Posts Tagged ‘rant’

The Lowly Capo: A TOOL of the Trade

Repeat after me: A Capo is just a tool… A Capo is just a tool…

Over the years, a few people have approached me personally or online and have said that they considered a capo to be a “cheater,” simultaneously proffering a backhanded insult at the same time. The first time it happened, I laughed it off, and just said that it’s just a tool that I use to play the music in a key that I can sing certain songs that were originally written too high or too low for my voice. The second time it happened was after I finished playing “Something in the Way She Moves” by James Taylor, which is in the key of C, but JT capos on the third fret and plays an A shape.

I normally don’t lash out at people at my gigs; it’s just bad for business. But the facetious look and condescending tone the guy used really irritated me, even though he said he really loved that song. Then he made the mistake of telling me he was a guitar player. I said, “Cool. Now watch carefully…” Then I played the opening riff of the song for him, and asked, “You get that? Here, I’ll do it one more time,” and I played it for him one more time.

After that, I muted my guitar signal to the PA, unplugged from my pedal board, removed my capo, unstrapped my guitar, then handed the guitar to him saying, “Okay ‘Mr. Guitar Player,’ that song is in the key of C. I want you to play the opening riff that I showed you without a capo. You say the capo is a cheater. I want to see you play that without ‘cheating.’ Also, don’t forget the bass notes which are integral to everything JT plays.”

Of course, the guy balked at my challenge. But, not being mean-spirited, I decided instead to be conciliatory, so I said, “A capo is merely a tool to help me move the key to an appropriate place and allow me to play open chords in that key. I could use barre chords, but I wouldn’t get the ring that using a capo gives me. Furthermore, James Taylor used a capo in most of his songs. By your tone, you implied that players who use them are somehow lesser players. Considering that JT is a multi-millionaire and is known for his virtuosity on the guitar, would you think he’s a lesser player? Of course not. For him, it’s merely a tool.”

And speaking of making millions, do you think Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones actually gives a shit that someone calls the capo a “cheater?” Here’s a great video of the Stones doing Jumping Jack Flash at Hyde Park:

OMG! He’s using a capo!

Sorry, I know I’m being rather pissy about this, but my irritation about this got triggered from another person commenting to me (accompanied by what I thought was a smirk), “I didn’t know you have to play that with a capo. I never use one.” I just smiled and shook my head. Luckily, I realized in time that he probably had been flailing around with the song (it was another JT song: You’ve Got A Friend). So instead, I told him to go search for “James Taylor tutorials” online where JT shows people how to play his most popular and loved songs.

Whew! I almost bit the kid’s head off, and I’m glad I caught myself. But it did trigger a rather bad memory.

I know, I’ve talked about this subject before, but it bugs me because, to me, the lowly capo has always just been a tool and nothing more than a tool to get the sound that I want. And I supposed I get irked that some people just don’t see the painfully obvious. I’ve never been one to suffer fools.

Okay… rant over… Back to smiles. 🙂

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It Bugs Me When…

I read threads like this where the discussion turns to artists selling out. Who’s to know what motivates the creative process of an artist? Only the artist. This particular thread focuses on Maroon 5 and what happened to them. Invariably, considering it’s The Gear Page, there will be those members who only have negative things to say, and accuse the band of selling out; or one respondent saying Adam Levine is a douche, and doesn’t substantiate as to why he or she thinks that. In my opinion, those who make those kinds of statements are the real douche bags, and frankly, I think their negativity is borne more out of jealousy than anything else.

The plain fact of the matter is that no one but the artist really knows what drives them. And many songwriters will actually say that they don’t know how they come up with songs. They just come, and they write them down. If that’s what happened to Maroon 5, that’s what happened. It’s pretty arrogant for people to throw out the oft-repeated phrase “they sold out.” Maybe Adam Levin wanted to explore a different direction; maybe songs like “Moves Like Jagger” written with Christina Aguilara was just something fun to do. WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE?

Several years ago, I remember being at a cast party of a community theatre production after a show and this aspiring “starlet” (I say this facetiously, mind you) said, “I only want to work in theatre because the actors in TV and movies have sold out, and they don’t really care about the craft.” I just looked at her in amazement, then somehow blurted out, “You are SO full of shit! But if it gives you any comfort, I can guarantee that people like Tom Cruise (that’s who she was talking about) are so upset with the opinions of ‘real’ actors like you that they’re crying all the way to bank.”

And so it goes with the musicians who are perceived to have sold out. Let me tell you, with their millions of fans, they’re more relevant than you could even imagine. Of course, with the finicky public, that could change in a heartbeat. As for me though, I celebrate the success of hard-working musicians.

That said, I do need to draw the line between those musicians who’ve worked their tails off and write their own stuff versus those who are invented. I have much more respect for people who perform their own creations. A good example of this is Taylor Swift versus Britney Spears. The former writes much if not all of her own stuff, while the latter was pure invention by someone else. I’ve never liked either one’s music, but I can appreciate people who originate their art. Taylor Swift has done a great job of bouncing back and forth between country and pop. What has Britney done lately? Talent judge? Hmm… 🙂

But then again, I can’t fault Britney for wanting to make a buck, and heaven knows she’s had great commercial success, but in my mind, if I were a fan, I’d be much less concerned about her “selling out” because she didn’t create the songs in the first place.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. I’m know I’m known more for my positive and upbeat tone, but some things just piss me off…

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I was in my local Guitar Center this afternoon seeing what I could get for one of the guitars I’m just not playing any longer. As soon as I walked in, I was painfully greeted with some dude playing a Gretsch Country Gentleman absolutely  cranked through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Blues Deville 4 X 10 combo. He was playing clean, for cryin’ out loud! He just didn’t need to be that loud. It was so loud that I had to practically yell to the sales guy in front of me who was THREE FEET AWAY!

This is a story we all know well. The shitty show-offs crank the amps, while the real players get the level to where they can evaluate the tone, then just… play… being respectful and considerate of the other people in the store. For instance, while that dude was hammering away on his cowboy chords on the Fender, this Japanese dude quietly took one of the new Ibanez guitars with the neon colors, plugged into a Line 6 Spider, then started RIPPING out Jazz lines – all at a volume where only he could hear.

A lot of people complain about the high schoolers that come in and do that. But the dude today was in his 30’s. It’s like, “DUDE! What do you have to prove?” And worse,  he had this air about him that made him seem like he was God’s gift to guitardom! When he tried to play lead lines, he flailed all over the place! Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against people of any experience level trying out gear. But I do have a problem when it’s done without consideration for other people.

Circling back to the title of this article, I’ve only witnessed this in big-box retail stores. It’s almost as if it’s a policy to let people crank it up that loud. That would never happen at a place like Guitar Showcase in San Jose, or Gelb Music in Redwood City. The sales folks there would tell the perpetrator to chill; nicely, but they’d be pretty emphatic. Or in the case of Gelb, they’ll put you in the back room. For instance, I needed to test my Gretsch at gig levels through a Fishman SA220 SoloAmp, so they set me up in back so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. That’s just good customer service.

I think the big-box boys do their customers a disservice by not controlling people’s volume levels, or if they have to be loud to test out an amp, at least limit the time they can be above 100 dB. Oh well, that’s why my Guitar Center experiences are short and sweet, in and out. Kind of tough to put up with wankers.

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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Fender over the years. When I’ve loved Fender, I’ve really loved them, and when I’ve hated them, I’ve really hated them. Right now, I’m really hating them. I’m just aghast at the prices they’re charging for their new gear! This Champ ’57 Reissue from the Fender Custom Shop lists at $1295 with a street price of $999! This for a 5 Watt amp with a diminutive 8″ speaker.

Make no mistake: The parts for this cost less than $400! This pricing is absolutely outrageous. Yeah, I’m familiar with its history, blah, blah, blah. And even though I’m no electronics dude, and couldn’t possibly construct an amp myself, I know a few manufacturers who build hand-wired amps with more power and GREAT sound for even less!

Take for instance, the Aracom VRX22. This is a hand-wired, 22 Watt amp that simply kicks freakin’ ass, and the head sells for $895! Then, there’s the upcoming release of the Reason Bambino. This is an 8 Watt amp that will sport that distinctive Reason sound. This head costs $699! It’s my next amp.

I’m sorry folks, this is the same issue that I had with the Fender Roadworn series of guitars. I’m not really in to reliced guitars, but there’s no way I could justify paying $999 for a freakin’ MIM guitar, especially when I paid less than $400 a couple of years back for my MIM Strat.

MAYBE Fender’s production costs are much higher than the smaller run manufacturers (not likely), which is how they justify the price-point for this amp. But this amp is nothing special from my point of view, and as I mentioned above, the parts for this cost less than $400. Lots of people have built 5F1-based amps. Look at the Valve Train Amps Concord. This is a 6 Watt point-to-point, hand-wired combo with a 10″ speaker. It sells for less than $500.

Go ahead, you can argue all you want about the classic sound and history of the Fender ’57 Champ reissue. But to me, Fender’s just again trying to trade on nostalgia. If that’s what floats your boat, more power to you – and mind you – I’m not questioning the quality or the tone of this classic. It has done much to contribute to the sounds of rock and roll. I just want to make it very clear that there are clear alternatives out there that may not have the name but undoubtedly have great tone, and watt-for-watt, and dollar-for-dollar have A LOT more value.

Note that I have the Champ 600 and it is one of my all-time favorite amps. But it has limited usability outside of my home studio. And that’s another thing that bugs me about the ’57 re-issue. It’s a hefty price to pay for an amp that would see limited if any use outside of my studio.

Like I said, if this floats your boat, and the price of this classic reissue, more power to you. For me, I demand a lot more value for the money I pay.

Recent Update

I’m still not sold on this amp, even though I have indeed played it, and it has some real vintage mojo. The sounds it produces are fantastic, but I still can’t justify buying it for the price Fender wants for it. Besides, I’ve seen some late-50’s originals that sell for the same price on EBay! I would buy one of those before I’d buy the re-issue.

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Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
If you’ve had your ear to the ground about the oncoming Fender price hike well, it’s real, and it’s here. I was in a shop today, and a brand new Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – the exact same amp I own that I got for $599, for a whopping $839, with a list of $1200! For cryin’ out loud! This amp is NOT a boutique amp. While a tube amp, it has a solid state well, everything. All the electronics are on PCB boards, and the damn thing’s not even assembled in the USA!

If I was looking for my first tube amp, at these prices, I’d ignore Fender, and get something like an Orange Tiny Terror, or an Aracom RoxBox. The Tiny Terror costs $550 new, and RoxBox head is $895. I’ve played both, and they both sound way better (at least to my ears) right out of the box than the Hot Rod, which I had to spend even more money on mods and better tubes than the stock GrooveTubes that come with it.

Make no bones about it: Fender amps at this level ain’t boutique, not in the slightest, but they’re approaching boutique amp prices. Well, I guess it’s the sign of the economic times.

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