Before you actually began playing your instrument(s), did you, or did you not…
… PLAY AIR??!
What I mean is, did you PRETEND to play an instrument before you learned it?
Like “air guitar”…
… “air drums”…
… “air bass”…
… or any variation thereof??
Maybe you STILL like to seriously rock out, like Wayne, and Garth, in this epic, unforgettable AIR-singing and AIR-playing scene:
I TOTALLY played air in middle school, before I picked up guitar and keys. You could BET that, if a Van Halen song came on, I ABSOLUTELY would be super-shredding on air guitar for the total length of the tune. Sometimes with other friends too, who ALSO were air-shredding on their imaginary instruments!
Now if you already play instruments, this new product probably is not for you. Aeroband designed the Pocket Guitar for those who do NOT play guitar, yet maybe aspire to, or those who just like the feel of pretending to play when the music’s on and the jam is groovin’.
The product links to your phone via Bluetooth, and when paired, allows you to play pretty realistic-sounding acoustic guitar strums or picking patterns using just a small, simple pick!
At first, I thought that maybe this could be used to actually lay some tracks down as a real musician as well, but part of the circuitry engineering makes that not likely, as we’ll talk about later.
I see this product as especially cool for kids – toddlers and those under 10, for example, who haven’t picked up instruments, yet see their mom and dad, or superstars on TV or YouTube shredding on various instruments.
They’ll want to naturally join in the sonic frenzy, and this li’l piece of music tech allows them to do just that… with hardly any practice needed at all!
The Big, Black Pick!
So the Pocket Guitar, in a nutshell, is a pretty simple product. It’s a small, black, triangular triangle. It resembles a guitar pick, but it’s more bulbous and hollow inside, encasing some circuits, and what feels to be a small gyroscope that you can feel buzz when it’s on and you’re strumming.
The circuits trigger acoustic guitar sounds in a free phone app (available in your App store) that works whether you have an Android or an Apple phone.
As you move your hand up and down from the wrist, emulating strumming guitar strings, the sound samples in the app are triggered, and it sounds, as if by magic, that you are playing acoustic guitar!
Pretty cool idea, and surprisingly, a product nobody had made ’til now.
A good way to describe this product is… it’s like having a portable “Rock Band” in your pocket. Remember that old Xbox and PlayStation game? Played many an hour on it myself, not to mention my youngest son, who ended up being a very accomplished drummer with its rhythmic help!
Aeroband also makes the “Pocket Drum“, which comes as a Bluetooth-enabled pair of drum sticks. With that additional product, you and a friend could actually make real music and play real songs without ever studying music at all per se!
The engineering behind this pick is really decent. The more you play it, the better it performs.
I found that if I strummed with my hand to aggressively (meaning making too large of a movement) the sound samples would skip or hiccup. But when I kept to smaller movements, the sound samples trigger exactly like they should.
So if the music’s loud and you’re expressing yourself a little too much physically, some sample triggering misfires might cue you to take it down a notch. If ya wanna play WELL, that is. 😉
If you don’t do any Pete Townsend-like roundhouse strums, and concentrate more on precision with small movements, you’ll get pretty good results and it can actually sound like you’re playing a real acoustic.
As with any instrument, practice makes progress. The more you mess around with the pocket guitar, the better it starts sounding. Hone your technique long enough and, hey, a local band may have you sit in as their acoustic player.
Stranger things have happened!
The App Chords
Admittedly, there’s a lot that this product does not teach you about music. However, just like “Rock Band” did, it actually is great for teaching rhythm and the basics of song chord progressions.
If you want to play a song, your first step will be to Google the actual chords of a real song you want to learn.
At that point, you can go into the app, choose those same chords, and put them in the correct order as they appear in the song.
Any chords that are not in the song, you simply delete from the page.
When all chords for the song you want to learn are in the correct sequence, you simply push each chord individually in the app while strumming the black pic and VOILA… you’re playing the song on what sounds like an acoustic guitar!
Are all chord variations provided?
No. If you want to express yourself à la Thelonious Monk or some other incredible jazz cat, you’re not going to find the more advanced, complex chords you need to play through the “Real Book”!
The most divergent chords from your basic major triad you find here are the “diminished” and the “augmented” types.
But let’s be real… even without the Gbmaj11/E, you WILL be able to play pretty much any song on the radio, from any era.
Well, maybe not everything from the 70s, but close. lol
One feature I find sorely lacking from the app though is the ability to lay out certain chords for a particular song and then SAVE them. It’s kind of a bummer that can choose specific chords, put them in a specific order, but then if you want to play a different song, you have to lose all the work you just put into the first song.
Hopefully, in new iterations of the app to come, they’ll add this ability to the software. That way you can have dozens of songs and their requisite chords already saved for your next jam session at the touch of a button, and can quickly get to the fun of playing… which is what this product is really all about anyway!
The App Songs
There are two sections to the app:
The “free play section” is where you arrange and push buttons that correspond to a selection of chords that you have chosen.
The “play section” of the app is meant to be where popular songs are listed and the chords to that song are already there for you, so you don’t have to look them up on Chordie.com or some other song chords website.
Currently, however, there are only two songs listed in this act. Both are kind of okay love ballads:
“You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt
“My Love” by Westlife
The Blunt song is actually listed as “You Are Beautiful”, so the title is a bit off, but the song is the same.
Since there’s no way to program or save your own songs in this app right now, you’re limited to only these two options until the company adds more.
This is an obvious shortcoming, but one I’m sure the developers are aware of, and as this app continues to grow, I’m sure we’ll see more and more songs added.
At least I hope so. Having a large selection of songs all ready to play would go a long way to making this product give immediate satisfaction right out of the box.
The Reverb Wall
I was actually going to use the pocket guitar on one of my latest songs, and see if I could do a convincing acoustic guitar track using just this pic and the App.
Couldn’t do it though. The reason is that there’s substantial reverb on the acoustic guitar sounds, and there’s no way to dial it back or eliminate it.
If you’re playing live, this isn’t much of an issue.
Usually the more ‘verb on the instruments the better, especially if you’re in a small venue.
So you could use this pick and app combination even with the heavy reverb… as long as you’ve honed your technique enough to be able to keep “in the pocket” of the song, that is.
(By the way, the Pocket Guitar even comes with a carrying bag, and a rubber belt clip, so you can keep it handy on those live music ventures!)
But when recording in the studio, all tracks need to be “dry”, meaning devoid of any type of effect, when you record them. That allows you to CHOOSE the specific types of effects that are perfect for the song and the combination of instruments chosen for the song after everything is recorded, not before.
I hope that, in the future, the developers will also allow this reverb to be turned off. At that point I will jump at the chance to use this new technology to lay down some tracks in a brand-new way.
There have been plenty of examples in recorded music were a TOY has added a fun, memorable and unique sonic moment to a song. Why not this product?!
The Cable IS there
It’s pretty standard in the electronics industry, as well as for music & recording gear, to have a needed CABLE to be included with any purchase.
Aeroband didn’t forget!
You will find the Mini-USB cable needed to charge this musical charm under a fold in the box it comes in. Kinda hidden, but it’s there.
It’s not very long, but it’s a standard cable that comes with a ton of phones and electronics devices, so you probably have another one that’s longer floating around somewhere.
The full length of the cable looks like this:
And the end that plugs into the device is this:
Now you’re connected!
The DRUM Connection
Guess what? The PocketGuitar can also be used as a foot sensor for drumming!
Just pick up the PocketDrum sticks and you can attach the PocketGuitar guitar pick to your shoes to have it trigger your kick drum sound… or hi hat!
I do like how Aeroband thought of several uses for the same product and how they integrate for a full band approach to playing.
As all real musicians know, there’s nothing like jamming together with friends and hearing that full sound of more than one instrument!
One word of caution – if you happen to turn the Pocket Guitar App on when your phone is on MUTE… you will NOT hear anything. The app can only work when mute is disabled.
I usually mute my phone so I’m not inundated with notifications all day long. You can get around this by turning OFF your notifications in your “Settings” panel while you’re playing.
I do this same thing when I’m playing live and triggering backing tracks off my phone to play along with.
Beware the mute!!
The Final Strum!
So there ya go! the Pocket Guitar by the company Aeroband! A pretty interesting piece of introductory music tech for those aspiring to melody-making.
If you’re a real musician, this big black pick is probably not going to be your preferred cup of music tea.
But eventually, with subsequent updates of this software, I hope the app and sound samples will get to the point where we can use it as a way different approach to composing, playing live… or even tracking in the studio!
For now, it’s a bit of a test product for the casual music market. If it catches on, who knows how far it will go?
Thanks to Aeroband for appreciating our music expertise here Seriousgas.com and trusting us to review their brand-new product. We know a lot of work goes into these types of things, and we are all about promoting musician’s dreams – not squashing them!
Best of luck to them as they continue to grow and produce products that allowed new and curious minds to embrace the wonder that is music. We all were there at one time, and products like the Pocket Guitar and the Pocket Drum may just be the first steps that a future genius of composition will take!
If the pocket guitar, or the pocket drum, have you itching to try them, you can GET YOUR OWN HERE. This tiny piece of advanced music-making will only cost ya under $40 at the moment. Small price to pay for the smile that comes from instrument newbs playing music for the first time!
As further revisions and upgrades happen to this product, I’ll be sure to come back to this post and letcha know.
In the meantime, what do YOU think of this new music tech? Sound interesting? Ever played anything like it before? Can you see it Influencing future musicians, or have you perhaps even got one and tried it? Let us know in the Comments.
One thing’s for sure… they should think about putting the “Eagles Greatest Hits” on this app.
True though that may be, there are sometimes… when a person’s death diminishes us more than usual.
Eddie Van Halen, composer and guitarist for the band “Van Halen“, died this past Tuesday. He is known and renowned throughout the world as one of the best… perhaps THE best guitarist of the last century.
But he was also one of my top musical heroes, whose compositions, rhythm and soloing techniques I have studied, without stop, for decades now.
Our website here usually showcases music gear, but today, we’re goin’ deeper; to the core of what matters: to the mind and heart and spirit of one that created some of the most compelling, pioneering and viscerally impactful music of the past decades: Edward Lodewijk Van Halen. Or as those who’ve studied his works call him… “Eddie“.
Our Sonic Krakatoa
It’s reported that the loudest sound heard in history was the explosion on August 27, 1883 of Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia.
The loudness of that blast was heard 100 miles from the eruption site. It’s been calculated to have emanated an incredible 180 dB worth of explosive sound.
But February 10, 1978, brought a new King to the Court of Krakatoa. And the royal march theme?
Was called… “Eruption“!!!!
Eddie’s one-minute and forty-two second guitar solo on Van Halen’s first album was transmogrifying.
It’s been described as the sound heard round the world (the BROWN sound!), because it stuck a flag of guitar innovation in the ground to an extent that had never been seen before. And we all knew it.
Just that one song has affected an influence on more people ’round the world than that little Indonesian volcano ever did.
This is why Eddie & his band were never just a blip on the national and international radar. His band didn’t record two, three or four albums, and then finally got noticed. They made themselves known, right outta the gates, in a HUUUUGE way. In a way that reverberates with boundless influence and astounding magnitude… right to this day.
Eddie went on to break new ground for the guitar in album after album for years. I ALWAYS was geeked to hear that a new recording was coming, ’cause I just knew that Ed would create some OTHER way to play our favorite instrument, and accompanying effects, in a way that none of us have yet conceived. Not to mention how he’d tear his guitar’s apart to build some new combination for better tone.
I’ve never heard of a guitarist that was more of an innovator in so many ways.
Heck, even my dog Pippin is a fan!!
Where it came from, who knows?
But clearly… this Ed guy? He was, like a tropical storm, tsunami or fiery, shuddering mountain… a force to be reckoned with!!
