Friday, July 2, 2010

The Mike Reynolds’ Signature Fender Strat Ha ha.


Ok.  This is it.  It’s finally how I dreamed it could be.  There might be a little change or two here or there, but check it out.

This is the 2010 MIM Fender Standard Strat. 

Here are the details:

The Neck.  It is a 9.5 Radius rosewood neck with medium/jumbo frets.  The neck originally had a glossy poly finish that we stripped off with sandpaper and steel wool.  You can see on the back of the neck that this discolored it a bit, which looks pretty cool, but more importantly it feels like the smoothest Matte Satin finish rather than the Poly glossy feel.

The Body is Alder.  It took hours to strip the poly off of the body carefully.  In the places where we got it down to bare wood, we relic’d and sanded to make it look somewhat natural. 

The Pickguard is a Shielded Fender Pickguard

The pots and switch are stock from the MIM.

The Bridge has American Style Saddles that are Stainless which increases sustain.

The tremolo comes stock with a larger trem block that has a loud resonating sustain to it.

The Pickups are the Seymour Duncan Everything Axe Strat Set.  This includes a Jeff Beck Jr. single coil sized humbucker in the bridge.  A Duckbucker in the Middle. and a Lil ‘59 single coil sized humbucker in the neck. 

The Jeff Beck is a hot and gritty pickup that sounds strong and ballsy through a tube amp.  I love this sound for heavy blues.  Through the right amp, this will also deliver a King’s X type of Crunchy tone.  It makes blues sound the way I like them, heavy, dirty and thick.

The Duckbucker is a super quacky sounding pickup.  Just full of character and tone.  It is a new type of sound for me, but I love playing around with it.

The Lil ‘59 is a smoother high powered singing pickup.  I feel like it is the perfect combination with the Beck.  So, if you are playing a crunchy bluesy rhythm, you can shift up to this pickup for a singing solo or lead riff.

I have light elixir Nanoweb strings on it because of their ringing thick sustain. 

I love this guitar!  It feels amazing no poly or nitro gloss on it, just a flat matte satin feel.  It sounds just like I want it to, heavy blues!  I think it looks super cool, but that beauty is in my eye since I am the beholder. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Bullhorn

Last night we hosted the first of our church summer series of Group Studies.  I had originally intended to use the Max Lucado curriculum for “The Cure for the Common Life” because it is a great book, but after I bought the study and tried to go through it, I realized that it really wasn’t a good study for our group at this point.

I looked around a bit and decided that the best thing that I could do would be to use the Nooma series from Rob Bell.  Each of these videos are not only well put together, they are also short, and interesting to watch.  Each video is certainly provocative and inspires great discussion whether you agree with the whole theme or not.

*I should also mention here that I am saddened by the huge number of people who seem to be dying to find holes in the theology of Rob Bell.  I think it is comical that every seminary student as well as every Driscoll wanna-be seem so eager to show that they know more than Rob Bell, or that one or two of his points about Jesus might not be historically perfect.  It’s really too bad.  Rob Bell seems to be one of the few pastors who is eager to engage the mind of the people who listen to him.  He doesn’t just want to change people, he wants to inspire them to look for themselves and think in new directions about old topics. 

Anyway.  We were watching the “Bullhorn” video where Bell was talking about the street corner preachers that yell about hellfire and damnation and try to scare and argue people into repenting and giving their lives to God. 

I love this video because it takes us a step further.  It takes us past the step where we as Christians who believe in a God of Love and don’t believe it is effective to “win” people to the kingdom by screaming at them, judge the judger.  I have been around countless groups of Christians who groan and complain about the tactics of the street corner preachers and traveling evangelists.  They say things like: “does it really do any good?” and “it just hurts the cause of Christ.”  The funny thing about this is that, as much as I disagree with the street corner preacher, and as much as I disagree with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ryan Dobson, and all of those guys; I feel fine judging them.

Maybe it is because I can label them as Pharisees, but for years, I have felt comfortable judging the judgers.  I have felt like it is my job to rage against their machines.  I do this by blogging, or by preaching to the choir who already are offended and angry at these folks as well.  Could there be a more cowardly reaction?  Could I wuss out more? 

I do believe that they are wrong, but just because I believe that I am right, am I given the right to be their judge.  They are on the street corner preaching to people that want to beat them up, and I think that I am better by preaching to the tiny group of people that might stumble upon my blog, where the worst thing that can happen is that I could get a negative comment that can easily be deleted.

I don’t like what they do, but I have to repent to my reaction to it.  They are out there, doing something, and here I sit writing about it. 

This church planting experience is one of the first times in my life where I feel like I too am “out there” finally doing something.  But if the extent of my “doing” is taking a stand against the judgmental, I am doing very little. 

My question is: how can I do the right thing?  How can I repent of my own judgmental attitude?  How can I make a real difference?

After our discussion last night, here are some thoughts:

1.  GO out there!  I need to continue to get out and meet people and serve them.  Bullhorn guys yell, preach and condemn, but what do they do?  Jesus didn’t condemn and scream people into obedience.  Jesus served.  Jesus went out. 

2.  Apologize.  This is huge.  This is what is missing in not only the religious culture but also the political culture (which seem very tied together at times.)  How often do you hear pastors, Christians, politicians etc repent, admit wrongdoing or wrongthinking, and apologize?  Of course they do apologize, when they are caught in blatant sin and wrongdoing.  It seems like the greatest currency that people seem to believe that they have in religion and politics is being RIGHT.  In politics right now, each party seems to claim that EVERYTHING that the leaders of the other party do are wrong and that they themselves are more true to the founding fathers or the direction that our country needs to go.  I want to respect leaders that admit that they were wrong, or are amending their perspective on issues and growing and changing.  Followers of Jesus need to be far more willing to admit when they are wrong and forgive others when they are wrong.  Perhaps in the economy of God, we are more right when we forgive and apologize than when we judge others and put ourselves in a superior position to them because we believe that we are right.

