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.
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.
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.
This week, I'm going to tell you about the backpack that I use most often these days. It's the Teton Sports Summit 1500. It's one that I saw perusing the interwebs while just looking to see what might be out there. To me, it looked like it would be a good pack. When I initially tried to order one, they were out of stock everywhere and the Teton Sports website was backordering them. I eventually ordered one because I really liked what I was seeing. Then I made the mistake of hitting YouTube for reviews. By and large, folks on the Tube of You don't like this backpack, and they don't like it for (what I think are) stupid reasons. But I digress.
Also, once again, full disclosure. Most of the pics of this pack are ripped from the Teton Sports website. You'll know the one that I took.
I had started thinking about getting another day pack mostly because I realized that with what I usually carried, if I pulled my sweatshirt or jacket off and put it in, there was no room for anything else. So, if I was doing a long hike and carrying, say, a lunch, I didn't really have room for my jacket. If I stuffed my jacket in, the pack had no room for anything extra. So I started keeping an eye out for a pack that was a little bigger.
Enter the Teton Sports Summit 1500. It's a 25L pack. It holds a 3L water bag. It has 5 zippered pockets, including a couple that are in the lid. It's more narrow than a lot of daypacks I've seen, but it's taller. It also has a rain cover stashed in the bottom. So what are the features?
It has one big main compartment. No interior pockets or dividers except the sleeve on the back wall for the water bladder. It has a double draw-string closure that then clips closed. So, whatever you put in that compartment is going to be pretty well secured. It's not going to accidentally fall out.
On the face of the pack is a zipper that runs up almost the entire height of the pack. Inside that zipper is a shallow pocket that runs the width of the bag. I have found it perfect for trail maps, those brochure-sized ID cards, and the little notebook that I carry when I hike.
On the sides are the usual 2 mesh pockets that fit water bottles pretty well, and there are also 2 zipper pockets at the top that zip about half way down the pack. I've never tried to stuff these full, but have found that one is the perfect size for a bandana or small towel or gloves or things like that. The one on the other side is where I put my snacks.
There are 2 zipper pockets in the lid, one is on the inside of the lid, and the other is on the outside. The one on the inside seems like a good spot for all those little misc. items that I occasionally want, but (1) don't need often enough to put in an outside pocket or (2) don't want to have to dig around in the bottom of the main pocket to find. The one on the outside is where I stash my little trail first aid kit as well as wallet, keys, and stuff like that.
On the bottom it has trekking pole loops and on the top it has straps to strap something down. The loops are where my trekking poles live when I'm not using them. The straps work really well for my butt pad. As with the other pack, I have added a couple of grimlocks (plastic D-rings) and some shock cord.
The pack has those 2 cinch straps on each side, 2 cinch straps on the front for that tall zipper pocket, 2 more for the lid, and the 2 straps on top to cinch something down onto the top of the pack. In total, that's 8 straps on the pack. In fact, there was one vid that I watched after I bought the pack but before I had it in hand. The reviewer in question was complaining about "too many straps. You can't do anything on the pack without having to move straps around."
You can see in the pic above all the straps. Yes, there are lot. However, I don't think it's too many, and I don't think they get in the way all the time. Most of them have an elastic band on them to tuck the unused portion of the strap back onto itself to keep it tamed. I tuck the excess of the lid straps into the side mesh pockets, and the excess for the tie-down straps on top I have tied into a loop that keeps them up by the lid. I really like the fact that I can cinch the pack down as much as I can.
The pack has comfortable straps...once you get used to them. The first time I wore the pack, my shoulders were super tired. I couldn't figure out why. The next time I went hiking with it, I did just the opposite of what I thought I should do, and I loosened the shoulder straps up. That seemed to fix it. It's been super comfortable ever since.
The hip belt rides a little higher than I like, but it's tall enough that it does still carry some weight. Not that the pack is big enough to really need to carry weight, but it's nice that it does. On a pack as small as this one, I would expect that the hip belt is primarily to secure the pack to your back a little better. I've also added a couple of hip belt bags and hang my bear spray off the hip belt. And, yes, I know that there are no bears in my part of the country, but I carry it for hogs. The hogs down here are prolific and ill-tempered.
