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Archive for April, 2013

What’s in a Name?

Goofydawg here and back from a rather longish hiatus of having a total hip replacement. My goodness! It is an incredible feeling to walk with a normal gait and at speed that I haven’t been able to walk at for almost a couple of years! Yeah, yeah… People always ask why I didn’t do it earlier, but the cold hard fact was that I had to deal with getting my cardiac and pulmonary systems in order first so I wouldn’t die on the table. So after many many months of Lipitor and two different types of blood pressure meds, I got my system back into balance enough to have the surgery. And just two-and-a-half weeks past my surgery, I’m operating without any assistive devices (walker, cane) whatsoever, and not only that, I’ve been able to wean myself of all my pain meds except for one that I use for sudden pain! Nice!

Okay, that out of the way… One of my other life-long passions other than guitar is fine wine, in particular fine Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Zinfandels. I don’t drink a lot of wine (though I do a lot of tastings over the year), so I usually have no more than two cases in my possession at any time (though I have stash in my nice, cool, dark walk-in closet where I hold the ones I won’t drink for years). With that passion of course, I subscribe to various periodicals and newsletters that I keep around the house. In particular, I keep my K & L Wines newsletter in my bathroom for nice bathroom reading. 🙂

This morning while I was perusing my latest copy of the K & L newsletter, I read a column on the 2010 Burgundy’s that are just now hitting the market. It was the word “Burgundy” that sparked the idea of this article.

Over the years, Burgundy has held several connotations for me. Some thirty years ago, when I first started getting into wine and had no idea about different varietals and regions, whatever, the word “Burgundy” equated to cheap, jug wine that parents would provide at parties. My first taste of red wine was actually a sip of that kind of “Burgundy” when I was 16 years old. I remember thinking to myself, “People actually like this shit?” Little did I know that it was cheap imitation, which in later years couldn’t be termed that because of legal restrictions. Of course, fast-forward to today, and thinking about true Burgundy, made in the Burgundy region of France from the noble Pinot Noir grape, gives me the equivalent giddy, butterflies-in-the-stomach reaction to GAS.

The point of all this is that over time or with education, what a name or term may connote changes. For instance, I used to equate the Yamaha brand with cheap Japanese stuff. But now, Yamaha acoustics are my preferred brand; yup, over other venerable labels such as Martin or Taylor. Why? Simply because Yamaha electronics are second-to-none in my experience. They sound the most natural to me plugged in. Their raw, natural acoustics may not be quite as rich as those others, but since I primarily play amplified, I’ll take a Yamaha over any one of those any day!

Why is any of this important? I bring it up simply because it’s very easy to get locked into a certain way of thinking about different things based upon our current perceptions. Think about all the gear out there. We all have our brand preferences, such as my preference for Yamaha acoustics on stage. But I didn’t develop that preference in a static way. I had to do painstaking research when choosing my stage acoustic. I shared this before; I literally spent months evaluating guitars, and while I had the money to spend on a guitar five times its price, I chose my trusty APX900 much to even my surprise.

I do realize that some things, no matter how much I might try to keep an open mind, remain just cheap or bad (no, for the sake of keeping to my policy of playing nice, I won’t name names). But one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve been writing this blog is that my perceptions on many things have changed because I became personally informed about them.

Challenge your perceptions sometime. You may be surprised by what happens!

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Jazzy Jam Track

I was bored sitting around the house yesterday, and since I always have a guitar on hand, I just started messing around with some chord changes. Before I knew it, I had strung together a cool, jazzy chord progression with a bit of a latin flair. So, IK Multimedia StealthPlug in hand (I always carry one in my computer bag), I plugged it in, opened GarageBand, then laid down the track. Here are the chords first:

[Bm7] [E7] [Amaj7] [Bbdim]
[Bm7] [E7] [F#m] [F#m7]
[Dmaj7] [Fdim] [F#m7] [E] [Dmaj7]
[Bm7] [C#7b9] [F#m]

[Dmaj7] [Gmaj7] [Amaj7]
[Dmaj7] [Gmaj7] [Amaj7]
[Dmaj7] [Fdim] [F#m7] [E] [D]
[Bm7] [E7] [Amaj7] [Bbdim]

Now here’s the track (you’ll have to loop it if you want to jam to it):

As you can see from the chart, the track is in two parts. I always like having a verse-chorus type of arrangement with my jam tracks so improvising doesn’t become monotonous.

