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Archive for October, 2012

I was reminiscing about my favorite rock bands, Night Ranger, this evening, and ran across this video from guitar great Jeff Watson (who is also a NorCal boy) and founding member Night Ranger on the proper micing of acoustic and electric guitars. While I dug Brad Gillis, I always dug Jeff Watson because of what he could do with a Les Paul. Besides, I was always in awe of his 8-finger tapping! Check it out:

For years, I’ve used two mics for acoustic very similarly to how they do it in the video (though I don’t have a Telefunkin). But I’ve actually preferred using a ribbon mic pointed at the 12th fret on acoustic. It seems to capture a much more rounded tone on my guitars.

As far as electric goes, I use a Sennheiser e609 Silver, along with a ribbom mic. But what struck me about what they were doing on the video was also using a large diaphragm mic. Then on top of that, all the mics were close in. I’m going to have to try that some time.

Anyway, there’s a lot to learn from this vid. Glad I found it!

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Gruesome Album Covers

I was perusing the Web for Halloween-themed, guitar-related material, when I came across this article at GuitarWorld.com entitled, “The 13 Most Gruesome Album Covers.” And tucked between #1 and the #2 most gruesome album covers was the album cover for the Poison album, “Look What the Cat Dragged In.”

Talk about getting a great laugh! During the ’80’s, I really wasn’t a big fan of Glam Rock. To me, they all sounded the same. Even though so many guitarists could do some incredible things on the guitar, lots of them were doing the same damn thing, so it was pretty monotonous, and Poison was the epitome of what I absolutely hated about Glam Rock: All fluff and no substance. During that time, standout hard rock bands for me were Night Ranger, Damn Yankees, GnR, the Scorpions and that ilk. They weren’t without their issues, but at least they eschewed all the fluff for some great music.

Anyway, Happy Halloween!

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It Makes a Father Proud…

…When your little boy comes into your room to model his Halloween costume. Here’s our dialogue:

“Hey Daddy, look at my Halloween costume!” exclaims my seven year old.

“Cool, son! Who are you supposed to be?” I ask.

“Funky Slash!” he replies. I just had to take a picture and share it.

I never saw this costume coming. Whereas his friends are going as super-heroes, he decided to dress up like one of his Daddy’s favorite guitarists. He even has the pose down! I’m beaming with pride.

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Why? Because some of us will pay ungodly sums of money to have some gear. For instance, this morning a friend of mine sent me a link to an eBay item:  A 1967 Marshall Supa Fuzz pedal. The seller is asking $4,999.00. That’s under $5,000! Wow! And shipping is included! What a deal!

Granted, this was Pete Townshend’s favorite pedal back in the 60’s and 70’s; I get that. And I totally get the vintage mojo with a pedal like this. But $5K? Not sure about that. And besides, if memory serves, this was a clone of the Tone Bender.

But there’s no rhyme or reason to getting gear, so I would never begrudge anyone for spending their money on something they want. For me though, paying several thousand for a pedal isn’t for me.

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So I got an email announcement of Gibson’s new Billy Joe Armstrong Les Paul Junior Double Cut. I’m not a big Green Day fan, but I’ve followed them over the years, and earned an appreciation for their body of work and success. Over the years, there has been lots of debate over Green Day. Did they sell out to Warner? Are they really that good? In guitar circles, people have debated on BJA’s playing ability.

Given the previous debates I’ve heard over the years, I clicked the link to look at the guitar. But while I scanned over the specs, what I was really more interested in were the comments. Sure enough, the debates about Green Day haven’t stopped. Also, the whole “cost of a Gibson” debate churns on… After reading through several pages of comments, I decided to chime in here, and share my perspective on a few of the issues.

  1. On Green Day selling out…
    I had this very debate with my oldest son while listening to “Wake Me Up When September Ends” on the radio several years ago. I asked him if he still liked Green Day, and he replied, “Only their old stuff. They sold out, and I don’t really like their new stuff.” In rebuttal, I replied that I had read that they had been given full artistic control in their contract, and I shared that with my son. If they had full artistic control, then they were writing what they wanted. My argument – as a composer myself – was that just because a band writes in another style doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve sold out. I know that songs just sit out there waiting to be written. They could be blues, they could be rock, they could be classical, they could be pop. But as an artist, you write what you write and what comes out. In BJA’s defense, I think he wrote was what was in his heart at the time. If it happened to be mainstream, that’s fine. We don’t know what motivates a composer to write; I’ve been writing for years, and I really don’t know where the songs come from. They just come. So with Green Day coming up with mainstream music, at least to me, who cares?
  2. On Billy Joe Armstrong’s playing ability…
    There is a lot to be said about playing in the pocket. Tell someone like Steve Cropper who has been around for years he’s no good because he plays rhythm guitar – or even Malcom Young for that matter. So what if BJA doesn’t play screaming leads?!! I know lots of players out there who can play all sorts of leads and cool licks, but they couldn’t carry a song if their life depended on it. Besides, with his punk roots, BJA’s message and energy are far more important than being able to do two-handed arpeggios, and sweep picking.
  3. On the cost of a Gibson…
    I’m kind of with the camp that says, “You don’t like it, buy something else.” Everyone has a choice in what to buy. Are Gibson guitars pricey? In general, yeah. And while they had suffered in quality back in the late 80’s and early 90’s (which is probably where a lot of this angst comes from), I haven’t played a newer Gibson that I could complain about its quality. You have to pay for a good guitar, and a Gibson is a good guitar. Some of the complainers I’ve met have no problem shelling out several thousand dollars for a custom, boutique guitar. Hey! That’s their choice. For me personally, I love Les Pauls. I honestly couldn’t afford most of the brand-new Custom Shop guitars, but to me, and especially because I have an R8, for the most part, I think they’re worth the money. There are some like that Jimmy Page #1 copy that I think are over-priced, but I don’t really have too much of a problem with the pricing of a Les Paul.

We guitarists are certainly a passionate lot.  But one thing that I’ll reiterate again and again is: Whatever floats your boat, that’s fine with me.

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Just when I think I’m strong, and have overcome my GAS, Gibson comes out with a new Les Paul that I just have to have. But that’s not what I’m hatin’ about… What I can’t stand is that they release teaser pictures then provide no information on it at all on the web site! They did this with the Green Widow, and they’ve done it yet again with their new “Gold Burst.” Dammit! Here’s the picture they posted on Facebook…

I’ve always loved goldtops, but I love bursts more, and to have both… OMG!!! I’m salivating! The gold hardware is awesome, and I dig the golden brown stain on the body back and sides, and that figured maple looks awesome!

Gibson, please release information on this – especially when you’re going to make available in stores!

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Game changers 2012

A few years ago, I wrote about gear that has changed my life. I wrote that at a time when I was in the midst of a buying binge, as I was discovering new gear. But in the ensuing years, as I’ve found the “sweet spot” of my personal tone, while the gear that I mentioned certainly changed my life, there are other things from the more recent past that have helped solidify who I am as a musician. So I thought I’d share those here. These aren’t necessarily in order…

  1. Gibson 1958 Les Paul Standard Historic Reissue (R8).
    Getting this guitar helped me nail down my electric tone. Up to that point, I had been using all sorts of different guitars from Strats and Telecasters to even a hand-made, custom guitar. It wasn’t until I started playing that Les Paul that I truly felt that felt completely comfortable with my tone. With my other axes (which I still have), I felt compelled to keep searching. There’s a certain “magic” about the R8 that I’ve never been able to capture with other guitars.
  2. 1959 Les Paul Replica.
    Like the mask in the Jim Carrey movie, “The Mask,” this is a guitar that I’ve tried to get rid of, but it keeps coming back, so I’m keeping it. Or it’s like the ring of power in the Lord of the Rings; this guitar has adopted me, and will not leave. 🙂 This is a special, special guitar. It has a brighter tone than my R8, but with the old-growth mahogany and the Brazilian rosewood fretboard, the sustain on this guitar is even more than my R8. Up until two weeks ago, I was trying to sell it, but after gigging with it last week, I realized that selling it would have been a mistake. As a game-changer, it drives home the point that there is some gear that you should never get rid of.
  3. Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (hand-wired).
    This pedal changed everything for me with respect to delay. I had been using digital delays for years, and was never fully satisfied with them. I was always after that subtle, ambient tone, and digital delays just wouldn’t cut it for me. I really didn’t like the analog delays I had tried because they just felt to gloomy and dark. Then I played this delay. It was warm, and the ambient feel was more dreamy than dark, and it was totally inspiring. Yeah, I paid $325 for the pedal, and had the PCB version come out, I probably would’ve gotten that, but there’s no way I’m trading this now that I have it. It’s a permanent fixture on my board!
  4. Paul Cochrane “Timmy” Overdrive. For years, I dismissed the hype surrounding the Timmy and Tim overdrives from Paul Cochrane. Hanging out on The Gear Page made me jaded. But then I got to see and hear the pedal up close and personal at a “Luce” concert at the Little Fox Theatre in Redwood City, CA. Dylan Brock, Luce’s guitarist at the time, played one, and I just couldn’t believe the tone he was getting, so I put one on order, and six months later, I had it, and it hasn’t left my board since. Sound-wise, I’ve been able to achieve something similar with other overdrive pedals. But with the Timmy, there’s a certain feel to the pedal that I’ve never been able to duplicate. From a pure sound standpoint that might not make a bit of difference, but from a performance standpoint, “feel” equals expression.
  5. The Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator.
    Still a game-changer for me. I use this unit everywhere; in the studio and live. Being able to control my output volume and still crank my amp has been a boon to performing. In the studio, it has saved my ears. I can keep my headphone volume at a reasonable level, and still get my power tubes working. And no, a master volume just doesn’t cut it because to me, there’s nothing like the sound of a fully cranked amp where both the preamp and power tubes are saturated. Joe Satriani, Steve Miller, and Mark Knopfler are among big-name artists who are using one of these. The PRX150 is simply the best attenuator out there.
  6. TC Helicon VoiceLive Play gtx.
    It doesn’t have as many voices of harmony as my venerable Vocalist Live 4, and you can’t control the intervals of the harmonies either. But the sound quality of the vocal processing, combined with the fantastic built-in guitar effects simply blow away anything I’ve used in the past. Whether I’m plugging into a house PA or plugging into my Fishman SA220 SoloAmp PA, I can feel confident that my sound will always be great. So what if I don’t have as many voices of harmony? All that is nothing if it sounds lifeless and dry; and in comparison, especially with the guitar processing, the VoiceLive puts my old Vocalist Live 4 to shame.
  7. Fishman SA220 SoloAmp.
    This self-contained guitar amp/PA has made solo gigging SO much easier for me since I got it a couple of years ago. I chose it over the Bose L1 Compact – even though they were similarly priced – purely for convenience: It has as built-in two-channel mixer with 3-band EQ, independent passive loops, it has a rollered gig bag for easy transport, AND it literally takes less than a minute to set up! As a solo artist, convenience is HUGE and the SA220 just keeps on delivering on that!
  8. EWS Little Brute Drive.
    Until I played this little monster, I never appreciated distortion boxes. Part of that was due to relying on my amps to provide the distortion that I needed. But this pedal produces such sweet distortion, and it has become a critical tool for when I’m playing songs that go from totally clean to super-driven. And for playing leads, the sustain this pedal produces is incredible!
  9. Wegen Picks “Fatone” Pick.
    Finally, a pick that I could comfortably play with ANY guitar. I’ve been using this pick for less than a month, and I will never switch to another pick. I have a collection of expensive picks (probably a few hundred dollars worth), and I used to use different picks for different guitars and styles. With this pick, all that has changed.

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I’ve literally spent hundreds of dollars on picks over the years; well most of that was spent in the last few years as I transitioned from standard Dunlop nylon picks to high-end, thick, rigid picks. Until recently, I used different picks for different guitars and even styles. For instance, for electric guitar, I used a V-Picks Snake (pointed) or a V-Picks B-flat for general rock, and I’d use a Red Bear B-Style Gypsy Jazz pick for when I knew I’d be doing a lot of leads or fills in a song. For acoustic, I also used the Red Bear, but mostly used a Wegen GP 250. But when I lost the GP 250, I wanted to get a new Wegen, so I found the “Fatone.”

When I first held it, I knew I was holding something special. It just felt “right.” Then trying it out on a couple of different guitars (at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA), I immediately fell in love with the pick. It was so comfortable in my hand, and the bevel was absolutely perfect! Even within the first couple of minutes, I figured out that slight angle changes my attack angle could produce different tones. With the pick attack angle more perpendicular to the strings, I could get a warmer tone. Flattening out the angle put the bevel more into play, and would produce more highs. I was really blown away! So of course, I bought the pick.

Now, almost a month into owning it, I’ve used it in over 10 gigs, for both acoustic and electric, and I can confidently say that this is it! I’ve found my all-in-one pick.

Soon after I got the pick, I contact Michel Wegen via email (he’s in Holland). On his site, he has a particular emphasis of using his picks on acoustic guitar. I asked him about that considering I’ve been using his picks for both acoustic and electric, and why he doesn’t mention anything about using his picks with electric guitar. Here’s his response verbatim:

Hi Brendan, It’s like the microwave and the small dog story. I’m sure you have heard of this. So, to be on the safe side, I only recommend my picks for acoustics. I have some customers having great fun making big electric guitar noise, using distortion and all, and they complaint to get free picks.

Kind of a bizarre response, but I get the picture. 🙂 I suppose from the response that several electric guitar players have used the picks and were breaking strings because they’re wailing on the strings so hard. But they love the sound, so they try to needle Michel into giving them free picks as compensation for their string loss.

But that brings up an important point about playing with thick picks. You have to un-train yourself from attacking hard. With traditional thin, flexible picks, to get more volume, you attacked harder. The same principle applies with thick picks, but because of their mass, you needn’t attack nearly as hard as with a traditional pick. Where with a traditional pick, your picking hand does most of the work to produce volume, with a thick pick, that work is transferred to the pick. You also hold a thick pick must lighter than a traditional pick. The net result is that your hand is very relaxed, and allows you to be much more fluid with your playing.

Django Reinhardt used super thick picks back in the day. If you see videos of him playing (there are only a few), look at his right hand, and see how fluidly his hand moves across the strings. Of course, a lot of that can be attributed to his incredible technique, but I can assure you his pick was never an impediment.

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I know, I’m always like… I normally don’t reprint press releases, but this is an exception… 🙂 Yeah well, here’s another exception. The new Chris Shiflett Tele Deluxe Signature Model. I got the press release in my email this morning. As I was deleting the ads – of which this was one – I stopped when I looked at this Tele Deluxe because it looked like a Les Paul configuration, with the independent volume and tone knobs and the 3-way switch on the upper bout of the body. So I gave the link on the email a click. Didn’t even bother looking at the details on the page; I just went to watch the video. Here it is…

The ‘buckers on this are apparently a bit hotter than your standard Fender ‘buckers. That’s VERY cool. For me, I love the sound of a Tele, but a Tele capable of some drive? Getoutatown! Then top this off with a $899 MSRP, which means that the guitar will probably sell around $600 street.. F-me!!! When it’s finally released, I’m going to take a good look at this guitar.

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Start talking about Les Paul’s – or even Gibson in general – and you’re sure to spark off a heated debate. Most of the negative comments are about how over-priced Les Pauls are in proportion to their quality; lately, there has been lots of talk about how stupid Gibson has acted with sourcing exotic tone woods, and how the consumer pays the price, etc., etc., etc… I’ve heard ’em all, and I get people’s anger or frustration, but I still love the Les Paul in all its various versions; well, at least with the exception of the BFG Dusk Tiger and the absolutely FUGLY Gecko Burst. 🙂

From a player’s perspective, I’ve never bonded more with a guitar than I have with a Les Paul; especially the historic re-issues (pre-’60’s). Not sure why because Les Pauls used to scare the crap out of me. It was purely psychological, but I used to equate a Les Paul with some of my favorite players, and I used to get this, “I’m not worthy” kind of feeling. But luckily my good buddy Jeff Aragaki, who is a Les Paul collector helped in encourage me to get a Les Paul. And when I finally got my ’58 Historic Reissue, that completely changed the game for me.

A fallout of getting into Les Pauls was also getting into the history of the guitar. Plus, with Jeff always talking about collectors pieces, then introducing me to the book, “The Beauty of the Burst, ” I was solidly hooked on Les Pauls. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than the burst finish of a Les Paul; especially the vintage models. Speaking of vintage models, there’s a huge collectors market for vintage Les Pauls, with the 1959 models garnering prices in the neighborhood of $500,000. That’s out of the reach of most people, and us mere mortals can only hope to see one in our lifetimes, let alone hold one.

But Gibson, knowing how popular the vintage models have been over the years, has recently released a reproduction of a coveted 1959 owned by collector, called Collectors Choice #6, Mike Subowski (shown in the picture above). However, unlike the Historic Reissues, this reproduction was constructed to the exact measurements and tolerances of the original Les Paul. Even the pickups were meticulously wound to closely match the original pickups. If the Historic Reissues capture the “spirit” of the vintage models, the Collectors Choice tries to reproduce the vintage guitar rather than being built in the style. This is exciting to me because it’s about the closest I’d get to actually playing a true vintage model.

Another plus to this guitar is that it’s nice and shiny, as the original guitar was very clean. That’s VERY appealing to me because I just don’t “get” the relic thing. Give me a nice, shiny guitar, and let me relic it myself through years of use. The burst finish on this guitar is also spectacular. Though they call it a “Tobacco Burst,” the brown is a little more red than your typical tobacco brown. I love the reddish hue to that brown. It reminds me of a cross-section of a nectarine. 🙂

With respect to the Collectors Choice series, these guitars are limited run guitars produced by the Gibson Custom Shop. They’re close to exact reproductions of the original guitars, and each original guitar is measured to minute specifications using digital analysis, so there’s very little guesswork in taking measurements. These are special guitars with a limited run of 300 per model. So far they’ve only done 1959 and 1960 models. I’m hoping they get a hold of a ’58. THAT’s a guitar that I would definitely buy.

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