Thursday, December 17, 2009

DigiDesign Eleven

For more Eleven information - click here!
Will this replace your current rig? This rack mount unit contains numerous effects as well as amplification simulation. I love my tube amps but lets look at it this way; the telephone took almost 50 years to perfect, the cell took roughly phone ten years. As an example of the technology paradigm shift rate; it took almost 40 years for the Telephone to reach significant levels of usage. In comparison it has taken only a decade for the Cell phone to reach the same levels. At this rate; technology doubles every decade and with this trend; 20 years of the 21 century will equate to 200 centuries of progress on a linear scale (at the rate of progress measured in 2000). I derive my rough hypothesis from Moore's law (Intel).

Sorry to say that one day my beloved Tube amp will make an excellent flower pot! Will the Eleven drive your tube amplifier into extinction? Find one and test it out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Guitar effect pedal testing

Warning! This is a rant!

YouTube provides a wonderful medium for hearing and seeing products that are available. This is very cool as people want to see this type of advertising and they seek the vendor out rather than the vendor bombarding the consumer with commercials. Therefore YouTube has become a excellent marketing tool for people hawking tone enhancements. Everything is available to sample; Amplifiers, instruments, speakers, effects. This rant is about EFFECTS. I don't want to discourage YouTube testing of effect pedals but I would like to offer some suggestions to help the consumer.

As a consumer of electronic products you must realize that not all of these tests are objective but rather they are subjective. I often see tests where the amplifier alone will make the tone you seek if only you could play at full volume. Hint # 1 - The test might have been recorded at full volume and thus make the pedal sound better! So I decided to make a list of a practical test format for testing pedals.

  • List the guitar used for testing.
  • List the volume setting on the guitar.
  • List the tone setting on the guitar.
  • Indicate the pickups used (people often make changes while recording and fail to mention the adjustment).
  • All of the amplifier parameters should be noted, i.e., type, brand, Eq settings, speaker type etc.
  • When doing the pedal "A" vs "B" test - don't use other flipping pedals at all!
  • Play the same damn riff and chord set on each device so we all can hear the difference - Sheesh!
At this point in time we have a truly power means of testing and marketing these tools but without containment of the basic parameters, the testing is flawed and pointless. Or the testing isn't pointless - it's deception. Therein lies my rant as I get tired of seeing this post or that post only find I have more questions after viewing than I had before I wasted 5 minutes of hearing someone pull off their best chops. I have always been a KIS fan - Keep it simple! Do you think race car drivers drive about the street at full speed while weaving about the traffic just to show you how great the new fancy car works? Nope. So save your Van Halen promo wannabe licks for your girlfriend and just play a few simple lines and basic chords. Audition the product not your skills. Maybe you will sell more pedals in this manner?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bill Nash Guitars - Not just relic's

The relic crazy. At first thought I was certainly suspect of relic guitars because I have disdain for being a slave to fashion. Indeed, at first this concept was truly one where a person could own a guitar that looked like it had be played by a seasoned musician and had many sordid tales if only the instrument could speak. Without investigation I assumed that the instrument would have worn frets and basically was trashed and who in their right mind would pay EXTRA for this privilege? Let me allay some of these myths. Yes, most relic instruments have dents and scratches. Yes, there is a basic coolness to this look but let me assure you that most of these instruments are painstakingly prepared and generally play like a dream come true. The necks might be worn, the backside of the neck unfinished but the hardware (frets & saddles, etc..) are in fine working order. In many cases they are simply tarnish the hardware but the base product is top of the line hardware and electronics.
I first saw Bill Nash guitars at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California. This store is known globally for selling top quality instruments and therefore I trusted that someone knows something I didn't know at first glance. I picked up a Stratocaster (Nash calls them S- models to avoid copyright infringement) and found that the action was excellent.

The playability and tactile sense of the instrument has a profound resonance that I didn't feel on any of my most recent purchased pretty guitars. In addition, I didn't have to worry about bumping, denting or wrecking my destruction derby survivor guitar. The neck feel is exceptional. I've tried the boat neck Telecasters, Stratocasters and hopefully will someday try the Nash LP (Les Paul) guitar.

Nash uses nitrocellulose finish on his instruments and top drawer electronic with names like Lollar, Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pickups. Sure, I've tried some that I wouldn't buy but for the most part, a great number of these instruments I've tested are winners. Have I bought one? Not yet but I've got a few friends who own them and call these instruments their "go to guitars." For the money, it's hard to find a better instrument for gigging. My only gripe would be the lack of a hard shell case but it the instrument are supplied with a top quality soft case. Again, for the money - Bill Nash guitars are certainly on my wish list. I especially would like to test the LP model. For now, the Stratocaster (S-model) and Telecaster (T model) are more than sufficient tone monsters for the ardent tone chaser.
Other manufacturers that make similar models are:
Both of these manufacturers make excellent instruments and I will review them individually in the near future. Scott

Killer Guitar riffs on your Iphone?

Is there anything that cannot be done with this modern day Swiss army knife of a phone? My grandfather would have loved the iphone as who would have guessed that a Telephone would someday help you find your way to destination X, give you recipes, work as a flute or guitar and give you a massage? Well, add another blade to this astounding hand phone as now you can download guitar riffs - Killer riffs no less. This is a fantastic application and you can now download riffs like Born to be wild (SteppenWolf), Enter Sandman (Metallica - hope I'm not infringing copy write by including them on my blog LOL), Run to you (Bryan Adams), and many others at

