David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
LCW on Bandcamp
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: David Lamkins, guitarist, @list info


1. Group improvisation
[musings] November 28 2015 23:48:31 GMT
This is a subject about which I've been wanting to write for a while, wondering whether I could present a coherent and understandable explanation of my observations. In the spirit of improvisation, let's see what happens... I've been playing guitar for a long time; far longer than the most recent fifteen years during which I've made a conscious effort to improve my skills. For the largest part of that time I believe that I've misunderstood the nature of improvisation, particularly as it applies in a group ... (more)
2. Yes, I am still here
[musings] November 19 2014 05:58:47 GMT
It has been eighteen months since I last wrote an article for this site. In November of 2012 I expressed my intention to focus more on music and less on gear. That was followed by a handful of articles over the next seven months, then... nothing. On the plus side, I've been quite successful in turning my attention to music rather than gear. On the minus: I never got around to writing anything about this part of my journey. I hope to rectify that with this article. For me, the most significant thing that ... (more)
3. What musicians can learn from comic geeks
[musings] June 24 2013 03:02:30 GMT
At the end of April I attended the 2013 Stumptown Comic Fest. As a comic fan, I'm a lightweight. I was at the festival to help Mary-Suzanne set up to broadcast live on from the show floor. While I was at the fest, I discovered several things that musicians might take to heart. While listening to Kyle Yount (Kaijucast) interview Bill Willingham (Fables), a 30-year veteran of the comic industry, I was struck by Bill's observation that "the gatekeepers are gone." Anyone with a ... (more)
4. Accuracy and resolution of electronic tuners
[musings] May 01 2013 06:06:30 GMT
What's this all about? Every time I read a discussion about electronic tuners, the question of accuracy arises. Discussions inevitably revolve around two points: Which tuners are more accurate than others, and How much accuracy is really needed? The first point is conventionally answered via reference to the manufacturer's specifications. The second point is - rightly so, I believe - open to debate. What I'm interested in, though, isn't either of those points. I've been concerned for a while that both ... (more)
5. 2013 Musical Resolutions
[musings] January 16 2013 08:25:12 GMT
2013 Musical Resolutions Looking at the filesystem for my web site, I realize that I haven't posted any musical goals for a few years. That hasn't been due to lack of objectives, but rather because the existing goals (towards which I have made steady and consistent progress) were more of the same. This year, I'm taking a somewhat different tack focussed on behaviors rather than outcomes: Improve mechanics play standing practice clean don't hide sloppy playing behind reverb fret clean practice with ... (more)
6. Solid state mythology
[musings] November 13 2012 07:38:54 GMT
In my previous article regarding the nature of "sterile" sound, I speculated on the mechanisms by which a digital modeler might fail to live up to its potential as a substitute for the archetypal tube amp that it's supposed to model. While writing that article I realized that I have some new insights regarding solid-state amplification. I'm sure that you're all aware of the conventional wisdom regarding why tube amps sound good and solid-state amps sound bad: that tube amps exhibit "soft ... (more)
7. Fecundity and sound
[musings] November 13 2012 02:33:13 GMT
The title of this piece is a bit of word play regarding observations that certain gear produces a "sterile" guitar sound. Clearly the term "sterile" has negative connotations, but what does it really mean? And what's the desirable "opposite" of sterile? I've used the term myself on numerous occasions. In the linked articles, I describe a "sterile" soud as one having no distortion on clean sounds (wait... what?!), which isn't as crazy as it sounds. What I mean is that ... (more)
8. A small course correction
[musings] November 11 2012 07:29:47 GMT
Over the years since I've been writing about things of a musical nature, I've focussed much attention on the particulars of gear. It has always been my intention to write about that which is important to me in creating music. As this personal journey continues, I find myself taking less of an interest in the importance of gear. You'll note, therefore, that the gear section has been pruned. Going forward, I won't - as a rule - be reviewing new gear acquistions. My current thinking is to reserve the gear ... (more)
9. LF+ timing
[musings] November 02 2012 06:33:59 GMT
This article will be of interest to you if you have an FAMC LF+ MIDI controller. I'm writing this to share something that only seems obvious now that I've figured it out. I thought I'd share this to save others a bit of head-scratching. Bear in mind that this is neither a complaint nor a request for enhancement. When you think about what I'm about to tell you, it's pretty obvious that the LF+ must work this way. Here's the executive summary. If you have an IA function that's extremely sensitive w.r.t. ... (more)
10. LCW's studio setup
[musings] August 18 2012 05:49:15 GMT
In this third and final installment, I'll explain how LCW records and streams its sessions. It's important to us that the recording and streaming happens without any distracting technical involvement on the part of the musicians. Aside from the fact that we're recording direct-to-stereo, the bulk of our signal routing is very conventional. Our instruments are an acoustic drum kit, a guitar rig and a bass rig. The drums are conventionally mic'd. The guitar and bass run direct via their own processors. ... (more)
11. LCW's evolution
[musings] August 05 2012 20:15:09 GMT
It was Stephen who established the practice of recording all of the LCW sessions. We have a room recording, and sometimes a multitrack recording, for every session we've played from the spring of 2008 up through the spring of 2012. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for live recordings. There's a certain spontaneity in a live recording that tends to get "polished out" of your typical multitrack extravaganza. Of course there's a time and place for both approaches to recording; The Beatles on ... (more)
12. LCW's origin story
[musings] July 22 2012 20:34:08 GMT
In the spring of 2008, after having spent some time recovering from participating in the Portland music scene as a very minor player, I got the itch to try something new. Over the next several months, that "something new" led to the formation of LCW, an improvisational instrumental trio consisting of Stephen Caird on bass and cello, Joe Williams on drums and me, David Lamkins, on guitar. To help you understand what led to the formation of LCW, it's important that you understand my relationship ... (more)
13. Low-tech recording
[musings] April 28 2012 07:06:27 GMT
Twenty or thirty years ago, talking to an amateur musician about recording music at home invariably brought up discussions about recording to a four-track cassette tape (or for those who had more money to spend, a consumer-grade reel-to-reel machine with a comparable number of tracks). These tape machines were usable in the right hands, at least for those who could effectively manage the inevitable time distortions and noise buildup. Nowadays a home recordist is likely to use a computer-based workstation ... (more)
14. Line6 Pod HD500
[musings] April 15 2012 03:43:44 GMT
Here's the story of my five days spent with a Line6 Pod HD500. If you're impatient, I'll save you a lot of reading: there's a lot to like about the HD500, but not enough for me to spend $425 (I had a fifteen percent discount coupon). I arrived at Guitar Center on a recent Saturday morning shortly after opening, before the metal kids all got their `rents to taxi them in from the `burbs. I had the better part of an hour to play an HD500 through headphones without any audible distrctions. I'm glad that I had ... (more)
15. Developing improv skills
[musings] April 02 2012 04:07:30 GMT
You'll get a lot further by training your ear and by understanding the relationships of the notes on the fingerboard than you will by memorizing patterns. Memorization is a good jump-start and is no doubt good for motivation in the early phases of learning, but continued progress requires an understanding of how the instrument can be used to express musical concepts. This is by no means intended to be read or used as a strict progression: Learn the relative interval relationships in a linear sense - i.e. ... (more)
16. 2012 Rig
[musings] March 20 2012 07:24:54 GMT
Contents Overview Internals Interface Diagram Transport Requirements Philosophy Emulator Looper Controller Photos Front Rear Floor Cases Overview It may be a bit early in the year to declare my current rig as the "2012 Rig", but I have a good feeling about what I've assembled. This article will highlight some of the decisions and planning that went into my current rig, a simple four-space rack controlled by a small MIDI floor controller. The rack consists of an Avid Eleven Rack, a Looperlative ... (more)
17. Looperlative LP1
[gear] March 11 2012 04:07:15 GMT
The Looperlative LP1 is quite possibly the ultimate phrase looper for improvised performances. Like the long-discontinued Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro and the current Boomerang III, the Looperlative LP1 does not offer stored loops. However, like its afforementioned cousins, the LP1 is in a select class of technological tools to assist in musical improvisation. The LP1, like the Boomerang III, offers stereo operation. The LP1, though, offers twice as many tracks (eight rather than four) and many ... (more)
18. Noise
[musings] February 25 2012 23:11:20 GMT
Sometimes noise comes out of a guitar rig without any contribution from the player. Hums, buzzes, clicks, pops, whistles - all having nothing to do with the vibrations of the guitar guitar strings or the machinations of the effects pedals - these are the noises about which I'll discuss causes and resolutions. Some noises are largely unavoidable. If you play a guitar with single-coil pickups, you know to expect a certain amount of hum and buzz depending upon how much gain you apply and your proximity to ... (more)
19. MIDI sysex on Linux
[musings] February 08 2012 03:31:53 GMT
I sometimes need to transfer a MIDI sysex file to or from a MIDI-capable device. This is how one loads new firmware onto some devices, and how one saves and restores backups of patches and other settings. As installed, Ubuntu Linux doesn't include a tool to support sending and receiving sysex files via a MIDI interface. You can try your luck with Google, only to find a bewildering array of possibilities. The Ubuntu Software Center, as of Ubuntu 11.10, offers no options. This article describes how to ... (more)
20. FAMC Liquid-Foot+ 12+
[gear] January 29 2012 03:02:28 GMT
The FAMC Liquid-Foot+ 12+ MIDI controller looks rather striking with its thirteen multi-colored LCD displays. But the beauty of this unit is more than skin deep. The LF+ 12+ is highly configurable to meet one's performance needs. In addition to organizing by set lists, songs and presets, you may also define multiple pages of button assignments. A page lets you assign up to two (tap and press) functions to each button. This is a hugely powerful concept that, for the first time in (so far as I'm aware) any ... (more)
21. Some people can afford the best
[musings] January 03 2012 06:16:53 GMT
Some people can afford the best. I can't. After assessing my needs, I have found something with which I am comfortable. One of my online friends wrote the above, partly - I think - out of frustration with having a particular very expensive, very difficult to obtain piece of gear recommended for what must have seemed like the thousandth time. I believe that, aside from the imagined (by me) frustration, the message is extremely important: I have found something with which I am comfortable. When it comes to ... (more)
22. EPP programming: Rotary Speaker Brake
[musings] December 29 2011 22:28:01 GMT
I originally bought a MIDI Solutions Event Processor Plus to gain full access to my Eleven Rack's CC controls from my Roland FC-300 floorboard. The EPP is turning out to be useful for other tasks, as well. This article describes how I programmed the EPP to add a "brake" pedal for the rotary effect. The Eleven Rack's rotary speaker effect has a three-position speed control. The MIDI implementation of this control divides the 0-127 range into thirds; values in the lowest third set the rotary to ... (more)
23. Time for a change
[musings] August 28 2011 04:41:07 GMT
I rarely write about computers. I use computers for a significant portion of every day. I use computers to follow the news in fields that interest me, to keep in touch with far-flung friends and acquaintances, and - once in a while - to update this web site. I also use a computer at work where, for fourty hours or so every week, I write software to automatically classify the text of web sites. These classifications ultimately are used by ISPs to offer content-filtering services for parental controls and ... (more)
24. Tinnitus sucks
[musings] March 14 2011 05:01:23 GMT
Here's a friendly reminder: tinnitus sucks. We all want our guitar to sound good and to respond like we expect a loud guitar to respond. It really does take a certain amount of volume to get that interaction going between the guitar and the amp. Until you hit that magic threshold, the guitar doesn't feel fully "alive". However, I really believe that it's worth seeking ways to get that feel at lower volumes. Find a guitar that's more acoustically lively to get the interaction with the amp ... (more)
25. The end of tube amps?
[musings] March 14 2011 04:46:46 GMT
Tube amps used to need to be loud. First (big band jazz) to keep up with horn sections, and later (early rock) to fill the room w/o PA support. PAs of the era barely kept the vocalist(s) at parity with the guitars and drums; forget about trying to run a full mix through one... Disco (from the early `70s right up through modern dance music and techno) and corporate rock (big stadium shows of the `70s) spelled the beginning of the end. Those were the drivers for big sound systems. Demand drove down the price ... (more)
26. Backup gear
[musings] March 14 2011 04:22:40 GMT
"A gigging musician should always carry backups." Y'know, I've heard this since I started playing again twelve years ago. Early on I followed this advice. As time went by I came to believe that the "always carry a backup meme" is a crock. (No offense intended if you follow this advice. It's the meme that I don't care for; I have no issue with your practices.) The supporting argument that I usually see is that an entertainer can't afford any downtime ever. If a string breaks, I'm ... (more)
27. Time for a new MIDI standard?
[musings] March 13 2011 23:30:12 GMT
With MFX processors becoming more popular among guitarists, perhaps it's time for manufacturers to put some thought into making their products more usable. I don't want to discuss UIs; that's a subject that could take a lot of time to properly address. I believe in addressing problems that are more tractable and have a short-term payoff. In particular, I think there's a big opportunity for improvement in how MFX processors interface to floorboards. There are four common approaches in use today: The ... (more)
28. 48 Hour Film Soundtrack
[musings] March 07 2011 08:10:52 GMT
Last month I participated in a 48 Hour Film project. We received instructions regarding required aspects of the film at 7:30pm on a Friday, and had to turn in the completed short (5 to 7 minute) film (video) at 7:30pm that Sunday. Although there is a certain amount of preparatory work (assembling a team, renting gear, scouting potential locations, securing releases, etc.) that can happen in advance, all of the creative and production work happens within that 48-hour window: brainstorming, screenwriting, ... (more)
29. The guitarist's dilemma
[musings] November 29 2010 06:20:42 GMT
The guitarist's dilemma? In a word: "sound". You know how guitarists tend to be: we "hear" with our ears. You immediately "recognize" the "mojo" in a nice vintage amp and guitar, or the sonic perfection of a Les Paul played through the latest four-channel fire-breather. If you stick with it for a while, you may begin to admit to yourself that the guy playing a Danelectro guitar through a Boss MFX into a Peavy SS amp sounds pretty darned good, too. That stings for a ... (more)
30. Do I miss my amps?
[musings] November 29 2010 06:09:05 GMT
I'm coming up on four years without a "real" guitar amp (i.e. an amp with tubes). I have to say that I haven't missed my amps. Not in the least. I had some nice amps: a collection of Mesa/Boogie amps - just about all of the non-diamondplate series up through 2003, two Fender Vibro-Kings, a Fender brown Pro, a Fender tweed hi-powered Twin, and lots of others... When I switched to using a modeler in January 2004, I put the last of my tube amps into storage because I knew I'd eventually "come ... (more)
31. All about pickups and impedance
[musings] November 29 2010 04:40:47 GMT
Guitar pickups and "impedance" are the subject of much mystery. I'll try to dispell some of the misunderstandings with respect to conventional magnetic pickups, and to define impedance in a way that makes sense for the ways in which a guitarist might encounter the term, at least with respect to lower-level signals. I won't discuss impedance as it relates to amplifier-to-speaker connections. Let's begin with a Q&A format: Q1: Guitar pickups have an impedance that ranges from typically 6K ohms ... (more)
32. Easy MIDI guitar
[musings] November 29 2010 03:39:21 GMT
MIDI guitar doesn't have to be complicated. If you can do without polyphony (i.e. simply capturing single-note lines), buy a Sonuus G2M at US$99. This is a tiny box that runs on a 9V battery. Plug your guitar into one end and your MIDI cable into the other. The G2M will work with any pickup; there's no need to modify your guitar. Assuming you're going to send the MIDI to some kind of program on your computer, you'll also need a way to get the MIDI into your computer. There are a bunch of low-cost ... (more)
33. 2010 in review
[musings] November 29 2010 02:44:22 GMT
It's time once more to take stock of the progress I've made in my musical life over the past year. Unlike in past years, I'm not going to address progress against my annual goals on a point-by-point basis, but rather will examine where I've grown versus where I've failed to make sufficient advances. On the positive side: I wrote lots of new material with LCW. I recorded enough multitrack sessions to put together a full-length LCW CD. I've noted, from our room recordings, a continuing improvement in the ... (more)
34. "Good, better, best": Irrelevant
[musings] September 13 2010 02:54:39 GMT
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." How many times have you read (or heard) someone asking about two pieces of MI gear - call them X and Y - "between X and Y, which one is better?" The question has no qualifiers, just that one word: "better". Many of us reflexively assume that "better" is defined in terms of sound. But what is a "better" sound? Can ... (more)
