Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wear your ply with pride pt. 1

Recently I stripped down my old Washburn RR2V with a view to sorting it out.

The paint on the corners was well and truly scuffed off exposing the nicely contrasting ply underneath. I'm thinking this might make an interesting thing to show rather than hide. Old 80s plywood bodied guitars are definitely pretty low rent but why hide it?

Tonight I took a little more paint off to see what it would look like and it's still fairly positive. I'll have to take the whole top off to get a proper idea but it could be nice with an oil finish to bring out the contrast.

It'll really come down to what the top is like, if there are any flaws I'll have to do something else. I'd actually quite like to stick a piece of pretty veneer to it and cover all the old holes. That way I could go down to a single pickup and simple control layout.

Update: In a fit of enthusiasm I took the bulk of the paint off the top and one side.

It's not the prettiest bit of wood but there is at least a little grain on the top rather than the featureless expanse I was expecting. It's looking more and more like a plan.

Mr Blackstar, with these tiny amps you are spoiling us

So, the other day I wandered round Ruperts house on foot and used the prehistoric 15W practice amp I had at college as it's small enough to carry easily. Clean it was OK, but the moment I used my old Boss MZ-2 it sounded godawful.

I've got an Indie IT-30 I normally use but despite being only 30W it's a monster that fills the boot of my car and I've been vaguely dissatisfied with it recently despite changing the valve for the 'drive' channel.

Having a plonk on the Nanovalve recently made me want to use an amp at home more often but you really do need to wind it up a lot to get anything beyond a cleanish tone. I modded it with an L-pad but this seems to make it a bit muddy if you wind it back to indoor volumes. Even then it's really only 'heavy crunch' and not the out and out heavy rock/metal tone I want a lot of the time.

I've been toying with the idea of a Blackstar HT5S for a year, but when it comes down to it this is another 5W amp I'll only ever use a fraction of the power of. They're also quite big lumps and cost £400.

Almost on queue, Blackstar have come out with the HT1 which is essentially a trimmed down 1W HT5. You've been able to buy tiny boutique valve amps for ages but with Blackstar leading the charge on the 'consumer boutique' amp front, they've come in with an amp in a size that I might use at home at a sane price.

Not wanting to impulse buy online, I eventually saw one in PMT Romford while killing time post-Christmas. After a bit of dithering, my brother egged me on into buying it. Impulse buying in person is just so much more sensible.

It's a lovely little thing (BFG included for scale) and while is obviously built down to a price you get a fuckton of portable valve tone for this price. PMT only had the HT1R which is the slightly more pricey model with digital reverb, but I'd probably have run to this one anyway as it's not a huge price hike.

You could sit this on a bookshelf if you used a right angle mains lead, it really is that small and light. Despite the amps tiny dimensions, the speaker works well and conspires with the almost fully closed cabinet to give a solid heft to the sound, there's no tinniness here.

The controls are pretty simple with just a channel switch, gain, volume, EQ and reverb knobs but I certainly managed to get an assortment of acceptable tones from it. The clean channel is actually pretty solidly overdriven at full gain too giving you a few more options.

There is a reason people are simply gushing about these, I expect Blackstar to sell lots.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Indie #28 - 'Shape Floyd' cherry sunburst

My Christmas present to myself. Not that I seem to need much of an excuse to buy guitars.

This is an Indie 'shape' but rather unusually fitted with a Floyd Rose licensed tremolo instead of tune-o-matic and stop bar. It was listed by Indie as a 'custom shop' item but I'd say 'short run' is a more appropriate description given this used to be in their 'custom' UK range as far as I know and still appears in the US range. The other 'custom shop' models I have are noticeably different in some way to the standard/custom/extreme models.

Nonetheless it's very nicely finished item, with a deep carved maple top over the usual mahogany body and full neck binding. Somebody has put some real care into the finishing and setup, either at the factory or here in the UK. The Floyd is a good quality licensed affair, it's a shame it's not a Gotoh or Floyd original, but it's still well machined. Oddly they've chosen to fit locking machine heads even though it's got a locking nut. Still that'll make it dead easy to restring.

It has Indie's high output Alnico 5 DV8 pickups and having played it a bit in the last few days they seem better in this than in my other 'custom shop' guitars. Perhaps they changed the spec or manufacturer. Or it could just be the simple lack of active pre-amp and associated bypass switching, which I've not found very satisfactory in the others. I'm building up to rip this out of them. They're currently selling DV8s very cheaply on eBay and if I didn't have a massive pile of alternative pickups kicking around I'd be tempted to buy a couple of sets in.

I had been wondering about picking up one of the cheap 'Festivals' that are for sale regularly and attempting to fit a Floyd as a bit of a project, but thankfully this negates that as I'd never have got round to it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

All men play on ten

This afternoon I cranked the Nanovalve up to ten (it doesn't have numbers on the dial, but you know what I mean) in the kitchen and noodled around for half an hour or so.

I've really warmed to it recently but I think it definitely needs a better speaker. I must try it with a clean boost or wah before the input.

What is easy to forget is quite how loud 5W is in the house. My cat was not impressed and despite the snow went out to escape the din.

While I might lust after a Blackstar HT5S or HT1R I ought to make more use of the amps I already have. I spend so much playing time plugged into a computer using headphones that I forget what a dynamic, physical experience a real amp at volume is. My Indie IT-150 frankly scares the bejesus out of me and that's hardly a mental amp.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Indie #27 - 'IJG1' tobacco sunburst

When is a Jaguar not a Jaguar? When it's an Indie IJG1.

I've watched various of these come and go over time, but eventually picked this up. Not that many companies make a Fender Jaguar style guitar, which is understandable as despite a brief grunge-led period of popularity, along with the Jazzmaster, they've always been in the WTF camp.

One of the defining things of the Jaguar is the mad-ass switching mechanism, which is like having two completely separate sets of controls you switch between. Indie ditch this for a bog standard 5-way switch and master volume/tone.

The Jaguar pickups are two strat-esque single coils with metal mounting 'claws', but Indie have gone for a perhaps more versatile bridge humbucker and two single coils.

The Jaguar has a slightly mad tremolo with a pressed steel moving tailpiece but, as far as I can see also a moving bridge that's allowed to wobble about a bit. This is renowned for being cheesy and unstable. Indie have gone for a two-point modern strat tremolo.

So when it comes down to it this is a modern HSS strat with a Jaguar shaped body. Which is a much safer bet.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is this a Washburn disease?

One of the projects I have is my RR2V, which is a bit of a 'barn find'. I've been meaning for a while to have a look at it and today dug it out. I plan on this being my next refinishing project, given it's in such a state. It may get a new tremolo as well, the one fitted is missing one of the original fine tuners and a bit rusty.

Looking at it I was considering that as it was a cheap plywood guitar it might be amusing to 'wear your ply with pride' and go for a clear finish. Perhaps even bevel the edges a little to show it off like the Gibson 'Zoot suit' SGs.

I'd noticed that the paint had flaked at the tremolo stud but assumed that was just down to a little shrinkage and movement under string pressure. However it's done what my two project Mercurys have done, i.e. a lack of wood round the bush means it's broken through. This time it's 'behind' the bush in the tremolo cavity.

They've also broken into the control and pickup cavities when routing out for the tremolo springs. This is on top of the very real cracks at the neck pocket, multiple dings and chewed up tips of the V that years of abuse have given it. So all in all the body is in a pretty poor shape even though the neck is in nice shape and great to play.

Now I'm not so sure what to do with it. Do I try and rescue this, or do I simply bin the body and keep all the parts? There really is very little wood around the bridge studs so I'm not sure using the same method I did with the Mercurys will work.