ESP and its LTD brand have released probably dozens of MH-based guitars over the years and it’s easy to see why the design is popular: it embodies the playability and stage-friendly ergonomics of a superstrat, with certain similarities in wood, tone and construction with the Les Pauls. MH guitars are available in all price points right down to the budget MH-50, so let’s look at the LTD MH-1000 Deluxe – the most pimped out Korean MH you’ll find before you get to the really primo Japanese-made stuff, and on to the Custom Shop gear. Mmmmmmm, ESP Custom Shop… [insert Homer Simpson gargle here]
The MH-1000 Deluxe features a solid mahogany body with a quilted maple top. It’s not the most three-dimensional top you’ll ever see, and the flamy-ness relatively hard to see in low light, giving it a kind of restrained, sinister vibe befitting an axe of this orientation. Of course there’s a genuine floating Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut plus six-in-line Grover tuners. The maple neck has a rosewood fretboard, 24 extra jumbo frets and abalone-accented purfling (to match that encircling the body), with small bass-side abalone block inlays aside from the 12th fret MH-1000 inlay. Hardware is black nickel, dark enough to look aggressive and menacing but not so black as to be hard to see. In other words, your audience will still know you’re rockin’ a real Floyd Rose trem instead of a licensed version. And let’s face it: bragging rights are important. We’re guitarists, dammit, not pragmatists!
One particularly interesting feature of the MH-1000 Deluxe is its ‘set-thru’ construction. Not quite set neck, not quite neck-through, a set-thru neck is a set (ie: glued) neck which has been carved to feel like a neck-through. It’s an elegant solution which feels so authentic to what you might expect from a neck-thru that you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for one. What this means, of course, is that construction costs and wood use are kept lower than if neck-through construction was used, but you still get the ergonomic playability of a neck-through.
Pickups include an EMG 81 in the bridge position and an 85 in the neck – a classic combo favoured by many metal and rock players. The control layout is pretty simple: 3-way pickup selector switch for neck, bridge or both combined; master tone; master volume. There are no pickup splitting options either on the switch or via push-pull pots: what you see is what you get. This is a guitar that knows what it was designed for, and that’s to kick your audience’s ass.
With that in mind, it only takes one look to figure out what this guitar’s gonna sound like. If you’ve spent any time with EMGs you’ll know they have great headroom and clarity with an aggressive ‘burn’ around the edges of the notes. This was no different. I tried it though a variety of amps, and the character of the guitar always showed through, with the EMGs reproducing all the fine phrasing details that are sometimes smeared by other pickups. I cranked up the gain and launched into a palm-muted metal assault, and before I knew it about 20 minutes had passed before I’d even ventured beyond the 5th fret – it just sounded so good to dwell down there at the deep end. Moving up to the higher notes, the character of the pickups changed, with more clarity and less fizz. In fact if I was using a single-channel amp with no effects I’d probably choose the MH-1000 as my weapon of choice because it really seems ideally voiced to project unique tones for both rhythm and lead without needing to alter anything at the amp.
As for all that abalone, it might be a bit much for some players – and here’s my only problem with this guitar. I’m really over abalone. Like, really over it. Then again, it is associated with the kind of deluxe appointments that this model tells you to expect – ‘Deluxe’ is right there in the model name – and when you strap this guitar on your audience will certainly be aware that you’ve paid extra for a bit of flash, but hey, what’s the point of buying a guitar with ‘Deluxe’ in the model name if you’re not gonna show it off? The playability is exceptional (especially after lowering the factory setup a few turns), the tones are great and as long as you can hang with all that mollusk, the look is pretty bitchen too. If you dig the vibe but not the look, there are more visually restrained models in the LTD Standard series, or you can knock it up a notch with a genuine ESP Horizon FR-II.
LINK: ESP Guitars
Back in 1997, Steve Vai toured Australia for the first time. By a stroke of luck I managed to acquire one of his picks (my brother Steve reached up and plucked it from the headstock of Vai’s guitar during ‘The Animal’ – in 2004 I returned the favour when I caught one of Billy Sheehan’s bass picks and giving it to Steve). Anyway, I loved this pick and I wanted to keep it with me as a sort of shred good luck charm. I took it to a jewelry store and had them drill a tiny hole into it and affix a little metal ‘O’ so I could attach it to a chain. A rather inelegant solution which, let’s face it, defaced the pick a little bit in an irreversible way.
