Saturday, September 28, 2013

Memory Lane: Gallien-Krueger 210ML Guitar amplifier Review


I remember the first time I saw the Gallien-Krueger 210ML. It was the loudest little combo guitar amplifier I had ever seen, and I was instantly filled with lust. “We begin by coveting what we see each day…”

Gallien-Krueger has been building quality solid-state amplifiers in the United States since the company was started by a pair of Hewlett Packard engineers over 40 years ago. They have become the biggest bass amplifier manufacturer out there on the back of their RB series of bass amplifiers, which were introduced back in the early 1980s. Their products and customer service are very well regarded in the music industry.

Well, G-K also used to dabble in solid-state guitar amplifiers, and the 250ML was introduced in the early 1980s as the combo version of the 250RL. It was small, coming in at around 22 pounds and measuring 14 x 9 x 6 inches and carrying two 6.5-inch Pyle speakers. In checking around, and it turns out they also had the same combo with two 12-inch Celestions (the 212SCL), though I have never seen one of these in my world.

The 250ML is a stereo unit with 50 watts per channel. The front of the unit does not have many knobs, but it sure has a passel of switches. There is a single input jack with a channel switch (A or B), as well as a footswitch jack and a headphone out. The A channel (clean) has a Gain switch and a “compander” switch which is designed to produce a more bluesy sound. The B channel (dirty) just gets a gain switch. There are also knobs for the four-band EQ, as well as switches for pre-set stereo echo and chorus effects.

The back of this G-K amp is a lot simpler. There is an XLR direct out, two ¼-inch 16-ohm speaker outs, and a switch to change from bypass the internal speakers and to switch from 16 to 8 ohms. There is also an effect loop and a trick ¼-inch jack that can act as a stereo out or as an aux in. How does that work? And lastly there is the power switch, an IEC power cable socket and a separate 110V outlet, which is something you never see anymore.

If you hook up the optional footswitch, you can control the channel switching and turn the effects ON or OFF. Unfortunately it will turn both effects ON or OFF at the same time. Bummer.

All of this stuff is wrapped up in the aforementioned little tiny package, which is securely housed in an aluminum case with a steel mesh grill. There are little rubber feet on the bottom and a handy carry handle on top.

This amplifier is amazingly loud for its size, as you can imagine. The tone it puts out makes me think of 1980s metal every time I hear it. But other than this is does not really do that much for me. I can never get the rich tube sound and distortion that I have heard others talk about. Maybe there is something wrong with me…

I find the pre-set gain and effect control to be limiting. Of course you can fiddle with the EQ knobs to dial your sound in a bit better, but it is hard to make those kinds of changes on the fly. And even then you are not going to get the sound exactly where you want it.

At high volume level the tiny speaker will start to distort, and when you attach more speakers, you lose all the advantages of having such a tiny amp. It turns out to be awfully heavy for a solid-state head when you use it that way.

If you are looking for one a 250 ML, they were very well built, and I have seen some that were amazingly abused and still functioned fine. Gallien-Krueger does a nice job of supporting their older products, but do keep in mind that these amps are 30 years old, so make sure you check it out before you buy it.

Oh. And make sure you like the way it sounds too…


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stewart-MacDonald String Spreaders Review


We are looking at a product today that is so simple that I wish I had thought of it. These are string spreaders that are sold through the Stewart-MacDonald guitar supply company.

Stewart-MacDonald of Athens, Ohio has been selling guitar parts and luthier tools for over 40 years, and is the best company in the business. They carry OEM parts for both electric and acoustic guitars, as well as a panoply of bodies, necks, pickups, bridges and tuners in case you want to build your own guitar. They also have every tool you will need to build or set-up your own guitar, rewind your pickups or replace worn out frets. For example, they carry files for every application, including ones for nut work and cleaning up sharp fret edges. If you need it, they have it.

Their string spreaders were the brainchild of a real-life ace repairman, David Lynch (no, not that one). These tools might look hokey and seem like a waste of money to you, but believe me when I say that they easily pay for themselves in the time they save and the frustration they avoid.

