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Archive for February, 2013

km1My new guitar, “Katie May,” custom made by Perry Riggs of Slash L Guitars just gave me a VERY pleasant surprise yesterday. While I was researching the root cause of a grounding issue I had over the weekend, I contacted Perry Riggs about the wiring scheme of the guitar and how Katie May was grounded. He sent me a very detailed email, plus a hi-res picture of the control cavity, and also explained that Katie May’s humbuckers were coil-tapped!!!

I know what you’re thinking: How did I NOT know that the ‘buckers weren’t coil-tapped. The reason is that even though Katie May is a custom-built guitar, I didn’t specify anything in the build. However, as I shared with Perry, when I reviewed her, I very well could have specified the guitar because to me at least, it was perfect – almost as if I had specified everything, even the neck dimensions! Talk about a kismet moment!

In any case, I’ve been playing her for the last month or so completely ignorant of the coil taps. And upon finding out about it, of course, I immediately set out to try her out.

Now Perry had said to me in an earlier conversation that the Lollar Imperials didn’t sound too good coil-tapped, so I assumed he didn’t do it. Well, he must’ve worked some magic with the voicing because the single-coil mode tone is fantastic! Here’s a clip I recorded this morning before work. It’s a fingerstyle ditty with the guitar set to the neck pickup:

This was recorded directly plugged into my 1958 Fender Champ with a custom-made tweed cabinet with a 10″ speaker. Sorry for the little hum and crackling in the background, but the amp is showing its age. 🙂

I actually have a funky clip that I recorded with the guitar in middle pickup as well, but I forgot to upload it from my recording workstation. In any case, in single-coil mode, the maple of the through-neck really shows its contribution to the tone, which has a distinct top-end sparkle. When picked, the sound is “snappy,” which is perfect for clean, funky, comping.

So here’s yet another tonal dimension that Katie May offers. I just love surprises!

You gotta check out Slash L Guitars. Perry is just a stellar guy, and people who’ve worked with him just rave about his skills as a luthier. He’s not really well-known, and quite frankly, he’s not in it for the money. He just wants to build great guitars, and as a proud owner of one of them, I can attest to their greatness. Katie May is such a great guitar, I haven’t even touched my Les Pauls since I got her. I know, blasphemy! But at least for right now, she’s got everything I need! 🙂

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You probably know what they are: Autotune and Compression.

But for me, the overuse of compression is the most heinous offense to pop music; way more so than autotune ever will be. Before I go on, check out this video of Adele singing “Skyfall” at the Oscars this past Sunday:

Did you notice that when she’d the chorus her volume actually went down? That wasn’t just her vocal volume relative to the whole orchestra coming into play; that was compression and a limiter to prevent her volume from going past a certain point. Not to mention it was also a really shitty job of compression and limiting at that. Wrote Rolling Stone about the performance: “Adele’s vocals sounded low in the mix at first, but she turned on the power as her theme song from last year’s James Bond film built to a crashing finale.”

BULLSHIT!
The song as a whole was a mushy, over-produced disaster that was – at least to me – an absolute insult to one of the true power-voices in pop today. I’m not really a fan of Adele, but if I were her and I listened to that performance after the fact, I’d be pissed!
When I hear a production like that, I immediately think that the sound engineer was simply playing god. But it’s not just this particular performance. Almost all the pop songs we hear today are simply solid walls of sound with no dynamics. It’s an assault on the ears!
Admittedly, most of the public just can’t tell the difference because a lot of this has to do with the compression that comes along with MP3s. Then on top of that, you don’t hear any of the big names speaking out against this lack of dynamics. It’s uncanny and inexplicable, really.
But then again, with the music industry execs, things like dynamics and delivering a quality product don’t seem to matter to them. They’re just looking for catchy tunes that will fill their pockets. Why would they care about their packaging as long as the stuff sells, right?
To me it’s a damn shame.
For all you aspiring sound engineers out there: It’s easy to balance a mix by throwing a lot of compression and limiters on it. It requires absolutely no thought, and it certainly makes your life easier. But I think the truest testament to your skill would be to engineer a dynamic mix where you have to constantly work. I’ve observed lots of front-of-house guys over the years. Most just sit on their asses and make an occasional tweak. But the best ones I’ve seen are the ones who have their hands on the controls all the time, working the dynamics, and the results they produce are spectacular. So who do you want to be? Lazy asshole or freakin’ audio wizard? It takes a lot more effort to be a wizard…

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ampendage2 Honestly, an amp stand is a fairly utilitarian, pedestrian accessory. But why settle for purely functional when you can look good at the same time? If the opportunity exists, there’s no reason not to add some style to function. The Ampendage Amp Stand gives you the best of both worlds!

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from Ampendage Industries, asking if I’d like to get a sample of one of their amp stands. I read through it quickly, but I was mired in a deadline for work, so I let it drop for a few days. When I finally could come up for air, I checked out their site and… came away impressed. Very impressed.

I’ve got amp stands, but they’re those metal monstrosities that look like the tines of a forklift. What impressed me about The Ampendage when I went to the site was that it looked like furniture! So I quickly replied to Kevin (who contacted me in the first place), apologized for the tardiness of my reply. He replied a few days later, and lo and behold, the stand arrived a couple of days ago.

I would’ve actually had the amp stand assembled earlier than today but the box that it arrived in is pretty small: About a foot and a half by a foot and about two inches deep, and the delivery guy had stuck the box in an organic veggie box that was sitting on my porch for the veggie folks to pick up. I actually saw the Ampendage box sitting in there, but thought my wife had put it out for recycling. She was the one to tell me that it was a delivery for me. Oy-vay!

In any case, I brought it in this morning, and assembled it in all of 15 minutes. Super-easy to assemble, and they include an Allen wrench for the conformant screws used for assembly. All you need is a Phillips for the four screws that attach the rubber feet to the bottom.

ampendage1I gotta tell you: This thing is gorgeous! I thought they were going to send me one of their black, MDF models, but in lieu of that, they sent me the teak model, which is solid hardwood! Damn! I love teak! It has a great grain, it’s very durable, and best of all, it’s very light. The stand itself weighs just less than 8lbs (~3.5 kg for you metric folks), so lugging it to gigs will not be a problem.

For those of you who’ve never used an amp stand, I’ve them to be a must-have on stage. Yes, they do provide better sound projection by leaning the amp back a few degrees – which also helps hearing your amp better on stage, but more importantly, they eliminate ground-effect that really screws up bass frequencies.

I’ll be gigging with this all weekend. I’m pretty stoked about it, and I’m sure my band mates will want to get one for themselves. 🙂 But on the other hand, I may just keep this in my living room where I always have one of my amps for quiet practicing. It actually goes with the furniture in there. It’s really a lovely piece, and the fact that it looks like furniture makes it very tasteful indeed to place there.

In any case, I saved mentioning price until the end because I didn’t want people to dismiss it out of hand because of price. The basic, MDF model costs $59.95. Not a bad price. The hardwood models (maple or teak) cost $89.95. Before you say, “Ouch!” let me say that these are solid hardwood and they’re stained and finished like furniture. Click on the picture on the right side. It’s absolutely gorgeous. If that’s not your thing, that’s cool, but as for me, I like nice, shiny things. Sold!

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

 

 

For more information, go to The Ampendage site!

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I love these obscure emails that I get from out of left field! 🙂 Got a press release from a museum I’ve never heard of this morning, but it really intrigued me because it had to do with Jimi, one of my first electric guitar influences along with Clapton and Frampton. Here’s the press release:

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JIMI HENDRIX AND CHARLIE CHRISTIAN AT THE EITELJORG MUSEUM
Guitars! exhibit will showcase instruments played by African-American guitar legends

Indianapolis, IN – Guitars played by two African-American men, whose talent made a revolutionary impact on the way we hear music, will be displayed during the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art’s Guitars! Roundups to Rockers exhibit. The show runs March 9 – August 4, 2013. Among the more than 100 guitars on exhibit are instruments played by legendary guitar god Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Christian, who was the first to make the guitar a lead band instrument.

Jimi Hendrix – Gibson Les Paul custom guitar and remains of a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster
Hendrix is arguably the most influential electric guitarist in the world. But before he rose to greatness, he was asked by some Seattle band leaders to leave the stage. Many audiences were turned off by his playing style. Despite early setbacks, Hendrix persevered to become one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.  He died in 1970.

Charlie Christian – Gibson ES-250 guitar, played with Benny Goodman
Christian is credited with being the first performer to make the guitar a lead band instrument. He took the world by storm when he joined Benny Goodman’s combo in 1939.  He was brought down by tuberculosis three years later.  His influences in many genres last even to today.  Among those he inspired are Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Chuck Berry and Jerry Garcia.

Both Hendrix and Christian died in their 20s. But their contributions to the music world live on. See their instruments, learn their stories, hear their gifts at the Eiteljorg!

Other guitar greats, honored in our gallery, include Roy Rogers, Kurt Cobain, Woody Guthrie, George Harrison, Buddy Holly, Lowell Fulson, Les Paul and many more.  Guitars!, presented by Eli Lilly and Company, will also include interactive content, guitar playing lessons and performances by local and national recording artists.

For more information about Guitars!, or to book an interview/media tour please contact public relations manager DeShong Perry, dperry@eiteljorg.com and (317) 275-1352.

The Eiteljorg Museum seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. Through its Project New Moon campaign, the museum is attracting new audiences with dynamic new interpretations of its mission. The museum is located in Downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call (317) 636-WEST (9378) or visit http://www.eiteljorg.org.

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Being that it’s Black History Month, my eldest son is half-black, and my third son is currently on a trip throughout the South on a Civil Rights History tour, I thought it appropriate to show my support by plugging this. But moreover, take away Jimi Hendrix, and you still have a plethora of black musicians who paved the way for rock and roll. Without the blues, without that piece of American history, we’d be nowhere with respect to the rock and roll we all love and enjoy.

But it’s sobering to think that that music arose out of one of the ugliest periods of our great nation. It’s not something we think about too much, but we should.

In any case, if you’re in or around the Indianapolis area, check out this exhibit! Myself, I’d love to see that Les Paul!

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Fender and Volkswagen came out with this last year, and Fender’s plugging it again. I dismissed it at first as a gimmick, but it looks like it’s here for another round for this year’s Beetle, Passat, and Jetta, though the premier plug is for the Beetle. As both Fender and Volkwagen put it, “the best seat in the house behind the wheel of a Volkswagen.” This time I watched videos, and sure, it’s a pretty cool system. But despite that, I still have a beef: An American guitar icon in a German vehicle? At least for me, when I think rock and roll and cars, I picture an American muscle, bad-ass, pussy-wagon like a Camaro SS, Shelby, Charger, or a Corvette. But a Beetle? I don’t give a rat’s ass if it has a turbo-charger. It ain’t a bad-ass American muscle car!

Think about it yourself. Think of rock and roll and then picture a car that goes with that rock and roll ideal. It’s quite likely that it’s not a Euro-bred exotic like a Lambo or Ferrari or Mercedes. Or if you’re into bikes, it’s a Harley, not a Gold Wing. Even if you compare drivers and rock and roll, who pops into your mind? It ain’t Michael Schumacher. It’s John Force or Don Garlitz (goin’ old-school here) or Paul Tracy or Dale Earnhardt (Senior and Junior).

Fender and Volkswagen don’t seem to fit to me. The brand targets are so different. Look, I had a New Beetle when they first came out. It was a fun, cruiser-mobile. I even had a daisy that I put in the mini flower vase on the control panel. But in no way would I consider it to be a rock and roll vehicle. I always knew while I had it that the New Beetle was for 20- or 30-something chicks who were into or needed something eclectic in their lives, or techno-geeks like me who didn’t want to buy a beemer with their high-tech winnings (thank gawd the Prius wasn’t out then).

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I subscribe to the Lefsets Letter. Bob Lefsetz is a music industry “insider” without really having been on the inside. But he tooted his horn, was often brutally honest with his views, and the industry listens to the guy. I’ve got to admit that despite his often pessimistic vitriol he makes a helluva lot of sense; enough sense that major, heavy-hitters read his letter, and send him email on a regular basis. This morning, I was surprised to see an email from Steve Lukather. Here’s an excerpt:

Damn the soundtrack of my childhood Bob.
I LOVE all these records so much.
The whole 60’s era of music will never get old to me.
The songs, the production the musicians, and let us not forget the STUDIO players in LA-NYC-Nashville-London and Motown!!
Oh the bands were great too but many had ‘ ringers’ ya know. THE guys.

And the singers!
Nothing remotely close today for me.

Everyone uses the same f**king plug in’s and over compression on everything and the same drum samples etc..
It is like seeing how many twinkies you can shove in your urethra. Painful and pointless.

I was recently thinking about what singers are doing today, and it’s all the same crap. It seems that very few pop singers can get through a song without doing some sort of Whitney-Houston-gospel-chorus-inspired vocal run every chance they get. Male and female vocalists alike are guilty of this. Singers like Whitney could pull it off because they were some of the first to really use it and it set them apart. But now all of pop-dom does it, whether they have the vocal chops (as in strength) to do it or not. Believe me, most don’t. You need lots of power to pull off those modulated vocal runs, and there just aren’t very many powerful singers out there. Unfortunately, for many pop singers, this is the norm, and it’s perpetuated by the music industry. But if you want to be different, you gotta break out of the box.

On Lukather’s view on over-compression and using the same drum samples, I totally agree, and the twinkie thing says it all! 🙂

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goldtop

Saw this on Facebook and had to share it. Here’s the accompanying blurb:

Gibson Custom has reformulated its Goldtop finish to match the original’s deep, dark, gold luster. The Goldtop’s back is also reformulated to match the original from the 1950s.

In the case of the updated Gold, you will notice a deeper, richer finish with a slightly “greener” caste. On the guitar’s back, you will see a noticeable increase in the visibility of mahogany grain and a more severe effect on the final color that comes from the wood’s individual personality. As it was in the 1950s, each guitar back results in a very individual look, based on the use of vintage finish formulations and application techniques, and the characteristics of each individual piece of wood.

That’s pretty awesome if you’re into Les Pauls, and a part of me is saying, “Oooh. I want one.” But the more pessimistic side of me is peaking out and saying, “Nice. Now let’s see what surcharge they’ll apply to these…”

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I played a funeral service yesterday morning. I’ve probably done a couple of hundred over the years. Most of the time they’re pretty sad affairs as expected. Family and friends talk about how loving and caring the deceased was, how involved they were with their family, etc., etc.. This one was no exception in that regard. But it was also very different, and it was also very moving.

What made it so moving were the stories everyone had to tell. They weren’t all rosy. They spoke of hardship. They spoke of struggling. They also spoke of overcoming those hardships by facing them head-on and not crumbling. They of course spoke of love. In all, they stories of the woman who had passed away made her seem so real, and it made it very clear to me that this woman lived a full life; uncompromising in her values and uncompromising about her deep feelings for the people around her.

But in another twist, people spoke of how she shared her life and experiences with them; maybe to teach them a lesson, or simply to pass the time.

All that made me think: What kinds of stories will people tell of me when I pass away, but more importantly, what stories am I able to share about me with others? I’ve been contemplating this for the last day, and that brings me to the title of this article.

What I came to realize is that you really can’t tell any stories unless you’re experiencing life. Conversely, stories can’t be told about you if you’re not showing up. Woody Allen is often credited with the saying, “90% of life is just showing up.” To me, that’s all about getting myself out there. Being involved and really putting MYSELF out there, not a facsimile of whom I think I or anyone thinks I should be, but showing up as me. The other 10% is execution: You’ve made it, now do it…

A big part of the philosophy is reflected in why I gig so much. Right now, I’m gigging four nights a week. It’s not about the money. It’s about the playing. I’m exhausted as all get-out as I write this, but I’ve never been so fulfilled in all of my musical career.

Take for instance last night’s gig. Yesterday afternoon, I watched this video on YouTube. I ran across it randomly as I was looking for something entirely different (leave it up to Google’s search algorithm to come up with things that I’m interested in besides my specific search query). Curious, I watched it, and I realized that I was doing something similar to that for years. But with that video, I was able to finally intellectualize something I’d done by feel for a long time. Essentially, it’s taking a modal approach to the minor pentatonic scale, and it’s extremely powerful. Combined with my recent forays into major-scale, modal theory, it has given me yet another tool to use for improvising.

I applied it last night, and the experience was simply transformative. It was amazing because I felt as if I was telling a story while I was playing; that that particular skill opened up even more musical vocabulary into which I could tap. A young couple who was sitting near where I was playing actually stayed a lot longer than they were originally planning. As they left, the woman of the couple said to me, “Your playing was incredible. Couldn’t believe the phrasing you were using. It wasn’t rock, but it wasn’t jazz either. Really awesome.” I was awestruck by that. It was obvious that she was a musician. I’ve never really considered myself to be possessed of real improv talent. I’ve always just done it, and didn’t really think about it. But to hear something like that just blew me away.

The point to me sharing this is that on the way to my gig, after all my contemplations on story-telling that afternoon, I had the full intent of telling my story last night. It was a risk because I didn’t know how it would go, and when you do covers, people expect songs to be played a certain way. But I went for it anyway, and it was life-changing.

After the gig, I came up with the saying that I used for the title of this article. I couldn’t have told a story with tapping into my life experiences, and it made me think that if closed myself off from life I’d never have the experience to tell a story in the first place.

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lp12stringMy bouts with GAS became fewer and fewer. It’s not that I stopped buying gear – for goodness’ sake I just purchased another guitar! But that craze that would put me in a feeding frenzy and I’d shell out thousands on gear – most of which I don’t use any longer – just doesn’t happen all that much any longer. In fact, even with my new, beloved Katie May, I didn’t suffer any GAS at all.

People who are close to me might say it’s all the wine I drink, but to be completely honest, I taste a lot of wine, but don’t really drink a lot of wine; there’s a HUGE difference. You could also say, I’m a bit more mindful of my pocketbook. I am. I surely don’t have a recent IPO to thank for that, though I’m working on it.

Looking back on those days when I’d get a GAS attack, I’d walk into a music store – one bad one in particular is Tone Merchants in Orange, CA which is like walking into f-in’ gear heaven (or more locally, Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA) – and I felt like I had walked into a brothel where I could try all the girls before I actually paid for the one with whom I’d eventually spend a protracted amount of time, and the cool thing was that they were all clean, and I didn’t have to worry about catching some STD. After trying out all the different alternatives, the money would be burning a hole in my pocket! And wise choice or not, I’d walk out with SOMETHING, be it a guitar, an amp, an exotic pedal.

And the sales guys, if you’ve been buying from them for a long time know this about you. They don’t waste time showing you the new-fangled stuff just because it’s new. They know better. Instead, they show you stuff that they know will get you into that feeding frenzy. It’s not a bad thing. Hell, I have lots of GREAT gear that I still use on a regular basis, but those few years of being hasty and at times indiscriminate actually kind of burned me out.

You notice that on this blog I don’t write as many gear reviews as I used to. There was a time when I was reviewing at least a three or four items a month, if not more so. But lately, I’ve been a lot more into gear from a different perspective; and that is how it fits into my sound.

For instance, take the Tattooed Lady Overdrive I recently reviewed by the Circus Freak Music guys. This is an absolutely kick-ass overdrive with lots of internal gain and lots of volume to really push the front-end of your amp. This is a pedal that I would add to my chain; actually, I haven’t told the boys over there about it yet, but I’m keeping the pedal – I’ll pay for it of course, but I’m still keeping it. 🙂 I got this for review, and even though I discovered it to be insanely awesome, it didn’t give me that tingly feeling I’d get in my gut when it arrived on my doorstep. In fact, I got the box, opened it up, plugged it in and just started to play. What made me decide to keep it was its versatility. I could use it as a standalone clipping device, but I could also use it as a nice little booster. It also stacks well with my Timmy; much more so than my Tone Freak Abunai 2, which is also an insanely good overdrive (that’s still on my board as well because it has a nice color to it – I took it off for awhile, but it keeps on coming back).

The point is that after all those years of sucking up gear, it’s not that I got burned out. I just found my fundamental tone. It’s also not that I don’t want to screw with that, it’s just that I’m not as compelled towards tonal discovery.

I don’t think my GAS is cured. I think it just takes a lot more to spark it.

ROCK ON!!!

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I love reading the comments people make on other gear sites. For instance, check out this discussion at Premier Guitar.

Okay, these are supposed to be going to charity for Clapton’s Crossroads center, but c’mon now… The Crossroads rehab costs $24,500 for the 29 day program and $31,500 for extended six-week program. Plus, it’s in Antigua! Guitar Center is billing this collection as a way for Eric to “give back,” but let’s face it: The proceeds are going to fund a One-Percenters’ drug rehab/vacation camp in the Caribbean. 🙂 By the way, the program fees don’t include travel nor the $500 medical emergency fee, just in case campers smuggle in a fix and accidentally OD.

Look, I’m being facetious, and maybe a bit harsh, but these are just guitars (and replicas with NO history – or an inherited one at the most – for that matter), and while the rehab center may be a good thing, it really doesn’t benefit anyone but those in the financial top-tier; and of course, Eric Clapton. And at those prices, only those same rich campers that can afford the Crossroads rehab center will be buying those guitars, except for maybe the $5999 Martin. I wonder though if campers get a break on their program fee if they buy one… Perhaps if they bought the $50k Martin their program fee would be waived completely!

I can see the ad now: Buy the $50k Martin, and attend the 29-day program for free. Also buy the Brownie replica and you can do the full six-week program at no charge. In either case, we’ll also waive the $500 you-fucked-up-medical-emergency fee. So act now! Supplies are limited!

Wow! All this brings to mind The Who’s Tommy…

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