Fender Brings Back the Legendary Bass VI in Its Pawn Shop and Squier Lines

Pawn Shop Bass VI Burst

Fender sent out an e-mail blast this week which, among other things, listed some new guitars in their Pawn Shop Line. Most interesting to me was the re-appearance of a Bass VI! I wrote a fairly comprehensive article about the Bass VI back in 2006 (CLICK HERE). At the time I was really interested in the Bass VI as a way to bridge my bass playing skills to 6-string. The Bass VI was a premium guitar from Fender which didn’t fit in my budget, but I tried out a couple of the Baritone Jaguars that Fender put out as a response to demand for a guitar in this class. You can read the article I linked to above where I compare the guitars, but ultimately I didn’t keep either of the guitars I tried and decided to invest in some regular 6-string electrics.

That said, this appearance of the Bass VI in the Pawn Shop line has me pretty interested in the Bass VI again. The guitar is introduced at an MSRP of $1079.99 (street price is estimated at $799) which makes this the most affordable Bass VI in a long time. Keeping with Fender’s tagline of “Guitars That Never Were But Should Have Been” the Bass VI gets a slight makeover and improves the guitar. For one thing, Fender removed the complicated and awkward bank of pickup switches and replaced it with a more conventional 5-position switch. Additionally, they replaced the bridge single-coil pickup with a humbucker that at first glance looked like a P90 or P100 but is in fact the Jazzmaster Humbucker (designated JZHB). This will give the guitar some interesting tone options not available in any of the previous Bass VI or Jaguar Baritone configurations. They did keep the distinctive locking tremolo and floating bridge that the Bass VI had and maintained the 30″ (76.2 cm) scale.


The Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-300 in Sunburst

The Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-300 in Sunburst

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-306 Black

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-306 in Black

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-309 in Candy Apple Red

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-309 in Candy Apple Red

The Pawn Shop Bass VI comes in three colors: Black with tortoise pickguard, Three-tone Sunburst with tortoise pickguard, and Candy Apple Red with painted headstock and parchment pickguard. The Bass VI comes out on March 19th, according to Guitar Center, where you can pre-order it.

In the vast history of electric guitars from Fender, the Bass VI is somewhat obscure and harbors a kind of cultish, rabid fanbase. It remains to be seen if this re-introduction will widen the visibility of the Bass VI, but I think that there is pent-up demand from people who have been unwilling or unable to pay premium prices for a used Bass VI. If Guitar Center here in Cedar Rapids gets one in, I’ll go try it out and report back.

Click Here to read my article comparing the Bass VI to the Baritone Jaguars.

Click Here to Go to Fender’s Pawn Shop Bass VI page.

UPDATE: You can now get a regular configuration Bass VI as a Squier! Click the pictures below to check them out at Reverb.com – The Marketplace for Musicians!

(Upcoming Release) Neil Young Brings “Le Noise” With Daniel Lanois

Neil Young’s new solo album Le Noise will be released on September 28th. A collaboration with studio-genius and five-time Grammy Award winner Daniel Lanois— the album promises to be sonically one of Neil’s most distinctive releases in a catalog that spans over 50 years and 40 albums if you only include titles credited only to him!

Although Lanois has a notable career as a musician, he is probably best known for his work producing or co-producing such bands and artists as U2 (Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, All That You Can’t Leave Behind), Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind), Peter Gabriel (So, Us), Brian Eno (Apollo, Thursday Afternoon), Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball), Willie Nelson (Teatro), Robbie Robertson (Robbie Robertson) just to name the big ones. Even though you can see from just this list how Lanois and Young worked in the same music circles (Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Robbie Robertson), this is the first time they’ve collaborated on a record.

Le Noise— which has to be a pun on Lanois’ name– was recorded in Silverlake, CA at Lanois’ home which itself is a key to the sonic textures that were brought to this recording. No band, no overdubs– “[Neil] walked in the door and I put an acoustic guitar into his hands,” Lanois says “– one that I had been working on to build a new sound.”

Considering that Lanois’ on solo recording as well as records by guitar-loop wizard Michael Brook are typically built up around a single instrument, I have an idea how this record might sound. Neil Young is generally not regarded as an artist who varies much in his sound– he’s either running full-tilt distortion with his 50’s vintage Gibson Les Paul known as “Old Black” or in a stripped down acoustic folkie mode. Certainly he has painted very complex paintings with just these brushes in his passel over the years– but he’s never to my knowledge worked with a producer that leaves such a distinctive signature as Lanois does.

Le Noise will be released in several formats, including standard CD, vinyl, digital download, and as a deluxe CD/DVD. The DVD portion, shot by cinematographer Adam Vollick, will feature eight black and white films of Young performing each song solo on acoustic and electric guitar live in the studio. In November, Reprise will also release a Blu-Ray edition, featuring Lanois and Vollick’s beautifully shot films of Young.

