Friday, October 31, 2008

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

Nope. This is not a political message.

As I mentioned earlier, I stopped working for the old boss last week.

I stopped by the previous boss in the bowels of the university. I asked him how things were going in the lab. He asked me how things were going with me. Then he said four words.

"Can you start Monday?"

So I'm working again. Which is cool.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Well, That Just Sucks

I just got home from church to find I got a message from my staffing guy.

I don't have to wake up at 4am tomorrow.

Or the next day.

The job was mostly done, so it kinda makes sense to terminate it. But it still sucks.

Joy and Illness

So, I got home, got a blanket, sat on the couch and fell asleep. At some time in the evening/night, I threw off the covers, took some clothes off so I wouldn't be so sweaty, then went back to sleep. At 4am, my alarm clock went off and I went to lay down on the bed for a while. I got to work an hour later than I normally do these days, and I was a bit bleary on the ride down, but I'm at work and feeling much better.

And three months ago, gas was pushing at $4/gallon. At the place I normally fill up, it was $1.98.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joy and Sadness

There are really two people who you can blame/credit for me joining the world of guitar blogging.

The first is melodic shredder Lori and Play Like A Girl. The second is Ig, whose IgBlog was the hub of great community of guitar lovers. And, yeah, folks who drooled over Tal Wilkenfeld.

Both left their blogs for a few months. Lori to go manage Arjen Lucassen. Ig went to handle his housge getting hit by a hurricane.

Ig just closed his WordPress account. I'll miss him.

Lori just posted again after way too long. Welcome back!

In other news, my eldest stayed home sick today. Right now, I'm tired with chills. I think I'm sick now. Grr, eldest!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

String Me Along

I have two instruments I consider my "main" instruments. That's my Tele and my A/E. Someday I shall have to name them, but right now "my electric" and "my acoustic" uniquely identify them.

For instruments that are not my main instruments, I switch strings when they break. I changed strings on my fiddle once because, "Hey, I've never changed strings on a fiddle before", and once because "Hey, these Black Diamand fiddle strings just suck so much!" I once, several decades ago, put new strings on a bass, but never since, and I can't for the life of me recall if there was any breakage involved. Intellectually, I think that coated strings like Elixirs are a great idea for non-main instruments, since they'll last on instruments set aside for a while. Financially, I can't back that up.

I once saw that Nickel Creek were Elixir string endorsers. I noticed that Chris and Sean were named and interviewed, but Sara didn't. I wondered why. The I realized/remembered that the bow sticks to the strings, and that grabbing and letting go, we get vibrations. You gotta put a lot of rosin onto a new bow to make it work. The last things you want are slippery coated strings that won't grab the bow.

My Wednesday playing these days is all acoustic, being part of a worship band with two guitars, bass, grand piano and drums. Except, can you really call it "acoustic" playing when you're in a lead channel on your GT8? Anyway, the acoustic sound I dislike is the clanky, chimey new string sound and like it better when the strings settle in a bit. For the acoustic, I change all the strings when the G string breaks, because I figure that if I just swap out the G, it won't be too long before I've beaten the D string enough to break. If I had a bigger gear budget, I'd probably keep my acoustic string change regimen about the same.

For the Tele, things are different. When I had bridge cables on, I still bent, and now that I'm running with angel hair for strings, I just bend more, and the longer you keep strings on, the more elasticity they lose and the more they detune when you bend. I know that most heavy touring players swap guitar strings after every gig because the sweat and the gunk that builds up under the hot lights kills a string, and studio guys wanting to get a consistent bright tone have their strings changed every day or several times a day. I've never been that guy, but I could probably use changing strings more often than I do, which is "rarely". Certainly when it breaks. Mostly when they look grungy.

Looking at the pole to the right, I see that I am not alone in letting the strings stay on for a while. Is it an aesthetic choice or an economic choice? What strings do you like?

No Bet

This is a cool idea. The business end is covered with the "this is my guitar, this is my amp emulation" part, and let's face it, we all want good-sounding stuff and really sharp-looking gear, so we'll look and we'll drool over it. But there's no real draw to that. The draw is "here's a cool lick, now learn it and send back a YouTube response". That's inclusive. That's building a fan base. That's cool.

His Laguna is selling for $999. Most signature shred guitars start at half again that, I think. That's cool, too.

Of course, color-coordinating your string-noise-blocking scrunchie with your guitar? That's cool, too.

ETA: I guess it's a regular thing for Guitar World magazine. I haven't picked up a copy in over a decade, so yeah, no surprise I didn't know it's a thing. Is it just my middle-aged Dad ears, are do very few of those sound like music?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On the subject of poets being our unelected legislators

"You should not let poets lie to you" — Björk

How To Not Suck, Chapter 14: The Things They Carried

Ever heard of a band called Madder Rose? No? Not a problem.

I saw 'em twice. I'm that kind of guy. Once was at a place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Had to be fall of 1992. fIREHOSE was doing a 50 states, 50 days tour, and this was the Sioux Falls date, with Madder Rose the first of three bands. Bassist had a natural Jazz bass with a 45rpm record as a pickguard, which looked way cool.

Anyway, he's bomping on the low E and it goes pop. This is odd. Bass strings last a while. But, he moves it up an octave on the A string and goes to town, which really brought the song forward, put more life into it.

Then the song was over.

And he had to beg, borrow or steal a replacement bass or a spare bass string so he could continue the set. Now, 15 years after the events, I can say it felt like 10 minutes before the set continued with him carrying someone's black P-bass.

The next time I saw 'em was at Nick's in West Lafayette, IN. They were headlining there. And they had another guy on bass.

The Madder Rose bassist had the talent, but didn't have the spares. He sucked.

If you haven't been burned by this one, you haven't been playing out. There will eventually be something that you needed that you don't have. So, in your gig bag or gear box or whatever you use to transport your stuff, you should have spares of
  1. strings
  2. picks
  3. cables
  4. power adapters and/or 9-volt batteries (does anything other than musical gear run on 9-volts anymore?)
  5. straps (yup, I've forgotten the strap at least once)
  6. strings
  7. effects pedals, especially if they're necessary for what you do
It's difficult to roll with a spare amp unless you're big enough to truck a couple semis worth of staging from place to place, and lots of folks who you'd think are to big for this just travel with a guitar and a few effects in and have the venue provide the backline. And having a second guitar available so you don't even have to go through the tune-up-and-stretch process is a great idea, especially if you're playing with a guitar with a finely-balanced tremolo system like a Floyd Rose.

To finish the story, fIREHOSE is playing and Mike Watt pops the G of his big blue Thunderbird. Ever see how hard he bangs his bass? With him, I'm not surprised. But Mike had a spare string, so he changes it. (I have that string somewhere in my garage.) But first, he introduces George Hurley, who does a far better drum solo than you'd expect from a punk band, and after he's tuned, he stands there, between Greg Norton and me, then looks at me and nods over at the drum kit, as if to say "Hey, that's my drummer. Isn't he cool?"

He had his stuff together. He had the spares. He had a plan. He kept the show rolling. He didn't suck.

On the method to learn to play several different stringed instruments, from fiddle to banjo to lap steel to oud to cumbus to saz, with distinction

"Just f***in' play the thing." — David Lindley

Sunday, October 19, 2008

But seriously, folks ...

Back when I was in college the first time, I was on the student paper. One story I covered involved a grad student. This student was from Africa, and while studying in the US it was found he had leukemia.

The county had a fund, paid as part of sales and property taxes, the purpose of which was to handle catastrophic medical fees for residents who could not pay them. There were many people who thought that, as awful as the story for this student is, he isn't a US citizen and should not benefit from this fund.

The argument that won me over, and, if I recall the events of nearly 20 years ago correctly, won the county council over, was that this person lived in this county before he was diagnosed, and that while a resident here, he paid taxes to the county in the form of sales tax, and either directly as a homeowner or indirectly as a renter, paid property tax. Since he paid into the emergency medical care fund in good faith, and now was in need of emergency medical care, it was only fair for him to benefit from the fund.

To be honest, I don't know the end of the story. Sorry to say that. Here's what gets me: the landlord didn't just eat the property tax, but instead passed it onto the consumer. So, what's a corporate tax but a sales tax by another name?

I've seen one argument saying that it's also one thing that is designed to expand the gap between small business and big business. I'm looking for arguments on the other side of the aisle, really. The pro-corporate-tax argument. I'm sure there's an argument somewhere, and I am curious.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Meet the Ex

This is not my first guitar. It's my first guitar that gets talked about with happy memories, though. This is the guitar that, to the extent you can say I was ever good, allowed me to get good.

Click on the images to make them bigger.

It is an Ibanez LS 300 Lonestar, the acoustic parallel to the Roadstar series that became the Paul-Gilbert-Endorsed RG. It has the same neck profile and the same headstock. When it came out, Jackson was the preferred guitar of the high-end progressive guitarist, but soon after I got this, Ibanez had Vai and Satriani and Gilbert and Petrucci. Right now, if you're a high-gain high-technique player, I'd suggest you play Ibanez if you didn't play them already. But that's enough pimping.

As I said, to the extent I'm good, this is the guitar I played on to become good. When I was in college the first time, I would go back to the dorm after a full day of studying and extracurricular activities, which would go from about 8am or so on to midnight, and I'd pick this guitar up and pluck until I got sleepy. Surprisingly, my neighbors didn't complain to my about it, even though I found out (too late) that I really annoyed at least my downstairs neighbor. Ah well.

All this playing had an effect. This, of all the pictures my friend Patrick has taken, most clearly shows the effect of many many many strings being fretted against a rosewood neck, over and over again. This is, to me, as beautiful and treasured as neck on Brownie on the back cover of the Layla album. You can see the effect as far down as the seventh fret, even if it is most pronounced around the first position frets. I thought, before I pulled it out again, that it was only on the treble strings, too.

I replaced it because, when I started playing out, I needed the ability to plug into the soundboard. I had played it out some, but miking your guitar when you're next to a drummer and a rocking electric guitar? Not good. Also, as this picture shows, the neck started to have serious problems. Specifically, the truss rod began trying to jump out of the back of the neck.

Patrick has plans to make a cigar-box guitar, so he's taking the frets out for that project. He also took these pictures. My plan is to use this as a fretless guitar until the neck finally permanently dies. As much as I love this box, it is truly an all-laminate low-end guitar I bought for $180 nearly 20 years ago, and there's no way I can replace the neck for nearly that much, and little usefulness if I did.

This instrument, as far as I can tell, is the point where inexpensive starter guitars became perfectly good guitars. My first guitar, bought just a few years before this one, was a piece of junk I was glad to get rid of. The CNC'd low end guitars in my local shop are not the instruments but are perfectly good instruments that won't offend the ears are hinder the progress of the student guitarist. The world has changed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How To Not Suck, Lucky Chapter 13: Don't Be Nervous, Don't Be Flustered, Don't Be Scared

Last night was Wednesday, my playing-out night. First two songs were in F, then three in C. We all know that F isn't a guitarists' favorite key, but I've played them before, so the chords went by OK and the points where I played melodically, I didn't fail hard but I didn't succeed overwhelmingly. I played notes that were probably in the melody somewhere, but I could not capture the melody.

Then we moved on to C.

Night and day, folks. Night and day.

C is one of the first scales I learned, and when I'm trying to do flatpicky, crosspicky stuff, I always do it in C. Besides, anyone who has ever seen The Sound of Music has had the C scale permanently rammed into their heads. So I had it down.

But I had it down in open and at fret 12. Because I have it down, but I have it down in one position.

Man, that sucks.

You may have heard of the CAGED system. In essence, for a scale on the guitar fretboard, you can distill everything to five patterns which can be then moved around the fretboard. They are C in first position, A in first position, G in first position, E in first position, and D in first position. Yeah, there's other ways of doing it, but we're sticking with these for now. The thing about it is, they connect. If you start out with C in first position, really in C, the next scale up the neck is the A pattern, starting at the third fret, then the G pattern, then the E, then the D. Thus CAGED. I have made neck images with my cool fretboard tool. Yellow is C, D is orange, E is red, F is maroon, G is purple, A is blue and B is green.

C in the C Pattern — I'm presenting it here from the 12th fret rather than the first because this way it's independent from the nut.

C in the A Pattern

C in the G Pattern

C in the E Pattern

C in the D Pattern

Be sure to learn this for all scales. The point, the key thing to take from this, is that when you know the scale — not just say "Yeah, I can noodle up in there" but actually know it — you can pick out melodies in that scale much much easier. I sure know I need to learn this, so this is mostly my lesson plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good as Goulding

Recently I admitted to Stratoblogster that I hadn't finished reading the October issue of Premier Guitar. He admonished me to finish, as the new one was coming soon. So, I looked through it during a break today.

And found this.

