Archive for September, 2011

Okay, boys and girls… After announcing this guitar over a year ago, Gibson has finally released the Firebird X er… system. Not just a guitar, this baby packs built-in effects, completely on/off switchable and coil-tapped pickups. It also includes a piezo pickup for getting an acoustic sound. But wait! There’s more! The pickups can be switched to run in series and parallel. But we won’t stop there! The on-board effects can be controlled by sliders on the upper bout of the body, and with the included switch pedal, you can activate those effects.

But just to make sure Gibson didn’t forget anything, they also include an expression pedal for the effects. By the way, the effects are all programmable via USB interface to a computer. Oh yeah… There’s also a boatload of software included.

Even the case is revolutionary (Gibson’s words). It’s lightweight, and includes the obligatory straps, but it’s strong enough to withstand a fall from a six-story building (I wonder if that’s with the guitar in it). 🙂 Oh! And let’s not forget the robot tuning system.

So what’ll all this cost? Supposedly, somewhere in the neighborhood of US$5500.

My thoughts? I’m not sure. It’s certainly very cool. All this in a 7 pound guitar! Wait! It’s not a guitar, it’s a system! 🙂

It certainly is a system, and mind you, I only mentioned a fraction of the features of this guit… er… system. The technology that has gone into it is pretty amazing in both breadth and depth. That, I can’t deny. And to have your pedalboard right in your guitar is pretty freakin’ cool – ala Matthew Bellamy of Muse.

There’s a part of me that says this screams of overkill. But on the other hand, it’s not as if this guitar will be a high-production model. It’s a limited edition. But who knows? If demand is high, Gibby may turn it into a sales platform.

Also, for myself, and myself only, I just want to play. I’m not sure that I’d want to spend a lot of time niggling over effects patches. And besides, though the effects may very well be good – perhaps even awesome – I’ve got the effects I like on my board, and for the most part, especially for my modulation effects, I rarely change where they’re set to (well… except for my Deep Blue Delay).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really not trying to be cynical here, but something like this would take me awhile to dial in. Like I said, I’d rather pick up a guitar and just start playing, knowing what sounds the guitar will make.

For more information, check out Gibson’s Firebird X site!

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Confessions of a Gear Addict

While I’m not addicted to controlled substances or alcohol, I do admit that I have a fairly obsessive, addictive personality. Take this blog, for example. Not only am I addicted to gear, but I’m actually addicted to writing about it which, I suppose is a good thing since it keeps my content pretty fresh (though I do have to apologize for the last few weeks, dear readers, as I have been on the hunt for a new job).

It’s sort of a strange thing looking inward. And as I look at all the gear I’ve acquired over the years, I’m digging up memories that aren’t so pleasant, but those unpleasant memories have also helped shape who and what I am as a guitarist today. I can’t simply dismiss them or reason them away into irrelevance. I’ve purchased all sorts of gear – guitars, pedals, amps – that soon lost their luster after a short time, and since then, they’ve been collecting dust. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as at least I know what I DON’T want to hear. 🙂

Besides, sometimes I actually return to them and LOVE their sound. For instance, before I started using it regularly again, my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe sat in my garage for almost a couple of years. Then I got my Timmy pedal, and my American Deluxe Strat. Oooh… Strat + Timmy + Hot Rod = Glorious Tone!

But I got lucky with that combination because I already had the amp. The “addict” part comes from this seemingly insatiable appetite for gear. I never get tired of it! And when I have the means, I get more gear. Right now, I’m a little short on dough, but that hasn’t quelled my desire.

I mean… I can’t even use the excuse that I’m in search of “the perfect tone” any longer. I’ve found my sound(s). But it doesn’t matter. I’ll see or hear something that sounds cool, and WHAM! Out comes the wallet, and I have a brand, spankin’ new _______________.

I know… I’m sick… BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE CURED!!! Ah-haha-haha-haha!!!

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I wrote this song several years ago as a fun, foot-stompin’, rockin’ blues crowd-pleaser to close out church services, and like my previous song, The Way The Truth The Life, finally got around to recording it – actually I attempted to record it a lot over the years, but just couldn’t get a good vibe with it. Most of it had to do with how I was singing it, which was kind of straight up. But last year, I decided to have some fun with it, and do kind of an “Elvis” voice, and that’s when it changed the whole song and got me over the hump. 🙂 Here’s the song:

I just used my Fender American Deluxe Strat in this one for all guitar parts, and ran it through my Roland Cube 30 set to “Classic British Stack” so I could get that mid-rangy Marshall tone. I cheated a little with the lead and added a software overdrive plug-in to give the lead even more bite and sustain. Ahhh! The wonders of software! 🙂

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My American Deluxe Strat is the very first Strat that I actually liked. A lot of it has to do with the pickups, which are Kinman Hx noiseless single coils. These have a bit more output than stock Strat pickups and they make a HUGE difference in the tone of the guitar; fattening up the sound significantly.

Traditionally, I have absolutely abhorred the middle pickup of Strats. To me, with the stock set, though it is mid-rangy, which is a tone I like, I always felt the middle pickup was a little lifeless. Even EVH with the Frankenstein removed the middle pickup, and replaced the bridge pickup with a humbucker I suppose to fatten up his tone. With my Kinmans, the tone is not quite ‘bucker-fat, but it is much fatter than the stock pickups. As for the middle pickup, it’s my favorite pickup on the guitar when I’m playing with distortion. It produces tons of mid-range that cuts right through a mix.

Plus, at least to me, it has the best balance of sustain and fatness to simply be an ideal pickup. Take this demo that I recorded this morning called “The Way The Truth The Life:”

I actually recorded this a few years ago, but couldn’t get a groove with the song. So I finally got it put together, and after I recorded the acoustic guitar and piano parts, realized that it needed a driven electric guitar sound; specifically, my Strat through a cranked Marshall. 🙂 To be honest, I tried recording with the neck pickup which is my usual go-to pickup, but that was way too fat, and the bridge pickup was way too thin. But the middle pickup was just right… (yikes! sounding like Goldilocks and the three bears).

When I spent time with Doug Doppler way back when, he talked about the middle pickup being one of his favorites. I personally didn’t “get it” at the time because up until that point, I hadn’t heard a middle pickup on a Strat that I liked. But after recording this song, I’m sold. When I want a smooth drive with lots of mid-range, the middle pickup is it!

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I’ve been on the job hunt these past few weeks, which is why I haven’t posted as much as I normally would. And in my search, interviewers have all asked the standard question: “Why did you leave your last position? You were there for three-and-a-half years.” My original “pat” answer was, “It became too political.” But that was really only a minute part of why I left. I only said that because I had a hard time articulating what really was at the core of my leaving; and simply put, it was a gradual reduction in freedom: Freedom to think, freedom to be creative, freedom to be honest.

When I first started at that company, we were pre-IPO. The engineering team was lean – about 50 people to develop for a HUGE enterprise app – and thus, we all wore lots of hats. It was chaos, but the level of teamwork and collaboration was at a level before which I had never experienced. Because of our flat organization, we were all expected to lead in some way, shape, or form at any time. There were no egos.

But all that changed after the IPO as the company transformed into a classic corporate culture where collaboration and courage gave way to internal competition. That change in culture eroded the sense of ownership of employees, as the executive management focused on pleasing Wall Street, and started practicing Wall Street’s executive rewards programs: Paying themselves huge bonuses in stock and cash, while not rewarding the rank and file in kind. They created management layers and stratified the entire organization. The values that the company was built on were only given lip service.

That’s why I left. I could no longer work for a company that was not living up to its values.

So what does this have to do with this blog? 🙂 I came to that realization above as I was writing some of my latest songs, so bear with me.

As a sanity check, I submit my music to a few different services to be critiqued. I’ve always known that my music while Christian in flavor, really doesn’t fit in the Contemporary Christian music category. But several reviewers have come back with critiques to shape my songs into that genre. My reaction has been, “I guess they don’t get what my music is about…” Mind you, that’s not an ego thing. It’s more of an awareness that it’s completely different from the genre. However, one reviewer whom I have been using for critiques and who is also the most brutally honest with me, has never tried to change my songs to fit in the CCM bucket. Instead, she evaluates my songs completely on their own merit, allowing me to build on my creativity, and working with me on making tweaks that serve the song as opposed to genre.

Frankly, my music could be considered “contemporary sacred,” as it is all worship music, and really meant to be played within the context of some sort of worship ceremony or event. Most songs I write aren’t just for listening: They’re for interaction. They’re meant to be sung.

During a recent conversation with the reviewer I mentioned, I realized that a sense of “freedom” is a critical ingredient to creativity. In the past couple of weeks, I have been churning out new music that will be going on my new sacred songs album. I have been experiencing an incredible burst of creativity. That is largely due to having this sense of freedom: I’m writing what I feel I need to write, free from the consideration of what someone else might think. In essence, I’ve given myself the freedom to be creative and stopped trying to build a box around what I think my music should be, or worrying myself about whether or not it will be liked. It is what it is.

For highly creative people, reduction in freedom to create, whether or not it’s self-inflicted kills their ability to create. For me, once I gave myself permission to write what I needed to write, all sorts of great things happened…

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There are “go-to” guitars and there are “go-to” guitars. But do you have one that’s just.. well… perfect? I do. It’s my Gibson Les Paul Standard 1958 Reissue. To me, that tea burst is absolutely sexy, but more importantly, when I play that guitar, I feel that I can do just about anything. The neck is perfect on this guitar. It’s a fat neck, but not anything like a ’57’s baseball bat girth. And every time I play this guitar (her name is “Amber”), I just feel so confident. I can switch from rhythm to lead and back again, and with Amber, I feel as if I can express my creativity freely.

Mind you, this is purely subjective. Everyone will have their own perfect guitar, and their own idea of a perfect guitar. But for me, I’ve found my perfect guitar.

But what about my others? I still play all of them because there are tones that Amber just can’t create. Take, for instance, my Gretsch Electromatic. It has an almost acoustic tone to it; so much so that I use it for my solo acoustic gigs. And because it’s an electric, I can play that guitar for hours, and never get tired. And of course, getting that jangly, Strat single-coil sound just can’t be gotten with a Les Paul.

But luckily for me, most of tunes require a fat, sustaining tone, and there’s nothing like a Les Paul – at least for me – to deliver that.

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If you look on my rig page, you’ll see that for my solo gigs, I use the very wonderful Fishman SoloAmp. This is a great, integrated PA that I’ve been using to great success for the past year or so. Very easy to set up, and it has a nice on-board mixer with decent reverb effects (which I never use, since I always use my vocalizer’s reverb). But the other day, I demoed the HK Audio Elements system while I was browsing “The Music Tree” in Morgan Hill, CA. This is an audio system that is similar to the Bose L1, but unlike the Bose L1, the Elements system allows you to expand by adding more “elements” as your audience size grows. Super-cool!!!

Sound-wise, I plugged an acoustic guitar directly into the system, and was absolutely blown away by the sound! While I love my Fishman, and it has served me well, compared to something like the Elements system, a subwoofer really makes a difference, despite the fact that the SoloAmp’s speakers have good bass response.

But honestly, this entry isn’t about the Elements system. 🙂 While trying to get more information online about the Elements system, I ran across another, just-released, integrated PA system from HK Audio called the Sound Caddy One, that is based upon the same audio technology as the Elements system. But with the Sound Caddy One, there are NO parts to put together! The line array is housed within the PA’s body (which also serves as the housing for the subwoofers), and to set up the system, you release the line array, that pops up out of the housing, secure it, plug in, turn on and you’re ready to go! Damn!

Check out this demo video from Musikmesse 2011:

Here are the Sound Caddy’s technical features:

Max SPL calculated 125 dB
Max SPL peak 125 dB
Max SPL 120 dB @10% THD
Output power system 600W Class D
Frequency response +/- 3 dB 49 Hz – 18 kHz
Frequency response -10 dB 42 Hz – 18 kHz
Connections integrated 4-channel-mixer
LF Speaker 3x 6″
Mid/High Speaker 6x 3,5″
Directivity 70° x 15°
Crossover frequency 150 Hz, 12 dB/oct.
Enclosure 15 mm (5/8“), 13-ply (plywood)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 27 x 102 x 34 cm 10-5/8“ x 40-5/32 x 13-25/64
Weight 29 kg / 63,9lbs

Delivering a max 125dB at 600 Watts, this unit can move some air. Some people have said it isn’t powerful enough for their uses, but for a solo musician, this is more than enough power! Also, I have to question the negative feedback because systems like this are all about sound dispersal, getting an even volume anywhere within the sound dispersal cone which, for this system, is 70 degrees. When I first started using a line array system, it took me awhile to get used to the volume seemingly not being as loud. But it’s deceptive with a line array because the sound actually reaches fairly extreme angles, and what you’re trying to do is get your sound dispersed, and not necessarily through volume.

I dig that unlike the Elements system which is pure sound reinforcement, this has an integrated 4-channel mixer, which is an absolute MUST for me. But the only thing that I’d be wary of is the stability of the system. The base seems rather narrow, and I’m wondering how it would fair in windy conditions. In any case, here’s another demo video that demonstrates the sound. The singer aside, even through the camcorder’s microphone, it’s clear that the Sound Caddy One provides some very clear, clean sound.

As for cost, the video above mentioned a price of “2000.” If that’s in German deutsche marks, then the price would be around $1450 USD. That’s not bad, even as an MSRP, which would make the street price even lower. I’ll have to find out more information.

In any case, for more information on HK Audio products, go to: http://www.hkaudio.com.

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Awesome Guitars TCP-T2 Telecaster Control Plate
Summary: Want to expand the tonal possibilities of your Tele? This solderless control plate assembly will give you six distinct tones.Pros: Undoubtedly, the pros here are that you’re going to get tones that you’ve never heard from your Tele.

Cons: Not quite as easy to install as advertised – but what is? One of the bridge settings created a far too thin and reedy tone for my liking. As there were no instructions to be found as to what switch does what, it took awhile to figure out the different switch settings (though note that the wiring diagrams are all available online).

Features – Check out the link above…

Price: $127.97 direct

Tone Bone Score: 4.5 ~ Though I didn’t like that one setting for the bridge pickup, I do like the fact that I have a couple more very usable tones for my Tele.

I’m pretty wary of hyperbole, especially when it comes from a manufacturer. So when Awesome Guitars contacted me about their products, I was a little dubious, especially since the original email read like an Adam St. James guitar lessons spam. It’s not that I doubted what their Tone MultiplierTM could do, it was the delivery that made me a bit wary. But having an open mind, I replied to see if they’d send me a control panel replacement unit for my CV Tele. I got a very quick reply saying they’d send one right away. That was about six weeks ago. Due to vacation, and leading a busy life in general, I didn’t get the unit installed until recently, but since then, I’ve been messing around with my Tele a lot, and have played it in a couple of gigs.

So what’s the verdict? The manufacturer’s claims of the products being life-changing aside, this is a solid product, and something that I’ve been able to put to use. To be fair though, the unit I tested will only give you 6 different tones. But with dual humbuckers, the other products they offer will give you up to 68 different tones! Pretty amazing stuff.

Ease of Use

Okay… so you lose the sliding 3-position switch, which is replaced by three mini-toggles. On the surface, that might seem to be a burden, but once you’ve played around with the system, it’s fairly easy to get to the tones you want. Even without the instructions, I was able to figure out the functions of the switches relatively easily, and was up and running- and gigging – in a matter of an hour. By the end of the gig, I knew where I wanted the switches. Admittedly, it will take a little more time to switch on the fly during a song, but I was still able to do it pretty easily, if not completely cleanly.

How It Sounds

Sounds like my Tele, but with a couple of more very usable tones. I wish I had the instructions that charted what switch does what, so I could tell if the pickups were in or out of phase or serial or parallel when both are on, but I did manage to figure out the two different sounds for each different pickup combinations. In a way, I’m sort of glad I didn’t have the instructions because it forced me to explore what tones worked for me, which is probably more important than the actual knowledge of each switch configuration. That would probably be a different story if I installed the six-switch model on a dual-humbucker guitar. For that, I’d want to know what each switch is doing.

In any case, here are six versions of the same phrase with each different configuration:

Neck 1

Neck 2

Both 1

Both 2

Bridge 1

Bridge 2

With both pickups on, and switching between parallel and serial configuration (mind you, I still don’t which is serial or parallel), the tonal difference is extremely subtle, and admittedly the recordings didn’t seem to capture that, but suffice it to say that I heard a difference; but also, and more importantly, the dynamics were different. Bridge 1 setting was pretty thin – too thin for my liking, but I my favorite is Bridge 2, which gives me the full power of my bridge pickup, which I love for playing leads.

Overall Impression

At least to me, this upgrade isn’t life-altering, but it does expand the tonal palette of my Tele, and that’s a great thing, and who knows, I may find a use for the thin tone of the Bridge 1 setting. With the Neck 2 setting, I get a similar sound to the neck/middle setting of a Strat, which is jangly. I dig that sound for playing finger-style rhythm. So all in all, I’m pretty satisfied with this unit.

As for the lack of instructions, as I mentioned that’s not a bad thing, necessarily – at least the wiring diagrams were online. The site does mention that two of the switches control the pickups, the other switch controls whether the pickups are in parallel or serial. But which two and which one? 🙂 Doesn’t matter because it was easy to figure out.

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The other day, I was at my good friend Jeff Aragaki’s (of Aracom Amps fame) home/workshop and noticed his ProLine multi-guitar stand where he always keeps five or six guitars. I was thinking to myself that I could use one of these in my home studio, as I have at least five guitars and a bass out at any time; especially as of late, since I’ve been recording quite a bit. All my guitars are on individual stage stands, and they take up a lot of space. I was thinking that with a multi-guitar rack, I could put out several guitars and not take up too much space on my studio floor.

But one thing that I thought about when considering a multi-guitar stand was it would be great if there was one made of wood. It just looks better to me. And wouldn’t you know it, today I received an email announcing a new company called Rock Solid Guitar Stands that make their stands out of wood. Cool! Check this out!

THAT is exactly what I was looking for in a multi-guitar stand!

Here’s the press release they sent:


Two new models coming in October 2011.

Is your studio, family room, or living space crowded with guitar cases or single stands? Rock Solid Guitar Stands will compliment your space, and more importantly, showcase your collection at the same time. Rock Solid Guitar Stands are multi guitar stands that were specifically designed for the home or studio and designed by a collector. Your guitars and basses will truly be at home, and finally given the attention they deserve.

Unlike the typical metal multi-guitar stands out there, which are not very stable or attractive, Rock Solid Guitar Stands flow quite well in any decor in your home or studio. They are also very stable. For more information visit http://www.rocksolidguitarstands.com.

In October of 2011, we will be introducing “The Classic 4,” and “The Show 5.” These two new multi-guitar stand models will offer an alternative for players with guitar collections of various sizes.

The Classic 4 is perfect for someone with limited space. It is only 33” wide x 28” high x 18” deep.

The Show 5 is truly a unique design. Let’s face it, you want to show off your favorite guitar and have it accessible at all times. That’s why The Show 5 has a specially designed fifth slot which let’s your most precious guitar stand out and get some extra loving!
Be sure to visit Rock Solid Guitar Stands on the web in the following places:
Official website: http://www.rocksolidguitarstands.com
Store: http://shop.rocksolidguitarstands.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rocksolidstands
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rock-Solid-Guitar-Stands/178352512182913


The stands come in three different colors: Honey, Dark Cherry, and Ivory. Personally, I like the Dark Cherry color. Also, they only weight 12 lbs.; not at all heavy, which is cool. The price is $199 direct, which might be a bit steep, but these are solid wood, not press-board. When you order one, assembly is required, but an allen wrench is provided and you’ll just need an adjustable wrench or pliers. From what I gather, the kit takes less than a half-hour to assemble.

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This week was back-to-school week for my kids, and of course, my wife and I had parental duties to meet our kids’ teachers. Since we have a large family with some in parochial school and others in high school, it was necessary for us to split up. On Thursday, I got the high school, my wife got the elementary school. In any case, one of my daughter’s teachers mentioned a great saying that I’ll share here:

The greatest risk to society is that we have the experience, but miss the meaning – T. S. Eliot

Wow! That quote hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me of listening to a clip once that this guy did to demonstrate his Dumble amp. His technique was flawless, but what he was playing was completely nonsensical and perhaps more importantly, absolutely emotionless.

Playing music is like making conversation. Conversation isn’t just words spoken, but emotion  conveyed. It’s the combination of words and emotion that convey meaning. For instance, here’s a quick clip that I put together a few minutes ago. The first part is a scale in C-major played straight, then the same notes are played again, but with feeling. The second part is a chord progression in Am, again played straight, and then adding some emotion.

Same notes and chords in both examples, but with the emotion added, convey a completely different meaning.

To me, adding meaning is what separates the wankers from the players. I don’t care how great someone’s technique is or how blazingly fast they can play. If the playing is all about technique and doesn’t have any emotion, it’s just well… dry. It harkens back to that quote above.

But don’t get me wrong, having no technique isn’t good either. I once dropped into a nightclub to listen to a jazz trio. I walked out after a couple of minutes because the guy playing guitar had no technique whatsoever! Look, I get dissonant, abstract jazz; some of the late Kenny Kirkland’s stuff was way way out there, but I dug it because his technique AND feeling pervaded throughout the songs he played. But what I listened to that night was simply crap that was being passed off as dissonant jazz.

Even with gear, you can have all sorts of equipment, but you still have to play it and make music. My good friend purchased A TON of gear from an estate sale. The guy who died had all sorts of amps, guitars, and effects; so much that it filled my friend’s long-bed pickup AND his race car transport trailer. The guy played at home. More power to him to be passionate about gear. But this was ridiculous!

So here are a few questions that I’ve been asking myself the past couple of days since I read that quote:

  • Where’s the meaning in my life?
  • Is my focus all on experience?
  • Shouldn’t passion count?
  • Musically, what kind of meaning am I trying to convey?

The last question is something I’ve really been pondering, as I recently overcame some serious writer’s block. I had been at an impasse with my music for a couple of years, then recently decided to go in the direction that to where my passion was pointing. Now the music is flowing through my head again. I’ve found my meaning – at least for now…

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