Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stimulus Package: Local Gig on April 29


I want to clue into a fun show if you are going to be around the LBC area this weekend: Stimulus Package will be playing on Friday the 29th at the Regal Inn in Lakewood.

Stimulus Package is a So Cal based 4-piece band, with Ben on lead vocals/bass, Eric on lead guitar/vocals, Maynor on lead guitar/vocals and Randy on drums. They have been “providing your Rock and Roll bailout since early 2009.”

I have known Eric for a few years, but got to know the rest of the band when they played my house party last year. Unfortunately I missed most of that show because I was cooking for my guests, but everybody said Stimulus Package kicked that mother out.

I finally got out to one of their shows last month (also at the Regal Inn) and had a great time. They play covers from every kind of rock band, including Bowie, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, STP, Badfinger, Tom Petty, Black Crows, The Plimsouls, The Cars and Neil Young.

Not to mention a no-synthesizer version of Gary Numan’s “Cars.” Fascinating!

But most of all, they played the Stones, who seems to be their biggest influence. And, if you are going to take inspiration from a band, the Stones are the best place to start.

And they are all very capable musicians. Randy was steady on the drums, and Eric and Maynor swapped some great lead guitar parts around, and I have to give it to Ben: he is a great frontman. A band lives and dies by their singer, and he did a fine job of working the crowd. And you know what? They all looked like they were having a great time too.

The Regal Inn is located at: 6763 Carson Street in Lakewood. This is just west of Los Coyotes Diagonal (behind the donut shop). By the way, they have an interesting crowd of regulars, so it should be a fun evening. Stimulus Package will be playing from 9:00PM to Midnight

I hope to see you there!


Monday, April 25, 2011

1981 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass

Buenos dias, amigos!

I grew up aspiring to play bass and listening to Rush and Yes, so it was inevitable that I would eventually end up with a Rickenbacker 4001.

The original series of Rickenbacker 4001 basses were introduced in 1961. They have the distinctive body shape that is shared with the other 4000 series basses, and you have seen some of rock’s greats play these, including Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, Paul McCartney and Lemmy from Motorhead.

The 4001 is a solid body neck-through bass. Well, kind of. There were a few years in the 1970s when they has set necks. There have been a few other variations through the years, such as 6-string and short scale versions (not to mention the stripped-down 4001S), but for the most part these were sold as 4-string standard scale basses.

The 4001 bass has a bound neck with the curlicue headstock tip, signature triangular inlays and Rickenbacker trussrod cover. Again, there are exceptions. The 4001s necks are not bound and get dot inlays instead. All of them got the dual trussrod system “for added strength and adjustability”. Heh. Mine had Schaller tuners, which I believe are standard for these.

The electronics are a little bit different. There are two pretty hot single coil pickups, a selector switch, two volume and two tone knobs. But, the way they are wired is where things get whacky. Rickenbacker installed a capacitor into the bridge pickup to suck out the bass tone, and I guess the idea of this was to fit in with the Rick-O-Sound feature.

Rick-O-Sound was a stereo output effect that allowed the player to divide the pickup signals and send them two different amps. Ideally this would send the bridge signal to a guitar amp and the neck signal to a bass amp. The output jack plate on these basses has a jack for a stereo guitar cord (for "Rick-O-Sound"), and a jack for normal mono output. This is all academic for me. I do not know anyone that has tried this effect.

Production of the 4001 ended in 1981 when the 4003 model was introduced. The 4003 is pretty much the same bass but with a few improvements, including:

1. An improved truss rod system. The 4003 still uses dual truss rods, but no has nuts at both ends of the neck.

2. The 4003 has no capacitor on the bridge pickup. This allows full tone from the bridge pickup which is pretty tinny on 4001 bases.

If you are dying to get a new 4001, you can still get them. In recent years, the 4001 has been re-issued as the 4001C64 and 4001C64S. A vintage re-issue, I guess you could call them.

Well, my experience with the Rickenbacker 4001 was not so super, but I should have known better.

When I used to haunt Albert Molinaro’s guitar shop back in the 1980s, I would mess around with the Rickenbackers, and he was loathe to sell me one. I had bought a few jazz basses from him over the years and he knew what I liked. Maybe I should have listened to him.

The one we are looking at is a 1981 Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar in very good original condition. There is no repair or modification history that I am aware of.

The original Fireglo finish has aged beautifully. There are dings, and finish checking as shown, but it really has the right vintage look to it. It has never been abused by any stretch of the imagination.

The electronics are in great shape and both pickups have pretty even output. The pots and jack are nice and quiet too. As I said, I never tried the Rick-O-Sound, but I am not feeling too left out.

The original hardware is still in good shape, with some light tarnishing. Amazingly nobody ever installed a Badass bridge on this bass.

My repair guy (the best in the South Bay, IMO) was able to get the neck set-up ok (with maybe a bit of bitching about the truss rods and the bridge) and it probably plays as well as it did when it was new. The frets and fingerboard are in really good shape and there are no unseemly bends or lumps to it.

This all sounds good, but when it came to playing this bass, it just did not work for me.

For starters, I hate the tone of this bass. Had I known about the capacitor, I would have bypassed it (or installed a push/pull pot), so I could coax a little more bass out of the bridge pickup.

My other problem with the 4001 is its ergonomics. I was into Fenders for far too long before I got ahold of the Rick, and I never could get comfortable with it. I am cured, and don’t feel the need to buy another.

If you are looking for an original series Rickenbacker 4001, plan on spending around $1500 to $2000 to pick one up. But try one out first before you buy, as you may not be happy with what you end up with.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Martin DM Acoustic Guitar


Today we are looking at an entry-level Martin dreadnought: the DM acoustic guitar. And I will not keep you in suspense on this one -- it looks and sounds like an entry-level Martin.

First off, let’s look at how this thing is put together.

The back and sides are made of laminated sapele (an African wood that is similar to mahogany), and the top is a clean piece of sitka spruce. There is stout spruce A-frame X bracing, and I think this guitar is not going to fall apart any time soon.

The binding is black, so from any distance it looks unbound. This is a Spartan guitar.

The DM has a mahogany neck (or maybe sapele again?) with an East Indian rosewood fretboard. There are 20 frets, with 14 to the body. The neck is comfortable and has a flattened C shape to it.

And the whole thing is sprayed with an uber cheap-looking matte finish (my porn star name, BTW: “Hey ladies, I’m Matt Finish!”)

But don’t get me wrong. The guys at Martin did a nice job of putting this guitar together. The frets are well done, and their craftsmanship is fine. This is just a cheap-looking guitar when you get down to it.

It weighs in at around 4 pounds, 4 ounces which is pretty nice (especially since I usually play 10 pound basses).

Playing the DM, it not a chore; the neck and frets are good, and it came with a nice low action from the factory. But, I do not care for the tone I get from it. I would expect more even tone across all the strings from a Martin dreadnought, and this guitar is really lacking in the bass department. It sounds too tinny and bright.

If you want to pick one of these up new, you can find them online for $899.00, which includes a sturdy case covered in tolex and lined with luxurious green fur. The case might be the nicest thing in the deal, actually. The DM is available in lefty for no extra charge, and there is also an optional electronics package that I have not seen or heard yet.

Though $899 seems like a reasonable price for a made in the USA Martin acoustic guitar, it is too much for what you end up with in this case. The DM does not sound terribly special or have any standout aesthetic qualities, and there are a lot better guitars for less money out there. I would take a look at the offerings from Godin’s family of guitars if you are looking for a quality low-budget dreadnought. If you want to stick with a Martin, pay a grand more and step up to the D-18.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19: One Year of Rex and the Bass


April 19 marks the first anniversary of this blog, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank everybody that has checked in over the past year. It has been a lot of fun for me, and here is a quick summary of what happened:

There have been 149 posts that cover musical instruments and accessories, as well as album reviews and general industry rants.

13 people have decided to follow the blog. They must be family members…

There are now more than 5,000 to 6,000 page views per month. The top subjects are the Pulp Fiction Soundtrack review, a write-up of the Philip Kubicki Factor basses and my take on the Japanese Fender Jazz Bass Special re-issue.

I have no idea when I will wrap up this blog, but plan to keep it up until it is not fun for me anymore. I will do my best to keep everyone entertained.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fender Double Gig Bag

How’s it going?

There was a time when I sneered at gig bags, and would only get hard cases for my guitars and basses. My attitude has turned around on this one, and most of my instruments are in gig bags now.

I would feel differently if I was playing out a lot and had to stick my gear in a van with the rest of the band’s crap, but that is not my situation. For around the house or loading up my car a gig bag is plenty for me. You will find that light weight and less space are big bonuses, especially if you are using public transportation.

I found the Fender Deluxe Double Electric Bass Guitar Gig Bag last year, when Musician’s Friend had them on sale, and I am tickled pink with it. Hee!

For starters, this is a double bag so it holds two basses, which makes for a tidy package when travelling. I have yet to find an electric bass that does not fit it in it, but then again I do not own a Thunderbird or an Aria ZZB, which may be exceptions.

There are six exterior pockets that are big enough to hold effect pedals, sheet music, notebooks and cords. Just for grins I stuffed my Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 and my laptop in the big pocket, and they fit fine. However, I am a little leery of putting anything heavy or pointy in the exterior pockets because they could damage the bass if it takes an impact.

The case is built well, with a 600-denier nylon with 4/5" (20mm) of internal padding. It is quite well padded compared to the Roadrunner bags they on sale at Guitar Center. I have used mine for over a year, and the stitching and fabric still look fine.

My only gripe with this bag is that the carry handle is a little too far back, so that it is unbalanced (neck-heavy) when carrying it. In mitigation, the backpack straps that come with the gig bag have multiple attachment points, so you can sling this bag across your back however you see fit.

The best part about the Fender Double Electric Bass Guitar Gig Bag is its price, as you can buy a new one for 50 bucks (MSRP $84.95). I heartily recommend this product.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

1979 Fender Stratocaster Hardtail Guitar


Today we are looking at a 1979 Fender Stratocaster that is not pretty and does not play well or sound good, yet it is still collectible.

There was a time when players everywhere clamored for pre-CBS Fender gear (made before 1965, or so). They claimed these guitars sounded the best and had mythical properties, such as letting you live forever and being able to transform any material into gold.

Well, the prices of these early Fender guitars and basses shot through the roof and they became unobtainable. Them oddly enough, the late 1960s Fender guitars and basses suddenly gained the same magical allure, and also became very expensive.

Let’s fast forward to today, where it appears that the formerly horrible Fender guitars of the late 1970s are now collector’s items.

This 1979 Fender Stratocaster is all original, even including its case. What is left of its transparent finish is covering a 3-piece ash body. And note what a lovely job they did of matching up the grain on the wood! Mmm mmm bad. The finish has worn oddly around the upper horn and by the neck joint in the back. I am not sure exactly how you would wear all the finish off the horn like that.

The hardware is in good shape, and as you can see, this has a hardtail bridge. I think this added some weight to the guitar, as the guitar comes in at almost 10 pounds, which is damned heavy for a Stratocaster. The tuners are the F-logo closed-back tuners, and they hold well. I have always liked the looks of these tuners.

The finish on the neck is worn a bit on the edges, and is delaminating over the fretboard dots so that they look kind of poopy. This one has the bullet truss rod adjuster and the three-bolt neck joint, neither of which are my favorite Fender innovations. The original frets are still in good condition, but the guitar just does not play well. The action has to be set high to keep it from buzzing, which I find really frustrating for a hardtail guitar.

The electronics are adequate, but are nothing special. The pickups and pots have some extra buzz and hum, and it sounds no better than any Mexican Stratocaster you will find on the wall at Guitar Center. This is not unusual, either. I have played a few Fender guitars and basses from this era and walked away unimpressed.

All of this does not add up to a winning combination. I see prices of $1500 to $3000 for 1979 Stratocasters on eBay, which is ridiculous. This would be a good $600 or $700 guitar, but that is about it.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sterling by MusicMan RAY34 Silverburst Bass

Como estas?

