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Sunday, February 27, 2011

For All You Other Guitar Geeks... So Everyone On T

OK, so the last few weeks I've been looking at acoustic guitars, and looking in more depth into Taylor's as I've been after one for a veeeery long time! At first I looked at the 310CE, which I have to say looks very nice, but then looked slightly lower in the range and found the 214CE, which is just as nice but a few hundred cheaper :) The question that comes to mind, as with any electric or acoustic guitar, is whether the name is worth the money?

With electric guitars, I've noticed that the majority of the time, the name isn't actually worth what you pay for it. Fender's a genuinely perfect example. At one point I was looking at a particular model of Stratocaster, a 60s classic sunburst. Very nice looking guitar, and it was £600 worth of Fender so it MUST be great!! I went into a shop and played it... I'm not gonna say it was rubbish, cause it was far from it. But it just didn't feel or sound like £600. The big companies have started doing something which is perfect for them, but awful for the customers like me. They know that their name has a good reputation from years of great quality guitars, so they know that people will pay a lot of money to have that name on their guitar. Knowing that, they seem to have decided to start slacking on the actual quality of their guitars. I guarantee, if you take an old Stratocaster from the 60s or 70s, or a 50s Les Paul, that kind of thing, they'll feel and sound a thousand times better than any that you can buy in a shop today.

This is where I get overly analytical and nerdy...sorry. There has always been a massive argument between guitar players, between whether yo should waste your money on a Fender or a Gibson. The honest answer? Neither :) Once you get past the shapes and the styles of the guitars, there is ONE fundamental different which basically means that neither are really worth the money you pay for them. Gibsons make absolutely FANTASTIC guitars, if you buy a top of the range Gibson Les Paul today then you'll be very hard pushed to try and find something as well made as that guitar that wasn't made 30 years ago or in Japan...different story. But, their pickups just don't quite have that £1000+ sound. To an extent, the quality of the wood and the way the guitar itself is made does affect the sound, but obviously the pickups have more of an affect once you plug it in. Fenders on the other hand are the exact opposite. They make their guitars poorly, quickly, from cheap wood which resonates quite poorly, and they just aren't that great. They look good, but that's just the shape that you're looking at. The pickups on a Fender, are amazing. Not quite Seymour Duncan's, but they're pretty damn close! If the two companies pulled together, and they put a Fender Wide Range Humbucker (love those things) in a Studio Les Paul, then you'd have a dam near perfect guitar, but that will never happen...

The argument just gets more and more complicated from there. Squiers, Epiphones, LTDs, you name it, almost every big name guitar company has a "budget" range. Although these tend to cap at around £700, that's pretty cheap in comparison to some of the top of the range stuff. Some of these, are actually a lot better than the price might tell you! I've played a lot of Squiers, and most of them are pretty average, but if you look around then you can probably find yourself a good one. It's generally safer to go by the feel of it to be honest, rather than the sound. If you get both, then JACKPOT!! I have an Epiphone SG (G400) which is RRP of about £200. It's not too bad, but I haven't played it live in about...a year? Maybe longer now.

My LTD, is beautiful. There isn't much else to describe it really, it's just a beautiful guitar. When you get past the colour and look at it closely, you begin to see why. This is basically me telling you what makes the perfect guitar.. I have an ESP LTD H-250 (blue) if you want to google it or something. The first time I ever played it, I played a solo that I'd learnt the night before which hits the 21st fret on the high E string. On any normal guitar, even on a set neck, you have to accommodate for a block of wood just behind the 15th or 17th fret where the neck joins the body. This thing is beautifully shaped so that it all curves together and your hand only notices the neck ending when your little finger hits the last fret. PERFECT. The neck itself is a nice compromise between a C and D profile, and the jumbo frets make it so light and easy to play. Nothing is wrong with it at all. The pickups are Duncan Designed, so they also make it sound great. RRP £500. That's pretty good!

Around Christmas 2 years ago I bought all the parts off eBay that I needed to build my own Strat. OK so now you're thinking "eBay? Ha I bet that thing sucks!". Wrong! I was after a custom guitar which looked cool. Almost by accident I had a Strat which genuinely beats most Fenders. I mentioned the 60s classic sunburst that I tried out? This thing feels and sounds so much nicer, honestly. The body is agathis, which is quite heavy but resonates beautifully, as well as a C profile satin finish neck that your hand glides over effortlessly, combined with genuine Fender Strat pickups that I picked up from someone who had no idea what they had!

I guess what I'm saying is, that electric guitars are very complicated. You can almost always compromise guitar quality and make up for it with pickups, while still saving your money and not having to empty your life savings on a 2 inch transfer on the headstock...

Then acoustics!! On an electric, you can buy a good body with bad pickups and just pay a little bit to replace the pickups which is very simple to do if you know what you're doing. With acoustics it's a lot more simple. You have the guitar, and the strings. If the guitar is poorly made, then you'll know because it sounds bad. Whereas with an electric you'd just put new pickups on it, that just isn't an option with an acoustic. You physically cannot do ANYTHING to improve them. If it doesn't sound good when it leaves the factory then you have a problem. So then, how much do you pay for a good one?

This brings me back to Taylors. They are the king of the acoustic world. You ask anyone who knows guitars what acoustic to buy and most will say Taylor without even thinking. A few will occasionally say Martin, but Taylor wins. They are VERY nice guitars, there's no sugar coating it. Most of them have a satin finish which feels great to play as your hand moves easily down the neck and your arm doesn't stick to the sides, they are all set up with a perfectly low action so you barely even notice any pressure on the strings, and they just look great too.

But is it worth anything between £800 and £3000? To be honest, I think it is. So I've just wasted a lot of time and probably quite a bit of web space. Sorry ;)
6:05 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It Still Amazes Me...

To be honest, I don't really know what I'm about to write, I was just doing some thinking :)

I've been into music since I was like 12, got my first guitar at 13 and started playing it properly at 14. Over that time, I've listened to thousands of songs and learnt to play hundreds, while even starting to write a few of mine. Even before I got onto the music scene, people had been writing music for thousands of years, different styles, different instruments, the lot. So how the hell, is it remotely possible, that we're still coming up with new songs?!?

With hundreds of instruments each with so much variation, you'd have thought there'd be a few duplications around. Let's just look at it from my point of view, from behind a guitar. A standard electric guitar has 6 strings, and 22 frets. There are 12 different notes, each can be played in 2 positions on any string, covering 4 different octaves, in total there are 132 possible notes, taking into account the different positions to play each one. And yet, people are still coming up with totally original music! How?! Chords get even more complicated, as each one has the variations of major and minor as well as hundreds of other different possible ways to play them to suit different keys and different styles, but I won't go into that too much.

It just completely amazes me, how we still write things which no one else has EVER played before. Just last week I started writing a song. I wrote the backing guitar with chords and finger picking melodies, and that alone has almost definitely NEVER been played in the same order, style or position as I played it. Then I recorded it, and started to improvise lead guitar melodies over the top until I had a verse and a chorus. What I just cannot understand, is how the human brain can create 100% original melodies and chord structures totally at random. So yes, I knew the scale I was improvising with, but there are hundreds of thousands of millions of possible different melodies that I COULD have played in that scale, in that position on the neck, yet alone if I'd spread out and used all 4 octaves and every string.

I simply just don't understand how people are still writing original music, it totally blows my mind!

Then you bring a band into it... but that'll take too long to talk about, I'm done :P
12:13 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Loser Which Is The Music Industry

Ok so when I first thought of doing a blog, I had literally no clue what to do one about, I was just bored!! So I thought I'd kick it off by starting with something that's been a personal interest and pet hate for years... the modern music industry.

I remember when I was about 12 and I started getting into music, I used to watch/listen to Kerrang! the music channel every day when I came home from school. I loved hearing all these bands, one after the other, day after day. Although everyone is exposed to a whole world of music past and present when they first take an interest, I didn't waste much time before I was picking out my favourites and keeping my ears open for new bands. Nickelback were already running wild but I found them just after "All The Right Reasons" which was a good time to stumble upon such a good band. Lostprophets had been at it for a few years but I happily watched them hit the mainstream with hits like "Last Train Home" and "Burn Burn". Then I saw Paramore go from that band 2 or 3 people talked about but never really paid attention to, up to the huge band that gigs Wembley. I'll get to Paramore later...

For a few years, my friend's were always subject to me coming into school and rambling about the band I found last night or the CD I just put on my MP3 player, I was always stumbling on new songs and new bands by the week if not the day.

The trouble is, ITS ALL STOPPED!!! Now I have to put in so much effort, trawling through Youtube and Last.fm and such to try and find a band worth listening to. It's not that creativity has disappeared or that the world has run out of good musicians, but it's all because of the bloody music industry! This brain dead system has taken all the originality and all the raw, genuine talent out of modern music. For the moment, just put aside whether or not you like a band I may use as an example, and just try to understand. 5 years ago I could easily expect to go home, turn the tv on and hear a band who (although being the same genre) would have a unique sound without being disappointed. For the last 2 or 3 years, things have started to change dramatically. It got to a point where before I even realised it, all the good new bands had disappeared and it was all the same stuff being played. Little did I realise, the "same stuff" was actually a new group of "bands".

The bands I'm talking about, are the ones (the first ones I noticed before I stopped caring) like You Me At Six, Kids In Glass Houses, Boys Like Girls, the list carries one. I won't deny that they do have some catchy songs between them, but they suck. I despise what they stand for in almost every conceivable way. I'll be totally honest, the first time I ever heard a You Me At Six song followed by Kids In Glass Houses, I genuinely didn't realise they were a different band. It's that Indie scene, where everyone is trying to be The Killers' next generation. It's those bands that SOMEHOW manage to get some kind of cult consisting of the 13 year old girls who scream at some sort of ultrasonic frequency at the mention of the band, for literally NO reason.

Bands used to be 100%, they'd write stuff because it was the style they liked and it expressed themselves but now it's all turned into a contest to see who can make crap sound better. Somewhere along the line, the guys in charge have decided that no one likes good music any more, so they'll pick a random area of the market and make it so that EVERYTHING fits and then claim that they produce what people will buy.

I said I'd come back to Paramore, so I will. They're a perfect example of how the industry screws people over. Before the band even knew what was happening, Hayley's manager already had his teeth in and had already begun to manipulate everything. If you don't know what I'm talking about then read into it, Antiquiet has a pretty good article on it. The producers and managers went to such extremes to make it all LOOK genuine, that they even transferred their record label in order to make it appear as if they were a small time garage band who made their own way onto the scene.

There are still good bands, making good music, just not as many as there used to be. A lot of them have fallen to the other dark side of the industry, the sell outs. So many bands have moved from the roots they started from and have ended up changing they're styles completely in order to please the mainstream. Lostprophets came very close with Liberation Transmission, and Nickelback pushed their luck with "Gotta Be Somebody", but they still kept a hold of the good stuff that made them good in the first place.

The bottom line is, that when a band develops that way naturally then that's normal and I think that's great, every band is supposed to develop as they move forward. It's when the industry forces it to happen that I get annoyed.

So yeah, there's my first blog!! I don't imagine I'll have a strong enough opinion to write so much on a frequent basis, but yeah I like good music! Thanks if you could be bothered to read it all...
12:13 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos