REVIEW: Gibson Les Paul Nashville Junior Double Cutaway

Gibson has released more variations on the Les Paul theme than most other companies can manage across their entire product line. From the highly tricked out Neal Schon model with Floyd Rose bridge and a sustainer pickup, to the simplicity of the 1957 Les Paul Junior Single Cutaway, there’s something for everybody in the Les Paul line. Personally I really dig the new Les Paul Axcess, but I’ve always had a fondness for Gibson’s Les Paul Junior guitars too.

The Les Paul Nashville Junior Double Cutaway shares many common features with the classic single cutaway model that was probably most famous in the hands of Leslie West and which formed the basis of Green Day front man Billy Joe Armstrong’s signature model, but it deviates from it in several distinctive and important ways.

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REVIEW: Taylor SolidBody Custom

When Taylor debuted the stunning T5 hybrid acoustic/electric guitar, guitarists the world over thought it was just a matter of time before the company unleashed its first fully electric, solidbody guitar. Never one to do quite what’s expected of it, Taylor didn’t release its first solidbody electric: instead they launched their first three solidbody electrics, all at once, each a little bit similar but a lot different.

The SolidBody Classic has a two-piece swamp ash body, funky pickguard, and Taylor’s Style 1 covered humbuckers. The SolidBody Standard has a sapele back with maple veneered laminate top and Taylor Style 2 uncovered humbuckers. I’m reviewing the flagship SolidBody Custom, which has a three piece sapele back with walnut burl veneered laminate top and Style 1 humbuckers.

At first glance the SolidBody Custom might look like a conventional single cutaway electric, but appearances can be deceiving. The first hint that this is something a little different is the neck joint: a single bolt affixes the neck to the body. This system is surprisingly stable, and seems to result in a much smoother transfer of vibration from body to neck, which in turn creates more sustain than typical four or five bolt attachment.
The body itself is heavily chambered, with only the area under the bridge remaining fully solid for maximum string vibration transfer. The rest of the body (or lack thereof, since we’re talking about hollow sound chambers) conspires to add layer after layer of harmonic complexity.

Other ‘look a little bit closer’ features include the unique Taylor hard tail bridge, with height adjustment through the back of the guitar, and a clever fused string ground, in case a faulty ground ever tries to get one over on you. Don’t worry: if the fuse is ever tripped, the guitar will still operate, but it might be a little bit noisy until you replace it. Small price to pay to eliminate the risk of frying one’s lips off due to the combined effects a dodgy microphone and a puddle of beer on stage.

The pickup height adjustment is also accessed from the back of the guitar, keeping the front nice and clean, free of busy-looking adjustment screws. The single volume and tone controls look elegant and feel very sturdy, and the five way pickup selector gives you the following settings: 1: full neck pickup. 2: inside coils of both pickups in parallel. 3: full neck pickup and one coil of the bridge pickup. 4: Two inside coils in series. 5: Full bridge pickup.

One especially useful feature is the tone control. For the first two thirds of its travel it functions like any other master tone control, but get into that final third and it increases midrange ‘honk’ just like a stationary wah pedal. It’s an ingenious design, and one which increases the guitar’s already impressive list of features to near revolutionary levels. Once I started investigating this feature, I must have kept the tone control all the way down for about an hour, experimenting with how this tone interacted with the guitar’s sustain and harmonics at different points on the fretboard.

The SolidBody Custom’s tones are very complex and bright. The chambered body seems to add an extra dimension to the sound not only unplugged (I swear it’s the loudest electric I’ve ever heard acoustically), but also through the pickups. The bridge pickup has a toothy bite with lots of subtle overtones and a healthy but not overbearing amount of string sound (I hesitate to use the term ‘string noise’ because that implies negative connotations, of which I mean none), and the neck unit has a warm and bright jangle. It’s almost like playing a Paul Reed Smith but hearing a Gretsch. The guitar excels at rock, jazz and fusion tones, and even sounds great at ultra high gain levels, where you wouldn’t expect these pickups and this guitar to thrive.

In all honesty, this is one of the best guitars I’ve ever played, and I can only hope that one day I can get my hands on one to keep. Taylor has made a stunning entry to the solidbody electric guitar game. Time will tell if the market is ready to accept Taylor as an electric guitar builder, but with a guitar this cool, if any acoustic maker can cross over, it’s Taylor.

BODY: Sapele with walnut top
NECK: Sapele, ebony fretboard, 22 medium frets
PICKUPS: 2 Taylor Style 1 covered humbuckers
ELECTRONICS: 1 vol, 1 tone, 5 way pickup selector
EXTRAS: Hard case included

REVIEW: Alice In Chains concert, Melbourne, Australia

Palais Theatre, St Kilda, February 26 2009.

The last time Alice In Chains toured Australia, I was still in high school and lived 4 hours away from the nearest capital city. The circumstances required for me to see them live were alarmingly insurmountable, and even after I moved to the big smoke and was geographically and economically able to see them, the tragic death of singer Layne Staley seemed to spell a permanent impasse to my ever witnessing them live. Jerry Cantrell has been one of my favourite players ever since I was about 14, so I was ultra-excited to be able to finally see him live.

Now, of course, Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall has taken up the front-and-centre position on stage, and within the first song of the night I’m sure anyone with lingering doubts about his place in the band had resolved to shut the hell up and just get on with having their socks rocked off. DuVall also provides rhythm guitar on certain key tracks, and is a very capable player.

I’ve heard reports from those who saw Alice In Chains back in the day that they were a less-than-inspiring live act, with dull stage presentation and sleepy musical delivery. How much of this is true I can’t really say, but the band who appeared on stage at the Palais last night were energetic and powerful, and certainly knew how to work a crowd. The set list included, but was not limited to, Angry Chair, Man In The Box (third song in!), Rain When I Die, Love Hate Love, Them Bones, Would? Rooster, No Excuses, Dirt, Junkhead and We Die Young.

In the years between Alice In Chains’ first incarnation and 2009, guitarist Jerry Cantrell seems to have picked up a more cultured, controlled vibrato, and was able to nail accurately-pitched bends with a confidence I don’t recall hearing in previous performances. Naturally it stands to reason that one’s playing will develop and evolve over a given time span, so this should come as no surprise, but the Jerry Cantrell on stage last night seemed to go that extra step beyond what the Jerry Cantrell of 1993 was capable of in terms of phrasing, dynamics and all out rock power. By the way, Cantrell still uses his original old G&L Rampage, as well as a few other Rampages, and some Gibson Les Pauls.

Mike Inez was, as always, a very solid player, keeping the sound full and powerful on any of the single-guitar songs in which Cantrell took solos. He seemed to be smiling all night, and locked in perfectly with drummer Sean Kinney’s behind-the-beat-yet-perfectly-in-time playing. Incidentally, I’m not sure how but Kinney has managed to not age one day since 1993. Dude must be into some kind of freaky age-defying voodoo.

Finally, special mention must be made of the band’s trademark vocal harmonies. Longtime fans of the band are surely well aware that Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocal lines such as in the verses for Grind and Would?) were always an important part of the band’s sound. Well, despite the swapping of Staley for DuVall, Alice In Chains still sounds like Alice In Chains, and a big reason for that is that Jerry is still singing too. This is certainly not like in the case of Van Halen where the whole sound of any back catalogue songs changed when Sammy Hagar stepped into David Lee Roth’s gig.

If you haven’t seen the new version of Alice In Chains because you’re sceptical about whether they can hold it together and live up to their legacy, it’s time to put aside such concerns and check them out. Of course they’ll never be the same without Layne, but last night’s performance was a powerful demonstration that the Alice In Chains of 2009 deserves to be spoken of in the same reverential tones as the Alice In Chains of the 90s.