Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sterling by MusicMan SB14 Bass

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a very nice Sterling by MusicMan SB14 bass guitar. For those of you that are not familiar with the brand, here is a little background of this MusicMan bass copy:

MusicMan instruments are expensive, and are financially out of reach for many beginning musicians. In an effort to provide reasonably-priced quality instruments to this crowd, the Ernie Ball company made a deal with Praxis to sell imported versions of popular MusicMan guitars and basses.

They named the brand “Sterling by MusicMan”, which is confusing as there is already a MusicMan Sterling bass. Oh well.

Sterling instruments are very good and are made from nice woods, and are equipped with good quality hardware and electronics. They are made in Indonesia, and are inspected and set-up by Praxis in Orange, California.

The Sterling SB14 we have here today is a copy of the MusicMan Sterling. A Sterling Sterling, if you will. See what I mean about the brand name being confusing?

As this bass is sold at a lower price point, there are not as many configurations or color choices as you will find on MusicMan basses. For 2011 the SB14 is available in black with a rosewood fretboard, or tobacco burst with a maple fretboard. They are only available as a 4-string with a single pickup.

This one is a 2009 Sterling SB14, and it is finished in Candy Apple Red over its basswood body. The body has the same shape and contours as its MusicMan cousin. The paintwork is first rate and the neck and body fit very well together.

The hardware is heavily chromed, and is heavy duty, but lacks the MusicMan logos. The tuners hold well, and the high-mass bridge is bolted to the body, just as it would be on the MusicMan version.

The 3-band pre-amp and electronics are very good. There is a MusicMan designed ceramic humbucker with a phantom coil underneath to quiet the circuit down. This is a very loud bass, and it has an edgy tone, leaving nothing on the table.

The 5-bolt neck is good, and the fretwork is well done. The frets are level and the edges are smooth with nice bevels to them. Sterling has adopted the truss rod wheel too, so adjustments are a snap.

The SB14 is growly as all get out, and it has a smooth and playable neck and action, making it a true winner. The only reason I sold this bass was that I no longer prefer narrow jazz-width necks, so I am more of a Stingray bass guy.

The Sterling SB 14 basses have a list price of $849 and a minimum advertised price of $599, which is the same price as they were in 2009 when they were introduced. They are a great value, and if you are not label conscious you will get a great bass for not much money.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Vistaprint Business Cards

Good day!

All musicians or bands should have business cards with their contact information and website link on them, and there is no excuse not to have some now that they are easy and cheap to order online. But I cannot recommend Vistaprint after my experience with them.

You see Vistaprint’s banner ads everywhere on the internet, and they are always advertising that they will give you 250 business cards for free. Of course there is no such thing as free, but on initial checking, it seemed like their cards were a good deal.

I was able to pick my own design and put a photo on it (extra charge, of course), and it was going to be $19.99 for 250 cards. Plus shipping, so it was really more like 25 bucks, but I should have upgraded the paper too – more on that later.

After putting the order together I had to click through page after page of offers for stuff I did not want, so it took quite a while (which was made worse by the slow Vistaprint web site). There was also a tricky box that needed to be unchecked so that I would not be enrolled in some sort of shopping service.

When I finally got to the checkout screen, I decided not to pay extra for expedited service, so it took about 3 weeks for the cards to show up. And when they showed up it was a real disappointment.

When I finally got my cards, they felt and looked cheap. They print these “Premium Business Cards” on 80# stock, while the industry standard uses 100# stock. Should you want to upgrade to 100# stock there is a $16.99 upcharge for 250 cards.

Also, Vistaprint’s cards are actually smaller than normal sized cards, measuring 87mm by 49mm. Other printers supply normal sized US market cards which are 89mm by 51mm. There is no mention of this at all when ordering the cards from their website.

Do you really want your card to be smaller and thinner than the other guys? Perception is everything, and people might think you cheaped out when you bought your cards.

And, to add insult to injury, you can count on receiving an endless succession of annoying spam e-mail offers from Vistaprint for free or discounted products. And often when you check into the offers you will find that they are no longer valid.

I will be trying another online printing company and will let you folks know the results.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster


It looks like I have fallen down the relic hole again. Intentionally worn-out looking new guitars are contrived, but every now and then I happen upon one that plays and sounds so incredible that it is worth it. And this one is worth it.

Today we are looking at a Fender ’63-reissue Telecaster that is a real peach. It is finished in Fiesta Red nitrocellulose lacquer over an alder body, and it was built in 2008 by the Fender Custom Shop.

The neck is the best part of this guitar, and it is a boss piece of quarter-sawn maple with a rosewood fretboard. It has a C shape, a 9.5-inch fretboard radius and 6105 (tall/narrow jumbo) frets seated into it. The extra work they put into sanding down the back of it during the relic-ing process gives it a super smooth feel.

The next-best part of this guitar is the electronics package, which is a bit different than your usual re-issue Telecaster. There is a Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker at the neck, and a vintage ’63 Tele single-coil at the bridge. The 3-way switch is wired as follows: position 1: bridge pickup, position 2: neck pickup with tone control (Bright Vintage Circuit) and position 3: neck pickup with no tone control (Dark Vintage Circuit). This is the way it came from the factory, and I see no reason to change it as this guitar is amazing. In position 3, this guitar gives a tone that would make any Les Paul on the planet jealous, and this Telecaster could actually make one think that the Stratocaster was not a very good invention. Really.

The rest of the specs are as expected: it has nickel/chrome hardware with Fender/Gotoh vintage style tuners and a 3-saddle bridge.

As far as the appearance of the ’63 Telecaster, it is reliced beyond reason, but it is what it is, and I will learn to love it. It is, after all, a great playing and sounding guitar.

These guitars all shipped with a nice G&G hardshell case and the Fender Custom Shop certificate of authenticity, as well as a bridge cover that came in a nice accessory pack.

Alas, these guitars do not come cheap. A Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster like this has a list price of $3400 and a street price of $2889.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best Contact Cleaner: DeoxIT


Before replacing that scratchy or sticky pot on your guitar, you really should give DeoxIT a try. I have been using their products for years to fix cranky guitars and amplifiers.

This stuff is not the canned air that you buy from Office Depot, but are cleaners and protectors that will flush crap out and help fix intermittent connections.

There are a slew of DeoxIT products, so to make it easy, here are the two you are going to need:

1. DexoIT DN5. Make sure you get DN5, not D5, because the DN5 evaporates more quickly and will not drip all over the place. This is a 20% cleaning action, and works well as a stand-alone application.

2. DeoxIT Gold GN5. This product only has a 0.5% cleaning action, as its purpose is to act as a protectant. You would use this product to protect new electronics or older parts after you have cleaned them up with DeoxIT DN5.

This stuff lives up to its claims. I used these to clean up the original pots on my 1963 Jazz bass, and they were quiet and smooth after I worked DeoxIT through them. This allowed me to have a bass that worked well, without having to screw up its collector value by replacing factory-original parts.

I have been using the same 14 gram (½ oz) spray cans for a few years, and they retail for about $11 per can, which makes the product about as expensive as unicorn blood. I know it is a cliché, but DeoxIT will pay for itself the first time you use it.

You can buy DeoxIT directly from the manufacturer’s web site at , or if you are in a big hurry, you can usually find it at Radio Shack or Fry’s Electronics stores.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Slicker than Snot: Taylor V-Cable

Hi there!

It was an “ah-hah!” moment for me when I saw this product – the Taylor V-Cable. In the past I have owned acoustic guitars that had pickups but no electronics or volume controls, which meant relying on a sound guy or having to go over to the amplifier to change volume levels. Or having to carry a volume pedal everywhere I went.

The Taylor V-Cable takes care of this situation handily. The Rapco/Horizon company makes these in the US for Taylor, and they combine a quarter-inch cable with a master volume control and a mute. These can be used on pretty much any instrument that needs to be plugged in, and come in 250k and 500k versions, depending on what you will be using it on.

Choosing the 250k or 500k version might be a confusing decision for folks that are considering the V-Cable. Then again, these are the same specs you would have for the pots in your guitar, so it is not quite a voodoo science. In most cases I would go for the 250k version, unless I was going to be using it exclusively on a guitar equipped with humbucking pickups.

Looking at the cable construction, it is apparent that this is a quality accessory. It has a 20-gauge all copper center conductor, and top drawer connectors. The knob feels solid, works smoothly when turned, and has a satisfying click when the mute function is engaged.

I tested a 10-foot 20k cable on an older acoustic guitar, and found that it did not add any extra noise to the signal chain, and the volume control was easy to use while it was plugged into the end pin. The cable seemed a little stiff, but it was new. I think this product is a winner, and if you don’t want to upgrade the electronics on your guitar, it will add a lot of functionality.

The Taylor V-Cable comes in seven different lengths between 3 feet and 25 feet, and all lengths are available with 250k or 500k pots. The cables have a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser, if they register it through Rapco/Horizon.

Of course, the good things in life are not cheap. The Taylor V-Cables run from $61.99 to $73.99 ($49.19 to $59.19 street price), depending on how long of a cable you need. Of course, it is still cheaper than buying a volume pedal, and it makes for less gear to haul. Think about it.


