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…”

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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.”

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

Stay tuned!

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Well, I guess it’s up to us left-handed guitar players to straighten things out, huh?

15 02 2009

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while now…

(Well, actually, I’ve been playing with the idea since about August of 2008…)

And, I’ve even started getting my shit together, so I could get this ball rockin’, but something always came up…

First, I got married… again! That always screws things up! 😉

Then… a hurricane ate our house, and all it’s contents. I had to say goodbye to several of my guitars, and a lot of sound gear!

And if that wasn’t enough, between trying to rebuild and trying to keep things flowin’…

We had a baby! I don’t know how it happened… well, I know “exactly” how it happened (if you don’t you’re on the wrong blog, bucko!) and now he’s tearin’ up the joint!

But, time stands still for no one! I’ve seen stuff… I’ve played stuff… I’ve even seen history… (I was there at Record Plant in the 70’s [1974 to be exact] when Lennon and McCartney “played” together for the last time)…

So… no more wasting time, We’re gonna start anew, with no more lookin’ back, and no more lookin’ over somebody else’s shoulder.

Here we go…

All you have to do is spend 20 minutes at Guitar Center, to realize that a guitar is a “babe” magnet. With the right axe even a geek can get laid, provided the licks are there! But, how do you actually learn to play it? And, what if you’re (gasp!) left-handed? Oh shit… Things just got way more complicated!

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but being a great guitarist isn’t about getting laid. It’s about being a rock solid performer, who channels his or her heart and soul into that guitar, and then bleeds energy out to the audience. THAT gets you laid…

And confidentially, you need to get your priorities straight. If this is all about your “naughty bits,” you have much bigger problems!

Let me guarantee you that you’re gonna spend hours that last for months, getting your chops… And then, you’re gonna have to conquer your stage-fright, and show the world what you’ve got. Being a “lefty” isn’t a curse!

Hell, some of the greatest guitarists that ever lived are (gasp!) lefties!

Lemme see… Jimi Hendrix comes to mind;

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No one ever tuned into the “cosmic progression” and saw more possibilities for the electric guitar’s place as rock’s “pillar” instrument than Jimi Hendrix. Jimi integrated blues and jazz, used them as his springboard, and then mercilessly pushed his instrument to places his peers could only dream of. Legions of us have been trying to duplicate his licks ever since. But alas, there’s only one “Jimi.” Interestingly enough, Carlos Santana once speculated that Hendrix’s style may have been partly rooted in his Native American heritage. I’m thinkin’ it was the “peyote…” but what do I know? 😉

Then there was that cat… Tommy “Whats-his-name…” you know… the guy with Black Sabbath?

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It’s been said that  Tony Iommi is the man who invented the heavy metal riff. With his ever present SG, the Black Sabbath maestro established the gloomy, minor key patterns and foreboding blues-based solos that continue to define the darker side of the rock genre. Few guitarists have uncovered more permutations within a singular, self-imposed approach. And that includes “righties…”

We’ll throw this guy on the fire, too; Elliot Easton

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Catchy as they were, Rick Ocasek’s neurotic pop songs wouldn’t have been the same without Elliot Easton’s economical leads and spot-on, song-serving solos. Trained at the Berklee College of Music, Easton brought a Beatles-like touch to such Cars classics as “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Fittingly, Gibson honored him with his own signature SG.

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Play nice and I may have some kind of a contest to “pass it on…” to a deserving “lefty!”

In fact, somebody sent me one… Not bad at all, the neck was so smooth it reminded me of an old joke about “hand-jobs…” 😉

Let’s not forget one of my personal favorites; Sir Paul McCartney

paul_mccartney

In addition to being the most melodic bass stylist in rock history, Paul McCartney has unveiled spectacular six-string artistry on more occasions than you can count! He may be “old school,” but acoustic classics such as “Yesterday” and “Blackbird” remain essential for aspiring guitarists who give equal weight to brilliant songwriting and impeccable technique. It’s a measure of his talent that even in his “old age,” at any of his live performances  Sir Paul makes material look deceptively easy.

