Gear reviews and "guitar player interviews". The Guitar Zombie is the fastest spreading blog about guitars, amps, effects and other stuff.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gibson Melody Maker Explorer - an affordable and great guitar for riffing

A US-made ​​Gibson Melody Maker Explorer checked in to my house a few months ago. I swapped it for a Telecaster, not a Fender but a "noname". It turned out to be a good deal and the guitar turned out to be a really riff monster with one Seymour Duncan HB-103 pickup and volume knob. 

It is not an exclusive guitar, to be honest. But the overall impression when putting the guitar on and turning the volume up is "good quality and very light weight". the whole thing with that is that the guitar is the striped down and made ​​for guitarists with a strained economy. Miraculously, Gibson has yet created a good and easy to play instrument. It feels pretty damn fun to meet a cheap and really good guitar. Melody Maker was initially considered a cheap student product from 59's / 60's, but has now returned in a limited edition and in different varieties.

The headstock on original Explorers has the classic "hockey stick", but this one has "The Spear", which gives the overall impression a little different touch, and I like it. The guitar is also slightly smaller than regular Explorers, and therefore a bit more comfortable to play if you´re not a giant.

The body is made of Maple and the neck is Mahogany. The fingerboard, with 22 frets, is made of Baked Maple. A wood that replaced Rosewood when Gibson got problems with illegally imported wood as the availability of Rosewood was strangled. Domestic Maple is not a bad solution, it feels great actually. Baked Maple delivers a very rich tone, nice clarity and great sustain and it´s fairly similar to Rosewood's dark appearance. Baked Maple is used by many other brands, like Fender and Suher, and is not some sort of budget wood, although it´s cheaper due to the manufacturing process which has a lower cost.

The Pickup, a Seymour Duncan HB-103, is a ceramic high-output pickup with awesome attack. The clean sound works ok but it´s in the gain area this guitar really stands out. No compromises. I liked it from the first moment. A really charming and tight sound indeed! I have a Melody Maker "Joan Jett" too with the same feeling, but that guitar is a lot more lavish.

A fall back is that the tail piece is a bit weak. It´s a "wrap aoround the tail piece" with less opportunity for intonation with only two screws for adjustments. My piece is good intonated so I should not whine. It seems  to have a tight contact with the body and it delivers a good "tone".

The tuning screws are the weakest part but the guitar holds tuning quite well and that's the main thing I think. I guess they suposed to give a "vintage feel", but instead they feel a bit childish if I'll be honest. I would prefer better quality here actually, as Gibson's Groovers for example.

A sad thing is that the Gibson logo is printed on the truss rod cover, which makes it feel cheap and not at all "Gibson Style", and perhaps that´s the whole purpose? To make a good, cheap guitar for beginners.

The rating would have been higher if it had more lavish and more stable tuners, but it is nevertheless a really playable guitar, made for high-gain enthusiasts.

The price? Around 300 USD on eBay, a very affordable guitar.

Zombies 3.5 (5)

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Guitar Zombie will soon reach 6 000 followers, and goes for 10 000...

It has now been a few weeks since The Guitar Zombie launched and the blog has already close to 6,000 followers on Facebook. It is absolutely amazing. The goal is to reach 10,000 followers by Christmas this year. I have many interviews with known and unknown guitarists and lots of equipment to review the coming months. 

The Guitar Zombie
I keep getting feedback from guitarists from all over the world who give me suggestions on what they want the to read about, and I'm of course very grateful for that. Nothing is more important than this feed back.

If I reach 10,000 Zombie Readers, perhaps even 20,000, it will mean a lot to how The Guitar Zombie will be developed next year.

If you have tips or suggestions on how you think I should develop the blog I´m more than happy to hear from you, here on the blog or on

Stay Zombied!

The Guitar Zombie

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Frank Levi, the Wizzard of Amps, speaks out...

Frank Levi is probably one of the most interesting guys in the history of guitar playing,  especially when it comes to modding amplifiers and guiding guitarists to refine their guitar tones. His most famous "artwork" in amp modifications have become edged with mystery and secrecy. His awesome work is without doubt one of the best in history. 

His name pops up in several forums on internet when it comes to tweaking guitar amplifiers. But there is not that much information out there about the man himself and what he actually has accomplished, which made me very curious. After some basic research it´s obvious to me that he has contributed to some really big and important guitarists 'tones' through the years. Warren DeMartini (RATT), Doug Aldrich (Bad Moon Rising and later Dio and Whitesnake), George Lynch (Dokken), Billy Squier and not least Slash in conjunction with Guns n 'Roses debut album Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion I & II, to name few.

I contacted him to find out about how it all started and especially his work with "modding" amps.  I realized that he probably is a very busy man and I had actually no expectations to get any respons at all. But I thought "what the heck".

After a couple of hours I got the answer that he was more than eager to help me out with my questions.

The interview have been carried out over Facebook and through email contact. The work has, for various reasons, taken several months, but now it's finally done. I have made ​​my own comments in the text where needed, dressed i italic. I can proudly present to you one of the world's most legendary and influential nodders of all time, Mr. Frank Levi.


You have your seat in New York nowadays? 
Yes, I am actually born in New York and lives in the State of Island. My shop is located in Long Island City, Queens Rocket.

You are one of a few really "big names" when it comes to amp modding, how did it all start? 
 I actually got my start in New York. In 1969 I repaired my first Marshall and in 1970 I started experimenting with some modification ideas as well as repairing HIWATT amps. 

What was your first amp that modded? 
I think the first mod that I did was in the mid-60s on a Fender Bassman 4x10.

But it was in the 70s, it really took off? 
Yes it was. By 1972 I was servicing and modifying both Marshalls and HIWATTs. I was heavily into my HIWATT mod, Marshall mods were more of a hobby. I didn’t get serious about modding Marshalls until I hooked up with Billy Squier and his band “Piper”. “Piper” had 3 guitarists, all with 100 watt Marshalls and Billy wanted each one to sound different. This made me get very serious about modifying Marshall amps. Servicing and modifying English amplifiers quickly became my forte.

You had a pretty long collaboration with Billy Squier... 
Well, after Billy Squier Band was formed, I continued to modify his Marshall amps. It was a new challenge this time, he had 2 main heads that sounded a bit different than each other and Billy had me modify his 2 spare heads to sound exactly the same as his main ones. I not only succeeded in doing this but, I also designed and built a switching system to switch between each main amp and its spare without missing a note.

So he let you continue to work on his Marshalls? 
Yes he did. When Billy was in the studio recording the “Signs of Life” album, I was busy creating the “Squierfire”. It was a 100 watt plexi tremolo head that I heavily modified…it took me the better part of a year to do the mod and get all of the bugs out. 

What was his reaction? 
I will never forget Billy’s face when I brought it to the recording studio and he plugged in! He was thrilled to say the least and he used the “Squierfire” on his guitar track for the album. I, too, was thrilled with the amp and his reaction.

Billy Squier himself has said in an interview in Premiere Guitars 2009: 
"I've got 10 or 12 Of These heads That I've had since the early 70s. I have a few That are a bit later, but the ones I use are the old Super Lead 100's. Frank Levi These reworked for me over the course of many nights of creative abuse. He'd start out with an idea and I'd try it, and then we'd just keep going Until We got what we wanted. I love the way These sound Because They don 't compress. They have the classic Marshall tone, but do not compress into That midrange 'box.' in set the volume around 2, but They sound like they're on 12-they're incredibly powerful. "

When you modd an amplifier for a client, what goals do you set up? 
My aim in modifying amps is to give the client what he wants and make the amp as flexible as possible sound wise. My favourite mod gives out anything from Joan Baez to Slayer with no channel switching, just the guitar volume or a volume pedal…this take a lot of practice on the part of the guitarist.

Who else have you worked with? 
My next heavy influence was Warren DiMartini (RATT). When I first went on the road, they had eight 100-watt full stacks. When I finished, Warren was using two 100-watt heads; one was just for his solos. Warren had close to 20 heads and I worked on almost all of them with him as my “test pilot”. He was great to work with. I also went out with Def Leppard on their “Pyromania” tour and modded their Marshalls.

You suddenly left touring as amp tech, why? 
I got tired of lying on the road and began making repairs to the SIR LA instead. I had previously worked for SIR-NY when I was not on tour.

And then you got involved in some classic mods? 
Yes. One day I asked my boss to let me hear #39, that Caswell had modded…the amp was not getting rented and I asked him to let me take the Caswell mod out and put my own mod in…I got the OK and shortly the legendary #39 was born. It became so popular that I had to modify another amp and, thus, the legendary #36 was born. Both amps were never on the shelf for more than a day. With both #39 and #36 out, I had to come up with a mod for a 2203 that would be similar to #39 and #36 and, thus, the legendary #34 was born.

Which amp models was the origins? 
# 39 was a 1973 (ST/A4259E) model 1959T.
# 36 was a 1977 (SL/A07422J) model 1959th
# 34 was a 1985 (S/AS01796) model 2203 Mk.II.

Did you do anything with the power supply? 
I did not make any real changes to the power supply in #39 and #36 except adding an additional filter cap for the extra tube. #34s power supply is stock. I do not like using a Variac on amps unless they have an independent filament transformer.

 # 36 was used on the Guns n 'Roses debut album "Apetite for Destruction" and # 34 was the one on the "Use Your Illusion", did you do anything else with Slash after that? 
I met Slash before GNR became famous…he used to bring me his amps (Marshalls & Boogies) after his gigs. Unfortunately, we lost touch around the time I was leaving SIR. I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t hear from him or Marshall during the development of the AFD100. To date I have not been inside an AFD100 to see exactly how it is put together. BTW I remember that Slash used pedals on his recordings, but I don't recall what pedals.

These amps are still the most discussed individuals of your mods, I mean # 39, # 36 and # 34? 
SIR-LA #39 and #34 are the most talked about amps with my mods. The forums got #34 right, but #39 is another story. I have done many, many #34 mods since then but, only one #38 mod for a friend and excellent client of mine. I do not plan on making any more #39s nor will I give out the real details of that mod.

The rumor says that George Lynch rented #39 around 1986 for touring? 
I if I remember correctly, he used #39 on tour yes. I also did about 5 of his amps between 1987-1988. A Super Bass -79, three Super Leads, and a JCM800 S/2203
I plugged including the Lee Jackson Metaltronix mods, sitting in some of them, and made ​​their own fully customized to George Lynch himself.

There´s a great chance that you can hear some of these amps from the live recording "Beast from the East" with Dokken which was released in 1988 and the studio album" Back for the Attack " from 1987. Here is a clip from "Back for the Attack", "Mr. Scary", with isolated guitar track. I'm not entirely sure if this actually is one of Levis's mod (but most likely ), but you can still get a picture of the Lynch guitar sound at the time. It starts 8 seconds into the clip. 

