Friday, July 31, 2009

Seymour Duncan -- Pickup Tonemeister

Seymour Duncan started playing the guitar in bands in 1963, but it was meeting legendary guitarist Les Paul that fired his interest in guitar electronics. Little did he know at the time that, like Les Paul, his own name would also become part of electric guitar history.

Duncan also befriended the late guitarist Roy Buchanan, turning up at his gigs to hear the Tele-master in action. But because Duncan was underage, he would hide behind the bar at Buchanan’s gigs.

Stumped by the tonal difference between Buchanan’s ’53 Telecaster and his own ’56 model, Duncan started writing to Bill Carson at Fender. Carson was a gigging western swing guitarist and fellow Telecaster player who worked with Fender on an ad hoc basis, acting as road-tester for Fender’s new guitar and amp products.
Duncan made several important discoveries by tinkering with his guitars and trying to make improvements.
For example, frustrated with the microphonic squeal from the pickups on his Telecaster, he disassembled the pickup on an older guitar and found paraffin wax encasing the windings. Paraffin wax, he discovered, held the windings of the pickup solidly in place, virtually eliminating microphonic feedback. Duncan had found a critical element that he was to faithfully implement in his own line of pickups later on.
One night during a gig, the lead pickup on his Tele suddenly stopped working and, out of necessity, he rewound the pickup using a record turntable the following day. Experimenting with the different tones that different windings could produce he started rewinding pickups with a machine he had built, using a sewing machine pedal to control the speed of the turns.

He inadvertently set the machine to wind in the opposite direction, an error which led to another discovery – reverse winding also reversed the pickup’s polarity and when used in combination with a regular wound pickup both became hum-cancelling. This was an important discovery especially when applied to single-coils.

In 1968 Duncan took a job at a television station where he managed to meet and talk guitars with celebrity guitarists like Glen Campbell, Jerry Reed and Cal Collins.

A four-year stint in England followed, where he immersed himself in studio recording at night while doing repair work at the Fender Soundhouse R&D and Repair Department during the day for Peter Frampton, Marc Bolan, The Who, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck.
Upon returning to the States, he began manufacturing pickguards, bridges and knobs and selling them to Schecter, Charvel and Mighty Mite who were pioneering the guitar replacement parts industry.
In 1976 Duncan moved to Santa Barbara to set up a pickup rewinding service which soon blossomed into a replacement pickup business, hot on the heels of a certain Larry DiMarzio.

As mentioned above in the Seymour Duncan ad from 1979, Duncan’s business was also based on creating pickups built to his customer’s specifications, in addition to selling his own stock line of custom pickups.
Feeling that he had more to learn, Duncan started consulting with Leo Fender, Seth Lover, the inventor of the Gibson humbucking pickup, and Doc Kauffman, Leo’s early business partner and fellow tinkerer.

Seymour Duncan keeps meticulous records of every pickup he has ever taken apart and scrutinized – electrical readings, number of windings, layer patterns, magnet types – and he keeps one of each of these pickups in the company’s archives for future reference.
As he puts it, “I’ve just looked at a lot of small details that other people might have overlooked.”

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dunlop Ultex Picks

These are my new favorite picks.

Having used Dunlop's 500 1.5mm picks (in an easy-to-spot-on-the-floor purple) for several years I've just discovered the Ultex series. And I'm a convert.

After buying a handful, I've purposely used the same Ultex pick for the past two weeks to see how it wears down and if it indeed lives up to Dunlop's claim of being 'virtually indestructible'.

After about 60 hours in the teaching studio and several gigs including a couple of aggressive blues/rock ones, there is absolutely no wear on the playing edges of this pick! And I'm not paid to say this.

This is great for the player who is finicky about having a consistent, smooth playing edge -- I know of a guitarist who goes through 3 or 4 picks a night because he can't stand the feel of serrations on his regular celluloid picks.

I'm using the 1.14mm 'bronze rhino' which is the thickest one in the Ultex series. Aside from having absolutely no flex at all, I notice that the Ultex weighs less than conventional celluloid and plastic. The satin matt finish also reacts with the oils from the fingers and actually seems to get tackier the longer you play. Great for those sweaty gigs.

Dunlop has produced a real winner with this one.

The Ultex is also available in Jazz III and larger Tri-sided models.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Steve Vai's 'Green Meanie' Charvel Guitar

In an earlier article I spoke about the mysterious connection we guitar players sometimes have with certain instruments.

These special instruments emit a special vibe, feel great in our hands and make us play beyond our abilities. Or perhaps, more accurately, they make us realize our abilities.

Case in point, Steve Vai and his now legendary Charvel 'Green Meanie' (Serial No. 3733), shown above in an early 80's Carvin amplifiers ad.

Legend has it that Vai was in Grover Jackson's workshop talking about getting some new guitars made when he happened upon Grover's personal Charvel. Vai liked the guitar so much he asked to borrow it. Legend also has it that Grover never got the guitar back.

Originally finished in a light amber sunburst, Vai soon set about putting his personal 'touches' on the instrument.

The guitar was refinished a 'Loch Ness Green' and a cavity was carved out into the body under the back end of the Floyd Rose by Vai himself to facilitate radical pull-ups on the whammy bar.

