Guitar

Review, Guitar, Bass, Music

Review: Ibanez SR300E

First Impressions

Well, I'd say this one is a bit of a looker. The pictures I took didn't really do it much justice, to be fair, so I borrowed (stole) one from Ibanez. This model has been around for a little while but I'd not really clocked it - shame on me. 

The Ibanez SR300E in Jet Stream Green. Mmmm... Jet Stream Green.... (Picture Credit: www.ibanez.com)

The Ibanez SR300E in Jet Stream Green. Mmmm... Jet Stream Green.... (Picture Credit: www.ibanez.com)

The bass itself has a solid mahogany body that has been shaped and scalloped to cut down the weight - you definitely won't end up looking like Quasimodo after a two-hour gig with this one! The neck is 5 piece maple and walnut. I am a sucker for features like this but the twin skunk stripes down the back of the satin-finished neck are gorgeous. The finger-board is Jotoba, a similar wood to rosewood (but not on the CITES list). I was also struck by how fast the neck felt. It is a tiny 38mm at the nut and only 19.5mm thickness at the first fret (stats from the good people at Ibanez). 

Hardware - Any Good?

Actually, yes, it is. One of my biggest irritations with lower / mid range basses is a cheap bridge. Some of them look like bits of bent metal: this is pretty far from the truth with the SR300E. Ibanez have fitted a hi-mass, railed bridge called the Accu-Cast B120. Firstly, the string spacing is bang-on and, secondly, the heavyweight bridge creates great tone and sustain. 

The pick-ups are active with a terrific 3-band EQ which you can easily tweak to get a huge range of tones, from a scooped funk to burpy jazz or low-end thump. However, it is the active power-tap circuit that sets this apart. You can switch from single coil to humbucker to a power-tap mode that utilises both settings. I like the single-coil's clarity but I had a lot of fun using the humbuckers. The pick-ups also have a sweep pot that allows you to combine the attack from the bridge with the warmer tones from the the neck. 

How Does It Play?

The example I played was set-up with a very low action. I quite like that but other players might want to tweak it up a bit, especially if you're using a plectrum. The simple controls made it easy to create a range of sounds without stressing yourself out! I tried it through my Marshall MB4410 on both the digital and classic (valve pre-amp) channels using my standard amp EQ and compression and was very impressed. The bite and snap from paying slap riffs (I tend to vamp on 'Sgt Baker' by Primus*) is very good indeed and I like the tone from playing plucked funk riffs that include ghost notes. Boosting the middle and plucking close to the bridge is also instantly rewarding and you can get it to 'burp' easily as the pick-ups are so responsive. Going for a warmer sound, boosting the bass and playing low-down fretted runs on the humbucker setting was great too: a touch of overdrive and you can go all Jack Bruce if you want.

Summary

Honestly, this is a ridiculously good bass for under £250. It has a fast neck with a narrow profile, low-action and terrific range of sounds from the on-board 3-band EQ and 3-way power tap switch. It is light and easy to play, which is a great option for new bassists or guitarists finally turning to the Dark-Side.

 

* If you like bass, check out Primus. Les Claypool is a genius.

Music, Guitar, Amplifier, Review

'Is It All That...?' Vintage Fender Super Champ

Well, you don't see many of these, do you?

I was recently loaned a Fender Super Champ amp recently to try out - but this one is a bit out of the ordinary as it is actually one of the prototypes for the Super Champ range. So this one is a real bit of history for you! 

Now, anyone who knows me will testify that this is way too much amp for me - my guitar work is certainly functional but I would never think of buying something like this myself. However, the guy that loaned it to me was very persuasive and, with a little trepidation, I gave it a go. 

The Vintage Fender Super Champ

Okay, first thing's first, this is a valve amp, running a 12AX7 for first and second stage pre-amp, a 12AT7 for the spring reverb and 2 x 6V6s for the post. A 6C10 compactron is used for extra gain on the lead channel. If this all sounds like gobbledegook to you then don't worry: most of the time this goes over my head too. Effectively, the amp uses a small tube to create the sound and tone you will hear, another to drive the reverb and a third to push the overall gain higher when switched on. The others are used to drive the speaker. The final output is 18W. 

This particular amp was hand-wired by its designer Paul Rivera and dates from 1981/82: it is the second of two prototypes he produced and he owns the other. Super Champ amplifiers were only produced between 1982 and 1986. Fender have since released the extremely popular solid-sate Champion and, recently, the Super Champ X2 which is a tube amp but with the addition of the Champion's digital effects. 

So What's It Like...?

From the outset, this amp is a lot of fun. The clean channel has a lovely warm tone which is what you would expect from a valve amp like this. The tone controls have a push-pull pot on the treble: pulling it out engages the 'Middle' setting. Reverb is provided by a spring reverb tank which feels really natural. Turning it up a bit gives some startling clear cathedral echo but you can get some great Johnny Marr-type sounds by balancing the tone on the guitar with the reverb on the amp.

But you didn't want to know about that, did you? 'Shut up and tell us what it sounds like cranked up!' I hear you cry. Well, if you put it like that... 

Up To 11...?

It sounds epic. Pull out the gain pot (push-pull, labelled 'Volume') and you open up a world of crisp, hard-edged gain that you can really go to work on. I used a Hagstrom Swede (twin humbuckers) and tried it in various different configurations. My favourite was to vamp on some classic ZZ Top* by using the neck pick-up on full with the tone rolled off: you get some awesome muddy, swamp-blues sounds. Trying it with a Telecaster on the bridge pick-up is something else. The clarity of that classic single-coil Telecaster twang was simply perfect. I know of harmonica players that use these amps on high gain to get that clear overdriven sound. 

