7. Another G but, like, higher up on the neck
1. F# That’s right, F#.
Is your mind blown by my controversial choice for #1? Did I shake up your buttoned-down, F-natural-lovin’ little narrow-minded world? Well suck it, monkeys. That’s how we roll here at I Heart Guitar.
Cradle of Filth’s Paul Allender has been a PRS user for a long time, and his signature SE model has undergone a few changes over the years, especially in the finish department. This latest model is in a spooky green (called Emerald Green Burst) and is also available in Scarlet Red Burst, whereas the previous iteration was purple. The body is made of mahogany with a flame maple veneer – not thick enough to have a noticeable impact on the tone, but certainly glitzy enough to have a cool effect visually. It’s not the most out-there piece of flamed maple you’ll come across, so if you’re a flamed-maple fence-sitter like me, you’ll like the look.
Scale length is a nicely in-between 25″, and the fretboard is ebony with jumbo frets. The neck shape is wide and thin, and it reminds me more than a little of the necks on John Petrucci’s Ernie Ball Music Man signature models. This neck is definitely built for speed and comfort, and will appeal just as much to players who have no particular affinity for Cradle of Filth as those who are Allender fans. What might not be so appealing to some, though others will love it is the fretboard inlay: a series of bats flying from the headstock towards the body. It’s a sinister twist on the famous PRS bird motif. They’re well executed and as far as I’m concerned they look freaking awesome, but if you’re not into the whole goth thing you might be a little put off by them.
The first incarnation of the Allender SE model had PRS-designed pickups. This time around Paul has chosen an EMG 89 in the bridge position and an 81TW in the neck, each of which can be split into single coils via the push-pull master tone control. There’s also a master volume and a 3-way pickup selector switch. The tremolo is the SE version of PRS’s distinctive 6-screw non-locking unit, which bares some similarities to the classic 6-screw vintage unit but with more stable saddles and a tension-adjustable arm.
The PRS Allender is a loud, powerful guitar with lots of sonic detail. With every note you play, you can hear and feel that you’re using top-shelf pickups. The EMG 89 in the bridge has stunningly articulate pick attack followed by a thick, crunchy body and almost endless headroom. This makes it famously great for heavy metal rhythms and leads but it’s surprisingly adept at low gain tones too, where you really get the most out of the dynamic range. It tracks very well for high-speed licks, and because the response is so even no matter where you’re playing on the neck, it sounds great when you’re performing wide-interval licks such as string skipping and tapping.
The neck pickup is your classic metal neck tone (think Fade To Black) – almost flute-like, with stooped midrange, full bass and a powerfully clear treble. Again, it’s great for string-skipping licks, and it really seems to sing when you apply vibrato or dig into a screaming bend.
In single coil mode, the EMGs are bright and hi-fi, with that great 80s-era David Gilmour hollow twang. It’s here that the subtler beauty of the guitar comes through, as the pickups transfer even more of the string’s detail through to the amp. The addition of the coil splitting ability makes this guitar a great studio guitarists’ tool, no matter what genre you play.
It’s great that each of the pickups has such finely honed detail, because the neck really lets you shred. The big frets make hyperspeed fretting a snap, while the neck shape itself will allow you to reach even the low E as easily as the higher strings.
The PRS SE Paul Allender model is a great choice for hard rock, prog and metal players looking for a fast, high quality guitar with killer pickups and an unstoppably fast neck. Not being particularly into CoF these days (unlike my goth days back in the late 90s – yes I wore eyeliner and black nail polish, no there aren’t photos), I wasn’t prepared to be so taken with this axe, but it really brings everything to the table that you could want in a rock or metal axe – provided you dig the bats.
LINK: Paul Reed Smith
The new self-titled album by Birds of Tokyo – Ian Kenny (Karnivool), Adam Spark, Anthonny Jackson and Adam Weston – is a melodic, atmospheric, at times rocking, at times psychedelic affair which balances pop and indie song craft with ambient experimentation and a sombre edge. It’s a real light-and-shade album, with more melodically upbeat tracks like Plans balanced out by darker tracks like The Gap and The Saddest Thing I Know. I caught up with guitarist Adam Spark to talk about his role in the band.
What’s your background as a player?
Nothing fantastical, really, I just sort of learned to play at a late age. I didn’t pick it up until I was in year 12 in high school. Most of my friends played, but I wasn’t interested until that point in life. I was surfing until then! But I started there then I played and played and played, and I tried various things at uni, then ended up doing audio engineering and studying music. The only formal training I’ve had was doing WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), all the while just learning and playing.
What’s your approach to guitar, having started so late?
I guess I came from a funny perspective on it. I first picked up guitar when I was about 13 because a lot of my cousins would try to get me to play Metallica songs, but I never really took an interest until I was 17. But after about six months of playing I thought ‘I don’t really see the point of learning other peoples’ music.’ Of course, now I see the point in it! Because I probably would have developed a hell of a lot more finesse and technique. But I just started writing straight away. I don’t really approach guitar as a guitar player, to be truthful. We have a lot of guitars and a lot of gear, but …I’m really not that interested in it! And I don’t say that to be condescending of anything to people who are, but just for me, I see it as a songwriting tool. If I could carry around a piano I probably would! But guitar is the instrument that helps me express what we do.” That’s not to put down the guitar, but it’s kind of more about guitar being a supportive thing in our band. We have an ethos of ‘as little as necessary to get the point across.’ I never like people hearing what’s going on with the guitar, not that there’s nothing good going on but we’re a songwriting band. Even though we’re kind of like a pop band, it’s incorporating that sort of element into it.
So which players have influenced you?
It’s more music in general, to be honest. I’ve never really been interested in terms of guitar players with technical prowess. My interest is more in growing up watching people like Billy Corgan or My Bloody Valentine, where there doesn’t seem to be a massive emphasis on the playing itself but what’s coming out of the rig. I think My Bloody Valentine, with these crazy bent chords, delays on top of delays… or The Edge, hitting three notes, but what comes out is marvellous. I love the texture that comes out of guitar, rather than playing full-on solos.
How do you approach your tone live?
I’m always changing my setup. I tried a rack system and that didn’t work for me, and now I have a pedalboard with a switching system. I always have all these pedals but then I look down and think ‘Wow, all I’m really using is a distortion and a delay.’ Just a couple of cool little delays like maybe an old Electro-Harmonix thing and maybe a newer kind of one, and a couple of distortions. I find it really interesting and fascinating that people can pull off having so many different and unique pedals. I can never get it to sound good live. It’s a real funny one. As for amps, we’ve got this cool Reeves head. It’s kind of like a Hiwatt. I really like the sound of it. Everywhere we’ve travelled recently I’ve been hunting and hunting for new distortion pedals. I always find myself attracted to ones no-one else uses, and I think, ‘Am I on the right path here?’ For the record we had a little Expandora pedal going into the Reeves head, and we also had a mid-80s ProCo Rat held together by pliers! But they don’t work live, so I’ve got this Radial pedal – I think it’s the Trimode. It’s got stickers and shit all over it now for all the tech stuff and it’s covered up the title for a while! But they’re really cool. My big thing with distortion pedals is getting that midrange and the balance of all the bands in a way that you like them. It’s easy to turn it on and you’ve got tone or volume, but sometimes if you’re stepping on your biggest channel – and I generally run a clean, a lightly dirty, a dirty and one which is called ‘Boom’ on the pedal switcher – and to have it so those gain stages all work and sound relative to each other. If you have all different distortion pedals, sometimes you’ll find one of them that sounds really good but the bottom end’s completely gone in it. With the Radial you can really tailor it because you can screw around with it so much that it really creamily bites your head off.
I’ve been travelling with a few Fender Telecasters at the moment. We’ve tried a lot of guitars but I’ve found myself coming back to these ’72 Tele reissues all the time. So mostly those, but I’m going to bring out a Gibson 335, a Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster. I just bought a Fender Stratocaster just the other day – I wanted to get something with a bit more of a modern feel but there’s a certain type of body and neck I like. So I bought the Billy Corgan signature model, which for me is perfect. You’ve got the fixed bridge on there and more modern DiMarzio pickups. I’m really excited about that, actually.
Birds Of Tokyo’s new self-titled album is out now on EMI.
LINK: Birds Of Tokyo
You know this is not your grandpa’s bass amp when the first thing you read on the Ashdown wesbite about it is “Rebellious, uncompromising and cool as f***, James Dean – and the car he nicknamed the Little Bastard – are the inspiration for this iconic, all-tube mini bass amp head.” Even a quick glance at the amp is enough to tell you it’s probably not going to sound overly polite, and that’s before you even see what’s written on it. It looks like something you’d find on the dashboard of a vampire punk’s hot rod in an alternate universe futuristic 1950s. Check out all that chrome. All the vinyl. The cool illuminated VU meter. Chunky-ass switches. This is an amp that means business.
The Little Bastard preamp stage includes both ECC83 and ECC82 tubes, while the 30 watt power section packs quartet of EL 84s. Preamp controls include and features High and Low gain inputs (active or passive if you want to read it that way), front panel-mounted Effects Send and Return jacks, Bass, Middle and Treble pots with Mid Shift, Bass Shift and Bright switches (which kinda remind me of hardcore chunky versions of the switches on the old Atari 2600 – ask your great grandparents what that is), Mute switch, and Volume pot. The VU meter gives you a visual indication of the amp’s output, rather than the input gain as you might somewhat reasonably expect if you were worried about things like distortion. Don’t worry, if you’re playing the Little Bastard we know you’re looking for a little grit.
Around the back you’ll find the power switch and the fuse, as well as the speaker outputs (dedicated 1/4″ jack connectors for 4 and 8Ω load speaker cabinet configurations) and an XLR DI output. This DI output, which can be connected to a low impedance, balanced input on a PA system or recording mixer, is taken from a separate winding on the output transformer, allowing the full character of the valve tone to be sent to the PA or recording console.
So how’s this little bastard sound? Well, it’s not a raging distorto-beast designed to sound like a crapped out fuzz box. Rather, it taps into that gloriously rich, sonorous, punchy, fat bass tone of days gone by. The kind of low-end grind that made vintage Van Halen rock as hard as they rolled, and which makes Steve Harris’s bass stand out so boldly in Iron Maiden. There’s a nice range of tonal variation available with the various switches (my favourite setting: Middle at 4, bass at 5, treble at 6, mid and bass shifts on, bright switch off, rocking my passive bass through the high channel). This little monster handled the full force of my Ibanez TR series 5-string bass’s low B string on only the neck pickup without a sweat. The FX loop came in very handy for adding a little bit of external reverb to play up the vintage vibe, and for adding chorus and compression for a more modern attack. And one special thing to note: the jacks themselves feel extremely solid and ‘grippy.’ Little things like that always give me a lot of confidence in an amp.
The Little Bastard is definitely loud enough for bar and club stages, and with the DI it will be loud enough for arenas too since you’ll be feeding it through the front of house. While it makes some effort to give you a lot of sound sculpting, it doesn’t overload you with options, and when you find your sound it’s a real ‘set and forget’ gem. I love this little bastard.
Let’s get this out of the way. Yeah, two members of Stone Sour are in Slipknot. No, it’s not a Slipknot side project – Stone Sour dates back to 1992. And no, Audio Secrecy as an album isn’t as radio-friendly as a few of its lighter tracks would have you believe. Unlike Nickelback, the hard rock band that it’s okay for pop fans to like, Stone Sour is the hard rock band that it’s okay for dedicated metalheads to like.
That much is evident about two milliseconds into Mission Statement (which comes after the atmospheric, piano-driven 1:43 instrumental title track that opens the album). This track is worthy of Slipknot in quality and heaviness, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Corey Taylor’s voice surges from clean melodicism to raging Slipknot scowl and back, while the band explores all sorts of feels – double time, half time, from chugging riffs to big open chords. Check out the tag-team shredding guitar solos too. It’s a killer album opener and it leads perfectly into Digital (Did You Tell), which is all octave riffage and Devin Townsend-esque strumming. Actually it’s not a million miles removed from Devy’sAccelerated Evolution Devin Townsend Band album.
The first single, Say You’ll Haunt Me, is one of the album’s big highlights, heightened by a killer drum performance. It’s here that the magic touch of producer Nick Raskulinecz is revealed – dude couldn’t record a bad drum sound if he tried. The interplay between Jim Root and Josh Rand is really on display here, as is a cool wandering bass line. Check out the video below. (By the way, check out my interview with Jim Root here).
Dying is probably my least favourite track on the album, and the one most likely to draw comparisons to more straightforward FM radio rock. It’s not bad – in fact it’s really good, but it feels out of place after the crushing riffage of the previous three tracks. Let’s Be Honest features another killer octave-based riff and a cool stop-start drum/bass groove leading into a monster half-time chorus and a huge Sabbath-like middle section.Unfinished continues the minor key Sabbathy vibe – actually it reminds me of the band Heaven & Hell – while some carefully placed vocal harmonies keep it from sounding too heavy yet never quite become too pretty either.
Hesitate is another radio-friendly track with a nice droning guitar part and a big chorus. Nice melodic guitar solo too. Nylon 6/6 brings back the heavy, Slipknot vibe and some Perfect Circle-like vocal vibe. Miracles has some nice bright semi-clean guitar tones and atmospheric melody lines, while Pieces kinda reminds me of a heavy version of something from Eric Johnson’s Venus Isle album.
The Bitter End kicks off with another killer metal riff which will absolutely slay live, while some textural interludes add to the tension in a similar way to Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy. It’s a cool effect that you don’t hear in metal so often. Some great soloing here too.
Imperfect is another acoustic-based ballad, this time with a very restrained, sparse vocal performance in the first half which is augmented with overdubs and harmonies later on. Some great David Gilmour-ish guitar soloing too.
Finally the album closes with Threadbare (dig that great Geezer Butler style bass tone). This track is acoustic-based too but is much darker and heavier than Imperfect, and it kicks into a big melodic heavy chorus. Then everything gets all doomy and heavy in the middle, with some intense delay effects and overdubs before the chorus returns and lifts the whole freaking song into the stratosphere. It’s a show-stopping ending to a very diverse album, and the ideal way of tying together the heavier, lighter and moodier aspects of the band into a neat package.
Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia
Wow, check out this neat little gizmo by Qwik Tune. It looks like an angry robot dragon with a radar on its head! The Snark clip-on tuner is suitable for all instruments, including guitar and bass, brass, orchestral instruments and folk instruments. The display rotates 360 degrees; there’s a tap tempo metronome; and you can select between an internal mic or a high sensitivity vibration sensor. Cool!
The bridge saddles are an extremely important component of your guitar. They’re necessary for precise intonation, of course, but if your saddles aren’t efficiently transferring the energy from the string to the body, you’re not getting all you can out of your axe. Enter KTS Musical Products. They create titanium small parts for guitars, including bridges, saddles, and even truss rods and reinforcement products. The company’s aim is to enhance sustain, harmonic content and the touch-sensitivity of your guitar or bass.
I gave KTS’s 6-piece Telecaster saddles a test-drive on my beloved old home-made Telecaster. These saddles can be installed onto Tele 6-way vintage-style bridges including USA and Japanese models. Other Telecaster models include PR-08 Quattro ’68 Style Tele saddles with grooves for the strings; PR-08 Tele Barrel Saddles for Fender Japan Telecasters; and PR-08WD Tele Compensated Saddles which are designed for better intonation.
(Other saddles offered by KTS include individual saddles for Tune-O-Matic style bridges (for original Gibson ABR-1 and Nashville-style bridges as well as variants by Gotoh and Tokiwa); complete ABR-1 and Nashville-style complete bridges; Syncrhonised Tremolo saddles for Japanese, Narrow Size, US Size and American Standard Strat (offset) models; and even Mustang/Jaguar/Jazzmaster, Jazz Bass plain and threaded saddles, and block inserts for Floyd Rose style bridges. Finally, there’s a complete Jazz Bass style bridge available.)
I installed and intonated my new Telecaster saddles within about 30 minutes. It was as easy as removing the old saddles and screwing the new ones in. It’s got to be the easiest tone-enhancing mod I’ve ever performed.
So is there a noticeable difference?
You betchya! Although I’ve always loved my Tele for its vibe and solid, woody tone, I certainly didn’t love its lack of sustain or detail. Before the upgrade, notes seemed to suddenly swell up after the initial attack, then rapidly fade away. I’d just learned to live with it, and adjusted my expectations of the guitar accordingly. After the upgrade though, the guitar took on a whole new character. It acquired sharper treble, tighter bass, and a warm, bright upper midrange. The tone went from a clumsy ‘thunk’ to a pronounced ‘braaaaaaang.’ I find that now I’m more likely to play ringing open chords and arpeggios as well as pedal steel-style country licks – techniques I never really performed on that particular guitar before. I also noticed that sustain was dramatically improved, as was note volume from string to string. These saddles have unlocked the inner awesome of my beloved Tele. Check out the Sound Analysis page of the KTS website for a visual explanation of exactly what these saddles will do for your tone.
As I said, this has got to be the simplest, easiest, yet most beneficial ways to improve your tone. You might even fall in love with your guitar all over again, like I have with my Tele.
I first got my hands on the Framus Diablo Supreme X at NAMM earlier this year, and a very special piece of kit it was. As you may know, in addition to I Heart Guitar I write for the magazines Mixdown, Australian Musician Magazine, and Australian Guitar. Through Australian Guitar I was fortunate to once again get my hands on a Framus Diablo Supreme X, and you’ll be able to read that review in the next issue. (I can’t post it here, so as to not cross any lines or step on any toes).
However the Diablo Supreme X is a very cool guitar that deserves a closer look on I Heart Guitar. Lemmie run you through the specs, then you can check out some nice hi-rez photos and sound clips of each pickup selection.
MADE IN: Germany
BODY: Swamp Ash, maple
FRETS: Medium Standard
NUT: Graphtech Black Tusq
PICKUPS: Seymour Duncan Cool Rails, Vintage Staggered, JB
CONTROLS: 5-way toggle, volume, tone w/push-pull coil split
Finally, here’s an audio clip of me playing the Diablo Supreme X through my Marshall DSL50. You’ll hear every pickup selection in order, then again with the coil tap switch engaged. At the end of the first riff you’ll hear me hold the chord until it fades out. Nice sustain profile, huh?