AF’s Weblog

August 23, 2012

4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

Filed under: Guitar reviews, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:46 am

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

The world may not revolve around guitar music anymore, but there is still a lot of it out there. Whether you’re working on face melting hardcore or a gentle country ballad, the presentation of the guitar content in the mix has a lot to do with the overall stylistic impression of the song.

Here are a few tried and true techniques for working with guitar tracks:

Hear the Arrangement

Some guitar tracks are played and recorded to stand out as focal points in the mix. Other guitar parts are intended to work as tonal layers of another instrument. Before you dive into the mix (or even the tracking session), take a moment to consider why each guitar track exists.

You’re probably going to come up with one of three answers:

  • It’s a musical focal point, a source of interest and energy in the song.
  • It’s a rhythmic element that adds tonal complexity to a percussive instrument.
  • It’s not musically functional at all (and should be muted).

With your answer in mind, you’ll have a great benchmark for evaluating the guitar parts within the mix, as opposed to evaluating them as individual elements.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Refine the Tone of Your Guitar Content ‘In Place’

With the musically essential choice about function established by rough balance and reinforced by smart panning, it makes sense to address how the harmonic content of the guitar tracks can be optimized.

There’s no point in pretending to relate EQ specifics (or even most generalities), but if the guitar tracks you’re working with haven’t already fallen victim to knob twisting, there are some themes that might help organize your decision-making.

The fundamental frequencies of the guitar lay largely between 160Hz -1300Hz. In reality, your typical rock or country rhythm track is probably played in the 160Hz-700Hz range.

This frequency band will provide ‘fullness’, ‘warmth’, or even ‘muddiness’ when accentuated. The same range can be attenuated to get thinner, less supported tones. Try starting in the 350Hz-500Hz range with your center frequency.

Boosting a wide peak approximately two octaves above the fundamental frequency center can very easily, naturally brighten picked performances on metal-stringed instruments. This is the frequency range in which these instruments are naturally bright, so it pays to play along.

Below about 80Hz even the most theoretical harmonic contribution to your guitar sound has been exhausted. Don’t hesitate to high-pass filter guitar tracks to prevent non-programmatic low frequency content from messing with your gain staging and dynamics control.

Working From a Musically Relevant Basis

Notice we haven’t touched a single multi-band compressor or 8-bit distortion-cruncher-thing. Tricks aren’t tricks unless the tracks are working in the arrangement (i.e. for the song). Starting with these types of basic considerations can take decent tracks most of the way to musical effectiveness, and take excellent tracks all the way.

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

June 8, 2012

How to Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:33 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

It occurred to me that for all the tweaking guitarists do with their tone — rolling tone controls up and down on both their guitars and amps — very few ever touch the pickups. Most guitarists I know don’t even look at the pickups and wouldn’t know if they were out of alignment even if they did.

When I interviewed Eric Johnson in his Austin-based studio a few years ago, I was struck by something that at the time seemed rather mundane. With his guitar in hand, Eric talked and played, demonstrating some of his approaches to soloing. But as brilliant as that was, what caught my eye was the periodic modifications he made to the his guitar while he played. In between demonstrating the Mixolydian mode and a string-bending lick, Eric casually reached over and grabbed a small flathead screwdriver, gave the polepiece below the B string on the neck pickup of his ES-335 a quarter turn, and then kept playing. He did this as quickly and as effortlessly as you and I would tune up a slightly flat string. Here’s a guy with total control over his sound, I thought.

Be truthful: When’s the last time you looked at the alignment of your pickups to make sure they were still optimally placed from the strings? And do you even know what that distance should be? Your pickups are as critical to your guitar’s tone production as anything else that follows downstream, and as we know from our devotion to all things audio, there’s no place like the source to really fix a problem.

There are several ways to tweak your pickups without causing a permanent change, so there’s no reason not to have it as an option. If your tone has been lacking, or if it’s out of balance with respect to the individual strings’ outputs, consider adjusting the pickups first, before trying other, EQ-based methods. If you’ve never tweaked a pickup before, just think of Eric Johnson. He would adjust a polepiece as readily as he would roll the tone control from 9 to 8 — if it were the right thing to do. Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of confidence over all your guitar’s parameters?

Pickup Types

All pickups can adjusted with respect to their position to the strings through a simple, reversible (if necessary) turn of a screw. Whether you have single-coil, humbuckers, covered pickups or exposed polepieces, or even pickups with non-adjustable polepieces, you can always move your pickup up or down in relation to the strings. Moving a pickup up, or closer to the strings, will increase the output of the pickup (i.e., make it louder), because you’re moving the magnet and the magnetic field closer to the source (the vibrating string). This is similar to moving a microphone closer to your mouth. In a pickup, moving the magnet closer to the string causes the vibrations to increase the amplitude of the disturbance in the magnetic field, which in turn creates a stronger current at the output.

You would think, then, that moving your pickups closer, for more output, would be a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want maximum output from their pickups? Well, the problem is that two other aspects of the sound change when you move the pickup closer to the strings. For one, the tonal balance of bass and treble shifts, because the frequency ranges don’t produce bass and treble with equal energy. The bass tends to dominate here. This phenomenon gets magnified when you put the pickup closer to the string, where things get boomy fast. The other issue is that the pickup’s magnet increases its magnetic pull on the string itself as you get the two closer together. Putting the pickup closer to the string inhibits the string’s ability to vibrate, causing the string to decay faster than normal. Not the best thing for those sustained string bends on ballads.

In addition to adjusting the overall height of the pickup to the string, consider that you can raise just one side higher than the other. For example, if your neck pickup sounds too boomy or bassy, you have two choices: You can lower the bass side of the pickup (reducing the output), or you raise the treble side (increasing its output). Either move produces the same relative effect: the treble side of the pickup will be closer to the pickup than the bass side, increasing its output relative to the bass side. Because the pickup is now on a slant, the change between the bass and treble strings will be gradual, with a linear, or straight-line, fall-off toward the bass side.

But what if you need even more precise control over the tone? For example, what if just the B string is sounding anemic, with its notes becoming buried when played against its two neighbors, the G and the high E strings? In that case, you can — if your pickups allow — adjust the individual polepieces. For this to be an option, you have to have exposed screw heads facing the strings. This isn’t an option for non-adjustable polepieces (such as those found on a classic Strat), or bar magnet pickup designs, such as many well-known models by EMG.

But if you do have adjustable polepieces (that is, with screw heads), you can try moving them up and down to get your strings in balance. Keep in mind, that as with our side-to-side example earlier, you can increase the presence of the B string in two ways: by raising the B string polepiece or by lowering both the G and high E polepieces. Once the individual strings are in balance, you can raise or lower the entire pickup, or raise or lower either side. This gives you lots of options!

If you do decide to adjust your polepieces, follow these precautions:

  • Don’t screw the polepiece to the extremes. If your screw juts out to within a 1/6th of an inch of the string, you should consider another route. Conversely, don’t torque the screw all the way down, as you risk compressing or damaging the pickup bobbin.
  • Count the screw turns, and write them down. Whenever making any type of adjustment, always note where you started from, so that you can get back to square one if you really screw things up (no pun intended) or become totally disoriented. Also note the orientation of the screw’s slot when you start, and make adjustment in quarter turns, noting the results and checking your work (with your ears) constantly.
  • Have your amp sound together before you start. It’s easier to make polepiece decisions with a clean amp sound. Forget the effects, and get a good workable clean sound before you break out the screwdriver. Then when checking your results, vary the volume of your amp and your guitar to make sure you’re getting consistent results.
  • Choose the correct size screwdriver. If you choose a tool that’s too large or too small for the job, you risk scratching the pickup cover or gouging the screw slots, respectively. Also, take care when using any sharp metal tool near your guitar. You can easily slip and scratch the surface of the top.

    Now let’s take a closer look…

    Manufacturer Recommendations

    Many manufacturers will recommend how to ideally set up their pickups. They typically start from the factory setting, or provide turn-numbers assuming the screw head is flush with the pickup. Here’s one set of instructions using the turn method:

    Set all poles when looking at the screw head from the side that only the rounded part rises above the flat part of the pup.

    Low E: no change

    A: raise 1 full turn

    D: raise 1 ½ full turns

    G: raise ½ turn

    B: lower 1 full turn

    High E raise ½ turn

    Some guitar manufacturers give measurements from the strings to the pickups, as in this example from a Carvin owner’s manual:

    Adjusting Pickup Height:  Each pickup has 2 or 3 height adjusting screws. For maximum power output keep the pickups adjusted as close to the strings as possible while maintaining enough clearance so that the pickup pole pieces will not touch the strings when playing on the upper frets. If you want a mellower sound, then adjust the pickups further away from the strings. For humbucking pickups we recommend 5/32” clearance. For single coil pickups go with 1/8” clearance.

    Adjusting individual pickup poles:  We set each magnetic screw head in both pickups for a balanced sound. If you wish to raise or lower the output of a certain string, then lower or raise the adjustable screw heads until you get the desired power output of that string. Press strings down on the 24th fret and make sure that you have at least 1/16” clearance between the strings and the pickup screw heads, otherwise you may get static as a result. Keep the pickup pole pieces clean as any metallic particles on them can cause static.

    What’s clear here is that both approaches assume you will be adjusting your pickups. They don’t warn you that it will “void the warranty,” and they even offer their recommended setups. You should feel encouraged by this to experiment for yourself.

