So back the end of April I finally did it. For the last couple of years, I've been trolling the interwebs looking for a really good deal on a specific guitar. I bought my Epi ES-339 back in like 2012 or whenever it is that they started making them. I missed the first run of them the previous fall (although I had my order in at that point), so I got mine the following spring when production on them really ramped up. Although it hasn't been on the stand the entire time, it's a guitar that I have continually gone back to. Also, I pulled it out of the closet in 2017 for a blues jam I was going to, and it only went back into the closet when I did this thing.
I've really liked the size of the 339. Not as big as a 335 and not as heavy as an LP. When it's clean, it can get that airy sound of a 335, but can growl like an LP. When you play it, it's pretty obviously not either of those, but it can give a reasonable facsimile of either. It leans closer to the LP though. It can get that jazz vibe and still be rock and roll. Or it can be a total blues machine. The more I played that Epi, the more I liked it, and the more I wanted an really nice one.
So I started looking for one. I was looking mostly at Gibsons, but I had seen a couple of Collings that were that size that were really nice. The Collings would've been my first choice, but they are/were just soooo expensive. More than I could really rationalize paying anyways. If I ended up going for a Collings, I didn't care what the aesthetic or year would be. If I got the Gibson, I really wanted a light caramel version that was pre-Memphis factory closing. Also, if I got a Gibson, I wanted a real 339 and not one of the Studio models. That was mostly because I had gotten a 335 Studio (not the 2-knob version) and it just never did it for me.
Anyways, I had narrowed it down to those two models, and had just been looking for one that was a price that I was willing to pay. Being as selective as I was being, no matter how you sliced it, it wasn't going to be a cheap guitar. I had a couple pop up on my Reverb feed over the course of those couple of years that would've met my hopeful price range, but they went extremely quickly.
One afternoon, one showed up that fit the bill all the way around. And it was on the other side of the Metroplex and not somewhere across the country. I wouldn't call it a screamin' deal, but the price was actually the lowest I had seen for one like I wanted. Looking at the listing, it had been posted only an hour before. So I emailed the store.
Surprisingly, they immediately responded, and the sales person told me that I probably wanted to call on the guitar because it had already generated more than usual interest. I gave them a call and talked about the guitar. They asked if I wanted it, and I explained that, if I did, I was going to want to do some trading to get the cost down so I'd have to call him back. He told me, "I promise I'm not trying to pressure you on this one, but do whatever thinking you need to do quickly." Talked it over with Mrs Snarf, looked at a couple of guitars I had in the closet, and called them back. Told him I wanted it and asked if he could hold it until I could get over to the store the next day. He said he could only hold it with a deposit, and he wouldn't recommend on just hoping it would be there the next day. So I put down a 10% deposit.
Since I put the deposit down, I actually waited a couple of days to drive across the Metroplex to finish working out the deal. Got to the store, played on it for a couple of minutes, and then got my trade guitars out of the truck. We got the deal worked out and got the cash out of pocket down to about half of what they were asking. I paid the man and started to put it back in the case to bring it home.
That's when the sales guy told me this. He said that he really wasn't trying to do the sales pressure thing on me with the guitar. He said as he saw my email come in asking about it, a guy came into the store and picked it up. The guy plugged it in and sat down and started playing it. He sat there playing it the entire time (probably 20 minutes) that he and I were going back and forth with phone calls. He said that he could tell the guy was actually interested in the guitar and not somebody that was just killing time by playing it. After he hung up from the call where I put down the deposit, he said he walked over to the guy to tell him it had just sold on the phone. As he got up to the guy to tell him, the customer looked up and said, "I'm really liking this guitar. I think I'm going to take it." So the salesman had to tell him that he had just missed out. According to the salesman, if I'd drug my feet just a minute or two longer, he would've been telling that to me.
I don't know if that was him giving me a good sales story to make me feel better about buying it, but I felt like he wasn't feeding me a line with it. And if that's the case, I guess I got lucky with it. The guitar I had been wanting at a lower price than I had been seeing other places. So I present to you, my new-to-me 2007 Gibson ES-339. I know I've only had it a couple of months, but it is absolutely without question the best electric I own. There's a LOT to be said about Gibson's QC issues the last few years (the ES-335 I bought was a case in point for that), but when they built this 339, the got it right.
I watched the new Batman flick the other day. You know, the new one with Team Edmond or Edward or Emmett or Everett or whoever the vampire guy was. I was pleasantly surprised and disappointed all at the same time.
Now, I must confess up front, that I am a Batman fan. Always have been. Speaking of Team, I have always been Team Bats and not Team Supes. Batman could take Superman. And he was just a regular guy with gadgets who wasn't actually bulletproof. Also, a dang rock in the same room wasn't going to hurt him unless somebody threw it at him. Because of it, yes, I have always had pretty strong thoughts on the Batman movies.
So, on my day off last week, I sat through the new flick. Knowing that Vampire Guy, who I'm going to just call Vampy from here out, was the title character, I went into the movie with no expectation other than Vampy was going to ruin it. I've never liked the guy. Something about him has just always bugged me. To avoid a total tome, here are my abridged thoughts on what I watched.
