Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Whoo, I finally have some time off! I thought there was going to be tons of free time at this conference but the last few days have been eat, sleep (a little), rehearse. The good news is it's only the second day of the conference (though the band's been practicing for 4 days) and there are three days left. The band is finally feeling tight as of this afternoon, so the rest of the conference should be much easier than the first couple days.

Some highlights:

1) I get to play a Rhodes. Part of our plan was to just bring a bunch of instruments and find a use for them later. My area has my normal setup plus a 60s Fender Rhodes into a DL4 delay into a Fender Deville amp. I haven't played my DL4 in months so I've had a sweet reuntion!! It sounds amazing on the Rhodes. I'm using the lo res delay, reverse delay, and the auto swell - which I'm particularly fond of on the Rhodes. It sounds great and I'm a closet wanna be keyboardist, after a closet wanna be drummer of course. I remember enough from my years of piano lessons to work through chord progressions and lead lines I would play on guitar. I'm playing the rhodes as a pad (with the auto swell) at some points, and so far on one song I'm just playing the rhodes.

2) We also have a random american strat laying around and I've had some fun playing it through the fender amp when we're messing around. It tickles my blues ich. Someday I'd like to have a strat > fender amp setup. I can wait though :)

3) I still love the musicom EFX. I don't want to keep harping on it, but it's sooo so nice just hitting a button to switch effects and delay presets.

4) Like I said earlier, the band is finally getting really tight.... it only took 20 some hours over 4 days, haha. I guess we were never really not tight, but sometime today we passed a barrier and locked in. At first it took a lot of work to get new songs down but this afternoon we threw a coulpe together surprisingly fast. We're finally used to playing with each other and I noticed we're adding our own style to everything. It's been a fun thing to experience. Especially since most places I play have different players each week.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to manage your gear in cold weather

This is a picture I took on my phone yesterday on the way to work. An elderly man in a mechanics suit driving a pink scooter through a slushy road. Don't treat your gear like this.

This is a special Christmas post dedicated to handling guitar gear in cold weather. This might not apply to you in TX, CA, Costa Rica, or anywhere that calls a diet mt. dew "Coke." But for the cold states, it's a must. Here are the problems we have to deal with:

1) Wood and nitro finishes. Materials contract when they're cold and expand when they're hot. Guitars and their finishes can handle getting extremely cold and extremely hot as long as it's a slow temperature change. The problem comes when the temperature changes too quickly. That's when things crack, split, explode, and generally hinder the guitar's ability to make music. A lot of people like to baby their gear and I hear the phrase, "I don't let my gear sleep anywhere I wouldn't." In a sense, I agree with that and whenever possible I go that rout. However, not all of us can turn down gigs because our gear will get cold. There are times gear will ride in an unheated trailer through negative temps and we have to deal. They key is to help slow the temperature changes. Guitar cases have a great way of slowly warming up and colling down on the inside - as long as the case stays shut. If your guitar is cold leave it in a warm space closed for as long as you can. The longer the better but I'd say an hour at a minimum, two if you can help it, and "until you need it next" if there's no urgency. After the first hour or two crack the case open, fan it a few times, and close it again. This will help slowly mix the warmer air in. Solid body guitars are less effected by the cold but if they have nitro finish, the finish can crack. For semi-hallow or acoustic guitar, warming the case is a must or the thin wood can crack.

NOTE: If you have an ovation or another brand of guitar that uses a plastic back... you're screwed. The plastic expands and contracts at a different rate than the wood and the face will crack if the guitar gets too hot or cold.

2) Condensation. Objects that are warmer than the surrounding air will pull moisture out of the air and make condensation. Guitars are fine in their case so amps are the worry here. Road cases are idea and will solve the problem, if that's not an option go for the vinyl or plastic covers you can get for amps. This won't be a problem if the amp is in a trailer or in a car, but if it's exposed to the outside air - like in the bed of a truck - it can be a problem. Your bigger problem is probably thieves though.

3) Cold speakers. If you're waiting for your guitars to warm up, this won't be a problem but it should be noted that using cold speakers is a bad idea. There are a lot of small sliding parts that reply on friction and other fabric parts that reply in stretching. Using these parts frozen is a bad idea. Speakers should warm up quickly though.

My biggest tip - If you're just driving yourself around, warm up the car before you load it! And don't load until you're about to leave. That way whatever's in your car won't have a chance to cool down. Stuff in your trunk will get cold but depending on the case it can take a while for stuff to cool down. I put my amp in the drunk in a road case and after a 25 min drive it's barely colder inside than out.

Keep warm! Merry Christmas eve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Catch up post - Anberlin, lessons hind sight, and gestation

Busy times! Between Christmas, traveling for work, and having an enormous pile of music to learn, I haven't had much free time. I have a couple random thoughts I've been meaning to write about.

1) I love this song by Anberlin - "Miserable Visu (Ex Malo Bonum)". Anberlin's latest album has some great guitar parts. I particularly like the solo from Mierable Visu ( at 4:10).

This is totally unrelated to anything else in this post. Just like the song!

2) I've been figuring out how I learn and figuring out what a gestation period is. I think gestation is supposed to refer to being pregnant and making a baby in your belly, but it gets thrown around with learning music too. The idea is that when you first learn something, that skill hasn't yet "been born" fully. Once you've built up the skill, or gestated it, it will be born and alive. Or something. I don't like the idea of my scales having placenta.

I like the language metaphor better. When you learn a new language there's a period when you can speak the language but you really have to think about it and translate in your head. You can't speak conversationally yet. After you use the language and the words you know for long enough, you don't have to think about it and it comes naturally. Conversationally. Music is a language too and learning a new aspect is like learning a new word or a new way to conjugate verbs. When you first learn a new skill on guitar it's not conversational yet. Only after you've practiced it and used it enough that it becomes natural can you use it conversationally.

Sadly my gestation period is longer than I thought it would be. I'd like to think I can learn something new, practice it for few minutes, and then throw it around in musical conversation. But I can't. I realized this a few weeks ago when I was playing some bends and I noticed I was doing them in time and in tune without having to think about it at all. This is something I started working on in September and just now is it natural. I guess my point is, if something seems like it's taking forever to learn, don't worry about it. It will come with time. Just keep working on it!

3) You might have read that last paragraph and said to yourself, "Mike just started learning to bend in September?" Thanks for the question, that's a good segue to my next topic. Looking at my lessons in hind-sight. If you haven't read much of my blog, you should know I started taking lessons about 5 months ago after a 12 year break from lessons. When I look back now, I realize the first few weeks/months were spent just fixing the bad technique I had picked up over the years. Bends, for instance, were something I hadn't worked with much. I played a lot of rhythm and acoustic guitar up until 3 years ago and you don't do many bends on rhythm or acoustic. When I did need bends on lead electric I just hacked through it and always bend down (towards the floor) except on the high e string. My teacher taught me how to do it right and now bends are in my arsenal of sounds. I also did pull-offs weird when I used my pinky, was using a pick that was way too light, moved my fingers inefficiently (too much movement), and a slew of other weird things. It wasn't very fun to find out all the things I was doing wrong and when I tried to change them all at once it made for some frustrating times. Going pack to #2, I was in the gestation period for a lot of aspect of my playing and I had to think about everything I was doing. I hated that time! At one point I didn't play for a week and then went back to stuff I knew before I started working on the new stuff again. I had to take a pretty big step backwards before I could move forward. Now it's great, I'm used to my pick, how I use both hands more efficiently, and the other stuff I worked on. I can play conversationally again, and better than I could before the lessons. Good news!

There's a point to this section too! Don't let bad technique go unchecked for years! Part of my problem was I didn't play with guitarists who were better than me or ask better guitarists to watch me and tell me what I'm doing wrong. I watched a lot of good guitarists, but there are things I was doing that I didn't realize. I need another set of eyes and ear for critique. I don't need someone to say, "wow, you're awesome," I need someone to say, "Good job, but..." Ok, maybe I need one of each :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

weight lifting for your rhythm

Have you ever done a weight lifting program? There's this weird phenomenon that happens after a few weeks... every day things seem lighter. You know you're getting stronger because you're increasing the weight at the gym, but some times at home you feel like superman when you go to pick up something heavy and you're surprised at how much easier it is.

I've decided the same thing happens with rhythm and working out to the metronome. I didn't think a metronome would make a big difference. In fact, I thought it would make my rhythm worse because I'd be relying on something external instead of building up my internal rhythm. That couldn't be further from the truth, working with a metronome actually builds up your internal rhythm. I've been using a metronome more and more for practicing over the past few months and I recently noticed that weight lifting phenomenon with rhythm. Suddenly I feel the beat much stronger and notice minor rhythm problems I didn't notice before.

I have a crappy little metronome but it keeps time and didn't cost much. If you don't have one, get one for Christmas! If you have one try just turning it on when you're playing through songs your working on or practicing scales. You'll notice the change!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Things from this weekend

I had a busy but good weekend and I'm left with a few unconnected thoughts. Here they are in no particular order:

Loving the G&L. When I first got the G&L I went through a honeymoon period where it was all I played. When that period ended I decided my other guitars were feeling neglected so I've been playing them and ignoring the G&L. I used the G&L at two churches this weekend, for the first time since I built my new pedal board, and I was loving the sounds that came out! This may have been the first time I played the G&L through the Tim overdrive. Oh so sweet. I still love my ES-137, but after yesterday the G&L might be my favorite.

Blue Ray. I was watching John Mayer's "Where the light is"... again... on DVD Friday night. We have a HD TV and I watch a HD music channel that has live concerts all day long and a sad though crossed my mind as I was watching the DVD, "DVDs are worse than cable TV." To make things worse my house mate who installs high end home theaters for a living walked in, looked at it, and asked if it was TV or a DVD. I could tell by his tone he was saying, "that doesn't look very good." I had him look up what kind of costs he can get on a blue ray player since he gets all sorts of vendor deals. Unfortunately good (note: good) blue ray players are still expensive, even with his discount. On a whim he called a retail store he used to work at to see if they have any last-year models on clearance. They had one left for the player he recommended and in order to get rid of it they had marked it down 60%. That was a steal so we went and got it! We stopped by my housemate's showroom and grabbed "Where the light is" on blue ray and took it home, hooked everything up, and watched it. Oh. My. Gosh. The difference was stunning. The picture was about what I expected from an HD source but the audio blew me away! I didn't realize the strides audio formats have made since Dolby digital. This disc was encoded with TrueHD in 96KHz/24 bit and we have the player hooked up to the receiver with multi-channel analog cables (basically means no digital compression, bit for bit transfer). Anyway, that's a bunch of tech speak to say it sounded AMAZING! The individual sounds aren't necessarily more clear, but the 3D image (where the sound sits in a surround sound mix) was crystal clear. I could go on and on about this but I'll just leave it at "I'm blown away by Blue Ray in ways I didn't expect."

Rockin at church. I know this goes against most of what I say on this blog. I preach simplicity and serving the song, but when the worship leader says he wants a rock song... I'll bring it :) Last week when I wasn't playing they did some Christmas tunes in a country style. This week we did Christmas songs in a rock style. I was told, "think Foo Fighters 'All My Life'" for Angels we have Heard on High. Haha, ok. Don't try this at home, but during the solo I played a 24 note measure (eighth note triplets at 130 bmp). Good to get that out of my system from time to time!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

DIY Tap Tempo fun

I've had this thing done for a while now but I didn't realize it was actually working until last night. Whenever I tried to use it with the time factor it didn't do anything when I pressed down the switch but when I released the switch it turned on "infinite repeat" on the TF. I assumed I had wired it backwards so the circuit was completing on release instead of when the switch is down but when I finally broke out the TF manual last night, I realized I just had the TF set wrong. I had done everything correctly for setting up tap tempo, but you can set up multiple controls on the TF for a single switch and I realized "infinite repeat" was set to go on or off whenever the circuit is broken. That explains why it was changing on release. I changed the TF so it doesn't do anything when the circuit is broken and now tapping works. Hooray!