    Conclusions

    Even the simple act of changing your brand or type of strings (from a light set to light-top/heavy bottom) may require a pickup modification. And if you find your guitar’s tone has been uneven, lackluster, or just wanting in general, try adjusting the pickups first. Your actions are completely reversible, and you can’t hurt anything — except perhaps for the tone if you go too far, but then you can just “hit Undo” in the analog way — by reversing your screw-turning steps!

    To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

May 28, 2012

Yamaha FS740SFM Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Yamaha FS740SFM Review

The sun is shining and the air is warm. Nice weather to sit down on the terrace, open the cardboard box and there it is… It’s small, it’s new and it’s beautiful! Its half-jumbo size in vintage sunburst finish recalls the Gibson LG01 from the 50’s and 60’s, clandestine bars, cigar smoke, and blues players. It’s time to stop staring at it and put my hands on it.

Description

Yamaha FS740SFM

It feels very pleasant. The frets are not too thick and make chord playing much easier. The Nato neck with faded finish feels very smooth.

It’s thin, round but not too thick, which is convenient for people with small hands and women. The guitar is provided with premium anti-rust Yamaha strings that are ideal for sweaty hands. The rosewood fingerboard features small pearly dots that emphasize the slim shape of the neck with standard scale length (650 mm / 25.6″).

So, what is Nato?

Nato comes from the Malay “kavy o”, which means hard. This is a sacred wood from Madagascar that can also be found in Hawaii and in South Carolina, where our Yamaha guitar comes from. The wood is similar to mahogany but it is more flexible. In the USA, it’s called eastern mahogany. It is frequently used for guitar and ukulele manufacturing. Unfortunately, it reacts badly to temperature changes, so it’s not recommended to play it outdoors on a cold winter evening and then go back home and put it next to the chimney fire.

The guitar is equipped with sealed lubricated tuners. They are not awesome but stay in tune.

The small body matches different styles of playing. The instrument is rather light and its shape naturally fits the body in sitting position. The lacquer has been properly laid on. The rosette with thin abalone inlays and the small turtle scale pickguard give a classy look to the instrument. Aesthetically speaking it is the mix of two different influences: vintage body and modern neck with satin finish, which is quite pleasant.

Now let’s take a closer look…

And How About When Standing Up?

Yamaha FS740SFM

Since I like instruments with king-size body, I usually play sitting down. But considering the compact size of this Yamaha, I took a strap and stood up. It feels pretty good since it’s light and not bulky — almost like holding an electric guitar. You can move your body and dance without the fear of hitting something. But then suddenly hit me and made me sad: I can’t plug it into my amp. Of course, it’s not such a big problem because it is very loud and it can be equipped with a piezo pickup.

As a conclusion, I would say this is a very good acoustic guitar in terms of manufacturing and finish quality. The instrument is available in three versions: natural, vintage cherry sunburst and vintage sunburst. It’s a pity that the guitar is sold without a gigbag. The instrument will fulfill the needs of both beginners and experienced musicians. Its playing comfort and loudness give you a lot of flexibility, which is what most people expect from an acoustic guitar, right? We all want a guitar we can play anywhere, anytime to write new songs and play music just for fun.

Advantages: 
  • Guitar build
  • Powerful sound
  • Versatility
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • No gigbag
  • Some people will find the sound too crystal-clear

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Yamaha FS740SFM Review

April 30, 2012

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

To read the full detailed article see:  Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

A soft launch last Christmas, the Les Paul Blue with roasted maple fingerboard caught our attention. Get your pick and come meet the beauty.

FBI, Gibson’s official partner?

When special agent Jack Malone arrived at Gibby, we thought it would be for an endorsement contract. But we were wrong. John M. Rayfield (his real identity) was followed by several more agents, who were heavily armed to fight against wood smuggling. In order to cover the event, American media was invited and they broadcast this private showcase to the world. Screeching tires, counter-terrorist arsenal (in case of counterattacks from Nashville’s luthiers), war cries — just like a Hollywood action movie trailer. In spite of a legal loophole to substantiate the claim and ask for the wood purchase and export documents in question, the officer in charge of the investigation, Rayfiled, seized part of the rosewood and ebony in stock, some guitars and computer data.

Roasted? Like coffee?

To make up for the lack of rosewood and ebony, the manufacturer had to improvise in a very unorthodox manner because the only wood at their disposal was maple. Imagine a Les Paul Custom with a maple fingerboard… it’s out of the question! To give the guitars a real Gibson feel rather than a California touch, they decided to roast the fingerboard (yes, in an oven). This made it look like rosewood, but with a dryer feel to it. Skeptical but open-minded, it’s time for me to open the cardboard box and give this new affordable US beauty a try.

