Archive for July, 2010

…if I’m playing acoustic or electric guitar. I love to gig! Mind you, it’s not an ego thing. I just love performing; always have. I’ve been doing the same weekly gig at a local restaurant going on seven years, and I never get tired of it! I love it because it’s such an intimate venue; especially when I can play outdoors. As the patio is in one of the busiest areas of a fairly popular outdoor shopping mall, I get to entertain more than just the restaurant-goers. And the cool thing is if people weren’t planning to stop and have a drink or a meal, many sit and don’t leave for a couple of hours. A lot of that probably has to do with song choice, but I think a lot of that also has to do with passion.

My thought about performing is that I just do what I do, and as I love music, I put everything into it. I don’t want to give this false persona just to make people listen to me. It’s a risky proposition because there’s always this “what if people don’t like it” thought that looms in the back of my mind. But I truly believe that putting your entire soul into your performance makes a huge difference. It’s easy to tell when people are just going through the motions – their performance and how they interact with the audience seems contrived. And putting your entire self out there also helps you connect with your audience.

I suppose that what it’s all about for me: Connection. I thrive on that connection. I thrive on taking people on an emotional journey with me when I perform. When I do my solo gig, I flip through my song book, not looking for charts, but to see what’s appeals to me emotionally. Last night, I was in kind of a romantic mood, so I did a bunch of love songs. Here’s a cover of one of them:

That song, no matter how many times I’ve played it over the years, always moves me, and when I perform it, I do my best to convey how I’m moved by it and the images I get of my lovely wife when I sing it.

If you’re a performer of any kind, here’s a suggestion next time you gig: Put your entire soul into your performance. It’s easy to say, but not easy to do. And for some, it’s terrifying. But it takes shedding your conscious vision of yourself and how you should comport yourself, and letting your true self shine through in your performance. You might be surprised at the depths of passion you can tap into…

If you ever get a chance to see Steve Miller live or a recording of a concert of his, watch both him and especially his sideman. Miller’s sideman is the epitome of passion when he plays. He doesn’t move around much at all – he leaves that up to Steve – but when he gets a lead break, that dude puts everything into it. I was actually more blown away by him that I was Steve Miller when I saw a recorded concert last year!

By the way, I may be on a short hiatus with GuitarGear.org for a week or so. I’m going on a much-needed family vacation!

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Still haven’t thought of a name for this guitar yet. Might call her “Smokey” as she bears a tobacco sunburst finish. I’ll think of something. In any case, awhile ago, I wrote a song called “Strutter” that featured a couple of guitars and amps: My CV Tele and Gibson Nighthawk Re-issue; and my Aracom PLX18 BB and Aracom VRX22 amps. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how the song would sound with just the ’59 replica and a single amp, my PLX18 BB.

So I made a copy of the original Logic project, and proceeded to record both guitar parts as a test. Well, as these things go, I ended up re-recording the entire song using just the ’59 – it sounded so freakin’ fantastic. Here’s the song:

The verses are played in the neck position of the ’59, while the refrains are played in the bridge. The contrast between the two pickups is incredible. I had the amp absolutely cranked, but because the pups are not really high gain, they drive the amp nicely, but maintain a real smooth texture. What a combo!

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That is the slogan of the Navy Seals, but it certainly can apply to life in general. It’s not necessarily about struggle, but facing life head-on. It’s making the choice to do the harder thing instead of taking the easy way out.

I had the privilege to listen to a great speaker this week, Admiral Ray Smith (ret.), who is a leadership and peak performance speaker. The Admiral led the Navy SEALs, and was its longest termed commander in the history of that elite fighting force. He covered a lot of things in his talk but one thing he said really struck home, and that was when he was talking about the extreme mental and physical challenges each SEAL prospect has to go through just in order to get into the SEALs in the first place.

“Normalize the abnormal,” was the phrase. And he described that trainees go through serious mentally and physically challenging situations to remain calm, no matter what may come their way, and always go back on their training. For instance, they have a pool activity where they have to dive down then tie a rope a certain way. Not a problem. Then they have to do the same thing blindfolded. Then they have to try to tie the rope while blindfolded and an instructor tangles up their SCUBA hose, and then turns them around a few times to disorient them. The idea is to increase the levels of stress to see if they can remain relaxed. If you tense up, then you can get into serious trouble.

