Review

Music, Review, Advice

Is It Time For An Industry Re-Think?

Bigger = Better…?

There are some musical instrument brands out there that everybody knows. They have had, and still have, their names on the instruments played by some of the biggest artists in the world.

However, should this name and reputation mean that you should only be able buy their products at the biggest stores?

Case Study

Here is a case in point: Gibson, one of the Big Two in the guitar world, decided to drastically cut back on their number of dealers and only allowed those that agreed to a stringent set of regulations to continue selling their Gibson and Epiphone brands. Some that agreed to this decided that it wasn’t effective and left the programme; others said that it was a success. However, the stores that decided against going along with Gibson in the first place didn’t go out of business - they just sold different competitor brands!

A Gisbon, yesterday

A Gisbon, yesterday

Gibson, however, filed for bankruptcy in May 2018, following years of debt, has recently ousted Henry Juszkiewicz as CEO (October 2018) and has only just had half a billion dollars-worth of debt cancelled by bondholders in a rescue package designed to keep the brand afloat (October 2018). These facts are not necessarily linked to their dealership structure (many other factors at play here) but it is good evidence to suggest that no single brand is indispensable.

Equally, it shows that music stores can and will survive without certain brands in their stock profile.

Get It Off Your Chest

Why am I discussing this now? Well, it is simple really. Two major manufacturers, this week, have shown a similar level of short-sightedness when it comes to treating their dealers with respect. I will not name either of them, however, one has decided to impose a pan-European stock buying profile of c.25,000 Euros per annum on dealers without warning or explanation, whilst the other is trying to tell me that 10% off RRP is what now constitutes a ‘trade price’. When I pointed out to them that I could buy their product from a well-known on-line retailer for 12% less than their ‘trade price’, and save another £10 on delivery, I was stone-walled and told that all dealers have the same discount.

For no reason, here is a picture of Jimmy Hill.

For no reason, here is a picture of Jimmy Hill.

In Conclusion

I make no judgement on either but, suffice it to say, I have already contacted their competition and have new dealerships in place.

No brand is indispensable but, if they want to sell their product, their dealers are - whatever their size.

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