Another Craig and John Jam

Today we were going to go to the Amigo guitar show but we were having such a good time playing that we decided not to.

On the first jam Craig played my MiM ash Telecaster through Tonelib Deluxe sim with Geraint’s Atlantis reverb and Springbox chorus. Notice the new white pickguard.

TeleWhitePickguard

I played my Classic Vibe Starcaster through an AC-30 sim and the Tukan AC Tremolo effect.

On the second jam, Craig played the Telecaster though a Jazz Chorus sim and a Marshal 1960a cabinet sim, with some Springbox echo. I played the Starcaster through a Bassman sim and the Atlantis reverb.

Both guitars went directly into the Onyx Producer 2-2 interface and were recorded in Reaper. No microphones were involved.

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Cordoba Mini II MH

I like to bring a guitar along on vacations, going to the beach, biking to the park, or hiking in the mountains. At first, I had a Martin Backpacker, one of the early ones with the small headstock. I liked the idea of the Backpacker, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t bond with it. The narrow body meant that you couldn’t really play it without a strap. The action was a bit tough, and it sounded more like a dulcimer than a guitar. Even so, I took it a lot of places.

Then I got a Yamaha Guitelele, a ukulele-sized guitar with six strings, but tuned in A instead of E, like playing a guitar with a capo at the fifth fret. At the time, about eight years ago, it was about $100. Here is a post about it. This little instrument is small enough to fit in a suitcase. I played it all over Europe a few years ago. It’s great fun. Now it lives at my daughter’s house. I play it for my grandson when I come over. He likes to strum it. It will become his.

So I began to look for a replacement travel guitar. We have a Cordoba C5, a nice classical guitar. Cordoba used to make a guitelele too, but it seems to have been discontinued. Now they make the Mini II, a 1/4 sized nylon string guitar with some innovative features. I ordered one. Here’s a picture:

MiniIIfull

Mine is the cheapest one, made of mahogany laminate. It was $149. They have models with solid tops, cutaways, and electronics, but I wanted something inexpensive and durable that I didn’t need to worry about too much.

It sounds good and plays easy. The intonation is good. The action is a tad high. I may sand down the saddle a bit, as I did with the C5. The frets are quite tiny and low, but they seem to do the job. Notice that it does not have a traditional slotted headstock. The tuners look like what you might see on a steel string, but they work well. Unlike the guitelele, it can be tuned to standard pitch.

Here’s a quick demo clip. It has a bit of simple finger picking and then some blues. The playing is not my best, but you can hear the mellow voice of the instrument. This was recorded quickly into Audacity with a Rode NT-USB mic.

I bought a Cordoba 1/4 classical deluxe case to go with it. The case has shoulder straps so I can easily take it biking and hiking. I like it quite a bit. It won’t fit into a suitcase, but is still extremely portable.

Update: I did lower the action a bit. It is not unusual for a new guitar to need some setup work. New guitars often have high saddles because the manufacturer doesn’t know how you like it and if the saddle is too low, there is nothing to do but replace it.

What I did was take a pencil and draw a line on the side of the saddle facing the strings right on the edge of the wood of the bridge. Then I pulled the saddle (the white plastic piece under the strings) out and got some #400 sandpaper and put it on a very solid and flat surface, in this case a granite countertop. Then I held the saddle in my fingers and moved the bottom of it back and forth across the sandpaper, taking care to exert even pressure. This saddle had a slant on the bottom for some reason, so it was a bit more difficult to hold it steady.   The pencil line serves as a gauge of how much I am taking off, so I repeatedly tried the saddle back in the bridge to see how I was doing.  When I did this with the C5, I kept sanding until the pencil line disappeared into the bridge. The same thing happened with this Mini II. I think this takes off about 1/16″. It’s a small amount, but it makes a difference.

Here’s another clip. This is a backing track from TDPRI, the Telecaster discussion site. I recorded it with an sE Electronics X1A condenser mic into Reaper. I added some compression and delay to make it fit with the funk/blues track.

One respondent said, “I would never think of this, but the acoustic guitar works great; good playing throughout. I like that you processed it a little.” Another said “Mmm…Acoustic funk? You’ve made it work quite nicely and the phrasing sounded good with your version.”

One more clip: A Tom Paxton song. This is a quick mono recording with the Rode NT-USB.

As delivered, the Mini II was fine and easy to play in first position with standard open string chords (“cowboy chords”) for folk music and such. However, I play up the neck a lot. In the first clip, I am playing blues in A at the fifth fret, and I am struggling a bit to make the bar chords ring out properly. You can probably hear it. This minor adjustment to the action made it much easier to play up the neck. It’s a lovely little guitar.

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A Day of Jams

I got together today with my friend Craig. We have been playing guitar together for more than 50 years. Craig is playing a fairly recent Danelectro with lipstick pickups though my Super Champ XD. He plays finger style and the guitar sounds somewhere in between an electric and an acoustic. On the first two tracks I am playing my white Roland Ready Stratocaster. On the rest I am playing my Classic Vibe Squire Starcaster. I am playing both guitars through a tiny 5-watt Hotone British Invasion amp going through a Carvin 12″ cabinet.

This is all improvised and I never quite know where Craig is going to go, so there are some bad notes, especially early in a track when I am trying to figure out what key he is in and what chords he is playing.

I gave them titles this time so as to help you decide what you might want to listen to.

Track 1: “Kinda Happy”

Track 2: “Reggae Blues”

Track 3: “Jazzy Breeze”

Track 4: “Back Porch Music” (This is kind of reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt)

Track 5: “Bluejays” (The jays either liked or hated our music. they made a lot of noise.)

Track 6: “Time for Lunch” (This track has white noise in the background that was coming from the baby monitor I was using to monitor my grandson’s nap while his mother went to pick up lunch. Sorry!)

Track 7: “Intense”

Track 8: This track fell apart and didn’t work. It happens!

Track 9: “Bouncy”

Track 10: “Power Failure Torta Blues” (Our lunch was delayed by a power failure at the torta restaurant.)

Track 11: “Pretty, Pretty”

It was great fun!

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Ovation GC178LX American Elite

In addition to the Epiphone pictured in the previous post, I acquired an Ovation GC178LX American Elite from Craig. Here’s a a couple of pictures:

Ovationfull

 

Ovatio-side

It is sleek, black, and sweet. It plays like a dream. The intonation up and down the neck is amazing. I am really happy with it. Not everyone likes Ovations, but I do.

Here is a TDPRI backing track that I put a lead on with this guitar. I recorded the piezo pickup directly into the Reaper through Steinberg UR 44 interface and then put on a little compression with ReaComp and a little reverb with Dragonfly room reverb.

It’s a quick one pass take, but I enjoyed playing it.

Update: Here’s another smooth jazz TDPRI backing track. I did this to test out the recording ability of a new computer I am setting up with Manjaro Linux. It’s done in Reaper through a Mackie Onyx 2X2 Performer audio interface, with the Ovation direct into the interface. It’s pleasant but bland.

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Craig and John Jam 9/26/21

Craig and I got together to jam today. I bought a couple of guitars from him because he is thinning his guitar herd. The one that features most in these jams is an Epiphone ES-175 Premium. I love this guitar!

ES-175

The guitars featured in these jams include:

  • The ES-175 above
  • My Squire Classic Vibe Starcaster
  • A 1988 G&L ASAT
  • An Ovation American Elite
  • An Agile AL-2000 Les Paul type

The guitars were played through a Fender Super Champ XD and a Boss Katana 50, both on the clean channels. We played outside on my deck.

We started out with Craig on the Starcaster through the Super Champ and me on the ES-175 through the Katana. As the day progressed we switched guitars and amps around and I lost track. The recording was into Audacity on a Dell laptop through a Rode NT-USB. I edited them in Reaper and added a little compression.

Here are the tracks. They are all jams, so they are pretty long, even though I cut them:

A simple jam in G. For some reason, this has a click artifact from some unknown source:

I think that Craig is still playing the Starcaster and I am still playing the ES-175 on this one. In general, Craig is playing rhythm with a lot of embellishments and I am playing single string lead:

This is a pretty one. I am am playing the Ovation acoustic electric:

This is a based on a pop song from the 60’s:

This is a blues. I think Craig is playing the G&L. I am playing the Starcaster through the Katana:

This is based a rock song from the late 90’s that Craig and I used to play at a weekly Starbucks gig in Long Beach.

This is a Beatle-ish thing. Craig is playing the G&L I think and I am playing the ES-175:

Finally, this is also Beatle-ish. Craig might be playing the Agile:

We had an absolutely wonderful day! I hope you enjoy these tracks!

Bonus track: ES-175 on a TDPRI backing track:

 

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Squier Classic Vibe Starcaster

I’ve wanted a Fender Starcaster since they first came out in the 1970’s. They looked delightfully weird and I liked the idea of combining the best of Fender qualities with the best of Gibson. I couldn’t afford one back then, and I resisted the reissues that came out a few years ago. Then I saw that there was an affordable Squier version made in Indonesia that was getting good reviews.  I ordered one. It came today. Here’s the “offset” asymmetrical body:

Starcasterbody

And here’s the full guitar. The headstock is controversial. Some think it’s cool, some think it’s too weird. One reviewer said it looked like an “Elvin weapon.” I think it is weird, but I like weird. It’s big enough to be a billboard. You could sell advertising on it.

Starcasterfull

I would say that the reviews are accurate. The fretwork is very good. No sharp frets or high frets. It came with 9s on it, but I will probably put on heavier strings. (I did. I put 10’s on it. Good move.) It plays almost too easy. The finish is nearly flawless. The maple top and sides are beautiful. It’s poly, so it is glossy slick. Some people prefer matte finishes or nitro, but this is fine.

A number of the reviews say that the tone and volume pots don’t have much sweep. This is true. I may replace the pots. They also say that the neck is pretty thin, which is also true, but it is comfortable.

I was a bit worried because although the retailer shipped the guitar and a Gator case together, the case arrived on Saturday, but the guitar had been missorted to the wrong local Fedex, so it spent the weekend there and had to be shipped back to the hub and then out to the right city. It was double-boxed, which was a good thing, because at some point something had hooked through the outer box but failed to penetrate the inner box.

Sound Clips

How does it sound? It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for. The “wide-range” pickups  are in-between a Fender single coil and a Gibson style humbucker. They are brighter and punchier than a Gibson, but mellower than most Telecaster pickups. They are not cunife magnets like the originals or like the Fender reissue wide range pickups that cost $200 apiece, but they sound good. Here’s a clip with the neck pickup playing rhythm on the left. On the right, I am playing lead switching between the middle position and the bridge.

I’ve only had the guitar for a few hours, but I am happy with it! It’s a very versatile guitar.

Update: Here’s another quick clip. The rhythm guitar is the neck pickup and the lead is the bridge, both through a little Hotone Mojo Diamond head and a Carvin cabinet with a 12″ speaker. The lead has tremolo on it.

And here’s a blues, back to Tonelib GFX sims again. The rhythm is a Fender Twin sim and the lead is a Marshal Plexi.

Extra: A TDPRI backing track of a Buddy Holly song. I tried to stay out of the way of the saxophone.

One caution about the pickups. If you are recording and you hit a pickup with your pick, it will make an audible clunk on your track. The pickups are big targets with metal covers, so they are easy to hit. Playing live, I doubt this would be a problem, but you have to be careful when recording. However, the natural playing position is between the pickups even with your palm on the bridge for muting, so with care, it should all work.

Update

I have played this guitar a lot now. After a while, I began to think that the stock Tune-O-Matic (TOM) bridge needed an upgrade. The high strings were a little metallic, with a bit of sitar-like character, up and down the neck. This was much more noticeable un-amplified, but it was bugging me. The slots on the bridge saddles were cut a bit rough. There are various types of TOM bridges, some with English measurements and some metric, and some with wider posts and some with narrow. After a bit of research and visual comparison, I ordered a Gotoh bridge from StewMac, which turned out to be a drop in replacement. A lot of TOM bridges come without slots cut, so you have to have some kind of file to cut them. The Gotoh comes with “starter” slots, which so far seem to be working fine without further cutting.

Gotoh is made in Japan and it is clearly a high-quality part. With shipping and tax it was about $40. This bridge solved the problem and the guitar now has a mellower, smoother sound, a bit jazzier. I am pleased.

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Rode NT-USB

These days, I am doing a lot of video conferencing and shooting instructional videos with my Dell laptop. The internal mic wasn’t cutting it and the cheap lapel mic I bought wasn’t much better. I started searching for a USB condenser mic, but because so many people are working from home now and doing what I am doing, all of the usual suspects, such as the Blue Yeti and the Blue Yeti Pro and the various Samson mics, were all backordered. I was interested in the AKG Lyra, but my laptop doesn’t handle USB C. I found that Sweetwater had stock coming in of the Rode NT-USB, so I ordered one.

Rode NT-USB on a tripod stand next to laptop.

Rode NT-USB

USB mics have built in preamps and Analog to Digital converters. The Rode has a headphone out and two controls: a headphone level control and a mix control to dial between the mic output and the computer audio. In a Zoom meeting, for example, you can control how much you hear the other participants and how much you hear your own voice. This works very well.

It also comes with a tripod desk stand, a carrying pouch, a very long USB cable, and a sturdy pop screen. The connector to the tripod stand is standard, so the mic can also be used with a regular mic stand.

Win 10 recognized the mic instantly. It was entirely plug and play.

I have already used it for several Zoom meetings. The sound is crisp and clear. I was curious about how it would work for music recording, so I did a quick version of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” suitable for my 11-month old grandson. This is my old D-18 fromthe 1960’s.

I read somewhere that “pop” is slang for “pawn” and that a “weasel” is a tool for shoemaking. Knowing that, this song starts to make sense.

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Another TDPRI Backing Track

I have been doing a lot of TDPRI backing tracks. This one wouldn’t upload on Soundcloud because even though the creator of the backing track gave permission, Soundcloud thinks that uploading it is a copyright violation. It’s just an acoustic guitar track that I put a lead on. Let’s try it here:

You can hear lots of my contributions by going to soundcloud.com and searching on “guitarsophist.”

 

 

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Hotone Mojo Diamond

A long time ago I bought a Crate VC 508, a 5 watt tube amp with an 8″ speaker, an amp that a colleague recently took for a long term unauthorized loan (long story). When I had the amp, I thought it would sound better with a 12″ speaker, so at one point a bought a Carvin tweed extension cabinet at a closeout sale.  I still had the cabinet, so I thought I would buy an amp head for it.  There are lots of little micro amps around these days. I ended up with a Hotone Mojo Diamond (around $100), one of their amps in their legacy series. It is supposed to sound like a Fender tweed amp from the 1950’s. In a way, it does. Here’s a pic:

IMG_0489

It’s 5 watts, solid state, and tiny. It has the footprint of cellphone. Even so, it has gain, three band eq, and volume controls. It also has an EFFECTS LOOP. What it doesn’t have is reverb. To go in the effects loop, I also bought a cheap reverb pedal, a Biyang Tri Reverb (around $45). Here is the whole rig:

CarvinCab

How loud is it? Not enough to gig with, but fine for practice and recording. It is also very sensitive to pickups. With single coil strat pickups, it doesn’t want to break up, even with the gain all the way up. But with humbuckers, it can sound like an old bluesy tweed amp. Actually it surprised me with a pretty authentic T-Bone Walker kind of tone. Here is a short blues with my Agile LP with humbuckers. Everything is pretty much at 12 o’clock on the rhythm guitar. The lead is with the gain all the way up and the volume backed off. I miced it with a GL-57, a Shure SM-57 clone.

The Biyang reverb pedal also exceeded my expectations. It is really easy to use. It has a blend control which controls the amount of reverb and a time control that controls how long the reverb tails are. Then it has a three-way mini toggle for room, spring and hall reverbs and another toggle for “A” and “B” modes. “B” is basically normal and “A” is crazy mode. Here is a track with my strat going through the Mojo Diamond with the Tri Reverb in the effects loop. I might have gone overboard on the reverb.

I didn’t need another amp, but I already had the cabinet (with a Carvin VL12 in it, a vintage-style speaker made by Eminence) and I will have a lot of fun with this rig.

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SoundCloud

The folks on the telecaster discussion board are used to using SoundCloud to host the tracks they create for their Backing Track Challenge activity. Several told me that I would get more attention if I posted Soundcloud links instead of links to files on my blog. I decided to get with the program and start posting tracks to SoundCloud.

Recent tracks include the following:

Another pop track

A jazz sort of thing in 9/8

A slow pop thing

I have been having a lot of fun with this. None of the tracks are perfect. Everybody does them fast, often in one take. It is part of the game.

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