Sunday, 31 October 2021

What's happening October 2021

It's quiet in my house this 31st October 2021 - my wife and three kids are still asleep. It's a special day, my oldest turns 18. this very day. Many, many years ago, when she was not quite 3, I posted a video of Pachelbel's Canon in D and mentioned "I decided that I would learn to play this tune for my daughter's wedding. Seeing as she is only 3, I've got plenty of time to practise." She is not planning a wedding, so I still have time, but wow, where has the time gone?  YouTube first post 28th may 2006; 15 and a half years ago.  This blog first post 25 Aug 2008; 13 years ago. No plans on stopping :-)

I've got songs to record, I have been playing them through every few days.  I keep adjusting them, heh, nothing is ever finished. I have also being running an experiment, a song I have had on the back burner for a year or so, Bob Dylan "It's all over now Baby Blue", It's a simple melody, the chord progression is cool, very Dylanesque. Because the melody is simple and there is plenty of rests, I have been jazzing up the bass line. So jazzy - that the experiment - so as to improvise it every time.  Nothing written down. The beauty of the chord progression and the style of song is that pretty much any bass note is fair game, even notes clearly not even related to the chord or the progression sound jazzy and fine, so the improv should be easy, don't even need to think about what note to play.

You know what?  It isn't easy! But it is cool - it is forcing me to think differently. I find that I will miss coming back in on the melody because I'm pre-occupied with what I'm doing on the bass line.  Most songs where I have learnt a bass line, they are fully on autopilot.  You don't need to think about them.  But improvising a bass line, you need to think, and then suddenly your thumb independence is out the door. "I can only do one thing at once!"  What I think the result of this experiment will be - because I've already noticed it - is that the independence becomes more fluid.  You won't rigidly play _exactly what you've learnt_ you will mix it up.

I do it a tiny amount already - mixing up bass lines and rhythm mids.  Naudo does it a lot. Tommy can play two songs at the same time!  Although, I don't think it is truly playing two songs at the same time, it is programmed in.  I'm sure if you said "Now change the key of one of those songs" he would be able to do it. But if you said "Now play one of the songs 10 bpm slower while keeping the other one the same bpm" - I don't think that is possible without pre-programming it :-)

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 last time, 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 his 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 your 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.