Werewood: Silly Season Also Exists in Guitar Land

It seems that even Premier Guitar Magazine and by extension the Gibson PR machine can be affected by the late summer slow news phase — known in the UK as The Silly Season — when publications are forced to scrape the barrel for copy and the redtops run stories such as LION SPOTTED IN ESSEX!!! (swiftly followed by Oh No Sorry, As You Were It Was Probably Just Someone’s Cat).

In Guitarville, The Silly Season has manifested itself as some dufus luthier prattling on to Premier Guitar about harvesting wood at different phases of the moon. This has much in common with the principles of biodynamic agriculture, used notably by some wine makers and which frankly is just a clever way to turn a bunch of loosely-related new age beliefs and superstitions into a branding signal for those who want a further reason to indulge in conspicuous consumption. Actually, come to think of it, I can see how this strategy might also work very well in the high-end boutique guitar market.

Here’s an example of the lunacy he espouses

Somogyi researched the subject and concluded that tree-fellers have noted this since the first millennium. “Woods of any one species cut during the new moon, the full moon, or the waning moon, have consistently and predictably produced different results,” he writes. “Therefore, a number of especially advantageous uses for timber – including guitar tops – have been correlated with specific felling dates. These woods for soundboards are available to luthiers and can be found through a simple search by using the keywords “full moon wood.”

(Bold emphasis is mine)

To which I have one thing to say: Fucking prove it.

Songwriting, Songstuff and Polar Bears

I only really got back into playing guitar about three and a half years ago, after a break that lasted about 13 years. The timing coincided with two major life events; becoming unemployed and becoming a father for the first time, both of which happened in the same week in February 2009.

I suddenly found myself in the situation of transitioning from a high-pressure consulting gig, to being a full-time father of a newborn baby girl. I’d done a part-time MBA before going into consulting, so I had placed my career at the center of my life from the beginning of 2004 until then. Five years of 60-70 hours a week grind. Well, probably more. Before the MBA I was a chip designer at that Big Phone Company that Finland is so famous for. That could be quite an intense job at times too.

Of course in February 2009, I was looking for a new job, but financially-speaking we had a lot of runway. So I wasn’t particularly anxious. Thanks to my unemployment insurance and Finland’s excellent welfare state safety net, we knew we wouldn’t have to sell the car until after the summer and we could afford the mortgage probably for the rest of the year.

This is a time of life I actually remember as being very happy. Although there was a lot of uncertainty, I’d got out of an unhealthy job situation and I could feel the stress leave my body.  I also had this incredible gift of a child and family to care for. Newborns of course sleep a lot, as do mothers of newborns. I was left with a fair amount of time on my hands in those early weeks.

It’s at this point that I dusted off the case with ‘Fender’ on the cover and reacquainted myself with my Stratocaster.

I bought this guitar, a Made In Japan sunburst model with a rosewood fretboard, as soon as I got out my first post-university pay cheque in 1994. On the same day I also got a Trace Elliot Supertramp combo (in British racing green) and a Tascam 4-Track Portastudio. My paycheque wasn’t big enough to pay for them all outright you understand, but I put down a deposit and paid for them in installments over the next 18 months.

Although I love guitars with a passion, my aim has never been to be a virtuoso, but really to write songs. I am fascinated by the creative process. Inspiration and craft. I get a rush creating original material. This is what motivates me to pick up the guitar.

I’d dreamed of owning a 4-track since I was a teenager, so getting that Tascam was incredibly exciting. After buying it, I had a brief burst of creativity, writing very few complete songs, but filling tape after tape with riffs and ideas. Then life intervened, and around the end of 1996 I put the guitar down, boxed up the 4 track and other things preoccupied me. I left the UK in 1998, without my musical gear and other things took center stage for over a decade.

By 2009 of course, Tascam four tracks were obsolete. But we had a Macbook and on every Macintosh computer there is a software package called iLife, which includes an application called Garageband. A feature rich, yet user friendly ‘DAW’ (digital audio workstation). A software recording studio. A Tascam on steroids.

Since then, I’ve continued to mess around with Garageband whenever I get the opportunity. Initially the same pattern of lots of ideas as in the 1990s, no finished product. But earlier this year I set myself the goal of completing one song a month and uploading a finished’ MP3 to a blog. I started in March and by the beginning of this month I actually had six tunes up there, so I was a little ahead. It helped that a friend of mine did a kick ass remix of the first track I uploaded to the blog, that really got me moving.

Then about ten days ago I started contributing to a forum called Songstuff. This is a place on the web where amateur, semi pro and pro songwriters come to share their tunes (often via Soundcloud). I signed up for this forum with the aim of getting feedback and advice from others on my material, but I find it equally interesting to critique and give feedback to others. It’s also just a great place to discover new music. The level of talent and standard of material you find there is staggering.

I’ve removed three tracks from the blog, because after joining Songstuff, I know I can make them better. I’ve become more aware of what is possible with home recording and now also I have something of an audience that I want to like my music. I want to raise my game.

If you are interested in hearing my music you can go to my Soundcloud page to steam the tunes

or the blog to download MP3s

http://polarbearsofarizona.wordpress.com/

I apologize in advance for the singing…

Brilliant Definition of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

I just stumbled across this excellent definition of the term GAS, which of course an affliction that I battle on an almost daily basis.

It seems to be a link to a Wikipedia user profile of somebody going by the name Greycat, not a real article, so I hope Mr. or Ms. Greycat will forgive me for reproducing it in full here as I am not sure how long such an article will last on the Wikipedia servers. If you do object, please leave a comment and I will of course amend this post.

User:GreyCat/Gear Acquisition Syndrome

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (sometimes Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, both abbreviated to GAS) is a term used to describe an urge to acquire and accumulate lots of gear. This term commonly associated with:

  • Guitarists (tend to acquire guitarsguitar amplifiers, pedals, effects processors)
  • Keyboard / synth players (tend to acquire keyboards, synthesizers, samplers, effects units, etc)
  • Drummers (various drums, percussion, drumsticks)
  • Photographers (cameras and its parts – bodies, lens, mounts, filters, flash, etc.)
  • Bike accesories (racks, lights, fenders, etc.)

The term “GAS” was coined by Walter Becker in 1996 in his article G.A.S. in Guitar Player[1] as “Guitar Acquisition Syndrome”. The term started to be frequently used by guitarists and spread out to other musicians who were familiar with similar tendencies. As it no longer concerns guitars only, GAS is now commonly backronym

GAS shouldn’t be confused with collection.

[edit]Similar addictions

GAS is similar in many ways to obsessive compulsive disorder

[edit]Treatment

None

GAS hasn’t received any major medical attention yet GAS is not a clinical condition. It can be the result of a psychological lack of personality (trying to give an impression of being the best by immitating a famous icon or celebrity), but this whouldn’t explain why musicians “affected” by GAS tend to accumulate cheap gear, not linked to famous brands or music icons. There is an experimental therapy for guitarists that suggests to buy a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, a 1960 Fender Stratocaster and a high-end Ibanez, together with a Marshall Plexi, a Fender Vibroverb and a Mesa Rectifier, to permanently satisfy the inner appetite for compulsive shopping.

[edit]References

  1. ^ Walter Becker (1996-05-31). “G.A.S.”Guitar Player.

Category:Distribution, retailing, and wholesaling Category:Guitars

I love the bit  about “… musicians “affected” by GAS tend to accumulate cheap gear, not linked to famous brands or music icons” as this resonates quite well with my recent, perhaps ill-advised, Cheapo Chinese Les Paul purchase and the fact that I spend unreasonable amounts of time scouring Craigslist and rolling my eyes at the prices people are asking for Epiphones.

Guilty as charged!

Cheapo Les Paul addition — what was I thinking?

So, despite saying I was going to hold back on a Les Paul for the time being, I went and did it. I was perusing Craigslist and a PRS Soapbar 2 SE came up for $175, Although I don’t own one, I am a big fan of PRS guitars and getting a solid mahogany, set neck example for less than $200 just seemed too good a chance to pass up. It’s difficult for me to track down the new price for this guitar as it is no longer made, but a similar PRS Single Cut SE is a $600 guitar when new. So $175 seemed an absolute steal for this one. By the way the ‘Soapbar’ name comes from the fact it has a pair of P90-type ‘hot’ single-coil pickups rather than humbuckers. But it’s quite easy to get ‘buckers that fit those slots. P90s have also been used in Les Pauls since the 1950s and punk rockers such as Mick Jones of The Clash actually preferred these examples to the humbucker versions because of their cutting tone.

I exchanged emails with the owner and he agreed I could come and see it, but didn’t specify when or leave a phone number. Then he went quiet. I assume he found another buyer. Would’ve been nice of him to let me know, but he didn’t.

By this time I was of course GASing bad. After a couple of days I began to scour Craigslist again, looking for Les Paul type guitars. I had two criteria; the guitar had to be mahogany with a set neck and less than $200. Ideally with humbuckers, but OK with P90s (like the Soapbar).

This should put me in Epiphone Les Paul Standard territory, but ownership of these budget, Chinese-made Gibson versions seems to indicate a tenuous grasp of reality. Unlike Telecasters there is always quite a few on sale, but the prices sought are usually unrealistic: “No I am not going to pay you $350 for a used guitar I can get for $400 new, even with a ‘deluxe gig bag’ “.

But I found one interesting option; a dude selling a Chinese-made Les Paul copy for $200 including a hard case. Mahogany, set neck. Checked all the boxes.

From the description in the ad it appeared to be a SVK ELPC400. From some sniffing around the web I found out that these guitars seemed to be highly regarded. They’re also no longer made as the manufacturer had been sued by Gibson for copying the Les Paul design too slavishly. When available then they seemed to sell for $350…$400 without a case. Here’s the spec run down which the seller had clearly copied from the importer’s webpage:

SVK Guitars ELP-C400 Single Cutaway Electric Guitar Features:

Set-Neck 50’s Body shape
Solid African Mahogany Body
Maple Top
Canadian Hardrock Maple Neck
1960’S Neck Profile
Bound Indian Rosewood Fingerboard
24.75 Scale
Thin High 190NS Fretwire Exclusive
Pearl Block Inlays
Bound Top and Back
Bound Head
Two Way Truss Rod
Tune-O-Matic III Die-Cast Bridge Tailpiece
Die-Cast Vintage Tuners
EVJ-Alnico 5800 Humbucker Pickups

The above basically equates to a Les Paul Standard, with the exception of the maple neck. Gibson use mahogony on real LPs. I figured that this would be at least as good as an Epi Standard. Possibly better.

I went to play it, thought it was OK and then tried to haggle. The seller was claiming he had paid over $300 new for the guitar plus another $100 for the case. I was GASing and I caved, giving the guy $200 and took it home.

On opening the case at home I felt sick to  my stomach. I’d made a mistake. Because the ad had said ‘set neck’, I hadn’t even noticed that in fact the neck was bolt-on. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid that I hadn’t noticed. After some research I realized that the guitar was actually the slightly cheaper ELP-C300 like this one but in black. Identical specs to the 400 but with a bolt-on neck.  Man I was pissed. I only blamed the seller slightly (could even have been an honest mistake, copying the wrong specs to his ad) but I was really angry at myself. The only criteria I was really focusing on was that set neck — supposedly essential to true Les Paul tone, but I hadn’t noticed the bolts. Dammit.

I nearly re-listed the guitar on Craigslist immediately. But then I calmed down a bit. It’s a great looking guitar. It’s in good condition. It has a pair of supposedly Alnico humbuckers and perhaps a fair price for what I got would still have been about $150, so I haven’t done too badly. It’s also a nice addition to the arsenal of guitars. It does sound like a Les Paul. It doesn’t feedback like my other humbucker guitar, the Ibanez Artcore hollowbody. I cracked open the can marked Jimmy Page riffs and started to enjoy it. I then put a lead line on a Garageband track I’d been working on and enjoyed it some more.

So now I figure I’ve got a guitar I quite like. I paid more than I should for it, but it’s not going to kill me. I can also use this as a guitar to experiment with doing home setup and modifications without getting too scared I’m going to damage something valuable. I could even swap out the pickups. Put on a Bigsby tremolo. Whatever I feel like.

Also as a bonus, that slot for a ‘real’ Les Paul style, set-neck all-mahogany guitar still remains open in my collection, waiting to be filled at some point down the line…

Arise, Sir Brad of Mod

Photo hotlinked from The Guardian

Just a short one today. Bradley Wiggins — ATG’s Man of The Year– has won Gold in the Olympic time trial. The icing on the cake. I am sure he still wishes he could’ve launched his mate Cav for the road race win, but he’s still had the best season of any British cyclist ever, with Olympic victory coming hard on the heels of becoming the first Brit to win cycling’s greatest race– which is in my book probably one of sport’s greatest events, full stop.

Congratulations Sir Bradley Wiggins (the New Year’s Honours list surely a mere formality), Colonel Wiggo, Le Gentlemen. One of Britain’s greatest ever sporting heros, one who also seems to be genuinely decent human being.

PS I reckon that Gibson should come out with a half yellow half, Union Jack Brad Wiggins signature ES-335