Cap-ital gains…

10 12 2012

Recently, we purchased a Lefty Carparelli S3 LP Clone “Celebrity Axe” in a charity auction.

The guys here have been adopted and then conscripted by a group of reprobates… um… er… Vets that buy and then rehab guitars and amplifiers to donate to American Soldiers serving in the field. They called it the “Secret Strat Project“.

It’s a “paycheck by paycheck” gig…

We bought this axe because (a) we’d had this Korean US Marine on our list for a while and (b) because  it was signed by a really popular South Korean Rock Band and we thought he’d get a kick out of it.


We spent more than we usually would, but all the proceeds from the auction were going to help families in Japan who are still trying to recover after the Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Reactor failure. So, it was all good. We don’t mind eating Mac and Cheese for a few more days to help pay for it. 

But that’s when things took a turn.

We learned that this Marine’s family lives on the East Coast and his little girl, who is a guitar prodigy (according to her “ex-Julliard schooled” guitar teacher, no less) lost her guitar and amp in the floods and heavy weather. We learned that his tear-filled desire was that somehow he was going to replace his daughter’s musical gear so she would stop crying.

Yes, Virginia. Big, Bad Fire-breathing Marines, cry. In fact, where our children are concerned, we’ve all shed rivers of tears.

Wanna make something of it?

I didn’t think so.

So, this time, we’re doing something a little bit different.

We’re going to replace HER gear, by Christmas. Her family lost everything.  She needs “normal”. She needs a neck to hang off of and pour her love into. She needs to channel that love and start healing her heartbreak. Daddy will find out about it the same time she does, probably (hopefully) over a family SKYPE call, on Christmas morning.

At least that’s our hope. All she’ll know is that Santa didn’t forget about her. The card will read simply;

“Merry Christmas! Daddy loves you.”

We already knew that Carparelli’s are REALLY NICE in the furniture department, but we’d heard that because they were built for a specific  price point (they are a GREAT value), they could use a little tweaking to make them even better.

Are they playable, out of the box?

Absolutely. Nice pups, locking tuners, nice bridge and tailpiece, and decent controls. If you’re looking for an “above entry level – Les Paul” type axe, you owe it to yourself to check these babies out…

I will say this;

The money you save buying a nice Carparelli over buying  an entry level Gibson Les Paul will pay for a really nice amp. 🙂

These are really nice guitars for the money, folks. In fact, we’re pretty impressed. This Carparelli S3 is one beautiful axe.

Don’t get me wrong, this axe won’t leave you wanting- box stock.

In fact, we think that it’d  be the perfect “learning axe” (like…  your “second guitar”), one that you could easily and affordably upgrade as your skills increased.

This axe really does have that WOW factor. It’s finish level is much better than MANY axes we see daily and extremely rare at this price point.

The guys in Canada (where these axes hail from) are really paying attention to detail. With it’s nice body and neck quality to build off of,  I guarantee that you’ll have this axe a LONG time… and you’ll look and sound good playing it.



But, with just a little massaging, a Carparelli makes a really NICE “Les Paulish” player, rivaling most “real” Les Pauls you find in the marketplace, for FAR less money.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know that we tell you to “ignore the brand  names” and look at “fit and finish”. 

Based on that, this axe gets pushed up high on that list of “must sees” when looking for a Les Paul type guitar.

So, the plan is to carefully gut the axe and get a nice pair of gold P-90s (or maybe even a set of ’57 Classics), along with a handful of high end gold plated components (CTS 500k Reverse pots, Switchcraft switch and jack, etc…) to finish out what is a really well built and quite striking guitar.

And while we started discussing the repairs and mods for this guitar (before we give it to Santa to deliver on Christmas Eve)…

All hell broke loose.

The topic switched to pots, the good switch and jack… and a new wiring harness.

That meant that we got to revisit “Cap Hell”…

Here’s where the argument commences;

The whole issue of capacitors is fraught with peril. Some people swear by Bumblebees (and give away their paychecks to obtain them). Some players  like Sprague Black Beauties.

Um… if you ask me… SoZo’s are cool and quite affordable.

And, they  ALL sound GOOD. But there are as many opinions about capacitors as there are grains of sand on the beach.

Blondes or… Brunettes?

Fender or… Gibson?

Dodge… or Ford?

Big ones or… small ones?

(Hey!  I was talking about guitar neck profiles. What were YOU thinking about? Get your mind out of the gutter, huh?) LOL!

If you ask me… this whole “MY cap is better than your Cap” thing is getting pretty ridiculous.

We took one look at this gorgeous axe and decided that we’re taking it back toward 1959 and Kalamazoo. We LOVE that “Classic Les Paul sound and vibe”. LOVE it.

Gibson_Historic_Bumble_Bee_Capacitors_PCAP-059_aAnyone familiar with most vintage Les Pauls knows that the harnesses commonly bear the .022 BumbleBee’s red, red, orange stripes. Do they sound good? Yes.

But, it’s an expensive proposition.

You too can have authentic ’59 Bumblebee Capacitors contributing to that  lovingly pursued tone of your beautiful axe…

… for the low, low price of $112 a pair.

Let me repeat that… for $112 a PAIR.

Is it really necessary?

THAT’S the question.

