All posts by Dave

Dave Eberhardt is a working guitarist and music producer in Cincinnati, Ohio. He's appeared on stage with a few recognizable names, and on albums with others. Dave has a small studio called "The Tone Parlour," where he teaches private lessons and records music for assorted projects. He was the lead guitarist for the Katie Reider Band, and is currently a creative consultant and music-direction consultant for Horizon Community Church.

THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Many years ago, I cobbled a makeshift studio space together in the old coal room in my first house’s basement. It was a 6′x11′ room, scarcely larger than a closet, with only an approximately 6½-foot high ceiling. Some of the earliest professional work I did down there was with a “boom box” as my studio monitors. True story.

It looked like this:

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At some point, Cream’s White Room got stuck in my head. So I started a demo recording of it. I have no idea what ever became of the project. Yes, I definitely remember programming it, recording parts of it, and even dumping some rough mix onto a cassette, along with what were some new (back then) original songs. It just didn’t survive.

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A few years later, I made a huge gear-upgrade purchase, and to test out my new gear, I created a few percussion loops, and recorded myself singing Van Morrison’s Moondance with some simple instrumentation. I had gotten the idea from hearing a much better singer do a much cooler version. Little did I know, but I had just snagged myself on a hook that would sink insidiously deeply into my psyche.

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Fast forward a bunch of years. In the interim, I have recorded hundreds of songs for different clients, and dozens of my own songs as well, not to mention different commercial projects, voice-overs, etc.

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I got this regular live gig, which I ended up really hating (it paid well). After a few cancellations, I had all this pent-up creative energy. So I solicited my Facebook friends for requests, and began recording cover songs with only one microphone, acoustic guitars and hand percussion.

It was more fun than I had thought possible.

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A few of those songs, over time, grew up into larger productions. Eventually, I just started tackling big cover song productions of songs that “clicked.” I can’t describe what made a song click. It just did. Somehow I knew I could do it. In other cases, there were requests that I fulfilled for other people.

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Anyway, after collecting these finished works for a while, it appears that I have a batch, a volume. Call it “Volume One.” There are certainly more in the pipeline.

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They won’t be ready for a while. In the meantime, enjoy what I’ve done so far, HERE

http://davideberhardt.com/html/sincerest.htm

 

Breaking With Conventions

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We can call this the “Probable Last Blog of 2017.”

I used to get very serious around this time of year. Some of that was stress or cynicism, maybe part of a youthful desperation to be cool. That’s all long past. Now I simply enjoy the opportunities for merriment and lightness. So if you’re looking for something deep and/or meaningful. it ain’t here. :)

So…

Lately I have been busily replicating or re-inventing cover songs (the choice of song is pretty random). I enjoy the challenge of trying to exactly replicate an arrangement; finding the right sounds, playing the right notes, etc.

Changing a song is easier in some ways, since matching the original is already an ethic that has been discarded. However, changing a well-known song is a huge risk. Well, I like risks.  In fact, here I am with my brown pompadour and matching tie/pants emsemble, cheerfully hastening toward risk.

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As Christmas careens recklessly around the corner from Thanksgiving and heads straight at us like a windshield towards a bug, I start thinking about working on Christmas music. This of course, is way too late to achieve results.

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So I started earlier this year. Actually, I started LAST YEAR, and just casually refined and finished them this year.

The first is “Away In A Manger,” which was recently described to me as a boring carol that could never be redeemed. The next is “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Over the years I have voiced my low opinion of turning hymns and Christmas carols into ROCK SONGS. So you may hereby enjoy my admitted hypocrisy.

This is approximately how I looked while recording, except that I have way better guitars, a taller tree, and my recording space may never be this tidy.
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For “Away In A Manger,” I wrote a chanting sort of chorus to break up the cloying verses. I had hoped that my church’s creative team might like to see the band work this up, but they just sorta sat there looking uncomfortable.

Me: “Hey guys, I worked up a rockin’ version of ‘Away In A Manger.’ I think the band could do it. What do you think?”

