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Archive for June, 2012

Pictured to the left is my beloved 1958 Historic Reissue Les Paul Standard, aptly named “Amber” partly for her Honey Burst finish, plus “she” just felt like an Amber. Simply gorgeous to hold and behold. She can be as sweet and smooth as 30 year old Sauterne, or she can be a barking bitch that will make you kneel in submission.

Sorry for waxing philosophically… Amber is simply a GREAT guitar. But onto my question: Does a good guitar make you a better player?

Yes, but not just because you pick it up. Since I’ve had Amber, I’ve become a much better player mainly because I play her so much. That’s the thing about a great guitar. When you have one, you don’t want to put it down. You want to play it. All. The. Time.

So really, it’s the time you put on the guitar that makes you better, not necessarily the guitar itself, but that doesn’t mean the guitar doesn’t play a huge role. For me, once I got Amber, I found my sound, and that was a Les Paul plugged into a cranked up Marshall. Granted, I got Ox (my ’59 Replica) before I got Amber, and Ox got me real close to what I considered to be my sound, but Amber was so much bigger sounding than Ox. Ox’s tone is all about nuance. It’s bright and jangly, and for clean to slightly overdriven stuff, it’s amazing. But Amber just did it for me when I got her. And when she drives an amp, she makes it absolutely wail, and it’s that sound that I just never tire of, so I play her. All. The. Time.

As such, since I’ve gotten Amber, I’ve become a much better player. For one thing, she was so easy to play that she was hard to play, if you catch my drift. With that kind of ease, I made a lot of mistakes; essentially, she taught me to play correctly, to have good hand position. It was if she was telling me, “You play me right, and I’ll reward you with more you can imagine.” And of course, I have a hard time putting her down. I’ll just absentmindedly pick her up, not even plugged in, and just play. She even sounds great unplugged!

Now don’t go mistaking that I’m somehow endorsing buying a totally expensive guitar. I have a philosophy that good is good no matter what the price. You might find a guitar that rocks your world that is a few hundred bucks. I haven’t come across too many of those in my lifetime, but my Squier Classic Vibe Tele that I got for under $300 falls into that category. That’s another guitar that gets a lot of mileage, though I don’t play “Blondie” near as much as Amber. The point here is getting a well-crafted guitar. With a well-crafted guitar that speaks to your soul, you will get better, simply by virtue of playing it all the time. But remember, as I mentioned in previous article, you get better by practicing. But I will submit that a great guitar makes practice a joy.

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I’ve been back to recording, and recently finished a new, political song called “Drowned in a Sea of Words.” The song started out as a straight-ahead reggae tune, but there was a huge part of me that wanted to maintain my hard rock roots, so I added a distorted guitar to the last third of the song. At first, I used my Strat into my EWS Little Brute Drive, then into my trusty VHT Special 6. But after really listening to the distorted guitar the past few days, I didn’t really like the tone. So tonight I re-recorded it using the same pedal/amp setup, but switched out the guitar with my R8 Les Paul. That got me closer, but I still didn’t like the tone, which felt a little muffled. So I ran the Special 6 into a 1 X 12 with a Fane Medusa 150. That got me closer, but I still didn’t like the tone. So I switched amps altogether, and used my venerable Aracom VRX22, which is a Blues Breaker Plexi-style amp with 6V6’s instead of EL84’s.

I strummed one chord, and that was it. I knew it was magic. There is something about that vintage Marshall sound that just speaks “rock and roll” to me, so re-recorded the track with that setup. The difference was like night and day! Here’s the new recording:

If you heard the original version of the song, most of it is pretty much the same. But I did change up some of the words after I had a fellow artist critique the lyrics. But the point to all this is that the right gear certainly makes all the difference in the world, and taking the time to explore and also being willing to make changes can make or break a song. For me, this is a finished demo!

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Got an email this morning from Guitar Center inviting me to come down to GC and try out the new Golden Cello from Mad Professor, an overdrive and delay in one pedal. Intrigued, the Dawg did a little sniffing around. Here’s info I got from the Mad Professor site:

Mad Professor Amplification is proud to release a new pedal that will be sold exclusively at Guitar Center stores and Musicians Friend.

The Golden Cello pedal offers guitar players one of the most sought after lead tones on the planet. In this one small gold pedal is the much sought after million dollar tone. Sweet cello-like singing fat lead tone with the most luscious open ambient tape delay.

The tone that you used to need: a great overdrive, a vintage tape delay and a loud vintage full-stack at full volume is now one foot stomp away! Very easy to setup – just plug it into any (quality) clean amp and you get “The Tone!” you have been seeking, at any volume level. This inspiring pedal will keep you playing and playing, you simply can’t stop!

Just four knobs for total output: Volume, Delay level, Tone and Drive. You simply cannot get a bad tone out of this pedal. This is a pedal th at belongs on every pedalboard, in every gigbag and every studio. Singing lead tone, with the classic Mad Professor dynamics and touch sensitivity.

Sold only in Guitar Center stores, but from guitarcenter.com or musicansfriend.com websites, you can order and have it sent it to any corner of the world.

Here’s a video demo:

Hmm… This is definitely a cool pedal, but as they say you need: “A great overdrive, a vintage tape delay and a loud vintage full-stack at full volume,” I already have with my Timmy and Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. Granted, having both in one box is very convenient. I’ll probably go down to GC in the next few days to try one out. But at $199, I don’t think it’ll be an expenditure I’ll be making any time soon, and it REALLY has to blow me away. The demos I’ve seen in addition to the one I linked to here have been pretty awesome, but for me, it’s not a tone that I’m currently after as I’m actually writing stuff that is a lot more clean right now plus, as I said above, I can get that tone with the pedals/amps I have.

But all that said, if this tone is for you, this pedal would definitely be worth checking out. Mad Professor pedals are the bomb!

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I’ve spent many years writing about Christian ideals. They’re the roots to my entire life. However, I’ve also had a strong sense of political justice and the increasing polarization of the parties and the divisive rhetoric that the politicians have been spewing has started to bother me; enough that I wanted to write a song about it.

To be clear and transparent, I’m a registered Republican – have been since I registered to vote 38 years ago – and have a conservative stance in that I believe in small government and personal freedoms. I believe that no one should get a free ride. But I’m much more centrist than many who have gone towards the far right. I believe in assisting those who are less fortunate by helping them help themselves (not to be confused with giving out handouts). I believe that in a true free market, EVERYONE should have the opportunity for financial success and not be enslaved by a select few whose greed prevents others to succeed. I believe that regulations should exist to prevent those few from abusing and gaming the system. I’m also willing to speak to the “other side” to come to a middle ground; not Boehner’s idea of a middle ground which really means that the Republicans win; but where there is discussion and agreement and a recognition that even though values differ, we’re all patriots.

You see, I love my country, and I’m sick of how both the left and right have divided our country. The hardliners on both sides speak in words that cause fear and anger. Haven’t they learned from the past? Hardline left = communism; hardline right = fascism. What’s next? Villify and imprison those that don’t agree? We’ve seen that already, and look at what it got us: Stalin, Mao,  and Hitler. We need to come together as a country – and fast!

Here’s the song:

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Looked back through some old posts and saw a comment on one of earlier posts on the TC Electronic Corona Chorus where a commenter believed that the chorus pedal was one of the more useless pedals. I didn’t take offense to that statement, because everyone has their tonal preferences, but for me, chorus has been an integral part of my sound for years – especially when I’m playing acoustic guitar.

I started using a chorus when I saw Michael Hedges start using one way back in the early 80’s. Before he hit it big, I used to watch him at least a couple of times a week at a local bar, and one day he showed up on stage with BOSS CE-2. I instantly fell in love with that sound. He never went over the top with it, but he used chorus in a lot of tunes after his first album. Done right, chorus can be absolutely inspiring.

Here’s a video of Michael playing the first three songs off his Taproot album. The first song, The Naked Stalk, is one of my all-time favorite Michael Hedges tunes. It is super-simple, but that’s the beauty of this piece. Anyway, take a look:

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I’ve been playing guitar for over 42 years. One would think that after all this time, I should be some sort of virtuoso guitarist, able to spin in and out of lead lines without thinking. I can do that with some stuff, but not everything. Frankly though, I focus much more on rhythm playing and playing against vocals or other instruments so that my guitar playing is integrated with the presentation of a song; whether I’m playing solo or with a band.

I’ve never had any formal training in guitar, and the breadth of my musical education includes 6 months of piano lessons. That doesn’t mean I don’t know much about music – I do – but my learning has been much more interactive and organic and osmotic as opposed to academic. I’ve studied a bit of music theory and harmonic structure, but all on my own, as I was driven to learn these things. For me, while I do believe that I would’ve benefited from formal training, I don’t know if at this point in my life as I have devoted my life to making music that having a formal musical background would have made any difference.

The point to me sharing this isn’t an attempt to give myself a backhanded compliment. It’s simply to communicate that I went my own way with learning how to play guitar and make music; irrespective of whether it was the right way or the wrong way of doing things. I’m happy with how I’ve learned, though I’m never satisfied with my playing and performance as I’m driven to constantly improve, which brings me to the crux of this article.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard unsolicited advice on learning guitar that invariably began with “You should do such and such to learn guitar.” We guitar players are an opinionated lot, that’s for sure. Of course, there have been some people with whom I interacted who have given me great advice or recommended some fantastic resources for learning guitar, and I’ve followed that advice and have only gotten better because of it. But to be honest, being self-aware, I’ve always known my limitations, be they due to time constraints, personal issues, or just life in general, so I’ve just gone with flow and learned as I could. It also meant that – especially with all the things I’m involved in besides music – regular lessons just wouldn’t worked for me.

In all my years of playing and learning guitar, I’ve come to realize that there is no secret method for learning guitar; pretty much any method will work. If you learn best in a structured, academic way, then go for it. If you’re like me and just want to do it organically, that’s also valid. But that said, whatever method you choose won’t matter a bit if you don’t practice. I’ve taken on several adult students in the past who have wanted to learn guitar. They’ve all been busy professionals, and they all lasted about two months before I discontinued the lessons. It wasn’t about being harsh or mean or frustrated. I was just honest with them and told them that I didn’t want to take their money if they weren’t not moving forward.

The only way to move forward is to practice what you learn.

For me, I play at least a half hour a day, maybe more if I can swing it, and I gig at least twice a week, year-round. Most of the time when I practice, I’m not really trying new things, but I spend a lot of time honing the skills I have. My thought is that I’d rather be great at fewer things than mediocre at many things.

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In a reply I made in an earlier post, I mentioned that my buying spree with gear these past 10 years started with me getting a tube amp, namely my trusty Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. Once I got the Hot Rod, I started buying guitars, I started buying pedals and pedal boards, and I started buying amps. And it hasn’t stopped.

I stopped to think about what is it about a tube amps that made/makes me go into GAS attacks. I think it has to do with their individual quirks. For instance, between the time I got my Hot Rod and when I got my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, I was REALLY big into getting overdrive pedals because I couldn’t play my amps loud enough to get them to their breakup point – and that’s pre-amp, not power amp breakup. So I had to use overdrive pedals to get my overdrive tone. Then I needed a delay, then I needed a chorus, then a vibe, etc., etc…. Then I decided that I wanted a more aggressive tone than a super-clean Fender, so I got my Aracom VRX22. It just didn’t stop. In a year, I spent tens of thousands on gear. Getting into Aracom Amps got me into the vintage Marshall sound. Some of my older pedals just didn’t work well with that tone so…. I had to get other pedals.

When I fell in love with the Les-Paul-through-a-Marshall-amp-tone, I started getting Les Pauls; to wit, I only have two, an R8 and a ’59 replica. But I’m still looking to get more LP’s such as an Les Paul Supreme (love that headstock logo).

I know, a bit convoluted… But it’s actually pretty simple. Tube amps or classes of tube amps have fairly distinct voices. Some pedals or guitars work with all those voicings, some pedals or guitars only work well with a certain type of amp voicing. Given that, I was compelled to buy and try gear that worked my guitar and amp combinations. “Compelled” is probably rather simplistic or even a bit misleading. But once I got into tube amps, I started getting compulsive about buying gear. I’d hear something then say, “Wow! That seems that it would work great in my rig.” Here comes the debit card…

Nowadays, though I still get the urge, I luckily don’t have the funds to make the big expenditures I did in the past. Life happens, and I’ve got to take care of other financial obligations that make buying new gear prohibitive. But that doesn’t mean I get the occasional piece now and then. It’s just not at the velocity I was going in the past. Plus, I’m pretty set with my tone. Once I got my DV Mark Little 40, I just haven’t really been compelled to get more gear because that amp literally works with anything I throw in front of it, be it pedals or guitars.

But I do realize that my GAS is just dormant right now. Who knows what’ll get it going or when it’ll happen again. Time will only tell…

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Hindustani Slide Guitar?

I just finished reading an interesting article in Premier Guitar entitled, “The Secret World of Hindustani Slide,” that talked about slide guitar playing in India. Yes, slide guitar. Apparently, slide guitar was introduced in India by Tau Moe, a Hawaiian slide guitarist that moved to Kolkata (Calcutta) in the early 1940’s. His performances and recordings sparked a fairly large following, to the point where slide guitar is now a staple in Hindustani music, with several manufacturers and schools devoted to slide guitar.  Cool.

Admittedly, my experience with Indian music in general has been limited to background music or Bollywood videos played in Indian restaurants. Given that, to me, Indian slide guitar to me has always been about the sitar, which I never really liked that much because of its (to me) overly thin tone. There have been times when I’ve heard some deeper-toned string instrument being played in the songs I’ve heard that I thought were pleasing. I had no idea that they were from a guitar.

Here’s a video of a very nice song being played with a Hindustani slide guitar…

Very cool in my book! The musicianship and instrument mastery of the player is awesome. Musically, it’s not my cup of tea, but I appreciate great musicianship when I see it.

After I saw that video, it occurred to me that it would be cool if there was an electric version of a Hindustani guitar. After all, the bodies seem to be predominantly archtops. But I couldn’t find a single video where I saw a Hindustani slide guitar plugged into an amp. Hmmm… In any case, throw on a couple of P-90’s and you could add all sorts of effects. I’ve heard some really moving (as in up-tempo) Indian music in the past, especially stuff from Goa where there is a heavy rhythmic vibe. Imagine getting some of those rhythms then playing some distorted slide on top. But irrespective of the distortion, pickups would open up a whole new palate of tones.

That could open up a whole new genre of music. You definitely couldn’t call it traditional; nor could you call it “world.” But perhaps that new genre could be called “Hindi-Rock,” playing off the whole Indie Rock thing…

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I’ve admittedly had my eye on a Fender Jaguar for years. I played one a few years ago at a local shop and fell in love with its tone. It kind of sounds like a Strat, or is it a Tele… It certainly has a variety of tones that it can produce, all coming from its various switches. And that’s sort of the rub for me. There are six switches on the guitar, and each affects a different thing.

What got me first interested in this guitar was that I first noticed it back in the 90’s when the Tom Hanks-directed movie “That Thing You Do” featured one, played by the lead guitarist, Lenny, played by Steve Zahn. He probably wasn’t playing the guitar, but it sure looked pretty cool just the same.

It’s actually VERY cool, but it’s one of those guitars that would take a lot of time for me to dial in. I was able to get some great tones almost immediately, if memory serves, but I do remember that I spent more time trying to figure out what switch combinations worked for me than actually playing the guitar, so that was a bit counter-productive.

But still, there’s a certain appeal about the guitar. For one, it looks very cool. I dig the body shape, with its rounded lines. The neck is only 24″ long, so it’s an easy player. The C-shape neck is very comfortable. And on top of that, it weighs less than 9 lbs.; not super-light, but not as heavy as a Les Paul. The American Vintage Series like the one in the picture can be had for around $1600. Not really too cheap, but not bad. And you can get one on sale for a few hundred bucks less because these guitars just don’t move that quickly. For instance, the one I checked out was on sale for something like $1200, but I got my Gibson Nighthawk instead – and I no longer have it, either. 🙂 I’m pretty sure I’d hold on to this one if I got.

In the vintage market, original ’62’s (the first year they came out) can be had for about $6000 on eBay. Again, probably out of my reach right now, but certainly not a bad price for a vintage guitar – and certainly not a bad price for a first production year guitar.

Maybe one day… I do have a few guitars on my “to get” list that are ahead of it, like a Les Paul Supreme, but this is definitely a “getter.”

Here’s a pretty good video demo of a vintage Jaguar:

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Johnny Depp Plays Guitar?

Yet another reason why I’d like to hate this guy but I can’t because he’s so damn talented – not to mention that I actually like his work. I just saw a video of him playing guitar with the Black Keys at the MTV Movie Awards. It’s not that he’s a super-sensational guitar player; but he can play, and play pretty well at that. Talk about living the dream.

Here’s a link to the article…   He plays on the second video…

Love that Les Paul Jr. he’s playing! Dammit! Livin’ the dream, baby!

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