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Friday, July 01, 2011

Site Currently Experiencing Some Issues

Sorry readers, but my first foray into Google Plus has totally erased all my blog images! Apparently there is no fix for this, so I am going to have to go back to my hard drive(s) and painstakingly spoon feed each photo back into each post by hand. Six years worth of photos. By hand. *&@%!!!!


This will take some time, but I am on it. And I have lots of latent posts to fill in here, as well. I've been quite busy with guitar things and have the stories, reviews and photos to prove it. Check back soon and thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter NAMM 2011

Finally, my dream came true... I got to attend a Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, CA!! Pinch me, please. :) I have always wanted to attend this show to see all the awesome new gear and, more importantly, some of my biggest heros... and I can say that the Winter NAMM show is even bigger and more impressive than I thought possible, on many levels. First off, the show takes place in the Anaheim Convention Center, a 1.5 million sq. ft. facility that was literally chock full of gear; and, just about every famous guitarist I could think of was there at some point, to boot. There were live performances at booths (I got to see Frank Gambale and Brian Bromberg play at the Carvin booth, and Steve Morse and Dave LaRue at Erine Ball's). There were also some great guitarists just walking the floor. For example, at one point we ran into Andy Timmons, Gary Hoey and Gretchen Menn!

Claudia and I were attending the show with Robbie Calvo in support of his new site, RobbieCalvoGuitar.com, that we are co-creating with him. While there we took advantage of the opportunity to meet and mingle with a number of Robbie's endorsement partners, as well as strike up some new friendships and alliances. It was three days of incredible fun and lots and lots of walking. If you plan to cover 1.5 million sq. ft. of floorspace in three days, you must be prepared to do a lot of walking. :)

I could write a small book on the experience, but I'll let the pictures do the talking. Check out the Flickr widget below of some of the great photos Claudia took of the experience. Can't wait to go back next year!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Video Instructional Site for Guitarists - Robbie Calvo Guitar

I am very excited to announce a new video instructional site for guitarists called Robbie Calvo Guitar (robbiecalvoguitar.com). If you're like me and you've seen just about every DVD and online lesson that's ever been made, then you'll know that the quality of these sites and courses are usually very poor and not well organized. RobbieCalvoGuitar.com is going to change all that. As I wrote in my first post on Robbie, he is a fantastic guitarist and superb teacher. Robbie has a way of making the most complex music theory information easily digestible and intelligible. Couple that with some of the richest, highest quality HD video ever produced for guitar lessons and you've got yourself something special.

At the moment the site has a Coming Soon video (shown above), blog and bio sections. I'll be contributing a lot to the blog on an on-going basis and Will Kelly of Vintage Guitar Magazine will be crafting some quality guitar articles and posts, as well. Apart from a huge section of video guitar lessons, the site will also feature regular video posts of Robbie interviewing tons of celebrity guitarists and other music industry gurus. This should end up being a really cool, one-stop place to get your guitar fix!

The final site is slated for release some time later this year, so go to the site and sign up for the mailing list to be notified when the final site goes live. It will be subscription-based and the fee will be announced some time before launch. Be sure to tell all your guitar playing friends!

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Jailhouse Rock" Benefit Concert in Nashville, TN

I had the good fortune to attend the "Jailhouse Rock" benefit concert at 12th & Porter on December 5th in Nashville. This show was a real treat for me because some of my favorite Metal rockers took the stage and melted faces. :) The main line up consisted of Carlos Cavazo (guitarist for Quiet Riot), Vinny Appice (drummer for Dio and Black Sabbath), Rudy Sarzo (bassist for Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Ozzy), Scott Warren (keyboards for Dio, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell) and Chas West (vocals for Jason Bonham Band). There were also guest appearances by Mark Slaughter, Kip Winger and Kenny Olson.

The "Jailhouse Rock" concert was hosted to raise money for the Williamson County Literacy Council GED and education programs to benefit the rehabilitation of prison inmates. Rudy Sarzo commented, "When I got the call, I jumped at the opportunity to participate with ‘Jailhouse Rock’. That old cliché fits in this case – insanity is expecting the same results by repeating the same thing over and over again. If you keep locking people up and then don’t offer some kind of training program, the results get worse. You gotta give these people a hand up. The outcome has to be better than it is now. With an education program and a job, everyone wins."