Today we are looking at a Sterling by MusicMan Ray 34. This is a limited edition bass finished in Silverburst that they made for 2010.

The Sterling brand was introduced in at the 2009 Winter NAMM show, after the Ernie Ball Company made a deal with Praxis to sell imported versions of popular MusicMan guitars and basses at an affordable price.

If you are not familiar with these guitars, here is a little background for you.

Overall their products have been impressive, and these are very good instruments. They use nice woods, and good quality hardware and electronics. Best of all, they play very well and sound good too.

Sterling by MusicMan instruments have a more basic model line and choice of colors than you will find with MusicMan instruments. They include (with rough street prices):

As I said, this is a RAY34, meaning it is a Stingray bass with a 3-band equalizer and 4 strings. It has the limited edition Silverburst finish (mode code 34SVB). The finish is beautiful, and I wish Ernie Ball MusicMan would offer it on their instruments as well.

Other than the color, this thing has a lot of Stingray in it.

It has a contoured swamp ash body with a single pickup. The bridge does not have the MusicMan script on it, but it looks the same with the beefy bolts into the body. The battery box on the back is a little bigger too.

The RAY34’s six-bolt neck feels like it has exactly the same profile as the ones on the Ernie Ball Stingrays. These are only available with rosewood fretboards, as far as I know. The tuners seem a little lower quality than the ones on EBMM basses, but they hold tune well enough.

And, the overall quality is very good. The finish is smooth, the frets are well-done, and it came to me without a single flaw. And, by the way, it is pretty light for a Stingray, coming in at 9 pounds, 11 ounces.

When I plug it in, it sounds exactly like any other 3-band Stingray I have ever played. It has plenty of growl and is very aggressive.

The RAY34 is quite a bit cheaper than an Ernie Ball MusicMan Stingray, with a list price for the Silverburst bass of $979, and a street price of $689. This price includes a nice padded gig bag and a one-year warranty.

The Sterling by MusicMan basses are a great value, and if you are not hung up on having a “real” MusicMan, you will not be disappointed if you pick up one of these.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why do Things Cost so Much at Pawn Shops?

Aloha everybody!

Before I get too far into this, I will admit that I have bought my fair share of pawn shop guitars, but lately I am baffled by how much pawn shops charge for their merchandise.

Historically, pawn shops have been good places to pick up used equipment cheap, but over the last 10 years or so, it seems like their pricing has become unrealistic. Keep in mind I am located near Los Angeles, which might not be the best indicator of what is happening in the real world.

For example, it is not uncommon to go into a pawn shop and see a beaten-to-death Mexican Stratocaster for $499. Well, I can buy the same guitar (brand new) from Musician’s Friend for $499, with free shipping and no tax. Or a nice used on eBay for under $300.

I run into the same issue with their tools. You can buy a pawn shop Sawzall that looks like someone butchered a cow with it for $120, or buy a new one online for $99.

And guess what, you get no warranty with these items, and pawn shops do not usually have very friendly return policies.

Maybe this is why the inventory at the pawn shops around me rarely changes.

Is there something else going on here? There must be, but I do not know exactly what it is.

I am reasonably sure that most of the money pawn shops make come from their loan business, and any items that get sold out of pawn are a bonus to them. Maybe having lots of cool stuff on the shelves and hanging on the walls draws more customers in off the street.

If you do find a guitar or amplifier you want to buy there are a few things you will want to do:

1. Find out exactly what model you are looking at, and research what they are really selling for on eBay.

2. Inspect it carefully looking for replaced parts or modifications. These never help the value of musical equipment. If you want to look inside borrow a screwdriver (pawn shops always have tools), but put it back the way you find it. If you do not know what you are doing, do not eff up their merchandise. Pawn shop guys do not have the greatest senses of humor.

3. Use it for awhile in the shop to make sure it works correctly.

If you are not able to do any of these 3 things, or if you know the sales guy is lying to you, walk away. There is a lot of other used equipment out there to buy.