3.  Courage.  This is what the street preachers and bullhorn guys seem to have in spades.  They certainly have the courage to put themselves in positions where they can get bashed and abused themselves.  They have the courage to be hated.  Do I have the courage to proclaim the truth so strongly that others won’t like me?  I hate it when people don’t like me.  It is one of my biggest fears and motivating factors.  Too often, I choose to NOT put myself out there because I am afraid of the reactions of others.  I am afraid of failing in my church planting endeavor if some choose to not like me or what I am doing.  I need the courage of the Bullhorn guy, not to do what they do and say what they say, but to be THAT intentional about my calling, to know that not everyone will love me or my church, to GO out there and be OK serving.

When it comes down to it, bullhorn guy has some things to teach me.  His theology might not be perfect, but I am arrogant if I believe that I know everything about God too.  I might owe him an apology for judging him, but I really owe the apology to the people I sometimes fail to serve because of my own lack of courage.  I owe the apology to the people who don’t know the REAL me because of my own fear of rejection and failure. 

The question that challenges me is:  If bullhorn guy is screaming his belief in hellfire and judgment through his words and actions… am I screaming my belief in God’s grace and love in my own way, through my actions and intentions?  What is coming out of my bullhorn?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why and How to Relic a Guitar

The Beginning of the Story

As you can see on earlier entries on this blog, I bought a Kenny Wayne Shepherd Strat, that I was wanting for months.  I sold other guitars and stuff around the house to afford my purchase.  When I got the guitar, no doubt, it was awesome.  The best parts about it were the neck and the pickups.  The worst: the saddles were american sized and the base of the neck is Mexican sized.  This means that the edges of the “e” strings were too close to the edge of the fretboard.  According to Fender support, this is part of the design.  According to two guitar techs, this was a flaw and a poor design.  If they had used mexican spaced saddles the problem would be fixed. 

So I took it back.  For the exchange though, I exchanged for a Fender Standard Mexican Sunburst Strat and a Fender G-DEC 3 Fifteen Watt amp.  (I’ll review the G-Dec later after I have some serious time messing around with it.)

Based on my experience with Fenders, and my new confidence in upgrading and fixing a Fender, I decided that I could choose a Standard Strat and Turn it into the EXACT guitar that I want.  Because I was so heart broken to not keep the Kenny Wayne Strat, I have vowed to make this guitar better than the Kenny. 

The only compromise is that I can not have the same heft in the neck as the Kenny has.  This does make me sad, because I do want a bigger neck with Jumbo frets.

So I touched and played every Fender Standard in the store and I chose the one with the best feeling neck.  It was a sunburst strat with Medium-Jumbo frets.  Here’s the picture:


I like a sunburst strat and the newer Mexican strats are super high quality with a larger trem block for more sustain and better hardware than the 90’s or early 2000’s strats.  The pickups are also great sounding.

In order to make it MINE, I am going to relic it and put on bridge Saddles with more sustain, change the pickguard and the pickups.



Four Reasons:  Style, Comfort, Playability, and Tone.

Style – I buy worn jeans, not starched dark blue ones.  I want a broken-in feel in my clothes.  I also prefer that feel in my guitar.  Blindfold me and put me in front of a shelf of guitars that are properly set-up and I will always like the feel of the used ones.

Similarly, I like the artistic look of a properly relic’d guitar.  I like the wear to look natural even though I am not trying to fool anyone.  I like the uniqueness of a properly relic’d guitar.  It doesn’t look like another one in the store, it looks interesting and unique.  It is now MY guitar, unlike anyone elses.

FYI- When I relic a guitar, I am not trying to fool anyone into thinking that I have played it so much that the paint is worn down.  I am not trying to convince someone that it is an actual 1960’s strat used by Clapton or something like that. 

Comfort- Go to a music store and slide your hand across a Mexi strat and the neck of the strat.  Press hard and move fast.  You will find that because of the Poly finish your hand will be slowed down.  Now do the same to a guitar that has a satin, flat finish.  Your hand will glide normally.  Now do the same with a wet finger.  Wet or sweaty fingers and hands get slowed down even more than dry ones do.  The truth is that the inside of my right forearm gets sweaty and sticks to the body of the guitar, the sweat doesn’t lubricate it, the sweat actually adheres it.  The same thing can be true on my left hand. 

Playability- If you want a playable instrument, your hands and arm need to feel comfortable and you need to be able to rest properly on the instrument to give you leverage.  Pulling the poly finish off of the guitar will make your guitar smoother and more comfortable and much more playable.

Tone- Here is a big reason that no one talks about.  When your guitar is covered in a poly finish, it is much like putting a rubber mute on the bridge of a stringed instrument.  Have you heard what a violin sounds like with a mute on it?  The sustain and tone are both taken away.  The same is true with a brass instrument. 

The Alder that Strats are made of is a resonant wood with a lot of tone, when you cover it with a thick gloss like Poly, you mute the tone and vibration of the wood.  Taking off of the poly will give you more options with the sound of your guitar.  You can install some high output pickups and have a screaming tone with sustain, or you can install lower output pickups and get the type of tone that John Mayer gets from his strat.  I personally play with the tone at 10 on my guitar 95% of the time, and when you give your guitar more tone, you can dial it down and have more choices. 



I have decided that I like to hand-relic a strat rather than use power tools.

Here are the supplies that you will need:

Tools:  Philips and Flathead screw drivers, wrench and pliers, soldering iron, solder, sanding block (the kind where you can put different grains of sandpaper on), clorox cleaning wipes, paper towels, q-tips, etchant (this is for the steel parts of your guitar, you’ll find it at Radio Shack), different grains of sandpaper I like 60, 100, 150 and 200, steel wool at 0000 grain, and linseed oil.  The total cost of these supplies is about $30.

Disassemble your Gutiar.

Don’t be scared, there is nothing that you can do that can’t be undone. 

1. Detach the neck with the 4 screws.

2. take off all tuning pegs. you’ll need to use a pliers or wrench to loosen the nut that holds them together.

3. unscrew the pickguard and the input jack

4.  you’ll need to unsolder the ground wire from the metal that holds the trem springs, and unsolder the wires from the input jack.  To unsolder, take your soldering iron and heat the solder that holds the wire on, when you liquefy that solder, the wire will slide loose. 

5.  unscrew the bridge screws and remove the bridge

6. unscrew the saddles

7.  remove the screws that hold the trem block to the bridge plate

I leave the screws that hold the metal that the trem springs attach to alone, but that is all that I leave on.

Relic-ing the metal

1.  Take any metal that you are going to relic and put it in a tupperware container or small box.  I do not relic screws. I don’t relic springs either.  I will relic the tuning pegs, the input jack guard (not the jack), the bridge plate, the saddles, the neck plate,

2. Shake them for quite a while.  You’ll dink them and some of the cheap chrome will flake off.  You might want to rough them up with some of the steel wool as well.

3.  Lay the pieces out on a paper towel.  Smear etchant on any part that you wish to relic.  I don’t put the etchant on the part of the tuning peg that the strings touch, but it probably doesn’t matter.  The etchant is an acid, so don’t get it on your fingers and don’t breath it. 

4.  Keep your eyes on these parts.  Some pieces will look cool after 5-10 minutes, and some may take much longer.

5.  When a piece is finished, wash it off with water thoroughly. 


Relicing the Body

Know this.  You can literally trash the body and it will still work and play well.  Don’t get discouraged half way through and quit, follow through and finish it right.  It takes a lot of sanding by hand.  A lot.  It will look horrible when you start putting scratches in the Poly, but remember, you are just scratching the Poly when you are sanding until you break through and get to the paint.

Also know.  The poly is thicker and more resilient than most people believe.  This is especially true on the flat areas on the guitar.  The edges have a lot less poly and you will break through to the paint earlier on those areas. 

You will want to do the sanding in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors.

I start with the back, but start doing the rest of the body whenever you want.  The sides are difficult and you’ll have to just hand sand it.  In the following instructions, I start with the back, but go to the front whenever you feel like you know what you are doing.

1.  Take some 60 grit paper and put it on the sanding block.  Start on the back of the guitar and thoroughly sand the back of the guitar until the entire back is powdery. 

Know.  if you keep sanding the body with the poly powder on top of it, you actually heat the powder and it sticks back on.  You’ll be sanding the same layer over and over.

2.  When the back is powdery, take a clorox wipe and wipe the powder off as much as you can.  Use a paper towel to dry it again.  What you are doing it removing the poly dust so that you can go back over it again.

3.  On my most recent guitar, I repeated the first two steps 3 times on the flat surfaces with the 60 grit.

4.  If you can see that you are exposing the wood at all and cutting through the paint, you should back off and get back to that area with a higher grit count paper so that you can make it look the way you want to.

5.  Once you have used the 60 grit a few times, move to the next higher grit and do the same.

6.  The higher grit counts will smooth the deep gouges that the 60 grit has made and make it look smoother.

7.  Because the Poly has bonded with the paint, there will not be a point where there is no poly and only paint.  But you can get it very very thin.

8.  When you cut through the paint and poly and expose wood, with the lighter grains, you can decide how much wood you want to expose and what you want the pattern to look like.  Remember to go slow and don’t over do it.  Make it look good and then back off.

9.  When you have gone through the higher grain count papers and have cleaned off the wood, and you have the right amount of wood exposed you’ll move to the next steps.  btw. it won’t look clean yet, don’t worry if there is still a powdery dirty look to it. 

10.  Feel free to do any damage to the body that you want.  Dink it up with a screw driver, drop it, gouge it, whatever.  Personally, I don’t want it too gouged or dinged, I just want to expose some wood, but do whatever.

11.  At this point, I take some linseed oil and smear it all over the body.  The oil is going to be absorbed by the remaining poly.  Let it sit for 15 minutes or so.

12.  After leaving it to soak in the oil for a bit, take a dry paper towel and towel off any remaining oil. 

13.  Take your steel wool and go over the entire body thoroughly.  Now, you’ll finally start seeing what it is going to look like. 

14.  If you still see lots of deep gouges from the heavier grit sand papers, you might want to use the finer grit papers to smooth those out.  When you do this, you’ll have to reapply some oil and then go over it again with the steel wool.

15.  On my last guitar, I repeated the oiling and steel-wool steps a few times to get rid of the deeper gouges and get it nice and smooth and flat. 

16.  Do this until you like the look and achieve the finish that you want.  You can even go back to the heavier grains to expose some more wood whenever you want to.

NOTE- You might notice that some of the exposed wood looks very light colored and new.  This does not look too worn, if you want to darken it up, you can get some dark oil, some magic marker, or even dirt to darken it.  Do this during the oiling process.


Relic-in the Neck

On the neck, I don’t let anything touch the frets.  If you have a maple neck, you can sand or dremel the wood between the frets to make the fret board look worn.  This is nothing but cosmetic.  I only have done rosewood necks in the past and I don’t mess with the frets or the fret board.

1.  Take the neck and sand the back with 100 grain sand paper.  There is far less poly on the neck than the body.  If you have a tinted neck, you can break through the tint and know that you are into the wood of the neck pretty quickly.

2.  You’ll want to use some orbital strokes with the paper, but mostly sand length-wise.

3.  After breaking through the poly, clean it off with the clorox wipe and move to the finer grains.

4.  The neck is more about feel than looks, so make sure that you don’t leave grooves or sand a spot, use long strokes and make it feel right.

5.  If you want to do anything to the headstock to make it match the amount of relic on the body, feel free.

6.  Apply linseed oil to any part of the neck that has been sanded.

7.  Let it sit for 15 minutes or so.

8.  use the 0000 grain steel wool over the whole back of the neck and headstock. This will give you a very satin-like feel. 


Relic-ing the pickguard

I changed the pickguard on my last project which makes relic-ing the guard much easier.  If you don’t replace the pickguard, you can either uninstall the pickups and pots, or you can work around them.

1. If you leave the pickups and pots installed.  Completely cover the pickups with masking tape.  This will keep the little bits of steel wool from sticking to the pickup magnets.  If you don’t cover them, you will be cleaning the wool off of them forever.

2.  I use steel wool to rough up the entire pickguard.  This will take off the gloss and give it a matte type finish. 

3.  I then use some sand paper to make it look worn where a pick might rub against it.

4.  If the guard is white you’ll want to use something to make it look a little dirtier.  Personally I like the darker guard look better.


Reassemble the guitar.

Your guitar should go right back together.  Use a little solder to get your input jack back on and your ground wire back on the spring holder. 

You might want to get it professionally set up, but there are a lot of instructions to teach you how to set up a guitar yourself.  You’ve gone this far, you might as well learn how to set it up too.



Here is the finished product.












Have FUN!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Current Strat Setup - The Strat Pack

SDC10354 Here are my two strats amp and pedals.  The black strat is a Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Strat, the other is a Mexican 2008 strat with a Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck Pickup in the Bridge.  The Amp is a Blackheart Handsome Devil and the pedals are a Boss Blues Driver BD-2, and Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9dx and a Pitchblack Korg tuner.  I love ‘em all!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Fender Stratocaster Review




I should start this review by saying that I first noticed this guitar because of its looks.  This is one of the coolest looking guitars that I have ever seen.  That’s how I was drawn to take a peek at it.

I love black guitars, and I love the Hot Rod kind of flare that the stripes give this guitar.  It’s not some crazy fiery paint job.  Just simple, but very cool. 

I saw this guitar from across the store at at Guitar Center in Seattle.  I went over and checked out the price and was baffled.  It has the American Strat Graph-tec saddles as well as the cool look and signature series, but it was priced at $869.  I know that Fender Signature Strats are usually $1300-$2500 guitars.  A Stevie Ray Vaughn is about $1400 as is the John Mayer Signature, Clapton Signatures can break the bank easily over $2000.  So I was a little confused as to why an American Signature was priced so low.  I also had recently fallen in love with some Kenny Wayne Shepherd music.

I happened to have some money in my guitar savings and Kim urged me to pick  it up.  But, of course, I am always super reluctant to make a big purchase without first doing my research. 

Here’s what I found in my research…

1.  This strat was made in Mexico.  I had no idea that any Signature Strat was made in Mexico. 

2.  It has some HUGE upgrades from Mexican Strats…

3.  It has a bigger neck.  The neck is deeper and wider on the bottom.  Has a huge feel compared to a Standard Strat neck.

4.  This neck has Jumbo frets.  The frets are big and wide and smooth.  These are presumably so big so that bends happen easily and accurately.

5.  Graph Tec Saddles.  The saddles are the same as what most American Strats feature.  The Graph tec saddles reduce string wear and tear and add tone and sustain to the guitar.

6.  The pickups are specially designed by the Fender Shop with Kenny Wayne’s Input.  These pickups are supposed to be a big upgrade, but also unique to any other set. 

7.  The neck has a Satin Finish and not a poly gloss on it.  I had to work hard to sand the poly off of my current mexi strat to make it feel like this neck feels out of the box.

8.  The bottom tone knob also controls the bridge pickup.  This is an easy upgrade that I still don’t understand why it is not standard.

If I wanted to take a mexi strat and add these upgrades, it would cost easily $250 to buy a warmoth neck that matches these specs.  The Saddles are about a $50 upgrade.  The pickups are unique so there is no price equivalent, but, a good set of texas blues pickups from guitar fetish is going to cost at least $80ish.  Including labor, it would take at least $600 to turn a regular strat into this signature Kenny Wayne.  The parts themselves would be more than $400. 

What I also found by talking to a friend that works at Guitar Center is that this guitar is on clearance.  I was able to pick this guitar up for hundreds less than the retail price and much less than Guitar Center’s posted price.

I basically got this guitar for barely more than I would pay for a new Mexi Strat off of the rack.


Here is how I feel about it:

I certainly do love it!  No question. 

The Feel:  This guitar it comfy.  Don’t get worried about the bigger neck.  It is not too big.  I have small hands, and this neck feels not only fast, but very comfortable.  I personally feel that the extra depth and size of the neck gives you a bit more to hold on to while you are bending notes.  For a comparison, try pretending to bend a string on the back of your remote control, and now bend an imaginary string on the back of your forearm.  A little extra depth gives you leverage and helps you use your big muscles to bend rather than your finger and wrist muscles.  I notice that bends feel so dang easy and smooth on this guitar.

The jumbo frets only help.  They help you hit the note with less effort and bend the note smoothly.  The 12 inch radius neck also feels like you are bending on a flatter surface rather than bending “uphill” on a  smaller radius neck.

The Sound: I could tell by playing it without plugging it in that it has a very pleasing amount of sustain compared to any other Mexi Strat that I have tried.  You can also hear a thick and full sound. 

What I noted from the pickups is that these are unique.  They are not super “quacky” they have a rounder sound than you would expect from a Texas style pickup.  But when I play them into my Blackheart Handsome Devil amp, with or without a Boss Blues Driver. it is a very satisfying bluesy sound with a lot of tone.  A couple of reviews that I read say that the mids are “scooped.”  I guess this is true compared to normal Mexi pickups that are all mids.  But the sound is bold.  There is a lot of character to the sound of the guitar even without overdrive.  It sounds bluesy and full when amplified at all, but add some overdrive and DANG!  With the sustain already in the guitar and the cool pickups you can really drive an amp.  It can sing beautifully or it can get an extremely thick blues Stevie Ray type sound.  I like light gauge strings, and feel like Audley Freed or Warren Haynes might really love this type of tone.

As far as tone goes, since I use light gauges I tend to have a trebly sound, but it was very warm compared to the last mexi strat I played with.  I noticed that I had a larger range of tone in the tone knobs than any guitar I have ever used.  You can back off of the tone and still get some really cool sounds.  Most guitars that I have used, I normally leave the tone knob on 10, this guitar actually gives me some very interesting choices.  I would tone it down and crank my amp to get a SRV sound, but if you tone it up, you can make it scream.

The Construction:  My only semi grip about this guitar is the construction.  I have noticed that the high e string is a little closer to the edge of the fret wire and neck than any guitar I have ever played.  When I am sloppy, I push the string off of the neck.  I don’t like that feel and believe that the nut was slotted a bit weird.  I will want to get this replaced.  I also noticed that the hole for the trem bar was not well aligned with the hole in the trem block.  Seems like a couple of quality control issues. 


ALL IN ALL:  I can’t say enough about this guitar.  I have only had it for a weekend, but I can’t stop touching it or looking at it.  It is exactly what I wanted it to be.  An amazing guitar for the blues.  I don’t think that this guitar would be a good sounding metal guitar without a lot of silly amp and pedal choices, but I bought it for the blues. 

I have heard lately that the Mexican Stratocasters are far higher quality than they used to be.  I love my 2008 Mexi Strat that I have been playing the last month and a half.  But this guitar is on another level.  The upgrades were a huge value at the price I paid.  It is comfortable and sounds amazing.  I truly feel like I have a custom shop guitar in my hands.  I truly feel that if I could do a blind feel and listening test with custom shop fenders and American fenders, I would rate this guitar super high and would certainly choose this guitar over guitars that cost 4-5x as much as I paid.  I played some American strats only a few weeks ago, and none of them felt of sounded as cool as this guitar does. 

In my opinion, this is money well spent.  Very well spent.


I saw a youtube clip where Kenny Wayne Shepherd talked about why he designed it the way he did.  I feel like he accomplished what he was trying to do, and I am thrilled to own it.  Check out the video:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Relic a Fender Stratocaster MIM Strat WHY? Relicing

So Brandon and I were checking out guitar videos and learned about Relicing guitars. Basically this is the act of taking a perfectly nice guitar and making it look, very used and worn in.  Maybe even abused.  Some of these guitars look really cool, like a replica of Stevie Ray’s Strat, or John Mayer’s guitar.  Some are heavily reliced and some are lightly reliced.  The funny thing about these videos is that at the bottom there are dozens of comments from people saying: Why the heck would you do that to a perfectly fine guitar?!”  They will call names and harshly cast judgment and state their opinions. 

This is funny to me because I personally don’t go online and find videos that I disagree with and comment on them.  Personally I don’t get horseback riding.  It smells bad, is not comfortable and costs a lot of money.  But I don’t go to any horseback videos and make these comments. 

Let me just spell out why I have reliced my two strats.

1.  I don’t buy dark blue, starched and ironed Levi jeans.  I buy faded jeans that are worked in and comfortable.  I feel the same about guitars.  I don’t know that I have felt a brand new guitar that feels totally natural and comfortable. 

2.  Poly finish is not comfortable.  Go and grab a new Mexican Fender guitar.  Flip it over and drag and push your finger up and down the neck.  You will notice that while it is smooth, your finger will not fly up and down the neck.  The finish slows your finger down.  Now lick your finger and do the same.  Notice that any moisture on your fingers or arm will cause your skin to almost stick to the finish.  This is not a gliding and comfortable feeling.  If you can find a neck that is just wood with nitro finish or worn wood, your fingers will glide with no resistance.

3.  I am hyper sensitive to keeping things “nice.”  Any time I have had a newer car, or a nice guitar, I am always uptight about other people possibly putting a ding in it.  I have a newer Yamaha Aes620 that I love.  The finish is beautiful, but there is a little ding in it.  The ding drives me crazy.  Other people playing it can make me feel like they are going to damage it.  I don’t want to be an anal tyrant telling everyone to stay away from my nice things.  When you relic a guitar, more dents and dings will add to the feeling.  Other people mistreating it, while not cool, is not going to damage anything that can’t be undone.

4.  Relicing a guitar makes it yours.  Relicing a guitar adds character.  In order to do it, you have to strip it down to nothing, you now know every piece of your guitar, you can clean them, or dirty them however you want them. 

5.  When you relic it, you don’t hurt the playability, you enhance it.  You don’t hurt the sound.  In fact, I have heard that the Poly finish actually limits sustain and lowers your overall tone.  Based on my last relic job, I totally believe it.

6.  I am not superficial.  I think that flaws and scars add character.  But what I am really trying to do is make it more playable and comfortable, those are my first goals.  The look is only secondary.  I imagine that the people who are so uptight about relicing believe that you are hurting a guitar or are somehow making it “less than” what it is.  Little do they know that you are enhancing it.

7.  A person who pays $2500 for a Custom Shop guitar is going to poop their pants anytime someone mishandles their perfect guitar.  Any damage will make it less perfect.  They paid someone else to design and create their guitar.  I am able to say that I did it myself.

When I relic a guitar, I am not trying to fool anyone.  I am not trying to make them think that I have played this guitar so much that I have destroyed it to this point.  I am not trying to sell it claiming that it is Stevie Ray’s backup guitar. 


I am thrilled to now have two guitars that are MINE.  I made them into what they are.  They are more comfortable and playable than any guitar in any store that I have tried out.

Mexican Stratocaster Review MIM Strat Fender

I think  I may be in love with Fender Guitars.  Back when I first started guitar fever, I really didn’t want one because they just weren’t “Metal” enough.  But now that I am learning some blues, I am pretty excited to try new things and get new sounds. 

In the last month the GAS has hit me hard.  GAS, of course is Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.  I have done a lot of research about what to buy, where to buy them and what to do once you buy them. So here is my knowledge dump for you based on buying 2 guitars and trying a bunch of others.

American vs. Mexican

This is the first big question that people seem to wonder about.  Is a Mexican Strat crap?  Should I just save and buy the American Made ones?  First let me say that according to most people every part of the American Fenders are higher quality.  Every component in the American Fender costs more money and is installed here in the USA where labor costs more.  So to get an American Standard Strat with no frills, you’re looking to shell out about $1000 new.  To get some with some cool upgrades, you’ll be looking at $1200 easily.  If you want a custom shop Fender, you’ll be paying anywhere upwards of $2000. 

So, many people will say:  Just buy a used American Strat.  You’ll pay $600 and get all of the features and frills of a great American Strat.  My advice is:  BE CAREFUL.  Stories of people who have put together junk guitars along with a Fender USA neck are all over the place. 

My rule of thumb for buying a USA strat would be:  You’d better know exactly what you are looking for and exactly how you want it to sound. 

I will freely admit that I am not in need of the highest quality components.  Nor would I know the difference between a cool sound that costs $2000 versus a sound that I simply think is “cool.”


SOOOOO.  Mexican.

From what I have experienced and learned, Mexican strats are a very good quality guitar.  I am also going to tell that if you blindfold a large percentage of people who consider themselves guitar snobs and make them play a well set up Mexico Strat versus a USA Strat you will find that many of them will be fooled as to which is which.  The reason for this is that the Mexican strat has all of the components to make it sound amazing.  I honestly believe that if you stripped the Fender logo off of the headstock and made up a new brand name on a MIM strat that is well set up and handed it to Clapton, to do a commercial, you would have thousands clamoring for this new brand.

The problem with Mexican guitars is that the hardware is not as high of quality, there is more variation in the pickups (ie. the pups on one can sound waaay better than the pickups on another.)  This can due to lower quality control standards in the Mexico factory.  You will also notice routing mistakes in the body.  The frets might not be exactly consistently placed and you might feel their edges sticking out on the side.  (You may also feel this on some USA strats if you play one in a store that is too dry, the wood on the fretboard can expand due to humidity.  These can also easily be filed down. 

I have purchased two Mexico strats and stripped them down to the components.  Here is what I found:

On my 2000 Sunburst Strat, bought for $250 used from Guitar Center.  It felt very solid.  The neck feels great and comfortable, and the pickups had the right Fender sound that I was hoping for.  I could only inspect it so far before changing everything because the strings were rusty and dead.  It was flawless with no dings or scratches.  When we pulled it apart, we could see that the routing job under the neck was messed up, twice.  However, the neck fit very snuggly into the compartment and when screwed back in, hardly needed any tweaking to be perfectly set up.  The trem block (large piece of metal that you put your strings though that balances your tremolo) was very small and not heavy at all.  This will make the guitar brighter sounding, but should lower the amount of sustain.  The electronics were mounted neatly, but there were some pretty big globs of solder holding it together.  This can create more resistance and can interfere with tone.  When we reassembled it, I put some lighter gauge strings on it 9-42 gauge.  The tone is very bright, but can certainly be adjusted with the tone knobs.  This guitar has an amazing bright, aggressive sound to it.  I am personally shocked at how much I love the sound of this guitar.  It was kind of purchased on a whim, but it is really cool sounding.

My 2008 Fat Strat.  I still am having trouble finding this exact guitar in a Fender Catalog.  According to the catalog, the Sienna finish was not offered in the 2008 Mexico Models.  I picked it up at a pawn shop for $350.  It looked in great shape, although it smelled like cigarettes.  The reason I bought it was due to the feel of the neck.  It has a very cool feeling neck.  The action was high, and it was not the finish that I would have chosen.  When we plugged it in, the pickups all sounded really cool.  Pulling it apart, we found that this has much nicer hardware than the 2000 model.  The pickups were a higher quality.  The trem block is a much heavier piece of metal.  The entire pickguard is shielded, and the solder is more accurately done.  When we put it back together, the neck sat so low that we had to have a little shem put under the base of the neck to raise it to the right level to get the action just right.  (This should be included in the price of a pro set up, which I paid $40 for.  When this guitar got back from being set up, it sounded amazing. 


My advice on buying one…

If you are ok with taking it apart or switching out components yourself.  Find one that has the neck you like and good sounding pickups.  Everything else can be changed.  I found one that sounds great for a great price but has frets that are too small and just don’t feel right to me.  I had to pass, and bought one for a hundred dollars more.

If you are not ok with this… Go and try a million of them.  Pick your favorite one.  Your best bet is to go to a store that carries used ones and gives them a professional set up before they put them on the floor.  Play it through a similar amp to yours.  If you find one at a pawn shop, it will likely have horribly dead strings on it, and you might have to have it professionally set up.  So if you find a good deal, add about $50ish to the price, because that it was a good set up costs.


Don’t buy one on ebay.  Ebay is the best place for scammers to sell you their guitar that feels awful or is just plain counterfeit. 

If you buy a Mexico strat online at a reputable dealer, know that it might not feel as good as some others.  There is a high amount of variance.  You’d be better off paying a little more to get one in town.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Letter or the Spirit of the Law?

So, two news stories this week:

First story.  In California on Wednesday, which happened to be Cinco de Mayo some teenagers got in a bit of a controversy.  These 5 guys who are friends showed up to school wearing… gasp … American flag T-shirts.  Of course this shouldn’t be a big deal, but… they wore the shirts to their school which has a high attendance of  Hispanic teenagers who would be celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

The principal, called them into his office and told them to turn the shirts inside out, or they would have to go home.  They chose to leave the school.

The kids’ parents made it a big deal and called the media, and were very upset that their sons were being assessed an unexcused absence for wearing the shirts.  The media, namely fox news, grabbed the story and ran.  The headlines said: “American Flag banned at California School.” and “Is Wearing the American flag an act of Rebellion Now?”

The principal was reprimanded and was forced to make an apology. 

This frustrates me.  It frustrates me because, this principal was doing his job, doing what he thought to be right.  He was worried that these students, who all appear to me on the news to be kind of punk/standoffish teenage boys wore the American Flag shirts to start a controversy, to start an argument.  We all know what can happen to arguments and controversy when national pride and testosterone get involved.  Why is the principal forced to apologize when he was trying to keep students safe?  He was doing his job.  He was not banning the flag, he was banning potential violence. 

