Tools of the trade… wood choices in Strat-land.

The two "chosen ones".

The two “chosen ones”.



After owning a few “uber” vintage Strats, I’ve found a couple of great guitars that sit with the “good ‘uns”, and I think that my ears have really become sensitive to the differences between individual guitars of this particular model – now that I’m a Strat Cat again. A big reason for the re-visiting of my once favourite model, is that I now have the tools in the amplification department to get good gain at lower volumes – pretty much any sound that I want (thank you, Two Notes Torpedo and QSC!) – handy, or even necessary, in a 3 piece setting.

I have owned a couple of real ’56 Strats in the last few years, and while both were magical guitars, they were a little strident – in fact, they could shatter glass if you cranked ’em up. My beloved 64/65 Strat, which now resides with my best pal Pete F., on the other hand, was balanced across the range. Why was this so?

The beloved 64/65 "Troiano" Strat

The beloved 64/65 “Troiano” Strat

Well, the acoustic properties of an electric guitar are well known to us all – that’s why YOU could hear the difference between a guitar with a loose truss rod and the same guitar with a straight fingerboard and a tight truss rod – yes, you could! So to over-simplify a bit, maple board Strats are brighter and thinner sounding than rosewood board models… often clearer and more articulate too. Ash bodies are also brighter – and if they are light-weight – thinner sounding. An Alder body has a more even tone, with lots of mid-range and smooth highs and big smooth lows. Sure there are other woods, but these are the typical configurations.

Maple Neck / Alder Body

Maple Neck / Alder Body

So what I didn’t like about the ’56 Strats was the ash body/maple neck combo. Not to run that sound down – a killer tone you’ll hear on many records – but not MY sound. And it certainly works for Teles!!! In early to mid ’56, the bodies changed to alder, and to me, the ’56s with an alder body and a maple neck sound killer! I have this combination in my current maple neck Strat – and while it’s articulate, it has a smooth top end. My LSL Rosewood board “Strat” is a bit different… it has a gorgeous rosewood neck with rolled edges – a very similar neck to the 64/65 – but a little bigger… however, it has a lightweight swamp ash body that helps give the guitar it’s 6.7lb weight. This guitar rings! I swear you can hear the trem cavity / springs / control and pickup routes … very nuanced, very lively… real “cluck” and just killer… and the rosewood neck tames it just enough! This guitar “talks”! I LOVE it!

LSL Saticoy "Strat" gut shot

LSL Saticoy “Strat” gut shot

One last thought… well, two actually… I’m a big fan of a slightly hotter bridge pickup in a Strat. It takes the edge off and balances well with lower output N and M pickups – 6.5k – 7.5k is ideal. The “Troiano” has that ( a lucky accident?) and so do my Strats featured here. Secondly, I always wire a tone control to the bridge pickup… like a Tele… and just as usable!


Stratocaster® Setup Part 2

Sherwood Green Metallic Sounds Best!

Sherwood Green Metallic Sounds Best!

Thanks to Alex D. for alerting me to the Carl Verheyen Strat Trem setup… Here’s the Dean Markley © C.V. setup off their Balanced Bridge string pack:

Carl Verheyen Stratocaster® Full Floating Tremolo Bridge Setup. For the last 30 years the Fender® Stratocaster® has been my main guitar. When working with the bridge setup I always strive for the most musical and in-tune mechanical operation I can find. I’ve asked hundreds of players about their setup and over the years I’ve come up with my own method that always returns to pitch and has many musical benefits as well. The method described works best when the tuners are working properly, the nut has been properly cut so strings don’t bind,  the neck truss rod properly adjusted and the six (or two) mounting screws that fasten the bridge plate provide proper freedom of movement. At the heart of the setup is balancing spring tension with string tension by adjusting the two long spring tension adjusting screws at the “claw” to which the tremolo springs are attached to the steel tremolo block. Use three springs from the tremolo block to the claw: furthest position left, furthest position right and center; do NOT set the outside springs at an angle. 1. Begin by adjusting the two screws of the claw so that when you pull UP on the tremolo arm and the bridge is in contact with the body the G string pulls up a minor 3rd.This will make the B string rise a whole step and the E string a half step. The mechanics of the system should first make musical sense. When done correctly, you will end up with an “Angled Claw”—which is exactly what you’re looking for. (Balancing the Tension.) 2. You may have to go back and forth a few times between the two adjusting screws until the bridge is stable and the intervals described are true. And you’ll need to correct the intonation by adjusting the bridge saddles. This takes a bit of time. But when done properly, you will enjoy it. 3. When all is right and balanced between springs and strings, the Am7 barre chord on the 5th fret should sound like it is descending musically to an Abm7 when the bar is slightly depressed. It won’t be perfect but it’s a very musical sound you’re after and should achieve.This effect is ideal for “shaking” chords and applying a manual tremolo to your voicings. 4. An important point is to lubricate string contact points. I use a Teflon® lubricant by Dean Markley (Dean’s Tuba Luba) under the strings at the nut slots and where the strings contact the string tree(s).You only need to use a little lube; wipe away any excess. 5. I try to use the minimum windings on the string posts, preferring just one if possible. My bass strings leave the post at the top; my trebles wind down and leave the post at the bottom. 6. There is a short video of me explaining the whole process at: All the best, Carl Verheyen Fender® and Stratocaster® are registered Trademarks of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Teflon® is a registered Trademark of DuPont™.


