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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Best Jazz Guitar Pick

I've been searching for the best jazz-style guitar pick (smallish, thick, teardrop shape) since 1982 and I've finally found "The One."

And which one is The One you ask?

The Wegan Big City. However, as it arrives from the manufacturer it was only an 'also ran' to the many picks I have plowed through over the years. To transform the Big City into The One Pick to Rule them All, I perform an ever-so-slight and easy modification:

Enjoy and let me know how it goes for you.

The Ultimate Guitar Pick for Alternate, Hybrid, and Chicken Picking

I've been playing guitar since 1982 and I've been on search or the best guitar pick ever since. I've been through a lot of them, including, no doubt, your current favorite. Personally, I prefer a teardrop jazz-sized pick.

Let's see some of the picks I've plowed through lately:

In the last year or so, I discovered a pick that I thought was just another okay plectrum but after shelving it for a while I decided that I would come back to it and try to modify it a touch and, after messing around with one for a while I discovered, lurking within an okay pick, the ultimate pick for alternate, hybrid, and chicken picking' -- the Wegen Big City.

However, you gotta know what to do with it and to it in order to make it's absolute awesomeness emerge from the standard model:

There you have it: Infinite Ego's Ultimate Guitar Pick. And, Wegen if you read this, have your people contact my people, and let's work on an Infinite Ego Signature Model.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Innocent Songs: The U2 Free Album Debacle

Originally appearing on my 97% Chimp Tumblr Blog:

By now, every moron who will every write on the Apple - U2 free album fiasco has had their say. The reactions are almost uniformly negative and predictable — even going so far as to compare Songs of Innocence to herpes and worse than spam. The best reaction, and by “best” I mean the dumbest, comes from some Christian ding-a-ling who compared the Apple marketing ploy to common flaws found in religious proselytizing. Oh, you see, one should invite people to imbibe your bullshit rather than force it down their throats and never, ever assume you know what people want and need. No, one should be polite and ask — put on the appearance of being a genuinely nice person rather than a spiritual vampire who wants to ensnare you within their collective neurotic venture. Every reaction has centered around liberal bourgeois assumptions regarding autonomy and individual choice, etc. Well, I for one, applaud Apple’s imposition of the latest U2 album upon unwilling participants.

We should view Apple’s move as a case of an authentic totalitarian gesture, a bold imposition of a absolutist corporate behemoth shoving their interests right down the throats of consumers.

A ‘sensible’ company would have utilized their PR savvy and focus groups to suss the whole thing out in advance with an eye toward sensitivity to individual choice and maximizing the appearance of corporate largesse. But, no, Apple did the right thing: it bent everybody over and pleasured itself without regard for anybody’s feelings and never bothered to apologize. Fuck you, while I make myself feel good. 

Bad Apple? No, Apple only stripped away the layer of feel-good bourgeois bullshit that other firms feel compelled to utilize in order to lubricate consumer reception. Isn’t this neo-liberal paradise amazing! Everybody gets free albums and OS updates!

Hang on while I update my iPhone to iOS 8.0…….

…..Anyway, here’s a company, like many others, that destroys the earth, employs gulag labor, sucks up billions in profits, creates mountains of tech debris, and shelters its wealth from taxation. And U2 is the perfect mating partner for Apple: they produce feel-good, moralizing pop songs to people who like music as simple as nursery rhymes and sing about universal themes of love and redemption all the while the hypocrites in the band fraternize with neo-cons, move their accounts around to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and sport a carbon footprint that would make Cleveland, Ohio’s sustainability ethos look reasonable.

We know that both Apple and U2 are, at bottom, rotten like, well, you know, and we’ll all take a big bite.

I’m not being facetious here, Apple is the only tech firm that I respect because they just strip away the ideology and leave you with nothing more than the bare reality of life in postmodern capitalist society: you reside in a labor camp and the only real ‘choice’ you have is to work, die, or live parasitically off others who choose to work rather than starve to death.

Apple gave it to you straight: we rule this corporate security state and you have no real alternative. You could take your dollars to Google, etc., but we’re all in on it together. And just you wait until we unveil the Apple nanobots that will colonize your central nervous system rendering you a  labor-consumer zombie. That day will only formalize the reality that underlying our sense of autonomy is the exact opposite: absolute heteronomy. 

We are ruled by the Other and we’ll bend over (backwards even) in order to sustain illusions that we’re free, e.g., whining about a free album at corporate intrusion as if “corporate” and “intrusion” didn’t belong together like pizza and beer.

And just like U2’s music, we know the truth but still consume the product. Apple and U2 don’t even have to ‘sell’ it to us, we do all the work of rationalization such that we can cooperate in our own degradation while enjoying it (and, yes, when you bitch and complain about Songs of Innocence, you are still enjoying it). 

Enjoy your symptom and, by the way, I dig that new album.

Jimi Hendrix and The "Greatest Guitarists in History"

Originally appearing on my 97% Chimp Tumblr Blog.

Before we get to Hendrix and musical greatness let's examine a recent case of debunking greatness. Keith Olbermann recently profaned the sacred by subjecting the Yankee’s captain, Derek Jeter, to a withering critique. Now, I like Olbermann, and you gotta see his diatribe as half tongue-in-cheek to begin with, but here’s the thing: Olbermann is correct that, in purely analytical and quantifiable terms, Jeter is, shall we say, better than mediocre but not amazing — actually, in some ways, he is mediocre and even less. However, Olbermann would make a lousy anthropologist or sociologist. Jeter is not merely a baseball player or even just a person at this point, he is, rather, what is called a “collective representation” — quite literally, he is a sign (icon, index, or symbol) that represents not only the Yankees but also baseball in itself. 

