Archive for December, 2012

One of the challenges of learning new songs is that oftentimes chord charts that you download from the Internet aren’t quite accurate. For myself, I’ve always thought that it would be great if there was an application that could “read” a digital song and give me the chords, plus give me a way to learn riffs and leads. Sure, I’m experienced enough where I can pretty much figure out the chords to a song pretty quickly, but it would sure make my life easier if an application could do that for me, so I wouldn’t have to guess.

Enter Riffstation. This application blows me away! These guys contacted me two days ago with the following explanation:


Riffstation is a really awesome piece of software for guitar players that does some things you wouldn’t imagine possible. Load any MP3 and it automatically calculates and shows you the guitar chords synced with the original music. It does slow down, transposition, guitar isolation and a whole lot more. It’s Guitar hero for real.

Feature list:

  • automatically calculates the chords (maj, min, 7) of basic songs from any mp3,
  • Synchronises the chord diagrams with the music (any mp3)
  • Playback music (and chords) in any key
  • Allows you to easily add other chord types
  • Slow down the audio without affecting pitch,
  • Retune the audio without affecting the tempo
  • Isolate guitar solos or mute the guitar entirely
  • Beat locked phrase looping
  • Build custom jam tracks out of your favourite mp3
  • No additional files or content required…just your own mp3 collection


My first thought was: SERIOUSLY?!!! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for – literally for years! They asked me if I’d review the app, and I naturally said yes.

So early this morning, I downloaded the software (it’s for PC or Mac), opened it up, loaded Warren Haynes’ “Broke Down on the Brazos” into the app, then just started playing around. The damn thing’s so easy to use and the features are so easy to figure out, I didn’t need to look at the help (it’s online) not even once. The Riff Builder took a few minutes to figure out, but again, it was so easy to use that I didn’t need to refer to the manual.

What really amazed me was how it analyzed the song and came up with the chords. The song I loaded was in Eb, but I was able to bring the song up to E (the song is detuned a half step) to learn the song with the right chord shapes. To be fair, the app doesn’t catch everything, but the mere fact that it gets the main chords goes a LONG way towards helping to learn a new song. Plus, it’s WAY better than downloading a chart from the Internet.

Kudos to the guys over at Riffstation! This is an app that for me, goes on my game-changer list! The cost of the app is 39.99 Euros, which is about $53.00. I will say this: It’s totally worth the price of admission, especially if you’re a cover band!

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Every year on Christmas Day, my band does the 12:00 Mass at our church. The entire set is Christmas carols, though I add a modern twist to the songs. For instance, I arranged a latin/reggae version of the classic “Do You See What I See.”

It was the first time we ever performed that tune, and it was a real hit. After the service, several people came up to me and commented how they liked the fills that I played in between verses and the long solo I played at the end; we ran out of singing room, so we just vamped on the D – C change, and I soloed on top of it.

What was cool was that it was the very first time in all of my career of playing that I consciously applied modes to my soloing. I’ve lately taken an interest in studying modes yet again, and after reviewing modes with great videos by Vinnie Moore and Rob Chappers, I’m starting to finally “get” them. I’ve known the modes from an intellectual standpoint, but it wasn’t until I saw the two video sets that I really started “hearing” the modes. That’s the problem I’ve had with all the written material about modes. The articles and books I’ve read on musical theory talk about the “spelling” of different modes and what-not. But hearing them makes all the difference in the world, and today I was able to apply what I’ve been reading about for years.

The way I arranged “Do You See What I See” was perfect for the Lydian mode which “sounds” kind of Middle Eastern to me. The song starts out in C then goes to D. With my fills, I did an F Lydian, then when I changed the key, did a G Lydian. I didn’t really think too much about what I was playing, I just made sure to stay in the major scale and keep the “theme” of the mode. I mixed that with a minor pentatonic in places, but always resolved back to the Lydian.

It was a very powerful and moving experience for me. I really had no idea what I could do with modes until today. But you can bet I’ll be expanding my use of them. Now, to be a bit fair to myself, I’ve been inadvertently using Dorian and Mixolydian modes for years. I knew I was using a major scale when I was playing; for instance, when I wanted to have a “darker” feel, I’d use what I now understand to be a Dorian mode. I just didn’t know it at the time.

This is really cool stuff, folks! Imagine after 42 years of playing, I’m finally getting it! 🙂

So have a “Modal” Christmas!

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…on the other hand, it may surprise you what you can do with what you have.

Yesterday, I did my set planning for Sunday and Christmas Day. Included in the Christmas Day set was a the song “Do You See What I See.” Last week, I had shown my band how I’d like to play it, but I wanted to lay it down so they’d have a reference for when we performed it. Unfortunately when I went to record it, I realized that since I’ve been going into a real recording studio, my own recording rig was somewhat disassembled. So, I did a scratch recording using my Macbook and the GarageBand app.

The recording was adequate for reference purposes, but since GarageBand comes with some really good filtering plug-ins, I thought I’d see what I could do to make the recording not sound like I was singing and playing into my laptop’s internal mic. After just a bit of tweaking, I was amazed at the result. Check it out:

Technology is so awesome for the creative process! The finished product sounds NOTHING like the original. I even added some simple rhythm using software instruments with my computer keyboard!

Here’s an earlier version where I only messed with the EQ to remove the “tinny” highs.

In total, I probably spent a little over an hour getting it to the final state. So like I said, sometimes you have to use what you have, but it may just surprise you what you can do with what you have!

BTW, I may not make a post for the next couple of days, so have a blessed holiday season, whether you celebrate, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever!

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Can Modes Be THIS Easy?

I keep on running across some great instructional videos at random times. Today, I was actually looking for videos on “the Big Muff” fuzz – specifically on an original Sovtek Red Army Overdrive, which was essentially a Big Muff. I found several videos, but in the sidebar, I saw a video entitled, “Learn Modes in 15 Minutes.” I’ve shared Vinnie Moore’s series on modes from the 80’s. But these two videos show modes in an even easier way; completely simplifying Pitch Axis Theory. Check ’em out.

The dude doing the videos is actually kickin’ guitar player. Damn! Check out all his videos! There’s some pretty tasty stuff to learn!

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Yesterday, I finished the last gig of a five-day run of gigs – mostly solo – and after I finished the last one, I was driving in the car and thought about the different gear I used for each gig. For the last couple, I used a bare bones rig: Just my guitar plugged into my VoiceLive GTX vocal processor plugged into my Fishman SoloAmp. I didn’t want to bother with lugging my pedal board, so I just loaded a few cords, my VoiceLive GTX and my mic in a bag. I didn’t even use my gig seat – just used a couple of regular chairs to sit on.

The thought that struck me last night was that I have all this gear to have the freedom to add or subtract what I need from gig to gig. When I’m playing with my church band, my rig can change drastically from week to week. Sometimes I bring a combo, sometimes a head and cab; sometimes I bring multiple guitars. The idea to give myself choices. 🙂 He he… sounds a lot like I’m figuring out a way to justify to the wifey why our garage is half-full of my gear. But that’s not really the case. I like having the choices I have so I can adapt to whatever venue I might play. I use practically all my gear throughout the year (I’m bound to with a 100+ gigs a year).

But in my ruminating over my gear, it also got me thinking about several people I’ve encountered over the years who hoard gear but never gig. Hey man, if that’s your thing, that’s fine with me. But I don’t see the point of getting performance gear and not using it to perform. There was one guy I know of who had a bunch of high-end gear. He died tragically a couple of years ago, but my buddy bought all his gear from his wife – it took up two big, enclosed car trailers! I asked my buddy if the dude gigged, but he said never. He just bought up a bunch of gear, and played it at home. Included were several high-end amps from VOX, Marshall, HiWatt, /13, and others. There were several Strats, a couple of Les Pauls, and a nice collection of Gretsch guitars. I just couldn’t believe how much stuff there was, and that didn’t include all the pedals and accessories! I thought I was a gear slut! This dude’s collection made me look like a freakin’ prude!

I personally can’t fathom not gigging my gear. I have a lot, but pretty much everything gets used at least three or four times a year. I have my “go-to” amps and axes for sure; especially now that I feel that I’ve got my sound. But still, from time to time, I break out a little-used guitar or amp. For instance, my guitar of choice is a Les Paul. But there are some sounds that a Les Paul just can’t do; which is why I have a couple of Strats and a Gretsch and other guitars when I need certain tones. Same goes for pedals. Baseline I always have a chorus, a delay and a reverb. But sometimes I need a vibe. For front-of-amp stuff, I always have a Timmy and my EWS Little Brute Drive distortion, plus my Big Bad Wah. But I’ll add other drive pedals, or even change out my wah for “something else.”

I suppose I just can’t justify buying gear if I don’t use it. I don’t have a lot of disposable income, so when I do buy something it’s with the intention of gigging. But that’s just me…

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Steve Lukather, the legendary and “first-call” session guitarist is coming out with a new album called, “Transition.” In coming up with the album, he worked with DiMarzio to have them create a new passive pickups for the album, appropriately called the “Transition” pickup set. If you’re familiar with Steve Lukather, he has been using active pickups for a long time. I’m not a big fan of active pickups, though I have to say that a friend of mine picked up a Music Man with the active pickups, and I was suitably impressed with the sound.

But these passive pickups are something else entirely. Here’s the demo video for the pickups. Steve also talks a bit about the album:

He’s such a great player.

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vrxAt my church gig yesterday, I chose a set that guaranteed that I’d get to play LOTS of guitar. Normally, I have to split my time between piano and guitar, especially when we don’t have a drummer or bass. Thus, for the past few weeks, since either our drummer or bassist has been out of town, I’ve only been bringing an acoustic guitar, and playing it for only a couple of tunes.

However, yesterday was different. Not only did we have a bassist, we had a guest drummer, which meant that I could stay on guitar most of the time since we also had another rhythm guitar.

I debated with myself on what amp/guitar combo I’d bring. Normally it would be my DV Mark Little 40 which is VERY versatile, but after looking at the set list, I figured I needed a bright, vintage Marshall sound. So I took my trusty Aracom VRX22 off the shelf, packed up my rig in my car, and set off to church.

Once I had everything set up, I strummed a power chord and was greeted with a sound that only a Les Paul Standard and a Marshall amp (or Marshall-style in my case), can make. There’s a high-Mid emphasis with a gorgeous, open overdrive. It’s a sound I’ve come to love over the years, and it immediately tells me it’s “rock and roll.”

My particular VRX22 has been modded a bit by Jeff Aragaki with a channel switch, and he also slightly upped the voltage to my vintage circa-1959 6V6’s, plus adjusted the drive channel to have a bit more output. So when I crank the amp, it sounds A LOT bigger than its 22 Watts would lead to you to believe. 🙂

But thinking back on the set, no other amp would’ve done – even my DV Mark Little 40. The music demanded a Marshall-esque sound. While my DV Mark can get close, there’s a certain inexplicable quality that I was after that would be difficult to capture with another amp.

That said, when I’m doing a mixed-bag set, I go for versatility, and the DV Mark is perfectly suited for that. But for a specific sound, I’ll go to the source: Either a Fender or a Marshall. Sometimes nothing else will do…

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Damn! I’ve always loved this song, but this video features Pete Townshend using his #2 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop. I personally hadn’t seen that guitar in a video but I knew of it. Check out the video:

Townshend started using Les Pauls as far back as 1971, then started intermixing SG’s and LP’s in 1972-1973, switching over to the Les Paul Deluxe by the end of 1973. Here’s a GREAT history of Pete’s Les Paul’s on the Who’s official site.

Interestingly enough, an original 1969 Les Paul Deluxe doesn’t fetch nearly the prices of the 50’s and 60’s Standards. One can be had for under $14,000. I know that that might seem like a lot – it is to me – but compared to the 6-figure prices Standard go for, that’s a steal. And I’m actually not quite sure why the Deluxe never really caught on with players. According to the Who’s official site, the LP Deluxe was Pete’s longest running guitar during the Who’s illustrious and storied career.

Perhaps it’s because they’re pretty heavy or people don’t dig the mini-humbuckers and would rather have P-90’s. Who knows? In any case, you can find used ones on EBay for VERY reasonable prices – almost along the lines of LP Studios if you’re lucky.

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Keeping up with Sungha Jung

A few years ago, I discovered this kid while surfing on YouTube, and was AMAZED at the incredible technique he had, but more importantly, the passion he displayed with his playing at such a young age. Now at 16 years of age, Sungha’s technique – especially his right-hand technique – has become other-worldly. The incredibly cool thing is that he still has that incredible passion for playing, and it’s something that at least to me, sets him apart from other prodigies. Here he is playing his rendition of “Phantom of the Opera:”

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