Tag Archives: guitarist

20 Years of Wonder (Part 1)

Here’s what I remember… or what I think I remember.

In the Spring of 1998, I agreed to record guitar tracks for Katie Reider’s budding new album, “Wonder.” I was given maybe three songs to work on, and turned those out in about a week, casually, around my work schedule.

Summer happened, and no more progress was made on the record. I waited, but there was no deadline that I knew of, no money being talked about (I had agreed to record it as a favor), and so I didn’t press. In the meantime, I had named my little dank studio space, “The Coal Room,” and printed out track sheets to document my progress on assorted projects. I kept these in manila envelopes next to their respective studio tapes. That was how studios worked in the late 90′s, friends.

What of the 90′s studio technology? Well, I had an Alesis ADAT tape machine. It recorded 8 tracks of digital audio onto a Super VHS cassette. Yes, really. And they were modular, so you could link multiple machines together.

As was common practice with such gear, I was given a tape with a reduction mix of Katie’s scratch guitar & vocal, along with Josh’s drums. I had seven remaining tracks, so I put ideas onto each one. I made a point to put one stereo guitar-part (two tracks) on each song. I deliberately got slightly weirder than seemed appropriate, and I figured they would use what they liked, and dump the rest. They kept almost everything.

The MIDDLE of October arrived. Frantic, my old friends Josh and Tyler called me in a tizzy, desperate to see if I could hastily bang-out the remainder of an album’s worth of original guitar music in a few days. I agreed. They were mixing the first three songs when they handed the next tape over to me.

Three or four of the next songs were on that ADAT tape. I recorded those as they mixed the first three. Then I met Tyler in my employer’s parking lot one afternoon, and handed him the tape I had finished the previous night. He handed me the next one to start on. I think he was awake for three or four straight days. I imagine this was what he felt like.


I finished the next two or three songs that night and perhaps the next day. It must have been a Saturday. Or maybe I took a day off or something. Anyway, they were literally mixing songs 4,5 & 6 while I was recording 7,8 & (Row) 9. 

I remember Annette calling to me that it was time to take my little twin daughters out for their first Halloween Trick-Or-Treat. I was wrestling my way through one of the songs. I think it was “Show Your Love.” That would make sense, if it was one of the last ones.

At the time, I had no idea that I was going to end up in the band, nor did I know if the band was going to have a name. Assuming no one would ever see or care what these sheets said, I made up funny (to me) names for th band on each song.

I found the old track sheets a few years ago, in a stack of old music paperwork, and scanned them in. If you’re interested, you can take a look at what I was calling those parts as I was thinking them up.






If this sort of thing interests you, feel free to ask me what any of this stuff means.

It occurs to me that these track sheets are in perfect time sequence to all be on a single tape.  I wonder (pun intended) if they gave the tape back to me to work on. Maybe they added more stuff to it between Spring and October.

In any case…

Conspicuously absent are the track sheets for “Show Your Love” and “Shaken” (maybe I handed them off along with the tape, for the mixing process). Those were both difficult songs. I wanted to use a wah pedal on “Show Your Love,” but mine was broken, no one I knew had one to lend, and there weren’t any stores around for me to get one quickly. So I used an envelope filter, which does something similar, but automatically.
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I didn’t like it, and ended up changing how I played the song live. Much of my challenge was to keep the song from sounding like “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Shaken” stumped me. I didn’t know Katie at all, and so I sent her a very hesitant and polite inquiry, asking if she could tell me about the feelings behind the song. I didn’t want to pry into anything too personal, but I had no musical ideas (which is unusual for me). She responded quite graciously by saying that she had been left feeling “sour” in the wake of a failed relationship. I really seized onto that word: SOUR. And so I becan constructing the arrangement of “Shaken” with lots of dissonance and tension and chaos.

I remember that I discovered a really cool tone by putting a microphone on the BACK on this old amplifier I had (which has now been broken since 2004). I recorded a bunch of parts for “Shaken” with that sound, and when I was finished, they all jumbled together into this sonic mess. The clock was ticking, and I couldn’t re-record. So I used my SansAmp pedal, and bounced some of the guitar-tracks through it, and re-recorded that changed tone. It worked!

Next: What the recording process looked like. Stay tuned!

I wish I’d had a camera

 

What follows is a true story.

In 2002ish, I was in a band called Gwendolyn Speaks, with some friends who were superb musicians and singers. We were booked to play the Columbus Arts Festival that summer.

