Out of Retirement

This is going to be long and lame. The tldr is that I put lead guitar on one song and then mixed it and it’s done.

That Pedal Show. That Effin’ Pedal Show. Easily the best thing for guitar players that I have seen on youtube. Nothing I’ve seen is even in the ballpark. They keep messing with my head. It’s getting down right freaky now. It’s like they somehow can see into my soul. What the hell?

They did it to me again. They came out with a video that covers a topic that I’ve already been neck deep into, and one of them will mention something in passing that doesn’t even directly apply to the topic they are discussing and it hits me like a ton of bricks and fundamentally changes whatever it is I’m doing on my own. Damn it!

Due to COVID-19 they are scrambling a little to keep producing content. When the lock downs started (they are in the UK, though that doesn’t actually matter) they had a big backlog of shows they could release. No one expected this would last as long as it has and now their backlog is gone. So they started projects that they could do at home, and both hosts hit on the idea of writing and recording some music.

Hey, that’s the same thing I’m doing with my quarantini time!

The video they released today is titled “5 Things We’ve Learned Recording Guitars & Amps At Home.” They are more or less coming to conclusions that I’ve already come to in the past. Namely, that recording guitars using amp or cabinet simulators or impulse responses can sound pretty good, but it feels wrong. I used to use amp sims built into GarageBand and it was fine but it always felt a little wrong to me. Next I used the cabinet sims built into my Fender Bassbreaker 15 and Vox MV50 amps. It was a little better, but it still didn’t really sound really real… really. Eventually I decided to just cut the crap and put a mic on an amp for all of my guitar parts. I think I made that official in February 2019’s RPM Challenge. Did I do it in 2018 too? I can’t remember. Whatever, I haven’t used an amp or cab sim in a long time. Putting a mic on an amp sounds better to my ears, but even more important it feels better when I’m playing. It doesn’t feel like gigs or rehearsals feel because I can’t turn up the volume enough to have the sound pressure physically effect me, but it still feels real.

I’m getting to the point, but first I have to tell a back story that I am positive I’ve written about here before.

In 2000 I bought a 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro on ebay. I’ve always wanted a 335. Not as much as I wanted a Les Paul, which is why the first high end guitar I bought was a Les Paul, and when that was stolen the second high end guitar I bought was also a Les Paul. My 335 has had a rough life. I’ve taken care of it the best I could, but some previous owner treated it badly. When I got it, it was seriously beat to hell. It was also covered in a thick nicotine grime. The binding around the edge of the body is supposed to be white, but thanks to some heavy cigarette smoke it is now yellow. I used the 335 and my Les Paul interchangeably during my time in Break Even (2003-05), including using the 335 exclusively on our CD. More recently, the years have been catching up to it. The electronics are starting to fail. I can’t tell if the solder is letting go, or the components are rotting away or what. Because it is a semi-hollow guitar, there is no way to access the electronics without actually taking the body apart and there is no way I am ever going to do that on my own. I may someday pay a luthier to do it for me, but that’s likely going to cost me a lot.

In 2018 Lizardfish played a gig where I decided I was going to give my beloved 335 a retirement party. One last gig using it as my #1 and then I declare it’s service complete and it stops leaving my house. As bad luck would have it, I had all sorts of problems with it during that gig. The signal kept cutting out. I had to switch to my Les Paul for about half of the show. It was sad, but it proved that I was making the right move. A short time later I bought my 2018 Gibson SG to replace the 335 as my #2. I brought the 335 out for one song during February’s RPM Challenge project because I wanted to have all three Gibsons on the same song. I think I also used it for some feedback on another song. That was it though. Other than those two little things, the 1979 Gibson ES-335 Pro has been retired.

Until today’s episode of That Pedal Show.

Both of the show’s hosts are Fender guys mostly. Dan goes for Telecasters and Mick goes for Stratocasters. They both own a gorgeous Gibson custom shop model that they often go to when they need something with humbuckers. Dan has a ’58 Les Paul reissue and Mick has an ES-335.

Now as I’ve mentioned, I have been doing a lot of recording lately through an amp at low volume. As I’ve also mentioned, that is the topic of today’s episode. At round about 29:35 of the video, Mick was talking about needing to feel a physical connection to the guitar as he’s playing (didn’t I just say I needed something like that?). He also said that when he’s playing loud he wants to play his Strat, but when he’s recording at low volume at home he wants to play his 335 because it resonates more. It’s partly hollow and when you’re playing you can actually feel the guitar vibrating a little in a way that a solid body guitar doesn’t.

GOD DAMN IT! HE’S RIGHT!

My memory immediately flashed back to one of the first Break Even gigs in… 2003, I think. We were on a small stage, all five of us close together, and we were loud. Like… really loud. Playing my Les Paul at a sick volume like that is a wonderful experience. I had never played my ES-335 in that setting though and when I did it was absolutely magical. The hollow portion of the guitar has two F holes and as we were roaring away, the air was rushing through those holes. Every time Bob hit the bass drum air would literally flow out from inside the guitar. Every time Dave hit a note on the bass it happened. Every time Steve and I hit a chord just right it happened. I never even imagined I would be able to actually FEEL THE AIR MOVING THROUGH MY GUITAR. Like I said, it was friggin magic.

Lizardfish never gets loud enough to reproduce that effect. Every once in a while I’ll feel a little breath of air and it will bring me back to that first night, but it never happens consistently and it’s rare. When Mick talked about his guitar resonating I knew exactly what he was talking about and I realized that I was actually missing it. Back in February when I was recording with two amps I was playing louder than I ever get to play at home. I thank my wife and step kids for not losing their shit every time I played, but I haven’t done that since and in March, April, and May I’ve been quiet and I think it’s noticeable in the recordings because I am not connecting to it in the same way.

Well screw that, I thought, and I went straight down stairs and grabbed my ES-335. After work I took the two year old, rusty strings off, put some fretboard oil on the neck, and polished up what little finish is still on the body, put a new set of Stringjoy strings on, tuned it up, and started recording.

I only had one song that was ready for lead guitar, and it was one I was sort of avoiding. It was a 12-bar blues and I had left a ton of space for guitar solos. Like, waaaay more than I usually do. On the two occasions I set out to record leads I had skipped it because I feel like I am not playing well enough to justify giving myself that much solo space. I had actually written a song that intimidated me… like… what the hell, dude?

I plugged the 335 into the overdrive pedal I bought myself for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and just started playing. What I came up with is sloppy and hacky and not very good, but it felt good doing it. That’s what was important. It felt good. Also, fortunately the electronics didn’t give me any problems, which was helpful. If it had failed this would have been a much less happy post.

So first, the song. Then some pictures.

Pre-restringing and cleaning and oiling and stuff.
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The F hole that all of that air moved through on that magical night in 2003.
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The only place were the electronics are even a tiny bit accessible, which is why I ain’t going to mess with them at all… ever. Professionals only, please.
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The obligatory post-recording picture
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The obligatory faux artsy post-recording picture
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And that, my friends is how watching That Pedal Show inspired me to do something new with my music… again.

Thanks, guys!

Junior

I’ve been playing a Gibson Les Paul Custom since 1990.

Before that I played a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe (before it was stolen and my heart was crushed).

I’ve never said this before…
I’ve never thought this before…
I never dreamed this before but…
but…

I think I want a Gibson Les Paul Junior.

Partly because a vintage Junior is cheaper than a vintage Standard and my chances of actually owning something from the 1950’s is a lot higher.. but even just in terms of the current models…

I think I want a Gibson Les Paul Junior.

More Serial Number Fun

After all the fun I had with the serial number on my Strat yesterday, I figured I’d try Googling about serial numbers on Gibson Les Pauls.  I learned a couple of things, but most of what I found I already knew.

It was just a few years prior to my guitar’s creation that Gibson switched to the eight digit serial number format.  I knew that the first digit and the fifth digit combine to form the year.  That’s how I figured out my guitar was from 1978.  I also knew that the other six digits represented the rest of the date and the production count for that day.  I didn’t quite know how though.

The pattern is this: YDDDYRRR

YY is year
DDD is the day of the year
RRR is the counter.

From that, with a little Googling to figure out what day the date counter corresponded to, I learned that my guitar was made on September 18, 1978.

So what does the counter mean?  It turns out that three digit counter is actually two counters in one.  Numbers between 1 and 499 are for guitars made in the old Kalamazoo, MI factory while numbers from 500 to 999 are for guitars made in Nashville, TN.  The actual number represents the number that was stamped that day.  So a guitar stamped with 123 was the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Kalamazoo, where the number 623 would be the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Nashville.

My guitar was made in Nashville.  I never knew that.  It doesn’t matter even the tiniest bit, but somehow that little fact made this whole pursuit worthwhile.

The only other outstanding question for me is, what kind of pickups did it have when it left the factory?  I bought the guitar in 1990 and neither of the pickups were stock.  In 2006 (I think), in an attempt to make the guitar sound more like a stock Les Paul, I had Larry install a set of Gibson Classic ’57’s.  Gibson was marketing those pickups as being close to the original PAF pickups that were first added to Les Pauls in 1957.  (PAF stands for Patent Applied For, and they were Gibson’s first humbuckers.  Prior to that Les Pauls had single coil P90 pickups).  It turned out that I didn’t really like the sound of the Classic ’57 in the bridge position and a few years ago I had a tech at Guitar Center swap it out for a Gibson Dirty Fingers.  I was familiar with those because they came stock in my ES-335 Pro and I love them.

But that doesn’t answer the question… what did my Les Paul originally come with?  I Googled that too and was pretty surprised to find that there is almost no definitive information online.  I did find a couple of forum posts though that said a 1978 Les Paul Custom would have come with what Gibson called “Original Humbuckers” which unfortunately is a name that they’ve used for a few different models of pickups.  To the general public though, the pickups in my guitar would have been known as T-Tops.

I don’t know anything about them except that some people like them and some people don’t, and lots of people were swapping them out for non-Gibson models anyway.  The two pickups in the guitar when I bought it were perfect examples of that.

So now I have to dig into T-Tops and see if I can score some on ebay.  Insert maniacal laughter here.

 

Bibliography:

Six Days, Far Away

I put my Les Paul in the shop six days ago. I miss that little sucker. I hope it’s being treated well, and I hope it’s behaving like a good 38 year old guitar.

Hopefully the estimate of “about two weeks” will turn into “come pick ‘er up” by the end of this weekend.

Here’s a pic from 2005, before Larry swapped out the pickups for me, as well as replacing the machine heads and fixing some of the wiring.


Come home soon, Les Paul. We miss you.

RPM Day 26

I know it’s late for this, but I’ve had a busy day.  Deal, okay?

I added the final lead guitar parts to four of the remaining six songs.  I haven’t made a final mix of any of them yet.  I might do that tonight, or I might wait until tomorrow.  I’m so close to finishing that I can almost taste it.  I should probably start thinking of a cover, and maybe a title.  What do you think of Rock Music for Old People?