Guitar shopping!

This might belong in MPSIMS, but Guitar threads have been hanging around the Cafe lately.

First of all, thanks much to all who participated in my “Please explain Stratocaster models, I’m sooo confused!” thread. The guitar wisdom was very very much appreciated.

Today I went guitar shopping and managed to glom onto a non-stupid (and not all that experienced, but he did actually play guitar and knew the inventory pretty well) Guitar Center guy today, who basically spent 2 1/2 hours fetching instruments for me, and he was good natured about it and actually really helpful. Unlike some previous GC excursions, the store wasn’t very full, and the shredder kids were mostly missing. And I got time on some instruments, and played perhaps 15 or so guitars (maybe 20, I lost count), and I could actually hear myself play.

The standouts in my tour were:

  • Baja Tele: wow, Wordman was right about this one! Sweet! Not perfect, but not bad. $700ish.
  • American Strat, Maple neck. Sassy! Awesome tone, very very bright, perhaps almost too much so, but I was liking it. I rolled off the tone a bit, and it was still cutting glass shards at 20 paces. Awesome axe. $1000ish
  • Some Schecter monstrosity, I don’t know the model. Inlays that looked like vines up the neck, i wasn’t too fond of that, but this thing was a shredder, very flat, very fast neck, sustain for days, and the tone was metal-sassy – picking harmonics up the wazoo (what are these really called? You know, when you give the pick some thumb-flesh and it “squawks”?), hot - hot tone. No active electronics, it just had hot pickups I guess. I really really liked that instrument, even though my style is not metal shredder, more bluesy, but I follow all kinds of styles if the mood strikes me. But it doesn’t seem like a good “all around” instrument if you play different styles. But the price is right at $700ish.
  • Deluxe Tele. Oh my lord, this was the finest guitar I played today. Really. It felt very very nice. Very pretty, too, with a sunburst-ish finish. I felt at home on this guy when I picked it up, and I played it 3-4 times, switching with Les Pauls, Strats and other things, and it just shown each time, even in comparison. $1200ish.

Good, not great (for me):

  • American Strat, Rosewood and Ebony (I think) fingerboards. Surprisingly (considering my strat clone is rosewood), I really like the maple neck Strat better, that tone just about knocked you flat. These guitars did not.
  • Les Paul 60’s neck. Wow, these are so pretty. But I can’t get past the high neck access issue, so I’m thinking Les Paul isn’t my cup of tea. $2300ish
  • Les Paul 50’s neck. Very pretty but very heavy guitar, but I really liked the fat neck, and I have small hands, go figure! $2400ish

Give me a break/ fuggedaboutit:
“Standard” (MIM?) strat – grade C-. Dead from the neck up, OK tone. Fit and finish was mixed. Just not really very good. I played three of them, and they all were just OK at best.
“Standard” Tele – Grade C. Better than the Standard Strat, but still missing charm. At this point the Deluxe Tele had spoiled me.
A couple of lower-end Ibanez models that felt like lower-end models. I hear the higher end is better, and still cheaper than the big two.

I still need to play more instruments, like an Ibanez or some of the other “second tier” brands, and definitely more Schecters. But at this point I’m thinking about getting a Schecter like the one above (if I can lose the weird inlays and get a color that isn’t black or worse) and a Baja or Deluxe (squee!) Tele. I don’t know if my budget will let me get two, but I’m in a serious love triangle with those two instruments right now.

I asked GC guy when the store was just about dead, and he told me week days just before lunch through maybe 2pm the store is pretty much evacuated, so I’ll go back next week and go through all this again.

I also spent some time looking for an instrument for SqueegeeJr. He’s going to play my 70’s (beat to shit) SG, but that instrument’s got issues, so perhaps something newer and less quirky would do better. He starts lessons next Wednesday, so I want to see how it goes for him, but I thought I’d start my homework.

The Squire and Ibanez starter packages weren’t terrible, but they weren’t that good, either. The Ibanez starter guitar was OK, but oddly the frets were sharp on the edges of the fretboard! I was almost afraid I was going to cut my hand doing a glissando/slide. Aside from this it was fairly serviceable, but that’s a pretty surprising flaw! The starter amps were pretty awful, but you could play a relatively clean tone, and a somewhat dreadful overdrive.

I asked my helpful GC guy that, if I don’t care about the amp, what might I buy as a starter guitar in the $250ish range. He thought perhaps an Epiphone SG might be good, and I looked at a couple, and they seemed OK, better than the Ibanez and especially Squire starters.

Question: re provenance of Fender guitars – I was told to look at the back of the headstock or stamping on the neckplate (where it bolts on) . In all but the American guitars, I didn’t see an indication of where the guitar was made. The American guitars were stamped with some town in SoCal, I don’t remember where, but it was easy to tell where it was made. beyond that I couldn’t tell MIMs from Far East guitars. What was I missing?

Also, what’s the best amp to really test guitars on? – I used some Fender combo, it would have been called a Twin Reverb in my day, and started with the overdrive at like 3-4 for some warmth. If I liked the guitar, I’d switch it to the clean channel and pretend it was an acoustic for a bit, just to feel the basic guitar sound sans amp tone. But I’ve got a whole store full of amps, so I could really pick almost anything that wouldn’t blow out the front windows of the store.

Thanks, all

Oh, I play a total lemon American Strat – I picked it up, and was doing manual tuning (all of those guitars were out of tune at least a bit), and… there was no harmonic at the fifth fret, on the EAD strings, that I could find. At all! I showed GC guy, and he picked it up and was similarly mystified. I tried tuning it several ways, and that axe was just not right, and it wasn’t even vaguely in tune across a short range of frets. I’d never even handled a guitar that broken before. I didn’t know intonation could go that far south.

squeegee - I was just doing a quick check of the Dope before heading out to run errands - I will try to get to get back to this over the weekend. Thanks for the full report - it makes it a lot easier.

Tell me about the “Deluxe Tele” - maple or rosewood fingerboard? What kind of pickups - two single coils or is there a humbucker at the bridge and/or neck. Any binding on the body? Solidbody or with an f-hole?

Gotta run. As for amps - depends on the sound you are looking for. If Fender-y - a Blues Jr. does surprisingly good. If Marshall, not sure if the model is still available but there was a model called a DSL 400 (I think) that was surprisingly good for being a low-price Marshall. They can overheat but you don’t care about that when demo-ing gits…

Okay - I’m back. Lots of stuff to comment on.

  • Schecter - you’re referring to pinch harmonics. You pinch the pick a little more between your thumb and forefinger so when you pick the string, you brush it with your thumb, which deadens the main note a bit and emphasizes the harmonics. As an aside - this technique can be very cool, but only if used sparingly. When shredders pinch everything - an obvious player I happen to like even though he does too much of this is Zakk Wylde - they basically sound like Mariah-freakin’-Carey who doesn’t know a note she can’t stretch out and beat the emotion out of. Also, pinch harmonics may be easier on a shredder on a metal-sorta amp, but (if you want to be really geeky about it) they aren’t *honest * pinch harmonics (for want of a better term). There is a big difference between playing a tube amp that distorts naturally and you pull harmonics off that vs. buying an amp with digital, dial-up distortion that fakes the real thing. Yeah, you can grab a squeal, but there is an element of groping fake boobs to the whole thing, IMHO.

  • In case you can’t tell, I am not a fan of Schecters - at least on on a consistency basis. The early ones - the custom-built ones for Knopfler, Townshend, etc., were great, but they have gone through their ups and downs. I suspect you dig it in the store just like you’d dig a cheap, gussied-up tart - they look appealing from the curb and maybe at first feel, but they aren’t really intended for a long-term thing.

  • From your own statements, it is pretty clear that the Deluxe Tele is the standout player. I would like to know more about that particular guitar, per my questions above - but fundamentally, this is an excellent choice. Simple, basic, incredibly versatile and good ones last a lifetime. You should really focus on it - by that I mean try other guitars using it as your hurdle bar: is the other guitar better vs. the Tele? If so, drop the Tele and move to the newbie; otherwise, put the new one down and move on. It’s cool you dig the Baja, but when you keep coming back to a guitar, that is telling you something.

  • I would recommend just getting one guitar and living with it for a while. Learn what that guitar can and can’t do and what you can coax out of it. Based on what you realize it can NOT do that you really want to be able to do, you can learn more about what a partner guitar should be able to do. You may turn out to really want a shredder, or you may want something different. Don’t crowd your playing time with two new purchases though - too much to process.

