Monday, August 31, 2009

Explain The Effect: Tremolo 2

This is ground I've tread before, but I'm hitting it again at another angle.

Put a little tremolo on a clean sound and it begins to sound like it has the power of a distorted sound, without the difficulties of high gain. I set up my Frontman 25R with a moderate amount of reverb — knowing Duane Eddy, I probably should've poured it on — and two takes at "Rebel Rouser". First pass is tremolo off, second is tremolo on.
That's my SX STL50 into a Danelectro Cool Cat Tremolo to a Fender Frontman 25R, recorded on laptop, so you know we're talking audiophile. Still, while it is a simple effect, the resulting sound is much fuller than without, at least to my ears. The good thing about it is that you can play fast enough to hide the effect, then sustain a note and there it is. (Don't thank me, thank Danny Gatton's rhythm guitar video.)

For your edification, this is the lick I was playing.
I couldn't really hit the timing with the TinyLick interface, but all the notes are there.

I suppose I should be fair and show the master doing it....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

We're talking like "Sonic", right?

In the late 80s, I was kinda Marten. Not that I was in a relationship with a hot coffeeshop owner, but I was a big music geek who knew new music from lots of bands that most people who aren't me didn't know or care about. I know a little about a few, but I'm not nearly that guy like I used to be. I try — I follow music blogs and all — but I'm just not keeping up.

So, I saw something on Wolfgang's Vault that piqued the interest in the 1990s Marten in me. It's called "The Pixies/Fugazi/Sonic Youth Syndrome" . Let me give you an example: Eddie Van Halen loved Cream-era Eric Clapton. Eric Clapton loved B.B. King. B.B. King got started listening to Bukka White. Half the guitarists of the 80s got into Eddie. Now, consider that EVH fan chasing up the influence chain. Easily, some Cream could leave them cold. Maybe they'd get B.B. King and maybe not. But what is a metal guitarist gonna get from Bukka White?

OK, now recast all that as late 80s alt-rock bands and you get the gist of the point. It does me well to look for ideas in the influence of my favorite bands, but that doesn't mean that I'll get anything that means anything to me, and that doesn't mean the audience should feel remotely obliged to even care.

Let me quote:
I sometimes feel that people grow up but never grow out of that attitude, unable to separate musical opinion from musical fact. The bands they loved when they were young served as gateways to new, exciting music and may have just changed (or, as often stated overdramatically, "saved") their lives. But those bands existed in and for a certain time. I recently did a tedious article for the St. Louis alt-weekly paper where I listened to every single band playing the local date of Warped Tour. After the 15th screamo band I heard, I desperately wanted to burn 3,500 copies of Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In and hand them out to the youngsters in attendance, as if to "teach them something.” But I'm sure many who heard Relationship when it came out wanted to do the same pretentious campaign with Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come at the front gates of ATDI shows. And it keeps going further back until we’re all crowded around a creaky record player listening to Black Flag’s first 7” on repeat all day long. Where’s the fun in that?
This woke up my Marten. Who is At The Drive In? Is Relationship of Command all that?

I don't know yet. Haven't had time to get into it yet. But, so far, I'm liking it better than Jane Doe.

Friday, August 28, 2009

This Week In Review 2009/08/28

My Top 11 Artists
  1. The Replacements - 65 tracks
  2. Simon & Garfunkel - 61 tracks
  3. Paul Simon - 53 tracks
  4. Chris Thile - 52 tracks
  5. Nickel Creek - 41 tracks
  6. The White Stripes - 31 tracks
  7. The Raconteurs - 14 tracks
  8. Converge - 12 tracks
  9. At the Drive-In - 12 tracks
  10. Mike Marshall & Chris Thile - 10 tracks
  11. Punch Brothers - 7 tracks
Those are high numbers, but justified. I had a Chris Thile (plus Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers) day, two days of Paul Simon +/- Art Garfunkel, a day of the Replacements and today was Jack White (White Stripes and the Raconteurs).

I haven't finished the Jack White playlist yet. I could've done more, but there was big networking fun through much of the day today, so I was largely away from my desk. There's been talk in the forums I frequent about the movie It Might Get Loud, which is about Jimmy Page, the Edge, Jack White and the Cult of the Guitar. Listening today, it struck me that Jack and Jimmy have styles that are very similar, and that much of the WS/Raconteurs work wouldn't have sounded too out of place on an early Led Zep album.

Maybe more later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the ability to count to 3

On the Tele Discussion Page Reissue (TDPRI), there's a tread called "Post your three no-brainer tips you've learned here". This is my contribution:
  1. You can do it. Learn a technique. Mod your guitar. Build the thing from timber and finish it. Wind the pickups. I haven't done much -- I've modded every superficial thing on my #1, leaving only the fundamentals like electronics, nut and fretwork left for me -- but for any given thing I want to try, I know that a) I can do it and b) someone on TDPRI will tell me how.
  2. For hot country guitar, you need a compressor, a clean amp and rubber-band strings. And, of course, a Tele. Unless you want to do it some other way.
  3. The most expensive guitar/amp/pedal/cable isn't necessarily the best sounding guitar/amp/pedal/cable. Specifically, the SX guitars from Rondo are perfectly good guitars that make great mod platforms and are even pretty good guitars out of the box.
  4. The Parsons White isn't the only way to have a B-Bender. And you don't necessarily need to bend the B.
OK. Clearly, I have lost the ability to count to four. But that's my take. What 3 (or more, or less even) no-brainer tips do you have?

John 5: The SansDirection Interview

Well, not really. This is from the previously-blogged workshop at Sweetwater. But the clip does start with my question, which was "Can you tell us about your Tele collection".

I don't know that I knew about strumming above the nut before the workshop.

And no, he didn't just talk. He played a bit.

On Monday, Sept 14, Victor Wooten will be having a workshop in the same venue, which is just fantastic.

Friday, August 21, 2009

...Bears the Devil's Flower

This is my entry in the Eastwood Guitars contest, trying to win one of their Airline remakes. I did it with my cellphone because I didn't want to plug the camera into my netbook. The top prize is one like Jack White plays in the White Stripes, except I know he plays an original. All you have to do is video yourself playing the "Seven Nation Army" riff.

Well, there's slightly more than that. Check with them.

I did it on my baritone, which is tuned BEADF#B right now, and I just love that growl. Don't you?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How To Not Suck, Chapter 20: Tune Your Ears

I busted a string on Sunday, and proceeded to do the fastest string change on an acoustic that I've ever done. I had clippers, capo and strings, but what I did not have was a portable tuner. The only one I had along was integrated into my multi-effects unit.

Tuning a guitar to itself is doable. Fifth fret to the next string's open. Fifth fret harmonic to the next string's seventh fret harmonics. 12th fret to the next string's seventh fret. Counting the beats and all. All that is a good to practice, to work on, to know. Magic boxes are good to have, because pitch pipes are horrible for tuning to, but you should still know how to tune your guitar to itself.

But that's one thing. The trick, the thing to learn, is a way to remember what a concert-pitch. And I thought I had that trick. "The Theme to Peter Gunn". One of the first things I ever learned on guitar. I get that riff going, and it sounds right, I thought, then I know I have the low E right. I honestly thought I had it.

Until I got back to the tuner.

I had it tuned to C. Not E. 4 half-steps flat.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Playing Out Sunday

I played on Sunday. Two services. There's two parts to the modern worship service: the fast songs to get you going at the begining, or the "praise" section, and then the slower songs that are meant to get you into a more contemplative and worshipful mood, or the "worship". Yeah, outside of this context, the terms nearly are synonyms, but there you go.

In the set list, the first song had an ugly, scratched together, illegible chord sheet, and that was the one I worked hardest on. Turns out, the second song was tough, too, and I did not spend nearly the time on that one. Ever heard Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone"? Al Kooper knew the producer and showed up hoping to play guitar on the track, but he saw Mike Bloomfield setting up, which, converting from 1965 to 2009, is a bit like seeing Joe Satriani set up his amp. So, Kooper moved to the organ, which he kinda knew. If you listen, the organ comes in half a beat late because he's learning the instrument at the same time he was learning the song, which was the same time they were recording it. He made it work. I have to say that I did not. In fact, I chuffed it. Both services.

And even when we're doing the slower, more contemplative stuff, we are the thundering herd, and while digging in on acoustic, I popped my D string. Generally, the band goes to second service, so we talk, judge our performance and cool down during first service. On Sunday, I changed my strings. While I was doing so, I was asked a good question: If only one string breaks, why change them all?

I have two reasons. First, if you replace one string, that string is going to sound different tan the others, brighter than the other ones. It'll sound wrong. Second, and this is more the case for me, if one string bit the dust, the others have a short life and will break soon enough. Normally, the wound G is the first to go, so when the D string goes first, the set is about dead.

I did not check tuning on the electric between services, and when I started, I found it was way off. I now realize I should've played what strings I had in tune, but I didn't think about that, and I tuned during the first song, which means I really blew two songs and not just the one.

In conclusion, I don't feel good about how I played this week. I guess I phoned it in, and it didn't feel good while I was playing. I will get that second song under my fingers this week.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Faint The Tune...

First, Les Paul is an outstanding guitarist. Absolutely fantastic. But that is only the beginning of the story.

But he was an outstanding guitarist at a point where there were very few outstanding guitarists, because they were quiet and trying to fill larger and larger rooms surrounded by drums and horns. So he worked on how to make a guitar loud without feeding back, and one of the iconic solid-body electric guitars bears his name.