It's a Goulding.

In general, I dislike symmetrical-horn designs like the the Yamaha SBG or the Gibson Les Paul Jr., which I think is the inspiration for this. And I'm not the biggest fan of F-holes. But if I had this instrument, I think I could learn. Is this not a perfectly choice instrument? A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Divining Water Pt I

In the spirit of Jack Pribek's Friday Night Cage Match/Fondue Party/Evolving Conversation/Dancing About Architecture, I'm starting my own comparison bit, Divining Water. As Jack said at the beginning of his bit: "The first in a series designed to foster discussion. Comments, opinions, answers may be based on any criteria whatsoever. No opinion is off limits."

Yesterday I refilled my MP3 player, preparing for a trip to the gym I never made. I switched off my previous long-and/or-instrumental playlist, moving to a distillation of my music in the early 1990s. Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie. So, I leave it to all seven of you who read this blog, to compare and contrast, to condone or condemn. Two bands enter, one band leaves.....

Camper Van Beethoven vs Jane's Addiction

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Feelin' Picky

I saw in some forum or some blog about an offer for a free pick. I, being cheap, jumped. They are Black Snappers from StringDog.Net.

I've only had a little bit of time with them so far. This is what StringDog says.
This pick covers all the details. The no-gloss finish offers superior grip. The high-tech Delrin material delivers the snappy response and tone of tortoise shell. But unlike tortoise shell (or celluloid), Black Snappers will not quickly wear out, break, or lose memory.
I haven't tried this one playing out, but it seems grippable. But, I'm not sure about tortoise. I have never picked with a tortoise pick, but I've been told in flatpicker forums that the closest you can get to the sound of tortoise without breaking the bank are Clayton Gold picks, which are very similar to (but slightly preferable to) Dunlop Ultex picks. I've played them, and they're hard picks with a hard click to their sound. The StringDog pick feels very much like my Dunlop Gator Grip, with a little bit of a cushion. And they feel thinner than they are. I would've pegged it as a medium, even though it's ever bit of the 1mm that both the Gator and the Ultex are.

These are good picks. They haven't supplanted Claytons and Dunlop Ultex as my favorites, but they are nice picks.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kings and Queens bowing before you

Point South
Local southern rock band Point South released its first full-length album this year. The album includes a dozen new original songs and the hit "Sweet Angel Eyes," which appeared on the band's original five-track demo. In addition to concentrating on creating new music, Point South added a new band member this year. Eli Stehlik, of Cassville, joined the group around eight months ago. The Point South band members are pictured above. From left, are: Paul Pyles, Gary Mitchell, Jeff Luney, Cody Ennis, Aaron Ennis and Stehlik.
Google Alerts told me about these guys. Just one question.

I know that being southern rock, it is required that you wear plaid flannel and Skynyrd shirts. Is it also required that you be ugly as sin? Or is it just recommended?

Weekly Wrap-Up and Open Thread, V.1

This is something that Stratoblogster suggested, a recap of what I've been on about all week. It made sense to me. I've joined it with an open thread, here semi-directed, which I've seen on other blogs.

I've added two more installments in my never-ending series, "How To Not Suck". These mostly handle hardware issues, gear that will not really push you forward and gear that will only hold you back. I think there's one, maybe two more hardware bits coming, and they might come this weekend.

I spent some time in the mind of Paul Gilbert, and I think my hands are a little bit better, a little bit more aligned in purpose, because of it. I have a new DVD from Netflix, a compilation of Hot Licks bits called Learn Rock Bass from Six Great Masters. The Gilbert video has the booklet in PDF format on the DVD, which is something none of the Hot Licks DVDs I've seen has, and of course, sending out the booklet is not something Netflix does, so I'm missing something. But the example tab they flash up on the screen is a lot more readable with this six than on either of the Danny Gatton videos I have on VHS. More later.

