Posts about Guitars

Fender’s Tone Master Pro

Fender has announced the Tone Master Pro — a Fender-made amp and effects modeller that competes with Line 6’s Helix and the Fractal Axe-FX.

This feels like a big deal. Off the top of my head, I think this is the first modeller from an amp manufacturer. (Mesa doesn’t have a modeller. Marshall doesn’t have a modeller. Soldano doesn’t. Etc.) The modeller includes a ton of Fender amps, but it also includes standbys like the Boogie IIC+, the JCM800, the 5150, and more. 

Leon Todd, one of Youtube’s modeller masters, put up a forty-five minute demo of the product. The UX looks pretty good — turning the foot switches into twisty knobs is smart. I think the screens above each switch could be larger, but that’s a small quibble.

The most important thing is how it sounds, and it sounds fine. Comparing it to my Axe-FX seems almost unfair, but when I compare the two, the Tone Master Pro sounds like there’s a weight blanket over it. 

Listen to Leon’s demo of the JCM800. I’m not a huge JCM800 fan, but even I can tell you that’s not how a JCM800 sounds. This is how a JCM800 sounds if you threw a weighted blanket over top of it and mic’d it poorly.

Fender has a promo video you can check out too, and Mary Spender also made a video. I use my Axe-FX 99.9% of the time I play guitar now, and if anything, these demos have made its place in my rig even more permanent.

The New Les Paul Supremes

I somehow missed this week that Gibson announced the return of the Les Paul Supreme. Gibson didn’t put out a press release for this or anything (and they frankly have the worst website of any guitar company), but they did release this Youtube video.

Here are the key specs:

  • AAA figured maple top
  • One model with two pickups (Burstbucker Pros), and another with three pickups (all Burstbucker Pros). The model with three pickups is exclusively available on Gibson’s website, which seems like a terrible idea, given my aforementioned note about their website.
  • Ultra-modern weight relief
  • SlimTaper neck with a compound radius
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Push/​pull controls for coil tap, phase, and pure bypass modes
  • Starting at USD $3,999 (or $5,199 in Canada)

These are undeniably handsome instruments, but that is also an undeniably bananas price for a Les Paul. It’s also odd to me that they would make the most attractive model — the 3‑pickup variant — available exclusively through the Gibson website. I wonder how the dealers feel about this.

In regards to the push/​pull pots: these should be push/​push buttons. The black top hat control knobs on this thing have an indent on them already. If those indents were buttons, the controls would be substantially easier to use. Push/​pull pots are fiddly on stage. For $4,000 USD, these are the details I’d expect Gibson to sweat.

I also can’t figure out what differentiates the newly-announced Les Paul Supreme from the Les Paul Modern. Here are the key specs on that, and tell me if this looks familiar:

  • Maple top (not AAA, but solid paint in some classic colours, like Faded Pelham Blue, which is the best blue ever painted on a guitar)
  • Two Burstbucker Pro pickups
  • Ultra-modern weight relief
  • SlimTaper neck with a compound radius
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Push/​pull controls for coil tap, phase, and pure bypass moes
  • Starting at USD $2,999 (or $3,999 in Canada)

For about $1,000 less, you get the exact same guitar, minus the AAA maple top. It’s the same pickups, same push/​pull options, same weight relief, same neck, etc. The only difference is the visual aesthetics on that maple top.

I have no problem paying more for a nice finish. I own a Slash Les Paul because I preferred the AAA maple top to the normal Les Paul Standard’s. But the price difference there was just a couple hundred dollars. This is the first time in my memory that a AAA top from Gibson has ever been priced at $1,000.

The Marshall ST20H

I just read Darran Charles’ review of Marshall’s JTM45 reissue, the ST20H. It sounds to me like it’s pretty close to an exact clone of the Marshall’s first amp, with a couple minor improvements:

  • There’s a real effects loop now, which is a must-have for most players, but doesn’t hurt anybody who prefers not to have one. That’s great.
  • Instead of 45 watts of power like the original, the ST20H includes a 5 watt mode and a 20 watt mode.

