Tuesday 12 December 2017

What's happening December 2017

I've been focussing on Dark Side of the Moon recently, I have a half finished a resolve for "Any Colour You Like" which was missing the last half of the ending guitar and keyboard solo. Like I've recently done with "Time" I decided that I should learn the solo outtro and cut the solo short, so that the song feels complete even though it is missing parts in the middle.

Hey, it's a "tribute" to DSotM. If/when I arrange every last morsel of it, then it will be a "full arrangement". Until then, it just should feel complete!

Since I'm in the DSotM zone, I got onto my mate Shaun and lined up another Open Mic, planning on a playthrough of DSotM and then maybe some "The Wall" and finish up with "Wish You Were Here". I need DSoTM to be a feature in my toolkit, that I can bring out anytime. I've also got 2 gigs this month at South Beach Tacos (summer is back) so I will do some test runs there. All good!

However what's not so good is that all this extra practise has caused me to overwork my left pinky finger, a long standing issue for me. I've had to stop playing a root 5 A shape barre chord with just my pinky, which bugs me, I prefer fretting that way, but a 2/3/4 left hand chord is much less harsh on pinky than a 4/4/4 chord. Additionally, I must have some sort of hole in my index finger, when I bar a root 5 the top string is not always clear. However, I've always done a full bar - 6th string included - for a root 5 chord shape bar, which of course you don't need to, and I have realised if I only bar a root 5 chord to the fifth string, there is no hole in my finger there and the top string is clear! So many years of playing to work these things out!

As for poor 'ole pinky finger, I have resumed stretching out the offending muscles in my arm. Legend has it that most of the pain in your hands/fingers are from over-tight muscles, from overuse, that pull on joints too much, which causes them to be inflamed, and thus painful. So by calming down those muscles that are too tight, you stop them pulling on joints, stops the inflammation, stops the pain.

I'm there, I agree with the legend. I watched a few more videos about it and saw another interesting tip, that it's your cerebellum that is responsible for the fine motor skills and thus the overtight muscles. So if you put pressure on the sore points and then move the muscle (say, wiggling fingers moving hands) then your cerrebellum kinda "resets" the amount of tightness it is applying to the muscles with the feedback it is getting.

Look it is interesting stuff, we know very little about how our brain works, so I give these things a try. Pressure point stuff definitely works, I have proven that to myself. And "tender tissue is tight tissue" which the dude was saying I have also proven to myself as correct.

Let's do it - put your arm out, palm down, now with your other hand, on top of your forearm getting close to the elbow, dig your thumb in, wiggle it around until you find a sore spot. If you spend you days typing and nights playing guitar, that's probably everywhere. Dig in so it hurts and hold it. Wiggle fingers and hand for a bit. Relocate, keep going, keep finding more sore spots. Stop, and see how you feel. Possibly bruised at first, but later, a bit free-er? A bit less pain? It works for me, but then I forget to do it (because it's no longer painful) and then the tightness comes back.

"Don't forget to do it on a regular basis future-JAW!" "Yes yes, past-JAW."


Sunday 19 November 2017

Mumbling about Pink Floyd "Time" again

After I had recorded my 2017 progress of Fingerstyle'd Dark Side of the Moon I was immediately inspired to take on a bit more work. I took to "Time" which I had played badly; added more bassline appeal (easing back on the freestyle'd verse) and most importantly started on the iconic solo. I have put that off for a decade, because how do you play a *huge* soulful solo while driving away at a bassline and filling in the mids? Well, turns out, at least to start with, it's not as bad as it seemed! See how useful it is recording progress - it drives further progress!

So have a look and a listen at the new parts, it's a bit rough, I accidentally over exposed the video and I'm mumbling about it as I go, but as a minimum Ryan will be pleased :)

Tuesday 31 October 2017


The other day I was practising through my Aussie rock setlist, keeping them fresh, and when the sax solo came up in INXS "Never Tear Us Apart" I said to my son "Your mum would love it if you could play this on your sax...do you know all these notes?" After a brief check, yes, it is within his capabilities. "It's E, then an Eb, then..." "Dad, can you just give me the score to look at?" I searched the internet and found a copy. It was a different key signature, but it was MuseScore format so a few clicks I transposed it, and did a quick test play though - hang on, that's not what I play...uh oh!

Sure enough, listening to the recording - I've been playing two notes in it wrong all these years! Hate that! So there's a question - shall I relearn those two notes or just accept that I'm not playing it right? Well anyone with a bit of OCD wouldn't be able to let that go, so I began relearning it.