What amp do you have at home? What music do you want to play again? Name three artists or songs that encapsulate the sound you want. Frankly, you may be a lot better off getting one guitar and a well-matched amp - live with that for a solid amount of time. Getting the right amp can change everything. Especially if you have lived with an amp that is either a modeling amp like a Line 6 or a cheaper solid-state amp - or even a supposedly nice tube amp that has so many features that it robs the “Trinity of Tone” of any hope of delivering the goods. NOTE: I am using the T of T to refer to the basic building blocks of an amp: the pre-amp (shapes tone), the power amp (boosts signal and can affect tone) and the speaker (translated signal to sound and affects tone) - anything that isn’t one of these components in your amp - e.g., tone controls, digital effects, a Master Volume, channels - *anything * - dilutes the fundamental tone signature. If you have never lived with a simple amp and a guitar you seem to want to play as much as that Deluxe Tele you described, you have no idea what you are missing. Let me know if you might consider moving in this direction - strangely enough, I have opinions in this area… :wink:

As for your kid - I have yet to come across a kit I liked. I think he would be better off getting a Baby Taylor acoustic or a Tacoma Papoose acoustic - both travel-sized/kid guitars for a couple hundred bucks. A truly well-made, stripped-down guitar. I am old school and do believe that starting acoustic is a good thing - YMMV.

All I got for now - you should let this thread hang out - bump it on Monday. You should hear from other Dopers like **Crotalus, sleestak, Ogre, Bridget Burke ** and a bunch of others who play…

Well, thanks large for dropping in. I wasn’t sure if anyone would read, much less reply to my massive brain dump above, but just writing down all of my impressions was helpful to me in and of itself.

It was this one, maple neck. A pretty unpretentious guitar, although I’m not sure what “a pair of Samarium Cobalt Noiseless™ Tele pickups” means, but the tone wasn’t really any hotter (or at least not noticeably so) then the other 3 or so Teles I played. I’m actually really surprised that I like that axe so much; I don’t know any artist I like that plays a Tele, its all Strats or Strat clones. I do like a bluesy sound, and this girl had that in spades; it was weeping sitting there on the peg all by its lonesome.

Well, please don’t shoot me, but I’m currently playing into a POD into a higher end HTR and out through a couple of Alesis studio monitors. And I actually like it, god help me. I hadn’t actually thought about getting an amp this go-around, I was interested in what amp to test guitars on in the store. I thought that Fender combo had a reasonably transparent tone; I want to hear the instrument, not the amp. I wouldn’t plug into a Line-6 or other jacked-up box for that reason.

Okay - got it. I know that guitar; have played it a few times at GC. If you find the neck to be comfortable - really comfortable - then it is a great guitar for the money. If I bonded with the neck profile - I like very chunky necks - I would be interested.

The pickups are what they say they are:

  • Samariam Cobalt - that is the magnet used.
  • Noiseless - designed to get around single-coil (e.g., normal Fender) pickup hum - the hum is 60 cycle hum that a simple coil around a magnet - which is all a pickup is - gets close to a signal source, like a neon lightbulb. Can be annoying.

They were designed by Bill Lawrence, an old, highly respected pickup designer and maker who has has the misfortune to have at least one of his companies - using his name - get bought out and build shlock. However, the man knows his pickups and it is no surprise that Fender turned to him. I had a set of his own-branded noiseless pickups in my Strat and loved them. The Fenders I’ve played with them I have liked - however, there is a big difference of opinion about them. Hardcore Strat fanboy geeks will dismiss them as lacking the chime and complexity of a true single coil. I would argue that most of them are chasing ghosts.

I stand by my recommendation: do additional research to confirm your impressions of the guitar vs. other guitars. If you find it still speaks to you, confirm that you get 30 days to return it and offer them a lower $ cash (yes, haggle). Then take it home and play the snot out of it and really figure out if it was a temporary fling or the real deal.

And, dude, no offense but your amp setup…um…suboptimizes the potential of your guitar. I don’t know what an “HTR” is, but you started the sentence with “I plug into a POD” so I really don’t have to. Look - those things are wonderful tools - for fast patches to get a tone you need on a recording or for a specific song in a band, they are irreplaceable. But if they are a cornerstone of your tone (forgive the cute rhyme) you are missing out - period. Sorry to be all wine-snobby about this.

What Strat players do you like and what POD settings do you use?

Well, I’m going to answer this in a larger sense, what guitar music do I like:

OK, now I’m having an existential crisis, I haven’t tried to categorize my tastes in some time. I’d bet I think of a couple dozen more entries to this list right after posting. Basically, I’m someone who quit playing about 10+ years ago, and was sick to the bones of Classic Rock, and decided to play classical piano instead. My guitar musical tastes have kind of atrophied since, and now I’m just getting back into it, but I’m honestly looking around and trying to decide what I still like and find new stuff (the latter is not going so well).

