#166026  by garybeck
hello friends,
i've been playing guitar for 30+ years, mainly acoustic. i'm in a band and we play lots of dead songs. i keep dabbling with my electric and it's driving me crazy. i need some help. anyone out there want to try to help me?

everything is pretty much fine when i play acoustic. when i play electric i have a multitude of problems. I'm sure I could fix most of them with a bottomless bank account but I don't have one of those. i'm on LOW budget. my problems are:

--TONE. I can't get a clean tone. I want to play with zero/low distortion. I have a fender sidekick amp. it sounds fine at low volume but when I play live i have to turn it up and then the distortion comes in. I have figured out if I keep the gain and presence down to zero, volume on 1, and only use the master volume I can minimize the distortion, but once I hit level 3 on the master, the distortion starts to creep in. I just want a clean tone. I'm thinking next I will try to just keep the master at 2 and just put a mic on the amp and run it thru the PA. I've been reading about amps and at some point i will maybe buy a better amp but it seems like i need to spend $1000 in order to expect anything better (last article I read suggested a used Mesa Boogie II reissue, a friend said just get a fender Blues Jr but I don't see a lot of dead/jerry players using those). I just want clean tone and to be able to play loud and keep it clean. I don't need a ton of effects. I have an envelope filter and a delay and that's all i need right now.

-- guitar won't stay in tune. i like my guitar. when I have the volume down on the amp it has a nice tone. it's an Electra, it was made in the 70s. this is it:
the biggest problem (besides the above mentioned tone which I think is mainly the amp) is that it is always going out of tune. I have to tune it between every song. and sometimes I swear I tune it up, and it is in tune at open but when I press a fret, it is out of tune when fretted. like just pressing the string down tightens the string too much causes it to go out of tune. I'm going to do a thorough analysis -- tune it up and then check every fret of every string to see what the heck is going on. a few years ago i thought maybe the tuners were losing it so I put new tuners on there. but it's still happening. I just played a gig last weekend and I was constantly tuning the guitar and when I listened to the recording i had to turn it off because I could hear it being out of tune and I nearly pulled my hair out. I've been reading about tuning problems and i'm learning that there are a bunch of potential problems. if the nut is too high, then pressing the string down can tighten the tension more than desired and cause it to be out of tune. and/or i need to lubricate the nut. the intonation could need adjustment.

I have brought the guitar in a couple of times over the years and the guy is always like, "wow this is a cool guitar." partly because it
has two very cool slots in the back for effect modules. and they always discourage me from getting a different guitar. i'm on a low budget anyway and would probably look at a squire strat or something like that if I was going to get a new guitar.... I actually bought an epiphone SG knockoff a couple years ago but I am still trying to get my old guitar to work for me. when i bring it in for a basic setup, it usually seems a little better for a while but not prefect and then i'm back with the same tuning problems again a while later. I have another theory lately that the guitar needs to sit and adjust to changes in temp and humidity. like if I take it out of the basement and drive to a show, that is bad because the guitar needs to sit in the new environment and adjust for a while, otherwise it will be adjusting while I play (going out of tune). I think ultimately all of these things could be contributing. which makes me think sometimes, maybe this is just an old guitar and I should try using my Epi SG more and give up on it. either way, I would like to learn more and be able to diagnose and fix these types of things on my own and not have to bring it in every 6 months for a temporary fix that costs another $100.

I could go on... but in a nutshell, i am on a very low budget and I would like to clean up my tone (reduce distortion) and get my guitar to stay in tune better. I'm not looking for bells and whistles, if i can just get a clean tone and a guitar that stays in tune without spending thousands of dollars, I think I can take it from there. is that too much to ask?

am i on the right track to keep the amp volume low and put a mic on it? am i asking for the impossible and I should give up until I have thousands of dollars to spend?

any thoughts or advice are appreciated.

gary in vermont
(http://fogmusic.net or facebook.com/thefogvt )
 #166027  by lbpesq
Hi, Gary, and welcome to the club! I’m sure others will check in, but here is my $0.02, for what it’s worth:

Regarding your amp, there are lots of amps that will deliver a clean tone for a lot less money than a Boogie. If you look at a tube amp, figure you’re going to need at least 50 watts to keep up with a band. If you are considering a solid state amp, you should look for at least 100 watts. The exception to this are Quilter amps. They seem able to match tube amps watt for watt. You can find a Quilter 101 Mini Reverb head for around $300. It has a very Fender-like tone. Match it with a good speaker cab and you’re in business.