I went to the gym again last night. A variation on my normal cycle. I was on the treadmill 45 minutes rather than the normal 30, doing fat-burning walking, then did mostly arm- and shoulder-focused weights. I figure walking around with a 280-lb body on top of them makes my legs fairly strong, and the non-general-health issues I'm focusing on are stronger arms which translates to stronger hands for playing and a stronger back to combat the pain of strapping on an instrument for a few hours. And sit-ups. I put mostly the long songs on my MP3 player, and here are what cycled through:
  • Jam V from the Derek and the Dominos box
  • a live version of P-Funk's "Maggot Brain", with Eddie Hazel just going off
  • The full "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd
  • Santa Esmeralda's ten-minute take on "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Actually, no. That came up while my son and I were driving, and I told him how, when we were in Portland for his aunt's wedding, when he was just learning to walk, this came up on the radio and his mom and I laughed while we waited for it to end. Then I started singing "The Song That Never Ends" in time with the track. Not really exercise-related, but it was fun
  • Kraftwerk's "Computer Love". I should've put on the sung-in-German version, because "Computer Lieb" sounds more geeky in the good way and less geeky in the bad way.
  • "Juice" by Steve Vai, although I didn't know it was him. I have too many tracks on my computer that I haven't listened to. What struck me is that Vai (I thought it might be Satriani) has a sense of boogie that I don't see too much in shredders. I love how it ends: "Shut up! We know you can play!"
  • "Live Improvization" by the Hampton Grease Band
  • "Love Missile F-111", covered by PWEI. I far prefer the Sigue Sigue Sputnik take on this one, so I hit fast forward.
  • "Tubular Bells Pt. 1" by Mike Oldfield
I'm going to have to find my copy of Renegade Soundwave's In Dub and some Oakenfold.

I'm having a thought, so I'm curious. For the Deadheads among the readership, or even just the familiar, this question: What is the best period to study Jerry Garcia? I'm a song guy, so my fave Dead is the Workingman's Dead/American Beauty era, but I haven't dug enough to really find his top as a player. So is it the late 60s stuff? Europe in 1972? The late 70s? Did the post-"Touch of Grey" pop audience explosion fill him with inspiration? Did the advances in technology in the 90s finally catch up with the music in his head?

So, that was my week here. What's up with yours?

How To Not Suck, Chapter 12: It Breaks My Heart To See Those Stars....

As I said, you shouldn't wait to start playing until you get the guitar of your dreams. You should become as good as you can with your current guitar while you work to make your hands worthy of the Gretsch Duo Jet you dream about.

My first guitar was a Harmony acoustic. It had a zero fret, one set right in front of the nut. I've heard it argued that this allows your open notes to have the same tone as your fretted notes, thus making it a good thing. The Selmers that Django played had zero frets, and they were cannons worthy of the hands of that master. My Harmony was a plywood piece of crud with a ToneSuckRtm ugly metal bridge. My second guitar, given to me after I was sixteen, when I was already over six feet tall, was a 3/4-size "Super"-Strat. Not good instruments, and they didn't help me become a good musician.

My first real guitar was an Ibanez acoustic dreadnaught. It was built around the time of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive", so it had the familiar Ibanez electric six-on-a-side headstock and a neck to match. I'm not sure it's an actual Wizard neck, but it's thin. Shredder thin. I got it used from a place that otherwise was an appliance store, and it originally had little rose stickers around the side. Laminate top. I'm sure it cost me around $150. But while it was a cheap guitar, it wasn't a bad guitar. It was, in fact, a Perfectly Good Guitar. It had decent tone, and as a lead instrument, it cut through a jam. With that and an electronic tuner, I leaped forward from a horrible beginner to a mediocre guitar player. The instrument no longer held me back, so I improved.

Sadly, it developed neck problems, meaning the truss rod wants to pop out the back of the neck. There's divots in the fretboard that were not there when I bought it, meaning they're my divots, carved in by my playing. I'd almost like to have someone replace the neck, but that work is far above the replacement cost of the instrument. I replaced it with my Fender A/E dreadnaught, but when played next to each other, it was clear that the Ibanez killed the Fender when it came to playing lead. A friend has need for frets on his cigar-box guitar, and I have some interest in trying fretless, so when he has time, he will de-fret it.

My first amplifier, I can't remember the brand name. I do remember my pet name for it. It was "the world's quietest 100-watt amp". And that was when it worked, which wasn't all the time. I replaced it with a Fender Frontman 25R, which might not be the loudest amp possible, but I have never had a practical reason to kick it above 4. At 25 watts, it is a great improvement, and playing through it, I've been getting better.

