GGFO Rig: PART 2

Nearly 2 months after putting up "GGFO Rig: Part 1" I'm finally getting around to putting "Part 2" up. You can find "Part 1" below. It covers the pedals and amplifier I use on stage; this post will cover the instruments I play and how I play them.

My main GGFO guitar, both for recording and performance is a black 1999 Fender American Standard Strat purchased that same year from Sam Ash in Huntington Station (Long Island, where I grew up). I bought the thing when I was a freshman in high school and have probably played it more days than I haven't since then. Everything is stock with the exception of three elements: the aftermarket red pearl Warmoth pickguard, a Lollar Blackface single-coil in the neck position and the conversion of the tremolo system from 3-springs to 5-springs (essentially making it hard-tail).

I'm a big fan of the late 90's American strats. They just feel like home-base to me. The fret work tends to be particularly solid and the necks tend to be really straight. I just had the first grind and polish done on this guitar ever; I believe that speaks to just how well crafted the Fender American instruments of this era generally are. These guitars have two string-trees (which I think really helps with tension) and the bridges on these instruments are worlds more comfortable IMO than the vintage style bridges on other strats. For any kind of palm muting (which I do a heck of a lot of in the GGFO set) it's a no-brainer to me to go with one of the flat, more modern, bridges. 

I believe '99 was the last year they made the 'American Standard' series for awhile. My only complaint, sonically, with the strat as it came from the factory was the neck pickup. After many years I decided I wanted something with a bit more character in that position and so swapped out the stock pickup for the Lollar. For me, the neck pickup on a strat is always my workhorse and the pickup that I'm using 75% of the time in a GGFO set. 'By My Side', 'Not Going Home' and 'You're the One for Me' are tunes that use the neck position exclusively. The only other pickup position I use in the GGFO set, very literally, is the 'quack' position 4 (middle and bridge together). Songs like 'Carried Away' and 'Without You' are played entirely on that pickup position. Many other tunes in the GGFO set involve going between those two positions from section to section. I think switching pickups is underutilized tone-shaping move that most guitar players don't take full advantage of. As a note, position 2 on the five-way of this guitar (neck and middle) is not a 'quack'/hum-canceling position. It's just a product of the mis-matching of the stock Fender middle pickup and the Lollar. 

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I'm going to take this opportunity [because this is my website and I can do what I damn well please] to weigh in on a point of contention among guitar players. I know I'm in the minority and I couldn't care less what any guitar instruction book says: it really pisses me off when people refer to the bridge position of a strat as 'position 1'. The same goes for when people (string manufacturers included) refer to the lowest (pitch-wise) string on a guitar as 'the 6th string'. It is the lowest sounding string. You often play the root of a given chord on it. It's the closest one to your face. Thanks to the 'power-chord' it is also, arguably, the string a rock guitar player has spent the most time on in their lives. When we're looking at a right-handed guitar hanging on a wall the 'low-E' string is to your left. We read left to right in the English language. It's only logical to call it '1'. Lastly, it's called the 'low-E' string for Christ's sake; don't give it the highest numerical value! Please call it 'the 1st string'. Likewise, the neck pickup position is the one that guitar players, as a whole, spend the most time on. It too, is also the closest to one's face when in the playing position and to one's left when looking at a right-handed model on a wall. It too, should be referred to as '1'. 

Now that I've gotten that out of my system let's take a look at the other guitar I take with me when on the road with GGFO: a '98 Fender American Big Apple strat.

Made for a few years in the last 90's the Big Apple strat was a design inspired by late 80s/early 90s New York players, like Hiram Bullock for instance, who loaded their strats with two humbuckers. I believe Fender initially called it the '48th Street Strat' in homage to shops like Manny's (now out of biz) and Rudy's on 48th street where players would get mods like this done. Structurally this strat is nearly identical (same neck profile, 9.5" fretboard radius, tuning-machines, bridge, etc.) to my black strat with the exception of the rosewood fingerboard (in lieu of a one-piece maple neck), the two humbuckers and a standard 3-spring tremolo system instead of the 5-spring. The humbucker in the neck position is the stock Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup; the bridge position is actually of unknown origin to me (I purchases this guitar second-hand). 

