Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guitar Next Door: 2006 Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul VOS

Exercise caution when striking up a conversation with someone at Guitar Center who turns out to manage the Gibson Custom shop. You may end up with a reissue 1958 Les Paul VOS, today’s Guitar Next Door.

Gibson claims the VOS or “Vintage Original Spec” is their most accurate reproductions of the classic late ‘50s models yet. They accurately recreate all of the original instruments' features and characteristics. This example is in the original Cherry Sunburst of the 1958 model year and includes Gibson’s hand-carved plain maple top and solid mahogany body. Some of the period accurate recreations are the vintage style tulip tuners mounted in a straight line, long neck tenon, Burstbucker pickups, and what Gibson calls an accurate rounded ’50s neck profile (shaped like a baseball bat). Does all this attention to historical accuracy do anything for tone and playability? You bet it does.

This guitar even sounds great unplugged. Plug it in though (a Marshall DSL 401 in this case) and the fun begins. I hear the Eric Clapton / Jimmy Page tone burned into my brain from listening to Cream and Led Zeppelin LPs over and over and over again in high school. The tone is courtesy of the lower output vintage pickups coupled with bumble bee capacitors. Yes, they are lower output but can deliver a big over driven rock tone while retaining the ability to produce more nuance of tone than you can get with hotter pickups. This guitar can deliver tone from "Elegant Gypsy" to "Blizzard of Oz" and everything in between.

The custom shop hand selects mahogany and maple wood stocks for the VOS series. Strict weight limits in wood selection aside, this is still a heavy guitar. Expectation is the 50s profile rounded neck would make it play heavy as well. A couple minutes with the guitar though and it is a natural fit. It plays much easier than the Les Paul Special I have with the slimmer 60s style neck. This guitar feels good to play and it makes you want to play more. All of the research into late 50s Les Pauls including x-rays to get trussrod placement right has paid off.

This all begs the question though; if the guitar sounds and plays as nicely as it does because the reproduction is so accurate, maybe this is less of a tribute to the Custom Shop and more of a tribute to the job Ted McCarty and the team did during Gibson’s electric guitar “Golden Age.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Build Your Chops - Enjoy Your Guitar Favorites “Unplugged”

I posted an article about how playing an acoustic guitar builds fretting hand strength so your electric guitar playing will seem effortless in comparison. This only works though if you find something interesting to work on. Otherwise the acoustic part of your practice routine becomes boring and you will not do it enough to get the full benefit. One way to add interest is come up with “unplugged” versions of your favorite rock tunes.

This idea struck me while sitting in a coffee shop subconsciously listening to music wafting out of the sound system and realizing it was an acoustic version of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Interstate Love Song” a perennial favorite. The acoustic version sounded great.

A couple Internet searches after returning home I worked out the basics and began creating my own rendition. As this involves experimentation and repetition my fretting hand was numb and fingertips sore after the first day. After a couple days the chops are stronger than ever (strong as post middle age chops get anyway). You can find examples everywhere in our connected world. I checked out radio streams from iTunes for example and ran across an acoustic rendition of 10 Years’ “Through The Iris,” my next acoustic experiment.

Acoustic playing is a great way to keep the chops in shape and keeping the fun up motivates you to put in the time necessary to gain the benefits. Try the “unplugged favorites” approach; you will be glad you did.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Is Open Tuning and Why Use It?

I took up a project to learn some of the 29 titles making up Robert Johnson’s entire recording legacy. Most people know Robert Johnson due to the “selling his soul to the devil at the cross roads” legend. What threw me was reading about “The Tunings”; Open A, Open E, Open Em, Open G, and Aadd9 – “Mystery Tuning.” Isn't open tuning a shortcut to make it easier to play chords on the guitar? What was a groundbreaker like Robert Johnson doing messing around with open tuning?

Standard tuning that we are all familiar with gives you easy chord fingerings along with ability to play scales with minimal left hand movement; just think about our favorite Form 5 Pentatonic Scale pattern and all the licks you can get out of that! Open tuning on the other hand is simply tuning each string on your guitar to represent a chord without fretting any of the strings (one reason this tuning is popular with slide players). You can then play other chords by barring across each fret, which is why I previously thought open tuning is just a shortcut.

