What I have Learned about buying guitars

Why to buy a good instrument?

I have been playing music of some sort for 15 years, from when I first started playing violin in 4th grade to my latest instrument, the banjo. It took me a lot longer than it probably should have but it is worth it to buy good instruments. There is a saying buy the best that you can afford and I can certainly say I agree. I own three instruments that I am absolutely in love with. I don’t think I would ever sell them; these are the Telecaster, the Taylor and my new banjo for those who are new to the blog.

One of the reasons I bring this up is because I have been down the cheap guitar road too many times. The most recent time was last year when I bought a Steinberger Spirit. This is the entry level model for Steinberger. This company is very innovative and interesting. However, their guitars are a sort of acquired taste type. I would not recommend them to everyone. I bought it because I thought I would want to play guitar on the road and when I travel. This was true to some extent but I don’t think I played it enough to really make it worth it. The other reason was that I wanted to have some humbucker pickups. So I thought I’ll kill two birds with one stone (for those who don’t know this is another saying). So I got it and thankfully I didn’t pay too much for it but it was not the guitar I really wanted. The frets needed work, the fingerboard had some glue on it and you could see the top plywood veneer through the switch hole. I knew to myself, this is not the guitar I really wanted or really enjoyed playing. Personally the nut width was too wide so when I played or soloed I felt like everything was too far apart. It was frustrating. Also it’s a light guitar. My girlfriend said it looked like I was playing a video game. I know now that I should be putting as much into the guitar as I expect to get out of it. Since, I play every day. That is a lot. If I were playing live at all it would be essential to have good gear. With this post I am not trying to push expensive gear on anyone and there are definitely good deals out there. This has just been my experience. One more thing, don’t buy a guitar that doesn’t feel comfortable in your lap. The Steinberger was weird feeling and I once had a Jackson flying V that was awful. I don’t recommend anyone do this, but if you really like Alexi Laiho or Megadeth you will probably be playing a flying V at some point.

Guitar Player Magazine recent ran an article on the 34 best guitars for under $500.

http://www.guitarplayer.com/article/solid-deals-34-electrics-under-500/147598

Here is a Guitar World article on the subject

http://www.guitarworld.com/ask-paul-five-great-guitars-under-500-part-1

Maybe one Day from music.wikiproducts.com

Maybe one Day (from music.wikiproducts.com)

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Hello Music and Indaba Music

This is a quick one.

For all of you song writers out there there is a recording competition going on through Hello Music and Indaba music. For those who don’t know Hello Music is a discount seller like woot.com. They sell a few music items every day like guitars, processors, pedals, amps, basses and services. Unfortunately no banjos which I happen to be in the market for right now. They started sometime last year and so far I have been following them, but I have yet to buy anything. They do repeat, especially Orange amps, Les Paul studios and american standard strats. Inbada music is like bandcamp.com where you can sell or disperse your music around the internet. right now there is a contest to win $2,000 worth of recording gear for writing original songs. I know I’ll be entering. I have a couple new songs up my sleeve, and I am still a total stranger to home recording. Good Luck.

Here are the links

http://www.hellomusic.com

http://www.indabamusic.com/

Also I am looking for a new banjo so if anyone has any suggestions or good sites to buy from I am all ears. Musician’s friend and guitar center are not that good selection wise, but I have been looking at banjo.com. I had to step up from my Epiphone because it was too unbalanced and I like to play clawhammer.

 

Fender and Gibson – NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants)

I have been browsing through The Music Zoo NAMM blog and I have found one of the best examples of why Fender is awesome. They premiered the Fender voyager series and it looks great. I think it’s a testament to Fender, that in an age where vintage guitars are the holy grail, they can make a totally new design and make it great. I am referencing the Gibson Dusk Tiger which looks like a space alien took over a Les Paul but not in a good way. There is another thing Gibson did that I know KISS fans all over love but I think it looks insane, the Budokan Ace Frehley Guitar. I think all the open screws on the pickups and the open humbuckers make it look too industrial. I’m sure it’s an excellent guitar but to me it just looks weird. Also they only made 150 of them. If I were to get a Les Paul it would be white and have a black pickguard and chrome hardware.