The breakdown of the 5-way selector on this guitar is, I believe, really smart and allows for the maximum access to different timbres. Though the bridge pickup was swapped out the original 5-way controls have remained as they were from the Fender factory. Position 1 (neck) is the neck pickup alone, position 2 is the inner single-coil of that pickup alone, position 3 is both humbuckers together, position 4 is a pseudo-'quack' position made by combining the inner single-coil from the neck humbucker and the inner single-coil from the bridge humbucker, and position 5 is the neck humbucker alone [I'm generally against the use of the Oxford comma but I implemented is here for readability]. The only downside to this pickup configuration, and switching, is the guitar's output when using position 3 is considerably hotter than the rest of the pickup options. To me though, it's a small price to pay for the level of flexibility that this guitar provides.

Just as with the black strat, I only use positions 1 and 4 in a GGFO live set.

Both of these guitars are setup with fairly low action. Both are strung with DR Tite-Fit nickel-plated, round-core strings. I use the standard-top-heavy-bottom, 10-50 gauge, set DR makes. I find, with the 25.5" scale length of strats, the heavier lower strings help keep the tension on the respective strings higher; where I want it to be. On shorter scale, like 24.75" Gibson, instruments that I have I tend to use standard 10-46 gauge sets.  I've used DR Tite-Fit strings since I was 16 and I'm not planning on switching it up anytime soon; I used to play D'Addario and Ernie Ball and I broke strings left and right. 

The other thing that hasn't changed in my general setup since I was 16 is the pick I use; Dunlop 500-series 1.5mm. At the end of the day you can hand me any guitar, any pedals and/or any amp and I'll make it work. As long as I have one of these picks I'll be comfortable. They're thick for a rock/pop guitar player to use but I find they help me really self compress and keep my attack even. The way that I hold them (illustrated below) is also a little unconventional for a rock player; with the rounded edge on the strings. It's just a personal preference but I find it helps me be a bit more expressive than if I play with the pointed edge. For me, when held this way the pick sits perfectly in the first joint of my pointer finger.

When finger picking (or manipulating the controls on a guitar, holding a writing utensil or playing a part on synth during a set) I store the pick between my pointer and middle fingers. I've worked it out so can seamlessly go between the two positions pretty quickly and fluidly. 

Though I do most of the work on my instruments myself, occasionally one of the two strats will be in the shop and I'll need to bring another guitar on the road. When that happens I turn to another guitar I've had since high school; an Ibanez S370. 

Though not the prettiest to look at per say this guitar totally gets the job done. It ceases to amaze me how a guitar that I paid $400 (new) for in 2000-2001 has stood up. I mistakenly allowed an ex-girlfriend to give this guitar a paint job when I was a senior in high school. After we broke up I tried to remove what she had done (mostly with a screwdriver, which is not the recommended tool for removing paint). The result of my failed attempt is what you see today. Honestly, I've kind of grown to love how trashy it looks.

The radius on this guitar is much flatter than the strats (I believe it's 14"). Consequently, switching back to a strat after playing it is a bit of a pain. Additionally, thought the Floyd Rose locking system is fantastic for keeping your guitar in tune after preforming dive-bomb pitch bends, it's a totally flawed design in practice. If you break a string on a guitar with a Floyd Rose system in the middle of a gig and don't have a backup guitar on hand you are 100% screwed. Breaking a string entirely throws off the balance of the tremolo system (intern sending every string wildly out of tune) and replacing a string requires at least one Allen key and balancing the who tremolo system. Sometimes it takes a day of playing (and a lot of tweaking) on a new set of strings for the whole thing to reach equilibrium. I would never take this guitar on a fly-date, where often I'm only able to have one guitar with me because of baggage restrictions. I also only change the strings on this guitar when it's completely necessary. You'll notice the black electrical tape across the tremolo springs on the back of this guitar. I found they were vibrating sympathetically when certain notes on the instruments were sounding and the result led to strange overtones coming through an amp. Placing tape across them was a quick fix. That's actually a tweak that I've done to several guitars over the years.

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Check back soon for #moregear.