Them: …

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Had I known they were going to balk, I might have done it in a higher key (the music director is a baritone). That said, the guitar riff works a whole lot better in this key. Maybe it’s just not that good. In any case…
Here’s “Away In A Manger.”

Moving forward…

“Children Go Where I Send Thee” presented some challenges. First of all, it goes on FOREVER. So I abbreviated it, added a modulation, a Pink Floyd flavored guitar solo, some Queen-flavored harmonies, and threw in a little joke as the numbers count down. Enjoy the hilarious levity.

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Here’s “Children Go Where I Send Thee”

 

How do you break out of creative conventions? What do you think of my silly little Christmas experiments? How do you creatively cope with the assorted holiday vibes? Feel free to share your thoughts.
~See you in 2018~

 

End Of The Innocence

OK, It’s official. I’m getting old. If nothing else, I can tell by the aches and pains. I wasn’t always achy and slow-moving. That seems to have crept up rather suddenly. Well, it SEEMS sudden, then I start doing the math, counting the years, and considering the mileage this ol’ body of mine has endured. Hand me that bottle of Alleve.

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Back in 1989 (which seems like just a few years ago)I was working in a restaurant part-time, and plodding through school at the University of Cincinnati.  That summer, Don Henley (of The Eagles) had a big hit with End Of The Innocence, which I heard on the restaurant Muzak several times per day. I enjoyed the song, though I had trouble hearing the lyrics over people asking for drink refills and waitresses grabbing my ass (this was not okay).

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I honestly thought the whole song was a poignant recollection of when ol’ Don lost his virginity (remember, I couldn’t really hear the lyrics). Seriously, I thought he was singing, “Offer up your fancy dress” (it’s, offer up your best defense). Regardless, I liked the music, though I didn’t really care much for the presumed kiss-and-tell lyrics. Not classy, Don.

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Turns out, it’s some political gripe about Ronald Reagan, written by Bruce Hornsby (the guy who played piano in the 80′s like John Popper played harmonica in the 90′s). I jab, but I loves me some Bruce, and John, and Don.

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Nostalgia? Well, yes. I vividly recall driving out to Virginia Beach later that summer. Somewhere in the last 50 miles of the trip, the outside temperature cooled, and I turned off the AC in my silver 1985 Honda Civic hatchback (I had named it “Dennis”). I rolled down the window to enjoy the evening air, and ejected whatever cassette was in the stereo, to listen to some local radio. On came End Of The Innocence, without restaurant chatter, pinchy waitresses, or other distractions. I got the gist that it probably wasn’t solely about Don Henley getting laid. That moment with that song on the radio sticks with me to this day.

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^ Side note: This is exactly what “Dennis” looked like.  ^

Anyway, that’s a long-winded tale of yore. Years have passed, and I still like that song in spite of the fact that it’s complaining about a president who had already left office.

A few short years ago (really), I had a summer gig playing at a neighborhood pool. It was hot and brutal. No one cared that I was there, but I got paid pretty well for it. After a couple of abrupt cancellations (a thunderstorm and a community parade, respectively), I solicited Facebook for some acoustic requests. And then, for a month, I enjoyed recording and sharing acoustic renditions of popular songs with my friends. There were many of these, some of which have blown up into larger productions since.

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One such request came from my sweet wife. Strangely, she requested End Of The Innocence, not knowing anything about the grabby restaurant girls, the drive through Virginia, or my complete ignorance of the political subject matter. So what do I associate that song with, today?

Wife.

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So I dug up that song and tackled it again recently.

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Age? Nope. Restaurant? Nope. Waitresses? Nope. Virginia? Nope. 1989? Nope. Politics? NOPE.

Song for Nettie? Hell yes. Here ya’ go, Babe. I love you.

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© 2017, All Rights Reserved.

The Bad Old Days?

 

I admit it. I was tremendously unhappy in my early twenties.

