Van Halen is on tour with David Lee Roth – something that we as fans never thought we’d see. We also didn’t think that we’d see Eddie’s son Wolfgang on the bass in place of Michael Anthony! In my area the tickets for the new Van Halen shows sold out in record time – I didn’t even have a chance. All I can hope for now is either some free tickets in a radio contest – or getting some at a VERY high price on eBay. But until then (and in case you didn’t get your tickets) – I want you to watch this last Van Halen rehearsal video of 2007 on YouTube – even after all these years Ed is one of the most incredible guitar players on the planet!
As a guitar player, one of the things you’ll spend most on over a lifetime (and nearly every month or two) are strings. I’ve known a lot of guitar players, and most have a favorite brand and gauge string – and getting someone to switch is much akin to getting a smoker to switch brands of cigarettes. Most players have found what they like, and they want to stick to it. But given a compelling reason to try something new, many will give another brand a chance. I think for some players the deciding factor is also money. When strapped for cash, if you see a deal on string you think might work – you’ll probably pick ’em up.
I read a few short articles a few years back that talked about nickel strings, and how much better the tone was. At the time I was into finding the right tone, so I set out to find and try some nickel strings. I was using regular Gibson stainless steel strings, and switched to Fender 150’s ball end nickel plated strings. I saw a noticeable difference right away. The strings were easier to bend, the high’s were clearer, the sustain was better, and the overall sound was noticeably better. In my opinion, when you put on a fresh set of nickel plated strings the sound is very, very bright. I’ve been buying the Fender 150’s nickel plated (10’s) for about 2-3 years now. I always bought the original ball end kind. When they were out of stock I switched to the “bullet” style. For my style of playing (classic rock, blues) the bullet ends always ended up breaking 2-3 weeks in. The ball ends seldom did that.
Recently I need to buy some more strings and my local guitar shop and Guitar Center were both out of the ball and bullet ended Fender 150’s. I was just going to buy a dozen sets online from someone, but I needed to have at least one set that day. I had a gig coming up and I knew that they needed to be changed before the others would arrive in the mail. Now, when I first read about nickel strings I could only find nickel plated. I never could find ALL nickel strings. That day I was at Guitar Center and pressed for time, and the guy behind the counter showed me a pack of “DR Strings”, the “Pure Blues” kind. He told me that they were 100% nickel strings (not nickel wound), and that they had a “round” core instead of “hex”. Supposedly the round core strings bend easier and resist breaking better.
I am pretty pessimistic and hesitate to listen to most salemans BS. But I tried this brand nonetheless. I have to say after putting them on and playing them the last several weeks – these strings are brighter, more toneful, bend easier, and for some reason (so far) they don’t get as dirty either (after a gig). I like this brand so much, I went back to GC and bought 4 more sets yesterday.
Now before I let you go listening to only more sole opinion, I’m going to leave you with some factual information about nickel guitar strings. In April 2007, Guitar Player wrote an article about the historical background of nickel plated strings that you should read…here is just a brief excerpt:
By the 1950s, widespread implementation of magnetic pickups in electric guitars had led string manufacturers to experiment with Monel steel, stainless steel 430, chrome, nickel, and other materials with more desirable magnetic properties than previously used materials such as bronze and brass. Nickel was found to not only possess a balanced and pleasing tone, it was also easier on frets, and, perhaps most importantly, it produced less distortion.
You can make up your own mind by buying and trying a set of DR Pure Blues guitar strings right now:
Gauges 10-13-17-26-36-46. Pure Blues electric guitar strings from DR Strings are designed with pure nickel wrap wire, roundwound upon round cores. While this is a slow, expensive method of string making, it does produce a guitar string acclaimed for increased sustain, vintage tone, and great low tones for playing music from rhythm to lead. The extra step of winding pure nickel around a round core give Pure Blues strings a punch that players say they are surprised to get in a vintage electric guitar string. Sounds great on any guitar!