35. Why do pickups sound the way they do?
[musings] August 16 2010 19:15:50 GMT
Recently my good friend George asked for some advice on what kind of sound to expect from different pickups. This is my attempt to answer that question based upon the physical construction of the three most common kinds of pickups. Let's start with strat-style pickups. These have a single coil and a narrow aperture (width). They sense a very narrow strip of the string, causing them to more accurately reproduce higher frequencies. These pickups have a very sharp, articulate sound with strong pick ... (more)
36. Avid Eleven Rack
[gear] August 15 2010 21:14:18 GMT
Both of the big local shops have had 11Rs on display since they first started shipping. I've been very deliberately walking past them. I really didn't need another modeler. Someone over on TGP posted a description in a comparison between the Axe-FX and the 11R, saying (among other things) something along the lines of "if you think great guitar tone starts with EVH, consider the Axe-FX; otherwise consider the 11R". Well, I've never heard that particular dichotomy expressed before (and the poster ... (more)
37. July 2010 update
[musings] July 29 2010 16:59:19 GMT
I just realized that I haven't posted anything since March. Yes, I'm still here. Yes, I'm still playing guitar. LCW has been rehearsing weekly. Recently we composed and performed (at the Someday Lounge Incubator on July 20th) a suite, just to prove to ourselves that we could play something more structured. I'm looking forward to our next rehearsal and deciding what to do next now that we've "finished" our suite. My new Koll guitar is still in it's nascent stages. No hurry there. Saul does amazing ... (more)
38. Zoom HD16CD compared to Tascam 2488mkII
[musings] March 26 2010 02:56:15 GMT
I just switched from a Tascam 2488mkII to a Zoom HD16CD a couple weeks ago. This article compares the two units. Both units are discontinued as of the time I wrote this article. Perhaps this discussion will be of some value to folks perusing the used market. I had used the 2488mkII for a few years before switching to the HD16CD. I had always found the 2488mkII to be difficult to use. Conceptually it's a fairly simple machine, but the workflow is not well-suited to someone who wants to focus their attention ... (more)
39. Powered Speaker Comparison
[musings] January 15 2010 04:16:01 GMT
I recently spent an afternoon with friends listening to an Axe-FX though four different pairs of powered speakers: Atomic Reactor FR FBT Verve 12ma FBT Verve 8ma QSC K10 This is the first time I had heard any of these speakers except for my K10s. What follows are my purely subjective opinions and observations. As always, if you don't rely on your own ears when making a purchase decision, you get what you deserve... The FR is the largest of the group. Viewed from the front, the FR has the appearance of a ... (more)
40. 2010 Musical Goals
[musings] January 08 2010 04:51:42 GMT
My annual goals have become simpler over the past few years. Although I've made good progress as a musician and an artist, I now feel that setting more specific targets may be necessary to help prioritize my time and focus my musical energies. Besides that, setting nebulous goals doesn't leave me with anything to write about in a year-end review. 2010 Musical Goals in Priority Order Ear Training Although I've become fairly adept at finding new and interesting chord voicings and can name them with a bit of ... (more)
41. A conversation with George
[musings] December 28 2009 04:04:21 GMT
I first met George Kourmantzelis at UMass/Amherst while I was living in the Mildred Pierpoint dormitory as a participant in the Inquiry Program. I don't remember the exact circumstances of how we met; I suspect that it must have been through the weekly coffee house that I ran in the dorm's first-floor lounge. George and I became fast friends, united by our love of music. We have kept in touch on and off over the years, but had not actually met in person since college. George has had an interesting life, ... (more)
42. Synth and virtual guitar
[musings] November 29 2009 08:06:41 GMT
The Roland VG-99 isn't a guitar synth. It's a "virtual guitar" processor, hence the VG nomenclature. The difference is important. A VG creates new sounds from your guitar's original sound. The important thing to remember is that a VG preserves all of the nuances of your playing, including artifacts that don't have a specific pitch (e.g. fretting noises, pick slides, string squeaks). You don't have to alter your playing technique at all for a VG. There's a lot you can do to get unusual sounds ... (more)
43. Clean amplification
[musings] October 15 2009 22:26:35 GMT
This article isn't about your typical solid-body electric guitar clean sound. That kind of sound typically has a bit of something extra to round out the tone of a base sound that's mostly a string's vibration in the magnetic field of a pickup. Rather, this article is about the kind of clean amplification that you'd use on an acoustic or jazz guitar. There are many amplifiers suitable for this application. These amplifiers are marketed mostly as acoustic-guitar amplifiers or jazz-guitar amplifiers, although ... (more)
44. Customer service, good and bad
[musings] October 08 2009 20:28:57 GMT
I want to share with you a recent experience that illustrates the difference between great and awful customer service. My problem was a strange interaction between two vendors' products: a Behringer Xenyx 1832FX mixer and a Digitech RP355 modelling processor. Both units perform flawlessly in conjunction with other equipment. When I plugged the RP355 into the 1832FX, though, I'd get a few seconds of clean sound followed by distortion. If I unplugged the RP355's cables from mixer then plugged them back in, ... (more)
45. How I improve my playing
[musings] August 23 2009 04:52:09 GMT
This article came about from a correspondent's question regarding how I've come to improve my playing. The first thing I'd like to explain is that improvement comes slowly for me. This is no doubt a result of the techniques I use. Motivation is important. My motivation is to be able to improvise and perform without a band. I'm not talking about playing leads. I want to be able to play something that an average listener - not another guitarist - would enjoy hearing. Pianists do this all the time. Guitarists ... (more)
46. Jazz: adapt or die
[musings] August 16 2009 05:08:58 GMT
In my lifetime jazz has never been as popular as ... um, popular music. And by "popular" I mean all of the radio-friendly pop that has been aired from about 1960 onward. There have been three big changes in the music business over the past century. The first was brought on by recording, which allowed music to spread beyond the neighborhoods and regions of its origin. The second was brought on by advertising, which is inextricably tied to radio broadcasting. Although recording had begun to ... (more)
47. Trade-ins
[musings] July 07 2009 05:50:44 GMT
Around here most shops will pay about 1/3 of current resale value on a trade-in or if they purchase your gear outright. (If anyone offers more than that you can be sure that they're inflating the price of something you're buying in order to make up the difference.) For most recent (say, five years old or less) instruments and other MI gear, resale value tends to be between 50% and 75% of the new street price. That can be affected by things like whether there was recently a blow-out sale at one of the ... (more)
48. Koll small archtop specs
[gear] July 03 2009 20:07:54 GMT
These are the specs for a new Saul Koll small archtop guitar commissioned on April 26th, 2009. AttributeDescription ShapeBased upon Margaret Slovak's Koll guitar. ModificationsUpper cutaway slightly enlarged. Straight-pull headstock designed to complement shape of instrument. Pickguard design TBD. Bridge support design TBD. Output jack next to end strap pin as on Koll DL. MaterialsTop: spruce; back & sides: maple; neck: mahogany; fingerboard, pickguard, headstock veneer, tailpiece, bridge support: ... (more)
49. Gear minimalism vs. collecting
[musings] June 18 2009 05:10:00 GMT
There's a tendency among guitarists - it seems - to always be in search of a new toy. This is exacerbated by the relatively low cost of so many of the available products. This can lead us into an endless cycle of distraction, obsessing about nuances that not even someone with dog's ears would care about and justifying our obsession with arguments about intangible and unquantifiable properties. One must give consideration to the availability of time and resources as well as the need and practicality of ... (more)
50. Jazz: the birth and death of a genre
[musings] June 07 2009 00:14:06 GMT
Over the past nine or ten years, since I've started trying to learn more about jazz, I've noticed that in every online jazz community there's a certain contingent of people who take a hard-line position about the definition of jazz. The argument always boils down to the same essential statement: "jazz is jazz; don't use the name for something that's not already acknowledged [by whom, I'm uncertain] to belong to the canon." "Jazz is jazz" says nothing. This perspective can refer only to ... (more)
51. Writing about music online
[musings] June 06 2009 23:44:10 GMT
I participate in a few interactive online communities at any given point in time. One thing I've noticed is that it's difficult to find a musical community of any substantial size in which the members care about discussion. Past some ill-defined critical size (depending, it seems, upon the interests of the members, the membership's median age and the involvement of moderators) it seems as if most communities devolve into popularity cliques in which the dominant "world view" is expressed ... (more)
52. From Quark to Quasar
[musings] May 24 2009 21:57:28 GMT
I rarely review music or recordings in these pages. I'm not interested in validation or refutation of my musical listening choices. However, I do tend to write fairly often about the production values behind both live and recorded sound; it is with this outlook that I approach a review of "From Quark to Quasar", a compilation released by my friend George Koumantzelis on his Aeolian Music Works label. First of all, I have to say that I love the honesty of these recordings. I really like the sense ... (more)
53. Portland: not a music mecca
[musings] May 24 2009 21:34:28 GMT
Portland has a lot of talented people and an insane number of venues. (Eight years ago a friend who worked on a now-defunct local-music newspaper told me that they had counted nearly 200 venues that offer live music. I'm certain there are more now.) The good news is that there's plenty of room for everyone. No matter how offbeat or unusual your music, you can find an audience. That's great for the audience; they benefit from the diversity. For the artists, the real problem is one of momentum. With so many ... (more)
54. A Saturday in the studio
[musings] May 05 2009 05:55:53 GMT
Mary-Suzanne is taking a recording tech class at Portland Community College. This is the third semester of the class, during which the students are required to find and record a band. Mary-Suzanne's team had originally intended to record a chamber-rock group, but the schedules didn't work out. On Saturday morning LCW (the trio consisting of Stephen Caird, Joe Williams and me) arrived at the studio at 8:45 am. The lab tech arrived about 45 minutes later to open the studio. Set-up took about three hours. We ... (more)
55. Behringer
[musings] April 19 2009 04:09:15 GMT
I have a number of pieces of Behringer gear that I use in non-critical applications. The biggest disadvantage of owning Behringer gear is that of having to deal with the Behringer-haters when they see what you're using. Behringer is just another option. FWIW, I see no evidence that they're illegally copying anything except physical appearance. Just because a Behringer mixing board looks like a Mackie, or a Berhringer pedal looks like a Boss or an Electro-Harmonix does not mean that the guts are identical ... (more)
56. I've never been a Deadhead
[musings] April 12 2009 21:33:15 GMT
Q: "What did the Deadhead say when the drugs wore off?" A: "This band sucks!" If you told that joke three decades ago, you were most likely being ironic. Today, chances are you're simply repeating something that you think is supposed to be funny, without really understanding why. I've never been a Deadhead. To me, that's a cultural experience that formed around the musical and artistic vision created by the Grateful Dead. I liked a lot of what the Grateful Dead did in the late `60s and ... (more)
57. Music in context
[musings] April 02 2009 06:08:59 GMT
Is music a product, or a means of human expression? This really gets to the heart of "what is music"? Of course music is often both a means of expression and a product. Some music is more of a product, other music is more intimate and personal. My own preference has shifted over the past twenty years or so toward music which is more personal and less commercial. It's an ongoing process. Along the way I've learned not only to appreciate a broader range of music, but also to listen more for the ... (more)
58. Tone Controls
[musings] March 23 2009 03:51:44 GMT
There are several ways to control the tone - the balance of frequencies throughout the audible range - of your guitar. If you have a guitar with two pickups and separate volume and tone controls you can get all the tonal variation you're likely to need. I frequently adjust the tonal balance of my guitar just by mixing the front and back pickups in varying amounts, especially when I'm playing through a DI straight to the PA. Tone controls come into their own when you need to adjust your sound to better fit ... (more)
59. From the beginning: history & inspiration
[musings] March 18 2009 22:42:19 GMT
I started playing sometime around the middle of the 1960s. I'm old enough that I really can't remember the exact year. Do I count from when I started plinking on my dad's budget classical guitar or when my parents, determined to support my musical interest despite my expressed disinterest in studying classical music, bought me a Kent electric guitar for Christmas? Regardless, let's call it 1967: a year memorable for the "Summer of Love". I was most interested in what was known at time as ... (more)
60. My practice routine
[musings] March 18 2009 03:11:53 GMT
My routine, if you can call it that, is to work on whatever moves me at the moment, with the expressed intent of improving some aspect of my technique or knowledge, or of composing some music, or of breaking out of some kind of rut. Once in a while I have a compositional notion already running through my head when I pick up the guitar. Believe it or not, I get quite a few inspirations from incidental music on TV dramas. Whatever my mind set, I generally start by playing something and listening. When ... (more)
61. Luthier-built vs. production guitars
[musings] March 18 2009 03:01:35 GMT
If you have money to burn, buy whatever you want for whatever reason you want. You don't need anyone's advice for that. On the other hand, if several thousand dollars for a guitar seems like a big investment, then here's my recommendation as to whether you should buy a nice production guitar or have one built especially for you. If you like to play a variety of different guitars and are looking for one more that scratches that itch, stick with a production guitar. There's an incredible variety of ... (more)
62. Acoustic amp for electric guitar
[musings] March 18 2009 02:40:39 GMT
As a first approximation, acoustic amps are designed and built as if they were small PA systems. Acoustic amps have nominally flat frequency response in the electronics. Some have special EQ functionality targeted at electroacoustic guitars: Fender's Acoustasonic has a dynamic filter to reduce piezo quack; many acoustic amps have some kind of notch filter to reduce or eliminate feedback due to the resonance of an acoustic guitar's body. All of these tonal modifiers should be (and in my experience, always ... (more)
63. Bookers and clubs
[musings] March 01 2009 02:13:31 GMT
I've been thinking about the role of bookers and clubs in the music scene. I've reached the conclusion that the former are not doing the latter any favors. My focus, being based upon what I've observed here in Portland, is necessarily narrow. These observations and conclusions are based upon clubs that primarily offer showcase gigs for unknown local bands playing original material. You also need to know that, despite the large number of such venues in Portland, the band-to-venue ratio has been a fairly ... (more)
64. Vintage gear
[musings] February 15 2009 07:14:50 GMT
I have no interest in vintage gear. I'd personally rather start out with something new and leave my own mark on it. I'm not a speculator, so the investment angle is completely off the table for me. I don't buy the argument that vintage is better because it's vintage. Nor do I care for the implication that I'm somehow incapable of appreciating a truly fine instrument, either. (There are always those who would defend their own interests by denigrating others.) I've worked hard to get the sounds I want to ... (more)
65. Are computers good for music?
[musings] February 08 2009 04:12:58 GMT
There are two ways to view the influence of computers and the `net upon music. The first perspective is that computers and the `net are bad because anyone can make and publish music, bypassing the taste makers and gatekeepers and subjecting us all to a lot of music that wouldn't pass muster in the pre `net days. The second perspective is that anyone can make and publish music, bypassing the taste makers and gatekeepers and giving us all a chance to hear music which would otherwise have been filtered out by ... (more)
66. Effects preferences revisited
[musings] January 26 2009 07:17:23 GMT
Every so often I take stock of my effects preferences. A quick search of the site will turn up past inventories. It's interesting (to me, anyhow) to note both the consistencies and the changes. Without further adieu, here's the latest list: My "go to" effects: Reverb Volume and tone on the guitar Bigsby (or other "light" mechanical whammy) Fingers Effects I "get" but use sparingly: Echo (esp. tape echo) Leslie Chorus OD (light, borderline clean) EQ Feedback Amp emulation ... (more)
67. On phase cancellation
[musings] January 26 2009 06:49:07 GMT
This is a discussion of phase and phase cancellation as it applies to guitar rigs. Let's begin with a definition of terms to be sure that we're all on the same page. "Phase" describes the angular relationship between a signal measured at two points in a system at a specific frequency. (This is "relative phase"; it has nothing to do with whether the speaker moves in or out on the note attack...) In a guitar amp, nearly every bit of the circuit introduces some phase shift. The ... (more)
68. Looper Roundup
[musings] January 25 2009 08:18:43 GMT
Here's a review of several loopers that I've used: Boss RC-50 Short of going to a rack unit (a Gibson Digital Echoplex, for example) plus a floor controller this is pretty much the flagship of loopers. It's complicated with lots of options. It'll store loops with the power off, so you can do things like record backing tracks - up to three parts per song - and use the stomp switches to control which part plays. There are 99 programs, each of which can store up to 3 loops. Total loop time is 48 minutes in ... (more)
69. Tone, Technique, Style and Gear
[musings] January 17 2009 22:05:33 GMT
A player's tone, technique, style and choice of gear tend to evolve hand-in-hand. It's not enough to say that a player's tone comes from his fingers (i.e. from how he approaches the instrument), even though that's true. It's also not enough to say that every equipment nuance makes some difference, even that's also true. The two are inextricably related. An experienced player responds to (and adjusts) the gear at hand to get the sound he wants to hear. Changes in picking intensity, hand position, and ... (more)
70. The future of tubes?
[musings] January 11 2009 22:29:14 GMT
What is the future of tubes and tube amps? Will recent improvements in digital modelers (specifically, the highly-regarded Axe-Fx by Fractal Audio Systems) convince so many guitarists to switch that tube-amp production will decline? Will a reduction in demand for tubes for guitar amplifiers cause the eventual cessation of tube manufacturing? Will vacuum-tube guitar amplifiers become a curiosity seen only in museums? I don't think any of those scenarios will come to pass during the next few decades. ... (more)
71. 2009 Musical Goals
[musings] January 01 2009 23:44:13 GMT
My musical goal for 2009 is to improve my improvisational and compositional skills. That's it... ... (more)
72. 2008 in review
[musings] January 01 2009 23:27:51 GMT
It's time for a review of my musical goals for the year 2008. My goals for the year were to record, to make some of my recorded output available to the public, to focus more on music than gear, to perform in public, and to shift my performance focus toward solo gigs. This past spring I started collaborating with my friend and multi-instrumentalist Stephen Caird. Stephen plays his Steinberger bass cello. In July we added another mutual friend, drummer Joe Williams. This has been a very enjoyable ... (more)
73. On powering pedals
[musings] January 01 2009 02:26:20 GMT
Since I stopped playing in bands (only recently making an exception for the LCW project) I have been striving to reduce the amount of gear I use to make music. I'll probably never go as far as switching to an acoustic guitar; I'm very comfortable playing the Koll guitars that I have had custom-built to my specs. When I play in front of an audience, most of the time I do so as a solo performer. There are advantages to playing solo: there are no schedules to coordinate and I can (and usually do) compose as ... (more)
74. Solid-state vs. tube amplifiers for guitar
[musings] December 28 2008 23:58:00 GMT
I don't think there's any such thing as a defensible proof that tube amps are better than SS, or vice versa. It's really a matter of taste and objectives. SS amps tend to fill a different niche than tube amps. You'll have a difficult time getting a pristine clean sound from a tube amp. OTOH, tube amps are revered for their distortion characteristics. It comes naturally with the design. A lot of discussion surrounds the character of distortion one gets from tube amps; this varies from design to design and ... (more)
75. Anti-digital myths busted
[musings] December 28 2008 23:32:46 GMT
A lot of anti-digital arguments are made by people who understand only the quantization portion of the A/D/A process. I'm sure you've seen the diagrams: a smooth analog waveform is sampled at a regular interval to produce a stairstep approximation of the original signal. If this is all you know about, it's easy to argue convincingly (although incorrectly) that the original waveform is not preserved and that the accuracy of phase information suffers as the input frequency approaches the Nyquist limit, which ... (more)
76. Guitar rig architectures
[musings] December 07 2008 22:05:36 GMT
A frequent question among guitarists struggling to understand the available technology is "In what order should I connect all of my gear?". The most common answer seems to be "Do whatever sounds good to you", which is correct without being helpful. It turns out that there are some simplifying principles one can apply. I explain this in terms of "architectures" - or organizing principles - for guitar rigs. Despite the apparently endless proliferation of detailed configurations, ... (more)
77. The paradox of practice
[musings] December 07 2008 20:06:41 GMT
I find that having a regular practice routine has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage, of course, is that my technique, fluency and knowledge all improve over time. This is important. Without making some progress in what I'm able to play, I tend to stagnate in what I do play. When I practice I like to work on chord voicings, fingerings, voice leading, and occasionally scales and rhythmic motifs. I also try to advance my comprehension of theory and terminology. I've been doing this for the past ... (more)
78. How to increase sustain
[musings] November 24 2008 07:28:21 GMT
If your guitar doesn't have much natural sustain, then adding a compressor will be of limited benefit. A compressor can only bring up the level of a signal; if it doesn't get enough signal (i.e. if the note dies) then it can't boost the level. A digital reverb unit with a good-sounding hall program might help, but there's going to be a tradeoff between note articulation and the extra "hang time" you get from the `verb. You should get a bit of a sustain boost from the acoustic interaction between ... (more)
79. Electric guitar as a folk instrument
[musings] November 16 2008 04:57:47 GMT
So many guitarists focus on the sound produced by their instrument rather than the actual music executed by the player. The sound of pop music is important. But there's such a thing, I think, as an unhealthy obsession with sound. Or to cast it in more familiar terms: an obsession with form over content. Go into a music store and you'll hear all manner of players playing a few repetitive figures while twisting knobs to evoke strange strange sonic mutations. I won't go so far as to single out sonic ... (more)
80. A survey of lightweight rigs
[musings] November 10 2008 05:04:01 GMT
Up until a couple years ago I was long-time tube-amp fanatic. My preferences in tube amps ran to heavy amps: Mesa/Boogies, then Fender Twins and Vibro-Kings. Eventually I got tired of lugging all that iron (a significant portion of a tube amp's weight is in its transformers). I set out on a quest to find a great-sounding tube amp weighing about 30 pounds. I eventually concluded that can't be done without sacrificing clean headroom. The closest match I found to my requirements was the Tone King Meteor II. ... (more)
81. Are DJs ruining the live-music scene?
[musings] November 10 2008 04:29:32 GMT
I hear this from professional musicians all the time: that DJs are "ruining" the live music scene by "stealing" gigs from "real" musicians. If you look back over the history of live music, you'll see this sentiment repeated over and over. Is there a reason for this? Sure there is is... Ignorance. Jealousy. Maybe both. I'm a guitarist. I don't grok DJs. On the other hand I recognize that there's a vast range of sounds, instrumentation and techniques that qualify as music. Look ... (more)
