Squier Classic Vibe Starcaster

I’ve wanted a Fender Starcaster since they first came out in the 1970’s. They looked delightfully weird and I liked the idea of combining the best of Fender qualities with the best of Gibson. I couldn’t afford one back then, and I resisted the reissues that came out a few years ago. Then I saw that there was an affordable Squier version made in Indonesia that was getting good reviews.  I ordered one. It came today. Here’s the “offset” asymmetrical body:

Starcasterbody

And here’s the full guitar. The headstock is controversial. Some think it’s cool, some think it’s too weird. One reviewer said it looked like an “Elvin weapon.” I think it is weird, but I like weird. It’s big enough to be a billboard. You could sell advertising on it.

Starcasterfull

I would say that the reviews are accurate. The fretwork is very good. No sharp frets or high frets. It came with 9s on it, but I will probably put on heavier strings. It plays almost too easy. The finish is nearly flawless. The maple top and sides are beautiful. It’s poly, so it is glossy slick. Some people prefer matte finishes or nitro, but this is fine.

A number of the reviews say that the tone and volume pots don’t have much sweep. This is true. I may replace the pots. They also say that the neck is pretty thin, which is also true.

I was a bit worried because although the retailer shipped the guitar and a Gator case together, the case arrived on Saturday, but the guitar had been missorted to the wrong local Fedex, so it spent the weekend there and had to be shipped back to the hub and then out to the right city. It was double-boxed, which was a good thing, because at some point something had hooked through the outer box but failed to penetrate the inner box.

How does it sound? It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for. The “wide-range” pickups  are in-between a Fender single coil and a Gibson style humbucker. They are brighter and punchier than a Gibson, but mellower than most Telecaster pickups. They are not cunife magnets like the originals or like the Fender reissue wide range pickups that cost $200 apiece, but they sound good. Here’s a clip with the neck pickup playing rhythm on the left. On the right, I am playing lead switching between the middle position and the bridge.

I’ve only had the guitar for a few hours, but I am happy with it! It’s a very versatile guitar.

Update: Here’s another quick clip. The rhythm guitar is the neck pickup and the lead is the bridge, both through a little Hotone Mojo Diamond head and a Carvin cabinet with a 12″ speaker. The lead has tremolo on it.

And here’s a blues, back to Tonelib GFX sims again. The rhythm is a Fender Twin sim and the lead is a Marshal Plexi.

One caution about the pickups. If you are recording and you hit a pickup with your pick, it will make an audible clunk on your track. The pickups are big targets with metal covers, so they are easy to hit. Playing live, I doubt this would be a problem, but you have to be careful when recording. However, the natural playing position is between the pickups even with your palm on the bridge for muting, so with care, it should all work.

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Rode NT-USB

These days, I am doing a lot of video conferencing and shooting instructional videos with my Dell laptop. The internal mic wasn’t cutting it and the cheap lapel mic I bought wasn’t much better. I started searching for a USB condenser mic, but because so many people are working from home now and doing what I am doing, all of the usual suspects, such as the Blue Yeti and the Blue Yeti Pro and the various Samson mics, were all backordered. I was interested in the AKG Lyra, but my laptop doesn’t handle USB C. I found that Sweetwater had stock coming in of the Rode NT-USB, so I ordered one.

Rode NT-USB on a tripod stand next to laptop.

Rode NT-USB

USB mics have built in preamps and Analog to Digital converters. The Rode has a headphone out and two controls: a headphone level control and a mix control to dial between the mic output and the computer audio. In a Zoom meeting, for example, you can control how much you hear the other participants and how much you hear your own voice. This works very well.

It also comes with a tripod desk stand, a carrying pouch, a very long USB cable, and a sturdy pop screen. The connector to the tripod stand is standard, so the mic can also be used with a regular mic stand.

Win 10 recognized the mic instantly. It was entirely plug and play.

I have already used it for several Zoom meetings. The sound is crisp and clear. I was curious about how it would work for music recording, so I did a quick version of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” suitable for my 11-month old grandson. This is my old D-18 fromthe 1960’s.

I read somewhere that “pop” is slang for “pawn” and that a “weasel” is a tool for shoemaking. Knowing that, this song starts to make sense.

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Another TDPRI Backing Track

I have been doing a lot of TDPRI backing tracks. This one wouldn’t upload on Soundcloud because even though the creator of the backing track gave permission, Soundcloud thinks that uploading it is a copyright violation. It’s just an acoustic guitar track that I put a lead on. Let’s try it here:

You can hear lots of my contributions by going to soundcloud.com and searching on “guitarsophist.”