The band played classics from Led Zeppelin, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and even the Beatles. I thought Chas West did an amazing job as the lead vocalist for the night and Mark Slaughter surprised me with some smoking lead guitar work.

It was a great show, the band was tight, the stage lights and sound were awesome and it was all for a good cause.

Photos courtesy of my beautiful and talented wife, Claudia Lopez Rhea. flickr.com/photos/claudiarhea/

Sunday, November 28, 2010

L'Esperance Guitars - Interview

One of the greatest things about being a guitar player and enthusiast these days is the sheer number of incredible products that are available out there. We are truly in a "Golden Age of the Boutique", and nowhere is that more evident than in the hand-built guitar market. Enter Paul Gagnon of L'Esperance Guitars. Nashville session player and instructional guitarist, Robbie Calvo, met Paul this past September at the Southeastern Guitar and Amp Show and was knocked out by Paul's instruments. So much so that Robbie commissioned him to build a Tele-style guitar with certain unique specs, such as a 24 3/4" scale length and a Bigsby tremolo bridge unit. I caught up with both guys at Robbie's home studio in Nashville to witness the delivery of the L'Esperance T-Series prototype and I also got to sample some of Paul's other 6 string L'Esperance models that he brought along for the ride. Awesome! Above photo: Paul Gagnon (left), Robbie Calvo (right)

The first thing you notice about Paul's work is the attention to detail. He creates all the wood parts himself, by hand. With gorgeous tops, beautiful nitrocellulose finishes and stunning designs these are some of the best looking boutique guitars I've seen. One of my favorite models is the 629 Doublecut, which is a PRS-like shape with a more aggressive carve in the top and a much thicker overall body profile. It's a beautiful design with a great feel.

While Robbie was down in the studio playing some tasty licks on the new L'Esperance T-Series, I sat down with Paul to ask him a few questions.

Ryan: The new L'Esperance T-Series seems to be a departure from your normal line of guitars since it is a basic Tele shape with Tele headstock. You seem to prefer to do original designs, right?

Paul: Yeah, Robbie really wanted a traditional shape and I was happy to do it for him, but what really excites me about building guitars is coming up with original designs. It is important for me to design something different… to find that right shape and go for something no one else is doing. A lot of people enjoy playing a shape that is new and unique.

Ryan: How did you get started building instruments?

Paul: Well, it started out as a challenge with my bandmates. I am actually a bass player. I made the comment one day at band practice that I was unable to find a bass that pleased me, so they said I should build one myself. A light bulb went on in my head and I started smiling. They were like, "Hey! We were only joking…" but at that point the damage was done and I became obsessed with the idea of building guitars. (laughs)

Ryan: What do you like the most about building custom guitars?

Paul: I think the friendship that develops between me and my customers is my favorite part of the whole process. All of my sales up to this point have been word of mouth… these guys hear about me, we chat and plan out the build and due to the time it takes to create a guitar you really get to know a person. I have found a friend in each and every customer I've built a guitar for.

Ryan: What makes a custom-built guitar worth the price?

Paul: I was building a guitar recently for a local guy and asked him to come down to the shop to see the stain that I had applied to the top. He really loved it, and while he was there I put the neck of the guitar, that I had just shaped, in his hands and asked him what he thought. He wanted a little more shaved off the profile, so right there I just did it and we got it to exactly the right shape and profile for him. You just can't get that in a music store. What you get off the shelf is what you get.

Ryan: And the quality of a hand-built guitar is top notch, as well…

Paul: My guitars have a limited lifetime warranty, which means I will fix anything wrong with that guitar for the life of the instrument provided that the customer hasn't abused the instrument excessively. My primary goal is to create a guitar that plays perfectly and performs like a professional tool should with minimal need for maintenance. I always build my stuff right from the beginning… then I focus on making them beautiful.

Ryan: Thank you for your time and for letting me play your beautiful guitars!

Paul: It was my pleasure.

Check out L'Esperance Guitars if you are in the market for a beautiful custom-built guitar. Paul is a great guy and great builder!

All photos in this post courtesy of my beautiful wife, and fantastic photographer, Claudia Lopez Rhea: http://www.flickr.com/photos/claudiarhea/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review - Callaham Guitars Vintage S Model Strat Bridge and ABR-1 Gibson Bridge

Bill Callaham really knows tone. Having grown up with all sorts of great instruments with which to develop his ear (Lloyd Loar mandolins and '50s Gibsons and Fenders), he has built his business on helping others reproduce quality vintage tone. With a strong background in machining, a great ear, meticulous attention to detail and a Mechanical Engineering degree from Virginia Tech, Bill and his company, Callaham Guitars, have introduced an unrivaled level of quality to the vintage guitar repro market.

I recently purchased two of his bridges, one a Vintage S Model Strat bridge for my Eric Johnson Stratocaster and the other an ABR-1 bridge with vintage studs, which is a direct replacement for the ABR-1 Tune-o-matic bridge on my '07 VOS Gibson R9 Les Paul. At the time of this writing I have only installed the Vintage S Model on my Eric Johnson Strat, but have not yet installed the ABR-1. I have also previously purchased and installed a couple of Callaham Limited Production Narrow Strat bridges in two of my other guitars, so this is not my first experience with Bill's product.

The first thing you notice when you take one of Bill's bridges out of the box is how much it weighs and the quality of the craftsmanship. These are made from specific steel alloys that Callaham Guitars has found to produce the widest range of frequency response, increase the guitar's sustain and improve note separation when playing chords. I can attest to the fact that these Strat bridges have greatly improved the tone on all the guitars I have installed them on. Immediately after installation I can hear that the guitar is much louder when strummed acoustically, the tone is crisper and more focused and sustain is greatly improved. Plus, the superior machining and quality steel alloy makes for a much smoother mechanical action when using the tremolo and tuning stability is never an issue with one of Bill's bridges.

I can 't wait to get the ABR-1 on my R9 Les Paul and I will post a follow up once it is done. If the Callaham Strat bridges are any indication, then this will be a major upgrade in tone for my Les Paul. If you are looking for that single mod that takes your guitar from ordinary to extraordinary, I would suggest trying a Callaham bridge first before spending money on anything else.

Monday, November 08, 2010

New Guitar!! Eric Johnson Stratocaster

Even though the Eric Johnson Strat has been reviewed to death since its release in 2005, I simply couldn't resist doing another one on my new two-color sunburst. I've only had this guitar for a few weeks and it has quickly become one of my favorites, and if you've ever had a chance to play one you'll know exactly why I love this guitar. Eric Johnson Strats are beautifully built with deep, comfortable contours and a superbly shaped neck that is a real pleasure to play. We're talking high-end, Fender Custom Shop quality and attention to detail here for under two grand. You just can't beat that.

This is actually my second Eric Johnson Strat. I briefly owned a Candy Apple Red EJ Strat a couple of years ago, but never quite bonded with it. I was acquiring so many guitars during that period that it was difficult to connect with each and every one, so I am glad to have the chance to revisit this great Strat model and spend some quality time with it. The first thing I noticed (as I did with my previous one) was how stiff it played out of the box. Once I put on some fresh Ernie Ball Hybrid strings (.009s on the top and .010s on the bottom), added my treble bleed mod to the electronics, adjusted the truss rod to straighten out the neck, removed a spring, floated the tremolo and readjusted the action and intonation the guitar sounded much, much better and began to play like buttah. With a bit more tweaking (it still needs another truss rod adjustment and some serious playing time), it should break in beautifully and play even better.

I really like the sound of this Strat as compared to my others. I tend to pull out the pickups in just about any guitar I acquire and pop in my favorite replacements. For Stratocasters I typically go with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Blues singles in the neck and middle position and the Fast Track II single coil sized humbucker in the bridge. This time, however, I am going to leave the EJ Strat electronics completely stock (save for, of course, my beloved treble bleed mod). This is my most "Strat-sounding" Strat at the moment and I am loving it! The Fender EJ pickups are a set of great sounding custom wound PUs made to Eric's exact specifications and are a bit lower in output than I am accustomed to. I am compensating for the lower output of the pickups by kicking in a little overdrive boost with my TS808 copy (when needed) and a healthy dose of compression from my Fuchs Royal Plush compressor pedal. Lately I have really enjoyed playing it through the clean channel of my Kingsley D32 amp with generous amounts of reverb, a touch of delay from my Boss DD-3 (a pedal I acquired when I first started playing guitar back in the '80s) and my Fuchs compressor. This guitar just oozes tone through the D32. What a great combo!

