Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - chip@chipmcdonald.com: 2022

Monday, November 14, 2022

WHY PEOPLE ARGUE ABOUT GUITAR "TONE"

 The problem with this age old argument is that most "guitar players" start forming ideas about what they *think* they like long before they have anywhere near the intellectual acumen to actually comprehend what it is they are hearing.


 VARIABLE #1:


 The cognitive dissonance of "most guitar players" seeking a Magical Sound they hear on a recording - without being able to subtract out the recording process itself.   How can you have a favorite amp, without a favorite speaker, microphone, ambience preference, recording eq/bandwidth?


VARIABLE #2:


 No experience with all of the permutations.  Never played a Tele, lipstick pickups, Jensen alnicos, a bottom cabinet next to a top cabinet, a 57 versus a LD, small diaphragm, etc. - but people try to integrate their *limited* experience with what they again think they're perceiving on a *recording*.


 VARIABLE #3:


 Insisting on a monolithic superlative.  As in, "THIS" is the BEST amp!   And then arguing about it with zero context.  


 This is the 21st century in a nutshell: not only no concern for context, but complete ignorance of the premise.  Nobody bothers to look into anything anymore, whether it's diving into music/songs, or what has been used to make the sound/recording.  Country guitar players arguing with metal guitar players about "tone"?  Queen fans arguing with Hendrix fans about amps?  



 VARIABLE #4:


 Random acceptance/application of physics and non-linear complexity.   People will wind their strings backwards over their tailpiece and attribute magic to it, but have no preference for frets.  A preference for a wood, "because", but no preference for weight/density that can vary 20%.  Preference for one piece body, but doesn't care about slab fretboard vs. one piece maple.  


 Want to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn?  Don't play a Les Paul and a JCM800.   Want to sound like VanHalen?  Don't buy a Deluxe ri and a Tele.  If you *really* want a Famous Guitarist's Sound*, JUST BUY WHAT THEY USED.    You'll be 95% there, and if you can't play like them that's not the gear's fault.   But the bottom line is that the caroming-gear buffet syndrome is from either not knowing what you really like, or understanding it, or *not actually wanting to find out*.


Sunday, November 13, 2022

Reverb is the Starfield of Music?

  This blog isn't always about guitar lessons.   Stand by for a very abstract post.....


 "Reverb is the Starfield of Music"






Or so I claim.

In science fiction movies, the starfield sets the tone.  

 In 2001: a Space Odyssey, it's understated.  The stars are not too bright, colorful or lurid.  They don't move.  You don't see them zooming by out if a porthole.  

Realistic.  

As the backdrop to the 2nd act of the movie, it defines what the movie sets out to do at that point: pull you in by trying not to defeat the illusion of "real".  In less realistic movies, maybe sci-fi shows from before the 90s, you had bright stars flying past a window on a starship: all the same color, same size.  Not as realistic, BUT - perhaps within the "creative universe" of said show.   Both a budget-restricted pragmatic choice, but maybe also a simple, quick way of communicating "you're in a starship traveling in a direction".

 Likewise, reverb on recordings once was based solely on analog gear, not unlike the analog "practical" effects of science fiction movies of yesteryear.   While the gear was primitive - springs, sheet metal plates, empty rooms with tiled walls - there was no Uncanny Valley to cross.   

 But just like the early days of computer graphics in movies, when digital came into recording it wasn't necessarily convincing.  Like early CG science fiction effects, you knew it kind of represented something but wasn't perfectly realistic.   It was good enough, and again, a pragmatic solution to production.

 Some music in the 80s suffers from this, although some just wallows in Artificial Modulated Reverb.  The early Sting recordings come to mind, Queensryche's _Operation Mind Crime_, some others.   Like the starship Enterprise in _Star Trek: the Next Generation_, something BIG was doing SOMETHING in a BIG SPACE.   You knew it wasn't real, but it was its own art form in a sense.   

  Post 80s bands started wanting real drum sounds in actual rooms, and for awhile Big Room Sounds supplanted the artifice of Lexicon digital reverbs.  Similarly, science fiction movies have started to reject the early efforts of George Lucas to use digital technology to "enhance" (ahem..) classic movies.   For some movies the look and feel *was* "computer graphics" (Tron, Terminator 2, the Abyss, et al) but when it was mixed in after the fact, the contrast wrecked the production.

 Recordings, being cheaper and much more common by orders of magnitude, have gone through this iteration already.  The Bricastic hardware digital reverb, digital convolution reverbs, have started pulling recording out of the Uncanny Valley somewhat, but some recordings are still prone to having peculiar combinations of "spaces" that are incongruent.  

 Just as some sci-fi movies feature a lot of exterior special effects, that "place" you in that world, others are more careful and spartan with the use of depicting space.   On recordings, the same thing occurs: the reverb tone, sound, and amount is the backdrop for a recording.   




 
 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Sunset Sound YouTube channel

    I'm surprised this YouTube channel isn't referenced more.

 Sunset Sound is a famous California recording studio that's been around for a lonnng time.   While Dave Grohl has made Sound City famous in a pop culture context, Sunset Sound has been left on the back burner it seems, despite being ground zero for the Beach Boys, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and many more.

 The great thing about the channel is that they bring on engineers (and other "orbiting" personnel) to talk - extremely candidly - about the recording processes of these famous bands and their associated famous recordings. 
 
 There are other channels that do fairly intensive dives into recording *techniques*, but Sunset Sound's channel is a bit different in that it is done in the actual studio itself, and often by people that were there.  For other things (like the video linked below), they go into a deep dive from a "historical documentary" standpoint, more than a technical one, which I think may be more interesting for the less experienced/more casual musician.   

 For fans of Van Halen and Prince, there is more untold info here than anywhere.  It's really curious why it's not caught on as much as some other channels, but regardless one should look into it for a good retelling of "the way things were" procedurally for recording "back in the day" when recording contracts provided ample money for proper artistic capturing of music.  

 Before music was made on computers, it was done in places like this by people vetted by other established professionals, with a lot of hard work.  When music wasn't free and throw away, things were different....


 


 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

A Good Tool Set

   I like to equate guitar skills to "tools".  


"Non-contextural Dog Serenade at Giverny"


  Guitar phrasing is very idiomatic to guitar.  Much of what the "sound" of the guitar is happens because of the physical execution of the musical phrase.  It's what is particularly challenging and rewarding about learning the guitar.

 TOOLS

 People learning how to use a hammer first, then maybe a screwdriver?  They don't start with an angle grinder, or a specialized tool like a Kreg milling jig.  They also don't consider printing something out with a 3d printer to be "using a tool", although maybe you can make a tool with a 3d printer?

 You also don't learn how to use Every Possible Tool At the Same Time.  

 When you see a professional use a tool, whether it's a guitarist or a carpenter on _This Old House_, you're not seeing the years of effort that went into learning the craft of it.  The master machinist didn't just turn on a lathe a few months ago.  And he certainly knows how to use a screwdriver, identify the different types of screws, thread offsets, metal hardness of a screw, on and on.  Things that are not as visible as the use of a lathe, but are requirements to understand the PROCESS of "being a machinist".  

 Also, something that is a CRAFT isn't worth much if it can be mastered in a few months.  Or years.   Learning a CRAFT is rewarding in the context of the effort and results; "free" results with no effort is not rewarding.  

 Each little technique on guitar is a tool to learn and master, but they're SINGULAR tools in a "tool box" of skills.  Every guitar player as a different toolbox; in essence, that IS the guitar player.  Most all have some tools inside that are the same, but the assortment and make are different.  Some have more than others, some take pride in really knowing how to use a few very effectively.

