Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Finally, A good photo!

I decided to mess around with a camera and a little photo editing program to see if I could make a great picture of my guitar and this is what I came up with.  I know its not much of a blog post for today but I like this picture and since this is a blog about music and musical instruments, why not?
Ok so what I did was I took a rumpled piece of black fabric and then placed my guitar on it.  Then I took a picture with my camera and then imported it into gimp (which is an open source photo editing program which is very similar to photoshop, only free).  Then I put the guitar on one layer, put a gradient filter overtop of that, and a black background under, and Poof!  Sweet picture of my guitar.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ugly Blog

Well I have done a little research and looking at other people's blogs and I have come to the realization that My blog is ugly.  This is no good.  I want to make my blog look awesome so that I when I write about guitar playing, or piano playing or music in general, people aren't distracted by the ugliness.  Its time to go digging around and see what I can do in order to make my blog a little less of an eyesore.  Suggestions?

Friday, 24 June 2011

About the Piano

I am a piano player.  In fact, that is the instrument that I'm taking at University!  I know that it would be difficult to tell because of all the posts that I have done about guitar... 

Now, I like to consider myself a social creature.  I like to interact with people and perhaps that is part of my problem.  In all of my piano playing that I have done over the last 20 years, I haven't had the chance to sit down with someone else and make music.  My job was to master a piece of music, usually written by someone long dead, well enough to play at a recital or exam.  When the technically perfect performance was given, picked apart, and found acceptable, I was then able move on to another piece and start the process all over again.  Along the way I learned how to play scales, chords, arpeggios etc. but never learned how to apply them in a more social setting.  In contrast, when I started to play guitar, I jammed for the first time probably six months after I started on songs with which I was familiar!  I had FUN!  I want to be able to jam that way with piano but I'm afraid that I am too engrained with the classical discipline.  I NEED HELP or else I may be doomed to conversations like this:

"Hey we should get together this weekend and have a jam"
"Yeah!  That sounds like fun!" 
"Great!  I was thinking maybe I'll play keyboards, and I'll have a bass player and a drummer lined up and you could take lead guitar?"
"Sounds like fun what are we playing?"
"Ooh, well are you familiar with Bach's prelude and fugue in Bflat major?  I was also thinking we could do the first movement of his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto."
"Yeah! You know the ones... BWV 866 and BWV 1050!"
"I take it back, it does not sound like fun after all."

Now don't get me wrong, Those Bach pieces are great works of art and are enjoyable to listen to, however you need to be classically trained to play this stuff and even then, the challenge is formidable.  Once the task of learning such a piece is complete, there is very little room to play around and add your own flavour to the piece. Especially with Bach, because with Bach, there is only one flavour... the Bach flavour.  You can't just improvise your own keyboard solo in a Bach piece, mostly because he is already playing the best notes that could ever go there, but also because he will curse the musical talent right out of you from the grave (or so I've heard).  All this doesn't make me want to practice piano much.

So, you can see my conundrum.  I want to be able to play music with people (which I think is one of the best things about music) but there are very few people who know how to jam with a keyboard and I don't know where to begin to teach myself.  Ooh well.  I guess I'll just do the best I can and maybe by playing along with the stereo, improvement in this area will be improved, and this will increase my desire to be awesome at piano and I will practice more.  

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Help! Gear Stolen in Vancouver

Hello everyone who visits my blog,

Someone named Maurice had his music gear stolen in Vancouver.

CLICK HERE to see his poster on craigslist.

Maurice, I don't know who you are or if you will ever read this post but I sure hope that you get your gear back and that in their wrath, the Gods of Karma strike the dirty thieves down!!

First Attempt at Garage Band

Alright Ladies and Gents,  This is a piece of a song that I created shortly after I started to play the electric guitar so its not full of shred-tastic awesomeness, but it has a good rock groove.  I decided to try to record something on Garage Band and this is what happened.  Now that I'm beginning to learn the ropes and whatnot, I'm sure that there will be more posts like this one, just with better tunes.

This is what I did.  I made the drum track on Garage Band with the typing keyboard then I plugged my guitar into my little blackstar 5 watt amp and the emulated headphones out from my amp into my computer (no interface just right into my audio in jack).  Then I laid down the guitar track a couple of times.  After that, I grabbed a bass, plugged it right into the computer, laid down that track and poof!  A simple song!  Looking back I probably should have done the drums first followed by the bass then the guitar.  Ooh well.   I guess the point to this post is that Garage Band has all the fancy toys that I need at the moment.  Maybe after I become proficient in Garage Band, I'll explore some of the bigger programs.

Booted from a forum

The other day I wrote on the ultimate guitar forums that I had written up a blog about strings and how to choose them, and do you know what they did?  They kicked me off of the forum!  When you are banned from the ultimate guitar forum, they only let you post in one little area called "the forum of the banned" and I asked if it was because I posted the link to my blog and they said yes.  Anyway I picked the wrong option available to me at the time.  These were the options that I could have done with my blog post:

1. I could have done what I did.  Consequence: Booted from the forums
2. I could have copied and pasted what I wrote onto a forum page.  Probable concequence: Booted from the forums for spamming
3.  I could have just not told people about what I found.  Consequence:  Less people would know about strings!

Ooh well, I guess you can't win em all eh?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sound Like Yourself

One of my favourite things to do is learn songs by some of my favourite artists.  I love to put in my headphones, get into my power rock stance, put on my rock face, grab my guitar, turn up my amp and go!  I become untouchable!   After a long while I was puzzled to hear that I didn't sound exactly like the guitar players I listen to even though I played all the same notes that were played on the recordings and my tone was set so that it sounded like the recorded tone.  Eventually I realized that its because I'm not the guitar players in the recordings.  Thats why I sound different... and its good.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Recording at home eh?

Long ago I was sitting with my friend Dan in the computer lab at our high school and we were looking at boss guitar pedals online.  As I was looking at some of the pedals that I was sure that I needed to have in my guitar arsenal, I stumbled across something that I needed more than any of the other wondrous toys on that site... The Glorious BR 8.  I was sure that if I could acquire one of these units,  I would begin to revolutionize music as we know it.  Well, I never did get the money and eventually I got a computer that came stock with Garage Band.  After a few hours of exploring the program, I found out that it was just as, if not more, capable of recording my music than the BR8.  What Luck!  This program also had some capabilities not available with the early BR 8.  Now what have I done with this great resource?  Almost nothing.  This powerful software is at my fingertips and I don't even really use it.  I have all kinds of great guitar riffs and partial songs floating around in my mind that resurface whenever I play, but they never seem to make it onto my hard drive despite the relative ease of recording.  Who has a similar story?  If you have something home recorded already, post a link or the file if you can, and I'd be glad to hear it.  Maybe your home made efforts will inspire me to get off of my butt!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Ol' MT-2

I was feeling nostalgic a little while ago, and I pulled out my old Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal.  It was the first guitar pedal that I ever bought.  I remember that I saved my money won an auction for it on ebay for 35 dollars or something and I was so excited when it finally came.  I recall when I first plugged it into my peavey studio pro 112, and I was transformed into a warrior of rock destined to conquer the world with my crushing riffs!  Eventually it fell by the wayside as bigger and better things came along and added themselves to my music toy collection.  Anyway, I plugged it into my current rig and turned it on...  It sounded 'awesomer' a long time ago.
Anyone else have a similar story?
Well, I finished playing with the pedal and decided that I would get rid of it since I don't use it anymore...  BUT I CAN'T!!  It was so great and I loved it so much that I just can't let it go!  It sounded so wonderful to me long ago.  There is only one thing left to do.  Put on my geek pants, and modify it.
We musicians are always modifying our gear.  Different amp tubes, different pickups, new bridges, nuts, tuners, etc.  Why do we do it?  Does it really sound better after?  Sometimes, but sometimes not.  And if not, will we ever admit that it was just as good or better before?  Never!  So if this mod fails, will I say that it sounds worse?  Nope (unless it makes no noise at all).  We just can't leave well enough alone.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Guitar Strings?

Ever had any trouble picking which set of strings you should use?  Have you ever wondered whats the big difference anyway?  Do you already have a favourite set of strings and come hell or high water, never going to change?  My friend Scott has a saying that applies especially to musicians.  He says "We like what we like, the way we like it, because we like it".  Our (sometimes unfounded) bias can be a roadblock to new possibilities and we are often too proud to listen to anyone else.  I too am a musician and I am just as staunch and set in my ways as any of the other guys.  I realize the importance of letting you like what you like and I will NOT try to change your opinion of your current favourite strings (it would't have any effect anyway).  This is just some good information that I have found and it may be helpful to you.

Plain strings are usually made out of high carbon steel that are coated in tin to improve feel and tone.  Some acoustic plain strings are coated in zinc or bronze for a brighter sound.  The wound strings have a core with wire wrapped around it.  The wrapping techniques are different for most factories.  For Example, DR hand-wraps the strings while other companies use precession machines to do the work.  

String size.
Get what is most comfortable to use.  It is true that a bigger string is louder but, some people say that lighter string equals lighter sound.  If there is a tone difference, it I find it to be negligible.  For example: ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, likes a .007 string for his high e, and he has a pretty thick tone.  I have also found that when I play metal, a set of 9-42 are just as 'heavy' sounding as a set of 12-56.  The heaver ones just make it harder to bend.  Thats all.  

The Core: Hex or Round?
Until the late 60's, a round core was the only option.  Later string companies started using a hexagonal core which made it easier for the wrap to stay on, and delivered a more solid punch with a very quick response.  Some companies (like D'addario) use only hex core strings and have had lots of success in creating consistant quality sets of strings.  Other companies use both round and hex core strings and report that the round core is more flexible and easier to bend with a fuller sound and more all around versatility.  Not better, just different.

Bronze (acoustic)
80/20 Bronze (80% copper and 20% zinc which is actually brass) has the brightest tone out of the box but can loose this tone quickly.  Other "bronze" strings contain copper, zinc and tin and will generally have a sound not quite as bright as 80/20 strings but will last a little longer.

Phosphor Bronze (acoustic)
Strings wrapped with phosphor bronze have a deeper richer sound than the bronze strings.  (I love phosphor bronze strings on a good cedar top guitar)

Silk 'n Steel (acoustic)
These strings feature a thread of silk on the inside of the wrap producing a softer tone.

Stainless Steel (electric)
Stainless Steel strings have a very tight, bright and focused sound.  They are also extremely rust resistant but they will wear down your frets quickly.  They are also recyclable.  

Nickel Plated and Nickel (electric)
For rock guitarists nickel plated are usually the way to go.  Generally the wrap will be made of iron and then plated in nickel, producing a strong magnetic field which will deliver a high output, with an edge combined with some good overtones.  Pure Nickel strings are harder to find.  They have a pure nickel wrap around the core and produce a quieter and warmer sound with very rich overtones.  

Alloy 52 (electric)
Strings with this alloy of 52% nickel and 48% iron produce a high output, as well as the warm and overtone-rich characteristics of a pure nickel string.  These are generally used on vintage style pickups to increase the output while keeping the vintage tone of the pickup. 

Coated Strings
A coating on a string can greatly improve the longevity of a string.  Some coatings are more sonically invisible than others.  For example Elixir's nanoweb strings have a coating that is so fine that you cannot feel it under your fingers and personally, I can't hear a difference between these and a set of non-coated strings of the same specs.  Elixir's polyweb strings however, have a coating that can be both felt and heard.  The sonic difference is not a negative effect, just different.  Each string company has a different way of coating their strings.  My personal favourites are DR DimeBag strings.  I usually don't love signature things of other artists, however I cannot deny the greatness of those strings.  These wraps of these strings are coated in a liquid polymer solution prior to wrapping and have become my favourite guitar strings ever.  Try em!  You'll love em!

Cryogenically treated strings
Many companies offer strings that have been cryogenically treated.  That means that they subjected the strings to extremely low temperatures to realign the molecules of the strings in order to increase the longevity.  Many players have also reported better sustain, and a greater resistance to corrosion due to this process.  

Round, Half and Flat Wound
Sometimes the wrap of a string isn't round. Generally its like this
Round wound - Bright
Half rounds - not as bright but a little smoother
Flat - Mello and smooth like buttah.  (great for jazz)

There you go!  Thats what I know.  What are your favourite strings and why?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Little amps

So, Yesterday I helped out a friend with a talent show.  She had asked me to play guitar with a band for a couple of her songs.  After a rehearsal I decided that I would try my little 5 watt BlackStar ministack amp for the show rather than my 150 watt behemoth of an amp, and I was presently surprised.  It sounded GREAT!  It provided all the stage volume that I needed, and after I planted an SM 57 infront of it and sent the sound out through the house PA system, it was loud enough for everyone to hear.  This experience has proved to me a suspicion that I have had for a few years now.  All you kids who need 300 watt guitar amps are falling for the classic 'more = better' idea, which may just happen to be false in this case.  Nobody NEEDS a wall of amps with thousands of watts.  For most musical styles, A good 50 will do just fine in any jamming situation and live, you may need even less.  So my conclusion is this.  You don't need to buy that 100 watt + amp.  In fact, later you'll probably find out that it is a little inconvenient.  It weighs more, and only sounds good after its been turned up too loud to hear the drums (unless you use an expensive and often tone sucking attenuator).
There are a few exceptions to that rule, like if you don't have a PA (then your vocalist is up the creek and you are doomed to 'ear out' the sound levels from a stage) or if you happen to be someone like Gus G who seems to need six 200 watt monsters on stage with him wherever he goes.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Jamming Synergy... its a fact

So the other day I got a call from someone in town here who wanted to put on a talent show and needed some musicians.  I was told that there was already a bass player and a drummer and that I would play guitar.  I had a rehearsal a couple of days later and really had a blast!  I used my little 5 Watt BlackStar mini stack and it worked out really well for the kind of stuff we were doing (I wouldn't recommend using one of those little amps for hard rock or metal but for the soft rock we were doing, it was just fine).   It brought back memories of high school bands that I was involved in.  There is something great about collaborating with other musicians and creating something that is fun to play and listen to.  So, All you basement musicians, go find a friend who plays, and get together and get started!  It is AWESOME.  I find that the end result is always more than the parts that make it.

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