At some point in the 1990s, or maybe before, there came something called Computer Numerical Control, or CNC. In a practical sense, what CNC means is that guitar makers can stick a board into a machine and come out with, variations in wood aside, exactly the same body, exactly the same neck, exactly the same bridge for the acoustic guys, over and over and over again, as long as they have wood to shove into it. So, at some point in the 1990s, there came the ability to churn out thousands of reasonably good stratocopies, or whatever you wanted to play. In general, the elements that are deficient are the fretwork and the electronics. The fretwork is a point where craftsmen still have an advantage, for now, and the cheap guitars will have metal bits hanging off the end to cut your hand. The electronics are usually about as cheap as you can find, but guitar electronics are institutionalized enough that you can swap out mediocre electronics fairly easily.

So, for the last fifteen years or so, we are in the Age of the Perfectly Good Guitar, where the instruments that a beginner can find and afford are decent and playable. You do not have to put up with an instrument that will keep you from improving. I've heard it said many times, "get the best instrument you can afford", and I do believe it, but some really good instruments are really affordable.

There's also the option of setting up, tweaking and modifying your instrument, but that feels like another chapter.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How To Not Suck, Chapter 11: Drop Your Bucket Where You Are

Duesenberg Ron Wood Signature

We all love guitar porn, pictures of beautiful guitars made by master builders from the finest woods, with wonderful mother-of-pearl inlays. Guitars that will make your ears cry from the beautiful tones they produce.

Or guitars that have been played regularly for the last half-century, lovingly handled in the harsh conditions of smoke-filled bars. Guitars with a patina of mojo that you think, you hope, you almost pray will rub off on you.

And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't really believe it.

Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstein was put together from Warmoth parts.

Eric Clapton went to Gruhn's in Nashville and bought a half-dozen Stratocasters. At that time, due in part to his playing on Les Pauls and SGs, Stratocasters were at a low point in value. He took them apart, found the best-sounding neck and body, and made Blackie, his signature Strat.

Slash's #1 Les Paul was a factory second, rejected by the quality inspectors.

Brian May's main guitar was built by him and his father out of, in part, motorcycle parts and a fireplace mantle.

You have no excuse. That flame-top Les Paul or that koa Taylor on the guitar shop wall is beautiful and will likely sound wonderful, but if you're not ready for it, it will not make beautiful music. You work, you learn, you make your fingers make great sounds on whatever plank-with-strings you have right now. Don't stare at the screen and say "If I only had that, I could be good." The time to start is now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I went to the gym yesterday after jamming. I have to tell you, as good as Raising Sand,the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album is, it isn't good exercise music. It's too slow and acoustic, and the songs are too short.

I might be able to make it before bedtime tonight, and I hope to make it tomorrow, so I threw some long songs on my Zen Stone, including
  1. Every song over 10 minutes on ABB's The Fillmore Concerts
  2. the 20-minute "(We Workers Do Not Understand) Modern Art" by Camper Van Beethoven
  3. "It's Natural To Be Afraid", a 13-minute track by Explosions In The Sky
  4. Seven minutes of Kraftwerk's "Computer Love"
  5. Tubular Bells
  6. Seventeen minutes of Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray"
And yes, Patrick, I did consider putting in some Metal Machine Music, but I just didn't.

There is a context to music, and I've noticed that CDs containing some of my favorite music don't work on long trips, because it's sequenced for archival reasons, not for flow reasons. And a CD worth of Fidl might be too much solo klezmer fiddle for one sitting. I couldn't imagine it helping me walk or lift weights, either.

So, what are some of your favorite blood-pumping exercise songs?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How To Not Suck, Chapter 10: Tone For Days, Dude!

Go into any guitar forum and you'll see the word "tone" bandied about. It can mean any number of things. If you have a knob on your guitar marked tone, it likely serves to block the higher frequencies. Instruments made of different woods will sound differently, as will instruments equipped with different electronics. And you can craft "your tone" by your choices of picks, string gauges, amplifiers, speakers, tubes, effects, order of effects, settings on effects, and, if you're Eric Johnson, cable type, cable length, brand and charge of 9 volt batteries in effects, etc.

This is not what I refer to. At least today.

You can play incredibly well, with all the right notes in all the right places and still not sound good. And not sounding good, well, it sucks.

How do you sound good? Keep your frets from buzzing. Get a nice, solid sound from your instrument, a sound that sounds musical. That, in a fundamental way, is getting good tone.

And how do you do that?

Fred Ford of Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, the guitar shop for, if not the stars, then the Dot.Com millionaires at the epicenter of our software industry, has a website called that'll tell you most of what you need to know about your fine stringed instrument.

(OK, some of you might have real POS instruments. Get the best you can out of it.)

Looking around on the site, you might find a page on eliminating the buzz. I'll refine and explain some here, if only to make this not just Mindless Link Propagation, but it is truly a site to read.

  1. Pick Right as in a right angle. Hold it at a right angle to the top of the guitar. (Assume a flat-top for this discussion.) Parallel to the strings or not, that's a matter of style, but if you hold the pick perpendicular to the top, you will tend to vibrate the strings parallel to the top. If you pick with an angled pick, you'll vibrate the strings so they'll be more likely to hit the frets and buzz.
  2. Fret Right as in right next to the fret. There is the point where you get the most benefit for the least work.

Ford has pics which explain better than my words do. But neither he nor I explained it first. This is what Gibson said on the subject, nearly 100 years ago.

Guitar Soloists necessarily use the entire length of finger-board and, therefore, must have easy action throughout the whole scale. Guitar accompanists usually demand a trifle higher action in order that they may force their instruments to the utmost without the string striking the fret. Howerver, in either case easier action may be used if the performer takes pains to vibrate the strings more horizontally, rather than to lift them in picking which causes the strings to vibrate in more of a vertical direction.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Squeeze Your Fingers Around Her Neck

Gary Willis of Tribal Tech on finger pressure.

And man, it's good advice. Even on guitar, although I think it's worse on bass. But I have tried to teach two of three sons how to play guitar, and they've driven themselves to tears from squeezing the strings too hard.

One of the Guitar Craft things I've heard and not been able to internalize is Fripp saying you have to control how far you pull your fingers from the strings if you want to have efficient playing. I think I pull off too far, but then you can't get a decent hammer-on without some distance, too. But pushing down too far is probably just as bad. The death grip slows you down, it pulls you sharp, and it hurts your fingers, and it gives you nothing in return.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

No Time For Fast Trains

Yesterday, I got a package from Fender. Three packs of .012 phosphor bronze strings. I haven't tried them out yet; I'm still rocking the Earthwood .013s, and as I got two packs, it'll be a while before I'm past them. But I will use them, I'm sure. I'll re-review when I do. It's funny that I used to have no spare packs and now I have four, five if I want to reuse the .011s that broke in the first place.

In my experience, the wound G is the first string to pop, and I figure that's the time to switch, since the D will come along eventually, and if you switch, you don't have to worry so much about your other strings popping on you. But that's me. When do you know you have to switch?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Give Me A P! Give Me An E! Give Me An N!

Clearly, Paul Gilbert is done with boring instructional videos. So, he's gone to strange instructional videos. In Terrifying Guitar Trip, he handles the tuneup contractual obligation by doing it as a Grand Funk ending.

And, clearly, the guy can do whatever he wants with the strings. He's a terrific technical player. So, in order to tap into some of that, I'll get what I can out of this guy. I'll watch his other instructional videos, find what I can on the internet, and more.

But, is it just me, or is there just not much there musically? I mean, I'd rather hear someone like Jay Farrar play an E minor chord than Paul play an E minor arpeggio.

To Explain Recent Subject Lines

I had another title in mind besides "Send Me Silly Notes", but I didn't think I wanted to tag a request for Peavey to send me review gear with "It Was A Good Lay".

The Terrified and the Tripping

I have a Paul Gilbert instructional video out from NetFlix. I've had it for a while, and I just started back in. Exercise 2 is a decending C bit starting high on the neck.

And, as you know, I play a Telecaster. If there has been an advancement in the design of the electric guitar since 1947, the Telecaster doesn't have it. Including the contoured heel. And I rarely spend time at top of the neck. Sure, I get there, but not regularly and I don't tend to stay there. I'm really understanding why some folks insist on the contoured heel.

But, evidently, as shown in the third part of that YouTube video, Paul thinks the old-school heel gives better tone.

Anyway, I'm hitting this with the metronome, treating it more as a right-hand exercise and sticking to one position, rather than moving it down like the exercise teaches. I'll do that later. I'm doing sixteenth notes with a quarter note at 100BPM right now, working it up. My technique isn't terrifying yet, but I have time.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Own Yob Report

Well, maybe not yob, but still....

