By Jim Miller
If you've been reading this column for any length of time, you know that like many of you, I got my start as a musician by playing guitar. That was back in the 1960s when there was no such thing as a home studio or digital technology or computers or, well, pretty much anything that makes our lives so much better these days. You just bought a guitar you could afford, plugged it into an amp (usually a Fender) and played as loud as you possibly could - mostly to irritate the "old folks," but also because it was quite a rush!
Today we have all sorts of tools to help us make music: CD quality digital multitracks, incredibly affordable studio quality reverbs, microphones with phenomenal specs and keyboards that can pretty much sound like any instrument, just to name a few innovations you read about every month in these pages.
But with all this really amazing studio gear, some truly incredible advances in guitar technology may have gotten lost in the shuffle, so I'm devoting this month's column to reminding all you guitarists out there exactly what Sweetwater has available to make your personal musical adventure even more exciting.
GUITARS. Probably nothing is more important than the axe you play, and the instruments being produced by companies all around the world are at an all-time high in terms of overall quality. Back in the 1980s, you stood just as good a chance of ending up with a real lemon as you did of getting a fine instrument, even from the "big name" guitar manufacturers.
All that has changed of course, and though a really great guitar these days would never be considered cheap by any stretch of the imagination, you know that the instrument you're buying today will in all probability last you a lifetime.
A few years ago, Sweetwater quietly began selling guitars from Godin, a small Canadian company that was making superb instruments the old fashioned way: one at a time. The first guitar that Sweetwater began stocking was the Multiac, which came in both steel and nylon string configurations. What set these guitars apart (aside from the awesome quality construction) was that these instruments were designed to produce lifelike acoustic tones via sophisticated piezo pickups and an on-board active EQ system.
But there was more: they also came with a little 13-pin connector that gave Multiacs access to all the Roland GR-Series synthesizers, meaning that you could now have the best of both worlds: great acoustic tones without having to plug in a single microphone, and synth access via a guitar that was finally able to accurately trigger a synth without the delays and serious tracking inconsistencies of previous "guitar synths."
Guitarists, being a conservative group (this is not finger pointing - I speak from experience), were slow to warm to these instruments, but once they actually got their hands on one, felt for themselves the quality of the craftsmanship and heard the sound these things produced, well, they knew they had to have one. I know I personally did after playing a nylon-string Multiac while visiting Sweetwater almost two years ago.
On my last visit to Sweetwater this past October, my good buddy George Kabot (who is the resident Sweetwater Web Master and himself the proud owner of a Multiac steel string guitar) guided me into the labyrinthine depths of the huge Sweetwater warehouse to reveal the newest Godin guitars the company is now stocking, the magnificent LGX-SA. I'll admit that I had seen ads in Guitar Player magazine for these particular instruments and really wasn't all that impressed, and for good reason: these ads don't do the guitar justice. When George opened the case to reveal a shockingly beautiful, highly-figured maple top with stunning mahogany finish, I was floored. Holding it in my hands, feeling the tight construction, running my fingers over the ebony fingerboard . . . well, I had to have one! A top like this on a Gibson could run you over $5,000!
Not only does this guitar offer great performance and beautiful woods, but it sounds incredible thanks to an innovative pickup system plus a built-in L.R. Baggs micro transducer in the bridge with active EQ for a truly convincing acoustic tone from a solid body guitar (it's true). Then there's a 13-pin connector for hooking this beauty up to my Roland VG-8 (more about that in a minute). I've included a photo of my new LGX-SA and I think you'll agree it's a great-looking guitar.
Sweetwater has more of these wonderful instruments in stock in a variety of finishes (mahogany, amber and a truly unique royal blue) with tightly flamed or highly figured curly maple tops. At $1995 list, I strongly suggest that before you buy any other guitar, you talk to your Sweetwater sales engineer about the LGX-SA.
ROLAND VG-8. From previous "Tech Notes" columns you know how impressed I am with this box. For the last eight months or so I've been doing session work on a few albums with some local musicians and the only thing I take with me on these gigs anymore is the VG-8 and an old beat-up Strat copy with a Roland GK-2A pickup mounted on it (but I'll now be using my new Godin LGX-SA, of course).
This one unit gives me every classic guitar sound. I have yet to have someone suggest a sound at one of these sessions that I haven't been able to call up within seconds with the VG-8, particularly since I've installed the VG8S-1 Upgrade - now you can even create very convincing acoustic tones thanks to this box's "hollow body" algorithm. Somebody says "I need a Tom Petty vibe" and I call up a Rickenbacker 12-string program. "Allman Brothers" - sure, no problem, Les Paul and a Marshall coming up. In a pinch, I've even used the VG-8 to lay down some pretty respectable bass tracks thanks to the unit's powerful pitch shifter.
Every time I attend a guitar show, the biggest crowds are invariably gathered around the VG-8; often there's a line of people waiting to try it out for themselves. Hint: there's no waiting in line at Sweetwater, though - they've got a Roland VG-8 right there, waiting to get delivered right to your door!
AMPS. There's been somewhat of a renaissance of sorts lately in the amp world. Musicians have really begun to understand that the amp has as much to do with their overall tone as their guitar does. Unfortunately, this fascination with amps (particularly tube amps) has led to a huge rise in the price of vintage Fender, Vox and Marshall amps, as well as skyrocketing prices on newer high end amps (go ahead, just try to buy a Trainwreck amp today). Fortunately help is on the way in the form of digital technology.
Now you might think that the word "digital" hardly belongs in the same paragraph with "tube amps," but thanks to the latest cutting-edge digital technology, you can get incredibly close to the sound of a real tube amp in a modern, reliable amplifier that won't cost as much as a small condo in Maui.
Case in point: If you're looking for the vintage look and feel (and sound) of a blonde '60s Bassman, but want the versatility of an amp that won't limit you to just one particular sound, take a look at the new Roland Blues Cuberrrabuyvsvsveytfazersurdwarubawvev amps with "Tube Logic". These babies sound great and use much the same breakthrough technology that allowed Roland engineers to develop the VG-8. What's more, prices start at an incredibly low $479 (list) for the 30-watt BC30 with 12" speaker.
Also new is the AxSys 212 from Line 6 with its proprietary TubeTone Processing. While in Ft. Wayne this past October, George Kabot and I spent a whole evening putting this monster through its paces and both agreed its potential was nearly limitless (oh, George now owns one, by the way - smart move on his part). Aside from its ability to sound like a Marshall stack, Fender Twin, Mesa/Boogie, Soldano and more, this killer amp includes a full set of studio quality 24-bit digital effects. All for a list price just over a grand.
Of course Sweetwater also carries a full complement of awesome guitar effects processors and other cool gear to help make your guitar sound even better. I've personally been lobbying for Sweetwater to carry other guitars and amps (like Paul Reed Smiths, for example). If you have strong feelings on the subject yourself, send e-mail to "email@example.com" and let them know you'd like to be buying your guitar gear from the same dealer where you buy all your other stage, studio and MIDI equipment: Sweetwater Sound!
So until next issue, friends, here's hoping your 1997 is off to a great start and that we all get signed to record for a major label real soon.
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