Front Row Legend

What’s this? A new custom shop guitar from Fender?

From its humble beginnings as a makeshift stage to its now-legendary status as one of the best concert venues in Southern California, the Hollywood Bowl is part of the rich tapestry of Hollywood history. This natural outdoor amphitheater has hosted performances by some of the most well-known and respected artists of every musical genre; from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix and everyone in-between, the Hollywood Bowl has been bathed in pure musical magic for decades. Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Yuriy Shishkov captured and distilled that mojo, adding a healthy infusion of Fender’s timeless style and history with the incredible Front Row Legend Esquire. This guitar is crafted from 100-year-old Alaskan yellow cedar reclaimed from the original bench boards that have been resonating with the sounds emanating from “The Bowl” since 1919.

Launched last month, only two have been built so far. Available for a mere $12,000 USD.


The Light Goes On

Gator has added something useful to their guitar cases.

A light.

It turns on when the case is opened. It turns off when the case is closed.

Funny how something like this seems so obvious in a certain context, like opening a car door, and seems so utterly out of context for a guitar case. And yet, it makes perfect sense. There are many times I have opened a guitar case in a dark room wishing I had a light source to find an accessory. In my case, if you can pardon the pun, I have Strats where the tremolo bar is tucked away each time the guitar is returned to its case. Finding them can be a bit of a nuisance in a dark room.

Having a light source is a useful improvement. I like that. Particularly in my old age.

Gibson Custom Burstdriver

There it is. The Klon Centaur. Revered as the overdrive pedal for a guitarist. There aren’t many of them, fewer than 10,000 were built and they have become collector’s items.

One is up for sale in Canada. The asking price? A mere $3,537.

If you play guitar and are chasing the holy grail of guitar tone then you have an overdrive. If you have seriously chased tone then you have many overdrives. I really cannot think of another pedal that gets changed out as often as an overdrive. Unless, I suppose, you spend several thousand dollars on a Klon. At that point, you will undoubtedly convince yourself that it is the best sounding overdrive period. Your quest for the perfection of guitar tone will have ended.

Until Gibson came out with this product innovation: the Gibson Custom Burstdriver.

A Custom Shop Les Paul Standard exhibits the finest in materials, construction and historical accuracy, making it one of the best sounding and playing electric guitars on the planet. Additionally, the innovative new Gibson Custom Burstdriver provides players built-in sonic expansion capabilities. Essentially a high-end analog overdrive pedal built into the backplate of the guitar, the Burstdriver is engaged with a quick tap of the push/push tone knob. A simple twist can transform the dry signal into anything from a fat clean boost to a warm, thick overdrive all the way to a snarling distortion. The effect is entirely true bypass and the level, tone, and gain controls can be adjusted using a guitar pick. The Gibson Custom Burstdriver Les Paul Standard is your new secret sonic weapon!

I have no idea why Gibson would do something like this. I am not alone in this opinion.

Collings OM1 Julian Lage Edition

I received an email from my good friends at Collings Guitars. They included an update on a new signature model that Bill Collings had worked on until his passing:

When Bill Collings first met the brilliant young jazz musician Julian Lage, in 2014, the two began a series of in-depth conversations about their respective crafts. Lage’s profound insights as a guitarist would play a key role in the creation of Collings’ T (Traditional) Series guitars. This rare collaboration, which continued right up until Bill’s passing, in July, 2017, has yielded another exceptional new guitar with an old soul. We are proud to present a highly personal extension of the T Series: the Julian Lage Signature OM1.

You can find out more about this beautiful instrument here.

Bill Collings

From the Collings Guitars website:

We lost our dear friend and mentor Bill Collings on Friday. He was the amazingly creative force behind Collings Guitars for over 40 years. Through his unique and innate understanding of how things work, and how to make things work better, he set the bar in our industry and touched many lives in the process. His skill and incredible sense of design were not just limited to working with wood, but were also obvious in his passion for building hot rods. To Bill, the design and execution of elegant form and function were what mattered most. Perhaps even more exceptional than his ability to craft some of the finest instruments in the world, was his ability to teach and inspire. He created a quality-centered culture that will carry on to honor his life’s work and legacy. He was loved by many and will be greatly missed. Our hearts are with his family.

I have two of his guitars: a 2012 Collings D2H #20672, one of the best sounding acoustics I have ever played, and a 2010 Collings CL Deluxe #9408, one of the most beautifully made electric guitars I have ever played.

So sad to see such a master pass away too soon in life.

How To Try Out An Electric Guitar

So true. Last time I tried out an electric guitar, I had a shredding machine right beside me. And the guy kept going and going and going. It was literally impossible to audition the instrument and I wound up walking out of the shop.

I prefer shops like Cosmo Music or Lauzon Music. They have great audition booths that allow you to take your time and really get a feel for the instrument. Without some monster shredder bending your ear.

I think this was the guy next to me. Or someone like him. They all play and sound the same to me.

Performing Live With The Kemper

I have been using the Kemper Profiler PowerRack live for the past few months. At first, I used it just as an “amp”. One setting, fronted by a large pedalboard with the output of the Kemper PowerRack going into a stage monitor.

I was using a profile from Michael Britt, one from his Profile Pack 2, the Divided by 13 JRT 9/15. Great sounding amp, er, profile. The specific profile I am using most of the time is the /13 JRT 84 5. In other words, the JRT 9/15 using EL84 power tubes with a medium gain. Gives me a very dynamic edge of break-up tone.

I have been looking at a number of other profiles and no doubt I will broaden out my choices as I get more up to speed on the unit.

I made the big plunge last month by ditching my pedalboard and doing everything in the Kemper along with the Kemper Remote pedalboard. And I mean everything: compression, gain-staging, delays, reverbs. All of it. In a digital box. A digital box that eats the souls of amps.

As depressing as it may be for me to admit this, the Kemper really does sound good. I would even say that it sounds great. At times, I don’t even think I am playing through a computer. It sounds that good. And this is from someone who has played tube amps for over 40 years. I am a tone snob with respect to great sounding amps. I have a pretty large collection of boutique and classic amps that I hand selected over the years chasing after tone. I’ve tried numerous modellers over the years and really hated them.

For the past 20 years or so, almost all of my live performances were based on a lower wattage amp mic’d and presented to the audience through a PA. I was always fighting to get the kind of tone I would hear in my studio. So many variables in a live setting. For the more critical dates, I would bring two amps out just in case there were issues with tubes.

And now I bring out the Kemper and I get consistent great sounding tone to the Front of House.

Still takes work. I spend a lot of time on the front end to build out the performances for the profiler. I have some go-to presets that I use as a baseline — various levels of gain, various effects — and I have been building my song list as I go.

The Kemper does an incredible job profiling the sound of a mic’d guitar amp. The trick is to find profiles that have been recorded well and that render well in a studio and live setting. Fortunately the community of Kemper users have done a lot of the leg work to narrow down the best profiles in the market. Some are commercial, some are free.

The result for me is so close to the real thing that I do not miss playing with a real amp. The only area that required an adjustment was the amp in the room sound. What I hear back from my Kemper monitor is the sound of a mic’d guitar amp and not the sound of the amp in the room. That mic’d amp sound is definitely different from the sound of an amp washing about the room.

I would rather hear what the audience is hearing than what I think they might be hearing. The Kemper gives me tremendous choice in profiled amps, consistent sound venue after venue, and great tones.


The Death of the Electric Guitar

In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt.

Not a particularly happy take on the state of six-string electrics.