Tag Archives: work

Gear Talk (5): a rare gem

In all of my previous ‘Gear Talk’ blogs, one of the pedals that went unmentioned was this one, the Snarling Dogs ‘Mold Spore’ wah…

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For many years, before I started this blog, this beast was my main wah. It’s heavy enough & solid enough to stay put on stage, and the three options for different voicings make this a very versatile effect to have at your feet. On top of that, it also features a Ring Modulator die some psychadellic nosiness. Both effects can be used seperately or together for some pretty crazy sounds.

The company Snarling Dogs closed nearly twenty years ago, so this already unique effect is now something if a rare find. I had it refurbished & cleaned up a year or so ago, and intended to start using it live again. The thing is, I hardly use wah at all now, so this pedal has been sitting in my cupboard unused.

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to sell it. Sure, I could keep it as a rare collectors-item. However, the (no small) amount of money I could sell it for now would go a long way towards a new guitar – something that I will actually use. And that seems more important to me. My studio and musical career are areas of work, not a museum.

Still, this bad boy will be missed…

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Gear talk (4): Stratocaster mods & repairs

In the last year, I’ve been using my two Squier Strats for the majority of my live work. My blue Made-in-Mexico Fender HSS Strat (let’s just call it the Blue One for the rest of this post) has been in semi-retirement, for two reasons:

  • It’s my most expensive electric. The Squiers are much cheaper to replace if a drunk guest at a wedding/corporate gig (about 80-90% of my live work with the electric guitars) kicks, spills beer on or otherwise ruins one of them!
  • It still has a humbucker-strength, high-output pickup in the middle position (a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails).

My MIM Blue Stratocaster, before the Hot Rails pickup (middle) was removed.

Nowadays, the bands I work with on a regular basis don’t require that full-on, airy sound I previously used so often. I also missed the in-between sound achieved by using the neck & middle pickups together, as the Hot Rails tended to dominate in the mix. Time for a change…

In with the old

So the Hot Rails is coming out. What do I replace it with? This guitar has been my ‘Hot Strat’ for the best part of two decades; I require a classic-sounding pickup which isn’t considerably weaker than the neck & bridge pups.

By chance, I stumbled across another Fender Vintage Noiseless for sale on a well-known online auction site (you know which one) and snapped it up for a great price. Perfect! Now I have exactly the same pickup in both neck & middle positions, which means I don’t need to worry about how they’ll match up together.

How does it feel?

In a word: good. But we need more words. It’s very, very good.

This guitar remains a souped-up Strat for rock gigs & studio work. But now, it’s regained a wider range of the ‘classic’ Strat sounds. The sparkle & twang you’d expect to hear are all present, with a lovely ‘quack’ in positions 2 & 4. The middle pickup on its own has a lovely BB King feel to it, especially when my amp is clean but just starting to push into breaking up. Marvellous!

I haven’t had a true single coil in this axe since I took out the stock pickups over a decade ago. Those original ceramics weren’t great, which is why I changed them. These, however, are somewhat wonderful.

A true HSS once more, thanks to the Vintage Noiseless pickup (middle).

But wait! There’s more…

As well as swapping the pickup, my tech guy also rewired the tone controls. The back tone knob now controls the bridge humbucker, leaving the middle pickup unwired. This means that the middle pickup is effectively always set to 10. However, this enables a certain shimmer to come through when selecting the in-between positions (2 & 4), adding definition without dominating the mix. Add to this the new ability to dial back some of the harsh top-end on my bridge humbucker, and I expect to be using the bridge more on clean settings as well as continuing to exploit it’s beautiful overdriven tone.

In particular, the aforementioned shimmer (there really isn’t another word to describe it) from the middle pickup adds a lovely bite when using this pup in combination with the bridge. This is especially true when played through a slightly pushed amp – perfect for a tough yet clear Robert Cray-style lead tone. And that is a very good thing, in my opinion!

In other gear news…

My Squier Classic Vibe Strat was also in need of a little TLC. I noticed at a recent gig that the volume pot was starting to come loose. Mercifully, this has been easily fixed before it became a serious problem (and started pulling on the wiring, potentially cutting out the sound altogether).

This only leaves a few mods on my other Squier, the blonde Vintage Modified Strat, still to do. I’m looking to make a few changes to the electrics on this axe, which I’ll discuss in greater detail in a later post. For now, I can say that I am in talks with a small pickup manufacturer in the USA regarding a custom set of single coils. But that’s a story for another time…

New Music update (minimalism)

Those who have been reading my more recent blogs will have no doubt seen recent updates on my in-progress minimalist work. If you have, then you’ve most likely heard (and hopefully enjoyed) the trailers and demos for two of the pieces four movements. The most recent article on the wider work can be read here.

Now, these four movements all have final names. The overall pice itself also now has a working title: Urban Sequencing (a city distilled).

This working title reflects the mental images which occur to me when writing these movements. Urban landscapes and the movement of people/transportation is a recurring theme.

I’ve often thought of cities as living organisms, for good or bad. Seen from a distance, they can look like bright, smoke-beltching monsters fed and cleaned out by ant-armies of people. Most psychological and sociological studies on the matter will tell you that we also behave differently in a crowd. With that in mind, I wished to explore different aspects of the modern urban environment through minimalist music. Using simple, repeated phrases overlapping one another, in conjunction with the mathematic movement titles, I am attempting to recreate the nature of living in the city.

The piece’s four movements can be represented as follows:

#6×5 (allegro)

train1train2

(Pics by Beijing Cream & rediff.com)

This opening movement implies images of rapid moving transport, much like the above pictures of asian railway stations implies. But it could equally represent crowds of people, or indeed, the frantic state of mind that city life and cause in some individuals.

You can hear a short trailer for #6×5, as well as read a little bit more about this movement, in this article.

#5×4 (adagio)

Though this piece was initially concede as a reflection on the life of a dear family member who had passed away, this adagio movement also serves to highlight reflection in modern life. Even in urban environments, it is possible to find time to pause and reflect. But even in this act, we are still in the presence of a sequence, so in keeping with the theme, the city never leaves us in this work.

You can read more about #5×4 and hear a demo recording of the full movement (as it is right now) via this article.

#6×3 (animato)

roundabout

Pic by Tony Burns.

The third movement, #6×3, is a dance. A dance of sequences in triple time. Lively and animated (hence the subtitle ‘animato’), this short jig is also the scherzo of the work.

In #6×3, I hope to reflect how beauty can be found in random patterns, from the movement of pedestrians as they avoid each other, to traffic in roundabouts (like in the beautiful picture of a roundabout in Shanghai from National Geographic, above).

I am still putting the final few touches to this movement, but i hope to upload a demo for you guys to listen to very soon.

#5×2 (allegretto)

Squares by Adam Magyar

Pic by Adam Magyar (via Rupert Cook).

Finally, #5×2 brings us back to the frantic, hurried feeling from the first movement. This time round, however, there is more order. Unlike #6×5, this final movement is made up of five phrases of just two notes each, unlike the five note patterns from the earlier piece.

The resulting music, to my ears, implies that the city has played a part in shaping you, in organising it’s components to more effective use. Oiling the cogs, if you will. however, if you feel ending this piece feeling like a small cog in an uncaring machine, perhaps there is another way of viewing this. Going though all four movements in sequence, we start frantic and chaotic, before slowing down to reflect. We then enjoy the ‘joke’ of the piece, the dance, before ending in a more organised manner – and therefore with a less stressed attitude (at least, that’s one theory!).

As with the third movement, this piece still requires a little more ‘tweeking’ before I’m ready to release it into the world, even in demo form. However, I don’t think it’ll be too long before you get to hear it and let me know what you think.

Final thoughts

Overall, this entire piece should last just under fifteen minutes. Though my demos have so far been showcased on piano, I originally intended for this music to be recorded by an ensemble of tuned percussion, and hope to record a version in that style this year. I may decide to experiment further with alternative instrumentation – any suggestions?

I’d also be interested to know what you think of my concept overall. As always, you can comment or contact me through my social media channels to discuss, if you so wish.

Until next time, stay happy, and keep playing!

#6×5 – Part one of a four-movement minimalist work

Following on from the re-publication of last week’s trailer for #6×5 (which you can read about by clicking here), I thought it was time I told you a little more about the wider work (as yet untitled).

#6×5 was an idea I had for a movement of a minimalist work. It’s title comes from the six separate motifs, each five notes in length. The interplay, juxtaposition, and indeed, dissonance derived from how these motifs are arranged becomes the complex – yet ultimately simple – basis for this frantic piece.

Since it was the first idea of the four smaller pieces which came to me, I still consider this to be the first movement. Originally arranged for tuned percussion, the trailer demonstrates ensemble or solo or duo piano. The opening statement (which starts the trailer) forms a strong setup for the piece. Clearly showcasing each of the six motifs, we then descend into a something much more complicated. From here, the listener should know roughly what to expect from the remaining four movements.

The next movement to be almost entirely completed is #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Using the same principle as #6×5, this slower, more reflective movement features five individual lines which use four unique notes each*.

[*On average, for which a lengthy explanation may be required. To read this, please see my post of #5×4, coming soon]


The remaining two movements currently remain very much in the drafting process. I have yet to settle on the final motifs which will form the basis of these pieces, though the most recent versions have shown a lot of promise…

What I can tell you is that one of the movements will feature a triple time beat. These will utilise triplet-quaver phrases for their motifs, though how many variation will end up in the final draft is yet to be seen. It could be called ‘3×3′ or ’14×3’ depending on how strict I am with myself in the distilling and editing process!

You have spotted a pattern by now, which means you’ll be able to guess the number of notes in the final movement…

That’s right: two.

Again, as with the triplet-time movement, I have yet to ‘kill my darlings’ and finalise which motifs will form the base components for the the piece. My greatest challenge in both of these movements is the overwhelming similarity to the work of Philip Glass. I have long been a fan of Glass, and his reputation as one of the foremost minimalist composers leaves me with the unenviable task of following in his footsteps, hopefully without appearing as a poor imitation.

My next post will be a publication of a full-length demo for #5×4. In the meantime, you can watch & listen to the trailer for #6×5 by clicking here. Enjoy!