Monday, January 25, 2016

Fishman Makes Tele Pickups

Greg Koch is the funniest man in music these days, and here he's showing off the new Fluence pickups from Fishman. I couldn't make them sound as good as he does, but he certainly makes a case for them here.

I might want a PowerBridge up in there, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

After-Warranty Report: Kliq TinyTune

I didn't just complain on my blog yesterday.

I made an Amazon review. A three-star Amazon review.

I also got the order ID, registered the Kliq pedal, and submitted a report of faulty gear.

They took my address and shipped me a new pedal. In fact, I know it's in town already.

We'll see how long the new one lasts, but I have to say their customer service is right on. After a few times playing out, I might revise and extend that Amazon review.

Monday, January 4, 2016

After-Action Report: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

For Christmas, I asked for and received a Kliq TinyTune tuner, which I placed at the end of my pedalboard, taking off the EHX Signal Pad I had used as my mute. There are three things I needed on my board that a tuner pedal provides:

  • Muting. I play in church, so it's play-sermon-play, and I like redundant volume control. I turn down both on the guitar and the volume pedal, but if I forget to turn off dirt, there can be a hum that goes to the amp and can be heard on stage, even if the sound guy routinely mutes those mics.
  • Tuning. Nobody wants to sound out of tune.
  • Verification. There are three systems: Guitar -> amp hidden back stage, Amp mic -> PA system, and PA -> on-stage in-ear monitors. Especially when the system is being set before or after a significant event, it is easy for problems to arise in one of these systems, and if the sound man is busy elsewhere, it can be difficult to diagnose where the problem is. With the tuner last, you can know your signal is getting to the end of your board and (likely) out to the D/I box, so the problem isn't you. This is crucial, if for no other reason than to have cast-iron evidence you can yell at your sound guy.
First time I took the board out of the house, I found that the pedal was stuck in the "on" position, meaning it was only in mute/tune position. Far better than it being stuck in bypass, but it did mean I was quiet. 

I've been torn between two pedals recently. My Washburn Soloist, switchable between overdrive and distortion, sometimes sounds acceptable and sometimes sounds horrible, so I don't trust it. My Digitech Death Metal has too much gain, and I struggle to find a way to make it sound like something other than a hive of angry bees. I've found the secret is to cut back on guitar volume. I'm still not sure of the use, but that's where I'm stuck right now, with my Bad Monkey as my go-to dirt pedal. These Digitech pedals have two outputs: To Amp and To Mixer, and I was able to use that as a splitter to allow me to feed the tuner without killing my output.

I also had extra power and the Soloist around, so I put that in the chain and turned the volume to zero to mute. I suppose I could've done the same with the Death Metal, but oh well. 

As a tuner, I'm happy with nearly everything about the Kliq. I have another tuner, about the size of two normal pedals, and the size of it makes it useless to me. The Kliq is the size of the TC Electronic Flashback Mini, so the size is right. It's bright enough and fast enough, and the price was right. I hope to get the registration and warranty issues worked out soon so I can get another tuner on my board. 

I should also mention that I broke a string mid-song. I had replacement strings, but should've had a second guitar instead (and usually do). As the SEALs say, "Two is One, One is None", so be prepared.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On Third Guitarists

In general, there are two roles a guitarist can play. There's the "lead" roll, and there's the "rhythm" roll.

With the lead role, you play leads, riffs, solos, contributing to the melodic aspects of the music. With the rhythm role, you play riffs and chords contributing to the rhythmic and harmonic aspects of the music. In essence, you make the bed that the lead guitarist, singer, etc., jump on. I think a canonical example is AC/DC, where Angus Young played the leads while his brother Malcolm banged out the rhythm. It is hard to be wholly a lead guitarist in a vocal-lead band, because your lead playing could get in the way of the singer.

There are guitarists that combine these. Eddie Van Halen is always playing the song, always playing notes and riffs. You could hear just his guitar track and know he song. He has the freedom to do this because he's the only guitarist, leaving the whole space open for him to play with. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Johnny Marr of the Smiths (and others) also have styles where their parts are equal parts rhythm and lead playing.

There are very few bands where there are three guitarists. Classic Motown studio tracks had many guitarists, but each had their pocket and went for a small amount of harmonic space, as was explained in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. In a drastically different style, Iron Maiden currently has three guitarists, because Adrian Smith left, was replaced by Janick Gers, and then returned. There's Gers-led material that became part of their show, so they got together and developed three-guitar arrangements.

This is the key. Each guitarist has to have a role, a harmonic and rhythmic part in the music to take. This takes planning, time and experience.

I came into practice last night as one of three electric guitarists, supplemented by two acoustic guitarists. Acoustic guitar in a rock band becomes more-or-less a tuned snare drum, really setting the rhythm of the piece. Lead guitarist has a lot of fairly clean Strat work, singer/guitarist is hitting the rhythm/grit aspects, and for the life of me, I don't know where my Tele fits in to all this, which means, when I try to fill spaces, I step on other people's toes. This, on top of the gremlins of the venue, make me profoundly ambivalent about playing this music.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You may be cool, but you're not "Change Your Own Strings On Stage In The Middle Of The Song" cool, like B.B. King, starting about 3:15.

