Thursday, 18 October 2018

Some new kit

It was my birthday earlier in the month.  So with the various vouchers and cash I got I've acquired a couple of bits of new kit.

1. Harmoniser pedal.

I thought I'd try one out and didn't want to spend a lot on something that has limited use to be honest.  I watched some reviews of the cheaper mini pedals that have been coming on the market recently.  Influenced by Mooer who came up with the format.  The idea is just genius.  They figure most people who are serious have a pedal board already and that has a 9v power supply on it.  Therefore why to all pedals continue to have to have space for the 9v battery and that dictates a lot about how small a pedal can be - a format long championed by market leaders like Boss.

So take that out, minituraise as much as possible and suddenly pedals can be really small actually.  Small enough that you could have 3 or 4 easily on a little board with a power supply and be able to put it in the pocket of your gig bag.  Genius - Mooer actually do a miniaturised power amp and preamps.  Seriously you could arrive at a gig with everything in the pocket of the gig bag and a small 1x12 speaker in the other hand.  Clever.

So I bought this off Amazon.

You can see how little is is by the size of the jack plug into it.  This is a Tomsline model - if you can't read the logo.  What's it offer?   Well the large knob clicks between 1 (unison) 2 (a second), 3rd, 4th, 5th, (no sixth), 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 1 octave and 2 octave.  So a lot to use.  The other controls are as follows.  The two little black knobs control the level of the dry (unaltered sound) and the wet (the generated note) so you can for example turn the dry to zero set it to 1 octave down and have a bass simulator for recording - or you could even just have it set like that for building a loop with a bass.  Something I might well try out.  The switch allows three settings - up, detune and down.  Up and down are self explanatory - you can set the generated note to be above or below the fundamental on he dry signal.  The detune is fun!  The big knob then varies the amount  of cents (100/th of a tone) that is generated.  Now this is great for creating 12 string type emulation sounds.  That really works well with arpeggio sound.  Given this was about £38 there's a lot to like as you get a lot of flexibility and my initial playing with it shows it tracks single note runs well - chords more difficult and you have to really think about the chord voicing anyway or you get some discordant things going on.  I like the mini pedal idea too.  Shame I've a huge pedal board with a load of Boss effects already on it - and I don't see the justification to move wholesale over to mini pedals.

2. Power Attenuator

Second purchase is a Hartley Benton power attenuator.  I actually wanted the Bugerra product which is similar but looks less utilitarian but that seems to be out of stock everywhere so I went with this option instead ordering it from Thomann in Germany.  I was impressed with that having never used them before.  They get generally good reviews from people.  Sad we're about to leave the EU and that may well no longer be a viable option if tariffs and customs stuff gets in the way.
If you don't know a power attenuator allows you to run your stupidly large valve amp like my 60w 2x12 Hughes and Kettner Statesman at volume but it then lowers the power going to the speaker so it sounds much quieter.  That's my main reason for getting it - one to allow me to drive the H&K at levels I'd never consider at home without shaking the house to bits and getting a noise abatement injunction from the council.  There's different ways to do that - some sound amazing with different options etc. but they cost more than the bloody amp is worth and simply the answer would be to buy a modern amp with a built in attenuator but for under £100 this one does the job admirably well.  You can get it really low - which was the hope as my hearing suffers with my meniere's disease and it's been difficult to play sometimes at virtually any volume.  I'm hoping this allows me to reduce that to the bottom level and then it can just allow me to play at very low volume.

However there are other useful features in the box.  Two outputs on the back - one for line out (straight signal) and one with a speaker emulation built in.  The second smaller knob on the front controls that line level independently of the output setting.  So I can now plug that into a recording device and in theory record even with the volume set to zero and listening on monitors or headphones.  To be tried out - often I just plug in to my Boss and found a sound to just have ease because micing up the amp is a pain in the backside - this might give me a better option than that.  I hope so - I'll report back when I get a chance to play with it.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Gibson Les Paul Switchmaster Custom 1957

Many many years ago when I first started playing the guitar etc. John Miles was an artist I liked.  Remember him?  Most famous was his breakthrough hit of Music - which is a marvellous tune, with a bit of 7/4 timing thrown in with piano, orchestra and rock guitar solo.

Anyway John Miles had a black Les Paul Custom - hmmm.... another influence on my desire for one of these in later years maybe.  But his was special.  Many customs from the late 50s were built with three pickups - it was the default set up and continued into the SG custom that followed in the 60s - it is extremely rare to see a two pickup SG custom although two pick Les Paul Customs became the norm after the 1970 reintroduction.   John's had three pickups but rather than the usual three way switch and two vol and tones his had a four way slider switch and six controls.

