Wednesday, August 28

Walked into Guitar Center for the first time in months,

and played a '69 Fender Vibro-champ. I now know what all of the Blackface-fuss is about. Didn't buy it, but sure wanted to.

That is all.

Thursday, May 9

Presenting the slimmer, sleeker pedal board:

I know, somehow it's less colorful than it has been in the past. So that's kinda sad.

What you're looking at is the result of the last year of deciding exactly what I needed and what I didn't, then trying to find the best of each thing that I could. Notable is that I only have one delay pedal (for now), the newly acquired DD-20, after finally losing patience with the awkwardness of the DL4. I still really like the way that the DL4 sounds, but I've been using my DD-7 on my leading board and have realized just how little I need dual-delays to get the big delay sound that I use most often, and, well, the DD-20 just does more for less space, and has an extra preset. The thing I will miss is that it's missing an expression knob/pedal, which the DL4 had, but I wasn't overly pleased with how the DL4 worked with the expression pedal. If I get a legit analog delay, I will probably be set. Also, no POG. Again, I really liked the POG 2, but if I'm being completely honest, I never used it. And that thing was a beast in terms of real estate, so it got the axe.

I put an expression knob on my Tap-a-Whirl which is something I saw James Duke do and thought it was a great idea. Just cannibalized it from the expression pedal that I was using on the gone-but-not-forgotten DL4. And my drive section is what it is. I was kind of surprised that my favorite drive pedals didn't make it on there, those being the Signa Drive and the Morning Glory. I love both of those, but each of these pedals just add more "weight" to the signal when they're on, and I thought that was probably the most important thing for a drive pedal to do, at least from this board. If I had room for one more drive pedal, it would be the Fulltone Fatboost because I love what that does to push other drive pedals, but I couldn't find a non-awkward way to get it on there. The Timmy has a new chip in it, too; I couldn't quite get behind the one that was in there, so this guy told me to try swapping it out since it's got a chip socket instead of just a soldered chip, and I did, and it kind of blew me away. The actual chip cost me $1.04 with tax from a local electronics shop, and is a version of an LM1458 (I think...). Which seems like I should know exactly what it is, but I don't feel like opening it up to check. But it took me exactly 30 seconds to mod, and man, that guy rocks now. I used to find it a little harsh, now it's smoother. And weight.

Anyway, the current chain (for the pedal nerds like me out there) is:

Guitar -> JHS Little Black Buffer -> MXR Dynacomp -> Vox Wah -> Gravity Drive (a.k.a. Bluesbreaker clone) -> Fulldrive 2 (non-MOSFET for extra street cred...also it sounds pretty awesome) -> Timmy with new chip -> Ernie Ball volume pedal -> Boss DD-20 (with tap tempo) -> Cusack Tap-A-Whirl -> Boss Tu-2 -> Boss RV-5 -> BBE Sonic Stomp -> Amp

...but it will probably change next week.

Friday, April 5

Long absence? What long absence?

...been quite a while. Sorry. Maybe. I've been busy making music and such, which is I guess the whole point of this thing, but also, I just haven't had too much turnover in gear or change in drinking. Maybe I'm getting old and boring. Maybe.

I am currently in the process of auditioning drive pedals. Behold!

I traded an '81 TS9 for a Fulldrive 2 and a Fatboost, and am trying to figure out which 3 of the 8 drive pedals that I have are going to make it onto the board. I've been having a lot of fun with the Morning Glory, but I've never really sat down and done a large-scale shootout of pedals, more so just picked one, played it for a while, picked another one, played that one for a while, etc. And somewhere along the line I ended up with 8 overdrives. I've also streamlined the rest of my pedalboards, but that's a topic for another post, probably once I'm done figuring out which drives I want...

Wednesday, August 15

Bermuda Highball

Bermuda Highball
  • 3/4 oz. dry gin
  • 3/4 oz. brandy
  • 3/4 oz. French (dry) vermouth
Build in an 8 oz. highball glass. Add an ice cube (or three) and top with Ginger Ale or Club Soda. Garnish with a lemon twist, if you wish.

Not sure why this one's named after Bermuda, though it is rather tasty. I chose to go with Ginger Ale, which, as I've said in the past, can cover a lot of a cocktail's sins, and it definitely made for a refreshing cocktail with a hint of sophistication. That's pretty much what you get when you add dry vermouth to something, though there's definitely a chance that I need to update my stock of vermouths; it's starting to taste a bit flat. That said, I do really enjoy any drink that calls for multiple base spirits, since it adds a lot more complexity than this drink would have with simply 1 1/2 oz. of either gin or brandy. This is definitely a good one.

Wednesday, August 8

Bermuda Bouquet

Bermuda Bouquet:
  • Juice of 1/4 orange
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • 1 tsp. powdered Sugar (2 tsp. Simple Syrup)
  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. apricot brandy
  • 1 tsp. Grenadine
  • 1/2 tsp Curacao
Shake and strain into 8 oz. Highball glass.

This one is interesting, and it once again brings to mind, just how much ice did people use in the Old Mr. Boston Cocktail Book days? The recipe calls for none in the glass, which I started with, and quickly noticed that we were left with about 5 oz. of liquid in an 8 oz. glass, which left a lot to be desired for presentation. I chose to drop in two large ice cubes, both to keep things cool and also to raise the liquid level. I chose large ice cubes (perfectly 1 in. square!) to minimize dilution and ice melt, which worked through the duration of the drink. It's so foreign to me to not just fill the glass in question with ice and strain the drink over the top. I think going forward, unless the recipe calls for something specific, I'm going to just put in a few large ice cubes. Agreed? Good.

Also assumed, mostly because it's getting annoying to have to continue to write out an oz. measurement, is that when something calls for 1/2 of a lime or some such thing, I'm just going to do that. I usually convert it to oz. and then add that much, which is good and precise, but I'm finding that sometimes it makes me over-think the drink. With this one in particular, I used my standard "1/2 of a fruit" measurement of 3/4 oz. of Lemon juice, and the drink came off too sweet. I made it a second time through, simply using half of a lemon, and it was perfectly balanced. So from here on out, for drinks from the Old Mr. Boston DeLuxe Official Bartender's Guide, I'm going to use medium sized Limes, large Lemons, normal sized Oranges, and so on. Basically, whatever seems to be the normative fruit size will be the one I use. It's not as precise, but I think it should suffice.

Anyway, on the actual drink, it's a nice mix of flavors, but as I said, using too little Lemon juice created a drink that was a bit too sweet. The Apricot Brandy was very forward, which may have contributed to the overall sweetness, but adding back in the correct amount of Lemon juice fixed that right up. Very nice and tropical, as the name would suggest. With the correct balance, this one is really quite delightful! Recommend.

Bennett Cocktail

Here we have a nice twist on a gin sour. Kind of like a Gimlet with some orange bitters.

Bennett Cocktail:
  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime (about 3/4 oz.)
  • 1/2 tsp powdered sugar (1 tsp. simple syrup)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
Shake and (double) strain into 3 oz. Cocktail glass.
For this cocktail, I got to use a new vial of Bittermen's Orange Cream Citrate bitters. Somehow I've managed to keep myself to just two different kinds of Orange bitters, and these are a good one. They come with a dropper, which is boss, though I haven't decided how many drops is in a dash just yet. Maybe it's one. I put five or six drops in this one, approximating two dashes, and the flavor really came through. It was like drinking a dreamsicle.Which is, by the way, delicious.

I was struck by how few drinks up to this point had used sugar or simple syrup. Most of the drinks in this book (so far) use a liqueur, or a flavored syrup like grenadine or raspberry syrup, to get the sweetness to balance out, rather than overpower, the sour elements. Just one very, very different aspect, as compared to modern flavor palettes. 

As for the overall balance of the drink, I liked it. It's not to difficult to get a good drink when you use the time-honored combination of spirit, sour and sweet with a dash of bitters, and this one just tasted...right. It's like a Gimlet with a twist, which I can very much appreciate.

Tuesday, August 7

Belmont Cocktail

Well, time to get back on the wagon. What's first on the list? Something with Scotch? Maybe a new kind of bitters? A....a pink cocktail? Great.

Belmont Cocktail:
  • 2 oz. Gin
  • 1 tsp. Raspberry syrup
  • 3/4 oz. sweet cream
Shake and (double) strain into 4 oz Cocktail glass.

This is a pretty simple one, but it does call for Raspberry syrup. There was at least one other drink that I've come across in the book (the Albemarle Fizz) that called for the syrup, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and make some. The process wasn't overly difficult, either, and I just kind of winged it, adapting one way that I've made Grenadine in the past. I took three cups of sugar and two cups of water, brought it to a boil, stirring it so that the syrup was clear. Then I added a 6 oz. package of Raspberries and lowered the heat so that it was simmering uncovered, like so:

I let that go for about half an hour, then double strained out the bits of fruit and let the whole thing continue to simmer to reduce it down to a syrup. I let it go for about 15 minutes, but you should be able to tell because it will start to get thick. Then I just cooled it, and voila. Raspberry syrup.

The whole thing took about an hour, which really isn't too bad. And the product we're left with is nice and raspberry-y.

And so then there's the drink. I'm not sure what is up with people from the turn of the century, but I can't get behind Gin + cream. Cream has such a weird texture/mouthfeel that doesn't jive well with the bitterness of the alcohol and botanicals that make up Gin, and I really can't understand why someone would do something like this to such a good spirit. On the other hand, I have had the Ramos Gin Fizz which was just sublime. Maybe this is just a bad cocktail? Can't get over it. Next.

Thursday, August 2

New Speaker, Old Cocktails

In the course of cycling through gear, some guy offered me a trade involving an Eminence Cannabis Rex, and I thought, sure! I'd been tentatively thinking about replacing the speakers in both of my amps, more so to see what kind of a difference it would make than anything else, and this was one of the "good" ones on the list for the Blues Jr., so I decided to go for it. So I opened that puppy up, made the swap (which was way easier than I'd been expecting, if not a little tedious) and also messed around with my reverb tank, while I was in there. The reverb tank repair didn't take, but the new speaker sure did...