There are a lot of jobs on the guitar where you just need to get the strings out of the way, such as cleaning the fretboard, working on a nut slot, touching up frets or adjusting pickup pole pieces. It is a hassle to unwind the strings all the way, so often times guys will tape them back or use Velcro to hold the loosened strings so they do not get in the way. My old favorite was to hook a wooden pencil behind them.

But the string spreaders make this a lot easier. You get a pair in the set, and they are about 3 ½ inches long and are made of brass coated with rubber so they do not scratch the neck. They are nice and springy and have hooked ends to hold the strings in place while you work. They install in a jiffy and help you get down to what you are supposed to be doing a lot quicker.

Anyway, the Stewart-MacDonald string spreaders are a peach, and if you do any work on your own instruments I recommend that you pick up a set. They are only $9.95 for a pair, or $8.95 is you buy 3 or more sets.

How can you go wrong?


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Taylor GS Mini Acoustic Guitar Review


My seemingly endless search for the perfect travel guitar has led me though everything that Martin has to offer, so I figured I had better give Taylor a fair shake. So, today we are going to take a look at the Taylor GS Mini acoustic guitar.

Taylor guitars are fantastic instruments, and though their sound does not suit my fancy, they have legions of fans that prove that my tastes are not shared by everybody. Most of their instruments are built in their San Diego, California factory, but some of their lower-priced instruments are built just across the border in Tecate, Mexico. These include the 100 and 200 series instruments, as well as the Baby Taylor and the GS mini.

The first question for a travel guitar is: “How big is it?” And the answer is, “Pretty darned big.” Most parlor and travel guitars are called ¾-sized guitars. I call this one 7/8-sized. It has a 23.5-inch scale, and it measures almost 5 inches deep with a 15 inch wide body. So, right from the start I am disqualifying this as an airline travel guitar.

But, the Taylor GS Mini is a nice instrument, and it has a definite role to play in the musical world. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at how this thing is put together.

GS Minis are available with either a Sitka spruce or a mahogany top, and I chose the one with the solid tropical mahogany top. The top has X braces to keep everything together while still allowing it to vibrate well. The back and sides are made with a sapele laminate, which looks like mahogany to me. The body has a tasteful black and while purfling, a simple rosette and a tortoise shell pickguard. The whole this has an even coating of matte-finish varnish.

The neck and heel are also made of sapele, and the fretboard is hewn from ebony, which is surprising on a guitar at this price point. The nut is a bit narrow at 1 11/16 inches width, but combining this with the sahllow V profile of the neck you end up with a guitar that is nice for those with smaller hands. There are 20 frets standard-sized Taylor frets, and you will find 14 of them free from the body. The headstock has a simple overlay with a screen printed logo, and sealed-back chrome tuners. They are unbranded, but seem to be good quality, and they hold tune well between practice sessions.

The craftsmanship is up to Taylor’s high standards, with an even finish and a truly terrific job with the fretwork. The Tusq nut and compensated bridge are perfect, and this GS Mini came out of the box with a surprisingly playable low action with the OEM Elixir medium gauge Nanoweb strings. I worry a little about the durability of the finish, which is thin, and the unbound edges are sure to draw a few dings here and there.

Playability is also top-notch, taking into account the narrower neck, which makes fingerstyle a little more difficult for clumsy chaps like myself. This is a very easy to play instrument.

The sound is amazingly big for a smaller guitar, living up to the GS in its name (Grand Symphony). This is helped by the big soundhole and the rounded back, the shape of which eliminates the need for back bracing. Of course the bass is not terribly thunderous, but it certainly has an even tone across the strings when playing with light to medium intensity. Once I started playing it harder the low action kept me from really digging in, so I might have to bring the action up a bit and give it another shot.

The sound is big, but sterile. It lack the warmth that I found in the Little Martin. If you plug it in you might be able dial in a more pleasing sound. But you will have to add a pickup, as the GS Mini does not ship with electronics.

Taylor makes it amazingly easy to add electronics to these guitars with their ES-Go soundhole mounted humbucker pickup system. If you order this $98 kit, it will answer your questions about the design of the goofy screw-on chrome strap pin. Installation is a breeze with no guitar modifications, and should just take a few minutes, with a screwdriver being the only tool you will need. No soldering is required! I have heard mixed reviews on the pickup’s performance, and I have not had the opportunity to try one out, so I will hold off judgment until I can hear one in person.