I am not sure that he did the right thing, but I am sure that he did it for the right reason.  In my book he does not owe anyone an apology.  The students put him in a bad situation and he did what he could to make sure that it did not get worse.  I will go a step further.  I believe that the parents who allowed their kids to leave the home with these shirts on, and possibly even encouraged it; these parents deserve the apology the least.

Let’s look at what may well have happened… The 5 students show up to school wearing the shirts and the principal pulls them aside to tell them that he is concerned about safety and potential fights breaking out over these shirts, but because of their right to free speech, he allows them to keep the shirts on.  During the course of the day, several hispanic students question why they have the shirts on.  Perhaps someone on either side of the argument uses some coarse language or some racially insensitive language and fists go flying.  At the very least, cops are involved and students are arrested for assault.  At the very worst, someone is seriously injured or killed.  Either way, people are charged with race hate crimes, expelled from school, possible time in juvy etc. 

We would be reading about the racial violence at the school in california, and not about the shirt controversy.  We’d be saying that the administration should have done more to stop it. 


Less than a week earlier, in the same state, a League Title was on the line at a girl’s track meet.  They were down to the final competitor in the final event.  A High School Senior would have to pole vault over seven and a half feet to get the points to win the meet for her team over their rival, who were the defending champions.  The Senior ran down the track ready to make the jump and backed off.  She said that the nerves made her feel unsure about it and she regrouped to try again.  The second time down the track, she planted the pole and easily soared over the required mark.  Her team celebrated.   However, the opposing coach, stopped the fun to point out that she had broken a rule.  He pointed out that there was a rule that competitors in track meets were not allowed to wear jewelry, and this senior was wearing a friendship bracelet made of a couple pieces of string. 

He petitioned the officials who then deliberated and realized that they had no choice but to disqualify her jump and award the defending champions the title.  The Senior immediately burst into tears.  The other team celebrated. 

The coach of the losing team, says that he believes that the coach who called foul had seen the bracelet and was waiting to use the rule to disqualify her after her jump rather than to point it out to her before her jump.  The bracelet in no way, caused her to win, in fact, the rule is only in place because of the safety for the athletes. 

The athletic director of the winning school said that “it was a victory that no was was particularly proud of”.  The coach, who has won many state titles as well as a national high school title, was quoted as saying: “you have to teach these kids that rules are rules.”


Two stories.  The principal broke the rules in the first story, the coach in the second story followed the letter of the law.  Was either one right?  Was either one wrong?  Both men will be blasted in the media for doing the wrong thing. 

My question is this: does it come down to motive?  If the principal acted the way he did in order to keep kids at his school safe; I believe he made a great choice.  In hindsight, he probably could have kept kids safe and involved his superiors and may have found a creative way to keep the kids at school without allowing their shirts to aggravate tempers. 

I believe that the motive of the coach was: to win.  I believe that he did not do what he did out of concern for anyone.  I do not believe that his thought process told him that if he did nothing that potentially this girl may have worn a thick chain necklace at the next event where she might strangle herself on the pole vault.  I believe that he found a loophole that would help his team’s record and used it. 

I believe that the motives of the students who wore the t-shirts were not to glorify our country or show pride.  I believe that they wished to take a controversial stand.  I believe they knew that they might well have to defend their decision to teachers as well as to classmates who might be very upset. 

I believe that the motive of the girl who wore the bracelet was that a piece of string gave her no advantage and could not possibly harm herself or anyone else and she may have forgotten that she had it on. 

In short.  I really, truly believe that it comes down to the heart.  Not that we can always use the heart to make a judgment or a decision, but when a decision is made based on the heart motive of keeping others safe and the opposing heart motive is to be confrontational.  I will side with the principal.

And when the heart motive of the coach is based on his desire to win by any means, and the heart motive of the athlete is that she simply forgot that her decision was so minor.  I will side with the athlete. 


Perhaps there is something wrong with us when we find ourselves arguing for the letter of the law when someone else’s motive for breaking that law was compassion, or protection.  Interesting debate.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I Choose NOT to Sign the Manhattan Declaration

Before you read this, you should check out the actual Manhattan Declaration. 

The reason that I am writing about this declaration is because tomorrow I am heading to a conference where Senior Pastors will be presented the Declaration and asked to sign it.  At least I am assuming that there will be a call to sign the document after the presentation.  This declaration is not the focus of the conference.  The actual theme of the conference is the relationship between the Church and the Culture.

I’ve always had plenty to say about the relationship of the church and the culture.  I spent a lot of time about 8 years ago arguing with James Dobson’s son Ryan Dobson about this particular issue.  I have thought long and hard about where I stand in the culture and where I stand with the church. 

My summary of the Manhattan Declaration is this:  I believe that the writers of the declaration intend that Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox and other non-denomination groups would unify to not only say, but take action on three foundational principles that:  they should protect human life in the womb, stand up for the sanctity of marriage (a stand against same-sex unions), and stand for the protection of the rights of Churches to practice religion the way that they want to.

I know that this above statement overly simplifies the document, but when it comes down to it, I believe that the goal of the writers was a litmus test for people who label themselves as “Christian.”  They want to say that being Christian means standing for the three statements included.  I believe that they want to (yet again) declare that Christians are against abortion, gay marriage and want protection from government intervention in their practices. 

I do believe that this document is a “nicer” way of articulating these three statements.  There are little buffers before and after many of the bold statements that are meant to say:  “if you agree with this…than you must be one of us.”  There are buffers about standing for human rights and “reaching out with compassion to the poor.”  Or stating the Christians were the ones rescuing discarded babies from Roman trash heaps in the first centuries.  Of course I don’t want babies in trash heaps!  Many statements that follow talk about the role of Christians in abolishing slavery and women’s suffrage.  A short couple of statements do acknowledge that Christians have made mistakes and were on the wrong sides of issues at times.  But these statements in general seem to say that “of course we want to stand for the poor, sick and disenfranchised.”  Some of these statements do sound compassionate and are well worded, others are a bit manipulative and hyperbolic.  At any rate, there is attention taken to saying that the Gospel compels us to care for others.  At this time, where Glenn Beck is ranting about social justice, it’s nice to at least see statements from groups that obviously have other agendas to at least acknowledge our expected role in social justice.

