I bought my Epiphone 339 back when they first released them in 2011. I missed that first run that delivered in the fall of 2011, so the one that I got was made in that second run. That means that I had to wait 4 or 5 months to get mine. I ordered it in November, and got it the end of March or first of April. One change that they made between the first run and the second that I didn't see them announce anywhere was that the original 339s shipped with their Probucker pickups and the second run shipped with their Alnico Classic Pro pickups. I had actually been looking forward to getting to try the Probuckers out, but the Alnico Classics sound good to my ear, so whatever.
Never gave it a whole lot of thought after that. Like I said, I wasn't unhappy with the pickups it came with. I had always heard that the Alnico Classics were Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics and the Probuckers were Epi's version of Gibson's Burstbuckers. I had put a pair of Burstbuckers in an old Les Paul I had, and I really liked them. Never really bonded with the guitar, but I thought the pickups sounded good. I had a Gibson 335 for a while that had 57 Classics and I really liked them too.
In my head, I always said I preferred the 57 Classics. I'm not really sure why. Honestly, I think I liked them better because that's what it seemed that most Gibsons I liked were getting when I started paying attention to that brand, and they were advertising them as being "like PAFs." In the last few years, I've realized that they now seem to be putting Burstbuckers, 490s, MHS, and another pickup or two in guitars as much as they are the 57s. When I saw that, I realized that several of those are also said to be "like PAFs." Now, I must confess, I'm not really sure what a PAF sounds like, but being a good gear hound and sometimes cork-sniffer, I know that PAFs are the sound that everyone thinks they should have. So, if it sounds like a PAF, that's the next best thing to actually having a PAF, right?
Now I'm just confused. All these PAF-like sounding pickups, and they all seem to sound a little different to my ear. What's the real PAF sound? No clue. At that point, I realized I had been sniffing a cork or two, and figured, I wasn't unhappy with the way that 339 played or sounded. As well, from a similarity standpoint, I had the real 57 Classics in that 335, and, to my ear, they didn't really sound all that different from those Alnico Classics. If I really sat and listened to them, I thought Epi version may not have been quite as clear and articulate on the low end, and they may not have been quite as harmonically rich when driven, but they sounded good. Just playing at church on Sunday or at the local blues jam, and nobody was going to hear a difference in the two. So there was no reason to change the Epi pickups.
Then last fall, I picked up that Epi LP Standard 50s (or whatever it's called). I immediately bonded with that guitar. Loved the neck! Loved the sound! And did I mention the neck? I had been playing that 339 predominately for nearly 18 months when I got that LP, and the 339 suddenly found itself relegated to hanging on the wall. One of the things I really liked about that LP were the pickups in it. They seemed super clear and articulate, and sounded good clean or driven. Maybe it was the guitars. Maybe it was the pickups. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, it had the Probuckers in it, so I was once again questioning what the 339 would sound like with Probuckers instead of the Alnico Classics.
So I started looking for a set of them. You could get them direct from Epiphone, but they were (1) $150 a set, and (2) out of stock. So Reverb was my option since I don't like eBay. Someone from Thailand was selling them starting at $50 a set with a wiring harness. That's a good deal, right? Seemed super sketch to me, so I passed on them. I'd see others showing up here and there, but they were running about $50 a piece (or more). I found a pair that someone pulled out of a new Epiphone where they were asking $70 for the pair. I messaged them for pics of the back of the pickups, and, when he sent them, it turned out they were actually the Alnico Classics like I already had. I let him know what he actually had, and that I'd pass since they weren't the ones I wanted. His ad hasn't changed. So be careful if you come across that ad; they're not actually Probuckers.
The next afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a set of Probuckers for a super price. Looking at the ad, the pics all looked right, so I was convinced they were real. According to the ad, the seller had just pulled them out of a new Epi LP Modern that they had gotten. Pics looked right, and the story sounded legit. Looked at the price again, and three other folks had already made offers on them and someone had them in their cart. So, since the price was really good without asking for a deal, I pulled the trigger. I will say that they are the Probucker 2 and 3 pickups where my LP has the Probucker 1 and 2.
