Saturday, September 20, 2008

Goodbye Mr. Crudfinger

I honestly don't know how I forgot to include this exceptional product in my "Small Change . . . Big Tone" post - - but I did.

I was introduced to Kyser's Dr. Stringfellow Guitar String Cleaner & Conditioner by Brakin' Records solo recording artist & good friend Craig Schulte. Being a performing musician on budget, and not having the lettuce to re-string his axes with new strings each and every nite, Dr. Stringfellow String Conditioner was Craig's answer to preserving that “freshly re-strung” tone, as well as significantly extending string life.

About the cost of a new set of strings, a bottle of Dr. Stringfellow will last for months – maybe even years (*depending on how many guitars you have.) Applied with a soft, lint-free cloth, it removes all of the tone-robbing oils and skin crud left over from regular playing, leaving in its place a snappy, vibrant, and re-vitalized guitar string. Bravo!

Dr. Stringfellow has been a integral part of my regular guitar maintenance regimen for over (13) years, and thus comes highly recommended. - - J.

Guns n' Delusions

Some recent web-browsing uncovered another wave of “rumblings” regarding Guns n’ Roses long-fabled studio release Chinese Democracy. Apparently, the album is done (???), and the powers that be are now haggling over royalties, distribution rights, and the omnipresent marketing salvo that is typical to high-profile releases.

Having heard the whole convoluted story line countless times over the past fourteen years (*yes, I said (14) years), I can only imagine what real G n’ R fans are thinking. Will this be “the one”? Will it actually happen? Will they tour behind it? Will Axl be sporting his American flag spandex shorts or his kilt? Better yet - will he self-destruct mid-tour? (*even money says he does!!) And the question of all questions: will it spawn a reunion tour with all of the original members? So many questions . . . so few answers.

Looking back, there’s no getting around the fact that in their heyday, G n’ R was truly a force to be reckoned with. Style-wise - they had it all: the chemical-powered raunchiness of Get Your Wings-era Aerosmith; the punk-ish, shotgun delivery of vintage Ramones; epic, Zeppelin-esque songwriting abilities; the tatoo’ed, bad-boy gaffe; and perhaps best of all, a Les Paul-wielding, Marshall-powered juggernaut of a guitar player who called himself Slash. Stir that drink with an ample dose of hair-trigger egos, add in an insatiable appetite for anarchy – and you have yourself an enticing, but extremely dangerous rock n’ roll cocktail. Indeed, the stuff of legend.

Sadly, the same things that contributed to their success were also harbingers of their eventual demise. Fame often causes individuals to lose touch with reality, and in the case of Axl Rose, it was a very plausible explanation. As put so aptly by fellow Tone Farm contributor James Reetz, “the difference between a great band and a legendary band may be tied to the neurotic nature of the lead singer (VH, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, STP / Velvet Revolver, Audioslave / Rage Against The Machine ...) I'm sure it takes an enormous amount of chemistry to make something that really kills, but at the same time - that chemistry is too volatile to control for long. The greatest ones are destined to split.” Rock n’ roll Zen, my friends.

However you choose to view the news, you can color me uninterested. The music industry hype machine has long been a sore spot in my book, and the G n’ R situation only adds fuel to that fire. Having weathered similar disappointment with KISS’ Psycho Circus (*which publicity whore Gene Simmons had the gall to compare to the band's seminal, multi-platinum smash Destroyer), I could really care less as to whether or not the much bally-hoo'd Chinese Democracy ever sees the light of day.

My point of this whole bit: fuck Guns n’ Roses. Go out and support your local music scene. Support independent artists / musicians whenever and however you can. There’s a wealth of amazing talent to be found on online sites like Our Stage, Acid Planet (*linked to the right under Back Forty), or any number of web destinations that feature independent artists. If you know of others, by all means, tell us about them. It's about time we give the music / radio industry the collective finger they so rightfully deserve! - - J.

Undisputed Tone

The Fender Champ is an amplifier that can trace its roots back to the earliest days of amplified guitar. Legions of aspiring players and guitar greats have employed its no-nonsense Class A tone in everything from garage practice to hi-end studio work. Seeking to capitalize on that formula once again, Fender has re-issued the venerable Champ in the form of the Super Champ XD.

Unlike the Champs of old, the SCXD boasts several new "twists" in the way of (16) digital "voicings" (Channel 2) and (5) digital effects. Oh yes, Fender is proudly waving the “all-tube-powered” flag above their Vintage Modern line - which essentially is true; they are, in fact, all-tube powered. However, Fender does employ some digital sleight of hand in both of their XD models (Super Champ / Vibro Champ), making them "hybrid animals" of sorts (*mainly digital voicing and effects). This is not a bad thing at all - actually quite to the contrary. The nod to digital obviously has some Fender purists growling their obligatory curses (they’re an extremely tough crowd to please) - but budget-conscious bottom-feeders like myself will enjoy the SCXD’s dual channels, wealth of usable tones, and all-around tubey deliciousness (*thanks to two 6V6's and one 12AX7.)

Where the Champ's voicing channel covers a broad spectrum of tones - the amp's first channel is devoted solely to a single elixir: the classic Blackface clean tone. Truth be known, if all the SCXD had was this one channel, it'd still be worth the money. Silky, glass-like timbres purr effortlessly from every nook and cranny of a Stratocaster. The twangly rumble of a driven Tele is but a few quick top-hat knob twists away. Pedals also meld beautifully with Ch. 1, making the SCXD's optional foot-switch all but a necessity. That is - if you can find one to buy.

Channel 2 holds (16) different “voicings” – (6) of which are based on vintage Fender tones (Tweed, Blackface); and another on the Hot Rod series. Other tones include (2) Marshall settings; a Vox; a nicely-done "boutique" (*which I'm guessing is a Mesa-Boogie); and (2) clean Fender amps - a Jazz King and Acoustasonic. The tweakability for each is pretty straight-forward, and all are reasonable incarnations of the real thing. As one would expect, the Fender tones are the best, with the "boutique" not too far behind.

Having owned an all-solid-state Cyber Champ a few years ago, the “voiced” channels held some familiarity in regards to tone and response. The SCXD’s all-tube power section lends a bit more authenticity to them, however, and provides the player with the unmistakable touch and feel found only in the analog realm.

Like the voiced channel, Ch. 1 can be sculpted further with the amp's treble, bass, and onboard effects. Gain on Ch.1 is achieved the old fashioned way - - i.e. cranking it up, and letting the tubes saturate. The resulting effect is lovely, even if a bit "tethered" by the amp’s 10" speaker and smaller cabinet.

Amongst the throngs of vintage, low-watt knock-offs and fluffed-up boutique offerings saturating the gear market these days - the Champ still remains a American rock n' roll original. The SXCD continues this storied tradition with great usable tones all over the dial; a warm, organic tube feel; a retro-cool vintage aesthetic; and a total kick to play. In short - everything you'd expect from a great Fender tube amp. At $299, it’s an extremely hard deal to pass up.

Next – SCXD Pt. II – Tale of the Tape - - J.