Posts about Guitars

The new PRS wing tuners

I’m a huge fan of Paul Reed Smith — the man and the instruments. Paul is smart and well-spoken. The way he talks about his guitars reminds me of the way Steve Jobs spoke about Apple products.

So when Paul speaks, I listen. Like Apple, PRS typically makes incremental improvements to their products, rather than the static lineups or complete refreshes other brands often do. This year, the ​“big” change are new ​“Wing” tuners (PRS claims they look like wings, which, okay). Instead of aluminum, they’re made out of plastic. The shape is different too.

What interests me is that Paul says this opens up up the guitar and makes the midrange sound more vowel-like. You have to take him at his word for it, because how would one measure that? And if it were true, is that actually more desirable? Every time I’m mixing a sound, I get rid of some of the more obnoxious 800hz midrange. If the vowel sound lives in that 800hz range (and again, there’s no way to really know if that’s what Paul means), then I don’t want it.

So I’m not convinced this is an upgrade. This sort of seems like cost saving measure sold as an upgrade (getting iPhone 5C vibes, which was also an interesting sales pitch). But I’m also not convinced it would sound better or worse than before, so much as different.

But it’s interesting to read all the hoopla surrounding NAMM 2024, and compare Paul’s announcement here. It’s very low key by comparison.

For me, PRS makes some of the nicest guitars money can buy right now. My Silver Sky SE is an incredibly inspiring instrument, and my Custom 24 Piezo is insanely versatile and feels like it was built for my hands. The violin carve also sits well on my body. I don’t mind the plastic tuners at first blush, but I’ll admit that I’m suddenly encouraged to buy 2023 models of anything I’m interested in.

Thoughts on Namm 2024

This past week has been all about the 2024 NAMM Show for me. (With the exception that I’ve also been very into coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Mac.) I like NAMM a lot — it’s CES for guitar nerds. What’s not to love?

It’s no secret that guitar journalism is less relevant every year, but thankfully Guitar World still has actual writers covering this thing, so I’ve been able to keep up throughout the week. The show isn’t over until Sunday, but there have been some interesting announcements so far.

The Epiphone Dave Ghrohl DG-335

I’ve been waiting for this guitar for a while, and I’m excited the DG-335 was finally announced. Much like Epiphone’s takes on the Korina Explorer/​Flying V and Lazarus Les Paul models, this looks like a quality instrument: one-piece neck, Gibson Burstbucker pickups, Graphtech nut, and Grover Mini tuners. All the components in this thing look like good stuff.

It sounds like this model streets in March. I’m thinking about getting a semi-hollow, so I plan on looking for a copy to try as soon as they’re in stores.

A lot of signature guitars

A lot of artists get signature guitars, including a bunch of folks who probably have no business getting deals like that. There are always a few that are worth commenting on, though:

  • Alex Lifeson has partnered with Godin to create the LERXST Limelight signature guitar. I don’t know if I’m interested in the guitar, but I like that Canadian musician Alex Lifeson partnered with Canadian guitar company Godin for his latest signature. I don’t own any Godin guitars, but they make nice instruments, and as corny as this is, some small part of my heart is warmed by this partnership.
  • ESP has released Bill Kelliher’s (of Mastodon) signature guitar, and it looks awesome. It’s worth looking at the photos, but it’s sort of like a Les Paul Doublecut, but with a lot of attitude. The one downside? Apparently they can weigh up to 13 pounds! That’s part of the marketing for the thing, as though the weight will help make the guitar sound bigger (it won’t). This is one of those rare cool-looking guitars, though. I’m a big fan.
  • Gibson announced a new Slash colour — this one is called Jessica. Look, who cares? It’s just Honeyburst. But I wanted to mention it because I have one of the current Slash Les Pauls, and it is the best Les Paul I’ve ever played. If you’re on the hunt for a good Les Paul, consider this a reminder that you really ought to check out the Slash Les Paul. (And maybe Epiphone’s Lazarus 1959 Les Paul Standard, while you’re shopping.)

