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James Taylor: Unsung Hero?

I’ve tended to focus on electric guitar in this blog over the years as it started out as a diary for my move into tube amps. But truth be told, I play acoustic guitar at least 75% of the gigs I play. And through the years, James Taylor has been a major influence on how I approach acoustic guitar playing.

I’ve written about JT in the past, but last night, I watched an episode of Austin City Limits with JT as the guest artist and I was reminded of why he has been such an influence over my playing. For instance, if you watch the video above, listen closely to the guitar playing. There’s A LOT going on!

Which brings me to the title of this article. I think many people – even my contemporaries – view JT as a great songwriter. And I believe that his incredible songwriting has always overshadowed his guitar playing. But his technique is absolutely incredible. Last night, as I watched Austin City Limits, I was literally transfixed by how JT played and approached his instrument. It wasn’t just what he played, but what he didn’t play that I found so amazing. And that’s mark of a true master; that is, a master is one who can express their message in a just a few notes that others may take many more to accomplish.

There’s an economy to JT’s playing that I think very few have mastered. I’ve seen it with jazz musicians like Miles Davis, but very few guitarists. To me, JT is that rare guitarist that can say so much with just a minimum amount of notes. 

Could be I’m way off with respect to JT being an unsung hero, but to me, he’s once of the best guitarists in the history of the instrument.

A friend of mine forwarded me an article published in the Wall Street Journal this morning, stating that “Gibson Brands” filed for Chapter 11 as it’s Gibson Innovations division, which operates under the Philips moniker, seeks protection to reorganize “in the face of $500 Million in debt.” The company at large is set to default on some of its debt as soon as July and is actively liquidating its consumer electronics businesses. Sheesh!

According to the article, KKR, a private equity company, will take over Gibson. Hopefully KKR will install leadership that will continue to build up the musical instrument business. Amazingly, it was that side of the house that was cashflow positive, with sales up 11% over the same time last year.

We guitarists have seen the improvement over the last few years; especially since the failed attempt at the robot guitar. Gibson learned from that and went back to its classic, roots styling and configurations, and also created a mid-range level line to fill in sales for people who didn’t want the cheap-o stuff but didn’t want to shell out for the high-end guitars. It was a smart move, and they realized good financial results. Hopefully, by shedding the consumer electronics arm and re-focusing their energies on their core competency, they’ll realize success again.

But all that said, the article did state that all these proceedings shouldn’t affect consumers. That’s a good thing. And it makes sense as the musical instrument business is profitable. So don’t expect them to close their doors. 🙂

Personally, following the saga of Gibson over the years has been amusing at best and head-scratching at worse. I’m a Les Paul guy, so I surely don’t want to see them struggle. But I have to say they’ve made some pretty stupid moves in the past that have hurt the company and affected their customers. The acquisition by CBS was a huge stumble, but luckily Slash came to the rescue – even though he played a custom copy, but it looked like a Les Paul. The whole advanced materials and robot tuners were a joke (IMO). And for a while, build quality suffered immensely. But what I’ve been seen over the last few years is a seeming return to much higher build quality standards.

Hopefully, KKR can get it right this time…

I’ve now been gigging and recording with this mic for a couple of weeks straight and I just couldn’t be happier. I have to admit that it has taken me a little while to work out positioning in front of the capsule, as I’ve spent years practically swallowing other mics just to get a good sound. But with this mic, it requires a bit of space; about an inch for regular singing, and if I need to really lay into a vocal, I’ve got to be about eight to twelve inches away.

Also, while the mic is great for lower volume singing, where I find it really shines is when I’m in a band situation where I’m singing with a full voice. And in a band situation, the rear noise rejection is second to none, and this helps quite a bit with mitigating feedback, as I can position my mic near monitors and not worry about feedback.

As far as how it sounds, the tone is just a tad scooped, and the midrange mid-point seems to be on the higher side. But I love that because it picks up higher frequency characteristics. It also means that with this mic, I can punch through a mix. I have to admit that it was a little unsettling at first because that little higher frequency bump makes my vocals sound so clear. That’s not to say the lows aren’t there. They absolutely are. But compared to an SM-58 or even an e835, the richness of the sound is so much better.

Other than how good it sounds, the mic is very well-built. I see no problem with it enduring the rigors of regular gigging. As far as recording is concerned, it works fantastic! But I think I’m still going to save my pennies to get the PR-35 for recording. I’ve gigged with that mic in the past, and the sound quality is even better than the PR-22. However, it is not nearly as durable as it is coated with a silicon layer, and according to the sound guy who provided me with the mic, with a lot of use, the silicon wears off.

Circling back to the PR-22, this to me is the perfect all-around stage mic.

I just read this excellent article on SonicScoop on the importance pre-production work and how many artists/bands haven’t done their homework prior to going into the studio or finding a producer. Then the author finishes up with two approaches to cutting an album: The “insane” way and the “smart” way. Of course, he advocates for the smart way, but more importantly, the underlying message of the post is simply this: Before you even think about going into the studio, know what you want to accomplish and also rehearse, play shows, rehearse, play shows, and repeat.

The point is to hone your skills at playing your music. Especially if you’re in a band, make sure the parts that each member plays are completely worked out. What you don’t want to do is spend studio time (read: MONEY) figuring stuff out. You want to know what you’re going to do going in; know how you’re going to sound. If you have any doubts, just don’t do it.

I’ve been wanting to cut another album after having done it myself over a decade ago. Friends have encouraged me to do this. But I’ve actually been reluctant because this time, I want to use different musicians other than myself. In order for me to do this, I need to get the musicians I ask to learn my music, and before we all head into the studio, I want everyone to practice together – a lot. Make sure the bass is playing where I want them. Make sure the drums are funky enough, etc.

And even before I go into the studio, I’ve got to find a studio and engineer that I can work with and who “gets” my music. I went back into the studio a few years ago and worked with an engineer who kept on making “suggestions” that were almost always contrary to the vision I had for my songs. That got annoying pretty quickly, and I had to shut him down pretty hard by telling him I knew what I wanted and I didn’t want his suggestions unless they had to do with the mix and production.

Then, as a drummer, he would “volunteer” his drumming on my songs as I recorded the drums in my demos with MIDI hits and loops.  Moreover, he just didn’t get the style I was after. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay for his work unless I used his drum tracks, and his drumming was just not that inspiring, so I never used them except for clicks.

But it just wasn’t the engineer. I also wasn’t fully prepared. I hadn’t done all the pre-production work. For instance, my songs were brand new, and I hadn’t performed them enough to really figure out how I wanted them recorded. I also didn’t go into the studio with enough material. That’s a huge mistake. You need to have enough to throw away. Even if you’re just doing an EP, which was what I was intending to do, you should have more material than what would fit on the album. Oh well… live and learn…

The point to all this is that before you go into the studio, there’s so much that you have to do to be prepared. Your performance needs to be a foregone conclusion long before you get into a sound booth, and you need to have lots of material. Nothing beats preparations. It’ll save you time and money in the long run. For those of us on a budget, that’s critical.

Here’s the link to the article again. I highly recommend you read it!

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Heil Sound PR-22 UT (Utility) Dynamic Microphone

Summary: The “utility” version of the PR-22, this is the same mic, but with a single mesh (the regular PR-22 comes with three), and comes with a leatherette bag instead of a nice box; hence, the “utility.” Heil cut down on the packaging to provide an affordable tier for their popular PR-22 stage mic.

Pros: Wide frequency response, incredible rear rejection, and tons of overload protection make this an ideal stage mic. Plus, using this mic is much like removing a blanket over other mics. It’s not that the mic is tuned to higher frequencies; there’s just so much more sonic content that this mic picks up! Other mics may claim to have as wide a frequency response, but you actually hear the highs that you normally wouldn’t with mics in this price range and a little higher.

