Wednesday 22 November 2023


I'll come clean with you - in the very early 2000's a mate of mine gave me a dodgy copy of Cool Edit Pro, said "hey those recordings you are working on, try this on them". And thus started my foray into the world of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). By the time I realised I loved Cool Edit Pro and went to buy a license, you couldn't get it anymore, it had been bought out by Adobe. I then spent years using Audacity but I never really liked it, and kept falling back to my dodgy copy of Cool Edit Pro. The shame.

The early DAWs were all "destructive", because computers weren't powerful enough to do real time processing. But once you had your own editing process, destructive isn't really a problem, you would have revisions of the wavefiles and you could step back if you needed to. Obviously real time processing would be much better, but just to pop a bit of EQ on a guitar track isn't going to do your head in.

A few months back I grabbed a copy of a recording from the sound tech at my local church where I regularly play in the band. It was a raw 32 channel single file - straight from mics and instruments, no processing. Yeah...I needed to step 20 years into the future to mix that.

Several of my favourite YouTube artists use Ableton as their DAW, so I grabbed the demo and set about learning it. It was so foreign to me I couldn't do it. I looked up Audacity again, which does support real-time processing, and I very quickly got my 32 channel recording loaded up and started mixing it. It was pretty good! Still felt like the same old Audacity so I felt a little bit uncoordinated with it, but I pushed on.

As a side note, mixing a live mix is a universe into itself. I only know what my ears like, but after reading several articles and watching several videos about mixing, there are some basic techniques, the very first most important one being that mixing is the end of the line - production is the most important part. Let's just say that the band - which changes from week to week as there are many musicians that rotate through - is pretty good, so I'm not wasting my time mixing. But wow, 7 mics on the drumkit, were every drum mic bleeds into the other drum mics, and the drums bleed into all the vocalists mics, and the other's a challenge!

While surfing about mixing I came across someone using Reaper, another DAW that I had used years ago but found it unintuitive to use. Because of my frustration with Ableton, and my lackluster desire for Audacity, I gave it another try. I was quickly able to stand up a recording and did some mixing just with the basic real-time processing, and wow, the mix came out sounding so much nicer than Audacity! I think the built in Reaper effects are better than the freeware effects I had downloaded for Audacity. Or perhaps I had already started getting a better ear for mixing.

So I persisted with Reaper, and it was starting to feel more natural. This is good, because I knew that there was some serious scripting power underneath the hood of Reaper, and I knew that a 32 channel mix from a live studio deck could use a lot of automation to simplify the basic tasks you will get every time you explode out the 32 channels for example delete the channels not used, name the rest, group the stereo signals back together (all 32 tracks are mono) and then apply a standard set of effects across them...yeah lots of automation.

The language of choice for Reaper seems to be Lua, which I'd never heard of but is indeed a programming language. I could have used Python, or EEL2, but Lua seemed to be what they were pushing. After working out how to use the script library manager, I downloaded a few scripts to use as an example. The Lua syntax wasn't a problem - I do a fair bit of scripting in my day job - what was a problem was getting my head around all the APIs that Reaper can deal with.

Skipping forward, after about 10 hours of fumbling around, I had built up a nice script that automated all the basic tasks I wanted. It has been enough to make me commit to Reaper, even though there are still a few things that I'm uncoordinated with and seem unintuitive.

Not too pricey either, around (AUD2023)$90 one-off cost (I really dislike subscription model software).

Saturday 28 October 2023

Gretsch G5422G-12

This was one of those moments when you saw something and didn't realise until then you needed it in your life.

A September 2019 Gretsch G5422G-12 twelve string guitar.

For a while now I have been arranging/practising on my electric guitar with custom neck. Mostly because it is quiet...and that comes from both being family friendly and that after 40 years of playing classical and acoustic guitars, even the unamplified sound over a practice session leaves a ringing in my ears.

And I have adapted to it. So still a wide neck for good crossover with classical guitar, but the sound is very hollow...being an unamplified electric guitar. In fact when I play my Esteve it now feels a bit weird.

Additionally, I have always wanted a 12 string.  Not really sure what I'd do with it, but every time I hold one in a music shop and strum it, it sounds amazing.

So when I saw an electric guitar (quiet for practice), but hollow body (so not too quiet, has an acoustic feel), with 12 strings (who doesn't want one!) which brings a wide neck, I realised I needed it.

It was at my local pawn shop, and interestingly they also had a 1981 SG double neck 12/6 string, which had a price tag of AUD(2023)$15,000. Interesting they bought it and think that they will be able to move it. There must be rich people out there who buy stuff like that!

They wanted AUD(2023)$995 for the Gretsch, after a moment of haggling I walked out with it for AUD(2023)$820. You can still buy them new for AUD(2023)$1500, this one was as-new condition so, fair enough. At the time it had only 6 strings wound on it, so on my way home I grabbed a set of Elixirs for it, which I have been really liking for acoustics. AUD(2023)$45 for a set, I figure they will last me many months.

Not much to tidy up on it, I took the strings off it, steel wool'd the frets, oiled the fretboard, polished the metal parts, cleaned the body, put the strings on.  I'd never strung a 12 before, I had to read up about it! I knew that the top E and B were unison, and that the bottom 4 were all octaves, but I tells ya, tuning the octave G, 9 thou, I was wincing expecting it to snap!  After stretching and bedding them in, I was getting a feel for which winder is which, it gets easy pretty quick.  Still a lot of tuning though!

I was impressed with the intonation! I only had to adjust 3 of the pairs, and I thought that since 2 strings are intonated over the same adjustment that you'd never get it right, but no, even the worst was only a few cents out at any fret up to 12.  Besides, it's that tiny discrepancy in pitch and phase and all that which gives the 12 string that huge jangly sound.

After strumming it for a while, the usual fighting you get with 12 strings - even though I had gone with 10-46 guage - very light - I started flatpicking some classic 12 string songs like Wish You Were Here and Hotel California. I then had a crack at just outright fingerstyle.

My first two hours in, I reckon it is possible but it is different.  My right hand index finger already has a "strummy" action when I'm fingerpicking so there was no trouble in "picking" two strings at once. It's almost like you are doing a classical style rest stroke to hit both those strings. My middle and ring weren't really playing the strummy game, but I can see that they will.

My thumb didn't like it at all.  But when I brought my thumb down real low, almost parallel to the string, and "picked" at the point where your nail hits the side of your thumb, that was starting to get the more strummy action you need.  Because the octave string is the first one you hit when you pluck with your thumb, you kinda already have this "slope" of strings you are strumming against.

Early days.  I'll report back!

Monday 16 October 2023

What's happening October 2023

I've been working on arrangement scores. Been updating based on how my playing has changed, and getting them to Musescore 4.  I feel like chasing versions of Musescore is folly, but it makes me feel better. I have realised that I like having a big library of arrangements, that I would prefer to be a human jukebox of a hundred songs played okay rather than a virtuoso of 5 songs played to absolute perfection. I don't think that I could ever learn a song to perfection to be honest.  Rough'n'ready, fake it 'til you make it.

It would be good to be able to legitimately post my arrangements. I'm happy to share all my arrangements with my patreons, but it would be nice to be able to put them in an online store. Yeah, I can already, Hal Leonard does that, but your commission is 10%! Yeah, nah. ("Yeah, nah" is Australian slang, it means "I heard what you said, and I really don't agree.")

So much so that I emailed Patreon a few months back, "Hey I like your new digital store.  But I'd like to legitimately sell arrangements of covers. Could you organise that for me?"  The got back to me, they knew what I was talking about, and they liked the idea, and they put it to the bosses.  I'm not expecting much to come from it, put that would be great, I still think Patreon is good.

If the likes of Youtube can deal with it - upload a cover and Youtube will either block it, do nothing, or call it their own and make money off it - and Spotify - and others - then I'm hoping Patreon can too.

Maybe one day I can sell an arrangement for three bucks, two go to the copyright holder, one to me...maybe? Maybe I'm in la-la land, eh?


Monday 25 September 2023

What's happening September 2023

Playing for an hour in the lunchroom on a Friday every week is a useful pursuit - it ticks several musical boxes:

  • There are people listening - okay mostly having lunch and not looking at you - but you naturally want to play your best;
  • Nobody likes a half song playing guitarist so you play a song from start to finish, even if it is just an improvised few verses and choruses and omitting the solo;
  • It's just you and a guitar, no sheets music, no gear. Everything has to be memorised and all the sound tone comes from your own two hands;
  • You don't want to just play the same 10 songs every week, so you are constantly developing new arrangements and dusting off old material;
  • You are reinforcing and normalising society with music. Yeah, this is more abstract, but us humans have a deep emotional connection with music which needs to be nurtured. There is a big difference between streaming music phone-to-headphones and someone sitting there, right there, playing music. I'd like to see more live music in society, and more people recognising live music as normal.

So while playing a few weeks back one of the admin staff came in and had a chat. The company was having a family day, and they were thinking of hiring a band, but then they thought "why not just ask our resident guitarist?" Heh. They called me their "resident guitarist". How could I say no to "resident guitarist"?

So for two Sunday afternoons I set up my "playing out" kit - the Esteve, my Behringer Eurolive B112D Public Address speaker sitting on top of a stand to get it up to ear level, my Zoom effects pedal for some reverb sound shaping and a couple of instrument and power leads. It all fits on a fold up trolley so I can do one trip from my car to the venue.