Some Gibson news

Gibson isn’t at NAMM this year, but they’ve announced a few interesting things I wanted to comment on.

First, there’s another new Kirk Hammett Les Paul. Kirk, if you’re reading this for some reason, I appreciate that you’re cashing your cheques. Good for you! But enough is enough. I love the Greeny model (I particularly like the standard), but nobody needs this 1989 Les Paul Custom — especially at the $9,000 USD price point.

I genuinely don’t get it. Is Gibson crazy? The aging on this new reissue looks pretty bad. The pickups aren’t accurate to what Hammett used in 1989, and instead use Gibson’s T‑Type pickups. I’m all for modern updates, but I don’t think the T‑Type pickups are good — especially at this price. Obviously, EMG active pickups have fallen out of fashion (they still sound great, by the way, but fashion is fleeting), but T‑Types are not the sort of thing I’d imagine your average Kirk Hammett fan (I am one!) is into.

In other Gibson news, they’re back into the amp game. It somehow never occurred to me that part of the reasoning behind Gibson’s acquisition of Mesa was bringing Gibson amps back, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. Their first amps are the Falcon 20 and Falcon 5. These aren’t for me, but it’s worth keeping an eye on what Gibson does here.

Pedal news

I think guitar pedals are a dime a dozen, but the industry is fun to watch. Like the candy industry, there’s a new flavour every week:

  • Andy Timmons, who has golden ears, announced a new overdrive pedal with Keeley called the Muse Driver. I think it sounds good. Anything Timmons releases is worth your time. The man has taste.
  • In the category of ​“holy ***” news, Jackson is bringing back Fulltone. On top of that, they’re rereleasing the OCD overdrive pedal, and plan on bringing back other pedals from the archive, as well as working on new designs. There’s a very cool documentary-style Youtube video announcing the partnership. Mike Fuller is publicly an awful person. I respect him as a maker, because I feel a kindred spirit with anybody who makes* things, but it’s too bad that Jackson Audio chose to bring him back too. (In the words of one subreddit, ​“bigotry and racism are back.” Yikes.) I like how Fulltone pedals sound, and I’m excited that folks can get some of these great pedals again, but it’s too bad the man who designed them was so empowered to air his hateful poopy opinions in public forums. (In other words, it’s great that folks can buy used Fulltone pedals.)
  • EHX sold a reissue of the Big Muff Pi, and it sold out in barely over an hour. It was a limited run. I don’t love that. But it is interesting!
  • Jack White has announced an inexpensive 3‑in‑1 multi-effects pedal in collaboration with Donner. Neat!

Amp news

Two interesting things in the ​“amp news” category this year, outside of the aforementioned Gibson Falcon series:

  1. Laney released a new tube amp, but also released a matching plugin at launch. Nobody has ever done this before. Power move, Laney.
  2. Vox announced a new hand-wired series of AC amps. They say this will be ​“the ultimate recreation” of AC amps. It’s neat that this is an option, but the way I see it, hand-wiring things just introduces a lot of margin for error, which means odds are good that your hand-wired Vox AC-30 is only like the originals in the sense that they’re very inconsistent from one to the other. Still interesting, though!

The show isn’t over yet, so I’m looking forward to potentially hearing about more gear. Honestly, though, the Epiphone DG-335 was the headlining news for me. Hard to imagine what will top it.

The PRS SE Silver Sky is Reverb’s best-selling electric guitar for the second year running. It’s amazing that any one guitar would sell more than Fender’s best-selling guitars. I have an SE Silver Sky, and while it’s certainly not as nice as any of my more costly guitars, I’m inspired every time I pick it up.

Fender’s Tone Master Pro

Fender has announced the Tone Master Pro — a Fender-made amp and effects modeller that competes with Line 6’s Helix and the Fractal Axe-FX.

This feels like a big deal. Off the top of my head, I think this is the first modeller from an amp manufacturer. (Mesa doesn’t have a modeller. Marshall doesn’t have a modeller. Soldano doesn’t. Etc.) The modeller includes a ton of Fender amps, but it also includes standbys like the Boogie IIC+, the JCM800, the 5150, and more. 

Leon Todd, one of Youtube’s modeller masters, put up a forty-five minute demo of the product. The UX looks pretty good — turning the foot switches into twisty knobs is smart. I think the screens above each switch could be larger, but that’s a small quibble.

The most important thing is how it sounds, and it sounds fine. Comparing it to my Axe-FX seems almost unfair, but when I compare the two, the Tone Master Pro sounds like there’s a weight blanket over it. 

Listen to Leon’s demo of the JCM800. I’m not a huge JCM800 fan, but even I can tell you that’s not how a JCM800 sounds. This is how a JCM800 sounds if you threw a weighted blanket over top of it and mic’d it poorly.

Fender has a promo video you can check out too, and Mary Spender also made a video. I use my Axe-FX 99.9% of the time I play guitar now, and if anything, these demos have made its place in my rig even more permanent.

The New Les Paul Supremes

I somehow missed this week that Gibson announced the return of the Les Paul Supreme. Gibson didn’t put out a press release for this or anything (and they frankly have the worst website of any guitar company), but they did release this Youtube video.

Here are the key specs:

  • AAA figured maple top
  • One model with two pickups (Burstbucker Pros), and another with three pickups (all Burstbucker Pros). The model with three pickups is exclusively available on Gibson’s website, which seems like a terrible idea, given my aforementioned note about their website.
  • Ultra-modern weight relief
  • SlimTaper neck with a compound radius
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Push/​pull controls for coil tap, phase, and pure bypass modes
  • Starting at USD $3,999 (or $5,199 in Canada)

These are undeniably handsome instruments, but that is also an undeniably bananas price for a Les Paul. It’s also odd to me that they would make the most attractive model — the 3‑pickup variant — available exclusively through the Gibson website. I wonder how the dealers feel about this.

In regards to the push/​pull pots: these should be push/​push buttons. The black top hat control knobs on this thing have an indent on them already. If those indents were buttons, the controls would be substantially easier to use. Push/​pull pots are fiddly on stage. For $4,000 USD, these are the details I’d expect Gibson to sweat.

I also can’t figure out what differentiates the newly-announced Les Paul Supreme from the Les Paul Modern. Here are the key specs on that, and tell me if this looks familiar:

  • Maple top (not AAA, but solid paint in some classic colours, like Faded Pelham Blue, which is the best blue ever painted on a guitar)
  • Two Burstbucker Pro pickups
  • Ultra-modern weight relief
  • SlimTaper neck with a compound radius
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Push/​pull controls for coil tap, phase, and pure bypass moes
  • Starting at USD $2,999 (or $3,999 in Canada)

For about $1,000 less, you get the exact same guitar, minus the AAA maple top. It’s the same pickups, same push/​pull options, same weight relief, same neck, etc. The only difference is the visual aesthetics on that maple top.

I have no problem paying more for a nice finish. I own a Slash Les Paul because I preferred the AAA maple top to the normal Les Paul Standard’s. But the price difference there was just a couple hundred dollars. This is the first time in my memory that a AAA top from Gibson has ever been priced at $1,000.

The Marshall ST20H

I just read Darran Charles’ review of Marshall’s JTM45 reissue, the ST20H. It sounds to me like it’s pretty close to an exact clone of the Marshall’s first amp, with a couple minor improvements:

  • There’s a real effects loop now, which is a must-have for most players, but doesn’t hurt anybody who prefers not to have one. That’s great.
  • Instead of 45 watts of power like the original, the ST20H includes a 5 watt mode and a 20 watt mode.

The 5W and 20W modes had me a little curious, but here’s Darran:

There isn’t a great deal of difference in tone between the 5W and 20W settings, aside from the obvious increased headroom. We have to say though that even the 5W mode is barely usable at home volume levels, especially as we begin to push it into break-up. This amp is loud!