Here is a video of him playing it in 1976 in one of his hits Slow Down.  Esp about 1:30 in you'll see the guitar during a Peter Frampton / Joe Walsh inspired voicebox solo.

In a standard three pickup les Paul the middle pickup is only live when the switch is in the middle position - where you'd normally have bridge and neck pickups both on - on a three pickup you get bridge and middle.  You can't individually alter the tone or vol of that pickup too - it's just governed by the bridge controls too. 

Frankly a bit of an odd set up - you think that Gibson just stuck the middle pickup on the custom in 1957 when humbuckers became the standard pickup to compete with the three pickup flagship Stratocaster that Fender had launched.  But they didn't think the switching through.  Now they did have a guitar in the range - the ES5 - big jazz thing!   That had been fitted with P90s and called the Switchmaster for a couple of years as they had this four way switch, each pickup separate and all together being the options and vol and tone control on each.   Here's a lovely 1956 version...

(PS that's available off Reverb for a very reasonable £10,000!)

Why all this interest... well... because.... I've just found one for sale!

How stunning is that boy!   Note it doesn't have the gold hat box knobs of John Miles' version but I actually like this look more.   The tuners have been changed to kidney bean Grovers

Here's the back view.

Now this is a 1957 model.  So two years before the legendary 59 Les Paul (standard).  But obviously a custom (which was considered the better version pricewise in the catalogues at least)  and something a bit unique.  Now up for sale in London at... £80,250.   Ok not cheap but a bargain compared to a burst from 58 through 60.

Given I'm about to retire should I get myself a present.... ;-)

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Gibson Les Paul Standard 2019 - what's the furore?

Here is a picture of the new Gibson Les Paul Standard 2019 model. In the snazzy looking Blueberry Burst.  Not possibly the colour I'd choose if I was buying this guitar but interesting and actually quiet innovative for a production guitar finish - you've got a standard burst idea - i.e. fade from light to dark from the centre out to the edges and a colour transition from the neck joint to the base of the instrument. 

Now - if you search on the Internet for Gibson Les Paul Standard 2019 - you'll find a whole host of articles and videos with people in melt down.  I've not seen this level of hate for Gibson Les Paul since the addition of robot tuners and the height adjustable brass nut.

I thought I write and give my take on this... firstly by talking history.

Exhibit one the original Les Paul model as introduced in 1952. (from

Let us roll on to 1957.
(This is actually Snowy White's guitar that he has used throughout his career with Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Thin Lizzy etc.).

Note the changes - the original bridge was a disaster.  Les Paul wanted the trapeze model but the strings are under it not over making palm muting at the bridge a mighty bit tricky.  So firstly it was replaced with a simply stop bar and the neck angle in the body changed to go over the top.  Then another year or so later Gibson went with the familiar tunamatic and stop bar arrangement to allow better ease to intonation during set up.  The other big change is that by 57 the Humbucker pickups had been introduced replacing the original P90s.  Look at this guitar and the 2019 model.... there's the heritage.

But....  We've not yet hit the "golden" years - the burst years.  At the end of 57 Gibson dropped the "gold top" finish, which had been the only finish available since introduction (barring very rare custom orders from the factory) and introduced the cherry sunburst finish.

Here is a classic example from 1959 - in a book I actually own which is yes simply page after page of Les Paul bursts from the late 50s to early 60s.

Now... one thing I've heard a lot of moaning about on the forums and youtube is that this year's model isn't a "classic" standard.  Now... here's the thing.  The Les Paul Standard as a model actually never appeared until 1975.  This was when Gibson realised many people were routing out Deluxe model's to take standard format humbuckers.  The Deluxe was introduced in 1969 after the brief appearance of a P90 model that had looked very like a 1956 model.  The deluxe continued the "gold top" and a cherry sunburst theme.  In the mid 70s a few companies, notably Dimarzio, were offering replacement pickups and people were often putting these in routed out Deluxes to look like a late 50s model - which were by then the holy grail of guitars with Jimmy Page among many others using them.  (Btw Deluxes used a routing in the body similar to a P90 route but fitted into via a clever ring a small humbucker - essentially left over Epiphone pickups from the 60s.

So - if you want an original "Standard" replica you actually want a 1975 copy - with the 70s pickups - not PAFs, the volute on the back of the neck ... etc. all things many consider as backward steps in the Les Paul evolution.