Later on, the lower cutaway on the guitar was sanded deeper to allow easier access to the upper frets as shown in the stage pic from David Lee Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile tour at right.

Vai also added a piece of foam to the upper bout of the guitar near the bridge to enable him to rest his right wrist on the body of the guitar -- the Floyd Rose was not recessed and sat high off the face of the instrument, interfering with his picking hand.

An interesting pictorial timeline of the evolution of this guitar can be found at the Jemsite here.

The Green Meanie was to be his main instrument both onstage and in the studio for several years.

Said Vai of his beloved axe, "It's so ugly that it's beautiful; it's got a personality of its own. Pretty soon it's going to grow legs and walk away from me."

And when his considerable collection of guitars was stolen from a rehearsal studio during preparations for the Eat 'Em and Smile tour, the Green Meanie was spared because Vai always had the guitar with him.

Sadly, the guitar was damaged irreparably while Vai was warming up for a David Lee Roth show at Madison Square Garden -- the entire Floyd Rose vibrato was "ripped right out of the guitar". Vai then called upon famed Los Angeles guitar builder Tom Anderson, who was then just starting out with his fledgling company, to build a replacement based on the Green Meanie's specs.

And indeed, the forthcoming Ibanez endorsement deal that Vai signed in 1987 was a culmination of design ideas that grew out of both the Charvel and the Tom Anderson.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Roger Mayer -- "He's an effects wizard, Harry!"

Roger Mayer was probably the first of the custom effects pedal builders.

In 1963, he began building fuzz boxes in his spare time as he worked for the British Navy's sound and vibration analysis division (read: submarine warfare science) and his pedals soon found themselves at the feet of Yardbird's guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck who were, coincidentally, his childhood friends from the same neighbourhood.

But it was his meeting Jimi Hendrix at London's Bag O' Nails club on 11th January 1967 that was to establish Mayer as the primo effects guru of his time. Primarily a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face user, Mayer introduced Hendrix to his newest creation which he dubbed the Octavia.

A pedal that produced a randomly generated higher octave depending on how hard the string was struck, the Octavia was deployed by Hendrix on Are You Experienced on the songs 'Purple Haze' and 'Fire' three weeks after their first meeting.

It is interesting to note that the pedal used on this recording was a prototype (dubbed Evo 1) that did not incorporate a fuzz or drive circuit -- another custom unit provided the distorted signal for this purpose. Mayer also claims he consigned this prototype to the 'trash bin' after that historic recording!

We should clarify that the Octavia produced by Tycobrahe Engineering in the '70s was not the same pedal invented by Mayer but copied from a '69 variant of a Mayer Octavia owned by Keith Relf of the Yardbirds. It is also not clear why Mayer has not taken legal action on what he claims is a copy of his original Octavia concept and name.

Joining Hendrix on his 1968 US tour, Mayer took care of Jimi's onstage sound, his effects and his guitars. According to Mayer, Hendrix's 'effects rig' for the tour consisted of a Cry Baby wah, an Arbiter Fuzz Face and/or a Mayer-designed fuzz and an Octavia.

During Hendrix's short career, Mayer and Hendrix experimented with five or six different fuzz designs with Mayer building numerous fuzz units and Octavias in the process since pedals were always getting stolen -- sometimes taken directly off the stage by audience members or sometimes vanishing into the overcoat pockets of stage hands, roadies and various hangers-ons. On occasion they were given away as gifts by the guitarist.

In 1968 Mayer began working for Olympic Recording Studios -- where Are You Experienced was recorded -- before venturing out on his own. In 1973 he established Roger Mayer Electronics to manufacture effects pedals and custom studio electronics.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Bill Connors | Defining Jazz-Rock Guitar In Return To Forever

Like every teenaged guitar player of his generation, Bill Connors grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. By his own admission he was a ‘Rolling Stones glutton', and was soon learning every Keith Richards solo note for note.

His musical tastes soon evolved and he began listening to jazz -- Miles Davis, Bill Evans and John Coltrane became a preoccupation. A momentous epiphany came when he happened to hear one of Django Reinhardt’s recordings. At that point he decided he didn’t want to be a rock guitarist anymore.

Starting out his music career in the San Francisco jazz scene in his early 20’s, Connors was soon playing in groups with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist John Handy.

And when Chick Corea decided to steer his group Return To Forever towards a decidedly electric jazz-rock direction, he chose 24-year old Bill Connors for the incendiary role of lead guitarist. Connors recorded one album with the group, the groundbreaking Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy.

Citing creative differences with his bandleader, Connors remained with Return To Forever for only about a year. With Chick starting to direct Connors more and more, the young guitarist felt that he no longer had any control in the music -- even over the form and direction of his solos. A committed Scientologist, Corea was also in the habit of requiring the members of his band to fill out forms and chart out graphs to rate their own performances every night.

In many ways, Bill Connors has not received his due. His forays into classical guitar on the ECM label following his departure from Return To Forever and his subsequent return to electric fusion with his own Bill Connors Trio in the late 80’s somehow did not bring him the recognition he deserved.

Stanley Clarke once stated, “When you talk to guitar players that followed the jazz-rock movement, a lot of guys mention John McLaughlin first and Bill Connors second”.

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, Connors paved the way for his successor, Al DiMeola, in Return To Forever. Connors created a sound in the band where none existed before. In the process, he helped further define the role of the electric guitar in the world of jazz-rock and fusion.

Perhaps when Connors reunites with his former bandmates Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White on 2nd September 2009 for one show at the Hollywood Bowl things might start looking up.

Buy Bill Connors CDs Here!

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Orange Squeezer And The Dynacomp -- A Tale of Two Compressors

Back in the 70's there were two compressors of note -- the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer and the MXR Dynacomp.

Plainly speaking, the Orange Squeezer was the more sought after of the two by tone connoisseurs.

But the Orange Squeezer had a major downside. It wasn't a floor-dwelling stompbox but a small box with a right-angled 1/4" plug that connected directly to the guitar's input jack -- not a viable option for Stratocaster players because of the Strat's recessed input jack. It also wasn't very adjustable having just one flip switch to turn the unit on or off.

But it did sound pretty good.

The choice of top studio guitarists of the day such as Tommy Tedesco, Jay Graydon and Lee Ritenour, the unit's characteristic slightly exagerrated compression appeared on many a hit album. Ritenour was often photographed with an Orange Squeezer attached like a permanent appendage to his red Gibson 335.

But nearly non-existent marketing and poor distribution meant an early ride into the sunset for the original Orange Squeezer. Although there were attempts at re-releasing the Orange Squeezer by Mutron in the late 80's such as the one pictured here (Pic Source: AnalogMan), the lack of availability of the the original IC chips meant that similarities were little more than cosmetic.

Throughout the 70's and 80's MXR, on the other hand, was aggressively marketing its comprehensive line of effects pedals for the modern guitarist, including phasers, flangers, choruses and distortion boxes.

The Dynacomp, the company's flagship compressor pedal, was a strong contender and was the standard pedal that appeared on many pedalboards long before the mass marketing and profileration of the Boss pedal line by Roland Japan in the late 70's.

Fast forward to 2009 and Dunlop Mfg., the present owner of the MXR brand, has reissued the '76 Dynacomp in all its vintage glory.

With the original thin-script lettering framed against the familiar matte red box -- along with a true-to-the-original lack of an LED indicator -- this pedal is more than a mere cosmetic reissue.

According to Dunlop, the internal components are identical to the original -- from the handmade wire harness to the original out-of-production 'new old-stock' CA3080 IC chip. Because of limited availability of this chip, the Dynacomp reissue is being produced in a limited run by the MXR Custom Shop.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Incomparable Foley On... Lead Bass?

Miles Davis loved guitar players.

And the ones that have passed through his ranks during his 'Electric' period reads like a Who's Who -- Sonny Sharrock, John McLaughlin, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Barry Finnerty, Robben Ford, Mike Stern and John Scofield.

Miles also loved Hendrix and he would often admonish his 6-stringed axemen to "Turn it up and play like Jimi, or don't play at all!"

But in the last incarnation of his electric lineup he actually didn't have a guitar player in his band. At least not in the traditional sense.

Enter piccolo bassist Joseph McCreary aka 'Foley'.

With bassist Benny Rietveld holding down the bottom-end, Miles effectively deployed Foley in the capacity of 'lead bassist', a role he was more than comfortable with.

But at the height of his visibility with the Miles Davis group, he often wrangled with the media who sometimes referred to him as a '4-string guitarist'.

And no wonder. With a 34" scale, 4-string instrument tuned an octave higher than a regular bass and armed with a pick and a Floyd Rose tremelo, Foley attacked the instrument like a guitarist, spinning jazz and rock inflected lines with a creamy distorted tone. Not limited to being mere 'lead bass' hero, equally captivating were Foley's creative chordal textures and funk guitar-type rhythms.

These days, Foley has reverted to more conventional bass-playing but, like the man, his current music is anything but traditional. The complete home study jazz guitar course

Boutique Amp Maker Alexander Dumble

Alexander Dumble (formerly Howard Dumble until he legally changed his name) makes the most sought after boutique amplifiers in the world. Every amplifier is personally hand-built to order and the waiting list can take several years. And Dumble does not build them for just anyone -- his criteria for accepting a customer’s order remains as much of a mystery as the 'secret' components which he conceals with black epoxy on his circuit boards.

With his ‘one amplifier per customer’ policy, the sheer scarcity of Dumble amplifiers in existence only adds to the overall mystique. A pre-owned Dumble, if you can find one on the market, goes for several times its original price, well above five figures.

Dumble started modifying and building amplifiers out of his backyard workshop, all the while making a living as a touring guitarist and studio musician.

In 1965, as an 18-year old, he was commissioned by Semie Moseley to build 10 Mosrite amplifiers for The Ventures who were among the very first guitar endorsees with their own signature model equipment. The Ventures did not cotton to his amps which they felt were ‘a little too rock n’ roll’ for their kind of music but they offered young Howard a business proposition nonetheless. Dumble declined and went back to playing guitar to pay his bills.

In 1969 he built his Explosion model amp which was later improved and re-voiced to become the Overdrive Special. Ironically, the basic Dumble design is based around the Fender Deluxe circuit but modified to achieve much higher gain, more harmonic complexity at the top-end and more low-end on the bass.

Other models in the Dumble range include the Steel String Singer, the Dumbleland, 25-watt Hotel Hog, 50-watt Dumbleman, a 450-watt bass amp dubbed the Winterland, the modular rack-mounted Phoenix and the Dumbleator – the latter being a device to interface his amplifiers with effects, much like an effects loop.

Over the last 10 years or so, several Dumble amplifier owners have allowed their amplifiers to be 'de-gooped' of the black epoxy Dumble used to conceal his component values, and copies of his circuit design have floated around the internet. As a result some amplifier companies have emerged with their own Dumble clones. Some have even taken it further with their own variations on the design. But many who have played through a real Dumble amplifier testify that certain tonal ingredients were missing from these clones.

The clip above shows guitarist Gregor Hilden wrangling some pretty sweet tones from an Overdrive Special -- one of the best examples actually, that I've heard of this amp in action.

If you happen to come across a Dumble amp, ask if you can plug in and try it out. You'll never know when, or if, you'll ever see another one. And you owe it to yourself to experience what all the hype is about. I'm still waiting on that opportunity myself. The complete home study jazz guitar course

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Zemaitis Guitars by Greco

The late English guitar-maker Tony Zemaitis made a name for himself by building custom guitars for the likes of Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Spencer Davis and George Harrison.

Originally a cabinet-maker, Zemaitis developed a keen interest in guitar building. And because he couldn't afford a first guitar, he built his own.

His guitar-making hobby soon turned into a full-time business. He was building each and every guitar himself and at his peak he was building around 30 guitars a year, with customers having to wait about a year to receive their custom instruments.

He produced 3 broad categories of instruments -- a basic standard (that he sold for 175 British pounds in the '70s); a medium-grade instrument with better quality woods and hardware and finally his top-grade custom model with all the trimmings.

And trimmings were probably the most obvious outstanding feature of his instruments.

Famous for his pioneering use of hand-tooled, engraved metal faceplates, they became an almost standard feature on his guitars. Custom instruments were further adorned with mother-of-pearl and sterling silver. With the exception of the tuners, he made all the hardware on his guitars himself, machined out of solid blocks of aluminum alloy.

For pickups he favored Gibson humbuckers, or, if the customer requested them, Fender single-coils. Each pickup received extra-shielding before installation to minimize noise.

Ebony fingerboards were de facto. Body woods on his top-line models were usually mahogany but he also used rare Honduran cedar which more often than not had a prior life as wall wood-panelling! Finishing was complete after no less than 40 coats of varnish.

Under license from Tony's estate, Greco has been producing a line of Zemaitis guitars for a few years now. In cooperation with Danny O'Brien, the metal engraver who worked closely with Zemaitis in producing the ornate designs on the original guitars, Greco is carrying the torch and making faithful reproductions of the originals.

And being Japanese, they are being made cosmetically perfect in every way. And probably sound just as good, with a consistency of tone far greater than the originals.

I have a friend who owns an original Zemaitis, and I've had the chance to see a couple more up-close. The original Zemaitis guitars were not perfect. In fact they had a decidedly 'home-made' quality to them.

Imperfections were everywhere -- roughly-sanded spots and tooling scuffs in the finish, engraving imperfections on the metal faceplate and trimmings and somewhat rough-hewn hardware.

You might say that Tony poured his heart and soul into every instrument he made.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Les Paul Volume Pot Capacitor Hi-Pass Mod

Here's a simple capacitor replacement mod for the volume pot if you're a Les Paul player. It will, of course, also work with any guitar equipped with humbuckers and 500k volume pots.

(Note that this mod is for the volume pot. Most capacitor modifications we read about are for the tone controls)

For this mod, a .002 microfarad disc capacitor is soldered across two of the volume pot's leads, with the third lead going to ground.

This mod acts as a high pass filter. When the volume control is turned down on a regular Les Paul, the highs and all other frequencies are attenuated. When the volume is rolled down with this mod, all frequencies, with the exception of the highs are attenuated.

With the .002 mF cap in place, turning down the volume pot on the rhythm pickup for example, yields a brighter, spankier tone reminiscent of a P90 soapbar which are great for clean rhythms. Soloing on the rhythm pickup with the volume slightly backed off also gets us away from the typical 'woofy' midrange of that pickup at higher gain settings.

On the lead pickup the effect is highlighted even more. There is considerably more 'twang' from the lead pickup when the volume is turned down to 7 or 8, enabling clearer tones that cut through.

Combining the rhythm and lead pickups with the pickup selector in the middle position yields even more tonal possibilities as we vary the relative volumes of both pickups.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Guitar Column Article On

I was pleasantly surprised to see my article 'Robert Fripp's Memorable Quotes' on Patricia Fripp's blog. Patricia is Robert's sister and her blog is here:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover | Techniques and Equipment

Here's a clip of maestro Eric Johnson doing his thing on Cliffs of Dover. In the world of instrumental rock guitar, it's rare that a piece stands the test of time while being the signature tune most closely associated with the artist. Eric's Cliffs of Dover is just one such rarity.