Friday, July 15, 2011

1998 Musicman Stingray 5 Bass


Today we are looking a peach of bass I picked up from a local guy who had advertised it on Talkbass – a 1998 Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray 5.

Ernie Ball started building fivers in 1988, and they have gone on to become the best selling 5-string basses ever made. It seems like every country bassist I have ever seen on stage has a Stingray 5. They have a relatively narrow (17.5mm) string spacing, so the neck is not too wide. Originally only available with a single humbucking pickup, Stingray 5s can now also be had with 2 humbuckers or a humbucker and a single coil. You can even throw in a piezo bridge and go fretless if you want to.

This one is a plain-Jane single humbucker bass, and it rocks. It looks to have been hardly played at all over the past 13 years, and the glossy black poly finish is in great shape.

It is all original, including the kick-ass hardware, which includes the high mass bridge (bolted to the body) and the Schaller tuners. This was made before the age of compensated nuts, so it did not get one. Do you really need a compensated nut on a bass?

The electronics are the stock ceramic pickup (alnico did arrive until 2008), with a 3-way selector switch. The positions are: series, single coil (closest to the bridge) and parallel. I am a big fan of the parallel mode.

The previous owner strung it with DR Black Beauties, which I ordinarily hate, but they really sing on this bass. I’m going to leave them on there for awhile and see how they hold up.

Of course, my track record with 5-string basses has been horrible. Most do not stick around for more than a month or two, but I am going to give this one the old college try, and it is a great playing bass. We’ll see if this one makes it until my 4th quarter inventory update…


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Please Help Out My Buddy (The Author): WAHOO RHAPSODY

Como estas?

I know that this has nothing to do with usual music topics, but the best book of the summer is WAHOO RHAPSODY. Well, it is the best book any of my friends have published this summer, but it's still really good. Think Carl Hiaasen funny and Elmore Leonard snappy with a kick-ass mystery woven through.

An American deckhand is smuggling pot from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego inside the bellies of dead fish. He steals from the drug lord and bad things happen. There's a corrupt federal prosecutor from Arizona, a beautiful and fearless P.I., and an expatriated hero with millions in cash hidden away. It's a fast-paced, salty tale that's perfect for the beach or the pool.

Go to to read the first chapter for free, and then go buy WAHOO RHAPSODY on Amazon. It is also available for the Kindle for 8 bucks. Trust me.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lollar Pickups


I have rarely installed aftermarket pickups in any of my guitars, unless the originals were broken or missing, but I could make an exception for a set of Lollar pickups.

Jason Lollar is a first-class luthier, but he is better known for the custom pickups he builds, and he wrote thebook on winding pickups. That is not an exaggeration – he really did write the book (Basic Pickup Winding and Complete Guide to Making Your Own Pickup Winder).

He provides pickups in the usual configurations: Jazz Bass, P Bass, Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Humbucker and P-90, but he also builds steel guitar pickups and pickups for some offbeat applications.

Lollar pickups are well regarded by musicians and luthiers, and manufacturers source them for some or all of their models. These builders include Collings, Nash, National Resophonic, and Sadowsky, among many others.

Looking at the pickups, they are very neatly wound, wrapped and soldered. Lollar stands behind the pickups too, offering a 2-year warranty to the original purchaser.

My experience with their pickups has been positive. I‘ve had Lollar pickups in two instruments over the years: a Sadowsky NYC Original P, and a Fender Telecaster (Vintage T Series). In both cases I found them to be brighter and biting (but not brittle), and stronger in the bottom end than the equivalent Fender factory pickups. They enhanced the sound that was already there, and did not make them sound like a completely different instruments.

For more details on Jason Lollar’s products or to place an order, check out


Friday, July 8, 2011

Stimulus Package: Local Gig Tonight in Lakewood, California


It is short notice, but if you are around the Southbay tonight you should try to catch Stimulus Package at the Regal Inn in Lakewood.

Stimulus Package is a Southern California based 4-piece band, and I have written about them before on this blog, plus had the joy of them performing at my house party last year. They have been “providing your Rock and Roll bailout since early 2009.”

They play covers from every kind of rock band from the 1960s onward, including The Stones, Bowie, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, STP, Badfinger, Judas Priest, Tom Petty, Black Crows, The Plimsouls, The Cars and Neil Young.

They are great musicians and put on a fun show, so make it out is you can. There is no cover and the drinks are cheap…

The Regal Inn is located at: 6763 Carson Street in Lakewood, just west of Los Coyotes Diagonal (behind the donut shop). Stimulus Package will be playing from 9:00PM until late.