If we return to the SIR mods. How did it feel to be excluded when they developed the Marshall AFD100, actually based on your mods? 
I was of course a bit disappointed. As far as them not contacting me, i wasn't surprised, the only time Jim Marshall really wanted to sit down with me was after he heard my HIWATT creations (PRE-1, PW50 and PW100).

Why don't  AFD100 nail the exact sound on Appetite For Destruction? 
The main problems with the AFD100 is they are built like a generated style wiring with all of their jumper cables (like the TSLs) PLUS all of the solid-state crap in the amp. Excessive lead lengths & circuit board traces create their own capacitance which, in turn change the sound of the amp.

You have also designed your own amplifiers at HIWATT? 
In late 1988, I left SIR-LA to design a line of amplifiers for Four Life, the holders of the HIWATT trademark at that time. I designed the entire HIWATT 2000 Series over the next few months. Four Life was actually part of Fernandes. My time with HIWATT ended in late 1993 and in 1994, after the Northridge earthquake, I returned to NYC.

Who used your HIWATTs? 
One that I worked with was Dough Aldrich, who among other things played my Hiwatts during his time in the band Bad Moon Rising. We cooperated throughout the development period when I was on Hiwatt, and he also played the first Power Amp, PW-50 in the 2000 series, but also a lot of other prototypes

Which Marshall do you think is best, from a modding perspective? 
I prefer a well built tube amp that is not full of solid-state circuits. Marshall 2203s and 2204s are my favourite Marshalls to work on. I try not to deface any amplifier with a bunch of holes for new controls, etc. because it tends to make the amp harder to maintain its value.

Discussion on what is most important for the "tone", playing style and technique or the amplifier's sound? 
A guitarists playing style definitely influences the sound, although not as much as most mods.

Thanks for letting me do this interview...
Thanks, it was fun.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pykmax -An new way of using a guitar pick

For a while ago a reader asked me if i had tested the new "Pykmax", a innovative guitar pick. A piece of strange plastic that invite guitar players to a complete new way of playing. The designers behind Pykmax has created a product that actually add new values for some guitar players, not every one, but at least some of them.

I ordered one right away to check out what this thing was all about. I am a rather curious person, and sometimes this curiosity leads me to interesting experiences.

The price was a bit high for me, around 35 dollars including shipping, but that didn't stop me and after 3 days the package landed in mail.

By applying a handle to the the pick it offers a more stable playing, especially for beginners, although the company claims that the main target group also includes the pros. They say that it´s good for speed players, but I am a bit "sceptic" to that.

I think, though,  the idea is good, the is some times a hurdle  for many beginners, and reason for them leaving the guitar world. In this case the Pykmax offers a support and I´m sure that Pykmax works really good for beginners. I'm not a beginner, but I sure remember struggling with my picking hand.

To hold a Pykmax is pretty much like holding a pencil and it isn't strange at all and its very easy to learn how to use it, its a smart construction. The grip, which is made of wood, feels well designed and very smooth i the hand, but the colors? Well, not my cup of tea, it feels like an echo from the 80´s.

The actual pick feels pretty much like a normal pick, but a little too "soft and smooth" for my taste, but on the other hand there is no need for a "gripping" surface layer.

They are sold in three thicknesses: 0.6 mm. 0.88 mm and 1.0 mm. I like heavier stuff, like 1.4.

Here you can see and hear how it works ...

After playing with this thing for a couple of hours it became a bit constraining for some of my picking styles that I have developed over the years. But for some stuff it works fine. When I change between finger-picking and playing with the pick it's very smooth and the playing becomes much easier. But when I play stuff that requires active variety in my playing, like harmonics for instance,  it becomes problematic. In this situations the Pykmax feels a bit in the way and stops me. Maybe it's a matter of taste and a thing to get used to, I do not know.

This is not about something that is "black or white", I think. It won't  replace the normal "vintage pick", so pick lovers don't have to be worried that the Pykmax will take over the world some day. It sure adds some variety to some guitarists, especially those who wants to play with their fingers and thinks that it´s tricky to hide the pick in their hands. But most players will stick to the old ones.

I´m absolutely sure that the Pykmax´s not gonna boom the market. People are far too conservative, and many players will condemn it immediately.

The sad thing is that without the power of innovation and brilliant new ideas, the guitar industry would be awfully boring. Unless Jim Marshall, Leo Fender, Orville Gibson, Les Paul had violated the normative limits of their time, this blog hadn't exist and you hadn't read it.

The idea about Pykmax is undoubtedly good and the company behind it is definitely on to something interesting here. I like it very much, but a few weeks after I did the test I found the Pykmax laying there lonely on the amp...

3.5 zombies (5)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Edwards E-SG-100LT2 "An affordable quality guitar from China/Japan"

I had been scanning the internet and local guitar shops for quite some time looking for a suitable SG guitar. I love the look of that guitar and the great playing comfort. I also like that special tone that has served as kind of a "tone model" for iconic guitarists in many genres through the years. My first electric guitar back in 1979 was actually a Sigma SG. I actually still have it. Sigma was a Japanese brand from the mid 70's. The playability was pretty good, as i remember it back then, but today it feels both scrubby and rigid. It is more of sentimental reasons it's allowed to remain in collection. I've also owned a few other SG models over the years, but they all left fore something else better, cooler or more interesting. 

What I sought for now was a comfortable "individual" with high playability and not to expensive. I did not really have the 3000 dollars required for a descent vintage Gibson SG. I also wanted it to be black with the small black pick guard. Quite tricky demands in a way because affordable guitars always have something that does not feel right.