I love guitars finished in "thinskin" nitrocellulose lacquer. Apart from the improvement in tone I like the feel of nitro and the fact that nitrocellulose is a natural, organic lacquer (despite being a very environmentally unfriendly substance). These types of finishes also tend to age beautifully over time. I look forward to the wear marks and battle scars that mine will display in the years to come. It took several playing sessions before the neck finish "smoothed out" and stopped feeling quite so gummy and sticky. There is a small break-in period for nitro to smooth out and become more glassy to the touch, and I really love the feel of a nitro neck once this curing has taken place. Speaking of necks, the EJ Strat's one-piece, vintage-tinted quartersawn neck is a deliciously chunky, soft V profile with a very comfortably playable and bend-friendly 12" radius fitted with medium jumbo frets-- making fret work super smooth and easy. It puzzles me why Fender doesn't make more guitars with flatter radii like this. A flatter radius makes for a much easier set up and a more comfortable action; plus, the dreaded "fret out" issue is less likely to manifest itself when bending strings in the upper register.

One of the really cool, unique features of the EJ Strat is the lack of string trees on the headstock. Some people erroneously believe EJ Strats have slightly angled headstocks, or that the headstock is somehow cut differently in order to make it possible to remove the trees, but this is not the case. Fender actually designed split-shaft, Kluson style tuning machines that are dramatically staggered. "Staggered" tuning machines are simply machines with shafts that get progressively shorter and shorter from low to high, which provides the needed break angle behind the nut slot for proper coupling with string, therefore eliminating the need for the string trees-- even on the B and high E strings. Despite the stock bone nut (a great sounding, but notoriously bad material for tuning stability with tremolos), this guitar stays in tune quite well even with moderate to heavy tremolo use, and the lack of string trees certainly helps.

I have a Callaham bridge on order as I write this, and I can't wait to upgrade this guitar with it. A Callaham bridge is pretty much a mandatory modification for me these days whenever I get a Strat that I know I'll be keeping. The improvement in tuning stability, tone and feel is incredible and well documented on the Internet. If you've not head of Callaham Guitars, or if you have and are curious, check out the Callaham website. This guy makes the best Fender replacement parts in the business. I'll be sure to post a follow up once I get the tremolo installed. I can safely say that this is one of my all-time favorite guitars in the collection!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Red Bear Trading Co., Tuff Tone "Lil' Jazzer" Pick Review

I am usually not one to spend a lot on guitar accessories. I buy strings in bulk and play with cheap plastic picks, for the most part. So a few years ago when I heard of the Red Bear Trading Co.'s $20 picks (yes, $20 each) I thought you'd have to be crazy to spend money like that on a pick. After doing a little research I discovered that they specialize in recreating tortoise shell picks (which are now illegal to make with real turtle shells) by using a material made from animal proteins. The result is a pick that plays and sounds exactly like tortoise shell, is legal to make and does no harm to turtles. Brilliant! These guys also have an impressive, and growing, list of artists playing their picks.

Red Bear makes each pick to order, by hand, in nearly every conceivable size, shape, color and thickness. They also do custom orders with your name stamped on the pick, etc. And when they say "made to order" they mean it; there is no stocked inventory to pull from so it can take several weeks for your order to be fulfilled. Besides the simulated tortoise shell material, Red Bear now offers a new material in a line they call "Tuff Tones" for half the price ($10 each). This is the variety I ordered. The model I chose is the "Lil' Jazzer" with a heavy thickness (1.65mm) and added grip holes drilled into the center for better control. These things are pretty sheer and smooth, so if you are used to having some texture on your picks for grip, I highly recommend the grip holes option. Apart from the lower price, another thing that attracted me to the Tuff Tones picks are their durability. According to Red Bear, they are supposed to be as worry free as any regular plastic pick. The regular Red Bear line, on the other hand, can be a bit more fragile due to the material they are made from.

