Archive for the Equipment Category

ShortRiffs — July/August 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2017 by theguitarcave

shortriff

Welcome to the July/August issue of ShortRiffs — the monthly column that focuses on all the guitar, music and life things going on around The Guitar Cave. Summer 2017 is almost finished…time flies, doesn’t it? One thing that has been grand is all of the summer season fruits and vegetables this year have been excellent! I guess the right combo of sun and rain has really produced a bumper crop! Totally enjoying it!

shortriff2

Terrifying news items from the internet: The slow, secret death of the electric guitar! I’m not sure that it has been either slow or secret, at least if you’ve been paying attention, are of a certain age, or, read blogs like The Guitar Cave. I certainly have written about this topic, although maybe in not so dramatic terms. Anyhow, we have a Washington Post article: WHY MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric and why you should care. The article included a burning guitar graphic in case the over-the-top title wasn’t enough. The author, Geoff Edgers, is also interviewed on NPR here and it’s kind of a rehash of his article repackaged as Why Does The Electric Guitar Need A Hero? What is sending everyone into a panic is not the fact that guitars aren’t being made or being played. In actuality, too many are being made and they aren’t selling. Probably…too many people think “GAME” when they think “Guitar Hero”, but anyhow…some quotes:

…In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt. And at Sweetwater.com, the online retailer, a brand-new, interest-free Fender can be had for as little as $8 a month.

Things Aren’t Like They Used To Be!

So the guitar isn’t hip anymore? Looks that way, doesn’t it? A half million guitars a year is 33% of sales and that’s a pretty big percentage. However, it seems that the business landscape of the USA isn’t quite as rosy as some would have you believe. There are a lot of retail industries in trouble right now. There was a certain prosperity happening back in the 80s and 90s and that enabled brisk instrument sales. I know, everyone in government says the country recovered from the big 2007-08 recession. Is this true? I don’t know. Another thing — I’ve never fully embraced Guitar Center as I’ve related in posts here, here and here. While I’ve tried to accept that stores like this are how we do business now, I’m about as comfortable there as the people in this clip from the 1996 movie, Fargo: Yea Baby…Dig that TruCoat Finish!

As Guitar Center was ascending (at least where I live), the independent music stores were closing down and I liked and patronized those stores. They did me right over many years of buying, selling, trading, jawing and hanging out. Also, anyone who had been in the scene for a while was cognizant of the fact that as this brick and mortar landscape was changing, the next generation(s) weren’t forming bands and turning out to shows — at least not in great numbers. Plus, this was around the time that whole blazer over the hoodie thing was in fashion…The first guy I saw with that outfit carrying a guitar was a death-knell for rock and I knew it at the time. Anyhow, according to people like George Gruhn:

…What worries Gruhn is not simply that profits are down. That happens in business. He’s concerned by the “why” behind the sales decline. When he opened his store 46 years ago, everyone wanted to be a guitar god, inspired by the men who roamed the concert stage, including Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page. Now those boomers are retiring, downsizing and adjusting to fixed incomes. They’re looking to shed, not add to, their collections, and the younger generation isn’t stepping in to replace them.

Gruhn knows why.

“What we need is guitar heroes,” he says.

Another factoid:

And starting in 2010, the industry witnessed a milestone that would have been unthinkable during the hair-metal era: Acoustic models began to outsell electric.

The hair-metal era was a long time ago. Those guys are now in their 50s and 60s. Aren’t there any hot younger guitar players who could be called today’s heroes? YouTube is full of people who have obviously put hella time into getting great on their instrument of choice. Could there be something else going on here? At the beginning of the quoted article Gruhn is at the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants Show) show and opines that:

“There are more makers now than ever before in the history of the instrument, but the market is not growing,” Gruhn says in a voice that flutters between a groan and a grumble. “I’m not all doomsday, but this — this is not sustainable.”