In case you were wondering, these guitars ship in a surprisingly sturdy padded soft case. Like all Taylor soft cases, it is that terrible tan color than gets dirty as soon as it comes out of the factory shipping box. It does a nice job of protecting the guitar, though…

So, where does the Taylor GS Mini fit in if it is too big to take on the plane? Well, it would still be great for a car trip, or if you have to lug your guitar around on the subway or bus. But where it really works is as a modern day parlor guitar. Its small size makes it great for kicking around the house, and as I said it would be a good guitar for smaller people. If you set it up with light gauges strings, it would be a great instrument for kids and beginners.

The Taylor GS Mini has a list price of $678 and a street price of $499, which includes the aforementioned gig bag. Though I do not consider it to be the world’s greatest travel guitar, it is a very nice instrument that would be great for smaller-statured players, or for general playing around the house of campfire. Try one out, and see for yourself!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

John Pearse Acoustic Guitar Strings Set 200L Review


I do not really experiment very much with my acoustic guitar strings, and mostly stick with the trusty Martin SP phosphor bronze stuff. But, every now and then I pick up a set here or there that makes me wonder what else is out there. Recently a store threw in a set of John Pearse 200L strings when I bought a used acoustic, so I figured I would give them a shot.

John Pearse was an English musician and author that you may remember from the PBS series, “Stringalong” and “Cooking with Wine.” He dabbled in the string industry in the mid sixties, and ended up moving to the US in 1978 to work for Martin Guitars in Pennsylvania. This did not last terribly long, as he started Breezy Ridge Instruments with his wife Mary Faith Rhoads in 1980. They made fabulous hammer dulcimers, and the string business came along shortly after. John passed away in 2008, but Mary Faith is still at the helm of the company.

The 200L is a light gauge set for six-string acoustics. They are 80/20 bronze wound, with the following gauges: 0.012, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042, and 0.053. These strings are not cryogenically frozen or coated or doused with any other voodoo technology. They are just very good quality strings.

After stringing up my Takamine with these John Pearse strings, I was impressed with what I heard. I realize that the strings I took off were dead, but this set was noticeably louder than the Martins or D’Addarios I have used in the past. This extra volume does not make for a harsh sound, as they end up with a very sweet and pleasant tone. This set is nicely balanced across the range with good tension on the low strings and the high strings are not brittle at all. I have mostly been working on folk music, country and bluegrass, and these strings are perfect for these genres.

These strings are holding up well, too. My daily hour of practice in the hot and sweaty studio has not noticeably degraded their tone over the past three weeks. I will keep an eye on them to see how well they last, but I think they might be a better alternative than the coated strings that I have never had any luck with…

With a list price of $12.45 and a street price of $8.00 these John Pearse strings are not the cheapest ones out there, but I think they are worth it. I am not going to throw away the stacks of new strings I have sitting around the studio, but I will certainly keep these in mind the next time I am shopping for strings.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SKB Gig Rig Rack Case Review


Today we are looking at a product that I thought would be really neat, but unfortunately turned out to be a miserable chunk of crap. This would the SKB Gig Rig.

SKB has sold a ton of the Gig Rig series mixer/rack road cases over the past 15 years, and the Gig Rig (model 1SKB19-R1208) you see here is based on their Mighty Gig Rig (ambitious name, isn’t it?). The idea is to keep all of your rack-mounted equipment and mixer in one compact, easy-to-use unit.

The R1208 Gig Rig has the mixer rails on top, and they are 12U high and mounted at a 7-degree angle. There are also front and rear facing 8U spaces for amps, effects, or whatever. There is enough space in the top rails that stuff that is plugged into the mixer does not have to be unplugged when the lid is put on.

The whole thing is made of molded black plastic, and there are handles on each end for horsing this beast in and out of vans or trucks. The lid and caster portion come off of the main body of the unit and can be stacked together to get this thing to a nice working height.

So what could the problems be with this thing? Let’s see…

1. The plastic is flimsy and the lid is really hard to separate from the body because the whole thing sticks together – to the point where I am afraid something is going to break when I am trying to separate the pieces.

2. The latches are flimsy and break easily. I do not care how good SKB’s support is, because this thing should not have busted a latch before I ever got to use it.