I started my open tuning adventure with Aadd9 (Eb-Bb-Eb-Ab-C-Eb) for “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and first thing I found out is a lot goes on in the Robert Johnson guitar style. If I were to play the bass string boogie patterns on one track and then record the high string licks on another track and mix them in Garage Band I could play these tunes easily using standard tuning. Playing both parts simultaneously is the point though and that is where open tuning comes into play.

The open tuning allows you to use one finger to bar across the fretboard to play double stops that would require two fingers with standard tuning. Harmonies in 3rds, 9ths, and 10ths are literally right at your fingertips. Use of the open tuning makes the piece actually playable, albeit with lots of practice; even for short fingered people.

If you want to take your guitar hobby in a new direction give some of these open tunings a try. It is a great way to experience the versatility of the guitar and gain a sense for the creativity of the artists that play it. This could be a shortcut to a new dimension to your playing instead of simply a shortcut for easy chords.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How to Be Sure You Really Know That Song

One of my earliest performing "gigs" was as an altar boy when Catholic services were still conducted in Latin. The altar boys found we could recite our lines by following a fraction of a second behind everyone else rather than invest the long minutes of study required to learn each phrase. This worked great except for the unlucky kid called upon to do a “solo” rendition. I feel just like this when using backing tracks in my practice routine and then being called upon to do my own rendition without support of the backing track.

I am a big booster of using backing tracks in practice sessions. They are a great learning tool and fun to boot. I have found though that just because I can play my part cleanly against a backing track does not automatically mean I can do it on my own without following the cues provided by the other members of the virtual band. My solution is simple; sit down and play the entire song without accompaniment other than a metronome.

Many will read this and think "this is an advancing age issue for him, of course I have a repertoire I know front to back." Try it anyway, you may be surprised. My main issue is I do not keep track of how many verses, where the bridge is, and when the solo comes up. So, I jot down the structure of the song as a visual aid and then do the test. The best way to know if you have any challenges though is just do the test. Record yourself and play it back for some critical listening if you want to put more rigor into the exercise.

Whatever your performing gig, you want to build a repertoire of songs you can play front to back. Go ahead and test your readiness before you are the unlucky kid called upon to do a “solo” rendition of your repertoire.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Do Not Eat Into Your Guitar Hobby Principal

This is how it goes; you get going on your exercise program, things are going good. So good that you start taking it easy and enjoying your newfound vigor without continuing to invest in exercise; sort of like living off the principal instead of the interest. You start to decay gradually without really noticing until someone invites you to do a 10K charity run. I had this experience last weekend with my guitar playing.

You know how it goes; busy at work, busy at home, things will work out fine if I am not playing as much. I was not continuing to maintain the guitar investment I had made over the past couple years and was living off the principal instead of the interest. I fooled myself for some time until I attended the groom's dinner for my nephew’s wedding. After the festivities, the father of the bride comes over; “hey, I’m getting the guitars out and heard that you play.” My 10K run was here.

You guessed it, I sucked. Here I had built up a good repertoire of songs on which I could play through all the parts with the intent of being a good soloist or accompanist whatever the situation required and had started jamming with guys from work. "Had started" was past tense and I quickly realized I remembered about 60% of each one and am not advanced enough to fake it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself in spite of the sucking part. Just would of enjoyed it more had I kept investing instead of eating away at the principal.

This was a good guitar lesson learned and I am into my steady routine after getting back in town. Of course, it only takes a couple minutes to realize how fun this hobby is. Luckily there was no permanent damage as the father was still willing to walk his daughter down the aisle the next day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Midnight Daydream 10 Year Tribute

I have received many interesting comments and emails since beginning this blog such as one from Billy James; aka ANT-BEE regarding an article I posted about Bruce Cameron and his album Midnight Daydream.

The gist of the post is that an unknown guitar player debuted his first album with the help of guest artists such as Jack Bruce, Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, and Mitch Mitchell of Cream, Band of Gypsys, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience and then died shortly thereafter. Billy James was the coordinator as well as one of the guest artists on the project. Here is his comment in line:


I was the coordinator for the Bruce Cameron project and also a guest artist (ANT-BEE). I will be doing a radio tribute to my friend (who committed suicide for the record). My show will be aired on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm EST. I will also play some rare extras like the commercial I hired Mitch Mitchell to do the voice over for. The website to access the show is:

Bruce was a dear friend of mine and sadly missed. Next month will be the 10th anniversary of the CD release.


So, take a moment to connect to the show on the 6th but listen to the album here beforehand.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is the Vintage Sound We Grew to Know and Love Due in Part to Poor Voltage Quality?

One outlet on the power strip/surge protector servicing my entertainment center had turned black and was actually melting. Bad news is it proves I should replace these more often than once in 20 years, good news is I had a valid excuse to determine whether the hype around power conditioners is valid.

The main difference between my old surge protector and a power conditioner (other than $200) is a variety of electronic filters to improve the quality of the voltage in addition to protecting against voltage spikes. The filters help your gear operate like the designers intended while surge protection helps it live to fight another day in the event you get hit with a voltage spike; say a nearby lightning strike or nearby Zion hovercraft activating its EMP to disable a Sentinel.

I hooked up my new Panamax power conditioner after a trip to the local big box retailer and sure enough, I immediately saw blacker blacks in home theater speak. Quite a stunning transformation actually. Hmm, what would this do for guitar gear? A quick connect of my DSL 401 and pedal board through the Panamax conditioner showed a similar improvement, especially in noise reduction. Effects pedals seemed to also be more controlled, even my temperamental Dunlop Fuzz Face; almost too controlled..., like the Matrix vs. the "real" world.

One example of the real world devoid of voltage quality would be the 1967 BBC Sessions with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Take a listen and you will know there was not a power conditioner in sight. It sounds rough, gritty… and great.

I wonder how much of the 60s and 70s music we grew to know and love was created in part due to poor voltage quality?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Age Made Golf History at Turnberry, What Age Makes Music History?

I was on the edge of my seat rooting for Tom Watkins to make golf history by winning the British Open. Alas, one putt short...or one too many I guess. Still, it would have been great to be there. This got me to thinking about what age boundary would constitute music history.

Could history in the world of music be made by the oldest guitar player to tour 270 days in a row, with the occasional bar fight thrown in? Maybe the oldest person who can play as fast as Al Di Meola? None of these measures seem as clear cut as that Sunday at Turnberry. How about that old faithful, money?

I looked up tour receipts for 2008 and it turns out Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet tour was the highest grossing North American tour of the year at $105.3M. Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, and Tina Turner were all in the top 10 and well into Tom Watkins’ territory (talking age now rather than money) and beyond. It seems the music world has not yet come upon its Turnberry moment when acts like this can be in the top 10 with little fanfare about age boundaries.

Hmm, looks like Bruce Springsteen is coming to town; I didn’t make it to Turnberry, but maybe I can attend this little slice of history.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Do Those 14 Year Old Guitar Players Have That We Don’t?

I occasionally exchange emails with other middle age guitar hobbyists and our conversations inevitably come down to “what does the 14 year old down the street have that we don’t; nothing says I can’t belt out the blues too.” While this is technically correct, one thing those 14 year olds may have that we don’t is fun.

Those of us starting the guitar later in life can come to it with a laser focus, something to prove attitude. You pursue lessons, work on your scales, and document progress; all to make up for lost time. We’re big into ‘discipline’. By contrast, any 14 year old who is actually playing the guitar is doing it strictly because it is fun. If it were not, they would drop it like a lame video game. They are going to run circles around someone, regardless of age, who is all about discipline but leaving out the fun.

Fortunately this quandary has a ready solution; simply set aside a portion of your playing schedule for fun. Start with one practice session per week where you play whatever you want however you want. What this does is relax you mind and open it up to new possibilities. You will be amazed at what you discover during one of these sessions; nuggets of knowledge you can apply to the rest of your more focused practice sessions, all of which will lead to progress.

I am all for making rapid progress to make up for lost time and the fundamentals with discipline is a critical ingredient. However, if you want to maximize progress, introduce fun into your guitar practice diet and you’ll be belting out the blues right along with your 14 year old neighbor!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Focus on Rhythm Guitar Improves Lead Guitar

A good friend of mine was in the buffet line with his father and they came upon a mystery dish in the lineup. His father asks the hot table attendant “what’s that” to which the attendant replies “hotdish.” “Oh, hotdish” replies his father and he proceeds to load up his plate. Those from Minnesota may understand this better than others (hotdish is sort of like a casserole) but I recently discovered that rhythm; not the “who could ask for anything more” type but specifically Rhythm Guitar, could be like “hotdish” when it comes to improvisation techniques.

I bought one of the “Guitar World Presents” DVD packages, Blues DVD Vol. 1 some time back. The cover has slogans such as “Sting like Albert King”, “Rip Like Stevie Ray Vaughan”, and “Wail like Eric Clapton” which do not imply a treasure trove of Rhythm Guitar technique lurks within. Nonetheless, Andy Aledort takes you through a great primer on blues rhythm guitar basics; 12-bar blues form, root fifth, root sixth chords, root flat seventh, and walking bass figures. He closes the primer with approaches to turnarounds including a straight forward but cool sounding walking figure up to the 5 chord. In E blues this was E, G (with a half step bend up to G#), A, b flat, B and goes on to comment how this riff is common to all different kinds of blues in all tempos; a staple of the blues guitar sound. In other words, hotdish!

If there are staples of the blues guitar sound it follows that one should incorporate these staples into one's improvisation if you want the listener to know they are hearing the blues. No different than my friend’s father knew he was getting hotdish in the buffet line rather than a mystery dish. So, I experimented with using this walking figure at different areas of the fretboard and then incorporating it into playing over a 12 - bar 1,4,5 blues progression and dang if it didn’t sound a lot more like the blues when I played it back! Lots more exploring to be done but a promising start.

Thanks to Andy Aledort I got another set of fundamentals to start working on with the added benefit of a “hotdish” moment to help me think outside the “box” on improvisation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Metronome; There’s a Reason Everyone Says to Use It

Life is accompanied by advice; usually lots of it. Floss regularly and eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables are two prominent examples. All good advice; so good in fact that we all acknowledge it while ignoring it at the same time; how many of us flossed this morning for example? “Use a metronome when you practice” is another one of these ubiquitous knowledge nuggets. I am not here to outline all the reasons to use a metronome; plenty of people (all people) will tell you that. All I'm here to say is actually do it!

Sure, I've paid lip service to the metronome, and nod knowingly any time I receive sage advice on the importance of its use. I have one of course, just like I have a roll of dental floss in the bathroom cabinet. My initial use of the device was solely around a quest for speed; starting scales at one speed and continually increasing the speed until I would have a blow out. The outcome was always the same though, an eventual blowout, which was more of a negative feedback loop than I wanted to deal with so I stopped using it. Recently I got the metronome back out in observance of my new found focus on the basics and realize there is something to it like all good advice.

When practicing I tend to wander all over the place on tempo. If I'm practicing a particular song I'll stop for a do over as soon as I hit a clam. Another prominent artifact is the tendency to slow down in front of a difficult section. That usually has the same result as when you see an athlete hesitate before the big jump at the X Games, a spectacular wipeout. The big discovery was that using a metronome for pacing in a practice session made the playing a lot more enjoyable and consistent as it removes the opportunity to hesitate before a jump.

So, tomorrow start your day by flossing, throw in some servings of fruits and vegetables and then dig out that metronome (I know you have one). You'll be glad you did!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion

Let me start off by saying Steve Jordan hates being referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion.” It is apt though because he has done the same for the accordion as Jimi Hendrix did for rock guitar;  take it places it never imagined. A reference he likes a lot better though is “World’s Best Accordionist.”

Steve Jordan was a child musical prodigy, has played every instrument there is and has made a living playing music since age 7. He has electrified the accordion and even uses effects pedals. He has even done the traditional rock and roll thing with drugs and alcohol but his career is in a new phase; attempting to make money on his talent.

Seems another rock and roll thing Steve Jordan has done is getting cheated out of his royalties. He is fixing that by distributing 9 albums worth of unreleased material through his own label at later this summer.

This is some amazing music and worth checking out. Not every day you can hear the World’s Best Accordionist.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Guitar Next Door: 1996 Gibson Country Gentleman

“Don’t point at anything you don’t intend to shoot” is the watch phrase of gun safety training. “Don’t make a guitar off the Gruhn Guitars website your wallpaper unless you intend to buy it” is the guitar safety watch phrase. The owner of today’s Guitar Next Door did just that, and gave me the opportunity to take a look at this beautiful 1996 Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

The Country Gentleman originally came out of Chet Atkins’ association with Gretsch Guitar sales rep and designer Jimmie Webster in 1954 yielding first the 6120 and then the 6122 Country Gentleman in 1958. George Harrison used one of these in the 1963 era Beatles. Chet Atkins left Gretsch in 1979 shortly after the death of Fred Gretsch, Jr and later collaborated with Mike Voltz of Gibson on a design released in 1987.

This example was manufactured in 1996 based on the serial number and is a beautiful sunrise orange and shows that stage presence factored heavily into the design. Take a look at the photo of the headstock; the tuners have these flip out crank handles for quick and easy restringing. My initial thought on seeing photos of George Harrison with his original Country Gent was that it looked like someone carrying a stuffed Marlin under one arm, it seemed big. However, the guitar is very light, thin, and great fitting. Closest thing I have experienced to this model is the Jim Nichol’s Signature Archtop from late guitar builder Bill Hollenbeck. 

I plugged it into my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and played something I thought would be archtop oriented like Sleepwalk (remote approximation of the Brian Setzer version) and the Beatles’ “All My Loving.” This amp never sounded so good! It has a comfortable and fast neck and the Bigsby Vibrato Tailpiece feels and sounds great. 

Hmmm, I think I need download some new wallpaper for my PC!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rethinking Your "Guitar" Swing

I listened recently to some improvisation I recorded over backing tracks and came away underwhelmed. It was long on licks, short on musicality. Although licks were strung together notes only randomly arrived in the right place at the right time in relation to the rhythm track; emphasis on the 4 tone when playing blues over the IV chord, 5 tone over the V chord and so forth. Bummer!

My problem is the “more notes are better” improvisation approach and it was giving me similar results to attempting to mash the ball every time I tee off in golf. Whether lack of musicality or a bad slice, the approach needed to change. I decided to focus on note selection and simplicity versus flash; like developing a consistent golf swing for accuracy before going for distance.

Simplicity for me was recording a simple 12 bar slow blues track with I, IV, and V chords. Then, experiment with the notes out of the blues scale to emphasize over each chord. Next, I allowed one “lick” per 12 bars and worked out a simple “turnaround” for the last two bars. Finally, I recorded a solo track over the backing track so I could compare the new approach. Seems like a 150 yard drive straight down the fairway is better than a 200 yard shank that lands in a neighboring fairway!

I do this for a hobby and stress release and have no illusions of being a pro. Nonetheless, I want to improve and this exercise yielded an enormous improvement in the musicality of my improvisation. The main difference was a relationship between the improvisation and the chords I was playing over (the entire point) and it sounded better as a result even without face melting licks.

If you do not like where your your improvisation work is going maybe it is time to explore working on your guitar swing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Depressurize With Music

I was sitting around the house bumming out about the unfairness of advancing age and having to go on blood pressure medicine after my last physical. Then, I hear a story on CNN in the background; The power of music: It’s a real heart opener. Not enough music is a lot better explanation than stressing out about the economy, eating too much of the wrong kind of foods, and limited exercise!

Seems the worse the economy gets the more stress and work are involved keeping up and the less guitar time I’ve been getting. The work of research cardiologist Dr. Mike Miller indicates I need to be getting more guitar time in. Playing music and even listening to it causes the inner lining of your blood vessels to relax and produce chemicals that protect the heart. He is also of the belief that music can be so relaxing that it can slow down the aging process; wow, prolong treatment (extending life span) is not just science fiction! One thing to keep in mind though is variety because you do not get the blood vessel benefit playing or listening to the same thing repeatedly. 

More guitar playing is now part of my therapy along with the proverbial diet and exercise thing you hear on the pharmaceutical commercials. On the variety front, a neighbor introduced me to the music of Joe Bonamassa. Download of his latest album on iTunes introduced me to Albert Cummings and I am off to the races listening to new stuff! I have heard of stranger therapies; if more guitar playing helps me maintain healthy blood pressure without a prescription I’m there!

