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Archive for March, 2011


Tower of Effects

I finally got round to finish up the lower section of the effects tower. I was going to leave it finished wood or paint it black. Carol suggested I use my Tolex and cover it. So I did. Thus the whole thing is still easily separated at the top to make a floor based board or I can leave it in a tower mode and run it from my FCB1010… either way works fine.

The velcro carpeting is still in the mail (someplace) so I used some cable ties to put it together so I can use it in the meantime. I also have some 1/4″ phone jacks ordered and I’ll be making some custom cables for it (that are the proper length).


Top view:


All working good so far…


Guitar Shopping

Although it’s probably not unique to guitarists, there’s something about always being on the lookout for new guitars. I drop into any music store and my eyes just gravitate towards all those nitro finished beauties hanging on the walls of said establishment. If you’re a tool monger or electronics buff, the tool section in a store or rows and rows of electronics parts bins will generate the same kind of “brain rush”.

As it happened, the bassist and I were attending an Andrew Scheps recording seminar, which, conveniently, was held at Tom Lee Music in downtown Vancouver. Guess what they have adorning their walls? Yep. Geetars…mmm We had a lot of day to kill since it was an evening seminar and we go down early in the morning so, quite naturally, I simply have to start playing things and the bassist just keeps bringing them.

Electric solid bodies are my main weakness. Single coil or P90 style pickups. Which means I try a lot of Fender gear. Squier’s, Strats, Teles, Jazzmaster, Jaguar and so on. Usually plugged into the cleanest sounding amp with decent I can find, and I’ll state firmly that clean amps are getting harder and harder to find. Decent reverb in an amp is even harder to find with the DSP (digital signal processor) age in full swing and quality on the other end of the teeter totter.

After you play through about nine or ten of the solid bodies you start to notice a pattern. Specifically, none of them are in tune, or even close in most cases. The strings seem like there is no tension at all, no doubt so common string bends can be done by even the wimpiest handed player. I’d deliberately picked up guitars that others had just tried out to see if the guitar was in tune and nope. Ninety percent of them are out. A lot. So this begs, of course, why test play a guitar that isn’t in tune. My guess as to the why would be:

1. The player doesn’t know how to tune it
2. They don’t care if it’s in tune for their style of playing

Now I’d be hoping that it’s reason #1 because I’d avoid ever wanting to hear the player who subscribes to reason #2.

I did have a store salesman help “tune” a guitar for me. Not sure of the tuning he used, but it would go a long way to explain why so many of the guitars were out of tune. I carry a pocket tuner with me when I try out guitars because many of them will go out of tune so far it’s amazing.…I finally got “enlightened”. I asked a guy playing a guitar that was obviously out of tune why he didn’t tune it and he insisted it was in tune. Okay methinks, bad hearing (and mine’s not that great any more either). But no, he honestly thought it was in tune so I said, “Play an A chord”. That’d be a barre A on the 5th. I got a look like I was the very first alien life form ever seen (I’m sure he had friends so I knew this couldn’t be true). He says, “A chord, who plays chords on an electric?” To which I put it in “shredder” terms, “Can you play arpeggios?” “OH Yea, he says and fires through a sample”. “Good”, says I “Now strum all those notes instead of picking them”. And I get the “Huh, is that what a chord is?” Well actually it’s a broken chord but enough education for one day.

The guys playing electric guitars that are shredding don’t play full on chords, plus high levels of distortion/drive are used and both of these add up to the fact that the guitar can be a fair whack out of tune and they don’t hear it. If you’re a country, jazz or clean player, you’ll hear it though, your ear is trained for it. Perhaps what the shredders don’t realize is that if the guitar is in tune, the harmonics they so lustily go after will also sound much better. Or it’s not their style.

After spending considerable time going through the electric section and finding nothing that sounded better than when I already owned, we drifted into the “acoustic” guitar area. You don’t find shredders in here and I’ll wager than over 90% of the guitars on the wall, even the El Sleazo models, were spot on for tuning.

I used to own a big Yamaha dreadnaught and it had fabulous sound and was brutal to play. You shredded on it, mostly your finger tips. Typical high action and pain city. Loved the sound, didn’t like neck.

What caught my eye was a Fender dreadnaught that looked like it had a Strat neck. Weird. Traditional acoustic players would consider it ugly, unplayable, a blight on the landscape of all things acoustic. Me? I seen a guitar that looks different, I have to try it. So I did. And it was wow. Low action, easy to play, very usable sound for me. And it was electric as well. Bonus. I should have mentioned that I’m a flat picker, I don’t chicken pick a guitar (not my style) and for rhythm’s I’m a guitar percussionist.

The guitar is a Fender Sonoran SCE and advertised as your $300, drag it to the beach and have a party with it. And yep, that’d be exactly what I’d be doing with it. It’s got laminated mahogany sides and back and a solid spruce top (no, I doubt it’s Sitka spruce, more like some fir tree from someones back yard)…but hey, if it was good enough for the Wright Brothers first plane, it’s plenty good enough for a guitar. Right?

Fender Sonoran SCE

It’s got a Fishman preamp/eq in it with a tuner. So if it’s not in tune, press a button and tune it. I tested that tuner against my Peterson Strobe tuner and was amazed to see how accurate the Fishman tuner was. Very usable.

Since it literally has a Strat neck on it, the sound is like a big acoustic dreadnaught but plays like an electric. Essentially perfect for a guy like me. At the beach. With sand in his sandals….If there’s a weak point, it’s the tuners. They work, but seems to me the quality of them could be better.

I plugged it into my amps (thought I was going to have to get an acoustic amp) but it’s actually very usable there as well. Unless you crank the EQ and then you can get feedback. I cranked the bass up and the whole guitar (and me) were vibrating like crazy. Wow. I do need a longer strap on it, it’s playing kind of high for my liking.

The bonus is really that it sounds different than the rest of my stable of guitars but at the same time just as playable. Even if it has wound strings on it. We jammed for almost four hrs with it and I was more than amazed that my fingers were only slightly tender at the end. With the old Yammie they’d have been hamburger.

I also did try other guitars like Seagull, Martin, Art & Lutherie, Yamaha, etc in comparison to this one. Once I got to about $1200-$1500 the quality of sound bypassed the Sonoran by a fair amount. However anything in $400-$800 range wasn’t. There was a Seagull that had slightly better sound for about $500, but it had a brutal neck and no electric capability. Sound, of course, is very subjective so what might sound good to me might not to others.

Lastly, I will say that I tried three other models of the SAME guitar. A black, red and natural finish model. The red finish one had dead D and G strings and changing them didn’t help. Something not quite aligned right with that one. The black one was beautiful BUT it fretted out in WAY too many places. It needed a truss adjustment in the worst way but I suspect someone will buy it any way and “live” with it (therein lies one of the problems with buying mail order for those that do). Both of the natural models played just fine and sounded the same. The logic in me might say that the paint job was affecting the other guitars but that’s something I don’t know for fact….


All about music, not about me…

I had the pleasure of attending my grand daughters FIRST play production, “The Wizard Of Oz”. I remember when my son was the “Cowardly Lion” a lot of years ago when he was in school. Any way the grand daughter is 7, and was a “mini-Munchkin” in the production (encompassed grades from 1-7; like a cast of 100 kids)…And they did a fantastic job of it, music, costumes and acting.

I managed to get a few photos or her on stage but this one photo is probably the best. I took it at the very end of the production when the actors were coming out to take their bows. I think the faraway look of awe pretty much says it all.




What’s T.O.E.? Tower Of Effects…

I’ve had a pedal board for my stomp boxes and while it works and keeps things organized when you’re tweaking the pedals (or you want to tweak the pedals), you spend a fair bit of “knee” time. That is the nature of pedals. I mean you have to stomp on them to get them on and off right? Not really any more. I built the iPatch to turn the pedals on and off. So I don’t need them on the floor.

Which started me thinking. Maybe it was the visit to Guitar Center in the US and those vertical pedal displays that inspired me. What ever it was, I started with an idea…A two piece pedal board (which looks an awful lot like the chicken coop roosts we used to have on the farm)…

Pedal Tower Apart

Any way, the idea was that the pedal board could sit atop of the main cabinet (which will house my MIDI guitar stuff) or be able to sit on the floor as a stand alone unit. Together as a tower the board sits a little over 24″ off the floor. If I had to stomp the boxes on that I’d be trying out for “So You Think You Can Dance.” But with the iPatch connected to my FCB1010, I can do it easily.

Today I Tolexed the whole top and then just test fit the pieces. If you’ve never done Tolex before, it’s not really all that hard but the corners are the tricky parts. I suggest watching a few YouTube videos on doing corners. I used to upholstery all sorts of stuff so I don’t find it all that difficult.

Any way, to glue the stuff on you use Contact Cement. So here’s my tip. If you use the “normal” contact cement (non water based and NOT odor free), do it in a well ventilated area!!! And you’ll find that positioning is quite difficult. I mean the two surfaces met, that’s where they stick. Right. Frigging. Now.

The solvent based stuff will also really softens up the Tolex and allow you to stretch it quite a bit to get it into shape.

As it happened I ran out of solvent based contact cement and got some water based LePages. Hardly any odor at all. AND you can reposition the Tolex quite easily, yes it sticks, but you can peal it back and reposition it a couple of times. I never found that very easy with the other cement. The water based stuff will cause the Tolex to “curl” when you apply it so watch it doesn’t curl on itself…tack time is slightly longer too (30 minutes). Oh and the water based cement looks like yogurt. Spreads on about the same too.

prep outside

So here’s the “stand alone” mode setup:

Stand Alone Pedal Board

And the Tower mode…:-)

Test Side View

I still have to finish the bottom, do the wiring but it’s taking shape…and I don’t spend a lot of time on my knees..woohoo…