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Archive for July, 2010

Psalm 37:4

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Guitar Fun

I can’t say enough about Hal Leonard’s Play-Along guitar instruction books. I am still working on B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen,” and I’m thrilled at the way the book and the software make hardcore practice possible.

I don’t believe in wimpy music practice. If a lick is giving you trouble, you don’t practice it three times and then roll over and pick up the cable remote. You practice it dozens or hundreds of times. If the sound you make when you practice doesn’t drive other people insane, you’re not doing it right. You’re not supposed to PLAY. Practice is WORK.

I hate it when people want to listen when I practice. They always complain. “Can’t you play something that sounds good?” NO, I can’t. GET OUT. That’s my attitude. I don’t show up at your office and ask you to make me sandwiches and pie.

With the Slow Downer software that comes with the book, I can put a short part of a song on a repeating loop and practice it until I can’t take any more. It’s fantastic.

By the way, Audacity freeware will do the same thing. It won’t remove the guitar from the music, but it will do looping and speed and pitch changes easier than Slow Downer.

I can’t quit looking at guitars. I am going to have to get control of this. Covetousness wastes time and money. And it will be another couple of months before I really know what I want from a guitar.

I’ve found some interesting stuff out there. Gibson’s Japanese affiliates used to make guitars under a different name, and the quality is probably better than the US instruments. You can save a lot of money and get a neat collector piece by buying one of these things. The factories made the same guitars under other labels, too. Look for Greco, Burny, Edwards, and Tokai, among others. You can still get a new Edwards for a grand, and it will probably be better than a $3500 Gibson. How can you resist a thing like that? Smoother action, better fit and finish, same design, same quality materials, and if you’re determined to spend the full Gibson price, you can have a luthier trick out your Japanese beauty until nothing the Gibson Custom Shop makes is worthy to be on the same stage with it.

A company called XOX makes electric guitars from carbon fiber. They have better sustain than wooden guitars, and they don’t warp or crack, so they’re nearly maintenance-free. A company called Rainsong makes top-quality carbon acoustic guitars which have the same durability and stability advantages.

I love Gibson guitars, but the quality control has always been bad, and they are overpriced by a factor of at least two. I have been reluctant to try Asian instruments because of the poor quality of Japanese Martin clones. Nothing sounds worse than a Yamaha acoustic. But my Chinese Epiphone Riviera continues to amaze me. I think it’s probably much easier to make a good electric guitar, because so much depends on the electronics, and because you don’t have to worry so much about creating a perfect thin-shelled resonating cavity. I still don’t trust Asian acoustics, but my experience proves you can get a good electric guitar for almost nothing.

I think I can resist the temptation to try a $500 Epiphone Les Paul with P90s. But I’m not positive.

I’m still planning to get myself a really good electric for Elvis’s birthday. Currently, the Taylor T3B heads the list, but that could change at any minute.

I found a beautiful Gibson ES-125TDC online. There are still a lot of good ones out there, in excellent condition after forty years. This is the guitar George Thorogood uses. I’d love to get one and have a luthier fix all the Gibson glitches. One nice thing about buying a lightly used guitar right is that you can’t lose much money. In fact, you are nearly certain to make money on it, at least in numerical (not inflation-corrected) terms. My old J200 is worth maybe five times what I paid for it.

B.B. King is going well. It turns out playing the blues is very easy. Bluegrass makes both of my hands hurt, and it puts big calluses on my fingers, and it makes my elbow sore, but rock and blues music generally take much less speed, strength, and skill. There are new things I’m learning, but trust me, going from bluegrass to basic blues or basic rock is a joke, and going the other way would be like learning a whole new instrument. So bluegrass has turned out to be great preparation. And it’s not going to be hard to come up with original blues stuff. While I work on imitating the CD, I find that I don’t always like what B.B. does, so I throw in my own ideas, and they sound great.

I like the slow pace of the blues, because it gives me time to think about technique and shape the notes. As a bluegrass player, I am unable to force myself to accept sloppy playing, so I will not be happy unless I can play cleanly. Because the blues is slow, I can really polish up my technique and work on the subtleties.

The Riviera has a fantastic sound when you go up the neck and play slowly. I don’t know how it could sound or play any better. You get a lot for five hundred bucks these days.

I learned something surprising. I’m pretty sure about this. I put elevens on my Riviera because big strings sound better. Now when I try to follow the CD, I find that there are notes the guitar will not play. Apparently, when you bend a nine as far as you can, the pitch is higher than the pitch you get when you bend an eleven all the way. It’s not a question of strength. I can use two fingers to overcome the higher tension of the thicker string, and I can bend it to the limit, and it still doesn’t make the sound B.B. King’s string makes. So I may have to go down to tens.