Relearning is the worst! For starters, you once put effort in, and now, you have to apply even more effort to undo the old and put in the new. If it was just a melody it wouldn't seem like a big thing, but when it is bassline, mid fills and melody on top, you are relying on muscle memory quite a lot to keep it together. I found a resolve for the correct notes (required different fingers) and played the two affected bars over and over again. It started going into my brain, but it required immense concentration. I figure the two bars over and over again for a few more sittings a few days apart and I should be right.

Over the years I've changed bits and pieces in songs here and there, so it's not too bad modifying learnt music. In fact I will go so far as to say that forcing yourself to change bits and pieces in your songs is a good thing - it stops your back brain from doing _everything_ and gives your front brain some work. In songs which are second nature to me I will often slip melody notes an eigth of a beat forward, or backward - for starters it mixes up the song so it's not just the same verse, chorus, repeat; but it seems like a good thing to get the whole of your brain busy while playing.

...but not relearning a mistake.  Don't do that. Get it right before you commit to putting it into you brain...as a wise lady once told me, "Practise makes Permanent." :-)


Wednesday 18 October 2017

The future of creating art

I listened to a very interesting TED talk last month that got me thinking, the main theme being how artists can earn a living in this day and age. How 100 years ago if you wanted to hear music, you had to see it live, then the invention of recording, right through to the massive industry dedicated to just the distribution of music, and finally to digital downloads now pretty much superseded by streaming. 100 year juggernaut distribution industry. Now it's all free streaming.

And not that long ago, how an artist would create an album and play venues cheaply to promote the music so people would buy the album. And now, the music is streamed cheaply (free) to get people buying tickets to see the artist live at a venue. A complete reversal!

And many other interesting observations. It's worth a look: https://www.ted.com/talks/Jack Conte - Artists get paid in the digital age

Something that I could relate to was how early adopters were making money (I was, through adverts on youtube) and it boomed until 2013 when it all but stopped. I saw it happen!

What he went on to discuss was the future of how artists can get paid for their art. He started "Patreon", which I had come across and thought was a great idea. Basically crowd funding for art...as a consumer of art, you nominate you will pay a few bucks (whatever you like) each month to an artist. Simply because you want them to keep producing their art, so you fund them. We are talking art that can be digital, as in, art that can be delivered to you for zero distribution costs. So music, video, picture type art.

Artists on Patreon can then get a regular income so they can afford to live (given enough supporters) while producing their art. Consumers get a warm fuzzy, but more importantly, their artist can continue to produce the art they like. It feels so right. Is it the way forward? Maybe. Does it work? Seems to - there are a lot of artists there, and the numbers are published, and we aren't talking small amounts. Many artists living and producing art. Is it working for everyone? I doubt it, but that's not a reason to dismiss it. Will it keep working where it is working? Who knows.

I makes me also think of the Netflix/streaming video providers...as people have switched to streaming, the income to those content distributors has gone through the roof. The people want good video content, which isn't always available, so with the bountiful income, Netflix pay creators "Netflix exclusive" to make art, and the stuff I've seen is really good stuff. Such that Netflix (et al) are doing better as content creators than content distributers!

Interesting times. Huge disruption with technology - but people still love art, and artists still love to make art, what is the future of connecting them? Good food for thought.

Me; I just want to play my quaint arrangements to crowds who enjoy it as much as I like playing it. Nice when you can derive a bit of income from it too - what if I could make the same income from creating music as I do from engineering - would I? Probably not. Largely because I'm not good enough ("but if you could apply the same amount of time to music as to engineering you could!" "Yeah nah, I know proper musicians YEARS ahead of my ability/talent who already don't make a living from it"). But mostly because deep down, I'm an engineer first. Engineering fingerstyle arrangements on the side for fun :-)

Sunday 24 September 2017

Fingerstyle of the Moon progress 2017

I haven't been gigging recently (slowly going rusty) but it has turned my head back to arranging. After my recent other pop/rock songs (The Angels, some Cream and even Van Halen), I've gone back to my old friends Pink Floyd.

Some of my internet mates know that I've been working on a fingerstyle cover of the whole album "Dark Side of the Moon" for longer than a care to mention, with no real update since 2014.  I've further enhanced "Breathe", gone backwards on "Any Colour You Like" and "Great Gig in the Sky", the rest are largely the same. I decided to sit down and play them all back to back for the camera, even though some aren't finished.  But most importantly, I have begun documenting the work in MuseScore.  Only scatterings of tabs currently exist, it's mostly in my head.  One day I'd like to have a book/video.  There is a good chance that will never happen, but if all the songs are documented then it wasn't all a waste of time :-)

Se here you go.  I messed up quite a few times; it is hard to play continously for 19 minutes without bungles.  Much of the work isn't yet done.  But that's why this is a "progress" video, not a "complete, done and dusted" video.