Basically, what this means is that Jeter is the central point in what amounts to a secular religion. He is like the Jesus of baseball. And like any collective representation, there is a gulf that separates what he is in the flesh and what he is for others; his social role, in other words, is greater than and different than the sum of its parts (Jeter is a sui generis object, not merely a person). That gap or surplus can sometimes be quantified and measured directly but in the case of things like Jeter or Jesus or some other social Thing, direct measurements are, at best, tricky and probably impossible to fully grasp. That ‘extra’ that goes beyond the numbers is what transforms an ordinary object into a sublime Object, or, simply, ‘The Sublime.’ Let’s transpose the split between Jeter the man and Jeter the icon to another realm of culture where there is often a massive disconnect between the analytic and the synthetic: music and, especially, guitarists.

The Rolling Stone list of 100 greatest guitarists represents a classic example of the gulf that obtains between social greatness and ability, between personal gifts (or lack) and social esteem. Easily half of the guitarists on this list are mediocre hacks that many 14-year-old kids could shred circles around. It’s just that simple. Now, there are many fine guitarists and musicians in this list (Vernon Reid is a personal favorite) but the idea that The Edge is somehow nearly three times ‘greater’ than Danny Gatton is laughable — many injustices are committed in this list. The Rolling Stone list, with Jimi Hendrix leading the way, is a travesty if we are only interested in personal abilities. Many truly monstrous players are not represented, the kinds of players that would embarrass 95% of the people on this list. Consider players like Shawn LaneTommy EmmanuelLenny Breau, etc. 

The list could be quite long. Sometimes greatness languishes away playing weddings. You’ve never heard of these players because people like this, the incomprehensibly talented, the freakishly amazing, are so far beyond the norm that they are pushed to the fringes of society as embodying an excess that threatens the holy constellation of the social sublime. People of this nature are often scruffy, ugly, psychologically damaged, addicted, die poor, young, and tragically after a life of futility playing dives and recording albums that nobody buys. 

What did Jeter have? His below average fielding abilities were offset by above average offensive abilities and tremendous good looks. He was the one player that your grandmother knew about. His main talent, however, was that he could be hitched to a program of selling souvenirs by the millions as well as cars, shoes, you name it. And he quite often had good luck. How do you script rainbows in right field? 

Here’s a secret formula that accounts for sublime objects, learn this and you’ll be better prepared to comprehend the world around you: Jeter isn’t a famous icon (or symbol) because he’s a great player, rather, it is the opposite, he is a “Great Player” because he was a manufactured icon, a media and corporate construct. He transcended the role of ‘player’ and emerged as a brand unto himself. It’s amazing that, unlike others that find themselves in such a position, he never did refer to himself in the third person. The same formula applies to things like money or crime, for example: you think you use money because it “has” value, obviously, when actually, money is valuable because it is used as a medium of exchange (with T. W. Adorno, we find that there is no value per se, rather it is constituted by relations of exchange). 

Likewise with crime: we don’t punish people because they are bad, per se, the are bad because they are punished (Durkheim). Society has a need for punishment so it finds the crimes to fit the punishment. As a truly insightful philosopher (obscure and therefore not great) once said: the good is the evil we choose to ignore. However, if we all knew this, life would be disenchanted (a favorite term from Max Weber) and we would not enjoy random occurrences like rainbows in right field and intuit by their presence the touch of the divine. This morning, people all across America, felt in their heart of hearts that god was smiling on Jeter during his last game at Yankee stadium. How else can one account for things like rainbows and walk-off hits? People prefer enchantment over contingency.

Jeter is great because not only did he represent the Yanks, and baseball, but he brought people together and, at the end of the day, people get off on other people, and symbols like Jeter are objects of social cohesion, they keep the eyes of the collectivity oriented on the same moral coordinates, and they generate streams of signifying discourse, an imaginary energy, that makes people feel animated and good. What Jeter represented for fans was going out there, every day, trying hard, win or loose and believing in yourself the whole way despite the fact that, in all probability, you will fail. What’s wrong with that? Keith Olbermann ought to feel like an ass in attempting to reduce Jeter to his WAR (wins above replacement). 

There are a lot of players, in baseball and in other domains of life, that are amazing, better than the Greats, but lack the ability or were not given the opportunity, to fulfill the sublime role of collective representation. That might drive you nuts, that somebody with superior talents is left to rot on the sidelines of life while posers stand in the limelight, but that’s one of the real mysteries of social life: how is it, exactly, that one person or object is selected out of all the other candidates? About half of it comes down to sheer luck and nothing more. If it had not been a Jeter or a Hendrix it would have been somebody else that fulfilled that function. You cannot truly find in the notes that Jimi played the source or genesis of his social sublimity.

Most ‘fans’ of Jimi know very little: the riff to Purple Haze (which is about as dumb as the one found in “Smoke on the Water”), that he lit his guitar on fire at a show (the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival), and that he died from a drug overdose. Jimi isn’t great because of his music but because he was, literally, the spirit of immoderation incarnated or ‘individuated’ in the body of some kid named James. If it wasn’t Jimi, some other player would have filled the role with different riffs and manner of death because history and society needed, at that precise moment, for the spirit of limitlessness and ‘freedom’ (really, anarchy) to crystallize at a narrow focal point. We needed a walking talking manifestation of that idea. We needed an icon and we manufactured one on the contingent material of some wild guy with a Stratocaster. The same logic, albeit inverted, goes for Jeter. 

Jeter represented the opposite of a Hendrix (different times, different sector of culture, different social and moral requirements): quiet confidence, longevity, restraint, perseverance, self-sacrifice, consistency, reserve, altruism, and so on. Why? Because those ideas are sacred to America and what society needed incarnated more than anything else at the end of the 20th Century. And Jeter embodies those ideals in his social role right in the heart of a civilization that, by its very nature, threatens those sacred principles. In a society besieged by permanent war, hellish inequality, and plagued by incomprehensible monstrosities like mortgage-backed securities and derivatives, an icon like Jeter is comforting and simple to grasp. But rest assured, if it had not been for Jeter, somebody else would have been elected to fulfill that role, serve that function. 

Olbermann may be correct that Jeter, analytically, fails to live up to the hype but that insight misses the mark entirely. You cannot ‘see’ greatness by looking directly at it. You can only see it with a sideways glance, from an oblique angle. Greatness lives in the blind spot of our collective vision. The Great Other, is a collective fantasy, projected, and filling the space of our deepest hopes, dreams, and fears. 

