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Posts Tagged ‘Guitars’

As many know who’ve frequented this blog over the past couple of years, they know my love for the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. It has allowed me to record in my garage till the wee hours of the morning, and not get complaints from my wife or the neighbors about being too loud, as I can get down to conversation levels; but more importantly, I can get down to those levels and still retain my tone and especially my dynamics.

With other attenuators, as you increase attenuation, it’s like putting a blanket over your tone. Not so with the PRX150-Pro. I’ve been using it now both in the studio and at gigs for the last couple of years, and it never ceases to amaze me.

For instance, I shared a song the other day called, “Come Together.” I’ve since changed the name to “God’s Love Will Set Us Free” but what I failed to mention was that the electric guitar parts were recorded, close-miked with the volume level being normal conversation level! Though I was using just a 6 Watt amp, even that cranked up is simply too loud to be playing completely cranked at midnight – at least in my neighborhood.

Here’s the final cut of the demo. The electric guitars haven’t been tweaked except for adding just a touch more highs in the EQ (the original tone was fine, but I wanted the guitars to cut through the mix a bit better because there was lots of overdrive):

What great quality at normal conversation levels!

I know, there are those out there that poo-poo the whole attenuator thing, and that’s fine. But for me, I couldn’t live without it – especially in my studio. It’s saving my ears. :)

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…everything just sounds and feels… BAD?

I just got done with my weekly church gig this afternoon, and I have to admit that I was not in the least bit happy with my tone. It completely affected how I played; which felt choppy and contrived, not smooth and spontaneous.

I suppose we’re all bound to have those kinds of gigs, but I have to tell you, nothing puts me in a worse mood than having bad tone.

To be fair to my gear, my clean tone was fine, but my overdrive tone was absolutely muddy. It had no punch, and even with the volume up, I wasn’t cutting through the mix. Ewwwww…

Oh well, I’ll have to play around with my setup a bit…

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No, it’s not a Beatles cover… :) This is a song about getting over ourselves and listening to God’s voice and feeling His presence in our lives; putting ourselves together with His help.

I got a little inspirational kick while I was recording with my little VHT Special 6 which I used for the electric guitar parts. I had it totally cranked up, ran it through my Aracom PRX150-Pro and out to my 1 X 12 that has a Jensen Jet Falcon in it. Man! That amp sounds A LOT bigger than it’s diminutive 6 Watts. For the left channel guitar, I used my Strat in the bridge position, then used the neck position for the right channel to get a ballsier sound.

Anyway, here’s the song:

 

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Okay, boys and girls… After announcing this guitar over a year ago, Gibson has finally released the Firebird X er… system. Not just a guitar, this baby packs built-in effects, completely on/off switchable and coil-tapped pickups. It also includes a piezo pickup for getting an acoustic sound. But wait! There’s more! The pickups can be switched to run in series and parallel. But we won’t stop there! The on-board effects can be controlled by sliders on the upper bout of the body, and with the included switch pedal, you can activate those effects.

But just to make sure Gibson didn’t forget anything, they also include an expression pedal for the effects. By the way, the effects are all programmable via USB interface to a computer. Oh yeah… There’s also a boatload of software included.

Even the case is revolutionary (Gibson’s words). It’s lightweight, and includes the obligatory straps, but it’s strong enough to withstand a fall from a six-story building (I wonder if that’s with the guitar in it). :) Oh! And let’s not forget the robot tuning system.

So what’ll all this cost? Supposedly, somewhere in the neighborhood of US$5500.

My thoughts? I’m not sure. It’s certainly very cool. All this in a 7 pound guitar! Wait! It’s not a guitar, it’s a system! :)

It certainly is a system, and mind you, I only mentioned a fraction of the features of this guit… er… system. The technology that has gone into it is pretty amazing in both breadth and depth. That, I can’t deny. And to have your pedalboard right in your guitar is pretty freakin’ cool – ala Matthew Bellamy of Muse.

There’s a part of me that says this screams of overkill. But on the other hand, it’s not as if this guitar will be a high-production model. It’s a limited edition. But who knows? If demand is high, Gibby may turn it into a sales platform.

Also, for myself, and myself only, I just want to play. I’m not sure that I’d want to spend a lot of time niggling over effects patches. And besides, though the effects may very well be good – perhaps even awesome – I’ve got the effects I like on my board, and for the most part, especially for my modulation effects, I rarely change where they’re set to (well… except for my Deep Blue Delay).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really not trying to be cynical here, but something like this would take me awhile to dial in. Like I said, I’d rather pick up a guitar and just start playing, knowing what sounds the guitar will make.

For more information, check out Gibson’s Firebird X site!

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I wrote this song several years ago as a fun, foot-stompin’, rockin’ blues crowd-pleaser to close out church services, and like my previous song, The Way The Truth The Life, finally got around to recording it – actually I attempted to record it a lot over the years, but just couldn’t get a good vibe with it. Most of it had to do with how I was singing it, which was kind of straight up. But last year, I decided to have some fun with it, and do kind of an “Elvis” voice, and that’s when it changed the whole song and got me over the hump. :) Here’s the song:

I just used my Fender American Deluxe Strat in this one for all guitar parts, and ran it through my Roland Cube 30 set to “Classic British Stack” so I could get that mid-rangy Marshall tone. I cheated a little with the lead and added a software overdrive plug-in to give the lead even more bite and sustain. Ahhh! The wonders of software! :)

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My American Deluxe Strat is the very first Strat that I actually liked. A lot of it has to do with the pickups, which are Kinman Hx noiseless single coils. These have a bit more output than stock Strat pickups and they make a HUGE difference in the tone of the guitar; fattening up the sound significantly.

Traditionally, I have absolutely abhorred the middle pickup of Strats. To me, with the stock set, though it is mid-rangy, which is a tone I like, I always felt the middle pickup was a little lifeless. Even EVH with the Frankenstein removed the middle pickup, and replaced the bridge pickup with a humbucker I suppose to fatten up his tone. With my Kinmans, the tone is not quite ‘bucker-fat, but it is much fatter than the stock pickups. As for the middle pickup, it’s my favorite pickup on the guitar when I’m playing with distortion. It produces tons of mid-range that cuts right through a mix.

Plus, at least to me, it has the best balance of sustain and fatness to simply be an ideal pickup. Take this demo that I recorded this morning called “The Way The Truth The Life:”

I actually recorded this a few years ago, but couldn’t get a groove with the song. So I finally got it put together, and after I recorded the acoustic guitar and piano parts, realized that it needed a driven electric guitar sound; specifically, my Strat through a cranked Marshall. :) To be honest, I tried recording with the neck pickup which is my usual go-to pickup, but that was way too fat, and the bridge pickup was way too thin. But the middle pickup was just right… (yikes! sounding like Goldilocks and the three bears).

When I spent time with Doug Doppler way back when, he talked about the middle pickup being one of his favorites. I personally didn’t “get it” at the time because up until that point, I hadn’t heard a middle pickup on a Strat that I liked. But after recording this song, I’m sold. When I want a smooth drive with lots of mid-range, the middle pickup is it!

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I’ve been on the job hunt these past few weeks, which is why I haven’t posted as much as I normally would. And in my search, interviewers have all asked the standard question: “Why did you leave your last position? You were there for three-and-a-half years.” My original “pat” answer was, “It became too political.” But that was really only a minute part of why I left. I only said that because I had a hard time articulating what really was at the core of my leaving; and simply put, it was a gradual reduction in freedom: Freedom to think, freedom to be creative, freedom to be honest.

When I first started at that company, we were pre-IPO. The engineering team was lean – about 50 people to develop for a HUGE enterprise app – and thus, we all wore lots of hats. It was chaos, but the level of teamwork and collaboration was at a level before which I had never experienced. Because of our flat organization, we were all expected to lead in some way, shape, or form at any time. There were no egos.

But all that changed after the IPO as the company transformed into a classic corporate culture where collaboration and courage gave way to internal competition. That change in culture eroded the sense of ownership of employees, as the executive management focused on pleasing Wall Street, and started practicing Wall Street’s executive rewards programs: Paying themselves huge bonuses in stock and cash, while not rewarding the rank and file in kind. They created management layers and stratified the entire organization. The values that the company was built on were only given lip service.

That’s why I left. I could no longer work for a company that was not living up to its values.

So what does this have to do with this blog? :) I came to that realization above as I was writing some of my latest songs, so bear with me.

As a sanity check, I submit my music to a few different services to be critiqued. I’ve always known that my music while Christian in flavor, really doesn’t fit in the Contemporary Christian music category. But several reviewers have come back with critiques to shape my songs into that genre. My reaction has been, “I guess they don’t get what my music is about…” Mind you, that’s not an ego thing. It’s more of an awareness that it’s completely different from the genre. However, one reviewer whom I have been using for critiques and who is also the most brutally honest with me, has never tried to change my songs to fit in the CCM bucket. Instead, she evaluates my songs completely on their own merit, allowing me to build on my creativity, and working with me on making tweaks that serve the song as opposed to genre.

Frankly, my music could be considered “contemporary sacred,” as it is all worship music, and really meant to be played within the context of some sort of worship ceremony or event. Most songs I write aren’t just for listening: They’re for interaction. They’re meant to be sung.

During a recent conversation with the reviewer I mentioned, I realized that a sense of “freedom” is a critical ingredient to creativity. In the past couple of weeks, I have been churning out new music that will be going on my new sacred songs album. I have been experiencing an incredible burst of creativity. That is largely due to having this sense of freedom: I’m writing what I feel I need to write, free from the consideration of what someone else might think. In essence, I’ve given myself the freedom to be creative and stopped trying to build a box around what I think my music should be, or worrying myself about whether or not it will be liked. It is what it is.

For highly creative people, reduction in freedom to create, whether or not it’s self-inflicted kills their ability to create. For me, once I gave myself permission to write what I needed to write, all sorts of great things happened…

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