And just because I’m a “Southern California Boy,” I’m gonna throw in Dick Dale;

dick

The long esteemed “King of the Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale went out every night and showed ’em how it was done! Dick exerted a huge influence on ’60s groups such as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Now, before you start callin’ me “Grandpa,” I’ll point out that even though Dick was probably before your time, his trademark single-note staccato technique had a tremendous impact on aspiring guitarists everywhere. In fact, virtuoso players like Eddie Van Halen and even Pete Townshend considered him a guitar-playin’ God! And, Dale’s use of exotic Middle Eastern scales (now quite commonly used) was considered daring (and even decadent) for its time as well.

And I can think of a bunch more! Guys like Al King, Otis Rush, Tim Armstrong, and Al McKay, just to name a few!

scd-7501-2albert-king-with-stevie-ray-vaughan-in-session-posters

So even if you’re a lefty, you can do it! I’ve got faith in you. And, if you can’t… well… I still can, and in the end, it’s all about me, huh? 🙂

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m in the biz… I’ve lived in studios and sound rooms all my life. I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go. I’ve tossed their posses out of “green rooms,” and I’ve even stolen a girlfriend or two…

(Frankly, I’ve loved more guitars, than people.)

I’ve owned studios in L.A., New York, and even Las Vegas. I’ve owned more guitars than a guitar store. I’ve toured in more countries than I can remember…

Through it all (and the 70’s are still kinda hazy), I’ve contributed to what I think is a pretty solid body of work, with an “Artist list” that goes on for several pages. In fact, if you started playin’ all the stuff I’ve worked on, that iPod of yours would keep playing for weeks continuously.

The funny thing is that I sit at home, in the studio, playin’ my ass off, with my kid in the sound room listening like he can actually hear each and every note. I’m surrounded by records hanging on the wall… Yet… my kid is still amazed when Jeff Beck knows my name… ‘cuz I’m just “dad.” And he thinks Joe Satriani is a God… Go figure! Oy Vey!

And, you don’t stop playin’ when you’re thirty, either! Lots of us tour into our 50’s and 60’s. Some of us keep at it, writing scores for film, and jingles for advertising. And some of us get to the point where we don’t even have to leave the house, anymore, to shred for some serious cash… I know some of those guys. In fact, they meet at my house, on a regular basis!

Here’s a tip; If you wanna keep your licks, you have to work at it. And, it’s hard work, despite how easy it looks on MTV and VH1…

But, I’m getting sick and tired of  hearing people whining that “they can’t crack in,” or they can’t learn to play, because of this or that.  “Waaaaaa-waaaa-waaa!” That’s just crap! To those guys, I just say this; “Grow a spine!”

It’s about talent, determination, and drive.

It’s that simple.

First, you learn the fundamentals. Then, you learn the tricks. Then, and only then, you start getting “original.” Stevie and Carlos didn’t come out of Momma’s chute with a guitar neck glued to their little hands and a pick in their mouths… Jeff and Joe didn’t go to Wal*Mart and buy a can of “Incredi-Shred.” They learned to shred, by practicing for hours that lasted for days, going on weeks. And then, after their fingers stopped bleeding, they started over.

And it doesn’t matter if you’ve got an “inny,” or an “outie.” Girls can shred, too! Just ask Lita Ford, or that Aussie Wonder “Oriantha!”

As a “leftie,” much of what I’ll teach here will pertain to that “chosen few,” who despite being “wrong-handed,” are gonna conquer their dragons, and learn to shred like one of those guys on “Iron Chef!” 😉

For those of you “righties” that stop by, the principles will still apply, you’ll just have to practice the “application,” in the mirror. Don’t feel bad, some of us have been doing it for years… 🙂

We’re gonna talk about the business of making music, in spite of those who would watch you fail.

Stay tuned!

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