I’m kind of all over the map as far as guitarists and musical styles. I’ve always liked blues – John Lee Hooker, Albert King, BB, lots of old stuff, but still electrified. Or reworked blues, SRV, Allman Brothers (though I have little interest in slide guitar; maybe if I could dedicate an instrument), other “tributes” that add to the style.

I also like some shredding that’s tasteful, no thrash-metal, please. Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, etc. You know the drill. I can’t play anything of this caliber, but would love to try.

All over the map: Eagles (when they do that multiple guitar thing, yum). Rush, but this is not really a “guitar” band per se, its about the rhythm/bass. Knopfler, big thumbs up, but I’ll never finger pick like that. I used to play some mean UFO/Schenker licks, but that’s been a while and that music is pretty stale to me now. ZZ-top, back in the day, for the cool tone and Texas bluesiness with some sass. I’m really sick of it now, but adored that tone back when. Same with Led Zep, I’m old enough to remember them somewhat new, but they got run right into the ground.

Any Steely Dan guitar work grabs me, but that’s not really a single artist, more like a rack of them stacked up. Amazing tasteful riffs in there; old as hell, but so classic.

Guitarists that many people love whom I’ve never much cared for: Eric Clapton – his light shown bright but dimmed long ago; I feel EC is more of a brand name than an artist. Eddie Van Halen – innovative as hell, but not all that listenable, all flash and crash.

Hell, I even appreciate a good solo in music I don’t care for. One of my favorite solos ever was in the Cars’ “Shake it up”, Elliot was blistering that one, for all of 20 seconds, but it was amazing. Crappy song, though.

So, maybe I’m wrong – I can spot quite a few Gibsons in that list, as well as Strats.

As far as POD, I tend to stick to more basic stuff with some tone dialed in – small tweed, jacked to about 5-7 on drive through a 2x12 is nice, a bit “middy” though. I like a couple of the POD drive tones, “Line 6 drive” sometimes. Or the Tweed Blues tone, cranked up a little further on the drive, but not maxed. Also “modern hi-gain”, which I guess is a Marshall, but I dial that back a bit, it gets pretty muddy. On the other hand, I’m not averse to driving the tone up and adding a delay and going all Roger Waters if the mood strikes me.

I guess you’re right, I probably should consider an amp. But I’m someone who’s just going to fiddle, and never play out; I don’t know anyone who plays anymore, and I’m honestly not very good yet again; flashes of good technique combined with… fiddling. So, I’d want some little versatile combo that sounds warm played in my home office, I guess, and probably a little outboard processing.

HTR is “home theater reciever”. Please don’t kill me!

Yeah, I did catch that there’s haggle-room, the helpful GC guy made a “I can talk to my manager” comment once. I also overheard someone being offered an extended warranty, oy.

I was actually put off the Schecter a bit by the look of the instrument, lipstick indeed, and I approached it quite skeptically. That’s why I was surprised that I was so drawn into it – that neck! OMG it was awesome – it “played itself” as was said in the earlier thread. The tone was really almost too hot, so I’m not sure if that’s for me. But wow, it really really felt great in my hands. So I don’t think it was a crush. But i couldn’t see owning only this instrument. I also can’t see shredding on a Tele. Each tool for the job.

Yeah, agreed. That was my approach after a while of playing in the store. I set the Tele next to me, GC guy would go fetch a guitar, and I play that, then compare. Wow, that Tele was a mean bitch to those other guitars, all sassin’ and trash talking about them behind their backs.

FYI, the Schecter was a C-1 Classic. I thought those inlays were godawful, way too over the top.

One last post - I am going to get cut off when my family gets home.

Bottom line: you are doing a good job answering your own questions.

Given what you describe you look for in a sound, a Tele fits nicely. A Strat might, but wouldn’t deliver the harder rock non-shred UFO-type tones you describe (I love that stuff, btw). Plugged into an overdriven amp, a Tele with it’s Tone on about 4 - 5 and it’s Volume at maybe 6-7 can bring the rock.