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I had been dating a girl whom I had thought was “the one,” only to discover that she was losing interest. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was growing up, and I wasn’t. Eventually, the whole thing just unraveled badly, and I wrote a tsunami of negativity-fueled music. Oh, the angst!

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The good news is that I met someone much better, and married her, and this has been working out well ever since.  But as I finally grew up, my young angst waned, and I discovered that I had learned how to write from all new previously-untapped emotional places. Nothing fuels one to write sad songs like having experienced real heartache.

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In the midst of my emotional repairs, I had become fascinated with early-sixties Southwestern musical landscapes. I set out to write several songs in this vein, and only succeeded in finishing one (and it may not even sound like what I thought it should). That song is “Catapulting Wishes.”

I imagined this whole story:

There’s this old farmer. Farmer? I don’t know. But he lives out in this wide barren area. In his youth, he set out to start a farm or a business or something, and it was successful for a short time. The town was starting to grow and thrive. He married his sweetheart, and they prepared for a nice life. But then, the interstate went through, or the factory moved, or the mine closed. The town shrank, the farm withered, whatever. Finally it was just the two of them scraping by, hoping that next month… maybe the month after that… or after that… something would change.

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Finally, something changed. One day, she was gone. Maybe she left? Maybe she died?  Like I said, I don’t know. You write the story!

But the image around which I built the whole song was that he has taken all of the scrap lumber from the shed, and built a catapult. Now instead of just “wishing upon a star,” he has assembled this tragic contraption to launch his wishes at the stars. Just like he spent his youth trying to build a life in the wrong place, now he’s spending all this time and energy wishing and wishing and wishing.

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My old band Lux recorded this song, right when our sound was changing from something angsty and perhaps Grunge-y like Soundgarden, into something more mellow and ambient. It seemed like a good idea to mix all our sounds together on one album. That worked for bands like The Beatles, Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, right? Well, in our case, everyone found something to dislike on that album. It fell rather flat, and we all went on to other things. So “Catapulting Wishes” could really be the theme of that whole experience.

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I managed to save all of the original tracks of that album. Periodically, I mess around with them. A couple of years ago, I decided to redo my guitars and vocals (the recordings were pretty terrible). So I kept the original drums, added some percussion, re-recorded the bass, and see what I could make of it.

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["This? Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl."]

As is common, I set it down, and forgot about it. So I just dug it back up on a Sunday night, re-re-recorded one guitar track, and mixed it on a Monday. On Tuesday, I put a clumsy video together.  Check it out.

Have you ever managed to capture your own melancholy in art; a story, a visual medium, a song, or something else? Have you ever created something that turned out to perfectly sum up a whole experience, before that experience was even over? Speak, my people!

 

End-of-Summer Demo of Chrome Dome Audio’s Tone Philosopher VG-44

In the early Spring, I was propositioned by my friend Kyle to join a show band at Kings Island, a local theme park.
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I had to wait a couple of weeks before I heard I got the gig. Then I frantically learned thirty songs from scratch (OK, really it was twenty-nine songs, because I already knew “Free Ride.” But you get my point). Two weeks after our first rehearsal, we were performing. I played three nights per week. That doesn’t sound like a lot. Somehow it took up my whole summer, but it was a blast.

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While it was going on, I looked like this:

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Among the things that fell by the wayside as a result (including this very blog), were the album that I can’t quite gather the energy to complete, a steady stream of covers I want to record, and the intention to record some demos of an incredible amplifier I got.

Chrome Dome Audio’s “Tone Philosopher” VG-44

Chrome Dome Audio is owned and masterminded by my friend Adam White. A few years ago, he set out to modify an amp for me, which turned into him just giving me an early and unusual version of one of his Tone Philosophers, which he offered to modify for me. I took him up on it a couple of years later, and he turned it into a VG-44, his main production model amp. He also decided to go through all of my amps and tune them up, in exchange for me recording some demos of the VG-44.

Now, all of this is awesome and cool, but it happened right when I got super busy for the summer. So, having opened up my schedule a bit,  I have finally finished the first part of the first demo.

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Note: My VG-44 is slightly unusual. It’s a head and 2×12 half-open cabinet with Jensen Jet-Series ceramic speakers (the production models have different speakers in them), but it’s close enough to give you the basic idea of what it can do.

What you hear:

  • I recorded with the amp on my carpeted home-studio floor. Now, this is a professional production no-no, but is a lot closer to the reality of how most people will end up using it most of the time.
  • The microphone is a normal Shure SM-57 that I’ve owned since the mid 1990′s. It ran through a Grace 101 preamp (Grace preamps are legendary for transparency). The mic was never more than a few inches away from the grillecloth during my experimentation process.
  • The only post-production tone shaping was some bass-cut, and a little reverb added to the solo tracks. No pedal effects of any kind were used. The only thing between the guitars and the amp was a 20-year-old house-brand cable I purchased from Guitar Center.

Guitars I used:

  • A stock 2005 Made-In Mexico (“MIM”) Fender Stratocaster
  • A 1991 MIM Fender Telecaster (which may have had its bridge pickup replaced before I bought it)
  • A stock 1982 Silverburst Gibson Les Paul Custom.

The opening figure is the Stratocaster. The middle portion is the Telecaster, with a slide solo also played on the Tele, and a following solo played on the Les Paul. The closing figure is the Strat and Les Paul playing the riff together. Note how they all respond differently, and stack well in the mix.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Tone Philosopher VG-44, by Chrome Dome Audio:

What do you think? Like it? Sound off!!

Recordings Retrospective, Pt. 1

I attended a repressed christian high school that communicated this idea:

“Rock and Roll is bad, unless it’s ‘christian,’ and even then, it shouldn’t sound too enthusiastic.”

This is probably what they thought of me:
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And this is generally what I thought of them:
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And this is what  they seemed to want from me:
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By the time I was fifteen years old, I was a pretty competent guitarist, cutting my teeth on Led Zeppelin, Clapton, Hendrix, Rush, Iron Maiden, etc. Those players’ work was both challenging and accessible. Van Halen would get my attention next.

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At seventeen I became devout in my faith, and began a sincere quest to figure out how I could play rock guitar in a “christian” environment. Some of my school buddies and I were given a handful of songs by a pastor who used to play in a christian band. We played once at a youth group which was fizzling out, and then later at my senior chapel. That chapel service  concluded with my principal telling me what an abomination both the music and I were. I then got an earful from each of my teachers. In. Every. Single. Class.

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Approximately 1/6 of them  clandestinely offered encouragement, afraid that any public praise might have a negative backlash against them. What a sad commentary on a subculture.

It took my a few years to recover from that, and frankly it’s a miracle my faith survived. It did lay the foundation for a healthy distrust of religious organizations though. In the years that followed, a complex fortress has been built on that foundation. It’s not a ringing endorsement for the institutions and/or the people running them.

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A year after that fateful senior chapel, I was coached by some older musician friends on how to use  a 4-track cassette recorder. It was a time-consuming  process using uncooperative gear, but it taught me how to squeeze every last drop out of what was available. To this day, I think that approach yields the best final product, because everything is so dear.

Last week, a friend of mine lent me an old  4-track cassette recorder, so I could digitize  the tapes I made back then. THE ORIGINAL 4-TRACK TAPES. I was taken back to yesteryear, the home project studio era, the age of tape hiss and track limitations…

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[I would have given ANYTHING to have a home studio that was this well-stocked!]

I’m starting at the beginning- 1988 or so.  This was the first song I recorded. It was given to my high school bandmates (I was not present) by a pastor named (I think) Dan McCollum. I don’t know if that’s the writer’s name, or if I have even spelled it correctly. The song is called  “More Like You.” I recorded this when I was 18-19 years old, brand new at singing lead vocals. It took me hours, and  sounds like a sheltered kid making his first recording, because it is. I thought maybe I could be some kind of christian rock star at this stage.

 

Remember when you hear this degraded, lo-fi recording that I was young, new to recording, and had never sung a lead vocal before. I covered my vocal with some era-appropriate effects which actually turned out quite well. I tried to replicate this many times and failed.

Anyway, here’s me singing and playing, as a teenager. It’s totally OK to make fun of me, my mullet, and my “play ALL the notes” approach to the guitar. Enjoy the slides of 1988 equipment, too. That’s the stuff I used back then!

 

Product Review: Electro Harmonix C9 and Mel9 pedals

In 2005ish, I was engaged in robust discussions on the interwebs about pedalboards and pedals in a few public forums. There was an emerging culture of pedal-geeks eager to find quality compact solutions for live performance, and a manufacturing culture that as a whole, couldn’t see past its own proverbial nose.

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I remember stating that classic Electro Harmonix pedals, while I loved the sounds, were too big to be of practical use on a modern well-appointed pedalboard. The pedal industry (those who would listen, anyway), and older players all howled together in derision at the idea that I would use 9-10 pedals. “You must not be much of a player if you have to rely on all that.” “Pro players LIKE big pedals.” “You’ll end up using less.” I heard it all. Meanwhile, I was turning down gigs, sessions and students because there was too much demand for the soundscapes I could create. So there’s that.

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Not long after, the Electro Harmonix “Nano” series hit the scene, and the company has been cranking out different versions of their pedals, plus exciting new ones, for the last decade. Other pedal makers went back to the drawing board(s) as boutique pedals started changing the game. Dual-gain and multi-delay pedals have abounded. Tap-tempo is the new normal. It’s finally getting interesting out here.

Meanwhile, in EH’s R&D department…

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A couple of years ago, the B9 Organ Machine caught my ear. Too broke to buy one, I waited for used ones to become available. The C9 was released soon after. The Key9 and Mel9 followed. I was blown away by the Mel9 pedal, and really interested in the C9 pedal. So I bought one of each, determined to choose one or the other, as my new sound option. I use a lot of stacked delay sounds for keyboard-like ambience, and a leslie effect to invoke an organ-like vibe. So you can understand how each pedal has appeal for me.

[True story: in December of 2016, at the latest, I started trying to reach EH to suggest a Synth9 pedal. I used that very name, and even jotted down a few sound patches on a note pad. I was stunned a few weeks ago when the Synth9 pedal was announced!]

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The first to arrive was the Mel9. Blown away by Don Carr’s demo of it on the Sweetwater website, I imagined finding a small handful of sounds to employ to create huge walls of live ambience layered over/under my growling guitar. After a day or two of putting it through its paces, I realized I may have overestimated it. I had similarly been intrigued by the C9, and so I picked one up to compare. As a quick overall comparison, the Mel9 does no organ sounds, but it does more otther stuff. The C9 is almost all organs, except for a Mellotron Flute sound that is actually, in my opinion, superior to that of the Mel9.

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Basic overviews:

  • Both pedals have single input and dual output. One ouput is for the dry, unaffected signal. The other is for the effect. This allows you the option of sending the effect to a separate amplifier or PA channel.
  • Both pedals have separate volume controls for the dry signal and the effect, so you can blend them and/or set volumes to your liking.
  • The C9′s next two controls are for modulation and “click” (the click attack of the organ keys). These controls change different parameters in certain sounds.
    The Mel9′s next two controls are for attack and sustain. Like the C9, they perform different functions on some sounds.
  • Both pedals have a main sound-patch dial, and each one has 9 sounds.

Impressions:

The C9 has less variety. Everything is an organ, with the exception of the “Mello Flutes” (Mellotron Flute). That said, more of the C9 sounds are useful. The Mel9 has more variety, but I found fewer sounds to be good.

Functional Criticisms:

The C9 is an organ machine, and as every organist knows, you’re gonna want to control the Leslie. There is no control of the modulation, except by twisting the “Mod” knob. While it’s a mono pedal, the C9 mod sounds really nice and spatial at slow speeds, giving a nice doppler chorus without getting phasey. The faster speeds are less beautiful, but usable. Honestly, it makes more sense to run the C9 with no modulation through a good leslie simulator. I tried this, but it wasn’t awesome, though I retained control of the leslie speed.

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The Mel9 attempts to capture the classic seasick side-effect of the Mellotron tapes being pulled at inconsistent rates across its playback heads. This is done reasonably well, but there is no control over it. It’s always on. Always. On. ALWAYS. It can never be dialed-back, down, out, etc. Sure wish this was a dial I could turn!
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Both pedals could benefit GREATLY from an expression pedal control, and a switch to scroll through sound patches. I pray for future mods to be discovered.

Operations:

The option is either to use all effect, with no guitar blended in, or to blend guitar plus effect. Unfortunately, some sounds require different settings than others. To use more than one sound, you need to do some knob-turning. This means either (1.) bending down and fiddling, mid-set, or (2.) keeping the pedal within reach (On a music stand? Top of the amp?).

That brings up the issue of signal path. EH insists that you run the C9 or Mel9 FIRST (or close to it) in your signal path. That means it comes pre-gain. So if you’re blending dry & effect, the effect is then going through your distortion pedal. This is not pretty. I put mine after my gain pedals, so that I had the option of a dirty rhythm with an effect blended in (the gain, which wasn’t too high, didn’t change the C9/Mel9 sound much).

In any case, I started imagining a complex system of signal routing that became increasingly absurd.

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Bottom line:

The C9 gives you some great organ sounds, without much control. The Mel9 gives a few more novelty sounds. It’s probably best to approach both pedals in one of two ways. Either they are something you goof around with on a tabletop, while you sit nearby and twist knobs, or you choose ONE sound, dial it in, and use that ONE sound on your live rig. Changing sounds is impractical, live. But if dialed-in nicely, it can create a cool backing keyboard bed. The questions you and I are then left with is whether an organ bed or a Mellotron bed is better. Today, I can’t answer that.

Maybe I’m no help at all, because now I’m considering adding/comparing a Synth9.

Have you tried a B9, C9, Key9, Mel9 or Synth9? What was your experience? Is there another pedal that seemed like it promised the moon, but delivered less? What was it? How would you improve this EH series of pedals? Do you know of any mods? Share your thoughts!

I Make Babys

No, this isn’t a typo, and no, I haven’t sired  more offspring.

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This is my cover of “Back On My Feet Again,” a song  I have loved since I was a little boy, originally written and recorded by a band called The Babys.

See what I did there?

I started on it in late January, and finished it in early February (all in 2017), working on it here and there, almost exclusively late at night. Sometimes I just watched “The Man In The High Castle” instead.  Don’t judge me.

Anyway, you can hear  the song here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqS0HzVZgY8

(There’s not much to see. Listen with your ears!)

Ciao,
-d

The Myth of Being Multifaceted

 

Recently, I watched an interview with ace guitarist Steve Vai, who has become pretty philosophical in recent years. His main point was to not waste time on things that aren’t your strong suit, but instead, to focus on your strengths. This was interesting to me, as I tend to lament my weaknesses and dismiss my strengths. It also surprised me, knowing that he has been pretty weird and experimental at times (Look for his interest in Bulgarian wedding music sometime. I’m serious).

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I have noticed that the greatest artists, with few exceptions, tend to do ONE thing well. A few years ago, I ended up teaching guitar lessons in the same guitar shop where my first guitar teacher was also giving lessons. He is a dyed-in-the-wool jazz guy, but grew up in the classic rock era (I learned all my cool rock songs from him when I was a kid).

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I. AM. IRON MAN!

 

One day, I had a break between students, and I realized as I eavesdropped on his teaching, that he really didn’t play “rock guitar” very well. I was relieved. I know that I wasn’t much of a jazz player, even at the height of my studies with him. I assumed that my skills as a rock guy were easy for anyone. Apparently real jazz guys aren’t also natural rockers. This makes sense. Every jazz guy knows that rock guitarists aren’t natural jazzers.