I don’t know how much it matters. With an acoustic guitar, the strings determine how good the instrument sounds. With an electric guitar, you can fake up a good tone regardless of the string gauge. It’s cheating, but then so is using an amp.

My memory seems to be much better than it was back when I got frustrated with the piano. A few weeks back, I got the feeling that God was restoring my musical memory, and it seems to be true. I hope I can get it to work with the piano. Then I’ll be all set.

I’m wondering if I can start playing with some people from church. Suddenly, I know several excellent musicians. It would be great to see an improvement in worship music. People are playing a lot of good stuff these days, but the old songs are still the best, far and away. “Amazing Grace” is over two hundred years old, for example. Get on the web and check the publication dates of your favorite songs. You’ll see what I mean. We need people to start making music so good, it gets played on secular radio. We’ve had crossovers before, and we should be doing it all the time.

If you’re a musician, here is a tip. If your electronic tuner is more than a couple of years old, go to Guitar Center and get a $20 Korg. I got one because my Qwik Tune (fine tuner in its day) was slow and unreliable. The Korg is extremely sensitive and very fast, and it doesn’t limit you to E, A, D, G, B, and high E. You can tune your guitar any way you want. You can even use it for vocals.

I guess I’ll throw the Qwik Tune out. It’s not worth keeping or giving away. The batteries are big and expensive, and it doesn’t work well. Why would I keep it, when the 9-volt batteries cost 20% of the price of a new Korg that comes with fresh AAAs? Technological progress is funny; it generates antiques that are almost completely worthless.

My dreams are coming true. Hope yours are, too.

Danger: White Guy with Blues Sheet Music

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

I Have This Situation Under Control

I have had some misgivings about studying ZZ Top in order to learn the blues. Some of their best stuff is not all that clean. “La Grange” is about a whorehouse. If that’s not bad enough, I’ve been working on “Tube Snake Boogie.”

While the songs are not optimal material, I did learn one thing from studying them: Hal Leonard’s Play-Along instruction books rock.

These books feature licensed material by popular artists, and the licks (supposedly) are accurately transcribed. A long time ago, I tried to learn some SRV stuff with a different book, and I’m just about positive the transcriptions were not merely wrong, but sometimes impossible to play. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has this problem, because these days, a lot of books are advertised as “recorded versions,” so people will know they’re not getting garbage somebody made up.

The Play-Along books come with CDs that have demo tracks plus tracks with the guitar removed. They give you software, too, so you can play the tracks any way you want. Fast. Slow. Whatever. You can loop stuff, too.

Today I blew the massive sum of $14.95 on the B.B. King book, and it’s fantastic. I’m working on “Sweet Sixteen.”

I’m learning some interesting stuff about B.B. King. Judging from the sounds he makes, he sometimes mutes strings with his pick. I know of no other way to produce the clipped notes he makes. You pick the string, bend it, and then bring the pick back and stop the vibration while the string is still bent.

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but it works. The book doesn’t explain it; this is just me talking.

I thought the pickups on my Chinese Epiphone Riviera were not hot enough, but now that I’m doing this B.B. King stuff, they sound wonderful. Maybe I still don’t know how to work the amp. I think I’m cheating it by keeping the volume so low.

The guitar is still great.

I looked at one this morning, at the Hallandale Guitar Center. I think I got lucky with mine, because the one they had didn’t look as good. It had some revolting ripples where the neck joined the soundboard. Mine is not perfect in this area, but it’s way better than the other one.

I’m really looking forward to getting my Blueshawk back. Now that the electric guitar is finally working out for me, I want to see what it can do. The public rejected this guitar, but almost everyone who actually played one loved it.

Found another good deal on a resonator instrument.

I’ve been trying to learn some acoustic blues. I finally downloaded some lessons from a guy called Catfish Keith. His playing is wonderful. Unfortunately, he sounds pretty white when he sings. Anyway, as soon as I started working on one of his songs, I noticed one of the notes was just plain missing. I may be wrong about this, but it looks like his tablature is wrong.

This kind of thing irks me. When I wrote my cookbook, I made sure it worked. I only know of one recipe error in the whole thing, and it’s pretty obvious, so it’s not likely to hurt anyone. I don’t know why people who publish tablature can’t be more careful.

Check him out on Youtube.

I better get back to practicing. I have to leave before long. I made another Tower of Babel cake for church, and I have to bake garlic rolls for the Saturday night youth thing. That cake is a wonder.

Check out those Play-Along books. They’re a big help.

Still Here

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Who Are You People?

I haven’t updated in a while. What can I tell you? Life intrudes.

I seem to get more involved in church all the time, and music is also a factor. And increasingly, my Internet activities are directed toward the church these days. I set up a private forum for our Armorbearers, and I’m the administrator. We also have email accounts under our domain name.

