Other people show pictures of their kids. I go on about my three ‘workhorse’ gigging guitars…
Summer has ended, and with it wedding season. The number of gigs I’ve been playing each week is now returning to a level more compatible with two other jobs and a master’s degree. Now I have time to take stock and update you on my two new working guitars…
My previous Strat, one of the new Fender Made in Mexico Standards, featured coil-tapping on both the neck & bridge pickups. In my current function band, I found myself playing it almost exclusively in the single-coil setting. After years of having a humbucker in the bridge position, I finally fell in love with the classic single-coil Strat sound. As it turned out, the Mexican Strat’s neck didn’t feel quite right for me – a trifle too thick, certainly compared to the thinner, vintage feel of my favourite blue Strat (see ‘Gear Talk’ 1 & 2). At the same time, I’d read several reviews singing the praises of the top-end Squier models. It seemed that Squier were no longer solely the savvy choice for the beginner.
I’d been looking for two guitars which sound and feel similar enough to each other to make mid-gig changes much smoother. The weight and shape/feel of the neck needed to feel close to identical, while the sound had to match up as best as it could. I had also been hoping to use more budget-concious instruments – if the build quality was up to it – in order to retire my favourite blue Strat from regular function gigs. On paper, the squires seemed ideal, so I took the plunge and bought two varying models on a retro theme…
Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster
The rave reviews on the deluxe, Classic Vibe and new Vintage Modified lines claimed that many guitarists might well be fooled in a blindfold test with some of Fender’s classic guitars. Likewise, build quality and parts were considered by some to surpass the recent Mexican standards. With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Squier Vintage Modified Strat, finished in a quote lovely custard yellow colour they call Vintage Blonde.
The Vintage Modified range aims to replicate a vintage guitar that’s been retro-fitted with player upgrades. Here, that means Duncan-designed pickups, a better bridge than the entry-level Squiers, a thin, tinted neck and vintage style tuners for better stability. The pickups appear to be a slightly aged off-White, adding to the retro vibe. Best of all (in my opinion), it has the large headstock that Fender started using in the last sixties/early seventies, which is the most obvious nod to the past.
I really like the sound of this guitar. And that’s not compared to Squier’s Affinity range, but the Mexican standards. The basswood body is lighter, but it doesn’t have an obvious effect on either the sound or sustain if this guitar, even compared to my Blue Mexican. Likewise the feel, not to mention the incredible playability, of this guitar far exceed its humble price tag. This has become my main axe for function work. All I needed now was a similar beast to partner it with…
Classic Vibe Simon Neil Stratocaster
I’m going to come clean here and admit I’d never heard of Simon Neil. While I had heard of his band, Biffy Clyro, I couldn’t name or even recognise a single song of theirs, nor could I adequately describe their style. However, friends more clued up on this sort of thing than I am informed me they have a mix of street cred with a younger audience and play interesting, heavy rock music. The specs on this guitar imply that Mr Neil has good, and indeed similar, taste in guitars to me. While I wouldn’t normally buy a signature model (other than a Les Paul, naturally), seeing this guitar going for £200 second hand was too good an opportunity to pass up. Heck, if I didn’t like it, I could always sell it on.
This (now discontinued) guitar is essentially a budget-friendly version of the Fender Simon Neil signature model. Based on a ’62 Strat in gorgeous Fiesta Red, it certainly looks the part. The Mark Knophler/early Hank Marvin vibe in the aesthetic was enough to override any boggling doubts about the subtle Biffy Clyro logo on the headstock. The rosewood fingerboard is slightly lighter than expected, but sounds as warm and dark as you’d expect. As with the Vintage Modufied guitar, the bridge and tuners are an upgrade from those axes at the lower end of the Squier range, and the overall build quality feels like another great job from their Chinese factory. The pickups are a custom mix of Alcino 3 and 5 magnets, which offer up a delightful blend of early and late 60’s Strat tones in one guitar. Very nice!
Having played this guitar for a couple of weeks now, I feel it’s here to stay. I’m currently setting it up so it’s gig-ready, as the action on the two guitars wasn’t quite matching up. There is a slight difference in the sound, particularly when overdriven, but it’s close enough to be complimentary. Other than that, and the obvious differences in finish, these guitars feel the same in my hands and under my fingers, which is exactly what I was looking for.
