Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Em11/Stewart-MacDonald Dreadnought acoustic

ImageThis Em11 (named after a chord that I like) is a so-called kit guitar from Stewart-MacDonald. I had been wanting to build a guitar myself for some time, but especially with building acoustic guitars there’s a lot that can go wrong. Subscribing for a course and building one from scratch was an option, but then I hit upon this thing called kit guitars, where the parts that require expensive machinery to manufacture come more or less prefab, which you only have to finish or make to size. That seemed to be a more flexible way of working to me, so I opted for that kit guitar.

I chose a Stewart-MacDonald kit, because their kits come with an extensive manual and a demo DVD, which is something you really need with your first build. They had only two models to pick from, a Dreadnought model based on the Martin HD-28 or a Martin OM model. I picked the dreadnought because that was a model I didn’t have yet (I opted for the rosewood version).

It has been a great experience to build it, and if I ever have time for it again I’ll build another one. I was very pleasantly surprised by its great, deep sound as well, the materials for this kit are really top notch. The hardest and most critical part is to get the neck set up right (which is why I picked the bolted neck rather than the dovetail construction). Second hardest thing is to get it finished nicely, in which I didn’t succeed entirely. That’s typically a matter of experience.

The kit and additional materials cost some 450 euros and I spent about 550 euros on tools. So in total this cost me some 1000 euros, but it definitely sounds as good as many guitars of such a price, and I also have played more expensive ones that weren’t as good (also cheaper ones that WERE as good; there’s quite a wide variety in price-quality ratios with acoustic guitars). It definitely sounds a LOT better than my 550 Euro Crafter GAE-30, but without its pickup system that guitar would cost less than 500 euros, to be fair.

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Latin music

For all you people who think I am just a guitar maniac: I was listening to this song just now, by La India:

An artist I got introduced to by my friend Ramsy from the Dutch Antillies. I only got the album with this song on it (and on tape; damn, I’m going to order the album NOW!), but boy do I love salsa music.

I can’t even begin to understand were it comes from, but from very early on I’ve liked Spanish and/or Latin music. In summer I also look more mediterranean than your average pale/bright-red Dutch person, so perhaps it’s genetic. Anyway, as I said my friend Ramsy later introduced me to salsa, and I got to see his friend Leonard Reymound’s bands playing, a really great singer and percussionist. I got to understand the power and dynamics of horns, something I hadn’t liked at all before, being a symphonic rock fan.

But also, and more importantly, I got to understand that rhythm isn’t the strong point of main stream western music. We adopted the strong emphasis on rhythm through blues and jazz during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but in popular music it’s still very simple compared to what is done in salsa, which must be a mixture of African and Spanish rhythms, the Spanish also being influenced by the Moors from North Africa. Perhaps they also were influenced by flamenco, the music of the Spanish Gypsies. Who originally came from India, which is indeed another part of the world where they came up with some really intricate rhythmic patterns. Europe had strong rhythms as well in its folk music – Bulgarian folk music will have strange rhythms like 11/8 time – but somehow it’s mostly classical music that’s become the main European heritage (although at least part of British/Irish folk music has been preserved in bluegrass music, I think).

Salsa means sauce, and that’s indeed what it is. We Westerners are mostly masters of melody and harmony, that’s what we got down in Europe. That got mixed in with jazz and blues harmonies in the US, rooted in Africa as well, mind you, but anyway: combine jazz with the rhythmic inventions of Spain, Africa and India and you get amazing music, which is what salsa is.

There are brilliant people everywhere; just extract as many ideas from everywhere and you’ll come up with something great.

Posted 24/01/2014 by L in Blog

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Video Demo Gibson SG Special

Posted 23/01/2014 by L in Blog

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Gibson SG Special

Gibson_SGThis 1973 Gibson SG Special was bought secondhand by my brother somewhere in the mid-eighties, when he played rhythm guitar in our band and needed a better one than his old Maya Stratocaster.

Anyway, two weeks after that it nearly had gone again already, when it appeared that we had left it standing outside leaning against the car, the morning after we came home from rehearsal. I rushed outside the moment we discovered it but it was nowhere to be seen. After we put a note on the wall in the hall of my apartment block, to our immense relief someone appeared to have spotted it early that morning when leaving for college, and had taken it inside. We got him a nice bottle of wine.