Finally got them swapped out, and the Alnico Classics are now sitting beside me on the desk. What's the verdict on the 339 now that it has the Probuckers in it? I like them better! I think they have a clearer low end. I'm not sure the difference in the Probucker 1 in the LP neck and the Probucker 2 that is in the LP bridge and the 339 neck, but I still like the Probucker 1 best of all. To my ear it really sounds good. Either way, again, to my ear, the Probuckers have a clearer low end and are just a bit more articulate than the Alnico Classics. They also seem to be a little bit smoother and not quite as harsh when driven. When turned up, they also don't sound as hot to me. The Probucker 1 is easily my favorite, but the 2 and 3 I also like better than the Classics. Granted, in a blindfolded side by side, the only one I think I could pick out of the mix would be the 1. That is, if I could pick it out of a crowd. But trying to be objective sitting in my quiet little music room, I believe that I hear a difference in the two types of pickups.
So, I have to say that I think the Probuckers are great pickups. They're half the price of the Gibson Burstbuckers, and, to my ear, they're not that different. Granted, I haven't A/Bed them at this point, but from what I remember of that pair I had, they're pretty close. Given the chance, if I had another Epi with those quick connect ends, if it didn't have the Probuckers in it, I'd see about finding another pair. I'm not sure that all the hype around the Probuckers isn't at least a little marketing, but, I think, they're well worth the money. Like I already said, they're not the Gibson (or Duncan or Lollars), but they're close enough that nobody but us gear hounds are going to hear the difference. Bang for your buck, especially if you get them used, I don't know that you're going to get anything better.
Those that know me know that I laugh at those that are often called cork sniffers. Whether online or face to face, I'm civil when I'm talking to them, usually. But there are times that they get on my last nerve.
Now for the uninitiated, let me define what a cork sniffer is. A cork sniffer is one of those that is so fixated on that specific piece of gear that nothing else is deemed worthy. Granted, we've all got that piece of guitar, like one of our guitars, that is absolutely the best thing ever and we wouldn't trade for anything. We've modded the heck out of it, and, despite what others tell us, there is no other guitar in the world that plays as well and sounds as good. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ones that look down their noses at a Squier or MIM Strat because it's not an MIA Strat. They're the ones that will crap all over Epiphone because "it'll never be a Gibson." You get the idea. They look down their nose at a piece of gear and call it inferior based on its location of manufacture, the brand on the label, or some other seemingly important factor. That's a cork sniffer, and, in my humble opinion, there are 2 types.
There are those that are just uneducated. Those are the new players that are basically parroting what they hear others say and have no real basis for their opinion. They're the ones that say Gibson is the only brand to play because that's what they see their hero talk about and play (although their hero may've played a Tokai until they got their endorsement deal). I, generally, will give these folks a pass. Give them some education and experience, and they'll grow out of this stage. They'll eventually realize that, yes, Gibson is the premium guitar, but bang-for-the-buck there are some Epiphones that may be better than a Gibby.
Then there's the other kind, and they're the ones that really bug me. I call them "ignernt." Now, ignernt is a good Texas term. Around here, if somebody gets called ignernt, the speaker is saying that the speakee is smart enough, they just have chosen to act the fool and be stupid. They're ignernt. These are the cork sniffers that I have been known to make fun of sometimes. They're the ones that are so fixated on a brand (or whatever) that they can't see past the end of their nose.
I was reminded tonight that I used to be one of the second kind of cork sniffers. Maybe that's why they bug me so much. And I was reminded of this fact tonight.
Way back when I first started playing, all I knew was acoustic guitars. The first really nice acoustic that I was exposed to was a Martin. In fact, through a series of events, after only playing a couple of years, I was blessed to be given my own Martin (a D-35). Still have that Martin. It currently needs to have the bridge replaced, but is probably still my fave acoustic. It's a workhorse of a guitar. But I digress.
