How to Score Black Friday Musical Instruments – the ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ Way!

Black Friday Musical InstrumentsIs there ever a day more akin to Christmas to G.A.S. sufferers than Black Friday??

What opportunities!!

What inspirations!!

What a sudden glut of zeros on our bank account statement!!

So let your love affair begin, and let these tips get you ready to…put a ring on it!!

“Who Do Ya Love? Now Who Do Ya Love…?”

It goes without saying (and yet, here I am….saying it!) that, to quote the inimitable Joe Jackson, “You can’t get what you waaaaant, ’til you know what you waaaaant.” You’ll make things a whole lot easier on yourself and her on Black Friday if you’ve done your research, picked your bride, and are simply ready to walk him/her down the aisle….to the “Checkout” page!

Three options will prepare you:

  • Research online
  • Research in your local stores
  • Research both

Totally your call, but I recommend the third option. There’s just something that really ties the knot when you’ve held your beloved after choosing him/her from amidst the other options that are alluring, yet somehow lack that…certain something.

Online research is good for checking out the features and benefits of a given instrument or product, and then comparing it against what you have ascertained is the perfect fit for your style, studio setup or production needs.

In-store shopping is excellent for what really matters in audio – how does it SOUND?? Go in there, pick up instruments and PLAY them. There’s no substitute for experiencing the sound-producing qualities (or sub-par traits) of a given instrument. When it comes to musical instruments, until you hear it, you just don’t know.

One quick caveat though: know what your budget is going in to this. A four or five-thousand-dollar instrument is obviously going to make most of us salivate and quote love poems, but if you know that the best you can muster is under $700, then by all means don’t tease yourself into misery – try ones that fit your budget so you can have a successful end to this courting tale.

No More Dumb-bow – This Elephant’s FLYIN’!

Case in point: three years ago I went to a store called Shar in Ann Arbor, Michigan to check out their “Pre-Christmas Sale”. It is the premiere shop for any orchestral stringed instrument. They are indeed, in a word….awesome.

I had started learning violin two years previous was in the market for a new violin bow. The one I had was a beginner model and I was wondering if a new bow would improve my fiddle tone at all.

Upon arriving, I asked the Shar representative if I could try any violin bows under $500 (see? I knew my budget). I had brought my violin with me so I could hear the end sound product. She soon had graciously brought me a large drawer upon which was sitting about 14 violin bows. She explained to me the basic divisions of each kind and then ushered me to a practice room where I could try each one to my heart’s content.

If you would have told me before that day that violin bows can influence your tone dramatically, I would have listened, but been pretty skeptical. Not anymore. I couldn’t believe the different frequencies that each bow brought out of my fiddle! Two in particular stood out as the clear winners as I played, so I then put those two to the ultimate test: I recorded myself playing with both on my smart phone and then listened objectively (a method of decision-making I highly suggest). The recording made it clear which made me sound like Heifetz on a mountaintop, so I marched right out to the register singing “Got to Get You Into My Life” (the EWF version, my personal favorite)!

So if you can, get in a store and decide upon the specific make, model and variation of the instrument you want. That way, if you do buy online, you have the assurance that you’ll like the exotic damsel that shows up at your door swaying and singing your name.

Crave, but Save!

Once your heart is set on him/her, the most important thing you’re gonna need to woo her to your world is….MONEY, of course. Kinda hard to get around that one. Since you’ve already chosen a specific instrument, look online and find the lowest possible price on it right now. You know on Black Friday it’ll be less than that probably, but for now let that be your maximum price.

Next question: do you currently have that total, set aside, in your bank, or available on your credit card? If not, you must start RIGHT NOW putting aside some cash every payday that will get you to your goal. If you’re really smart you will have a bank savings account (or a drawer in your studio!) all year long, that you stash cash in just for this day. Even call it “BLACK FRIDAY BOOTY”. It sounds pirate-y and makes the bankers wonder, especially if you’re wearing an eye-patch!

Follow this advice and you will have a rich, wondrous rendezvous every year with a website of your choosing. It might not be on top of the Empire State building like our mentioned movie, but, with today’s smart phones….it could be.

Request and be Blessed!

The other idea to make the most of this day takes a little more patience, but still ends up in celebration – even more so because it’s shared with other people. This is a great tactic for those who know that they just won’t have enough cash to get what they need/want on the big day.

The method? Ask your loved ones to buy it for you or chip in on it with you for Christmas! This suddenly increases the funds such that the instrument you desire might be in reach. It’s a win/win – your family gets you something they KNOW you’ll love and you….well, you get to feel the love, both from them and, come the yuletide, your new beloved that’ll be waiting under the tree!

My personal experience with this? I found a guitar on EBay some years back that looked SO COOL – it was A Les Paul-type electric, covered with dragon motif Purfling on the pickguard and up the entirety of the neck. The Seller had forgotten to, um….put the word “guitar” in the heading, so, I kid you not, I ended up being the only one to bid on it. And the starting bid? $230 – with a hard-shell case.

BU-YAH!!!

Waking up that Christmas morning, I almost felt like I was 5 again; it was that exciting and fulfilling. Try it. I guarantee you’ll like it!

The Early Riffing Bird…

If you or a loved one is gonna buy for you on Black Friday, score your purchase in the morning. Don’t wait. Many products end up being sold out and you don’t want that disappointment. Remember, there are millions of people online all trying to get the best deal. Girls, don’t let your hot stud of an instrument be stolen by some other hussy! Guys, don’t let your lovely lady be swept away ‘cuz your pillow felt good. Tine to make the doughnuts! Be like David Lee Roth: get up, and don’t let nothin’ get you down!

When you’ve grabbed your coffee, sit down and start surfing. Check any and all websites that list your instrument, and if you’ve risen early…no need to rush. Be thorough and you’re bound to find your beauty able to be freed for less money than you’ve seen yet. It doesn’t happen every time; some websites are obviously still living in the 80s and keeping their marketing heads in the sand by not offering Black Friday specials. Let’s give our hard-earned cash to those who cut us deal after deal. That’ll teach ’em!

On a Clear Day You Can See….Your Tracking Number!