It’s great to have a website where all the talk is centered around God, and we don’t have to worry about trolls and boors getting in. It has improved our communication tremendously. We don’t have a lot of time to get together when we’re not serving at church, so the forum allows us to get to know each other and brainstorm.

I would say “fellowship,” but that word always grates on my nerves. It makes hanging out sound like a chore. Like something you need lessons to do. And I don’t like using nouns as verbs. No one says, “My wife and I relationshipped last night.”

Jargon has a way of alienating people, and that’s the last thing Christians want to do. We’re trying to sell people the best product in existence. We don’t want to turn them off unnecessarily.

Music is going better and better. The Chinese guitar is still making me happy, although I am starting to realize the pickups are not great. I set my Strat up with elevens, and it feels wonderful and sounds great, but the same strings don’t sound as “hot” on the Riviera. I might go crazy and buy some Lollars eventually. I’m not the first one to be disappointed in this guitar’s pickups.

It’s exciting to be getting to the point where I can tell good pickups from bad ones.

The Strat has Fender Texas Special pickups, and they sound wonderful. I don’t know whether the American Roadhouse Strat was popular when it came out, but it’s awfully similar to the SRV clone they put out, and that guitar was supposed to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan’s.

I almost bought a resonator guitar. I found a fantastic Ebay deal. Luckily for me, I got outsniped. Otherwise it would be on the way.

Why do I want a resonator guitar? Because I want to take my banjo skills and apply them to the guitar. You can do this with an electric guitar, but it seems more natural with a resonator guitar. I already have the picks; I even have an old blues book. Fingerpicks can do things a flatpick can’t do, and vice-versa. There is no point in limiting myself when I already have the fundamental training.

It turns out there is a good music store in Naples. I guess that’s two hours away. They sell National Guitars. Maybe when I get a few blues numbers working, I’ll head out there and see what they have. I like the wood-body sound. They make a big guitar called the El Trovador, and the sound is wonderful. Another model, the Estralita, is also easy on the ear. There is no point in trying to find a good music store in Miami. This city is allergic to sophistication and culture. Like I always say, we don’t even have LATIN culture. If Andres Segovia lived here, he would have to work at Burger King. This is a city of Fender Squiers and cheap electric pianos.

Another discovery: Beard Guitars. They make great resonator models. They lean toward the Dobro, however. I’ve never been a big bluegrass Dobro fan. Purists would hang me for saying this, but bluegrass uses short notes, and that doesn’t work with a Dobro. Why buy an instrument with tremendous sustain, when every song you play is made up of eighth notes?

Check out this video. It shows what a Dobro can do if you don’t clip the notes.

I’ve seen some of that guy’s other videos, and he’s not a virtuoso, so presumably, he is only beginning to tap the instrument’s potential here.

To me, sustain means versatility. You can play short notes on a Dobro, but you can’t play long notes on a banjo.

I still have my old flamenco guitar. Maybe it would be a good choice for learning acoustic blues, until I’m good enough to know what to upgrade to.

I need to start writing new music down. I’m keeping up with bluegrass, mainly for the exercise, and it’s extremely easy to write tablature for it. Sometimes a new arrangement will go shooting through my head, and it’s like having a subway train go by six inches in front of my face. I have to write this stuff down.

I don’t know how often I’ll blog from now on. It’s great to be out of the political snakepit.

More Breakthroughs

Monday, July 19th, 2010

God’s Own Cake and the Devil’s Music

I took the Tower of Babel cake to church to get rid of it. It was a great success. Now they want more. I have piles of bananas scattered on the kitchen counter, fresh from the trees in my yard. I guess I’ll freeze what I can’t cook immediately and put the rest in cakes.

My nam wa banana tree finally produced. The bananas are very nice. They’re finger-sized bananas, but they’re not like the lemony guineos we always have in the markets in Miami. They’re very sweet, and they have a smooth texture. It’s a little like banana ice cream.

God keeps working in my life. Last week I led some of the armorbearers on the first Armorbearer Freedom Fast, and Mike joined in. Some of us were fasting to beat gluttony. I was fasting in support of the others. Mike called and said he went to a restaurant after the fast and ordered a kid’s portion. He couldn’t face a regular-size meal. In the past, it has always been hard for Mike to face regular-sized meals, but that was because they were too small. His new attitude is incredible.

I worked at church on Sunday, and when I left at nearly 4 p.m., I hadn’t eaten anything except a piece of cake. I didn’t want more food, but I made myself stop at Five Guys. I got a bacon cheeseburger, Cajun fries, and a large Coke. I ate two thirds of the burger and a third of the fries. I drank half of the Coke. I threw everything else out. I didn’t want it. Today I went to breakfast with my dad, and I left a fourth of my nova bagel on the plate. Not bad. My Armorbearer friend who was fasting because of his weight said he tried to eat something he usually enjoys, and it made him sick, so he couldn’t do it.