0:00 Speak to me.  JAW can tap the guitar body!
0:10 Breathe.  More freestyled now than just fingerpicked. Now features intro solo with an "innovative technique" I'm still trying to master, check it at 1:08
3:02 Time.  Forgot what I was doing, pretty awful play through, I normally do a lot better. Sorry.
6:19 Breathe Reprise.
7:25 Great Gig in the Sky.  Only the intro, been too long since I played the vocal part I didn't attempt.
8:36 Money.  Still in progress, I need to make it more interesting than just the verse/chorus.
10:36 Us and Them. I can normally make the detuning to Drop D fit in nicer, and get it a bit more accurate.  The pressure of the video camera.
13:40 Any Colour You Like.  Forgot what I was doing again, this needs a lot of work, I almost shouldn't include it.  "Progress".
14:55 Brain Damage. Occasional brain fart.
17:50 Eclipse.

If you make it to the end here, have this kudos ribbon, and pop on a comment letting me know which bits didn't work for you (I have broad shoulders).  Thanks!

Sunday 17 September 2017

Teaching 101: Easy access

I'm not a guitar teacher...no wait, I am a guitar teacher!

This seems like a simple idea, like it's just about degrees of laziness, but until a student finds the deeper love and want to play guitar (indeed for anything that requires time and effort to achieve a goal) - then you have to remove blockers. Such as taking your guitar out of its bag after coming back from a lesson, that alone can block a student from practising.

(Learning something that is hard, that takes a long time, that takes a lot of work, that can be frustrating - it's a important undertaking more so than ever in our world of instant gratification. It's this good stuff that lasts and doesn't come easy, that's the stuff worth doing.)

I'm calling that the second most important thing to buy after you buy your instrument is a stand to put it on. They are so cheap too! I bought a heap of instrument stands for around $AUD15 online delivered to my door, and everyone in my house learning an instrument got one.

So at any time, the instrument is right there, and they can pick it up and play. Even 5 minutes a day gets those neurons synapsing and creates new behaviour.

Do it. Instrument stand. My youngest daughter is learning the cello and look it's right there in her room, waiting for her, at all times. And it's made a difference, she plays it regularly, often without prompting!

Now there are other options for easy access to your instrument. It's great to have one guitar on a stand somewhere handy, but when there are say 4 of them gathered into a room they take up a lot of space. I switched to wall mounting instruments, again, easily sourced online and very cheap. My wife likes the "look", they are still easy access, and the best part is you get floor space back. And how nice is it to sit in a calming room full of instruments. Good if you have an available room that is!

Friday 25 August 2017

Rockin' with The Angels

Playing Aussie rock covers fits in well with a pub scene in Australia, I have a number I bring out but you can never have enough Aussie rock.  The Angels "Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again?" is an absolute classic with it's MA+ call-response titular question, so it is obvious arrangement material. I had tried a few times over the years, but it hasn't been until now that I considered I had the skills to take it on.

It's pretty much all power chords, with that standard blues rock perfect fifth-major sixth rollicking riff underpinning everything, so that had to be prominent. In E, it's pretty easy, the bassline looks like this:


That however uses up too much left hand, and is a real drag to do for long periods of time. It would be very difficult to put a melody over that. But since Drop D tuning has been my best friend for a long time now, the riff in Drop D will become:


Much better!

The overall structure is a twelve bar blues chord progression so going from the E to the A means going up the neck rather than to the next strings, to keep the Drop D working, but that is fine.  I wanted to keep the key in E, so putting a capo on the second fret brought the Drop D back to E.

So now for the melody on top:

       went  down  to san    ta    fe

Strumming the bass line would work to get the bass note on each beat and then the 5th-6th interval would be every 8th note, but I find strumming bass note chord fragments clumbsy. It might be the classical guitarist in me coming out - there are a few songs I play that I need to strum two or more bass strings, it forces your wrist down close against the soundboard to get the right angle, and this starts limiting what your fingers can do. You could train yourself to play fluently like that...or pluck the 5th string with alternating index-middle fingers.  Which is what I did.

And now, your annular (ring) finger can pluck the melody.  This is kinda hard, and the 4th string gets a lot of sympathetic vibration (and the odd accidental pluck) but it's completely in chord (the octave!) so it's okay.  I find I can't play right hand middle and annular fingers where the strings aren't next to each other, so my index finger gets busy on the riff when I'm picking the melody, but then reverts to index-middle when there's no melody.