Finally, in true romantic comedy fashion, if you’ve done the work to find your love; if you’re ready for the moment you propose; if you’re there with cash in hand and a winning smile to melt circuit–laden heart…then, don’t be shy – put a ring on it! Make the commitment! It’ll be worth it, and you’ll always have Paris…uh, well, I mean you’ll always have a great Black Friday story to share with your friends, family, children, grand-children, great-grand-children, great-great-grand-children, great-great-great-grand….

Now – go…make…sounds.

Teaj

“Hey, Mr. Colaiuta – what’s the best beginner snare drum, ya think??”

best beginner snare drum

If only we all could ask the greatest players of every instrument, like Vinnie, such questions.

Something tells me there’d be a lot fewer Chinese knock-offs in our kits!

If you’re new to the snare world, or even drums in general, welcome!! It’s a world of laughter! A world of tears! It’s a….oh, no, wait that’s…something else entirely….

Actually, It’s a world of cool, crackin’ sounds that move yo’ booty and sing like Hootie! And, as I tell my students, playing drums has an aggressive, barbaric, ‘Incredible Hulk’ kind of vibe that I don’t get from any other instrument. When drums play it’s not just a sound…it’s an INVASION!!

If you’re trying to find out what the best beginner snare drum is, then I’m guessing you’re coming from one of two potential places:

  1. You’re a young rocker who wants to learn some radio songs and get noticed by the opposite sex, or
  2. You’re in school, starting to play in the marching band, you’re looking for a concert snare and you haven’t yet been noticed by the opposite sex.

KIDDING!! Well….kind of. I’ve been in both places so…there’s a nugget of truth in each. Hah!

In any case, let’s take a look at each scenario to find the best beat for your buck…

“The Snares Go Marching Two by Two, Hoorah! Hoorah!”

Most of the time schools will have their own marching snares

best beginner snare drum

to hand out to those wishing to hit things, but not always.

If you do want to buy your own there are perks: having your own instrument carries with it a bit of clout and sets you apart as one who is more “serious, dude’ about your percussive mission.

Also, it will probably be in much better shape than the snares the schools has, since they’ve been dropped, rolled, hit, thrown….who knows what, for God knows how long!

Not that you have to have the greatest snare in the world starting out anyway. As long as the snare wires (the jangly metal or plastic screen-looking thing on the bottom head) and the strainer (the blocky lever on the side of the drum that engages or disengages the snares, changing the sound dramatically) are working, and you have a good head on the drum (the skin or polymer that you actually hit) you’ll probably be just fine.

If you’re buying a snare for school, however, it’s imperative that you ask your teacher what parameters you need to stay within if you want to use it with the marching band. What size? What color?

The biggest issue is snare depth. Most marching bands will want you to have a marching snare – one that’s 12 inches deep and 14 inches wide. This is much deeper than a snare you’d find on a drum kit. So if you’re wanting a snare that can serve for marching AND for a home kit, you’re probably out of luck.

Again though, you must ask your band director. He or she will probably give you excellent advice and know some local options for you to shop as well.

Also, what many students who like drumming do is use the school’s deep snare for marching and invest in their own drum kit snare for home use. Sammy says it’s the best of both worlds.

Anybody…little VH love? Anyone??

 Time to Sit, Behind the kit

On the other hand, maybe you’re the guy or girl who is NOT in marching band, but rather just really likes the thought of layin’ down a smooove grooooove and bein’ the foundation of a modern-day pop, rock or jazz band.

Well, your options are practically limitless. There are SOOOOOooooo many snare styles, brands, looks and sizes, it’ll turn your head around like a cold wind blowin’. Right, James?

The most typical snare in a kit is probably the 14″ x 5″, and that’s a great place to start so you get in your mind what a “normal” snare sound is and how to work it. Then, when future G.A.S. attacks occur, you can stomp and wail and cry out for the need, the absolute need for…

…a smaller snare:

tiny snare drum

Or a spiky snare:

best beginner snare drum

Or your favorite band’s snare!

best beginner snare drum

Or even your favorite TV show’s snare!!!

best beginner snare drum

Whatever floats Baywatch Bob’s boat, it’s best to start on a classic snare, and that’s a 14×5 or 14×5.5. From there the options are limitless.

But if you don’t go with the classic size up front, just know that there’s more than one way to skin a snare…

Size Matters

It’s going to make you a much more flexible, desirable drummer if you remember this: no matter what size of snare you get, the tightness of the head will be a big determining factor in the sound. If it’s stretched a lot, you’ll get a high cracking, tight sound. If loosened, it’ll be more subtle, appropriate for ballads and such.

But, as with every instrument, it’s so subjective. Just know that part of the fun of drums is tuning them. They don’t just have one sound. Get in there and play with those lugs (the tension rods that allow you to tighten or loosen the head) – twist ’em up, twist ’em down; listen to the difference in how the drum sounds when you hit through the changes.

Any given drum has quite a few voices if you give it a chance to sing in different registers.

My aluminum snare has been known to growl like Freddy Mercury sometimes. :-p

 Bang the Best. Leave the Rest.

It’s been said many times in the music world, but I’ll repeat it here because it’s always a good slogan to live by: buy the best instrument you can afford. Is it true that playing on a quality piece of gear is a more pleasant experience than playing on a cheap one? In almost every instance, yes.

Sometimes when you’re just starting an instrument you actually don’t know what a good one sounds and feels like. Because of that you could play on your $10 Fisher Price plastic djembe and think you’re summoning up the spirits of ancient Kenya, it’s so compelling! But in actuality…it probably leaves a little to be desired. That’s more obvious at times than others.

Case in point: my first guitar. A relative gave it to me. Probably was in their attic behind floor tiles and great-grandma Rebekah’s 1800s church clothes.

It had terrible action on the strings; they were so high off the neck I thought I was the worst weakling wannabe ever.

Then one day… I went over to my bud’ Brian’s house. He had a nice Martin. I picked it up. I played an E.

It felt and sounded like a totally different instrument.

best beginner snare drum

Definitely play on as many drums as you can. Yours. Your friend’s. The music store’s. The more you investigate, the wider your aural world will become.

At the beginning tho’…just get the highest quality you can for the money, even if you’re only spending $50.

Stockpiling Your Snare Arsenal

I also want to warn you: this site is called Serious G.A.S. for a reason. Once you start down this road of really being able to hear and recognize the differences in drums, I guarantee you – you’re going to want at LEAST one more.

