Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Not Really Gloating

Gas is $3.38 at the station next to my office today.

Of course, that's $.14 more than where I got gas last night.

Which means I spent $.98 than I would've if I had waited.

But I probably couldn't make it to work if I hadn't got it when I did.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Whatcha Gonna Do About It? That's What I'd Like To Know

I have developed a few plans. Kinda interconnected.

First, I have developed two of a set of twelve major scale exercises for violin in Finale Notepad (which I use enough to warrant a link in the sidebar). This helps me figure out what notes go where when reading music.

Scales Exercise - C Major
Scales Exercise - D Major

Getting into my head, that's one thing. Much more important is getting it in my ears and into my hands.

Scales Exercise - C Major (MIDI)
Scales Exercise - D Major (MIDI)

Eventually, there will have to be twelve of these, and I'll have to make a playlist going through these in the circle of fifths (and reversed, in the circle of fourths), to get these into the head enough to build from there. As that otherwise fairly meh movie goes, "Fundamentals are the building blocks of fun".

Enough of this and I can stop saying I'm a fiddle owner and start saying I'm a fiddle player.

Chapter 9: Do Grasshoppers Eat Ants?

Sometimes you take the wrong moral out of a story.

I might have a chance to become the on-call bassist for Sunday mornings, and while what we play is pretty much CCM, the bass style I'm most in love with is old-school black gospel bass, so I was looking up what I could for that style. I found this post on practice on the Gospel Skillz website, covering the importance of structure and discipline in your musical growth.
Let’s take a look at how Curtis practices:

Curtis sits down at the piano and starts to play some scales. He starts on the C Major Scale and works his way up chromatically (by Half Steps) to G. After he finishes the G Major scale, he starts to think of the song that he heard on the radio. He hums the melody and tries to remember the chords. He is able to pick some of them out but not all. He then gets frustrated after 45min and starts working on some hot progressions that a friend taught him. He spends another 45min working out these progressions and trying to see where else he can take them. After he gets bored with that, he then starts working on a song he has been writing for 3 years, but just never got around to finishing. This lasts for about 1 hour. He then doodles on the piano for an hour and calls it a night. Curtis’ total practice time is 3.5 hours.

Now let’s take a look at Charlene:

Charlene sits down at the piano with her practice journal and metronome in hand. She opens the journal and looks to see if there is anything left over from her previous practice session that she needs to work on. There is nothing. So she writes the current date in her journal signifying the start of this session. She then writes “Major Scales around the Circle of Fourths” and sets her metronome at 80 bpm (Beats per Minute). She then proceeds to practice her major scales around the Circle of Fourths first at normal time and again at double time. When she’s done, she writes down the time it took her to complete the scales and the tempo which was 5min. Now that she is warmed up, she writes in her journal “Progression Exercises”. With the metronome still set to 80 bpm, she works though Major 2-5-1, Minor 2-5-1, 1-4, 1-6-2-5-1, 6-2-5-1, 3-6-2-5-1, and 7-3-6-2-5-1 progressions ALL around the Circle of Fourths. She then writes in her journal 20 min. She also makes a note that she was having some problems with Minor 2-5-1 progressions. She will ask someone about that later. Now that she has the fundamentals out of the way, she pulls out her choir book. (Charlene plays for the church choir) She writes in her journal “Practice choir song (Awesome God) for Sunday.” She puts the CD into the CD player and listens to it one time all the way through. While she is listening, she identifies the key and any key changes that may occur in the song. She then sets it back to the beginning and plays again and begins learning the song. When she is done, she writes 35 min. She reflects on the practice and feels good about it. She knows she will need to work on the song more, but she has 6 more days until Sunday. She feels that she will be ready by Wednesday, but right now she has to get dinner ready for the kids. Charlene's total practice time is 1 hour.
I confess that I went to the bottom line: Curtis spent over three hours with his instrument. Charlene spent one hour with her instrument. Curtis FTW!

Which, incidently, is the wrong moral for this story.

The correct moral of this story is that it's crucial to use your time effectively. If you can't quantify something, you can't manage it, and if you don't record something, you can't qualify something.

Needless to say, I've hit on this advice in the music-releated blogosphere before.

Needless to say, I don't really do this.

My problem at the moment is a terrible lack of direction.

Don't look so shocked. I mean, it's in the title of this blog! I've mentioned having a Telecaster, a lap steel, a fiddle, a mandolin, an acoustic guitar. I've blogged on genres from folk to jazz to metal. I've mentioned a desire for keyboards! I don't know what to focus on because I don't know where I want to go! Which is why I suck.

And knowing, says G.I. Joe, is half the battle.

A Little Bit of Soul

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Root Down

Funny. I remembered this as Tony Rich on a real Hammond, not emulated. Still, that is a Leslie next to him, and a big one.

And there is no Telecaster in sight.

I'm thinking about keyboards these days, and what you hear here are two of the sounds necessary. The Hammond organ sound and the Rhodes electric piano sound. I'd take the Farafisa and the Wurlitzer, even.

Thing is, I don't know enough about the technology, and I'd have to spend time and money to learn hands-on, and I don't have either. I see virtual instruments online, and I wonder how I can control them, whether I would need to gig with a computer to run this stuff through or what.

So, I guess, this is what I need to know:

  • What are the cool keyboard sounds? The ones that really rock? The crucial ones for butt thumpin' music?
  • What gear is available that can emulate those sounds well? Because, y'know, even Goodwill has an ear to the vintage market, making bargains for the real stuff too hard to find.
  • What cheap gear is available that can emulate those sounds not-too terribly?
  • I see MIDI In, MIDI Out, MIDI Thru, and I get confused. How much of that do people who aren't, for example, Crystal Method, use?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Electricity's Ghost Howling In My Bones

Virtual Vintage Guitar sells beautiful instruments. This is one of them, custom-built by Fred Stuart, formerly of the Fender Custom Shop. It's a great-looking Telecaster, to be sure, but it's more than that. It's functionally a replica of Clarence White's original B-Bender, now owned by Marty Stuart. It even includes the double-wide body. It even has a painting of Clarence with mirrorshades, the cover for Untitled reflected in his eyes.

Words fail to express how wonderfully cool I think this instrument is.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dragging Bleachers Out In The Sun

I emailed Customer Service at Fender with my disappointment with the Phosphor Bronze strings. A representative emailed me back, apologizing and promising replacement strings. When they arrive, and the current set gets replaced, I will be certain to post. Thanks, Fender, for the good customer service. I will gladly give these strings a second chance.

But, in the mean time, I still need strings, so I pulled off the Phosphor Bronze and replaced them with Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 Bronze strings, running .013-.056. I've been happy with EB Slinkys, be they Super Slinkys or Not Even Slinkys, so I figure the acoustic sets should be OK. They still have the new string clang, but I've always been one for reasonably heavy acoustic strings. Without bridge cables, I tend to bend too much. They keep me in check.

Since we're revisiting old posts, I'll point out the start of my investigation of the "Allman Brothers lick" in "Bootleg Flyer" by Mudcrutch. There are precisely two things I missed on first pass.

First is a chromatic note, the major seventh after the dominant seventh at the end of each octave. In layman's terms, that means we throw in a G#. Second it the fact that it's in triplets. Here's the first octave.
E -----------------------------------
B -----------------------------------
G -----------------------------------
D ------------------------5---5-6-7--
A --------3---3-5-3-5-7-5---7--------
E --5-3-5---5------------------------
Do the same with the second and most of the third and you'll have it. I have it. I just don't have it to speed, nor without errors.

Also, it's a bit from the first song off the first album, called "Don't Want You No More". Look at about 1:28 and 2:00. But I'll post the audio bits tomorrow.

She Controls Me Oh So Boldly

Lori Linstruth has stopped blogging at herself, but her blog is still up, containing great posts on playing. If you are a player, give it a read.

In this post, she repeats the rule on how to play fast, which is, of course, play slow. She posted the above lick, which she says has dogged her for years until she started slow. She finally got to her personal best of 178bpm.

I tried it. It didn't seem that hard.

Until I reread the fine print.

(T)he scenario below involves playing 16th notes at quarter-note setting of 178bpm

I got as far as 250bpm, but I was playing it as eighth notes, picking every click, so really, it was only 125 bpm.

Me at 250 125 beats per minute for one minute.

There's a three-against-four to it that's interesting intellectually, but it doesn't sound like music. At least at 125 bpm. And at 125 bpm, I should have one of those orange triangles on the back of my guitar, indicating slow-moving traffic.

But that's where I am. Lori, where are you these days?

Chapter 8: Your Friends and Neighbors

I'm covering the low end at a four-piece jam. Guitar, bass, drums, keys. I had been listening to "Waiting Room" by Fugazi, and I had worked out the opening riff. I liked the sound, I liked the range. We stop a song, I call out the key, and we go in.

The keyboard player takes a step back from the keys.

Why? Why did that simple choice alienate that musician? I can explain this with a little bit of theory. Not much, don't worry.

Consider the Circle of Fifths. Starting at C and going right, you see all the sharp keys (G, D, A, E, B), and going left, you see all the flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db). If you've been playing a little while, you will look at the first four sharp keys and feel comfortable. Guitarists, especially guitarists used to playing first position, open string stuff, are very comfortable with C, G, D, A and E. Things just lay out perfectly on guitar with those keys, because you have a maximum number of open strings. Guitarists tend to gripe when you get into the flats. "F? F!"

The good point is that, once you forget about open strings and play closed positions, things get easier. If you barre every chord, a Bb is like an A played up one fret. Everything is pretty much parallel. The core concept of CAGED theory is that once you can play a scale in one of five positions, you can move that scale to another position and get another scale. You have to learn one thing five ways and you pretty much have it in every key. On bass, I was thinking of F# as G minus one fret.

Now, let's look at it like a keyboardist. That scale is F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D# and E#, which is F. Writing that on staff, you'd mark it with six sharps, or six flats if you're thinking of it as Gb instead. There are only five black keys on the keyboard. And because the keyboard layout is not uniform, the scales and chords are not as instantly transferrable between keys.

By calling out F#, I pushed the keyboards to the most foreign landscape possible.

Every instrument has tendencies like that. For example, horns love the flats, and if you ever want to learn a sax lick or figure out a song with a big horn chart, always look for Bb first.

A man's got to know his limitations, and it's good to know the limitations of your band members, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Other than that, how did you enjoy the show, Mrs. Lincoln?

I jammed yesterday with Guitar and Keys. There were some fun moments. How many people get to jump from progressive rock to reggae to "Sleepwalk" to polka to blues to really out Dead-like noodling? And I'm getting OK on the bass. As was mentioned earlier, Musical Director is setting up a surrogate band so the main one can have some time off if necesary, and Guitar suggested that he might try me out on bass.

Bass in a power trio is cool. It's cool because the guitarist is playing lead/flash much of the time, so he's working off the the base I create, and the drummer fills the timekeeper role, not being a harmonic instrument (except at about fifty seconds in on this curse-word-containing video, where Alex plays in unison with Eddie), so every decision regarding song structure is mine. I'm not quite up to the challenge, but I'm getting there. Now I just need a bass.

Five-string? Fretless? Five-string fretless? Certainly long-scale. I'm 6'4". I'm big enough for the big bass. Thoughts and suggestions?

Musical Director brought out the guitar his dad let him have, a 1970s Tele Custom, with the Tele bridge and the big honkin' humbucker in the neck. I got to play it a little. I want it so bad. He promised me right of first refusal should he ever want to sell it. Which I suggested he not do.

Speaking of buying and selling, I've been digging out the Allman Brothers again, and thus I have fallen in love again with Goldtops. I've signed up for the Slash guitar giveaway, but should that fall through, I've been looking at this Agile from Rondo. Of course, this looks cool, too, and except for position markers, this is the very model of a Les Paul I described year months ago. Message: I care. About Les Pauls.

Gear Review: Strings

I wrote this in Stratocat's blog: There's only one review that means anything. "I took this to a gig, relied on it when it was all on the line, and it did not let me down.".

I changed strings on my acoustic guitar about two weeks ago. I bought a set of Fender Phosphor Bronze strings, .011-.050. I played on them last Wednesday. I put my guitar in the case. I brought it out again today, getting ready to play. I set up, tuned up, warmed up, ran through the set list, and five minutes before it was time to start, I popped my G string.

I'm kinda broke right now. I didn't buy two sets. I didn't have two sets. That is my bad. I know, intellectually, that if you're gonna be playing out, you bring a spare of anything that you need, and I didn't have spare strings. I tell the story of Madder Rose, who I saw twice. First time, the bass player popped his low E, and spent five minutes of set time trying to beg, borrow or steal a spare bass from the other acts. Next time I saw them, they had another bassist. So, for all you hoping to step up from basement picking to playing out, take that lesson. But that's not important right now.

I play a Telecaster, a DG20CE acoustic and a FM52E mandolin. I am a Fender guy. I hadn't bought a set of Fender strings in a while, but that's more because I have been exploring options. I used to pop G strings all the time, but that was because I was using Hot Licks copper picks and trying to make up with my right arm what I couldn't get with the amplification. Basically, I was cutting at the strings with a little knife and was surprised when I cut through. Not what happened here. I took it to the gig and it let me down. A wound G should last more than a week and a half.

I'll be dealing with Fender Customer Service tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gob Iron

Listening Party: Dancing on Street Corners

picture from the OCMS website

First I heard of the Old Crow Medicine Show, it was a web show early in the decade when people really didn't do that yet. They kept up the OCMS show long after the others because they were so good. I saw the video and agreed. And found an MP3 of one of their songs.

As some of you might know, I used to live in St. Louis. My Mom was watching the games and waving the homer hankie as Ossie Smith and the Cardinals went for the World Series. I didn't follow the games closely, but that song tied into that period of my life, including the move to the South. I love that old version.

And, recently, on a blog, I found a new version.

Original Recipe
Extra Crispy

I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere: Which is the preferable version? Comment. Show your work.

And of course, support the OCMS by buying their albums and seeing their concerts.

It Aint' Easy, But Somebody's Gotta Do It

Electric Guitar Review has just been revamped with a cool new look, which does look all kinds of extra cool. I mean, I thought I had some cool in the fridge, but it's gone, and I know where it's gone. Electric Guitar Review's got it!

I've mentioned EGR before, when Cary was starting his Relic Project, where he takes a nice new Baja Tele and beats it up until it looks like someone's been gigging the honkytonks with it since 1952. I picked up a Baja at my local guitar pusher, and it was just the perfect guitar, fitting my hands perfectly and sounding great even before I plugged it in. When the tubes in the amp room warmed up, I found a four-way switch and a toggle on the volume knob that swaps phase, and a great usable sound in that Twisted Tele neck pickup. And to have it broken in? That's just great.

Go take a look at the new look for EGR!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Creating Classics

I've been thinking about a few guitars these days. Specifically, the Etavonni and the Moog guitars. (The company is generally called "Moo-Guh" but Bob pronounced it "Mow-Guh", just so you know.) And don't you know, they're really pretty guitars. At least the pictures look pretty: I've never been in the same room with either.

The selling point for the Etavonni is the aluminum body and the carbon fiber neck. Otherwise, it seems fairly pedestrian. Two humbuckers, three-way switch, hardtail or Gotoh tremelo bridge. Except for the looks and the body and neck materials, there's very little to distinguish it from, say Ibanez RGT42DX, which seems to run $600 or so, or about 10 times less than than the Etavonni.

But wait. Did I say little to distinguish? The Ibanez has a through-body neck, and therefore a very small heel and really easy access to the high notes. From the pics I've seen, the Etavonni (from here in, we'll say "E") has a bolt-on neck that's just like that featured on my Tele, which is the same clunky big heel that guys reaching for the tweedly notes have been complaining about since 1947. But again, I've never seen these things up close, so I am not sure about that.

But, you pour aluminum into a specific mold, that amount of aluminum will always weigh that much and sound like that. A carbon fiber neck will sound like any other carbon fiber neck, and resist bending due to temperature change.

Then there's the Moog.

Moog makes theremins. Moog makes ring modulators so peoples' guitars can sound like Daleks. Moog makes big analog synths that allow people like Keith Emerson to be audibly pompous. Now they make guitars. Well-made guitars with sustainers and mutes. And the demo models I've seen are pretty, pretty instruments. With crazy additional knobs. For a fair workup of what it can do, see the above video.

None of the pictures I've seen show the heel, or explain how the body hits the neck. It has an electronic sustainer, muter and piezo pickups. It is an excessively beautiful guitar, sure, but on the merits, the muter and piezo bridge are the two elements that make this distinct from a Fernandes Pro guitar, which runs again about ten times less than the Moog.

I am a Telecaster player. My guitar is not different in any significant way from the first electric spanish that popped out of Leo Fender's noggin in 1947. Compared to an archtop with pickups, we're talking innovation out to here, but only cosmetically changed in the last sixty years. Think of an innovation, and the Tele doesn't have it. No humbuckers. No middle pickup. No individual saddles. No synchronized tremolo. No comfort cuts. No onboard electronics. No floating tremolo. No active electronics. No MIDI. No piezos. No sustainers. No fanned frets. No compensated nut. No locking tuners. No transposing tremolo. No compound radius neck. No cut-down heel. Is there another piece of innovation out there that I've missed listing? Seriously, I'm curious here. Are there real technical innovations in electric guitar that I've missed?

But my crusty old favorite is one of the most popular designs out there. The top two, the Strat and Tele, are largely unchanged from around fifty years ago. And the big makers and new styles are pretty much mix-and-match from those three favorites.

I take a 1/4" mono phone jack, technology developed for the telephone switchboards you see in black-and-white movies, to connect my guitar to my amplifier, a Fender Frontman 25R, which is a solid state amp with master volume which is distinct from my friend's Airline tube amp of similar size. Between the two I have some pedals. There's innovation in cables to hot-rod the connections between all of these. There is a five-pin cable running from a pedal to the Moog guitar, powering those electronics and providing the player more control. Graphtech's Ghost MIDI system comes with a 13-pin jack to connect to a MIDI controller. It seems that the next big point of innovation will have to be the cables. The problem there, of course, is that the moment you change the connector design, you lock yourself out of a wide range of amps and effects pedals.

The subject line is derived from a Coco Chanel quote. "Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics." Will either of these, can either of these, become classics?

Everyone Knows It's ... Wes

Wes Montgomery. He makes it look so easy.

Assorted Notes

FullCompass.com is having a deal on Moog gear. You know it's pricy if they can afford to take $100 off.

To the right is an attempt to get to know my readership. I discovered/realized today that this blog is locked to people who don't have a Blogger or OpenID account. This keeps out the spammers. It also keeps out people who don't want to create a Blogger or OpenID account. Those who would spam are automated and annoying, but unlikely to read my poll. Those who would comment are much more likely to read it and respond.

The musical director wants to expand from two bands (Sunday and Wednesday) to three, so the Sunday band can switch off on occasion. I'm looking at tryouts next week. Yay me!

It Was The Best Of Tone, It Was The Worst Of Tone

I go to Elderly Instruments on occasion, because I can't afford anything and I'm a masochist. And yes, I visit the Tele page and look through Other Electrics hoping to find a nice Tele-style guitar. I am that kind of predictable. But that's not all I do, because I'm also on the lookout for a nice archtop for the jazz playing I'm utterly unqualified to do.

I found this Gibson L-50 from the 1930s.

I found this Godin Fifth Avenue. Brand new.

The Gibson was made in the Golden Age of archtop guitars. I believe Mr. Loar still walked the shop floor in Kalamazoo back then. The Godin was growing in the great Canadian wilderness during my lifetime. The Gibson costs $1850. The Godin costs $600.

I've never played either. The Elderly store Michigan is far enough out of my way that if I was to drive there and try one, I'm gonna be bringing something back with me, and that's just not gonna happen anytime soon. But I'm curious here as I'm often curious: what am I buying when I take that price jump. I know that, if I get a Squier, I might (or might not) get a hunk of wood with frets that's as solid as a Fender, but the electronics will likely be bottom-barrel and well worthy of junking and replacing. No electronics on either of these guys. The Gibson has an 80-year-old spruce top, and the Godin has a cherry top. If (by some entirely unimaginable circumstance at this moment) I get myself one of these archtops, am I really getting a grand worth of tone increase with the Gibson?

source images from Elderly Instruments

Friday, September 19, 2008

Isn't That What Friends Are For?

I'm rockin' a three-saddle Wilkinson bridge these days. And I'm dreaming of the next cool thing to add to my guitar. My thought was "Piezo bridge! I'll make it so I can play acoustic stuff on my electric!"

I thought of that many years ago, true. That is still the thought. I'm not 100% sure that it'll be this Tele, but a Tele of mine at some point will have a piezo bridge.

And I found the picture above on the Trussart site. That, if you look closely is a 3-saddle Graphtech Ghost setup.

Now, go to Graph Tech. Find the Ghost page. You will find no three-saddle piezo bridges.

So I wrote Graph Tech, and Colin Darling wrote me back. Evidently, they could never get it to work with MIDI (the other thing you can do with piezo bridges), so they dropped it.

Can't say I'm happy about that.

What I can say is that received the response an hour and a half after I sent the request, and I figured that if I got word back within this month, I'd be doing good.

So, one day I will have a Telecaster with a piezo bridge. It won't be three-saddle, but it most likely will be Graph Tech.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Farther Along We'll Understand Why

The Invention of the B-Bender:

Clarence White joins the Byrds:

The Wall of Guitarists:

No, I don't own one. Yet.

This One Is NOT A Telecaster

A 1925 Gibson L-5. The Cadillac of Archtops.

Not mine.

It belongs to Elderly Instruments.

It costs more than my car.

But isn't it great?

