Tag Archives: tone

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: 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.

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!

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!

Don’t Buy Gear For A Gig You Don’t Have

There you are, dear guitarist. You’re sitting at home with your guitar. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s pretty good. Could it be “better?” Maybe, but then what’s the definition of “better?” That’s another topic.
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I joined my first working band when I was about eighteen. My guitars were an Electra Phoenix, a Westone Spectrum FX, and an Ovation Custom Balladeer. My Electra looked just like this… until I added EMG pickups, and a Kahler tremolo.

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The Westone was snazzier, and the Ovation was the envy of my peers.

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Chick magnets!

My only amplifier was a Crate 20w solid-state combo that I had gotten when I was about fourteen. It didn’t sound very good, so my bassist (who was really a guitarist) let me use his Gallien Krueger 250ML amp. We ran it directly into the PA system via the microphone cable output on the back. Combined with the handful of cranky old effects pedals I had picked up, it sounded enormous. The Crate amp got used for my acoustic.

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It would be several more years before I would discover what a real tube amp could do.

Before the gig, I spent about $30 on three guitar stands, reasoning that a real gigging guitarist needed stands for his guitars. That way they would be within reach on stage, without lying on the floor (bad idea), leaning against something (risky), or sitting in their cases (inconvenient). I’ll never forget how cool my side of the stage looked with my three guitars on stands, plus two (dorky little solid-state) amps stacked one atop the other. Thus began my process of buying gear for gigs. THAT purchase was sensible. Subsequent purchases might not have been so practical.

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Somewhere along the way, the allure of expensive solutions appeared. A few years passed. Now I had a great Stratocaster… but it wasn’t American. Now I had a great amp… but it wasn’t vintage. I got great sounds from my modern effects processor, but… it lacked vibe. So I got a vintage amp and some vibey pedals. By dumb luck (really- the singer was my friend’s little sister. Some other friends started producing an album with her, and I recorded some guitar tracks as a favor), I ended up in a band that got a lot of attention. As a result, “tapers” came to our shows and recorded our performances. Today, I have a small collection of those recordings, and, in listening back, I honestly cannot tell you what gear I was using.

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At the time, I reached the conclusion that I needed “pro gear” to be considered a pro; and if I was considered a pro, THEN surely I would get more pro gigs. This led me to a lot of bad purchase decisions, basically in an attempt to buy my fame and fortune, one gadget at a time. I observe this trend running rampant today.

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Two things: (1.) This guy should get some stands. (2.) I may or may not have a room that looks like this.

I haven’t played a “real” gig in a while. I work for a church with an approximately 3000-person congregation, and find myself on stage there pretty consistently. Between that and my own studio work, I am pretty content. Nonetheless, I think about booking a live gig here or there, but to do that, I imagine all sorts of needs: I surely NEED a high end vocal mic. Definitely, I will NEED expensive pickup solutions and preamps for my acoustic guitars. I have a small PA, but I will NEED monitors for it. Even though my 1941 Epiphone archtop has traveled in a gig bag since I bought it in 1997, I’m going to NEED a hard case for it.

I haven’t booked a single gig yet, and already I’m buying a microphone, pickups and preamps, monitors, and a case. See how that works?

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A few weeks ago, I was gear-porning on Sweetwater.com, looking at studio mics, upgrades for my pedalboard, some VST plugins, and even a couple of instruments. I got up to get a drink, and when I came back to my computer, the lust-spell had been broken. I closed each shiny browser tab, saying “Nope,” “Nope,” “Nope.” “I don’t need this yet.” That’s when the wisdom landed in my lap.

“Don’t buy gear for a gig you don’t have.”

Have you ever imagined a need for a piece of music gear? Was it an instrument, amplifier or another gadget? Did you buy it? If so, did it really solve your problems? How about real solutions? Have you ever bought something that was a perfect solution? What was it?

Share your thoughts!

Defining The “Speso.”

The first electric guitar I ever played was a vintage Fender Jazzmaster. I have no idea how old it was, but it was already old when I discovered it at age ten or eleven.

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It was owned by the oldest brother of my childhood best friend. I knew it was forbidden, and so I treated it with grave respect… every time I secretly played it… when he wasn’t around.

Sometimes I had access to his old Fender Twin Reverb. It wasn’t sacred like the Jazzmaster, and I recall being fascinated by the reverb and vibrato.

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I found a classic Twin Reverb in my mid-20′s. I ended up gigging with it for several years. We had a good run together, but Jazzmasters remained elusive- they were hard to find, and expensive. This is still the case, when comparing to Stratocasters or Telecasters.

When my main gig ended, I taught lessons in a couple of local music stores (this is a great way to see cool gear before it gets sold). A consignment Jazzmaster showed up one day. It was a ’61, and seemed to be all original, but a previous owner had stripped the finish down to natural wood. That ruined its status as a collector’s item, and made it perfect for a player- exactly my type. More importantly, it sounded amazing. I looked like this when I played it.

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So I taught lessons on it, fell in love, and started saving money for it. As these things happen, I had an expensive car-repair, followed by a water-heater failure, followed by something else expensive. I had no Jazzmaster money after that. The seller got antsy, and moved his guitar elsewhere.

A few years passed…

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I started shopping casually on eBay for Jazzmasters, researching and comparing. After several months, a familiar-looking natural ’61 Jazzmaster showed up. Same one? I asked the seller about certain features, and yes, sure enough, it had to be THE SAME ONE. Unbelievable! I was similarly penniless at the time, for similar reasons as before. I started making arrangements to sell other gear so I could afford it. Then, out of the blue, the auction was removed. Two days later, it showed up again on eBay, on the other side of the country, as parts. PARTS. Aaugh!

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It seemed like a bad idea to buy a box of parts. So, after some wise council, I finally let it go. THE VERY NEXT DAY (I’m not making this up), a Jazzmaster appeared on the local Craigslist. I had never seen a Jazzmaster there. It was a Japanese model from the mid-90′s, certainly more affordable, and less of a risk. I met the seller, checked it out, and bought it. Truth: it actually sounds better than that parted-out ’61.

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I’m really happy with my Jazzmaster. It makes a sound like no other guitar I own, but I’ve started to recognize that it isn’t the guitar that makes itself sound so good, it’s how I react to it. And here’s the thing- I can react that way to ANY guitar. The special part isn’t the guitar, it’s my unique interaction with it. Boom.

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That ’61 Jazzmaster sounded great in my hands, no doubt about it. There were plenty of other competent players who handled it. Why didn’t THEY buy it? Were they all deaf? Did they lack my tonal majesty? I don’t think so. I think the “SPEcial SOmething” about it was my spiritual/emotional/artistic reaction when I picked it up. So here’s where I invent my own unique term- The “Speso;”™  that particular reaction from the inside that we attach to a person, place or thing.

I recognize that I have a different Speso ® for each instrument to which I become attached, and it isn’t just guitars. My relationships each have a Speso™. My songs are each an out-loud Speso®. My family’s cabin in the Poconos has a Speso™.

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Dang preexisting government acronyms! In any case, I’ll keep using the term.

You can buy any guitar, or have any relationship, but there’s THAT ONE that’s special; separate from the rest. I think the difference isn’t the guitar or other person (or whatever), I think it’s the Speso; the unique connection ingredient, that resides mysteriously inside each of us. It’s that thing, where when you made contact with the other person, or that one guitar, and there was an instant connection. THAT is the Speso; the unique facet of your identity that becomes matched or complemented by the connection to the other.

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Today is my wedding anniversary. I have an obvious Speso for my sweet little wife, having literally chosen her over every other woman on Earth. I have completely different, much-less important Spesos (Spesoes? Speso’s?) for my guitars, but that’s the easy example we’re reaching for today.

 

What guitar / amp / music object exemplifies and undeniable indefinable Speso for you? What was it that connected you, over anyone else, to THAT guitar, over every other one at the time? Was it another version of one that you already had? Was it something completely different? How long and how deeply did it go?

Describe your Speso. Go!

Coming To Terms With The Status quo

This guitar is called an “Invicta.”

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This particular Invicta was made in 1980 by a company called Electra. For a while, Electra  (and some others) were making copies of Gibson and Fender guitars. A trademark-infringement lawsuit ensued, and Electra started making different guitar shapes. This one cheekily blends the body shape of a Les Paul and a Telecaster. They used this basic shape for a number of models with different features.  If you’re interested, check out this link to see different Electra models: http://www.rivercityamps.com/electra/

Side note: Someone bought the rights to Electra guitars a few years ago, and has started manufacturing several models (and variations) again. I have no personal experience with these. 

I got an Invicta very much like the one I photographed, either the summer before or after 8th grade (I forget which). It was the closest thing to a Gibson Les Paul that I could imagine owning, and it was on that Invicta that I learned to play solos that sounded like I knew what I was doing. I felt (and somewhat resembled) like this kid:

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The status quo of electric guitars has always been held by Gibson and Fender, hence the imitations that have happened over the years (including a robust market of counterfeits). Up until I was about sixteen, I was a dyed-in-the-wool classic rock fan. Van Halen’s 1984 album  changed the guitar status quo overnight, and soon enough, the trends changed (later still, in Cincinnati, Ohio). The classic rock sound and look was no longer cool.

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Eventually, I bowed to the trends, and started yearning for something a little more modern. I got a “shredder” guitar, and started incorporating the techniques and tricks of that genre. I lent and eventually sold the Invicta to my friend Aaron, who still has it. My shredder guitar is long gone. It’s interesting to me, in hindsight, how the status quo was Gibson/Fender in 1984, and “shredder” guitars, or “super-strats” in 1985. Seriously, there was a point where those classic Gibson/Fender guitars were just hopelessly passé. The trend continued relatively uninterrupted until Grunge arrived like a dam breaking, and the Gibson/Fender status quo returned.

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Interestingly, music styles have become the influencers of guitar types, instead of the other way around. And you BETTER have the “right” guitar for the gig. What do country players use? Telecasters. What do hard rockers use? Les Pauls. Texas blues? Strats. Think a roots-americana type band is going to love it if I show up to a gig with my emerald green Ibanez RG? Nope. Wrong gig, dude.

wrong gig

True story: I was invited to audition for a heavy rock band a few years ago, and, based on older photos, they were reluctant to extend them an invitation until I showed them I had shoulder-length bleached-blonde hair (this did not end well for my hair). I received a notification of what types and brands of guitar equipment were expected… no mention of my capabilities or tones. They wanted a Gibson or PRS guitar, and a Marshall, Mesa, or comparable amp head. I had a couple of cool Gibsons, but my vintage AC30 was not invited! I actually considered getting a Plexi or a Dual/Triple Rectifier. Reason and good advice prevailed. I politely declined the invitation. That band never went anywhere anyway.

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Here’s my point (finally). As artists, when we seek to engage people by bowing to the status quo, we’re engaging in a sort of law of diminishing returns. In a world of Les Pauls, the Stratocaster stands out (and vice versa). In a world of standard classic rock guitars, Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” super-strat stood WAY out. And then, in a world full of copycat super-strat type guitars, the classics, all of a sudden, stood out.

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It isn’t just guitars, its artistry. I’m really impressed by music artists who do something that is both unique and approachable. It’s such a difficult fine line. When the status quo goes left, an artist should choose a direction based on inspiration, not imitation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that left is bad or that right is good. It does mean that mimicry leads to a location that gets crowded quickly, and listeners eventually relocate.

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So what the Invicta represents to me, is a time when a company tried to do something that was different, incorporating bits of what was known  with something inspired and different. I truly enjoy playing different types of guitars, because the unique shape and sound of each type somehow prompts me to play differently. I can’t NOT play ripping solos on an Ibanez RG. I can’t manhandle my 1941 Epiphone archtop the way I fight a Strat or Tele. While these are all common shapes, the Invicta stands out in my guitar-stable, as a whole different breed. I enjoy that it inspires different approaches while delivering what is still classically mine.

Isn’t that the kind of instrument we should all be looking to play?

What’s the instrument that makes you play differently? Is there some cool lesser-known brand or model that really turns you in an unusual  direction? What about different sounds? Where are you finding those? I’d love to hear about them.

Being an Inspired Guitarist in the Modern Church

This one may touch a nerve, so I apologize in advance.

Let me first say that it’s my great honor to have played with some of the area’s finest musicians in several of the region’s largest houses of worship. I don’t mean that they’re “good for church players.” I mean that they’re considered GREAT by anyone who hears them anywhere.

Therefore, it grieves me that since I’ve gotten to be among such fine players, as a rule, christian/worship music is so derivative and unremarkable. Certainly, it is  expertly produced, copying all the most successful current formulas, but it covers no new ground. Now it’s considered provocative or edgy only if someone writes a phrase like “wet sloppy kiss.” I neither want to know the artist nor hear the song. Don’t tell me. Just. No.

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I’m not convinced that these people know what deep, real songwriting entails. It can’t just be something quickly scribbled out in response to s brief emotional surge (though I concede that could legitimately happen occasionally). If the net result is a lyric that rhymes “praise” with “days” again, it might be time for a new writing scenario.

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I’m not sure what chord he thinks he’s playing. 

Check out this example: Regardless of your opinions on the band or the song, Led Zeppelin spent THREE YEARS writing Kashmir. First, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant traveled through the East, absorbing music and culture. Afterward, Page began writing a part he found interesting. The band began working on it together after he brought the idea in. Three years after the writing started, they completed what is generally considered their finest work. Here’s a more detailed account from Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_(song)

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Here’s another one:  Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was an idea being kicked around for a while. There is some indication that Freddie Mercury had been writing parts of it as early as the late sixties. When the song was released in 1975, they had spent three straight weeks RECORDING it (after the writing process was finished). From Wikipedia – “May, Mercury and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day. [emphasis mine] The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs.” Read up on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Rhapsody

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Let’s be honest. Christian/worship songwriters are clearly not investing this amount of time or attention, at least in the music-composition… OK, and yeah, probably not the lyrics either. The genre seems desperate to make the smallest possible changes to its formulas, and it shows. There are no innovations or departures, only safe repetitions, tendered over and over again.

So how can this subset of the music industry move into a new era of creative growth? I think the MUSIC ITSELF has to be inspired. When you hear Kashmir, the music speaks volumes before Plant sings a syllable. It took a long time of trial and error to arrive on the sounds that were being used, and the parts each instrument played. This is what christian/worship music needs to do- something new, inspired and different… something AUTHENTIC.

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An artist friend of mine attempted to pay me a compliment a couple of years ago. He said, “There’s something so worshipful about the way you play guitar.” What he tried to convey in that statement was that there was a distinct mood that was being created, and that it ushered him in to a place of deeper spiritual communion. Well, that’s exactly what I have tried to do all the time, no matter where I played (most of which was outside of the church). Success! As an artist, I want to move people emotionally/spiritually. If I’m not playing something that inspires ME, how can I expect to inspire others. That’s MY authenticity, for good or bad. It can’t just be default chords and the coolest effects. The actual phrases that I’m playing need to be saying something.

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I include this picture only because it’s awesome and hilarious.

I approach what I do with great care, and a thousand questions, like… What sound am I going to make? Which guitar does it best? Which pickup? What notes/chords/fragments/phrases? Is it better to play the notes low on the neck, on the higher strings, or high on the neck on the lower strings? Will I use a different type of pick for this song? Slide? Ebow? What effects? Should I play more in concert with the song’s mood or should I add contrast?

Then I’m interested in seeing how I can get the rest of the band to interact with that.

Caution: Not everyone is ready to make changes.  Worship leaders, in particular, are usually successful by perpetuating the status quo, so they have no pressing need to change their game (understandable). In my modest experience, they tend to be resistant to ideas that don’t originate with themselves or other worship leaders. If you press, you might find yourself sitting at home on Sundays.

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“Look, they really just want to hear me doing the same thing I did last week.”

If you’re a guitarist (or any musician) playing in a modern church, what can you do to drive your music team into a new place of authentic expression? Do you just copy the trends because the trends are what your bandmates expect to hear? Or do you reach for something beyond the music; something you hear in your heart/mind that you’re inspired to find on your fretboard (or equivalent)?  I will always try to bring the full measure of my influences and inspiration to my playing, either inside or outside the church. What about you?

Sound off.

How to Get Perfect Stacked Delays on a Musician’s Budget.

 

The “DDA” (“Dave’s Delay Array”)

Developed circa 2002, by Dave Eberhardt.

In the mid-90′s, I bought my first Boss DD-5 Digital Delay which finally allowed me to have a portable tap-tempo delay.

Up until that point, my only tap delay was a Lexicon JamMan rackmount delay/sampler. Over the years, I tried combining lots of different delays, and spent a lot of time tapping and switching and generally being miserable.

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 A few years later, the DD-6 promised some new features, so I bought one. Immediately I discovered that I couldn’t use it the way I liked, and I sold it. But as I was trying to come up with a graceful way to synchronize and cascade my delays, it hit me like a thunderbolt one afternoon in my basement:

I could split the tap-tempo footswitch cable, and trigger TWO DD-5′s!

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Well, I got a second DD-5, did a little splicing and soldering, and it worked perfectly. Later I added a third DD-5. This has been my delay rig now for nearly fifteen years. Only recently has anyone produced a synchronized tap delay that works as well as several DD-5′s.

Note: Boss’ DD-7 will work the same way as the DD-5. It offers more options, but I don’t think it has as much clarity as the DD-5. Just my opinion.

 

What I like about the DD-5 and DD-7 are these three features:

  1. Each pedal is always listening to the tap, even when it is bypassed.
  2. Echoes decay naturally when the pedal is bypassed.
  3. Can be connected to a common tap pedal.

 

With the DD-5′s, I can be just playing along with the band and tapping my foot. As soon as I step on the delay pedal, the echo of each is in perfect sync, and they are all in perfect sync together! You want that U2 thing? Simple. Want big swimmy volume-swells? Done. At present, the only modern units that offer the same grace of live operation are the Line 6 M9 and the TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay. Those have some negative details that I will save for another time.

In any case, here’s how to make the DDA (“Dave’s Delay Array”). Wiring will require the sacrifice of a few cables, or the creation of some new ones. I like to connect the tap-tempo input cables to the DD-5′s with right-angle jacks like these:

You can use a special tap-tempo pedal, but any momentary-interrupt, non-latching footswitch will work. I like to use those simple sustain pedals that get used with keyboards. They tend to be quiet and durable. I don’t like my audience to hear my foot going ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk…

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Anyway, strip the cable’s black outer covering down to expose the two wires inside. In my diagram, I have colored them red and yellow, but they may be any two colors. Strip the colored covering down to expose the bare wires. Lightly braid the respective wires going to each DD-5 together, red and red, yellow and yellow.

Now expose the wires on the tap-tempo footswitch cable the same way, and lightly connect it to the braided DD-5 wires. Connect power and audio, and test to see if it works. If neither delay syncs to your tap, switch the wires on the tap cable. Once it works, make the connections permanent, wither with connectors or by soldering. Don’t leave the bare wires exposed. I use heat-shrink tubing and/or tape. Make sure that the separate wire connections don’t touch each other (keep the red away from the yellows), or it will short out the connection (this isn’t harmful, but it just won’t work).I bend the reds to one end of the cable, and the yellows to the other end.

It may take you a few attempts to get it all laid-out and connected the way you want. Experienced solderers can do this kind of work in a few minutes. The good news is that you can start with two delays and add a third. This is how mine are connected.

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Connect all the yellow wires together, and then all the red wires together. Don’t let the reds tough the yellows! And again, these may not be the wire-colors you see.

