Changing it Up

Decided to play a few services pretending I was BB King this week. Normally I pretend I’m the Edge; but this past week I have been without my main amp head. Not because it broke down, but because the once apple red colored  tolex has faded into what looks like the Brady Bunch carpet. And I don’t mean that as a joke…that’s simply how ugly it is. So, while a very talented friend of mine is working on it, I’ve been having to use my backup amp. It’s also a Holland, but it’s the Brentwood model (yes, I admit…I bought it solely because it was named after a community in Hollywood…a community really, really near the Holiday Inn that Al Pacino stays at in Heat…shivers…sad). The Brentwood is 6L6-based, and much more bluesy and American sounding than my main EL84-based head. I usually use it for my pad live, or as my plug straight in amp for small gigs and such. And then whenever my main amp goes down or needs attention, I just buy another EL84-based amp I’ve been wanting to try out, give it a review, and then gig it until my Holland is ready, and then sell the one I just bought. And I always convince myself that I am actually making money when I buy and sell these ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ amps. But…uh…as money is really scarce right now, it’s not the time to risk the fact that I may in fact be lying to myself. 😉

And there’s no rule saying that you have to change styles when you switch it up gear-wise. But I thought it might be a kind of cool opportunity to stretch myself a bit…and to make sure I’m not boring the sweet goodness out of my listeners with my constant ‘that sounds like U2 but not as good’ riffage. So, for the couple gigs and services I’ve been without my main amp, I did bring my pedalboard for some of the songs that just have to have effects. But for the most part, I played effectless (I know…just typing that seems like heresy) with just strat into 6L6 amp. And I chose some songs that lended themselves a bit more to a Jeff Buckley ballad style or a BB King blues style. And the one service I played as the lead guitarist, I just told the worship leader, ‘Tough, bro. I’m copping jazz tonight. Deal with it.’ No, not really… It actually was great timing, and one of the reasons I took the amp in now…because at that church, the stage is getting re-constructed, so we had to have the night service in the coffee shop…perfect for BB King pretences.

(‘I’m horrible with chords.’ –BB King. So humble, yet so much soul. Talk about picking the absolute perfect note every time. BB King can rip your heart out with one bend, over the same chords that a lot of other guys use to play eighty-two double train-whistle bends that barely touch your heart.)

But it was a great experience to force me to change it up. See, you can do it by just telling yourself to change it up. But, I know at least for me, if there’s not some difference in the circumstances to force me to, I’ll usually forget that I was even trying. hehe But with this, it just made me look at each part of each song like…it was weird, it felt like I was playing out for the first time. You get into the habit of, even if it’s a new song, ‘Okay, the chords are going here…oh, that’s where I play this.’ And this past week, it allowed me to look at everything in a new way. And it was really, really fun. Which is a really important part that we don’t talk about very often.

So, maybe it’s a good thing to try every once in a while. Plug straight in for a bit, or force yourself to turn your amp up too loud so you have to nurse your volume knob as you play to help your dynamic mindset, or leave a delay on an untimed setting (low mix, of course) and force yourself to play with it, or change guitars to one you don’t use as much, or do all your lead work on acoustic one day, or whatever. Now, make sure the conditions are correct for you to experiment…if the worship leader has chosen ‘I am Free’, don’t say, ‘Oh, sorry bro. I’m not allowing myself to turn on my delay pedal today.’ Or if it’s a gig and a song you guys have written, you’ll literally kill (as in, they will die) your band if you decide today is the day for your flanger to be your ‘always on’ pedal. (Come to think of it, flange should just never be on. 😉 ) But if the conditions lend themselves to it, it can really refresh your mindset to change it up.

And for the record, would BB King have been impressed with my stellar, seeping with emotion out of the riff’s pores if riffs had pores, blues riffs? Eh…probably not so much. I think I did the same bend like, 6 times. He’d probably say something akin to what Edge would say if he ever heard me play (sorry, letting my personal fantasies get in the way here again). I always get excited when I have this dream…but then, right at the best part when Edge opens his mouth to congratulate me on my ‘owning it’, he says something like, ‘You know, I really like my ‘Walk On’ riff. And you…uh…found a way to fit it into every song. Four times each. Good…uh…job.’



Tubescreamer Mods……Are They for Real?

When I first started to get into ‘tone’ and the whole ‘sounding good versus playing every note you possibly can (or sometimes not, but think you can) within any given measure’ thing that I talk about so often here, I had no money. Well, in actuality, I was 19, complaining about the 100 dollar a month rent my parents made me pay them. Then you grow up, move out, start a life, get married, and you’re like…’Oh, that’s what it means to have no money.’ Which is also the reason for no children…ever. My gear is my children. I know, that sounds really heartless and un-American, but in actuality……no, it’s pretty heartless. 

Anyway, at 19 years old, under the delusion that I had no money, but really wanting to get better tone and good gear, I ran across the whole idea of tubescreamer mods. See, the real difference between then and now was not money. It was that then, I was blown away by the fact that people could spend more than $50 on a pedal. Now I see anything under $300 as a screaming deal. That’s the difference. 😉 So, back then, the boutique stuff was unacceptable at at least over $100, and the vintage stuff, such as the TS-808 from the ’70’s and ’80’s that I had heard so much about, was absolutely unacceptable at $500+. And, at least for now, (hehe), it still is. I’ll drop some money on some stuff, but not $500 on ‘do-one-thing’ overdrive pedals. 

(I’ve seen these little things sold for upwards of $1,000. Ya. I really hope I never get to the level where I’m cool with that. I’m sure it sounds great, and it’s vintage-cool, but it only does one thing. Now, if they had put, like, a purple or white led in there…)

So, needless to say, the mod thing really hooked me. That I could buy a $20 pedal, and then a $5 mod kit, and sound exactly like the $500 pedal? And then, on top of all that, to have the inherent ‘cool’ factor of, ‘Oh, you paid how much for that? Ya…I mod my own.’ So blasted cool. So, I bought my first ever pedal (uh, besides the DOD ‘Grunge’ that I got my freshman year in high school), an Ibanez TS7 tubescreamer from the used bin (way cooler and more gear-junky-hip to get stuff from the used bin) at Guitar Center in Ontario for $20. And then I bought a mod kit on e-bay for $4.95, consisting of a NOS (supposedly) Texas Instruments RC4558 chip (the original 808 chip), two carbon comp resistors, and a photo-copied sheet of instructions on where to place the three components. I was so stoked. 

And I asked my dad, who is way more technically-minded and skilled than I am, to show me how to solder and de-solder and all that stuff. I think he pretty much did the whole thing. But I was in heaven. I didn’t even bother to try testing my new modded one against a stock one, or to record the pedal before and after I modded it (or, uh, my Dad modded it). There was no need. I mean, the internet said the mods made it sound better. The internet! What more proof do you need than that? And then, of course, I started reading up more on mods, and found that Robert Keeley started his pedal business doing tubescreamer mods, and that he showed that his pedals were modded by replacing the stock led’s with sweet blue and white ones, so I decided that the ‘Verkade mods’ would be with green led’s, and I went and bought one, soldered it in, turned on the pedal, and waited to see the gloriousness that was my ‘I mod my own pedals’ led. And…uh…the led has never worked since. I even put the original led back in. Nothing. Yep. I am cool.

(Almost as cool as this. Almost. I’m not sure this level of cool has ever been reached. And am I really, really stretching it to tie in this picture to what I was talking about? The answer is yes. But the answer is always yes to ‘Chuck Norris action jeans’. Okay, come on. Go easy on me…I haven’t eaten in 9 days. 😉 And if you missed the last post, no, that’s not because I’m all crazy-awesome spiritual and on a fast. Basically, I’m on a lemonade cleanse because I heard Brad Pitt does it. Wow, that sounds sad.)

But I got so into it…I even modded friends’ pedals, and thought about starting my own business. If nothing else, at least it honed my solder skills. At one time, I had four modded tubescreamers on my board. And then one day, I’m modding two tubescreamers for some friends, and my dad comes into the garage. And, as logic and reason usually go with being technically-minded, my father has always had much more of a grip on reality than his ‘dreamer-I’m-going-to-go-to-Hollywood-and-be-trying-out-a-guitar-in-a-boutique-shop-when-Daniel-Lanois-will-walk-in-and-marvels-at-my-3-note-melodic-genius-and-calls-Bono-and-Bono-says-ya-we’ve-been-getting-sick-of-Edge-and-I-play-Edge-rip-off-riffs-in-front-of-80,000-people-and-then-Jimi-Hendrix-walks-in-becase-he-wasn’t-really-dead-just-ashamed-at-the-lack-of-talent-in-music-these-days-and-starts-to-cry-at-the-majesty-of-my-anti-solo’ son. And my dad says, ‘Hey, what if you mod the first one, and then you can try the modded one against the stock one, and see if these mods actually do anything to the tone?’

And of course, I’m like, ‘Oh come on, Dad. Of course they sound better! I read this one thing on the internet…’ and so forth. But of course, my dad insists on using stupid ‘logic arguments’ like, ‘How do you know?’ and ‘Uh…the internet said?’, so I concede. And we get out a guitar and an amp, hook up the un-modded tubescreamer and the modded one, and actually (novel idea, I know) listen. And I’m hearing all kinds of differences. Like, the modded one is more ‘transparent’, and ‘breathes more’, and is ‘warmer’, and has more ‘note definition’. Then my dad asks me to close my eyes. And suddenly there is no difference. And I’m freaking out. Spitting out all the excuses that the ‘room is too small’, the ‘concrete on the garage floor is messing with the acoustics’, ‘we need to be at a higher volume to hear the nuances’, ‘I have ear fatigue right now’, etc. 

But the lesson stuck with me, even though I probably (I don’t really remember) ran upstairs, called my friend Mike Huffman who had gotten me into tone, told him he was right, and proceeded to buy every boutique overdrive from him that he wasn’t using. Either that or that was when he said that I had passed the final test and was finally ready to be introduced to the magical secrets that were ‘The Gearpage’. (Ya, that was back in the day when it was almost like a secret society, and you only mentioned its existence to certain people.) But either way, I got into boutique pedals, liked them better than the one modded tubescreamer I kept, and kind of forgot about them. And then just recently, five or so years later, I started to wonder again about the mods…now that I have gotten into the habit of actually listening to the sounds I play and not the sounds the internet tells me.

So I decided to do this objectively, and in two parts.

Part 1: Professional Tubescreamer Mods

The Players

–Stock Ibanez TS9 (first run reissue, pre-2002)
–Analogman-modded Ibanez TS9 (TS-808 mod, plus silver mod)
–Keeley-modded Ibanez TS9 (TS-808 mod, plus baked mod, plus true bypass mod)

Possible Biases

Just look at the led on the Keeley. If that doesn’t bias you towards it, then you have no soul.

The Professional-Modded Tubescreamer Test:

Part 2: Home-Modded Tubescreamers

The Players

–Stock Ibanez TS7
–Home-modded Ibanez TS7 (by me) with RC4558 chip and two carbon comp resistors (and…um…an led that no longer works and a ‘Verkade TS-808 mod nameplate that I paid thirty dollars to have made back when I thought I was special)

Possible Biases

The modded one is my first pedal, and the one my father showed me how to mod on, so it does hold some sentimental value (hence, the reason I still have it).

The Home-Modded Tubescreamer Test:

The Conclusions

1) The mods are definitely for real. The Analogman took the TS9 stock sound and raised the level of response to picking, warmed it up a bit, and seemed to broaden its range. It seemed to fill up the tonal spectrum better, and just sounded exactly like a tubescreamer should. Nice, warm and clear, singing overdrive tones…great for leads. And the Keeley took it and just went to another place and level, giving a beautiful, clean, glassy mid to high gain overdrive sound. Really liked them both.

2) I am not Analogman Mike or Robert Keeley. So save up a little extra money and get a professional mod rather than buying a DIY kit on e-bay. The difference between the stock TS9 and the professional mods had way more of a difference than the stock TS7 and the DIY TS7 mod. Was there even a difference? lol

3) If you’re looking for an authentic, really warm, saturated, and cutting through vintage tubescreamer sound, I’d go with the Analogman mod. If you’re looking for something totally different, almost more in the glassy distortion, OCD-type range, I’d go with the Keeley. Both sounded great, but the Analogman sounded more like a really good tubescreamer, and the Keeley sounded more like a really good ‘something else.’

And above all else, um…learn from my not-so-awesomeness and use your ears. 


Danelectro Tuna Melt & Pedal Names that Just Evoke Feelings of Tone……or Pregnancy Cravings

Ever run across those pedals that, even though you have never played through them, never heard someone play through them, never even heard a youtube demo or read a review on them, you just know sound good? And you’re going, ‘I need that pedal. It’s no longer a question. In one week (less if people would just use Priority instead of blasted UPS) I will see that pedal on my board. And there will be much rejoicing.’ And then you literally like, can’t sleep until you have obtained, tocuhed, caressed, and…we’ll just leave it at that…that pedal? But you’ve never even heard it? Or heard of it?!

Yep. You know the ones. The BJFe ‘Sea Blue EQ’. The Subdeceay ‘Liquid Sunshine’ overdrive. The Blackbox ‘Ultraviolet’ fuzz. The Mad Professor ‘Deep Blue’ delay. I mean, how can a pedal called ‘Liquid Sunshine’ not sound good? You’re playing your rig one day, and you’re like, ‘You know what my tone could use? More brightness. But…with more smoothness and warmth at the same time.’ You go online, start looking for pedals, and viola. ‘Liquid Sunshine.’ And somehow, your brain literally can’t comprehend how something called ‘Liquid Sunshine’ could not sound exactly like, actual, ‘Liquid Sunshine.’ 

(Okay, seriously. How can that not sound good? Even if it doesn’t……nope, it does.)

I have bought many pedals this way. And amps. It’s sad. And it’s only when I hear the recordings afterwards that I go, ‘What’s that horrible sound?’ Oh. The good-sounding pedal. No, not the good ‘sounding’ pedal, when you play it; the good ‘sounding’ pedal…when you say its name. 