With that being said…I still choose to NOT sign this declaration first based on its merits.  Simply I believe that this document does far more harm than good. 

If you are asking what “good” this document/declaration potentially does, I am just a bit clueless.  I just don’t know.  I believe for the most part that this message is “preaching to the choir.”  I’m just not sure that anyone will change their opinion either way because of these words.  I can see that some of the intent here is unity and action.  But I am very unclear what good the unity does anyone, and what action is supposed to take place due to this message.

This message, in my opinion, is not only unnecessary, but is harmful.  I believe that it brings unity only in unintended places and causes divide in places where the church can not afford more divide. 

It brings unity around some strong misconceptions with groups that I am not sure that we want to have unity with.  RC Sproul and John MacArthur both state that the reason that they are unwilling to sign is because of the unity that it brings between protestants and catholics.  I thought about this for a while, and after re-reading the statement, I can see why they are frustrated.  Let me say this for myself:  I love the have unity with the Evangelicals, Orthodox and Catholics in places where we are reaching out and caring for people who are in need.  I will work along with any of those folks regardless of label or denomination.  In fact, I will work alongside non-Christians and people of other religions when it benefits those who are in need.  But what this document does is it claims that we all adhere to the same Gospel.  This is where Sproul and MacArthur both disagree.  I have to as well.  The statement is worded in a way that makes it sound as though we share a common statement of Gospel faith with these groups when I do not.  Catholics believe in salvation based on faith AND works.  This is a doctrine that has not changed much in hundreds of years.  The Gospel that I believe is clearly stated in scripture shows that no works lead to salvation, it is based solely in our faith of God’s grace.  This document claims in several ways at several times that we share the same Gospel.

I personally don’t want what I teach to be confused with the faith that so many are rebelling against (for good reason) in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Evangelical churches.  I will not claim that their Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus.  I don’t want to be confused with their practices.  I don’t want for someone to think that Hillside Church believes what the Catholic church believes.  This document wants to find unity with them in the Gospel area as well as these three “truths” that they believe are central to the Gospel.  I refuse to do that.

For me though, there is an even bigger reason that I will not sign this declaration.  I believe that these declarations bring Division in places where we do not need further division.  Does the church need more barriers and more obstacles between itself and people who need Jesus?  Seriously, do we need to say to people who are Pro-Choice “You are clearly not one of us!”?  What good does that do?  Is it even true?

I have friends who are Christian, who are also Pro-Choice.  This does not mean that they think that abortions are good and that they want more of them.  I don’t have any friends who want more abortion.  But I do have friends that think that even though Abortion is an unfortunate choice, and some who even believe that it is sinful who are still pro-choice.  They believe that the mother has the right to make the decision, even if the decision is sinful, or tragic. 

What declarations like this one do, is say to those Christians, “you are not fully one of us.”  It says to the non-Christian “you can not be one of us unless you agree with us.”  It brings division. 

Same with the Sanctity of Marriage statements.  Clearly the goal here is to get people to vote against gay marriage.  Clearly the words in this section are the words of Colson as he claims that a lack of respect for marriage has led to drugs, crime and all sorts of social problems.  These causation claims are completely unsubstantiated by real research, there are too many variables to claim that gay-marriage and divorce lead to all of these social problems.  It is far more probable that the breakdown of marriage is one of many symptoms of bigger problems. 

Many in our culture are fighting a battle that they see as a civil rights battle against the government for rights of gay couples to share benefits, tax deductions, next of kin and hospital visitation rights.  Do we really want to position the church against these things when they are not church issues at all?  Do we really want the church to stand against an issue that others see as a civil rights issue?  These are government issues, that government should have a headache dealing with, not the church.  Aren’t we saying as churches that the government gets the final say as to who is legally married or not?  Isn’t that a church issue?  If we are arguing that marriage is sacred, why are we allowing government the power to tell us who is and is not allowed to be married?  Allow the government to deal with taxes.  Allow the government to deal with benefits and visitation rights.  Are those things worth claiming in this declaration that they are three of the most important truths? 

This all leads me to the final reason that I will not sign this declaration.  Take a look at this paragraph:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

This statement claims that it is “our obligation” to “speak and act in defense of these truths.”  Is it?  Can you back that up with scripture?  Does calling myself a Christian mean that I need to lobby my Senator to oppose tax deductions for people whose lifestyle I might disagree with? 

My biggest problem with this paragraph is a conclusion that many who read this will draw, and that many in our society draw from what they have already seen and heard about statements such as these.  Don’t those last couple of sentences make it clear that the authors of this document see standing and acting on these issues as part of “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”? 

This is a tremendous and disgusting error in my opinion.  The Gospel is:  God’s forgiveness of us, through His Grace and Sacrifice, for the purpose of our Eternal Relationship with HIM.  Period.  This Gospel is not exclusive to people who live in the United States in the 21st century and battle Abortion and Gay Marriage.  This Gospel is for all people.  Claiming that this declaration is part of our obligation and part of the Gospel is not just a mistake, it is heretical.  This statement is sooo poorly written, sooo careless.  It unifies people through a “gospel” that is not shared and divides everyone who disagrees with the statements inside. 

Many will choose to sign it based on the fact that they agree with the “three truths.”  I pray that they are not blinded into believing that these are THE three priorities of Christians.  I know that people who disagree with these statements will believe that these are THE priorities of Christians, of the Church.   And that, in my opinion is a terrible shame. 

Declarations like this are, at best, distractions to us and barriers to the people that we wish would come into our doors.  Leave it alone.  Pray that the people who would be hurt and divided away from us will never see it or experience its ramifications.