My Gear Story
My tale begins in 1972, when at 14, I moved from Milwaukee to Scottsdale, Az. Somehow in that move, I finagled acquiring my brother’s old Fender dreadnought 6-string acoustic. It was on this guitar that I learned to play and write songs, such as the were. The Fender Dread was my main 6-string steel until 2005.
In 75 I bought an Epiphone electric and a small crap amp I forget the name of, and a fuzz pedal or two. With this I started recording 2-track bounced instrumentals on cassette tape, with many nice results. 6 months later, G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) officially commenced, when I took a summer’s factory job earnings and bought a brown ’74 Fender Strat, my first proper axe (I know, crappy 3-bolt neck and all...wish I had it now)
I’d get off work at midnight in the Phoenix August heat, come home, have cookies, and set up and play on the patio at low volumes. I started seriously jamming and song recording with Derrrick Bostrom on drums that fall.
In college in Tucson, I spent many an afternoon at an awesome Chicago music store in dilapidated downtown Tucson, a long walk from my student apartment, but well worth the stroll. Two floors with rooms of guitars and amps piled high for the playing made an early motif for many a fevered dream. At some point I took my boyhood Milwaukee Journal paper route earnings and bought a $750 Marshall tube 1x12 combo amp, a real screamer,
to make a bigger sound with a drummer. Feedback was a real possibility now, as well as many classical Hendrix tones (if not the playing). This amp got lugged and left during summer break in Bostrom’s practice room, where a large ensemble of dabblers could enjoy using it. Since it was a free-standing guesthouse away from the main house on the side of a desert mountain, one could crank into pure noise and wail away. At some point, I replaced the stock neck pick-up in the Strat with a stacked DiMarzio Fat Strat, which brought on even earlier distortion for the punk rock of the day, though oddly in the neck rhythm slot instead of the bridge. We played a handful of gigs as a duo at full volume, with hilarious results. (see the Atomic Bomb Club tracks in the archive).
In 1982, college and tech school completed, and dreams of a music career fast fading, I moved to Dallas for work, but the Marshall tube amp did not. I sold it through the Arizona Republic classifieds to some coot in his 50s (that guy would be me now). The 74 Strat and the dreadnought came to Dallas; those and a pair of headphones were my home woodshedding rig for a decade. But in 1991, G.A.S. returned. I sold the 74 Strat to a guy at work, and bought a 90 blue Japanese Fender Strat and a red Les Paul Custom. More BOSS pedals of all varieties showed up. Recording was done to cassette, then 4-track Portastudio, then 8-track Portastudio with slaved MIDI tracks on a Mac, etc, etc… somewhere along the line the Les Paul got sold for more computer gear.
FF to 1998. Laid off for 2 months, I bought a 74 Silver Faced Fender Deluxe Reverb at GC and fell in love again with the tube amp sound. Nothing like it for playing.
It’s old, way loud even on 2, and crackles and pops, and the reverb doesn't work, but the tone is gold. Did some wonderful tracks with mic’d amp (a rainy day). Jammed a bit with work friends. Bought a Squire P-Bass. Bought a series of better condenser mics, ending with the BLUE Dragonfly, great for guitar amps with its midrange bump.
Changed the stock pick-ups in the 90 Strat to Van Zandt vintage set – wonderful. Added Fat Pbass pickups to the Squire bass. I bought a tiny Blackface 1968 Fender Champ for the
For 6 months I played in the “house band” at MCI using the Deluxe. Got a California Tele with a humbucker in the neck, and a black Les Paul Deluxe. I quit the band but 6 months later got a vintage 70s JIM Marshall 100W 1959 Super Lead head, and then a reissue 1960 4x12 cabinet. Wife climbed the walls as practice bedroom is not in freestanding building. After a year, decided I didn't like the reissue Celestron speaker shrillness, pulled them out and sold on Craigslist, and replaced them with 2 Weber speakers, very, very nice. But as the Marshall and Fender both require a lot of volume to sound their best, in 2007 I got a Mesa Boogie Stiletto Ace combo with master volume and tube effects loop. Great sounds. More boutique pedals were added, string gauges fluctuated from light to heavy, tuning ranged from concert E down to D, and I switched from Digital Performer to Garageband for simplicity. Acoustic guitar ends up stereo mic’d X-Y with a matched pair of small Octavia condensers; the Mesa close mic’d with the Dragonfly through a PNP preamp & compressor into a Mackie board into a MOTU 828 AD to the Mac; vocals mic'd through a Neumann TLM103. Done right?