82. Are tubes good enough for the future of guitar music?
[musings] November 10 2008 01:23:54 GMT
Every rig has its tradeoffs. If the mere presence of tubes was enough to get that "grail tone", none of us would have gone through multiple iterations of a tube-amp rig before converging on "the one" that worked. (Only to go on another quest a few months or years later, but that's another matter entirely...) Modeling has been with us now for ten years. Technologically we're well past the teething stage. Whatever shortcomings may have been apparent in early digital devices have been long ... (more)
83. Effect loop pitfalls
[musings] November 09 2008 20:58:33 GMT
Many guitarists run time-based effect pedals (i.e. modulation and delay) in the loop of their amp. This is a good thing to do when using a distortion channel. But the attempt is not always successful. Depending upon the gear, there may be complaints of volume loss in a loop, mushiness, "filter" sounds when engaged, etc. Often these complaints are associated with digital effect units, leading to complaints that the effect "sounds digital". In reality, digital gear doesn't have a ... (more)
84. "The Cult of the Amateur" & Music
[musings] October 13 2008 06:08:26 GMT
I'm reading Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur". I spotted this book on display at the entrance to Powell's Technical Book Store and gave it a cursory examination. At first glance Keen seemed to share many of my own observations about the `net, in particular his condemnation of the narcissistic nature of social-networking and popularity-based sites. I also noticed that Keen dedicated a couple of chapters to the effect of the `net on the music industry, a subject near and dear to my own ... (more)
85. Making your own cables
[musings] October 05 2008 02:35:49 GMT
If you're handy with a soldering iron, wire cutter and knife you can make your own instrument cables. Now there's nothing at all wrong with ready-made cables; they're available in a wide range of materials and price ranges. Making your own cables, however, is a good way to experiment with combinations of materials that may not be available off-the-shelf. Additionally, you can save a bit of money even if your cables use the same materials as ready-made cables. You don't have to pay for profit, advertising, ... (more)
86. Anatomy of a listening test
[musings] September 25 2008 05:52:42 GMT
I recently got together with a small group of friends for our semi-annual gear-geekery and jamming. One of our activities this year was a listening test for a batch of ten cables. This was by no means a controlled test. We used three players, three guitars and two amplifiers. One amp was set clean or just below breakup, depending upon the guitar (the amp settings were not changed. The other amp was purely clean. The ten cables were all ten feet long, differing in materials, construction and configuration. ... (more)
87. What's new? (09-2008)
[musings] September 23 2008 04:37:34 GMT
I usually wait until the end of the year to review my progress against annual goals, but so much has changed that I thought it worthwhile to take a look back at the past nine months. My primary goal for the year was to start recording again. Prior to this year the last time I'd done any recording was in 2003. That's a five-year gap. What's interesting to me is the nature of the new recordings. I had originally envisioned doing some multitrack recording. My plan at the start of the year was to collect a ... (more)
88. Comfort above all else
[musings] September 19 2008 21:12:23 GMT
One bit of advice that you'll hear repeated without thought is that "tone is the most important thing". Is it really? Why? This slogan surely sells a lot of gear, which is comforting not only for the manufacturers but also for the gear-obsessed advocates of finding the holy grail of tone in some combination of equipment. After all, a quest without some kind of recognition - or at least the company of fellow seekers - doesn't really have much to sustain it. I've come to believe that ... (more)
89. Gear advice
[musings] September 19 2008 17:37:07 GMT
Here's advice I would have given myself some time ago had I known then what I know now: Pssst: It's not the gear. Once you get beyond finding a comfortable instrument the rest is what's in your head, heart and fingers. Remember the story about Chet Atkins who, when a fan complimented the way his guitar sounded, put it on a stand and asked "How does it sound now?". Don't spend money on gear for the sake of variety. Get one or two good instruments and play the heck out of them. Play with a clean ... (more)
90. Lies, damn lies and specs
[musings] September 05 2008 18:45:18 GMT
As a guitarist you've probably become used to hearing fanciful "cork-sniffer" descriptions of the tone associated with various products. It goes with the territory; the best you can do is to hold your nose, open your ears (and wallet) and hope that the product delivers on its advertised promises. You may have become so used to subjective descriptions that you're inclined to treat objective specifications as gospel truth. Unfortunately, you can't assume that numbers and charts mean anything. ... (more)
91. Simpler, ever simpler
[musings] September 02 2008 04:58:07 GMT
In my quest for a lighter, easier-to-use rig I've taken another step toward simplification. It was nearly two years ago that I ditched my tube amp and pedalboard in favor of a rig based around a digital modeler and a full-range amplification system. Eliminating the iron (good tube amps carry some pretty heft transformers) and switching to solid-state amplification eliminated a lot of weight from my rig. I programmed the digital modeler to sound the way I wanted when played through a full-range amplifier ... (more)
92. Playing in "the zone"
[musings] July 14 2008 20:44:40 GMT
For me, playing in "the zone" implies a certain kind of detachment. When I'm not in the zone there's a lot of self-evaluation regarding how well my execution matches my intention. I can play through the inevitable disappointments, but they're distracting. When I'm in that frame of mind it's difficult to establish any real "flow"; I tend to lean heavily on practiced parts and motifs. When I am in the zone it's as if every note (and for me that implies voices within a chord - I play very ... (more)
93. Spencer
[musings] July 12 2008 23:39:16 GMT
Spencer is the youngest of five cats in our household. We picked him up from the shelter the day after actor John Spencer died, hence the name. (We were big fans of West Wing). Spencer loves hanging out in the music room, even when I play. ... (more)
94. Flat EQ for guitar
[musings] July 07 2008 05:25:51 GMT
From the "everything I think I know is probably wrong" department... We all know how important EQ is in shaping guitar tone. EQ is in the tone stack, the speakers, the pickups, the room ... literally dozens of design/implementation decisions shape the overall EQ. One thing I've always heard - and have taken for granted - is that "flat EQ" (intentionally, if not actually) isn't an appropriate sound for guitar. I've always assumed that an electric guitar DI'd to a PA, for example, ... (more)
95. Playing guitar through a full-range amp
[musings] July 07 2008 00:02:51 GMT
Here's another in a series of "everything I thought I knew was wrong" articles. I once thought that a flat, full-range amplifier was always unsuited to use with an electric guitar. I'm discovering that's not entirely true. My search for lightweight amplifiers led me to a 20-pound (that's including the carrying case) amplifier designed for acoustic guitar. This amp sounds great with my Koll guitars. There are many common arguments against playing an electric guitar through a clean, full-range ... (more)
96. Electro-Harmonix SMMH vs. Eventide TimeFactor
[musings] June 23 2008 05:16:14 GMT
I'm in the midst of purging my underutilized gear. Because I have a weakness for echo effects, I've given careful consideration to which ones to keep and which ones to sell. One of the more interesting comparisons is between the $400 Eventide TimeFactor and the $215 Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. I'll spare you the suspense: I'm selling the Eventide. The two units couldn't be more different, right from the time you open their respective boxes. The TimeFactor comes packaged in a large ... (more)
97. How loud is too loud?
[musings] June 22 2008 00:01:26 GMT
Safe exposure to loud noise, including music, depends upon the intensity of the sound and duration of the exposure. When I first posted this article (in March 2004) I was advised by a correspondent that OSHA guidelines (retained below for comparison) are now considered too lax for adequate hearing preservation. I finally found the NIOSH guidelines (also adopted by ANSI) which are based upon actual sound energy. In other words a 3dB increase in sound level reduces the safe exposure time by a factor of two. ... (more)
98. Cable Nuances Revisited
[musings] June 15 2008 06:05:58 GMT
I've been saying all along that total capacitance is the sole contribution to the "sound" of an instrument cable. My last article on the subject left me wondering, though, how an "insignificant" difference in capacitance could produce a clearly identifiable difference in a blind test. My argument was that it should take a significant shift in the resonant frequency of the guitar (caused by the change in capacitance between different cables) to cause a detectable difference in sound. I ... (more)
99. Why play?
[musings] May 25 2008 07:49:02 GMT
Every now and then I get introspective. This time I intend to explore and explain my reasons for playing music. I don't need to play music, at least in the sense that I am not compelled by external forces - income and validation, for example - to play. There are, however, other compulsions that come into play. I've always had "big ears", probably from growing up in a family where most of the adults on my mother's side were very good classical musicians. Not that it did me much good - I repeatedly ... (more)
100. Which FRFR system should I buy?
[musings] May 05 2008 06:05:57 GMT
"I have a modeling processor and want to run it through a FRFR amplifier. Which one is best for my needs? How many watts is enough? What else do I need to know?" There's no good short answer to these questions. As with everything else musical, the short answer is always: "it depends..." That's the bad news. The good news is that it's a lot easier to pick out a FRFR amp for a modeling processor than it is to pick out a guitar amp. When you run a modeling processor through a FRFR ... (more)
101. Weight reduction
[musings] April 07 2008 05:27:39 GMT
As you may have noticed, I stopped drinking the "tube-amp cool aid" about a year ago. I bought a digital modeling processor, sold my tube amps, and didn't look back. That was the first step on the road to reducing the mass of gear I have to lug. My old rig (guitar in hardshell case, Vibro-King, guitar, small pedalboard, small gig bag and a luggage cart to carry all that) tipped the scale at about 110 pounds. The luggage cart made the load just barely tolerable; steps, curbs, and uneven ground ... (more)
102. Strings and finesse
[musings] April 07 2008 04:31:08 GMT
It seems like there's this whole mystical post-SRV thing where many guitarists believe that to be a real player you have to string your guitar with heavy strings... at least 12s, preferably 13s. That's workable if you don't do a lot of string bending. In fact, heavier strings are useful for jazz guitar (helps to prevent pulling notes out of tune when you stretch for those big chords) and surf guitar (tremolo picking is easier on stiffer strings.) But repeatedly bending heavy strings can lead to repetitive ... (more)
103. My pedal pops!
[musings] April 07 2008 04:02:20 GMT
"My pedal pops when I step on the bypass switch. What's wrong?" It's a true bypass (TB) pedal, isn't it? If so, it's an interaction between the TB circuit and one of the surrounding pedals or the amp. Popping is a well-known problem with TB pedals. It comes from a small DC level shift as the bypass switch disconnects one set of circuitry and connects another. The leakage current through a coupling capacitor (or from the grid of the first tube in your amp) develops a small voltage across whatever ... (more)
104. Solo Improv Guitar
[musings] March 08 2008 08:23:16 GMT
A few years ago I decided that I wanted to be able to play music that would stand on its own. The guitar can take on different roles; the most common are accompaniment (rhythm guitar, backing for a vocalist) or a solo "voice" (lead guitar). Both of these roles assume use of the guitar in some kind of ensemble. When I started down this path I had in mind a plan to play largely improvised music. No improvisation is truly "free" - there's always some structure or framework. This is ... (more)
105. Technology vs. passion
[musings] March 02 2008 04:09:13 GMT
I grew up with live music. Many of the adults in my mother's extended family were professional musicians who played in symphony orchestras and taught at the music conservatory. Impromptu recitals were common at family gatherings. Although I learned about electric guitars by watching Ricky Nelson on television at about the same time Leo Fender had introduced the Stratocaster to the world, it was the guitar-driven pop of the early and mid 1960s that first caught my attention and fueled my preadolescent ... (more)
106. Echo Roundup
[musings] January 14 2008 00:08:14 GMT
Next to reverb, delay is one of my favorite effects. Being a child of the `60s I tend to prefer delays that have a bit of a tape-echo vibe rather than the pristine precision of `80s-style digital delays. In this article I'll briefly review the delay units I've owned over the past seven or eight years. Korg used to make a stompbox called the 301dl. It runs on 4 AA batteries or a standard 9V adapter. The Korg is incredibly flexible for a stompbox echo, particularly given its size. There are four knobs ... (more)
107. Kritz DH-111t
[gear] January 07 2008 01:08:17 GMT
I bought this Kritz DH-111t guitar in 2003 while visiting Amsterdam. Despite superficial similarities to billions of other Strat knock-offs, the Kritz is loaded with innovations. This guitar plays well, is remarkably stable through seasonal changes, and stays in tune well despite the fact that I have the trem set to float. ... (more)
108. Cable comparison, part 2
[musings] December 17 2007 04:59:38 GMT
Tonight I did a blind test using the two cables mentioned previously. The one I liked better in the non-blind tests is a Quantum EPI. This is made from Quantum 2300 cable with gold-plated G&H ends. The other cable was built for me by Blue Jeans Cables from Belden 1800F with nickel-plated Neutrik ends. I was blindfolded. We started with both cables unplugged. Mary-Suzanne picked one cable and connected it to the guitar and the GT-8. I played, listening for the same cues I had heard in the non-blind test ... (more)
109. Cable comparison, part 1
[musings] December 17 2007 04:52:36 GMT
I have what one might generously describe as a surfeit of instrument cables. Some people collect guitars or amps or pedals. I collect cables. At least my quirk is relatively inexpensive. A week ago I was sorting through my cables, probably in an unconscious attempt to make room for more. I got to listening to the differences among the cables. You may recall from other articles that I'm firmly in the camp that believes that there are several important attributes of a cable: (1) capacitance, (2) shielding, ... (more)
110. 2008 Musical Goals
[musings] December 10 2007 04:36:06 GMT
As I've done for a number of years (the most recent of which I've documented in these pages), it's time for me to think about what I'd like to accomplish with my music in the year ahead. My primary goal for 2008 is to start recording again. The last time I recorded anything of my own was in 2003. I'd like to document the progress I've made since then and create an objective record of my playing for future reference. Secondarily it'd be nice if some of my recorded output were to be suitable for public ... (more)
111. 2007 in review
[musings] December 10 2007 04:14:41 GMT
It's time for a review of my musical goals for the year 2007. My musical goals for the year were to challenge myself, improve my playing, expand my repertoire, and break out of familiar habits. These goals are highly subjective. Not only that, but I have no one to whom I can turn for an outside opinion. Nevertheless, I believe that I have been successful in meeting my objectives. I have improved my sense of time and harmony. To a lesser extent I have made some progress regarding my melodic sensibilities. I ... (more)
112. Hearing with your eyes
[musings] November 13 2007 05:56:11 GMT
"Hearing with your eyes" is a real problem in some circles. I've had players tell me that they loved the sound of my "vintage" Vibro-King at a solo gig, going on to wax rhapsodic about the great old amps of the `60s and how they all kick the ass of anything built since 1969 because "they just don't make the parts they way they used to." Yup, there's nothing quite like those three year old Vibro-Kings... Others look down their nose at garden-variety "prosumer" gear: ... (more)
113. Box of 1,000 sounds
[musings] October 23 2007 04:03:30 GMT
Thinking about a modeler in terms of how many potential tones it can create is the wrong way `round, IMO. (Unless you're really trying to nail hundreds of different tones.) The way I see it a modeler has to give me one or two great tones. This is no different than buying any other amp. The fact that you could get hundreds of other tones out of the modeler just means that someone else having different musical objectives could use the same modeler and get one or two other great tones that satisfy him. It's a ... (more)
114. May 2007 Rosedrop Media Circus podcast
[musings] October 15 2007 22:53:22 GMT
Mary-Suzanne and I were guests on Dan and Aaron Linn's Rosedrop Media Circus podcast this past May, along with friends Robert Madrid and Mike Birchet. The hour-long podcast is available for download in two thirty-minute segments. Part 1 Part 2 Part 1 features three of Mary-Suzanne's songs performed live, plus one of her instrumental compositions. Part 2 opens with a jam with friends Robert Madrid (flute) and Mike Birchet (percussion), followed by an "Old Miner Blues" featuring Mike on harmonica. ... (more)
115. Beware of placing form over content
[musings] October 13 2007 19:09:45 GMT
This particular line of thought has been percolating for a while. In short, it's my answer to the question: "What's the point of fancy gear and of the glossy production and promotion of music?" Yes, I do believe that those subjects are related. Let's start with production and promotion. If you live in a city that has a large number of active musicians, or even if you only read the trade rags, you're going to notice that there are a lot of folks willing - you might actually say anxious - to sell ... (more)
116. "Tone" is not the goal
[musings] October 06 2007 18:20:35 GMT
As musicians we need to work with the tools at hand to make music. The obsession with "tone" is a consumption-driven concern: you need to have or buy some tangible product to get "better" tone. But "tone" is just another tool. It's not the goal. If you don't have anything to say in a musical sense, it doesn't matter what you think of your "tone". Sometimes I get the impression that certain guitarists spend the majority of their time playing the same material the same ... (more)
117. Maybe it's not a phase, after all...
[musings] September 16 2007 03:22:38 GMT
Maybe it's not a phase, after all... Over seven months have passed since I put my tube amps into storage and set up my modeling rig. My main impetus for going to modeling was to reduce the size and weight of my rig while still getting a sound I really liked. I programmed my sound without reference to any of the tube amps... I did the whole thing "by ear". The modeling rig has held up nicely through a half-dozen gigs plus a lot of jams; it's also perfect for my practice sessions without abusing my ... (more)
118. Koll Custom DL #2
[gear] July 31 2007 20:34:06 GMT
This guitar is a variation on my first Koll custom guitar. This guitar was about 39 months in the making (commissioned May 2, 2004, delivered July 29, 2007). It's worth every second of the wait. This guitar has the same construction as the first Koll DL and is very acoustically lively. The P-90s and Bigsby give #2 a unique flavor. Specs and progress photo galleries are listed here. ... (more)
119. Koll Custom DL #2 specs
[gear] July 31 2007 03:07:21 GMT
┬ ┬ ┬ The construction of the Koll Custom DL #2 shall be the same as the Custom DL #1, except for the following details: ElementNew Spec Top and back: Quilted maple Sides: Quilted maple Neck: 3-piece birdseye maple with walnut stringers Inlays: Split block (ref: Gibson Super 400, Les Paul Supreme) Here's a Super 400. Note that the fret markers on the Super 400 end at the 17th fret. On the Koll, the markers should be present up through the 21st fret. Finish: Transparent blue tri-burst Here's the desired ... (more)
120. I have to use a modeling rig!
[musings] July 27 2007 20:56:40 GMT
At some point you may be faced with having to use a modeling processor whether you want to or not. Perhaps you travel a lot and want a predictable sound without carrying your own backline. Maybe you live in a city, don't have a car, and need to take a bus or taxi to gigs. Or you might simply be tired of lugging a heavy rig. This past January I put my favorite amp, the one I had been playing 99% of the time for four years - a Vibro-King - into storage because I got tired of lugging a hundred pounds of gear ... (more)
121. Advances in Technology, Revisited
[musings] June 11 2007 00:42:11 GMT
I've been playing my guitar through a modeler - and nothing but a modeler - for four months now. I've had no desire to go back to my tube amps; the modeler sounds great. I am holding on to my tube amps, at least for a while. Tube amps are, after all, the benchmark of great guitar tone. But I'm beginning to wonder whether the benefits of a tube amp aren't outweighed by its disadvantages. I won't belabor the benefits of a tube amp: the dynamic response to a player's touch makes the amp an extension of the ... (more)
122. Big Music can no longer afford talent
[musings] May 31 2007 02:38:10 GMT
Music industry commentators seem to be fond of saying that there is no longer a viable talent pool from which they can draw to groom the next hot act. A "creative drought" supposedly prevents the labels from signing artists whom the public will willingly embrace. Yes, it's all the fault of the no-talent artists. Or maybe we're finally paying the price for the curtailment of music education in public schools. A creative drought?! Perhaps from the perspective of the majors. But try to see it from ... (more)
123. The Music Industry is not Broken
[musings] May 28 2007 03:23:32 GMT
Media outlets tell us on a regular basis that the music industry is "broken" because CD sales (based upon sales reports from the majors, apparently) are on the decline. Pundits, celebrities, musicians ... actually, just about anyone who makes, buys or profits from music ... have chimed in with reasons for the current state of affairs and suggestions for fixing the "problem". I'd argue that the decline in sales of CDs by the majors is symptomatic of an increase in the overall health of ... (more)
124. The Downside of Cliches
[musings] May 26 2007 01:44:52 GMT
A while ago I wrote about how cliches are an essential part of music because they provide a point of reference for the listener. If your playing gets too far "out there" the listener will be confused or alienated. You'll need to adhere to some kind of recognizable convention, even if the convention is one that you develop on your own. Listeners need a certain amount of predictability, even when you're breaking the rules. If you go too far into unknown territory, the absence of a discernable ... (more)