And given what you are describing as your POD settings - Dude, you are falling right into my trap! :wink: Maybe if you described a few processed-sounding, Mesa-Boogie type settings, I might grant you the value of POD for what you are looking for - but you dial up a bunch of the tones I describe - Blues Tweed, or a middish Modern tone? Oh man, you gotta get a better amp set up. I don’t care if you have played through a home theater rig - whatever has kept you playing is a good thing. But if you really wanna get a decent guitar, and you don’t match it to an appropriate amp, it would be like…I dunno, buying a Ferrari and having the power source be a Beetle engine. There is something essential missing.

If you get the Tele Deluxe, how much might you have left over for an amp? If you have, say, $500, here’s what you do:

  • Find a used Blues Jr. on eBay or Craigslist - make sure it is fully functional
  • swap in a new speaker (actually pretty easy to do) - get a Celestion Vintage 30 - they can be found for I think less than $100…
  • Get a good fuzzbox - I use a vintage ProCo Rat and - and dial up the Gain on the Pedal VERY VERY LOW - on a 1-10 scale give it about a 2 or 2.5. And crank the Level all the way. THen use your Tele’s Volume to roll down the gain and clean up the tone - go as low as 3 or lower. Dialing it up to 7 is a very responsive, crunchy rhythm tone. And you have a whole spectrum of clean tone from having the fuzzbox turned off, too. Very versatile.

Just thinking out loud…

Oh - and the Tele comes with the S-1 switching system. It violates my “simpler is better” rule, but it does offer a bit more tonal variety and has gotten decent reviews…

Yeah I know that guitar. Very One Trick Pony, IMHO. You could get an Ibanez, Peavey Wolfgang, etc. for a better shredder. Heh - better shredder…sigh.

A Peavey guitar, really? I saw some on the pegs at the store, but I recalled all those popular Peavey amps when I was in my late teens – pure mud-in-a-box, the very worst (to me) of the 70’s transistor amps. I thought that was all Peavey was about – mostly live sound systems with a branch into crappy guitar amps. So I discounted their guitar presence on the racks as substandard without trying one based on past experience with their amps. They actually make a good axe? Color me surprised.

Check with sleestak, **Cluricaun ** and a few other shredder-friendly Doper players, but it is my understanding that Wolfie’s are the same basic design as his earlier Ernie Ball/Music Man signature guitars - the manufacture may be less consistent (don’t know), but if you found a good one, it would be a good guitar for that type of playing…

A thread on Wolfgangs from The Gear Page…

I also never liked Peavy’s guitar amps (they had this “clanky” tone that I didn’t like at all), but I thought their bass amps were okay. As for their guitars, I had a Patriot II (Strat-like guitar) many years ago, and I thought it was pretty solid. Had to sell it for emergency cash, though, and didn’t have it very long. In any case, I’m really a bass player these days, and Peavy’s basses have gotten some very good reviews, though I haven’t played one. I imagine their guitars are similarly good quality.

Well, don’t get me wrong, I really do like to crank the drive up to 11 at times. Its like driving a sports car 120 on a desert road – fun in and of itself. But not all the time, or really even that often.

Yeah, you’re right, I was forgetting the bass amps, which sounded pretty good. But I’m not a bass player, so it slipped my mind.

I just wanted to chime in and say you’re taking exactly the right approach - try everything in the store, go on different days and see if there’s anything new. You’re looking for an instrument that will inspire you to play more often, and that will encourage you to become a better player. You may not even be able to put the whys and wherefores into words, it’ll just be that that instrument feels more natural in your hand, or has a certain tone quality…

A cool thing to try as you narrow it down - the next visit, you could try taking one of those two Teles, the Strat or the Schechter and trying every amp in the store with the same guitar. I agree with WordMan, the amp is a consideration as well, and it’s hard to gig or jam outside of your own house without. The home theatre rig is good for practicing, but you want to have the option of playing elsewhere. Just my two cents worth of enabling…

I have one of those Made in Mexico Nashville Power Teles, with the Fishman piezo pickup in the bridge. It’s fantastic - with the stereo output, I can run the guitar through two different amps with totally different EQs, and make the piezo sound like an acoustic with a pickup. I’ve had it about 2 years now, and I love it.

DO NOT get all dead set against Peavey amps. The Classic series (Classic 30, Classic 30 head, Classic 50, etc.) are some of the finest amps you will find on the modern market at any price. The Classic 30 is wonderful. It has a very complex clean sound, is easy to OD, and the OD channel is a freaking box of rock n’ roll. The C30’s sound particularly good with a Tele.