'Guitar' Category

Live ::

My streaming plans have so far been a non-show – so in order to get things kick-started, I’ve actually set up a Ustream channel (here). To start with, I’ll be broadcasting my laptop, pointed at my amp. I will be recording these for my own amusement, and personal improvement (is my timing really that bad), and in the spirit of the Internet, all are welcome to join.

New Gear :: Chicken Picks

Chicken Picks

There are tons of articles online and in magazines about the unexpectedly pronounced tonal revelation that occurs when switching picks, and how marked the change in your sound can be by simply switching to a different shape or weight or material. Tonal transformation for 50p. It’s a point that’s been made many times, which does nothing to dilute its legitimacy – changing your pick really is an easy win if you’re looking to change your tone for next to no cash.

So this could be another one of those ‘OMG new pick, total tonal epiphany’ posts, but there’s already plenty of those around, and I actually think it’s a little bit deeper than that.

The pick in question is the Chicken Pick, which just came into stock at Strings Direct. I ordered a ‘tester pack’, which is a tenner, and comes with one each of the 2.6mm and 2.2mm thicknesses. First of all, it’s a great pick, very nicely made, and comfortable to hold. The thickness of the pick belies the ease with which it sits in your hands – I normally find thick picks to be a bit unwieldy, and my previous squeeze, the Dunlop Nylon 1MM, was the thickest pick I found comfortable until now. And it improves your tone as well, which is an important thing to mention in the field of plectrum hagiography.

I was thinking about recording a couple of comparison audio clips for this post, which is when the actual difference between this and other picks dawned on me – I’m actually playing better. It reminds me of the review excerpt touted by Mesa/Boogie on the advertising literature for the Mark IV:

“You know how a great instrument can make you play over your head? The Mark IV gave us this transcendental experience.” Andy Ellis – Guitar Player – May 1991

It’s the same deal. With a thicker pick, like this one, you really have to step up to keep it under control. If you try and play with limp fingers, you get nothing out of it – zero forgiveness. But in the same way as playing thicker strings makes things a bit more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, the Chicken Pick repays the extra effort required in buckets. I’ve always known the guitar sounds better when you’re really trying, and hitting the strings at full force (literally the first lesson on my first day of music college), but for whatever reason it’s easy to get lazy when you’re playing, which is something I am regularly and supremely guilty of.

The Chicken Pick  is fundamentally incompatible with lazy playing, and for that reason it has already shifted itself to be my regular pick.

TL; DR – the advantage is 20% pick, 80% psychological. It perversely plays to weaknesses rather than strengths, and is all the better for it. I’m hooked.

Guitar :: Cable Myths, Cable Facts

This is a post I would have been very interested in reading 18 months ago when I was putting together my current rig, and is a lesson in why ‘better’ is not always ‘best’.

The rig in question is built around a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, with a Keeley TS808+, xotic BB Preamp, Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Cry Baby, and a fancy RJM switching system, because coming from 10 years of Mesa/Boogie Mark IV I just couldn’t deal with learning to tap dance. One of the big treats that I gave myself (other than a whole new rig) was an Evidence Audio Lyric HG cable, a solid-core, very high end, and very expensive cable. Buying a high end cable is an effort to maximise the tonal bandwidth between the guitar and the amplifier by minimising the loss of signal at this crucial stage in the chain. The Lyric HG is an incredible cable, and performs this task absolutely flawlessly. The difference between the Lyric and the merely very good Van Damme that it replaced is dramatic – and if that’s what you’re after then I cannot recommend the product highly enough.

In addition to the Lyric, the RJM Effect Gizmo has a buffered input, which means that anything past that jack isn’t going to lose any signal no matter how long the cable run – what goes in the front stays true into the front end of your amp, which is nice when you’ve got pedals racked up and not necessarily right next to the amplifier. So where’s the beef? A perfect reproduction of your guitar’s tone through the Lyric, and preserved into the front end by the buffer on the RJM…can’t complain, right?

This is where too good comes into the equation. There’s so much top coming off the Telecaster, and through the Lyric it isn’t going anywhere but into the front end of the pedalboard. With so much tonal bandwidth coming from the guitar, super-high-order overtones don’t get lost like they do with a merely mortal cable, and with some distortion chucked in the mix it adds a distinct metallic ‘squink’ on the top end. Yuck.

So this week I decided so mix some stuff up, and learned a very important lesson about ‘the best’, and how doing it ‘wrong’ is sometimes the right way to go. I stuck the Cry Baby out front, and used the standard input instead of the buffer. The tone – rounded out on the top, still really pronounced in the middle…a touch less bottom, but a serious step in a very tasty direction.

Of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan had the same idea, using Radio Shack guitar cables with his mega-bucks Dumbles, vintage Vibroverbs, and Marshalls. Of course, with a dark rig and humbuckers it might be a very different story, but if you’re in the Telecaster business, you might be well advised to save your cash – and improve your tone.

Jamming ::

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I went for a jam this evening for the first time in I truly, honestly cannot remember how long. We occasionally played the Doors, or Miles Davis, or the Rolling Stones, or Rage Against the Machine or others, but mostly just noodled, picked up a groove, and ran with it. It’s pretty crazy how much fun you can have playing the same chord for a quarter of an hour. It is to my great shame that I have neglected to play music with others since leaving college…and it’s something that needs to be redressed.

[Gear wise, the BFDR and TS808 get exponentially richer and more touch sensitive with higher volume. Two dirt pedals, Fender amp, Telecaster…the simple rig is pulling me back in! (Albeit a simple rig with MIDI switching and conditioned power.)]

 

 

Recording :: MESA/Boogie Mark I

For the last six weeks or so, I’ve been sucked in by the convenience of amp modelling. Being able to plug and play on headphones at any time of day is very appealing when you can’t always find the time to set up a rig, or aren’t able to do so at a neighbourhood-friendly hour!

Anyway, earlier this week I decided to set up a ‘weekend rig’ (a ‘Sunday sports car’-type arrangement), and I’ve spent a very pleasant, very lazy afternoon doing some recording. Nothing particularly inspiring music-wise, unfortunately, but I was for the umpteenth time blown away by my Mark I Boogie. This thing records so effortlessly. Seriously, all you have to do is stick a mic in front of it, and that classic, super-thick tone is just there straight away.

Even though the music-assembly wasn’t going so well, I did bounce out a very little sample of the Mark I, which you can hear on Soundcloud. Great fun!

(Telecaster -> Keeley TS808 -> Mark I MESA/Boogie 15″ -> AKG C1000S -> Logic Pro)

 

 

 

Music :: Where is Good Morning?

Spending weekends offline for the last couple of months has totally ruined my music discovery process. However, upon returning to this very site I discovered a draft from a couple of months ago entitled ‘Where is Good Morning?’ — this seems like a good place to get back on the wagon.

Good Morning were an instrumental Brooklyn four piece from a few years back, who apparently played a few gigs, did a little bit of recording, and then ceased to exist suddenly. Their name isn’t very Google friendly, and their website is out of date, so information is not especially easy to come by. The band features Joshua Ryan, the trance producer and more recently the tech industry journalebrity, and his brother Eric Ehm / Eric Emm / M. Eric Topolsky, the amazing bassist from seriously two of the best bands ever. There are a couple of other guys too, one of whom is perhaps a graphic artist and the other has a name as Google unhelpful as the group’s.

As Don Cab are often at the nexus of awesome and spectacular (see Storm&Stress, The(e) Speaking Canaries, Knot Feeder, amongst others), Good Morning didn’t have to try all that hard to pique my interest. Their website only has a bunch of okay-ish home studio ‘outtakes’, which are fine, but their Myspace (yeah) has three really quite nice guitar-led instrumentals, which I have secretly downloaded using SoundFlower and put on my iPod.

If I were in the business of burning CDs, I’d make one with Dick Wolf!, this, and Cougar in the Workplace — three bands who have three or four really good songs each, and have vanished in to thin air. Anyway, that’s Good Morning — I have less to say about the music right now, and more just wanted some other record of their existence to appear on the web.