The Day it Got Personal
It’s hard to conceive in my mind, but there were actually days of my life when I was NOT into Van Halen.
But growing up, I was a student of the Billboard Top 40. Every week I used to go to the local record store and pick up the paper copy of that week’s list. I knew all the songs by heart and, being a singer first, could croon you any hit that was your favorite upon request.
Because of my obsession with the song charts, I had heard both “You Really Got Me” and “Dance the Night Away” on the radio. Both great and catchy songs, to be sure! But neither of those had so drawn me that I had to go buy the album.
(And since I wasn’t playing guitar yet, my deep appreciation and fascination with Ed’s technique transcendence was yet to come).
So there I am one fine morning – a 7th grader in the middle school, walking into the bathroom between classes.
As I enter the bathroom door, I see this student at the wall. He’s about 5 inches taller than I am; a really big middle school kid, with shoulder-length hair (very rebellious then) and he’s got a Van Halen T-shirt and shorts on. I’d seen him around but didn’t know him.
He looks pretty menacing to skinny ol’ me. But I’m transfixed ‘cuz he’s scratching something into the wall with a pocket knife.
As soon as he sees me, he abruptly stops. He probably thought I was a teacher or something ready to catch him in his vandalous act!
Seeing I was not an authority figure though, he then just walks up to me, looks down at me dead in the eye, and says:
“Van Halen F@#$in’ ROCKS, man!!”
Then he just walked past me and out the door.
I was so relieved he didn’t beat me up or something I let out a sigh of relief and tried to stop my shaking.
Driven by curiosity, I also then walked up to take a look at what he had been carving into the wall.
There my eyes beheld a symbol. I’d seen this symbol before. It was carved into countless school desktops, walls, park benches, and sprayed on graffiti walls everywhere.
It looked like this:
The Van Halen winged logo!
Recognizing it as a logo of a music group that I’d heard, my interest was piqued. Despite the sweat on my brow… or maybe even BECAUSE of it… I said to myself, “Hmm… I’m gonna have to look more into this band… “
Soon after I heard the first Van Halen album.
My life was never the same.
My next major Van Halen moment was in the end of March, 1980.
I was finishing up my freshman year of high school and was still pretty shy kid.
But when it came to music, I was getting bolder and confident! Music was my safe haven; my solace place… the area I studied a LOT, and was starting to take pretty seriously.
I had looked into Van Halen after middle school and was enjoyed the first two albums. BUT… I still hadn’t picked up the guitar. I was still known mostly as a singer and spent most of my time behind a mic, building that skill.
Because of that, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what Eddie was actually accomplishing yet.
But that was all to change as spring was emerging in Michigan in 1980. I heard on a local radio station that on Friday night, at 11 PM, they were going to play Van Halen’s brand new album, “Women and Children First“, in its entirety, for anyone who stayed up to tune in!
Because the album wouldn’t be released yet, I’d be one of the first ones to hear this new music from this tres cool band.
I couldn’t wait!
Even as I write this right now, I can still see the glowing light from my stereo across the room that night, my cassette recorder capturing the moment, and my coiled curly headphone cable, gently bobbing up and down, stretching over to me on my bed as I lay there, listening for the first time to this incredibly impressive album.
It was totally mesmerizing. The sound Eddie created on that record I’d never heard before (as expected!). The songs and sounds and tones, both instrumental AND vocal, were so primal, guttural, emotionally BRAZEN… and, as usual, so, so innovative.
I mean, come on – had anyone before ever plugged a Wurlitzer keyboard through a Marshall plexi over driven amp and engaged a phase pedal to boot… making it sound like some behemoth alien attack to our cowering eardrums?!!
Uh… that would be a resounding “no”!! LoL
The very SECOND you heard “And the Cradle Will Rock” hit you in the face, you knew that, yes, once again… Eddie was breaking sonic barriers and boldly going where no guitarist had ever gone before!
That album just blew the doors off my fretboard procrastination. This was it! It was time!! I was going to learn how to play like this man… or cry trying! LoL
Eddie brought out of this shy, skinny guy somehow a little musical rebel, shouting “No! I will not wait! I’m going to learn guitar NOOOOOWWWW!!!”
I often think what if I had not experienced that late night new album release and inspiration. Would I still have picked up the guitar?
Maybe, but the reality is that Eddie did for me what he did for thousands of other kids around the world – he inspired me to get a guitar, start playin’, and pursue music as something otherworldly and incredible. To accomplish something musically.
It doesn’t even matter that my works will never be as astounding as his. Those of us inspired by him play to at LEAST sound forth respect for him and what he stood for, which is:
doing your best
pioneering new paths, and
practicing hard to create something fresh, different and compelling.
It’s so hard to fathom he’s gone. My musicianship owes him so much.
We all owe him so much.
Miss you, man.
Eddie In Print
Anybody who picks up a guitar to learn how to play needs some kind of training. Direction. Help.
Back in the day, when I was still in high school the Internet was definitely not a thing; the only resources we had were magazines or books to help us get our head around technique, theory and specific compositions.
The picture that you see to the right shows the many, many… MANY publications that I purchased that are specific to Eddie – his technique, his approach, and in many cases his songs
Some of these purchases were “fanboy driven”, to be sure – just seeing him on the cover meant I had to have it!
But well over half of these purchases were because there were specific songs that I just had to learn how to play. And I usually couldn’t figure them all out by ear… Ed was just playing way too fast!!
My best investment by far was the book you see here:
The “Ultimate Song Pages: Van Halen“! !
Except for their newest album, “A Different Kind of Truth“, which was released in February 2012, ALL of Van Halen’s songs are in this gigantic tome.
It’s pretty dead-on too. I found a few mistakes here and there but, by and large, if I want to learn a VH song and do it just like Eddie did? This book allows me to go there! Love that.
If you want everything they’ve done right at your fingertips too, you can get one for yourselfRIGHT HERE.
Also, any of you who have ever practiced hard to nail a piece of music will appreciate this:
When Van Halen put out their “Diver Down” album in 1982, it immediately became my favorite.
Eddie didn’t like it so much because he never wanted to do cover songs; he always wanted a VH album to be full of their own compositions. But I unabashedly and unashamedly say that “Diver Down” is my favorite full Van Halen album. Hands down.
One of the big reasons is the Intro and the full song called “Little Guitars”. If I had to choose just one Eddie composition above all others, it would have to be that song!
Or, duo of songs. I mean, I consider the two of them to be ONE song, not two. I mean, they have the same name, for Eddie’s sake! 😉
So obviously, loving that song so much, I absolutely had to learn it. So what did I do? I went out searching for any published tab for it. And I found it! It’s in the magazine that you see in the picture below, second row down, second magazine over from the right. The one where Eddie’s pointing up towards the ceiling.
You can see right there on the cover it says “guitar sheet music” with tabs. The top one says “Little Guitars”.
Well, I worked day and night trying to nail that song and, believe me, it was a ton of work. I don’t know that I had ever worked on a tougher tune besides “Eruption”. It was funny too ‘cuz… it didn’t SOUND that complicated.
Fast-forward a couple decades – I discovered why learning that song was so difficult: it was tabbed COMPLETELY WRONG!!!!
Now, I don’t blame the guy who tabbed it. Eddie had always been pretty secretive about how he did things back then, and what nobody knew (until much later) was that Eddie had recorded “Little Guitars” on a… (wait for it)… little guitar! And that little guitar was NOT tuned to standard tuning, which is what the magazine tabbed it in!
Instead, it was tuned to A D G C E A, which are the notes of the 5th fret on a normal guitar in standard tuning, and then Eddie ALSO dropped the bottom string a whole step, making the open tuning G D G C E A.
Think that makes a difference in the chord shapes and scale runs?? Uh… yea, you could say that. lol
So the gist of it is, unless you have this complex altered tuning, you are going to playing this song with chord shapes that would make Allen Holdsworth tremble.
And guess what? I DID. ‘Cuz the guy that TABBED it did!!
The fingerings? They were crazy! Tortuous! Agonizingly crooked and bizarre!!! The finger stretches I had to do in the placement of the rhythm chords on the neck were all over the map and just… weird!
It wasn’t until I got the van Halen book with all their songs that I turned to the “Little Guitars” page and… OMG… I couldn’t believe it – here was a TOTALLY different way to play the song, it it was… gulp… the correct way!
The way Eddie played it was, surprisingly, much easier. Didn’t expect that!
It actually used standard chord shapes for the most part. With standard tuning there was no way you could duplicate it without contorting like an octopus on Ritilin.
I sat down and re-learned the whole song the right way using a normal Strat capo-ed at the 5th fret. But very soon after, I actually bought my own little Les Paul mini guitar, just like the one Eddied used. You can see it hanging on the wall in my studio in the picture to the right.
Do I regret learning that song wrong?? Neh. I just made my fingers more nimble & dexterous! And, learning it at all gave me instant joy; the accomplishment of learning a favorite song, especially a hard one, is always a thrill. I feel sorry for those that will never know the feeling, ya know?
Besides that… I didn’t get carpal tunnel from doing those crazy stretch chords, so I’ll consider it a win-win! 😉
Those of you who are regulars here at Seriousgas.com may have seen my reviews on various EVH pieces of gear (like THIS ONE on the 5150 amp!!). From guitars to amps to cabs to outboard gear, if it has Eddie’s name on it, I’ve tried it.
One of favorites, of course, is my very detailed replica of his FrankenStrat, the black, red and white beast that became such a trademark axe, and look, for Eddie’s brand.
I’ve also got a replica of it before red paint, when it was just black and white. They both play about the same, but have subtle variations.
The Eddie fan who made it, from meanstreetguitars.com, put an engraved heel plate on it that I just LOVE. Check out this almost 3D representation of Eddie on the back:
My mini Les Paul I keep in the G D G C E A tuning that Eddie used for “Little Guitars“. If I write a song on it, I write in that tuning. It’s a constant tip of the hat to my Southern Cal’ mentor and guitar hero, and it’ll never change.
My newer, modern Wolfgang standard electric guitar plays far better than any of his original guitars ever do. Obviously he’s improved his “perfect design” over the years, with various companies before he landed with Fender and stayed with ’em.
One of the reasons that Eddie has such a good technique, I think, is because he has such muscles in his arms and hands. I think that might be ‘cuz those first guitars of his weren’t the “luxury models”, if ya know what I mean. It forced him to develop a strong, skilled technique to overcome a cheaper axe, due to his lack of money (before VH success, of course!).
And overcome he certainly DID! His new line of EVH guitars, if you haven’t seen or played one, are so totally the bomb. Love, love, love my Wolfie.
EVH is a great company. Quality is always their guiding light, as indicated by everything I’ve bought from them. But then, they kinda had to be that way, right? Eddie would have it no other way!
Even when I’m using other gear that Eddie did not make, like my GSP 1101Guitar Processor, I spend days and days meticulously programming patches and dialing them in to reproduce the exact tones and parameters I need, often for Van Halen songs.
The picture below, for example, shows the second patch on my GSP1101 is my detailed reproduction of the setup Eddie used for the intro to “Women In Love”, off of the “Van Halen II” record.
Love that cool Flanger!!
Finally, I have to share the most integral pieces in my guitar rig…
Without these beauties, I doubt I could get the pro sound I always strive for:
I’m sure in the years to come they’ll be more fine EVH products to lure me in too. Sometimes the right gear just helps us feel closer to the heroes we’re trying to emulate.
Besides, we gotta keep some funds coming in to Eddie’s son Wolfgang to fund his cool solo projects to hear more of that Van Halen legacy.
Can’t wait to hear that first solo album by the way, Wolf!
A Tale of Two Van Fans
Probably most of you reading this blog play guitar, and thus have had a person or two that you have spent hours and hours (if not days months, or years!) jamming with, because you musically get along so well.
