A Diary by Sarah Louise Lambert

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Signatures

Signature endorsed musical gear is big business for many manufacturers. It isn’t just guitars and basses either, which get the endorsement treatment, there are signature amps, signature stomp boxes, even signature picks. Essentially they are copies of the kit used by famous artists who have tweaked it beyond the normal model.

A signature guitar may have different pick-ups than those found on a normal model, or it may simply be a certain colour.

One of PRS’s best selling guitars is the Bernie Marsden signature. Bernie Marsden, ex of Whitesnake, helped design the guitar, and insisted it would be available as an SE model only. This means it is made in Asia, rather than being a Custom model made in the USA. The price is kept down to around £500 and this probably determines it’s popularity.

Usually though, signature models are at the higher end of the price scale. All of the top priced Fender Stratocasters tend be endorsed models.

Another anomaly to this tradition is the Matt Bellamy signature guitar. Muse’s Matt Bellamy helps to design and plays guitars made by Hugh Manson, and they cost something like £4000. But he now has a signature guitar made by Cort Guitars. It looks pretty similar to the real thing, and both Manson and Bellamy helped in the project, the guitar even has Manson pick-ups… but it comes in at around £500.

You get some nice things on your cut price Bellamy which includes a Kill Switch, pressing this little button gives a stutter type effect as the pick-ups are turned off (killed). What you don’t get is the Kaoss Pad, which Bellamy is pretty well known for using. This gizmo when tapped or rubbed like a laptop mouse pad, creates what can only be described as “weird noises”… it can sample parts of what you’ve just played and repeat it back, or, most times it just seems to do it’s own thing. I guess it needs some practice to work out exactly what it does, as it seems to do something different each time it is touched. Actually to be fair, the Korg Mini Kaoss pad I tried out was attached to a very sexily named Ibanez RGKP6-WK, but it’s the same idea.

I watched a sales demo video for the Gus G signature amplifier made by Blackstar, based on their 200 watt head. All I could gather was that Ozzy Osbourne’s latest guitarist turns his amps to 10. Volume turned to 10, Gain turned to 10. That was pretty much it… it’s a standard 200 watt amp head turned to max… then he signs his name on it. Maybe I missed the tweaks…

Slash’s signature Wah pedal from Jim Dunlop has a slightly longer sweep than a normal model. When you put your foot on it and press down, it goes down a little further than normal, giving a slightly longer sweep of sound effect… a longer Waaaaaaaaaaaah if you will. People have been doing this for ages by taking the rubber bung off the pedal shaft, in fact that’s probably what Slash did way back in the day.

The Vox Joe Satriani Wah pedal is worth a look though, that is different… pricey but different. But a Wah is a Wah is a Wah Wah… They all go Wah Wah. Even my cheap and rather gorgeous Hell Babe Wah goes Wah Wah.

I guess the market for Signature gear is huge, and while people buy them, manufacturers will make them and find new muso’s to endorse. Personally, unless you’re in a tribute band, I don’t see the point. Playing guitar is about creating your own sound, not recreating somebody else’s…

 

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Thick or Thin

I was going to end my recent theme of blog posts… “buying your first guitar” with the last update. But. Somebody mentioned necks.

“You should mention necks! “Necks are important”!

Yes, I guess they are, and they are often overlooked when purchasing a first or early guitar… like I just did. So, let me put that right.

Guitar necks are not the same, they differ in length and thickness… They seem to have become thinner, as music fashion has changed over the years. Thin neck guitars are marketed as “fast”, fast to play and aimed at shredders. Making a guitar neck narrow or thin, essentially pushes the strings nearer to each other, and the close proximity of the strings aids finger speed.

A wider neck, as found on a Stratocaster, or some older Gibson’s, enables strings to be pushed or “bent” further, which is good if you plan on playing the Blues.

If you have big fat sausage fingers, you may find a thin narrow neck difficult to play, especially when playing chords. Of course, shredders tend not to play chords… but as a beginner, you probably will… so maybe a guitar with a fatter neck would be easier to learn on.

In reverse, people like me with small hands will find a fat neck a challenge.

Neck thickness is something to take into account when buying a first guitar, so try a few different guitars in your local shop before you buy one.

 

Two Tips To Spend A Grand

One of my “friends”… and the word is used very loosely 😀 latched on to my post about buying a first guitar. A short but very very significant discussion broke out. I asked him to write down his views, and with that done, I did a quick copy and paste jobby, and you can read what he has to say below…

Now, in this series of amazing musical advice, I move onwards and sideways to discuss “guitar teachers”.