3. It is heavier than hell – 70 pounds of plastic, and that is with nothing in it.

4. It is hard to swallow the idea of spending $500 for a plastic case.

So, the high hopes I had for the Gig Rig were dashed when it came time to actually try to use one. If a product tries to do everything, than chances are good that it won't do any of it well. Live and learn, I guess…


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Habib Koite & Eric Bibb: Brothers in Bamako Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the February 21, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Eric Bibb and Habib Koite´ – Brothers in Bamako

Stony Plain Records &

13 tracks / 52:32

We have all seen plenty of established musicians collaborate with each other to create new art, but few of them go to the lengths that Eric Bibb and Habib Koite´ went to for their new CD, Brothers in Bamako. You see, Eric and Habib are both singers and guitarists, but they come from opposite sides of the world, and despite their diverse circumstances they were still able to put together a very pretty project.

Eric Bibb was born in New York into a musical family; he got his first guitar at the age of seven and started playing in his father’s show at sixteen. After deciding that college was not for him, he split for Paris and ended up touring the world with his band. He has released over thirty of his own albums, and has appeared on countless others. Eric has earned the respect of his peers and has received numerous awards for his blues work, including a Grammy nomination.

Habib Koite´ was also born into a musical family, but this time in Senegal, and he received formal musical training from the Bamako National Institute of the Arts in Mali. He started the West African super-group Bamada in 1988, and since then they have performed throughout Europe and North America. He has performed with many fine artists, including one of my favorites, Bonnie Raitt.

Koite´ met Bibb when they were both asked to play songs on the 1999 Mali to Memphis album, which also includes great tracks from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Eric and Habib became friends and exchanged ideas, and finally got together last year in Bamako, Mali to record Brothers in Bamako. This thirteen track effort includes original songs from each of them, a few Mali traditionals, and an unexpected cover tune. Both men provided vocals, guitar, banjo and ukulele parts, and they were joined by Mamadou Kone on percussion.

There is a little bit of everything on this album, but even with the different genres that are used there is a consistently calm and soothing vibe to the material. The first few tracks provide each man’s view of the world the other lives in. Bibb wrote and sang “On My Way to Bamako” which has simple lyrics and an island feel to it, while Koite´ provided his impressions of the City of Angels in “L.A.” which is not in English except for his repeated expression of his love for tequila. The liner notes are in French, so I cannot help out with the meaning on this one. But in this case the lyrics are secondary to the music. Both songs are layered with different types of guitars and guitar-like stringed instruments, and that is where the joy of listening to this album comes from.

The duo also recorded a pair of songs that bring social commentary to the forefront. “We Don’t Care” is a Bibb original that pokes at class differences and social hypocrisy, while an undercurrent of guitar stylings noodles unobtrusively below. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was also included, and I like what Koite´ and Bibb did with it. The raw framework of banjo is perfect for this mournful tune, and Olli Haavisto added a tasteful pedal steel guitar to the mix. These songs are particularly poignant when one considers the turmoil that the people of Northern Mali have gone through in the past year.

Overall this is a world folk music album, but it does have blues moments, which is not surprising as Eric has a heavy blues and gospel background. “With My Maker I Am One” has a blues base with slickly-played guitars and a single shaker for percussion. It is a bare bones song that Bibb wrote to show that despite our differences we are all the same when an eternal viewpoint is taken. “Send Us Brighter Days” is a slow-paced duet in English and French that has country underpinnings with a blues overlay. And then there is “Goin’ down the Road Feelin’ Bad” which is a traditional that has been recorded by many artists; you may be familiar with the Earl Scruggs or the Grateful Dead versions. This one has Bibb on vocals with clever banjo picking and a smooth guitar solo that plays well off the lyrics. A 30-second guitar outro finishes off this final track on the CD.

Brothers in Bamako is hard to classify and is certainly not mainstream, but you can always count on Habib Koite´ and Eric Bibb to turn in a solid performance. Their voices and guitars work so well together, that at times it seems like they are twins that were separated at birth. If you are fans of either of these musicians, this album is a must listen!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Sirius XM Radio Network Channel 56: Willie’s Roadhouse


I get to drive a few different cars for my day job, and when I got into one a few weeks ago, whoever drove it before me had the radio set to Sirius XM channel 56, Willie’s Roadhouse. Why did it take me so long to discover this channel?

