Posts Tagged ‘thoughts’

Before I share my own thoughts, I’d like to share an email I got this morning from MusicTrades.com. It’s a trade rag magazine that puts out email digests. I normally ignore them, but the title of the article caught my eye, and I thought I’d pass it along after I read it. Here it is in its entirety:

Rosewood, And Why Trust In Government Is Low

ACCORDING TO A RECENT PEW SURVEY, only 19% of U.S. citizens trust the Federal government to do the right thing most of the time, the lowest level in 50 years of polling. The explanations for this are varied and complex, but a gathering of industry execs and members of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Fish & Wildlife Service at NAMM offered insights into the source of the low esteem. Early morning events at NAMM are usually sparsely attended unless there’s a free breakfast involved. This one, however, was standing room only, and with good reason. At issue were three-week-old regulations governing the import and export of rosewood, a staple raw material for instrument makers. Distributors and manufacturers crowded into a small meeting room, looking to government agencies in charge for guidance on how to comply and avoid the law’s onerous penalties. To their disappointment, the official response could be summed up as, “we’re working on it, and we’ll get back to you at some unspecified date.”

Drafted by the United Nations Conference on International Trade In Endangered Species (CITES), the new rosewood regulations stem from a laudable effort to prevent excessive cutting of rosewood. Over the last decade, demand for rosewood furniture in China has led to deforestation in places like Madagascar, Indonesia, and parts of Central America. In response, at the CITES Conference in South Africa last October, all species of rosewood (there are more than 250 varieties, but no one seems to agree on exactly how many) were placed on the CITES Appendix II, requiring more rigorous import and export documentation. Under the new rules, an instrument manufacturer has to document a legal chain of custody for any rosewood, from the time the tree was cut, until the raw wood was delivered to its loading dock. Every finished product containing rosewood needs a similar chain of custody documentation in order to be shipped across borders legally.
Less than three months elapsed between the time CITES adopted the new rosewood regulations and the day they were put into effect, leaving few if any of the 100-plus countries that are signatories to the treaty remotely prepared to implement them. CITES-compliant forms have yet to be drafted, port procedures are a work in process, and details like the “personal effects exemption” remain to be worked out. What documents are needed to legally cross borders with a 50-year-old guitar that has a rosewood fingerboard? No one is entirely sure.

For the industry, the resulting uncertainty has caused paralysis. Unable to secure proper documentation from countries including India or China, containers of finished instruments and raw materials are stacking up on the docks. No distributor we know of wants to risk having a container confiscated, incurring fines, or getting skewered as “against the environment.” U.S. guitar makers face the double challenge of being unable to legally secure rosewood or properly document their products for export. Thus, factories have slowed, and inventory is building up.

Complicating the issue, India, a major source of rosewood, wants no part of the new rules. The country’s established rosewood industry has a reputation for careful forest management: Trees are systematically planted to provide shade for tea plants in commercial plantations; rosewood is plentiful; all cutting is managed under a strict government permitting process. For the 100,000-plus Indians employed in dealing with rosewood, there’s a sense that they are being unfairly punished for the transgressions of other nations.

The incomplete regulations carry real human consequences. Those working in an export department are likely to see reduced commissions; factory workers will have their hours reduced; increased compliance costs will erode profits. The larger manufacturers can work through these issues by assigning staff to cope with the expanded paperwork, but the hundreds of smaller builders represented at NAMM are faced with the prospect of foregoing the use of rosewood, abandoning export markets, or both. When confronted with these issues, government officials reacted with the same sense of urgency you’d expect from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In their defense, they are not entirely to blame. The new CITES regs were drafted behind closed doors by anonymous U.N. officials, with little or no time for public review or comment. As a result, APHIS and Fish & Wildlife officials seem almost as confused by the new rules as the community of instrument makers. They also feel besieged, given that, collectively, they have a staff of just seven to sort through the mess. What distressed industry members at the NAMM meeting, though, was the absence of any official sympathy for their plight. The unspoken message was, “The unintended consequences of the rules we draft are not our concern; our intentions are good.” In the private sector, though, people faced with mortgages, tuition bills, and payrolls to meet, don’t have that luxury. They can’t just wave away these commitments, saying, “A technocrat far away whipped up these new rules that have impacted my income, but give me a break because the intent is good.”