I think I should point out at this very early stage, that I have never had a formal guitar lesson. I was going to at the outset of my guitar journey, but I never did. So… my knowledge of guitar lessons is pretty much non existent. I did have years of piano lessons, the choice of tuitor at the time not being in my tiny hands.

I will however give you some opinion on being tutored, as opposed to the alternative, which is, teaching yourself.

If you are going to play piano, take lessons from a formal competent teacher who can take you through your music exam grades. The sense of achievement and playing in front of your parents with all the other lil maestros is immense…

Playing guitar is a little different. Yes you can go through the grades like any other instrument, join Rockschool or whatever floats, but to crank out a few tunes or join a bar band and cover some Jimi … ain’t no need for no qualies!

You don’t even need to learn to read music, although, it helps if you can. But for those who can’t read music, there are “Tabs” which you can use instead, and they’re so easy peasey lemon squeezey to use.

So, with your new shiny guitar looking longingly at you, should you take a lesson or two?

If you are completely new to any instrument at all, a music virgin shall we say, then yes, a course of lessons would help you progress. So, who do you choose?

Guitar tutors are not all the same, there is no set formula which they work to, and there is no set level of competence either. With that in mind, it is worth having a chat to a few of them in your local area. You need to establish if you are going to get along on what is an important journey for you, and if you share a similar taste in music. After all, if you’re into Black Veil Brides, and your tutors guitar lessons revolve around Paul Simon’s greatest hits… your going to waste your money.

One advantage of having a live face to face tutor, is they give you homework to do. so by the time your next lesson is due, you will have at least learned something. I guess it gets you into a routine of actually picking the instrument up and playing it regularly.

The other alternative is YouTube, where you will find lots of free lessons, tips and advice. “Live” tutors will advise against using YouTube… which means it must be good… No?

If you’re into Blues, Rock, and Metal, then learn and practice the Pentatonic scales, Learn the Modes, and practice every day… practice every day for as long or as little as you can… every day practice!

OK… now onto my friends advice about buying a first guitar.

“I read about what you said about starting playing guitar. Your idea is about buying the cheapest beginner bat, that’s why so many newbs give up after a few weeks. 

“Anyone serious about learning for the first time they should prepare for an investment of at least £400-£500, buy a brand name like, Fender, Epi, Ibanez, Jackson, PRS there’s loads of them to choose from in that price range. Buy a nice one you can grow into, one that’s nice to hold and to look at. Guitars are like girls, good looking ones get picked up more”!!!

When you buy a nice guitar it’ll sound better too and be easier to play. Buy an old pallet and you’ll give up in under 2 weeks. Buy a nice one and you’ll either learn to play or a worst you’ll get most of your money back if you sell it on ebay.

I guess there is a thing or two to learn from that message. I fell into the buy a “Beginner Guitar” trap, and suggested the “cheapie cheep cheeps”. But hey, I still stand by what I said, especially if you are on a budget. The Epiphone Les Paul is an awesome deal for £140. It genuinely sounds amazing and feels good too.

The £400 price bracket is quite interesting. It is probably the beginning of the “serious guitar”, market, as stated above. £400 will definitely buy you a guitar you can “grow into”. There is one point which is very worth making, and one you may not be aware of. Many guitar “brand names” have their guitars made in China and now also in Indonesia… in other words, these huge factories will make guitars for lots of big names, in huge vast quantities… The guy who made your PRS SE could have also made your friends ESP.

So, with a budget of £1000 what would my friend and I buy if we were beginners buying our first electric guitar?

My Friend: I’d play it safe and get a Fender Stratocaster that’d set me back about £440. I’d amp it through a Marshall 5watt valve amp for about £390. I’d add a Wah pedal at about £70. Leads and picks £50. Fender and Marshall hold their price second hand if I gave up I’d get a chunk of the cash back.

Me: I would spend £399 of my Grand on a PRS SE Standard 24. Another £160 would buy me a Blackstar 40 watt amp .  I would have a huge £441 left to play with… I would buy a very useful tuner at £35 and a Cry Baby Wah Wah at £70. To get that “valve” sound from a solid state amplifier, I would also add a £50 Drive Pedal which would give me that over driven sound which my friends Marshall will naturally have in spades. Finally I would also need some leads and picks at £50 or so.

My friend spent £950 from his imaginary £1000, while I spent a mere £765 out of mine… both figures being rounded up.

