Saturday, August 27, 2016

Guild S-200 T-Bird Electric Guitar Review


Sometimes it seems like there is nothing new out there, and each year guitar manufacturers come out with new versions of the same old Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Les Pauls that they have been building for the past 50 years. This is the reason why I was so excited to get a chance to play the new Guild S-200 T-Bird re-issue. When is the last time you saw one of these?

The original S-200 guitars were built between 1964 and 1968, and they featured a unique body shape and a crazy electronics package. Maybe you have seen Buddy Guy, or Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) playing one of these. Vintage versions of these guitars are hard to find and when they do come up for sale they are really expensive. Guild has solved this problem, and this Korean-made instrument is a nice guitar and a solid value.

Looking over this re-issue Guild, the first thing anybody comments on is the body shape. This asymmetrical chunk of mahogany is dead sexy and looks equally fine in either antique burst or black, the two glossy poly finishes that are currently available. This body is loaded up with a whacky tremolo and more switches than you can shake a stick at, and I will get into these a bit later.

The neck is also mahogany, and this is a comfy C-shaped chunk of lumber with a 24 ¾-inch scale length, like a Gibson. The 12-inch rosewood fretboard is really pretty with its pearloid block inlays and ivory binding. There is a 1 11/16-inch bone nut and 22 medium size frets sunk into the board. The classic looking headstock has a pearloid thunderbird inlay on the front, and a set of cool 3 on a side Grover Sta-Tite open gear tuners (kind of like Waverlys).

Another unique feature of the S-200 is the vintage-correct Hagstrom Tremar vibrato. This hardware was originally introduced in 1961, and was installed on most solid-body Hagstroms up to the early 1970s. It became a popular piece of hardware for many other guitars of the era, as they were cheap and easy to install. This is a simple tremolo, with a horseshoe-shaped base-plate hinged to another plate connected to the arm; both plates are connected from below with a tension adjustment screw. There is not much pitch variation with this style of bridge, but generally they return to pitch well and do not break many strings.

Lastly, there is the cool electronics package that comes with this Guild, and it is built around a pair of reproduction LB-1 Little Bucker Alnico 5 humbucker pickups. These are wired through 2 volume and 2 tone knobs, as well as slider switches for ON/OFF, rhythm/lead mode and tone. This allows for a variety of sounds, as it is possible to select single coil or humbucker sounds, as well a circuit that uses a tone capacitor.

This all comes together well. The guitar has a comfortable neck that is easy to play, and I have been able to find a lot of Les Paul-like sounds that are good for rock and excellent for blues. The craftsmanship is good, with a nice finish, and well set frets. Plus, it just looks awesome! The only downsides are that it is heavy (10 pounds+), and it does not fit in most guitar stands very well.

The Guild S-200 falls squarely into the mid-priced guitar realm, with a list price of $1010, and a street price of $799. This includes a nice padded gig bag. For this price it is definitely worth giving one a try, especially if you are tired of having a guitar that looks like what everybody else is playing. Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Guns N’ Roses Not in this Lifetime Tour: Live at Dodger Stadium


When I learned that Guns N’ Roses was going on tour with three of the original members, I was very interested in seeing what they had to offer. But, when I heard the Los Angeles stop was going to be at Dodger Stadium I lost interest pretty quickly. Dodger Stadium is a hassle to get to, huge outdoor shows rarely have very good sound, and large groups of people are usually terrible to deal with.

But, I kept getting emails about how there were still good seats available, and a few days before last week’s show I bit the bullet so I could see what it was all about, and I am glad that I did.

GNR’s Not in this Lifetime Tour brings frontman Axl Rose back together with Slash and Duff McKagan, who (to me) were the heart of the original band. The other original members, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler, were not included in the group for this tour. Other touring band members include drummer Frank Ferrer, guitarist Richard Fortus, and keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese.

I attended the first of the two Los Angeles shows, on Thursday, August 18. The tickets and website were a bit vague as to what time the show would actually start, but I arrived and got parked pretty close to the “doors open” time of 5:00PM. After getting into the stadium the concession guys told me that the warm-up band would start at 6:30 and the main act would start at 8:00. Right.

The stadium was pretty empty at 6:30 when The Cult hit the stage, and it was cool to see that they started on time. Long-time members Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), and John Tempesta (drums) were joined by newcomers Grant Fitzpatrick (bass) and Damon Fox (keyboards). The band was able to cover their big hits, including “Fire Woman,” “She Sells Sanctuary,” and Sweet Soul Sister.” Duffy did a tight job on the guitars, and Astbury showed that he still has a good vocal range, though it seemed like he did not have the breath and stamina to carry all of the vocals; the band helped out a lot with backing vocals on the choruses for most every song. Still, it was a solid set and the Cult was a solid opener, finishing up at 7:20PM.

With the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as the soundtrack, the crew broke down The Cult’s equipment and prepped for Guns N’ Roses. I was curious when GNR would actually go on, as Axl is notorious for starting shows hours after their scheduled time. But, again, at 8:00PM the lights went out and the band hit the stage with “It’s So Easy,” and this cut from Appetite for Destruction was exactly what the crowd was looking for.

From there they played songs from their debut album, GNR Lies, Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, and Chinese Democracy; and with two dozen songs in the playlist this ended up being a nearly three hour set. I have heard that Axl runs hot and cold, but he was definitely on his game this evening. He was mobile on the stage, was able to hit the high notes, and got the job done. He did take breaks from time to time, but he did well. As an added bonus, he kind of looks like an older version of Cybill Shepherd nowadays.

Slash has lost nothing over the years, and he has one of the strongest left hands in the business. He did an extended solo break that included a kind of hokey rendition of the theme song from The Godfather, but it played well to the audience. He also had good rapport with Fortus, and this duo did a bang up instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were here.”

Duff McKagan is a crowd favorite, and his bass work was good but was often lost in the mix. One high point of the show for me was when he took the microphone to lead the band with a rousing rendition of The Misfits’ “Attitude.” I was glad to see that he still has love for the Fender Jazz Bass Special, too!

The rest of the band was tight, with kudos to Frank Ferrer for his powerful and skillful drumming. I had a hard time hearing any of the keyboards, but Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese were able to provide a solid job on the backing vocals.

There really were not any clunkers in the set, though the audience reaction to the songs from Chinese Democracy was tepid. This was true of “Catcher in the Rye,” which kicked off the encore, but the band made up for it with the inclusion of “Patience,” the Who’s “The Seeker,” and the closer, “Paradise City.”

All in all, this was a great show – the energy was good, the band clicked, and they did not leave out any of the hits. If you have the chance to see them, do it. This is the closest that you are going to get to seeing an 80s vintage Guns N’ Roses show. Trust me!


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing – Skronky Tonk | Album Review

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing – Skronky Tonk

EllerSoul Records

13 tracks / 59:35

Little Charlie Baty made his name as a bluesman, playing his guitar with Alligator Records’ Little Charlie and the Nightcats, and later on with the Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue. But this Californian has been waiting to release an album that would allow him to express his love of swing jazz, and twice before he had albums ready to go and things just did not work out. Well, the third time the stars aligned for him, and Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing has released Skronky Tonk on EllerSoul Records; it is thirteen tracks of originals, standards, and a few things that are just a little bit different.

Organ Grinder Swing is an organ jazz trio, with Baty on the guitar, J. Hansen on drums, and Lorenzo Farrell on the Hammond organ. The legendary Kid Anderson recorded this album in January of last year at San Jose’s Greaseland Studios, though it was not released until this spring. Anderson came through once again (like he always does), and Skronky Tonk is a very well recorded disc with a clean sound and fabulous mixing.

The set kicks off with the original title track, and this upbeat jazzy blues tune is simple yet satisfying. Farrell does a fine job of filling in the bass parts with the organ, and Little Charlie is in fine form on guitar – he has a naturally flowing jazz style that is very listenable. Baty also wrote “Cobalt Blues” and “Gerontology,” and the latter gives Hansen the opportunity to shine on the drums.

Organ Grinder Swing also takes on a nice collection of classics and standards, including “How High the Moon” and Little Charlie does a very respectable job with this Les Paul classic. His tone on “Pennies from Heaven” is slightly dirty, giving the song a new feel. And “Misty” is tight with a cool Hammond lead that gives it a kitschy vintage feel, in a good way.

From the “stuff that is just a little bit different” department, there is “Receita de Samba” which features a cool Latin beat on the snare and a catchy melody from Baty’s guitar. This theme carries over to “Nuages” which was written by Django Reinhardt, and it's the first of a pair of tributes to the legendary guitarist. The other is “Django,” which was written by jazzman John Lewis and it is surprising that the organ carries the melody for the introduction, but things are put right fairly quickly as the guitar takes the lead, with some cymbal heavy jazz drumming from J. Hansen.

Skronky Tonk is a labor of love and it is awesome that Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing were finally able to make it available to the masses. Big thanks should go out to Watkins Ellerson of EllerSoul, who helped make this project come to fruition. Jazz is not always the most accessible form of music, but this trio’s take on it is really cool and you should give it a listen to see if it is your cup of tea. Chances are good that it will be!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ibanez TMB310 Talman Electric Bass Review


I have played a few Ibanez basses over the years, including their Soundgear and older Roadstar models, and have generally been pretty happy with the instruments they produce. They are a good value and play and sound fine. So, I figured their Talman line of basses would also be good enough for the job and they did not disappoint me!

The Talman name goes back a ways for Ibanez as they started building instruments with this name in 1994. The have been discontinued a few times, but last year they re-introduced Talman basses as another pretty good entry-level line of instruments. I did a little research and have no idea exactly what a Talman is, so your guess is as good as mine.

When this bass came out of the box, the first thing I noticed is that it is pretty darned cool looking. This is subjective, of course, but I think the fat horns and offset waist give it a new feel compared to the P-bass shape that has been ubiquitous for the past 50 years. It is not too goofy, and almost comes off as a vintage vibe.

The TMB310 Talman that we are looking at today come in eye-catching poly gloss finishes, including the Turquiose Sparkle shown here and a very nice looking Silver Sparkle. These colors are sprayed over a mahogany body, which is also notable at this price point, as a lot of the cheaper basses are made with basswood, it seems. There is classy black 3-ply pickguard that provides a nice contrast to the sparkly finish. Turning the body over, there is a battery compartment for the active electronics, and no neck plate for the attachment bolts. I have always thought this looked neat…

This is a standard 34-inch scale instrument, with a maple neck and a white plastic bound rosewood fretboard. I like the large acrylic inlays in the board, as I thing they look classy. There are 20 frets sunk into the 9.4-inch radius fretboard, and the cutaways give good access to all of them. The neck has a reasonable profile that falls between the baseball bat Roadstar necks and the almost too-thin Soundgear shape. This results in a 1 5/8-inch nut width, and a vintage feeling C profile.

The Talman’s hardware selection is ok, but not really outstanding, and given the price point that is not too surprising. There are open gear big cloverleaf tuners that seem just a little loose and a fairly standard-looking bridge. These are finished in bright chrome, as it the control panel and knobs.

It was exciting to see the big humbucker at the bridge on the Talman, and the first thing I though was “Musicman!” This is combined with a split-coil precision pickup at the neck, and these active pickups are wired through 2 sets of stacked pots: volume / pickup balance and treble / bass. There is also a coil tap switch on the pickguard to turn that humbucker into a single coil. Ibanez calls these Dynamix pickups, which is apparently a criminal mating of the words ‘dynamic” and “mix.”

This Talman was made in Indonesia, and the craftsmanship is good. The finish is nicely applied, even around the boltholes for the neck, which can be kind of tricky. The fretwork is good, and they are level with no buzzing or terrible dead spots. The fretboard inlays are flush and have crisp edges, which can be kind of a sore spot on other low-end basses. It did need a slight truss rod adjustment, which is not surprising as this thing was shipped over 8,000 miles from Indonesia to California, probably with a few stops along the way. In case you are wondering, it weighs in at right around 10 pounds, which might seem a bit heavy, but remember that the body is mahogany, not basswood.

Once properly set up, the Talman is an easy bass to play. It balances nicely on a strap and it is not a stretch to reach to reach the lower frets. The neck is very comfortable and though it has a glossy finish on the back it does not feel sticky. The mahogany body seems to give it a bit more sustain, though I cannot recall anybody ever complaining that their bass did not have enough sustain…

As far as the sound goes, this bass was about exactly what I expected, and that is a fairly generic low end active bass tone. There is no extra noise or hum, and it can do respectable Precision and Jazz sounds (with the coil tap on), though there was no way I could get it to sound like a Musicman. There is a metric ton of treble and bass that can be gained with the 2-band EQ knobs, so it should be easy to make yourself heard though a muddy stage mix. There is nothing offensive about the tone, and it can get growly if you crank the knobs up enough. The will do the job for most any type of modern music you want to play through it, as long as you are not looking for a woody passive tone.

The Ibanez Talman TMB310 bass is a pretty good instrument and it comes in at a reasonable price, too. It has a list price of $428.56 and a street of $299.99 (case not included), which is pretty competitive in the low-priced bass field. Check one out if you get the chance, and let me know what you think!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Balkun Brothers – Balkun Brothers | Album Review

Balkun Brothers – Balkun Brothers

Dixiefrog Records

12 tracks / 63:48

The Balkun Brothers out of Harford, Connecticut are a breath of fresh air in today’s music landscape with their varied influences that include artists such as Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Primus, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. Steve and Nick Balkun are young guys, but their sound is mature and the blues-rock they crank out is hard and true. They have gained a lot of notice with numerous awards to their name, have toured the world and played major festivals, and last year’s debut album, Redrova, is simply amazing.

Their eponymous second album is just as good; it was done as a duo, with Steve playing the guitar and singing the lead vocals, and Nick taking care of the drums and background vocals. The brothers wrote eleven of the dozen songs in the set, with over an hour of material for their listeners to enjoy. They got some extra special help at Serpentine Studios in Central Valley, New York, as none other than Popa Chubby recorded, produced, and mixed Balkun Bothers. You could not ask for a better mentor!

Here are a few highlights from Balkun Brothers:

- Steve and Nick start things off with “Been Drivin’” and this tune hearkens to the hammering feel of Golden Earring’s Radar Love, one of the greatest road songs ever. Steve and Nick do not waste any time showing off how much talent they have, as their work on guitar and drums is top-notch, and the vocals are strong with a nice weathering around the edges.

- They changed up the sound a bit for “Jail Bird” and brought in Dave Keyes to play the piano. This is a slow-tempo blues-rocker, and the Robby Krieger style keyboards add a little smoke to the mood. It starts with the components of a conventional blue rocker, but then it morphs into an awesome jam with an extended guitar solo over tricky drum rhythms.

- The sole cover on this album is Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues” and this up-tempo romp is one of my favorite songs on the album. Nick sets up a mean drumbeat and Steve does a killer job of mimicking the guitar riffs as he howls out the lyrics. Apparently the brothers have shared the stage with Johnny before, and I cannot imagine that he would have any troubles with their interpretation of his song as is it freaking incredible.

- This disc finishes up with “Rainy Day Front Porch Blues” and with this Delta-inspired piece the brothers show that they have done their homework and have studied the classics of the blues genre. There is just a Dobro and a kick drum (plus a little rain sound effect) to accompany the sad story of a fellow who has lost his lady. Steve’s vocals are spot-on and this turns out to be is an excellent way to bring things to a close.

The Balkun Brothers are hot and it is no accident that they were named the best band in Connecticut or that they made it to the finals of the IBC. Their latest album is worth your time, and be sure to head to their website to see if they are gigging near you. Their live show comes highly recommended, and I am going to follow my own advice and see them as soon as I can!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

BOSS CS-2 Compressor Sustainer Guitar Effect Pedal Review


Awhile back I reviewed the BOSS CS-3 Compressor Sustainer pedal, and recently lucked into a Japanese-made CS-2, so I thought it would be cool to do a comparison between the two. There is a bit of derision towards the CS-3 so this is also a good chance to see what all of the fuss is about.

Effect pedals come in all price ranges, all the way from total junk on up to You can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, and the choices include boutique pedals with prices so high that they must use unicorn hair for wiring. Somewhere in between are BOSS pedals, which are reasonably priced, good quality, and the mainstay of many working musicians. The BOSS CS-2 we are looking at today is a perfect example of this.

What exactly is a compressor sustainer pedal? Well, this one compresses louder signals and boosts softer signals, resulting in more even output. At the same time it can sustain your notes, making them sound longer. Putting these two features can result in a smoother sound, and this will work with either guitar or bass.

The CS-2 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2-7/8 inches wide by 2-3/8 inches tall by 5-1/8 inches long. Take that, metric system! In that same vein, it weighs in at around 15 ounces. This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter. It draws 4 mA at 9 volts (vs. the 11mA of the CS-3), in case you are thinking of hooking it up to a pedal board power system.

By the way, if you run the unit on battery, make sure you unplug the input when you are not using it, as the input jack acts as the power switch. It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a lovely shade of blue. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a single 1/4 input, a single 1/4-inch output and a jack for the aforementioned AC adapter.

The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include Level, Tone, Attack, and Sustain, so it is not too complicated. Here is what they do:

Level: adjusts output level, not input level

Attack: enhances the intensity of each note by controlling how quickly the compression activates.

Sustain: adjusts the sustain time. If turned counter-clockwise it acts as a limiter.

Note that there is no Tone knob on the CS-2, on the CS-3 this controls high frequency boost and cut.

My old CS-3 pedal is at its best when it is asked to provide a high level of compression, and combining it with the right guitar/amp combination (think Les Paul and a Marshall). It certainly can squish things down, and there are definitely usable ranges, to be found though I would avoid anything outside of the 9:00 to 3:00 range as there is too drastic of a difference in tone when the unit is switched on. Increasing sustain seems to enhance the compression effect, so I usually keep it below 10:00. The tone control is very useful, and it helps dial out most of the muddiness that comes bout from the compression. With these settings the attack can be spot on without a ton of mush. But, I found that the pedal is best used for hard rock and metal, as this pedal clouds the sound with a lot of gain, which gives out a very edgy and uneven tone.

The older model CS-2 is a LOT smoother, and is better suited to the country and classic rock that I am mostly playing these days. Also, I do not have to get as extreme with my amplifier settings and am able to dial in less bass and enjoy a bit more treble. Also, it does not add nearly as much noise to the signal chain. My other effect pedals work better with it, and for classic Telecaster sounds this pedal really delivers the goods.

There is only one downside, but this it is common to pedals in this price range. Like the CS-3, the CS-2 does not have true bypass, which is something that everybody and their brother wants. In truth, there is some color added to the straight tone when bypassing the pedal, and gear nuts are fanatical about this.

So, there really is a difference between the two pedals, and if you are not looking for an extreme sound the CS-2 is the better choice. These pedals were discontinued years ago, but there are still tons of them on eBay with reasonable prices that range between $60 and $100. They are the real deal, and I heartily recommend this pedal! If you get a chance to try one out, be sure to let me know what you think!


Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here… | Album Review

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here…

EllerSoul Records

11 tracks / 51:32

You are probably familiar with Mike Henderson’s work, even if you have not heard his name before. This three-time Grammy-nominated cat has written songs that were recorded by artists that include The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, The Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, and even Adele (damn, she is popular). Or, maybe you have heard him on albums by folks such as Mark Knopfler, Albert King, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Hank Jr., John Hiatt, Sting, Bo Diddley, Tim McGraw, Lucinda Williams, or Bob Seeger. Then there is his work with his own groups, the SteelDrivers and the Bluebloods, which is truly amazing.

If you still do not know who he is, maybe you caught him during one of the regular Monday night shows he has at Nashville’s Bluebird CafĂ©. Then you would know how tight his band is, and it would surely make you want to pick up a copy of his EllerSoul Records debut, If You Think It’s Hot Here…. Producer Kevin McKendree in Franklin, Tennessee’s Rock House studio, cut this set of hard-hitting roadhouse blues live in the studio. It is 50-minute mix of originals and covers that defines the Mike Henderson Band.

Mike took care of the lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica for this project and his band certainly meets his high standards. The roster includes McKendree on piano and B3, Michael Rhodes on bass, and Pat O’Connor behind the drum kit. First up on the track list is “I Wanta Know Why” and this original has a bit of a southern rock flavor to it. The most notable thing here is Henderson’s guitar tone -- it is full and meaty, and this sound is a major contributor to the anxious tone that the band was looking for. Mike lays down an awesome slide solo, and McKendree has a killer touch on the piano keys here, making for a solid opener.

Then there are a couple of Hound Dog Taylor covers, “Send You Back to Georgia” and “It’s Alright,” and there is no doubt that these fellows have the shuffle figured out. O’Connor is one hell of a drummer, and his timing really pulls these tunes together.

There are plenty of other extra cool covers on this album too. Muddy Waters’ “Mean Red Spider” is very catchy with nice snare work from O’Connor and a slick walking bass line from Rhodes. The classic “If I Had Possession” from Robert Johnson features (appropriately) lovely guitar work from Henderson; this song never gets old no matter how many artists cover it. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Unseen Eye” features Chicago style guitar licks galore and very tasty barrelhouse piano from McKendree. And the traditional, “Matchbox,” is a romp that is just plain fun. There is not a dud in the bunch!

These covers are neat, but the standout song of the album is the original title track that is already a certified crowd favorite. Henderson has been playing “If You Think It’s Hot Here…” for years in his live shows, and this ode to our place in the afterlife has wonderful lyrics and a solid melody. McKendree’s piano work is very powerful, and to add a little more depth a few guest musicians were brought in: Don Underwood on guitar, as well as Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton on backing vocals. This is a song that can be listened to many times without getting stale, and it might just make you think about what may be in store for you when the pearly gates close. Or not.

If You Think It’s Hot Here… has a live gig vibe with the benefit of studio refinement, and the end product is an entertaining set of roadhouse blues that is very listenable from the comfort of your own home. The originals and tributes mix well together and the Mike Henderson Band play all of them with skill and passion. Be sure to check out Mike’s web page for his gig schedule (still playing on Mondays!), and think about picking up a copy of this disc for your collection!