What Guitar Pick is Best for Playing Rock?

I never thought that something as simple as a pick could control your playing style as much it does…until I started experimenting with different guitar picks. For YEARS I’ve used the exact same Fender medium picks (celluloid) – and ALWAYS the tortoise shell ones. I’ve used those since I was a teenager in high school (and I’m 42 now). I guess it’s one of those “stick with what you know” things.

So I’m in a cover band and we play 6 decades of music, dance rock, pop, classic rock, disco, country, alternative – everything. We picked up “Panama” by Van Halen recently and I noticed that it just eats up my picks (from the pick slides). I’m complaining about it every time I practice so my wife googles “what guitar pick is best for playing rock music”? I never would have thought of something that simple, and the thought of changing picks just never came up.

After reading some of the links she found I saw that most of the famous players that play fast don’t play with the larger pick sizes. Comparing my Fender medium to what they play with is about a 40% difference in size. I’ve always gone with the Fender medium because I have big hands anyway, the pick was easy to hold between my thumb and forefinger.

Comparison of Dava Control Picks to Fender Mediums

I got my guitar magazine in the mail that same day and saw an ad for these Dava control grip picks – so I ordered them (6).

dava guitar pick review

Once I got them in the mail I played with them about a week at practice, and a gig. The rubber overlay makes it easier to grip them. I never noticed how the Fender mediums slip in my fingers until I used these. They’re slightly harder then the Fender medium picks, and I did notice that if you pick too hard or aggresively the rubber does grab on the strings if you stick it in too far every now and again. Playing things like pickslides does eat on the picks a bit, but only about half as much as the Fender mediums. They also wear about 40% less than a Fender Medium, and they’re about 20% less in size with a more focused tip then the Fenders. All in all, these picks were better than the Fenders by far. But I was buying Fender Mediums for $25 / 144 (a gross) and these Dava control picks were $3 for 6. Fender picks are about 16 cents each in bulk, and these are 50 cents each. I wouldn’t regularly pay that much for them.

Different Types of Guitar Picks

At least ordering the Dava picks got me out of my norm and showed me that different (and better) alternatives do exist. I spent some time online looking at different picks and these are the ones I decided to order and try out:

Dunlop Tortex pick review

Dunlop tortex pick review

One of the first picks I tried was the Dunlop Tortex. It comes in varying degrees of thickness, and I believe my Fender mediums were .70mm. I don’t like heavy picks, but the Dava was heavier then my Fender and easier to use. I ordered the Tortex picks at .88mm (more than a medium, less than a full heavy). They are about 1/3 smaller than regular standard guitar picks with a pointer tip. They are smooth, and when holding them it feels kind of like a painted surface. I don’t like that feel so much, but they were much easier to pick with – and I was a more accurate player when using them. Better than Fender, but not my ultimate choice. They just make my fingertips feel weird.

Dunlop Ultex pick review

Dunlop Ultex Pick Review

So I tried the Dunlop Ultex pick next and I got this one at 1.14 thickness. I like this pick because it’s the same size roughly as my old Fender mediums, and the tip is slightly pointer. I found that in comparison to the others the larger size made me play sloppier and slower than with the smaller tortex picks. Better than the Fender picks for sure, but again not my final choice. This might be good for acoustic guitar for some people.

Big Stubby pick review

Big Stubby Pick Review

The next one I tried was the Dunlop Big Stubby pick. I think I ended up trying all Dunlop picks by accident, they just had more choices with different options than anybody else. The big stubby pick is about 15-20% smaller than a Fender medium but twice the thickness. This is the first pick I ever played that had rounded edges. This isn’t really possible on standard picks because they’re too thin. It has an indent in the center about the size of a dime slightly to make it easier to grip. The rounded edges actually make it easier to alternate pick, but the tip isn’t as pointy. It’s also still a bit too flexible (despite the thickness) – seems like more of a pick for using on acoustic guitar or for rhythm guitar playing than for lead. Nice, but just not that suitable for my everyday playing.

Dunlop Jazz III pick review

dunlop jazz iii pick review

Finally I tried some Dunlop Jazz III picks. These are not to be confused with the Ultex Jazz III picks, which are the same size but made out of a different kind of plastic. I don’t like the way those feel.

The regular Jazz III’s are usually red or black (I use red, because they’re easier to find at a gig when dropped). They are a little more expensive (about 50 cents each or $12 for 2 dozen). However, I found over time that just one of these picks can last a month to 6 weeks, where a fender medium previously barely lasted me a week. So I don’t mind the added cost really.

The funny thing about these picks is that they are way harder and less flexible than anything I ever would have chosen on my own (without reviewing a bunch of picks at once). And when I play with them, I can barely see the tip of the pick when I play – my fingers cover up 90% of the pick when playing. But because they are so small I play more accurately then I ever did before. After doing a little research I also found out that both Eric Johnson and John Petrucci use these picks – which I guess is no surprise (how accurate they are as guitar players).

*UPDATE*

Since I first wrote this article, I have never used Fender medium picks again – and I have been using the Dunlop Jazz III picks exclusively for 5 years now with no issues. It was probably the biggest single change to my playing in more than 30 years. Also, since Dunlop has written an article entitled “Inside the Cult of the Jazz III”. It turns out a who’s who of guitar plays with these, such as Mick Thomson, Kirk Hammett, John Bonamassa, and more.

Guitar Player Gifts under $50

I wanted to write this page of Guitar Player gifts – because people often ask me what to get a guitarist for Christmas. Not just for me, but people I know as well! I got the Guitar Center catalog the other day, and a lot of times I don’t see much, but they did a pretty good job on their X-mas version this year. I found some really cool gifts right away, and they were all pretty much under $100!

First – let me introduce you to a guitar player’s friend – the string winder! Everyone needs to have a good string winder, but the Planet Waves folks were very smart because they built a string cutter right into the string winder! This is awesome, if I had this I guitar gadget I could throw away both my old nasty string winder (that falls apart when you use it), and my side cutters from my gig bag! Great budget gift under $10!

Planet Waves String Winder / Cutter

A string winder and cutter is one of the most indispensable tools that you can give to a guitar player. The funny thing about this tool is that most musicians (that I know) don’t have a good one. They probably have a cheap string winder that they bought at the music store checkout for $3, and a pair of general purpose wire cutters in their gig bag. Planet Waves makes quality gear for reasonable prices, and the great thing about this tool is that it’s both a cutter and winder in one! Makes a great stocking stuffer or small gift. Get the Planet Waves String winder/cutter.

planet waves string winder cutter review

Snark Tuner

Another great guitar player gift idea under $10 would be a Snark SN-1 clip-on tuner. It runs on a small watch battery (lasts forever), and you can just clip it to the headstock of any acoustic or electric guitar (or bass) and tune in seconds. I’ve found that I usually end up passing it around at practice (prompting me to tell the other guys to get their own), and I’ve even used it live in a gig while playing. Not bad for a little $7 device. Get the Snark tuner.

snark tuner review

Proline Fretrest Guitar Hanger

This next gift is for any guitar player that has his own little studio or music room. Chances are that he has more guitars than shoes, and there are just way too many guitar stands all over the place! What he needs are these Proline Guitar Wall Hangers so he (or she) can just hang the guitars right on the wall! Awesome guitar player gift under $15!

proline fretrest guitar hanger review

Beyution Bluetooth Headphone Review

This one may seem weird, but I’m telling you this is a great guitar player gift idea! Every guitar player can use a good set of headphones. More and more players are using iRig and other devices to plug directly into their tablet or phone to practice. Why not have a decent pair of bluetooth wireless headphones? Recently, at Christmas, we found a really great (and highly reviewed) pair of Beyution headphones on Amazon for only about $20.

beyution bluetooth headphones review

Mini Marshall Stack

Here’s another really cool guitar player gift idea – it’s the Mini Marshall amp MS-2! It runs on a 9v battery and has a belt clip! Complete with distortion, tone, and volume knob! You can have a lot of fun just walking around with this thing on your belt! A very cool gift for the Marshall loving guitar player!

Marshall MS-2

Here are some other guitar player gift ideas posts I wrote:

Personalized Guitar Straps
Guitar Pedal Stompbox Cord Saver
Shure SM58 Microphone

Oh – also I thought I’d mention there are some really cool guitar gifts I found on eBay. They have all kinds of crazy stuff like guitar ties, guitar clocks, guitar signs, guitar posts, guitar hero – you name it! Find a great guitar gift on eBay!

Washburn X50 Review

This is my review of the Washburn X50 and X50 Pro FE guitars with the Buzz Feiten tuning system.

Another manufacturer that I think is highly underrated is Washburn Guitars. For 100 years they have been making quality instruments, but since the 80’s Washburn has been known for making killer shredding machines at affordable prices. Gibsons and Fenders are great, but the cost is too high and they just aren’t very versatile. Their cheaper counterparts (Squier and Epiphone) are a laughable joke quality and price wise. In addition there have never been improvements made to essentials such as tuning and intonation or electronics.

It’s funny, even thought you can’t (currently) find a Washburn guitar in any Guitar Center store, you can still find them in small music shops all over. In addition, modern touring bands are using them every day – like Puddle of Mudd, Theory of a Dead Man, Sevendust, Anthrax, Goo Goo Dolls, Sammy Hagar, As I Lay Dying, Def Leppard, Toby Keith, Meatloaf, Kiss, Black Label Society, All-American Rejects, Neil McCoy, Shinedown, Fall Out Boy, Brooks and Dunn, Derek Trucks, Hawthorne Heights, and Breaking Benjamin.

The 2 guitars I’m going to talk about today are the X50 and X50 Pro FE.

Washburn X50 Pro
Washburn X50 Pro FE

You used to be able to get the X-50 Pro for between $400-$500 and and the X-50 Pro sold for $600-700. The X50 Pro comes with a Duncan ’59 reissue humbucker pickup in the next and a Duncan Custom Custom in the bridge. The X50 Pro FE comes with EMG 81 and EMG 85 active pickups. The X50 pros have quilted maple tops, and the X50 Pro FE’s have flamed maple tops. Each Washburn guitar features the Buzz Feiten tuning system, which you can read about here. The X50 series also uses Washburn’s patented VCC or “Volume Contour Control” system. Basically the volume control is a coil tap, and when pull it out it splits the humbuckers in half…but the way that the VCC works is that when you back off the volume control, once it reaches 50% the coil tap automatically kicks in chopping the humbucker down to a single coil.

There have been stellar reviews of both models, Washburn posted a 2004 review of the X50 Pro from Guitar World.
Both Harmony Central and Ultimate Guitar reviews were very high. The thing that has amazed me is when watching these models in eBay auctions for a few weeks, most of the auctions received 40+ bids – which is very high for most guitar auctions. Then, once I read of the features (like the electronics and the Buzz Feiten) – I now know why.

Pickups are a very personal choice, and I think that the Duncan Custom Custom and ’59 both are great choices for many guitarists and amp combinations. Lately though, I am very partial to EMG pickups (especially the 81 and 85) because I find that they work like “peas and carrots” with a POD (I have a PodXT Live). The active electronics just seem to give a certain extra “clarity” to everything that comes through my POD. Many players favor 81/85 pickups – like Zakk Wylde.

You don’t see a lot of X50’s on eBay, usually only a few at a time. They don’t sell them new anymore, so this guitar is a little more rare than it used to be. This page will always have the latest live auctions for Washburn X-50 and X50 Pro FE’s, bookmark it now!

Here’s what’s on eBay right now –

Washburn x-50pro

USD 300.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 13:02:42

If the X50 series isn’t for you – there are hundreds of Washburn guitars on eBay right now in different styles, models, and colors, check them out!

Crate Taxi TX50DB Limo 50W Guitar Amp

The Crate TX50DBE Limo Combo Amplifier is battery-powered for outdoor gigs, or you can plug it in using the included adapter where there’s juice. Delivers 50W through a 10″ woofer with a piezo tweeter for full range sound. 2-channel operation with 1/4″ input, gain, level, and distortion modes on channel 1; XLR mic inputs on channel 2. Equipped with 8 digital effects, headphone and footswitch jacks, and dual RCA inputs for pumping up your CD player.

Crate Taxi amp TX50D

This thing has great reverb, and you can use it with or without a pedalboard. You rarely see them for sale anymore (maybe they just didn’t sell that well). You see street performers always using an amp with some type of converter to a car battery – and this thing has one built in!

Just about the only way you can get them anymore is on Craigslist or eBay.

Car DC Adapter For Crate TX-15 TX500 TX50D Guitar Amp Power Supply Cord Charger

USD 18.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-31 03:17:05

Tuki Padded Amp Cover for Crate Taxi TX15 1x8 Combo 1/2" Foam

USD 59.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 16:44:31

Economy 'TuffBox' Light Duty Road Case for CRATE TAXI TX50DB LIMO 50W 1X10 AMP

USD 109.95 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 15:53:06

ATA Case Light Duty 1/4" Ply For CRATE TAXI TX50DB LIMO 50W 1X10 Combo Amp

USD 169.95 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 15:47:10

Car DC Adapter For Crate TX-15 TX500 TX50D Guitar Amp Power Supply Cord Charger

USD 18.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-31 03:17:05

Headphone Guitar Amp Review

To practice guitar quietly you need a “headphone guitar amp”.  In the privacy of your own bedroom or basement you can have an entire Marshall stack between your ears!  There are bunches of headphone guitar amps on the market right now, and many are just, well….very cheap!  That’s why we recommend a couple different units for you to check out..

It’s not just a chinsy personal guitar amp, it’s a “modeling” headphone amp.  It’s got effects that include Reverb, Chorus, and Delay.  It even has Phaser, Tremelo, and Wah!  In as far as amp models you can get a jazz combo all the way up to balls out metal crunch. 

The Vox Amplug

The first one is the Vox Amplug“. The first time I saw this a friend brought it band practice. He actually had purchased a Vox amp, and got this headphone amp for free with it. He lived about an hour away from our practice space, and he came right from work to practice. His work was 30 minutes from his house, so he didn’t want to go home and load up all his gear (traveling one way in the car) and then double back to practice (traveling another way in the car). And he didn’t want to leave his amp his car all day. So he used to leave one guitar in the practice space, and then bring this headphone amp in his pocket.

I thought it was pretty funny, actually, at first. He would plug his guitar into the Vox Amplug, and then we’d use a 1/4″ to 1/8″ converter and plug it directly into the PA. Guess what – it worked just fine! I was always amazed with the preset channels how easy it was for him to just plugin and go. He could sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers one minute, and Metallica the next. This unit I personally recommend for bedroom practice or situations like the one we had at practice. It’s nice because it plugs directly into your guitar, and you plugin the headphones into that. As an added bonus, it has a mp3 or 1/8” aux input – so you can plug your mp3 or CD player and practice alone with the music!

The newer versions have modes for vintage AC30 sound, classic rock, metal, and even bass.