His is a traditional Blues combination, as the Marshall 5 watt valve amp would sound very mellow and blues driven, and the Mexican made Stratocaster fits it nicely too. My choices are a little more modern, leaning a little more towards rock/metal. The solid state Blackstar amplifier has a clean channel with built in effects… the crunch and distortion effects sound really dirty. At 40 watts, it is big enough to gig with too. The gain works well, but I added the drive pedal to give it the overdrive sound. The SE range of PRS guitars are made in Asia, but they have a quality finish and those humbuckers will sound really chunky.

So, that’s our choices… and we should add… other manufacturers are also available.

Wood and Stuff

I thought I would write a quick post about tone. Tone is the reason why you like a certain singer, or why you are a fan of a certain band. A recognisable sound, (sound being used as an alternative word for tone), is something singers and bands strive for. A distinctive sound makes them recognisable to an audience, and it’s the reason why many bands and singers sound repetitive… writing songs to a proven formula which doesn’t stray too far from a comfort zone.

We mere mortals who play for fun, or in some cases, those of us who play for “beer money” in bands, also strive for tone.

I once watched a YouTube about Robin Trower’s guitars and sound rig, and quite honestly the whole thing became like a lesson in forestry. We all known wood is important in creating guitar tone, but Robin worries about how big the headstock is on his Stratocaster. A big fat 70’s style Strat headstock adds to the overall resonance… apparently.

So how important is the type of wood used in an electric guitar, or is the tone all due to the pickups? After all, you could string a cricket bat and put a pick up on it and you’d get a tune.

Some would say, the type of wood used to manufacture any guitar is very important to the overall tone of the instrument. In fact, some say, the shape of the guitar, combined with the wood used, determines the tone more than the pick-ups used. For example, Gibson Les Paul models are renowned for their warmth and richness of sound, much is put down to the Humbucker double coil pick-ups used. Until you realise that some models, the “Special” and the “Junior” use single coil P90 pick-ups. Yet they still have that distinctive Les Paul sound.

Fender use single coil pick-ups in their Stratocaster and Telecaster models, yet the sound they produce is more “jangly” than the Gibsons using single coils. Therefore, tone is not just the electronics. Tone is designed by the type of wood used, the shape of the body, the wood used in the neck, and also the neck length. Perhaps then, Robin Trower is correct, in that, even the headstock size adds to the overall resonance.

My guitar looks like a Fender Stratocaster, yet it doesn’t sound like one. Probably because it never was one in the first place, as it was bought as a cheap copy. No Fender Alder wood would be found in the body construction, but a lamination of cheapness, hidden under a layer of black paint and lacquer. The tone in my guitar, after spending hundreds of pounds on modifications, is pretty unique. So tone can be bought at a price, it just depends on whether you think it is worth it.

Some guitar players use a whole rack of guitars in a live show. They will probably have their trademark favourite, but for certain songs they will use something different, perhaps for alternate tuning, or for a change in tone. I often wonder how many members of an audience notice. But that’s by the by, guitar players often become collectors and they love to show how many guitars your tickets have bought them.

If you are buying a new guitar, and the shop has one or two of the type you want, play them all. Try them all, as even the same guitars are never really the same, there will be variations in feel and sound. No two pieces of wood are identical.

Future Past

As Jeremy Corbyn wins a landslide victory to become leader of the Labour Party, it becomes clear that a huge amount of his support comes from sub 30 year olds. It is strange really, that so many young people should get behind a guy who is in his sunset years.

Now, I don’t think Corbyn would win a General Election, and become this counties political leader. I think he would need a broader and wider appeal to the middle masses to do that. But that doesn’t matter right now, as time will tell.

What has happened already, is we have now found out many Labour politicians share so closely the Conservative values, it’s hard to tell the difference between them. That is the problem with politics, and it’s the reason young people, up until now, haven’t voted in numbers. There is nothing to choose between, we feel disenfranchised. The choice, so far, has been full blown Conservative, slightly right of Conservative, or a teeny slice left… the choice is… basically the same.

Now, we may have full blown socialism to choose from too, perhaps it’s a niche market… but it might grow in size before the next time we vote. And yes… I am a Loony Leftist.

This post was intended to be about subversion in the media, but I decided to mention Corbyn, because most media outlets have misquoted him to create fear in we the public. It is blatant subversion. David Cameron…  our current Prime Minister, Tweeted… “The Labour Party is now a threat our national security, our economic security and your families security”.

Seems a little extreme, slightly irrational? No… it is totally calculated. You see Corbyn is a life long pacifist, therefore he would like to talk to people, or as they are otherwise known… the “terrorists” most other politicians would drop bombs on. By doing so, or even suggesting any talks, Corbyn threatens national security.

Corbyn would also axe Trident, the submarine based nuclear weapon, and with no Trident, our national security is at risk, or so Cameron says. See, Cameron isn’t stupid, he’s creating fear within us all… Well when I say “in us all”… I really mean in YOU. You the gullible… and you are many!

Nukes are now old technology… there are weapons which will bring Nukes down by turning metal into dust, and who is going to launch Nukes anyway? The whole idea is a joke, and the only reason we need Trident is to fulfill our NATO obligation.

Let’s face a fact or three… our army, navy and air force have been so depleted by Conservative cuts that our national security is already at threat. Are you frightened now?

Our present Government says the greatest threat to our country comes from terrorists. They would have to be in this country to be a threat, as they usually blow themselves up in a crowded area, don’t they? So what do we do? Send a submarine after them to Nuke them all? Down a tube station? Somehow, I don’t think that will happen… do you?

So, who are we going to Nuke? Is it… nobody? And who are we trying to deter from Nuking us? Is it still… nobody?

The weapons we would use in war, have all been cut to the bone. We have aircraft carriers which have no aircraft, we have a diminishing air force too. The army is served by a growing number of part time soldiers, which our Government tells us are every bit as good as professionals they replace… I think that’s a lie.

It’s Dads Army, the bank manager leading the Saturday soldiers, the undertaker and the butcher…

Yet the media dwells upon Trident.

The cheapest way of preventing war and terror is to talk to people… it costs nothing. Yet that is seen as not being an option… Why would that be?

Because nobody makes a financial profit from talking!

The Trinity

I thought I would write a few blog post updates, as it has been a while since the last one. This, the first, will deal with a few guitar related questions I have had.

The first question relates to starting to play guitar and what to buy.

Most people who decide to take up playing guitar, face a dilemma… “Should I buy an Acoustic or an Electric guitar”?

An acoustic is the cheapest guitar to buy, as new prices can be as low as £80 or £90 for a good make. Gibson using their Epiphone brand, and Fender using the Squire name, both make models in this price range.

Acoustic guitars are great fun, but if you love bands driven by electric guitars, an acoustic won’t sound like your fave guitar hero. In fact, playing an acoustic is very different from playing an electric… so much so, some people can play one, but not the other. The techniques are different. So if your future thoughts lie with an electric… Buy one now!

Obviously, if you are considering the purchase of an electric guitar, you will also need some method of hearing it. This means buying an amplifier, or downloading software for your phone or tablet, along with an interface like an iRig. You will also need a lead, a pick and some headphones… unless you live in a field… or on Mars.

Epiphone make some really amazing electric guitars for £139.00. The Les Paul Special has a great sound, really warm and rich, just like a Les Paul should sound. It lacks a bit of finesse and build quality, but as a starter guitar, it’s great value! The twin Humbucker pick-ups are very very good too, in fact, they are what you would buy one for!

Fender supply a Squire Stratocaster and a 15 watt amplifier as a package deal for £197… Now that is a Bargain! Of course, the Strat has single coils pick-ups as opposed to the Epiphones Humbuckers… the choice is yours. Hum or Less Hum, that is the question.

Ibanez make a couple of models in the £150 – £170 price bracket, and despite what some people say, Ibanez guitars do sound amazing, and the build quality standard is very high even at this price. They are well worth a look.

For amplification, small practice amps can be found for under £100. Blackstar make a 3 watt amp for a tiny £49.99 and a very nice 10 watt stereo amp for just £89.00. Marshall sell a 10 watt amp for £64.00… So, for around £200 you can have a nice electric guitar and an amplifier to plug it in to.

The next question is, Did you buy that Inbanez guitar? Answer… No I didn’t. I had a budget of £1000 to buy a guitar last year, now I have a little more, and I do intend to buy a guitar soon.

So, question three is… What guitar would you buy if money was no object?

Gibson and Fender live in a bubble where they keep their value. Other guitar manufacturers, for some reason simply don’t manage to do this. Despite not being in this unique bubble, PRS have probably joined the “big two” to make what somebody recently called, a “Holy Trinity”…

Personally, I wouldn’t spend a lot on a Fender, so my choice, later this year, will be between two guitars.

PRS (Paul Reed Smith) set out to make a quality guitar, and he did succeed in his quest in many respects. There is no doubting the quality of the finish, the minute attention to detail, or the gorgeous feel and balance of a high end PRS Custom.  PRS have also made this range a distinctive shape which is instantly recognizable as a brand shape. And it actually looks very nice too.

A PRS Custom will set me or you back around £2500… or more even. Let’s say, if we spend £2600 and we will have a lot of choice.

Gibson, for almost the same money, slightly less probably, offer the Les Paul Standard… Go to £3400 and you can buy the Custom Shop versions. I had a Gold Top Custom 1957… back in the day, although mine was second hand, and cost nowhere near £3 grand plus.

So, will it be a PRS Custom or Les Paul Standard?

There is something unique about a Les Paul and a Marshall amp. Plug a Les Paul into a Marshall, and without any effects, you get “that” sound. That warm, mellow howl… everyone hears it and they know it’s a Les Paul and a Marshall.

You don’t get that with a PRS.  A PRS sounds like a… well, it sounds like nothing. It just sounds like everything else on the market which has Humbucker pick-ups. In other words, a PRS does not have a distinctive sound of it’s own. I know PRS say they do, but my ears can’t distinguish any uniqueness.

Some say, that this is a good thing, because it gets away from the trademark tones of times gone by, and it delivers a modern sound which can be shaped by you… the player. They can be warm, and they can crunch too. PRS are easy to play, especially with the “pattern slim” necks which help fast fingers. They can be bluesy and they can shred…

Trad sound or enter a new era? We will wait and see!

OK, thanks for reading. Next time, I’m going back to disinformation in the media.

Bummed In The Bum

The Labour Party are in the wilderness at the moment, after being “bummed” at the General Election. Ed Miliband resigned after the thumping, and now a new leader is needed. So, who are the candidates?

There are four pretty uninspiring Fuckwits to choose from.

The front runner is Andy Burnham. Liverpool football fans have time for Andy, because he helped with the Hillsborough campaign. It is difficult to say anything bad about him after that, but I will… He is dull. Dull, dull, dull. Andy Burnham is as inspiring as a wet Monday morning.

Next, Yvette Cooper… she can’t give a straight answer to the simplest of questions. Like most politicians, she serves her own purpose.

Third… Liz Kendall, she was there to make the numbers up. Two isn’t a real contest you see, so they needed a dumb no hoper to make it three. Enter… Liz Kendall.

Four… Jeremy Corbyn made it late to the nomination party, and makes it a cozy foursome. Corbyn is an old fashioned left winger. His slogan is, “Oppose Austerity, Oppose Trident”… to be fair, that is a Non Statement. Opposing isn’t Stopping anything. Opposing is just moaning about things you don’t like. Corbyn doesn’t have a plan… he just likes to Oppose.

So, there we are. Four uninspiring bores, who hope to one day lead this country.

Labour do not learn from their mistakes, neither do they know who they are trying to represent. Without the Scottish vote they are in a wilderness, unless they retake “Middle England”, and “Middle England” isn’t interested in radical left wing values, as served up by Jeremy Corbyn. Tony Blair and his cronies of the day, had to ditch most of their “left wing beliefs” to get into power in 1997 with a re-branded, modernised “New Labour”

Yvette Cooper carries too much baggage from the Blair – Brown years, and the bank crash which they are blamed for causing. Right or wrong, that is how the majority of people see that part of our recent history. After all, if it happens on your watch, then it is your responsibility.

Ed Miliband carried that historic burden, as did his number two, the aptly named, Ed Balls, both members of the Brown government. Yvette Cooper, who is married to Ed Balls, also carries that stigma… she is therefore not going to win Labour any new votes come election time.

You see, you cannot deny your own history, when it is laid out in public for all to see. Blair’s Labour was seen as a radical and exciting alternative to John Major’s tired out Conservatives. Blair promised fairness and fun times for everyone. Dare to D-ream as things can only get better, and Cool Britannia to all. In reality, Blair’s tenure was built on dishonesty and lies, his legacy will always be the illegal wars he began in the middle east… just to be seen as a “world politician”, a friend of the retard Bush.

That history, along with a dismal end game of bank crashes, played out by the Dour Scot Brown, drove decisive nails into the Labour coffin.

The problems Labour have, are many. They lack any real new “talent”. Most of their big guns have a history which ties them to Blair or Brown. Which in turn opens them up for the same old ridicule which Miliband suffered.

While the boring four, bore us all with their boring non event leader battle… Prime Minister Cameron is busy “renegotiating” our position in the EU. To be honest, I don’t think we will come out of Europe, all this referendum is just so much piss and wind. Cameron doesn’t want us to leave the EU, and neither does Labour, and that is true no matter who leads them in the future.

So who is running the, “Lets pull out of Europe campaign”?

Nobody is… so Cameron doesn’t have much negotiating to do, does he! It’s cut and dried, and a complete scam.

Like all politics, it is smoke and mirrors, slight of hand and a bunch of lies. The masses are happy because they can finally vote in an EU referendum. And non of us really know what we will be voting for in this one sided sham.