Archive for July, 2008
Remember The Matrix? It was one of those late-90′s/early 2000′s movie trilogies that was actually really cool, but everyone got sick of it because the pop-culture references to it began to choke the life out of us. I remember seeing commercials for credit cards trying to bum rides off The Matrix. Commercials for Aflac. Cars named themselves after it. We all got excited in high school algebra when we studied matrixes (well, technically, I think it’s ‘matrices’…..but that’s just not cool enough for 2000′s high school pop culture.) I saw 8 million movies trying to be it. I saw another 8 million movies try to spoof it. People even named their kids ‘Neo’ (well, not really). The worst are churches. We’re still calling our youth groups ‘The Matrix’ and the first movie came out almost 10 years ago now. Just one of those movies…… I used to love it……. then marketing did it’s thing of taking something cool and holding on for dear life until it has squeezed every last drop of coolness out of it.
This is a CGI rendering for some reason of Keanu Reeves, who uses his incredible Point-Break-esque acting skills to portray Neo in the Matrix movies. The best thing about him is that is that with CGI it is really hard to portray emotion. But since Keanu is incapable of portraying emotion, it makes the computer graphics guy’s job much easier.
See what I mean? This is Keanu trying to show emotion. ‘Whoa.’ ‘Where am I?’ ’Is this the Matrix?’ ‘Is the camera rolling yet?’ ‘Excellent!’……. wait…… that’s from this movie:
So anyway, there’s this line in the second Matrix movie (I think) where someone says to someone else, ‘You do not truly know someone until you fight them.’ Now truthfully, even before pop-culture killed this movie, I thought that line was kind of cheesy. Just one of those lines they put in movies so they have an excuse to have lots of fighting. ‘Wait, they just met, why are they already…… oh, wait….. they’re just getting to know each other.’
But for some reason, that dumb line stays in my mind every time I get a new piece of guitar gear. Because I just have to take it apart. And for the oddest reason ever, the line comes into my mind, ‘You never really know a piece of guitar gear until you take it apart’…………. or in my mind, until I fight it. Because it’s usually a fight for me to take apart and put gear back together. It’s like my motor skills didn’t quite develop properly or something. I suck at mechanical stuff…… but nevertheless, I’m just not happy until I take things apart.
So, yesterday, I changed out the pickups in my Melancon Strat.
(I do love this guitar…..more than I love many people.)
I love the sound of this guitar with the Lollar Blonde pickups that it came with from whomever I bought it from secondhand, but I have had to roll off on the tone knob for the bridge pickup to take away some treble that has a bit too much bite in my guitar. And that works, but it takes away just enough definition in the pickup to bother me. So, I read some reviews and such, and decided on a set of Lindy Fralin Blues with a bassplate on the bridge pickup.
Now, here’s where the getting to know your gear happens. I take apart the guitar and discover these things:
1. Sweet mercy, Gerard Melancon really takes pride in his work. I knew the wood would be good under the pickguard because the guitar is all one piece, but it’s even finished underneath the pickguard. And there are carefully carved out holes for the pickup screws to recess and pots to recess into. Just beautiful. And the wiring and solder work is top notch and extremely neat. Made changing out the pickups a cinch (hehe, ’90′s word). The last Strat I worked on was an ’81 Ibanez, and it was a nightmare underneath the pickguard. It took me all day to change out two pots and a switch. Melancon, props.
2. Jason Lollar also knows how to make his stuff. Very neat and particular.
3. Hmmm…..the pickups are clearly marked ‘Lollar Tweed.’
(Lollars are awesome…..just not what I’m looking for in an ash wood guitar right now…but in a Tele…..mmmm)
When I bought the guitar, it being an ash guitar, I did want to make sure the pickups weren’t too bright. And I thought from the ohm readings that Lollar Blondes would be cool. And hey, now I know, they might have been. But I have no idea…..because what I had been told from the seller were the darker sounding Blondes, were actually the brighter Tweeds. hehe Good times. No wonder it was bright.
And long story (I know, I have a problem with that) short, the Lindy Fralin’s are definitely fitting the bill in this guitar. I’m able to maintain the clarity and definition by keeping the tone knobs up, but also getting what is in my humble opinion killer Strat tone. The kind of Strat tone I like……not too quacky, but nice and mellow and warm, and ‘Straty’ when pushed with the treble pickup, without the treble tearing your head off. Lovin’ it.
So, when money finally comes in (meaning, check this blog 20 years from now for that), and I maybe get a second Strat with an alder body, I might try some Lollars in it. They’re great pickups, and have a certain sweetness to them. Their brightness might balance a bit with alder. And the dark Fralins seem to balance quite well in ash. Extremely well. They sound awesome.
Their sound can only be described in the words of the untold acting skills of Keanu Reeves:
hehehe…………..Keanu is funny (but does make much more money than I do),
There’s a line from the film Garden State that says, “If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself, life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you’d like it to be.”
Fantastic. Especially as musicians, we have a tendency (or at least I do) to take myself and my craft waaaaay to seriously. I like to think that the tonal difference between putting an ECC83 tube or an ECC82 tube will change the world……or maybe I just like to think that I can even hear the difference between tubes. hehe
So, I found a website that forces us gearhead musicians to laugh at ourselves. And obviously, someone has a ton of time on their hands, but seriously…..check out this site…..it’s awesome every once in a while to be reminded that our guitar tone and playing are not exactly curing cancer…… although I am honestly striving for mine to do just that someday. It’s all about setting reasonable goals for yourself.
And make sure you click on the ‘Digital Modeling Cowbell’ and listen to the soundclips. Oh, yes. There are soundclips.
Alright, I finally did the overdrive shootout. Check out the videos and let me know which one you think is the winner or winners, and which is the loser….or if you think they are all losers. hehe
Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face clone (homemade, but not by me)
Hermida Zendrive 1 (running on 12 volts)
Paul Cochrane Tim (running on 12 volts)
SIB Varidrive (with JJ ECC81 tube, on gain setting)
Menatone King of the Britains (newest version)
MI Audio Blue Boy Deluxe (running on 12 volts)
Keeley modded Blues Driver
Danelectro FAB Metal
Ibanez TS7 tubescreamer (modded to TS808 specs)
Prairiewood custom Les Paul with Dr. Vintage pickups (most sounds with bridge pickup)
1 Loop-Master bypass box–>1 Loop-Master bypass box–>Diamond Memory Lane on at low setting–>Damage Control Timeline off (mostly)–>Diamond Memory Lane off
Holland custom amp (EL84 tubes, AC30/bassman circuit)
–>65 Amps birch cab with Celestion Alnico Blue & Celestion G12H30
Recorded on the little camera mic, no actual recording.
All pedals in bypass loops.
Forgive the playing, the poor recording quality, the fact that youtube compresses the files in such a way that it actually sounds like a volume drop when the overdrives are engaged, and my knee blocking half the pedals. Oh, ya, and the fact that blog.com won’t let me embed videos. *Sigh* Hopefully you can at least get an idea if you’re looking to try out one of these pedals.
Well, I figure it’s time to give some friends’ blogs some props….you know, spread the blog karma around. Plus, the friend I’m going to introduce today has had a lot to do with my current views on worship guitar tone and style.
This is Alex McLean. He’s the one in the hat. One of my favorite pictures ever. (Hint: look closely. It took me awhile. And no, nothing is going to jump out and scare you.) He’s over at www.betterthanblank.org . Cool name, huh? He’s the executive pastor at my church, so that means he’s technically my boss. But ‘boss’ is such an ugly word. I instead choose to call all my bosses ‘friends.’ Not sure how they feel about that, but it does raise my own self esteem quite a bit.
Anyway, Alex is a very talented musician, and perhaps an even more talented, shall we say ‘producer.’ He plays acoustic guitar, drums, and vocals very well. But he can hear keyboard, electric guitar, bass, or even string parts in his head and once he sings them for you and you play them on your respective instrument, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ So he’s cool.
He was also the one who got me into playing simplistically instead of technically, musicianship over speed, sound over style, etc. Basically, the modern indie and worship style over ‘look how cool my chops are.’ Or, as I like to say, U2 over jazz-metal (which, and I’m very ashamed to say this, used to actually be what I called my guitar style.)
So, before Alex was the executive pastor, he was the media pastor. And I remember one evening of our Saturday night service…….the service had just ended, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for just having had the talent to squeeze in 8.5 solos into our worship leader’s 5 song set (and the word ‘solo’ is translated very loosely here….more like a soaked in delay, reverb, and mids, hit as many notes in this measure as a hack like me possibly can, guitar part). And I remember Alex coming up to me as I’m tearing down my rig:
Alex: Hey, Karl!
Karl: Hey, Alex!
Alex: Hey, you sounded great tonight!
Alex: All the songs you played sounded great……except for the ones
with the solos.
Karl: Uh……I solo’d in every song.
Alex: Well, maybe it was just too much delay and reverb in certain parts.
Karl: But, I never turn off my delay and reverb.
Karl: Well, see what I’m trying to do is play the correct counterpoint to the D Maj scale, but evoke the feeling that the Christian life isn’t all happy all the time by actually playing a D minor passage in the classical type of the scale, harmonic minor, in a mode I invented myself. And the faster I play it, the more it works. That’s how counterpoint is. I really think it lends a good flavor to ‘Heart of Worship.’ The best band ever, Tourniquet, does stuff like this all the time.
Alex: Have you ever listened to any U2?
Alex: Ya. I’ll get you some cd’s.
And so was birthed my U2 man-crushes (my wife is understanding, though). And more importantly, was birthed the mindset of trying to play just whatever the music and the worship calls for….which 95% of the time, is simple, tasteful, and needs those three simple and tasteful notes to sound amazing.
Props to Alex, at Better Than Blank.
(A picture of me and Alex. Well, Alex and one of my guitars and half my pedalboard. But, for all practical purposes that’s me.)