If all else fails this “therapy” still has its advantages; “can you turn your volume down?” - “no honey, I’m doing therapy right now.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lynyrd Skynyrd Trail

We recently started a new ‘Historic Trail’ road trip tradition. Rather than following the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail or the Historic Oregon Trail we decided to create our own tradition based on place names in rock songs. Muscle shoals Alabama qualified as our first based on two criteria; Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” of course - “Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/and they’ve been known to pick a song or two”, and it was relatively close. I expected a wide place in the road to explore for a couple hours but discovered the legendary “Muscle Shoals Sound” instead.

The journey began with a drink in the hotel bar on arrival and gazing at their wall of fame depicting artists such as Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Little Richard, Bobbie Gentry, Rod Stewart, and Bob Dylan. Since I knew Bob Dylan was not from Alabama I figured it wasn’t about locals making it big. A brief read of town history on the back of the bar menu clued me in that Muscle Shoals was churning out a bunch of hits in the 60s and 70s. The “Swampers” is actually Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), and David Hood (bass); founders of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969 and also called the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. If you do not recognize them just think of songs like “Mustang Sally”, “Kodachrome”, and “When a Man Loves a Woman”. They played on them all and hundreds more. Apparently many people hearing their music were surprised they were white and I guess I’m one more.

Armed with newfound knowledge, we headed off to find FAME Studios, one of the prominent studios of the eight running at the peak. Turns out it is an unassuming 50s looking building and I walked into the front office asking about tours. “Nope, this is a working studio, man, and there is a session going now.” They are still turning out hits; how cool is that? They let us look in one of the open recording rooms and we then headed off to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame for more music appreciation and education (including being about the billionth people to record Sweet Home Alabama in the museum's sound studio just behind a group of Germans). 

Overall we ended up spending two days exploring. One lesson learned in all of this is do not take what you hear for granted as it is easy to imagine music is pumped out of generic factories. There’s a story behind everything; "wide spots in the road" rarely turn out to be so.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Power Tab Editor - Why Not?

I purchased Blues-Rock Evolution by Jeff McErlain and it featured the Power Tab Editor "... free shareware thanks to Brad Larsen, who wrote it and shares it with players the world over." Trying to get older software (year 2000 release date) running on Vista is like dancing with a chicken, but I was anxious to see the tabs so took the plunge.

After a surprisingly trouble free install (a tribute to backward compatibility) I opened the first tab file and wow! Dynamic tab! Power Tab plays the tab and notation using midi on your machine. I was impressed enough that I jumped on to the Internet to search for the current release, which is where things came down to earth.

As a child I dreamt one night I had a wonderful toy car carrier. It was a big Mack truck carrying Corvettes and Thunderbirds and I had it parked under my bed for safe keeping. Next morning I leapt out of bed to retrieve my rig and found nothing but cobwebs and dust mites. I had somewhat the same feeling when I got to and saw the caption “Power Tab Archives Closed” followed by article links with “Music Publishers’ Association” MPA in them. Dang! No wonder there are no new releases; seems Power Tab Editor is another victim of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Now I’m all for people making money off what they create, I just wish publishers could bow to the inevitability of DRM free distribution. After all, legal downloads of DRM free music such as Amazon and iTunes Plus is ubiquitous now. Still, some content such as electronic books and apparently Power Tab format still have not arrived at their ultimate DRM free end state. Late breaking news of a PTA Relaunch though indicates a resolution is at hand. As of April 3, 2009, release of Power Tabs via the Internet has a new lease on life with royalties being paid through advertising. You can go to Power Tabs Discussion Forum to track the progress.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Guitar Next Door: 2008 PRS Mira

Paul Reed Smith (PRS) one of the top three guitar makers is known for its exacting attention to detail. The new Mira is a variant on the Custom 24, the core of the PRS line. This 2008 black Mira with bird inlays is today’s Guitar Next Door.

This example has the abalone bird inlay option, locking tuners, mahogony body and neck, stoptail bridge, and volume and tone control with a three way blade switch & a coil splitter. Initial try out of this guitar was through a Marshall DSL 401.

First impressions are light weight and a great fit. The stoptail bridge along with the glued neck produces great tone and sustain. I've played several different PRS guitars and they never feel quite right. Something about this body style variant works for me. Great reach to the high frets like an SG and it can create the same humbucker crunch through its pickup arrangement.

Here are the various settings:

Mini Toggle Switch Up
Three-Way Up - Base Single Coil
Three-Way Middle - Both Single Coils
Three-Way Down - Treble Singlecoil

Mini Toggle Switch Down
Three-Way Up - Bass Mumbucker
Three-Way Middle - Both Humbuckers
Three-Way Down - Treble Humbucker

The pickups have a classic tone and you can produce any sound you want between these switch settings and tweaking your amp. Guitar hobbyists of a certain generation may automatically gravitate to the classic body styles that have been around since the 50s and may not give one of these a second glance on the rack. Pick one up and give a try anyway and you'll be surprised!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technology Keeps You Current on the Future and the Past

Social stereotypes say that people in my age bracket need a simple “help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up” phone with big buttons. I bucked stereotype and upgraded to an iPhone courtesy of accumulated travel award points. A few minutes with the music features and I was immediately transported back to fond memories of the “Sound Lab” I enjoyed aboard ship during my stint in the Navy.

The sound lab was a small compartment aboard ship where you could make a reservation, bring some blank cassettes (this was the 70s), and record what you wanted from a large selection of current and classic music. How great is that? This was on the up and up though as each recording made was logged by an on duty attendant for royalty purposes.

Why use of iTunes and a standard iPod never made me think of the sound lab is curious. I can only attribute it to the complete freedom afforded by high bandwidth for mobile devices; basically you see a song and download it wherever you are. Although the sound lab was a much lengthier analog process it seemed equally liberating at the time.

I celebrated the flashback by downloading Nazareth “Close Enough for Rock and Roll” and Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak”; the first two Sound Lab recordings I made aboard ship. This was not all about dwelling in the past though. I found an app called Shazam that “listens” to a track, figures out the song, and provides links so you can download it right then and there; they are still making great music out there.

Technology has no age limit and it will keep you moving forward while reconnecting to the past.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ambassador of Music City

My wife and I recently celebrated an anniversary at an historic downtown hotel and I heard some great guitar tone on walking into the lobby. Sound but no guitarist. It sure sounded live to me but I couldn't place him. Soon after being seated for dinner I see this guy walk into the room picking away on a great looking Epiphone archtop. This must be the Nashville equivalent of the strolling violinist!

I studied his guitar technique (of course) once he came by our table to see what I could learn. He definitely had multi tasking down as he could maintain a conversation without skipping a beat. This was offbeat enough where I felt compelled to check this guy out during the break. Turns out it was David Andersen, Ambassador of Music City.

Mr. Anderson normally entertains visitors to the Country Music Hall of Fame and claims to have met 1 Million people doing this gig and has a journal to back it up! He has a wireless setup (critical for the strolling musician part) and I got some good tone tips as he was running through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, which is one of the amps I have at home.

After a few minutes of gear talk I rejoined my wife after having purchased a couple CDs and came away with a souvenir guitar pick. Every meal out can turn into a guitar lesson in this town!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guilt Free Guitar Gear

Guitarists love gear. Problem is, we are in a global economic meltdown and your spouse does not understand why you need more than one of anything guitar related anyway. So, buying that unique effects pedal (even used off Craigslist) may come with some guilt. One approach to overcome these obstacles is to create your own housecleaning service.

I’m not talking about going around and cleaning other peoples’ homes. I’m talking about cleaning your own. You do the cleaning and pay yourself what you would pay a cleaner to come in. Sure, this works best if you are a dual income household and already paying for housecleaning. However, you can get creative and leverage social stereotypes to make this work. If you are male and take on the housecleaning duties you are immune, man! Nobody is going to criticize you for picking up a new toy now and then.

This is great exercise for aging rockers, helps build fret hand strength (be sure to wear cleaning gloves), and it goes a long ways towards enhancing marital bliss. Give it a try and start building your gear collection today!