The fact that these new rules have been so poorly crafted may help speed resolution. Car makers, the furniture industry, and a multitude of houseware suppliers have also been adversely impacted, making for a coalition potentially large enough to command some attention. In a perfect world, though, we’d suggest another solution: dock the rule drafters’ salaries until a more workable draft is completed.

Almost all my guitars have rosewood fretboards, and my dream acoustic guitar will be built entirely of “shipwreck” Brazilian rosewood from a shipwreck off the coast of Brazil in 1936 (or other salvaged Brazilian). I love the feel of a rosewood fretboard, and I love the tones rosewood produces; in particular, with acoustic guitars.

But I’m also environmentally sensitive. So while it appears the CITES regulations have a clear intent, and also realizing like any legislation produced in a vacuum is bound to be flawed, I’m willing to forego my desire for something made with materials from an endangered species. Of course, the exception is the Indian rosewood which is sustainably produced.

What’s happened with the deforestation in Honduras and Madagascar needs to be severely scaled back, if not completely eradicated. I know, we’re talking people’s livelihoods, but though I’m not a “tree-hugger,” I’d still like to leave a legacy of love for the Earth with my descendants.

Circling back to the title of this article: Is there a viable alternative to rosewood? I’ll answer it however tritely with: It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you pick up an instrument and it speaks to you. For instance, I absolutely LOVE my Squier Classic Vibe Tele. It has a pine body, for chrissake!

I was having a discussion about gear with a friend. For years, he has played through a cheap solid-state amp, and lately, he has been looking to get a tube amp. So he asked me for some advice. I gave my standard answer of “you have to play a lot of amps.” But I directed him towards some entry-level models that would serve him well. He’s in a reggae band, and since reggae is mostly clean, I told him to start with looking a Fender and Fender-ish amps.

But I also cautioned him that he should make his decision purely on how we felt about the sound the amp produces and not get into whether or not the amp is wired point-to-point or if its circuits are printed on a board. The ONLY thing that matters is the sound. As Duke Ellington was once quoted saying, “If it sounds good, it is good.”

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A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about how James Taylor tunes his guitars, utilizing the “cents” on the tuner to compensate for the shape of an acoustic guitar, and how the bass notes ring sharper than their tuning, and also to compensate for a capo pulling the strings sharp. Here’s the video for a refresher:

At the end of the article, I said I’d try it out and I’ll be damned if it didn’t sound good both with and without a capo!

My test of a tuning is always to play a root E chord after I tune my guitar. Usually, I get to the exact tuning, then end up tuning strings a little down because the E chord just doesn’t sound right. So I suppose I’ve been doing this by feel all these years. But now I have a fool-proof, sure-fire, and most importantly, a measurable way of tuning that I can repeat.

If you don’t want to watch the whole video, here’s the tuning (high to low):

E -3
B -6
G -4
D -8
A -10
E -12

Values are in negative cents. For my guitar, a full -12 cents on the low E sounds slightly off, so I end up using -10 to -11 (I know, it’s a tiny amount, but I can hear it). But I set the rest of the strings as directed.

As they say, it’s the little things in life… I’m nothing short of amazed at how this small adjustment makes a world of difference.

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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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I was looking for user reviews of the DigiTech Trio+ so I could get a feel for what I’ll need to adjust in my rig to accommodate this pedal once I get it. To me, as a songwriter, playing a riff then “teaching” a pedal the riff, then having both drums and bass “automagically” layered on top of it is awesome! For me, once I come up with a riff, I want to create a rhythmic context so I can continue with a song. The way I would do this is search through loops to find the right “feel” for my song, then place it on a track, then record my riff over it. But oftentimes, I’d get so frustrated just trying to find a damn drum loop that I lose the inspiration to go further than just recording the riff. But based on the all I’ve read and the demos I’ve watched the last couple of days, I think the Trio+ will be an invaluable tool for my songwriting, and even using it in a live performance.

