Vaughn's Musical Notation

Thanksgiving 2014: Is it possible to be thankful?

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Thanksgiving.  Is it possible to be thankful in 2014?  I think so, let’s talk about that.

I’m 5-foot, 3-inches tall and that makes me downright short by national standards.  It’s been proven time and time again that folks as short as me don’t generally get a fair shake.  Let’s take a peek at the list of “disadvantages” folks like me have:

  • Ladies tend to see short men as less attractive.
  • Men tend to not want to be friends with short men.
  • Short men are less likely to be hired for a job.
  • Short men on average earn less than a tall man for the same job.
  • And of course, we are ALWAYS chosen last for a sports team.

And it’s a “double whammy” in my case because I’m now also going bald, and guess what, bald men undergo the exact same prejudices!  So, right about now you may be asking what this has to do with being THANKFUL.  Well my friend, that’s an easy one; I’m thankful to be a short, bald man living in the United Stated of America, where there is only one disadvantage that really matters: a bad attitude.  I’m reminded of the catch-line of Russian-American comic Yakov Smirnoff: “America, what a country!”

I love this country, where disadvantaged folks like me can parlay a “glass is half-full” attitude and a good work ethic into a seriously great life.  From the moment I hit kindergarten, I’ve known I was fighting an uphill battle.  I was the shortest kid in my class, and kids can be really brutal in letting you know just how inferior a thing like that makes you!  It could have destroyed me, but it didn’t, it made me stronger.  I began to instinctively know that I would have to be better than average at everything I did if I were to see any real success in life.  A Tall, dark, and handsome guy may be able to be an inept idiot and still get whatever he wants when he flashes his 100-watt smile, but not me!  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  When I get the job, it’s a damn sure thing that I earned it.  When someone is my friend, they probably REALLY like me.  And, chances are my wife really loves me, too.   See where I’m going with this?  Yea, I’m thankful God made me just the way I am; I’m a better man because of the built-in adversity I continually face.

And so, on this Thanksgiving, please dear friend, take whatever disadvantages you may be facing in life and put them to work for you.  If, like me, you are fortunate enough to be living in the USA, consider yourself blessed.  This country has a rich history of disadvantaged folks from all walks of life rising to astronomical success, both personal as well as professional.

Seriously folks, I hope yours is an attitude of gratitude, because if it is, you are probably a happy person with a bunch of real friends and folks who love you for who you are … and on this Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to propose that having true friends is what we should be truly thankful for.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough, there’s always the “black Friday” sale here at WGS! If you enter the code: GIVETHANKS2014, you'll get 15% off all speakers, pickups, and other goodies.  Ha!  Feeling a little more thankful now?  Yep, I thought so.

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The Daion Caribou Guitar Lovefest

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Average: 5 (2 votes)

Daion Caribou Guitar

Hello once again fellow tone-seekers!  Sooo, I build electric guitar pickups … and amps … and am a part of this great WGS family that builds electric guitar speakers.  However, this week I want to pay homage to an ACOUSTIC guitar!  Hey why not?  Acoustics ARE a huge part of the guitar experience, right?  And, it’s probably been the better part of a couple years since I last featured an acoustic on this here blog (Read here).  So ya ready?  Let’s jump in!

So first I’ll set the stage:  It was a dark, rainy night in London when I walked across the creaky threshold of Wan’s shop of ancient oriental oddities and first laid eyes on a guitar the likes of which I’d never seen in all my years.  Okay, actually it was middle of the afternoon when I entered Nashville Used Music.  My friend behind the counter said “dude, I’ve got an acoustic in that you gotta check out … you’re going to BUY this one!”  Nope, I was most certainly NOT going to buy ANOTHER acoustic, I explained.  Yep, I bought it.  But that’s not the truly crazy part, I’m always buying guitars I didn’t intend to buy; the crazy part is that before that moment I hadn’t even HEARD of this particular guitar.  Yea, that was a first!

This guitar was really seriously unique (read: different), and my experience has been that “different” usually equated to “bad”, especially in the world of acoustic guitars.  The time-tested designs of C.F. Martin are just flat impossible to top; no matter how boring and predictable they may appear.  And so, when I laid eyes on my first ’81 Daion Caribou, I simultaneously thought “man that looks cool” and “Bet that sounds like crap”.  I was about to be surprised.

The guitar truly has some of the most aesthetically pleasing lines I’ve ever seen in an acoustic.  Somehow, the Caribou managed to be DIFFERENT in almost every possibly way … yet look absolutely, totally “right” all at the same time.  I’d NEVER encountered that in an acoustic before!  From the totally unique hemispherical cut-out at the bottom of the body, to the brass saddle, to the oval soundhole, to the brass nut, to the headstock … it was all so different, and so RIGHT.  I marveled at the solid tiger-stripe fully un-braced maple back, and once again thought “looks great … bet it sounds awful”.  There was NO WAY this guitar was going home with me, or at least there wouldn’t have been if I had just left well enough alone and not actually PLAYED it!

Holy crap, she sounded sweet!  How on earth?  That unusual shaped body, strange soundhole, brass nut & saddle, unusual wood choices … it shouldn’t have sounded like this; or so my mind kept saying.  But, it did sound good, really good.  Like any acoustic made from fine woods, the years had been good to this guitar, opening her tone up in a most beautiful manner.  I was expecting a guitar very heavy in upper-midrange, lacking especially in body and depth.  But what DID it sound like?  I would describe the sound as very much like a Taylor “grand auditorium” body guitar … very full, yet very balanced with a bit more extra-top-end sparkle and a “bigness” about its bottom end.  Yep, write me up, she’s coming home with me :-)

In the couple of years since, I have had the opportunity to both record with this fine guitar as well as use her “plugged-in” on stage on a handful of occasions, and it’s always a rewarding playing experience.  To those of you considering one of these fine vintage guitars, I will suggest you make note of the fact that the pickups in these are passive, as was the norm in the late 70s/early 80s.  That’s not to say that the pickups sound bad, they sound great actually, but you WILL need an external acoustic pre-amp to obtain that great sound.

My epilog to this story is bitter-sweet, as I’m just packing her up to ship to Connecticut.  Yep, she’s on her way to be the muse of another.  My wife recently bought furniture for our dining room, which I had been using as a storage space for spare musical gear; she laid down the law: the stuff had to go!  I love my gear, but I love my little woman more, and so I put the guitars, amps, and drums stored in the dining room up on eBay.  The Caribou was the last item to be put up on eBay, and I secretly hoped she wouldn't sell.  She sold in the first day to a collector who informed me he had been looking for one for years.  So if one of these guitars crosses your path and you are smitten … you had better gobble it up right away because the word on the overall greatness of these fairly rare guitars seems to have gotten out.  They don’t come up for sale often, and when they do, they don’t stay for sale long.  Now, a few pics of this fine gal … I call these sexy shots “guitar-porn” :-)

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

Daion Caribou Guitar

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Tone Capicitors and RW/RP Pickups in Stratocasters

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Average: 5 (3 votes)

Hi fellow tone-seekers!  I just had some EXCELLENT questions about Stratocaster pickups come in via my site, VaughnSkow.com.  So good I think I might use tham in a blog :-)

Vaughn Skow Vintage Guitar Pickup RW/RP middle RWRP

Q: Besides hum - does Non RW/RP mid pup really sound better and deliver more "quack" to in-between positions 2 & 4, than RW/RP?

A: It is my experience that the answer to this question is NO.  I offer the non RW/RP option on my historic 1954 & 1959 Strat sets for purists who demand it, but such purists would also demand a 3-way switch on their Strat … which means there would be no “in-between” positions … and no benefit from an RW/RP middle pickup! 

Q: What NOS tone capacitor (& value) would complement your historic '64 set, best... do you suggest. Does it play any role at all tone?

A: Ahh, this is an area where my opinion is sometimes different than others!  It is my opinion that vintage Strat pickups sound best with the .1uf tone capacitor that was in fact used in vintage Stratocasters.  Vintage style pickups with Alnico Magnets and vintage wind counts can sound overly bright with the lower “modern” values. The ONLY time I recommend going to a .047 (or less) is when using pickups with ceramic magnets, which are inherently less bright and more “barky”; this is especially true if they are “over-wound”.   Yes, modern lower-end Strats, like the Fender “standard” made in Mexico come with .047uf caps, but they have terrible pickups with non-magnetic pole pieces being charged by a chunk of cheap ceramic magnet glued to the back of the pickup … they NEED all the sparkle they can get!  I’ve had the opportunity to dissect and blueprint many “holy-grail” original vintage Stratocasters, and they almost all had 1uf tone caps!  There is a magic that happens with the combination of true vintage-spec Strat or Telecaster pickups and the .1uf capacitor.

1958 Fender Strat Tone Capacitor Cap

Q: NOS cap or not?

A: I’m a fanatic on using NOS parts in some places, like tubes for instance, but capacitors are not one of those parts!  I’ve compared NOS paper-in-oil and “bumblebee” caps to modern silver mica (and lots of others) … and I actually prefer the new caps; I can’t tell a BIT of difference in the sound … but the old caps values have often drifted all over the place!

Q: Some of the most respected pickup builders (C.Novak, M.Gray, D. Mare, M. McConachie...), as a matter of fact tend to differ on their opinion to these subjects. I was just wondering what's being the truth, out of your vast experience and knowledge.

A: Thanks for putting me in that group!  I consider Curtis Novak & Jason Lollar … along with Bareknuckle in the UK to be folks that helped blaze the trail I am on :-)

WGS 10" Green Beret vs Celestion Vintage 10

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Average: 5 (4 votes)

Howdy-do friends and neighbors, ladies & gentlemen, educated and uneducated, those close, and those far away, folks from all walks of life, all manner of faiths, and from one end of the globe to the other … whew … I gotta catch my breath!  I’ve got … news!  Ya ready? 

It’s finally here … the long awaited 10” British voiced 10” speaker from WGS!  Everybody say “wooo-hooo!  Yea, I announced this thing nearly three months back, and then there was a difficulty obtaining some of the “special ingredients” and it got delayed … but not any longer.  It’s here, it’s real, and it’s available for you to purchase right now. Cool, right?

Okay, so in typical Vaughn style, the first thing I did was a little shootout against a serious contender, the Celestion Vintage 10.  How did it turn out, well, they both sound excellent … and quite different.  The Celestion is much boxier, with more lows & less top, and the WGS is more rounded-out with more aggressive mids and top end.  Winner?  Hard to say, how about ya check out the video & judge for yourself!  Oh, and by the way … I’ll let you in on a little secret:  WGS is ALSO working on another Britt 10 … the “Retro 10” … with yet another Britt voice in the 10” arena.  Ha!  So there IS something to still look forward to.  Ain’t life grand?

See y’all next time.  If the video does not play in the player below, click this direct link to YouTube:  http://youtu.be/7RwVV-7LWes

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Sleaper Amps revisited ... Great Minds DO think alike!

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Average: 5 (4 votes)

Hello Friendly friends!  Today I’d like to start out by pointing you in the direction of somebody else’s blog … yep, I’m turning you over to the competition! Not really … we’re all one big blogeriffic family :-)

Anywhoo … I subscribe to Premier Guitar Magazine, and often read their weekly blogs.  The one I just read is entitled Joe Bonamassa’s 5 Most Underrated Amps, and sittin’ pretty at No. 1 was the Lab Series L5.  Wow, great minds really DO think alike!  The Lab Series L5, L7, & L9 (which are all the same amps in 2-12, 4-10, & 1-15 speaker configurations) have been at the top of my “under-rated” list for years now. 

So, after reading Joe Bonamassa’s 5 Most Underrated Amps, take a gander at my blog of a couple years back: Lab Series L5, L7, & L9: the Ultimate Sleeper Amp?

Pretty cool, huh?  Yea man!  And, if you search the WGS site, you will find several threads from folks who have replaced the speakers in their in-expensively acquired Lab Series amps … and unleashed a serious tone machine.  Like so many amps, the SPEAKERS were actually the weak point in the Labs.  Heck, how important can the speaker be anyway … they only make the actual SOUND, right?  Amp manufacturers, when will you learn?  Oh well, there is a bright side … decades of amps being made with crappy OEM speakers has created a fantastic market for manufacturing and selling high-quality replacement speakers :-)

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Guitar Tone: It's What's Under the Hood that MATTERS!

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Average: 5 (3 votes)

So, a few weeks back my sweet little wife asked a simple question that really got me to thinking.  I was showing off the super-cool looking new WGS12L, and she simply asked: “what does it matter what it looks like, nobody ever really SEES the speakers in an amp anyway, right?

Wow, what a packed little innocent question.  Let’s talk about that.

To ME, it MATTERS.  Shoot, I just assumed everyone felt the same way I do, and truth be told, on this here forum, I am probably “preaching to the choir”, y’all get me.  And that’s so cool!  We’re like a dedicated bunch of car geeks; when they get together, no one needs to ask “why do you care what your spark plug wires look like, anyway … hardly anyone ever sees them?”  No, we are meticulous folks who understand that perfection is way more than “skin deep”.  We understand that what really matters is what’s under the hood.

Another, more musical way to look at it is this:  take your average (non tone-freak) off the street and show him two amps, one an old hard-worked 1964 Fender Super Reverb, the other a nice new “digital-modeling” amp with all manner of golly-gee-wizz stuff on it.  Ask him which one is the best … yea, he’ll pick the one that glitters on the outside.  But we know better.  We value the stuff that can’t be so easily seen, like the gorgeous matched pair of NOS RCA black plate 6L6’s and the big, robust pretty blue Sprague filter caps.  Yea, just like a true car guy values what’s under the hood (bonnet for you Britts) … we value what’s under the tolex.  After all, that’s what really matters, right.  And, when you’re talking shop with a fellow hard-core tone aficionado, isn’t it nice to have him take a peak “under the hood” of your rig and see that super-cool speaker? Yea, it is.

In a similar fashion, I’m working on a custom pickup model that honors Leo Fender’s two go-to guys, Forrest White & George Fullerton (I’m calling the set the “59 Fullerton-White Custom Set).  I’m going with bobins made of White & Red (George’s favorite color) fiber “flat-work”.  No one will ever see those colors once the pickups are installed.  But, I know I’ll play different.  Yea, what’s “under the hood” … “behind the tolex” … or “under the pick guard” … that’s the stuff that really matters, so why not make it look cool, too!

Vaughn Skow Custom Guitar Pickup

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Labor Day Thoughts circa 2014

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Average: 5 (2 votes)

Hi fellow guitar tone geeks, great to be with you all on yet another LABOR DAY weekend!

I’ve been fighting a bit of a cold this weekend, and I feel soooo blessed!  Say that doesn’t make sense, well, let me explain!  You see, when I get sick, I get to be sick in a nice snug home with heat and air-conditioning, and running hot cold water, and plenty of readily available food (with pop-tarts and chicken noodle soup as highlights), plus I have a nice comfy bed with big fluffy pillows … like I said, I’m blessed; and grateful.  Even on my most miserable days, I’ve got it good.  Very good, indeed.

On this holiday, I just hope that all of you can say the same.  I don’t know exactly why I was so fortunate to have been born in such a great country with such freedom and opportunity. I don’t know why I have been able to grow up in a time and place where no wars have been fought.  I don’t know why I’ve been granted such an awesome life; but I do know this: I will not take it for granted; I will not complain when I run out of hot water or when I get a little cold.  I will remain forever grateful for the life of freedom and relative prosperity I have been gifted with.

Labor?  Yea, I’m grateful for the opportunity to work, too.  I love working; love actually making or accomplishing something.  I’m so grateful that I’m in America where I was born a farm kid … but had the freedom to pursue my dreams in music.  I’m so glad for both the opportunities I have had to do hard manual labor … and also for the opportunities I’ve had to be creative, and to use my mind rather than my biceps to produce something tangible. 

How about all y’all out there?  Are ya feeling what I’m feeling?  Are you grateful … not just for the days OFF from work … but for the opportunity TO work?  If not, give it some thought.

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And now, a little HISTORY on the “Labor Day” holiday … straight from the “History” Channel: (Read On)

The Crazy Crap We Do to Our Guitars

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Average: 5 (3 votes)

Hidey-Ho friendly friends!  Confession: yesterday I committed a guitar atrocity … and it’s far from the first time, too!  And … it was awesome!  Yea, I know, I’m sick, right?  Well … let’s talk about that.

Here’s the way I look at it.  Some folks who ride motorcycles are perfectly happy to ride a stock bike, while others love to hack, weld, and chrome-plate their bike into a one-of-a-kind ride … same goes for cars … and, I contend, guitars.  Needless to say, I fall into the camp of the “self-modifiers”; take, for instance, my 5-pickup FrankenStrat (ie, StratoBastard):5 pickup Fender stratocaster

So, back to last night’s festival of guitar carnage.  I needed a Les Paul style ax to audition my various pickups on (www.VaughnSkow.com) … and I wanted to be able to switch pickups fast.  Really fast.  So I took a cute little Epiphone LesPaul Special and did what any perfectly insane dude would do, I routed the pickup cavities clean through from front to back and stubbed in pickup lead wires for each pickup cavity. 

Now, I can simply insert the pickup in the back, adjust it to the desired height, wire-nut the leads, and … in less than a minute I’ve just changed pickups!  Ugly, maybe, but dude does it serve a purpose, and ain’t that what guitars are all about when it comes right down to it?  Actually, with the little black foam inserts I cut out, it doesn’t even look too terrible from the back!

With this in mind, I present a couple of “modified” guitars from my buddy Jeff Miller, who plays guitar in one of my little hobby bands, Wind Up Monkey (I play drums in this one).  First is an Epi Les Paul Standard that he sanded … and sanded … and sanded until spots of the mahogany body began to show through the maple top.  Outfitted with a hot P-90 in the bridge and a “something” in the neck, it’s actually quite a pleasing (and one of a kind) workhorse of a guitar.

The second guitar started life as a dual bucker JB Player that received a complete head to toe sticker treatment … don’t know about you, but I think it’s cool as heck!  If ya all got a “modified” guitar ya’d like to share with the class … post it here as a reply … or if that doesn’t work for ya, email it to me to post Vaughn@wgs4.com .

See y’all next week :-)

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Why The Pickups In Your Guitar May Suck

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Average: 5 (3 votes)

Les Paul The Log

Les Paul's "The Log" circa 1946

Hello my tone-addicted buddies!  As some of you know, I’ve been in development on my own pickups for about the last two years.  I’m not QUITE ready to announce anything of a terribly official nature yet … but soon!  So … I’ve been spending hundreds and hundreds of hours dissecting pickups.  Carefully measuring values, painfully unwinding coils, comparing the most minute of details, and I have come to an overwhelming conclusion: Most current production pickups SUCK.  Let’s talk about that.

I’m not quite sure just EXACTLY what’s happened … but in the last 50 years or so, pickup technology has gone from good to bad.  Now, I’m not always the smartest guy in any room, but isn’t that the wrong direction?  It’s a widely accepted fact that the pickups Leo Fender and Seth Lover were designing and producing in the 1950s-1960s are STILL the industries high-water mark, tone-wise.  That just doesn’t quite make sense, I mean, with all of our technological achievements and improvements, why don’t we make better sounding pickups NOW?  Okay, where guitars are concerned, I get it, it’s all about the wood, and nothing beats the no longer available tone woods of pre-1969.  But pickups, man that’s a TECHNOLOGY item, right?  Maybe.  Kinda.

The pioneers of electric guitar got it right; they FULLY understood the significance of the PICKUP in an electric guitar.  In electric guitar tone, the pickup accounts for about 70-90% of the actual amplified tone.  That’s HUGE!  Forget the subtle differences between woods or the material a nut or bridge are made from … the PICKUPS are where the bulk of your tone actually happens.  Shoot, to make his point, way back in about 1946 Les Paul made his famous “The Log”, an electric guitar with a body comprised only of a rough-cut leftover piece of 4x4 salvaged from a construction site.  His point:  the BODY doesn’t really matter much on a solid-body electric guitar … it’s all about the PICKUPS.

And so, as solid-body electrics were being developed in the late 1940s and through the 50s, MUCH attention was devoted to pickup design.  The result: simply amazing sounding guitars.  I have a set of 1959-1960 Gibson “PAF” humbuckers that are to this day the “holy-grail” tone that I compare all my humbucker designs to, same goes for my ’62 Strat for single coils.  That kind of hits me as a little crazy.  I mean, with all the “active” designs, stacked singles, neo-magnets … and the list goes on … why can’t we make pickups that sound better than they did in 1960?  Well, first off, that’s kinda like the idea folks had in the 70’s that solid-state amps should be superior to those antiquated vacuum tube designs … and we all know how that played out.  As it turns out, technology and TONE seem to be at odds with one another more often than we think.  Who out there can argue the fact that a hundred+ year old Steinway Grand sounds better than most anything being produced today, or that a 1940 Martin D-28 can’t be beat with a modern guitar … or, more to the point: that a ’62 Strat or ’59 Les Paul just plain can’t be bested by anything currently in production.

So … why?  I think it comes down to two things:

First: humans make art (ie music), machines don’t.  Sure modern CNC machines can achieve tolerances no human could ever boast, but that just plain doesn’t produce “art” … and electric guitar is most certainly art in its absolute truest and most basic form.  If you don’t believe me, just swing by my shop and watch me make a few pickups; you’ll soon be a believer.  Oh, and neither can a “non-artist” produce fine “art”.  The idea that a worker in some place with cheap labor can suddenly be transformed from someone who makes bra-straps to a guitar pickup builder is downright appalling.

And last: the materials.  Honestly, it just turns out that, like with my vacuum tube analogy, often what may be more “high-tech” just doesn’t sound good.  Take magnet material, the first permanent magnet speakers, as well as the first guitar pickups used a magnet referred to as AlNiCo for its composition of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt.  By today’s standard, it’s considered a pretty archaic magnet composition … but it STILL produces the best TONE from a speaker or pickup. 

Lately I’ve been pulling and trashing a lot of the pickups put in the Fender “standard” Stratocasters (Made in Mexico) to replace with my works of art.  It’s absolutely appalling the utter trash pickups they are putting in these guitars that still carry the name of my personal hero, Leo Fender.  They may look like a Strat pickup from the outside, but they ain’t.  They are made on an all-plastic bobbin (wrong) with steel slugs for “pole pieces” instead of AlNiCo magnets, they are wound with the most inexpensive wire they can source, and then they stick a couple of the cheapest little bits of ceramic magnet material to the bottom of the pickup with a couple of spots of hot-melt glue.  I think I’m goanna throw up.

So, if you’ve got a Mexi-Fender, Squire, Epiphone, or the like be warned: the image you are about to see is graphic and grotesque.  Here is a pic of a Mexi-Strat’s stock pickups, as I found them when I removed the pickguard for an upgrade.  Look close, yep one of the ceramic magnets had actually came unglued from the neck pickup and fallen off.  Like I said, it’s grotesque.

Mexican Strat Pickups

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Announcing the Long Awaited Ten-Inch Green Beret!

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Average: 5 (2 votes)

Wooo-hooo!  What an awesome day to be alive and playing electric guitar!  Yep … it’s happened again; that’s exactly how I began my LAST blog.  Guess what?  Yep, we’re announcing ANOTHER new (and massively requested) speaker: The first of our “British” 10’s, the 10” Green Beret.  Yea, great day, huh?

By the time you read this, the new Green Beret 10 should either be available … or will be within days.  For quite some time now folks have been clamoring for a Britt voiced ten that actually sounds as totally kickin’ as the Green Beret, well wait

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