I'm not very good at it, but I enjoy playing guitar. I'm no virtuoso and I'm not exactly an audiophile performer - I run through an mBox into GarageBand on my PowerBook and then out through the mBox again into my stereo - but I play well enough to amuse myself. I like to improvise noodly atmospheric solos in the "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" or "Maggot Brain" vein.
I got a low-end Ibanez EX360 back in High School in the 80s and it has finally worn out: the patch cable jack has come loose from the body, the dials are noisy and dirty, the Floyd Rose-style whammy bar detunes the strings really easily, while the locks on the nut make it hard to tune them back. Besides that, the Ibanez EX360 was a good axe for a beginner - it has a wide, long neck and a low easy-playing action, as well as a mix of single coil and humbucking pickups, for a nice wide range of tones. It has nice lines and a clean black paint job, as well. It was just becoming a nuisance to play - sometimes no sound would come out, playing too hard would detune it, and I've never really learned good vibrato technique since I could just hit the floating bridge with my right hand instead.
I'm finally getting paid for some of my work, so I decided it was time to get a new guitar. The Ibanez is still sort of playable, so I wanted something kind of different. After looking around and doing a bunch of research and talking to various guitar-nut friends, I've decided on a nice wood-finish Godin LG Hmb. The neck is a little shorter and narrower than the Ibanez, but it's very easy to play. There's a five-way switch on the two humbucker pickups that not only allow you to play single coils at each end, but also both pickups at the same time, which is nifty. It sounds great, and It looks beautiful - I love the clean mahogany finish and the elegant shape. I have it set up on a stand in my living room and it's probably the nicest piece of wood work I have.
The string setup is sort of the opposite of the Ibanez. Instead of a complicated floating bridge which requires a set of tools and a small prayer to replace the strings (like assembling Ikea furniture, but much smaller), the Godin just has six holes that go right through the body of the guitar through which you pull the strings. Much simpler, and as you can guess this anchors the strings nicely, and really punches up the sustain.
The search was pretty quick - ironically, I found this blog post about someone who spent several months deciding on a guitar and picked a Godin LG as well. I first played one at The 12th Fret, far out on the Danforth, but they closed (7pm on a Friday? For a musical instrument store?) before I could make up my mind. I ended up going to Ring Music, which is a ten minute walk away on Harbord, where I was able to play one for a little while. I've always like Ring Music - they're nice people and don't mind if you sit in the corner for several hours playing badly. I've had a lot of stressful times in musical instrument stores, surrounded by flashier players and attitude problems. The 12th Fret folks were nice too - perhaps it's because they're primarily acoustic stores, so they nave more of a S.N.A.G. approach.
The Godin also came with a really nice custom canvas gig bag, with lots of zipper pockets and three different ways of carrying the thing. I need to blog some day about how we're living in the golden age of luggage and bags.
The runner-up at the 12th Fret was a Korean-made blue Paul Reed Smith SE Singlecut. I decided on the Godin for a few reasons:
- The Godin is from a Canadian company (HQ in Montreal) that offshores their assembly operation to New Hampshire, rather than a US company that offshores their cheaper work to South Korea. Nothing against South Korea - but I find the idea of offshoring to the USA kind of amusing. Godin also owns Art & Lutherie, who made my pleasant and nice-looking acoustic guitar.
- The PRS had a shiny blue finish that, while it looked good, is not for all tastes. Clean wood grain is more timeless. My Ibanez is almost twenty years old, and I expect to keep this one for just as long.
- The Godin was a solid well-designed guitar for $550, while the PRS was a few hundred dollars more but seemed more like a cheap version of a fancier, even more expensive guitar. The neck and action felt great, but my guitar-snob friend didn't like the bridge much. He liked everything about the Godin.
When one of my applications gets bought by Google, I'll splurge on a PRS Carlos Santana model with little bird inlays in the fretboard. Until then - and possibly even after that - I'll be plenty happy with the Godin.