125. Do you really get what you pay for?
[musings] May 21 2007 21:18:00 GMT
Recently a correspondent suggested that there's a direct correlation between cost and performance of MI gear. He commented that a $2,000 tube amplifier must sound better than a $400 modeling processor. Or to couch the argument in his terms, the modeling processor can only be "expected to sound like $400 worth." I'll state my response right up front: This is utter nonsense. With that out of the way, let's look at several ways in which the "you get what you pay for" argument falls apart: ... (more)
126. Old Dogs, New Tricks
[musings] May 20 2007 17:19:00 GMT
From time to time I run into a player who got started with guitar "a long time ago", is mostly or completely self-taught and is now wondering how to become more proficient with their instrument and whether the many years of self-instruction will impede future progress. If you're worried about this, I'd like to start by suggesting that you already are as proficient as you can be, given where you are right now in terms of knowledge and execution. That's a bit new-agey, perhaps... my point is that ... (more)
127. Ordering a Custom Guitar
[musings] May 10 2007 23:43:27 GMT
The way I look at it, a one-of-a-kind custom guitar is worth the wait. There are countless issues, both anticipated and unforseen, which must be addressed in order to make a custom instrument. I'm not talking about "checklist customization" where your choices are limited to things you can pick off of a fixed menu. The guys who build "checklist customized" instruments really ought to have a process in place that guarantees a certain degree of repeatability and predictability. If you want ... (more)
128. Evolution and Contradiction
[musings] May 05 2007 03:05:21 GMT
This article is about how I've apparently contradicted myself as my guitar rig and playing has evolved. Yes, I'm happy with my tone now, but it took me a while to reach this point. Along the way I've made some decisions that might appear to be contradictory. I started playing guitar in `99 after a roughly 20-year layoff. When I picked up the guitar again in `99 a lot had changed - technologically - compared to what I was used to in the `60s and `70s. During the first four years I flipped a lot of gear ... (more)
129. Musicianship vs. Sound Reinforcement
[musings] May 05 2007 02:43:26 GMT
Many bands experience problems that they believe to be caused by, or correctable by, proper application of amplification or sound reinforcement technology. The problems include: The vocalist can't be heard over the instruments. The balance among the instruments is not right. The dynamics are limited; everyone seems to be playing as loud as possible most of the time. The musicians cannot hear each other's subtle cues. The entire performance occurs at an extreme volume. Some of these problems can be ... (more)
130. Sound Reinforcement in Small Rooms
[musings] May 05 2007 02:25:33 GMT
For a small room (up to 100 people or so) my preference is to run only vocals (and kick drum, if warranted by the genre) through the PA. There are a lot of benefits to this approach: Audience members can hear more or less as they prefer. There's no escape from a multi-kilowatt PA. It's tough to establish a rapport with your audience when they're flinching from excessive SPL or going out to the street to have a conversation. Complexity is reduced tremendously. You're driving the room from the backline (plus ... (more)
131. Modelers vs. Tube Amps (3)
[musings] May 05 2007 02:07:28 GMT
This is the third in a series of three articles comparing tube amps to modelers from various viewpoints. I like tube amps, but they're not without their limitations: weight - lots of iron in those transformers! reliability - tube wear, failures, microphonics cost - you're paying for components that don't benefit as much from manufacturing economies volume - gotta deal with that "sweet spot" OTOH, tube amps have that sound which is absolutely fantastic when it works for you. Point is, tube amps ... (more)
132. Modelers vs. Tube Amps (2)
[musings] May 05 2007 01:59:43 GMT
This is the second in a series of three articles comparing tube amps to modelers from various viewpoints. Let's be fair... Not every tube amp is a stellar example of the technology. Compared to the number of digital modelers on the market, the availability of tube amps is staggering. And don't forget that the typical price of a tube amp is some multiple of that of a modeler. I'm not going to argue that tube amps have something that you can't get from a modeler. I've recently switched to running a digital ... (more)
133. Modelers vs. Tube Amps (1)
[musings] May 05 2007 01:59:34 GMT
This is the first in a series of three articles comparing tube amps to modelers from various viewpoints. I bought my GT-8 and a portable PA a few months ago because I finally got fed up with lugging close to a hundred pounds of tube amp and pedals. I picked the GT-8 over the competition for a lot of reasons that I won't go into here because that's not really the point of this article. I spent about 20 years away from the guitar; I got back into playing in the spring of 1999. As you might guess, I'm old ... (more)
134. Does gear define the player?
[musings] April 08 2007 20:57:03 GMT
I don't doubt that some players have "stumbled" onto some combination of gear which inspires and defines a signature sound. But I think you have to look at the player's predisposition. Was finding that sound an accident, or did he have the good luck to figure out how to make the kind of sound that he wanted to hear? There's a tremendous amount of complexity hidden just below the surface of a good musical instrument. I think it's a huge mistake to assume that a certain kind of instrument is tied ... (more)
135. The importance of guitars vs. amps
[musings] April 08 2007 20:35:11 GMT
I see a lot of discussions regarding the relative importance of one's guitar vs. amplifier. Common topics include "How much money do you put into each as a percentage of your total expenditure?" and "Would you rather play an unfamiliar amp or an unfamiliar guitar?" I think that one's perspective on this topic has a lot to do with how you approach the instrument. There's no "right" answer. However, if you view the amp as your primary "tone generator" you'll ... (more)
136. DIs, Speaker Simulators and Amp Modelers
[musings] April 08 2007 20:12:54 GMT
I think a lot of players don't understand the differences among a DI, a speaker emulator and an amp modeler. These are commonly-used tools for guitarists who want to play their instrument "direct to the board", usually in situations where it's necessary or desirable to minimize stage volume. Briefly, here's what each unit does: A DI ideally does nothing to the sound. It converts from a high-impedance unbalanced signal to a low-impedance balanced signal. A speaker emulator alters the frequency ... (more)
137. Are tube amps right for small venues?
[musings] April 04 2007 04:35:21 GMT
With the proliferation of modern sound-reinforcement technology, more and more guitarists hear those dreaded words over the sound guy's talkback microphone: "You're going to have to turn your guitar down." This leads guitarists on a merry chase: they want the sound of hot tubes at a volume that tube amps were never meant to operate. I'm sure the situation varies with locale, but around here most venues have a decent house PA operated by a hired sound guy. Most of these are very small venues, so ... (more)
138. Aural fatigue and dialing in your rig
[musings] April 04 2007 04:05:05 GMT
I'm all for having a sound that makes me comfortable as a player. Gawd knows I've been through a lot of gear that hasn't supported my musical goals. It took me a while to find the combination of playing style and -- to perhaps invent a term -- "tonal style" that is right for me. I said "tonal style" rather than "gear" because it's the the tone that's important; I've learned that I can get "my tone" from lots of different kinds of gear, now that I understand what ... (more)
139. Longevity of digital gear
[musings] March 25 2007 19:26:08 GMT
One question that I've pondered since my switch to a digital rig is this: "What happens five or ten years from now?" I see tube amps from the sixties and seventies that are still going strong with minor service. I wonder what's going to happen to these digital wonders over the long term... The problem as I see it is that digital gear after about five or ten years may not be serviceable. There's a lot of purpose-made pieces in these things. Manufacturers tend to cut off support for products past a ... (more)
140. Benefits of a digital guitar rig
[musings] March 22 2007 05:09:47 GMT
I'm going to define a digital rig very narrowly as a digital processor plus a full-range amp and speakers. A processor connected to a tube guitar amp or to a tube power amp plus guitar speaker is a different kind of rig; these alternatives are no less valid or interesting but are not the subject of this discussion. A digital guitar rig is an interesting thing. It's not, and will never be, the same as a rig that has a tube amp at its core. But the digital rig can in fact become part of your instrument, ... (more)
141. Traynor K4 vs. Yamaha STAGEPAS 300
[musings] March 18 2007 04:50:28 GMT
I bought a Traynor K4 keyboard amp today. I'm using the K4 with my GT-8. So far, so good. I also have a Yamaha STAGEPAS 300. The K4 obviously serves the same function as the STAGEPAS (as full-range flat-response amplification for a modeler), so here are the pros and cons of each: Size and weight: Point to the STAGEPAS, which is 40 pounds vs the K4's 50 pounds. The pair of STAGEPAS speakers (with the powered mixer tucked into the back of one) is smaller than the K4. Volume: Point to K4. This was my ... (more)
142. Guitar-magazine reviews
[musings] March 17 2007 05:53:17 GMT
Ever wonder about gear reviews in guitar magazines? Me, too. Editors and publishers defend themselves against accusations of favoritism to advertisers, citing organizational "walls" between advertising sales and the editorial team, a preference to only review "good" products in order to make the best use (best for whom?) of limited space, etc. Frankly, I don't buy the explanations. Here's my advice to guitar-magazine publishers and editors: First, my understanding is that the most of ... (more)
143. Direct-to-PA
[musings] February 27 2007 06:37:32 GMT
A direct-to-PA rig has a lot to recommend it. Put together a floorboard processor and some in-ear-monitors (IEMs) and you can play any venue that has a decent house PA. Let's not forget the cost and weight savings: that's good for the wallet and the back. It's all very tempting... But there's a lot more to consider than just cost or flexibility or "cool factor"... For example: How many different sounds do you have to cover? Are you in control of your choice of sounds, or is someone else (e.g. a ... (more)
144. More power!
[musings] February 26 2007 18:21:50 GMT
Now that I've started playing my guitar through a modeling processor my amplification has changed as well. I'm using a "full-range, flat response" (FRFR) amplification system. This simply means that the amplification system is a sound reproduction system that doesn't add any significant coloration of its own to the sound. Examples of FRFR systems include PAs and keyboard amplifiers. My FRFR system is a 300-watt portable PA. Yes, that's right... I wanted to play at lower volumes, so I went from a ... (more)
145. Digital rig pros and cons
[musings] February 26 2007 04:17:13 GMT
Four weeks ago I put my tube amps and my pedal boards into storage and replaced them with a modeling floor processor and a compact PA system. This odd and somewhat sudden shift came on the heels of two months of trying to find a good way to lighten my rig's carry weight. My search initially concentrated on lightweight tube amps, none of which were entirely satisfactory in terms of performance or weight. Despite earlier admonitions to myself to avoid digital gear, I ended up buying an ... (more)
146. Lectrosonics IS-400 Wireless System Review
[musings] January 12 2007 01:38:08 GMT
Today I "owned" a $1,200 wireless system for a few hours. I picked up a Lectrosonics IS-400 system from local pro-audio shop Cascade Media the first thing this morning. The deal was that I'd have the package until Monday morning at which point I was to either return it or they'd charge my card. After checking specs and reading whitepapers on the Lectrosonics site, I was convinced that they really have something with the technology behind this unit. I was fully prepared to call up Cascade Media ... (more)
147. 2007 Musical Goals
[musings] January 01 2007 05:08:19 GMT
It's time to think about my musical goals for 2007. I set some fairly ambitious goals for myself in 2006, and blew off most of them without regret. I had a good year overall, making some serious progress in my playing technique and in my knowledge of both theory and the instrument. I made some reasonable progress in the kinds of material I'm able to imagine and to play. I even played a couple of gigs. All good things... I play primarily for my own enjoyment. I have no firm intentions of forming or joining ... (more)
148. A minimalist pedalboard
[musings] December 26 2006 04:47:57 GMT
It seems that guitarists have varying definitions of "small" pedal boards. For many, any board with less than a half-dozen or so pedals is considered "small". Seeing that my "large" (19 by 8 inch) board has three pedals (although to be fair, they're all double pedals for a total of six effects), it shouldn't be surprising that my "small" board is what one might consider "minimalist" in a strict sense. This is a 10- by 7-inch board with only two pedals: a ... (more)
149. Boutique gear?
[musings] December 18 2006 02:09:58 GMT
Boutique gear, for purposes of this article, means any gear that comes from a "small shop". This is in keeping with the literal definition of the word "boutique", but leaves open to interpretation the meaning of "small". I tend to think of a small shop not so much in terms of the number of employees, but rather in terms of distribution. If I can walk into a Guitar Center anywhere in the country and see a vendor's products, then they are (as far as I'm concerned) almost ... (more)
150. 2006 in review
[musings] December 15 2006 18:43:41 GMT
Back in January I set forth my musical goals for the year 2006. I've been doing this for the past five or six years; I find that it helps me both to understand my limitations as a musician and to appreciate my progress as a student and player. Now that the year is drawing to a close, it's time to review how I did in relation to those goals. Learn to read and write. I ended up doing nothing along these lines. Although it still seems like a good idea, I lack a compelling reason to invest my limited time in ... (more)
151. Anectdotes, Theories and Facts
[musings] November 15 2006 04:36:23 GMT
One of the things that has struck me while perusing (and occasionally contributing to) online conversations about musical gear is that many participants are fundamentally, and in certain cases willfully ignorant of the fundamental difference between an anectdote and a fact. Ignorant? It's not a term I use lightly. It certainly does apply, though. ignorance: 1. A lack of knowledge. A state of being unaware or uniformed. 2. (pejorative) The choice to not act or behave in accordance with regard to certain ... (more)
152. Pedal Board 2.0
[musings] November 14 2006 05:50:08 GMT
I rebuilt my most recent pedal board, ditching a collection of boutique effects and replacing them with Visual Sound pedals. I used to cherish subtlety in pedals, but I've come to realize that an effect which can be heard clearly in a quiet room gets buried in crowd noise or the "roar floor" of the rest of an ensemble. That's not to say that the Visual Sound pedals can't be subtle, but it's not their fort├ę. One thing that's really nice about the Visual Sound pedals is that each one contains two ... (more)
153. First time in a studio?
[musings] November 06 2006 02:41:05 GMT
It takes a certain amount of recording experience -- specifically doing one-track-at-a-time -- to become good at working that way. If you want to record like that, plan on spending a lot of time in the studio learning how to do it right. The ideal situation for a first-time recording project, IMO, is to go into the studio with all your parts and arrangements worked out so the band is tight. Have someone you trust -- someone with a critical ear and good people skills -- work with you during the rehearsal ... (more)
154. Boutique vs. commodity pedals
[musings] October 26 2006 18:50:10 GMT
With the recent addition of my Visual Sound pedals I now have two complete sets of pedals. That raises the inevitable question: which set is better? How do you compare the Route 66 compressor to the Aphex Punch Factory, or the Route 66 overdrive to the Blackstone MOSFET Overdrive, or the H2O's echo to the Toadworks Redux, or the H2O's chorus to the DLS RotoSIM? Are those comparisons even fair, or valid? The short answer is that the pedals are different. Not better or worse. Each has its strong and weak ... (more)
155. Developing creativity
[musings] October 26 2006 06:12:11 GMT
More than twenty years as an occasional player didn't see any advancement in my abilities. It's only in the past six years, since I've started playing "seriously" that I've made noticeable progress in both technique and creativity. Here are some notes about my own progress; perhaps they'll help you as well. There's a natural progression, I think, to developing your own musical voice. That progression begins with learning and playing other people's material. There's nothing wrong with playing ... (more)
156. Touch dynamics
[musings] October 26 2006 05:26:11 GMT
How do great "touch dynamics" happen? Is it a matter of equipment or of skill? There's no short answer to this question. There's no simple formula. It's a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Everything matters. The more range you have in your picking-hand attack, the more you're going to be able to take advantage of whatever touch dynamics the rig has. Tube amps certainly have an advantage. Some of the modellers - the Vox in particular - have a discernible response to ... (more)
157. Multieffects vs. pedals
[musings] October 26 2006 05:01:14 GMT
Should you choose a multi-effects processor or put together a board with a collection of individual pedals? That depends partly upon how many effects you intend to use. If you put together more than a few analog stomps you're going to get some signal degradation when all the FX are bypassed. It doesn't matter whether the pedals all true-bypass or not. Adding a buffer (or a buffered stompbox) is just a band-aid to keep the problem from getting too much worse as you add more stomps. A lot of digital multi-FX ... (more)
158. Life after bands
[musings] October 26 2006 04:50:03 GMT
I played in "original material" bands between `00 and `04 before walking away from that scene. I got to the point where I'd be in a bad mood all day leading up to rehearsals; I didn't want to deal with the drama, the substance abuse, the endless repetition of the same material, and the fact that band members didn't understand the difference between practice (something they're supposed to do on their own time) and rehearsal. Not all the bands were like that, but between the slow progress and the ... (more)
159. Leslie Emulators
[musings] October 26 2006 04:34:16 GMT
Leslie is one of my favorite effects. When I was a kid I used to love to hear the big Hammond organs play through a full-sized Leslie. Of course, Leslies were fairly common on recordings of guitar in those days, and I always wanted to have one for my guitar. I got lucky a couple years ago and bought a Leslie 147 with the combo preamp. Accurate emulation of a Leslie is extremely difficult. None of the emulators can stand up to a side-by-side comparison with a real Leslie. There are a few, however, that get ... (more)
160. Suggestions for guitarists
[musings] October 10 2006 01:27:25 GMT
I was originally going to title this "Rules for Guitarists", but I don't particularly care for rules unless there's a compelling reason; playing guitar should be fun and guitarists shouldn't be subjected to a bunch of unnecessary and unwanted rules. I know that I wouldn't like someone else telling me what I should do, and I suspect that you wouldn't either. On the other hand, guitarists do a lot of things that are self-defeating. Most significantly, we chase "tone" to the detriment of ... (more)
161. High-end Cables
[musings] October 02 2006 02:15:47 GMT
Every part of the instrument -- where "instrument" includes guitar, amp, fx and interconnects, all considered together as a system -- makes a difference in the resulting sound and behavior. For almost every component of the system, you can start with a simplified analysis that explains the gross behavior and then drill down to a more detailed view that explains many of the subtler aspects of sound and behavior. Consider the electric guitar and amplifier. At the simplest level you have ferrous ... (more)
162. Online guitar forums
[musings] September 23 2006 06:19:14 GMT
If you've been frequenting my music pages, you're no doubt already familiar with a multitude of online discussion forums dedicated to guitarists. There are many such forums, ranging from those having tens of thousands of registered users all the way down to forums of exceedingly narrow scope that don't get more than a few new posts over the course of a week. I have been active in quite a few of these forums over the past five years or so. When I post to online forums, I try to present myself in the same ... (more)
163. Musical Clichés
[musings] September 18 2006 16:47:51 GMT
I'm of the firm belief that musical clich├ęs are good. Without clich├ęs the listener can get lost. IIRC, Pat Metheney's "Zero Tolerance for Silence" CD is entirely free of clich├ęs. I just can't bring myself to listen again to confirm my first impression. Even the stuff that was supposed to be cutting-edge when it first appeared is full of clich├ęs. Bop, fusion, various metal subgenres and prog may be technically demanding, but they wouldn't be identifiable without their respective clich├ęs. Take ... (more)
164. Reconsidering the "palette" analogy
[musings] September 15 2006 03:22:44 GMT
Guitarists are fond of justifying their collections of guitars, amplifiers and effects with the argument that the collecion offers them a broad tonal "palette". If one guitar is good, three must offer more variety. Two different amps must cover more ground than one. And having a variety of pedals offers myriad ways to add "spice" to one's basic guitar sounds. All of these arguments have merit, up to a point. But the analogy to a painter's palette is overworked and not at all faithful to ... (more)
165. Hippie Music
[musings] September 05 2006 02:15:34 GMT
(I wrote this at Burning Man 2006.) You hear a lot of different music out here on the playa. Techno is certainly the most prevalent, but possibly not the most annoying. Once you recognize techno for what it is: machine music designed solely for a consistent tempo allowing segues that give the impression that the music never stops, you can ignore the fact that it has nothing to say except perhaps in a social sense. And in that sense, it's dance music, pure and simple. Techno neither demands nor encourages ... (more)
166. Fender Trans-Impedance Power Attenuator
[musings] August 21 2006 01:57:09 GMT
With the Summer 2006 announcement of the Princeton Recording amp, Fender has announced its intention to ship a tube amplifier with an interesting new bit of technology: The Trans-Impedance Power Attenuator (U.S. Patent #6,816,009). In this article I'll discuss, in a mostly non-technical manner, what makes Fender's attenuator so special. If you want to delve into the technical details for yourself, consult the patent. A "normal" attenuator (Power Brake, Hot Plate, etc.) puts a power resistor ... (more)
