Sunday, 24 January 2021

D'Addario XTC46 unboxing

There are too many strings to choose from. 

A decade ago I decided to stick with D'Addario as my string manufacturer of choice and test only strings from within their range. Because even within their range there are so many to choose from. I later I tested out several of their strings, and then I finally decided that D'Addario EXP45s were my favourite, they have a great tone that lasts for a long time due to a coating on the basses. Phew, decision made, no more testing required.

...until D'Addario recently released the XT range, their latest "coating technology".  So thanks to my patreons I get some USD bucks each month to try out new guitar stuff, I got my hands on a set! 

I ordered a high tension and a normal tension set, partly because I'm digging in more these days and if you are going to dig in then go for harder strings to bring the dynamic range further up. That is, on a normal tension set, if you dig in too far you will max out the dynamics the string is capable of. But at the same level of dig on harder sets, you have a bit more range to go. Additionally in the XT range the tension starts at normal tension, then there is hard tension and then there is extra hard. So hard tension sits in the middle of the range, it seemed sensible. (Okay, EXP45 was the same I just never took note.)

Straight up the packaging is similar to the EXP45s, nice embossing, simple designs. Nice font, nice matt browny dark grey colour. The back actually states the tension - Normal is 28, 32, 40, 28, 35, 44. Hard is 29,33, 41, 29, 36, 46. Quote from the box - "These are strings made to stay, for players who refuse to fade away" - very corny D'Addario.

The corrosion proof bag got an upgrade - zip lock which I thought was a nice addition. Is it as sealed as the old fully sealed bag you used to have to rip open? Somebody decided it was!
The strings themselves are slightly whiter and shinier than the EXPs, and maybe slightly silkier. I don't like the silkiness, but it's part of the deal with coated strings and I've learnt to live with it. They wound on just fine, the E string has the section on the end that is not as tightly wound for attaching the string, which I'm not a fan of but again, I live with it. The strings are slightly longer, which is good, because I only trim the trebles not the basses, so that when the basses are starting to sound a little dead I take them off and re-string them the other way round. (And then trim them).  You'd be surprised how much sound you get back doing that

The trebles are the same as used in the the EXP45 set.

Straight up - great sound. However I couldn't say whether they are better than the EXP45. The basses bedded in quickly as expected, the nylon trebles take ages, no surprises there. The tone is lasting a long time, also as expected - you would hope they are an improvement on the EXP45. 
One extra variable I added to the testing equation is that I have jumped up a hardness level. So some of the sound difference would be coming from the different tension. That test will need to wait until I wear these ones out and try the normal tension.
So there you have it. D'Addario's new coated strings. So far so good.

Note that I don't receive anything from D'Addario in talking about their products.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

New year, new tutorial!

I started developing a "Tips and Tricks" for my fingerstyle guitar tabs a while back, and kept putting off finishing it, but with a bit of spare time over the holidays I knuckled down and got it done, yah!

Since slowly re-publishing my tabs in (the even more beautiful latest version) Musescore format and releasing them on Patreon, I knew that I needed a little primer video to get everyone started. While the tabs stand alone, and there is always the video I record of me playing them, there are a few tips and tricks I wanted to talk about.

Making videos like these, by yourself, is a big undertaking.  I reckon around 15 hours from start to finish for this little 10 minute video.  All those professional people out there, making amazing looking courses and tutorials - huge huge effort, well done.  I like making videos, but wow, this sort of video, just so much work.

I've also transcribed it, with tab bits, for people who prefer to read than watch a video.  Yah!

Nothing is new under the sun, but maybe there was something in here you'd never thought about!

I'm never happy with the end result when I record, well, any video, I can pick so many faults in them, but each time I make a video it's a little better than the last one. If I keep going, one day I might be good at it.  But for now, it's about looking after my Patreons, and this was something I really wanted them to have access to.

Go have a look! Enjoy! Here is the Transcript and watch the video below:


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

2020 Stocktake

Sometimes I have a lot of partial works sitting around that I forget about.  When the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Or distracted and forgotten.  Or perfectionism has prevented me from releasing.  It's lucky I mention songs here on this blog when I initially noodle with them, I can revise and take stock of what I need to finish!  Because finishing is important.  Half a page of written lines is not worth much.

Shout out if you would love to see one of these songs done and recorded!

Very close to tab done and learnt:

Chicago - If You Leave Me Now
The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Steven Universe - Drift Away
Thompson Twins - Hold Me Now
Cream - White Room

Plenty of work done but not as much as above:

The Eagles - Hotel California
The Animals - House of the Rising Sun
Dragon - Rain
Bob Dylan - It's All Over Now Baby Blue

Some work done, but not as much as above:

Adele - Rolling in the Deep
CCR - Bad Moon Rising
The Beatles - Blackbird
Daddy Cool - Eagle Rock
Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven
Bach - Toccata (Sky Version)
Bob Dylan - Knocking on Heaven's Door

Last of my top 15 songs on YouTube that I need to get Tabs onto Patreon for my wonderful Patreon supporters:

The Wiggles - Rock-a-bye Your Bear /  Where's Jeff
Lipps Inc - Funky Town

Sunday, 20 December 2020


Dermatitis, eczema, well specifically Atopic Dermatitis is something that I have dealt with since I was young. The cause is unknown, but I distinctly remember when I was 19 working in a pizza shop, folding pizza boxes, I cut myself (paper cut style) on a box on one of my fingers. The cut took a long time to heal, and formed into this itchy blistery thing, which eventually spread over both my hands. 30 years later it is still an ongoing irritant.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it is red itchiness, blisters under the skin that flare up from time to time, so itchy that sometime in madness you with scratch it until it bleeds, just looking for a bit of relief. If you don't do something about it you will have red raw peeling skin for weeks or always.

Sounds nasty, but with hydrocortisone (a prescription cream) I can keep it under control. I've learnt to "detect" when it is about to start (it's a very minor itchiness on spots on my fingers/hands) so I will hit it with a small quantity of cream just before I go to sleep for 2-3 nights in a row, and that stops it from really erupting. I use moisturiser whenever I remember, that helps, I keep several tubes of moisturiser around the house and at work. I try not to stick my hands in chemicals (covid-19 and all that hand sanitiser has been a disaster for dermatitis sufferers) and I notice that stress can bring it on.

To all my brothers and sisters out there in the same boat - I empathise with you.

So a few weeks ago I had an "outbreak" of dermatitis on the tip of my left index finger. Which is super-inconvenient because that's an important guitar playing skin surface. What was worse about this outbreak is that it was also under my nail. It is pretty easy to shutdown an outbreak on your hands, slightly more difficult on your fingertip, but the hardest when it gets under your nail. I got onto it straight away, twice a day I was hitting it with cream.  But in the meantime - I was playing rhythm guitar with the school band's Christmas Carol night! And if you are going to strum chords with a concert band full of brass, you need to do it with a steel string!

It was the perfect storm.  My supple nylon string fingertip were getting a hard workout on my steel string guitar, the dermatitis was heading under my nail, and cuts were opening up. The actual event turned out great - the nice thing about Christmas carols is it's about community and participation, the music is secondary. So even though I thought my playing was sub par (I had worked out the chords for 13 songs, transposed the yucky Bb and Eb keys that brass and woodwind seem to love by putting a capo at 1, but I only had a few sessions with them to figure out what they were doing for intros, outros, number of verses/choruses...I could write a full post about it) suffice to say the event turned out nice.

I took some paracetamol before the event and grit my teeth. By song 3 my fingertip was bleeding. I was fretting slightly differently to direct the contact surface away, but there wasn't much I could do. Smile and take it. Funny thing about that sort of pain is the longer you push through the less you notice it.

Index finger next day...not so bad, but never what I have in mind for guitar playing

Saturday, 21 November 2020

What's happening November 2020

 I played an open mic gig earlier this month at my mate Shaun's It was great to catch up with him, to chat with some of the musicians there, and to play of course!  I hadn't played out in more than a year, I tensed up and after half an hour my left arm was like a rock!  Apparently I sounded great but I felt it was pretty rough.  I need to do more gigs so I don't instinctively tense up.

Some interesting chaps there, a guy Chris who was a real estate agent, once his kids had grown up chucked that in and is making a living out of music. Said he does a lot of singing with backing tracks for retirement homes and the like, does a lot of busking, weddings and birthdays.  Sounds like it's not super lucrative but he is doing what he loves and paying the bills.  He was playing guitar and singing, which I think is what you should do if you haven't been playing the guitar for 30+ years - learning to sing and playing the guitar will get you somewhere a lot faster than just trying to play fingerstyle.  It was great to chat to you Chris!

Oh, the accountant playing guitar and singing has a great voice, there was some top quality musicians there.  A dude with a bass and a laptop running loops, very groovy.

Meanwhile the WA Youth Strings Orchestra that I am the chairperson for has three engagements this month...that's keeping me busy.  But not so busy that I can't noodle on songs I'm still learning, and finding new ones that I just *have* to try out.

For instance Naudo recenty played Rolling in the Deep which I had a crack at, and it is real bang for your buck.  As in, you get a lot of big sound for very little effort - it is not difficult to play.

Another of my favourite fingerstyle guitarists Jake uploaded Thompson Twins Hold Me Now and it got stuck in my head.  Not quite as easy, and I never play anything the same as the arranger, but after noodling with it for an hour I thought I sound record it so I can listen back.  This is where I ended up, needs more work but this one will be a keeper.

Hold Me Now demo: