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Archive for May, 2010

Every now and then, I go through huge, accelerated spurts of growth in my musicianship. Looking back, each time I’ve experienced musical growth, it almost always has been the result of simply letting go of certain preconceptions or assumptions; or let’s not the beat around the bush: getting over my inherent fear of – whatever: Fear of looking foolish; fear of making a mistake; fear of not being good enough; fear of authority. Take your pick. Whatever the flavor, fear has done more to keep me from truly realizing all that I can be than anything or anyone.

As Frank Herbert wrote in his masterpiece Dune,  “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” But as the Bene Gesserit “litany against fear” continues, “I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I remember that litany hitting me like a ton of bricks when I first read it so many years ago. Basically, the idea behind it – at least from my perspective – is that you accept that you have fear; that fear may even elicit a physical response (stomach churning, cold sweat, etc.), but you will act in spite of that fear. And for those who are curious, I didn’t have that litany memorized. I remembered the first part, but had to look up the rest of it. 🙂

So what does that have to do with playing guitar?

Well, for me, it has or more accurately had to do with playing solos live. I was the consummate rhythm guitar/lead singer type for years, but when I started my worship band nearly eight years ago, I had the dubious distinction as being the most seasoned musician in the group, and with the other guitarists being quite experienced, but more like me, the duties of playing lead guitar and soloing fell on me. I never admitted it to the band, but I was absolutely terrified! But knowing my duty, I started learning all I could about playing lead guitar, learning scales and modes and such.

Then I got stuck; really stuck, because no matter how much I learned about the theory and patterns and licks, that all I was doing for a few years: Just playing linked licks, and just playing patterns. Frankly, what I was playing for solos was pretty old and tired, and reeked of someone else’s stuff. I relied on that stuff because it was safe, but I was scared to venture beyond it. I imagined an abyss of embarrassment from which I could not escape; people laughing at my phrasing.

That all changed this past Christmas season when I volunteered to play guitar for my kids’ school’s Christmas play. This was a very cool contemporary musical where I could crank up my amp (using an attenuator, of course) to get some lead tones, which were plentiful. And because the songs moved so fast, in many cases, I didn’t have time to turn pages, so I was basically forced to get the chord progressions down early, then provide fills and leads as necessary. The cool thing was that I didn’t have the time to let my fear get the best of me, and I just went for it!

Also, because the changes in the songs weren’t blues-based I-VI-V, I just had to be free-form in my phrasing, and concentrate entirely on the melody I was playing, damn the modes, damn the forms, damn the patterns. And after hearing various clips from the show, it all worked! I was actually scratching my head saying, “Was THAT really me playing?”

I now approach solos with the intent of establishing a melodic “idea” then building off that. Most people in the know would say, “Duh!” to me but hey! Better late than never, in my opinion. I still get pangs of fear, especially if I’m not really feeling the groove of a song, and I’ll revert to the old forms and patterns, but I no longer rely on them as a primary means of soloing.

The point to all this is that by breaking through that fear, or in my case, have a situation thrown at me where my fear had no chance to influence me, I was able to grow beyond my limitations at the time. So, fear not and grow!

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Why? Because every time I satisfy my GAS, they come out with new stuff that gets me GAS-ing all over again, dammit! 🙂 Here I was innocently reading my e-mail this morning when I got Prestige’s latest newsletter that said they were about to release a line of acoustic guitars! Knowing the fantastic stuff they produce, and given that they didn’t release anything more than announcement that they were releasing a new line, I had to give them a call to get more information. I shouldn’t’ve done that. I’m now GAS-ing so damn bad that it’s killing me!

But I got the scoop on these guitars, and before you start thinking, “Yeah, here we go, another import guitar… How good could it be?” Well, let me just say that a major publication already reviewed it and gave their top-of-the-line model a very – excuse the pun – prestigious award. And after I heard the details of these guitars, it’s not a surprise that even before their official release, they already won an award. So here’s at least some preliminary information that I found out…

They will have three guitars in various price ranges. I didn’t get model names, but I did get the makes of each model:

  • The top-of-the-line model has a koa body and koa top
  • The intermediate features a rosewood body and Adirondack spruce top
  • The lowest tier (and only by materials) features a mahogany body and Adirondack spruce top

Though not set, the guitars will range in price from about $1000 to $2100 street, so even the lowest-tier model isn’t anything to shake a stick at; and before you balk at the price, there’s a good reason for the pricing. Prestige didn’t skimp on the features that all three models share:

  • Adirondack spruce X-bracing designed in partnership with Balaz Prohaszka, a well-known European luthier
  • 12″ radius
  • 25.35″ scale length
  • 1 3/4″ nut width
  • D-shape neck
  • Split Bridge Saddles
  • Bone nut, Bone Saddles
  • Ebony Fingerboard, Ebony Bridge, Ebony Bridge Pins, Ebony Strap Pin.
  • Ebony Headstock face
  • Satin Mahogany Neck, Laser Etched Logo and Serial Number behind the headstock.
  • Beveled Cutaway with Paduck inlay, Mother of Pearl Logo, Mother of
  • Pearl Eclipse Fingerboard Inlay, Abalone Rosette
  • Gotoh 501 21:1 Tuners with Ebony Buttons.
  • Paduck/Abalone Body Binding, Paduck/Maple fingerboard binding.

An option for each guitar is the Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup system. This is a very non-invasive soundhole pickup system that combines an undersaddle pickup with a gooseneck condenser mic. I’ve heard one of these installed in a Taylor acoustic, and it sounds marvelous!

So the pricing is really a reflection in the difference in tone woods used; otherwise, they’re all the same. That is incredibly COOL!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t have pictures, so here are a couple of the Koa/Koa model. These aren’t the pro pics as you can see the reflections of background objects – that’s how glossy the bodies are! Freakin’ awesome!!!

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These are serious guitars, folks. Can’t you just DIG that beveled cutaway? Damn! I dig little things like that, and the outer bracing is absolutely superb! And another nice touch is the satin finish on the neck. I always prefer that because it allows me to polish it with my own body oils after time. For me, the ebony fretboard is a HUGE selling item! There is absolutely nothing like the feel of ebony; it’s smooth as silk and feels so nice to the touch!

I can’t wait to get a demo into my studio to give it a whirl! I TOTALLY DIG the Koa/Koa! Now do you see why I hate Prestige Guitars?!!! 🙂

For more information, please go to the Prestige Guitar web site!

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ToneCandy Spring Fever Reverb

Summary: Just about the sweetest spring reverb pedal I’ve ever heard, plus the pedal sports a nice, transparent clean booster that you can even use on its own!

Pros: I’ve heard simulated spring reverbs before, and they’ve been nice, but not THIS nice! Supposedly modeled after the original BOSS spring reverb sound, but takes it way ahead!

Cons: Very very pricey for a just a reverb with boost. Also, doesn’t run on batteries

Features:

  • Volume knob acts as a transparent clean boost
  • Reverb knob acts as a “dwell.”
  • Mix knob controls the amount of wet/dry signal (this is a very nice feature)
  • True bypass
  • All analog except for the simulation chip
  • Can do the full range of spring reverb from adding a tinge of grease to heavy surf.

Price: $275 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.5 ~ I was completely blown away by the sound of this pedal, but the price completely scared me away. If cost isn’t an in issue for you, you’ll find none better than this!

Being friends with guys at a music shop can be incredibly useful, since they’ll show off their new stock; plus, knowing that I may buy it if they show it to me, they don’t hesitate to show it off. 🙂 Luckily, I usually have enough self-control to not buy most of the stuff they demonstrate.

I have to admit, though, that I was VERY tempted to get this pedal because I haven’t heard one like it – ever! It can slather on the ‘verb quite nicely and note clarity is retained at any setting along the reverb knob sweep. Obviously ToneCandy figured out some great values for pre-delay and trail. I just couldn’t get over how great it sounded with chord progressions and single note picking!

In fact, A/B’ing it with a Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue just blew me away! It sounded even better than an actual spring reverb! Fender spring reverb, at least to me, is the gold standard in spring reverb, and for a pedal to sound even better than that, well, needless to say, that made a compelling case to get this reverb pedal. Add to that a completely transparent boost, and you’ve got a great pedal that you can put at the end of your signal chain and get all sorts of usage out of it! I could feel the GAS really starting to build up.

Then I asked the price, and my eyes bulged! At $275 for the pedal, that made my GAS go away pretty quickly. If price wasn’t an issue for me, I’d totally go for this pedal, but unfortunately, at that price, I started thinking, “I could get a couple of decent pedals, or even a nice Squier for close to that price.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get the pedal, though I do have to applaud ToneCandy for coming up with a fantastic spring reverb tone. Maybe if I can find one used in the future for a lower price I’ll get it. But for now, I’ll just gaze at it in the glass case when I go to the shop…

Here’s a sound sample:

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I’ve been playing a solo acoustic gig for about 7 years now, and in all that time I’ve wanted to do lead breaks in various songs. But being a solo artist, and not having all that much time to spend on backing tracks, needless to say, lead breaks were out of the question – until now.

I just picked up a used Boss RC-2 the other day, and since playing with it, I just know that it is going to change the way I do my solo gigs forever. Even if I don’t keep this particular unit (which I probably will for quite awhile, as it does everything I need for now), I’m a total convert to using a looper!

Not that it hasn’t been challenging. Consistent tempo is tantamount to creating loops on the fly. Playing solo, I’ve gotten used to doing rhythmic embellishments, which don’t quite work all the time with a looper, and I’ve had to practice cutting off the record at just the right time. That has probably been the biggest challenge so far. But I’m starting to get the hang of it, and I’m just loving the possibilities it opens up for me!

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Yamaha APX900 Thinline Acoustic/Electric Guitar

Click to enlarge

As I mentioned in my review of the Yamaha APX900, I’ve had this thing for Yamaha acoustics for many years. Maybe it’s nostalgia or sentimentalism, as my first guitar was a Yamaha, but I’ve always liked their tone. In any case, I’ve full circle with the Yamaha APX900, and I just couldn’t be happier. This is one killer guitar! With its Mocha Black finish, mother-of-pearl “bookend” inlays, and gorgeous binding, it has stunning looks!

But of course, looks don’t tell the whole story. It plain sounds fantastic! Whether plugged in or unplugged, the APX900 has a magical, creamy tone that I’d easily put up against guitars three or four times its price which, at a mere $699 street, makes this an incredible value!

Unplugged, the tone is smooth and well-defined, and even as a thinline guitar, it’s not so thin that sustain is sacrificed. The body resonates and provides lots of sustain. In fact, it’s smaller size belies the big voice that the APX900 possesses. Here’s a clip:

There’s nothing subdued about that tone. For that recording, I used a Senheiser e609 pointed at the front edge of the sound hole about 4″ away from the guitar. The APX900 has an phenomenally even EQ response. When I played back the recording, I had to do a double-take! Make no mistake, that is the raw recording with no EQ or filtering! It’s amazing!

Plugged in, the APX900 shows even more magic. The first thing I noticed when I first played it – direct into a PA – was that it sounded natural; that is, it didn’t sound like an acoustic plugged into a board, where the tone is completely flattened out, and what you end up with is high, mid-rangy, and lifeless. It’s due to the APX900’s ART or Acoustic Resonance Transducer pickup system, which is a system of three pickups; strategically-placed to emphasize or de-emphasize certain EQ ranges. This lets you dial in all sorts of tones! I’m still discovering the possibilities!

Here’s the same progression I recorded unplugged, but with a solo played on top of it. For the “rhythm” part, I have the Low, Mid, and High faders, plus the under-the-saddle pickup’s EQ set to dead-center. With the solo, I added a touch of the mid, plus more highs to cut through. The result is spectacular!

Again, with this clip, I didn’t adjust any EQ on either track, though I did add some reverb for some ambience and to simulate what I’d do on a PA board anyway. The tone is different from the unplugged sound, but with a little playing around with the faders, I can get very close. But no matter, the tone is still killer, and most importantly, the dynamics are fully retained, and on stage, that’s absolutely critical!

So yeah, I really do dig this guitar. I’m looking forward to gigging with it!

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Dynamics. It’s what separates a mechanical  and boring piece from something that can move an audience to tears. In this episode, Doug talks about the incredible dynamics of the Dumble Overdrive Special.

This is the last video in the series of Doug Doppler on the Dumble Overdrive Special, but it’s not the last. I’ve got many more “Doppler on…” videos to come, so stay tuned!!!

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That’s right! As I mentioned in episode 1 of the series, the Dumble can shred, and it sound unbelievable. In this part, Doug talks in-depth of the tonal capabilities of the Dumble amp and demonstrates it versatility by shredding on it!

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