If only Pickbay existed then! I wouldn’t have had to drill a big hole through my prized Vai pick! Pickbay is a pick-shaped pendant which proudly displays the guitar pick of your choice, along a few more depending on the gauge you use. It serves a dual purpose of cool fashion accessory for guitarists as well as a handy way of ensuring you’re never without a pick within easy reach. You can slot up to four picks in there (less if you use chunkier gauges like I do), and they’re pretty easy to get out when you need a pick in an emergency.
There are various models available, including a natural eco-brass version, as well as chrome, Gold-N (shiny brass that looks like gold without the price) and sterling silver. The colours seem quite cleverly chosen to work nicely with guitar hardware – the gold would go great with my Ibanez Jem, while the chrome would like awesome alongside my UV777BK 7-string. When you order your Pickbay you can also choose from various chains. I like the way the nickel-plated ball chain is described on Pickbay’s site: “Resizable 24″ max length nickel ball chain is our low-cost solution to getting you in one of our 925 sterling silver pendants without forcing you to eat only Ramen noodles for two weeks.”
I think Pickbay would make a cool gift for guitarists (certainly better than my last minute gift ideas back in December), or a neat merchandising idea for bands. Plus, if you’re like me, you probably just dig having a little visual thing that tells people “Yeah, I’m a guitarist – as if you couldn’t already tell by looking at me.”
Thanks to Pickbay for turning me onto this little slice of awesome.
I Heart Guitar pick courtesy of Grover Allman.
Recently I met Matt Stevens through Twitter and was blown away by the incredible things he’s doing with loopers and an acoustic guitar. Matt possesses that rare ability to make you forget about the technology and instead focus on the music – y’know, just how it should be. Then you stop and think about what he’s doing with the technology and your brain melts. So then you focus on the music again. Then you notice what he’s doing with technique and your melted brain explodes too.
So Matt, what’s your story? How did you get started and how did you form such a unique vision?
I ended up doing this stuff essentially out of necessity as the band I was in split up and all I was left with was an acoustic guitar and some pedals and it was a case of using the tools I had to make some music. Because of this I ended up using a line 6 delay pedal to layer sounds. Before that I’d played in hardcore indie and metal bands and I wanted to do something a bit different. Before I did the acoustic stuff I spent a year playing jazz standards and classical stuff so I suppose its all in there.
My influences range from John Barry to Sigur Ros to death metal to King Crimson and Miles Davis so I guess this is what happens when you play all on a acoustic guitar.
You seem to have really taken modern technology and run with it, not just with the technicality of looping, but also with multimedia -upstream, YouTube, Twitter, etc.
Now is a fantastic time to be a musician Ustream gives you a chance to play to an audience all over the world from your bedroom and really the most important thing to do is to build a community around what you do. Talk to your listeners – they are nice people, they like the same music you do! Twitter is great for having conversations with listeners and its amazing to get quick feedback on new music. We’ve also just started an online venue at www.cafenoodle.ning.com, we’re beta testing at the moment, join up!
What gear do you use to achieve your sound?
Loads of stuff!! There is a full list here on my website – main looper is a Line 6 DL4 great little pedal for looping – LR Baggs pick up, charity shop broken Ibanez acoustic guitar and a volume pedal plus a whammy pedal for bass lines – all really standard pedals. All the fake keyboard sounds come from fading in chords on a volume pedal, sometimes adding in a Line 6 filter modeller for more extreme sounds.
Who are your favourite loopers? David Torn, Robert Fripp and Frank Zappa come immediately to mind when I think of looping – what about you?
I like Steve Lawson, Fripp, Stephen Scott, Russ Sargeant, Rick Walker, Zoe Keating and Andy Butler too. I see looping as a tool rather than a style. I like what Adrian Belew does and Kaki King. Fripp is the main one I suppose because he was the first I heard and some of his Crimson soundscapes influenced what I do.
Moon Dial has a beautiful Nick Drake-esque feel, before the drums come in and the vibe intensifies. What can you tell us about that one?
Thanks, Moondial is a song for my second album and I’m really pleased with it. My friend Stuart Marshall played Drums on it and my friend Kev Feazey produced it. Stu is an amazing drummer. We added Glokenspiel to my loops and then the live drums at the end. The first album was just guitar but I really wanted to add some different elements to the new one so we have percussion, melodica, drums and even a Mellotron and Fender Rhodes.
I believe when making a record the key is to get great players and producers and let them get on with it, its likes Terry Gilliam says about directing put the right people in the room and you are most of the way there.