So long, Jeter, you had a Great career. We’ll all take a deep collective breath and begin our selection of the next Jesus of baseball.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lindy Fralin Stock Tele Pickups

If you're looking for amazing Tele tones your search ends with this set of 'stock' Tele pickups from Fralin. These pickups really embody everything you want in a T-style guitar. I couldn't be happier with my parts-Tele. Here's me hacking away through a Vox AC15HW1X

Fake Thunderbolt

Many folks are chomping at the bit for new Light Peak (Thunderbolt) audio interfaces and manufacturers are stepping in with what appears to be exciting new offerings. However, one should read the ad copy carefully: there is a difference between a real Thunderbolt interface and "Thunderbolt connectivity."

Some manufacturers are simply offering consumers a Firewire interface with an internal adapter that allows for the use of a Thunderbolt cable from the breakout box to the computer but delivering Firewire performance.

This problem was worse a couple of years ago but, still, check the 'fine print' and make sure you're getting what you want rather than falling for slick ad copy nonsense. 

Perhaps RME's apparently arrogant persistence on USB (and now USB3) over the last couple of years makes a lot more sesnse. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Suhr Modern Satin Guitar

Until I can get a review of my own up, the guys at Totally Pro Demo Artists are just killin' it. Especially awesome if you love brown guitars. Enjoy! LOL

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How to Climb the Charts on Reverbnation

A few years ago I published a HUGE article on successfully climbing the charts on Reverbnation and demonstrated my ascendence to the top of the international experimental genre.

Then RN decided to change the name of the game and it no longer came down to fans and music.

Now there's only one way, the easy way, to make it to the top and that is pay Reverbnation a steady stream of cash for every little thing.

It's all pay to play now, folks, and is also the reason that RN experienced a mass exodus of musicians who now just consider RN one among many band/music sites to be utilized.

I lost interest in the site for a couple of years and recently went back to create a new account and what I found was a more convoluted and over-engineered site that demands too much effort, time, energy and money if you want your presence to have any impact.

I think a lot of people are starting to burn out on platforms like RN and FaceBook, and other media parasites. Oddly, I think a retro vibe might make a comeback with bands going back to building self-contained web sites and relying on good old-fashioned direct marketing to fans.

Anybody want to buy a T-shirt and a vinyl record?

97% Chimp

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Website: 97 Percent Chimp

I am happy to announce that we have a new website up and (barely) running and hope that you'll swing by to poke around a little.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Playing Guitar to Breakbeats

You've learned all your scales, box patterns, modes, arpeggios, and whatnot, and you're an ace at soloing over blues, pop, rock, and metal tunes but then you're asked to provide guitar lines to a song that features a breakbeat groove and your normal approach is sounding lame. Play faster? Slower? You're old runs and licks don't seem to fit with the vibe.

You gotta switch into 'Egotronics' mode:

Okay, so here is 28 seconds of knumb-skullery that will help demonstrate an approach to playing with breakbeats:

This is designed to demonstrate egotronics in its simplified form, the capacity to play rock-ish electric guitar to complicated backing tracks that would be tough to work with with using conventional phrasing. I took a breakbeat sample, loaded it into the Sector app, warped, bent, and twisted the hell out of it so that it is really tough to play along with, then (really quickly, sorry this is fast and dirty stuff) worked out a line that weaves the guitar into the track. I tried to keep the phrasing pretty simple without all the connective tissue (passing tones) I would normally include to keep it angular. It might take a few listens to grasp what is going on but, in my opinion, this works.

The essence of 'Egotronics' is to eschew the kind of linear or cliche runs (featured in the first run) by playing the 4th/5th intervals off of alternating 3rd/6th intervals. For this demo, I kept the phrasing pretty sparse so you could concentrate on the angular essence of the whole thing -- it's an easy matter to add in more passing and approach notes once you nail down the basic 4/5 and 3/6 interval alternations.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why Did You Take Up The Guitar?

I'll tell you why I took up the electric guitar: apparently, a lot of fascists hate them.

My high school friend and I were preparing to attend a concert one evening when we headed back to his house to pick up our tickets which he had purchased earlier. Upon arrival we found his dad hauling all this kid's possessions out into the front yard, tearing stuff up, and searching his bedroom for contraband.

Before we got there his dad had already destroyed part of an album collection (sniffing out all the 'Satanic' elements) as well as disposing of his amp -- I think he threw it in a pond. And, yeah, the concert tickets were shredded as it turns out. Luckily I had not paid for mine yet!

They proceeded to get into a screaming match so I thought it would be prudent to head back to my car and wait for the skirmish to blow over....ah, but it was just warming up.

The pièce de résistance occured when the father, let's call him Lt. Colonel Jesus Fury came marching out of the house wielding a Les Paul by the neck, and, swinging for the fences, smashed it on the corner of their house. Yeah, the neck snapped off. Yeah, the carved top was mangled, it was a mess. But my one thought beyond "Holy shit!" was, simply, "Wow, that asshole really, really hates that guitar ... and ... I must have one!"

My own father was pretty much a furious authoritarian jerk minus all the Jesus stuff and my guitar did indeed drive him nuts for a couple of years before I moved out. But this skill set was transferable. Over the years, I had numerous opportunities to treat other uptight jerks to the dulcet tones of roaring feedback, screeching pedals of this, that, and other varieties, fizzy fuzz faces, and teeth-grinding ring modulations. What's that? Counting money by the pool this afternoon and could I keep it down for a while? Oh, as Ry Cooder says, you can't keep a good man down.

Of course, I love music but, unconsciously, it is quite possible that I actually love guitar and guitar music because of its antiauthoritarian potential -- I realize a lot of reactionary nuts play guitar too (Hi, Ted, you fucking ass hat) and the vast majority of gear buyers are really just bankers at heart -- but I suspect the majority of people who actually make music with the guitar love to rub uptight jerks the wrong way. And the guitar itself? For me, the guitar is not just a musical instrument but a totemic emblem that signifies my hatred of power.

An Interview With Mr Amazing

He taught Ted Greene all his chords (though, Ted forgot half of them); he taught Danny Gatton how to chicken pick; he taught George Benson how to sing; he taught Burnin' Vernon how to burn; he taught Bill Frisell how to ... dress....Yes, it's an exclusive interview with Mr. Amazing, the most amazing guitarist in the history of the world. There are some things you may not know about Mr. Amazing, such as: Mr. Amazing holds not just one, but two PhDs (music composition and anthropology), two masters degrees (physics and sports medicine) and a bachelors degree in accounting. Mr. Amazing is a cancer survivor, a great grandfather, runs two successful businesses, has won nine Grammys, has been happily married for over 40 years, was a fighter pilot in Vietnam, is a former state senator, and was the winner of the Mr. Universe contest in 1972.

So let's get right down to it!

Mr. Amazing, you've seen and done so much, your range of experiences are so vast, why not start us off by telling us about your first guitar.

MA: Uh, well, I think it was an old acoustic that my neighbor gave to my dad in exchange for a broken but fixable lawn mower. It wasn't very good but it got me started.

Oh, amazing, and what kind of strings did you put on that guitar?

MA: Oh, who knows? that was many, many years ago. I know the guitar was pretty difficult to play so I don't imagine they were very good.

When did you get your first 'real' guitar?

MA: Oh, I suppose that was a few years later. I bought a little OOO Martin with $200 I was awarded as a prize for best science project in the city of Sacramento. It was a joint contest with the University of California and the federal government's youth science program whereby students were encouraged to ...

Cool! What kind of picks and strings were you using with that Martin?

MA: Uh, well, I don't recall, I've never worried too much about those kinds of things.

Me either! What was your next guitar?

MA: I don't recall, really. Might have been an electric .... but I was so busy working with the homeless during high school and, later, on the volunteer fire department, guitar was, you know, kinda secondary to what was going on in my life....until I decided to go to music school. What was really important for me at that moment in my life was trying to unify my love of music with...

Wow, what kind of amp did you use back then?

MA: What? Uh, yeah.....geez, the same little Magnatone I have today.

What kind of tubes does it have?

MA: I don't know. Is this important?

No, no, not at all. What kind of replacement speaker did you put in it?

MA: I didn't.

Wow! When will you replace it with a Hemptastic VintageVibe Mojoriffic speaker?

MA: Probably never since I have no idea what that is.

Tell us about your effects rack and pedalboard!

MA: I just use a bit of reverb that is in my amp if that's what you're talking about.

Wow, that's insane! Let's talk a little about your most famous recorded solo, the one with Smokin' Joe, live at The Regal, on the song "Ain't nobody got time for all this bullshit." The first time I heard that solo I cried, it was so emotional, man. What kind of guitar cable were you using that night?

MA: I have no idea.

What online gear forums do you frequent these days?

MA: None, if you're talking about what I think you're talking about. I rarely go online aside from reading the news and weather.

But, uh, you're missing the gear reviews and the latest buzz. How do you know what's hot or good unless you're getting opinions?

MA: Why not just figure it out on your own?

Whoa! Well, uh, next question, I'm almost afraid to ask: I guess you don't have a favorite demo artist on YouTube?

MA: A what?

Demo artist.

MA. Uh, I have no....

That about wraps it up. Thanks for such an enlightening and multi-faceted interview, it was a real pleasure, and we look forward to picking your brain in the future!

MA: Sure.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Little Big Amps

Little 'grab and go' amps (like my Swart AST Pro) are great tone machines in the right space -- i.e., following the old rule "little room, little amp; big room, big amp." But in the wrong room little amps can sound, well, really small. The reason is that these little guys are, more or less, all mid-range (the bottom end is not wide and deep because their cabs are tiny and the tone stack is mid-shifted for cutting leads and a smokey top end.

What about that elusive little amp that sounds like a big amp?

Well, don't worry, they exist and I'll give you three great examples right here that are still portable but sound  larger than you might expect. What they have in common is (a) larger cabs, often 20-22 inches wide and (b) a 'scooped' midrange, i.e., big bottom end and brilliant top with less emphasis on the mids:

3. The classic little big amp that all others are compared to is the blackface Fender Deluxe -- if you could only have one amp, the Deluxe should be the front runner for your consideration.

2. The Vox AC15 (w/ Blue 1X12 Celestion) -- maybe my favorite amp of all time. The bottom end is big and nothing beats the top end chime of an AC. Pair this bad bad boy with a Tele and you're in sonic Nirvana.

1. The Mesa Boogie Express (and now the Plus 50) -- maybe the best clean sound in a 1X12 format of all time. The updated Express Plus features the clean channel from the Lonestar. This might be the best American-made, tube amp bargain on the market today.

What's your favorite little big amp?

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Best Big Clean Guitar Amps

Okay, so you want a Big Clean amp for live use and/or as a platform for lots of pedal use. There are more amps on the market today than ever before, obviously, so there's a lot to consider. My suggestion is to go with a company that has a long track history and narrow your search down to a few certifiable classics. Sure, you might find an obscure jewel out there but who can guarantee that Mr Obscure Amp Guru will still be alive and kicking next year when his mind-bending and gooped to hell masterpiece blows up?

In reverse order, here is my ranking of the best Big Clean amps you can buy new today:

4. The venerable Fender Twin -- no explanations required. The Twin is and will remain the bread and butter clean amp for countless guitarists and the standard for which all other big clean amps are measured. It's impossible to go wrong with this amp.

3. Taking the Twin a step further, the Mesa Boogie Lonestar represents an improved Blackface tone with additional useful features and a better reverb. The build quality is also a notch or two above Fender for about $500 more.

2. Here's my curveball: The Vox AC30 handwired (with alnico Celestion blue speakers). We tend to think of the AC as a perfect amp for medium gain grind and furry bliss, and it is, but back off the volume knob a bit (and use a mic and a PA for larger venues) and you have a mind-bending, massive clean tone that you can get lost in for days. Indeed, if I could only have one amp it would be either the handwired AC30 or AC15. They just sound that good. This Vox will lack the headroom of the other amps on this list but the added harmonic richness and complexity is the reward.

1. Finally, my bid for the greatest big clean amp tone: the Bogner Shiva. Disregarding the amazing crunch channel, the Shiva is considered by many to be the terminal point in the history of Big Clean. It seems to possess an extra dimension other amps lack with heaps of chime, sparkle, as much beefy and solid low end you could possibly want, texture, etc. Just stunning. With just a couple of tone pots you can carve just about any clean sound you want. And you can get these tones at any volume level (more is obviously better) and the reverb is probably the best you'll hear. Whether you chose the head or combo, 1x12, 2x12, 6L6, or EL34 formats (my favorite is the 1x12 EL34 version circa 2003, which is the third version of the amp) you're playing through a monster. Downside? Sure, the price is a real retirement killer but who's retiring anyway?

And here's Ego's tone secret for redneck Tele players: put an EP Booster (set at about 50%) and a Strymon El Capistan between your Tele and the clean channel (any volume) and prepare for the best chicken pickin' sounds you've ever heard: kind of a blend of cranked blackface Twin and a purring Plexi. Yummy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Four Iconic Pillars of Modern Guitar Tone

Personally, a smart dude would just find that one guitar that sounds and plays great, pair it with a good amp, and concentrate on developing a signature sound -- bypassing, altogether, the endless hunt for the myriad tonal textures available to those afflicted with gear acquisition syndrome. Ah, but you're a gear head so let's just move on the the four basic food groups. I will recommend four vintage guitars and amps that will provide you with the foundation for most of the classic sounds of the 20th century as well as providing four contemporary alternatives to those high-dollar vintage units. Of course, once you have all your bases covered you can mix and match at will for a plethora of textures.

1. The Fender Stratocaster.

A 1962 specimen in Fiesta Red?

"Blackface" Fender Twin Reverb (1965?)

Ain't got the big bucks for the originals I'd steer you in the direction of a G&L Legacy and a Mesa Boogie Lonestar. The Legacy is built better than a Fender and the Lonestar combines 'better than blackface' cleans.

Yeah, the headstocks are a little different but you'll get over it once you play one. If you want something a little more hot-rodded check out the G&L Comanche.

The Lonestar might be the best amp the company has ever built. Your choice of cloning the first channel or kicking in an additional gain stage. Ah, and with the LS we can sneak some of that tweed Bassman vibe into the list as well.

2. Fender Telecaster + Vox AC30 or AC15

A '65 refin?

Pretty! But fear the lack of reliability!

Want a guitar and amp free from the smell of cigar smoke and hot beer? Slap together a Warmoth Tele parts-caster with Fralin stock Tele pickups and mate it with one of the new Vox AC handwired amps or, if you have the $$$ plug into a Dr Z Wreck.

My Warmoth Parts-Caster. Sure, it lacks the brand mojo but this is the best bolt-on neck guitar I've played in over 30 years. Quarter-sawn maple neck, SRV asymmetrical neck carve, compound radius, SS frets, Fralin Stock Tele pups, and a Barden compensated bridge. Oh, yeah, it also has a kingwood fretboard. Oh My! Guaranteed, this parts-caster will eat any Fender for breakfast.

These handwired amps from Vox sound amazing and they are relatively bulletproof compared to the originals.

3. Gibson Les Paul + Marshall Plexi

Yeah, yeah, you had to choose between a '59 Les Paul and a house and you went the domestic route! So much for dedication, eh?

What can you say? The Plexi is pretty much the sound of rock music.

Can't afford a vintage Paul and you have lost all confidence in Gibson to build a decent guitar these days? The PRS SC58 is *the* Les Paul killer and once the 58 is all gone (now out of production but a few are still available) the SC245 will fit the bill nicely. Or how about a Heritage H140 or 150 -- making them in the old Kalamazoo factory the way they used to be made.

Can't find a Plexi and don't like the way they're making the 'Vintage' series of amps over at Marshall these days? How about a 65amps Empire, Germino Lead 55, or a Bogner Shiva -- yeah, I know, the Shiva supposedly doesn't sound like an old Marshall but it's one of the great amps of all time that can capture quite a few Marshally tones if you know some secrets to dialing them in. In the right hands, the Shiva can nail that Van Halen 'brown sound' quite nicely but you have to know what you're doing!

This bad boy was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Oh, wait, faulty reference. But anyways, yep, that's my 58 right there. Glad I got one while they were in production.

Three flavors of Marshall in one amp: The 65 Amps Empire

Alternatively, the Mojave Plexi is an amazing amp as are the Top Hat Emplexador amps and, I gotta say, the PRS HXDA amp is pretty mind-blowing.

4.  Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 + Mesa Boogie Mk I

The 24 was the guitar that put PRS on the map. The fusion of Gibson and Fender elements resulting in a unique tone and feel.

You gotta give it up for the wicker grill and hardwood cab.

They still make the C24 but just to be different I'd pick a 408 and since the MkI is out of production I'd probably mate the PRS to a Mesa Boogie Express 50 Plus. On the other hand, the MkI reissues can still be found at reasonable prices as well as the Son of Boogie (sort of a MkI reissue)

Blue Crab Blue if I'm not mistaken. Wow!

Color me confused but the Mk V just does not sound good to me. However, there's hardly a bad sound in the express line of amps. Amazing bang for the buck.

True, a lot of killer guitars and amps out there not making it on my list but, hey, it's my goddamn list. And I know I'm showing my PRS and Boogie bias. And you're right.

If you've already got a collection you think covers all the bases make your own case and, if you're just getting started, take it from me, a player could hardly go wrong with any of these instruments.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin Power

Martin Power's new book, Jeff Beck (2011, Omnibus Press) is a comprehensive examination of every facet of guitarist's life. The book is massive and covers every band, album, session, tour, and seemingly every guitar and amp. If you're a Beck fan or just seeking a unique perspective into British rock and fusion from the 60s through to the contemporary era this is your book.

