january 2010

Creating new licks and sequences using string skipping, barring, and hammer-ons from nowhere.

After covering various techniques and approaches over the past few columns, I figure it might be fun to combine some of these ideas to create new licks and sequences. In the following examples, I’ll combine string skipping, barring, and hammer-ons from nowhere.

Fig. 1
involves the use of a diminished arpeggio sequence that merges all three of the above concepts. The combination of big interval jumps generated by string skipping and the hyper-speed possibilities provided by the barre, creates the potential for an insane-sounding result.

To play these examples, I recommend hybrid picking (plucking strings with one or more of the available picking-hand fingers in addition to the pick), as it makes it easier for you to execute these ideas and make them sound tighter.

Fig. 2 is a long melodic exercise that also combines barring and string skipping. In this example, we’re outlining a classic chord progression in the key of D major using major and minor triad arpeggios. This passage is designed with a triplet feel and alternates between two very distinctive 12-note sequences.

The arpeggiated F# minor triad involves a huge stretch between the 10th and 16th frets. If you find this physically impossible, simply change the F# (16th fret, 4th string) to E (14th fret, 4th string). It will no longer be a genuine arpeggio, but it will still sound great. The overall concept is much more important than the actual notes.

Combining these techniques yields many possibilities, so I recommend experimenting on your own. You may be surprised with what you discover.

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The Epiphone 1959 Les Paul brings the holy grail in reach for those without pockets deep enough for an original or a Gibson Custom version.

Download Example 1
Neck pickup, Vol. 6, Tone 7
Download Example 2
Bridge pickup, Vol. 7, Tone full
Clips recorded with Marshall Haze 40 in Sound Studio on a Mac using Digidesign MBox2 (Sennheiser e609; Colossal 15' Brooklyn cable).
Nearly every guitar player has heard of the legend of the Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard. Regarded as the Stradivarius of electric guitars, the 1959 Les Paul Standard represents to many the pinnacle of electric guitar construction, and the instrument that helped define the sound of overdriven rock and roll. Everybody already knows original models are rare as hen’s teeth, commanding prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s estimated that there are a little over 1,000 unaccounted for (as someone on the Les Paul Forum joked, they’re all probably in the same attic). Gibson reissued the instrument several years ago, but unfortunately, and understandably, quite a few players have found it difficult to scrape together $5699 for one of those Custom Shop gems.

Enter Epiphone, a division of Gibson Musical Instruments, which in addition to offering a wide variety of its own instruments is also well known for producing lower-priced, official versions of some of the same models Gibson makes—including the Les Paul, which Epiphone licensed directly from the man himself. It was Paul’s desire from the beginning to have his signature model made by both companies, and this Special Run Collection release coincides with the illustrious guitar’s 50th anniversary. It also comes complete with Gibson pickups and a reproduction of the brown Lifton case that the originals came in.

Stacking Up
At first glance, the Epiphone ’59 Les Paul Standard is a beauty. The AAA-grade flame top stands out proudly, and there’s a very attractive grain pattern in the mahogany body. In order to save on cost, the flame top is a maple veneer that is attached to a solid, carved maple top. While the body itself has a nice, deep grain, holding it up to the light shows it to be comprised of four pieces of mahogany joined together, as opposed to one or two. It’s hardly noticeable, but can be detected if you really look for it. I’m a huge fan of larger Gibson-profile necks, and this particular one didn’t disappoint. It’s rather beefy, but not quite as large as a ’58 profile, and certainly not as thin as the ’60s slim taper shape. It was very comfortable running up and down the neck with my hand, and even more pleasing not to find any sharp fret ends. Apart from the action being a little too low, even the setup was pretty good right out of the box. Speaking of great things about the neck, the Epi ’59 Les Paul Standard also sports a long tenon, which is one of the construction features of classic Gibson instruments that helped them achieve their legendary sustain qualities. This extra wood in the neck joint gives the two more coupling, providing more resonance. Even though the famed long tenon is employed in its construction, the neck is still comprised of three pieces of mahogany. I believe that a better sound could be achieved with just one piece. Electronics-wise, the instrument shares much in common with its Gibson brethren, sporting high quality CTS pots and Burstbucker 2 and 3 humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions, respectively.

Oh, That Sound
The original 1959 Les Paul Standard is closely associated with the sound of an overdriven vintage Marshall stack (although some players, such as Mike Bloomfield, attained incredible tones out of Fender Twins and Bassmans). Strapping on the Paul, I plugged it into a 1973 Marshall Super Bass head into a Bogner 4x12 cabinet with four Celestion Vintage 30s. Jumping for the train immediately, I cranked the head in true Marty McFly-fashion and hit an open G chord. With incredible detail, the Marshall emitted an extraordinary overdriven tone, with complete authority and even top end. Rolling the volume knob on the guitar down caused the tone to transition smoothly from higher gain to lightly overdriven tones, thanks to the great taper of the CTS pots inside.

However, since the guitar bears the ’59 Les Paul Standard namesake, it’s fair to say that one of Gibson’s Custom Shop models will likely please the ear a little more. Those instruments have great resonance, even unplugged, which the Epiphone version simply cannot fully achieve. Don’t get me wrong, this Epi is an outstanding instrument, with tone and solid construction that’s miles above their standard Les Paul models, but some vintage purists will desire the fuller tone of the Gibson. For example, the neck position of the Epiphone, while having a nice, clear tone in a clean amp setting, has a somewhat dull quality by comparison when overdriven. There’s a slight but noticeable lack of midrange—one that I haven’t heard with this exact same pickup in an actual Gibson Les Paul Standard.

Turning down the tone knob to roll off the highs to compensate helped a bit, but not vastly. To be perfectly honest, the Epi ’59 Les Paul Standard reminds me a lot of Epiphone’s now discontinued Elitist series. These guitars, which included models such as the Les Paul Custom, Standard and ES-335 DOT, where made with much higher quality materials and construction methods than many other Epiphone instruments, and were only around for a short period, which ended in 2008. I was a big fan and was sad to see them go. The Epi ’59 reissue shares a lot in common tone-wise with the Les Paul Standard in that line, so if you missed out on the Elitist series I highly recommend checking this one out.

The Final Mojo
The Epiphone 1959 Les Paul Standard is an excellent guitar in its own right. It’s difficult to criticize some of the cost-cutting features of this particular Les Paul. Epiphone has gone out of their way to provide as close to a ’59 Les Paul Standard guitar as was possible while still keeping it under the $1000 mark, and each of the trade-offs is defensible. While it would have been nice to see a one-piece neck, a one-piece (or even two-piece) body, or a solid flamed maple top, the addition of those would have most unquestionably put the pricing into the ballpark of a Gibson instrument. I don’t feel that the lack of those features should deter too much from the guitar, however. This release from Epiphone certainly deserves a look, especially if you were a fan of their Elitist line. If you’re interest is piqued, I’d recommend you jump on one fast. Epiphone has only produced 1,959 of them, in conjunction with the year of the original iconic Gibson model, so they’re sure to become collector’s items in the future.
Buy if...
you’re in the market for a good, inexpensive Les Paul and missed the boat on an Elitist model.
Skip if...
you’re a stickler and nothing short of a Gibson Custom Shop model (or the real thing) will suffice.

Street $899 - Epiphone - epiphone.com

The Hagstrom Swede inspires everything from punk to jazz with tons of tones built in at a great price.

Download Example 1
Neck Pickup - regular, filter 1 & filter 2
Download Example 2
Neck Pickup - lead
Download Example 3
Bridge Pickup - regular, filter 1 & filter 2
Download Example 4
Bridge Pickup - lead
Download Example 5
Middle - regular, filter 1 & filter 2

Click here to watch the video review...
For many in the U.S., the Hagstrom name might seem relatively new, but to the rest of the world they’ve been making great guitars for over 50 years. The Swedish Hagstrom Company started manufacturing electric guitars in 1958. The first Hagstrom solidbody guitar featured a sparkle celluloid finish, a very cool choice of materials borrowed from their accordion production line. Hagstrom expanded its guitar line to include hollowbody guitars like the Viking, the flagship Swede series, basses (including the legendary 8-string) and a series of acoustic and classical guitars in the early 1970s.

The original Hagstrom Company stopped production in 1983, making the guitars instant collectables. Twentythree years later, the legacy continued with reissues of the original models built to the same quality and unique designs that made them beloved all over the world. The artists that have played these instruments are as classic and diverse as the Hagstrom body shapes: Elvis Presley, Frank Zappa, Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA), Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music), David Bowie, ZZ Top, Noel Redding, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford (Genesis), The Beatles, and many more. Now that we know where they’ve been, let’s see where they’re going with the new Swede.

The Wow Factor
The guitar showed up in great condition and was wrapped and boxed very well. It was easy to tune and didn’t require an initial setup, so I was able to jump right in and sample this beast. When you first take a look at it, this guitar has lots of wow factor: the classic 24.75" scale single-cut design and snow white finish brings out your inner-punk. It will compel you to pull out your Sex Pistols and Germsalbums, cranking them up and remembering why you play guitar in the first place. When I finished my punk assault upon my neighbors, I sat down with the guitar and really started to examine all the little details that make the Swede a real gem.

Hagstrom's H-Expander alloy truss rod and Resinator composite wood fretboard.
First, you’ll notice the fancy 18:1 ratio tuning pegs, a cut above what you usually get in this middle price range, and which made the guitar stay in tune perfectly. The tail piece is made of a sturdy metal plate that contributes to the sleek look of the guitar and adds a fair amount of sustain to boot. Speaking of sustain, let’s talk about the H-Expander alloy truss rod that adds tension to both ends of the neck and runs its entire length. This allows for the action to be set lower than average with no string buzz. The fretboard is made from a composite wood they call Resinator. It’s a stronger material that provides a smooth feel and complements the 22 medium jumbo frets.

The neck is a husky “C” shape with a flatter fretboard radius and very comfortable feel; it’s easy to bend notes 1-1/2 steps without sacrificing any string volume and sustain. This is also due to the graphite nut that is the icing on this tone cake. It’s these little upgrades and additions that set Hagstrom guitars apart from the crowd; their design philosophy is all about adding sustain, tonality and playability, but they present it in a very cool retro-styled instrument.

The Swede Elements
The 45mm body and neck are both mahogany, and on this model the 10mm carve top is also mahogany, which makes the guitar a little bit darker, but it’s a good complement to the vintage-voiced Custom 58 humbuckers. The covered pickups are a little hotter than true vintage buckers, but the tone is smooth and balanced. For most guitars in this price range the pickups usually are the weakest link and I’d suggest upgrading then. But in this case the pickups are definitely not weak. Hagstrom has gone the extra mile and wound quality-sounding pickups that would suit this guitar.

The Swede also features a high-grade polyester finish, which is smoother and denser, producing a better sonic performance than some polyurethane finishes do. But I wish that the top coat was sprayed a bit thinner. You see this thick glassy finish on a lot of import guitars, and it makes the instruments sound compressed. This is a mistake in my opinion. I also wish that the solid-colored Swedes had a maple top; the Super Swedes do and I’m sure the added brightness makes a difference. The Swede comes with two Volume and Tone controls and a three-way pickup selector toggle, but the fun doesn’t stop there.

The Swede has a second 3-way toggle switch located on the bottom horn that provides filter controls for additional tone options. When the switch is up, you get an added midrange boost, kind of like a half-cocked wah. When the switch is down, you get an added boost of bass. The filters are bypassed in the middle position. These filters work on both pickups and the shifts in tone will definitely make your ordinary riffs sound outstanding. The filters are usable for clean as well as distorted settings, and the added bass was great for jazz. I spent a week nailing my favorite John Scofield riffs, not to mention the mid boost for lead playing. An added bonus of the Swede’s filter controls is that it becomes a very versatile guitar for recording. The filters work great for making your guitar sound different, especially when layering guitar tracks. If you’re looking for that wall-of-guitar sound, then look no further. The Swede will save you from having to run multiple amps in the studio. This guitar is a lot of fun to play and a time saver in the studio.

The Final Mojo
The Hagstrom Swede is a lot of guitar for the money. The attention to detail demonstrated by the custom hardware and upgraded pickups shows that they listen to their customers about what features are important at this price range. The added tonality of the Swede makes this guitar extremely versatile for any style of music. I do have a request for Hagstrom and I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask: when is the Pat Smear model coming out?

Buy if...
you’re looking for a mid-priced retro rocker with lots of upgrades.
Skip if...
you’re looking for a guitar with a locking tremolo and active pickups.

Street $665 - Hagstrom - hagstromguitars.com