelled.
Ended up carefully pulling fret 6, re-lacquering the chip in the lacquer under the high E and re-inserting the fret. Adding a drop of glue in the fret slot for strength and pressing it carefully home with the fret press and the 9.5 inch caul.
Disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the vibrato bridge. Removed the thick layer of grey paint from the top of the bridge inertia block.
Re-assembled the guitar, fitted a set of strings and set the neck angle and truss rod for relief. Adjusted bridge springs for vibrato action and the bridge saddles for string height and for intonation. Set the pickup heights.
Although some people set the two point vibrato bridges parallel to the guitar body by raising the two pivot posts I decided to set up the bridge on this guitar as recommended by Fender, which is with an up tilt, like the vintage six screw bridges.
I wanted the saddle grub screws to be no more than level with the tops of the saddles to not dig in to the players palm, so I set the saddles fairly high while also following the 9.5 inch fretboard radius. The two bridge posts are screwed in to the brass inserts almost as far as they will go and the spring tension (with the three original springs) is set to float the bridge plate about the same as a six screw vintage bridge (actually 2.5mm from the body to the underside of the back of the bridge plate). There’s 14mm from the end of the vibrato cavity to the top of the spring claw.
As is usual with most after market necks, the frets on this one had never been levelled and careful work with the Stewmac Jaws fret press and a fret hammer allowed me to correct the poorly set frets without having to remove material from the top of the frets through fret levelling.
I filed down the string slots in the Hosco replacement bone nut by eye, depressing each string beyond the second fret and looking for minimum clearance over the first fret. I had meant to use my Stewmac nut slotting kit, but could not find it.
The Chinese neck has a bi-flex truss rod with access at the heel, which means you have to remove the neck from the body and adjust the truss rod by trial and error, without string tension. Without string tension and with the rod in the neutral / slack position this neck has a visible back or convex bow. Unfortunately, with string tension, the ideal of just a small amount of forward bow is in the grey area of having a completely slack truss rod, at least with 9 to 42 strings. With the rod just starting to tension up in the clockwise direction, the neck is dead straight under string tension. Eventually set the rod perhaps 1/3rd of a turn anti-clockwise, just on the point bending the neck forwards. I’m really trying to get just a little forward bow.
Ideally you want the truss rod to mostly affect the bow of the neck between the nut and the twelfth fret. In the case of this neck, at the more extreme settings the rod bends the entire neck, resulting in the higher frets sloping upwards.
The measured fret height is 0.033 (0.838mm re-measured 0.88mm) by 0.096 inches (2.438mm re-measured 2.42mm) wide and allowing 0.02 to 0.018 clearance bass to treble that puts the required nut slots and string height at the nut at 0.053 to 0.051.
With the bridge and truss rod set I can make small adjustments to the neck angle with the Micro-tilt to get the perfect low action. Eventually settled on 0.06 inch low E and high E at the twelfth fret open string.
Pickup heights – As mentioned these Fender Custom shop pickups are really strongly charged and very even across the pickups and I had trouble with the low E in particular warbling or pulsing because of damping from the pickups magnetic field (tuners go nuts). The Fender standard pickup heights are as follows (from bottom of strings to magnet poles, strings fretted at the last fret) –
Bass Side Treble Side
Texas Specials 8/64″ (3.2 mm) 6/64″ (2.4 mm)
Vintage style 6/64″ (2.4 mm) 5/64″ (2 mm)
Standard Single-Coil 5/64″ (2 mm) 4/64″ (1.6 mm)
This guitar 3.5mm 2.4mm
I think the neck is a cheap Chinese job – the installation of the skunk stripe truss rod filler is a bit crude. An extra piece of wood, plus some wood filer, has been used where the stripe runs in to the heel of the neck. As I later discovered this is part of a hump in the middle of the heel and the neck would not fit the neck pocket until this hump was scrapped away. It looks like some stain was wiped over the stripe to darken it, after it was glued in to the back of the neck, and this has also stained the maple around it. The bi-flex truss rod adjusts at the heel, 4mm hex key. The hex socket is set a little way into the neck with a short tube or collar in front of it. The truss rod is probably held in place by this collar. It didn’t seem as though the rod had ever been adjusted. Nut looks a bit mangled. Bogus Fender decals have been applied to the headstock, presumably by the previous owner. The Fender logo is orange with a black outline.
The Fender all-maple necks are fretted, levelled and re-crowned before the lacquer is applied. Then (if you are lucky) the lacquer is scrapped and polished off the crown of the frets. This does at least secure the frets in place, with the lacquer acting as a glue. On this Chinese neck the frets have been installed after the neck was lacquered. In fact it is difficult to work out how they finished and fretted the neck. It almost looks as though the fretting was the very last process after the fret slots had been cut, the ends of the slots plugged with filler and the neck sprayed and polished. All the frets have the tang cut back about 2mm or so from the ends. The fretting isn’t brilliant, with sharp ends and almost all of the frets are high, not fully seated in the fret slots at either end.
The neck looks identical to this EBAY listing – £88
The measured fret height above the fretboard is 0.033 inches.
The previous owner drilled the locating holes in the back of the headstock for the two peg tuners and made a very poor job of it. All the tuners are skewed to a greater or lesser degree. I eventually plugged all the tuner holes and re-drilled them to correct the odd angles on the tuners.
The very high action on this guitar as delivered, is largely due to a very poor neck fit with a large visible gap between the back of the neck and the neck pocket, the neck tilting forwards as a result. Neck fit is not helped by the fact that the back of the neck, where it is supposed to fit the body pocket, is not flat, but has a central hump over the skunk stripe. Apart from the poor fit, the neck screw under the biggest gap is completely loose. The hole in the neck for this screw has been drilled oversize and the neck screw just drops into it.
As part of rebuilding this guitar, and since the neck plate has the required access hole, I decided to fit a micro-tilt system. The micro-tilt kit I purchased is supplied without a pressure plate for the neck, a 5p coin is suggested. I fitted the T Nut and grub screw (3mm hex key) in the body, drilled a shallow 19mm hole in the neck and superglued in a 5p coin.
The nut, an after market white Graph Tech, is a mess, only half seated in the nut slot and oddly shaped on top where it has been filed because it was sticking up because of the poor fit in the slot.
With the nut removed the nut slot is clogged with chunks of glue. I cleaned out and enlarged the slot and then fitted a new Hosco bone nut. From the EBAY listing these necks do come with a fitted nut so it seems the original owner removed the nut the neck shipped with in order to fit a white Tusq Graph Tech nut (and then made a horrible mess of it).
It is difficult to correct all the neck problems without marring the high gloss finish.
The body is from MJT Aged Finishes, run by brothers Mark and Matt Jenny, are based in Carthage, Missouri, USA. MJT specialises in reliced finish bodies and necks. MJT does sell via EBAY with bids currently running from $45 up to $300. Their direct order price for this type of body and finish is $385 (plus shipping, taxes and handling to the UK). This body is (probably) a two piece Alder body finished in a very heavily reliced Daphne blue, white undercoat. Fitted with standard reliced strap buttons – the button on the upper horn is upside down. There is no tremolo cavity cover and no screw holes to fit one. Although fitted with a modern Fender two point vibrato bridge, the body was original drilled with six holes for the screws of a traditional vibrato bridge and four of those holes remain between the two point posts. Now routed for single/single/humbucker, the original bridge pickup single coil route has been expanded to a humbucker route after the body was painted. None of the body cavities are screened.
The vibrato bridge had a layer of dirt under the saddles and had been assembled with the various intonation springs in the wrong order.
I disassembled and cleaned all the parts, soaking the saddles, grub screws, screws and springs in WD40. Unscrewed the steel inertia block from the bridge plate and sanded off the thick layer of grey paint from the top of the block to allow metal to metal contact from block to plate. Reassembled the block and plate with a thin coating of wax on top of the block to inhibit rust.
As received the saddles had;
Grub screwsSpringIntonation screw – all lengths in mm.
E 6 7 15
A 8 8 15
D 8 8 15
G 8 8 15
B 8 6 15
E 6 9 15
The low E should have the 6mm short spring and the next shortest, the 7mm should be on the G, longest spring, the 9mm, on the high E. The 6mm grub screws should be fitted to the the two E saddles, as they were.
About Fender Gold Anodised aluminium pick guards
The Fender after market gold anodised aluminium guards are around 1.2mm thick and electrically the aluminium is a very good conductor, although the anodised layer is a mechanically tough electrical insulator. The hard anodised layer stiffens the aluminium so I suppose there might be an audible difference compared to raw aluminium because of the acoustic effect of a stiffer guard, but the main effect on tone is due to eddy currents circulating in the aluminium, creating an opposing magnetic field that damps the high end from the pickups. This damping effect is both audible and quite easily measured.
You should not rely on the anodised aluminium as a ground connection between the pots because the anodised layer is such a good insulator.
In the past Fender briefly used, and then dropped, gold anodised aluminium pick guards, as well as fitting much thinner aluminium sheets under plastic pick guards. I believe that Leo Fender chose to do this for the purposes of electrical screening. It is often said that Fender stopped using the gold guards because players would eventually wear through the anodised layer and the exposed aluminium would then leave black marks on their fingers. However, I suspect these pick guards were dropped because they robbed too much of the high end and made the guitars sound lifeless. The thinner aluminium shields used under the plastic guards provided good electrical shielding and, although they produced some eddy current damping, because they were thinner than the full aluminium pick guard, the damping effect was only just enough to make the guitars sound just that bit ‘sweeter’ without killing the treble altogether.
I transferred all the electronics from the gold aluminium pick guard across to the ‘Big Cat’ plastic guard. On initial installation of the guard, following copper screening all the body cavities, I had no signal out of the guitar. As it turns out the live contact of the output jack was shorting to the screening and a link of bare wire on the back of the pickup selector switch – switches the second tone control to the mid or bridge pickup – was shorting to the bottom of the control cavity.
Parts – 09/05/19 Big Cat orange pick guard £13.99 via EBAY from Supermusic57 paid PayPal transaction number 55L13968FC525004F.
Fender may use, or have used, a couple of sizes for the micro-tilt. Here is one
Accepts standard 3/32″ hex wrench for adjustment. Material: 18-8 Stainless Steel, Size: 10-32 x ½” dome point. The spiked nut inserts are called T-nuts
13/05/19 Ordered two micro-tilt ‘kits’ from EBAY bloodstoneguitar Item number: 162838470735 delivery 16th 17th . Total: £7.98 (note – these are metric and without a push plate for the back of the neck)
Pick guard – £13.99
Micro-tilt – £3.99
Strings – £6.00
Hosco bone nut – £7 plus 80p post
Copper screening tape – £4.00
13 x stainless steel pick guard screws. – £2.00
Parts total – £37.78
Labour – £150.00
Total – £187.78
Estimate of the parts value of the guitar
Tuners – £71.99
Neck – £88
Graph Tech Tusq nut – £9.99
Bogus Fender decals (Voodoo Decals) – £5.15
Body – $485 = £373
Pickups – £122
Neck plate and screws – £11.90
Strap buttons – £1.97
Pick guard gold aluminium – £59.04
13 pick guard screws – £2.80
3 x 250K pots – £15.30
Tone cap – £2.50
3 Fender UFO knobs – £8.00
5 way switch – £10.48
Output jack – £3.60
Jack plate – £3.50
Fender vibrato bridge – £99.99
Total – £889.21
Repair log – 2009 Gibson Goldtop Traditional Les Paul SN 00939030, made Nashville USA.
Owner – James Stratton, London Guitar Academy, 07957 230354, email@example.com
Current value range – £1,104 to £1,499 in excellent condition (but with original pickups)
Purchased used for £1,000, Weight = 4.3Kg, 9.48lbs
© Terry Relph-Knight 23/03/19
Received with a Gibson hard case.
This Traditional Les Paul is close to the original specifications for the 59 Les Paul. It has a chunky symmetrical C shaped neck, conventional controls with no switching options and only a small amount of weight relief. This is still a heavy guitar. The Standard model Les Paul has an asymmetric neck carve, a number of switching options added to the controls and modern weight relief.
Introduced in 1983, ‘traditional’ weight relief means nine large blind holes are drilled in the mahogany under the forearm area and covered by the maple cap.
Body – 2 piece centre joined light coloured mahogany, with a carved maple cap. Apparently with some weight relief (traditional). Gold top and clear coat back and sides nitro-cellulose. Cream binding around the top edge. There is a small, but deep, dent in the outside of the cutaway horn and mild buckle rash that does not go through the finish on the back.