All in all, this is a terrific amp that has a huge variety of tones that would complement a wide variety of styles but it is when you push it that the Super Champ comes into its own. 

 

* Before 'Eliminator'. Seriously, they are fantastic. I don't know, kids today... etc etc

Advice, Guitar

Charity Shop Guitars

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not having a dig at anyone here! I regularly pick up bits and bobs from charity shops and I have bought some absolutely lovely things. I am not here to criticise anyone!

What I wanted to talk about was buying guitars from charity shops or car boot sales and some of the things to look out for that might end up with your purchase costing more than just a new set of strings.

The other day, a lovely chap brought in a guitar that he’d grabbed at a charity shop. To be fair, I totally get why he wanted it: it was a really nice looking instrument. He wanted to get it up to speed and asked if I would take a look, which I did for him. On first inspection, a couple of things came up that he hadn’t noticed. Firstly, the frets had been worn down so much that they were flat. Secondly, the bridge was cracked through and someone had broken off a bridge pin in the hole. On closer inspection, the bridge had a metal adjustment plate that would raise or lower the action – this was missing both screws and the bridge saddle itself had been sanded down to a sliver. Thirdly, it also needed at least two machine heads (tuning) replaced – you may as well replace them all in that case as it wouldn’t really cost any more. When I looked at the machine heads, you could see that they had already been replaced at some point. And finally, the top itself had been damaged on the lower bout. It may have been possible to salvage with a bit of TLC but cosmetically, if nothing else, it didn’t look good.

Anyway, once I’d given him the news he asked roughly how much it would cost to put right. I wasn’t sure how much the damaged top might be to fix but I gave him the price of the parts and labour for the rest. He smiled and said he’d leave it...

...because he’d only spent £4.00 on the guitar.

We both had to laugh – the guitar actually cost less than a packet of strings and he re-donated it to the charity shop.

Worth A Look?

So, what do you need to look out for when checking out a bargain at the boot sale? Well, I’d start at the bottom and work up.

Not all charity shop or boot sale guitars are beyond saving - look out for the basics and you should be fine

Not all charity shop or boot sale guitars are beyond saving - look out for the basics and you should be fine

Firstly, check the bottom of the guitar. Has it taken a bang? Sometimes the guitar may have been dropped and the strap button pushed into the base of the guitar. Make sure everything is where it should be.

Next, check the guitar for cracks. An acoustic guitar is a relatively delicate instrument and can be susceptible to knocks. A crack in the wood might not be fatal but it will definitely affect the tone. If you’re unsure, I would leave it. A crack or damage to the top (the front face of the guitar) and you should walk away.

Take a look at the bridge. This is where the strings attach to the top. On classical guitars, they are tied on; steel strung acoustics have pins that hold the strings in the body. In many cases, the bridge is stuck onto the top, rather than screwed down. Is it lifting? Over time, the glue can soften and the string tension literally pulls the bridge off. This isn’t terminal but would need to be repaired and is something that a guitar tech or luthier can do relatively simply.

Check the top itself. Is it bowing? Often, the boot-sale guitar is a creature that has spent many years in a loft space, heating up, freezing, getting damp, drying out etc and, over time, this affects the wood itself. If the top is bowed, you will struggle to get a decent tone out of the guitar. In an ideal world, I’d say walk away from this one but, if you must have it, you’ll definitely need to have it repaired. On a cheap guitar, the repair will definitely not be cost-effective. Another good test is to give the top a push: does it creak or can you feel any mechanical movement? It may be that the bracing under the top has come free. This can be fixed by a guitar tech or luthier as it will require re-gluing and clamping in place. Not a big job but it takes a while.

Have a look at the neck. Sight down its length and check to see if it is bent or twisted. I once saw a bass that had been sat in a caravan for many years that had a neck like a corkscrew! No amount of fiddling with a truss rod was going to fix that one! If the neck bends up / back slightly, this may be easily remedied if the guitar has a truss rod through the neck. If not, especially on classical guitars that tend to have set necks, then it would be best to think again.

Check the frets: are they worn? Do they have chips or gouges on them? It’s more common than you’d think but guitars are built to be re-fretted. However, a re-fret can be pricey. If you were looking at re-fretting a cheap acoustic, I doubt it would be worth the expense. Re-fretting a more professional instrument may well be a good investment, especially if you intend to make this your primary choice.

Finally, take a look at the headstock. Are there any cracks around the neck or the machine heads? Certain brands of guitar are famous for having a weak joint where the headstock joins the neck and they have a nasty habit of breaking off or cracking if the guitar takes a knock. Check the machine heads. Do they turn easily? Are the cogs chipped or have missing teeth? Replacing machine heads is a very simple fix and they aren’t generally very expensive so don’t feel it’s a deal-breaker. Also, check the nut (slotted for the strings where they join the neck). Has it taken any damage? Once again, replacing a nut is a simple job and the parts are cheap (around £10) so you can feel pretty confident that, even if you need a new one, you can go ahead with the purchase.

In conclusion, you can definitely pick up some absolute gems at the charity shop or car-boot sale and there is no reason whatsoever to ignore a bargain! If you can keep these tips in mind, you can buy with a bit more confidence.

Happy hunting!