167. How many true-bypass pedals is too many?
[musings] August 19 2006 03:19:58 GMT
Guitar players have observed that a bunch of true-bypass pedals will cause degradation of their "all bypassed" tone, which kind of defeats the purpose of a true-bypass switch, which is to avoid degrading the uneffected tone of your guitar. It's true. It depends upon a few factors, but you'll start running into problems at around four or five true-bypass pedals. The problem is capacitance. You know that a longer cable from guitar to amp will cut treble because it adds capacitance. (The added ... (more)
168. Combatting GAS
[musings] August 19 2006 01:38:04 GMT
Everybody's different, and there is no single way to combat GAS. I found that it helps to have goals and to keep notes. The problem I've had with buying stuff because it "completes a set" or because "it's a bargain" or for various other non-musical reasons is that I'd end up not using this new gear for more than a few days, weeks or months. After that, the "cool" would wear off and the gear would go neglected. But it'd still be there and I'd feel guilty about not playing it, ... (more)
169. Bonding with my Gear
[musings] July 09 2006 02:01:52 GMT
It has been a while since I've written about why I chose to put together the kind of rig I have. I've written bits and pieces about different pieces of gear, but I really haven't made a comprehensive statement about why I like what I like since my days of favoring Mesa/Boogie and Gibson. A lot has changed since then, but my goals have remained fairly constant. My main rig now consists of a Fender Vibro-King, a Koll Custom DL Thinline guitar, and a few pedals. Let's start with the guitar. The Koll Custom DL ... (more)
170. Gain, volume and dynamics
[musings] July 08 2006 21:47:46 GMT
Gain and volume are independent concepts as they're commonly applied to guitar amps. How much gain you need depends upon what kind of sound you're going for, how loud you play, how you attack the strings, how you set your tone controls, what kind of pickups you have in your guitar, and on and on and on... Don't confuse gain with volume. Although they're related at at technical level, guitarists perceive gain as being independent of volume. Gain is usually associated with distortion. And distortion ... (more)
171. Amp Loudness
[musings] July 08 2006 21:17:54 GMT
You can't predict amp "loudness" just by looking at the power rating. There's a lot more going on... Differences in speaker frequency response and efficiency typically matter more than a doubling or halving of amp power. Ditto many specifics of the amp design: EQ will greatly affect perceived loudness. So will the size of the output transformer (in general, more iron will give you greater bandwidth - more lows and highs - at or near full power) and the design of the power supply (less sag will ... (more)
172. How does the Vibro-King compare to a tweed or blackface Fender amp?
[musings] June 13 2006 05:53:25 GMT
On the "tweed to blackface" continuum, the VK is kind of in-between. That's a tough one to explain since the tweed amps went through so many changes in their tone stacks. You have the the tweed Deluxe with its treble boost/cut control, the high-power Twin and the Bassman with their Marshallesque tone stacks, and some really oddball designs like the stack in the low-power Twin. Low power supply voltages contributed to a darker sound and low headroom. Also, the various phase-inverter designs had a ... (more)
173. Improving as a player
[musings] April 19 2006 21:12:41 GMT
At some point, every guitarist wonders whether they'll ever unlock the mysteries of the guitar. Players who are just starting out often wonder whether they'll ever be able to play by ear, or to improvise, or to understand music theory, or to master some technique or style. The good news is this: everyone goes through it. The bad news is: everyone goes through it. Many times, in fact. Be patient and have faith; your playing will improve. Improvement never comes all at once, but you will make progress over ... (more)
174. How to use a standby switch
[musings] April 18 2006 22:49:37 GMT
There's a lot of information on the `net and in manufacturers' literature about how to use the standby switch on your tube amp. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of different procedures. In the words of at least one frustrated player, "there's not a lot of concensus among the experts." Most of the experts cite the "cathode stripping" boogieman to convince guitarists to religiously follow a standby switch ritual. Their notion is that applying high voltage to the circuit before the ... (more)
175. Turn that amp down!
[musings] April 18 2006 01:34:09 GMT
OSHA recommendations state that you can listen to 90 dB levels for 8 hours a day. Every 5 dB increase halves your safe exposure time. To get a ballpark estimate of your exposure, assume that your speaker has an efficiency of about 100 dB/watt (most modern guitar speakers are close to that figure) and that most of that power is making it to your ears (a reasonable assumption in the small spaces most of us have to play in). Every doubling of amp power adds 3 dB. Multiplying amp power by 10 adds 10 dB. A five ... (more)
176. Is it the gear, or not?
[musings] April 17 2006 05:21:20 GMT
One point that guitarists will debate ad infinitum is this: "Is it the gear or the player that makes great music?" On the surface, the answer seems obvious: It's the player. No amount of gear is going to produce music by itself. Photographer Ken Rockwell argues a similar point in his article, Why Your Camera Does Not Matter. He asks: Why is it that with over 60 years of improvements in cameras, lens sharpness and film grain, resolution and dynamic range that no one has been able to equal what ... (more)
177. Small amps and big PAs?
[musings] April 15 2006 20:00:43 GMT
What's up with the small amps? Everyone and his brother wants to find a quieter tube amp with that big tube-amp sound. I can almost understand that desire for folks who play at home. Never mind that home players would be better off with a modelling amp; even a "small" five-watt tube amp is very loud - far too loud for a typical hundred fifty square foot room in a quiet dwelling shared with family or roommates. And I can even see the benefit for a modern rock or country artist, touring stadium ... (more)
178. Biasing the Vibro-King "by ear"
[musings] April 14 2006 19:35:36 GMT
Fender recommends using this "by-ear" approach to adjust the bias on a Vibro-King: Thanks for your inquiry and your interest in Fender Musical Instruments. On this model, the Bias doesn't need to be measured to be accurately set. To set the Bias without removing the chassis, set the Volume knob between 1-1/2 to 2, and adjust the Bias knob (located on the under side of the chassis, next to the power cable,) so the amp produces the maximum hiss. Strum a full chord and let ring. Now, turn the Bias ... (more)
179. Things I need to be reminded of...
[musings] April 10 2006 17:07:44 GMT
I've been writing about guitars and music for about three years. I've been playing for a lot longer than that. Sometimes I cover old ground or retrace old footsteps, thinking that things will be different this time around. They're usually not, especially when it comes to gear. This article is a reminder to myself of things that I really don't need to rediscover yet again. Things I Need to Remember Flexibility does not lead to musicality. Flexible options provide me with little more than a way to spend time ... (more)
180. True bypass, cables and buffers
[musings] April 10 2006 03:20:49 GMT
A recent addition to "conventional wisdom" for guitar players is the notion that you should add a buffer at the head of your pedalboard (but after wah and fuzz, which like to "see" the guitar) if you're running a bunch of true-bypass pedals between your guitar and amp. The rationale is that you should isolate the guitar from changes in capacitive load caused by switching engaging any of your pedals. As with most things about which guitarists obsess, there's a grain of truth behind the ... (more)
181. Balancing music vs. gear aquisition
[musings] February 19 2006 21:48:38 GMT
Every now and then I hear from someone who's confronting the issue of gear vs. talent. These people want to know whether they're wasting time and money by having nice gear or lots of gear (or lots of nice gear) at a time when they perceive their playing abilities to be relatively weak. This kind of introspection is counterbalanced by players who view collecting gear as a hobby in and of itself, largely independent from one's ability to play. I believe that there's a beneficial balance to be struck ... (more)
182. Assembling a band
[musings] February 19 2006 19:08:17 GMT
There are two kinds of bands. One "just happens" when a bunch of like-minded players get together to make music. The other is put together to fulfill someone's musical vision. The latter kind of band is incredibly difficult to assemble; you need to find band members who are willing and able to follow your vision without trying to impose their own agenda over time. In an ideal world you'd have your choice of band members so you can pick the "perfect fit" right from the start. In the real ... (more)
183. Boss RT-20 rotary simulator reviewed
[musings] January 27 2006 05:27:09 GMT
I was able to play one of the new Boss RT-20 rotary simulators today. This is one of the "double-wide" dual-footswitch units. It's laden with knobs, lots of knobs: a mode selector, separate wet and dry level controls, an accelleration control, separate horn and rotor speed controls, a horn/rotor balance control and a drive control. The footswitch functions are simple: one engages the effect, the other switches between fast and slow speeds. If you press both footswitches at once the simulator ... (more)
184. Delay effect comparison
[musings] January 27 2006 05:20:21 GMT
I've been through a bunch of delay effects, and I've loved `em all... Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man I love the sound of analog delays, with their syrupy warm echo decays. The DMM also has a built-in modulation LFO which lets you get as close to the sound of a well-worn tape echo machine as I've ever heard. And of course you can tweak the delay knob and get pitch-shifted echo repeats, or crank the feedback control for runaway feedback. Very psychedelic. The downside of the DMM (and most other analog ... (more)
185. Tips for guitarists
[musings] January 18 2006 05:35:14 GMT
Make sure that your guitar is in tune. This should be obvious. Unfortunately, it seems that quite a few guitarists don't do this. Make sure that your guitar is properly intonated; it doesn't do you any good to tune the open strings if notes fretted higher up the neck aren't in tune. Control your volume and tone with your picking hand. Your picking hand is much more nimble and expressive than controls and pedals. Learn to go from a whisper to full-on crunch with just your picking dynamics. Learn to play ... (more)
186. Can you have too many guitars?
[musings] January 15 2006 23:41:15 GMT
Can you have too many guitars? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on your needs and goals, I guess... If you're a studio guitarist, you're probably going to need a lot of gear in order to be able to cop different sounds. They're just tools for doing your job. If you're playing in an authentic cover band, then sure... why not cover all the bases? On the other hand, check out your keyboard player... He doesn't lug a Rhodes, a concert grand, and upright piano, a harpsichord, a Mellotron, a Farfisa, a Vox ... (more)
187. The voice is not the message
[musings] January 15 2006 19:12:56 GMT
Take a look around on internet guitarist forums and you'll see that there are a lot of players trying to copy someone else's guitar tone. There are different ways to copy your guitar hero's tone. You can copy the sound of someone else's rig and adapt it to your own playing style, or you can want to play like and sound like someone else. The latter approach is actually useful, I think, for a guitarist who plays sessions or in a cover band or tribute band. Unfortunately I hear a lot of players attempting to ... (more)
188. The "Class-A" illusion
[musings] January 13 2006 04:29:21 GMT
While I don't dispute the technical definitions of the operational classes, I believe that they have negligible predictive or descriptive value when it comes to guitar amps. When amp classes were defined (a long time ago, in the `30s or `40s) everyone concerned assumed that the goal was linear amplification, free of distortion insofar as the technology allowed. I don't believe that operational classes are useful in describing guitar amps because the goal is for their power stages to be operating ... (more)
189. 2006 Musical Goals
[musings] January 02 2006 06:40:08 GMT
I might as well get this out where everyone can see it. Every year since 2000 I've been setting musical goals for my self. I do this in lieu of new years' resolutions because, frankly, I'm more motivated by the musical goals. Learn to read and write. I haven't had any exposure to musical notation since I took a one-semester music theory class for non-music majors. That was a long time ago. I struggle so much with trying to make sense of written music that it's quite useless to me today. I'm going to take ... (more)
190. The Internet and the Quest for Perfection
[musings] December 19 2005 05:29:28 GMT
There's a lot of information available online about guitar gear. Reviews are everywhere. Opinions are everywhere. Recommendations are everywhere. Discussion groups feature an inexhaustible series of little dramas consisting of discovery followed by extreme hype followed by abandonment of the hot "flavor of the month" product. And the language... Guitarists have their own language consisting of colorful adjectives like "smooth", "creamy", "buttery", ... (more)
191. Art vs. artifice
[musings] December 12 2005 15:55:48 GMT
I'm beginning to realize that playing the guitar is a kind of parlor trick. Every guitarist has his own style, his own flair, his own bag of favorite tricks. Put a guitarist into an unfamiliar musical situation - improvising a part to someone else's music, or playing with unfamiliar musicians - and he'll fall back onto his familiar bag of trigs. Granted, some tricks are more sophisticated, flashy, memorable or impressive than others. But they're still tricks - practiced, conditioned responses designed to ... (more)
192. Are boutique amps just another amp in the end?
[musings] November 21 2005 18:14:20 GMT
There are plenty of reasons to go boutique. The most important is to get an amp that's not otherwise available in current production. For example, if you really want an old blackface or tweed amp but don't want to deal with the costs of ownership of a 40 or 50 year old relic... There are also boutique amps that offer unique designs. Some that come to mind are Dr. Z and /13 amps. These guys aren't copying anyone, so you get a chance to try something totally new. Finally, boutique amps are built to higher ... (more)
193. Tube amp attack sensitivity at home
[musings] November 19 2005 04:42:46 GMT
The short answer to the question, "Can you get tube amp attack sensitivity at relatively low volumes?", is "probably not". The reason I say that is because I assume that when someone says "relatively low volume" it really means "much quieter than stage volume." Depending upon who you listen to, stage volume can be upwards of 95 dB; modern trends are toward lower volumes to satisfy the sound guy's need to mix everything through the mains. Most guitarists complain ... (more)
194. Pedal hangover
[musings] November 19 2005 04:40:16 GMT
I have to wonder why I bother buying pedals... A couple nights agoe I was playing through two amps at once (without hum, thanks to Ebtech Audio's nifty little Hum-X gadget) and decided that I should try all the tricks I've been wanting to try with my pan pedal and Morley ECV (echo/chorus/vibrato). I had fun for about 20 minutes, then got a bad case of "FX hangover." That's where you realize you're listening to the electronics and not the guitar. Not only that, but you realize that you're playing ... (more)
195. Solo Improv Performance
[musings] November 19 2005 04:16:08 GMT
This is a slightly-edited version of a note I sent to my Boogie-Talk friends after I played at an open mic on Oct. 24th: Not counting BTNW, this is the second time I've played in public since quitting Almost Milwaukie in August of last year, and the first time I've played for people who don't already know me. I really wanted to get an unbiased reaction about what I'm trying to do with my playing. I swore Mary-Suzanne to secrecy and made her promise that she wouldn't stack the deck by inviting a bunch of ... (more)
196. Technological Obsessions
[musings] November 01 2005 07:08:37 GMT
There have always been guitarists who seek to improve their instruments. Richie Blackmore with the scalloped frets and the tape-recorder preamp, Hendrix and his collaboration with Roger Mayer, Pete Townshend and his request to Jim Marshall for more power, Danny Gatton and his customized Teles, Carlos Santana and the early Boogies, Les Paul and lots of cool gadgets... One difference today is that a lot of these tweaks have become commodity items rather than true DIY (or collaborative) projects. The spirit ... (more)
197. Amp terminology: Touch Sensitivity
[musings] October 19 2005 04:12:26 GMT
It seems that most of guitarists equate touch-sensitivity, sag, compression, and the "forgiving" nature of an amp. The opposite would be a "stiff" or "unforgiving" amp. Obviously there's a spectrum of these behaviors, and I think there's at least one other category: "saturated" or "mushy" (different connotations, depending upon whether you like that kind of thing or not...). This is the sustain-forever kind of behavior, a la Santana, where touching the ... (more)
198. Ground switches and "death caps"
[musings] October 19 2005 03:59:13 GMT
This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about ground switches and "death caps"... In the US, conventional power outlets have one side of the line at ground potential and the other side connected to the "hot" lead. The ground switch works by creating a high-impedance connection, through the grounding or "death" capacitor, between the chassis and one side of the AC line. The "correct" connection attaches the capacitor to the grounded side of the AC line, ... (more)
199. The future of digital guitar amplifiers
[musings] October 01 2005 21:56:48 GMT
The one thing that digital modellers still can't do as well as tube amps, IMO, is to produce great touch sensitivity in the critical clean-to-slightly dirty range. The Vox Tonelab does well in this area, but technically it's not using digital modelling to create the amp response. Line6 does well in the pristine clean (e.g. JC120) and dirty to stupid-amounts-of-gain sounds, but falls apart in the middle ground between clean and slightly dirty. I don't really care if it sounds like a cranked Bassman or ... (more)
200. Sounding good with the gear you have
[musings] September 27 2005 16:10:17 GMT
There's a point at which all the gear-flipping in the world isn't going to help your playing. However, ... For me there was a period where I went through a lot of gear trying to figure out what really worked for me. I spent a lot of time messing around with gear that touted "flexibility" (you know the kind: digital modelling amps, channel-switching amps, rack gear, effects, guitars with a bazillion switching options, etc.) before I discovered the joy of simple gear. Now my rig is normally just a ... (more)
201. Will you pay to self-distribute your music on the internet?
[musings] August 24 2005 04:25:02 GMT
I recently said this about the music industry's response to file sharing: It's not about loss of current sales; if anything, file-sharing is free advertising. Remember how the major software producers moaned about piracy in the `80s? Remember the "drop a dime" campaigns and the high-profile raids? Remember the flurry of "look `n feel" litigation? And how about the (still ongoing) push to build "war chests" of software patents? It's the same thing all over again with file ... (more)
202. Golden Age, or beginning of the end?
[musings] August 21 2005 23:50:52 GMT
Any guitar player who's been in the game for at least a couple of decades will probably agree: this is the Golden Age of guitar gear. It's strange then, that there are so few guitar heroes in the public eye. And yet MI sales in general, and guitar sales in particular, are higher than they've been at any point in history... Which raises several interesting (possibly annoying, depending upon your viewpoint) questions: Who's buying all this stuff? Is it mostly "old-timers" like us who remember or ... (more)
203. Musical journeys: Reflections on a gathering
[musings] August 20 2005 18:02:39 GMT
Last weekend I attended a gathering of musicians from an online discussion list. Those of us in the Pacific NW have been getting together a couple times a year for the past couple years; a larger gathering in the late summer, and a smaller gathering in the spring. We bring our musical gear - mostly guitars and amps - and hang out for a day or two. These events always provide plenty of food for thought; this article explores a very personal perspective, inspired by the diversity of musicianship we see at ... (more)
204. Even better Vibro-King "Ticking Tremolo" fix
[musings] August 05 2005 04:20:06 GMT
Here's an even simpler trem-ticking fix for the Vibro-King. Starting with a stock amp: Cut open the trem bug. Remove the neon lamp. Replace the neon lamp with a red LED. (See notes.) Tape up the modified trem bug. Note 1: The LED is polar, so it'll only work one way. Before you tape up the trem bug, warm up the amp and see whether the LED blinks. If it doesn't, reverse its leads. Note 2: You should pick an LED that's about the same size as the photocell(s) and frosted so it diffuses the light to cover the ... (more)
205. Do you want good tone?
[musings] July 04 2005 05:05:21 GMT
David Torn (a.k.a. splatt) recently posted this thought-provoking question on The Gear Page: do you want a) good tone, or..... b) exceptional (ie, personal) tone? I'm not even sure that such a thing as good tone exists in isolation. What works for one musical context is not necessarily even appropriate, let alone good, in another context. I want my instrument (and by instrument, I mean guitar and amp) to be expressive in the sense that I can use it to convey nuances of expression. I don't care so much ... (more)
206. Vibro-King "Ticking Tremolo" Fix
[musings] June 30 2005 04:10:09 GMT
The Fender Vibro-King has a well-known problem with ticking tremolo. It's present in all the Vibro-Kings I've played (about five of them), and I've heard about many others that have the same problem. It's kind of surprising to encounter such a persistent problem in a $3,000 amp, but it's there. Fortunately, the amp has other positive attributes to recommend it... The trem ticking is really not so much a design flaw as it is a problem inherent in the design of the circuit. Older Fender amps have this ... (more)
207. Are guitar players stuck in the past?
[musings] June 07 2005 21:23:17 GMT
It's not so much that guitar players are traditionalists as they are "practicalists" (is that even a word?). Players select instruments that help to make music in some manner that appeals to them. Instrument manufacturers, on the other hand, are always looking for the next big thing. The manufacturers introduce tons of new instruments based upon technological innovation and fashion. With very few exceptions (Steinberger and Ovation instruments come to mind) the manufacturers do not create ... (more)
208. Phil Lesh: "Searching for the Sound"
[musings] May 14 2005 19:07:50 GMT
I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead in the mid-70s. I attended maybe a half-dozen shows, mostly while they were touring with the wall of sound. I don't consider myself to be a Deadhead. I wasn't planning to read Phil Lesh's book, "Searching for the Sound", but got drawn into it by some of Lesh's writing about the early days. At least half of the book focuses on the `60s and `70s. That period was, for the band, full of adventure and boundless optimism. It was clear that Lesh had a tremendous ... (more)
209. Amplifier "class" distinctions are useless
[musings] April 12 2005 17:27:28 GMT
There's a lot of confusion over the term "Class A" as applied to guitar amplifiers. The term has a precise technical definition created in the days when engineers were concerned with linear signal reproduction. Class distinctions (A, AB, B) are defined for operating conditions not expected of guitar amplifiers, namely that the intended operation of the amplifier is to minimize the generated distortion. The problem is, any guitar amp that pushes the output stage hard enough can't be Class A no ... (more)
210. Musical Evolution
[musings] March 22 2005 17:36:14 GMT
I've been playing guitar on and off since I was in my early teens. I played mostly folk and rock, plus a little bit of blues. I started performing as soon as I could play a few songs. I grew up around classical musicians and do have an appreciation for some classical music. Never studied, though... my guitar skills were "self-taught". I've always preferred music that had some good harmonic ideas: prog-rock rather than blues, folk rather than metal, Beatles rather than Rolling Stones, etc. ... (more)
211. Best (and worst) musical performances
[musings] March 04 2005 06:53:35 GMT
Unexpectedly Good Blue Oyster Cult at the Roseland Theatre in 1994. I've been a fan since 1972, but never heard a live show and (based upon their live recordings) never really cared to. But I figured that this might be my last chance to see them, so what the heck... Well, I was truly amazed at what they managed to pull off on stage. Kinda put the lie to my notion that they were really a studio-only band. They put on a truly outstanding performance in rather intimate venue - there were only a couple hundred ... (more)
212. My musical influences
[musings] March 04 2005 06:43:46 GMT
I'll be 51 in June. I grew up with a lot of classical music. Just about everyone on my mom's side of the family was a classical musician. They all played and taught. My mom actually played at Carnegie Hall once. Her dad was a violin maker; he won an award for his instruments at the 1939 World Fair. Despite all that, I have no formal musical training. That was my own choice - one that I occasionally question. I was certainly afforded the opportunity to learn about music, but as a child I was far more ... (more)
213. My technical background
[musings] March 02 2005 20:26:54 GMT
I learned electronics hands-on at a very young age. I literally started when I about four years old. While other kids were reading comics, I read things like the ARRL Handbook and the RCA Receiving Tube Manual. I built a lot of gear as a hobbyist - mostly audio and later digital. Never did get the hang of RF, but learned a lot about layout in the process. I spent a couple summers in high school as a bench technician, repairing TVs, stereos, tape recorders, etc. Mostly tube gear at that time, although ... (more)
214. Losing my Boogie "religion"
[musings] January 12 2005 07:08:27 GMT
I used to play channel-switching amps. Boogies in particular. I've even had brief flirtations with a few "swiss army knife" solid-state and digital modelling amps. But I was first and foremost a Boogie guy. I thought I needed the "flexibility" that came from being able to instantly kick in different levels of gain and EQ. But I got tired of tap-dancing on the channel switches and dealing with the horribly finicky dialing-in to balance the channel volumes properly for the band, only to ... (more)
215. Advice for first-time amp buyers
[musings] December 29 2004 05:06:13 GMT
Buy a really good guitar, then worry about the amp. You connect physically with the guitar, so that's far more important than the amp. Especially when you learn how to get the sounds you want with your hands rather than effects... The choice of the "right" instrument (and this includes amps as well as guitars) depends upon the player's preferences, skills, musical objectives, budget, etc. I'll try to cover some of the important considerations in this article. First, let's talk about power vs. ... (more)
216. Boutique Amps
[musings] December 25 2004 19:13:23 GMT
I'm not sure that you'll find a lot of agreement on what constitues a "boutique" amplifier. For most products, that label implies cost and exclusivity. Literally, the word boutique is French for "small shop". My take on boutique amplifiers probably doesn't agree with most peoples', but I think it makes more sense: I define a boutique amplifier as any modern handwired non-PCB amp. To me, that makes a lot more sense than the "it's boutique because it's sold to people who buy boutique ... (more)
217. So you want a custom guitar?
[musings] December 07 2004 05:54:12 GMT
I didn't start by wanting a custom guitar. I bought and sold a lot of guitars. Every one was different in some way: body style and size, scale length, pickups, vibrato, fret size, neck shape, fretboard radius, woods, construction, ... lots of variations. I played them all; gigged them all. Along the way, I made note of the details that I liked and didn't like. I used that knowledge to guide my next purchase. Over time, that led to one guitar which was almost perfect for me. I played that guitar almost ... (more)
218. Simple Gear, Complex Music
[musings] December 06 2004 05:59:53 GMT
Over the decades since players started using electric guitars, guitar gear has become more complex and less expensive. Look at the progression from simple guitars and low-powered amps in the fifties, to the seminal early effects and stompboxes of the sixties (echo, fuzz, wah, compression, boosters), to the first guitar synths and high-gain amps in the seventies, to the overblown racks of the eighties, culminating in the introduction of modeling amps in the nineties. Each new technological introduction has ... (more)
219. Multi-Amp Pitfalls
[musings] December 04 2004 05:40:26 GMT
One of the easiest and most effective ways to get a breathtaking clean sound from your guitar rig is to add a different amp, or even two amps. The combination of different tonality and response adds a depth and complexity to your sound that goes beyond what you could achieve with any single amp. And it's easy to do, assuming that you have an extra amp or two. In most cases, you don't even need any extra gear aside from the amps and an extra cable or two. If your amps have two inputs, typically labelled 1 ... (more)
220. Troubleshooting the Blue Angel
[musings] December 01 2004 03:54:12 GMT
I loaned my Blue Angel amp to my son a while ago. It was fine when it left my house. When he returned the amp last month, the 6V6 side (the amp is switchable from 2x6V6 to 4xEL84 or all six tubes at once) wasn't working properly. I'd get various odd noises when I took it off standby, the power level would jump up and down, and once in a while I'd get some redplating in one of the 6V6s. If I switched it to the EL84 side (or even the combined setting) then the problem would go away. The schematic for the ... (more)
221. Preamp Tube Substitutions
[musings] November 17 2004 05:38:35 GMT
The following tubes may be substituted in most amplifiers to tune the gain of the stage in which they're used. Type Av 12AX7 100 7025 100 5751 70 12AT7 60 6072 44 12AY7 40 12AU7 20 ... (more)
222. Computer-based recording
[musings] November 13 2004 18:59:43 GMT
I'm dead set against computer-based recording, but wouldn't discourage anyone from going that route. Let me explain... Most of my friends and acquaintances who record use computers for their studio. At the time I set up my studio, I asked for recommendations from as many people as I could find. Virtually all of them expounded on the benefits of using a computer: expandability, availability of FX plug-ins, portability, etc. The sales pitch took about five minutes. Then, without exception, that was followed ... (more)
223. Are you happy?
[musings] November 04 2004 08:14:19 GMT
Are you happy with the way you sound when you play guitar? Does it bother you to hear someone else's playing through your best rig make it sound better than you can? Do you obsess over minutiae of your signal chain? If not, good for you. But most guitar players do concern themselves with the relationship between gear and tone. It's easy - even though somewhat costly - to do. Perhaps too easy... Analysis is a real time-killer. I used to spend countless hours A/B'ing gear, playing the same bit over and over ... (more)
224. Feedback vs. volume
[musings] October 30 2004 22:39:17 GMT
The rock guitar masters of the past got their signature tones using volume to drive the guitar - vibrating the body itself for enhanced sustain and controllable feedback. Modern guitarists try to recreate those classic tones at lower volumes. Some players go for lower volumes to remain on good terms with family and neighbors. Others seek a "classic" tone that they can use in small clubs. Small-venue sound is an unusual phenomenon. If anything, live music is louder (on average) today than it was ... (more)
225. Solo performance
[musings] October 18 2004 06:01:49 GMT
Last night Mary-Suzanne and I went to see our friend, Lana, perform at a gallery in NE Portland. This was an interesting show: about thirty people crammed into a space only slightly larger than our living room to hear several acts perform "noise". Yes, "noise" is a musical genre now. Perhaps it even has several subgenres... This was basically electronic music. I'm guessing that the genre's roots could be traced back to some of the old-timers like Cage and Stockhausen. I didn't have time ... (more)
226. GAS-less
[musings] September 20 2004 03:14:18 GMT
GAS is an acronym for "gear aquisition syndrome", a condition that affects all guitarists from time to time. At the moment, I find myself without GAS. In fact, I'm selling a lot of gear all at once. I'm doing this to clear the closets of gear that's not getting used enough to justify its presence. The money from the sales (apart from a couple hundred more dollars that I need to set aside to cover my next Koll guitar) will be earmarked for musical purposes, although I have no idea (yet) what those ... (more)
227. "True-Bypass" revisited
[musings] September 19 2004 20:39:18 GMT
If all your pedals are true-bypass, then the length of cable your guitar is driving changes depending on which pedal is the first one engaged in your chain. That's not such a big deal - most pedalboards are wired with nice short cables between pedals. However, when all the pedals are true-bypass and off, then your guitar is driving the cable to the board, all cables on the board, and the cable from the board to the amp. If you use the same length cable from guitar to board as you do from board to amp, then ... (more)
228. Next steps
[musings] September 11 2004 19:28:48 GMT
I'm one of those "garage rock baby boomers". I started playing while in grade school, a little while before the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I played right up through college and a few years beyond, then stopped in my mid-20s (marriage, children, etc.) At the age of 45, I started playing again. Formed the first of several bands at age 46. Played original music in bar bands for four years, then left the two bands that I was playing with. I got tired of the endless reheasals, the ... (more)
229. Will the recording industry become obsolete?
[musings] September 07 2004 20:34:11 GMT
Will the recording industry become obsolete, given the impact of newer technologies that allow artists to directly market their wares and consumers to choose what they want from a selection that's unconstrained by middlemen? Not likely. Don't underestimate the marketers' ability to get their claws into anything and everything. How much of what you buy today is not advertised or promoted in any way? New technologies simply provide a new challenge for marketers. Mark my words, marketers will find a way to ... (more)
230. Shop, or play?
[musings] September 01 2004 03:13:39 GMT
Guitarists, as a rule, are afflicted with something called Gear Acquisition Syndrom (GAS). This compels them to buy different gear when what they have is already "good enough". GAS could be triggered by vintage gear, the latest high-tech digital gizmo, a pretty piece of flamed maple, ... just about anything. GAS can get in the way of lots of things, not the least of which is playing the guitar. But GAS doesn't have to be a permanent affliction. Sometimes it runs its course. Or you might get ... (more)
231. Dignity and respect
[musings] August 27 2004 19:21:34 GMT
I took up guitar again in 1999 after a twenty-year layoff. Fortunately, a lot of guitaring is based upon muscle memory, and that doesn't seem to fade over the years. Within a year of picking up the guitar again, I had formed a band and was playing original material in local bars and clubs. Portland has a large music community, although I'd hesitate to call it a "thriving" community. If you know Portland, you're probably wondering why a city with well over a hundred live music venues and perhaps a ... (more)
232. Earplugs and band volume
[musings] August 26 2004 19:04:57 GMT
"Conventional wisdom" holds that bands play louder at the end of a gig than at the beginning because of "higher energy", "more intensity", or a "rowdier audience". Conventional wisdom is mostly wrong. Far too many musicians don't wear earplugs at gigs. Even though the stage is often quieter than the house, given venue-operators' tendencies to bludgeon the audience with dangerously-high SPLs in order to convince them that they're having a "quality" ... (more)
233. Technical perfection vs. the element of surprise
[musings] August 20 2004 18:04:38 GMT
I've had many experiences where I simply don't get what the artist is trying to do. In some cases, I've compared myself to the artist - trying to understand the appeal of the performance despite the fact that I don't particularly respect some aspect of that performance. In other cases, I have marvelled at the technical perfection of the performance yet wondered why it left me wanting to go do something - anything - else. I really don't have a problem with technical perfection. I don't think that a ... (more)
234. A moment of Zen
[musings] August 03 2004 03:34:05 GMT
The other night I went through one of my periodic rituals in which I set up and use all of my gear, even that which I haven't used in a while. For quite a while, I've been playing one guitar through one amp - no effects. I arrived at that point through a long process of trial-and-error in a search for "my sound". The other guitars have their own voices. They all feel and respond differently. Some are more comfortable than others, and there's enough overlap that I could probably do without two or ... (more)
235. Musical Goals
[musings] July 26 2004 05:52:13 GMT
This is a hobby for me. I have a day job that pays the mortgage, etc. So money is not an issue, at least from a survival standpoint. However, money does have some value as a measure of the value of what I'm doing as a musician. To that end, one of my goals is to stop playing gigs for a cut (after expenses) of the door. It's pretty sad when the band's take-home for the evening, per member, is about three bucks and a couple of beers. Yah, that's pretty typical for "originals" bands around here - ... (more)
236. Obsolescence
[musings] July 26 2004 05:04:38 GMT
With the hot weather here in the Pacific NW over the past few days, I've spent a lot of time in the basement. I spent some of that time sorting through stuff that has accumulated, separating stuff that I want to keep from the stuff that I wonder why I ever bought in the first place. One thing that really struck me is that guitar gear has a remarkably long useful life. One of my favorite amps is 43 years old (I've had it for about a year), and going strong. One guitar is 25 years old. Most of my other gear, ... (more)
237. Too much gain!
[musings] July 10 2004 01:44:50 GMT
I don't know whether my anti-gain tendencies are because my tastes are changing or because I'm surrounded by high-gain players and am trying to distinguish myself by doing something different. One thing I know for sure is that it's really fatiguing to listen to bands that use too much gain on all of the guitars, whether they play that way all the time or do the clean/dirty/clean switching that has become a cliche for the nu-metal bands. The heavily distorted parts sound far too close to white noise, to the ... (more)
238. Geezers
[musings] July 10 2004 01:27:36 GMT
Age has nothing at all to do with "geezerness". It's a state of mind. I've known people in their late 20s who were very clearly geezers, and people in their 70s who were very clearly not. If you want to look to the mass media for your entertainment, that's fine. Just don't tell me that's the standard for anything: age, looks, musicianship, ... What "makes it" on radio and TV is simply whatever's best for keeping the audience's attention between commercials. That's the only reason it's ... (more)
239. Guitarist or musician?
[musings] July 06 2004 06:51:49 GMT
From my point of view, a musician is someone who makes music. It's that simple. I used to make the guitarist/musician distinction, calling myself "just" a guitarist. But once I realized that I (a) have a style all my own, and (b) can hang with good "musicians" in a lot of different situations - not all of which match my style - then I started calling myself a musician. If you look at music as a form of communication among musicians, then there are two important skills to have. First, ... (more)
240. My favorite amp
[musings] July 05 2004 18:43:19 GMT
My favorite amp is the Fender Vibro-King, because it works well with my guitars and playing style. With the guitar volume backed off, or with reduced picking intensity, the amp has beautiful, transparent highs and solid lows. I pick with my fingers, and can easily get a clean bass line and an overdriven treble line at the same time. The transition zone going into overdrive is wide, smooth and musical without even a hint of crackling or sputtering. And there's plenty of gain on tap for "classic" ... (more)
241. Small-club live sound, revisited
[musings] June 25 2004 02:14:13 GMT
OK, there are some good arguments for - and good experiences with - having the entire band mic'd and having someone run sound. But... It seems like everyone that's in favor of that approach has a person that does sound for the band all the time. (Or is a sound guy... Hey, nothing wrong with promoting your own self-interest... ;) In essence, the sound guy is a member of the band. Read that again: In the best of all worlds, the sound guy is a member of the band. Well, that's not the situation I'm concerned ... (more)
242. Small-club live sound
[musings] June 20 2004 05:14:18 GMT
Most of the small clubs that host live bands around here have a house PA and a resident sound guy (or even a roster of sound guys that they rotate through, depending upon who's available). I usually try to talk the sound guy into letting us drive the room from the backline. Just vocals through the PA. Easier for him, better for us. Nope. They do things a certain way, and that's it. House rules. Sometimes I get the argument that our backline would be far too loud. Our amps push about 100 to 105dB, tops. And ... (more)
243. My, what a strange rig you have
[musings] June 13 2004 22:54:19 GMT
"My, you have a strange guitar rig." No one has (yet) said that about my guitar gear as a whole, although I've had plenty of similar comments regarding individual aspects. Most recently, a string guru commented on my "strange" choice of custom-gauge strings, saying that they must be very unbalanced. Even the manufacturer of my strings, D'Addario, had something on their web site about how balanced-tension sets (my custom gauge set is based on balancing the tension of all six strings) ... (more)
244. Guitar cords - what's important?
[musings] May 30 2004 19:49:52 GMT
I think a lot of folks don't realize what's important in a guitar cord, and fall for the marketing hype and the prestige pricing. What's important? Quality - Will the cord hold up under normal use? Most of this has to do with the connectors and how they're attached to the cable. Handling noise - All cables are microphonic to a greater or lesser degree. Handling noise is influenced by the choice of dielectric (the insulator between the shield and the center conductor) and by the mechanical construction of ... (more)
245. Help, my amp hisses!
[musings] May 29 2004 18:18:52 GMT
Every now and then I hear someone ask if the hiss in their tube amp is normal. The short answer is "yes". I just checked the hiss on my VK using my trusty Radio Shack SPL meter. Here's what I found... With volume on 10, fat switch on, guitar volume on 0, there's a noticeable hiss in a quiet room. I measured between 50 and 55 dB about a meter in front of the speakers. To put this in perspective, normal conversation at around 60 dB is noticeably louder. At performance volume, which you'll get with ... (more)
246. What is "touch-sensitive"?
[musings] May 16 2004 01:35:49 GMT
"Touch-sensitive" is an adjective that guitarists and manufacturers alike use to describe amplifiers. Like so many adjectives used by guitarists and manufacturers, its meaning seems to mutate depending upon context. In actuality, touch-sensitivity is not an absolute quantity, but rather a spectrum of behaviors. In its broadest sense, touch-sensitivity is some change in an amplifier's behavior - other than getting louder or softer - as the player changes picking intensity or the guitar's volume ... (more)
247. Does the "tone chase" ever end?
[musings] May 14 2004 03:29:28 GMT
The tone chase. That search for the "perfect" guitar sound. Does it ever end? I believe that it can. I've been through this twice. Once in the 60s and 70s, and then again after a 20-year layoff. The big difference is that I had more financial resources at my disposal the second time around. Also, the internet has been a wealth of good information. OK, not really... But there are some genuine pearls of information to be found if you're willing to sort through mountains of crap. The first time ... (more)
248. Vibro-King setup
[musings] May 10 2004 17:59:23 GMT
Some players hear good things about the Vibro-King, try it, and just don't "get it". I have no problem with that - you need to know what's best for your style. I'm hoping this article will give you a bit of insight into what the VK is good at. I've always been a light-touch/light-strings player. I like to use my picking position and intensity to color the tone. I went through a long (and frustrating) series of other amps that just didn't respond well to my playing - they'd end up being either too ... (more)
249. A/B switchers
[musings] May 10 2004 16:41:02 GMT
An A/B switcher allows you to connect your guitar to two amps, switching between them with a footswitch. This is useful if you have an amp that you like for your clean sound, and a different amp for your dirty sound. Many A/B switchers have a third option that connects your guitar to both amps at the same time. This is really useful in achieving a "big" guitar sound, as the responses of two different amps will combine in unexpected ways. There are two kinds of switchers. Simple switchers have ... (more)
250. Advances in technology
[musings] May 10 2004 05:39:06 GMT
Are advances in guitar technology useful except for anything except improving the profits of the vendors? Let's look at some of what's come onto the market in the past forty or fifty years, how it was marketed to musicians, and how musicians benefitted in the long run. Amplifiers have gone through a lot of changes. Fender tweed amps were replaced by blackface and then silverface amps. Each era of amp introduced a cleaner sound with more volume. Why? Because performers needed more volume to cover the larger ... (more)
251. Sequenced Live Music
[musings] May 10 2004 02:42:48 GMT
There's just something that bothers me about a live performance that uses a recorded or sequenced backing track. This goes way back for me. When I was learning to play guitar, there were no resources except my ears and eyes. I'd watch early music videos and televised "live" performances and realize that the music I heard didn't match what I was seeing on screen. The Smothers Brothers show was a revelation: at least the folk performers didn't lip-sync. The 1980s were, for me, another dark age for ... (more)
252. Effects devolution continues
[musings] May 06 2004 17:11:18 GMT
My effects use continues to devolve. I've recently sold my fuzz, clean boost, Digitech Space Station, A/B box, and wireless. My compressor, Uni-Vibe, digital echo, digital reverb, and SansAmp Tri-AC are up for sale. I may even sell my beloved Deluxe Memory Man echo. That leaves me with a volume pedal, a wah pedal, a distortion pedal, an analog echo, and an E-Bow. I never bring them out all at the same time. This is a long way from the massive 20-pound pedal board I started with five years ago. With the ... (more)
253. Complexity and tone
[musings] April 30 2004 23:27:16 GMT
Does complexity compromise tone? My opinion has changed over the past five years. I started out thinking that features are great. Mesa/Boogie had it all. I gradually learned (the hard way, of course) that I don't really want all those features. Amp features don't necessarily affect tone (actually, there's no way to tell since full-featured amps aren't available in basic, no-frills versions), but they do get in the way of performance. Think about it. You go to switch channels, and the lead volume doesn't ... (more)
254. Koll Custom DL Gallery
[gear] April 24 2004 00:05:44 GMT
This page has lots of photos of my Koll guitar. ... (more)
255. BTPDX April 2004 Notes
[musings] April 19 2004 06:08:16 GMT
Eight guitar geeks, eighteen amps, four cabs, and gawd-knows-how-many guitars... Nine hours of playing and comparing, interrupted only by two short breaks for some great food and drink. That was BTPDX. I'm going to separate my remarks into two parts: A brief discussion of the overall organization of the event, followed by my descriptions of the amps that really 'clicked' with me. I hope other attendees will chime in with their own observations. This was quite a bit different from the Enumclaw gathering ... (more)
256. Gear vs. talent
[musings] April 15 2004 21:14:07 GMT
In answer to the question: Has anyone else come to the realization, whether accurate or not, that it doesn't really matter what kind of guitar you play, or what kind of amp, let alone cables, tubes, strings, and fuses... you still sound like you when you pick up a guitar? Yes, I still sound like me no matter what I play. I like that - I don't try to copy anyone. And yes, gear does matter to me. Certain body sizes, neck profiles, scale lengths, string sizes, ... feel more comfortable. Certain pickups, amps, ... (more)
257. Vibro-King headroom
[musings] April 15 2004 21:13:43 GMT
Some players have problems getting enough headroom out of the Vibro-King, especially when using a guitar with humbucker pickups. The VK is an unusual Fender amp - you can't just set the knobs the way to what you use on every other Fender amp. Remember that the VK has more gain than most Fenders. The trick with humbuckers - at least for my preferences in sound and feel - is to lower the guitar's volume a bit while cranking the amp's volume. I don't raise the amp's treble to compensate for the hummers. The ... (more)
258. The Vibro-King and the Hot Plate
[musings] April 12 2004 04:47:53 GMT
I can definitely tell the difference in speaker behavior as the power is attenuated. There's also the Fletcher-Munson effect, where you need more highs and lows at lower volumes for the same perception - this is at least partially compensated by the boost switches on the Hot Plate. To my ear, Hot Plates have always sounded best on the lower attenuation settings. They excel at letting you push an amp into its sweet spot without overwhelming the other instruments in the stage mix. Try to dial the Hot Plate ... (more)
259. Vibro-King distortion
[musings] April 10 2004 06:30:01 GMT
This is kind of interesting... I bought a 2.7 ohm Hot Plate for the VK. It lets me crank the amp into overdrive at volumes that are sane for my music room. (I may not get a chance to try this on stage for a while, but that's another story...) Lately I've been playing clean more often than not. But I still wanted to be able to kick in some extra distortion for hard-rock rhythm and leads, because the VK can't quite get there by itself. If I'm willing to open up the amp without a Hot Plate, I can get close ... (more)
260. Tube amps for quiet play
[musings] April 05 2004 03:38:15 GMT
Is a tube amp too loud for use in the typical home? There's a tradeoff, depending on the tone you want. If you want great-sounding overdrive at conversational levels (say, as loud as a TV set on a typical evening at home), then any tube amp rated at more than about one watt is going to be too loud for you. The tradeoff is that an amp that small isn't going to give you much headroom at all - your clean tones will be very quiet. Master volume amps can be set for very low volumes, but then all of the ... (more)
261. So, how good are you?
[musings] April 05 2004 03:28:41 GMT
The question I always dread, even more so than "What kind of music do you play", is "So, how good are you, really?" Back in the 70s I decided that I'd play for myself and not worry about what other people think. That was after my basic influences had already taken hold from the late 60s and early 70s pop, hard rock and psychedelic rock. Ironically, I saw John McLaughlin up close and personal at a free show in the UMass student union ballroom that same year... He is to this day one of my ... (more)
262. Gig kit
[musings] April 05 2004 03:24:32 GMT
Every guitar player should have a gig kit that has materials to cover expected contingencies - things that can go wrong during a gig because something has broken or was forgotten. What's in your gig kit depends upon a lot of things: how the venue is equipped, how you play, whether you use a lot of battery-powered pedals, the consequences of equipment failure, whether you have time to do quick repairs, etc. My gig kit contains: 2 guitar cords guitar strap short extension cord spare set of strings nail file ... (more)
263. Solo guitar sound
[musings] April 05 2004 02:38:09 GMT
"Solo guitar" is an unaccompanied guitar, not a solo instrument in a band. Solo guitar doesn't really need "sweetening" beyond reverb and maybe a bit of delay. Chorus, flanger, phaser and all the other periodic modulation effects are annoying to listen to in that context. Ditto distortion, compression, or anything else that squashes your playing dynamics. Just go with a tonally balanced clean sound. You want enough lows and mids to stay away from sounding thin, but not so much that your ... (more)
264. Effects?
[musings] April 05 2004 02:21:14 GMT
Effects? I rarely use 'em, but I keep a few around just in case. Personally, I'd rather hear the sound of the guitar rather than a wash of electronically-generated sounds. I certainly don't hate effects - I know players who make good creative use of them. But for me, FX just get in the way of what I want to say. A guitar straight into a low-gain amp adds a bit of EQ and harmonic distortion. The EQ is static - you set the knobs and then play. The harmonic distortion follows the signal - with a good amp and ... (more)
265. Tubes vs. transistors
[musings] April 05 2004 01:51:34 GMT
What's the better amp - one with tubes, or one with transistors? I have and use both kinds. They both have assets and liabilities. The Cyber-Deluxe is a solid state amp. Unlike modelling amps, it gets all of its distortion from analog circuitry. The digital signal processor is used for tone stack emulation and effects. The C-D can get a wide variety of sounds over a wide range of volumes, and it has all those built-in effects. To my ear, and for my playing style, it doesn't sound quite as complex nor does ... (more)
266. Portland's music scene
[musings] April 05 2004 01:42:15 GMT
Portland, like many other cities, is a buyer's market for original music. A few years ago a friend on the staff of the (now defunct) Jam Magazine told me that there were about 180 live music venues in Portland, which means that there must be hundreds (I wouldn't be surprised if that number is pushing 1,000 now) of available bands. The punks (and some, but not all, of the indies) are just kids getting their first taste of performance. They're getting by on attitude, fashion, and the party ethos. Their ... (more)
267. Import guitars
[musings] April 04 2004 19:16:16 GMT
Why not buy an inexpensive imported guitar? Frankly, I think you get what you pay for. All of the import guitars I've seen have been at relatively low price points - say $600 or less. While I'm impressed that someone can manufacture a nice looking guitar at that price, the details have left me cold. Looking mostly at hollow-body and semi-hollow guitars, I've noticed significant buzzing related to loose or defective hardware. The tuners tend to be sloppy. The electrical components are of low quality and ... (more)
268. Reverb first?
[musings] April 04 2004 19:11:51 GMT
I think reverb-ahead-of-amp got an undeserved bad rap with the advent of higher-gain amps, where it really does sound awful. Gain-wise, the VK is pretty close to a tweed amp (which may be why people compare it to a Bassman, although there are some pretty significant differences), so you really don't get the kind of "smear" that you'd get running a reverb ahead of a high-gain Marshall, Soldano, or Boogie. That said, the reverb-first approach of the VK does have its charms (unless you really don't ... (more)
269. Used amps
[musings] April 04 2004 19:10:22 GMT
Are used amps a good buy? If the amp is of reasonable quality to start with, then it's a good idea to buy used and let someone else take the initial hit on depreciation. If you shop intelligently and pay market price (or less) for your used amp, then you can often sell it for what you paid if you don't like it. If you buy from a shop, they should do more than put a price tag on the amp and put it in the showroom. They should have a tech go over the amp to replace weak tubes and charred screen resistors - ... (more)
270. Grateful Dead
[musings] April 04 2004 19:02:35 GMT
Pigpen died thirty years ago. Oh, my... Now I feel old. I saw the Dead for the first time the week after Ron died. I always liked the San Francisco groups of that era. Still do. Dead, Airplane, Quicksilver, Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship, Santana ... each good in their own way. All different. From a technology standpoint, the Dead was on the cutting edge. The first time I saw them, they were touring with the "wall of sound". When the lights came up, my first thought was that the wall was an ... (more)
271. Digital guitars
[musings] April 04 2004 18:46:19 GMT
From a recent newspaper interview with Gibson chairman/CEO Henry Juszkiewicz regarding the company's MAGIC-equipped Les Paul: "The Magic guitar, Juszkiewicz says, takes the next step - it doesn't just preserve sound, it improves it." and "His claim, in essence, is that Magic makes the Les Paul sound more like itself." Yah, OK... If you really believe that running an audio signal through an A/D converter and a digital pipe is really better than a cord... sure, why not? I've said it ... (more)
272. Dinosaur guitarists
[musings] April 04 2004 06:48:42 GMT
Guitarists of the 1960s are a dinosaur breed. They found their roots in folk, blues and jazz - the music of the past - and they added something of their own to the existing song forms, melodic and harmonic ideas of the day. What's interesting is the variety of popular music that came out of that era. Sociologists would probably mention the societal climate as a major contributor. I think the music of the era owes a lot to the artistic independence of the musicians, producers and record companies of the ... (more)
273. Is a 50-watt amp too loud?
[musings] April 04 2004 06:00:31 GMT
Recently, I've watched a number of conversations about sub-20 watt amps being the "new" amp of choice for modern venues. The 100-watt monsters of the past are clearly overkill, and even 50-watt amps are too much. Or so "they" say... I say that there are no hard-and-fast rules. Proper amp size depends upon player, guitar, amp design, and number and type of speakers. Let's take, for example, a Vibro-King. Don't be put off by the notion that this is a 60 watt amp. It works well in smaller ... (more)
274. The end of innocence
[musings] April 04 2004 05:44:48 GMT
It's official. The end of innocence... I've realized that the high-gain, channel-switching modern amps - despite their advanced technolgy - are actually a step backward for guitarists like me. The VK (closely followed by my '62 brown Pro) has spoiled me for my once beloved Boogie Mark-series amps. After having had the VK for about six months, I put it side-by-side with the Boogies and was simply amazed by the differences. By themselves, the Mark-series amps are great - the top of the Boogie heap, IMO. But ... (more)
275. Tone Terms
[musings] April 04 2004 05:01:00 GMT
Excerpted (and heavily edited) from The following started as a glossary on the Kinman web site. I've modified Kinman's glossary to correct some inconsistencies and reduce its Strat-centricity where appropriate. The Kinman site gives permission to use this material for personal use, which is what I'm doing. Over time, this glossary will take on more of my own character. Credit to Kinman, though, for getting things started. Air The term applied to a ... (more)
276. Amp troubleshooting tips
[musings] April 03 2004 18:48:41 GMT
The things most likely to fail suddenly in a tube amp are fuses, tubes and jacks - roughly in that order. Keep spares for the first two and try substitution before dragging your amp to a tech. Failed fuses are pretty obvious - if the amp doesn't light up when you turn it on, check the fuse. (And, of course, the power. Don't laugh. I worked as a repair tech when I was in high school in the late 60s, and I actually did get a few service calls where the set had been unplugged.) Blown fuses usually, but not ... (more)
277. Electronic tuners
[musings] April 03 2004 18:42:43 GMT
The TU-2 was my favorite before I found the VS-1. From my point of view, here's why the VS-1 is better: When I tuned with the TU-2, I'd get the guitar in tune (according to the tuner) and then notice after a song of two (sometimes less) that the intonation wasn't quite right. I always blamed it on the guitar - warming up, strings slipping or binding, etc. and just treated it as fact of life... Of course, the TU-2 made it easy to touch up the tuning because of that nifty little footswitch, but it was never ... (more)
278. On guitar synths
[musings] April 03 2004 17:49:18 GMT
In answer to the question: How does guitar synth affect your playing? Keep in mind that I approached this as a guitarist looking for new and interesting sounds. I tried a GR-33 for a couple hours in the store, thought it sounded cool and was fun to play, bought it. Did a proper pickup installation on one of my guitars. Played it for about 20 hours. Found one or two sounds that I really might be able to use. Otherwise, grew to hate it. OK, that's probably a bit strong... I grew to be vehemently ... (more)
279. Clean boosts and compressors
[musings] April 03 2004 17:42:58 GMT
In which I search for some pedals to "enhance" to my Vibro-King... I bought an MXR Micro-Amp to use as a clean boost. It works quite well. It does add a bit of hiss when engaged, but only at extreme settings of both amp volume and boost. No surprise there. I find that the boost is most helpful when I want to go clean-to-scream at lower volumes. I use the master volume trick with the volume at seven or above, roll back the guitar volume for cleans, bring it up for crunch, and use the pedal for ... (more)
280. "Tone", amps and players
[musings] April 03 2004 17:25:30 GMT
I wrote this about a year ago, as I was approaching my 49th birthday. It's my attempt to deal with the "tone is in the fingers" argument. My formative musical influences were the folk, pop, hard rock and psychedelic music of the mid-60s through mid-70s. While most of these drew heavily from the blues for their own influences, I never really appreciated the blues for its own sake. There's just not enough variation in the blues form to hold my interest. In the past couple years I've developed an ... (more)
281. Adjusting Amps
[musings] April 03 2004 17:09:18 GMT
In answer to the question: Do you tweak your amp knobs between songs at a gig? My behavior has changed with my amps. When I used channel switchers, everything got set up during rehearsals and the only thing that changed during a performance was the master volume - and that usually only during sound check. Now I use a single-channel non-MV amp, and I'm likely to turn around and tweak whenever I think I need to. With four knobs, there's not much that can go wrong. ... (more)
282. Bypass
[musings] March 20 2004 02:10:27 GMT
There are three types of pedals when it comes to "bypass". Partial bypass is the most common. This is what most of the vintage pedals used. When the effect is switched off the guitar signal doesn't go through any additional circuitry, but the effect input is still connected to the guitar. Buffered bypass is common in a lot of modern pedals. The guitar signal always goes through the pedal circuitry, even when the effect is switched off. True bypass, when the pedal is off, provides a direct ... (more)
283. Koll Custom DL
[gear] March 07 2004 04:12:07 GMT
This is one of my favorite guitars, a one-of-kind Koll custom built to my specs. Look here for a gallery of photos. This guitar was about 18 months in the making (commissioned Sept. 13, 2002, delivered March 3, 2004) and is one of a kind. Saul introduced some unique construction details and made a lot of custom tooling to produce this guitar. Was it worth the wait? You bet it was! This guitar is absolutely gorgeous with its classic lines and beautifully-shaded burst. At about six pounds, it's easy on the ... (more)
284. Koll Custom DL Specs
[gear] March 07 2004 03:34:12 GMT
This guitar is very light at about six pounds. It's also acoustically very lively, which lets me get controlled feedback at reasonable volumes. Body Neck Size Small thinline, similar to ES-346 Shape Double-cutaway, offset upper horn and waist Top Figured maple, bookmatched, carved (inside and out), 3-layer binding, two traditional f-holes w/ 3-layer binding Back Figured maple, bookmatched, carved (inside and out), 3-layer binding, electronics access cover w/ cork gasket Sides Figured maple, bent Scale ... (more)
285. The "Real" Rules for Buying an Amp
[musings] February 17 2004 01:38:39 GMT
Jump on the flavor-of-the-month bandwagon. It'll give you bragging rights (for up to 30 days, but you must act now). Besides, chicks dig guys who have flashy new amps. Guitar magazines, internet discussion forums, and mass-marketer catalogs are all excellent places to find thoughtful, unbiased recommendations. Avoid stores that specialize in used gear - they only sell that crap because they can't get the best brand-new stuff. Insist on expensive, esoteric materials and construction techniques. (An astute ... (more)
286. Keep Searching
[musings] February 16 2004 22:35:47 GMT
An answer to the question: "Anybody else ever get totally fed up with their sound? What do you do about it?" The short answer is "keep searching." Over time, you'll develop a feel what works for you, and why. Meanwhile, buy gear assuming that won't keep it. Buy used gear at or below market value and you won't take much of a hit on the resale. Think of any loss on the sale as "rent". Pay attention to recommendations, but be your own judge and jury - we're talking about your ... (more)
287. Blackface vs. Tweed
[musings] February 12 2004 07:28:57 GMT
Last night at rehearsal with one my bands, Gradience, I had one of those "Oh, now I get it!" experiences. I used my Fender Cyber-Deluxe amp because I didn't want to lug the Vibro-King up and down the narrow staircase to our practice space. I have the C-D set up with my usual presets, all based upon a mid-gain tweed sound with a bit of bright spring reverb. Since we were recording last night, I spend a minute matching all the knobs to the base preset, then switched the amp into manual mode. I ... (more)
288. Speaker Cables vs. Guitar Cords
[musings] January 26 2004 04:17:52 GMT
A perennial question: "Can I use a guitar cord as a speaker cable?" The correct answer is "Don't ever do that!" Yet there always seems to be someone who says they tried it and nothing bad happened to them. Luck of the draw, but it's still just dumb luck... Here's why you should never use a guitar cord in place of a speaker cable: If you dime a 50-watt amp into an 8-ohm speaker, you're pushing 2.5 amps through what had better be a speaker cable. The ability of a cable to handle current ... (more)
289. More Tone Secrets
[musings] January 25 2004 22:16:16 GMT
Doing my own setup is important. I learned how to do this when I was a kid (in the late 1960s) and there weren't any techs or luthiers to whom I could bring my guitar for adjustments. (Not that I could have afforded to, anyway...) I think every guitarist should develop the very basic skills needed to adjust neck relief (and neck angle on bolt-ons), bridge height, intonation, pickup height, etc. I'm amazed at the number of people I see bringing their guitars to a shop to have basic adjustments done. If ... (more)
290. Tone Secrets
[musings] January 24 2004 03:26:49 GMT
What are the secrets of good tone? Is there something that's more important than everything else? Well... I like knowing the technical details in order to help explain the differences I hear... that helps me understand why I like certain gear (semi-hollow guitars, tweed- and brown-era Fender amps) and not others (blackface and Marshall amps). But it starts with a preference, not the other way 'round. There's a lot of marketing hype out there, thinly disguised as "technical" info, designed to sway ... (more)
291. Mesa-Boogie Lone Star Review
[musings] November 22 2003 03:38:27 GMT
I tried a Lone Star 1x12 for about a half hour on Saturday. During that time I concentrated on the clean channel. I didn't spend any more than about thirty seconds playing the dirty channel. First of all, I must preface my remarks by saying that my preferences lately have been leaning away from the Boogie's signature sound. That characteristic midrange peak is there in the Lone Star. The Lone Star has a lot of chime and sparkle. I didn't A/B it with any other amps, but it reminded me most of the Mark IV. ... (more)
292. Changing tastes
[musings] November 05 2003 06:19:25 GMT
Lately my tastes have been shifting to Fender amps. I'm still not a huge fan of the Blackface sound, preferring instead the voicings of the transitional late-50s to early-60s era. And I'm somewhat amazed to be making a statement like that; four years ago I wouldn't give a Fender amp a second glance. The Vibro-King (closely followed by my '62 brown Pro) has spoiled me for my once beloved Boogie Mark-series amps. I finally (after having the VK for about six months) put them side-by-side and was simply amazed ... (more)
293. "Fender Clean"
[musings] November 02 2003 00:15:06 GMT
I think I'm finally starting to understand the term "Fender clean". It's a wide-range sound with solid lows and extended highs. There's a nice piano-like attack on low notes, and a shimmering complexity to the high notes. The amp transitions into (and just as important, out of) distortion smoothly; some designs transition more or less gradually, but they're all smooth. The extended frequency response is both a blessing and a curse. When pushed too hard, the pianistic attack can become flabbiness ... (more)
294. On power attenuators
[musings] October 21 2003 00:54:58 GMT
Attenuators are really good for helping an amp sit better in a live band mix. Like if you need just a little more volume to push your amp into its sweet spot, but doing that would put you too high in the mix... Keep in mind that a tube amp that's cranked to where it's meant to be operated is going to push out 110dB or more. Attenuators set for more than about 10dB attenuation seem to have a bad effect on amp tone. So you can get down to about 100dB with your tone intact - that's still stage volume. If you ... (more)
295. Simplicity
[musings] October 07 2003 19:36:27 GMT
Another player made the comment: "Late '50s/early '60s technological levels suit me." The more I play, the more I can identify with that remark. Last night I swapped my guitar and amp at rehearsal after having been frustrated with finding a good sonic spot in the mix the previous week. (Tough to do with three guitarists...) I went from a three-channel amp with independent EQ to a two-mode (lead & rhythm) amp with shared EQ and from a guitar with separate tone and volume for each pickup to one ... (more)
296. Amplifier Evolution
[musings] October 06 2003 05:17:33 GMT
My impression is that the blackface tone stack evolved to clean up the sound by cutting the mids that dominate a guitar's output. I remember some writer talking about the mid-scooped "California curve" back in the late 60s or early 70s - I assume that this was a reference to Fullerton, or wherever Fender had their plant at the time. At about the same time, or maybe a little earlier, Fender added a negative feedback loop - in part to increase the clean bandwidth and in part to reduce hum. This had ... (more)
297. Vibro-King Sound & Settings
[musings] September 29 2003 23:49:08 GMT
I play an ES-346 (stock '57 Classic pickups) through a VK and have no problem getting everything from a clean, swirly "acoustic-like" sound to a growly horn-like overdrive to a powerful crunch. I have my neck PU set way down - slightly below the mounting ring on the bass side and about even on the treble side. The bridge PU is a little higher (adjusted by ear to match the output of the neck pickup) and is also set lower on the bass side and higher on the treble side. I use a custom-guage ... (more)
298. Amp Acquisition - An Education?
[musings] September 28 2003 19:44:10 GMT
I went through a few years of acquiring amp after amp... ended up with about 13 altogether, although I never had more than about 7 in-house at one time. I look at it as a learning experience. I learned not to care about how amps sound at home - tube amps don't really start working until you get them up to performance levels. Yes, even the MV amps sound better loud. I also learned (by way of a lot of time spent with multiple amps and an A/B switch) how to dial in just about any amp to get the kind of sound ... (more)
299. On multi-amp setups
[musings] August 29 2003 05:03:18 GMT
My own quest has taken me toward increasing simplicity. I never played out with a multiple amp rig, but did experiment with both amp switching and amp combining and quickly reached the conclusion that it was too complicated to balance multiple amps against one another. Differing amounts of compression and different EQs make it hard to balance the volumes. After several years of using many different channel switching amps, I reached the same conclusion regarding channel switchers. Now I play with a single ... (more)
300. On reverb
[musings] August 29 2003 04:50:18 GMT
I always thought two- and three-knob reverb would be too fussy (too much to tweak) until I actually tried the three-knob reverb on the Vibro-King. (That reverb unit is almost literally Fender's 3-knob 'verb tacked onto the front of the amp.) It's nice to have some control over both the depth (think of it as the amount of splash) and the tone (makes it seem like you're going from a well-padded room to a room with concrete walls). After learning about that, I realized that all the one-knob 'verbs are a ... (more)
301. About Almost Milwaukie
[musings] August 29 2003 04:47:48 GMT
Almost Milwaukie is the third band I've played in since I started playing again four years ago. It's an interesting band. When asked about the genre, I usually tell people that it's "ambient psychedelic metal". Mary-Suzanne calls it "goth-in-denial". I joined AM last winter right after their second guitarist (a very good guitarist, judging by the recordings I heard) had to leave because his employer moved him to the graveyard shift. We rehearsed for about a month (all original material) ... (more)
302. On motivation and GAS
[musings] August 29 2003 04:41:36 GMT
I'm just happy to be able to make music. I play with two bands and do some recording, but perform infrequently. Almost all of our material is original, and most of it is heavily improvisational. In short, it's a blast to play! That's what really motivates me. I'm also trying to learn some music theory so I can communicate with "real" musicians. (I'm still more likely to call myself a guitarist than a musician.) Two things pretty much relieved my GAS. First was the "enough is enough" ... (more)
303. On multiple guitars
[musings] August 29 2003 04:33:42 GMT
I don't so much have redundancy as a theme in my choice of guitars. The two outliers are a Kritz strat-alike and a Tacoma acoustic. The other three guitars are all Gibsons. A 1980 ES-335S (solid-body 335 shape), a 2000 ES-346 and a 1998 LP DC. All double cutaway, short scale, dual humbucker. Different pickups on each one, and different construction as well. I'm waiting for my fourth "theme" guitar. This one's being built by Saul Koll. Size and shape similar to the 346, with some minor tweaks to ... (more)
304. On the quest for tone
[musings] August 29 2003 04:30:21 GMT
I agree that we (using the "royal" we here, to mean guitarists who are gear hounds, myself included) listen for things that might not matter to anyone else. I have been known to drive my wife (who is a saint) totally bonkers by playing the same riff over and over while changing guitars, amps and settings to see what effect they have. Why? Maybe because I'm avoiding real work (like learning how to apply music theory to guitar - something I never got around to in my formative years), or maybe ... (more)
305. On the Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel's headroom
[musings] August 29 2003 04:16:39 GMT
There are probably a few things contributing to the perception that the BA has little headroom. First, although this is one of the cleaner M/B designs still in production, it is a M/B amp and it has one more gain stage than similar 6V6 or EL-84 amps from other vendors. That third gain stage means that you're almost certainly going to run into preamp distortion as you crank the volume. There's an internal trimpot that can be adjusted to change the amount of drive to the power stage. If you turn this up to ... (more)
306. '64 Vibroverb Custom review
[musings] August 26 2003 05:23:53 GMT
Yesterday I visited the shop where I bought my Vibro-King. They've had a '64 Vibroverb custom in for about a month now, and I finally took the time to play it. I played a Les Paul DC because I have one at home and know what to expect from it. The shop also has a new Vibro-King sitting right next to the Vibroverb, so I got a chance to compare them. I had a little less than an hour to play, and the VV was set up with the Diaz mod and the tube rectifier for my entire visit. I've always thought of the VK as a ... (more)
307. On amplifiers and effects
[musings] August 24 2003 17:00:49 GMT
I've noticed that amps which tend (via distortion and limited frequency respone) to "blur the edges" of your guitar's sound will let you get away with using just about any pedal, whereas amps that are very transparent or "clinical" sounding will emphasize the noise and unmusical distortions introduced by most effects. Example: My Boogies will take any effect I've thrown at them (see note), whereas my Vibro-King makes my effects sound like dime-store junk. On the other hand, I'd rather ... (more)
308. On the 3dB rule
[musings] August 24 2003 16:59:16 GMT
We did some recording the other night to update the Almost Milwaukie demo. We've added a third guitarist, so we tracked his parts. We also replaced the departed singers' tracks with Mary-Suzanne's. What I found interesting was watching the mixdown process using Cakewalk and observing how a 1dB change would noticeably change how a track sat in the mix. So that got me to thinking about the conventional wisdom that a 3dB change is "just barely noticeable". Perhaps that's based upon hearing the ... (more)
309. On "real" guitar amplifiers
[musings] August 12 2003 17:37:59 GMT
Real guitar amps don't have MIDI connectors, knobs that turn by themselves, or display screens. And they certainly don't talk to computers or the internet. The only patches you'll find on a real guitar amp are the ones covering rips or burn marks in the Tolex. Real guitar amps don't have programs, and they don't get software upgrades. Real guitar amps do keep playing right on through power glitches. Hell, real guitar amps would keep playing right through a nuclear air blast if the power grid and the ... (more)
310. On guitar store etiquette
[musings] August 07 2003 06:48:19 GMT
Hey, show some respect and you'll earn it. (At least at the smaller stores where the staff can get to know you. All bets are off at the chains where staff turnover is high.) It's no big deal to treat the gear as if it isn't yours, because... hey, it isn't yours! Make sure you're not wearing a belt with a big buckle (or at least cover it with your shirt), take your rings off, ... treat the guitar as if the store's policy is "you scratch it, you buy it." The staff will appreciate your concern, as ... (more)
311. On effects
[musings] August 07 2003 06:46:21 GMT
I prefer effects that add to the guitar's sound without making it sound unmusical or mechanical. Effects that emulate or enhance natural processes in the environment seem to work best. That said, I often play with no effects. On one of my amps, which has a switchable loop, I sometimes put an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man in the loop and use it to fatten up my lead sound. That's it. Which is not to say that I'm some rock god because I run straight into the amp - it's just the sound I've come to prefer ... (more)
312. On gear and performance
[musings] July 14 2003 05:40:07 GMT
I used to rehearse with a band at very low volumes and then we'd carry that low volume to the stage. We thought we were doing the FOH guy a favor by giving him more room to mix. That, I now know, was the wrong thing to do. The first problem is that smaller clubs (the kind of venue I normally play at) have very small stages set against a wall. There's no real depth or overhead room to the stage, so anything coming from the monitors reflects off the ceiling and walls and right back into the vocal mics. This ... (more)
313. My Choices
[musings] July 13 2003 16:43:45 GMT
A guitar player makes decisions. Decisions about gear, technique, composition, performance, attitude and lifestyle. These are all important, and they all contribute to making music. Gear is probably easiest to discuss, but it's not necessarily the most important subject. I'm learning that versatility can't be bought. It's less a matter of gear-related features and more a matter of a good, responsive guitar and amp combined with technique that takes advantage of that responsiveness. My journey over the last ... (more)
314. On guitars... a block of wood?
[musings] July 13 2003 08:00:11 GMT
One of my singer friends sent around an Internet mailing titled something like "30 Rules for Rock Bands". Among the rules were gems like "If you enter a Battle of the Bands, you've already lost". And then there was the one: "Guitarists shouldn't change guitars between songs. They're all just blocks of wood with strings, and the amplifier makes all the sound." Well, maybe... Maybe this is cognitive dissonance at work, but I think there's a difference. We're not talking about ... (more)
315. On touch-sensitive amps
[musings] July 13 2003 07:58:42 GMT
Keep in mind that some amps do the touch-sensitive thing better than others. It's a thing of beauty when all the bits of the amp (preamp, power amp, power supply, speaker) start to break up at about the same time. Look for a non-master volume amp with just a couple of gain stages and alnico-magnet speakers. One thing that you're going to have to get used to is playing your leads with conviction. You're not going to get the singing leads that you'd expect from a cascading-gain lead amp (say, a Boogie ... (more)
316. On "tone"...
[musings] July 13 2003 07:57:46 GMT
Tone is in the rig. The "fingers" account for phrasing, articulation, attack, dynamics, ... Great "fingers" will struggle with a crappy rig, and sing with a great rig. The player's style will always come through, but the nuances get highlighted by the better rig. I often hear stories about a great player borrowing a crappy rig and sounding "just like" he or she always does. Well, what's going on there is that the listener recognizes the player's signature style. I have never ... (more)
317. On string gauges
[musings] July 13 2003 07:56:30 GMT
I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with string gauges. D'Addario used to have a tension chart available on their site as a PDF file. It's quite useful, but I can't locate it on their "improved" site. Tension is just one part the equation. Another factor is that the amount of metal moving in the magnetic field of the pickup affects the relative loudness of the string. These are the two most noticeable effects of a string's gauge. A secondary effect is the stiffness of the string. Stiffness, ... (more)
318. On increased sound level with multiple speakers
[musings] July 13 2003 07:54:00 GMT
I went looking for the answer to this in Yamaha's "Sound Reinforcement Handbook". According to that source, combining identical speakers will give you an increase of between 3db and 6db SPL. If I read and understood that passage correctly, the SPL gain will vary with frequency and with listener's position relative to the speaker. So yes, combining speakers will give a higher SPL. But wait... If you're running a tube amp and adjusting impedance to properly match the combined speaker load, then the ... (more)
319. On multi- vs. single-channel amps
[musings] July 13 2003 07:52:46 GMT
Multiple channels give you "versatility", but with that comes complexity. It's easier and quicker to set up one channel than multiple channels. With multiple channels, you have to worry about balancing tones and volumes among the channels. Higher-gain channels compress more, so their volume settings are most likely to be out of whack as the band gets louder or softer. Modest changes of your guitar's volume pot will affect the clean channel more than the distortion channel, so there's another ... (more)
320. On magic cables
[musings] July 13 2003 07:51:15 GMT
So, you've just bought a special piece of wire. It looks just like the wire you used to buy at the hardware store, but it costs twenty times as much and comes in a handsomely-printed box covered with lofty claims. You consign your old wire to the the trash, hook up the new wire, re-read the packaging so you'll know what you're supposed to hear, and fire up the old system. And it sounds... Different? Did you ever notice that particular bass note sounding like that? Maybe not. After all, the box said it ... (more)
321. On channels... to switch or not?
[musings] July 13 2003 07:39:00 GMT
If you need sudden jumps in gain - clean, crunch, saturated - during a song, then you kind of have to go with a channel switcher. Especially if your tones are dictated by a recording, as they are when you're in a cover band that's trying to be authentic... There's no limitations on what the artists can do in the studio - many times when you think there's a channel switcher involved in a recording it's actually a change of (possibly) amp, guitar, effects, mic positions, even the guitarist. My opinion ... (more)
322. On buying a used amp
[musings] July 13 2003 07:37:15 GMT
Sometimes, particularly with relatively new gear, you'll find amps on the used market because people buy them without giving enough consideration to whether the amp's right for them, then quickly decide they'd rather have something else. So take your time deciding. That said, here are the things I think you should do when auditioning a used tube amp. Figure for a three channel amp that it'll take you about a half hour to go through all this if you already know the amp well from having lived with another of ... (more)
323. On "the best" Mesa/Boogie amplifier
[musings] July 13 2003 07:34:39 GMT
Oh, man... Isn't this just a matter of personal preference? Mesa/Boogie makes a lot of different amps to appeal to different players. If I tell you that I like their vintage-sounding amps more than the modern-sounding amps, it says nothing at all about whether one is better than the other. I've owned* or played all of these Mesa/Boogie amps: Rocket 44 1x12 combo Nomad 45 1x12 combo Nomad 55 1x12 combo* Nomad 100 2x12 combo Mark IV 1x12 widebody combo* Mark IV narrow head* w/three different cabs Thiele 1x12 ... (more)
324. On artist signature guitars
[musings] July 13 2003 07:32:48 GMT
Manufacturers pay a certain amount to the artist for the right to put a name on the guitar. That money increases the cost of the guitar. Unlike normal production expenses, an endorsement contract (generally) has no effect on the quality of the guitar. Les Paul guitars are a little different. Yes, it's his name on the guitar. However - depending on whose version of Gibson's history you believe - Les Paul probably designed the original model. At the very least, the R&D done by Les had a strong influence ... (more)
325. On amp construction
[musings] July 13 2003 07:30:46 GMT
Consider this: Why do you care what's inside the amp? Do you like the way it sounds, or not? How long do you plan to keep your amp? Are you planning to pass it on to your grandchildren? How long have you been playing? Are you set in your ways, stylistically and tonally, or are you still searching for an amp you can live with? My point is this... Unless you're looking for an investment - or for an amp that you know you'll want to keep for more than a few years - then there's not much point in worrying about ... (more)
326. On Gibson's MAGIC and guitars
[musings] July 13 2003 07:29:57 GMT
MAGIC is Gibson's name for a digital protocol they've designed to move multiple channels of audio and control over inexpensive 10-BaseT cables. At the Winter 2003 NAMM they showed guitars which incorporated this technology. I think MAGIC has some potential for FOH sound. One of Gibson's anticipated applications (and their first product, predating the guitars by quite a bit) is a digital snake. I can see where that might be easier to set up, at least w.r.t. the cable run, but I'd still worry about the ... (more)
327. On amplifier power
[musings] July 13 2003 07:27:50 GMT
How much amplifier power do you need? There's no rule of thumb that'll work for everyone... If you need more cleans, and especially more bottom end in your cleans, you need more power. If you want more power-stage distortion, you need less power. But there are no absolute numbers. The power you need depends upon how loud you need to play, where you set your tone controls, whether you get you distortion by overdriving the power stage vs. using a master volume or pedals, how efficient your speakers are and ... (more)
September 19 2008 23:15:26 GMT