Cons: It is a nit, but not an issue for me as I always have my mic mounted on a stand, but as with other Heil mics, this is pretty sensitive to handling. But this is such a minor issue, I’m reluctant to mention it.

Price: $99.00 – $117.00 Street


  • Output Connection: 3-pin XLR
  • Element Type: Dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 50 Hz – 18 kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardiod
  • Rear Rejection @ 180 deg off-axis: -30 dB
  • Impedance: 600 ohms balanced
  • Output Level: -55 dB @ 1kHz
  • Weight: 14 oz.
  • Max SPL:  145 dB

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ I’ve been wanting this particular microphone for a long time, but already had a decent stage mic, so the will to get a new one just wasn’t there. But after my trusty Sennheiser e835 that has probably seen at least a thousand gigs and started to easily overload, it was time to replace it. I’m never going back to Sennheiser or Shure again!

As an active, gigging musician that relies on vocals, having a good mic is crucial to me. For more than a decade, I’ve relied on Sennheiser mics; specifically, the e835 as my main stage mic. It has served me well. But a couple of years ago, I did a gig where the sound guy asked if I wanted to try out a Heil PR-35. Being game for anything, I let him set it up. I didn’t know my voice actually sounded like it did.

From that point on, I resolved to get one. But it didn’t come cheap, as the PR-35 costs $265. However, I did a bit of research on other Heil mics and came across the PR-20, which has since been updated to the PR-22. And after listening to lots of comparisons, I decided to pull the trigger on the PR-22.

Wow! What a difference a mic makes! When I first plugged the mic in, the first thing I noticed was the much fuller sound of the PR-22. At the time, I had nothing to compare it to, but based on experience, there just seemed to be a lot more sonic content present in the Heil compared to my Sennheiser. And from what I could tell with the frequency analyzer in GarageBand, there really was a lot of stuff coming through.

But the proof is in the pudding, so I did a direct comparison between the two. In the following clip, I speak the same testing sequence with both mics. You’ll first hear the Sennheiser, then followed by the Heil, then back to the Sennheiser, then ending with the Heil. I positioned both about an inch from my mouth.


Both mics actually sound pretty good. But there’s definitely more going on with the Heil, especially in the lower frequency ranges. It sounds much fuller than the Sennheiser, though the Sennheiser sounds pretty good as well.

As you can see, from the picture of the tracks, while both are generally being picked up at the same level, there are more defined peaks in the Heil, plus some sharp peaks not present on the Sennheiser track. What this amounts to sonically is a lot more content.

The problem with the clip I provided is that GarageBand does a bit of compression despite the fact that I exported it to SoundCloud uncompressed. But irrespective of that, there is definitely more going on with the Heil than with the Sennheiser. The difference between the two mics with my headphones on through my audio interface is marked. The Sennheiser sounds thin, while the Heil sounds rich and full.

Frequency Response 

Take a look at the frequency response chart for each mic:

Heil PR-22


Sennheiser e835


Just looking at the graph, it’s clear to see that overall sensitivity of the PR-22 is slightly higher than the e835. It’s not a significant difference as far as the numbers are concerned; however, especially when comparing the 1 kHz to 10 kHz range of both mics, this is where the PR-22 picks up much more content.

What first attracted me to the e835 years ago was its presence boost: That hump around 4 kHz. Sennheiser specifically called that out in its marketing. To me in actual usage, it made the mic sound so much clearer than the Shure SM-58, which sounded muddy in comparison. But with the Heil, the upper-mid to high-frequency sensitivity provide even more presence. And looking at the overall chart, there’s a lot more being picked up by the Heil in the same conditions.

In the Studio

What this means for recording is that I do a lot less EQ manipulation with the Heil than I do with the Sennheiser. In fact, re-recording a song with the Heil, the only EQ adjustments I made were to roll off the extreme highs (sizzle) and lows (muffles) and reduce a peak at around 220 Hz (it’s a trick I learned to make my vocals sound clearer). Contrast that with the Sennheiser where I actually have to roll off the extreme highs and lows, add a few dB of both lows (around 100Hz) and upper-mids and highs especially highs above 7 kHz because the mic records a bit muddy.

The net result is that I can produce a good vocal track with either mic. It just takes a lot more twiddling and tweaking when doing the EQ for the e835.

On Stage

But because there’s so much content that the Heil picks up, I have to adjust my mic technique and pull back just a bit. Proximity effect with the Heil is actually not as pronounced as I’ve experienced with other mics – especially the Shure SM-58 – but though Heil claims it’s not prone to proximity effect, all mics are prone to it. By pulling back ever so slightly, I allow the mic to pick up more mids, without sacrificing the lows.

Rear Rejection

Probably the best selling point of the mic is its rear sound rejection. While I was recording a test clip earlier, my daughter asked me a question. I had to stop recording, but after listening to what I recorded, I could hardly hear her voice, which means that the sound I was actually hearing from her voice was what bounced off the wall behind me. This makes the mic excellent for stage work and will be much less prone to feedback issues when placed close to a monitor.


This is a very directional mic. While off-axis pickup is not bad, it’s not advised to stray over an inch from the capsule in any direction. I’ve been playing with the mic for the last couple of days, and for stage positioning. I found that pointing the mic a few degrees up, and placing the top edge the capsule level with my lower lip is the optimal position for me. And though I have good technique controlling my plosives (“b” and “p” sounds), positioning the mic there helps even more, and I don’t sacrifice any content.

But that said, the mic comes with a very nice foam capsule screen. I could sing straight on into the capsule with the screen on, and it protects quite a bit from plosives. It doesn’t eliminate them – nor should any screen do that – but it does help quite a bit.

Overall Impression

All that said, this mic is not for everyone. Because it picks up a lot more, it may not please everyone when they hear their voice through the mic the first time. I remember when I tried out the PR-35. I was blown away! I really didn’t know there was so much more in my voice. The PR-22 is not nearly as sensitive as the PR-35, but it’s pretty sensitive in its own right.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve just had a defining moment with this mic. Mind you, it’s not really a super, high-end mic. But the sound quality rivals much more expensive mics. I’m a happy camper!

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!


Aroma AGS8 Instrument Stand

Summary: For me, this is a gigging musician’s wet dream as far as guitar stands go. Not only is it sturdy, well-designed and well-built, it is light AF!

Pros: Did I mention that this stand is light? It doesn’t seem to weigh much more than a pound if that. But don’t be fooled by the lightweight. The aircraft-grade aluminum is tough!

Cons: None.

Price: $16.99 – $17.99 (Amazon, depending on color)

Features (from Amazon, and I assume Aroma):

  • THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FOLDING STAND LASTS LONG. Top aircraft grade aluminum tubes used, with high strength ABS joints, ensure a long lifetime usage. A frame structure, when unfolded, is the most stable design to support your instruments.
  • THE MOST PRACTICAL STAND FOR FRET AND STRING INSTRUMENTS. The ladder designed base arms, length adjustable, let the stand suitable for different thickness instruments. The vertical arms opening degrees adjustable for different sizes of instruments. The rotatable contact surface on the stand top for different instruments leaning angles. (NOT for V-shape or other special shapes instruments)
  • ALL THE WAY ROUND PROTECTING YOUR INSTRUMENT. All contact points where touching your instruments are covered with soft silicone material, which is dull to any chemical reaction with your instrument surface. The 4 landing points are also covered with slip-resistance silicone material.
  • USE YOUR STAND ANYTIME ANYWHERE. The smart adjustable and collapsible design is to fold your stand into one piece. Lightweight. Easy to carry along with your instrument anywhere anytime.
  • SHARE YOUR CREATIVITY. Join Aroma Facebook account, post your using tips, your fun with this stand. Jam your thoughts with others.

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ Sometimes, even the mundane can get me excited, especially when that mundane thing makes my life so much easier.

It’s a guitar stand for goodness sake! Who the hell cares?

I do, for one. With the number of gigs I do per year, gear weight is a factor, so is compactness when you don’t have the luxury of a road crew. And when I can get those two things plus a great design that’ll protect my investment, well, I flip out!

One of my bandmates purchased one a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was cool with its compact design and adjustable base arms. But I was most impressed with how light it was. I resolved then that I’d get one. I am not disappointed in the slightest!

Fit and Finish

The days of “Made in China” being associated with poor quality are long gone. This stand is absolutely well-built. The aircraft-grade aluminum tubing is super-strong, and the plastic ABS joints should withstand a lot of wear and tear. I got mine in blue, but you can get the stand in black, rose gold, gold, and silver. The latter three will cost you a buck more for some reason. I guess black and blue sell the best. 🙂

The design of this stand is great. It folds up nice and compact. You can see in the pictures above where I placed a quarter next to the folded stand. Nice and small.

As for its sturdiness, I have no issues with it. But if you notice how I’ve set up my acoustic guitar, I have it so it stands fairly upright. This is to make sure that the bottom edge of the guitar abuts against the end stoppers of the base arms. Plus, it will put minimal pressure on the apex pad. With a stand this short, you don’t want a lot of weight at the top of the stand. You’re just asking for trouble.

Either the weight of the guitar will make the stand tip back (not too likely – I put my Les Paul on this stand and set it up to lean back and it stayed in place), or as someone reported on Amazon, the top pad put a slight depression into the back of his ES-335. To me, it’s just common sense to let physics work for you. When you place the guitar in a more upright position, more of the body surface will contact the pads. So stand the freakin’ guitar up! 🙂 Sheesh!

Finally, I dig the bottom footpads. They elevate the entire structure of the frame, so the chance of spilled liquid contacting my guitar is pretty much nullified.

Overall Impression

I love this stand! I’m probably going to get a couple more of these. Well-made, well-designed and lightweight. A perfect combination, even it’s just a lowly stand.

Nothing’s Ever Perfect…

When we find gear the works and get us totally inspired, it’s so easy to overlook the little quirks in our gear that, in other circumstances, might be a bit annoying. Such is the case with my magnificent Seymour Duncan SA-6 Mag Mic. I’ve raved and raved about how it sounds,  and though I knew that there would be a potential annoyance regarding the battery, I ignored it because it sounds so damn good.

What’s the issue? Actually a couple of things. First, the instructions say to mount the velcro strip at the base of the neck. That’s actually not too big of a deal, BUT if you put don’t make sure that the entire strip on the battery pack is making contact with the mounting strip, a simple jostle will make the battery pack come loose… which is a perfect segue into the more serious annoyance.

Even if you mount the battery pack squarely on the mounting velcro strip, a quick jarring of the guitar could potentially make the battery pop out of its holder. I had a gig last night, and my guitar case was inadvertently knocked over. Mind you, it wasn’t a full fall to the floor. The case tipped over from where I leaned it on a railing, and landed in a corner of the railing. All told, it was about a foot that it slid, then came to rest. I didn’t think too much about it because my guitar was in the case and I knew it would be safe.

But when I picked it up and plugged it into my rig, I got no sound out of it. At first, I thought it was my rig, but when I moved around, I heard the battery sliding around the inside of my guitar. So I removed the pickup, loosened my strings, reached inside, removed the battery holster, re-inserted the battery, re-mounted the holster, tuned up, plugged in and voila! I was in business.

But what concerned me at the time was looking forward, because when I’m performing on-stage or at church, the battery might pop out in the middle of a performance. I’m the kind of musician that gets kind of carried away when playing, and I jump around.

To mitigate this, and since I have another gig tonight, I wrapped a small piece of duct tape around the holster to hold the battery in place. I wouldn’t have had to do this if the holster’s edges wrapped around the battery a bit more. Plus, if the bottom edge of the holster that holds the battery in place was just a millimeter higher, it shouldn’t pop out so easily. Mind you, this isn’t enough to make me reconsider using the pickup. The sound just kicks ass.

But this is an example of how we gear sluts can easily overlook obvious design flaws…