 Learning guitar is a CRAFT that requires TOOLS, but it's not everything at once, instantly....



Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Procedural Djent Shouldn't Surprise You (and it's not A.I.)

    The reader may or may not be aware of the following video:


 


 For starters, one should know this has nothing to do with artificial intelligence or machine learning.   So the that being the angle that this sort of has become viral around is misinformation and confusing.  

 What this is, is a penultimate iteration of a concept and technology that has been around for decades.  The premise of reducing the creation of music to an algorithm is not new, it's been postulated since the 60s.  The defining factor has been the nature of the technology of reproducing the sound of the procedural approach.  We now have tools available on our desktop or laptop computers to create effectively any sound, and trigger it from a list of numbers (MIDI) representing notes and volume level.

 The process he outlines in another video, so I'm not going into that here.  BUT, what I'd like to point out that he doesn't go into, is that music has two elements to it: math, and human chaos.  He simulates some of that human feel with randomness, but *near* randomness is what humans do best - and what scarily could be used to modify this process to yield something that would be IMO more interesting.

 That's not the same as saying it would have *human character*.  The novel nature of the *context* of human existence allows for a chaotic influence a computer can't have for now.  A computer isn't going to be "perfectly sloppy" like Keith Richards or Kurt Cobain, not in the same way, because it has no context of the physicality of being a human or the choices made that goes into being a human doing a process.
 
 I'm not surprised by this 10 hour djent video, because I've been saying this was going to happen for years.  Because - when you create music whose basic concept is mathematical complexity, you're in turn restricting the human chaotic aspect.  Being enthralled by complexity is a gimmick IMO, and is why I've sort of turned away from "complex music" in the past years.  Being hard to play, or hard to remember, has nothing to do with what music is about in my book.
  
 In fact , thinking about it... somewhere on "here" I made a blog post lonnnnng ago (but in this galaxy) about having to take notes about the tuplet (rhythmic groupings) of a song a student wanted to learn, because it resembled a _Dune_ novel translated to Morse code in its mathematical sequencing:  

 -.---.-...-.-.-..-.-.

...---...

 That Frederick Thordendahl makes some very intellectually interesting combinations of sequential patterns doesn't mean I want to listen to it.  The organization of sound makes "music"; creating something that is deliberate meant to be almost disorganized in human perception is an interesting idea, but it's not a *human* one.  Listening to ocean surf is one of the most pleasant things in the world to me, but I don't want to listen, or create, hours of faux-chaotic washes of white noise.  I'm sure it could be done in an "artful" fashion, that is again complex, and "amazing" in how it mimics actual surf sound - but LIFE IS TOO SHORT.

 A lot of Bach's music can be turned into algorithms.  It was some of the first music to be attempted to procedurally reproduced.  The results have been similar, it "sounds like Bach", but lacks the human element.  Which isn't adding randomness to imply "human", but is much, much more sophisticated: 

it's missing a human *guided by human experience*, with a bit of randomness around the edges as *the result of trying to shape the result*.  Not just randomness *without context*.  

 Which is why I can't really listen to "modern" metal.  It's wrecked by Occam's Razor.  The closer people, bands, get to "perfection in execution and complexity" the further they get from humanity.  The old school proto-metal bands - Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, et al - by today's standards should be "inferior", they lacked the complexity and perfection of a modern metal production.   But they're *heavier*, more immense sounding, because it's the *human* element that made it *rock and roll*.   10 hours of algorithmically perfect djent is interesting, but it's like admiring the complexity of a computer circuit board.  It's a depiction of a process that starts to *appear* to be something akin to "art", *but it's not art*.

 The real issue here is that people have lost the ability to judge the difference between art and something that is "near" art. 

Paint splatters is not a Jackson Pollock painting, and random scribbled line is not Picasso.  This only resembles art.

IMO.....






Monday, October 3, 2022

Fall Means More Guitar Playing?

 Yes.

 As the weather becomes less conducive to being outside, "magically" people tend to play guitar more.   There is something to be said for bands that come out of northern latitudes, who both have reasons to stay inside more as well as basements available for bands to practice in.

 At the same time, cooler temperatures also means less muscle flexibility.  I find a distinct need for more warm up time when inside temperature struggle to stay above 70 degrees; something you may not notice, until you ask your muscles to perform fine movements at speed.

 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Finishing Paint on a Kit Guitar Body

  I sanded off the finish I made.

 I'd previously found Tamiya had a pearl orange lacquer that I liked, but apparently in the past few years they've changed the tint a fair amount.  A waste of time and money.

 So my next adventure is to try another drip, using clear lacquer and a couple of specific mica pearl pigments.  

 This is maybe my favorite style of finish, because each guitar painted this way is as unique as a transparent wood finish.  It almost has a "metallic grain" effect, depending on how you do it.  Each one is unique, and has a bit of natural chaos to it that holds attention IMO.

 But it's super finicky and tricky.  I've done a silver based one before that came out ok - but using Rustoleum silvers.  Which has made be brazen enough to try it again, but with lacquer and the actual pigments I want.





Monday, September 12, 2022

Primer Finished on Guitar Body, Humidity is Something One Should Really Consider

  After days of being at the whimsy of the local humidity, I've finally finished the primer on the kit guitar body.

 



  It seems this year, what used to be the monsoon season is now dragged out into an all-summer long rainy season.  We're really turning tropical here in North Augusta South Carolina it would seem.

  I don't recall having to go so many days waiting for the humidity to come down in previous builds.  Starting maybe 6-7 years ago, the monsoon rain phenomenon appeared, but in between long dry periods.  Apparently this is no longer the case.  We've gotten a few monsoons, but also day after day of rain.

 Which really makes it nearly impossible to paint a guitar if you're doing it on a Peasant Level as I've had to do.  Another curious aspect of life in the 21st century: "Micro-windows For Optimal Paint Application".  

 It's made me realize that in the future, if I'm refinishing a guitar it's probably going to have to be a stain.



  


Monday, September 5, 2022

Humidity: Primering and Sanding Latest Guitar Body

 August and September didn't use to be "the raining season".

 North Augusta South Carolina is typically a very humid place; but now that it rains every day the humidity seldom drops below 80-90%+.  So I have to monitor the humidity, wait for it to drop to < 70% relative humidity, tack cloth and spray.  

 This does not bode well.  Ahrgh.


Monday, August 29, 2022

Yet Another Kit Guitar Problem #1

Due to it raining every day - the hummidity is too high to primer/paint. A sure fire way of messing up a budget paint job is painting with the relative humidity over 70%. Maybe borderline below that. For a moment yesterday it was around 58%, but I was preoccupied with something else. "Oh well". Meanwhile I've got parts laying around.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Yet Another Kit Guitar?

I've got a new guitar body on the way. ( no, it doesn't look like the picture below. Hopefully...)
I've got enough guitars. Maybe 10? Enough that I have to really think about it to know. The problem is: - most all of them are in various states of repair; - only one I would typify as a "light" guitar; - I've decided to consolidate as much as I can towards vintage Fender bridge string spacing. Lots of guitars laying around that don't work is a waste. They may as well not be in the same room as I am, taking up space (some are not...). They also don't fix themselves (usually). Don't do as I do. I need a "really light" guitar. I have had a guitar slung over my shoulder, or resting on my leg, for many hours a day, every day, for *decades*. This is probably not good for my health. I don't want to wait until I have a problem with my back, so I actually need a light guitar to use "most of the time". The only guitar I'd say is actually light is an '82 Japanese Fuji-Gen built Squier Stratocaster, which would be fine except it has small, worn frets. I may or may not eventually refret it; the problem is that it's value has gone from $200 when I bought it (the second time...) to close to or over $1,000. I've figured out I picked more consistently on Fender vintage spacing. Also that I prefer the sound of vintage Fender strat saddles. Which poses a problem since a lot of my quiver is based on Floyd Rose bridges. So I'm trying to recombine what I think is the best sounding neck I have with a vintage strat spaced bridge, on a hopefully very light basswood body. Which is another revelation: I'm quite sure I prefer basswood. Too long to go into, but if one isn't going to go the heavy/dense route, basswood has the liveliest resonance IMO - enough so that it translates to the saddles, an in turn the string.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

Monday, August 8, 2022

Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning in Guitar Sims is NOT "Amp Moddeling"

Suddenly, across multiple musician-based forums, as well as social media I've seen people now acknowledging that, yes, machine learning is going to be the Next Big Thing in music. There is still much cognitive dissonance. I see people referencing the Kemper's process of using test tones as being related to "artificial intelligence" and "machine learning". I have also seen people reference circuit modeling as being the same, and again - it is not.
Having the word "Neural" in a companie's name also doesn't mean they're automatically doing something a.i./ML related. On the otherhand, I know that the company IK Multimedia IS claiming to be coming out with a machine learning based guitar sim system soon, that I eagerly await to see how it works. It's not the first ML based guitar sim. On github there are a few, but they're fairly basic (although very useable if one is technically savvy). IK Multimedia though, claims to have put together a package that allows the user to use their own gear (or others) to train the dataset. They also claim what amounts to a hard to believe quick time in doing it as well. Machine learning as a process is "sort of" a way to make the numbers of an input dataset be arranged so that they have characteristics of another dataset. This is commonly shown in visual examples, and sometimes in audio where a person is made to speak and sound like someone else. This is accomplished by "training" the ML process on a dataset of examples you want the output to resemble. This requires a LOT of computing horsepower; high end graphics video cards, and hours and hours at a minimum. The longer you let the process cogitate over the dataset, the better/more realistic the output. As well as how currated the training data is. IK Multimedia claims to have this down to 15 minutes. I'm fairly sure they're taking some shortcuts, and it will probably require the user to upload a dataset to a website, where they might have a "farm" of graphic cards to use to train the dataset. However, I'm also fairly sure it will probably create results that will get guitar simulation out of the proverbial Uncanny Valley. The question will be, will they be able to get this out to the public before some other upstart? I've experimented with PyTorch, and some of the ML things on GitHub but quickly realized I need the aforementioned graphics card - and a lot more time and patience with Java, Python to do what I think needs to be done. It wouldn't be much for most competent programmers to put together a ML based guitar sim package; but to make it work for everyone is the trick. I'm very curious to see what IK Multimedia has come up with...

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

10,000 Steps To Playing Guitar?

What's the most common thing a guitar teacher hears? "I didn't have time to practice this week". The 21st century puts everyone in a time crunch. I always recommend having a "sofa guitar" handy in the living room; you can pick it up in all of those liminal moments one encounters there, or even while casually watching something on tv. Learning to compartmentalize small snippets of things to practice, committed to muscle memory, opens the door for (dare I say it...) "mindless repetition" that can be very beneficial. But here's another thing: A lot of people prioritize "getting their 10,000 steps in". Which is sensible, your health is obviously important. A lot/many/most people walk to do it. What if I told you "you can get a strap for your acoustic and practice playing while you walk".......? No, it's not ideal. As a beginner it might seem very cumbersome at first, you will have to commit to having a low wrist and playing by feel instead of by sight. That's ok, even if you're making mistakes; even if you just hold one chord and strum, you're getting exercise in two different ways simultaneously! And you can practice strumming on beat with the cadence of your walk: "on beat" with each step, or a multiple/subdivision. Or other strategies I might suggest as the guitar teacher.... I'm also going to go out on a limb and say the 10,000 steps will go by faster as well! The distraction WILL make it seem less of a chore - for both the walking AND the "guitar practice". I can recommend certain specific things one could do, but as I said, just strumming a chord might be good enough for a lot of people. You're doing an isometric workout, holding the chord down, as well as rhythmic practice in strumming. The next level up would be to change open chords back and forth "blind", not looking down, not trying to look over the front of the neck to see where your fingers are. Keep it simple and basic. Yes, you may attract some attention in your neighborhood or walking path. But maybe that not a bad thing? And it's certainly not as "strange" as some jogging fads that have happened in the past! 10,000 Steps To Playing Guitar, try it...

Friday, July 29, 2022

On Machine Learning and A.I. Technology Used for Guitar Modeling

(excerpted from a recent GS post I made...)

The problem with sims to this point is that:

- Syntax - people using generic terms, or misusing terms
- Apples and oranges - comparing different technologies
- Non-linear vs. snapshot comparisons.


Making an IR that sounds identical to a *static* IR is straight forward, but also Occam's Razor invoking. "Why does it sound identical... sometimes?"
Algorithmic approaches feel better, and *seem* realistic but *not identical*. I can adjust my playing to sort of mimic the Real Thing, but "like a real amp" is not the same thing as "just like a real amp". I love Bandmasters because of the variety of timbre you can get from pick attack, dynamics; you can fake that with Certain Emulations, but it's not as subtle and controllable. I have to exaggerate and worse, think about doing it.

That's no fun.

And speaker IRs are only as good as the engineer that made them, what mic and where they put it on what speaker through what preamp at what level. A greenback sounds different cranked; if you play soft it acts completely different, sounds different. Again, there are ways around that, but it's a kludge and it requires conscious effort.

You can make it work "like a real amp", but not *just* like a real amp.

That's not fun.

All of these things I believe can be fixed, but I'm not sure if the programming talent and effort is in the right place, or guided suitably. They're all almost good, suitable for "most applications", but not exactly the same across all applications.

I think the *curation* at companies has been the most important thing until now, the success of some and the downfall of others. ML/a.i. may make it moot, but the "curation" of the training will still be a factor in the end result production-wise. The end result may be fully convincing, but not in the production style desired, which might be a new problem.

/ $.10

Monday, July 25, 2022

What Guitar Should I Buy (redux)

I'm going to try to make an abbreviated version of this very common question. Just about everything new is "basically ok". This has been the case now for a few years.
If you can spend around $250, it's easy. There are 3 "brands" that immediately come to mind, and surprisingly they're not "the expected names".

Monoprice - who is now selling for the same price through Amazon as through their own website. Yes, the HDMI cable company! Their $110 "strat" clone is probably the most cost effective starter guitar there has been. Manufacturing quality is good, potentially a gig-quality guitar.

Harley Benton - a British mail order brand that is available through the Thomann U.S. website. A bit finicky to locate and order, but this line of guitars are well thought out an "curated" clones of popular guitar models. Maybe a bit more expensive than the Monoprice, and a bit longer to have shipped, but with more variety is you choose to study specifically what you want.

EART - Available on Amazon, you can consider these "upscale cost effective".

That's it. You don't have to have an amp with an electric guitar, you can still hear it unplugged. You can also find little rinky-dink $20 amplifiers on Amazon or Ebay if you hunt for them, although alternately you can no doubt find a used practice/starter/beginner amp on Craigslist or at a pawnshop in the $50 range. How's that for brevity?

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Golden Age of Guitar Consumerism

  "... when I was your age, we put chicken wire strung on nails on a rotten 2 x 4 and called it a "guitar", and darn it, we liked it!!!"


 Guitars have never been more affordable.  That's not the same thing as "cheaper" - technically you could buy guitars at one time for $20 from a Sears and Roebuck catalog - but it wasn't very playable.

