Advice, Music

‘Is That A Good Instrument?’

Sounds odd, but I've been asked that question many times and it always makes me scratch my head a bit. I mean, from a sales perspective, I doubt anyone would expect a negative response! I suppose it is the perennial question about whether price equates to quality.

Does Expensive = Good...?

Cards on the table, I am a bit of idealist. I believe that music is a great leveller, cutting across social class, language, culture and age groups. I also believe it should be for everyone not just those that can afford it. When I set up Underground Music, I made a conscious decision to limit the price headroom to a fairly arbitrary £500. I did this because I believe that there is huge value for money to be had below that price bracket - if I am selective about which lines I choose. For example, the Gretsch Streamliner range:

The brand new Gretsch G2622 Streamliner, launched at the 2019 NAMM Show

The brand new Gretsch G2622 Streamliner, launched at the 2019 NAMM Show

A few years ago, Gretsch made the decision to compete in the under £500 market and launched the Streamliner range of centreblock and hollowbody guitars and they have taken the guitar world by storm! Suddenly, it was an affordable option and players who had been looking for a classic, F-hole double-cut guitar had a real choice to make: go for the Epiphone Dot or the Epiphone Sheraton and grind your teeth that it doesn't say 'Gibson' on the headstock, or buy a Gretsch which says 'Gretsch' on it? You can pick one up for £435! 

The brand new Korg B1 digital piano launched in October 2018 - twin 9W amps, full 88 key weighted keyboard, 8 voices plus reverb and chorus, metronome, sustain pedal et al all for only £335.00. In store now.

The brand new Korg B1 digital piano launched in October 2018 - twin 9W amps, full 88 key weighted keyboard, 8 voices plus reverb and chorus, metronome, sustain pedal et al all for only £335.00. In store now.

What about the Korg B1 Digital Piano? A weighted keyboard, the full 8 octaves and some cracking piano samples. Simple control system and light enough to be portable. £335. Seriously. 

I guess what I'm driving at is this: I spend ages selecting the lines, making sure I can stock the instruments that give the best quality and yet remain within my self-imposed price ceiling. The instruments I stock are affordable because I am selective (and a bit of an idealist!).

So, is that a good instrument? I should jolly well hope so! 

Is it the right instrument for you...? Ah, well that's another matter. :) 

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