Guitar Jar Wednesday, Feb 11 2009 

It seems like a year ago, but I’m sure it was less.  Matt mentioned to me the idea of a Guitar Jar.  Simple enough, just a change jar but with a goal.  I loved the idea and started one immediately.

Around Festivus, I had some gift money and decided to cash in the jar as it was becoming quite full; to my surprise there was more than $70.00 accumulated in there!  This paid for most of the Crate V5 amp I picked up awhile back.

The beauty of the jar is this:  I don’t need a new guitar, and I didn’t need a new amp, so it’s hard to spend money that could be allocated to more justifiable things on them.  I do, however, want, no, desire these things, so the guitar jar provides a way to placate that desire, moving them from the “never” category to the “eventually” one.

Something profound changes when you move your desires from the former to the latter; hope springs from this and that hope is a powerful fuel to get you through the things you have to do and on to the things you want to do.  It’s funny how something as simple as an old coffee can can change your life, if you apply the guitar jar philosophy to your more ambitious goals.

…like becoming a filmmaker, or an independent software developer, or a motorcycle mechanic.

Now that my guitar jar has been emptied I need a new target for it to fixate on and I believe I’ve found it in the new ESP LTD EX-400.  I’ve wanted an ESP ever since I first laid eyes (and fingers) on one but always considered them out of reach.  I don’t know all the history behind it, but with the LTD line there is finally something that fall within guitar jar range, without giving up the characteristics that make it the descendant of the legendary ESP guitars.

ESP LTD EX-401 (black)

ESP LTD EX-401 (black)

I just started plunking change back in the jar a week or so ago, and based on even the impressive accumulation rate from before, these guitars will no longer be new by the time I’m ready to pick one up, which is good, maybe I’ll get a price break eh?

…I’m also on the hunt for an affordable (under $40) used Boss Metal Zone, if you happen to have one…

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Guitar Performance Wednesday, Nov 19 2008 

What follows is a recollection of my mis-adventures in trying to get my hands on a Crate V5 guitar amplifier. There is allot of opinion online about these amps but guitar amps, like most things, you really need to “try one on” to know if you’re going to like it.

So I’m driving down East Wash. trying to wolf down my microwaved leftovers, knowing that I’ll be within walking distance of Monty’s and I loose my sense of judgment when I’m this hungry.

I find the place with no problem (Good-N-Loud) but I’m mystified by the parking situation. After two laps around the block I settle in to a street spot with a few ticks left on the meter and finish my lunch.

I pop out and drop $1.05 in the meter which for some reason buys me 1 hour and six minutes; plenty of time. Again I pace around the building trying to figure out how to get inside, finally realizing that the door is around the corner, on the other street. Finding this does me little good however; it’s 11:45am and they open at noon. I need to kill some time.

At this point I determine that it’s serendipity for me to visit Monty’s, at least for a chocolate malt.

I sit down at the bar and after a boy cleans my spot the waitress drops off a menu and asks what I’d like to drink. I feel guilty for ordering “just a beverage” and flip through menu. When she comes back I order a side of fries and she says “A malt and fries, now that’s an American Lunch!”. Twenty minutes later I’m back on the street.

This time the door is open so I wander in and it looks like they’re still unpacking and setting the place up. I ask if they carry Crate amps (remember this was the whole point of this mission) and he points at one rough looking pile – “we have that used one”. He asks the other guy if they have them at the west-side store and he half-shrugs and continues staring at the computer screen. Out of apathy I take a look around the store, and while there’s not much of a selection of amps and effects, there are a lot of guitars… and accessories.

It’s nice to know I won’t have to go all the way to the west side of town the next time I need strings.

I head back to the car with about 10 minutes spare on the meter. Pulling out on to the street, I’m thinking about where I can go to listen to one of these things (I called Guitar Center this morning and the said they carry Crate but were completely out of stock). A block or two down the road, I pass this place called so-and-so’s Guitar Shop.

I vaguely remember this place, although I think it used to be called “Sound Logic” back when I lived down on Willy St. I may have been in there once, but it had closed down for years. Out of curiosity I pull off onto a side street and park.

The first thing I notice as I approach are the piles classic, vintage amps in the front window. I figure this is just to get people in the door, who would really treat a Fender Champ this way?

When I get in the door (and I can barely get in the door) I’m greeted by piles of gear on the floor with a narrow pathway cut in a circle through a sea of new and classic guitar gear. A quick glance and I see several vintage Marshall amps, a Mesa Boogie, a Peavey 5150, countless Fender and VOX amps and assorted PA, keyboard and effects boxes.

Looking up, the walls on either side of the narrow shop are literally plastered with guitars ranging from new jap-strat squire’s to classic Gibson’s and Rickenbacker’s. I look down in front of me and there is a stack of Crate V5’s, still in their shipping containers; there must be at least twelve of them right here.

From the back of the shop I hear a madman. He’s talking to someone about something that he’s repaired, talking about hand-winding a transformer with fuck-this and shit-that interspersed in between. The “customer” listens, only interrupting to comment on the virtuoso nature of the shops’ repair skills.

I attempt to walk to the back of the shop and notice a V5 stacked on top of a beautiful Fender twin reverb, unboxed and plugged in. I attempt to reach the owner to see if I can try one out and he continues to talk to the previous patron, now about some sort of watch he got out of a catalog and then a steam-cleaner he bought off TV. Finally the other customer works his way around the loop of open floor and out the door; my chance to speak with the proprietor has come.

I walk up to the counter and he continues to ignore me. After a few minutes he gives me a “what are you waiting for?” look and I finally ask him, “Can I test-drive one of these Crate V5’s?”

“Yeah, shit, you’ll be surprised”

For some reason he grabs the amp, unplugs it, moves it about 15 feet closer to the door, grabs a different cord and plugs it back in. He asks what I want to play and I ask for “any strat with a humbucker at the bridge”, hoping he picks out something cheap. He hands me a nice standard-looking Stratocaster without looking and walks to the back of the shop, disappearing into some hidden room.

Lucky for me I carry a pick in my wallet.

I jack the strat in, turn the volume down on the amp and flip the switch. The power light illuminates immediately. I don’t have a lot of experience with tube equipment but I have an old tube AM radio from the 1940’s and it takes at least three minutes before it shows any signs of life.

I strum the strat and slowly increase the gain on the amp; a nice, bright, clean sound rises up.

I spend about three minutes noodling on the guitar, checking out how various strumming and picking sounds appear from the speaker. I switch pickups, try the single-coil at the neck and try a little finger-picking.

This thing sounds good; I say this out loud.

“I thought you’d be surprised, that little amp will rock your ass off” comes from somewhere in the back.

I switch back to the humbucker and crank up the gain. I want to see what this thing sounds like overdriven. It has no “master volume” control, so in addition to being distorted, it’s also at maximum volume. I pick a few muted notes and it sounds crunchy but the tone isn’t obliterated the way my Peavey sounds. You can control the amount of clipping with your playing, very cool. I strum a big, open power chord,

“Careful with that humbucker, you’ll blow out the goddamn speaker.” he says factually, without emotion.

I turn the amp back down and play a little more as he emerges from the hidden room and joins me out front. We talk a little bit about the amp, how it sounds amazing for only five watts and about the price (his price is $110.00). He then goes off about how Crate has completely “screwed the pooch” by selling out to some company in Seattle who shut down Crate’s American plant and moved manufacturing to China, etc. At this point I can’t decide if this means he likes the amp or not, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

I hung up the strat and told him that “I know what’s going on my xmas list”, without interest he’s already turned away and is fiddling with some piece of equipment against the other wall and as another customer filters in, I filter out.

On the walk back to the car I figure out why this felt familiar; this place is the Motorcycle Performance of guitars, and I think I just met Bill’s fraternal twin brother.

*Note: the real name of this establishment is “Greg Ginter’s Guitar Shop of Wisconsin” and it can be found at 2215 Atwood Avenue, Madison WI 53704.  It’s my new favorite guitar store.