I had a Martin. All the pro players I knew either played Martin, Taylor, or something really high end like an Olson. Consequently, outside of Martin and Taylor, I really didn't know anything about guitars. I had played enough of each of those to know that I knew I liked the traditional Martin sound more than the modern Taylor sound, but they both sounded really nice.
Where I lived, I'd get together and play with a buddy once a week or so (we played in the same band), and we both played Martins. Another acquaintance at work was given a guitar for Christmas one year by his dad, and asked if my buddy and I would take a look at it and tell him what we thought. Bless his heart, that was during my days of sniffing corks.
The day that he brought it over to my house, I remember thinking one thing about the guitar and saying something completely different. In retrospect, I really wish I would have been honest enough with myself to give him an honest review. All I remember at this point was that it was a jumbo bodied Guild of some sort. From what I remember about the inlays on it, if it was chosen from their current lineup (although this was 30 years ago now), it would've probably been the equivalent of the F-55. And that would make sense as, from what I remember he used to say about his parents, they only bought the best.
Anyways, this guitar had a really great sound. However, it didn't sound anything like a Martin or Taylor. It was a very full, rich sound. Very balanced sound. All around, it was just a really great guitar. However, because it wasn't a Martin, I don't think I had anything good to say about the guitar that wasn't a backhanded compliment. "It has a really nice sound for something that's not a Martin." The other guy that was playing it with me was pretty much like me when it came to guitars. So he didn't really have anything positive to say about it either. The guy that had gotten it for Christmas left that evening disappointed that "it'll never sound like a Martin."
I've come a long way since then in both my musical journey and my overall view on life. I still very much like the sound of a Martin, but I also have a Boulder Creek and a Tacoma, and an Epiphone acoustic. For electrics, I've got Squiers, MIM and MIA Fenders, as well as Epiphones and Gibsons. For pedals, I have real live, green Tube Screamers and all kinds of TS clones (including the cheapest, Chinese made ones on Amazon). I've got a closet full of gear spanning the spectrum of price.
Growing up, my parents tried to teach me to always give people the benefit of the doubt; just because they're different than me doesn't mean they're bad. Give them the benefit of the doubt until they give me a reason to do otherwise. As the Disney song says, "if you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew you never knew." When it comes to gear, be open minded. Just because the headstock doesn't say what you think it should doesn't mean it doesn't have a song in it. Pick it up and play it and see what it says.
And, Joel, if you ever happen upon this to be reading, I really hope you still have that Guild. Had I not been in the middle of my "Martin or nothing" days, I would have told you that it was a dang skippy nice guitar that had a great, warm sound and anybody should be ecstatic to be able to play. I'm sure that guitar was full of music if I'd only taken a moment and listened to it.
So the other day I decided to pull out my Klon-type pedals, do some side by side comparisons, and see if my thoughts on them had changed at all. I figured this would be a good time to do this because I just got the NuX Horseman that I had ordered back in April, and was playing with it to see how I liked it. So, here they are in my order of preference.
Before I go into the pedals, I should also mention that I always use the Klones in the same way. With the amp just at the edge of breaking up, I'll have the gain on the pedal set minimally, the treble set in the middle, and the volume set a couple of clicks above unity so that it's pushing the amp a bit. So it's more like a clean boost I guess. This is where I believe these pedals really shine.
What are your thoughts? Tried any good Klon-type pedals that just really stood out to you? I've heard really good things about the J Rockett Archer, but haven't gotten my hands on one of those yet. I've also heard there are some really good ones from back before the recent onslaught...the Aluminum Falcon, the JHS copy that they no longer make, the MXR Sugar Drive (although I think this one may be one of the recent ones), and others. Some day I'll have to make it a point to pick some of these up and give them a shot as well.
