Archive for July, 2019

Get A Freakin’ Amp Stand!

I realize that I’m becoming one of those grouchy old men, but you can never accuse me of being an oldster. Though I look fondly back to the old days of rock and roll, and though I really don’t dig the new pop music, I don’t sit there pining away for a return to the old.

But I have to admit that I’ve become increasingly annoyed at some obvious things that I observe on a regular basis. Actually, let me rephrase that. My annoyance hasn’t increased at all. But I’ve definitely become more direct about my feedback. I think it happens to all older people. We’ve been around the block several times and we lose our patience when people just don’t get it.

I admit that I do my best to try to check myself. After all, you attract more bees with honey, but there are just some things, some things that I just won’t hesitate to snap at.

One of those things comes from several guitarists I’ve played with over the years who complain they can’t hear their amps, even in a quiet setting, so they crank up their volume and step all over the rest the band. My usual retort is the title of this post: “Then get a freakin’ amp stand,” or “Lean the amp back so the speaker’s pointing at you.”

Sheesh! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone complain they can’t hear themselves. Sometimes yes, it is due to having their volume being low. But most of the time, it’s just due to bad positioning. What… you set up next to the drums? Then move your damn amp! You brought your vintage Fender Champ with the 6″ speaker to the gig? Well, there’s not much I can do for you there… But you could put it on a music stand and we’ll mic it up so you can be heard in the house.

Even with a small amp, there are always solutions. So I guess I’m ranting about the complainers and I’ll say what I say to my teams at work: Work the problem, people! There’s always a solution.

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This evening, I was watching “The Big Interview with Dan Rather” (one my latest favorite shows) and none other than Paul Stanley was the guest. I have to admit that I have always admired KISS, not just for their music which I’ve loved since I was a teen, but for their business acumen in creating a brand that has persisted for over 40 years.

I’ve seen interviews with or specials about the band in the past and they were your typical mix of short clips and questions and discussion that really only scratched the surface. But with Dan Rather, the interviews get deep. Dan asks pointed questions and he has this way of getting people comfortable enough to open up and spill their guts. It’s rather amazing, and I love watching the show.

In one particular segment, Dan commented that many people would consider Paul Stanley to be lucky. But Paul replied with something VERY profound:

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Whoa! Mind blown! Not because it was some revelation, but because it is something by which I live every day of my life! To have heard that from Paul Stanley is an incredible affirmation.

Just recently, I was speaking with a fairly junior software engineer about the things I’ve done and been involved with over the course of my career. At one point, he remarked that I was lucky to be able to do all I’ve done. But I immediately responded that it wasn’t luck. I worked hard to develop my talent and skills to where I created opportunities to do those things.

And the same thing goes with playing guitar – or just about anything in life – the harder you work, the more opportunities open up.

But let’s be clear: Hard work doesn’t mean toiling and grinding; though admittedly, it can seem like that at times. Hard work is the willingness to make an investment in time to develop your craft. Hard work is putting yourself out there. Hard work involves being open to opportunities that might even seem beneath you. It’s all part of the learning experience. It’s what creates luck.

I did a weekly, two-night gig at a local restaurant for almost 18 years up until the restaurant closed down recently. My fellow musician friends would say I was lucky to have that gig. I was grateful for sure, but they also knew that if I wasn’t gigging, I was playing at home for at least an hour every single day. I was putting in the time.

I also play and lead music for one of the services at my church. People have remarked in the past at how it all seems to be easy for me. What they don’t realize is that I spend most of the day leading up to rehearsal going over all the music and coming up with all the arrangements and writing songs when appropriate. Again, it’s an investment in time. It’s effortless because by the time I get to the church, I’ve got everything down cold.

You see, I’m firm believer in making my own luck. When I decide to pursue something, I don’t even give it a second thought about putting in the time it will take to get me to where I’d like to be. And even when I achieve a goal, I keep on developing my skills to get to the next plateau and so on and so forth. And in the process, better and better opportunities present themselves.

Especially for you young folks, if you want to become a professional musician or a rock star. Go for it! There’s nothing holding you back, and though others will say it’s impossible, just keep at it. They can’t make your luck for you. You make your own luck!

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For over a decade, my main acoustic amp has been an original California Blonde; no, not the v2, but the original. I got it used from a good buddy, and it has been on stage in several hundred gigs to this point. And even though my Katana 50 serves very well as an acoustic guitar amp, there’s just nothing like the depth of sound that comes out of the behemoth that is the California Blonde.

They’re not made any longer, having a final production year of 2006, and SWR got scooped up by Fender to expand its product line offerings. But these were special amps. Inspired by the WorkingPro 12 bass amp, which acoustic guitarists were finding useful to amplify their guitars, the California Blonde was – and still is for me, at least – an amp that could create super-rich tones, and at 120 Watts, pump out the volume.

It’s a heavy-ass amp at 50 lbs. and I use a handcart or small rolling platform to transport it. But the sound, oh the sound, that the amp produces to me, at least, is unparalleled. Yes, there are some great amps out there like the HK Audio Elements and SoundCaddy. But you’re talking 5-6 times the price – at least! Not an easy expenditure. You can get a used Cali Blonde II for under $400 if you look carefully.

The wonderful thing about this amp is the semi-parametric EQ section that allows you to get the perfect EQ balance. In the tone circuit is also a built-in Aural Enhancer that acts much like presence knob. Plus, it has a side-chain effects loop on top of that! It also has an XLR direct out to plug the amp into a board, which is exactly what I do.

To me, this is an archetype acoustic amp. If you look at the picture, it really doesn’t have that many bells and whistles. The bottom row of knobs are for the second channel. I sometimes use this for solo acoustic gigs (though I use my Fishman SA220 SoloAmp for the most part). It is so plug and play!

All that said, despite the fact that it’s almost 20 years old, I don’t see myself getting another acoustic amp for quite a while. The only time I’ll consider one is when this one breaks. And even then, I’ll probably take it to my amp tech and see if it’s unrecoverable. Yeah, the labor may cost more than the amp’s monetary value, but if the repair gets it back to 100%, I don’t have much reason to switch another.

Admittedly though, I think I’m getting close to that point. The reverb no longer works, and it sometimes makes a funny noise when it’s powering on. But I’m still using it. The effects loop still works great, and there are no problems with the DI.

Speaking of which, the DI signal on the Blonde is actually super, super clean. On top of that, unlike other amps’ DI’s I’ve used, it doesn’t hammer the board. I used to use these great Genz-Benz amps and their DI’s were super-hot, and since it was tied into the Master Volume, it was difficult to get a good balance between stage and FOH volume. I had to turn the master down so low that with a full band, I just had to hope and pray that I sounded okay in the mix because I couldn’t hear myself on stage. 🙂

So yeah… My amp ain’t broke just yet. I’m not in any rush to replace it.

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