Goncalo Alves: A nice alternative to a Rosewood Neck

Warmoth Goncalo Alves Stratocaster Neck
Warmoth Goncalo Alves Stratocaster Neck

Rosewood is great, but there are other dark woods out there worth considering. One of the really good ones is Goncalo Alves.

Also known as “Zebrawood” or “Tigerwood”, the species
that yeild this wood go by such barely pronounceable Latin monikers such as Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens.

But who cares about lineage, right? What we wanna know is how does it feel & sound? Answer: Great and Great.

Warmoth describes this wood has having a very “Waxy” feel, which pretty much nails it.  You can find the Warmoth description of this wood here. I love this wood because of that waxy feel, it might be the fastst neck wood I know of. The color is also great. It varies quite a bit from one cut to another, but in general you get very nice grain and streaking. I think the fingerboard woods that work best with Goncalo Alves are Pau Ferro and ebony. Since Goncalo Alves is a fairly warm wood, Pau Ferrro will balance it very nicely, and Ebony will take you in a bit more of an extreme direction as it is a very bright wood.

All in all, this one is worth checking out; it looks great, plays great and sounds great.

Jim Dunlop ZW38 Mxr Black Label Chorus Pedal

Jim Dunlop ZW38 Mxr Black Label Chorus Pedal
The Dunlop ZW38 Chorus

While inspired by a metal player, this Pedal provides an all-around affordable Chorus effect

I don’t particuarly listen to zakk wylde or know much about him (other than the obvious), but this pedal which bears his moniker / band name, is pretty good.
What I like right away is the high and low filter cut controls. It still amazes me that this is not standard on Chorus guitar pedals (why?). The dual outputs for stero spread is a no-brainer and good. It is built with analog bucket brigade technology, which was a technique developed in the late ’60’s that is quite popular amongst tone-snobs. The Level / Rate / Depth controls require no explanation and provide plenty of control for your effects-shaping needs. Like all MXR / Dunlop guitar effects pedals, this one is built like a brick “you know what” house. If you are looking for a sturdy, tweakable guitar chorus pedal that is under $100, check this one out.

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Guitar pickups that changed my life

Pickups that transformed both my playing and tone

This is a celebration of my favorite pickups. The title may seem a bit much, but it is true; these pickups absolutely changed my playing style as well as my tone. I am a bit of a pickup nut. At one point I owned over 100 different pickups, but had only about a dozen or so in a guitar. This is a pretty clear indication of obsessive compulsive disorder. But, at the same time, it’s much better than spending your money on beer : – ). In all seriousness, I have spent the last 30 years in search of the holy grail. Granted, different pickups are often suited to specific styles of music; you would not use a vintage strat single coil for heavy metal, but with that in mind, quite often within that style, there are usually many different pickups that can improve your tone.
Why do I say that some pickups “Transformed my playing:? I say so because in some cases, the sheer physics of a particular pickup inspired me so much that my playing really improved. Because I was able to elicit certain kinds of sounds from my guitar that I had previously not been able to create, my playing would drift into new territories.
This is highly subjective stuff. But, in many cases I only discovered a pickup because of an article I read or when I saw another guitarist live. So, sometimes, you discover new and exciting things based on the previous adventures of another guitarist. I hope that some or even a little of this lens inspires you in the sane way. Enjoy!
Pickups can make a big difference
Pickups can make a big difference

This is a celebration of my favorite pickups. The title may seem a bit much, but it is true; these pickups absolutely changed my playing style as well as my tone. I am a bit of a pickup nut. At one point I owned over 100 different pickups, but had only about a dozen or so in a guitar. This is a pretty clear indication of obsessive compulsive disorder. But, at the same time, it’s much better than spending your money on beer : – ). In all seriousness, I have spent the last 30 years in search of the holy grail. Granted, different pickups are often suited to specific styles of music; you would not use a vintage strat single coil for heavy metal, but with that in mind, quite often within that style, there are usually many different pickups that can improve your tone.

Why do I say that some pickups “Transformed my playing”? I say so because in some cases, the sheer physics of a particular pickup inspired me so much that my playing really improved. Because I was able to elicit certain kinds of sounds from my guitar that I had previously not been able to create, my playing would drift into new territories.