Fasting works. My pants and belts do not lie. We are getting supernatural results. And my dad is witnessing all of it, which is also great. One day, we’ll get him.

Church continues to amaze me. I keep meeting extraordinary people there. One of the new Armorbearers is a drummer. His name is Travis. I started talking to him yesterday. I asked him if the drums were his only instruments. He said he played TWELVE, and he listed them. And he said he played them WELL, so apparently it’s not like Prince, who claims he can play forty but probably includes instruments that made noises because he accidentally sat on them in the studio.

I know everyone thinks Prince is a genius. When I see him do something that indicates talent, I will agree. So far, all I’ve seen are weak pop tunes. And he holds a purple guitar sometimes. Wait. I think it’s white. Anyway, I haven’t heard any solos yet.

Travis got a full scholarship to college, based on his ability. That’s what he does now. He said it was largely based on his sight-reading skills. He actually knows who my trombone-virtuoso cousin is, which is astonishing.

So now we have two professional musicians in the group, and they’re not three-chord wonders or rappers. They are real musicians.

The other musician, Zachary, is trying to find a hundred-watt tube amp he can afford. He said he would consider building one, if he had the skills. I used to build temperature and current controls for diode lasers in college, and I have a ton of tools. He sent me links to some sites that have amp plans. Interesting.

One of the guys bought a Bushmaster AR-15. He brought it in for us to look at. We were handing it around and admiring it in a back room. I said, “You know, church has CHANGED since I was a kid.” That cracked Travis up.

My music is going really well. The bluegrass is coming up to speed. My left hand has only had five weeks to get strong, and that’s not enough. When I use a capo (makes fretting easier), I get a taste of what my playing will be like in another month or two. I plan to continue playing bluegrass, simply because it’s great for my technique and it’s wasteful to throw away a whole genre you’ve already learned.

I was suffering with online blues lessons, but I couldn’t take it any more. I got a ZZ Top book, and I started working on “Tube Snake Boogie.” I realize this is not good music for a Christian to work on, but hear me out. The guitar stuff is all blues-based, and it’s HOT. It will get me into electric blues via the side door, and it will help me get familiar with my instruments and amps. I don’t plan to sing this filth in the sanctuary.

I struggled for a week, but today I got it working. I put new strings on my flamenco guitar (like a classical guitar, with a cutaway and a different sound), and I started using it for practice. This is much easier on me than my dreadnought and heavy hollowbody. It allows me to practice pretty painlessly. I actually got through the first page and a half.

I may get hollered at for saying it, but so far, as I expected, this stuff is a complete joke compared to bluegrass. True, you have to go up the neck more, but so what? I’m using elevens, and the guitar’s action is very light. I’m playing at half the speed of bluegrass (or less), the strings are kinder to my hands, and the licks are child’s play. The only real problems are getting used to playing over pickups and coping with the light strings. When you’re used to blasting thirteens at maybe eight notes a second, you can barely feel elevens.

When I used to try to play Stevie Ray Vaughan material, it was difficult, but then he played very fast, and he didn’t cheat by using his left hand to play the notes. He did it just like a bluegrass guitarist.

I’ve noticed that some rock guitarists play runs that seem very fast, but their right hands aren’t keeping up with the notes. Evidently, you can effectively double your speed by hammering on and pulling off and bending the strings with your left hand, between right-hand notes. I wonder how many of these guys could cope with bluegrass. I know some of them have been there; Steve Morse does both styles.

I had a feeling this would turn out to be easy, simply because I know the kind of people who play rock. They are not known for being industrious. Rock guitar isn’t about artistry and sacrifice. It’s about looking cool and attracting shallow women so you can fornicate. That’s what got Pete Townshend started. I know there must be many rock guitarists who woodshed all the time and aren’t afraid of difficult material, but a lot of this stuff appears to be based on using two fingers, the way you might when you’re stoned in the back of a tour bus. And everyone loves nines, and I don’t think that’s totally based on professionalism. It just might have something to do with lack of character, in some cases.

When you play an electric guitar, the gadgetry does a whole lot of the work. It’s pretty cushy compared to killing yourself to get music out of an acoustic.

I look forward to getting a grip on this form of music, and then I want to do a reverse Ray Charles. I want to use bluesy sounds to make music for God. I know you’re supposed to go the other way, ripping off gospel and using it to play secular music. I don’t see why I can’t turn the tables.

I’m glad I held onto that flamenco guitar.

Tisha B’Av is about to start, so if you’re fasting in sympathy with Israel and the Jews, it’s time to get on it.

Life is wonderful.

Stack of Astonishing Grub

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Should be Followed With a Flood of Coffee

The Tower of Babel cake is a success, with qualifications.

It has a little too much nutmeg in it, and I have to be careful to make sure the next one cooks through and isn’t too wet. Other than that, it is a tour de force. Terrifying. Everything goes together perfectly. It’s so good, I am getting rid of it. Tonight I’m dividing it up at church.