You will have to mentally disconnect your ring finger because the melody is not on always on beat. The first three syllables "went down to" are all on beat, but "san ta fe" is all offbeat.  This is challenging, especially because the riff is always on-beat!  But, playing through slowly and then speeding up once you have made the mental adjustment does the trick.

It's another song that was a bit too rough for my youtube channel - too fast, bad picking - still needs work, but have a look, tell me what you think! :-)

Sunday 20 August 2017

Why can't this be blog, again?

The last post of mine has created an unprecedented 3 comments so far, I'm inspired to keep posting works in progress. Ha ha, well I post as a cathartic release "I don't post because I want to, I post because I *have* to!"

When I sat down to record a few weeks back I rattled off five new arrangements, only two I deemed good enough to go on my youtube channel but the others weren't too bad so I'll keep posting them here. This song I talked about a year ago and I've been ticking it over from time to time in the background.

Arranging a song is one of those things were I get all excited and filled with euphoria when I begin, and once that addiction wears off, if I haven't finished it it falls in a hole.  But the sensible engineer in me says "You put in a lot of work, and there's only a bit more to go, finish it."  Which I duly ignore, but the sensible engineer never goes away: "You loved that arrangement when you started.  Find that love again, and finish it."

So this song is close to finished, but I didn't play it well enough this time to release it on my YouTube proper channel, it's still too rough. Sorry, the video and the audio goes out of sync, not sure what happened there (another reason to not post). Anyway, enough! Have a look already!

Monday 14 August 2017

Playing in the white room

A few weeks ago I noticed Jake Reichbart had posted "White Room" by Cream which to me, is a pivotal quintessential psychedelic rock song harking from 1968.  Okay, my dad was heavy into Cream so this song was burned into my formative youth.

I was so impressed with Jake's cover I had to try it myself.  And much like the psychedelic nature of the song, I became addicted to his arrangement, like a drug, and stayed up late one night turning it over and over.  He plays it up the neck, I found it more at home in the open position.  By the time my fingers were hurting and I was really tired, I'd sussed out the main structure.  I have been playing it every few days to drill it in, it needs some variation so I'm not playing the same thing over and over again, but it's already kinda cool.

With that said, I have fallen further into the bad habit of playing sloppy, playing too hard, playing too fast, too much slapping...kinda the opposite of what a classical guitarist should be doing.  I'm happy enough with that but sometimes I think I need to scale it back and play something clean, accurate, and pure.  Or maybe it's time I go back to steel and dig in further...

Have a listen, I stepped from "White Room" into "Sunshine of Your Love", keeping the Cream feel, until I was disturbed; crashed and burned. Tell me what you think:

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Yamaha CG-100A student guitar

The second guitar I bought for my students is a 1989 Yamaha CG-100A. I have a soft spot for old Yamaha classical guitars. This one was a level up from a student model, slightly better woods used and a glossier finish. A good clean up and fresh strings got it back to its original glory. As with the Musima I grabbed a few weeks ago, the more I played it the more it opened up.

The dimensions of both guitars are almost exactly the same down to the millimetre. I didn't realise there was such a standard for the shape of a classical guitar! The Musima is about 1mm narrower on the neck and the action is a bit lower so it's slightly easier to play. Both shall make good beginners guitars.

The Yamaha is Japanese specification but made in Taiwan, and the Musima is German...sooo Asia versus Euro :-) I had my wife listen as I played the same songs on both to see what she thought.

Results are Asia has a better bass, it felt like the bass was deep inside and not so much projecting out but booming from within like a subwoofer. It makes the guitar sound powerful, but muddy. Euro on the other hand has a mid and treble projection that leaps out of the guitar, but the bass is subdued. My Esteve on the other hand has clear trebles, mids and bass.

But don't take my word for it, have a listen! All captured exactly the same on my Zoom H1, unproceeded, all guitars wearing brand new D'Addario EJ45 strings

Musima 130:

Yamaha CG-100A:

Esteve 1GR11:

So, next stop, see if I can teach two twelve year old girls how to play some classical guitar!

Sunday 2 July 2017

Fender FM212R amplifier debugging

I do some volunteer work for the school music program, mostly easy stuff like restringing guitars, but I was asked if I could fix an amp. "I'll have a look at it." I didn't live to regret saying it, but it really pushed the limits of what I am capable of.

It's a Fender Frontman FM212R, the last of the Fender analogue amps. Analogue as in it is full of transistors and resistors and capacitors and not a single digital chip inside it. There are always going to be analogue circuitry in an amp, but most amps these days use digital processing for any effects like reverb and drive.

Straight up some potentiometers were noisy. As in, as you twist a knob, there are crackles and hiss and thumps and it's pretty awful. This happens a lot, behind each knob is a potentiometer that generally has a carbon film with a mechanical "wiper" that sweeps across the surface changing the effective resistance. Crackles when there is dust and any other crud building up on the carbon surface. They aren't sealed, so buy a can of electronics "Contact cleaner" that come with a thin straw and squirt some inside the potentiometer (there are generally a few access points) and twist the shaft a lot, most of the time they come good. If they don't it's probably because the carbon film is worn down, in that case, replace them.

I ended up replacing 4 of them, now be careful, some pots are "linear" and some are "logarithmic". Generally, if it is "A" that means it is logarithmic. "B" means linear. This has not always been the case, when in doubt check! A linear pot, when half twisted, will be half way through its resistance. For example an A10k half twisted will be at 5k resistance, whereas a logarithmic will be a lot less than that. Why? It's how our ears work, you generally have to double anything to make it sound twice as loud. If you used a linear pot you'd be at half volume by about position 3, and the difference between say 9 and 10, being maximum volume, you wouldn't hear any difference. Generally, people want to hear an audible difference between volume 9 and volume 10.

Anyway, that was the easy part. The hard part was that the amplifier was distorting.

To diagnose this you need a schematic diagram of the circuit, an oscilloscope to monitor what is going on in the circuit while it is operating, and say an electronic engineering degree and/or several years of experience debugging analogue circuits. I managed to find the schematic circuit (last seen here: http://www.nodevice.com/manual/fm212r/get126250.html), source an oscilloscope, and I do have an electronic engineering degree but was quite lacking in analogue circuit debugging. But I do like trying!

The way to approach this is to inject a waveform into the amplifier, and then use the oscilloscope to check what the amplifier is doing as the signal travels through the circuit. Injecting a waveform is as simple as plugging in your guitar and sounding a note - but what you really want is a continuous signal. I did this with my laptop, an online signal generating website, and a cable from the laptop headphones to the amp. Let me tell you how sick I am of a 440Hz sinewave. I mixed it up from time to time, changing the frequencies, but man, constant pitch is truly awful.

Now a fixed frequency sine wave doesn't tell you the full story - if the amplifier is failing only in different frequency ranges, you might not see the problem. Square waves are great, (insert engineering discussion), they contain all frequencies. The problem is when I injected a square wave and observed the output, it didn't match the square wave at all! This is to be expected as a guitar amp doesn't have to reproduce a square wave. So it's hard to tell what's right and what's wrong.

But I was in luck. The problem did show at lower frequiencies of sine wave. Not easy to hear, but easy to see on the oscilloscope. You can see in the photo the yellow input sine wave is distorted in the blue output signal (click to zoom). Moving slowly through the circuit, comparing the input signal against the output signal, I found the section of the circuit where the problem. Which was a big section of many transistors, diodes, resistors, and, well, it helped but I couldn't say "it's that part!"

I did some of the basics first - I resoldered a big area of that circuit, in case any of the components had a dry joint. I poked components with a wooden chopstick while it was operating to see it it made a change. No. The distortion sort of came and went, sometimes the amp would play fine. This is the worst sort of problem you can come across; intermittent failures.

I decided that it must be a heat issue. So, with a heatgun (I could have used a can of cold spray, but heatgun was easier) I pointed heat at small sections of the circuit board and watched the output on the oscilloscope. Eureka! A bunch of diodes very clearly showed the distortion changing with heat!

Did I mention I am an electronics engineer? I haven't done electronics for a living for 20 years, but I recognised the signal diodes as the crossover biasing diodes for the class AB amplifier stage. Quick summary - class B amps have matching complementary transistors (or FETs) that deal with half the load each, and the crossover between the transistors creates distortion, so class AB introduces diodes to pre-bias the transistor pair eliminating the distortion.

There was also a diode that I didn't recognise the function of, some sort of signal feedback from a later stage I'm guessing, sadly it was a different sort of diode to the rest being able to take a much higher voltage drop. I couldn't tell which of the 4 were the problem, so I ordered some of each online. You could only buy the diodes in packs of 200, but at $14 delivered for 400 diodes it's not really a problem.

Since a class AB amplifier has a symmetry, I also decided to replace the other set of diodes, even though they weren't showing a problem. As a minimum, the new diodes will be more balanced than a new one and an old one, or, if they failed on one side of the amplifier symmetry it was likely they may fail on the other side too.

I desoldered the diodes and popped the new ones in. Couldn't believe it, problem solved. Played through the amp for at least an hour, perfect.

Let me tell you, I was well pleased with myself, I nearly gave up a few times, it took me two months of stuffing around from time to time on it, trying to keep myself encouraged. On the day I sent it back to the music teacher I said "don't put it into production until you have rebuilt some confidence in it." And here's the difference between a cautious engineer and a music teacher - that very same day he put it into an evening concert...

Thursday 15 June 2017

Musima 130 student guitar

A family friend asked if I could give her some advice on getting guitar lessons for for twin twelve year old girls. This turned into I will buy everything they need and start teaching them. Which I'm fine with, I haven't had a student in years. Classical guitar teaching, of course, not that I play classical style, but I'm very founded in the ways of classical guitar.

I'm sure to blog more about teaching again, but for now, I wanted to find two classical guitars on a budget.

I've discussed before that I'm much keener on secondhand guitars over brand new budget guitars. Older guitars built back in the days when they were still raping the rain-forests for choice woods, and where the guitar has mellowed with age. Of course I'm glad the rain-forests are being protected now, don't get me wrong, but dollar for dollar I'm sure that your money is better spent in an older secondhand guitar. Perhaps modern day Chinese mass production factories get much better build tolerances, but we've known how to make great guitars long before mechanisation was a thing so It's not like a modern guitar is automatically better.

I purchased the first one which I thought was an exceptionally amazing piece of history – made in East Germany during the 80’s! Yep, a genuine socialist-made behind-the-wall guitar! The cheap fretboard wood must have been in a dry environment for too long, was showing a lot of superficial cracking but nothing to stop it from being playable. Was also missing 3 strings so I could only go by observation and intuition. I had already done a quick google before heading off to see it and it was basically a student level guitar, "Musima 130 Euro Classic", so even at the time it was not a fancy one, but probably sounded better than a brand new student level guitar. $140 plus a carry bag, a bit more than I wanted to pay, but, eh, I was there.

I cleaned it up, restrung it, started playing some rock’n’roll on it – “How you like that frauline? Das ist gut? Bet you’ve never heard anything that before, ya?” It played easily, so good for a student, but sounded kinda flat and dull. So, very East German. (Yeah, okay, a complete stereotype based on nothing but American movies).

After I had been playing it for around an hour to stretch the strings in, I was sure that it had “opened up” and was sounding a little bit brighter. Perhaps I was getting used to the dull sound but no, I’m quite sure Frauline was indeed brightening up. 30 year later - another part of East Germany reunified.

The next guitar I've lined up to look at next week is a mid 90's Yamaha mid-range classical. I'm a fan of Yamaha classical guitars - so long as it's not a C40 - which is in the class of Chinese mass produced student guitars I mentioned earlier :-)


Sunday 28 May 2017

Commando High Score Recording

Although I arranged this a year ago, I hadn't got around to recording it.  In fact I hadn't recorded anything for nearly a year.  Partly because it takes me several hours, and partly because there isn't much need for more guitar videos in the world.  I feel like my music comes across better live, so I prefer to share my songs at gigs these days.

I have a few songs to record yet but this one decided to come out.  It's 1985 Rob Hubbard, nah, not the scientology bloke, the music composer.  My favourite of his is "Monty on the Run" but that is too much to take on.  This piece however, which was used in Command High Score and another that I can't remember, was somewhat simpler.  The SID chip it was composed for used three instruments, a bassline, a looping middle rhythm part and the melody.  I tried a few ways to put the middle into it but it never quite sounded right.  So I left it as a simpler bass and melody.

To keep video recording simple I zoom in on the guitar and keep me out of the picture.  I use my trusty Zoom H1 condenser microphone for the audio.  My DSLR camera is not easy to self-record but I don't think any are - well at least not the ones that have a backscreen that can't flip forward. So if you can't frame yourself, and set your focus, what do you do?  After much scouring of the internet to come up with a solution, I still simply use a mirror behind the camera.

So as you can see in the photo below, I've got the camera on a tripod with a mirror on another tripod behind it, and on the bottom left the microphone.  Standard deal - take video and audio separately, synchronise by eye and ear, tweak the audio EQ and the colour saturation, add a logo, job done.

Friday 12 May 2017

Two recent gigs

I've played at South Beach Tacos in Fremantle twice now which has been a good experience.  Fremantle has more, for want of a better term, "hipsters", who as a complete generalisation get more into live music.  So in playing my stuff I get more connection with the audience, which inspires my "A game" which is good for everyone! I take  my active speaker, a stand for it, power cable, lead and guitar.  Minimal - though the speaker is heavy so I put it on a trolley if I'm going to be walking for a bit.  I sit with the speaker partially behind me so I can hear what is coming out of it, I play better when I'm playing to the sound that we are all hearing.

Speaking of playing to the sound you are producing, I played at my mate Shaun's new open mic at The Windsor in South Perth.  Shaun provides the sound system, you just plug in.  He's got a few speakers on poles directed at the crowd, and a big sub, and a foldback speaker for you, all through a mixer. Which is a pretty standard thing to do from what I've seen.  The problem being the foldback was giving a sound hard to play off; I felt that some notes were resonating, the bass wasn't coming through properly, the crowd was loud, etc etc.  They told me afterwards it sounded great, I guess it's just something I will have to learn. When I'm playing I'm very much playing off what I hear from the guitar, so if what I'm hearing is not a good indication of what is actually happening then I'm distorting what I'm doing to "fix" it.  I'm not sure if I'm making any sense...well picture playing the guitar with 100% block out earmuffs on.  Sure I'd be playing the right chords and all that, but I would be losing subtlety.  In the engineering game we call that open loop, as compared to adjusting for feedback which is closed loop.

Maybe I should record myself playing closed loop (playing to what I'm hearing) and playing open loop (playing without hearing what you are playing) and see if there is any difference.  Ha.

While there, I had an interesting conversation with a professional gigging musician who answered some of my questions with his insights. For example, I said "Good on cafe owners for getting me in to play live music, but I'm not attracting more business, how are they getting value?"  He said "When venues ask how many people I'm going to bring to a gig, I say 'zero'.  This isn't the 80's anymore, it's not about bringing a crowd with you. But what I do give is a better experience to the people there.  I'll turn somebody who might not come back for 6 months into someone who will come back in two weeks.  Someone will buy another cup of coffee or a beer or a bottle of wine a listen a bit longer.  That's the value I'm offering to the venue."

He waxed philosophically for quite some time further, my brain popped, I should have been taking notes :-)

Monday 10 April 2017

What's happening April 2017

Deli Chicchi, where I was playing most Sunday nights, closed in the evenings for the season, which is a shame. It has been a good experience playing there; a regular gig keeps me on my A game. If I play my set through at least once every 2 weeks I play well. It's fitness isn't it? You train for an event, triathlon or something, and you struggle to get to your peak - if you stop for so much as a couple of weeks, and you fall from your peak very quickly. So a regular gig for me is pretty important as I'm not a professional player as such. Although, if I had to play my setlist every day of my life, I reckon I'd tire of it. Weekly would be fine.

However, my mate Shaun Street of Street Artist Management still has me on his books and when he hears of something that fits my niche he'll put my name in. A cafe in Freo are getting me in, Friday week, 8-10pm, possibly looking at potential for regular gig. Freo is about a 35-40 min drive for me which is a downer, but Freo is kinda the soul of live music in Perth so it's gotta be done.

Otherwise with the downtime from gigging I've turned my hand back to Dark Side of the Moon. I play through "Money" regularly, the last song to get any attention. The bulk of the album is done, but, as with so many things, 80% of the work is 20% of the final product - which in this case is Gilmour's classic solo parts. This project has been going on a long time, according to my records it started properly mid 2007, even though I'd been playing a simple "Us and Them" from my twenties.

I play Dark Side of the Moon full album at gigs when it looks like the audience might be into it, takes me a around 20 minutes to play what I have so far. But at the moment I skip parts because I haven't fully learnt them. I have decided that I need to be able to play all songs on the album, and focus on getting the 80% done. So a cutdown "Money", cut down Great Gig and Any Colour You Like. I've also never turned my hand at the Time solo. Let's call all that "Phase II" :-)

But with that said, I'm updating "Breathe" to include the slide guitar part at the start. Which is very cool, and kinda difficult. Hard to play an open chord and a 14th fret high note at the same time, but I have a few ideas I'm working on...

Besides, I owe you guys another recording of where I'm at!

Tuesday 28 February 2017

What's happening February 2017

I've been playing quite regularly at Deli Chicchi which has been great, it means I get to flex my muscle memory on my set list, which had been a little rusty, but now it's not too bad. There are a few songs I've had to let drop, I might relearn them, we'll see. I think it is alright to part ways with a song, I don't think there is a rule that says once you have gone to the effort of learning a song you have to be able to play it forever.

Doing a 2.5 hour set every Sunday evening gets your chops in good form on your "standard" setlist, but more importantly it gives you the courage(?) to play songs that you aren't so good at. And then you slowly get better at them. Bottom line - you keep playing, you keep getting your skills up, you are in your top form. Once a week for my full set list is all I need, in fact, once every two weeks would be enough. My set list is actually over 3 hours long, so I don't play everything I know. But I rotate through them. And usually play my real crowd pleasers at the start and at the end, when the people have changed.

I'm not playing this Sunday so I took the opportunity to change strings. I like 2 weeks for the trebles to bed in before I'm playing for an audience. I *think* I string the guitar for the fastest bed in times, but I'm still tuning between songs for at least a week after new strings. Those trebles just keep stretching! I'm coming off a set of D'Addario EJ49NTs which are the pretty much identical to my standard EJ45s. I've been experimenting with the different D'Addario offerings, I did the carbon variant last year which I talked about before and now I'm trying the EXP coated ones. Supposedly the EXP coating on the basses make the tone last longer. We shall see! I could feel the coating immediately, it makes the strings feel silkier.  Undecided if that is good or bad.

So far these are the strings I've tried:

EJ45 Pro Arte ~$5USD(2016)
EJ49 Pro Arte black trebles ~$7USD(2016)
EJ45TT Pro Arte Dynacore ~$10USD(2016)
EXP45 Pro Arte Coated ~$10USD(2016)
EJ45FF Pro Arte Carbon ~ $13USD(2016)

String selection is a huge problem because there are so many manufacturers and models and tensions and they all feel slightly different, and unless you take good notes you won't remember what you've liked. Initially I experimented with manufacturers and stuck with D'Addario. Then I experimented with tensions and stuck with normal tension. Hard tension makes me dig in, and nylon is about subtleties, if I wanted digging in I would have stuck with steel strings. Moderate tension would be too far the other way, normal tension already feels too loose I couldn't imagine going softer.

So now it's just trying the different models. I liked the carbon, but the trebles were just a touch too thin for me. Again, closer to steel. Black trebles are no real difference. Except they are black. EXP coating I'll report back. Dynacore I reckon I'm going to like. The carbon set has Dynacore wound basses which are great so I know what to expect there, but with my standard nylon trebles.

Bottom line, my standard EJ45s and change them every few months - remembering to wipe them after every play - is a good set of strings that lasts for a while at a really cheap price. I'm prepared to pay more for a longer lasting set though, I dislike changing strings, it takes too long to bed in!

Meanwhile, with school being back for the year, and my kids back into music, I see the head music teacher once a week again. When he saw me last week - "JAW! I've got some guitars for you!" and presented me with a Strat copy and a bass, both donated to the school. "Can you sort these out for me!" "Ha, sure!" (Last year, I offered to do some of my compulsory parent hours helping out with the music department.)

I tackled the bass guitar first. Needed a polish and a clean and new strings, but when I plugged it in, nothing. Pop off the volume and tone controls, ah. The pots had come loose and when the dials had been twisted the whole body spun and snapped all the wires. Well, any excuse to fire up the soldering iron is fine, but what wire goes where?

Internet to the rescue, 3 unmarked dials...hmm. Looking at various wiring diagrams I decided that it was going to become "jazz standard wiring". This is when the first two pots are volume knobs, in parallel, where two knobs independently varies the gain from the two pickups. You can put the pickups in series for more thump, but I liked the thoughts behind parallel. Bit of solder and a proper retightening of the pots and she's a nice instrument.

Next stop, fix the electric guitar! I'd already done an electric for my sister's boy last month, it was not in good shape. Installed a new tremolo block, and new nut, got it all going but I couldn't for the life of me intonate the 6th string properly, I think I'm going to have to operate on the nut some more. And the volume/tone pots are both stuffed - you know when you turn a pot and it hisses and clicks - because the internal connections inside are not making good connection anymore. So more work required on that one, I'll have to put in new pots. Pots (Potentiometers) are a common point of failure in electronics as they are used so much, and wear down. I had to replace 3 out of the 6 pots in the amp that came with that guitar!

So a fair bit of guitar repairs going on at the moment.

I'm still practising "Money" as part of my Dark Side of the Moon project, and "Why Can't This Be Love", 5 minutes of playthrough on each every couple of days does wonders. That's the most efficient way of learning a thing.

...heh, last Sunday at the gigi I had been playing for a while and a teenage girl wandered over in the middle of a song "Can you play 'Time After Time' by Cyndi Lauper?" I had to stop the song because she was expecting an answer and I couldn't process playing and her question at same time (you guitarist know what I'm talking about), so I said "No, sorry, I haven't arranged that one." Well she looked at me with the expression "what's wrong with you, why won't you play it for me?!?" which I took as a compliment - she thought I was so good that I should be able to play absolutely anything. Well the situation stuck in my head so last night I pulled the chords from the internet and attempted a hacky JAW style fingerstyle arrangement. You know what, I think it will work without too much effort :-)