Monday, November 02, 2009

Going "All In" With the Blackbird Rider Nylon/RMC

This is an interesting moment for me - probably of no interest at all to others, however - because after exactly thirty years of experience with electric nylon string guitars, I've finally found one that is above the magical (to me) 90% satisfaction point. If you've hit this blog in the past month, you know that the guitar in question is, the Blackbird Rider Nylon with the optional RMC Polydrive II hexaphonic pickup system (Which is Roland 13-pin synth compatible).

In the beginning, I tried one of the first Ovation nylon string guitars that could be amplified back in 1979. I didn't like it at all, but I was admittedly ignorant about how to amplify a nylon string: I plugged it into my MESA/Boogie Mk I and couldn't understand why the tone sucked and there was monstrous feedback. LOL! That was the last time I tried an electric nylon string for ten years.

Then in 1989 I decided to try again with the Gibson Chet Atkins CE and CEC guitars. I had put my rock band days behind me by this time, and was playing only solo acoustic nylon string. I'm just not an acoustic guitarist, and that's all there is to it. When I quit my last rock band to go solo in 1988, I was playing a Steinberger GL2T-GR guitar through a pair of MESA/Boogie Mk III's - in stereo thanks to two 10U racks worth of gear - and a Synclavier! I got bored without my effects and synth in a hurry.

Well, I wasn't that interested in playing the Synclavier with electric nylon string guitars, but I was interested in trying to get beautiful clean sounds like I had with my high tech - for then - rock rig. I was also interested in downsizing: Hauling two Simul-Class Boogie combos, two 10U racks, and a Synclavier around - which pretty much filled up an 8' bed in my old Chevy pickup - was really, really old by this time.

The first piece of 19" rack gear I ever bought was a Lexicon PCM-41 back in 1981. Over the next 8 years I went from all pedals to all rack gear. By 1989, there was a 1U Marshall Valvestate power amp, MIDI-Verbs, and even a MESA preamp that was rack mountable, so I went that way. I did better with the Chet and that rig, but it still wasn't good enough sounding for me. I knew I was missing some essential understanding, but I also wasn't going to waste any more time on the project, because the gear wasn't up to my standards anyway.

I tried again in 1999. This time with a 6U rack with a MESA Stereo Simul-Class 2: Ninety power amp, a MESA/Boogie Tri-Axis preamp, and a then-new Lexicon MPX-G2 Guitar Effects processor (And a Furman AR-1215 with a blank vent panel), but still with the Chet. I was getting somewhere, but I was still draging around my old electric steel-string guitar mentality, especially concerning cabinets.

Then the breakthrough came in 2004: Ditch the guitar cabinets, ditch the guitar preamp, and go with a mini-PA. The Simul 2: Ninety weighed a ton and had the annoying habit of burning up tubes at the worst moment, so I replaced that with a solid state Bryston 2B-LP. The Tri-Axis was also problematic, being as it was EQ biased for steel string guitars, so I ditched that too and went to using the MPX-G2 in stand-alone mode. With the Furman and a vent panel, that got me down to a manageable 4U. I still use that rack to this day, but there's now a Behringer BTR-2000 RackTuner in the former vent space.

I was using MESA 1-10" cabinets with EV 10M's at that time, so I replaced those with a pair of Yamaha AS-108 Series II mini PA speakers. Eureka! Then the old Chet went to eBay and was replaced with a Godin Grand Concert Duet. This was the first electric nylon string rig I gigged with, starting in 2005: It was finally "good enough."

At this point, I realized that the Baggs system in the GC Duet was holding me back from getting the sound I wanted, because the sound system was working great and sounding excellent. A good friend in the guitar biz suggested I try the Grand Concert SA with the Polydrive IV. I had dismissed that option because I wasn't interested in running a synth at the time, but he said the sound was clear and neutral, so I tried it. I upgraded the Yamaha monitors to Turbosound TXD-081's, but from 2005 to 2009 that became my main gig rig.

The Godin wasn't a... "magical guitar" from a player's standpoint, so I was still in search of the primo ultimo ax. As regular readers know, I then found a Parker Nylon Fly, and spent another grand getting a Polydrive put into it. It played like a Stradivarius, but didn't have the "openness" of a semi-acoustic, so it really wasn't a viable main gig ax.

Enter the Blackbird Rider Nylon: The openness of an acoustic, the sustain of the Parker, and a playing feel right smack dab in between the Godin and the Parker. I'd say it's 92.5% of what I'm looking for. The only major technical flaw is that the fingerboard has a positive radius, whereas a classical guitar ought to have an infinite radius (It ought to be billiard-table flat, IOW). The reason this is the case is that classical guitarists make lots of big stretches, putting lateral pressure on the fretted strings. A radius makes having the high and low E strings slip off the fingerboard more likely: This is still vexatious, after a month of playing the Rider exclusively. I've gotten much better with it, but if Blackbird only flattened the fingerboard, we'd be talking about a 95% satisfaction level.

Nevertheless, I've eBayed off all of my other electric nylon string guitars to go with twin Rider Nylons.

They look identical, but they're not: The original on the right has an action 1/64" higher than a traditional Flamenco guitar, while the "new" one on the left has an action 1/64" lower than a standard Classical. I figure the higher action will give better synth tracking, but I haven't tried it out yet. The lower action tracks magnificently compared to my old Roland GR compatible axes, mind you, but I have to be easy on the dynamic range to avoid string rattle, which causes tracking errors (I like to dig in hard, though, so most probably wouldn't ever notice what I do).

Lastly, I find it interesting that my steel string electric guitar evolution started with a Gibson Les Paul - a traditional wooden electric guitar - and ended with the Steinberger GL2T-GR - so far as I know, the first composite electric guitar in history - while my nylon string evolution really started with the Gibson Chet Atkins and ended with the Rider, also a composite guitar. I've come to the conclusion that wood is bad.

BTW, I fell into the "new" one because a dealer was going out of business, so I got it cheap and had Blackbird install the Polydrive II and still saved a few hundred dollars. Somebody up there likes me.

there's the angel who likes me, right there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of interest to this reader :)

9:42 PM  

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