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Monday, July 27, 2015

D'Addario Planet Waves NS Tri-Action Capo

I've only owned one capo since the 80s but that one, a Shubb, was lost in a move so I did a little research and came across this Tri-Action model designed by Ned Steinberger and manufactured by D'Addario and branded under their Planet Waves moniker.

The design is clever and makes one-handed operation a breeze. Most importantly, the downward pressure is firm and even with no slippage after engaged.

I bought one for myself and my daughter so we could work on some songs. The Tri-action is simple to adjust and fits both of our acoustics: a Yairi Dreadnaught and a Martin OOO-15:

One thing was a bit of downer, however, and that was that the built in pick-holder only works for standard thin picks. I tried to put my 1.4 mm Wegen Big City in the holder and it just snapped off instantly.

Other than this qualification, the NS Tri-Action is simple and easy to use and is very effective. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

PRS Vela Review Paul Reed Smith S2 Vela

I've been intrigued by the new S2 models for quite a while but the Vela is the first one I thought looked good enough to have a go with. The attraction of the S2 line is that they are made in Stevensville, Maryland but, finally, at a price nearly everybody can afford. The Vela with dots comes in right around the price of a Fender American Standard Strat. However, being familiar with what Fender is putting out these days, this Vela is a notch above a Strat in terms of fit, finish, and playability; this Vela plays better right out of the box than my EJ Strat which cost quite a bit more and took a bit of tweaking to get settled in.

Here's mine taking a nap (later, I'll read it some Herman Melville)

The first thing you notice is the ridiculous weight of the guitar: right at 6 pounds. It is so light and resonant that it feels as if the guitar will float right out of your hands when you strum a G chord.

Secondly, this might be, acoustically, the loudest non-hollowbody electric guitar I remember playing. It is just plain loud and vibrant. Hit a chord and the tuning pegs feel like butterflies fluttering in your fingers. I lost, maybe, a bit of volume when I replaced the PRS-branded D'Addario strings (my god, those strings are tight and unforgiving) with a set of Mangan 10-46.

Intonation was absolutely perfect out of the box and, sticking with a set of 10s, I found no need to adjust the saddles. The pesky B-string tuning problem that plagues a lot of guitars was solved years ago by PRS and chords sound in tune up and down the length of the neck.

With its offset body, the Vela is superbly well-balanced. It feels great hanging from a strap or sitting on your leg.

The Pattern neck carve (with 25" scale length) feels fantastic with no sharp edges due to the hand-rolled fingerboard and the neck-body joint provides effortless access to the 22nd fret.

The frets (medium to medium jumbos) are a cross between vintage and modern. Not too short, not too wide, just right.

All the materials and parts exude quality and the guitar punches above its price tag. You're getting an American-made, set-neck PRS for less than an American Standard Strat!

The pickups are clanky and spanky with a nice amount of chime and grit. They sound fantastic and I was especially impressed by the split coil sound the Starla bridge pickup.

The plate bridge is a new thing for PRS (a little mini Tele thing going on) but if you go back far enough in PRS history you will find the three strings per brass barrel saddle design on a few pre-factory guitars (I'm thinking specifically of the Sorcerer's Apprentice model). And, finally, locking tuners (similar to phase II models) round out the package.

I dig the vintage cherry finish with the large dots -- it gives off a kind of old school Gibson vibe but much cooler than anything Gibson is churning out in this price range today.

It would have been nice to have the new V12 clear coat on this guitar (it has the old poly and acrylic 'dipped in glass' treatment of yesteryear) but it is very nice, nonetheless.

Really, the only downer regarding this guitar is the gig bag. I have bags that came with a Parker NiteFly and a Suhr Modern Satin and this PRS bag is definitely not in the same class.

About half the hardware bits and pieces are shared from the PRS core models (e.g., the nut is the same brass-impregnated model as found on my Artist grade SC58) and the remainder, including pickups, are sourced from S. Korea but designed by PRS.

In this sound clip (24 bit, uncompressed .wav) I have the neck pickup panned left; the neck and bridge (single coil) panned right; bridge pickup (humbucker) up the middle for the little lead line; and behind it, coming in and out, you might detect the neck and bridge (humbucker) cleaned up and doing a strumming pattern. The amp is an ENGL Retro UAD plugin.

Anyway, the S2 Vela is a killer guitar and highly recommended.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ali Farka Toure's Mystery Electric Guitar: The Seiwa Powersonic

The guitar seen accompanying Ali Farka Toure in numerous photos is a Seiwa Powersonic:

Evidently, Toure replaced the neck or the logo simply vanished from this guitar:

The Powersonic was a guitar manufactured in Japan by Ibanez under the Seiwa brand.

Thanks to Chris and Dmitry for helping me to track this information down.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chicken Picks Shredder

A new plectrum on the market is the Chicken Picks line (pictured below on the upper right) is the "Shredder" coming in at a whopping 3.5 mm). They do offer thinner picks but nothing thinner than 2.2 mm in the Original Series of picks -- to get thinner you have to live with a triangle pick -- a shape I have never liked. I did buy one of the triangular versions but it was no fun.

What's the verdict on the Chicken Pick Shredder? In general, it feels like holding onto a light-as-air piece of styrofoam and it imparts a chalky, raspy scraping sound against the strings. They claim that after hours of playing the scraping sound will diminish ("break in") but that hasn't been my experience. Like white noise, I think your brain just begins to filter out the scraping sound after a while. The pick is more durable than the V-Pick (pictured above left) stuff but this pick left a lot to be desired in my opinion.

What's better? Still my favorite is the Wegen Big City 1.8mm (the one with the holes in it in the above photo). The Big City is durable, sounds fantastic, has a nice, positive attack, with no weird sonic artifacts -- they more or less sound like your fingernails on the strings. You can alter the Big City for a sharper tip in about 2 minutes with an emery board if you so desire.

If you're looking for a great teardrop or jazz-styled guitar pick, my highest recommendation goes to the Wegen. You might also try the Winspear Shiv we recently reviewed. Both are great for "shredding."

Chicken Picks vs V Picks

V-Picks "chicken picker" is a popular plectrum that we have reviewed in the past -- quick summary: wears out fast and is plagued by an incessant chirping sound that you either love, hate, or passively endure. It ended up not being a pick I stuck with. Not only did the picks have issues that I couldn't live with but both times I bought picks directly from V-Picks via their online store my credit card was hacked in less than a couple of hours. Never again.

A new competitor is the Chicken Picks line (pictured above is the "Shredder" coming in at a whopping 3.5 mm). They do offer thinner picks but nothing thinner than 2.2 mm in the Original Series of picks -- to get thinner you have to live with a triangle pick -- a shape I have never liked.

What's the verdict on the Chicken Pick Shredder? In general, it feels like holding onto a light-as-air piece of styrofoam and it imparts a chalky, raspy scraping sound against the strings. They claim that after hours of playing the scraping sound will diminish ("break in") but that hasn't been my experience at all. I think your brain just begins to filter out the noise after a while. The pick is more durable than the V-Pick stuff but this pick left a lot to be desired in my opinion.

What's better than both of these? Still my favorite is the Wegen Big City 1.8mm (the one with the holes in it in the above photo). The Big City is durable, sounds fantastic, has a nice, positive attack, with no weird sonic artifacts -- they more or less sound like your fingernails on the strings.

If you're looking for a great teardrop or jazz-styled guitar pick, my highest recommendation goes to the Wegen. You might also try the Winspear Shiv we recently reviewed.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Loud, Heavy, and Complicated: The Mesa Boogie Mark Five Mk V

The Mk V by Mesa Boogie is a brilliant concept, no doubt about it, and I was very excited when it came out a few years back. As a happy Boogie player since the early 90s, the Mk Five was just about everything a player could want from a tube amp. After a long wait, I headed down to my dealer and gave it a spin. I couldn't get a good sound out of it and the guys in the shop were pretty much defeated as well. And we tried and tried. As best as I could tell, the amp was three things: heavy, complicated, and loud.

Ah, but surely somebody could get it to sound good. Operator error  due to option overload I figured.

So I did online research (ironically, after playing the actual amp) and I couldn't find anybody getting a good sound. In fact, everything I heard was pretty horrible.

After five years, I've heard maybe two examples of a Mark V that I thought sounded okay, but just okay, nothing amazing.

Here's the deal: it's relatively easy to build a single channel, simple tube amp that sounds amazing.

It's relatively easy to design and build a digital modeling amp that delivers a lot of good sounds.

It's nearly impossible, at least hitting the sweet spot of the market price point, to design and built a tube amp that delivers more than two great sounds.

The last Boogie Mark series amp that sounded great, and only fully cranked, was the Mk III line of the 90s.

Digital modeling has raised player expectations: they want amps and devices that deliver myriad great tones and, if you're designing analog tube amps that deliver more than, say, two basic flavors, you're forced into all sorts of compromises and circuit complexities that manifest themselves in lackluster sounds.

The Mk V is lifeless, dull, and fizzy. And if there is a Mk VI that attempts to bring even more bells and whistles, it will be even more unusable. But don't some people like the MkV? Sure, and some people like Coors beer, too. Some people are easily satisfied.

Boogie can still build a great amp. The Lonestar is a good example. Even the Express line (simplified Marks) sound great. But the company has hit the end of the line with the V (I would argue that even the IV sounded terrible).

In my opinion, Mesa needs to step back, and try to create a couple of exact reissues of the Mark II C+ and maybe the Mark I once again. Trying to build them into the V has not worked at all in the opinions of many because the Swiss Army tube amp cannot compete with digital modeling nor can it deliver the beautiful tones of simple, one-trick tube amps.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Chickin Picking Vs Hybrid Picking

Hybrid picking is simply the use of both a pick in combination with the remaining one, two, or all three fingers to attack the strings of your guitar. Go check out a YouTube video of, say, Eric Johnson for example.

Chickin Pickin is a technical subset or form of hybrid picking that involves a particular style of attack such that   (a) any plucked note is abruptly cut short by the attack of the pick, or, inversely, (b) the plucked note is preceded by a deadened pick stroke.

The difference in sound is kind of like: (a) daaa-dit or (b) dit-daaa

The untrained ear would have difficulty discerning any difference between the two but both forms are good to know.

There is another form (c) I use that involves a pick attack on, say, the palm-muted 4th string followed by a palm-muted finger attack on the 3rd sting for a (c) dit-dit sound.

And you can incorporate more than two strings for a (d) dit-dit-dit sound or (e) dit-dit-daaa sound.
A great example of this would be minor triads on the top three strings (root on the third string) leading into the tonic (A) via a D- triad: Gb- F- E- D-
The sound of this lick would be:  dit-dit-dit,    dit-dit-dit,    dit-dit-dit,    dit-dit-daaa

Looking for a good plectrum for hybrid picking? Check out the "Big City" pick.

Of course, chick'n pick'n can also be a form of finger style guitar. Check out this video from Greg Koch where he describes his various approaches. Go to about 30 min into it.

Furman M-8Dx Power Conditional

I bought a PL-8 back in the day that has served me well for years. I recently added another rack to my studio space and needed an additional power strip so I ordered today's equivalent of the PL-8 which is the M-8Dx.

I gotta say, it gets the job done but it's a sad unit compared to the PL-8. The light dimmer knob should read "dim" or "dimmest" because the bulbs produce a dark yellow light and you cannot run them independently of the "on" switch, as you could with earlier units.

The light tubes also feel much flimsier than the ones on its predecessor. Overall, the quality of Furman power conditioners seems to be going down hill.

I'd look somewhere else if I were you.

Gibson Guitars Are Overpriced

How overpriced are Gibson guitars?

The retail price of a Les Paul back in 1958 was about $265. Adjusted for inflation, that same guitar should cost you about $2100 today. Of course, to get a new Gibson built just like a 1958 model, the Historic line, could set you back $10K or more. But let's just look at the Les Paul Standard model. They are routinely selling for about $3500 at various online retailers. That's roughly a $1400 gap between the current price and where prices should be.

And when your pay goes up, say, 2%-3%, if at all, Gibson is prone to just ramping up prices ten times more than your raise.

And, of course, the current build qualities of the current Gibson offerings are, in the eyes of many, to be far inferior to the stuff being produced in the 50s and early 60s. Let's not even get into the robot tuners, holograms, weight relief routing, zero nuts, and whatnot.

But aren't all American-made guitars overpriced? Compare Gibson with Fender.

A Fender Strat would have set you back about $230 in 1958 which translates into a couple grand today, more or less. But you can walk into any Fender dealer and buy an American Standard Strat for a retail price of about $1300, a gap of about $700. Say what you want about Fender, but they are not overpriced in historic terms.

And a brand new G&L Legacy can be had for for about $1100.

Oh, you say, but you cannot compare a bolt-on Fender to a set-neck Gibson. Well, take your average Les Paul reissue models that routinely sell for $5000 to $7000 and compare it to the Artist grade PRS SC58 which is, for all intents and purposes, the equivalent to a 58 Gibson LP.

I doubt seriously if Gibson could even manufacture a guitar today that compares favorably with what PRS is building and an Artist grade PRS 58 went for about $3500, about half the price of a Gibson Historic. And it's not as if Maryland is a much better place to build guitars than Tennessee, they're neck and neck on the Forbes list state ranks for business. TN even has the edge when it comes to labor supply, lower wages, and fewer environmental regulations.

Why is Gibson gouging the hell out of his customers? It's increasingly looking like an epic collapse of the guitar industry is immanent and Gibson is trying to squeeze as much money out of the Boomer doctors and lawyers as they can before this demographic cohort goes into retirement.

Advice To Your Future Self

I asked members of TGP who have played 30+ years what advice they would give to their younger selves when they were just getting started.

The replies were, for the most part, pretty interesting and I want to highlight just a few takeaways:

1. Wear hearing protection. This, for me, is important. While the Marines destroyed most of my hearing, loud guitar and rock concerts did a good deal of damage as well. Kids, wear those ear plugs, no kidding. You will regret it big time if you don't.

2. Learn to sing. The human voice is the most powerful instrument we have.

3. Forget the blazing chops, nobody cares about that anyways, and focus on songwriting instead.

4. Get out of the house and go public, either with a band or solo. Surround yourself with better players and learn as much as you can.

5. Focus on music theory. Theory opens the door to improvisation and frees you from the constraints of mimicking other players. The goal is music at the speed of thought, play what you hear in your head as soon as you think it, and theory is one important component to this goal.

Check out the thread for more advice and add your own to it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Slash Signature Les Paul

I was on a guitar forum one time when a kid was trying to rationalize his desire to purchase a signature Slash Les Paul: "If it's good enough for Slash, it's good enough for me."

Well, I hate to break it to you, kid, but it wasn't good enough for Slash.

The iconic "Gibson Les Paul" used on Appetite for Destruction was ghost-built by a guy named Kris Derrig. Yeah, that guitar right there is not a Gibson.

Happens all the time, kid. Don't fall for the endorsement deal nonsense. Get what works for you, not what you imagine works for someone else.

Is 2015 the Beginning of the End for the Guitar Industry?

Are Fender, Gibson, PRS, etc., etc., etc., facing extinction soon?

The Baby Boomers that keep the investment grade guitar sales going are, finally, starting to retire. They continued to work far longer than predicted and the Great Recession that began in 2008 meant that those that wanted to retire were forced to continue working for another 5 to 10 years beyond what they wanted to make up lost ground. But we're now seeing those old heads packing it in. 

Retirement downsizing, increased travel, and frugality, will see an increase in used guitars for sale and a general decline in prices as supply outstrips demand by a large margin. 

And when  the next collapse happens, and it will, the high end guitar market will suffer greatly. 

The days of buying those $10,000 Les Paul reissues might be over. So much of the upper end of the market (less than 25K instruments, annually, spread out over an 'infinite' of 'boutique' builders each poaching off the same, limited number of customers) is part of the larger nostalgia industry you see dwindling in the US. Those reissue Les Pauls lured older guys who pined for the one they sold or "let get away" back in the 60s or 70s. Every generation suffers nostalgia and there's always products to scratch that itch. For guys in their late 40s and early 50s, for example, we saw a short-lived resurgence of the 80s-style shred guitar. 

People still buying nice American-made guitars right now are those who were inspired by Van Halen (1978) and 80s metal but these guys (and they are all guys) are all 50+ now and putting kids through college and starting to think about how they might retire within the next 20 years. Guitar buying, for this cohort, will decline. The EVH brand has the Mexican-made frankenstrat for those budget-conscious basement grandfathers reminiscing over their late 70s glory days that never were. Firms hoping to lure money out of their pockets will have to keep prices low on American-made guitars, as Fender and G&L have managed to do. But even low prices cannot overcome the shift that is underway. The desire for US guitars over imports among this group will create a bind that is unsustainable.

As they say, demographics are fate. 

Ironically, the home recording movement also means a decline in guitar sales as music-related budgets now include computers, interfaces, DAW software, plugins, mics, preamps, monitors, and assorted accessories, so there is less money to lay out for an unnecessary guitar. 

If my annual studio budget is, say, $2000 and I already have a bunch of guitars I'm not going to go out and buy another when what I really need is a good set of headphones and some room treatment.

Also, digital modeling has gotten so good these days that 'real' amps seem pointless. I know that my ENGL Retro UAD plugin sounds and works better than all my real amps (Bogner, Swart, Vox, Boogie) and if I want a Plexi for my studio it's now just $200 -- and, really, you get a better Marshall Plexi if you buy the plugin since the essence of a Plexi only emerges when the amp is dimed and, for most guys, they are in no position to dime a real amp. If you want the real 'brown sound' be prepared to spend a lot of money, or, just open up the Line6 Pod Farm. My amp buying days are over.

All this is idle speculation, though, except for the demographics qua fate part.

How about the kids? Teens and young adults today don't give care about guitars and we see that reflected the decline of the guitar in popular music. EDM is everywhere and the guitar is totally absent. Nobody cares about it any more and the hot lead guitar solos of the 80s and 90s are gone even where the guitar still hangs on. And parents today wonder why their kids don't think guitars are cool, but if their dad is totally rocking out in the basement all by his lonesome, kicking out those Thin Lizzy riffs through a Marshall stack, they just associate the guitar with pathetic old dudes. There's your dad, on YouTube, making an ass of himself again with yet another "shootout." 

And even if recent college grads, for example did care about guitars, they don't have stable jobs, are moving around a lot, and many do not have places of their own -- and if they do manage to find a cheap apartment, it's so small that the days of having a spare bedroom studio are gone. Piling up guitars will not happen again they way they did when I was 22. 

Some brands are overpriced in relative terms while others, Gibson, for example, are absolutely overpriced. In real dollars (adjusted for inflation), to me, a new Fender looks like a good deal, but for kids out of college or for those that never went, dropping a grand on a guitar is less likely than before. Underemployment and lack of job security, diminishing benefits, etc., mean fewer outlays in items that can seem pretty superfluous compared to food, clothing, social media gadgets, transportation, etc.

In 1958 you could get a new Les Paul for about $250 street price. Adjusted for inflation, a Les Paul Standard should cost you about $2K street. Check prices at any online dealer and you'll find a gap of about $1400 dollars. That's how bad wages have stagnated over the last 40 years and how out of line Gibson is. To get a new Gibson under $1000 means settling for their slapdash Les Pual Jr. or a crummy SG. No thanks. The PRS line of S2 American mades guitars just blows these planks away.

On top of whacky prices for a lot of guitars, the market has never been more saturated with great instruments. Virtually every Tom, Dick, and Harry now has a 'boutique' guitar business going. Where there used to be a dozen manufacturers, there are now hundreds upon hundreds. Call your granny right now and I bet she's slapping together partscasters out in the garage. And, of course, this tip of the market segment (guitars over $1500) are where the lowest sales are represented. 

I used to personally know people who made a living as full-time musicians. I don't any more. Nobody is dreaming of making money or a living off of music since it's all free; local gigs that pay are almost non-existent as bands cannot compete with the DJ; touring is a financial dead end; and now selling merchandise is no longer panning out. If you want to survive you have to have not only commercial appeal but licensing deals with advertisers so your music can be used to pimp Tupperware or cruise vacations.  

Sure, the top 1% of musicians will still be making millions but for everybody else, like other domains of society, they will wallow in poverty. Poor people do not buy new guitars. 

Looking to export markets is pretty sketchy as well. The US imperialist system has a lot of nations undergoing increased austerity and being fleeced by being forced to buy worthless US debt. The world's wealth is being sucked up by the 1% leaving everybody else to fight over the crumbs. How many Greeks are buying a Les Paul today? I suspect that would be none Greeks!  

The next big market correction (stock market collapse) will see a repeat of 2008's crystallization of capital markets that nearly took PRS down. I suspect the next one will coincide with all these, and other demographic shifts and factors, to spell doom for more than just a handful of small shops.

And little tell-tale signs of contraction and stagnation in 2015 are all around us.

Mesa Boogie quietly abandoned an entire line of amps and it was their only bid for a vintage sound.

Demeter has reduced its workforce from 8 to 3 as cloners and shrinking demand have eroded their sales.

Gibson shed 5% of its workforce a few years ago.

Suhr is selling out.

The boutique builders conglomerate thingy is currently in full disintegration mode.

High end dealers are currently sitting on new inventory that is 4 and 5 years old -- the stuff is not moving. Go check out Willcutt's PRS selection. Some of that stuff will be going to preschool soon.

Just like a society cannot survive without a middle class, the guitar market cannot flourish without a middle class. When an industry makes its money on selling $10K guitars to a few of the 1% while trying to coax today's kids to talk mom and dad into buying a $99 starter kit, I suspect the writing is on the wall.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lindy Fralin Telecaster Pickups Stock Tele

Lindy Fralin makes my favorite Tele pickups. I chose a set of traditional 'Stock' pickups for my Partscaster and it sounds fantastic.

Check out a non-compressed audio file that has this guitar all over it:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Line 6 Plectrum Modeler

The final obstacle to total, signal chain virtualization has been surmounted! Line 6 is proud to announce the all new PlecTonePro Guitar Plectrum.

According to product specialist Billy Nerfkin, the Line 6 Plec was developed over the last two years in close collaboration with Herco, Dunlop, and other industry leaders in plectology, as well as Silicon Valley nano-tech pioneers Johnson & Masters & Johnson, as well as advanced materials specialists in Cambridge, as well as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as DERPA, HERPA, and the Dharma Initiative, as well as the Harvard rugby team.

Now, guitarists can seamlessly switch between vintage tortoise shell picks, nylon jazz picks, and signature picks straight from the pants-pockets of famous starts like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, John Mayer, and that guy named Joe -- all with no discernible latency.

Line 6 brings a whole new meaning to digital innovation! 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

UA Apollo vs RME UFX

I was a happy RME user for nearly ten years (Multiface) -- my experience was excellent and RME exceeded every expectation I ever had.

RME's driver updates were frequent and brilliant. Yet, when it came time to update my interface I confronted the lack of Thunderbolt connectivity with RME's offerings so, not wanting to just waste the TB port on my Mac, I decided to look around at what else was available.

After a lot of research, it came down to Apogee or Universal Audio.

I had an Apogee Duet for several years and it was a solid piece of kit, no doubt about it. The Duet sounded great and was trouble free. Yet, the plugin platform surrounding UA left me intrigued.

Well, I did end up with the UA Apollo Quad and, I gotta say, I have no regrets.

RME's USB 3 and the Apogee Ensemble would have been great, you really cannot go wrong with any of these units, but I'm having an absolute blast with the Apollo.

True, UA plugins are overpriced, however, if you manage your coupons and if you're patient, you can get some good deals through UA's online store. Plus, I bought this unit at the end of its lifecycle and it came with a ton of free plugins that all sound and work great. On top of that, UA threw in a free Helios EQ and a voucher for $200 toward another plug.

The Console program is just brilliant -- I'm getting more done, now, and having more fun, than I ever did with either my Multiface or the Duet.

The Danny Gatton Pick (Fender Medium and Its Alternative)

Danny Gatton was known for playing a Fender medium pick ideally suited for chick'n picking' -- it was a small, teardrop-shaped jazz thing that is long out of production.

I'm down to my last one so I set out on an odyssey to find a suitable replacement.

I went through about 40 small, teardrop jazz models and finally settled on a fantastic pick by Wegen: the Big City model.

The big difference is not the shape, as you can see they are almost identical with the Big City being just a tiny bit longer overall -- however the Big City is  over 1mm in thickness (radically different than the Fender). If you notice, though, the Big city has a beveled tip such that the point of attack is actually much thinner than the body of the pick.

Though the materials are different, the tonality is surprisingly close.

I dig the Big City. I know I've been pimpin' this thing pretty hard lately, but this is just a fantastic plectrum and I gotta share my excitement for such a killer tool.

Gibson Min-Etune Robot Tuners

Why, oh why, is Gibson putting robot Min-Etuners on all their guitars?

If you read the corporate press you'd think it all comes down to innovation and meeting customer demands.

Nonsense. The robot tuner move is a $40M anti-theft measure akin to a dongle (unnecessary physical add-on designed to keep the money flowing in) and also a way to distinguish the real deal from those that are lacking the new features. 

The move to robot tuners, like holograms on headstocks, has everything to do with staying one step ahead of counterfeiters flooding the US market with knockoff Gibsons.

Think of the Min-Etune system as akin to a dongle like you would find in the world of software used to prevent a program from circulating as as function crack. 

Why did musicians and labels move back to vinyl? Because of the awesome sound quality? It's all about anti-piracy. Music dongle. Vinyl resurgence makes the dongle cool. 

The software dongle is the toll bridge between the world of physical necessity and virtual freedom. The robot tuner is, metaphorically, a physical lock on the gate that separates two different spatial domains: the Western affluent guitar market and cheap copies produced in Asia (a.k.a., the Chibson Les Paul). 

Where a software dongle mediates between the physical and the virtual the robot tuner intervenes in the globalization model that separates Western consumption and Eastern production. 

Asian sweatshops can crank out a guitar that looks, plays, and sounds pretty much like a Gibson (at least to the casual observer) but robot tuners are another matter. If Gibson can draw a line in the sand between guitars with and those without robot tuners, then it can also attempt to create what is called "moral devaluation" on all Gibson guitars (real or fake) lacking robot tuners. 

We saw Rolex do similarly with weird cosmetic changes to their timepieces. 

Any Western luxury item you care to think of has a cheap, Asian copy trying to pass for pennies on the dollar.

The robot tuner is an interesting development, looked at from a speculative standpoint: the 'Eastern Sublime' is all about complicated solutions to simple everyday tasks whereas the 'Western Sublime' is all about solutions to problems that will never occur (what to do in the event that you are attacked by a polar bear and a crocodile at the same time). With Gibson's Min-Etune we find an inversion: an ultra-complicated and unreliable solution to both a simple everyday task (tuning a guitar) and, simultaneously, a solution to what appears, on the surface anyways, a problem that doesn't even exist.

Gibson, like Donald Rumsfeld (there's things we don't know that we don't know), are pioneering new philosophical territory. Nashville: the Eastern-Western nexus. No wonder Gibson is so weird these days.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How To Practice Scales

Oh, time to get those scales and modes under your fingers. Okay, let's go!

First, I do think it is absolutely essential to learn your scales and modes. However, knowing a scale or mode is not the same thing as playing and practicing scales and modes.

I spent years playing all kinds of scales and modes up and down the fretboard because, well, that's what everybody said you had to do -- especially my Berklee teacher and lots of guys who sound like they're playing scales and modes up and down the neck all day long.

What a colossal waste of time. Better to just play this crap instead; it would sound more interesting.

Learn your modes and scales but DO NOT waste a lot of time playing them up and down the neck.

Scale practice is for petit bourgeois pigs.

How Many Hours Per Day Does It Take To Get Good At Guitar?

How long is this going to take? Good question.

I had a 14-year-old student who used to practice 30 minutes per week (the 30 minutes just before his next lesson). When I called him out on it, he whined that he just didn't have the talent for it.

His mistake consisted in believing that a person was born with musical ability, and, as such, being good would somehow magically just happen by virtue of owning a guitar.

There are no musical instincts, my friend.

How many hours a day do you currently practice? Yes, hours per day? If you were thinking hours were week, you're not putting enough time in to get good.

Think of it this way: Steve Vai spends three hours warming up before each show. Warmup. Is he warming up more than you practice?

Eric Johnson reported that he practiced four or five hours per day as a kid and I don't think he really got it all together until he was in his 50s.

Almost every person I know who is "good" on the guitar put in hours per day, at least for the first few years.

At my peak, I practiced eight hours per night. Yeah, not much sleep back then.

Many hard core fanatics are putting in 10 or more hours per day.

These are the calluses on the fingers of Paul Gilbert:

Feeling like a slacker now?

Even if you're not one-sided maniac, you should consider guitar practice a part-time job and devote no less than 20 hours per week to the thing.

You will see progress once you start getting more than two hours per day, six days a week; better to go three hours six days a week.

But what if you don't have 15 to 20 hours a week to put into the guitar/music?

Have a guitar lying around so that you can just pick it up and work on something specific in a focused manner, even if you only have ten minutes to spare at that particular moment. Ten minutes ain't nothing.

Have guitars all over the place (office, home, everywhere) so that no matter where you are you can work on something.

You can still work on valuable music skills and knowledge in the absence of an instrument. Time away from the guitar can be used to work on theory, reading interviews, or hanging out at this blog.

If you have limited time (who doesn't?) make sure and not just run through the same old thing you always do, rather, work on something totally different.

And, face it, there is no moral obligation to actually be "good."

Just have fun. You won't burn in hell just because you never made it to the top of the guitar world. It's pretty weird up there anyway.

Besides, taking guitar practice to the extreme can lead to a pretty miserable life. Lenny Breau was one of the great jazz guitarists of all time. He got that way by practicing more than 9 hours per day, every day. Sometimes a lot more than that. I'd love to have his abilities on guitar but, after reading his biography, I'd just as soon pass on that skill set and live a normal, long life. A person can put in 10-16 hours a day on guitar but, in the end, you might not be much of a person.

Metric Halo Channel Strip, Soundtoys EchoBoy, and iLok

I was just getting ready to pull the trigger on the Metric Halo Channel Strip (on sale for $75) when I read that it required an iLok account.

Well, screw you, MH, I will not be forced to use iLock. No sale.

Then I shifted gears and went over to Soundtoys and wanted to get the EchoBoy plugin and discovered that it requires an iLok USB dongle.

Well, screw you, Soundtoys. Not going to happen. No sale.

If you're considering using anything that requires an iLok account or their USB dongle, you had better read up on the never-ending cascade of failure and bullshit perpetrated by iLok on their customers. It's like an annual rite of passage.

No plugin on earth is worth going through all that nonsense and, really, who wants to have a USB port on your computer eaten up with that piece of junk, anyways?

Even if I wanted an iLok dongle, and I don't, I wouldn't have a spare port on my computer anyways.

Boycott iLok and every software company that uses them.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Best Guitar Amp Ever?

If it were up to me, the candidate for best amp of all time would be a Plexi 50 watt head and a 4x12 cap with greenbacks in it. However, I'm going to give credit where it is due and choose another amp for my top honors given its greater versatility and great sound.

The late-50s Fender Bassman

There's no style of music you can't play with a Bassman, except for Meh-tal.

Enough clean headroom + that killer NMV grind when cranked.

With 4 ten inch speakers and a larger cab than most combos you have lots of warm low end without getting boomy and it's never boxy sounding. Ten inch speakers are also fantastic for cutting through with lead breaks -- more focused than 12" speakers in my experience.

Portable, rugged, reliable for the most part, and heard on countless hit records over the decades. The Bassman takes pedals well and is stump-stuipd to operate.

So, there you have it, the all-time guitar amp heavy-weight champion.

Recording With Real Amps vs Plugins and Modelers

You already have a good amp and you've heard that recording 'real' amps is better than using digital modeling or plugins within your DAW. Maybe, but let me ask you a few questions to see if this really is the way to go:

Do you have a great-sounding room to record in?

Do you have the ability to crank that amp loudly?

Do you have one or two killer microphones?

Do you have one or two killer mic preamp channels?

Nothing is worse than a barely-audible tube amp in a crummy location.

If you're stuck in your average bedroom with run of the mill recording gear then I would suggest using a digital modeling device or a good plugin on a DAW track. Having a good amp is not quite the be-all and end-all of recording guitar; the good amp is only a precondition.

Put some money into the environment and the recording chain if you want to get great-sounding live guitar amps.

Winspear Sandstorm Shiv IV

Looking for a jazz-style guitar pick to replace the venerable Dunlop Jazz III?
Give Winspear's Shiv IV a run and see how it works for you.

The size is perfect, the 'sandstorm' material (Ketron PEEK 1000) feels great, the tip stays nice and sharp for a good long while, and the thickness is good. I would prefer a uniform thickness for it to replace the pick I use everyday (Wegen Big City modified), but, the Winspear is a high-quality and worthy candidate for players who use jazz-sized plectrums. Luckily, flat profile version of these picks appear to be available, so, tapered or flat, this might be the one for you.

PRS Factory Tour 2015

Think Paul Reed Smith is just cranking guitars out as fast as they can with CNC machines? Think again.

There's a tremendous amount of handwork and skilled craftsmanship still going into PRS guitars.

PRS uses machines for what machines are good at and let people do what people are good at:

How To Pronounce Luthier

I almost never hear anyone correctly pronounce the word "luthier" correctly.

What you hear most frequently is something like this: Looth-ee-er

The correct pronunciation is: LOO-ti-…ôr (no h sound). The root word is lute, so it makes sense.

If you want to sound really pompous you could also run with: LOO-ti-ay (but only with a glass of cabernet in your hand).

If you want to sound like a total jackass go with the Pompous + Fonz ending: Loo-ti-aaaaaaaaay