Guitar Lust: Why Don’t They Make More “Blackout” Models?

  • by Gitabushi

Okay, maybe “blackout” isn’t the right term.  That’s part of the problem: there is no name for the style of guitar I like best. What I’m talking about is a Stratocaster-style guitar, with black hardware, black pickguard, black headstock, and black fretboard, and just about any body color, combine to make what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful guitar imaginable.

Let me pause a moment and discuss taste.  Specifically, my taste. I’m kind of a rebel. I like what I like, and it seems like I always like the things that are a little different. Okay, a lot different.  For instance, I genuinely like the movie “Orcs!” (2011).  I love listening to Chinese pop music; but my wife tells me that even for Chinese pop, I like the songs most other people have never heard of. When I’m not listening to Chinese music, my favorite band is Styx, which garners more than a little derision. I like 80s hair metal, too, which would be embarrassing enough, except that I like Giant and Loudness, two of the least-popular hair metal bands that were just popular enough you might have heard of them.

But I’m not a hipster. I’ve never stopped liking someone or something because they got popular. In fact, I’m usually very eager to share the things I like with other people, in hopes of it catching on.

I would like everyone to watch and like Chuck and Flash Forward. The more people that like Chinese pop music, Chuck, CJ Cherryh, etc., the more people I have to talk with about my passions.

Alas: my tastes are apparently weird.

So getting to guitars, here’s what I like:

This is Brad Gillis’ guitar. Er, a guitar made by Fernandes in the style of Brad Gillis’ guitar.

It is, quite simply, bad ass.

(the opposite being found here)

And yet, it is very difficult to find many guitars that have all those elements. I had to search for quite some time just to find these pictures:

28347_SELECT_SC1_HSS_TORRED_RW_C10490_1_medium29349_SoCal_HSS_FR_SATIN_TORRED_RW_C9914_1_grande30184_Used_USA_Deluxe_Stratocaster_Ash_Ebony_Board_Cobalt_Blue_DZ5073886_1_largefP2280195thjthlthowolverine-strat_0010_11yfawjda4su0xdlr6exh0

And to be honest, there is no telling what the headstock looks like in these photos.  Too often, they go with a plain headstock or a body color, instead of plain black.

If I want to get really picky, I’d insist on a strat style headstock, which leaves this one out:

184a52f3791a1503906d99234ed9ff61

But I think I have to allow it, just because there are so few examples that meet all my criteria.

Too often, the manufacturer changes one thing that just makes the guitar fall short of perfection, like a chrome bridge, or light colored fretboard, or the aforementioned headstock color mistakes:

thrrthfthdth;s-l1000prod_1062_4145_largeFender 1st pickupslg_11-4545-706fen98floydrosestrat-wh-bkguard-hh-rw2electric-guitar-with-red-body-and-reverse

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Close. They just *had* to use a chrome bridge, didn’t they?  Bastards:

depositphotos_5175867-Red-and-black-electric-guitar3894029

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Just imagine how gorgeous this red guitar below would look with a black input jack, black bridge, and black tuners!

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This is so close to perfection, I could almost cry. Or grab a brush and some black paint:

Charvel-USA-Select-So-Cal-Style-1-HSS-FR-Torred

And Charvel is an interesting case.  The orange guitar above is rare, in that it has a rosewood fingerboard.  Charvel comes the closest to what I want with black hardware and beautifully-painted bodies.  But they insist (or their buyers insist) on maple fretboard and unfinished headstock.  It just ruins it for me.

15120960049ththathggtht

These would all be better if they just had an ebony fingerboard and black headstock.

Interestingly, this one works pretty well for me:

squier-bullet-stratocaster-hss-green-metallic

I guess I’m okay with a gray pickguard.  It still looks better than white, or tortoise, or any other color.  Black would still be better.

This guitar I have is the closest I’ve been able to get so far.  The headstock isn’t black, but at least it isn’t a light maple:

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So now you have an idea of what I like in guitars.  Why aren’t there more of them? Or at the very least, why isn’t there a name for this color combination to make it easier for me to search for them on guitar selling websites?

 

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Guitar Lust: Kramer DMZ 2000

  • By Gitabushi

One of the things that annoys me the most about a guitar is if you take a guitar out to another location to play it, or move from indoors to outdoors, and the change in temperature and humidity causes the neck to bend differently.  Suddenly, the strings fret out. Or the action is suddenly higher.  You have to get out an allen wrench and make adjustments to the truss rod.

Or even worse, you purchase a guitar, and over the months or years, the neck slowly warps, twisting or bowing or even developing humps that make it nearly impossible to have low action without buzzing or fretting out.

Guitar manufacturers are aware of this, and they dealt with it in a number of ways.  First, of course, is the truss rod that allows you to adjust to the changes.  Other solutions have included dual carbon-fiber truss rods (that can deal with twist), baking/drying/aging the wood so that it will less susceptible to environmental conditions, using three-piece necks with the grain of the middle strip running opposite to the two outside strips to cause any wood movement from environmental factors to work in opposition, and using other materials that are less susceptible to environmental changes.

In an excellent example of that last approach, in 1976, the Kramer guitar company made aluminum-necked guitars.

The guitars featured an aluminum skeleton neck, with a distinctive forked neck, attached to a normal wood body.  The neck has wooden inserts usually, but not always, the same type of wood as the body, with the intent of providing a more conventional, less cold feel for the guitarists fretting hand.

In 1978, they came out with the DMZ line, including the one I have, the DMZ 2000.  The DMZ portion was a marketing emphasis on its Dimarzio pickups.  The 2000 being that it was better than the 1000, I think.  Or maybe just that there was a series, because the 3000 is just a Strat-style guitar, without extra features, and the 4000 and 5000 series are basses…no one in their right minds would say a bass is better than an electric guitar, right?

Like all Kramer aluminum-necked guitars, the DMZ 2000 featured an ebonite fretboard. That’s something I really appreciate, because I really like ebony as a fretboard for a number of reasons.  First, I like the appearance of black fretboards.  Second, I fancy that I can hear an impact on tone; guitars with ebony fingerboards seemed to have an extra chime to the attack.  Or, at least, I used think that.  I can’t seem to tell the difference anymore, so maybe it was all in my head in the first place. After all, there is no way to swap out fretboards on the same guitar to a/b the tone.  Third, ebony has always been the easiest and fastest to play on.  I really can feel that rosewood fretboards are more difficult to play on, because the softer, more open-grained wood of rosewood literally clings to skin and slows down the release.  I know the difference is microseconds, if not nanoseconds, but I have tested this out on many guitars, and I really can feel the difference.  Ebony-style man-made materials (like ebonite and other materials like acrylic) are simply faster.

diagram

The DMZ 2000 also has two coil split toggles, so you can get eight different usable tones from the two pickups, including some good single coil tones either singly or in combination.

All that aluminum does make the guitar pretty heavy.  It’s a drawback that doesn’t bother me much, but might bother someone with shoulder or back problems.

The guitar is very comfortable to play standing up or sitting down.  Personally, I love the tone and ergonomics of playing this guitar.

I got mine from a local vintage-focused guitar shop.  I was surprised to see it listed at just $850.  I had heard about these and thought they would be collector-priced well beyond my willingness to pay, maybe something above $2000.  A quick search showed that the price was pretty much in-line with what they sold for on Reverb, or maybe slightly lower.   I didn’t regret buying it.  It is one of my favorite guitars: collectible and a great player, but also durable enough that I wouldn’t be afraid to take it out to a gig.

There are other aluminum-necked guitars made by Kramer, of course.  The DMZ line was the second wave, running from 1978 to 1981.  From these pictures, you can see the first wave, as well as how the second wave changed during its production run:

robdutch1

You can find out more about Kramer’s aluminum-necked guitars here.

…man, I really want to choose “robots” as one of the categories for this post, but I’ll stick with accuracy and refrain.

 

Stoicism: A Rambling Think-Piece

  • by Gitabushi

A friend emailed me and mentioned that he’d encountered the term Stoicism several times lately.  That stimulated some online research and thought, and here is the result.

I stopped to think about it, and realized that when I think of Stoicism, I usually think of Asceticism; just 3 seconds’ thought makes it clear that isn’t correct, so I googled Stoicism quickly, and figured out where that misapprehension came from:

Stoics face their fears by deliberately trying to experience what they fear.  Since fear of poverty (starving, freezing, etc) is a fear most people have, the Stoics recommended periodic stretches of deprivation to help one realize material things aren’t that important. So asceticism is a Stoic exercise, but not necessarily a tenet of the philosophy.

Here’s a definition of Stoicism:

[Stoicism] asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

The other impact of googling it was realizing that even though I never overtly studied Stoicism, over time I have separately arrived at many of the same views as Stoics.  I often say I am a philosophical Buddhist, because although I don’t embrace the religion at all, I do think one significant source of unhappiness in life is wanting more than you have, especially when those goals are not achievable.

(Aside: which puts me in the curious position of my guitar angst coming from wanting to want less…so I have more than I want and should be happy, but I manage to make myself unhappy but wanting to want even less, so to want less than I have in this case would be to accept that I have more guitars than I want to have.  Okay, now I’m dizzy)

Anyway, one core touchstone of my personal philosophy is that you can’t control what you feel, but you can control what you do about what you feel.  That grew out of the realization that I can’t control other people, I can control only myself.

I found a long time ago that I was much happier when I was “centered”, a term I borrowed from New Age or some crap, but what I meant by it was “within myself”, i.e., worrying only about what I can control, i.e., my own actions, and letting everything else go.

My wife is very capable of pulling me off-center, of course, although over the last year I’ve gotten much better at remaining centered even despite her influence and impact on me.

And I’ve also dealt with the frustrations and disappointments of being a Chiefs fan by inadvertently developing a Stoic attitude toward their game results.

“It is what it is” is Stoicism, right?

Here’s a picture of  a bust of a Stoic:

zeno_of_citium_pushkin

Back in my Army days, when I got frustrated because we were not only spending the day doing boring training, but we had finished all the standards and they still held us there because we finished too early, I thought up the idea that, “Everyone has to be somewhere.  I have to be somewhere, too, sometimes, and right now, this is where I have to be. So I might as well accept it.”

Later, starting a few years ago, I started thinking: This is life.  This is all there is.  I can’t know there is an afterlife or that anything I do matters.  Okay, fine.  I should enjoy every moment, while it lasts; when I’m stuck doing something not so fun, don’t waste my mental energy fretting about what I’d rather be doing, but make the most of it.

That seems Stoic, too.

It makes me wonder if I could somehow make it through actual torture by trying to analyze and experience the pain, to change it into something else.  Probably not, and I hope I don’t have to find out.

I’ve also analyzed, learned, and tried to teach my kids: there are perhaps three sensations in life: stimulation, peace, and sating of appetites.

Stimulation is infatuation, sex, drunkenness, flavor, excitement, etc.  Those are enjoyable because they are strong.  But you need ever more input to feel the same level of stimulation…besides the body developing a tolerance, the Primacy/Recency principle means that you can only have one first time, and repeated applications of a stimulation will inevitably have a lesser mental effect. Stimulation is always a relative sensation, and is measured in degrees.

On the other hand, peace is an absolute sensation: you either have it or you don’t.  You can never have too much peace.  So I seek peace, satisfaction with myself and with life, acceptance, sufficiency, etc, and have tried to teach my kids to seek the same things.

Sating of appetites is a basic urge that constantly renews.  You will always return to hunger, and you can reduce your the tolerance you build up for certain appetite satisfactions via abstinence.  I’ve tried to control my appetites, and also tried to teach my kids that, too.

To restate, the point of this interminable musing is that I now think I have been living a life based on many Stoic tenets without realizing it.  But looking at this, I can see I could do more to deliberately follow the philosophy.  Not that I (or anyone) have to fulfill a Stoic ideal, but even after just a quick scan of the list, I think I would be happier and more satisfied with myself and my life if I did work harder on achieving Principles 6-9, particularly in relation to my aspirations to be a professional writer.

In my highly-subjective opinion, Stoicism is very closely related to Right-wing ideology, and incompatible with Left-wing ideology. However, apparently the New Yorker ran an article very recently on How to be a Stoic.

I cannot imagine a philosophy less compatible with modern Progressivism than Stoicism.  The cornerstone of Progressive ideology is victimization gives power, i.e., the more outraged you are about things outside your control, the more consideration and benefits you deserve.  Progressives don’t actually want the power to fix the problems they think they have, they just want to have power in other areas to compensate.  If they were ever given the power to fix the problems, they would then be responsible and no longer be victims.

To me, it seems like Progressives could use a healthy dose of Stoicism.  Moreover, the stereotypical Millennial could also benefit greatly from embracing Stoicism, recognizing that all emotions come from within rather than being compelled from external events, accepting that living often means failing, and that growth comes from overcoming failure.

If this article has stimulated interest in Stoicism, here is another good article that puts the philosophy into context with competing philosophies, so you can grasp a better understanding through the comparison and contrast.

Finally, here’s a picture of a guitar:

warmoth

 

A Glimpse Into Guitar Lust Madness

  • by Gitabushi

I wrote a long email to a friend this morning, focused on talking through trying to sell guitars.

See, I have a guitar fund, and as I buy/sell guitars, money flows into and out of the fund.  When I sell more guitars, that money sits there, mocking me and burning holes in my brain that allow new guitars to fall in. So I buy them, and end up with too many guitars to play regularly, and I get the urge to purge and simplify.

So here is a glimpse into my thought process regarding these guitars.  Don’t worry, we’ll eventually cover all these guitars in future installments of the Guitar Lust series.

Continue reading “A Glimpse Into Guitar Lust Madness”

11/17/16 Guitar Lust: Paul Reed Smith 25th Anniversary Swamp Ash Special

written by Gitabushi

Paul Reed Smith.

If you know anything about guitars, you’ve probably heard of Paul Reed Smith guitars.  He did something amazing: he turned a basement startup into THE major player in the guitar manufacturing business.

I could write pages of history and explanation if, you know, I knew any of it. But I’m too lazy to research, so if you want to more about how Paul Reed Smith became a household name, we can consider it the audience participation portion of the blog.

Let’s just say that Paul Reed Smith is the guitar for rich guys in their 40s who always wished they were rockstars. The guitar of aging dentists everywhere.

But also the guitar for actual musicians who want something special.

Paul Reed Smith guitars have a vintage sound, beautiful figured wood tops with crazy transparent finishes, thicker necks, and impeccable workmanship.  You almost can’t go wrong with a Paul Reed Smith.

That’s why they are expensive. But also why they are lust-worthy.

The one I want to focus on today is the 25th Anniversary Swamp Ash Special.  I have this thing for swamp ash.  If you believe that wood makes a difference in tone (and I mostly do, sorta), then swamp ash is supposed to give a little extra sparkle or rasp to single coil pickups.  I fancy I can tell the difference between swamp ash and alder, but the impact of wood on tone is something we can argue about some other time.  The point is even if there is no sonic difference, swamp ash is lighter than most woods.  Which is kind of cool.

But the other nice thing about swamp ash is it gives a very nice grain, when used with transparent finishes. Here are some pictures:

If you recognize the couch/pillows, it is because the blue one was one I owned.

Another thing I liked about it was the silhouette bird inlays, as opposed to the full inlays most Paul Reed Smiths have.

I’ve owned a few Paul Reed Smith guitars, but never kept them.  They do sound like good vintage Les Pauls, but that’s a problem: I don’t really like good vintage Les Paul tones. Overdriven, sure. But the over-saturated neck-position humbucker sound isn’t one I like coming out of my amp.  Paul Reed Smith guitars even seem to emphasize that (as compared to the Seymour Duncan ’59 when in the neck position).  Sometimes you can get humbuckers that are wound to sound like really fat, dark single coils.  My Yamaha PAC 921 is one like that.  But not Paul Reed Smith.  They sound muffled and oversaturated to me.  People that like that sound call it “warm”, but that doesn’t make sense, because a “hot” pickup should be bright and shrill, which means that “warm” is on the opposite side of the tonal spectrum from “hot”. smdh

Many Paul Reed Smith guitars have coil splits, which helps.

But then Paul Reed Smith developed the Narrowfield pickups.  Not really a breakthrough in concept, since mini-humbuckers and P-90s (humbucker length windings on a single-coil bobbin) have been around for decades, but still a welcome development as they sound twangy like a single coil, but lack the hum single coils bring when used singly.

Here’s a good video:

So why didn’t I keep the blue one?

I don’t know, actually. I loved it. It played well, sounded great, was comfortable, and was pretty.  And yet, I found myself always reaching for my Mercury Head, Warmoth, and Yamahas.  As I was saying to a friend the other day regarding a guitar I was thinking of buying, “It looks good and sounds great, and clear is a #1 guitar. My problem is I already have more than a dozen #1 guitars!”

I do kind of miss it, but not enough to seek one out again.  If I could keep only one guitar, I would have been satisfied with it.  But there was something that kept it from being my favorite guitar, and I’m not sure what it was.  Still: Lust-worthy.

Gitabushi

11/15/16 Guitar Lust: Hamer USA Diablo

The Hamer USA Diablo was one of its last Superstrats*; it came out near the end of the shredder era.

It may be one of the most perfect guitars ever. At least, it has so many things I like, but was relatively simple, and as such, relatively cheap.

They mostly came in red, yellow, and black. Most had black hardware, I think…that’s what I encountered the most, but it wasn’t difficult to find examples with chrome.

They also made some cherry sunburst:

diablo

And a very rare blue:

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So what’s good about them?

Slab alder body (no expensive contours). Trem that stays in tune. Top notch Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan pickups for great tone. Flat fretboard radius that makes bends easy. Thin neck that makes it easy to play fast.

Every one I’ve ever owned felt wild. Like I could play fast and loose and sloppy and it would still make me sound good. I felt more like Eddie Van Halen playing a Hamer USA Diablo than on any other guitar I’ve ever touched.

It’s biggest limitation was a lack of coil splitting options, or it might be the perfect guitar for me.

So if it was so good, why have I owned at least 7 (and am trying to sell my last 2)?  Why did I sell the yellow one shown above with nearly-perfect after-market stainless steel frets, and coil-split push/pull pots with amazing-sounding Dimarzio 26th Anniversary pickups?

Because despite the guitars being awesome players, there are simply guitars I like more for various reasons.  Some guitars are prettier, or have ebony fretboards.  Over time, I’ve gotten to the point I trust Wilkinson 2-point trems with locking tuners (or sometimes even without them), so there is no reason to deal with the extra hassle of a double-locking system that needs to be unlocked and completely retuned every few weeks; a system that doesn’t allow you to drop to Eb easily, or go to drop-D tuning, or even deal with a song that was recorded slightly out of tune.

I still have the blue one.  I can’t get what I want for it, so I’ll probably hold on to it, let it be a case queen, pull it out once a year or so and be thoroughly impressed with it, and then put it back in its case for another year.  At some point, I may fall in love with double-locking trem systems. Or as original-condition Diablos become less available over the coming years, maybe I’ll get a decent price for it.

However, if you love dual-humbucker rock machines, see if you can try out a Hamer USA Diablo. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

*Superstrat: A 25.5″-scale guitar with a shape generally like a Stratocaster, but usually lacking a pickguard. Often has two humbuckers or even a humbucker-single-humbucker configuration, but must have at least one humbucker (in the bridge position). Must have a 2-point trem, usually double-locking.  Often has 24 frets. Often has a thin neck and flat fretboard radius for fast playing.

 

-Gitabushi