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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.

Setup

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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