If (after all this) you decide to buy it, you will have to negotiate them down to the usual market price. The only way to do this is with cash. Credit and debit cards charge the merchant extra fees, and provide an unwanted paper trail back to them for taxes that they may not be paying. Keep in mind that they can check prices on eBay too, so don’t try to bargain them down unreasonably.

Good luck!

By the way, I think the best deals in pawn shops are their used DVDs. Usually you can get good-condition DVDs for 2 or 3 bucks, and often times you can find older titles that are no longer available in stores. Check them out…


Friday, April 8, 2011

1976 Aria Pro II Professional Bass

Good morning!

This is a really neat Japanese lawsuit P Bass copy – a 1976 Aria Pro II Professional Bass. If you can find one of these (or its brothers) you will be getting a great bass for short money.

This series of Aria P Bass copies was made from 1976 to 1981. All of these Matsumoku-built basses were made to the same specification, with different Fender-Styled logos on the headstock. In 1976 they called it the Professional Bass, in 1977 it was the Precise Bass and from 1978 to 1981 it was named the Primary Bass. In 1982 Fender said “enough”, and we did not see these great copies anymore.

If you do not look at the headstock logo, this bass is visually no different than a 1970s-vintage Fender Precision Bass. The body, pickguard and headstock shapes are all the same.

The body is made of ash (I think) with a tasteful 3-tone sunburst lacquer finish. I have also seen these basses in black and natural finishes. The multi-layer tortoise pickguard is closer in color to what Fender actually made, when compared to other Japanese copies I have seen. This leads me to believe that maybe it was replaced at some point in time.

The neck is the fattest one I have ever seen this side of a 51-reissue Precision Bass. It has the same 1 5/8-inch nut width, but the overall profile of the neck is a really fat D shape. I mean, really a D – there is a very flat radius on the fretboard. The 20 original frets are in good shape and appear to be almost jumbo wire. The truss rod adjustment is an hex head at the heel of the neck, which is not terribly convenient, but it is what it is. The tuners are good copies of the open-gear Fender parts, and look lust right on this bass. The tuners are tight, and hold tune well.

The electronics are not complicated, but then again, it is a P Bass. There is a split-coil pickup, which Aria says is a SB-II. Ok. The controls are the usual volume and tone knobs. But, this set-up has a tone of output compared to every other passive P Bass I have played. This is a super-hot pickup and I had to vary my usual “everything dimed” P Bass set-up and back off the tone knob a little to get a more mellow tone.

A nice style element on these Aria P Basses is they all came with a good-looking chrome bridge cover, but no pickup cover. It makes them just a little different than the Fenders of the era.

I found this one at a secondhand store in Japan for about $150, and I see them on eBay nowadays for $300 to $400. They are a great bass for the money if you are looking for a P Bass with vintage vibe.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sadowsky NYC Vintage 5 Bass Guitar


Today we are looking at a very nice Sadowsky Vintage 5 bass guitar. As you all know by now, I do not play 5-string basses, so it should be no surprise that this one is not around anymore. But it is a beauty.

Sadowsky NYC basses are built in New York City by Roger Sadowsky’s minions, and are the best Fender-inspired guitars and basses you can buy. Some haters sneer and call them “parts basses”. I say go buy a box of parts and see how well you can build a guitar. Then call Sadowsky and buy the best.

This one was made in August 2000, and has quite a striking appearance. It is finished in ’59 burst with a quilted maple top over the ash body. The body is not chambered, so the bass is a little heavier (8 pounds, 15 ounces) than current production Sadowskys. There is a control cavity and a battery compartment routed into the back of the body.

There is no neck plate on the body, as there are four recessed ferrules in the body at the neck joint. This design saves weight and looks trick. The neck pocket fit is super-tight, and after 10 years of use and transportation there are no signs of finish damage (i.e. cracking) around the joint. The Sadowsky luthiers really do a fantastic job.

The 21-fret neck is very good, and the original frets are still in great shape. The frets are perfectly level and were finished very well on the edges. The trussrod adjusts at the heel, and there is a nice cutout in the body and pickguard, making the process a little easier. The five tuners are very small (for reduced mass), and look a lot like Hipshots.

