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The Gear Pioneers

By Guitar Tips

The piece of wood that changed our lives.

Let's face it, we are all addicted to new gear. Whether you accept it or not, we are not your average bunch of musicians. Guitarists are a rare and picky breed that are consistently looking for the gear that will give them the leading edge and the purest tone.

It all starts with that first guitar. For most of us, that first guitar consisted of a beginner guitar that fell out of tune and sounded like mud. The funny thing is, we thought it sounded great!

I remember quite vividly how much my first guitar meant to me. Victoria (yes, I name my guitars too) was a Christmas present from my mother when I was 14 years old. As I learned and mastered my trade, I soon realized that there were odd tones and noises coming out of my guitar that I wasn't producing.

I soon began to grow extremely frustrated and walked away from the guitar for about a month. When I returned, I practiced even harder but to no avail. My guitar teacher recommended that I look into getting a new guitar/amp for me to grow into.
 

 

 

 

 

At the time, the concept of growing out of a guitar was hard for me to grasp. I liked that guitar and I certainly couldn't afford a new one at the time, so I would just have to wait it out for a while. Years later, my grandparents bought me Goldie (AKA my Gibson Les Paul). I was thrilled and suddenly I sounded so much better!

This ignited an unquenchable thirst for the best gear, and the best tone. The popular term used by musicians who are gear heads is called GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

While I still strongly emphasize practice to improve your sound, the gear you play with does have a dramatic impact on the music you create. A perfect example of this can be heard on any of your favorite guitarists' albums.

It doesn't matter how advanced you are as a guitarists, you just won't have the tools you need to reproduce many of the sounds they have with an ordinary guitar and amp. What you hear is the perfect mix from the guitar, to the effects pedals, to the amp.
In today's newsletter, we're going to look at the brands and see who uses what.

The "Professional" guitars.

I receive hundreds of emails from subscribers who aspire to be at a professional level and many from those who simply want to sound like a pro. Technique, practice, professionalism, and talent set aside... having the proper tools is an essential step in achieving that goal.

What does a "Professional guitar" consist of? This is a question that doesn't have one correct answer because the player who is using it has a lot to do with how it sounds. However, these guitars are usually made from the top woods, have great pickups, top of the line pots and wiring, binded fretboard, mother of pearl inlays, finely crafted necks and a great lacquer veneer.

The prices usually range from $700-$17 000 depending on the guitar you decide on. Some professionals use guitars that are made in the production line, which usually equates to the guitars being partially cut out and assembled by robots. Many end up choosing custom guitars that are handcrafted, or custom built to their specifications.
 

 

 

 

 

Naturally, the more human contact that is involved means the more money that will come out of your pocket to buy the guitar. Many manufacturers use some form of automatic assembly and from my experience, it doesn't have a dramatic affect on the instrument.

That statement is a hot debate and highly contested. The bottom line is that you can get that beautiful tone, the top brand and virtually the same materials if you decide to go with a production line model.

The next question we want to ask ourselves is what make of guitar do we want to have? There are many guitars out there that have been made famous by the people who have played them. We are naturally drawn to them because of their distinct sounds, durability and playability.

Here is a list of some of the most famous electric guitar manufacturers and why they are so good:
 

Click on the blue to go to each company site.

Gibson- This company knows how to get it right the first time around. In 1936, they produced their first guitar: The ES 150. In very little time, it dominated the jazz world and was one of the most predominant guitars on the scene.

In later years, Gibson became famous for yet another reason: their pickups. Gibson had created the first humbucking pickups available, which made them the perfect choice for rock guitar. They were eventually used on the Les Paul model and soon became common place on many Gibson guitars, giving them their signature sound.

Gibson has a great production line and a very renowned custom shop. Prices aren't cheap and range from $1200-$7000 depending on where you live and the sale you can get.

Fender- Known for their signature telecasters and Stratocasters, Fender was founded by Leo Fender and went into production in 1951. Fender guitars have been known as the most versatile guitars in the world and appeal to musicians of all genres.

Fortunately, Fender makes it possible to own a professional level instrument without having to put a mortgage on your house or mowing 30 000 lawns (for all you teens out there). They make a wide range of instruments and prices range from $600-$6000.

Ibanez- This company is probably one of the most overlooked when it comes to a lasting History. Created in 1908, Hoshino was a music company based in Japan. While it may not have kept the same name for all of these years, it remains a strong competitor on the market today.
 

One of the throw backs this company has faced was poorer quality. Professionals in the earlier years deemed them as intermediate or beginner guitars. Then Ibanez changed the way it manufactured its guitars and came onto the scene with an extremely high level of professionalism.

Before they knew it, players from all over were flocking to get their guitars. Not much has changed and they remain extremely affordable.

Epiphone- Owned by Gibson, has quite the history by itself. Gibson decided to release a brand new production line which was produced in 1957 and they remain very popular today. Many guitarists end up swapping out the pickups for the ones in "Real" Les Pauls to get a very close tone to the real thing. Epiphone also has a line of high end guitars that go into the professional level.

This company has had quality control issues in the past as they tried to compete with mass manufacturing in Japan but has seemed to fix those flaws and offer guarantees on their products.

Gretsch- This company has seen its ups and downs in its rich history. Orginially designed for jazz musicians in the 1930's, Gretsch has produced some incredible models of guitars over the years and attracted the attentions of Chet Atkins, George Harrison and more.

They are on the upper end of the spectrum and can be a little bit harder to find the model you desire. However, these guitars are worth the trouble to look them up.

Paul Reed Smith- This company is newer and doesn't have the history as some of the manufacturers we just mentioned. This company caught attention when the legendary Santana picked their exquisitely made guitars as his guitar of choice.

The highest quality is put into every PRS and the price tag doesn't usually dip below $2600 in my experience. The sound is amazing, the wood is impeccable and the colors and finish options are out of this world. If you have a lot of money, or become famous some day, this may very well be the guitar you choose as your personal favorite.

For your own personal interests, check out these acoustic guitar manufacturers. Click on them and you can easily look up their history and various products.

Taylor
Larivee
Ovation
Yamaha
Martin
...In the end it purely comes down to personal taste, overall budget and the tone you are going for.

What guitars are good for specific genres...

While I'm a firm believer that you can produce any genre/style of music you want with one guitar and the proper effects, some guitars are more naturally suited to certain genres. Let's take a look at the various genres and where the guitars and their manufacturers fit into the equation.

Blues: In blues guitar, the Les Paul and the Stratocaster have reigned supreme. There are many other makes and models that have been used quite well with blues, however, many of the models from the other manufacturers were in fact modeled after Gibson and Fender.

Semi hollow bodies have also seen tremendous success in this area, adding the richness of the blues tone. B.B King is the most pronounced musician who uses this model of guitar.

If you're looking for out of the box flavor, check out G&L. They have had some great success in this genre as well.

Rock: Rock has been founded from blues, so most of the same guitars have been used. There haven't been many semi hollow bodies used, although there have been a few appearances by a couple of musicians.

The introduction of more flashy guitars such as the Flying V and the Firebird has revolutionized the way we rock out. In my own personal opinion, I believe the guitars used in rock are some of the most fun to play instruments around.

Jazz: This is where the arch top and the semi-hollow guitars reign supreme. Most of these guitars are larger than their solid body counter parts that are used for rock. The inside of the guitar is hollowed out to make room for an acoustic chamber. While they;re not acoustics, they do give off a bit of that resonance (ring) and the pickups take in that sound from the strings.

A defining factor of the tone of these guitars is taken from the wood used on the top of the guitar and the block used to support the guitar internally (so it doesn't collapse inside). Depending on the age of the wood, its quality and the species, you can get a multitude of different distinct tones.

Gibson, Gretsch, Ibanez, and many custom companies such as Sadowsky Guitars produce these fine models of guitars.

Shred: Ibanez has primarily dominated this market and designed sleek necks specifically for the purpose of fast hands. They also added on a few frets, which adds to your range. When playing shred guitar, you want low action and a small, manageable neck that allows you to fly around it with minimal effort.

Fender has seen some great virtuosos use their guitars for this purpose as well. Gibson wouldn't be the greatest choice if you have smaller hands.

Country: This is where the telecaster reigns supreme. Fender has dominated this market with their pure twangy tones and pansies on their guitars. Rarely will you see anything other than a strat/tele style guitar used. I've seen a Les Paul a few times for the more heavy country licks.

Keep in mind that for all of the above examples, I'm only including electric guitars. Of course acoustics and steel string guitars are used but for the sake of space, we'll save those for another day!
 

Who played what.

As a guitarist, I'm always fascinated with the guitars that my heroes play. It never ceases to amaze me how they have so many of them and yet they find uses for every single one of them. Let's take a look at some guitar legends and the guitars they love(d).

Slash (Guns N' Roses) - Slash is and always will be a Gibson Les Paul man. When he was in High School, he owned a Les Paul Copy, to which he practiced on constantly. Years later, he earned a real Les Paul that was once played by Steve Hunter (from the band Alice Cooper).

During his career, he did play other guitars but to no enjoyment. He eventually was led back to Gibson and played them, bringing the Les Paul to a new level of coolness.

Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) - Kurt was always a Fender man. Ironically, and to many peoples' surprise, Kurt played Fender Jags and Mustangs. To us that may sound good, but in reality, they're just bargain basement in the Fender line and are consistently out of tune and extremely complicated to repair and adjust. However, Cobain loved them because he could destroy them on stage.

It's estimated that he destroyed hundreds upon hundreds of these Fenders, so it's probably a good thing that they didn't cost much. He gear philosophy is un-compared to any other. Jimi Hendrix was also a Fender man and destroyed many guitars in his day but the main difference being his cost a lot more.

Eric Clapton (Cream, Derek And The Dominos, among many others) - Clapton has an extremely impressive guitar collection that is full of Gibsons, Fenders, and just about any other guitar you could think of. In recent years, Clapton has been involved with Fender guitars and even has a model in his honor. However, he started off playing a Les Paul in the days of Cream. He pumped out some of the craziest and most memorable music known to that era.

In later days, he switched to Fender Stratocaster and now uses them for all his primary work. His most famous guitar was known as "Blackie". He used it on some of his most successful albums.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Old Number One is a legend of the Guitar World. A beaten an abused 1963 model strat with a 62 neck... you can call it a mutant of sorts. He used it right up to 1989, one year before he died in a tragic helicopter crash. He used it under the harshest conditions with the highest gauge string you can imagine on a strat (up to .17). He even replaced the frets with bass frets for longer sustain, better tone and and easier time handling those huge strings.

This guitar is one of a kind. So much so, that Fender spent endless hours making a limited edition copy... looking identical to the original. The tone and stage presence of that old beauty will never be replaced.

Charlie Christian (Solo jazz musician/ studio) - Charlie mastered the art of jazz and became a legend. What got him there? You guessed it, a Gibson. The neat thing about this Gibson is that it was the first, the Gibson ES 150. First production model is a big deal for any company but it soon became known as Charlie's guitar.

Considering it was the early 30's, what Charlie understood of amplified instruments is extremely impressive, from how to manipulate the pickups, to the setup of this guitar, Christian had it down to a science.

You can only imagine what that guitar would be worth now.
 

I think we can clearly see a trend forming. Yes Gibson and Fender guitars are great instruments, but don't get too narrow minded. There are many other guitars out there that offer amazing tone and professional quality. Passing those guitars up for what the rest of society thinks is cool may result in you missing the best guitar for you. My advice, play them all!



Putting it into practice...

Do you really know what you're talking about?

Now that we've talked about the gear and learned a little about the styles, we're ready to head off to our local music store and play the latest and greatest guitars available. Now before you go put on your shoes, check out these riffs below.

Nothing peeves me more than a guitarist who goes into a guitar shop to test guitars and they get there and don't have a clue what to play. You should play the same riffs on every guitar you wish you play test. This way, you won't focus on what you're doing technically, or what your next note is. Rather, you can play close attention to the tone of the guitars and gain a great ear for music and the differences in tone.

First, start off by playing some scales that we have covered in previous lessons. Secondly, move into some short and simple riffs like this:
 

 

...Keep a cool head and focus on the tone of the guitars. Running through scales and basic chords has often been my favourite way to play test guitars. Of course, it's always fun to let loose on some of the most expensive guitars in the shop. Go out and have fun!


 

Written by Guitar Tips:  If you've always wanted to learn to play the guitar but never had the chance, give me 17 minutes a day for 90 days and I'll show you how to play virtually any song you want! Visit http://www.guitartips.com.au
 

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