And thus, the first stone in the rockfight is thrown;

Any discussion about guitar  capacitors has to start with two components;

The TYPE of  capacitor that you are using, and…

The VALUE of the capacitor itself. (There’s actually a third component – call it a “subset” – it’s the TOLERANCES that the capacitors are spec’d at.)

In my view, it’s the  VALUE and Tolerance percentage of the cap that is of  primary importance. There are 3 different TYPES of caps commonly used in guitars;

1. Electrolytic caps: good
2. Mylar caps: better
3. Polypropylene caps: best

Once you’ve figured that out, you get to choose “values”. If the three types of caps are like “regular, unleaded and premium” fuel in your car, “Value” is HOW MUCH fuel you add.

Generally, most players want to balance guitar pickups  by removing a bit of the harshness/over brightness of the treble pickup, so it’s common to increase the value of the cap in that pup circuit to enhance the effect.

When you consult an electrical engineer, it gets confusing… They’ll tell you;

“When the 300k/500k tone controls on a Les Paul type guitar are “dimed” (set at full treble), the capacitor is effectively doing nothing; it’s value/make/type makes little or no difference, because it has that 300/500k potentiometer in the way.”

And when you start rolling the tone control back to remove treble, there is by definition a ‘loss of tone’.

So even if, even if, different makes/types of cap made a difference, then you’re trying to hear this under conditions where you are effectively making the guitar’s tone more restricted and ‘woolly’, and less responsive in the highs.

“They’ll tell you that it’s like boasting; “Now that I’ve restricted the treble response of my guitar… I can hear that this capacitor has great tone”.”

Then, they’ll tell you that guitar controls are too primitive to allow humans to actually hear the difference in caps based on the (a) bandwidth of the guitar and (b) that distinguishing between the TYPE of capacitors in this process isn’t possible.

It’s just too crude a process…

“They’ll tell you that we’re influenced by all those articles we read, written by electrical engineers building amp circuits or Hi-Fi Equipment, products with a “higher” threshold of operation that allows differentiation of tones, audibly.”

They’ll state categorically that in a guitar’s passive tone control circuits, a lot of the “concern” about this brand or that brand… is just nonsense unless you have the hearing of a canine.

The illustration will be that unscrupulous dealers spend pennies building caps and then label and market them by selling guitarists fairy stories about quality and tone voodoo…  and then they make millions of dollars doing it.

Okay, is there any truth to this?

Let’s look at the other side of the horizon. Let’s call this land; “Hand’s On-ville”.

For years I spewed the electronic engineer’s commonly held point of view that the type of caps in a guitar make little  difference. It’s what  I was taught as we looked at schematics and electrical theory.

As a player… well, I thought that my ears were just playing tricks on me.

But then… it happened. Years ago, while working on my guitars and many other player’s axes as well, I ended up getting sucked into the lab in our basement as an assistant to my electrical engineer girlfriend, a Russian import who was a pretty well-known amplifier designer/builder/repair tech in the Las Vegas area.

This girl, Anna,  was more than just well put together “Exotic Brains and great looks”… she was the Russian equivalent of a NASA electrical engineer. She looked like a Caesar’s Palace Showgirl and she soldered like a rocket scientist. And, she was a stickler for detail, so she “forced me to learn” as I helped her. Ever try to learn electrical theory in Russian, one syllable at a time? My head still hurts. As I applied myself to these new tasks (because it was better than arguing and then sleeping on the couch) I “learned” that many of our clients could actually hear the difference in the type of capacitors used in both passive and active guitar circuits.

My interest piqued, we started using our clients as guinea pigs, performing blind tests on them (without their consent) and the results were amazing… and replicable.

People will tell you that humans can indeed hear the differences between capacitor types and even capacitor values.

We watched it closely (both audibly and by using a scope to look at waveforms). You can SEE the differences. If you can see them, it’s possible, under the right circumstances to hear them, right? “Possible” and “probable” are two different things, however.

Now, I’m not talking about “Golden Ear – freaky stuff” like “Eric Johnson and his alleged ability to hear the differences between the brands of batteries in his pedals” kinda hearing.

(In fact, that’s a myth  – he never actually said that. I personally asked him about it once. He denied it and said simply that he found a brand of batteries that he liked and then… he stuck with them.)

But I digress;

We watched guys and gals choose caps audibly. We didn’t switch “TYPES” as much as switched “VALUES”. We SAW the differences on the scope as they made their decisions. Were they always right? THEY thought that they were. In the end, that was what was important.

(I still think it was one of those 50/50 crapshoots, to be honest. Like when you go to the eye doctor and he’s checking your eyes in that lens box and he says; “This one… or THIS one… after a while, it’s hard to tell. )

I believe it is the variation in capacitor VALUE that accounts for any sound difference. The capacitor construction isn’t as discernible. Where it gets tricky is when you’re  comparing closely toleranced capacitors (that are spec’d to within a few percentage points of each other) and when you’re using cheaper, “wider spec” (up to 30% different) capacitors.

There’s not a ton of difference between .022uf and .024uf. There’s a HUGE difference between .012uf and .050uf.

The REASON that there are so many different types of capacitors is that the caps themselves behave differently. 

Things like operating temperature, frequency and the applied voltages will affect them. But we’re not talking about rocket engines or a space satellite, we’re talking about a guitar. Everything we do with them is on the low end of the spectrum; low audio frequencies, low AC voltages, and zero DC voltages.  The only difference for the capacitor is it’s dissipation measured in Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR). The original capacitors may have a higher ESR but since the cap is soldered in series with the 500K potentiometer, an extra ohm of ESR is negligible to the point of being meaningless.

In the end, it’s about YOUR ears.

Spend what you need to spend and then… solder away. It’s a really insignificant cost as far as mods goes, when you think about  the costs involved in guitar evolution.

If you change cap VALUES (buy closely spec’d/toleranced caps to insure that you’re getting what you paid for)  and TYPES and it makes a difference that you appreciate, it’s money well spent. But forget the “brand mojo” hype – If it’s done because you read it in a trade mag, or because your backline boys insist it’s a necessary mod, then, by all means… try it, but you’re probably just spending your girlfriend’s beer money for nothing.

The only reason we can justify buying those high priced caps around here is when we’re putting a vintage axe back together into it’s original configuration to maintain it’s historical significance. So, if you’re  doing to to attain or restore vintage authenticity, we’ll defend your choices to the end.

In the final analysis;

I really can’t say if your audience has ears that can hear the subtle changes you’ll make in your control cavity. But YOU will, and it’ll give you a little “boost” as you play.

A tone capacitor  in an electric guitar is simply a passive bleed-to-ground.

Remember that by design, it’s not even in the signal path. What you are hearing coming out of your amp is the signal that the capacitor rejected;

In other words, that “capacitor enhanced sound” you’re sometimes paying big bucks for isn’t colored by the capacitor AT ALL.

Combine this with the fact that the current flowing through a passive electric guitar is extremely weak – and I mean much, much  less than what any of these capacitors are rated for – and you get a circuit where the type of capacitor that you used is nearly irrelevant.

If the current were flowing THROUGH the capacitor and then into the amplifier – or if you somehow plugged a preamp in there before the tone circuit – then we’d have something to talk about.

But, IN the end, you’re probably the only one that is gonna know what capacitor you’ve plugged into the circuits cradled in that mahogany hole.

That means if you ain’t got clear covers on the back of your axe, nobody else is gonna see them. And, they probably aren’t going to HEAR them, either.


Me? I gotta clear set of backplates on this ’59 Gibson Les Paul sitting right here. Why? Well… I suppose that it’s just to cater to a voyeuristic nature… Sometimes it’s fun to look at  “pretty girls without their clothes on”… or maybe it’s just a Neanderthal desire to look at “Gibson guts”. 🙂

Plus, it’s a GREAT way to show someone HOW a Les Paul guitar actually works…

We’ll share the mod’s on this Carparelli S3 guitar with you as we go along. Right now, we need to have a talk with the guys in Canada about an axe…

Stay tuned.


Homage to Master Axemen: Steve Morse

29 06 2012

Okay, we’ve been on hiatus…

It’s not like we’ve been slummin’… We’ve been preparing to build a ranch up in the most beautiful mountains you ever saw. Places where Alder and Ash grow just begging to become guitars. It’s a place where rivers run pure as the clean side of my ’68 Super Reverb, a place that just begs you to grab your axe in the evening and “Mad Dog” the wild moose.

Now, that came as a surprise to me, because I thought I’d get all “purist” but more times than not… I’m letting my axe wail Nugent, Gilmour or Morse with the volume set on “stun”…

While we’ve been plotting and scheming, playing and slaying… we’ve been doing something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

We’ve been sending out “Strat Love”.

That’s right, we’ve been buying and rehabbing old Stratocasters and Telecasters and then sending them to “The Sandbox” to bring some “Lefty Love” to our brave Men and Women overseas. Those folks put their butts in harm’s way to stand up for what they believe in.

WE’RE Damned sure gonna support them and send them all the love and encouragement that we possibly can.

We’ll tell you more about “The Secret Strat Project” as we go along… It’s been an inspiration to us.

Today, I’m gonna talk about a guy that has inspired me for decades. He’s one old ugly bastard, but he can play like the Gawds came him ALL the talent.

In fact, I’m not gonna talk about him at all. I’m gonna let him do all the talking himself…

“Steve Morse plays his favorite riffs”

Steve Morse Solo

Steve Morse 8 minute solo – incredible

Steve Morse – Tumeni Notes

Steve Morse Arpeggiation Exercise

Steve Morse Lesson

Steve Morse – Well Dressed Guitar

See what I mean? Is that just “the sh@t” or what? Dude crushes it.

If you practice enough, someday you can play like Stevie. But… it’s gonna take a long time. You got miles to go, trust me. This guy has guitar sweat for blood.

Till next time,

I started out as a child…

18 04 2009

I have people ask me how I got started as a guitarist.

After all, to make it big, you have to gain entry into a very small club. I tell them that it’s serendipity at it’s most bizarre application…

Here’s a case in point;

It was probably meant to be…

I started out in Rock ‘n’ Roll early. In fact, my first gig was as a walk (crawl) on in a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic called “World’s Greatest Sinner.” My big brother and I were being tended by my mother’s sister (otherwise referred to as “The Commie Aunt” by my father), while both my mother and father (card carrying killers) were out “hunting,” pillaging the landscape in the US Government’s attempt at making the world safe for Democracy. 🙂

We’d been stationed at El Toro, a US Marine Air base that lived in the middle of orange groves that went on for thousands of acres.

