Guitars I Want

I was doing such a good job of getting out a post every week, and then I didn’t. I’ve been super busy. I’ve got some blog posts floating around in my head that I meant to write by now. I’m working on my garage, working on my house, work has been a bit crazy, and to this day I have practiced my guitar every single day this year. Haven’t missed one day. I took my guitar to Seattle, I’ve taken it to Ottawa, I’ve taken it to Disney World. I’ve got a pick or two in my pocket at all times, and there are portions of songs that actually sound halfway decent.

All this started out as a New Years Resolution to read something other than the news during my Executive Time, but of course I can’t stop. I have found, bewilderingly, that one of my favorite parts about re-reading my old blog posts are the little timestamps that I drop, so here we are. CIA Director Mike Pompeo just met with Kim Jong Un, Paul Ryan quit, Congresscritters that lost their minds when Obama said that Cambridge police acted “stupidly” whilst arresting Harvard professor Henry Gates, which culminated in The White House Beer Summit, are now completely silent about presidential attacks on FBI Director Untruthful Slimeball, Michael Cohen’s law office got raided, Zuckerberg had a booster seat for his Senate apology tour, and Seth Myers delivered his baby in his building lobby. What a time to stop drinking.

Things that don’t involve Washington are much more agreeable to my mental health. So, I started exploring what there is to explore in the way of guitar info online. There’s a lot. A LOT! I had no idea. I have spent a lot of time on Ultimate Guitar looking at tabs, since, well, Ultimate Guitar started putting out tabs, and I used to get guitar magazines way back in the day. Middle School? High School? It’s been a while. But I am a bit surprised about just how much is written about just about every aspect of everything to do with guitars and music. It’s blissfully overwhelming.

I have found that when I type in /r/guitar instead of news.google.com, I have a much greater chance of being thoroughly entertained. A lot of that entertainment comes from looking at gear that I want. Now, picking a guitar out of a catalog is a lot like buying a car without driving it, but that’s fine. In my mind, they’re all amazing and I’m Eric Clapton. Here’s some of my more oddball favorites.

PRS John Mayer Silver Sky

Totally not a Stratocaster

Look again. Check the bird inlays and the 3-by-3 headstock. That’s a Paul Reed Smith John Mayer Silver Sky. People that care about these sorts of things passionately hate this guitar, and I can’t decide if I hate it or love it. I think it’s both, which is why I want one.

Here’s the beef: John Mayer was a Fender artist. Now, to back up a couple steps, when I want a guitar, I go to a music store, I impress the salesman with my maad skilz, and he tells me not to scratch it and offers it to me for the low low price of whatever’s on the sticker. If John Mayer wants a guitar, he used to just call his buddy at Fender and they’d send him 20. John used to get free Strats, specified any way that he wants it, Fender gets their guitar in John’s hands, people in the audience think they’ll be able to pick up girls playing Your Body is a Wonderland, which is probably true, and Fender sells a lot of guitars. Especially Artist Series guitars. So, about 3 years ago, John Mayer had a public break with Fender and signed on as a Paul Reed Smith artist. Two and a half years of close development between luthier and artist gets you… a Fender Stratocaster. And it’s expensive! $2200. You can spend whatever you want on a Stratocaster of course, but unless you get to the Custom Shop, your Strat is probably going to be considerably cheaper than John’s PRStrat.

Esoterik DR1 (Natural)

Gah this thing looks so cool! They have a matte black version, but I just love the look of the wood. Just look at it! Esoterik started as a Kickstarter to make the Ultimate Guitar, which, you know, there are some pretty good guitars out there. But, they had a cool design and people dug it, so these mad geniuses Kickstarted their way into the business.

Esoterik doesn’t make downmarket or midmarket models, so you pick the setup you want and they fill it out with all top-notch hardware. The guitar and neck are one layered piece which looks freakin’ cool. I love the way the strings come through the front, I love the bridge, I love the Seymour Duncan pickups, the wicked headstock. Just so cool.

Every one of these guitars are set up just for you in the factory, so you get to pick what you want. There’s about a 6 month wait for these, and they’re only a grand. Or, half a John Mayer Notacaster.

Parker Fly Mojo Flame

I want a purple guitar. But I’d take their green or black, if you can find one. Parker Fly’s are mostly only sold in specialty mom-and-pop distributors. There are none in Atlanta, but next time I’m in Seattle, I’m stopping by at Northwest Guitars and I’ll report back.

