To chamber or not to chamber—and is a heavier guitar really heavier?
If you’ve been a guitarist for less than 20 years, you probably don’t remember when players weren’t concerned about instrument weight. That is to say that nobody put their guitar on a scale or cited lightness as a selling point. In fact, it was often stated that heavier guitars sounded, for lack of a better term, heavier.
The classic-rock mainstay Les Paul is no bantamweight, and it was widely thought that its considerable mass was at the center of the legendary rock tone it produced. Telecasters, Strats, and various off-brand solidbodies were generally lighter, and brighter, which probably helped prop up this urban legend. The fact that most of those guitars often had single-coil pickups didn’t seem to enter into the discussions at the time. Anecdotally, some of the best-sounding guitars I’ve ever played were north of 10 pounds.
Body mass index. So, what is it about light weight that makes it a bullet point for guitarists and builders alike? I bring this up because I got so many emails asking how much my guitars weighed that I just cut to the chase and put the numbers on my website. Apparently, there is a sweet spot in guitarists’ imaginations, right around 8 1/4 pounds. My limited research reveals this may be traced back to Les Paul bulletin boards, where discussions about vintage ’burst tones festered in the early 2000s. Still, 20 years on we continue to see weight as an important talking point among guitarists.
Trimming down and toning up. Although weight-relieving techniques had been in use by Gibson on their Les Paul models since about 1983, it seems to have begun as a way to combat weight brought on by extremely dense mahogany that was being imported at the time. In fact, the nine interior-weight-saving holes employed by Gibson in their Les Paul model weren’t even revealed publicly. After all, they were hidden from sight. Apparently, after some enterprising souls began to X-ray their guitars, Gibson came clean, and, in fact, dealers started touting these measures as a benefit for sound as much as for weight. Today, Gibson offers a number of variations on the “swiss-cheese” body internals, including the Modern and Ultra-Modern versions of interior excavation. There is little doubt that CNC-routing machinery has made this possible, without adding too much labor cost.
Enter the chamber. Another step in the trajectory of lightened solidbody instruments is the chambered guitar. Chambering has become a catch-all phrase for almost any guitar with some of its internals scooped out. In recent years, tone fiends have become enamored with chambered instruments for their lively response, as well as their lighter weight. I’m a fan of these instruments, and so is my chiropractor. In fact, some so-called solidbody instruments from Danelectro and Harmony (Kay and Supro included) had been partly hollow since the 1950s. Rickenbacker guitars have always been considered semi-hollowbodies, but are actually chambered solidbodies.
Of course, the ES-335 and similar guitars straddle the line between solidbodies and chambered. It’s worth mentioning that Fender’s 1967 Telecaster, nicknamed the “Smuggler Tele,” (Photo 1) featured three large weight-reduction chambers beneath the pickguard. The arguments from the “pickups are everything” crowd will go on forever, but I enjoy the timbre of many chambered guitars, although I wouldn’t say they are that useful for metal music styles. I hear a springiness to these instruments that translates to amplified clean sounds and encourages dynamic playing, most of all.
Swampy sounds. When it comes to making lighter-weight solidbody guitars, the premier material is swamp ash. Fast-growing Southern ash can yield a lighter weight than many of the other traditional woods used for guitar building. Many of the most cherished vintage Stratocasters were made of lightweight ash, and their sound has spurred speculation that the material is a tuneful wood.
Unfortunately, the emerald ash borer (EAB) insect is threatening domestic ash supply to the point that Fender and others have discontinued the use of ash on some models. As such, many guitar builders are experimenting with alternatives that are lightweight and resonate well. African mahogany is gaining popularity as a suitable guitar wood both in sound and appearance.
The back story. Besides the sonic differences between heavy and light guitars, the debate may really center around comfort. Although the argument for enhanced tone can be convincingly made, there is also concern for the physical pain induced by heavy instruments. A huge generation of rock guitarists in their arthritic years may be trading in their weighty guitars for a heavy dose of relief. A lot of young, fit musicians don’t want to play a 90-minute set with a 12-pound guitar either, even if it does sound great. Either way, it seems that the question of guitar weight will be sustained for a long time to come.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.