Finally, even though I never thought I’d say this, I encourage you to give Squier (and indeed other budget models) a go before spending all your money on the top-end guitar brands. Now, more than ever, you may well find the difference is that you’re paying extra for the name. All in, these two new guitars cost less than one New Mexican standard, and for what I need as a working musician, they do the job exceedingly well. Join us, and you too can live the two Squier dream onstage!
I’m writing too many of these. Am I nostalgic? Or was there a truly golden period, filled with stars who so much that their passing inspires grief in even the most removed and passive music fan?
This morning, I leaned of the Glen Campbell’s passing. He was 81 and has only recently retired from performing following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011.
Beyond the country-pop hits Campbell enjoyed in his long career (‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ to ‘Gentle On My Mind’, as well as the classic ‘Wichita Lineman’, in the video below), he was also an accomplished session guitarist.
Campbell’s early influences included gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt and one of my own guitar heroes, session guitarist Barney Kessel. Campbell’s career would see him in the same first-call bank of musicians as Kessel (now referred to as ‘The Wrecking Crew’ – I highly recommend you read up on these amazing musicians and the inumeroua hits they helped to create). In this role he performed on records by Phil Spector, The Monkees, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and countless others. In fact, he was the live replacement in The Beach Boys for Brian Wilson, who was not up to touring by the mid-sixties.
Aside from and indeed above his beautiful singing voice, I will remember Campbell as a highly versatile and talented guitar player. I hope you enjoy the video below.
R.I.P. Glen Travis Campbell (1936-2017).
Good afternoon, all!
I’ve been working on new music for my debut jazz ensemble. That is, one in my own name, playing all of my own compositions. With everything else going on, progress is slow but steady, not to mention home to some unexpected plot twists…
Amongst all of my recent editing & rewriting, I have revisited a piece originally intended for a very different setting: #6×5.
#6×5 is part of a larger multi movement minimalist work which is still in progress (you can read the original blog post here). However, in trying to find a suitable frantic, angular repeated motif for bass to play under a rapid drum break, a particular theme kept coming back. One which I’d heard before… And then it finally dawned on me that I’d already written the very part I was looking for!
Fast forward another week, and after several rewrites & edits, the original piece has all but vanished. What I am now left with is shaping up to be an amended version of #6×5 adapted for a small jazz ensemble.
The main elements remain – six motifs of five notes each. However, I have relaxed my own self-imposed rules regarding this composition. While I am aiming to only use notes from these six motifs, I have opted against using whole phrases in some places, meaning new lines come out of the old. Given the nature of how this piece has transformed from a minimalist piano miniture into a jazz ensemble number, I think the idea of new notes from old phrases is entirely appropriate!
Rehearsals with the new group will hopefully start soon so stay tuned for a video snipet of this new/old tune.
Why not try the same idea yourself? Go look back through your old drafts & notes for inspiration, and be prepared for the surprises which may jump out at you!
Until next time…
Been a while since my last post (several life-changing events recently – all positive!) but thought I’d post a new video from Switch.
For those new to my blog, Switch are my main function band at the moment. I’ve been their guitar player since the beginning of 2015, and we’ve performed at all manner of function & event in that time.
This medley was recorded last winter, but only recently uploaded by the band. It features three funk & soul songs, all of which are staples of the wedding/function band scene:
- Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Stevie Wonder)
- Never Too Much (Luther Vandross)
- Ain’t Nobody (Chaka Khan)
This medley showcases Switch’s full six-piece lineup of female vocals, bass, drums, keys, guitars & male backing vox (me), plus alto sax & female backing vox.
For my part in this recording, the guitar used was my Fender Modern Player Stratocaster (short scale model), DI’d direct into the studio desk. Recording took place at Nemix Studios in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. I must admit that I don’t know which ‘re-amp’ patches were used for my guitar tones, other than I requested a Fender Blackface/Deluxe style amp for the clean sound. Sorry there isn’t any more detail….
As always, let me know what you think. In case the video above does not play, you can access it on YouTube here.
The music world faced another sad loss with today’s news. Chris Cornell, lead singer and songwriter with three great rock bands, namely Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog & Audioslave, passed away on Wednesday.
In all of these groups his voice rings out & grabs your attention. The video in this post is one of Audioslave’s best songs, performed live.
Back in 2005, Audioslave were playing in Stockholm while I was visiting a friend there, and by chance I ended up catching their show. Cornell played Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ as a solo acoustic number, then followed on with ‘I Am The Highway’ in the same style as this video. It was a brilliant performance which I don’t expect to forget anytime soon.
Rest in peace, Chris Cornell (1964-2017).
This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.
This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!
If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.