Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jim Hall

Check out this video of one of my favorite guitar masters, Jim Hall.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Slight Change

I traded my black Telecaster to Bill Lapham at Soundcheck Music straight up for a G&L Asat Classic. Yes, I realize the two guitars look almost identical (black, tortiseshell pickguard, rosewood fingerboard) but the don't SOUND identical. The G&L is 10 times spankier and has a tremendous growl in the low end. Lots more recorded presence than the Tele did.

Here they are.

Now, on a TOTALLY Different Subject

I'm sorry to deviate from my usual ramblings about guitars, players, and technique. But, real life has intruded upon me and I am going to comment on it.

My five-year-0ld daughter was playing on the monkey bars at school this Thursday AM, when she had a bad fall. To reduce a long story to a paragraph, she broke her arm. Shattered is more like it. The ball at the end of the ulna was totally broken off and floating free in her arm. She required surgery to repair it. She is home now thanks to the intrepid staff at Sierra Nevada Hospital who looked after her with care, good humor, and professionalism. We were also blessed because her orthopedic surgeon was here on a round (apparently there is a traveling group of surgeons that make the rounds of hospitals throughout North America) visiting from Montreal. He was, in short brilliant. The Larry Carlton of the scalpel.

So, none of that is my rant. Thus beginneth the rant.

While in the hospital we made clear to the staff that our daughter (adopted from China in '05) is allergic to red food dyes (actually all food dyes, but red is the worst), and high fructose corn syrup. Setting aside for a moment that these ingredients are bad for EVERYONE, we specified that she has these allergies and that giving either product to her is the equivalent of pouring water on a Gremlin (not the car, the character from the 80's movie). She becomes an absolute beast; angry one second, inconsolable the next, violent, and totally out of control. For those of you who would try to dismiss this as a parent's imagination, WE HAVE LEARNED THIS THROUGH HARD LESSONS - IN OTHER WORDS, LETTING HER HAVE THESE POISONS, THEN REMOVING THEM FROM HER DIET, THEN LETTING HER HAVE THEM AGAIN - CAPICE?

(clearing my throat after yelling), OK, so the staff was wonderful and accommodating in trying to find prescriptions without venom A and venom B. Do any of you have the REMOTEST idea how hard it is to find medicine without red dye? Corn syrup is not quite as hard as long as you are searching prescription drugs (o-t-c is a whole other story) but red dye is ubiquitous. Cancel that; the world is LOUSY with it! All of which brings the following question to mind - WHO IN THE HELL NEEDS RED DYE??? It has no remedial value. It heals nothing. It doesn't even make the medicine TASTE better. Why is it there in the first place?

Do a Google search on dyes in medicine and you will get lots of discussion about dyes used to find internal medical problems, not discussions of why clearly and absolutely USELESS dyes are in cough syrup, liquid pain reliever, etc. Does anyone else think that this is because one of the following conditions exists;
a) The lobbies for the food products industries have the pharmaceutical companies in their pockets, or
b) There is so much artificial dye being produced that they would sell it to ANYONE to get rid of it and make a proft.

Now, I am no socialist. I believe in making products and selling them at a profit. Fender, Gibson, Paul Reed Smith, C.F. Martin, Anchor Brewery, and Omaha Steaks are all among my favorite capitalist agencies and I am happy to give them my custom. But no one tries to get me to swallow a Les Paul Standard every time I take cold medicine. And, more directly, no one lobbies the government to take away all my alternatives and lie to me about the quality of the product with these others.

I have read many a medical article stating that "red dyes are safe for most kids." Whether that is true or not (and I doubt it) it doesn't address the fact that they are TOTALLY SUPERFLUOUS TO THE REQUIREMENT. Who cares how red the product it? Does it taste good/work well/ whatever? The redness quotient is the domain of marketing wonks who exist only to do useless things like run focus groups.

Let's get rid of the food dyes!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Memorium: Les Paul

This past week, one of the 20th century's certified geniuses passed away. Les Paul left us and re-joined Mary Ford where the two of them can make heavenly music again.