I Guess It's All On Barrett Strong's Shoulders Now

I really don't know much about Norman Whitfield. Only he was a songwriter and producer for the great Motown hit machine of the 1960s.

He produced the songs "I Heard It through the Grapevine", "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", "War" and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", among many many many others, which, to my mind, makes him one of the Great Men of the 20th Century.

"Levi Stubb's Tears", Billy Bragg's take on the central importance of Motown.

So Much To Answer For

America's Team!

At least it is now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's a Tone Lotion and a Turd Polish!

My good blog-friend and fellow Fender follower Stratoblogster posts a rant on the center of tone, inspired by this column in the September issue of Premier Guitar magazine.

Allow me to quote out of context. It's the silly season here in the US, so I'm allowed to do that.

If good tone comes from your hands, why hasn't somebody come up with a tone hand lotion product for guitar players? Ya know some of us would buy it! (Remember, you saw it here first.)


The WRONG thing to do is try to fix a poor, badly intonated instrument by adding more distortion and other effects. This is what is known as polishing a turd. Can't be done-- it's a universal law that even Tenacious D recognizes.

Strat, try new Shimmer. It's a tone lotion and a turd polish!


He makes a long argument, and a good argument that I agree with.

Guitar teachers should help their students with developing pitch and harmony, and provide orientation on the structure and mechanics of tuning and maintaining guitars. Instrument retailers should sell playable guitars to kids and beginners, and provide proper instrument set-up. Many parents- not being musicians themselves- need to be educated about the importance of quality instruments. Many kids quit playing, thinking they just don't have what it takes, when all along a crappy instrument is actually to blame. Parents don't want to spend a lot of money on something that the kid may grow bored with next week. Still, the same amount of $$$ that the X-Box 360 and i-Pod cost WILL procure an acceptable instrument. So what, if the kid decides not to play guitar after all? You were also willing to spend the same $$$ to zombie-ize him with video games, so at least you can say you tried in the case of a musical instrument.

My first guitar was a Harmony POS plywood acoustic with a ToneSuckRtm bridge and zero fret. My first electric was a 3/4 Harmony Superstrat (keep in mind that I was over 16 years old and over 6 feet when I received this). Eventually I got an Ibanez dreadnaught that has a rock-star headstock and skinny shredder neck. But it could play and sounded good, so I got better.

But that "good guitar" cost me $150, I think. When I say a good guitar, and I think Strat means when he says quality instrument, we're talking about instruments that sound good, will intonate, and won't hurt you when you play. It doesn't have to be a high-end instrument. Go to a large guitar store (let's say Guitar Center) with the goal to get the best sounding Telecaster (sorry, Stratoblogster, but this is my blog) in the store, and when you start pulling the instruments off the wall, you might find that the best sounding Tele isn't the most expensive Made in America Custom Shop guitar. You might even find that it isn't a Fender. Recently, the Korean- and Indonesian-made Squiers have been well-made instruments that sound good. I've heard very good things about Rondo and their Agile and SX lines. There are sometimes issues, and certainly most big-store guitars should have a setup before being given to a young musician.

Not that, with electrics, setups are all that hard. Fret MD is a video that Ig recommended a while ago.

But, if you bought a guitar for a new musician, and we'll go with electric for this post, you have not finished the gift without the following:
  1. An Amplifier. It doesn't need to be a full-stack Marshall Plexi or a Fender Evil Twin, and in fact that's likely more amp than your giftee can handle. My amp is a Fender Frontman 25R, with a headphone out and dual RCA ins, so I can hook it up to an MP3 player and listen with headphones. We're talking electric guitar here, and at a certain point, the magic comes when you stop playing the guitar and start playing the electricity.
  2. An Electronic Tuner. Not a pitch pipe. They suck. An electric tuner will allow your musician to keep that instrument in tune, which will then give him/her a solid base to work forward from. Make it a chromatic tuner and you will enable alternate tunings and be useful when you start to do your own setups.
  3. A book on playing the guitar. I started with The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer. It's good, but I could probably name a few other starter books. From the quick look I gave it, it seems that the Guitar For Dummies book isn't as bad as you might think.
  4. A book on guitar repair. Or a video, like Fret MD. Most everything you can do to a guitar with a screwdriver, you can undo just as easily, so don't be worried. Be careful, and keep track of everything, but don't be worried.
  5. Cables, strings, a strap, picks Strings should be of the same type as are on the instrument, so you can replace strings without having to re-intonate the bridgge. Cables, because that's how you send signal to the amp. Picks, because that's how most of us play. And a strap, in case someone wants to play standing up.
  6. Space and Encouragement My jam partner, Guitar, said that the two things you need to get good are practice and patience. Practice because it isn't easy, and patience because you'll suck for a good long time before it seems like you've improved. They call the process "woodshedding" because the musician is metaphorically off by himself in another building, poking at the strings where nobody would come in and yell "Turn that racket off!" That's where the space comes in. Now, imagine trying to walk across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York. Each day you can't see the Atlantic Ocean and the Empire State Building, you know you aren't there yet, and you can walk every day knowing that the delicious sandwiches of Carnegie Deli are still a long way away, enough so that you might not notice that you've left California and are now in Arizona, or Utah, or Nebraska. A guitarist can get pretty good without noticing the vast improvement, because she's still not as good as Jennifer Battin. Encouragement in this case is perspective, and it is important.

Any questions?

Sweetheart of the Rodeo

That is a Creston Custom Guitar.

That's an awesome-looking guitar. But you know that, because you can see.

They make 'em out of sugar pine. Mostly what one might consider Fender-themed. Many, like this one, are painted by Sarah Ryan. And the Teles are all top-loaders.

My #1 is a top-loader. It's all I know. I want my next Tele to be a string-through, so I can have one and know the difference. But I'd certainly take another top-loader if it looks anything like this.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot < Anodyne < Trace

I got into Uncle Tupelo at about the last moment you could before they broke up. I've followed both bands, to a point. I have heard each of the studio albums that Wilco has released. I have not heard everything from Son Volt.

But I still think that Trace is the best I've heard of either Jay Ferrar or Jeff Tweedy.

This isn't from that. It's "Cocaine and Ashes". And ain't it good? And Mark Spencer with a P90-necked Tele?

Don't Stare Directly At The Guitar

I'm always thinking about gear and mods. I always think about it because I can't afford to do any of it. It's very safe that way.

One of the mods I'm interested in is adding a piezo bridge to a Telecaster. (Why a Telecaster? Have you met me?) Jeff Miller has one that he made into a MIDI-capable beast. Black with white binding. Just sweet.

But he also made the one above.

The green on that figured maple? Isn't that just sick?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Strings full of Jelly, Head full of Pain

Ever heard of Jimmy Bryant? He and Speedy West were a Tele/Steel guitar duo sitting firmly on the fuzzy line between jazz and country. Here's a bit of them backing Tennessee Ernie Ford.

They did lots and lots of instrumentals, many of them re-released on Razor and Tie. Look up Stratosphere Boogie. Specifically, track 7, "The Night Rider".

I'll wait.

Here's the first five seconds of it.

"The Night Rider" (Intro)

Ever heard of Jim Campilongo? He's an uptown Tele slinger, known most these days for backing Norah Jones as part of the Little Willies. Slings a 1959 top-loader Tele, and recently a Fender Custom Shop copy of his '59. He also stands firmly on the fuzzy line between country and jazz, and he worked out the intro.

E -----------6-----------6------------6--6--6--6--6--10---
B ---6--8----8----6--8---8----6--8----8--8--8--8--8--8----
G -----------10----------9------------8--8--8--8--8--8----
D ---------------------------------------------------7----
A --------------------------------------------------------
E --------------------------------------------------------

Thanks, Jimmy, for playing it, and thanks, Jim, for transcribing it. There's more, but there's enough here to write.

Now, lets do some analyzing. I see four chords. I will switch to hexidecimal (8, 9, a, b, c, d, e, f, 10, with hex10 = dec16) for writing chords, so that'a xxxa86, xxx986, xxx886 and xx788a.

xxxa86 is, low to high, F G A#. A# and F are root-fifth for an A# chord, with the E, we can call it an A#6 chord. Changing inversion and we get a G minor dominant 7. Going with F as root, we get what? F9sus4? A#6 seems simpler to think about.

xxx986 moves the F to a E. A# flat 6?

xxx886 is easy, and it clears up the other three. D# G A# is a D# major, so, that makes the first three essentially D#2, D# flat2 and D#. Ornament notes over a chord, kinda like the earlier "Closer To Fine" example, albeit much cooler. Very chromatic, very jazzy.

xx788a. What? 88a is D# G D, which makes a major seventh. "Makes" doesn't fully mean makes, as these are all partial chords, not full. The 7 is A. The flat five. Don't often see that in chords. The more I think about it, the more I think it should sound awful. But, clearly it doesn't.

So, clearly, because I don't remotely understand why this works, I never would've come up with it. But man, isn't that cool?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chapter 7: The Gordian Method, or Bringing the Goat

I have Guitar Edge on my link bar. I got to forgetting why. Guitar Edge is more or less hard-copy tab distribution, and by typing tab ARTIST SONG into Google, I can pretty much find tab for most anything I want. (tab mudcrutch bootleg flyer didn't work, but mostly...)

I picked up a copy the other day, and I was reminded.

They have columns from John 5 and Pete Anderson. John 5 I've covered. Pete Anderson was lead guitarist and musical director for Dwight Yoakam. He's a Bakersfield twanger.

There's the text, where he explains the ideas, and the notation and sound files are online. This one, Pete explains how sometimes he'd have to play bluegrass songs without capo with chick singers who want to do it in Eb. The point of the lesson is that you carry a capo on your left hand. You sometimes point with it.

Ever hear of the Gordian Knot? I'll let Wikipedia explain, but the point is that Alexander the Great didn't say "What's the best way to untie this knot?" He said "What's the best way through this?", pulled out his sword and cut through it. If you think "What's the best way to get this tricky fingering?", that's a line toward suck. You think "What's the best way to get the sound?" Pete Anderson uses his finger as a capo and gets "open string" licks wherever he wants them.

Another example: John Doyle.

Not necessarily the best video, but this guy wrote the book on Irish guitar playing. Made the video, anyway. Even if you are a big hater of celtic music, it is worth your while to watch. Basically, what I get from him is chords. He strings a huge 6th string and will tune it as needed, and he'll use crazy forms. If you need to play an E, you don't necessarily need to play the form you saw in your Big Book O' Chords. Because of him, I find myself playing 775000 as an E minor on occasion. I find it sounds so much hugher with that B as the root.

Also, and this ties back to Anderson, consider the A minor seventh, x02010. One move and you get the C. x32010. There's a song I know that really uses that, but it's an obscure band nobody outside of South Dakota knows about that. Anyway, consider then a D minor seventh. x57565. I won't say it's something everyone knows, but I will say it's fairly common. Drop a pinky and you get x87565. You get your F major. And you know, that's exactly what, where and why I do that. Since I play behind chick singers a lot, I get forced into keys with F and D minor a lot, and if you capo 1 and play F like E, you lose the only good D minor. Everybody barres in E-shaped chords and A-shaped chords, but only a few barre C-shaped chords.

