29/02/2016

Reading - February 2016

Legends of Tone: Gibson (Guitarist special, 2015)
Guitarist (March 2016 / Issue 404)
Guitar & Bass (March 2016 / Vol. 27 No. 06)
Guitar porn blow-out at the beginning of Feb! It's interesting to note the differences between Guitarist house style and Guitar & Bass; the latter is a lot more technical and geeky. There's a whole article dedicated to the very technical ins and outs of an old 50s Fender amp, for example. It's nice to have the coverage but I can't really justify having both magazines. I'll need to decide soon ...
The Week (6 February 2016 / Issue 1059)
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)
This is twenty years old! Still, other than a few references that date it (trouble programming a video recorder, shopping at Cullens), it's pretty timeless, not least due to being based on Pride & Prejudice. It's funny, yes, and if the humour is a bit obvious sometimes it's probably worth remembering that it wasn't obvious until Helen Fielding made it so.
The Chandler's Ford Story by Barbara J. Hillier & Gerald Ponting (2005)
This was a lovely present for my birthday. It's a brief but interesting look into the origins of the small town where I now live. Since it only really goes back about 150 years, there's not that much to tell, but it's fascinating to see pictures of familiar sights in unfamiliar surroundings. There's a photo taken at the top of our road in 1930, just after the houses were all built (it literally was all fields before) and while the houses are clearly the same (particularly the post office), the gardens, the road and the cars are so different. Niche but nice.
The Week (13 February 2016 / Issue 1060)
Going To Sea In A Sieve by Danny Baker (2012)
A memoir from someone who was on the frontline of music journalism in the early 80s. Oh wait - except he wasn't. Yes, he was there, but his interest has always been more personal and eclectic and the NME was clearly just something he did for a while, rather than being "dedicated to the cause". And he's probably all the better for it, frankly (don't get me started about some of the other losers who wrote for NME). He's very full of himself but always entertaining.
The Perfect Neighbour by Nora Roberts (2000)
A sweet romance. Crying out to be made into a movie.
Ten Little Niggers by Agatha Christie (1939)
You can't buy this book any more - or at least, not under this title. It's now called And Then There Were None and I believe all the other references to the unacceptable word in the title have been changed to "Indian". However, this is the copy I have and this is what I read, borrowed from the school library, when I was about 13. Different times, eh? A timepiece and very dated, but still a cleverly plotted whodunnit.
The Week (20 February 2016 / Issue 1061)
Country Of The Blind by Christopher Brookmyre (1997)
I wonder why Brookmyre doesn't write this kind of thing any more? Or why it hasn't been filmed? Fantastic stuff.
The Mighty Quinns: Brody by Kate Hoffman ()
The Mighty Quinns: Teague by Kate Hoffman ()
The Mighty Quinns: Cal by Kate Hoffman ()
Notionally three separate books, although clearly written at the same time, occupying the same fictional space and time, and cross-referencing each other. Brody, Teague and Cal are three brothers who live and work on an Australian cattle station, who all meet the women of their dreams in the same week. Modern romance with a higher than usual emphasis on sex; nice to see the women being (almost) as assertive as the men.
The Week (27 February 2016 / Issue 1062)
The Secrets Of House Music Production by Marc Adamo (2013)
This is a great starter reference to modern music production in general, not just dance music. A great companion piece to The Producer's Manual by the same publisher. There are loads of interesting walk-throughs of applied techniques, a load of audio examples that can be downloaded, and a whole bunch of cool samples - samples being Sample Magic's main product, of course. My only slight complaint about the book is the format: the A4 landscape format makes it difficult to hold on my lap!

28/02/2016

Lady In Satin

Billie Holiday
1958

I'm finding this a hard album to love. It's an album of standards, in the same vein as the contemporary Sinatra and Fitzgerald albums. But while those two singers were at the top of their abilities at the time, it's clear that Billie Holiday was at the end of her career, and it's uncomfortable listening to her voice. She sounds tired, and there's an underlying feeling that she might only be doing this because she has to (although from what I have read, this is not the case; she wanted to make this album this way).

Bill Holiday's phrasing is as distinctive as ever, although I can't help wishing sometimes that she'd clear her throat first, and the arrangements and musicianship are first rate. There's not much variation across the tracks and because her voice is so unusual, it also serves to blend the songs together somewhat. The overall result is to make the album a less enjoyable experience for me.

Gordon-Smith GS2/60 (2011)

An underrated British Classic

The Gordon-Smith GS2/60 is similar to a Les Paul Junior. The GS is their entry level range, featuring slab bodies and simple finishes. The "2" indicates two humbuckers, while the "60" designation means that the body style is a single cutaway rather than the GS twin cutaway shape. There were also a number of options available when ordering, which I'll go through below. It cost about £800 in 2011 and it's been my main guitar ever since. I only play at home nowadays, so it's not even seen the inside of a rehearsal room, but I still play every day and this is the guitar I pick up most.