Or it works the other way, too. I didn’t give the Damage Control Timeline, my ‘favorite child’ or ‘firstborn’ of delay pedals now, if you will, a chance for six months after it came out. Why? Because it’s called the ‘Damage Control Timeline’! That’s a horrible name! It’s trying way, way too hard to be cool. And, of course, ‘Timeline’ just brings up images of a certain horrendous movie starring a certain horrendous actor who’s name rhymes with ‘Paul Walker’ (okay, that wasn’t a rhyme, that’s actual name) that I have mentioned before……but have absolutely no qualms about mentioning again:

(hehehe It never gets old.)

Anyway, I’m over at a really cool guy’s house yesterday. Eric Beeman. Check out his blog. He’s a worship leader at another church pretty local to mine, but he’s the one who did most of the training for me to lead worship. So we get together every once in a while, and he gives me worship leading tips, and I give him lead guitar tips. He’s into trem right now, and asked if I could do a shootout video of the Danelectro Tuna Melt tremolo and some other trems. And immediately I’m hooked. And I went home and bought one. But I think it was moreso because I was hungry, then actually into the pedal.

See, I’m also on this lemonade fast. It’s the new ‘green’ thing to do. It’s supposed to totally clean out your system of all the processed junk that we eat that sticks to your intestinal walls and causes dormant viruses for years and years…you know, like those times that you actually dare to read the ingredient labels of the food you eat, and you’re like, ‘How is it possible to eat colors?’ Yep. You drink fresh-squeezed lemons and pure maple syrup for ten days, and (I can’t believe I’m seriously going to quote Beverly Hills Cop 3 here): ‘Out comes a candy bar from when you were five.’ My wife and I did it about 6 months ago for the first time, and we each lost like, 25 pounds. So I’m trying to do it every six months. Mostly because I have hero issues, and always like to pretend that I’m an actor or studio musician in Hollywood. And since this diet is the latest Hollywood craze, if it’s good enough for Brad Pitt, it’s good enough for me. Which is basically my motto for all things life. (In fact, before we found out that they literally build a fortress around the Kodak Theatre for the Oscars, we were going to go down there tomorrow so that I could see my big boy crush, Brad Pitt, and she could see her big girl crush, Amy Adams. Both are nominated this year, and well-deserved. But also, we’re like the only people in the world who actually saw Richard Jenkins of ‘Fun With Dick and Jane’ and ‘I Heart Huckabees’ fame in ‘The Visitor’, and he actually got an Oscar nomination! He was amazing in it. So we were planning on making his day by being the only ones screaming, ‘Richard Jenkins! Richard Jenkins!’ ……Uh, anyway……)

Today is day 6 of the fast. So needless to say, I’m dastardly hungry. (Okay, I thought I made that word up, but wordpress totally didn’t underline it. Score!) So Eric mentions ‘Danelectro Tuna Melt’ and all I can think of is ‘Mmmmmm…tuna melt.’ I have no idea if it’ll sound good or not, or even if I’ll be able to resell it…especially if it loses really badly in the trem shootout like I hope ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ loses in the Oscars tomorrow. I mean, it was a good film and all……but can we please stop trying to show how cool we are because we like, or will vote for ‘the foreign indie’ film? (And by ‘we’, I mean ‘Hollywood.’ Nope. Stop. Don’t say anything. Just let me have my delusions that I can refer to Hollywood and myself as ‘we’.) Let’s be real here. If it’s now in every theatre across the world, and is now the favorite to win, it’s no longer indie, people. If every single person you know talks about Slumdog Millionaire as if it’s the underground sleeper movie and how cool they are for having seen it, then it’s not. You just can’t have your ‘indie’ and your ‘widely accepted’ together. Now, if you truly dug the movie, then awesome. But my humble (okay maybe not) opinion? It’s a decent flick that wasn’t incredibly well-done or well-written, but does gain a lot by being able to show a history of India we haven’t seen before. But of course, being ‘decent’ is all a film needs when it’s also ‘foreign indie.’ And that had nothing to do with the Danelectro Tuna Melt (mmmm), but hey…if you’re here…you gotta be expecting this by now. 😉

(This is the Danelectro Tuna Melt. I used to like the looks of this pedal. Now it just looks like disgusting lemons. I used to like lemons, too.)

So where was I? Oh ya! Dastardly (hehe) hunger, and wanting to eat the Danelectro pedal. Ya, even electronics are sounding good to eat at this point. I’m so hungry. I feel like I’m pregnant. The cravings are uncontrollable. I’m craving peanuts, string cheese, and a monte cristo from Crepe Vine in Pasadena. Oh ya, and a tuna melt. In fact, this may be the closest a guy will ever feel to being pregnant. Well, that and a kidney stone. Okay, yikes. Where in the world am I going with this right now?! My apologies. I haven’t eaten in six days.

Suffice it to say, pedals that have ‘tone’ names just sound better. I don’t care how it sounds, the Catalinbread ‘Silver Kiss’ sounds good. And I will be doing a shootout of a couple tremolo pedals in the near future; I’m going to try to pick up a couple more before the Tuna Melt comes in this week. Mmmmm……tuna melt.


Why We Need Girls

And by ‘we’, I of course mean ‘musicians’. (Just in case that wasn’t clear.) 

So the other night I’m playing with some musicians at a church. And they’re quite prolific musicians…it’s cool to hear them warm up with some really intricate jazz licks, and then once we start, they’re able to simplify and play only what the music needs. Very cool, and a little rare…well, rarer than I’d like it to be; and of course, it’s all about ‘what I’d like.’ 

We start this song in practice, and it’s gonna kick off the set. And at first, it’s just my guitar and pad starting. And then I stop and ask if there can be a pulse, like on the original recorded version of the song. And it absolutely warmed my heart to the core (if he wasn’t a guy I might have kissed him…hmm…maybe that’s why we need girls) that instead of clicking us in on his drumsticks, he grabbed a wire brush and just started the pulse on the ride. Then the bass player came in just repeating the two note phrase. So lovely. And then, and only then, would I let my guitar come in…once it had something to lie on.

And I thought it sounded pretty good. Of course, I’m a little biased…we tend to like what we do…even if it sucks. It’s unfortunate, but true. But the worship leader dug it, too, and he turned around and said, ‘Whoa! That sounds like someone just turned on the cd!’

Enter the girl. The female background vocalist. (Or drummer, or guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, or violinist…I don’t know why most girls are usually the vocalists. Is it the same everywhere, or just in the circles down here?) The one member of any worship team who will usually say not only whatever she means, but also whatever she feels the truth of the matter is; feelings of band members not considered. Not even a little. And, I hate to say it, but what she feels the truth to be…ya. It’s usually the truth.

So we’re just grooving away, enthralled in our own magnificence, and right after the worship leader turns around and says that it sounds like someone turned on the cd of the song we’re playing because we’re so awesome and the greatest musicians to ever pick up our respective instruments, he turns to the background vocalist just as a natural way to get her assumed confirmation of our awesomeness. And she turns around and looks at us, tilts her head to one side as if listening intently, and says, ‘Eh…’

Yep. We went from sounding just like the cd to ‘Eh…’ in one brief moment, by the slight tilt of the head of one, female background vocalist. And she wasn’t even being mean, either. Female background vocalists are also some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet……and ya…the most honest, too. 

And that’s why we need girls on the worship team. Not only do their voices sound, on the average, way better than ours, but they also know when to let us know that we’re not Phil Wickham. And this is a good thing. Us guy musicians need that harsh honesty from people every once in a while…or…most of the time. So, ladies, if you’re reading this, thank you…and quite honestly at that. We really need it. No. We’re not Phil Wickham. Instead, we’re ‘Eh…’; which, in girl language, is slightly above ‘Gross’ and just below ‘Hi.’


The Truth about the Digitech Bad Monkey

A lot has been made about this pedal. At first look, it’s just another unfortunately-named, mass-produced, cheap effects pedal created not to sound good, but to be sold to 13-year-olds in garage bands trying to cross The Gorillaz with Metallica while wondering how they’re going to get drum and bass sounds when all five guys want to sing and play lead guitar. And if you’re 13 and in a garage band, this is nothing against you…unless you’re trying to cross The Gorillaz with Metallica. Don’t do that. But garage bands themselves are great…just make sure that you buy gear from Guitar Center cautious that Guitar Center is trying to rip you off…because they most likely are. Do some research into tone before buying pedals…especially ones with names like ‘Bad Monkey’ and ‘Uber Metal’. And this applies even if you are not 13 or in a garage band. Do some research first.

(Best garage band ever. And no, that’s not me. I’m not necessarily saying I looked much different when I was 13 and in my garage band…but this particular picture is not me.)

And that research will most likely take you to certain conversations about the Digitech Bad Monkey. I am blown away by how much talk this pedal gets…both good and bad. Guitarists will literally live and die by their view of this pedal. If duels were still legal, there would be people lying dead in the streets. And the civilians (remember, that’s how we refer to non-musicians here and in every aspect of life) would walk by and say, ‘What happened to them?’ And a musician would look down from his thrown (I’m totally creating my own awesome fantasy world right now) and say, ‘The Digitech Bad Monkey.’ Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how strongly you feel about this pedal), duels are no longer legal.

But I have still seen some crazy arguments about this pedal. And these arguments are much more passionate and lethal than say, arguing whether the Timefactor or the Nova Delay is better. Why? Because the Digitech Bad Monkey is $30. And it is rumored, quite passionately (can you passionately rumor? I’m not sure), to sound better than $200 and $300 overdrive pedals. That’s where the passion, and vehemence, and bitterness comes from. Want to make people feel superior or inferior to each other? Just add in money. Some feel self-important because they have so much money into their pedals, and have long ago left behind the $30 Bad Monkey and its kind. The ‘my tone is more expensive than yours’ crowd. And then others feel self-important, because their superior ears have shown them that there is no difference between the $30 Bad Monkey and the $605 vintage TS-808 (a trademark label version, of course), and they don’t need to spend money for good tone…’Tone is in the hands’, they condescend to their inferiors playing Toneczar pedals.

And that’s it! Those are almost always the only two views you see on this pedal. Polar opposites, and no middle ground. So, as I can never seem to help myself when it comes to trying gear, I just had to try one out. So I searched for a while, and even sprung an extra $5 for a $35 Bad Monkey that has ‘Made in the USA’ on the label. Because if I didn’t, I’m sure I would get flooded with comments of how the video is of no consequence because the ‘US’ ones are far superior to the ‘Taiwan’ models. It’s like, come on. Neither one is handmade, so what’s the difference? (Oh! Had to add my own cork-sniffing into the mix, just for good measure.)

(And here’s the Bad Monkey. Not a terrible design, considering the name.)

So I tested the USA-made Digitech Bad Monkey against the two pedals I have most often heard it described as to have the ability to ‘kill’: the Ibanez tubescreamer and the Hermida Zendrive. Now, I didn’t really want to drop hundreds of dollars on this test, so I did not go out and get a vintage TS-808 or TS-9 tubescreamer. But I did get a new TS9 with the Analogman mods that are supposed to make it sound like a vintage one. His stuff is highly respected, so I thought it would be the next best thing to a vintage one. Plus, given the prices, I’m guessing that a lot more guitarists who are reading this will be trying to decide between a Digitech Bad Monkey and an Analogman TS9 than a Bad Monkey and a vintage TS-808.  And without any further talking from me (I do like talking, especially about gear…usually when people ask me questions, there eyes end up glazing over and they slowly back away from the conversation at about minute 46):

The Players (well, it wasn’t really a shootout…but just for clarity’s sake)

–Hermida Zendrive (at 12 volts)
–Analogman/Ibanez TS9 tubescreamer with Analogman silver mod
–Digitech Bad Monkey (‘made in the USA’ model)

The Base Tone

Robert Dixon Prairiewood Les Paul with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups into a Holland EL84-based amp into a 65 Amps birch cab with a Celestion Blue and a Celestion G12H-30, all hooked together by Lava ELC and EA Melody cables. And the Bad Monkey is in a true bypass loop. Other than that, nothing is running through the pedalboard you see in the video.

Sorry to be so specific, but I’m just trying to brace myself for the storm of violence that may come if this video does not support people’s opinions of choice on this pedal. 😉

Possible Biases

I may have tried too hard to be fair and inconclusive about the sound of the Bad Monkey because I knew that no matter what camp I ended up siding with, the retribution from the opposing camp would be swift and terrible. Put very simply, I was very afraid.

Also, the Zendrive has that fantastic blue led, which just puts my head in a trance, and I can’t hear the tone of anything else because the awesome blue led sounds so good.

And the test of the USA-made Digitech Bad Monkey:



So there you have it. Complete with the video running out right at the end before I got to the last pedal. But I was too lazy to do it over, and I figure most of you don’t watch until the very end anyway. 😉

The Conclusions

As is usually the case with these over-hyped and under-hyped and argued-about pieces of gear, the results are usually much less sensational than we had hoped. I was honestly wishing that this pedal would either be a piece of absolute junk that I could totally trash in this blog and compare it to some horrendous movie like Battlefield Earth and feel very esteemed by my obviously correct choice of spending large quantities of my limited cashflow on boutique overdrive pedals, or that it would be the be-all-end-all of guitar tone that I have been searching for for years and then I could sell all my other overdrive pedals so that I could have more money for more amps.  

But unfortunately, my opinion of the Bad Monkey was much more neutral. It’s definitely not a bad-sounding pedal. For $30, waaaaay better than is to be expected. The overdrive is nice and smooth, with a good deal of headroom. And it sounds fairly warm and open without having to tweak the eq settings totally out of whack. I do think the preamp section is a little better than the power amp section. It seemed to sound better at lower gains with most of the output coming from the ‘level’ control. But it didn’t completely blow my mind either. It sounded a fair amount more boxy and ‘like a pedal’ than both the Analogman and the Zendrive. Pedals tend to take your amp’s big full cleans, and squash them; which is why a lot of people spend lots of money and time trying to find ones that don’t. And the Bad Monkey didn’t squash it very much, and actually sounded very good and fairly close to the amp’s clean tones; but not nearly as open and full sounding as the Zendrive or the Analogman.

