Archive for the ‘new song’ Category

…to get me inspired.

I’m on vacation right now up at Clear Lake, CA. It’s one of those family vacations where we do pretty much nothing but chill out. Our resort is on the lake, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! We don’t have any plans, no itinerary; there are places to go, but we have 10 days of just clearing out our minds.

This afternoon after attending morning Mass, we headed back to our resort. The rest of the family went to the pool, while my oldest son and I hung out in our room. He was “PhotoShop-ing” some pictures, and I was just tooling around on my acoustic. I was just messing around when I came upon a chord progression that kind of stuck. So I pulled out my IK Multimedia StealthPlug (it goes everywhere with me), opened up GarageBand, laid down the chord progression, then laid down a melody with a counter-melody.

This was total stream-of-consciousness. I LOVE THAT! I told myself when I started my vacation that my aim was to chill. Not think about work, not think about stuff to do around the house, and not think about music to write. Clearing out my mind made room for some creative juices to flow. So here’s a rough cut of the song I came up with; it’s called “Down Highway 29:”

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This is a song that I just wrote this evening. I’ve been wanting to write a song about my family’s obsession with Facebook for awhile, but couldn’t come up with lyrics nor the genre. So I decided to try country western, but with a bit of a twist. Then the words just kind of came. My studio isn’t up right now, which is why I recorded this on video to start out with. I’ll do a regular recording once I have my studio set up again. BTW, I used my wonderful Yamaha APX900 acoustic.

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Man! Haven’t written a full song with vocals in awhile. Life happens, and it’s not the easiest thing to get the time to write. So the other day, I came up with a funky groove. It started out as a simple blues in Em, bouncing back and forth between Em7 and Bm7. I knew I didn’t want to just stick to a 1-4-5 kind of pattern, so I added some altered chords to kind of “jazz” it up a bit. The title has nothing to do with the music. 🙂 It’s the subject matter of the lyrics, which is divorce. Don’t know how I got on that line of thinking; maybe it was from people around me who have gone through it. Anyway here’s the song:

Equipment Used:

Rhythm (left and right sides): Squier Classic Vibe Tele (50’s)

Lead: Gibson Limited Run Nighthawk 2009

Amp: Aracom PLX18 BB w/Trem


  • I originally laid down the rhythm with Pearl, my MIM Strat. But those Tex Mex pickups were just too bright for an already bright vintage Plexi-style amp. Way too much high-end attack. So, I switched to Blondie. That Tele is just so damn versatile!
  • I just love that vintage Marshall tone. Funny thing, I was never into Marshalls until recently, but since I’ve been playing Aracom amps, that’s the tone I just love!
  • The Nighthawk is just awe-inspiring! The tones that guitar can produce are simply phenomenal. The mix between the P-90 and the Burstbucker is to die for! I love that guitar!

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I’ve been working on a new instrumental for over a month now, called “Strutter.” I think I’ve probably made 50+ recordings of the song, and even though I dig the melody I’ve come up with, I’ve always thought it needed something… more… Couldn’t put my finger on it, but none of my recordings of the song were working for me completely. After I finished recording this final cut which I’ll share below, I believe a lot of my “frustration” had to do with me wanting to only use a single guitar and amp for the recording since I play this song live with only a single guitar.

But it’s different in the studio. I have a lot of options open to me, so I decided to break down and instead of recording the song in its entirety with a single take with a single guitar and amp, I recorded the two different parts of the song with two guitars and two amps. The result knocked my socks off! So the lesson learned is in the studio, you can be truly creative, and for me, I’ll use the tools I need in favor of what I’d like to have. Anyway, here’s the song:


Rhythm: Fender MIM Strat / Aracom VRX22 (6V6) Clean Channel
Lead 1 : Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster 50’s (bridge) / Aracom VRX18 (EL84) Channel 2 (Master cranked / Volume 3pm)
Lead 2 : Saint Guitars Messenger (bridge) / Aracom VRX22 Channel 2 (Master 4pm / Volume 3pm)

All guitars were recorded at bedroom level using the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, with no effects. Estimated output of any of the amps was less than 1 watt! That unit is absolutely amazing!!!

Small room reverb was added during production to give a more spatious effect to the lead tracks, and absolutely no EQ was applied to the guitars.


This song was originally inspired by an image of a supa-mac-daddy-pimp dude struttin’ his stuff down the avenue. 🙂 At least that was the kind of vibe I wanted to capture: 70’s-style guitar-plugged-straight into the amp. It’s a raw kind of tone.

From a structure/feel point of view, what I was after with this song was a contrast in textures. The Rhythm track uses the VRX22 clean channel for that snappy clean attack. For the Lead 1, I wanted use the creamy smoothness of the VRX18 combined with a single coil, and take advantage of the awesome decay of the tube rectifier. For Lead 2, there’s nothing like the pure balls-out sound of the VRX22 drive channel played with a bridge humbucker. The distortion though is ultra smooth, but very complex.

I should be the Aracom Amps poster boy!

I just realized that this song could be an Aracom Amps VRX amp line demo! I make no secret that these are my amps of choice (I have three of them). Jeff Aragaki’s amp designs are absolutely killer – that’s why I buy his equipment.

