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!
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.
R.I.P. Charles Edward Anderson, AKA ‘Chuck’ Berry (1926-2017).
To say that Chuck’s guitar playing was an influence on mine would be to do him quite a large injustice – he influenced everyone!
Building on the foundations of the early blues and jazz single-line players (such as T-Bone Walker, for one), and making great use of double-stops (two notes played at once throughout a phrase) to emulate the horn sections of larger bands, Chuck Berry created rock’n’roll as well know it today.
I could have picked any number of Berry’s songs to share here, but opted for ‘You Never Can Tell’. Best known from it’s inclusion in Pulp Fiction, I sang this tune with Switch as a first dance request for one of our wedding gigs last year. Great fun & a guaranteed floor-filler whenever we’ve played it since…
The live version by Berry & band in the video above below features some pretty cool soloing by the big man (not featured on the original 45rpm recording). Enjoy! x
It’s been almost two years since the last post running through all of my gear (which you can read here), and a lot has changed since then! Time for an update…
What’s the same?
First off, my blue/purple Strat is still my main weapon of choice (pictured, below).
Known as the Standard Stratocaster HSS, this Mexican made beauty has been with me for sixteen years now. A few years ago, I upgraded the pickups to:
- Fender Vintage Noiseless (neck)
- Seymour Duncan Cool Rails (middle)
- Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker (bridge)
I love the combination of these pickups, not to mention their individual tones. I’m buying a new ‘fat Strat’ soon (expect a review to follow) and should I find the standard pickups somewhat lacking in quality, I’ll be replacing them with the same choices mentioned above.
What else has remained the same?
My acoustics – the Taylor 314ce, Admira classical and Tanglewood electro acoustic – are the same as before. My ukulele is a standard concert model by Kauai.
Most of my pedals have remained the same but here’s a quick rundown of my main stompboxes:
- Joyo Vintage Overdrive (highly recommended!)
- HotOne Boost
- Boss OD3 (overdrive) & DS1 (distortion)
- Marshall Bluesbreaker overdrive
- Snarling Dogs Wah
- Joyo Digital Delay
I have a pedal board to house all of these. However, I often simply take two or three pedals out to a gig without the board. This changes from gig to gig, but looking back through the pics on my Twitter account, I find the Joyo Vintage OD (a top quality tubescreamer clone for a fraction of the price) usually makes an appearance.
So what’s new?
My current second Strat is a Chinese made Modern Player Stratocaster. Interestingly, it is short scale (24 inches instead of the usual 25.5). Apart from being a feet shorter on the neck (only twenty) you barely notice when playing, though the body is a little smaller. In terms of sound, the pickups on this are classic Strat and I love the Guild humbucker in the bridge – the chrome looks really cool against the scratch plate (see pic below, sun best guitar on the left)!
Finally, I also own an Epiphone Les Paul plus top PRO. The main difference between this and the standard Epi LP is that both the top quality pickups are coil-tapped. They’re also uncovered, which looks very funky against the gold finish (see pic, below).
When I bought this guitar, I thought I’d be using it with bands in the heavier end of the rock spectrum. However, I’ve found myself using it more & more for blues & jazz gigs. It was my main guitar for my blues workshops at the Sage Gateshead this summer, and provided those early blues times perfectly.
I’ve finally bowed to the inevitable and invested in a digital amp. I’m glad I waited, because evidently Fender did too. The first wave of modelling amps were full of lags & bugs. By waiting, Fender’s first foray into the genre ensured they got it right first time. Even then, they were minor bugs, quickly improved in the line of amps released when I started looking – and now I’m a very happy owner of a Mustang III version 2 (pictured below).
This has every amp option you can think of, as well as every effect you’ll ever need. I prefer to keep my overdrive stompboxes, which frees up the amp to add modulation effects (such as phaser or their wonderful chorus choices). There’s room for a hundred saved channels, which is more than I need but useful to have. Also, their pitch-shift effect allows me to down tune the entire guitar without the need to, well, actually down tune the guitar! Very cool!