These are the kinds of friendships where you trade licks, swap riffs, and jam back-and-forth with your most inspirational songs, just sharing the joy of music.
My best jam bud like this is my man Brian Stout, currently of the band “Celtic Pink Floyd”.We went to high school together and shared a passion for learning guitar, and especially for learning how to play guitar like Eddie!
Brian was always more advanced than I on the fretboard, but it never mattered. We just love to jam! To plunge into the cool waters of Van Halen rock and roll, stretch our musical wings and learn, learn, learn… always pushing for more, and for better.
Keeping our bar set high for what we might accomplish comes naturally for both of us – our mutual hero led the way long ago!
One highlight for us was when we met in the winter of 1984 at the now-demolished Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan to see the mighty Van Halen on their incredible 1984 tour!
Smiles and parachute pants were ubiquitous, and a great time was had by all!
I will never forget how awesome the band was that night! David Lee Roth was especially cool during that tour, swinging his large scimitar around with long, colorful ribbons attached. That was quite the spectacle.
But, of course, the real highlight of the evening, and the real awestruck moments we had, were when Eddie expressed his mastery of the instrument with flurries of incredible guitar prowess, again and again and again… making genius look so easy, and so effortlessly blowing us all away.
You could always tell he loved his instrument and loved playing to the fans. Not to mention that he MUST have spent an enormous amount of time investing in practice.
Secret to any success, right?!
Ironically, I’d been meaning to text Brian this past week to show him the phone call I got at work. When I looked to see who was calling, it almost knocked me out of my chair! I even took a pic of it:
I just HAD to tell him of this funny moment. For a fraction of a second I actually thought that maybe, somehow, by some miracle, Eddie was calling ME! Too bad it was just another guy with a “Van” name… but not “Halen”!! I laughed right out loud at my hopeful fan-boy excitement.
But, as it turned out, before I could text him about that, he texted me… with news that we could never laugh at in a million years.
Within moments of seeing the news of Eddie’s death, Brian texted to tell me. I didn’t see his text though, ‘cuz I was working without my phone. But within the same hour, a co-worker walked into my office and told me the news (he knew I was a VH fan).
I didn’t believe him; I had to Google it before seeing his son Wolfgang’s Tweet and suddenly felt the stage door in my stomach plummet fathoms down.
I immediately picked up the phone and called Brian.
It just shows the uniqueness of our relationship that we both knew instinctively who to call to share our grief with – who would really “get it”, who would really appreciate the depths of sorrow we were feeling. Sorrow for losing an inspiration; a gifted musical guru that we had studied and looked up to for so many years. An incomparable legend in the field of music.
Here are the texts we shared the day Eddie died:
BRIAN: “Did you hear that Eddie died this morning? I’m in shock”
TEAJ: “Long live the MASTER.”
BRIAN: “A fitting tribute for a legend”
TEAJ: And of course the news is too fixated on the ridiculous political train wrecks to give Eddie more than 30 seconds.
BRIAN: They’re not nearly cool enough to appreciate his genius!
TEAJ: As a microbe to a moon!
Still so sad to be without more of him in this world. Sorely missed.
BRIAN: I wonder if there is any music he’s done at any point that will be released or will we never hear any new music from him again?
TEAJ: I bet Wolfie will release some stuff. Either under VH or as his own material.
I’ve decided for my tribute tomorrow (since I can’t get LOUD!! lol) I’m gonna do intro to Cathedral, then into Intro to Spanish Fly, then Intro to In a Simple Rhyme, and straight to You Really Got Me.
BRIAN: He’s got a solo album coming out soon and I’ve heard it’s really good. A few weeks ago he did an interview and said that people are gonna complain because it doesn’t sound just like VH. I should just release an album of me playing Eruption and then he proceeded to play it on his bass. He’s awesome. Did you read the tweets from him and Valerie? They were awesome yet heartbreaking. Wish I could be there to hear it. It will be awesome!
TEAJ: Yea, and I’m sure his dad heard the full album. It’s probably been done for a while, but with Ed suffering he probably put it on hold.
This one’s for you, Ed’. (Pic of LT)
The day after Ed’s death, we texted more:
BRIAN: Nice, how did it go? Awesome I’m sure!
TEAJ: All I could think of was “if EDDIE were here he’d be KILLIN’ this tune…”.
BRIAN: I’m sure you channeled him and made it sound as if he WAS there!
TEAJ: I really did play to make him proud. Silly… but true.
I know you understand.
BRIAN: I gotta tell you, I was a little surprised at how much his death affected me. It seems kinda weird to feel so bad about someone you never met, but I guess his genius has just influenced my life in so many ways. So I totally understand what you’re saying.
TEAJ: We DID know him… in the ways that he cared most about. You know how it is – when you REALLY research something, or someone, for years and years…. it’s like you’re meeting them in the same “inner room” where their works are created.
And you and I have studied him massively.
It’s like we didn’t know him personally, but we entered into his GIFT. And now it’s gone. We can’t go into that room anymore… except alone.
BRIAN: Wow, that was really eloquently said and spot on. On Sirius XM they started an Eddie tribute channel and just listening to all these people calling in and telling stories of how he touched their lives is pretty amazing.
BRIAN: Also, I broke down and ordered the Frankenstrat today. ETA is February. Can’t wait!
TEAJ: The new EVH model?!
BRIAN: Yessir. It’s gonna be a really long 4 months!!
TEAJ: Wow. Well, in the meantime, come stay at my place and we’ll play my two replicas for days on end!!!
I don’t know how you reacted to Eddie’s death, but that’s how we did it.
Through the years Brian and I have continued to share musically, encouraging each other on our various musical projects, and always striving to be deliberately innovative in whatever we do.
Musical friends are a unique breed, but often the best, & closest, because of that shared resonating core of understanding.
You can hear Brian’s wonderful acoustic playing on one of my latest songs, “If You’re Leaving“, by clicking RIGHT HERE.
What Geese Know
Right after work on the day Eddie died, I went to one of my son’s soccer games at his high school. He’s on a great team this year; they’re really rocking and so far have only lost ONE GAME!
As I sat in the stands in the first half of the game, under a glorious sunny (but cool) Michigan fall sky, a “V” formation of geese started to fly toward the stadium.
As I watched them approach, I noticed that the goose in front, leading the formation, was quite a bit ahead of the rest.
Usually ya see the front flapper pretty evenly spaced out from the others, but not this goose gangster! He was at least four geese ahead, and what was even more remarkable was it looked like he was hardly flapping at all compared to rest of the flock.
Soon they were passing almost directly overhead, arcing to the south to continue their migratory journey.
It was then that I suddenly realized – that lead goose… that was Eddie.
The visual metaphor was so perfect it brought me to tears. Eddie was always so far ahead of us. He was always providing that artistic updraft from his tireless “guitar chops”, showing us how it’s done, album after album, tour after tour; always making it look so effortless and easy.
And we, by comparison, flap and struggle just to keep up, just to try and comprehend his powerful pull, finesse and precision.
As I watched them arc away and gradually disappear from sight, began to smile big at the realization, and at the same time continued very real tears of joy and sadness. Right there in the COVID-masked crowd, next to my wife.
The musical prodigy we turned to time and again is gone. Our “lead goose” that everybody obviously and instinctually knew deserved to be at the head of the “V”. The one who flew us through lofty heights; the one we could never, ever catch up to, but who still helps us rise to higher possibilities.
I now know what geese know. And in Ed’s honor, I will keep flying, keep rising upward…. keep representing my craft with excellence, and keep honing my techniques with a wide and exuberant grin, just like he did, at the fun, the beauty, the glory of playing and creating music.
See you at migrations end, Eddie.
A Tribute Gig
One day a week I play a little gig in the café of the fitness facility I work at. I started it not only to entertain our members and guests, but also to give me time to stretch my guitar chops and get some good practice and performance time in, since for the past five months we haven’t had ANY gigs to play because of the coronavirus.
Because of this, on the day Eddie died, I had my Wolfgang standard electric guitar sitting right next to me in my office. I had just taken lunch and had just been practicing for the concert the next night when I was told he was gone.
How surreal – to have somebody walk into my office and tell me the man who designed and made the guitar I just played is no longer among us.
Doing anything after that news was hard, but I continued to prep the songs for the concert. I decided to add an “Eddie tribute collage” to the concert (that my text above mentioned). How could I not??
When the time came, I did all right. The hard part about playing a small gig in a small room is you can’t play LOUD, so it came across a little lackluster to me for that reason. Still, I knew the material well and played it to the point that I felt it was an honor to Ed.
Something tells me I’ll be doing this often in the future… and not just for audiences – but also just for me; playing through his material just to remember him; to thank him, secretly in my soul, for all the incredible instruction and inspiration that he unknowingly provided to me and thousands of others around the globe for so many years.
What a treasure he was!!
Keep That Swag a-Comin’!
So that was it. That was how I processed my grief over Eddy’s passing.
It’s not that the grief is over. In some ways it’s only just begun.
My family, who has often bought me Eddie Van Halen-related gifts for my birthdays and Christmases, will now do so knowing that it has even more meaning and poignancy.
My family also saw what a blow the news was on me, though I doubt they really understood. Until you have set for decades at the feet of a master, receiving their instruction, watching their every move, investing yourself in their approach, their innovations, their methods…. and resonating so strongly with the voice within that mentor… you can’t possibly comprehend what it means for that to be reduced to silence. And absence.
For those of you to whom Eddie also meant a lot, please leave a comment sharing the love. Let us know how you handled the news; how you’re moving forward from it.
And, of course, let me know any wonderful stories of how Ed shaped your life, your gear, your music.
I can honestly say I can’t imagine my life without Eddie in it. Thankfully, I won’t have to because his music, and his story of overcoming all obstacles for a dream, WAS always there… and lives on. Like a modern-day Paganini… no one could touch his talent. Maybe like Mozart, no one ever will. But his mastery of composition and guitar will always be with us.
With every power cord we strike, through amps turned up loud, we will remember…
May his jamming grin grace all our ferocious frequencies, and may our gratitude resound to him even now, with the thunderous power of a hundred Marshall Plexi stacks!!!
Thank you, Eddie Van Halen. Thank you so very much. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without you.
Remember when you first heard Jack White’s solo on “Seven Nation Army”??
Did it impress you like it did me?! The effect, and playing, on that solo is so WHACKED, man – you just have to stop and listen! It was just so out-of-left-field that you can’t possibly ignore it.
(Btw… kudos to Electro-Harmonix for making that solo tone possible with yet another awesome foot pedal – the “Big Muff!)
That kind of “not-what-you-expect” sound is what initially drew me to buy and try the Synth 9. The thought of having my guitar notes come out sounding like… like I’m playing a SYNTH?? I’d never heard that done on a radio tune.
My reaction was immediate: “I gotta have that!!”
If you haven’t heard this wonder of the pedal world, give an enlightening listen to this excellent walk-through by Electo-Harmonix itself:
The Synth, the Whole Synth, & Nothing but…
In case you haven’t heard the buzz on this beauty, the Synth 9 is basically a pedal that emulates (very well) NINE (and thus the name) of the classic Moog, Oberheim and ARP analog synth sounds that helped give us the finest Prog Rock albums ever made.
Want sweet, thick lead lines?
Lush chord pads??
Deep bass you can feel crashing right through your innards??!
You’ve got ‘em!!
This product is the latest in a string of “keyboards in a box” that ElectroHarmonix (or EHX as they’re now called) has created.
Also available are their previously released pedals:
The B9 pedal for classic ORGAN sounds
The C9 pedal for even more ORGAN sounds!
The KEY9 pedal for electric pianos
The MEL9 for vintage Mellotron sounds
Many online who bought these other pedals have written in their reviews that the Synth9 is their favorite of the bunch. I’m not surprised, since these sounds are, in a word, FUN.
The polyphonic triggering algorithm that this pedal uses does a really good job, so both chords and melodic lines come out very impressive, with rare lapses.
It used to be that, if you as a guitarist wanted to have access to these kinds of keyboard sounds, you had to spend quite a few hundreds of dollars to outfit your axe with a “MIDI pickup”.
The Roland GK-3, for example, that I sold a lot of back in the 90s. For over $300 you could drill some holes in the body of your guitar and attach a large black plastic box that would connect you to synth worlds galore.
That MIDI pickup would then be linked to either a synth, or a synth module that was rack-mounted (the more common method).
You then had that entire roster of patches available to you sonically, with most sounding very UN-like a guitar.
Kind of a clunky method tho’. It never made me want to do it.
This pedal doesn’t give you hundreds of sounds like those old synth modules, but what it does, it does well – the top classic synth sounds everybody recognizes!
It also has a built-in Compressor/Limiter so all the squishy, morphing or phat patches will stay in your face… which is just how they should be!!
And just one caveat, you fretboard masters – the Synth 9 only tracks notes from open “A” string and higher. So if you get all freaky on the reeeeeal down-low… don’t be surprised if it hiccups. You’re pushing it out of its comfort zone!!
If you find that the unit is playing notes when you only TOUCH the guitar, just bring your guitar volume down a tad. Then it won’t be so touchy! 😉
I find the best tracking happens when I’m in humbucker mode, but that pickup also makes the Synth9 the most sensitive, so choose your axe, pickup and tone setting for what works best for you.
Finally, make sure your guitar is IN TUNE before you link up to this pedal. If not, you WILL encounter some pulsing dissonance, because the tones in this box ARE in tune.
On the other hand, if you want some interesting ugliness… TRY IT!! lol
The Synth 9 comes equipped with one standard ¼” input, but has TWO outputs:
A dry signal out, and
A wet, or synth only, out
Sometimes you might want a different balance between these two signals, so two knobs up top are strategically placed to give you that flexibility and balance. They’re labeled “Dry” and “Synth”, respectively.
This past week I played a gig in a small café (my first live gig since quarantine shut down everything!) and I used this pedal, with both ports engaged.
(And, yes, it WAS bizarre and undesirable to have to wear a COVID MASK while giving a concert. Can’t WAIT ’til we’re back to some semblance of normal!)
I opted for my Epiphone tiger-stripe “WildKat” electric for the gig (full story of that beauty HERE), and it triggered the Synth9 pretty much flawlessly.
Sometimes I reached over and took some guitar out. Sometimes I brought more back in. It really depended on how much synth I felt the song appropriately deserved and could handle.
I probably with NOT dial the Mini Mood patch 100% on American Pie. But ya never know!!! LoL
There’s a 9-Volt power port in the back of this pedal. The power adapter comes with it, so no worries that you’re gonna have to go Google one before you can play at all.
Now that you know the basics of this state-of-the-art pedal, let’s delve into the specifics.
We’ll take it patch by patch so you really know, not only the tone, but also the history of each selection.
Let’s examine the body of evidence for why this little box ROX!
Patch 1: OBX
Oberheim started making the OBXa synth in 1980. Soon after if became hugely famous and was pretty much in every keyboardist’s tonal arsenal for the rest of the 80s.
Always the fervent Van Halen fan, I thought their full-on embracing of the Oberheim OBXa for their hit “Jump” was groundbreaking, impressive and full of HUUUUUGE energy (cue the Donald Trump meme).
Oberheim sweeps on Rush’s famous tunes, “Tom Sawyer” and “Subdivisions” still sound so cool to this day. Imagine those songs without the synth tracks. Hard to do!
Sting put a ‘synth in the machine’ using Oberheim sounds with the Police in the 80s as well.
He was trying to get away from the classic Police sound they’d forged over the years. He wanted something different. A deliberate, divergent turn from their expected sound. The OBXa did that for him.
And now it can do that for you!!
When on patch 1, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Tone (filter brightness)
Ctrl 2: 4-Octave selector
Patch 2: Profit V
Sequential Circuits started making the ”Prophet-5” synth in 1978. It went through three revisions until 1984, when the Prophet-10 took its place.
Many, many bands and artists use this classic keyboard, from Michael Jackson to Phil Collins to Madonna.
Want that intro pad tone of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”? This’ll do that.
When on patch 2, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: RATE of the downward-sweeping filter envelope
Ctrl 2: 8-interval selector (8 octaves or 5th intervals)
Patch 3: Vibe Synth
This patch doesn’t try to emulate a specific synth. Rather, it just wants to provide you with a great polyphonic patch that also has some interesting movement.
A delayed vibrato is added to the notes as you sustain, as well as decaying harmonic content as notes or chords are held out.
When on patch 3, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Power and Sweep range of the harmonics
Ctrl 2: Vibrato rate & depth simultaneously
Patch 4: Mini Mood
What a legendary name MOOG is in the music field. SO many wonderful keyboards that have shaped Pop/Rock, and beyond, for generations.
This patch helps take our audience into that thick, rich ocean of moving, morphing sounds that Moog NAILED back in the 70s.
The Minimoog was produced from 1970 to 1981. It was heralded as the first AFFORDABLE synth to come on the market, in a time when others were so cost-prohibitive that few could buy them.
Countless acts used the Minimoog to good effect, including Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Kraftwerk, and, of course, the inimitable Keith Emerson with E.L.P.
Moog followed the Mini up with other iterations, but they all had the “Glide” knob, which allowed you to connect the notes you played with a kind of sonic ramping-up or down, instead of there being spaces between notes.
In Classical music it’s called the “Portamento” effect, and though it admittedly sounds a bit dated, the way each note glides into the following ones is kind of intoxicating once you start using it.
When on patch 4, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: the VOLUME for the Glide voice / Portamento notes
Ctrl 2: the SPEED, or timing, of the glide / Portamento
This patch is perfect for single-note melody crafting, or adding some HEFT and unexpected trickery underneath a standard guitar tone when soloing.
Oh, and if you’ve never heard Keith Emerson play the Minimoog… do yourself a favor – go stream “Lucky Man” and listen to a synth MASTER at play!! 😉
Patch 5: EHX Mini
Around 1980, ElectroHarmonix introduced their 25-note “Mini.Synthesizer”. It was unique in that it didn’t actually have KEYS to press down; instead, a black and white flat, plastic membrane was your interface. Kinda like the ribbon keyboard controller you can buy these days you roll out to play.
That made it a bit difficult to play, especially if you were used to a real piano! But the sounds and effects were so different and infectious… it made the airwaves anyway.
My favorite use of this unique synth was on Van Halen’s “Fair Warning” album, on the songs “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” and “One Foot Out the Door”.
Eddie obviously dug the sounds on this quirky portable board, ‘cuz he used it for no less than TWO separate songs on the SAME album!!
When on patch 5, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Filter envelope Sweep Attack time and direction (before noon) & decay time (after noon)
Ctrl 2: 4-Octave selector
If you play shorter notes, a fun sort of “bow-wow” sound is expressed.
Hold the notes or chords longer and harmonics start to swell and morph, while twin resonant filters creep in with deep, throaty GROWLS that are unforgettably all up in your stuff!
Great for Funk, Electronica or Pop, especially if something unexpected is desired.
Release the beast! Unleash your animal! Let the BEHEMOTH RISE!!!! 😉
Patch 6: Solo Synth
Fuzzy Wuzzy wuz a bear…
Fuzzy Wuzzy… LOVED THIS PATCH!!! LoL
The circuits firing on this one combine a synth oscillator and a FUZZ-y square wave. The end results is quite hairy – we’re talkin’ one single extreme synth tone!
When on patch 6, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Sets Tone parameters
Ctrl 2: 4-Octave selector
This patch I personally use a lot for a great doubling effect. Just set the Octave to Unison with your guitar and voila… double the fun!
Set Ctrl 2 all the way left, into the Low Octave range, and, oh man… low-end heaven. No one will be asking “Where’s the BEEF?!!”
When Ctrl 2 is set to the right extreme, into the high Octave range, it adds a kind of “squeal-y” note to whatever you play. I don’t use that approach much, since it kinda sounds a little too weird, but hey… to each their own. If you like it, go for it!
Patch 7: Mood Bass
If you’re a Funk or Prog Rock guitarist at all, you’re gonna love this patch!!
We all know, sometimes a regular bass is just not enough. Sometimes, the deep, fathoms-low rhythmic precision of a synth bass is just the ticket, and that’s what this patch emulates.
For fellow fans of Genesis, you’ll recognize these tones from the middle period, when Rutherford (after Howe left) triggered the Taurus pedals with his feet, all while he handled the guitar parts too!
What a musician!!
But wait! If you’re more the kind of guitarist who struts the stage with sequins and sci-fi accouterments, all while givin’ up the FUNK… you’ve come to the right tone faucet!
Wanna play the bass line to “Flashlight” by Parliament as on the MiniMoog? Go ahead! You’ll sound just like it.
Then TRY to stop playing it. Go ahead… just try!
Bernie Worrell, RIP, played a MASTERPIECE on that tune. His masterful touch is sorely missed.
When on patch 7, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Timing of downward filter sweep, and staccato vs legato note length
Ctrl 2: 3-Octave selector
Patch 8: String Synth
Based on the classic analog ARP “Solina String Ensemble” synth. It was distributed from 1974 to 1981.
It had twelve discrete tone generators that gave you the polyphonic power to orchestrate using violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello, and contrabass sounds.
Richard Wright used it on Pink Floyd‘s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond“.
Elton John put it on “Someone Saved My Life Tonight“.
Even Parliament got in on the string synth action of this ARP board on their “Give Up The Funk”!
But maybe the coolest testament to its musical worth is the fact that Stevie Wonder played this to put strings on Peter Frampton’s hit “I’m In You” in ’77.
Talk about a dynamic duo!!
The Synth9 allows you to reconnect with this classic sound from so many hits.
For straight ahead strings, keep the Ctrl 2 knob to the left.
But to try another cool effect with this patch, turn the Ctrl 2 dial to the right and DELAY the onset of the notes or chords you play.
The resulting effect is super, uh… swell.
(Sorry. Just had to go there. LoL)
This delayed attack strings delivery is perfect for layering under an acoustic guitar (listen to 4:48 in the YouTube video above!). The average listener will think an orchestra is playing with you.
When on patch 8, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Tone
Ctrl 2: Filter Sweep Attack time
Patch 9: Poly VI
Korg made the Polysix back in 1981. It was designed as a cheaper alternative to the Prophet 5, which by then was ubiquitous in keyboard rigs.
Was it as good as the Prophet 5?
Most agree it was not, but it still had a lot going for it – mostly that the price was so entry-level, and its patches were still warm and usable. Not to mention the cool arpeggiator and delay-based effects that were included on board.
Tears For Fears and Keith Emerson both used this synth to good result.
The most obvious thing that sets this patch apart is the movement you hear in the notes, courtesy of the Modulation effect. You can make this “wobble” in the sound slow or fast, depending on what you think would complement a given song.
When on patch 9, the Control knobs change:
Ctrl 1: Tone
Ctrl 2: Modulation depth (how wide the sweeping filter, or ‘wobble’, is!)
I really dig this pedal. How cool that the good folks at EHX decided to bring the days of analog keyboard glory to the guitar fretboard?!!
There are LOTS of reasons why this thing rocks. Let’s look at the PROS:
The patches are familiar and high-quality.
Manipulation of the patches by hand is quick and easy.
The sounds are usable, especially if you’re wanting to emulate, or reproduce, 80s tunes
Robust case could handle road wear.
Incredible for adding a rich, lush, thick, wiiiiiiiide GIRTH to your tone.
Each of the 9 options is very different, so lots of variety!
For guitarists with no keyboard skills, this puts more sonic tools in the toolbox.
The blend of “wet” effect signal to the “dry” guitar sound is easily adjusted and makes for excellent balancing for just the “right sound”.
Makes eyebrows raise and heads turn to see a guitarist creating these types of sounds!
Can also be used in conjunction with other KEYBOARDS, to create sounds similar to MIDI-Layered patches (tho’ only in Mono)
The “Dry” output (with a standard guitar signal) can be sent straight into more “normal” guitar rigs/amps/racks.
Live tweaking of these patches really give you noticeable differences that are exciting and obvious!
Rolling back your guitar volume also changes the sound to more Staccato transients
Nice broad tonal range, from Bass “A” (55 Hz) all the way up to the guitar high E string 23rd fret (1244.51 Hz)!
Much easier to get non-guitar sounds than installing a MIDI pickup!
Add reverb for it to sound even less like a guitar and more like a normal synth!
The CONS are few and fairly trivial, but players should definitely consider them:
You CANNOT change patches with your foot – only turn it on or off.
Put it in the wrong place in your signal chain and you could muddy things up a lot (put it as the first pedal in your effects chain, not later, and NOT in the effects loop).
No expression pedal is included in the construction, so you also cannot adjust any parameters with your foot, only with your fingers AS you play. For this reason I see it mostly as a STUDIO tool, but I do use it live occasionally too.
Definitely “niche” tones; more of a “special sauce” box to use sparingly, unless 80s Synth Pop is your band specialty!
Not a lot of DYNAMICS in these patches. They’re all pretty much bold and ostentatious!
No battery-operation option; 9V AC power adapter necessary.
To get the most of the pedal, you’ll have to “learn to play it”, meaning becoming familiar with WHAT the Control knobs DO for each patch, and which chord fingerings sound more ‘keyboard-like’.
Limited compared to getting a real keyboard, which usually has hundreds of patches.
Hard to achieve a “tight” sound. Since these patches have a lot of “spill” they’re not ideal for fast notes, except for a few very specific knob placements.
Not as much variety as a dedicated MIDI guitar Synth.
Doesn’t track with an ACOUSTIC guitar very well. Made for electric primarily.
No User Memory Preset ability
A couple users have said they have to UNPLUG the cord from the unit before playing, or they get NO sound, and not even unplugging the power cord from the wall fixes it. Design flaw?
Synth Sim’ Bliss!
Whether you’re looking to add a tickle of interest underneath your usual guitar tone, get more gnarly or “in-your-face” with your solos, or simply add some unexpected texture layers to a tune, the Synth9 by ElectroHarmonixwill easily empower you to do just that… and more!
I use this pedal for both studio creativity/recording AND live thickening of my guitar tone and throwing in a “wow” factor to certain live solos.
Initially I was just going to review this pedal and then return it.
Then I played it.
MIND CHANGED!! LoL
So go ahead… breathe interesting new life into those same ol’, recognized songs.
Spice your sound up a bit.
Get those audiences drooling for more of your synth-y guitar FLAY-VUH!
One thing’s for sure… you’re gonna be having a lot of FUN after buyin’ this puppy!! 😉
So, have you already bought and used the Synth9?? Or were you in the market for it and now your SOLD on its synthesized sweetness?!!
Let us know. We always love to hear a good gear story, or help someone create one!
‘Til next time, the world is your (analogue) oyster, so let’s poof our hair up and polish our leather pants…
How many of you spent MORE time making music during the COVID-19 quarantine??
I see those hands! Me too!!
The statistics back it up – more people have been buying and spending time with musical instruments and gear than they have in YEARS.
Even though music stores, like the one to the right, were forced to close their doors because of the pandemic, most were still able to ride out the storm through phone sales or online ordering.
Why? People had a LOT of TIME on their hands,and they wanted to do something with it.
Something positive, that would help combat (or at least distract from!) all the ills of the worldoutside. The endless negatives. that can really wreak havoc on hope, and simple joy.
So, despite the onslaughts, the power of music has never been more obvious and life-giving.
Let’s take a look at the face of its latest rise to relevance!
Jus’ th’ Facts, Jack!
You hardly heard this in many press releases, but the past few months of dire circumstances had a silver lining – a ubiquitous interest in music. This summer has created, in innumerable ways, a “new normal”, and for music-makers, that’s no exception.
For those new to the muse who just started during quarantine, it’s a fun study full of learning favorite songs star-posturing in front of the mirror.
For those more “experienced” (as Jimi would say!) it’s using sheltering for wood-shedding!
How do we know this?? Stories and statistics.
First, the stories: online music instrument sales have blown through the roof! “Guitar World” magazine recently reportedIN THIS ARTICLE that online sales through Guitar Center have more than doubled.
And our good musical friends and gearheads at Reverb?
According to Rolling Stone inTHIS ARTICLEthey’ve seen searches for audio gear surge upwards of 50% over last year.
But what of my old compadres at online retailer Sweetwater? They have done so well over the last few months, it’s insane! More than double the normal amount of traffic. And, of course, that led to sales… LOTS and LOTS of sales!!
My representative, Mr. Jeffrey Green, had this to say about their recent successes during the quarantine:
“Put it this way: in our meeting last month they told us we did 9 months of projected business in only 4 months… “
Wow!!! Now THAT’S what I call a powerful surge of interest!
“The reasons are that much of our brick and mortar competition was closed for months. People have lots of time at home to surf our website. Everyone and their mother now needs to live stream, podcast, etc. so those kinds of products are flying off the shelves.
Many folks who have always wanted to learn to play guitar, or keys, or to record, are pursuing that dream while at home.”
And music shops are there to help!
Sweetwater’s CEO Chuck Surack also echoes the stats, telling Rolling Stone recently that for seven days in April, when the pandemic was spreading the worst and the lockdown was most widespread, sales were bigger than the week after 2019 Thanksgiving!
Here on Seriousgas.com we’ve seen the same kind of burgeoning interest. Which is why we write articles that tell you how to buy wisely and save money like THIS POST.
It’s clear, then, that more articles on music were read. More links clicked. More searches typed in for just the right musical alley to go down.
I guess what it comes right down to is that the world decided what we musicians already know:
“If the world’s coming to an end… I’m goin’ out PLAYING MUSIC!!”
Ray Kurzweil, Futurist and abstract Inventor, says in THIS INTERVIEW with Neil deGrasse:
“Things like music and art and poetry exist at the TOP of the Neocortical hierarchy.”
In other words, the more abstract, but meaningful, brain functions of the Neocortex are what make us the higher-functioning hominids that we are. Without them, we’d be as forward-thinking and inventive as… oh, say… the groundhog in my backyard that I’ve been trying to chase away with my tambourine!! LoL
It’s been proven over and over again that musical training improves a host of human conditions:
Clarity & attention
Neural speed and precision
Emotional balance & control
Stress and anxiety reduction
Discipline & problem-solving
Food consumption & digestion
That last one is obviously important for us during this pandemic. Hospitals and Therapists across the globe are deploying specific types and recordings of music to help patients of this virus heal.
If nothing else, music has been proven to trigger the brain into releasing chemicals that distract a body from pain. So, yes, Mary, Enya IS as good as Ibuprofen! 😉
This list could be much longer even, but I thought I’d found enough studies online by various colleges, PhDs, think tanks and medical journals to prove the point adequately. In short, if we want to optimize what our minds and skills and what we accomplish in this life, music MUST be a significant part.
So the more we engage in the moment with our ‘sound expressions’, the more skill and understanding we take on.
Probably the most avant-garde and recent cutting-edge use of music in this way you can read about IN THIS ARTICLE. It tells of a medical expert turning the COVID-19 virus into MUSIC in order to manipulate it and study it more effectively.
No surprise that a musician dreamed up that idea!!
Why is music so fun?
Why can we spend literal hours, even days, playing it and still feel like we’ve got endless ‘gas in the tank’??
Well, for one thing, I think it’s a matter of predisposition and personal inclination. My son, for example, doesn’t think practicing for his Orchestra class at high school is “fun”. To him it’s more of a chore we have to keep reminding him of.
Yet, every day he picks up my travel guitar (that I keep handy in the living room) and spends sometimes hours playing it, or the piano, for no other reason than it’s… fun.
Science says that it’s because music stimulates the brain regions that register reward & pleasure. I think that’s been obvious since the first caveman clicked rocks together and sang about how studly he was killing that Mastodon! Dinner is served!!
I recently saw an intriguing article online that parted the curtains on this topic called “7 Scientific Reasons Music is Fun“. Go READ IT HERE.
I won’t give it all away, but I will mention two new things I learned that made me more proud and thankful to be a musician than ever:
According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the book “This is Your Brain On Music“, scientists can place electrodes on someone’s head and actually SEE what PITCH is being played – just by looking at the brain scan activity!
Playing, and even just listening, to music tends to use more of the human brain than most other actions. According to brain scans, music demands more of both the right and left hemispheres of the brain at the same time, forcing them to act ‘in concert’ (pun INTENDED) in order to accomplish the wonders that we end up hearing from our composer or virtuoso heroes.
Wow! I mean, just… WOW!! That’s so cool. Now I wanna see the brain scan of someone with perfect pitch. It probably looks like Picasso doing Cubism. LoL
Regardless, one thing that quarantine has brought many of us musicians back to is the sheer enjoyment of just writing and playing.
Not for a concert (since we can’t do any!), not for a recording (even staying home all day, we can’t stay in front of mics forever!), and not even for anyone else. Just for ourselves. ‘Cuz COVID gave us time. Free time. To get back to that innocent place of simple self-expression.
The place that Joni Mitchell so unforgettably described in “For The Roses“:
“Remember the days when you used to sit and
make up your tunes for love?
And pour your simple sorrow to the
soundhole on your knee?”
Or, similarly, how she described the woodwind player playing without renown in “For Free“:
“But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good for free
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their T.V.
So they passed his music by… “
I was talking tonight to a good friend in New York, with whom I also worked at Sweetwater Sound years ago. Johnny Capogreco is a fantastic musician, not to mention a composer of music that expresses skill, passion, emotion, spiritual maturity, and an advanced understanding of melody, harmony and counterpoint.
He and I are HUGE fans of Genesis, so we talked about them and Phil Collins for a bit (as we always do). But then we spoke about the bands we’ve been in, songs we’ve composed and recordings we’ve made, and how we’re putting them out for the world to hear.
Whenever a call with Johnny ends, we both walk away energized about music! About the possibilities! And about what a total (not-always-so-serious!) GAS it is to share the magic of composing, and performing, pieces that inspire us to the core.
What’s obvious is that we absolutely LOVE making music. It thrills us; inspires us; it fulfills all we are and reflects all we hope to be.
In other words…
IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!
Know what I mean, jelly bean? 😉
It feels good to learn something, doesn’t it? Empowering yourself by expanding your own interior borders and growing your skills, potential and understanding… it makes us feel like we’re improving ourselves.
And we are!!
Learning music has yet another incredibly effect on humans – it makes you… HAPPY!
As I write this, the radio is playing “Happy” by Pharrell. I still remember learning that tune on sax to play for a prelude for a show.
It’s not often that you see a sax player SMILING while they play; the embouchure typically doesn’t allow it. But I WAS! Couldn’t help it… that song is so dang uplifting and infectious!!
That’s the kind of joy that comes to people first learning and instrument and finally being able to play something that, up to that point, was just a magical dream.
And for those of us that have played for years? Why do we still learn on our instruments? Why is music a universe that is ever-expanding inside of us??
I know you’ll “get it” when I say:“How COULD we ever put music down??!!!”
We continue to learn, to practice, to wood-shed, to push the boundaries of our musical understanding… not because some inner teacher is breathing down our neck – it’s because we CAN’T NOT do it! And we absolutely… LOVE IT!!!
Am I right? Or am I right? 😉
We may not know why, but we all know that music has a force, a power, a property, that somehow just uplifts, restores and renews…
But it’s not only for the spirit, or mood. It’s been known to actually promote real physical healing, the world over.
Did you know that it’s common for aged victims of Alzheimer’s Disease, who consistently can’t even recognize their own family members, to be able to nonetheless sing the lyrics and nail the melodies of favorite tunes from their younger days?!
Amazing, isn’t it?
All throughout history this power has been shown:
In the Renaissance, anyone sick was encouraged to study art and to play music, because the ensuing improvement to their “humours” would be swift and impressive.
The ancient Greeks also promoted music as therapeutic. To them, the importance of the positive state of mind music promotes was an effective cure, or at least a safe, hopeful treatment, to any physical disease.
And when Henry VIII went into quarantine as the Plague approached England, who did he choose to be one of the FIVE people sheltering in place with him?? Why, his organ player, of course!
Real stories like this are why, even to this day, you can get a degree in “Music Therapy” from most universities across the globe, a scholarly discipline that was first established in the late 1800s.
Now our modern world faces assaults like never before from viruses and pandemics that are severe in their lethality. Whether natural or conjured unwisely from our own labs is beside the point – they kill!
But at the same time, we have more instruments than ever, and a more widespread vehicle for music dispersion and sharing than ever before in history – the Internet!
Thus, more than ever, music, and we as musicians, can be a balm, a lifter of spirits, an agent of healing…
A reason to fight… to live.
The power still works.
The power still heals.
The power still ROCKS!
Comfort in Community
Did you see the videos of all those musicians in Milan, Italy, singing, or playing, or both, on their balconies during the pandemic quarantine??
It was epically cool. It was both social and musical DEFIANCE at the same time – a way to turn creative LIGHT against the invading darkness of a virus that had so shut down their city and hundreds of others across the globe.
There will always be musicians who want to shred for the glory it brings them. We can all smell it immediately – the “look at ME” syndrome.
But the COVID quarantine happily brought out something better from our midst: musicians of skill who put community before virtuosity.
These were our peers who prioritized how to GIVE to people through their music, instead of how they could GET something from it.
A great example from my local region of Detroit is renowned musician and prolific songwriter Duane Harlick, who took to Facebook time and again to share his songs as a means of lifting spirits during our shared ‘trying time’.
On a more national level, NPR took their popular “Tiny Desk Concerts” series and transformed it into a more quarantine-friendly “Tiny Desk HOME Concerts” series!
THIS PERFORMANCE by artist Kirby not only made us smile with her sunny soul singing… I think she shone some serious amounts of Vitamin D from the vivid vibrance of her JUMP SUIT and WALLPAPER!!! LoL
An finally, lest we forget our Classical brothers & sisters… do yourself a favor and WATCH THIS EPIC PERFORMANCE of the “Socially Distant Orchestra” performing music from the “Avengers” movie series.
To be able to get this many people to record so many parts in such a cohesive, dynamics-sensitive and timing-precise way?? It’s simply astounding.
Way to go, S.D.O.!!!!
Who knows how long it will take for us musicians to finally be able to actually perform in front of real, live humans again?! Might be months. Might be years. After the 2020 we’ve had so far, nothing would surprise me.
But in the meantime, it’s good to know that there’s plenty of ways left to still REACH our audiences, our super fans… those who love us and would jump at the chance to see and hear our music… live or online.
After all, it’s how our songs MOVE a community of listeners that really stands the test of time… or quarantine!
For all the beautiful ways that musicians are gifting the world with some unforgettably precious moments & stellar performances, the reality also exists that making a living at this thing we love has been made exponentially harder due to the pandemic.
The uncertainty about when we can finally be free of its invisible assault is made all the more aggravating because many earning streams have basically dried up and blown away… at least for the moment. Things like:
Ads on music channels
New album releases
The list is actually longer than this, but the point is clear: the old models of a thriving music career are out the window… like a bad bat out of a Wuhan cave.
Aaah, but we music-makers are an unflappable lot, aren’t we?! No doesn’t mean no. It just means… PIVOT. Switch to something different. Find another way.
And so we have. Though it’s still early in the plan, many of us are moving our music online in unprecedented ways.
YouTube, for example, is exploding with new music! Did you see all the “at home” concerts that were performed? And still are?!
That forum is a great way to showcase your creativity. I mean, it is the 2nd most visited search site besides Google. I think we need to all be part of that traffic. I mean… if the Rolling Stones thinks it’s important… so should we!!
The more this happens, the more sites will be monetized and songwriters and performers can have an income stream that continues whether they’re touring or not.
And the Internet, unlike us, keeps playing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until it goes away (which I don’t think is anytime soon)!
Also, government and some big business enterprises have heard our cries for help and has pivoted to address our financial plight: Relief Funds for musicians have been implemented and already have started to be distributed to full-time laborers in our field.
Granted, these funds won’t reach everyone wielding a guitar, but at least there’s a real recognition by leaders in our country that music matters, and needs a helping hand when illness shuts the door to our livelihood.
As we all change direction, and look for new potentials and ways to monetize our efforts, we shall see novel methods created that will take us onward to higher heights. Don’t stop believin’, as Steve sang, and don’t stop trying new ways to broaden your outreach and product lines.
Try Fiverr. Try BandCamp. Try KickStarter. Try social media streams.
And, hey, if we must… there’s always BUSKING! 😉
There’re many ways to pivot to profits, especially if you keep consulting music business articles to hear the latest trends that work.
But, hey, if you need a day job to hold you up for a while, that’s not the end of the world.
Just make sure it pays you enough to buy NEW GEAR!!! 😉
The power of music that we wield as its purveyors is stronger than ever. Few things can rival the staying power of a good song.
And many new students have joined our merry band to taste the potent potion of music’s uplifting elixir – the alchemy of sound, tone and rhythm!!
So let’s lead those myriad new quarantine students, by being the best musicians possible through this pandemic:
Practice while sheltering. You’ll be a better performer.
Compose your BEST works ever. Your audience will notice.
Pivot your profits. You’ll be better at business.
Educate yourself. You’ll have a broader understanding.
And give to your community. You’ll be a better person.
Mixing all these ingredients together in the cauldron of potential can’t help but produce a compelling, commanding influence upon all who get the chance to hear. Commit to keep releasing your material… regardless of the detours, curve balls or barriers.
We WILL get through this. We WILL be better for it. And the whole world will give a standing ovation… to the power!
I’ve been away from the site for a few weeks, launching some other online businesses, releasing new music and… renovating three rooms in my house!!
Nobody can say that I’m not making the most out of this corona virus quarantine. 😉
Hope you’re staying safe, well and creative too!
So, today we’re back looking at how to record music again, and this second article takes us into another single I released recently called “If You’re Leaving“.
Calling all crooning romantics and weepy Wendys – you’re gonna love this one!
For this video I went with a different director – Petar Jankoski, a very talented videographer in MACEDONIA, no less!
I just love the fact that in this day and age you can hire and work with someone halfway around the world just as well as if their next door to you, thanks to the Internet.
I do these little “song movies” because it’s inspiring to me to see the way different art forms can come together and make something even more moving than the separate pieces themselves ever could.
Nothing like a good story, and Petar really brought this one to life. He totally enhanced my vision for the song in a most complementary way.
Hope ya dig it!
The song itself was written a long time ago – in 1989!
I was living in Europe at the time, and had a girlfriend from Norway. We’d spent months together traveling as far north as England and as far south as Italy.
But the time finally came when we were going back to our own countries. It was time to say goodbye.
This was to be (he said, in the understatement of the year) quite difficult. Anyone who’s been in love and inseparable from their beloved for a long time knows what I’m talking about.
But there was nothing to be done. Due to things out of my control, I couldn’t stay, and neither could she. So… the night before we both flew out of Geneva, heading back to our separate countries, I wrote and performed this song for her, similar to how the guy did in the video.
It was my way of saying, “Look… don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again, or if will find a way to get around the fact that we live on separate continents, but I just want you to know… I’m really gonna miss you.”
It served it’s purpose well. Not only did I get my loving point across, but it fully encapsulates all the emotion, thoughts, hopes and dreams we shared and felt during that time.
That’s one of the most amazing things about songwriting – it takes you right back. Right to the reality of that pregnant moment when you just had to get it out.
If any of you have ever been in love, but faced obstacles and separations… this song’s for you.
The acoustic guitar we used to record “If You’re Leaving” was the Taylor 310.
It was a nice guitar, and one of the lower priced options in Taylor’s line-up. Under $1,000, as I recall.
I ended up selling it to fund a guitar I had crafted by hand by a local luthier. Read more about that HERE.
I had to dial out quite a bit of the bass in this acoustic. The 310 always had a great live sound, but in the studio it was always a bit too boomy for my taste.
Nonetheless, its feel was good and it helped me capture a wonderful performance, the perfect soundtrack under the poignant lyrics I wrote on that sad but loving day.
And speaking of wonderful performances, my eternal gratitude goes out to my long time friend an incredible musician Mr. Brian Stout.
The acoustic guitar part that you hear panned to the right side of the stereo field is the part Brian crafted for my tune.
Since he traveled to my studio to record for the song, he also used my Taylor 310 to lay the part down.
When I listen to the polyphonic wonder that he crafted against my acoustic part, which is panned left, I’m consistently impressed, enthralled and inspired.
Just LISTEN to those lines! Listen to the Bach-like choices he made melodically. The way his streaming flow of notes up, or down, sets perfectly with the lyrical content and mood.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. And you can tell he grew up playing violin.
That was before he and I both went gaga over Eddie Van Halen though. LOL
If you want more of Brian, check out his always- entertaining and uplifting band “Celtic Pink Floyd”. That link will take ya to their Spotify page.
There you’ll hear his excellence and relentless pursuit of the best music can be!
I had recorded the vocals for this song years ago, but since the equipment that I have these days is so much superior to what I had back then I went ahead and re-recorded the vocals a couple months ago.
These days my recording chain for vocals is as follows:
The AT4050 (my favorite mic!) switched to Omni mode (not cardioid!)
Next, the Apollo Twin Mark II digital interface via XLR.
The Avalon VT-737sp plug-in, with settings dialed in for my particular voice. The picture on the right shows you how I optimize my vocal timbre going in.
And if any of you who own an Apollo interface are wondering whether it’s worth it to buy the Avalon plug-in…
Stop everything. Go to UA online. Buy it.
There. I just did you a solid. 😉
It may come as a surprise to many of you to hear that I record in Omni mode when using the audio technical mic.
What can I say? You can’t argue with experience… and the tape don’t lie!
I have tried this mic in every mode several times on my voice, and in every single instance my voice had more width, girth and fullness in Omni mode.
Regardless of the microphone you use, it’s good practice to actually test out some other modes if you haven’t ever done that. Don’t let what’s “normal” be your deciding factor.
Try figure 8. Try hyper-cardioid. Try Omni, which is the setting I use for my vocals, like you see below. Even if you think it’s not “right” – TRY IT!
You just might find… you sound better than ever.
OK quick show of hands: how many of you die-hard G.A.S.-ERS have ever shopped at Sweetwater Sound?
Well, if you didn’t know, are used to work there myself. It’s where I honed a lot of my recording shops, and especially gained a working understanding about Pro Audio more than I EVER had before.
While working there I was partnered for a time with Mr. Jeffrey Green, a sales adviser extraordinaire! He’s one of the best they’ve ever had there when it comes to understanding gear.
What I love most about Jeffery though is that he’s a great guy – pleasant, funny, helpful… the kind of person you actually want to have around.
I can’t say that about everybody. Especially salesmen! LOL
In any event I had Jeffrey play cello, which is his preferred ask, on my very first album that I released in ’97.
