Tag Archives: stratocaster

First Live VG show …

So, the first live gig – last Saturday – with the VG. I fretted about taking a backup guitar but didn’t. I switched to all NIMh batteries, the AA’s in the VG lasted the whole gig (aout 8:15pm to 1am including soundchecks) but the 9v NIMh failed after 2 mins and I fell back to a Duracell. That needs some investation.

Main lesson – It worked really well live, but I MUST MUST MUST spend a day or two tweaking the settings on the Bose to get the acoustic and clean sounds in sync with the way the VG works. I’ve settled on couple of default settings (one 12, one six) and they don’t sound ‘right’ mainly because the Bose tonematch isn’t set up right.

Dirty sounds are the best I’ve ever had, especially the VG Humbucker + Womanizer combo.

Not too heavy for 4+ hours work. It’s a keeper.

The first outing

The first outing was at practice today: here’s the rig – VG Strat, Sennheiser wireless, A/B switch – one side going into a Damage Control Womanizer and the other straight through (the reasons to become apparent shortly) the straight through and the Womanizer outputs go to channels 1 & 2 of my Bose Tonematch which fronts a Bose L1 Mk2 with dual subs. The point of the straight through to channel 2 is that I can have that channel optimized for the acoustic sounds and Ch1 optimized for electric. The Tonematch takes care of all the delay, reverb, tuner and all that stuff.

After a bit of fooling around I set the electric channel up as a Strat (it was a Les Paul with the Parker), and the acoustic channel as steel string piezo (it was Taylor L5 before), and took off the reverb on the acoustic channel as it is already onboard on the acoustic sounds of the VG.

A few suprises: the ‘real’ strat (i.e. mag pickups) and the modeled strat are so close I used modeled all the time, that way I have immediate access to the tunings without fiddling with the guitar type control. Secondly, after reading other peoples blogs I went to practice (typricaly 4-5 hours) with a charged set of batteries in the guitar, and two sets of fully charged spares. It’s still going strong on the first set of batteries, so I don’t really understand what people are complaining about. I’m using NiMH 2600mAH batteries, maybe other people use smaller ones.

Next surprise – I didn’t notice the extra weight.

Other observations –

  1. The tuning stayed in from the first chord to the last, 5 hours straight. Probably the blocked trem and the locking tuners helps there. I’ve read a couple of reports that the modeling settings ‘fine tune’ your tunings in flight but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not sure how the processor could tell the difference between a 440Hz A slighly mistuned to 445Hz and a bend.
  2. The 12 string is great. In our line up (2 guitars, bass, drums) using 12-string when I’d normally use 6 string piezo for acoustic sounds very full and rich – I’m sure the Bose L1 helps a lot, but the acoustic sounds outperform the Parker.
  3. There are 5 different acoustic models, they have names (no idea what) but they are 2 good 1 mediocre and 2 awful. That’s OK, 2 good is 1 more than a piezo bridge gives you.
  4. No loss of expression, and no feeling at all that you’re not playing a ‘real’ guitar
  5. Switching settings are fiddly, there are a lot of knobs and they do different things at different times (the tone control, for instance, controls reverb in acoustic mode and is a tone control everywhere else). Add that to pedals and a/b switches and the Tonematch, I suspect being in the dark on stage is going to lead to a few mistakes. I understand why they stuck with ‘conventional’ controls, but programmable patches would be a godsend for live use.
  6. Electric sound – the strat tail and middle, modeled, regular tuning, vol & tone at 10, and the Womanizer set correctly – this is the closest sound I’ve ever come to the ‘brown’ sound I’m always looking for. Why the VG should be better than the plus is anyone’s guess but it is. Humbucker sound is pretty usable too, and the Tele works really well for CCR. We play Born on the Bayou in D and the dropped D and Tele was just right. Alright, I have to admit that it sounds better than any other guitar I own. And I own a lot, including some ‘gold standard’ vintage pieces such as a 59 LP ‘burst.
  7. The only downside – what happens if it fails on stage – doesn’t bear thinking about. Oh, also the neck is going to take some work getting used to. It’s the section, it’s fatter around the 10th fret than I’m used to, so playing a lot of barre chords in C or D for long periods hurts. I imagine I’ll get used to that, the other option is swap the Strat plus neck onto it which was the original intent anyway.

OK, enough for now.

VG Strat and guitar weights

I’ve been obsessing a little about guitar weight as we tend to play for long periods, and I’ve been a bit concerned that the VG Strat willbe to heavy to use as a main guitar.

What I really need to do is weigh them all, but I did some Googling around and came up with a factory spec weight on the VG of 8lbs 1oz. By comparison the Parker I use now is a Mahogany bodied Nitefly-M which weighs in at 6lbs 8oz and the Strat Plus (see other posts) is in the 8lb range. By the way, an average Les Paul is 9lbs.

What this means is that the VG isn’t actually any/much heavier than the Plus, and only 25oz heavier than the Parker, if the specs are right, so I can’t see this making much difference. I will actually weigh the actual guitars (as they can vary), as soon as I figure out gow to do it as I don’t think bathroom scales are accurate enough.

VG Strat – phase one

My first thought was to block the trem on the VG and switch the neck from the Plus. I think I prefer the VG neck though, so I bought a set of locking Sperzels, a set of straploks, two sets of Duracell 2650mAH AA’s, and a decent Lacrosse charger.

Fitted the Sperzels, which involves a little headstock drilling, blocked the trem, restrung with Ernie 9’s, setup the action and intonation. Fitted the Straploks. Next will be the first practice next week and a practical outing.

By the way, the trem cover on a VG is metal. If you block the trem you either have to leave it off (which I did), modify it, or remove it every time you break a string – not happening.

VG Strat – first impressions

First impressions – Firstly it’s a bit heavy. I’m used to playing the Parker so I guess it’s going to seem that way. Next, it’s really well built. I don’t know why that should be a surprise but most new strats I’ve played have seemed, well, not quite up to the price tag.

The modeling is really pretty good. I tested it through the Boogie head and Marshall 4×12 – it’s tough to tell the difference between the real strat pickups and the modeled strat. Jury is out on the Tele sound, I need to play it some more. Humbucker is pretty good, acoustic (as far as I can tell with this amp rig) is probably pretty good, although you pick 5 different acoustic models using the Strat pickup selector and only two of them sound good. It should be better through the Bose L1.

Tunings – I’ll probably use 12 string more than any of the others, maybe drop D. The others are fun but I probably won’t use them in reality. Shame there’s no open E.

Problems I can see – I keep reading posts about battery life, we normally play four sets of 45 mins, so plus sound checks and encores etc, I guess about 4 hours. Two sets of 2600mAh rechargeables should deal with that.

Next problem – the controls might be a bit fiddly (and hard to see) on stage; I’m going to have to learn them by feel.

Next – I *thought* the model modes alighed your tuning for you. I’m not sure that’s true.. with the nasty (well, I don’t like it) strat trem and no locking tuners staying in tune could be an issue.

No straploks, at least that part s an easy fix.

Fender VG Strat

I bought this VG Strat, in excellent condition, on eBay for $901 in late March 2009. It looks like it’s hardly been played, and came with all the paperwork, hang tags, etc. I’ve been tempted by the VG as a live guitar for a while, but couldn’t bring myself to pay the new price. After working with the Strat Plus (see other post) it seemed more sense to go for the VG rather than put a Fishman bridge in the Plus (although I might still do that in the future). Here’s how it looked as I received it.