Buying New Guitars and Equipment

Buying a new guitar is a great excuse for getting out and testing some instruments. It's your chance to audition the instrument of your dreams. You can go to your nearest dealer and play a guitar of your dreams. The whole experience can be a lot of fun providing that you follow a few simple rules.
  1. Be courteous to the retail people.
  2. Limit your testing time to 10 minutes maximum.
  3. Keep your volume in check - IOW - avoid cacophony!
  4. Be honest with the dealer. Expect the same.
Buy with a clear mind. I mean this as I state it. Be lucid when you are shopping. Playing a musical instrument takes dedication and I've seen friends quit because it's not easy. Most of us will never sound like our favorite guitar hero's. Therefore, before you decide to make the purchase you should decide what your level of commitment is towards this endeavor. Here are more rules regarding the process of buying a new guitar or equipment.
  • Determine your honest level of commitment - Are you going to do this for a career or weekends with your friends?
  • What is your spending limit? It's no fun buying a nice new electric guitar and not purchasing an amplifier. Consider all of the equipment you need to be able to reach your goal.
  • What type of Guitar do you want or need? Oh man, There are positive things about every guitar and also pitfalls. Determine your style of playing and research what type of guitar is needed to obtain your tone. In time; if you continue playing an instrument with commitment you will find that excellent tone is paramount.
Deciding the make and model
If you look into the various brands available you will find that they all have various levels of performance qualities. The performance levels are not always listed as student, intermediate, expert but rather with branded labels that evoke a more sophisticated ideal of the product. You can look in most catalogs and find Epiphone guitars and Gibson guitars. Generally speaking, Gibson guitars tend to be regarded as having better quality and structured better for the more experienced player. Fender guitars not made in the USA are generally the entry level guitars while those instruments made in the USA are better suited for the experienced player. Cost is also a dead give-away regarding the playing level of a instrument and in many situations it is the more expensive instrument that is better suited for the expert. Hence, being honest and determining your own needs is important. Furthermore, the differences between models of Pro level vs. Entry level are often blurred with technical terms that confound the customer and this makes the purchasing decision more complicated. In some cases, the differences between guitars can be little while the cost is big. For this reason it is important to sit down with each guitar and evaluate it based on it's own merits because no two guitars are the same and sometimes inexpensive guitars play better than expensive guitars. Try it then buy it.

Evaluating a guitar
It is important to look the guitar construction over in fine detail. Look at the front, the back, the neck. Most inexpensive guitars use a urethane coating that tends to hide everything beneath the surface. You check the body of the guitar using various angles and look for large marks in the urethane. This could be a sign of poor construction.
If you are looking at an acoustic guitar you will need to know that whether the top is a laminated top or solid top. Are the sides laminated or solid and also the back. Look into the guitar and check the glue job - Is it messy, is the wood cut well or poorly?
Most guitars have binding around the body. Check the uniformity of the binding. Does the binding look uniform as it surrounds the guitar?

Neck construction is important. Are you buying a set in neck? Bolt on neck? Be certain that the construction is symmetrical and if it's is a bolt on - the neck fits the body pocket well. Check all the frets for sharp ends that will make playing a pain!

Hardware and Electronics - This is an area where I could write for hours and still not quite convey all the information required to make an informed purchase. Like playing a musical instrument itself, the complete knowledge of components and electronic takes time, trial and error to learn. IN most cases you get what you pay for and what I mean is: the manufactures use inexpensive materials and processes on the entry level guitars. This is the reason they are entry level. In most cases the guitar or equipment is NOT meant to last many years as statistics show that often the entry level guitar becomes a lonely piece of furniture once the neophyte player quits. Therefore, softer metals are used for the inexpensive tremolo, low strand count wire for the electronics, low skill level workmanship on pickups.

Do your inspection and look for the following situations:
  • No gaps in joints
  • No globs of glue
  • Smooth Finish
  • Set up well - string height is good and no excessive buzzing.
  • Guitar is rattle free
  • Fret ends are smooth
  • Frets are uniform in their level
Be courteous and honest to your sales person and expect the same. If you find a sales person that you are uncomfortable with - Find a different person that is informative and helpful.
Bring a friend. Maybe a friend will help you feel comfortable (if not - curb them).
Using the basics I've provided you can comparison shop and ultimately get a instrument that you may keep for the rest of your life. This experience should be an enjoyable experience and if it is not. Hold off until you are comfortable enough to buy the instrument or equipment that enables a better playing experience.
Shop Here - Acoustic guitars
More stuff - and even more stuff - Seriously More places to shop

Monday, November 23, 2009

Short Scale Acoustic Guitars

Most of the acoustic guitars I own are long scaled guitars. This means that the length from the nut to the bridge saddle is 25.5 inches. Most acoustic guitars utilize this guitar scale length but lately a lot of people have noticed that they like bending the strings and if you have a short scale 24.9 inch, doing so can be done without bringing about early tendinitis. Short scale guitars have a lower string tension because of the decreased scale length. If you like playing blues on your acoustic then you might want to check out a few guitars made to this scale. Some guitars with short scale are:
An additional cool thing about short scale guitars is that the fret spacing is closer together. This might make it easier to play if you have smaller hands or fingers. Most people I know really have enjoyed playing this scale length. The decreased tension lends to a buttery feel when moving about the neck.

The only negative thing about the short scale guitar is that because the string tension is lower, the use of alternative tuning could bring about unwanted buzzing or muddy tone. Otherwise, the short scale guitar is fun to play and will add another dimension to a acoustic setting if you are surrounded by a group of long scale players.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Joke - JAZZ MUSICIANS Helpline


Welcome to the JAZZ MUSICIANS' HELPLINE. Your call is important to us so please use the following menu system to shorten your wait:

If you are a bandleader wishing to know your opinion of yourself, press 1

If you are a tuba/sousaphone player in a 'classic' jazz band inquiring which beats you will be expected to play on, press 1 and 3

If you are a drummer wanting to know on which beats to press your hi-hat pedal, press 2 and 4 - regularly spaced if you can manage it

If you are a banjo player inquiring about how many strings to buy for a complete re-stringing of your instrument, press 4

If you are old enough to remember Dave Brubeck press 5 then 4

If you are an agent wanting to know how much commission to charge, press 15. Or 20. Or 25. Or whatever number you fancy

If you want to know the REAL length in minutes of a jazz musician's '15-minute break' enter any number in excess of 45

If you are at a cultural crossroads between jazz and rhythm & blues and can't decide which Route to take, press 66

If you are over 60 and always forget to play the coda, press RECALL

If you wish to express your opinion of what your bandleader makes of gig arrangements, press HASH

If you are a bebop tenor player press as many keys as fast as you can for 20 minutes or more or until the room is empty, whichever comes first

If you wish to check your retirement account, press 0

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Acoustic Guitar String Review - Teflon coated vs. Non coated

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Nothing like a new set of strings. But which strings really pop? So I've cross examined all of my friends and came up with some interesting opinions. Now I am simple, I generally use D'addario strings. Why, because I get them for free! Come on, who can beat that but really I do love their consistency, method of color coding, and select gauges. But that opine generally is based on solid body guitars. So I needed more info for my acoustic guitars which I play less often. I have a Martin 12 string guitar and a Taylor 514 CE. Taylor supplied me with Elixir Strings. I loved them at first but then I tried D'addario Phosphor bronze. So I've used Phosphor/bronze for a few years now. Okay, I'll shut up and get to the data!

We found phosphor bronze to be very lively strings at the on set of application. The problem is longevity. I'd say these strings are lively for barely a week of infrequent use, moreover, an hour a day type of use. In comes the coated strings. To me, the coated strings sound better after a month than non coated strings. Most people I've spoke with had the same opinion.

To become a little more scientific about this new coating we need to look at the material used to coat the strings. Teflon has a great number of possible physicochemical modifications. At this point the laws of inhomogeneous polymeric materials are relatively unstudied and therefore the elastic properties of polymeric materials will differ based on orientation of their respective microsegments, and crystalline structures. To further add to the chaos; application techniques, material application, and relative strains (string tension, guitar scale) will add to variance that make this whole mess a wonder to study. Now for more simple terms.

The string manufacturers are rather quiet about the structures being used on guitar strings. At this point, we cannot say, String X uses a directional orientation polymer while String Y uses a random structure and therefore String X is better than String Y. Oh man! This type of information may never reach the String box label. Sadly, we must try each coated string and thus apply a non scientific approach to discerning the reason for better sound and tone. If different crystallite sizes are used, mixed sizes, random or selected orientation could yield better results. In regard to quality, musicians use their ears (subjective at best) and collective opinions to determine quality of tone brilliance. Shoot! For even more simple terms of selection.

Coated strings seem to sound brighter for a longer amount of time. Unfortunately this is qualitative and not quantitative data. I conclude that some coated strings will be better than others because different production processes are used. With the information available we can only hypothesize about coated string tone until someone like me or someone else lands some money (wishful thinking) to do a study. Some manufacturers will pay me to shut up while others will pay me to pontification the wonders of their coated process. For now, try them out and leave comments but save the arguments unless you have data.

IN conclusion, coated strings are nice but for me the price isn't worth the expense. Coatings will increase the brightness but this is dependent on the string. Elixir and Martin Coated strings have been the favorite amongst the Pros I know. I do think Coated strings have a viable place in performance but the ROI is still low at this time (2009). Indeed there are benefits to coatings: the coated strings will resist moisture, skin oils but these contaminates will transfer and adhere to the finger board. In conclusion we are only passing the buck in terms of the problem. Washing your hands might be a cheaper alternative. Maybe one of the engineers from one of the coated string manufacturers should get a white paper out there so we can all poke at it? Meanwhile, try them out and give us all a shout if you love them and let us know why?
All the best - Scott

Aynsley Lister - Guitarist of the Week 11-14-2009

This guy is a really a great player. Aynsley Lister in my opinion just doesn't get enough focus but those days will pass. Here he is doing a great job on a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan's - So Excited. Nobody is Stevie but this is a great version.

So as a comparison I have included Stevie's version.

Take note that Aynsley has his own material. Go buy it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

We saw Stevie Ray Vaughan

Once upon a time and a long time ago, my friends and I packed into a cab and headed off to Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. We were young and we heard about this new guy that played guitar and it was, like, old stuff but it sounded new. They said he played like Jimi Hendrix and that was enough to motivate us to go over the hill and check this dude out. I remember we had a half pint of some liquor between the three of us. That was enough. We got there and people were all milling about and chatting with their friends as warm up songs echoed through the PA system. The smell of weed wafted about the inside of what seemed like a High School gymnasium. The sound people tested the drums and the microphones with the routine test, test, test, 1-2-3, boom boom boom of the kick bass. Each time this occurred my friend Dennis would hoot and holler. The testing stopped upon the satisfaction of the sound technicians. Then the lights dimmed. On the stage appeared a slight skinny guy with a cowboy hat and two other dudes, one with a bass the other behind the drums. Then, boom and the band started it up and blasted the crowd with a rendition of Rude Mood. At the end of the song Stevie graciously introduced himself and the band, "Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm Stevie Ray Vaughan and we are Double Trouble."

I didn't know that my life would be dramatically changed at that moment. Who has the ability to realize in the moment what life in real time will effect or morph you in the future? I certainly just loved watching and hearing this man and his band pummel their instruments and our senses with sonic delight. To this day, I still see Stevie in my minds eye. I still remember the that night, Monday, August 4th in 1986 like it was yesterday. Double trouble and Stevie Ray did it. The worm turned. From that day forth, every note I played had to be played like I meant it, like it was my last note I would ever play because this is how Stevie played and nobody that saw the same show would dare to pose an opposing argument.

Buy this poster here

This poster and many great rock and roll memorabilia is available in Wolfgang's Vault. This site is a gold mine!
I hope this streaming media works - This is small sample from the Wolfgang's vault.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ear worm - Train - Hey, Soul Sister

Cool local (if you live in the S.F. Bay Area) band. The song sticks in your head and it's kind of nice too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Gear acquisition syndrome is more informally known as G.A.S.. This illness has wreaked havoc on many lives and caused many to simply go insane. The symptoms usually include but are not limited to: Forgetting how to play the guitar, compulsive web browsing, exhaustive research, frequent beatings from loved ones and extreme depletion of personal monetary sources. It’s analogous to obsessive compulsive disorder. There is no known cure. Many are afflicted and will never recover.

The illness itself starts out as one single innocent purchase of a piece of gear. Upon purchase it’s determined that the consumer will require an additional piece to enhance the first piece. These addition peripherals often have a side effect to their addition to the rig thus requiring a third piece to quell the side effect of the second peripheral and this cycle continues infinitely as a pursuit of perfect tone, instrument mastery, or recording perfection. In my case I bought an electric guitar and then found out that I couldn’t just plug the guitar into the wall and I needed an amplifier. I then discovered effect pedals. Therefore, I needed more cables. Then I found that the effect pedals stimulated some hissing sounds, consequently, I needed a noise gate. After all of that was purchased I found that my overall tone suffered so I bought a pre-amp to boost the signal. The pre-amp seemed to boost all the inappropriate parts of my signal; logically I needed a compressor effect. Ultimately, one single innocent purchase of a guitar effect pedal instigated a long chain of effects and cost. The whole process described hereto within was great fun and a learning experience. But what did I learn?

In my little experience with the syndrome I will hence forth refer to only as GAS I found that there is a specific order for effects. This order will help the effects work better and prevent them from canceling each other out and creating more noise than art. Also, I learned that I can spend a great deal of money and waste a lot of time. My waste of time ran into my playing. I would regulate my effects infinitely and forget to play! Lastly, I found I needed to drag these items along and set them up, fiddle with, and freak out on if they didn’t work. Then, in due course, show up to a gig, find that these new enhancements hindered my tone and worse – band mates objected! Back to simple terms requiring only a guitar, cable and amplifier.

In summary, one single purchase leads to another that begins the downward spiral to the abyss of ruination. This illness is insidious, commanding, calculating, and pervasive. Until you let go, (G.A.S.) Gear Acquisition Syndrome may perhaps consume you!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Guitar Picks - Plectrums

Not all picks are created equal. Though I often play guitar with my fingers as this was the way I was taught since childhood, I do use picks and in some circumstances could not live without one. For example; playing rock of any type and there is shred, classic the techniques often require a pick. Playing Bebop jazz I tend to use both and keep the pick tucked in my hand during performance. Nevertheless, I have my favorites and I'd like to share which type I use and why.

I really like Wegen picks because the material gives me a bright tone and it is hard enough to allow for quick picking.

The picks are also grooved and this groove prevents the pick from slipping out of my hand at the worst possible time. I also like Redbear picks, I was told about these from a certain player who now plays a lot of Zappa tunes. The Redbear is probably the closest thing to real turtle shell. The tone of the Redbear is also very good.

Finally, I like the Jim Dunlop picks as my all time favorite. Jim Dunlop has the Jazz picks and rock picks at substantial savings compared to the Wegen and Redbear which will set you back upwards of $25.00 a pick depending on the model. However, the Wegens and Redbears are worth it if you are recording. If I lose one - I cry! Another brand I like is the Steve Clayton picks.

Picks are fun and generally cheap additions that can really help your playing and also if you find the right one for you - Make playing more enjoyable. Anything that increases your time on the instrument is good for you and your playing. Go buy a few picks and see which particular models suit your needs. Have fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Acoustic Guitar - String ends chewin up your wood?

Horror of horrors! Imagine your favorite Acoustic guitar with a failing top! If you own an acoustic guitar then you should know or will know soon that they are temperamental as a weasel in a blender. Humidity, heat, food, drink, children, friends will all conspire to ruin your baby. If that ain't enough, your strings will attack the underside of the guitar top. The ball ends of the string will wear against the wood and your top, lord forbid, could look like this picture below. Granted, this is a top view but you can imagine what the bottom side might look like as well. A torn up bottom can lead to problems with the top as well. Given the humidity, temperature and unknown problems - Your guitar could look like this! Gawd say it ain't so!!!
Therefore, I propose a solution if you wish to avoid this problem. Now, this proposal is not without strings as usual. The suggested preventive measures could color your tone in a manner that you find to be too obtrusive. Hello Platemate! The Plate Mate guards against the eventual wear of ball-end strings on the bridge plate holes beneath the soundboard. It helps prevent costly bridge plate replacement. This simple .032" brass plate is held in place by the strings and the supplied adhesive backing. Players have also noted enhanced tone and improved tuning stability after installation. See the example of a PLATEMATE.
For under $25.00 you can save yourself some issues down the road and depending on your ear, maybe improve your tone along with the added protection. See your local luthier and ask them to install the Platemate from Stewart MacDonald.

Laser/Smoke Microphone

American digital audio pioneer David Schwartz, who invented the MP3 sound format, has come up with a novel new type of microphone. Sound reproduction can be used for many applications including military, security, recording industry, entertainment and smoking (checking to see if you are still awake). Traditional microphones have used diaphragms. The diaphragm reacts to sound and the measured results of deflection is what we know as sound reproduction. The problem with this method is that the accuracy of the reproduction is reliant on the diaphragms ability to react. Since diaphragms are made of various substrates the reaction will be different for each substrate. Each substrate will have it's own inertia, resistance, and mass. These variations ultimately color the sound reproduction with their unique attributes. Enter the Laser/smoke microphone. The lack of mechanical interference virtually eliminates the microphones effect on reproduction of sound.

The laser/smoke microphone is the lucky combination of technology that is now commonplace. We use lasers daily in our lives at the grocery store checking out, during workplace presentations, in our CD players and even in surgery. How does this new technology work? A laser beam is passed through a column of smoke to detect the deflections that sound waves cause in the smoke particles. As each smoke particle is virtually weightless, the theory is that they will deflect in ways that much more closely follow the contours of the original sound wave. The microphone is currently in a very early prototype stage, but Schwartz is already able to take a low-quality signal from it. See below:

The use of light in sound transduction isn't new - in fact, it can be traced at least as far back as Leon Theremin's

infrared remote eavesdropping system in 1947, which used an infrared beam to detect the sonic vibrations in glass windows. More modern surveillance laser mics work by measuring the vibrations in any surface that is free to vibrate with the sound waves.
Audio engineering is an arena which leaves a vast crevice for exploration. In my former life I used light and chemical synthesis for nanometer size etch patterns. Sound might be the solution for light in this circumstance as light uses chemicals in a fiduciary manner while sound can physically move particles. I digress....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's not about the Guitar

Carl Verheyen, Chad Wackerman, and Doug Lunn

Musicians Institute | MySpace Video

It's about music................