Willie’s Roadhouse used to be called Willie’s Place, and before that it was called Hank’s Place (after Mr. Williams). The first name change was when Willie Nelson signed an endorsement deal with the network, and the second name change took place after Willie’s Place merged with the Roadhouse channel. Whew. Apparently Nelson now owns a stake in Willie’s Roadhouse.

Channel 56 is home to traditional country and cowboy music, mostly from the 1950s through the 1980s. They the play hits as well as some really obscure stuff from the original artists, including Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Sr., Charley Pride (yay!), Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Patsy Cline. Oh yes, and Willie Nelson. I have discovered songs I have never heard before, and found some artists that I just love, such as Bob Wills, the King of Texas Swing.

Though the lyrics of some of this stuff can be hokey (and at times racist and misogynistic), this music is generally wonderful. It is an important part of our musical history and without these pioneers, modern rock and country music would sound drastically different.

There are also a few regular shows that you can catch during the week, and it pays to figure out when these are on because they are fantastic. For starters, they broadcast The Grand Ole Opry on Friday and Saturday nights. Where else are you going to find this?

On Thursday nights, Wade Jessen (Senior Chart Manager at Billboard Magazine) digs out old vinyl from his personal collection and provides some of the history behind the music . This guy is a treasure, and his on-air persona is great.

And lastly, you can find the Classic Cowboy Corral on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as on Sunday mornings. This show focuses on the golden age of the singing cowboys, and is hosted by super yodeler Ranger Doug Green, and his irritating sidekick “Sidemeat.” Into every life a little rain must fall…

Anyway, Willie’s Roadhouse is now one of the presets on my stereo, and if you have satellite radio, you ought to give it a shot!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

1981 Takamine F-349 Acoustic Guitar Review


Over the years I have owned and played a few Japanese-made Takamine acoustic guitars and have never been disappointed with their craftsmanship, playability or tone.

Takamine is a Japanese guitar maker that has been in business for over 50 years now. They have started building guitars in other countries, but all of their high-end guitars still come from the land of the rising sun. Don’t sniff at their products and say that imports are junk, because they build some fantastic instruments. Though they have built some solid-body electric guitars, they are best known for their acoustic and acoustic-electric steel string guitars. By the way, the company is named after Mount Takamine in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this company became famous (or notorious) for building righteous Martin guitar copies that earned them a strongly-worded memo from the Martin legal department. Today we are looking at one of these animals: a 1981 F-349.

The F-349 (catchy name, isn’t it?) is a copy of the Martin D-17, their mahogany dreadnought. They went whole-hog on their reproduction, with using Martin’s headstock shape and logo script. I can see why Martin was upset, particularly when you consider that this is a nice guitar, and surely provided unwanted competition for a fraction of the price. This would be a lawsuit guitar, if a lawsuit had ever been filed.

The body has the traditional dreadnought size and shape, with 14 frets free from the body. The jury is out on whether this one has a solid mahogany top and body, as there is no S or SS in the model name, which is usually (but not always) the designation of a solid wood instrument. It appears to be solid to me, though it is hard to tell as the soundhole is blacked out around the edges, and when looking at the hole where the pick-up jack was installed shows the body to not be a laminate. Who know, and actually who cares at this point? It is a nice-sounding guitar.

Like the Martin D-17, ornamentation is sparse. The body has a multi-ply binding around the top and a simple black binding around the back while the neck is not bound at all. The rosette is elegant, and combined with the black pickguard and black-painted bridge it fits in well with the visual theme of the guitar.

The mahogany neck has its original 20 chunky frets, and they are skillfully sunk into the rosewood fretboard. The peghead has chrome-plated sealed tuners, probably made by Gotoh. This Takamine shares the D-17’s 1 11/16-inch nut, and 25 ¼-inch scale. The fretboard is a bit more curvy with a 12-inch radius, instead of 16-inch.

The condition of this F-349 is very good, especially for a 32 year old guitar. There is very little wear to the original frets, no cracks or evidence of repairs, and only small dings and chips here and there – no signs of abuse here!

