Quantcast Ryan's Guitars: 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Malmsteen Strats Get Callaham Bridges

My last post stated that I had no other mods planned for my Sonic Blue Malmsteen Strat, but that changed once I decided to take the plunge and order a couple of Callaham Strat tremolo replacements. I had heard of Callaham guitar parts (especially their Strat trems) for years but for one reason or another I never got around to buying one to try out. Now that I am much more handy with guitar repair and modification I am able to do simple things like swapping a bridge out without a problem, which makes it much easier (and cheaper) to try different things to see if they really do improve the instrument.

All I can say about this product is WOW! What an incredible difference in tone from the original bridge. Callaham bridge parts are all machined by hand in-house and are made from quality cold rolled steel and other alloys that truly enhance the tone and vibration transfer from the strings to the guitar. The quality is quite apparent when handling the trem itself. All the screws fit snugly and thread in effortlessly... it is easy to tell the metal and machining is of higher quality than the standard Fender fare (even all the screws supplied with the bridge kit are made of hardened steel with heads that are much less likely to strip out; which, by today's standards, is quite rare and wonderful!).

I immediately heard the difference in both the plugged in and unplugged tone of the guitar. The overall tone is brighter and much louder than before. Definitely more musical and richer. Unplugged the guitar is perhaps 30% louder than before, and plugged in it has a longer natural sustain and a gorgeous "classic Strat" tone that has equal parts "spank" and "fatness".

A big problem with Malmsteen Strats (and many other Fender Start models) is the wide string spacing of the vintage tremolo combined with overly dressed fret ends. The low and high E strings tend to slip off the edge of the neck when playing. Very annoying! Well, I solved this by ordering the Callaham replacement bridges with vintage 2 7/32" (56mm) mount spacing but with the narrow 2 1/16" string spacing (normally found on modern, two-point Fender trems). This helped bring the E strings back from the edge... the guitar now plays like normal with zero slippage! I couldn't be happier with the result.

I cannot say enough good things about this product. I bought two of these and I will soon be converting my Vintage White Malmsteen over to the Callaham. I have also learned of a cool kit that Callaham makes to convert two point modern Strat trems over to the vintage six-point style. I will definitely be converting my '04 Deluxe Strat to a Callaham vintage Strat trem as soon as my funds allow! :)

I give these bridges my highest rating!!!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Guitar!! Yngwie Malmsteen Sonic Blue Stratocaster

Yes! I finally got one of my favorite Strat colors, Sonic Blue, and on one of my favorite Strat models, the Yngwie Malmsteen signature Stratocaster. I have wanted a Sonic Blue Malmsteen Strat for a while now so when I came across this one I jumped on it. Unfortunately, I had to trade my Custom Shop '60 Relic Strat for it (I also got some cash in addition), but so far I can report that it was well worth it. I loved the Relic Strat but the tone was just too thin and harsh for my taste (even despite trying different pickups), so I decided to move it.

This American made Malmsteen is a 2001 make with a maple fretboard, nice deep scallops and the usual huge fretwire (Dunlop 6000, I believe). It is identical in every way to my '05 Vintage White Malmsteen, but I believe the fit and finish to be a tad bit better on this one. The really awesome thing about this guitar is that despite being 7 years old, it's brand new. And I mean brand new! This particular specimen was bought by the previous owner to collect so it has never been played, has all the hang tags on it and the cellophane pickguard protector still applied. Even the trem arm sticker dot that keeps the arm spring from falling out hadn't been removed. This guitar is factory mint.

I have a new set of pickups currently on order for it. Since I am now in a band (and especially since I plan to gig this guitar) I have to be able to get a certain type of tone from my instruments that compliments the music that we play. In the case of Stratocasters, I usually prefer having a humbucker in the bridge position and a couple of good, high-output, fat-sounding single coils in the middle and neck positions (nothing too ice pickish). My favorite set for a Strat at the moment (and the set currently in my '05 Malmsteen) are: the DiMarzio Fast Track 2 single coiled sized humbucker (bridge) and two DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Blues single coils in the middle and neck positions. I also install a treble bleed on the volume knob potentiometer so that the tone stays nice and crisp as the volume is rolled off on the guitar.

Other than pickups, I plan to install an off-white pickguard to replace the mint-green one currently on it. The off-white color is the most typical pickguard seen on Yngwie's guitars. Also, with the creme pickup covers I have on order the contrast between the off-white guard and the creme covers will look cool and have a vintage vibe. At the moment, no other mods for this guitar are planned (other than Schaller strap locks).

The neck is a fine piece of craftsmanship. It is very level with an easy adjusting truss rod and it feels and plays beautifully with minimal to no buzzing anywhere on the neck. The brass nut is superbly cut and the bridge parts are the typical Fender steel vintage trem fare. Should be easily whipped into shape and made playable in no time. I can't wait to get it broken in so I can start gigging with it! I can definitely say that I am very pleased with this acquisition.

Monday, November 03, 2008

New Pickups in R9 Les Paul

Ever since I had my R9 Les Paul I have had a problem with the pickups being too microphonic for high gain, high volume amps. Some time ago I also changed the pickups in my R7 Les Paul for the same reason (in that case I replaced the OEM pups with a Duncan Jazz and a Duncan JB, neck and bridge respectively).

I wanted to try something a little more "special" in my R9 since I really did like the sound of the stock BurstBuckers that it came with. So, during my "Great Acquision" :) I scored an assortment of WCR pickups at great prices. Two of them happened to be exactly what I was looking for to put in my R9... a double cream WCR Goodwood (bridge) and a double cream WCR Crossroads (neck). This is the "American Steele" combo set as seen on the WCR website.

I love the sound of these pickups in my R9. They have a lively, harmonically rich tone and are very responsive to input. The output is in the lower range, as you would expect from a PAF clone, so they are both very open and woody sounding... but with plenty of high-end "spank" that helps tame some of the dark muddiness that a mahogany body can produce.

Finally, I added a cool lightning bolt strap; which, with the double cream pickups, completes the Ace Frehley look. :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yngwie Malmsteen Show at the Cannery, Nashville TN

I attended the Yngwie Malmsteen show at the Cannery in Nashville, TN last night with my wife. We had a great time, and it was my first time to ever see Yngwie perform live. What an experience! First off, it was loud as hell... and since I knew he has a reputation for playing extremely loud I thought to bring ear plugs for us both. That turned out to be a smart move. :)

Being a huge fan it was great to hear many of the classic Malmsteen cuts such as "I'll See the Light Tonight", "I Am a Viking" and "Far Beyond the Sun". Of course, the show was in support of his new album "Perpetual Flame" with vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens. Owens is an amazing talent and was able to easily handle the vintage Malmsteen material, as well as belt out the new stuff like the record. Yngwie burned up the fretboard as usual... the guy hasn't lost a thing. And his tone was amazing!

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken during the show.

I'll definitely be attending the next show when comes back through the area.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bought & Sold New Gear - eBay and The Gear Page

Well, I kind of went nuts! :) I decided to sell a bunch of stuff that I hadn't been playing much in order to invest in some good equipment that I'll enjoy more and some stuff that I can sell later when the market is back up (whenever that happens!).

I decided to sell the Gretsch Power Jet, the Ibanez JPM P100, the Ibanez 20th RG, the Ibanez 7 string and my Peavey Wolfgang. These were tough to let go, but I really was not playing these guitars as often I as should have to justify keeping them in the collection. I got some pretty decent money for them on eBay, so it wasn't a total loss. I also sold the PAF Pro (hot pink) pickups in the 20th RG separately (plus several more sets of pickups), some other miscellaneous stuff like a drum machine, some acoustic strings and a bunch of assorted audio and instrument cables.

With the proceeds from all these sales I have acquired:

Two Rock 2x12 open-back cabinet fully loaded with TR 65-16 speakers. I scored this cab on the Gear Page for $400 which included speakers and shipping. This was an incredible deal and since it is slightly more worn than my other recently acquired TR 2x12 cab I shall use this one for gigs. It is a little larger than my first one (by one cubic inch) and I can really hear it in the low end. Great sounding cabinet!!

Two Rock 1x12 open-back cabinet, without speaker. I picked this little cab up to use at our rehearsal space with the band. I bought a used Eminence Red White & Blues speaker for it and I couldn't be happier! It is a perfect rehearsal solution and I also get to leave it at our space, so that is one less thing for me to carry. The overall sound is darker than my 2x12 Two Rock cabs, which I think is due mostly to the RW&Bs speaker. Sounds great, though!

Fuchs Mini open-back 1x12 cab (w/Scumback H75-LHDC speaker). Now this was a incredible find for the price... I paid $350 for the cabinet with Scumback speaker and shipping. What a deal! This cabinet and speaker combo simply sound amazing. Due to the low load handling of the speaker (it is only a 60 watt) I must be careful what I hook it up to and how loud I play on it because it would very easily blow if pushed too hard. I plan to use the Mini mostly for recording and light gigs. This thing is tiny, and as such it will make a wonderful cabinet for low-volume gigs.

Fuchs ODS 30 amp! This amp is absolutely awesome sounding. I still prefer my Kingsley, but I must say that the Fuchs ODS line is just stunning and if I weren't such a fan of my Kingsley ToneBaron I'd be a Fuchs player, no doubt about it. This is the Dumble tone at its best! Gorgeous note bloom on the OD channel and shimmery, sparkling cleans on the clean channel. Fantastic amp!

Carol Ann OD 100 amp. I finally got one of the legendary Carol Ann amps that I have been curious about for so long. Unfortunately, this particular specimen doesn't have the gain voicing I like (high gain)... so it comes up a bit short on the OD side for me. However, that can easily be fixed if I send her in to Alan at Carol Ann amps for a simple mod. I just might have to do that. I can report that the cleans are gorgeous and it takes a pedal really well.

Furman Power Factor Pro Power Conditioner. I just stumbled across this thing while looking for deals on the Gear Page. At first I was a bit skeptical as I began to read more about it, since Furman claims a noticeable tone improvement just by plugging your amp into it. The hype is real. I A/B tested it on my Kingsley with my wife in the room and even she heard the difference in tone between wall socket power alone and Furman conditioned power. This thing uses capacitors to ensure that your amp is getting a constant flow of the correct voltage of electricity, no matter how bad the current may be in a given room. It really does work! If your amp is starved for power it won't sound its best, and if you are drawing too much power damage can occur. Surge protection and protection from insufficient power... the perfect solution. If you have an expensive amp and gig it a lot, I would highly recommend one of these.

Gibson Explorer Pro w/case. This was a nice grab for $900 total (with shipping). A practically unplayed Explorer Pro with case and a nice DiMarzio cliplock strap thrown in! It plays and sounds great. I love the cherry mahogany finish and the neck and board feel great.

Assorted WCR handmade pickups. Last, but not least I grabbed a bunch of WCR pickups for a good price for my Les Pauls and other guitars. These are very popular boutique handwound pickups from California. Great stuff!

Well, that is it for the used gear sale/buying spree! It was fun and I got a bunch of nice stuff in return for selling mostly "so-so" decent stuff... I think I made out pretty good!

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Gig with my Band!

My new band, the "New Originals", had its first gig at a small sports bar called RJ's in Millington, TN last night. It was a really cool experience and lots of fun to finally get out there and play the material we've worked so hard on over the last several months.

The crowd was small but I was still fairly nervous because I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't gotten up in front of a crowd like that with a band since high school. :) To make matters worse, we had an unexpected celebrity guest in the audience... none other than Eric Gales! It was really tough to get up there and play lead guitar in front of someone like Eric, to say the least. Somehow I managed to get through the first few numbers and my nerves began to settle.

Other than vocals being a little too low in the mix for the crowd to hear, and despite playing a bit too loud overall (we were asked to turn down a couple of times), I think the audience was fairly impressed with us in the end. We fully expected to have some technical issues (both in our playing as well as with our overall sound)... after all, it was our first gig. We learned a lot from the experience and I am certain we'll be much better next time. I had so much fun and I can't wait to do it again!

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Gear!!! Fractal Audio Axe-FX Ultra

I got in a Fractal Audio Axe-FX today and had a chance to play with it this afternoon. I am very impressed. This is easily the best sounding modeler I've ever encountered and certainly the best built, most powerful processing unit of its kind on the market.

Interface-wise it is very intuitive and easy to program... but also very deep. Tweak haters beware, there are lots of tweakable facets to each parameter on this thing and you could easily burn a week's worth of playing time fine tuning a single patch. :)

In terms of overall sound I have found I like the unit much better when used as a digital preamp running into a power amp that pushes a real guitar cabinet. Setup this way it is pretty much indistinguishable from a real amp. However, it does need a power amp to function this way... and a tube power amp to really get the feel I'm looking for.

Great unit, well built and you get a new update to the software every two days. :) Great buy if your thing is tweaking and you like tons of paradigm-shifting updates on a regular basis. If you don't like MIDI then you'll probably want to stay away until the next generation comes out sporting some USB or Firewire connections... currently the only way to update the machine and run the optional footswitch is via old-school MIDI apps and hardware.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Willie Mitchell's Recording Studio with Chris Arena

I had the opportunity to accompany a friend of mine, Chris Arena, into the studios at Ardent and Audio Garden for a couple of weeks to help him record his album. Chris used several select pieces of gear from my collection on the record and it was a real pleasure for me to be a part of it. The main amp used for electric guitar parts on the album was my Kingsley ToneBaron head into my Two Rock 2x12 cabinet. I also lent a few of my guitars to the production. Some of the guitars used were my R9 Les Paul, Custom Shop 1960 Strat, Deluxe Tele and James Tyler Strat. The guys of Audio Garden, Mike Wilson and Jason Gillespie, are the very talented duo that coaxed some amazing tones from that gear (and the players, as well!).

The real treat, however, was getting to visit Willie Mitchell's studio for horn parts. Willie Mitchell has arranged and recorded horn parts for lots of famous musicians such as Al Green and, more recently, John Mayer. It was a real treat to see a master like this at work. We all had a great time!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Pedal!! Korg Pitchblack Tuner

Just picked up a great tuner pedal called the Korg PitchBlack. It is true bypass with a fantastic led indicator that is easy to read and see. There are multiple tuning patterns available including strobe. Great accuracy and very well built... and it's a cool black color!

I have had great success with this pedal so far. Check it out if you get the chance!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Groove Tubes Solid State Rectifier for Kingsley ToneBaron

After acquiring the Two Rock 2x12 cabinet for my Kingsley ToneBaron and then fixing the intermittent radio reception the amp was picking up, there was only one thing left I wanted to "improve" upon: SAG.

The ToneBaron has a beautiful tube sag feel to it which makes it perfectly suitable for blues and even some faster linear Jazz runs, but pulling off snappier, super fast “shred” licks is made more difficult because of this sag effect. Since the ToneBaron is a tube rectified amplifier, it was easy to convert it over to solid state rectification using the Groove Tubes solid state rectifier plug in place of the 5AR4 rectifier tube that came in the amp. The SS plug lowers the sag effect significantly and increases the amp's response time to the signal coming from the guitar.

What exactly is a rectifier and what does it do? Well the short answer is this: a rectifier converts the AC (Alternating Current) from the wall socket to DC (Direct Current) which electronic circuits need in order to operate correctly. Batteries also provide DC current, by the way, and is what the typical guitar pedal, handheld gadget and/or children's toy uses for power as well. So, when a tube rectifier is used in an amp as the sole converter of AC power to DC power there can be small current drops to the amp's internal circuits when the amp is taxed by digging in more on the guitar or by playing the amplifier loud. The rectifier tube works harder to keep up with the increased voltage demand by the amp which lowers impedance causing a natural compression in the sound (this compression effect is referred to as “sag”). This compression, or sag effect, can also make the amp feel more sluggish to the player and, therefore, make faster licks more difficult to pull off. It feels kind of like attempting to run in deep, soft sand. A solid state rectifier, on the other hand, is built with semiconductors and has a lighting fast response which introduces little to no sag when the amp requires more power. This, as you might expect, produces a "quicker" feel when playing faster licks and riffs.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to tube sag. Whether or not more or less of it is desirable is totally up to the individual player and his or her style. I personally like some tube sag in my sound and the Kingsley ToneBaron still has plenty of it despite my replacing the tube rectifier with a solid state plug. By using the solid state rectifier plug the amp’s response to input has increased significantly and I am able to play faster licks now while retaining the tone I like from the amp and getting the response I need in order to play my style.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

RF Mod for Kingsley ToneBaron

Ever since I started playing tube amps I have noticed a problem with radio reception here in Memphis with different, random equipment. Not sure what the cause is, but it certainly seems to have something to do with this location because plenty of other locals I've talked to have had similar issues. It doesn't happen with every single amp or pedal, but there is no denying that the potential for radio reception in audio equipment is definitely high in Memphis, TN.

Unfortunately, I was picking up a strong radio reception on my new Kingsley amp and it was distressing. At volume and with copious amounts of gain (which is how I play most of the time) the signal was clear and loud. The station? Kix 106, the Mid-South's #1 Country music station. :)

Behold, the "RF mod"! I had to do something to get that twangy country stuff out of my amp! :) I am a rocker, after all, and I can't chicken-pick so there was no use trying to play along. I got this mod off the Gear Page message board from a post made by Randall Aiken of Aiken amps, a great line of amps in the Marshall vein. He suggests trying this mod if your amp is receiving radio signals only when the guitar cord is plugged in. This usually means your cord is acting as an antenna and that it is less likely that something more internal in the amp is the cause. If you're going to suffer from RF problems, this is the best variant to have because it is totally reversible and very easy to fix.

All you have to do is open up the amp, solder one lead of a .01 mF capacitor to the ground (sleeve) lug or the tip lug of your input jack and the other lead to the chassis of the amp.

(See photo left, note green capacitor soldered to the input jack)

Problem eliminated. And I mean completely eliminated as in zero radio signal heard at any volume. Basically what is happening is the amp is still picking up the radio station, but before it can pass through the cable jack and into the signal path, the capacitor "grabs" the transmission and sends it off to the chassis where it can cause no harm. Pretty cool.

Best of all, the mod costs only a few dollars and you can easily find these caps at your local Radio Shack or similar electronics store.

Monday, May 05, 2008

New Cabinet!! Two Rock 2x12

I love my Kingsley ToneBaron amp, no doubt about it. However, I was having some doubts as to whether the tone I was getting out of it was really something I liked. Since, at the time I took possession of the amp, my only cabinet was my Bogner Over-Sized closed-back 2x12, I had only experienced the ToneBaron through that cab. Big mistake. The ToneBaron seems to require an open-back cabinet in order to sound the way it was intended (after all, Kingsley amps are built and tuned with open-back cabs).

Enter, the Two Rock 2x12. ;)

My buddy and band mate, Doug, has a lovely collection of amps and cabs and is always looking to flip gear for something else. When I met Doug it was at the local Guitar Center and he was looking to trade some amps and cabinets for some other gear... and he just happened to have this particular open-back Two Rock 2x12 with him. I liked the sound of this cabinet from the instant I played it and never forgot about it. So some time after I joined Doug's band I remembered the Two Rock cab and inquired about it (luckily he still had it). I wondered if my Kingsley might sound better through it than my Bogner cab. Doug offered to let me take it home and play it for as long as I wanted to make sure I liked it. And boy do I like it. :)

This is an older model open-back Two Rock vertical 2x12 cabinet, with two (Eminence made) "K&M 65-16" 12 inch speakers at 16 Ohms running in parallel for a total load of 8 Ohms. These particular speakers are said to basically be the same as the Eminence "Red White & Blues" speaker model. They have a fat, round sound with notched upper mids to keep fizz and harshness to a minimum. This is a great sounding cabinet. My Kingsley instantly lost all the fizziness and artifacting that was present on the Bogner cabinet, and the notes got fatter, juicer and more sustainful. The problem with a closed-back cabinet like the Bogner is that the notes are "choked off" by the sealed back design... they never have the chance to sustain and decay. On an open-back cabinet like the Two Rock you get a much more three-dimensional, widely dispersed and less directional tone with notes that ring out and sustain due to the speaker cone being able to vibrate to its full potential. The quick response and low-end of the Bogner 2x12 is great for fast, chunking metal rhythms but not so much for liquidy, searing leads on a Les Paul. The Bogner sounds great, but I think it will sound even better as an open-back cab. I have a spare back panel for this cabinet that I plan to cut to convert it to an open-back cab. Can't wait to hear it this way!

So I finally got to hear my ToneBaron on a cabinet that is much closer to what the builder originally designed the amp around. I have decided to purchase this cabinet from Doug, and I am happy I found it. My Boogie sounds great on it, too! And it is much easier to carry around due to its smaller size and low weight. This was an excellent find and a good purchase.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Boogie Mark III Retubed (again)

Well, I just can't leave well enough alone I guess. ;) I had been doing some research into Mesa Boogie's non-adjustable fixed biasing and realized that the JJ power tubes I bought were not likely even close to what the fixed bias would be for a Boogie Mark III. So after looking around a bit I came upon Doug from dougstubes.com. He has a reputation for really testing his tubes thoroughly with top notch, high-end equipment so you know you're getting good matched sets and power tubes that fall within a certain range of bias.

Doug also happens to have a nice preamp tube "recipe" for Boogie Mark III's. Very cool! So I called him up and he recommended this specific mix of 12ax7 tubes, in order starting with V1:

- Tung Sol 12ax7
- Mullard 12ax7
- Penta 12ax7
- Shuguang 12ax7 9th gen. (V4 - reverb)
- Sovtek LPS 12ax7

According to Doug, the JJ 12ax7 preamp tubes I had in every position before are too harsh for this amp, particularly the V1 position. The Tung Sol is a current favorite for the V1 position in many amps (my Kingsley also came with a Tung Sol in V1). It really did help smooth out the tone and reduce the harshness I was getting from the JJ.

And for the power section Doug recommends a matched quad of SED "Winged C's" that were tested and verified for the Mesa Boogie bias range.

The result of all this? A much more balanced tone with sweeter, softer clipping on both gain channels. Warmer cleans and a much warmer, pleasant sounding tone overall. This tube recipe took a great sounding amp off the charts and turned it into a true tone machine. Got a Boogie? Well, I recommend to you talk to Doug. ;)