The back has that upside down T thing going on to help with ventilation on your back. The H2O port comes out on the right side (when you wear it) just under the lid. The sternum strap clip doubles as an emergency whistle if that is something you like your pack to have. The back does have an internal frame of some sort and is non-adjustable, but the straps adjust enough that, for a small pack, it all seems to work together to be comfortable.
There are a couple of things that I immediately changed on the pack. You can see in the pic just above that it comes with ice axe (I think is what that is) straps. I guess that makes the trekking pole loops to officially be axe loops. I've never actually even seen an ice axe, so I thought it fitting to pull those straps off and put shock cord straps on in place of them. That's how I secure my trekking poles now.
I, also, didn't like that there were no hip belt pockets. I'm still trying to find the perfect attaching pockets, and have been through several, but am still on that quest. I got some from Alps Mountaineering that I used for a while. They weren't bad, but I wanted to put a small pair of binocs in one, so I am currently using a set I bought off of Amazon. The ones I got I think are sold primarily to the survivalist crowd and probably usually attach to their bug-out bags, but they're working pretty well at the moment.
Other than those 2 things, for me, this is about the perfect day pack. It holds what I need, and it offers plenty of room to stow a jacket while still leaving a little room to carry something else if I want (like lunch or a book to sit and read along the trail). I love this little pack. It's built extremely well. It has plenty of room for short and long hikes. And in the world of backpacks, at $60, it's pretty dang economical. In my opinion, not only could you not go wrong with this bag, but it's the best one out there right now.
I like this pack enough that Teton makes an almost identical pack (the Summit 2800) that is 45L and gray instead of orange, and I got it for camping. It's pretty much the same, only bigger. It, also, on the bottom has an extra pocket for a sleeping bag. That sleeping bag pocket opens up to the main pack using a drawstring closure. So you can make the main pocket one big open pocket or one not quite so big pocket with the sleeping bag compartment underneath it. Also, the sleeping bag compartment is accessible from the outside. Other than those things, honestly, it's just a bigger version of the orange one.
Teton Sports seems to make a lot of good products that are quality without having to pay the premium associated with some of the high end brands. In addition to these two packs, my wife uses their Scout 3400 pack when we go camping or backpacking. I've also got one of their pop-up tents and their sleeping bag liners. Everything I've gotten from them seems to be good quality and built to last. In addition, I've talked to their customer service reps on several occasions, and they've all been super helpful and friendly. I'm, honestly, surprised that I don't see more reviews on Teton Sports and more people using their products. If you need quality equipment on a budget, be sure to give them a look. In my opinion, bang for the buck, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better.
This week I'm going to tell you about that Outdoor Products backpack. Over the course of the week since I typed up that last post, I actually found the name of the backpack. It's the Outdoor Products Trail Break pack. it has an 18L capacity, and came with a 3L water bag. It looks like Walmart still sells the black one online for $35, or you can get the green one on eBay for around $20. It hasn't been listed on the Outdoor Products website for probably a year, and I've been told by their customer service that they're not making it anymore.
Also, full disclosure. The professional looking pics I have below I stole off the Walmart website. I'll start it off with this one.
The back of the pack has the compartment dedicated to the water bag, and I'll get to that in a bit. The pack has 1 big main pocket in front of that one that I've always described as a school backpack pocket. You can zip it open from either side (2 zippers for this pocket). You zip it open, and it's just a big, open space. No dividers or internal pockets in it.
There's a secondary main pocket that only has one zipper to it. So it zips to and from one side. It's not as big and open as the main pocket, but it has 3 smaller pockets on the back wall. The smaller pockets are 2 different sizes, and one of them has a velcro clasp over it. I'm guessing that was intended to be a phone pocket or something...velcro it in so it doesn't accidentally fall out.