Call me crazy, but maybe the solution is less makers? I dunno. While one could say that Hendrix, Clapton, and Page in the late 60s (or the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show) and Edward Van Halen in 1980 caused a whole lot of guitars to be bought, the sales of the instrument could be thought of as a by-product of some pretty big cultural changes too. Most of the cultural changes post-1992 haven’t involved guitars or musical instruments at all. If so, that probably accounts for some of the missing 33% of sales. There was also probably always a 5-15% demographic that bought themselves or their kids guitars and those guitars never left the closet, but in this day and age, why not just buy an iPad? The guitar biz is like the music biz in that it is full of people with economic expectations…that maybe aren’t so realistic. Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan) is hitting the road again because in this era of streaming music, no one is buying albums. But the dude is 69…who exactly should buy his albums? 20-year olds? The people who were 20 when Steely Dan recorded The Royal Scam? When he is on the road will he be selling out stadiums? Probably not. Artists and guitar companies from the glory days of rock have counted on a steady revenue stream in perpetuity, but things aren’t working out.

There is, however, a very futuristic and twisted solution (depending on your point of view) on the horizon, proffered by cutting-edge technologies. The late Ronnie James Dio, who passed away in 2010, is going on tour as a hologram! Take that Donald Fagen! While it looks convincing enough to get people out, not everyone is on board, (like most of the headbangers at Blabbermouth). But, some people are receptive, and once the exploitation thing kind fades who can’t see this taking off? And projecting the possibilities out…can a 2019 tour of the Jimi Hendrix Experience be far behind? I mean, why not? I always wanted to see them live! This might be just what Guitar Center needs to get people in the door! I’m kidding and I find the whole thing a bit creepy, but it does illustrate the crazy world we’re living in and, of course, other people feel totally positive about it! Look at the art world — all of the “late” artists are way more valuable than most of the current ones. Is this going to be a new paradigm? Time will tell.

shortriff3

A new book on the market that details the history of Progressive Rock! Yea! David Weigel’s, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock is all about those crazy days of the heady, halcyon 1970s. In case you’re in the dark about what exactly Prog Rock is, a list of the 50 top albums can be found here, and there are some really great albums on that list. Prog bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Rush, Genesis, ELP, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, were the bane of critics (and later, punk rockers), but they were major top sellers and very popular with many fans, especially in the USA. The book has elicited a few reviews, like this thoughtful musing in the New Yorker, The Persistence of Prog Rock:

Progressive rock, broadly defined, can never disappear, because there will always be musicians who want to experiment with long songs, big concepts, complex structures, and fantastical lyrics.

And…

Nowadays, it seems clear that rock history is not linear but cyclical. There is no grand evolution, just an endless process of rediscovery and reappraisal, as various styles and poses go in and out of fashion. We no longer, many of us, believe in the idea of musical progress. All the more reason, perhaps, to savor the music of those who did.

Last fall I wrote about Pink Floyd’s Dogs, off of the Animals disc; a classic moment in Prog Rock history that I think is succinctly summed up by these two quotes from the New Yorker article. While there was certainly ostentation and excess to be found during this period in rock history, the best of the genre was well worth the slog through some of the not-so-good bits. Also, everyone knows that the best Prog guitarists: Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, Martin Barre, Robert Fripp, are some of the most influential guitar players who ever strapped on an axe.

shortriff3

I wrote in last month’s ShortRiffs how I had been listening to Grant Green’s Matador album a lot and here is a cover of the title cut from that disc done by the Iwao Ochi Trio, a very happening Japanese guitar-organ unit. This is a sound I really like; the guitar and organ work really well together and, of course, this has been a thing in jazz going back to the days of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, who recorded a few albums with this configuration. Here is Iwao’s site, however it’s in Japanese so I’ll have to just listen to this really nice list of jazz standard playing found here. Also, speaking of Grant Green, I found a couple of sites that explore his style and even have a few tabs…here is one and here is the other. They are both from Italy but the second is in English and both have easy-to-understand music notation.

shortriff3

Speaking of Asia…here are a couple guys from Indonesia and they totally rock! See how this guitar thing is just a world-wide phenomenon of great players? First up is Daniel Asbun and his cover of The Magnificent Seven theme is rockin’! He has a site here, with some tabs and fun stuff for the beginner/intermediate fingerstyle guitarist and it’s in English so if that is your cup of tea, check it out. He has an interesting selection of music tabbed — most of it I’ve never heard or heard of.

He also references the guy in the second video, Jubing Kristianto, as the arranger of The Magnificent Seven cover that he does. Jubing, who is also from Indonesia, has been a professional guitarist for many years and is a very accomplished one at that! He is the 4-time winner of the Yamaha Festival Guitar Indonesia. Here is his website (in English) and a list of his very awesome guitar performances. Great stuff!

shortriff3

I saw on Facebook that super-guitarist Frank Vignola was in some kind of accident and was injured pretty badly. While he will recover, apparently it will be at least a year before he can work again. That’s a total bummer because he’s a great player. Hopefully, there won’t be any kind of long-lasting trauma that limits his abilities. If you have never heard of Frank check out the above clip or any one of his many instructional vids on YouTube. Also, if you would like to contribute to his gofundme that is here.

shortriff3

Jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb recently passed away. He was an accomplished player as a member of Stan Getz‘s group, in Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker and on his own as a solo artist. A very tasteful player and great teacher who had obviously had a very cool and wry sense of humor (which is sometimes lacking in the music business) as the clip above demonstrates. (I sure could’ve used that first tip back in the day)! Below is a great solo take on Stompin’ at the Savoy.

shortriff3

Finally, I like to listen to the swinging sounds of Space Age Pop, Bachelor Pad or Exotica online at Illinois Street Lounge on the soma FM Network. Music from this style released in the (1950s-1960s) combines elements of jazz, pop, Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean rhythms with very strange instrumentation like the theremin and all of the studio trickery available at the time. The arrangements are soft and slightly cheesy or silly.

Spaceagepop.com offers a real primer on all of the sub-genres under this umbrella of mid-20th century music and it’s pretty interesting to read and listen to. Back when I was a kid, many of the big names of this music were listed on the record sleeves of (especially) albums from Columbia. They included Ferrante & Teicher, Enoch Light (and the Light Brigade), Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and Henry Mancini. We had the Whipped Cream album — that was a total mystery in sound and picture for an 8-9 year old kid. As it turns out shaving cream was used on the iconic cover because whipped cream turned runny under the lights. But that racy image works with the style of the music, which is playful, seductive and naughty.

There is a full list of Space Age Pop artists here and what is interesting is the guitar player names that jump out: The Ventures, Chet Atkins, Jerry Byrd, Mundell Lowe (who I wrote about here), Al Caiola, Tommy Tedesco, and Tony Mottola. All of these guys are six-string legends and got a lot of work in the studios for the composers and bandleaders who produced the music. That’s why right in the middle of some really off-the-wall Space Age Pop rendition of some jazz standard there will some great guitar work and it’s usually one of these guys doing it. Some of the music is very much like The Ventures or The Shadows and other instrumental stuff of the time. It was a very interesting and optimistic period in American music history and it never fails to make me feel like I’m on top of the world. Give it a listen and feel the magic!

ShortRiffs — February 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2017 by theguitarcave

shortriff

Welcome to the February issue of ShortRiffs! This is the second consecutive month of the series and I think this idea is going to work out pretty well. There is no shortage of music news over the course of the average month and there is also the occasional personal item that I hope at least a few people out there will find interesting and/or informative. So, let’s get to it!

shortriff2

Unfortunately, the biggest news of the month is not good news — Guitar Icon and Certified Master Larry Coryell passed away in his sleep a few days ago at the age of 73. He had just played a couple of shows in New York City and was planning on having a pretty busy year of work according to this obituary/tribute in Guitar World. While he was known as the Godfather of Fusion, Coryell was comfortable playing any style and adapting the feeling and groove of all types of music into one seamless bag of awesomeness. His long and journeying career began in the 1960s and over the years he moved easily through rock, psychedelic, jazz, fusion, latin, classical and even operatic styles of music. He worked with such greats as Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Ron Carter, Chet Baker and many others. Back in 2011 I shared in this post, Larry’s lesson on the Jazz minor scale and how he applied it in various situations within the standard Stella By Starlight. Since then this has been a popular post and if you have never seen it, I am sure it could add a dimension to your playing that you may not know existed. There are other lessons with Larry on YouTube and I’ve seen them all! Definitely worth the time spent. A brilliant artist and teacher and by all accounts a great guy too!
Travel well, Maestro!.

shortriff3
mic

As I related last month a new piece of equipment I had just purchased, the Audio-Technica Pro70 mic, stopped working suddenly at a gig in December. Well the company has repaired and returned the mic and I played it at home for a few hours yesterday and no problem! I really like how it sounds and at some point will record a demo video. At the moment (See below) I live in a construction zone and it is almost impossible to sync up quiet time and guitar recording. That is why GuitarSong #6 is also delayed. Soon! Anyhow, the outside housing of the Pro70 had to be replaced so it was obviously faulty somehow. It does comes with a two year warranty so I hope I get some pain-free, great-sounding use out of it. HURRAH to Audio-Technica for a great job of customer service! Another set of videos that was real influential to me purchasing this is below — Romane and Stochelo Rosenberg playing back in the early 2000s. I just watched my disc of this performance again recently. I love these two guys together! Of course they could play through a tin cup/string combination and it would sound good, but I like they are using these mics! My friend and I play this tune (For Wes) together and it’s always a gas! Demanding to play at tempo, but great fun at the same time.

shortriff3
16832118_1330596863649868_3196255917887622328_n

Speaking of Stochelo Rosenberg — in less than a month I will behold his awesomeness in person at Carnegie Hall. I am so psyched! I have been waiting a long time for this! The presentation, for Django a Gogo 2017, was organized by the great Stephane Wrembel and also includes Al Di Meola! This is going to be awesome! For people who want to go to guitar camp, there is almost a week of classes scheduled with a bunch of great players. Hopefully, all will go well so this will be an annual event. It looks like there are still a whole lot of seats available and while the weather on the East Coast has been verifiably wacky this year (it was just 60 degrees one day with almost a foot of snow the follow day) there aren’t any forecasts of impending big storms. So that’s good! You can all be sure there will be a review of the concert in next month’s ShortRiffs.

shortriff3
vh4

Eddie Van Halen made news as part of a program that gives disadvantaged kids musical instruments. In this clip he stresses the importance of music and having music education be a part of everyone’s schooling. I DEFINITELY AGREE! EVH donated 75 guitars from his personal collection to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which delivers almost 2,000 instruments to low-income schools every year. A great foundation and well done Mr. Van Halen!

shortriff3
pipe2

The drain pipes on several blocks in my neighborhood have been replaced recently. The crews doing the work are total pros and they really do have what is a pretty large-scope operation down to a science, but it’s been a very noisy couple of months with frequent interruptions of heat and hot water. Hey, that’s New York! Supposedly these excavated pipes are almost one-hundred years old, but I dunno about that. They look like they are in pretty good shape to have been put in place in 1916. It is pretty amazing to think how much has happened with the world in the space of time that these pipes served their usefulness. For example, my girlfriend’s block is home to the boyhood address of notorious New York gangster and the Godfather of Organized Crime, Charles “Lucky” Luciano. He would’ve still been residing on the block as a teen when these pipes went in. According to legend he and one of his partners, Meyer Lansky, used to meet around the corner and hash out plans in DeRobertis Caffe, which sadly is now closed. Over the years there were other allegations and a few busts involving Mob activity at DeRobertis. How many canolis did they serve over the course of 110 years and how many gallons of stuff was carried through these pipes in roughly the same amount of time? Mind boggling! Incidentally, John Travolta has been around filming for the upcoming biopic on John Gotti, whose crew had a big presence in the neighborhood back in the late 70s and early 80s. John as the Dapper Don…never would’ve thought it.

shortriff3
page_cov

Thanks to my friend and neighbor Tom, I was able to check out Jimmy Page…by Jimmy Page. ZOSO baby! As always, anything Jimmy Page puts together, especially if it has anything to do with Led Zeppelin, you know the final product is going to be fantastically well done! While I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, I did peruse several chapters and came to the conclusion that the book is great and the pictures alone are totally worth the price of admission! There are several pics that I had never seen before. Like this one:

page3

There are a few of these coffee-table type books out there that I have had a chance to check out over the past month and I will be talking about and showing stuff from them in the future. hugoboss_pageLed Zeppelin was obviously a monstrously influential band that I have written about a few times over the years. I’ve also reviewed the Orange Album in the right column on the main page of the blog. As a matter of fact, the very first post on The Guitar Cave had Jimmy as the subject matter. He has definitely earned the title of Guitar Hero and all of the accolades that have come his way. If you were considering picking this book up, I would say Go For It! There are almost 300 reviews on Amazon and the book gets a perfect 5 star rating. That’s pretty impressive ladies and gentlemen!

shortriff3

Coming very soon GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

ShortRiffs — January 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2017 by theguitarcave

shortriff

Welcome to the January release of ShortRiffs. Here are a few items that happened last month and early this month. I will try to make this a monthly feature. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should explore. I ALWAYS appreciate your feedback, tips and comments!

shortriff2

My holiday season was Great this year. Lots of fine times, great food and I played a gig! It was awesome. A three-hour gypsy-jazz Christmas party at a very private and exclusive club. It was a fun time and we were received very well from both the staff and patrons for our gypsy music, jazz standards and holiday songs. Highlights of the night included Django Reinhardt’s Danse Norvegienne, Troublant Bolero and Douce Ambiance, a great speedy version of There Will Never Be Another You and two holiday favorites, My Favorite Things (which is in our regular rotation) and a song I brought in, The Ventures’ version of Sleigh Ride, which was also a big hit and sounded great. Totally played it like a boss and of course the other guys are just killin’. We had a clarinet player sitting in with our usual guitar presentation so the mood was even more jazzy and festive. Good Times!

shortriff3

One thing that happened at the gig that wasn’t so great was that a new microphocation system I had purchased, the Audio Technica Pro 70, completely died on me. I had my suspicions that something was wrong because I went through the first battery in like an hour. Then at the end of our last song all of the sound cut out and it was just distorted noises. Some kind of short? I dunno. I had high hopes because a few bands I like use this mic and it seems to get a very dedicated acoustic sound. It was all good until it failed. I’m trying to get it replaced/repaired and see what happens. Obviously, I can’t recommend at this stage, but am holding off final judgement. If you want to hear what it should sound like, listen to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet:

shortriff3

I heard the new Rolling Stones record everyone was talking about, Blue and Lonesome. This review here is pretty typical of what people are saying about it. Personally, I didn’t hearfingers much to get excited about. I didn’t even like the song choice that much. I’ve listened to Sticky Fingers pretty regularly over the last few months. What a great record! Easily one of their best. Also some choice cuts from the ’65 years: I’m Free, I’m Movin’ On, Gotta Get Away, Doncha Bother Me and some later 70s stuff like When the Whip Comes Down, Shattered, Waiting on a Friend and Little T and A. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly. There was an insolence to how little they tried and/or cared. Look at the sleeve of Sticky Fingers; Mick is barely awake. That was part of the attraction. Now they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. Multi-millionaires probably shouldn’t be trying to play the blues anyhow. If I was 70 and had their money, I would be on a beach 24/7/365.

shortriff3

post

HOLY BRAZEN THIEF BATMAN! IS THAT A GUITAR IN YOUR PANTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME? THIS IS GOING TO MAKE MITT ROMNEY SUPER SAD! Yes, the one liners just write themselves don’t they? Here is the video. Looks like he stashed it in the drum department first, which may be as impressive as getting it out of the store. Someone wasn’t paying attention. He must’ve really WANTED that Strat!

shortriff3

Greg Lake passed away in December. That’s a shame, although by all accounts he had been battling cancer for awhile and was probably worn out. He was a prog rock legend given his associations with the awesome King Crimson, the very peppy and pyrotechnic, ELP, briefly in the very 80s Asia and as a solo artist. Although he was frequently a bass player, his guitar sound at times really captured the vibe of Olde English. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page also had this down. It’s almost like they could call up the sound of the Middle Ages anytime they wanted…and this was before there was such a thing as a Renaissance Fair. I very much liked his compositions From the Beginning, Still You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man. Any of those three songs was a favorite for acoustic guitar guys to play back in the 70s/early 80s and I still play From the Beginning from time to time.