His Batman character was really good. I think Vampy did a good job there. I really liked some of the changes that they made to how Bats did things. His costume looked kind of like a tactical uniform. He had modern gadgets he could utilize. They didn't seem to want to keep the character in 1950. Or even 2005. They actually showed him doing the Clark Kent in the phone booth thing, too, as he'd duck into a closet with his backpack to turn into Bats. He was what I would have expected Batman to be if he was just a normal guy. He could even get hurt. He wasn't a character I would call Bats, but he was definitely Batman.
His Bruce Wayne character sucked total monkey butt. Somehow he managed to make him all emo without dressing him in all black with black eyeliner. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy that has money to burn and doesn't mind flaunting that fact. In my opinion, his treatment of Bruce turned him into a whining, sniveling man-child. I almost got the idea that he was not only embarrassed to be so wealthy, but he resented it. In thinking, however, that have been due to modern society's young people loudly proclaiming that the 1% are evil because they have no lack of money, and they can't have the protagonist of the movie being evil for that reason. Bruce Wayne, in that movie, was a loser. SPOILER ALERT: Before I realized who the villain in the movie was, I honestly thought that Bruce Wayne was acting more like I always envisioned Edward Nygma would act (notice I didn't say The Riddler). Not really sure why because Jim Carrey and that guy who played him in Gotham didn't play him that way, and their versions I think are great. Vampy's Bruce Wayne wouldn't've been a motorcycle rider. He would've driven something like a 2003 Corolla that was missing at least one hubcap. I know there are different DC universes, and I haven't read all of them, but I don't Vampy portrayed Bruce Wayne. He portrayed his long lost cousin who introduces himself as "Kamran...sounds like Cameron with a C but mine's spelled with a K, 1 M, and 2 A's...Kamran."
Speaking of alternate universes. SPOILER ALERT: I also didn't like the way they portrayed Thomas Wayne as less than honorable. I know it was the bad guy's that were mostly doing it, but Thomas Wayne was never a bad guy. He was always an upstanding citizen trying to make Gotham the best place he could.
That brings me to Selina Kyle. I never was a big fan of this character prior to Gotham. The girl that played her there did a bang up job and totally changed my mind about Selina Kyle. When the movie started it was pretty obvious from the get-go who Zoe Kravitz's character was even before anyone mentioned her name. I was initially super skeptical. But she did a great job in that role. She was the standout character of the movie to me.
Then there was Alfred. Poor, poor Alfred. The Alfred character here fit in with the Bruce Wayne character. This is already getting too long, so I won't bore you with details, but this was not Alfred. This was Bruce Wayne's creepy Uncle Al. In my opinion, as far as movies go, Michael Caine will always be Alfred. He is exactly as I had always imagined him to be. This guy that played Vampy's caretaker was not.
The antagonist in the movie (SPOILER ALERT) was The Riddler. It was not my favorite version of that character, but he kept my attention. I'm not sure if I like Jim Carrey's very comic version (riddle me this, riddle me that, who's afraid of a big black bat) or the character that was on Gotham, but, although not a bad Riddler, the one in the movie wasn't as good as either of those I didn't think.
All the periphery cast (Lt Gordon, etc) were just there. I can't say any of them really stood out for being good or bad.
Overall, I mostly enjoyed the movie. It probably ranks low-middle in my Batman movie rankings. Not bad. Not great. But I'm sure I'll end up watching it again.
There's a term that I first heard several years ago that always made me laugh. I actually saw a couple of folks talking about it online the other day and reminded me of it. Never thought it applied to me. Still don't. But somebody asked me recently if I was one. The term is "blues lawyer."
I've always thought that a blues lawyer was someone that had arrived at a certain stage or position in life, had plenty of expendable income, and bought really expensive gear because they could. They may or may not play the gear they buy. They may or may not play out, but they probably play mostly at home than anywhere. And, when they play, they only know 4 or 5 licks in the minor pentatonic box 1 and don't really work to expand out of that, but they play their 12 bar worth of licks as if they were a local guitar hero. If you listen to the naysayers, they're, also, the ones that are keeping the various Custom Shops and boutique makers in business. Also, a blues lawyer doesn't actually have to be a lawyer.
I have never felt like I fit that role. Several reasons why. I own more budget gear than I do expensive gear. I work to get beyond those 4 or 5 licks, and work to someday be able to consider myself an actual musician. Most of the gear I have gets played on a pretty regular basis. I don't own enough boutique gear to ever be accused of keeping anyone in business, and I own exactly nothing from a custom shop.
Those accused of being blues lawyers often get a bad rap. It is said that they drive the price of gear up, especially vintage gear. They're sometimes accused of being cork-sniffers because they buy the nicest gear and don't/won't buy anything less than the absolute best.
But imho, there's room in the music world for them. The beauty of music is that you can do with it what you want to do. If a blues lawyer sits in their little home studio and has fun playing the same lick over and over ad infinitum, then that makes them happy. Who am I to, in the words of Jayne Cobb, damage their calm.