This is my actual pedalboard. You can see that I marked each DD-5 with the beat-value of each echo. Oh, by the way, that’s correction fluid (“Wite Out”) on black gaffer’s tape. I usually cover manufacturer names and logos. It’s MY pedal now.

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Oh yeah. That VS-XO is a recent addition. I will be doing a demo and review of it later :)

For the record, this is basically what I used for all of my live gigs with the Katie Reider Band, Crossroads, everyone I worked with at Blue Jordan records, sub dates, The Mood Rings, Horizon, etc.  I hope the DDA works well for you, saves you money and headaches, and gets you the same kind of easy sonic victory that it has for me. Best of luck!

Got any other cool delay ideas? I’d love to hear them. Feel free to ask me for more details on the DDA. Remember, that’s “DAVE’s Delay Array.”

 

All information herein © 2016. You may use it and share it, just document where you heard it first. :)

 

 

 

Guitarists – What Do You Take From Your Influences?

What Do You Take From Your Influences?

I was 11 when I learned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Up to that point, I really had no concept of what could be done with a guitar, and I was stunned by the beauty of this music I had never heard. To this day, Jimmy Page remains my biggest influence, though I don’t really sound anything like him.

It was sixth grade, and it was as if a veil had been removed from my ears. Suddenly I was REALLY HEARING the music on the radio. The next year, MTV went on the air, and suddenly I could SEE Rock and Roll… and guitars; beautiful awesome guitars! Prior to this, and even for several years after, it was almost as if showing rock bands on mainstream network TV was inappropriate.

 

MTV didn’t have enough material to fill their programming time, so they showed concert footage. It was there that I saw The Who for the first time, and Rush and Triumph and Van Halen. Through produced videos, I saw Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac, and some teenagers called Def Leppard and U2. As MTV grew, guitars seemed to wane in importance as the 80′s went in the direction of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by then, I was a guitarist, tried and true.

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I have three main spheres on influence on my playing: classic rock, shredders and early metal, and what I once heard someone call the “guitar anti-heroes”

The classic rock genre is easy, because it’s where I started. There’s Page and Hendrix and Clapton, Brian May and Pete Townshend and Alex Lifeson. Lifeson in particular carried me into and through the 80′s, where the others didn’t do much that was new or different.

It was Van Halen who changed the game for me (and millions of others). The early metal bands caught my ear, particularly Iron Maiden with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio floored me, and then Vai and Yngwie and Satriani appeared and floored me again. I thought I was doing well keeping pace with them (for a teenager) until I discovered Nuno Bettencourt. That’s when I knew I couldn’t keep up. The consolation at that point was that I had a girlfriend who was WAY more interested in my songwriting and singing.

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It was then that something clicked for me. It was all about “the hook.” Peter Buck and Lindsey Buckingham and The Edge and Andy Summers and Mike Campbell and modern Alex Lifeson all suddenly made sense to me. I started writing guitar hooks into each song, and people really connected to that. When I ended up in the band I toured with, it was because my guitar hooks gave voice to the instrumental passages where our fantastic singer wasn’t actually singing. Every part became identifiable.

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It was Page that taught me atmosphere and the incorporation of unusual chord voices. Hendrix taught me soul and swagger. Clapton gave me heart. Brian May gave me dexterity. Alex Lifeson gave me unconventional thinking.

Van Halen gave me freedom. Vai let me get weird, and Satch pointed out the beauty of melody. Nuno made me reach farther to reconcile funk with rock, and have fun with it. Peter Buck brought me back to the value of a jangly rhythm. Lindsey showed me how to get out of the way of the song. The Edge taught me how to make small things carry a big sound. Andy Summer let me use my jazz training to up-end stale pop formulas. Mike Campbell taught me how to write phrases that speak without words, in the middle of wordy songs.

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I finally got the chance to put it all to work, to take it all out into the world, sort it out, and apply it in front of hungry listeners. I think it worked. I had a pretty good run with it. I developed a style that reflects those influences and became a pretty unique blend of them all.

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Who are your main influences, and what did you take from them? How do you apply it to what you do? How well does it work? I’d love to hear about it.