My main complaint would be that the buffer just put a huge hit on the dynamics and sparkle of my tone. Which was the reason for having it in a bypass loop for the video. When I first plugged in all the pedals, I tried them all out plugged into each other. Than I took the Bad Monkey out of the chain, and the Zen and the Analog,an just seemed to open up. Now, buffers are specific to certain rigs, and maybe it just didn’t react well with mine, but I really did not like it’s buffer at all. Other than that, this is probably the best $30 overdrive I have ever played. But it definitely did not sound as good as the $150 and $200 overdrive pedals.

So again, there’s the completely un-sensational review. Very good pedal, very decent sound (with the exception of a bad buffer and being a tone-sucker); but at the same time, it sounds a good deal more boxy and less amp-like than a couple of the pedals it is said to ‘kill’.  And for the record, the Bad Monkey sounded much more like a tubescreamer to me than a bluesy overdrive. I’m not sure where it gets the Zendrive comparisons. But, oh well.

So there’s the review. And I’m afraid that I have now made a huge mistake. I was trying so hard to not offend either the ‘Bad Monkey is man’s greatest invention’ camp, or the ‘Bad Monkey makes my tone sound like I want to suffocate my face off’ camp, that I think I have now created a new camp; the ‘Eh, the Bad Monkey is decent’ camp. And I may be the only member. No the best place to be in a war. And the Digitech Bad Monkey opinions definitely are a war.

Splendid. (And a little frightened.)

Mixing Escapism with Realism in Modern Music

(A little disclaimer. I kind of free-associated in this post. And I’m still undecided as to whether that was good or bad. So just know that even though my opinions are never wrong…well…ya. Sometimes they’re wrong. So even though I believe what I said (at this point in time…I’ll probably look back later and be like, ‘What?’), I also recognize that I am not the authority on all things pertaining to life. Which does bum me out a little…but I’ll get over it.)

I don’t know if that makes much sense. No. No, it doesn’t make much sense. But I’ve been trying for a while to reconcile the trends that are happening in music right now. The secular world, of course. If you want to find the new trends in Christian music, just look back at what was popular in the real world five years ago, and there ya go! You’ve got what’s just now happening in Christian music. 😉 And as much as that sucks, and it shouldn’t happen, and we all hate to admit it so we pretend not see it and come up with excuses for it…that’s how it is. I mean, there are exceptions…but they are few. Christian music on the majority pretty much sounds like it’s all produced by one guy…and that that one guy really loved Creed. (And notice that I say ‘loved’ not ‘loves’. Past tense. Creed is done, people!) 

I think what it comes down to is that the secular music world is made up of a lot of broken people who write music from their hearts. Good or bad…a good portion of it is very heartfelt, emotional, and vulnerable. And it seems that Christian music is also made up of a lot of broken people…but in this Christian music, a lot of times vulnerability is looked down upon. You have to have the answer right now. You can’t be searching, you can’t be hurting, and you most definitely can’t end a song on a sad or hopeless lyric. Yet, at least for me personally, the times in my life when I’ve been most able to reach out to someone and maybe connect them to a piece of the love God has shown to me, is when I have been hurting…or feeling hopeless…or (gasp!) wondering if maybe following God isn’t just a little bit too difficult. And this hurting, this vulnerability, allows me to connect with someone with the same hurts…they just don’t have all the answers. What if we showed ourselves when we were hurt a little more. Maybe we could connect people to God’s love in a slightly more ‘real’ way. Rather than pretending…or, what’s infinitely worse and is a trend that’s been going on for a while now, pretending to be hurt or broken or lost in order to draw people. Dear sweet mercy, please don’t do that either! As Christians, sometimes we seem to think those who haven’t yet believed in God, are somehow stupider than us for not having done it yet. So we pretend, and put on fronts, and try to be ‘authentic’. There is no ‘trying’ in authenticity. It just is. Love God, and love others.

(hehe Creed. Scott Stapp really did love himself, didn’t he. You can never quite make out the other band members. The quality of this picture is spectacular. Could I have found a better one? Yes. Why didn’t I? Laziness.)

There’s a line from a film, where this alien (ya, ya, I know…just stick with me because it’s not really that cheesey…okay, it’s a little bit cheesey…but it’s really good) is talking about human suffering, and our inability to cease harming each other, both physically and emotionally. And he says, ‘Even your Buddha and your Christ had much different views on how to live your lives, but nobody’s paid them much attention; even your Buddhists and your Christians.’ Now, obviously that’s from a different point of view…it’s just lumping in two ‘pacifist’ teachers (according to a non-Biblical view). So I’m not going to speak on the Buddha part. But the Christ part? That almost knocked me over the first time I watched that part of the film. It a very poignant line, that at least for me, might ring true. That in all my trying to be a Christian, I may not have paid much attention to what Jesus Christ actually was saying. And I think a good portion of what he was saying that I constantly miss is, love. Love and be real about it. Romans 12:9 advises us to ‘Let love be without hypocrisy.’ I can’t put it any better than that.

So, in light of letting music be vulnerable, I’d like to highlight the recent folk movement in modern music, as well as the escapism. It’s almost like the trend is taking the realism of the folk tones, melodies, and harmonic structure, and coupling it with the escapism of some of the dark and ambient synth stuff and song structure. I don’t know. That sounds like something some music critic would say in an indie music review guide that has a circulation of about 10 people, but that small of a circulation only assures the critic more that he is correct because the correct view is never popular. 😉 I don’t mean to sound like that…it’s just where I’ve kind of landed on the current music trend. It’s like, the whole ‘earthiness/green/outdoors/Led Zeppelin/flower child’ thing, but in a rainstorm of synthesizers and shoegazer guitars. (Dude, I don’t know what’s happening to me today. What the dickens am I writing?) Not all of the music in this new ‘movement’ or ‘wave’ has synth sounds or folk sounds directly. But it has that earthy meets ambient ‘feel’. And a lot of it does seem to be borrowed from the ’70’s…both the Bob Dylan folk side, and the crazy Return to Forever/Pink Floyd wall of sound side.

(Yes, for those of you who figured it out…the film was K-Pax. Kevin Spacey plays an alien because he’s awesome and Keyser Soze rocks, and I may be the only person on universe who likes this film. But I really like it. Music is stellar, too. Techno beats with orchestras. Lovely.)

So here’s some examples. And notice the fact that these songs just seem to be from the heart. No pretences, not trying to be happy even though stuff sucks, and not trying to make things suck so that they can relate. Just playing what seems to be in their hearts. And who knows…maybe their emotions are all just put on so they can sell these songs, and I’m just buying into it. But you gotta admit…they do seem a bit more real than all the Christian artists trying so hard to sing through a filter so they can sound like Scott Stapp or pretending to have a British accent (but only when they sing) to sound like Billy Joe. 

First up is the Fleet Foxes. I was so stoked when I found these guys…I felt so indie every time someone would ask what I was listening to lately, and I’d just nonchalantly flip, ‘Oh, the Fleet Foxes.’ Oh ya. Coolness just flowed from me. And then a couple weeks ago they played on Letterman. Blast! Coolness gone. But check out how the melody just sinks into that fifth chord. Beautiful song-writing.


And here is School of Seven Bells. Check out the studio version first. Just beautiful ambiance, followed by perfect melody for the mood. Gorgeous. And then check on the live version, they sound almost better live, and there’s only three of them. (Well, it’d sound better if it wasn’t recorded on a phone.)

Next is Alela Diane. Love how her drummer somehow fits some rock ‘n roll into this deeply folkish tune. It’s very nice.

And lastly is The Listening. And guess what? These guys are a Christian band! So, score! I first heard them a few years ago when my band opened for them…I’d love for that to just stay sounding cool, but my honesty is getting the best of me…there weren’t more than 200 people at the show…and uh…when we played…first…there weren’t more than…uh…35 people…some of which who were our…uh…families. (Stupid honesty.) But these guys (I believe) went through some hard times in their lives, and decided to start writing some darker stuff with some more vulnerability. And it’s pretty powerful (at least to me 😉 ). I saw them play a whole set at one show without stopping…each song just flowed into the next…and they never spoke. Then they ended the set with the lights off, and an instrumental version of ‘Doxology.’ It was huge.

So anyway…I seem to have just started talking in this post without much of an ability to stop. My apologies. Some of you are going, ‘Then what makes this different than any other post?’ Sssshhh!!! There might be some new people here, and this might be the first post they ever read, and I want to keep them here as long as possible before they inevitably start to realize that most of the things I take 578 words to say could be said in just 12. And, even worse, before they realize how importantly I take everything I say to be. Because, of course, if you put it in a blog on the internet, it’s automatically true. So all that stuff I said about Christian music being, unfortunately, a lot of times fake, un-heartfelt, and five years in the past still ripping off ‘Higher’? Oh ya. All true. It’s written down. And my unfounded opinions are never wrong. 😉 

But in all seriousness, let’s just love God, love others, and if we happen to be feeling broken or hopeless, just be it. Don’t hide it, don’t flaunt it. It’ll connect us with the world of suffering around us; and when God eventually heals us, it’ll speak louder to that world than any song, or church, or boutique-delay-ambient-synth-swell-of-sonic-joy ever could. 


You Know You're On the Worship Team When…

Sorry, everyone. I seriously promise…there’s some gear demo videos, mod videos, and effects usage demo videos on the way…I’m in the process of recording them as we speak. I’ve just been really busy…and well, let’s face it…probably being a loser and surfing gearpage rather than playing. 😉 So, for now, I figured I’d just make fun of worship musicians. Always good times to be had by all there. And in the spirit of not taking myself too seriously, I have limited this to only things that I have done…or, unfortunately, am currently doing. So here ya go! (And feel free to add as you see fit.)

You know you’re on the worship team when…

  • when you’ve felt ‘post-modern’ and ’emergent church-ish’ for doing a Third Day song.
  • when you’ve felt ‘post-modern’ and ’emergent church-ish’ period.
  • when you arrive a half hour late to practice, spend 20 minutes setting up, and then ask if the band can start the whole set over so you can practice
  • when you won’t turn down
  • when you can apologize for not turning down, but explain quite honestly, that if you turn down, your tubes will cool…which will in turn irreparably harm the worship experience
  • when you actually believe the above statement
  • when you no longer associate with any ‘actual people’ at church…you just stay on stage between services and tune for 20 minutes
  • when you harmonize, play over, or syncopate every note of every song
  • when you don’t pray with the pastor anymore before the closing set, but turn your guitar’s volume down and practice: a) scales, b) your solo for the next song, c) random nonsense, d) all of the above, or e) all of the above so intensely, that the congregation can hear you even with your volume off
  • when you wear your ‘show clothes’ to church
  • when you are able to explain the afore-mentioned ‘show clothes’ as ‘stage clothes’ so as not to distract from the worship experience, even though said clothes are more expensive, tighter fitting, and slightly more Bono-esque than anything you wear the other 6 days of the week.
  • when you no longer need to listen to the pastor’s message…you’re now ‘mature by association’ by being on the worship team
  • when you have a bigger and more expensive rig than over half of touring, professional musicians
  • when you’ve accidentally-on-purpose referred to the church members as ‘the audience’
  • when you’ve accidentally-on-purpose referred to the church members as ‘civilians’
  • when you get that fake-surprised look when the ‘civilians’ come up after the service and comment on how big your board is. ‘Oh, this? It’s just a couple things I threw together.’
  • when you’ve totally bogarted every solo at full volume and with every gain pedal cranked, and then act bashful and embarrassed that people are ‘noticing you’ when the pastor comes up after worship and says, ‘Wasn’t that great worship? How about our guitar player?’
  • when you can’t name anyone at the church who’s not on the worship team
  • when you consider buying that 4th amp you don’t really need and that you profess is ‘really too big to bring to church except on Easter’, your tithe.
  • when you feel wronged that the altar call went so long that you had to cut a song
  • when you’ve started a grand total of 12 worship songs with the ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ riff
  • when you’ve felt hip and on the edge and ‘post-modern’ for playing the ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ riff in each of those 12 songs
  • when you’ve worked out in your bedroom 16 other songs that the ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ riff could fit into, just in case the worship leader asks (or even if he or she doesn’t).
  • when you watch Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin cd’s as a group and then talk about all the things they do wrong, what you do better, and how much better your group does the songs they wrote.
  • when you are a rockstar. And it is undeniable.
  • when you consider every worship team who is able to draw more people, or get more ‘expressive’ worship out of their congregations or worship concert audiences, sellouts.
  • when you convince yourself that you only have 50 people at your church because any more than that would take away the intimacy of worship…until you get 1,000 people at your church…then the maximum number for intimate worship mysteriously changes.
  • when you use every time there are no lyrics to solo.
  • when having anyone else but yourself in the monitor is ‘distracting’.
  • when you have dotted eighth delay on for every song.
  • when you refer to your worship sets at church as ‘gigs’.
  • when you write blog articles entitled ‘You Know You’re On the Worship Team When…’



Stop Reading and Play

(Except for this blog of course…you can read that. 😉 )

So a few years back, we’re at worship practice. And let’s see, this is about 4 or 5 years ago, so we were probably playing something by David Crowder, and I was probably replacing all the signature guitar riffs with either pseudo-ambient (whoa! wordpress didn’t underline ‘pseudo-ambient’! That’s a word? Score.) wanna-be keyboard swells that did succeed in shaking the room, but no so much in meshing with the song or with…what’s that other thing you usually like to do as a musician…oh ya…sounding good, or with U2-dotted eighth delay riffs…without the dotted eighth part. See, I’m just trying to get you a picture of the sound that was filling the room at that time. It was right in that weird in-between time for me when I had just realized that forcing a much less talented version of a Michael-Landau-meets-John Petrucci-solo into every worship song was not doing as much as say, a Johnny Buckland 3-note Coldplay riff. But I wasn’t sure how to get there yet. Couple that with my newfound discovery of the ‘warmth’ of tube amps, and for a few months you got this cacophonic mesh of every note in the scale just delaying into each other unstoppably, drowning out all sense of harmonic progression in the song in what I proudly called ‘ambient swells.’ It did sound ‘warm’…I have to give myself that.

Anyway, we’re practicing at our drummer’s work (a metal shop…kind of fitting), and this was the time when we were all young, single, practicing our Dream Theatre riffs and beats and how we could fit them into I Can Only Imagine, in a sweaty warehouse every Friday night from 6 pm to 2 am, and wondering why were single. (Except for me, because remember, I’m just moving out of those riffs and into, what were we calling them? Oh ya! ‘Warm ambient swells’. And also, somewhere, and sometime, the thought finally breaks through that perhaps sweat and metal are not as attractive to the ladies as certain movies make them out to be.) And through the wall of phased-delayed mud and metal-shop man sweat, comes this burning smell. And I look up at our drummer, who’s facing me, and he gets the Orlando Bloom frightened look on his face, and just lifts his drumstick to point behind me at my amp. Which is on fire. 

(Here is the patented ‘Orlando Bloom frightened’ look. hehe Everything he does is so over-the-top. You can see it in his eyes. ‘Okay, act frightened! Is this right? I hope it’s right. Maybe a little more intensity will help!’)

(Oh, yes. The Orlando intensity. This is ‘confused.’ You gotta say, though…he is trying really hard. Really, really hard. Just relax a bit, Orlando. It’s not 1930. There’s actually color and sound in these films…you don’t need to over-act anymore. We get that Legolas is confused.)

So I kind of saunter over there, pretending that these things happen all the time, and that I know tone and gear so well, that this is all just part of it and I’ve got it under control. Remember, I’m totally in that in-between stage, which means I’m reading about tone and gear and musicianship like crazy, but have very little real-world experience. Yet I still feel like all that reading and research and knowledge should be worth something, so I’m kind of putting on this pretense of being a tone-head. But inside, I thought my amp might explode onto my face. But I’m able to switch it off, and get the fuse out, and we can see where the fire came from, but it’s all on the inside, so the structure of the amp still looks generally fine. And then, in my infinite genius, I say, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad fuse. Happens all the time.’ Because fuses definitely start fires when they blow. So our drummer says, ‘Well great! This is a metal shop, so I’ll just go get you another one.’ So he goes and gets me another one. ‘Yours said .5 amps, and this one says 1 amp. Do you think that’ll matter?’ And in my best ‘I know tone’ voice, I say, ‘Nope!’ So we put the new fuse in, turn on the amp, and proceed to re-start the fire. At which point the drummer looks and me and says, ‘Do you even know what you’re doing?’ And with a smoldering circuit board of an amp staring me in the face, I am forced to say, ‘No.’

So I end up taking the amp to get fixed by Jerry Blaha. He lives in Hollywood, was the guy who apprenticed Mark Sampson of Matchless Amp fame, used to be the guitar tech for Black Sabbath, and has fixed amps for Aerosmith. And that all sounds awesome, and like I must be really special or famous or something to have him be my tech…and that’s honestly how I like it to sound (oh, the honesty again). But in reality, he had an ad in the Recycler mag, and I called him. How I wish my band was opening for Aerosmith at the Hollywood Bowl, and he was there to check and make sure his mods on their amps sounded good, and heard my tone, and came up to me and said, ‘You have the best tone I have ever heard. It made me cry. Please let me be your tech.’ Which is how it happened in my mind. (There’s this really cool world in my mind, where everything works like that, and I have the greatest tone known to humanity. It’s not real.) But nope. I found his number in a used junk magazine.

When I get the amp to him, I explain to him what happened, and he seems mildly to not-at-all interested. He tells me that amps usually do not catch on fire, even Peavey’s. And this amp was a Peavey Classic 100 head, which incidentally, is a very good amp. It’s one of the early ’90’s incarnations, and though I no longer own it, it still had some of the best cleans I’ve heard. Anyway, I left the amp with him, wondering if maybe I just dreamed the fire. I mean, Black Sabbath’s tech told me it was near impossible, so maybe…

A week later he calls me, and he goes, ‘There was a fire in your amp!’ I said, ‘I know!’ So it was kind of a good ice-breaker, and we got to talking, and he told me that one of the power tubes had not just blown, it had caught itself on fire, and burned out a whole piece of the circuit board. ‘I’ve never seen these tubes before,’ he says. ‘Where did you get them?’

(You can kind of catch the Peavey Classic 100 in the background here. And you can also catch my unfortunate ‘in-between metal and indie’ stage here, too. I’ve got the EL84-based Classic 100; but I’m still playing the snake skin guitar. I’ve got the tight indie shirt; but I’ve still got the very ’80’s cross necklace. I’ve shaved my ‘metal-roadie’ beard growth; but I still have the stringy long hair. Ya. So awkward. And this band was actually a really good one. Very talented members. But this was one of our first shows…at the uh…mall. We thought we had arrived. Yikes, this is like, the most embarrassing picture ever. I’m like, 20 here, and I look like I’m 45. Please learn from my mistakes. Yep…look at the picture again. Do you understand my passion about this now? I say again: Please!)

So okay. Awesome. A chance to tell the big Hollywood veteran about my tonal findings and subsequent tonal genius. And unfortunately…yes. I did. I told him how in Russia, in the late ’60’s, Sovtek had sold one of their tube plants to the military, who used it to make top-secret tubes for this new type of advanced war-time computer, and how the tubes were of superior power, life, and tone, than any ever seen before, and how there were only a few hundred left in existence, and how these tubes in my amp, were some of those few hundred. And he said, ‘Ya. These are the worst tubes I’ve ever seen.’ And then he asked me where I had gotten my information. And I said, ‘Um…the guy on e-bay who sold them to me said it.’ But then I quickly added, ‘But the story checks out on a couple other tube sites and amp tone sites.’ Which was true…I had definitely done my research. 

But then he told me something I will never forget. He said, ‘I have a friend like you. You know, one of those guys that reads too much?’ ……Oh. And then he proceeded to tell me of this friend he had, and how he never actually played anywhere, but just read up on all this tone stuff, and how he would always pontificate on everything to his actually working musician friends, but then sound terrible. But I wasn’t listening. I was still stunned that Black Sabbath’s former guitar tech, whom I had hoped to impress with my immense tonal knowledge, had just completely and unapologetically put me in my place; and had also given some of the best musical advice I have ever had.

I still continue to read and do research on tone…it’s important. But it can never suffice for, and should never be looked at as more important than, real life experience. If you’re really worried about if the MJM London sounds exactly like an original Dallas Arbiter, research it for sure. But go somewhere where you can try them out; buy one; talk to people who know more than you do. And if you’re really not sure how your 36 watts will react at a small club, than book yourself a coffee house gig or club gig or small church gig (I know, I hate the word ‘gig’ for church, too…but for the purposes if this article…), and try it out.

There is nothing that accounts for more or that makes you grow in your musicianship faster than real life experience. Reading and research can be very helpful, but if left on their own, you might end up feeling stupider and stupider with every word as you explain to your amp tech that the guy on e-bay told you that your tubes you bought for $5 apiece are really some vintage Russian top-secret weaponry research that breeded the best-sounding tube in history. Ya……yikes, that sounds really not true.


The Grateful Dead & Love of Music

Those of you who read this blog have probably gathered that I don’t do too well with the whole ‘not talking very much’ thing. But this quote pretty much embodies most of what I constantly try to use thousands of words to get across:

“All musicians go through a phase where they’re fascinated by technique or flash. Love of music eventually smoothes all that out.” –Jerry Garcia

I believe my Dad first sent me that quote a few years back. And I have nothing more to say. Okay, just a little bit:


This is The Grateful Dead’s live setup. So I guess this is what ‘love of music’ means. I have no problem with that.


Tonal Inspiration

Your sound, made up of your musicianship, tone, feel, and passion, needs to be re-inspired every once in a while. That’s what’s so amazing about music. You can play or sing the same ‘E’ note in identical ways…but the one you believe in while you do it, will sound better. Music isn’t great unless it’s saying something. Sometimes it’s something deep; sometimes not. Sometimes it just needs to say ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Feel this’. But there’s gotta be passion behind it.

So every once in a while, I try to find ways to re-inspire my tone. And for me, it’s Hollywood. I don’t know why. Hollywood sings to me. I guess maybe I think that I’ll be at one of the amazing guitar shops on Sunset, and I’ll grab a 1967 ES-335 and a Carr and start playing those three notes I know, and then Brian Eno will come out from behind the vintage Roland Juno 60 that I’ve been unconsciously harmonizing my three notes to and he’ll say, ‘I’ve never heard such feel and tone behind three notes before! Would you please sign this contract.’ And, of course I’m joking, but there’s this little piece of me that always honestly hopes for that. I mean, Eno’s gotta be somewhere, right? Why not at the LA gear shops? Or, what’s worse, maybe I have run into him, and he heard my 3 notes and left? This seems more likely.

But whatever the reason, I just feel alive in Hollywood. And it makes me want to write music, and get better tone, and play more passionately, and keep trying to make people cry with one note. And keep looking for Mr. Eno (and actually, any famous musician or record exec will do…just for the record…I’m not picky). And my amazing wife, actually gets this. See, I would think that she would go hide behind my ‘Crash’ poster every time I even start to mention Hollywood, because, inevitably, I will always end up saying something embarrassing. (See the post on one of my previous trips to Hollywood: The Journey to My Amp Tech .) But instead, she like, totally gets me, and loves going up there with me. So (getting a little personal and soft here), we do some kind of ‘love celebration’ (sounds like a hippie Led Zeppelin thing) every month, where one of us takes the other one someplace cool. And she just decided to take me to Hollywood to hang out. She’s quite cool. Here is a picture of her:


She was judo-kicking the cars that got better parking spaces than we did. Which was many. See, my parking philosophy is usually something to the effect of ‘I see one. We’re parking there.’ Which unfortunately makes for some long walks. And yes, this is at Disneyland, but it was all part of the trip…and I love this picture of her. But, she would probably rather that I show this one:


This one was taken at City Walk in Hollywood. Which, of course is completely inspirational to tone because it has this:


Fantastic. That’s on a giant guitar outside a Hard Rock.

And then this happened:


I’ve always wanted to do this, because they look so surprisingly plausible! Except for the fact that if you look at Arnold’s hand, it could definitely fit my whole face inside it. (Ugh…I don’t want to think about that.) And ya, it’s a picture of the picture…because I don’t have a scanner, and they of course can’t give it to you on a digital medium. And yes, that is Larry Mullen Jr.’s face on the book the picture frame is on. Mmm…U2.

Oh, and here’s the thing that probably inspires me, too. Almost every time we go up to Hollywood, or Malibu, or that general area, we see someone famous. And they’re usually just complete losers. Which, of course, inspires me more. Like, ‘Well if that guy can get famous…’ Seriously. Seeing a celebrity without makeup, scripts, or stages, is an inspiration to us all. When I asked my wife to marry me, this guy started clapping:


Yep. Mr. Daniel Stern. City Slickers, Bushwhacked, Tourist Trap, and of course, Home Alone…featuring my favorite line, said to an 8-year-old: ‘Santy don’t visit the funeral home, little buddy.’ He was actually very nice and polite and congratulated us; and I probably made his day by actually recognizing him, saying his full name (seriously, there has to be something wrong with you if you know this guy by ‘Daniel Stern’ and not ‘that guy from Home Alone’), and saying that I enjoyed his work. But he applauded us, and then continued walking down the beach. Very kind. But extremely normal. Inspirationally normal. And unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera.

Then, the next year, when we went back to Malibu to celebrate our engagement, we ate lunch next to this guy:


Seann William Scott. Better known as Stifler from American Pie, or, the possum from Ice Age 2, or, the guy from Dude, Where’s My Car that’s not on That ’70’s Show. (He was actually very funny in Role Models.) Now he was an absolute jerk. We’re eating lunch there, and in walks him with this girl. And he literally talks…about himself…for 20 minutes. We never hear her say a word. And his best quote was, ‘I’m doing this new movie right now. It’s like a dramedy. It’s like…did you see Little Miss Sunshine? Okay, it’s like that, only better.’ And this time, we did have a camera; but didn’t care. But, to be fair, girls can make you look jerky. ‘Fools aren’t born; pretty girls make them in their spare time.’ And he does dress very well, which is always a plus for me. (Because clothes are cool, not because I like the way he looks in them. Come on, people. That did sound pretty bad, though.)

So this time, we’re walking down City Walk, and there’s this high, private catwalk, and Jamianne says, ‘Oh, how do you get up there?’ And I look up to see a group of about 5 guys surrounding this one guy, and laughing at everything he says. And I go, ‘Babe, that’s Jon Lovitz!’ Now, that’s not an incredible feat, I guess, to see Jon Lovitz. He’s at the Laugh Factory, like, 3 times a week. But I was still pretty stoked. And if you’re going, ‘Who?’, you’re not alone. He was in such classics as High School High, Trapped in Paradise, and Benchwarmers. But I’ve always thought he was hilarious. So I used my insane photo-taking skills to snap this shot:


No, seriously, that’s really him! The guy who half his face is hidden by the railing. I’m such a good photographer.

And of course, Hollywood wouldn’t be complete without some sort of sweet, sweet Heat reference. This is where Pacino and DeNiro (Al and Bobby) had coffee in like, the best written dialogue scene ever:


But in all seriousness, you have to find the places that for whatever reason or another, fill you with some sort of ache or longing or passion. Then you have to make sure you channel that into every note you play. Tonally and musically. And most importantly, in your feel. Every note you play or sing needs to say something; some piece of passion or feel or art has to come out of you and be communicated to your audience. And to be able to do that, you’ve gotta find what fills you up. Hopefully, for those of you that are worship musicians, a good portion of that is Christ’s love. But you’ll find that a change of scenery can reveal all kinds of new feelings for you, even about God Himself. 

So find your place, or whatever it is, that inspires you to make passionate music. Whenever I go to the guitar shops (which, by the way, my wife actually goes into with me and enjoys…oh ya…way cool) down in Hollywood, or walk the scenes in Heat or Crash, I always have this soundtrack playing in my head. And these are two of the songs that evoke the feelings in me that I try to get across in some way with every note.

Moby’s ‘Porcelain’:

And Terje Rypdal’s ‘Mystery Man’ (the improvy part from 3:00-5:00 is a little weird, but the rest is wonderful):

Passion just makes such a difference in your playing. Find that passion, that song, that feeling, that lyric, that view of God, and make your instrument say it.

And yes, in case you were wondering, this whole post did start as just an excuse for me to show my terrible picture of Jon Lovitz. 😉