Getting Started

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain

After opening the cardboard box, you’ll discover that the guitar is sold with a classy gigbag with the Gibson USA label on it. Some sort of black quiver with an immaculate white zip. Inside the bag a white and very soft protection foam will fend the guitar against the aggressions of everyday life. First surprise, thanks to a new chambered body, the guitar weights almost the same as an SG (the visits to the physiotherapist won’t be that often, I guess). As for wood, the chambered body and the neck are made out of mahogany with a maple top and the already described roasted maple fingerboard. Everything within typical dimensions: 628.6-mm scale length, 42.8-mm nut width, 22 frets and a ’59-type shape. As for electronics, you get two Burstbuckers Pro pickups, a three-way toggle switch, two volume and two tone controls. The beauty wears a translucent blue dress showing the grains of the wood and the maple top. The faded finish gives the guitar an aged look — you’ll either like it or not at all!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain

Once again, Gibson adds a new Les Paul Studio to their product catalog, but this time for under $800. Sold with a Deluxe gigbag, this young beauty will fulfill the expectations of vintage-sound fans who want a real US-made guitar. The sound variations emphasize the mid-frequency range because of the chambered body and the maple fingerboard. This will certainly not meet everybody’s taste. Moreover, I asked several luthiers about the roasted fingerboard and none of them could tell me how the wood would age and if the fingerboard would withstand a future refretting. Glossy finish fans won’t be too excited about the “old-school” finish. I had the opportunity to see two different guitars of this same model and I noticed inconsistencies in the finish quality. Thus, I recommend you to choose your guitar in a brick and mortar store.

Advantages: 
  • Design
  • Weight
  • Vintage tone
Drawbacks:
  • Finish inconsistencies
  • Lack of low frequencies

To read the full detailed article see:  Gibson Les Paul Faded Blue Stain Review

April 16, 2012

Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

This time, Fender comes from an unexpected direction! The Fender Modern Player series includes four different guitars (Marauder, Jaguar, Telecaster Plus, Thinline Deluxe) and three different bass guitars (Jazz Bass, Telecaster, Jaguar), while trying to distinguish itself from the countless Standard Stratocaster and Telecasters variations available either as reissue or special versions (with different neck width, wood type or pickups combination).

The Modern Player is Fender’s entry series. Manufactured in China, these guitars can be considered Super Squier models: for instance, we noticed that Fender was not as thrifty with the lacquer layers… Today, we will review the Gibson-inspired Jaguar and the Marauder, a wink to the instrument that never saw the light of day back in 1966, but equipped with the brand new Fender Triple Bucker. We won’t review the Telecaster Plus (three pickups) nor the Thinline (P-90) nor the bass guitars. All instruments are available at the same price $400 (except for the Jazz Bass that sells for $500).

Marauder, the stillborn baby

Fender Modern Player Marauder

After launching many products in the early 60’s (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, …), Fender assembled two different guitar prototypes to create the Marauder, a new instrument based on a Jaguar and a Stratocaster that never hit the stores. The first prototype was equipped with a tremolo bridge, three pickups and nine switches for tone variations! The second prototype had a hardtail bridge and the pickups were hidden behind the pickguard! The Marauder had already been announced, photographed and included in Fender’s product catalog. It had even been ordered… Like the ’57 Gibson Modern, the Marauder remained a mystery due to its high manufacturing costs. The legend says that there were eight Marauders actually manufactured, making it Fender’s rarest guitar…

Let’s go back to our Marauder Modern Player! You’ll immediately notice that the guitar didn’t inherit the myriad of switches from the original instrument. You get two pickups: a Jazzmaster-type single-coil in bridge position plus a triple-coil on the bridge controlled by a Strat-type five-way toggle switch. Yes, you read well: you get a real triple-coil pickup, not a single-coil+humbucker combination — it’s almost like having a volume control going up to 11 on your amp. Here is an overview of the different pickup combinations provided by the toggle switch. A, B and C refer to the three coils of the Triplebucker (A next to the bridge), while N refers to the neck pickup:

  • Position I: A + B
  • Position II: A + B + C
  • Position III: C
  • Position IV: C + N
  • Position V: N
Fender Modern Player Marauder

The other features are less original… The maple C-shape neck has a rosewood fretboard, 22 Medium Jumbo frets and a 25.5″ scale length. The headstock is equipped with vintage-type machine heads requiring you to cut the extremity of each string and insert it into a hole before winding the string up. Two controls (Tone and Volume) and a Strat-type tremolo bridge…and that’s it! There is another unusual detail caught our eye: the body is made out of Koto, an African wood rarely used for guitar manufacturing, at least not often enough to have fans or detractors. Certainly Fender used this wood for cost reduction reasons. However, I noticed nothing unusual when playing the guitar. As a summary, you face a guitar based on two legends: the body recalls the Jaguar, while the electronics and tremolo bridge are inspired in the Stratocaster.