Agile guitars are a perfect alternative to Gibson Les Paul and Epiphone Les Paul electric guitars. They are much cheaper – and the quality is much better!
**UPDATED* April 2008
I’ve just updated this post and republished it with new info based on the fact that I purchased an Agile 3100 a few months back. The details are at the end of this post…
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Agile Guitars or not, but if you haven’t you’re missing out. I love American made Gibson guitars (don’t we all?), but not everyone can afford the $2-3,000 price tag that comes with it. Everyone wants the features that come along with it…quality, reliability, tone, looks, playability, etc. Of course there’s an entire industry built around copying these famous guitars – the most notable being the Epiphone brand (which Gibson owns). I’ve already written a post about why I hate Epiphone guitars. Mainly it’s because of the shoddy workmanship and quality. I would gladly pay $500-$600 for an Epiphone Les Paul provided it was wired right and I could gig it out without worrying about something going bad on it. Correct me if I’m wrong – but I think Epiphone’s are made in either China or Taiwan.
I’ve read a great deal about import guitars online and hundreds of reviews. The concensus seems to be that in the area of import (non American made) guitars, the highest quality seems to be coming from Korea. This is where I believe the ESP imports are made that seem to be getting rave reviews. Anyway, Agile guitars are an import ‘copy’ brand made in Korea. It seems at the current time the only retailer in the U.S. for them is Rondo Music on the East Coast. If you read some of the Harmony Central Reviews for Agile Guitars, you’ll find that they seem to score unusually high – primarily between 9 and 10 (out of 10). Reading the reviews you’ll see many comments that talk about the AL-2500, AL-2800, AL-3000, and AL-3100 models all being significantly better than Epiphone Les Paul’s in fit, finish, sound, and overall quality.
They have so many models you have lots of choices, and the upper end models even have Grover Tunes, solid mahogany bodies, and alnico pickups. I have talked to several people in other bands who own an Agile LP and they wouldn’t give it up for the world. Some say that the AL LP copy series are even better than the real thing. These guitars go for $300-$400 (which is a steal for their quality), and Rondo Music sells them on their web site, but also on eBay as well. So when you look on eBay you find both new ones through Rondo, as well as used ones sold by individuals. I should mention that they also sell many other copy models, like telecasters, stats, brian may copies, PRS copies, and more! I missed an auction of an AL-2800 with aluminum flight case AND a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah that went for only $300 with FREE shipping!! I could have kicked myself (in fact – I still am!). I will be getting one before the end of this year for sure – and I’ll post some pics and review it (again) here when I do. In the meantime – here’s some eBay auctions for agile guitars ending soon, see if you can find yourself a new axe!
April 2008: The picture on the left is of me and my white Agile 3100 with creme binding, solid mahogany body, grover 16×1 tuners and solid mahogany body! It has incredible sound and sustain. I paid $369 for it and I believe shipping was only $15. I’ve been very, very happy with this guitar so far! Comparable Epiphone’s are $750+ and it’s not only 10 times better, it’s every bit as good as an authentic Gibson Les Paul retailing for $3,000+! I had no problem getting this axe to scream metal, sing classic rock, or squeal the blues! You will nt be disappointed with this guitar.
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You may or may not have seen this one before, but if you perform on the stage I think it’s a very handy thing to have. I’m the lead guitar player for my cover band and even though I’m technically not the main lead vocal – I do stand in the middle of the stage. That kind of makes me the center of attention, and I tend to try and introduce the show and say a little something before we break. I’m not that good at it – but I’m getting better. What you need are some ice breakers, some jokes, stories, funny sayings, and this book will help you with just that! It’s for musicians, and it could help you the next time the bass player has to tune up!
Here’s the description:
This book is the perfect resource for program notes, concert spiels, to kill time while the bass player tunes up, or just for fun! This most complete collection of humor about and for musicians includes one-liners and jokes ranging from Chopin to Lennon, Gillespie to Presley. A must-have for every band director, music teacher, classical musician, jazz performer, cover band leader, accordion player, and person who knows an accordion player but doesn’t like to admit it.
I hope you like the book – it’s well worth $10!
I’ve owned many tuners, but this is the best. With a standalone tuner you have to plug your axe into that, and once you’re tuned up then you have to unplug and plug back into your amp or rig. Rack mounted tuners are nice, but not everyone has a guitar rig that is rack mounted. And even if ya do – you may not use it at home or band practice. The Boss TU-2 is a pedal that’s sole purpose is to be a tuner. Stomp on it, and all output to your amp or rig ceases while you tune. Stomp again and you’re playing like nothing ever happened. The LED’s to tell you if you’re in tune or not are big and bright – easy to use on any dark stage. This is the last tuner you will ever buy, and it’s WELL WORTH the money. The only regret I have about buying one is that I didn’t but it sooner!
Here’s a really cool video of Jimi Hendrix on Fire. The dude created a portait of Hendrix using matchsticks, which looks really, really cool – but then he lit them of fire, and the whole thing goes up in flames. Found on YouTube, it’s really cool to watch – plus it has awesome Hendrixy guitar soloing in the background!
Stumbling around on the web today I came across this free online metronome! In my practice room I have a computer, and it’s always on when I play because that’s where I keep all the songs I need to learn for the band. I also use it to lookup tab and lyrics. I actually have a real metronome, but it takes a 9-volt battery. Why should I use that when I can use this online one at the computer for free! Bookmark the page – you’ll want to visit it again when you practice too!
Consider this my blanket review of all Epiphone guitars in general. I go to Guitar Center a lot. Usually it’s just to check out a bunch of guitars through different amps. I bought one guitar there, and I buy them online sometimes too. About a year ago I found a cool deal on Musicians Friend on a Epiphone Dot Studio guitar. The Dot Studio is basically a budget version of the very expensive and legendary ES335 (several thousands of dollars). This guitar was awesome! It was black on black, and those humbuckers just screamed through my Marshall! It had lots of tone, and was very light (which is great on stage). I loved that guitar…for awhile.
After I gigged it out a few times, the bridge volume know fell inside the body cavity, held on by only the volume knob itself. The nut had come loose. I popped off the volume knob while holding on to the pot pliers, tightened up the nut, and that was that. I tightened up all the other volume and tone knobs too. This was the first time I began to feel like Epiphone was a really low quality guitar. I’d never seen a brand new guitar, direct from the factory with loose volume knobs. In fact, I’d never owned a guitar for years where the volume knobs got loose on their own.
So I gigged this black Dot Studio out like 6 or 7 times. I noticed one night that the input jack nut was coming loose. I tightened it up by hand and all was well for the night. But that made me take notice of the input jack from that point forward. I always checked at home and before gigs….and ended up hand tightening it all the time. It was as terrible pain, and I don’t know why they didn’t install a locknut or lock washer at the factory. Long story short, it had to be tightened so many times that it caused one of the wires attached internally to the input jack to start to short out, and eventually just fall off. I ended up buying an AllParts input jack new at Guitar Center and soldering it back in myself. The guitar was ok…..for awhile.
On stage I switch from bridge to neck pickup a lot depending on the song. I started to notice at first a crackle, and then sometimes just cutting out going from neck to bridge. I would have to switch it back once or twice before it kicked in. I’ve never had problems like that before on a new guitar – that told me it was a cheap input jack. I had already noticed when I soldered in the new input jack how thin the internal wiring of the guitar was (compared to others I had taken apart). Problems with the wiring, and the switch dragged on for months. When I installed the new input jack I had put a few dots of gorilla glue at the edge of the nut to keep it from coming loose again. Eventually I sold the guitar when I had owned it just under a year. I ended up buying the Ibanez Artcore I play as my main guitar now in it’s place.
I have not had a single problem with the Ibanez that I had with the Epiphone, and it has the input jack on the tail just like the Epiphone did. And I can see inside the F-holes of the guitar that the wiring is significantly thicker than it was on the Epiphone. My only complaint with the Artcore is that the pickups aren’t nearly as biting or clear as they were on that Dot Studio. I have a friend that loves Epiphones. He’s tried to tell me that maybe the one I had was just a lemon. I disagree. I have played dozens of Epiphones in 3 different guitar centers and various music shops. Each and ever one has had loose knobs and or input jack. Also, the setup and quality is very hit or miss.
Here’s a prime example. I went to Guitar Center today and played several instruments. I saw this one guitar that was stunning from afar. It has natual laquer and wood, beautiful finish, semi-hollow body 335 type guitar. As I got up on it I saw it was indeed an Epiphone Dot Studio. Being a glutton for punishment I picked it off the rack and plugged it in. It played nice. In face it screamed, and was full of tone. And in this newer model, the input jack had been moved from the tail to the top just right of the bridge. The input jack was tight. I tuned it up and played. Nice action, nice feeling neck, even the toggle switch for neck and bridge was a newer kind and seemed better. Then I switched from neck to bridge and went to turn the volume up for that pickup…and it turned around, and around, and around, and around. The nut had become loose and fallen off that volume. I check the others, and they were also indeed loose.
I played a flame top Epiphone Les Paul last weekend, and it’s input jack and volume knobs were loose (and the action was terrible). I played two Dot Studios that were on clearance and the action was way off the fingerboard, and one had a blemish on the headstock. Loose volume knobs as well. The wost was 2 months ago when I was very interested in getting an SG. SG’s are very expensive, so I of course checked out the Epiphone SG’s (I know – idiot, duh!). They had this one that was white with gold hardware, triple humbucker. Beautiful guitar…nice action, good setup – I liked it a lot. It was on clearance for $340 – a bargain (so I thought!). I plugged it in and tried the neck pickup – nice! I switched to bridge, and no sound! I turned every volume and tone knob on 10 – still no sound! The mid pickup switch was the same. This guitar only had volue on the neck pickup! I thought this guitar was so nice, that I was willing to get it fixed if need be. I took it over to the department manager looking for a deal. He said “no way – it’s already on clearance”. I said “but wait, it’s broken – the wiring is bad and you’re selling is as ‘new’!”. He wasn’t willing to budge one iota on the price. They also weren’t willing to fix it, I had to buy the guitar AND PAY FOR the repair! I was pissed and ended up not buying the guitar. I don’t care if it was clearance or not – they didn’t even know the wiring was bad until I brought it up to them! How can you sell something as brand new that’s broken, and not be willing to send it back to the factory?
See a pattern here? Every Epihpone I pick up in any store, any make or model has a problem or a blemish. The quality is so low, I would never again take one (without gutting it) as a stage guitar. If they can’t even make sure the hardware is tight and the electrical connections are good, and spend an extra $2.50 on a quality switch and input jack – I am not interested in buying an Epiphone guitar EVER AGAIN!! The ONLY way I would consider it would be if it were on extreme clearance (less than $300), and I was going to have it rewired with new knobs, switch, and input jack! If you are considering an Epiphone guitar – BUYER BEWARE!! Look for the things I have pointed out. You will get much more for your money if you take a look at other mid-range priced guitars from Fender, Ibanez, Jackson, Paul Reed Smith (the LTD line), ESP, Dean, or others. I will be reviewing many of these guitars in the future to give you as much information as possible!
Have a comment? Love or Hate Epiphones? Please – comment now and join the discussion!
Holy crap – this guy is playing the hugest flying V guitar I’ve ever seen! I don’t think he’s really gonna be shredding on this thing. You’d think that it would be hard enough to make chords! Watch this guy try to play lead – it almost looks painful….you’ll notice that he doesn’t even attempt to make a chord! That thing must weigh like 50 lbs!