This one came to me with a DiMarzio humbucker mounted to the soundhole, which sounded ok when plugged in, but stifled the sound of the instrument when played acoustically. After removing it, the sound was more rich and volume increased noticeably. The only scar from this installation is a ½-inch hole in the lower bout.

After a quick set-up with new strings (light gauge), I have to say that this Takamine is really a peach. It is not the loudest dreadnought I have ever owned, but I never expected that going into this deal. It has a sweet and mellow tone that is tolerant of the occasional mis-fretted note, and the volume is nicely balanced from string to string.

The frets are still level, and it is a very easy-playing guitar with no fret buzz. It is not the greatest fingerstyle guitar, but for the basic stuff I am using it for, it is a fabulous guitar. It would be a terrific instrument for a beginner, for sure. I am holding onto this as a guitar to loan to friends that are considering taking up the instrument.

If you are looking for one of these guitars, remember that they are 30 years old now, so you should look it over carefully or have a luthier check it out. Just look for the usual stuff: bridge lift, cracks, evidence of previous repairs, and fret wear.

Compared to other new guitars on the market, you get a lot of performance for the money on this one. Finding a used Takamine F-349 is not terribly difficult, and they are still very reasonably priced, at around $350 to $450 for a nice example. If you need a durable budget acoustic, you might want to track one down!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fender Twin Reverb Guitar Amplifier Cover Review


The Fender Twin Reverb is one of Fenders most popular amplifiers, and I love mine to death. I felt pretty bad that dust would pile up on it while it sat around my studio, so I set out to find a nice cover for it.

I like keeping my combo amps covered when I am not using them for plenty of good reasons. A decent cover will keep dust and sunlight (and spilled beer) out, and keep it looking like new. Also, if I am taking it somewhere it will help protect it from rain or scuffs and scratches when loading it into my vehicle. So, I looked around on the internet and the best value for me was the factory cover, part number 005-025-000.

When it showed up, there were no surprises. It is made of heavy nylon with piping stitched around the handle opening and the edges. There is no padding, so it will not protect against hard hits, but I knew this coming into the deal.

It is well-sewn, and it fits easily over the amp chassis with no troubles. There is enough extra room so it is easy to take on and off. I have seen some covers where they are so tight that they fit like a sausage, and they are a major league pain in the backside private parts to use. That is not the case here.

Anyway, there is no drama and the Fender factory cover does exactly what it is supposed to. If you have a Twin Reverb there is no excuse not to get a cover for it.

The best thing about this thing is the price: the Fender Twin Reverb amplifier cover has a list price or $24.99 with a street price of $19.99. It is worth every penny!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

2004 Ernie Ball MusicMan SUB 1 Guitar Review


Today we are looking at one of the best values out there in an American-made electric guitar: my old 2004 MusicMan SUB 1.

Back in 2003, the Ernie Ball company wanted to provide a lower-cost alternative to their admittedly expensive guitars and basses; the SUB line of instruments came from this idea. These instruments were built in the same San Luis Obispo factory as their other wares, but with features that made them more affordable. This included cheaper body woods and hardware, as well as textured finishes that required less labor and polishing to complete. You will notice that it does not say “Ernie Ball” anywhere on this guitar...

The SUB 1 was their take on the Silhouette guitar, in this case a hardtail with two humbucker pickups. This one has a poplar body that is finished in Cinnamon, which is a neat color that has oodles of sparkly and colorful highlights that glint when they catch the light just so. This color is not common, and I have only seen a few with this finish. Many of the SUB instruments came with a bizarre faux diamond plate pickguard, but the later ones came with a single-ply plastic guard. This one got a black plastic guard.

The neck is maple (painted matte black) with a 10-inch radius rosewood fretboard and 22 high-profile, medium-width frets sunk into the fretboard. This is a 25.5-inch scale instrument, and the neck is 1 5/8-inches wide at the plastic nut. The neck is attached to the body with five bolts and an angled neck plate, due to the extensive cutaway that allows access to the higher frets. The SUB instruments get the standard MusicMan truss rod wheel for easy adjustments.

The hardware is a bit cheaper than what is found on the Silhouette. This one has chrome-plated sealed tuners, though I believe models with tremolo came with locking tuners. This SUB 1 strings through the body, and the bridge has bent stainless steel saddles.