Since I didn’t think he did too shabby then, I thought I’d bring him back for an encore. Slowly letting him off his leash. Sloooowly… LOL
I emailed him the stereo file with guitars and vocal, described what I wanted, and voila – within a day he’d nailed it!
And he pulled out the big gun for this recording too: a French-made cello built in the 1870’s! Then he mic’ed it with a Warm 87 mic (set about 3 feet away,) and had aSe Reflexion Filter wrapped around it to minimize any room noise. I use one of these in my studio and my vocals have never suffered from extraneous noise. Ever.
I did ask him to go back and re-cut two little melodic sections that I change my mind on. He gave me a Sid vicious snare and muttered something about sending Guido to my studio, but by the next day he played the revision.
So I’m still peering out my window wondering if Guido’s coming…
Software-wise, I’m still running ProTools Ultimate. I bought the perpetual software option so I actually OWN Pro Tools; I don’t pay for a monthly subscription. Pro Tools has owned the landscape for decades and it gives me everything I need and then some.
I do have reaper, and have it by good authority that reaper actually spits out better audio quality than ProTools (see the pro that told me that HERE).
But, hey, When you’ve used a piece of software for so long that you’ve become really adept at it, know its ins and outs, know where everything is and don’t have to think much to use it, and it’s still the flagship software of the industry…
… why use anything else?
As a quick side note, I’m also excited to tell you that I used, for the very first time, the iZotope Ozone software to Master the final mix for “If You’re Leaving”.
How did it perform??
Really, I had no idea that there was a software out there that could give me such quality Mastering results so fast and so easily. It blew my preconceptions away, how well it made my track strong and balanced and ready to compete against any ballad out there.
I’ll have to do an article just on Ozone. It deserves the acclaim!
As a final aside, this is also the first single that I used the SoundSpot plug-in called Focus. It’s a trippy psychoacoustic manipulating plug-in that basically helps you to zoom in on a set of frequencies, which then intern brings out more brings down certain elements of your mix.
And of course, just to buck the trend and get creative, I did NOT use it for mastering. Instead, I slapped it on the vocal tracks AND acoustics.
I thought they could help me find that perfect balance between the four separate instruments, and I was right – it did a bang-up job. Very helpful tool for any sonic landscape!
“The Abacus Path” is my project name for the AcousticPop/Rock stuff I write. This year I decided to pull back a little on the website here and spend more time finishing my latest album.
So far, so good on keeping them in balance, but I think the music has definitely stolen some of my SeriousG.A.S. attention over the last few months!
No worries, though. Times and seasons, right? Besides, I’ll never leave our li’l gear nook here… it’s too much fun!!
To keep up on all the music that comes out of my studio for “The Abacus Path”, check in on OUR WEBSITE HERE for all the latest news.
I’m Not Leaving
Hope you enjoyed this latest “how to record music” glimpse and have some ideas about options you can try on your own recordings.
We like bringing you the REAL DEAL here on SeriousG.A.S. with regard to instruments and recording gear, and what better way than looking into the actual recording notes of an actual session?!!
Why else did I buy THIS BOOK (seen on the right) years ago?! It’s ‘holy grail’ info, brah!! LoL
At the end of the day, it’s all about what works, and what we should trade in for something better. Hopefully the insights I shared today helps YOU decide what brings YOUR music to life the best!
Stay tuned for further, more detailed glimpses of the software I use ongoingly for these recordings. If it sounds good, it IS good, and we’ll be talkin’ about it.
For now though, stay safe, socially distanced and wise in all this COVID craziness, and above all, no matter WHAT the world throws at you, make sure you…
That’s how a lot of acoustic guitar players like their tone to be.
Even me, sometimes!
But then, at other gigs, with other songs… the moment calls for something with less… girth.
The Samick acoustic guitar that I have, their “Thin Line” model AMCT-CE, is the perfect complement to such situations.
Worried you might not cut through the mix enough?? Surrender those fears! The SAMICK is here!!!
The Custom Pro Overview!
First, let’s get a quick, thorough breakdown of the specs of this unique, useful and beautiful guitar:…
Samick AMCT-CE PBE “Valley Arts Custom Pro Shop” ThinLine Acoustic/Electric Guitar:
Top Plate: Birds Eye Maple
Binding: Back & sides
Neck: Set Mahogany
Electronics: 4-band EQ plus Volume
Inputs: EQ700 XLR and 1/4″
Tuners: Chrome die-cast
Serial #: 99050008 (8th of its line in May 1999)
Country of Origin: Korea
The Obviously Awesome… Wood!!
As is always the case with a great guitar… it’s the WOOD, baby. The WOOD!!
Take a look at this incredibly intricate, almost 3D quality of the Bird’s Eye Maple that’s used on the top resonating plate in the picture below:
Isn’t that GORGEOUS?! It’s the first thing that caught my eye and made me consider buying it, and it’s still one of the biggest reasons I’ll never get rid of it. It’s just breathtakingly lovely.
Do you know why you don’t see many guitars with this type of wood? Because Birdseye Maple is a rare characteristic. It’s found in only about 1 percent of all maple trees!! Crazy, right?
Interestingly, nobody really knows WHY some trees get this incredible grain. There’s no scientific evidence to support any specific theory of why it happens. What makes it grow with such panache. It’s a mystery.
Which makes having a guitar made with it THAT MUCH MORE COOL!!! LOL
Anyway, as usual with unusually textured wood grain, pictures just can’t do it justice. Next time you’re in a guitar shop (may it be SOON, out of Quarantine!!), ask to see a quilted Maple or Bird’s Eye Maple or Flamed Maple top on a guitar. When you take in that miracle up close and personal, you’ll know why this li’l git-box is never leaving my Wall of Fame. ‘-)
What’s up, Slim?!
Another reason I’ll never part with this guitar (besides the simple fact that I just… well, LIKE it) is that it’s the only “Thin Line” acoustic I own.
A Thin, or Slim, line construction means (to most acoustic luthiers at least) that the BODY of the guitar is shallow. Much shallower than normal.
The depth of this Samick, for example is only 2.75inches. The slimmest guitar I have after that, which is a standard “full-depth” acoustic, jumps up to 3.5inches. That’s quite a difference!
A thin line construction means (mostly) three things:
Much less body weight & mass, so it’s closer to your body and easier to reach & play.
A pronounced reduction in the bass frequencies, due to the smaller resonant cavity.
Far less projected volume when heard without amplification.
Because of these specific characteristics, this guitar is perfect for use in an amplified setting, especially in a full band, where the low frequencies of a deeper body just aren’t necessary. In fact, the lows and low-mids will get in the way and are usually EQ’d out by the sound person anyway!
I’m sure if Samick COULD have, they would have called this a “SlimLine” guitar, since the term goes waaaaay back in guitar luthier techniques. But it’s trademarked so they can’t.
Gibson started it with their semi-acoustics (the Byrdland, ES-225, ES-335/345/355, etc.) in the 1950s.
Then Fender really took the term and ran with it in the 70s on their Telecasters. Today, when someone hears “Slim Line”, a semi-hollow bodied Tele is probably what’s going to spring to mind, due to Fenders ubiquitous and decades-long Tele marketing.
There’s another impactful dimension to the AMCT body: the depth is exactly the same at every point on the guitar. This makes a difference in how consistent the sound reflections are inside the body cavity, and thus how much sound exits.
Sometimes, like on my Mike Franks acoustic (which you can SEE HERE), a guitar may start around 3.5″ near the neck and widen out to the standard 4″ at the bottom.
Changing the inner distances between the top and back plates produces more random reflection patterns, and doesn’t “trap” as many frequencies inside. This Slim Line model stays consistent throughout, so that’s one reason it’s not as loud as others.
If you’ve never tried a thin depth acoustic, give one a try. I love how CLOSE the strings are to my body, making it so easy to play. For younger or smaller guitar students, a thin line guitar also helps with arms that aren’t so long; it’s SO much easier to fret, strum and pick!
It’s from the Valley, Dude!
So, what about this “Valley Arts” moniker?? And what is “Samick”, anyway??
Is “Valley Arts” the brand name? A model? A parent company??
“Somebody, SAVE US from this lack of guitar KNOWLEDGE!!!”
Fear not. Teaj is here. LoL
Samick has been building guitars since 1958. At one time they produced more guitars than any other plant on the planet! So, do they know a thing or two about luthiership? Yea.
They have factories is Korea, China & Indonesia. Their goods are then shipped worldwide, including to our illustrious shores.
Valley Arts Guitar was a local guitar shop in North Hollywood that I frequented when I lived in L.A. It was the bomb.
I took my first guitar lessons there, from a great player, Lindsey Blair. His teaching room was right next to Jennifer Batten‘s, another uber-talented player.
When she ended up leaving town to go tour with Michael Jackson, guess who she recommended to take her place at GIT (the “Guitar Institute of Technology”) as an Instructor there? Lindsey.
He was such MASTER at so many things. No matter what I threw at him to learn, he always could NAIL it as easily as eating the chili cheese fries they sold just down the block.
(Of course, we’d never play AND eat those at the same time. We DO care for our instruments!!)
Lindsey is still out burning up the fretboard even to this day. Check out HIS WEBSITE HERE. And HERE is the love story of a great Fender Strat he sold me!
But Valley Arts also had other very esteemed axe-slingers who hung out there all the time: Larry Carlton; Tommy Tedesco; Steve Lukather; Al DiMeola… their patrons were like a who’s who of who’s AWESOME!
So, they began to put together custom guitars for their legendary pro players. From 1977 to 1993 the line of Valley Arts Guitars were renowned and respected, especially by session players in Southern Cal.
In 1993, due to an unfortunate store fire which pretty much destroyed everything, Valley Arts was sold to Korean manufacturer Samick, who at the time sold more guitars worldwide than any other company.
Samick then started to use the Valley Arts name (and thus its marketing prestige) to sell some of its higher end instruments.
When I saw this guitar for sale on Craigslist, the wood grain caught me first, but the second thing to reeeeeally draw me was the fact that it had “Valley Arts Custom Pro Shop” on the headstock.
That was my go-to store! I was there. I knew that precious musical palace! It meant a lot to me back in the day, so I had to go check it out.
Glad I did! This guitar does their heritage proud.
The JACK, Jack!
I always love it when a guitar has an XLR output.
We put enough time and effort into honing our craft and our tone… we don’t need line noise & hum to creep in and ruin our musical vision.
The purity of an XLR line helps “keep it clean”, especially as you get into longer cable runs. XLR is the bomb if you want the best signal possible, and I’ll ever be a fan.
Another great thing about this set up is the STEREO options. I can run two cables out of this guitar, one XLR and one 1/4″, and place different effects on either side.
Or I can give them the same FX, but still have that massive stereo sound that is so inspiring… not only to our listeners, but to US!
Not every guitar that has an XLR out allows you to have BOTH signals, so do your homework if that’s important to you to verify that that option will be available to you.
I’d describe the Samick as having a thinner tone acoustically, which is why, in the context of a band, I use it frequently.
It cuts through nicely and hardly ever needs any Hi-Pass filter slapped on it. The sound mixers love it ‘cuz they don’t have to EQ it much in the band setting.
Oh, and it has never been prone to feedback either, much to our mutual appreciation!
The AMCT has great sound & note definition as well, probably because, again, there’s no muddy, booming frequencies in the low end to get in the way of clarity.
This is great when you’re playing with a full rhythm section. You don’t want a bunch of bass frequencies, or you’ll be treadin’ on the bassist’s ground.
And he won’t like that! LOL
If there’s a weakness to this model, it’s the onboard electronics. They are not strong.
In fact, in my last concert the mixer asked me to NOT use this guitar on a louder song because the distortion was too pronounced.
If you’re playing soft, or doing fingerpicking, there’re no issues. Have at it and you’ll be fine.