Fender Modern Player Marauder

I had no problems except for the tuning stability of the tremolo bridge. But with a new guitar this is rarely a problem: don’t forget that a classic and simple tremolo bridge can work perfectly if you pay attention to the friction points on the bridge and the nut. Consider carving them a bit so that they match the thickness of your strings (this also applies to very expensive instruments) and rubbing a pencil on the friction points (graphite helps the strings to slide better through). Apart from that, nothing seems to be fragile or improperly made on this Marauder. The neck feels very pleasant and inspiring, although the combination of a long-scale neck and a Jaguar body is pretty surprising. All five pickup combinations are pleasant, appealing and special. The sound ranges from very thin and twangy (position 3 is the least twangy) to full and rich (especially with position 4 combining all three coils of the Triplebucker). To wrap it up, this pickup combination recalls a HSS Strat with the center pickup next to the bridge pickup and the bridge pickup of a Jazzmaster to produce a rather low-level output and a very contoured sound.

Now let’s take a listen…

Conclusion

Both guitars are definitely modern instruments conceived for Brit rock and pop: the different pickup combinations aren’t suited for high distortion because they turn too noisy. The Marauder has something special to it — an extra that will please beginners, experienced players and even pros looking for a “small” guitar with a real sound personality both for live and studio applications. As a summary, the Marauder has something “Asterix”-like to it… What’s that you say? It reacts fast and bravely, and the electronics are really clever! Plus, owning a guitar with a triple-coil pickup can be lots of fun! The Jaguar is also a good guitar but it seems to have less personality compared to the Marauder. Considering the price ($400), there’s no risk in buying a Modern Player guitar, but you’ll have to decide which one. Don’t forget to give the Modern Player Telecasters a try, especially the Tele Plus and its three pickups. The Tele Thinline equipped with P-90 pickups can be an excellent alternative to the Jaguar.

Technical note:

The sound samples were recoded using an Egnater Tweaker amplifier head and a Two Notes Torpedo VB-101 speaker simulation.

Advantages: 
  • Value for money
  • The Marauder is amazing: a real breath of fresh air!
  • Nice finish
  • Triplebucker on the Marauder
Drawbacks:
  • Marauder: for this price, nothing! …Except maybe for the unusual look of the pickguard
  • The Jaguar is not inspiring
  • Volume control position on the Jaguar

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Modern Player Marauder & Jaguar Review

December 8, 2011

Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

Come on people now! Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love on another right now! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fender presents a reissue version of the guitar bought by Kurt Cobain a short time before the recording of this album.

A collector lent the original guitar to Fender, who then decided to manufacture it in Mexico. Before its launch, Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar got a lot of people talking, especially due to the possible incompatibility between the “grunge spirit” and the signature and relic guitars trend. So… is this guitar a real instrument or a shameful business idea using the name of one of the most popular lefty rock icons.

Some History…

Fender Jaguar Kurt Cobain

Originally designed for surf musicians, the Fender Jaguar was introduced as the leading product of Fender’s electric guitar range in the 60’s. The guitar had two independent electrical circuits: a lead stage with volume and tone controls plus three switches (two switches for pickup on/off plus a low-cut filter to create a very sharp sound). Accessible via a switch on the left part of the guitar body, the Rhythm stage offered additional control for the neck pickup through the volume and tone knobs. But the Jaguar had little success and disappeared from Fender’s catalog in the 70’s. Even though this guitar had a vintage touch already in the 90’s, the Jaguar (as well as the Jazzmaster and Mustang) was still rather inexpensive then. But after the grunge wave, and especially due to Kurt Cobain, its price went up and Fender relaunched production. The famous Jagstang — an hybrid between the Jaguar and a Mustang (Cobain loved it), that was actually developed by Fender and Kurt himself — also comes to mind. But the musician wouldn’t have too much time to enjoy this honor and decided to take his life some time after receiving the first prototypes.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Rate Me

Without having the same magic as an original ’62 Jaguar (which would cost about $3,000 with custom pickups/electronics…), this Kurt Cobain signature is a very good guitar. Reliable, strong personality, beautiful, noisy, wild. The guitar is rather versatile but it is not made for guitar heroes regardless of music genre (jazz, blues, metal). This guitar will be the ideal partner for sound destroyers in music genres like pop, alternative, rock, post rock, etc. And of course, a lefty version is also available!

