mike rock

Q: How can I clean a maple fretboard?

A: To begin with, be careful! Dust off the neck gently before you begin, or even use a can of air, like you might use on a computer keyboard.  You do not want cleaner, or any fluid to get in under the frets. It’s not likely, on a finished maple neck, but possible. One way to prevent this from happening is to apply whatever nonabrasive guitar cleaner you choose and sparingly apply it directly to a microfiber cloth, not the neck.   Elbow grease is more important than cleaning solution.  A careful wipe down is what’s important here.

Try not to let the neck get too gummed up to start with, by gently cleaning and wiping the neck down every time you change the strings. Some maple necks have a very thin or seemingly no finish at all. Usually, some kind of oil or wax is used to at least partially seal the wood, but raw unfinished maple necks are out there also. This type of neck will get dirty faster than a thick glossy coated neck. Preventive maintenance will help, but sweat and dirt will get into the wood, extra fast on this type of neck.

No matter what kind of finish is on your maple neck, from thickest urethane all the way to the other end of the spectrum of raw wood, take it to a professional tech or luthier if it needs a very deep cleaning.  Any extra expense is worthwhile, if you care about the necks longevity.

 

Q: I’m thinking of changing the speaker in my Fender Blues Junior amp. Any suggestions?

A: People love to customize the Blues Junior, adding personal touches. The amp is so popular; it kicked off a small aftermarket industry.  Reverb tanks, tolex, and pine cabinets are available. Speaker swapping has a dramatic change in the amp’s character. It’s easy to swap a speaker, but be sure it’s compatible. The 15 watt Blues Junior has a 12” 8ohm speaker.

Ohms law, according to a dolt (ME):

Pouring 4 ounces, into an 8 ounce glass utilizes only half the glass’s capability.  Likewise, pouring 16 ohms into an 8ohm speaker leaves 8 ounces of the daily special on the floor. Match the ohm rating directly, for best results, and to protect your gear. The Blues Junior is 

 

15 watts. Any 8 ohm, 12 inch speaker rated for 15 watts works.

A 15 watt AlNiCo* magnet speaker from Celestion or Eminence will have a pronounced vintage British tone, with a rude midrange growl and shimmery highs. Overdrive begins at low volumes. A great match if you like traditional AC15 tone.

A 65 watt Celestion V30 is also a popular choice. You will have plenty of clean headroom with it’s higher than necessary power rating. It’s loud with defined midrange and balanced highs. Great for lead work, but not so great for drop tune players. Your mileage may vary.

The Eminence TF-1250 will help you capture traditional blackface/silverface 60’s tone, if that’s your desire. Picture the 60’s era Fender brightness and floor vibrating lows, even with the midrange rich Blues Junior.

The speakers listed here are only examples, and the tip of the Iceberg. Listen to a few, and see what you like. You may end up with more than one Blues Junior!

*AlNiCo is not a mistake. Al (aluminum) Ni (nickel) Co (Cobalt)= AlNiCo or alnico.

 

Q: Gloss or satin finish? Which is better acoustically?                 

A: Neither finish – gloss nor satin is better or worse; provided they are the same thickness.

In other words, the sheen has little to do with acoustic properties of the finish. If we are talking about an acoustic guitar soundboard (top), the finish will have more effect on the tone than for example, the guitars neck.  The guitar’s finish thickness is the factor that will most affect the tone. A thinner finish will allow the top to resonate more freely, opening the tone and allowing the wood to vibrate more naturally. This works in much the same way a thinner, or scalloped bracing has less impediment on the vibrating top (most of your acoustic guitars tone).  On a lacquer finish, the only difference between satin and gloss is how long the clear coat finish has spent on the buffing wheel. All gloss finish starts off as satin, in the case of lacquer. Polyurethane works a little differently, but should not have a negative or positive effect on tone, be it gloss or satin.

Bringing a matte finished top to full gloss is labor intensive but is not terribly invasive. The proses of buffing will not remove enough finish to make a tonal difference. Only a significantly thicker finish will alter the guitars acoustic properties, and/or resonance.

 

Q: What is Korina wood, and what does it do to my sustain?

A: There is no such thing as a Korina tree. “Korina” is a popular American moniker used for Limba wood. Its scientific name is Terminalia Superba, which is not half as cool sounding a Korina, and way harder to spell, and pronounce. “Korina” is thought of as African mahogany, though the species are not related (African mahogany is mahogany grown in Africa).  They can be used for similar applications, and commonly are. “Korina”, unlike mahogany, is not an endangered species, and not on the CITIES list. White and Black Korina both come from the same tree, just different parts. There is no “Black Limba” tree.

Enough Science?  Agreed

Korina is often used as a body wood for guitars, notoriously on 1950’s futuristic Gibson models: The Flying V, Explorer and who knows, maybe there is a priceless ‘Gumby’ shaped Gibson Moderne out there under someone’s bed (not mine, I looked).  White Korina is most commonly used for guitar bodies. It is generally light weight, and has beautiful black grain striations growing through it, not unlike Ash in its breathtaking beauty.  It’s a great choice for larger body guitars; due to white Korina’s light weight.  It’s resonant and easy to work with, laminate, and finish.  As far as extra sustain? Lots of people may not want to hear this, but sustain associated with Korina is more likely due to the design of the guitar, than its Korina body.  Korina is a fine tone wood, and does have sonic qualities not unlike fine, lightweight mahogany. Headstock pitch, neck angle and rear break angle of the strings have more to do with sustain than the body wood, though I’m sure its light weight and resonance don’t hurt.

 

Q: Can I use my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp for my acoustic guitar?

A: Sure, you can, with proper tweaking. It might work out for you in a pinch. Technically, any guitar amp will work with an electrified acoustic. The trick is getting it to sound great, and to behave (feedback, volume limitations, etc.). The band “Marcy Playground” had a big hit in the late 90s with the song “Sex and Candy”.  They are a three piece band, with drums, bass and a singer that played electrified acoustics, with a Marshall half stack.  He was seeking a unique sound by using distortion and other unorthodox effects, and he succeeded. Amps designed for electric guitar are voiced for electric guitar, and are prized for the tone they help you create.  Acoustic amps are priced for letting your Acoustic guitar speak for itself, as naturally and easily as possible.

If you simply want your acoustic electric to be louder, while preserving as much of its natural tone and essence as possible, there are many options you will probably like better than an electric guitar amp. More than ever, manufacturers are producing personal amps designed specifically for the acoustic guitar.  Feedback control and clean response is built right in. Reverb and chorus are sometimes on board, rather than distortion.  The main difference is the acoustic specific amps have “full range” voicing. Fishman’s Loudbox amp line and Fender’s Acoustasonic series have long been staples. They work great for club band settings or a large concert as a stage monitor, linked to the house PA.  In a pinch, a better choice than a dedicated “electric guitar” amp is to use a powerful, clean and full range keyboard, or bass amp. If you have access, a better choice than a dedicated “electric guitar” amp is to use a powerful, clean and “full range” keyboard, or bass amp.

 

Q: I want an amp that gives me extreme versatility, for home use. What do you recommend?

A: You are in luck! This is the age of extreme versatility at your fingertips.  My first amp had an on/off switch that doubled as a volume control, and a tone knob. It was less versatile than a broken brick.  For strictly home use, size and power won’t be a deciding factor. That works in your favor. In most cases, more power equals more money.  Thankfully, versatility comes more inexpensively these days.

Digital modeling is not new, but it is still news to some old school players, or a fresh new player, making a first amp choice.  Once upon a time, foot switching channels was a revolution. The 80’s and 90’s gave us independent channels and independent Reverb, and effects loops! Gotta sit down, my head is spinning.  Amps have come quite a way from my first amp. Here are some examples of today’s favorites for versatility, in home use amp. Yes, they all have headphone jacks for silent, covert practice.

Fender’s massively popular Mustang 1 amps are as affordable as it gets, and sound great.  Choose from 17 different amp models, tons of effects. It also has the ability to recall 24 of your favorite tones, and connect to USB for endless options.

Boss reinvents the old cube, and delivers with the razor-sharp Katana series.  The Katana 50 runs at 50, 25 or 5 watts.  4 distinct channels are tweakable by old school control knobs. Choose from 55 Boss effects (yeah, 55), and use up to 15 at once:  Enough to make Adrian Belew blush. Software included adds even more dimension.  About the only tone you probably won’t get, is the distinctly useless sound of my old “broken brick” amp. This is the age of extreme versatility. More than you will ever need is right at your fingertips.

 

Q: How many watts do I need in a guitar amp to play with a band?

A: It’s impossible to give an exact number, but I think I can help. All tube construction circuit amps have the most volume per watt, but even that notion can be deceiving. Solid state amps, hybrid, and digital amps generally will not be as loud “per watt” or carry the sound as far, though they are getting more efficient.  Many factors add up, negating a definitive ‘one size fits all’ answer. A heavily distorted sound gets washed out faster than a bright clean tone. You can test this in a big music store, just by listening. The guy testing a low volume clean amp will usually carry across the room better than a super saturated shredder. I have not given enough info to prove this observation, but reflect on the tone you’ll be using when deciding on the power rating you’ll need. Assuming your band has a drummer, you will need an amp that will be able to get you to his volume level. If your drummer hits like Bonham, using tree trunks for sticks, you might be in trouble. If your band isn’t excessively loud, a 15-watt tube amp may work:  The Vox AC15 for example. On the other hand, the 30-watt Vox AC30 was born of necessity for more volume. Many players agree the 22-watt Fender Deluxe Reverb to be “just right”. Of course, a 50-watt tube amp should cover any job. Contrary to belief, a 100-watt version of the same model amp is NOT twice as loud. 50 vs. 100-watts are only about a 4db difference, believe it or not.

Because you are not in “The Who”, most any double-digit number of “all tube” watts will probably suffice. Solid state, digital and hybrid amps may require double or triple the watt rating, especially if you use a lot of distortion.

 

Q: Do you know what effect was used in the opening of “Roundabout” by Yes?

A: There is more and less than meets the eye (ear) going on. Remember, this was recorded in 1971, before digital recording/editing, and long before guitar effects were commonly available. These guys needed to be creative with what was available. The opining segment features only two players, using some natural effects, and some studio magic. Steve Howe provides guitar work on his acoustic 00-18 Martin. The big swelling crescendo opening note is provided by Rick Wakeman hitting the lowest ‘E’ on his acoustic piano. The tape was cut and reversed, making the notes rise in volume rather than fade. Clever, clever fellas.

Howe’s acoustic work is all naturally occurring effects. He duplicates the low ‘E’ swells by striking the low E string, on the exact center of the string (the 12th fret). He doesn’t fret the note but instead places his finger lightly on the string, causing what guitar players call a “chime”.

All there is to the mysterious ‘chime’ or ‘chirp’ on a guitar is accessing the naturally occurring overtones. It works like this: A plucked string (or column of vibrating air) produces a pitch. Nearly everyone knows the term A-440. It’s describing the note ‘A’ that vibrates 440 times per second. Any organic pitch naturally creates overtones. The first overtone occurs when the string ‘cuts’ itself in half. It will continue to divide into halves, as long as it continues to vibrate. Howe accelerates and exaggerates the process when he chokes the ‘E’ note on his guitar, followed by the same ‘trick’ on the upper ‘G’, ‘B’ & high ‘E’.

That is the natural science of all music. It is called the overtone series. It’s also how Eddie Van Halen pops out a squealing dive bomb, and how a sax player hits those extra high notes.

 

Q: What is a “Hendrix E” I have heard talked about?

A: It’s a Hendrix trademark. Most rock guitar players will instantly know what chord you are talking about.  It’s actually a strange cluster of notes that have an impossibly distinctive sound. If you are a rock or jazz player, its ‘official’ name is E7#9. If you are a classical player, it’s called “knock that off”. If you lived in the dark ages, use of a chord using these notes (the tri-tone aka “Diabolus musica” -The Devils note) could get you excommunicated, or burned at the steak (for real). The most infamous use of the “Hendrix E” is in the mega classic, Purple Haze.  The notes are E, G#, D, G (natural). That is a dissonant and raunchy sounding cluster of notes, without Hendrix’s unique inversion. The “Hendrix E” a little different than a normal E7, with notes that clash deliberately.  The chord has both a major, and minor 3rd, and a minor 7th. Hendrix arranged the notes conventionally, until he throws the kitchen sink in.  G natural is added on the 8th fret of the B string. With that one more note added, we went from a somewhat normal E7, to an in your face dissonant tone cluster. To top it off, Hendrix lets the high E string ring out open. This makes the highest note in the chord, on the B string. That is “off the wall” by itself.

Hendrix does this to widen the gap between the clashing G, and G#. It also includes an interval called the tri-tone.  That’s a diminished 5th or augmented 4th. It’s the sound of a “car horn” (used to get your attention).

The Hendrix “E” has the “devils note”, or the “blue note”, occurring between the G3 (3rd) and D (7TH). It’s a kind of double whammy.  Hendrix taunts us with what’s to come with the opening intro notes (yup, a Tri-tone).

Hear this type of chord on Foxy Lady, and Voodoo Child. Hendrix is not the first to use a chord like this, but probably brought it to more ears than anyone else ever did.

 

Q: Do the Marshall 1960a and 1960b have different sounds?

A: Nope. Not one bit, assuming they are the same era cabs, with the same speakers. The difference between the 1960a angled top cab, and the 1960b straight cab is only in the taper at the top of the ‘A’ cab.  Jim Marshall said himself; he simply liked the look of it. It gave the head perched on top of the cab a complete and more designed look. The bottom cab works out better straight, to support the top cab, and even has a trough to line up the casters. Some still insist there is a sonic difference. Jim Marshall may be to blame for this also. He is said to have commented “If anyone asks, tell them it’s to help project the sound”.  The truth is that sound waves are not very directional, unless they are very high frequencies, like a small tweeter might produce. The mighty Marshall 4×12 cab is many things, but it’s NOT a tweeter. These days it’s a giant monument to days when an army of Rock Stars walked the Earth, as much as it is a great sounding giant piece of gear.  So, feel free to use one, two, or any combination of A and B cabs.  The tapered angle won’t change your tone, unless you turn it backward. I had to do that once when I had a non-master volume Marshall Plexi. Yea, it was still too loud. The drummer needed to be medevac’d to migraine a specialist (Sorry, Greg).

 

Q: What are locking tuners? Are they better?

A: On face value, a locking tuner is very much like a standard tuner, aside from a piston inside the post that locks the string in tight. You don’t even have to wrap the strings around the post: just run it through and give it the ol’ Jed Clamp-it. The string will stay in tune better when bending or the trem bar is used.

A locking nut is a whole different ball game. When all strings are locked at the same point, with no nut-slots or string tree to get snagged on, a much greater tuning stability is realized. A locking nut also allows the strings to go to slack, and spring back.

The final step is a double locked point. When the bridge and nut lock, a player can use the trem bar like a trampoline, and the guitar will stay in-tune (if properly adjusted). So why doesn’t every guitar with a trem have a double lock system? A broken string will off set the balance of a floating bridge, ironically leaving you with a guitar that is now completely out of tune. String changes take a bit longer, and generally require a hex key (that you left in your other guitar case). The locking nut can give the guitar a stiffer feel. It’s a matter of taste if you like that or not. If you have a guitar with a classic “Strat” style non locking bridge, a set of locking tuners will help keep you in tune when you hit the trem bar. Make sure the nut has some graphite, or other non-oily lubricant to help the strings glide over the nut. This and a not properly stretched string are the number one cause to go out of tune.

 

Q: Is the 3-bolt Fender neck inferior to a 4-bolt?

A: Yes! No! Sometimes!

Confused? So was I! That is, until I saw the Tom Anderson 2-bolt neck, that is tight as a drum.

The 3-bolt neck was Leo Fender’s idea. Though he was long gone from Fender in 1971 when the 3-bolt neck Fender was born, Leo Fender did some consulting for his former name sake company. I cannot back this up with direct proof, but it’s what I’ve been told by wiser men than I, and it makes sense. Leo Fender used the design on his CLF Music Man basses and guitars, as well as G&L (George & Leo). The 3-bolt neck allowed for the “micro-tilt” adjustment. Micro tilt is a very fancy name for “neck shim, made from a match book cover”. Players can now adjust the “shim” without removing the neck. This benefits the playability in the upper registers. Most players were simply confused by it, or did not know how to properly utilize it. The cold hard facts are that 3 bolts are enough to create a stable neck. I have seen some three-bolt neck guitars with a tight neck pocket, and suffer no adverse effects. I have also seen 4-bolt necks with an ill-fitting neck pocket that are not stable at all. The quality of the build has much to do with perceived lack of stability on the ole three bolters. Some (not all) of the 70’s CBS era Strats lacked the craftsmanship necessary to make the three-bolt neck work. It was not a design flaw; it was a quality control issue. As a result, the 3-bolt neck plate was done away with, and the 4-bolt neck returned (along with the smaller pre-CBS headstock) with the 1982 Fender “Smith” Strat.

 

Q: Why are combos more popular than half and full stacks today?

A: Lots and of reasons, with practicality (gulp) leading the pack. Let’s just reflect first: If you are an aggressive rock player, there is not much that compares to a full stack of two 4×12 cabs, with casters and a head on top. That’s 6 foot 5 inches of raw rock and roll fury. When turned up close to max (because, why not?) it will move the fabric of your jeans. You can lean back, and rest your shoulders on it. You can reach up and dime it, if you have the stones to do so, and you do, right? Ah, the good old days. 120db, of power, 72 inches high, and all for a crowd of 19 people (15 friends, 3 exes, and the bartender).

The reason the giant stack came to be was for guitar players to reach a huge audience, very possibly without the aid of a PA system. Tech has changed everything.  From 1970-1980 (the high-water mark for full stacks), you might be able to fit two 4×12 cabs in the trunk of your Delta 88. Today, a full stack is bigger than the average car. The cold hard facts are, there is not much a 50 or 100-watt 2×12 combo can’t accomplish that a full stack can, outside the vibe factor.  You probably won’t even need that combo with 50 watts of horsepower.  A bonus is a small combo will probably fit in the trunk of your Alfa Romero (junked the Delta 88 back in 1982, huh?)  These days people tend to play with a lower stage volume, and let the PA system do the heavy lifting.

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Mike Rock
A fixture in the Rock and Roll guitar community since 1978, Mike Rock is the “Go-To” source for Sam Ash's most intricate questions involving Guitars and related gear. A collector whose true passion is playing, Mike has performed over 2,500 gigs around the world. Mike began his musical journey studying the trumpet. While buying sheet music for a recital, Mike first heard an electric guitar through a fuzz box. Forty years later, he still maintains that the fuzz WAS germanium based (he is a bit crazy). This encounter drove Mike to his first guitar and a tube amp. Soon his guitar was heavily modified and the amp was on its 3rd replacement speaker. Mike was hunting for tone and blowing guitar speakers before there was a “boutique” or “vintage” market. It wasn’t long before Mike was buying, and validating vintage guitars and gear for some of the biggest companies in the world, finally finding a home assisting mentor and friend Sammy Ash, at the place where he heard that first Fuzz Guitar, so many years ago. Mike still performs regularly and recognizes the history and beauty of vintage and modern gear. Mike is aware not everyone is a collector and most players need a set up that works for the sound they chase, regardless of its pedigree, or vintage or status.