Vox amplug headphone amp

You might be able to find one used on eBay too:

Brand New VOX AP2AC amPlug AC30 G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority Mail

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 21:23:39

VOX AP2BS Headphone Bass Guitar Amp amPlug2 Japan F/S

USD 47.60 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-03 17:24:12

Brand New VOX AP2BS amPlug Bass G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority Mail

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 21:33:58

VOX AP2BS amPlug Bass G2 Guitar Headphone Amp

USD 59.25 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 20:04:54

Vox amPlug G2 Bass Headphone Amplifier w/Gain Control

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 23:11:37

Vox AmPlug Classic Rock Headphone Mini Guitar Amp Amplifier AP-CR

USD 18.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 17:00:43

Brand New VOX AP2MT amPlug Metal G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority Mail

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 20:53:00

Vox amPlug AC30 Guitar Headphone Amp

USD 59.60 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-30 18:29:37

Brand New VOX AP2CR amPlug Classic Rock G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 21:07:55

VOX AmPlug 2 Classic Rock Headphone Guitar Amplifier

USD 49.80 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 01:39:11

Joyo Tube Drive

While the Vox Amplug has been around awhile, there are some alternatives. The Amplug is $39.95, but you can get the Joyo Tube Drive for just $16 on Amazon. It has MP3 input and headphone out same as the Amplug. The quality may not be as good, but it’s less than half the price. It does have quite a few decent reviews.

Joyo JA-03 Tube Drive

Electro Harmonix Headphone Amp

Electro-Harmonix makes a quality headphone amp for about the same price as the Amplug. The difference between this and the Vox is the vox has amp models and effects built in. The EH headphone amp is about as basic as it gets – power and a single volume know. However, this means you can easily connect your pedal board or any effect you want (or just go dry). It only runs on batteries (no adapter), but it does have a cool little belt clip.

Electro Harmonix Headphone Amp

If for some reason you didn’t like one of those – like I said there are cheaper headphone amps out there, and you can get good deals on most of them on eBay – check out these auctions too…

Mini Guitar Amp Headphone Guitar AMPlug Amplifier MP3 USB Charge -Death Metal

USD 9.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 13:07:33

Brand New VOX AP2AC amPlug AC30 G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority Mail

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 21:23:39

New Concept3 Headphone Guitar Amp With Headphones & Duracell Battery Installed

USD 19.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 14:10:12

Brand New VOX AP2BS amPlug Bass G2 Headphone Guitar Amp - Free Priority Mail

USD 39.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 21:33:58

Donner Heavy Rock Pocket Mini Bass Guitar Headphone Amp Amplifier with

USD 27.79 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-31 13:16:33

Vitoos Mini Headphone Amp Amplifier Plug for Electric Guitar Heavy Rock

USD 11.78 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-03 10:38:46

Flanger Blue Miniature Portable Headphone Guitar AMP Amplifier ~ X9E0

USD 15.77 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-02 09:55:05

380 Portable Audio Guitar Bass Mini Amplifier Amp Headphone Speaker 9V 1.3W-BL

USD 17.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 12:15:37

Vox AmPlug Classic Rock Headphone Mini Guitar Amp Amplifier AP-CR

USD 18.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 17:00:43

Donner Plexi Sound Mini Bass Guitar Headphone Amp Amplifier with Rechargeable

USD 27.79 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-31 11:28:34

How to Get or Build a Zendrive Clone pedal

How to Get or Build a Zendrive Clone pedal

As long as I can remember I have wanted a Zendrive pedal. I don’t know why I never purchased one, it seems like guitars, amps, and other things have always taken precedence. For those of you that don’t know, the Zendrive is a highly sought after as the key to the “Robben Ford sound”. It’s also sometimes called the Dumble in a box. Dumble is a boutique amp used by Robben Ford, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Mark Tremonti, and John Mayer (among others). They usually cost $20-$30K new, and can run $40-$60K used (because of the waiting list). You can see why guitar players seek out the lower cost alternative of having the Dumble sound in a pedal.

As an example, listen to the solo passage of nearly any Robben Ford song and you’ll hear the biting yet stunningly clear subtle overdrive boost of the Zendrive:

The Zendrive was built by Hermida Audio. Alfonso Hermida had been building the pedals in Germany by hand for years, and had built up quite the backlog of orders. So much so that you would see people selling them on eBay for $400-$500. You can still find auctions of his original builds going for high dollar amounts, even though the original purchased directly from Hermida was only $199:

Hermida Audio Zendrive Effects Pedal dumble Style Overdrive Free Ship!

USD 249.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 19:05:45

Then back in 2013 Lovepedal announced it would take over production of Zendrive from Hermida audio. Lovepedal raised the cost of Zendrive up to $239.00. I really want a Zendrive – I really do. But having paid so little for so many of my great pedals (either in auctions or things like Joyo), I just don’t know if I want to pay that much for a single pedal. Especially because I’m interested in so many pedals (like Klon, Timmy, etc) I can’t afford to have them all.

This began my quest to see if there was a decent Zendrive clone out there or not. It turns out there are some pedals that are “similar” on the market. You really have 2 ways to get a Zendrive clone – you can either buy one or build one. First we’ll review the ones you can buy and play right out of the box.

Dumble Pedal Clones You Can Buy

Hotone Grass Overdrive

The most surprising thing about this little bugger is the fact that it’s only about $79 on Amazon. I like to buy pedals on Amazon – shipping is free with Prime! =)

Here’s a video comparing the Zendrive Red with the Hotone Grass:

Mooer Rumble Drive

The Mooer Rumble Drive is another little green overdrive that claims to be the “Dumble in a box”. It’s also available for the insanely cheap price of $66 on Amazon right now.

