Quantcast Ryan's Guitars: January 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: 20th Anniversary 2006 PRS Singelcut

I recently got to setup and spend some quality time with a friend's beautiful 20th Anniversary Black PRS Singlecut. This particular specimen has Kluson style "tulip" tuners, standard PRS nut, rosewood board (with birds), maple top, mahogany body, PRS wraparound bridge (with individually adjustable bridge saddles) and PRS 7 pickups (with factory installed electronics).

This guitar is pretty to look at. I really love the look of the natural body binding and, as usual, the guitar has that flawless PRS "dipped in plastic" finish with no imperfections to be found anywhere. The playing action is really good, with a solid neck feel and incredible upper fret access (way better than a comparable Les Paul). The neck is a full profile that feels really good without being too big for those with smaller hands. For those that are new to PRS, the 25" scale length can take some getting used to. If you are accustomed to the 25 1/2" Fender scale length, or the 24 3/4" Gibson scale length, a 25" scale can feel a bit strange with your favorite string gauge (either stiffer or spongier, depending on which scale length you are most comfortable with, Fender or Gibson).

The timbre of the guitar isn't quite Gibson Les Paul… it is a bit more refined with a more "rounded off" tone. Don't get me wrong, it sounds great, but not so much like a Les Paul to my ears. One annoying thing, though… on the four-control Les Paul style layout the volume controls are both located on top and the bridge volume is the rear knob. If you are used to playing Les Pauls this might have you accidentally turning your volume down or up at a gig, but since this is so easy to modify it certainly isn't a deal breaker. If it were my instrument I would definitely rewire the controls to the Les Paul configuration to eliminate any confusion when switching between different guitars.

I really like the tone of the PRS 7 pickups. They have a nice ring to them and are very articulate, allowing for good note separation even with lots of amplifier distortion. Not sure if it is the guitar's wood or the pickups that are lacking that high-end sizzle I like to hear in a good Les Paul, but it is definitely lacking. I'd say this guitar has more of it's own sound (which is certainly not a bad thing). One big plus is that the controls roll off beautifully and allow the guitar to clean up really well on a good, touch sensitive tube amp. Another awesome thing they did was to include a second nut (already pre-slotted) so years later when the old one is worn out you can just pop on the spare, file the slots to perfection and you're done. Nice touch!

I really dig this guitar. The only two things I did to it was to add a set of Schaller strap locks and re-glue the nut, which actually fell off the guitar once I removed the strings. I am not always super impressed when I pick up a PRS, but now and again I grab hold of one that really knocks me out… and this is one such example.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stopping Microphonic Squeals and Feedback on Covered Pickups

Thanks to Jim Wagner of WCR Pickups fame I have learned a great new technique for stopping microphonic squeals from pickups with metal covers. This won't work for pickups that are prone to microphonic squealing even without their covers... but if the cover is the culprit, I have the solution!

It has happened to me so many times. I'll buy a new guitar that has some great sounding (and looking) nickel, chrome or gold covered humbuckers that end up producing sharp, squealing feedback when played at gig volumes with moderate to high gain distortion (which usually forces me to remove the covers). I personally like the look of a covered humbucker, and there is no question that the cover also influences the sound of the pickup, as well. So if you have a nice VOS Les Paul, for example, and are looking for that classic PAF tone (and look) you'll definitely want to leave those covers on.

The cause of all this annoying feedback is actually micro-vibrations from the cover itself. You can test this by taking a pencil eraser and pushing down on the center of the cover while the pickup is feeding back. If the squealing stops, the cover is the definitely problem. So, what we need now is a permanent "pencil eraser" in contact with the cover to stop that vibration.

Jim's trick is super simple. Pick up some "poster putty", which goes by many different names (Handy Tack, Poster Tack, Scotch(R) Adhesive Putty, etc.). You don't need very much to stop the cover from moving, so one pack will definitely do. De-solder the cover from the pickup and remove it. Take a small amount of putty and then stretch flatten it into a thin ribbon about the size of a single pickup bobbin, but no more than the thickness of several pieces of paper. Apply this putty ribbon to the slug side on the inside of the cover. You can add some thin ribbons of putty to the sides of the cover, too, for good measure. Just be careful not to add too much or make the ribbons too thick... it will make for a poor fitting cover if you do.

I just recently put the cover back on a Seymour Duncan JB that resides in the bridge position of my James Tyler Classic Strat. I loved the look of this guitar with the chrome cover, but it suffered from sharp, uncontrollable squeals when played on a loud, distorted amplifier so the pickup cover was removed shortly after I acquired the guitar. The putty trick worked beautifully and now my Tyler is whole again!

Just remember to squeeze the cover and pickup together very tightly to spread the putty around inside and keep on squeezing hard to get the two pieces as close together as possible. Then just solder the cover and pickup together like normal, and you're done! Voila! No more squeals!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kingsley D32 Amplifier Gets RF Mod

I wrote about a great RF mod for my Kingsley ToneBaron some time ago. It seems that I live in an area where radio interference is quite high. My Kingsley Deluxe 32 amplifier I recently acquired also suffered from this issue. Luckily, this is an easy fix.

I had plenty of cheap .01 μμF capacitors left over from the last Radio Shack purchase I made to modify my ToneBaron amp. Like the ToneBaron, I used the washer from the closest mini-toggle switch to ground the cap to the chassis and I soldered the other lead of the cap to the T connector (tip) of the input jack. This works very well and virtually eliminates all the RF interference.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gibson R7 Black Beauty Les Paul Historic Gets New Electronics Kit and WCR Pickups

I recently posted about a lovely Gibson R7 Black Beauty Les Paul Historic I added to my growing collection of Les Pauls. This is a wonderful guitar that plays beautifully and has a great sound. Even just strumming around on it unplugged the tone is loud and rich. However, I have never been a big fan of stock Gibson electronics and the stuff in this guitar was especially bad. It just had to go!

Since I had some WCR pickups lying around (a Darkburst bridge and a Crossroads neck) that were not being used for anything it made perfect sense to pop them in. But, these particular pickups have double black bobbins and chrome screws and slugs. I knew I wanted to keep the gold hardware consistent on this guitar so I called Jim Wagner of WCR Pickups and inquired about gold screws and covers. Jim, who is a very nice and helpful guy, confirmed that they sold the gold parts I needed and assured me that installing new screws in the pickups was a safe operation that would not damage the internal windings. While I was ordering I decided to stray this once and try one of Jim's wiring kits instead of my usual favorite, the RS GuitarWorks Vintage kit.

Once the parts arrived I got to work installing the gold screws and covers on the WCR Darkburst and Crossroads pickups. Nothing could have been easier! The quality of materials that Jim uses in his pickups is quite evident once you start taking them apart. :) Nice thick, heavy bobbin plastic, high quality screws/slugs and heavy gauge lead wires are a big part of why his pickups are so good. Once I got the screws in I used some putty to dampen the covers before installing them on the pickups so they don't squeal when played on a high gain amplifier at volume. With the pickups ready, it was time to gut the old electronics and install the WCR kit.

I now build Les Paul kits outside the guitar using a piece of card board with holes punched in it to accommodate the potentiometers. This gives you free access to the parts when soldering and you don't burn your guitar in the process. :) Once I had as much of the harness wired up as possible on the cardboard I slipped it into the guitar and finished the job by wiring up the bridge ground, switch leads and the pickups to the harness. One thing I don't like about the WCR kit is the lack of switch, jack and wire. For about the same price as an RS GuitarWorks complete kit you don't get those extras. Something to keep in mind in the future, because this guitar probably could have used a better switch, jack and high quality braided wire. I'll likely put those things in at a later date.

Another thing I did on this guitar was to fix the bridge radius. Gibson never seems to get this right. A Les Paul has a 12" neck radius, but the string slots in the bridge saddles were not cut properly so the strings did not follow the curvature of the neck. Since the D string was the lowest I used it as a starting point and reslotted the other saddles to create a perfectly radiused bridge.

I have some locking Grover tuners on order, which will complete this gem. I love this guitar and the new electronics and pickups really do sound great. It's just classic Les Paul, through and through and it doesn't get any better than that!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Discovery!! Incredible Guitarist, Lawson Rollins

Since I was a kid I have always been fascinated with other cultures, geography, foreign language and world music. Even though I was a total metal head in high school I have always had a deep appreciation for Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi and all the other Classical Masters. This appreciation for other forms of music was further extended when I discovered Spanish guitar god, Paco De Lucia, as a teenager. From that moment on I was hooked on flamenco guitar. Once I began my foreign language studies in college I was listening to a variety of Latin and Latin-influenced artists such as the Gypsy Kings, Roberto Perera, Andres Segovia and Nestor Torres, to name a few. I have always been drawn to virtuosity in music and there is certainly no doubt that I owe that to the music scene of the '80s and the influence of Classical music and Spanish guitar.