As well, look it from this perspective. It may be that they have that Custom Shop Strat playing through a Dumble amp. So what if what they paid on their guitar and amp would make a nice down payment on a house. It may've been their dream to some day own a guitar and amp like that. They worked hard, put in the hours, eventually managed to see some return on their hard work, and so they decide to buy their dream gear. Who am I to say that they don't deserve what they bought, and they should, instead, buy a Squier Strat and play it through a cheap amp.
I'm going to unfairly generalize here, but it seems that often those that criticize the blues lawyers are those that wouldn't admit it, but would trade their gear with them in a heart beat. For whatever reason, they haven't attained the status in life that the blues lawyer has. They may be much younger and just starting out in their career. They may be well into their career, but haven't been able to accumulate the kinds of disposable income it takes to buy expensive gear. They may be ragging on them because it's the cool thing to do. They may even just be taking part in the current rage against the upper class because they have more money. Doesn't change the fact that they wouldn't hesitate to play the same gear as the more fortunate if they were given the chance, and they wouldn't even hesitate to do it.
The one asking me if I was a blues lawyer did so for 2 reasons. They found out that I have a closet full of guitars, and they found out that I have a Klon (even though it's a KTR). I'm not a blues lawyer. Although I think that those that are should change the narrative, and wear the badge proudly. In the words of my best bud's dad growing up, just because you're a blues lawyer doesn't mean that you've got more money than sense. It just means that you can afford to buy what you want. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Some people drive Porsches, and some people drive Yugos. Some people drive what they drive by choice, and some do so out of necessity. The guitar community isn't any different.
Put together a small board this evening. 5 pedals that I'm already thinking I'm going to swap at least a couple of them out tomorrow. If for no other reason, I wanted to use my Lovepedal Kalamazoo sorta-copy (my Tone City Durple), but it's got a side mounted power port, and I'm having trouble getting it plugged in. So I'm probably going to stick a Rat copy on it. Which isn't even close to the same pedal. But the power jack is on the top and the input/output jacks are on the side where they should be.
That got me to thinking. So here are some musings on pedals. And boards.
I mentioned a post or two back that my wife got me one of those Spark amps for Christmas. She got me the Spark Pearl variety. Now that I've had it for a month, I feel like I can give it an unbiased review. And I've really been digging it!
First impression out of the box was that it's bigger than I expected, but that's because I had gotten the idea that it was tiny for some reason. Rough guess is that it's roughly 7" tall x 7" deep x 14" wide. The width is what caught me off guard. I was thinking it'd be more like 10" wide. Even so, it's small enough to be used as a travel amp. I wouldn't fly with it because it's not going to fit in a suitcase, but it's small enough to stash in the back on a road trip.
The one that I got is the white version they call Pearl. It doesn't have a handle, but inside the box is a tolex strap to carry it. The strap buttons on it are pretty standard guitar size, so, if you wanted, you could actually just use a guitar strap for that. Also in the box was the power supply, some basic documentation, a usb cable, a card to remind you to sign up for your free copy of Presonus Studio One Prime (which is always free from Presonus), and a carrying case.
The carrying case seems to be well enough made. I think it's made out of cordura. I don't see this amp as being a road dog, and the case, to me, seems to be made to match that. It'll take the rigors of the occasional trip, but I don't think it'd hold up to constant use. I could be wrong on that. Even though it's not something that I would use often, I do appreciate its inclusion. Since it was included, the chances of me taking it on a trip are much greater.
The amp itself seems to be well made. The fit and finish seem to be there. It feels solid to me. On the control face, you have 7 types of amps along with all the expected controls (gain, B/M/T, Master Vol, mod, delay, and reverb effects, and Output Vol. It has a tap tempo button as well as 4 user selectable slots where you can save your favorite amp model. There is a separate volume for whatever you're piping into it through your bluetooth. The amp also has a 1/8" aux input on the back. I haven't used that input so I can't really say if it's good or bad. All that said, the amp is really intended to be used along with the app.
The app is where the amp really shines if you choose to use it. It increases the amp models from 7 to 33, and it gives you a whole slew of additional effects. I'm not going to list all of those out, but you can find them easily enough on the interwebs. The app gives you control over all the amp models and effects. You don't like the crunchy amp? Well just go into the app and change the Marshall to a Vox model. Chorus too swirly? Go into the app and reset the parameters for that effect. Don't like something? You can probably change it in the amp.
The app also has a section in it where you can go and find jam tracks and play along with them. If you're not the best at following chord changes, that section has a feature that tells you what chord to play and when to change to the next. The times I have watched it, it usually seems to be pretty close on the timing and the chords. There have been a couple of times that it was off a bit, but it's close enough for having fun.
Since the app connects through bluetooth, you can also use the amp as a bluetooth speaker. That's actually my favorite use for the amp. I'll connect it to my phone (even without the app), turn on my Amazon music, and jam to whatever playlist I turn on. Or, I'll go to my practice files, put one of them on, and use it for actual practice time.
The thing on the app that I like the best is the amp/effect section that works in conjunction with the 4 buttons on the top of the amp. You can set up your favorite tones by bringing in your fave amp model, setting it just right, and then adding the effects that you want to use with it. Save that, and then, just by hitting the button, you have your favorite amp ready for use.
