In the latest issue of Guitar World, Neil Young was quoted saying (when it comes to his guitar playing), “I suck. I’ve heard myself!” That made me laugh when I read this, but it also got me thinking. From a purely technical standpoint, I will agree 100% with him. But despite that, I still love the way he plays, and have always loved his sound, and for the very simple reason that his playing is completely honest.
It’s clear to me every time I listen to a Neil Young song that he is clear with how he uses his guitar; and that is to express his musical message. You listen to his solos, and if you’re a technique snob, you’ll most probably say, “Yikes! What is he doing.” But try to put any other guitarist in the lead role, and the solo just wouldn’t work. Bad technique or good, Neil Young’s playing is integral with his music. It’s simply an extension of who he is, and while on the surface you might be lead to believe that his playing is simple, and you’d be right, but place his playing within the context of the whole song, and you realize that what he is doing with his guitar is meant to be simple. It’s meant to fit with the song. It’s not meant to show off his chops or showcase tricks that he can perform. It’s meant to act as a color on his palette as he paints the picture of his song.
From that perspective, I’ve always believed that he was a true genius at guitar. He may not rip it up, but even he says that his guitar playing is secondary to the song and the band. It’s only a part of the presentation. But it’s an integral part of Neil’s music that fits in perfectly with his musical vision.
Back in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!
Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!
It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.
I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.
So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.
This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”
One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”
What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…”
That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…
Effectrode has long been known for its tube-driven effects such as the Tube Vibe. But they’ve just released a new overdrive pedal with three tubes that give you up to six gain stages of drive! OMG! Talk about saturation city! Note that this pedal ain’t cheap at $399, but if it delivers on what appears to be very promising features, I might be hard-pressed not to take a serious look at this pedal. It’ll be interesting what people say about this pedal.
Here’s the description of from the Effectrode site:
The Tube Drive, pure class-A tube overdrive pedal featuring three triode vacuum tubes for a total of six gain stages. The drive knob simultaneously controls the gain of all cascaded stages so that they progressively clip allowing the Tube Drive to respond empathically to your pick attack with a graceful breakup characteristic. At lower gain settings this pedal excels at producing authentic blues and mild break-up to add some “dirt” to playing whilst always sounding smooth and musical. Pushing the drive a little higher produces the classic 70’s overdriven tube amp tone and at even higher gains the sound becomes rich in harmonic content without masking the the natural sound of your guitar and amplifier. The Tube Drive allows you to effortlessly climb the gain curve to create sustaining, super-saturated lead tones, inspire you and power your solos beyond escape velocity, through the stratocastersphere soaring into high energy orbit!
All Tube gain circuitry: 100% analog, class-A, clipping circuitry based on three cascaded tubes. No silicon in the signal path – guaranteed. This topology gives the Tube Drive fine control over a wide range of gain characteristics from mild breakup to creamy saturation.
Bax-Stack “active” tube tone control: The Tube Drive is the only overdrive with an active tube tone control. The Bax-Stack is a real treble boost (and cut) circuit with zero insertion loss, unlike passive tone stacks which can only remove frequency content (“tone-sucking”). The tone range is optimized to work over important frequencies essential for mellow jazz tones to some serious crunch.
Low-end coutour switch: Active low boost for a warmer, richer sound. Especially useful with single coil pickups to thicken the sound or when playing at low volumes to compensate for loudness.
Orange L.E.D.: Indicates when pedal is engaged.
Very cool! But even cooler are the sound samples. Check ’em out!!!
Description and sound clips courtesy of Effectrode Pedals.
As you know, the Dawg spends a lot of time sniffing around to find gear, but sometimes, manufacturers find me. Recently Tonic Amps contacted me, and I checked out their offerings. Tonic builds some nice reissue amps with their own twists, but they are also the North American distributor for Fane Speakers, the noted UK amp speaker manufacturer.
As you’d expect, if they sell speakers, Tonic probably builds cabs as well, and that is definitely the case. Darin (owner/builder of Tonic), has some very nice custom cabs in a variety of configurations and woods, all solid board cabinets: no pressed sawdust here, my friends. Tonic also offers custom cabs in a variety of hardwoods (though of course, you’re going to pay a premium for these, but hey! they’re available).
In any case, Premier Guitar has run a couple of videos that demonstrate Tonic Amps. You can check them out below:
From the 2009 New York Amp Show:
From the LA Amp Show:
These are some nice-sounding amps with some nice features! One thing that’s totally awesome for me is that Tonic Amps is literally ten minutes away from where I live! I can’t wait to try out Tonic’s amps and cabs!
Another cool thing is that Darin shares a shop with GeekMacDaddy, who makes a line of very cool pedals. Maybe I’ll get a chance to give ’em a whirl, in particular, his British Ball Breaker, which is touted as a Marshal stack-in-a-box. Yummy!
I wrote this song a few years back, and had the hardest time trying to record it. Unfortunately, the stock drum tracks in GarageBand just don’t cover the blues very well, so I finally found some decent audio drum loops that I could use. Ostensibly, this is a song about everlasting love, and how in marriage or even lifelong relationships, despite their occasional downs, if you truly love someone, you’ll return to them.
With this song, I wanted to capture a smoky lounge with a jazz quartet kind of groove. And BTW, the guitar in this was recorded using IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender. Damn! That ’57 Champ sounds great! Anyway, here’s the song:
I was perusing The Gear Page this morning, and saw one of Anthony’s postings of the colors the Bambino comes in. CHECK IT OUT!!!
I have the blue tolex model shown at the bottom right. It is SO cool looking.
BTW, if you missed the sound clips, here they are again:
Clean fingerstyle in neck position of my Strat:
Clean, blues progression, with Strat in neck/middle position with just a minute amount of breakup:
All out, wide open with channels 1 and 2 dimed and StackMode volume at 3pm. I’m playing my Prestige Heritage Elite with ‘buckers in the bridge position:
This little amp has created quite a buzz on the forums, and at $699, it’s a deal. It has been so popular, that they haven’t been able to keep up with the demand, and that’s a good thing! To place an order or to get some information, contact the guys directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.