2004-2005. I shopped extensively for a better 6-string steel acoustic guitar, trying Taylors, Martin, and settled on a natural cedar-top Seagull S6, without pickup. A rich, warm, intimate tone, lovely action, and a lovely price. The next year I get the cedar-topped Seagull S12+, which has a piezo bridge pickup. Tracks very nice. Also picked up a Keeley compressor (great) and Zvex Fuzz Factory (wild), and the complete Hendrix and basic Amplitube Plugs for Garage Band (just for headphone jammin').
Dec 2009. I’m in Guitar Center buying my magnificent wife a better metronome for her classical piano studies (in 3 years, she’s advanced to 22 level Liszt and Chopin while I'm still playing the same chords and riffs I came up with 30 years ago…) and I see the li’l 1-20Watt Jim Egnater tube amp head. It catches my attention immediately because it has 2 6V6s and 2 EL84s, master volume, and effects loop, and costs only $400 on a 40% off promo. I grab a Strat and sit down to play a bit and… …it’s magic, cotton candy, milkshake, single coil Strat magic.
On the all-EL84 setting with the treble up, it chimes unlike any amp in my collection. On the blend setting (half 6V6/EL84), it's also wonderful. I buy it, and a used Egnater 1x12 cab for $100, bring it home, and more amazement follows. All of the “Bold as Love” tones are here in spades, with no pedals, OMG. To hear the slanky treble opening jungles of “3rd Stone from the Sun” – wow, so, so pretty. So is Santa done? As Steve Jobs would say, “one more thing”… watching the used guitars at Guitar Center, I come across a used Seagull Artist with glossy spruce top and mahogany sides – just the bright focused rhythm guitar tone I was look for. With the glossy spruce top it rings and projects much brighter than the natural finished cedar S6, and with a rich clear tone, and also easy action all over the neck.
Dec 2010 In love again - my first Vox amp. So chiming and singing, the Mesa Ace has been mothballed, traded in the Egnater. The AC15CC version, Korean-made, all tube, not handwired, circuit board, but with a Celestion Greenback. Its soooo good. Retubed with Mullards and JJs. Been woodshedding for 3 months, very little recording, just pure pleasure, mated with a new....
... Strat, a lowly Made in Mexico Standard, with ceramic pickups, but it too is a complete joy. Very surprising, tons of bass and bite, 3x the sustain of my MIJ 92 with alnicos. Happy happy joy joy. Artic white.
Gear in Review 2011, Year of the Bucker. My beat-up '81 Les Paul Deluxe mostly sits in the rack, heavy and unused. But this year saw 2 humbucking gems added to the arsenal. In May, after 3 drooling laps at the Dallas Guitar Show, after almost succumbing to a red Rickenbacker 6, I came across a PRS Custom 22 Sunburst on the wall in the Plano GC, unsold (or returned alot) since 2008. Featuring a gourgeous nitro finish, fantastically low action, richeous 57 PAF p'ups, and a unique voice with a scale length between Fenders and LPs, it's a dream ax well worth the $2800, most I've paid yet for a guitar.
Tracked it all year long, tremendous output on the pickups and plays like butter.
Early on, it looked like XMAS '11 would just be a ZVex Box of Rock distortion pedal, and that would have been enough. It's a creamy rich totally satifying distortion, OMG.
...but, after adding up gift bucks and realizing I had $400, the iPhone 4S 64GB itch was quickly put out by hollow-body fever, in the form of an Epihone DOT 335 in natural finish. After tinkering with bridge and pickup height it is a great jazz guitar but also amazing for lead runs and quite nice sustain and feedback. The voice is also a bit more woody and nasal than the monster caramel wall of the PRS, playing like an acoustic guitar but very nice even with the basic stock alnico 57 pups.
Amazing value from China for $399 (about $3000 less than a true USA Gib 335.) Between this and the MIM Strat... a golden age for quality inexpensive guitars?
Somewhere in here got an Orange Tiny Terror head and 1x12 cab. Very sweet Class A sound.
Acid Gearflux: April 2012. So I finally got a bonus from a couple months ago, and immediately went shopping. 3 weeks ago I switched back to manual drumming for a lark and really enjoyed the results. Like Neil Young slumming with Crazy Horse - finally drumming as bad as my guitar playing and singing - it all fits perfectly! Sing and play all the parts, that's the ticket! But when I went to re hook-up the DrumKat pad box for the first time in 10 years, lo 4 of the triggers were dead, the others couldn't be remapped, it was worthless. So I got a cheap ($99) Alesis PercPad that would accept the Kat Bass pedal trigger, and used that for the first 4 tracks of the current 2012 album.
It was great fun, but tended to mistrigger on adjacent pads...but even so it was a blast and musical, so the first splurge of the '12 spring swing is a full e-drumset, the Alesis DM8 Pro:
Meanwhile, I decided to get my first decent strat, a 2012 American Standard with Custom Shop pickups in Olympic White/Maple (I'm afraid the MIM will have to go.) GC came down 15% of the already discounted sticker, amazing how fast they move when you act like you could care less.
It plays and sounds just dreamy, totally suited to my style, and better than the 92 MIJ Strat. Also bought the Fender 22w SuperSonic combo, which has a clean channel heavenly matched to this strat.
Also looking for a decent Tele or Rick this weekend at the Dallas guitar show...and there is another amp that has me intrigued...
JULY 2012 GAS ATTACK. Great Recession Spurs Upgrades Thru Cannibalization. I don't know if it was seeing Junior Brown, but I was Jonesing something terrible for a proper Telecaster. And rather than spend new, my eye fell on the items I never play anymore, so I traded in the 64 Fender Reverb, 66 Champ, and Fat Calif Tele for a quality Telecaster - a 2012 American Standard made in USA jade metallic Tele with Custom Shop pickups. At first it seemed like a great guitar - bright, slick neck, cool color, even a belly cut - hey, wait a minute - a belly cut? and where's that Tele throat? hmmm. It was kinda neutral sounding. I retried another dozen models - 72RI, Deluxe, etc - before Net drooling over the Custom Shop designed Baja Telecaster, which you have to order and wait for, they're so popular. Same Custom Shop pickups as the 2012AS, but on a traditional body with 3-piece brass bridge saddles, and an ash rather than alder body. It came yesterday straight from the factory, boxed in a plastic sleeve. I've never seen an unwrapping so sexy...and the tone? --- OMG OMG N.i.r.v.a.n.a. Haven't stopped playing for 2 days. Feels almost as heavy as my old Les Paul. It's the exact same pickups as the AS, so it must be the fuller weight (and baseball bat neck) plus the "harmonic complexity of ash" (cork sniffing)...whatever, it's has the full Tele throat, plus a couple extra tones with a 6-way switch. My god, the chimes and rings on the inner voicings of chords in the top 4 strings, mmmmmm. It's killer:
Also swapped out my old SWR Workingman 1x12 practice bass amp for a tiny but incredibly musical 50W MarkBass801 practice amp. The neodynium 8 inch is awfully nice, but I also I plug it into the Marshall cab with the Jazz Bass - sweeeeet:
still have a few more trade-ins to go (just missed a used Fireglo Rick 330...)
Rick Attack July 2012. Was in the OC last week for business and used a couple free nights to hit area guitar stores, and the walls were festooned with used Rickenbackers, which we never see in Dallas. Played 330, 360, 620, 660/Scatterwound Toaster Tops...and got an exquisite Maple Glo 620/12 with Hi Gains for $1000 off retail (a new item sold as used from another dealer's liquidation stock). It looks lamazing (although a challenge to play that narrow neck...).....Rick Begone! Aug 10. Well that was quick. After finally having 5 days of noodling and recordng to evaluate it, and playing all the Beatles melody lines and other 60s ish motifs, I decided the Rick solid body 12 was just too specialized, a one-note Johnny (12 note Johnny?), to justify keeping, so it went back. Maybe a v63 someday.
Aug 2012, One More Thing....while returning the Rickenbacker (it always takes 30 minutes to do a return at Guitar Center) I leisurely tried out about 30 guitars - Fender Jags, Jazzmasters, and Pawnshops, Gibson 339's, 335's, LP Studios, and others, and none of them grabbed me...until...until...how have I gone 36 years playing electric guitar without ever trying a P90 single coil equipped hollowbody? There was a used MIC Epiphone Natural Casino - and it was instant music. Everything played and sounded nice. Took it home and loved it. But there ensued a deep Googling of all things Epiphone Casino, wherein I learned the rich history of the Gib-330 inspired beast, the Beatles connection - all 3 not just Lennon used them extensively - and tried to suss the confusing current MIC, MIK, MIJ. and MIA model variations, finally finding a spec comparison chart of all the models. Which led to buying a used MIJ Casino Elitist 1965 Natural from the Scottsdale AZ GC store, which came last night, and at least for the next week it is the greatest guitar I've ever owned and played, wow. It has better woods, US P90s, and better electronics than the MIC, so that one's going back. The cleans are really great, the treble is amazingly articulate, and the distorted voicings are spectacular, what with the hollow body woomph. White Album to Wilco, it's all there. (For $1100 used, I'm stopping here...the MIA Lennon for $4K is pretty much the same but has the skinny neck, no thank you.) It looks like this, (but without the pickguard, Lennon style):
Lastly, I was getting crazy ideas about reshuffling the amp lineup somewhat, when I buckled down and retweaked the Mesa Stiletto Ace and the Marshall 1959 Super Lead. The Mesa has confusing knobs and just needed the effects level on the back set right to bring out the MV levels to spectacular at bedroom level. The Marshall I had pulled 2 EL84s out of years ago to drop it to 50w and in rechecking the ohms for the cab on Google came across alot of "don't do that" threads, so I put it back up to 4 EL34s, did the Channel 2 to Channel 1 patch cable thing, and - viola - sweet warm cascading vintage crunch at reasonable levels (it has a MV mod). Only 1 sound but sweet, sweet, sweet, esp with a humbucker. So ... the Mesa and Marshall aren't going anywhere.
Ok, that's enough GAS for 2012 - Strat, Tele, Fender amp, Casino -- time to make some music. So the rack currently is (see below):
Dec 21 2012 End of Year Tube Rolling Spree With the 2012 album done and posted and a busy end of the year on my day job, I've had little time for the studio until the past week. The PRS 22 seemed lacking in mojo; a restring returned it to its grand piano glory, what a clarion voice it has. Then it occured to me I hadn't looked inside the new Fender Super Sonic 22 amp; sure, the clean channel sounds great stock, but it's so loud at 1 and the "burn" distortion channel channel is so harsh it's useless. Popped the back and discovered a complement of Chinese Premium Grove Tube AX7s V1-V2 and AT7 in V5. I have 6 NOS Mullard CV4004 AX7s ($120 each) -- well 5, one's gone microphonic - I'd gotten in 98 for the vintage marshall Super Lead head, and I've been putting them in V1 in all my news amps - the Orange Tiny Terror & the Vox AC15CC - producing a wonderful improvement, so...first tried just a CV4004 in V1 of the Super Sonic...much better, usable bedroom volume up to 3, all the great softness and dynamics and beautiful tone. Then popped another in V2: wow, the harsh distrotion of the "Burn" channel became a warm, hairy very usable tube distortion, with better feel and lower volume. After googling on the V5 PI valve, I order a $29 Mullard NOS AT7, and that completed the tone remake. It is now a remarkable 6V6 amp. Then last night, had another thought - trying the same in the Mesa Stilleto Ace - a hand-wired EL34. It takes much unscrewing upside down to detach and slide out the works, but changed V1 and V2 as well to Mullard CV4004s - OMG it sounds unbelievable. The hi-gain clean channel sounds like my old 70s Marshall combo, incredibly slinky and alive, and at again a much more bedroom studio friendly volume; and the distortion channels, which were already great, became utterly superb both tone and playing dynamics. Many times I looked up in incomprehension hearing what sounded like a beautiful room reverb, but the amp has no reverb, the tone is just that 3D. Now I have 2 weeks off, so early tracking of 2013 album shall commence shortly...(and need to save up for another 3 CV4004s before they go extinct)
July 2013 Nirvana Update. Busy first half of year at work, hardly touched the guitars, but still managed to record a few nice tracks. A month ago I decided my previous tube bliss on the Fender supersonic was misguided and tube rolled again and viola out came the Mullards from V1 and V2 and in went a Mesa Russian AX7 in V1 and a Groove Tube Chinese in V2, bite is back, fuzz is awesome. More important in the "I am an Idio"t rediscovery department, I noticed both mic input channels on the Mackie mixer had their 75Hz roll off buttons engaged, shearing off the bass warmth of the guitars and amps! Arrrgh...must have shelved it for a vocal and forgot to put it back. Anywho, the last two tracks this one and this one exhibit very nice full spectrum sound now, warm, I dig it. Groovy.
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