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One of the things Vai landed on was to NOT waste a lot of time trying to do something that doesn’t seem natural to you (unless you are honestly inspired to pursue it). This is really simple and really true. I have no interest in becoming a jazz guy, but I do like to study up on it here and there. It informs my playing, and contributes to my natural style.

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I currently work as a creative consultant for a church in Cincinnati. I was initially contracted as a musician and band leader, but now my direct music involvement is comparably rare.

As the organization slid down the year towards Christmas, I began driving the creative team to land on a very specific sort of presentation for our Christmas Eve services. In years past, it had been a hodge-podge of music styles and sounds. They always said they wanted it to be “classic,” but everyone had their own opinion of what that meant.

I usually brought an archtop and an electric 12-string to change things up, but that was really all I could do while all us multifaceted musical cooks were making a generic musical soup. Everyone was gravitating toward their natural strengths, which is good; but it was pulling in too many directions, and not actually moving very far.

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This year, we eliminated electric guitars, keyboards and bass, and had most of the music driven by a grand pianist with a string quartet. One song was simply two acoustic guitars and vocals, and one combined the lot with a drum kit. Rather than everyone banging away on each song, we separated the instruments into separate arrangements, only combining them for one climactic song. Everyone had light involvement, bringing each of their specialties to the forefront briefly and minimally (except the pianist and strings, who were the feature).

Multiple sources called it the best Christmas Eve service we had ever done.

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Years ago, my band (each member of whom liked all kinds of music) released an album that went in many different musical directions. We reasoned (reasonably) that The Beatles and Led Zeppelin did such things, so therefore our ability to do likewise would get a lot of people to like us. We were wrong for two reasons: First, we were neither Beatles nor Zeppelins, and second, we were aiming at the wrong generation. We thought everyone would like something. What actually happened was that everyone disliked something. So much for a multifaceted album.

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At about the same time I ended up playing guitar in a band backing a young female singer who was doing something in between The Indigo Girls and Sheryl Crow. That’s a fairly specific niche, and her album (which was far more cohesive) absolutely dwarfed the one my other band made in terms of success. It made me a minor league local music celebrity overnight, and within a year, she was one of the biggest names in town.

So between the wisdom of Steve Vai, my own experiences (pro AND con), and the obviously positive receptions, it’s pretty easy to conclude that there’s something to be said for specificity, rather than attempting to be multifaceted.

  1. Specialize in your specialty, and push tangents to the background. Here’s how that works out for me as an artist- I’m a guitarist first, a singer second, and I fumble around on bass (making progress), piano (haven’t made any progress in 20 years), and some other things like percussion and harmonica. I try to practice guitar a little every day, even if it’s just dexterity exercises while I watch TV. I try to sing a little through the week, just to keep my voice operational (it atrophies). Usually that means I have a studio project on which I’m singing. The rest happens when it happens.
  2. Spend the time defining the specifics. “Classic Christmas,” for example, is a wide open definition. We labored for weeks on defining those terms, and more than one set of toes got stepped on when we pointed back at the drawing board and said we weren’t doing modern christian radio pop, or having the same singer(s) featured on many songs.
  3. Go in the direction you’ve chosen, and commit to completing the objective, even after the novelty wears off. This can be brutal. You choose, for instance, to make an acoustic album. Making album takes at least twice as long as anyone expects [I, for one, run out of steam at the halfway point, and crawl like Frodo through Mordor to the conclusion]. While I’m sick to death of hearing the same songs the same way, with all the same sounds, it’s a fresh experience for everyone else.

What’s your speciality? What are some tangents that pull you from it? Have you ever produced something that tried to go in too many directions? Have you triumphed with a specific? Tell your story. Go!

 

Product Review: Xotic SP Compressor

My love affair with compressors began in high school.

I was all like, “I Image result for love compressors!”

At the time, I had limited gear, limited access to it, and limited funds to acquire it. In addition, there was no real source of information to guide me. Based on descriptions of the effect alone, I thought a compressor might make a good boost to my gain stages for solos. Turns out this was correct.

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My first compressor was made by Arion. Remember Arion? They made plastic pedals. The compressor looked like this:

The fact that it was designated “SCO-1” somehow made it seem VERY cool to 17-year-old me.

In any case, I got it brand-new at a local music store for about $25. It did what I thought it would, though it made me aware of what I’ve since described as a “papery” sound that cheap (and/or poorly-operated) compressors can produce.

Next came the Boss ME-5, Boss’ first multi-fx, which had a Boss compressor built in. Later, I got an ME-10 (because I needed MORE effects!), but then traded it for individual pedals, one of which was an MXR Dyna-Comp.

I used the Dyna Comp, mostly cheerfully, for several years, until I started to notice that it was hit or miss… and as time passed, it seemed like there were more misses than hits. I tried several compressors… various Boss comps (they all have that flat, overly squashed “papery” sound), Ibanez CP-9, some hand-made Ross clone, a couple of Jangleboxes, an Orange Squeezer and maybe a few others that I can’t remember. Someone suggested the MXR Super Comp as a viable contender. I found a used one, liked it, and used it for years. I even recommended it. In fact, it worked so well for me that I bought a second, for a smaller pedalboard I assembled.

For reasons that escape me, I sold the first Super Comp and kept the second. Maybe it isn’t as good as the first, or maybe my tastes are changing as I age (or both). In any case, I started researching and shopping for a new compressor in earnest about six months ago. That led me to the Xotic SP Compressor.

It’s a mini pedal, about 2/3 the width of the small MXR enclosures (like a Dyna Comp or Phase 90). It’s surprisingly TALL since Xotic thought it needed to carry a battery. In this day and age, I was a little shocked by that, as almost everyone now has access to power supplies and pedalboard solutions. It’s height helps make it more accessible, should you decide to put it in the second row of your pedalboard. You might not need a riser for it.

Here in the Tone Parlour, I tested the SP with my early-90′s British made Vox AC15 combo and my Telecaster.
   

The SP features a small toggle switch to choose high, medium or low compression ratios. I suppose this eliminates the need for another knob, but I think I would prefer a small knob. Frankly I would also prefer smaller knobs (in the ballpark of those smaller knobs Boss uses)  for the other two controls, which are simply Volume and Blend. There are also four dip-switches inside if you want to make more serious tonal alterations to it. The SP features a small fairly bright vivid green LED to indicate if the pedal is on or off. Controls are responsive and intuitive, and the build quality is excellent.

Here’s a link to Xotic’s manual on it: https://xotic.us/media/wysiwyg/Effects/SP_Compressor/manuals/SP_Compressor_manual.pdf

Guitarists tend to want either “color” or “transparency” in a compressor. I tend toward the latter. The blend feature on the SP helps quite a bit. I can either use NO blend (full effect), and build a compressor setting that I like tremendously, or I can build a whole different setting with the blend in play. Right now, I’ve landed on a setting with the compression toggle set on medium, the blend turned down from full-on to about 3 o’clock, and the volume just past noon.

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It was easy to back my playing off, and have the compressed signal sound enough like my dry tone for me to call it “transparent” with confidence. But something cool happens when I play harder into the SP,  and the glorious midrange growl of my Telecaster gets a little more pronounced. So… it’s “transparent,” but with some colorful side-effects? Maybe? Hard to describe.

In passing, I mentioned earlier that I had used a Janglebox in the past. When its toggle is set to high, the SP will do a pretty good Janglebox impression. The reason I don’t own a Janglebox (I think I have owned as many as three of them) is that it lacks sufficient output gain after compression. I want to use my comp as a slight boost as well. While this just didn’t happen with a Janglebox, the SP has more than enough gain to spare.

At some point, I may write an article listing the things about which I have said, “I can’t believe I waited this long to get this.”

It’s too early in the honeymoon for me to definitively say this about the SP, but it really clearly sets itself apart as a superior piece of gear.

Really impressed.