Pretty quickly after I started playing with the amp, I had those 4 user selection slots filled up. 1 is set for a smooth, clean tone. 2 is set for some Vox-y crunch. 3 is set to a Fender Bassman kind of sound. And 4 is set for more Vox-y crunch. I really need to edit one so I don't have 2 Vox sounds, but I spend most of my time on slot 1 since it has become my practice amp.
One complaint I've heard online is that the amp is too dependent on the app. Although I can see why they say this, I don't really agree with them. Granted, without the app you don't have access to all the amp models and all the effects, but you can change any of the parameters using the knobs on the amp. You want a clean sound with a little chorus and reverb, you just click the knob to the Clean amp model, adjust the Mod and Reverb knobs, and you have a clean amp with chorus and reverb.
The user selection slots really work well for that. Pick the amp that you want, couple it with the effects that you want, save it, and then just remember which slot it is. Makes it easy. Then when you go to adjust, for instance, the reverb, you know exactly what reverb you're changing. And, you can choose the amp model/effects through the button on the face of the amp, and then adjust everything within that selection from the knobs. Truth is, outside of just playing around, since I setup my 4 presets, I hardly ever use the app. But it's nice to know it's there if I want it.
The overall sound on the amp is good. The amp models in this amp are more impressive than the amp models on the very first modeling amp I bought nearly 15 years ago now. Since it also works as a bluetooth speaker, it seems they set it up to be more full range speakers (read here more bass response) than your usual guitar amp, but tweaking the EQ on the amp models or changing the EQ knobs on the amp, and you can get around that a little bit. Not totally, but enough that your guitar sounds like it should. It's also louder than I thought I was going to be. In my little practice space, I usually have it turned to about 9 o'clock - that's only 1/4 of the way up.
Overall, in the month that I've used it, I've been really happy with it. I wanted one to replace the little Fender GDEC amp I've been using for 10 years. I used it solely because it had the SD card slot on the front where I would put jam tracks or practice songs/scales/whatever so I could play along with them. I never actually used it with my guitar. Everything the last few years has gone streaming, so I thought it would be nice to get an amp that had bluetooth capability.
That is where the Spark really shines for me. Like I mentioned, I can easily connect my phone (or laptop), bring up Amazon music, and play along to whatever I want. The amp models and effects also sound good enough that I actually use this one as a guitar amp and not just a music player. I have an Xbox in my music room as well, and, truth to tell, I use the Spark as a bluetooth speaker when I'm gaming. Not for the games, but like I described a second ago, to listen to music while I'm playing.
I've been impressed enough with my Spark that I'll give it 6 strings out of 6. The longevity of the amp is still to be determined, but it seems to be built well enough to withstand and survive normal wear and tear. It sounds great as a bluetooth speaker thanks to those full range speakers. The amp models and effects that I use (I'm not a high gain person so can't really judge those) are pretty believable. I can change most anything through the knobs on the top. The app is really cool and gives access to a whole host of other amp and effect parameters. It's not going to be something that you're slogging to gigs, but as a practice amp, this is a great piece of kit.
As usual, the pics below aren't mine. I ripped them from the Positive Grid website. They always seem to have a sale going on their site, and, as of the moment, I believe they're running $269 direct from the manufacturer or $359 from your favorite retailer.
Also, bonus points to you if you get my joke in the title. Although, to get it, you probably had to grow up in a Baptist church in the south during the 80s.
So I mentioned in my Best Gear of 2021 post that my new Epiphone 335 was the best gear I had bought last year. I still think that. I still don't see it becoming my main player, but, lately, it's the one that I've grabbed first when I walk into my music room. It's just a fun guitar to play, and it sounds really nice.
It's a gold top. Cream colored binding but all the rest of the plastic is black. Epiphone's Alnico Classic Pro pickups are in it. If I remember correctly, those are Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics, with the Pro signifying that they're 4-wire instead of 2-wire. Aesthetically, the one thing I wish they would've done would have been to paint the inside edge of the f-holes black instead of body colored (gold). The Gibson 335 I had for a while had that, and I just always thought it looked better that way. I haven't measured it, but I think it has the same neck that is on my Standard 50s Les Paul. It has that same handful of a feel that I've come to really like instead of the really thin necks that a couple of my older Epiphones have.
Sonically, it's not bad. That's not to say that it's not good. It is. But, remembering back to the Gibson, the Epi pickups sound nice, but they're not as articulate as the ones that were in the Gibson. Granted, that's sitting in the quiet of my practice space. It's not something I think I would notice if I were playing out somewhere. It may also be that I'm not remembering the 57 Classics as they really sounded. After all, it's been over a year since I traded that one off. I'm in no hurry to upgrade the pickups (they really do sound pretty good), but it is something that I will probably end up doing some day. Kind of like my Gretsch, one day I'll come across the right pickups for the right price, and I'll know that it's time to go ahead and upgrade them. Until then, they will definitely serve the purpose.
Playability is just fine. The action out of the box (out of the store?) was right about what I would've tried to dial in, so, after I got it home, all I did was clean up the guitar-store-funk on it and change the strings. After playing it for a while, one thing I do need to do to it is get it back on the bench and smooth some of the frets up in the squeaky-zone. I don't play up there on a real regular basis, but I've been working some stuff that has a bend on the 17th fret, and every time I hit it, I think it scrapes a little bit.
It's turning out to be a great guitar. It didn't just blow me away like the Standard 50s Les Paul did. But, in all fairness, it was that Probucker 1 at the neck of the LP that continues to pull me back to that guitar. I just really like that sound of that pickup in that guitar. So, didn't blow me away, but it did reach out and grab me at the store, make me take it home, and continues to make me leave it out on the stand and grab it at some point most every day.
Bang for the buck, dollar to value ratio, whatever you want to call it, Epiphone continues to step up their game. This new 335 just further convinces me of that.
As I have the done the last few years, I bought more gear than I need this year. Truth is, I guess all the gear I bought this year was more than I needed, because I haven't really needed any of it. But that's another post. This year, I've bought guitars and pedals and more pedals and more guitars over the course of the last 12 months. Here is where I'm going to talk about some of it. Also, just so you know, I might mention something even if I bought it used. It's new to me, so I'm calling it new gear.
First up is easily the worst piece of gear I bought this year. And it's really the only thing I bought this year that I thought was bad.
It's my Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster in Metallic Purple. Admittedly, I bought it from overseas, and that may've been part of the problem; it didn't have a US warranty that would cover the problems out of the box, The store did what they could to try to make it right, but it was just a hassle from my end, and, even after taking it to my local luthier, it has never played like it should. Out of the box, half the strings were thumpy and wouldn't ring out. They set it up real good and did some work to the nut, and it fixed the problem for about a day.
After a couple of days of letting the guitar set-in, the bass side turned thumpy. Granted, now it's just one string rather than three, but it's still the same problem. I really wanted a purple Tele when I saw them last year, and figured I'd get the Squier instead of the Fender because it was half the price. The Squier ended up being a bust. It's now my beater that I use when I travel because, if it got stolen, I wouldn't care a bit. About six months after I bought the Squire, I went ahead and ponied up for the purple Fender. It's a much better guitar. It didn't make my list of best gear this year, but I wasn't irritated after buying it. I should've bought it in the first place.
And the obligatory side note and disclaimer since I only know of one shop that sells that Tele. I'm not linking the guitar. Also, I have no qualms with the store that sold it to me. They tried to make it right and paid for some of the repair work done on it. I've bought stuff from them before and after that Tele. I just happened to get a bum guitar. I blame that on Squier and not them.
Now for some of the best gear I bought this year. And I'm going to link them all through the site where I bought them in case you want to see them. The GC purchase was my local GC even though I have the link to the website.
The third best gear purchase this year was the Electro Harmonix Satisfaction Fuzz. It's not the first fuzz pedal I've owned, but it's the first that I really like. I'm not a huge fan of fuzz. I get tired of fuzz pretty quickly. This one, however, gave me that fuzzy sound without sounding like all the rest of the fuzz pedals. It's a little different. To my ear, a little tighter fuzziness. And I liked it. I think I have 5 fuzz pedals in the closet, and, since I bought it, this is the one that I have reached for every time I grab a fuzz.
In the number 2 slot would be the Fulltone Dejavibe. The one with the foot pedal. Ever since I first heard it, I have like that vibe-y sound. If I'm going to have any sort of modulation effect on my board, it's a univibe. And this pedal does that sound perfectly. I like that it has the foot pedal so I can speed the vibe up or slow it down as I play. I don't remember what I paid for it right off, but I do remember that I watched the used prices for about 2 months before I bought one. When I did, I remember thinking I got a great deal on it. Looking at the current prices on Reverb, I got a screamin' deal.
Best gear purchase this year would pretty easily be my Epiphone ES-335 in gold. Oddly enough, it was a purchase that was almost an impulse buy.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving I wandered to my local GC to look at a 335-type guitar. I had heard good things about the Sire brand, and wanted to test drive one, and the website showed my store had a couple in stock. So I took myself down to try them out. Didn't like them. Something about the neck. They felt really thin to me...almost like playing on a toothpick. But I saw down the row a gold thinline, and I had never seen one before, so I picked it up. It was an Epiphone. Didn't have a price on it. Sat and played on it for probably 10 minutes. Then plugged it into an amp and played another 10 minutes. Loved it! It sounded pretty good, and the neck was nice and chunky, so it felt good to play too.
I hadn't planned on buying the Sire even if I liked it, and I certainly hadn't planned on buying anything else. But, since I had never seen a gold top 335, and I was totally digging it while I played, so I found a sales guy and asked how much it was. Apparently, they had a Black Friday sale still going on, so the price sounded more than fair. I left with it. It hasn't turned into my favorite guitar (that's still the LP from last year), but it definitely sees a lot of play time. It, that LP, and an acoustic are the 3 that have been out on stands since I bought it. Epi has really stepped up their game the last few years. My last two purchases from that brand prove that. I may have to do a little fuller review on this guitar later on.