It is comforting to know that an artist with such a legacy and history who is being forced to look back on his career in the form of the work surrounding The Neil Young Archives is also looking forward– and really would we expect anything less?

Tracklisting for Le Noise:

Walk With Me
Sign of Love
Rescue Me
Love and War
Angry World
Peaceful Valley Blvd

B-Sides in the Bins #43 – Record Store Day 4/18/2009

Record Store Day Crawl #1 for Record Store Day 2009 went mostly without a hitch and certainly I look forward to next year! My friends Erik and Alex were my companions for the trip which made for a pretty great day.

The plan was to hit the two record stores in Dubuque and the one in Iowa City since those were the closest to Cedar Rapids. I had originally hoped to hit Zzz Records in Des Moines, but that would have made for a very long day. I had called the three stores last week to see which of the special release items they were planning to get. Only Mike at Moondog Music was able to give the the full list as he had gotten most of his ordered inventoried already, the other two stores hadn’t gotten theirs, yet. Based on the reported opening times of the stores, I decided to hit CD’s 4 Change in Dubuque first since they were going to open at 10AM, followed by Moondog Music at 11AM and then we’d beat it to Iowa City to hit Real Records and hopefully be wrapped up before 4PM.

I got up early and picked up Erik and Alex. We hit Croissant du Jour to get coffees and French pastries for the road. We made it to CD’s 4 Change at 9:30AM and hung around for a bit to see if they’d open. 10AM rolled around and no sign of anyone opening. So, we walked over to Uncle Ike’s Music which was kitty-corner from the record store. When I lived in Dubuque in the 90’s I spent a lot of time at Uncle Ike’s when they were downtown. The store was pretty busy for early on Saturday morning and they had a very impressive collection of guitars at great prices. Erik picked up some patch cables and Alex bought a neat Oscar Schmidt OU2 ukulele while we waited. Ike’s had a pretty interesting collection of used Stratocasters including A white ’85 MIJ with black head and locking nut for $369, and this pristine ’94 40th Anniversary for $899, complete with 40th badging.

We headed back over to CD’s 4 Change and at that time someone pulled up and opened the store. I asked about the special orders for today, and they had a very small collection of items. The owner stated that he didn’t order any of the major label releases and didn’t order any of the Sub Pop either. He didn’t get any of the Thrill Jockey Records Toreism 12″s. He had the Pavement Live LP as well as the Touch and Go Jesus Lizard Inch 7″ box set, and had both of the Sonic Youth split singles. Not a great showing of those releases, but he was having a $2-off of all new vinyl, which was great, and Erik bought a slug of records as they have an impressive new vinyl release selection. Erik was able to pick up The Sea and Cake Everybody album, which was cool as it has been out-of-print for a couple of years. I would have picked up the SY singles, but I knew that Mike at Moondog had them for $1 cheaper.

Flipping through the new and used LP’s I found a bunch of interesting pieces, and if I wasn’t trying to stay under a budget that needed to include the exclusive releases I would have picked up some of these: a still sealed Ventures Walk Don’t Run on United Artists! ($50, even with the $2 off, it was a bit too pricey for me), R.E.M. Reckoning and Life’s Rich Pageant for $8 and $10. I don’t have these on vinyl today, but I’m holding out for ones with better covers, The Moody Blues Days of Future Past for $2– Minty cover and LP with plastic inner sleeve. It’s a later pressing under PolyGram. I just about bought it, but do I need a fourth copy of this? They also had the Beastie Boys 2 LP reissue of Check Your Head, which I’d like to pick up at some point. They also had Pink Floyd The Wall and The Final Cut for over $10 apiece. I have neither of these, and would have snagged The Wall if it weren’t for the scratch on one of the LP’s. I had briefly considered picking up some Ryan Adams vinyl– they had Demolition and Gold which would have been $10.99 during their sale.
Moondog Music
We departed for Moondog Music while the sky started spitting. We never did get the real rain that was predicted– just enough to piss you off and make it muggy. We stopped in around 11:30ish and although Mike wasn’t in yet, he had a bag prepared with “MIKE (CEDAR RAPIDS)” written on it with all of the pieces that we discussed on the phone as well as a bunch of really cool freebies! Talk about service! We flipped through the used and new vinyl in the store, Moondog has a great selection of new vinyl as well. I’m beginning to think I need to make some runs to Dubuque just to go record shopping. In the bins: The new crazy reissue of Beck’s Odelay in a box set with 4 LP’s for $99. I’d love to have this piece in my collection but it didn’t fit in my budget. Here is what I picked up at Moondog Music:

Various Artists – Records Toreism (12″, Thrill Jockey 12.30, 2009) ($12.99) Gorgeous hand-screened cover, four tracks from TJ artists old and new. Brand new Tortoise track “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” from the upcoming Beacons of Ancestorship album, “Window” by Mountains is unreleased as well as the Double Dagger track “Stagger Lee” and the Trans Am track “Wounded Monkey.” This is the first Thrill Jockey appearance of recent signings White Hills with “Eye to Eye” which was previously on a tour-only CD-R called Abstractions and Mutations. Included in the sleeve with the record are two photocopied booklets. The first little booklet is a manifesto of sorts called “Recordstoreism” on visiting your record store frequently and is apparently an anti-iPod perspective as well with iPod-and-crossbones logos and “..knock down to the Pod Peddlers!! Zombies tethered to headphones. Wandering Wastrels whose auditory corridors are clogged with wax.” The second booklet called “Whatisinstore” is emblazoned with a bunch of indie record store names inside of which are essays by artists and store workers alike about record stores. I think I found most of the stores I’ve been to: Jazz Record Mart, Cheapo’s, Electric Fetus, Moondog Records (s.i.c.),  Hard Boiled, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Reckless Records, The Record Collector, Mad City Music Exchange, Treehouse Records, Zzz Records, Newbury Comics… They included Rolling Stones, but I didn’t see any Thrill Jockey at their store when I was there last month. I didn’t see Real or CD’s 4 Change on there. Maybe you can special order TJ there. A very cool piece very much in the spirit of the day.

Tom Waits – Live Glitter & Doom Tour 2008 (7″, Anti- Records 87018-7, 2009) ($5.98) I don’t really collect Tom Waits, but this was a pretty neat release. “Lucinda / Ain’t Going Down To The Well” from Atlanta, backed by “Bottom of the World” from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Bob Dylan – “Dreamin’ Of You” / “Down Along the Cove” (7″ Columbia 8697-50225-7, 2009)($6.98) “Dreamin’ of You” is from last year’s great Tell-Tale Signs – Bootleg Series Volume 8 release. It was the lead off track that was sort of a single. Produced by Lanois as part of the Time Out of Mind sessions. “Down Along the Cove” is a John Wesley Harding track that Dylan did for his 2004 Bonnaroo appearance. This track previously appeared on the Bonnaroo 2004 compilation CD. Includes a photo of Dylan.

Whiskeytown – “San Antone” / “The Great Divide” (7″ Geffen B00128170-21, 2009)($5.98) “Limited Edition Produced Exclusively for Record Store Day 2009” – two unreleased tracks from Ryan Adams’s pre-solo, pre-Cardinals band Whiskeytown. These are two tracks from the Baseball Park sessions that would make up Whiskeytown’s first album Faithless Street in 1995. When Faithless Street was reissued in 1998 by Outpost, it included Baseball Park tracks which were produced by Chris Stamey (from the dB’s). These two tracks were not part of those. Really nice hard sleeve that reproduces the Faithless Street cover photograph taken by Ryan.

The Sonik Youth / Beck – “Pay No Mind” / “Green Light” (7″ Matador OLE 865-7, 2009)($5.98) Limited edition (2500) split single. Sonic Youth covers “Pay No Mind” from Beck’s Mellow Gold, and Beck covers “Green Light” from Sonic Youth’s EVOL album.

Iron & Wine – Norfolk 6/20/05 (CD, Sub Pop SPCD 839, 2009)($7.99) Super-cute CD made to look like a mini-Sub Pop singles club release. Iron & Wine live during their 2005 tour after the release of Woman King EP. A sticker on the wrap mentions the upcoming release Around the Well, which will be a compilation of B-Sides and Rarities due out May 19th and will be followed by a tour. The cover art also mentions playedlastnight.com which is a place where you can purchase shows by Iron & Wine as well as The Swell Season.

The Jesus Lizard – INCH (8 x 7″, Touch and Go tg347, 2009)($29.99) Limited, numbered edition (256 / 2000) I will admit that I haven’t been a big fan of The Jesus Lizard, but will readily admit their influence on a lot of bands that I’ve listened to. Touch and Go records created this amazing “box set” of all of the singles release during The Jesus Lizard’s time on Touch and Go. All of the singles have been out-of-print for over six years, apparently. The singles have been remastered by Bob Westin and include reproductions of the original sleeves and are included in this really great clear plastic package that houses them, or could be used to display them as it has metal eyelets at the top. Gorgeous, if bittersweet release from Touch and Go as this will be one of the last new releases from the label until economic times improve. They are hoping to do reissues of the Jesus Lizard LP catalog in August, too.

In addition to the releases I purchased, Moondog included a recycled bag from WEA made of 60% post industrial and consumer recycled content full of freebies which included:

Various Artists – Happy Birthday to Me – SP20 – Terminal Sales Vol 3 (CD, SubPop SPCD 779, 2008) ($0) Super-cool CD celebrating 20 years of Sub Pop Records. Comes in a neat gatefold sleeve. 18 tracks of Sub Pop artists including Mudhoney, Wolf Parade, No Age, Blitzen Trapper, Flight of the Conchords, as well as a birthday card we are supposed to fill out and mail to Sub Pop and an SP20 sticker taboot!