On this clip he plays a lengthy intro with his most pristine of chimey clean tones, courtesy of the 4th position of the pickup selector switch on his Stratocaster. His clean sound is pumped through two Fender Twin Reverbs amps, each driving two 12" speakers in a single Marshall 4x12 cabinet for stereo. This cabinet is an open back, which allows him to get the bottom-end of a Marshall cab while still maintaining the open-back characteristics of a Fender Twin.

His clean tone is awash with copious amounts of Electro Harmonix Memory Man and/or Echoplex tape delay and a hint of chorus from his TC Electronics Chorus unit which he also uses as a splitter to send his signal to his two Twin Reverbs.

The background 'loop' sounds like an a 800ms sample from a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay pedal. Back in the day, the Boss DD's were among the few that provided a short sampling feature so that loops could be created on the fly. But you were limited to only 800ms of sampling time.

At 1:41-1:51, Eric uses what he calls his ' japanese koto' technique. While fretting notes conventionally with his left hand, he employs a thumb and forefinger technique with his right hand -- he plucks the note with his thumb while the index finger lightly dampens a note on the same string right next to the fret played with the left hand. He then adds a little vibrato with the left hand.

At 3:01 he flips to the lead pickup on his Strat, switches to his lead channel and begins traversing the fingerboard with his trademark pentatonic flurries. Unlike most players who approach pentatonics with hammer-ons and pull-offs, Eric prefers to alternate pick most of his pentatonic ideas. He describes his slightly unconventional picking technique as alternate picking where he holds the pick at an angle to minimize friction and faciltitate speed. He also picks from the guitar's body up into the air, brushing the string with the side of the pick with a slight bounce in the wrist. He's been known to lightly sandpaper the sides of his red Jazz III picks to create a finely rough surface to facilitate this brushing effect.

On his lead channel is a TC Electronic's Sustainer, a Fender Reverb unit, another Echoplex and a Chandler Tube Driver.

Interestingly, Eric places the Tube Driver after his reverb and delays. This gives his tone a characteristic warmth with a bit of 'mud' as his effected signal is being pumped into his overdrive.

His amp setup for his lead channel is either a Marshall 100 watt head, or the holy grail of amps, the Dumble Overdrive Special. His speaker cabinet of choice for this channel is a closed-back Marshall 4x12.

At 3:31 Eric makes a quick tonal adjustment on the lower tone knob. Strats are conventionally wired such that the first tone knob controls the front pickup and the second lower tone knob controls the middle pickup. The lead pickup is not wired to a tone control. Since Eric is on the 5th position on his pickup selector, this shows that his lead pickup is wired to his second tone control. Joe Bonamassa also talks about this very useful and simple Strat mod, which I mention here. This helps take off some of the shrill top-end when using the Strat's lead pickup on its own.

Eric Johnson is one of those rare masters of touch, tone and technique and all three elements feature abundantly in both his live performances and in his studio recordings. But his near-fanatical attention to detail on his solo records means that he probably spends more time than he should on each one -- which makes his recorded output pretty scarce.

Check Out Eric Johnson CDs And DVDs Here! The complete home study jazz guitar course

Visual Sound 1 Spot Pedal Power Supply

I'm a big fan of Bob Weil and his company, Visual Sound.

I own a couple of his pedals -- an original issue Route 66 overdrive (with the coveted new-old-stock JRC4558D chip) and the ultra-lush H2O analog chorus/echo. This guy makes a good product.

And Visual Sound's 1 Spot is hands down my favorite pedal power supply.

Doing away with conventional notions of bulky power supplies with toroidal transformers, the aptly-named 1 Spot handles up to 1700 mA (milliamps) -- compare this to the once ubiquitous Boss PSA adapters rated at 200mA.

Assorted multiplug cables are available as options, allowing one to daisy-chain pedals with standard 'barrel' power sockets. It's interesting to note that this connecter was pioneered by Boss/Roland around 1977 and is now the de facto standard that has been adopted by virtually every manufacturer.

For very old pedals, cable adapters for the early US-type 1/8" (3.5mm) are available allowing one to power 70's and '80s DOD, Ibanez, MXR and Electro Harmonix devices -- I successfully powered my original 1980 TS808 Tubescreamer on my pedalboard from the 1 Spot before deciding the 808 was too valuable to take out on gigs.

Also available are adapter options for Line 6 pedals and reverse-polarity adapters for Yamaha devices. And there's even a battery clip converter to power pedals that do not have a DC socket such as the earlier Dunlop and Vox wahs, or (if you have 'em and are so inclined), vintage Fuzz Faces and Colorsound Tonebenders .

I bought two 1 Spots five years ago and the one I've been using has proven very reliable through several hundred gigs and, touch wood, shows no signs of quitting yet. And I've not had reason to break out the spare at all.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wilkinson WVS 50 II K Bridge

I got hold of a Wilkinson WVS50IIK bridge today.

I was originally looking for the Wilkinson/Gotoh VS100 but the store didn't have it in stock so I settled for the WVS50IIK.

And it was about half the price of the VS100.

The packaging was less than basic -- no instructions, no box, no labels. The entire assembly -- including bridge, trem bar, spring claw, springs and allen wrenches -- was supplied in a clear plastic bag.

A little research on the model number revealed that this is a licensed Korean version, made by the Sung-Il Co., with a zinc base plate and stainless steel saddles.

The quality seems identical to the original Wilkinson USA bridge on my Tyler Psychedelic Vomit. The original nickel plated bent steel saddles are extremely corroded due to being played and sweated on for the last 8 years or so.

It's definitely time to get them replaced. That, or get a tetanus shot.

I'm tempted to try transferring only the saddles from the new bridge to the old bridge but I'm guessing that the screw sizes will be different -- the age-old Imperial US Standard vs metric dilemma. Experience has taught me that screw threads can be easily stripped when trying to force such a mismatch.

I'll install the new bridge soon, take it out to gig and see how it fares.

Buy Wilkinson Bridges Here!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Billy Gibbons' Pearly Gates Les Paul - Gibson's Latest Re-Creation

Picture Source:GibsonGuitars

Gibson today announced their collaboration with Billy Gibbons in recreating 'Pearly Gates', his famed 1959 Les Paul Standard.

Each guitar features a figured maple-top, nitrocellulose finish, nickel-plated hardware, Kluson tuners, aluminum stop-bar tailpiece, Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups, pigments which replicate the original's aged colors, '59 medium round profile neck and a long-tenon set-in neck.

Interestingly, Gibson first began mentioning the long-tenon joint only recently -- in their ad campaigns for Slash's signature model in 2008. It makes one wonder if this tone-enhancing feature -- there is better string-energy transference throughout the instrument with it -- was left out in Gibson's earlier attempts at the '59 reissue.

Gibson is producing 350 of these instruments of which 250 will receive Gibson's Vintage Original Spec (VOS) finish. Another 50 guitars will be aged with every ding and wear spot of the original Pearly Gates replicated exactly. To top off the collection, the remaining 50 will be similarly aged and signed and played by Billy himself.

As a side note, the price difference between the aged model, and the aged and signed model is around 10 grand -- making the value of Mr Gibbons signature the highest among the living rock legends. Hmmm..
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joe Pass and the Synanon Fender Jaguar

Here's a clip, circa 1963, of the late, great Joe Pass playing a Fender Jaguar.

Born Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua, Joe Pass claimed a strong Charlie Parker influence and spoke often about painstakingly copying the bebop innovator's licks line by line off of 45 rpm records. By age 20 in 1949, he was jamming in clubs on New York's famed 52nd Street -- the birthplace of modern jazz.

The negative aspects of the jazz life -- including an addiction to heroin -- soon took their toll on the young Pass. After 5 years in a Texas prison he decided that enough was enough and voluntarily entered Synanon's drug rehabilitation program.

While at Synanon he practiced on a Fender Jaguar that belonged to the center. He continued to play the Jaguar on gigs after his release and that guitar is the one he is playing in the video above.

After seeing him play the Jaguar at a club, a businessman by the name of Mike Peak, who was also an avid guitarist himself, decided that it was not an instrument befitting Joe's talents. Several months later, on Pass's birthday, a Gibson ES175 --the guitar most closely associated with the guitarist for much of his career -- was delivered to him at his home as a gift.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2-String Pentatonic and Blues Scales

The first bar below shows a traditional Am pentatonic scale. The notes are A, C, D, E, and G.

In the second bar, the b5 is added to the Am pentatonic, creating what is commonly known as the Blues scale. With the added b5 the A Blues scale consists of the notes A, C, D, Eb, E and G.

In the first example, these two scales are shown in their traditional fingerings at the V (5th) position. To clarify, a position is determined by the fret where the index finger is placed when playing a particular scale, chord or musical passage.

Another way to negotiate the pentatonic and Blues scales is by re-ordering the notes so that they can played entirely on 2-strings.

The Am pentatonic, re-ordered from the 7th instead of from the root, becomes G, A, C, D, E.

Adding the b5 'blue' note, the order of the notes would now be G, A, C, D, Eb and E.

Both examples are shown below:

These 2-string pentatonic and Blues scale patterns yield a more horizontal or diagonal approach and help to break positional ruts while facilitating greater fingerboard range.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ibanez AH10 Allan Holdsworth Signature Model

Determined to become the industry leader in a burgeoning guitar market, Ibanez started developing a roster of endorsees in the mid '70's.

Artists such as Bob Weir, Steve Miller and Paul Stanley played existing models from Ibanez's catalog, aesthetically modified with tons of inlaid mother-of-pearl, or in Stanley's case, with inlaid pieces of broken mirror.

In 1977, Ibanez collaborated with George Benson to produce the first of their artist-designed guitars -- the GB10 and GB20.

By the early to mid-80's, Ibanez's roster of artists with personalized signature models included Steve Lukather, Allan Holdsworth, George Benson, Lee Ritenour and Joe Pass.

Ibanez had yet to sign on rising-star Steve Vai -- arguably the company's most famous endorsee -- who was still mainly playing his Grover Jackson-built Charvel and Tom Andersons.