Truthfully, power wattage in a tube guitar amp doesn’t correlate to volume in a linear fashion, so this doesn’t surprise me. I prefer an amp with higher wattage because I find it makes the ramp-up from clean to dirty a little cleaner, so it’s a bit of a pity this doesn’t have a 45W mode.

The JTM45 is my favourite amp that Marshall ever made. I prefer it to Fender’s amps from the same time period too. If I were shopping around for a vintage-style amp today, I’d absolutely buy one of these.

Darran complains about the price of the ST20H in his piece, but I didn’t see it mentioned in the body of the article. In Canada, the ST20H is $1900 at our major retailers. In the US, it’s $1749, which is perhaps too close to our pricing, considering the exchange rate. Despite that, I think that’s a fair price for a boutique amp in 2023, considering how over-inflated prices are across the entire guitar industry.

The new PRS NF53 and Miles Kennedy signature guitars

Yesterday, PRS introduced two long-rumoured Telecaster-style guitars: the NF53 and the Miles Kennedy model.

The NF53, to my ears, is the better sounding instrument. The Nearfield pickups sound very much like the single coils they’re voiced after. PRS has said the guitar is based on a vintage 1953 instrument in Paul’s collection (read: Telecaster). There’s a clarity in this guitar’s sound that is pure and intoxicating. I’d love to trial one.

From other videos (see the Peach Guitars one below), this thing really starts to roar once it gets a bit of gain. It’s the classic Tele sound.

The Miles Kennedy model is extremely interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it sounds great for Miles’ needs in Alter Bridge, where he’s competing with Tremonti’s very beefy rhythm tone. The features are cool: a 5‑position pickup selector with split and humbucking sounds, as well as a push/​pull tone knob that PRS says cuts the high frequencies in half in pickup positions 2 – 5 for high-gain rhythm sounds.

To me, the MK model sounds a little closer to a Les Paul. Out of the gate, I’m not sure I’d want one, but it seems like their pitch is that this is a guitar that cuts in a mix in a band situation. So does a normal Telecaster, but clearly they’re pushing the MK towards those of us who would otherwise gravitate to a more traditional dual humbucker body. I’d love to try one.

That NF53, though… oh boy. 

As usual, Peach Guitars has put together a terrific demo of both instruments:

The elephant in the room is the price: in Canada, it’s $3900 for each instrument. That’s more than I paid for my Ultra Luxe Telecaster, which was laughably expensive.

What I learned from practicing guitar for 6 hours a day

When I was a teenager, I was a voracious guitar player. After school, I came home and practiced guitar. I have no memories of doing my home work, but I do remember plugging in and practicing. At one point, I realized I was playing, on average, about six hours a day.

Every Wednesday, I went to a guitar lesson with a private instructor. (I was fortunate to have parents who could afford that luxury.) Once a week, I went to band practice. Twice a week, I was in the basement studio my bandmates and I made to record basic demos. And every six weeks or so, we would play a show to a live audience at some dirty bar somewhere. 

Each show was about forty minutes or so, which was (in hindsight) a generous allotment for a high school rock band. Assuming my estimate of six hours a day was accurate (and I think it was pretty close), I would practice 252 hours for every forty-five minute show.

Here’s what I learned from all that practicing: The act of creation is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s the slow and steady toil of practice.

It’s much easier to write a song, or perform at a concert, if practicing your instrument is a daily habit.

I think we need to have the same attitude with our businesses. If we want them to be successful, we have to practice. I don’t mean that you need to publish something every day on your blog, or that you have to quit your day job and devote your days to your artisanal footwear company. (I didn’t drop out of high school, in case you were wondering.)

But you do need to practice your craft, whatever it is. If you’re a preacher, you need to witness. If you’re a writer, you need to write. If you’re a musician, you need to practice your scales.

It isn’t for the sake of perfection. I want to discourage you from expecting perfection of yourself. Nobody ever attends a perfect concert, and one of the football teams in a game has to lose.

But the team that practices is more likely to win in the long run, and more likely to learn from their mistakes.