You'd think that would be enough. You'd be wrong.

He was recording with his wife, Mary Ford, and he worked out how to combine a new recording and a pre-recorded track onto a third track. He invented multi-tracking. He invented modern recording.

It would be easy to not realize it, but Les Paul was one of the giants of the 20th Century.

Lester William Polsfuss, better known as
Les Paul
Rest In Peace

Friday, August 7, 2009

This Week in Review 2009-08-07

My Top 5 Artists:

  1. Warren Zevon 116 Plays
  2. The Smiths 26 Plays
  3. David Bowie 20 Plays
  4. Mad Mix Mustang 16 Plays
  5. George Harrison 6 Plays

My Top "5" Tracks:

  1. Warren Zevon, Splendid Isolation 3 Plays
  2. Warren Zevon, Boom Boom Mancini 3 Plays
  3. Warren Zevon, Hasten Down The Wind 3 Plays
  4. The Smiths, Ask 2 Plays
  5. The Smiths, Unloveable 2 Plays
  6. Elastica, Stutter 2 Plays
  7. MadMixMustang, Smells Like Love (Twice) 2 Plays
  8. Warren Zevon, The French Inhaler 2 Plays
  9. Warren Zevon, Lawyers, Guns And Money 2 Plays
  10. Warren Zevon, Searching For A Heart 2 Plays
  11. Warren Zevon, Accidentally Like A Martyr 2 Plays
  12. Warren Zevon, Long Of The Law 2 Plays
  13. Warren Zevon, Mr. Bad Example 2 Plays
  14. Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy 2 Plays
  15. Warren Zevon, Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner 2 Plays
  16. Warren Zevon, Carmelita 2 Plays
  17. Warren Zevon, Desperados Under The Eaves 2 Plays
  18. Warren Zevon, Play It All Night Long 2 Plays
  19. Warren Zevon, Tenderness On The Block 2 Plays
  20. Warren Zevon, I Was in the House When the House Burned Down 2 Plays

Clearly, I was on a Zevon kick. I borrowed I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, the Warren Zevon biography, and it made me think of him again and queue him up a lot. Evidently, he considered "Tenderness on the Block" to be one of the best songs he ever wrote. I'll have to give it a few more listens.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Man, THAT was fun.

Guitar -> Effects -> DI box. You know what happens when you plug a 1/4" cable insufficiently into your DI box? You get a thin, trebly and quiet tone, tone you spend time trying to adjust for.

What happens when you discover this in the middle of a gig? You suddenly get a big blast of volume.

I did not have fun this evening.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cool Things On The Internet

I saw this one on TDPRI recently. Consider the Bigsby. On Les Pauls, you can hook them between the strap button and the tailpiece, but if you're a Tele guy (like me) you have to screw them into the top of your fine instrument.

Until now.

Vibramate has a mounting bracket that allows you to install a Bigsby on your Tele without having to drill new holes. It works a bit like the Hipshot B-Bender, using the strap button screw to hold the end down. The other end screws down like any other Tele bridge. So, you can have all your Bigsby goodness without the damage to your instrument.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Mom Asked How Many Guitars I Have

1) My old acoustic, the Ibanez I bought in college. Battered, defretted, still owned for sentimental value.
2) The replacement, a Fender acoustic/electric cutaway dreadnaught. Laminate back and sides, solid spruce top.
3) My all-black MIJ black Telecaster, strung with .009s for country-style crazy bends.
4) My Rondo Tele copy, which I just have back from the shop. Bone nut, y'all! I have it strung with .012s so I can do drop tunings, open tunings, slide and generally get the monster tone huge strings give you.
5) A Supro lap steel. This guitar has legs! I keep in in a C6 tuning (C-E-G-A-C-E), and I've been trying to learn pre-steel country licks on it.
6) An Epiphone PeeWee Les Paul that the kids hadn't been using, so I put a nut extender and put it in Open A (A-E-A-E-C#-A, like open D up a fifth). This is the one I pull out when I try to be David Lindley. I've done enough with open six-string tunings that I get them more than the C6 tuning, and can play more fluently.
7) A no-name classical guitar, currently being played by my eldest son, whose guitar is non-functional. I like a small-bodied fingerpicking guitar, one that just sits comfortably in the lap, and right now, that's the one I have for that purpose. I think this one was also bought for the kids but found more life in my hands.

That doesn't count my mandolin. She didn't ask about the mando.

When I counted to seven, there was a little bit of "That can't be right!" I don't think of myself as having a guitar collection. I just have a few guitars. But I guess I kinda do. But, clearly, none of the guitars cover the same ground as the others. The Teles can kinda be hot swapped for each other, but a broken, fretless acoustic won't swap for a classical fingerpicker or a working Dread with a piezo.

I should probably get a full family photo one of these days.