I have Google Alerts notify me on Telecaster news. Most of the time it's boring and repetitive stuff, mostly concert reviews. But on occasion, something more unusual comes up. From the Santa Fe New Mexican:
A Fender Telecaster guitar valued at $400 and Fender bass guitar valued at $400 were stolen between Saturday and Wednesday from St. John's College, 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca.
It's the first time a police blotter came up on the Alerts. Of course, the theft of musical instruments isn't rare enough, and of course it sucks. So, guitar blog followers in New Mexico, keep on the lookout!

Send Me Silly Notes

I mostly use this blog as a notepad to store all the things I'm pining for, and as a log of my practice. The How To Not Suck series fills an external need, sitting between How To Play The Guitar and How To Play The Guitar Like Some Big Famous Guy. I like that I can get really random here, too.

But I got to thinking. Stratoblogster has a Strat-o-the-week each Friday, so, as long as he can find an instrument, he has at least one post a week without too much of an investment of creativity. So I'm trying to think of what I do that I could roll into a regular, once-a-week thing, an obligatory standard go-to type of thing. And one that, unlike my practice notes, wouldn't bore everyone silly. And I didn't want to go with the Guitar Porn angle with it, because, as I said, that's Strat's deal.

However, I found this. This is a Peavey Power Slide, a lap-steel built to be played standing, like the Melobars. I'm more and more finding that lap-style is my preferred way to play metal-bar guitar, and if your guitar has legs, like mine does, you're stuck in one spot like a keyboard player. I can't tell you this is a player, but I can say that Peavey has a reputation for cheap-but-good gear. Some of the best players I know, from Hiland to Satriani to Junior Brown (since we're talking steel guitar) endorse their amps. But, Mr. Peavey, if you want, I'd be glad to take one for a while and give it a review.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Why Do You Come Here?

This blog is fairly haphazard. I find Youtube videos I like, I put 'em on the blog. I like a guitar or don't like a string, I put 'em on the blog. I find great pictures of pretty Telecaster-style guitars, I put 'em on. I play out or practice, I put 'em on the blog.

I'm opinionated and an introverted extrovert. That's why I do it. Why do you come and read? Do you like my "How To Not Suck" series? Do you, like me, enjoy looking at well-made and interesting guitars? Tell me what you like. Tell me what you don't. I'm at a teachable point right now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

If There's Someone Left To Play

There's a raft of things you don't get unless you were there at the time. The Beatles and the Beach Boys as competitors for the most creative and best band in pop music. Jane's Addiction as part of a group of Led Zeppelin clone bands. Sha-Na-Na at Woodstock.

No, wait. I don't think all the brown acid available explains that one.

Here's another. Guitar journalism as we know it today started in order to promote Mike Bloomfield.

How many of you just said "Who?"?

When Dylan went electric, first time, out at Newport, he had Mike behind him, that's who.

The Best White Guitarist That Everybody Has Forgotten.

I picked up Butterfield Blues Band and East-West in the early 1990s, knowing that they were in the used CD bin and had "blues" in the title. I did research and found out who and what this was about. And what it was about was the blues guitar, electrified and hot, beginning to become the dominating force in rock music, followed by "East-West", which shares with the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" the introduction of Coltrane's modal style into rock music.

Turn Your Lamp Down Low

Yesterday, for the limited amount of practice I did, I did most of it on violin. I ran through what I have of the circle of fifths (C, D and now G!) on repeat a few times, then I put on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here". There are a few songs that are among the first melodic bits I learn on any new instrument. I don't say I can play an instrument until I can play "Redemption Song" and "Wish You Were Here", the radio part, to some recognizable point. I can do that. I instead tried to play along with the song. Mostly the vocals, as being fretless and bowed, the violin can be very vocal-sounding. (Remind me to work out "Great Gig In The Sky" sometime.)

Then I put on "Juke" by Little Walter. I grabbed the guitar to be sure of the key, which for all you at home, is E. So, play your A harps! Historically, the blues bands of Mississippi would have a guitar playing harmony but have the violin be the melodic instrument. It was eventually replaced by the harmonica, but the kind of playing we think of as blues harmonica has roots in violin playing, so it makes sense to try to do a fairly advanced example of blues harp on a fiddle. And try I did. Not that I succeeded, but it was a start.

The Person Has Spoken

One person has said he or she would participate in this blog if I take off the Blogger/OpenID restriction on commenting. So, I have.

But I will reinstate if it begins to be a problem.