Especially interesting to me is the insight gained regarding Beck's alternating between the business of being a musician and his second passion, automobiles (old hot rods). We find Beck wishing that he had been two people at once so that he could have pursued both music and cars with full intensity. The alternation, though, is what kept the musician sane and healthy during his long career (p. 346) and we may all be thankful that he was not split in half. This is interesting in light of a couple other biographies I read lately: those of Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, both of whom committed suicide. In those biographies one gets the sense that, quite the opposite of Beck, they didn't feel like one person doing more than one thing (Gatton, like Beck was a hot rod fanatic) but two different people -- divided and torn in multiple directions and unable to live in any of those different worlds.

Hot Wired Guitar is intensively researched and well written; it's a real feast for fans of, arguably, the best guitarist of his generation, and I highly recommend it.

I'll leave you with something awesome:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman

The Wrecking Crew (2012, Thomas Dunne Books) chronicles the obscure history of Los Angeles studio aces from the late 50s to their dissolution in the 70s. If we tend to think of popular music as being crafted by autonomous bands of talented musicians this book will expose the almost factory-like production philosophy behind the early rock and roll catalog. A cadre of professional song-writers, a handful of producers, and a few dozen skilled musicians backing an endless procession of singers produced a major proportion top-tier excitement heard on radios forty and fifty years ago. It was the era of the sequestered 'professionals' in contrast to the image of amateur bands rising from grass roots, writing their own material, honing skills night after night, and clawing their way to the top. 

TWC reminds us that music really is business. When you get right down to it we're dealing with industrial product. The ideal-type is represented by The Monkees, a.k.a., the Pre-Fab Four, a made-for TV band where rock star appearance trumped the need for musical abilities.

Things are not quite as assembly line today, perhaps, but still the majority of musical acts out there can't play their way out of a wet paper bag and producers rely on a collection of studio aces to create marketable product in a timely and efficient manner. The subject is so compelling that even Hartman's somewhat pedestrian literary skills do little to drag the book down. 

The major flaws of The Wrecking Crew consist of a very choppy or granular narrative (every few paragraphs the book veers off prematurely to cover another character such that the reader can never get into a sustained groove); there must be 4,000 excess adjectives -- it's not a crisp read by any means; and TWC ends abruptly. Sorely needed is a panoramic afterword that summarizes the scope and achievements of these musicians within the musical context and their legacy.

Even though the book is the literary equivalent of stop and go traffic Hartman seems to have done his research well, including a raft of new interviews. If you want a good view of the inner workings of the LA studio scene during this remarkable period in American musical history then The Wrecking Crew will satisfy.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

G&L Tribute Ascari and Fiorano

This is not a review I just want to say, briefly, from a guy who has played G&L guitars continuously since 1980, this is a bunch of bullshit.

G&L has launched two new Tribute models called the Ascari and the Fiorano claiming that the inspiration came from a Leo Fender 1980 drawing of the never-produced G-100. What are these guitars, really?

Here's the gut-wrenching marketing spin they're putting on these models: "Born of history. Entirely new."

"The inspiration was G&L founder Leo Fender – specifically a prototype drawing discovered in Leo’s laboratory two years ago. It was dated January 18th, 1980. It was Leo’s idea for the G-100, a 24¾” scale, three-tuners-to-a-side axe, rendered on paper by his partner, G&L co-founder George Fullerton. “The G-100 drawing literally fell out in front of me,” says Steve Grom, G&L’s director of manufacturing. “I’m not ready to say it was a sign from Leo, but it was certainly startling and revealing."

Holy shit. Here is what the G-100 was supposed to be:

And what has G&L delivered? Let's just look at the Ascari -- the other model is so goddamned ugly it will burn your eyes out

"Born of history. Entirely new." Really? It's a Cort M600 with a few tweaks.

Well, if Steve Grom was startled I am dismayed. The Tribute Ascari looks even less appealing than the Cort, which is, itself, a poor imitation of a PRS. This, friends, is the kind of shenanigans you get when companies shift from making guitars to selling guitars. G&L just took a dump on their own namesake for the sake of selling mass quantities of disposable McPlanks.

This was the sign from above? Tweaking a Cort M600 and slathering it in a thick coat of marketing snake oil that implicates some kind of Leo Fender vision?

Had G&L actually built the G-100 (or anything close to it) I would have bought one. Instead, I bought a PRS. And had G&L not descended to this low level of oily spin it would never had occurred to me to try my hand at a partscaster which turned out every bit as good as my two ASATs.

It's not about the guitar. Tweak and rebrand a couple of Corts and market them on their own merits. But for pity sakes, don't try to pass this crap off as somehow inspired by Leo Fender, that it is historical, or that it is new.

As far as I can recall this is the first time G&L has gone completely sideways on their marketing and I suspect, after reading about the failure of Fender's attempted IPO, that things are not looking too rosy in Fullerton either.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vacuum Tube Damper Rings from EuroTubes and Duende Criatura

EL84 tubes are notorious for rattling like mad when you crank up the volume. My AC15 was sounding pretty good (mild tinkling) but I figured since I was buying some new tubes I might as well just put some dampers on there while I was already under the hood -- until I saw the insane prices being charged for the big name, Duende Criatura rings. Online they're routinely going for $35 a pair! And I see people putting a pair on each tube! WTF?

Admittedly, they look nice:

But this voodoo silicone is for suckers buying $1000 AC cables for their hi-fi systems and there are alternatives.

After poking around I landed on the EuroTubes page where they were selling their own ultra chunky damper rings for only $4.50 a piece.

I ordered a few, as well as some tubes, and they had it to the other side of the country in two days. Fast service, appreciated.

They slide right on, no problem, and work right along with your retaining springs.

Are they sexy? Not really. But at 1/3 the price I'm going to be okay.

No rattles at all and highly recommended.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Joe Barden Telecaster Bridge

There are many Tele-style bridges on the market for direct replacement and/or new builds. I researched the bridge for my new parts-caster quite a bit and finally settled on a Joe Barden unit.

The inspiration behind this bridge was provided by Danny Gatton and a few things set it apart from your run of the mill bridge: angled saddles for accurate intonation, a notched treble sidewall, thicker-than-vintage plate construction, and additional screws for the front of the bridge such that the plate is forced to stay flush with the top of the guitar, eliminating unwanted feedback.

The metal baseplate is thicker than average without being so chunky that it kills the vibe of your guitar. This is a complaint you hear often: I replaced the thin stamped metal plate on my Tele with a ______________ (fill in the blank with a $120 cold rolled steel battleship part) and the mojo is gone. The Barden is substantial without being oppressive. Your TWANG is preserved.

The brass saddles and associated screws and springs all feel top drawer. It is a nice bridge.

Installation was easy and I had the saddles adjusted within a few minutes. I was surprised at how fast and easy it was to get it all sorted out.

How is intonation? Nearly perfect. I was frankly a bit shocked at how well the three saddles get the job done. Chords sound sweet up and down the neck.

Importantly, the height adjustment screws do not poke up out of the holes to gouge your hand.

And, if you're doing a Warmoth build featuring a 10" - 16" compound radius neck the good news is that this Barden bridge works like a charm.

All good for around $60 - $65. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Fender NAD Combos with YouTube Integrated Technology


Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC)

For immediate release

Today's guitarist demands a new level of performance!

Blazing a new trail with today's online guitarist in mind, Fender, in conjunction with YouTube, is proud to introduce the "NAD" series of combo guitar amplifiers with built in YouTube-optimized tone technology. Product specialist Billy Nerfkin says of this exciting new instrument: "Today's guitarist no longer needs a great sounding amp in the domains of recording or live performance; what they're most interested in is shooting a quick "demo" video with their cell phone and announcing their 'New Amp Day' at sites like The Gear  Page. Unfortunately, conventional amps that sound great in a live performance setting or studio environment can often sound brittle and farty on YouTube, which, as we all know, can be a real buzz kill when you're trying to enjoy a NAD moment with the best friends you've never met."

The solution? The NAD line of combo amps with all new "You-Tube" optimization technology built right in (starting at $199 MSRP for a 1x10 combo).

How does Fender You-Tube technology work?

The Fender NAD combos work like any other amp but with the addition of one formidable innovation: the patent pending YouTube Activator circuit.

The YouTube Activator (foot-switchable) engages the single "You-Tube" (a special tone circuit designed around a premium, hand-selected 12AT7 vacuum tube modified by valve guru and legendary amp designer Neville "Electron" Mcgillicuddy.

When an artist engages the YTA it reconfigures the tone stack and speaker extrusion characteristics such that a Fender You-Tube amp recorded through a cell phone will sound just like an expensive boutique or vintage tube amplifier when heard through standard desktop or laptop speakers.

Don't let your "New Amp Day" turn into a whole lot of butthurt. Head on down to your authorized Fender dealer today and pick up your own NAD combo featuring the all new Fender You-Tube optimization technology


Single channel
1x10, 1x12, 2x12
10w, 25w, 800w solid state power amp
Hybrid solid state / You-Tube 12AT7 preamp vacuum tube
Controls: Vol., Treble, Bass, You-Tube Activator, external foot switch (included)
Height: 12.5", 14.74", 46.9"
Width: 13.3", 15.9", 63.1"
Depth: 7.4", 9.2", 29.4"
Weight: 14 lbs, 19 lbs, 187 lbs

97% Chimp

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guitar Secrets

I was recently surfing on YouTube and I spotted a couple of vids that purported to reveal wonderful "secrets" that will suddenly make playing the guitar easier. My curiosity piqued, I did a search for "guitar secrets" and found a treasure trove of hidden knowledge -- it was like I was suddenly invited into a sacred temple where withered old masters would, finally, reveal that silver bullet that would make Saturn align with Venus and elevate my playing to god-like status.

So after digesting as many of these "secrets" as I could I distilled them all down into the one Mother of All Guitar Secrets.

Ready for it?

Here goes:

Practice everything for hours every day for years and years and play as much as you can with other musicians.

Seriously, if you're looking for a silver bullet it's because you want to shortcut a process. But you can't.

Every person I've known that possessed mind-bending abilities on the guitar got there through practicing eight to ten hours every day for years. I know 90% of students are lucky to get in 30 minutes a few times a week and feel frustrated at their lack of progress then go searching for that "secret" that will hand them mastery in a short amount of time with little effort.

Sorry. It's 8 to 10 hours a day for years.

I suggest you take some music theory courses, watch as many video lessons as possible, learn to read music, get a real teacher, etc., and do the hard work, lots of work.

However, there are some generalities that you should pay attention to to make sure that you maximize the time you do spend practicing.

Use good equipment so that you're not fighting an unnecessary battle and get that action as low as possible. Use fresh strings and picks.

Learn theory so that what you learn is transposable rather than a bunch of "orphaned licks" to borrow a great line from my friend Chris.

Keep your fretting thumb behind the neck. Nearly every guitarist that I know with scary technical ability keeps his or her thumb truly behind the neck 90% of the time.

Turn up the amp and use less physical force to play. Drummers spend a lot of time learning how to 'go with the flow' on their drum fills and guitarists should also 'go with the flow' when it comes to alternate picking. Don't fight the guitar. Flow.

Always learn something new every day. I had a student one time that was stuck for months on the G major scale so I had to banish that thing: I told him to play it for me, one more time, then never play it again. Keep moving.

Learn a bunch of songs and classic licks and, then, once those are in hand use them for inspiration to write at least one more original song based on that classic lick or progression.

Play with others if you can. Play along to music if you can.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gibson Announces the Special Edition Ralph Macchio Crossroads Electric Guitar


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gibson is proud to announce the creation of the Ralph Macchio Crossroads Special Edition electric guitar.

According to product specialist Billy Nerfkin, Gibson approached Mr. Macchio in the Spring of 2010 about honoring the landmark cinematic phenomenon that is Crossroads. "Ralph was super psyched about the project and, though none of the guitars played in the film were manufactured by Gibson, Ralph was finally convinced that Gibson was the one company truly capable of capturing the intellectual depth and emotional nuance of Crossroads and crystallizing that vision in guitar form."

The Ralph Macchio/Crossroads Special Edition Gibson Electric features:

* Roasted tarpaper fretboard
* Robot tuners
* Robot strap buttons
* Patent Pending X-ToneClone analogue TeleTone (TM) emulation circuit
* Patent Pending X-Delta "broke ass" single coil transducers
* Weight-relieved bilge sinker Korina (muddy limba) -- each guitar  guaranteed to  weigh less than 19 lbs.
* Built-in custom fedora hanger
* Bullshit Bumblebee tone caps (info)
* Hidden 'Trick Bag' compartment
* Limited run of 666 instruments
* Custom case, strap, vintage oxidized strings and picks
* Certificate of authenticity autographed by Henry "Kim  Jong" Juszkiewicz

Retail price $9,666
Contact your Gibson dealer today to reserve your own Crossroads Special Edition Gibson.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to Correct a Guitar with Stiff Action

Stiff Strat? It's a common problem and a real vibe killer for sure. So why do some guitars play like 'butter' while others put up stiff resistance?

Here is a list of corrective measures that should help you transform your unyielding guitar into one that plays itself. We'll begin with the easy things and progress to the most demanding and expensive.

I'm going to assume (I know, I know) that you possess adequate physical technicality with regard to playing but if you have sloppy technique then learning how to properly play will probably correct a lot of problems. I see a lot of kids playing with their 'finger prints' instead of their 'finger tips' and thumbs all over the place.....learn proper fretting techniques first and see if your guitar isn't a lot easier to play.

Beyond technique:

1. Install new strings.

2. Install smaller gauge strings. On long scale guitars with fixed bridges (e.g., Tele) I like 9s; on long scale guitars with vibrato bridges (e.g., Strat) I like to use 9s or 10s. On short scale guitars I like to use 10s. People often think that the larger the strings the better the tone but this is often backwards. Larger strings will enhance the note's fundamental whereas thinner strings will enhance the upper order harmonics (i.e., the 'mojo'). See our guide on improving tone. It all depends on what you want to hear.

3. Install 'pure nickel' strings -- they're softer and easier to bend (not for high gain or metal applications). See our article on pure nickel strings.

4. Adjust your action: (a) your strings are probably too high off the fretboard and the neck needs to be straightened so get out your truss rod wrench and flatten it out a touch. Put a capo at the first fret (or use the index finger of your left hand) and with a right hand finger fret the 6th string at the 21st or 22nd fret and then with a left hand finger (pinky if you're holding down the string without a capo) push down on the string somewhere near the 7th fret. There should be a very tiny gap between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret; (b) once your neck is fairly straight you need to adjust the saddle heights to bring them into the proper relation with the new neck angle. Once your action is where you like it be sure and adjust for proper intonation. (c) ensure that the nut slots are cut properly such that the string is not sitting too high prohibiting a low action.

5. Your action should allow for some fret sizzle but not rattle or buzz. Lots of people use excessive force when playing. Ease up and let your amp do the work.

6. If your action is incapable of going low enough for easy playing you might have frets that are worn out in spots and uneven. Level and re-crown your frets. If you're not comfortable with this or do not have the tools take it to a tech.

7. New frets might be in order. Larger frets (I like medium jumbos) are easier to play on compared to vintage style (small and low) frets.

8. Re-radius your neck (or have that work done for you -- you'll get new frets if you go this far). If you're playing on some kind of retro-style Fender, for example, it might very well feature a tight 7.25" radius that means comfortable chording in the first few positions (cowboy chords) and high action around the 12th fret and above. Modern guitars have radii that start at 10 inches.

Here's a guide:

Vintage Fender: 7.25 (actually, old Fenders that have been re-fretted numerous times will have flatter radii, sometimes as flat as 12" and this is why some 'vintage' guitars play so well compared to newer Fenders with tighter radii).

Contemporary Fender: 9.5

PRS: 10

Gibson: 12

Contemporary G&L: 12 (one of the main reasons most G&L S and T style guitars play so much better than their Fender counterparts).

Parker: 10"  to 13" conical

Warmoth compound: 10" to 16" conical

When you go so far as having a new radius cut and new frets installed be sure and get stainless fretwork in place of the traditional silver nickel stuff. Bending on stainless frets is a real treat. Yes, they will chew up strings faster but so what?

At this point you've done all that can be done to get your guitar playing as well as it can. If it's still stiff and uncooperative perhaps the neck is just too large for you. There is a myth a lot of players fall into that a larger neck results in "better" tone. In over thirty years of playing I have found no correlation between chunkier necks and "better" tone per se. It all depends on the individual guitar and how the neck relates to the rest of its components.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Neal Schon PRS

PRS has come out with a Neal Schon guitar that features the unconventional combination of hollow-body construction, complete with 'F' holes, and a Floyd Rose bridge.

While this guitar will strike many as somewhat tacky or tasteless (and, let's face it, the Floyd will add a dash of tack to almost anything) this PRS pales in comparison to an earlier Schon abomination which reminds me of a funny story.

Years ago I was in a guitar shop when a guy came in for his weekly guitar lesson. He looked exceedingly happy, carrying his case, and announced to all those milling about that he just got his new guitar earlier that day.

"Ooooh, what ya got there? A Tele? A Strat?

"Oh, no. It's a Schon" he said with an air of smugness.

Blank stares. "What's a Schon?" one guy asked.

The case is opened and he reveals "The Schon"

Silent, amazed, worried WTF looks were beaming from all quarters.

"You know. Neal Schon, the guitarist for Journey."

Five groans were simultaneously and slowly emitted.