And, as a more fundamental thought, I leave with this. I hit a song with Gminor, and I was playing acoustic. I was working to get every bit of volume out, as I was playing acoustic when everyone else played electric. I figured an E-barred G at the third fret might as well be silence. So, I thought it through. G is G B D. G minor is G Bb D. So, where are the Bs? 320003. Not good. 320033 is better, fewer Bs. How can I get the last one? Fret it lightly, just enough to mute. 3x0033. So, you want a G minor? 3x0033. A G7? 3x0033. G6? G2? Gdom7? Gmin7#9? 3x0033. I'm usually playing with keys and another guitar. A singer, even. If the third is really needed, or the sixth, or the dominant seventh, or the flat second, the note will come from someone besides me, and I can rock out the rhythm. That concept I actually got from mandolinist David Grisman, who, when playing jazz chords, will likely not have the root or fifth anywhere. OK, I kinda reverse it, but hey, different instrument, and I'm not playing jazz.

Anyway, if you find a good way to do something, that works for you, that's a great way to not suck.

Landing on Water, Landing on Sand

Years ago, Tom Petty had a band called Mudcrutch. They were a fairly big thing in Florida, but never made it to the next level. He moved to guitar from bass, moved from Florida to L.A., and started the Heartbreakers. Which, as it turns out, shared a guitar player and keyboard player with Mudcrutch. So, decades later, after making a career retrospective box set and movie, he called up the guys left in Florida and got the band back together.

The album is good. Mike Campbell is all about the B-Bender on this one, and there has never been a recording which the addition of Benmont Tench could not improve. Great take on "Lover of the Bayou". But my favorite, the song that electrified me, is "Bootleg Flyer". And the bit that got me is what I call the Allman Brothers Lick, because it sounds like something Duane and Dickey would do in unison.

Allman Brothers Lick

This is what I think is going on. (MIDI file)

That is roughly a three-octave pentatonic minor lick, going from the 6th string 3rd fret G to the 1st string 17th fret A. That was done in Finale Notepad, and here's my file.

I don't know a good way to get from near-the-nut G to near-the-pickups A. I can get the first two octaves staying around the third fret. I can get the second two at the fifteenth. But I'm sure they're sliding up as they go. Mike Campbell and Tom Leadon, I mean. I know that Mike tends to move up and down the neck; one of the first licks I learned is the opening lick "Breakdown", and that slides back.

I've been putting "learn the scales up and down the neck" in my practice-time list. I think getting this to speed will be interesting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Clack of Train Wheels Running over the Tracks of my Memories

My son has a First Act guitar. Call it a Franken-Strat-o-Tele. Bolt-on Fender-style maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and a 3-and-3 Gibson-style headstock, Tele-shaped body with comfort contours. Vintage-style 6-screw bridge. A bit like this, except black:

And, as built, it had a single bridge humbucker. And it's routed for a single bridge humbucker. And, in a fit of curiosity, he took it all apart and lost lots of pieces, including the pickguard, which being Strat-style, had all the electronics but the jack.

Consider this. A page full of pre-wired pickguards. I'm considering getting one of them. I'm thinking white-on-white sss to make it as Blackie as possible under the circumstances. A $50 GF neck might follow soon after. But the problem is, as mentioned, a lack of route. A friend and sometime commenter here has offered the use of his sawdust-creating technology to excavate the swimming pool route. So, do I return it to being a one-pickup 'bucker, or do I carve it up to add neck and mid?

My Reaction to hearing some of Metallica's new album, Death Magnetic, on their website.

How long until we see "Unforgiven XXIV"?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Don't People Tell Me These Things?

Bill Kirchen, tomorrow. $10.

Ever heard "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen? Kirchen's the twanger on that.

Unlikely I can make it. If I had only known earlier....

Brothers from Another Genre

One is a pop country hit machine, writing and singing songs about love, pickup trucks and fishing.

One is a metal gun-for-hire with full sleeve tattoos, making instrumental shred albums with song titles inspired by serial killers.

Looking at Brad Paisley and John 5, you'd think they couldn't be further apart. And that might be right. But beyond all that, they're both fantastic guitarists, both worthy of the guitar mag covers they've gotten, and they're both Telecaster players. Which is where I get drawn in.

Brad Paisley, "Make A Mistake"
John 5, "Fiddlers"

That's two songs, ones that I think hit the point where they remind me of each other. They have the same musical sense of humor. Crossing genres, like a twanger going jazzy or a shredder gone country, is funny. Breaking the fourth wall, like "I don't hear any music" and the engineer saying "That's the wrong chord, guys", that's funny.

I really think they could do a great head-to-head version of "Devil Went Down To Georgia".

Except the wrong guy's named Johnny.

All I Really Wanna Do....

In my last installment, I mentioned how I wanted to be able to fret on the neck pickup when I needed to have the highest E and still have the great harmonics you get from a lowered pickup.

I've had this thought before, but it seems that you could take this, just connect the cover to the bobbin without connecting the magnets, winding wire or anything.

The only downside is that you lose the neck pickup. There are far worse things than having no neck pickup. At least that's my take.

Or I could go the Lace route. Very little magnetism on those puppies.

Not that I'm going to make that jump any time soon. We've gone to acoustics at church, and we're liking that so far.

I so need a second guitar, so I can have one strung with .009s like I have now so I can twang and bend, and one strung with .013s like I like so I get the beefy sound and can be detune-ready and slide-ready, too.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I forgot to put in a subject? Quelle dommage!

