Monday, November 29, 2010

MusicMan Big AL Bass


This a fabulous bass that you just do not see very often: an Ernie Ball MusicMan Big Al bass. These were introduced at the 2009 Winter NAMM show, and have a few things not seen on MusicMan basses before.

For starters, there are two different pickup configurations available, a single humbucker or (gasp) 3 single coil pickups. And the other new thing is that there is a switchable passive mode on these basses.

The body is made of African mahogany and, of course has an innovative profile and shape and is nicely balanced. The Jetson shape is derived from their Albert Lee signature guitar.

The one we have here today has the original glossy Pearl White finish, and it is gorgeous.

It is equipped with a single humbucker, and I might need to explain what all of those knobs and switches do (it is a bit of a knob farm). There is a volume control, a knob for tone that only works in the passive mode, and the two concentric knobs are a 40band equalizer that only works in the active mode. The two switched are the series/parallel switch and the active/passive switch. It has an 18-volt preamplifier for a little extra mmmmmpf.

The neck is a dream, with a nice dark rosewood fretboard. The five bolts really hold it solid to the body, and the fret pocket is really tight. It is true, and the truss rod wheel makes adjustments a snap. The frets have the fine finishing that I expect from MusicMan. Final quality touches are the Schaller tuners and a compensated nut.

It plays well (of course), but the electronics and tone are where this bass really shine. I do not do much knob-twiddling, but having a passive option is something I have been hoping for from MusicMan for quite a while.

A bonus on this one is that it weighs in at 9 pounds, 0 ounces, which is pretty light for one of these.

Unfortunately, like any good thing, these are not terribly cheap. The list price on these basses is $2300, and the lowest price online is $1679. Call around and you can do a bit better.

Why don’t you see more of these? I would have to think that if they ever marketed this bass (or their Bongo bass), or got one into the hands of a big name artist on stage, that they would sell a metric F ton of these.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

1984 Steinberger XL2 Bass

Hi there!

Back in the 1980s, everybody and their brother wanted one of these: a 1984 Steinberger XL2 4-string bass. I have owned a half dozen of these basses over the past 20 years, and this one is a peach, from a condition and playability standpoint.

These basses were very innovative, with composite materials construction and rock solid electronics and tone. The original run of L series basses was from 1979 to 1995. Gibson bought Steinberger out in 1987 and sent the company straight into the K hole.

If you ever go looking for a Steinberger L series bass, this is THE model to buy. The couple of hundred earliest "transition" XL2 basses have all of the best features from both the L2 and the later XL2.

From the L2: a. warmer EMG "SS" pickups (as opposed to the "HB" models which replaced them. b. more comfortable and cooler looking plug-in curved leg rest. c. rounder neck profile.

From the XL2: a. engraved logo (not a sticker). b. cleaner looking face-plate attached from the rear. c. headpiece designed for double-ball strings (the L2 headpiece was designed before double-ball strings were available).

The body on this one is in great shape, with no modifications or unseemly damage. There some swirl marks and normal play wear evident, but no signs of abuse. There is the slight groove that these get on the back from where the strap button on the pivot plate slides across the bass.

The neck is tdf. The frets have very little wear, and will hold up for years. It may have been refretted at some point. If so, they did a marvelous job. There are no weird bends or lumps on this one. There is a small nick (1/32"), back of neck at around the 3rd fret region. There is no truss rod, so of course there are no truss rod issues…

The pickups and the electronics work fine. It has the original pickups, pots and wiring.

All of the hardware is original. The tuners work well. It still has a battery cover and the super rare plug in leg rest.

The serial number is 1903, which dates this to 1984, and this one was made in Newburgh, NY. Brrr.

It plays great, and it is solid. It sounds great and would work well for most any gig. Just be prepared for the questions when you pull it out of the bag.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Titus Andronicus: The Monitor Album Review


Today I am writing about one of my favorite new albums of 2010: The Monitor from Titus Andronicus. How could I not like an indie rock/punk album that is loosely based on Civil War imagery and themes?

Titus Andronicus is a New Jersey band that has been around since 2005. Do not think they are a bunch of pompous a-holes because they took their name from Shakespeare’s play, or because of this album’s subject matter. This band is high-energy and really fun to listen to, mostly because of frontman Patrick Stickles. I found out about them when I saw them perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

The Monitor is their second album, and it has gotten very good reviews since it was released in March. For those of you who do not remember your old history classes, the USS Monitor was the first ironclad ship of the United States Navy.

The ship was probably best known for its epic 1862 fight with CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. And, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” happens to be the 14-minute foaming-at-the-mouth finale to the album, which even has a bagpipe solo in it,

Like I said, The Monitor album draws inspiration from the Civil War, which is maybe one of the biggest bags of inspiration you could dig around in. But this is not a Civil war album. There is some period spoken word and imagery, but it mostly seems to be angst-ridden New Jerseyites having a good time and exorcising their emotional demons at the same time. It seems that every war reference should be interpreted as current day issues experienced by Stickles.

And, my god, Stickles sure seems to channel some Springsteen. His phrasing and voice have some distinct similarities. Taking it a little further, the opening song (“A Perfect Union”) actually paraphrases Bruce’s lyrics, and they give him a shout-out in the finale. And do not take this as a bad thing, I think it is awesome.

Also awesome is the way The Monitor build to the finale, travelling though a waltz, some drinking songs, some Irish jigs, punk rock anger, and finally, the bagpipe solo.

As a bonus, there are guest appearances by members of Ponytail, Wye Oak, Hallelujah The Hills, Spider Bags, Vivian Girls, and The Hold Steady.

The Monitor is worth every penny, and I recommend downloading it today. It is 65 minutes of pure self-indulgent goodness. One warning, though: don’t play “The Theme from Cheers” around little children.


Friday, November 19, 2010

1965 Fender Jazzmaster Guitar

Hey there!

Today we are looking at a well-loved 1965 Fender Jazzmaster. This example is mostly original, and has a true mojo to it.

The original run of Jazzmasters were built between 1958 and 1980, and were designed to be the top of the Fender line (i.e. most expensive) but never really caught on with the same popularity of the Stratocaster and Telecaster models. They have a warmer tone, and did catch on with the surf bands, though.

The slab body on this one was finished in black with a non-matching headstock, which is fairly rare. I believe this is the original paint, and it shows a lot of lacquer checking on the front and back.

This Jazzmaster has the most worn neck I have ever seen, making me wonder if maybe someone took some sandpaper to it at some point. There is a little flame to the male which you do not usually see on these. It is dated 4 MAR 65 B. The medium frets and nut were professionally replaced at some point, and they did a really nice job.

All of the hardware and electronics are original. The pickguard turned a lovely minty green over the years.

It came to me with the tremolo arm, the bridge cover and the ultra rare no logo hardshell case that was only available in 1965.

It played well, and the neck was super-well broken in. The sound was ok, but perhaps a bit noisy. I was always afraid to mess with those original solder joints.

I sold this a few years ago before the economy fell into the crapper. It was a great guitar, but was just not my style.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Custom Color Guitars and Basses


Before I share my thoughts on custom color guitars, I had better admit that I am guilty of craving shiny/flashy instruments that are not found in the usual spectrum of colors you find hanging on the walls at Guitar Center.

Major guitar manufacturers do not usually stray beyond the norms: black, white, natural, and bursts. Why is this? Because those are the ones that sell. What color is Eric Clapton’s Strat? Geddy Lee’s Jazz Bass? Roger Waters’ P Bass? Tony Iommi’s SG? If you answered “black:” to any of these questions, you are right.

The only unique colors that seem to sell well are the 1960s Fender custom colors. Everybody and their brother wants Fiesta Red or Lake Placid Blue. Not everybody is looking for Antigua, though.

Then there are the sparkle fanatics.

I love reading all the online complaints from musicians that say they really want sparkle finishes. Manufacturers are not listening to them, and are missing out on tons of lost sales. Really? If someone wants a new guitar, they will head out and buy one anyway, sparkly or not.

Sparkle finishes clog paint guns, and when they are available nobody actually buys them and they have to be clearanced out after they hang on the wall for a few years. Look on eBay. Do sparkle finished guitars sell for more than those with a more normal finish? Nope. Why would a manufacturer go through this hassle, when they know what the masses will buy?

So next time you are in an online forum, and are typing “I would buy one of those, if only they offered it in (fill in the blank)”, think twice. Would you really? Will 1,000 of your best friends run out and buy one too? The answer is probably “No”, so it is not going to happen. If you want a sparkly orange guitar with purple stripes, get ahold of a quality refinisher and they will be happy to take your money and spray it for you. And good luck getting your money back when you try to sell it later on.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Yamaha MG 102C Mixer


A while back I was looking for a new mixing board to use with my QSC powered PA speakers. I needed something that I would use mostly for DJ situations, and maybe a little band use. The decision to get the Yamaha MG 102C was easy.

My requirements are not exactly over-the-top. I need at least 4 microphone/XLR channels (with switchable phantom power), as well as RCA inputs, speaker out, recording out, and a headphone jack. That is about it, really. No fancy effects or flashing lights.

Well, the MG 102 C has all of that stuff. Some bonuses are a usable compression feature (on two channels), an effects loop, and separate monitor and stereo outputs.

Looking at the specs on this mixer, I have one little gripe. Yamaha calls this a 10-channel mixer, which is technically true, but take a closer look at those inputs and controls. They are counting the 4 stereo inputs as 8 channels, but they are only controlled in pairs. Sounds like six channels to me. It is a cheesy way to market it, but I knew that when I bought it.

So far I have used it for 2 DJ gigs and for the band at my house party. The sound output is clear without added hum or noise. I have not had any problems with it yet, or found that it will not do anything that I ask of it. Sliding faders would have been nice but at this price point, I am happy enough with the knobs.

Oh, and the price point is the best feature, which I have saved for last. The Yamaha MG 102C is incredibly cheap with a list price is $129.99, and a street price of $99.99. Wow!

It also comes with a 1 year limited warranty, and Yamaha customer service is great. If you do not need a powered mixer with a metric ton of channels or effects, this board is a great buy.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sadowsky NYC PJ Bass

Hi there!

Today we are looking at maybe the best quality bass I have ever owned, a Sadowsky NYC Vintage P J bass guitar. For the gigging man (or woman) Sadowskys are some of the most desired basses ever made.

Obviously it is a Fender clone, but the Fender Custom Shop has never cranked out anything as good as this bass. Really.

The full-size alder body has a P-bass profile and shape, and it is finished in Olympic White. Is it chambered? I have no idea. Probably. And, you have to dig that parchment pickguard with the Olympic White.

It has a P-Bass width neck which is 1.75-inches wide at the nut, and a 9-inch radius on the fretboard. This has the optional vintage tint on the neck and a Brazilian rosewood fretboard, which is a $300 up charge. The neck is a dream. The neck pocket fit is the tightest I have ever seen. It is true, and the truss rod wheel is a very handy feature for quick adjustments.

It has the original Sadowsky pickups and pre-amp with VTC. It has no unusual noises, and sounds flawless.

The high-quality Sadowsky hardware is all present and in great condition. The bridge and tuners are full of chrome goodness.

It has all of these great features, and It weighs in at 8 pounds 5 ounces, according to my scale. Amazing!

This one was made in 2009, and I got it from the original owner, who had hit on hard times. I really liked it, but this bass is just too nice to be sitting in its case all of the time, so I moved it along.

Maybe you need to get one. These basses sell for over $3700 new, and you will have to wait at least 6 months to get one, so you had better order yours today!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mapex Pro M Drum Kit


Today we are looking at the dust collection system I installed in my garage, also known as a drum set.

This was a Craigslist bargain I got for my kid for Christmas a few years back, and he showed even less enthusiasm for it than I have. It is a complete set with all the hardware, including road cases, that I got for just a few hundred bucks. The sellers were the Long Beach punk band “Clit .45”. And no, that is not a typo. This provenence provides lots of amusing moments, such as watching my boy puzzle out the filthy words written on the tom head, or finding the women's underwear that were stuffed behind the padding in the road cases. "Time to wash up for dinner, son!"

It is a good quality set, and it sounds great. Of course it has some road rash from all the touring the band did, but I have not needed to replace anything.

The drums are a Mapex Pro M 4-piece kit, with a 14x6” snare, a 22x26” bass, a 13x12” tom and a 16x16” floor tom. The shells are pretty light, and are made of 100% 7-ply maple with a transparent green finish. The hoops are 2.3mm Powerhoops. I should probably change the Remo heads, as they are looking a bit crusty.

The snare, cymbal and hi-hat stands are all standard Mapex issue, and are good enough for the likes of me. The cymbals are good, with 14” Sabian AA Regular hi-hats, an 18” Zildjian Medium Crash and a 21” Zildjian Z Custom Mega Bell Ride.

Anyway, it was a great kit for the money, and I promise to learn how to play it better (some day).


Sunday, November 7, 2010

1970s Ibanez Les Paul Custom Guitar

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a lovely 1970s vintage Ibanez guitar. This is one of the tried-and-true “lawsuit guitars”, the ones that were built in Japan that got Gibson’s panties in a bundle. And from the pictures you can see why: this is a super-good copy of a Les Paul Custom.

A good copy, with one major cost-cutting difference: it has a bolt-on neck.

Other than that, this Ibanez is spot-on. It has a mahogany body and a maple top, finished in its original gorgeous cherryburst, with full body and neck binding. The front has only a couple of very tiny surface scratches. The back of the guitar is also in great condition with minimal worming and surface nicks. The binding and edges are in great shape.

The neck is a dream to me. It is a 3-piece laminated bolt on neck with the lawsuit headstock. It has the old school Ibanez logo and diamond inlay/applique. There little fret wear, and the neck is nice and straight with just the right relief for a low action with the 10-46 strings I had on it. The ebony fretboard is a nice bonus.

The hardware is in good shape. The original open gear tuners are there, and they still all have their dust covers. Maybe 30% of their gold finish has worn away.

But now we start getting into stuff that has been changed on a 37 year old guitar. It has new Gibson pickguard, control cavity covers and selector switch bezel. All of the screws have been replaced with new one from Stew Mac.

The electronics sound fantastic. It has a pretty new pair of Epiphone Classic '57 pickups. It still has the original harness and pots/caps. The original pickups are nowhere to be found.

A big plus is that this guitar weighs in at about 8.5 pounds, which is at least 2 or 3 pounds lighter than a contemporary Gibson.

Dating this guitar is a little tricky. There is no serial number, so I figure it is later than 1973 (earlier ones had a rounded fretboard) and earlier than 1975 (when serial numbers were introduced).

Though not completely original, this is a great playing and sounding guitar. The pickups really deliver the vintage sound: like a Gibson Les Paul but brighter and with more bite. Besides that, it looks great (the photos do not do it justice), and it is really hard to find these 70s Japanese guitars that have not been abused. For under $400, it was a tremendous alternative to a real Les Paul.

Friday, November 5, 2010

MusicMan Dargie Delight Limited Edition Instruments


More guitars are sold in black or natural finish than in any other color. Nobody wants green guitars. That is the premise behind the Dargie Delight limited edition guitars and basses that the Ernie Ball MusicMan company sold a few years back.

This history of these is a little vague to me, but I will give it my best shot. I am welcome to suggestions and corrections so get in touch with me or leave a comment if you wish.

Before I get to the history I had better explain what these are, in case you have not seen one before. Most obviously, they are finished in the stunning Martini Olive green finish. This color is exclusive to this edition. The fret-marker inlays are extra-cool martini glasses (complete with olives), and there is a limited edition logo by the neck plate. There are no differences in the hardware or electronics.

The name came from Scott Ball, who uses the pseudonym “Dargie” on the Ernie Ball Forums. Scott runs the MusicMan guitar operation in San Luis Obispo, California.

This finish was first shown at the 2006 NAMM show, and Sterling Ball (Scott’s dad) was quoted as saying that green guitars do not sell well. There was some conversation on the Ernie ball forums, and it was decided that these guitars and basses could be ordered through dealers during a brief (one or two week) order period during the summer of 2006.

Only about 277 were ordered with this finish, and they were delivered during the spring of 2007.

I have owned four of these instruments:

Stingray 4 with a 2-band preamplifier (the Dargie of Contention): 3 basses were made in this configuration

Sterling 4HH: 15 basses were made in this configuration

Bongo 4HS: 5 basses were built in this configuration

Silhouette Special HSS: 3 guitars were made in this configuration

That about covers it for now, and I appreciate that you checked in today.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MarkBass CMD 102P Bass Amplifier

Hi there!

Today we are looking a Markbass CMD 102P amplifier from Italy. These amplifiers have been popular since they were introduced due to their low weight and high power output.

How light and powerful? This one weighs in at 44 pounds, and measures about 25 inches wide by 19 inches high by 19 inches deep. The amplifier puts out 500W at 4 ohms, and the 2 neodymium 10-inch speakers and piezo tweeter are rated at 400W. Of course, you can hook up an extension cab to get the full sound out of it.

The cabinet is solidly built of glued and screwed poplar plywood. Tragically it is covered in that fuzzy black carpet crap that pills up and looks like poo. I prefer the vinyl covering more. The cabinet is beveled at the back so it can be angled up, or straight forward. It also makes it easier to roll around in the back of a truck when going around corners or slamming on your brakes.

The amplifier is the same as the Little Mark II head unit. It is a solid-state unit that can put out 500W at 4 ohms or 300W at 8 ohms. On the front is a ¼-inch jack that will take either passive or active inputs, as well as a balanced XLR input. On the back is a Neutrik output jack, a balanced XLR out, a ground lift, an unbalanced tuner out and an effects loop.

There are gain and master volume controls, in case you want to dirty up the tone. There is a 4-band equalizer and a two filter knobs: the VLE (Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator) and VPF (Variable Pre-shape Filter). These filters really change the tone, and I managed to get some pretty killer tones out of this amplifier.

Of course, good things do not come cheap.

The list price on these is $1,829.99 and Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend (the sole importer) will not sell them cheaper than $1149.99. Sounds like price-fixing to me.

I eventually sold this CMD 121P, as I had another Markbass combo (CMD 121P), and this one was not getting much use. Unfortunately, later on it failed, and he had a lot of trouble getting it repaired by them. Not long after, my CMD 121P also failed, which is not a great pattern of reliability (based on a sample of two), as both amps were less than two years old.

I have since moved on the Gen Benz amplifiers and have been very happy with them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

La Patrie Presentation Classical Guitar

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a very nice La Patrie Presentation model classical-style acoustic guitar. They are an incredible value. La Patrie is an offshoot of the Godin family of guitars and are made in LaPatrie Quebec. I think Canada may have more luthiers than lumberjacks. Maybe.

When I first picked up this guitar, I was impressed by the sound and the build quality of this guitar, and even more by the price, which is less than half of a comparable guitar.

It is a pleasant-looking guitar, with a solid spruce top, and rosewood laminate back and sides. The neck is made of mahogany with an Indian rosewood fretboard. The finish is sort of a semi-gloss laquer, and the body has a simple binding around the top and back.

The black and gold lyre tuners are nice quality and hold well. It has first-rate Tusq (by Graphtech) synthetic bone nut and bridge saddles, and a rosewood bridge.

The neck is made of a Honduras mahogany, with added sections for the headstock and heel. It has the same satin finish as the body. There is a dual-action trussrod in the neck. The nut is 2-inches wide, which is pretty much the standard for classical guitars. The neck is a little thinner profile, so it is more comfortable to me than other classical guitars. There are 19 medium frets, and they are finished well. This one had a great set-up right out of the box, and the frets are finished well, with nice edges.

So, overall it is a nicely-made guitar, with solid materials. But, it sounds good and plays well too! It has a sweet, balanced tone. It is has of impressive volume when played hard, and has a nice low-end tone. It is pleasant to play, and would be great to gig with.

It is nice and light, weighing in at around 3 pounds, 15 ounces according to my scale.

MSRP on these is a mere $589, with a street price of about $479. You will not find a better guitar for the money.

fyi -- I did have a little trouble with this one, as a small crack developed near the edge of the top. There was a question of whether an impact caused it, but the shop went ahead and took care of it, with a very nice repair that was very hard to see when they were done.

Excellent customer service!