Festival performances are a mixed bag. Organizers want live music all day long, but most people are only interested in seeing live music starting approximately at sunset, when the stage lights are on, and the alcohol is starting to flow. As the bigger names get the later slots, this means that you have to be pretty well known to play an evening set. Otherwise, your crowd looks like this:

Woot!

Well, Gwendolyn Speaks was not a big name in Cincinnati, much less in Columbus, so our set time was something like 1pm on a Sunday. Predictably, the area in front of the stage was pretty empty. There was a steady stream of, say, moms with kids, who would stroll by, listen for a few minutes, and then move on. But there were two guys who “looked like musicians,” sitting and watching our set. One was in black jeans, a black sleeveless shirt and black skullcap. The other had a Hawaiian shirt and very tall hair. I figured maybe they were playing on the same stage later.

On that same date, there was a guitar show scheduled on the opposite side of Columbus (these happen twice a year). Now, knowing that not many people were going to be present at our show, I was mostly hoping to finish the set and leave quickly, so I could find a cool bargain at that show.

It was also at this time that I was using a pretty complicated rig, though I may have been actively simplifyng it. In any case, I was almost certainly using two UK-made Vox AC15 amplifiers, running in stereo.

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[Two things: (1.) I believe I may have been a front-runner in the Cincinnati area for using AC15's. They weren't being used by many people. Then I got mine, and suddenly everyone started getting them. (2.) Yes, I know these aren't AC15's. ]

At the conclusion of our set, I went straight to work, tearing-down my gear, and loading it out to my car, which was conveniently parked right near the stage. As I was heading back to the stage for another armload of gear, our bassist said something like “Billy Bob Thornton is over there, and he wants to meet you.” I laughed, because, come to think of it, the guy in black DID look a lot like BBT. It was a good joke from Pete the Bassist, who was usually clever and understated like that. So I walked up to the stage front to meet the guy.

It was actually Billy Bob Thornton. The actor. The real guy.

I shook his hand and said hello. He had a tattoo on his right bicep that said “Angelina.” As you may remember, he and Angelina Jolie were married there for a bit. This meeting was like a month before they split up.

Anyway, turns ut that BBT is a musician (a drummer – make your own jokes), and he and his band were actually performing later, though on a different stage.

If you were a man, it was easy to watch a Gwendolyn Speaks set, because our two lady singers, Tara and Carrie, were quite lovely. And Pete and Scott and I were all music geeks, so we tended to infuse the catchy pop songs with some nice flourishes.

So, not surprisingly, BBT loved the show, and he and his guitarist (Hawaiian shirt guy) said they loved my tone and playing, and wanted to ask some questions about what I used. So, long before there were YouTube videos and guitar sites devoted to this sort of thing, I gave a “Rig Rundown” to Billy Bob Thornton and his guitarist.
Image result for billy bob thornton band[Note the amplifiers behind these guys]

After a pleasant chat, we all went our separate ways. I headed off to the guitar show, where nothing memorable happened. For the remainder of the day, several of us just called each other and screamed into the phone; “Aaaagh! Billy Bob Thornton! Aaaagh!

“Aaaagh!”

This was back when cell phones did NOT come with cameras. So of course no one took pictures. Who takes pictures at a Sunday afternoon gig? Well, the next day, I stopped at a gas station and bought a disposable camera to keep in the car, just in case. For you youngsters, a disposable camera cost a few dollars. You would take a bunch of pictures with it, then take the whole camera in to a place (say, a pharmacy or grocery store) to get the pictures developed. They would discard or recycle the camera, and you would get your pictures. I am surprised to learn that they are still around.

Also at this time, my wife had a tendency to steal whatever camera I owned, take photos with it, use up all the film, and then lose/ruin/misplace the camera. So a disposable camera seemed like a great idea for me. I kept one in my car until she found it, stole it, took a bunch of photos, and left me with no camera. This happened several times.

Thus, despite my best efforts, here’s another “big fish” story:

A year or two later I would find myself on stage with The Pointer Sisters.

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Yes, really.
Of course I had no camera. Of course.

 

REVIEW – Avid Eleven Rack

 

Guitarists, I have good news, and I have bad news,,,

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In early March of 2018, I bought an Avid Eleven Rack for my studio. I had been using my POD Pro 2.0 for quite some time, with results that fell mostly into the “I suppose that is OK” category, and I spent a lot of time processing tracks (EQ, etc) to get them there.

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I was headed into ankle-reconstruction surgery, and wanted something to inspire me back into music creation while I recovered (experimenting with new gear always helps). Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk for a long time, but I was unprepared for how much NOT sitting upright I would be able to do (had to keep my foot elevated). I’ve done far less recording than I had planned to do this year, but I HAVE done some, and solely with the Eleven Rack (henceforth “11R” for brevity).

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The good news is that this has been a fantastic experience.

The first evidence I’d like to share is three songs I recorded for my friend Todd Gilbert in the Flint, Michigan area, for an album of covers. This seemed like a perfect test for the 11R- sending the product off to a collaborator., and comparing them to known, published works.

The three songs I recorded were Huey Lewis’ “Bad Is Bad,” Billy Joel’s “Laura,” and Hall & Oates’ “Out Of Touch.”

BAD IS BAD

“Bad Is Bad” was the first one I recorded. The original recording is an 80′s nod to a 50′s vibe, and the production (while pleasantly nostalgic) does not stand up well. So I built the whole thing around a swaggering Telecaster riff. The 11R transmitted my sound with both girth and clarity- clarity I always found lacking in the POD Pro. Through the whole song I recorded a lot of solo ad-libs on an old Electra Invicta, allowing Todd to pick and choose which of these he wanted to keep. Then, I recorded my Jazzmaster throught a Leslie patch I either found or edited-together on the 11R. It sounded as good as (if not better than) most good Leslie simulations I have heard. Finally, I played a slide solo with the Telecaster. Usually I reach for my old Marshall JCM800 combo for this task, but the 11R did the job exceptionally well.

 

LAURA

“Laura” is a pretty close approximation of the original arrangement. I’m not sure what was really used on the recording of the original solo to give it that sound… but I just double-tracked it. All those electric guitar licks are my Telecaster. Since Billy Joel was clearly channeling The Beatles, I donned my George Harrison cap, and played the chord-changes with an electric 12-string (a mid-2000′s Fender Stratocaster XII). All of this was done with the 11R, straight in to my interface, with one exception- there is a swirly modulation phrase at the end of the solo, where I ran out of the 11R through my old Quadraverb.

 

OUT OF TOUCH

Finally, “Out Of Touch” came across my desk. Todd had envisioned a straight-ahead rocker, so I played an 8th-note chugging rhythm on the Invicta, and then added a double-tracked arrangement of the Telecaster playing some Alex Lifeson type arpeggios and minor 7 stabs. I dialed-in an obvious Van Halen inspired patch for the solo (complete with phaser) and recorded that on the Invicta, as well as a double-tracked slide part (without phaser). Then to give it all some more growl, I added a fuzz track from my Jazzmaster.

The bad news is that I might not need all these amplifiers anymore.

Summary:

The 11R is a great comprehensive tool for guitarists in a studio setting. you can choose from a variety of classic amplifiers and speaker cabinets, a decent array of effects pedals, and even a small but respectable batch of standard top-shelf studio microphones. Each piece of the signal chain distinctively interacts with the next, and then responds accordingly. Once you understand the editing navigation, it is easy to bounce through settings and dial in a tone. It’s not the sort of thing I would use live (ask me again in a few years), so I cannot speak to that application.

I found it a little noisy, to my surprise. This may have something to do with how it’s connected to my rack, but then my POD Pro is comparably dead silent. To be fair, the noise is no more than the line noise of an old amplifier, but this may affect certain quiet passages of recordings. I was able to filter it out well enough with some standard DAW plugins.

Now that the 11R price has dropped to $299, it’s a safe and sensible investment. ProTools users can use it as a virtual instrument, record guitar tracks direct, and process them through the 11R afterward. I use Reaper, and I suppose there’s a way to do this, but it isn’t really how I like to work.

It has quickly become an easy go-to choice for me. I’m pleased with the purchase, nearly six months later, as well as with the end results of the handful of recordings it’s been featured on. Would definitely recommend it. Calling this one a strong 8/10, with the only complaints being noise (admittedly could be due to ignorance), and an interface that required reading the manual to be able to operate.

 

 

Ten Years Gone

Twenty years and a few months ago, some friends of mine asked if I might record some guitar tracks for a young girl named Katie Reider. She had about an album’s worth of material, and with their help, they gotten it to where it was a few electric guitars away from sounding like a real record. Well, I added those very guitars, and that record ended up being called Wonder.

Image result for katie reider wonder

 

In just a few actual evenings (which were spread-out over the course of several months), I managed to record eight of Wonder’s ten songs. I never expected anything to happen with it, really. I thought, maybe, in a year or so, she might have sold enough CD’s that, if all went well, I might get $100.

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The album was a local smash. We won a bunch of awards, we were on the radio, and in the papers. My guitar students thought I was famous. Overnight, I became the guitarist in one of the most popular bands in town. I had arrived. Image result for yatta

 

There were highs and lows, but in fairly short order, I was the only original band member. Katie and I had no choice. We became the best of friends, confidants, and musical partners. The next couple of years were great. In 2006 everything suddenly caught fire. I was convinced we were just a few yards from the proverbial touchdown. Then she got a toothache.

Only, it wasn’t a toothache.

It was a horrible monster, and it destroyed my friend.

 

My first gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 1998. My last gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 2007. The next year, she was gone. That was July 14, 2008; ten years ago.  This was how she looked at our last show together.Image result for katie reider wonder

When 2018 started, I was aware that the ten year echo of her passing was coming. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. Robert Plant wrote it about an old girlfriend, so it doesn’t quite fit, but the music captures the feelings, I think, of a yearning for a time in the past with someone dear. Also, no one knows this (until now). When I was recording Wonder, I felt a tremendous pressure to accomplish something special. When in doubt, I would ask myself, “WWJPD” (What Would Jimmy Page Do)?

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“Ten Years Gone” is a fantastic anthem. One of my favorite discoveries about it, once I dissected the guitar parts, is that, apparently, I record layered guitars rather a lot like Jimmy Page did on this song.

Fitting, right?

Anyway, I know Katie would love it, because she loved the music I made. This is for Katie. But also for me.

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Ankles, Aikido, and Amplification

So I had this lingering sore foot/ankle/leg thing…
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On March 9, a doctor cut into my ankle to repair what had turned out to be a pretty major injury. I spent a month (March-April) with no weight on my left foot, then started hobbling a bit. I’m now walking normally, mostly.  With the help of my physical therapist (a friend since 7th grade), that ankle getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. All of this is good… actually it’s better than normal, and I’m grateful. I now have an awesomely gross scar to horrify the squeamish.
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As a result of my ankle injury, I had become progressively less active, and not able to spend much time out and about with my family. I gained weight from being sedentary. Honestly, I gave up on taking care of myself. That has all changed. My diet is better. I’m sleeping normal hours. Last week, I even walked the dogs with my sweet little wife, twice. Life feels like “normal” is within sight.
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Wait, there’s more…

One of my great loves, aside from music, is the traditional martial arts of Japan. I’ve been an eager student of Aikido since I was 21, and started Iaido back in 2004ish. After my injury (which had nothing to do with martial arts), the first thing I had to stop doing was all the lateral movement in Aikido. Iaido stopped a few months later.

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This past week, I not only did some Aikido training, but I did a small demonstration of Aikido within a broader presentation at the church where I work. So not only am I physically active again, I was able to bring a thing I love into the job I do. The last time I did anything like that was back when I was still directing music there. I had to let the music role go, when I moved in to my creative “Production Director” job, last year.
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Well, one of the things about musicians is that, in the summer, they want to play all these festivals. I suppose the money is good (back when I did it, the money wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the heat and hassle). Anyway, because of that, there’s a need for a substitute guitarist. So I will be subbing in on guitar in a week-and-a-half.
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That’s June 9. Also on June 9, there’s a big event at the Aikido dojo. Also-also, my acoustic duo has a gig that night. I may have over-committed.
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So… as it pertains to June 9, I might be going too fast. But after a year-and-a-half of slow motion, I gotta believe this is all understandable.

Have you ever been sidelined for an illness or injury, and had to wait it out? How did you cope during the interim? Have you ever been sidelined because of a role-change, and had to watch others do what you started? What was that like? Finally, have you ever overcompensated by over-committing? What safeguards did you put in place to prevent it from happening again?

Sprich, mein volk!

The goings-on of May

There are several creative-type things I like to do.

It may have come up in conversation that I play guitar a little.

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I’m hilarious, aren’t I?

I also sing a little, write songs, record & music. I’m a decent audio engineer and editor too. Sometimes I do voice-over work, or commercial production. In the past, I have done some acting on stage and screen. I tinker, a tiny bit, with video and graphic design/presentation. I write, and I think I have two novels in me, but I’m reluctant to put any energy toward them.