I hope to see you there!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pro Sound and Lighting Auction in the Los Angeles Area


I wanted to let my Southern California readers in on a killer auction of pro sound and stage equipment that is going on this week.

R.L. Spear Co. is closing out a business, and looking through the 435 lots they have up for bidding, it looks like there are a lot of gems in there. There are guitars and wind instruments, speakers, monitors, lighting controllers, microphones, road cases, amplifiers, huge stage junction blocks and snakes and much much more.

I have prior experience with R.L. Spear Co., having bid their auction of Sony Studios props and equipment, and they are a reputable firm. They liquidate businesses from all industries and I have seen their auctions for everything from software companies to dental offices. If you can think of it they have probably auctioned it.

Of course, the auction company is not an expert on this equipment, so this is definitely a good time to show some caution. If at all possible you should inspect the items in person before bidding.

To inspect the items the hours are 9AM to 4PM on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and the location is 2200 Fleetwood Drive in Riverside, CA. Bidding is now open, and the auctions start to end at 2PM on Friday, July 8.

This is an online-only auction, and items must be picked up in person from Riverside, California on Saturday July 9 or Monday July 11. A 13% buyer premium applies to all purchases.

You can find instructions, register to bid and check out the wares at


Sunday, July 3, 2011

1984 Fender JV ’62 Re-issue Jazz Bass


By now you probably know about my fascination with Japanese Fender instruments, and this is a rare one. It is a 1984 ’62 re-issue Jazz Bass with a JV-prefix serial number. It is one of the only ones I have ever seen, and it seems like JV Precision Basses outnumber Jazz basses by about 20 to 1. This one is a model JB62-60, and it still has the 60 sticker on the headstock, meaning that this bass originally sold for 60,000 Yen.

This one is finished in its original 3-tone sunburst, and it is in very good condition considering that it is 27 years old. The rosewood fretboard and frets show very little wear, and the truss rod still turns easily.

The hardware is original too, with the serrated bridge saddles and the non-reverse tuners that later JV basses were equipped with. When I bought it, the bass came with the original leatherette Fender gig bag, which you never see with these.

But, despite its rarity and the collectability of JV instruments, this one is an uncollectible outcast. How come?

Well, that is because when I got this bass it had no electronics in it, and the original pickups and pots were long gone. I put it right (more than right), and it sounds great, but it is not an untouched classic anymore.

I installed Fender USA vintage pickups with CTS pots, an Orange drop capacitor and a Switchcraft output jack. This is all strung together using Belden Silver Coated Copper Wire (with cloth covering) and WBT silver solder. It was the least I could do.

It plays well, and sounds good. It has a bright and cranky tone with the new roundwounds I put on it, but it does not really work for me. Over the years I have become more comfortable with the fatter Precision and Stingray bass necks, and a skinny Jazz neck feels alien to me now.

This one will be going up for sale soon, so let me know if you are interested.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Inventory Update: Third Quarter of 2011

Hi there!

What is in Rex’s newly remodeled garage/studio today? Inquiring minds want to know, and the second quarter ukulele frenzy has changed up the mix a bit. Here is a snapshot of what is around today:

1. 1982 Fender JV Precision Bass. The oldest Japanese Fender I have ever seen. I recently had this one strung with D’Addario tapewounds. This thing is sexier than Face’s Corvette.

2. 1982 Fender JV Precision Bass. Ditto the above, but with Jamerson flats.

3. 1984 Fender JV 62 RI Jazz Bass. This bass is on its way out because I hate the neck on it. Maybe I am not a Jazz Bass guy anymore.

4. 1999 Fender 75 RI Jazz Bass. Ditto the above, although it is dead sexy.

5. 1997 Fender 52 RI Telecaster. A heavy thing, but the best Tele I’ve ever owned, and that says a lot.

6. Kala Tenor Ukulele. Cheap, but a very good ukulele.

7. Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele. I am in love again, and this one make the other ukes hide in dark corners (and Chris’ house).

8. Simon & Patrick Songsmith dreadnought. Still a very popular subject on my music blog.

9. 2008 Martin D-18V. It is good to have a really nice acoustic back in the fold. Hopefully I will not be so hasty to off such things in the future.

10. Genz Benz Shuttle 6.0 with 2 12-inch Shuttle cabinets. The ironmen of my collection.

11. Cave Passive Pedals. These are the only products on my pedalboard besides my trusty Boss tuner.

12. Fender Vibro Champ XD. Cheap, but it has a 5-year warranty.

On August 1st things will look completely different. Trust me.