But when you start playing aggressively? Ooo, that’s when distortion kicks up every time, and I mean the kind that everybody, including your audience, will notice.
(And, yes, in case you’re wondering, the battery is always brand new when I check for this issue. It’s obviously a fault of the electronics construction.)
So, next week, I’m actually having brand new electronics put in to fix this problem. That way I can play as loud as I want (mostly on big STRUM songs) and have no issues when I use only the D.I. outputs.
I’m planning a before and after article once that’s dones, so keep your ears peeled for that post soon enough!
That being said, I absolutely LOVE how this guitar records!! The acoustic sound of the Samick is GREAT in the studio. I’ve used it many times and will continue to, as it really brings my songs to life well, whether it’s with a full band or even solo.
So, if ya don’t mind spending a Franklin or less to upgrade the electronics, this can be an all-out monster for your gigs and sessions.
I made two recordings for you that should make clear what I mean. Let’s let our ears be our guide…
The ACOUSTIC tracks at the beginning are laid out in the stereo spectrum as follows:
Hard Left: Oktava 319
Mid left: Avantone CK-1, at bridge
Mid Right: Avantone CK-1, at 12th fret
Hard Right: Oktava 319
The D.I. tracks afterward are laid out this way:
33% Left: 1/4″ output
33% Right: XLR output
I played songs into the mics that most of you (if not ALL) probably know, just for a point of reference.
Dust In The Wind
Stairway to Heaven
The D.I. cable I took straight into my Apollo interface, with NO further processing.
On the Master Bus I put an EQ’d Lexicon 450 reverb. That’s it. The sound you hear is the guitar, not software smoke & mirrors.
Keep in mind the strings are 7 months old now. This axe, like all the rest, would sound even better with new ones put on. I’m recording with it next week so you’ll get to hear it with new strings in the NEXT installment.
Hope you enjoy this as much as I do playing her!
Wait for… the DROP!
Completely by accident one year, I stumbled upon a great way to use a Thin Line acoustic guitar. The story goes like this…
I decided, after reviewing songs for potential slots on my next album, to resurrect a song that I’d written when I was 21 years old, way back in my L.A. days.
The trouble was, my voice is MUCH different than it was then, and I found that I didn’t like how I sounded in the key I wrote it in. Dropping it a whole step sounded, with my voice NOW, more soulful and smoky.
BUT… I didn’t want to have to relearn a whole new set of chords ‘cuz I was in a hurry and the finger-picking was pretty complicated.
My solution? I dropped the strings down a whole step and played the song as written.
To my great joy, not only did my voice sound better this way, but the Samick put out substantially more bass frequencies now that the low string was down to D.
This lower tuning gave it a much more balanced overall acoustic sound, tho’ the volume was still not loud acoustically.
So there ya go – that’s what you’re hearing on the recording above.
And that’s what I call… a Win/Win!!
Rare Bird, Indeed
Googling my discontinued Samick model today, I couldn’t find a single used one on sale anywhere. Not on eBay, not through Guitar Center, not in Craigslist national… it’s like I have the only one!!
I even checked Google IMAGES, where usually I can at least find a picture of the instrument I’m looking for. Nothin’.
So, yea… looks like I’ve got a pretty rare commodity.
Does that make it more valuable?? Probably, but honestly… I don’t really care. It’s about the music it brings out of me, and so far… it’s been bringin’ out quite a LOT!
There are some other classic models by Samick I find here and there worthy of note, like their “Greg Bennett“-designed guitars (acoustic and electric).
Those have a pretty vocal following online; I saw many reviews (like THIS ONE) saying they’re unbelievable guitars at their price point
Since they’ve won multiple awards over the years, I’m not surprised! They look much like my AMCT, but the headstock is different and says “Greg Bennett” on it.
These days Greg still makes his acoustic line of guitars through Samick, so you can get those new (on THIS WEBSITE) but not the electrics or hybrids, like mine.
And Samick? Oh, they’re still making a TON of guitars every year, and keeping the prices reasonable because of their sheer size and how they’ve streamlined things over the decades. Check their MANY new guitar options on the SAMICK WEBSITE HERE.
I even found one on there that veeeeery much has me G.A.S.-ing… Check out this new TVJZ-50CE:
The Syndrome never ends… LoL
Ride That Thin Line!
Now, obviously, this Samick acoustic guitar is long gone from store shelves; you can’t buy one today.
Unless, of course, you keep your eyes open for one online. Set up an eBay “reminder Search” and see what happens.
I looked for something similar to recommned to you but I could not find a single, thin-line acoustic/electric with XLR & 1/4″ outputs anywhere. I’ll keep looking and update here if I find one, but if YOU come across something similar… please let us know!
‘Til then, rock this quarantine with your BEST music, and , go… make… sounds!!
I’m an acoustic guitar aficionado. Have been since high school.
Oh, sure, electrics have their place… especially when the testosterone movin’ and I want to get my “shred” on…
But the acoustic… mmm… there’s multiple worlds in there.
So I picked up another one last year (my 10th): the Ibanez AE Acoustic Guitar!
As you’ll see from the ensuing story… it wasn’t all I expected.
But the good news is it still has some strong suits, and any beginner could go a long way honing their craft on this axe!
Ibanez has a broad line of these models. Some start at under $500, like THIS ONE, and go up to near the $900 mark if you get one with bells, whistles and the “Ooooo!!” factor.
I got this one used to try out the line. It has a great looking “Transparent Violet” color that drew my eye immediately (tho’ it also came in Black and Natural colors).
When I got the guitar the action was, in a word TERRIBLE. I don’t know if it came from the factory that way and the girl I got it from was clueless (it appeared that way), or whether it underwent some major humidity & temperature fluctuations, but, man… it was NOT good.
After some set up in my studio, it was a lot better. I determined, though, that if I kept the AE I’d swap out the NUT, at the very least, to help the action. It was just too high.
The compensated saddle helped to make the Intonation pretty good. It just wasn’t comfortable to play.
I prefer cutaways, since I play high up on the neck at times for chords and licks. If that’s not important for you then there are other full-body guitars that might be a better choice for you – any cutaway IS going to take a bit of the guitar’s resonance and bottom end away, to some degree.
Time to In-SPEC-t!
For all you tweaky gearheads who want to know all de facts, Jack (you know who you are!), here is the most exhaustive list of features and parts in the AEF18 that I could find:
Preamp: Ibanez SST
Pickup: Fishman Sonicore
Body Construction: Single cutaway
Body Construction: Acoustic
Body Shape: AEF
Body Top Wood: Spruce
Body Type: Hollowbody
Body Wood: Mahogany
Bridge Pins: “Advantage” pins
Fingerboard Radius: 12.00″
Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
Fret Size: Medium
Fingerboard Inlays: Dot
Neck Joint: Dovetail
Neck Shape Series: Standard
Neck Wood: Mahogany
Number of Frets: 21
Number of Strings: 6
Nut Material: Ivorette II
Nut Width: 1.69”
Rosette: Wooden Fire Pattern
Saddle material: Ivorette II
Scale Length: 25-1/4″
String Nut: Synthetic Bone
Tuners: Chrome Die-cast
Width at Nut: 43mm
Width at Joint: 55mm
Thickness 1st Fret: 20mm
Thickness 7th Fret: 21mm
Whew! That’s a lotta numbers!!
A St(AE)l… of a Deal!
I didn’t pay much for my AE. I only bought it because I saw it used from a buyer on Craigslist and was intrigued. Mostly by the color, the cutaway, the electronics, and the fact that I’d pay under $200!
She was a local girl who had been using it to play in church, but no longer had that gig, so it was collecting dust.
I needed another acoustic guitar for an upcoming concert. I typically play in quite a few alternate tunings, so having four or five guitars at the ready, all tuned differently ahead of time, helps my shows to go smoother. I also don’t have to spend so much time tuning during the shows, so the fans appreciate that, I’m sure!
After meeting her and seeing that is was a little beat up, I offered her about $50 less due to the cosmetic let-down. She went for it, and I took home a decent acoustic for a lot less than you’d get it from any store.
After looking it over, I took it home, changed the strings, and adjusted a few things play better.
I then tested it through an amp to verify all was well there. Thankfully (since usually I test it before I give away a wad of cash!), everything sounded good.
The top faceplate not only had a lot of dings; I could also tell that the wood right from the manufacturer was not the greatest. If you’re looking for a guitar that has impressive, “Oooo! Ahhhh!” type of wood grain… pass on the AE.
“This is not the droid your looking for.” LoL
I could also tell that the neck was a little thick and not as comfortable to play any of my other acoustics.
But I still bought it. Knowing it had Fishman electronics on it, I wagered that it would sound great through a system, and, to a fair extent, I was right.
I also wanted a cutaway at the neck because I often play high.
Um, that’s high on the neck, Beavis. COME on! Lol
Sound it out
On a scale of 1 to 10, I found the sound of the AE to be about average – I’d give it a 5.
It didn’t sound bad, but neither did it in any way compare to the tone of my more expensive acoustics.
I did find that it had a much better sound plugged in, using the onboard electronics, than it did using a mic. That’s usually the opposite of what I find, but, ya know… can’t win ’em all.
I found the low end to be lacking in this AE. If you’re going to be playing this in the context of a band, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re playing out on your own, just you and a guitar though… I’d pass on this model. Not nearly enough beef.
Also, the gloss on this guitar is REEEEEALLY thick. To me, it really muffled the tone, and kept the acoustic volume much lower than the other acoustics I own. So if you are considering this model at all… I’d seriously opt for the “Natural” finish instead of the Glossy. If you know acoustic guitar tone at all, you’ll be glad you did!
Howwww Does it Feeeel… ?!
Something tells me Bob Dylan would pass on this particular guitar.
Nothing against Ibanez (I have other guitars of theirs which I love, like THIS ONE!), but I really disliked the feel of this axe. Especially the neck.
I tried it out on a solo gig of mine; a private party for the birthday of one of my best neighbors. By the end of the 2nd set I went back home and got a different guitar. I’ve never had my hand get so tired out from any other guitar.
To be fair, I didn’t give the AE a full, genuine, professional setup from my usual luthier. If I had, would it have been better? I’m gonna guess yes, so make sure that’s done if ya want this guitar to be in optimal playing condition.
Mine sure wasn’t!
The End of the Line
After less than a year with the AE, I moved on. As usual, I’d given it some months to get to know it, and gave it many opportunities to show me its best bits. In the end though, that private party I played showed its imperfections all too clearly.
Plus, I’d been noticing that every time I picked it up and played it, I put it back and got one of my other acoustics down instead.
Never a good sign, that!
So, ya know… it just didn’t thrill me,. So I traded it for a newer, much better guitar.
My main man Chris over at Music-Go-Round always gives me the best top dollar he can for my used gear, so he was happy to let me add to his inventory (“ANOTHER guitar, Teaj??!!” LOL).
I used that trade-in cash to instead get a really gorgeous hollow-body electric, the only type of guitar I’ve never owned yet.
Something tells me you’ll hear about it soon. 😉
The Quest Continues…
All guitarists are constantly searching for that “Holy Grail Tone” that will make them sound the most amazing ever. For me, this AE acoustic wasn’t anywhere close.
If you’re looking for either an acoustic that looks cosmetically superior, or one that sounds impressive when you mic it, I’d say this is not going to “rev up your motor scooters”, to quote Steely Dan. Keep lookin’.
BUT… the AE series acoustic guitars ARE great for beginners. Especially since the body is on the small side. Perfect for kids learning! CHECK HERE FOR PRICE and read how it can be a real asset for your budding student!
Even some intermediate players might find this to be just the ticket if they play it through an amp or a sound system – the electronics are a great add-on that make it sound actually better than the wood does.
Once you get your hands on it, you might find it a perfect fit. Ya never know ’til ya play it.