Category Archives: Charvel

“Music is a Business”: A Longwinded NAMM Recovery Story

I’ll probably get some flack here, but in this case, not from the people who I usually get it from. I am making plenty of assumptions, and most of these ideas are based off of opinions and views I have seen. Having said that, I don’t feel like i’m going out on a limb here. I think i’m verbalizing things we hoped weren’t true, but I don’t feel I originated these feelings.

These are my thoughts after going to NAMM. It’s been 3 months, and it’s taken about that much time for my euphoria to wear off, and ideas to settle in, or at least have some effect on me. So lets get going.

Going to NAMM was a life changing experience for me. It really was. Being someone who wants to spend their life involved in musical instruments and music, experiencing something like NAMM was valuable and necessary. And while the experience NAMM gave me was inevitable, i’m glad it happened early in my life. Rather than dancing around it with pseudoartistic jabber, I might as well just come out and say it:

Music is a business.

You hear those words spoken – “Music Business” is household fodder for future (un)employees – but it took a very large event for it to set in.

My pre-namm experience was involved in blogs and magazines, seeing all the new gear surrounded by musical A-listers and scantily clad women who wouldn’t know a Fender from a Gibson if the booths were right next to each other. And if you’ll excuse the self-righteous NAMM booth humor (something I’ll try to avoid it from now on) you’ll get a slight glimpse at what I mean by “business.” All I knew about NAMM were in journalist pictures and magazines, but they don’t show you who is really there, and why it’s really there.

I’m going to guess that 99% of the people there are just lookers, gawkers, rubberneckers and the like, enjoying the new eye candy of musical instruments that are being created. And out of a tens of thousands of people that go to NAMM, those (we, actually) aren’t the people that matter much. We are dressed in musical oriented clothes, walking shoes, and our wallets don’t have much in mind except for the food.

And then you see the people and sights they never show you in the magazines. The suits, ties, briefcases, back rooms, two-story booths, soundproof rooms, velvet ropes, business schedules, meetings, power lunches, special areas, the entire hotel 1st floor bought by Yamaha, the Roundtables with the candy dish in the middle, the paperwork, and the nicely combed hair. Guitar World/Player/One would never show you that. Well, why would they? It’s not like it would sell issues (Re: Business).

You start to realize that the stores that sell a lot of guitars are not guitar meritocracies. The best guitars aren’t sold at Guitar Center, Samash, Musicians Friend or Music123. They are merely (I should say “probably, because this is all hearsay now) there for their name, and the amount of money they bring in. For instance, a Fender Relic, now the basis for all things overpriced in the guitar industry, costs a few thousand dollars to sell. Chances are, that guitar cost the exact same to make as the Made In Mexico 70’s reissues, and even they are overpriced.

So the manufacturers sell them wholesale to one of these big musical instrument selling companies for a low price, and then the company sells them to us for a higher price. I’m going to make an educated guess and assume the reason all of those guitars are at the big-name stores, is solely because they bring in the most money. Thus reducing your guitar buying options at the big stores to profit margins, rather than quality. Gibson, Fender, PRS, ESP, are only known brands because the people buy them, and the retailers get a good deal. You’d probably never see a Suhr or a Vigier at a big namer because they probably couldn’t turn a good profit.

I think what solidified my ideas that it’s a business was being in the ESP booth. It was all rock-and-rolled, videos playing, cool guitars on the wall. Then I standing in a certain place, and a door opened. Out of the door came around 8 men in business suits, shaking hands and smiling. Not a single one looked like a guitar player, or even a guitar player in disguise. I am in the room which is a large upstairs conference room, dressed to the nines in the finest in metal regalia, and there went what looked to be wall street’s finest. They probably just sold a couple thousand guitars in futures, or made a deal with an overseas manufacturing company to lower the manufacturing costs of parts fifteen percent.

That’s when it dawned on me to look at everything there in a different light. All of the manufacturers of cheap guitars probably couldn’t play one if handed to them. They were there for a profit, and turning plywood, lumber scraps, and cheap mass produced parts into money was why they were there.