It has a much smaller zipper pocket on the face of the pack. That one is about the size of a phone, but since there's no protection in it, I always used it to throw a snack bar or small bag of trail mix. This pocket is, honestly, not really big enough for much else.
It has the pretty big mesh pocket on the face of the pack that you can clip closed. I always found that one handy for keeping a trail map or the little notebook that I carry when I hike. I'd also typically stuff my wallet and truck keys in this mesh pocket when I'd leave the ride.
Just below this mesh pocket is a zippered pocket that holds the included rain cover. I'm not a huge fan of rain covers. Sometimes they work with very dry results. Sometimes you wonder if it kept any water out at all. I used this one a couple of times in mist and drizzle, and it seemed to work well enough.
Then there are the 2 mesh pockets on the side that I imagine most folks use for water bottles. There's a cinch strap on either side of the pack just above the mesh pockets. There are no pole loops on this one, so I always carried my trekking poles in these pockets, and secured them using the cinch straps.
There are two "daisy-chains" on it just above the mesh pocket on the face. I put daisy-chains in quotes because on a pack this small, they're more like double loops. I have a couple of grimlocks (plastic D-rings) on those. That makes it handy for clipping something on the pack if needed. I strung a loop of shock cord between the two, and used one of them to clip my butt pad to the pack. I'd stuff it under the shock cord to keep it from flopping around while I was walking.
Rounding out the pack are the hip belts. There's a pocket on each of those, but they're small and tight enough that my wallet wouldn't fit, and my keys were a bit too big. I'd usually carry a small bag of trail mix in one of those.
Overall it's a great pack! At 18L, it's not so small that you're only carrying water, but it's not so big that you're carrying more than you would need. In addition to my usual load, I could stuff a sweatshirt or jacket into the main pocket, but that would fill it up. It's a relatively comfortable pack even though it's not adjustable. The only thing that bugs me occasionally (and it's more a preference and not a comfort thing) is that the hip belts are a bit high. They ride above my hips, so they help secure the pack to my body, but they're not carrying any weight at all. Then again, on a pack this small, there's not a lot of weight to be carried.
Now the water bag pocket, they used an interesting concept for it. After using the pack as much as I have, I'm still not sure whether I like it, but I know I prefer the more traditional approach better. Take a look at the two pics below, and then I'll describe it for you.
If you look on that back ridge of the pack in the pic on the left, you'll see a long zipper that appears to continue on down the right shoulder strap. If you look at the pic on the right, you'll see that zipper does, indeed, continue about half-way down the length of that shoulder strap. Rather than have the usual H2O port on the back of the pack somewhere, that zippered pocket is it. Open it up, and it's a very thin pocket where you hang the bladder. Then you run the tube the length of the zipper to where it exits on the shoulder strap.
It's an interesting way to solve that problem. It's, also, where my bag had an issue. I used it for a long time, and always had the bladder in it. Then one day I decided that I was going to use it without the bladder, and realized that they had not actually sewn in one side of the end of the zipper. So long as the water tube was run through the shoulder strap, the zipper would stop a couple of inches short of the end. When I pulled the bladder out and zipped that up, the zipper just came off the end, and, despite my best efforts, the zipper would not go back on.
The Outdoor Products warranty and customer service were both stellar even though the pack already had a lot of miles on it. I let them know I had an issue, they asked for pics, and they quickly covered it. The backpack wasn't being made at that point, so they gave me credit on their website. I already had my eye on the pack that I'll talk about next week, so I gave the credit to my wife to get one that she needed. Later on, I ended up doing some surgery on the bag to get the zipper back in place, and then sewed everything up so that it works again. Not long after I bought the bag, I replaced all the gray zipper pulls with bright yellow ones, so I used bright yellow thread on it when fixed the zipper.
