Bass Mods Bass Review – It’s Pointy! It’s Moldy! It’s Got Alien Grooves!

Bass Mods Bass ReviewIn 2007, I was in need of another bass. Yes, G.A.S. had struck again, but this time I really did need ‘the right tool for the job’.

My only bass at that time was my Steinberger clone which I talk about in THIS ARTICLE. Though I still use it and find it really applicable for certain things (not to mention its cool factor and all the ooglers it draws!), its sound can be a bit one-dimensional for certain styles.

In ’07, I started branching out into some other, more ‘funky’ and ‘soul-ish’ styles. Because of this, I needed a bass that had more “faces”… a bass that was a master of disguise, if you will! I knew to find something like this, I’d have to look for an axe that really had a full complement of onboard controls beyond just your average volume and tone knobs. I needed a BIONIC BASS!

So I shimmied on over to the Internet, did a little groovin’ Googlin’, and lo and behold, I stumbled upon a company that had just hung out their shingle to do th’ bold business of bass-making. It’s because of that spark-to-fireworks discovery that I offer you now…..this Bass Mods bass review, and the answer to my bionic bass dreams! Let’s run with it… !

The Man Behind the Mods

In a quick read I learned that Robert Lemas, the sole owner, designer, assembler, marketer, shipper and all-around-everything-dude, was getting quality bass bodies from other countries to keep his costs down, but mod-ding them out with the most killer, blazing electronics and machinery such that a truly amazing, powerful bass could be constructed for around $1,000. Unbelievable!

The pics online looked amazing, and I was incredulous that, for that price, I could get that much of a bass. I mean, just the big-gun artillery electronics on these puppies were impressive. It was stupid-awesome how loaded these basses are!

Bass Mods Bass ReviewWell, any thought of finding a G.A.S.-mask was loooong gone, so I dialed up the number and spoke to Rob (who answered the phone because, well…he’s the Administrative Assistant to himself too!). He told me about opening his shop, how he does what he does, how he keeps the costs down, but how he’s a bass player himself and is all about making something excellent that will stand up to whatever the road might throw at it…for decades to come.

Rob let me choose the exact finish I wanted, based on pictures of in-stock axes, and after throwing my CC numbers at him in a swift fit of ecstasy, I was quickly the latest owner of an NT-5 “neck-through” 5-string bass that was sure to get attention wherever I play it – and I don’t just mean from the sound!

Teaj Gets the Point!

Bass Mods Bass ReviewObviously the first thing people notice is the shape of my Bass Mods bass. One good friend who’s been a fine bass player in his own right for decades, said, when I showed up with it to stage one day, “It’s….pointy.”

He had more glowing words once I plugged it in and played it, but, yes, most humans immediately want to comment on it’s downward horn. Frankly, for me, I didn’t care which way the bottom horn pointed; I was getting an amazing bass for an amazing cost – case closed!

The other visual curiosity of the bass is the top wood grain. This is actually a big reason why I chose this particular instrument. Underneath is solid mahogany, but on top is a landscape-like, organically patterned maple layer that looked almost alien to me.

But I like alien. If I met an alien I’d want to go for a Chai Tea latte and discuss the long-term plans for humanity. Unless it was like the one in “Alien”. Then…no. No, I wouldn’t.

This wood type is called “spalted” maple. You can tell spalted wood by it’s black “veins” that course through it. Wanna take a guess what the spalting really is??

Get this: it’s what happens when a tree is in a swamp somewhere and has started to ROT away!! Yes, the black there is shouting out “there’s a fungus amongus!!”. But hey…it looks cool. I liked it the first time I saw it and it still is inspiring to me to this day.

Yet, all this spalting is just scratching the surface… literally! Let’s get down to what reeeeeally matters….

The Sound, Stupid!

I absolutely love how this bass sounds. The biggest reason is because it has so many sounds!

The electronics Rob put in this beast, like the 18v 3-band preamp for example, allow me to custom tailor the bass’s output to such an extent that I’ll never find myself without a way to fit in to any style, genre or spectrum of sound.

To put it simply: it’s outrageously configurable!

Wanna know how?? Thought ya might…!

  • The Volume & “active” knob: Yea, it handles your overall volume, but left down you have the active circuitry on. This helps you be bright, snappy and/or more shaped, to punch through those three guitar players they hired. Pull it up and you’re all passive, warm and rounded. I tend to leave it down for active, leaving all those other players congregating on the other side of the stage, out of abject fear….of your tone!
  • Pickup Blend knob: Clockwise for more bridge pickup and warmth; counter-clockwise when they “want the funk”!
  • The Sweepable EQ ‘stacked’ knob: This double-knob selector let’s you fine-tune the highs you want to cut or boost with the upper half of the knob, then the bottom half is what you use to sweep through your low frequencies to do the same.
  • Midrange knob: Need to cut through a tad more? Here’s your quick and easy answer.
  • Bass knob: B This heeya is th’ roux for yo’ jambalaya! Time to thicken it up, people!!
  • Overdrive: Oh man. If you want some grit to smack your audience, turn this knob! It’s like having a “crunch” pedal, only it’s at my fingertips!
  • Leveling Switch: This gives you an instant equal blend of both pickups. I have this at the ready as a different sound than what I have dialed up with the knobs so I can switch back and forth between varying tonal approaches.
  • Passive Switch: If you didn’t plan ahead and your batteries die while performing in a gig (for shame!) this is your get-out-of-jail-free card. It’ll take you to happy passive land before the band leader can start to give you the evil eye from behind his three levels of keyboards.
  • Bass Mods Bass ReviewKent Armstrong soapbar pickups: Such wide, deep, chocolatey goodness! I’d never even heard of these before this bass purchase. Now, find me with the Monkees – I’m a believer!

So there you have it – you can see now that with so many ways to carve out a particular sound, there is no end to this bass’s diversity. For live or studio, this is all I need.

Oh sure, I may get G.A.S. one day for some other Earth-shaking bottom-dweller that catches my ears and eyes, but I won’t need it. That’s the difference.

Tuners Rule!

I don’t know where Rob finds the various machinery pieces that he puts on, but I have to say….I can’t find a weak link anywhere. The tuners, for example, are so easy to move yet so firmly in place I wish every bass had ’em.

Oh, and even better… I’ve gone weeks between playing this bass, only to come back and find it still in tune. Amazing!!

Here’s the Beef!

Bass Mods Bass ReviewOne important caveat: if you’re the type of bass player who prefers the light, hardly noticeable weight of, say, my Steinberger bass, you might not dig one of these Bass Mods products.

These basses are meaty, beaty, big and bouncy, to quote the Who. If you’re gonna play these, you need to present your “Real Man” card!   lol

The positive side of this is that these basses ring with such all-encompasing sustain because they’re big and thick. But… that means they’ll clock in on the heavy side. Nothing too extreme, mind you. To be specific, this bass that I own weighs 9.8 pounds.

The weight never bothers me personally; in fact, I think its beefiness feels amazing and only adds to overall effect of a bass that demands to be noticed. But caveat emptor!

Multiple Personalities please!

Out of all the many instruments in my studio, this Bass Mods axe and my Paul Reed Smith guitar are, without question, the most versatile sound-producers I’ve ever owned. Add to that the cool looks, the immense power and the solid, built-like-a-Death-Star moxie of this baby, and you’ve got an obvious winner.

Oh, and lest I forget…all basses shipped from Bass Mods come with a free included Plek job, just to add honey on top of the luscious frosting of these babies!! This assures the very best string action on an instrument by delivering extremely accurate nut and fret profiling. No intonation problems; no sucky action. You wanted a hot rod – you got one!

If you’re in the market, give Rob’s options a look. His website awaits you RIGHT HERE!

Oh, and tell him Teaj from Seriousgas sent ya. It’ll make his day to hear how much his expertise is appreciated.

And speaking of that, you’re appreciated too here on our site! We’d love to hear your bass stories, your insights, especially if you have any experience with Bass Mods and their versatile, sweet-sounding instruments. Visit us below in the Comments section and tell us all about your own Gear Acquisition fevers!

Then, pick up that big bottom bass, plug in, and go…make…sounds!

Teaj

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers – Gods Come to Earth?!

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers

“And it came to pass that the Earth was devoid of inspiration and pleasure, and all was grey and silent drudgery beneath the sun.

So did the gods decide, ‘Let us descend to Earth, and take upon ourselves the mantle of handmade acoustic guitar makers, that we may lighten man’s load, and bid them make merry.’

Thus was sweet musical manna imparted to us, and joy concomitant swaddled ’round our spirits for all mortal times….”

1st Book of Waveforms, chapter 3

You may play acoustic guitar. You may have played many acoustic guitars. But have you ever played…a handmade acoustic guitar?

Or have you ever met or spent time with a gifted luthier who makes these mysterious wonders?? If not, do yourself a metaphysical favor – seek either (or both!) out and discover what the ancient sages knew: nothing beats a handmade instrument!!

In this article we shall trek through fields of harmonic undulations, exacting measurements, wood-bending methodologies (“there is no spoon”) and stairways of angels wrestling lightning to place it in curvy, wooden boxes, where it shall be oft summoned by skillful, stroking fingers forever and ever, amen.

This….is where music meets its makers!

A Heavenly Apparition Becomes Real!

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers

For decades, I had searched for a sign, even a glimpse, of the elusive phantom known as the “custom luthier’. Tho’ occasional signs of his craft would surface, yet no face, no voice, no physical presence could I find. Only his spirit….captured in reverberating sheets of wood.

Then, when I had fallen into darkest agnostic doubt concerning even the existence of this conspiratorial shade, one appeared: wearing stage manager headphones with mic to side of mouth, in the umbral shadowplay of the stage wings before a performance, he uttered the words that still murmur echoes through my vertiginous psyche….”Hi. I’m Mike!”

Little did I know what temptation this, this “Mike” would wield. Scarce was my awareness of the power he possessed! Ne’er could I have prophesied that such a one as I would one day not only encounter this former mental figment, but stare endless minutes, within my studio’s whispering walls, into the hypnotic black hole of one of his children! Ah, the enchantment! The sheer, unveiled magnetism of its form!! Shall ever I escape thee???

Quothe the luthier…..nevermore!!

Food of the Gods…on my plate!!

It wasn’t long after getting to know my now dear luthier friend, Mike Franks, that I was in possession of one of his creations. It all stemmed from his simple (yet dastardly in its grasp!) question: “What would your perfect acoustic guitar be?” That’s it. He had me. And for good reason – because my main musical focus is songwriting and studio production, I was constantly tracking acoustic in the studio, but none of the guitars I’d had up to that point sounded good through the mic; I was always having to adjust and carve frequencies in and out of them to make ’em sound decent.

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers
M.J.Franks headstock signature

Then the real head-turner came: I visited his luthier shop. Man! Whoa! Wow! Seeing the spectrum of woods, trims, tops, inlays, pins, pegs, nuts, pickguards, fretboards and beautiful wood body choices surrounding my bedazzled eyes – oh, yes, my friends, my head was spinning, but in a good way!

Of course the coolest part of having a guitar hand-produced for you with specs that you’ve chosen is the sound it makes when you play it. A close second though is being a part of the journey of creation – being able to choose, by touch, all the various individual parts, and then witness them being crafted, chiseled, formed, shaved, fitted, joined, lacquered, polished and finally presented…to YOU!

Nothing like it. If you’re into guitars, trust me…you’re gonna wanna try this.

I told Mike I wanted the perfect recording guitar – one I wouldn’t have to EQ to make it sound good through a mic (especially regarding the low end, on which I inevitably put a high-pass filter  for my recordings). No more boominess; no more “where’s the shimmer??”; just a perfectly balanced guitar sound to sing with me under my vocals in my songs.

Well, what can I say except…he came through in spades! Here’s the specs of what I, with Mike’s masterful input, had custom built:

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers

  • OM-21 body type
  • High-figured KOA wood for sides and back
  • Adirondack Spruce wood top, MASTER-grade
  • Mahogany neck, blocks and linings
  • Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard, bridge & bindings
  • Figured KOA headstock w/pearl inlay signature
  • Gold Grover tuning machinery
  • Fishman Acoustic Matrix pickup
  • Walrus bone pins, saddle & nut
  • Deluxe hard case to keep this beauty safe in

Just try to find that guitar on the market! You won’t be able to, because it was designed just for me, based on what I need out of an acoustic in the studio.

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers
The figured-Koa wood back. SEXY!

This masterpiece not only has a sound that draws you in, it has a beauty that catches your eye. And because it’s specifically made for my hands, my songs, my tunings…it always shines on whatever I create with it. Worth it? Oooooh, yes; totally worth it.

Did I pay more than a store-bought, factory-produced instrument? Yup.

Would I do it again??

In a heartbeat.           >:-)

The Pantheon is calling you!

There are dozens of custom guitar makers across our humming globe awaiting your beck and call, and their skill sets and experience levels run from incredible to….’I just finished my first guitar yesterday’. There are ways, however, of sifting through the myriad to seperate the divine from the dabbler.

Take, for example, the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase: every year the most esteemed custom acoustic guitar makers are allowed, by invitation only, to come show their finest works to a huge public gathering in the musically-historic environs of Woodstock, New York. Only the best are chosen, those who bequeath to man the musical manna which drips like honey to the soul. If you choose one of these luthiers, you are on your way to a happy, thriving, music-filled instrument marriage (tho’ if you buy too many all bets are off for your marriage to another human)!

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers

Of course, Mike Franks is one of the select few invited to the Woodstock Showcase, and I’m partial to his works obviously ‘cuz he’s proven his mettle not only to me, but to dozens of other musician friends of mine who now own one (or more!) of his guitars. We all sing his praises, because the guitars speak for themselves. In the end, they are the best reputation he or any of us could ask for.

If this whole “build-it-your-way” story appeals to you, check him out at

https://www.mjfranksguitars.com.

Ask him any question you like, or ask the clients of his across the globe that order from him habitually (one guy from France is up to eight Franks guitars now!).

Just know you’re gonna want one. You ARE going to want one.

You have been warned. 😉

No Sky-Cabins From the Gods Here

Handmade Acoustic Guitar Makers

As always on this site, I want to remind you that I get no kick-back, side-cash, discounts or favors due from my product reviews including this one. I simply share what works (and occasionally what doesn’t) here in my recording studio. This is designed to help you learn from what I now know.

I guess teaching music for decades has brought out this habit in me; I enjoy forging a path that you and others can tread without falling into briar patches of problems and bad investments that I’ve either avoided or learned from the hard way.

Such is my relationship with Mike. I think his products are the bomb and I think you will too.

Whatever the Shape, Heaven Awaits….YOU!

No matter what instrument you play and love, if you haven’t at least played a handmade selection, you are truly missing out on an incredible, inspirational world that you really should experience at least once in your music.

So get out there…try them out! Test and see the difference time, detail, foresight and all-encompassing craftsmanship can bring to bear on an instrument that caters to your specific wishes.

Once luthier shack-ed, you never go back!

Now, go…make…sounds!

Teaj

PRS Guitars Rock! The Story of my Favorite Axe

PRS Guitars

For those of you who are not familiar with the now 32-year-young Paul Reed Smith guitar company, hang on to your whammy bars…it’s about to get wild in here!

Right outta the gate, let me say that I am not dabbling in hyperbole when I say that this is my favorite guitar that I own. I’ll probably reach my 20th guitar this year  and this Paul Reed Smith is, by far, the best of the bunch.

Let me also say I’m getting no kickbacks, no free gear and no quid pro quo of any kind from P.R.S. for saying that and for posting this article. I’m just tellin’ yuz like it is!

Alrighty then… time to slide into the sweetness. But to set the stage a bit, fade back in time a little bit with me now….

 

There’s trouble! Right here in TUNING City…!

It was another jammin’ weekend in the early 2000s.

I had my Jackson Dinky strat and was plowin’ through the set list once again and tryin’ to enjoy the moment.

Unfortunately, this was hard due to the fact that my Dinky kept going out of tune way too often, even to the point where by the end of a song it’d be noticeably whacked. Didn’t matter how tight I put the locking tuners.

After the gig, my sound man says,”Dude. You gotta get a new guitar.”

Now, as anyone who’s ever had serious G.A.S. for any instrument knows, those words are GOLDEN. Why?? Because it means, to anyone who doubts, that I’m not buying a new piece of gear because I simply want it; no… oh no! I NEED this axe!! The freakazoid sound man demanded it of me!! I must submit!!

Being more than happy to oblige, we both went to our local Guitar Center to see if there were any hot deals. We walked in, and within two minutes…

… I saw it. Hanging there… high on a wall…out of reach from the many average string-noodlers… it was lit from above, glowing, like some elusive grail for which I, the knight on a mission, had quested my whole life…it’s cherry wood grain washing over me like waves of enchantment: the Paul Reed Smith CE24!

Now, they had quite a few PRS guitars, but THIS one was a recent trade-in and was significantly lower in price than all the new ones. They took it down for me and I played it. I gazed at it. I fell in love.

Thirteen hundred dollars later I went home with one of the best investments of my life. This beautiful soaring bird has flown solidly and without breakdown for over 15 years now, with never a repair and hardly a need for maintenance (tho’ I still give it one occasionally).

Come with me; let me tell you aaaaaaaall about it….

Teaj Inspects th’ Specs
PRS guitar front

My own personal PRS axe is a “Black Cherry” 1991 “Classic Electric”, or CE, model.

The features list isn’t long, but let me tell you… every single millimeter of this axe is the total, undeniable BOMB!!! Here’s what it’s made of:

  • Carved solid mahogany body
  • Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • HFS pickup at the bridge, Vintage Bass pickup at the neck.
  • Medium frets
  • The PRS Patented Tremolo system
  • A Volume and Tone knob
  • The PRS 5-position rotary pickup configuration knob
  • Winged, locking PRS tuners
  • 24 frets!
  • 25″ Scale

In the promotional papers and manual that came with my CE24, Paul states, “Every inch of your PRS guitar is based on over ten years of testing, rethinking, and reinventing.”

He’s not kidding. His innovations have really influenced the guitar industry over the decades, and some of his unique engineering decisions that are on my guitar I can’t find anywhere anymore… even on the PRS current models!!

Truly, this is a guitar worth every penny in the piggy bank. And, yea… it might take a few!    lol

Why it Rocks My World!

They say the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and the PRS CE guitar is no exception. Beyond question, this is the most versatile, high quality, ‘fall-in-love-all-over-again-when-I-play-you’ guitar I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned quite a few.

I’ll start with my favorite feature: the PRS TUNERS. Talk about advanced technology! I wish every single guitar EVER had these tuners. They are brilliantly designed and make changing strings so easy it’s unbelievable. Here’s the dealio: there is no hole on the posts. Instead, there’s a groove next to the post that you slip the string into. Then, when you start winding the peg, it catches the groove, starts moving it clockwise around the peg, and the string is instantly held securely on the post.

If you start really whomping on the trem bar then (because it’s not a true locking system like the Floyd Rose) you’ll get some drift, but, again, not as much as you’d expect. I’ve played this in literally hundreds of gigs and never had an issue during performance with tuning. Rock, country, jazz, pop…it’s done it all, and kept me in lovely just intonation the whole time!

My next favorite thing has to be the PRS pickups and the 5-way Rotary Selection system. Lemme put it simply: I’ve not been able to get so many diverse, usable sounds out of one guitar ever. Each one of the five detente positions gives you a guitar sound that is, right out of the gate, just what’s needed for standard modern-day guitar expression. Here’s the breakdown:

The fifth position is the raunchiest. When I want to solo, I switch it there and immediately get so much beef and breadth and width – the sound is immense!! Spotlight find me NOW!!!

The fourth position is an excellent choice for double-stop chording or palm-muted arpeggiating.

The middle position is where I hang when I need standard chordal backing; the EQ there is just right – not too in your face but not scared to be noticed by the crowd.

Second position is my go-to rhythm sound for funky rides in the pocket with the band – we’re talkin’ chicken-picking, see-saw Wah ridin’, staccato R&B, wacka-wacka….ladies & gentleman, the funk starts here!

Finally, the first position, or “neck position” is a very clear, untainted sound that I use for all things clean but shimmery.

There. Can you believe you can get all that out of one guitar? Believe it! I was amazed. I still am. But I’m all smiles in wonder.

I also have to mention here the whammy. Now, I grew up with Eddie Van Halen as my hero, so the Floyd Rose and I go way back. And if I’m doing really outrageous whammy-driven music and solos, then, by all means, bring on my EVH Wolfie! But if not…I prefer this trem setup.

The coolest part of it is that it doesn’t flop around or let gravity drag it down so I have to reach for it – wherever I last leave it is where it stays, so it’s always within reach, such that I never even have to look.

This makes for excellent “closed-eyes-epic-guitar-solo” moments that look so good in the spotlight, and even better on the cover of your favorite music mag (‘Performing Songwriter’ – are you watching me now??!!). In fact, I solo with such ease on this instrument I don’t think any of my other guitars compare.

(And that’s saying a lot. I have 18 others to compare it to!)

The Family Tree expands…
PRS guitar back

Since 1997, when my axe was lovingly put together, PRS has come out with more and more high-end, drool-worthy guitars, and even introduced a lower-priced introductory line that has done well.

The CE actually saw its production terminated in 2008, but re-introduced again, with modifications, in 2016.

From what I can gather, the changes from the older models that were applied to the new ones are the following:

  • The tremolo system is now 0ut-sourced in Korea
  • The top is no longer hand-carved
  • The neck heel is longer now than it used to be, improving ‘strength & tone’
  • Real abalone for the inlays was discontinued in 1991
  • Nickel tuning pegs now instead of black “grippy” ones like mine
  • 85/15 pickups instead of the HFS & V.B.
  • The 5-way switch is now a 3-Way Toggle with a Push/Pull Tone Control
  • Screw-down locking tuners instead of the winged tuners on my CE24
  • All bird inlays instead of the simple dots I have

As you can see, there’s significant changes, but all you have to do is talk to any owner of a current PRS CE model to hear how amazing still this guitar is. So usable. So efficient. So… ADDICTING!!!

But if you want an older model, like what I’ve got, there are three options: surf EBay, surf Reverb or surf CraigsList!  These guitars were built to last, so don’t be afraid to try a “vintage” one out. Unless the owner was a complete imbecile, it should be in great shape.

Otherwise, a slough of the latest iteration of this classic instrument awaits your fingers for the shredding test!

Geppetto’s Revenge

PRS neckplate

The reputation of Paul Reed Smith’s company is one of superb craftsmanship, a pioneering technological drive that implements new, patented improvements with astounding frequency, and a penchant for beauty in the details as well as the overall look of any instrument with the PRS name on it.

That reputation over the decades since the 80s has only improved, and you can be sure that if you invest in one of his killer axes, you will be introducing into your hands a work of expertise and imagination unparalleled in the guitar world.

This…is the real deal. My Cherry PRS, serial #1 CE22187 shall never leave my Wall of Tone Royalty… it’s just that good, people.

Like the work of  “Geppetto” who earned the magic to make his “Pinocchio” come alive by loving his craft, being fastidious about every detail, and producing works that made the world a better place, so Paul Reed Smith delivers the goods with a tone that’s “ALIVE!” through expert functionality and distinctive, innovative allure.

I should really turn off the PRS Instagram notifications. They’re constantly triggering outrageous G.A.S. attacks!!

And something tells me they will for many years to come.    lol

Check out his guitars and see what I mean. You’ll probably have to ask a rep to get one for you, as PRS guitars are typically not left on the floor for just anyone to try. Shops do like to hang them high, out of reach, on a wall tho’, lit handsomely. They know it only stokes our enticement…and pays for their next Paul Reed Smith axe!

Now: go…make…sounds!

PRS Guitars

Making Music Fun – the Jabberwock is on the Run!

Making Music Fun

“‘Twas gearig, and the racks of pre-s were wired and winding through I/Os.

All sizzle-y were the high 10Ks, and the transients dithered in the ‘phones…”

Yes, mutating one of your favorite poems is one way of making music fun – but there are so many others!! In this article, we doff the jester’s cap to our screaming concert-goers, dance and prance with glee to the beat of our own drummers, and fold anechoic space into a reverberating “YES!!” of merriment!

Come with!!

Do What You Like!

Much of what I’m sharing here today comes from my years of teaching music students in my studio. After a while you begin to see what inspires and what does not. The biggest thing that keeps students coming back is working on music that they are interested in, and trying to get them in the habit of doing the same during their practice times at home.

Imagine this scenario: you’re a 10-year-old girl who likes Taylor Swift (I have taught quite a few of you in recent years!). You start to take guitar lessons but the teacher starts you off in a book learning how to play “Home on the Range”, “London Bridges” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Now, you try this for a few weeks but, honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing. Even if you can play these perfectly you wouldn’t play them for any of your friends. You’re not three, for heaven’s sake! So you quit lessons.

Making Music Fun

Happens too often. As a teacher, my first question, after their contact info, is “what music do you really like??” The answers are as divergent as there are people in the world (tho’ I’ve noticed Classic Rock crops up all the time. YES!!!). We then work on the songs and artist that the student likes, and try to sneak theory in when they’re in the middle of euphoric riffing and strumming. Tends to stick with them that way.

So the first secret of having a blast with music is practice what really makes you smile. The songs that get your blood pumping. The tunes that emotionally pull and twist and rock you like nobody’s business. When you can play those…you’re in the ZONE, baby!

Play What You Don’t Know!

The next thing I encourage all students to do is to put on some good music, and play to it without any thought of playing it perfectly. Simple improvising around the melodies and chords. Will mistakes occur? Ohhhhh, yea. But who cares? This exercise does many things:

  • develops music intervals recognition
  • builds endurance
  • introduces comfort with different styles/genres
  • strengthens hand and/or embouchure
  • creates a ‘listening’ ear habit
  • teaches the importance of silences among notes
  • hones the technique of playing in different keys
  • helps the student find or strengthen their own unique, musical ‘voice’
Making Music Fun

I still do this whenever possible. It’s so much fun!! I tend to play different music for different instruments: for drums, I LOVE playing ‘The Cars’! For sax: Steely Dan. Electric guitar? Classic rock (especially Van Halen!). Bass? Peter Gabriel. Violin? Irish fiddle tunes!! And the list goes on….

I also HIGHLY recommend for every student to pick up “backing tracks”. These are CDs, thumb drives or online streams of full-band instrumental songs that have no singer or lead melody line. This allows the student to sound like the soloist, and, honestly, you can play to these tracks for hours and still not be bored. Here are options that I personally jam to all the time:

  1. the Big Book of Backing Tracks
  2. Standalone Tracks – “Funk”
  3. Standalone Tracks – “70’s Rock”
  4. Standalone Tracks – “Basic Guitar”
  5. Standalone Tracks – “90’s Rock”
  6. Jam Track – Blues, Volume 1

My favorite of the bunch would have to be the Big Book of Backing Tracks. It has every concievable genre of music I could want to jam to and then some. If none of those pops your weasel, Google “Backing tracks book” and you’ll see many others to choose from. Definitely check them out though. It’s soooo rewarding to see a student’s face when you put on a backing track that sounds killer, with a full band, and they get to be the out-front solo gal or guy, no matter what the instrument. A star is born!!

Play What You Do Know!

Of course, if we never learned songs that other masters of the craft have written, we would be poor in spirit, and skill, for sure. Thus, it’s important to spend time practicing an existing, challenging song until we can perform it, beginning to end, with ease and mastery.

Making Music Fun

The important thing is to pick something that the student LIKES. Often it’s a song they’re familiar with, but it doesn’t have to be. They just have to be obviously inspired and appreciative of a song to practice it week after week. This is a must for long-term enjoyment and discipline. It all goes back to the old adage, which I definitely can vouch for as a performing songwriter: “you’ve got to give the people, ….give the people what they want!”

(The O’Jays will now be in my head all day, I’m sure. But that’s okay by me – classic song!)

“Plays Well With Others”

Making Music Fun

I can’t stress this one enough. If you only play alone, you are missing out on an incredibly fun and educational method. Call some musical friends and play together! Or, if someone else in your family plays an instrument, get together and try something with both of you. Or maybe you’re lucky and have two or three or more people in your family that play something. Wonderful! Get all your instruments out and just JAM!!!

Here’s a way to put two great things together (like Oreos!): put on one of those backing tracks albums and take turns being the soloist! This is so much fun, and pretty unforgettable, especially for kids. You can even make it a weekly occurrence at your house, inviting any musical friends, family neighbors: “the Smith Weekly Jam! Bring your instrument and get DOWN with us!!”

“This is a Song About a Squid….”

One of my favorite things to do for students that really helps them learn music from the inside out is to show them how to write a song. We go over how to do the chords. Then we talk about the melody and carve that out. We usually then turn to the words, and, let me tell you, the stories you will get from kids writing their first songs are…well, they’re inspirational, but they’re also usually just….totally bizarre! And I love it! I always tell them to have FUN, and write about anything as long as it’s truly “you”. Most of the time there’s an animal or two in there somewhere, and most of the time they’re doing things that you’ve never seen any animal do, at anytime…..ever!

My absolute favorite task in the world to tackle is songwriting, and I continue to pass along this exhilarating mode of creativity to students, as a means to free them into the enjoyment and exploration of their inner worlds. Those worlds might be, indeed, as crazy as a Jabberwock, but they are just as legitimate, dynamic and powerfully insightful as anyone else’s.

It’s All Fun & Games Until…

Making Music Fun

…until someone demands something that’s boring, monotonous and uninteresting, that’s what! Life too short to be pressed into bad song slavery. Escape the Monsters of Dullville! Demand your own voice be heard! Raise your banners and fly them proudly, be they squid, amoeba or kangaroo-filled! Even if you’re doing someone else’s song…do it your way! Music belongs to you, so fill your practice times with things you enjoy.

Once you express the smiling, childlike inner you through your instrument, I guarantee you….you’ll never be the same.

Now: go…make…sounds!

Teaj

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best?? A Wizard’s Convention Decides….

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

It’s been quite a few years since I was a cooing babe in my mother’s arms, but I’m told that even then I was one to sing out on occasion.

Whether that was life’s endless, flowing inspiration or just the earliest iteration of gas…who can say?

But one thing is certain: I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. And that, my friends, is why I am so adamant about choosing the right studio recording microphone for each specific instrument we decide to use in the studio or on the stage.

The Alchemy of Sound…Shall Astound Thee!

So we don’t get lost in the boondocks of electronic transmogrification, let’s simply say that microphones are little, magic wizards (“Lord of the Rings”, “Harry Potter” or “Le Morte D’Arthur” version? I leave that to your preference) that turn our voice, or the sound of our instrument, into signals that can travel along cables like murmuring snakes, only to be reborn and held in the recording device at the other end, as the sound of our voice or instrument. Magic!

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

Ahh, but not all wizards are as trained as ol’ Merlin or Harry….or Saruman; some barely passed their first transfiguration exam.

And so, dear magicians, that is why we find such differences in the quality and sound of all the mics in the world. Some rise up in mastery! Others sink to noisy depths….and make our tracks, in a word….suck.

But who do we trust? How do we know which witch is which in the dark lairs of the mics?? I light my torch for you, inquisitive initiates, and whisper as we embark, “Stay cwose to the candles. The stairs….can be tweacherous….”

Battle of the Three Mic Armies

First, we shall gather here under the shadow of Mt. Doom and let the different types of mics duke it out. They never stop fighting, and they endlessly whine about which of them is ‘the obvious choice’ for all voices and instruments, each one believing they’re superlative to the task. No wonder there’ll never be world peace!

Here are the banners flying across the trampled plain:

  1. Dynamic mics
  2. Condenser mics
  3. Ribbon mics

These are the basic types. Each differ in the spell they use to transmogrify sound (ok, it’s really not a spell, but, just stay with me here….).

In each of them, there’s always a square or round diaphragm of various construction composites that is the ignition point for all the magic. But, unless you’re a tweaky engineer or something, I know you don’t care. What you do want to know is how that affects what you do. Here, then, in a nutshell, is what we’ve learned from our spies who have reconnoitered the three dueling camps:

Dynamic Mics:

They’re strong. They are durable. They’re ripped. They’re like “the Mountain” on Game of Thrones. Take these mics on tour with you and they’ll take the beating and still say, “Thank you, sir. May I have another!”, which is why they’re a ubiquitous presence in live sound.

They also can typically withstand loud sounds, withstanding, like a rock (nod to Bob!), what we call high SPL, or Sound Pressure Levels. You’ll find ’em on kick drums, snares, bass & guitar amps – basically anything that can WHAP you across the face and send you cryin’ for mommy.

These are your Warrior Wizards. They don’t mess around. They take names. You have been warned!

Condenser Mics:

These are more sensitive than dynamic mics and can thus be damaged easier. Ya don’t wanna be throwing these across the stage into a mic box after every show!

These mics know every trick in the books tho’, which is why you’ll find them everywhere. Almost every amazing studio vocal recording is done with a condensor mic, tho’ there are exceptions.

They are also often the mic of choice for acoustic instruments and percussion, since they can really pick up transient (the very beginning of a sound) details if you want them to. Because of their acute sensitivities, they pick up nuances that may be lost to the Warrior Wizards.

They do not, however, like extremely loud treatment in most cases.

Oh, and they are the only one of the three that needs “phantom power”, which means you must plug this mic into some mixer or recording device that supplies p.p. or the mic will not work. It’s finicky. It’s entitled. It would demand the ‘King’ role on the chess board.

So treat these guys with respect. Or, ya know; they may turn you into a newt.

But…you’ll get better.

Ribbon Mics:

These are the most sensitive mics of all. Look at them askance and they might pull an Ozzy and bite your head off, you insensitive bat!

The transducer in a ribbon mic is “wafer thin”, but don’t get them anywhere near Mr. Creosote – they’re fragile!

Typically used for guitar amps, strings and drum overheads and room mics, they do produce a very pleasing, warm sound if set up correctly. But they’ll be fighting from behind walls, mountains, caves, boulders…anything to keep their frangible hearts safe.

Just remember, tho’…frail on the outside does not mean there’s not power on the inside. These exotic wizards from the nether worlds are rarely understood, but possess the ability to make your sound as beautiful as a Siren calling from the rocks.

It’s calling you…..calling you….calling y….

Let the War Drums Commence!

So that’s how the three camps differ. But, essentially, they’re all the same: they transduce the sound of your voice or instrument into electric current and reproduce it at the other end. So…which should we choose for any given sound?

Well, this is where you show if you’re serious about surviving the Battle of the Three Armies or not. You will either spend the time it takes to really know your options, or be trampled by their mass in ignorance and confusion. I suggest the former. It’s not that hard and will open your eyes and ears to new realms of possibility. It’s like this….

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

First, plug in all the mics you have. If you don’t have many, this’ll be reallly easy. If you have more, not so. But, trust me; it’ll be well worth it. It’s best if you can have all the mics plugged in simultaneously, but if you only have one or few inputs, this can be done in serial fashion and still provide insightful data.

Next, you or a musical compatriot must play a specific instrument, or sing, into all the mics. Have them arranged in a semi-circle around the sound source (i.e. your mouth or the best sound point of your instrument) so that none are farther or closer than any other.

Then, using a recording device, either software or hardware, push that red button and capture the spell being sung or played through all the mics, again, preferably at the same time.

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

NOW you’re in for a treat. Sit back in front of good studio monitors, or headphones, and listen, reeeeeally listen to each mic, one at a time. If you never knew just how different your mics sound, this experiment will definitely draw back the curtain and show you just how divergent and distinctive each mic can be on the same sound source.

I have done this on almost every instrument I play. Why? So when it comes time to record a specific instrument, i can remember back to this “mic shootout”, as we call it, and know which one made my instrument of voice sound the most….awesome! You can do the same.

I Cast….ILLUSION!

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

Here’s something to keep in mind: just because a mic is expensive, that doesn’t necessarily equate to the best sound for any given instrument. You must still test all the mics in your arsenal on varying instruments to know where they shine, and where they…get crushed dead beneath the foot of a rampaging mûmak.

The most memorable time I did this was when I was getting ready to record the vocals for my first album. I wanted to make sure I was using the very best mic possible for my voice. That’s the key phrase. It had to make my voice sound amazing, regardless of the specs, the price…or size of staff (go, Gandalf!).

So, I managed to not only set up my own mics, but four other expensive mics that I borrowed from a professional just for this test. Here were my mic shootout wizards, in descending order of cost:

  1. Neumann U-87 condensor mic, currently selling for $3,599
  2. AKG C414 XLII condensor mic, currently selling for $949
  3. Audio-Technica 4050 condensor mic, currently selling for $699
  4. The RØDE NTK tube condensor mic, currently selling for $529
  5. Audio-Technica 4033 condensor mic, currently selling for $399
  6. Shure SM58 dynamic mic, currently selling for $99
  7. Roland DR-20 dynamic mic, currently not selling new, but used for $60

Now, as you can see, there were some serious contenders there. The U87 alone is considered a ‘holy grail’ of a mic for any studio, and the rest were no slouches either.

I set up the mics, plugged ’em into my recorder (the VS880 at the time it had just premiered), recorded my voice singing one of my new tunes….and then I stopped. To listen.

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

Headphones really brought it home. There were some really great choices hear. I could have used any of them, for different songs and different approaches. But one clearly made my voice shimmer with a magic that the others only tried to imitate. Can you guess which one it was??

Probably not, because everyone’s voice is different, consisting of varying frequencies that each mic will process in its own way. Amazingly, the one that I ended up recording the album with, the clear winner, was…

Which Studio Recording Microphone is best

…the AT4050, which I posted an article on HERE!

I remember at the time the ads for this mic featured the prominent, esteemed producer and band leader Alan Parsons recommending it, and, being a long-time fan of Alan’s music, felt that he would be proud of the shoot-out results and I was happy to work under the advice of one of my heroes.  Check out the AT4050 price HERE.

Moral of the story? Don’t fall under the illusion spells of expensive mics. Until you’ve heard it on your voice or your instrument, there’s no way to be sure it’s going to compliment your delivery. You must face the wizards….alone!

Throwing Your Sword to the Lady of the Lake

So, which mic is best? The one you have compared to as many others as possible and sound best to your ears on the given instrument.

Take the time to do that and you will not regret it. There are no rules. If it sounds great, it is great. Let your ears be your guide.

After your own personal Battle of the Three Mic Armies, you can take your sword back gently to King Arthur’s underwater girlfriend knowing that the war has ended, and your have the greatest treasure of the spoils of war: the skill of wielding those mics like a master!

Just remember as you create your musical masterpieces, however, the wise words of a modern,muddy sage: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

Now, go….make….sounds!

Teaj