After the band stopped my brother didn’t play it very much anymore, playing his acoustic guitar mostly. Three years ago I made him an offer on it (his daughter plays music as well, and I thought she should have first choice, but she proceeded on piano) and since then it has been mine.

I have used it in several recordings ever since, mostly for its open, transparent rock sound, partly due to its mini-humbuckers (only used during one year on this model) which almost sound like Gibson’s famous P90 pickups: clear, but warmer than Fender style single coils. It’s a perfect guitar for playing rock chords with a light touch of distortion. I am always amazed by its sustain, despite it being very light weight.

Posted 22/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars

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Aria Pro II PE-175

Aria_PE_175In 1987 I was planning on going to a music college, specialized in jazz, which required a real jazz guitar. I bought this secondhand Aria Pro II PE-175, Herb Ellis signature model (its serial number starts with a 2, so probably it’s from 1982).

It has been made in the Matsumoku factory, known for manufacturing many quality guitars for several Japanese midrange brands. Aria also was a midrange brand, but with this model they wanted to make a real quality guitar. Its model number, PE-175, seems to suggest a reference to the Gibson ES-175, although it really isn’t a one-to-one copy of that. It sooner resembles a compact kind of Gibson L5.

As often is the case with midrange brands, when they do make a quality guitar the price-quality ratio can be very good. Because of their midrange image they can’t really ask a top price for their instruments, even when they are (almost) top quality. Back then it was a guitar of around 900 dollars (new) (a Gibson ES-175 then already would have cost 1400 dollars), nowadays – if you can find one – they’ll sell for around 650 dollars.

Nowadays I often use it when being asked to play in a big band. This guitar plays very easily and has a warm yet transparent sound. With its pickup switch in the middle position, it’s even possible to get a very usable, clear funky rhythm sound out of it.

Posted 21/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars

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Fender Stratocaster USA

Fender_StratocasterWhen I bought this guitar it was with the idea in mind that this would become my ‘second’ guitar, only to be used for the specific Stratocaster sound.

But ever since I’ve played it in an allround coverband for several years, I’ve discovered why Stratocasters are such popular guitars: they’re so very versatile. Of course they’re perfect for certain specific styles, but actually you can play any other style in at least a reasonable fashion on it. The built quality is actually a bit less than that of my Ibanez, but the concept simply always works.

I bought this guitar as a second hand one around 1990, after it had been brought back to the store by someone who, allegedly, had bought it without consulting his wife first. I, at the time, fortunately didn’t need to consult with anyone when buying it.

At Stratcollector.com I found information that seems to suggest that this is a Torino Red American Standard from around 1987, just after Fender had become independent of CBS again. Also, its serial number starts with EE, which is a bit special, meaning it was specifically meant for export. I replaced the tuning machines with Sperzel locking machines and the standard white pick guard by a pearloid one.

Posted 20/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars

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Hopf Cordóba (1978)

Hopf_CordobaThis was the first quality guitar I ever bought, in 1980 at the age of 16, after my guitar teacher had told me I needed a new one. Until then I had been playing a Suzuki of 200 guilders (less than $ 100, 30 of which had been provided by the grandfather I’ve been named after, although he didn’t quite approve of me spending that money right away I seem to remember. If only he  knew how much happiness he has given me by sponsoring my first guitar).

My guitar teacher had mentioned Hopf as being a good brand, but only from 1000 guilders onwards. At the store where I went they had indeed a Hopf for sale. Normally that one would have costed 1300 guilders, which was way too much for me at that time. But the top was slightly damaged (a superficial dent) and therefore the shop owner had been able to buy it for half price. As a result I only had to pay 800 guilders.

Since then I know how to recognize a good guitar: it keeps surprising you every now and then with its sound, even after more than 30 years. It has been built in 1978 according to its label. The sides and back seem to be made of beautiful solid maple, and it’s got a cedar top, accounting for its mellow sound.

This guitar was very likely made by Willy Hopf, as his son Dieter Hopf once mailed me after a question I had about this guitar. Dieter Hopf is a very prestigious luthier, building guitars ranging from a 1000 to 10,000 dollars.

Posted 19/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars