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Archive for August, 2010

Days of Teshuvah, 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Plus Guitar Stuff

Thought I should remind everyone that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are on the way: September 8 and September 18, respectively. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year (one of them, anyway), and Yom Kippur is the day of atonement.

The “Days of Teshuvah” started on August 11. This is a time when Jews reflect on their sins and turn from them. They believe God determines their fate (“inscribing” it) on Rosh Hashanah, and he “seals” it on Yom Kippur. Then they’re stuck with it for the coming year. The High Holy Days or “Days of Awe” run from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

It’s a good time to repent and resolve to do better. Christians aren’t subject to the entire Jewish law, but when is a change of heart a bad thing? And it serves to show respect and solidarity. Many mainstream churches are contemptuous of Israel and the Jews. It can’t hurt to set yourself apart from them.

I have been invited to visit my friends at the Messianic synagogue for their High Holy Days stuff. I am trying to get the other Armorbearers to go.

I got a number of comments about guitar amps. Right now, I’m trying out a Fender Super Champ XD. This is a 5-watt tube amp with some newfangled effects built in. It plays well at low volumes, and the effects are not bad. It’s a keeper. It’s loud enough to gig with, and even if the effects are not the best available, they’re very good, and they serve as a cheap and convenient introduction to the world of effects. And if you combine this thing with a channel-switching pedal and a distortion pedal, you can probably leave your other pedals at home.

It also simulates the sounds of certain classic amps. That’s a great feature.

I should have gotten this thing on day one, but I didn’t know what I was doing. The Vox is very nice, however, and so is the Bugera 5V I got.

I am considering getting one or two more Japanese Les Pauls. I am learning that no matter how versatile a guitar is, it’s a pain to use the same instrument for everything. It’s easier to have different guitars for different sounds, and there are enough Japanese bargains out there to make this an economically feasible idea. I would like to get one with single-coil pickups, and I’d like to put Bigsbys on all of them.

I may as well confess: I bought a “History” brand Les Paul. This is a magnificent Fujigen instrument with a bookmatched top. I got an insane price. Some crazy person bought it in 2005 and kept it in a closet in Japan and didn’t even take the film off the pickups or pot and switch covers. It’s not “like new.” It’s “NEW.”

Japanese guitar prices are going up, so this is the year to buy. Although the upcoming Obama Depression may change that.

I ought to go play some high-end Gibsons. As it stands, I think the Japanese guitars are probably better. Not “nearly as good” or “acceptable,” but better. The workmanship is perfect, they use excellent materials, and Gibson taught them how to do everything, so there are no trade secrets or patent issues to keep the Japanese in second place. I’ve shown my two Japanese instruments to good guitarists, and one of these guys wanted to buy one of them, so my impressions seem to be right. But I haven’t touched a real Gibson, other than my Blueshawk, in a long time, so I may be wrong.

I seriously doubt it. A Les Paul is just a board and a neck. If the action, intonation, and pickups are good, what could be bad?

It’s sad that American quality control is so bad.

I’ve been checking out Japanese Yahoo auctions. The problem with this is that you have to find a deal so good you don’t mind adding around $225 to the price, for service fees and shipping. The deals do exist, though.

I found a truly astounding instrument on one site. It’s a History brand clone of the Gibson ES295. That’s a hollow gold top guitar with P90s and a Bigsby. Thank God, someone bought this guitar the day I decided to inquire, because otherwise, I would have had a major temptation issue.

I don’t feel bad about buying nice used guitars, because it’s like buying stock. The money doesn’t vanish. You can get it back, often with a decent profit. New guitars aren’t too bad, if they’re well-known brands. Accessories and amps, you usually get hammered on. But not always. Sometimes they get discontinued, and then everybody goes nuts trying to buy old ones.

I figure it will be a waste of time trying to get a good deal on a Japanese instrument a year from now. Party while you can.

I Feel Like I’ve Been Drinking Red Bull

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Original Music at Last

I got a nice guitar breakthrough yesterday. I finally found time to start working on my own music.

And what do I mean by “my music”? Of course, I am referring to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Honey Bee.”

I realize I did not write this song. But the transcription I have poops out after the intro, moving into a long section where all you do is whack a couple of strings once in a while, as the vocalist sings. I did not buy a pile of guitars and 4 amps so I could be a vocalist. I want to PLAY. So I’m filling in the missing stuff.

It looks like the cheap Crate amp I got years ago will be useful. It was moldering next to an old PC for years. It’s solid state, and it’s not what you would call a prize, but it’s perfect for working on tablature. I park it by the couch, and I sit there with a guitar, playing at low volume while I work. You don’t need perfect tone to do this, and a cheap solid state amp is a big convenience. I don’t have to use pedals. I just flip the “on” switch and go.

I have to wonder if I should look at a decent solid state amp. I love my tube amps, but I can’t say I’ve given solid state a fair shake. The Crate is bottom-end junk. It’s not a good sample.

Here’s something funny: if you listen to tube amp samples while shopping, you’re almost always listening to digital recordings played through solid state electronics. Think about it. Imagine you go to a manufacturer’s website, and you listen to an MP3 sample. The sample is digital, and you’re listening through your PC’s solid state audio system made with super-cheap Chinese components. How can the sample sound good, if solid state kills tone?

There are two things I like about solid state amps. First, they last forever, with no maintenance, no matter what you do to them. Second, you don’t have to turn them up to get the best sound. They’re also cheap; so I guess that’s three things.

I have two tube amps, and they attenuate down to 1/4 and 1/10 of a watt, and I still can’t turn them up much, because the sound would crack the plaster in the walls. With solid state amps, the sound seems pretty much the same all over the volume dial.

A long time ago, I went to Guitar Center, and some salesman played a cheap Fender solid state amp (the word “Bronco” sticks in my mind), and he insisted the obsession with tubes was stupid. I have to admit, the amp sounded great. But he was playing very distorted stuff, and he was all excited about “crunch.” The amp had all sorts of “crunch,” but I don’t recall whether it had warmth and presence, which are the tube-amp qualities I like.

Even if tubes are important, how much can they matter in the output stage? I have a solid state stereo which reproduces tube sounds (and the human voice and every other sound) just fine. Seems to me that a tube preamp stage ought to dominate a solid state power stage. Maybe I’m wrong. There are amps out there that have tube preamps and solid state output transistors, though. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the stuff related to headroom and clipping comes mostly from the power stage.

Whatever the situation is at the moment, if solid state amps don’t sound as good as tubes right now, they definitely will in a few years. Technology improves constantly, and there is no physical reason why we can’t make perfect solid state amps. I’ve read dubious arguments about digital and solid state products creating “square” or “jagged” sound waves or “odd harmonics.” The proof is in the sound, though, and as far as I can tell, my solid state stereo has no problem reproducing tube sounds so well they are indistinguishable from what you would hear sitting next to a guitar amp.

You can Google around and find listening tests and articles by amp designers suggesting that the tube craze is mostly hype, and that tubes don’t really sound better in blind tests, so I think I should check out some solid-state amps once I really get it together. Maybe they won’t do the job, but maybe they will, and a solid state or hybrid amp would save me a lot of aggravation. Maybe I should look at a Fender Super Champ XD.

I’m pretty excited about writing my own variations and tunes, because it will help me get to know the instrument and amps and effects from the inside out, and it will lead to the development of a signature sound (for better or worse).

This is going to work out. Pretty cool. Allow me to reference Psalm 37:4 yet again.

Smelling Salts, Please

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Who Will Fill Those Loafers Now?

Ken Mehlman says he’s gay. I am floored. This is nearly as shocking as the Liberace thing.

One More Reason to Buy Fretboard Logic

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Maybe Rock Really is the Devil’s Music

Found some creepy information on The Guitar Grimoire, and I thought I would pass it on. The Guitar Grimoire is a series of books and DVDs intended to teach guitar technique.

The DVDs that are supposed to go with the books feature a guy who calls himself “Adam Kadmon.” He wears a wizard costume and is surrounded by occult symbols. He is apparently trying to come off like a sorcerer or something.

I looked up “Adam Kadmon,” and it’s not a real name. It’s the name of a supernatural being found in Kabbalah, which is Jewish occultism.

Here’s some of what I read about Adam Kadmon:

In the Kabbalah, the Primordial Man is spoken of as Adam Kadmon, and, in the Lurianic Kabbalah this symbol becomes a pivotal notion linking God, Man, and the World. Adam Kadmon, as the first being to emerge from the infinite Godhead, Ein-sof, is essentially indistinguishable from the deity, yet at the same time his body is said to both emanate and constitute the world. Man, having been created in God’s image, is said by the Kabbalists to be comprised of the very same cosmic elements, the sefirot, which comprise the “body” of Adam Kadmon. The symbol of Adam Kadmon expresses the idea that the cosmos itself has both a soul and body very much like that of man, and that the world too is garbed in the interest, value and Eros which is normally thought to be the exclusive province of humankind.

I think I’ll stick with Fretboard Logic.

I wonder how people claiming to be Jews can believe things that contradict the Torah.

He Shall Bring it to Pass

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Fruition

Last week was fantastic.

For the last few years, I’ve been dealing with a nagging problem. My primary approach to solving it has been supernatural. I have chosen to hold off on using some earthly weapons I have at my disposal. God has been completely faithful; last week he gave me a big victory, in pretty much the way I asked for it. Maybe I’ll write about it eventually.

I’m having lots of fun with the guitar. My arm pain went away when I started using dumbbells to exercise my forearms. Last week, I noticed I was bending the .73mm Dunlop pick I was using, along an axis from the tip to the back, and I realized I was getting too strong for it, so I upgraded to a .88mm pick. Now I’m playing louder and clearer, because the pick is stiffer. I’m not completely ready for the heavier pick, but I can’t go back to the thin one, and I know I will get stronger during the coming month.

My left hand is also getting better. Notes I could not fret well in the past are sounding clearer. I suppose it will be another couple of months before I really feel strong.

I suspect that the dumbbells are improving my hand strength, not just my forearm strength. Maybe forearm workouts are a good idea for guitarists, generally.