If you think that’s a crazy price, you should watch this video comparing a Zendrive to the Mooer Rumble Drive. I was shocked at how near identical they were on tone and sound. The only thing they aren’t alike on is the pricetag.

Dumbleoid Pedal

So, you might be wondering – what is the other end of the spectrum? Shin Suziki makes a pedal called the Dumbleoid. Shin is actually a respected Dumble amp tech, so he might just know a thing or two. He created the Dumbloid pedal to recreate the authentic Dumble sound, but it comes with a pricetag of $599.

Is it worth it? You be the judge:

Wampler Euphoria

In the mid-range price tag area comes the Wampler Euphoria pedal. This clocks in with a pricetag of about $199.

I personally don’t like the sound of this pedal, but they say that you can get John Mayer like tones with it (a known Dumble and Two-Rock player):

Special Mention: Dumkudo

You might want to check out the harder to find Dumkodo pedal. Here’s a review if you’re interested.

Zendrive Clone Kits You Can Build

You may not know this (if you’re not into electronics), but there is a whole network of people online that buy pedals, tear down the circuits, and then attempt to rebuild (clone) the pedals themselves. Then, many of them share their circuit findings online – and many sell kits where you can build your own replica.

First I’ll show you somme places you can buy a Zendrive clone kit.

Zenith Pro Kit

This the a href=”http://www.pedalpartsandkits.com/zenith/”>Zenith Pro Kit from Pedal Parts and Kits.com. It looks like you can get the kit with drilled or undrilled pedal box for $60-$70 US.

Zendrive clone kit

Here’s a video of the Zenith Zendrive clone in action:

MEK UK Zendrive Clone

MEK UK apparently had a Zendrive clone for sale a few years back. I don’t see it on their website currently, but Guitar Kid Builder has an old review of it. Maybe if you contact MEK UK directly, they can still get you one.

Zen Tone Overdrive

3PDT.com out of China has a full clone kit of sale for under $50 US. It includes all instructions for the build, case, parts, literally everything except for knobs. I have not been able to find a YouTube review of this pedal yet, but I was able to find a few favorable reviews of their kits on reddit. They seem to have a decent Klon Centaur clone kit for sale there as well.

The Zen Overdrive

Musikding.de has The Zen Overdrive kit for sale for 23 euros (which currently amounts to about $25 USD). Looks like costs vary depending how you want your kit configured. I was not able to find a video review of this pedal either, but there are plenty of them to the other pedal kits they sell. At this low pricepoint, it might be worth a try.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a Zendrive clone or Dumble type guitar pedal there sure are a lot of options out there. While there are some great clone kits for sale that you can assemble yourself, just keep in mind that you’ll need to have basic electronics and soldering experience to put them together and troubleshoot any issues you have during the build.

While you might save a few bucks by getting a kit, it is interesting to note that you can get a comparable pedal completely ready to go out of the box for just $20 more. It looks like the Mooer and Hotone options are a great value for the money!

Pete Townsend “Who I Am” Book Review

Recently I heard someone say that they had been listening to the Pete Townsend book “Who I Am” on their daily commute. Since my commute to work is a little over an hour, it sounded like something that might be interesting to me. I am always interested in musicians lives, and learning more about how they create, how they live, and the people they interacted with through the rise to fame. Often if I read or listen to a book, I end up getting a whole new perspective on that person (or their band) – and I listen to their entire musical catalogue knowing more than I ever did about how it was created. It gives a new depth and meaning to the songs (for me).

Let me start by saying that I was never an avid fan of the Who. I don’t know why. In my own band I have played Can’t Explain, Squeeze Box, and probably Substitute. I know Magic Bus, Bargain, Baba O’Riley, Who Are You, and the other standard hits that have been reveled on radio for decades. To me they were just one of the standard rock bands you heard on the radio growing up.

When I downloaded the audiobook “Who I Am” from audible, I thought it was interesting that it was narrated by Pete Townsend himself (the entire book). This was not only unusual, but it provided a very unique backdrop for everything I was about to learn because it was entirely within his voice (literally). As Pete talks you can hear how excited he gets about certain parts, laughing away, and others when he reminiscently laments about mistakes, life lessons, and things he’s learned along the way.

Here’s a link to the audiobook should you decide to pick it up: Who I Am: Pete Townsend. If you prefer the hard copy – there’s that too: Who I Am: A Memoir

Who I Am:  Pete Townsend

There are so many things I could tell you about this book that would make you want to read it. As a musician, or just as a music lover. I can break down the reasons into 3 categories: artistry, musical history, and musicianship.

The Artistry of Pete Townsend

I have never read (or listened) to a biography where the author was able to recall his life in such uncanny detail decades later. Details of his childhood are available in startling detail, but his description of them results in a minds eye painting of unusually vivid imagery. You will hear about an event in a point and place in time, and the description might include the time of day, how he felt, weather or climate, and descriptions of the scenery that leave nothing to the imagination. He seems to remember not only his entire state of mind at any point in time, but also the entirety of his surroundings. Many people hire ghost writers for these sort of things, but I’m certain Pete did all his own writing, and the narration really brings it to life. I now have a great respect for him now as both a writer, and an orator having read this book.