El Toro was a weird place. The base’s logo ( a “Flying Bull”)  was actually designed by Walt Disney. We actually knew Lee Harvey Oswald, who was stationed there from December of 1958, to the spring of ’59. Supposedly there’s a photograph floating around of him holding me as a baby.  We also knew counter-culture guru Kerry Wendell Thornley, who was in the same radar unit as Lee.

My aunt had come to stay with us, due to a “domestic dispute” involving her, her soon-to-be ex, and a butcher knife. Oh yeah, an ambulance and the police were also involved…

But, no charges got pressed, the “ex” healed with a nasty scar, and Ginny came to live with us. She was a 6′ Amazon of a woman allergic to bras, totally caught up in the celebrity of Southern California, and deeply embedded in the surf “Rock” scene. And, as male children, we were enamored by her. (That came later, though…)

She was friends with Frank Zappa, who was a young college kid writing a film music score for Timothy Carey, a Hollywood bad boy turned director, who recorded low-budget films for the masses. Now, we’re talking late 1960 or 61…

I forget, because frankly, I was about 2 or three years old.

One day, she took us to Long Beach, CA, and we got our first taste of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hollywood fame… The cinematographer took one look at us, and stuck us in front of that camera, and our future was revealed… 🙂

I suspect that she did it simply because my parents couldn’t stop her. I suspect that she thought it would give my father an aneurysm. I suspect that she did it because SHE was trying to get in front of that camera. I even suspect that she might have been a “commie.” But, we didn’t care. We loved her anyway.

Why am I bringing this up, after all these years? Because I just watched it again on late night TCM. I wasn’t aware that any copies still existed! 🙂

Damn, I was a cute kid…

We have a photograph in our family archives, of me being held by the young Frank Zappa, who looks like he’s holding a hostile alien…

The film, just in case you haven’t seen it, is a sorry Timothy Carey tale of a demented “Elvis worshipping” insurance salesman who tires of a traditional life, and wakes up deciding he’s God.


It’s undeniably one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and I’ve gotta tell you that even over forty years later, it’s STILL way ahead of its time! It’s a grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes insane and decides to become the “rockabilly messiah.” Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine.

To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being.”  Their creedo is:

“There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”

This is seriously whacked stuff,  folks… Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame, sorry Dennis!), ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges–especially one promising “No Death.”

When the political machines get wind of his Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on  fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a big snake!

You won’t believe Tim’s performances. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down… He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilliy movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life.

Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras were simply pulled off the streets (I know, because my brother and I were among them), and the score was provided by a young musician…  Frank Zappa.


See? The post went “full circle.” Remember the “Commie Aunt” connection?  🙂

Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable:

“As a sinner he’s a winner,
Honey, he’s no beginner!
He’s rotten to the core,
Daddy, you can’t say no more!
He’s the world’s greatest sinner…”

If I ever move to an underground farm, stock it full of big-breasted goth girls, and start a cult… that’s gonna be my theme song… In fact, I should probably have the lawyers start working on the music clearance now, just in case…

There’s more… so stay tuned… because playin off-key really sucks! 😉


‘Cuz Lexx likes Rosewood! Mmmmmm-good!

3 04 2009
I know I told you that I was going to write about Guitar Amplifier Selection today, but something came up. Bear with me, okay? I’ll get to that next time. I think that you’ll find this interesting;

I’m gigging in L.A. this week (sessions stuff for a film project), but I was talking to a pal in New Mexico today…

I know what you’re thinking… Who the heck lives in a place like New Mexico? I mean it’s mostly desert, and the seasons “run wild,” and it’s really, really far from L.A.

Isn’t that the place where all the crazy buggers build “Earthships?” Wait, maybe I’m thinking of Roswell… Wait! That’s New Mexico, too! I rest my case.

You know who lives in New Mexico? Artists live in New Mexico.

(Man, I’ve said “New Mexico” so many times, that the State Tourist board should send me a check!) 🙂

And some of those artists build guitars. Artists who build guitars, are called “Luthiers.” Now, when I hear that word, I immediately think of some European looking guy clad all in green felt, with those crazy shoes that curled up and the end and had bells on ’em… Wait… Maybe that’s an elf, or was that a “minstrel?”  Geez, I gotta get outta L.A.! It’s starting to affect my brain… again.

According to Wiki:

A luthier (IPA: /ˈluːtɪə(r)/) is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the French word luth which is French for “lute“.

The craft of lutherie is commonly divided into two main categories: stringed instruments that are plucked or strummed (like a banjo, a guitar, or a harp), and stringed instruments that are bowed (like a  cello, a violin, or a double bass).

According to ME… A  Luthier is a guy who has dedicated most of his life to:

  • the study of fine exotic woods,
  • doing math calculations that make me think of  “the Rain Man…”,
  • drawing schematics that look like they belong in a nuclear powerplant,
  • and decades spent sniffing glue fumes and eating wood dust.

Although I like working with wood, I’ll stick to building popsicle stick birdhouses with my son.

Real Men build guitars. Great Guitars. Guitars that can make you cry and beg for the chance to caress their necks, to fondle their bodies, and… um… er… never mind. If I’m not careful, this’ll turn into “guitar porn!”

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Enter Rick Canton. Rick is to guitars, what Henry Ford was to production lines.  That means; he’s a visionary bent on progress. Now, unfortunately, Henry Ford’s contribution to the Industrial revolution led to things like the “massed produce Hell” where “modern guitars” have ended up. Places like China, and Korea, and even Japan have become the number one importers of guitars into America. Blah! 😦

But Rick… man, Rick is a purist. Luckily for us, he “sees” guitars as something other than just wood and plastic. He sees them as something ethereal,  mystical icons that sooth the souls of mortal men. Rick doesn’t just build guitars one at a time, he breathes life into them… Just being around him makes you want to hock your car, to beg a chance at owning one of his “children.”

Now, I always say that; “You shouldn’t cry over a guitar that won’t cry over you…” Rick’s guitars will make you weep. Uncontrollably.

But, this post isn’t solely about Rick, although it could be. When it comes to guitar lore, Rick is as deep as the Pacific Ocean.

It’s also about Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to be exact. Now everybody that knows anything about guitars knows that the best ones are made out of this stuff. But Brazilian Rosewood is a rare commodity. Since the 70’s, it’s been illegal to bring it into the US, because of embargoes. They have this CITE litigation in place, to make certain that Luthier’s cry.

And that brings me to the POINT of this post.

I  have this big tabletop. It’s a behemoth of a slab of wood, that used to be a really nice “rustic” dining room table, before some neanderthal dropped it off the back of a freight truck. Now, it’s just a slab, and some broken legs and spreaders.

The guy I got it from swore up and down that it was just “oiled redwood,” but even a cursory glance told me that it was more. Much more. I know guys who make their living dealing in exotic hardwoods. And a few of them lately, have been offering me a pretty fair amount of cash, for this slab of wood. Why?


First, it looks like this.

Because it’s a hunk of 50+ year old Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to boot! How do I know? Well, it’s like this;

The family that I got it from brought it back from South America in the 70’s.

(Now, I didn’t get it directly from them, but that’s another long story, filled with 8″x10″ glossy pictures, with circles and arrows draw all over them.)

Here’s the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version:” The people that brought the “slab” back were working for “United Foods” offshore,   they got tired of Brazil, and they headed back to sunny Southern California. And naturally, they brought their stuff back with them.

And then, they died. And, their greedy kids, who grew up with the furniture, hated it. So they sold it to a consignment guy, and HE’s the idiot I got it from.

(I’m not telling you THAT story, there’s far too much profanity, threats of physical violence, and attempted calls to “911” involved!) 🙂

Anyway, like I said, I verified my suspicions by calling in “exotic wood experts.” (Ever seen a “wood broker” cry? I saw them do just that, and even salivate, too!) It’s Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, legally imported into the United States, in the early 1970’s. How do I know that? Well, because it came into the country as “furniture in a crate.” that’s how. In the 70’s. Duh! Were you not you paying attention?

When I first saw the tabletop, I though it was” bullnosed.” That’s when a craftsman puts a big piece of molding on the edge of a surface, to make it look thicker. But, I was wrong. It’s a solid slab, almost 5″ thick. Actually, it was a solid 10″ slab, cut in half, an then glued together, to make a “wider” slab.

There is a strip of Ebony inlayed into the middle of the table, to hide the “joint.”

It measures as follows;

The tabletop is 8′- 1 1/2 inches long x 3′ 7 1/4″ wide x 4.75 inches thick. Remember it’s “rustic” so the measurements vary by about 1/8th to 1/4th inch, throughout. It has a rough edge.

According to my calculations, that means I have … lemme see… carry the three, multiply by the square root of Alien Tech, and divide by the circumference of my cranium (at the point) and you get;

139.098 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

In 1960, you could buy Rosewood for 10$ a foot, I’m told. Today, if you can find it, it goes for over $100 a board foot.

The (2) “spreaders” that held the legs to the table measure;

90″ long x 6″ wide, and they go from 2″ to 3″ thick in a slow taper. There’s a tenon at each end, and two holes drilled into each center, presumably to secure the middle legs to the table. That yields about;

18.75 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

Remember that there are two of them.

I’d forgotten that there are also (2) short spreaders, that spanned the width of the table. They measure:

31″ long x 6″ wide x and 2″ thick, with a tenon on each end..

5.166 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

That means that the table will yield;

163.014 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

The (3) legs that we salvaged, unfortunately are NOT Rosewood. The grain is quite cool, and the wood is noticeably darker. The inlay strip in the middle of the table married the whole thing together…They appear to be Brazilian Ebony, as near as we can figure. They measure;

5″ x 5″ at the top, 3″ x 3″ at the bottom, with a slight flute to them… Height is 28 1/2″, with a 3/4″ deep mortise in 2 sides to accept the spreader tenons.

Even if you cut them down to 3″x3″ … that’s over 5 board feet of really nice wood.  They’d probably make cool guitar necks… and those “slices” you took off to square them up… well, I bet that they’d make a pretty good looking fingerboard or three… Or, you could use them as “accent” wood, inlayed into the Rosewood…

But it’s the Rosewood that’s important, here.

If I sold the slab to those “wood brokers” they’d cut it up into really thin slabs called “veneers.” That stuff is used to make cabinetry, decorated boxes, and even (gasp!) flooring. And, they’d pay me a pretty penny for the pleasure of doing  exactly that.

SACRILEGE! A Pox on them! Hawwwk! Patoo-ie!

This Brazilian Rosewood is gonna get a new life,  just like G_d intended when he made those heavenly trees. Rosewood was meant for guitars. Beautiful, dark sounding babies with sustain time that rivals Michael Jordan’s “hang time”  on his best day! And although I already have children, I think I’m about to have a few more… A pair of beautiful daughters not directly affected by my lousy genes. A six-stringed and twelve-stringed pair of  semi-hollow bodied “Goth Prom Queen” sisters with voices so dark that you’d swear you were hearing Africa cry…

Ready, Rick?

lexx-sigAnd there will definitely be some Redwood left over, for Rick and I to get to other great guitar builders!  Great “green” projects that will help pay for all my electronics! Can you say: It’s all good!?!

Whaaaaa? I can’t hear you!

31 03 2009

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while. Besides gigging my butt off, I’m in the middle of a new project.

It’s a project that every musician dreams about. It’s a project my family and I have always aspired to. And it’s happening as we speak.

We’re finally building our own Recording Studio!

Take two chunky little warehouses, build a box to connect them together, and add about all the money you ever saved (plus all the money that you can borrow), and voila! Instant “land of dreams.”

Well, not exactly “instant.” More like a YEAR from now. Man, these babies take a long time. After I figured out hard it is to build a studio, I finally bit the bullet and placed the call.

wes_lachotYou know the one where get down on your hands and knees and grovel at the feet of the “Sound Box Gods” and beg for attention... I mean, you can play in the forums, but sooner or later, you’ll just start going crazy.

But, the music gawds were smiling, and I got the help I needed! Praise the powers that be! I mean, I don’t want to learn how Steven Hawkin does ‘rithmatic! I just wanna play!  So… I have an acoustical designer on the team, now! Finally, I have  somebody to share those “Excedrin headaches” with! 🙂

Where was? Oh yeah…

I was going to start “teaching lessons” this week, but I have another idea. It came to me on the plane back from Miami, in the form of a little boy who wandered up to my seat, and asked me what kind of guitar and amplifier I was playing. Seems that he and his mom were seated a few rows back, and they overheard me talking to my partner about the next gig, in LA. And that little tyke told me that he’s always wanted to play the guitar, and end up on VH1. He said;

“I’m not a Guitar Zero, man! I’m a Guitar Hero!”

If he’d have said “MTV,” I’d a ignored him. But, since it’s “VH1…” His birthday is coming up, and I know a kid who’s gonna get a guitar in the mail.  I’ve got this Yamaha  APX500 FM Thinline Electric Acoustic in the back of a closet I picked up for free, at NAMM. He’ll have to grow into it, but it should just about do the trick. Whaaa? You thought I’d send him a Taylor Koa? Nope. You wish.

I get asked all the time about which guitar is the best. There really isn’t a “right” answer for that. Guitars are like girls, when you find the right one, you’ll know. Everybody is different, and we all have desires of a different color. I mean, I love Japanese, but  I wouldn’t want to eat it every night…

Now, amplifiers. That’s an entirely different matter. Although there are tons of good amps out there, some just stand out, doing what they do, better than the rest. And, you have to pick them by category. There’s no such thing as a Rock/Jazz/Heavy Metal amp…

For instance, I just got back from Miami, where we spent a few days recording some serious Jazz licks, with a little “Mikosukee” flair. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a project that will make you sit up and take notice, I promise. Tasty licks, and rich enough to let you close your eyes and feel it wash thru you!

Recording studios make it a point to have just about any amp they need, but no Studio can have everything. So, you call ahead and tell them what you want, and they make sure they have it.

We’ll start this out by talking about Amps for Jazz guitarists, since my favorite 335 is sitting right here.

Guitar amps are really about “tone.” Making your jazz guitar sound “so sweet and tasty” obviously requires more than the right amplifier and guitar.

It requires you to make a choice.  And that first choice is between tubes, or electronics.

tube-ecc83sBefore you go anywhere near that music store to buy your new amp, you need to know the answer to this question;

  • “To tube or not to tube?” That is the question Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of noisy tubes and capacitors, or… … um… never mind… Suffice to say, you’re gonna be forced to choose between an all tube amp, a hybrid tube/solid state amp,  or a solid-state amp.

Here’s the “Pros” of choosing that tube amp:

  • Tubes rule! The sound cannot be equaled by solid-state  amps. Period! That said;

If you’ve attended events like NAMM, you already know that great strides have been taken in incorporating recent technology innovations to make it possible to emulate the sound of a tube amplifier in a solid state amp. (The Roland Cube 60 and its Cosm amp emulation are real good examples).

  • The overdriven sounds are more far more “musical” compared to hybrids, and solid-state amps.
  • Tube amps have that great “High” dynamic range you’re looking for!

tube-holygrailBut, Tube Amps have “Cons” too:

  • Your roadies will hate your guts! Tube Amps are heavy! And you need a spare!
  • And tube amps have “valves” that need to be replaced yearly. Tis a pain in the butt, that is!
  • Tube Amps are noisier than their solid-state amp brothers and sisters.
  • Tube amps are more expensive. Way more. But worth the cash, I tell you now!

Here’s the ABC’s of amp selection (plus or minus a few)…

Combo or head and cabinet? That separate head and amp look and sound great, but combination amps are way easier to haul around. If you’re still gigging out of a van, you choice is made. If you have a tractor-trailer… well… it’s on! Who cares if the roadies howl? 🙂

Are you a control freak? If you’re like me, you like to tweak and shape your sound, so a control panel with a lot of knobs and “dohickey’s” is exactly what you want. If you don’t like fiddling with knobs (you’re not a “real” guitarist :)), go look for a simple control panel.

Digital modeling: Can you believe it? They haveStar Wars Amps,” now.  Some amplifiers can actually switch from say… a Fender to a Marshall type amp with the flick of a knob. And some of these amps are loaded with “goodies!” Some of these boxes have just about every classic and modern guitar amp that you ever heard of, already built in. If that wasn’t enough, they have a ton of  effects, a veritible “who’s who” of speaker cabinets and even a few microphones.

Now, these  amp models don’t sound exactly like the originals, but they come pretty darn close in my opinion. Some guitarists go “ga-ga” over digital modeling, and some like the real thing. I’m kind of a “purist,” so I’m not impressed by ’em. Your mileage may vary.

Headphone connection: Look, if you have roommates or “in-laws” that share a wall, you’ll probably need this. I never did. I actually liked making them mad! It was “sport.”  There’s nothing quite like “Eruption” played full tilt, at 4am! 🙂

Low volume: This is the alternative to “wearing headphones.” Does that amp you’ve been lusting after sound good at low volumes? I think that this is a real important point to consider, as you may end up playing little intimate gigs, where that low volume clarity is a huge plus. Plus, it will double as a practice amp! That’s a “two-fer…”


Get the right amp the first time, and you don’t need a practice amp like this! That’s more bucks for pedals! 🙂

Portability: Look, unless you’re “the Incredible Hulk,” size and weight becomes an issue if you’re gigging all over town.

Power: Duh! Your amp needs enough volume to be heard during concerts. I don’t touch one that can’t be heard all the way to the International Space Station, but that’s just me…

Reverb: Okay, it’s test time. Do you prefer spring reverb or digital reverb? Spring reverb sounds way more natural, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. If you’re really a Jazz musician, you can tell. For you rock guys with “buzzing eardrums,” that may pose a challenge! 🙂

Tone: what kind of tone are you looking for? Some guitar amps are more suitable to producing the darker tones sought out in traditional Jazz recording. And if you listen to Pat Metheny (in fact, I’m listening to Pat’s album; “TRIO 99–>00” right now) you want to look for amplifiers that produce brighter tones. Of course, some amps claim that they can double up and do both, but they  rarely deliver. You may find yourself with both “light and dark meat…” , to make sure you get a good vibe when you need it…

XLR connection: Look, if you’re really a pro, you need an XLR connection on your guitar amp to run through the PA. It’s just part of playing “big gigs.”


Next time, we’ll look at some of the more popular amps, and pick a winner or two…

Stay tuned!


“Recording Studio in a Box”

14 03 2009

Greetings Campers!

When last we met, I told you all about “some guy trying to take over the music world, all by himself.”

This time, I’m gonna tell you the story of a life “recording underground” (well, nearly… It IS Australia, after all… It’s “under ground…” from here!), in a box we call an ISBU (that’s a “shipping container” to you noobs…), to MAKE a living!!

As families all across the planet build new homes out of Shipping Containers and other recycled materials, some guys are making a living, by turning the same boxes into businesses.

Pay attention folks! Thanks to the President, there’s about eleventy-gazillion dollars in Stimulus money out there floating around waiting for people to grab it. And, this falls into about three categories I can think of off the top of my head; New (small) business, “Green” application, recycling materials… and I bet there’s more! I wanna be one of those guys!

“Lexinator like money. Money goooood!”

You should wanna be one of those guys, too! Imagine one of these babies in your backyard, or under your carport! That’d piss your mom right off, huh? For the price of an oxidized old shipping container, you can become the neighborhood “Music Producer!”

Okay, that, and about $20 grand for actual “gear” if you wanna do it on the cheap! We actually sat down and did a work-up of how you could actually do this at home, for under $20,000, including the container. Now, at that price, you aren’t gonna compete with Sparky, but you’ll score on the local talent, and possibly even with a few girls… 😉

Hmmm… about those plans… Perhaps I’ll make ’em available… Perhaps not. I don’t wanna give anybody any competition… 😉

So, in the spirit of “Stimulus,” or at least “stimulation,” I’m gonna introduce you to one of those guys, right now!

Built and operated by an Aussie named Mark “Sparky” Paltridge, the “Spark1 Studios” is more than just a place to record music. It’s a place that lives within a Corten Steel Coffin (or two)!

Sparky has a history, folks… he has over 15 years performing and recording in the industry, and it seems that Sparky has an unparalleled passion for song arrangement, music production and attention to detail.


This incredible facility was constructed by converting two shipping containers to a state-of-the-art, cutting edge modern recording studio. Spark1 Studios is designed for ideal acoustics, comfort and portability. Now, I’m not sure that they actually pick the studio up and move it, but…



Now, when I first learned about Sparky, I had to do a double-take, because the guy who turned me on to him misspelled his name, and I thought he was one of the founding members of “The Partridge Family.” But, after checking with Shirley Jones, I finally figured out who he really was!

(Good thing, too. I’m not sure that being a member of David Cassidy’s clan would have been too good a reference! Especially musically! ) 😉

Sparky says that: “Recording music on the Sunshine Coast grants you an International standard in recording in an idyllic environment”

At least, that’s what his marketing says! And I’ve been to the Sunshine Coast, so I  tend to believe it!

Based in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland of Queensland, Australia since 2004, Spark1 Studios has already become the coast’s premier recording studio for discerning musicians. If you take a hard look at his company, you’ll see that he’s been involved in several albums to date, with more on the way. Not bad for a guy hunkered down in “a little insignificant box that isn’t worth looking at twice.”

At least, that’s how the natives refer to “shipping containers.” How many guys have to demonstrate their value, before these idiots just shut the hell up? Hmmm? I mean, really…


From huge, ‘in your face’ modern radio production, to capturing the ’stripped back’, intimate acoustic performance, those “tiny little boxes” allow Spark1 Studios to cover most recording needs.

Okay, so you’re not gonna record the Philharmonic there, but…

you CAN record warm and lush sounds in a comfortable, creative and inspirational space at what looks like an extremely affordable price.


With separate recording rooms to choose from, one can track drums either with a tight, well controlled sound, or go for huge drums sounds in Studio C, utilizing mics placed in the stairwell and adjacent bathroom, as well as all the close mics around the kit.

This is no “slipshod operation, either! Spark1 Studios has invested in the finest gear of the analog and digital realms, featuring the foremost mics, preamps, compressors, EQs & AD/DA converters available. This includes recording equipment such as Neumann, Senheisser, AKG, , DBX, Purple Audio, JLM AUDIO and RME, as well as utilizing ‘classic’ older valve gear and equipment. In other words, they have all the right stuff…


So what have we learned? Hmmm?

ISBU’s are versatile, and worthy of most uses if you just use your gray matter, and think things through. Be it a cabin in the woods, a business by the roadside, or a hotel in the ‘burbs, these boxes can go great distances, both at sea, and on your bottom line.

Kudos Sparky!!! Today, you’re my hero… But don’t let it go to your head…

Yesterday, it was my kid… He made a poop, finally! Let me tell you, he was one cranky little monster for a while… 🙂

Next time, we’ll get back to the matter at hand… Finding that perfect guitar! 🙂

Rock On!


I’ve been talking to Sparks lately, and here’s a bit of information that you’ll find way more palatable than “Vegemite!” (You know Aussies have to be either REALLY tough, or completely crazy, to eat that horrible stuff. Blah!)  Sparks tells me that; “I’m actually thinking of selling the first studio, (The control room/vocal booth one), and buying another high cube and redoing the same control room with sliding doors this time. I’m hoping to get around $35,000 AUS for it.” That’s “BOX ONLY,” plus “A/C, perhaps.”

(And that’s $23,059.90 USD for us Yanks!)

If you’re interested, you can contact him at:

The Ultimate Guitarist?

8 03 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

The kid walks into the music lab, all smiles and “tra-la-las…” so I already know that something’s up.

He comes over and hands me a URL he’s crawled on the back of a Gibson Dark Fire pamphlet and says: “Dad, you’re pretty cool and all, but when you can do this, I’ll be impressed.”

Now, I wasn’t even gonna look at the note, because of the pamphlet’s origin. I’m still hacked off  that Gibson isn’t gonna release Dark Fire left-handed. “Nuh-uh!  Not gonna do it!” I talked to the guys there, and they told me “there isn’t enough market.”

Where was I? Oh yeah…

It looks like Ethan Winer might give Edgar Winter some competition, huh?

The Fender Telecaster is one of my favorite guitars! People see them, and immediately think they won’t go anywhere but their “Rock Roots…” but they’re wrong!

This guy reminds me of working with Steve Winwood. That guy could give you nightmares. Being in the room with that much focused talent can be scary, if you ain’t got licks of your own! 😉

If this guy ever answers your ad for a “solid guitarist to fill out the band…” just close the door. Nobody can get any spotlight action with this guy in the room!

And, even “appearance challenged” as he may be, a guy with that many skills is gonna get all the ladies, too! When you see him comin’, I only got this to say; “Run Forrest, Run~!” 🙂

Sez’ Me.

100lft_guitar_ava1PS. As it turns out, I found him again… by accident, on It turns out he’s also a myth-busting audiophile engineer type! So, not only can he play any instrument known to mankind, he can build the studio, all by his “onesies!” I bet he could probably solve world hunger, and create “world peace” too, if he put his mind to it!  I bet he didn’t get those skills watching MTV. Can you say; “Practice, practice, practice!” Kudos, bud! You re making my head hurt! 😉