Saturday, December 30, 2006

EMGs & 24 Frets

For a few months I have been pondering building another custom guitar. I was looking for very specific features that were missing on my other electrics, and I was intent on putting them together on an Explorer-style guitar. This is what I was after:
Basically I was looking for an Explorer with a 24-fret neck & no whammy--just a nice, simple bridge. I priced several different builds, compared it to an Epiphone Explorer, a Gibson Explorer, an ESP EX-400, an (on a whim) ESP Viper, and an ESP EC-400. I used Gimp to do mock ups of the 24-fret Explorer with different finishes and hardware. This laborious process continued for too long.

Finally I decided I would just settle--I would go with an ESP EX-400 in Olympic White.

It would be a 22-fret Mahogany/Rosewood neck with it's faux-Explorer-like mahogany body. A big difference would be an EMG active pickup 81 (bridge) / 60 (neck) set instead of the passive Seymour Duncans.

Throughout this decision process I have bored my wife with the details of the project. When it came down to the final call I was very surprised at her reaction, but it all worked out very well as you will see...

Here was the kicker, she hated the EX-400--which is what I had settled on! Hated the body style, hated that it would be white, basically told me not to settle for this one. She pushed me to build the one I was after, no settling and absolutely no cheap-o guitars (which I had considered at some point in the process to get some of the features I was after).

Wow. Ok. Hmm.

By chance ,I showed her a guitar that had virtually everything I wanted but a totally different body-style. The EC-400. It comes in three colors: black, white, and see-thru black cherry. White was out (the wife wouldn't have it), black was too "metal" for me, but the black cherry--now there was something. Just the picture on the website was a sight to behold. We both fell in love with that.

It was settled. That would be the guitar. I have always wanted a guitar with EMG pickups anyway so that was a plus too. The only thing missing? Strap-locks (an easy mod) & locking tuners (but it comes with quality Grover tuners so that isn't a real issue anyway).

It was a whirl-wind from there.

I called up our local Sam Ash and asked them if they had any EX-400s or EC-400s in stock. No EXs, but they had two EC-400s in the black cherry--new in the box and, even better, they had just dropped the price to $499! I hadn't seen any for less then $600. That was it. We were on our way.

So there you have it, two days before Christmas I ended up with a guitar that is not only beautiful to behold but sounds incredible. I knew this was one of the best deals I've ever gotten because it's rich tone comes through unplugged--always a good sign. With the EMG set (which everyone seems to insist is only for metal) it sounds like an acoustic electric on a clean setting.

For example, I had recorded a bit with it the other day on a little digital recorder. I had forgotten about it amongst so many other recorded snippets, and thought I had done it on our Washburn acoustic/electric. I was blown away when I heard the toggle switch flick and realized that it was the ESP and not the Washburn. It sounds so good.

My take on the EC-400? The finish is flawless. The black hardware looks like it will wear well. The vol & tone pots are smooth. It comes with the Earvana nut, which is a nice plus. The sound is rich & full, coming from the mahogany body & the mahogany/rosewood neck. The action was set to spec from the factory. The pickup heights were also set to spec from the factory. (Impressive, how often do you see that?) The neck is fast, and the XJ frets are just right. The pickups are incredible--they pick up every subtlety in playing and are totally noiseless--clean & dirty they prove why pro players quite often choose them over others. The bottom cutaway on the body allows easy access all the way up to the 24th fret. Only a couple of items need to be taken care of on this guitar. It needs a proper setup by my local luthier (as all new guitars should receive), and there are a couple of frets that need to be dressed because the notes are "dead", otherwise can I just say this guitar rocks? Yeah, I think I can.

My wife (and the salesmen) convinced me that I should get a case for it that day--I thought it would be ok to hold off and just set it on one of my stands. I have to laugh now. How foolish that would have been. The SKB-56 case for about $100 is solidly built, it fits the guitar like a glove and the warranty (the Million Mile Guaranty) for it is out of this world. It has protected my new baby from more then one nearly disastrous occurrences already.

So there it is. I have to give a lot of credit to my wife for this selection.

She's not a player but she knows what she likes, and her wisdom far exceeds mine. When it came down to it, she was pretty insistent and convincing that it either be this guitar or I was going to be building my own.

It may be quite a departure from what I initially intended but it's definitely one of the best early Christmas gifts I can ever remember receiving! This guitar is a solid choice and I recommend it to anyone looking for a nice mid-range priced instrument. I know it's going to serve me well for many years to come.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

U2 by U2

Introspection by one of the world's most renowned rock bands.

Admittedly, I haven't read many autobiographical works, but this one is definitely different compared to what I have seen previously. It tells the U2 story from beginning to today through a collection of statements by the band themselves. They don't seem to leave much out or gloss over the less then glamorous sides of their very unconventional lives (and by unconventional I don't just mean as "rock stars"). This doesn't appear to be the controlled propaganda that is usually the fare of rock star documentaries, rather its no-holds-barred approach is quite refreshing. From the revealing truths about the infamous "stolen" lyrics for the October album and the extremely unconventional processes they use to produce their music (it seems they never have anything prepared before going into the studio), all the way through to Adam Clayton's battle with alcoholism. Even the mystic behind one of rocks greatest concerts ever put on film (Under A Blood Red Sky) is dispelled unceremoniously in this book (much to my own dismay I might add).

I only got the book yesterday as a gift. I have not read through the entire thing by any means, but I would say just from my cursory reading that it would be quite interesting not only to fans of the band but to anyone interested in the behind the scenes workings of a struggling unknown group of kids who barely know how to play their instruments all the way through their assent to stardom. It depicts the heights, depths and the challenges that they face even as they were reaching the pinnacle of success in the rock & roll game.

To this day I think they would attribute their success not only to a great amount of hard work but also to a great deal of luck. I may not be too far off the mark. These are four very different people who've somehow made this U2 thing work for the last thirty years. That's quite an accomplishment in itself. Who knows what they will do next? But it seems that it's definitely a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n roll.

ISBN: 0060776757