Monday, April 25, 2016

Prince | Quotes From The Purple One

This article is dedicated to Prince Rogers Nelson who left us on April 21, 2016, at age 57.

"An idea is still yours even if you give it to someone."

"You have to respect your spiritual base. You have to respect the instrument. The volume and tone of an instrument is so important."

"I'm competitive, and I've definitely let my ego control me. But I've discovered that when it comes to music, ego has to sit down."

"I appreciate the time it took for someone to make an instrument. It doesn't matter if it's a guitar or a synthesizer."

On being an independent artist without a record contract:

"It's simply preposterous to me that someone is going to own your work in perpetuity."

"The benefit of having your artistic freedom is that there won't be anyone forcing you to do a remix or anything else you don't want to do. I don't believe in remixing songs that are in the key of Life."

"Bands break-up over contracts -- just talk to The Eagles about that."

On the recording process:

"I always know what the whole thing is going to sound like. It's all in here (taps his head), but it's in here too (points to recording console).

"(With analog tape) I use punch-ins and spot erasing as a compositional style. I'm quick enough with the Record button that I can shave a letter off a word."

"When I play all the instruments I'm not as greedy. I'm more greedy when we play live."

"Sometimes I use the band to get the rhythm down. In a way, it's more fun to get it out of people."

"A lot of times I'll sample a guitar that I've recorded, and then overdub the same (sampled) part with a keyboard. The attack of the keyboard gives guitar lines more impact and punch."

"Sometimes I record acoustic guitar and vocals live, just sitting here at the console. That's how I recorded Truth."

On the guitar, and sometimes playing all instruments himself:

"I'm always trying to work in the bass notes when I'm playing funk rhythms."

"A lot of cats don't work on their rhythm enough, and if you don't have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something."

"Pitch -- that's universal. You're either in tune or you ain't."

"Listen to singers for solo ideas -- especially women. Try to play one of the runs that Beyonce or Ella Fitzgerald does and you will surely learn something."

"On some songs, I just like the way I play drums and keys better than anyone I know."

"If you need a path to follow, a good place to start is by listening to Ike Turner, or James Brown, who is all about rhythm."

"God gives you everything, and one of those things is freedom."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Attaching An MXR EVH Phase 90 To A Pedalboard Without Sticky Velcro

If you read one of my earlier posts on attaching pedals to Pedaltrain pedalboards without sticky Velcro, I wrote about using a rather cumbersome method involving non-adhesive Velcro straps and nylon cable tie.

Two cable ties were looped around a pedal, torqued sufficiently, and Velcro straps were threaded through the cable ties from underneath and then tied to individual slats of a Pedaltrain pedalboard.

Did it work?


Pedals were held in place securely and the idea proved gig worthy. But I'll be the first to admit it wasn't the most elegant solution. The cable tie was very visible, and there was the possibility of some pedal paint wear with prolonged use. It was also a bit of a hassle to remove a pedal or swap pedals around, not to mention that this method would only work with slatted pedalboards such as the Pedaltrains.

mxr evh phase 90
MXR EVH Phase 90

However, astute reader 'REM Tribute Band' certainly came up a much better idea and offered this in the comments section of that earlier blog post:

"I remove the screws from the bottom of the pedal, pierce some holes in some Velcro strips (non-adhesive) and screw them back in so the Velcro is screwed to the bottom of the pedal! Nice and tidy and no glue gunk."

A great idea and one which I've copied and used with great success over the last couple of years. And also something I've been meaning to blog about for some time now.

MXR EVH Phase 90 graphic
Baseplate of the MXR EVH Phase 90

So when I got my hands on an MXR EVH Phase 90 today, I figured better late than never.

The MXR EVH Phase 90 features a really cool paint job with the Edward Van Halen-approved black and white stripes against a red background. Even the baseplate of the pedal is painted in the same graphic -- not something you would want to stick patches of adhesive-backed Velcro, leaving gunky residue, or worse peeling off patches of the pedals paint job should you need to remove the Velcro later.  

mxr evh phase 90 battery
MXR EVH Phase 90 baseplate removed
The Velcro I used was taken off a regular MXR Phase 90 which, when placed before my Dunlop Band of Gypsys FuzzFace has started to sound a little too radical. The EVH Phase 90 is a little less swooshy and more vintage sounding, especially with the Script button engaged, creating a pleasant and not overpowering modulation for single-note lines and riffs. 

mxr evh phase 90 velcro
This is how we do it!

So off went the Velcro from my orange Phase 90. 

In the picture above, you can see how grotty the Velcro has become, living under that pedal all this while. And just for illustration purposes, I show how I made the holes with a sharp pointed tool from an old screwdriver set that has been with me since the '70s! Notice also, how I left the plastic backing on the Velcro so as not to expose the adhesive.

After making suitably sized holes in the Velcro, I simply threaded the four screws through and screwed the base plate back on.

mxr phase 90 base plate screws
Base plate screws threaded through the Velcro

My estimation on the screw distance for one of the Velcro pads was a little off as you can see in the picture, creating a slight crimp in the Velcro. The perfectionist in me wanted to redo that particular strip, but then I realized that I had run out of white Velcro!

mxr evh phase 90
Base plate reattached with Velcro in place
In a similar vein to all things Van Halen, check out my earlier review of the EVH Striped Series guitar. We just can't get enough of that black, white and red paint job!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fender ST72-80SC Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster | Part 3

I mentioned in Part 2 of this series that I wanted to completely rewire my Japanese Fender ST72-80SC Stratocaster from Ishibashi. This guitar is an unofficial Malmsteen model from 1992 or 1993, for sale in the Japanese market-only, so just for kicks, I decided to up the Yngwie pedigree and change the front and bridge pickups to DiMarzio HS3's.

So off I went to Singapore's Haven For All Things Guitar (Peninsula Shopping Centre to you readers from these parts) in search of supplies for the big rewire.

I managed to procure a CRL 5-way switch, two .047 Russian military-grade paper-in-oil capacitors, and of course the two DiMarzio HS3 pickups. In addition, I also bought three Seymour Duncan YJM 250k potetiometers. The pots are made by Bourns and are probably the smoothest, fastest pots you can buy. Great for quick volume swells but one must be careful when using these puppies in a performance setting. It's really easy to accidentally turn a tone pot down to zero.

seymour duncan yjm pots
Duncan YJM volume pots
But why two capacitors you might ask? I wanted to get the guitar wired so that the centre tone knob controlled the neck and middle pickups, while the second tone knob controlled  the bridge pickup. That bridge pickup can be a beast sometimes, especially through a bright-sounding amp like a Twin Reverb.

paper-in-oil capacitors
Russian paper-in-oil .047mf caps
The stock Stratocaster wiring never made sense to me. In the stock layout, the first tone pot was wired to the neck pickup while the second tone pot controlled the middle pickup. The bridge pickup, the brightest and potentially most brittle sounding of the the three was tonally always wide open.

I found that I had to constantly compromise on the amp settings when using a stock Strat. When I got the bridge pickup sounding warm and full, the neck pickup sounded muddy. When I dialed in a bright, twangy, ballsy tone on the neck pickup, the bridge pickup became a raging banshee -- absolute shrillsville.

What to do? Take a cue from tone guru Eric Johnson and dedicate the second tone pot to the bridge pickup.

In this very early article, I mentioned how Joe Bonamassa is also a fan of this mod. Although I'm not sure if his suspiciously overly simple description in the video of moving one wire on the 5-way switch to the left (or was that the right) would actually work.

I'll leave wiring my guitars to the pros.

Luckily for me, my go-to guy for guitar electronics, our good buddy and film location sound recordist Arnold San Juan, had just wrapped on a TV series he was working on and was on a two-day break before his next project. Arnold, if you remember, also rewired my Gibson BFG Les Paul, replacing the pots and caps, reconfiguring everything to traditional Les Paul wiring -- killswitch be damned.

After unsoldering the old Gotoh pots from the stock pickups, Arnold proceeded with installing the Duncan YJM pots. As expected, the shafts of the Duncan pots were a tad larger than the Gotohs which meant that the holes in the pickguard had to be enlarged. Good thing there was a circular file lying about.

unsoldering pots and 5-way switch
Unsoldering the Gotoh pots and 5-way switch

After seating the new pots in the pickguard, it was time to break out the DiMarzio HS-3's from their packaging.

Installing DiMarzio HS-3
Duncan pots installed. Time to unleash the DiMarzios!

The store I bought the HS-3's from only had them in black and white. White would have looked fine, but a single black pickup would really have looked out of place. Fortunately, the store a few doors down had a set of three DiMarzio pickup covers in cream. And they weren't too expensive at 15 bucks.

The original owner of this guitar had replaced the front pickup with a generic Fender single-coil, so rather than buying three HS-3's, I decided to switch this pickup to the centre position, with the two HS-3's bringing up the front and the rear.

fender japan single-coil pickup
Original Japanese Fender single-coil pickup. Note additional magnet below
'Bringing up the front and the rear'. Bet you've never heard that phrase applied to guitar pickups before.

The cream pickup covers slipped over the HS-3's without a hitch, but the Fender pickup's coil was too short for the DiMarzio covers. The polepieces were just buried underneath, so I chose the best looking of the three original pickup covers and used that for the lone Fender pickup instead.

Using the supplied DiMarzio pickup screws and springs, Arnold mounted the two HS-3's in the neck and bridge positions. Oddly enough, we found that none of the original screws fit the mounting holes of the Fender pickup. All of them simply slid through the mounting holes without engaging the threads. Very strange, considering that the neck pickup was securely mounted with the old screws. Arnold managed to dig up a pair of pickup screws from his tool box that fit nicely although they were a little rusty.

Okay, very rusty, but they'll do for now.

CRL 5-way switch
Installing CRL 5-way switch

So why not the new Seymour Duncan Yngwie pickups, the ones that Malmsteen has been swearing are the best ones he's ever heard? Believe me, I was tempted.

But after hearing the Duncan Yngwie's and comparing the two, the DiMarzio HS-3's just sounded juicier to my ears. There was a slight compression to the tone of the Duncan's I didn't quite dig, and the overall tone was a little more scooped around the mid-range. But hey, Yngwie swears by them.

Our other good buddy, Sherman, recommended I give paper-in-oil capacitors a try when I wanted to rewire my Les Paul BFG. I liked how they sounded on the BFG so I decided to go with .047mf PIO caps for this rewire. So out went the stock dark green mylar capacitor along with the three Japanese Gotoh potentiometers.

paper-in-oil caps
Russian military-grade paper-in-oil capacitors

But does it all really make a difference? To be honest, with better pots and better quality capacitors you can expect a 10% improvement in tone. The pickups and the wood on the guitar itself make for the other 90%, player notwithstanding. But hey, we're replacing 20-something year old parts for a few bucks so why not?

It's like wearing a nice, clean pair of socks. No one can really see 'em, but at least you know they're there.

Stratocaster wiring
Wiring done!
When Arnold did the obligatory screwdriver tap-test on the pickups, we found that the Fender pickup, relocated to the middle position was the loudest of the three.

DiMarzio HS-3's are known to not be very hot, but I found it a little strange that they would have less output than a generic Fender single-coil. Setting the middle pickup low and flush to the pickguard a la Yngwie helped to even out the volume difference.

And I'm glad I didn't go with three HS-3's. The stock Fender is a nice contrast tone-wise and I often find myself playing off the middle pickup by itself, something I never used to do.

dimarzio hs-3 installed
DiMarzio HS-3's installed in neck and bridge

The DiMarzio's by themselves do the job very nicely. They are smooth and creamy at high gain -- a very even sounding pickup with no surprising frequency spikes. But I do miss that typical ballsy Fender twang.

Leo Fender wasn't messing around, he certainly got it right way back when.


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