It’s so rich, a slice about one and a quarter inches thick at the big end is all you need. But you will eat a second slice anyway.

So Nimrod Built Him a Cake…

Friday, July 16th, 2010

…And it Confused Their Tongues

I just learned that I do not know how to frost a cake. Nonetheless, this may be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. I call it the Tower of Babel cake, because no man should have this much power!

So far I’ve just eaten scraps I had to trim off. I have to wait until it chills to give it a definitive test drive.

The Cake of Babel

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Beware the Frosting of the Pharisees.

Here is what I am baking right now.

Two cakes, made from banana nut bread. The bottom one is also a pineapple upside-down cake. Stack them and cover them with carrot cake icing. Decorate with mandarin orange slices soaked in Grand Marnier.

Is that scary, or what? Don’t even try to tell me these wacky ideas don’t come from God.

Pop Tarts Bring You Closer to God

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Fast Over

This morning, my church’s Armorbearers ended a two-day fast. I wrote about it earlier.

Man, do I feel better. Some people say they feel closer to God during a fast. I feel farther away. I get a headache. I feel depressed. It’s pretty bad. I always look forward to the renewed sensation of his presence that comes when I finally eat.

Last night, I felt a powerful sensation of faith as I ended the day in prayer, but that’s not the same as feeling God’s presence. Imagine you’re in prison. This is the difference between a visit and receiving a care package. The care package is great, but you still want the visit.

I hope this fast accomplished things. The person who got it going is a fellow AB with a bad weight problem. I would really like to see him get free. I would like to see the others get free, too, and I would like a renewal of my own weight-loss miracle, as well as better discipline to handle things like lust and covetousness.

The fast was not fun. On the first day, I noticed it was hard to practice the guitar because my hands were weak. On the second day, I decided to skip practice. My arm was sore anyway, so it needed the rest. I had a nutritious Pop Tart breakfast today, but I am still not 100%.

Through an interesting set of circumstances, I learned about a great Christian singer yesterday. Her name is Grace Williams. I won’t bother you with the details, but I came across her on TV, and it turned out I had an unopened Grace Williams CD in my house, so I played it.

It’s wonderful stuff. As music per se, I would not call it great art, but as music intended to help you get in touch with God, it’s first-rate. It’s what Enya might have done, had she been a Christian.

Grace Williams says she startled her family by praying and singing in tongues at a very early age, and she says this is the “new song” the Bible mentions prophetically. I was startled. I have had the same idea run through my mind. Ever since our church’s Rendezvous conference a while back, I have had the ability to sing in the Spirit. It’s very strange. When I’m at church, I just open my mouth, and I automatically get harmony. Very helpful, since I can never learn all the words to the songs they play. It brings a powerful sense of peace and God’s presence.

Here is what Psalm 40 says:

1 I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.

2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.

We tend to dash right by language like that, assuming it’s just intended to be flowery and poetic, but it has to have a real meaning. God does not flap his lips just to hear his head roar. His word does not return to him void. Every word means something. If the Psalms say there is a new song that will convert people and make them believers, it has to be true, and I very much doubt that David was referring to the Psalms themselves. Nobody every listened to Psalm 40 and “feared” because of it and “trusted in the Lord.” It’s a fine psalm, but it’s not that fine. If God led David to say this about Psalm 40, God exaggerated, and he does not do that.

I’m assuming David wrote this psalm, because he wrote so many. I don’t know that he wrote this one. Whoever it was, God spoke through him.

The rabbi of a nearby Messianic synagogue wants to go shooting with us and get our help in forming an armorbearer squad. Pretty cool. Hope that happens in a week or two.

Life is good. I can’t wait for lunch.

Two Days of Fun

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Pass the Perrier

My big mouth has gotten me in real trouble.

Last year, after a two-day fast, I found I had been delivered from overeating. I lost between 25 and 30 pounds, with virtually no effort. I kept telling everyone at my church, hoping I could get them to try to get the same kind of miracle.

This week, a friend called me up and said he was sick of his weight problem. I told him what I knew, and I suggested he pick a couple of days to fast and pray. And a horrible realization came over me. I was going to have to fast with him.

Arrgghh.

I notified my pastor, purely for selfish reasons. I knew people would hear about the fast, and if it worked, they would want the same thing. Then I’d have to fast with THEM. I figured if I notified the pastor, he would spread the word, and we would get people on board now instead of later, saving me fasts. Instead, his text response went like this: “I’m in!”

Okay.

I let the Armorbearers know, figuring some of them might have bad habits they wanted to drop. Now I have a total of five people (me included) doing the fast. We quit eating last night, and we won’t eat again (except for communion) until Friday morning. We are allowed ZERO calories. Our pastor has to quit at 6 p.m. on Thursday due to social obligations.

