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Archive for January, 2013

Humor for Music Geeks

A friend sent this to me via email…

C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, but we don’t serve minors.” So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, “Excuse me, I’ll just be a second.”  Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.”

E-flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “You’re looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else and is au natural.

Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s under arrest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

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Some New Reggae: Family Love

Talk about serious writers block! The music came to me first with this song – as it usually happens – and when I wanted to put words to it, thinking that I wanted to make a political statement, they just wouldn’t come. Then as I was driving to a company dinner event this evening, I started daydreaming about sipping some suds in my backyard, sitting next to my wife, with the kids playing in the yard, then the words to the chorus just popped into my head! When I got home, I wrote the verses and bridge in 10 minutes. Here’s the song:

For guitars, I just used “Katie May,” my brand new guitar hand-built by Perry Riggs, owner and luthier of Slash L Guitars. Man, that guitar is such a dream to play. Even with humbuckers (Lollar Imperials), I love the single-coil-like tones I can get with this with the maple/mahogany neck. The guitar was plugged directly into my Aracom VRX18 amp. The guitar tracks are not processed nor EQ’d at all other than adding a touch of reverb. It’s a heavenly tone, if I may say so myself.

Sipping’ on a cold one
on a Sunday afternoon
Thinkin’ ’bout my children
oh they grew up way too soon
looking at all I’ve had to sacrifice
There is no way that I would compromise

My family love,
it’s a faithful love
It’s the only thing
that helps me rise above
My family love
it’s a faithful love
It’s the only thing
that helps me rise above
rise above the world…

People said I’m crazy
there was so much I could be
no point in explaining
of how my family defines me
No words can tell of all the joy they bring
they fill my life and my heart sing

So much could bring me down
There’s a world full of problems all around
enough to bring me to my knees
But I don’t care because I have my family!

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Ana Vidovic Interview

Surprised that I didn’t see this earlier, but what a great way to find out about this wonderful AND beautiful guitarist.

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“Those who are passionate about performance must be passionate about critique and practice.”
-Ron Mumm, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)

As a professional in high-tech for almost 30 years, and having worked at various levels in the industry from shipping dock, to analyst, to engineer, to marketing, to sales, to management, one thing that has always been very important to me is leadership. I’ve read tons of books on the subject and attended several seminars on honing my leadership skills. Right now, I’m reading a fantastic book called, “Leading with Honor,” by Lee Ellis, who shares his story of being a POW during the Vietnam War and sharing the leadership lessons he learned from his years of incarceration.

I got the quote above from the latest chapter I’m reading called, “Develop Your People.” When I read that sentence, it hit me like a ton of bricks, for to me, it distilled down to its very essence, that which makes us successful at anything.

In that statement, it’s not just practice that makes us better, but also being open to critique. Feedback allows us to gauge how well we’re doing. Feedback gives us a compass on our performance. Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with over the years have been great about taking critique from others, be it their peers or even those who work for them.

But that statement isn’t just limited to leadership situations. It applies to practically everything we do in our lives; even with playing guitar or some other musical instrument. If you play out, you can practice all you want in a closed environment, but you really have no gauge on how well you’re doing until you get feedback either from your audience or your bandmates.

I practice guitar practically every day; not necessarily doing exercises, but also honing my performance skills. Since I mostly play solo, it’s important for me to have a clean performance, so I make sure that I’ve got my playing – and singing – down. But I’m also big on getting feedback, so I regularly ask the management at the restaurant I work at how well I’ve performed, and even ask customers if there’s something they’d rather hear me play or if something bothered them. Over the years, it has helped me hone the style of music I play in my sets, and helped me calibrate what’s appropriate to do in a song with respect to modulation or playing licks. After all, who measures quality? My customers.

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Just read this in today’s Gibson email feed in my inbox. Great story behind the history of this particular guitar. In any case,  the custom shop has made three versions of this guitar, which you can view here. There will be 50 hand-aged and signed guitars, then 100 hand-aged guitars, and 150 VOS models. Oy-vay! That’s a pretty guitar. Prices seem to be around $13k for the aged/signed, $10.3k for the aged, and $7.3k for the VOS. Hmm… a bit better priced than the Jimmy Page #1 re-issue that I saw in a shop for $27k. Oh well, wtf… I don’t think I’d ever spend that kind of money on a guitar even if I had it. I’m not a collector. But it’s sometimes okay to just drool… 🙂

My ’59 replica is finished with a “Perry-burst,” plus has a similar grain pattern to the plain top. Despite the fact that I’d never buy a real Joe Perry, I can attest to the fact that it is a great-looking guitar. The “Perry-burst” is not quite as blonde as a standard tobacco finish. It has a bit of an orange hue to it. Quite lovely.

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It Only Takes One Time…

…to drop your shiny guitar and you buy strap locks.

As soon as I decided to keep Katie May, my first thought was to get strap locks. I learned my lesson about that years ago when I dropped “Pearl,” my 60th Anniversary Strat, and put a big scratch on the front of her from her falling on a guitar stand. Sucked big time. Now, I either buy a guitar with strap locks on it already, or I go out and get a set.

My personal preference is Schaller strap locks. I’ve tried Dunlop strap locks, and did not like them one bit. Maybe it was how they were installed (not by me), but they kept on coming loose. They were quickly replaced with Schallers.

Whether you’re an active musician or a bedroom player, do yourself a favor and get some strap locks. Peace of mind is a good thing…

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Strings and Other Things…

Ernie Ball Slinky CobaltMaking the switch to steel…

Picked up a couple of packs of Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt strings yesterday to see if they actually are louder and have more frequency response with the iron/cobalt alloy. Actually, I was looking for a set of RPS-10’s, and I saw these on the shelf. Dug that neon yellow. 🙂 No, I didn’t buy them because of the pretty packaging, though they did stand out somewhat, and I had never played cobalt strings. So I’m going to give ’em a whirl and how they sound.

Speaking of strings, I think I’m done with nickel for awhile. I’ve been using pure nickel strings either from DR or Wyres for the few years. For the blues-centric stuff I was writing at the time, the warmth of the nickel was perfect. But lately, I’ve been exploring a more “edgy” tone – edgy for me at least – and have felt my guitars just didn’t have much “oomph.” So instead of spending tons of money on new pickups, I decided to try switching out strings first.

As a fan of Slash, and especially the tone he gets with a Les Paul/Marshall set up, I looked up what strings he uses, and was pleasantly surprised that he uses Ernie Ball Power strings (the purple pack). Far be it from me to try to duplicate his sound. That wasn’t my goal. What I was after was more punch and especially more brightness, not Slash’s tone. I picked up a set of RPS-10’s and strung up one my ’59 Les Paul replica with them. That guitar was already bright with the Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups that are in her, but with the RPS-10’s I felt she had quite a bit more high-frequency bite. Just what the doctor ordered!

With the EB Cobalts, I’m going to first install them on my R8. I’ve still got nickels on her. Hopefully it’ll help resolve some of the warmth issues I have with the neck pickup.

An eye-rolling moment…

I just finished yet another round of 4 gigs in 4 days, which will probably be a regular thing for me the next month as the restaurant fired the Thursday night guy, and the Saturday night guy got really sick then started a show (he’s in theatre). Man, I do love to gig! It’s pretty good money to boot with tips and a decent hourly stipend. The restaurant I work at has been traditionally known as an “Opera Cafe,” so we’ve had singing waiters that did opera and show tunes. I kind of changed the game a bit because while I do some opera and show tunes, I normally stick to classic rock and folk, and have introduced acoustic versions of contemporary and pop songs. The cool thing is that it has opened it up for whoever sings to explore stuff other than opera and show tunes. So here’s the eye-rolling moment…

Over the years (I’m in my 13th year playing there now), we have had a number of voice teachers working at the restaurant. First eye-roller: Almost invariably, the first thing they mention to me when they come to me for accompaniment is that they’re vocal coaches or teachers. It’s as if I’m supposed to automagically assume that they can sing and, that they’re something special. I’ve been performing for over 40 years, and I can tell you this: There are few truly special voices I’ve heard. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people I’ve met who are very talented. But like with professional sports, the truly elite performers are few and far between. But here’s the problem I have with voice teachers: They’re never open to constructive feedback! For instance, there was one vocal coach who would always sing songs that were too high for her range, and she’d always be flat with the high notes. I once suggested that we change the key for a song by saying, “That song’s in a pretty high key and I can see you straining a bit. Why don’t we bring it down a step or two, so you can be in the sweet spot of your range.” She gave me this “excuse me” look, and replied, “Look, I’m a vocal teacher, and I can sing this song. We’re going to keep it the original key!” I just laughed and said, “You know, I didn’t say anything to attack you or make any comments on your tone. You’re straining with that song, and I just want you to feel comfortable.” She just sneered and walked off. Arrogance. Ugh!

On the other hand, I worked with a guy who was an active performer in musical theater at the time, but who is now working on Broadway. He was such a joy. He had this really high tenor voice, that was a bit nasally; a bit like Michael Crawford. The thing about him was that not only did he take feedback and listen respectfully to suggestions, he always asked how he could do better; and even better than that, would often ask for my feedback on what songs would be good for him to sing. He was someone who didn’t want to sing songs just because he liked them, or what he thought the audience would like. He wanted to sing songs that would bring out the best qualities of his voice so he could give a maximum performance. To me, he is a true performer. He approaches his craft with humility and an open heart, and guess what? It shows in his performance. Truth be told, he actually didn’t have that strong of a voice. He wasn’t off key, but he hadn’t developed power at the time we worked together. But he was self-aware and mindful of what tools he did have, and he WORKED them! Not a small wonder why he’s working as a professional.

More adventures with the VHT Special 6

Excuse the pun, but vht_special_6_frontthere is indeed something very special about the VHT Special 6. I got mine a couple of years ago within the first week of its release. It was a total impulse buy. I was in Oregon, just outside of Portland, on my to drive out to the Oregon coast when I saw this music shop across the parking lot from where I was filling up my gas tank. I of course had to check it out. While I was browsing through the store, the owner, who was showing me around, led me over to the amps as he wanted to show me and amazing little amp that had just arrived from VHT. At first glance, I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed, but I slung on a guitar and plugged in. Okay, I was immediately impressed by the tone, especially coming from a 10″ speaker. Then the guy shared that the amp was hand-wired in China, and when I looked at the price of $199.00, I said, “Okay, I’ve seen and heard enough. Pack it up.”

While I really didn’t have a problem with its stock tubes and speakers, I did swap those out. I swapped the speaker out for Jensen Jet Electric Lightning because I was evaluating the speaker for Jensen, and decided to keep it. I swapped the tubes out simply because I had some extra circa-1950’s NOS tubes sitting around, and well, I wanted to put them to use. 🙂

Used the Special 6 yesterday with Katie May (yes, I decided to keep her), and  I have to say that that amp just sings! It has a lot of clean headroom, so it’s perfect for use with a distortion pedal. This is one of those rare amps that you can use anywhere. It could keep up with a band with the right cabinet. In fact, at yesterday’s gig, we played as a power trio, and it kept up just fine. I just made sure to keep the amp close to me, and just relied on my sound guy to get my tone out to the audience. It’s a lovely-sounding amp!

 

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