While I was otherwise disposed, Zefs Chasing Cara released an album, ‘Ultra Gown’. I really like this guy; he’s a solo music act and graphic designer, much like my beloved Com Truise, although ZCC is from Scotland rather than BK. His album is available on Bandcamp for free, and it’s really quite good. His style is slightly electronic, mathy…and a weird mash of cold and emotional. It’s interesting. I’ve embedded his video below, which is either a joke or not very good.

Guitar :: Fixing the Telecaster Jack

For me, the Telecaster might just be the best designed anything, ever – the two-pickup configuration, the slab body, inline-6 tuners on the headstock, three-way switch, and a pair of pots on the control plate have remained constant for more than six decades. It’s simple, it’s functional, and it’s beautiful, and that ticks all of the boxes I care about when it comes to products that I want to use every day. The Stratocaster comes close, but it’s just too fancy; as an instrument and as a product, the Tele is number one. With that in mind, I present the following alterations to the Telecaster not necessarily as ‘improvements’, but as ‘customisations’ that make a great instrument – for me, at least – better.

The Jack Solution

A problem I’ve found with the Telecaster is the loosening over time of the jack socket, probably one of the most annoying things that can happen to your guitar. This started happening to my white Tele a few years ago, and is an issue which has more recently afflicted my butterscotch US deluxe – as an aside, the fit and finish on the US deluxe instruments is clearly superior, in my experience, to the US standard, so I was a bit surprised to see it succumb to the loose jack problem.

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Gear :: New Rig Build

And so, the result of many weeks of research and furious eBay selling has arrived in the form of my new rig. Having played master volume Mesa/Boogie amps for the past decade, I’ve never really explored the world of pedals and single-channel amps. Well, that all began to change a little earlier this year, when I purchased the Xotic Effects BB Preamp. Hooking the BB between a Telecaster and my (recently departed) silverface Princeton was a simple, dynamic, and totally badass little rig; pure rock n roll. After a couple of months with that rig, it dawned on me that single-channel + pedals might just be the ticket. I set about designing such a setup, and selling my collection of amps, pedals, and guitars to raise some funds.

Well, five amps, four pedals, two guitars and a drum kit later, my new rig is here. And yes, it rocks.

My aim for this rig has been to get away from the more hi-fi, boutique-y tones I’ve had in the past, and to capture some rock ‘n’ roll grit – AC/DC, Led Zep, Neil Young, SRV – ‘authentic’ guitar tones. The Boogie amps I’ve used in the past are really, really amazing sounding if you play a Strat, or something with humbuckers…with the Telecaster, though, there’s always been something missing. This rig is totally designed for the Tele, switching hi-fi sterility for something a bit more loose and rocking, much more suited to my axe of choice.

Of course, I took a ton of pictures during the build, and there’s a big gallery below. There’s room for another couple of pedals in the rack, and I look forward to experimenting further (the excellent Rothwell Love Squeeze compressor has already taken a turn in front, and is headed for eBay).

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For Sale :: Fender Princeton (Silverface, 1970s)

For sale: 1970s Fender Princeton. Silverface model, non-reverb.

12W output, new pair of JJ 6V6s last year, original speaker, tube rectifier, and tremolo.

Totally boss sounding amp, clean all the way up the dial, and takes pedals beautifully. This amp runs at US 110V, and has a step down transformer mounted in the cabinet. It’s in superb condition for its vintage, with only a couple of scuffs on the tolex – a great looking amp.

£650 ono. Enquiries to [redacted] No longer for sale, enjoy the pictures!

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For Sale :: 1981 Mesa/Boogie Mark IIB

For sale here is my 1981 Mark IIB combo amp. The amp is HRGX spec – 100W, reverb, graphic EQ, with the voltage-switchable export transformer – and is finished in cream tolex. Aside from the reverb knob missing from the back panel of the amp, it’s in beautiful condition.

A truly awesome sounding amp, a shame to see it go.

Comes with a flight case and footswitch.

Enquiries to [redacted] No longer for sale, enjoy the pictures!

£900 ono

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