Here's a subject for you that seems to come up every now and again. And even John Bolinger is talking about it again in his most recent vid on the Tube of You. Reliced guitars. I know these aren't the only opinions out there, but if you read the interwebs, there seem to be two prevailing schools of thought. The first group says that reliced instruments are stupid, idiotic, and should all be burned, and those that buy them, play them, or otherwise look upon them any other way are nothing more than wannabes that can't tell a guitar string from a climbing rope and don't deserve to ever pick up a guitar. The other prevailing thought is the group that seems pretty apathetic towards them and basically say "if you don't like them, then don't buy them."
As I recall, reliced instruments were started off primarily in the domain of custom shops. They were making guitars that were replicas of famous instruments and NOS type for the collectors. Then the manufacturers realized that they could make good money on heavily reliced instruments. So they started making those too. They eventually figured out how to do the relicing a lot more cheaply, so the reliced guitars left the domain of the custom shops and entered that of the affordable. Disclaimer: I don't know that this is exactly how it went down, but, from this consumer's perspective that appears to have been what it was. So take this last paragraph with a grain of salt. Or the whole shaker. It may or may not be totally accurate, but that's what seemed to happen to me.
Back around 2008-ish when Fender released their Road Worn line, all of the guitar forums I was on erupted with the most hate-filled, vitriolic commentary on them that you can imagine. "Wear should be honest." "Only posers will buy these guitars." "These guitars are made for folks with more money than sense. And kids that haven't put in the time to have worn in a guitar." "Stupidest idea ever." And a lot of really troll-ish things a lot worse than this by those that I know not to be trolls.
Everyone had an opinion, and most of those sharing their opinions had less then complementary things to say about them. Including me. At that point and time, my thought was that wear should be honest wear, but I sometimes balanced that thought with the fact that other folks can spend their money on whatever makes them happy. But that doesn't mean I wasn't parroting a lot of the things that some of the others were saying.
About 2010, I decided I needed to get myself a Tele. I test drove Tele after Tele, and didn't like any of them. They either didn't sound right or didn't feel right or something. None of them were any good. Didn't like them. Every time I'd hit the local stores (the mom and pops and the big boys) I'd start pulling Teles off the wall, and not a single one of them spoke to me. I tried to like them. I really, really wanted to like them. Squiers, MIM Fenders, MIA Fenders, even a G&L or two. But not a single one of them was it. Did this for a couple of years.
I avoided the Road Worns just because they were...Road Worns. FInally pulled a 50s Road Worn off the wall mostly to exercise my confirmation bias against them. At that moment I think I heard that proverbial angelic choir, because there was absolutely no question that was the guitar for me. It felt good. It had the right weight to it, and the neck was the most incredible neck ever. I once described it to a buddy as being like that pair of jeans that you've had for years that you just don't get rid of because they fit perfectly and were worn in all the right places. I bought it.
Yes, it's a Road Worn. Yes, it looks like every other Road Worn Tele that was being made at that time. Yes, the neck has the same wear spots as every other maple necked Road Worn Tele (and Strat) since they started making them. Call me a poser and wannabe if you like, but it's the best feeling poser guitar I've ever picked up.
That very much started changing my opinion on reliced guitars. Then, in 2012, I got the chance to tour the Fender factory and they took us through the Custom Shop. We passed the area where the Master Builders do their work. I felt in the presence of royalty when John Cruz stepped out of his work area and watched as we awkwardly stared at him as we walked by. Then they took us over to where the Journeyman builders were working on the more mass-produced custom shop stuff. There was a line of 5 red Strats that he was working on that were all identically reliced.
I figured that they would be sold to the masses just like most of the others that come off the line. But then the one working on them told us that all 5 were going to the same individual (a famous player who we all know that is known for playing Strats). The player had recently decided that he didn't want to carry his famous guitar out of his studio anymore, so he was having the guitars in front of us built so he could grab one and carry it where ever he was going and not have to worry about his old, beat-up one being lost, stolen, broken, etc, but everyone seeing him play would think it was still the old trusted #1 axe he'd always used.
That changed my mind for good. If some of the famous players played guitars built as relics, then they're definitely not just for posers, and honest wear may not always be the best. I've got my Road Worn, and I've recorded with it, but, honestly, I've never played it out. It's a fun guitar. It feels wonderful, and plays nicely. And shouldn't that be what it's all about? Does it fit you like you want it to and give you the sound that you hear in your head? Then it shouldn't matter if it got its scratches on the road or in the factory,
Honestly, what's the difference in a "poser" buying a Road Worn or other reliced guitar brand new and that same person going to Reverb (or the local Guitar Center) and buying a guitar that is just well used? Either way, both of them look used. One just happens to look like 1000 identical guitars because their wear patterns are the same. Either way, they both look like a used guitar. And who cares if it's a 15 year old in a high school garage band playing it. Maybe that beat up '65 Strat they're playing was something they inherited from a relative that gave it all that wear "honestly." Are they still a poser because they didn't give it that wear?
I'm firmly in the "I don't care" camp. You know what? I also don't care if you salt and pepper your eggs more than I like because it's not me eating them. If you like the look of reliced guitar, and that's what gets you to play it, then buy it. If you like the look of a brand new, pristine axe then buy that one if it's what's going to get you to play it. Be sure it feels good. Be sure it sounds good. Be sure that you can live it. Just get whatever guitar makes you happy.
Whether it's brand new with not a scratch on it or reliced so much it's bare wood, more power to you. If it's the guitar that will get you to play more, then that's the one that you need. Because when it all comes down to it, who cares whether you're playing rock or blues or country or dubstep or whatever, and who cares what you're playing it on. Just be sure that you're playing it. Too often we confuse ourselves and make it about who we're a disciple of or the tools of the trade, but it should be about the music. If it wasn't for the music, then we wouldn't have a guitar to begin with.
Tone snobs. Boutique braggarts. Posh posers. Those who engage in general cork sniffery are everywhere. They're not just guitar players, but we guitar players can be pretty brutal to each other because of it.
I must confess, that I occasionally request a cork so I can breathe in its bountiful bouquet and flavorful aroma when it comes to guitars and gear. However, it usually doesn't take long for me to realize that I have partaken of the highbrow snobbery and come back to earth.
Most of my tone snobishness is around having a particular brand. One area that I do tend to be a bit of a sniffer is with my Strat. Fender makes Strats. Nobody else does. A lot of companies make a most excellent Strat-copy that is sometimes a superior instrument to the ones that it copies, but it isn't a Strat. On the other side of that, I believe that my Epiphones are generally better guitars than my Gibsons that cost twice (or more) the price.
I have a couple of SS amps, a hybrid amp, and tube amps. Sitting in my music room, I prefer the sound of the tube amps. They have a warmer, more organic tone than my others. But put those amps in front of a crowd in a loud room, and the vast majority of those listening aren't going to hear the difference. I'm not currently playing out, but, depending on the gig (if I don't need an actual amp), I have a Fender Mustang Floor that I am very open to using. Its amp sims are really not that bad. Then, all I have to do is carry my guitar and something the size of a small pedal board, and I can feed the sound tech whatever tone I want them to hear.
Technology continues to move forward so that the SS sims and the hybrid amps are getting more and more believable, and they're difficult to tell apart from the tube amps these days. Don't believe me? Go test drive a Kemper, and tell me anybody in your audience is going to hear the difference in it and the 400 pound AC30 or Fender Twin you haul around. Not saying that the Kemper is cheap, but neither are those amps, and the Kemper only weighs like 15 pounds instead of 70.
I like pedals, and like every guitar player, I have a drawer full of them. Many don't get used often at all. I've got boutique pedals, regular pedals, and cheap pedals. Looking at the OD pedals, I hear slight differences in the Klon KTR, the Wampler Tumnus, and the EHX Soul Food. I can't hear enough of a difference in them to really justify the price difference between them. That's not necessarily good or bad. Some can hear the difference in them. I'm sure that Bill Finnegan and Brian Wampler can (otherwise why would they have made them). I can't. Consequently, the Tumnus is usually on my board because I'm a Narnia fan. However, my preference is the Soul Food because it's the cheapest of them. All three are good pedals. Correction, all three are great pedals. Use the one that fits your budget, sounds the way you want it, and makes you happy.