The electronics package is simple, with volume and tone controls, a 3-way toggle pickup selector and two custom humbucker pickups. Whatever that means…

And this is really a great guitar, regardless of how much it cost (which wasn’t much, really). The pickups are strong, and it has a great thick sound for rock or blues. Though the hardware is not quite as good as their higher-priced models, I do not notice any problems with sustain or tuner slippage.

The craftsmanship is what I expect to see coming out of San Luis Obispo – the neck pocket is tight and the frets are very well done, with nicely finished edges and a level fretboard. This is one of the easiest playing guitars I ever owned, and I kind of wish I still had it. If I remember correctly, this one went off to live with my friend Mike in the UK. God knows what happened to it since…

The MusicMan SUB guitars were made from 2003 to 2006, and they were quite a bargain, coming in at around $500 or so, if I remember correctly. On the used market they sell for about $300, which is a heck of a deal for a solid guitar.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Call Williams Jr. Honeychild Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the February 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Cal Williams Jr – Honeychild

Self Release

10 tracks / 36:25

Over the years I have enjoyed a lot of great music from Australia and it looks like I am going to have to add Cal Williams Jr’s latest CD, Honeychild, to the list of winners. Cal is a singer and guitarist that has been working hard to get his music heard, having toured the UK and played with many great artists, finally ending up back in Australia where he plays with his own band, teaches guitar and records.

Honeychild is Williams’ third album, and as usual he takes on the lead vocal and acoustic guitar roles. He is joined by a fine group of musicians, some of whom are members of his regular band line-up. Included are Kory Horwood on double bass and vocals, Manny Kechayas on drums, Anthony Pak Poy on back-up guitar, Emma Luker on violin and Ben Timbers on the banjo. Besides co-producing the album with Anthony Stewart, Cal also wrote half of the songs on this release.

There is a nice collection of songs on this CD, which contains a balanced mixture of folk and blues sounds thanks in no small part to the use of banjo, acoustic guitars and double bass, not to mention Williams’ pleasant country-styled voice. By the way, I hear no Australian accent when he sings. The five cover tunes range from the 1920s to the 1960s, and were popularized by the likes of Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Louis Armstrong. His five original songs blend well with these blues classics, and showcase his strong songwriting skills.

I am guessing that Cal Williams Jr is a fan of Nick Drake (as am I), as he included two songs that Drake recorded: “Blues Runs the Game” and “Smoking Too Long.” “Blues Runs the Game” is the opening track on Honeychild, and this has to be my favorite version of this song which says a lot because a lot of big names have tried to make it their own. His guitar is clear as a bell, and his voice and phrasing are perfectly suited to the material. Luker’s fiddle work adds another melodic layer to fill out this song and solidifies the whole effort.

“Smoking Too Long” is one of my favorite songs by the esteemed songsmith Robin Frederick. As always, Cal’s guitar is nicely picked, but in this case his voice comes out strongly and carries the load. The only other accompaniment is the double bass which is used to produce two great tones. First there is the percussive plucked part which is gloriously woody and natural sounding, and then there is an aggressive bowed interlude. This track was very tastefully put together, and with the forward-placed bass parts there was no need for drums. This collection of first-rate cover tunes is rounded out by the traditional “St. James Infirmary,” which was popularized by Louis Armstrong, J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk to Your Daughter” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night.”

Mr. Williams put four of his original tunes in a group in the first half of Honeychild, and when listening to the album as a whole you do not really notice a change in tone or style when he switches from his songs to others’. This is not so much that he is aping the other writers, but is instead remaking their songs into his own style. This helps the album to stand as a single entity, rather than just a collection of tunes that was thrown together to complete a package.

His guitar work is impeccable throughout, and there is a nice interplay between his top-shelf picking and Ben Timbers’ banjo on “Ole 49er” which has a folk/blues sound and straight-up blues lyrics. Then Cal shows his versatility and changes up his sound to combine delta slide guitar with a Bo Diddley beat on the title track. His “New York Central” captures the Louisiana vibe with plenty of slide guitar and more of those beautiful round bass parts under his gorgeous voice. There is even an instrumental, “Geshe La,” which is a marvelous quilt of tones and textures that is a showcase of Williams’ talents, and could easily be used as his musical resume. He is really a masterful player, and his years of hard work have certainly paid off.

