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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Build-A-Band

Current mood: happy

In my blog entry My First Time, I brought up how I got to play live for the first time -- a thing called Build-A-Band, put on by the NW Rockstar League. Well, I did it a second time a couple weeks after that blog post and just did it again last night for my third time. VERY fun!
 
I have to say, it's interesting going through various emotions, excitement, nervousness, etc. I'm not a super skilled guitar technician like some people around here are, but I'm improving. I think the biggest reason for my recent improvement is getting ready to play at Build-A-Band! I know there is going to be a bunch of talented musicians (as well as some fully formed bands) and want to do the best I can to entertain the people there and make it fun for the other musicians.
 
One thing that I've found is needing to know more material. If you only knew one song you could do Build-A-Band. But if someone else has already signed up to do it, you're SOL. So for me I've had a few songs ready to go (not including acoustic stuff -- which now that I think of it, could also be performed there). But I have this need to learn more materials. More songs. And to get better at the songs I already know.
 
I'm writing this down as a word of advice -- playing live will help your playing like nothing else can! I've had to being more and more confident (and competent) with the songs I know. Because then I feel more comfortable and can actually look at the audience for a bit, smile, move around a little bit instead of just standing like a statue, etc.
 
Anyway, last night was awesome. I had 5 very close friends come and they were able to see me play 5 songs over the course of the evening. I got to try out my new PRS SE Soapbar II (which did well -- but the volume levels of the amp should have been increased).
 
Here's a link to one song (Man In The Box): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayWPta4V0I4 and a picture of the new Soapbar in action!
 

 
Well, after the 2nd time of playing, I joined the NW Rockstar League. The league is accepting applications until the end of February and then the season starts. The "Commissioner" announced last night that he had a bass player lined up for my band but didn't say anything other than that. I'm looking forward to it.
 
Basically each band agrees to learn at least 10 songs. The league sets up venues where 4 bands each play a 10 song set during the night. Over the course of the season there's some sort of "grading" process to see who's improving, doing better, etc. and then sometime during the summer there's a kind of "battle of the bands" where winners will be decided and some trophies/prizes given out.
 
There's a kids league and an adult league. I'm pretty stoked to be part of it and look forward to playing a more predictable set with predictable people.
 
Should be a lot of fun -- and I don't have to do the legwork of setting up venues and that sort of thing.
 
Oh yeah, if you or anyone you know lives in the Seattle area, have them check out the league. More people is better! ;)
9:51 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Thursday, December 29, 2011

My First Time

Current mood: excited

I'm basically a bedroom player -- or at least have been. I buy stuff, use backing tracks and jam in my "music room" (spare bedroom). Like many others I've had the desire to play live but don't really have a band. I have some people I jam with on occasion, but nothing very serious. Certainly nothing I could gig with.

One of my new year resolutions was to play in a live setting. This is the subject of this blog posting. :)

I have a buddy that I've known for quite some time. We know each other from riding motorcycles on racetracks as well as on road trips. Sportbikes. Great fun and lots of camaraderie. But in that sport over the years you encounter regular bouts of injury & ultimately death. Friends pass on treacherous roads or get taken out by "cagers" that don't see the motorcycle they just pulled out in front of -- ending their life. My friend and I have experienced enough of this sort of thing over the years and he sort of drifted away from the sport. I didn't.

Well, I guess I eventually did too. After my last 2 accidents and holding a buddy while he died, I just sort of started doing less and less of riding. My interests turned to guitar as something I'd always wanted to do but never made time for. Come to find out my buddy had already arrived there and was regularly gigging with a couple of bands. He is/was far in advance of me.

But we've kept in touch with one another -- I come over to his place and check out all the new gear he's acquired. I come out to watch his bands play and to support him. You know, that sort of thing.

I also witnessed him sell his printing business and go into a completely different line of work. Something he'd always wanted to do -- and having found the opportunity, took it. What did he do? He opened a rehearsal studio. He supplies all sorts of guitar/bass amps, drums, microphones, mixers, drums, etc. in each of the
sound-proofed rooms at his facility. People can just rent rooms to practice in or they can set up recording time. And some, like me, just want to come by to try out a ton of different tube heads and cabinet combinations. Being a friend, I don't pay... ;)

Anyway, one day he lets me know about the NW Rockstar League. The what, you ask? The NW Rockstar League. It's basically set up like a sports league. People sign up and get put together with like-minded individuals. They have to learn at least 10 songs and then they're put into little gigs here and there. At the end of the season there's basically a "battle of the bands" with judges, etc. and a winner is announced for each class. I'm probably going to join up.