Additionally there are so many things I did not know about Pete. I didn’t know that he was a true artist, having studied art in school, and attending an art college. He was not only a sculptor, but had his band at the time (The Detours) not been making so much money he would have alternatively become a graphic designer. He designed The Who logo (and many others).
Later when you read about how he concepted and wrote music, composed songs and lyrics, and the underlying themes and meanings of entire albums you will likely begin to understand the true meaning of the word “artist”. There are very few people that have done what he has – largely on his own apart from the band. Granted they ultimately performed what he created, but for the most part he had to take it to them to be interpreted.

As crazy as it sounds, before reading this book what I knew nothing of Pete beyond being the crazy guitar smashing guitar player for The Who, and his reputation for being somewhat of an asshole. Having read the book I now see him from the true artist and genius he is. I don’t say that lightly.

Musical History, As Influenced by Pete Townsend

I like to read musicians biographies because I learn tidbits of information the help me to understand a bit about what happened “behind the scenes”. You find out what circumstances might have caused certain songs or albums to come to be. I learned so many things in this book, I can’t list them all here. Suffice to say if you read it as well you will find out as much as I did – but here are the things that really stood out to me:

Pete Townsend invented the Marshall stack. This is something I truly knew nothing of. Moving away from Vox amplifiers in search of something louder and more aggressive Pete was one of the very first customers of James Marshall. We all know about the first JTM45 combo being produced for Eric Clapton, but you may not know about Pete using the very first Marshall heads with giant 8×10 speaker cabinets. Pete would haul 2 heads and 2 8×10 cabs with him to every gig. The were so huge and hard to transport, he asked James Marshall could he cut them in half and make two 4×12 cabinets that he could “stack”. And this is how the “Marshall stack” was created.

Pete Townsend turned Jimi Hendrix on to Marshall amps. Consider everything that you know about Jimi Hendrix. Chas Chandler brought him from New York to England to create a band and record him. But he had yet to find or define his signature sound using Marshall amps and feedback. In fact Pete had been breaking ground on stage for a few years creating feedback live with his giant amps and Rickenbacker guitars – something he was known for. He and John Entwistle had been using 200 watt Marshall Major heads live and had one of the loudest stage volumes heard, rivalled by maybe only one band (Vanilla Fudge). Because of this Chas asked Pete to help Jimi select what amps might be best for him, and Pete recommended him using either Marshall or Sound City. Eventually Pete moved on to use Sound City (which eventually became of course Hiwatt). When Cream and Hendrix toured the states with Marshall stacks, they because known for their adoption (even though the “stack” was basically created by Pete Townsend and John Entwistle, and the Marshall Major amps (which were experimental) were pioneered by them as well.

Pete Townsend 8x10 speaker cab

Pete Townsend’s Affect on Stage Performance. There are definitely some assertations within the book where Pete may express his opinion about what his affect was on others. There is no denying that the influence of both Pete and The Who has had direct impact on generations of musicians all over the world. Pete claims that “Live at Leeds” (released in 1970) was the first guitar driven heavy rock album of its time – even stating that he believes it to be the beginning of the heavy metal movement (pre-dating Sabbath). It seems Pete believes this because of a review at the time stating that Live at Leeds was the heaviest guitar album of all time to date. I believe that it certainly contributed in a way that I hadn’t thought about before, but I don’t think of it as a defining metal record.

I do, however, believe that Pete took stage performance to a new level. Now, decades later, the music stands solely on its own. But unless you were actually there seeing them live pre-1980, or view old performance footage you miss the entire performance and entertainment factor. Even though he stole the “windmill” from Keith Richards, without his 4 foot vertical stage leaps and stage antics would there ever have been a David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen performing the way they did? They pretty much were the first to set the bar for how a rock band should perform on stage. There is a nod in the book describing how David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust were directly created by Bowie attending a Who show.

Beyond the stage performance they were certainly the first to use volume, stacks of amps, and feedback the way that they did. They also invented destroying your instruments and gear on stage. I think that some people see this as a schtick – much like the makeup of Kiss. When you read the book you’ll see not only does Pete see this as peformance art, but direct references to the artist which influenced him to start doing it on stage.

Here’s a 1966 video showing his use of the huge 8×10 stacks of Marshalls with Rickenbacker guitar, examples of feedback, destroying gear on stage, along with all the preliminary examples of stage prowess:

Here’s a later performance of them on stage at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1976:

The Musicianship of Pete Townsend (and The Who)

Vere rarely do we talk about the musicianship of somebody who plays only one instrument. Such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, a virtuoso – but only known for playing one instrument within one genre. I think that true artistry and musicianship is unusual when it transcends and spills over to other areas. If you didn’t know anything about Pete Townsend or The Who you might not think of him as a much of a ground breaker…until you read this book.

We already talked about Pete pushing the barriers of live performance, including volume, feedback, and destructive performance. He was also able to drive music concepts to new levels with his song writing abilities and album themes like Tommy and Quadrophenia.

What you probably don’t know about is Pete’s experience creating home recording studios from the early to mid 60’s and beyond. He had so much success recording with his own home studio, he set up a separate company to install and configure them for other musicians. He was one of the first musicians to have and use a multi-track tape recorder in a home studio.