You have a lot of technique but you really know when to hang back and when to let loose with the jazzy flurries. Who influences your lead playing?
Mclaughlin, Fripp, Johnny Marr’s use of arpeggios. I really like Bill Steer and Mike Amott’s lead playing in Carcass on the Necrotisism record. I like John Coltrane, Bach and the Beatles – I want to get away from playing lead “licks” and move to a more instant composition melodic style kind of like the Miles Davis school of Modal Jazz although when I’m improvising I’m thinking of arpeggios with added chromatic stuff rather than modes.
LINK: Matt Stevens
The legendary Marty Friedman is on his way to Australia soon for a clinic tour forAllans Music. Marty is probably best known for his tenure in Megadeth’s classic ‘Rust In Peace’ line-up, where his amazing mastery of exotic melodies and seemingly limitless technical ability balanced out the ‘street-style’ power of Dave Mustaine’s rhythm and lead work. But Marty’s playing has always been about much more than metal, and on such diverse albums as Scenes and Music For Speeding he combines a wide array of influences including classical, new age, and Japanese pop. Now a resident of Japan, Marty took time out from his busy schedule to have a chat with I Heart Guitar.
Is there anything about Western culture that you miss? Or do you get enough of it on tour?
I miss stuff like crazy sweet multi colored cereal and pop tarts, that`s about it. I hope I can get a hold of it in Australia…
What was it like for you moving to Japan? I hear you went there without a guitar which I imagine was a little bit stressful.
I can be without a guitar for a long period of time with no problem, but those long periods don`t come around so much as I`m always doing music in some form or another. Moving to Japan was tough at first because all of my friends were in the International side of the Japanese music business, but I wanted to get into the Domestic music business, which is a completely different and much bigger world. It wasn`t long until I invaded that world though, and I was really glad that I was able to do so.
I saw a few videos of the Rock Fujiyama-show on youtube and it instantly became a new favourite show of mine, any chance of the entire series being released on DVD, maybe outside of Japan too?
I get that question ALL THE TIME! There was an entire team from the network just devoted to getting the television clearances for the music on that show. A DVD for release would be a daunting task, especially given how we butchered famous songs…The show lasted 3 more seasons than originally contracted, and we all loved doing it.
One of my favourite instrumental songs right now is your cover of the song Sekai No Hitotsu Dake No Hana which I think is a really cool song. Any chance of you doing more instrumental covers of Japanese boyband-songs on future records?
Glad you like it! On Tokyo Jukebox I covered lots of Japanese songs, not all by boy-bands though!
What about this new Fanta band? Was that just a very awesome ad-campaign or are you guys going to record something?
That is the mystery. It is a brilliant campaign that will go on strong for the rest of this year, who knows if we will ever write a song… That`s what is cool about it, no one can imagine the sound.
A while back, you had a signature Ibanez guitar based off the SZ-shape. More recently you’ve been photographed playing Les Pauls. Are you still with Ibanez? And what is it about Les Pauls that does it for you?
I will play anything that sounds great and stays in tune. Believe it or not, very few guitars can do that to my scrutiny. I think Les Pauls are great looking and sounding guitars. Lately I have been playing mostly PRS and Gibson, but I play Ibanez and some others too.
What are your thoughts on the Axe-Fx? Where do you see guitar amplification go in the future, do you think that the future is going to be all digital as far as amplification goes?
I never thought about the future of guitar amplification… I like the Axe-FX because it is the easiest way to get unique and quite usable sounds. Believe me, it is SO useful, especially for situations where there is very little setup time, which is often the case doing TV and radio, as opposed to concerts and studios where you have long soundchecks etc.
One thing I’ve always loved about your playing is your clean tone, especially on ‘Scenes.’ What inspires your clean tone?
Thank you so much! If I play a melody with clean sound, I want it to have the same authority as with a dirty sound. It is a matter of interpreting a melody with that in mind, even be it subliminally. It`s hard to put into words, but it`s more about focusing on listening to what you are playing rather than the actual playing itself, which is what most people focus on, I believe.
You left some huge shoes to fill when you left Megadeth. Have you ever had a 2am phone call from Chris Broderick or Glen Drover saying ‘How the hell did you do that lick?’
Haha!! Not yet, I`m sure they will have no problem.
What are your thoughts on Megadeth’s 20th anniversary Rust In Peace anniversary?
Metallica’s Kirk Hammett has been using a signature Randall head based on the company’s MTS platform (with interchangable tube preamp modules) for a few years now. While it’s a very useful and toneful product, there are a few little setbacks in getting MTS to the masses, the most difficult being cost. That’s where the KH120RHS comes in. KH120RHS is the overall name for a package which comprises the KH-120RH head and the KH414 Celestion Rocket 40-loaded 4X12 speaker cabinet. The 120-watt solid state amp head is designed to funnel the basic tone of Kirk’s might higher-priced (and physically much heavier – good lord, you tried to lift one of those things?) amp into a unit that the average metalhead can most likely afford after spending a summer slinging burgers (like Kirk famously did to buy his early gear in his teens).
Starting at the input to the far left and heading right, controls are Gain 1, a Gain Select button, Gain 2, Bass, Middle, Contour, Treble, Volume [Overdrive channel], a Channel Select button, then Bass; Middle; Treble; Volume [Clean channel], Master Volume and (spring) Reverb Level. Next there’s a headphone jack – yes, a headphone jack on an amp head – and the single power button. (One little niggle I have about this amp is that the chickenhead knobs are a little too close together and it can be quite easy to accidentally turn one while you’re twisting another). Around the back we have speaker jacks, a fuse, a series effect loop, footswitch jack and an auxiliary input for connecting your CD player or iPod.
I tested the KH-120 with the ballsiest metal guitar in my arsenal: an Ibanez RG7620 seven-string with DiMarzio Crunch Lab and LiquiFire pickups. First I tested the clean tone. Here you’ll find just the kind of dry, cold, sterile (in a good way) clean tone needed for classic Metallitracks like ‘One’ and, with a bit of chorus and delay, ‘Enter Sandman.’ This is not the kind of clean channel that you can nudge into a bluesy snarl or a warm overdrive: rather it’s a clean-as-clean-can-be place to go to when you need to set the audience up for the ensuing hailstorm of metal fury you’re about to unleash (see: ‘Blackened’). This same quality makes it a great platform for adding effects, and I found it to be especially handy for unobtrusively allowing my fuzz pedal to do its filthy thing.
At its lowest gain setting, the overdrive channel barks out that ‘intro to St Anger’ punchy dirt sound – which is also great for Meshuggah tones at the lower reaches of my 7-string. Turn the gain up around midway and you’ll find approximations of the classic ‘Black Album’ era tone. Actually, scratch that: it reminds me more of Kirk and James’s live sound from that era, so if you’re like me and you’ve spent many hours pouring over bootlegs and official releases from that period of the band’s history, you’ll feel right at home blasting out ‘Wherever I May Roam’ or the cool droney bits from the verses to ‘The Unfogiven.’ Keep the mids around halfway for that ‘black’ magic, or roll them down for some harsher ‘…And Justice For All’ mojo. Crank ‘em for more of a ‘Death Magnetic’ vibe. It’s not just a Metallica-maker though – the tones and range of gain will suit pretty much any type of metal you throw at it, from vintage to extreme.
The KH-120′s also good for lead tones. For instance you can get somewhere in the vicinity of that ‘Fade To Black’ wah-aided singing lead tone by coaxing the treble down while boosting the mids and gain. But unless you’re happy to set the twin gain controls for all-out distorto overkill and a more reigned back version of the same voicing, you might find yourself having to compromise between the perfect lead tone and the ideal rhythm one. A third channel would obviously have rectified this, but that would come at a price which may push the amp out of the price bracket of those would most stand to benefit from it. Unfortunately that’s going to limit the KH-120′s appeal somewhat for lead players, which is ironic given that Kirk is more known for his soloing than his rhythm playing.
I think it’s important to say that if you can stretch your budget to the full-spec tube-driven MTS-based Randall Kirk Hammett stack, you probably should do so – certainly if you require distinct rhythm and lead distortion tones. The KH-120 is capable of very usable lead tones and some pretty spectacular rhythm sounds, and it’s not a bad amp by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll get more bang for your buck – not to mention more depth of tone, more responsiveness and far greater bragging rights – by shelling out for its big brother if you’re able to. If not, you still know that with the KH-120 you’re getting Kirk-approved Metallitone in an amp that’s pretty unique and voiced to sound as authentic as its solid state design will allow.
Kaki King is sleepy. She’s only been in bed a few hours after a gig the night before (in Freiberg, Germany), but she has to wake up ridiculously early to field interviews from the Australian press about her new CD, Junior. But buoyed by a great run of shows with her trio, who are really in their groove at the moment, King is in as chirpy a mood as one could possibly summon at such an ungodly hour. “We were having a good time last night, we all tied one on and, my god, I probably didn’t got to bed until three hours ago!”
