Friday, February 29, 2008

Buddy Miles: Another Chapter in Rock History Slips Away

I was sad to see another chapter in rock history slip away with the death Tuesday of Buddy Miles at age 60.

Buddy Miles co-founded “Band of Gypsys” with Jimi Hendrix and also played on his “Electric Ladyland” album. Although he is most often referenced in this context I remember him most for “Them Changes”, a song he wrote and performed. This song has been covered countless times since and is worth a listen in all its forms.

I went through my vinyl archive and sure enough, I still have the LP! I snapped a picture of it to include in this post.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How to Break Up the Band Without Breaking Up

I started off my morning reading about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the cover story for the Life section of the USA Today. One comment that sticks is that they’ve stayed together and relevant all this time by protecting their interests and the band’s interest by stepping out on their own.

Bruce Springsteen at age 58 and the E Street Band are coming off three new Grammy’s, a critically acclaimed album “Magic”, and kicking off a North American tour tonight at Asbury Park Convention Hall. Seems to indicate protecting the interests of the band is working out. So, what would have happened had the Beatles followed this approach?

For the Beatles it was a choice between stepping out on their own or staying together as a band. This either or choice reduced any future decision to collaborate as a band down to a “reunion”, as huge of an event as that would have been.

While they all did go off on their own, an argument can be made that some of their best work was as a band. The fact they made a masterpiece like Abbey Road while essentially dysfunctional as a band confirms the power of collaboration. Who knows what would have been had they left open the freedom to collaborate in the same fashion as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have done.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Get Great Palm Muting Tone on Your Guitar

This is another one of those posts (palm muting in this case) about stumbling on to correct technique that experienced guitarists don't even think to mention. My first reaction is always “duh” and I want to be quiet about it to avoid embarrassment. Second reaction is to write a post in the off chance anyone else is having the same problem.

Although I’ve played for awhile now I’ve always been disappointed in the tone I achieve when employing palm muting. I get more of a dead cat bounce than the percussive tone I’m shooting for. I always assumed I wasn’t applying the right pressure with my palm until I stumbled on the fact it is all about where you place your palm; near the bridge rather than over the active pickup like I was doing.

I added a simple diagram to illustrate my point. Since I was muting near the active pickup (‘A’ in the diagram) the strings don’t really resonate over the pickup. By moving the palm back towards the bridge (B), the strings are still muted but they now have an opportunity to resonate over the active pickup and thus a much fatter percussive tone.

Yes, I know, this is obvious and I wish I had figured it out before. Sounds great thought now that I have.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Reverend Charger 290

Man, that’s cool looking. Given I think this every time I see a guitar from Reverend Guitars that is more than enough reason for an article. One especially retro looking and affordable (always a great feature) model is the Reverend Charger 290; Guitar Boomer’s guitar of the week.

Reverend Musical Instruments was founded in 1996 by guitar and amplifier technician Joe Naylor, a graduate of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery. The unorthodox construction methods and retro looking styles derive from a design philosophy focused on individuality amidst a “…sea of clones.”

The Charger 290 is from Reverend’s Stage King series and according to Guitar Player Magazine, “…sounds like a muscle car that Mopar would have cooked up in the late ‘60s.” Some of the coolness factor for me comes from use of the retro soap bar style P-90 pickups along with the gold top and Telecaster style knobs. It evokes famous guitars but has a style all its own.

Coolness counts for a lot. Coolness along with great playability and tone at an affordable price counts for a lot more. Check out all the models at

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Can Music Succeed Where Words and Diplomacy Fail?

I read about Lady Yoko Nagae Ceschina in this morning’s Wall Street Journal and her sponsorship of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s appearance in North Korea next week. Her premise is that music can succeed where words and diplomacy fail. This raises two thoughts; music is indeed powerful and what would it be like if struggling rock & roll artists had a patron like Mrs. Ceschina?

I did a recent post on the benefits of music making and while there were many benefits; brain exercise, stress reduction, and lower blood pressure, diplomacy was not one of them. However, I think she’s right about the diplomacy part. I’ve been reading “This Is Your Brain On Music” by Daniel J. Levitin where he argues that music may be more fundamental to the human species than language. If music is that central to our species it seems only natural that it could bridge political and cultural divides.

One interesting anecdote is her $1.5 million purchase of a 1727 Stradivarius at auction for renowned Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov. If Mrs. Ceschina were in the rock world maybe some deserving young metal master may have ended up with Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny” instead of Guitar Center….. Nope, somehow it doesn’t translate.

Nonetheless, North Korea has been relaxing its controls on western music. This may provide an opening for some rock & roll diplomacy. One hurdle; lyrics need to be approved by the government. Oops. Classical music may have to be the diplomats for awhile longer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guitars as Home Décor: Check out Wall Brackets

Reality based home improvement programming on cable runs the gamut from removing excessive clutter to transforming rooms on a shoestring decorating budget. I took a cue from these shows and used guitar wall brackets to reduce clutter as well as transform my hobby room.

In my house I have artistic hegemony over one room (other than a variance allowing a Jimi Hendrix live at Fillmore East poster in the bedroom). Once I began the guitar hobby and adopted gear addiction I ended up with a collection of floor stands, guitars leaning against the wall, or inside their cases on the floor. This created clutter in my one room domain. Enter the guitar wall bracket!

You simply attach these brackets to the wall and hang up your guitar. I use “Off The Wall” brand brackets available at zZounds and Guitar Center. These are sturdy, look great, and the material does not react with the finish on your guitar. The only criticism I can come up with is the included screws are not long enough if you are going directly into wall studs.

Once these went up on the wall I gained all my floor space back. But, the real advantage of wall brackets is décor. Guitars are works of art so what better art to put on the wall as a transformational decorating approach? Plus, these things are inexpensive so it also fits the concept of transformation on a shoestring budget. Thank you, home improvement shows!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vintage Guitar Market: The Great Rap/R&B;/hip-hop Scare

Gruhn Guitars is one of Nashville’s premier vintage guitar sources and releases an occasional newsletter with market commentary. Think of it as the vintage guitar market equivalent of the Fed Chairman addressing congress. The most recent issue explores potential threats to the vintage guitar market; lure of easy money from booming stock market or high interest rates and waning interest in guitars caused by the rising popularity of the Rap/R&B/hip-hop genre of music. Needless to say, given I am a guitar blog author and guitar fan, that second one caught my attention.

One of my favorite sections of Rolling Stone magazine is the "Charts" area on the last page showing rankings and I do have to admit that I’ve noticed less guitar based music. Newsletter authors George Gruhn and Walter Carter point out that eight of the top ten records as of their writing were rap/R&B/hip-hop styles and had no guitar. According to them, the last time this kind of shift occurred is now referred to in vintage guitar circles as the “Great Synthesizer Scare of the ‘70s.” The scare originated because the development of electric keyboard instruments coupled with the popularity of disco showed that a song could be a hit without guitars as the lead instrument.

While there may be a chance that interest in guitars has peaked the conclusion they draw is that ongoing evolution of public taste will continue to come around to the guitar given its portability and versatility. They are more than comfortable continuing to invest in quality vintage fretted instruments. I ran across a tangible example of what they are talking about just the other night while watching “Crossroads” on the MTV's music television network.

This episode featured Robert Plant and Alison Krauss performing music from “Raising Sand”, currently number one on Americana Radio Top Ten. Throw a range of guitar based musical styles such as blues, bluegrass, country, and rock into a blender and out comes what I saw on that episode; something amazing! They did a rendition of “Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV that included tight vocals backed up by banjo (yes, banjo), standup bass, and one of the most amazing rock/bluegrass/blues/country guitar solos I’ve heard with a very cool effect of rattling keys from a keychain against the strings.

Watching that performance left me in no doubt the guitar is here to stay for the foreseeable future!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sue Foley: A Blues Guitarist You Need to Hear

There was a brief period where some college buddies and I congregated at the Telluride Blues and Brews festival in Colorado for a reunion of sorts. At these shows I spent brief periods of time between sampling micro brews to research blues artists. This experience led me indirectly to a discovery of Sue Foley, a guitarist you really need to hear.

I picked up CDs at the festival and listened and liked. From there I started a subscription to eMusic and started downloading other blues artists including Sue Foley who originates from Ottawa in Canada. I liked her vocal style and the music but was really entranced by the guitarist in the band. The solos were riveting. So, I finally got my fingers working and looked her up only to find she’s the guitarist!

Part of what makes her style unique is she plays with a thumb pick and her fingers and does not use finger picks. I've embedded a clip from YouTube below so you can take a quick look. She rocks!

Regrettably, women are underrepresented in the guitar world. But, all you need do is take a listen and you will see she’s got it. Also, she is doing a lot to spread the word about other female guitarists through her Guitar Woman project. While they are underrepresented it doesn’t mean they aren’t good!

You can find out about all this as well as discography and touring schedule at

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Why it is Important to Learn New Songs

I often emphasize the enjoyment derived from learning new songs by my favorite artists. However, this is not an endorsement that your guitar playing goals should simply be copying your favorites. Instead, this follows Isaac Newton's "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants" approach to maximum guitar progress in minimum time.

Learning new songs keeps things interesting and provides a great toolbox of guitar licks, which are all beneficial. When you think about it though, the reason you have a technical interest in a given artist is that he, she, or they got your attention by paying their dues and building up a unique style over time.

What you're really doing by learning songs from these artists then is sampling the end product of years of refinement; just without the years. For example, Jimi Hendrix, saw further through people like Buddy Guy, whose style and showmanship he studied intently.

Think of it as learning faster by standing on the shoulders of giants. If it worked for Isaac Newton and Jimi Hendrix it should work for us aging rockers wanting to make up for lost time.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Hollenbeck Jim Nichols Signature Archtop

I recently attended a vintage guitar show and ended up spending the bulk of my time learning about the art and science of guitar building from Bill Hollenbeck of Hollenbeck Guitars.

Bill Hollenbeck specializes in archtop guitars that feature fine artistry as well as an intense focus on chamber tuning or the physics of the guitar. What caught my attention in the first place was a partially carved backplate displayed in his booth with pencil markings all over it.

I learned that he works with tolerances to thousandths of an inch and angles down to half of a degree as he carves the soundboards and neck. He continually measures the thickness of the soundboard using a micrometer and marks where further carving is needed in order to achieve the even response he is looking for, especially where the bridge and saddle attach on the top. He zeros in on this even response through use of a tuning fork. The payoff for this level of detail is exceptional sustain and evenness of sound at all points on the fretboard.

One of the guitars he is most proud of building is Ebony-n-Blue, shown at right, for Scott Chinery's Blue Guitars project, which was in homage to Jimmy D’Aquisto, considered America’s all time greatest luthier. Bill Hollenbeck is featured in the book, Blue Guitar by Ken Vose and Ebony-n-Blue was displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 1998.

Some interesting anecdotes I picked up during my visit were that violin makers do not make good guitar builders and vice versa. While violins share the archtop design, the physics are completely different and “physics is physics.” Seems violins do not have sustain where that is something you want a lot of in a guitar. Another interesting tidbit was Bill Hollenbeck describing some of Les Paul’s early experiments with multi track recording. He would record takes directly to the wax disk. Then, for the next track, he would record over the first take and get a multi track effect. Needless to say, any mistake meant starting with a new disk!

I’ve included a photo of my favorite, the Jim Nichols signature model as well as a photo of a partially carved soundboard displayed at the show. You can visit for more information on the full lineup as well as on Bill Hollenbeck.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Music Promotion by Chocolate

I’ve written a variety of posts about ways to discover new music. It appears buying chocolates for Valentine’s Day is one I missed.

Page One of the Wall Street Journal reports today that a 30 second track of singer songwriter David Martin is featured in Whitman’s chocolates (an embedded chip in the traditional heart shaped box) sold exclusively at Walgreens drugstores. For $9.99 you get a box of 12 chocolates, 30 seconds of David Martin’s song “Something in Your Eyes”, and a free download of the song “the year’s most romantic”.

This is really a twofer for those last minute shoppers as you can buy something for that significant other plus experience a new approach to music marketing. This is actually a clever approach given digital technology has eroded the intrinsic value of the music itself. The music in this case will help sell more chocolates and the added publicity will potentially boost David Martin’s career. Everybody wins except those trying to reduce their use of chocolate!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ceiling Fans as a Guitar Aging Technique

I wrote a recent post on using strap locks on your guitar to avoid unintentional aging. Now I know that ceiling fans are another aging source to take into account.

I have set up a quick launch practice rig in a dedicated corner in my house. I was slinging my strap lock equipped guitar over my head and wham! For a second I thought this was an invitation to sell my soul for guitar skills as in the Robert Johnson legend, but no. It was just the headstock of my guitar getting beat up by the blades of the ceiling fan above my head.

Although unintentional, it did leave random markings on the headstock that could have come from use on a nationwide tour or a frat party gig. Best of all, it was still playable. So, for those interested in the art of making a guitar look like a veteran of years of touring, this might be a technique to try. For everyone else, take note of the location of any ceiling fans you may have in your practice area.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Sun Studios Tour Proves Less is More

On a recent trip to Memphis Tennessee I took time out for a visit to Sun Studios (Memphis Recording Service). Everyone knows about the legend of Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, and the birth of Rock & Roll. Nothing prepared me though for just how much can be done with so little.

Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service “A Complete Service to Fill Every Recording Need” recorded everything from weddings to artists such as B.B. King, Little Milton, Junior Parker, and Howlin’ Wolf. His studio recorded "Rocket 88", which music historians consider the first rock & roll song and made history with his discovery of Elvis Presley. However, on the tour I found out that his “Newest and Best Equipment” was an Ampex single track recorder and his “Sonocoustic Studio” was a simple room with acoustical tile that is still there today (Sun Studios was designated an historical landmark in 2003).

Truth is, a fifth grader with GarageBand on their laptop has vastly more capability than Sam Philips had available at the time. If you want to introduce an effect into a recording today you push a button. Back then, they rearranged the furniture or got out the soldering iron to make some tweaks to the equipment and did another take. Also, there was no post editing where they could use punch-in points to correct mistakes. They just kept doing full takes until they got what they wanted. Yet, these early recordings continue to hold up today.

So, that begs the question, what have we gotten for all this technology? Has it generated any benefit or just created shortcuts to mediocrity? The way I think about it is that Sam Philips and his contemporaries were all about the “Newest and Best Equipment.” When he started out the Ampex one track was the best he could get. If today's technology were available then they would have been all over it! We owe our listening pleasure to innovators then and now who are all about pushing the limits of available technology.

Sun Studios photo licensed through Creative Commons 3.0.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Vintage Guitar Circuit: Where Guitars Find a New Home

I was driving down the road wondering “where have all the guitars gone?” to the tune of “where have all the children gone?” I mean, they make a huge number around the globe and except for the dime store variety they don’t simply go to the landfill. Well, one place they go is to the vintage guitar circuit to find a new home.

I had the pleasure of attending the Amigo Nashville Guitar Show today put on by Texas Guitar Shows and co-sponsored by Vintage Guitar® magazine. We are talking a guitar bacchanalia here. There was something for everyone from the vintage Stratocaster® pictured above to the completely hand built archtop by Hollenbeck Guitars shown below.

I’ve included a slide show on the right sidebar, which will give you a look at a fraction of what was there to be seen and purchased. Enjoy and attend a show coming to a town near you!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Eastwood Guitars Airline® Map

Airline was a brand name used by Montgomery Ward for guitars sold through its mail order business. One of the manufacturers for the Airline brand was Valco who made National and Supro guitars. The Eastwood Guitars Airline® Map is a tribute to the 1962 National Newport Guitar and is the Guitar of the Week.

I became familiar with Airline guitars when I received the February 2006 issue of Guitar World. The cover featured Jimmy Page and Jack White holding each other’s signature guitars; a red Airline and a ’59 Les Paul Standard. In that issue Jack White said "... once you've made friends with a guitar, there's no reason to break up the friendship!" Eastwood Guitars makes this a lot easier with its affordable Radical Vintage Remake series.

This series features remakes of classic 1960s designs from Mosrites to the Airline® Map pictured above. This model is shown in “Seafoam Green”, and features a mahogany body, Bigsby® Vibrato tailpiece, and two Alnico Hot-10 Humbuckers.

If you are interested in the retro look without the retro price (these are affordable guitars) check out Eastwood Guitars. Another benefit to a site visit is Eastwood Radio, which features some of their sponsored artists from around the world. This is some great listening and the site provides links so you can further explore the artists you like.

We all know about music industry woes but there is no shortage of great new artists (and guitars) out there waiting to be discovered!

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bonnaroo Is More Diverse Than Ever

What do Metallica, Willie Nelson, and B.B. King have in common other than being great artists? You’re right; they are all appearing at this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

While many Tennesseans still think “traffic jam” when they hear the word Bonnaroo, this festival is big enough now to draw the rock legends as headliners as well as speculation that Led Zeppelin will play here. While they indicate Led Zeppelin will not appear, the festival organizers have joined in the fun by including Lez Zeppelin, a female Zeppelin cover band in the lineup.

Although Led Zeppelin won’t play Bonnaroo, Robert Plant will appear along with Alison Krauss, his new musical partner. Hmmm, if one fourth of Led Zeppelin (including Jason Bonham) are already there, maybe……

Tickets go on sale starting 11 AM this Saturday the 9th through

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How to Discover New Music; Check Out Music on NPR®

I have been a loyal National Public Radio® listener and supporter since college. One of the favorite characterizations I hear about this demographic is “The NPR Crowd”. It is meant to invoke an image of staid academic types smelling of wool, mothballs, and cedar chests. For us actual listeners it is our inside joke when we congregate at fund raising events sponsored by our local stations. However, NPR Music, now in beta shows that the "NPR Crowd" is a lot cooler than you might think.

The site is organized around multiple options to discover new music starting with the “Discover Songs” menu item as well as a “Discover Songs” widget on the home page. The tabbed interface categorizes content by Rock/Pop/Folk, Classical (this is Public Radio after all), Jazz & Blues, World, and Urban. There is streaming media, live concerts on demand, and interviews, all of which helps you find something new and interesting to listen to today.

So, join the “NPR Crowd” and be cool; no mothballs required!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to Replicate the Tone for Brian Setzer’s Sleepwalk

"Sleepwalk" is a great tune, especially Brian Setzer’s version. I experimented with gear I already have to see how close I could get to his tone as heard on “The Dirty Boogie” CD.

The signal chain for "Sleepwalk" is a single coil pickup (Gretsch®) with slight distortion, slapback echo, running through a Fender® amp. I came up with my approximation using an American Standard Stratocaster®, MXR Distortion +, Ibanez Analog Delay, and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe™ .

I use the bridge pickup on the guitar with volume around 80%. The diagram above (you can click on it for more detail) summarizes the settings for the distortion and delay pedals. I am using the clean channel on the amp with the “Bright” mode activated.

In testing this setup along side the recording I find a passable match with the exception of my technique compared to Brian Setzer. Unfortunately, there is no effects pedal for that. I just need to keep practicing!

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Aging Rockers Dominate Super Bowl Halftime Lineup

I was perusing the halftime photos for Super Bowl XLII on MSN Fox Sports and belated realized the theme of late has been well established aging rockers for halftime. Is this for the acts themselves or simply to avoid controversy?

We have had only established aging rocker acts since the “wardrobe malfunction”. While I know the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake halftime performance at Houston in 2004 had a bearing on selection of acts afterward, I’ve looked forward to the halftime acts on their own merits. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, and Tom Petty? I've seen many references in the press saying "Tom Petty plays it safe!" In reality, these are veteran acts just doing their job and part of that job is avoiding malfunctions in the first place.

If dependability and playing it safe means the entire family can see great bands without worry of malfunctions I’m all for it!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Godin LGX-SA

I have a co-worker that buys a lot of guitars. One day he came walking in with a Godin synth guitar pictured at left. Godin is a large Canadian maker who has popularized integrated synth access as well as a hybrid mix of electric and acoustic voicing.

The company was founded in Canada by Robert Godin in the early 1980s. The focus of their Synth Access line of guitars is to integrate the guitar/synth combination directly into the guitar design so as to deliver excellent tracking without the need to attach hardware to your existing guitar.

The LGX-SA pictured features the built in bridge transducer along with a 13-pin output that is matched with the Roland GR Series guitar synths. It also features an acoustic transducer output along with Seymour Duncan Custom Humbuckers and standard output. The image at right shows the outputs as pictured in the owner's manual.

These models feature a mahogany neck and body with figured maple tops. It uses an ebony neck along with bracing, scale length, and string tension which improves synth tracking.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rockonomics or Why Does It Cost So Much to Go to a Concert?

Ever wonder why concerts are so darn expensive? I sure do and decided to dig around the Internet and see if I could find some explanations.

I came across an article in my Internet search that seems to make a lot of sense. The Economics of Real Superstars:
The Market for Rock Concerts in the Material World is by Alan B. Krueger of Princeton University. In this paper he points out that concert prices rose 82% from 1996 to 2003 while inflation rose 17% during the same period. Wow!

Mr. Krueger’s tentative conclusion is the price rise is due to the “…erosion of complementarities between concerts and album sales because of file sharing and CD copying”. I guess the hypothesis is that because of digital technology and the Internet, artists (especially the superstars) have been losing revenue and they make it up by boosting ticket prices.

Music is as popular as ever; it is just that technology makes it ubiquitous to the extent nobody feels the need to pay. Concert goers are the ones who have to pay the freight as a result.