Monday, 29 April 2013

The Guitar Diaries Part 12: Epiphone J-200 (November 2011 – Present)

For a very long time I’d wanted to get an Epiphone J-200. A genuine Gibson would be too expensive, but my previous experience with Epiphones had been very positive, so I didn’t really have a problem getting the cheaper version. Also, I didn’t have serious designs on being an acoustic guitarist.

Late 2011 I’d decided to do some proper recordings of the songs I demoed back in the 2005-06 period, which needed an acoustic guitar. Having got rid of the awful Manhattan the previous year, I took the plunge on the Epiphone. Although electro versions are available, I find piezo pickups to be a bit plasticky in sound, so I got the regular version and miked it up instead.

I’m pleased with the guitar I guess, it does all I ask. However, it doesn’t feel as good as the Korean J-200s did around 2003. I do get a nice sound of it when I record it and I’ll be keeping it unless I suddenly decide to get something more expensive to replace it. I don’t write songs on acoustic and I don’t really play it much for pleasure, so it just does what I want it to.

The Guitar Diaries Part 11: Fender Roadhouse Stratocaster MIM (April 2010 – May 2013)

Apart from briefly (for an hour) considering chopping in the Gibson for a Lone Star Strat in the early Penguin Steak day, I’d never seriously considered going back to Fender. That changed in April 2010.

I’d been listening to The Eagles and a compilation called American Heartbeat, and thought it might be worthwhile getting a third guitar, especially after hearing some of Joe Walsh’s work on Hotel California. I picked this on up for a cool £310 on eBay. I specifically wanted the Roadhouse because of its twangier Texas special pickups.

What I do like about Fenders is that they’re very utilitarian and workmanlike. You can throw them around a bit and mistreat them. They don’t require any special handling and with 5 pickup combinations there’s a lot of sounds in there. Because I attached no real value to this guitar, I had it out all of the time so it was the go-to axe, while the Gibson and The Rickenbacker stayed in their cases.

Then in March 2013 something rather serendipitous happened. For the sake of just playing something, I re-recorded an old song of mine one afternoon with the Strat. It just wasn’t sounding right though, and I wasn’t getting the same feeling. In a moment of pique I got the Les Paul out of the case and used that instead. Everything fell into place. The next day I got into a serious songwriting groove on my old Les Paul. Shortly afterwards I looked back on the last three years of Strat ownership and decided I’d achieved very little, felt inspired to continue using it even less, and that I would sell it when I returned from my 2 month job in India. Out of the blue, I was contacted by the guy who sold the guitar to the guy I bought it off – he wanted to buy it back and offered me the same price I paid for it. At the time of writing, I’m still India, but I’m fairly sure he’ll make good on his promise when I’m back, and I’ll probably use the money to buy a studio compressor.

The Guitar Diaries Part 10: Rickenbacker 330/6 (September 2005 – Present)

I’d been flirting with the idea of getting a Rickenbacker for many years. I’d even tried out a 330/12 five years before and thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard.  In 2004 I’d made serious enquiries about getting a 360/12 but it was just a little too expensive. Then in 2005 I had a little spare cash, had begun to start writing and recording a lot, and thought the time was right to go ahead. Initially I had thought about getting a 330/12 and having it strung as a 6 string, but having made a few enquiries about this possibility on the Rickenbacker foum, it seemed that the flexibility would compromise the instrument a little too much. Although I love the sound of the 12 string, it seemed like I would be paying a lot of money for a niche instrument, so I decided to go with the 6.

I didn’t know what to expect from the Rickenbacker, I knew from the construction, wood and pickups it would sound a lot different to my Les Paul. I wanted to be open minded about it, and I was happy that it would give me a new range of sounds and influence me to play in a different style.

I was lucky enough to spot one on eBay in my city, with a collection only delivery option. I always pay special attention to collection only auctions on eBay, since they effectively limit the sale to whoever is willing to drive and pick it up. I went and took a look at it a couple of days before the auction ended – it played fine – and was then lucky enough to win it.

Rickenbackers are lauded for their ability to jangle, but I was determined to not be limited by that. The first few recordings I used it on, I found out that it was possible to actually get a really good blues tone from it, and it’s semi-hollow construction reminded me – slightly – of the sound from an ES-335, although brighter.

