Relic-ing guitars seems to be a very divisive topic these days with folks either hating it or loving it. When you first walk into Sylvan you’re greeted by a row of beautiful Fender Custom Shop guitars relic’d to perfection. Occasionally people will mistake them for the genuine article (50’s and 60’s Strats & Teles), only to have their delight turn to confusion, and sometimes even to revulsion.
Many people in the anti-relic camp will compare those guitars to the pre-ripped jeans fad, saying that if you want a guitar to look old and beaten up you have to do it yourself by playing it for years and years.
Meanwhile people in the pro-relic camp will argue that since guitar companies switched from using nitrocellulose lacquer to thick coats of polyurethane lacquer to finish their instruments, it’s impossible to wear out an instrument like you could in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Also, with price tags of actual vintage Fenders wandering into the tens of thousands of dollars (or much mire!) they’re pretty much unobtainable for the average musician.
So is it cheating to purchase a relic-ed guitar? I don’t believe so. No more so than buying a blue guitar. Or a guitar with a maple fretboard. Or a tele with a humbucker. When it comes down to buying a musical instrument, the most important part is how it feels to you the player. Since finding the perfect guitar is such a personal journey, I don’t think anyone has the right to tell you what you should and should not dig!
In the ‘olden days’ it was really cumbersome to copyright a musical work. Regardless of whether it was a full scale symphonic work or a simple three chord song, in order to copyright it, it had to be notated in standard musical notation. Only then could it be submitted to the Library of Congress for copyright approval. Once approved, it would receive the familiar ® or © (they're interchangeable) symbol used to declare the copyright status of the piece.
When I graduated high school, I earned a living by transcribing audio recordings (usually cassette or reel-to-reel) by composers, songwriters, arrangers, performers and even jingle writers. It was very exciting to experience these early versions of pieces - some of which eventually became well known. And it was great ear training practice.
Then in 1976 it all changed. Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976. This new law (Public Law number 94-553) greatly reduced the hassle of copyrighting music. All you now have to do is submit a recording of the piece in almost any and all formats. That law also created a new symbol to designate protection, ‘P’ in a circle ℗. The ‘P’ stands for ‘phonogram’ which is another word for the phrase ‘sound recording.’ You probably never noticed but check out the symbol on a CD that was manufactured in the last few decades. It’s sure to be a ℗ not a © .
Listen close dear reader, for today I have an important message for any new or aspiring musicians looking to buy their first instrument. Are you ready? Here it is:
Avoid the flea market like it’s the plague.
“But Curtis, I love the flea market, they have so many cool, random things for great prices,” you might say without a hint of irony. “Shouldn’t I buy instruments there, too!?”
No Virginia, no you should not!
Look, I like a good flea market as much as anyone. I think it can be a fun way to spend an afternoon, haggling and window shopping and applying liberal doses of sunblock between the home made shoes, ninja stars, bongs and organic olive oil stalls. But when it comes to buying an instrument, nine out of ten times you’re going to get fleeced. Hard.
“But what do you mean, Curtis?”
Well, here’s an example: The other day someone came into the shop with a guitar they had bought at a local flea market. They were on vacation and just wanted something to play for the couple days that they were here in our beautiful city of Santa Cruz. I only wish that they had come to Sylvan Music first.
This gentleman thought he had gotten a sweet deal; $60 dollars for a used steel string acoustic guitar might sound good to anyone. Unfortunately, the guitar was more groan than tone. It wasn’t worth $6 let alone $60, it was virtually unplayable. For starters, it had plastic tuners that had been spray painted to look metal. One of these tuners was already broken off (big warning sign) and another broke while attempting a re-string. Mark my words, no one wants to use pliers to tune their guitar. I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.
That wasn’t even the worst part! Its action was so high it was patently absurd. The strings were so far off the fretboard you could have sailed a barge under them, with room to spare, making it infinitely hard to play for even a seasoned guitarist to play, not to mention a beginner.
The guitar was in dire need of what’s called a “setup” in the guitar world, which would have solved all of it’s high action problems quite easily for about $75. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to pay more to repair a guitar than what they paid to get it in the first place, and this poor fellow was no exception. Suffice it to say, he left the store that day a sad, sad man, with an unplayable guitar and all his hopes and dreams of rock n’ roll glory dashed under the inscrutable wheel of flea market injustice.
Fear not dear blog reader, for you can avoid the pitfalls of that customer, and all of those like him. First off, if you need an instrument, go to a real music shop, preferably Sylvan Music. Here you can get a brand new guitar, already set up by a professional luthier, starting at $125! No sterilization needed, no weird smells, no broken parts and costly repairs, and no small woodland creatures living inside.
Need something used? No problem, most guitar shops have something in that world too, but the difference is they know what they are selling and aren’t looking to take advantage, so even if it is used, you’ll generally still be walking away with a quality instrument. In closing, don’t try and find a secret treasure and don’t make a rookie mistake. Heed these words:
BEWARE THE DUBIOUS FLEA MARKET.
How many pedals is too many? It's a question that every guitarist must face sooner or later.
I have a theory; ‘use what you need’.
Some people don't use any pedals at all, some use just a few. Then there are those of us that like to use a lot. Using multiple pedals creates a variety of sound and, depending on the type of music played, different tones might be needed to keep the sound true to the creators vision. One of the first artists I got in to that used loads of pedals was Queens of the Stone Age. The duo of Josh Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen created some of the most unique sounds in modern rock. I would spend hours trying to research what effects they used, but it was hard because they would cover their set up and call it, ‘The Veil of Secrecy’. Years later they realized that even though people may know what they use, they can never sound like them because it's all in the player. One of my favorite artists that doesn't use pedals is Tony Reed from Mos Generator. The dude plugs his ESP guitar with Lace Pickups right into his amp of choice and bam! That’s it! He creates some of the most magnificent, magical music with nothing but guitar, cable & amp!
If you choose to use pedals, keep in mind that they should enhance your sound and not diminish it, unless of course, you got a specific pedal to create that good ol’ telephone sound.
The order in which you place your pedals matters too. This is called 'signal chain' and it can greatly effect your tone. Typically, pedals go in between the guitar and the amplifier, though a few folks like to use the effects loop on the amplifier which is just a slightly different approach. If you plug pedals in between the guitar and amplifier, the guitar sound will change before it goes through the amplifier. If you plug pedals in through the effects loop, the sound from guitar will go through the amplifier, then through the pedals, then through the speaker.
There are many different variations you can utilize and the best thing to do is experiment. There's a general variety of effects that some say should always be part of a rig, as well as a specific order they should go, but really there's no rules. Jimi Hendrix plugged his wah-wah backwards to get some unique sounds on Axis: Bold as Love. I, and some other guitarists, use some bass pedals with for guitar. Most importantly: have fun with it and keep searching for tone!
The pics shown here are two board from two separate local bands in Santa Cruz. One is of Ryan Avellone from his band Dreaming Ghosts, and one is mine from my band Still Searching.