Neck – Set, one piece, neck of a much darker piece of mahogany. It looks natural rather than stained, this model of Les Paul seems to usually have been made with lighter coloured necks of the same shade as the body wood, with the the usual two (lighter coloured) wings to make up the headstock width. 22 wide, flat dressed, frets on a light coloured, 12 inch radius rosewood fretboard. The fretboard isn’t super smooth, Gibson never seem to sand these very well. Pearloid trapezoid inlays above the 3,5,7,9,12,15,17,19 and 21st frets. The neck is bound with cream plastic and the binding is nibbed at the fret ends. Truss rod adjustment is as usual at the headstock with a 5/16 inch brass hex nut. The two ply ‘bell’ truss rod cover, with Traditional printed on it in white script, is unfortunately broken and cracked around both fixing holes.
Tuners are real Kluson Deluxe (the Kluson brand is now owned by, and manufactured for, WD Music ), 3 on a side box tuners with ‘green’ plastic, single ring, tulip buttons. The tuners are attached both by two screws at the back and a hex bush nut at the front. High quality nickel plated zinc alloy Nashville Tune-O-Matic bridge and humped stop bar. Supplied with the bridge height at 9mm low E, 8.5mm high E (from body to top of thumb wheel). As the guitar was supplied the strings were loaded top wrapped over the decked stop bar. The stop bar post screws are nickel plated brass with the imperial thread.
The bridge is mounted with the intonation screws towards the stop bar. A moulded cream plastic pick guard is fitted. Strap buttons are conventional conical buttons. Four gold speed knobs on the controls – the two knobs on the bridge volume and on the neck tone have visible cracks across the top.
The bridge pickup is the original Gibson ‘57 Classic Plus with an Alnico 2 magnet.
The neck pickup has been changed for a Bare Knuckle HSP90 (Humbucker Size Pickup $90) which could be one of four models – a Blue Note 6.8K Alnico 2, a Nantucket 7.1K Alnico 5, a Mississippi Queen 6.9K Alnico 4, or possibly a Supermassive 9.5K Alnico 5, model. Measurements show it is likely to be a Blue Note.
Electronics – Gibson stamp branded two volumes, two tones and a three way lever toggle for pickup selection. The bridge volume pot is 242.5K (121.5K at 5) and the neck volume is 221.5K (113.3K at 5) so both volumes are nominal 250K linear pots. Neck tone pot 446K, bridge tone pot 485K, both at around 20K at 5 so these are 5% log law!! The tone capacitors are small disc ceramic 223M nominally 0.022uF, measured at 0.0185uF for the neck and 0.0188uF for the bridge, although these caps are very temperature dependant.
The four pots are mounted on Gibsons steel parallelogram plate. Apart from the use of screened cabling there is no other screening in this guitar.
Problems – Just in for a set-up. The owner feels the action is on the high side. Although the top wrapping of the strings places them at the break angle over the bridge they were originally designed to be, it places a sharp bend in the strings right at the end of the ball end twist lock. This makes the strings prone to breaking at this point. It also means the strings leave ugly marks on the top of the stop bar.
Work done – Converted the stop bar to raised and locked with Faber Tone Lok components, to eliminate the need for top wrapping, while still achieving a sensible break angle over the bridge. Waxed the fretboard. Re-strung with Rotosound 10s. Levelled a group of high frets from 13 to 19. Adjusted the truss rod, bridge height (now 7.5mm both sides from the body to the top of the thumb wheel) and the intonation.
Having raised and locked the stop bar with the Faber parts, I strung the guitar up with a set of Rotosound Yellow 10s and tried to adjust the truss rod (which was only just snugged up with string tension removed) and the bridge to achieve a comfortable low action. This turned out not to be possible without a lot of buzzing on the high frets above the 12th.
A fret rocker test, with the strings on and at tension, shows a group of high frets – 3 frets on either side of the 16 fret neck joint. Frets 13,14 and 15 are all generally high. Fret 16 is high on the low E side. Fret 18 is high in the middle and fret 19 is high on the high E side. Eventually managed to level all these frets out with a fretting hammer.
Re-check after letting the guitar sit for while – fret 5 and 11 slightly high middle, 12 high mid and treble and 14 high bass and treble.
This not a playing wear or a poor factory levelling problem, either the fretboard wood or the frets themselves have moved since this guitar was made.
For comparison to the Bare Knuckle HSP90, a Seymour Duncan P90 bridge pickup with Alnico 5 magnets measures 900 Gauss at the low E and 756 Gauss at the high E.
The Bare Knuckle HSP90 measures 458 Gauss at the low E and 502 Gauss at the high E, so it appears to have Alnico 2 rather than Alnico 5 magnets and its D.C. resistance is 6.85K, so it is probably a Blue Note model.
Neck Bare Knuckle HSP90 D.C. resistance = 6.85K
L in HenrysQR in K
100Hz 5.398 0.485 6.98
1000Hz 5.075 2.31 13.74
Alnico 2 ?
High E Gauss = 502 Polarity at screw poles = South
Low E Gauss = 458
Bridge Gibson 57 Classic D.C. resistance = 8.0K
L in HenrysQR in K
100Hz 5.054 0.39 8.13
120Hz 5.053 0.466 8.16
1000Hz 4.827 2.17 13.93
High E Gauss screw poles = 392 Polarity at screw poles = South
Low E Gauss screw poles = 420
Intonation as received –
Error in cents
New strings +5 -5 +2 -3 0 0
Intonation now corrected to all 0 error with the strings fitted.
Unfortunately, like all Gibson’s guitars, this one has poor tuning stability due to the strings sticking in the nut. This caused by the traditional Gibson 17 degree raked, three on side headstock design that results in acute string angles over the nut and therefore high friction through the string slots in the nut.
Faber Tone Lok for the stop bar £25
1 set Rotosound Yellow strings (10s) – £6.99 inc postal delivery to me.
Total parts – £ 31.99
Labour – £ 45
Back to Basics: Counting Rhythm
Hey guys, Dan here again with another mind-boggling article for y’all to wrap your ears/eyes/whatever around. Up to now, I’ve mostly done either gear based posts, or intermediate to advanced music stuff and something has occurred to me; what about the beginners? What about those brave rockers who are just starting out on their musical journey and need some help? You guys arguably need more help right? Well fear not beginners, I’m starting a new series called Back to Basics which is going to touch on the simple but essential tools that are necessary to get you’re skillz up. Today we’re looking at real doozy; Rhythm.
