Itís been another 4 months since my last rambling. I hope everybodyís keeping well.
Christmas has come and gone and a new year beckons. I thank God for seeing my through another year. Iím amazed and humbled by His love and provision. It wasnít an easy decision for me to decide to work on guitars full time and thereís been moments where I literally sweated bullets but I never looked back after I took the plunge.
I would also like to thank all my clients for their business and support. It has been fun and rewarding to work on guitars for folks who appreciate your experience, time and effort. Thank you guys!!!
Thank God the Skreddy pedals are a hit with the local musicians. 7 of the 8 pedals ordered were pre-sold and the one remaining Screw Driver was sold the weekend the pedals arrived. Iím thrilled to know that some of the Skreddy owners are over the moon with their pedals. Marc is definitely onto something special. Watch out for more Skreddy products in the future.
Since my last rambling, there have been some changes with regards to my personal gear. I sold my personal Reverend Avenger. Iíd raved about this guitar before and my opinions still stands. I just felt it was time to move on. Iím glad the Avenger is in the hands of someone who appreciates her tone and playability.
4 months after receiving my Gries 35, I'm glad to say that the honeymoon's not over yet. Iím still amazed by the wonderful tones Iím getting with the amp. Iíve tried many guitars thru the amp and all of them sounded fantastic!!! My many repair clients share this observation as well. Iím both grateful and thankful for my personal gear. Iím truly spoilt by them.
Since selling my Reverend Avenger, Iíve decided to custom assemble an electric guitar for myself. 2 of my clients went along with me and one of the guys have his guitar all done up and is very pleased with the quality of wood, amazing assembly/set up work and wonderful tones heís coaxing out of his custom guitar. As of today, Iím still awaiting my personal neck and body to arrive.
I get all my custom necks and bodies from a very reputable supplier in the U.S. whose willing to work with me on some special requirements. All components of the guitars are top notch. I will not scrimp and save on parts or cut corners. The default tuners are staggered Gotoh/Klusons, CTS pots, CRL switches, Orange Drop or Mallory caps, Callaham or Gotoh trem assembly. These are the same stuff as most boutique builders use. Iíve never been associated with average or generic products/work and I donít intend to start anytime soon.
Iím tentatively marketing the guitars as NosNuma guitars. NosNuma is a loose Greek translation meaning Kindred Spirits. I would like to think of my instruments as kindred spirit to the musicians who plays them. Iíve got very exacting specifications for NosNuma guitars and will not compromise my ďvisionĒ of the electric guitar.
Please feel free to e-mail me on questions about NosNuma guitars.
Last but not least, a heartfelt thanks to my past, present and future clients for their business, support and friendship.
Happy New Year everyone,
December 28, 06
Itís been 4 months since my last rambling. I hope everybodyís keeping well.
Some of you may know whatís been going on with me in terms of my personal guitar gear. Needless to say, there's been some major changes and it's been a while since Iím so excited about guitar stuff. Iíve been fortunate to have seen and played through a lot of quality gear and nothing fazes me these days. I would like to think that I know what will work for me and Iíve found my tone.
Iím a huge fan of Reverend products and for the longest time, Iíve been extolling the virtues of their discontinued amps. The Reverend Kingsnake and Goblin amps are to me still one of the best amps if not the best amp one can get for the price.
Iíve been more than happy with my personal Kingsnake amp but at the back of my mind, I would still love to own a high quality hand made amp.
Well, ďProvidenceĒ provided me with an opportunity to have the amp of my dreams. In a moment of folly, Iíd sold my personal Kingsnake amp to a repair client of mine. I had the most grievous bout of sellerís remorse upon selling the amp. I tried buying back the amp to no avail. I still have a Reverend Goblin in stock but my hunt for a boutique 1X12Ē combo began. I need a 1X12Ē combo for my repair work as basses donít generally sound good through a 1X10Ē combo.
I had several specific requirements for my ďdreamĒ amp. The amp has to be point-to-point wired with quality components. The amp should preferably be a single channel, single input model with reverb and master volume. The amp should take either 6L6 or 6V6 power tubes. Last but not least, my budget is US$1,600 excluding shipping bearing in mind shipping by any of the big 3 courier services namely Fed Ex, UPS or DHL would set one back by at least another US$500 so weíre talking about a pretty large chunk of change.
Iíd short-listed the following amps for consideration. First on my list is the 40 watt Fargen Blackbird. Iíve read wonderful comments on Benís amp and have been following his success through the years. Next on my list is the Alessandro Rottweiler. The last amp on my list is the Top Hat Super Deluxe.
I was more or less decided on the Alessandro Rottweiler when I read about Gries amps in some guitar forum. After some research and many correspondences with Dave Gries, I bit the bullet on his Gries 35 model. The Gries 35 is a better-built amp in terms of cabinet construction and components compared to the Alessandro Rottweiler. On top of being a Gries owner, Dave and I also worked out a dealership arrangement. Iím proud and excited to represent Gries amps in our part of the world.
I received my Gries 35 early this week. Upon unpacking the amp, I was struck by how handsome the amp looked. The blonde tolex matches the salt and pepper grill perfectly. I understand from Dave Gries, heíll be using a gold grill cloth and my amp is the last of the salt and pepper grill cloth.
What sold me on the Reverend Kingsnakewas the really high clean headroom. I didnít think any amp under US$1,600 could sound better or cleaner than the Kingsnake Well, I'm glad I was wrong!!!
I'd requested Dave to stock the amp with
Electro-Harmonix preamp tubes, SED/Winged C 6L6s
and a JJ 5AR4 tube
Mys Gries 35 is a definite keeper and sheís here to stay!!!
August 18, 06
Itís been months since my last rambling. I hope everybodyís keeping well.
Iíve been busy with church activities, guitar repairs and traveling. I would like to thank all my clients for their support and referrals. Itís encouraging to know that thereís a greater appreciation for professional guitar maintenance, repair and restoration. I also find a growing awareness for boutique gear among local musicians.
Since my last rambling, Iíve discovered a whole new tonal dimension by stacking one overdrive or OD for short pedal into another. From a mild rhythm grind to searing lead lines, the tonal possibilities are endless. No more getting a good rhythm tone which canít cut it for lead or getting a thick sustaining lead tone which is way too much gain or too ďmuddyĒ for rhythm work.
Like most musicians, Iím plagued by the occasional G.A.S. Ė gear acquisition syndrome, attack. Iíve been on an OD/Distortion binge and have finally settled on what I feel is the ďperfectĒ setup.
Many people consider the venerable Ibanez TS808 or TS9 the benchmark for overdriven tones. My pet peeve with the afore-mentioned pedals is the ever present mid hump. I could never dial that away and although many people find that mid hump ďmusicalĒ, I find it over prominent and it colors oneís tone excessively. You canít hear the true tonal characteristics of your guitar and amp.
My 1st boutique OD pedal was the discontinued Reverend Drivetrain OD pedal. It had the mid hump albeit slight compared to the TS808 or TS9. I thought Iíd found THE pedal. A couple of months later, an acquaintance of mine turned me unto a new OD pedal that Dave Barber had built for him. It was still in the prototype stage but Dave was kind enough to build me one. The pedal in question is the present day Barber Direct Drive.
Boy oh boy. Did the hand script prototype Barber DD rock my boat!!! It had even less mid hump than the Drivetrain. I promptly sold off the Drivetrain. About a year later, Dave came out with the Direct Drive Super Sport model. The Super Sport model had 4 internal trim pots that allows for further tweaking. I was sold and ordered a Direct Drive Super Sport with an additional ďClear Blues ModeĒ. Upon arrival of the custom shop DDSS, I sold my hand script prototype DD.
I was in the honeymoon period with the custom shop DDSS for a long time. Then, Iíve been using the ďBritishĒ channel of my single channel tube amp to get the high gain lead tones with all my OD boxes. However, that was a compromise as Iím not able to dial in a clean rhythm tone in that setting. After playing all my previous and then present OD boxes, I found none of them gave me the true tonal characteristic of my guitar and amp. They all added a certain warmth or upper mid frequency to my tone. In short, none of them were transparent.
I realized the common denominator in all my OD boxes then was theyíre all op-amp based and that was the culprit for the ever present mid hump although I was able to dial most of it out with the DDSS. I then searched the Net for a non op-amp based OD pedal.
I took a chance and ordered my 1st Germanium/Transistor OD/Fuzz box in the form of the highly raved but discontinued Tonefactor HellBilly. Iíd read in Internet forums how well the HellBilly stacks into an OD pedal and I was very keen to try it out. Well, the HellBilly arrived after a couple of weeks and I was stoked by the pedal! It was the most transparent pedal Iíve tried and the EQ actually works. The one thing that really blew me away was how touch sensitive the pedal was and how well it cleans up. The HellBilly was also quieter than the DDSS at similar gain output.