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I purchased Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” series. After a month, I still haven’t moved past Volume 1, but that’s only because I’m going slowly and methodically with the process. Besides, the one thing that I found is that Chuck throws A LOT of stuff at you in a very short period of time, and I’m one of those types of learners that has to let information soak in before I can move on.

There aren’t any step-by-step lessons in this series. It’s very free-form, which I find is totally cool. But as I mentioned above, there are several places where Chuck throws in lots of material in a short span of time, so I’ve found myself going back and forth and listening and practicing for a couple of days before moving on. This is a real change of approach for me because I’ve operated by this little saying for quite awhile: “If patience were a virtue, I’d be a slut.” 🙂 But this time ’round, I made a conscious decision to not move on until I could execute on what the teacher was talking about proficiently.

What about the fruits of my labor? Well… I know I’ve used this clip before, but it’s a good example of applying what I’ve learned:

Excuse the obvious mistakes, the song’s not really in a finished state (can’t decide what guitar/amp combo I want to use). But here’s what I’ve learned so far that I’ve applied to this song:

  • I now pay lots of attention to the current chord being played and playing notes that “fit.” I used to be a real pattern player – especially the minor pentatonic – but I’m learning to break free of those patterns.
  • I’ve lately put a lot of emphasis on learning various triad shapes up and down the neck. This not only helps with getting the proper fingering at a particular place, but it also helps in coloring.
  • I’m also learning to let my solos breathe. One thing that I haven’t heard Chuck mention yet – though he’ll probably share it – is taking some time to let my idea sink in, then playing to build on it. Yeah, that song is somewhat composed, but it came about through playing over the rhythm track underneath. The themes you hear are ideas that I came up with while just playing around!

Regarding that last point, that is probably the salient point that I’m getting out of the lessons thus far, and that is taking an idea, then developing it and building upon it. It’s incredibly freeing!


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REMIn yesterday’s little adventure at Guitar Player Magazine, I got a chance to play the new Dr. Z Remedy amplifier. This amp is based upon a classic Marshall JTM circuit design, but with a twist: Instead of 4 inputs that allow you to jumper the two channels, the Remedy has a single input and the channels are already jumpered. You then have the ability to blend the amount of high and normal channel amounts via the two loudness knobs.

This amp is a lesson in simplicity. It has a three-band EQ, and the volume knobs for the High and Normal channels, plus Power On/Off and Standby toggles. That’s it. With this amp, you dial in your tone and sound levels, and play!

The amp is powered by a quad set of 6V6’s, and man they sound sweet! The power tubes are JJ’s which have kind of a “hybrid” 6V6 tone – I use these myself, and I love them. They’re brighter-sounding than the classic 6V6, and they’re extremely durable. I’ve never had one of these fail on any of my 6V6 amps, so it’s not a surprise Dr. Z uses the JJ’s for their reliability.

How It Sounds…

In a word, it sounds “big.” A lot bigger than I expected from just a 40 Watt amp. I played a Gibson ’59 Les Paul Special Re-issue through it and was really taken by the big sound that the Remedy produces. For classic rock and blues tones, this is an ideal amp. It responds incredibly well to picking dynamics and volume knob adjustments as well, which is why I mentioned you set your EQ and volume where you want it, then play. You can then adjust the cleanliness or dirtiness with your volume knob or attack. Very cool. You might dismiss the Remedy as another JTM clone as the circuitry is based upon that. But it has a sound all its own. The cleans are lush and defined, and the overdrive is nice and crunchy, and very little to no top-end raspiness. I think that’s an earmark of the 6V6’s. They just don’t get fizzy.

A Great Half-Power Mode

I played around with the half-power switch a couple of times, and it works as expected. But I wanted to find out more about how Dr. Z does his half power mode, so I gave him a call this morning, and found out some interesting things about how he does his half-power mode – very interesting things, indeed. There are a couple of ways I’m familiar with that amp manufacturers introduce half-power modes in their amps. A common way is to shut down half a tube, essentially going from pentode to triode. According to amp builders I’ve spoken with, this is the easiest, but it also changes the tone significantly between the two modes.

The second common way is to adjust the B+ voltage down, then provide some compensation so the correct heater voltages are maintained. This is what Jeff Aragaki does with his amps, and this technique is very transparent.

Dr Z. takes a completely different approach and leaves the front-end alone entirely, and works his magic from the power transformer, something he worked with the late Ken Fisher to produce. I won’t go into details – and Dr. Z didn’t go into a great deal of depth – but he effectively bypasses the power from two of the power tubes then does some other stuff to compensate for the impedance mismatch to half the power. The end result is a very tonally transparent switch from full power to half power, using a method no one else is using; at least according to Dr. Z.

I love stuff like this! I’m no electronics guy, but I love it when people think out of the box to handle common problems, and come up with approaches that no one else thought of, or didn’t try because they thought it was too hard! Kudos to Dr. Z for doing something like this!

I truly wish I had more time to spend with it so I could explore the amp’s capabilities more. Perhaps in the near future I’ll get that chance.

