The Best Worst Guitar

Epiphone 435i – a 1980s superstrat. HSS, with locking trem. I didn’t know anything about guitars. But I decided I wanted to play electric guitar. Mainly to fit in with some new friends at sixth form. But unlike any other hobby I picked up in my youth – this was one I stuck with.

I didn’t know what kind of guitar to buy. I just ordered one out of a neighbour’s Littlewoods catalogue. They sent the wrong one – a bass. Then sent the right one. But it was wrong too. Instead of the even cheaper guitar in the catalogue I received the Epiphone 435i that wasn’t even listed. I had no idea what a locking trem was. Managed to break a few strings trying to tune with the locking nuts tightened. But this cheap HSS guitar with its skinny neck was the only electric guitar I had for nearly 20 years. Learned my first notes on it. Played it a lot live at university. In my late teens and early twenties I must have played for hours every day. I was never any good, but that didn’t matter. I loved that guitar. (more…)

How I Didn’t Learn to Play Guitar

In 1989 I got a book that was just strumming easy chords to famous songs. It was frustrating because they weren’t necessarily in the right key and so I couldn’t play along with the records. But I persevered. Went don’t a few dead ends – such as spending months fingering the open E chord the wrong way. I had an Epiphone superstrat. But no amp for the first couple of years. I plugged the guitar into my boombox and if I wanted distortion just turned it up. I knew nothing and that probably slowed down my learning.

But things got better when I bought a Led Zeppelin tab book. It was mostly inaccurate, but it got me started on lead and riffs. But the big change was when I realised that I could play the notes from Black Dog in any order I wanted and they worked over the same notes. I’d discovered the pentatonic scale. So improv began. (more…)

Ending the Guitar Tone Obsession

Do we guitarists obsess too much about tone? I’ve realised I certainly do. If I look back to the first 15 or so years of playing the instrument tone was the last thing I thought about. The gear I had was just what I can afford and I did the best I could with it. But thanks to the internet we can now all learn about the gear we don’t have, and how the gear we do have isn’t any good, despite it being perfectly fine beforehand.


Laney Ironheart IRT60H Review

Laney makes great guitar and bass amplifiers and has done since the 60s. Lyndon Laney began as a teenage tinkerer making amps in his shed for friends such as Tony Iommi and grew from there. The company’s range includes hand-built in the UK amps and less expensive products built for the company in the far east. While not as famous a British brand as Marshall, thanks to bands such Black Sabbath and Opeth Laney has a reputation for making great amps for metal players. So when Laney launches a new amp with metal players in mind we should all sit up and notice.


Jools Holland’s Formulaic Tosh

There was a time when “Later…” the live music show presented by Jools Holland was essential viewing. On a BBC that knows so little about music that in every documentary it trots out the usual bollocks about how important punk was1 Jool’s show was a breath of fresh air. Not only did it present bands playing live – something Top of the Pops producers would have you believe was technically impossible – it offered a real interesting variety. But those days are gone. Instead every week you have exactly the same show. Of course the band names change – but the actual show is pretty much identical week after week.


Beware of False Metal

There’s an awful lot of music around that claims to be metal. This stuff is often noisy, tuneless crap and nothing like real metal. Real metal – whether lighter melodic NWOBHM or super heavy black metal – still features musical qualities. After all, these are sounds created by musicians and behind the distorted guitars everything can be expressed on the musical stave.

But much of the noise pedalled by kiddy rag Kerrang and MTV these days is not just devoid of artistic merit – it’s just not metal. Unfortunately many of the eejits making this racket seem unaware that they are as metal as The Jonas Brothers. For their education and yours I present the following guide to knowing whether you are metal or not.


The Guitar of My Dreams

My darling wifey decided she was going to buy me my guitar of my dreams. How could I say no to that? Not only that, but the plan was I’d get a Saturday off from family duties to go and enjoy the whole guitar buying experience. West Dorset isn’t exactly packed with good guitar stores – so eventually I decided I was going to head to Manson’s in Exeter. The store has a great reputation and actually makes the guitar used by the bloke with the stupid wheezy voice in Muse.

The aimed to get up early (not hard as I was on baby duty) and be out of the door at 8am to drive from Dorchester to Exeter. Baby wakes me up at 5.30am and the day doesn’t get much better. He’s in an unusually crabby mood by 9am. And why haven’t I left by then? My three year old daughter is seeming faking being ill but then gets herself in so much of a tiz that she vomits all over our sofa.

Looks like my trip is over before it’s begun. But wifey shoves me out of the door at 10am and says she’ll cope, “go have fun”, she says.


The Loudness War

If you only listen to music in your car or on public transport via headphones you are probably not aware of the way the modern CD has been ruining the sound of many classic albums and providing terrible reproduction of new records. The problem is that record companies today make albums as loud as possible. In the mastering process, which follows the mixing stage, a company may decide to brutally compress an album to make it uniformly loud across the whole range of songs. The result of this is that even the quiet songs are loud and the quiet bits of any of the songs are loud too. After all, you can’t hear the quiet bits in the pub or in your car otherwise can you?

Do you listen to Radio 1. I know it’s crap, but today give it a listen for five minutes. Do you notice how loud and punchy the sound is, with plenty of bite? That’s compression at work. But you might also notice how little dynamic range is in the music, there are no quiet moments in records on Radio 1. In making everything loud you lose so much of the subtlety in the original recording and this same process is going on with nearly every CD you buy today.

The result of this is destroying the modern album. This is not just an issue for audiophiles. Listen to the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Californiacation or U2’s How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb for some of the worst examples of the effect of hot mastering on CDs. Everything is made very loud and the loudest sounds clip because they reach the top of the CDs range, it’s an unattractive sound. Californiacation was so bad even regular users complained to the record company, not just audio equipment nerds. (more…)

The Wuss-Tones of Modern Rock

What in Tony Iommi’s blessed name is wrong with modern, so-called rock bands? I look at these bands such as Strokes, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and their ilk and the thing that strikes me is they must have some new setting on their amps called “teh ghey!” That’s the only explanation I can find for the completely un-rock that is emerging from their equipment.

Guitar tones hit an all time low with the broken plastic ukulele sound of Edwin Collins’ Girl Like You, but that was hardly a rock song. Now we have all these earnest guitar bands trying to out-wuss Collins’ guitar tones. When I hear any of these bands I find it hard to imagine any of them throwing shapes in front of a wall of pigeon-destroying Marshall amps as Deep Purple would have done.