I could finally use the ďBlackfaceĒ channel on my tube amp using the HellBilly stacking into the DDSS. However, the slight mid hump of the DDSS was ďexaggeratedĒ alongside the HellBilly and that got under my skin after a while. A repair client of mine has been wanting my custom shop DDSS for the longest time happened to send me his newest instrument purchase for a once over and guess what, he went home with the custom shop DDSS.
I finally came to a conclusion that op-amp based OD/Fuzz pedals are not my cup of tea. Iíve been reading a lot of wonderful things about this new guy on the block who makes really awesome sounding pedals. I visited his webpage and fell in love with the tones I heard on-line. Marc Ahlfs custom makes Skreddy pedals. After a couple of e-mails with Marc, I bit the bullet and ordered a Screw Driver.
After 2 months with the Screw Driver, I am still bowled over by the pedal. Itís everything I want in an OD box. Extremely touch sensitive, quiet, and with a dynamic EQ range. This is the best OD pedal Iíve heard period! I'm sold on Skreddy pedals. Iíd originally wanted the Skreddy Top Fuel but Marc convinced me to go with his Screw Driver.
A buddy of mine came over to check out both the HellBilly and Screw Driver. He went home with the HellBilly. As Iíve always been keen to check out the Top Fuel, I ordered one with the cutting mids option. I understand from Marc he modeled the Top Fuel after the recent lead tones of Pink Floydís David Gilmour. Expect liquid, searing tones with articulation.
So now, Iím in tonal nirvana with the Top Fuel stacking into the Screw Driver. I can get a wide array of OD/Fuzz tones. For the sake of disclosure, my other pedal is the critically acclaimed RMC Picture Wah.
My next pedal purchase would be an analog delay pedal. I donít think the search would ever end:)
April 18, 06
Itís been slightly over a month since my last rambling. I hope everybodyís keeping well.
Iíve been pondering on what to write, as I would like this page to be both informative and educational. Iíd originally intended to do a blog of sorts but I donít think a lot of people would like to hear my personal thoughts and opinions although what Iíve been sharing here has been fairly personal.
Itís been a slow month and I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading. A few nights ago, I came across an interesting article in a past issue of ďGuitarmakerĒ magazine, a quarterly lutherie publication by A.S.I.A. The Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans.
The article raised the following questions. Whoís a luthier? And what does it take to be one? Erwin Somogyi , the author is a highly respected and successful luthier whose flat top acoustic guitars starts at USD16,000.
My acoustic construction instructor at Roberto-Venn once commented that one shouldnít be considered a luthier until one has successfully and consistently built at least 20 or was it 30 high quality instruments. Anyway, I remember being intimidated by what he said but that didnít stop me from calling myself a luthier on my business card as soon as I started shop upon my return to Singapore.
Is it a misrepresentation when someone whoíd assembled a kit guitar or taken a class in a guitarmaking school markets oneself a luthier? At what point can one legitimately and credibly call oneself a luthier?
In certain European countries, one has to complete years of rigid academic curriculum and protocol before they can hang out their shingle as a luthier. However, in most countries, thereís no form of accreditation per se or a special governing/review board that decides if one has met the requirements and qualifies to be a luthier. Then again, lutherie covers such a wide scope of skills that itís almost impossible to sufficiently narrow down the ten most important skills to have.
Erwin brought up a few working models/scenarios in lutherie and went on to ascertain if any ďtrueĒ lutherie is taking place.
The 1st scenario was can someone still be considered a luthier if he does all the woodwork and assembly but farms out the finishing to another individual? In the authorís opinion, neither both can be considered luthiers in their own right because neither can function independent of the other.
How about a situation where a master craftsman supervises the construction of guitars and is solely responsible for everything that happens in the shop but has an apprentice helping make the parts and basically do all the grunt work. Is the master craftsman then doing lutherie given that he has an apprentice helping out?
In Erwinís opinion, the answer is yes. The master craftsman is never far from the action so to speak and thereís a distinction in rank. The apprentice is essentially doing serial piecework and has no authority to make changes in the guitarmaking process.
The 3rd scenario is where a group of like-minded individuals come together to build their own guitars and they also help each other out. In this case, all are luthiers because they build their instruments from start to finish and none specializes in any aspect of the work.
The 4th and final scenario is a small custom shop where thereís a boss and several employees. Everyone is involved in building the guitars but thereís a distinction in rank and itís involves more of teamwork than a co-operative relationship as described above. Are they all luthiers then? The author concluded that itís irrelevant in this case, as it would depend on the shop culture. In most small shops, all the employees are rotated on a regular basis so no one is indispensable except maybe for the finishing guy. It takes years of experience to be able to finish the guitar.
From the above distinctions between luthiers and non-luthiers, we can now look at the competence question. What does a luthier need to know in order to survive competently and honestly?
Erwin feels that the following qualities are pre-requisites for a fellow luthier and I agree with him.
To know how to assemble a guitar from start to finishing.
To have knowledge of the working possibilities of the materials.
To have a grasp of voicing, plate dynamics, and guitar acoustics.
To know the basic repair procedures for fixing cracks, fractures, pulled bridges, warped necks, frets and action work, finish touch ups and refinishing.
To have a sense of professionalism which includes a genuine respect and appreciation for the work, the clients, oneís fellow workers and peers, the tools, the instruments and the materials.
To recognize oneís limitations.
To keep oneís commitment, promises, deadlines, pricing quotes and word as much as possible.
To own up to oneís mistake and miscalculations without attitude.
Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, knowingly lie or rip off anyone. This includes behaviors such as telling different people different things about the same set of circumstances.
To maintain and cultivate an attitude of openness and willingness to learn until the day one dies or gets rich, whichever comes first.
In closing, anyone who does the above can be qualified to call oneself a luthier.
October 27, 05
Itís been a while since my last update. I talked about my acoustic guitars the last time and Iíll continue on about my electric gear. Although I enjoy building acoustic guitars, Iím not much of an acoustic player and prefer playing the electric guitar.
Iíve been very fortunate to have played, worked on and owned a plethora of boutique guitars. Iíve thinned my herd considerably and am down to have my present 2 electrics the past 5 years. They are my James Tyler Classic and Reverend Avenger.
Iíve never been a fan of the venerable Stratocaster and have never owned a top routed Strat-style model until I bought my Tyler Classic, I think in 2000. I tried all the Rosewood board Tylers the dealer had in stock and was planning to give the only Maple board model a miss because my impression then was a Maple board Strat would sound very bright. Well, Iím really glad I tried the Maple board Tyler because the guitar proved me wrong. None of the Tylers got my attention but within 5 minutes of playing the Maple board Tyler, I knew then Iíve found my ďperfectĒ Strat. The guitar had the chime, clarity and quack associated with a vintage Strat. The guitar actually played and sounded better than the vintage Fender Strats the Tyler dealer had then.
I wasnít even actively searching for the ďperfectĒ Strat but have tried several boutique Strats prior to checking out the Tylers. This is the perfect example of how the special guitar finds us rather than the other way round. It is important to keep an open mind when checking out an instrument and listen to the guitar. The sad reality is most people shop for guitars with their eyes rather than their ears.
My Tyler Classic fits my bill as the ďperfectĒ Strat-style guitar. It sports a 2-piece Alder body with a 2- tone sunburst finish and a thick and chunky quarter sawn Maple board and neck, which is cut from the same board so the grain matches. The Maple board is fretted with my favorite 6105 fretwire. The pickups are supposedly John Suhr V60s, which Iíd paid extra. The tremolo is also my favorite Wilkinson/Gotoh VSVG model .
A lot of people are under the impression that a Maple board guitar will sound brighter than a Rosewood board but I beg to differ. I find Maple board to be thicker and warmer sounding with an upper midrange emphasis while Rosewood board has better articulation and more emphasis in the treble and bass. Those folks who feel Maple boards impart a brighter tone are actually hearing the thick lacquer that some manufacturers coat on their Maple fingerboard/necks. Iíve come to prefer a lightly finished Maple board with single coil pickups and opted for this option with my personal Avenger.
Iím a huge fan of Reverend products of which Iím a dealer. As mentioned in my ďShopĒ page, ďI will not represent a brand unless Iím absolutely bowled over by their products.Ē
My 2001 Avenger has the older and chunkier ďEastpointeĒ neck. Some people equate slim necks as a more comfortable and fast but in reality, a thicker neck is more comfortable and one experiences less finger fatigue. It may take a while to get used to the girth of a thicker neck but once you get used to it, thereís no looking back.
I love my Avenger for its tonal versatility and weight. Everybody whoíd tried the guitar is impressed by the chime, clarity and quack of the guitar. I personally feel itís sounds more Strat-like than all the Fender guitars Iíd worked on. I almost never use the tremolo and am glad to have a fixed bridge. Iím still amazed by the tones and playability of the instrument even after 4 years. I actually play the Avenger more than the Tyler. Unfortunately, Reverend no longer produces the Avenger model, which I personally feel is a real shame. Anyway, itís Joe Naylorís call and itís his company.
I plug both guitars into a Reverend Kingsnake 20-60 1X12" combo. The amp utilizes a pair of 6L6 power tubes, which I've also come to prefer. When I started playing the guitar, I was only concerned for the dirty tones from the amp and didn't bother about the clean tones. However, I've come to realize that a good clean tone should be the ofundation. The signal path of a single channel tube amp is purer and direct sounding. The Kingsnake has amazing clean tones with high headroom. Like all Reverend amps, the Kingsnake does not break up at stage volume at the U.S. setting. I've yet to try a cleaner sounding amp than the Reverend amps which again is unfortunately discontinued.
A lot of folks donít realize that the amp plays a more important role in getting a good tone rather than the guitar. Iíve known guys who spend money upgrading their pickups and electronics on their Les Paul or PRS but play thru a transistor amp. That just doesnít make sense to me. Not all tube amps are built equally but one definitely experience tonal nirvana when the guitar is plugged into the right tube amp. Nothing can replicate the warmth and punchy tones of a tube amp.
Iím a minimalist when it comes to effects. I only have the discontinued Barber Electronics Direct Drive Super Sport with clear Blues mode option and the widely acclaimed RMC Picture Wah . I use only Evidence Audio and George Lís cables. Again, most people neglect the importance of good quality cables. I personally prefer transparent sounding cable. Some cables do color the tone of the amp and guitar and I avoid them like the plague.
Iíve rambled enough and I hope you find the above information useful.
Sept 10, 05
To kick off the inaugural ďramblingĒ post, I figured I would talk about my personal gear.
My personal acoustics are my non-cutaway Brazilian Rosewood OM and Maccaferri style cutaway curly Koa OM models as seen in the ďGalleryĒ page.
Rosewood back and sides were Christmas present from the
guitar holds a very special place in my heart. I gave my 110% while building
the guitar and the clean lines and fine joinery reflect that. The guitar is
complimented with a German Spruce top, bound Ebony fingerboard and bridge
with South American Mahogany neck. The nut and saddle are carved from bone
and the headstock is capped with a piece of figured Brazilian Rosewood.
All the woods used in the construction of the above guitars were air-dried. Most mass produced guitar on the other hand are kiln dried. So whatís the difference then??
Wood is hygroscopic by nature meaning it readily absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. Wood shrinks as it loses moisture and swells as it gains moisture. When the tree is downed and sawn into boards, the lumber is still relatively ďwetĒ and unstable. The wood will distort when subjected to the slightest change in humidity or temperature. Thatís why all woodworkers need the lumber to be cured and stabilized to a specific moisture content before working with the wood.
and kiln drying are means to an end. Kiln drying can be described as
controlled air-drying. The lumber is stored in an insulated area where dry,
hot air is circulated to cure or dry out the wood. Kiln drying is a lot
faster than air-drying because forced convection is used. Air-drying, on the
other hand, is letting Mother Nature do the work and it takes years for the
wood to dry out naturally. After receiving their lumber from the suppliers,
most reputable builders kiln dry their wood between 6-12 months before using
them. However, some larger manufacturers kiln dry their lumber for only 2-4
months before using the wood at the risk of using less stable material.
lumber is kiln-dried, the cells within the wood dry out. However, they will
still be able to absorb moisture. It is different when the lumber is
air-dried. The cells within the wood actually dry out and crystallize during
this process. Thatís why air-dried lumber is more resistant to moisture than
kiln dried lumber and consequentially more expensive.
However, it is not practical and cost effective for mass manufacturers to use air-dried woods for their instrument. They cost more than kiln dried woods and are not readily available in large quantities.
Wow, what started as a gear introduction ended up as a discourse in lumber and humidity. I hope the above information is useful.
July 24, 05