Gibson SG Special 
The first object I was looking for was in fact a Gibson, and there are plenty of them out there. I tested the cheaper models like "Special", "Faded" and the more expensive "Standard". Unfortunately no one fell into my arms.

One thing about this is that many Guitar Shops rarely adjust their guitars, and I think that's very strange. They say that they do not have the time nowadays. But who wants to spend a thousand dollars on something that feels like crap and sounds out of tune?

If you have the slightest interest in guitars, you can feel right away if the guitar doesn't as it should. I think they underestimates the customer. A rightly adjusted Gibson SG Standard is not a bad guitar, it's actually a really good guitar. But the ones I came across did not fit my needs. Maybe I'm picky, I do not know?

As I was reading various forums on the internet I discovered that a lot of people actually preferred a brand called Edwards, who makes brand new clones of the Gibson SG Standard with an almost surgical precision. Edwards have been making clones for ages, I actually owned a great Les Paul clone in the late 80's.

Edwards is today a brand under the ESP group and are recognized for their Gibson clones, especially the SG Standard. The problem is that they are not in stock here in Europe, as they are primarily made ​​for the Japanese home market. Edwards guitars are manufactured in the northeastern part of China by an ESP company called Heilongjiang ESP Electronic Audio Co. The wood comes from Russia according to several sources on Internet. When ESP actually moved their production to China is unclear, but sometime in the early 2000's.

ESP factory in China 
The reason for moving the production to china was clearly money related. China has cheaper labor and cheaper facilities than in Japan. What made it possible was a "trade agreement" between China, Japan and Russia that made it advantageous to buy and sell between countries.

The production takes place under the strict supervision of Japanese design engineers from ESP. When the guitars are finished and assembled, they are sent to Japan for "The Final Touch", and this is where all fine adjustments takes place, the one that makes them superior. The factory in Japan is called Saitama and is located north of Tokyo. They have chosen not to put the final quality work in China due to "lack of quality skills". Presumably this is the answer to how they can keep such high quality in the critical part of the process, but still find attractive price levels. These guitars are "Made in China/Japan", interesting times we are living in. The former enemies build cool guitars together.

I guess that this is an approach that several "new" Japanese-made brands will apply in the future. On the Japanese website Rakuten you can buy them directly from the final plant in Japan at great prices.

However, one must add the cost for shipping and customs. But even with those turned on, the guitars are much cheaper than US Gibson SG Standard here in Europe or America. So I hit the button, well aware of the risks of buying a guitar that you have not tried. But with thorough research in the forums, you can reduce the risk ratio quite well.

Edwards E-SG 100LT2 

Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Rosewood, 22 frets w / White Binding
Radius: 305 R
Scale: 628 mm
Saddle: Bone (43mm)
Inlay: Pearloid Dish
Neck Attachment: Set-Neck
Tuners: GOTOH SD90-SL
Stall: Old Type Tune-Matic & GE101Z GOTOH
Pickups (Neck) Seymour Duncan SH-1n (Bridge) Seymour Duncan SH-4
Mechanics: Nickel CONTROLS: 3 way switch, 2 volume, 2tone,
Color: Black

Right out of the box is perfectly adjusted and with perfect intonation. It's impressive, especially if one considers that the guitar was transported in an airplane all the way from Japan to Stockholm.

The mechanics are Tune-O-Matic and tuners from GOTOH and it feels stable with a perfect tuning, even after quite a rough treatment.

The neck is very nice shaped and the binding is "pale yellowish" and gives the guitar a vintage feel. The fingerboard of Rosewood is easy to play, as most Rosewoods are. The guitar actually feels better than a well made Gibson SG Standard. Sorry boys and girls, this Edwards SGs rocks every day in the week.

One explanation is that it truly is a great guitar made with finess and skilled workers in combination with great efforts to adjust the guitar carefully on the spot. I think it's in their blood and culture actually. They just have to do a good job and the "japanese company culture" is about being proud of what they do. I am not talking about asia in general now or brands in general, I am talking about ESP/Edwards and this guitar.

The guitar has, like other SGs a surprisingly strong sustain, given that it is much less in weight than, say, Les Pauls.

The pickups are 59' Seymour Duncan SH-1 in the neck. SH-1 are often called "poor" PAF's by some "users". Sure they have slightly lower output, but I must say that they are quite hot with a fat bottom..

The bridge pickup is a SH-4 which has a significantly higher output than SH-1and behave an elegantly high-gain, and they are also called "hot-roded humbuckers".

The bridge pickup produce a classic AC / DC character in a Marshall if you like, but it also works very well in a tight metal context, in for example Rectifier or Peavey 5150.

This is a very good SG for both beginners and the more experienced guitarist and if you're out hunting an affordable guitar with high quality and if you can imagine refrain from "Gibson" on the head I can warmly recommend this guitar. If you get one in your hands you can easily feel the quality at once. Everything with this guitar feels solid.

5 zombies (5)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Floyd Rose "sings badly", department of easy tips....

I got an email the other day with a question about what to do when the Floyd Rose Tremolo "sings". When I got my first guitar with Floyd Rose I had the same problem, and it was extremely disturbing. Especially when you play with no effects and you have the need for sudden "stop" in the music, where the point is to be completely silent. A "singing" tremolo totally crashes the party. 

Singing tremolos are a fairly common problem and occurs on almost every tremolo systems around, even Strats, but in particular different types of Floyd Roses.

The reason, for most of the cases, is that the springs behind the back of the guitar vibrates so much that it is taken up by the pickups. It's very annoying that they can not fix things on the factory. Even on the more "expensive" guitars costing up to like 3000 dollars this problem occurs, and it seems to be accepted in the quality chain before delivery to customer. I think its more than strange actually.

The simple way to solve this is to try to suppress the tremolo from the inside.

One way to solve this, and perhaps the easiest to start with, is to open the back of the guitar and put in a little cloth so that the springs "shut up".  Not so much that it "kills" the springs completely, they perform a very important task for the tremolo. You can put the cloth on top of the springs, or beneath them. The idea is to let the cloth surpress and keep the springs from "ringing".

 On the right, an Ibanez Jem7VWH the operation completed, I had apparently chosen a piece of old curtain.

//The Guitar Zombie

Ebow -One cool playing technique

About a year ago I hade a friend over for some jamming att my house. The guy, Holger Thorsin, was wagging with an Ebow i front of me and asked if I had seen such a thing before. Ebow, for what I know now, is a super cool tool that was invented in 1969 by Greg Heet. I had never seen such a thing before in my life and I was stunned about how it sounded. I can't understand why I hadn't  bumped in to this super cool playing technique before. Maybe it says something about my real ability to keep track of cool stuff? Embarrassing thought ha ha.

Nevertheless, the gadget, which is battery powered, has magnets that create an electromagnetic field that makes the string to vibrate and to create harmonics captured by the microphone. The result is an almost endless "tone" that of reminds of "sustain". You change the character of the "tone" by moving up and down the neck, wile playing the guitar neck as usual.  It sound amazing.

Guitarists who have actually played Ebow over the years is, for example, Eddie Van Halen and U2's The Edge.

I tested the thing. It wasn't  really that easy to learn how to handle it though, but my friend spun off like a cat on his Gibson SG. Wonderfull melodies and amazing sound-effects just blew my mind. It's hard to actually explain how Ebow sounds, but you can check out the YouTube-clip below, it might help you to understand what you can do. The guy playing is Phil Keaggy a real super pro. 

Phil Keaggy is otherwise best known as an awesome "finger-picking" guitar player, considered by many as total genius. He is well worth checking out in general.

Go grab the Ebow Zombies....

//The Guitar Zombie

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Peavey 6505 a real monster

Last fall I bought myself a Peavey 6505 top 120 watts. I must say that this amp is a real monster  primarily suited for metal. But despite that fact you can tune in some nice crunch sounds and even pretty cool clean sounds too, but it's angry high gain this amp is created for. 

In the wake of the death of "hair metal" and the dawn of thrash metal in the 90's grunge rise and the metal genre was in great need to improve its sound. Peavey saw the window of oppurtunity and challenged Marshall in the fight about the new target group "modern metal generation". Even Mesa Boogie showed up with their "Rectifiers" about the same time, so Peavey were not alone in this trend.
Marshall was initially caught completely by surprise, and has not really recovered from this, but I admit there are some good exceptions.

As a manufacturer Peavey had a great success with their amp "Bandit" in the 80's but it never really reached it all the way. When 5150 was introduced in 1991 it was cobranded with Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen released in the album 5150 5 years earlier and Eddie played a modded Marshall and Rockman power rack to get that chorus-dominated Eddie sound. A sound that was close to what Peavey actually developed. 5150 is the designation for criminals with "mental disorder" in American policing language, but 5150 was far from a mental disorder.

The first models bore the name "Block Letter Models" and "EVH" was printed on the right side of the chassis, but it was quickly replaced with Eddie's autograph and named them just "signature models". Block Letters amps are very coveted in the secondary market nowadays.

How Eddie was involved in the actual development is harder to find information about, or if he was just cooperating in the marketing phase. However, he used them on the album OU812 later, and the Eddie sound was there, but very far from sounds that 5150 later would be associated with. The tuned down metal genre.

With 5150 Peavey really got into modern high-gain. Machine Head's Robert Flynn was overwhelmed after borrowing one of them for the recording sessions for the album "Burn My Eyes".
Most modern metal bands like Job For A Cowboy, The Black Dahlia Murder, Black Tide, All That Remains, August Burns Red, Whitechapel took the 5150 to their hearts.

Peavey later changed the namne, for copyright reasons, to 6505 when Eddie broke with Peavey and brought his name into other businesses. 6505 was a nearly exact copy in 5150, although hardcore fans claims that 5150 sounds clearly better. I have not noticed any dramatic differences myself.

Peavey 6505 
This amp has more gain and bottom than most amps in the same genre, and it really has its own character. The characteristic of 6505 is that the distortion is ultra strong, warm, dense and with a punch that kicks you right in the stomach. With an EMG-equipped guitar, you easily get in touch with the same sound as many of the modern metal bands of today. Add a little phaser, chorus and delay and lower the gain and you'll get Eddie Van Halen's more modern tone. Pretty impressive extremes, I would say.

It accept effect pedals very well to. One thing to consider in the context"pedals" is that this amp actually produce some bad noise, especially if you engage a TS9 pedal to highlight the tone a bit. It's wise to buy a noise gate and run it in the loop and in the chain at the same time. I run a Boss NS-2, it works great. The amp gets magical silent.

120 watts
2 channels, Lead and Rythm
EQ for each channel (Low, Mid, High)
Preamplifiers: 5 12AX7
Slusteg: 4 SL6
Output: 4, 8 and 16 ohms
Input: High and Normal
Effects Race
Weight: 21 kg

If you play metal, you should definitely test this amp. If you play something else you should probably find a more versatile amp. This is clearly a metal monster.

These amps are pretty reasonable cheap today, you will find a 6505 on Ebay in the range of 800-900 dollars.

Rate if you play Metal:
5 zombies (5)

Rate if you play the Blues:
2 zombies (5)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vintage Ibanez SM9 -A classic 80´s distortion pedal

In 1988 a friend to me had a crazy powerful distortion pedal from the Ibanez classic 9-series, a pedal that took the flagship TS9 a bit further. SM9s distortion was extraordinarily powerful, and had a bit larger bottom. Unfortunately Ibanez closed the production of it, presumably because the TS9 was stronger in the market. TS9 is much used today for various purposes ranging from blues to metal guitarists, and is a bit easier to use than SM9 who had more knobs and a little different "sound spectra". The SM9 is a bit of a forgotten diamond in the world of pedals.

I bought it from my friend in the 90's, but unfortunately it was beaten up badly, so it was mostly lying in a drawer. I sold it a while ago. Then another one appeared a website and I immediately put my teeth in it. Mainly because I was curious how it stands up today among all modern overdrives and distortion pedals that hit us on a regular basis.

Distortion pedals cuts the tone so that the sound wave gets an appearance more like a plateau compared with overdrives that more smoothly cuts the top and you will receive a more severe oversteer which is flashier, but also a little flatter as a result. Not as crunchy as a overdrive.  SM9 tries to compensate the faltering issue by adding both bottom and more punch with some additional parameters.

SM9 is also available in another brand, namely Maxon. Maxon was actually manufacturing ​​SM9 and all other Ibanez pedals in 9 series, maybe more, I do not know. Maxon stopped the cooperation in 2002 and makes its own versions of TS9 and SM9 since then, and they could easily be considered "the original" because they use the original chip. The newer Ibanez TS9 which is not made ​​by the Maxon is slightly different under the cover.

Some of you may have already tried to run two TS9 in the chain for increased gain. In fact, it works really well. I suspect that the idea of ​​SM9 was a bit like that, that is more gain and adding some other values ​​at the same time. What made TS9 got its characteristics was the JRC 4558D chip in it and in SM9 there are two of them, so the comparison with the two TS9 after the other is not so far from what it is all about.

Some people discuss in different forums that a good thing with SM9 is its ability to give a tube amp more solid-state character, but I do not agree on that. It is clear that we have different ears here as in many other contexts. Opinions are very subjective, and should be. There are no truths, just what you here and how you like it.

When I tested it, I put it between the guitar and the amplifier's input jack. I feel that distortion pedals do their best job  there, and not in the effects loop. Maybe it's a matter of taste, I do not know.

Level: adjust volume
Edge: adjusts the top, I think
Drive: adjusts the amount of gain
Attack: adjusts the attack
Punch: adjusts the pressure ahead of the amplifier (bottom)

These five knobs creates almost endless possibilities and that is probably what's on the other hand is its lack, as it requires an ear for finding just the sound that suits your game plan.

This pedal perform completely different depending on what basic sound you have, in other words the amp of your choice. It's perhaps not hugely surprising, but it's important to have this in mind.
Thats why "tips" around "settings" are practically useless in a sense. With a Peavey 6505 it works a little than with a Bugera 333XL. It works best for me with a Marshall JCM800 or JCM2000 or with a Mesa Rectifier. With these you can produce great variety, without risking undifferentiated distortion. I also tried it with a Blackstar HT-5 with good results. I also conclude, after trying several cabs, that the choice of speaker plays a major role.

Another feature that plays an important role is of course the choice of guitar. Passive low-output or medium pickups seems more appropriate than active high outputs with the SM9. With active pups it gets a bit too much, at least with the gain maxed. All depending on what you are looking for. My test was done with av Gibson Les Paul with Alnico Pro 2s and a Fender Stratocaster with single coils.

But there are nevertheless some basic tips, like not to over spice "Attack" and "Edge", as it gets a little too harsh. You'll get more bottom if you hold them back a bit. If you "drive" down to half it actually appears very similar to TS9 and you get a bluesy crunch instead.

SM9 works also very good for sharpening your ordinary gain in the amplifier. But be careful, you can easily override and you lose momentum. If you put a TS9 in front of it and lowers the gain, you can highlight the mid tone, the very same strategy that many metal players use to lift their tone with for example Peavey 6505.

In summary, one can say that SM9 delivers a basic sound close to tube-gain itself and with little tweaking you can get "the Brittish Sound" and "American Sound". It is not for modern metalheads, despite the name "Super Metal", it sounds more like modern vintage hard rock or 80´s hair metal distortion with tube character. With some other effects of your choose you can get Warren DeMartini "You're in love" (RATT) right there in your living room. SM9 requires a lot of love and finesse with the 5 knobs and therefore is patience is a good skill to have with you. In a whole this is very close to a vintage badass pedal...I suggest you test one and listened for yourself.

The experience stays between your ears...stay Zombied...

4 zombies (5)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dorian Sorriaux from Blues Pills

At Getaway Rock Festival (Sweden), I had the privilege to listen the Blues Pills playing the small stage inside "the gas holder". Blues Pills is a band with strong ties to the increasingly growing interest in the 70's sound. The band is growing their fan base, especially in Germany. The first one might be stunned by is Elin Larsson's amazing vocals, but behind her singing you'll find a very skilled band with a guitarist that we will hear more about in future. That I can guarantee. His name is Dorian Sorriaux and comes from France. 

Blues Pills started by something as rare as three members from three different countries, USA, France and Sweden, who met online sending files between each other. The band started in 2012, their common interest in 70's music has generated a band with influences from Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Cream without sounding copied. They recorded an EP, "Bliss", 2012 together without having even met in real life. Shortly after they started their touring.