When I got the Rickenbacker I played it like a mad thing, and for several years it was the main guitar. As my tastes swung back a little to cleaner sounds and picking, the Les Paul was only bought out when I needed that specific sound. Because it doesn’t sustain as well as the Les Paul I found I needed to work the notes harder and this improved my technique. I think I reached an all-time high for technique in about 2006 from playing this guitar so much.

I found everything about this guitar perfect, a wonderful Fireglo finish; it always stays in tune and always feels so positive and bright in my hands. The neck feels just the right size and there’s good access all over the fretboard. The quality finish, the custom shop build quality… all Rickenbackers are quality instruments, and I have a lot of respect for the company itself, still family owned and operating in a sustainable and ethical way. You don’t need to worry about what year your Rickenbacker is from, they’ve always been build consistently well and they take their quality very seriously as the expense of greater profits and wider margins.

As I got into electronic music and using synthesizers from about late 2008 – 2012 it got used less, and when I the second Strat arrived I tended to have that out on the stands, and kept the Rickenbacker in its case for safe keeping. However, I do love this guitar and along with the Les Paul I will never part with it. I do lust after a couple more Rickenbackers, a 12 string (would need to try out several versions), and also a 4003 bass.

The Guitar Diares Part 9: Manhattan Acoustic (June 2004 – May 2010)

I can’t even remember why I bought it, I guess I must have decided I needed an acoustic guitar. However, this was a baleful instrument that didn’t even stay in tune properly, had nasty intonation and was not inspiring to play at all. I think I paid £80 so I should have known what to expect. I don’t think I ever used it on a finished recording, although I did possibly write a few songs on it (certainly Operation Nightfall and The First Day). I gave it to my friend’s daughter a few years back.

The Guitar Diaries Part 8: Peavey Milestone III Bass (February 2002 – Present)

Bass Player James left Penguin Steak in early 2002, and in this transitional period for the band, Gav and I decided to share bass duties. We went to the Rhythm House in Stoke and bought this Jazz-bass type instrument for a very cheap price - £100 I think and it was jointly owned until I left the band in 2004, then I bought out Gav’s half. We also lent it to Libby when she was our bass player.

This bass is a bit of an unsung hero, because I’ve used it on every recording (with a bass in it) since, and I’ve owned it now for 11 years. When I started to get very serious about recording in about 2005-06, I bought some Seymour Duncan Jazz Bass pickups for it and it improved the sound dramatically. It has a thin neck, so is easy to play, and the electronics work well enough so I’ve been able to get pretty much any sound I want from it. With the exception of the one Penguin Steak gig we played, it’s never been gigged so it’s in quite good condition, and I still use it today, with full confidence and with a little reverence at how long it’s been with me for. Doubt I’d ever get rid of it. Who would buy it now ?!

The Guitar Diaries Part 7: Epiphone SG Bass (September – October 2000)

Very few memories of this instrument, especially as I owned it for a very short time. It was cherry red and had one pickup. Didn’t sound as good as my P-Bass had, and it didn’t sound as good as my Les Paul with an octaver on it! Bought from the Academy of Sound, and sold one month later at a £20 loss to a nu-metal girl who wanted to give it to her boyfriend I think. Part of the ‘I’m quitting music’ rage I went into. I’d forgotten I had it until I really sat down to think about it.

The Guitar Diaries Part 6: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe (December 1998 – Present)

“Congratulations, you’ve passed your driving test” the examiner told me. ‘Will you be buying a car?”

“No, I’m going to buy a guitar”

I wonder how many guitars have been funded by student loans and grants? I went to university  - on a music technology course – thinking it would only be a matter of time before I met some illuminating people and started a band. Without realizing the implications I got my student grant (yep, you could still get them when I started uni) and a student loan and looked for what I could spend the money on. I actually wanted a Gibson Les Paul Custom Florentine, but when I found out I would only get the money in installments, (therefore I would not have the £2000 in one sitting) I picked up on a advert at university that another student had posted. I kept up the correspondence for two months and eventually went to collect the guitar in December.

I hadn’t realized the guitar was a Deluxe model, meaning that it had mini-humbuckers instead of full size ones, but I wasn’t particularly worried about that when I got it home. It looked cool, sounded great and that’s all that mattered. The guitar was slightly beat-up being 18 years old at that point, and although a Gold top, had a sunburst back and neck. The neck was very well worn and felt great.