The 2019 model - the complaints...

The complaints I hear most are...
  • Colours
  • Push Pull knobs
  • Dip switches
 Colours - well in 1959 you could only get one colour - at least this year you have a choice of two!

Push Pull knobs.  Yes traditional Les Paul models until only very recently only offered the one sound - the humbucking pickup.  Let's look at the competition... I'll pick PRS as they are the obvious one, USA based production of their core models (as they call them).  Since the initial intro of the PRS custom and single cut models (likely competitors to Les Paul models) they have had multi switching options - either via 5 position switches to give various humbucking and single coils in combination or via coil tap (or split) modes via a push pull on the tone control(s).   I'd also point to other near competitors - Gordon Smith in the UK.  I have their Graduate 60 model (a 2002 one) which has coil taps (and a no load control on the vol too) which offers the coil tap option.

Dip switches - to go along with the push pull knobs inside the guitar is a way to alter which coils are used on which setting etc.  clearly not something you can do on the fly when playing live but allows you to tailor the optional sounds to what you prefer.  Honestly I think that is brilliant - it makes the thing so much more versatile and if you are a recording guitarist doing sessions maybe a god send one day - if you remember to carry the screwdriver you need to get into the back.

BTW - you can just leave all the switches in the standard position and never use them... you know what it'll sound like... a Les Paul!

I really see the Standard as the guitar Gibson want to compete against PRS Customs and Singlecuts.  Now PRS continually update their models, different switches, pickup updates, tuners, colour options etc.  To me Gibson want the Standard to be a versatile sounding (hence the switches etc.) colourful (like PRS) high spec production guitar.   It is exactly that.  To me they are hamstrung by some limitations of the original design - for example the top fret access - although they could modify the heel to be like the Alex Lifeson Axcess model.... and why not?  Probably because they fear the backlash.  Gibson's only fault is not clearly saying - this is our modern PRS beater and pushing the heritage tag on the Traditional model.

So my take on this is this...

If you want a more traditional Les Paul that looks much more like the late 50s versions then buy the Les Paul Traditional.

Btw - that is $600 cheaper in Gibson's price list!

This is the bit I'm lost on - if Gibson didn't offer the Traditional then I could possibly see the argument from those complaining about this.  But it is like Fender - they offer the current Professional series, with a more modern two post vibrato system, modern pickups etc. but they also offer the American Original series where you can buy something built to modern standards but with the old world look etc.  If you like an old style trem (like me) then look at that as an option.

Alternatively Gibson (like Fender) also have incredible custom shop offerings of painstaking recreations of the holy grail guitars we conservative bunch of guitars all want.  Like this one example.

Actually Gibson call this one The Holy Grail.  Now the only issue you have here is the prices.

Les Paul Standard - $3,399
Les Paul Traditional - $2,799
The Holy Grail - $6,499

So yes the custom shop one is  over twice the price of the Traditional.   You pays your money and all that.... btw the custom shop offer many other limit options where the sky is the limit pricewise.   Oh you could save up about $250,000 and just buy an original I suppose.

Although there is a Custom Shop 58 model at a reasonable (ahem!) $4,999.

My Opinion...

To me the Standard, even when it was the Les Paul Model in the 50s, has been the evolving modern model.  If you don't want that then buy the option Gibson have created for you - the traditional.

Would I buy a 2019 Les Paul Standard?   No.
Why?  Well to start I have a 2007 Gibson Les Paul Custom
Which I'm very happy with.  It has no coil taps it is in boring standard black etc but I always actually preferred the black custom vibe - blame live albums like Frampton Comes Alive and Live and Dangerous where Frampton and Robbo both sported black customs.  Then if you could find one in the UK it would have cost you about £650 which was a fortune to me.  A gold top deluxe was more often seen in the shops near me at about £500 - still too much for a penniless teenager!   But in my mind it was black custom or gold top deluxes that I always craved as a youngster.
Also I have a Gordon Smith Graduate 60 - slightly rawer sound and coil taps for versatility (oh and a brass adjustable nut too... decades before Gibson declared it a new innovation). Also way way lighter than the Gibson.

Also I bought a PRS CE 22 some years back.  Now it is lighter than the custom by a mile, better high fret access, lovely colour, has a five way switch giving versatile sounds and has a really reliable functioning trem.   To be honest if I can only take one guitar to a session/gig it would be this one every time as it'll tick every box I'm likely to be presented with. Now the new standard might get close with those extra sound options but... no trem ... and a trem on a Les Paul that would be sacrilege ... ;-)