Monday, November 9, 2015

After-Action Report: Derp!

I was set to play on Sunday. I had all my gear together and set aside, and knowing the show-up time was 6:30pm, I was watching Disney-Pixar shorts on Netflix at 6pm when I got a text.

<you're showing up, right?>

<yeah, getting ready to show up at 6:30>

<that's when we start playing>

So there was a lot of Derp!, a hasty loading of the car, the slightest of soundchecks, and, despite all that, a reasonably decent gig. I knew the songs, mostly, so I didn't embarrass myself too much.

I did some, though. The first is the partscaster you see to your right. Despite the pots you see sticking through the control plate, it has no controls. It's pickup-to-jack. It's a partscaster, built from a factory second body from Guitar Fetish, a $5 bridge pickup from Reverb mounted to the body, and a neck salvaged from my son's first guitar, a First Act instrument where the body broke near the tremolo bridge mount. It's proudly a mongrel, and I've enjoyed it as a bedroom guitar.

But I rarely plug in my bedroom guitars, and I found while playing it, in front of people with only the most minimal of soundchecks, that the ringing highs I love while playing it unplugged turned into a shrill icepick when going through my pedalboard and the venue's amp. I generally tilt my pickups a little toward the high strings, in order to balance string volume. Plugging into my Frontman 25R with knobs at 12 o'clock, I went in with a screwdriver and reversed that. We'll see next practice how that goes.

A key part of my pedalboard is the volume pedal. I love to swell in, working with my delay pedal to get a keyboard pad effect. But, they've been having problems with hum, and so there's a noise gate on the amp mic. Which means I pick quietly and get nothing, and I pick louder and I get a surprising pop from out of nowhere. I've talked to the sound guy, and next time, I'll have time to get that worked out better.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

After-Action Report: That Was Swell

Ach. I'm sure I used that one before.

This was a six-piece band: drums, bass, electric guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and vox, vox, vox. I was guitar number two. My pedalboard is comp -> boost -> volume pedal -> Bad Monkey OD -> dirt 2 -> tremolo -> kill switch -> Flashback delay, set up with minimal warble and about 4 repeats. The boost was on all the time, giving me a little more volume. I plugged into a D/I box connected to a mic'd Egnator backstage, and there was a grounding issue that lead to a persistent buzz in the connection. I know that's not my board's fault, so that's not an issue that I'm going to spend too much mental energy on.

I had a recurring lick in the first song that required slide, and I liked it, but there were three notes, defining a D chord: A- F# D-A-F# D-A. I had my pedals set to make my slide sing -- comp, boost, Bad Monkey, delay -- and I rode the volume pedal. I'm told the effect was great, that my parts worked well within the song, but I am not a huge fan of standing around with a muted guitar, waiting for the end of the chorus for my part to come around again.

Much of the rest of the set list had me taking the place of the keyboard, playing long swelled chords to take the place of a synth pad. Another guitarist suggested I tune between songs, especially while doing that, because sour notes run into a delay pedal stay sour a long time. Problem is, I own a tuner pedal, but I don't use it because it's huge and I want the pedalboard space. So, I've been using a headstock tuner. I love it, I really do, but I left it on another guitar, which I noticed in practice, and somehow, it had been left on and now is dead, which I noticed right before we started to play.

I love that phones and tablets now have tuner apps, but while they're great for bedroom players, they really don't work onstage, especially if they're playing music over the PA while you're trying to tune. So, I was stuck with no way to determine if I'm in tune.

The SEALs say "two is one, one is none", and I left myself with no means of tuning.

Tuner pedals have other benefits besides being able to tune. First one is that they're a kill switch. I don't play with terribly high gain, but even when you don't have a rig that'll make horrible noise without you if you don't kill the signal, they're useful. Another wonderful thing about tuners is that you can use them to tell where your signal problem is. Put the tuner toward the end of the board and, if you can still tune, you know that the problem causing no audio is after the board.

So, next on my guitar pedal wish-list is a tuner. Thinking a used Korg PitchBlack or the like.

Beyond that, I'm thinking that something that's less OD and more distortion would be a good addition, so I can get a solid angry GRR when I need it. My previous dirt 2, a Washburn Soloist, has recently started being the quietest thing ever, which is exactly what I do not need. Of course, I have a Digitech Death Metal pedal that contains all the gain, which makes it unusable for any music I expect to play. I think getting something Klon-like will be in the same class as the Bad Monkey, so the EHX Soul Food is off the table, so I'm thinking about something fuzzy, like a Big Muff Pi.

I like the idea of adding a reverb pedal, like a Catalinbread Topanga or EHX Holy Grail Nano, but the venue I play in is large enough that it gets that effect naturally.

I played decently, at least as far as being-in-tune could carry me. I enjoyed myself and, by and large, didn't bring the side down. Most problems were beyond my control, so I didn't worry about them. If the only things to mention in the after-action are technical issues, then it's a good day.