Apart from the pretty bland beige color, the Tuff Tone pick itself is a work of art. Beautifully cut and finished with a perfect bevel all the way around, each pick is also topped with a nice, clean logo graphic and model name etching. I ordered the standard bevel which is a basic bevel as seen on most picks... a "speed bevel" is also offered which is a more aggressive bevel sanded onto the edges where the pick hits the string near the tip. There is a right-hand and left-hand speed bevel option available.

Now let's get to the real crux of what a good pick is all about: tone, playing action/feel and durability. Starting with tone, I'd have to say this is one of the best sounding picks I've ever tried with an electric guitar. The sound is full, round, warm and articulate... but not so warm that definition is lost. Quite to the contrary, there's a nice balance of highs and lows with this pick. Contrasted with my usual favorite, the Dunlop Jazz III, there is a lack of mid range muddiness in the Lil' Jazzer that I can distinctly hear in the Jazz III as I compare the two.

In terms of playing action and feel, this pick has a presence in your hand. It has a substantial feel between your fingers with each note picked; whereas the Jazz III feels thin and cheap by comparison. The Lil' Jazzer just glides over the strings providing a very smooth, snag-free playing action. Incidentally, this is the main reason I decided to check out these picks. I am in the process of switching my right-hand technique to the Gambale method (economy picking style) which requires a super smooth pick bevel to execute properly. The way I pick causes the Jazz III's to eventually develop a rough edge after some use and requires periodic sanding to keep the action smooth. Plus, the Jazz III isn't the smoothest pick to begin with, so I figured the Red Bear might give me a small advantage with my new technique. Time will tell, but so far so good! My economy picking is much smoother with the Lil' Jazzer and the tone is fantastic.

And finally, the durability factor. This one will take more time, as I just recently acquired the pick. I ordered the standard bevel and literally within a few days of playing the pick has developed its own "speed bevel". Hopefully this wear will level off and the pick will last a good long while. I have no idea how long it might last, but since I am now literally sweeping a large portion of my notes, the edges of my picks see a lot of action. In fact, most of the wear on my picks falls directly on the edges and almost zero on the tip. As I write this I have two more Tuff Tones Lil' Jazzers on order. One is the same exact heavy gauge thickness as the one being reviewed here, and the other is the same model in a medium gauge, which will be closer to the same thickness as a Jazz III. I'll report back once I get them and do a follow up review on which gauge, medium or heavy, works best for me and how good the long-term wear is.

As for tone and playing action I can definitely give these a thumbs up! I feel like my tone path is finally complete... great amps, great guitars, great pickups, premium strings, quality cables and now a quality pick.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sanyo Pedal Juice - Review

If you are like me, you can't stand dealing with batteries or wall warts to power your pedals. I have a dedicated pedal board with integrated power for all the effects I use in front of my amp, but I also run a couple of pedals in my amp's loop that I keep close to the rig. It's these two pedals that require wall warts or batteries... and that is where the Sanyo Pedal Juice comes in. What a convenient product this thing is!

I was skeptical at first. I mean, 27 plus hours of playing time for two pedals on a single charge? It didn't seem likely until I charged it up and actually used it for a couple of weeks. After many practice sessions and a couple of jams this thing is still going strong. The Pedal Juice is basically a battery brick (3.7v lithium-ion) with two DC outputs that can power up to ten standard pedals (in order to power more than two pedals, one or more of them needs to have a power pass-through or you'll need a multi-plug cable since the Pedal Juice device only comes with two output cables that terminate in a single male end.) Sanyo claims that a single analog pedal using 10 mA will get about 50 hours playing time, a digital effect like a delay unit using 50 mA should get around 27 hours and a three pedal setup... say, a chorus, od pedal and a delay (with all three using something like 80 mA) should get about 20 hours of playing time. Pretty awesome!

Build quality is superb. It is housed in an attractive, Apple Computers-like white plastic case that feels durable and looks great. The company claims it is water and shock resistant (great for the drunks that spill beer all over your stuff at gigs) and operation is super simple. There's a single power button and 3-stage LED indicator. You get a continuous green light when fully charged, then orange (30%-60% power remaining) to red (less than 30%) when it gets low. With over 20 hours of playing time for two pedals, this thing will last me a long time on a single charge and the best part is that I don't have to worry about AC power cords and the possibility of ground looping noise in clubs with less-than-stellar electrical wiring. When both ports are in use they output 1000 mA each, which means you'll need to check your pedal's power requirements before using something like this and, of course, usage time may vary depending on those power requirements. Oh, and it only takes 3.5 hours to fully charge... which is actually quite fast for nearly 30 hours of up time!

If you are interested in buying one they can be found at your local Guitar Center or Sam Ash store, and online. So far I am really impressed with this device and I plan to make it a permanent part of my rig. I highly recommend this product!

Disclosure: This product was given to me by the manufacturer for review. This in no way influenced my opinion or review of this item.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Guitar!! '88 Lefty Japanese Fender Strat

As I mentioned in my Weekend In Nashville post back in early September, I recently purchased an '88 black lefty '60s re-issue Fender Strat that I have restrung to play right handed. For years I've wanted a flipped "Hendrix" Strat, so when I started to look this one over I knew I had found what I've been searching for (and it's black, just like Jimi's number one!) The goal was to find a quality lefty for cheap and then fix it up... at $270 this guitar was a steal! '80s Japanese Strats are often considered as good or better than the equivalent American version.

Once I got the guitar home I immediately removed the strings, popped the neck off and tested the truss rod to see if it was still functioning properly (many times old guitars have broken truss rods that have been over tightened by people who shouldn't be working on their own instruments.) Once I verified that the truss rod was working I gently removed the nut, flipped it over, reinstalled it and slightly back filed the slots so I could finally test out the guitar strung right handed. I also set up the vintage tremolo bridge to float. The previous owner had 5 springs in it with the claw cranked down to immobilize the bridge. Leo Fender designed his bridge to float, and I personally feel that Strats play and sound better with the bridge set up this way. Of course, all of this was just a quick, down and dirty test to see if it was worth keeping. I was really impressed with the tone of this guitar! I knew it was a keeper within just a few minutes of playing time.

I played the guitar for about a week to see if I could accustom my right picking hand and arm to the knobs, tremolo bar and input jack being on top. This definitely takes some getting used to. Another caveat is the limited upper register access due to the top horn being further up the neck than the bottom one. Once I realized I could overcome most of these disadvantages I decided to move forward with having the fretboard re-planed to a flatter radius and having the neck refretted. I dropped it off at Joe Glaser's shop in Nashville where they took the 7.25" neck radius down to a more comfortable compound radius-- 10" at the first fret merging to a 12" radius at the octave. I opted for 6105 profile fret wire and provided the shop with my own favorite nut material, Stew Mac "slipstone" (delrin plastic.) This material is excellent for guitars with non-locking tremolos. Afterward, it was given the full Plek treatment by Joe himself. The Plek ensures that all the frets on the neck have a balanced sound, thus eliminating potential dead spots. The result is a stunningly comfortable, highly playable neck and consistent tone all over the fretboard.

I am now debating on whether or not to change out the pickups or leave the originals in there. The old pickups that are in it do appear to be the OEM set that came with the guitar. Of course, the 60 cycle hum is there and I've accustomed myself to the ultra quiet and great sounding DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, which I use in all my other Strats. I'll need to do some further testing to decide, but so far I love the tone of the originals.

Despite some basic wear and tear (far less wear and tear than you would expect on a 20+ year old instrument) the guitar is in superb condition. The only mods I've done (besides the neck work at Joe's shop) is to relocate the strap pin to the lower bout horn, replace the old eyelet-style tuners with a new set of lefty Kluson split-shaft tuners and install my treble bleed mod on the volume knob. Eventually I'll replace the strap pins with locking Schallers. I also plan on replacing the bridge with a Callaham narrow-spaced lefty vintage tremolo sometime next year when he gets another batch of them made. According to Mr. Callaham, his shop only makes one batch of these narrow-spaced lefty models per year. Can't wait to get one of those on this guitar!

I am really excited to finally have a lefty Strat in my collection! And I am very pleased with how this guitar is coming together. I'll be sure to post a follow up when all the mods I pan to do are complete.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New Guitar!! Soloway Gosling

Yes, it is true. I have a guitar problem. I can't seem to get enough of them and all the new and exciting builders that are coming out of the woodwork these days aren't helping matters any. As I reported in my post on Soloway Guitars from the Nashville Amp Expo back in August, I ended up purchasing one of Jim Soloway's irresistible masterpieces. A gorgeous Gosling model donning a beautiful flamed redwood trans-burst top with Soloway-logo-inspired "f-hole"… once I saw it (and played it) I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough.

From what I've gathered, Jim's been at this for about 8 or 9 years now and he's developed quite a fine product in the process. Fusing the design aesthetic of the Stratocaster with his own unique lower bout shape, Jim has produced a truly stunning new take on the classic Strat shape that most new builders rarely achieve. His first model, the Swan, is a semi-hollow body construction and is made from choice tonewoods (alder or ash usually) with all sorts of different top options available (maple, koa, redwood, and others). What is unique about the Swan is its 27" scale length. Though its scale might suggest it is a baritone, these guitars are strung and tuned like normal guitars. Jim claims the intonation of a 27" scale length guitar is far more accurate and the lows are much tighter and more piano like.

The Gosling, on the other hand, is one of Jim's newest models and the first to offer the standard 25.5" scale length. The first thing I noticed when playing the Gosling I purchased, apart from the flawless fit and finish, was how great the neck feels. Jim calls this neck profile the ".915 Stubby". It starts at .915 at the first fret with a soft V shape and merges to 1.0 at the octave with a full C shape. Made of maple and topped with a Madagascar rosewood fingerboard fretted with stainless steel frets, bends and vibrato on this neck are effortless and super smooth… in part due to the extra fat profile giving your hand more leverage, and in part due to the ultra slinkiness of the stainless steel frets. Soloway necks are finished with a "thin skin" nitrocellulose satin finish, while the bodies are finished in what Jim describes as "the thinnest possible" coating of polyurethane. All Soloway necks are fitted with beautifully made bone nuts and gorgeous, hand-crafted truss rod covers with inlaid logo (mine is made from sycamore.)

Another thing you immediately notice is how light these guitars are. My Gosling weighs in at a feather-light 6.7 lbs! All of the guitars I demo'ed that day felt just as light. Jim is adamant about building light weight instruments after years of torturing his own lower back gigging heavy guitars. And despite the low weight, the timbre and sustain of these guitars is off the chart! Not even my heavy Les Pauls can keep up.

Jim uses great hardware on his guitars. My Gosling is fitted with a Hipshot fixed bridge with Strat-style bridge saddles, some cool modern metal knobs with rubber gaskets fitted on them for easy gripping and some awesome open-back (yes, open-back!) locking Hipshot tuners. The guitar feels solid and stays in tune beautifully.

Plugged into my favorite Kingsley ToneBaron boutique amp rig, the Gosling just blew me away. It is by far the clearest, most articulate guitar in my collection. While I was easily able to get all the basic rock, shred, jazz and blues tones from it I can definitely see this guitar becoming my main go-to instrument for fusion stuff. This particular build sports a DiMarzio 36th Anniversary PAF humbucker in the bridge position and a custom wound DiMarzio Firebird mini-humbucker in the neck (that was actually made for Jim by Larry DiMarzio himself). The electronics are wired with a 3-way selector switch, master volume and a push-pull tone pot that (when up) puts the pickups in series mode and (when down) puts them in the standard parallel mode. Pulling the push-pull knob up and engaging the series mode fattens up the tone so much that the bridge pickup practically sounds like a neck pickup. Couple this with the tone knob itself and different volume knob settings and a stunning plethora of sounds are available at your finger tips. With the Kingsley cranked under full distortion and the neck position in parallel mode with the volume rolled most of the way down, it was very easy to get a bright, Strat-like chime. There's almost nothing this guitar can't do!

So... fit and finish perfect, great sound, plays like buttah and looks stunning. I think I've found a keeper! If you are curious about Soloway guitars, go to the website and check out the gallery. If you're serious, you can contact Jim for a "test drive". I warn you, though-- if you try one you'll almost certainly be buying, so be prepared to spend your money before you try. :)