In any case, When I improvise over it, I found that starting with an E Lydian for the first few notes works great for me, but starting on the A on the 7th fret. After that, I just let my fingers do the talking. 🙂 That’s how I’ve been improvising lately. I start with a mode to get a groove going, then I just feel it afterwards. What I’ve found is that the mode provides a theme or a backdrop to the picture I want to paint, then what follows after I let the mode go follows that basic theme. It’s a way for me to think about what I’m playing without over-analyzing it. 🙂

About the IK Multimedia StealthPlug

This wasn’t meant to be a review of the StealthPlug, but I thought I’d give it some props just the same. This little $99 gadget has been a traveling companion now for the past few years, since IK sent me one that was packaged with some AmpliTube software. Since then, I’ve always kept it in my computer bag. The reason is that it provides a very convenient guitar to computer interface that works great with most recording software. I use it with GarageBand to knock out ideas when I’m on the road or, incapacitated as I am right now, not able to get into my garage/studio without assistance.

And the new GarageBand, with all it’s great plug-ins makes recording guitar so very nice because you can easily shape the tones to fit your needs. For instance, the bass part was recorded using my acoustic guitar, but brought down a full octave with the pitch shift plug-in. Isn’t technology cool?

Anyway, enjoy and ROCK  ON!

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So you’ve watched all the vids, learned all the scales by heart, and the only thing left to do is play them faster and more fluid because you feel you’re just slogging along and you feel your solos are choppy. Well, here’s the secret: PRACTICE. That’s it! No joke.

Of course, there are exercises that help with developing speed. But those are just exercises not meant to be musical though some may seem so. Yngwie Malmsteen has some excruciating exercises that he uses to develop speed. For awhile there, he was the king of speed. But more importantly, his playing was absolutely fluid. His secret? PRACTICE. 🙂

What brought this subject up was a discussion I was having with my son yesterday. He’s studying computer science, and I’m a software architect so it’s cool to mentor my own kin for a change. He’s currently learning design patterns, which is a particular specialty of mine, as I’ve been applying them to my own designs for years. Especially with respect to object-oriented programming, using design patterns really helps in making designs much more sensible and organized.

But one of the things I mentioned to my son yesterday was that in all my years as a software engineer and engineering manager, I’ve observed that roughly 95% of the people I’ve interviewed learned design notation like UML in school but have NEVER employed it professionally. To a person, their excuse has been that it slows them down.

What a crock of S$%T! In fact, the fastest developers I’ve ever worked with are those who work out the problem first, then code. Moreover, because they’ve worked out the problem first their code tends to be significantly less buggy than those who just pound out code. I’ve taught many of those developers I’ve worked with. At first, they flail with their designs, but after a couple of weeks they become better at it and faster. Then as they gain more experience, not only are they faster at coming up with a design, their coding, which at that point becomes a mere formality, is super-fast.

Here’s a great example. Back in 2007, I took on a team of developers to build our company’s very first single-page web application. The initial project lead had estimated that the project would take 13 months to complete. But teaching my team members proper design techniques, and having them practice it on a daily basis, we got the first usable version of the product out in less than four months! And it only took that long because we didn’t have a back-end developer until three months into the project! We started the project in October, and were completed with the front-end application before Christmas shutdown!

The point to this was that practice made the team and its individuals faster, but it also made their work style much more fluid. And the same applies to guitar. Speed and fluidity can only be achieved by committing oneself to practice. Yes, it’s a rather pedestrian and utilitarian affair, but there’s no way around it. You just gotta practice.

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Can’t Wait to ROCK!!!

bren_hospitalYup, that’s the Dawg (me) sitting in my hospital room. This past Monday, I had total replacement of my left hip. The surgeon used the anterior technique, which is a relatively new technique here in the US. Basically, with this technique, instead of cutting through the gluteus maximus muscle (your butt), with the anterior technique the surgeon works his way in between the quadraceps, merely cutting through the fascia that holds the muscles together. The net effect is a much shorter recuperation time, which is important to me because I just wanna ROCK!

Amazingly enough, they had me up and walking twice yesterday. The first session in the morning was absolutely excruciating, but in the afternoon, I was able to walk over 100 feet up and down the hall. Today, they’re going to do the same, but in addition the PT will teach me how to get in and out of a car, and in order to get discharged, I’m going to have to walk up four stairs! I’m not looking forward to that, but I realize it has to be done.

Now that I’ve had the procedure done, I can’t begin tell you what an ordeal it has been for the past year and a half. I developed severe arthritis in my left hip over the course of several years due to an old injury. It finally manifested itself at the end of 2011, though the pain wasn’t so bad at the time. But as these things go, it got steadily worse. I finally got around to seeing a doctor, and he told me that I’d probably have to get a hip replacement.