So when I write, it’s usually in blog form, which takes us to this writ.
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Being a classic ADHD (not so much the H part) sufferer, it’s difficult to focus on something unless I can HYPERFOCUS. Get me working on any of these creative exercises, and I can lose a whole day.

At the end of 2017, I shared a fairly large pile of recordings with the world, which I put on my website, and called “The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vol.1” These are just cover songs I recorded for fun, to share with friends. Obviously, the name implies that there are more to come, and I truly intend to do so.

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Ouch. Yeah.

Realistically, it’s May now, and I haven’t put much energy towards those new songs yet. Getting back into creative music mode in the studio has been a hard engine to start. I’ll blame ankle-surgery, but there has been a fair amount of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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So whilst I’ve been putzing around…

A friend of mine who lives afar had mentioned several times in the past, that it would be fun to work on a music project together. Well, he popped the question, and I accepted. So, even though this is a very busy (and tired) time, I forced myself to sit down and ride the music wave last night. The hardest part is swimming out into the proverbial ocean. So I swam, and I listened, and I thought a slide guitar might be a nice interpretation.

Two and a half hours later, I came up from the depths, to get a breath of air.

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Whoa.

It’s fun to be back in the saddle, making music for someone -even if it’s just one song- again. How nice to shake some of the rust off of my modest (at best) slide guitar skills! Of course I used my Telecaster. Of course I did! Well, the intonation on it is all out of sorts, the strings are old, the volume pot is busted, and the whole damn guitar is noisy. Of course I used it anyway.

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I finished a basic rhythm track (which may have been unnecessary) and a slide solo, and threw some ad-lib slide parts here and there. I will probably do some better ad-libs later. Then I get to do some studio singing, which I haven’t done in like six months.

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On the periphery of all of this, I’m now performing somewhat regularly in an acoustic duo called The Mood Rings. We keep getting gigs offered to us, and having great ease booking new ones.

A few years ago, I was frantically busy with music stuff just to keep my name recognizeable, and my income steady. Now I get to do it for fun and inspiration.

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I wouldn’t change a thing… except that I’d like to be performing with an electric guitar a little more.

We’ll see what the next half of the year brings.

What’s your creative outlet? Do you do it because you love it, or because it’s an obligation?  If you could do something else, what would it be? Do you create because you love creating, or because you want recognition/fame/money? ‘Fess up.

Small Steps, Stomps, and Stages

Greetings, Friends.

It’s been a bit since my last writ,
And I’m glad to be a-typing.
See, I hurt my ankle (tendons mangled!),
So to work I’ve been a-Skype-ing.

Yeah, I haven’t done much lately. I injured my ankle a while ago, and was foolish to think it would just get better on its own. Finally, at the recommendation of a trusted teacher, I visited his favorite podiatrist. Ill at ease about the whole thing, I expected a protracted process of “Hmmm… yeah, not sure what’s going on here. Let’s try anti-inflammatories and rest, and you pay me an exorbitant office visit fee… and see me again in 2 weeks.”

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Well, he walked into the room, and within seconds, knew from the angle of my foot, and the description of the injury, EXACTLY what had happened. To be sure, he ordered an MRI for me (my first!). He was right. It’s busted. Course of treatment: surgery. Heal with STEEL!!

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So several stitches, a couple of screws, and 24 staples later, my ankle is fixed, but it will be recovering for many more weeks. That hasn’t stopped the kid from trying out new gear, no, certainly not.

Prior to surgery, I knew I’d need motivation to get me moving and being productive again, so I ordered an ELEVEN Rack (without Pro Tools, because I’m an individual) to get me excited about recording guitars WITHOUT amps for a good long time (Can’t lift an amp on crutches!). It arrived fasted than expected, giving me about a day and a half to play with it. I still don’t really know how it works.

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I just started moving around again, and have recorded a few tracks with it. I will share some serious insights, once I get more familiar with it.

Not long afterwards, I went crazy and ordered the Superego+ pedal from Sweetwater. It arrived 30 hours later. I’m using it with my acoustic duo.

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Oh yeah, by the way, I’m now in an acoustic duo. We call ourselves The Mood Rings (this was a band name I was using back in the early 2000′s), and we have played one whole gig so far. It was so well received that we got two more gigs out of it, that same night.

As a result, we have a gig this Saturday night. I will still be one-footed, so my buddy Andy has to carry all the gear. I can’t believe he agreed to it.

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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.

Image result for c9 organImage result for mel9
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!

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.

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!