I normally keep my Telecaster's neck pickup high. How high? High enough that it's the 24th fret. You know, just in case you need that extra push over the cliff. It's just a great and wonderful thing.

But you know what? The magnetism really screws things up when you try to do the Eklundh harmonics thing.

I've screwed the neck pickup all the way down, and most of the 4th fret harmonics are chiming now.

Now I'm considering Esquires. I'm considering EMGs. I'm considering Lace Sensors. Anything to cut the magnetic interference. And allow me to fret on the neck pickup again.

Thwack! Or Sans goes on about his favorite axe

As always, I'm singing the praises of the Telecaster.

I mean, listen. Keef uses it as a weapon, straps it back on, and it's still in tune.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What Am I Doing?

First, a tip of the hat back to Stratoblogster, who followed my advice and looked into the awesome imagination of that total freak, Mattias IA Eklundh. And yeah, Strat, I guess I'm a roots guy, but the one thing I love more than anything is musicians with a sense of humor, and a guy who would do Kiss like Django, Django like Kiss and transcribe his printer, that guy has humor.

I now need a quiet guitar with big humbuckers. I was picking up a replacement mando and saw a Michael Kelly with EMGs, a maple cap and abalone binding that was just sweet! It's a hardtail, but that's OK for me.

Now, what am I doing?

I'm going through old issues of Guitar Player. Right now, I'm going through a bit on Hot Tele Pickin'. Why? Because I'm into American Roots and Country, and that's a major bit of it.

And I'm finding a major issue with me.

I have a hard time turning notes on paper into notes on fretboard. If I've heard the music and can use the paper to guide me, I can do something more easily. I have a hard time with my paper training, though. Any suggestions on how to work on that, beyond "just work on it"?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Make Up My Mind!

On the one hand, there's the Punch Brothers. That's Chris Thile's post-Nickel Creek band. Bluegrass done by people who like Radiohead and Bach, and right in town, in the neighboring university's playhouse, where I've seen the likes of Kenny Burrell, Herbie Hancock, Doc Watson and Bela Fleck.

On the other hand, there's Susan Tedeschi. Boston blues girl, married to Butch Derek Trucks. In a skeevy rock club in the town where I work. I didn't really like Just Won't Burn, but, A) that was recorded a while ago, and B) that wasn't a live show.

(Butch is Derek's uncle and also an Allman. Sometimes stupid details just slip past. Thanks, Strat!)

On the third hand, there's Marty Stuart. He played mandolin for Lester Flatt. He played guitar for Johnny Cash. He sang and sings duets with Travis Tritt. He can stand on stage with the Flecktones, without knowing the song, and musically hang with them. Plus, his main stage guitar is Clarence White's original B-Bender. But it's in Brown County. I have not actually been to Brown County. Unless I can work something out, it's work, one hour back up to pick up the lovely wife, two hours to the show, then two hours back home. Plus babysitting. And the possibility that I can get Marty to sign The Pilgrim and maybe even get a chance to touch Clarence's #1.

All come to this state in November, and, at best, I can make one. If I start planning on it now. Which would you see? Which should I see?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Long-Haired Freak!

You probably don't know Mattias IA Eklundh.

He transcribed his inkjet printer and wrote a song around it.

He's a complete freak.

His album titles will tell you so.

That's honestly not what gets me. I can listen to him talk to Guitar Player magazine all day and just get inspired. I'm wanting to learn how to tame his stuff and combine his voodoo with my own style.

What gets me is he's playing high-gain guitar and it's absolutely noiseless.

How does he do that?

And, out of curiosity, that scrunchy on the headstock? Greg Howe has one on his headstock, too, in the latest Guitar Player. Is that to keep the neck quiet above the nut? Does it get pulled down to quiet open strings? Is it just to bring a flash of blue? It can't be to just hold his scrunchy until after the gig.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Video Interlude

The song: "Young Thing", by Chet Atkins.

The player: John 5, formerly of Marilyn Manson's band. I think he's still Rob Zombie's guitar player.

Yup, he's a Tele guy.

I've been thinking about "Country Metal" for a while, having heard the term bandied about. On the one hand, it's John Rich playing a Flying V with a Stetson on. On the other hand, it's John 5, tattooed and decked out like this, pulling off stuff like this.

I hear him and Brad Paisley and, at least musically, they seem to have about the same sense of humor. I'd love to see them do a version of "Devil Went Down To Georgia" with John being the Devil and Brad being ... well, Johnny.

No matter what, it's clear that John 5's earned his CGP.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Help me!

Derek Trucks is playing at the Vogue in Indianapolis on the 8th.

If I had known, say, a month ago, I could've worked something out.

As it is, I'll have to miss it.

Like I missed Robert Randolph.

What good tools are there to tell you when good bands are coming to your area? Is there a Ticketmaster website that'll warn you? What do you do?

The Claw

Most know Jerry Reed as Snowman from the Smokey and the Bandit movies. Pickers know him as a great guitar player. He was called "The Claw" after his incredible finger-picking. Steve Goodman once called his take on "Careless Love" "the world's longest guitar lick".

This was posted to TDPRI by Julie Mason, the wife of Brent Mason:
He passed at home Sunday at 12:15am. Even though his passing was expected due to his decline in the past months and his admission to hospice care - it is still quite a shock. His final request was to be taken home to his room to be with his family until the end. Thankfully it all stayed under the radar long enough for his passing and funeral to be simple and peaceful for his wife and the rest of his loved ones.