But in the interest of being thorough, I wanted to see user reviews on the Trio+ because professional reviews, while incredibly useful are created by people whose jobs are to do great demos, and oftentimes they tend to gloss over idiosyncracies of the gear they review. So I did a search and ran across this thread on the GearSlutz forum. The guy who started the thread griped about his perceived shortcomings of the unit. I suppose they could be valid from his perspective. But others chimed in and talked about how to address those issues. Others piled on with some negativity; you know, the typical, “hate that crap” and they’ve never even used the gear. But despite others offering solutions, the guy doubled down on his complaints thinking that there should be more features added to the unit to make it easier. When I read his suggestions, I thought that those made a bit of sense, but it’s unclear to me if they would fix his issues, especially if the problems were because of his playing.

And that formed the gist of this particular entry. Over the years, with all gear that I’ve evaluated and played, there’s one constant I’ve come to find about gear: Nothing is perfect. Nothing falls neatly into what we perceive to be how gear should operate.

And I suppose that this could be applied to life in general. I think we all fall into the trap of struggling between our perception and reality. To overcome that struggle, I truly believe that if we open up our minds and hearts and take the time see something for what it truly represents as opposed to how we think it “should” be, we’ll be a lot happier.

Food for thought…

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Am I Over the Guitar Thing?

I started this blog in January of 2007. For the first few years, I posted to it at least five times a week. It gained in popularity, and became a destination site for people looking for gear. In my mind, I never wanted to be an “uber” gear site where I reviewed anything and everything. Frankly, I started this blog simply as a diary to get my thoughts down on gear I was testing to potentially add to my rig.

So here I am, nine and a half years later wondering about this blog. And no, I’m not considering closing it down. It’s a useful resource for many people. But it’s most likely that unless I get some new gear that totally blows me away, I probably won’t be posting here much at all, as has been the case for the last couple of year.

Why is that?

Simply because I’ve found my tone. Being ever so pragmatic about the gear I have, I’ve sold off most of my electric guitars because I just need a couple to get the sounds I need. I’ll hold onto my amps because I just love them, but quite honestly, I only play with two amps now (though I am looking at getting a Fender Twin since I’ve been focusing a lot on Reggae as of late). As for pedals, I still have a bunch of ’em, and I’ll probably hang on to those as well.

So here are my electric and acoustic rigs right now:

Electric Rig

– Gibson ’58 Les Paul Historic with Deacci Green Faze pickups
– Slash L Guitars “Katie May”

– DV Mark Little 40 with Groove Tubes 6L6 tubes (will also take EL34’s)
– Aracom VRX22
–  Fender ’58 Champ in a custom 1 X 10 cabinet

Effects (These are switched out depending on my mood):
– Overdrive: Paul Cochrane Timmy, Tone Freaks Abunai 2
– Distortion: EWS Little Brute
– Chorus: TC Electronics Corona, HBE THC, BOSS CE-2
– Reverb: Hardwire RV-7
– Delay: Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired version)
– Wah: VOX Big Bad Wah (I love this wah)

Acoustic Rig

Guitar: Yamaha APX900 Acoustic/Electric

Amp/PA: Fishman SoloAmp SA-220

– Same modulation effects as above
– Looper: Roland RC-2 LoopStation

As I mentioned above, I’m looking to get a Fender Twin. I’ve played both the new and vintage ones, and didn’t hear much of a difference between the two, and you can find decent used reissues for a great price.

But circling back to the title of this article, that electric rig that I described above is about two years old. It gets me pretty much where I want to go tonally. I’ve found my sound, so I don’t need anything else. I’m now in a cover band, and it could be argued that if I was going to be true to the original sounds, I should get the “right” equipment. But with our band, which is really a bunch of old farts, we’re just getting together and having fun. As long as it’s close, we’re good.

All that’s not to say that I won’t succumb to a GAS attack in the future, but I haven’t had a serious GAS attack in a LONG time. Chances are I probably won’t any time soon.

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fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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This article leading up to the book advertisement is important. Give it a read…

In any case, that article kind of hit home with me in that while I feel it’s important to know theory and scales, I believe that you can eventually arrive at that knowledge in your learning journey. Music is meant to be played. And especially with guitar, which is a rhythm instrument, I feel it’s more important to get the movement of the right and left hands down, then get into theory way later, after you’ve learned to actually play some songs.

For instance, I’ve found that with many of the younger players who’ve played with me in my church band and who’ve taken a lot of lessons is that their left hand technique is often far superior to my own, but they can’t play anything outside of what type of music they like. To a person, I found that is because they have horrible right-hand technique. So I tell them that although it’s important to know chord shapes and scales and how to place your fingers on the fretboard, all that is meaningless unless you use your right hand, which is the hand that actually makes the sound! So I tell them that although they may not like various genres of music, I give them a challenge to be able to play reggae, country, blues and even latin music to get used to working their right hand.

You gotta love the energy of kids, especially if they love to play. All of them to whom I issued the challenge would go and practice, then show me later on what they’ve learned. Then I’d say, “Okay, open the book to number ____, and let’s see if you can play it.” And they can play. At that very moment, they get it.

For example, I had one kid who was absolutely flailing on guitar. He had the heart, but he couldn’t keep a beat. At the time, I was on kind of a blues kick, and I told him to go study John Mayer, and learn to play along while listening so he could practice playing with a group, and to be aware. The kid went off to school, then came back during his summer vacation, and just blew me away with what he’d learned. Not only could he play every single John Mayer lick, he had built the confidence to be able to play with the band.

The point is that all people need most of the time is a little nudge in the right direction. And with guitar, right or wrong, the direction I tend to nudge people is to simply play different kinds of music. I suppose that mimics my own experience as I learned to play via chord charts to songs, and figuring out how the original artists executed their tunes. I didn’t have YouTube. I just had vinyl records and cassette tapes. It wasn’t until years later that I started applying theory. I play with modes – a lot – now, but I’ll be absolutely honest: I didn’t start thinking about them until a few years ago when I wanted to expand my improv palate.

Circling back to lessons… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all against taking lessons. I’ve taken them from time to time to learn different things. I think the problem I have is learning technique for technique’s sake, and learning it divorced from the context of playing a song. Take learning the major scale for instance. It’s one thing to know the notes of the scale up and down the fretboard. That’s pretty easy. And I suppose you could just take a scale and start playing around and eventually come up with something while playing over a chord progression. But the major scale doesn’t really become meaningful until you apply it to modes, and having a song or practice chord progressions to play against.

I’ll leave a deeper discussion of modes for another time, but I will say that it wasn’t until I started studying modes that all the work with the major scales that I had learned actually became useful because all modes are simply expressions of a certain major scale played over a chord progression.

And I didn’t even learn modes in the academic way, where a mode is described in the spelling of the mode. For instance, with the Mixolydian mode, R W W H W W H R, or something like that. To me, that was always confusing. Even when someone would say, “If you want to play the Mixolydian mode in any key, just remember that it’s simply that scale with a flat-7th.” WTF?!!

The best explanation for the Mixolydian I ever got was this: Since the Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode, simply take the root note, then count backwards along the scale where that root note is the fifth in a major scale. Then play that major scale. So for example, if we want to play D-Mixolydian, we’ll count backwards where D (the root) is the fifth of a major scale. In this case, it would be the G-major scale. So if you want to play D-Mixolydian, then play a G-major scale because that includes all the notes of the D-major scale with a flat-7th. There’s a lot more to it than that, but just learning how to find a particular node for any key really expanded my improvisational toolkit. That didn’t take any formalized lesson. It just took practice to learn.

That kind of segues into my final point which is simply this: Play or die. As I mentioned above, music is meant to be played, and there’s a price to be paid to become proficient with any instrument whether it’s a guitar or piano or even your voice. To me the only way to internalize anything that we learn is to apply it, and that’s especially true of learning an instrument.

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