Various Artists – Bloodshot Catalog Sampler (CD, Bloodshot Records, 2008)($0) Compilation of artists on Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot is the home of Jay Farrar of Son Volt, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Split Lip Rayfield and Andre Williams among others. Bloodshot is also handling the vinyl reissue of  Ryan Adams’s Heartbreaker. Reissued as a 2 LP gatefold! Home of Dexter Romweber Duo and Ha Ha Tonka, too.

Various Artists – Live Your Life with Verve (CD, Verve Music Group VERR01591-2, 2008)($0) A compilation of artists on the Verve label(s). Includes the Diplo remix of Mariena Shaw’s “California Soul” which was on the Verve Remixed 4 compilation. “California Soul” was included in Brainfreeze by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, too.

Beat Union – Disconnected (CD, Science Records 426428-2, 2008)($0) Pop-Punk outfit from the UK. Disconnected is their debut release under the band’s new moniker as Beat Union. They used to be called Shortcut to Newark. This release was produced by Goldfinger frontman John Feldman. I haven’t listened to this, yet. If it rocks, I’ll review it.

“You Think You Really Know Me – The Gary Wilson Story” (DVD + CD, Plexifilm 032, 2008)($0) Wow, this is a pretty cool freebie. In 1977 Gary Wilson recorded a crazy outsider-art experimental album and effectively dropped off the face of the recording industry. A bunch of noted artists including Beck start talking about him and the renewed interest in him causes folks to look for him. This is the documentary about his return to recording and includes the seminal You Think You Really Know Me album. He apparently recorded an album for Stones Throw in 2004 as well.

Other goodies in the bag included a Touch and Go Records sticker, a Bloodshot Records Sticker, a drink coaster promoting the Oasis album Dig Out Your Soul, a sticker promoting the Hank III record Damn Right, Rebel Proud, a rolled poster for Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky album, a folded poster for Mogwai’s The Hawk Is Howling album, and a temporary tattoo that says “Jesus Loves Scott H. Biram” with praying hands that is a Bloodshot Records promo for Scott H. Biram. Also got the Dec ’08/Dec ’09 Paste Magazine.

What a very cool collection of freebies! Thanks Moondog Music!

From there we headed to Kennedy Mall to get burgers and beers at the Mining Company. Still the great burgers and fries I remembered from the 90’s. Our hunger sated, we made the hour-and-a-half drive to Iowa City for the Real Records stop. We listened to the Iron & Wine CD on the way there.

Real! CD's and Records

I hadn’t been to Real since it’s coming back in business. Real! originally opened in 1986, and I remember frequenting it along with The Record Collector and BJ’s back then. Sadly, BJ’s is gone, and Real! was gone for a while, too. It’s been back for three years (I think) under new management by Craig Kessler, who is also a DJ on the Jazz station KCCK-FM.

Real is now abutted with a book store, which is pretty cool. When we stopped there I didn’t spend any time in the book store, but certainly will next time I’m in town. The store itself is jam-packed with product, but has a laid-back cozy kind of feel. Lots of new and used vinyl and CDs. Craig still had some of the Record Store day exclusives in although he said a lot of it was already bought. He had the Talking Heads 77 180g vinyl as well as the Jane’s Addiction vinyl reissues of Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual (which aren’t really exclusive, but were released Saturday), and had the Columbia 7″es for Dylan and Springsteen as well as the Rhino 7″es making this the only place I saw these. Here’s what I picked up:

MC5 – “Kick Out The Jams” / “Motor City Is Burning” (7″, Rhino Entertainment R-21481, 2009) ($5.99) Very cool reissue of the seminal 1969 MC5 single on Elektra for “Kick Out The Jams.” Notable for the use of word “motherf*uckers” in the intro shout. The flipside is a cover of the John Lee Hooker song “Motor City is Burning.” According to the Wikipedia article on the MC5, there was a single for radio that replaced the intro explitive with “brothers and sisters.”

New Order – “Temptation” / “Hurt” (7″, Rhino Entertainment R-21479, 2009)($5.99) Another cool reissue from Rhino. This is a repressing of New Order’s 1982 Factory Records single for “Temptation” and “Hurt” (aka Fac63) This represents the first time this single has been released domestically in the US. The notable fact being that New Order used different mixes for every version of a release, so any version released in the US could be different from the UK versions. I have the original Fac63 12″ which is die stamped, so this is a nice companion to that.

Pieta Brown – Flight Time (CD, T Records, 2008)($11.99) Not a Record Store Day exclusive. Kind of pricey for a 7-track EP, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to pick this one up since Pieta’s touring schedule doesn’t seem to mesh with my life schedule. This EP is a really good companion to her last album Remember the Sun. This is self-released. I wonder what this means about future releases? One Little Indian seems to be staying up-to-date on her touring schedule, so that implies a current relationship.

While I was flipping though the bins, I found a copy of the out-of-print Mountains vinyl for $16.99 which I was tempted to pick up. They also had the last Sea & Cake album Car Alarm and the Human Bell LP. So, this is a good place to pick up Thrill Jockey releases. Craig was playing the relatively obscure Miles Davis Big Fun album. I’d never heard of it, but recognized it as Davis. The release had been regarded at it’s 1974 release as being a filler release. The sessions were recorded in 1969, 1970 and 1972. These session included quite a few jazz heavyweights: Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin and Ron Carter amongst the large list of performers. The version he was playing was a Japanese Sony version of the original album. In 2000 it was re-released with other sessions recorded between Bitches Brew and Tribute to Jack Johnson expanding the release to a 2 CD version. So, this particular visit did what a record store visit should do– educate! I’ve already done some looking into Big Fun and will probably at least download it, and keep an eye out for a vinyl version.

So, all-in-all a sucessful day! I’m glad I got to do this run and big thanks to Erik and Alex for coming along and making it much more fun than it would have been by myself. Stay tuned for next year’s Record Store Day Crawl!

New Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Studio “Vintage Mahogany”

Gibson Les Paul Studio Vintage Mahogany

Guitar Center had their regular huge blowout “list” sale last Labor Day Weekend. Since last Christmas I had been contemplating picking up one of the Gibson Les Paul Vintage Mahogany guitars. The sale over Christmas was a good one and this guitar was included in it, so I was hoping that it would be included again for this sale, too. This was a guitar that Sherry said that she liked a lot. This guitar has a “thin” nitrocellulose finish and has a matte finish that Sherry prefers on it rather than a glossy one. I had been struggling with selling my somewhat rare Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom that is the “star” of the most-read article on my blog. The fact of the matter is that I just don’t play it. So, if I can move to a new guitar that might fit my playing better, and it was on sale, I thought I’d better jump on it.

On Friday over lunch I hightailed it over to Guitar Center in Cedar Rapids, and found out that the guitar in question was, in fact, on sale! It was on sale for $200 off! This guitar is part of Gibson’s sub-$1000 line of guitars that includes most of the “Faded” line.

This is a pretty interesting guitar in a lot of ways. It seems that Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend has this guitar manufactured specifically for them. Apparently manufactured in large enough numbers that they can sell them very cheaply. On the surface, it looks just like the regular Gibson Les Paul Studio in what they call “Worn Brown” with Chrome Hardware. It’s their no-frills Les Paul which I prefer– no amber “top hat” volume and tone knobs, no gold hardware, no binding. Mahogany solid-body with chambers. The guitar itself is slightly thinner than other Les Pauls. The combination of the chambers and thinner body adds to the relative lightness of the guitar. A key difference of the Guitar Center version of this guitar, however, comes in the pickups. The regular Studio Les Paul, that Guitar Center sells for between $1100 and $1400 depending on options has 490R and 498T pickups, which are based on the original 1960’s “Patent Applied For” humbuckers. Guitar Center’s version of the Gibson Les Paul Studio has Burstbucker Pro pickups which are hotter.

Guitar Center had three of these left on Friday, and only one of them was still fresh-in-the-box. The other two were showing signs of demo floor abuse. Only pick scratches, but I wanted one that didn’t have any scratches on it. Additionally, there are slight variations in these guitars since they are hand assembled and finished in Nashville alongside the other Made in USA Gibsons. This one had a darker rosewood fretboard that I preferred. The neck was slightly wider than the other two, but not dramatically so. This guitar, like all Gibsons, came with a hard case, which is a really nice touch. [Note: it has been recently confirmed that Guitar Center no longer offers a hardshell case with the Vintage Mahogany Studios, only a gig bag. See the comments for more details]

Since I was selling the Jag, I was going to need a box to ship that in and they kindly let me take the box the Gibson was in which yielded me some interesting information about the guitar with the labelling on the box. Gibson calls this guitar a “Les Paul Studio Limited” and lists the options as “Worn Brown” and “Chrome.” It is given a model number of LPSTWBCH1, which would seem to mean “Les Paul Studio Worn Brown Chrome.”

