Archive for the 'guitar' Category


Sounds of future past

As an electric guitarist, I’m going for what I think of as a “futuristic” sound. But by “futuristic”, I mean reminiscent of the Golden Age of the Future, rather than the actual future.  To me, that means the sounds of the 1970s, when rock music freely played on science fiction imagery, and the music of popular science fiction movies was bound by the limits of technology then.  Essentially, it’s an analog sound, a sound of fuzz pedals, tape echoes, and wah-wah pedals.  And more and more, I find myself turning to “vintage” gear in order to capture that “futuristic” sound – tube amps, fuzz pedals, and analog delay.  Curious, that.



Some instruments (or other tools) have “mojo”… there’s something magical about them that makes them play or feel or work better, compared to equivalent instruments.   Sometimes it’s general mojo that works for everyone; sometimes it’s mojo with just one individual.

Many people would argue that there’s nothing magic, that there’s no such thing as mojo, that there’s a scientific explanation for everything unique about an instrument.  Maybe there is.  But who cares?  “Mojo” makes a nice explanation for a real phenomenon – or at least as real as our flawed perceptions.  Those who argue vehemently against “mojo” aren’t arguing against the qualities of a given instrument… they’re arguing against a worldview that they feel is animistic, primitive, and otherwise wrong. 

And I suppose that’s important to them, too.  But once again, it gets back to fear… fear of being ruled by the irrational.



Last night, I returned to DADGAD tuning on my acoustic guitar, the first time I’ve played significantly in that tuning for some time.   It was like coming home… I played through my old arrangements of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood”, Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”, and some of my original tunes.  I was surprised and pleased that I could get through all the old arrangements so well.

I’ve been neglecting playing acoustic guitar for its own sake lately.  I should get back to it, in my copious spare time.



Over the last couple of years, my primary instruments have drifted to steel guitar and hand percussion, rather than straight acoustic/electric guitar. I’ve also become much more active in group performance, rather than solo.  This means that I’m often taking a supportive and decorative role, playing fills.

There’s a real art to playing good fills.  The goal is not for the fills themselves to be interesting, but rather to decorate and enhance the primary voice of the performance – the singer, other soloists, the rhythm, whatever is central to the music.  So it’s important to contrast the primary voice, rather than competing with it.  Play in the gaps.  And don’t overplay! This can be a real challenge as an improvisor… resisting the temptation to play too much. 

I find it difficult sometimes to fill the gaps rather than playing along with the melody.  That’s because when we hear the song, we hear the melody.  As improvisors, that’s where we hear ourselves.  But if that’s what you DO when playing fills, then you’re probably overplaying.

Phrasing and coloration become very important, too.  Do you want to extend the harmony and rhythm, or reinforce it?  And voicing matters… you should play in a range that is not competing tonally with more solidly rhythmic instruments.

And, uh… when I started writing this I thought I had a point.  But I guess I’m just dancing about architecture.  Sigh.


blast from the past

My first electric guitar was a heavily modified Stratocaster, purchased in 1987.  It had three Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickups.  That guitar had spent several years in prison with its previous owner, so the pickups were probably among the first Quarter Pounds made.  They were noisy and I didn’t like their voicing, so I pulled them and started a quest for a quiet, clear Strat pickup.  Eventually, I sold that guitar, and the pickups, which were basically broken, sat in a junk drawer or got used as refridgerator magnets.

Fast forward to 2007.  I bought a Squier ’51, a nice retro-vibed Fender with a Strat-style neck pickup.  Great guitar, cheap pickups.  Rather than seeking out a new neck pickup, I dug out one of those old Quarter Pounds and had it rewound by OC Duff, who worked with me to get a voicing that matched my playing style.  Last night, I got it all together again, and had a blast with my new/old pickup.  It sounds terrific and looks great too! 

I mated it with a GFS Bigmouth bridge humbucker, which is a nice visual and voicing match (and a great pickup all around).  I also lined the pickup routs with aluminum tape and grounded them to reduce noise, and replaced the annoying rotary pickup switch with a DP3T on/on/on switch.  It’s turned into a very nice-sounding and good-playing guitar… I’ll have to haul it out to the next Stagner/Lovan/Scherr gig.



I’ve been experimenting this week with VST guitar amp simulators running within Tracktion 2, now that I have my soundcard latency down to a tolerable 5ms.  Amplitube came with the software, but I’m really digging the freeware Simulanalog, which comes with emulations of a Fender Twin and a Marshall JCM900, plus some stomp boxes. Signal goes from the guitar into a DI (M-Audio DMP3 preamp), and then gets recorded direct in Tracktion.  I can then change the amp settings or effects after the guitar part is recorded!  And I can use the amp simulator while recording, to give myself a reasonable sound and feel. 

Further experiments will involve copying a recorded track and then re-amping it with a different amp setting, perhaps mostly clean in parallel with mostly dirty.  And the idea can be taken further, using the recorded guitar part to drive a regular guitar amp/pedals that gets mic’d and re-recorded.  It’ll be interesting to see where I can go with this.  For now, I want to learn how to make nicer guitar parts for mixes.  But I can see this technique being applied in more experimental, exotic ways as well. 

At any rate, it’s a fun toy.


fighting your tools

Ig on the IG BLOG wrote about how you gotta fight your guitar a little.  I generally concur, but I think the idea extends to other tools as well… I like my cameras to fight me a little as well.  But it’s not just that I want my guitars/cameras to fight… I want them to fight me in useful ways, in ways that make me a better musician or a better photographer.  I don’t want just any old thing to be harder.  For example, if my Telecaster isn’t set up just right, it frets out on bends above the twelveth fret.  I HATE that.  It limits me, as opposed to fighting me.  On the other hand, I like using a manual focus lens on my autofocus camera.  It fights me, but it makes me more conscious of what I’m doing.

That’s the advantage of a guitar that “fights” you, I think… it keeps you focused and concentrating, and not just doing something too effortlessly.