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Giveaway Guitar Waiting for a New Home

inCaseWith the start of the 2009 Fundraiser / Giveaway there are four new guitars in my home just waiting to be sent to their new home. Well, three of the four are here and one is on the way.

If you haven’t heard, we’re in the midst of our Annual Fundraiser / Giveaway. We beg for money from you to help run the website for the next year and just for fun, we give away $12,000+ in free gear to reward you for supporting the website. To read more or to make a donation (and enter the drawing) just click on this LINK

Cool Twang Personified

Cool Twang Personified

Lets start with the Grand Prize Fender Custom Shop La Cabronita Especial. This guitar just exudes cool. The Dakota Red color is perfect for this guitar. Surprisingly, it’s not a standard color for this guitar. If you buy a “stock” Cabronita Especial you have a choice of black or gunmetal gray. But Red seems just right to me.

caseThe guitar comes in a very nice black tolex case with an embroidered Custom Shop logo inside on the back “fur” lining.

relicThere is heavy relicing going on here. If you win this one (sorry… when you win, many of you just corrected me) don’t worry about knocking a bit of a finish off the body on this one. The neck is perfect — thick, but not too, and feels completely worn in. Cool pearl button turners and a giant Fender logo unlike any other.headstock

TVjonesPupThis guitar has only one pickup, and it’s a wicked TV Jones Classic pickup and has a meaty kind of Tele Twang that is different from a Tele pickup but nonetheless twangs with like a Tele should. TDP Moderator Tim Armstrong was here today and when he played the Especial he said, “crank the delay this guitar is made to rock-a-billy.”

It’s light and custom in every way. Including the special La Cabronita Especial decal on the back of the guitar.LCE-logo

Let’s face it, this is an expensive one of a kind Custom Shop kind of guitar — one that you’ll want to take home to your house on November 18th. How expensive? Well the CS Price List shows an MSRP of $4,800 for the STOCK colors. I don’t want to ask how much a special color adds to the pricing.

Here’s a video from the Fender Custom Shop showing off both this model and the Two Pickup version. So, you can get an idea of the sound you’ll get from this beauty when it’s in your home.

Will this especial guitar make it’s new home at your home? Only time will tell. Somebody has to win it. It might as well be you. Don’t you agree?

To read more or to make a donation (and enter the drawing) just click on this LINK



Specs (adapted from two pickup model):

Series: Limited Collection
Model Name: La Cabronita Especial
Model Number: 923-6666-(Color #) (two-p’up model)
Colors: (606) Black, (644) Shoreline Gold, (Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish)
Body: Select Lightweight Alder
Neck: 1-Piece Maple, Large “C” Shape, (Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish)
Fingerboard: Maple, 9.5” Radius (241 mm)
No. of Frets: 21 Dunlop® 6105 Narrow Jumbo Frets
Pickup: 1 TV Jones® Classic Pickup (Bridge)
Controls: Master Volume, and Tone control
Bridge: Deluxe Chromed Brass Bridge Plate with Solid Stainless Steel Saddles
Machine Heads: Sperzel® Die-Cast Tuning Machines with White Pearloid Buttons
Hardware: Nickel/Chrome
Pickguard: 1-Ply Parchment
Scale Length: 25.5” (648 mm)
Width at Nut: 1.6875” (43 mm)
Unique Features: La Cabronita Especial Decal on Back Rear of Body, Knurled Chrome Tele Knob, Bone Nut, Relic® Finish Shows Natural Wear and Tear of Years of Heavy use, Nicks, Scratches, Worn Finish, Rusty Hardware and Aged Plastic Parts.
Strings: Fender Standard Tension™ ST250R, Nickel Plated Steel, Gauges: (.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046)
Accessories: Deluxe Black Hardshell Case (Black Crushed Velvet Interior), Strap, Cable, Polishing Cloth, Certificate of Authenticity
Case: Deluxe Black Hardshell Case

The Presence knob

It seems like forever that I have been plagued by misconceptions about the Presence knob on my amplifier (is it a Treble#2 knob?). After all of this time building my own amps I’ve now come to an understanding of what it really does on a technical level and now I use it more.

In a nutshell, the Presence knob is mainly a Negative Feedback Loop control (NF), and in plain language this means a bit of the output (directly from the speaker jack) is fed back into the amp’s signal to:

  • Widen the frequency response (lower lows, higher highs).
  • Flatten frequency response (make lows, mids, and highs more even in volume to each other).
  •  It reduces distortion and increases headroom (more clean on the Volume knob) in the areas affected by the NF circuit.
  • Finally, it changes the way the amp responds by reducing the reaction between the amp and the speaker. Amps with NF are tighter and have better bass, amps without are more dynamic.

A final addition to most Presence/NF circuits is a capacitor which bypasses certain frequencies. What this means is that usually the highs are NOT fed back into the amp’s signal, therefore they’re not “balanced” out or tamed and are more present or bright.  A Resonance control is a NF that allows Bass frequencies to bypass the loop and therefore adds more Bass instead.

