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!

Guitar Nerd Moment, or It’s a Small World

A couple of days ago I posted a picture of one of my guitars that had a caption mentioning Eric Clapton’s “woman tone”.  I don’t think I mentioned anything about why I was thinking of that.

First, Eric Clapton in the 1960’s is a tone chasing guitarist’s role model.  Give him a Gibson guitar and a Marshal amplifier and he will make sounds that, if you are smart, you’re going to want to copy.  He was innovative and experimental and inspiring.  Eric Clapton in the 1970’s and 80’s is the exact opposite.  I don’t know of anyone who has ever listened to Money and Cigarettes and said, ooh I wanna sound like that!

Anyway, when Eric was in his 20’s he was probably a little full of himself (people called him god) and sometimes he would do things that were a little over the top.  One of those things, in my book at least, was naming one of his guitar tones.  Yup.  In 1967 while playing with Cream he used a tonal technique on the Disraeli Gears album that he called “woman tone”.  Why?  I don’t know.  It was probably something that in today’s social climate would probably sound unbelievably sexist.  I don’t know why and I don’t want to know why.

Probably the best known usage is in the guitar solo from Sunshine of Your Love, which also bears a remarkable resemblance to the melody from Strangers in the Night, but I digress:

Anyway, achieving “woman tone” is pretty simple and even a chump like me can do it.  I don’t often, but every so often the spirit of Disraeli Gears will take me and I’ll use it.  A few nights ago I was sitting in my room adding lead guitar parts to a couple of RPM songs and without realizing I was going there, I totally went there.  One eight bar (or so) solo used the ol’ “woman tone”.

Today there was a “wow, what a small world” moment for me.  That Pedal Show, the youtube show that I watch pretty religiously every week and has taught me more about making my guitar sound less shitty than any other source I’ve come across in my 34 years of playing, put out a new episode called “12 Ways to User Your Guitar’s Controls”.  One of those 12 ways to uses your guitars controls was “woman tone”.

I am using a lot of quotation marks in this post, and I am using the incorrect punctuation for all of them.  Suck it, grammar!

The “woman tone” discussion starts at 13:30 and it sounds better when Mick does it on his ES-335 than when I do it on my Les Paul.

As for the rest of the episode, I had already come up with most of the two-humbucker tricks on my own back in the 80’s.  The single coil stuff doesn’t really apply to me as I only own one guitar with single coils and if it weren’t for COVID-19 I would have sold it by now.  I use the trick with using the pickup switch and the two volume knobs to go from clean to dirty all the time, and the mixing the two pickups together thing once in a while.  The kill switch?  I drive Lizardfish nuts with that whenever the opportunity arrises.

Anyway, I just thought it was funny that I recorded a little “woman tone” this week and then saw a tutorial on using it.  It’s a small world after all.

In closing, Clapton used it on the leads on this song too.  It’s not nearly as popular a song, but it’s a personal favorite.

Gear Inspiration

Man, youtube… every once in a while you’ll see something and it will just click for you.

I just watched an episode of That Pedal Show where they talk about delay pedals.  I have a really nice digital delay on my pedal board right now, a Wampler Faux Tape Echo, and I have been using the crap out of it.  I use it’s tap tempo switch and it’s subdivision switch and I get dotted eighth note delays and I make all sorts of groovy The Edge style rhythmic patters and it’s just so much damn fun.

It’s a great delay pedal but it doesn’t really do oscillation.  Oscillation is when the pedal feeds back on itself and makes all sorts of glorious noise.  If you mess with the delay time control it changes the pitch of the noise and makes it even gloriouser.  I have a really cheap analog delay that I am not currently using.  It’s from one of those generic, low cost, Chinese companies.  Donner, I think?  A Donner Yellow Fall?  I think that’s what it’s called.  After watching this video I am going to put it on the board too so that I can have noisy fun and still have the digital tap tempo and subdivision stuff.

In all my years of playing electric guitar I’ve almost always had a delay pedal, but I’ve never been a delay pedal guy.  Now I have all this youtube silliness to inspire me to do new and different (and yes, goofy and noisy) things.

Thanks, That Pedal Show!