Intonation problems: might be something to fret about!!

Have you played a chord near the head stock of the guitar then play the same chord in a position further down the neck? We all do as this is part of playing. Are the two similar frequency chords in tune with each other? NO? Well, this could be due to a number of issues due to normal play wear or simply an intonation adjustment. The first five frets usually have the greatest amount of wear but wear is not limited to this region alone. This example is a guitar that is in decent condition.

To conclude if the guitar frets are worn and eroded; pull your strings to the side and look for fret wear. Fret erosion usually look like this.

These indentations are a result of the string vibrating on the frets and thus eroding the fret wire. Strings are generally made of a harder material than the frets (except for Stainless Steel frets) and these marks will inevitably appear on your frets over a period time dependant on usage and technique. Here is a closer look at the fret erosion.

The effect the indentation has on the note being fretted is not welcome. The worn fret will allow the string to move closer to the fret board thus increasing the tension and making the note sharper than a note fretted on a unworn fret. These indentations or string erosion patterns can wreak havoc on intonation. In fact, setting string intonation on a guitar with worn frets is ineffective.

If you discover worn frets then you need to take your guitar to a Luthier. As long as the frets are not deeply eroded then your local luthier can file and level all the frets at a small cost that is usually approximately $100.00 US dollars. Do not try to simply level the frets in question. Doing so will only remove the erosion but the guitar will still not play in tune with itself. The guitar is a beast of burden and the more it is used the more maintenance it will require. If you play with this aforementioned situation you will find that the guitar will not play "in tune" throughout a scale and will not maintain "tune" through multiple chord positions.

If the guitar does not have string erosion but still will not play scales or multi-position chords in tune, then it may simply need an intonation adjustment. An intonation adjustment is where single string saddles are moved to increase or decrease the effective string length to make the given note play sharp or flat as required. Bring the guitar to a shop for repair. This is a non invasive repair that dependent on the shop work backlog can be repaired in usually an hour.

Lastly, changing the guitar string gauge, raising, or lowering the string height will create intonation problems. Unless you have great repair book, mechanical aptitude, and common sense then it is best to leave these adjustments to the pros. If you screw it up then the pro's will realize this quickly and you will probably receive an increased fee to untangle the mess created on the instrument.

The only work around for fret wear is not acceptable because it requires that you stop playing the guitar!! Besides, fret wear is a badge of honor as only those who practice and play receive fret wear. Stay home and practice or stay home!!!

Gibson Sonex 180 Custom

In the early 1980's Gibson was going through an R &D experimental phase. They made the Marauder and the Sonex models. Taking a Que from Fender Guitars, Gibson decided to make some bolt on Les Paul style guitars. I can only guess as to why they decided to do the bolt on style neck but usually when things change drastically the primary motivation is evil, err or money. They also used what they called resonwood. The resonwood had a solid core and resin casting around the core. This made for a lighter guitar and frankly a very durable guitar. These guitars had excellent string sustain and if you are a metal, thrash, shredder, then these are attributes that mean money baby.The colors were primarily black or white and the finish had a satin patina. The cool thing about these guitars is that everybody wanted a Les Paul and for a lot less than a Les Paul Standard you could own a guitar that arguably had the same tone if not better tone. They offered these guitar with complex wiring schemes so one could run the pickups in or out of phase or simulate a single coil pickup sound. The 80's necks had the funky heel piece behind the nut where the owner based on my consensus, love or hate the contour. Nevertheless, these guitars played well and have withstood the test of time and if you have one - It's a keeper! These guitars with the Fender like necks ultimately do NOT play like a Fender guitar. I find them to be Gibson-ish through and though. These guitars a capable of playing all styles and you can get them at a bargain base price on Ebay.

If you are dying for a Les Paul but you have yet to inherit a fortune for that vintage Les Paul Standard from 1959, then you might just want to try one of these guitars out. Don't pass it up based on looks. Some of the nicest guitars 'ain't the prettiest so get your own diamond in the rough! Sonex 180 Custom and the The Marauder.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guitar Signal Cables- If you can't hear the difference.......

Hey now! I saw an ad that remarks rather arrogantly, "If you can't hear the difference, you probably don't need one." They are implying that if you can't tell the difference in their guitar cords then maybe you are simply lame... One thing is certainly the truth, the longer your cord the more your signal will be challenged. A good quality new cord will sound better than some cheap cord or an old cord. The question is - HOW GOOD? Once again this is a question where the answer could bore you to death as raw data is subjective to the desired results. Do you want low noise, accents on high frequency, accents on low frequency, low signal drop over length, clarity, color, or just that minty green taste?

There are many manufacturers of guitar signal cables. Even Radio Shack has guitar cables! I would say that if you are playing metal and using a solid state low powered amp (under 50 watts) then you shouldn't spend too much money on a cable. Depending on your tube amp which tend to make more noise and induce 60 cycle noise, you should at least buy a medium priced cable. If you are have tube amps and you are recording in a studio then you need a good cable and that means even the cabling between your effects pedals. The cliche' about the chain only being as strong as it's weakest link applies when recording.

Most cables just don't hold up to decades of abuse. Stepping on your cable will toast it. Over time, the cable will induce noise that sounds like finger nails on the chalk board or a scratching sound. This is due to the millions of times the cable has been bent, abused and thus after a while the wire starts to break down inside even though the cable looks fine on the outside. If you play daily then you will probably find yourself needing a new cable once a year. You can take a voltmeter and check the continuity while moving the cable around and bending it. If the meter spikes then you have issues and the problem might only require that you install new jacks or re-solder the connections. I almost always try the re-solder as after a while the solder joints fail. It is best to cut the cables and strip the wires with good tools. Tin the wire ends and then solder the proper wires to a new jack piece. Be certain to solder in a well ventilated area and use safety glasses for eye protection.
Cable suppliers:
Cable induced noise will elicit the scourge of your band mates, friends, family, and dog. BEWARE - cables have produced more marks on guitar surfaces than any other human produced devise! Never swing your cable around or pull it like a whip unless you plan on dinging up your beautiful new guitar.
See pictures of dings for the evidence! Ouch!!

