Sunday, October 31, 2010

Have Amplug will travel

I've got a gaming convention coming up and I thought it'd be a good opportunity to assemble and try my 'travel kit'. At these events, games are in 4 hour slots and unless you play 12 hours a day you can end up with a fair bit of time to kill.

This is based around the Amplug I bought, the WI66ProE and an old 128MB MP3 player I've got kicking around. I've given it a spin and found that mixing the backing from the MP3 player with the guitar is a bit hit and miss but works OK once you've got the levels sorted. It all runs on AAA batteries, bar the EMGs in the guitar which last ages, so I can have a single set of batteries and charger.

This should all fit in one of my gig bags easily and if it gets dropped or nicked won't be a tragedy as the WI66ProE cost me tuppence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Isn't technology great pt. 2 - Vox Amplug Metal

The tagline is 'Plug in. Get Metal'. They're not wrong.

Despite the crapulence of my recent attempt to buy a small guitar to leave at work so I can practice occasionally I've just taken care of the other half of the bargain with this.

Last time I left a guitar at work I had a Zoom 9000, which I never liked. It did loads and I even bought the optional footswitch controller but it just somehow never suited despite being an ubergadget at the time.

Nowadays digital modellers have moved on, getting better and cheaper but they're still generally a large lump and perhaps too pricey to leave kicking about in a gig bag at work. Even a 'Pocket Pod Express' which is about as small and cheap as you can go is something as large as an effects pedal that takes four batteries and needs a lead to connect it to the guitar, plus headphones with a long enough lead to go off to wherever you've perched it.

What I really wanted was a 'headphone amp' and this fit the bill. It's all analogue (with a proper hard off switch so the batteries won't go flat), has simple controls and simply plugs straight into the guitar. It only does one tone, which is METAL but then it does say that on the front. It does a good approximation of my usual tone choice of 'late 80s thrash' just great and the lack of anything much to fiddle with is a plus in my book. I've already got a couple of things that you can create a bazillion presets on.

There's tons of gain, it's not tinny like you'd expect if anything it's bass heavy and you can get decent articulation depending on how you play. Despite the plastic case, huge gain and lack of noise gate it doesn't suffer from loads of hiss/EMI. The only thing it's missing is a tuner but then I have a spare.

On paper the 'Pocket Pod Express' is far superior and not that much more expensive new but this really is a 'slip into a pocket' zero frills device.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sanding my nut pt. 1

Look away now if you're squeamish, today I sanded the nut shelf on the project Mockingbird.

To do this I made another makeshift tool. Using a rotary trimmer I cut a piece of sandpaper the same width as the nut then stuck it to a piece of wood with double sided tape. I slackened the strings off and held them out of the way while I carefully sanded the nut shelf, trying to keep it as flat as I could.

This seemed to work OK, I put the guitar back together and there were no disasters, but I really haven't taken anywhere near enough off yet. If I fret a note at the first fret you can see I'm bending the string down hard towards the fretboard as much as I am fretting it. This ruins the intonation at low frets and makes the guitar tiring to play and I've come to the conclusion this is why I've never really liked it.

So I'm going to have to repeat this process, perhaps actually measuring how much I'm taking off this time. There is probably some special jig a real luthier would have for doing this kind of thing, I'll just continue with the bodgery.

It's not a Gibson, don't pretend it is.

Today I dug out my Vintage Goldtop for a play and decided it needed a little more setup. Sometimes when I get a guitar I spend ages setting it up, other times I don't bother. I think the Goldtop was one of these.

There was zero relief in the neck so I decided to slacken the truss rod off a tad and this reminded me of one 'upgrade' the previous owner had done to it when fitting the pickups etc.

There was a bit of foam wedged in the truss rod cavity then an old piece of scratchplate material cut to shape and stuck where the lower screw hole needed to be. None of this really worked very well so I removed it all. Then I used the bit of scratchplate to hold the screw head  in place and simply cut the rest off.

It's not a Gibson, don't try and pretend it is.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Washburn #12 - 'MG440' padauk stain

This is not made from padauk, it is a 'padauk stain' finish. So it's an undistinguished two-piece ash body with a veneer top and satin coloured finish to make it look vaguely like the padauk N4s. I'm assuming it's a maple neck and it looks like it's one piece. The fretboard is the usual rosewood unlike my other MG440.

This is the other of my 'bridge repair' Mercury IIs and perhaps the classier of the two because of that faux padauk finish. Also, the black scratchplate is slightly nicer than the slightly cheap looking white pearl one.

Otherwise they're identical. This one also had a bit of a crackle in the pots so I've just squirted some switchcleaner at them. In doing so I noticed that they have Ibanez-style 5-way switching with the humbuckers being coil tapped when used with the single coil. I'd not previously noticed this has I haven't played them much. It's a shame they didn't go the whole hog and make it noise-cancelling in both positions rather than just with the neck, but that would have needed a fancier switch.

So, another nicely made Korean superstrat that I don't really have a use for. I suspect I'll be selling this. The original plan was to steal the tremolos from both then sell the parts, but I can't bring myself to do so. Besides in the meantime I've picked up a couple of decent branded tremolos including a really nice Graphtec one.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Washburn #11 - 'MG440' trans purple

This is one of the pair of MG440s I bought with bridge bushes that had shifted, but now it's repaired I thought I'd list it up in it's own right.

It's a bog standard HSH superstrat, in the style of an Ibanez RG but with a more subtle rounded headstock design and in this case a lovely maple neck. The body is quite a cheap four piece affair with a veneer top to make the transparent finish attractive.

The pickups and electrics are obviously budget but the Washburn 600S licensed Floyd Rose is reasonably well made, it's got black Grovers and that neck really is lovely. It's seemingly a proper one-piece maple job with the fretboard being the neck rather than a separate glued on piece. The offset black fret markers are pretty classy too.

Lots of cheaper guitars seem to come with a very conservative nut height, not something that's easy to adjust with a locking nut but Washburn have set this just right and it plays beautifully.

Now I've had my fun fixing this, it's kind of superfluous so I can't imagine it'll be around long. Although that neck is lovely...

Gibson #1 - 'Les Paul BFG' gold

This is my first USA made guitar so I'm curious how it stacks up against my various Korean/Japanese/Chinese ones given the great upswelling of brand loyalty there seems to be for Gibson, especially amongst Americans.

I've fancied a BFG ever since I became aware of their existence. The unfinished look and neck P90 really do it for me. The other affectations (clear wiring covers, wooden knobs, lack of truss rod cover and switch toggle) are kind of stupid but easily undone. In fact this one already came with more sensible bell knobs, a truss rod cover and switch toggle.

Whenever I get a new guitar I restring it, wiping it over with a damp microfibre cloth to remove dirt and if necessary oiling the fretboard. In doing all this I get a good look at the build quality. This time I did things like have the pickups out so I got a really good look.

I can sort of see where the money went into manufacture here, every line and edge is sharp and well defined, the hardware is excellent and little things like the direct pickup mounts being proper metal threaded affairs rather than screws straight into the wood show. However this is only really visible if you start dismantling the guitar like I did.

It's astonishingly light, hanging it on my luggage scales shows it to be just of 7lbs (guitars seem to be weighed in lbs). This will be the chambered body, making it far lighter than my Korean copies. The Indie Custom shop L-shape is over 11lbs.

I've played it a little now and it is nice, but I'm not sure that made in USA price tag shines through. Going back to back with the WI66ProE that's immediately to hand it's obviously different, with a fatter neck and medium frets but better to play? Not really.

The bridge Burstbucker 3 is a decent medium-hot humbucker, the neck P90 is sweet and overall it has quite a bright tone for something with the silhouette of a Les Paul, but a tone that I couldn't get from Japan or Korea if they made such a thing? Not really.

There's a reason all the big manufacturers have 'lesser' ranges made somewhere East of here. At the low end obviously there are very inferior guitars around, I know I've bought some, but once you get to midrange ones the 'heritage' brands, especially Gibson, need to worry IMO. You do get very tidy manufacture and quality hardware, but you pay for it. This entire  paragraph is brought to you from the 'old news' dept.

So I can't rule out getting another 'heritage' brand guitar, I've been looking at SGs for ages, but I'm not going to pay through the nose for one. Or I might just buy a Gordon Smith.

At some point I'll do a back to back with the BFI, which is my modded Indie take on the 'Les Paul with neck p90' idea to see if my opinion changes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Less cheese please Louise

Given I'd decided the Mockingbird was salvageable without too much pain it was time for the nasty monkey metal tremolo to go. I ordered a reasonable quality low profile one from CH guitars, it's no Schaller or Gotoh, but it is the sort of perfectly adequate licensed copy found on loads of midrange Korean guitars.

Once fitted and with the usual joy of floating/intonating a Floyd Rose from scratch it's obviously much better than the previous one. It was supplied with two new studs & bushes with a nice fine pitch thread on them. However I opted to leave the original BC Rich bushes and studs in place. If I ever refinish the guitar I may pull the bushes and fit these instead.

I also got a new 43mm nut at the same time, I'll fit this and set the height at some point soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some progress with the Mockingbird

So, flushed with the success of setting up the RS8V I attacked the iffy Mockingbird. I slackened off the truss rod to give some relief then lowered the nut height a little. This time I attacked the nut shelf as it was more substantial than the RS8V and made of wood rather than weird plasticky stuff.

This has really helped and made it much more playable. I'll have to take a bit more off the nut height but I've decided the monkey metal tremolo really has to go. I'll order up a new one and do both at the same time.

With it approaching playable I went for the electrics. I ditched the neck P90 and Epiphone bridge then fitted a matched pair of Kent Armstrong 'rockers' I bought ages ago cheaply. I had written off the idea of using them in this as the bridge wasn't bought as F-spaced but when I actually measured it's actually pretty close to it. In my usual fashion I stuck in some push/pull pots and wired it for coil tap. Given some 4-wire pickups it's almost rude not to.

With it all back together it's a lot closer to what I wanted from the Mockingbird when I started modding it, but there's still a way to go.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

RS8V setup - finished for now

After last night's crop of failure I set at the RS8V again this morning. I abandoned filing away at the 42mm nut I'd found and went for the original.

First I took some measurements with pair of digital calipers, I can read a vernier scale but when digital calipers are so cheap why have anything else?

At high E, it was 5.26mm and low E 5.28mm. As a pure gamble I decided to lose about 0.2mm from the nut and see how it came out.

I filed the nut by holding it base down on the file and running it back and forth rather than holding the nut in a vice and moving the file. I figured I had more chance of keeping the base level this way. It took a while but eventually I got it to 5.03mm at high E and 5.07mm at low E.

Using a couple of replacement screws as I didn't want one breaking again I plonked it back on the nut shelf, restrung and set the intonation. Again.

The difference is amazing. It has gone from being tiring to play to lovely with just 0.2mm off the nut. Obviously intonation at low frets is much better too making it sound sweeter when playing chords that end of the neck. I kind of knew all this should be a consequence when I started but it's gratifying to feel the fruits of your labour first hand. So the RS8V has gone from being quite nasty to play to a lovely rock guitar. I can see me coming back to the RS8V to fit some different pickups but for now I'll move on to another project.

When I buy guitars like this I sometimes wonder whether the former owners ever noticed, thought there was something innately wrong with the guitar, didn't play them, or had forearms like Popeye and simply lived with it. Even if you're a great player with the strength to play round it you must notice that it doesn't intonate well. I do and I'm rubbish. A real luthier could have sorted all this much more quickly than me and it wouldn't have cost a fortune. Maybe the guy I bought it off didn't really need that Godin he replaced this with.

Half this job was adjusting the truss rod to take out the large amount of relief in the neck. I did this in stages, leaving it to settle and checking it as I went. Advice on how to check the relief if you're an amateur seems to be to fret a string at either end of the neck and look at the gap below it. This works fine, but is fiddly. Professionals probably have 'notched straightedges' but these are £45 from Stewmac and much as I like buying tools couldn't bring myself to splash out on a set.

So I made my own. I took an aluminium 19" rack blanking plate I had kicking around which was nice and straight, held it up to a neck, marked the fret positions with marker pen then filed it out with a round file. There is no way this is as good as something professionally made, but frankly it's good enough for me. One side is 24.75" scale length, the other 25.5", if I need something different I've got another blanking plate down in the cellar.

More monkey metal disaster

So, having failed to make any progress with the travel guitar I had a go at the RS8V.

I got the nut off the guitar and compared it with another 80s Washburn locking nut kicking I had around which appeared to be the same. It was but 42mm wide rather than 43mm.

While not being quite the right width it was available and free so I carefully attacked it with a file taking a little off the base while trying to keep it nice and flat. I figured that locking nuts were cheap and easily replaceable if I screwed up while the neck of the guitar was kind of harder to replace.

Having taken about 0.2mm off and managed to keep it flat enough, it's not a cylinder head after all, I went to test fit it to the guitar. Half way in the first screw snapped, it must have been made of mystery monkey metal too I was hardly applying any pressure.

So I had a little go with some needle nose pliers trying to grasp the snapped off end, but had to resort to cutting a small 'moat' round the stump with my Dremel to get any purchase.

This wasn't too productive an evening, I'll quit while I'm behind.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The joys of mystery monkey metal

One of the many things wrong with the travel guitar I bought recently is that the bridge seemed a fraction too far forward and a little too high. Tonight I've been messing around looking at it again and found that the baseplate for the tremolo has cracked, allowing it to be pulled forwards. The joys of crappy mystery monkey metal.

I also had a look at getting the locking nut to sit properly on the end of the neck and I think I need to fill the existing screw holes then redrill just a mm or so lower. Something I can't seeing going particularly well.

All in all I've got much better guitars in need of my attention so I can see me putting this back together and sticking it on eBay as a spares or repair. It's not worth lots of my time and money fixing the problems, it would be more sensible to just buy a Steinberger Spirit if I want something of this ilk.