Thursday, June 8, 2017

Test Drive: Rickenbacker 4003

Last month I took a test drive of a major icon in the bass world; the Rickenbacker 4003.

Geddy Lee & his Rickenbacker; "Exit Stage Left"
The reason I was so excited to take the Rick for a test spin, is 100% due to seeing Geddy Lee playing his Rig 4001 on the "Exit Stage Left" video-- the very thing that inspired me to play guitar/bass.  Knowing nothing about guitars back then, I looked at the Rickenbacker's non-symmetrical headstock on Geddy's bass and thought, "Wow! His guitar is busted and he's still playing the heck out of it!"  Now, many years later I get to try out the modern version of that classic bass for the first time-- I couldn't wait!

New Rickenbacker 4003 is a beautiful thing!
Located in the "Platinum Room" of a national guitar retailer, the salesman climbed to the top of a ladder, freed the bass from a locked hanger, then handed me the black beauty.  Finding a uncrowded corner, I admired every aspect of the instrument.  
Fit & Finish:
Its black finish was flawless and all the parts felt stout.  However, the tuning posts (where strings are wound) were much smaller than those found on Fender-type basses, though the tuning keys were very similar.  Medium-jumbo frets looked properly finished, the rosewood fingerboard was rich in color and the binding/distinctive pearoid inlays looked fantastic!  

Oh my, that string action!
Overall the bass felt somewhat smaller than I imagined it.  Its slim body felt comfortable to play and was relatively lightweight.  The neck felt chunky and nicely rounded at the sides, but from front to back was somewhat shallow (not chunky like a baseball bat).  

The only disappointing element was the super high string action, a problem that this particular store is infamous for.  Normally, string action is a fairly simple problem to correct on most basses... but not on the Ric due to the bridge design.  
A "Platinum Room" setup by a national guitar retailer
A good luthier could probably adjust the bass to correct the high action, but at additional cost.  On an instrument costing over $1800, located under lock & key in a "Platinum Room" I expect it to at least be within factory specs.  Despite its crazy string action, it sounded fantastic-- just what one expects to hear.   

Prior to the test drive while on my way to the shop, I was secretly hoping to fall in love with the bass, and fantasized that my wife would happily encourage me to leave the shop as a new Rickenbacker 4003 owner.  The bass still hangs on the shop's wall today, waiting for someone with more money and patience than I.  A great instrument in every respect (sans poor setup), I hope to add one to my collection someday soon.  Until then,

...stay tuned & in tune!   

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Talent, or Hard Work?

Just came across this clip from Scott Devine that I had to share with everyone here.

Scott is talking about his students that were born with a "talent" for the instrument, and those who had to work harder.  

Consider that a person with a talent for music simply means that they pick up on things easier.  For those of us less talented, we can achieve the same results-- we just need to work harder to get there.  

Over the last week or so, I have been in the shed working on a favorite RUSH tune, Tom Sawyer.  This is the first Geddy Lee tune I have attempted because I thought there was no way on earth I could keep up with my favorite bassist.  The crazy thing is, that I am nearly through it-- and yes, it has been a lot of work!

Once I finish the song, I will be turning my focus to theory: Chord Tones, Scales and arpeggios.  After watching Scott's video something occurred to me; the accomplishments I am most proud of are those which were the most challenging. Therefore, it's off to the wood shed...!

Stay tuned & in tune!    

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Fender American Standard Precision Bass vs. G&L LB-100, SB1

Gear Review/ Comparison

Yeah, yeah-- I can hear the Sheldon Cooper-types out there exhaling dismissively and asking, "P-bass?! How simple can a person be?"

Well this isn't your typical P-Bass review.  Today I will compare my Fender American Standard Precision with the latest G&L P-basses: the new(ish) LB-100 and the well documented SB-1, which I reviewed last year in, NBD! Ode to Donald "Duck Dunn" 

It was all a matter of timing that presented this unique opportunity-- to buy yet another P-bass: first, the fact that I was not getting along well in my 5-string adventure with the JB5 and decided to sell it on for someone else to enjoy.  Then came the announcement from Fender that it was replacing the American Standard series with the new Professional series.  Being the Christmas season, retailers were willing to sell off their stock of "outdated" Fenders at rock bottom prices to make room for the new series.  So I was presented with the opportunity to have an Olympic White, rosewood, tortoise shell USA P-bass shipped to my door via next-day mail(!)  Being a sucker for that classic look I placed my order... and here we are!