Finally, will good chords make a difference. Yes! The caveat is it will make a difference if you are doing recording but if you are just practicing and playing with friends then I think a medium priced cable will do just fine. If you have a lot of effects in line and a long cable then I certainly suggest that since you have spent a great deal of money on fine guitar effects (opinion warning) then it is only natural that you spend the extra money and purchase good linking cable and guitar lead cable. Also, as an added bit of trivia, many European's refer to guitar cables or cords as - LEADS. FYI :) Besides; unless you have decided to take up this vocation, hobby, career for only a short time then I find that buying quality products will reduce headaches.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fender Duo Sonic - Vintage Guitar warning

The Fender Duo Sonic II

This is a nice little student guitar. What I mean by little is that the neck had an option at purchase where you could designate a 22.5" inch scale (mighty short) or a 24" inch scale (still very short). There is some cool engineering going on with this guitar in that you can utilize both pickup simultaneously and doing so will help eliminate 60 cycle hum like humbucking pickups. Other features are a soft "V" back contoured neck, 7.25" inch radius finger board and light weight. The sound is somewhat reminiscent of it's brethren Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars certainly not as much twang. String bending is easy with either scale but most certainly one would be able to bend strings like mad on the 22.5" scale guitar due to the lack of string tension. If you have small hands and not too much money - This might be the guitar for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Practicing Tools - How to practice without Police intervention!

Practice is essential to gaining confidence and ultimately playing well. I've heard of stories about John Coltrane where neighbors would hear Coltrane and his band playing Favorite things

when they departed for school and upon return the same song was being played by the band.

Playing loud is a lot of fun and an experience unlike playing at bedroom sound levels but doing so can annoy, disturb and provoke already unstable others. After my own "run in's" with the law and threats of confiscation I found a few tools to help me out. The cool thing about these tools is that I can play at all hours and not tick anyone off regarding the noise. However, there are a few required tools.
Tools Required for quiet practice:
  1. Electric guitar - Acoustic will emit too much sound
  2. Guitar cords - Usually need at least two short cords
  3. Headphones - Try them on and get a comfortable unit for prolonged use
  4. Electricity or batteries - Sign of the times!!
  5. Computer or amp simulator - We'll discuss this further...
I use my computer along with CD's or mp3's. The sound output of my CPU is connected to an old Korg Pandora's box unit. I bought mine so I could use it on the road but I often use it at home late at night. These units are not cheap and it's a third party accoutrement to the CPU that consumes electricity whereas if you have the jingo ($$) to buy software and a laptop the need for two guitar cords is eliminated and the the entire system is in your laptop. There are a lot of products on the market that are software based. Let's talk more about those...

There is software that you can install that will allow you to play along with your favorite mp3's and cd's. Some of these allow you to actually eliminate the original guitar lead track and I find this useful as a learning tool. VOX jambox is one such tool. Upon testing it I found that there was still a bit of a ghost track of the original lead in the background. Otherwise this is a cool product. Other units like the Peavy Revalve unit is fairly robust and for some, might even replace effect pedals thus allowing you to mount a laptop with the a laptop loaded with a product like REVALVE and trigger the effects via the laptop. I've seen laptops mounted to Furman power boards. The software has many AMP simulators and for the novice tone chaser this is a great learning tool.

Currently there is a free Amplifier Simulator available at this site. The FREE MUSIC SOFTWARE SITE is very cool for students and musicians who are curious about the latest in simulation software.

REMEMBER - PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO EXCESSIVE LOUD NOISE, MUSIC, AD NAUSEA WILL PERMANENTLY DAMAGE YOUR HEARING!! I am serious as a heart attack about this disclaimer. I've always tried to limit my exposure by using methods like ear plugs and distance but I had my own hearing tested and was surprised at the loss in frequency recognition. As a added warning, age will cause decreased frequency recognition, therefore it is better to be safe than sorry and therefore utilize safe practice technique by using normal volumes while limited exposure to the Rock and Roll your head off volumes!

Stay home and practice or stay home!

Guitarist of the Week - Laura Chavez 10-22-09

Laura Chavez

I live on the peninsula in the S.F. bay area. Talent has been burgeoning in this region for years. The economic slide of recent has forced many people to re-evaluate their status, future and job outlook. During these days of introspection one might find themselves looking for an outlet or place to hang whilst pondering life. Being one of these wayward individuals I found myself looking for a little R &R while listening to Lara Price

at the British Bankers Club. Lara is great and I hit her web site and I found a diamond in the rough. Lara's former guitarist is Laura Chavez who now plays for Candye Kane. Laura plays with panache and she just rocks it. People say you have to have the blues in order to play them. Dunno but Laura has the touch and if you have a chance to see her play with Candye Kane or with any body for that matter - Do so. She's special.

Check out this video and you'll see what I mean! Kudo's to Candye and the rest of the band!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Improve your Tone!!

Changing Strings!

Admit it! You don't know the date that you last changed your strings. Aside from jazz players who use Thomastik Infeld flat or semi flat wound strings... Ya'll should change your strings at least once a month. Doing so will brighten your sound up and correct intonation due to deformed strings. I often find guitars with months of grime, dirt and all sorts of juju on the backsides of the strings. Sweat and dirt work their way to the backside of the strings in a rotational orientation that is unapparent at first glance. However, this juju crud is also going to be ground into your fine rosewood finger board and after years of this type of treatment, the wood will start to deteriorate because of acids built into the dirt. Maple fingerboards will simply look buggered up! The only positive effect is that your informed friends will avoid your bio-hazard guitar.

Therefore, carefully (don't cut them off under tension and wear safety glasses - I'm serious!) remove your strings at least once a year and clean up the finger board using a little water or naphtha - Use caution with flammable products! I use a micro towel and a lot of elbow grease. I lightly oil the fingerboard with lemon oil only once per year. I let it set for about 30 seconds then wipe off the excess lemon oil - Don't use automotive oil or like substances! Do not use lemon oil on Maple finger boards as it just will not work well but at the same time it won't hurt. BEWARE >>If you have a tremolo and especially if your guitar has a Floyd Rose tremolo bridge then you better know how to properly set up your bridge before attempting this procedure.

Strings are often made of nickel and this material oxidizes. Oxidized will feel rough when played and the string will exhibit dead tone. If you experience this phenomenon then it's time to install new strings. New strings stored on a guitar for two years will play like crap unless your case is hermetically sealed. This is why strings are sold in sealed packaging now. I recommend changing guitar strings once per month if you play on occasion. If you practice often then the frequency will increase. If you are not a gigging professional than string replacement frequency is a judgment call that is subjective to your experience. If you are a pro or expert then I probably don't need to tell you anything!

In the United states I prefer to purchase my favorite strings in bulk and I will change my strings before each gig or jam session. I usually set up my guitar at the latest, hours before the gig but preferably the day before (since I am my own roadie) because of time constraints. I check prices based on number of sets and compare two primary vendors - JUST STRINGS AND MUSICIANSFRIEND.

Changing your strings is a quick and easy way to restore and maintain your excellent tone!

Guitar Finish and Tone

Nitro Cellulose verse Polyester Finish
If you have looked into buying a new guitar lately you've probably heard the pitch about "Thin" Nitro cellulose based lacquer. Often the sales person or the marketing flyer accompanying the product will state that the "thin skin" allows the guitar to "breath." Horse Hockey! These same misinformed barn-yard chemists also tell us that the Nitro is cellulose based and that since wood is a cellulose then we have a shell of similar properties. Phooey! Nitrates are often synthesized from cotton rather than wood and saying that similar substrates make for a better tone is tantamount to stating that because water is comprised of 80% oxygen, we can in fact breath water at 80% efficiency. The coating; be it Nitro or poly based specific purpose is to prevent wood decomposition and protect the wood from the elements.

Wood resonates better with nitro than poly. False. This statement leads to another popular myth where people believe that the guitar with aged nitro is cured better. However, Nitro remains active and it is thinning as it ages whereas poly finishes harden and do not remain active or thin over time. Nitro casting solvents can be used to redissolve the Nitro finish and fix finish defects and scar's - In this case I like Nitro a lot. With Poly if you have a chip the only practical remedy is to fill the crack or dent with cyanoarcrylates. Filling the crack is a repetitive exercise with the fill spot still being apparent as a dull lack lust spot on the finish at best. Another myth is that Nitro is more labor intensive and takes longer to dry. Once again, Nitro doesn't EVER dry as it starts thinning the moment it is applied. Both Polyester and Nitro Cellulose take about the same time to dry and that is dependent on the ambient environment.

I reason that the rage regarding Nitro finish is due to the distressed or relic guitar market and disinformation regarding the "coolness" or playability of these guitars. No doubt these guitars have a certain panache and lovely patina. I think these instruments play well but do not necessarily believe that Nitro finish or better yet - scratches and lacquer checking make better tone! After all, guitar pickups determine sound reproduction as do the strings and electronic components. These processes have a far greater impact on tone than the finish on the guitar.

In regard to finish repair: unfortunately, poly finishes cannot be dissolved with the casting agent, sanding or chemical erosion is the only method of poly surface removal. For this reason, repair is very difficult but the advantage to Poly is that the finish is far more durable than Nitro. So does Nitro coated guitars have better tone by virtue of the finish? No.

Guitar production companies are NOT pouring in millions of dollars into surface finish research because with music there is the omnipresent mystic. The Mojo Voodoo effect, the Spinal Tap amp that goes to Eleven effect - It's one more! The thin skin is marketing hyperbole and nothing more. All you guys that want to flap your gums about the guitar breathing can save it. Show me the data and you better have FR's and DP's nailed and if you don't know what I am talking about then I doubt you could provide me with objective scientific data. The finish is a preference and the two finishes do fell different to each, that is a given fact due to the nature of the material.

Now, I prefer Nitro on the body and unfinished necks. Nitro cellulose on the guitar neck leaves a tacky feel for me. Beware during outdoor gigs, Suntan lotions dripped onto the instrument by perspiration will effectively break down Nitro well! Beware as simply laying your guitar on your vinyl case can blister your finish. Store your guitar in your case!!! Poly is resistant to blistering, sweat and staining. Ultimately if I was playing my guitar and sweating up a storm it is the unfinished neck that would help me play my best. There is a price to pay for unfinished necks as they are far more reactive to relative humidity and the lack of finish is likely to make the neck less stable and prone to torsion - a grave affect. I like the Nitro coated body for selfish repair simplicity. I also find myself a slave to fashion and prefer the relic look. Again, I like the relic look on the body because it's harder for me to see where I've dented or scratched my guitar! The caveat being, I build my own guitars that are of the relic order. I still have a fit when I ding, dent or scratch my Vintage ES 175 or any other guitar.

Finally, will the new thin skin guitars have better tone? I reason that these guitar will have better tone but that is because of the sum total of the parts and workmanship. Are the guitars worth the cost? Yes, they have better parts, select wood, better skilled craftsman. If I had to place a numeric value on the finish surface relationship to tone I would guess it to be a value of 2% or less. Determining which surface is better is more of a subject task than one of tone chasing. Save your tone chasing for parts and workmanship and leave the finish arguments for the uninformed.

