Making the switch to steel…
Picked up a couple of packs of Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt strings yesterday to see if they actually are louder and have more frequency response with the iron/cobalt alloy. Actually, I was looking for a set of RPS-10′s, and I saw these on the shelf. Dug that neon yellow. No, I didn’t buy them because of the pretty packaging, though they did stand out somewhat, and I had never played cobalt strings. So I’m going to give ‘em a whirl and how they sound.
Speaking of strings, I think I’m done with nickel for awhile. I’ve been using pure nickel strings either from DR or Wyres for the few years. For the blues-centric stuff I was writing at the time, the warmth of the nickel was perfect. But lately, I’ve been exploring a more “edgy” tone – edgy for me at least – and have felt my guitars just didn’t have much “oomph.” So instead of spending tons of money on new pickups, I decided to try switching out strings first.
As a fan of Slash, and especially the tone he gets with a Les Paul/Marshall set up, I looked up what strings he uses, and was pleasantly surprised that he uses Ernie Ball Power strings (the purple pack). Far be it from me to try to duplicate his sound. That wasn’t my goal. What I was after was more punch and especially more brightness, not Slash’s tone. I picked up a set of RPS-10′s and strung up one my ’59 Les Paul replica with them. That guitar was already bright with the Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups that are in her, but with the RPS-10′s I felt she had quite a bit more high-frequency bite. Just what the doctor ordered!
With the EB Cobalts, I’m going to first install them on my R8. I’ve still got nickels on her. Hopefully it’ll help resolve some of the warmth issues I have with the neck pickup.
An eye-rolling moment…
I just finished yet another round of 4 gigs in 4 days, which will probably be a regular thing for me the next month as the restaurant fired the Thursday night guy, and the Saturday night guy got really sick then started a show (he’s in theatre). Man, I do love to gig! It’s pretty good money to boot with tips and a decent hourly stipend. The restaurant I work at has been traditionally known as an “Opera Cafe,” so we’ve had singing waiters that did opera and show tunes. I kind of changed the game a bit because while I do some opera and show tunes, I normally stick to classic rock and folk, and have introduced acoustic versions of contemporary and pop songs. The cool thing is that it has opened it up for whoever sings to explore stuff other than opera and show tunes. So here’s the eye-rolling moment…
Over the years (I’m in my 13th year playing there now), we have had a number of voice teachers working at the restaurant. First eye-roller: Almost invariably, the first thing they mention to me when they come to me for accompaniment is that they’re vocal coaches or teachers. It’s as if I’m supposed to automagically assume that they can sing and, that they’re something special. I’ve been performing for over 40 years, and I can tell you this: There are few truly special voices I’ve heard. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people I’ve met who are very talented. But like with professional sports, the truly elite performers are few and far between. But here’s the problem I have with voice teachers: They’re never open to constructive feedback! For instance, there was one vocal coach who would always sing songs that were too high for her range, and she’d always be flat with the high notes. I once suggested that we change the key for a song by saying, “That song’s in a pretty high key and I can see you straining a bit. Why don’t we bring it down a step or two, so you can be in the sweet spot of your range.” She gave me this “excuse me” look, and replied, “Look, I’m a vocal teacher, and I can sing this song. We’re going to keep it the original key!” I just laughed and said, “You know, I didn’t say anything to attack you or make any comments on your tone. You’re straining with that song, and I just want you to feel comfortable.” She just sneered and walked off. Arrogance. Ugh!
On the other hand, I worked with a guy who was an active performer in musical theater at the time, but who is now working on Broadway. He was such a joy. He had this really high tenor voice, that was a bit nasally; a bit like Michael Crawford. The thing about him was that not only did he take feedback and listen respectfully to suggestions, he always asked how he could do better; and even better than that, would often ask for my feedback on what songs would be good for him to sing. He was someone who didn’t want to sing songs just because he liked them, or what he thought the audience would like. He wanted to sing songs that would bring out the best qualities of his voice so he could give a maximum performance. To me, he is a true performer. He approaches his craft with humility and an open heart, and guess what? It shows in his performance. Truth be told, he actually didn’t have that strong of a voice. He wasn’t off key, but he hadn’t developed power at the time we worked together. But he was self-aware and mindful of what tools he did have, and he WORKED them! Not a small wonder why he’s working as a professional.
More adventures with the VHT Special 6
Excuse the pun, but there is indeed something very special about the VHT Special 6. I got mine a couple of years ago within the first week of its release. It was a total impulse buy. I was in Oregon, just outside of Portland, on my to drive out to the Oregon coast when I saw this music shop across the parking lot from where I was filling up my gas tank. I of course had to check it out. While I was browsing through the store, the owner, who was showing me around, led me over to the amps as he wanted to show me and amazing little amp that had just arrived from VHT. At first glance, I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed, but I slung on a guitar and plugged in. Okay, I was immediately impressed by the tone, especially coming from a 10″ speaker. Then the guy shared that the amp was hand-wired in China, and when I looked at the price of $199.00, I said, “Okay, I’ve seen and heard enough. Pack it up.”
While I really didn’t have a problem with its stock tubes and speakers, I did swap those out. I swapped the speaker out for Jensen Jet Electric Lightning because I was evaluating the speaker for Jensen, and decided to keep it. I swapped the tubes out simply because I had some extra circa-1950′s NOS tubes sitting around, and well, I wanted to put them to use.
Used the Special 6 yesterday with Katie May (yes, I decided to keep her), and I have to say that that amp just sings! It has a lot of clean headroom, so it’s perfect for use with a distortion pedal. This is one of those rare amps that you can use anywhere. It could keep up with a band with the right cabinet. In fact, at yesterday’s gig, we played as a power trio, and it kept up just fine. I just made sure to keep the amp close to me, and just relied on my sound guy to get my tone out to the audience. It’s a lovely-sounding amp!
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