Telefunken M-80

February 9, 2012

Telefunken M-80I lost my mic in my last move. Couldn’t find it. It was a mic commonly used for drums, and I was using it for a vocal mic. So I decided I would get a new one. I chose the Telefunken M-80. It was a no-brainer for me because I heard Furthur was using them on stage, and I knew that those guys have come a long way with their quest for fidelity in audio. Good enough for them is more than good enough for me. The mic is really good. It has what I look for in a mic, and that would be the ability to render vocals with clarity and precision, with the range and emotion that singers want, and to stand up against rest of the mix on stage. This mic does that, even through my mediocre PA. The folks at Telefunken claim that the “custom wound matching impedance transformer” is where “the magic happens,” and I believe that whatever that means, it is true.Perhaps even more exciting than that were the two dozen picks I ordered from them. See, they make a 2mm graphite pick, and I like the attack and tone that such a pick can offer. I wrote someone at Telefunken about those picks and they told me that in fact they do have such a pick, and that I could purchase them. 2mm graphite pickI felt sort of guilty about the whole thing, because I imagined that the president of Telefunken himself was fielding my inquiry for a dozen picks, so I let the matter go for a while, until I started to get nervous that there would be no more 2mm graphite picks left in the entire world. Luckily, I lost that microphone and learned of the M-80 at about the same time, so I placed an order immediately for the mic and two dozen gorgeous black graphite picks with the rather slick Telefunken logo embossed on them. I am certain I was more excited about those picks coming in the mail than the mic. But both are awesome.

So many musicians become incredibly adept with equipment, and performing mods to guitars is an entire art form in itself. When Graham Nash gave Jerry Garcia his swamp ash Strat, it became the subject of an entire overhaul. In the quest for tone and pure volume output, as well as increased playability based on his style of play, the vintage Strat was opened up, carved out, refitted with brass everything, pickups blasted by Alembic, and of course the stickers…

The guitar has been the object of covetous desire by anyone who loves Garcia, and many have tried to create tributes and copies. Some focus on the innards, just wanting to achieve the tone of the original, while others shoot for the visual semblance. Since the body of that Strat was a ’57, anyone wanting to fashion a real replica will be shelling out some cash, and contending with the rarity of a ’57 swamp ash body. But I found a site that gives a pretty complete 10-step how-to on making your own Alligator, at Dark Star Palace.

They walk you through all the steps and make it reasonably easy to navigate, even if you aren’t incredibly hip to all that goes into making a guitar. While it isn’t really cheap to do, it isn’t as cost prohibitive as finding an original or replica, if that is even possible. Making one doesn’t guarantee you will play as well as him, but it doesn’t hurt in the cool department.

Here is Garcia in Europe, 4.17.72 in Denmark playing it.

Furthur Hall Scene

January 2, 2012

I always dug the halls. Love to see a new generation grooving. I was just, you know, drifting and dreaming when I stopped to appreciate things. I screwed up the orientation, but it straightens out after a bit. This was Furthur at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 12/30/11.

Jorma Kaukonen

November 28, 2011

A long time ago, my very dear friend turned me on to Jorma Kaukonen. I knew of him from the Jefferson Airplane, and Surrealistic Pillow, which features a solo guitar arrangement called Embryonic Journey, which I always just assume every guitar player knows. Anyway, my old friend turned me on to Jorma’s solo works, and his collaboration with bassist Jack Cassady. We were in high school, and we were jam partners. He turned me on to some of Jorma’s solo albums like Jorma and Quah, which is to this day one of my favorite albums, because of the song Genesis. This song is atypical of his meat and bones, which is the rendering of blues and folk standards with his skillful fingerpicking style, but a look at this performance shows his heart.


He introduced me to the idea of fingerpicking, and he may be the best living example of such mastery. Jorma’s intro to Death Don’t Have No Mercy as rendered by me on my guitar must have drove my mother crazy. While I was a good listener of Jorma’s fingerpicking style, and definitely a good watcher of it—I would see Jorma many times and stare, mouth agape—I was not a very good finger picker. But I would always come back to it, as a player, and I always wanted to get better at it. I was thrilled to see that he had put out a few DVDs through Homespun, and I picked those up. I still haven’t mastered those lessons, which are actually really good. He breaks down everything quite simply, and each lesson is structured to teach building blocks, from getting the hang of an alternating bass line to the more ornate melodic additions. It is, as it will always be, a question of practice. Practice, coupled with drive and passion, but none of those amount to anything without the practice. Below is a longish video of him teaching his style, which would give you a really good sense of his teaching and playing style.

What I think is really exciting is the fact that Jorma places some personal value on teaching when he really wouldn’t have to. He started the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, where he holds teaching camps. Audition is required, and you have to be able to really work an alternating bass while adding melody, chord inversions up the neck, and a good knowledge of music that veers away from fingerpicking patterns. Spending a weekend with Jorma would be just an awesome experience for anyone into blues and fingerpicking blues, and he is offering about a dozen workshops scheduled for 2012. Jorma might well be the best example of a teaching musician, and he might be doing it in the best manner possible. In addition to his workshops, he offers video lessons by subscription or individual download at Breakdownway.com, which offers over thirty (and growing) complete breakdowns of some of the greatest blues, gospel blues, traditional and original arrangements for fingerpicking guitar, including Another Man Done Gone, Sea Child, Keep On Truckin’, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, I Am The Light Of This World, and many others. The site has other teachers as well, including Jack Cassady for bass players. It’s time to brush up of my alternating bass and go to the Fur Peace Ranch!

It is sometimes surprising to know that guitarists like Django have influenced so many genres of players, but really Django is inimitable. His playing of course coined its own flavor of jazz, called ‘hot jazz,’ and he remains the king of french gypsy music, or gypsy music to the french. But players from jazz to metal draw from his incredible fret work. What I love about this guy is the fact that two of his fingers were essentially useless because of a fire in his home, so he made do with two, and so many people that study him make use of his two-finger playing to re-examine their own finger positioning. Also, he is a great study in chromaticism, speed, and dynamics.

DIY Pedal

November 21, 2011

mutron octave divider cloneI am a player who is inclined to go for a very specific tone. It is important not only to nail the raw tone of the Fender Twin Reverb, but to add certain effects pedals to the chain to get a fairly true sound to the person I want to emulate. This poses problems when many of the effects are gained from some vintage equipment. The vintage pedal market is alive and well, but often many pedals are emulated but never quite achieved. The Mutron Octave Divider is one such pedal. I use the BOSS OC-3, and it gets me there, but recently I learned of the Build Your Own Clone concept from BYOC Effects. With forty or so vintage pedal effects already offered as DIY pedal kits, this is a great place for a player with some technological know-how to get the pedal of your dreams for way less money than you would spend if you had to scour an online auction site. I looked at the Divided Octave and noticed that for $119.00 I could build my own clone of the old Mutron Octave Divider, and the reviews show that in many respects it is true to the original with some improvements. It has true-bypass, and the original pedal’s octave down, octave up, and a dry mix. It is now housed in a smaller case, and the noisy power supply was changed to accommodate a 9vDC power supply or an improved bipolar power supply.
The excitement for me, however, ends when I see that I will be building it all by myself, but the site offers complete instructions and a support forum to complete the project. In all, the improvements and the price tag, which will save about $500, makes this concept a godsend to the tone-seeker. Now, if I can only learn to solder and tweak.

5 apps for the guitar player

November 19, 2011

While they might not be must-have apps, they are some apps you might want to be aware of if you aren’t already trying to use apps for your playing and practice.

  1. Ultimate Guitar Tab from Ultimate Guitar – This app is perhaps worth the $2.99 it costs to download. It contains the tabs for the entire tab archive of over 300,000 songs, and I always find myself using it when a song pops into my head that I want to play. It has a decent search, and I almost never don’t find what I am looking for. Apparently there is a “Now Playing” feature that will find the tab from whatever is playing on your ipod, but I haven’t tried that.
  2. Amazing Slow Downer from Roni Music – This app is also worth the cost of download of $14.99 if you are into transcription or just nailing a phrase or solo during practice. It is improved over earlier versions because you can now import straight from the ipod app on your phone, as well as wifi downloads via your computer to the app. Every file imported into the app is stored in a library. It allows slowing down the audio all the way down to half speed without pitch changes. It has a mixer to strengthen the instrument you want to hear, and easy marking of in and outs to save multiple loops per file. If you are after something that slows down audio without pitch changes, and don’t want to buy the devices that seem to cost a few hundred bucks, then this is an awesome solution.
  3. GuitarToolkit by Agile Partners, at $9.99 is comparatively expensive against the many free tuners that are available, but it has more features and more tools. It features chromatic tuners for guitar (six, seven and twelve-string), bass (four, five and six-string), banjo, mandolin, and ukelele; allows for any non-standard tuning to be entered or selected from the menu. It has a complete chord and scale library with simulated neck. If you need to find the Chinese Mongolian scale in the key of C#, they have you covered.
  4. Jammit is an interesting idea. It uses the multitrack recordings and lets you isolate the track and slow it down if needed so you can learn the song. It shows the tab and standard notation, but each song is a $3.99 download. I think at this time the library of available songs is limited, but it would be worth it if you are hot to learn a tune, for you get the notation and the track isolated.
  5. Guitar Lick of the Day by Agile Partners is somewhat disappointing if you are hoping to get a lot for nothing. The free download offers a few licks, but certainly not being published everyday. You will get new sponsored licks as they are added, to get a lick everyday you will have to subscribe. You can view the licks in tablature or video, where an instructor runs through the lick, or listen to a midi file. It was such a great idea, I thought. A lick everyday from my iphone.

In writing this little piece I discovered there were certainly many more apps that looked worth looking into, so I will post anything that seems worth using. If any of you have suggestions, I would be grateful if you would let me know about them.

I won’t keep it a secret that I am a huge deadhead. Before you feel alienated, it’s just about finding a style of music that you love and wanting to play it. It could be hardcore death metal or jazz or any variation of blues playing. The point is that we all have influences as players, and as listeners. As a player, it is like a grail quest for me to play like Jerry Garcia. Unlike a lot of famous (and so often emulated) guitarists like Hendrix, Page, and Knopfler, the web isn’t chock full of solid and accurate lessons that really get inside the mechanics of this guy’s playing. I scour Youtube for reliable lessons, and while there are a few—Jdarks, etc.—and I hadn’t found a guy that really lit my fire. Until I came across Seth. He put up a few vids offering some instruction on some classic Jerry style playing. And I ate them up.

This is one of his free videos, and if you are a head and want to play Iko Iko note for note, check it. That in itself likely amounts to a small audience, but if you dig it, let me know (so I know you are out there and I ain’t all alone).

I was almost disappointed when he opened up Gratefulguitarlessons.com, but now I hope he gets enough people downloading his lessons so he will keep making more. I decided I would ask him to teach me via Skype, and he has finally agreed to try it. I am stoked. It is really cool that you can teach via skype because it certainly opens up your market as a teacher. I was having a lot of trouble finding a teacher that could tolerate my singular focus on Garcia and his massive repertoire. I feel it is important for a teacher and a student to share the same musical direction, and it is rare to find, especially if you are into that hippy shit. My old teacher would complain about how all his students wanted to learn stuff that made his skin crawl, and I guess the Grateful Dead has that effect on him too, ultimately, so we parted ways. And too much noodling is going on. I so look forward to trying a virtual guitar lesson via Skype.

This is a test of Wolfgang’s Vault. Thanks Uncle Bobo.

DigiTech JamMan Looper Performance Loop Pedal
Digitech JamMan, available at zzSounds

Obviously when you want to improve as a player, there is no substitute for practice. And of course there is nothing like being able to play over rhythms. It gives you the ability to develop a feel for timing, the skill to sharpen your arrivals, improve your phrasing and economy, and simply gain confidence in your playing. What really hastens a player’s improvement is simply taking time to practice with backing tracks. A looping pedal is a great tool for this. Many of the pedals around are simple foot pedals, offering limited number of loops with limited duration. That is why I liked the Digitech JamMan from the start. It costs a bit more than those other pedals with limited capacity, but for under $200.00 it is real value.

If you are looking for a truly versatile loop pedal, JamMan is really one of the best in its class. It has 99 banks that will store a total of 6.5 hours of backing track because it contains a 1GB removable storage device, which can be upgraded to larger data capacity. Also, it has USB connections so you can go to your computer to store and edit as well. It offers overdub as well, so you can record multiply on any track. It is easy to use, either for practice or in performance. Fill it with simple blues progressions and long, intricate rhythm structures and with one stomp you are ready to practice.