How to Count Rhythms
So it’s fairly simple, if you don’t know how to play in time, then you can’t play along to songs or with other musicians, and that would suck. Rhythm is the foundation that music is built on, so you can imagine that its pretty important right? At first, understanding rhythm can seem pretty daunting, but it’s actually pretty chill. We’re going to be looking at three of the big dawgs of time signatures used in music: 4/4, 3/4, and 6/4.
So what do these terms mean? Put simply, the two numbers in a time signature are there to tell you how many beats there are in each bar of music. So if we’re playing in 4/4 there are four quarter-note beats in each bar. Equally if we’re playing in 3/4 there are three quarter-note beats in a bar, and the same goes for 6/4 (six beats in a bar).
Counting Rhythms Practice
Now for some of you that will make total sense, for others it still may be confusing as to how those words help you count rhythm. So lets use a song that helps you understand it better.
This is “Do I Wanna Know?” by Arctic Monkeys. A song I’m sure most of you are familiar with. If we listen to the intro of the song we can hear a kick drum and a snare drum. If you focus in on the kick pattern you’ll be hear that it’s actually spelling out the time signature of the song, which is 4/4. You can almost count along with the pattern as it plays e.g:
//1, 2, 3, 4 // 1, 2, 3, BA-NA-NA-NAAA //
Counting rhythm is a simple as that!
Ok so no we’ve got an understanding of what it sounds like lets look at it written down:
As we can see, there are two crudely drawn bars of music here. We’re playing in 4/4 so there are four black dots (i.e quarter notes) in each bar. Those four dots are the anchor of the song’s time signature, what all other melody and rhythms used in the song will be based around. Going back to the Arctic Monkeys song as an example, if you listen to the snare pattern you’ll hear that it falls on the second and fourth beats of each bar. Part writing such as this is a really easy way to help understand how we use rhythm to help us write parts for songs. Lets try it with another time signature:
So now we’re playing in 3/4. For those of you unsure of what a 3/4 tempo feels like, listen to any waltz. The waltz is style of music based entirely around 3/4 signatures. It’s got a sort of Um Cha Cha feel if that helps at all. As we can see from this drawing, there are now only three beats in each bar, three quarter-note beats. 3/4, get it?
Finally lets look at 6/4
So 6/4 is slightly trickier to get your head around but stay with me. We know that the first number in our time signature denotes how many beats there are in a bar, so we know that there are six beats to each bar. The sharpest tools in the shed out there may have noticed that 6/4 is essentially the same as 3/4 because its just doubling the number of beats in a bar, and you’re right it is counted in a similar way, but its not the same. Because of the larger number of beats in each bar, it is still technically in three, but it’s got a much slower feel. Here are some examples to help you understand that better:
So the Bob Dylan tune is in 3/4, and the Metallica tune is in 6/4. We can hear that because the Bob Dylan song feels like it has more pace about it. The song feels like it’s going somewhere quicker. Whereas the Metallica song has a much more laid back feel. You can count either song in either time signature, but trust me; you’d just be making more work for yourself if you do.
So yeah that’s basically an intro to counting Rhythm, not as scary as it sounds is it? There’s more daunting time signatures out there like 7/8 or the very unnerving 5/4, but we’ll save those for another day. Happy counting!
Acoustic Techniques: How to Rock Unplugged
Ah the acoustic guitar: a campfires best friend. Servant to the troubadour, and sufferer of the Wonderwall covers. Its safe to say that acoustic guitar certainly has a lot of negative press going for it. Well not necessarily negative, just not cool. The electric guitar has chunky riffs, picks slides, and wailing solos, you name it, and it’s got it.
That doesn’t mean I’m saying that the electric guitar is the better of the two; I’m just saying that if you were organizing a house party and you needed someone to supply all the booze, I know which one I’d be asking.
But maybe that’s just because the techniques and traits of the electric guitar are much more brash and bold than its unplugged counterpart, and you need a more refined taste to appreciate what the acoustic offers you. Tequila will definitely get you drunk more quickly than red wine, but that doesn’t mean its better right?
Yeah that is right so don’t question it. Anyway enough with the waffling, here’s some acoustic techniques to help you make your Arcala swoon at your next scout meet.
Ok so before you all start making hilarious jokes about how you “never thought to strum a guitar before Dan thanks” I’m going to be talking specifically about the slight sonic differences between a few strumming styles. Because you can manipulate the sound of an acoustic less than an electric you have to think more precisely about how you approach playing it. For example, playing with the nail of your finger versus playing with your thumb.
At first glance you wouldn’t assume there would be a difference, but the percussive nature of your nail brings out a brighter tone than the skin of your thumb. Try switching between the two during a song to help with dynamics. Maybe the brighter timbre of your nail will help lift a chorus up a bit? (It will).
So it wouldn’t be acoustic guitar without finger picking would it? Everyone from Bob Dylan all the way to the big Bieber have had a good ole’ crack at it. Biggest faux pas people make with this is not thinking enough about the patterns they play. The reason finger picking is amazing is because you can shift the dynamics of a song simply by switching the finger picking pattern you’re playing. Don’t just sit there and play The Boxer’s pattern over every song, be better than that. You want inspiration? James Taylor, Nick Drake. If you need more inspiration than that then you’ve not listened well enough.
The Power of Open Strings
So this one sounds more complicated than it is. In short, acoustic guitars can either sound beautiful, or really boring and flat. Most of that is down to technique, and specifically the use of open strings surrounding the chords you’re playing. No one wants to hear just the three notes in a G chord, they want all the over tones and open strings that give the acoustic guitar so much life. Try making sure your when you’re playing your chords that you’re note accidentally muting any open strings that help give the acoustic guitar life when being played solo. Equally however, do make sure you mute notes that don’t belong in the chord. There’s something about a duff note being played in and amongst other notes on a solo acoustic guitar that’s just a little bit more pathetic than usual. So don’t do it.
5 Pedals or Less: How to Sound Like Dave Gilmour
Back at it again, the hunt for tone never ends. Speaking from personal experience, furthering my understanding of tone has simultaneously been one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my life. On the one hand, finally cracking one of my favourite guitar player’s sounds and learning all of their secrets is an exhilarating feeling. But staying up till 3am trying to work out which exact chorus pedal SRV used on David Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’ only to find out its an extremely rare rack unit that would cost me more money than I’ve ever earned to acquire, blows.
But what can you do? Its not like finding that out has put me off the idea of maybe one day taking out some insane loan to buy one so I can play that solo through it once and go “Well, that wasn’t worth it” so there’s no point getting upset about it. I love tone; you love tone, that’s why we’re here. Forever sharing and reading about our collective theories on how we can get one-step closer to kind of sounding like our heroes, it’s what gets me out of bed on a morning.
The Beginner’s Guide to David Gilmour: Tone, Gear, Effects – Guitar
Sound Like Dave Gilmour
Today, we’re going to be looking at a man who needs no introduction: Dave Gilmour.
What? I said he needed no introduction. If you really need to learn about who he is and what he has contributed to music, then climb out from under that giant rock you’ve been living under and go buy Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and listen to them and realize what you’ve been missing out on your whole life. If that still doesn’t give you enough info about his guitar playing, then go watch the live at Pompeii concert, its on YouTube and has been for ages. I’m here to help you guys but I’m not going to spoon feed
you. Go on, go listen to those albums and come back to me, ill wait.
You’re back? Great, lets get started.
Dan’s Pick No.1: Pro-Co RAT (£79)
David Gilmour, or Dave to his friends, has had a constant development of tone over the four decades he’s been knocking around making classic album after classic album. Every aspect of his tone can change on different albums, even on different tracks of the same album! And none of those aspects are trickier than his drive sound. The average user would assume that you’d buy a fuzz, and that’s fair enough. He his a well-known fuzz user, especially the Big Muff range by EHX. However, this series is supposed to help you sound like him in fewer than five pedals, and I don’t think there is any single fuzz that would cover all of his drive sounds, and we don’t want to waste our options on multiple fuzzes. However, there is a big argument for the Pro-co RAT being the ideal drive for Dave’s sound. You gun this pedal, you get creamy sweet fuzz like leads and sustain, very Comfortably Numb, very Echoes. But then, if you dial it back,
you can get some classic overdrive sounds. Which is often overlooked when trying to sound like Dave. Think about Shine On You Crazy Diamond, that’s not a big drive sound, it’s a classic blues sound that has some bite when you dig in, and fuzz can’t really do that very well. I’m not saying this drive will suit everyone, it polarizes users because it takes some learning to get it sounding nice, and there’s argument that a fuzz (specifically the new EHX triangle mini range) would get you closer to Dave’s classic sound quicker and easier. But personally I think over time you’d get more enjoyment out of the RAT. Its also a great rock pedal in general, so bonus!
Dan’s Pick No.2: MXR Univibe (£130)
Again, modulation was a tricky one to decide on. No one loves modulation pedals more than me, but if you’ve only got five pedals then you kind of have to condense your modulation down into one pedal. Especially considering we’ve not looked at delays, or any of the other space like sound scape options that you need for Dave’s sound. I’ve chosen the Univibe for one reason, and I’ve said this before, I don’t really know what it is. Is it a phaser? Is it chorus? We’ll never know. But Dave used both of those kinds of pedals and
this univibe does a really great job of giving you both sides of the coin, and then a free third side of this weird coin I’ve just made up that does univibe.
Also, lets be honest, everyone who’s trying to sound like Dave is going to want to play the Shine On You Crazy Diamond riff a hundred times over. And this pedal seems to get me the closest whilst still offering other tones for different sides of Dave’s playing. It’s also the best type of modulation pedal for psychedelic soloing, because it adds guitar tone without getting in the way. There are other options for this pedal I’ll admit that, but personally I think you’d be happier with this.
Dan’s Pick No.3/4: TC Electronic Flashback 2 (£98)/ EHX Memory Toy (£84)
When deciding on Dave’s delay, or Davelay as no one calls it. We had to consider a couple of things. You need a delay that offers you classic analogue sounds and can also do cool feedback stuff, but you also need some lush sounding delays with chorus and a digital edge. Sadly, there isn’t a pedal like that in existence to my knowledge. And if there is, neither
you nor I could afford it. However, for a total of £174, which we can all agree is pretty cheap in the modern delay market, you can buy two delays that not only fill those desired needs, but also offer a lot more. With the Memory Toy, it’s just a simple version of the classic memory man at a great price, and will do all the cool feedback stuff you’d ever need. But throw in the Flashback two, and suddenly you’ve got anywhere from super modern digital delay, to classic 2290 chorus-y delay, and even some old school tape sounding ones too! Also stacking delays is a classic Gilmour move, or Gilmove (I’ll stop with these puns now) and there genuinely isn’t a better way to kill three hours than by stacking two different delays and seeing what happens. If you wanna save money here, just get the Flashback. It won’t do analogue sounds as well but it offers more options and functionality, especially with the tone print functions. But if you’re a legend you’ll get both.
Dan’s Pick No.5: Ernie Ball Vp-Jr Volume Pedal (£88)
Volume pedals are a tricky one to sell to someone if they’ve never owned one before. They fall into the category of the not fun but necessary pedals, like buying a power supply. Its essential to your pedal-board, but no one is thrilled when it arrives in the post. Thing is, to create classic Floyd-esque soundscapes, you’re going to need a volume pedal. There’s gonna be some people out there who will say “Hey man, just use your volume pot for swells its exactly the same” and it isn’t. It’s harder, and restricting. Using a volume pedal will not only give your better swells and more control, it also frees up your hands so you can do more as you’re swelling. The Ernie Ball volume pedal series is basically the industry standard these days; you see them on basically every board on every rig rundown, so why go against the grain. I know that’s not a very Pink Floyd approach but hey, welcome to the machine. If you want to improve the quality of your tone you can buy the one up from this one that includes a 250k pot, which improves your signal passing through it, somehow. But for all you bedroom warriors I doubt you’ll need to worry about that.
By Dan Tredgold
Tips to Learn Songs Faster On Guitar
So you’ve been practicing and working hard on your instrument. The hours you’ve invested into mastering your craft are starting to pay off and you’ve decide to take the plunge and learn that song you’ve always dreamt of being able to play. However, you might find that despite your new found skills, you still run in to difficulties. There might be a specific section that trips you up, the structure might be confusing and you’re running out of patience. Don’t dismay though, we’ve all been there and sometimes all you need to do is take a different approach. In this article we’re going to explore some techniques to help you overcome these obstacles and hopefully give you the breakthrough that you need!
I know this might seem obvious, but listening to the song you’re trying to master is key to success. I don’t mean putting it on while doing the dishes or fighting through the crowds whilst commuting, I’m talking about active listening. Active listening is when you are solely focused on what is happening in the song. Before you even sit down at your instrument, find somewhere quiet where you can listen to the music without any external distractions and can really absorb the music. Listen to all the melodies, not just on the instrument that you play but within all aspects of the song. Hear how the instruments communicate with each other, familiarise yourself with the groove, listen to the vocals and lead lines carefully, taking note of how they change from section to section. The idea is to memorise all aspects of the song until you know what happens in each part without having to listen to the actual song. Once you are confident that you know the song like the back of your hand, then it is time to sit with your instrument and start learning. Doing this is going to save a lot of time having to go back and check if you are playing certain parts right because you know exactly what its supposed to sound like. You will be able to use your musical ear more accurately and be familiar with the structure and melodies, thus playing with more confidence.
Break It Down
With some exceptions, most songs are built up of repeating sections or progressions that make up the structure of the music. It might be difficult to hear when listening to the song as a whole, but due to the mathematical nature of how music is created, certain patterns start to emerge that you can use to break down the song and can change your perspective on how difficult a piece is to learn. Let’s take the classic ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis and dissect the structure.
(Oasis – Wonderwall)
At first glance this might look like a lot of sections to learn and follow, but you might just find that some of these sections are exact repeats of previous ones. For example, all the Verses are made up of the same chords, same goes with the Chorus and the Bridge. You’ll also find that the Intro uses the same chords as the Verses and the Outro uses the same chords as the Chorus. So what we can do is identify different progressions in the song and assign them a letter. If we use A for the progression used in the Intro and Verses, B for the progression used in the Bridge and C for the progression in the Chorus and Outro then the structure of the song starts to look a little bit like this.
A – Intro
A – Verse 1
A – Verse 2
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
A – Verse 3
B – Bridge
C – Chorus
C – Outro
Here we can see that this song is actually only made up of three differing sections, all we have to do is arrange them in the right order. By looking at songs in this way it breaks them down into a more manageable structure and definitely makes things look less daunting. So try and find these patterns and see how they arrange themselves in the songs you want to learn. Learn each section independently then work on stitching them together in the right order. This will create you a basic framework from which to work from and help you on your way to playing the song through from start to finish. Once you have a firm grasp of the different sections, then you can go back and start adding in extra details like chord inversions or extensions that will bring the song to life.
Isolate The Difficult Parts
In my experience, I have found that there is often one section in a song that you find more difficult than the rest. It can be incredibly frustrating every time you get to that bit and your playing falls apart, knocking your confidence for the rest of the song. In these scenarios, I find it best to isolate the difficult sections and practice it in detail. Slow down the tempo and repeat the difficult part until you can play it accurately and confidently at a slower pace. Once you are nailing it every time, slowly increase the tempo until it flows naturally at the original tempo. If you’re feeling dedicated, increase the tempo further than the original song until you can play it faster, then when you come to putting it back into context at the original tempo, you will be able to play the section with more confidence!
I find myself using this point a lot when writing about music in general, but genuinely this is crucial to progressing as a musician. Be patient with yourself and don’t be disheartened if you can’t play things perfectly first time. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ resonates for a reason, it takes time and repetition to master an instrument. So if you find yourself getting annoyed or disheartened when learning songs, take a step back, have a break or work on something else. Getting annoyed at yourself is totally counter-productive and will only hinder your progress.
I hope these tips help you overcome any obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your musical goals. It’s human nature to try and push yourself hard when learning anything, but pushing yourself too hard can be detrimental to your confidence and your playing. Don’t run before you can walk, break things down into manageable sections and practice in detail. Taking your time to learn things properly is going to save you from beating yourself up if you can’t play it quite right just yet!
Practice tips for guitar
Practise Practise Practise! That’s the advice given to us by countless teachers, parents and other musicians to reach our goals, and it’s correct. But it’s often difficult to know how to divide our time efficiently when we practise and what we need to do to improve and make the most of our time. So I hope this article helps anyone out there that needs some guidance on effective techniques and time management.
Practise tips for the burgeoning Musician
How and what we practise is much more important than the amount of time we dedicate to it. Now I’m not saying that playing for hours and hours a day is meaningless, if you can do it and be efficient with your time then you will obviously see more rapid improvement in your playing, but spending hours a day just noodling will not be as efficient as spending one hour a day onquality practice.
Simple and Powerful Guitar Practice Tips
Whenever possible learn only what is useful to you and has relevance to you now or in the foreseeable future. Can you see yourself using this information in a months time and it will benefit your playing now? If the answer is yes then practise it, if the answer is no, then find a technique, scale, chord or whatever that will be useful to you now and learn that. The more relevant the information is the more your brain will remember it. Know what you are playing and why you want to play it.
How long should I practise for? Great question! The answer is whatever you’re comfortable with. For some this will be hours, for others it’ll be thirty minutes. Dedicating approximately the same amount of time to sit down with your guitar everyday will see you reap the rewards. So forty minutes six days a week is better than four hours on a Monday followed by five days off! Doing the latter will result in your brain forgetting what you did on the Monday and you having to relearn that material again.
Tips to Boost Your Practice Session
Variation is key as it’ll stop boredom creeping in by playing the same thing everyday. Change your routine to keep things fresh. If you studied major seven chords on Monday, why not look at minor seven chords on the Tuesday. You played Blues licks on the Wednesday, try out some Country licks on the Thursday. Remember, find out what works best for you and stick to it and try and dedicate the same amount of time each day to specific areas of your playing.
There’s no hard and fast rules! As long as you’re learning material that you’ll use, is relevant to you and your growth as a guitarist and you’re consistent, then you’re doing the right thing.
Learning is a treasure that will follow it’s owner everywhere – ancient Chinese proverb
When it comes to picking on the guitar, there are a wide variety of techniques at our disposal to achieve the effect we’re looking for. Certain picking techniques suit specific genres and others can be applied pretty much across the board. It can be easy to get caught up learning the actual notes and phrases that we forget how crucial our picking is to playing them. Discovering new picking techniques can really open new doors in terms of what you are capable of playing and will improve the co-ordination between your picking and fret hand. So read on to find out about some of these techniques, how to use them and where you can expect to find them!
Alternate picking is probably the most commonly used of all the techniques, so a good place to start if you’re finding out for the first time. As the name suggests, it requires using the pick to strike the string in an ‘up, down, up, down’ fashion. When you get proficient at alternate picking it can be used to achieve great speed and accuracy. It lends itself to pretty much every style of playing due to its simple and effective nature, but gets notoriety from its ability to produce lightening fast scale runs and shredding solos in metal and rock genres. It’s bread and butter for any budding shred head.
If you know who Jason Becker is, then you will know what sweep picking is. If you don’t, go listen to ‘Altitudes’ and hear it in all its glory. To sweep pick is to strike the strings in a raking motion, playing each one in a fluid movement, like a strum but slightly slower and more controlled. This is usually accompanied by an arpeggio played on the fret hand outlining a chord shape, but releasing each note as it is played resulting in the notes sounding individually and yes… it is as difficult as it sounds. Sweep picking is widely recognised as an advanced technique and is usually mastered by those willing to sit in front of a metronome for hours on end, but once perfected it can sound incredibly impressive and is definitely worth the patience.
Learning how to finger-pick is a must for all guitarists. You simply can’t achieve the effect of playing multiple notes across different registers as easily with a plectrum. Learning to use all your fingers independently to pick the strings can take a while to master as it requires a lot of accuracy and dexterity, but is essential to playing certain styles of music, especially if you’re a fan of folk or country. Many people associate finger-picking with acoustic guitar but it can be highly effective on the electric too. Many famous Jazz guitarists use finger-picking as it works well for vamping chords and being able to separate tones accurately, which would ultimately be more difficult with a plectrum alone.
Hybrid picking is the combination of using a plectrum and the remaining three fingers on your picking hand at the same time. Again, another advanced technique, but when used effectively allows you to play patterns not possible with the pick alone. The general idea is to use the plectrum to play lines within the middle strings while the remaining three fingers can pick notes on the strings above, allowing you to play notes on different strings in quick succession. This is a really popular technique in country and blues styles, think of it as the benefits of finger-picking with the added clout of the pick.
Exactly what it says on the tin. Using exclusively downward strokes in your picking pattern. The downward motion really adds some beef to the resonance of the string and can add a driving momentum to your riffs. Rock and roll features a lot of this technique as it creates a more aggressive sound and often requires more attitude than accuracy. This technique can be made
even more effective when combined with some of the other techniques mentioned in this article as it creates a contrast in the timbre of the guitar.
The word tremolo is one to be familiar with in the guitar world, it pops up in all sorts of places: effects pedals, amps, guitar hardware and of course… picking. In its literal terms, it is defined as a shaking or vibrating sound achieved from repeating the same note or two notes in rapid succession. At its core, it’s a development of alternate picking, just using it on the same string at even but incredibly fast intervals. The result is a tremulous flurry of notes rolling one after the other which can give a really cool effect. Although it is one of the more obscure and less frequently used techniques, you can find it in a surprising amount of genres, from Rock and Metal to Country, Flamenco and even Banjo playing.
Muted Picking (a.k.a Palm Muting)
If you’ve been playing guitar for a little while now you will have more than likely come across palm muting. Even if you’re a beginner you will have definitely heard it somewhere. A well used technique in any guitarists arsenal, palm muting is a techniques that produces a very different sound from the guitar. It is achieved by resting the underside of the picking hand on the strings, thus dampening the resonance of the strings when you pick them. Rest on them too much and you will completely choke the notes, too little and you will probably get a nasty resonance with your notes, but get it just right and you can produce crunchy power chords and funky lead lines. The dampening of the string gives the notes a short sharp quality, which when combined with normally picked notes can add a whole new dimension to your playing and gives you more options when creating lines. Again, this is another cross genre technique and features heavily in Pop Rock, Punk to Funk and Jazz.
The real beauty with these picking techniques comes when you combine them into your playing and use them together. Each technique can create different moods and tones from the guitar so using them carefully can make your playing sound more varied and interesting. So have a practice through each technique and find the ones you really like and could see yourself using regularly. Listen to examples and start including them in your own playing. Picking is paramount to becoming an awesome guitarist. I was once told by an old tutor “a guitarist is only as good as his picking. If your picking sucks, your playing sucks” and I’m inclined to agree.
5 Pedals or Less: How to sound like Sonic Youth
Its funny what being branded a loser in high school has done for some of the most iconic Alt music in the game today, and the same can be said for pretty music all awkwardly cool music in existence too.
You don’t belong, you form a band because you think ‘hey they already hate me anyway so what’s the worst that can happen?’ and then you go on to write music that connects with every other person who felt like they didn’t belong too and become a superstar.
Now I don’t know for sure that the guys in Sonic Youth were branded losers in high school. Nor do I know basically anything about them other than their music. But hey, sometimes you just get a feeling.
What I do know is how to use pedals to sound like them. And fortunately that’s all I’m getting paid to do so I’m just gonna shut up and get on with it.
Before I get into pedals though, I need to mention some pre pedal gear you’ll need to do this right:
- Some kind of Fender amp. Ideally a Princeton, but anything with that classic jangle sound will do.
- A guitar with fender voiced Humbuckers, and if you can make it something Alt-y like a Jazzmaster so you look like a kool dude
Pedal 1: Boss CH-1 Super Chorus (£70)
Starting from the cleans and working up here. Sonic Youth like nearly every Alt band ever really liked using chorus, and why not? It sounds dope and when used properly doesn’t have to be a cheesy 80’s vibe (although I love that vibe so don’t you dare say bad word about it so help me god).
Thing is, in order to get the right chorus sound you need it to be on the budget side of the price point scale, but with enough sculpt-ability to get the right sound. Boom. CH-1. I’ve said it before I don’t wanna say it again, just buy it. Don’t be stupid.
Pedal 2: BOSS 59’ Bassman Pedal (£79-£114)
Ok, so couple things you need to consider when looking at the Sonic Youth drive sound. They tended to crank old amps to get a natural drive sound, then have another guitar with some kind of fuzz on it to get this marriage of old and new style gain. I don’t recommend cranking your fender amp up for gain, because like them, you’ll go deaf. What you can do however is buy pedals that recreate amp style gain like the BOSS 59’.
I chose this one purely because it’s the only one I’ve owned in this style of pedal and it works great. They’re quite hard to buy new these days but there are tons on Ebay. I know that’s a pain for some people but its not that hard to pick one up and all the other pedals coming out that do this type of thing either suck or cost £200 so you do the math.
Pedal 3: EHX Op-Amp Muff (£75)
Finishing off the drive section with, of course, a fuzz. Sonic Youth would sound a whole lot less angst-y without some good ole fuzz. Virtually every Alt band of note used the Op- Amp big muff in the 90’s (Smashing Pumpkins being the most noted) because of its stupidly high gain wall of fuzz sound. This reissue does a near perfect job and its small and £75. Sometimes it’s best to know a good thing when you see it and not mess with it.
Pedal 4: Way Huge Echo-Puss (£140)
Nearly there now. The flip side of Sonic Youth’s massive guitar sounds is their more delicate, almost ambient instrumentals that are scattered across their discography. So in order to do that you’ll need a delay, and ideally an analogue one.
I feel like the Echo-Puss always gets overlooked in the conversation of best analogue delays. To say that it’s a semi clone of the Memory man and the deluxe reissue by EHX costs £190 to its £140 (and sounds better IMO) it baffles me so few know or use it. But anyway I’m getting off the point, it’s a great sounding delay, the modulation on it is peng (trendy kid words) and it’ll do anything from lush delays, to ambient delays, to fuzzy distorted soundscapes. You really can’t go wrong with this one.
Amplifiers: What do all the controls do?
Amplifiers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a variety of whizzes and bangs to play with on your quest for the perfect tone, others are fairly straight forward and opt to include a limited amount of features, instead relying on the tone from the speakers and electronics. So for beginner guitarists it can often be a confusing experience and full of terminology that isn’t familiar. In this article I’m going to put some of these features into a little bit of context for you by explaining what they are, what they do and how to get the best out of them!
Master Volume or Volume
You would assume that this one would be self-explanatory, however there are some exceptions where one could run into confusion. In a nutshell, the Master Volume controls the overall loudness of the amp. It sits at the end of all the other components in your chain and raises them all together thus not affecting the components individually. Sometimes you may have a Master Volume control and two Volume controls, which usually means that your amp has two channels (the ability to switch between two sounds, for example, clean vs distortion). In this instance the Master Volume controls the output of the overall amp and the other two Volume controls adjust the loudness of the individual channels, allowing you to have one channel a different volume than the other.
Gain (a.k.a Drive)
This a good opportunity to quash a common misconception. Gain is not the same as Volume!
It actually controls how hard you are driving your amp and alters the tone of the guitar. The more gain you apply, the more distorted and dirty the sound will be. This can sound like it is making the guitar louder, which is where the misunderstanding comes from, but it’s actually just sending more of the electrical signal through your amplifier, which drives a more powerful sound through the speaker causing the sound to distort. So you can crank your gain up high but keep your amp really quiet by keeping the Master Volume low.
Equaliser or EQ (Bass/Middle/Treble)
If you have owned a stereo in your time, you may have come across Equalisers before and when it comes to guitar amps there isn’t a whole lot of difference. The most common of Equalisers on a guitar amp is called a 3-band EQ and consists of Bass/Middle/Treble (sometimes Low/Mid/High). These controls alter the frequencies that are produced from the amp across the spectrum of your sound. The bass controls how many low and deep frequencies come through, the higher you have the bass control, the more bass your sound has and vice versa. The Treble control works in the same way but adjusts the higher pitched frequencies, again the higher you have the Treble control the more high frequencies you’ll hear in your tone. And finally… the Middle control (as you’ve probably guessed by now) affects everything in between. On some bigger and more complicated amps you may even have a 5-band EQ, but this just means you have more points across the frequency spectrum to manipulate allowing you to be more detailed in your Equalisation choices. The best thing to do is experiment with the Equaliser, push it to its extremes so you can hear the differences and work back to find the tone that best suits your playing.
Not every amplifier has a presence control, so it’s function isn’t common knowledge. In simple terms, it’s an extension of the Equaliser and adds upper-mid to high frequencies to your tone. The reason for doing so is that it boosts the guitar through the mix of other instruments, in theory making your sound more present to the audience, hence the name. This can be a really useful tool if you’re lucky enough to have one on your amp and can really make the difference in having a guitar tone that stands out. If you don’t have one don’t fear, use your existing EQ to boost your mid and high frequency a little more than usual, this can produce a similar effect.
Reverb (or reverberation) is an added ambience created by the environment of where the sound was created and occurs due to lots of small reflections bouncing around said environment in fast succession. In guitar amps you will usually have one of two types of reverbs: an analog or a digital one. Analog reverbs usually have a physical spring or metal plates built into the amplifier that conduct the electrical signal sent from the guitar and react by vibrating, simulating the reverb effect. Digital reverb is an emulation of this effect through computer simulation. Both methods can create some really interesting sounds and many guitarists usually swear by one or the other. Although I think we can all agree that any kind of reverb can really improve your guitar tone.
Delay is found mainly on modern amps. It’s a digital effect that consists of a storage medium that records the signal that goes into the amp and plays it back repeatedly, creating the effect of a decaying echo. You can manipulate the speed of the repetitions using the tempo control which is often accompanied with a ‘tap’ button which allows you to set the speed of the delay to the music you’re playing. Other parameters that you are able to alter are the depth (sometimes displayed as Dry/Wet: like 1 to 10 where dry means no effect at all and wet being saturated) which alters how much of the effect is on your tone. Feedback is how long the delay lasts for and how many repetitions you can hear. You can create some really unique sounds using delays and can create some fantastic detail into your riffs.
Ultimately, I’ve always found the best way to understand how each of these components work is to sit and play with them. Experiment with different settings and listen in detail to what is happening to the sound of your guitar, learn what sounds terrible and don’t be scared to make some noise! It could be argued that the amplifier is the most important component in any guitar chain (apart from you of course) because it’s responsible for projecting the sound. So having a good understanding of how to use it is only going to make you sound even better.