And then another.

And then a smaller one.

And then a bigger one!

And then one made of maple, ‘cuz, come on, every pro kit has a good maple!!

And then, “Hey, wait – is that a DRUM SALE I see advertised??!!!!”

This is why I have a Ludwig 14×5 Supraphonic (circa early 80s) snare:

best beginner snare drum

A Pacific 14×6 birch snare:

best beginner snare drum

A 1980 Ludwig 14×6 Supraphonic (circa mid 80s) snare:

best beginner snare drum

AND a PDP Limited Edition Maple/Walnut 14”x7.5” snare:

best beginner snare drum

Each one is very cool, but very different. I choose the right snare for whatever current song I’m recording, and it melts into your hot, steamy ears like BUTTER!!

I’m telling ya. Gear Acquisition Syndrome never ends. It just gets more picky, because your ears get more picky.

The Day the Cilia Died

And speaking of ears, every drum student I teach gets this admonishment, for very good reason: WEAR HEADPHONES!!

I never, ever, ever, EVER practice my drums without ear protection. In fact, I don’t even go to concerts without taking earplugs. Once you’ve fried the sensory cells that look like little hairs in your ear (they translate vibration into sound) they are gone. Gone!

And they don’t grow back.

Drums can be loud. VERY loud. And if you’re on a drum kit, the cymbals too are so loud and piercing it can actually hurt if you’re getting the full brunt of their power.

I auditioned for a Journey cover band once, playing bass, and the drummer didn’t like it that I wouldn’t play without in-ear protection. I lost the gig, but saved my hearing.

I easily came out ahead on that one. So should you.

best beginner snare drum
One of Teaj’s rockin’ drum students!

If the biological facts don’t convince you, consider this: great musicians through the decades have lost their hearing because of the electrification of instruments that rock music ushered in loudly. Legends like Phil Collins, Pete Townsend, Ozzy, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Chris Martin….they all have varying levels of hearing loss.

And, trust me, they wish they didn’t. Don’t be that guy, or girl. Protect your hearing so you can have a lifetime of performing and enjoying your music. It really sucks when that ability is taken away.

“I Just Wanna Bang on the Drum All Day….!”

Once you’ve bought your first snare drum, you’ll want to…practice! At least, we hope so. That’s where the FUN is!

If there’s anything that irks my smirk it’s seeing an instrument alone and unwanted in some corner that never gets to sing or shine ‘cuz it’s being TOTALLY IGNORED. Don’t cause your instrument to run away to Sgt. Pepper – get on it and bang away. Just 10 minutes a day can really advance your skills and let you see the possibilities that lie innate inside you.

Not so into it today? One sure way of eliminating the drudgery is to always start by putting on your favorite music and playing along to it. Even if you haven’t learned the song, play it anyway. Play it for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Then you can move on to studying something specific. But if you start with a smile, you’ll probably end with one.  😉

It’s a Hit!

So, in a nutshell, the best beginning snare drum is what you have money for, either with a classical school band or a modern-radio-songs band in mind.

Practice for the fun of it, wear ear protection and prepare for a lifetime of audio awesomeness as you pursue an extremely versatile instrument that is so crucial to music today and into the future – the SNARE DRUM!

You’re gonna LOVE IT!!

Now….go….make…sounds!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields

Discount Music Gear – A ‘One Man’s Trash’ Story

Discount Music Gear

 Every once in a while, when G.A.S. hits ya hard, you find that, well, there’s just not as much bread in the bread box as you need to scratch that screaming itch.

I teach students music out of my studio, and since many of them are still in school they often have little (mostly… NO!) cash to put towards a certain piece of gear that suits their fancy.

That’s when I suggest to them what I often do myself: GO DISCOUNT! Sometimes a used, reduced, or B-stock piece of music gear might just be the ticket!

The Upsides. The Downsides. The ‘Get-off-your-backside’-s….

If you can afford to buy whatever music tool you want full price, then the world is certainly your oyster.

Heck, it’s an oyster with a kickin’ stereo system, free drinks and stack of new guitar strings! Who we kiddin’?!!

But if not….then you need to consider the other options. The biggest upside? They’re cheaper, of course! And most of the time in just fine condition, believe it or not.

Here’s what to look for:

  • “Demo” units
  • “No-box” units
  • “B-stock” goods (Any unit not new, in unopened box)
  • Last year’s model, now reduced in price

There’re all kinds of reasons why you may find a cheaper price on the product in question. You just have to look in the right places.

I’ve bought a couple pro audio gear pieces, for example, that have “road rash”, or slight blemishes on the outside case because of being used on the road. The units WORK fine though.

Do I care about a couple scratches?! HECK, no! If it does the job and still has the same warranty, you can paint it purple, I don’t care. 😉

Also, since you won’t have to wait to save more cash, you get what you want sooner, which is always good.

Is there a trade-off? Sometimes. Nine times out of ten, I have bought demo units and out-of-box units that looked brand-spankin’ new; couldn’t find a scratch on ’em!

Then there were other times when there were issues. They were small, and none of them affected the sound, the navigation or the dependability of the unit. Usually just scratches, dents, dings.

Motif art

Or, in the case of the Yamaha Motif keyboard I got used, some Chinese writing on the top that I really hope isn’t cursing out everyone who actually can read it (See picture at right).

Most stores won’t sell a unit that doesn’t work, but they’ll be happy to reduce the price for you on one that works fine, but might look a little used.

Finding these types of gear can take some doing tho’; they’re not often put right up on the front page. They’re “marred”, after all, so stores will usually keep ’em in a corner somewhere.

It’s like when you go to supermarket: you won’t find the ‘reduced goods’ placed on an end cap where you first walk in the door!

No strain, no gain. But if you put the work time in…. I betcha you’ll find somewhere across this fine Inter-land of ours the exact piece you want for some dollars off…..sometimes MANY dollars off.

“Awwwwww, Where Do We Go – ooo Now??!”

There are several places I find that consistently have provided me with high quality, working options for a lot less money. Sometimes insanely less.

First up is EBay. It’s amazing when you want a piece SOOOOO badly but it’s hundreds of dollars more than you have, but you type the make and model into the EBay search and find that some blessed saint of a human being is listing that exact unit for hundreds less than the going price, it’s in great shape, and many times it’s listed as “No Reserve”, which means the seller has not set a minimum price to sell on the unit! Yippee!! Whoo-hooo!! Unbelievable!