Well, one of the things this league does is a thing called Build-A-Band. They have an arrangement with a local sports bar where every Wednesday night they have the stage. You sign up on their website for any song(s) you'd like to perform and which instrument you want to play (singer, guitar, bass, drums, etc.). Others sign up for the other instruments. On any gaps, the house band (my friend and the league commissioner) tries to fill in.

My buddy described it as being for someone just like me -- a bedroom player with no band but who would like to play live. I signed up and listed about 4 songs I felt I could play competently enough live (and that would be appropriate for a sports bar). I arrived to the bar with my axe in hand and took a seat.

The band that opened was kick ass. These guys were a professional gigging band and they sounded the part. There was nothing but polished music coming from them -- a bit intimidating.

Next my buddy and the commissioner got up with some others and they played a few songs (that other people had signed up for). After the last few songs they kept mentioning "...bringing Richard on up..." The nerves started to hit -- and I was glad it was just a few days before Christmas, the place wasn't very packed.

I was then called up. I got set up, checked that I was in tune. Talked to the other guys about which song I wanted to do (I picked the one I felt most comfortable playing), what tuning it was in (D#) and got it sorted out. We needed a singer but no one that wanted to sing knew the words -- thank goodness for phone apps. With lyrics at the ready we hit it. The drummer counted us in and we played!

I was nervous. And excited. And self-conscious. And stiff. And dry-mouthed. And clammy. And jittery. And electrified. And smiling...

When the first song was over, my heart was beating a mile a minute. I didn't know what was expected of me (if it was another's turn to take the stage or what) and I started to bail. I was called back before I even got my guitar off my shoulder to do the next song -- they wanted to keep a flow going. Cool! I picked the next song I felt I knew like the back of my hand. A couple seconds to find lyrics and we were on our way again!

At this point I was feeling really good. The next song was a bit more challenging -- if for no other reason than there are parts where the only instrument being played is the guitar. It's not particularly difficult when I'm alone, but was easily the most challenging I was going to play on the first night. But none of the guys that I was with knew it! I started to think we wouldn't do the song when the original band walked up and said they'd play with me as it was one of their regular songs. YIKES! Now the nerves hit again! These weren't just a bunch of fellow bedroom players, these were pros. I was intimidated.

They also happened to be some of the nicest people I've met -- making the experience AWESOME!

We got all tuned up and the drummer started off the song. The singer said his lines and I started playing. It felt really fantastic and I wish I had a recording of it because if felt like it sounded great! At the point I was to play solo the bassist (who was actually their guitarist filling in for the bassist to help me out) pointed to me with a "GO!" motion and I hit it. Man that was sooooo fun!

I got lots of hand shakes, fist pumps and "good jobs" in return of my "thank you"'s to them.

We then played one more song -- the easiest of the night, but also one of the most fun and rockin'. At this point I had a perma-grin on my face and was really enjoying myself (although still a bit nervous). I then sat down and finished off a beer. It tasted awesome!

I only came ready to play with 4 songs so I sat out the rest. Sure I know some others, but none that I felt ready to play live in this particular venue. Although there was a point when one song was brought up (they had a bassist, drummer and singer), needing a guitarist that I wanted to play. I just happened to know my buddy wanted to play it -- and even though he was out for a few minutes, I let him have this one.

That was Wednesday the 21st, and while I didn't go tonight (28th), I am planning on going next week. I'm more inspired than ever to learn more songs and to play with & in front of others. I sat down last night and by today had another song learned. It should be a crowd pleaser. :)

I highly recommend everyone that can get the chance to play for an audience do so. It's really fun and can inspire you to learn more! If you have a band (even if you only play in your garage at the moment) get out there and play for others. You'll find yourselves much more satisfied.

At this point I plan on joining the NW Rockstar League and playing in the Build-A-Band at least once or twice a month (heck, maybe weekly if I can manage it...)
6:25 am - 1 comments - 0 Kudos
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister: Part III

Current mood: cheerful

If you haven't been following along with the TubeMeister chronicles you might want to check out my earlier blog entry(ies).

Okay, so I got a replacement TubeMeister about a week or so ago. I was a good boy and let it "warm up" to room temperature before doing anything with it. :)

After I got it all unpacked I took the little fella upstairs to the music room. I'm still flabbergasted at how small this head is. Taking it with you is a breeze. You could really toss this in a back pack (or add a strap to sling it over your shoulder), throw your guitar over your other shoulder and carry a small cabinet and be ready to jam anywhere. The combo would be even easier!

I got it all hooked up and turned it on, leaving it in Standby so the tubes could all warm up and get happy. While this was happening I made sure my guitar was in tune and then took it off standby mode.

Starting with the clean channel I started playing through it. This amp really has great cleans. I increased the gain on the clean channel little by little and was once again amazed at how awesome it sounded. You can get a very nice growl and crispy chunky gain on this channel. And by just rolling off the guitar volume a bit, it cleans right up!
I honestly could see someone leaving it on this channel and using pedals for heavier gain. Really nice.

I switched it over to the gain channel (oh, leaving everything other than volume & gain at the 12 o'clock position) and started playing through it as well. I moved the volume & gain up and down and switched through the power soak options. After a couple hours it started to really open up and growl for me -- I considered this part of "break-in". Felt like it was finally able to get a deep breath, if you know what I'm talking about.

Being completely honest here, I've been leery of using the 1 watt setting. I've primarily kept it on 5 & 18. I'm cranking the hell out of it on those settings and will keep venturing into the 1 watt realm but seeing how that's where my first one broke, I have a bit of subconscious worry there. It's funny, because I really really like this amp. But I've already made an agreement with myself that if it fails I'm getting rid of it and getting a Mesa Mini Recto (or similar). So, I'm going out of my way to make sure it doesn't break!

I've recently been thinking of getting a Mini Recto or possibly an ENGL Gigmaster 15 even if the TubeMeister continues working flawlessly. I mean, then I can have my cake and eat it too, right?

So at this point everything is working just fine. I've been harder on this one than the first and it's holding strong. I'm going to be traveling with it tomorrow so we'll see how it does after being in the car, moved, played, brought back and played some more. With as sturdy as the metal frame/enclosure is, you'd think this thing was intended to be abused. Let's find out, shall we? ;)
7:10 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, December 09, 2011

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister: Part II

Current mood: cheerful

Well, shortly after posting my initial NAD blog, my wonderful Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister blew up on me. :(
 
Okay, "blew up" is a bit dramatic. I was playing along happily, looked down to see the footswitch and as I started casting my gaze back up noticed the amp start glowing -- brighter, Brighter, BRIGHTER, BRIGHTER, then silence...
 
I checked things out, unplugged, let it cool, etc. and couldn't figure out an obvious cause for it. I checked the manual and it looks like it's a fuse issue -- but that would only be caused by a dramatic problem with the tubes (as it has an auto-biasing feature).
 
Anyway, I figured I could fix it or have it repaired easily enough. But considering I'd only had it 2 or 3 weeks, decided to send it back and get it replaced.
 
I sent it off and received word that it was received, replaced and mailed back to me. Waiting for the replacement which I hope will be as awesome as the first one.
 
I'm also hoping it was a fluke thing because of it being a first-run manufacturing glitch or something like that. Because if this next one proves to be that fragile, I'm going to have to return it and not replace it. I guess that would be a good excuse to get that Mesa Mini Recto I've been eye-ballin', huh?
 
Stay tuned for Part III. :)
10:08 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Monday, November 07, 2011

Adventures with Audacity

I have an Avid Mbox, which came with Pro Tools LE. I've had pretty much little to no luck getting anything to work with that software. And sadly, because of this, have not been able to get any recordings unless I just use the mic in my camera (not even a camcorder, just a camera).

Anyway, I didn't realize that Audacity did as much as it actually can do until last night! My sister-in-law was over and she uses Audacity heavily for some production work (not musical, all voice & effects). Anyway, she was able to show me a couple things in just a few minutes of time and it completely blew my recording world WIDE open! I'm so stoked!

Within a few minutes I was able to make a recording, edit it, have it pan left and right, make it louder, etc. and then save it to the format/parameters needed for UG -- and then uploaded the little clip (I did a "My Playing Skills" clip).

I'm really looking forward to figuring out more of how to use this software. Why is this so important to me you ask? Well, because I get & stay motivated by learning to play songs and then recording them when I feel competent. Once they're recorded and put online I then feel ready to learn more songs. If I never get them recorded, I seem to continue working on the same songs, rather than learning more. I know it might sound silly to some, but it's a matter of milestones for me.

I just got a new amplifier (Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister) and one of the features is a built in Red Box. This means I can record directly from the amp through and XLR cable. No need for mic'ing (although I do want to figure that out as well). But it means I can do it silently (I don't need to have any volume coming out of the speakers), so can record at any time day or night -- whenever the mood strikes.

I think I'm going to search for an Audacity forum. I understand there's a pretty robust community for the software out there, so may as well tap into it a bit. :)
6:05 am - 2 comments - 2 Kudos
Thursday, November 03, 2011

NAD: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister

Current mood: excited

First of all, I feel the need to report on something I've never experienced before. Early delivery! This amp was sent by way of UPS's "3-Day Select". It entered their system late Monday evening with a delivery time by "EOD Thursday". Well, when checking the status today I noticed it said it was out for delivery and had a early delivery date. Very cool!

I don't think I've ever had much of a bad experience with UPS, but this was surprising to say the least.

Okay, onto my first impressions of the amp. Arrived in a very small box, well packed (with the amp inside its padded bag). When pulling the amp out of the bag it felt very solid -- all metal.

I hooked it up to a 212 with Greenbacks, added my board to the effects loop and plugged it in. There's no reverb (which is fine for me) but otherwise I just set everything straight up to the 12 o'clock position (except for the master volumes, which were both on 9/10). I left it in the 18 watt position and fired her up.

The clean channel sounded great. I'd say it's more "chimey" rather than "spanky", which is what I prefer. I'd think this wouldn't be a first choice if you were doing country. Then again, this is just a first impression review.

I moved it over to the lead channel and with just one chord was impressed. This amp sounds fantastic to my ears. There was a ton of crunch, no "fizz" and after the initial distorted sound had a lot of "clarity" in the notes of the chord.

I played a bunch of stuff and started to change things around with the EQ. It can get dark and still has a decent bottom end. I didn't like it with the mids scooped too much though.

I switched on the Lead Boost and wasn't quite prepared. The jury is out on this as I just haven't had enough time with it, but I don't think I've ever had an easier time of finding harmonics everywhere.

This is the best sounding amp I've heard, straight out of the box. It has a lot of crunch and articulation (for lack of a better word). It isn't muddy, fizzy or bland. It's very crisp with a nice "KERANG!"

Again, this is an initial review. I reserve the right to back peddle completely, denounce the amp as anything other than a POS and return it to the store for a complete refund.

A couple of things noteworthy. 1) I played this through my Avatar 212 with Greenbacks. I hadn't been real happy with my previous amp and wondered if it had something to do with the GBs. It just sounded a bit too dark. This amp sounds fantastic through the cab. 2) I've only tried my PRS MEQ (Modern Eagle Quatro) through it. I loved the sound of the MEQ through my previous amp but I always had to tweak things "just right" to get the sound I liked (again, thinking/hoping it was the cab). Well, with this amp it sounds freakin' amazing. Sooooo much better than before. I'm even more in love with the 53/10 pickups.








4:03 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, October 28, 2011

Reviews on UG

Current mood: hopeful

The Reviews section on UG is pretty phenomenal when you think about it. When I'm looking at buying a new piece of gear and do a Bing/Google search I'll often see an ultimate-guitar.com review for it. And considering how many sites are out there (heck, pretty much every sales site now has a "reviews" feature), that's saying something.
 
I'm sure it has a lot to do with the site's overall userbase size. It's pretty huge. And with a ton of relevant content (tabs, reviews, columns, etc.) it probably "weighs" a ton when it comes to searches.
 
So I've recently started adding reviews. It's funny, not so long ago I didn't consider my opinion of significant importance to leave a review. There were (and are) so many people with more experience than myself, but that doesn't negate the usefulness of a review. I think the truthfulness in how things are reviewed (and being as unbiased as possible) is what really counts.
 
That being said, I know if I had to review my first amp when it was the only one I'd ever played through, I would have given it glowing praise. But now, having owned 6 others -- I wouldn't. But the review for that amp would be just as valid if I wrote it then (as long as I disclaimed that it was my first amp and I was a complete noob) as if I'd wrote it now. The things were and are still true, just viewed from a different perspective.
 
I've gotten good feedback from what (and how) I've written. I'm looking forward to doing it more. And I HIGHLY recommend others do it as well.
 
Start with whatever piece of gear you think of, be it past or presently owned. Maybe it's a favorite item or something you've long since sold. These things help others -- but they also ultimately help the reviewer too.
 
I've noticed I've started looking at things differently. Instead of just saying, "I don't like the tone I get with that amp." I'm able to break things apart. I can now see things like features, headroom, quality of clean (spanky, brilliant, chimey, etc.), quality of gain (crisp, separation, fuzz, etc.), reverb types, etc. and this is all helping me select my next amp (or whatever).
 
Here's to a lot more reviews!
2:41 am - 0 comments - 2 Kudos
Friday, October 28, 2011

First blog posting

Current mood: cheerful

First blog posting here. I've been a member of UG for a while now and slowly but surely have been getting more involved. Started out with a tab here and a tab there, then registering. I don't post a whole lot but keep my eyes on a few threads and have followed a person here or there. The classifieds section is very active but I haven't had much luck buying or selling.
 
My band, Shotgun Enema, is really more of a project. It's a group of guys that are really good friends and who also love to jam. Two of us are more serious than the others but it's all good. We enjoy playing together.

As I don't have an active band setting, I'll often use backing tracks (or partial backing tracks). I plan on doing more of this (particularly the recording portion). But that's a matter of practicing more -- which is something I don't make as much time for as I'd like.

All in all I'm pretty much a noob to playing guitar, singing & recording. So, we'll have to just wait and see how things go. :)

2:38 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos