What Should Gibson Do?

A few people have asked me what I think should happen to Gibson if they can’t refinance their debt and they need to restructure. I used to write for Gibson, I own a Gibson, and everyone I worked with there was great.

But the brand is clearly off track. The overwhelming public perception is that Gibson’s management is pushing too hard towards the future at the expense of the past. It’s true that guitarists today don’t necessarily want exactly what players were buying in 1954. But too much deviation from what people expect of Gibson is a turn-off for many players too. Gibson’s current approach is a bit of a re-set from a few years ago when every Gibson USA model was shipping with robot tuners, but public missteps like the Firebird X (which was actually a really fun and great-playing guitar if you ever got a chance to play one) are still fresh in many players’ minds. Add to this Gibson’s quite public issues with imminently due financial arrangements, and it looks like something has to change. 

So if Gibson can’t refinance that debt to its satisfaction and has to downsize in order to continue, where should they start? 

To begin with, I think they should sell off non-guitar brands. So long, Philips. See ya, KRK. Toodle-oo, Baldwin. Take a walk, Cakewalk (actually, Cakewalk was just sold last week). Catch ya, TEAC. Onkyo, Slingerland, TASCAM, etc etc etc. It was a cool idea, but that debt won’t wait forever, and rightly or wrongly there’s a feeling in the guitar community that Gibson leadership is spreading itself too thin over too many brands. Guitarists tend to buy with their gut; if they feel queasy, that sale won’t be easy. 

Sell Steinberger. Headless guitars are way in vogue right now but Gibson isn’t really doing anything particularly spectacular with the brand. Perhaps the sale of the division would net more than current guitar sales. 

Sell Valley Arts Guitar. A once-great brand that has been buried at Gibson but could easily compete with the Suhrs and Andersons of the world in the right marketing hands. Remember when Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton played Valley Arts? They were highly desirable guitars in the late 80s and early 90s. But the brand doesn’t belong at Gibson. 

I don’t think Gibson needs to sell Kramer, but I do think they need to put some serious effort into the brand. Kramer should be competing in the same space as Schecter, Charvel, Jackson, ESP, Ibanez and other brands like that. But they’re not. The website’s most recent news item is from 2015. The guitar and bass range has been stagnant for a long time. 

Either sell Tobias or take it seriously. That brand could compete with Mike Lull, Mayones, Lakland, Sandberg, MTD of course… instead you never see them anywhere played by anyone any more. And the Tobias brand is under the Epiphone banner, which doesn’t help its prestige.

You own Maestro. Where is it? Oh yeah, you’re using the brand name on $65 acoustic guitars at Walmart instead of to sell thousands of fuzzboxes and Echoplexes to a hungry market. The players are there and they want the gear to be readily available. They’ll even pay more for it if it’s handmade and boutique.

Oh and hhey how come there are dozens of companies making resonator guitars but you own the Dobro and are just using it to make sub-$1000 models under Epiphone, as far as I can tell? With the current continued strength in country, Americana and folk, plus an underground blues scene that is stronger than folks realise until it sells out Bluesfest, supporting Dobro properly seems like a no-brainer.

So what about Gibson itself? What do I think they should do? Well, for starters, people do still want more or less traditional guitars from Gibson. It feels to me that Gibson USA should focus on making Les Paul Standards, Customs, ES-335s, SGs, Explorers… the bread and butter, maybe updated a little for neck strength and playability because it’s not 1958 any more, but not robot Transformer guitars that you need to charge and proprietary electronics that prevent you from swapping pickups.

But there is a place in the world for Gibson innovation. I truly believe Gibson has done some great things, especially when you pick up a Les Paul Standard HP with its compound radius fingerboard and versatile electronics. So take that spirit of adventure and create a new division. Maybe call it Gibson Modern, explore the futuristic stuff, but be realistic about demand from customers and expectations on dealers. Keep its R&D budget separate from Gibson USA so you’re not jacking up Les Paul Standard prices to pay for the development of LCD screens instead of fretboard inlays or whatever. Don’t lose the passion for progress, but don’t force the buyer into it. Again, guitarists buy with their gut, and they’ll accept small degrees of change at a time but not rapid swings.

