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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Boycotting Indiana Means, Unfortunately, Boycotting Sweetwater Sound

Dear Sweetwater Sound,

I have bought thousands and thousands of dollars worth of musical equipment from you over the last dozen years or so but, unfortunately, you are located in Indiana and I cannot send any more money to a state in good conscience that legalizes bigotry and hatred in the name of religious freedom.

I understand that your company has an anti-discrimination policy and that you may have spoken to the governor of Indiana but that's not enough for me.

I hope Sweetwater Sound takes a vociferous public stand against this new law and vigorously opposes it. When you do I will return as a regular customer.

Until then, unfortunately, I am boycotting your business.

Hopefully, I'll be singing your praises as champions of civil and human rights here very soon.

Sincerely, IE

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How to Choose a Gibson Guitar

Hey, you're in the market for a new Gibson! Congrats. I've owned a few Gibson guitars in my day and have some great advice for you. Let's say you want a Les Paul. Here's a great way to get the best Les Paul for your money.

Step one: Buy a Gibson T-shirt that you really like:

Step two: Buy a Paul Reed Smith SC58 that you really like and enjoy playing that while wearing that new Gibson T-shirt!

Seriously, Friends don't let friends buy Gibson guitars any more, especially when a PRS is such a better instrument and you're not left with that sinking feeling that you just supported a bunch of sociopathic whack jobs with your hard-earned money.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How to Choose a Fender Guitar

So, you're in the market for a new Fender guitar! Congrats! Stratocaster? Telecaster? Jazzmaster?

I've played Fender guitars since the 80s and currently own a beautiful Eric Johnson signature Strat. Lovely guitar, to say the least.

But which one is right for you?

Step One: buy the Fender T-shirt that looks the best to you.

Step Two: buy a Suhr guitar that looks the best to you and enjoy playing it while wearing that Fender T-shirt!

Seriously, if you're looking for a guitar that costs over $1K and you want something Fenderish then forget Fender, and buy a Suhr. Buying used can save you a lot of money and get you within striking distance of a new American-made Fender guitar but the Surh, whether it is a Tele or Strat style, will just kill it in every category: fit and finish, playability, sound, etc.

After I bought a Suhr my Fender Strat pretty much just gathers dust.

What is the most Important Guitar Effect?

Players often wonder what the most important effect or pedal is and I'm here to tell you that the most important thing in your arsenal is simply this: active imagination. After that, tape-style delay; I'll make my case below.

An active imagination get's you half way to home with good ears, healthy hands, and rational practice making up the next 40% and equipment and gear making up, maybe, the last 10%.

Beyond your electric guitar, a cable, and an amp wondering about the 'best' pedal is like worrying about which one is better: blonde, redhead, brunette, etc. There is no 'best.'

Which might be more indispensable, given that they are all more or less unnecessary accessories, is another question.

Cranking your amp should, if it is a good amp, get you the distortion and compression you crave. Place your amp in a room and your ambience (reverb) should be taken care of.

Chorus is a dated effect, used to excess in the 80s so I would consider that totally secondary.

Ring modulators and other crazy stuff like pitch shifting and drastic filtering (wah) is useable a few times per night and everybody gets sick of hearing that stuff rather quickly.

If I could only have one pedal I'd have to go with a tape delay or a digital model of a tape delay. I could pretty much live with just that. Why?

A tape delay is more flexible than you might imagine: you can drive the input and output and use it as a boost; you can turn down the delays and use the device as a preamp to create a smoother, silkier sound; my Strymon El Capistan, for example, also has a spring reverb emulation; and with controls for all kinds of tape and mechanical degradation, lush modulations are possible as well. And, you can also use it for sound on sound and basic looking. What a powerhouse in one compact pedal.

Of course, there are many alternatives on the market and Fulltone makes an actual tape delay....or was supposed to at some point.

Anyway, that's my bid more most indispensable effect. What's yours?

What is the Brown Sound?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there among guitarists regarding the "Brown Sound." If you perform a Google search you will find all kinds of crazy shit -- pun intended.

Eddie van Halen described his sound as being "brown" and it was achieved by lowering the operating voltage on his amp by incorporating a variac (AC transformer voltage controller).

The brown sound is not, contrary to myth, achieved by raising voltages. For a while EVH misled interviewers when he claimed to be operating his amps a higher voltages when, in fact, it was the reverse. He recanted those claims and apologized for destroying many amps.

The brown sound is not achieved by swapping out your speakers.

The brown sound is not achieved by putting an EQ pedal in your signal chain.

The brown sound is not achieved by lowering your amp's bias and running it 'colder.'

The brown sound is not achieved with an attenuator or power soak.

The brown sound is not some mythical note somewhere between 5 and 7Hz that will make you involuntarily poop your pants.

The brown sound does not require any particular guitar, e.g., one with humbuckers.

The brown sound is all about a non-master-volume tube amp (the prime example being a Marshall 100 watt Plexi Super Lead) operated at the loudest volume levels possible with lowered voltage.

EVH's particular sound was, of course, the combination of a lot of factors and if you want to nail that exact, specific sound then you'd need the correct guitar, pedals, amp, variac, dummy load, cabs, but, more importantly, you'd have to be EVH (in combination with his material and personnel resources), and you're not, so just stop worrying about it and don't go out and buy a ton of gear.

The most reasonable way to achieve this 'brown sound' is to do it with modeling software in your DAW.

Line6 Pod Farm, for example, already has a model of a Plexi + variac so you're already close -- and Axe-FX II enables the lowering of voltages in their Plexi model.

If you read the above link you'll see that EVH ran his Plexi head into a dummy load and, basically, used his whole amp as a preamp that would run into effects and another power amp.

So, in your virtual signal chain place the Marshall Plexi model first, crank everything to '10, except for the presence knob, load in your effects after the amp, then insert a cabinet simulation, and then the mic simulation.

If you can't use Pod Farm or the thing from Fractal Audio (or some other alternative that models lower voltages hitting the mains) then the next best thing is to use a real boost pedal (not overdrive or distortion but clean boost like a EHX Soul Food or Klon Centaur....yeah, right) into your interface  It's not the same but in some ways it can mimic some aspects of that 'brown sound.' How? Because the 'brown sound' is as much about "touch sensitivity" as it is about tube distortion characteristics. Obviously, they are linked but if you cannot lower the voltages then a clean boost will have some determination on touch sensitivity, in most cases.

If you had a real amp and voltage regulator how low should you set the voltage? Turn it down until it sounds fantastic. If it starts to sound terrible turn it back up. See what this guy has to say.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

UAD Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor Plug-In

I used a $100 coupon to bring the price of this UAD Shadow Hills plugin down a bit and I think, even at full retail, the plugin is totally brilliant. I've never used the hardware version and there's no chance I'll ever use one but regardless of how close or dissimilar to the hardware original the plugin sounds amazing and really adds three-dimensional sound to the stereo bus.

This thing looks so amazing that I was worried that I was letting my eyes fool my ears but I tried it for two weeks on all kinds of material and on everything it just made things sound deeper, wider, more focused, and coherent. I was even running tracks from iTunes through it and it made them better as well. Vocals went from being centered to being right in your face without collapsing the stereo field. The results are just brilliant.

Basically, I just mix my project and get everything just the way I want it and, at the end, I slap this on the 2-bus and call up a mastering preset, tweak it a smidge, and the whole song just pulls together in a way I could never achieve without it. The Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor does not sound, to my ears, like other 'glue' limiters do.

At first sight one might be completely overwhelmed but it doesn't take long to see that it's not much more complicated than any other compressor / limiter and it rather intuitive to operate. Special features include a choice of three different transformer options (nickel, iron, and steel) and both optical and VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) dynamics on both channels, as well as side-chaining.

Highly recommended.

Lovetone Ring Stinger

Ah, the Lovetone Ring Stinger ring modulator pedal from hell. I owned one back in the early 2000s and used it liberally on the first Infinite Ego - Savior Onasis album.

Here is what amounts to a product demo of the LTRS in all of its horrifying glory.

The circuit design was brilliant and unique, the sounds were amazing, but, alas, it was the build quality that left everybody dissatisfied.

I never even took mine to a gig and it broke; it sat on my recording desk and was never even stepped on and the thing fell apart. I guess it couldn't handle the punishment my thumb was dishing out.

Luckily for the original owners, they broke their RS pedals and still sold them for a profit.

I used mine for about a year after Lovetone had gone under and then it broke. I ended up selling it in a state of disarray for more than I paid for it and, in the intervening years, the prices have gone crazy.

Homemade clones go for $350 and the real deal can fetch anywhere from $650 to $700 on the bay and on I found one that had sold for over $900.

My recommendation is to definitely avoid buying one unless you are willing to shell out a lot more than it's worth and knowing that it is incredibly fragile as far as pedals go, it will break (repeatedly) and that it will cost a lot to get repaired (repeatedly).

Listen to that demo track carefully: the RS sound is unique but I think that a person can cobble together a few pedals and get close....but there will be no cigar I'm afraid. It is one of a kind.

Hopefully, someday a plugin or true clone with all the features will be manufactured, until then we can only dream or compromise.

Friday, March 20, 2015

UAD ENGL E765 Retro Plugin

The Friedman BE-100 YouTube demo had me 90% convinced I would end up buying the UAD plug-in bundle from Brainworx / Friedman / UAD but in practice I found it to be nearly useless and excessively noisy. By contrast, the online demos of the ENGL plugin left me 90% convinced they were not for me, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the E765 when I used it in my own setup.  While most of the IR recording chains are pretty much worthless, as they are in the Friedman, there are more than a few great tones in the ENGL to make it worth the price once UAD runs their biannual sale.

Again, the biggest drawback is the lame recording 'chains' and the lack of flexibility when it comes to cab selections. It seems a little more work on options in this department would have yielded a more flexible program.

Still, of the current options for Console inserts, the ENGL kills the Friedman, the Chandler (too fizzy), and the horrible Softube amp room stuff.

How to Play Guitar by David Fair

How to play Guitar

David Fair

I taught myself to play guitar. It’s incredibly easy when you understand the science of it. The skinny strings play the high sounds, and the fat strings play the low sounds.

If you put your finger on the string farther out by the tuning end it makes a lower sound. If you want to play fast move your hand fast and if you want to play slower move your hand slower. That’s all there is to it.

You can learn the names of notes and how to make chords that other people use, but that’s pretty limiting. Even if you took a few years and learned all the chords you’d still have a limited number of options. If you ignore the chords your options are infinite and you can master guitar playing in one day.

Traditionally, guitars have a fat string on the top and they get skinnier and skinnier as they go down. But he thing to remember is it’s your guitar and you can put whatever you want on it. I like to put six different sized strings on it because that gives the most variety, but my brother used to put all of the same thickness on so he wouldn’t have so much to worry about. What ever string he hit had to be the right one because they were all the same.

Tuning the guitar is kind of a ridiculous notion. If you have to wind the tuning pegs to just a certain place, that implies that every other place would be wrong. But that absurd. How could it be wrong? It’s your guitar and you’re the one playing it. It’s completely up to you to decide how it should sound. In fact I don’t tune by the sound at all. I wind the strings until they’re all about the same tightness.

I highly recommend electric guitars for a couple of reasons. First of all they don’t depend on body resonating for the sound so it doesn’t matter if you paint them. As also, if you put all the knobs on your amplifier on 10 you can get a much higher reaction-to-effort-ratio with an electric guitar than you can with an acoustic. Just a tiny tap on the strings can rattle your windows, and when you slam the strings, with your amp on 10, you can strip the paint off the walls.

The first guitar I bought was a Silvertone. Later I bought a Fender Telecaster, but it really doesn’t matter what kind you buy as long as the tuning pegs are on the end of the neck where they belong. A few years back someone came out with a guitar that tunes at the other end. I’ve never tried one. I guess they sound alright but they look ridiculous and I imagine you’d feel pretty foolish holding one. That would affect your playing. The idea isn’t to feel foolish. The idea is to put a pick in one hand and a guitar in the other and with a tiny movement rule the world.

Source, with typographical errors corrected:

Captain Beefheart's Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING as given to moris tepper by captain beefheart. they are not arranged hierarchically - each commandment has equal import. also, to help clarify their intent, each commandment is followed by an exegesis.

that's where all the music comes from. birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. and watch humming-birds. they fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.

your guitar is a divining rod. use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. a guitar is also a fishing rod. if you're good, you'll land a big one.

wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. if the bush doesn't shake, eat another piece of bread.

old delta blues players referred to amplifiers as 'the devil box'. and they were right. you have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. electricity attracts devils and demons. [so now you know what you are, dear visitor of this page!] other instruments attract other spirits. an acoustic guitar attracts caspar, the ghost. a mandolin attracts wendy. but an electric guitar attracts beelzebub.

if your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. you should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. if you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

your instrument has more clout than lightning. just hit a big chord, then run outside to hear it. but make sure you are not standing in an open field.

that's your key-man clause. like one string sam. he's one! he was a detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. his song "i need a hundred dollars" is warm pie. another key to the church is hubert sumlin, howlin' wolf's guitar player. he just stands there like the statue of liberty - making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.

you need that stink on there. then you have to get that stink onto your music.

when you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. if you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

keep that hat on. a hat is a pressure cooker. if you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Neil Young Signature Pono Pro Music System

Pono Player had the shit kicked out of it by nearly every reviewer with a brain but Neil Young remains undeterred. Rather than admitting defeat and packing it in, Mr. Young has decided to go long with an upgraded music playback system called Pono Pro, which moves the player out of the pocket and into your living room -- your living room, that is, after it has been professionally treated with an Auralex Ruminators Pro Plus Kit ($1400 + custom installation).

Additionally, the Pono Pro player skips the "files on a player" approach in favor of a new service whereby the original 192k / 24 bit audio files will be downloaded from the studio where the audio was originally recorded via a cloud service:

These high-resolution files will automatically load into a custom configured Mac Pro computer outfitted with a Pono Edition Pro Tools Digital Audio Workstation (including the plugin processors used in the original mix down):

Pono Pro audio will pass through a mastering grade converter (Antelope Audio Zodiac + with Voltikus power supply, $3595):

And the music will playback on a pair of JBL M2 Reference Monitors ($19,998):

The Pono Pro system is not cheap by any measure ($37,995 + tax) but the first 100 customers will receive free Monster brand interconnect cables and a autographed fedora. 

Sources close to Neil Young and Pono indicate that if the Pono Pro system fails to win over the critics they have yet another backup plan (the Pono Oh No So Pro) that involves delivery of audio via 2" tape and a system revolving around refurbished Studer machines:

These tape machines will operate within a replica Ocean Way tracking room for customers with good credit and sufficient yard space (there are hints of a mixing engineer option for a select few):

The projected cost of the Pono Oh No So Pro is unknown at this time but industry observers speculate that it will cost "a shit load of money." Asked if Neil Young has a chance in winning over  customers with these bespoke ventures, one analyst who wished to remain anonymous, told us that even the most sophisticated playback system will have its detractors but that "Neil still has the ace of spades up his sleeve: time shares at Neil's Broken Arrow Ranch where he will just perform this shit for you in person."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Morado Fretboards

What is "Morado" and is it a good alternative to a rosewood fretboard?

Morado is just another name for Pau Ferro (literally Iron Wood) -- also known as "Bolivian Rosewood" though it is not actually a true rosewood.

And, yes, it is a killer fretboard wood: is has a dense grain and feels similar to the Kingwood fretboard on my PartsTele. I actually prefer the feel of Pau Ferro to typical Indian rosewood. The Morado fretboard on my 2013 Martin OOO 15M feels fantastic and, while it was a light brown when new, it has darkened beautifully.

Isn't Morado or Pau Ferro just a cheaper alternative to Indian rosewood? Didn't Martin use Morado just to save money? No, Martin switched back to rosewood to cut production costs. Indian rosewood fretboards cost about $10 a piece for the good stuff whereas Morado costs about $23. If you're buying an all-mahogany guitar, fellas, you're gonna want that Morado. I gotta have Morado! On my Martin OOO, that added snap is a real benefit for added articulation and authoritative attack.

Here's what Warmoth has to say about "Morado" or Pau Ferro:

An excellent dense, hard wood with a very tight pore structure. This means it’s fast, smooth and extremely durable. An excellent choice for fretless fingerboards. Not only is it resistant to wear, but often the wood figuring is striking with variations in color from light tan to a dark coffee. The tone is brighter than Rosewood yet warmer than Ebony with plenty of articulation and attack. One of our favorite woods for fingerboards! No finish required!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Friedman Amplifier Plug-In Collection by Brainworx and Universal Audio (UAD) BE-100 and DS-40 (Dirty Shirley)

The Friedman UAD / Brainworx bundle gives you two modded Marshall emulations: the BE-100 based on the venerable Plexi and the DS-40 on the JTM 45.

Overall grade: C-
Pro: Good tone
Con: noise, price
What beats it? The ENGL Retro plugin

Based on the YouTube official demo I was 90% sure I would end up buying these plugins, however, my experience during the two-week trial period led me to conclude that these were the wrong amp sims for me. Clean and mildly driven sounds were good but what I was interested in were the cranked tones and this is where these plugins let me down.

I've been messing around with the demo of this plugin since its arrival and my impression is that the sounds are pretty mediocre. The YouTube demo had me stoked about the potential as I was looking for something better than the Softube junk that came with my Apollo to use on Console inserts but I'm not getting many pleasing sounds with my guitars (Fender, PRS, Suhr, etc.) in my room or with headphones, though, I have gotten a few useable sounds but literally only one patch that sounds good. $250 for one good (but not great) sound doesn't seem like much of a deal to me.

90% of the IR signal chains are more or less unusable due to their weird and extreme tones and the amp emulations themselves are mostly harsh, frizzy, and brittle on the top, boxy and ultra-wooly in the mids, and murky and undefined in the bottom. Cabinet emulations are limited as well -- no 2X12, for example, and nothing in the way of open-back vs closed back options. These plugs strike me as something that would satisfy a "they all sound the same to me" producer looking for guitarish sounds to hide behind vocals but I suspect many guitarists might object to these tones.

Here is a sample of what I'm talking about: proceed to 3:30 in this track. This is a Suhr Modern into the BE-100 on a factory preset + a bit of HPF to drain of some of the low end and make it sit in the mix better. Usable, but not pretty in my opinion.

I will say that the less saturated settings are better than the highly distorted sounds and the more you mangle the patches with other effects in the inserts the more usable they become but I'm not feeling any sort of plug-and-play euphoria like I do when I plug into a Bogner Shiva for example or even into my Positive Grid Bias plugin.

When I finally found one awesome lead patch (one of the presets) on the BE-100, the noise was so extreme, even with the gate on, that it was unusable. You expect noise with a Strat into a hot rodded Marshall but this was beyond anything I'd ever experienced before. How bad was the noise? Imagine plugging a Strat into two fuzz pedals, cranking your amp, and then standing right in front of one of those old style CRT monitors. Very frustrating.

The great benefit of these (and the Softube half stack) is the non-discernible latency when playing through the UAD Console and that's why I was excited to give them a spin. However, with a powerful machine a person should be able, with some care, to track live in the DAW without crazy latency and, in the event that doing so is not possible, the crappy Softube plugin will serve to provide some dirty guitar sound that can be re-amped later. Or, I may spring for the ENGL Retro 100 amp plugin instead. I don't think the problem here is with Brainworx as I found the Retro to be a much better sounding emulation with much less noise at high gain levels.

Of course, your milage may vary and these plugins will make some folks happy (hey, some people actually drink Coors beer, go figure). Happily, you get a full two-week demo to try them yourself and make up your own mind. If I could grab these Friedman/Brainworx/UAD plugs for maybe $100 I'd reconsider using them for scratch takes and re-amping later but I think I'll stick with what I've got for my Console inserts. If I had no other guitar plugins at all to work with I might be tempted but, again, for the asking price UA isn't getting my money.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Voice of God Plugin Alternative

Don't want to spend the $ on the UAD VoG plugin there is probably already a tool in your arsenal that will get the job done. To quote Music Radar:

"Voice Of God is great, but it’s actually just a resonant high-pass filter - you can mimic its effect with any EQ plugin that features a high-pass filter with Q control. Simply apply the high-pass filter to your signal, narrow the Q width, then set its frequency to boost the desired frequency range. Voila - focused, enhanced bass end!"

There you have it.

If you need a low-cost EQ that can do this that sounds ten times more expensive I would suggest checking out the terribly named but killer stuff from Toneboosters (the latest incarnation of Breebaart's well-respected effects). Specifically, check out the FLX EQ.

I am a happy user of many UAD plugins but these TB plugs are every bit as good and easy on your CPU.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Martin OOO 15M

I've had this Martin OOO-15M for nearly two years and I gotta say, overall, this is a killer guitar, not only for the money, but in general, you can't ask much more of a OOO style guitar.

I had the pleasure of playing around with a Depression-era OO years ago that was just amazing even though it needed a neck reset. I knew then that someday I'd get an all-mahogany Martin and when I gave up my old Yairi I knew the time was right to get that Martin I always wanted.

Mine weighs four pounds and the top, sides, back, and quarter-sawn neck are all solid mahogany. You might notice from photo that I got mine from Sweetwater -- the first time I've bought an acoustic guitar without playing it first. My selection criteria was simply the lightest of the four they had in stock at the time. Honestly, I was worried, but all concerns quickly evaporated after I got to play it for a few minutes. I'd buy another from Sweetwater without hesitation if I had to replace this one for whatever reason.

Playability is superb. With the recommended string gauge (11s) it just plays itself with a buttery action. And the fretwork is sheer perfection (I see that they are Plek-ing these at the factory). The tone is wide, with a deep bottom and velvety highs without being boomy or shrill. Lovely. The workmanship is flawless and the satin finish (cost-saving stuff here) is serviceable and on the neck it wears to a non-sticky gloss.

You'll notice from the attached photo that the fretboard (not rosewood but Morado, a.k.a., Pau Ferro) is a light brown but in less than a year it had darkened up quite a bit with a lot of natural discoloration from playing it so much. It looks like an old beater at this point. You might expect the frets to have a corresponding amount of wear but, no, they are still in great shape. I fully expect to get 10+ years out of them before needing a grind and polish.

The guitar stays in tune well and the case gets the job done.

There's really no other guitar on the market that can deliver made in America solid tone woods at this intersection of price and performance.

One thing that might bug some players is the low, vintage frets but with proper technique (keep that thumb behind the neck and play with your fingertips not the fingerprints) you're in Nirvana. Also, the nut width is 1 and 11/16 inches, a hair tighter than the 1 and 3/4 inches that most finger pickers like. However, I hybrid pick (flat pick + fingers) and the string spacing is just fine for me.

Overall 4.5 out of 5. A great deal and I'd do it all over again.


Martin 000-15M 6-string Acoustic Guitar Features at a Glance:
  • 6-string Acoustic Guitar
  • Construction: Mortise/Tenon Neck Joint
  • Body Size: 000-14 Fret
  • Top: Solid Genuine Mahogany
  • Rosette: Single Ring
  • Top Bracing Pattern: A-Frame "X"
  • Top Braces: Solid Sitka Spruce 5/16"
  • Back Material: Solid Genuine Mahogany
  • Side Material: Solid Genuine Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Solid Genuine Mahogany
  • Neck Shape: Modified Low Oval
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Headstock: Solid/Square Taper
  • Headplate: Solid East Indian Rosewood 
  • Fingerboard Material: Solid East Indian Rosewood (the 2013 is Morado or "Pau Ferro")
  • Scale Length: 25.4"
  • # of Frets Clear: 14
  • # of Frets Total: 20
  • Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1-11/16"
  • Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret: 2-1/8"
  • Fingerboard Inlays: Diamonds & Squares - Short Pattern
  • Fingerboard Binding: none
  • Finish Back and Sides: Satin
  • Finish Top: Satin
  • Finish Neck: Satin
  • Bridge Material: Solid East Indian Rosewood
  • Bridge Style: Belly
  • Bridge String Spacing: 2-1/8"
  • Saddle: 16" Radius/Compensated/Bone
  • Tuning Machines: Nickel Open-Geared w/ Butterbean Knobs
  • Bridge and End Pins: Solid Black Ebony
  • Pickguard: Tortoise Color
  • Included case

Softube Amp Room

I have an UA Apollo Thunderbolt interface and UA threw in the Softube Amp Room plugin (among others) to sweeten the deal -- but in a world of sweet amp emulation plugins this Softube is a bitter pill. In particular, the free plugin from UA included only the White Marshall emulation but if this is their intro into Softube's modeling capability I'd never consider anything else from them.

I've been using modeled guitar tones since the early days of Line6 (remember the original AxSys from the 90s?) and I have a wide collection at my disposal but am always happy to have more. This offering from Softube is dull, grainy, congested, and noisy. It is quite literally the worst amp emulation I've ever heard. I thought maybe it was me but the reviews at UA were just as harsh. Glad to know my hearing and sense of musical taste is not totally shot. I demoed their 'Metal' amp plugin as well and you cannot get anything to stick out in a mix -- they're all really flat and characterless, which would be fine if you just want some generic 'heavy' guitar sound buried in the background. But for leads or articulate riffing these things are horrible. Even cranking up outboard EQ is insufficient.

I will say this, however, it is nice to have any old guitar amp plugin to place in the UA Console application because I can have an overdriven/distorted tone with 'zero' latency to monitor without committing any of it to my DAW. So, in that capacity, this plugin is a total win. I can play 'through' this Softube plugin while recording a dry, unaffected signal to reamp as I please.

Perhaps in the future I'll get around to buying the Friedman plugin to use in Console and have some tones that are worthy of committing to 'tape.'

The Best Guitar Humidifier

Need a humidifier for your acoustic guitar? I've used many over the years on a variety of acoustics but Oasis OH-1 is about the best thing going in terms of safety, simplicity, effectiveness, and price. The Oasis checks all the boxes for me.

I've used the OH-1 for two winters and have experienced no leaks at all and my Martin OOO is in great shape even though our indoor humidity is hardly ever above 22% around here.

The  only possible improvement might be a slightly larger water tank -- as it is right now I need to refill about once every two or three days; once per week would be about perfect.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Ultimate Guitar Plectrum / Pick

I've been playing since 1982 and finally found the best all-round pick for alternate, sweep, and hybrid picking. It's just the best ever.
And which one is The One you ask?

The Wegen 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 with a common emery board to make the tip a litter thinner and sharper than the 1.2mm body. The idea is just to get the tip more in line with JIII specs but you end up with more gripping surface and a better overall material, a nice positive attack, buttery release, and no unwanted sonic artifacts.

Enjoy and let me know how it goes for you.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bill Frisell Live at the Denver High School, January 2015

Live Performance Review

Bill Frisell - Denver High School East - January 2015
Guitar in the Space Age Tour

Apparently, Bill Frisell played his first public guitar performance at this school (if not this very auditorium) back in 1967. The song was Wes Montgomery’s ‘Bumpin on Sunset’, and that event seemed to propel him into the world of Jazz Guitar.

He has now returned to Denver High East for a benefit of some sort, though I was not entirely sure what organization. This is a notable tidbit of information, because instead of an audience of fan-boy guitar players I expected, the 700 seat room was full of a different sort. While I am sure the guitar geeks were there in droves, Chuck and I were seated in the middle of a bunch of older folks (older than us anyway) gabbing and blabbing away. We arrived early, snag seats way up front, close to center, and settled in for the show while listening to the “old folks” secure seats, re-arrange themselves, secure more seats and save seats, and leave to find other seats. Well dressed, clean, and tidy; they were there to socialize - see and be seen supporting a cause. I prick up my ears as I hear conversations wondering who ‘this guy’ is, even from the folks who talk of just meeting him backstage and then complaints about the members who didn’t bother to show up because of the weather. Weather? We just drove 8 hours in a harrowing storm to immerse ourselves in the shimmering goodness of the Frisell Telecaster, and these old crows can’t bother to make it across town? Well, what do I expect? These guys don’t even know who their homeboy is! And the ones that did show, well, they well don’t know what they are in for.

Promptly at the 7:30 start time, Bill is introduced and stands at the mic to say a few words about his return to this stage. In a timid endearing fashion, he has few words, struggles, pauses, and decides playing is the only way out of this public speaking moment.

He opens with the immediately recognizable Kinks classic, Tired of Waiting, and when the band kicks in, well, it was clear that this entire venture was worth the effort. 

It is easy to focus on Bill for this review… his rich, swirling, and oh-so-recognizable tone has captured my brain ever since Dave Gutierrez and I took a break from the Steel Pole Bathtub show at the Golden West. Must have been 1992-3 though my memory is a little fuzzy. We stepped out to to my car to clear the pounding in our heads (Ethyl Meatplow opened the show with waves of sheer industrial bombast and a tiny transvestite named Steak who danced on the PA mains with his boobs exposed and flailing about). I tuned on the radio to the university station just in time to hear the opening notes of Dylan’s, Just like a Woman, an instrumental version. Who the hell is playing that song in such a beautiful melodic manner? Luckily my question was answered by the DJ after the song, and you know how Freeform DJ’s are - it could be 45 mins before they tell you who you have been listening to! Thats all it took and I was in, hook, line, and sinker.

Have a listen, and imagine these notes sweeping away an entire Ethyl Meatplow set:

But, it’s not just about Bill. There is a band at play here, and they are certainly nothing to be trifled with. Bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson, Greg Leisz. Greg Leisz is a monster guitar player and Pedal Steel cat who seems to pop up on every 4th or 5th album I fall for. Greg is there with Dave Alvin, all over the KD Lang discography, Loudon Wainwright III, Lucinda Williams, Allison Krauss, Whiskytown. Look it up, he’s probably on a shitload of music in your collection, too.

Leisz is definitely an integral piece of the ‘Guitar in the Space Age’ puzzle - the interplay between the two guitars is an intertwined gorgeous maze - at times I became confused on which notes where coming from which guitar. Chuck remarked that it was like Chamber music - or as Goethe said, referring to that style, “Four rational people conversing”. But, it was better than rational conversation - it was sublime, it was lofty, it was greatness.

The music was loosely woven, it was seamless, but with connected space. These guys know about space, how to fill it and how to leave it be. It’s those empty spaces that allow notes to blossom and bloom. And blossom 'n bloom it does.

My favorite moment of the night came with the opening octave chords of ‘Bumping on Sunset’, the one that started it all. The entire room was still, and in that space came that classic Wes sound, the 2-note octaves. but it was through the his own tonal filter and it was perfection! In all my extensive Frisell collection, I do not have a version of this song, and perhaps he has yet to record it. 

But you can have a taste: 

The theme behind Guitar in the Space Age seems to be nostalgia. Bill returning to his pre-jazz roots and songs that inspired his drive to play a guitar. I know a bunch of these tunes, but none of this music is what inspired me to play guitar. Pipeline, Walk Don’t Run, Baja are quaint little twang ditties compared to Helter Skelter, Dark Side of the Moon and Smoke on Water. When I first looked at the song list, I was firmly in the “meh” camp. I don’t want to hear Bill play a bunch of cheezy old surf tunes. I didn’t want to hear covers (despite the song that drew me in to begin with). It wasn’t until Alexander Thomas McMahon played me some of the album on the way to a Corrales Bistro Brewery gig that I softened my stance. It wasn’t hard to soften that stance. This is not some simple, sappy, trip down nostalgia road. These are interpretations with homage to the twang, but much more for me to grab onto and get lost in.

Get lost I did, but I found the end came far too soon. This isn’t a full 2 set guitar exploration, and I don’t suppose I should have expected it to be. This was a benefit - the sky is dark, roads icy, and benefactors got to get home and tucked into bed. But I will only complain a little bit, despite wanting much more, what we got was beautiful. 

Tired of Waiting for You
Rebel Rouser
Walk Don't Run
Surfer Girl
Turn! Turn! Turn!
Bumpin' on Sunset
Shenandoah - Good Dog, Happy Man
Messin' With the Kid

ENCORE Goin' Out of My Head/Pipeline

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Fret Rattle, Fret Buzz, and Fret Sizzle

Is your guitar sounding a bit sterile? lacking the 'mojo' or 'vibe' or whatever? Lower your action to get some fret sizzle.

This is a little-known tone secret that seems counter-intuitive. Country players who spend a lot of time playing, for example, a Tele through a squeaky clean Twin know that a good setup includes what they call 'sizzle' (string buzz if taken to an undesirable extreme) because it knocks the fundamental down a bit relative to overtones. I'm not talking about a buzzy mess and a ton of rattle but just a slight 'sizzle' on fretted notes up and down the neck -- if it sounds 'buzzy' to the point of distraction you're too low.

Here is a pronounced version of what I'm talking about from Eric Johnson

This clip of EJ would be a bit on the rattling side for me but it gets the point across. His one-time guitar tech commented  in a trade publication that he could hardly touch EJ's guitars without tons of string buzz. Light touch = clean; dig in a bit and you'll get cool harmonic spread.

If you hit a fretted note and it sounds 'clear as a bell' then lower the action. On this guitar you're not aiming for 'clear as a bell' but a touch of harmonic fizz. Try just straightening out the neck a bit with a truss rod adjustment and then messing around with the bridge/saddles if necessary.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Difference Between the Seymour Duncan JB Jr. and the Hot Rails Humbuckers

You can't make up your mind between a JB Jr. and a Hot Rails humbucker for your Strat bridge pickup. What's the difference? I've had both in a Strat and, really, there's not much difference at all.

The tone chart at SD indicates that there's an appreciable difference but, really, the differences in tone are very minor -- not enough to lose sleep over, anyways. The only real difference is that the Hot Rails are just slightly hotter but not by much at all. The DC resistance on the Rails is just a hair greater than on the JB so, either way, you're getting a hot pickup suitable for focused lead lines.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EHX Soul Food vs. Xotic EP Boost

The Soul Food boost (Klon clone) by EHX is the latest and greatest that appears to be living up to the hype.

In pure boost mode, i.e., the volume up and the drive down the sound is just a bigger version of you, your guitar, and your amp. Beautiful. But crank the drive and you get another pedal altogether.

In front of a small tweed tube amp the SF will definitely satisfy your craving for molten midrange leads. I cranked the SF in front of a Swart AST Pro (playing a Suhr Modern) and you'd swear you were playing a tiny, raging Marshall. The same thing cannot be said for the EP Booster. Cranked in front of the same amp the tone is fizzy and ratty sounding.

As a boost, the SF is really fantastic and it knocked the EP off my pedalboard. The SF is way better in my opinion, though I do like the EP for what it is, especially in front of a faux tape delay where its frizzy characteristics works well. But the EP Booster has just one knob/function and fails to provide that big wide-spectrum sound of the SF with the drive down and the volume up.

EHX Soul Food vs. Tube Screamer

You can't really go wrong with either of these pedals. The TS808 is a certifiable classic but the Soul Food, barely on the scene, has already taken the market by storm (i.e., the hype is strong with this one).

The Tube Screamer (TS9 or TS808) is an "overdrive" pedal with a lot of mid-range honk whereas the Soul Food (a near clone of a famous but unaffordable Klon pedal) is characterized by a wider-palette "boost" that will also take you into overdrive by cranking up the "drive" control. In front of a small tweed tube amp the SF will definitely satisfy your craving for molten midrange leads. I cranked the SF in front of a Swart AST Pro (playing a Suhr Modern) and you'd swear you were playing a tiny NMV Marshall.

As a boost, the SF is really fantastic. So good in fact that it knocked an EP Booster off my pedalboard. The SF is way better than the EP in my opinion, though I do like the Xotic unit in front of a faux tape delay where its fizzy characteristics can help add authenticity to the tape effect. But the EP has just one function and fails to provide that big, wide sound of the SF with the drive down and the volume up.

If I was forced to choose only one due to space or monetary reasons, I'd probably go with the Soul Food but I think going with both, if you can, is a good idea and will not represent a waste of money via tonal or functional overlap.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fulldrive 2 mosfet VS TS808

I currently use a Fulldrive 2 mosfet and owned a vintage 808 for many, many years and while both of these pedals belong in the stomp box hall of fame I think, if it came down to just one pedal, I would go with the FD2. More or less, the FD2 mosfet is a Tube Screamer but with many more options and sounds. It can function as a basic boost, wide crunch, or searing mid-heavy and compressed distortion great for single note lead playing.

You can't go wrong with either pedal but the Fulldrive sounds as good or better than the TS808 and then delivers a lot more sounds on top of it.


Having owned a vintage 808 for years and currently using an OCD I don't think these two pedals are actually competing in exactly the same category of effect. Sure, they are both distortion devices but the 808 has much more of a mid-range focus great for single note lead lines whereas the OCD has a more flat neutral midrange aspect to it. Think of the OCD as a Brit crunch channel great for chords and riffs and the 808 as your third lead channel for single note lines.

In other words, get both ;-)