 

Inside of a $200 Chinese "generic dreadnaught acoustic" 

 There have been different eras in "Guitar Affordability":

 POST LUTE:

 In this era, at the dawn of the creation of "guitar", you only had the choice of getting a handmade guitar.  The relative cost, and quality, can't be quantified, but undoubtably it was more expensive than now.  Strings were made out of animal guts....

 POST INDUSTRIALIZATION:

 Guitars that were manufactured, albeit by hand.  The dawn of companies like Martin, Gibson.  Relative cost depended on quality again, and given that steel strings started around the very early 1900s, people still often substituted "other found wire" because of cost considerations. "Acceptable action" was probably "not acceptable" by today's standards, something to keep in mind when listening to early wire recordings.

 POST JAPAN/KOREA INDUSTRIALIZATION:

  The beginning of machine fabrication on a large scale.  This is where China is now, except they've got modern machines/tools.  Early examples were pretty crude, but playable (and now coveted by masochistically deranged "Cheap Retro Guitar" collectors...)  Later, some of these guitars were pretty good, good enough to make Gibson sue Ibanez because they were making functional Les Paul copies.  They would still go for around $200+, adjusted for inflation many more hundreds.  The cheap Asian guitars could be found for around $100, $50 in a pawn shop - but the reader must keep in mind that's in 70's/80's dollars.  While the Ibanez guitars approached "modern quality and playability", in general these were not guitars one would want to buy today.  

 From the mid-80s onward Japan took over and invented the "modern high quality cheap guitar".  Ibanez, Tokai, Fender Squire (Fuji Gen Gaki) set a new bar.   Korea entered this field with Westone/Electra, Hondo branded guitars, a forgotten transition-period brand that got lost in the coming Ibanez storm. 

 This is when I started playing guitar.  5 years earlier, and my beginner choices would have been dismal.   At the time in the mid 80s, my only choice was made by a company called Hondo, which is effectively what is now known as the Korean Samick brand.  These were not as good as Ibanez, but not as crummy and unplayable as earlier Asian guitars.  Hondo was "the" beginner guitar for a few years until Ibanez steam rolled the field, requiring Fender to step up with the Squier brand.

 POST 80s IBANEZ/SAMICK DOMINATION - THE CHINESE JUGGERNAUT:

 I can remember when China first came on my radar as a guitar builder around .... 2002?  I started to see various corporate-labeled cheap lines with "Made In China" stickers, and they seemed pretty ok.  But they really stepped it up I think around 2010, and as predicted, were going for a transition from OEM to their own branding.  It was obvious they would do that, and while they're not "technically" branding guitars today, it's now a known phenomenon that "China can make good guitars".

POST ALIEXPRESS AMAZON ERA:

 Now.  China has so subtly maneuvered into dominating the guitar market that it's like they've done shades of marketing.  Very quickly from selling clone guitars on Aliexpress - while being OEM for many brands - to "somehow" being used as OEM for alternate brands (Monoprice), and *winning* by making a better product. 
 
 Now there are the Monoprice guitars, EART, Harley Benton, et al - and they're good guitars, and less than what used to be the equivalent entry level guitar.  While being as good as what used to be a "mid level" guitar, or even higher. 

 What you can get on Amazon for $200 from one of these brands now is astounding to me.   Somewhat of what would be considered an "upper tier" guitar in the 80's.  EART and Harley Benton both offer stainless frets, roasted necks and bodies, great hardware/bridges/tuners, good pickups, and they come set up pretty good as well. 

 When Ibanez had to start offering guitars made outside of Japan, that was a watershed moment.  Maybe Samick, who has massive production facilities in Korea, can hang on?  Hard to know during the covid pandemic, with production being dependent on the health of a lot of workers (note China *does not mess around with trying to knock down covid outbreaks...).   Indonesia has tried to enter this battleground, but they've tried to scale against an already optimized market.

NEXT LEVEL - POST PRODUCTION?

 There isn't a next level.  China is at diminishing returns production wise.  But here is "the next level" that nobody has considered:

 1) Guitars don't evaporate.  They go in a corner, in a closet, under a bed, but they don't go away. 

 2) at this point there are probably enough used guitars on the planet that there is probably a positive ratio of them relative to people that even think for a moment they want to play guitar.  Everyone knows more than one person that plays guitar; I'd even suggest "most families" have a guitar at their disposal.

  3) China has relied on manufacturing *growth*.  The situation with guitar is what I'd think is maybe the penultimate last frontier.  They'll have to go after the car market next (which they are... and the U.S. and EU governments will let them crush our own manufacturers with imports...).  But after that, they're at diminishing reeturns GDP.  Solar will still continue to grow, but as efficiencies go up they'll hit a ceiling pretty quickly in 5 years (particularly as demand scales up due to international energy costs/infrastructure problems).   

 The $200 guitar is almost at a point where one can *objectively* say "that's as good as a manufactured guitar can get".   Meanwhile, if you count how many hundreds of millions of guitars have been made to this date, someone really wanting to learn to play guitar can probably ask around and find someone willing to lend them a guitar, or even have one.  A parent today is likely to have one I'd suggest.   

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Approaching the Uncanny Valley of Guitar Playing

  I've written elsewhere about how a.i./machine learning is going to completely change the musician landscape, as far as production is concerned.

 People do not realize the leap forward we're at right now.  I won't rehash what is available elsewhere, except to say "it's probably not what you imagine it to be".   What is happening with Pytorch/Magenta/Deep Mind etc.  is as big as the Internet was, and will change us and our lives as much as it has. 

 I recently tried the Magenta project's plugin.  The sax version is amazing; it does what I promised would one day happen with ML/a.i. software, in that it doesn't just make the input come out having the timbral sound of "a saxophone", but also the inflections.

  To the reader: if you think what I'm talking about is akin to playing a synthesizer with a saxophone patch, you're wrong.  It is a completely different thing.  The program is doing things the developers literally don't totally understand; it is working on a pure dataset level.  It is NOT a DSP based wave shaping technology.

 It's a bit tricky to handle.  I have to imagine saxophone playing to match the dynamics, attack and vibrato - but when you get it right it's uncanny.  I wish the violin version worked as well, it's very creatively liberating: as far as I'm concerned, I can add a "tenor sax" part to a recording.

  I presume there will be a guitar equivalent soon.  You'll be able to whistle and have it come out with an inflected guitar sound.  The question is in the quality of the model training (that governs the output); as I predicted, soon it will be possible to make a training model create an output that "corrects" a player's dynamics and inflection to sound equivalent to "Stevie Ray Vaughn", "Brian May", etc...

 Unlike the saxophone, though, the variety of guitar sounds I think will make it impossible to have it be flexible enough to cover "all" styles.  And using it will pigeonhole your choices into a certain way of playing, just as the "saxophone" plugin does.  You can't "play" the saxophone plugin like guitar, and have a good result.

 So in the future - people will specialize in how they operate with their ML sounds - after a period of people getting confused/impressed by the realization of the technology actually working.  A period equivalent to "keyboard popped octave bass sample basslines", and then a maturity.

 One downside is that it will making mocking up a cliche clone of a Known Famous Song very easy, and many will do it and garner kudos for it.  The confusing effect of this is going to be a big negative.

 Another potential negative is - a company will jump on this to have it in a guitar amp.  I've been saying this for awhile: a beginner amp with this technology can have a couple of presets that will not only yield an output that sounds just like the original recording of a Famous Player, but correct dynamics and probably pitch as well.   Harmony will be a problem I think for a few years, but "lead guitar playing" is about to undergo a disaster in that people will think even less of the skillset required to ACTUALLY DO A GUITAR SOLO.   