It is also crucial where you place the NF circuit.  Most are fed into the unused input of a Phase Inverter.  Some PI’s do not have an “extra” input there or place the NF into an earlier part of the preamp (in single ended amps, it might be the only place to put it since they lack Phase Inverters).

And even some amps (like the Vox AC30 and AC15 and Fender’s tweed Deluxe, or “57 Deluxe”) do not have NF or Presence controls. This lowers headroom and makes an amp have a more gradual change into overdrive, making it good for players who like to find the “sweetspot” between clean and dirty on their amp’s Volume setting.  Therefore, some blues players may prefer an amp without NF for its feel.

Commonly, there are at least two parts to a NF circuit: the NF resistor (from the speaker jack) and a shunt resistor to ground.  Lower valued NF resistors makes for more NF, likewise larger valued shunt resistors also make for more NF.  Replacing the shunt resistor with a Presence/Resonance pots makes the amount of NF adjustable.  A capacitor (depending on value) at the pot can determine what frequency avoids NF attenuation.

Typically, classic blackface Fender amps use more NF (820 ohm with a 100 ohm shunt) than Marshalls (100k with a 5k shunt or Presence pot) and both are placed at the PI.  A very basic NF example is the Fender Champ’s 22k NF resistor from the speaker jack to the preamp’s 2nd stage cathode.  Some folks add switches to turn On/Off NF from the amp, some add Presence and Resonance controls, and some customize their NF circuit values to taste.

Compare some of your favorite amp layouts (for beginners) or schematics and follow what happens from the speaker jack back into the amp circuit and get ready to mod Negative Feedback/Presence circuits in your own amp!


Going Nuts Over Nuts

terry_downsI am very picky about how the nuts are cut on my personal guitars as well as others I work on. Most all new guitars from the factory have nuts with shallow string slots, resulting in notes played near the nut being sharp. Most people agree there should be an equal spacing distance between the strings, not equal distance between the centers of the string. When cutting a nut from a blank, some folks use the Stewmac string spacing ruler. It is a great tool and I have used it a number of times. It has spacing slots that proportionally increase in separation along the length of the ruler. This would be ideal if the next bigger string in your set was the same ratio larger than the one before and so on. Here is a plot of the percentage of one string diameter to the next for two string sets. The first data point is the how much larger the 2nd string is to the 1st. The second data point is how much larger the 3rd string is to the 2nd, and so on. Notice the huge variation.


I developed an Excel spreadsheet that will take the following inputs:

  • String Diameters (read from the pack)
  • Margin from the edge of the nut to the outside edge of strings 1 and 6 (usually 0.120”)
  • The nut length (measured with a caliper)
  • The fretboard radius (either known or measured)

The spreadsheet will calculate the centerlines of the string spacing so there is equal distance from the edge of one string to the edge of the other. A graph is generated to depict the diameters and spacing It also takes into account the radius of the neck. This improvement in accuracy by taking the radius into account is negligible. I just did it because I could. The spreadsheet is in the Musician’s Workbook downloadable here:


Here is a demo of the spreadsheet.


Once the centerlines are calculated, one can use a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) program to draw a paper template that can be cut out and glued to the nut for precise cutting. There is a free CAD tool available for download here:

 Here is a video demonstrating how to draw the nut template with CadStd.

Here is the template glued to the nut.


A 0.009” fret slot file can be used to begin the slotting process for the most accuracy.


I’m sure most of you think this is overkill, but if the capability exists, why not use it? Happy nut cutting.terry_downs

How To Develop Musical Vocabulary

VictorIn the previous article I discussed the importance of learning vocabulary for a player regardless of the style you play. Here is a more step-by-step breakdown of the procedure.

The first thing you must do is find musicians that exemplify your style and who possess a great deal of vocabulary. For example, Brent Mason for country, Johnny Winter for Blues, Eric Clapton for classic rock and Bill Evan for jazz. Find a solo that has licks you will be able to use in a variety of situations and that is very typical of the style. Then start transcribing it.

licks 02Transcribing is the action of writing down the music that you hear in a recording. For those of you who don’t yet have the skills to write down music in notation form, I would recommend that you create a “tab”. Relying on memory alone will not work and you need to archive your vocabulary.

If the song has lyrics, write them down and learn them; it creates a deeper bond with the piece of music. You must transcribe the melody and the chords, if you don’t have them from a book or from tab. The melody is what helps you locate yourself in a song while playing it (i.e. not getting lost in the chords changes or form) and the chords you will need to practice your solo over, and your licks afterwards.

When doing a transcription, slow the music down to half speed or slower if you need to, again I would refer you to Terry Down’s article. The idea is not “how fast can your ear hear and process the music” but rather “can you hear every note perfectly.” I’ll assume from this point that you have the chords and melody from a book and that you are working on a solo. Now you have to set up your paper.

I am sure they are many different ways to proceed here but here is what I do. First I divide the staves on my manuscript paper into four bar parts. I use pen to draw those lines so mistakes can be erased without having to re-do the layout of the page. Then I write the chord symbols on top of my staves in a different colour ink (i.e. red; visually this works for me). Secondly I figure out how many measures are in the section I am transcribing. After this, I figure out the beat that the solo begins on. This may require that you go back to the beginning of the song at times.

There are no great secrets to transcribing music, you listen to a part or the solo, sing the first note, keep on singing the first note until you find it your guitar and then write it down on paper. Double check it by playing against the slowed down recording and then move onto the second note. At times you will find it easy to write down several notes at once, other times you will be stuck on one note for a little while. You repeat the process until you have finished the entire solo. As a beginner I found at times this process slow and frustrating and kept on wondering if pro’s had a better ear than me or knew something I didn’t. Now I’ve realized that the concept is exactly the same between a beginner and more advanced player. It’s only with time and repetition that you get faster at it.

If you find yourself particularly frustrated by a section, move on to another part of the solo. When you come back to the following day the difficult section is usually easier. Just make sure to count very carefully when you are jumping over a section, you need to be exactly sure when the next part begins. I usually conduct (in a basic way) with my picking hand while transcribing. I find it makes the music easier to see.

Conducting pattern.

Conducting copy

It’s also been my experience that when having difficulty, I start analyzing the music and think “it must be this note because of the chord or key signature etc”. This is usually where I make my biggest mistakes. Always trust your ear; just listen to the music until the note becomes clear. This is a process that takes a long time but you just have to keep going at it. The payoff is worth it.

Now that you have transcribed your solo, you must now learn how to play it. The first thing you do is create yourself a backing track. Put your metronome on 2 & 4 (the beat that is often played on the snare drum), play the chords to the song and record it. Don’t play fancy rhythms in your backing track; just hit the chord on beat “1” and hold. The speed at which you record your track is determined by the tempo you need to play the solo at perfectly. There is no such thing as too slow, it depends on you. If you need to play it at 40 bpm to get it perfect, that’s where you start. Once you’re comfortable at a certain speed, move up a couple of clicks on the metronome until you get comfortable there. You keep on doing this until you can match the speed of the original recording. At times I use my notation software to create a backing track because I find it easier to manipulate the track to move up in tempo and it’s therefore less time consuming. Mind you it’s very sterile sounding.

Now this leads us into the problem of fingering; where to play it on the guitar neck? This is what has worked for me but by no means is a rule: try to keep the fingering in the section of the neck that will give you access to highest and lowest note of the solo without shifting position and find what the most solid and comfortable fingering for you. The latter is the most important, which leads me to have position shifts while playing my transcribed solos.

As you progress in speed you may find that a fingering that worked at 120 bpm does not work at all at 180 bpm. You need to revisit this section of your fingering and find a combination that will allow you to play it fast. The more experience you gain the less you have to do this. Once you get to the original speed of the piece, record yourself playing with it. The goal is that you are able to play the solo at full speed by yourself and sound like the original recording.

After you have succeeded in this, you must find the vocabulary in it. Look for licks that will be the most useful for you. In a jazz transcription I will look for a line (lick) that will fit or can fit over a ii-7, V7, IMaj7 progression, while in blues and rock I will look for shorter licks. Always transcribe a lick that you like and find a way of using it. You should find 10 licks before moving onto the next step; this may require several transcriptions. Depending on the style you are working on, you may want to have two fingerings for each lick. This will give you more options while soloing.

Now comes the “Pavlov’s dogs” effect I talked about in the previous article. You play your lick(s) slowly at first over the chord(s) that it/they originally appeared on in 14 keys (treating C#, Db and F#, Gb as different keys). For example, if you took a lick that was recorded over a E7 chord, you play it over a C7, F7, Bb7, Eb7, Ab7, Db7, C#7, F#7,Gb7, etc…until you’ve covered all keys. Then repeat the process with licks 2 to 10 until you can play them at fast tempos. Once you are comfortable with this, change the process slightly; take your ten licks and play them all in one key signature, then move on to the next. The first approach you play the lick over all the keys while the second approach you play all the licks over one key at a time. The idea is that you eventually get to a point where you hear the chord and play the lick “reflectively”, like “Pavlov’s dogs”.

The final step is to take a song with a varied chord progression and play your licks over it in order. For example, take a blues:Blues Form 02

On each chord that has a number, play the lick with the corresponding number as you go through the form. Repeat this process with a blues a half step high and one and a half steps lower. This puts the licks closer to a playing situation.

Once you have done all this, try to use your licks in a real life playing situation. I know the process may seem (and is) long but the end result is well worth the work. Music is fair that way; you get back exactly what you put in.

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