The “Concept Album” and Rock Opera: If you were a child of 70’s or 80’s (or after), then The who rock opera Tommy (1969) may have escaped you altogether. But at the time, nothing like it had ever been created other than maybe Sgt. Pepper. The concept album Quadrophenia came after that – with its own story to tell. It goes well beyond being a musician or song writer when you’re able to create an entire production such as this.

The Synthesizer Alchemist: Another barrier broken by Pete was the use of synthesizers, and one of the first to use them on a recorded rock album. Most of the discerning listening public do not know that all of these tracks, such as the entire sequenced backing track to Baba O’Riley – were entirely created by him in his home studio. Then he brought them to the band studio, where they played their parts to his track. Pete used and programmed some of the first sythesizers ever created and firmly believed that people with nearly no musical ability would be able to use them to create music. So does this also make Pete the definitive founder of all of EDM by default?

pete_townsend_synthesizer

Conclusion

If you are a Who fan – you should love this book. If you are not a Who fan, you may become one by reading this book. If you like to read and get different discerning points of view and insight into tight musical communities of the 60’s and 70’s you will enjoy this. Especially the tales of interaction with Hendrix, the Stones, Eric Clapton, Bill Graham, and many, many others. You even get the unique blow by blow of the legendary Woodstock performance including how The Who almost didn’t sign on to perform (and how they got them to).

I highly recommend this book both as a guitarist and a musician, but most as a lover of rock history and those who defined it.

Again – here’s a link to the audiobook should you decide to pick it up: Who I Am: Pete Townsend. If you prefer the hard copy – there’s that too: Who I Am: A Memoir

Why I Love My EVH Wolfgang Special

This isn’t a review as much as it is they story of how I came to own my favorite and most played guitar of all time. My white EVH Wolfgang special. This is what it looked like the day it arrived in the mail. I had seen pictures of it online, but I had no idea the case was red crush velvet. Every time I open this bad boy in front of someone that hasn’t seen me open the case, they are wide eyed and say “wow!”. Beyond the way the inside looks, this is a high quality ATA approved SKB flight case with snap latches and professional locks.

EVH Wolfgang Special White

Now that you’ve seen what it looks like when you open it, let’s talk about how it plays. My wife showed me this guitar online, and I had never played it before. I watched several videos online to get a sense of what it would sound like. You never know how that will work, because different amps and pedals, even different hands make a difference in how a guitar sounds. Even the equipment used to record it can change the sound. Having said that, I viewed some videos that at least showed me the guitar could easily be used for everything from Jazz and blues to hardcore metal – and everything in between.

Now let’s talk about how this thing plays. For years I had been in search of a better playing guitar. Better for me anyway. I had Strats and Teles – lots of them. I tried Schecter, Ibanez – both old and new. I had Washburn, Peavey, even a Les Paul and an SG. You name it – I tried it. I had made in Mexico, Korea, China, Indonesia, Japan, even made in America.

I read the specs of this guitar and the two things that stood out for me were the pickups and the frets. The frets the model I purchased were stainless steel. Almost all guitars have nickel frets (that wear out over time). Stainless steel frets don’t wear down – they’re good forever. The difference between these and most guitars is that they are medium-small frets (which is what Eddie prefers and they’re called “vintage frets”). Most guitars have medium-large frets – which are better for bending strings (and normally called “jumbo frets”). Medium small frets are better for hammer-ons, pull-offs, and legato style playing. Before getting this guitar I don’t think I realized that this was the way I prefer to play. Also, the neck is super smooth, and playing is almost like playing on glass.

*UPDATE 2016* The Wolfgang Special guitar has been made in multiple locations including Japan, China (Indonesia), and (now) Mexico. Be aware that while the guitar is essentially the same, all of the new ones made in Mexico appear to have jumbo nickel frets and not stainless steel. Depending on what your preferences are, just be aware of that when making your purchase.

The pickups are so incredible they are hard to describe. They are high gain – but not like you think. They are high gain in the sense that if you plug in this guitar and set your amp to the perfect volume setting, and then plugin a different guitar (like a strat, tele, or paul) you’ll find you have to increase the volume quite a bit to be at the same level. But they aren’t hi-gain like EMG’s or Dimarzio Super Distortion, or even Pearly Gates. At every single volume level they are clear as a bell. But they will take on the characteristics of whatever you put them through. You can play using your volume as the main control for distortion and lead volume, or keep it at one consistent volume and let your pedals do the work – it works equally as well either way.

Let me explain. My amp has one clean and two dirty channels. If I stay on the clean channel by itself, and the volume in the guitar is all the way up – you might get a tiny bit of breakup, but for the most part it’s clear as a bell. Tone for days and days. If I turn up the gain a little on the clean channel I can do anything from Stones tone to country, or even blues. Turn up the gain a little more and we’re in classic rock territory. If I switch over to the crunch channel I can get everything from Def Leppard to Judas Priest, Foo Fighters to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, with some higher gain you can even get Slipknot, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold – you name it. On my channel the thing just sings and sings.

All of this is just through my amp. I think that many people (at first look) would classify this as a rock guitar (which it can be). However, it can adapt to the sound of nearly any amp or pedal. I should say that it complements the sound of any pedal or amp (and makes it better). I have pedals that go from light crunch to full stack and they all sound awesome through the EVH Wolfgang special. I’ve been in cover bands where I needed to sound like country, rock, pop, metal, 80’s hair metal, blues, emo – and I’ve had no problems at all making the same guitar sound like all those styles (and more).

The last thing I’ll say about this guitar is the price. Nearly all the guitars I’ve had were under $1,000. This was one of the first ones I ever paid more than $1,000 for. It appears that the price has gone down since they first came out on some models, find them from about $900 – $1,500 today depending on model. It was the best investment I ever made for a quality instrument.

One last thing you could consider is getting one from eBay. Sometimes you can get a great deal used. Just click on one of the pictures below to explore what’s currently listed and for sale.



Who Played the Peavey Mace Amp?

Seems like I end up hearing classic songs lately and wonder “what amp did they use on that?” That very thought came to my mind when playing “Any Way You Want It”, I wondered – what did Neal Schon use for those screaming lead solos on that classic song?

A few Google’s later I found that the first few Journey albums were recorded with none other than the Peavey Mace amp. This is crazy considering it’s a solid state preamp with tube power amp (a 160 watt amp with 6 power tubes!!).

Here’s Neal Schon playing on the Departure tour (used the Peavey Mace for that entire tour):

But guess who else used the Peavey Mace? Lynyrd Skynyrd! Turns out that amp is “THE Lynyrd Skynyrd sound”.

here’s an example of exactly what I mean:

and another one here:

That’s insane~! Who would’ve thought the sound some of the greatest classic rock hits could be a Peavey amp (let alone solid state preamp)???

Doesn’t look like there are a lot of these around, but you can find one or two every now and again on ebay:

Peavey Mace VT Series 160 Watt Guitar amplifier

USD / 475.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 15:00:41

Peavey Classic, Deuce, Mace Footswitch - Automix 4 Button w/LEDs - Rock Blocks

USD 109.95 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 02:14:02

Tube Complement for Peavey Mace

USD 110.70 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-30 23:17:51

Peavey Classic, Deuce, Mace Footswitch - Automix Four Button - Rock Blocks

USD 109.95 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 02:37:11

Kramer 84 Baretta Guitar (EVH) now on sale

Vintage 84 Kramer Guitar

It’s hard for me to say this (because I’m 43), but remember the (now) “vintage” 84 Kramer Baretta guitar? The Kramer Baretta was the famed hockey stick neck one pickup, one volume pot Floyd Rose masterpiece played by Eddie Van Halen.

Remember the guitar magazine ads with EVH holding the Baretta like this?

EVH Baretta

There were actually a whole series of Kramer ads like that, there’s another one with him holding a Kramer Pacer like this:

Eddie Van Halen Kramerr Pacer

So you’re probably wondering already why I’m lamenting about Kramer guitars of years gone by? Recently my wife picked me up a Kramer Focus 3000 from 1983-4 at a yard sale for a rediculous price with OHSC and stock pickups and floyd rose (and working coil tap). I’ll blog about that in another post.

What surprised me in a few google searches was the fact that Gibson now owns the Kramer name and has been reissuing various guitars, like the Kramer 84 Baretta, and the Kramer Pacer (among others). I can’t believe they did the reissue with the hockey stick necks (also AWESOME!). Note in the EVH pics above that one with Ed has the hockey stick neck, but the Pacer has the pointy headstock.

Check out this fabulous Kramer 84 Baretta reissue:

84 Kramer Baretta reissue

Either this thing must be so very new that not everyone has it (yet), because you can’t even get it at Musician’s Friend or Guitar Center. You can find it however at American Musical right now in stock. In fact they even have this new 8 payment plan (that I just used to get mine) so you can get this axe for just $84/mo if you do that deal (and have it to play in just a few days).

*UPDATE*: you can also now get the 84 Kramer Baretta at ZZounds for the same prices with 8 payments as well!!

84 Kramer Baretta

They also have the Vintage Kramer Pacer dual humbucker model for sale too (in Tiger stripe!):

vintage Kramer Pacer

They also have the Kramer Pacer there too, which comes in a both a cool burst or “Tiger Stripe” version (AWESOME!). I like this Baretta because it has the maple fingerboard, and I prefer that to the rosewood. What version would you get?

You can also still find quite a few Kramer Baretta guitars on ebay now as well:

Kramer Baretta 1986

USD 800.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-02 15:39:07

1987 Kramer Baretta 1 American

USD / 1000.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-08-30 19:13:07

1980's Kramer USA Baretta Pacer Guitar Black Tolex Hardshell Guitar Case

USD 79.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 19:46:12

Kramer Baretta Original 80's USA -Price Reduced 8-23-16

USD 1099.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 22:49:01

Kramer Guitar Neck ANY 2 Baretta American Block Style Waterslide Decals

USD 15.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 20:58:39

Kramer Baretta American made E series serial#. Rare white model.

USD / 1100.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-04 20:49:26

Kramer Baretta Special - Cream

USD 225.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-01 19:04:43

1984 Kramer Baretta Custom Order Floyd Rose Roland holy grail Banana all German

USD / 1000.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-02 15:12:43

1980's Kramer Pacer Imperial Baretta Guitars Floyd Rose Complete Tremolo Setter

USD 35.99 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-03 23:46:34

Kramer Baretta Special Cream Guitar

USD 160.00 (0 Bid) | Buy It Now
End time: 2016-09-05 23:12:25