You go to a hardware store, and there are rows and rows and rows of screws, big and small, costing a couple cents. Metal door brackets and hinges, a few dollars. Plastic knobs and plates for switches, a dollar or two. Lumberyard’s full of wood, a couple bucks for large pieces. All of these mass produced parts parallel to guitars. Tuners, bridges, knobs, switches, plates, and all of the simple things don’t add up to the cost of a Squier strat, especially when they are being mass produced. Necks, bodies, pickups, and everything but painting and assembly are automated, but we are still paying big bucks. It’s what we expect, as guitar players.

Want something with a clear finish? Extra 70 bucks. Gold plated hardware? 50 bucks. Floating bridge? 200 bucks. Hollowbody? Upper range. Thin nitro finish? Upper range. Locking tuners? Extra 100 bucks. New pickups? 70 bucks. You all know this, and you’ve come to expect this.

But knowing the details is not very rock and roll. This hobby of mine was born and raised in the ear canals of rock and roll Venice, and I didn’t want it to be sold to the lowest bidder. I didn’t want to know that the reason Guitar Center had my Gibson SG was because they probably made a huge deal of money off of it. I didn’t want to know that my gear heaven known as NAMM, is really just for big businesses to make deals. I didn’t want to see the Chinese manufacturers sitting at a table, waiting for one of the big companies to come to them so they could make the most profit.

You try and justify the price you pay that there’s some guy working in a factory on your guitar. That the measly 400 dollars you spend on a Mexican Strat is worth it. Then you realize that there are a good amount of people who specialize in that part, and they spend the better part of 5 minutes on it. Bolting on a neck, clamping the sides, installing tuners, drilling holes, removing things from giant machines. They get paid wage a few bucks above minimum, if not minimum. Aside from the paint and finish drying, it probably spends very little time in someone’s hands. Probably a good 15 dollars out of the company’s pocket worth of labor, and that’s pushing it. 20 bucks total for the parts, pushing it again. Manufacturing has been paid off, so probably a dollar or two for maintenance of the machines. We’re talking anywhere from 8 to 30 times the profit for something people yearn for.

The problem is there’s no competition. I’m beating the dead horse of my ill-fated “Why I Hate Guitar Center” post, but unlike the computer industry all prices just keep going up for us while quality drops.

I saw NAMM. I saw the celebrities paid to be there. I saw the small companies trying to break into the market. I saw the new gear, the booth babes, the lights, the smells. I got the blisters from walking, I saw Johnny Demarco (!!!), I saw the elaborate booths. And I realized that none of it was for me. Any guitar player would be happy with a booth full of guitars, and had the bar not been set so high, i’m sure that’s what NAMM would’ve been like. Instead it was the largest building i’d ever been to, enormous booths, louder than hell, and it was an overload.

But what does it all mean? Will it change a thing that I know this? Nope. I’m still going to go to Guitar Center, i’m going to pay 1700 dollars for the Eric Johnson Strat (someday…) which cost probably under a hundred to make. I’m going to keep on truckin through the business part of it. Pay a dollar for a song, 2 for a ringtone,
50 for a doorknob or whatever I buy, and continue to realize that music is a business. But so is everything else, so I should shut my mouth because some day i’m going to be in this business, and you’re going to pay for my Eric Johnson strat.

The end.

I await loads of criticism, both foreign and domestic. Including the job offers from Fender and Gibson for a billion dollar a year contract for me to sit around in the Charvel office or the Gibson Supreme office being the guy who criticizes everything, but still enjoys it all.

Me and music, we have a love/hate relationship. I love all of this stuff, but I hate seeing people in suits.

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Filed under Carvin, center, Charvel, cheap, complaining, electric guitar, Fender, Fender Guitars, Fender Mexico, Fender Telecaster, floyd rose, Gibson, guitar, guitar center, guitar player, guitar rant, guitar review, Guitar store, Ibanez, Jackson guitars, Made in China, Made in Mexico, money, music, NAMM, NAMM 2008, Nay-saying, negativity, Rabble Rousing, Roland, San Dimas, story, Uncategorized

NAMM 2008

These are the pictures of things I found important.

Dick Dale playing a Blackbird carbon fiber guitar. He soon talked about the “Tsunami of Sound”. Impressive words.

Extreme metal from ESP’s Custom Shop.

More extreme metal.

A nice green on an ESP, an LTD, no less.

LTD continuing to impress me on looks. I have to say I was never an ESP fan, and except for the hundreds of businessmen ruining my panting in front of a guitar, they had one of the best sections.