When I heard that, it immediately reminded me of performing last week. While not nearly as stressful as the test above, I had a similar situation while at a gig last week. Here I was, just happily strumming along, and a gust of wind came up and blew all sorts of dust up which unfortunately, landed in my eyes. I couldn’t see damn thing, and I was in the middle of a song! I panicked a bit at first, but kept on playing, then just squinted my eyes closed and relied on my memory of the song.

Like I said, not nearly as stressful as that SEAL training, but if I let that little bit of stress get to me, I would’ve completely blown the song, and that wouldn’t have been acceptable to me. So I gritted my teeth, finished the song, then immediately flushed my eyes out. Besides, it was a good time for a break… 🙂

Following on the title of this article though, that’s a really profound statement. In my book, you can only REALLY appreciate things you acquire whether they’re skills or material things if you earned them. It’s a value I always share with my kids: There’s nothing more satisfying than something you’ve earned. That takes putting energy into what  you’re doing to acquire the thing you want.

Mind you, I don’t look at that saying within the context that everything has to be a struggle, but if you really want something or you want to be successful at anything, you have to work for it. It shouldn’t be easy. I look at my many years of playing guitar. Yes, I’d like to someday be at the level of some of my guitar heroes, and over the years, I’ve acquired the skills as some of them, but it hasn’t been without work or even struggle at times. And  my learning process hasn’t become easier, it has become harder. Ten years ago, I used to practice MAYBE 15 minutes a day. But now, I practice at least an hour, and most times up to two hours. And as things have gotten more complicated, my rate of skill acquisition has slowed. But that’s how it should be.

The SEAL slogan really hits home with me. The only easy day really is yesterday…

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My buddy, Jeff Aragaki, forwarded me a cool video showing “Mean Gene” Baker in his original shop building a guitar from wood billets to shaping to putting to finishing. I’ve seen still pictures, and have a set from the guitar I had custom built, but not an actual video that shows the builder in action. VERY COOL!

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Funny how my studio tests and practice jams seem to turn into songs. This song, entitled, “The Long Way Home” is about that deep longing and melancholy when you’ve been away from home for a long time. I wrote the chord progression several weeks ago and saved it, then when I returned to it last night to record a studio test of the 1959 Les Paul Replica, I started thinking of being 40 or 50 years back in time at train station, looking down the tracks, and getting that longing feeling for home while I was constructing the melody lines. The painting above by Jeff Burgess captures that melancholy perfectly.

Tonight, after listening to the original test, I scrapped everything, both guitar parts and bass and re-recorded them. This time, I recorded my 2 X 12 with a pair of mics so I could get both speakers’ tones. That was actually pretty tough, as I spent about two hours getting the right mic positions. My cab has a Celestion Gold and Blue in it. I placed the Gold’s mic right at the seam of the cone and center “button” and placed the Blue’s mic head-on at the edge of the speaker cone to get more low end. Oh well… that’s just one of the challenges of capturing decent tone.

What amazed me about the recording wasn’t the lead, but the rhythm part. The neck pickup of the ’59 played clean sounds like an acoustic. It’s absolutely lush and gorgeous without being at all boomy.

Here’s the finished product:

Amp: VRX22

Guitar: 1959 Les Paul Replica

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Wow! Who woulda thunk it? The latest issue of Premier Guitar has a great review of the Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator. If you receive the magazine, it’s in the latest issue, but here’s the review online. Here’s the reviewer’s final mojo:

Sonically, the Aracom PRX 150-Pro attenuator stayed very true to every amp I paired it with. My tone stayed stable as I lowered the dB level to its minimum amount (the variable control doesn’t turn the sound completely off). Even super-quiet bedroom settings sounded very good and responded to picking and touch extremely well. This attractive, sturdily built unit would be a great addition to any guitarist’s tone arsenal.

PG gave it a 4 out of 5 picks which, for them is a great rating. I’m so happy for Jeff Aragaki that he was able to get a major guitar mag like PG to do a review on the unit. And the reviewer’s positive feedback just affirms what those of us who have one know: No other attenuator maintains the feel and dynamics of our amps at any attenuation level.

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Click to enlarge

Not much to say about how this guitar sounds. It plain sounds awesome! I finally got my recording rig set up this evening, and the first thing I did was record a quick little song that I was working on a couple of months ago. I erased both guitar parts and re-recorded them using the ’59.


Amp: Aracom VRX22

Rhythm Part (left): Channel 1, Volume at halfway, Tone at 2pm; Guitar in neck position, volume at 5

Lead (Right): Channel 1, Volume Cranked, Tone at 2pm; Guitar in middle position, neck volume 5, bridge volume 8

Close miked with a Senheiser e609. Amp was attenuated with an Aracom PRX150-Pro. For Rhythm part, I was on “C” which is about -9dB down in volume. Lead was on “E” at about -15dB down in volume.

I will have more clips in the next few days demonstrating this guitar’s incredible versatility. With this particular song, I wanted to capture how great it sounds clean, and just slightly overdriven. But this is an awesome rock machine as well. More later.

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Click to enlarge

1959 Les Paul Replica

Summary: About as close as you can get to the real deal without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Pros: Bright and super smooth tone, and sustain that’s absolutely to die for! This guitar is everything I imagined a ’59 Les Paul to sound and play like. Sounds and plays better than any Gibson re-issue I’ve ever played.

Cons: None


  • One piece Honduran (Old Growth) Mahogany body and neck (long tenon), 1959 neck profile
  • Brazilian rosewood fretboard with trap inlays
  • Lightly figured (realistic) maple top
  • Holly headstock veneer
  • RS Guitarworks (Winchester, KY) Nitro Lacquer finish with light aging in a Perryburst (Joe Perry burst colors), includes RS Guitarworks Certificate of Authenticity
  • PLEK and nut work
  • RS aluminum tailpiece
  • Tonepros AVRII bridge (Locking) ABR-1 Bridge with Maple Flame Mod (extra long stainless steel bridge studs)
  • Pots and Tone Capacitors from RS Guitarworks
  • Bone Nut
  • Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups with aged Nickel covers
  • Single line Kluson tuners
  • Weighs 9.68 lbs and is a rock machine
  • Year Built:  2008

Price: Vary from $4000 to  $20,000 depending upon who builds it (more on that below)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ This guitar is a dream come true! I recently wrote on my Facebook status: “There are guitars and then there are Les Pauls. There is no substitute.”

The first thing you’ll notice in the review is that I didn’t name the luthier of this guitar. That’s because I didn’t want to “out” the luthier, lest Gibson finds out and sues them for copyright infringement; that’s how close these replicas get to the original. But despite the risk of litigation, there’s an incredibly active underground market for these replicas, and having played around with this one for a few days, I don’t think that market will ever die. BTW, if you want to know who the luthier is, just send me an e-mail (goofydawg “|” guitargear.org), or if you’re on TGP, send me a PM.

Besides, replicas like this put Gibson back on the relevance map. Can you say Slash and GnR’s “Appetite for Destruction?” Whether or not Gibson likes it, the replica that Slash played made the Les Paul popular among guitarists again.

Forget how close it may come to the sound, feel, and dynamics of the original. Playing this guitar is like a religious experience! With this particular model, the original owner had the neck slightly tapered near the heal to relieve some of that “baseball bat” girth. It worked marvelously! Combined with the PLEK treatment, this guitar is absolutely easy to play. I usually have to take a few days to get to know the feel of a new neck. I even had to do this with my beloved Gibson Nighthawk. But with this guitar, I felt right at home!

Weight-wise, it has some heft at 9.6 lbs., but it’s so comfortable, and once I started playing, I completely forgot about the weight.

Here are some pictures:

Pictures courtesy of Bennie Delumpa (my son).

Fit and Finish

As you can see from the pictures, the guitar has been lightly relicked. I’m not normally a fan of aging a perfectly good guitar, but the purpose behind the aging was to produce a guitar that looked like a well-taken-care-of guitar from 1959. It has a couple of nicks on the binding of the body, and the lacquer has been very, very lightly checked. But other than that, it’s gorgeous.

How It Sounds

Unfortunately, my studio is still in a bit of disarray after the construction I had done on my house, so I don’t have my usual sound clips. But all I can say about the tone of this guitar is that it is nothing short of spectacular. The tone is on the brighter side of midrange, but the guitar produces all sorts of overtones and harmonics. The pickups used in the guitar are not hot at all, but that just makes it real smooth. Another thing is that the cap values used for the tone knobs make them quite usable. You can really knock the tone down, and the tone will not muddy up. I love that, as it gives me that much more tone shaping capabilities that I can do right at the guitar, as opposed to doing it at the amp.

The guitar also sports the classic Les Paul “bloom” as the body resonates, and boy does it resonate! Pluck a string, and you get your note, and then the body starts resonating, and you can hear AND feel the swell of the string vibrations as they course through the tone woods. I just close my eyes and go off to Never-never land.

There’s a lot to be said about old growth wood that has been drying for 50 years. Jeff Aragaki, who is quite knowledgeable about Les Pauls (he has many) is convinced that the combination of materials (old growth woods, hide glue, nitro-cellulose lacquer, correct hardware, etc.) that were used on this guitar make its sound that special. I really have never played a guitar that sounds and responds to like this!

I was just thinking that once I do manage to get a recording of this guitar, it just won’t do justice to the feel and dynamics of this spectacular specimen. I’ll hopefully be able to capture at least some of what I’m talking about.

Overall Impression

As I said above, forget about how close it may come to the original. I’ve never played a guitar that felt and sounded as good as this. I’ve never played a real ’59, but this guitar just oozes Les Paul goodness, and it’s everything I believe a Les Paul should be!

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Had my weekly church gig this evening, and as I don’t put constraints on my band-mates, sometimes there are only a couple of us to play instruments, and in rare cases, it’s just me on guitar or piano with our singers. Today, it was just our bassist, Derek, and me. Knowing this before going to rehearsal, I just packed my trusty Yamaha APX900 acoustic electric to plug into one of my church’s Genz-Benz Shenandoah acoustic amps. No effects, just plug into the amp, use some onboard reverb, and play. But you know what? For all the years I’ve been playing this gig, it had to be one of the best sets we ever had.

Derek and I gig a lot outside of church. He’s in a couple of bands, and I do a lot of solo work, lots of musical and vocal accompaniment, and occasionally work with other groups and have done lots of stints in musical theatre orchestras. So we’re used to playing within the context of a group and performing in public. But more importantly, our experience has taught us to listen to the other musicians, and fill in the gaps where needed.

With just the two of us today, at least from my perspective, I really had to be aware of what I was playing. Normally, I’m the lead guitarist, and usually just fill in with some “strategic” leads while the other guitarists hold down the rhythm. But today, I had to do all the rhythm guitar. But I took a bit different of an approach today.

I didn’t want to just play chord progressions and sing over them – that would be too easy. 🙂 Instead, I’d set a groove on guitar or piano which Derek would then catch, and then we’d fill in each other’s gaps. Me with some well-placed chord melodies, and Derek with some killer slaps, stabs and runs. The net result was that all the music tonight – even the slow stuff – just flowed gorgeously. And we just played off each other the entire service! It was uncanny!

I don’t think we could’ve done that if the whole band was there; and I’m not saying I don’t like the whole band being there at all. But it’s just that in times of attrition, you have to step it up, and make up for the stuff you might be missing. You can use the lack of instrumentation to your advantage.

The trick to being able to “fill the gaps” is to listen to what’s going on; listen to what your partner’s playing. Yeah, people say that all the time. But when you only have a couple of instruments, you really have to think on your feet. And you have to mentally approach the “lack” of instruments not as something missing, but rather as an opportunity to be more expansive in your playing.