The nice thing is I haven't needed an external tap yet. All the drummers I've played with over the past few months have used a click so I just set the BPMs, save as a preset, and recall that preset when the song starts. I love drummers who use the click! The only exception is my cover band where we don't use a click. I only use delay on a few of our songs and I use the Memory Lane, not the Time Factor, for those anyway.

If you want to make your own tap check our Phil's blog DIY Tap Tempo and How to build your own tap tempo pedal - it's what I used!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Giving the Time Factor some love

I'm playing at a conference over new years and I've been putting together presets for all the songs since rehearsal starts later this week. Until recently, I hadn't spent much time with the Time Factor. I spent a few hours with it when I got it and made a few presets I liked but since then I had just been tweaking the tempos and going between quarter and dotted eighth notes based on the song. I decided it was time to get to know this thing better. Here's what I learned (these aren't all specific to the TF... they will work on any delay):
Dual delays - The time factor can do two delays in parallel (they don't delay off each other, just the dry signal). When I first played with it I experimented with using two different rhythms for each delay. I tried things like dotted eighth and quarter notes and all sorts of rhythms that don't line up with each other. I know some people use this well but it always ended up sounding like garbage to me. It gets weird delays that are a sixteenth note apart and things like that. I decided I didn't need two delays and forgot about it... until now. I found a new use - accenting beats with the second delay. I'm using two delays on a few songs now, but I make sure the rhythms line up. Quarter and half notes, triplets and quarter notes, quarter and dotted half notes. What that does is keep the smaller of the two rhythms constant but puts an accent on certain beats. I also came up with a cool way to do dotted eighths. The first delay does a single repeat on a dotted eighth, the second delay does 5 or 6 delays on a dotted eighth then I set the first delay to be a bit louder than the second. The result is a fairly strong first repeat then a trail of quieter repeats. Muy bien!
Band Delay - This is the delay that has a moving filter on the repeats (like having a wah on the repeats). I originally dismissed this as a weird gimmick, mostly because the built in preset for this mode IS gimmicky, but I've grown to like it. On a few songs I'm turning the filter all the way off and just using the delay. It's a little smoother (by that I mean less attack on each repeat) than the other modes. You can also change the resolution and darkness of the repeats to a certain extent. This delay (with the filter turned off) is actually what I expected the "vintage delay" to be. I was looking for something to come close to the "Lo-Res" setting on the DL4 and on paper the vintage delay mode should be it. I think band delay is actually the better substitute. I also played with leaving the filter on a low setting so there's a slow subtle wah in the background. On one song I set the filter to a pretty fast speed (about the speed of a quater note on the song which is around 75 bpm) but still on a really subtle setting. I gives almost a tremolo effect on the repeats.
Modulation - I'm not a fan of pitch-based effects so I've been really slow to appreciate modulation in delays. It finally happened though. I like a small amount of modulation in a lush delay. I was playing with a delay for "Yes We Will" by Justin Bender (song is on his myspace). It's a pretty open song and a lot of it I just play on the down beat of the measure and let the delay fill in the other 3 beats. I found a good tape delay set to dotted eighths and I figured I'd turn on a little modulation just to see what it sounded like. Whoa! It totally filled everything in. The mod on the tape delay tries to simulate the stretching of a tape delay so it's not modulating in a uniform tempo, I really liked it, especially on this open of a song.