Honorable mention only because I have only had it a week so my opinion is still forming about this one. The Positive Grid Spark Pearl amp. My wife surprised me with this for Christmas last weekend. She went ahead and gave it to me because it came in while we were out of town, and so when we walked in, I saw the box sitting on the counter with a big Positive Grid stamp on the side. Since she knew that I knew that would only be one thing, she went ahead and let me open it. It's a practice amp. It's not something I'm ever going to try to gig with. As long as you keep that in mind, it's got a LOT of functionality, and seems to be a lot of fun. It had only been out of the box for a few minutes before I was dialing in some sounds that I like. The app is pretty intuitive and easy to use. Course it also has the controls right there on the amp, and they do just what you think they do. I think, as much as anything, I like the fact that I can use it as a bluetooth speaker, play my Amazon music through it, and play along at the same time. This may actually turn out to be my fave piece of gear this year, but, since I just got it, the verdict is still out. Something else I may have to do a little more thorough review on later on.
So what was your fave guitar gear from this year? Or the gear you hated? Let me know so I can either get it too or avoid it.
I don't play the lottery. Somebody bought me some tickets once for Christmas, and that's the only time I've ever held any in my hot little hands. But once a year I partake in my version of the lottery. The Premier Guitar Mystery Stocking. This year, like last, the buy-in was $40.
I think I've mentioned in the past that the very first year they held this, I got a pedal along with the general box. Ever since, all I've gotten has been the general box. This year was no different. But, since so many folks always get the box and then complain about it not being worth it, I always like to talk about what was in it.
This year, the box was about like the last couple. When adding it up, it indeed had more than $40 worth of stuff in it. Which is the only thing they promise. And, yes, that's more than $40 worth of stuff using street price on the stuff and not MSRP. Because nobody actually pays MSRP. So here's what I got.
A Gibson beanie hat. Retail price is $20. This was the big thing in the box (sorta). I don't really wear beanies, and this one doesn't make me want to start. It's black with the Gibson logo patch-thing on it. It has a small bill on it. On the rare occasion that I do wear a beanie-type hat, I'm not looking for it to have a bill. Call me old. Or odd. Or whatever. But I have a beanie that I bought 20+ years ago that I still wear when I need one. I like it, and it's finally broken in just right. Seriously, since I only wear it a couple of times a year here in TX, it's finally getting broken in good. And it doesn't have a brim of any sort. My wife said she'd wear it though, so I guess that means it'll get used.
Then there was Fender headstock tuner. Retail price is $15. It's not the kind that I like, but the one that I got in the box last year (that I really like) needs a new battery, so it's kind of timely. So score on the tuner.
The other big item was a D'Addario strap. Retail price is $20. I've gotten a strap every year, and this is the first one that isn't going to immediately get tossed into the give-away box. It's colorful. I like it. I've got a nice leather strap (or two) that I really like, but I've always carried a cheap strap for a backup. I think this is going to be the new backup strap.
Last thing was a EMG Active Pickup lanyard. This looks like a guitar show giveaway item, so I'm going to say no cash value on this one. The only place I use a lanyard is at work. I have a 50th Anniversary Stratocaster lanyard that I have used for 15 or so years. This isn't one that I'm going to use. It'll go in the give away box with the one the D'Addario one I got last year.
So this year's basic box, which is what I believe I got, had a value of $55. Once again, PG was right. It was worth more than the purchase price. Also, once again, it wasn't $40 worth of stuff that I actually wanted or will even use. But, I like the fun of trying to get one for the chance that I might actually get something really cool. For me, this is my annual lottery ticket purchase. Or raffle ticket. Or whatever you want to call it. But I think it's fun. And they even got them out earlier this year.
All in all, I think PG did a good job with it this year. So, until next year's box...
I don't remember what politician said that line in the title back in the 90s (I think). Heck, I might've just made it up for all I know, but I'm pretty sure that some politician somewhere pontificating about the economy rattled it off back 25 or so years ago. And that brings me to today's subject: our local guitar shops.
To start, we have more than our share of Guitar Centers in my area. There's one not 10 minutes from the casa (if I catch all the lights right). That's the one I usually go to because it's closest, but, within about 30 - 45 minutes (depending on traffic), there are 2 others. Then there are 4 local shops that shall remain nameless. Granted, I haven't been to any of the local places since the pandemic shut everything down, so I'm assuming there still there.
I've gotten to where I buy most everything online. It's convenient. Find the gear I want, place the order, have it delivered within 2 - 3 days depending on where I get it. Earlier this year, I had a less than optimum experience on an order, but I blame part of it on me. I ordered a name brand guitar from a store overseas, and it came in with issues. The store made an attempt to make it right, but, since I was in the US and their warranty was not, it was a pain to try to get them to cover the work. They ended up crediting me back the cost of the repair, but the guitar is still not what I would call publicly playable. Because of that, it has become my beater/travel guitar because I don't care if it gets stolen or not. Outside of that, the only other problems I have had ordering online were pedals that were DOA. Contact the company back, drop it off at the UPS store, and the replacement arrived a few days later. It's just too easy.
First, there are the local shops. Honestly, if they did make it through the pandemic, I probably won't be back to them soon.
