A Lesson Learned From A Tyler Variax JTV-69

The JTV-69

A series of events conspired to put a Tyler Variax in my hands this week (these events included an upswing in students, massive price drops in that particular model, and a demo model in cherry condition selling for $800 shipped) but my joy on Wednesday quickly turned to frustration and, in a first for me,  it goes back to Sweetwater today.

Disclosure

I have owned Variaxs before.  When I moved from California, I sold a 300 and a 700AC and I liked things about both of them (I really regret selling the 700 to this day).  I like the concept of modeling and if there is an ideal demographic for a person who wants complete control over the sounds in his guitar, I would have thought it was me.

Unboxing

The guitar came with a Line 6 gig bag, USB interface (for connecting with Workbench), USB cable, Variax CAT cable and a battery charger.  The 700AC came with a GREAT gig bag.  While this gig bag looked the same, the interior was much cheaper in both materials and construction and the padding was of what’s found on a $30 no name bag from Musician’s Friend.

This was actually a harbinger of what was to come.

The Build

First, the positive.

  • The design on this is light years from the VAX 300.  It didn’t feel like a slab of wood the way the 300 did.  The wrist cut (rounded to the back) and rounded heel were nice additions and there was clear access all the way up to the 22nd fret.  The finish was flawless and, in short, it’s a nice looking guitar.
  • The top loading tremolo bridge is a really clever design and works well with the TUSQ nut and locking tuners.
  • Line 6 developed a new battery that worked really well with the guitar and was a welcome relief from the AA batter holder or the powered cable box required with earlier models.  They claim 12 hours of use time when fully charged.  I spent 3-4 hours my first day charging the battery and it didn’t run out of juice during the testing time so that seems like an accurate estimate to me.
  • The addition of the tuning wheel to dial in alternate tunings for the patches is also a great touch.

Now the not so positive:

  • The neck….I hate the neck.  The fingerboard radius is fine and the string spacing is actually comfortable – but the neck… first it’s a matte finish and not a gloss finish.  That’s just a personal preference but it didn’t work for me.  Second, the neck is a C shape but it just feels incredible bulky.  Apparently this isn’t a minority opinion as once it was determined on the forums that the Mighty-Mite compound radius Strat necks sold by Stew-Mac fit with very little alteration, Stew-Mac sold out of them, and they’re currently on back order.
  • The acoustic tone.  By that I don’t mean the models.  I mean, how does the guitar sound when it’s played un-amplified.  And to be honest, it just sounded a little one-dimensional.  More specifically, it sounded like a plastic Maccaferri which is not a tone I prize.  I bumped up the string guage to .011’s and that helped with the projection a bit but it wasn’t an inspiring guitar to play.

The Firmware

When I went to register the guitar I realized that it shipped with v 1.8 software (You need v 2.0 software to connect to workbench).  Upgrading required using the same USB interface that the 1st generation Vaxs used.  Given that a key selling point for this instrument is the integration of the Variax and the POD fact the requirement of an external box just seems clunky.

It behaved in a clunky manner as well.  It took 3-4 times to get recognized by Line 6 Monkey before I could upgrade it.  The upgrade was very straightforward.

Workbench

One of the most intriguing elements of this guitar is the fact that EVERY aspect of the tone (and intonation) is fully customizable with the Workbench software.

Pickups:

You can control the type of pickup. The wiring of the pickup (series or parallel) the polarity, the angle, height and placement. Virtual pickup placement and angles are literally drag and drop parameters and place them anywhere along the string path of the body.

WorkbenchJ

Strings:

StringsJ

You can control individual volumes!  No more of that E string barking out at you if you don’t want it!

You can control individual pitches (this can also be done on the guitar itself with the virtual capo function) and you can control the intonation through the Parallel Pitch function.

PotsJPots:

You can control the resistance and taper of the pots so the tone “rolls” on or off the way you want it to.

In other words, you can customize any aspect of a guitar or just create sounds that have never been made before.

It’s a remarkable piece of software and engineering, and a tweaker’s paradise.  But playing this guitar taught me something.

I’m not a really a tweaker.

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The Sounds and Performance

This is where this realization really came into play.

Again, let’s start off with the good.

  • The physical pickups.  A number of players who have these guitars say that they use the on board pickups most of the time and they sound good enough that it’s easy to see why.
  • The models are dead quiet.  That’s the thing I loved about my original Variaxs, no buzz when recording.
  • The string muting is MUCH better.  This was a big downfall on the original Vaxs but this was largely fixed with the new versions.
  • The tracking is unbelievable.  I found ZERO perceptable latency with the models on this guitar.
  • The virtual capo function is pretty awesome.  You can literally touch notes on a guitar and the computer will assign a new open tuning in a second or so.  I got this guitar because I thought It would be fun to play in standard tuning and drop into a DADGAD for a chorus.  You can do that with this guitar.
  • The integration with the POD is stunning.  You can change patches and guitars with a foot switch.  Acoustic alternate tuning on the verse and distorted Les Paul on the chorus.  One switch can be set to do that.
Here’s where I had a problem.
Basically, my biggest problem with the guitar (other than the neck) is that you have to adapt your playing and tone to the performance aspects associated with each guitar.  Sean Halley hipped me to that with his Line 6 Blog post where he talks about using .011 gauge strings, playing as light as possible and using a really minimal signal path to get his acoustic tone.
  • I tend to play hard.  So this was a learning curve for me, but even playing softer, I still needed to drop my volume down to about 50% on all of the models I was using because I was hearing really strange aliasing with some of the settings.  It was more pronounced on some models than others – (The Dano and the teles were some of the best sounding models on there to my ears) – but it was still really problematic.
  • I tend to play with low stage volume, and if you’re not playing loud enough to cover up the acoustic sound of the guitar, you’re going to be subjected to sonic weirdness as your ear tries to mix the acoustic sound with the modeled tone – particularly with regards to altered tunings.
This leads me to a favorite story of mine.
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The Ted Nugent Story

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Here’s where I get to tell my favorite second hand Ted Nugent story.  (If you like this story –  ask Bob Bradshaw about the time he made a board for Prince because it essentially ends the same way.)
A GREAT guy I knew from Berklee used to run sound for the Nuge back in the day.  Where most live stages have a wall of amps that are basically there to fill out the stage (there’s a reason that only one of them is miked usually), the Nuge had a wall of Fenders that were all live (even more insane when you consider that he was playing a hollowbody guitar at that point!).  The stage volume was deafening, and based on his signal path he would walk up to each amp and just dial in the numbers that he knew would get him his tone and play.
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The amount of noise that was coming from the stage was driving the sound people nuts.  So they rack mounted and hard wired his pedals and Echoplex (they changed the tapes and cleaned the heads as well) and got rid of a ton of hiss.  They showed their work to Ted and he hated it.
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He hated it, because it completely changed the sound of his amps – and the number system he used to dial in his tone no longer worked.  Ted wasn’t about to re-discover how to get his sound, so they had to undo everything (they put the old tape back in but refused to dirty up the heads again).
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With that in mind here was my problem.
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I might have been able to fix the aliasing issues with Workbench but the thing is, I didn’t dig how the models were sounding with my tones. It makes sense.  My tones were crafted around my FnH which sounds completely different from this guitar
But like the Nuge, I spent a lot of time getting some of those sounds together.  I didn’t want to do that again.
And there’s the real review.
This is a bold solution to a sonic problem.
If you are the type of person who wants to be able to control every aspect of tone and have the ability to create tones that have never been heard before – this is a solution that approaches the answer.  And I say that because if you are that type of person, then you will swap out physical pickups, swap out the neck and make every aspect of this instrument conform to what you want it to be.
This is expected when buying a used guitar but that’s not why I would buy a new guitar.
This particular guitar wasn’t inspiring to play, and the thought of customizing every aspect of it (from the neck to the pickups, to the string output, to the patches and having it be weeks or months to get to where I needed to go) just isn’t interesting to me.  As it is, I’ve already lost the better part of two days just trying to get it going, and that’s my threshold for moving on.
What follows is pure conjecture and should be viewed as opinion rather than fact.
I don’t think I’m alone.
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I’m guessing that the Variax cost, if you were getting an artist rate, would probably be $600-$700. So if Sweetwater is selling these at $899 for a new model.  They can’t be making much money.
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Furthermore, Guitar Center Used is selling these for around $700.  (A JTV-59 was up today for $549! – Ouch indeed!)
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I don’t know if they’re making a price drop to promote these guitars, to move them, or what have you but what is interesting to me, in contrast, is that the JTV-59 (The Les Paulish one) has not dropped in price.
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That one also looks much more comfortable to play and knowing that you can mount a Bigsby to it makes it appealing to me.  The only reason I didn’t look closer at that one is the substantial price difference.
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You may dig the JTV-69.  You might like the neck, embrace all the things I really liked about this guitar and not be bothered by what I didn’t like.
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So I haven’t given up entirely.  I’m sure that there will be a point where I try to cross this bridge again, but it’s not the right guitar for me right now and so back it goes.

New Get-A-Grip Post And New Product Reviews On Guitar-Muse

Networking?

For those of you interested in the music business side of guitar playing (including such things as gigging and press, you may want to read my latest post on Guit-A-Grip –

The Power Of Negative Example or How NOT To Network Part 1

 

Guitar Muse:

Also, I have a couple of gear reviews up on Guitar-Muse.  If you’re looking for ways to process your acoustic tone live, you can read my Zoom A3 review here.

Ever wonder what you can get for an elect0-acoustic nylon string in the sub $300 (US) range?  The answer is quite a bit if the guitar is the Antonio Hermosa AH-50!  You can read the review for that here.

Look for reviews of Positive Grid’s Bias for iPhone and their new BT-4 Bluetooth MIDI foot controller in the months ahead!

Last but not least more lessons, releases  and material coming down the pike!  Stay tuned and as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

On Press Releases Or Learning The Right Lesson Part Two

I’ve talked a great deal about prioritizing in relationship to goal setting on the guit-a-grip site but I thought I’d put up a tangentially related

A while back, I was dreading the prospect of writing a press release for my 12-tone book release announcement.  For a long time, I had real trouble writing these types of things because I’m a very modest person by nature and the self congratulating accolades of a press release are an anathema to my presentation style.

But the simple reality is that at the end of the day, this is a business and you have to get people engaged in material before they buy it.  So it’s a necessary discomfort that eased with time.

Previously, I had released a short pdf on fiverr which was positively received and found someone there who has done all of my book covers for an extremely generous rate.

So I thought I’d give the press release a try. “Let’s see what someone who’s doing 20-40 of these a day (at $5 a pop) is generating.”  I was given a brief questionaire and told to answer the questions as specifically as possible.  5 days later I got the following Press Release: (Hint, you need to read it out load to someone near you to get the real effect of the writing).

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Scott Collins

Company: Guitarchitecture.org

Address: Brooklyn, NY

Email: https://guitarchitecture.org/2013/01/31/the-guitarchitects-guide-to-symmetrical-twelve-tone-patterns-is-out-now/

Guitarchitecture’s Symmetrical Twelve-Tone A New Book Release

A new book was released in one of the mostly misunderstood area. This is a one of kind book wherein they are offering a free tutorial for those who want to learn how to play the guitar. It is all about academic matters for those who want to explore a new composition of sounds. This book has all the important files on how everyone can learn the basic sessions for guitar.

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The new book is about 100 pages and it all contains a lot of information regarding the keys, tones, examples and instructions of the guitar. This book helps the reader maximize their potential in doing their first love which is to play the guitar. Since it is newly released, there is an assurance that everyone can learn the guitar easier and faster. Scott Collins is a guitarist, clinician, educator and the author of this book.

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The Symmetrical Twelve-Tone helps the guitar trainees in mastering the keys and tones of the guitar. There are several patterns that everyone can follow so that they can deal with the different kinds of compositions and improvisation. A lot of people are now enjoying playing the guitars because this more fun and exciting to play than other musical instruments. This is also the reason why many people want to learn how to play the guitar. This book is offered at a very affordable price, so there is no need to worry about the budget because anyone can afford this book.

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The Guitarchitecture released their new book that can help everyone who wants to learn how to play the guitar. There is no need for everyone to enroll in some tutorial classes because the Symmetrical Twelve-Tone is now offering the best lessons that everyone can learn from. For those who want to explore new keys on the guitar, this book is perfect for everyone.

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Learning the guitar is very easy if everyone knows how to do it properly. With the help of the Guitarchitect’s Guide to Symmetrical Twelve-Tone, it would be easy for them to learn the basic skills needed. A lot of people are now enjoying guitar lessons using only the Symmetrical Twelve-Tone guidelines. This book has a lot of benefits that can help those who want to learn and master the guitar keys and notes.

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For more information, please visit https://guitarchitecture.org/2013/01/31/the-guitarchitects-guide-to-symmetrical-twelve-tone-patterns-is-out-now/. 

Ouch!  There are too many problems with this review to count!

At least it was an inexpensive lesson!  Here are a few things it reinforced for me:

  • Be careful of what you farm out and who your farm it out to.
  • If you’re going to experiment, do it early when the stakes are low.
  • You can’t always trust sample writings or reviews (how many times have you walked out of a restaurant disappointed with the meal and said, “I don’t get it.  The Yelp review was really positive….”
  • If you haven’t worked with the person before. prepared to put a lot of preliminary work in for setting it up or to put in a lot of editing work to finish it.
  • By and large you get what you pay for.

What follows is the press release I ended up writing.  It took 60-90 minutes because I edited it endlessly, but the end result was something I could actually use.  I did end up using another Fiver service to promote the book which worked fairly well.

News Release

February 1, 2013

For Immediate Release

 

New Twelve-Tone Patterns Book Provides New Sounds For Guitarists

The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Symmetrical Twelve-Tone Patterns is the latest release in the popular “GuitArchitect’s Guide To” series.  In Symmetrical Twelve-Tone Patterns, guitarist, educator and author Scott Collins rigorously examines twelve-tone patterns and then breaks the method into a number of core approaches to use in melodic, harmonic, improvisational or compositional exploration. In a topic previously relegated to the halls of academe, Symmetrical Twelve-Tone Patterns investigates the material in an intuitive and accessible way for guitarists at different skill levels.

Among other accolades, guitarist and loop pioneer Andre LaFosse, has praised the method, saying, “Scott [Collins] has an unusual ability to deal with highly esoteric and technical concepts, while simultaneously managing to present them in a very approachable, intuitive, and musical fashion. The scope of his teaching touches on everything from mathematical theory to life philosophy. His writing represents an extremely original – and stunningly well-researched – perspective on the guitar.”

A complimentary digital bundle of musical examples is available to those who purchase either the print or digital edition of the book.  In addition to MIDI files, PDFs and MP3s of all the examples in the book, the bundle also contains Guitar Pro files to help readers maximize their interaction with the material. Having the files in a Guitar Pro format means that the reader can use the Guitar Pro MIDI playback engine to hear the examples at whatever tempo they want thus using it as a phrase trainer to help get the examples to up to speed.

With an undergraduate degree in composition from Berklee College of Music and a graduate degree in guitar performance from CalArts, Scott Collins is an active performer, educator and visual accompanist. He is the author of The GuitArchitect’s Guide: series which includes guitar instructional and references books on topics such as melodic patterns, harmonic combinatorics, positional exploration and chord scales and has released several music business titles for the Kindle platform including, An Indie Musician’s Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

“The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Symmetrical Twelve-Tone Patterns” is currently available in both print and PDF editions at Lulu.com http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/guitarchitecture.  More information about the book (and links to sample lesson material) is available at https://guitarchitecture.org/books.

ENDS

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And a review:

In a related note, my 12-tone book just got a pretty humbling review on Amazon that made a lot of the discomfort in creating it seem worthwhile.  You can read the original review here.

This book is groundbreaking and vitally important for the modern guitarist, and I will concisely summarize why. The subject of twelve tone method applied to the guitar has never been anywhere near as well and accessibly explored as it has here, and it is a subject long overdue in the stale guitar world of today. This method, which the indisputably great composer Arnold Schoenberg introduced in the early part of the 20th century had massive repercussions throughout the music world, and ultimately swayed even the mighty Stravinsky. This example of one great composer converting another contemporary great is anomalous in history, only the Haydn-Mozart example is comparable in impact.

The material and examples are laid out in a very easy to grasp manner, and it is extremely helpful as well that the author has listed extensive permutations regarding the method, the latter is an invaluable resource in itself.

I will be expanding upon this review for my blog shortly, however I felt compelled to write this short due to the impression the book made on me.

This book makes all other guitar instruction books from the past fifteen years look completely obsolete, tired. Don’t miss out, the price you pay for this is simply a pittance compared to what you’ll get back.”

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my books but nothing like that!!

As always, if you’ve purchased a book – please drop a line at guitar.blueprint at gmail[dot]com.  I’d love to hear what you liked or disliked about it and it might make the next book even better!

At any rate, that’s it for now.  I’ll be putting up a music business / book publishing post soon that you might find interesting.  In the meantime, keep playing and as always,

Thanks for reading!

-SC

Some Thoughts On Modeling, Gear Acquisition And The POD HD500

The forums have been a flutter over the Fractal Audio announcement/release of a major upgrade to the Axe FX product line, the new Axe FX II.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the unit, The Axe FX is a high end modeler that emulates a number of amp tones and effects very well.

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From my second hand experience the pros are:

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  • it can sound really good – I need to emphasize that again as, “oh yeah it sounds good” gets glossed over easily.  I’ve heard people coax some mediocre tones from it as well – but the unit has the potential to sound pretty great.  The interesting thing is that while non Axe FX owners always nay-say the price, I’ve never heard an owner complaint about sound vs. value.

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The cons are:

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  • its expense (a fully outfitted Axe FX system (pre-version II Ultra) ran around $2,000 – with the proprietary midi board and an Atomic FR 50W active cab it would set you back about $3700 shipped).
  • it’s only available as a rack-mounted unit (so yes, there really is a use for that rack case your ADA MP-1 used to sit in!)
  • the midi controller is also high quality, but also expensive. (FYI -You can use other midi-controllers with the unit).  The comment here is more about the fact that none of the gear associated with the unit is what you could call inexpensive.

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As soon as the FXII was announced, a number of Ultra and Standards went up on eBay.  The fact that the re-sale value on Ebay is quite high ($1300-$1600 for an Ultra on Buy it Now) also speaks well to the quality of the unit.  I’m sure that the new model is a substantial improvement over the original (which are now phased out) – but how much better does it have to be?  The current world economy is helping some people keep cooler heads and realize that if they always liked the tone out of their current Ultra – that they’re probably still going to like it a year from now.  With that in mind, here’s a gear acquisition reminder:

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Cutting edge es MUY CARO!!

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The latest thing is always going to set you back financially.  To add insult to injury – you’re generally paying to be part of the learning curve.  Things break, things go wrong, things need updating and as someone on board for version 1, you will be part of that curve.   On the plus side, you’ll know the unit deeper than a lot of people and be able to coax things out of it easier.  Economically, it’s a simple question of how useful or necessary that skill set is to you.

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However, if you can hold back a little and wait out the initial rush.  You’ll see the products getting updated.  You’ll see other people having to tweak tones and work out solutions to problems. You’ll also see some people getting frustrated and selling their things at a great loss. I saw an Axe Standard on eBay for $800.  If I was in the market for one that price would be WAY more appealing than the $1700 they were originally getting for them.

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If you want something new it’s typically financially prudent if you can hold off.  (With used gear, it’s always – you snooze you lose – and it’s also generally the case with one offs, rare or discontinued items. One of my favorite sonic mangling pedals, the Digitech Space Station, was acquired from Guitar Center when Digitech discontinued them for $90.)

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POD HD500

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However, when I read about the recent substantial update to the POD HD line – my curiosity was piqued.  I had already mentioned the price versus performance differences between the POD Farm and the POD HD; but the ever increasing set up time of my POD Farm rig had me looking at the POD HD a lot closer recently.  The Pod Farm rig still completely makes sense to me for laptop gigs – where I’m sitting down at a table and sculpting sound – but the laptop with a live band thing started to  become an issue, not only live but also in setup time for rehearsal.

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There are probably a thousand pages with stats, clips, videos and MP3s of the POD HD.  So I’m going to spare you all of that.  You’ve already probably researched that to get here.  What I can offer are my impressions for using it live, and how I think it stacks up.

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Construction:

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This is a sturdy unit weighing in around 14 lbs due to the all-metal chassis.  It feels solid and  I have no doubts about it standing up to live use.  The switches are similar to the X3 or Shortboard MK II, but seem to be a little higher quality to me.   (I don’t have any quantifiable analysis so I might be imagining that – but they work well in any case).  The expression pedal on my unit is even smoother than my Shortboard MK II.  Some people have had problems with the pedal but mine was fine.  After I installed all of the updates, I did have to recalibrate it, but since then – I’ve had no issue with it.

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The display is very clear, and offers multiple viewing options, but I’d like to see a fully realized list option as well.  You can edit all of the parameters on the unit, but the HD EDIT program is so much more intuitive, you’ll probably gravitate to editing things on a computer.  That said, some parameters can only be edited on the unit itself (like the looper features), so you may want to get a little familiar with the on board controls as well.

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The HD 500 doesn’t have an off button – which is a little strange but manageable.  While the power cable is shorter than what I’m used to on a stand alone unit,  I’m guessing  that Line 6 planned on it being mounted to a pedal board and then  just plugged into a power strip.  This would also explain the elongated plug size as it looks like it’s designed to fit between other plugs on a power strip.

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In terms of ins and outs on the unit – the 500 is very similar to the X3, ¼ “, XLR and SPDIF outs, as well as midi connectivity and an RCA jack in for mp3 players/etc.  You can record with the USB – but I only use it to connect to edit so I can’t comment on recording direct with it.  I do find the connection time with my mac to be EXTREMELY slow – but it works fine once it’s connected.  The proprietary DT50 and the  variax connections are cool as well, but since I don’t have either right now, I can’t comment on them.

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Managing expectations for current Pod users:

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First – and this is important – there is no upgrade path from old models to new models.  There’s no tonal equivalency between old patches and new.  Furthermore, I would argue that if you expect this unit to sound exactly like your favorite X3 patch, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

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One thing to remember in the non-modeled world is that any amp is, by and large, a one trick pony.  I played a 5150 combo once with a nice dirty tone and one of the most useless clean tone’s I’ve ever heard.  As someone who put substantial energy into trying, it’s useless to attempt to make a Marshall sound like a Fender twin (or vice versa).  So even people who don’t model – and get the bunk of their tones with pedals of one type or another – end up compromising when it comes to tone.  If you’re playing through a Fender you might get a Marshall-ish tone, but it’s not going to stack up side by side to a Marshall going through a 4×12.  In managing my own expectations the my goal eventually shifted to getting a useable tone  (in this case with a Marshall as a bench mark).  If your expectation with modeling is that it’s going to sound exactly like a Bogner through your $100 practice amp – you’re going to be disappointed.

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Having said that, this unit has some really good sounds.  A lot of the tricks that I developed to get around limitations in the X3, or Pod Farm are actually not necessary in the HD because the base amp sounds are that much better.

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  • Plan on being patient.  There are more useful presets on the HD than I found on either Pod Farm or the X3, but that’s still not saying much.  There are some good patches out there and a number of good online tips. Glen DeLaune’s site is a great place to start for dirty and clean tones.  He also has a you tube channel with a number of clips that can help setting up patches as well.
  • Even with good patches, you should plan on sitting down and tweaking things to taste and then tweaking for other contexts.  My headphones are largely useless in helping me get a tone that works with my amp, so I have to plan on a couple of different tonal contexts.  But honestly, while I can record direct – the tone from my amp is the only one I’m really concerned with here.
  • Save Often!!  None of the patches take up a lot of memory – so save multiple tweaks of each patch that way you can go back over time and find alternate versions of patches if you need them.

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Second – the tones between units aren’t compatible.  The Pod HD 300 or 400 tones won’t import into the 500 directly.  That does seem a little myopic to me – but the good news is that you can download the HD edits for any of the units and run them without hardware.  When I found a HD 400 Plexi patch I liked – I just downloaded it, opened it up in the HD 400 Edit and then just manually copied the patch elements into the 500 for tweaking.

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Third – the volume and wah assignments aren’t automatic and are counter intuitive to me on a number of patches.  Having said that, they’re not that difficult to set up.  One thing I did was to save a patch with all my routing up and then build other patches around that set up to save time.

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Fourth – The DSP issue.  I think that some real world tests should have been done to make sure that the POD could handle any configuration of effects in the 8 slots they have.  There’s a great PDF (Thanks Fester2k!!) that shows how the models and FX use DSP.  Some are just more hoggish than others.  The particle verb sounds great – but you’re going to have to compromise some things if you want more than one in the chain.

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Fifth – The signal chain is very flexible (and the new GUI for editing is slick).  The expression pedal being used as a straight volume pedal takes up an FX slot – BUT if you assign the expression pedal to an amp volume parameter you can control the volume with no hits to the number of FX slots.  I suppose you could assign the expression pedal to a sweepable tone control on the amp for a makeshift wah, but since neither of these effects use a lot of DSP  for most people it won’t be an issue.

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A neat trick I grabbed from the Gear net forums is that you can use the FX send as a volume boost by just plugging a ¼“ cable into the FX send/receive and boosting the level on the FX Send.  This is a good trick for Pad or FX heavy sounds without an amp to boost the signal and can also work as a clean solo boost.

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Amps:

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In the POD HD series, a lot has been made about the smaller number of amps.  Personally, I only use 4-5 amps in POD Farm anyway so the number isn’t an issue if the quality is there, and by and large I think it is.  The fenders sound really good to my ears, and you can even push them to get them to break up like a real Fender would.  The Gibson is cool and the Vox and Supro are nice touches as well.

