Saturday, 9 October 2021

Strap buttons

Guitarists when performing need to stand up. There I said it. Feel free to add your own exclusions, and they are all valid, but when John Citizen sees a guitarist performing he won't get the same je ne sais quoi if you are sitting rather than standing.

Acoustic strap button relocated

For many a year I have tried to find ways of standing up to perform.  There are two main problems - one - because you generally don't practise standing up, when you do, it's not as easy to play - and two - there are many ways of holding the guitar standing up and I've never liked any of them.

On my acoustic, I initially drilled a hole in the back of the heel and screwed in a strap button more than a decade ago. This was adequate.  Most of the time if I'm playing my acoustic standing up I'm doing simple fingerstyle or just strumming. Since I have been helping out at my local church with music I have been strumming chords - with a pick no less - standing up. The problem with the button in the back of the heel is that the balance is wrong - it is trying to fall away from you the whole time.

I worked out through a bit of research that a strap button on the heel closer to the frets is celebrated (abeit by a minority group) as the best place to put you strap button. I tool a drill to my acoustic and made the modification...

I realised afterwards that I got the angle slightly wrong, out by around 10-20°, it doesn't affect the strength or attachment or feel, but I know I got it wrong! The balance of the guitar when holding it is much better - not trying to lean forward or backwards, and it feels very very secure because the strap comes around slightly.

Now the biggest question you are asking - "doesn't it get in the way?" Surprisingly, no. Fretting right up the top, chords, whatever, no, my hand shape is cupped, like I'm holding a tennis ball, thumb on the back, and the button fits in that cup. It's a good spot!

Classical guitar strap button

Now my classical friends who are a bit squeamish had better stop reading now. I was so convinced by this modification that I applied it to my classical guitar. Sacrilege, I know, but I had already chopped it up putting a two way pickup in it, so what's another hole. I had already tried using a strap with a string around the headstock (yuck!) and I had experimented with suction cups on the body (actually quite good, but I always felt like they would let go at any time, irrational but I couldn't stop thinking about it.)

Because this guitar is three times more expensive than my acoustic, and there is less meat in the heel, and that I got the angle wrong, I decided to enlist and expert to drill the hole for me.

I went down to Kosmic Sound and asked if they would do it. They said "We are happy to sell you the button, but we would rather you install it." That makes sense, really. Once it is drilled there is no going back. If the customer doesn't like it, too late! But they gave me a name of a guy who does it, I called him, had a chat with him, told him my plans, asked for suggestions, mentioned that I was apprehensive about it, had put it off for years...and then gave it to him.

A little later that afternoon, done, went and picked it up. I'm going to give a shout out to Mitch down at Profret because he got the angle right, the location right, it is spot on. And he's a great bloke too - we had a chat for a bit, when Covid hit he was out of he normal work for 6 months so set up his shop to repair and modify guitars which he had already been doing on the side for years. You rock Mitch!

So how did it go? Very happy. What surprised me was that some stuff is easier to play standing up! I reckon that is because I hold the neck up a bit higher standing up, when I'm sitting it tends to be out straighter. A high neck angle is more classical style and so left hand fretting is easier. I can't quickly whiz up and down the neck in barre chords like I can when I'm sitting down, because my leg normally acts as a "hold". While standing up you need to back off a bit more so you can reposition, you can't just push or pull against you leg. I'm sure overtime it will get easier as I adapt.

I'm giving this mod two thumbs up - it gets you standing up to play -and it is possibly the best holding position you can get from one small hole drilled in your guitar.

Fretting a high D chord - no worries, my hand shape doesn't go near the strap button.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

What's happening September 2021

Made time to record Something by The Beatles which took quite a few takes and required a bit of audio editing before I was happy with the sound.  I recorded in a different room (oh to have a dedicated music studio) so the mic levels ended up a bit low - the mic position wasn't great - I tried it placed a bit further out, yeah nah.  Don't do that. I ended up adding a bit of compression to compensate (in addition to my usual EQ balance of boosting the bass and trebles a bit).  I feel that compression is only when you want your audio to be LOUD, to fill all the frequencies as much as possible. Like glam rockers from the 80's.  But as much as I like dynamics, there is hollow/pale/wispy/far away so compression it had to be.

I still don't add reverb.  The room has already shaped a natural reverb, adding any more is "hiding in the mud".  Maybe because I've never mastered the use of reverb?  I was going to get my eldest daughter to help me with the sound mix, she's done some sound engineering study and has done sound for many live shows, she has a good ear.  After I had recorded this and punched out some missed notes and fret buzzes (I think I counted 8 I was not happy with), alas, she was doing a thing, I just wanted to get it done and posted, so we didn't review it together.  Next time maybe, while I kinda know what I want to hear, that's me, a different ear perspective would be interesting...or it might just create arguments :-)

Speaking of good sound, on youtube I follow Kent and he just blew me away with Sledgehammer. What a great ear for arrangement of a song (although his additional guitar layering from recent videos - I'm not a fan - solo fingerstyle, just let it stand alone, if you want to have a band that is fine, but I'm looking for solo fingerstyle.)  I wonder how much "cleaning up" of his audio he does?  I would say not much, I have listened to live recordings and it is clean as a whistle.  That's what 40 hours of practise a day gets you.  Seems like a lot of pressure to me!

Interestingly, like Kel Valleau, he is doing most of his arrangements in open tuning, that one he said was Db G Eb G Bb Eb so -3, -2, +1, 0, -1, -1  Would we call that an open Eb dominant 7th? Open tunings really fill out a song, so much body in there.  Are people able to keep in their minds where they are or are these songs being played as just muscle memory?  I imagine that with enough mastery of standard tuning, and then some dabbling in alternate tunings like Drop D where you start to "know" where you are for just those simple tuning changes, eventually you can build to actually knowing what you are doing in all these crazy alt tunings!

Proper musicians who know what they are doing.  My hat is off to you all.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

What's happening August 2021

I'm supposed to be working on "I want to break free", and I should have recorded videos for "If you leave me now", "While my guitar gentle weeps" and "White room", but instead I've been distracted by adding more into "Something" by The Beatles. Lucky I'm not a professional music arranger with a schedule! Sorry to my patreon supporters, hang in there I will get them all done!

As I discussed last month my version of "Something" is from 2010 based on Naudo's arrangement. The original key is C but Naudo took it up to D, I followed suit. I have been adding in more bass notes to more closely follow the original song...but not necessary the same ones in the same place, more of a similar feel.

Naudo did his own (brilliant) solo, which I also roughly transcribed, but this time around I wanted the original solo. It is so memorable, etched in my mind forever. I spent some time analysing other solo covers to come up with something that sounds about right sitting over top of some bass notes and some rhythm work. I've got it down, just finishing up the tab. Pretty haapy with it...but I was happy with what I did a decade ago, so maybe in another decade I'll do more with it again ;-)

For you interest, here's how the start of the solo looks!

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Pain in the neck

First up this is not a "woe is me, feel sorry for me", no not at all!  I wanted to talk about this because it took me many years to understand and learn a few things hopefully you won't have to do the same!

Question: JAW's neck...can you spot the problem?

So I used to be a pretty keen cyclist, and noticed after my 20km cycle to work down my left arm would go numb/tingly, and my shoulder blade on the left side always felt a achy.  I had worked out early on that if I lay on a cricket ball or similar on the achy spot for a while, the "pressure point" would relax and it would come good for a while.  But it always came back.  And it was slowly getting worse.

I went and saw a physio and he identified it as some sort of neck injury, where the nerves coming out the left side of my neck were being impinged up.  He had me do an MRI and the report came back as some deterioration in the vertebrae disc and osteophytes present - also known as "bone spurs".  He said "surgeons won't want to touch it, it's spinal surgery. If you couldn't move your arm and were in pain all the time then they would, but at the moment you are okay."

