Just announced last week by Warwick, their latest installment in the “Making The Instrument” series takes a look at a beautiful behemoth of a bass. Built in Germany at the world’s first carbon-neutral music company, the Corvette NT 9 String is one of their most ambitious extended range basses. Head over to their shared YouTube page with Framus guitars, and check out how this fantastic piece of work came together!
Here is a quick look at my favorite 10 songs from 2019, and no, it isn’t too diverse as of right now. 2019 was a great year for guitar and rock-based music, with several up and coming bands as well as some veterans returning with huge hits, tours, and stellar albums! What would you put in your top 10 so far?
Harmony Hall – Vampire Weekend
Longshot – Catfish and the Bottlemen
Lose Lose Lose – SWMRS
Can’t You See – FIDLAR
On The Luna – Foals
Shine A Little Light – The Black Keys
Night Running – Cage the Elephant
Land Of The Free – The Killers
Am I Doing It Right? – Alex Lahey
Dancing Around – flor
As we begin to dig into the second half of the year, we’ll be wrapping up our year of guitar, bass, amp, and pedal reviews. At the end of the calendar year, we’ll be putting out our buying guides and gear roundup articles looking at the best products in different price categories. As a reminder, all these reviews are HAND REVIEWS, meaning I was fortunately loaned or sent each product I review. So before we take a look at the best sub-$500 guitars of 2019 or the best practice amp options, let’s see how the top 5 guitars currently stack up, regardless of price.
Every so often a guitarist or songwriter comes around who matches a signature instrument with their signature style. Historically, examples like Angus Young’s SG, Keith Richard’s “Micawber”, and David Gilmour’s Black Strat have sent guitar lovers rushing to the store to buy copies and replicas. However, less attention is often paid to the guitars of more recent idols. Starting here with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Guitars For Idiots is going to break down the iconic guitars of musicians from a more recent generation of rock. Players like Billie Joe Armstrong, Dave Grohl, and Dave Keuning will soon follow.
The Origin and Design of Blue
Ordered as parts from Warmoth in the summer of 1993, Rivers Cuomo was looking to build a guitar based on a red Fender Strat owned by original Weezer member Jason Cropper. By this point in the band’s history, Jason was back to playing guitar, meaning he needed the Strat, and it was incredibly beat up and unreliable. While Rivers’ didn’t actually use the Strat to record the Blue Album, instead using Ric Ocasek’s collection of Les Pauls, he arrived home from recording to find the guitar ready and waiting for him.
After finally getting his hands on it, Cuomo simplified the electronics so that he only had a volume tone and a pickup selector for the two humbuckers. The bridge humbucker was a black Seymour Duncan TB59B1 or “Trembucker 59”, the same featured in Jason Cropper’s red Stratocaster. The neck was a cream colored DiMarzio that was most likely a Super Distortion model. One last mod done was the unconfirmed addition of a special capacitor that kept the tone of the guitar thick and distorted, even as you turned the volume on the guitar done. This is thought to be how the quiet, but still crunchy, sounds of “Say It Aint So” were performed live.
Touring and Blue’s Fate
For the next several years of the band’s life, almost every live gig was played on Blue and it took quite a beating. In fact, Blue went on to the be his main stage guitar all the way up until 2000. When it came to the studio however, he often opted for Ric Ocasek’s Les Pauls, especially on the Green album. After all the abuse from the constant touring, Blue finally suffered an onstage accident that split the body clean through and down the middle in late 1997. The guitar remained in use until 2000 when the condition continued to deteriorate. However, Blue still lives on, with all the pickups, hardware, and the neck removed and placed onto a new blonde Warmoth body. Named “Blonde”, this Strat has continued to a part of Rivers’ arsenal throughout every tour and album, even if he didn’t always use it on stage or in the studio.
Rivers’ Current Guitar
While Rivers still owns a number of Warmoth Strats, including “Blonde” and “Black”, another sticker covered HH Strat he loves, he has recently made a Sea-foam Green version his #1. Also covered in stickers gifted by fans, this Warmoth creation is “The Strat with the lightning strap” he alludes to in “Back to the Shack”, the first single from their return to form album “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” from 2014. After years of using Gibson SG’s, Explorers, and even a period where he put down the guitar, many fans were delighted to see him return to a Strat. Their career has largely been on the upswing once again since that well received album with the “White Album”, “Pacific Daydreams”, and now the “Black Album” doing fairly well in the charts.