As for Epiphone: keep on doing what you’re doing! Epiphone generally seems to be very strong. Maybe consider – gasp! – letting Epiphone use the Gibson headstock. It might be time. It might be the deciding factor between a buyer choosing an Epiphone Les Paul over an LTD Eclipse.

Also, review your social strategy: don’t be so scared to tag OEM partners or feature smaller artists in social posts. Artists and partners want to work together to help you and them sell stuff. 

Finally, you know you have a quality control issue. I’ve seen guitars come out of the box at stores then go straight back because of some flaw. When you find a great Gibson, it’s unbeatable. Be as strict on QC as PRS and Yamaha, who are notoriously tough on themselves. 

Anyway, whatever happens, I hope the folks I worked with at Gibson are okay, I hope the workers have stable jobs and I hope every Gibson that leaves the factory is as perfect to play and listen to as mine is. Henry Juszkiewicz has vision and ambition, but perhaps he needs to back his foot off the gas just a little bit and let the market tell him what Gibson needs to be, then adapt his ideas and drive to that, instead of trying to force market changes, as we saw with the ‘all robot tuners’ situation a few years ago.

And if Gibson ever need my writing skills again, I’d do it in a heartbeat and help to spread the word about what I hope is a very bright future, because if you’ve played a great Gibson, you would know that this company is still capable of making some of the greatest guitars in the world. 

Rocktron Introduces The ValveSonic Plexi

I had the pleasure of trying the RockTron ValveSonic in prototype form a few NAMMs ago and it blew my mind. I figure it’s gotta be even better now that it’s ready for release! I hoped to get time to try this final version out at NAMM but I never got a chance to make it over there. But it looks really cool and I bet it’d be killer with a great power amp.

Rocktron Introduces The ValveSonic Plexi

Battle Creek, MI, 21st February 2018 – Rocktron is pleased to unveil the ValveSonic Plexi, the first in the ValveSonic series of all tube guitar preamps. Developed in conjunction with LA Custom, this preamp captures the vintage tones of the iconic British “plexi” amplifiers, from the early stacked amps of the 60’s, to the arena sound of rock in the 70’s, to the sound heard during the 80’s “Sunset Strip” era and beyond…all in one convenient rack space.

The ValveSonic delivers pristine tone, no matter the musical genre. Its 1-2 switch allows players to quickly toggle between the ‘modern’ type of input used on British style amps, and a fatter, “classic” type of input. The Bright control allows five different variations, and the gain and boost controls allow you to replicate the 80s and 90s British amp tones. When combining the use of the unique AFTERBURNER switch, the ValveSonic allows you to fine tune your exact tone.

The ValveSonic Plexi is NOW SHIPPING! Check with your preferred local Rocktron dealer for pricing and availability.

To find out more about the new Rocktron ValveSonic Plexi, please go to http://www.rocktron.com/valvesonic-plexi.html

Sully Guitars Conspiracy Series

(Little Elm, Texas –  February 6, 2018) Luthier Jon Sullivan of Sully Guitars introduces the Conspiracy Series, incorporating the distinctive designs and close attention to detail found in his handmade instruments, but at a more affordable price.

Designed by Sully Guitars and made by World Musical Instruments in South Korea, the Sully Guitars Conspiracy Series debuts with three models: the ‘71 Starling, the Stardust, and the ‘71 SD, which is the Stevie D Signature Model for the Buckcherry/Josh Todd and the Conflict guitarist, with Conspiracy Series versions of other Sully designs to follow.

The ‘71 Starling (MSRP $1199 USD) is a set-neck guitar with a 25.5” scale length, Mahogany body, three-piece laminated Mahogany neck with 22 Jumbo Stainless Steel frets, Ebony 12-16” compound radius fingerboard, Luminlay side dots, Hipshot hardtail bridge and locking tuners, direct-mounted humbuckers wound to Sully specs, and volume and tone controls with a push-pull coil split.

The Stardust (MSRP $1099 USD) is a bolt-on guitar with an Alder body, three-piece laminated Maple neck with 22 Jumbo Stainless Steel frets, Ebony or Maple 12-16” compound radius fingerboard, Luminlay side dots, Hipshot hardtail bridge and locking tuners, humbuckers wound to Sully specs with a direct-mounted bridge and a pickguard-mounted neck model, and volume and tone controls with a push-pull coil split.

The ‘71 is inspired by a classic but with many very ‘Sully’ twists. “When I started playing guitar as a little kid, all I ever wanted was the guitar Ace Frehley played” Sullivan says. “But I eventually realized that I never kept them because of the scale length. So I started drawing. I let the design breathe a bit; I probably spent a little over three years coming back to it before I finally made the first prototype. The ‘71 definitely got its foundation from the classic American single cut, but the similarities end there. It’s got a more modern feel with compound radiused fretboards and stainless steel frets, the back of the body is contoured to be more ergonomic with effortless upper fret access, and ultimately, it just gets out of your way.”

The Stardust gets its inspiration from Sully’s lifelong love of David Bowie. “I wanted to take the ‘71, break it into quadrants, turn it around and meld it into an offset that didn’t necessarily look like a traditional offset guitar,” Sullivan says. “It definitely goes to that neighborhood, but then it drives through. Finally, I wanted to commemorate Bowie’s passing with more than just the model name; I wanted it to look like  something that he might have have played.”

Stevie D says of the ‘71 SD (MSRP $1249 USD), “It’s the meanest machine! It seamlessly bridges style, tone and playability, and the combination literally gets out of your way so you can be you!”

Sully Guitars artists include Stevie D (Buckcherry/Josh Todd and the Conflict), Acey Slade (Dope/Murderdolls/Joan Jett), Dee J Nelson (solo artist, Doug Marks Metal Method instructor), Adam Nañez (solo artist, Serosia, Roscoe Empire), Justin Hold (Stareview), Greg Marra (solo artist, Plenty Heavy), Perfecto De Castro (solo artist, Ariel Pineda), and Shane Lively (VII).

Contact Jon Sullivan
www.sullyguitars.com
Info@sullyguitars.com
312-469–0675
Instagram: @sullyguitars
Facebook.com/sullyguitars

 

New Podcast Episode: Roger Mayer

Roger Mayer is the Father of the Fuzz. Oracle of the Octavia. His early effects for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page changed the way we listen to and play guitar, and he’s still making great gear today. Join us for a chat about why analog is superior to digital, what it was like to work with Jimi Hendrix, and the emotion-heightening impact of a well-placed effect. 

Listen to it on iTunes here, in the embedded player below, or in the podcast catcher of your choice. Let me know if you need me to add it to any podcast services that you’re not finding it on yet! 

Be sure to visit Roger’s website at roger-mayer.co.uk.

If you’d like to help support I Heart Guitar, visit patreon.com/iheartguitar to support the podcast and gain access to subscriber-exclusive episodes, or donate to PayPal.Me/iheartguitar

Guitar Nerd Rig Fun

I’m currently in the throes of a good old-fashioned riggin’. You may not be able to tell much from the pic but this is kind of my dream rig. Lemme explain how it will work. 

First up, the heart of my tone is the Marshall DSL50 JCM2000. I love these amps because they’re totally no-bullshit: they put out whatever you put into them, putting that legendary Marshall stamp upon it in the process while remaining very faithful to your playing dynamics and phrasing where some amps mush all that stuff together. I usually stick to the Lead channel (in its Classic mode instead of the higher-gain, scooped-mid ‘Ultra’ mode) with the gain control at around 6. 

I sometimes use other pedals to get a little more grrr out of the DSL50 though. My favourite pedal for this is the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster, which can be set to give you a simple gain boost but can also perform some basic but very powerful tone-shaping tricks via a switch that boosts or cuts the treble. Hit the treble cut and you’ll get a slightly rounder, more vocal-sounding tone. 

Other pedals in my signal chain include a Jim Dunlop Buddy Guy Crybaby Wah, a BOSS OC-2 Octave and a Jim Dunlop KFK Q-Zone. And I have a Line 6 Relay G30 wireless and a Planet Waves tuner. 

But here’s where it gets complicated/fun: I’m sending the signal from the Marshall into the Mesa Cab Clone – a load box and speaker simulator – and then sending that sound into a trio of stereo Seymour Duncan pedals: the Catalina Dynamic Chorus, the Shape Shifter Stereo Tremolo, and the Andromeda Dynamic Delay. The output from the last of those pedals goes into the stereo inputs of the Seymour Duncan PowerStage 700 power amp, which then plugs into my Marshall cabinet’s left and right speaker inputs. I can then use the PowerStage’s three-band EQ to further shape the sound. This setup also allows me dial in exactly the perfect amount of power tube distortion at any volume, because I can set the amp volume wherever I like for the best tone for whatever musical situation I’m in, then use the PowerStage volume control to set the final level. 

Another bonus of this setup is that the Cab Clone has a Thru output which means I can send a dry signal to another cabinet. Actually what I’d love to do if I had the cash is to get a pair of Marshall 2×12 (or 4×12) cabinets and have those be my left and right effect cabs powered by the PowerStage. 

I love this nerdy stuff. 

Herald Sun, How Dare You

I can’t let this slide. Australian newspaper The Herald Sun has just published a tribute to Malcolm Young, and look at the title of this front-page pointer. 

Bass? BASS? BASS!?!

This is inarguably one of the greatest, most solid rhythm guitarists of all time, from one of the most popular bands of all time. I don’t know who the f**k goofed up to make this abomination of a headline a reality but holy crap, is it really that hard to go to Wikipedia and double-check this stuff? Absolutely ridiculous and a massive insult to Malcolm and all AC/DC fans. I mean, if you needed to write a cheesy headline, how about ‘Back In Black’ or ‘We Salute You’ or maybe just ‘Malcolm Young – 1954 – 2017′? This is like saying Ringo was The Beatles’ guitarist, or Adam West played TV’s Robin, or that the Herald Sun is a respectable newspaper. Every day this Facebook page seems more and more justified. 

The Church share new video for ‘I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know Why’ ahead of tour

One of my favourite albums this year is The Church’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity. It’s a beautiful, deep, swirling, emotive record that represents everything great about the band’s psychedelic, atmospheric melodicism. They’ve just released a live video for the track ‘I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know Why,’ which the press release describes as…

‘…A psychedelic dip into the complex consciousness of lead singer Steve Kilbey, the video highlights the latest single’s shimmery tones and experiential ambivalence on life’s purpose. With a video that transports the viewer to a rainbow coloured utopia, ‘I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know Why’ stands true to the church’s signature exploration of existence.

‘Flowing through with the inherent theme of water, their latest single exemplifies Kilbey’s explanation of the mind’s uncontrollable influence. “I’ve always marveled at the sea and rivers and rain…The way I write lyrics is very stream-of-consciousness. I never question them until we perform live” Steve says. Producing ten songs spanning 45 minutes of pure sonic bliss, their latest record Man Woman Life Death Infinity came in strong at #1 on the 100% Australian Independent Record Labels Association independent albums chart.

Filmed on their recent USA tour and edited by Eden Mullholland, the music video offers fans a taste of what to expect on tour. No strangers to the live stage, following a sold out run of Australian shows in 2015 and having previously pulled a 20,000 strong crowd at Primavera Sound, the church embark on a killer eight date national tour, tomorrow – barely touched down from 29 cities across the USA. Joined onstage by special guest, former Remy Zero (UK) guitarist Jeffrey Cain on keys, additional guitars and vocals, the tour will blend almost 50 years of classics with a burst of new songs off their latest record. The band’s Newcastle shows are nearly sold out with the church’s Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne shows set to sell out in the next week. With under 50 tickets left for each show, fans are encouraged to move quick if they want to see this seminal Australian outfit for their first local dates in two years.

Snatch up last minute tickets for the Man Woman Life Death Infinity tour NOW.

Man Woman Life Death Infinity vinyl is available here.

SELECT TOURING PRESENTS

MAN WOMAN LIFE DEATH INFINITY TOUR
 
THU 16 NOV | THE GOV, ADELAIDE SA (18+)
Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets
 
FRI 17 NOV | ROSEMOUNT HOTEL,  NORTH PERTH WA (18+)
Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets
 
SAT 18 NOV | DUNSBOROUGH TAVERN, DUNSBOROUGH WA (18+)
Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets
 
THU 30 NOV | THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE QLD (18+)
Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets
 
FRI 01 DEC | 170 RUSSELL, MELBOURNE VIC (18+)
Tickets available from www.moshtix.com.au | 1300 GET TIX | All Moshtix Outlets

MON 05 DEC | LIZOTTES,  NEWCASTLE NSW SOLD OUT
Tickets available from www.lizottes.com.au | 02 4956 2066

TUE 06 DEC | LIZOTTES,  NEWCASTLE NSW SOLD OUT
Tickets available from www.lizottes.com.au | 02 4956 2066
 
SAT 09 DEC | THE FACTORY THEATRE, SYDNEY NSW
Tickets available from www.factorytheatre.com.au

Meet The Moniker Guitars Rival Series

Moniker Guitars has just unveiled the new Rival Series, a really unique chambered guitar that is made in the USA and features Seymour Duncan pickups for a mere $879USD. I think this is a great way to offer a certain degree of customisation while keeping costs down: essentially it’s the same basic guitar but with different faceplate and pickup options, and Moniker appears to have put a great deal of thought and care into designing and instrument that will effectively ‘become’ whatever pickup configuration you order. Go for some Duo-Sonics and you’ll have a great indie instrument. Select the Hot Rodded Humbucker option and you’ve got a powerful rock or metal machine. Other options include Strat, Tele, Lipstock or Phat Cat (P90 in humbucker housing) style pickups. I’ll be reviewing one soon, but in the meantime here’s a video and the press release.

Moniker Guitars launches the Rival Series, a unique chambered body guitar, designed to “rival” any other on tone, feel and price.

Austin, TX – October 23, 2017 – Moniker Guitars has launched the Rival Series, a bold electric guitar design intended to “rival” any other on tone, feel and price. In striving to build a guitar focused on those elements, Moniker has reimagined the instrument and how it can be built in the United States at a retail price that is under a thousand dollars.

Rival Series guitars feature an offset body shape made of maple with a matching maple neck and fretboard. The inside of the body utilizes a unique chambering pattern known as “Rival Ribs” to add resonance and warmth to the guitar. The Moniker website allows you to choose one of six styles of Seymour Duncan pickups to dial in the exact tone you’re looking for. On the outside of the body, the maple frames your choice of a colored Reso-acrylic faceplate. This creates a striking visual contrast between the faceplate and the natural wood. The hardness and reflectiveness of the Reso-acrylic top helps to bounce sound throughout the chambered body.

When it comes to feel, the first thing players notice is that the Rival chambering reduces the weight of the guitar to a mere 6.8 pounds. The acrylic top cuts away to allow for a contoured wood arm rest and a contoured neck heel allows easy access to the upper frets. Both body and neck are coated in a thin satin top coat to preserve the natural feel of the wood.

Customized Rival Series can be ordered through the MonikerGuitars.com at a retail price of just $879. The guitars are built in the same shop where Moniker has been building its Customer Series guitars in Austin Texas.  

“Our experience with our Custom Series line is what led us to develop the Rival Series.” says owner Kevin Tully. “We’re fortunate in that we’ve had the opportunity to speak to every single one of our customers and learn what they’re looking for. Beautiful finishes are important to many customers and on our Custom Series line, we spend a lot of time working on finish. But most people are just looking for great tone and great playability and they’re on a budget that doesn’t allow us to spend hours and hours on finish work. The Rival Series is the result of of prioritizing the fundamentals of the instrument and marrying them together in a clean and simple modern design. We’re extremely proud of how it has come out looking, playing and sounding.”