Guitar Mag Gossip: Personal and Practical

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I’d like to call out several items of interest in the November issue or Premier Guitar. The first one is personal: As head honcho Shawn Hammond mentions in his monthly editor’s letter, I’m changing roles at the magazine. After two years as a part-time senior editor, I’m going part-part-time as a contributing editor.

It was a tough call for me — it was a fun gig working with awesome people on subjects I love. But I’ve felt an increasing need to dedicate more time to my own projects: playing, recording, writing, developing gear, and trying to make my blog and YouTube channel seem a bit livelier than something you’d encounter at Urban Ghosts. (It’s one of my favorite websites, but not the attitude I’m aiming for here.)

If you’ve enjoyed the articles I’ve contributed to PG, well, first of all, thanks! And second, note that I’ll actually be contributing more columns and reviews than before. That may sound contrary to the laws of physics, but it’s possible because I will no longer be editing material by other writers. (I’d been processing an average of 35 stories per month in addition to my bylined pieces.) Picking up the slack will be new hire Ted Drozdowski, a fine writer and player, a lovely guy, and one of the music journalists I looked up to when I got into the guitar mag racket decades ago. (Ted was part of the now-legendary Musician magazine of the ’80s and ’90s.) Meanwhile, I’ll be contributing my Recording Guitarist column and at least three major gear reviews per issue.

Also in the issue are several tech-oriented pieces that I found particularly interesting. My old pal Frank Falbo — a leading pickup designer and master luthier — contributed a great piece on pot and capacitor substitutions. More than anything I’ve read, Frank’s article nails down exactly what changes to expect when swapping out part values, documented via audio files.

For me, the most fascinating part is how varying tone-pot values change your guitar’s tone, even when the tone knob is wide-open. Yeah, a lot of us would expect some change, because pots of varying resistances exert different loads on your pickups. But as far as I know, no one has ever nailed down the exact differences the way Frank has.

Others generalize. Frank Falbo nails it down.

Others generalize. Frank Falbo nails it down.

Spoiler alert: The differences are massive — it’s a far bigger deal than I’d always assumed. Check out Frank’s first set of sound clips and prepare to be impressed.

It’s not a new idea that you can shift the overall tone of a guitar “bright-ward” or “dark-ward” by swapping pots, but Frank makes explicit how dramatic such changes can be, and what to expect from the likeliest substitutions.

I also learned much from two articles I wrote. The first is a shootout between five sets of ultra-vintage-style Strat replacement pickups, featuring models by Amalfitano, Fender, Klein, Manlius, and Mojotone. (Spoiler alert #2: They all sound pretty great, though the Kleins and Mojotones were my personal faves.)

I only realized after evaluating tones that the two sets I loved most don’t deploy a hotter pickup in the bridge position, while the other three do. (I don’t mean some blazing-hot bridge pickup, but one just a tasteful tad louder than the others, an approach many Strat players seem to love.) In the Klein and Mojotone sets, the middle pickup is loudest. Food for thought.

There are good reasons why few guitar mags run serious pickups reviews, and almost never compare models directly: It’s labor-intensive, and it’s damned hard to establish a level playing field. Here, I tried to remove as many variables as possible, installing all the pickups in the same test guitar, scrupulously measuring everything from pickup height to mic position, and laboring mightily to create identical demo performances for each set. My favorite part appears on the final page of the article, where you can directly compare each pickup from each manufacturer side-by-side.

This poor pink Strat got one hell of a workout.

This poor pink Strat got one hell of a workout.

Finally, you might find interesting the audio clips in my latest Recording Guitarist column. It’s about is direct recording, a topic I’ve been covering since this blog began. I got cool sounds using a JHS Colour Box (a dumbed-down Neve channel in stompbox form) and especially with the Neve preamp simulations in the latest Universal Audio software. I’m hardly the first to point this out, but wow! Some recent plug-ins are so stupefyingly realistic that they can mimic analog gear pushed to extremes — a longstanding weak link in faux-analog plug-ins. I found it easy to create cool and compelling sounds without amps or amp simulators. Let me know what you think.

Okay, now I’m nodding off from jet lag. I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy, which generated some interesting musical thoughts and discoveries that I’ll share here soon. 🙂

4 comments to Guitar Mag Gossip: Personal and Practical

  • Oinkus

    As usual I am the first one in here at 6:35 EST . Frank is a great guy all around and has applied his genius to many things we really like. I would do just about anything to get him to build me an acoustic guitar but that is another crazy dream. I have issues with the new format for PG it is pretty screwy on a PC running Win 10 and I couldn’t get any clips for either of those articles. I also just did the unthinkable and got a cheap recording interface , a decent amp mic and a set of studio monitors so I am very interested in that Colour Box. It has been pretty quiet around here for awhile but oh well. More articles and less editing sounds like a much better deal to me !

  • Shizmab Abaye

    Frank’s article and demo gets the point across without lots of techno mumbo jumbo and incomprehensible diddly-pwap. Which is something I find impossible to do!

  • This is great, both for us, and it sounds like for you. I have recently become interested (re: obsessed) with home recording, and your articles in Premier guitar have been by far the most informative and easy to understand resources that I have found.

    • Joe

      Thanks, Skot! I’m glad you find the stuff useful. And yes, I’ll be continuing the PG recording columns. Just finished one this weekend, in fact …

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