Now all you have to do….is win the auction. Ah, yes, here’s where it gets a little tricky. I have been successful more times than not by using this method to do just that: sniping.  It’s waiting ’til the last seconds of an auction to make your bid.

First, determine the most that you are willing (or able!) to spend for a product. Then, wait until the last 10 seconds of the auction is up and THEN submit your bid. You’ll have to be quick on the draw, but this DOES work.

It has worked for me maaaaaany times. This means, tho’, that you must know exactly when the auction for this unit is going to end, and you must be there, right in front of your computer, ready to pluck the ripe fruit from the thrumming music tree.

Now, if others have bid higher than you’re willing to spend, then you’re out of luck. Unless, of course, you decide, “Ya know… I think I can scrounge up another twenty bucks…..” and increase your bid. Besides, what are the rest of your family for, if not to be there for you when you’re sick…with G.A.S.!

Next place that I recommend to my local music students all the time is Music-Go-Round.

This is a real brick and mortar store that you can physically drive to visit OR check out their websites to see the latest gear they’ve bought and brought in. They specialize in buying used music gear and reselling it.

I have one about ten minutes from my house and the owner and I know each other veeeeery well, thanks to my visiting him often. Maybe too often.

Okay, definitely too often. But, lemme tell you, I have picked up some SWEET, SWEET DEALS there.

Discount Music Gear

See this Eddie Van Halen Frankenstrat? Got it there, less than $500. Down on the right you’ll see the Ovation I picked up when one weekend I had to play & sing some alternate tuning guitar songs and wanted a second acoustic all tuned wierd and ready to go. That listed for around $800 but I picked it up for under three! And, by the way, I couldn’t find anything wrong, scratch, ding, whatever, on either of them.

Discount Music Gear

Chris at Music-Go-Round in Troy, MI – he’s MAH MAN!!! In any case, if you see something you like, the price is usually fantastic right on the tag, but it you still don’t have enough, make them an offer. Them saying ‘no’ is the worst that can happen. The best? You could be playing a sweet new instrument and still pay your rent or mortgage tomorrow!

Also, try Craigslist. This is where people who live near you want to sell their stuff privately so they put it on this site, usually with a short explanation of what it is and a picture.

I have hanging on my wall no less than nine instruments that I’ve gotten off of this site, and they’re all in great shape and I use them in the studio or live all the time.

One caveat: you must be more diligent checking out the gear before you hand over your cash (cards aren’t usually accepted). People selling music gear out of their house might not be as 1) knowledgeable, 2) trustworthy or 3) deliberate about making sure that everything on the instrument or gear actually works. Once you hand over the cash, there’re no returns, so….give those units a thorough going-over before you decide.

If it’s electronic, by all means, plug it in, go through menus, test the outputs by bringing headphones with you in the car. Most people are fine with this kind of testing.

And ask questions about the unit: how was it used? For how long? Are you the owner? Was it for live use or only studio? Do you still have the box and accompanying manuals and papers?Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Finally, I would suggest going to any online music store and, in their search engine, type in “used“.

Guitar Center, for example, has a lot of used gear that goes for substantially reduced rates and is always in working condition, even tho’ it may look beat up a bit.

Personally, if something looks like it’s been gigged with, great. Isn’t that the point with music gear – to USE it for performance? Battle scars just make it, and by association, you look more experienced (and suddenly Hendrix melodies are everywhere….).

“Cello! Is it Meeeee You’re Looking Foooor….?”

About 6 years ago, I was producing a song that I really wanted to have strings on. Nothing major, just a cello and a couple violins maybe.

Now, I play a lot of instruments, and I thought to myself, “The lines I want aren’t hard. I just don’t have the instruments. Maybe I can find some…..”.

With that, I opened up Craigslist, did a search under “cello” and scrolled down the list.

In case you don’t know, buying a cello is no small feat financially; they are priceeeeeyyyyyy! Almost always over a thousand. Unless you want a plastic one. Which, um…..no. Not for me.

Down the Craigslist list soon enough I saw an interesting post that not only showed a cello but dozens of other instruments: violins, violas, guitars, basses, trumpets….a virtual cornucopia of musical exploration. The text was short and didn’t explain much; it basically just said “Instruments for Sale”.

Well, not being one to pass up a rare, awesome thing, I jumped in my car and drove about a half hour to a small, unassuming, little house and met an older lady, Mary, and her daughter who took me downstairs to where the whole basement was taken up by instruments of all kinds – more than I’d ever seen in one house.

When I asked Mary what the deal was with all these, she confided somberly that her husband, Billy, who had wanted to open a music store one day, had recently passed away. She would be moving in two weeks to California to live with her other daughter there and get away from her pain a bit, so all these instruments had to go.

Discount Music Gear

I had brought with me $530, thinking if I was lucky I just might bring a cello home. Mary & her daughter, tho’, were in such a need to get rid of her late husband’s inventory that she was pricing them at levels…..well, at levels that you just don’t usually find. She just wanted that stuff outta there!

So, that day, I drove home with a cello, a violin, a banjo and a glockenspiel. All of those except the banjo I have used on recordings and whenever I do, I think of Billy and his dream and whisper a private “Thank you” to his memory.

After all, if there’s anyone who understands the hold musical instruments can have over you… it’s me!

Mommy! Look What I Found!

The moral of the story? Make music while you can, my friends, and if you need discount music gear, check out the places I’ve listed above. You just never know what serendipitous options you might find there.

For the History Buffs

One last thing: that cello I got from Tony’s wife? It looked a little beat up so I had it maintenanced by a skilled luthier. I take all my orchestral string instruments to a place in Michigan called Shar Music. Wouldn’t go anywhere else. They are the bomb ‘cuz they know strings like….like Elton John knows altered root chords!

They took their little flashlights and cameras and peered inside its cavernous chamber, then told me that there’s no sign of a company label and that, although it’s got a good sound, the inside is not as sandpapered and filed down as they usually see.

Thus, in their opinion, I am now the owner of a “pioneer-made cello” that probably was fashioned well out of pure love of the instrument by some individual somewhere….in the late 1800s. 

WHOA!! Wow. Now everytime I play the instrument I not only think of Tony, but of the impassioned private citizen who just had to make that cello that year. Probably because he or she didn’t have the money to buy one.

If only they’d had Craigslist. Lol

So, until next time, investigate all those discount music gear pieces and save some money. Then go… make… sounds!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields!

Tascam 16×08 Interface

So why, when I could have purchased a new synth, mic, sax, guitar….any new instrument…would I instead be investing in a Tascam 16×08 interface, for heaven’s sake?!

Well, the answer is as complex, and simple, as this: PLATFORM! This year I went to a totally different recording setup and needed an appropriate gateway to get all my audio into “the box”.

May not sound sexy, but…ya know…  somehow it IS!

Tascam 16x08

A Change Will Do Me Good

Since 2002 I recorded all my original music on the Roland VS-2480 hardware configuration. I recorded many a fine album on that gear, but this was the year things grew to the point where I needed more, so…

Now I sit here taking in the grand vista of a full-blown Pro Tools 12.8 system.  And I’m loving it. Yea, there’s a HUGE learning curve, but I mean, come on: “Teaj, you’re gonna have to spend more time in the studio surrounded by all this great gear, making new music.” Cry me a river!!

Because I’m working ‘in the box’ now, however, I needed to invest in an audio and MIDI interface. If you don’t know, that’s the piece of gear that gets your sounds and MIDI information from your synth/keyboard into the computer.

In other words, if you’re going to stick a microphone in front of an instrument, the other end of the cable will need to plug into something!

That thing is called an “interface”. This gets it into the land where digital friends and gremlins fight and frolic and allows your sounds to show up on your computer monitor screen where you can mutate and cannibalize….uh, I mean, caress and edit them to your ear’s content.

For me there were two issues regarding interfaces that I had to answer before I bought one:

1) Quality and

2) inputs.

I knew, since I’m recording albums, that the interface I buy has to have good A/D conversion, come from a reputable company and basically have positive reviews from the online legions that have used it.

I also needed at least 8 inputs, because I like to track real, live drums (yes, those still ARE used in the studio!) instead of using loops or drum machines.

With those caveats in mind I did a 3 day search and kept coming back to this unit. It’s got great reviews, comes from a company with a long, rich, impressive history in pro audio and also has TEN inputs on its front, which is, of course, even better than eight. Why? Well, why does my amp go to eleven? The answer is obvious.  😉

My Preamp Primer

Tascam has always been a maker of high-end, dependable audio machinery. This 16×08 is another strong link in their chain of unendingly supplying us with stable, durable and ergonomic pro audio gear that helps us quickly and easily “get ‘er dun” in the studio.

Here’s the Spec list:

  • Support for Windows & Macs
  • USB 2.0 computer connection
  • 8 Ultra-HDDA mic pres with XLR connectors, and 8 TRS inputs
  • +48V phantom power onboard for all mic inputs
  • Included software allows for assigning Outputs via the Digital Patch Bay
  • Software features a DSP mixer with 4-band EQ & usable compression on each input channel
  • Scenes can store DSP mixer settings (up to 10 scenes can be stored and named)
  • Low-latency monitoring via on-board DSP mixer
  • Confirmed & ongoing compatibility with major DAW software (SONAR, ProTools, Cubase, Live, Studio One, Garage Band)
  • Up to 96kHz/24-bit recording
  • Ultra-HDDA (High Definition Discrete Architecture) mic pres, with −125dBu EIN
  • Enable “Standalone Mode” to use the 16×08 as an independent mic pre
  • High-impedance inputs also available
  • 56 dB of preamp gain available
  • Eight TRS outputs
  • Separate controls for Line Out, Headphones volumes
  • Standard TRS headphones output jack with 70mW/ch output power
  • Tough metal casing for durability
  • MIDI input and output
  • RoHS certified
  • USB class compliant 2.0 support
  • Angled design provides excellent usability on a desktop
  • Connect with iPads and other iOS devices via Class Compliant drivers
  • Dedicated AC adapter included

Signal’s Maiden Voyage!

Getting it up and running was easy. The manual was clear on how to hook up cables and everything worked as it was supposed to from the moment I turned it on.

Tascam 16x08

I did have to learn how to finesse the BUFFER SIZE on it, depending on how I’m using Pro Tools, in order to get audio that didn’t click, pop and stutter. Once I understood how to set those parameters based on recording versus playback tho’ everything was gold.

In a nutshell, it gives good sound, is extremely versatile if you need to make channel/output/input changes, and the extremely useful and well-designed software program that comes with it is very handy. I keep it right next to my open Pro Tools window so I can make any changes on the fly, since all the parameters you could ever wish to change are displayed right there for you.

The basic EQ and Dynamics processing section, by the way, is intuitive and a great way to get a little mild compression on incoming signals, like toms or snare, right there on the front end before your sounds go into your computer.

I found both sections work well if you don’t tax them too much. The learning curve was mild, so you can get up and running with this unit in minutes.

The high amount of mic pre dB headroom in this unit makes it ideal for dynamic or ribbon mics, without introducing a bunch of terrorizing noise. I’ve never had a problem yet, especially with live drums, having enough rich, clean signal.

As soon as I narrowed down my interface search, my G.A.S. for this unit was BURNIN’! Thankfully, I found it for a great price on EBay new and somehow survived the four days it took for it to arrive.  Now…it’s part of my recording family of electronic gadgetry, and I couldn’t be happier.

If a simple 2-in, 2-out interface just doesn’t cut it for you, as it didn’t for me, and if you want to be able, say, to track a whole band live in your studio, you’re going to to need a good number of inputs. The Tascam 16×08 gives you that, and so much more. And with the legacy dependability of the Tascam name, you know you’re going to be stay in good hands… session after session.

Got questions? You know where to find me. In the meantime, if you wanna join me in Tascam-land, here’s your link!:

See ya for our next post. In the meantime, plug in some ports, and go…make…sounds!

Teaj

My Epiphone WildKat Review – Love at First Purr…

Epiphone WildKat
Teaj’s Custom Tiger WildKat. G.A.S.!!!

Every once in a while, you come across an instrument that just makes you STOP what you’re doing…and look.

An instrument that is so unique, so wondrous in it’s singularity…that time seems to be in flux somehow.

An instrument…that gives you G.A.S.!

And, voila, next thing you know…you’re writing an Ephiphone WildKat review like me.

Here.

Now!

The beauty you see above is what prompts today’s entry. It’s called the “Tiger Stripe” WildKat. Epiphone manufactured this beauty sometime around 2007. It’s just one of the finish options in the “Wildkat” series that continues to be sold quite successfully up to today.

But THIS particular wood grain and finish is rare in the Wildkats. When I saw this baby pop up on ebay, I just couldn’t stop researching it and scouring the pictures.

Just look at that wild wood. That ferocious finish. That savage saviour-faire!! Even in pictures, it’s beautiful. In person… even better.   😉

Epiphone WildKat

Inspecting the Specs!

So, what’s the layout of this beast?? For those with inquiring minds, here’s what you need to know:

The back of the WildKat!

Alnico-V P-90 dogear pickups


Mahogany body


Laminated tiger striped maple top


Set Hard Maple neck


Rosewood Fretboard with dot inlays


Limited edition logo on back of headstock


White body & neck binding


Grover tuners


Tune-o-matic bridge with Bigsby Tremolo Tailpiece


Metal “Bikini” logo plate


Black reflector knobs


Gold hardware


2 pickup volume & 1 Master Vol. 1 Tone controls


3-way selector switch


24.75″ Scale


1.68″ nut


Black finish with natural top

On Safari for a Wall of Sound Trophy…

My first glimpse of this guitar was one with a solid-red finish and no wood grain. I’d seen a musician friend play it live on stage in some concerts in the past couple years, so I knew the play-ability and tone were great. I spoke with him backstage about it after one concert and learned that they held up well over time and didn’t create any problems live.

I’d kept this particular axe on the back burner until one day, checking through Ebay for great deals, I decided to type in “Epiphone Wildkat”. Ya know, just to see what’s out there.

Man! I caught a glimpse of this savannah-stripin’ creature and heard the snarl of potential tone satisfaction as I read about it. When I saw the price was pretty low, I knew I would make a bid.

But not yet! Anyone savvy with Ebay knows you don’t bid until the last 8 seconds. I’ve snagged SOOOOO many auctions this way and highly recommend it if you really want to succeed at winning auctions.

Five days later (with very few other people bidding, surprisingly) I sniped my bid in at the 5 second mark and… WON! Soon it would be winging its way to me – the guitar, the hard Epiphone case and all. I couldn’t wait!!

After purchasing, I thought I’d read up on this particular model. I found many a staunch fan, with websites tauting it’s glories left and right. There was really only one complaint I saw a couple times: the unyielding nature of the stock Bigsby bridge and subsequent intonation problems.

The pickups  are Alnico P90s. They tend towards a darker sound if anything but to my ears they sound great, though somewhat genre-specific.

Raise your Cups! To the Wildkat Pups!

Kat pups

I wouldn’t use them for funky chicken picking – that’s what I got my Paul Reed Smith for!

But lush chords, ambient washes, country or folk rhythm backing – it’s got all that color in spades.

Some people swap ’em out for different pups, but, ya know…it’s all personal preference. I prefer to let my different guitars speak for themselves and use them where their tonal range and response are appropriate.

This Kat gives me a unique sound that none of my other axes come close to… mostly due to these pickups. So at the end of the day it’s… “Cheers!” Another successful concert.

Taking Paws…for Potential Problems
Bigsby tremolo

The stock WildKat/Bigsby bridge is engineered such that the strings can rub across the bridge edges when the tremolo bar is engaged, often causing unwanted tuning maladies.  I also heard a couple people say the strings got stuck in the nut when using the tremelo.

Personally, if I really wanted to go to town with the whammy I’d switch to an instrument which has a bridge set up made for that, like my EVH Wolfie, you can read about HERE.

The Bigsby trem really should only be used for slight tremolo effects, and I found that if you put new strings on with a good ‘locked tight’ method of adhering/wrapping them ’round the peg posts, you shouldn’t have an issue.

There are, however, some online colleagues that found enhanced intonational success by swapping out the regular bridge for a roller bridge – one that lets the strings sit in a rolling groove that moves along with the string when the whammy goes bammy! That usually takes care of any issue easily, tho’ to go the full Monty you could swap out for more expensive nut as well.

On the other hand, some believe that roller bridges suck up some of your tone and sustain. I can see their point, tho’ I’d have to hear both to make an informed decision.

And Thereby Hangs A Tail…

Epiphone WildKat

I’ll never get rid of this beauty!!  I am uber-satisfied with my Tiger-Stripe Epiphone WildKat, and I’m sure you can see why.

You won’t catch me making any mods to it either, since I think they’re unnecessary if this beauty is handled well, if the strings are replaced with solid pro methods and if the trem isn’t used to play “Eruption” to Wildebeests.

“The right tool for the right job” is the germane motto here.

Back of the WildKat Headstock

Many examples of it’s sound can be found on YouTube, so if the G.A.S. is starting to bubble up in you, check out the ferocious feline tones on this beast there.

If you want to join in on some purrrrfectly wild jungle tone (“You in the JUNGLE, baby!!”), cage your own right here, right now… and start pickin’!

Wildkat BUY NOW

If you decide to put on your Kat’s pajamas by clicking there like I did, let us know how you’re likin’ YOUR WildKat. We look forward every day to new G.A.S.-y tales!

‘Til then, see ya in the woodshed … and don’t forget to go…make… (Kat!) sounds!

Teaj

Teaj in the storm fields

How To Buy Music Gear Online – Getting Gear Lust Satisfaction NOW!”

How to buy music gear online

In light of the many, many ways we are daily inundated with music gear pictures, ads videos and the like, it’s absolutely harder than ever to keep serious G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome!) from bubbling up and over.

Only the loud survive, which is of course why so many (including YOU, apparently) want to know how to buy music gear online so you can get it in your calloused little guitar/violin/bass/etc. fingers as SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.! Believe me, my friend…I know the feeling.

We’re Not in Brick & Mortar Anymore, Toto!

Finding out how to buy music gear online is easier than ever thanks to HUGE marketplaces on our beloved Internet (I’m aiming my guitar neck at YOU, Amazon!) and all they’ve put in place to ease the suffering of those of us with chronic, unending G.A.S.

But it’s important to keep in mind the differences that set online shopping apart from, say, hanging out in your usual ‘drool corner’ at Guitar Center. Let’s take a look:

  • “ARE ALL THESE YOUR GUITARS??!! – Oh man! Oh man! Can you BELIEVE all the dangle-y little gear carrots they’re putting in front of our glassy computer eyes these days?! How can they do that?! Don’t we know how much we SUFFER??!! In any case, ‘virtual cornucopia’ would not be hyperbole now for the sheer vastness of music gear selection we have at our fingertips. Soooooooo many choices!! So little….cash. I think I’ve been there a couple times. The large selection is either a blessing or a curse, depending on your ‘Consumer Character’ – are you a research-driven and decisive tweaky gear-head? Or a site-page-wandering wonderer who’s never quite sure if you’ve found ‘the right one’ (and, no, I don’t mean finding a mate that LIKES you buying gear!)? If you tend to freeze up at all-you-can-eat buffets, well…maybe a local store IS better for you. But if you’re like me and love it…let’s move on.
  • How to buy music gear online
    WAIT…IT’S HOW MUCH??
    – Dude….prices are all over the MAP online, I’m telling you. If you don’t put in due diligence to know what price range any piece of gear should fall into, you can seriously end up spending WAAAAAAY more than you need to on that current ‘shiny bauble’ of equipment you’re eyeing. The same units online can list for HUNDREDS of dollars apart. No joke. So….check it out on several if not many sites. You’ll thank me later.
  • THE FLANGING INTAGIBLES – So, the fact that you can’t actually touch or see the product you’re wanting might make you nervous about a potential purchase, and with good reason. But there again, if you put in the right amount and the right quality of research, you can definitely be assured that at least the piece is SUPPOSED to work fine with whatever system or rig you currently use. Just know that you’ll never reeeeeally know how any piece of music gear is going to sound until it’s actually in your system. That’s true with local stores too, to some extant, but I’ve taken parts of my system in to a local shop before to verify connections and such. With Internet stores, that’s not an option, so be very sure that the SPECS of your most recent beloved will play nicely with your other studio hardware friends.
  • How to buy music gear online
    “DUDE – WHERE’S MY DUDE??”
    – Often in the past, many of us have worked with a specific person (could be dude OR dudette – no haters please) that knew us, knew our gear, knew our preferences, knew if we would or would not play “Stairway to Heaven” in the store…in short, it was our go-to person in a particular gear store. Online, you may fine that to be an option….or you may not. In fact, most times, sorry, you’re just gonna get whomever is not on their 3rd lunch. Now, that doesn’t have to be an issue, especially if you’re exactly sure of what you need. But if you prefer that, you’ll definitely be limited online to which site will provide that service.

If none of these differences deter you, and you still want to march onward, techie soldier, then let’s look at how to train for your imminent guerrilla sound-fare….

How to Prep a G.A.S. Attack!

There are things you can do to make your online music gear shopping experience one you’ll want to repeat, rather than one you’d like burn (you know, like those thousands of copies of Mix magazine in the basement that you still can’t quite bring yourself to toss?). Before you buy you’ll want to:

  • How to buy music gear online
    INVESTIGATE YOUR SUSPICIONS
    – If you don’t read reviews, look at detailed pictures, consult online or paper gear catalogs and verify connection specs..dude…you are doomed to failure. Unless of course you are working with the rare store that will do that for you. Especially important is all those little CONNECTION points:: the ins, outs, jacks, dongles, ports. You may think everything’s compatible, but until you research and confirm it you’re really just playing piano in the dark. And not everybody can really do that without, uh…sucking.
  • CONSULT YOUR HOMMIES – If you’re wanting music gear, then chances are you have played and created music with other people. Ask them about your potential purchase. Their insight might even take you in a different direction. They might show you how “this li’l beauty is really what you want.” After all, G.A.S. attacks aren’t really that picky about the objects of its affection. It just wants. And wants. And wants….
  • HOLD TH’ PHONE! HOLD TH’ PHONE! – When you think you’ve confirmed that the unit will fit nicely into your set-up, do yourself a favor and make a quick, painless (usually) call to the online store of your choice and confirm it with a real human being. If you can’t reach one, go to another one. Two heads are better than one, remember? And since they work with gear for a living, they’re going to be a lot more familiar with”h a lot more gear than you. Use that to your advantage and have ’em confirm that this will work for you. This also defends your return if you end up having to send it back. “Raphael told me I didn’t need a SCSI port!” “Oh, well then we’re sorry, sir. Here’s your return authorization number…”. Yes, this has definitely happened before, and probably will again. So get a 2nd opinion.
  • WAIT…IT’S HOW MUCH AGAIN?? – If you have a local store, give them a call and ask them if they have the item you want. If so, ask their price. If it’s higher (and it almost always is) ask them if they price match. If they do, you could potentially have your much-desired piece of equipment in minutes rather than days. Just make sure you can show them on your phone the exact ad you want them to match.
How to buy music gear online
  • I personally like to support a couple of local shops near me if they price match, because these are people that love music like I do but their business has SO much more overhead cost than online stores and I want to reward them for actually stocking instruments and gear I can pick up and play, or test run. That’s definitely worth supporting. Also, if you’re REALLY tight on cash, search for your new beloved on EBay or Craigslist and see if she makes an appearance. I personally have gotten two guitars from Craigslist that I now play all the time and sound GREAT. You just never know what’s out there ’til you look.
  • “UMMM….THAT’S A KOHL’S RECEIPT.” – Before you sign on any dotted line, know all the ins and outs of the store’s RETURN POLICY. Do they accept gear back regardless? Does it have to appear brand new? Is it only returnable in the first week? First 30 days? 60 days? 90 days? Do you need the receipt or do they keep a copy for you? Do they pay shipping back or do you?? If it’s not in its original packaging, does it matter?? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you may end up with a very expensive paperweight that looks….and awful lot….like an amp!
  • “OK, FIRST….IS IT PLUGGED IN?” – You may really want to invest in a piece of gear, but have no idea how huge of a learning curve there will be to use it, or how temperamental it might turn out to be linked with other pieces of equipment….or both. You may need a lot of help to save that session, or gig, to help you get on with earning more money so you can…uh…buy more….gear.
How to buy music gear online

Most stores won’t help you after a purchase with HOW to use it or PROBLEMS you might have integrating it into your system. But there are a couple.

Before you pull the whammy bar, decide if this is beneficial to you or not and choose your online store accordingly. If anything seems awry after you buy, consulting experts often is the difference between working it out and keeping the product or sending it back and starting all over again.

Just know that not many stores have the expertise OR the department in place to assist you in product support. The manufacturers might, but they will be experts only in the product you just bought from them, not in the rest of your studio gear and how it must integrate.

READY? SET? CLICK!!

If you’ve jumped through all the above safety hoops, then you are ready to go! Buying online is usually pretty easy. If you’re working with an online store for the first time it’ll take a little longer while you type in all your billing info, but usually after that it’s saved so you can just click and go next time a bad G.A.S. attack rears its beautiful circuitry.

Make sure at the time of purchase you get two things: your online receipt to file AND the tracking number of the shipment, if available.

I enjoy the whole tracking of new piece of gear; the excitment is almost like a NASA lift-off – especially now that a DRONE might fly it to my door soon!!

How to buy music gear online

I would also call the delivery company and find out if they need a SIGNATURE to leave your package, if you can’t find that information in the shipping info. If they need a signature, and you’re not home, well, then you’ll have to wait another day or LONGER for the newest member of your recording family. Who wants that? It sucks.

Welcoming the New Object of Your Affections

Once the delivery is made, try to stop doing your happy dance long enough to do these things (I know. It’s hard.):

  • BOXING DAY – Open your gear boxes as if you want them to look new. Because…you do. For two reasons: first, if you have to return the unit, the store won’t give you grief, and second, if you ever want to SELL your new gear one day you can actually get more money for it if it looks new in the new-looking box it came in. Not much, mind you, but some.
  • DOWNLOADS, MANUALS AND FILES, OH MY! – Put the manuals and all paperwork together and file them in a place that’s just for that. Organization of this kind will help you when frustration during the learning curve causes you to mutter things that are not mixed-company-appropriate. Many manuals will solve the problem without a call to anyone. Then again….some will not. Also, if there is a Registration or Warranty card to send through the mail, do so. Most companies now want you to sign up online for that though. Either way, make sure you do. It’ll bless you down the road if problems arise, plus often the manufacturers will send you special offers since you bought one of their products. They’re always gonna hope for more!
How to buy music gear online
  • NOW WHERE’S MY FINE TOOTH COMB….? – Get your new toy plugged in as soon as possible so you can verify that there was no shipping damage and that it’s working as it should. If there’s a problem you’ll want to jump on it quickly…and without question before the last return date (which you DO know, right? RIGHT??).

G.A.S. passed, sir!

And that’s that! For the moment anyway. Now that you know how to buy music gear online I’m sure, if you’re like me, you’ll avail yourself of its wonder any chance you get. Saves you gas. Usually saves you money. And is close at your fingertips when a new attack becomes joy-threatening.

How to buy music gear online

But, hey, in the end we know G.A.S. is our friend, because every time we improve our sound with more blessed gear, we get closer to being that next Sting, that next Stevie, that next….ah, you fill in the blank. We’ve all got somebody riffing in our dreams. And don’t worry…..THEY probably have G.A.S. …just like you.

Now, go…make…sounds!

Teaj

About Teaj

About TeajThe First Rumblings of G.A.S.!

You know, at first….it wasn’t about anything you could find in any store. It was about the music. The MUSIC, man. And, truth be told, it still is.

BUT….

…..there’re times when a new piece of studio recording or live concert equipment could take your sound, your tone, your performance efficiency to the next level, and that’s when you know…Serious G.A.S. has struck you HARD!

I first fell victim to this maddening malady after getting my first acoustic guitar at 17. I practiced for a couple months, learned a lot of chords, a lot of strums, a lot of Simon & Garfunkel songs….and reached my first level of performance proficiency.

About TeajThen (wouldn’t you know it) one day I visited a friend, and he offered me HIS guitar to play. WHOA. Stop the song! I couldn’t believe how much EASIER to play it was. I hardly had to press the strings down to get a sweet tone, with no buzzing. The difference was stark – it was like I’d been playing a baseball bat by comparison!

I knew right then, right there… I just HAD to get me another axe like this one.

And that, my dear rockers, producers and performers, was the first bubble of trouble surfacing in a loooooooooong line of “MUST HAVE THAT”-s that continues to this day, decades later.

But don’t get me wrong – if you gotta be sick with something…it’s a wonderful way to go!

Why G.A.S. is good!

Let’s face it: some of us look for the latest electronic musical offering like a movie critic drools for the latest “Star Wars”. It’s fun. It’s inspiring. It solves problems! Yea, it can be a bit pricey, but, come on…anything good in life comes at a cost. Eddie’s ‘Frankenstrat’ wasn’t free. B.B.’s ‘Lucille’ wasn’t free. The Brenell tape recorders each of the Beatles had at home to catch songs weren’t free. And I ask you….WHERE WOULD WE BE without the songs that those bits of gear enabled??!

In a much less inspired place, I think we’d all agree.

Each new piece of gear for me expands my continuing quest to produce great music in my studio. My passion is songwriting, but without great gear to play it, and record it, I’d just be an acapella hipster, a Gregorian chant songster, my muse blowing in the winds. Ahh, but with great gear… moments of  transcendence may arise. I’ve seen it, time and again… in my tours in Europe… in my album recording sessions… throughout my L.A. days as a Prog Rock 80s band member… it all combines into a mosaic… of electronics longing!

Let the G.A.S. pass!!

So revel in the sickness, my friends!! Throw caution to the wind and scoop up ALL those music gear catalogs as you head to the bathroom! Peruse each seductive page with glee, and meet with me here, on this site, to CELEBRATE the madness – the sweet, magnetic, bewitching magic of music’s latest “Pandora’s box”. Let it out; LET IT OUT, I say!

And of course, leave your feedback here too, sharing YOUR burgeoning yearnings, YOUR feverish fervor, your mesmerized mutterings….even questions in the craving…and we’ll all go gear-crazy….together!

In fervid camaraderie,

Teaj

Teaj@SeriousGAS.com