This is highly subjective stuff. But, in many cases I only discovered a pickup because of an article I read or when I saw another guitarist live. So, sometimes, you discover new and exciting things based on the previous adventures of another guitarist. I hope that some or even a little of this lens inspires you in the sane way.

Fralin Steele Pole Strat Pickups

What would happen if a single coil and a P-90 had a baby?

Fralin Steele-Pole
Fralin Steele-Pole

These Strat pickups are quite a departure from the norm. Instead of six pole magnets wrapped with wire, it is six screws that straddle two magnets. This is the basic design of a P-90. What is particularly cool about these is that because they use screws instead of flat poles, you can adjust each pole piece so that the height to the string is just as you want.

The bottom of a Fralin Steele Poled
The bottom of a Fralin Steele Poled

Tone – These pickups have all the “Bell Like” chime that you would want in a single coil, but also have the bite of a P-90. They are not hum-canceling, but they can be reasonably quiet with a moderate amount of drive. They shine particularly in the bridge and middle positions. They do sound great in the neck position, but it is in the bridge and middle position that you often need more thickness. In each case, they have a warmth and body that you will not find in normal vintage-style single coils.

Summary – Lindy Fralin’s shop is a pretty special place. They are religious about pickups. If you go to their website, http://www.fralinpickups.com/ you can get plenty of details about their custom winding options. If you play a Strat, these pickups are seriously worth checking out.

Mini Humbuckers

Truly the best of both worlds

Gibson Mini Humbuckers

Probably the pickup that has the biggest impact on my playing is the Mini Humbucker. I was first drawn to these because of my fascination with the tone of the guitarists from Lynyrd Skynyrd. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that these guitarists did not use Mini Humbuckers as much as I thought. But in many photos, I would see Gary Rossington using a Gibson Firebird. Since this guitar had Mini Humbuckers, I became very obsessed with using these pickups.

Custom Pick Guard
Custom Pick Guard

The biggest challenge to using Mini Humbuckers is that unless you are using a Firebird or Les Paul Deluxe, they cannot be simply dropped into place. The easiest way to start experimenting with these pickups is to use a Strat with a “Swimming Pool” route and a custom cut pick guard. You do have to make a bit of a commitment here as routing your strat in such a way cannot be un-done, but that decision is up to you. I am obsessed by pickup experimentation so these kinds of decisions usually take me about 9 seconds to work through in my brain. For the custom cut pick guard, just go to http://www.warmoth.com, they have a page that allows you to order customized pick Guards.

There are for the most part, two different flavors of Mini Humbucker that I recommend: Les Paul Deluxe and Firebird.


Gibson Firebird Pickup
Gibson Firebird Pickup

Firebird – These are my favorite. They have a very “Waxy” or “Squeaky” sound to them. They Seymour Duncan “Antiquity” series is quite good, but the best ones to use are older ones pulled directly out of a Firebird. You can find

Gibson Mini Humbucker
Gibson Mini Humbucker

these on eBay.

Les Paul Deluxe – These are great. They sound more like a normal humbucker than the Firebirds, but they have a much more open feel.

Summary – Mini Humbuckers offer you the best of both worlds; they are humbucking (i.e. no 60-cycle hum), they

are capable of great chime and clarity when you play clean, and when you use a lot of drive, they sound fantiastic. They will never sound quite the same as a full-sized humbucker, but they have a fullness and grit all their own. You really have to experiment and find the ones that are best for you, but it is worth the effort.

Gibson T-Tops

One of the best humbuckers that Gibson every made

Gibson "T-Top"
Gibson “T-Top”

From the late 60’s to the late 70’s, Gibson produced humbuckers that have come to be known at “T-Tops”. The name comes from the odd “T” that protrudes from the top of one of the bobbins. This is a result of the mechanism used to hold the bobbin when it is formed, and then when released, the “T” remained.

Tone – These pickups have all the girth and macho that you come to expect from a humbucker. But they have a certain kind of bite and open sound that you don’t often find in double-coils. Much of the classic rock that you know and love from the 70’s contains great T-Top tones. If you like humbuckers, but also like to get

What kind of Strat should I buy?

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Stratocaster

If you are thinking of purchasing your first Fender Statocaster, here are a few helpful tips

We have good news and bad news:

The good news is: There are so many models to choose from.

The bad news is: There are so many models to choose from : – )

Seriously, if you purchased a brand new strat from Fender, you really have so many different models to choose from. You may or may not have just about enough to purchase a brand new Fender Strat (depending on prices in your local store). So, with so many choices, what is the right Strat for you? Ironically, only you can answer that question. The reason I say that is because more and more, the guitar you choose to purchase really depends on the style of music you play. Since I don’t know what kind of music you are into I have to assume that you have chosen a Stat because you are into music that is not too aggressive (i.e. very heavy Metal, for example:

  • Rock and Roll
  • Blues
  • Funk
  • R&B / Soul
  • Punk
  • Pop

If you are into any of those styles (or anything similar), then a Strat would be a find choice for you. If you are into Very Heavy Metal or similar styles, You might want to consider a totally different guitar, and re-ask your question so that my answer can be more focused.

With that said, I think the main difference between the many Strats offered today by Fender are the pickups. Sure, there are other differences, but the main thing that will really change how the guitar sounds is the choice of pickups. The more “Vintage” Strats out there have three single-coil pickups. These pickups are pretty low output, and are not good for extremely aggressive music. They are better for Rock and Roll, Blues, Funk, Pop and maybe Punk.

If you are into a little more aggressive style of playing, consider the models that have a humbucker in the bridge position. A humbucker will give you a much hotter sound when you play lead, but because there are two single coil pickups in the middle and bridge positions, you have the option of nice clean sounds as well.

Some of the models have the new “S-1™ switching system”. This gives you even more tonal variations than the standard 5-way switch. Cool Stuff.

(Details for the “S-1™ switching system”): http://www.fender.com/products/s1/

Also, you mentioned the bridge. The bridge mostly comes into play if you use the whammy bar alot. In general, if you do not have a locking tremolo like a Floyd Rose or a Khaler, your guitar will definitely go out of tune when you use the whammy bar more than a little. If you are are really into serious whammy bar / dive bombs, then again, you’re barking up the wrong tree with a Fender Strat and should consider a more modern / high-performance guitar like an Ibanez JEM, etc..

Below are some links to the various models that Fender currently offers, and an eBay search link. In conclusion, I would say to really ask yourself mainly what music you want to play. Once you have made your mind up about that, take a good look at the detail for the pages listed below and be sure to ask yourself: What tonal options does this model offer? That is the main thing that will affect how useful the guitar is to you over the course of time. Playability is of course a factor, but that comes into play more when you actually hold the guitar in your hands and try it out.

Fulltone 69, the Fuzz that roared

Fulltone 69 fuzz
Fulltone 69 fuzz

If you are in the market for a truly amazing, world-class Fuzz pedal, look no further, the Fulltone ’69 is your baby

Of all the Fuzz pedals I have tried, the Fulltone ’69 is really the king. An incredibly transparent pedal with a top-shelf fuzz that can be easily rolled-back for great tonal variations.

Contour is key

The knob labeled “Contour” is where the real fun starts. It is kind of a combination mid-range / thickness control. Needless to say, when turned down, the fuzz is a bit thinner as is the overall tone. This is helpful if you want Fuzz without all the “Woof” When you increase the Contour level, the Fuzz get’s thicker and has more body. This also adds to the random harmonics and general squeaks that are likely to come out of your guitar. If you experiment by using less drive and more Contour (or vice verse) there are some seriously fun sounds to be found.


Like most of Mike Fuller’s pedals, the ’69 is totally transparent. It just adds amazingly complex Fuzz to whatever you put into the pedal. On the other end of the pipe is your original tone, just with lots and lots of cream dripping from it. When the pedal is disengaged, the “True Bypass” claim is bolstered by an un-fettered and decidedly pure tone.

Could be used as an overdrive

What I love about this pedal is that in nearly every possible tonal variation, you can simply roll back your guitar’s volume and you get a great overdrive sound. Every time I fire this pedal up, I am reminded of how incredibly sensitive it is to dynamics. This Fuzz is never “Out of control”, and doubles as a fun overdrive.

