Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where have you been all my life?

Transposing music is my least favorite thing to do. It's not that I'm bad at it, it just takes a lot of time and it's tedious. When I learn a new song I'd rather have the parts written out and the chords written down so I can spend my time playing or coming up with variations - not spend my time listening to the song and figuring out the chords/lead lines.

It's always bugged me that there aren't many tabs out there for worship songs. I have a love/hate relationship with tabs because 90% of tabs (maybe higher?) are wrong, but at least they give you a good place to start.

With all that said... I was really happy to come across this site yesterday:

They have the most worship tabs I've seen and from the one's I looked at, they're mostly correct! Check it out, it's a good resource.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two guitars and voices

I've talked a lot about how electric guitar fits into a full band (drums, bass, two guitars, maybe keys) but I haven't talked about playing in smaller settings - like just two guitars and some voices. These smaller groups can get a rap as small time, usually because it's a couple guys who don't know a bass player or drummer and are forced to be an acoustic duo, but if it's done right, it can be just as powerful as a full band. Here are my tips for playing in a small band like this:

First, get into a different mentality. You have to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a small band in order to make the most of it. I love the intimacy it can provide and the silent spaces between phrases you don't get with a full band. It won't, however, have the drive you'll get from bass and drums. I've you've ever seen MTVs unplugged or heard a song you like done acoustic, you've probably noticed the acoustic version is more chill. Get in that mentality... chill.

Advice for the rhythm player:
Congratulations, you're playing three instruments now - bass, drums, and acoustic. You'll have to make up for the loss of bass and drums by filling in their roles. In a 4/4 song the drums will hit the bass drum on 1 and 3 and the snare on 2 and 4. Bass follows the bass drum for the most part but will almost always have the loudest accent on beat 1. You can incorporate all these ideas into your playing by hitting the root note of your chord on beat 1 (playing the basses note and hitting where the bass drum would hit) and accent your strum on 2 and 4 (accenting where the snare would accent). Now I'm not saying to only hit your strings on the quarter notes, I'm saying to accent those beats within your strum patterns. Listen to some acoustic songs and you'll most likely hear what I'm talking about. Chances are you're naturally accenting these beats anyway!

Advice for the second guitar:
Never ever, ever, ever play the same thing as the rhythm player. That's the biggest piece of advice I can give! It will sound like one guitar if you do and won't add anything. The capo is your friend. If you want to strum chords like the rhythm player, capo and play in a different register. For instance, if the rhythm player is playing in E, capo 2 and play in D. Having two guitars playing in different registers and in different voicing (what you'll be doing if you capo) makes a big sound. It sounds kind of like a 12-string.

Decide if you're playing acoustic or electric. You'll find more acoustic duos out there than acoustic and electric duos, but both have their place. Believe it or not, playing acoustic will give you more drive. "But electric guitar is rock and roll," you might say. "Kind of," I'll respond, "drums, bass, and electric are rock and roll. Electric on it's own is not." Electric guitar doesn't have much kick to it. When you combine it with bass and drums it gives an amazing sound - my favorite combination of instruments, actually. But on it's own it's squishy. Acoustic, on the other hand, has punch to it. The down side of acoustic is there's very little sustain to notes. If you try to play an electric part on an acoustic guitar it's going to sound smaller because the notes won't blend together and each individual note will die faster. If you want to play something that sustains, grab your electric. On acoustic, to get around the sustain problem, I like to find ways to add open strings to what I'm playing, or capo to make open (technically hitting the capo) strings ring out. They'll sustain better than a note you finger and it gives you more notes to work with.

Vocal harmonies are huge in small groups too. If the second guitarist doesn't sing harmony, try to find a singer to sing with the two of you. It really fills the vocals out.

Here are some video examples of what I'm talking about:

Shane and Shane singing Rocks won't Cry. This is in 6/8 so my 2&4 suggestion doesn't hold true, but you can hear how they still accent certain beats.

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds - Christmas Song. My favorite acoustic duo! Showing how simple you can get and how adding silence is ok.

Matt Wertz - Red Meets Blue. Audience recording so there's tons of reverb. This is a great example of how to play electric and acoustic together. The electric fills the room and Matt plays percussively on acoustic.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Those little knobs on the guitar - part 2

Two months have gone by since I wrote Those little knobs on the gutiar and I've progressed in how I'm using them. I figure it's time for round two.

For single volume, single tone knobbed guitars, not much has changed. I use volume to control the amount of gain and tone to control the tone. Simple enough.

Using my 4 knob (volume for each pick up and tone for each pickup) has evolved some. I realized I can't constantly be tweaking 4 knobs so I've come up with a hybrid method that only uses the volume knobs. I set both volumes at 7 (which is balanced for my guitar) and set up my amp and pedals to gain and EQ as I like. This works great for most stuff but I've always had a problem, specifically to the style of music most worship stuff follows - mellow lead lines (like in How Great is our God or Enough sound a little thin and when a song gets loud my chords can get lost in the mix. My solution before was to switch to the neck pickup for mellow stuff and bridge pickup when the chords are getting lost. That works but it's kind of abrupt and extreme.

Lately I've been using my volume knobs to use both pickups but blend them towards the bridge pickup for towards the neck pickup. When I want the mellow stuff, I'll keep both pickups on (toggle switch in the middle) but turn the volume up for the neck pickup (also bumps the gain which I like because playing single note stuff doesn't give as much gain as digging into chords). When it goes to chordal stuff I'll put the neck pickup back to 7 so they're balanced. If we get to a particularly loud part where my guitar isn't cutting, instead of switching all the way to the bridge pickup I'll leave the pickups blended but turn up the volume on the bridge pickup, or possibly turn the neck pickup volume down if I'm really digging in and getting too much gain.

So far this has been working great and and it gives a lot more control over my tone than just switching between pickups.

Here's a graphic to illustrate. I don't have photoshop on this computer so I had to make in in MS Paint like it's 1991. If it doesn't help, at least it will be funny to look at...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mike and the adventure of the rack

Once upon a time a guitar player named Mike didn't like his guitar player speakers. They were full ick and prick, scoop and goop, marsh and harsh.

So he searched for new guitar player speakers.

Guitar scientists combine Aluminum, Nickle and Copper to make a special speaker they call the AlNiCo Blue. Mike had to have this special speaker.

So he got it.

But Mike had a problem!

His guitar amplifier was too strong for his new speakers. The speakers would explode and shoot right out of the guitar player cabinet if Mike played too loud!!

So Mike thought about it.

And Mike figured out what he needed: A transmogifier attenuator.

And since Mike had to get a transmorgifier attenuator, he might has well get a rack to put it in.
And since he already had a transmogifier attenuator and a rack, he might as well get a rack EQ.
And since he already had a transmogifier attenuator and a rack, and a rack EQ, he might as well get a power conditioner.
And since he already had a transmogifier attenuator and a rack, and a rack EQ, and a power conditioner he might as well get the reverb pedal that he's always wanted but didn't have room for.

So Mike got them all.

Mike hooked them all up. Guitar to pedalboard, pedalboard to rack, rack to amp, amp to transmorgifier attenuator, transmorgifier attenuator to speaker cabinet, plus to plus, minus to plus, minus to minus, he hooked them all up! And WHOLA!

It worked.

But it didn't sound good.

Mike tweaked and geeked, listened and rechristened, twisted and persisted. But nothing worked.

It didn't sound good.

So Mike looked for new guitar player speakers. Mike met Jim the Scumback who had spent all the money in the world to make the perfect guitar player speakers.

So he got them!

Mike hooked them all up. Guitar to pedalboard, pedalboard to rack, rack to amp, amp to speaker cabinet (no transmorgifier attenuator this time!), plus to plus, minus to plus, minus to minus, he hooked them all up! And WHOLA!

It sounded GREAT!

Now Mike still had his rack of toys but didn't need the transmorgifier attenuator (which was why he got the rack in the first place, mind you!) but he kept it because the rack looked silly without it.

Mike carried the rack of toys with him everywhere he went. It weighed as much as a tree but mike was very good at carrying it. He didn't care about the transmorgifier attenuator, but he carried it. He started to not care about the reverb pedal, but he carried it. He started to not care about the power conditioner, but he carried it.

Why did he carry it?

Because he really liked the rack EQ. It might seem silly to carry something that weighs as much as a tree just for a little equalizer, but Mike is a guitar player and this kind of thing is normal.

Then one day Mike noticed an evil noise coming from his amp. It buzzed and fuzzed, hummed and crummed, fizzled and drizzled. So Mike decided to find the noise. He checked power and cables, knobs and switches, connections and glitches and finally found the problem.

It was the rack EQ.

Mike tried everything but he couldn't get the rack EQ to stop making the evil noise! So he had to stop using it.

Now Mike had a rack with a rack EQ he didn't use, a transmorgifier attenuator he didn't use, a power conditioner he didn't need, and a reverb he didn't care about anymore. So Mike asked himself why he kept carrying something that weighed as much as a tree everywhere he went, when he didn't actually need it?

Then Mike stopped carrying the rack that weighs as much as a tree everywhere he went.


-A children's story by Mike Allen. Illustrations coming soon.

Note from the author: After checking the EQs specs it's looking for a balanced, line level signal so feeding it an unbalanced instrument level signal was causing it to freak out. I worked on my amp's tone stack and found something I'm happy with. Good bye rack. I'm still keeping the reverb around but selling the rest.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Taking it slow

My thumb needs a break. I've been learning "sweet child of mine" and my hand it getting cramps! I got the intro down tonight, but looking ahead to the solo... that's going to take some time. It's been a while since I've learned a "hard" song, and my "hard" I mean one that takes more than an hour to learn. It's good for me though. My hand is cramped because I just played the intro about 700 times in a row. I don't have the studies to back this up, but my high school band teacher told me that our muscle memory will develop faster for a task if it's done the exact same way over and over. The speed isn't that important, it's the movements that are. He told us if you try to play something hard up to speed right away but keep making mistakes it will actually slow your progress since you're planting the wrong way to play it in your brain as well as the right way. He was big on playing it slow until you can do it right, then bringing it up to speed. Like I said I don't know the science behind it, but it's always seemed right to me. Sweet child of mine is at 126 bpm so I started at 80 until I could play it right, then moved up 5 bmp until I was at 130 (overachiever!) I'll probably do it every day this week and after that it will magically be in my hands and I won't have to think about it anymore.

*grabs his soap box and steps up* So much of guitar is about time. Talent will get you so far, after that it's about work and putting in the hours. Think of how good of a player you were 5 years ago compared to now. You'll be that much better in 5 more years if you keep at it. I hate to blame "culture" but our culture really worships youth. I play with a bass player who just turned 48 and he's a MONSTER player - because of the time he's put into it. If you think you can't rock when you're over 25 you obviously missed The Who on their reunion tour. I hope to be playing windmills when I'm 80 or 120 or however old Pete Townshend is now. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft. In fact, I just came across this great article everyone should read. It's mostly about Bill Joy who is big in the computer world, but it applies to any craft. Here's an except from the article:

In the early 90s, the psychologist K Anders Ericsson and two colleagues set up shop at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. The first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. The second were those judged to be merely "good". The third were students who were unlikely ever to play professionally, and intended to be music teachers in the school system. All the violinists were then asked the same question. Over the course of your career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practised?

Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.


*steps off his soap box and goes back to practicing*

... and I intended to write about the noise my EQ was making lately. That got off subject fast...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy belated birthday

Aw! I just missed my amps birthday. I was reading comments on lespauldoctor's blog about tubes and I had to run downstairs and see what brand of tubes I have. I thought I had JJ EL34s but it turns out I have Winged C EL34s. I remembered when I saw it. Doh. Since I already had a flashlight pointed in the head's vents, I decided took look around. For an old amp it's looking really good! No rust or anything. I came across a sticker from when my tubes were last replaced/biased and it was only a year ago, so I think I'm good for a bit more. Then I came across the original sticker from then the amp was made. Along with some quality control signatures, it said:


Hand-wired in London, England on October 26, 1972. Happy 36th birthday. Along the way it was modded for a half power switch and separate gain/volume which is a life saver... they made the superbasses extra loud for a 100W amp but it's reasonable with the separate gain. I love this amp.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mike's heirarchy of music

I play with drummers that seem to either play to a click all the time or never. Some of the "never's" have great tempo and never vary... but some don't. It bugs me when the tempo changes. I have to listen to my delay to make sure it's not off tempo and listen hard to the drums to make sure I'm locked in. If the bass is off from the drums it's even more to think about. I especially noticed all this yesterday... because the bass and drums were rock solid. The drummer played to a click and the bass was right in sync. It was so nice! I didn't have to think about rhythm at all and it freed me up to concentrate on better things. I think it's like Maslov's hierarchy of needs - you know:

I think I have "Mike's hierarchy of music" that goes something like this:

Emotion (super great music as a band)
Movement (dynamics/timber as a band)
Cohesion (locking parts together as a band)
Individual best parts (best notes/best rhythms)
Individual correctness (right key/in tempo)

In Maslov's hierarchy, you don't worry about social needs until your physiological needs are met. In mine you don't worry about playing dynamics until you're playing the right notes. Maybe these aren't hard rules, but it works out this way for me. Sometimes I don't memorize my music because I'm feeling lazy and I can get by sight reading a chart, but I notice a big difference when I'm really prepared. When I'm not concentrating on reading the music or playing the right notes, I'm free to take my playing to the next level. Maybe my brain is just small, but I don't think about dynamics if I'm sight reading a chart. I've also noticed bands don't tend to use dynamics and really listen to each other if they're not playing tightly. If Joe the bassist is off in his own bass world, chances are the band isn't going to make great music.