The really cool thing about the black Voyager that you see in the blog post, is that there is a pickup unter that chrome pickguard. I like the sleekness that it has. Also it appears as if they are using a Jaguar neck. The other yellow finish Voyager has a tele style pick up set up. I like the futuristic style and the body may look curiously like a firebird but I still like it.

LINKS! all from the music zoo

http://www.themusiczoo.com/blog/2012/larrys-lab-fender-voyager-concept/

http://www.themusiczoo.com/blog/2012/larrys-lab-fender-samurai-concept/

http://www.themusiczoo.com/blog/2012/gibson-usa-ace-frehley-budokan-les-paul/

Also my 40th post. Thank you WordPress for alerting me.

Music Wood and Sustainability

Taylor against a blue Wall

Taylor DN3- This is my guitar, it is not made from Bamboo.

I love guitars, obviously, but I am also into conservation. I have been seeing a lot recently about wood conservation and most of it from guitar makers. This comes from an industry that in realy consumes a very small percentage of the world’s lumber. Consider how much lumber goes into building one house versus one guitar. Even if the wood used for guitars is much better and is hardwood, rather than soft wood. Or consider how much paper is used in a day, all of that comes from wood pulp. Maybe a good reason to go out and buy an iPad.Music Wood is a Greenpeace based organization that has joined with Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, Martin and Taylor guitars to help advocate conservation of wood. This means that the guitars are build with sustainable woods purchased from reliable dealers. I am totally in favour of this and maybe this will help change the government’s mind about taking rosewood from Gibson. I really like supporting companies that practice sustainability and really by being careful they are helping themselves in the long run. When I first saw this list I was very proud to see almost all of my instruments came from companies who were on the Music Wood list. Now if only Schecter could buy sustainable woods.

The site is good, it has a lot of articles on differences that are being made in the music industry. One feature I thought was cool is the interactive map that shows which woods come from and which woods are used on which parts of the guitar. They *are also working on a documentary, which will be out in 2012*. I think it sends out a good message. I usually am a Sierra Club and Conservation International man, but this definitely makes me like Greenpeace more. Now if only they could stop asking me for my credit card number on the street.

On the other hand I have been seeing more sustainable resource guitars and instruments. I saw a bamboo guitar and there are a lot more carbon fiber guitars coming out now. I haven’t played any bamboo ones but I have played a RainSong carbon fiber. I like it, it sounds pretty good and it is not sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. I still like my Taylor but if I lived in Arizona i would consider it. However, I’m not ready to give up on wood.

Here are some links
Music Wood
http://musicwood.org/index.html
RainSong
http://rainsong.com/
Bamboo Guitars – Who knows?     Also bamboo is a rapidly growing grass
http://www.bamboo-guitar.com/

* I edited this thanks to Josh G. He pointed out the documentary is not out yet. So don’t fret if you thought you had missed it.

 

Gibson Hummingbird

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

So far I have only really written about the guitars I own for obvious reasons. I own them, can photograph them and have had a lot of experience on them. There is a chance I will go back and revisit some of them. However, I do sometimes go out and play guitars in stores. One acoustic guitar I just love is the Gibson Hummingbird. I was playing it the other day at a guitar center and it was so lovely. One thing I always assume from the site is that these guitars are big, but that is never true. It is a really good sized instrument and it has a nice depth. It is loud too. Not like a Jumbo but it can project.

The neck is very fast and that is in part thanks to the nitrocellulose finish. It also plays very crisply and has a nice mid range, thanks to Sitka spruce. One thing I didn’t like as much was the low notes. They didn’t have the roundness of other dreadnoughts I have played, most notably my Taylor. This may have also had to do with the depth of the body. On the other hand, I love the clarity of the high notes especially up on the fret board. My song that I play on every guitar I try out is “This Charming Man” by The Smiths. It allows me to see the speed of the neck, the upper register where notes usually get lost. All in all if I had $5000 that this model cost, I would consider buying it, but there are certainly less expensive versions. One thing I would like to have is an Adirondack top, especially for that price, but it is a Gibson so I wouldn’t complain.

Last, but not least is the design. It is a beautiful guitar. The pick guard has an ornate hummingbird display which I really like. It has a simple rosette, and split parallelogram fingerboard inlays. The sunburst finish really makes the guitar glow. I love the red yellow transition and the bright finish mimics the bright tone that this guitar produces. I think the aesthetics are part of what makes this guitar a hummingbird.

Here are some of the features

Solid Sitka Spruce top
Solid Mahogany sides and back (Koa if it’s the Hawaiian version)

14 playable frets
Rosewood fingerboard
Mahogany Neck

Gold hardware
bone nut
24 and ¾’’ Scale

I know online you can choose your serial number and weight. I’m not really sure what I would accomplish know those facts, but it’s cool to do.

Also I want to thank Rosie of Rosierushtonstone for giving me the Versatile Blogger Award and for giving me props on her site. I have only been doing this for two months but it is always nice to be recognized. She has a very interesting blog http://rosierushtonstone.wordpress.com/ and from what I know you might want to strike up a banjo or banjozouki conversation with her.

The Gibson and their Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

So recently Gibson has been in the news because of their problems with rosewood legality. They have been raided twice in the past 3 years because of “Illegally” obtained rosewood. Which from what I can tell seems to has little basis. I have seen a lot of people talking about how Gibson is a big evil corporation that charges too much for its guitars. To which I reply,  what about the line of melody makers that have come out recently. To me it seems like Gibson has been addressing these concerns and just try to buy a high quality American made instrument for under $1000. I’m not trying to sound like a Gibson spokesperson but I do like their guitars. However, there are a couple of inconsistencies with the federal charges. First there are no charges filed against Gibson, they are simply shutting them down and confiscating wood. Two there are a few countries where rosewood can come from Madagascar, India, Honduras and at one time Brazil although that is no longer. This means that Fender, Gretsch, PRS and every other guitar company has to get their wood from those sources. Why are they targeting Gibson? Three, guitar makers use less than one percent of all lumber for their guitar production. So furniture, construction and other industries are huge consumers of lumber. Why go after these small consumption wood users. Gibson is also part of an organization The Music Wood coalition a Greenpeace based organization for wood sustainability.

The  Lacey act at one point was a good way to keep American companies compliant with international laws. However, this is a total misuse of the law. In addition, this law has made it a nightmare for musicians travelling because any rosewood is subject to seizure. Even if the guitar was made in 1960, 48 years before the law was enacted. This is probably why Gibson has been using baked maple and obeche woods as a substitute for the rosewood and ebony that they have been forbidden to use.

Hopefully, Gibson can get back soon to making rosewood fretboards. Also I don’t want my first Les Paul to have a baked maple neck.

Fretboard Journal

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

If you are interested in all things guitar (both electric and acoustic), bass, banjo and/or mandolin, I would recommend Fretboard Journal. It is a great magazine and I think the articles and photos are far superior to many other boutique guitar magazines.  They have been publishing for about 6 years now and it’s a quarterly journal. It’s also the only magazine I don’t throw issues away. I’m not a photographer but there is something very down to earth and real about the photos they take. It makes these incredible guitars seem very accessible and tangible. Unlike other magazines that but there rare beauties on a pedestal never to b touched or played and any worthwhile musician knows that instruments were made to played not collected and kept in a display case. That is why Stradivarius violins are still played and rented out to violinists. Sure its Yitzhak Pearlman and Hilary Hahn but still they are being used.

They recently released their fall issue with Gillian Welch on the cover. She is one of the most important women in Folk and Americana music today, and I love it. When I found out about his magazine about a year ago, it really started to motivate me to read about different tone woods and try experimenting with guitar building and modifying. I guess you could say along with Old Crow, Fretboard Journal helped make me the man I am today. It also has opened me up to the wide world of independent luthiers and builders. That may also mean I’ll make my next guitar a small business one rather than a corporate one.

The issues range from $8 to $18 depending on how you buy it, at the stand vs. subscription. This is the only magazine so far that I bought a subscription to the day I saw it. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is.

Wonderful magazine, great topics.