After the first outing

After the first real usage (3 hours) of it – a few thoughts;

Firstly it needs to get a set of straploks so I can use a wider strap, I’d forgotten how light the Parker was compared to almost any other guitar. I’m guessing the Strat is 2+ lbs more. Next, I need to do more EQ tweaking with my standard rig (by the way, this is a Damage Control Womanizer pedal with two 12AX7 tubes feeding a Bose L1 Mark 2 with Tonematch). The sound definitely cuts through the mix top end, but (as usual) I have trouble with the sound being a little too thin, and not ‘live’ enough with distortion.

The neck will take a little getting used to, but is generally more comfortable than the Parker. Oddly, the guitar seems to be a bit neck-heavy. The string setup will work fine for now.

Next steps: Straploks, a Fishman bridge and the associated gubbins for the acoustic parts, and maybe, just  maybe, a humbucker for the bridge pickup to make it HSS. It’ll mean doing some routing under the pickguard, and some creativity in where to put the 9v battery so you don’t have to take the pickguard off every time you change the battery. Look, this was never intended to be a collectors piece.

I’ve also just acquired a Strat VG which of course will theoretically do all this anyway, but has alot of on board electonics and may not prove reliable. If I do go all strat then this Plus will end up being either primary or backup so it’s important to get it right.

Initial thoughts

This is the story of a USA made 1987 Fender Stratocaster Plus, Serial E471618, which I acquired in late March 2009 on eBay for $799. It’s supposed to be 1987, and the serial number kind of bears that out. The rear trem spring cover was missing, it had one or two minor dings (nothing serious) and an awful setup.

Although some people tip the Strat Plus to be a future collectible, that wasn’t the reason for getting it. I’m trying to build/integrate a replacement, or maybe an alternative to the Parker Nitefly that I’ve been playing almost exclusively for the last couple of years, and this will almost definitely mean some, er, modifications. I’m still undecided as to exactly what those will be, but they’ll include some kind of piezo/acoustic capability at the very least.

First step is to use it for a practice session, which I’m doing tonight. I’ve just blocked the trem and removed the lever, thrown a new set of Ernie Ball 9’s on there and given it a quck setup. While I was doing that I noticed it has some fret wear (well, it is 22 years old) but in my opinon that a *good* thing – it means it plays well as someone  has been playing it. There’s also a crack in the fingerboard around the 18th fret on the treble side but that’s purely cosmetic. Stringing with the needle roller nut is a bit weird but at least I was used to the locking Sperzels.

Addendum – May 28th 2012

OK, so since writing the original post three years ago, I’ve had an adventure with a VG Strat … which ended  up being replaced by a Variax 700 and a Pod X3 Live, and then a custom Variax, then briefly a Gibson Dusk Tiger, the Parker again, then an Ovation GP Ultra. Why? Because I spent ages chasing my tail to avoid having to change guitars to play acoustic songs, and I was compromising on everything just for that reason, which is ridiculous. I bought a better acoustic (a Martin OMC) and went to a non-Piezo guitar – the Ultra GP and switched the Pod X3 Live for a Zoom 9.2tt because I wanted the tubes to ‘warm up’ the Bose L1.

Anyhow, the point is that I’ve dropped the whole Piezo/modeling guitar thing, it just doesn’t sound right. So where does the Strat Plus fit in?

Although I love the GP Ultra, it has three design problems – firstly it’s heavy (not much to be done about that) second it has a wrap around bridge, which I’ve never liked, and third it has regular tuning keys, not locking Sperzels. I almost bit the bullet and took a drill to the GP .. which would slaughter it’s value. Instead, I got the Strat plus out. It has the Sperzels, it’s light, it has the roller nut (not everyone’s taste, but it avoids my usual Strat problem of the high E jumping out of the nut). The lace sensors though .. too weedy.

Of course with a Strat, you can do a whole electronics transplant really easily. Looking around, I found the Seymour Duncan Everything Axe pickguard replacement, with all humbuckers. That should do the trick. I also ordered some Graphtec saddles – the trem is already blocked.

Hopefully it won’t be another three years before I post on this again!