Tag Archives: guitar

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!!

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!

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.

Taking What You Do, And Making It Your Own.

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

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“It’s all been done, it’s all been done. It’s all been done before.”

- Bare Naked Ladies

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So what have you done today?

I used to labor under the mistaken impression that I was going to create music that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. Today, this seems pretty unlikely. I’m not less interested in being creative, but now I’m interested in doing what’s authentically mine;  taking music and expressing who I am with it; taking what I do, and making it my own.

About ten years ago, I was the main guitarist for a large (now monstrously huge) church in Cincinnati called Crossroads. The head pastor complimented me on my guitar playing one day, and asked me why it was that the music seemed so much better when I played with the band. This was no slight against the other musicians, all of whom were fantastic players, but he recognized that I brought something extra; special; other. It was nice to be recognized.

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My answer, after I thought about it, was this:

When I play a song, I don’t think of it as someone else’s music anymore. I think of it as MINE. It’s MY song to play. In that 3-4 minute window, I take the fullness of who I am, and how I feel at that moment, and I project it out through my guitar into the universe as notes and sounds.

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Let’s go back in time…

Over the years of honing my craft, I discovered a few things that worked well for me. I distilled things from my assorted influences, and put them all together to create a nice little niche for myself to occupy. In fact, I was so successful at this, that in a city full of superb guitarists, I still get asked to join bands, work on projects, etc, when there are hundreds (maybe thousands) who can probably play circles around me.

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These guys aren’t impressed with me at all.

YouTube and Instagram illustrate to me every day that the top level of my technique is pretty mediocre compared to what a planet of bedroom guitarists are doing these days. I have no illusions about my skill/talent. But I am confident of my niche.

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Maybe this is common, I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. No one can play guitar like I do. Lots of people can play guitar, and they might even play similarly (Many are vastly superior!), but none of them can bring what I bring. So when I go out on stage, I’m convinced that what I play is worth being heard. It’s mine, and no one can play it like I can.

How do you get to that musical know-thyself point? It’s a little like learning to hail a taxi. You stand there waiting for one, and finally one stops. Over time, you get better at hailing those cabs, and then more of them become available. Pretty soon you’re just jumping into the street, and a taxi is right there to take you where you’re going. It takes time and practice, but it happens.

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That doesn’t mean every idea is great. Not every taxi automatically takes you to the coolest location in town. You’ll need to know your way around, and choose the right locales.

Here’s a taxi I jumped in to-  Last year, it seemed like a fun idea to play Van Morrison’s classic hit “Brown Eyed Girl” with minor chords instead of major. The whole thing started off as a joke- a prank to play on drunk bridesmaids who requested the original, to see if they could tell the difference. Well, the idea took off, and with a little massaging, it became clear that I had landed on something really interesting.

Morrison’s original basks in the glow of pleasant nostalgia, driven by simple bread-and-butter chords. Changing the music to minor chords upends the whole mood, and makes it a lament for lost love; lost youth; lost innocence.

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I find this transition remarkable. You can listen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVFSO-2WwMY

Anyone can do this sort of thing, but this particular thing was MY idea. The same approach goes in to all the guitar parts I make up for other songs. I hear what’s there, and I react to it. I hail the taxi, and take it to my destination. I take what I do, and I make it my own.

What will you do?

 

Timing is everything: Long waits and perfect delays

At the very end of 2013, (seriously, it was December 30 at about 8pm), I bought my first-ever, brand new car, right off the lot. It was nothing fancy- a Kia Forte, basically Kia’s version of a Civic. It had lots of cool options, and I felt very modern. I was “new car guy.”

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O N E   Y E A R    L A T E R . . .

The day before Christmas Eve on 2014, I was driving to a music rehearsal, when a dump truck ran a red light as I was making a left turn (I had the arrow). He hit the passenger’s-side front corner of the Forte, which, thanks to wet pavement, spun right out of way. I was completely unharmed. My slightly-less-than-a-year-old Forte, however, was destroyed.

After this, I was “Rental Car Guy” for rather a long time.

I decided to celebrate my survival on December 26 by a shopping trip to Guitar Center.

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I bought a TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay. For ages, I had been using three Boss DD-5 delays, sync’ing them with a single tap-tempo pedal and a custom-soldered splitter cable connected to all three delays.

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“Dave’s Delay Array” ™ utilizing three Boss DD-5′s. 