Well… I’ve just today ordered a Fender HSH Strat, so expect a review when that arrives. I’m also quite keen to look at a few more pedals from Joyo. Watch this space.
Until next time…
I’ve been asked about the gear I use a fair few times this year so while I have a little spare time today, I thought I’d share with you details of the regular equipment I use.
My main guitars (which go out on every electric guitar gig) are both Mexican ‘Fat Strats’ by Fender. Both are made of Alder and feature Rosewood fingerboards.
The spare (my black one) was bought from the USA already customised, with humbucker in the bridge position and one master tone control. Where the second tome used to be is now a three-way toggle to split the humbucker to either half on their own or fully combined, which works brilliantly for acoustic simulation (and a lot less hassle than lugging an acoustic guitar about for one or two tunes!).
The main (blue one, pictured) is a Mexican ‘fat’ Strat (humbucker in the bridge). A few years back, I upgraded all three of the pickups. The bridge now houses a Seymour Duncan J-45 (usually used in Les Pauls) which gives a delightfully ‘throaty’ but open overdriven sound. The middle pickup is a Seymour Duncan ‘Cool Rails’ – but don’t let the name fool you – this packs a wonderfully modern-sounding punch and effectively gives me a humbucker in the middle position. Plus, switching to the position between bridge and middle gives an amazing ‘quack’ sound that cuts through a full band mix brilliantly when both clean and driven. The neck is a Fender Vintage Noiseless. This is my only single coil on the guitar and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the ‘pout’ you get from the Strat’s neck pickup and would never sacrifice what is my all-time favourite guitar tone for a little extra power.
AMPS AND EFFECTS PEDALS
My electric amp is a ten+ year old Fender Stage 100. They don’t make these any more but are without a shadow of a doubt the best transistor amplifier out there. I gig far too much to deal with the unreliability of valve amps and with one this good (and thanks to the 12″ Celestion ‘Greenback’ speaker, an amp this LOUD) I hopefully never need to. It’s been serviced twice in all of the time I’ve had it (since new) and works a real treat.
Should I ever upgrade, I have heard good things about Fender’s digital range and tried out a Roland 80 Cube last year. While the Cube impressed me a lot, it only had two switchable channels, and I’m rather spoilt by having the option of an additional drive channel with my amp, so looks like I’m sticking with it for now.
I don’t use many effects but rely on a BOSS OD3 as a solo boost (or occasionally as an ‘additional overdrive channel’ when I need a different sound to my amp.
My main solo boost pedal is a rather cheap and relatively unknown make, called a ‘Vintage Overdrive’ (JF-01) by Joyo Pedals. Joyo are a Chinese company and this pedal features the same chip inside as the classic TS-808 Tube Screamer. Put simply, it sounds amazing for lead work. I cannot recommend this pedal highly enough (and it costs less than £30 – you may as well buy two so you have a spare handy)!
My other effects are a Digital Delay (another wonderful Joyo creation) and a Cry Baby Wah-Wah.
Classical: Admira Sevilla.
Higher-level ‘student’ model with a solid Cedar top. One of the most beautiful-sounding guitars I have played in this price range, and my nylon-strung axe of choice for solo classical gigs.
Electro-Acoustic: Taylor 314CE.
I first tried out this guitar over ten years ago, then shopped around for SIX MONTHS for another guitar which felt so comfortable and natural under the fingers, not to mention sound anywhere near as good. I failed, and eventually had to stump up the extra cash to buy the Taylor. It was money very well spent. Taylor’s range is extensive and I seriously suggest you try one out – they will have something which suits you, particularly if your style is heavily folk/fingerstyle based.
The gear I use has seen me through countless gigs, concerts and studio sessions with very few problems all in all. That said, if anyone has equipment out there that they feel would suit me (I play a huge range of styles) please do get in touch – I will happily borrow a guitar/amp for a weekend or two and put it through it’s paces at a few gigs, then review for you. My reviews appears on this blog, but will also happily write (or edit the blog to suit) for other gear/guitar review sites, as well as your own media. Get in touch via the blog or find me on Twitter (@tim_guitarist) to discuss!