Rig Rundown 2016… Digital? …maybe, just a little…

Da Rig... Ignore the Z cab.... it's just a stand!

Da Rig… Ignore the Z cab…. it’s just a stand!

Last night, I had the opportunity to hang with my dear friend Ronnie Douglas and his peeps on the occasion of his birthday, and I got into a little discussion with my pal and monster player, Ian Ross. Naturally, we were talking about gear – guys talk about gear, ladies talk about the family – we did a little of both! But then, my lovely wife was present to ensure the latter.

Anyway, I just sold yet another great amp yesterday – my wonderful 1966 Fender Princeton Reverb – one of the best Fender amps I have ever played (don’t worry, be happy, Brent B.!). And I am kind of getting down to a single, solitary setup for da band. In fact, given that I play in a “3 piece”, and having pretty much given up on Strats as being “too thin sounding”, I’m now back into Strats in a big way due to this latest rig! I had tried the Axe FX in it’s most up-to-date incarnation, and while it was amazing, and while it covers so much sonic ground, it was just too complex for a 3 knob guy like me. Plus, you really need to spend a lot of time tweaking and thinking about it – not my “thing”. Two of the huge byproducts of the Axe, are the ability to play with any tone at any volume, and the ability to simply use the P.A. for one’s signal path. What I have found, that solves quite a few issues, as well as these two, is the Two Notes Torpedo Live. This one rack space box (the other box in the rack is a Furman Power Conditioner to plug everything into) emulates a speaker cab, specific speakers, and a carefully placed mic or mics. You use a simple one screen piece of computer software to set up the cab in a room while you play. As you move the mic around with the mouse, the sound changes as you play your guitar. When you’re happy, you save the setting. Although it does come with lots of factory presets. I have created a very nice Marshall style 2 X 12 that is mic-ed with a virtual ribbon mic, off axis, to give a nice big, but smooth, tone. You can save lots of different cab setups and easily switch between them with one knob on the Torpedo. The second knob on the Torpedo allows me to run my Friedman Smallbox 50 at any level, while controlling the output level – and thus solving problem #2 – any tone at any volume. The attenuated output then goes to my powered QSC K10 monitor, and from there, on to the P.A.

Two Notes Torpedo Live

Two Notes Torpedo Live

I did some A/B-ing and I found that the best tone, for me, comes out of that QSC K10. Heck, I even prefer the emulated cabinet/K10 to using a real cabinet, in terms of what I am hearing. I had an Atomic powered wedge monitor – and they are great – and probably the best thing with an Axe FX, but I honestly preferred the tone of the QSC K10 and K12 monitors with my rig. I chose the K10 because it was a little smaller than the K12, and while ever so slightly less “open” sounding, there was very, very little difference in tone. The K10 also had the advantage of being slightly “tighter” sounding. Another thing is that I can still run my pedals with this rig – and they sound great! Running my pedals with the Axe FX was a bit “glitchy”, plus it added yet another layer of complexity to an already complex situation. So now I’m back into pedals!!!

Pedal board as it has evolved

Pedal board as it has evolved

QSC K10 1000 watt powered speaker

QSC K10 1000 watt powered speaker

The end result, as I sit and play “Third Stone From The Sun” on my Stratocaster, is that the dogs don’t even flinch! The tone is so “right” and I’m a happy camper. You can buy the Two Notes Torpedo Live for under $1500. I got one from my pal Andy Cherna at Diffusion Audio. I don’t work for Andy, but I’m sure hoping that “the cheque’s in the mail!” 🙂 Not!!!




“You Want How Much???!!!…”. Establishing Value 101

Here’s a nitty gritty topic for a proprietor of an on-line guitar store (like me) – ESTABLISHING VALUE! Since this is a Blog, I’ll just ramble a bit with the few thoughts that are rattling around in my brain, rather than trying to write a scientific paper on guitar value-ology! But I won’t lie to you, I have 20 odd years of establishing value in another business – so I have some background here. Let me say that the principles are the same whether you’re valuing a boat, a car, a house, or in our case, a guitar. For example, although “asking” prices have some small relevance in the equation, it’s really the price that something sells for that establishes value of a similar item, for the most part. That’s where the “Vintage Guitar Price Guide” gets its numbers. Then there’s Ebay “completed items” – quite useful and quite current. Plus there are lots of other less visible sources that one learns about over time for checking out “what’s sold for how much”. So we also ask: how long ago did that similar guitar sell? Was it in the current market? Was the guitar that sold identical to the one we are trying to appraise – or do we need to make value adjustments for different condition, features, or mods? Obviously, a guitar that is almost the same as the one we are trying to evaluate but sold 2 years ago may need a value adjustment for a different market. Hey, my pal Jeff P. offered me either a 1961 Strat or a 1958 Tele for $600 – “take your pick”, he said… but that was 1979… so we must adjust value for the time. By the way, I took the Tele! And no, I don’t still have it!  Also, some sales are made under duress, so we typically take a few comparable sales and knock out the highest and lowest… we’re looking for a cluster of prices for similar instruments. Sometimes, especially with modded or unique guitars, it’s really hard to find close comparable instruments that have sold. So there is some voodoo involved – it’s not all science! You kind of have to get a feel for what might affect value and by how many $$$ in the real world.

OK … find one like this! A Strat with 3 Firebird pickups.

Of course, it’s natural for us to feel that what WE have is worth a whole lot of cabbage… but what we want to buy… well, not worth so much. In my little on-line business I tend to just roll with people’s opinions of the respective values, or at least I hear them out, and sometimes I even just do trades for the fun of it – or because I want to change my inventory around (you know, keep the website fresh) – knowing full well that my customer’s opinion of the value of his/her stuff is inflated! That’s the price I pay ’cause I am a geetar junkie! Of course, sometimes reason prevails and I just don’t do the deal… or I only do it if we can get to realistic values – ones where I can make some money – so that someday I can call this a “business” rather than a “hobby”. My problem isn’t figuring out the values… it’s letting my compulsive, guitar-addicted self rule my business self!!! THAT is my problem! Sometimes I really go off the rails e.g. my recent purchase of what I call my “double cut nightmare” – an acquisition (ostensibly for the store) based on impulse and passion that is sure to ultimately end up in the red, that is, once it’s been marketed and moved along!!! But don’t get any ideas! 🙂 , I’m working on getting tough as nails!!! I practice in the mirror, you know! 🙂 To be fitting, I think it appropriate that I post some “guitar porn” pics of a few odd-ball guitars that are tough to pin a value on… Hey, Bo Diddley… we’ll start there.

A bass made by Tom Holmes for Bo Diddley in the 70s and sold after Bo’s passing – I owned this for a while.

Here’s the case that Bo cleverly customized with his own artwork… THE MAN! You betcha!

A 1961 Gibson ES-335 Dot Neck that’s been re-necked using the old fingerboard, truss rod, and binding.

Howard Leese’ (of Heart & Bad Company) ’96 rare Gold Sparkle CU22 – featured on Bad Company Live at Wembley – and soon to be for sale at Blue Hugh Music



Finding A Guitar That Speaks To You!

Sometimes we forget that “you don’t choose a guitar, a guitar chooses you”. There are plenty of stories about great guitarists we all know simply seeing a guitar – not even touching it – and just knowing it’s THE ONE! But let’s be practical here… for mere mortals it may be a lesser epiphany, but you can still know.

Below is one I did bond with… 2005 Gustavsson Bluesmaster

I recently aquired a Les Paul Sunburst with my ideal flame top, THE neck profile… just a great weight… Anyway, I put in my favourite pickups… but the bloody thing doesn’t speak to me!!! The Les Paul that does, is a ’55 Wraptail Custom Reissue… and I don’t even LIKE black Les Paul Customs!!! But that guitar just has “something” – at least to me. I took it to a gig and just wasn’t able to put it down all night! What’s with that?

But basically, and this is “Professor H” speaking here: you can add up all the attributes and still … if it’s coming from “the mind”, it doesn’t guarantee that there will be a bonding taking place – as much as we would force the square peg into the round hole. Sometimes it just takes time to bond with a guitar, sometimes it’s instantaneous, sometimes we desparately want it to happen – but it never does!

I have had plenty of absolutely perfect guitars that didn’t work out. Maybe I’m just not THAT kind of player anymore (recently a 1956 Strat and a 1963 Strat). Who knows? But for whatever reason, there’s no connection!

So try as you will to bond with your latest aquisition – it’ll either happen or it won’t – and I don’t get the feeling that we have too much “say” in the matter!!!

Cheers to finding your Muse! Hugh H.