So, having had this guitar for a number of weeks, I can say that this guitar certainly meets my expectations. In fact, it might surpass my expectations for a guitar that is considered the entry-level for the Gibson Les Paul line. Most of the complaints on Harmony Central surround fit and finish of these guitars. Indeed, Ian the sales assistant at Guitar Center suggested that I look at and play a bunch of these to make sure that I get one that feels and sounds to my satisfaction. I feel like I picked out the best of the three they had in the store. I didn’t experience any of the issues that some of the folks on the review site had experienced. It’s quite possible that Gibson has improved this guitar over time, too. It sounds great. I’m playing it through a homebrew tube amp called a P1 that a friend of mine made for me. The Burstbuckers overdrive the EL84 tube nicely adding to enough crunchy distortion for my tastes. The relative short scale of the Les Paul (24.75″) versus my Fender Strat (25.5″) takes a bit to get used to, but I’m adapting, and I find myself reaching for the LP more frequently. The setup was pretty basic, but the strings are a bit higher than I prefer and two of the strings could stand some tweaking for intonation and I’m going to be working on that in the near future. The vintage-style “green key” kluson tuners seem to do a relatively good job of holding the guitar in tune.

Overall, I would recommend this guitar for someone who wants to get into a Gibson LP for less money and the bonus upgrades on this model make it a steal, indeed. You can always go with an Epiphone, but I think the combination of features and looks makes this guitar an instant favorite for me.

UPDATE: After a strange couple of years of rebranding and an unfortunate 2015 model year it appears that Gibson has brought the Worn Studio series back for 2016– almost exactly the way it was in 2012. This is slightly different than my 2008 as it has a maple cap over the mahogany, otherwise it is very similar. Take a look at models for sale at Reverb.com

Fender Announces Billy Corgan Signature Pair of Stratocasters

Billy Corgan Signature Stratocaster in Olympic WhiteBilly Corgan Signature Stratocaster in BlackI’ll admit to once being a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Although, I stopped listening to them after Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness but up to that landmark third album I really believed that Billy and his attendant whine could do no wrong. I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe Billy shaved his head, I don’t know. Although there are folks who swear by Adore and Machina maybe I’m just missing it.

I still think Billy is one of the guys who took his shoegazer influences and built on them to make a signature sound. So, when I saw that Fender announced at Summer NAMM the new Billy Corgan Artist Series “Signature” Stratocasters I took some interest.

Effectively, we have two new American Hard Tail Strats (the first since they were killed off in 2006). One interesting aspect to them is that they utilize a CBS-era “big” headstock on a satin polyurethane-covered 22-fret maple neck. Not something I’m used to seeing on an American Stratocaster. The body is a standard “contour” alder body with satin nitrocellulose finish done with tasteful “tuxedo” (white knobs on black pickguard, black knobs on white) trim in two colors: classic Olympic White, or black. Then we get to the parts that Billy influenced. In the interview with Billy on Fender’s site, he says that he didn’t set out to make a guitar that would give the player his sound, but a guitar with a “modern” “high gain” guitar that a player could express themselves on. That said, it is a guitar that he is currently playing in the spirit of Artist Series guitars like Clapton’s “Blackie” (not the mega-thousand-dollar reproduction of his 70’s guitar but the one that he designed for Fender).

To achieve this high gain, Billy worked with DiMarzio to develop a “Billy Corgan” single-spaced humbucker pickup that this guitar is using in the neck and bridge positions. This guitar is also utilizing a DiMarzio “Chopper” in the middle. However, rather than just making a “hot rod” Strat with humbuckers, he has the 5-position switch providing any of the three humbuckers or the neck and bridge with a split of the middle. Oddly, the middle position only gives the Chopper in a humbucker mode rather than all three humbuckers being hot. Billy explains that he wanted to preserve some of the single coil sound that it’s known for rather than just loading the guitar up with humbuckers. I’d argue that the classic Strat sound doesn’t involve any DiMarzio pickups OR humbuckers for that matter.

Still the guitar seems intriguing to me. I’m kind of in the market for a Les Paul to achieve a humbucker sound in my collection, but maybe this is the guitar to do it, and it would look great next to my black Hard Tail Strat and my black P-Bass. Unfortunately, it will be a bit before anyone takes delivery of these since they were just announced (unless Fender would like to send me one for review– I’ll take an Olympic White one, thanks!).

This guitar MSRP’s at $1999 and comes with a vintage tweed case that fits the big headstock. If I manage to try one of these out, I’ll write a review here.

Fender Frontline in Home #2 Arrived…

I came home today to the new Fender Frontline in Home– the second issue! The cover and inside cover are promoting the new Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival Strat and Twin with the line art logos for Crossroads Antigua which is a charity that supports a treatment center for chemically dependent people and their families. There will be 100 guitars with 50 matched to amps. These guitars are going to be handcrafted at the Custom Shop to Clapton’s specifications and each with the smiling sun logo that he designed. The guitar is $20000 and the guitar/amp combination will be $30000.

Other new and interesting items in this catalog include the Joe Strummer Tribute page. I got to see one of these up close in King of Prussia, PA at Sam Ash. While I really like the idea of this tribute guitar, I have a hard time justifying over $800 for a Mexican telecaster. Plus, it doesn’t look as good up close. It is one thing to be relic’d, but the matte black finish makes it look kind of fake. Just my opinion, of course!

This issue also includes the new California Series Sonoran SCE Custom Acoustics. These are kind of cool looking– coming in some vintage “surfy” colors with painted headstocks. I’d consider one of these. It certainly would look nice hanging next to my other Fenders since it has a CBS Strat-looking headstock on it.

Another free T-shirt!! Again, you need to do a “test drive” at an authorized Fender dealer. This time you don’t need to test drive something in the catalog– which is an improvement. Test drive any Fender product. Last time I went to Guitar Center and the only thing they had was the “VG” Stratocaster from the catalog. This T-Shirt looks much nicer than the last Test Drive– this one has a ’52-ish Telecaster leaning against a classic Twin amp with a simple Fender logo under it. Still on a black Tee. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

A focus on the Squier Artist Series with the Avril Lavigne Telecaster with the nifty Cheap Trickish black and white checkered pickguard. Basses from Pete Wentz, Mike Dirnt and Frank Bello. I guess it is cool to bring the Artist Series into the budget line. Also a Rockband ad showing the new Stratocaster controller for Rockband. That’s cool. Much cooler than the Rockstar SG’s.

New Super and Vibro Champ XD amps that are hybrid Tube with digital effects. Seems cool, but if you end up doing digital effects aren’t you killing why you have tubes to begin with? Plus, they say “tube powered” does that mean they use tubes in the power stage only and not part of the tone stack? I’m sure tube purists everywhere have made their decisions…

I see a new Mexican Telecaster called the Blackout Tele. A Standard Mexican Telecaster with maple neck, dressed in black with a three-layer black pickguard and 6-saddle bridge. Has a third chrome “lipstick” style pickup between the neck and bridge. Seems pretty unique and really sharp. I may need to try one of these to see what interesting sounds come with the extra pickup. The Power Teles have the extra single-coil, so maybe they sound like that.

If you haven’t signed up for Frontliine in Home– you should if you’re into Fender products. Click Here to find the signup page.

New Addition: 2005 Fender Standard Telecaster

2005 MIM TelecasterI wasn’t expecting to pick up another guitar so soon after the purchase of my American Hardtail Strat in May– nor was my wife, really! Thankfully, Sherry has been very cool about my recent guitar purchases and tries to understand the necessity for more than one 6-string electric!

I subscribe to an e-mail search of the Cedar Rapids Music-Go-Round on Fender Guitars and saw this 2005 Made-in-Mexico Telecaster aka “Standard Telecaster.” I thought it looked very clean and was a unique combination of Arctic White with a white pickguard and maple neck.

Initially I debated about whether I liked the color combination. I went in and played it a couple of times and eventually decided that it was as nice a Tele as I am likely to see used. MGR doesn’t get a lot of Telecasters in and eBay prices seem to be a bit inflated in my opinion. So, I traded a couple of effects pedals I wasn’t using– an Ibanez TS808 Original Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro Guitar Effect Pedal and a Boss OC-3 Super Octave Pedal I bought back in the early-Nineties for use with my bass that I never really used.

I’m really happy with it. Overall, I’d be pretty hard-pressed to find anything about it that seemed lower quality than an American version of it. The fit and finish are very good and it is a decent playing guitar. Nice clean slappy twang to it that sounds great through the homebrew tube amp I’m using. Sherry says that she prefers the tone of this guitar over my other ones.

I paid $299 before my pedal trades and it came with a non-Fender gig bag. A very good deal considering that it looks and plays new.

Check out the Fender Standard Telecasters at Reverb.com!

Fender Frontline Finally “In Home”!

At long last I received my Frontline In Home yesterday. I’d assume most of you who signed up have also received yours. It is received with mixed feelings, however. I’m a bit disappointed with how small it is– it’s about 5 1/2 x 8 1/2″ and around 35 pages. The old Frontline was magazine sized and much thicker. I liked to have the big catalog as a reference of the current line. This version of Frontline is really more of a way for Fender to send out updates on new gear and interesting stuff with the idea that the reader would visit fender.com or their dealer to get details on the gear included or to get information about other products not included.

Included in this issue is a tear-out card that will give the holder a free T-Shirt after they get it signed by their local Fender dealer after they test drive gear. Not a bad deal. I can always use more Fender-wear. I’ll likely go get that signed this weekend.

Other interesting content includes a bit on the Andy Summer Tribute Tele (apparently this went to press too early to include the Joe Strummer Tribute), The new “Pro” series Strats and Teles which have the “most requested modifications offered by the Custom Shop,” the Limited Edition ’57 Stratocaster which celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the ’57, the Vintage Hot Rod Series which brings back a Telecaster with a humbucker in the neck postition in the Fender line, a couple of entries in the Squier line including an SSH Tele (when is a Tele not a Tele?) and another with a humbucker in the neck position . We are also introduced to the unexpected (at least by me) Squier Drum line.

I hope that we see more mailings from Fender and other giveaways would be cool, too.

New Tour-only Release Tool Box from Calexico

Toolbox from CalexicoOne of the things that I love about Calexico is the fact that they produce these limited-run tour-only (*well, you can get them from their website, too) releases. It’s not enough that they release great studio releases– they cater to the fans with compilations of studio experiments, live songs and outtakes.

Tool Box is the sixth of these releases since 1999 and the second of instrumental songs. I haven’t ordered my copy, yet, but I’m looking forward to hearing it.

According to this article in Chartattack, the album was recorded during some downtime recently during a break from the lengthy tour for Garden Ruin. The 14-track album is comprised of songs written and performed by only Convertino and Burns rather than the extended band used for the recent formal releases.

Visit this page to listen to a sample from Tool Box.

2005 Fender American Stratocaster Hard Tail (review)

2005 Strat HardTail A couple of weekends ago I was out to lunch with my friend Erik and decided to visit the Cedar Rapids Music-Go-Round to see if they had anything interesting in stock. Over lunch we were discussing the amazing finds that he and our friend Andrew had in that store.

Admittedly Music-Go-Round can be pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to really great finds at a good price. Quite a bit of their stock caters to the beginner or low-budget musicians– the guy who really wants a Gibson Les Paul, but only has the funds for the LTD version of it (a good version for the price, BTW). When we got there they had quite a few Fenders hanging on the wall– a couple of Mexicans– but they had two American Stratocasters as well. One was a 2001 Hot Rod Red with tremolo and rosewood fretboard and the other was the 2005 black and white Hard Tail with maple neck that I ended up purchasing.

The salesman plugged me into a used Fender Blues Junior Combo Amp to try the guitars out. A good choice as the Blues Jr is partially tube and would be fairly well-matched to the classic Strat sound. After playing both guitars and conferring with Erik and calling Andrew on his cell I settled on the Hard Tail for a couple of reasons– one is that I really didn’t want a tremolo even though I could choose to block it (like Eric Clapton!) and the other is that I really like the feel of a maple neck.

The guitar was in immaculate shape and came with all of its swing tags and paperwork as well as the standard-issue plastic case for $549. This guitar lists for $1327.99, but you can get a new one for around $950 at online retailers. So, I feel like I got a pretty good deal.

60th Anniversary Badge

Even though this guitar has a 2005 serial number (starting with “Z5”) it was sold as a 2006 model and has the Fender 60th Anniversary badge on the back of the headstock which is pretty cool. Another unique aspect of this guitar is that Fender discontinued the American Hard Tail in 2006. No new Hard Tails in ’07. I contacted Fender to confirm this as I see that most of the online retailers are still selling them even though the online catalog at fender.com doesn’t list it as current product. According to Fender the only way to get a Hard Tail guitar would be to order the Fender Robert Cray Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar which is Mexican or to order the Eric Clapton Signature Strat, which has a blocked tremolo. Custom Shop Showmaster guitars come with Hard Tail as well.

This American Stratocaster is one of the post-2000 configurations. According to The Stratocaster Chronicles by Tom Wheeler, in the Summer of 2000 Fender discontinued the “American Standard” which had been in existence for 13 years and replaced it with the current “American Series.” The American Series was a new start to the Stratocaster line pulling together a set of features from the entire history of the Strat to that point making arguably the best Strat yet.

These features included the unanimously-agreed-superior pre-CBS 4-bolt neck, the Micro Tilt adjustment, the advanced shielding from the Standard, the 5-way pickup selector switch that dated back to 1977, “no-load” tone control which at “10” kills the tone pot on the middle pickup making for a vintage Strat tone, “Delta Tone” pickups where the middle pickup is wired in reverse of the other two providing a humbucking effect on certain switch settings, a single string tree on the head adding to tuning stability and improving tone, “rolled” neck edges which adds to the pleasant neck feel, non-veneered “original contour” body based on the 1950’s Strats, staggered pickup polepieces like the 1950’s Strats, and routing to provide the ability to add humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions. This final change eliminated the contraversial “swimming pool” routing where the area behind the pickguard was just a big hole to accomodate different pickup configurations.

Over the 53 years of the Stratocaster’s existence it has been subject to constant change– some of it good, some of it not good. In the American Series we see the benefits of a company looking back on the history of its products to pull a feature set together that I think ultimately makes an instrument that both honors its past, innovates and– most importantly– is great to play.

>pp 246-250, “Chapter 9: The New Millennium,”The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat, Tom Wheeler, 2004

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

All Fender product names in this article are trademarks of Fender.

Check out the Fender Hard Tail Stratocasters at reverb.com!