The Admiral Haddock Experience
May 26, 2011 5:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting back into playing my electric guitar. Two questions: 1) how do I tell whether it's worth throwing money at the existing guitar vs. getting a new one (details inside, I'm in Boston); and 2) what's a good effects processor these days (details also inside).

1) The guitar is a 70s/80s Carlo Robelli, which made (and I think, continues to make) knock offs for Sam Ash. It's in a Les Paul standard style, and heavy as heck--really solid. Somewhere along the line I put in a new neck humbucker and some other new hardware, but I honestly don't think it's ever been properly set up in the 15+ years I've had it.

The frets seem worn to me, and may need to be pulled, and someone put in a phase selector before I bought it that doesn't seem to work.

Let me know if I'm wrong, but I don't think this guitar has any real value, so I don't want to just throw money at it--but if fixing it up will cost $200, I'd rather pay that than shell out for a new guitar.

Bonus: Where in the Boston area can I take this guitar to get a reliable assessment? The Guitar Center seems like a terrible place to go.

2) Processor: I'd like to get a processor. Somewhere in my closet I've got a Sony GP5, which is so bad it's good--but I'd like to get something non-ironic that actually sounds decent. I'd probably get the most use out of it totally rocking out at my desk with earphones, and it would be good to have maybe a USB out so I can use it with GarageBand--but I will want to hook it up to my amp when I'm playing with friends. I'm never in a million years going to be gigging, but it might be nice to have a pedal switch.

I've been to Guitar Center to try boxes in person, but nothing ever works there; it's dreadful. I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking for. Four years ago in this thread, people were recommending the POD line; is that still where it's at?

posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd go spend some time at your local Daddy's Junky Music. I've found them to be pretty reliable and decent about repairs and assessing gear, and also super helpful about letting you plug stuff in and play with it. They're a New England company and they have a ton of used stuff, in case you decide to replace your guitar.
posted by gauche at 6:29 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: About 6 months ago I spent a lot of time reading reviews and trying out effects processors and ended up going with Digitech. I started with the RP500 but ended up returning it for the RP1000 so I could have both preset and effects switching at the same time. The digitech stuff is pretty versatile, but is oriented somewhat towards heavier music. What kind of stuff are you looking to play? I'm a fan of Rage Against the Machine, so a good Whammy effect was an important consideration. The Digitech seemed to strike the right balance of flexibility/playability for me. Some of the other processors (Boss, Line6) give you more flexibility, but take a lot more fiddling around to get things properly tweaked, while the digitech makes it easy to get good sounds and has a pretty intuitive interface.
posted by doctord at 6:48 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: I'd definitely tak your guitar to a good mechanic first - they should be able to tell you whether it's a write-off or not. A bit of it's going to depend on your taste, and how much you want the things you'd need to pay for.

About a multi-fx pedalboard unit:

On the higher end, you've got stuff like the Line 6 Pod HD500. it's currently a fairly decent price on

If you don't want to break the bank, you could get something like a Line 6 Pod XT Live, which I recall being fairly decent a few years back. There's one going on eBay for about $150 right now.

I think I've heard good things about the Boss ME-70 as well, but I'm not 100% sure. I've not actually used many of them, preferring single-fx pedals myself, and the Line 6 ones were the best multi-fx units that I tried.
posted by Magnakai at 6:49 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: This is an off-brand guitar with issues that you don't sound all that fond of to begin with. I wouldn't consider doing much repair/setup work on it unless you're really intending to keep it otherwise it will still have some trade-in value on something you might like better. If you like the Les Paul sound/feel Epiphone makes a number of models that aren't too expensive and seem to be good guitars.
posted by tommasz at 6:54 AM on May 26, 2011

Response by poster: There's a Daddy's near me, so I'll check them out; I didn't realize it is a chain. As for what I play, not too heavy by any stretch of the imagination. When I play with friends, we've done a mishmash of rockabilly (though we're kind of horrible), British Invasion and Britpop, some new wavey stuff. The only thing we shred is lettuce for the after-jam potlucks.

I don't think I need a full pedalboard--but it would be good to have just a single pedal switch to toggle an effect on or off--but some of those definitely look like they would be a lot of fun to rent for a weekend. I'm thinking more of something I can put on my desk to record but then stick in a bag and take to the practice studio when I jam with friends.

I do like the guitar, and I think it's better made than many knock offs, but I take your point tommasz.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:07 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: I think you're onto something with the $200- that's not enough to get a good replacement electric and what you'd realistically expect to spend for serious fretwork and electronics cleanup. I would suggest having the luthier take a look at the tuners. On many import guitars even now the tuners are a weak point and affect your tuning stability.

There's a ton of processors that provide a headphone out these days. The gold standard is the Line 6 Pod, which has a new HD version. These come in tabletop units as well as floorboard models, and there are several competitors doing similar floor units such as Digitech, Vox, and Boss.

That said, I've never had much luck running pods in front of amps- even with the amp modelling switched off it doesn't do it for me. The Boss et al units might be better for this. I do have the Line 6 M9, which is strictly effects- no amp modeling or headphone out. This is just designed to be run in front of an amp and sounds much, much more useable that way (though, I'm not really sold on it for other reasons).

There's also software solutions such as Guitar Rig and Amplitube which have string followings- not really a practical solution for live playing, granted.
posted by tremspeed at 7:28 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: I had a good experience having work done on a bass at Mr. Music in Allston.
posted by jalexei at 8:04 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: If you like the POD, you have a choice of different foot controllers to operate it with your foot. I used the FBV2 on my BassPOD-XT. It simply toggles between 4 presets. Mine came with a monstrously long cable. If the POD-HD is the most recent version out now, you can probably find the former bean (POD-XT) for considerably less. I haven't tried the HD, but I've had time with the XT and the earlier POD-2 and I wouldn't suggest going as far back as the POD-2 model. Not enough options and you'd need to find one of the now-discontinued pedals to go with the older model.

There's one guitar similar to yours with a non-specialist dealer asking about $300.
posted by K.P. at 8:33 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: I've had good experiences with Native Instruments' Guitar Rig Sesssions bundle. This included the Guitar Rig LE 3 software (limited number of effects units relative to the full deal, but plenty good for my not-yet-so-great skillz), and a 2-channel "Session I/O" USB audio interface with one XLR in and one instrument/line in, and both stereo headphone and line-level outputs. I use a craigslist-purchased Behringer FCB-1010 MIDI pedalboard (with the UnO aftermarket firmware, which lets it act more like a set of stompboxes) run through a Yamaha MIDI-USB interface to control Guitar Rig. I've also spent some time developing my own effects in pd.

It's ungainly, but amazingly flexible. I don't think I could gig with it, but hopefully by the time I'm gigging I'll know the sounds I want better and be able to buy dedicated effects boxes.

In the less-complex world, I also have a Korg Pandora PX-3. It's a bit painful to adjust/program, but the presets are good for simple "plug in two cords and jam with headphones" playing.
posted by Alterscape at 9:01 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: Seconding Mr. Music in Allston for instrument and amplifier repair. Definitely think about putting new tuners on. You may even find a good deal on a used pedal.
posted by grog at 10:44 AM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: I am very happy with my Zoom G1N multi effects device. I have had it for a bit over a month.

$50 shipped free from amazon, a ton of tweakable settings, drum machine, tuner, variety of built in patches.
posted by enfa at 1:25 PM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: My roommate, who is a luthier and originally from Massachusetts, says:

"There's two different types of refrets: partial and full. Partial, they only do the first five or six, around seventy-five bucks and if you pay more you're getting fleeced. A full refret is about two hundred fifty and not generally necessary, but it depends on how much the guitar has been played. If it doesn't have a floating bridge, setup should be around forty dollars.

If it's an old guitar, make sure the neck's not warped. If it is, you should just get a new guitar.

If you want to upgrade the pickups, I recommend Seymour Duncan. You can get one of their boutique pickups for only around a hundred, cheaper ones for sixty.

All told, you should be able to get a partial refret, setup, and upgrade your electronics for around three hundred. So if you don't hate your guitar, this will be a better financial option.

2) You're never going to get a good true tone through a processor. That said, Line 6 have various multi-effects, floor units that are as good as anything on the market and have USB ports, I'm pretty sure."
posted by Errant at 11:51 PM on May 26, 2011

Best answer: This is one vote for buying a new axe. Before I wrote the idea off, I'd go to Daddy's and play some guitars retailing for up to $450. I'd see if there were some I fell in love with, and how much they were. If they were close to that $450 limit, or more than I wanted to spend (after negotiating them down at Daddy's, of course), I'd start monitoring craigslist; if you can be patient, you can easily find something used that retailed for $450 that is still in great condition for $200. Everybody's different, but as an amateur, I find I always get geeked to play more on the rare occasions I buy something that feels or sounds better than what I've got.
posted by troywestfield at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2011

Best answer: Only you can say how well you like the guitar and how much you're willing to spend to get it put right, but if you like the Les Paul style, I think you'd probably be better off getting an Epiphone Les Paul - there are several models, and I'd probably be leery of the ones below $300-400 (new). I have an el-cheapo Epiphone SG Special, and it's actually not bad except that the tuners seem to have bad days sometimes - it's weird, but sometimes they seem to hold tune and other times they don't. Perhaps it's based on how hard I'm bangin' on the thing.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again, all--I stopped by the Daddy's on Mass Ave and noodled around a bit. The guy I spoke with (not a tech) didn't think that fixing up the current guitar was worth the scratch, either (of course, he's a guitar salesman, so...). I didn't see any guitars I really loved, but I'll also try the place in Allston, maybe this weekend.

If I have to get a new guitar, I'll probably go for something higher up on the food chain--considering I've had this unremarkable guitar for 15+ years, I'd just as soon get a pretty nice one and keep it for 20+ (probably either a Les Paul or Tele style). That said, I've had the same Yamaha acoustic for 20 years and it's great, so I may not just go Fender/Gibson if it feels right.

On the processor front, I'm probably going with the Line 6 Pod HD, but I'll see if I can try it in person in Allston.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:46 AM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: UPDATE: In the end, I decided to go with a new guitar, and picked up a new Fender Mustang Pawn Shop Special, which I'm really enjoying. Much easier to play than the Carlo, stays in tune, very light, and much easier to play overall. I've only had it a few days now, but I'm very happy.

I haven't picked up the Pod, but I'll probably do that either this week or in July. Rocking out is so much fun! Thanks to all for your help!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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