I really like this daypack. I've used it enough that it's well broken in. I've personalized it by adding those grimlocks, changing the zipper pulls, and now it has the yellow stitching where I fixed it. It's relatively comfortable, and it holds enough to get you by for a day, but not so much that it's really going to get heavy. The back on it has that upside down T pattern that helps with ventilation. I've got no complaints about this pack. In fact, at the $35 that it is currently listed on the Walmart website, I don't know that you could get a better bang for your buck day pack.
I must confess. I have a thing for bags. I like them. They're extremely useful. They can be stylish. And you can personalize them and make them fun. I have a bunch of them. Notice I didn't say too many. I'm always out for a good bag. I have an armoire full of them. I've got quite the array of bags. I've got canvas bags. I've got leather bags. I've got bags for work. I've got bags for play. If I need a bag, I'm sure I have one to fill the bill. My wife says she doesn't understand why I think bags are cool. She has like 2 purses. I have at least 10 backpacks. And that's not counting the messenger backs, laptop bags, and others still.
Like I said, I have lots of bags, including all those backpacks that I claim as mine. I have also bought my wife another 3 or 4 backpacks because I think she needs them, because bags are cool. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'm going to talk about a couple of my favorite backpacks. For today, I'm going to just scratch the surface on those two and one other.
First backpack to talk about is my Saddleback Square Pocket backpack, aka The Tank. No, seriously, the company calls this backpack The Tank. It's certainly built like one. If I had to have one backpack and no other, this would be a serious contender. It's HUGE! It's built to last. You could probably fit a small car and a week's worth of luggage into this backpack. The pic below doesn't do justice to how big this pack is.
Mine is in carbon black. That just means it's a kind of a flat back color and not shiny like the one in the pic. The only downside to this pack is that it's so big and heavy. I think I weighed it once at just over 7 pounds empty. I once used it hiking through a national park in SE Utah. My back was soaking wet by the end of the trail, and my shoulders were especially sore. I decided that night that I needed a lighter backpack for the next day.
Two things I like about this bag. The leather on it is thiiiiick. Seriously, I could drag this thing behind the FJ and it'd just be scratched up. It would still be totally usable. Second is that it has no less than 8 D-rings on it. I love clipping and attaching things to my backpacks, and those D-rings come in especially useful. I don't think I could wear this bag out if I tried. Despite its weight, this is one of my favorite bags. And, at over $500, it was definitely the most expensive (but totally worth it imho).
The next backpack to talk about is my Outdoor Products backpack. I have no idea the model. They don't make this one anymore, and I've long since forgotten the name. I was on the hunt for camping gear a while back at the local Walmart, saw it, and went back the next day to buy it. It's been a trooper. Well made. Very economical at I think $30 when I got it. I've got probably 150 miles on this one. 3 liter water bladder capacity. Multiple pockets. Rain cover (that I've had to use a couple of times). This is one of the ones that I'll talk about more later.
Full disclosure. After I had it about 6 months, one of the zippers failed. I looked at it closely and realized it looked like it might be a manufacturer defect. I contacted the company, and they quickly got me fixed up with no hassle. They already weren't making it anymore, so they gave me credit towards another pack. I added some to that credit and bought my wife a pack for some stuff she was doing. Great customer service! I liked the pack so well that I ended up figuring out how to fix it on my own, and I've continued to use it.
You'll see that I swapped out the zipper pulls to add some color and added some grimlocks on it. I'm always adding stuff to my packs to personalize them and make them what I want. This has been a great pack.
Last pack to talk about today is my current daypack. It's the Teton Sports 1500 backpack, and, for me, it's about the perfect pack. When I was researching it before I bought it, a lot of folks were complaining about various aspects of it. I thought then, and think now, that those folks were just complaining. It's a great bag. Still pretty economical at $60. I've got almost 100 miles on this one so far.
Like the previous pack, it can handle a 3 liter water bladder. It's got pockets everywhere...5 zippered pockets. One on the front. One on each side. And two in the lid. Two mesh pockets on the side. The big main compartment. Straps everywhere. Loops for trekking poles. A rain cover. In my humble opinion. this is the best daypack made. In fact, I like it so well that they make an almost identical pack that's 45 liters. I got it for short backpacking and camping trips.
