Yamaha GC172SF "Bianca"

Satin finish, flamenco-style classical guitar. Sounds great, records well, very happy with this one. One day, if I get really excited about playing flamenco, I may find I need something higher quality, but for now, this satisfies.

New Amplifier

The AudioSource AMP100 recently experienced a 50% price cut in my "save for later" shopping cart on Amazon, so I took advantage and purchased:

It replaces the old Dick Smith Electronics kitset amplifier that a) runs on 240 V and b) was starting to crackle. One nice thing about the AMP100 is that it has an A-B speaker switch on the front, which allows me to switch between my Behringer TRUTH 2031P monitors, and a pair of Boston Acoustic bookshelf speakers.

Next step: Obtaining an SPL meter and calibrating the room for K-System monitoring.

Gibson L6-S Deluxe

Serial# 968739

The annual Marin County Guitar Fair was held in January. This was the second year in a row that we've gone along to see what's on offer. Not with any intention of buying or selling, of course, but just to admire the work of local luthiers and to maybe catch a glimpse of a genuine '53 blackguard tele, or similar.

Last year I joked to Lisa that there were only two possible models of guitar that we might find that would put me in a "difficult position", one of which is the Gibson ES-Artist, as played by Steve Howe on all Asia albums in which he contributes; and a Gibson L6-S Deluxe, as played by this guy shown on the right.

That model of guitar is all over Oldfield's albums, from Incantations to QE2, and specifically the '79 live concerts exemplified by the Exposed film and album.

Oldfield's playing has a particular tone and quality on these albums that I covet, and it was always tempting to think that the guitar was partially responsible. I've kind of always wanted one.

Last year I remember seeing a related model, a black L6-S Custom but it didn't pique my interest at all.

This year, the real thing showed up.

After a couple of seconds careful thought*, it came home with me. 

According to Wikipedia, Gibson only made 3500 of these models, from 1975 to 1980. They are not really considered collectable by guitar experts - at least, not currently - and so prices vary. I consider this particular purchase to be good value, while "true collectors" who wet themselves over $30,000 blackguard teles and 50's Les Pauls probably haven't even heard of the L6-S, and might think it too much to pay for an old, "unknown" Gibson.

The body shape is somewhat unique. It looks like a classic Les Paul that has been left out in the sun: Thinner and "spread out". I like to think of it as a cross between a thin Gibson SG and the Les Paul profile. Also unusual is it has 24 frets, with a thin neck joint and body cut-away making runs up the fretboard a breeze.

I think the pickups are designed by Bill Lawrence - they were on the original L6-S but the Deluxe model could be using something different. Either way, I know they are factory-original**, along with the guitar case.

Both the guitar case and guitar smelled rather musty, but after I brought the guitar home, I have been airing the case out in the sun, and I stripped the guitar down and cleaned off all the accumulated gunk from the hardware and rubbed the body down with Murphy's Oil Soap. Now it has a pleasant, vintage wood aroma.

To celebrate the addition of this first "vintage" instrument to my collection, I spent some time recording some excerpts of my favorite Oldfield tracks with the L6-S.

The first thing I noticed is that this guitar is BRIGHT. Very trebly, not at all Les Paulish at all, despite the humbuckers. Secondly, the guitar is seriously resonant. Play almost  any note on the high E string above the 12th fret and you can hear various harmonics on the other open strings singing along. Also, the pickups are very microphonic, reproducing clicks, and pick noise, and even my cursing at duff notes. I think these factors contribute to the tone of the instrument and do explain some of what you can hear in the Exposed recordings. The "honk" of this guitar is definitely present on the Oldfield albums.

So here's my attempts:

First Excursion (excerpt) 

I don't have an amplifier, so I couldn't try and replicate that wonderful sustained feedback on the original version of First Excursion.

 Incantations Part 3 (excerpt) 

 QE 2 (excerpt) 

These were all recorded with the same settings on the L6-S: bridge pickup with the treble control rolled all the way off.

(*) Actually, I went back the following day and bought it.

(**) Often, owners will swap out the factory-original pickups and put in their favorite brand of humbucker. When considering a vintage guitar purchase, it's always better to have the original components.

Fender Telecaster

Serial# MZ9547881

OK, So this year I got a craving for one of these, and I don't know why. Perhaps it was retroactive craving, because now that I have one, I'm loving it and wouldn't want to do without it. I've used it on every track I've worked on since it arrived, bullying its way into the studio and pushing the other electric guitars aside.

I have replaced the tuners with Steinberg Gearless ones, partly because I've always wanted to try them, and partly because the stock tuners were probably the weakest component out of the box. Tuning the guitar up didn't feel as solid and reliable as I felt it should be. Also - the black tuners are sexier than the old chrome ones. 

XLN Audio Addictive Drums VST

This virtual instrument really kicked my drum tracks up a notch. There are other products out there that are comparable, but this one hit a nice price point for me. Recommended.

Cakewalk SONAR 8

Not much to say about this. I've been using Cakewalk Windows-based sequencers and audio recorders for 15 years. Upgraded with goodies and new features almost every year, never begrudged the upgrade tax. SONAR 8 is pretty much perfect. Check out the user forum, it's an excellent resource.

Cakewalk Dimension Pro

Dimension Pro was Cakewalk's flagship virtual synthesizer for a few years, at least until Rapture came out*. Dimension LE was bundled with SONAR 7, but I didn't really use it seriously until the "pro" version was bundled with the SONAR 8 Producer upgrade. It included an impressive sound library, particularly some wonderful string section patches which I've started to use.

* Now Rapture LE is bundled with SONAR 8.5. I detect a trend.

TruePianos VST

Until recently, the two front runners in the virtual piano race were TruePianos and Modartt PianoTeq. TruePianos was slightly more affordable and was generally thought to be more playable and realistic, while Pianoteq, although an impressively flexible and powerful piano model, suffered from artificial overtones. Since Version 3 of Pianoteq, this is no longer true, in my opinion. Pianoteq has seen some impressive upgrades and options and is definitely worth the additional expense.

However, I've stuck with TruePianos. It's still a very inspirational virtual instrument.

Digitech GSP21 FX Processor

Serial# 288889

Ah, my trusty multi-effects unit. I can't remember where or when I purchased this but it was my main guitar FX for years until I realised what the tube amp afficionados were on about. This has mediocre distortion and compression when compared to what's available these days, but in my opinion the delay and reverb algorithms are outstanding. I now run the fx loop out to my POD for compression and amplifier modelling duties.

I have the floor-board for this, but I don't use it since I accidently unplugged it while the power was on and it reset the patch memory. Disaster.

Line6 POD 2.0

 

Amplifier modelling is the best thing to happen to recording guitarists since the invention of the Floyd locking nut. In my opinion.

I have been unable to get a decent bass patch out of this thing, though. I know it's theoretically possible (albeit it is a guitar effect unit) and there are instructions on the Line 6 web site. I should try following them sometime.

This is one of the few pieces of equipment that made me scrap my existing recordings and rework them, this time with the lead and rhythm guitar using the POD. I didn't know what I'd been missing.