Parker Fly guitars are unique in that the necks are reinforced with carbon fiber, so they’re (relatively) super thin. Fretboard is carbon fiber and the frets are glued on. I used to watch a guitar instructor shred a Parker Fly online, I forgot his name, but it was before YouTube. I’m pretty sure it was a subscription service that I paid for. He was affiliated with an awesome program that I loved, now discontinued and forgotten, called Guitar Vision. It was kinda like Guitar Pro except that it would walk you through finger placements. I love Guitar Pro, but it’s still not the same. I digress…

I’ve loved the cool look of Parker Fly since the days that I had a poster of a Lamborghini Countach on the wall of my bedroom. Nothing was good enough for Parker Fly, so they made their own tuners, bridge, tremelo set, everything. The only thing not custom to a Parker Fly on a Parker Fly are the strings. Nobody can work on it, you have to send it to Parker Fly for a simple fret job, but, come on. Look at it. It’s gorgeous. Which brings me to…

Duesenberg Starplayer Custom

It’s a Doozy.

Before I die, I am going to have a gold-on-black f-cut hollow body guitar. Seriously. BB King’s Lucille (Gibson ES-355, right about 4 grand) is beautiful of course, but there is nothing in that category more gorgeous than this Duesenberg Starplayer Custom. It tips the scales at $2700, or in other words, just a Stratocaster north of John’s guitar.

All I need now is more money, more wall space, more talent, and more time to play. And then maybe I’ll take a spin in a new Silver Sky Ferrari.

John Mayer’s Ferrari

Lugging Guitar Luggage

I went to Seattle. I did not look at the news. Not once.

Well, kinda not once. They deliver USA Today in nice neat little piles to a table right outside the elevator. I did glance at the pile of sadness to make sure we hadn’t nuked anybody. I saw something about the Government being opened back up for another 3 weeks and that’s it. No news.google.com. No Washington Post app. I was damn proud of myself.

I’ve been to Seattle many many times, and this was actually the first time I got “Seattle” weather. Every other time I’ve been convinced that Seattle’s reputation as a rainy, cold, and dreary land of sadness is just a myth perpetuated by Evergreen State residents in an attempt to keep people vacationing in season-proof Los Angeles. Every other time I’ve been it’s been absolutely gorgeous, except for the fact that the sun sets at 3:30 in December. But crap weather or not, I just absolutely love Seattle. Where else can you eat dinner in a restaurant that used to be a funeral home? There may be more places out there, but only one restaurant where Bruce Lee was laid to rest.

Get the Garlic Chèvre Cheese Dip. It’s to die for.
I had a DOOM Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and a Dead Man’s Game Oak-Aged Blended Ale. I passed on the Very Stable Genius IPA, and I do not recommend the Jewbelation 21 Anniversary Ale.

I knew the weather was going to be bad for exploring, so I brought my guitar with my nearly unused guitar case with my bright yellow Re-Elect President Carter 2004 sticker blazoned across the front. I felt a little silly walking through the airport with my giant guitar case. I mean, normal things in the airport are a luggage-shaped carry-on, a day bag, a grocery bag, a stroller, a car seat, and maybe an expensive puppy in an even more expensive bag. But guitars? I walked into the airport convinced that all eyes would be on me and my peculiar luggage going through Hartsfield-Jackson, as if I were wearing finger-toed shoes. But as I ventured through Atlanta and Seattle with 50,000 of my closest friends, literally nobody cared. I had one eagle-eyed TSA agent ask me if that was a guitar, and one other dude carrying his guitar gave me the nod. Not the enthusiastic two-guys-driving-Corvettes nod, but the brother-in-arms-driving-Honda-Elements nod. We know we’re out of our element. Feeling irrelevant. We also both know we’ll be out of the airport soon. And we made it. I clearly built it up in my head.

I played. A lot. Not as much as I would have hoped, honestly. I did a lot of Guitar Stuff – I checked out the Tone Report. I went to a music shop looking for a Vox Amplug, didn’t find one, but decided I might need the new Fender Mustang GT40 amp in my life at some point. I watched some videos. I bought some tabs on Guitar Pro. But I was actually struggling to play the guitar. It went something like this: I played a bit, it sounded terrible, so I put it down. Then, I’d remind myself that I lugged this thing 2600 miles and the weather is too crappy for exploring, so I’d pick it back up and practice some chord transitions. Then I would be reminded that it would sounded terrible. Rinse. Repeat. I told myself that I couldn’t stop until my fingers hurt, so that’s what I did, and now I have a guitar-string-shaped bruise on my middle finger. Success!

The sub-par guitar playing was mostly my fault, but not entirely my fault. Jeremy’s Stratocaster plays a lot better. My Strat’s action was way high, it buzzed all over the place, and fretting even a D chord would bring the guitar out of tune. That, and I’ve wanted to upgrade the original plastic nut with a bone nut since I found out such things could be changed. I came home and picked up Jeremy’s guitar and man. Night and day, and proof it wasn’t all in my head.

I fired up the Googler and found a shop I liked and made the pilgrimage up to Southeast Guitar Repair. They took a look at it, sighted it, played it for a minute or two, and came back with their report. The nut is cut too high from the factory causing the action to be high to start. They can lower it, but the string spacing is slightly off anyway, so I’m getting that bone nut that I’ve wanted.  The neck has too much relief and the frets all need to be leveled and polished. Intonation is off and the saddles are kinda rust-pitted causing a buzz. They’ll fix that, and all the moving bits and string contact points will get some lube. They’ll wind up a new set of Ernie Ball Super Slinky’s and it should be good to go! Surgery should be complete in a week, and I’ll grab a scotch and a camera and post my findings.

Boomer Lives!

Josh

It Was The Summer of ’69

I’ve been reading the news. It’s not healthy.

But I have stayed true to the resolutions I made 400 years ago on January 1, but modified it slightly. For those that have no inclination to scroll down, I made 3 resolutions. First was to lose my Thanksgiving & Christmas ham, potato, beer, cheese, beer, chocolate, candy, and beer weight. I have stood on the scale almost every week since then. Progress, right? Second, I resolved to finish projects. Well, believe it or not, Project Garage Mahal is continuing at pace. Week after next, Sarah will take Charlie out of the house to avoid the fumes coming off of an entire garage floor covered in epoxy. It’ll be pretty, and I’ll have plenty of pictures and maybe a concomitant witticism. Third, I resolved to give parity to the Trumpian shitshow in DC and my guitar. I read until my eyes bled, then I played until my fingers bled.

I find it so difficult to peel away. The Donald almost kept the government open for a whole year. So close. He’s so damn crazy that the story of The President of the United States paying hush money to a porn star to keep their sexual dalliances quiet barely made the news. It’s not even particularly interesting that Donald Trump had an(other) affair right after his wife gave birth to his youngest son. I mean, Donald Trump declared that he’d give his wife a week or two to lose all that unattractive pregnancy weight, and this affair was a whole month after that, so what can you say? The Stormy checks out. I mean Story! Story checks out. Silly keyboard.

I got my first real six-string on Christmas morning 1995, so like 5 years ago, right guys? I wasn’t lying about my fingers bleeding. Right at the nail. I literally cannot touch my fretboard without sharp pain shooting through my fingertips up my arms and into my brain with an unmistakable signal that says “Stop Doing That You Idiot!”. If you haven’t played guitar before, you might not recognize step as progress, but it is.

It’s amazing how bad I got. My pinky finger is almost useless. But my fingers remember what to do sometimes before I remember what the song is. It’s really weird. I had the entire intro of a familiar song picked out before I heard Mick’s voice in my head sing “Ayangeh. Aaaaynngieeeah.” Oh yeah. Angie. Thanks Mick.

But I think I’m coming up fast. Just need my fingers back in fretting order, and I’m getting there. I have a habit of trying to learn songs so hopelessly out of my skill range that I discourage myself, but I usually learn a cool riff or three before I decide I need to return to the high-distortion power chord noise of my NOFX listening youth. This week’s version of Dive-Right-Into-It-ness is Zepplin’s version of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.

Morning coffee, morning homework, and all the picks I just found under my chair cushion.

It’s difficult.

Jimmy Page fingerpicked the intro, and I’m not, because come on. I am actually pretty good at fingerpicking since I spent a lot of time with my classical guitar, but this is just an exercise. I’m not opening at the Mercedes Stadium anytime soon, but if I was, that’d be fine because nobody could hear me (that’s a Garth Brooks concert joke. All the best jokes have to be explained). So after fumbling through the first page a couple of times, Sarah asked me why I never played any songs where you strum the guitar. Good question, and that’s mostly because I can’t sing and play guitar at the same time, and because I can’t sing. But I switched from Babe I’m Gonna Leave You to Banana Pancakes. Then to Atlantic City. I love Atlantic City because it’s relatively easy to play, the lyrics are as fun as they are ridiculous, and you get to use your Springsteen voice that you won’t let anyone not bound by blood or marriage ever hear. And sometimes not even then.

They blew up the chicken man.

Josh

I’ve been doing this wrong since Middle School

Yes yes, I read all about Fire and Fury and everyone around Trump describing Trump as incompetent. And I read all about JeffBo Sessions restarting the war on legal marijuana by killing the Cole memo. And as reliably as a tweetstorm after an unflattering chyron, Trump created a distraction, continuing the time-honored tradition of using the justice department to harass vanquished political opponents with the goal of imprisonment. Sure, it’s not necessarily an American tradition, but #MAGA amirite? But I think we can all agree it’s about time that the FBI finally looks into those damn emails. Color me some shade of surprised and use a heavy coat, because you’ve got to overcome a nice blend of nausea and jade. Pink hat.

We did, however, learn directly from the First Daughter herself that Donald’s Homer Simpson Orange hair comes from a distinctly Trumpian blend of a Just For Men coloring agent and Trump’s impatience not letting “brown” sit in for the manufacturer’s recommended time. Sip a scotch on that sentence. Let it marinate. That’s beautiful poetry.

Eagle-eyed readers of the post directly before this will remember distinctly that I have made some New Years Resolutions. Being that my new year resolutions aren’t even a week old, I kept true to my requirements. Guitar before Washington: I read a sweet post on Guitar World about getting back to the basics.

This is Steve Vai. He is a better guitarist than I am.

Steve Vai standing in front of a wall no one has with a hot pink cord plugged into a guitar he invented. Photo Credit: Guitar World

It turns out that I have been holding the guitar wrong. The big part covers your face, and the pointy sharp end goes near the part of your body where pointy sharp things don’t usually go. Also, guitars have 7 strings. I was unaware.

Steve’s idea of basics basically boil down to the one thing that every guitar instructor has ever told me: perfect practice makes perfect. Practice takes time. If there’s one thing that parents of young children are lacking, it’s sleep. If there’s two, it’s sanity. If there’s three, we get sleep, sanity, and free time. Free time. That’s what’s needed for guitar.

Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of time for Raffi’s There’s a Spider on the Floor (on the Floor), even though the only tab I could find was for a ukulele. But time for scales and sweet riffs, well, not so much. However, I am traveling an awful lot for work in the next couple months, and there’s not a whole lot to do in your hotel room. Usually I watch stand-up on Netflix. And by “usually” I mean literally every time for hours. So damn, I thought. Maybe I should drink scotch. Then I thought I should noodle on the guitar. So I looked at travel guitars. They look like they’re total shit, but it’s hard to judge a guitar’s playability from a picture. And it usually doesn’t take much more encouragement than “Hey look, Guitar Center” for me to justify going into Guitar Center. So into Guitar Center I went.

Travel guitars are a unique breed. They’re basically the only guitar you’ll ever see where the first two criteria are not “Cost” and “Sound”. “Looks”, also, barely matter if you’ve got the rest of the secret sauce.

Martin Backpacker and Emergency Paddle

The first guitar I picked up was the Martin Backpacker. I hated it immediately. I have no review for it other than I hated literally everything about it. Sound was terrible. Comfort was non existent. It’s impossible to hold and it looks stupid. It was, however, cheap. I played it for 10 seconds and have no further review.

Next up: Traveler Guitar Ultra-Light.

Weirdest guitar you’ve ever seen. Also, it’s practically silent.

No, the picture isn’t truncated at the head. That’s what it looks like. It weighs nothing. It’s light. The action is surprising decent. The tonal quality is non-existent. I couldn’t tell what it would sound like at all. I could strum as loud as I wanted to and could barely hear the thing. The one I played didn’t have the metal guitar-shaped leg piece installed, but it was still way more playable than the Martin. I played it for a relatively long time actually and almost considered buying it. I put it back on the wall, where it looked ridiculous, and played some of the other “Travel” guitars. Baby Taylor. Little Martin. A Disney guitar with flowery shit burnt into it.

Disney guitar with flowery shit burnt into it.

I kept coming back to that ugly Traveler Ultra-Light. The Guitar Center rep told me that we could make it happen, that he’d work whatever deal I’d need to walk out with it, because he knows that he sold a lot of them around Christmastime and he assumes that more than a couple are coming back. It weighs less than 2 pounds and it’s 28 inches long. I was tempted.

Starting price is $299. For those not good at maths, that’s almost $300.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. I’d pay about $100 for it. I can get an Epiphone or even a(nother) Strat for $300. There’s plenty of guitar gear I would trade $300 for, and this isn’t one of them. Not close. So, I tried the Little Martin. Didn’t like it. I tried the Baby Taylor. Liked it better than the Little Martin, but not nearly as much as the (uh, $700) GS Mini sitting right above (that Taylor is Discontinuing!!! Ugh!). The Disney ones played exactly as you’d think a Disney guitar would play.

But here’s my conclusion: Besides the horrible Martin Backpacker that I wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole, and besides strategically packing the overly priced Traveler Ultra-Light in my carry-on, I’m stuck with either checking a guitar (“Travel” or not) or checking my luggage if I’m flying somewhere. I’ve already got a travel-ready Squier with a hard case sitting in my house largely, unfortunately, untouched, and since I fly Delta as often as feasible, my first guitar is checked free. Maybe I’ll do that since it’s the low low price of free.

When I’m done, I’ll catch Chapelle on Netflix.

Josh