Each of us has to pray in the Spirit for at least three consecutive minutes both days. We have to spend at least half an hour alone with God on each day, confessing that overeating (or whatever we’re trying to beat) is a sin, and that we can’t defeat it on our own, and that we repent and want his help.

I hope this works. Although that would pretty much guarantee more fasts in the future.

I went to our private forum and posted this:

Romans 6:5-14 (New King James Version)

5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

I think God is more willing to bless people who have self-control. Giving good stuff to people who can’t control themselves is like giving loaded pistols to three-year-olds. I got free of gluttony, and suddenly, I found myself cooking in a big commercial kitchen and getting lots of recognition for it. My guess is that God is more likely to give good spouses to people who have conquered lust, and that he is more likely to give prosperity to people who have beaten covetousness and greed. If these ideas are right, fasting is pretty important.

Wish us luck, and get on the bandwagon if you want.

“This Guy is Worse Than Costanza!”

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Time for a Nap Behind the Sacks of Sweet Feed

The other day Maynard and I shared one of those moments you only experience when you have pets that are insane.

We were having a frozen Hershey bar with almonds, and I said this: “I can’t give you too much because it’ll make you hallucinate. Not that it matters when you’re a bird.”

I’m glad no one records our talks.

Mike just called. His pal George Steinbrenner is dead. Mike and Steinbrenner go way back. Mike managed his race horses for a while. He only got fired twice.

Mike says he could write a book about the private Steinbrenner no one knows about. He told me a few horrifying things before I indicated that I was not a big fan of gossip. Also, I wanted to keep breakfast down.

He said Steinbrenner took him to lunch with Red Grange. Seriously. And Steinbrenner and Red Grange started picking on Mike to toughen him up and make a man out of him. I said he should have taken a swing at Red Grange and said, “Yeah, you were a great football player, but now you’re old, so don’t get smart.” But I didn’t really mean it. Besides, Grange probably would have clotheslined him right at the table.

Life is fairly odd.

Smiting Distant Heathens

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Scope Advice

One of the Armorbearers at my church is very gung-ho about shooting and other AB stuff. In fact, if he were any more gung-ho, I would suggest he change his radio call sign to “Francis.”

See the movie Stripes if you don’t get the joke.

He wants advice on scoping an AR-15 rifle. I don’t know what to tell him. I assume he will want something useful for self-defense, not varminting.

Help a bruhhh out.

Strings and a Prayer

Monday, July 5th, 2010

God Restores

I got two prayer requests this weekend. First, Heather:

Mom had to have an MRI because they think there is a mass on her hip(she’s been in terrible pain for several months now). I pray it’s benign. Could you please pray that whatever it is, is benign?

Also could you pray for Mike and Kelly Bowling (singing group The Bowlings)? They were in a tour bus wreck in Charlotte NC yesterday (on their way to spread the love of the Lord with a singing gig). He is the brother in law to my cousin Kim. Mike is from here in London, he had to be air-lifted to the hospital. Kelly and Mike are in the hospital.

Also my mom’s cousin Tim’s son Dennis Blevins has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It is not known whether it is cancerous or not. And we are praying that it is not.

Second, reader Tim:

Please pray for my wife Rhonda who had complications following childbirth (twins) on the 2nd of July. She has fluid build up in lungs and body and needs it to drain away.

Sorry for not blogging more. I have been very busy with church, and I set up an Internet forum for our Armorbearers, so a lot of my online energy has been redirected.

I let Manlygrub.com expire. I was not promoting the cookbook, since it’s not the kind of material I want to be known for in the future. Thanks, everyone who bought a copy or participated in the forum.

Music practice is going incredibly well. One of the reasons I gave up music is that my memory seemed to be fading. Over the last two weeks, however, I’ve found that things have been coming back to me, just as I felt they would before I got started. Maybe God was speaking to me. I never state, without doubt, that God spoke to me, because I’m reluctant to risk giving him credit for stupid ideas that actually came from me. If I ever say God spoke to me, you better believe I had a vision or something. I have seen too many idiots claim God told them things that were pure nonsense. If God wants me to tell people he spoke to me, he better let me hear a voice.

Last night I was playing the guitar when suddenly, I tore off a lick I forgot maybe fifteen years ago. I used to find it impossible to play well, but last night, it came out pretty good. Not perfect, but about as well as I ever played it, which is not what you would expect after two weeks of practice. If I’m playing it this well now, it means I’m going to be playing it extremely well in a month, when my hands are nearly awake.

I made a new friend of the young man who played the blues at church a couple weeks back. He’s an Armorbearer now. We talk guitar all the time. He suggested putting thirteens on my new Chinese blues machine, and yesterday, I found a set at Guitar Center. The only ones they had were D’Addario XLs. I use D’Addario Phosphor Bronze mediums on my bluegrass guitars, so I have no reason to complain about D’Addario.

The sound of the guitar is vastly improved. That makes sense. Acoustic guitars sound like crap when light strings are used. Light strings are a compromise. No one really expects them to sound good. They exist to make playing easier. They’re great for teenage kids who pick up the guitar three times a month so they can play badly while stoned. If light strings sounded good, medium and heavy strings would not exist. Who would tear up his fingers for no good reason?

I may end up dropping down to elevens some day; I will see how it goes. With electronic fakery, you can improve the sound of light strings, so it may be that thirteens are overkill. For an acoustic, light strings are just plain bad. They’re fine if all you do is strum a Japanese acoustic with a warped neck while singing Dan Fogelberg tunes and sweating estrogen, but if you really play the instrument, they’re sad. Vocalists who like to hold unmiked guitars while performing can get away with bad strings and cheap guitars. It’s different when the instrument has to be heard.

I had to lower the bridge a little because the increased string tension increased the height of the action, but I didn’t lower it enough to ruin the sound. A lot of guitarists don’t realize a high action sounds better, but it’s true. If you lower the action as much as possible, the guitar’s sound will get so dull it’s not worth playing. I think this is why a good neck is important. My Taylor’s neck is perfect, so I can get a very good action while not ruining the tone.

I still can’t believe how good the Chinese Epiphone is. The action is very good. The sound is very good. It looks beautiful. Seems like the perfect choice for a beater. Good enough to play well, but not too good to take on the road. I was looking into new pickups, but now that I see how good strings change the tone, I am no longer shopping.

Here’s something nutty. I bought strap locks for the new guitar, plus a really pimptastic strap (much gaudier than I wanted), and when I put the strap on, I realized I didn’t need the locks.

Americans can’t make a guitar that will hold onto a strap; it’s just too hard for us. It’s an engineering mystery. After a hundred years, we still can’t get it right. I guess all the good guitar-button engineers in America got snapped up by NASA.

The Chinese put big buttons on my Epiphone, solving the problem instantly. No drilling. No gadgets. I can’t even take the strap off after I practice. I should buy Epiphone buttons for my other guitars. Buttons that don’t work are a disgrace. Guitars should have giant warning stickers, letting buyers know they’re about to drop their expensive instruments on the floor.

Don’t forget Heather and Tim.

How to Survive Friday

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Four-Minute Vacation

Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Here is the proof:

Guess What the Nut up the Street is Doing Now

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Flerb

Here is today’s fun guitar news.

I realized I had to get a few effects. You can’t just play the guitar through an amp. Oh, no. You have to have reverb, plus maybe a wah pedal and an overdrive. I got a wonderful inexpensive tube amp, but it has no reverb, and even though it can be limited to 1/4 watt, it’s a little hard to drive it with enough power to get good distortion. So I’ve been shopping and fiddling around.

I ended up with a Pedaltrain pedalboard. This is a thing you attach pedals and a power supply to. It lies on the ground, and you work the pedals with your feet. You’ve seen guitar players use them.

I am not in love with my old Blues Driver pedal (which I think I killed today anyway), so I started looking for new and relatively cheap replacements. I loved the way the Boss Super Overdrive sounded on Youtube, but the Guitar Center kid convinced me I really needed an Ibanez Tube Screamer, so I decided to give it a shot. I also loved the way the Boss Fender FRV-1 sounded on Youtube. But the Guitar Center kid convinced me I needed a Holy Grail. So I got one. I also got a Voodoo power supply.

I came home, fiddled with the pedals, decided they were okay, and put them and the power supply on the board.

I wanted a tiny board, because I don’t plan on collecting a large number of pedals. But Guitar Center had an outrageous deal on a PT1, which is a middle-sized Pedaltrain only Guitar Center sells. So that’s what I got.

I’m fairly sure I destroyed the Blues Driver by using the wrong power cord. I believe I reversed the polarity, frying something or other. But I never liked that pedal anyway.

The Epiphone Riviera continues to please, although I have started to agree with online reviewers who say the pickups lack brightness. Should I return it to the store or get new pickups? Not sure. It’s so cheap, I hate to get rid of it. It seems to be a great guitar to take with me if I play elsewhere, because it’s nearly disposable. Maybe new pickups would be a good investment.

The bluegrass is going EXTREMELY well. I had forgotten how good I used to be. It’s a shame I’m not a big bluegrass fan. I can really make a flattop quack in pain. When you play bluegrass, you have to use a big, obnoxious guitar and heavy strings, and you have to dominate the instrument and essentially torture it to force good sound out of it. I can do that. The good players really work the instrument. Ordinary players will just let it lope. That kills the passion and compresses the dynamics. You have to beat the guitar to death.

I am blessed with two phenomenal flattops. Right now, I’m using my old Taylor 710. It’s like a Martin D35, but when I bought it, I compared it to a Martin, and it was vastly superior. It has tons of bass, a piercing, ringing, sweet treble, and an incredible action, and it’s extremely responsive. If Martin has ever made a guitar with a decent action, I have not tried it.

Some people pick on Taylors, claiming they’re overrated, and that they’re slapped together in giant factories where no one cares how they sound. Whatever. Mine has Mr. Taylor’s signature on it, and the serial number is under 7,000, so maybe they made them better when mine rolled out. It’s great, regardless of what other Taylors are like. And the sound keeps improving as it ages.

While I was shopping for pedals, I heard a thing called a Fat Sandwich, made by Way Huge. I thought it sounded tremendous. When I get to the point where I understand pedals, I may try one.

I wish my fingers would harden up already. I begin every day’s practice on the wimpy strings of an electric guitar, and that’s no strain, but when I move to the dreadnought, I get about twenty minutes of playing before the pain sets in. And while I am now strong enough to play well with a 0.88-mm Dunlop pick, I lack endurance. I want to upgrade to the 1.0-mm pick as soon as I can.

It’s a blast to make real music again. I’m looking forward to the day when I can do it on the electric guitars as well as the Taylor. Right now, the contrast is horrendous.

Oh, Wow, You are Good

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Get Down, Get Down

What on earth is going on in Al Gore’s head?

Conservatives all said he was nuts back in 2000, when he tried to run George Bush off the debate platform. Are we being proven right today?

The massage story is horrendous. It suggests the man has completely lost his mind. The lust, I can understand. The alleged whining and groping and the “second chakra” reference sound symptomatic of heavy-duty mental illness.

Maybe none of it is true.

I don’t know how to react to the story. Christians are not supposed to listen to gossip, and we are not supposed to pass it on. But is it gossip when it involves a major political figure who has power over our lives?

It occurred to me yesterday that no matter how wacky we accuse the left of being, we nearly always turn out to be understating the case. This is literally true. On the other hand, a Republican was forced out of office for going to a sex club with his own wife, and another was crucified for saying the nonsense word “macaca.” It’s like we view Republican sins with a microscope (and Photoshop and audio dubbing and LSD, if necessary), but when the offender is liberal, we turn the microscope around so everything shrinks down to nothing.

Gore is now claiming he’s innocent. Maybe he is. But the accuser says she has a certain type of physical evidence which is irrefutible and impossible to fake. What will he say if she turns out to be telling the truth? Lies have a lot of power, but there are some problems they can’t fix. He lied about the polar bears and all that other environmental stuff, and he protected his lies by shutting out the press. You can’t shut a grand jury out. You can’t tell a prosecutor you’re not taking calls.

Some public figures get so full of themselves, they essentially force the press to go after them. Like John Wayne Gacy taunting the cops. The press will work very hard to protect a liberal, but eventually, they get fed up. It becomes a matter of pride with them. They start to feel used. Then you end up with Tom Fiedler waiting in the bushes to catch Gary Hart and Donna Rice. Or the John Edwards story. To a liberal politician, the press is like a forgiving parole officer. Sooner or later, they get out the cuffs and slap you down.

If the press gives up and realizes it has to eat Al Gore, things could get very messy. There is so much candy in the pinata, it will be raining for years. When you’re on top, no one will touch you, but once you fall, everyone has a dime to drop on you. All the cheesy things Gore has done over the decades will fall on him like the bail of a rat trap.

It is a sorry spectacle. Of course, we should pray he gets right with God and gets past this.

Things are going well here. Guitar practice is going great, and I am learning about amps and effects. I’ve decided to keep my cheap Chinese Epiphone, and I’m considering getting a pedalboard.

I’m frustrated by the left-hand work. I’m studying Fretboard Logic, and I’m studying the electric blues, and I’m getting into all kinds of stretches I never had to do when playing bluegrass. The progress is actually pretty fast, but because I have to have the stretches and bars down before I can really accomplish anything, I sometimes feel like I’m stuck in hardening cement. Thank God, the flatpicking is going quicker.

I’m starting to wonder if the blues is appropriate for worship music. I’m beginning to believe it is. Satan took sex, which is very close to God’s heart, and he turned it into something God’s people tend to malign. Maybe he did the same thing with blue notes and rhythm. The word “blues,” itself, is a deception. Blues music tends to be extremely upbeat and joyful, but because of the name and some of the lyrics, people think of it as depressing music. Go to a B.B. King concert and see if you see anyone sad in the crowd. WAKE UP. Labels don’t create reality. You could call it “pineapple-flavored music,” but it wouldn’t make it true.

I heard a blues worship tune in my head this morning. I may write it down. It would pep things up between bland tunes where people wave their arms and murmur “You are good oh how good wow you are good” over and over.