Not made any more

As of this article’s publication date, Mike Fuller is still not making these pedals any more. The reason is that he uses only hand-picked Germanium transistors and no one is making them to his satisfaction any more. Keep an eye on his website though, he states than when he can get his hands on another batch of transistors, he’ll make some more ’69 pedals.


There are many many great Fuzz pedals out there. I’m sure there are a few  I still have not tried yet, and are worthy of such a review. When I find ‘m, I’ll surely write about ’em. In the meantime, if you need a great Fuzz, but the ’69 from Fulltone. Ask questions later.

Fulltone Website

Fulltone Product Page

YouTube search

eBay Search

Reader Question: Strat Bridges and Claw Mounting Screws

Strat Claw

“Mark” Writes:

hello, to who this concerns:

can you please tell me the what’s and hows of the screws are on the tail of the bridge. ( hopefully to make it clearer. the screws, if you were putting them in, the thread of the screw is acing the neck and head of the guitar and the head of the screw is facing the rear of the body ).

i have some adjusting to make with the action and a need to adjust each string to the curvature of the neck. i have a pretty clear understanding of how to do this. but, have not yet gotten the idea of the screw in mention. i am sure that ounce i get to working on it i will have a clear understanding of the screws in mentions purpose. i just want to be very caeful as i cant afford to take my guitar in to the shop and pay the going rate on a project like this and of course cant afford to damage my guitar. i am pretty handy and i am sure that this is’nt beyond my ability. i feel better about asking the stupid questions rather than stress over it and or damage my strat.

thanks to all who provide this information on line to all of us in need!!!

sincerely,  mark

Our Answer:

Hi Mark, thanks for your question. The good news is: there’s not too much going on there. These screws hold in what is known as the “Claw”. That odd piece of metal is what the tremolo springs hang onto. I know this is all very obvious, but I just wanted to provide a little context.

So, all that said, the main effect that these screws have is on the tension of the tremolo bridge. When you loosen these screws, the bridge will tend to lean towards the neck. When you tighten these screws, the bridge tens to lean away from the neck, ultimately laying flush against the body. For the most part, you don’t have to consider these screws when setting your action; sting height will be mostly affected by the height of the saddles and the tilt of the neck. Adjusting these screws can make for a slightly more slinky (i.e. “loose”) feel, or more tension. There is a small range where you can tweak as you like to suit your taste, but too tight and you pull the bridge all the way back, and too lose, and the guitar will be pretty much un-playable. So, I recommend that you set your action as you need, and then you can tweak the claw screws. You’ll want to find that “Sweet Spot” that provides the kind of string tension that you are looking for.

Summary: Don’t concern yourself too much with these screws. Set them so that the your string tension feels right, and then pretty much leave them alone.

DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro
DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

Looking for a Vintage-Sounding single coil that is also hum-canceling? Look no further, Dimarzio nails it with the Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

I cannot believe how good this pickup sounds. You get all the warmth and clarity of a vintage single coil pickup, but no hum. What about when you use a lot of distortion? No problem, this pickup produces some amazing over driven sounds as well. Perfect for Blues, but also works great for Rock.

One of the things that has always surprised me about the entire Virtual Vintage line is how loud they are. I’ve had these pickups in a Strat with humbuckers in the bridge and neck position and in a few cases, the Virtual Vintage was louder than either humbucker. I kid you not. This actually caused a problem as my balance on stage was all over the place. Even though the output is high,the headroom is great. I don’t use DiMarzio pickups exclusively. In fact, I don’t use DiMarzio humbuckers too much at all in the last few years. But the Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro is outstanding and has been in my Strat and Tele one way or another for the last five years.

Reader Question: Why is my Classic 57 humbucker thin and humming?

Gibson Classic 57 humbucker
Why is my Classic 57 humbucker thin and humming?

“Sven” Writes:

I have an Gibson classic 57 humbucker witch has an really high output = 9K!! and its NOT an classic+ what I know, but installed it by iself in bridge position whith selector on treble it sounds thin, wery quiet and is humming slightly. What could be wrong?

Our Answer:

Hi Sven, it sounds like you have a wiring problem. Most likely, you have the “hot” and “ground” wires backwards. Triple-check your wiring diagram that came with the pickup. If you can confirm 100% that the pickup is wired correctly, then try touching the hot / ground wires directly to a guitar jack, and tap the pickup. There should be a loud and healthy “Thud” that comes out of the amp when you do this. If not, then the pickup is damaged.

Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah Guitar Pedal

Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah Guitar Pedal
Fulltone Clyde Deluxe

There are wah pedals, and then there are great wah pedals. Sure, you can save up and buy one of the vintage classics, but you will need to save a lot and when you drop it (or spill bong water on it, or your pup poops on it, etc…) you will cry. Or… you could save yourself the drama and run out to buy the Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah.

Lemmie tell  ya man, this is one damm great wah. I know that was not the most eloquent sentence but it just ain’t that deep, the Clyde deluxe kicks major hiney. What I love love love about this wah so much is the 10-step variable input level control. With this little baby you can really get the signal level just where you want it. This is the kind of thing that always drove me nuts with older wah pedals; too hot, too cold,ugghhh… but with the Clyde Deluxe way, the porridge is just right. Next up in line for the the “Coolest Control” prize is the 3-way mode switch. There are three settings. “Shaft” is the most classic wah tone and when you engage it, Richard Roundtree personally jumps out of no where and yells “hands up sucka!…” (this will startle you at first, but it really adds a three dimensional aspect to your sound). “Jimi” is the setting inspired by a really famous guitar player from the sixties… can’t remember his last name, but he played at some really big concert where it rained, and he is involved with Voodoo or some kind of purplish haze, and he was apparently the greatest rock guitarist of all time….. or something like that. The “Whacked” setting is…. totally whacked… really nuts and fun.

The overall construction of this pedal is as if you are going to war; Solid has hell. This wah cannot be broken. True bypass ensures that your signal is 999999.9999% pure at all times and the indicator light will always let you know what is going on. I can’t recommend this way enough. It’s got a deep throaty growl that is tops. if you are looking for a great way pedal that offers some flexibility and superb construction, grab the Fulltone Clyde Delux… now about that “Jimi” guy from the sixties….. what was his last name? : – )

Building Your First Guitar From Scratch

Building Your First Guitar From Scratch
Ready to build your first guitar?

Before you start your first guitar building project, take a few moments to think through some important details

If you’ve never built a guitar from scratch, then you are in for a real adventure. Some prefer to buy something slick and shiny off the rack that has been assembled by the best “master builder” in the universe. This is fine. But personally, I feel that there are few things more enjoyable than the feeling of tuning up a guitar for the first time that you have just built yourself. The pickups are exactly the ones you wanted, the wiring / switching is as per your wishes, you have chosen a neck that feels perfect in your hands, it’s a great feeling. The sound is 100% you.

I am not a professional guitar repair technician, nor am I a world-class builder, not at all. But I have walked down this road that you are about to embark on many many times. I have spent countless nights scratching my head trying to figure out where a mysterious buzz was coming from or why my new neck was crooked. I can’t promise you that you won’t have a few of these head-scratching moments, but I will certainly do what I can do in this article to minimize them and help you avoid some of the classic mistakes that I’ve made and then learned from.

When you are curious about your instrument, how it works, and how you can make it better, it will have a big impact on your musicianship. You still have to practice every day of course, but your intimacy with your guitar will become a big part of your sound and technique. I would not trade one second of those head-scratching moments for anything; they start to add up and you really will become knowledgeable with regards to guitar modification.

Getting Started

The easiest way to start out is to buy a complete guitar that is a mess and spruce it up. First change the pickups, and then change the tuners, and then install better pots, etc… Each step along the way, you will encounter minor issues and as you solve them, you will learn important lessons, but in this scenario, you will always have a complete working guitar, so there is much less pressure to get the patient to show a pulse. I did this for a few years before I attempted to build a complete guitar from scratch and I learned a lot buy upgrading the various aspects of the guitar, all the while knowing that I could roll back my changes at any given time if things got too rough.