This brings me to Lawson Rollins. I recently discovered this guy and all I can say is "Wow!". What an incredible player. Classically trained with a penchant for flamenco-inspired fiery runs, his right hand technique is truly something to behold... I've never quite seen a fingerstyle so effortless, clean and fast! I just finished listening to the album "Infinita", Lawson's 2008 solo release, and found it quite relaxing and smooth with some really impressive playing. I would describe it as a "world-music Jazz album".

According to Rollins' biography, he is originally from North Carolina and began studying music at an early age. "After studying piano and violin, he took up the drums at age 8, but it was at age 15 when he heard a recording of Andres Segovia performing music of the great Spanish composers that he switched his full attention to the guitar."

Check out this video to gain an appreciation for just how good of a guitarist and musician Rollins is:

I haven't heard the new album yet, but suspect that I am going to like it. According to a press release: "Espirito, Rollins’ second solo effort (out on January 19, 2010), is a suite that extends and expands the vision of Infinita with thirteen compositions that delve deep into the roots of world music. This time he’s added biguine, reggae, son, and swing rhythms to an approach already heavy with intimations of Spain, India, Persia, and the Arab world." It is now available for purchase or digital download on Amazon: Lawson Rollins - Espirito

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Review!! Guitars, A Celebration of Pure Mojo by David Schiller

This is my first book review on this blog, but I can think of no better book to be the first than "Guitars, A Celebration of Pure Mojo". Before diving into it, I wasn't sure how much I was going to like this little tome (it only measures 4"x6"!). However, my concerns vanished quickly as I began to read it. I was particularly impressed and delighted by the physical quality of the book and richness of the imagery, as well as the fantastic information on a stunning variety of guitars and guitar related topics. This book is now new my quick reference guide for guitar trivia. :)

An example of one particularly interesting topic is on Niccolo Paganini (photo, left). Schiller writes that Paganini was not only a virtuoso violinist but also a very gifted guitarist (something I did not know). Supposedly so good that listeners could not determine which instrument he excelled at the most, violin or guitar! Schiller also writes that "Today, scientists speculate that he suffered from Ehlers-Danos Syndrome, which produces hypermobile joints, allowing his long, rubbery fingers to reach everywhere on the fretboard." "Guitars" is chock full of intriguing information like this.

The sheer number of guitars covered (over 500!) and the interesting and informative facts given about each is enough to make this book worth owning, but add to it the artist spotlights and historical perspectives and you get something much more than just a guitar picture book. I can highly recommend "Guitars, A Celebration of Pure Mojo". If you play guitar, or are an enthusiast in the least, this is a book you must own! It is available on Amazon: Guitars, A Celebration of Pure Mojo

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

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Gibson VOS R9 Les Paul Gets RS GuitarWorks Vintage Kit Installed

This is the first post of 2010, so Happy New Year! This past weekend I put an RS GuitarWorks vintage complete kit in my '07 R9 VOS Les Paul. I had previously installed a pair of double-creme WCR pickups (Goodwood bridge, Crossroads neck) in this particular guitar, but I had not yet upgraded the electronics. It was a success! This has always been one of my favorite guitars, and not just due to awesome playability and gorgeous esthetics, but also due to its great tone. This kit coupled with the WCR pickups make this guitar sound even better then ever.

The kit install went smoothly, especially now that I've done several of these Les Paul kit installs lately. I immediately noticed a clearer, more articulate tone when plugging in for the first time after the install. The vintage kit seems to have helped roll off upper frequency harshness while retaining all the good, bright top-end that is necessary for great Les Paul tone.

The WCR Goodwood pickup is known for its perfect rolled off midrange, giving you plenty of spank without harshness plus great low-end response... perfect balance. This kit really helps this pickup shine in all its glory. Same goes for the WCR Crossroads pickup in the neck position. It has beautiful, thick and liquidy lead tones with just the perfect amount of top end "hair" on the notes; and both pickups clean up nicely thanks to the treble-bleed mod I am fond of using.

It is hard to believe that this guitar's tone could be improved upon, but the RS GuitarWorks kit did just that.