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1/04/2020

The Guitar Oracle - Welcome!

Welcome to the Guitar Oracle.


Press Site Map to see the info
you have available on this site.

This is a site dedicated to the world of guitar. You will find info about guitars, guitar amplifiers, pedals, software, technology, theory, aesthetic art...

The main feature of this site is its reviews of guitar gear, and the scoring of pieces of guitar gear according to its popularity on online forums. This scoring has been done manually, searching for questions like "what is the best amplifier for home practice?", "what is the best distortion pedal for metal?", and assessing the answers these questions got on the forums they were posted on.

So here you will find an unbiased answer to all the frequently asked questions about the guitar. Instead of searching for the answer by yourself and mentally "taking notes" about what are the good models and not-so-good models, you may use Guitar Oracle as your reference site to start your quest to find the right answer for you, sparing your time and energy.



Now, in spite of technically being a blog, this site has been optimized to help you find your answer in a quick and easy way. For this, you can browse the questions that have been addressed, by clicking on the Site Map on the upper bar of the site. This Site Map is frequently updated with the posts that are added, and shows you the material sorted by theme, instead of by date.

In case you want to understand in more detail how I've worked to give you unbiased information, or you want to know more about me, you may access the This Site Explained and the About Me pages in the upper bar of the site.

Enjoy your stay, and come back soon!

Happy string pulling! ;)
2/11/2013

Guitar Scales Method - the way I learnt scales!

How I started

The fretboard of a guitar is a total mayhem of notes. It really is intimidating. 

I usually don't talk about myself and my experiences, but this time I'm making room for an exception. I confess I only found the guts to try to understand the fretboard after more than a year of playing memorized solos of great rock classics. And I didn't even know where to begin... It seemed like scales were a must to any serious solo guitar player. But what about the notes on the fretboard? Were they important too?

Of course I could compose solos and arrange chord progressions by ear. We all do that, right? But it was always a process of trial and error - blindly looking for notes that wouldn't sound out of tune throughout the solo, and memorizing the finger positions. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. At the same time, I was craving for something original, out of the ordinary, some ways to  "broke the rules" in a bold but tasteful way.... I didn't know the rules yet, though, so that was basically a waste of time.

I read about pentatonic scales all over the internet, as a way to know what notes to play with what chords. That seemed like exactly what I was looking for! I started practicing pentatonic scales, then. I was starting to find some logic on the way the fretboard is organized... but I had a lot of pieces missing. As far as I knew, a guitar player had to change the scale everytime the chord changed. I was astonished imagining how can Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton be so proficient at the guitar that they effortlessly changed the scale every two beats, or so. What a mess!

"There HAS to be another way", I thought. So I tried to understand how does all this thing work. I was trying at all costs to avoid learning deep music theory, as I felt that it was a total waste of effort and brain cells (lol). Eventually I had to give up... One needs to know at least some very basics to at least understand the musical jargon.

After trying to connect loose dots for quite some time, I found a program called Guitar Scales Method. The site of the software was a bit on the simple side, but it seemed honest. Even though it preached it would teach anyone to effortlessly solo on any key & any position on the fretboard, it also warned the users that it wouldn't take just 24 hours, or 2 weeks, or whatever many "miracle products" promise. That really caught my eye - I hardly believed this subject was straightforward enough to be mastered on a couple of hours. So I gave the program a shot.

Guitar Scales Method

The program is a mixture of e-book and drills pack. It teaches you the theory you need to know to understand the concepts, but not on a boring way. In fact, the lessons are very straightforward and concise - no useless info included. And it really has a work philosophy that makes sense... Basically, Marco Bramardi explains that there's a difference between complex and difficult: complex is made of several simple tasks interlinked, and difficult implies how hard the simple tasks are (something along these lines). Marco then claims learning the fretboard is complex, but not difficult, since all you have to do is learn the simple tasks one by one on a logic and organized way. 

The lessons page

The program does live up to its expectations. It breaks down the puzzle into scale patterns, scale modes, relationship between a scale and a chord, etc, etc... Then, it approaches each step with theory lessons and exercise drills for you to become confident with each concept. Finally, it brings several exercises together in one exercise, where you have to practice everything at the same time.

I became amazed as I progressed through the lessons. It really is possible to make sense out of the fretboard! Eventually, I understood what were pentatonic scales after all, and how to use them.

The drills page & chart

Learning to understand the fretboard needs a fair bit of commitment. But it really is not difficult, especially when taught the way the Guitar Scales Method teaches. And even though it is perfectly suited for beginners, it's also capable of teaching advanced guitar players a thing or two. I think many people don't really know the relationship between major and pentatonic scales, and when/why to use one or the other. Besides that, the program teaches you the principles of the blues scale, and the difference between modality and tonality (which really is some advanced stuff).

It's all there! It starts from notes, then explains what scales are and how they are built, then the different scales, the concept of modes, chord types and construction and chord inversions. As soon as you've read this, you're completely ready to start practicing the drills. All those theory lessons put together wouldn't stack  up to more than 10 A4 pages. Not because it's shallow, believe me. All you need to know is there.

While you practice, you can keep reading further theory lessons, learning the concept of parent scales, tonal center, scale degrees, extended chords, the famous pentatonic scales, the difference between modality and tonality, the blues scale, chromatic improvisation...

If you master all those concepts, you will be a very, very good guitar player. That's for sure. I believe the Guitar Scales Method is the teaching method that makes this "journey" as bearable and as simple as it gets.
Marco Bramardi even challenges everybody to show him a more effective way to learn this. I believe no one would be able to; I haven't found any, and I searched a lot.

The bottomline is I really recommend you Guitar Scales Method. It's the best guitar theory software I have found. Period. 
2/06/2013

Fender Mustang III - the budget boutique

FENDER IN CONTEXT

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation isn't just a brand anymore: it's a tone.

Unlike any of its major competitors, Fender is a market giant in two different product lines: electric guitars and guitar amplifiers. And it has been since before many of us were born.

Not every guitar player chooses Fender products, of course, but it's undeniable that the establishment of the electric guitar as a prominent instrument is strongly connected to Fender's history. The iconic Stratocaster is ubiquitous amongst the hands of the most successful guitar players throughout the decades. Fender's amplifiers were no different.

Fender tube amplifiers became and, to many people, remain the tone pinnacle. Whether we're talking about a Bassman, a Twin Reverb or something else, Fender always made magic with tubes... And that has been their niche for decades.

Until a few years ago, Fender didn't invest on the solid state amps market. Maybe because solid states are stereotypically perceived as mediocre, maybe because they never managed to design a solid state that lived up to their own quality standards while retaining a worthwhile price tag. Technology has evolved very much in the last decade, though. And in spite of already manufacturing some 'okay' entry-level solid states, Fender eventually decided to really make a stand on the transistors field. First, they made a partnership with IK Multimedia (an established company on the art of modeling and amp simulators), and both companies created Amplitube Fender. After this shy but successful stepping into the water, Fender raised the bets: the Mustang amp series was born.

THE MUSTANG SERIES

During the pre-launch, the Mustang I and II were seen with a mixture of anticipation and scepticism. The prices were about 100 and 170 dollars, respectively, and the amps offered USB connectivity, 24 preset slots and simulation of -- amp models - plus effects. That's quite a lot of features for an entry level practice amp, so major flaws were generally expected to justify such a low price. Besides that, Fender had never manufactured a solid state that really stuck on the market. Not the way their tube counterparts did, anyway.

As one would expect, the Mustang amps focus on modeling Fender tube amps. That alone is a very bold task. I don't know if it was due to their prior experience with IK Multimedia experts, but they amazed the guitar community with the accuracy of Mustang's simulations. They actually seemed to shake the premise that defends tubes are and will always be superior to solid states. And all in a groundbreaking price tag. In fact, the Fender Mustang amp series has been such a success that Fender decided to add the Mustang III, the IV, the V, the Floor and the Mini to the catalog.

So I decided to check what this Mustang thing is all about.

FENDER MUSTANG III - A REVIEW

The Fender Mustang III boasts 100 watts of power, 100 preset slots, 12 amp models and 37 effects. It also has an effects loop (send and return) and two jacks for footswitches. A 2-button footswitch is included with the amp. It has a headphone output, which doubles as a 1/8'' speaker-emulated output. For the tech experts, the speaker is a Celestion G12-T 100.



There is a USB input/output for firmware updates, exchange of presets between the PC and your amplifier, sending the output of the amp to the computer for recording, configuring the amp settings through the computer (via Fender Fuse, the software that comes with the amp)...

The Fender Mustang III has 60 more watts than the Mustang II, 76 more preset slots, a LED with menus and all the features of the amp are unlockable through the amplifier alone (unlike the I and II, which need to be connected to a computer to edit some parameters on the amp).

You also have the option to buy the EXP-1 expression pedal, which allows you to control any effect of the amp with the pedal: volume, wah... you name it. Mustang I and II aren't compatible with the EXP-1.

The effects are 37 total, distributed in three categories: modulation, delay and reverb. For each category you can only choose one effect at a time, but still, it gives you plenty of possibilities.

It comes with a CD of Ableton Live 8 Fender Edition, which you can use as a DAW (digital audio workstation). If you don't know what that is, it's basically a studio program where you can record, edit and tweak songs, recording each instrument on a different track. You also have Fender Fuse, the software used to edit the amp's configurations through your computer.



Right now, with firmware v.1.10, here are some of the things you can do through the LCD:
- edit the preset's name
- change the behavior of the footswitch (it can go up or down the presets, quick access some presets, or toggle a pair of effects of your choice)
- configure the quick access presets that each button on your footswitch toggles
- configure the EXP-1 Expression Pedal (if you have one)
- configure the LCD contrast
- choose the amp sag, the bias and the cab model on each preset
- set the TAP interval for delay-category effects
- change the signal path of your sound...

Now that we have the specs out of the way, let's really review it...

The sound(s)

There are some reports of a fizz sound on some Mustang III amplifiers, especially while playing clean single notes. It seems to be a hardware issue, particularly the power amp section; firmware correction was not feasible. However, personally I did not witness any fizz or wierd sound of any kind. Besides, Fender launched now the Mustang III v2, which is expected to fix completely that issue, as well as a bonus pack of 5 more amp models, 5 more effects and XLR outputs!

The Mustang III is basically a computer with a built-in speaker. The power and versatility of the amp's configurations is amazing. You can play any style from rock, to blues, to country, to jazz... The amp will never let you down. Maybe the weakest genre is heavy rock, heavy metal and beyond - I don't play those genres but I've been told by who does that the amp isn't very strong on those fields.

It sounds very, very good. It really nails the Fender tones... and it feels very responsive to the way you play. The configurations are quite easy to understand, although I had to read the manual to fully understand how the menu flow works. But once you read the manual (the important stuff is just about 2 pages full of illustrative images), you're good to go.

It's very customizable. Everyone might have his or her own tone preferences - the Mustang III lets you achieve those details you're looking for. Depending on how picky you are, you might need to tweak for a while until you get it right. But I think it really pays off once you nail the way you want to sound. Personally, I've made a preset with the Bassman model from scratch, and I like it so much that I'm using it everytime I practice - I never get tired of that tone!

One trick I use when naming the presets on the amp is put the name of the amp model first, then the kind of tone, then add the first letter of the pickups I liked the most when playing with that preset. For example, one of my presets is named Bassman Clean BM (bridge + middle), another one is Reverb Clean N (neck)... as you can see, the amp really allows you to do some neat stuff.

I disagree when people say you need a tube amplifier to sound distinctive, to achieve a sound that is yours and yours alone. The Fender Mustang III, for example, has so many different tone possibilities that you have all the tools to achieve your own personal tone.


The volume

The volume is adequate for a bedroom between 2 and 3; one has to be careful, though, as the volume rises quite abruptly somewhere between those numbers with a very slight rotation.

It's more than enough for rehearsals, jamming and even gigs. I've never brought it up to ten, it even frightens me just to imagine the blast this thing would shoot out lol! On most bars you'd be scaring the heck out of the customers at ten, so I guess it's only usable on gigs outdoors.

Another concern you might have is the tone quality throughout the volume spectrum. The amp sounds always the same, only at different volumes. Your tone remains untouched, even at very low volumes. So don't be afraid to need to push it for optimum tone.

When you plug in your headphones, the speaker goes silent and the volume is adjusted to headphone level. You can adjust the volume through headphones just like through the speakers. Remember to check the volume when you unplug the headphones, though: a 5 on headphones might be ideal but inside a house it's almost heard on the entire building! :D

CONCLUSION

If you're looking for an affordable amplifier that will be your Swiss knife for any kind of tone needs you might come up with, the Fender Mustang is your best bet. It's quite difficult to outgrow this amplifier, in my opinion - so it's a good investment for the future too. If you're looking for a Fender tone, the Fender Mustang REALLY is your best friend. If you need an amp for practicing at night, for rehearsals and gigs, the Fender Mustang III is the perfect candidate.

If you already have a ton of pedals that you use with tube amps, maybe the Fender Mustang won't be essential for you - but still, people who experimented putting pedals before the Mustangs usually say it sounds surprisingly well for a solid state amplifier. Lastly, if you're looking for a metal / grunge / punk specific amp, the Fender Mustang will give you that, but maybe it's overkill and there might be better sounding amps at the same price for those niches.

The Fender Mustang III became an all-purpose powerhouse that defied the tube amp lovers with its outstanding tone & feel. It established a new standard for future solid state amplifiers from other manufacturers, especially when it comes to quality-price ratio. Maybe a new era of the guitar begins here...