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In terms of distortion, I find that a number of the amps break up in a musical way and react to picking dynamics much more so than the X3 or POD Farm.  I can clean up some of the Marshall models by rolling the volume back and then punch it to distort at full bore.  VERY COOL.   The JCM 800 works really well for me live.  The park does some nice things as well as the J45.  A lot of people rave about the Dr Z…I haven’t gotten it do do what I want – but it’s a cool addition.  For metal (and metalish variations) – the mesa works really well.  The sound just cuts through everything.  The Line 6 Elektrik model can get comically over the top as well.

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There are some nice contrasts between the pre-amp only models and the actual full amp versions.  One BIG benefit to the full amp models is the ability to tweak Master, Sag, Hum, Bias, and Bias eXcursion.  Particularly on the distorted models, being able to adjust the Master and Sag make tone adjustments that range from subtle to blatant.  The downside is using some models of the full amps will cause a spike in DSP use and may make the overload screen pop up.  Line 6 did a streaming video with some GREAT information on all of these parameters (tech talk starts around 24:00).

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Cabinets and Mics:

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The biggest complaint people on the forums would like to address is that they can’t upload their own IRs to use with the amps.  You can bypass the cabs and mikes on the 500 and if I were recording direct in the studio, I might be looking more in this option.   But since I’m looking at more of an all-in-one option, and running all of these into my atomic,  I think a number of the cabs sound fine for my purposes.  Being able to load IR’s would be nice but would also put a substantial tax on the processor – and I’d rather have things running the way that they are.  That being said, I’m not always happy with what I hear through headphones – but I run the patches studio direct into my Atomic and some of the amp/mic combinations work really well.

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FX:

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It is pretty easy to max out the processor, but some of the Fx sound really good.  Most people on the forums would like additional options for drives, gates, etc.  and I suspect we’ll see more of those over time.  In the meantime, you can certainly get useable sounds out of the Fx/amp combination pretty quickly.  There are certain sounds on Pod Farm I REALLY wanted to get out of this unit that I just can’t.  The Fx are too different and I run out of DSP too quickly.  Having said that, I have some Fx patches on this unit I can’t get out of my Pod Farm – even with all the other sounds.  So it’s a fair trade off to me.  You’re limited to DSP power but you can run multiple instances of pedals as well.  A good thing in my book.   The expression pedal can be routed to any fx parameters as well, so for example you could go from a dry clean sound to an ambient one just by fading in the verbs, delays or whatever other effects you have on the pedal.

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Looper:

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The looper was one of the things that excited me the most about this unit.  It doesn’t have anything near the complexity of something like SooperLooper, but is functional for stacking loops.  It does have some eq and recording volume options for loop recording that help with the stacking options.  A big part of what I do with looping involves bringing loops in and out of the mix with what I’m playing but since there’s no editable parameter for loop volume (i.e. being able to use an expression pedal to adjust wet/dry volume levels of the loop volume); it’s something that I can’t really use too much right now.  Hopefully this will get addressed in a future update (along with allowing the external ¼” expression pedal jack to be routed to a 3rd expression pedal just to control loop levels).

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On the stock setting, the switches convert their functions to looper parameters (record/overdub, start/stop, 1/2 speed, reverse, etc).  So if you’re using the bottom row of switches to bank through sounds and  want to switch tones on a loop, you’ll have to turn the looper switch off (the loop will keep running), and then switch from there.  This also means that you have to turn the loop switch back on to turn the looper off.
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The looper has 2 modes, post and pre.  In post, it records the entire signal chain.  Generally, this is probably the setting you want to use.  In the pre-mode the looper records the dry signal, and processes it through what ever patches you are switching between.   Having said that, by using the looper in the pre mode, you can loop a riff and then switch it between patches or tweak the sound of a patch without having to play it endlessly.

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The only other drag I can think of right now is that none of the looper parameters can be edited in the current HD edit.  It would be nice to have a global feature on the edit that also included a parameter for the looper.

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Using it with the Atomic:

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This is where I think this unit really shines.  On POD Farm, there were a number of factors that I had to use to determine how the unit would sound.  Most of the distortions only sounded useable to me at 96k (which put a huge tax on the system), and even then patches at low volume and higher volume often reacted completely differently.  Sounds that sounded good at an apartment level sounded like crap at stage volume in a club and vice versa.  With the POD HD, everything evened out more live.  I turned it up at the club and really had very little tweaking from bedroom volumes.  Additionally, no one really noticed the lack of the laptop sonically, so it was a big victory there.  I used it with the 18 watt Atomic for the last Rough Hewn Trio gig, and never had to turn the master volume past 12 o’clock.

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The comparison?

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I’ve read a lot about people comparing this to the Axe fx.  There probably is no comparision.  It doesn’t matter to me much anyways as an Axe Fx II is out of my price range right now.

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In terms of the POD HD:

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  • if you’re trying to cop a specific tone – you might not be happy with any modeler.
  • there are no acoustic sims on the current version.  I’m sure that that’s going to get updated in a future release – but for right now – it’s very much of an electric guitar processor.
  • If you try to go to Guitar Center and play the floor model with stock sounds, you’re probably going to be underwhelmed.


  • If you want a musical tone (and have some patience) there’s plenty that can be squeezed out of this box.
  • You can check the line 6 page – but huge the differences between this and the 400 or the 300 are substantial.  If you need the looper and/or a lot of fx – spend the extra money on the 500.

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I’ve never used pervious firmware versions of the POD HD but everything that I’ve read  has said that this update was substantial.  I can’t help but think that not only is this unit going to get better firmware updates (and more models of everything perhaps) – but that the Pod Farm HD version is going to be pretty much untouchable.

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Accessories:

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The Pod doesn’t come with a gig bag or case, so you’ll need some way to carry it.  I have a gator gig bag I used for the Pod X3, that fits the unit.   The pedal board option is more enticing, but good quality boards are expensive.  Rondo Music has an inexpensive flight case that would fit the unit.  But it’s still probably going to set you back at least $100 with tax and S/H.

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Lately, I’m been more inclined to mount it, the power supply and all of the cables on pedal board and spend the extra buck on something like this and just be able to carry everything in one bag.  You could probably get something similar at a thrift store for $10-$20 and then be able to take it on a plane with you as well.

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Thanks for reading.

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-SC

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GEAR

Octave4Plus A4 – .007 String Review

When I started playing 8 string (all 6 weeks ago or so) – I knew from the get go – that I was looking to have a full range instrument that went from a low B (below the 6th string E) and a high A (above the 1st string E).  When I checked out the Marshall Harrison video, he mentioned that he was using a .005 for the A – which was a little too high for me – but I decided to investigate the Octave 4 Plus string brand he was using.

Octave4Plus – are handmade strings for extended range instruments (up to 40 inches!).   Since there’s really no way to try before you buy – I figured I’d take the plunge and put an order in.

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Ordering

When ordering individual strings, the minimum purchase number is 5 strings.  Additionally, there is an online form you will need to complete which goes over some specifics of information needed to make your string (scale length of the instrument, whether the string is front or top loading in the bridge, etc.).  There is a several day time limit that you need to complete the form in – or your money gets refunded.  This might seem a little draconian, but given the small batches that the strings are made in – I imagine that hunting down people for information is a case of diminishing returns financially, so I understand it at least.

When I made my order, I got the strings with a “Type 2” thread wrap. While this is recommended for guitars with a string tree, I found that it’s also recommended if your guitar “… loads the string through the back, has a steep break angle, a sharp edge on the nut or tuner, or a string tree.”

The website does a good job of explaining a number of specific for string ordering – but as an FYI – if your scale length is 26.5” – you’ll need to order the 28” scale strings.

Payment is made on the website via PayPal and is a relatively painless process.

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Pricing

Here is the pricing for the order I made:

“Guitar  .007 plain steel    ( 28” )    $4.75 each   A440

5 strings @ $23.75

Type 2 strings – $10

Shipping and Handling – $10

Sales Tax $3.17

$46.92 (or about $8.20 a string including the test string [see below])

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Shipping And Delivery

My order was put in on Thanksgiving day and came on Christmas eve.  The time frame for delivery is somewhat vague on the website – but 4-8 weeks seem to be a reasonable time frame.

The package was shipped priority mail.  The contents were well packaged and included a copy of the order form, photocopied directions for installation, and 6 individually sealed strings (5 strings and a test string which was a nice touch).

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The Ball End

I’ve never used a handmade string before.  I was particularly intrigued with the allen wrench nut that serves as a proprietary ball end.

Ball end close up

There are specific instructions for installation, but it’s a very clever design that works well.

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String Installation

The installation instructions are clear and well written, but reading and doing are two very different things.  Right off the bat – you will probably notice that getting the string through the bridge can be tricky as it’s sooo thin.  (I can’t imagine trying this with a .005!)

While the Schecter Omen I installed this on didn’t have a string tree – I used the thread winding as an entry point for the string to go into the tuner, with the idea that it may help with any potential burrs.

In installing the string, the directions state that bringing the string up to pitch too quickly will result in the string breaking at the ball end.

Given the general instability inherent in attempting to get a string to stay at a pitch of high A over a 26.5” scale – this seems reasonable.

You should expect to spend 2-3 hours getting the string to pitch if you follow the directions verbatim.

Needless to say – this path isn’t for everyone.  If you break one of these on stage mid set – you’re not going to be replacing it between songs.  But this is a generality that applies to the circumstance – and is not specific to the Octave4plus string.

Since I started with a test string – I used the directions I outlined in my Omen review for bringing the string up to pitch – which worked fine – and took about 45 mins to an hour.

As a bonus tip: I also let it stay a ½ step below pitch overnight before playing it – and that seemed to help a lot with stability.

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In Use

I didn’t have a lot of time to get into it as almost immediately I got a call from Mike Reagan to see if I could add some high adrenaline lead playing to an X-box track he was working on.  I decided to bring the Omen and my FNH and see what happened.

While I don’t know about the material of the string, it definitely seemed more stable than the D’Addario .007s I was using.  In bending I easily got ½ step bends with no issue.  From the 12th fret on – I got whole step bends – which made me pretty nervous – but he was so excited by the pitches on the high A string that he wanted me to play a lot of bent melodies on that string.  The string finally broke after about the hour mark and (having broken one of them in getting it to pitch) – I finished the session with the D’Addario.

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Final thoughts

From an economic standpoint, it’s easy to balk as you could get 60 D’addario  .007 strings from just strings for $42 with shipping.  And if you don’t follow the instructions – those 6 strings are going to break pretty quickly.

If you’re playing something like an Agile – with an even longer scale length – this is pretty much the only game in town.  But even on the 26.5” scale, I liked this string a lot.  The construction quality is certainly there, and I really admire what they’re doing.

I’ve been pretty delicate with the D’Addario – so it hasn’t broken since the session – but when it does – I’ll give the Octave plus4 more of a chance than the few days it had before.

Thanks for reading!


BKP (Bare Knuckle Pickups) 8 String Cold Sweat Pickup

Recently, I got a call to play on a forthcoming X-box title and the composer asked me to bring a couple of guitars for some uptempo rock solos. (Unfortunately, I can’t post any audio from the session – but when the game releases I’ll post a link to any trailers for it.)

The session seemed like the perfect time to bring out my Schecter Omen 8 – particularly since I recently got Seth Mayer to install a Bareknuckle Cold Sweat Pickup and a kill switch on it.

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Bare Knuckle Pickups

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bare Knuckle Pickups, they are one of the few companies that are making hand-wound (!!) passive 8 string pickups (in addition to their 6 and 7 string line).

When I was first looking into this – I sent an email to Tim Mills, to see what he recommended for someone needing a lot of tonal flexibility with a basswood body 8 string and he recommended the painkiller.  After reading the forums and listening to a lot of samples – I found that Axe Palace had an 8 string cold sweat neck pickup in stock for $160 and I bit the bullet.

(BTW – I had a really good experience with the Axe Palace guys, so if you’re looking for a U.S. Dealer to purchase from – I’d recommend them.)

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Cold Sweat Neck Close Up

The new Bare Knuckle website is excellent and absolutely full of useful information.  For example here are some specs taken from the bare Knuckle Website.  Each pick up now has this information posted so it’s really easy to compare and contrast different pickups and get a good idea about how they’re going to sound.

There are some mp3s on the Bare Knuckle Cold Sweat page – but having done some quick mp3s of the original schecter pickups, I thought I would post a couple of mp3s for comparison.

First, here is the Line 6 POD Farm patch I’m using for both clan and dirty sounds:

Here is a 4 octave B minor scale played with a clean tone ascending and descending using the neck (cold sweat), middle (Cold sweat and stock bridge) and Bridge (Schecter).

Here is a 4 octave B minor scale played with a dirty tone ascending and descending using the same pickup order as the clean tone.

Here are some clean chords played on the upper strings.  While the pickup allows for a coil tap – I didn’t have have the push pull pot to have it wired for that – but I’m sure that allowing for a coil tap – would give clean sounds like this even more tonal variety.

Here is chunk style low end riff.  The amp setting here is a little muddy to begin with – so you’ll notice that the Schecter actually cuts through pretty well.

And here is the same idea but with the tube screamer turned on.  With the added gain – the Cold Sweat takes on more definition.

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A quick sum up

This is a short review, because rather than regurgitate a lot of information that’s on their website – I’d recommend that you go straight to the source and get the full description.

For the xbox title – I ended up playing the FNH Ultrasonic and the Schecter in front of a Marshall 4×12 and for leads – the Cold Sweat made the Schecter just scream.

The fact that they’re hand wound – is insane to me – in the best way possible.  It speaks volumes about the commitment to excellence that BNK has towards its products and tone.  This isn’t the cheapest pickup that you’ll ever buy – but it blows an EMG out of the water and comes with a lifetime warranty.  Buying a Omen and installing one of these in it – is still cheaper than a Damien Elite – and I think it’s a better sounding guitar.  You owe it to yourself to check out what they’re doing.

Laptop Guitar Must Buy – Gator Viper Electric Gigbag w. Laptop Compartment Review

I know that I promised to scale back on the gear reviews – but because it’s the holidays, and because some people will procrastinate on shopping – I’ll try to get a few more of these out before Christmas.

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This will be a very short review – because the majority of features on this gig bag are the same as the Standard Viper gig bag  and have already been well documented in my earlier reviewAt the end of that review – I posited that perhaps the laptop addition would be convenient – but I wasn’t sure how necessary it was.

Santa came a little early this year – and while I had just asked for the standard case, I gave him the website for this listing which had the grey version of the laptop bag for $47.99 with free shipping (or if you’re really desperate – you can get the same version of the case – but Red – for 52 dollars more.  In other words  – yes – getting the red version of the bag is more expensive than buying TWO of the grey bags.).  While this is nominally more expensive than the Amazon listing I cited in the previous review, here’s the short of it:

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If you use a laptop guitar rig like I do – this is the case for you.

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There are two big differences between the bags that make me say that you should spend the extra cash on the laptop bag if you can.

1. Storage.  The storage compartments in the bag have probably twice the space of the standard bag.  If you use analog pedals – there are 2 pedal compartments built in.  Here I have my Apogee and my hard drive in them. I was able to fit my entire laptop rig in the gig bag (minus the shortboard).  Which is a big deal for me because that makes the rig much more portable for touring.

2. The weather sleeve.  In addition to all of the protection that already comes with the bag, behind the headstock is a zippered compartment holding an elastic rain coat for the gig bag.  This is huge for me – because even though I liked the idea of a laptop compartment – I was still a little worried about potential water damage.  Not now.

Even at $30 more than the standard bag (as originally priced on Amazon) this would still be a great deal.  At the $47.99 price – it’s an absolute no brainer.

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Part 2 of the chord scale lesson is coming up as is a post about the installed Bare Knuckle Cold Sweat 8 string pickup (spolier alert – it’s pretty sweet!)

See you next time.

-SC