Since I got this pack, I've picked up several Teton Sports items, and have been impressed with all of them. From packs to tents to cots, it all looks good. I've got packs and a tent. So far, they all work as advertised, and they're economical. Not quite as inexpensive as the Outdoor Products packs, but definitely less than what you're going to get someplace like REI. I've been told that Teton makes "budget" gear. My experience has been that their gear is just as good as the REI stuff I have, it just doesn't cost as much. So, if "budget" means good-quality-low-cost I'll take it every day over good-quality-high-cost. Teton makes good stuff. And this bag is no exception.
I've got a couple of others that I really like...like the one that attaches to a gig bag...but I use these three probably more than any of the others right now. In later posts, I'll take the two day packs, and talk about them in a little more detail. So what's your favorite backpack? These are three of mine.
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.
So I've spent the last two posts showing some of my gig bags and hybrid cases. If it's not pretty obvious or you missed me say it in one of those posts, I'd much rather use either of them than a traditional case if I feel like I have the option. When I was younger and much more of a snob in how I thought guitars should be treated and used, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting to use a gig bag because nothing beats a case, and a case should always be used. In the ensuing years, here's what I have learned.
Gig bags. No, they don't offer as much protection as a case. However, they're lighter, generally less expensive (maybe not some of the premium gig bags), and, if all I need to do is get the guitar from point A to point B, they tend to be more convenient. I still don't think I would get a low tier gig bag, but a medium tier (like that Gator Transit series) offers pretty good protection, lots of storage, and even has some add-on options that make it easy to carry extra gear if you need to. The premium tier gig bags offer a good bit more protection with those same options that you don't get with a case.
Hybrid Cases. These are still not going to offer as much protection as a good case, but they're going to give more than a gig bag. Remember, they're often just a case without the wood or molded plastic on the outside. From a weight perspective, they're not going to be that much more than a good gig bag, but they're going to be bulkier and more rigid. If you're traveling and want to carry a guitar, a gig bag will often take up slightly more space than the guitar, and you can squeeze it into whatever space is available. I can attest to being able to do that. Just shove that gig bag between the side of the car and the suitcases, and it'll fit. However, this one takes up enough space that you can't really just squeeze the guitar into your stuff. You'll have to budget space for one of these just like you would a suitcase or duffle bag. But it's a step up in protection and, with most having pockets on the outside, still gives some options that you don't have with a case.
Regular Cases. These are going to be the best protection, but they are also the heaviest of the three. They're also the most rigid when it comes to what you can do with them. No outside pockets, so, if it doesn't fit in the internal storage spot, you're carrying another bag. Bigger, heavier, (in most cases) more awkward, and, if you turn into someone's shin with a case, they're probably going to yelp in pain. However, I know someone that accidentally ran over the headstock of their guitar that was inside a case, and, while the case was crushed, they guitar survived unscathed. That's something that I'd wager isn't going to happen in a gig bag or even a hybrid case.
For me, the answer is pretty simple. Even when I am playing out on a pretty regular basis, I've never been in a position to have to do much more than carry my guitar across town (although "across town" may still be an hour and a half away). Also, I'm seldom in a situation where I'm not the one solely responsible for handling my gear. I pack it in, I pack it out, and no one is touching my gear except for me. Not that I wouldn't appreciate a good roadie sometimes, but the places I play everyone takes care of their own. All that to say, since I'm the only one handling my gear, I know that my guitar is not going to get tossed around places or roughly shoved around and other things like amps aren't going to be put on top of them. Because it's just me, the handling of my gear is going to be pretty controlled. I can get away with the lightweight and versatility of a gig bag. Even playing out, my electrics are all in gig bags.
For my acoustics that I play out, I do step up the game to a hybrid case. Still lightweight, but I've seen more bad things happen to acoustics than I have electrics, and the hybrid makes me think the vast majority of those things will be avoided. A little more bulk to the case means that it's got more padding, but it also means that those around me are going to be a little more aware that I'm carrying a guitar, and, hopefully, steer clear a bit.
