Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: Ibanez SZR 520 TGB

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a guitar that I have owned for about 5 years, from around 2009 to probably 2013, the Ibanez SZR 520 TGB!

This serie of guitars was made in China in 2008-2009, and was a half-way between the classic Ibanez style, fast, comfortable and light, and a more classic Gibson - PRS style: the guitar featured a nice flamed maple top (exceptional for the price range, which was around 500$), a slightly rounder neck, a thicker and heavier body.
After featuring also a Marty Friedman signature model with this same shape, the line was discontinued in 2009.

What can I say about this instrument? I loved it, and it embodies the things I love from Ibanez (a fast and very playable neck and fretboard, great quality to price ratio, a cool looking Gibraltar III bridge) and the classic elements of historic brands like Gibson, such as a white binding both in the body and in the neck, a set-in neck joint, 22 frets, solid mahogany body, and a classic shape.

The pickups were stock pickups with a neodymium magnet, that supposedly should have performed quite good, but the truth is that I swapped them pretty soon with two EMGs, which were resonating well in that thick, heavy body (I mounted an 85 in the bridge position, because I think it sounds way better than the 81).

The sound was surprisingly "Gibsonish", meaning that it was round and full in the lows, but with the active pickups it had also a powerful musical midrange, and I really loved how it sounded, until I realized that its short scale (24.75") was not the ideal for the tuning I needed (B standard), and therefore I had to trade this guitar in for a longer scale one.

All in all the guitar was anyway very pleasant to play, the fretboard was as smooth as butter, the aesthetic was very pleasant, and the sound was super warm, and I have used it to record the rhythm guitars of this album:

I definitely suggest anyone who doesn't need to play a particularly low tuning to check this guitar out!

Thumbs up!


- Body type: Solid body

- Body material: Mahogany w/ flamed maple top

- Neck joint: Set-in

- Bridge: Gibraltar III fixed

- Hardware color: Chrome

- Neck type: SZR

- Neck material: 1-piece mahogany

- Scale length: 628mm/ 24¾"

- Fingerboard material: Rosewood w/ binding

- Fingerboard inlays: Small pearl dot

- Frets: 22 / medium

- Pickup configuration: HH

- Bridge pickup: Ibanez ND1-B (H)

- Neck pickup: Ibanez ND1-N (H)

- Controls: 2 volume / 1 tone / 3-way toggle

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

How to mix vocals with stereo slapback delay (with Free Vst plugin download)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about an advanced Delay technique for Vocals (click here for a dedicated article about how to mix vocals) and Lead Guitar (click here for a dedicated article) that will allow us to create some space and focus around our track without the downside of pushing it behind in the mix.

As we know, in facts, effecting a track is a double edge sword: it makes it smoother, gives it a sense of space and coherence with the other instruments, as if they were recorded in the same room at the same time, but on the other hand the more ambience effect we add, the more the track will sound distant, up to the point to end up quite buried in the mix.
It's a matter of finding a good balance, because we need to add thickness and fullness, without sacrificing the position of our vocal track as the focus of our mix, and one of the techniques that we can use is a stereo slapback delay, which is a delay with little or no feedback (the feedback controls the number of repetitions of the delay), meaning that with the slapback delay you use only one repetition (the so called "slap back").

In order to create a slapback delay we need to create an fx track and load on it our favourite stereo delay plugin, then set the feedback control anywhere from 0 to 10% (the important is to have only one repetition per side);
now we need to set a different timing for the left and the right repetition, so that the "slap" arrives from left and right in 2 slightly different moments, for example on the left side after 100ms and on the right one after 150ms.

The timing of the repetitions must be adjusted according to the how fast is the song, 50ms for a very fast one, up to 200ms to a slow one.

In the fx track obviously we can put also other effects, in order to send it to our single vocal (or lead guitar) tracks, each one in the right amount (let's not overdo it, not all the tracks needs to be hyper effected, though).

With a Slapback delay we will add depth, a 3D, "larger than life" effect, without pushing the track too far back in the mix.

There are several free Stereo Delay Vst plugins available, here's our 3 top picks:

- Voxengo Tempo delay: the most complete among the free ones

- Easy-Q Delay: a simple, easy to use Delay

- Entropy: a Delay with an interesting stereo crossover effect

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Review: Ibanez Jem 77 BFP

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing one of the best sounding guitars I have ever tried: an Ibanez Jem 77 BFP (blue floral pattern), made in Japan in the early '90s (this model has been in production from 1991 to 1996, and it's considered today one of the best of its serie).

The Jem serie is still in production today (although most of the models are now manufactured in Indonesia), and it has been created by the guitar hero Steve Vai: he has designed a guitar so unique and comfortable that still after 30 years is one of the best sellers of the company.
The Ibanez Jem has been sold throught the years in countless versions: its lineup ranges from very affordable models all the way up to several thousand of dollars ones, and this 77 bfp that I have been playing for a while is a top of the line version made in Japan, one of the early originals.

The guitar is a superstrat model, as the '80s guitar heroes wanted: similar to a stratocaster but with a Lo Pro Edge tremolo (very similar to a Floyd Rose), a much faster neck, hotter pickups (Di Marzio PAF), premium woods and build quality, and a look that draws attention;
the guitar features in facts a gorgeous blue floral pattern both in the body and in the fretboard, the neck is 25.5" and has 24 jumbo frets, in maple, and it's as fast as it gets.

Another particularity is the fact that the Ibanez Jem features a cutout in the body that serves as a "handle", like it's a luggage: it is called "Monkey Grip" and it is sometimes used by Steve Vai in his live performances.

You can really tell the premium attention this guitar received when it was built: it is made for the most demanding players, and still today it has a market value of 2500 $.

So far I have described the looks but how does it sound?

The version I have tried had active EMGs, the 81 and 85, pickups that I had also in other guitars, so I could make a recording comparison with another guitar with the same pickups to hear the differences in the wood (recording that unfortunately I have lost, because I have made it several years ago), and I can assure that this guitar is the best sounding guitar I've ever tried, the tone is sparkling, perfectly balanced, the bass is tight and the midrange is very sweet, and you can really tell where the money go in a high end guitar compared with a low end one: even if the wood is the same type, it can be super cheap or very expensive,  and this, combined to the build quality, makes the difference in the end.

Besides how it sounds, you can tell the difference by how it FEELS: the neck of a high end Ibanez guitar it's like melted butter under the fingers (and in this specific model the higher frets are also "scalloped"), and it really helps you, it's easier to play and encourages you to go faster.

Thumbs up!


- Number of control knobs: 2 control knobs

- Pickup selector controls: 5-way selector switch

- Pickups brand and model: DiMarzio JEM single coil pickup(s), DiMarzio PAF Pro pickup(s), DiMarzio pickup(s)

- Pickups configuration: 2 humbuckers and 1 single coil pickup

- Finish colors: blue finish

- Graphics: floral or plant graphics

- Made in: Japan

- Scale length: 25.5 inches scale-length

- Body material: basswood body

- Body shape features: double cutaway, monkey grip

- Body style: super strat style body

- Pickguard material: transparent pickguard

- Hardware: Bridge Lo Pro Edge tremolo

- Hardware color: black hardware

- Fingerboard material: maple fingerboard

- Fingerboard position: markers vine fingerboard position markers

- Neck: Neck joint bolt on neck

- Neck material: maple neck

- Number of frets: 24 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

How to adjust the action of a guitar or bass (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to see how to adjust the action of a guitar or bass, and this is to be considered the "prequel" of our article about how to set the intonation of our instrument.
Small disclaimer: this is more an article to explain how things work, if you want to have a professional work go to a luthier and have him set up the guitar for you, while if you're a DIY lover, proceed at your own risk :D

First off the definition: the action is the space between the top of the 12th fret of our guitar and our strings, and it determinates the comfort and the speed of our playing: a higher action will allow us to be more precise and with a cleaner sound, but a lower action will allow us to go faster with less effort, so the right distance varies according to our taste and there isn't a height that fits perfectly for everyone (even if Gibson suggests, for its guitars, a minimum string height at the first fret of 1.22mm for the high E and 1,98mm for the low one)
Beware that if the action is too low we will have fret buzz or mute frets, meaning that in some part of the keyboard the string gets muted (the so called "dead note"): in this case we'll have to raise slightly the string height or adjust the truss rod.

