Thursday, 8 November 2012

I'm Still Here November Update

Hey I ran a poll recently (if anyone has a burning question they'd like to see polled, let me know) "Where do you place yourself in your guitar journey?" From 195 votes we had:

6  ( 3%) Expert
18 ( 9%) Just Started
22 (11%) Advanced
61 (31%) Beginner
88 (45%) Intermediate

Only 3% call themselves an expert; I'm going to put that down to (a) "Aww shucks, I'm no expert!" and (b) Experts don't need help from the internet.  Look I don't even want to call myself an expert, there is so much about guitar and music theory I don't know, but if you are talking cover arrangements in fingerstyle, OK, I will begrudgingly call myself an expert.

"Just started and Beginner" was purposely broken into two to provide an escape hatch - "Just started" is a real beginner, but some people who have been playing for 10 years might still be "Aww shucks, I'm just a beginner" so they need the "Beginner" option.

"Intermediate" at nearly half is to be expected.  I would consider most guitarists who have mastered the basics, and have access, would search the internet for ideas and inspiration.  My humble site here hopefully offers ideas and inspiration, so welcome! :)

"Advanced" was also offered as an escape hatch for "Expert", I would have thought there would be more.  I was thinking there would be say 25% in the Advanced/Expert class, 25% in the Just Started/Beginner class and 50% in the Intermediate class.  However it's not like this poll is a true cross section of the community, it is roughly a cross section of solo acoustic fingerstyle. At best.  I imagine a similar poll on a learners site would have the results skewed quite differently.

Anyway, polls are fun.  I'm not sure how much to read into this one.  Must be time for another!

Meanwhile, I recorded another Billy Joel cover and posted it on youtube, you can see it here:  I liked this one because the bass line challenged me a little bit - root notes on beats 1, 2&, 3 and different (but in chord) note on beat 4.  Chuck the simple melody on top and finger flick some chord fragment fills in where you can.  Because of the reasonably busy bass line I didn't find much room for flicked chord fragments.  As you know I like my arrangements less regimented - the fragments add a dimension of "feel" unlike pure alternate bass style picking which is clever but, erm, clinical?  Mathematical?  I was forced down that line somewhat in this song which to be honest is often a good thing - too much flicked chord fragments "muddies" a song, the distinctions are lost, the melody is not clear and the arrangement approaches strumming.

There is a fine line between "Clinical but clear and distinct" and "Muddy but warm with feel".  And a balance to be found.  You can't go clinical for 20 bars, then go muddy for the next twenty...well okay you can, but only when it is balanced.  I think I got a reasonable balance with this arrangement - I was strict on the bass line in places, but loosened off when I needed to.  I'm still learning! :)

I haven't decided what arrangement to focus on next.  I've got a few unfinished to get back to sometime, I've also got a few songs to re-learn.  Gigging is going to be back on in the next few weeks (not that I have time for it, but you must make time!) and I like to have a solid two hours of material, with maybe only a few that I play with trepidation in the fear of botching it...when some nights I'll have a crack at it when I'm feeling good, some nights I'll leave it alone.

However as of today, I haven't picked up the guitar in five days!  It is terrible!  And even then five days ago I only played for an hour!  I've been working 50-55 hours a week, and I'm laying some flooring at home and other renovation work.  Yes; it doesn't sound much like a guitarist...working big hours at a day job doing engineering, and in the evenings DIY home improvements.  I think that is the reality for most of us hobbyists.  Sometimes life gets in the way...priority can't be the guitar.  But it is always there, waiting for when life isn't quite so demanding :)


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Video Blog: Disco fan confession with Funky Town

I talk a bit about thumb independence, and play a bit of "Funky Town"...and admit to being a Disco fan. I'm a bit rambly in this one, sorry, I need to plan what I'm going to talk about more!



Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Guitar Cam session two

Guitar cam certainly isn't new, I first remember being amazed by it in the AC/DC video "Thunderstruck" in the early 90's. Concept - rigidly attach a camera to your guitar, the guitar stays still and everything else revolves around it. Heh, everything revolves around guitar, I like it :)

GoPro have specifically targeted this "action cam" scene, and that is the first one I looked at. They have good brackets, but the camera specification is more about being rugged than high performance. Really, any camera you buy these days has the same mounting point so you could use the same bracket with anything. But what really threw me with the gopro was the very wide fish eye lens. I didn't really want to have a "bent" guitar - fish eye is for extreme offroad action. But you need to be kinda wide, so I made sure the camera I grabbed was averagely wide. Wide as in it can capture the whole guitar in the frame even when the camera is really close to the guitar.

I trawled ebay for brackets, and nothing appealed to me. You know what that means - DIY JAW on the scene :)

The first bracket I made was a bit of a mock, consisted of a bit of aluminium, fencing wire and some wood. I didn't even take a photo it was that bad. The second bracket used learnings from the first. And the third bracket, yet to be made, will use learnings from the second!

Okay, things of note:
  • Double clamp - this is just two $1.50 clamps from the hardware store joined together with two little plates. Drill a hole through the plates, screw straight into the plastic handles. Some sheet rubber glued to the clamp faces makes sure it won't scratch the guitar. Two clamps to be doubly sure there is no movement when clamped on!

  • Steel bar - welded to one of the plates on the clamp with a second piece at ninety degrees to the first for more rigidity. The problem is the arm is longer than it needs to be, and because it is steel it is heavy. The heavier, the more mass is bouncing around when I'm rocking out, the more rigid it needs to be so you don't see shocks. And the heaviness makes it harder to play.

  • Angle/position - the bar is long because I wanted, well, the view you see. Of course it means more mass, more bouncing around, and the further out the worse the bouncing. Version 3 of the bracket will have a "more direct" angle/position - same good view of left hand and right hand - but lighter.

  • Camera mount - just a hole in the end of the bracket and a 1/4" imperial thread welded to a tab of metal to make attaching the camera easy.

  • Camera - Panasonic HC-V100. Not amazing, but it has a 32.5mm wide-angle lens, very small and light (lighter than the bracket!) and the iFrame recording codec is nice to work with.
For my first test I played six songs, my arm was tired after that. Of the six, five were "cafe standard" - means not bad, but a few too many fubs for my liking so I won't upload them to my normal youtube channel. One was good, I've already uploaded it :) One key learning was with my nice Zoom H1 microphone, tapping my foot comes through as an annoying thump. Don't tap foot (but I like to tap foot!) DON'T TAP FOOT!

Anyway, here are photos. And since the other 5 songs were cafe standard, that's good enough for my blog. I will be playing and uploading more to my normal channel as I go, but I thought I'd share some more with my !34! mates right now :)

Oh and yep, I think picking up the guitar at the start and putting it down at the end, guitar-cam effect, will be my thing...


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

What's happening June 2012

[insert standard disclaimer about being busy etc etc] While running some errands the other day I was passing by a music store I'd been in several times before and I thought "Hang it, I'm gunna go in and see if they have anything 'interesting'" - und I did.

On the shelf I didn't see any nylon/classicals that were interesting at all.  It's not really that type of shop (yes, someone was playing the smoke on the water riff with heavy distortion as I walked in).  I asked a guy if they had anything else, no, so I grabbed the most expensive guitar they had, a Yamaha CGX171.  Which, of the three nylon guitars I have, that is actually one on them.  I'm not sure why, but I'm sure it had a wider neck than my one.  Hmmm...

Anyway, seeing as a CGX171 wasn't interesting, I asked to play through an amp.  The guy set me up with a Fender amp I'd tried before, they are okay.  He dug out the nice AER 60W acoustic which I had previously decided was the best amp and if I was to get another that would be it.  It is still nice, but I think he could tell that I wasn't inspired.  He said "How many people do you play to?"  (Which was really nice to hear, I hadn't said anything about performing, he simply assumed that I played to audiences.  Either I look/feel/sound like a performing guitarist or he's a really good salesman.)  He told me "you need to be looking at a PA."  "Have you got anything I can try?"  "Yeah sure, come with me."

I then got quite a good lesson about PA systems from a sound engineer.  There is an interesting system, very modular by a company that is trying to fill gap between cabinet amps and full PA systems.  Imagine an amp/sub box, then a pole, then sets of speakers mounted on the pole.  Except you want a few more speakers, so you click some more on the top.  You want some facing you and some facing the crowd this way and that way, just rotate them.  Basically a click together - no cables except the one to your guitar - modular PA system.  Pull apart to get back on the road.  It requires a mixing desk/box thing, they had a simple 4 channel one, because generally in a PA system you'd have a microphone and more than just a guitar.

Really interesting.  I think that is what I'd need rather than just a cabinet amp on the floor.  Pricey though - perhaps I should stockpile my earnings from gigging to purchase one, starting system is around $AUD2000 (in 2012).

The sound engineering side of it is interesting too.  Because I sit behind the guitar I'm never quite sure what everyone is hearing.  It has made me want to play a gig at a place where there is a sound engineer weaving their magic through the PA.  I know a place - open mic style.  I have avoided it thus far because I picture it as a pub generally full of drunken yobbos where most performers are bands playing loud rock.  I'm not sure I'd fit in there, but perhaps I should give it a go just for the sound engineer PA side of things.

In other news, whilst wholely heartened by my previous gigging, I am disheartened at playing the guitar not gigging.  Aside being busy at work (see disclaimer) I just haven't set aside any time to play.  It is actually at a point where "why bother playing when nobody is listening and nobody is paying?" :) Okay, not quite that bad, but "gigging changes you".  Over the past month I think I've played for maybe 4 hours on 4 separate occasions.  Don't fear though, because...

I made Guitar Cam Version 2 last weekend.  I worked out from Version 1 that the mounting bracket needs to be _very_ rigid, so I doubled the amount of clamping and welded together a very sturdy steel bracket.  I adjusted the viewing angle too, and it worked out great!  The rigidity is not quite there yet; what happened in version 2 is that to make it ultra rigid I made it too heavy, this time the weight causes it to move slightly when I'm digging into the song.  It's only just noticeable, and it isn't detracting, but the weight means I can only play for maybe 15-20mins at a time before it is starting to be uncomfortable.  I'm going to record a couple of Jawmunji Channel Youtube clips for it over the next week; I think you'll really like it and I'm quite excited about doing it.

Guitar Cam Version 3 needs to be made though and I think this time it needs to be aluminium.  I don't have anything to weld aluminium, so that is going to be an interesting project.



Thursday, 17 May 2012

Guitar Cam - Attempt 1

First crack at Guitar Cam. The "test bracket" I made was not rigid enough, so the camera was bouncing around. I'll have to crack out the welder and make a nice solid steel one. But as far as a test goes, I think it was okay. I think the camera needs to come out further to catch more of the left hand fingering, but it's an interesting view. The song ended up a bit rough, I was aware the camera was bouncing and it threw me. Once I have a really solid rigid mount, I think the view will be more interesting and my distractions less...distracting :)

But what I hope you appreciate the most is I bought another video camera, nothing fancy just a low end consumer unit, but it makes a nice clear video. It has fancy optical stabilisation, low light is not bad, but importantly it has the nice Apple "iFrame" codec built in, which takes 960x540 video at 25fps (PAL) and every frame is an i-frame. Compression is H.264 for video and AAC for audio, which is fine, that is modern day (2012) top notch compression. iFrame as a codec is good for editing, each frame is a nice clear picture. I just used VirtualDub to knock this out up - synchronising the Zoom H1 audio from the mic to the video feed and adding a text overlay is pretty quick and easy (once you know how). I dropped the bitrate really low (the file is 90MB) because my upload speed is pretty slow and I want to go to bed.  I was experimenting with Cyberlink PowerDirector to render this video, but it was pissing me off (excuse the French) so I stuck to my tried tested and true VirtualDub.  Thanks Avery.

Enough talk, have a look, and offer suggestions - is the viewing angle too horrible? Not enough information coming through on the left hand, too far away from the right? Let me know.