Due to other health issues I was having, I couldn’t schedule my surgery until August of last year. But then a couple of weeks before the surgery when I was to get clearance to undergo the procedure, my blood pressure had gone up; and dangerously high. So I had to cancel the surgery lest I bleed out on the table, and for the past several months I’ve been working hard on changing my diet and religiously taking my blood pressure meds, and amazingly enough, my blood pressure went back to normal levels and lo and behold, I was able to get my hip replaced.

But in the interim, life pretty much sucked. I still kept on gigging, but it was under a lot of pain. It got so bad that I couldn’t even stand for my gigs and had to use a drummer’s stool for my solo performances. I stood a bit at my church gigs, but I just remained seated for the most part in the weeks leading up to my surgery.

Now that I’ve had my hip surgery, life is going to change for the better this time. While I was writing this article, my quite attractive physical therapist fetched me to do some walking about the corridors and to practice going up stairs and steps and getting in and out of a car. Amazingly, my joint doesn’t hurt – at all! What hurts is the incision, and that pain will go away eventually. In fact, it’s nowhere near as painful as it was on Monday, so I’m pretty encouraged.

What this means is that I will have mobility again, and will soon be back and rockin’. Life is going to get better – much, much better!

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rocknstompn

Rockn Stompn Power Supply
Summary: Nothing like clean power. But there’s also a lot to be said about getting your power on in the right sequence.Pros: Great power conditioning, plus the ability to properly activate your rig in the right power-on sequence.Cons: A little pricey.

Price: $379.00 Street

Features:

  • Fully customizable power-on interval setup
  • 1935 Joules of surge protection
  • Power conditioning ensures your rig always gets optimal power.
  • Convenient foot switch for power-on.

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ You might be thinking that it’s just a power strip. But this isn’t your ordinary power strip. The surge protection and power conditioning alone are worth it.

Kimball, the maker of the RocknStompn power supply, contacted me recently, wanting to send me his power supply for review. As is my normal routine when contacted out of the blue, I do a bit of research to find out about the product. So I went to the Rockn Stompn web site to see what was what with this power supply. Admittedly, when I saw the price of the unit, I got extremely curious. What could make this so pricey? So I emailed Kimball back, and said I’d review the unit.

It arrived a few days later, and I immediately plugged it in, plugged my amp and pedal board in, turned my amp on, then switched on the unit. As advertised, the power to the plugs went on sequentially with amp coming on last. That’s actually a VERY cool feature as it ensures that you always power on your rig in the proper sequence.

But the thing that I found was much more important than the sequencing was the power conditioning. I have a few pedals – one in particular – that are extremely sensitive to the power supply I plug into. If the power is “dirty” these pedals make a lot of noise. But with the Rockn Stompn, I get clean power, and even my most finicky pedal, my ToneCandy Spring Fever, was absolutely quiet. That pedal has frustrated me since day one when I got it, and for the first time since I’ve owned it, it is dead quiet.

I first tried the power supply in my studio, and it worked just fine. But you know me, the real test for any gear is at a gig, so I brought it to my church gig last weekend. My church is an interesting place in that we have pretty good audio equipment, but the power can be a little dirty. But with the Rockn Stompn powering my rig, I had zero noise. My VHT Special 6 can also be a bit finicky with power, and it too was dead quiet.

After the gig, I asked myself, would I actually spend this kind of money on just a power supply? After using it, yeah, I would definitely save up to get one of these units. Not only does it give me clean power, but the surge protection is worth it as well. Protecting my gear is ultra-important to me, and for as much as I gig year round, having that protection gives me a lot of peace of mind. Plus, once you have everything hooked up, all you need to do is hit the foot switch, and your rig will power on – in the right sequence. The foot switch is VERY convenient.

Notice that I didn’t mention anything about tone; neither does the company. But with continuous clean power, and a clean signal, one thing that I did notice in an A/B test was that my tone seemed a little clearer. I’m not saying that this will improve your tone, but it’ll definitely help with cleaning it up; especially if you’ve been running through dirty power. You know me, I’m highly suspicious of the snake oil that’s out there. But the Rockn Stompn isn’t sold with claims that it’ll improve your tone. But it sure does give you clean power, and that could have a good effect on tone.

I highly recommend that you check this out. It comes with a lifetime warranty, so the risk is minimal; you won’t be over a log if it stops working. I know one thing’s for sure as far as I’m concerned: This unit will be like an American Express card; I won’t be leaving home without it!

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