The first one wasn't too far from the house. I liked it because it was close. And if I paid cash, the guy would usually give me a pretty good discount. Bought several things from them, and had tried to make them my go-to store. Then I had a couple of guitars I needed to get setup. The first one was an anniversary edition Epiphone. Not at all your typical Epi. USA made pups, CTS pots and switches, and a premium price tag. Comparing it to any other Epiphone, it felt and played better. Carried that one in to him, and when I went to pick it up after he was done with it, he spent 10 minutes talking about how he used to sell Epiphones, but "they turned to crap" and he quit selling them. Next was just a stock Gretsch Electromatic. Same thing. When I went to pick it up, he carried on for 10 minutes about how all Made in Korea Gretsch guitars were the worst thing ever. Then I saw that he had a stack of Fender Frontline catalogs (remember those?) sitting on his workbench, so I asked if I could have one. So he proceeded to lecture me on why he would not give me one since I didn't need to know all the specifics of what Fender sold. Then he told me he sold Fenders, but kept all his stock in the backroom so nobody would play them that wasn't serious about buying one. You know what? I'm not giving you money so that you can lecture me and call all the gear that I bring in crap. I haven't been in his store in probably 7 years. I saw that he moved. Further away. Then I moved. Further away. Good riddance I say.
The next local place was down not too far from downtown. I went there once, and they had a good stock of budget and name brand stuff. The guy at the counter immediately started directing me away from the stuff that I was looking at towards the very budget gear. Looking at it, it was priced so that I knew he was making a LOT more money on the budget stuff than he was the stuff I wanted to see. I left feeling a bit like he was trying to take advantage of me. Haven't been back. Some day I'll go back just to see if that guy is gone. The store seemed pretty cool, just didn't like that guy. Problem is that it's across town and I have to make an effort to go that way. So, if I'm ever in the area again, I'll stop by, but I'm not going out of my way.
Then there was the local shop that everyone had always told me I absolutely had to visit. So a buddy and I went one Saturday. The place was empty when we walked in except for one employee and one customer that were talking at the counter. They had a good selection and good gear. They even had some cool vintage gear. Prices weren't bad. My buddy and I were pulling guitars off the walls, pointing and talking about some of the stuff in cases, and generally fawning over some of the gear. After about 20 minutes, the other customer person left so it was just us and the employee. There was actually a couple of things that my buddy and I were interested in (he was actually looking for a new acoustic). We were there for probably another 30 minutes. The employee never said hi, bye, or kiss my foot to us, so we eventually left. Spent an hour there, my buddy cash in hand test driving some acoustics, and not even a peep from the store staff. Towards the end, we were quietly laughing over in one of the corners about how the employee never even asked us from across the room if we were looking for anything in particular. We finally left. My buddy spent just over 2 grand on an acoustic later that day at a store where the staff were a little more attentive.
The fourth local shop is a Music Go Round. I have no problem with them. The times I've been there, they've always been courteous, and their prices aren't too bad. The only problems with them are these (and they're not really problems). They sell used, so there have been times I've been in that they didn't have anything I was remotely interested in. Other times I've been and picked up several things. So, if folks aren't selling them good stuff, they don't have good stuff to sell. Second problem is they're on the wrong side of town. And by "wrong" I mean "other" side of town. Like all the way across town. Like that one store, they're far enough away I have to make a point to go there because I'm seldom just in the area.
There was a fifth shop just up the street from where I live now that I really liked. They definitely made their money on lessons. I live in a reasonably sized house, and we have bedrooms bigger than their sales floor. I tried to buy what I could from them. Strings and cables and such. They closed back in 2019. I hated to see them go.
Then there are the 3 local GCs that are sort of close to me. One has a great selection. It's probably the biggest one in this metropolitan area (where there are actually 7 GCs that I can think of off the top of my head). One always has great staff (but the smallest selection). Then there's the one that's the closest to me. I'll go to the great selection and great staff stores if I'm in their area, but don't usually make a special trip to them. The other one is just close. That's it's biggest selling point.
GC and I have a love hate relationship because of that closest store. They've done really well by me, and I've had to argue with staff a couple of times because they weren't being up front about things with me.
For instance, I bought a guitar once from the store. They had to order it in. When I got to the car after ordering it, I realized that it was costing me more than I thought it should, so I asked about it when I went back to pick it up. The guy told me they were charging me $60 for shipping to the store, and there was nothing they could do about the shipping because the guitar was on sale. So I told him to cancel the order, refund my money, and I'd go home and order it from the GC website where it was also on sale, have it shipped to the house, and not not be charged shipping. He said he'd "take a look real quick," then acted all surprised, and said something along the lines of "if I go to this screen I see that I don't have to charge you shipping after all, so I'll knock that off."
On the other side of things, when I did the great gear purge last year, my goal was to get rid of it all in one swoop and not have to sell it all separate on Reverb or somewhere. Before I loaded the FJ up and headed over, I called and talked to the store manager, and he told me their buying strategy. So I could easily put pen to paper and see if they were going to give me enough that I could live with the transaction. Turns out, they gave me nearly twice what I was figuring. Then gave me a good discount on a new guitar on the wall on top of it.
So GC is definitely not bad. They're just not always, how do you say it nicely, on the top of their game. They're close enough I occasionally head up just to see if there's anything I can't live without, but, honestly, I don't spend enough up there to have a real relationship with any of the staff there. That's not to mention that part of that is because they seem to turn staff over enough that as soon as I figure out who somebody is, they're gone and someone else is in their place.
I like local shops. I really do. My problem, however, is that there's the big box that usually has a big selection, but I don't feel any loyalty to them. Then there are the local guys that, by and large, don't seem to offer enough of a difference to make me feel like cultivating a relationship with them either. So it definitely makes buying online easier. From my perspective, most of the local shops will complain about losing sales online, but they're not doing much to try to stem that tide. I can buy anything they sell cheaper online, but they don't seem to want to do anything to encourage me to pay them a little more. They're not going to go out of their way for me since they don't know me, but they don't do anything to get me to come in more than once or twice.
And with that, it's back to Amazon or Sweetwater or American Musical or somewhere to do some window shopping.
My pedal board. Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I said earlier today to some online friends that I prefer to go straight to the amp. I do. Sort of. I usually play at the casa, and to get that nice driven amp sound, I've got to make the neighbors mad. Or use an OD pedal of some sort. I, also, really like the sound of a univibe. I've leaned towards that sound ever since I figured out what it was. So, at the casa where I usually play, I guess I actually like a couple of pedals in front of the amp.
But that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy picking up pedals and playing with them. It does mean, however, that I have a whole lot of pedals in the closet that I played with a couple of days and then toss them on the shelf knowing that they're there if I ever decide to use them.
Anyways, I had put a a real board together a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday was looking down at it yesterday and realized that, I have a heck of a lot of pedals in the closet that I either never got dialed in real well or that I found a single sound that I liked and never played with beyond that. So I decided to do something. I pulled that board apart, put all those same ol' same ol' pedals back in the closet, and pull out some of the ones that I hardly use and see if I could come to like them better. So here's the chain in order. We'll see how long it stays out like this.
Boss Tuner: It's the tuner I always use, and I only have 1 tuner, so it's on whatever board I'm using.
Fulltone Dejavibe: Did I mention that I like univibes? I bought this one back in the spring, and it has been out ever since. It may've been the only pedal on the the floor, but I haven't put it up since I bought it. At the moment, it's my favorite univibe.
Amazon Basics Compressor: Bought this one a year ago. Used it for a few minutes and put it in the closet. I've never been a huge compression user, but have figured out that there seem to be 2 types of compressors. I'm not sure how to describe either sound, but I know them when I hear them. One I really like. One I really don't. This is the second type. I pulled it out just to try to see if I could find a sound I like in it. If I can't, it's probably going to go to my Reverb shop.
Boss Blues Driver: Not really going to say anything about this pedal. I know I like it. It's got some great sounds in it. I just don't use it that often because I have other OD pedals that I like better. I put this one on mostly because I hardly use it. But I know it's got some nice tones in it, so at least I'll have a pedal on the board that I know I like if I get frustrated with the others.
Boss DynaDrive: I bought this one a good while back because it seemed to be the pedal du jour for the youtube channels and everyone was talking about how good it was. So I was curious enough to pick one up. I was very underwhelmed! To my ear, it was just kind of an average OD. Nothing stood out about it. By my own admission, I really didn't give this one a fair shake. I only played around with it for maybe an afternoon; it was that underwhelming. When I did my big gear purge last fall, I'm not really sure why I kept it, but I did. It's just sat in the closet since then. If I can't find some nice tones in it this time around, it's another that will probably end up on my Reverb.
EHX Hot Wax. This one I liked when I got it. After I got it a few months ago, I dialed in a sound that I liked on both sides, but tossed it into the closet after about a week. Wasn't because it was a bad pedal. It was more just because it wasn't one of my usual pedals. It has some nice sounds in it, just not the ones I would typically use.
EHX B9 Organ: This is another one that I know I like. I just don't pull it out often because it is a very niche pedal. I think it's a LOT of fun though.
Boss Tremolo: I picked this one up a week ago. This one is out, not because I never use it, but more because I want to get it dialed in. Behind a univibe sound, a tremolo is probably my fave no OD pedal. If my amp had a tremolo, I'd probably have it on all the time.
Danelectro reverb: I bought this one several years ago. It has an actual spring in it (that's why it's so big). It's a one trick pony, spring reverb. It's fun to play around with, but not a reverb I would really use on the regular or if I was playing out. It even has that kick pad on it so you can kick it and make the internal spring rattle. This one does ok, but it's another that I don't think I ever really got dialed in, and, because it only has one sound in it, I've never really looked at it as a really useful pedal. Seriously, one sound. You know how even an OD pedal has different levels of gain that make it sound different depending on how it's set? This one is the exact same sound just in varying volume levels.
Boss looper: This one is always on the floor too. I don't count it because all it does is repeat what I put into it. It doesn't really change the tone at all. It's a great practice tool as well as one that that's just a lot of fun to riff into and then play over.
I'm guessing this iteration doesn't last more than a couple of weeks. If for no other reason, I've been on a Rat kick lately, and been buying those type pedals when I see them for a good price. I didn't put one on this board because I know I like that sound, I just need to dial those pedals in.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. If Coca Cola was alcohol, he'd be a raging alcoholic. He dislikes going to the grocery store. And he still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 2 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.