Full-length album, "Blues Pills," came this year and totally rushes on the lists, especially in Germany, where it recently reached the 4th place on the record charts. That they are taking off right now is easily explained, they are simply an awesome band.

The new album is good, there is no doubt, but the Blues Pills is an unbelievable good live band. They ares dynamic and has a jamming interplay that makes their band a real "killer" on stage. A bit into the gig at Getaway Rock I realize that this is one of the festival's best acts.

Dorian Sorriaux's guitar playing is "classic bluesy rockish" and he is impressively creative in his playing. Along with the others you'll get a swing that is most comparable to the classic acts from the "past".

His solos are dynamic and melodic without losing "blues bottom" or flutter away. He plays softly layered with mixed "high octane gained screaming" when needed while he is restrained and controlled in other parts. A very interesting guitarist. Dorian is no savage on stage, he just stands there confidently and calmly and supplies.

It feels like the Blues Pills was born in the wrong time period. I know I may sound overly positive but Blues Pills are simply magical live. It would not surprise me if they enters the main stages at festivals all around Europe or America next summer.

I met Dorian before the gig to hear a bit about how he thinks and what he looks for when he develops his sound.

You started in 2012? 
Yes we started in 2012 but we had known each other since 2011, we had actually recorded an EP together over the Internet. I did guitar tracks in France and the songs as a whole was assembled in the USA, then Elin put the vocals on in Sweden. After that we really wanted to go ahead and meet up in Sweden.

Perhaps an approach that is becoming more and more common? 
Yes it is one of the positive aspects of the internet, people from different parts of the world can actually come together and do things.

Did you play the guitar parts in your computer? 
Yes, I did, in a program called Audacity, a real beginner's program. I had a small 18 watt combo that I plugged into the Harley Benton cab with two Vintage 30 that I "miked" with an SM58 and an SM57.

And your guitar? 
I used a Stratocaster that I colored with a Fuzz and I also had a Les Paul Custom that I borrowed from a friend. Along with the amplifier and the computer program, which was very "Lo-Fi", it became pretty raw, but I like it.

What stuff are you using now? 
At the gig tonight I use a Gibson Flying V Reissue, otherwise I mostly use my Gibson SG recently, one which I bought in Australia. A 1970 SG Custom.

I was just on my way to mention that, because it sounds like it is very SGish on the new album? 
Yes it is but also a -65 Firebird with P90s. Firebird is very easy to play and does not weigh that much. I like P90s best but the SG has the mini-humbuckers, which I also like very much. They are not as thin as a single-coil but not as fat as the regular sized. And I think it fits our sound good in Blues Pills where it is very minor chords and quite soft. At the same time they work good for solos, I think, at least for me.

So why are you driving a Flying V tonight? 
It is Zacks Flying V. The thing is that we flew from Lithuania with Lufthansa and the airline managed to mess up the mount on the neck. I played some gigs with it but it just got worse and worse. I'm getting it fixed now. Before I bought my SG I always played Zacks V live, and after playing the SG now for quite some time I thought it felt a little strange when I had to change back and play humbuckers again. But it sounds good, I think, but not as my SG of course.

String thickness? 
10-52 and we tune down a whole step.

Regarding amps, are you touring with Orange stuff? 
Yes we are running very orange on this tour, usually Rockerverb 50. I like reverb in that amp and it's pretty easy to quickly get a good sound in most situations. I use a newer model of the Twin Reverb sometimes but to get good sound in it, I must "crank" it completely and then it will be super loud and the guy always tells me to turn down, even at fairly large venues. I've  tried to turn it backwards instead but it did not solve the problem. With Rockerverbs it is easier to just plug and play even at fairly low volume, you don't have to push it to maximum.

So tonight it's the Orange Rockerverb? 
No, today I'm going to play another amp actually, an old amplifier made ​​in Italy called DNS. It was distributed by Hagstrom in the 70s and was a tube amp that was some kind of "copy clone" of the Fender Twin Reverb and a Vox AC30. It has a super nice reverb and tremolo is fantastic, and it is my absolute favorite amp. 70% of the record is recorded with the DNS.

When you developed your guitar sound, from who did you get inspiration? 
I like guitarists who play few notes actually. Peter Green, of course, Paul Kossoff from Free. Guitarists who played with gain, but not excessively so the guitar's character was still there. I'm trying to find a tone that is on some kind of medium gain if one can say so. I have however a couple of distortion pedals for my soloing.

Can you describe the best sound you strive for?
I think a tube amp that you run pretty hard just before it cracks up is the best. For distortion I use pedals, but mostly it is "the push" and "sustain" I´m looking for.

What effects do you use live? 
I use an MXR Micro Amp to get a little more gain, it is on through  the whole gig in the background. For solos I run a dist named Velvet Minotaur from Greece, which is actually a copy of the Clone Centaur. It is so very expensive so could only afford the copy.  It gives me that extra gain I need for my solos and it always works. I also use a fuzz, an octave-fuzz, called Tychobrahe. It's a very strange name, as a Frenchman, that is. Ha ha ha. Then I have a Cry Baby, of course, it´s an old one. I like it because it's easy to get started. I also have an old UniVibe that I run together with Fuzz and Wah, it produce pretty crazy sounds.  On the album the sound engineer changed the speed at the UniVibe while I was playing solos and it we  got very strange and exciting sound out of it. A little difficult to do that live of course ha ha ha.

What about the future? 
We've been very fortunate with the tour actually start from 2012, 40-50 festivals and in autumn we tour a lot. It is fun.

It will be interesting to hear you play you tonight. 
Thanks, looking forward to.

Thank you for taking the time to meet The Guitar Zombie, and hey: Avoid Air Baltic ... 
Ha ha ha. Yes "stay away from Air Baltic"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Marshall SL5 Slash Combo, a surprisingly well built Marshall

A while ago a Marshall SL5 Slash combo landed at the Zombie Crib. It is a practice amp that i said to deliver the sound that has become the hallmark of Slash. At the same time SL5 is not to be seen as just a signature amp, it is one of the better Marshalls in a very long time. 

The SL5 is the younger brother of the Slash signature AFD100 head. In 2010 Marshall came out with AFD100, a 100 watt head. The amp got fantastic reviews virtually everywhere, mainly because it ´s stunning basic sound and a really tight bottom. A rock-amplifier with two dirty channels. One that will remind you of the Frank Levi modded JCM800 (# 34-mode) and one based on the modded amp that Slash used on Appetite for Destruction called #36 (AFD mode), also modded by Frank Levi.

And that is what AFD100 is about, to replicate the two hilarious sounds of #36 and Slash´s sound from Use Your Illusion (# 34). Inside the shell of AFD100 you will find 5 piece ECC83 tubes in the pre-amp and 4 x 6550 output amp and a power scale that allows you to reduce power from 100 watts down to 1 watt. If it nails the Slash sound? Well, not in every sense but still very close. The lack of gain, at least to my ears, made me modify it.

This new one, a combo, changeable from 5 watts down to 1 watt, by a switch on the backside of the amp. It will do great for rehearsals with your band actually as well  for bedroom volume.

Inside you´ll find 3 ECC84 in the pre-amp and 1 EL35 output tube.

It has a 12" Celestion V30 speaker, and thats a good decision because of it´s warm sound, especially when it comes to clean tones. This amp is doing really well for cleans, better than you may think, at least compared to the AFD100 which is not a clean amp at all.

When it comes to dirty sounds SL5 is awesome, warm and "bity" and a very good choice. Not because it nails the Slash tone, because it does not. This is a real deal Marshall sounding thing. The 5 watts may sound weak but the truth is that it serves you very loud. If you drive the amp it will break up stunningly och answer your playing as an expert amp. It takes the path down from busy crunch to high gain vintage and firmly rips the Blackstar HT-5 apart avery day in the week. With that said, the HT-5 is a remarkable amp in its own way. One of my favorite small amps.

If you have a guitar with low output you can choose the input jack nr 1, that will give you +6db. If your output on your guitar is normal och very high you can choose input jack nr 2.

The EQ is a well functioning "treble, "mid" and "bass", which gives you a wide range of dialing. The EQ works very well in combinantion with the "presence".

AFD100 does not have reverb, but the SL5 has one. Dialed at 10 a´clock its suits in perfect with clean tones and dirty ones too, depending of your taste. The reverb is not a cheap one kicked in, its a very good and balanced one.

The lack of effects-loop is a bit of a problem for me, and that´s the reason for not landing on top result.

But this is a good amp, one of the best in many years from Marshall.

4,9 Zombies (5)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Welcome to The Guitar Zombie, it's premiere

Preface by Douglas Blair from WASP & signal2noise
"I suggest that all of you follow The Guitar Zombie from now on. Why? Because the fingers are the autobahn to the soul. Strings underneath, wood beneath, sympathetic vibrations, and the path beyond: all that exists until it’s finally translated into sonic airwaves for our ears, mind, and soul. And others’. From that beginning, and to that end is where the magic occurs, human-created and man-made. Mental and physical, action and hardware all interact, co-exist. Explore, with the Guitar Zombie, these disparate aspects that converge to make the whole".
Douglas Blair

Welcome to The Guitar Zombie, A completely nerdy blog about electric guitars for nerdy guitar maniacs. It is an offspring from the swedish blog Gitarrzombien but, for obvious reasons, in english. I will publish the most appreciated articles here for the english speaking guitarists. The articles will focus mostly on gear tests, playing techniques and interviews with prominent guitar players. 

The whole idea with The Guitar Zombie, as an art piece, is to deliver "valuable stuff to know" for beginners as well as experienced guitar players. They are both very passionate about there playing and also very curious to find out answers to the dark secrets and questions of "how to find the tone", "Michael Schenkers sweet-spot", "what is chunky rhythm", "MIJ", "intonation", "Floyd Rose or hard tail", "digital or all tube",  or "what  strings should I choose" etc. There are always more questions than answers, for everyone.

My ambition is to write and report in a more personal way compared to what other sites might do. My interviews with guitarists will focus on the creation process and the equipment, not only gear fetishism, but both...

Interviews coming up are:
(not in this specific order)

DJ Ashba, Guns 'n Roses & Sixx:A.M
Douglas Blair, WASP
Chris Robertson and Ben Wells, Black Stone Cherry
Mia Coldheart and Klara Force, Crucified Barbara
Dorian Sorriaux, Blues Pills
Maja Linn, Heavy Tigers
Clas Yngström, Sky High
Conny Bloom, Electric Boys
Robb Flynn, Machine Head
Robert Pehrsson, Humbucker
Chris Howorth, In this Moment
Mikael Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson, Opeth
Damon Johnson, Black Star Riders
Ryan Roxy, Alice Cooper Band
More to come...

I will come back to you soon with the first article. Stay Zombied...

/The Guitar Zombie