Remembering George Harrison…

29 11 2014

If you’re a guitarist, the end of November marks another dark day.

The man who said; “The Beatles saved the world from boredom” George Harrison, the lead guitarist with the  Beatles and  a multi-talented singer-songwriter in his own right, died of cancer on this day in 2001 at his home in Henley-on-Thames in south Oxfordshire, England.

George Harrison

George Harrison (February 25, 1943 – November, 29, 2001)

George wasn’t born into wealth. His dream of becoming a rock and roll star began when he was riding his bicycle through the streets of his Liverpool neighborhood in England as Elvis Presley songs blared from passing cars.  A close childhood friend of Paul McCartney’s, George actually auditioned for John Lennon on the upper deck of a UK public bus. He later joined the Beatles.

George was best remembered as “the quiet Beatle”. He let John Lennon and Paul McCartney share the spotlight while he spent most of his time lingering in the back line playing his guitar, doing what he loved best.

Here’s George doing what he did best, with the great Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Ringo Starr;

While my guitar gently weeps…

Here comes the sun…

Billy Preston – George Harrison Tribute – My Sweet Lord

If ever a man was loved by his fellow men, George was a pillar, loved and admired by many…
Concert for George

Today, George… my guitar weeps… RIP.

 





Remembering Jeff Porcaro – Rock Legend

14 08 2014

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently and somebody asked me;

“Man, you played with everybody! And you knew everyone else! May I ask… who do you miss the most?”

I had to think about it for a moment. Most of the guys I knew who have left us, left so much behind that I never really got a chance to miss them. They are “still” here.

Almost 40 some-odd years later, I’m not thinking about “stats” or even walls lined with gold records. I’m thinking about guys who were SO important, so foundational that they left a mark on us that never faded.

When you think of it THAT way, I miss a lot of guys, Gary (Moore), George (Harrison), Ravi (Shankar) and even guys I never got to meet, like Hendrix and Jim Morrison whom I got to know by their music – which  became such an instrumental part of my own music foundations…

I remember meeting Otis Redding as a kid.  I met Jim Croce (we had mutual friends) a few times before he passed. I talked with Muddy Waters several times.  I met Stevie Ray Vaughan several times. I knew Danny Gatton (one of the world’s best Tele players, hands down). I have photographs someplace of Frank Zappa holding me as a kid, like I was some kind of alien lifeform.  Billy Preston. What can you say about Billy Preston?

But in this moment in time, I have to say that I miss Jeff Porcaro the most. I almost felt like it was fate to be asked this, a week after the anniversary of Jeff’s death. 22 years later, he’s still larger than life.

Jeff Porcaro RIP
I remember Jeff Porcaro from North Hollywood as a kid. I lived in OC and we drove into LA to play. I probably looked like a demented moron, riding my Harley or my Norton up PCH into LA with a guitar jammed into saddlebags on each side of the bike.

Walking into a room that Jeff Porcaro was in was like coming home. He made you feel like you belonged there. It was like a big fraternity – without the hazing and the beer bongs.

The weirdest thing is that Jeff wasn’t a “good friend”. I just “knew” him. I spent time around him. I liked and admired him. He was already “old school” in a “new” school, the original School of Rock. You looked up to him. You wanted to be like him. He “had” it, whatever “it” was.  Those guys that he hung out with (guys like David Paich and Steve Lukather) were “Kings”. We were more like the adoring court…

Jeff came from one of those families. Mike, Joe, Steve, Jeff, they had more music in their fingers, in their souls…  than most of the rest of the rock world combined.

It was a “small world”. Everyone knew everyone else. In the circus that was SoCal, the Porcaro’s OWNED Hollywood.

Jeff Porcaro was a legend. He was magic. He had more soul than James Brown, Little Richard and BB King combined. When he walked into the studio the room just crackled. He made everyone better. He was intense, funny, wicked. If he looked over his glasses at you,  you were usually in trouble. He knew that you were screwing up.

He was the heart and soul of rock. Lots of musicians revolved around the music. Not Jeff. Music revolved around HIM. You really can’t “fix” a drum track. Drums are visceral.  Jeff was the King of the “one take” killer tracks.

He was every musician’s big brother. He helped a LOT of musicians coming up. In fact, most of them never knew that he’d gone to bat for them. It’s a long list – a lot of guys that everyone now knows as legendary – that owe Jeff a solid for the jumpstart he gave their careers.  I know. I’m one of them.

His work was legendary. Sonny and Cher, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, hundreds of studio sessions. He was always “dead nuts” on.

He listened to Miles Davis, Hendrix,  the “old schoolers”, Blues, Jazz, the classics.

I was just plodding through college when Toto formed. Jeff wasn’t the “leader” of Toto. He was Toto’s “shepherd”. He helped guide some of the most talented sessions guys on the planet (they played on like… 5000 albums between them) into becoming a worldwide global sensation on stage.

Here’s a piece of Toto trivia: A lot of people don’t know that the guys from Toto “made” Michael Jackson’s album, “Thriller”. People actually hated them for that. The album was tanking in production and Quincy  Jones reached out to Jeff to see if he could save it. Combined with contributions from cats like Steve Lukather, they turned Michael’s album into one of the most important Rock and Roll albums of all time. It was just unfathomable that a bunch of white kids could bail out Quincy Jones and help make “Thriller” so magical, so important.

Rolling Stones actually tried to crucify them for that. They implied that Quincy actually “made them settle down and play with some taste”. Toto is one of the only bands in the history of Rolling Stone to tell them to “fuck off and take their magazine cover with them”. It was Jeff who called them and told them to get bent.

Jeff had a heart condition. He wasn’t a “hard-core druggie”. He snorted a little coke. A lot of people did, but he wasn’t a slave to it.  He was the “sheepdog” for most of the rest of us. He had uncles that died of heart disease and heart failure. His arms hurt all the time.

People thought; “He’s a drummer. Duh!”

It wasn’t his arms, it was his heart.  They said it was carpal tunnel. It wasn’t. The blood wasn’t getting to his hands. His arteries were hardening.  Then, after doing some yardwork, he had a seizure and he passed away.

Nobody saw it coming. He said he was going to the doctor. He wasn’t. He didn’t want to worry anyone. I remember how shocked we all were.  There were a lot of guys that we figured would check out before we did. Jeff wasn’t one of them.

He died at his home on August 5th, 1992. Wow, it seems like so long ago that I attended his funeral.

And now he’s probably up there, playing with Hendrix and “Trane” – John Coltrane.

The rest of us, those guys who wear headphones 10 hours a day working… will never ever hear anyone like him again.





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.

timothycarey1

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.

frankzappa

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! 😉

lexx-sig





‘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?

canton1

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…”

line-6-spider

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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“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.

spark1studio

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…

floorplan

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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…

plan

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.

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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…

spark1studio21

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!

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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:  Spark1studios@bigpond.com





6 Strings Worth of Classical Ecstacy!

3 03 2009

Okay, we’ve been talking…

Well, not exactly… I’ve been talking, and you’ve been listening. We’ve been talking about guitars and education, and the perils of just trying to “wing it” without learning the fundamentals.

Lot’s of people just pick up the guitar, watch a few videos and buy a few songbooks… And they cheat themselves out of a “learning base” that might have allowed them to explore “new frontiers” way earlier! Hey, you’re a smart guy, and you can learn everything you ever wanted to know, just by watching MTV and YouTube, right?

Well, you just keep thinking that! It’s guys like you, that I buy “hardly used guitars” from, for almost nothing… 😉

remnants

Incidentally, I don’t resell them. I donate them to one of a few guitar schools I sponsor, both here in the US, and overseas… So don’t ask.

When you’re buying your first guitar, you really have no idea how it’s supposed to feel, or sound (or even smell), for that matter. You’re just another “rube in the woods” trying to  look cool, as you sit there on that stool, and try to look like you know what you’re doing. I call this “the poser period.”

If you’re smart, you find a mentor and take him/her along with you, to guide your steps as you start to grow. After all, a sponge won’t swell up in the desert... 😉

I don’t care how you do it… Bribe them, promise them dinner, or even your first child… whatever… just make sure that they’re there to keep you from being ripped off!

Have them test drive that guitar for you. While they’re doing it, pay attention! If they can make it cry, so can you, eventually.

Then, once you get it home… pick up the Yellow Pages, and look for a teacher.

Call the local guitar shops, and ask them who teaches. And then, ask those teachers to give you a demo, on YOUR guitar. If they play your guitar, they’ll know what tools you have to work with! Because once that teacher knows where you’re starting from, they’ll be able to make sure that you learn the fundamentals, and THAT will insure your success as a guitarist!

Me, I opt for the guy that beats it into your head that learning “classical guitar” will make you a “rock star…”

Why? Well, here’s a tip for all you “thrasher wanna-be”  kiddies out there!

He’s the guy your parents will gladly pony up the cash for! After all, when they’re playing bridge next weekend, bragging about “their prodigy of a kid who’s learning to play classical guitar…” you’ll be worshiping a “bridge” of your own. And it will happen with your parents blessing (and financial support), I might add!

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And I thought it might help you, to hear what a “Classical education” can do for your fretwork…

If you practice, practice, practice… And IF you play it right, it’ll sound like this…

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Now then… “Old Guys” aren’t so dumb, are they? Hmmm?

100lft_guitar_ava1Okay… “Old Guys” ARE dumb enough not to be able to figure out how to embed an MP3 in the WordPress blog post. So, sorry for the “off-link!” I’ll figure it out sooner or later. I’m a guitarist, not a computer programmer! ‘Till then, it’ll be worth your while to follow those links… and then… come right back! 😉