The AH10 model was designed in collaboration with Allan Holdsworth in 1984. Holdsworth had very clear and radical ideas as to what he wanted in a custom instrument:
  • A light basswood body with a large, rectangular hollowed-out area under the pickguard for added acoustic resonance
  • Custom designed AH Special humbucking pickups with adjustable polepieces on both coils
  • A single volume and a single tone control
  • A lightweight aluminum bridge
  • A wider ebony fingerboard with jumbo frets
  • Slightly wider string spacing at the nut and narrower string spacing at the bridge -- giving a very uniform string spacing along the entire length of the instrument
  • The first model, the AH10 had only a single humbucking pickup at the bridge position, which is Holdsworth's preference to this day. A two-pickup model, the AH20 appeared after several months to create a more versatile (and probably more saleable) instrument
The AH10 and AH20 were only available for about 2 years making these guitars very sought-after by Ibanez afficionados.

Buy Allan Holdsworth CDs and DVDs Here! The complete home study jazz guitar course

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

6 Surefire Signs That You're Playing Too Loud

This is something every gigging guitar player has done at some time or another.

Sometimes we're aware of having ramped it up too much -- picture Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival gesturing to the audience to cover their ears during his feedback prelude to 'Wild Thing'. Or Steve Vai playing at a small Hard Rock Cafe, personally handing out wads of cotton wool for earplugs to audience members standing at the front.

Sometimes, for various reasons (not excluding sensory-numbing consumption of alcoholic beverages), we have no idea that we're playing too loud. In these cases, the following are 'canary-in-a-coalmine' indicators that we are kinda pushing it:

  • The Moses Phenomenon -- The audience directly in front of your amp stack has parted like the Red Sea

  • The Hastily Prepared Petition -- A waitress gives you a request slip that says 'Turn it down!' And its signed by every staff member in the club

  • The Lars Ulrich Syndrome -- Your drummer breaks two snare skins in the same night, each time during one of your extended solos

  • The Snake Pit -- The hiss coming from your guitar amp between songs is louder than the applause of the 3 or 4 people who actually clapped

  • The Haunted Set List -- The set list you've strategically taped to the floor in front of you mysteriously flaps in rhythm to your power chords

  • The Disgruntled Soundman -- The soundman has symbolically shrouded the mixing board with a large piece of black cloth and is standing back, arms folded, glaring at you

Robert Fripp's Memorable Quotes

Robert Fripp, more famously known as the guitarist of King Crimson, is a musical iconoclast. His philosophical approach to guitar playing and guitar education gives us much needed food for thought, far removed from the humdrum of just pickin' and grinnin'..

  • "Music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice"
  • "Most people involved in music have experienced, at least once, what happens when music comes alive. It's as if one is living for the first time"
  • "By developing a relationship with music, it becomes available to the musician all the time... like a friend"
  • "It would be truer to say that the music creates the musician, than the musician creates the music"
  • "I continue to develop my attention to be relaxed, to be in a place where music can more freely play the human instrument"
  • "The discipline of being a musician and the discipline of being a human being are exactly the same. There is no contradiction"
  • "I'm primarily a Gibson Les Paul player. A Strat is an entirely different instrument. It requires a different vocabulary, a different approach -- a different way of living actually"
  • "Almost anyone can get a good sound out of an electric guitar. Not almost anyone can get a good sound out of an acoustic"
  • "Are we aware of what it means to be inside our left hand? If the little finger keeps pointing at the sky, it's fairly obvious we have no relationship with our left hand"
  • "We should only put the fingers on the strings, and we never take them off -- we release them. To take the fingers off is a separate command. The difference is very subtle"
  • "Within an orchestral context I severely doubt if members of the orchestra can hear each other. So it becomes critically important to follow the conductor."
  • "How awful that the only person expressing himself is the composer, with the conductor as the chief of police and the musicians as sequencers"
  • "A good personality, even a strong personality is important to the performer. The personality, in a sense, is an organ through which we live our lives. But to attach any more importance to it than to another organ is silly"
  • "This may sound strange but for someone to flatter me doesn't touch me, because it's unreal"
  • "When I came to live in New York I had three rules: ride on public transport, do my own laundry, and do my own grocery shopping. I'm nervous about one's life becoming distant by limousines and first-class travel"
  • "I have heard of some players that alter their tunings regularly in order to keep themselves fresh"

Two-String 7th Arpeggios

Here's an easy way to visualize maj7 and m7 arpeggios on the fingerboard.

In the first bar, a Cmaj7 arpeggio is depicted starting on the 6th string, from the note B (the 7th of the arpeggio), followed by the note C (the root). This is the convention we shall use for this discussion -- 7th, Root, 3rd and 5th.

By dropping the 7th below the root -- instead of starting on the root -- we can play any 7th arpeggio using only two strings.

On the 5th string, we find the note E (the 3rd) at the 7th fret, and G (the 5th).

We can then repeat the same fingering on string set 3 and 4 and string set 1 and 2, as shown, yielding a 3-octave Cmaj7th arpeggio.

In the second bar, a Cm7 arpeggio is shown, with E's and B's flatted appropriately, and played across the same string sets.

For dom7th arpeggios, apply the b7, Root, 3rd and 5th formula to the fingerings. Similarly for m7b5 arpeggios, apply the formula b7, Root, b3 and b5.

I'll leave you to work out the diminished and augmented 7th arps for yourself.

This method breaks the convention of learning 7th arps that use traditional assymetrical fingerings which can be difficult to incorporate when improvising.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Randy Jackson -- The Road To American Idol

Here's an ad from 1988 of our favorite American Idol judge endorsing a bass amplification system.

Randy Jackson was -- and still is -- a great musician, bassist, songwriter and producer.

Arriving in San Francisco from his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Randy Jackson started his career performing and recording with legendary jazz-fusion maestros Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock, Tom Coster and Jean-Luc Ponty.

After a lengthy stint as an in-demand studio musician and sideman, recording and/or touring with the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Sister Sledge and Chaka Khan's band Rufus, he soon found himself rocking the pop arenas with Journey -- check out his bass grooves on their album Raised On The Radio.

A well-trained musician, Jackson studied string bass while at Southern University in Baton Rouge, performing with the university's orchestra. After winning a national endowment grant, he went on to study under legendary studio bass player Chuck Rainey, from whom he learned many aspects of studio musicianship and recording.

He returned to university after studying with Rainey, which was where he met Billy Cobham who was conducting an ensemble clinic. As luck would have it, Cobham was also auditioning bass players for his band. Jackson landed the gig, beginning a 2-year stint in the fusion master's group, which also yielded two albums, Simplicity of Expression, Depth of Thought and Magic.
From these early beginnings, Jackson went on to a stellar career playing on and producing numerous albums for the likes of Bob Dylan, Madonna, Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey, to name but a few.

From being an in-demand session bassist, songwriter, record label executive and producer to TV celebrity judge, there isn't much in the music industry that Randy Jackson has not played, seen or heard.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Famous Guitar Cameos

Here's a song-by-song listing of famous (and not so famous) guitar cameos. I've always been interested to see the kind of musical fingerprints my favorite guitar players leave on the work of other musicians.

Sometimes these collaborations work, sometimes not. Usually they do.

It's by no means a complete list so do drop me a comment if you know of any more I might have left out -- there must be dozens, if not hundreds more:

Let's Dance (David Bowie) -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

This Is Not America (David Bowie) -- Pat Metheny

Western Vacation (Western Vacation) -- Steve Vai (using the moniker Reckless Fable for legal reasons)

Stories To Tell (Stanley Clarke) -- Allan Holdsworth

Ellipsis (Pat Martino) -- Joe Satriani

Clowns On Velvet (Frank Zappa) -- Al Di Meola (only bootlegs of this live recording exist)

Chinese Fire Alarm (Kittyhawk) -- Robben Ford (from a rare out-of-print album -- great solo with extremely cool phrasing!)

Monmouth College Fight Song (The Yellowjackets) -- Robben Ford

Attack Of The 20lb. Pizza (Vinnie Colaiuta) -- Mike Landau

Beat It (Michael Jackson) -- Eddie Van Halen

Eyesight To The Blind (from the soundtrack for 'Tommy') -- Eric Clapton

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles) -- Eric Clapton (Clapton is uncredited on the song due to legal reasons)

Peg (Steely Dan) -- Jay Graydon (this is actually more of a session job by Graydon than a guest cameo, but what the heck, it's still a classic)

All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix) -- Dave Mason (on 12-string rhythm guitar)

Mediterranean Sundance (Al Di Meola) -- Paco De Lucia

Friday, July 3, 2009

Determining Proper Placement for Effects Pedals In A Signal Chain

We're in the Golden Age of effects pedals. The humble stompbox has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence and no self-respecting guitar player will be seen without at least a couple of them at his feet.

And in response to prevailing market demand, a plethora of backyard workshop-type companies have emerged, churning out an endless parade of 'boutique' stompboxes -- old schematics, slightly modified, upgraded with audiophile-grade components, given nifty names and sold for stupefying prices.

Pedalboard sizes too have reverted to the gargantuan, stage-hogging proportions of the ones used by rockstar guitarists of the 70's -- think David Gilmour's sprawling Pete Cornish pedal rig on many a Pink Floyd tour.

After the smoke has cleared, determining the correct order of effects on a pedalboard is key to getting the best tone with the cleanest possible signal out of it.

As a general rule, here's how pedals can best be arranged on a pedalboard when using them in series ie. a pedal's signal feeding the next pedal in the chain.

From the guitar's output, the order of effects will be:

  1. Wah pedal
  2. Compressor/limiter
  3. Booster, overdrive, fuzz and distortion pedals
  4. Equalizer
  5. Pitch-altering pedals such as octavers and pitch-shifters
  6. Envelope filters and ring modulators
  7. Short time-based effects such as phasers, flangers, chorus pedals and Leslie-speaker simulators
  8. Signal attenuators such as volume pedals and noise gates
  9. Long time-based effects such as reverbs and delays
As always, take this as a basic guideline and experiment.. The complete home study jazz guitar course


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