Also, Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers just passed away this week. Wow! This is a sad story. He and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) were a drumming force to be reckoned with and had a lot to do with why the Brothers were the standard for that brand of rock for so many years.

shortriff3
yoko1I found this Dick Cavett with John and Yoko DVD as a giveaway a few months ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to part with it. *eyeroll* Watching it (and by that I mean “skipping around alot”) was an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I remember seeing one of these interviews back in the day when I was a a young lad because I had discovered The Beatles, but I certainly did not understand the whole early 70s Lennon thing. I’m not sure anyone understands or agrees on the facts any better today, but this DVD is a good window into the attitudes, habits and opinions of a very wacky time. The fact that people used to smoke cigarettes on television talk shows is probably hard for younger generations to believe. Dick Cavett had a lot of great musical guests on his program(s), including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

This 1971 interview occurred at the height of the Lennons’ post-Beatle political period. There are great moments of John Lennon wit; he was a funny, smart and interesting guy sometimes. Yoko… if you strip away the weirdness she always tries to affect, she is interesting and intelligent. They are both nervous and their relationship was probably very contentious at times as they constantly talk over each other. The persecuted artist complex thing gets old though; they did put themselves out there in some very silly situations (Bed-Ins, Bagism) and John had already seen the negative aspects fame can engender. I’m not sure if they thought everyone was going to love them for their radical and sometimes half-baked politics and if they did, why they thought that. The fact that a lot of the political/overly personal music was pretty jyterrible didn’t endear fans or critics to the new John Lennon either. For all of their revolutionary proclamations at this time, by the late-70s the couple would transition to what would become button-down 1980s Yuppie culture. Though elements of this culture are prevalent in modern American society, the whole shebang can be a bit like Beetlejuice too. I can’t help but think of Delia Deetz and Otho whenever Yoko talks about her “work“. As I discovered while researching for the post on Pete Townshend and The Who, both Pete and Yoko were influenced by Gustav Metzger and his concept of auto-destructive art. Pete destroyed guitars and Yoko made this noise on the while jamming with Chuck Berry.

yoko2

I’m not a John and Yoko hater and don’t put any stock in those “tell-all” books that were written by people who supposedly knew the details of their relationship. Once their relationship became the thing, everything else came second. I don’t know who is to blame for that, if anyone. I don’t really care about musicians’ personal lives… and never have. I could read about the recording sessions, equipment, touring or composition all day long, but how John and Yoko or whoever else related to each other is a big <a href="https://www.youtubeIt's like reality television or supermarket tabloids. So overall I didn't find this that interesting, but it was free and there were some funny moments.

shortriff3

Finally, here is something fun and scientific. The legendary Bobby McFerrin shows the power of expectations and the Pentatonic scale. Isn’t this great? This short clip is part of a much longer presentation, Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus This is an interesting talk and is related in a way to things I’ve discussed with the This Is Your Brain on Guitar posts, here and here. A great primer to start the new year for all aspiring musicians and improvisers out there!

shortriff3

Coming very soon — Christmas music and GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

Happy 2017

Posted in Education, Equipment, Music Business, Players, This and That with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

bill

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is looking forward to the New Year! It will definitely be one full of many challenges. I think we can agree on that, yes? No matter what comes along, music will help with anything the universe has in store. We’ve all seen how powerful the effects of music are on people in all kinds of situations and certainly I make it a point to never forget how healing the ability to play, listen and appreciate music is. Definitely one of the major joys of our existence on this planet. Never forget or take for granted!

Also, in the spirit of new beginnings, I am rolling out another type of Dispatch, one that will allow me to cover an assortment of small items within one post. It’s the same kind of formula as the GuitarSongs series, which I was really enjoying and will pick up again in a few weeks. ShortRiffs will cover everything going on in my life, music-related and not. The Gimme Shelter and Vital Van posts, which are full of music, but also full of other stuff, are two of the most popular posts I’ve done and I want to do more of that kind of writing. The name is a word play on the (guitar) riffs we all play combined with the old slang of “riffing”: a short piece of speech or writing that develops a particular theme or idea. Ideally, that is what I will attempt to do and maybe even have a thread that will snake through a few or several of these posts; like an old-time serial.

As always: I totally appreciate everyone who reads, comments, and sends notes. This blog is almost 6 years old with 116 posts and 50,000 visitors. I never thought it would be the thing it is today and I have only my awesome readers to thank for that! Take care and keep playing!

GuitarSong #5

Posted in Education, Equipment, Guitar Songs, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by theguitarcave

vanhalen
button2

The fifth installment of the GuitarSong series profiles Edward Van Halen playing his ass off on the very hot-rodded I’m the One from Van Halen 1; a defining milestone in guitar history if there ever was one. Half of the tunes on this disc would be a suitable choice for a GuitarSong, but I’m the One will do just fine. While Van Halen the player certainly deserves a lot of credit for this album, Van Halen the band: David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen have also earned all of the cred necessary to be deemed rock legends. They each brought an indispensable quality and talent to a group that has brought many a great rock moment to fans for the last 40 years.

title1

vh1

Van Halen (1) exploded onto the airwaves and into the arenas of the USA in the early days of 1978. Released in an era when many thought the guitar and rock music was dead and buried, or at least very passé, the kinetic nature of the band, powered mainly by Edward Van Halen’s incredible guitar, proved the cynics wrong and charged to number 19 on the Billboard Charts. The album has since been awarded RIAA diamond status (meaning it has sold more than 10 million copies). As I have previously written here, Edward, unlikable though he may be at times, can legitimately be called a guitar genius because: there was everything before… then there was this album… then everything was different. Have a listen to the above live version of I’m the One. If anything, he plays it better than he did in the studio and for most people, especially rock players, that would be flat-out impossible. The studio version is directly below.

title4
vh2

You can get Edward’s bio from these links. It’s a very interesting immigrant success story! A couple of things: a) Edward and his brother Alex are the sons of a swing era jazz musician from the Netherlands; a guy who never stopped playing but also never achieved any success until he guested on Van Halen’s Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now on the Diver Down album in 1982. The brothers were already playing music together before they were in high school. A whole lot of Van Halen’s first TWO discs were already written before the band was signed. The band worked their asses off to write, practice and gig and even as late as the 1984 album, material that had been in the set list during the club days (House of Pain) was reworked and released. Here is a GREAT YouTube upload of almost all of their early demos. Listening to this it’s easy to see (and hear) how the band was destined for greatness. So much great material and a top-flight guitarist who had already outgrown the LA clubs.

Another very important factor was Edward’s habit of building and destroying guitars in search of the sound and look that he wanted and the legendary Van Halen tone; the world-famous Brown Sound. This has been a topic of speculation and conversation since the late 70s and often the least helpful person in the discussion was Mr. Van Halen himself. He deliberately misled readers on his setup on at least a few occasions and he was obviously very protective of his “brand”. His explosive introduction to the rock guitar world led to everything about him and the band being copied almost immediately; from the look and sound, to the playing style (especially with regards to tapping) to the guitar with one pickup/one knob combination. The “Frankenstrat” that Edward created was the result of a lot of misses with guitar building, but it did the job and is now in The Smithsonian. Along the way there was pain, frustration and lawsuits, but that’s rock and roll. Edward was really ahead of the curve as far as “Branding” and the modern world though. Everything about the look, style and sound of what he did was completely self-created. It wasn’t completely new because very few things are, but he did put the whole package together in a rather spectacular way. (David Lee Roth probably deserves some credit as well because he recognized Edward’s talent very early on and was very instrumental in creating an image for the band and everyone in it.