This bass has its original single-coil pickups and Sadowsky pre-amp without VTC. The four pots control volume, pan, treble boost and bass boost. It has no unusual noises, and sounds flawless.

The overall condition of this bass was very good when I had it, as It had never been gigged and only had some light swirl marks on the body and pick guard. It showed less wear than most any new bass you would find hanging on the wall at your local guitar shop. It played very well and sounded killer, but then again that is really the least I would expect from a bass that cost as much as it did.

This bass came to me a as a trade for another high-end bass that I was having difficulty selling. I knew I would not be keeping the Sadowsky, but thought it would be easier to sell. I was right – this one sold right away for more than I was trying to sell the other bass for.

If you want one of these, it might be time to start saving. A Sadowsky Vintage 5 will run you about $4,000, and it will take at least 6 months to get it built.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

SWR Super Redhead Bass Amplifier


Why did I ever sell this amplifier? I was caught up in Markbass frenzy when I offed my pre-Fender SWR Super Redhead, and had I been thinking clearly I never would have let it go. This is one of the worst gear swaps I ever did.

SWR was started in 1984 in the San Fernando Valley, and became well-known for their solid SM-400 amplifiers and their humongous Goliath speaker cabinets. The company was sold to Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in 2003. Rumors are that quality went down after Fender bought SWR, but I cannot vouch for this. You know how rumors are.

I bought my SWR from the Hollywood Guitar Center in 1999 (if I remember right) because I was drawn to the overall package. It was easily transportable, had plenty of output and looked gnarly. I cannot remember what I paid for it, but it was not cheap -- $1200 maybe? I think my GK/Hartke stack sold for about the purchase price of the SWR, though.

First off, I love the design of the Super Redhead. It is compact (though still almost 100 pounds), and it had a trick latch-on front cover that can be used as a stand to angle the cabinet upwards. The removable casters are definitely helpful, and there is a spare rack space in case you want to add mount-rack effect.

The cabinet on mine was built beautifully, using high-quality 5/8-inch 7-ply birch with joints made by true craftsmen. All of the joints were nailed and glued, besides being dadoed and/or rabbeted. Fuuuudge. I can do without the fuzzy carpet covering, but that is the industry standard, and I should acknowledge and move on.

The cabinet was loaded with two 10-inch speakers and a horn. I do not know who supplied them back then, but they held up well for me for the seven years that I owned it. The cabinet was ported along the bottom edge of the front panel, and could really move some air.

Of course, the amplifier was the belle of the ball for me in this package. The Super Redhead has a single-channel amplifier with two 12AX7 pre-amplifier tubes (one for the pre-amp and one for the tube DI), and a solid-state power section.

There were passive and active ¼-inch inputs, an effects loop (with a blend control knob!), a 4 ohm extension speaker out, a balanced output and an unbalanced (like me) output.

The amplifier settings had a few deviations from normal. There were the usual gain and master volume controls, bit the equalizer settings were a little goofy. For the mids, both the level and frequency were adjustable, and there was a bass knob with a “turbo” setting and a treble control with a transparency setting (both used push/pull pots). Ooh, and don’t forget the Aural Enhancer. Whatever that is. I never liked the sound of it, so I kept it turned down.

And on the front, there were an array of Direct Out controls that I also never used, but would have come in handy if I ever needed to do any studio work with this amp.

This SWR amp had a bunch of other unexpectedly cool features too. Like switches to defeat the internal speakers and the cooling fan. How about a 120-volt outlet on the back of the unit? And the headphone jack was a bonus feature that I did not have on my old Gallien Krueger 800RB.

And hey, it is nice to have the power switch on the front. Maybe Genz Benz could learn something from these guys.

Aside from the well thought out packaging and a gaggle of standard features, the Super Redhead sounded great too, and I never had a single problem with mine. I was an idiot for letting it go.

If you want to buy a new one, they are still being sold today. The power output is a bit more (400 watts), and a tuner out, but the price is a bit more too. The SWR Super Redhead has a list price of $2349, and a street price of $1649. SWR provides a 5-year warranty, which should provide some peace of mind if you pull the trigger.