Advantages:

  • Nirvana’s spirit (if you like it)
  • Sturdy, almost indestructible neck
  • Right weight
  • Two independent pickup stages

Drawbacks:

 

  • A bit expensive for a Mexican guitar
  • Not easy to get used to the electronics
  • Access to the controls not easy

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Review

 

November 8, 2011

Fender Pawn Shop ’51, ’72 & Mustang Review

In the USA, pawn shops will exchange money for anything having more or less value, either a watch or a hi-fi system or the ukulele your grandpa brought home from his holidays in Hawaii back in ’53. These pawn shops are the modern version of Ali Baba’s cave. They are packed with all sorts of things — especially musical instruments, like guitars. You’ll find more or less famous brands, as well as all kinds of instruments repaired with spare parts by their former owners. Fender imagined a product range with this pawn shop spirit in mind. It includes instruments made up of parts from different products in Fender’s catalog from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and even later, e.g. for the Pawn Shop Fender ’51.

This new range was first presented at the Musikmesse in Frankfurt (Germany) back in April 2011. All three instruments in the range (Pawn Shop Fender ’51, Pawn Shop Fender ’72 and Pawn Shop Fender Mustang Special) are manufactured in Japan and sold in a deluxe gig bag.

Pawn Shop Fender ’51: Squier ’51 Revisited

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

In 2004, Fender’s small cousin Squier was already offering a guitar that was very similar to the Pawn Shop ’51: the Squier ’51. Both instruments have basically the same features, except for the hardware and electronics. Both guitars combine a Telecaster neck with a Stratocaster body. The latter is made out of lime and is rather thin on the Squier. On the contrary, on the Pawn Shop it is made out of alder and is rather thick.

Innovations on the Pawn Shop Version

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

The C-shape neck and fretboard are made out of one single piece of massive maple. The polyurethane-type finish feels comfortable right away. The cutaway of the Stratocaster body gives very easy access to very high notes. The neck has a 25.5″ scale length and a modern 9.5″ radius. It features 21 medium-jumbo frets, Kluson Vintage machine heads and the same strap pins as on 50’s and 60’s Telecasters. The string-through-body gives more sustain to the instrument. The hard-tail Stratocaster bridge clearly recalls the spirit of the 70’s. The single-ply pickguard has a very smooth and round shape and is made out of white plastic. It certainly contributes to the very sleek look of the instrument. However, the plastic quality of the pickguard is a bit cheap.

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

All the hardware is chromed. The control plate with two controls comes from a Precision Bass. You get a push-pull master volume knob and a three-way rotary pickup selector. Position 1 = bridge pickup; Position 2 = neck + bridge pickups; Position 3: neck pickup. There is no tone control, but hardly anybody uses this knob today, right? For my taste, the position of the volume setting is a bit “off axis” regarding the position of the right hand, especially if you use volumes swells.

May the Tone Be With You!

Pawn Shop Fender ’51

The Pawn Shop Fender ’51 is equipped with a Texas Special single-coil pickup on the bridge and a Fender Enforcer humbucker on the neck. You can split the coils of the humbucker using the push-pull function of the volume control. The combination of both pickups produces an original and very interesting tone. The humbucker sounds quite fat. It is useful for big Tom Delonge (from Blink 182) rhythm parts and the like . On the other hand, the Texas Special single-coil pickup in neck position brings more delicacy to your sound range. The split function of the humbucker pickup is very useful: the tone moves away from the “sound-wall” style and gets a clear and transparent character recalling the first position of a Stratocaster or a Telecaster.

Now let’s take a look at the other models…

A wide palette of sound colors

Fender Pawn Shop Mustang Special

The range of sounds provided by the Mustang Special is extremely rich and versatile. In clean mode, the sound of the Enforcer “Wide Range” pickups is amazing. The bridge pickup provides you with twangy and very colored sound options. With the reverb of a Fender Deluxe amp, you have everything you need for surf music. Add an overdrive pedal (without any other effects) and you’ll get very thick rhythm sounds. From jazz to rock to country and very fat sounds, everything is easily possible. The differences in sound color between positions is obvious. If you’re looking for a guitar capable of matching almost any music genre, I strongly recommend this Mustang Special. The street price (about $800) is perfectly justified by the high-quality finish. The beauty of the body’s lacquer is dangerous. If at all, we could reproach the intuitiveness of the guitar in comparison to the other Pawn Shop guitars, which are really “plug ‘n’ play”. You will indeed have to try all combinations provided by the toggle switch and the three-way selectors if you want to enjoy all sound possibilities offered by this Mustang Special.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Pawn Shop 51, 72 and Mustang Guitar Reviews

October 28, 2011

The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

As guitarists, most of us sooner or later find ourselves in pursuit of tone. A talented guitarist can find a way to make anything sound good, but there should be no doubt that our equipment and the tone it provides can inspire and help fuel our creativity. In pursuit of tonal inspiration, we need to develop a vocabulary to help us find what we’re looking for in our sound.