I stopped cycling and although it didn't go away (bones don't "go away") it was far more manageable. Lay on a cricket ball once a week, the shoulder is only a dull ache, get on with life.

A few years go by, I ask, in passing, any doctors and surgeons that I meet about grinding bone spurs out of neck and they all said the same thing - don't do it unless you have to.

Then one day my daughter is seeing a chiropractor and getting good results, for a lark I sign up as well, "a check up".  I mention the neck thing, he insists I get an xray. And the xray showed the problem to me far better than the MRI and he was able to explain it to me quite clearly.

For some reason (they always suspect an injury like a car accident but I couldn't remember anything) the disk between my C6 and C7 neck vertebrae has thinned, and the bones at the rear have been rubbing.   Road bike cycling would _not_ have helped that, nor does painting a ceiling!  When bones rub they decide to grow more bone, and that has restricted the path for the nerves that run out the side of your neck down your arm. That particular nerve deals with the outside of your arm, left pinky and ring finger, that sort of region.  So when the nerve is being impinged you get this "referred nerve pain" in those areas.  Meanwhile, my neck and shoulders and back realise that something is going wrong and then tense up "to hold the problem stable/in place", so I have aching muscles.

Answer: C6-C7 vertebrae has thinned, bones have
rubbed on bone and produced two bone spur spikey
looking things, the hole where the nerves come
out doesn't have as much room as it should.

The good news is that some exercises really help!  For instance, if you have a stretchy rubber band, hold it between your hands with your elbows by your side, standing nice and straight, move your hands away from each other and then back, keeping your elbows by your side, do that until you fatigue, wait 30 seconds, then do half the amount you previously did. This works wonders for me! Basically it tightens up some back muscles (we are generally too hunched - back muscles are weak and stretched) and this opens up the nerve passage, less impingement. Laying on the cricket ball pressure points those sort muscles that are always tense, lets them relax.  When the physios and chiros do "dry needling" that works great for me, better than the cricket ball.

Long term it is just about management. Keeping a good range of movement in the neck, building up the muscles that hold your posture in a better position for less impingement. Maybe one day it will get really bad and I will have to consider surgery - I don't like that idea, I'd hate to recover and discover my left hand pink doesn't work properly anymore!  I'll take an achy back anytime over loss of function.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Fingerstyle Arrangement Dynamic Balance

I follow a number of fingerstyle arrangers, and I do tend to focus on cover arrangements, particularly pop and rock classics. It is interesting to see other's takes on songs, and always interesting when they cover the same songs I cover.  I get so many extra ideas to throw back into my arrangements!  But sometimes I see a cover and I just can't get into it, and it largely comes down to, for want of a better term, dynamic balance.

First up I'm self taught so I have zero musical credibility; this is coming from my ear. Dynamics are how we get that extra edge of emotion into our playing, sets us apart from the robots, and that's good! But dynamics have to be balanced. A song, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has clear dynamics - there's a quiet section, then there's a thrashy section. Your fingerstyle arrangement should capture that. But sometimes I see dynamics that shouldn't be there. An example would be playing a part of a song with a pick (euw) and then the next part with your fingers...unless there is a call for extreme dynamics you shouldn't do that to keep the song balanced.

I recently saw Gabby Quevedo cover "4 Non Blondes - What's Up" and she did some strumming then played some fingerstyle, sorry, it didn't work for me! It put the song dynamically out of balance; putting dynamics where there shouldn't be.  See it here Gabby does great arrangements so this one surprised me. Phil Jakes does similar "unbalanced" arrangements from time to time and even the unstoppable arranging legend Kelly Valleau does too. I've seen it elsewhere so it's probably just me, I've done it myself once or twice and never been happy with the result.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself very well here, what do you think?