Why I bought it
I wanted a guitar with humbuckers, having spent the last decade playing various Fenders. Given my budget at the time, I was looking at the more expensive Epiphones and lower-end Gibsons. I decided on a Gordon-Smith because I'd owned a really nice one in the past, a GS1.5 (sold to make way for a Strat Plus); I'd played a few since then and they always struck me as very playable; and finally, I liked the fact that they are made in England and I could actually talk to John Smith about it before ordering (he was very nice).

The Gordon Smith Guitars company - now without the hyphen - was bought by Auden Guitars last year, but the GS range and the options you can select are largely unchanged. They have a reputation for variable quality, something I didn't know at the time and which I am sure Auden are doing their best to rectify.

Construction
  • The body and neck are made from "Brazilian cedar" (cedrela), a member of the mahogany family. The alternatives at the time were spruce or poplar but given that I was going for an all-over paint finish, John Smith recommended the cedar.
  • The standard GS body is quite thin, so I upgraded to a thick body to give a bit more oomph to the tone. It's about 43mm / 1.75" thick. It's a pretty standard LP shape and dimensions.
  • The neck is glued in and the scale length is 24.625". The fretboard looks like rosewood or something similar, and is probably not a great piece - it's quite varied in colour and texture, with coarse grain in some places and closer grain in others. That said, this doesn't get in the way of playing at all.
  • The playing surface is 12" radius (roughly) with jumbo frets. Position dots are pearloid, well put in apart from the 17th fret marker which has a small chip alongside it.
  • The nut is brass, screwed in to the end of the fingerboard. This is a Gordon-Smith feature on many of their guitars. It's supposed to be adjustable, but I can't see how.
  • The neck is pretty chunky - 44mm wide at the nut, a sort of D/U shape and quite a handful. Truss rod adjustment is via a wheel at the body end, covered by a small plate.
  • The body, back of the neck and headstock are finished in matt black. This was small extra cost over the standard natural finish. The finish is mostly consistently applied, although there are a couple of corners where it's obviously a touch too thin, in the cutaway and on the headstock. It's been worn to a nice smooth shine on the back of the neck over the years.
  • The finishing inside the pickup and control cavities is pretty rough, and the bridge pickup cavity in particular is not quite deep enough - the bridge pickup needs to go down more and this isn't possible because it is already hitting the bottom. Annoyingly, it's also not flat, so now that the pickup is down as far as it will go, it's not quite level.
  • Overall weight is about 7.9 lbs / 3.5 kg.

Hardware & Electrics
  • The stopbar tailpiece is by Gotoh while the bridge is a tune-o-matic type, make unknown, but presumably by the same manufacturer. This was an upgrade over the standard wrap-around bridge, because when I tried some GS guitars before buying, I found the bridge posts on the wrap-around bridge were too big and dug into my hand when I was palm-muting.
  • Tuners are unlabelled but I have been told they are Van Gent. They work fine.
  • The guitar has Schaller straplocks fitted. I always use these. I supplied them to GS and they were fitted at the factory instead of the standard strap buttons.
  • Pickups are Gordon-Smith's own humbuckers, medium output and covered with black plastic covers. Aesthetically I would have preferred metal covers but John's recommendation was that this would dull and diminish the output somewhat.
  • Both pickups are tappable via pull/push pots on the volumes. The tones have a "direct" notch at the top end of their travel - I believe this means they are effectively out of circuit at this point. There's a very slight audible click through the pickups when you do this. All controls are smooth - maybe a bit too easy to move and knock by mistake.
  • The pickup selector is down by the bridge. It's not a very positive switch and is too easy to knock into the middle position. Also, every now and then it needs a spray with switch cleaner or it glitches and there won't be sound via one or other of the pickups.

Sounds
Unplugged, it's a nicely resonant guitar. Clean it has a lovely snap, particularly on the neck pickup. There's a great clean rhythm sound with both pickups on and the neck tapped. There are of course crunchy sounds aplenty with light gain, and the expected big rock sounds on the bridge pickup with a decent amp. With the tones out of circuit (i.e. on 10), the guitar is quite bright, but this is easily tamed by judicious use of the tone controls and gives more options. Overall, it doesn't sound like the most refined LP style guitar I've ever played but it has an honest rock vibe about all its sounds.

Pros & cons
+ Solid & well constructed.
+ Great sounds and a good variety.
+ Very playable neck, if you like bigger necks.
- Pickup selector switch is easy to knock by accident, flicks too easily to centre and occasionally cuts out.
- Some minor finishing faults and rough edges.

Summary & Verdict
I haven't owned many guitars (about eleven, I think) but this is my favourite of all of them. It's a good, solid, no-nonsense rock guitar. It captures the sound of the humbucker roar I have in my head very well and is capable of a wide range of sounds (all but one of the solo of the month entries I have played up to now have been on it). I often play quite hard and it is absolutely up to being thrashed. Gordon-Smith guitars are sometimes described as being workhorses and this is what I like about it.

(originally published as a review on The Fretboard)