Monday, October 6, 2014

Album Review - Second Nature by Flying Colors

Second Nature, the second album by supergroup Flying Colors, is an odd release. It's odd because whether or not the listener is new to the music of Neal Morse will profoundly influence their reactions.

Those new to the musings of Morse, and progressive rock as a whole, will be blown away by the technical histrionics, the catchy hooks, and the polished songwriting we've come to expect from anything he's involved with. For some, it may be one of the best albums they've ever heard, with them saying things like, "Why isn't all music like this?" And, "Why aren't these guys more famous?"

For the rest of us, however, the album will seem all too familiar, if not a bit formulaic. In fact, the first track, "Open Up Your Eyes," sounds like an extra track from Transatlantic's Kaleidoscope, which makes sense because these songs were probably written around the same time. The closing epic "Cosmic Symphony" is classic Morse-style prog, complete with the quasi-religious lyrics and bombastic closing crescendo that have become the hallmarks of his style.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Played five guitars at Guitar Center...

...and here's my quick take on them. I was surprised by a few.

Guitar 1: Epiphone G-400 (SG) Worn Cherry - This guitar was the biggest surprise for me. I thought I would love it, seeing as how I love my cheapo Epiphone SG Junior, but I really didn't like it. This was my first experience with a "real" set-neck SG, and I didn't like how the neck felt like it was so far out from the body. It wasn't comfortable. I'm sure I'd get used to it after a while, but I didn't like it. I was also thoroughly unimpressed with the quality of it. My Indonesia-made cheapy is much better finished than this Chinese-made not-so-cheapy. The switch felt cheap, the knobs were wobbly, and the pots didn't do much - the tone controls had very little taper. I was completely disappointed with this one. And at $349, it wasn't worth it at all. I didn't like the sound of the pickups, but a lot of that could've been the amp.

The only one available was an Orange Crush 20-watter and it was easily the worst amp I've ever played through. The distortion was fizzy and it had no tone. I'd play it again through a better amp if I liked the way it played, but I didn't.

Guitar 2: Epiphone Les Paul Traditional Pro - This one was much better than the SG. I still didn't like the pickups, but they did sound better than the SG's, even through the shit Orange amp. Quality was substantially better, and it had a nice wine red flame top on it. Or course it was more expensive than the SG, too: $499, which is kind of a lot for a Chinese guitar. Even though it was better than the SG, it still didn't speak to me, so I put it down and went on to...

Guitar 3: Fender Modern Player Telecaster HSS - Another Chinese guitar, but this one was $399 and the quality was leaps ahead of both Epiphones. It felt and sounded good, too. It had a lacquered neck, which was a bit sticky, but the pickups sounded great. I just wish it had some kind of switching that would allow the bridge and neck to be played at the same time, so you can also get classic Tele sounds to go along with the very Stratty tone this thing put out. And I was still playing through the Orange. It was my favorite, so far...

Guitar 4: Sterling Axis 40 - I liked absolutely nothing about this guitar. I played and almost bought a Sterling JP50, so I know they can make good guitars, but this was terrible. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the design. The body shape made it uncomfortable to sit with. The non-recessed Floyd copy seemed like a waste (I'd prefer to be able to bend the pitch in both directions) and the neck felt cheap and narrow, yet it was too thick. The overall quality was OK, but I didn't like the guitar at all. The face that is was purple didn't help.

Guitar 5: LTD EC-256 - I almost didn't play this one. I was ready to leave after playing the Axis, but I took one more perusal around the store first. The LTD was hidden in a corner, and it was the only LTD in the store, so I had to play it. I never played an LTD before and I wanted to know what they were like. Well, as soon as I picked it up, I knew it was special. It just oozed quality. It had a beautiful sunburst finish and flame top with a natural back and sides. It was light but felt substantial. I played it a bit unplugged and I loved the neck - a nice D profile that wasn't too thick, but wasn't thin either.

Since this was in a different spot than the others, I plugged it into the nearest amp, a Line 6 Spider IV 75-watter, and I have to say it sounded very good. They must have made a lot of improvements from III to IV. Anyway, the guitar played like a dream. The pickups sounded great, both in humbucker and tapped single-coil mode. They had clarity and power, but more vintage power than screaming-at-the-amp power. I could've played it all day but I had to head home. Obviously, it was my favorite of all the guitars I played, and it was only $399, $100 cheaper than the Epiphone LP but worlds better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How a $93 guitar changed my life (the guitar part of it anyway)

The best guitar you can buy for around $100.
I've often said that the right guitar will find you, not the other way around, and if you don't recognize it when it happens, you'll forever regret it. Well, a few weekends ago, the right guitar found me, and I'm glad I was paying attention.

I have a big birthday coming up (one of the ones that end in zero) and my wife wanted me to get something special, so I was given a generous budget of $400 to get whatever I wanted. Since I'm not a professional gigging musician, I have no need for a $2,000 custom shop guitar, which means that $400 would buy a nice mid-level guitar that I would be perfectly happy with.

But what's better than buying one guitar? Buying two guitars, of course.

I'm nothing if not cheap, and I have an affinity (no foreshadowing pun intended) for cheap guitars, so I decided to look at the low end of the guitar spectrum and see if I could get two decent guitars for my $400. It's been a goal of mine to complete, in one form or another, the Holy Trinity of Guitars - Strat, Tele, and Les Paul. I already have the Strat, so I needed one of each of the other two to complete the trifecta. Could I do it on $400?