Owning and playing this guitar really felt like coming home. When I began to play it I remember telling myself that there could be no more excuses for not playing well now I had a ‘Real Deal’ guitar. It was the little things that mattered, like how the volume and tone knobs actually seemed to do something when I played, and the tone… I could really tell this had great tone.

At the time I bought this guitar I’d been getting more and more into actual lead guitar as opposed to what I’d been copying from Britpop and U2, especially going from picking to bluesy type riffs and licks. The Les Paul Deluxe really pushed me further in that direction.

As I said in Part 3, it wasn’t long until I was playing this guitar all the time and the Riviera stayed in it’s case. I sold the Riviera, and until I bought my Rickenbacker 330 six years later, the Les Paul was my only six-string electric.

At long last, I was beginning to play with some other musicians. After the false start with the hair rock band in late ’99, in mid 2000 I answered an advert in Total Guitar for a band looking for a lead guitarist in Stoke. I met up with Wayne (Guitar) and Andy (bass) and played with them for about six months. Along with Jarv (Drummer) and Jackie (Singer) we played various classic rock tracks and some Alanis Morrisette. Although I’d joined as lead guitarist, it was pretty clear that Wayne was the better out of the two of us, so I stuck mainly to Rhythm, although we would occasionally just jam out, Especially a variation on Led Zeppelins ‘Girl With The Long Black Wavy Hair’. I still had my Marshall Stack at this point and it’s true what they say about pairing up a Les Paul and a Marshall – it’s a heavenly sound!

I think because of the impetuousness of youth (I was 20 at the time) I was getting bored of the band and wanted to do something on my own, especially doing original material instead of covers. Paul was a friend of mine from a part time job I used to have and we’d been talking a lot a bout wiring together, him as the singer and me as the guitarist. I left the band for that reason, and then Paul and I did nothing at all! That summer I bought a BOSS BR-8 Zip Disc recorder thinking that it would be the beginning of a creative phase. After maybe 2 months of fruitless noodling I got extremely frustrated and decided to quit music altogether! I sold the 8 Track, The Epi Bass I’d bought at that point, The Marshall stack through the classifieds at university. I even put the Les Paul for sale too, but fortunately no-one was interested at the price I put it at (I guess it was a little too expensive for most students).

My musical hiatus didn’t last too long, and in early 2001 I began the three-and-a-half year odyssey that was Penguin Steak. Initially we were just a jam band having fun, with my friend James on Bass and Andy on drums. We’d play 12 bar blues improvisations, just learning our instruments, before trying covers later. I used the Gibson all through this period and I think then more than ever it really began to feel like it was part of me. Great how that happens when you’re rehearsing twice a week. Eventually we gained Gav and then lost James and Andy, before finally picking up Mart in late 2002 and starting a year of recording and writing at his house. All this time I used the Les Paul, and right through 2004 when we became a rehearsing band again before we finally split up in November of that year.

When I got my Rickenbacker 330, the Les Paul took a back seat although very recently I have been using it again, as I have a revival in my attitude to the guitar in general. Although it’s seen less use in the last 7 years or so I do love it very much. I’d have a hard time deciding which one I like more though, the Rickenbacker is possibly my slight favourite but I’d keep this if I had to sell one because it’s a very unique guitar and has been with me so long.

By early 2005 it was clear the Les Paul needed a re-fret. They were quite worn when I bought it, but by now some of them were just flat and it was getting difficult to play. I took it to the guitar doctor who had the guitar for 2 months while it was re-fretted. I was so glad to get it back! When I got it back, the guitar doctor told me that the guitar had originally been a sunburst (which explained the neck), but it had at some point been professionally refinished as a gold-top.

A few years later in 2009 I sanded off the Goldtop (it was quite chipped) and it currently is a natural blonde with a polished top (but not lacquered). For a few years I’ve been thinking about properly refinishing it, either with a clear lacquer or doing a faithful sunburst finish. I’m pretty handy with an airbrush, so I wouldn’t feel too worried about it. Only thing that prevents me is that I don’t think I want to be without the instrument for several weeks or even months while I do the work! While I do the work it would be a good opportunity to do some other things, like replace the bridge and the tuners which aren’t really keeping it in tune any more.