The Audible Frequency Range

Most guitarists start out by learning the names of the musical notes corresponding to a particular string and fret number, but they are not initially aware that these notes also correspond to the fundamental frequency of the vibrating string.  For example, the sixth string played at the 5th fret (low A) in standard tuning has a fundamental frequency of 110 Hz.  Any doubling or halving of a frequency is an octave, so the next octave up from 110 Hz would be 220 Hz.  In order to develop a vocabulary for tone, we have to think in terms of frequencies as opposed to musical notes.

The audible frequency range for us human beings is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz).   For descriptive purposes, it’s common to divide this range into at least three parts:  lows, mids and highs.  The specific border frequencies where, for example, lows end and mids begin are not definite.  Look at a guitar speaker’s frequency response chart and you’ll see three commonly accepted ranges:  lows from 20 to 200 Hz, mids from 200 Hz to 2 kHz and highs from 2 kHz to 20 kHz.  With respect to these divisions, the fundamental guitar frequencies are all low to mid range; however, the sound we hear from each note we play also consists of harmonic frequencies in addition to the fundamental.  To get an idea of what the fundamental would sound like on its own, just play a note and turn the guitar’s tone control all the way down.  You’ve just “rolled-off the highs.”

If you play through an amp with treble, middle and bass controls, you can experiment with the extremes of each control setting to get a feel for how the relative level of each frequency range shapes the overall sound.  “Scoop the mids” by turning the middle control down.  “Roll-off the lows” and “thin-out” the tone by turning down the bass control.   Now, “Fatten-up” the tone by turning the bass control back up.

And now let’s talk about how to describe tone…

To read the full article see:  The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

September 6, 2011

SR LP Origin Burst Plaintop & Luxe Flamed Tobacco Burst SR Guitars Review

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:28 am

It can’t be easy to manufacture a guitar series based on the mythic Gibson Les Paul, considering that there are zillions of copies, some of them very good, and also because there will always be purists who state that no copy will ever come close to the real deal… SR presents its Les Paul interpretation and offers some rare customization options: finish, pickups and hardware.

Conceived and adjusted in France but made in Korea, SR guitars play in a price segment that is slightly higher than Epiphone (the Gibson sub-brand for those who don’t follow…). Are they a waste of time or a real alternative to what is already out there?

Specifications

SR Guitars SRLP

I got two SR guitars: the Origin, which recalls an LP Standard, and the Luxe version based on the LP Custom. SR offers you the possibility to choose the looks of your guitar: color of the plastic parts and hardware, pickup models (from the generic pickup manufactured for SR to the Seymour Duncan), tuners… The two models we reviewed are standard products without any extras. Both nice-looking guitars have 22 classic jumbo frets, a massive mahogany body, a typical three-piece mahogany neck with C-profile, effective Groover tuners and typical LP electronics: two humbuckers, three-way toggle switch, two volume and two tone controls. The added value is that the volume knobs are push/pull pots allowing you to split the pickups to get more tone variations — seven altogether.

SR Guitars SRLP

On the Luxe version (the classy one) you get an ebony fingerboard, a pair of 50’s vintage-type Alnico 2 pickups, a flamed maple top, a triple binding from the bottom to the top (the Origin has only one single binding), and gold hardware. For the Origin, SR chose two Alnico 5 pickups (for a more modern sound, late 70’s we could say) with more output level, a rosewood fingerboard, a simple maple top with Tobacco Burst finish, and chrome hardware. Up to now, everything is coherent and respectful with the tradition. The weight of the guitars is well thought-out, neither too heavy (as some real LPs can be) nor too light. Good job! The only feature I don’t like is the headstock’s design. It looks too Batmanish or like a cheap royal crown (only later did I see the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy, on the headstock of the Luxe version!). But this is a subjective matter and one can easily understand that SR is only trying to distinguish itself from the Kalamazoo boys to avoid any legal trouble.

Now let’s take a closer look…

 

Conclusion

Just another LP? For whom? Considering its price (€449; and €559 for the Luxe), this guitar is much better than a standard Epiphone, for example.

For a professional musician, the Origin could be ideal as spare instrument. For a first “real” guitar, it might be perfect. It is versatile and easily playable, and the hardware seems to be reliable and well thought-out. I can already see kids breaking their piggybank and spending quite some time with the “setup wizard” on SR’s website to select the pickups, the pickguard color, etc. Especially since the list of available options should become more and more comprehensive as time goes by. At the time of writing, only SR, SP Custom and Seymour Duncan pickups are available. However, the manager of the company mentioned that, depending on feasibility, pickups of other brands could be added to the list. For several years now, Korea seems to have become an important country for guitar manufacturing with increasing quality (just take a look at Kraken, for example). So why not take advantage of the collaboration between a French designer and a serious Asian manufacturer to guarantee a high-quality, affordable product.