Over the years, I bemoaned that NO ONE made a multi-delay unit that was as “Live-Friendly” as this DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”) that I had invented / discovered. I have written about this in a prior blog post, here: http://www.davideberhardt.com/wp/?p=73

Totally smitten with the TCE delay (or at least with the idea of it), I got right to work, dialing-in my sounds, saving patches, and even writing a glowing review. It was after 11pm, as I was AT LEAST a page deep in my delighted document, that I realized I hadn’t actually checked the obvious functions on how the tap-tempo worked. It was such a foregone conclusion, but I felt I really should just make sure that I hadn’t overlooked such an obvious…

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A simple Google search on the Triple Delay and “global tap” will yield THOUSANDS of results of horrified dismay from consumers, and a smug “we-know-what-we’re-doing-and-you-must-be-stupid” response from TCE. In short, each delay (remember there are three of them) had to be ON before the tap-tempo would work. That means you have to tap tempo over and over and over if you want to use different delay settings within a song.

Intolerable!

Much like my ill-fated Kia Forte, my dream of owning a single multiple-delay pedal (with specific features) was shattered. Utterly disgusted, I returned it the next day. The poor GC employee had no idea what I was talking about, and frankly, I’m tired of trying to explain music gear to people whose job it is to know these things.

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The TC Electronic Triple Delay’s tap-tempo is a design-failure of remarkable proportions, combined with a corporate hubris that needs to die. Working musicians are weary to the point of hostility toward music-gear manufacturers who flood the market with crap no one wants (“another Tube Screamer variant!”), not listening to what real musicians need, or making themselves available to field questions or suggestions.

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TCE had asked for design suggestions, got them, and then ignored them in favor of what they perceived would sell better. They were dead wrong, and like me, delay-freaks all over the world either returned their Triple Delays or sold them on eBay. This one feature, specifically requested by delay users, was discarded by TCE. They could have made the Triple Delay THE STANDARD (which, after sixteen years, might STILL be the Line 6 DL-4).

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The Line 6 DL-4 Delay Modeler is used everywhere, by everyone. I might be exaggerating, but not by much.

I really like the Line 6 DL-4, and have had mine since they first came out. Sadly, it only allows you to use ONE of its patches at a time, and it saves your last tempo in the patch you save. That means that every time you turn on, say, patch #3, you will have to tap a tempo in to get it to match the song, unless it just happens to match, or if you programmed it for that specific tempo on purpose. The TCE Triple Delay operates the same way, except you can use multiple delay patches simultaneously.

If you Googled the issue, you probably saw people begging for a fix that never came. Many (myself included) opted to wait for an update, upgrade, or 2nd-gen release. It’s been three years, and nothing.

Well, there’s good news and bad news here.

The Triple Delay CAN be used in the way most delay geeks would desire, BUT it requires MIDI to control it. In general, I think this is foolish and unnecessarily complicated, but there is a solution.

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Disaster Area Designs (http://www.disasterareaamps.com/) makes a “SMARTClock” MIDI tap-tempo pedal, that will do the job. Sadly, it costs about $200 to get it to your address ($179 plus tax & shipping). The good news is that it does a lot of other useful functions (for instance, can be used as an analog tap-tempo pedal as well).

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I picked up a used TCE Triple Delay and ordered that SMARTClock pedal, both of which arrived within a few days of one another. Adding power and a MIDI cable is a snap. Both run on standard 9v barrel-style power connectors. In no time at all, I had recreated my basic DD-5 setup, and was doing synchronized stacked delays with better converters, two fewer conversions and fewer patch-cables.

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The Triple Delay is slightly smaller than a Line 6 DL-4, and doesn’t have weird contours. It’s nicely rectangular.

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Its delay sounds are not as exciting as a DL-4, which features lots of novelty sounds (I have always loved the DL-4 “Sweep” and “Lo-Fi” delays, and could coax a convincing Leslie out of the “Analog /w Mod”), but it has much better clarity and fidelity in a mix. My decades of live delay use has taught me that subtle delays are a waste of time. You either hear a clear echo, or you hear mud. My EXTENSIVE prior use of the DDA (that’s “Dave’s Delay Array,” utilizing Boss DD-5′s) gave me plenty of clarity, but there was no option to tame it. Ever. Now I have some flavors, without loss of clarity.

Is there a product you’ve been waiting to see? Is there a multi-delay that you swear by? Have you ever used a DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”)? What about manufacturers? Is anyone out there listening? I’m listening. Tell me your story.

Sprechen!

Achieving Obsolescence And Finding Freedom

My first guitar instructor attempted to teach me Jazz when I was a kid. I wasn’t all that interested in Jazz, but I practiced.

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Side note: This kid actually looks a little like my son, who has, as of yet, never expressed any interest in holding a guitar. Alas.

It was clear after a while that I had plateaued. Fortuitously, my teacher moved across town, and the lesson arrangement ended about the time it had become obsolete. In the months that followed, my playing ability EXPLODED.

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I learned more in the few months that followed, as I was finally free to work through the information and instructions as they spilled back out of me, than in two years that preceded them.  I looked approximately like this:

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Later I studied classical guitar, but not for very long. I slid into young adulthood with a few jazz chords in my pocket, and some proper classically-induced structure and dexterity. Plus, I could solo like a BOSS, so I was determined to join the next Led Zeppelin. How hard could that be? My first band, a batch of high school friends, never took off.

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The next band never even made it to a second rehearsal. The other guitarist didn’t understand rests… Soeverythingheplayedwaslikealongrunonsentencewithnobreaks.

It was astonishing.

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A few months later, I ended up in a cover band with some guys who were a few years older. We had a casual run playing gigs about once a month on average, for about four years or so. It was in that band (which had no name) that I learned how to apply all those years of music lessons (I wanted to call us “Proof of Purchase”). I learned to sing harmonies, and actually became one of the principal lead singers (The other guitarist didn’t like the name, and was bossy). I learned how to write and arrange, to record and produce (Seriously, he wanted us to be called “Cornerstone,” or something cornball like that). It was then that I realized I was in a dead-end band (which still had no name, and obviously tended toward bad taste). The other guys were hobbyists at best, and weren’t interested in turning from their career plans to make music with a bozo like me.

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I was the ripe old age of 22 when it ended. The band had a meeting, decided on a hiatus, and then started back up again without me. I was more driven to create and perform, and they were more interested in just having fun. I became obsolete, and found the freedom to pursue my own music (Quite honestly, I had no intention of going back). So I spent the better part of a summer recording some songs I had written, using thoroughly lousy equipment. It turned out to be a surprisingly good recording.

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Six months later, I started attending a church I had visited a few times with my college girlfriend. I ended up playing in the worship band, and this was right when I was reinventing myself as a guitarist. For about 18 months, I learned to be a sideman, developed my tone, and experimented with new ideas. While I did that, I met two other guys who were interested in starting a band. So we started a band, and kept it going for about 5 years. Eventually the drummer got bored with the fact that we didn’t pull in huge crowds like some of his newer gigs. He bailed, and that was really the end of that. That project had become obsolete, and I became free to explore new ideas again.

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I started a surge of writing and recording new songs. By that time, I was a sideman in a few bands, and got a few of the other players to help me record. My main gig built up to the biggest thing I was ever part of, and then right at the pinnacle, my singer died of a rare disease, leaving me obsolete without her voice to carry the music we wrote. After some pain, I found the freedom to set that down and move on.

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Since then, I’ve produced a couple of albums, done different projects, and written music of my own again. I got involved in the music of another church, directing the music in one of their services. Over time, I’ve moved out of a music-director type role into a broader creative director type role, I’ve become obsolete in the music ministry, and it frees me up to explore new options.

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It was while that role-shift was happening that one of the music teams wanted to cover Queen’s “I Want It All.”

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One of the tricks to this is Queen’s propensity for triple or quadruple-stacking each vocal harmony part. So I constructed a backing track to fill in some gaps, and we performed it. Not one to waste an effort, I went ahead and casually worked on doing my own full cover of the song, which you can hear, HERE:

Dave_Eberhardt_-_I_Want_It_All_(Queen_Cover).mp3

Why? Because I wanted to do something ambitious for fun. Because I can.

Right now I’m a grown man who plays music in America’s watering holes and houses of worship. Dudes like me… We’re not cute young things who think we’re bound for stardom. We’re normal family men. We’re the main buyers of musical products. We’re the core of the whole US economy! We’re the ones who hold the songs together when the church music sounds like junk. We’re the ones who MAKE the band sound good. And we’re the ones that change the whole atmosphere when we arrive or depart. AND, when we discover we’re obsolete, we’re the ones who discover new sounds and expressions, and make new and better music when we’re free.
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Get obsolete. Leave the system. Find freedom. Leave the rest of them turning the crank on the same old machine.

Live. Play. Create.

Also, you should agree that “Proof Of Purchase” was a great band name. Humor me.

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What would it look like to embrace obsolescence, get free, and discover your next new awesome step as an artist or musician? What keeps you where you are? Are you in any danger of running out of new ideas? How do you find new methods of creativity in the same sandbox?

Testify, my people!

Dangerous Defaults, and The Great Christian Pedalboard Escalations of the 21st Century.

In the early 2000′s, I was gigging regularly in three bands as a sideman, fronting my OWN band, and playing every weekend in a megachurch to around 5000 people.

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In an attempt to get the most sounds possible (remember- I had around 5 steady gigs), I had ended up with a gigantic pedalboard holding 13 stompboxes, controller switches and pedals, and a MIDI controller. These then went into six rack-mounted effects processors, and ran stereo into a pair of UK-made Vox AC-15 amplifers.

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I was constantly unhappy.

Something always needed adjustment, and it was never right. My cable costs alone were astronomical. It took a full hour to break it down and load it into my car, and another hour to set it up.

I had an epiphany about it and simplified my whole rig down to a pedalboard with about 9 pedals; no rack gear and only one amp. At the time, my final pedalboard (NINE PEDALS!?) still seemed pretty big. By today’s standards, it’s quaint.

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Fifteen years later, I’ve earned a modest reputation as a guitarist, etc. I was lucky to be associated with great artists who got (deserved) attention, and I happened to have played in several of the largest houses of worship in the area, right as each of their respective music ministries was really hitting its stride (I like to think I was partially responsible for that).

Today, what has really come to surprise me is how much MONEY is being spent by church guitarists on gear. Sweet Christmas, the pedalboards make mine look cheap, old, tragic and small!
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One of the conditions I have come to recognize about myself is that, after a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns with music equipment. In fact I think it actually becomes subtractive. Even as a pro guitarist, there is a limit to the number of guitars I can own before they become burdensome (seems to be around 15 for me). After that, I literally use them less; grabbing the nearest one because it’s convenient. It becomes a default. A DEFAULT.

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The same goes for effects. The more I have, the less I explore and experiment. I settled on a “meat & potatoes” approach to my gear at some point, where I wanted the basic tools to allow me to express my PLAYING. What I’m observing now is an approach by which church guitarists are using expensive guitar rigs so that their playing expresses their effects. They have all kinds of novel noises, but no strong guitar presence.

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24 strings plus glorious mustache = strong presence.

Not too long ago, a famous worship band went on tour. They appeared on some daytime talk-shows here in the USA, and then performed in Israel by the Sea of Galilee, all looking very sincere (so much gravitas). The daytime TV performances were of particular interest to me, as I could see the musicians doing their jobs. I saw two gigantic pedalboards with complex lights. What I heard was, chords, chords, two-note thing, chords. Ugh. It takes TWO of you to accomplish so little?

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Recently, I joined Instagram. Mostly I’ve been photographing my guitars, and gathering guitar-related followers. A few of these are church guys. One proudly displayed his latest pedalboard layout in a photo. It has to have $2500 worth of equipment on it. Maybe he’s gigging all over the place, but that’s not the impression I got.
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My amazingly creative Instagram handle is “david_eberhardt” if you’re interested in finding/following me.

The point of all this is not the excess of equipment. It’s the related dearth of sonic imagination.
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There’s some sort of trade-off. I don’t know where it happens, but this idea has been driving me for some time. I’m convinced that the more options we have, the less creative we become. Hollywood’s preference for CGI spectacle over plot or character development is a good indicator of this.

When I had comparably very little equipment in my freshly-started home studio, I produced some of my best work. It won awards. It got me on the radio. People started following me. Back then I was doing everything I possibly could to discover sounds and fit musical phrases in to songs.

A few years later, I had too much gear, and I felt like I was chasing after the music instead of having it roll out of me naturally. I was basically throwing gadgets at the problem, instead of looking inside myself for the solution. Somewhere in the process, I also discovered DEFAULT.

Maybe that’s why modern worship music seems so artistically bankrupt. There are fewer deep introspective musical approaches, but plenty of products marketed as solutions. There is plenty of technology, but not much technique. There is not enough artistic desperation, but plenty of default.

Years ago, I heard the story of how Peter Gabriel famously took all the cymbals from the drum kit to force Genesis to start playing differently. It inspired me to force periodic challenges upon myself. I tend to prefer playing a Fender guitar (I have perhaps too many of these), so every January, I force myself to play my Gibson Les Paul as much as possible until the weather looks like Spring. This month, I forced myself back to my classical guitar to learn a piece I’ve been meaning to learn since I was in high school. I’m planning to start practicing acoustic guitar chord-melody pieces again shortly.
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A lot of it boils down to starting over, from scratch, to get away from the defaults.

Some years ago, I decided to explore a new sound with my bandmates. We were a mostly heavy rock band that was venturing into art-pop. I came upon this idea that if I tried a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage against my drummer’s African hand percussion, we might discover something interesting. We did. Adding a little electric guitar ambience gave it a great mood, and we discovered something that became very successful in the work we did together and separately in several bands/projects in our area for quite some time.  That song was “Our Yesterdays,” which you can hear, HERE: https://youtu.be/L1Yd69PRQSY

How do you avoid defaults? What challenges do you put in front of yourself to keep you growing as a musician and an artist? Are there any disciplines you employ? What about equipment? Do you have stuff you could get rid of? On what merits do you keep or unload gear? What do you do to find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shout ‘em out!