Why compare the Fender with G&L?

Outside the G&L factory in Fullerton CA.
More than just similarly styled instruments, G&L was created by Leo Fender.  "G&L" is short for George & Leo; George Fullerton, and Leo Fender; two men key to the early days of Fender guitars.  Additionally, G&L operates out of a facility which Leo built many of his classic Fender guitars.  Several of the original machines and practices used in the 1950s are still in use at G&L today.  

G&L Guitars is also the last place Leo worked until his death in 1991.  As an interesting side note, Leo's wife, Phyllis, is an honorary chairperson 
at G&L to help keep Leo's vision alive.  So there is a substantial connection with history at G&L guitars, which is partly why many people believe that a G&L is the closest instrument to Leo's originals that are available today.  However, don't get the idea that G&L is stuck in the past-- the company strives to improve it's products in keeping with Leo's continuous effort to improve his creations.  Another interesting side note is the two factories (Fender and G&L) are located a mere 20-miles apart from each other.  

The new P-bass:

First things first; this 2016 American Standard Precision is a fantastic instrument.  It sounds exactly like one expects from a P-Bass, and plays smoothly with a nice low action.  Its body is lightweight alder, and the rosewood fingerboard has a rich, dark red color.  

When playing for the first time, I discovered a rattle when playing open notes.  After much trouble shooting, I narrowed the problem down to the A string; it didn't have enough down pressure between the nut and the tuning post.  A common problem on newer Fender basses, required a small part from the Fender catalog designed to resolve the issue.  It is a washer that replaces the stock tuning peg washer and includes a string retainer/guide to sharpen the string break between the two points.
Also helpful eliminating rattles is to ensure the strings are wound as far down the peg as possible.  Since the stock strings could have been wound another wrap or so further down, I installed a new set of strings. Along with the new string retainer, the problem disappeared.  

The comparison. 

Fit & Finish:

How does the 2016 Fender American Standard Precision compare to it's G&L P-bass stepbrothers?  Let's start with the most obvious; the urethane finishes from each company are flawless.  There is however, one huge difference between the two builders in this regard; the number of different available finishes.  Fender offered three colors in 2016: black, white, sunburst. The new Professional series added olive green to its total of four colors.  G&L on the other hand offer 29 different standard colors, with an additional 16 "Premier" finishes and seven metal flake finishes. They also offer special, limited edition colors such as with the Detroit Muscle Series, which currently offer eight different colors.  

Fender neck pocket (left & right sides) with slight gaps
Fitment wise, for those who believe the neck pocket should be free of gaps, Fender slips a little compared to G&L.  The Fender has a slight gap on either side of the neck.  Several repairmen have told me this makes it easier for them to make slight adjustments to the neck over the years.  Personally, I don't mind it at all, as I can not discern any difference in resonance or sustain compared to my G&Ls, and it has proven stable during the last three months of playing with our band.

G&L neck pockets-- tight as a drum
G&L neck pockets are extremely tight, so much so  that you can remove the neck bolts then pick up the instrument by the neck and the body will remain in place.  Some believe this results in longer sustain and  improves overall tone.  Comparing the two though my rig, I don't notice any difference; each have long ringing sustain and each body resonates like crazy...

Fender and G&L approach neck attachment differently as well.  Fender uses the traditional method of four-bolts with the stamped neck plate.  G&L uses six countersunk bolts, allowing them to ditch the stamped plate.  The G&L appeals more to me for a modern bass, but I bought the Fender because I wanted a bass with a slightly more classic feel.  While the G&L feels better to me when handling the instrument, Fender's traditional layout does what it's intended to do nicely.  

Departing slightly from the classic design, Fender has modernized its tuning keys to be smaller and lighter, which potentially allows the instrument to balance better by minimizing neck dive.  This particular bass balances perfectly-- so in this case, it worked wonderfully.  G&L tuners favor the classic designs of yesteryear.

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
On the front side, the tuners appear pretty similar at first, but look closer and there are slight differences.  

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Fender's tuning pegs are again smaller, but are of a slightly denser material.  G&L uses "Ultra-Light" aluminum tapered posts.  On the new Professional series, Fender has added more taper to its tuners than on the previous American Standard units.

Both use round string trees for the "D" and "G" strings.  Fender moved the trussrod to the end of the neck, while the G&L's is located behind the nut.  The grain patterns also reveals different neck types: a flatsawn Fender, and the quartersawn G&L. 

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Bridges.  Fender has beefed up its vintage bridge and includes the option to string though the body.  The G&L bridge is my favorite of any on the market; it includes a protrusion on the underside that fits deep into the body. It also has a set screw on the right side that locks the bridge down keeping anything from moving.

Details, details...

Aside from the large, more obvious items to compare,  the less obvious details are important too.  Here are two or three points that become noticeable when playing with a band:

(L) Fender glossy finish, (R) G&L satin finish
Side markers.  Seldomly do I look at the face markers when playing live; it's the side markers that I use for reference, and this is one point where the Fender is lacking.  Each of Fender's side dots are positioned half on the rosewood and half on the maple, compared to the G&L which position its side dots completely on the rosewood.  On a dimly lit stage, the Fender dots are tough to see.  Conversely, G&L markers visually jump out do to positioning and use of a different material that reflects light better than those on the Fender.

(L) Fender, (R) G&L
Strap buttons.  While the Fender units are nice, the G&L buttons do a better job of keeping the strap in place because the top portion is wider.  Fender's are great if you use rubber washers to lock the strap down, otherwise G&L have the best non-locking buttons on the market.  

G&L buttons are also a bit shorter than Fender's, and don't protrude as far into the bottom of a gig bag.  Of course that is less of an issue if you only use a hardshell case.  

(Top) Fender, (Bottom) G&L
Cases become more important if you transport your instrument from home to a gig.  Again, this is one of those less obvious details at first blush.  Fender cases have molded plastic outer shells with foam inserts, and have a really comfortable handle compared to that which G&L offers.  G&L have long sourced their cases from the G&G case company, which are Tolex-covered plywood shells with padded inserts to keep the bass secure.  Fender's case is much lighter and more comfortable to carry around town.  Unfortunately, the case that shipped with my Fender is coming apart.  The foam insert in the top half of the case has separated from the plastic shell.  After a pleasant phone call, Fender's customer service arranged for a replacement to be sent.

Tone Report:

Tone is such a subjective thing, so I wont get too deep into the weeds here.  However, there are some characteristics that most people would notice, and I will attempt a bit of that here.  

If these four basses can be thought of in terms of a sound spectrum, with lower output and sweeter tones on the left, to higher output and more aggressive tones on the right, my ears rank them as follows:

Blue LB100 / Fender Precision / Purple LB100 / SB-1

Again, tone being very subjective and personal, it is difficult to give an objective report.  That said, each of these basses hit the classic P sound, and in the case of the SB-1, the P-sound and much more.  Also notice that the Purple LB100 is ranked more aggressive than the Blue LB100.  With the exception of the color, the two basses have exactly the same specs and strings, but the tone is more aggressive with the Purple bass; this is another example of an instrument being more than just the sum of its parts.

In the weeks to come I will post a video comparison of the four basses and you can let your own ears determine which tones you like best.  'Till then...

...Stay tuned & in tune!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Music Room Remodel Pt. 3: Complete!

While there are a few small things I still need (desk lamp, something to cover tv/speaker wires...) the project is complete.  One of the things I'm happiest with is the supports for the guitar hangers:

The various nicks & dings seen above are from my drill slipping off the screw head... So I drilled pilot holes for the screws and drove them by hand.

Having the bolts recessed allowed me to cover them with the outside hangers.  Naturally the wall studs didn't line up with my design plans for the supports, so I chose to use "Toggler" which thankfully worked as advertised.

Dealing with the slanted celling was a little tricky; I decided to step things down visually from right to left:

With the supports and guitar hangers installed, the final two puzzle pieces were acquired & installed over the weekend.  First I needed a desk.  

Before making the long trip up to the Seattle area to visit Ikea and the local re-stores around town, I decided to visit our state's surplus store-- a place I recently discovered.  

At best I thought I might find something to use as a base for a new desk top... however, I was able to score a computer desk in excellent condition for only $15!

Having saved a bundle on the desk, I was able to put a little more money toward a tv/sound-bar system.  Our local Buy More had everything I needed for the tv setup and the cables needed to connect my laptop to the tv.  To secure the TV mount to the drywall I attempted to use "Toggler Self-Drilling Drywall Anchors 65lbs" 

The package claims that you don't need a drill to install the anchor... that wasn't the case for me.  First the anchors did not penetrate the drywall and instead smashed into a useless wad of plastic.  So I drilled a small pilot hole... but the anchor busted off half way in.  Eventually I succeeded by drilling a pair of 5/16" holes for the anchors, then patched and painted the earlier attempts.