So, to wrap it up, SR has become a new candidate for the best LP for the poor with a guitar that has a sturdy design, a really good sound and a very appealing price. And it’s a good thing because the real LPs (for the rich) have become scarce. By the way, do you know how to recognize a rich guy? He’s the one surprised to see poor people spend so much money.

SR also offers other LP variations: the Study (€339; reminds an LP Junior with only one P-90) and the Roots (€389; a sort of LP Studio with massive mahogany body without top and maple fingerboard). The outcome might be interesting.

 Advantages:

  • The Origin for its price and astonishing responsiveness.
  • The concept
  • The selection of hardware options
  • Many different finishes available

Drawbacks:

  • The Luxe doesn’t even come close to the Origin even though it’s more expensive
  • Headstock design

To read the full detailed article with sound files see:  SR LP Origin Burst Plaintop Review

 

 

February 28, 2011

Fender Blacktop Series Review

Instead of launching the umpteenth reissue of a catalog instrument, Fender decided to innovate by mounting high-output passive humbuckers on a new series called Black Top. This new product range includes a Telecaster, a Jaguar and a Stratocaster equipped with the same pickup combination based on two humbuckers. The Jazzmaster gets a more original pickup combination with one humbucker (Hot Vintage Alnico Bridge Humbucking Pickup) and one P-90 in the neck position.

The Sonic Boom!

Originally, the humbucker pickup was invented by Gibson’s engineers to suppress unwanted noise by electrically and magnetically linking two single-coil pickups in series and out of phase. From the “practical” standpoint, guitar players know the properties of such pickups: a powerful, round and warm sound. As a consequence, humbucker pickups are the best solution for distortion sounds. Fender has a strong personality due to its single-coil pickups that provide a crystal-clear sound (they can be heard on many legendary rock albums). However, they could never really take the lead in the humbucker market — controlled by Gibson since the 1950’s.

Design

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The series is entirely produced in Fender’s factory in Mexico. All bodies are made out of alder with bolt-on maple necks with 9.5″ fingerboards and 22 medium-jumbo frets (except for the Jazzmaster). By standardizing the design and finish Fender can actually lower the price to a MSRP of $450! Most models are available with two different fretboards: maple or rosewood. The latter gives a warmer, rounder and more precise tone. Considering the price, we guess that the bodies are not made out of premium-quality wood but rather out of two or three glued pieces of wood. Just being realistic: with such prices, you cannot expect to get the same resonance as from a massive-wood, one-piece body. All guitars have a perfect skin: a polyurethane varnish with a faultless glossy finish. The neck finish is the same as on the Classic Reissue Series. It is very thick and protects the wood perfectly, providing excellent grip and optimal playing comfort while allowing to quickly access every point of the neck. The truss rod adjustment is accessible on the top of the neck, which is a modern and very convenient feature. The nickel/chrome hardware and the tone and volume knobs on all models recall the look of Fender amps. We must admit that this is a very original idea but it won’t be everybody’s taste.

 

You’re In the Army Now!

Let’s take a look at all new recruits of the Black Top Series.

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The look and sound of the Stratocaster is pretty well accomplished. The combination of the Candy Apple Red finish and the three-ply Mind Green pickguard looks wonderful and make the guitar a real eye-catcher. Two other finishes are available: Sonic Blue or Black with rosewood or maple fingerboard. The guitar has two Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking pickups with chrome covers, a volume control, a tone control, a vintage-style tremolo, and a five-way toggle switch.

Position 1: full bridge pickup The sound is powerful and rich. It’s perfect for aggressive but precise rhythm parts.

Position 2: inside coils of the the two humbuckers. The response is hollow in the mid frequencies, the sound is lusty but not too wide.

Position 3: bridge and neck pickups in series. The low-frequency band is softened so that the mid range seems to be boosted, resulting in a flat and massive character.

Position 4: outer neck pickup. The most interesting sound among the five available. You get that unique Stratocaster sound without the sharpness.

Position 5: full neck pickup This setting produces too many lows, which results in a very heavy timbre. The tone is too heavy for rhythm parts but interesting for lead guitar.

Now let’s have a closer listen…

Conclusion

 

With the Black Top Series, Fender offers a very wide range of sound variations and finishes. The four different guitars use surprising pickup combinations! And their playability is almost perfect! The jewel of the family is the Jazzmaster, which is a really nice guitar aesthetically speaking but also provides a spicy expressive sound. The price in stores ($450) is very appealing and will surely attract guitar players who want a Fender without going broke.

Advantages:

  • Finish quality
  • Originality
  • Unbeatable value for money!
  • The Jazzmaster is especially appealing
  • Versatility of the Stratocaster

Drawbacks:

  • No gig bag
  • The Telecaster is a bit disappointing
  • Jaguar without a tremolo bridge

To read the full detailed article of the series with all sound samples see:  Fender Blacktop Series Review

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