The 5W and 20W modes had me a little curious, but here’s Darran:

There isn’t a great deal of difference in tone between the 5W and 20W settings, aside from the obvious increased headroom. We have to say though that even the 5W mode is barely usable at home volume levels, especially as we begin to push it into break-up. This amp is loud!

Truthfully, power wattage in a tube guitar amp doesn’t correlate to volume in a linear fashion, so this doesn’t surprise me. I prefer an amp with higher wattage because I find it makes the ramp-up from clean to dirty a little cleaner, so it’s a bit of a pity this doesn’t have a 45W mode.

The JTM45 is my favourite amp that Marshall ever made. I prefer it to Fender’s amps from the same time period too. If I were shopping around for a vintage-style amp today, I’d absolutely buy one of these.

Darran complains about the price of the ST20H in his piece, but I didn’t see it mentioned in the body of the article. In Canada, the ST20H is $1900 at our major retailers. In the US, it’s $1749, which is perhaps too close to our pricing, considering the exchange rate. Despite that, I think that’s a fair price for a boutique amp in 2023, considering how over-inflated prices are across the entire guitar industry.

The new PRS NF53 and Miles Kennedy signature guitars

Yesterday, PRS introduced two long-rumoured Telecaster-style guitars: the NF53 and the Miles Kennedy model.

The NF53, to my ears, is the better sounding instrument. The Nearfield pickups sound very much like the single coils they’re voiced after. PRS has said the guitar is based on a vintage 1953 instrument in Paul’s collection (read: Telecaster). There’s a clarity in this guitar’s sound that is pure and intoxicating. I’d love to trial one.

From other videos (see the Peach Guitars one below), this thing really starts to roar once it gets a bit of gain. It’s the classic Tele sound.

The Miles Kennedy model is extremely interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it sounds great for Miles’ needs in Alter Bridge, where he’s competing with Tremonti’s very beefy rhythm tone. The features are cool: a 5‑position pickup selector with split and humbucking sounds, as well as a push/​pull tone knob that PRS says cuts the high frequencies in half in pickup positions 2 – 5 for high-gain rhythm sounds.

To me, the MK model sounds a little closer to a Les Paul. Out of the gate, I’m not sure I’d want one, but it seems like their pitch is that this is a guitar that cuts in a mix in a band situation. So does a normal Telecaster, but clearly they’re pushing the MK towards those of us who would otherwise gravitate to a more traditional dual humbucker body. I’d love to try one.

That NF53, though… oh boy. 

As usual, Peach Guitars has put together a terrific demo of both instruments:

The elephant in the room is the price: in Canada, it’s $3900 for each instrument. That’s more than I paid for my Ultra Luxe Telecaster, which was laughably expensive.

What I learned from practicing guitar for 6 hours a day

When I was a teenager, I was a voracious guitar player. After school, I came home and practiced guitar. I have no memories of doing my home work, but I do remember plugging in and practicing. At one point, I realized I was playing, on average, about six hours a day.

Every Wednesday, I went to a guitar lesson with a private instructor. (I was fortunate to have parents who could afford that luxury.) Once a week, I went to band practice. Twice a week, I was in the basement studio my bandmates and I made to record basic demos. And every six weeks or so, we would play a show to a live audience at some dirty bar somewhere. 

Each show was about forty minutes or so, which was (in hindsight) a generous allotment for a high school rock band. Assuming my estimate of six hours a day was accurate (and I think it was pretty close), I would practice 252 hours for every forty-five minute show.

Here’s what I learned from all that practicing: The act of creation is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s the slow and steady toil of practice.

It’s much easier to write a song, or perform at a concert, if practicing your instrument is a daily habit.

I think we need to have the same attitude with our businesses. If we want them to be successful, we have to practice. I don’t mean that you need to publish something every day on your blog, or that you have to quit your day job and devote your days to your artisanal footwear company. (I didn’t drop out of high school, in case you were wondering.)

But you do need to practice your craft, whatever it is. If you’re a preacher, you need to witness. If you’re a writer, you need to write. If you’re a musician, you need to practice your scales.

It isn’t for the sake of perfection. I want to discourage you from expecting perfection of yourself. Nobody ever attends a perfect concert, and one of the football teams in a game has to lose.

But the team that practices is more likely to win in the long run, and more likely to learn from their mistakes.