Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - March 2022

Monday, March 28, 2022

Should You Boycott Harley Benton?

 So some guys on YouTube say you should boycott Harley Benton because the guitar at the top is a rip off of the guitar below it:

Harley Benton Nylon NT
Taylor TZ

  At least, I think these are the 2 guitars in question?

 Which is the gist of my post here: they are similar, but not exact - despite hyperbole.

 Many differences: knobs, fingerboard extension, sound holes are different, body size/geometry different, bridge different.  They look similar (unless I've got the wrong guitars?), but it's variations on a theme.

 A theme that Taylor didn't invent.  The first thing I think of when I see both is a combination of the following:

Godin MultiAc


Ovation Adamas

Rickenbacker 360

 The aesthetic is a combination of established elements.   From a design intellectual property standpoint, there is nothing new.  From a functional standpoint there isn't, either.

 Nobody is buying the $400 guitar thinking it's a Taylor.  But more importantly - and this is the real point - Taylor isn't losing any customers for it's $2,200 guitar.

 Nobody is walking into a Taylor dealership, thinking they want the Taylor and then settling for the Harley Benton.  Nobody.  Just like nobody walks into a Fender dealership wanting to order a Custom Shop Stratocaster, and then settles for a Harley Benton strat.  

 Which is a whole lot closer aesthetically and functionally than the Harley Benton and the Taylor.

  Unless one wants to restart the stratocaster clone wars and go off on a jihad against everybody that makes a strat style guitar, the Taylor vs. Harley Benton issue is a non-issue in my opinion.   The guys in the Youtube video sells both Fender and PRS: do they want you to boycott PRS Silversky models.......?  


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Tube Shortage Hype Part 2

  It looks like Mike Matthews has gotten around the Russian sanctions somehow?   That story seems a bit obfuscated, in that it's not *Russia* imposing the sanctions - as the stories I've seen tell?   

However, digging through Chinese websites reveals a number of "small" companies claiming to be producing tubes.  As well as selling *Russian* tubes, which leads me to posit:

 You probably can get Russian tubes through a Chinese source on Aliexpress.  China is still doing business with Russia; and while the prices aren't cheap, I would suspect some of the older "established" shops are fencing tubes from the Tesla plant.

  It also looks like the Pjvane plant in China has acquired the Changsa Shuguang tooling?  So again, I think in a few months once the backlog shakes out there will be more stable sources.  


Monday, March 14, 2022

Is the Amplifier Tube Shortage Hype?

   Much is being made about the Coming Tube Apocalypse: that sanctions on Russia means "it's going to be impossible to get vacuum tubes soon!".


 From what I understand a number of tube specialist companies have already run out of stock.  As well as a couple of amp companies.

 The problems is.... as far as I know there are only 2 tube manufacturing facilities in Russia.  One is owned by Mike Matthews / Electro Harmonix.  I believe EH rebrands their tubes for a lot of "names", Sovtek, TungSol, Svetlana, Mullard.  In turn I would expect these to disappear.  

 But JJ makes tubes in Slovakia, which as far as I know has no export restrictions.  I see JJ tubes more often than anything else; and China has a few plants that have been making OEM tubes forever.  There is no reason these will go away.  Furthermore, there was a time not too long ago there were much fewer plants producing new tubes than what we have now, without the Russian sources.  

 So I'm not afraid that tubes are going away.  There is a run on tubes right now, and people have marked up the prices accordingly.  Thought they've marked up a lot, it looks like you can still get sub-$20 12ax7 preamp tubes on Aliexpress right now - close to $12 if you buy in bulk.  Shuguang, some claiming to be Russian NOS.  Not graded, but they're there.  

 What I expect to happen is that once China notices (probably via metrics on Aliexpress and Amazon drop shipping), as they always do, ramp up production to take over the market.  There will be $12 12ax7s again, and reasonably priced EL34s, 6L6s and 6v6s again by the end of the year.  