 

 

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Hotone Mojo Diamond

A long time ago I bought a Crate VC 508, a 5 watt tube amp with an 8″ speaker, an amp that a colleague recently took for a long term unauthorized loan (long story). When I had the amp, I thought it would sound better with a 12″ speaker, so at one point a bought a Carvin tweed extension cabinet at a closeout sale.  I still had the cabinet, so I thought I would buy an amp head for it.  There are lots of little micro amps around these days. I ended up with a Hotone Mojo Diamond (around $100), one of their amps in their legacy series. It is supposed to sound like a Fender tweed amp from the 1950’s. In a way, it does. Here’s a pic:

IMG_0489

It’s 5 watts, solid state, and tiny. It has the footprint of cellphone. Even so, it has gain, three band eq, and volume controls. It also has an EFFECTS LOOP. What it doesn’t have is reverb. To go in the effects loop, I also bought a cheap reverb pedal, a Biyang Tri Reverb (around $45). Here is the whole rig:

CarvinCab

How loud is it? Not enough to gig with, but fine for practice and recording. It is also very sensitive to pickups. With single coil strat pickups, it doesn’t want to break up, even with the gain all the way up. But with humbuckers, it can sound like an old bluesy tweed amp. Actually it surprised me with a pretty authentic T-Bone Walker kind of tone. Here is a short blues with my Agile LP with humbuckers. Everything is pretty much at 12 o’clock on the rhythm guitar. The lead is with the gain all the way up and the volume backed off. I miced it with a GL-57, a Shure SM-57 clone.

The Biyang reverb pedal also exceeded my expectations. It is really easy to use. It has a blend control which controls the amount of reverb and a time control that controls how long the reverb tails are. Then it has a three-way mini toggle for room, spring and hall reverbs and another toggle for “A” and “B” modes. “B” is basically normal and “A” is crazy mode. Here is a track with my strat going through the Mojo Diamond with the Tri Reverb in the effects loop. I might have gone overboard on the reverb.

I didn’t need another amp, but I already had the cabinet (with a Carvin VL12 in it, a vintage-style speaker made by Eminence) and I will have a lot of fun with this rig.

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SoundCloud

The folks on the telecaster discussion board are used to using SoundCloud to host the tracks they create for their Backing Track Challenge activity. Several told me that I would get more attention if I posted Soundcloud links instead of links to files on my blog. I decided to get with the program and start posting tracks to SoundCloud.

Recent tracks include the following:

Another pop track

A jazz sort of thing in 9/8

A slow pop thing

I have been having a lot of fun with this. None of the tracks are perfect. Everybody does them fast, often in one take. It is part of the game.

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Tweed Pignose

A few years ago I acquired a tweed Pignose. I don’t think I have posted about it here before. Here’s a pic:

TweedPignose

The first thing I will say is that it looks way cooler than it sounds. It sounds best if you think of it as a distortion pedal that also functions as an amp. I had it in my office for a while, where it served pretty well as a very low volume practice amp. It can get loud, but it won’t be clean. I’ll try to put up a clip later.

It runs on AA batteries, but you can get a power supply for it. When it first came out, in the 1970’s I think, it was revolutionary, but these days there are better options.

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Still More TDPRI STuff

This is a slow rock thing that is reminiscent of Neil Young. I played my strat through Tonelib. I did it in one take, so it is what it is.

This is a blues shuffle. I got out my Roland Ready Stratocaster and my GR-20 Guitar Synth and put a saxophone on it. Then I put a lead on it with the aforementioned Stratocaster. It may have been too much because the backing track was already pretty well populated.

Here is a slight remix of the above track. I boosted the level of the guitar a little, put a touch of reverb on the sax to put it back in the mix a bit, and put some compression on the master.

Here is one called “Wake Me Up.” It’s a pop backing track. It’s my strat in the neck/mid quack position, through Tonelib. It’s designed to be clean and sweet.

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More TDPRI Backing Tracks

This is a “Slow Pop” backing track. I used my Tele through the Tonelib Deluxe amp sim with Bounce reverb, a Marshall 4×12 cabinet, and a simulation of a Klon Centaur distortion pedal.

They had a “Big Band” track up that was based on the chords for “Embraceable You,” but I don’t have the jazz chops to attempt that one.

Here’ another. For this one I used my guitalele.

Here is a slightly altered version of the country blues thing. The first note was jumping out way too loud and it was through the whole first impression of the track off. It was bugging me, so I adjusted the volume envelop for the track to tame that note. Now the first phrase makes sense.

This one is called Monday Madness:

The Tele is on the left, the Casino on the right.

One more for this post. This is a track in 3/4 in G, that uses almost all the chords in the key. I used my Casino through the Deluxe model in Tonelib with Dragonfly reverb.

OK, one more. This is funk in D lydian. I used my Tele.

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Just Like Tom . . .

Today, Craig and I got together and took all day to produce one track, a cover of a Dylan song.

Craig played rhythm guitar (an orange Tele with a mini humbucker), lead guitar (my Agile LP copy on the bridge pickup) both through his Acoustic Image amp, and bass (my Douglas violin bass) recorded direct with adjustments through the Bass Professor II plugin. He also did the vocal. I played drums and was the recording engineer.

We think it sounds pretty good. It is almost a professional track, by our very suspect standards.

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TDPRI Backing Track Challenge

This is just a lead recorded to a backing track posted on tdpri.com, the Telecaster forum.

It is my Telecaster on the bridge pickup through the Deluxe model in Tonelib GFX.

Here’s another one for a different challenge:

That’s my Casino through the Deluxe model in ToneLib.

A third one:

This is my Agile LP through the Tonelib AC30 Top Boost model.

And yet another one. This my Agile LP again on the neck pickup through the Tonelib Tweed Deluxe. I added some organ to the track using Xhip Synth.

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