Monday, October 19, 2009


1. Never start a trio with a married couple.
2. Your manager's not helping you. Fire him/her.
3. Before you sign a record deal, look up the word "recoupable" in the dictionary.
4. No one cares who you've opened for.
5. A string section does not make your songs sound any more "important".
6. If your band has gone through more than 4 bass players, it's time to break up.
7. When you talk on stage you are never funny.
8. If you sound like another band, don't act like you're unfamiliar with their music ("Oh does Rage Against The Machine also do rap-rock with political lyrics?")
9. Asking a crowd how they're doing is just amplified small talk. Don't do it.
10. Don't say your video's being played if it's only on the Austin Music Network.
11. When you sign to a major label, claim to have inked the best contract ever. Mention "artistic freedom" and "a guaranteed 3 record deal".
12. When you get dropped insist that it was the worst contract ever and you asked to be let go.
13.Never name a song after your band.
14. Never name your band after a song.
15. When a drummer brings in his own songs and asks to perform one of them, begin looking for a new drummer IMMEDIATELY.
16. Never enter a "battle of the bands" contest. If you do you're already a loser.
17. Learn to recognize scary word pairings: "rock opera", "white rapper", "blues jam", "swing band", "open mike", etc.
18. Drummers can take off their shirts or they can wear gloves, but not both.
19. Listen, either break it to your parents or we will; it's rock 'n' roll, not a soccer game. They've gotta stop coming to your shows.
20. It's not a "showcase". It's a gig that doesn't pay.
21. No one cares that you have a web site.
22. Getting a tattoo is like sewing platform shoes to your feet.
23. Don't hire a publicist.
24. Playing in San Marcos & Alpine doesn't mean you're on tour.
25. Don't join a cover band that plays Bush songs. In fact, don't join a cover band.
26. Although they come in different styles and colours, electric guitars all sound the same. Why do you keep changing them between songs?
27. Don't stop your set to ask that beers be brought up. That's what girlfriends/boyfriends are for.("and/or lead singers!" -Timbo)
28. If you use a smoke machine your music sucks.
29. We can tell the difference between a professionally produced album cover and one you made with the iMac your mom got for Christmas.
30. Remember, if blues solos are so difficult, why can so many 16 year olds play them?
31. If you ever take a publicity photo, destroy it. You may never know where or when it will turn up.
32. Cut your hair, but do not shave your head.
33. Pierce your nose, but not your eyebrow.
34. Do not wear shorts onstage. Or a suit. Or a hat.
35. Rock oxymorons; "major label interest", "demo deal"," blues genius", "$500 guarantee", and "Fastball's second hit".
36. 3 things that are never coming back: a)gongs, b)headbands, and c)playing slide guitar with a beer bottle.
So, how many have YOU broken?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Guitarist of the Week - Warren Haynes -10-15-09

Warren Haynes
Warren is the hardest working guitarist in the business. The list of bands for which Warren leads or participates is the who’s who of music. Bands such as; The Allman Brothers Band, The Greatful Dead, Government Mule along with guest appearances with Wide Spread Panic, Dave Matthews, MOE. and a seemingly endless list of gigs makes for one hard working guy. Warren seems to prefer humbucking style of guitars pickups and is often seen using Gibson Guitars. Warren has a deft touch with the slide as well and playing with the likes of Derek Trucks makes for some musical nirvana. Do your ears a favor and give Warren a listen.

The Warren Haynes Gibson Les Paul (oh my I want one)- Warren is a true inspiration! Check out the video provided by Gibson Guitars >>X<
Learning to Play
Now vs. Then

I saw an excellent blog post recently where the author postulated about the experience of a young person learning to play guitar verse learning late in life. The post was based on the tools available now in 2009. Ultimately, the author decided that students learning late in life might miss the joy of learning whilst playing catch up while in contrast the author concluded that the young person might enjoy the process more than an adult. To me that supposition is a dangerous generalization. The dawn of the World Wide Web and Integrated Circuit Chip has brought about a tremendous amount of resources that where unrealized in the past. People can down load songs to their house. Look up tablature that is relatively accurate depiction of recorded songs. Images and home recording can be shared in seconds. There are many methods for creating more informed musicians today. Therefore, the student needs guidance to be able to use the learning tools in a manner that will keep practice and performance fun.

Furthermore, like the amount of News available, we must learn to use this information in a useful manner while not over saturating our learning curve. To try to catch up against a perceived pool of skilled players is foolhardy at best. I use the following quote to make my point, "It's a very hard instrument to accept because it takes years to start working with it - that's first - and it looks like everybody else is moving on the instrument except you. Then when you find a cat that's really playing, you always find out he's been playing a long time. You can't get around it."
Wes Montgomery comments on playing the guitar c. 1960.

I don’t think it could be said better or by a better player. With Wes Montgomery’s quote we realize that time is important and as adults we are acutely aware that time is finite. The ability to separate psychological time from present time is where the true secret to fun could lie. I might define this as non cognitive time. I believe the adolescent reaches this unbridled space without thought in a pure manner while the adult has spent most of his/her life trying to be there; now, present, in which the adult often over looks the gift of non cognitive thought, zero thought parameters or lack of dynamic forces on the mind. I postulate that the adolescent can use any tool can have more fun only because young people lack the social pressures (However the pressure is increasing - another topic...)of being judged while the adult has many years of trials and tribulations which condition their responses.

In my humble opinion learning to playing the instrument or any musical instrument does not become easier due to the vast educational resources available. In fact, some of those resources could limit some skills such as interval recognition because the individual may not be as dependent on their ear. Conversely they might have a better grasp of reading sheet music but these tendencies have been the same tendencies that may have been acquired prior to technological advances due to specific teaching methodology. Learning to do anything well requires time and patience. A great college professor of mine, Joe Davis used to say, “Stay home and practice or stay home.” Joe used that expression to imply that practice is important. If he was wrong then ‘wrong’ sure worked well as Joe’s son, Mike Davis has lead the brass section for the Rolling Stones for more than a decade. As a student of music for most of my life I have gathered some gems in terms of quotes. Learning is something that doesn’t stop and I have learned to deal with the process and be comfortable in the fact that I will play a few clams but remain resolute. Plenty of music theory is under my belt but as my teacher once told me, “learn it all then forget it and break all the rules.” It might be that a young person is less critical and therefore easier to please therefore finding practice more enjoyable and fun while the older person tempered with years of critical listening would be more inclined to be critical of ourselves. In summary, it is my profound belief that playing can be a ton of fun no matter what your age is but this condition is dependent on the player’s ability to find peace with time, technology and personal criticality.

Focus on these three points:
  • Repertoire – Choose it and stick with it while avoiding vacillation between genres.
  • Technique / Theory development – Work on fundamentals.
  • Memory – Remember, this is all about fun!
  • Ultimately it's all about - Time, pitch and sound.

Having said all the aforementioned, if you want to start out late and play with the best, your intensity and perseverance is essential.