Archive for May, 2007

Notice the smiley face? That’s meant as conspiratorial grin for those in the know. The plain fact of the matter is that there’s really no objective way to pick a guitar. You simply have to play lots of them and make a choice. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a starting point. For me, there’s only one starting point: Single-coil vs. Humbuckers; or perhaps at the risk of sounding cliche, Strat- vs. Les Paul-style. Do you want a thinner sounding tone? Then single-coils are what you might start evaluating. Want a fatter, more full, or boomy sound? Then humbuckers are the way to go. Mind you, I stated the aforementioned “brand” guitars because most guitars are modeled after those two styles; in between are literally hundreds of variations and combinations of the two. Now, armed with that “general direction,” go and play a bunch of guitars. But be forewarned: What you thought you might want may not be what you ultimately get. I’ll share with you my own experience.

About a year ago, I was dead set on getting a Les Paul Double Cutaway. I scrimped and save, and had played all sorts of Les Pauls in various shops in my area, and I always seemed to gravitate towards the DC. To my ears, it sounded great, and gave me a more gritty sound than my ES-335, without feeding back as easily (which is actually a very nice trait in the 335). Plus, it was VERY light as compared to a LP due to its chambered body.

But on a whim, I thought I’d try some Strats – I can’t exactly explain why; perhaps there was just some uncertainty in me at the time… In any case, I’d never been a Strat guy, having always played with dual humbuckers, and preferring the rich, fat tone that humbuckers produce. But I thought I’d give a few Strats a try before I actually bought the DC. So I went to my favorite shop and played several Strats, from standards to custom shop models. Sure enough, while they sounded great, they just didn’t really do it for me. Then Jordan (the guitar dude at Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA) said, “Sounds like you want more of a vintage sound. I’ve got something here that you should check out. I love how this guitar sounds.” He then proceeded to pull down a white Strat. “Now this is a special edition, albeit Made in Mexico Strat,” said Jordan, “It’s a 60th Diamond Anniversary model, with vintage TexMex pickups, and I think this may have the sound you’re after.”

I’m never one to be impressed by jargon, but I  started playing it, and turned my lunch hour into two hours. Oops. Needless to say, I walked out of the shop with that guitar in hand. Here I was, all set to plunk down a couple of grand on the DC, and I picked up my Strat (who is now affectionately called “Pearl”) for under 500 bucks!

So, besides general tone, here’s another piece of advice: Don’t look at the price tag (at least at first). Just because something doesn’t cost much, doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound very good. I would’ve never even considered buying a MIM Strat, but Pearl is my absolute go-to guitar right now. To me she’s got the right tone, and equally important, she just feels great in my hands. I still have the means to buy a guitar that’s four times the price of Pearl, but why bother? I’m so satisfied with how she sounds that I don’t have a compelling reason to look elsewhere.

I only have one nit about Strats, and it’s a small nit; and that is the placement of the volume and tone knobs. When I play, I use a percussive strumming technique that combines palm muting and picking – mostly near the bridge, and that’s where the volume pot is located. So I’ve had to train myself to reposition my right hand a bit. But that’s a small nit.

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A few questions…

First, some background…

I was walking around Downtown Disney (in Anaheim, CA) a couple of months ago, enjoying the various street acts that Disney hires to play. One of the acts was a solo guy who played guitar and sang on top of recorded tracks laid down that were inserted into his mix. I have a bunch of songs that I have in ProTools that I’d love to output and play and sing on top of when I gig.

So my question is: What kind of equipment will allow me to do this? Is an Akai MCP[500, 1000, 2500] the answer? Or is there a more straight-forward solution that doesn’t require sequencing?

Thanks for the input!


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For the last several years, I’ve led a band at my church. It’s a great group of folks, and I love them all dearly. They’re not only dedicated musicians, but they also share my passion for worship music. Outside of church though, I do solo gigs all over the local area. I have a regular gig at a restaurant, and do parties, weddings, funerals, corporate events, etc.. But lately, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to start a band outside of church, and do bigger venues like clubs. I’m feeling the need of an outlet for the non-secular pieces I’ve written, and many of the arrangements require a full band. It’s hard to pull it off with just a keyboard or a solo guitar.

Of course, the challenge is in finding band mates. I think I need to stew on this a bit more, but if anyone has any input, I’m certainly open to it.

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I was in a rush the other day to make it to the pre-service rehearsal at my church. I was farting around and didn’t keep track of time, and realized that though I could make it to rehearsal, I wouldn’t have that much time to set up my usual rig for Mass. I normally bring a couple of guitars, my amp (a modified Fender Hot Rod) and run through 5 effect pedals (Tube Screamer, Boss Chorus, Boss Delay, DigiVerb, and a BBE SonicStomp – and no, I don’t have them mounted on a board – yet). The guitars are A/B’d through a Morley ABY box.

As I said, I didn’t have much time, so I just loaded up my amp, Pearl (my beloved Strat), and my Tube Screamer into my little SUV,  and sped off to church. With so little equipment, I was able to bring it all into the church in one trip, and set up in 5 minutes. Being the leader of the band, it was imperative that I get set up quickly so I could run rehearsal.

Once I got set up, we started rehearsal. As we got further into it, one thing struck me: I wasn’t missing the tone from my other pedals! It helped that none of the songs in the set didn’t require any texturing (some of my songs were written to take advantage of a deep chorus). But just the raw tone coming from the amp (along with some spring reverb), sometimes combined with the edginess of the Tube Screamer, was incredibly pleasing to my ears, and it has made me really re-think the necessity of having a bunch of pedals. Not that I would do away with them altogether, but I’ve now decided to take a much more minimalistic approach to my tone. Actually, it’s sort of a relief, because it means I won’t be buying more gear in the immediate future – though as I’ve written in the past, I do have serious GAS.

But the GAS notwithstanding, there’s a lot to be said about just producing raw tone. Try it out, you may be very pleasantly surprised.

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pearl_chip.jpg A couple of weeks ago, I was re-stringing Pearl, my trusty Strat when I noticed that something was dreadfully wrong: My high E string was laying flat on the fretboard! I thought I had simply missed placing the string in the groove of the nut, but to my dismay, the nut had chipped at the groove! Who knows where the piece went! It actually didn’t matter whether I found the piece or not – having experienced this before with another guitar, there was no way I could simply super-glue the piece back on. I had to have a new nut fabricated. So I frantically looked for an authorized Fender repair shop near my home in Cupertino, CA, and I found Keith Holland Guitars in Los Gatos, CA. In addition to selling custom guitars and amps, this shop does guitar repairs through its Guitar Hospital (cool name).

I called the shop and spoke to a friendly guy named Jim, and explained what happened. He told me to bring Pearl into the shop, and it would take about a week until the guitar was ready; not that it would take them that long, but they were totally back-logged on repair work as their repair business has boomed – a great problem to have, I suppose. In any case, when I brought Pearl in, Jim did a quick inspection and suggested that I let him do a full setup on the guitar: smooth the frets, straighten the neck, clean out the pots, and adjust the action to what I wanted. I knew there was a slight bow in the neck, so I quickly agreed to the work. I wanted to go from 9’s to 10’s with my strings to get a better ring and sustain, so I knew I’d have to get the action adjusted anyway.

When I got Pearl back, I just couldn’t believe how much more playable she was! Jim lowered the action about a 64th of an inch, replaced the wood shim that I placed behind my tremolo bar and cranked down the bar, and now moving about the fretboard is just simply amazing. BTW, I’ve never been able to get the hang of using a tremolo bar, so I just removed it. Anyway, even with the heavier gauge strings, Pearl plays like silk now! She was great before, but now she’s otherworldly territory! Here are a couple of pics of Pearl:

pearl1.jpg pearl3.jpg

I tell ya, I’m having a bit of a love affair with this guitar. I still play Rusty, my ES-335, but Pearl is definitely my go-to guitar right now. Amazingly enough, I’ve never been a Strat guy. I used to be into fat-toned dual humbucker guitars. But I think as a musician you gravitate towards the sound that meets your particular tonal tastes. As I do a lot of composition, Pearl provides the tone that’s in line with the style I’m writing right now.

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I’ve been meaning to write about Justin King, who is simply an AMAZING guitarist. Michael Hedges (who still remains my original guitar here) may have started the trend of expanding the playing possibilities on the acoustic guitar, but Justin King takes what Michael did to yet another level. Words can’t adequately describe his virtuosity; you have to see it to believe it. Here are two videos that I found:

The thing that really impresses me about Justin’s style is that he incorporates his right hand even more into his music, combining rhythmic beating and tapping with flamenco-style strumming. It’s a joy to watch this guy play as you see his hands in a flurry working the body and neck of his guitar. I’m surprised he hasn’t been more widely recognized in the guitar world.

Speaking of the right hand, so much literature is devoted to left-hand or fret-hand technique that completely overshadows the importance of the picking/strumming hand. Folks, this is where you get your rhythm. I don’t know how many guitar players I’ve met who have simply crappy rhythm. Oh, they can pick just fine, but their sense of rhythm and their strumming technique just stinks up the place. Guys like Michael Hedges and Justin King demonstrate that well-developed right hand technique can add dimensions to your playing style that you never thought existed!

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