Monday 22 December 2008

What's happening December 2008

With some summer holidays up my sleeve I've grabbed some spare time to do some guitaring...first up I came across a kiwi named Oliver Batchelor who had some responses to my videos, while checking them out I saw "Mad World", and that he had tabbed it.  Man after my own heart!  It was Ulli's version, copied by Sungha, transcribed by Oliver and I though, ah, why not learn a song from a tab!

It's been straight forward, a little tricky to co-ordinate, it's funny how the stuff you work out for yourself is "easy" but the stuff you are playing from a tab is "hard".  Well it's not funny at all really, you arrange your own stuff in your own style, which is what comes naturally to you.

Anyway,  it's played capo at 8th fret, dropped D, which makes for something interesting for sure.  What it has done however is broken my spirit, or something - it has shown me that my guitar is badly intonated.  I've been running fairly high tension strings on it (still coming off steel string), next set will be normal tension.  That should help improve it, but if it doesn't, it will be time to take matters into my own hands.

Problem with intonation on a classical is there is no adjustment at all - playing intonation means filing up bridges and possibly nuts.  I did anticipate the needs for fiddling and grabbed a couple of bone bridge blanks when I bought the guitar.  I need to read up a bit more about it before I start hacking, but the physics of it is quite straight forward...

About a week ago a potential fingerstyle tune popped into the brain, usually these things happen to me in the shower.  Hot water heating the brain up?  Anyway, and old favourite of my missus, Alanis Morisette "Head Over Feet".  I remember the missus buying "Jagged Little Pill" and noticing that one was a glimmer of hope in an album of anger and pain, not to mention it was melodically quite nice.  Never got the headlines like the other songs on the album, until later.  Perhaps when the world had had enough of the anger and needed that hope ;)

Had a noodle last night and whaddaya know, perfectly suited to fingerstyle.  In about 2 hours I had a tab done.  Just gotta learn it now.

How did I get the tab done in 2 hours you say!?

First, I youtubed the song.  Found a nice acoustic version she did a few years back.  Listened to it a few times.  Searched internet for the chords.  Easy.  Couldn't quite pick the melody (have I mentioned my ability to pick a note is really poor?) so I downloaded a midi.  This is a good trick by the way - normally tabs won't ever have the melody.  Why bother, you sing the melody don't you?  But midi files usually have the melody.  Powertab can import midi files and display as tab (you have to choose the correct midi instrument that is playing the melody.  Not always one, not always easy).  Play the melody.  Pick out a bassline, work in some chord strums.  You are there :)

It's is quite hard to play, and I still need to add an outtro, possibly might try to get the harmonica solo in the middle in as well.

I'll probably do a video of it sometime early next year.  Mad world will be soon too, if I can get over the bad intonation that is...


Friday 12 December 2008

Audiences, again

What's it all about?

Okay, so we all like to play guitar, but why?  I used to enjoy the personal challenge of being able to play music and everything it involved - learning new skills, memorising songs, developing the speed and dexterity to play a tune accurately.  The satisfaction of hearing a song come out from a guitar in my hands.  Eventually that wasn't enough, I wanted other people to hear it.  Pride and ego?  I don't really think so, it's more of a case if you owned the entire world but didn't have anyone to share it with, would that be satisfying?

Playing for an audience...there are two ways of doing that I can see - play what you want to play and hope that there is an audience to suit you...or play what you think an audience wants.

Having been reasonably well accepted on youtube I have a perhaps overinflated expectation of what listeners think of me.  Out of say a billion people who have had the oppurtunity to look at any of my work, there has been about a million and a half who _have_ looked...which means just over one person in 1000.  In two and a half years of being there.  Now if you were sitting on the street playing for random people, 1 in 1000 equates to, well, almost nobody.

To lift the odds I have decided to play more for an expected audience.  I've approached that by examining what my most popular videos are, and examining the most popular videos of other players.  Naudo is an excellent indicator because (a) he is an unknown - that is, nobody is searching for his videos unlike say Tommy Emmanuel; (b) he has a lot of videos of covers to form some good popularity statistics.

Oh, I probably should mention that playing for an expected audience means playing stuff that they will know.  People like to hear stuff they already like.  If you were a big popular artist then you can play original stuff, but the guy playing original stuff on the corner needs to be either stupendously engaging, or playing on a corner that a high number of passers by are into his form of art.  Open mike is probably a good scenario, otherwise both cases are otherwise unlikely.

Another part of the puzzle is you probably need to be able to sing.  This is a double edged sword.  If you can sing and play guitar you will attract far more listeners in my humble opinion; but singing is a land of personal taste and has a lot of room for error.  For example, when playing the guitar most people won't notice the odd non-fatal stuff up, but stuff up singing and people recognise it in a heartbeat.  Then there is whether the audience likes your voice - the personal taste thing.  You do kinda need to be a good singer.

To avoid singing you unfortunatley need to be able to play the guitar really well, dare I say fingerstyle covers - catch a whole song on one instrument.  I recommend learning to play simple guitar and developing your voice ;)  Oh, if you are a good-looking girl then that helps immensely...

I'm not sure if there was a point to all this, lets see if I can summarise:
(a) Eventually you will need to play to an audience;
(b) Play stuff that people know;
(c) If you can't play oustanding fingerstyle covers of stuff that people know, then concentrate on your singing.

I promise I will reassess these statements when I start playing to an audience :)

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Solar Guitar Amp

I resurrected my solar guitar amp project about 3 months ago, I'm planning on doing the buskey thing, which only allows for battery powered amplification.  I need to play to a real audience "to get to the next level". You'll have to take that on face value, I can't explain why.

Anyway, lets talk solar guitar amp.

A while back I built a battery powered amp.  12V lead acid gel cell; unfortunately amplifiers like wider voltages than 0-12V, in fact ideally they like a negative rail (have I mentioned that in my day job I'm an electrical engineer?)  Anyway, car amplifiers have to use 12VDC so there are plenty of power amplifier chips for 12V.  The one I built was around 5WRMS, which was pretty boring.  The enclosure was small and heavy so I rarely used it.
This time I want more power.  Instead of building up a amp circuit from scratch I thought I'd get one of those rice boy duff-duff car amps.  I grabbed a fancy schmancy blue LED backlit type amps. I tried to get the least lairy and lowest power one but it is still 150WRMS. Man they are cheap for what they are, paid about AUD$150 for it.

The thing I was worried about with car amps is input sensitivity - car stereo equipment has quite high outputs, guitar output is quite low. It worked out well though, I put it on the bench and found a sensitivity knob on the back, wound it right up and the power level coming out of a single channel un-enclosed speaker was plenty adequate. More importantly, the unit is power friendly,  it was only pulling just over 1 amp on one channel when I was belting out maximum volume.  Important for battery life.

To really make the amp a talking point I've decided to mount my little 5W solar panel and regulator on it; it has been running fine for many years. Sure you could just charge up the 12V battery before each use, but where is the public interest in that?

Speakers - I've looked at car speakers, in the past it was all about 3-way blah blah all-in-one, but nowdays you can get 3-way but it is split into multiple speakers, so I'd only use the big one and chuck the little ones out...seeing as the maximum note on a guitar is about 1kHz - but you'd want more kHz for "tonal quality harmonics".  The speaker usually peaks out at 3-4kHz.  Should be plenty.

I'll just stick with 4Ohm speakers, one per channel.  I could parallel them for 2Ohms one channel but the amp isn't recommended for that.  I could bridge the amp and drive just one as well but meh, I'll drive it "just as nature intended".

So I need to build an enclosure as well. I decided seeing as it has a lead acid battery in it to start with, I should make a lightweight but extremely rugged enclosure, as it will also be my playing seat. I've got some 3mm marine ply and a lot of tassie oak strips to brace out the middle.  I've got a bit of foam for a seat on top and some marine grade vinyl to cover the whole thing.  I decided I would mount the two speakers in the front (complete with porting) but face them outwards slightly.  This will help eliminate resonance frequencies because the enclosure is no longer regular, and will also "spread" the sound out a bit more which is useful because my legs will be in front of the speakers ;)

Anyway, it is a work in progress, watch this space!