ESP trying not to lose all their money on the short-lived Dave Mustaine Signature.

Carbon fiber mandolin. Really now?

The local newspaper had a picture of Kerry King and Marshall on the front…wow. Slayer on a newspaper front? Surprise…

I am a big fan of Charvel San Dimas without the Stratstyle headstock, but this looked pretty sweet.

Any of you who have watched Roland’s guitar gear videos has seen Johnny Demarco, the most over the top spokesman for any company ever.

True innovation, no exaggeration. This was the one thing that seriously caught my eye, and that’s what matters. The V-accordion. Very good player too.

Dream Lineup. Hughes and Kettner tone lines. Best amps i’ve ever played.

The long haired blond guy is Seymour Duncan.

Nice guitars. Very washburnesque with a little Carvin.

A BC rich your mother could love, and afford! Only like 600 for that thing.

Finally saw some Hagstroms. I wasn’t as impressed as i’d hoped, but still nice.

Oof. Warrior guitars. Thems is crazy. They are expensive, and would make you look infinitely cooler than a PRS.

Composite necks, anyone?

The bald-headed man with the space glasses is none other than Tony Levin!

Excuse me whilst I faint. John Petrucci Ernie Balls.

Ibanez Singlecut everyone! NEW!

Decent looking budget hollowbody Ibanez.

Odd looking Ibanez, but I liked it.

What you’ve all been (just me) waiting for, the new 24 Fret S-series Ibanez. It was one of the main reasons I went to the show, but that prestige neck just didn’t have the same electricity as my RG1570 had.

Those are pretty Wechters. Damn.

Finally saw some Zemaitis. 4000 dollars for metal work? Nope.

The reason this show is such a letdown. I’ve never heard about this before, but it’s the ridiculous factor. So many cheap pieces of shit overseas import companies. All making trashy knockoffs and pieces of junk. There were a LOT of them, and they had nice booths, were dressed impeccably, and made me want to smash them all.

The unique award!

I am going back tomorrow, and maybe I’ll get more pictures.

I met Thomas Nordegg. One of the, if not the most famous Tech guy ever. He will never remember, I will.

Also, I jammed with Dean Markley.

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Filed under Charvel, complaining, electric guitar, Ernie ball, Fender, guitar rant, guitar review, Guitar store, Ibanez, Ibanez Prestige, Ibanez RG, Jackson guitars, Made in Mexico, music, NAMM, NAMM 2008, San Dimas, story

Ernie Ball Music Man 20th Anniversary Silhouette

I’ll admit it, for the my entire career as a guitar player, I have hated Ernie Ball Music Man guitars. I have very vivid memories of going to a Guitar Center, picking up a really nice looking Axis, only to have the experience ruined by the neck. It felt triangular to me, and almost like they forgot to round out the back of the neck. Not only that, but the wood was dirty due to some lack of sanding and finishing. So it stuck in my mind as one of the most uncomfortable guitars ever made, so I never picked one up again. It kept me away from Ernie Ball altogether until one of my favorite guitarists got picked up to do a signature guitar. John Petrucci, the guitarist for Dream Theater, rekindled my interest in Ernie Ball and gave me reason to touch them again. Maybe i’ll review the JP Signature at some point, but right now, we’re on a different mission with coincidental undertones (I’ll explain in a bit)

I went to Guitar Center with a friend of mine who plays bass. He had just purchased one of Ernie Balls new HH basses, so he felt some sort of brand loyalty to Ernie Ball. He sat in front of one of the cheapo Crate amplifiers, ready to butcher a song on guitar, an instrument he’d never really excelled at. He picked up the nearest Ernie Ball, it was the 1800 dollar, 20th Anniversary Silhouette which was positioned quite close to him. He played the guitar, and I looked at it with contempt, still remembering the experience with an Axis a long time ago. I’d never played the Silhouette, but I just assumed it had the same neck as the Axis, but with a double cutaway body. My friend got a phone call, and was just sitting there holding the guitar. I decided to take his seat, and he handed me the guitar. The transformation had begun…

The Specs: It’s a 24 Fret, Dimarzio Loaded beast of simplicity with no tremolo, locking tuners, three way pickup selector, volume and tone knobs. The top is an odd beast, a layered top like a triple ply pickguard, but with wood, plastic, then wood again. It was different, to say the least, from anything else i’d ever seen, as most guitars with plastic around the side consisted of cheap plastic binding, but this was a black plastic with a maple veneer on the top. Very attractive.

The Neck: This was what converted me. My hands fell into an immediate pattern which i’d never felt before. A different kind of comfort i’d never felt on medium jumbo frets. They were spectacularly finished, and with 24 of them, I was in heaven. My ideal prescription for a guitar consists of a 24 fret neck, and one as good as this will most definitely go on my list when some company comes to approach me about building a signature guitar. (I won’t hold my breath) It was smooth, unfinished (They did a bang up job!) and despite being a bolt-on, I felt no limitations like I would on a Fender Strat or Telecaster.

The Body: This might be the only thing I’ve got a problem with. The horns are stretched a little much for my tastes. The bottom one has a perfect curve to it, but the top is a little long, giving it an almost Danelectro Longhorn look to it. But it was perfectly contoured for playing, which is really all that matters. I say that knowing perfectly well that BC Rich wouldn’t be as well known as they are had feel been all that matters when people were buying guitars (Another review some time). Qualms aside, it was light, the pickups fit in there perfectly, and there was no clutter to it; just a beautiful looking guitars. Also, since my ideal guitar has a fixed bridge, (Though a trem is an option on some 20th anniversary Silhouettes) this one is starting to fit the bill as one of my favorite guitars.

The Electronics: Simple active (I am mistaken. An eloquent comment proved me wrong. What I thought was active pickups, was actually a piezo preamp.) circuitry with Dimarzio pickups. I’ve always been a fan of Dimarzios, but these just had a different dynamic, which was excellent. The were clear and crisp in all settings with no muddiness like some single coils tend to do, and some stock Humbuckers. Though, I’m not a big fan of active circuitry, as most people can’t find a 9 Volt battery when they need one.

The Hardware: Good bridge, nice knobs, what else is there?

The Whole shebang: Now, what I mentioned before was that the only other Ernie Ball I really had enjoyed was the JP signature, and I have a feeling this guitar took some of it’s ideas from John Petrucci’s ideas for Ernie Ball. The neck is probably the exact same one, and the fact that the action is perfect shows that a real player had something to do with it, not someone trying to make one-off guitars without caring about playability. (Gibson SGs, anyone?) As simple as it is, this is a great guitar. It feels great, sounds great (even through a cheap amp), looks great, and is a product of American craftsmanship, of which I am a huge proponent. The Ernie ball 20th Anniversary Silhouette has brought me back into the realm of Ernie Ball, and I’m here to stay.

However, i’m not going to give it the A+ that the Charvel had. This Ernie Ball has everything i’d ever want in a guitar, no hassles, fuss or anything that would bother me, and it would sound amazing. The Charvel I reviewed only had 22 frets, and it had a Floyd Rose, some of my biggest irritations in guitars. The thing is, there was an electricity I felt when I picked up that Charvel; an almost undescribable feeling that just made me want to play, and I thought it was an amazing guitar. This Silhouette is, without question, my ideal guitar, and something that fulfills that criteria is a diamond in the rough. I want it to be my next guitar, even if they triple the price. However, it didn’t inspire me like that Charvel, and for that it get’s an A. That plus is reserved for something out of this world.
Pros: Everything is fantastic. My ideal guitar, all the way.
Cons: None.

The Grade:

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Filed under 20th Anniversary Silhouette, Charvel, Ernie ball, guitar, guitar center, guitar player, guitar rant, guitar review, music, Music Man, Silhouette

The Charvel San Dimas 1H

Charvel1h

You look at that picture, what do you see? Do you see 80’s metal? Do you see an instrument indicative of an antiquated style of playing? These can be some of the emotions evoked by Charvel’s return to the guitar market. However, don’t be fooled. The only things Charvel about this guitar are the neck and the logo. The rest is made, pretty much, by everyone else. Seymour Duncan humbucker, Floyd Rose floating bridge and nut, Fender Strat body. Hell, Charvel and Jackson were bought by Fender, so they can cut the corners on the design process. So all in all, it’s a pretty standard looking guitar.

But when you pick it up, plug it in, and your fingers hit that board…

…you feel something that can only be described as magic.

The Specs: Alder body, Seymour Duncan TB14 humbucker, Standard Fender Strat body, bolt-on hard rock maple neck, ebony fretboard, 22 jumbo frets, original Floyd Rose, all wrapped up in the classic Charvel package. This is the essence of the words “Superstrat.” It is a simple guitar with one pickup, one volume knob, and a bridge that really looks like it’s floating there. There’s no pocket routing, and all of the electronics are from the back. The only thing on the front of the body is the pickup, one knob and a bridge. This is bauhaus minimalism, folks.

The neck: The first thing I do when I touch a guitar is wrap my left hand around the neck. I get a feel for how thick it is, how round it is, how flat the fretboard radius is, the finish on the neck, and the action of the frets. I’ll tell you, i’ve played 3 of the San Dimas 1Hs, and every single time I wrapped my hand around that neck, I didn’t let go. I picked it up and sat there for an hour with it every time. The neck that they put on this thing seems to epitomize perfection in neck form. It’s not paper thin as to make you want to flatten your hand, and it’s not bulky thick. Think about a fine line between an ibanez Wizard and an Ernie Ball Music Man. And now that I think about it, my descriptions can’t do it justice. My hand just seemed to have a mind of its own when I played this guitar. The action was perfect, the frets were finished perfectly, and they didn’t blast up and down the neck, they glided. As always, i’ve got to have my gripes. Usually, I love the feel of a through-neck guitar, but the bolt on seemed to fit perfectly here. However, the one neck complaint is the fact that there are only 22 frets. This is a super strat with plenty of room there with the lack of a neck pickup, so put 2 extra frets for that extra octave without risking a string-breaking bend.

The electronics: For what the electronics are, they’re perfect. The Seymour Duncan TB-14 was designed for Jackson/Charvel style superstrats, because they know what the buyer had in mind when they got one. They wanted to be able to move fast, and they wanted it to be comfortable, and they wanted tone to match the style. This TB14 fits perfectly with this guitar. I’m trying to avoid using a poetic cliche` to describe the tone of the guitar; Guitar magazines do it, and I can’t believe their advertising induced wordings, but this guitar truly sings. That’s it. It’s meant to be overdriven and played loudly, and these electronics fit extremely well. A coil tap might have been clever, but since they were going for the most you can do with the least stuff, they did extremely well. Granted, it’s not very versatile, but it’s not like this is going to replace your Joe Pass signature hollowbody in your jazz quartet (not unless you really want to shake things up). This is meant for speed, shredding, leads, and pretty much everything synonymous with lead playing. Simply put, this guitar was meant to take the lead.

Hardware: Perfectly finished frets resting in an ebony fretboard, simple Gotoh-style tuners. Charvel wasn’t exactly trying to reinvent the wheel here. Despite my hatred for floating bridges, nothing else would’ve fit on this guitar. It wouldn’t have had the same pinache on that rack with through-body bridge ferrules. So you’ll spend an hour restringing the thing, re-calibrating the bridge, and tuning it, but whenever you start to play it, you won’t care that you just spent over two hours making your guitar perfect again.

The Whole Shebang: Simply stated, this guitar is magnificient. When you pick it up, it tells you exactly what you’re going to play on it. You’re going to want to play Eruption, Hot For Teacher, or some sort of 80’s shred fest with some sort of galloping rhythm. And since it is a very expensive guitar for something so simple as a standard alder Strat body with a maple neck and ebony fretboard, you’re going to get it perfectly set up. The Floyd Rose will be parallel to the body, new strings, perfectly tuned, ultra-low action, and perfectly intonated. You’re going to realize it’s got limitations without a neck pickup, 24 frets, a fixed bridge, a tone control, or a through neck. But trust me on this, you’re going to forget every single one of those things whether you’re playing it through a 15 watt Crate or a Marshall JCM 900. Every one of those possible flaws I felt I could never get over, just seemed to disappear. Amazing, this guitar makes you not care about anything that might be wrong with it. That’s powerful stuff.

The Pros: Perfect neck, perfect frets, looks gorgeous, perfect tone for that guitar, feels perfect. Absolutely perfect.

The Cons: It’s about as versatile as a drag racer, but you only get a drag racer for one reason. 22 frets? No tone knob? No fixed bridge? No thru neck? No one cares.

The Grade:

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Filed under Charvel, Charvel San Dimas 1h, Fender Guitars, guitar, guitar rant, guitar review, Jackson guitars, San Dimas