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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Tue, 25 Jun 2019

Stanley Jordan, two-handed-tapping jazz phenom, sounds even better today

Is Stanley Jordan's two-handed tapping of the electric guitar a gimmick, or a portal to another kind of musical expression? I'm going with the last answer, and looking at this video of him playing the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" in 2015, I think he sounds better now than he did in his '80s heyday.

Part of what I'm responding to here is that his tone is so good. I'm guessing it's a combination of technique, musicality and better gear, but his time is excellent, and the way he works his way in and out of the tune is really worth watching:

Here he is playing the same tune in the 1980s:

Stanley Jordan is on tour right now, and the easiest way to keep up with him is via Facebook. I say this because his website is "under maintenance."

Tue, 18 Jun 2019

Romain Vuillermin and Serge Merlaud sounds so good playing 'Lullaby of Birdland' on vintage Gibson acoustic archtops

The playing is great, but the guitars sound so good. Often an archtop acoustic can sound a bit harsh, but I think the key here is that they are both using a light touch. I love the "woodiness" in these instruments. The sound of the '30s L-5 being played by Serge Merlaud on the right is exactly what I like:

Sat, 25 May 2019

Molly Miller Trio - 'Something Stupid'

I heard about Molly Miller on the Guitar Wank podcast (and that's proof enough that being on a podcast really helps get your name out there).

She talked about the Gibson ES-335 that she loves (I can't remember the year, but I'll fill it in if I listen again and remember it), and this video shows how good both she and this guitar sounds.

It's a nice, clean Gibson tone, and I really love her playing:

Wed, 22 May 2019

Pat Metheny - Secret Story Live 1992

Whether in the context of jazz, or outside of it, Pat Metheny is an original. He's also one of the greatest improvising guitarists and jazz musicians of all time.

I get the feeling that his fan base isn't primarily guitarists, but he's so deeply expressive on his instrument that every guitarist should be listening to him.

This video includes a full concert. Pat is playing his Gibson ES-175, and the sound of the instrument and player are perfect:

Pat Metheny Trio: 'Giant Steps'

I love Pat Metheny's take on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." He plays the head of the tune in a more subdued way than you usually hear it, and he plays with the time, really slowing things down. But the improvisation turns up the heat and really shows the beauty of Coltrane's complicated and tricky composition:

Wed, 15 May 2019

Julian Lage - 'I'll Be Seeing You' - I play this video at least once a week

Julian Lage is the rare child prodigy who has continued to grow as a musician to the point that he's a true leader both on his instrument and in the world of jazz overall.

I love his conception, the contrast between subtlety and bombast and the way he uses an old Fender Telecaster and a an equally old and super small Fender Champ amplifier to create this sound that goes from clean to dirty depending on how hard he hits the strings. It's a unique sound in jazz guitar, where clean tones from archtops are the standard.

I really do listen to this about once a week. Julian is so good, and the band of Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums is right there with him in this intimate live performance at the Blue Whale in LA's Little Tokyo neighborhood.

Thu, 09 May 2019

Miles Okazaki's six-volume 'Work' includes every Thelonious Monk composition played on solo guitar

I'm not sure what led me to Miles Okazaki and his stunning "Work" album, which includes every tune composed by Thelonious Monk played on Okazaki's Gibson ES-175CC guitar (with a Charlie Christian pickup) through a Fender Twin Reverb amp.

Okazaki's playing is virtuosic, he sounds great (how can you NOT love an ES-175, a Charlie Christian pickup and a Twin Reverb?), and his solo conception is very original.

You can listen to the whole thing on Bandcamp, but it's very reasonable to buy, and I'm doing that because I want the full-resolution FLAC files (hint to musicians: offer FLAC and I am way more likely to buy your album).

Also, listen to him play Bach on a classical guitar and the 175.


Wed, 19 Sep 2018

Soundslice makes this the best Ted Greene video ever

A link on Reddit led me to this Soundslice version of a 1993 Ted Greene guitar clinic at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

While a lot of human effort from a guy named Jon, who does have a Patreon account, went into transcribing every note in the video, the technology that makes this happen is revolutionary.

Basically you watch the video, and below it, the music unfolds with a line sweeping by every note and chord as Ted plays it. It opens up the harmony right there for you.

Click the image above to see what I'm talking about. Or just watch the video.

I am getting so much more out of the video now that I know every note being played. I'm not saying this is the only way to present an interactive transcription of a music lesson on a video, but it's a pretty great way of doing it. Soundslice should be commended for what they've built here.

It looks expensive as hell to embed on your own website, but it's cheaper to use on their domain, and it's an amazing technology for teaching music.

Watch the video to see what I mean.

Wed, 15 Nov 2017

I set the intonation on a Fender guitar for the first time

I've gone all this time being a guitar player and never before set the intonation on a guitar. It's mostly because my Gibson ES-175 has a wooden compensated bridge, and all you can do is move the whole thing forward or backward (and also side to side, but I digress). You don't generally do any intonation adjustments on acoustics, though luthiers can work a little magic with the nut and bridge saddle.

My 1979 Fender Lead I has a strong, thick neck that has never needed a truss rod adjustment, which is a good thing because getting to the truss-rod screw means loosening the neck from the body.

The Fender Lead's six-saddle hard-tail (meaning no tremolo) bridge is somewhat Strat-like, though it doesn't have springs between the intonation-adjustment screws and the individual bridge saddles. In lieu of those springs are nuts that hold the adjustment screws in place.

I had my little wrench to loosen the "lock" nuts, a Phillips screwdriver to turn the adjustment screws, and a clamp-on electronic tuner to check the pitches. I was set to go. I didn't even use an amp.

I've tried to set the intonation in the past, but I was never terribly successful. This time I used the cheap clamp-on tuner to compare the 12th-fret harmonic vs. the fretted note, and I went down the line and set all of the strings.

I also figured out that it's a lot easier to turn the screws (and you won't strip the heads) if you detune each string until it is slack before you make an adjustment at the bridge, then re-tuning the string to check how close you are to matching the pitches at the 12th fret. Words to live by: Don't adjust intonation at pitch!

Before yesterday, the guitar was out of tune as I played up the neck. Now that I have the intonation set, I will be playing it a lot more, and I might even "fill out" the extra Lead II pickguard I've had for years, turning the single (but super-versatile) humbucker Lead I guitar into a two-single-coil pickup Lead II-style guitar. With this change, the neck pickup sound should be closer to what I'm looking for, which is a jazz tone like Ed Bickert gets with his Telecaster. The hard-tail bridge of the Lead I, with the strings anchored through the back of the body, brings it closer to the Tele vibe. I wouldn't say that the Lead models sound like Strats or Teles (the Lead I sure doesn't), but I'll report back if I ever do swap out the pickguard and electronics for the Lead II-style setup.

Again, what I wanted to say was that after decades as a middling player, I never before did a full intonation setup. I really needed it and am too cheap to pay for it. So I'm glad I did it, and now I can really enjoy the Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings I've had on the guitar for some time. I have a couple more sets -- one pure nickel, the other nickel-coated steel -- in the wings, and I love the sound of this .011 set on the guitar.

Sat, 05 Aug 2017

These are the guitar strings I'm using right now

These are the guitar strings I'm using right now.

On the Gibson ES-175 electric archtop, I'm moving away from flatwounds for the first time. At least three players I admire, Pat Metheny, Joshua Breakstone and Bruce Forman (all links go to their string choices), are using roundwounds on their archtop guitars.

You do get some finger squeaks, but the sound of the lower four wound strings is much clearer. I guess you can say it's more defined -- less "smoky" maybe. Whatever you call it. The guitar is sounding better. (in case you were wondering, my flatwounds of choice were D'Addario Chromes -- the .013 set, and I usually replaced the higher two strings -- the .013 and .017 -- with an .014 and .018).

I'm using the .013 set of Ernie Ball Nickel Wound strings -- the pack with the eagle on it. I'm also sticking with the .013 and .017 in the set instead of opting for the slightly heavier replacement strings:

On my Fender guitar, a 1979 Lead I (though for some reason the serial number says it's a 1981), I actually used D'Addario Chromes flatwounds -- the .012 set -- for a long time. Way back in the past, I used .010 and .011 roundwound sets: Ernie Ball Slinkys, GHS Nickel Rockers (before I knew there was a difference between pure nickel and nickel-plated steel).

The .012 flatwounds were definitely too big for the nut on the lower couple of strings, though the extra tension didn't affect the neck at all. That 1970s Fender neck is a single piece of maple with no added fretboard and a skunk stripe behind it to cover the truss rod, and it's super strong. I have never needed to adjust the truss rod.

I wanted something slightly lighter. Strings that would fit in the nut slots without any filing, and a clearer, less-boomy, more defined low end.

I picked up a set of Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings, which start with a .011 high E and tend to run slightly lighter in the lower strings than the usual .011 set.

The strings have been great. Returning to roundwounds on both my Gibson and Fender is like I'm playing two new guitars. You can change your sound so much just by changing strings and picks -- two of the cheapest things in the guitar world.

Slinkys are nickel-plated steel, and I do have a set of this same gauge made with pure nickel windings called Slinky Classics. Pure nickel is supposed to be more subtle than nickel-plated steel. Maybe they'll sound better. But I like this current Ernie Ball Slinky set so much, I don't want to make the change.

I don't need a .052 or .054 for the low E (like Ernie Ball's Skinny Top Heavy Bottom and Beefy Slinkys), and this set is balanced very well for what I want.

Here's what the Ernie Ball set looks like:

My Yamaha flattop guitar -- it's probably 5 years old at this point -- has a solid top and is a "solid" guitar all around. It's put together very well and is pretty tough.

The guitar shipped with Yamaha's own custom-gauged set of .012s -- roughly equivalent to light-gauge strings. I think the strings were phosphor bronze, which tend to have a longer life.

I probably should have stuck with .012s when I changed the strings, but I decided to go up to a medium-gauge set that begins with a .013. I went for Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 bronze strings.

They sound amazing, and they're cheap enough that I don't mind changing them sooner.

This was my first time changing flattop strings. I've changed strings on electric and classical guitars hundreds of times -- I even do the thing where you tie the nylon strings to the bridge.

But bridge pins? I was a bridge pin virgin. I had the bridge-pin puller on the end of my string winder. One of the pins popped out with such force that it hit the ceiling. After that I made sure to block the path with my hand. I did have one of the pins edge out a bit after I tightened the string up. But I got it done.

I'm not a fan of bridge pins. It's just the tension of the pin and the angle of the string tension holding everything together. I'd prefer an archtop tailpiece. That I can deal with.

I also had to crank the truss rod quite a few turns after I replaced the .012s with .013s. I started with quarter turns, but I had to keep cranking and cranking, loosening the strings in between adjustments. I thing I have it right now. I got tired of cranking after awhile. It plays well and sounds great.

Here is my Ernie Ball Earthwood set:

So, what did I play today? I have been working on "How High the Moon," but today I worked on the chords for "Waltz for Debby." I'm very, very slow. That's what I'll say about it.S