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September 2008
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November 2008

Life of a Rockstar: Bono & the Bikini Babes


Maybe life as a rockstar isn't so bad after all, at least according to these photos of Bono cavorting with bikini-clad students while on vacation in St Tropez, France.  But where's guitar player The Edge?  No doubt he's off practicing scales or testing out some new Line 6 gear.  Who wants to hang out with a bunch of underage girls anyways...

Cheapo Kustom KGA10 Practice Amp

I've written before about the various cheap electric guitars I've stashed at relatives houses around the country.  I've also bought several cheap practice amplifiers and I'm not particularly fussy about them.  They get used for a few hours a few times a year.  So I focused on getting something cheap, sturdy and portable.   The best thing is, used practice amplifiers are relatively easy to come by.  You can find them in just about any used gear shop and they typically sell for less than half the list price.

I have a Kustom KGA10 parked at my father-in-law's place near Detroit.  It's a basic 10 watt practice amp with volume, gain, voice and overdrive controls.  It sounds decent for clean tones and if you turn up the gain just a bit, you've got AC/DC worthy crunch.  Put it into Overdrive and youv'e got some pretty hard core tone.  The list price is around $100 and online they're usually under $80.  Not as cool or as loud as the Randall KH Kirk Hammett, but more likely to be found in a pawn shop for under $50.  Note: The KGA10 has been superceded by the Kustom Dart 10 with a 3 band equalizer and Dart 10FX which adds reverb and delay.  Available at Musician's Friend for around $60 and $80 respectively.

PalmGuitar: First Impressions


Regular readers know I've been obsessing about the perfect travel guitar lately. It's a tough category and there's probably no ideal travel guitar that will meet every guitar player's needs all the time. Instead, it's a category where you have to decide what compromises you're willing to live with (price, portability, scale, quality, ruggedness etc) and then pick your poison. Still, there's been a fair amount of innovation in travel guitars in the last ten years --we've come a long way from the Martin Backpacker!

Nonetheless, it was with some skepticism that I wandered over to PalmGuitar to see what they had on offer. Their early products were built from some custom alien super-duper graphite composite and priced accordingly. But earlier this year, PalmGuitar rolled out a new Version 2.0 model (as well as an even better 2.1 upgrade) which have put this on my short list of best possible travel guitar.

PalmGuitar's top guy Tim Richards sent me one of the new models to test out while on vacation in Mexico and I gotta say, this guitar is something special. I don't think the photos really do it justice. In fact, this is one of the first guitars I've had where my wife has said "it looks cool." And if you're trying to keep a balanced budget in your household that's an important consideration!

The Version 2.0 model is essentially the same compact, short scale (20.25") electric as the original, but instead of alien super-duper graphite, they've switched to some even better alien injection molded patented polyurethane composite nano-technology. I have no idea what that means. But the theory is it's a lot like wood in its density and resonance, but without the worries about warping due to temperature or humidity changes.

I've only had the PalmGuitar for a few days, so here's the quick summary: this is a drop dead gorgeous travel guitar that raises the game for everyone. The components are top notch (including Grover tuners, and a sweet coil tap humbucker) and it's absolutely rock solid due to its one piece construction. I don't know what the alien polywhatever stuff is, but this guitar plays great. Unlplugged there's a nice, rich tone owing to the use of heavier weight (.12 gauge) strings. So string bending is a bit more work, but nothing you can't get used to. And once it's plugged in, you get the flexibility of humbucker or single (split) coil sound. It's not going to sound exactly like a Strat, but it's a decent start, especially if you've got any kind of effects on a Pod or headphone amplifier.

As with any travel guitar, there are tradeoffs. The most notable of these is that the PalmGuitar is not a full scale 24.5" scale (Fender) or 25.5" scale (Gibson) guitar. Instead this uses the same scale as a kid's mini-Strat, a modest 20.25". I was initially skeptical that this would work, but I did take the time to go test out a mini-Strat on a few occasions, and at least for the first 11 frets, it's no big deal. As you get to fret 12 and beyond, the space between frets becomes quite compact. Overall for open chords, bar chords above the 10th fret and for most solos in the 12-16 fret it's no big deal. But this is not the guitar to be doing chords at the 20th fret. On the plus side, it makes stretching across chords in the first 12 frets a whole lot easier.

Personally, it took me about an hour to adjust to playing on the more compact scale. That's it. It's no worse than typing on a laptop computer, which I've been doing for 20 years anyways. But what you get is a high quality guitar that you'll take with you on the road. This guitar is small enough that you can play it in a coach airplane seat, on a train, a bus or in the backseat of a taxi. And there's no setup. Just pull it out of the better-than-expected padded case and you're good to go.

I'll try to write up a full review next week. Meanwhile, it's hot here in Mexico, the beer is cold and internet connectivity is sporadic. Not too good for blogging, but great for guitar playing!

Update: I've posted a full review online.

AC/DC No Bull Director's Cut


AC/DC reissued their 1996 "No Bull" concert DVD with a new "Director's Cut" to improve the audio and video quality.  While I haven't seen the original version, I was nonetheless a bit disappointed with this updated version. 

The video captures AC/DC on their massive "Ball Breaker" tour at the Plaza de Toros De Las Ventas in Madrid, Spain.  And therein lies the problem.  It's a large scale production with a massive inflatable Rosie, a wrecking ball and cannons, all meant to be visible in an arena for 25,000.  Unfortunately, director David Mallet spends almost as much time showing the arena and the audience as he does the band.  And when he does show the band, he's jumping to a new angle every 3 or 4 seconds. 

I get it.  It's a big audience and there's a lot of energy.  But I'd really much rather get to see the band members play then non-stop jump cuts.  Apparently this is less jumpy than the original. But to me it was an exercise in frustration.

The music is good including many of AC/DC's hits such as "Back in Black," "TNT," "Thunderstruck," "Hell's Bells" and more.  Malcom Young plays guitar like a man posessed, running from one end of the stage to the other, sweating up a storm and eventually stripping to the tune of "Boogie man." (See below).  Unfortunately Brian Johnson's voice is wearing thin even in the first few numbers.  And don't expect to see a whole lot of the rest of the band in this DVD.  They get slightly more footage than the road crew.

The DVD includes two extra tracks from the Ball Breaker tool.  If you're a hardcore AC/DC fan, you've probably already bought it from the web site.  Otherwise, you can pick it up from Walmart for $10.88 or catch it on the VH1 Classic Rock channel.  But if you really want to see the band close up, I'd recommend one of the other live DVDs available.

Canon Takes a Step Backwards with New G10


I've been using my trusty Canon G9 camera for about a year now.  It's a great compact point&shoot camera with a 6x zoom and decent VGA resolution video.  It's smaller than a full-blown DSLR, which means I don't mind carrying it around to gigs and I can hide it in my jacket or, ah, pants, if I'm at a venue that might not be camera friendly. 

But as much as I like the G9, it has a few shortcomings:

  • Shutter delay is longer than an SLR
  • High ISO settings result in noisy (or grainy) images
  • Zoom could be even bigger for concerts, like 10x or more

So I was excited when Canon announced a new G10.  I figured it would be a nice upgrade over the G9.  And maybe it is for some people.  But  unfortunately, they decided to go with a 5x zoom lens with a wider angle lens.  So to me, its more like a Canon G8 than a G10. Sure they bumped up the megapixel count, but honestly, I don't think it matters once you get beyond 10mp anyways.    Maybe the new Digic 4 processor will reduce the noise at high ISO settings, but I'm sticking with the G9 for now. 

Canon dudes, what were you thinking?  You can't shoot  Lenny Kravitz with a 5x zoom!  How about catching up to some of the competition with their 10x and 18x zoom lenses?  If anyone has experience with other compact cameras for shooting live gigs, let me know.

John Mayer Signature Strat


I was lucky enough to borrow a John Mayer Signature Stratocaster for a few days.  My buddy Richard from London had me order one delivered to my house until he was in town to pick it up.  For some reason it's not available from Fender UK and what with the US dollar being so cheap, and an online sale, he just had to get it.  Right.  Now. 

I can't blame him.  It's a nice axe.  Richard got it in Olympic White as pictured above.  The picture isn't completely accurate though. The color is a bit more of an "aged white" or light cream color and the pickguard is a very light green.  The colors look great together and it's a very nice retro look.  It's also available in a 3 tone dark sunburst and a metallic grey, but I think the white is the classiest version.  The guitar was nicely set up, not a blemish or mark anywhere.  The bridge felt a bit high for my tastes, but that's adjustable.

Features include:

  • Alder body
  • Maple neck
  • African rosewood fretboard
  • Big Dipper single-coil Stratocaster pickups
  • Dunlop 6105 frets
  • American vintage synchronized tremolo
  • 3-ply brown shell pickguard
  • Fender/Gotoh vintage style machines
  • Padded soft gig bag
  • What makes this guitar unique is the sound from the Big Dipper pickups.  They have a scooped midrange, so you really get a bright sound at the high end.  Perfect for bluesy riffs in the John Mayer style.  Lots of sustain.

    It's available at Musician's Friend for around $1500.  That includes a very nicely padded soft case.  Still, since he got it on sale, it's hard to complain.  (Also, no sales tax or shipping from Musician's Friend.)  On sale or not, it's a lot of dosh for one guitar.  I keep thinking that's like the price of 10 guitars I would normally buy.  But Richard tells me it's all about the tone. I'll try to convince Richard to give me a more detailed hands-on review.

    New DR Strings

    Dr_strings_2 I admit, I am a lazy sonofagun when it comes changing guitar strings.  I can never quite get them to wrap around the tuning peg in an orderly fashion.  It's especially tricky on my Speedster Traveler Guitar since the tuning pegs are in the body.  It always ends up taking me a lot more time than I would like. 

    Since I hate changing strings, I have been experimenting with coated strings to extend the life.  My last test was with Elixir strings.  These worked well at first, but later ended up getting grungy as the coating wore down.  So I'm giving up on those.

    Now I'm testing out a set of DR Extra Life strings.  They're coated with a corosion inhibiting lacquer for protection against dirt, sweat and humidity.  And unlike other coated strongs, they don't affect the tone.  They're available in a range of different colors: Red, Pink, Blue, you  name it.  I went with the conservative looking "Black Beauties."  So far so good.  I also took the time to clean up the fretboard.  With the new strings, the guitar plays better and I get more sustain.  And they should last twice as long, or maybe even longer compared to regular uncoated strings.

    So next time your guitar tone starts sounding a bit blah, consider changing your strings.  It's a quick, cheap upgrade.  And for those who struggle with it, here's an article on to guide you through the steps.

    Get Out Clause Surveillance Video

    Here's a story reported in the UK Telegraph I thought I'd share.  I mean to post this ages ago, but somehow I kept putting it off.   At any rate, the unsigned UK band The Get Out Clause didn't have the dosh to put out a professional quality music video. So knowing that their are literally thousands of closed circuit surveillance cameras in the UK, they simply played their music out on the streets of Manchester and then requested the video footage under the Data Protection Act.  Then they added some other handheld footage to round it out.  Cheeky, but effective!  The end result is pretty cool.