 A renaissance mentality will maybe become a trendy thing, hopefully.  



 


Monday, June 13, 2022

More Golf to Guitar Analogies

 You can putt from 3 inches away with a consistency equivalent to Tiger.

 You can't play the whole game the same.

 But you can find things on guitar that are "3 inches away" that are easily doable, and rewarding.  A problem I see a lot these days are people watching YouTube and getting the impression that what "learning guitar" is about is the equivalent of mastering golf on a PGA level.  

 And it only taking a year or so.

 Instead, there are aspects that are equivalent to putting, driving, getting out of sand traps.  There is the basic skill set, "learning to swing", which might be akin to playing open chords properly.  Changing between open chords is a fundamental skill that is completely overlooked by most - but the foundation of the skills required to do everything is set by what happens with the "simple" "cowboy chords".

 Driving, maybe the endurance to complete a song.  It's difficult for me to get someone to work on a song to completion; I can't provide what is really self-motivation, only bolster.   For kids, learning songs has a competitive aspect, wanting to know more than Timmy down the street does.  Later on it's not a lot different, there is still something of a pecking order when adults get together to jam.  But for someone not at that point starting out, it you're not surrounded by friends playing the motivation can be tough to want to practice a song to the end.

 Putting might be akin to the finesse required for soloing.   But again - a very short putt can be accomplished by just about anybody, and likewise there are very simple "solo bits" people can learn that can lead to making a longer and longer putt.  But getting the satisfaction of the ball going in the hole initially has to be present.  Again what I see a lot of people do these days is expect to make a 20 foot putt over and over, and to "practice" by driving at it frantically a few times and getting mad.  

 Getting out of sand traps: specialty movement.  There are particular, "kinesthetically fun" things to learn that are unique physical things to play.  Learning to navigate them - get out of the trouble they seemingly put your hands in - is rewarding.  You can feel like you physically accomplished something in a specific way.

 I do think these analogies make golf enthusiasts particularly prepared for learning to play guitar, but hopefully the analogies can flick a switch on for others as to how to *approach* learning to play guitar.



Monday, June 6, 2022

2022 NAMM Show Guitars

  I did not go this year.  So all of this is theoretically anecdotal, but...


 It looks like manufacturers are entering a state of frustration.  Lots of wild colors - it would seem they're almost touching on revisiting some of the visual tropes of the mid-80s: lots of turqoise, purple, magenta.  

 And from Ernie Ball, the Kaizan - a crazy angular guitar that would have been seen in the early 80s in New Wave videos?  The secondary "private company" guitars displayed also appear to be touching on the same aesthetically garish traits of the 80s, leaning on geometrical basics instead of French curve based shapes.  

  Then there is the "signature" problem.  There was a time when I went through a phase of using the infamous Dunlop Jazz III pick, a tiny red nylon design with a pointy tip.  Then one day it became the "Eric Johnson signature pick".  Eric wasn't the first to use those picks, and I'm not endorsing Eric, so I though it a good time to try something else.

 Likewise, I'm definitely not paying $$$$ for a guitar with somebody else's name on it, unless it's Leo Fender, John Suhr, PRS or Tom Anderson.  All of which are now making a lot of "Joe Blow Model" guitars.  No, I don't want somebody else's idea about what a guitar should be, and I don't want to see or even know their name is affiliated with the guitar I'm holding.  No offense to said players.  At least the Jeff Gordon model Gibson Les Paul hasn't been brought back?

 But overall it seems/feels like they're all in a mode of "we've got to do SOMETHING new/different", when in reality they don't.  It's like web pages that become popular - MySpace, Digg, Reddit, Facebook, etc., that want to "improve the experience" endlessly when in reality they have maybe reached a moment of sartori in optimization for the user.  For some of those web sites their "new, improved" versions turned off their user base and they went under.

 For Fender, Gibson - they really need to just calm down, par down what they offer.  Try to be leaner, cheaper, and more consistent so that when someone says "go buy a Strat/Les Paul" it doesn't take an hour to explain which one.  And certainly don't come out with something that looks like an attachment to an old Cadillac, or a Gundam.




Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Mountain Biking Ain't Like Dusting Crops (but May Be Like Playing Guitar?)

  I think there is an analogy to be made between the phenomenon of what gets YouTube clicks in mountain biking, and playing guitar.

The author "sending it"

  Having been into BMX semi-seriously for many years as a kid - at the end I had converted my half-pipe skateboard ramp into a BMX-capable quarter pipe, a good 8' tall rickety Ramp 'O Injuries. I suppose this was around the age of 14-15, and I'd soon have a car and then, become a Guitarist.  1983-84.

  I started mountain biking in, I think, 1992.  I wanted to ride bikes for recreation again, but something less serious (and dangerous) than BMX.   Twice a week I'd take my respectable $500 non-suspension MTB a few miles out of town to ride a few trails in the area.  

It was FUN.

 The only concept to "mountain biking" back then was, ride a bike on trails in the woods.  You could still spend money on making your bike lighter, which made it easier to get up hills (mountain biking USED to be about going UP hills as well as down...), maneuver around Minor Obstacles.

 It started becoming mainstream popular around about 1994.  Some musician friends got into it, and we'd go riding as a group sometimes.

 It was FUN.

 Then, people started getting more serious about it.  You had to "huck" off of drops; you had to HAMMER a trail as fast as possible.  Otherwise, you were lame and a squid.  

 Suddenly, these concepts - you were either RACING or being EXTREME and RAD - overtook the premise of simply riding a bike in the woods.  The more "casual riding" people I rode with found reasons not to go riding anymore.

 Then, the mountain bike industry realized (like used guitars...) bikes last a fairly long time.  So, they came up with propaganda to sell more bikes: 

You HAD to have a full suspension bike (not really), you HAD to have expensive and finicky (and dangerous) clipless pedals, and the 26" wheel standard - a BIG wheel I thought coming from 20" BMX bikes - was declared OLD and RETRO.  

You now HAD to have 27.5" wheels, which meant a new bike. 

 Then, they told you that you must have 29" wheels.  Another new bike.  THEN, tubeless tires: effectively no inner tube (very uncool...), glued-on tires.  A big pain to maintain, expensive.

 Meanwhile, hucking off of things turned into 10'+ drops, 10-20' gap jumps, things that previously were considered reserved for sponsored pros.

 YouTube happened.  Suddenly "mountain biking" on YouTube became endless videos of RAD dudes and dudettes, going very fast downhill on $10,000 bikes, clearing professional motocross scale jumps and drops.

 You don't really see the people crashing and going to the hospital.  Just lots of bright and shiny people being RAD.  Are you rad?  If you can't hang with this seen obviously you're not!  

 Do you even really ride mountain bikes?   How much does your bike cost?  You've never been to Whistler Colorado?  Never cleared a 25' gap?  Squid.  You suck.  Your bike costs less than $5,000?  Poser.

 I don't see many people riding mountain bikes for FUN anymore.  Not in the numbers I saw in the 90s, not by far.  I'm quite sure between the MANDATORY gear upgrades and the necessity to SEND IT, DUDE as fast and recklessly as possible, most people are turned off.  It's all you see on YouTube as "mountain biking".

 Guitar playing is almost exactly the same in a relative way.   But you're older... 

 You start out for yourself, it's fun.  Some friends might play, or decide to play.  BUT....

 You start watching YouTube and see what appears to be "everybody" playing guitar on a professional level, and often combined with Distinctively Bewildering Insights being conveyed.  

 I think right now, YouTube is "disincentivizing" the motivation to play guitar for similar reasons that I think mountain biking.  The mystery and self-discovery is removed.

 Sitting on your sofa, instead of getting on your bike and actually riding a trail yourself, is NOT MOUNTAIN BIKING.  Nor is watching a video of someone playing guitar.  You are missing the best, and most important element that is really down to the fundamental concept of BEING.  You're making a withdrawal from The Bank of Motivation, without any way of making a deposit later to up the value of your savings.  



Monday, May 16, 2022

The Educational Value of the First 3 Dave Matthews Band Records

    I find myself revisiting the Dave Matthews catalog, as I have a acoustic guitar student that needs a bit of a challenge in a specific area: 16th note rhythms.

 Without delving into the more repetitive funk catalog - with the likes of Chic, Ohio Players, James Brown et al, it escaped me for a bit to think of something the student could reference that wouldn't be too repetitive (although that wouldn't be a bad thing).





 The 2000s!  

 The first 3 Dave Matthews Band records/cds are very unique.  They feature very busy, guitar intensive themes in a pop music setting.  Something that I don't know of having happened before or since.  

 There have been other high marks "guitar lesson era wise", but I would say a couple were even dependent upon being ancestral to the DMB era.  I would tentatively suggest Jack Johnson's popularity resides in echoing some of the pseudo-funk rhythms of DMB, and maybe Jason Mraz benefitted from DMB popularity as well.  Early John Mayer I would argue relied a lot on superficially sonically having many of the same ingredients at the pinnacle of the DMB era.  Years beyond, in a more deprecatory way Ed Sheeran perhaps benefitted: it now seems like there has to always be a "present default acoustic-singer artist" where there hadn't been one since the songwriter era of the 70s.

 Because it was pop music - very popular music, as in for a few years maybe a 1/3rd of my clientele was motivated to learn Dave Matthews Band songs - the average nascent guitar player had a fairly high bar set for them, but also the reward factor was very high.

 The perceived social popularity of "playing guitar" has a magical, invisible effect.  Motivation is mostly determined by it I've found; and motivation elevates.  The "average skill" level during what I think of as "the Dave Matthews era" was a peak only matched by when I started teaching back in the late 80's during the Hair Metal Era.  

 The biggest thing was 16th note right hand subdivision, followed by strumming and single note combinations being such an integral part of DMB songs.  Effectively in "high gear" technique wise, it allowed a lot of students to transition to other things.  I'd go as far as to say from this era a particular local artist sprung to being a national success, which lead to other things - but I digress.


 16th note right hand parts;
 Articulate single note lines;
 Overall uptempo phrasing;
 Prerequisite partial/full bar chord fingerings -

Leeds the novice Dave Matthews Band fan to many other things, because the variety of the above allows for more options than a lower bar.  

 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Musical Narcissists?

  I recently saw somewhere that there are people that want to take a revisionist approach to music history.  More specifically, in regards to the venerable Yamaha DX7 keyboard, that they were "never cool".




  There are certain DX7 patches/sounds that I like, but there are a lot I hate, that were overused IMO during the 80s.  The reason they were overused, though, is because THEY WERE COOL.   I would suggest we're in a transitory phase for the DX7 where it's becoming "classic", but not classic enough in the sense that people have decided to base songs around them again.

 There were keyboards originally marketed for a certain kind of music: the Hammond organ, Farfisa, Rhodes, etc. that were used in a "cool" context at the time, but then re-entered creative music use later.  The Hammond sound - a "church organ" - evoked a certain thing, maybe "what you hear in church", "what my parents like", until it faded out and then came back in a different context.

 Now it's just "a Hammond sound".  Which can be found in all genres of music, and doesn't imply a specific era anymore.  I think the DX7 is about to become a similar thing, the "uncool now" connotations fading to become another classic.

 BUT, I made a post on a message board about the concept of "Musical Narcissism".   Something I've seen many, many times: thinking one's perspective is magically "cool" enough to say another's is not, despite evidence to the contrary.  I don't care for disco, but it was definitely a cool thing in the mid-70s; likewise, there are a lot of disco references in modern pop music; it's faded away long enough to now be a "classic" sound choice.

 Below is the quick blathering post I made on the topic:

 "
It was very cool at the time.

People that want to say something isn't cool that was once in style - bell bottom jeans, horn rimmed glasses, gated reverb, whatever - are the musical equivalent of being narcissistic. They think their subjective opinion is an empirical scale that is always ascending, when just about everything can be a parabola.

One either feels cognitive dissonance when revisiting an old place, because the context around it has changed - or they reject reality as it once was.

If one wasn't around when the DX7 happened, then saying it was "never cool" is musical narcissism: they're ignoring reality while not realizing people *see* them ignoring reality.

I *don't like* the DX7 sound in a modern context, BUT - I *can* imagine it being popular again if recontexturalized. The sound of the 80s carried a lot of tropes with it simultaneously, which makes it easy to mock (or dislike), but those things can be used in a fresh way individually (tinkly DX7 patches, rhythmically timed non-linear reverb, Yamaha or Linn drum machine sounds, etc.).

If anything, the DX7 lends itself to... overtly cheery sounds, fey pads, which is not my taste but a lot of people definitely liked. I wish I had a "DX7 remover", along with a "non-linear reverb" remover - which could happen with ML/GAN trickery."

 


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Golfers Make Good Guitar Students?

  The Augusta National has just passed in my hometown.

Golf equivalent of a perfectly preserved 1968 Marshall plexi


 Which makes this post a bit late, but now that I'm "here", I'd like to say:

 Golfers make for good guitar students!

 They usually have a more humble attitude towards expectations upon starting.  Perhaps because you're always humbled playing golf, but it's good to know where the target is, but not to expect to reach it next week.  Or next month.  Or next year.  Golfers seem to have a better grasp on the long view.  

 Which is good for playing and making music.  Reflexive immediacy, expecting things NOW has wrecked modern society: nothing worth doing is easy.  Music has been devalued monetarily, but it still plays a role in the daily lives of most everybody; it's a significant thing that takes time to learn as a skill, craft, and to create.

 Golfers also seem to have a good awareness of practice concepts.  There isn't one overriding method in golf, many approaches to honing skills, and in different aspects.  Which of course translates to learning to play the guitar.  Some people try to "learn" to play guitar the way some people play Putt Putt: just wack the ball hard and it will hopefully bounce off some things, maybe a clown and an orange barrier, and somehow careen into the hole.

 Which is comical, but as I'm writing that I'm realizing there is profound truth in that.  If you watch people play Putt Putt/miniature golf, some just can't help but to just randomly "wack" the ball. It's a waste of time, but they can't help themselves.  Why are they bothering to do an activity in such a ridiculous fashion?

 Because it worked one time!   

 They got a crazy dopamine kick off of it, and tied to the "success" the feedback loop created means they try to recreate the moment again... and again... and again.  They're not getting better, they're not increasing their skills, they're not scoring - they're wasting time.

  Maybe a complete novice somewhere got a hole in one first time out playing real golf.  But probably not....

 On guitar, it's similarly deceptive as the miniature golf accidental hole in one, AND more involved than the real golf hole in one.  But the same feedback loop applies: the novice accidentally knocks out something they didn't expect.  Maybe for the first time they play something that sounds "pro", or recognizable. 

 They get that reinforcing dopamine kick.  Which is good!  It should act as impetus to play more!  But unfortunately - and I think this is a byproduct of 21st century society - that experience is interpreted as "I did that easy, it took little effort; I can do it again, recreate this experience endlessly, with the same effortless ease!".

 Furthermore, what wrecks the new student is seeing a gazillion people on Youtube seemingly pulling things off with effortless ease!

 As a guitar teach I see this phenomenon in a lot of people, and it's difficult to combat.  It's an unseen aspect of teaching guitar that is tenuous, hopefully I'm able to help people with that.  Watching Youtube certainly doesn't help, it's creating a negative feedback loop as described above, whether people realize it or not. 

Golfers realize watching doesn't make them better, they know pretty clearly they have to DO, they have to practice/play as much as possible.

 "But that's not fun!" some will say.

 That's the problem: not realizing the value in what you're doing.  It should be perceived as a lot of fun.  You're learning to do something that only a tiny, tiny portion of the population of the whole planet can do.  Unlike golf, something in every day life for everybody, almost a constant.  It should be thought of as "I'm at Amen Corner, and I just made a chip shot in a situation Tiger Woods did".   Except in golf, you can't replicate that experience without being a member of the Augusta National and have extraordinary golf skills.  
 
 On the other hand, you *can* replicate a phrase Brian May played in Bohemian Rhapsody, or a riff Billy Gibbons played.  Without leaving your house, and you can show your buddies you can do it, and you can build on millions of such examples the rest of your life.

 But you're probably never going to make a hole in one in Augusta.  Knowing that creates a good attitude towards learning to play an instrument.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Another New York Times Piece on Guitar?

 

 This time an oblique swipe at guitar solos.




 It's curious that they seem to like to write articles implying "this thing I'm writing about, heh heh heh, we all know is passe.... but *I* know what cool about it, I'm be self-referentially cool by telling you".  

"It's easy to dismiss the guitar solo as an outdate, macho institution"

 Pretty much the Rolling Stone formula of non-musicians being critical of POPULAR musician's choices.  It's an inclusive trick: because you're reading their article, you're included in their Hip Circle.  

 Meanwhile I'm trundling along giving guitar lessons, in which wanting to learn to play solos is anything but dead.  


 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Should You Boycott Harley Benton?

 So some guys on YouTube say you should boycott Harley Benton because the guitar at the top is a rip off of the guitar below it:



Harley Benton Nylon NT
Taylor TZ


  At least, I think these are the 2 guitars in question?

 Which is the gist of my post here: they are similar, but not exact - despite hyperbole.

 Many differences: knobs, fingerboard extension, sound holes are different, body size/geometry different, bridge different.  They look similar (unless I've got the wrong guitars?), but it's variations on a theme.

 A theme that Taylor didn't invent.  The first thing I think of when I see both is a combination of the following:


Godin MultiAc



..and:


Ovation Adamas


Rickenbacker 360



 The aesthetic is a combination of established elements.   From a design intellectual property standpoint, there is nothing new.  From a functional standpoint there isn't, either.

 Nobody is buying the $400 guitar thinking it's a Taylor.  But more importantly - and this is the real point - Taylor isn't losing any customers for it's $2,200 guitar.

 Nobody is walking into a Taylor dealership, thinking they want the Taylor and then settling for the Harley Benton.  Nobody.  Just like nobody walks into a Fender dealership wanting to order a Custom Shop Stratocaster, and then settles for a Harley Benton strat.  

 Which is a whole lot closer aesthetically and functionally than the Harley Benton and the Taylor.

  Unless one wants to restart the stratocaster clone wars and go off on a jihad against everybody that makes a strat style guitar, the Taylor vs. Harley Benton issue is a non-issue in my opinion.   The guys in the Youtube video sells both Fender and PRS: do they want you to boycott PRS Silversky models.......?  


 




Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Tube Shortage Hype Part 2

  It looks like Mike Matthews has gotten around the Russian sanctions somehow?   That story seems a bit obfuscated, in that it's not *Russia* imposing the sanctions - as the stories I've seen tell?   

However, digging through Chinese websites reveals a number of "small" companies claiming to be producing tubes.  As well as selling *Russian* tubes, which leads me to posit:

 You probably can get Russian tubes through a Chinese source on Aliexpress.  China is still doing business with Russia; and while the prices aren't cheap, I would suspect some of the older "established" shops are fencing tubes from the Tesla plant.

  It also looks like the Pjvane plant in China has acquired the Changsa Shuguang tooling?  So again, I think in a few months once the backlog shakes out there will be more stable sources.  


 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Is the Amplifier Tube Shortage Hype?

   Much is being made about the Coming Tube Apocalypse: that sanctions on Russia means "it's going to be impossible to get vacuum tubes soon!".


Tubes.


 From what I understand a number of tube specialist companies have already run out of stock.  As well as a couple of amp companies.

 The problems is.... as far as I know there are only 2 tube manufacturing facilities in Russia.  One is owned by Mike Matthews / Electro Harmonix.  I believe EH rebrands their tubes for a lot of "names", Sovtek, TungSol, Svetlana, Mullard.  In turn I would expect these to disappear.  

 But JJ makes tubes in Slovakia, which as far as I know has no export restrictions.  I see JJ tubes more often than anything else; and China has a few plants that have been making OEM tubes forever.  There is no reason these will go away.  Furthermore, there was a time not too long ago there were much fewer plants producing new tubes than what we have now, without the Russian sources.  

 So I'm not afraid that tubes are going away.  There is a run on tubes right now, and people have marked up the prices accordingly.  Thought they've marked up a lot, it looks like you can still get sub-$20 12ax7 preamp tubes on Aliexpress right now - close to $12 if you buy in bulk.  Shuguang, some claiming to be Russian NOS.  Not graded, but they're there.  

 What I expect to happen is that once China notices (probably via metrics on Aliexpress and Amazon drop shipping), as they always do, ramp up production to take over the market.  There will be $12 12ax7s again, and reasonably priced EL34s, 6L6s and 6v6s again by the end of the year.  

 BUT - there will be people making money off of the "scarcity".  Guitar amp companies, even amp repair guys, have stocks of tubes.  in fact, it used to be you'd see them sort of casual brag about it, "oh yeah, I buy boxes and boxes of them".  They won't be running out of tubes, but they'll no doubt charge accordingly.  I would think this *shouldn't* affect amp prices on the lower end, because companies like Fender and Marshall have bought pallets of tubes before this came up, and aren't picking over them like a boutique company would.  And the boutique makers in general have equivalent supplies.

 I suspect the Larger Boutique manufacturers, though, will get a bit of a margin boost.  Or not.  If China doesn't step up and we get an OPEC like tube supply chain, then I think they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot: as new generations of guitarists happen, the desire for tube amps over modelers wane.  This will just hasten making actual tube amps more marginal.


 



 

Monday, March 7, 2022

Acoustic Guitar Purchasing Dilemmas (circa 2022)

 As a general rule, I think for most people the following made sense for the past 20+ years:


 Buy your first "introductory" guitar.   One takes a chance here, because it's probably not going to be very playable or sound nice.  This is usually without advice from me, and usually takes the form of a guitar that comes in a "pack" deal, somewhere in the $100-150 ball park.

  What I'd advise then would be a "compromise" guitar.  Something better than the above, but not a "real" acoustic guitar.  The advice would be to get the nicest possible with a solid spruce top, with consideration for a pickup system.  Epiphone and Seagull/LasSiDo has been a good choice in this category, .

 Then, I would advise to try not to buy another UNTIL one could afford either a Martin D28, or a 600-700 series Taylor.  Because - in between you're either paying for cosmetics, or another compromise, and these 2 are effectively where "professional, standard issue" acoustic guitars start.  But the main reason was - and I've been saying this for decades now - 


 "there will come a time when it will basically be impossible for you to consider buying a Martin D28.  Try to get one now if you can".

 For a long time $1,000 was the Magical Professional Price Point.  The "nice" guitars started there, or from another perspective, that was how much a Les Paul or D28 would cost.  In the late 90s D28s started creeping up in price; by the 2000s it was going up about $100 a year.  

 A D28 now costs $3,000.  While my perspective may be skewed - my income from teaching guitar has lagged inflation, effectively flat for my whole life, I can no longer advise someone to stretch their second-guitar budget to a D28.  Those days are over; trying to stretch $600,700 or even $800 to that Previously Magical $1,000 landmark was a tough ask, but $3,000 is ridiculous.

 Meanwhile, from what I've seen the sub <$500 price point has gotten better.  EXCEPT:


  • Manufacturing quality is sort of all over the place;
  • Traditional woods are harder to find.
 

 Which is why my advice is somewhat more ambiguous now:

 Try to get a solid SPRUCE top guitar first and foremost.  The Seagull brand is a cut above quality wise IMO; a less traditional choice of cedar for a top, buy probably a better deal if you're looking to get a guitar to actually use in public.  
 
 Secondly, instead of trying to stretch to get a D28 or Taylor/"?" equivalent,

 Try to find a guitar made of the traditional woods: spruce top; mahogany neck; rosewood or ebony fingerboard; mahogany or rosewood back/sides.  Because this is the formula for what you're used to hearing on recordings as a "standard acoustic guitar".  Scarcity is forcing manufacturers to substitute other woods, some working better than others.  

 What that means is that getting around that $1,000 mark means there are a couple of Epiphone, Yamaha models, and Seagulls that meet that bill.  Those manufacturers still exhibit a fair standard of quality; you're effectively purchasing an "off brand Martin".  They don't have the name cachet, but effectively speaking are still fine guitars.  

 Because where my advice once was "there will be a time when you won't be able to buy a Martin D28", I'm now stating "there will be a time when you can't buy an acoustic guitar made of the traditional acoustic guitar woods".


$.10, YMMV.



Monday, January 31, 2022

Chip is Short... Yeah, but.. No, the Chip Shortage

  A student told me original Boss DS-1 pedals are going for hundreds of dollars on Reverb.  

 So I had to look, it seems ridiculous.  The DS-1 is probably the most ubiquitous, generic distortion pedal there is, at one point I received one as a bonus for buying something else that was only a couple hundred dollars itself; I never used it, but now I've got to go rummage around in the shed to see if I still have it.



 The chip shortage is having a knock-on effect on other things in the guitar gear realm.  The chip in the original DS-1 has gone out of production, and it has nothing to do with the headline news story about the actual "chip shortage".  A lot of integrated chips have gone out of production before the situation occurred with the factory fire + global shut down "chip shortage", but wasn't the cause of any run on pedals except with the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer variants.

  The subtlety of the 4558 variations that were used in Tube Screamers (and clones) are ultra-cork sniffery.  I've got .... 4 Tube Screamers/variations with one inside, and there would be no way I could tell if the chip was a "vintage" one or not, there are too many ancillary things going on with them in the circuit design.  People compare what they say is "identical" pedals, but they haven't examined the resistor values, the input impedance, what things have drifted out of spec within a "vintage" pedal.  It's not actually empirical, and yet, it's still so close that nobody will hear the difference except the cork sniffer doing the A/B test.  

  I guess I need to go see if I can find the pedal.  I think they're ok, good all-purpose distortion pedals that will get someone by in just about any stylistic situation if need be.  They tend to make everything sound similar, which could be a good or bad thing.  For me, the nature of the way they compress combined with the eq makes me play things I start hearing as "Steve Vai", so I don't use them.  That very thing makes them good for "fast technical playing" IMO for that reason, they help you out so to speak, in that they even out your single note playing really well while maintaining articulation.  But to my ears it's Steve's sound, so I look elsewhere.

 "Chip, in the 21st century a USED Boss DS-1 will sell for hundreds of dollars" - I don't know if I would have believed that 30 years ago!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Craigslist Music Gear Prices are Insane!

  

 A curious phenomenon has occurred slowly over the past few years.

 Prices on Craigslist are almost wholly unrealistic to the point of being comical.   

 "Back in the day" you expected 20-30% off list price for a new piece of music gear.  Likewise if you *really* wanted to sell it afterwards, it had to be close to 50% list price, or lower.  

 Because...


 THAT MADE SENSE.


 But now, there is this mindset I've heard echoed by a number of people:

 "I'm selling my Something or Other, for (GC price) since it's almost brand new/great condition/similar to when I bought it".

  It's ... peculiar.  Would you have wanted to buy your used gear for basically the same price you paid for it new?  Of course not.  But effectively all of the listings on Craigslist ARE nearly the same price as brand new from GC.  10% off what you paid for it isn't what it's actually worth.

 So there must be piles of used music gear accumulating on the planet!  It doesn't evaporate.  The $100 beginners guitar in the closet that, for some reason, didn't sell on Craigslist for $90 isn't turning into air.  

 I know that there are people that somehow are actually buying used gear for these prices. They're of what used to be the Casual Vintage Guitar Wheeler-Dealer persona.  But it's ridiculous seeing things on Craigslist (or Reverb.com) for weeks, months, that are going to end up in a closet, because "it's in mint condition!".   

 Possibly in turn this could be a panacea for music stores.  People look at these prices, and think "well, I can just order that online and have it here brand new in a few days for basically that price".  The Music Retailer thinks "business is good", and doesn't want to budge from MAP, and then the Music Manufacturer thinks "look at our orders; we need to raise prices!". 

 Craigslist seller can wait a few years, and then his price becomes "acceptable"?  Auto-vintage?  Inflated prices doesn't mean everything is going to sell for what you paid for it.  



 

Friday, January 7, 2022

"Rhythmic tuning" is Just as bad as Auto Tune!

  A company has released a DAW plugin that is supposed to replicate Kurt Cobain strumming, so a keyboard player can "play" a sound with a similar rhythm.

 Which is ... sad as it is, but the curious thing is that in the demo the "strumming" sounds pseudo-realistic - for a 1/2 measure.  It goes wrong after that, which I could explain technically why, but that's not the point.  The demo is lauded by people as being great, but apparently they're all completely not noticing the timing is wrong.  
 
 The amusing thing here is, after having shown the song it's meant to replicate to "a lot of students", I've noticed similar problems.  There are about 3 different problems with how people play the rhythm I've seen.  

  The impetus of this blog post though, is that I'm dismayed that so many are really not perceiving the timing nuance.  It's really the essence of what makes it "rock", and .... yeah.  While I've noticed this with students trying to *play* things with rhythmic nuance, I've not had a codified example of people not hearing it in the first place.  

 It makes me wonder both how people are perceiving a lot of music, as well as why they enjoy it.  If they didn't then that would make sense, but this is odd.   It's like people claiming to like sushi, but not noticing a difference between Kroger sushi and good sushi.  It's both "sushi", but.... if you can't tell the difference,... how .. why....?  Uhg.

 Is the popularity of music declining?  Rock music?  Micro-rhythmic nuance is an "invisible" aspect of music that is easy to dismiss because it seems to be such a small fraction of the Big Picture, when in reality it's just as important as anything else.  The "foot tap invocation" power is completely missing today, except in the premise that a perfectly on beat kick drum playing quarter notes *does* invoke that phenomenon - but *isn't the only way to do that*.

 A great drummer has a subtle wizardry to them that can do that, but with more *nuance* than just "dit, dit, dit, dit". I'm afraid hearing that subtlety has left the building of the generation growing up on music of the last 20 years, that is devoid of it thanks to perfect computer corrected timing.  Except without hearing anything else other than metronomic perfection, there is no experience that has taught that appreciation of nuance.  

 Another reason to take guitar lessons I suppose, but it does not bode well for the future of music.