Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boy, Are My Fingers Tired, a GearFest Review

Before I start, let me introduce you to Darol Anger. He played on the first David Grisman Quintet album, he played on "Manzanita", which is one of the most beautiful tunes to come out of bluegrass. A great player of the fiddle, an instrument that I am trying to learn. He played Fiddlers' Gathering today. And, in general, I try to attend the Fiddlers' Gathering.

But instead, I went to Gearfest.

Some high points:

The Keyboard Room: I went in there after attending a course on ProTools. That course of course made me want
  • ProTools
  • A Mac
  • A mixing board
  • microphone and direct input interfaces
  • microphones
  • Lots of other stuff I can't afford
What I saw and loved most was the Moog Etherwave theremin. There's two main touchstones in the modern mind for the theremin: The Song Remains The Same and The Day The Earth Stood Still. The good stuff for the theremin, the stuff that proves it's more than a tone generator, is done by Clara Rockmore. I played this to my wife, who asked "The woman singing, why is she so sad?" But more with Moog later.
The item most coveted by me, the one I wish most that I could take home, is the Yamaha MM6 keyboard. Let it be known throughout the land that Sans Direction is a big classic rock keyboard fan. Hammond, Rhodes, Clavinet, Wurlitzer, the sounds that made rock rock. It is known that, in 2009, if you want those tones and you're playing out (rather than a studio or your own bedroom), you rock a Nord, but that's if you have several thousand dollars. If you're more a hundredaire (Thank you, Greg Koch), the MM6 has good sounds at lower prices. I specifically pick out one stereo Rhodes tone that I think I've heard on Steely Dan tracks and I know is the starting keyboard sound on Pink Floyd's "Sheep" as a tone the MM6 does perfectly. If I could have brought home one piece of gear from Gearfest, the MM6 is what I would bring.

Let it be understood that, as a keyboard player, I'm a good guitarist. But I want to learn, and I can't without an instrument. The other theremin I played (and be it noted, not touched) was at the Moog booth in the Gear tent. They tweeted that people should go and say hi to Linda in the Moog booth, and I did. I played a Little Phatty, which was cool. I also took the demo, seeing how to connect the Etherwave to the Little Phatty to make it synthier. That was cool. That was way cool.

I also played a Moog guitar. The Moog guitar has been discussed here before, but I have not until this day touched one. And, well, it's a beautiful enough guitar, and it plays well. But recently, I read an account of Adrian Belew trying out for Zappa's band. He was in the middle of Zappa's rehearsal studio during the lead-up to a tour, and Belew tried to play and be impressive while everyone around him was packing stuff up and moving it out. In the end, Belew said he thought he blew it and thought the interview would've been different, and asked to try again in a quieter environment. I think that, in a quiet room where I could turn up to taste, I could bring the Moog guitar to life. The wah-like setting sounded more like a ring modulator to my ears, and I couldn't get the autowah setting to work. What I did get to work was the mute, which is the reverse of a sustain function. I am not sure I found a useful way to use the mute function. It's different enough from my slab-with-a-neck Telecaster to make it difficult to just switch over what I usually do. So, just because I couldn't make it work for me, that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

Patrick, I have a Keep Your Hands Off My Theremin shirt, and you cannot have it. I have some Moog pocket protectors, and next time we see each other, I will give you one.

Fender Fender Fender: I visited the guitar tents, where I met John Grabowski, the man who tweets for Sweetwater, plus a bunch of the Fender guys. A great bunch of guys. I played the blue-flamed James Burton Tele, and that's something. 3 pickups. 5-way switch, with an S1 switch, too. Here's where it gets weird. Positions 1 and 5 are neck and bridge. Positions 2 and 4 are neck/middle and bridge/middle. The S1 switch switches between middle and neck/bridge in position 3. And, officially, I am not sure that the James Burton sounds like a Tele, but it sounds good, I gotta say.

I didn't take a crappy cellphone pic of that.

I took a crappy cellphone pic of a Fender Custom Shop Telecaster with S1 switching and sparkles. Relic sparkles. Yes, someone took the time and effort to make a great modern Sparklecaster, and then beat it up. As Greg Koch said, some people get it and some people don't. For the most part, I don't. I think Steve Dikkers' Sparklecasters are much more sparklier than this one, which took a moment for me to recognize as sparkley. Not that I didn't live playing the thing.

Dee-Uh-Dar-Eee-Oh: D'Addario had free string changing. I know two guys with Steinberger copies, and I tried to get them to come along, because double-ball strings are not cheap and not really common, but oh well. I had the strings changed on my black Tele, which I will play on tomorrow. Changed from Ernie Ball. We'll see how they go.

Effecting: I have decided as of right now that the next effect I get will be the Boss NS2 Noise Suppressor. I plugged in a Tele (not mine), dimed a compressor and played with the NS2, which got it all out. I play with an Aviom in-ear system, and I get an earful of the hum. I'm not too sure that the house finds it noticeable, but in my ears, I feel the need to stomp that buzz. Especially if I want to have the compression on all the time.

The Talks: Chet Chambers, talking about recording, confirmed by belief that the acoustic guitar in an electric band context is essentially a tuned snare drum. Sean Halley showed how easy it is to put together tracks in ProTools. Nick Catanese and Chris Cannella can play, and I'd love to see both of them in longer presentations than they had here.

And then there's Greg Koch.

He is truly a mutant. If tomorrow he woke up and his hands and guitars didn't like each other, he'd make a killing as a standup. He was mostly showing off the Roadworn guitars and the Vintage Modified amps.

The VM combines the digital wonderfulness of the Cyber-Twin with the tube joy of a classic Fender amp. 40 watts, which as Greg says, "is all you need and deserve". Nearly 20 years ago, I saw something online where a guy talked about a gig. "Your stack is louder than the PA", the sound man said. I can't recall if the response was "Thank you" or "You're welcome", but either one gets to the point, which is that guitarists are undisciplined, can't be trusted and need to limit themselves to small 40 watt amps. Also, light and portable.

I suppose I should've gone with this earlier. The Joe Campilongo-approved Princeton, with an attenuator built in. I fell in strong like with this one.

Final Thought: I desired this strap. I saw a picture of Johnny Depp with that kind of vintage strap going onto a blackguard Tele and it just looked great, so I decided I wanted one like that for my SX. But somewhere between 11am (when I made the order) and 5:30pm, when I left, the single Fender vintage strap with the shoulder pad had been sold. But the shipping guys made sure I didn't walk home empty-handed.

The only downer of the day was the impromptu relicing my eldest did to my #1, which I don't like but I'm not really mad about.

Now, good night. I have to get up and play in the morning.


Pribek said...

Great job of field reportage Dave.
Thanks for pointing me to Darol-way musical cat.
Greg Koch is a hoot.
Theremin-yea but, still not sold on the Moog guitar.
Tweeter for Sweetwater sounds like a plush gig.
No bagpipes?

Dave Jacoby said...

I saw no bagpipes. It looks to be an electric/electronic music place. I think they have wind controllers, but not in their retail space, which is about the size of a good-size mom-and-pop store. Certainly no "band instruments" or "folk" instruments. They have middle-to-high-end acoustic guitars, but most everything they sell needs speakers.

I'm not sold on the Moog guitar, either. Treat it as a high-end normal guitar, that's fine, but half the feature set was lost on me. But like I said, maybe it was the environment.