If you do decide to build a guitar completely from scratch, avoid trying to do everything at once. There are lots of details with regards to building a guitar. The key to keeping this fun is to be smart about how much you take on, and leave some things for next time. A perfect example is the finish: Messy. Leave that for next time. Try to go with a 100% finished body and neck this time, and maybe next project can involve a prep & paint job (believe me, this is more than a notion, and if it does not go well, you really do have to start over). Grab a finished guitar body, either on eBay or from one of the several online retailers out there, all of whom I can attest have pretty solid stuff. Obviously, the more expensive ones like Warmoth are of higher quality.

Stratocaster vs. Telecaster

The biggest distinction between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster with regards to building is the control plate. Where you need to completely remove the strings on a Stratocaster guitar in order to access the electronics, with a Telecaster guitar you do not; the control plate can be removed completely without disturbing the strings. This is helpful because as long as the wires from the pickups to the electronics are working correctly, you can remove the control plate and fix / experiment with the electronics while the guitar is tuned. This makes adjustments a snap. With a Stratocaster, if anything does not work, you need to completely remove the strings, and then remove the pick guard to get at the electronics. What a pain in the neck. In some cases, your Stratocaster body might be rear-loading with essentially makes this process as easy as a Telecaster, but with a standard Stratocaster, you will need to remove the strings. Because of this, you’ll need to really make sure that everything is working as well as possible before you put the strings on.

How do I test everything on a Stratocaster before putting the strings back on?

This is more of an art than a science. On paper, you can wire everything up right and really feel 100% sure that everything should work fine, only to find that when you screw the pick guard back on, put new strings on, stretch them and then tune them, there is a short or a buzz in your wiring. You just wasted several bucks on a new set of strings, and have to go through the hassle of removing everything again to fix it.

They way to test everything is to tap the pickups with a screw driver. This may sound a bit odd but hang in there with me. Once you have wired everything up and area ready to put the strings on. Plug your guitar in, and put it through an amp with a bit of drive, not too much, just a little. Then tap the bridge pickup with a screw driver. There should be a very healthy “thump” as you do this. Roll the volume and tone knobs back and forth, testing that the volume and tone change accordingly as you tap the pickups with the screw driver and change the settings. Now do the same with the rest of the pickups. The loudest and strongest “thump” should come when you tap each pickup individually. When you have placed the pickup selector switch in one of the positions where multiple pickups are selected, the “thump” should be a bit weaker. When you do this, don’t forget to test both pickups. The best way to prepare for this technique is to do the “thump” test while your guitar is wired up and working properly. This will allow you to tune your ears to the way a healthy “thump” sounds. The point of the “thump” test is that when the “thump” does not quite sound right, you can investigate before having put the strings back on.

Organizing Your Budget

If you have an unlimited amount of money to spend on your project, then skip this section. If you are working within a strict budget, then it’s important that you allocate funds wisely. Whatever you do, no NOT skimp on the neck. While everything has an effect on your sound, the two parts that have the biggest effect are the pickups and the neck. There is just no point in getting a super-fancy body with AAA quilted maple and then wind up with a sub-standard neck that does not feel right in your hands. Worry about the neck first, pickups next, body third. Again, everything is important, but the neck is where you make the most contact with the guitar, it has to feel right. Think about what back shape you want for the neck, what kind of finger board wood you want to use and what size frets you want. It all maters.


The most important thing is to keep this fun. If you don’t enjoy it, then it will feel like work and you will risk either not completing your project or never doing another one again. If possible, get the best neck you can afford and get a few sets of pickups. Once your guitar is complete, you can experiment by swapping out the pickups with other ones and see how much the sound can vary. I would almost recommend you get the crappiest body you come across. Why? Because the body is the part that takes the most beating with you build a guitar. Everything gets screwed to the body. Screw holes get soft and stripped, your soldering iron will slip when it is hot, etc… There is no point in spending a lot of money on a really nice and shiny body when at the end of the day, it is just going to get scratched up. Take the best care of your neck, keep it clean and keep it in a safe place. Take good are of your pickups, but don’t worry too much about them. Most pickups are affordable and easy to replace. If you are using super expensive or rare vintage pickups, then yes, take extra special care of them.

Once you have built a few guitars and have a strong idea in your head about how you like to go about it, then it makes more sense to use a more expensive body as there will me less mistakes, nicks and scratches, etc…

Good Luck!