g&l asat, fuzzed and looped

Recorded another bit of improvising yesterday, this time with my G&L ASAT, which is Leo Fender’s post-Fender Telecaster. The signal path here is guitar > Shoctopus (custom octave-down fuzz) > Strymon Timeline > Strymon BlueSky reverb > Vox Night Train amp. The first section relies on the Timeline’s Lofi mode to get that honky grind, and the second section uses the Shoctapus.

I’ve reached the point now on the guitar where that what I can hear in my head and I want to do is just out of my reach to make it frustrating. When I started playing nineteen months ago, I might listen to something I like, or have a tune or sound in my head, and it may have well have been made my martians cause I had no idea what they were doing or how to get to that sound. However now I can hear this stuff in my ears or head and it often seems right there, but my technical abilities aren’t there. In many cases, not even close. It’s both frustrating and inspiring at the same time…

Laredo, the Streets of

If you read this blog, I am pretty certain that you don’t tune in for the sounds of a lonely guitar on the high plains, or cowboy tunes strummed in a saloon. You’re here because, like me, you’re kind of synth nerd and you want to read about and listen to the finer points of control voltages and weird software.
The thing is, if you read this blog, you also know that I’ve developed an affection for the esoteric instrument called “the guitar.” When I’ve had a few hours to kill in the music room, it’s more than likely been in practicing pentatonics and managing the fret board than wiggling knobs and patching cables. This will not always be the case, i promise. Stick with me here for a bit. I’ve fallen for a diversion, but it will lead somewhere, eventually, that will come back around to beepy buzzy beats.

In addition to learning the guitar for the last eighteen months, I’ve also been trying to understand and learn about recording. I’ve been ingesting old TapeOp magazines and any information I can find on the internet about recording methods and gear.As I do this, I realize that I need to expand the purpose and mission of this website to include these newfound links and informations and, well, gear. I recently installed a patchbay, I now have a decent little mixer, and I’m all set up to where it’s very easy now for me to press “record” and create some tracks. Like many music hobbyists, I find that I end up reading about this stuff more than actually using it (there are legitimate reasons for this that I’ll get into some other time) and last Sunday I decided that I need to actually play some music and actually record it.

Just a couple nights earlier I picked up a very large book at a local bookstore called The Folksinger’s Wordbook, edited by Fred and Irwin Silber. As I browsed it, I ran across The Streets of Laredo, which is an old cowboy song that I like. I believe the first version I remember hearing was by Marty Robbins, and more recently I discovered an odd cover by The Blue Aeroplanes. So here I had the lyrics as well as the basic guitar chords. True to the old saying that all you need are three chords and the truth, the chords were D7, A7 and G. That’s it.

On Sunday, I set up some mic stands, opened a few recording tracks in Ableton, and set forth. First was the acoustic guitar rhythm track played to a click at 115 bpm. D7, A7, G. Done. I played around with some positions for the microphone, an Audio-Technica AT-2035 until I found something I liked, and I used a software compressor and EQ to get something I thought sounded good. Once this was down, I spent fifteen minutes or so recording some picking on the same acoustic guitar. Over the next hour, I recorded two or three tracks of accordion, some whistling, some singing, and various electric guitar tracks. The electric guitar was mic’d with an Electro-Voice 635, which is odd in that It seems to have a very low output. I plan to test this specifically, because I also noticed that my Onyx 1220i mixer seems to have a wildly different gain structure than the Motu Ultralight I use. When I had a mic plugged into the Ultralite, I left the input gain/trim at 0. I assume that this is unity. It recorded a nice clear sound at a good recording volume. With the Onyx mixer, I had to turn the gain up near its maximum to even get a usable signal at all, and it was still significantly quieter than the Ultralite. The last little bit on the gain knob ramps the input up from barely audible to overdriven. I don’t know yet enough to know if this something that is supposed to be — like they’re using different input gain methods — or whether it’s even an issue. With digital recording, I read the tracking levels aren’t as vital as they are in analog, since the noise floor is so low and the bit-rate is so high (48k in this case). I can (and did) raise the level up in mixing with no noticeable noise. So maybe it’s no big deal.

Once all the recording was done, I gave myself a break for a day, and went back on Monday to listen to the tracks. It was easy to pull out the whistling, singing, and all of the electric guitar since it was all pretty bad. The whistling and singing was terribly out of tune (I’m not good at either, though I would like to be) and the electric guitar parts were uninspired. I knew my window for time to record this was running out before the house got noisy with people, and I was not into it.

In the end, what I got was a bass line of accordion with two acoustic guitar parts. The rhythm strumming and some surprising lead picking. Surprising because I don’t remember all of what I did here and it’s all one take with no edits. It’s simple and might not warrant all 1000 words of this post. But I’m pretty pleased and it led to a week (so far) of thinking how I might add in the modular synth to something like this, and really giving some thought to recording techniques and some more gear that I could use (like a compressor). After mixing this, I thought of some stuff I’d like to try and make some changes, and I plan to get back in, maybe this weekend, and visit The Streets of Laredo again.

Jazzmaster

A couple of weeks ago I accidentally bought two Fender Jazzmasters. How does that happen? I don’t know, use your imagination. I have no sense when it comes to Stuff I Love and The Internet. The Jazzmaster that I’ll be keeping is a Japanese-made sparkly-blue guitar from around 1999. It came with a pair of Lollar Jazzmaster pickups already installed, replacing the stock pickups that many people seem to hate on these CIJ (“Crafted in Japan”) Jazzmasters. After spending a couple of weeks playing it, I’ve decided to go one step further and put a P-90 in the bridge position, hopefully giving it quite a bit more oomph there, as I find that I never ever play it with just the bridge pickup. The Lollar neck pickup on the other hand is just great. Oh, did I mention it was sparkly blue?

blue sparkly Jazzmaster

I bought this guitar knowing that it was going to be kind of a modification playground for me to try stuff out, unlike the G&L ASAT which I haven’t touched and don’t plan to. To that end, other “improvements” I have planned are replacing the stock bridge with a Mastery Bridge (already ordered — I didn’t expect to do this but I really understand now why people hate these stock Jazzmaster bridges), replacing the white pick-guard with a black one (already received), and as long as I have the guitar pulled apart, putting in 500k pots to roll of a little of the harsh trebly business it has when up on 10, and soldering a nice Jensen capacitor to the tone pot. A lot of Jazzmaster players do stuff to the rhythm circuit as well, but I’ve not decided anything about that yet. On one hand, I don’t use it much yet. On the other hand, I might find something that would encourage me to use it more one day. So when that happens, I’ll open it back up again.

I was concerned at first that the guitar was too close in performance and tone to the ASAT, but as I’ve played it the last three weeks I’ve noticed that this isn’t the case. The ASAT has a much glossier (?) tone and a plucky attack. It chimes nicely, while the Jazzmaster is more mellow and subtle. They’re both single coil Fender designs, so there is obviously overlap. I’m curious how it all plays out once I install the P90 in the bridge. (By the way, I’m planning on putting in a Novak JM-90, which is a little less expensive than the Lollar P90 for Jazzmaster, and Curtis Novak tells me that he can make a custom one to pair with the Lollar JM pickup that I’m leaving in the neck.

Like a new car, since obtaining this Jazzmaster (these Jazzmasters), I’ve noticed how many are out there played by some of my favorite guitar experimenters and bands. Some I knew of, some I didn’t.

Swervedriver
Raveonettes
cline
Elvis
sonic youth
frisell

I’ll be posting about this work in progress as it commences…