For instance, tonight we did a funk-blues inspired tune that I wrote called, “Praise the Lord My Soul.” It starts out with a funky G7-C9 vamp to set the tone and theme. Normally, we do it kind of smooth when the whole band is together. But tonight, I added a bit of an edge to the rhythm by executing a heavy downbeat with syncopated mutes, and some quick double-stops, and also added some chord melodies in between phrases. Derek picked up on this, and started doing this supa-mac-daddy funk slap that I turn picked up on, and then added even more embellishments of my own. The singers then caught the groove and started really getting into the tune. That groove also affected how I sang as well. I sing the lead on this, and I did it with a LOT more grit than I’ve ever sung it. At the end of the song, Derek and the singers and I just looked at each other with conspiratorial grins. We knew we nailed it. Hell! Even the old folks in the congregation were nodding their heads in time. 🙂

At the end of the service, Derek said it best, “Sometimes, less is more.” I just replied, “Tonight definitely rocked! I love it when we can play off each other like that.” Derek just nodded and smiled.

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…of Aracom Amplifiers. Let me tell you why:

  • Jeff is super-smart, and makes incredible devices like the PRX150-Pro.
  • Jeff’s amps are to die for. If you’re looking for anyone who “gets” the Marshall vibe, it’s Jeff. I have three of his amps, and am waiting for his upcoming JTM-45. I’ve played the prototype, which has period-correct components, down to original mustard caps, and that amp just oozes vintage Marshall goodness.
  • Jeff is a gear freak like myself; but not just any gear. He’s nutso for vintage Les Pauls and Les Paul Jr.’s – he has many.

And the last point is the problem: Because of Jeff, I’ve gotten totally hooked on Les Pauls and Les Paul-style guitars! Take, for instance, this guitar below:

Jeff dropped off this guitar at my house yesterday for me to evaluate. It’s a gorgeous, relicked ’59 Les Paul replica that has been meticulously copied by a master luthier, using old wood and proper hardware. Even the glue used is the same as the original, and the lacquer finish is not a plasticized lacquer – it’s the real deal. It doesn’t have original PAF’s, but the pickups have been wound to original output specs. The guitar’s original owner sourced the wood from a distributor specializing in high-end furniture and guitar wood, had a master luthier shape it, then sent the guitar to RS Guitar Works for finishing, and they confirmed their work with a certificate (apparently, they’re one of the best in the business for doing conversions and replica finishing). The net result? According to Jeff, this is about as close as you can get to the real deal without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars (the “cheapest” one I’ve ever seen was a slightly modded one for $275,000).

After playing with it for a couple of hours yesterday, I’m now REALLY hooked! I personally don’t know what a real ’59 sounds like, but I’ve done some research on what to expect with respect to response, dynamics, and tone. Mind you, I’m not a cork-sniffer, but all I know is that this puppy sustains for days, and the wonderful bloom that ensues from holding a note due to the resonance of the tone woods is ever-present. As for the tone, it’s absolutely gorgeous! Heavy on the upper-mids without being biting, with inspiring cleans and smooth drive.

The neck has also been “pleked” so it’s an absolute dream to play! I didn’t have to spend much time at all familiarizing myself with it. No wonder ’59’s are so highly sought-after! These were special guitars, and this replica captures everything I was expecting to feel and hear!

Circling back to why I wish I never met Jeff Aragaki, that guy gets me gassing for gear! ALL THE DAMN TIME!!! As I mentioned above, I’m hooked on vintage and vintage-style Les Paul’s because of him!

As if Jeff’s Les Paul obsession is bad enough, as I said, Jeff’s amps are to die for! He is so talented! I haven’t played an Aracom amp that I haven’t absolutely loved. And being that I get to try out all his new designs, all I can say is that this dude knows his stuff about amplifier technology and electronics! His amps rock!

With respect to his electronics genius, just look at the PRX15-Pro attenuator. Jeff has employed technology that NO ONE has employed. Other manufacturers may brag about their products and how they may have spent years working on their designs. I won’t take that away from them, but they just modified existing designs. Jeff discovered a completely different way to attenuate, and it’s no small wonder that players like Joe Satriani and Doug Doppler love this device!

Actually, I’m very glad I’ve befriended Jeff. He’s also just an all-around great guy. He’s incredibly humble and self-effacing, and his warmth and friendliness just draw you in. I guess I have to chalk up my GAS to lack of self-control. But with a friend like Jeff, it’s hard to control it. 🙂

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