Why should we care about Les Paul?
  1. The solid body electric guitar: this singular invention, often derided by critics, has become the standard instrument of our time. It is an instrument entirely its own, able to make sounds in the hands of a skilled player that defy all others. It is an orchestra by itself. And les gave it to us by first fastening strings and a neck to a piece of railroad track.
  2. Multi-track recording: there is no film score, no Beatles record, no pop music recording that is not a product of Les' genius. Just think about a world without multi-track recording. Then bow your knee and thank God for Les.
  3. The echo box: the Les Paulverizer was a masterful little invention and created a style that gave us repeat echos in country music, and ultimately the Edge, from U2. All of this emanates from Les.
And I could go on and on. The recordings that he did with Chet Atkins are masterpieces of improvisation. I can only hope that somewhere, in eternity, the Wizard of Waukeshaw and the Country Gentleman will meet up again.

Farewell, Les. You have guided me long and well.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chord Solo Lesson

This is my first video guitar lesson on this site. I hope you enjoy it. This lesson is on ways to make your chord melody solos more interesting.

Elegy for Kenny

I was dismayed this week to learn of the passing of Kenny Rankin, one of the smoothest and most sophisticated singer/songwriters of the past 40 years. Kenny was a masterful singer and guitar player, his instrument accompanying his voice with a blend that few other musicians have been able to achieve. Although her preferred very simple arrangements of his songs, his style was deceptive. An educated musician, Rankin was able to hover gracefully over the categories of pop, folk, and jazz, gently blending the styles into one that can only be described as Kenny Rankin.

I was introduced to Kenny's music by Jim Thornber, my college roomate (another debt of gratitude I owe you, Jim) in about 1982. I would count that as a seminal experience for me as I began my migration toward jazz. One of the first things that seduced me about Rankin's music was his use of the nylon string guitar as an accompaniment. To that point in my life, the nylon string guitar belonged either to the classical world, or to ill-educated folkies who ploughed flatpicks through the strings with little regard to subtlety or grace (apologies at this point to Willie Nelson who also uses a flatpick on a nylon string guitar, but does so with emminent skill). Kenny Rankin defied my pre-conceptions, using his fingers to elicit a tone from his guitar that so perfectly matched his voice it was difficult to tell where on ended and the other began. His music was perfectly at home in any venue, as great skill always is!

To those who are not familiar with Kenny Rankin, let me recommend the following albums.
  1. "The Kenny Rankin Album," 1985
  2. "Silver Morning," 1975
I am hopeful that when Jim sees this post he will recommend others as well, but these were the recordings that made the greatest impact on me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Completion of Old Blue

Well, Old Blue is back up and running, sounding "strattier" than ever. I received my tremolo bridge from Guitar Fetish yesterday. It came complete with all screws, springs, and a vintage-look arm. I had made a few preliminary measurements on the guitar, so I knew where the bridge had to be located. What I needed to do next was align the bridge so that the saddles would allow the strings to pass over the pole pieces on the pickups. I made those measurements and marked on the surface of the guitar with a sharpee.

Having established the location of the bridge and verified that I have a 25 1/2" scale, I then secured the bridge to the guitar in place using some blue masking tape (to avoid marring the finish.) It was time, then, to drill holes for the mounting screws. The screws on a traditional strat tremolo are the fulcrum point for the bridge unit to move on. So, they need to be alligned properly. In this case, I decided to (very carefully) use the bridge itself as my drilling template. I did not want to damage the chrome, but I also did not want to introduce any errors into the drilling.
So, first I measured the screws to determine the hole depth. I also checked the diameter of the screw against my various drill bits. Then, using a drill press (to get a true 90 degree hole) I created 6 hole to a depth of 7/8" in the guitar body.

When I had this done, I could then secure the bridge to the body.

The next step is to mount the trem springs in the back cavity of the guitar.

