Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review - A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane

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I bought this book having just seen the amazing film Shutter Island (based on a Lehane novel). 
I must say I was extremely disappointed. I am not a regular reader of detective fiction, but even so I found the plot to be nothing more than a sequence of Sam Spade clich├ęs strung together, from the hard drinking Irish American detective stereotype to the over reliance on standard genre tropes (characters being shot moments before revealing a secret etc). 
The dialogue is glib and comes across as if the characters know they are in a detective novel and have already read the plot outline. The book clearly wants to make a statement about important issues like race relations, domestic abuse and corruption, but has no idea what it actually wants to say on the subject. 
Perhaps worst of all the book breaks the literary golden rule and is pretty much all tell and no show. Vast tracts of exposition take the place of any kind of characterisation or development. 
My understanding is that his later books are somewhat better. On this evidence I'm not going to take the time to find out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Frankenstrat vs Iron Gear - The Installation

Last weekend the deed was done and I installed my new Iron Gear pickups in my Strat (if you don't know what I'm talking about look here)

I thought I would share some of the photos with you as modifying a vintage guitar already hacked about by previous owners is a slightly different prospect than the brand new guitars that are usually worked on in youtube videos. I decided to go for white pickups as the aged cream coloured pickups most people offer on "aged" guitars look really fake to me and I like to age my own gear. 

Here are all my tools laid out ready for the job (There's nothing worse than getting half way through a task and not having what you need) 

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The first task was removing the strings. My top tip if you have a guitar with a floating bridge is to put a shim under it before you remove the strings so it doesn't fall off the posts.Paying cards work best, but I used a nearby notepad. 

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My first issue was getting the scratchplate off, one of the screws had rusted solid on the top and required some tweaking with pliers to remove. Once that was sorted off came the scratch plate (Notice the unfaded lake placid blue under the scratchplate).

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Only then was the full horror of the hacked about wiring revealed. The new soldering iron was powered on but immediately started emitting loads of white smoke (That's what you get for £6 from Amazon). I figured it was probably burning off some ill advised anti corrosion coating on the metal and left in running in the garden for half an hour after which it was behaving its self. Desoldering is usually a fairly simple task but as you can see in the next photo dodgy repairs left the volume pot with a lump of solder on it the size of a Malteser which my plucky 30W smoke belching soldering iron declined to melt. Eventually after trying until some of the insulation on the wiring started to fry I resorted to hacking it off with a soldering iron. 

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With the old pickups removed fitting the Iron Gears was fairly painless. They are really well made (better than the Fender USA originals) with single conductor waxed cloth cable and all the vintage goodies. The only issue was that the supplied springs were a little big so rather than cut them down I used the old ones. 

 
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With all the pickups in I put the guitar back together and added the two rather jazzy roller string trees as the old ones were getting corroded leading to some tuning problems.

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Pleasingly it worked first time once I got the strings back on. I recorded some tone samples before I changed the pickups so for my next post I'm going to give some sound clips so you can judge for yourself if you think it sounds better but I'm very impressed so far. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Frankenstrat Meet Iron Gear

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Let me introduce you to my Frankenstrat. 
It was the first decent guitar I owned, bought for the princely sum of £200 back in 1996. I got it cheap because it had been bashed around and modified so much (Now people spend a fortune on fake looking "Relic" guitars). It's been my constant musical companion for 15 years and is probably the only object I would consider running back into burning building for. 
It started life as a 1980 USA made Fender "The Strat" (It's a pretty rare model and I once saw a mint one in London for nearly two grand). When I bought it had been fitted with a horrible 80's wang bar and shrill heavy metal pickups. 

Over the years it's had:
* replacement Wilkinson bridge
* replacement Seymour Duncan bridge pickup
* Refret
* Locking nut removed and new nut fitted
* All knobs, switches, jack sockets, and pots replaced

It's getting to the point where the only original bits are made of wood. It's a fantastic guitar and it records beautifully, but I've never managed to get the kind of live tone I want out of it as the two original pickups don't tend to cut through in the mix and they blend pretty badly with the replacement bridge pickup. 

I'm a big believer in replacement pickups as tone boosters after hearing guitars transformed from muddy junk into tone monsters with the addition of Seymours. I've been thinking about treating myself to some Bare Knuckle pickups for ages as they are supposedly god gift to tone, but never getting around to it as they are so bleeding expensive. Yesterday I came across the Iron Gear website quickly followed by reading huge quantities of rave reviews about them. They are spectacularly well priced and I could buy two whole sets for the price of a single Bare Knuckle. 

I've taken the plunge and bought a set of Texas Locos off the back of a 5* review in Guitar Buyer. Sticking to the budget theme in these recession hit times I'm going to be fitting them myself so I've also invested in a soldering iron.

I'm planning to record some tone samples before and after and post them here so you can hear for yourself what the Iron Gears can do for my beloved mutant guitar.