By blending Spanish, classical, blues, metal—even Celtic—sounds, the amazing duo celebrates the 6-string’s history with their spirited music.
Rodrigo y Gabriela
9 Dead Alive
It’s back to basics for the amazing duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, guitar virtuosos who draw ferocious sounds from their nylon-string instruments. After exploring orchestral music (2012’s Area 52) and contributing to major movie soundtracks—a journey that took them nearly five years—the two sequestered themselves in their studio in Ixtapa, Mexico, to pay musical tribute to nine individuals who continue to influence world events, even after their death.
The compositions are virtuosic, passionate, and intensely rhythmic. Rod and Gab began playing together in a Mexican metal band and on 9 Dead Alive those roots come through in the riffs, power chords, and breakdowns that drive many of the tunes. Yet “Megalopolis” and “La Salle Des Pas Perdus” also reveal the duo’s appreciation of classical guitar. Each guitarist has a specialty: Gabriela’s fingerstyle technique blends fast, flamenco-inspired rasgueado and strumming with sophisticated, driving guitar-body percussion. Rodrigo takes the lead guitar role, gripping a plectrum to play riffs, lightning palm-muted lines, and melodic solos. (On “Torito” he even plays slide—imagine Elmore James over Phrygian power chords.) By blending Spanish, classical, blues, metal—even Celtic—sounds, Rod and Gab celebrate the 6-string’s history with their spirited music.
Must-hear track: “Megalopolis”
This sexy synthesis of vintage Gibson and Mosrite is punky and rocking, yet surprisingly civilized.
From the sidewalk outside, DiPinto Guitars doesn’t look that different from a dozen other tastefully curated, well-stocked American guitar shops. But from that little shop in Philly’s Fishtown district, Chris DiPinto has built a tidy and growing business in ’60s-styled guitars that play great and don’t cost a lot of bread.
The Melody Mach IV is a new twist on the company’s excellent Mosrite homage, the Mach IV. The first Mach IV was a glammed-up, surf- and deuce-coupe-centric design with zinging single-coils, custom colors, and racing stripes. Now DiPinto has melded the Mach IV’s alluring lines with hardware and design elements from Gibson’s entry level warhorses, the Melody Maker and the Les Paul Jr, transforming the Mach IV into a punky yet elegant guitar capable of a surprising array of moods.
With a P-1000 pickup in the bridge position (a stacked humbucker that fits in a P-90 cover, and measures a walloping 19K of resistance), the Melody Mach owes as much to Gibson’s original mahogany econo-slab, the Les Paul Jr., as to the Melody Maker that inspired its name. While the Melody Mach only superficially echoes the design of the original Melody Makers, it captures the spirit of Gibson’s ’60s bestsellers, which were rock-solid, wailing, and straightforward guitars ideal for punk riffing, rock, and blues.
Though inspired by what were once dirt-cheap guitars, nothing about the DiPinto feels downmarket. The maple neck is slinky, fast, and comfortable, like the cross between a short-scale ’60s Fender Jaguar and a ’60s Stratocaster. The factory setup and intonation are excellent. The neck is free of fret buzz. The guitar has a familiar, broken-in feel despite its newness.
Most DiPinto’s I’ve encountered are very well built. But the Korean-made Melody Mach IV is one of the most flawlessly constructed guitars I’ve encountered in a long time. Fretwork on the bound neck (usually a dead giveaway to a guitar’s “affordable” origins) is perfect. The sunburst and finish have a deep, luxurious glow. When I plugged in, I found the potentiometers had useful and discernable ranges, unlike those essentially on-or-off pots you often encounter on low-cost instruments. The extra attention to detail makes DiPintos a little more expensive than some comparable imports, but it translates into a great-playing, great-sounding guitar.
Rowdy To Refined
Here on a mahogany solidbody equipped with effective controls, the ultra-hot P-1000 is essentially its own boost/overdrive pedal. With the guitar’s volume control wide-open, tones are rowdy, brash, and brutish. Doubtless, some players who prefer the contoured and crystalline tones of neck single-coils or jazzy humbuckers will find it downright trashy. But it’s great for rocking hard at lower volumes. Even a moderate amount of amp volume generates nasty Faces/Stones-style crunch.
If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that at wide-open levels the P-1000 lack the dimension and airiness of a traditional P-90. The pickup can also generate a kind of compression that diminishes its ample power. But the basic voice resides in a cool midrange zone that lets you really open up the treble and bass on your amp. It feels especially full of piss and vinegar when the treble, bass, and volume are maxed on a blackface Fender.
If you’re unaccustomed to using your guitar’s volume and tone controls (or if you only intend to use the Melody Mach as a full-throttle punk machine) the versatility of the P-1000 and the Melody Mach is less apparent. But the responsive, wide-ranging volume and tone pots let you dial in cool clean tones ranging from jangly to jazzy, depending on how much top end you subtract.
Some of the Melody Mach’s most rewarding sounds come from the combination of the P-1000 and the hot, rich neck single-coil. With tone and volume controls all the way up, the two pickups evoke the combined-pickup position on a Telecaster, but with some extra humbucker muscle. A touch of volume and tone attenuation rounds off this husky yet singing sound, yielding lovely tones perfect for Memphis- or Hendrix-style blues and soul chord melodies. This blend is also an ideal vehicle for open tunings. The contrasting pickup tones highlight the delicious micro-differences in octaves and unisons, producing an almost 12-string-like richness and timbre.
The neck pickup is a treat by itself too. It’s clean and responsive, providing a great contrast to the excitable and dirty P-1000. Its rounded, pearlescent highs make it great for folk-rock jangling or clean, alternate-tuned arpeggios à la Sonic Youth.
With pickups that deliver raw rock and folky chime with equal aplomb, the Melody Mach IV has enough versatility to become a go-to axe. Not everyone will love the brash attitude and midrange focus of the P-1000, and some may feel that a P-90 in the bridge would have provided a better match for the excellent neck single-coil. But those differences can be strengths, particularly when the two pickups are combined, or when navigating a set that veers from nuanced melodies to rock assaults. Factor in the guitar’s extraordinary playability, and it’s easy to imagine this as the only guitar a touring roots or indie rocker might need. While it’s not the most inexpensive of affordable guitars, it’s a well-designed instrument of quality and distinctions—and it feels like a steal.
Watch the Review Demo:
Forget snake oil and junk science—bask in the benefits of not giving a $#!*.
In case you haven’t noticed, society is obsessed with efficiency and self-improvement. We read countless books on it (only to find out later that “they” are selling snake oil and junk science … I’m looking at you, Kevin Trudeau). We buy questionable products that claim to magically fix some perceived problem with our bodies or mental outlook. We have apps to help us exercise or eat better. We have to have the latest gadgets because their miniscule spec improvements will save us a couple of seconds when uploading a video or updating our cyber followers on every aspect of our lives. It’s exhausting!
Our most precious of pastimes—playing music—is not spared, either. We’re constantly scouring videos, articles, reviews, ads, and retailers’ websites for info on gear that’ll improve our tone. At concerts, we often spend more time wondering what pickups are in axes and which pedals are behind wedge monitors than we do soaking up the music. We spend countless hours practicing licks and riffs, reading lessons, and watching videos on how to play like our heroes.
Having interviewed hundreds of guitarists and bassists over the years, I’ve heard a lot of advice from world-renowned players on how to improve. The tips range from what sorts of scales or fingering exercises to practice with a metronome to what sorts of players to jam with (“Make sure they’re better than you—it’ll make you rise to the challenge”), what sorts of settings get the most out of a typical rig (“Make sure your amp’s power tubes are really working,” and “You’ll actually sound heavier with less gain”), what books or albums are most educational or inspiring, and what not to do when you’re in a rut (“Don’t play anything when you pick up the guitar … wait for a musical idea to come into your head, then figure out how to play it”).
All of these tips are great (though the bastard in me advises challenging any and every hard-and-fast rule you hear). But some of the most useful advice I’ve heard is something far easier than all of those. Let me rephrase that: Given our obsession with self-improvement, it may not actually be easier—but it’s far simpler.
Put down your guitar and go live. Go have fun. Get away from all things guitar, and spend quality time in other life-affirming pursuits.
Over the years, players of many different stripes have stressed essentially the same idea, but it’s often dismissed, overlooked, or forgotten as we snap back to the 21st-century habit of thinking the solution is always “try harder,” “work smarter,” and “maximize [insert business- or self-improvement buzzword here].”
The funny thing is, forcing ourselves to chill out and have fun has an incredible impact on our lofty self-improvement goals. Many scientific studies affirm that the results refresh us—physically, emotionally, and intellectually—and are more effective than any quick-fix fad or innovative technology.
I recently returned from the first proper vacation I’ve had alone with my wife (i.e., without our three awesome boys) in the 19 years we’ve been together. We escaped the frigid climes of the arctic-vortex-whipped Midwest and basked in the awesomeness of the Caribbean, where it was 80 degrees in or out of the water. We didn’t plan a thing ahead of time. Just drove around the tiny island in our tiny car, chose restaurants on the spur of the moment, snorkeled, petted stingrays in water so aqua you’d swear it was photoshopped, and scuba-dived for the first time ever—on a whim.
I brought along one of my trusty Teles to plunk away on for a few minutes before hitting the sack each night and falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing outside our window. Guess what? As I aimlessly fretted that maple neck, I found myself playing things differently than I’ve ever played before. Not necessarily new riffs or song parts, but a new mentality and viewpoint. “Holy shit—I gotta remember this,” I thought.
A couple of weeks after returning to the grind of reality, my wife and I went to see comedian Jim Gaffigan perform his hilarious brand of food-obsessed self-derision and deceptively gentle commentary on the ironies of modern life—like how weddings these days are like some bizarre, money-vaporizing fantasy about being medieval royalty uniting rival kingdoms. When I got home, I should’ve gone straight to bed. Instead, I picked up another Tele and twanged for a bit. Suddenly, the viewpoint I’d started tapping into on vacation yielded concrete ideas for a new song in what I like to think of as my own style—but with a new twist.
I’m not sharing any of this to brag or act like I’m blazing new trails—intellectually or musically—but I am hoping you take me up on the challenge. Of all the wisdom I’ve ever heard or read from great players, nothing can top it.
Put down your guitar and go live.
Your family, your bandmates, your coworkers, and your soul, if there is such a thing, will thank you when you come back as a new being.