If you’ve ever bought after market pickups, you’ve likely heard of GFS, or Guitarfetish.com’s name brand pickups. These have been a bit of a controversial pickup option in the sense that you either love them or hate them. Many guitar modification gurus claim they are the best pickups dollar for dollar, as they are incredibly cheap, usually coming in around $20-40 per pickup. Furthermore, you can usually buy pre-wired harnesses for a variety of pickup options making guitar modification extremely easy.
If soldering is really a no-go for you however, they have recently introduced their Kwikplug products, that allow you to install brand new pickups and wiring controls in minutes without soldering. Curious to see how easy they were AND how they sounded, I decided to mod my beloved (but not often used) 2011 Gibson Les Paul Special. While I’ve loved the design and playability of this double P90 LP, I often felt the pickups didn’t have the output or tone I was looking for. So can these kwikplugs be the cure? Let’s find out.
How Does Kwikplug Work?
Kwikplug is an option you can choose to add to any GFS pickups from their site. It doesn’t cost any more or less to add the kwikplug adaptability to your pickups, but if your wiring harness isn’t already kwikplug enabled, you can affordably get a new harness from them for an additional $30 or so. Overall, you can re-wire your whole guitar for well under $100.
With the new harness, simply remove all the wiring from your guitar, in this case a Les Paul Junior, and screw in your new pots and and input jack, no soldering required. Then, simply plug in your new pickup, after screwing it into place, making sure the headphone jack-style connection is in snuggly. The connection can be found running from the volume pot and fits into the input on the back of the pickup.
How Easy Is It?
Having done this myself, it literally took me more time to remove all the old wiring from guitar than it did to install the new kwikplug system and wiring. It was so easy, it all fit like a charm, and the quality of the GFS pre-wired harness was great. The wires are well insulated and the connections were well soldered and strong. It’s just as simple as putting headphones into an iphone!
So How Does It Sound?
While you’ll have to be patient and wait for a video demo, the dog ear P90 pickup I installed actually sounds great! I went for one with more output and bite than the soapbar’s that came stock on my Les Paul Special. The P90 is clear, punchy, and gets me way closer to the sounds of The Clash that inspired my love of Les Paul Juniors. While my guitar is certainly beat up, and now covered in holes from where electronics were, I can’t put it down and have been re-inspired by it every time I look at it and plug it in. This was easily the best $49 (total price I paid) I have spent in awhile.
Recently, we took a look at the uber affordable Glarry GST3, a $60 Stratocaster alternative available online through Amazon.com. While a functional guitar at that price is a great deal, let’s take a look at a few ways we can make the guitar more playable and hopefully better sounding.
Without doing any soldering or drilling any new holes, there are still a few things you can do to upgrade the instrument. We’re going to stick to a couple of easy fixes, easily done by anyone regardless of experience. Lastly, all of these upgrades require just a Philips head screwdriver or two, a peg winder, a pencil, and new strings.
Remove the Strings and Lubricate the Nut
Cheap guitars often come stock with awful strings that either feel rough or are already rusted and degrading. One of the first things you need to do is rip those old ones off and while you’re at it, maybe give the neck a quick clean. Using warm water on a rag, gently rub each fret to get any dirt, grime, or wood shavings off.
After all this, time to make a quick alteration to the (very likely) cheap nut on the guitar. In the case of the Glarry, it is a large, poorly cut plastic piece that seems to be catching the strings and contributing to the poor tuning. So the quick fix here is to take a number 2 pencil and use the graphite tip to lubricate the nut. Use the pencil to rub some graphite into each string slot on the nut, helping the strings move and slide through nut as you play and vibrate each string. Do this every time you change strings, especially if you’re not willing to get a new neck or nut for the instrument.
Swap Out the Bridge
While this may seem like major guitar modification, on Strat-style guitars, it really isn’t at all. A few screws and springs are all that keeps the bridge bound to the guitar, and can be easily removed and replaced. One thing that makes a Strat-style bridge cheap or low quality, is how thin and small the block is. This block is what helps keep tension on the strings, holding them in tune even when the whammy bar is used.
To keep things cheap, I recommend going online a purchasing a second-hand or used Fender Mexican Stratocaster bridge. These bridges can be found for around $20-30, even in brand new condition and can be screwed into place, easily upgrading tuning stability and playability. Once you screw it into the front of the guitar, simply re-attach the springs behind the backplate. You can tighten or un-tighten the springs via the two screws that usually attach them to the Strat’s body, tighter springs or additional springs will result in more of a hardtail-style Strat, where the tremolo arm will not be able to function.
Swap Out the Tuners
With this cheap, Glarry guitar, the tuners are simply held in place by the washer around the tuning hole and one small screw that anchors the whole mechanism to the headstock. This is a common tuning machine style, and many higher quality sets can be found new or used online. Replacing them with almost anything should be an upgrade, and will greatly improve tuning stability and your ability to bend notes, bash chords, or use the guitar onstage.
Even something like these vintage Fender tuning machines from Reverb.com should get the job done. For about $40, you can probably find even more replacement options from Squier’s, Fender’s, or after-market distributors like Guitar Fetish. Just make sure you get tuners that don’t have any pegs, as some newer Fender models do, as they likely will not fit into cheap Strat copies that don’t have them. Tuners can simply be replaced by unscrewing the washer by hand, and removing the anchor screws with a small screwdriver. Then, install the new ones in a similar manner and you’re off to the races.
Put on Better Strings
Everyone has different preferences for what makes strings better, but I would highly recommend Stringjoy’s fantastic made in the USA products. I use their 10s on all my guitars and they provide great feel, tone, and lifespan whether they are on my Strat, Les Paul Jr, or Jetstar. Putting better playing and better sounding strings on any guitar is like a breath of fresh air, and so instantly inspire you to pick the guitar up and play.
Check out this helpful article from Stringjoy for help with changing strings!
Adjust the Action and Truss Rod
Considering you probably didn’t spend a ton of money on the Strat, you can’t expect it to be set up properly. If yours comes with the action too high or low for your liking, you can easily adjust it. Furthermore, if you hear a lot of fret buzz, the neck may be bowed, and can be easily adjusted via the truss rod.
The truss rod can be accessed via the panel on your headstock, usually right above the nut. This access port may be covered or open to the air, and all it needs is a slight twist via an Allen wrench, which usually comes with a new, store bought guitar.
Action is the term for high how or low your strings are off the neck and frets of the guitar. Most players prefer it fairly low, as it makes it easier to press the strings down with your fingers. To adjust the action, use a hex key, or the smaller Allen wrench, that comes with your guitar. You can adjust the individual strings by raising or lowering the screws on the bridge saddle. Turning counter clockwise will lower the string, while clockwise will raise it, on most Strats.
As much as you may convince yourself that it takes perfect skill matched with perfect gear to achieve professional level performance, that’s not the whole story. More often than not, the guitar heroes you idolize today practiced, played, or wrote their hits on cheap instruments. In fact, many of today’s modern musicians still rely on off-the-shelf or super inexpensive guitars. Let’s take an in depth look at some of the coolest cheap guitars used by today’s rock stars.
Zac Carper – Costco RG-80-SW Partscaster
As seen in the title image, Zac Carper is one half of the singer and songwriter duo that fronts FIDLAR, a California-based punk group. Rising to fame in the last decade behind three DIY punk albums that could double as drunk confessions of a millennial, FIDLAR features quite a bit more musicianship than the punk bands they likely grew up listening to.
But what’s really unique is Carper’s use of an unbranded spider web Strat during their most recent tours and album cycle. What many people may have suspected is some kind of custom made instrument is really just a re-purposed Rocker RG-80-SW guitar that historically was sold by Costco, the giant wholesale chain. According to a Premier Guitar Rig Rundown, Carper found it laying in a California guitar shop, was attracted to the light weight, and took it home after 15 years of neglect in the store. Zac replaced the low-quality pickup with a Tone Zone humbucker and recently learned it has a push-pull volume knob for coil splitting.
Apparently the guitar can be found for around $75 at Canadian Costcos and this guitar had the upgraded Strat-replacement neck on it before Zac got his hands on it. While the pickup upgrade and new neck definitely cost him and the original owner a bit of money, this is a shockingly cheap guitar to see a popular musician using.
Van McCann – Squier Jim Root Telecaster
While Van McCann falls more into the singer-songwriter end of the guitar playing spectrum, the Catfish and the Bottlemen frontman is the engine that drives one of the UK’s best rock acts. While he has admittedly moved on to a custom model from Fender for the last album and tour, Van wrote and recorded the band’s breakthrough debut album on a Squier Jim Root Telecaster that usually retails for around $400.
Nicknamed “Bullet Tooth Tony”, McCann claims to have bought it for around 150 Pounds despite not knowing much about the metal guitarist who inspired it. In his own words:
“I don’t even know him. Doesn’t he have a mask on sometimes? I use that guitar because it’s matt black and it’s got a volume knob, and that’s it. It was like £150 and I’ve swapped the scratchplates over and I’ve smashed it up, but it just doesn’t break or go out of tune.”
Besides the pick-guard change, the only visible modification he seems to have made is a piece of tape that says “WHY?” across the Squier logo on the headstock. Ironically, the past and present lead guitarists have played foil to Van’s rhythm playing with expensive Gibson models such as Les Paul Customs and Fender Jazzmasters. This Squier model features basic Squier passive humbuckers with a matte black cover and only a volume knob.
Gary Clark Jr – 2007 Epiphone Casino & 1981 Ibanez Blazer
Probably one of the best, pure guitarists and songwriters to come from my generation, Gary Clark Jr rose to fame on the back of a humble guitar. As detailed through many other publications, Gary uses a stock 2007 Chinese-made Epiphone Casino. These generally retail from around $500 to $600 and are considered great a great guitar value. Even so, nothing shows that 99% of tone comes from a players hands quite like his use of this completely off the shelf instrument.
According to his tech, Clark Jr always wanted his fans to be able to afford the guitar he uses they could get his sound if they liked the way he plays. The guitar features high output P90’s and a bigsby that apparently came stock on 2007 models, though no one seems to be able to confirm that. Even better, you know what his second guitar is? An Ibanez Blazer from the ’80s that is near and dear to his heart after his mom gifted it to him as a child. While it likely is a little more costly (atleast at the time) than his current Casino, it is far from a Custom Shop monster.
The Blazer is an HSH-instrument featuring a push-pull tone and stock pickups from back in the day. Similar to the Casino, it’s pretty much entirely stock with a Strat-style body. Again according to his tech, this guitar is thinner sounding than his Casino, but is likely the only guitar he really needs due to their long history together. Info generally seems scarce on these guitars but they seemed to have been made around ’81 by the Greco factory but sold under the Ibanez brand name.
St. Vincent – Harmony Bobkat & Silvertone 1488
While St. Vincent has recently made her wildly successful Ernie Ball Music Man signature model her main instrument, you can still occasionally she her using a Harmony or Silvertone. Before that signature model, they were two of her main guitars that she favored for the vibrato arm. According to her she could divebomb as hard as she wanted and they would still in tune. That kind of tuning stability is not common on most cheap guitars and she certainly put it to good use as she built up her resume as one of today’s premier guitar players.
The lovely Harmony Bobkat pictured above features two DeArmond gold foil single coil pickups and can be found used for anywhere from $300-$700 on sites like Reverb.com. The Silvertone on the other hand featured 3 DeArmond single coils with an equally impressive tremolo arm. The Silvertone is bit more expensive, thanks to it being a bit rarer and the unique tonal options. With “rocker” switches and dedicated tone knobs for each pickup, a multitude of sounds are controlled via the master volume. Both of these offset style import guitars are classic examples of “pawnshop” guitars and St. Vincent certainly has had no small part in the re-popularization of these instruments.
Traditionally, these guitars were created as surf and jazz alternatives to the high end Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters of the time. While they’ve been given a bad rap in the past because of playability issues, St. Vincent has shown that with a little bit of love, you can coax some amazing performances out of these guitars.
Don’t Buy An Expensive Guitar, Just Practice
While you certainly do need to spend enough money on a guitar that you get something reliable and inspiring, it doesn’t take a ’50s or ’60s Stratocaster to shine. All of these guitarists cover a wide range of technical proficiency and musical styles, showing you can play anything with affordable gear. As long as a guitar brings the best playing out of you, it should be good enough to be your main instrument, regardless of price. Some times an outside-the-box choice leads you down a new, unexpected path.