I've never been particularly impressed with popular, name brand equipment, whether in my radio hobby, or in my music hobby. It's just not a part of who I am. I have always had the belief that you can make do with moderate equipment -- you just learn to work with it.
I've especially applied this notion to guitars.
I've heard a lot of crap music being made on Gibsons and Fenders, even ones equipped with name-brand aftermarket pickups like Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and EMG. For example, half the mediocre hair bands from the 1980's used excellent, high tech, high dollar equipment, but not all of their music has stood the test of time. The good hair bands (and there were a few -- Ratt being one of them) used high tech guitars also... but that's beside the point. The high tech didn't make the music good -- the musicians playing the guitars did.
Eddie Van Halen revolutionised music with a throw-together guitar and there is a suspicion that the pickup installed in the guitar he used on the first Van Halen album was a Mighty Mite (apparently a budget aftermarket pickup company), albeit modified. I rest my case.
Another example is the blues guitar players from the 1930's through the 1950's, some of whom had cheaper guitars. Now that dry thump sound of plywood acoustics is sought after by some acoustic blues players. And famous slide guitarist Ry Cooder's favorite guitar is a Teisco (a cheap Japanese brand from the 1970's -- they weren't bad guitars; sometimes all they needed were minor modifications and they would play quite well).
My favorite guitar -- a Daimaru. Probably made at the same factory in Japan that made Teiscos. Rebuilt, Decca pickup covers removed, bobbins painted black.It's just a fact that you can make good sounding music on second or third rate equipment -- it's just a matter of getting the best from it.
Recently I received a free guitar. An Ibanez Gio. Ibanez make good guitars, and the Gio series is their budget line. Evenso, it is well made. The neck is thin and easy to play, the frets are awesome and the fit and finish is good on the guitar. The tuners are a budget variety, but they hold tune well and I oil them about once a month with light oil, which helps them tune smoother and will probably extend their life by a decade or so. Some day I may put some Gotohs on it but that day is a long way off...
The guitar is a pleasant color -- a purplish shade of metallic red with maroon overtones that I believe Ibanez calls "Magenta Crush."
From the first time I started to play the Gio, I had to adjust it to my playing. The low E bridge saddle needed to be filed shorter to intonate and resonate well on low D (I have the guitar tuned to D-standard). I filed the bottoms of the height adjustment screws flatter to give the saddles more positive contact with the bridge plate; I filed the tops of the adjustment screws down a little to keep them from digging into my hand while playing; I had to lower the slots on the nut to get the lower register chords to intonate better (I press rather hard on the strings). I tightened the tremolo springs all the way down to bring out the sustain of the guitar. It sings.
Then there were the pickups. The single coil Powersounds had a scooped quality -- they are very clear, with lots of treble, adequate bass, and have very high definition. Some guys on the 'net dislike Powersound single coils because they "don't have character." I've found they have their own sort of character, and it's a bright sort of neutral, but very usable and very musical sound. I can get a close tone to 70's guitarist Robin Trower's strat tone with them (backing off the volume and treble a bit, and running it through a Boss phaser and Boss distortion), and I can get a good, clear, jazzy tone out of the single coils also -- which especially shines through when using effects boxes, like phaser, chorus, and echo.
When running the guitar through effects boxes the definition that the Powersound single coils exhibit works well -- sometimes with effects a guitar's sound can get muddied, but it isn't so with the pickups on my Gio. With the Powersounds, the almost transparent nature of the pickups -- even when distorted -- makes the effects really sing out, especially modulation and delay effects like chorus and phaser.
A close up of the Powersound humbucker in my GRX-40 Ibby Gio.
The Powersound humbucker is a different story. It is a Super Distortion clone with a ceramic magnet, and has fairly high output -- it breaks up very quickly and easily. It took a bit for me to get used to it, as my other humbucker equipped guitars are bluesy sounding rock guitars with moderately high output that have a different 'breaking up' point. The Powersound humbucker has more of an 80's metal sound. I found it works well through effects, and has definition and clarity, but it's anything but bluesy. It will roar, but it doesn't really 'sing' unless you really pick hard, or pick very softly.... It sounds great when you pick softly, and sounds good full-out -- but there is a very thin threshold between the two that takes getting used to.
I found that it mixed well with the other two pickups, not overpowering them. Backing it up from the strings cleared up the tone a lot. I have my Powersound humbucker about 4-5 mm from the strings. Any closer, it breaks up too quickly, making it less usable for anything but just full-out 80's metal sounds.
An old color pic I took of my Ibanez Gio GRX-40 -- it has a non-standard Magenta Crush color and was made in China in 2000, when Nu-Metal was king, Van Halen's sound was still sought after by everybody, and high output on bargain pickups was the way to go.
Still, even after backing the pickup away from the strings, the Powersound humbucker just wasn't something I wanted to use a lot. Then two things happened: I got into some of the chorus/echo guitar music of the 80's, where the guitars aren't so distorted, and I discovered a distorted guitar sound that this Powersound humbucker imitated quite well: that of a 70's Flying V.
As for the first discovery, I found that by playing with the amp on a cleaner setting, the pickup has a good tone, especially through a chorus and delay. Pinch harmonics really sing and warble. The pickup responds to differences in attack quite well. You can get that 80's humbucker / chorus / delay sound fairly accurately. You can pick very lightly and the clean tones sing out really well, if you have a good amp with some compression built in.
The Powersound humbucker's more neutral sounding tone highlights the effects really well.
If you pick harder, you get an 80's metal/rock tone rather easily also.
The other discovery -- the Flying V imitation -- that happened by accident.
Now, Flying V's are cool looking guitars. But every recording I've heard of one sounded rather thin -- like a humbucker without much wood around it: which, actually is the case with a V. There isn't much wood around the pickups themselves. Compared to a Les Paul or even an SG, Flying V's sound kinda flat.
STEVE LOVE AND THE STORIES, AND A FLYING VOne of my favorite bands from the 1970's was a band most people haven't heard of: Ian Lloyd and the Stories. They had a hit song called Brother Louie, an R&B pop track, but their albums sounded like a different band entirely. They had songs that were almost baroque rock, and other songs that were progressive space rock. The guitar player for the Stories was a lesser known but accomplished player named Steve Love. He played in the Stories, and then left the Stories and played with Jobriath, an up and coming glam rocker from New York City who never quite made it. After his stint with Jobriath, Steve Love faded into obscurity.
Steve Love played a Flying V, apparently (at least according to a video I've seen of him) with a Super Distortion bridge pickup installed.
One day I was listening to the Stories' song "Please Please", one in which Steve Love has some key guitar parts. And there it was: that sound. A thinnish, but intense, steely tone. A sound that was ice-cold, but biting and snarly. Anything but bluesy, but still cool. Even though it wasn't a sound I would seek out, it was one I liked hearing.
I realised it sounded just like the humbucker on my Gio. I strapped on my guitar and played along with the CD. The tone was quite similar. Remarkably similar. It gave me a new appreciation for the "cheap" Powersound humbucker equipped on my guitar. It was a sound I probably wouldn't seek out, but it was still very usable. And different from my other guitars.
An Ibanez 882 with Matao Strat guts -- I built it myself. One of my best sounding guitars. Basically, a thrift store and Radio Shack parts special. Cheap can sound good.
I guess my purpose for writing this tome is that while some musos knock certain instruments, I think you can get a decent tone out of almost ANY instrument. Every instrument, just like every person, has a unique voice, and you just have to find it and work with it. It may not be your cup of tea -- the steelish snarl of a V isn't my favorite guitar voicing -- but it can be usable, and even something you can work with, and you can grow to like it enough to express yourself with it.
You can even write songs around it.
You can even write songs around it.
So whenever I want a thinnish, steely snarl like a 70's Flying V, I know where to go to get that sound: the Powersound humbucker on my Ibby Gio.