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goldie41I spoke about Tone with a capital “T” the other day and how your Tone is the combination of your gear plus what’s in your heart. One thing that I didn’t discuss is that when your heart and your gear are in alignment, the visceral effect it has on you borders on a religious experience. Put simply, you become truly inspired. I got Goldie back from Saint Guitars a few days ago to correct some wiring and action issues, and plugging her into my amp, I was immediately floored by her tone. I already was in the first place, but with everything working right, the effect it had on my spirit was tremendous!

So I decided to completely re-write and re-track a song that I had recorded earlier as a demo of the Reason Bambino – turn it into a real composition. But I also wanted to demonstrate the wonderful voice she has. Here’s the song. It’s called “Sunset By the Bay” because it reminded me of sipping a mojito on the beach at sunset:

The opening of the song and the first “verse” demonstrate Goldie’s neck pickup in single-coil configuration. Man, it’s chimey like a Strat! The second part of the song stays in the neck pickup but with both coils working, and adding a bit of crunch in the second channel of my Aracom VRX22. I recently had a mod done to the amp to add channel switching, and remove the Master Volume control from the first channel so it acts more like a Class A amp in channel 1. Continuing on, in the bridge of the song, I switch both pickups and remain in channel 2, then I finally finish up back on the neck pickup.

I can’t believe the sounds that come from this guitar, and my VRX22 just sounds so sweet with it!

By the way, as far as the recording of the melody goes, I recorded Goldie completely dry, just plugged right into my amp. I then added some reverb and a tiny bit of delay to give the melody an airy feel. The rhythm part was recorded using my Strat directly plugged into my Reason Bambino and played entirely in the Bambino’s Normal Channel. I love the natural presence of the Bambino – it was if it was made for a Strat!

I also recorded the entire song at bedroom level using my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. I just love the purity of my tone at any volume level!

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I wrote this song a few years back, and had the hardest time trying to record it. Unfortunately, the stock drum tracks in GarageBand just don’t cover the blues very well, so I finally found some decent audio drum loops that I could use. Ostensibly, this is a song about everlasting love, and how in marriage or even lifelong relationships, despite their occasional downs, if you truly love someone, you’ll return to them.

With this song, I wanted to capture a smoky lounge with a jazz quartet kind of groove. And BTW, the guitar in this was recorded using IK Multimedia Amplitube Fender. Damn! That ’57 Champ sounds great! Anyway, here’s the song:

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If you’re a visitor here, it’s more than likely that you suffer from an affliction commonly referred to as GAS or Gear Acquisition Syndrome, which is a uncontrollable urge to buy gear to affect your tone. Be honest, you know you have it. 🙂

This morning, in search of some new material to write about, I came across a new pedal from Elite Tone called the Smooth Boost. You can read the announcement here. What excited me about the pedal was that it’s a handmade pedal for $99! Damn! That got the GAS flowing. After I calmed down a bit, I sang to myself, “I feel some GAS a-comin’…” and that sparked off me humming Johnny Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” playing in my head. Then I started laughing, and writing down some alternate lyrics to the song. After I was done I recorded the following tune:

This one was a lot of fun! I wanted to share it because I’m sure you can relate to the lyrics. By the way, here are the full set of lyrics:

The GAS Blues

I feel some gas a-comin’
It’s comin’ ’round the bend
I haven’t been GAS-less
Since I don’t know when…
I’d said that I am finished
My rig’s as full as it can be
But this new gear’s got me GAS-in’
The GAS keeps hauntin’ me…

When I was just a young man
I had just one guitar
Ole Betsy made me happy
She took me oh so far…
But then I went electric
and needed so much gear
to get that perfect tone now
that’s pleasin’ to my ears…

My wifey always asks me
Just how much do you need?
I look at her and tell her
just one more, don’t you see?
There’s nothing that’ll cure me
from this expensive disease
It’s a curse I’ll always carry
my GAS is never pleased…

I don’t know what to tell you
if you suffer from the same
affliction that I have now
My friends think I’m insane…
No one understands it
Look! There’s another axe!
And it just keeps on comin’
This thing we all know as GAS!

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Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I’m normally very methodical in my approach to writing music. But sometimes, I just get carried away with playing that I’ll just create a riff, and jam over it again and again until my fingertips are numb. Writing my latest instrumental was exactly that experience. I came up with a riff, added some bass and a basic drum kit loop to it, and spent the next several hours trying to cop my best SRV. 🙂 Believe me, no one can play like that dude! He was special.

But the point of this is that after hours and hours of playing, I really got inspired to not just let it be a jam track, especially after I came up with a phrase that felt like it could define the theme of a song. So over the next few days I tweaked with the song, and this is the final result. Note that I had a version of this up as of a couple of days ago, but I remixed it, added an echo part for the last section, and removed a bunch of layered on effects from the first cut. I ended up with a much more raw sound, which was really what I was after. Here it is:

All the guitar parts were played with “Pearl” my 60th Diamond Anniversary Strat. After playing ‘buckers for awhile, I forgot how fun it was to play my Strat! My amp, of course, was my ever versatile tone machine, my Aracom Amps VRX22. For effects, I used a Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster, and a Voodoo Lab MicroVibe.

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