Much has been made of the pessimistic theme running through the album’s song titles:The Betrayer, Falling Day, My Nerves That Committed Suicide, Death Head. “There’s no lyrical theme at all, but there’s a theme within the titles,” King concedes. “During the making of Junior, I was pretty physically and mentally depressed, and I was physically sick and I didn’t know it. It was really, really dumb – I had an undiagnosed sinus infection and it could have been very easily cleared up, but I had crap coming out of my ears, I had headaches, migraines, couldn’t work some days, and I was emotionally upset about a break-up I’d been through. This was the second time in two years going to Malcolm Burns’ house and working on an album while suffering through a break-up. It was like, ‘This is crap!’ I just couldn’t believe it. It was utterly gutting, like, ‘Is this going to be the cycle for the rest of my life?’ It was unbelievable. So the titles of the songs reflect some of that darker feeling and darker imagery. Some of the songs are deeply honest and open about my personal life, and others are just ‘we wrote a song!’”
“Every record I’ve done has usually been myself and a producer making every single noise we can make, then hiring people to come in and make the noises that can’t be made [by us]. This time I’d written with the trio, I’d recorded with the trio, and the same trio is on the road now. Although the songs have changed slightly, some of them greatly in their form onstage, when I titled the album I really recalled the guys coming in and recording, really, the fundamental aspects of everything we needed to do, and we worked all day, so we did it in about three days! So had I not experienced a lot of physical breakdown I would have been able to finish the album in a much shorter time. So when I thought about a title I thought of something that reflects the way we just got in there and made the record. ‘Junior’ wasn’t mean to sound juevenile – and it doesn’t, the record really doesn’t – it’s more like, I just felt like an underling again, making my first record.”
Long known for her innovative two handed tapping technique on acoustic guitar, Junior marks a departure for King. The album is largely performed on electric guitar, and aside from one little moment, her right hand never finds itself on the fretboard at all. “In truth, the whole tapping thing was always a vehicle via telly or radio where that gets the most… well, it’s like a comedian telling their biggest gag at the outset. It’s like, that’s what draws people in. But if the comedian tells their biggest gag over and over again it gets incredibly boring, and I knew that. I knew that very well, and I knew people would get very bored thinking that that was the only thing that I did, and therefore I didn’t want to do it all the time! I wanted to do multiple things. I wanted to write slow, beautiful songs, songs that had nothing to do with technique but were just lovely in their form… I paid a lot of attention to a lot of things, and I think the greatest fans I’ve had have followed me throughout so many different types of music I’ve done, and the best fans have gone ‘Alright, she’s going to surprise us with something new, so let’s see what that thing is!’ They don’t worry about ‘Is she going to prove her mettle as a bad-ass guitar player?” And the odd thing is, I’m having more trouble as a guitarist than I’ve ever had because all of a sudden I’m doing radical guitar solos and all these different things that i never, ever would have done. No-one notices but that’s a challenge for me because, at the ripe old age of 30, I’ve never played a guitar solo in my whole life! And now I’m in the midst of them. The fans I do have are extremely giving, and they’re extremely open-minded.”
The conversation drifts to self-limiting systems by which creative potential can be unleashed by, ironically, restricting the creative pallet. “Self-limiting systems are extremely useful. When I found out about them on my third record I thought I was like a mad person! I thought I could do anything! Self-limiting systems are very useful in writing a song, making a record, whatever you’re doing, the challenge you bear up to during that phase… like, I could say to myself “I’m going to write every song in standard tuning.” And that would be a crazy self-limiting system to me! It would be so crazy! But it says ‘you have your limits, so you can’t go in a million directions – you can go in the set direction.’ I’ve always been a big fan of them.
Since the dawn of time, guitarists have longed to break the tether of their axe/amp connection and leap freely across the stage, swing on a harness, fly up to the light truss, or at the very least, not get tangled when the bass player criss-crosses the stage to hear themselves because the venue is too tight to pay for more than one monitor. Wireless systems have been around for decades but they’ve always had their drawbacks: squashed sound, added noise, performance-stifling latency, and the tendency to pick up the sound from passing military aircraft (just ask Nigel Tufnel). Well, Line 6 has come to the rescue with the Relay Guitar Wireless System series.