title5vh4

At the most basic level, what makes Eddie Edward is that he swings like a mofo. This article (which is very good) from the Van Halen News Desk suggests that Van Halen is playing some kind of wildly fun and exciting West Coast bebop on I’m the One, although not in a Jazz style per se. The kind of fluidity and bluesy phrasing along with the effortless integration of rhythm, riffing, soloing, and two-handed tapping throughout the song is dizzying. All of Eddie’s guitar moves: speedy scalar passages, two-handed tapping, (pinched) artificial harmonics, deep bending with fast vibrato and wide stretches on the left hand, are in this song and are part of the Eddie Van Halen technique.While it has long been known that Edward’s guitar hero was Eric Clapton and his closest predecessor in style was Jimmy Page (whose pull-offs on the solo for Heartbreaker inspired the tapping Edward would later perfect) I would guess that growing up listening to his dad practice swing music on the clarinet and saxophone was also very influential. That would explain the bebop-sans-jazz feel wouldn’t it? On the isolated guitar track for I’m the One, which you can find (HERE), Edward’s great right hand rhythmic swing and incredible blues feel is really apparent. It drives the whole song. I’m the One is a hi-octane boogie in the same vein as Hot For Teacher and the main riffs of both songs are great rock from the blues tradition. Edward really melds these riffs together very well and the fact that he can play them very clean at a ripping tempo is what makes the whole thing exciting. Slow this tune down and play it more laid back fashion and it could be a ZZ Top tune (a band VH used to cover). Anyone who has ever seen Van Halen live knows Edward is always tapping his foot — he has incredible timing and rhythm, which combined with a great right hand, are qualities you will find in any top-flight guitarist.

Finally, another thing I always liked about Edward was how he used effects; almost like a chef or line cook, sprinkling and seasoning here and there to spice up a dish. Mostly what one heard in the early days was the Phase 90, Flanger and/or Echoplex, but they would produce great effects in just the right places. Here is a Guitar World article on Van Halen and MXR. One interesting tidbit from the article (read the whole thing for detailed info on EVH and pedals):

Earlier this year (2015), in preparation for the 40th anniversary of MXR, its parent company, Dunlop Manufacturing, took a survey to learn how guitarists perceive the pedal maker. One of the questions asked was, “Which player do you associate the most with the MXR brand?” The respondents chose Eddie Van Halen more than 60 percent of the time. Notably, the runner-up received fewer than half as many mentions.

Here is probably the most succinct definition and exposé of the early VH sound. This is good too. If you’re looking to try to replicate, beware of anyone who over-complicates either of these two links. Really it all comes down to a Strat-style guitar body with a Gibson/Seymour Duncan PAF pickup, a Marshall Plexi and some MXR pedals. Oh…and you have to be able to play like him and most people can’t. Don’t ever underestimate how much one hands (and brain) affect the sound. They do. A lot!

title3EVH

Here is Doug Steele’s series on I’m the One. I’ve recommended his video lessons before and he definitely does it right and gives you the breakdown you need to be able to get this song together.

Here is another lesson on I’m the One from Steve Townsend

Here is the Songsterr tab of I’m the One.

A fairly good illustration of the Van Halen pedal sound. I do not like another one that I won’t name and won’t link to suffice to say that they do a lot of videos on different players’ classic sounds and I don’t think any of them are very accurate.

Eddie Van Halen at The Smithsonian. Yes he is an institution. All Hail!

Always lots of good stuff at the Van Halen News Desk!

Edward certainly doesn’t always interview well and this Billboard article is no exception. I’m not sure why he has such a low opinion of Michael Anthony these days. That certainly wasn’t always true. There are some interesting factoids for guitar players in the interview though.

A somewhat funny hipster critic review of Van Halen 1. I’m linking to it because when you get right down to it, EVERYBODY has to admit this album completely rules!

title6vh3

Hearing Van Halen 1; I’m the One, Running With the Devil, Feel Your Love Tonight and On Fire and then seeing the band live a bunch of times was a big influence on my life and musical career. I learned some of the tunes, played some of them (On Fire, You Really Got Me, Ice Cream Man) live in bands and musical projects over the years and even patterned my live sound after what I interpreted from the sound of this album and song. I used the Phase 90, Flanger, and though I had an Echoplex I used an analog delay pedal only because it was more reliable and easier to carry around. I still approach playing with this same gusto that I heard on this record and in some ways though Van Halen’s sound and abilities evolved over the years, there is a focus on some of these tunes, including I’m the One, that he never topped. It’s just a perfect rock rip from beginning to end. Edward Van Halen put great guitar to great songs and created an impressive body of music and in the process made the guitar an instrument people wanted to play again. Because he was so good at what he did, for a time in the 80s he completely personalized what a guitar player was. Though many years have transpired since then, with all of the attendant highs and lows that come with life, Edward can still play like a badass and I’m the One is still a great GuitarSong and a great example of virtuoso rock guitar.