The normal position of the neck is either absolutely straight or with a very, very slight bow ("u" shape), in an almost imperceptible way; if the neck is too bent backwards (the so called "n" shape) or forward (the so called "u" shape) we will need to adjust the truss rod (which is a metal rod that lies inside the neck and counterbalances the string tension) with a hex key:

If the neck is bent "n" shaped, the frets will buzz in the certral part of the fretboard, meaning around the 5th to 12th fret, while if the neck is bent "u" shaped, it will buzz in the lowest and highest frets.

In both cases we can solve by finding the screw of the truss rod, which is usually located in the headstock, and sometimes it is covered with a lid, and turning the screw with the hex key.

By turning the truss rod screw COUNTERCLOCKWISE you will add relief, meaning that the neck will make less resistance to the tension of the strings and it will become more "u" shaped, while by turning it CLOCKWISE you will reduce relief, meaning that the neck will make more resistance and will become more "n" shaped.
By adjusting the neck curve what we are looking for is the sweet spot in which there is no fret buzz nor dead notes when playing every string in every fret of the fretboard: when this happens, it means our instrument neck is straight.

Once the neck is straight it's time to adjust the string height of our action: we need to turn the screws at the sides of the bridge (in case of tune o'matic bridge) to raise or lower the string height until we find the perfect action that is not too uncomfortable to play and that lets every note ring perfectly.
There are also bridges (like the Fender ones) that lets us regulate the height of each single string by raising or lowering the individual saddles.

Once our guitar is straight and the string height it's perfect it's time to work on the string intonation (click here for a dedicated article)!

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review: Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are going to review a guitar that has been on my watchlist for long time now, and that a dear friend of mine has recently bought and let me test: the Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX!

This is another of those Epiphone guitars that sets themselves in the mid-high range of the brand (still not as expensive as a Gibson, but also not on the cheapest side), and features already all the most common upgrades a metal player does when buying a guitar: great mechanics and pickups.

This guitar is a version of the classic Explorer made for modern rock and metal, and it's clearly made to resemble the model (first Gibson and recently Esp) played by James Hetfield of Metallica in countless concerts: it is white, it has two active pickups (the duo EMG 81 and 85, the "Zakk Wylde set") and Grover machine heads, which really makes the difference in terms of tuning stability.

The body and neck are made of Mahogany, and the neck shape is a very comfortable Slimtaper D shaped, so it's faster and less chunky than most of the other Epiphone and Gibson necks, and all those features leads to think that this guitar is made with fast playing in mind.

The build quality is surprisingly good, better than your average Epiphone, and this is probably due to the very simple layout: most of the money value instead of going towards a fancy top or other aesthetical details went in this case into a very well crafted neck and fingerboard, perfectly comfortable out of the box, and premium hardware.

The sound of this guitar reflects its specifications: mahogany is a dark, round sounding wood, that united with active pickups delivers a powerful low end: palm muting makes a lot of "rebound" effect, but the Emg 81 packs also a lot of clarity in the top end, so the guitar is full of body but also capable of screaming in the solos.

All in all this is a very good guitar, that offers a lot of value for its price and I suggest anyone looking for a solid guitar for metal and any Metallica fan to check it out.

If only they would make a version with 25.5" scale!

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Body: mahogany

- Neck: mahogany

- Neck shape: SlimTaper™ “D” Profile

- Scale: 24.75”

- Fingerboard: Pearloid dot inlay

- Pearloid: Dot Inlay 12”

- Nut width: 1.68”

- Neck Pickup: Active EMG-85

- Bridge Pickup: Active EMG-81

- Controls: 1-Master Volume, 1-Master Tone, 1-Bridge Volume

- Battery: 9-volt, hinged compartment in back

- Pickup selector: Epiphone all-metal 3-way toggle switch

- Bridge: LockTone™ Tune-O-Matic

- Tailpiece: StopBar

- Hardware: Black

- Machine Heads: Grover® with small metal buttons

- Color: Alpine White (AW), ebony (EB)

- Typical Weight (+/- 5%): 8.3 lbs

- Strings: D’Addario® 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, 46