The Burny Les Paul I bought is turning out to be a wonderful investment. I got a little help with the electronics (guitarist from my church advised me), and now I am able to use a Fat Sandwich pedal to get a B.B. King tone you would not believe. I actually wrote down all the settings so I could repeat it. You can convert your amp, guitar, and electronic settings to numbers in order to record them in a compact notation. Figured that out on my own.

The neck on my Chinese Epiphone is actually slightly better than the one on the Burny, but that’s probably a truss rod thing.

I think I’m going to stick with nines and tens (strings) for the foreseeable future. The Burny has DR Pure Blues nines on it, and the tone is pure bliss, and it’s easy to play. I have some problems feeling the strings with the pick sometimes because they’re so thin, but I think I can overcome that. I am able to get three distinct notes out of a single bend, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that with heavier strings. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t think it’s a strength issue. I think it’s just the nature of heavy strings. They don’t seem to increase in pitch as much for the same degree of bending.

I really wanted to get a Japanese Les Paul and put single-coil pickups on it, but I can’t stand to take the humbuckers off my Burny. They’re amazing. So what do I do? I guess I’ll have to get a second Burny eventually. What if I like the pickups on that one? Hope that doesn’t happen. Every so often, one turns up with P90s already installed. Maybe that’s the best bet.

I am ready to take the next step in my Fretboard Logic studies. I have the “CAGED” thing pretty well under control, although I can’t make an A-type chord above the seventh fret. It’s impossible for me to line up three fingers between two frets that high up. I assume the answer is to do a sloppy second bar with the ring finger. I can’t believe a human hand exists which can get three fingers into that space.

I have to start writing original variations and tunes. I have been determined to learn to impersonate recordings accurately, because this is a sure way to build good technique, but I have to do my own thing, too. I already have the tab paper. I should get a tab-editing program.

It’s difficult to write tab, because you have to put down the guitar pick and pick up a pen, and it breaks the concentration. I may start writing it with my left hand. It doesn’t have to be pretty the first time around. I can fix it later.

I still think about my upcoming major guitar purchase. It’s slated for January. Right now, I’m strongly considering a Heritage H555 with single coils. But I may have to put the decision off until I really know what I want.

I may try out high-end guitars and discover that vintage Japanese guitars are as good or better. If that happens, there is no way I’m going to drop a pile on an American-made money sink. When you own a tool that costs too much, you tend to treat it like a sick baby, and you don’t get proper use from it. I am not afraid to risk the destruction of an $800 Japanese guitar, but I would be very nervous about putting a new Heritage on an airplane.

It should not be a surprise that the Japanese make great electric solidbody guitars. Japan is considered to be the home of the finest carpentry in the world. The strange thing is that their acoustics (and most of their pianos) are so bad. I guess it makes sense. A Les Paul is just a neck and a board, so if you make them fit together right, you should get a great sound. Copying the sound of a complicated hollow box would surely require more familiarity with American culture and the American sound.

Even semi-hollow electrics do not require perfect resonating chambers, so presumably, Japanese ES copies are also good.

Les Paul himself used to play a guitar that was actually a board. To be precise, it was a four-by-four with a neck. He called it “the Log.” It upset people, so he glued parts from an archtop to it, to make it look like a guitar. It’s in a museum now.

It may sound insane, but solidbody guitars would probably be good woodworking projects for me. The bodies would be a joke. Just cut, rout, and sand. The only hard part would be making a neck and headstock and setting the neck correctly. You can actually buy necks already made, if you get in trouble.

God gives us the desires of our hearts, according to Psalm 37. I am here to tell you it’s true. I am killing the electric guitar, and I am cooking better than I ever did, and I have wonderful friends. I have great tools, I’m thin, and I even have a pickup truck! I guess God has to be careful about rewarding us when we are not serving him. Once we’re back on track, his blessings will not corrupt us, so he can be more liberal.

If you want God to bless you, crucify your flesh so your evil desires don’t rule you. That makes you a fit candidate for blessing.

Things are going great, and I’m even meeting amazing Christian women. I keep pointing this out: non-Christian women, as a group, are a never-ending torrent of disappointment and conflict. They are neurotic and chronically unhappy. They expect men to solve all their problems. They blame us for everything that goes wrong. They think bickering and put-downs are the proper way to demonstrate their worthiness of respect. They are draining. They expect sex no later than the third date, and if they’re in their baby-crazy years, there is a good chance they’ll defeat contraception in order to trap you. It’s extremely difficult to find a non-Christian woman who interests me enough to make me risk the pain.

Christian women are completely different. The problem with Christian women is that I want to take ALL of them home. How do you choose? They’re pleasant to be around. They’re encouraging. They’re polite. They listen. They understand that a mate is not a competitor. They’re not princesses who have been raised to believe their overpriced weddings are the focal events of all creation. It’s hard to believe they’re for real. It’s such a beautiful thing, dealing with women who don’t put you on trial and make you walk on eggs. I can’t get used to it. I know it’s real. It’s like moving from Miami to Texas, where the people were so nice to me. It seems surreal, but it’s genuine, and I can trust it.

God will change your life so you can trust happiness.

Tonight I’m making Champagne chicken for 15 people at church. Boy, are they in for a shock. This stuff is incredible. I will not pretend to be modest. They think my pizza and cheesecake are good. They don’t know what they’re in for.

I Hate That Imaginary Guy

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Who Does He Think He Isn’t?

I don’t publish comments on old posts, so I deleted this one which appeared yesterday, but I am reproducing it here for a reason. It comes from someone calling himself or herself “Sane”:

What about all the babies that have died this summer because they were left unattended in hot cars? Maybe your angels could have saved a few babies instead of murdering Assyrians?

Let’s assume your god really does exist (he doesn’t, of course). Why would you worship someone who creates tiny little helpless babies, only to let them (or worse, MAKE them) die in a hot car, or in any number of other horrible ways? What kind of a sick, twisted being would do that? What kind of a sick individual would WORSHIP someone who does that?

Instead of waiting around for help to come, try to get yourself out of the situation. In the meantime, help out others who need it, and maybe you’ll be lucky and they’ll return the favor someday. If you wait for your god to help, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

I don’t want to get heavily involved in the obvious responses to these ancient arguments, apart from noting: 1) I wait for God to help all the time, and he comes through over and over, 2) I do help others, because you can’t have the Father if you don’t love your fellow man, 3) atheists should wonder why they are so furious at a person they claim is nonexistent, and 4) the fact that you disapprove of God’s behavior does not mean he doesn’t exist.

Here’s what I have to offer. Sane, tell me about a problem you have. It has to be something a Christian God would be willing to fix; it can’t be something like, “Dope is too expensive in my neighborhood.” I’ll have people pray about it. If God fixes the problem within seven days from the time I post the request, let me direct you to some good resources where you can learn more about him. If not, go on your way.

Everybody get behind this in prayer, if you will.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Life seems to get better every day. God answers one prayer after another. Where did we get the idea that Christianity was about obeying rules or being good or going to heaven sixty years in the future? It’s about self-actualization here on earth, seeing your dreams come true moment by moment, with God at your side. Heaven, as the movie title says, can wait.

My involvement with my church keeps growing deeper. I can’t walk through the place without talking to five or six friends along the way. People stop me to compliment me on the food I cook. I talk guitar with the musicians. It’s fantastic.

Today I’m going to our monthly volunteer meeting. We have 700 volunteers, so we get together and try to get more organized. I’m not involved in the music ministry, but I’m going to show my “new” Japanese Resuporu (Les Paul!) to one of the guys. It will be great to get his input on it.

I still have no respect for Japanese acoustics, but the quality of my $500 Burny has convinced me that Japanese electrics are superior to American electrics. I’m sure you can spend $4000 and get an American guitar that is somewhat better, but then you can also spend $2000 and get a top-notch Japanese guitar that beats the $4000 job. Japanese guitars will always be a better deal, because the people at Gibson have gone completely insane. They charge so much, anyone in the world can undercut them. I wonder why American Fenders are still fairly reasonable.

I have had some frustration with the electric guitar, trying to lean how to play slowly. In bluegrass, there are no long notes on the guitar, so if you hit the string at all, you’ve hit it right. When I work on B.B. King music, however, I have to play a lot of long notes, and a lot of them involve shaping the notes as they sound, moving the pitch up and down. This takes skill, patience, and concentration. At first, I wondered if I would ever get it to work, but as with so many musical issues, it turns out the problems magically go away with practice, even when I’m not consciously working on them.

I bought a Fat Sandwich distortion pedal. I was disappointed when I tried it with the Burny Les Paul. It seemed like the distortion was very intense, no matter how the pedal was adjusted. Then I tried it with my other guitars, and the problem went away. I guess I’m getting lesson on pickups. Apparently, some pickups distort easier than others. The Japanese L8000 humbuckers in the Burny must be considerably hotter than the Texas Specials in my Strat, because they blow the Fat Sandwich up regardless of what I do. Oddly, I don’t have this problem with my Ibanez Tube Screamer.

Maybe the Fat Sandwich was a bad move, but I’ve listened to samples over the web, and I know some people have gotten wonderful sounds from it.

I’m considering going to Haiti at the end of the month. We are still doing missions. I was involved in doing the press releases right after the earthquake, but I was never told how we could get to Haiti. I assumed the church was contacting people and asking them to go, because of their special skills. It turns out anyone who is willing to spend over a grand to go can do it. I wish I had gone in January. I didn’t know it was possible.

I’d like to go, but man…Haiti in AUGUST? That almost sounds like a metaphor for hell. The weather report says Haiti is going to be about six degrees hotter than Miami this week. That means a lot, when it’s 90° here.

One of my friends has gone at least once, and she’s going this time. She’s urging me to go. She said you have to wear some kind of electrical thing to keep mosquitoes away, and you have to bring a fan to put by your bed, otherwise you can forget about sleep. There is no air-conditioning. And she said something about wearing sandals in the shower to keep the parasites off your feet.

Okay.

What about the cabanas and pina coladas? What about those? I haven’t heard anything about the important stuff yet.

In all seriousness, I am wondering if it’s a good idea. I have all sorts of unusual skills, but I don’t have a single one they need. I am not a medical professional. I am not a builder or a mechanic. I am not an engineer. I can sue people for them, I guess, if they can find a way to do it in a Florida court.

Maybe I should just send them the money and stay here.

If I go to Haiti, what do I do for a guitar? There is no way on earth I am going to lose a week of practice. You can do that with many instruments, but with the guitar, one week off means six weeks of rehab. Forget that. No way, no how.

I guess the intelligent thing would be to take an acoustic. Maybe the cheesy Tacoma Papoose I never use. The action is a horror, but I suppose that will keep my fingers working.

Some day I may get an electric travel guitar. They’re about two feet long, and they have no headstocks. The amps are internal, and they have headphone jacks. On the other hand, I have two Asian guitars I didn’t pay a lot for. Maybe this is a good use for them.

I am trying out a Bugera amp that attenuates down to 1/10 of a watt. I did not know this amp existed when I got my 1/4-watt Vox. This amp has five advantages. 1. It plays at lower levels. 2. It has reverb. 3. It has a headphone jack. 4. It costs half as much. 5. It has a gain control. I think the Vox sounds better, but that may be because I’m not sure how to work the Bugera. Anyway, it’s a good cheap practice amp, and you can use it without pedals.

I plan to resume playing ZZ Top. I had some moral concerns, but without going into details, after prayer and so on, I have come to the tentative conclusion that it’s okay to practice the dirty songs in private, just for technique. Maybe I’m wrong. I won’t play them in church, even for practice, and I would not take part in a performance where the lyrics would be sung. We’ll see what happens.

I better get over to Guitar Center. I have to buy a case.

Japan Rules

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Electric Bliss

This morning, the phone kept ringing while I was doing my morning prayer regimen. Drove me nuts. I finally answered it, and it was Mike. He was going crazy, brainstorming about my new smoker idea, which is this: drill a hole in a Ronco Showtime rotisserie oven and pump in smoke from an external box containing flaming wood.

He pointed something out. You can’t slow-cook stuff in a Showtime oven. The burner has a fixed heat setting, and it’s either on or off all the time.

I hadn’t been concerned about this. The Showtime oven makes nice, tender meat, so I figured I’d be content with using it the same way I do now, but he has a point. Slow-cooking is better.

Here is my answer. Cut a hole in the back of the oven and insert a smoker heating element with a thermostat. You can set the temperature and walk off and not worry about it. Or as Chairman Ron says, “Set it…and forget it.”

This will be a thing of great beauty. Think about it. You make a smoke box from a propane tank, some scrap steel, and a conduit elbow. You plumb it into the side of the oven. You put the smoker heating element in the bottom. You cram your meat in there and smoke it over low heat while using the “No Heat Rotation” setting on the Showtime. Then when you’re ready to eat, you turn the Showtime to “Normal Rotation” and brown the meat.

I felt we should put a hole in the top of the oven and mount a smoke pipe, but that’s just pimpage. The smoke will go in and out just fine if you leave the door cracked.

This could make some really brutal ribs or pork butts or chickens. And it’s cheap. You can get the ovens for $50 on Craigslist. The smoker element runs about the same price. If you spent $150 on this thing, you would be at the upper limit of the price range, and a smart person could do it for a hundred and ten.

Mike was highly disturbed by the prospect of building one of these things. I’m not sure he slept last night. I can tell he’s not going to have any peace until we give this a try.

In other news, my secondhand Japanese Les Paul clone has been delivered and put to work, and it’s amazing. It screams quality, or maybe it’s actually screaming “BANZAI” and it just sounds like “quality.” Using this neck is like dancing on greased glass. The humbuckers (probably Japanese L8000s) have a thick, sweet, almost nasal sound which is addictive. Apart from the dings and scrapes, the fit and finish are perfect. And I suspect the previous owner almost never played it. The finish on the bridge is going, but there is no fret wear. Maybe he just held it in his hands while he danced in his underwear. A lot of guys do that, when they find out how hard it is to actually learn to play.

There are two disappointing things about the guitar. First, it was advertised as a “long tenon” model, which means the neck is supposedly attached the way the better Gibsons had theirs attached. But the tenon is a weird type that has a screw in it. It appears to be very long and solid, but it’s not standard Gibson engineering. Someone has suggested to me that a clever Japanese instrument maker used screws to hold necks in while the glue was soft, so they could be adjusted a little before becoming completely solid. The Matsumoku factory is known for this method.

Second thing: there is a dime-sized mashed place on the edge of the guitar, in back, up high. The binding is a little mooshed, and some wood is showing. This was not clearly indicated in the photos. My luthier says he can make it prettier, but with a polymer-finish guitar, there is a limit to the magic. I just want it cleared up to the point where it doesn’t pain me to see it every time I grab the guitar.

I tried to put a Bigsby on the guitar, using a Vibramate mounting kit. Problem: you have to use a strap pin to hold the mount on, and the strap pin on my guitar is slightly off-center. So another job for the luthier. I would not be afraid to drill a new hole, but I’m going to have to fill a hole and then drill another one right next to it, and that might conceivably require a little knowledge and skill, and I have neither.

I am missing ZZ Top very badly, and this is especially true now that I have a new guitar to mess with. I’m working on SRV’s “Honey Bee” and B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen” instead. I’m making good progress. I don’t know if it’s the slippery neck or what, but the up-the-neck intro to “Honey Bee” is not giving me problems. I’m also impressed by the weepy, mournful tone the guitar gives me on “Sweet Sixteen.” Oddly, I prefer it with the Tube Screamer on and the bridge pickup selected.

It looks like Japanese Les Paul clones are great instruments. I don’t know if this thing is as good as a real Les Paul Custom, but it’s so good, I don’t care, and it cost one fifth as much. If I break it or someone steals it, who cares? I’ll Ebay another one. And I’m not afraid to modify it.

You can get new ones. Fernandes still makes Burny guitars, and the top two Les Paul models are still made in Japan. You’ll pay about a thousand to get one in your hands. You won’t be able to try it out first, however.

I don’t know why the Japanese make such beautiful electric guitars and such crappy acoustic instruments, but I’m not complaining.

I love my Chinese Epiphone Riviera, but I’m not so stupid I can’t see the difference in quality between the Riviera and the Les Paul. The necks are equally well set up, but there is something friendlier about the wood on the Burny, and it makes a real difference when I play. I can’t really say why, but the body on the Burny just looks better. The finish just seems classier and less flashy.

I’m wondering if I can have the fretboard on the Epiphone buffed or otherwise treated so it feels a little more like the Burny. And I’ll say one more thing: I would love to see what a Burny ES335 clone is like.

I think I made a mistake when I bought my Vox AC4TV amp. This is a magnificent machine; it has a nice tube sound, and it attenuates to 1/4 watt, so you can make it sound nice without rattling the walls. When I bought it, I looked for other attenuated amps, but I couldn’t find any this quiet. Now I’ve learned about the Bugera V5. This thing goes down to 1/10 watt, and it’s half the price of the Vox. Good info, if you’re currently shopping.

I’m wondering how they do the attenuation. Maybe it’s just a big resistor. If so, I should be able to put a bigger resistor in the Vox. But the Bugera is so cheap, I have to wonder if there is any point.

I’m going to get a Way Huge Fat Sandwich distortion pedal. Maybe I’m stupid, but they sound great in demo videos. I like my Tube Screamer, but how can you resist something called a “Fat Sandwich”?

Time to crank up the amp. Hope I can quit before my fingers get too sore.

Giant Leap for Man Food

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Do This Do This Do This

I made a delicious leg of boneless Costco lamb today, with fresh rosemary from the yard, on the Showtime rotisserie oven. While I was enjoying it…it hit me! BUY A USED SHOWTIME, DRILL A HOLE IN THE SIDE, AND PUMP IN SMOKE!

Hold me down, or I’ll be in Hialeah in half an hour, buying a pre-owned oven from Craigslist.

Epic Beered Man

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I am a Work in Progress

I guess I’m a bad Christian, because the Steven Slater story cracks me up every time I think about it.

I know he cursed a bunch of people and broke the law by deploying a jet’s safety chute. I know he stole two beers in the process, probably hoping to get a good start on getting plastered. I know that when the cops caught him, he was busy engaging in sodomy.

I know.

It still slays me.

Pray for both of us.

Every Temple Needs a Dumpster

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Office Space for the Lord of the Flies

I’m back. Not that I went anywhere.

Things are going well here. Guitar practice is moving right along. Church gets better and better. My friendships there keep getting stronger.

Yesterday I decided to give up working on a piece I really enjoyed. I was learning a ZZ Top tune which has a dirty title and suggestive lyrics. I figured it was okay, because I was only interested in the melody and the guitar skills, but I changed my mind.

Last week a kid came to church while I was working as an Armorbearer, and he had a joke T-shirt on, and the front of it featured the F-word, with the “u” replaced by an asterisk. I was mortified. Before I could think about it, I went up to him and asked if he had anything else he could put on. I was afraid he would give people the wrong idea about our church, and that God and the people above me in the church would be upset with me if they saw him.

I told him the shirt was inappropriate and disrespectful, and the solution we came to was exile to the overflow room, a long room to the side of the sanctuary. I got in touch with my superiors about it, and their take was that was should not run anyone off over a T-shirt, but that we should not hesitate to confront church regulars who wore offensive clothing. The regulars know better.

It seems to me that working on a dirty song is a little like wearing that T-shirt. Like the church, I’m supposed to be God’s house. I shouldn’t let garbage in through the front door.

I still have some tendinitis, and I wonder if the delay in healing has anything to do with what I chose to do with my abilities.

I have quit working on the piece, and now I’m looking for something else. It’s sad, really, because the guitar work in that tune is a joy to play, even though the song itself is fairly weak.

I started working on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Honey Bee” last night, but I discovered that Billy Gibbons has something Stevie Ray lacks. Oh well.

I enjoy working on B.B. King, but it turns out there are subtleties in his style that make it harder than ZZ Top. The timing is more varied. I learned that ZZ Top is surprisingly like souped-up bluegrass, which has 8 beats over and over, but B.B. King does whatever he wants, because he’s not as concerned with a driving rhythm.

I also learned that blues/rock has the same basic feel as bluegrass. Maybe a person who has the innards to play one type of Southern music should be able to play them all.

I’ll be looking for more stuff to work on.

I took a look at “Sharp-Dressed Man,” which has interesting guitar work, but it requires a chorus pedal. I don’t even know what that does.

I haven’t received the used Japanese Les Paul clone I Ebayed. The guy was really slow about shipping it. So much for Japanese efficiency. And I still don’t have my Blueshawk. I think the repair guy has adopted it.

I’m trying nines on one of my guitars. I may stick with them. I like the feel of tens, but it’s hard to turn down the expressiveness you get from nines, and the tone seems just as good. It seems like the electronics make up so much of the sound, the strings aren’t all that important.

I plan to have vibratos on all my guitars. So far, I’ve only used vibrato for one lick in one song, but that was enough to convince me that I needed this extra tool. It turns any song into a soundtrack for a Quentin Tarantino movie.

I have a sense that anyone who plays electric blues should be familiar with four types of guitars: Strats, Telecasters, Les Pauls, and thinline Gibsons. Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems to be a good basic vocabulary. I plan to get all those bases covered before the big day comes and I go all-out and get a top-notch instrument.

A friend of mine recommends Heritage guitars. The world’s biggest dealer is within driving distance. I have heard things about their quality control, but then I have also heard that the biggest Heritage knocker is a dealer who got ejected from their sales network, and that the quality control is actually very good. I don’t think it can be any worse than Gibson, which is getting whipped by its Chinese siblings at Epiphone.

I got a prayer request last night from reader Ruth, and I am passing it on. I hope you will take it seriously.

Steve,
I have a niece who has been extremely overweight for years. Two years ago she had the big stomach surgery to help her. That helped with her weight but she has still be a victim of increasingly worse migraines. She has been in and out of hospitals time and time again.
Currently she has been in a hospital for 10 days, on cortisone to help wean her from the many different drugs they have her on.
Today she went to the chapel to pray and was attacked by the devil, her words. The security guard helped her back to her room, he seems to be Christian and understanding. She also has a good Christian nurse with her.
My sisters and I think she has been the victim of a demon for many years, maybe more than one. With your understanding of what this is, you seem to be one to also ask to pray for her.
She has been a good Christian wife, mother and grandmother, now. We just pray she will be well and able to enjoy the grandchildren, children and very faithful husband.
Thanks for your prayers, please pass this on to your prayer partners.
Ruth H.

By the way, it will be 4 weeks tomorrow since my knee surgery and I am doing very well. Not to say there is not pain and discomfort but I am healing, walking without my cane in the house, and slowly getting back to normal. Prayers are still appreciated, however.

If you could throw in a few words for my friend Dave, I would appreciate it. He came out of the closet after his mom died, and his life is pretty tough. He used to be very hostile to God, but lately he has been more open.

Hope I’ll be able to post a good report on my guitar progress before long.

No Lock Too Tough

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Two Requests

I have a reader prayer request. Can’t reveal the name.

Things are getting pretty tight at the homestead. I still haven’t found work. It seems that nobody wants to hire a xx year old in this job environment. Federal jobs have a cut-off age of 36. ( age discrimination, anyone? ) State jobs are not happening and regular locksmith jobs just aren’t there. I applied for an apprentice locksmith job and still no bites. I was turned down at Wal-Mart, for heavens sakes. I feel a little selfish asking for prayer when others may need it more, but I have gotten desperate .

If this should end up in your blog, please don’t use my name. It has been over ten months now without work and I am more than a little ashamed that I haven’t found anything.

I appreciate any good thoughts and prayers you may send my way.

This reader is obviously in a bad situation. I hope you will get behind him in prayer.

While you’re at it:

The short story is that my girlfriend and I are both Deputies. She was injured on duty about a year ago, and since then, the County has cut her pay nearly in half while she is waiting for surgery.

Since her pay has been cut in half, she has had trouble paying for her mortgage, her bills, etc. I pay for as much as I can, but given the circumstances, she has slid into depression. Along with the depression she suffers from (her doctor recently prescribed meds), she also has bouts of anger.

I love her more than you could ever imagine, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world to know that I met my dream girl and that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. But suffice to say, with my odd hours, her combination of problems, and just the daily goings-on of life, it feels like we are slipping apart.

I pray every day that I can find a way and make everything work out. I ask that you pray for us to be the happy couple that we deserve to be.

Thanks.

Domo Arigato, Dude

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Why Does my Guitar Smell Like Squid?

God just won’t let up.

This weekend, I was slated to go to my prayer group on Saturday morning, followed by Saturday evening church. The following day, I was to cook during the first two services and then serve as an Armorbearer during the third, and then I was to serve as an Armorbearer at our mass baptism at Hollywood Beach.

On Friday night, a youth minister called and asked if I could help on Saturday with a barbecue. I agreed, but I had to cut out the prayer group and Saturday evening church. I managed to arrange all that.

I have been considering getting a new Epiphone Les Paul ’56 Reissue with P90 pickups, and I figured I might go by the Hallandale Beach Guitar Center on the way home, since it was very close to the park.

On Saturday, I got ready to head up to Greynolds Park. This is a public park in North Miami. My school took me there a few times when I was a kid. I believe my last visit had been 37 years earlier, at my sixth grade picnic.

I had a call from Mike on my cell phone, and my GPS would not find Greynolds Park, so I called Mike while I was driving and asked him to get the address off of his computer.

Mike and I grew up across the street from each other, and we both knew Greynolds Park, even though I did not recall the way to get to it.

We started talking about old times. I enjoyed that. Outside of my family, Mike is my only link to my childhood.

Miami has no hills to speak of, but there is an artificial one at the park. I guess it’s fifteen feet high. On the top, there’s a little castle made from coral rock. I seem to recall a big peace sign carved into the grass below it; maybe that was there back in the Seventies, when I last saw the place.

When kids visit the castle, they like to go to the top of the hill, lie down, and roll to the bottom.

I remembered the castle as a big structure, but when I saw it out of my truck window, I realized it was about fifteen feet across! I told Mike that if I tried to roll down the hill, it would be about two rolls.

I got to talk to him about church and his family, and I think it was a productive conversation.

The kids showed up, and I helped a pastor and his mom grill burgers, wings, hot dogs, and sausages. There was football and volleyball, and we had a great time.

At the end of the day, I got in the truck and tried to decide whether I had enough energy to look at a guitar. I decided to go ahead. I took a couple of wrong turns on the way, though, so I was maybe five minutes later than I should have been.

I got to guitar center, and they didn’t have a ’56 Reissue. While I was looking at the guitars on the wall, I heard a voice say, “Steve!” I turned around, and I saw Miguel and Joe, two guitarists from church. Miguel was looking at a Gibson Les Paul.

Total coincidence, right? Of course.

We talked guitars for a while, and they gave me some great information. I told them the reason I had come, and Joe said he and Miguel had just come from a place that had a ’56 Reissue! In fact, Joe had handed it to Miguel, even though they weren’t shopping for a guitar that cheap.

Now I know where to find it, if I want to see it!

Again, coincidence. Surely.

If you can believe that, your irrational, stubborn faith in coincidence is considerably greater than the faith it takes to be a Christian.

That night, I got an unexpected call from my aunt. Kentucky is condemning a piece of land my family owns, and my cousin is handling the legal issues. My aunt said the mediation was scheduled for today! She said they had deliberately kept it quiet (which is a major breach of professionalism for a lawyer), in order to prevent the family from getting wound up and causing problems. She said we had to come up with a price. She said I would have to be available today to take calls, and she said she would try to get me information on Sunday, which meant no church and no beach baptism.

I was pretty annoyed, but I kept thinking of something I had learned: when people do things that are completely abnormal, there is often a supernatural reason. Maybe God was in this.

Anyway, a while back, another relative tried to get control of this issue, and that relative made up a selling price which I will call “x,” and the state rejected it as ridiculous, offering something more like 0.6x. On Saturday, my aunt started telling me about recent comparable sales, from other people whose land had been condemned. Suddenly, we were talking about 3-4x! I couldn’t understand it. It made no sense, given the information we had had earlier in the year.

The same state official who refused to pay x and demanded a trial has been giving other people extravagant sums. The comps come from deals she worked on.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s very odd.

Speaking of guitars, I found a nice Japanese Les Paul clone on Ebay, and I won the auction. I am paying Chinese-Epiphone money for a Gibson-quality vintage Les Paul Custom. We’ll see if it’s any good. I plan to put a Bigsby on it, and I’ll probably take out the humbuckers and put in single-coil pickups made to fit a humbucker mount. I wouldn’t want to diddle around too much with a valuable Gibson, but for this kind of money, the Japanese guitar is a great candidate for modification.

I found out you can use a mount called a Vibramate to put a Bigsby on a guitar without drilling, so I’m going to go that route at first, to see if I like it. I’m pretty sure I’ll want to keep the Bigsby, however, because I love the one on my Epiphone.

This should be a good cheap way to learn about quality Les Pauls.

Practice is going great. I no longer have problems getting along with electric guitars. I am starting to understand how liberating amps and effects can be. I just need to settle on an arsenal of instruments and equipment.

The Chinese Epiphone continues to bring me joy. I’m getting some very good sounds out of it. I’m starting to remember things about the characteristics of different electric guitars. For one thing, the Riviera (wide, like an ES-335) has great, masculine-sounding bass, which is something I missed when I tried out a smaller ES-336 a few years back.

I had soreness in my right elbow, but I started using a thinner pick, and suddenly I’m getting much better, and I can’t believe the improvement in control. I guess I should have realized that playing bluegrass on thirteens with a 1.0-mm pick was not a great idea, for someone who had been slacking for years. I’ll have to build back up.

Billy Gibbons is my favorite guitarist. I know Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter are considerably higher on the technique food chain, but when it comes to music that is just plain fun to listen to, he’s as good as it gets. That’s very important. In music, charisma is more important than pure ability. It’s why so many supremely capable Asian classical pianists fail to draw audiences. No one cares how brilliant you are, if you bore them.

I see it this way: Johnny Winter is to Stevie Ray Vaughan as Art Tatum is to Oscar Peterson. Billy Gibbons fits in on the next level.

It’s funny that my favorite blues guitarists are white. Oddly, all three of them sing the blues well or extremely well. Usually this is where white blues artists eat it.

If you don’t think ZZ Top is blues, listen to “La Grange” and then listen to “Boogie Chillun,” by John Lee Hooker.

That’s all I got.