So what does this mean? If a band plans on making great music each person needs to spend time at home working out parts and memorizing music. Rehearsal should be focused on cohesion and movement, not learning parts. A lot of it comes down to experience and musicianship but there's also a good amount of just being prepared.

Friday, November 7, 2008

fuzz hates buffer, TS loves low voltage

I was playing around with my board last night and remembered a few things:

1) Germanium fuzz HATES a buffer before it. I forgot I had always played with the peppermint fuzz without the musicom until last week. I tried to use it at the halloween gig and it sounded like crap so I just used the OCD for what I was doing. I played with it last night and I thought I had broken it or the battery was on its last leg or something. Then I remembered the musicom has a buffer before the 1st and 5th loops and you can bypass the first one for fuzzes. I turned the buffer off and poof, the fuzz went back to being a fuzz, not a farty spitty 8-bit tone destroyer.

2) I forgot I had moved the tube screamer to a different output on the pedal power II and hadn't changed the SAG level yet. I usually leave the SAG about half way down. Man does it make a difference! It softens the attack and makes it smoother all around. I know a lot of you have TSs and PP2s. If you haven't played with the SAG and TS you should try it, you might find a different sound in there. It might not be the tone you want at all, but I like it. Come to think of it, I wonder if the blues driver could use some SAG.......

slide, slide, slig-it-y-slide

I went to Willies guitars the other night. Check out their site, they have crazy vintage gear. I played a 64' strat and a 58' P-bass and was tempted by their never ending supply of 60s blackface fender amps. My GAS was out of control so I knew I needed to find something cheap to get before I blew my life savings. I decided to get a slide. I already have a brass slide I hardly ever use... but maybe I just don't use it because it's brass and too bright. If I have a ceramic slide I'll use it more. At least that's what my crazy GASed rational told me. So I got it.

Anyone use these? I like the idea of a slide and I know the basics of how to work it, I think my technique is just so awful that I never like the sound I get. I think I'll learn how to use it right. I have a lesson tonight so I'll have my teacher show me the magic. Do you have any tips? Do you ever use a slide?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Warming up

I recently realized I need to do a better job of warming up before gigs. I do a good job at home when I practice but when I play out somewhere time is usually limited and as soon as I get set up it's time for sound check and rehearse. The first song or two in rehearsal is usually relatively rough for everyone in the band as we get used to our mixes and our bodies warm up. I wonder if I could speed that up by getting there a few minutes earlier and running through some hand exercises before sound check.

I've also realized it's important to mentally warm up and when I'm playing at church, spiritually warm up. When I play at my sunday night church there's a 5:00 & 7:00 service. The band prays together and talks through the music before the 5:00, but between services we eat dinner (in about 30 minutes) and then go strait to playing again. There have been several times where we start the first song and my brain is still at dinner. I think I'll try finding my own little space and spend a few minutes getting ready.

This picture has nothing to do with the post, but I took it at my halloween gig and I want to post it!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


...for a while at least. I won't try to tell myself this is never going to change, but hopefully I'm done for a bit. I like how everything sounds right now. I got my Tim last night and I didn't have enough time to find all the ins and outs, but I had long enough to know it's a keeper! I must have measured well because it fit right in my "missing tooth" spot on the board.

Last weekend I was a dork and ran my cab down the hall and shut it in a bedroom, miked it, and listened to everything through our studio speakers and headphones. I re-EQed my amp to compliment the mike and speakers. I'm amazed at how non-marshall-y my marshall can sound. Using an open back cab lets it breath a lot more and by bumping the EQ up around 10kHz I can get that Vox chime too. I was able to get a clean tone I was happy with, and the OCD sounds great. My big dissappointment was with the Keeley BD-2. It sound great with bluesy lead stuff, but pretty aweful on chords and invervals. There's a fizz to it that won't go away and was really bugging me. It also stacks terribly with a tube screamer. I'll keep it for what it's good at but it wouldn't work as my main low gain. Thank goodness the Tim came the next day! No fizziness and it stacks well.

Here's the board with the Tim: