My Guitars and Gear

Guitars are always special to me. You have to treat them with love and care. Every guitar has a soul and spirit. In more than one ways, they are more sensitive and tender than a woman.

 

I once had 33 guitars, 4 wives and 15 children..........

Well, the guitar part is right, forget the rest. With women, one is sometimes more than enough. Until very recently, I had been a Gibson Les Paul player all my life and only a Gisbon is good enough. With the Les Paul, the sustain, the tone and timber of the single notes are unbeatable. Compared with a Fender, the Gibson is a Rolls Royce and the Fender a Honda Civic. To me there is simply not comparison.

A word about Gibson Les Pauls. The production line Les Pauls do not come any where close to the Vintage Re-issues. The touch, the tone and just about everything else is different. Upon a cursory inspection, the two look the same, but once you pick them up and try them the differences are immediate. The 1958, 1959 Les Paul Re-issues have a very different neck joint, much long and deeper than the production line Les Pauls. And of course, the wood is different. Given the price of the production line Gibsons, one really has a lot of choices, many Japanese or European guitars come close or even fare better at the same price than a production model Gibson. But when it comes to the Vintage Re-issues, nothing comes close. Forget Paul Reed Smith, Fender, Music Man and everything else. The Vintage Re-issue Les Pauls are really a law unto its own.

One problem I found with the '58 and '59 Les Paul Vintage Re-issues is that their necks are really thick, what they call "the baseball neck". The necks of my '58 and '59 Re-issues had their necks slimmed down. This is major surgery, don't do it at home. The neck of my '58 was slimmed down by famous guitar maker Mr. Toru Nittino in Los Angles after I finished recording "Blues Talk". Mr. Toru did a fantastic job.

A Vintage Re-issue Les Paul costs over HK$30,000.00 and it is up to you to decide whether a few pieces of wood stuck together with some metal hardware is worth that much. To me, they are worth selling your house for.

My Gibsons

1958 Reissue

1959 Reissue

For a long time, I have been using a Steinberger GL2T for slide guitar work. In order to get those double notes on the slide guitar, you really need to tune the guitar to open tuning and have a high action. I sometimes play in Open A tuning and most of the conventional wooden neck with a truss rod just cannot take this kind of pressure. The Steinberger with the graphite neck was the answer. Moreover, with slide guitar, the pick-ups and the wood of which the guitar is made are not that important. The sound comes from the slide and the vibrato. You can hardly tell the difference between an expensive guitar and a cheap guitar when you are playing slide.

Just by accident, I bought another Steinberger. I tried it out in standard tuning and found that the little thing is a beast of a guitar, it has to be tamed. For a start, the GL2T has a small body and the guitar keeps running away from you when you play it. You really have to grab hold of the guitar when you are playing it. The other problem with the Steinberger is the sound is so cold and clinical. It is alright if you play Rock or Fusion, but with the Blues it does take some getting used to. After all there is not one piece of wood in the entire guitar. To compensate this shortcoming in the sound you need a really good amp like the Mesa Boogie Mark 1. But once I got use to the Steinberger, it immediately became my favourite guitar. You cannot adjust the neck because it is graphite. But the action is silky smooth and with the GL2T, access to the higher octaves on the guitar is no problem. The guitar is highly maneuverable and plays really well in all kinds of situations.

With the Steinberger I think I have found the perfect guitar for me. The action, the neck and manovuerability and the body really suit me to the bone. Everything with the Steinberger is great but there is the problme with the sound. As everything in life goes, nothing is perfect. It is hard to get a sound from Steinberger close to a Gibson. But then and again, nothing sounds like a Gisbon. I still think the Gibson Les Paul is still the best guitar ever made for Blues. But for me the Steinberger is my perfect guitar, all things considered. There are a lot of frowns for audience at 48th Street and in Japan when I pull out the Steinberger and I get a lot of diapproving looks from most people. What? Blues and Steinberger? I have seen one of the audience shake his head with decided resignation when he saw me put on a Steinberger. But you have to follow your heart. Forget the look find out what you really need. The Steinberger really isn't a guitar for everyone. And mind you, they do not come cheap. You cannot get the real Steinbergers anymore as Gibson had taken over and they don't make these gutiars anymore. The only place you can buy them second hand is from E-bay. The GL2's costs around US$1,200.00. Any you don't even get a block of wood to go with it.

If you want to know more about Steinberger, click here.

My Steinbergers and PRS

The L Series with 2 humbuckers

A rare white L Series

 

L series with 2 single coil & humbucker

 

To find out more about these guitars, click here.

The GP Series with 2 humbuckers

 

Pau Reed itSiaturSeries

My Acoustic Guitars

This is National Style 3 re-issue with Lilly Of The Valley engravings. I use it for slide guitar. The title track of my first CD "Play My Blues" was recorded with this guitar

 

This is one of the less expensive acoustic guitars manufactured by Ibanez. Shorty after the purchase the neck became warped and the action was so high it was virtully unplayable but this was ideal for slid work. All my acoustic slide gutiars were recorded with this guitar

1934 National Steel Duolin. This is my treasure of a life time. The guitar was manufatured in 1934. The orginal paint had worn off and was refinished. I play the guitar so hard that the paint came off and places were getting rusty. I had to ship it back to National Resophonic Guitars for another refinish. There is nothing that sound like a vintage National Steel.

 

The Duolin

Amplifiers and Pre-amp

Fender Hot Rod

This used to be my workhorse. A no nonsense all tube amp, crystal clear and pristine. The amp has two channles and footswitch operable. This is a very versatile amp and is certainly good for Blues

 

Mesa Boogie Mark I Re-issue

This is the ultimate guitar amp and is the amp I use now. For power and for sound, you really cannot beat a Mark I. This little beast is loud but besides that, the timber of the tone is phenomenal, the notes come across hard and solid. Click to see details and comments.

 

Marshall JMP 1

One of the best pre-amps around. Click on picture to see details and comments.

 

Mesa Boogie Formular Pro with Yamaha SPX900

Another great pre-amp hooked up to a superb effector. Click picture to see details and comments.

 

If you find you are annoying your neighbours when you are practising guitar at home, there is one way to solve the problem. Click on the pre-amp above for a solution.

 

Wireless guitar system

Everybody loves freedom. I cannot tell you how many times I have tripped over on stage over guitar cables. Guitar wireless systems of the last generation all involved carrying a pouch contianing the transmitter. That was cumbersome to say the least. But now we have something new. Check out the Samson wireless system. The transmitter is a simple plug, just plug in. Samson has different plugs for Les Paul style and Fender style guitars. I have been using this gadget on stage every time I play at 48th Street and I find it very reliable. The transmitter uses a small AAA battery and the transmittor requires a 9 volt battery.

Guitar effects

In 1982, I was still studying in London. One evening I went to a famous live venue called “The Marquee” and queued up for hours outside in order the get in. The Yardbirds were playing that night. Rumours were flying everywhere that Jimmy Page was going to turn up and with a bit of luck, Jeff Beck would show up. When the show started, neither turned up. I had once glance of the guitar player. He had on the floor in front of him a vast array of effect padels. What? Playing Blues and Rhythm and Blues with all those effects? You are kidding me. I just walked out before the band started the first song.

I always believed that if you are a serious player, you should limit yourself to, at most, an overdrive or a distortion unit. How can you be playing Blues with if you are using a Chorus and a Phaser? Muddy Waters never used one, nor did Elmore James. Over time I my attitude to using effects, and for that matter to quite a few other things in life, changed. On Saturday nights, I generally start playing from around 10:30 p.m. and often not finishing till 3:00 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. in the morning. I go through a lot of songs in one evening and it is not a short session. I feel I need a little more colour and a variety to my guitar sound. I have always used an overdrive, then I added an MXR Phaser, then a Roland Super Chorus. The important thing to me, is to use guitar effects to give the extra colour to the guitar sound when it is needed and not for the sake of just using the effects. If the effect helps to give that bit more spice to the guitar sound and suits the song, why not? Muddy Waters and Elmore James did not use any Chorus pedal or Phaser pedal, that’s true. But maybe only because these effects were not available to them at the time.

When using guitar effects, I think it is important to bear in mind a few things :-
1. The effect is to give extra colour or tone to the guitar sound. The effect is the servant and the guitar sound is the master;
2. Always use effects with moderation. If you put so much Chorus on your guitar so that you actually lose the actual guitar sound, the effect will become the servant has become the slave and you end up worse off;
3. Try to give the guitar the minimum amount of effect to achieve the sound you have in mind. If say level 4 and level 6 on the effect unit can do the job, you should probably stick to level 4. That depends, of course, on the sound you want;
4. If you are using a complicated multi-effect board, make sure you know where are the patches and have all the parameters set up correctly before using in live situations. There is often a certain amount of pressure, depending how experienced you are, when you are standing on stage. The last thing you want is to fine-tune the parameters or fix up the amount of effect going to the guitar on stage;
5. If you are using a mult-effect board, the chances are your are using several effects at the same time, compressor, overdrive, delay and chorus. You have to be very careful when you are using several effects at the same time. The guitar can easily end up sounding thin and buried in these effects and you have a mushy sound all mumbled up.
6. The small individual effect pedals are the most reliable ones and will suit most situations. Do not go for a multi-effect board with 100 different sounds unless you are prepared to read the manual and invest time to familiarize yourself with the thing. The Line6 multi-effect is very good. I have seen it at work with the Larry Z, the gutiarist of Two Tonnes to great effect. If you want to know more about this little wonder, click here and look at what Larry Z say about it.

 

As for myself, here are the effects I use :-

This a Boss Chromatic Tuner TU-2. This is This is indispensable to any guitarist. You can mute the output when you are tuning the guitar. You can tune up even in the middle of a song when someone is taking a solo. You will never leave home without it once you got it. This is a must.

 

The Ibanez Tubescreamer. It does not give an enormous amount of overdrive to the guitar. Maybe Metal players will find this insufficient. But for Blues and Rock, I think this little box will cater for most situations. But this is all over. Check out the Fireball 2 below.

 

The Banzai Fireball 2. This is the best overdrive I have ever laid my hands on. Very expensive indeed. But it worth the money. Check here to find out more.

 

This is an MXR Phaser 90. To my ear, the best on the market. It gives a sort of wah-wah sound to the guitar. There is only one control knob and it controls the speed of the effect. The effected sound is smooth as silk. The effect works best when the speed knob is between 10 and 12 0’clock.

 

The Roland Super Chorus CH-1. The sound is smooth and it has an EQ section on it to boost up the high ends. When you put on the Chorus, you tend to lose a lot of high end on your guitar sound. The EQ section is a blessing.

 

Guitar repairs

There are quite a few people around professing expertise in repairing guitars, refretting and all the rest. Some of the big guitar shops also do that. In my experince, many of those who professed expertise are amateurs with doubtful skills and knowledge, you really wouldn't want to give them your favourite guitar for refretting or repairs. In Hong Kong, I know one guy who is really good with guitar repairs. He has refretted my 59 Les Paul by replacing the frets and he has also done some jobs for my friends. All top class work. If you are looking for someone to repair your gutiar or amplifier, don't just give it to any one, find out more about him first. I highly recommend Kevin Catalano and if you want to know more, just, click here.