Both Sundays I played 2.5 hours, no repeats, both sessions I got the the end and there were still a few songs I wanted to play! I was quite pleased that my repertoire is still quite extensive - sure, a few songs had rough patches were my brain blanked out and I had to percussively strum a few open chords and hook back in to a verse or chorus - but it wasn't awful.

At an event like that with lots of people walking by you get a chance to say "thanks" and smile and nod while you are playing, and a few people will stop and chat. It's nice.

I wasn't quite getting the tone I was after, there is a a bit too much resonance/boom/chatter on the low E string. That might suit some songs that sit on a bass guitar driven sound, in fact it was cool for that, but for a general pop song it was out of balance. I couldn't fix it on the spot, that's something I will need to look at.

Meanwhile, I have continued to dust of some old favourites. Particularly the difficult songs, like "Something", "Whiter Shade of Pale" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". Wow there is a lot of chords in them, and the different inversions up the neck. I can think in terms of open chords/cowboy chords, but I haven't mastered the neck for everything. If I could send something back to Past JAW it would be "spend a bit more time mastering the chord locations on the neck". There are plenty of chords inversions up the neck I do know, that come natural now, but not everything I need. So quite often when I'm playing a song where the melody has taken my up the neck, I'm completely winging it from muscle memory - I don't actually know what I'm doing... It's okay, means there is still plenty to learn!

Keep playing, keep practising. As I said recently to a coworker who has a guitar but is struggling to stay motivated: "Play 5 to 10 minutes every day rather than an hour a week - so keep the guitar on a $20 stand in the middle of your living room so you can't ignore it. Sure learn from youtube or a book the stuff you need to know, but also learn fun stuff that that attracted you to the guitar in the first place. Check in with a guitarist from time to time to make sure you aren't doing anything silly. And learn to might sound confronting and out of your comfort zone, but once you can change smoothly between 3 chords you have about a million songs at your fingertips, but only you will recognise them unless you are singing them."

Saturday 16 September 2023

Busking - not me

You do get some of your character from your parents, so it's no surprise that my three kids are all musical. My boy has played the sax for many years, currently on a second hand tenor sax, quite a nice tone, not lacquered so it has that vintage look. He's played in all the school bands for years, has had one-on-one lessons for years, he is quite good for a youngster. A few months back my wife and I were listening to him practise for an exam - he lines up a backing track on his phone and pumps it through a blue tooth speaker to play along with. There is a sheet for the main theme/riffs, but he improvises the majority of it. And while he quite often shreds too many notes, his improv skills are really coming along...waaay better than mine, that's for sure!

So much so that I said "You need to get out and earn some money with this. People will pay to hear this." That's a rule that I mention here on this blog fairly regularly, "you need to play to audiences". He does already play in school bands - but he's a teenager with no job, so if he could get paid to play music, that's a win win.

I got in contact with Hillarys marina which is a twelve minute drive from us. There is live music there from time to time, it's a big place, lots of foot traffic. They wanted a video audition to get started, fair enough. That was an interesting experience in itself...I set up two mics at a distance to capture the sax in a similar way to capturing my guitar, I made him listen to the backing track through headphones, and then I sync'd it all up in post mix. I came out alright, but next time I will try mic'ing up the horn right at the bell, with the gain set really low. Or, get a sax mounted microphone...hmmm... (for interest, this was one of the audition videos

The Hillarys management were happy for him to come down, passed the audition, we went out and met the lady running the admin, to find out where we could setup and all that. They don't seem to get many buskers, because you book in morning or afternoon slots and the coming weekend was completely open. So I booked him in for Saturday.

In the meantime, busking...and coins/ a post cov-id world. Do people actually have cash to throw to buskers? I didn't know! But luckily has your back. It's a not for profit organisation to promote busking, like a social advocate for good, and they provide tech in the way of cashless payments setups so with a QR code people can easily tip some cash via Google/Apple pay or Paypal. I set him up and tested it out, nice, works well!

So Saturday comes around, and I push him just crash into it, an experiment, let's just see what happens! We went armed with a small battery bluetooth speaker, his music stand with QR code on it and his reference sheets and his tenor sax. We parked up in a spot on the boardwalk and I sat down and watched. He was a bit nervous, but I didn't really give him the chance to think about it. That's the key, just go, think about it afterwards. It's not like he didn't have the musical chops.

We had two issues, the first being that there was no shade, so he was cooking in the sun in half an hour. The other was the bluetooth speaker was slightly underpowered. Just needed a few more watts. But from a busking point of view, it was ace! In that 30 minutes he had $27 in coins put into his case, and a $3 online tip. He was quite happy with that!

Now we just need to work on the gear, time of day and where to stand - smoothing out the process.  He also worked out that the ballad he played was the money maker, even though he likes to play the jazzier stuff! He needs a money-making busking setlist!