All of the above brings us to the finished product.  A month or so after beginning, the claustrophobic, dimly lit attic room has become a brightly lit useful practice space.



Over the next few weeks I may tweak things a little, but all-in-all it's completed, and I'm thrilled to have a new practice space.
As the weather improves I will tackle a few other projects around the house, which are welcome deviations from music; the more creative outlets the better!

Soon to come: Fender American Standard P-bass vs. G&L LB-100...

...Stay tuned & in tune!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Music Room Remodel Pt. 2

Here's the latest on my music room remodel:

Searched through a bunch of different molding options over the last few weeks.  Came home with solid wood moldings, but quickly realized each piece was warped(!) Returned those for MDF, got them home only to discover they would be too heavy for my use (I don't want to use adhesive along with nails).  

Back to the hardware store (1hr round trip each time) returned the MDF for PVC composite moldings.  Much easier to install by myself, straight as an arrow and pre-finished; third time is a charm!  Completed hanging them yesterday.  BTW, I used the hammer-&-nail method rather than using a nail gun-- those dang things are expensive! (LOL!)

With that behind me I started on the support for the guitar hangers.  After measuring things up, I decided to hide the mounting bolts of the support behind the guitar hangers:

Today I applied the second coat of paint and filled a few of the knots that didn't want to remain hidden behind the paint.  Tomorrow will be the final coat of paint, then I'll be able to assemble everything and bolt them to the walls.  
Also on the ticket for this week is framing & hanging some posters & prints:

During my down times, I've been searching the net for plans to build a desk, though I am also going to search local re-stores with an eye for something I can repurpose-- might save some time and look good along the way.  

Stay tuned and in tune! 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Music Room Remodel: Week 1

One of the projects for this year that I am most excited about is our music room renovation.  This has been a long time coming, and I am thoroughly enjoying the process.

Until now, I have been using a sofa table as a desk in a poorly lit, dark room that is actually just a finished attic space.  While I cannot change the size of the room, I can work on everything else.

My original "Music Room"
Thankful for having a dedicated space to practice and create in, I have always felt that I was simply adapting to someone else's space:

The room was painted by the previous owners who did the room in light brown with a dark blue wall.  Now that we've been in the house a few years and the higher priority projects have been completed, it is finally time to make this space my own.

A few items to note before starting: 
- The wall slopes from eight to six-feet
- Florescent lighting
- Dark colors

One of the things we've been doing in general is to bring color back to the house, as most everything was brown and dark-stained wood.  So deciding on the paint colors took quite a bit of time.  First things first though, was to cover the dark colors with a white primer.  BTW, painting textured walls can be a real PIA!

And after two gallons of primer and a few days of work:

Part of my vision in this project is to provide this finished attic-space with a sense that it is a room with purpose.  So I decided to add some additional visual elements such as a chair rail.  For this I purchased an inexpensive laser level from the hardware store. 

Next move was to remove the old fluorescents, and bring in my old Craftsman flood lights since the room doesn't have any natural lighting:

The old fluorescent lighting gave off a lot of heat, emitted a buzzing noise, and the light tubes were dying with an annoying fluttering that would often result in no light whatsoever.  Originally, I wanted to replace them with a pair of those long, straight bars of small LED lamps.  However, after getting advice from folks at our local lighting store I decided to go with fewer lights that hang closer to the slanted ceiling-- which is important for a tall guy such as myself (!)

Today, (beginning week-2) was spent ordering parts that will enable me to hang my guitars/basses on the walls-- something I've never before had the nerve to do-- and searching for new musical-themed prints to hang on the wall.  It is surprising how little I can find, and this is in the days of the World-Wide-Web.  For example, try finding a poster or 8x10 of Booker T and the MG's-- they are as rare as hens-teeth!  Not all was lost, as I did find a few other prints, though I continue to search...

Tomorrow I will tape off the the walls again to start working on the lower section, source chair rail material and paint it before cutting in a day or two. 

This should be a fun and productive week!

Stay tuned and in tune!

Page Update

Having a little free time on my hands last week I did a few things to clean up the blog a bit.  Perhaps the most notable change is the spinning globe on the right, that displays your current location, and that of others who have recently viewed the page; now how cool is that?! -->

Also attempted to update some of the links that have gone dead since I posted in the respective threads.  There are a few more to update, but it takes time to click through each one... I'll continue to work at it

Got a few new posts that are in production, so as always...

...stay tuned and in tune!