Which brings me to guitars. I've got guitars that are all over the price spectrum. As I've mentioned, my Strats are Fenders. I try to be honest to others and to myself and admit that it's because I want the name Fender on the headstock of them. That said, I have MIM and MIA, and they're all good instruments. I've got Epis and Gibson, and they're all good instruments. I've got "cheap" guitars that sound and play better than some of the expensive ones, and I've got expensive ones that there is a reason that they cost what they did.
Here's why I don't believe that I'm a tone snob. When I started playing back years ago, when you walked into a guitar store, it seemed there were the beginner guitars that everybody started with, and there were the pro guitars that everyone wanted to play into. The beginner guitars were definitely inferior instruments. They were generally made from inferior parts, they sounded like the cheap instruments that they were, and most of them you had to fight to play. I wandered into the local Guitar Center yesterday, and they still have a handful of those beginner type instruments, but, by and large, the gap between those less expensive guitars and the expensive ones seems to be continuing to close. Going back to my Strats, I heard somebody just this morning say that they "would never pay that much for a MIM Fender." They were talking about a MIM Fender that was almost as expensive as the lowest MIA Fender.
Now here's my problem with that mentality. The person making the comment was implying that the MIM guitar was not worth the asking price. To that person, I guess that may be the case, but when you look at it from an overall perspective, that MIM guitar was every bit as nice as some of the ones that are MIA. I've got MIM and MIA Strats, and some of the MIM Strats actually cost more than the least expensive MIA Strat. Granted if you adjust their cost for inflation, that may not be the case, but dollars out of my pocket at the time it is. If you look at the MIM guitars, the fit, finish, playability, and quality have been great in my opinion. How they compare to the MIA guitars can be argued, but, if you're buying it for the MIA on the back of the headstock, at least be honest enough to admit it. Just because that is on it doesn't meant that it is automatically the better guitar.
There are also cork sniffers on the other end of the spectrum. I know one guy who hasn't paid more than $300 on any of his guitars, but he's put $1000 in mods into every one of them. He also has nothing good to say about any piece of gear that would be considered boutique or even that cost more than what he's willing to pay. He also swears up and down that he's not a cork sniffer because he doesn't own any "nice" gear and his favorite amp is a SS amp. What he doesn't realize is that he's still a cork sniffer...he just drinks 2-buck Chuck.
To me, it boils down to the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like, and have, some really nice gear that cost enough I had to scrimp and save for it, and I have some really economy gear that I bought on the cheap with the change in my car's ashtray. My take is whether or not it makes me happy. My Strat says Fender on the headstock and not Suhr (or any other copy). That makes me happy. My Les Paul says Epiphone and not Gibson. That makes me happy. I have gear that falls all over the economic spectrum. I have pedals that cost $15 sitting on my board next to a pedals that cost $300. I have SS and tube amps. But it's because that's what makes me happy. I try to be open minded about gear. As long as I believe it's quality, then it's a contender.
Play what makes you happy.
That's not to say that tone snobbery is always bad. Heck, if the old urban legend is true that Eric Johnson can tell you that the battery in a pedal is a Duracell and not an Energizer, then I guess he deserves to be as much of a tone snob as he wants to be. I can't hear that difference, so I can't say that I care about that. Besides, I use a power supply anyways.
I also like Dominoes instead of the trendy neapolitan pizza place downtown. And In N Out and Whataburger most of the time instead of the gourmet burger place up the street where the burger by itself costs more than the entire combo at one of the other places. That's not saying that I don't like the gourmet burger. Truth is, the gourmet burger place has one burger that I would have to say is one of my all-time favorite burgers. I just don't need to eat that one all the time.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.