Friday, August 30, 2013

What CD's I am learning from? Top 10

Honestly, there are so many great musician's past and present that I will not be able to listen to them all within the duration of my life. This is why people make lists, so as to save other people the trouble and time or sometimes to espouse their own ego's and hypothetical supreme musical taste.

  1. Hank Williams - The guy wrote some apple pie songs.
  2. Gov't Mule - Simply a great band.
  3. Grateful Dead - The best music marketeers in the business. Took me a long time to "get" their music.
  4. George Harrison - All things must pass. Great album - Essentially the musicians are Derek and the Domino's
  5. Derek and the Domino's  - Naturally I'm digging into the past.
  6. North Mississippi Allstars - New old sound with great musicians.
  7. Levon Helm - Why? Great drummer and even better singer in that you believe what he sings to be sincere!
  8. The New Kentucky Colonels - Ever hear of Clarence White? Learn about him and you'll understand why I am listing.
  9. Charlie (Bird) Parker - My favorite if I had to pick only one, Bird would probably be the one.
  10. The Allman brothers band - Could be called the All Star band because no matter who was in the band, you know that they are great a capable of doing solo material.
I am all over the map. I don't have time to piss and moan who is the best because in music the best doesn't exist. If you are open and listen to it all, the good in all the music you listen to is more likely to rub off on ya!

The Dreaded Dreadnaught question........

Which acoustic guitar is right for me? Trying to find the correct acoustic guitar could be a arduous undertaking.  It's a hard question to answer if you consider the design, size, materials, finish and application. What do I mean by application? You need to determine the attack you will employ, the volume you want the guitar to exhibit, the style of music you will play. In my case, I am looking for a heavy strummer because I use a thick pick and often I employ a hamfist heavy attack. For this reason, short scale guitars are off the shortlist because the short scale will distort and yield an unfavorable ping that is unpleasant for the listeners as well as the player.

Which tone wood to use is a simple decision in my case. I prefer spruce for the top and rosewood on the sides and back. This narrows it down to about a million similar guitars! I like a bigger body for sound projection. Spruce handles heaving picking well and but doesn't work as well with finger picking unless you deploy finger pick - in my opinion. Rosewood matches the spruce well as it yields even separation of the voices with well defined treble tones. However, each instrument will vary within the same line and model. This could be the double edge sword of guitar buying which often leads to buyer analysis paralysis if you become obsessed with lilliputian details.

For me, ornamentation isn't really something I look for in an instrument. Sure, I love beautiful inlays but that is more pleasing to the eye whereas we are trying to please our ears! I want the guitar to function like it is an inevitable extension of my body and as Michael Hedges so appropriately said, "allow me to dream aloud." For me it is important for the instrument to have a fast feeling neck that is easy to navigate. The tone should be lively yet warm yet be able to kill banjo's (well... Almost!). As usual, my needs are subjective to my ear and personal preferences [that's the disclaimer here!] Lastly, I don't want onboard electronics. My feeling is that in the coming years the ability to electrify an acoustic guitar will change 10 fold.

Prime Rosewood below!

I already own one acoustic guitar that has a HUGE Fishman electronics hole in my instrument and I regret that decision only because that system installation required a abysmal hole in my guitar that reminds me of a sewer cover. At the this time, manufacturers have addressed electronics issue with less cumbersome systems less invasive systems. I am hopeful and enthusiastic about the future but still just want a simple acoustic only guitar. No holes in my guitar unless they are sound holes. The holes thing is a rule for me... A sound hole is fine but that it is for me. Afterall, you don't see Stradivarius violins with batteries, tone and volume gris gris. Therefore, my list of potential guitars are as follows:

Martin D-18
Martin D-28
Martin HD-28v
Martin M-36
Collings CJ SS
Taylor 814 spruce top

This is just the beginning as I am willing to change this whole set up around if I find a guitar that meets the tone objectives.
Look at the holes in this Vintage Martin!

So my quest begins. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Eric Clapton's Crossroads in New York

In the movie version of the 2013 Crossroads concert, you will see The Allman Brothers band appearing at this event for the first time. The Allman brothers are featured on 3 songs and the absolutely kill it. If we gage the the crowd favorite by applause then the acoustic version of Midnight Rider is the undisputed winner. John Mayer came out and played Queen of California and seemed to be upstaged by Keith Urban and that surprised me and seemed to knock John Mayer off his pedestal for a moment. Gary Clark Jr. should receive the most improved yet most underrated guitarist award. Compared to Crossroads 3 where we saw Gary Clark Jr. debut in an auspicious but limited magnitude, this time Gary Clark Jr. is featured playing 3 distinctly contrasting styles of blues, thus he really digs in and shows us his vast guitar wielding skills. Gary Clark simply astounds the crowd at Crossroads 4. Watch and you'll be transmogrified into a Gary Clark Jr. fan at the first downbeat.

Missing on this years film are the antics of Bill Murray. For better or worse, Bill Murray's comedic antics were edited out rightfully leaving more room for music and musician's (I have nothing against comedy or Bill Murray's comedy - I'm a devoted fan!), however it was nice to see continuous music from collaborative musicians. Oh yeah, there are plenty of trading 8's and 16's sequences allowing everyone to stretch out and solo.

This year there were a few musicians missing from the mix yet we saw them in the Crossroads commercial teaser. For example, BB King, Jimmy Vaughan, and Johnny Lang were just a few missing from this year's Crossroad movie. You need to keep in mind that the scale of this musical event is enormous, with many bands and artists, it's impossible to include the contribution of each bands without creating a recording as long as the two event. Indeed, the aforementioned artists have been featured many times in the past so in the spirit of the event, other upcoming and established acts were allowed to entertain us on this recording.

If I had to pick one new artist who finally got some time to shine I'd have to pick Gary Clark Jr.. He is the real deal in terms ability and authenticity. If you are a huge Eric Clapton fan you might be disappointed by discovering that he plays with a lot of the guests but stays in the background unselfishly allowing others the opportunity to showcase their talents and collaborate with fellow musicians. Aside from raising funds for the Crossroads center in Antigua, this event is also about musical fellowship, camaraderie and collaboration.

Upon DVD release, I'll be watching this again.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fret Job Gibson ES-175 (1971) by Gryphon Stringed instruments

I've have an old Gibson ES 175 that was lurking in my closet because I had worn the frets down by playing  it for the better part of 30 years. This guitar has been through my younger crazy days and is special to me because it's always been reliable and has great tone. However, the frets were becoming non-existent. I decided to take my guitar to Gryphon Stringed Instruments for consultation and repair. The decision was a easy, do it.

The following are some photo's showing the various stages of the work accomplished and photographed by James Hingston.
Gibson ES 175 (1971)
 Backside Burst

42 years of playing will wear a fret thin!
The Gibson ES 175 "fretless wonder!"
The guitar was playable but required more finger pressure to fret the note.
At Gryphon Strings - James Hingston's bench
 Frets removed waiting for fret board level
Checking the fret board level. Not too bad!
Sanding the fret board.
 Making that 41 year old rosewood flat!
Cleaning the fret slots - Important!
Frets radius prepared to match fret board
Cutting the tange to fit neck binding.
Ready to trim the edges. 
Hammering in the frets - Almost done! 
Frets before fret job look almost non-existent.
Frets after re-fretting. Wow!
Nice tall and round frets product great tone and intonation.
 Fret board looks like new too!
Nice new bone nut (save the original) looks nice

The guitar now plays effortlessly. I had been missing the tone of this guitar and had substituted by playing an archtop with floating pickups. The problem with the floating pickups is that they also pickup the drummer and make playing over a loud drummer virtually impossible without feedback. With the ES-175 design, feedback isn't an issue anymore. Besides, these old humbucker seem to get better with age!

I was lucky and got my guitar in and out in a relatively small amount of time. James work was impeccable, detailed and he is an excellent collaborator. The entire staff is top notch and you can rest assured that your instrument will be handled with the utmost care and attention. If you are vacillating about doing a fret job - don't procrastinate! If you love the guitar then get a fret job but if like the guitar - sell it and get a new guitar from Gryphon Stringed Instruments. I am only sorry I waited as long as I did because now I have a new vintage instrument that sounds awesome and will last many many more years.

James Hingston completed the fret work and documentation on this page. Additionally, James is a talented artist and has his own web page. I encourage art enthusiasts to visit his page and support his creativity.

Thanks! Scott