Friday, August 28, 2009

Shades of Gilmour

Pretty quiet news day today, but I spent some time on a guitar re-wiring project. Anybody who's a guitar player can tell you that the tonal possibilites with a Strat are just about endless. Three pickups, a 5-way switch, and three control knobs? Come on. What Leo Fender came up with is just the start.
One of the weaknesses in the original design (IMO) is that the brightest of the three pickups has no tone control. I never use the tone on the neck pickup, so every one of my Strats has been re-wired so that the first tone controls the middle pickup, and the second one is hooked up to the bridge pickup.
What I did on this guitar goes farther, though. Another weakness of the Strat design is you can't turn all three pickups on at the same time. There are some "super switches" that will allow all kind of crazy combinations, but you can also do it utilizing the stock components. I got this idea from the April, 1995 issue of the now defunct magazine Guitar Shop. It turns the first tone control into a master tone, and uses the second as a blend for the bridge pickup, with just a couple of switched wires. Brilliant!
I recently bought a DiMarzio FS-1 pickup - as used by David Gilmour in his main Black Strat up through the recording of The Wall, and decided this would be the perfect time to try out the blend wiring.
I installed the new pickup with the stock wiring, then followed the diagram above, and bolted it all back together. The result? Sonic bliss, and a lot of tonal possibilities not possible with the stock setup.
Try it if you get the chance. I think you'll like it.
P.S. Sorry for the poor image quality. I scanned it from the original article over ten years ago.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Awful Albums by Awesome Artists

Even the greats stumble once in a while. Here's a list at a site called See if you agree with their choices, and if you can think of any more, let me know.

This one hurt, as I've been a Van Halen fan for years. Even I have to admit, though, I bought III mostly so I wouldn't have a hole in my collection.

8. Van Halen – Van Halen III

After Sammy Hagar quit or got fired or whatever the hell happened to that frizzy headed douche, Van Halen was left searching for a new lead singer. Inconceivably, they settled on former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone.

It gets worse from there. Ouch.

Chinese Guitar Counterfeiters

As a guitar player, this story is near and dear to my heart. The eBay and Craigslist markets have been over-run for the last several years by fake guitars, mostly made in China. For the most part, they seem to have been targeting Gibson and Epiphone and models that appeal to younger players, such as Zakk Wylde Les Pauls.

I saw stores full of these when I was in Beijng in 2006. Gibsons and Fenders, though the Fender copies seemed to be poorer copies. I remember picking up an obviously fake "Les Paul Elite" and when I flipped it over, it very clearly read "MADE IN USA" on the back.
"These are made here, in China, aren't they?", I asked the clerk. "Oh, yes", he replied. "Made in China." The one I was holding was selling for the equivalent of about $300 US, which is less than 10% of the price of an actual Gibson.
It used to be that the fakes were pretty easy to spot, with shady finishes, and incorrect details that were obvious to someone familiar with the real thing, but lately, it seems like the copies have been harder to spot.

I don't necessarily have a problem with copies of guitars, as long as they aren't being sold as the real thing and are clearly marked as such. Players who can afford real Gibsons will buy them, and these cheapies give kids a chance to play a guitar that looks like the real thing, but costs a lot less, and while these guitars are certainly not up to Gibson (or even Epiphone) standards, they beat the hell out of the Hondo II and Teisco stuff that beginners were stuck with when I started playing.

What really bugs me is people selling them as real, genuine US guitars to kids who don't know any better. No legit retailer would touch these guitars, but I see a couple a month on Craigslist, and they pop up on eBay all the time.

Clearly, any real effort to stop the counterfeiting would have to come from the Chinese.
I was delighted to find this on the Music, Inc. Magazine site, in the June 19th issue. MI is a magazine aimed at music retailers, who obviously have a lot at stake in this.

Guitar Counterfeiters Sentenced

Following more than a year of coordination and investigation by Chinese legal authorities, the efforts of the Electric Guitar Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (EGACC) have resulted in a criminal sentence for a major distributor of counterfeit guitars.

Read the whole article here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Alice in Chains is back!

AiC were one of may favourite bands back in the early nineties. They were labelled "grunge" because they wore flannel and had long hair, but I always thought that was an unfair label. They went through a rough spot when grunge fell out of favour, and especially when frontman Layne Staley died.
I have to admit, I was skeptical a few years ago to hear they were touring with a new frontman - Layne's vocals seemed to be so integral to the sound - but I gotta say, the new guy, William DuVall, and the new single, "Check My Brain" from the upcoming Back Gives Way To Blue sound excellent. I'm looking forward to it when it hits the stores on September 29th.

Listen to it here:

Oh, Come on, Ritchie - Lighten Up

I love Ritchie Blackmore's playing. His style has always seemed to me to be a perfect mix of classical and rock, and often more appropriate for the song than some other "Neo Classical" guitar players.
I've also heard he can be a... challenging person to deal with. He quit Deep Purple - twice - because he couldn't get along with other band members, and Eddie Van Halen has recounted the tale several times of trying to introduce himself to Ritchie after VH's first album came out and being ignored.
Apparently, he doesn't always get along so well with family, either. Here's a bit of an interview with Joe Lynn Turner (one time Rainbow vocalist) in Classic Rock Magazine, about Over the Rainbow, a band he's currently fronting which plays Rainbow material, and which features Ritchie's son, Jurgen Richard Blackmore, on guitars:

"...Ritchie suddenly became very antagonistic. Things got so bad that he insisted Jurgen – his own son – couldn’t use the name ‘Blackmore’. Jurgen’s full name is Jurgen Richard Blackmore – it says so on his birth cerificate."

See the full article here:

A Touchstone of Indie Music Slated for Demolition

For fans of 80's and 90's indie rock, the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis was a special place. It was a place where bands were formed, where local musicians hung out, and where, at one point, you could go and be served food by the mother of Bob and Tommy Stinson of the Replacements.

Now, it has come to my attention that not only is the current owner selling, apparently the new owners think the space would be better used for... retail? I don't think anything has made me this sad since WOXY (BAM! 97x, the future of rock and roll!) left the terrestrial airwaves in 2004, after their owners, Doug and Linda Ballogh, decided they'd had enough. And more recently, they announced the studios for their now web-only station, were relocating to Austin, TX.

Anyway, here's a link to a story on the Uptown:

Friday, August 21, 2009

More on Record Labels

Here's an excellent article on NPR's site that backs up what I was saying in my last post pretty nicely:

Without wanting to get into too much trouble with NPR, I thought this summed it up:

The Posies left Geffen in the late 1990s — not over money, but a lack of promotion. They went back to PopLlama, the small independent label where they'd first recorded an album called Failure, and released one called Success. It was made very cheaply, and Auer estimates it sold about 25,000 copies.

"I actually saw a check for that record that went in my pocket," Auer says. "I never saw a check from the sales of any of the records I've made on the major labels."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do we Need Record Labels any more?

No, and we haven't for a while.

We are at the dawn of a great age for musicians. An age in which musicians aren't going to be hindered any more by the constraints of how much it costs to record and distribute their music.
Or by the demands of record labels.

What record labels brought to the table was the infrastructure that was needed to record the music, press it, ship it, distribute it, and get it played on the radio. And it was a lopsided and unfair system. Google search for "deal memo", or click here, and you'll find Steve Albini's excellent write up on this terrible system.

Now that recording isn't (or doesn't need to be) as expensive a process, "pressing and distributing it' involves sending a few copies to CD Baby or Tune Core so you can get it on Amazon and iTunes, or just letting people download it from your website, and to the extent that airplay is even necessary, you can do that yourself as well, streaming on places like MySpace, the record companies really don't have a viable business model.

It's not like I invented this idea, either. Artists like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have been doing their thing for several years now. What's new is that the wave is starting to pick up speed as smaller artists get on the bandwagon.

This is all probably pretty scary stuff if your job is tied to a record label or an ancillary industry, but as a recording engineer and a musician myself, I find it all pretty exciting, and I know I'll be watching to see what happens next.