 BUT - there will be people making money off of the "scarcity".  Guitar amp companies, even amp repair guys, have stocks of tubes.  in fact, it used to be you'd see them sort of casual brag about it, "oh yeah, I buy boxes and boxes of them".  They won't be running out of tubes, but they'll no doubt charge accordingly.  I would think this *shouldn't* affect amp prices on the lower end, because companies like Fender and Marshall have bought pallets of tubes before this came up, and aren't picking over them like a boutique company would.  And the boutique makers in general have equivalent supplies.

 I suspect the Larger Boutique manufacturers, though, will get a bit of a margin boost.  Or not.  If China doesn't step up and we get an OPEC like tube supply chain, then I think they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot: as new generations of guitarists happen, the desire for tube amps over modelers wane.  This will just hasten making actual tube amps more marginal.



Monday, March 7, 2022

Acoustic Guitar Purchasing Dilemmas (circa 2022)

 As a general rule, I think for most people the following made sense for the past 20+ years:

 Buy your first "introductory" guitar.   One takes a chance here, because it's probably not going to be very playable or sound nice.  This is usually without advice from me, and usually takes the form of a guitar that comes in a "pack" deal, somewhere in the $100-150 ball park.

  What I'd advise then would be a "compromise" guitar.  Something better than the above, but not a "real" acoustic guitar.  The advice would be to get the nicest possible with a solid spruce top, with consideration for a pickup system.  Epiphone and Seagull/LasSiDo has been a good choice in this category, .

 Then, I would advise to try not to buy another UNTIL one could afford either a Martin D28, or a 600-700 series Taylor.  Because - in between you're either paying for cosmetics, or another compromise, and these 2 are effectively where "professional, standard issue" acoustic guitars start.  But the main reason was - and I've been saying this for decades now - 

 "there will come a time when it will basically be impossible for you to consider buying a Martin D28.  Try to get one now if you can".

 For a long time $1,000 was the Magical Professional Price Point.  The "nice" guitars started there, or from another perspective, that was how much a Les Paul or D28 would cost.  In the late 90s D28s started creeping up in price; by the 2000s it was going up about $100 a year.  

 A D28 now costs $3,000.  While my perspective may be skewed - my income from teaching guitar has lagged inflation, effectively flat for my whole life, I can no longer advise someone to stretch their second-guitar budget to a D28.  Those days are over; trying to stretch $600,700 or even $800 to that Previously Magical $1,000 landmark was a tough ask, but $3,000 is ridiculous.

 Meanwhile, from what I've seen the sub <$500 price point has gotten better.  EXCEPT:

  • Manufacturing quality is sort of all over the place;
  • Traditional woods are harder to find.

 Which is why my advice is somewhat more ambiguous now:

 Try to get a solid SPRUCE top guitar first and foremost.  The Seagull brand is a cut above quality wise IMO; a less traditional choice of cedar for a top, buy probably a better deal if you're looking to get a guitar to actually use in public.  
 Secondly, instead of trying to stretch to get a D28 or Taylor/"?" equivalent,

 Try to find a guitar made of the traditional woods: spruce top; mahogany neck; rosewood or ebony fingerboard; mahogany or rosewood back/sides.  Because this is the formula for what you're used to hearing on recordings as a "standard acoustic guitar".  Scarcity is forcing manufacturers to substitute other woods, some working better than others.  

 What that means is that getting around that $1,000 mark means there are a couple of Epiphone, Yamaha models, and Seagulls that meet that bill.  Those manufacturers still exhibit a fair standard of quality; you're effectively purchasing an "off brand Martin".  They don't have the name cachet, but effectively speaking are still fine guitars.  

 Because where my advice once was "there will be a time when you won't be able to buy a Martin D28", I'm now stating "there will be a time when you can't buy an acoustic guitar made of the traditional acoustic guitar woods".

$.10, YMMV.