As for your guitar, I have owned a couple of Electra MPC guitars. They are nice instruments, even without using the MPC cartridge plug-ins. From your description, it sounds like your guitar needs a good professional set up. (I would try someone different than who you have been using. A good experienced luthier should be able to fix the problems you describe). Lowering the nut (IF it is too high) and adjusting the intonation should take care of the tuning issue when you fret a note. As for staying in tune, it could be as simple as a binding nut, or tuners that need oiling. At worst you may need to replace the tuners - not very expensive. Assuming you don’t need any fret work, a good set up should cost $100 or less, as should new tuners.

Bill, tgo
 #166028  by Bigfoot Co.
Howdy Gary.

Amp- There are lots of different Fender Sidekick amps and I'm not sure exactly which one you have, but that main thing to me is that you have a small wattage solid state amp. It's just not gonna be loud enough in a band (assuming medium vol drummer) context unless you are micing everything and hearing everything through monitors. With your amp, I'd try turning the master volume wide open and then bring your volume up from zero. Keep the gain and presence down to start, then mix them in to taste. But if you want loud and clean, I'd recommend a new amp. Tube of course! Cheaper used would be like a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, or a few more bucks for a reissue deluxe reverb or vibrolux. If you really want "clean" I would steer clear of a blues junior, not enough horsepower and IMO the power section is the wrong flavor for JG style.

Guitar- Lots of these problems start and end at the nut. Loosen the strings, take pop them out of the nut slots, and try some chapstick or vaseline in the slots and see if that helps. Could also be that your intonation is off. All thing considered, it really sounds like you should take it to someone else (try a different tech / luthier)for a good setup, maybe even have a new nut cut. Or consider a more reliable option. If you don't want to spend a lot for a used guitar, a G&L Tribute Legacy , a MIM Strat, or a squier Classic Vibe 60s strat are all good options for around $300.

Good Luck! BFCo
 #166031  by joshq
Welcome! Sounds like a fun if somewhat frustrating journey. The prior responses were pretty thorough, and there're a lot of people here who know much more than I do, so I'll be brief.

It does sound like the guitar has intonation issues, which should be able to be addressed by a good tech, unless there's a major underlying issue. A good set up could be around $125 depending on where you live. And yes of course, sudden changes in environment, especially if it's not being played regularly, will not help it stay in tune. (I'm such a fanatic I tune between nearly every song at a gig). If the guitar is a lemon, as has been said, an inexpensive MIM strat or similar will get you a long way.

As for amps - if you'll always be gigging with a PA and soundboard that can handle it, no need to drop a ton on a loud amp. I would mic it and keep the volumes at clean levels. Again, only if your PA can handle it. For combos, Princeton Reverbs are a little boxy but if mic'd correctly could work and be found around $600 and up. A Hot Rod Deluxe is definitely beefier and not straightforward Jerry tone, but has plenty of headroom and is loud enough on its own, and definitely if mic'd. And you could find one around $500. You could also get a used HRD and just put in a good speaker, that would make a world of difference.

Good luck!
 #166046  by GeneralGoldilocks
that is a sweet amp and a good deal, but it has way too many bells and whistles for what you need, mainly tons of gain settings and channels. I would suggest a fender blues junior or blues deluxe. they are simple tube amps and sound great loud. you should have enough head room with a blues junior to stay clean, but if you want more, go blues deluxe. you can find them cheaper than the mesa.
 #166048  by Lephty
I would second the vote for a Hotrod Deluxe or Blues Deluxe. Used ones go for $500-ish, and if you feel the need, you can upgrade the speaker and power tubes for a reasonable price. IMO a Blues Jr. is a great amp, but might not quite have the clean headroom you're looking for.

Personally I have never loved Mesas, but that's just me...