I really enjoy listening to Honeychild, and my only regret is that there is not more of it to listen to. None of the songs are very long, with a few of them coming in under three minutes, and a total play time of only 36 minutes. But everything that he included on the disc is really high quality stuff, and sure enough I got plenty of them stuck in my head over the past week. I think that this music is compelling and you should surely give this new Cal Williams Jr album a try.


Monday, September 2, 2013

2006 Sadowsky Metro MV5 Electric Bass Review


Today we are looking at my latest futile effort at integrating a 5-string bass into my collection, a 2006 Sadowsky Metro MV5. This is certainly one of the best sounding and easiest playing fivers I have ever owned, and there have been quite a few that I have experimented with over the years.

In case you are not familiar with the brand, Roger Sadowsky builds the best bolt-neck basses in the business out of his Long Island shop. Of course, you pay a premium to get your hands on one of them, with prices of most of them around $4000, and a six-month wait for custom orders. His Metro line is a little more accessible for us common folks.

About a decade ago, Roger set up a production facility in Tokyo, which is the land of craftsmen. Originally called the Tokyo line, they are now called the Metro series, and these are some ridiculously good instruments. The idea was to produce basses with the same electronics, but with no custom options so they can benefit from economies of scale. They also use less expensive bodies and necks, as well as cheaper labor to bring the prices down a bit, but don’t get the idea that these are cheap instruments, in any sense of the word.

So, Sadowsky Metro basses come in four or five string models with traditional precision and jazz bass profiles, rosewood or maple fretboards, and an assortment of pickup configurations. As I said earlier, there are no custom options, and if you are looking for a left-handed or fretless bass you will have to keep on looking. Generally they weigh a pound or two more than their New York-produced instruments due to wood selection and the lack of body chambering.

The only visual distinction between Metro and New York basses is that the Metro basses do not have the NYC letters on the headstock. That is it.

As I said earlier, we are looking at a Sadowsky Metro MV5 that was built in 2006. It is in great condition, unmolested and unmodified, with the exception of a new pickguard.

The MV5 has a jazz bass body profile, in this case ash covered with a glossy black poly finish (RV5 basses get rosewood fretboards and alder bodies). It originally came with a 3-ply black pickguard, but along the way someone though that faux tortoiseshell would be the way to go. It looks nice, and no new holes were drilled in the body to mount it, so it is a double win.

The maple neck is dreamy, with It has 21 frets, simple black plastic dot markers, and a square heel. The square heel is not aesthetically pleasing to me, but that is what you get when they put that extra fret on. It has a truss rod adjustment wheel at the heel, so set-ups are easy. The entire neck is finished in nitrocellulose lacquer (like all Sadowsky basses). No neck plate is used for mounting this to the body, so there are four ferrules set into the body to hold the neck screws.

Metro basses some with the same pre-amplifiers electronics as Sadowsky New York basses. As this is an early production bass, it has single-coil instead of humbucking pickups, and it does not have Vintage Tone Control. The controls are volume, pan, treble boost and bass boost. This bass still sounds incredible and the tone is way better than any bass that Fender or any other maker is building today.

The craftsmanship is befitting the price, with a perfect neck pocket, fretwork and nut. The frets show no wear and are still level as can seven years after it was built. The finish is even and the inlays and binding are perfectly flush. The chrome high-mass bridge and open-back Hipshot tuners are still shiny and clean. This is a real beast!

It plays just as nicely as it looks, and it is set-up with a tasty low action and a fresh set of Sadowsky Blue Label Strings. This MV5 is not terribly heavy for a Metro, coming in at 9 pounds, 12 ounces. I have seen these pushing 11 pounds before. Ask the weight before you buy…

Metro basses come in the same Sadowsky ultralite semi-hard case that the New York basses used to come in (they have since changed to a deluxe hard case for their domestically produced basses).

What will all of this goodness cost you? The list price of a new Sadowsky Metro MV5 is $2625 and Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. This is about the price of a used NYC bass, and used MV5 basses usually sell for around $2000.

So, if you are looking for a Sadowsky, but just can’t pull the trigger for a New York model, this might be the bass for you. You will have a hard time finding a better bass, regardless of price.