Then comes the adjustments. Once you string up the guitar, the bridge has to be intonated, the tension adjusted using the screws on the bridge, and the string height and radius set. Once all that is done, VOILA! You have a functioning Fender Stratocaster (Fender, Strat, Stratocaster are all copyrighted trademarks of Fender Guitars).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Practice Habits

Any musician will find about 1,000 different theories on how best to practice their instrument more than likely 500 of the theories will conflict with the other 500. Music pedagogy (that's a $25 work for instruction technique) is full of very expensive ideas as to how best to learn an instrument. The fact is, there are only two absolutely indispensable elements to learning an instrument REALLY well;

  1. A motivated student
  2. A relevant musical style
Notice that I did NOT list a competent instructor. Good instructors, of course, help the process - and poor instructors can hinder it. But a truly motivated learner will do the bulk of the teaching him or her self. Most of the time, students learn by imitation. In the case of guitar players, a lot of the imitation is from recordings of music that deeply inspires them. We hear sounds that give us goose bumps and we just have to copy them. What an instructor brings to the table are some or all of the following;
  1. A breadth of knowledge of music that may also inspire the pupil.
  2. A knowledge of the most efficient methods of learning techniques.
  3. The ability to chart a course to accomplishing the pupil's goals.
  4. Encouragement!!! I say again, ENCOURAGEMENT!!!
Music is an auditory art form. For three hundred years music teachers have been emphasizing music reading as the principal skill of music performance. I would like to remind all that most of the world teaches music by means of mentoring through rote methods - the reading of music is a European emphasis. There is no substitute for our ears as the first line of music instruction. Hearing the elements of music performance is ALL important in learning the art form. I strongly encourage my students to listen to music and listen carefully. Pay attention to tone, phrasing, elements of technique. In the case of guitar music, here are some items to be very aware of;
  1. The timbre of the note as it is being struck.
  2. What tool was used to initiate the tone (pick, fingernail, flesh, hammer on, a mixture)?
  3. Fretted or open string?
  4. Speed of the phrasing.
Listen for those elements as you are learning a passage. Try to imitate the player's phrasing as you learn the passage. Don't worry about being a "clone" of another player. You are an individual and even the most diligently imitated music will bear your own signature. By imitating what you hear you will expand your own library of skills.

Spend a generous portion of your practice time listening to recordings that really excite you about your instrument. Consult your teacher as to additional recordings or artists that you can listen to who may be in a similar or complimentary style. This will vastly increase your tool box of techniques with which to make music that satisfies your soul!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Here is a picture of the look that I am going for with my strat.

The Re-Making of Old Blue

Since 1986 I have had this wonderful blue Stratocaster. Sometime in the mid 90's I converted it from a standard strat to an '80's machine with active Seymour Duncan pickups and a Floyd Rose style tremolo. Whether or not that was a mistake is debatable. However, I decided that I would rather have a more vintage, standard stratocaster. So began the rebuilding of Ol' Blue.

The first thing to change was to remove the old pickguard and electronics which are all now on sale at Soundcheck Music.

The next step was to remove the "Floyd Rose" style tremolo. After removing the studs upon which the unit moves, I had to plug the holes in the body.

I used hardwood doweling (7/8" seems to fit well) to plug the holes with Gorilla glue as the adhesive. Gorilla is flexible, holds tenaciously, and acts as filler as well. Then I touched up the surface with some blue paint. This area will be covered by a combination of the pickguard and the new bridge. When the tremolo was installed, the tech had to rout away some of the surface area of the bridge cavity - you can see in the above picture where the paint is gone. I may have to replace some of that wood to make the standard strat tremolo fit. I will know next week when my new trem arrives.

I purchased "Texas-vintage" pickups (true single coil) from Guitar Fetish and rewired the electronics. Everything had to be mounted to a new pickguard (also from Guitar Fetish) since the old one had been cut for a humbucker in the bridge position.
This is the first time I have re-wired a guitar, so I was a little nervous about the soldering. I checked the signal, however, and it sounds true and clean. I am expecting the guitar should sound great when I get the new bridge mounted up.

This is where the project stands for now. I will post more during the bridge installation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Welcome, and stay tuned!!


This blog is not because I am lonely (I have wonderful friends and a great family) but because the pursuit of guitar playing as a vocation or avocation is a lonely business. It requires practice and sacrifice and frequently puts you at odds with the rest of the culture that is more interested in cheap, immediate returns. This will be a place where you can get lessons, insights, technology tips, and general guidance as to how to live with being a musician.

More coming soon. Stay tuned!

About Me

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Musician, educator, audio engineer, guitar junkie!