Hard cases, for me, are reserved for when I fly with a guitar or am going to be in a situation where I think that extra protection might be needed. Oh, and also for that D-35 I've got that I've had for 30 years and couldn't replace if I wanted to.
That D-35 is also the guitar whose case is busted on the bottom edge because 30 years ago I was walking from work to band practice with it during the middle of winter. I decided to take a shortcut which took me through a little wooded stand where a creek ran through. I had jumped that creek a thousand times, but didn't think about the fact that it had just snowed and snow and ice were all over the ground. The creek only had a thin layer of ice on it. I got to the edge of the creek and jumped. My foot slid on the ice, and I realized mid-flight that I was only going to make it about half-way across the creek. As I went crashing through that thin ice into the freezing cold water, I instinctively held my guitar out so that it wouldn't end up in the water with me. It crashed onto the ice and bits of the roto-molded plastic (or whatever it's made from) went flying everywhere. Luckily the creek was only mid-calf deep, and I quickly jumped out. I realized then that, sometimes a case is the best option. As hard as my guitar hit that ice that day, I'm sure if I'd been using anything but a hard case, I would've had to find a luthier to repair the damage. But then a situation like I found myself that day was the exception and not the rule.
For me, gig bags whenever I can. Cases only when I have to.
Last week I talked about gig bags. This week, I'll show you a couple of polyfoam hybrid cases. When it comes to cases, I don't really need a road dog. I just need something that will keep a guitar in the closet and get it across town (or maybe across the country) without too much trouble. I prefer smaller and lighter. So, if I'm not using a gig bag, a polyfoam case will generally do.
Now, before I show you mine, I'll briefly describe some differences for you. A gig bag, is a bag, It might have some good padding, but it won't generally stand up on it's on (even on its side), and it would never be mistaken for a case. Some of them are even kind of floppy. After all, they're generally just foam padding inside a tough exterior. A case is generally molded or wooden. It's got some padding of some sort inside it to keep the instrument off the hard exterior. If you need a road dog, a case is usually the way to go. The polyfoam hybrid cases are a good in-between. They look like a case. They act like a case. But they're just the polyfoam that is often found inside a hard case, but without the case. Instead, it's put inside a tough canvas-ish cover. The exterior is pretty similar to what you would find on a backpack. Not the lightweight nylor backpacks, but rather one of those kind of old-school canvas packs. So it has the rigidity and stiff protection that a gig bag lacks, but, although it's rigid, it doesn't have the super tough exterior of a case. But that also means it's not nearly as heavy as a case. It's a nice in-between. I've got several of these cases. They work really well for acoustic guitars. Price-wise, I've found that they run around $100. That's about the price of a low-end hard case, but half the price of most premium gig bags.
Travelite Polyfoam Case. I just realized I didn't get a pic of this one, and it's far enough back in the closet I'm not digging cases back out again, so it's going to have to be pictureless. It's a beast of a case. Out of all the polyfoam cases I've got, this one is easily the most well made. It has my flamenco guitar in it. The flamenco guitar originally was in the case the dobro is in. When I got the dobro, I bought this case, and moved the flamenco over. So the guitars that go inside are the same size, but the difference in the case size is noticeable. This one is bigger all the way around. On the exterior, it has that same weird strap-handle system as the no-name case above. Like the Gator cases, it has a little cover for the zipper or to keep the case from falling open if you pick it up thinking it's close. This one is different, though, because it's an actual latch and not just a strip of velcro. It also has the same detachable backpack straps on it. Inside, it has that usual neck pocket, but this one you could park a Buick in. This is a behemoth of a case. It's huge! A classical/flamenco sized guitar is a small guitar in the overall scheme of acoustics, but this case is big enough it borders on being awkward. I would hate to see a dreadnought sized case like this one. That said, I absolutely love this case! I would trust this case in most any situation short of putting the guitar on a plane.
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.