I've been using my Blues Jr. a bit more than my Valve Jr. for when I've got my big-boy electric guitar rig going, mostly because I've found that some of the things that I do to add clarity and punch also add a little bit of harshness to the signal. The combination of my buffer, compressor and BBE Sonic Stomp all make for a crystal clear clean tone, despite the endless effects pedals around, but with all of that clarity, I had to start turning my brightness and sparkle controls all the way down to keep my ears from falling off. I haven't had a chance to run my new speaker through my big rig just yet, but in plugging it in to make sure things worked, this speaker definitely delivers. It's just mellowed things out a bit. Not detracting from the high end or anything like that, but everything just sounds so much more pleasing to the ear. The speaker has also been broken in, which is good, and it's got plenty of bass, which I always appreciate. I've got some more testing and tweaking to do, obviously, but I think it's fixed the issue, which is a great feeling!

I also recently got an e-mail from a prominent cocktail blogger saying very nice things about my site, which was awesome but at the same time made me realize it's been months since I've posted about anything non-guitar-related. Not that that's the end of the world, but things have been a bit one-sided. So to update that side of my personality, I've been drinking about as much as usual, but not really anything exciting or new. I see a huge upswing in the abilities of bars to accommodate the drink snob like me, but it's still probably going to be years, if ever, before we get back to the bar, circa 1957. Not that it's the bar's fault; that lies mostly in the hands and tastebuds of my peers, who would still rather have alcohol be a means to an end, rather than an experience for the palate. Call me old-fashioned, but if I'm going to have an adult drink, I'd prefer it didn't taste like something a kindergartener would enjoy.

But to that end, my time spent drinking out almost always gravitates towards the safe choices. It's impossible to mess up a Gin and Tonic, the old liquor on the rocks takes literally no thought on the bartender's part, and the varieties of craft beer available in the St. Louis area make me wonder if I could ever make it through every beer in existence. My opportunities to drink from the comforts of my own home bar have been more limited, too, though more due to my own laziness than anything else. My liquor collection is as impressive as ever, and I now have access to 7 different bitters, orange flower-water, Allspice Dram and Falernum, but have yet to really experiment with a lot of it. Part of it is, after a night of work, I just prefer the ease of a beer or a scotch, rather than rattling up the shaker. Part of it is that I'm less than satisfied with my ice-making capabilities. I think I'm getting old and crotchety. And still only 26!

Perhaps I'll get back to a place where I'm drinking something exciting more regularly. Everything is a cycle, as they say.

Tuesday, July 17

Pedalboard Update - July

Here's what I'm running with right now:

Guitar -> (Fuzz Face) -> JHS Buffer -> MXR Compressor -> VOX Wah -> EHX POG 2 -> Bluesbreaker -> Morning Glory -> Signa Drive -> Tap-a-whirl -> Boss CE-2 Chorus -> Volume pedal -> Boss DD-7 (with tap tempo) -> DL4 (with expression knob) -> BBE Sonic Stomp -> Boss Tuner -> Boss RV-5 -> amp

I did what we all do and got sick of what was already kind of working, in favor of something that might work better. It looks really different because I moved a lot of stuff around, but the only actual new pedals are the Cusack Tap-A-Whirl, which I'm still getting used to, and the JHS Morning Glory, which is awesome. And also the Fuzzface, though that's not a normal part of the board, since I don't normally need fuzz, but it's really easy to plug in if I need it. I also cleaned up some of the mundane stuff. I moved the buffer underneath the pedalboard, like so:

So that all I need to do is plug in to the bottom of the board, and it looks pretty slick. I got a second Pedal Power 2+ and mounted it underneath, so now every pedal has it's own channel on a power supply. And because I now need to run two power cables, plus an amp send line, from the board, I home-made a pedal snake by getting two long power cables and zip-tying it all together. I think I need to get some kind of covering for it, though, since you can't run it through your hands. I'll look into that.

The only thing that I know will absolutely change in a bit is I've finally caught up with 2008 and ordered a Timmy. So that's going to go in the place of the Bluesbreaker pedal, which is great but isn't as versatile as the Morning Glory, which based itself upon the Bluesbreaker anyway. But for now, I'm using the Bluesbreaker as I would the Timmy; as a cleanish boost and to push the other overdrives. I love the expression knob on the DL4, since it lets me control whatever I want, which right now is just repeats on all of my delays. And so far the layout is working out pretty well, since it's protecting the pedals I want to protect (compressor, sonic stomp) from my foot while giving me good access to the rest of them.

As far as amps go, I'm digging my Valve Jr. for plugging straight in, but with the pedalboard I'm finding I like the ability to tweak some of the brightness out, so my Blues Jr. lets me do that. I've really only been working things out with my new Strat, though, so we'll see what happens when I try out my other guitars. But for a good Strat, this setup is pretty killer.

Saturday, June 16

Yet Another Strat...

I got a new Strat today. Well, maybe "new" is a little misleading. Maybe "got" is, too.

Like I think I said before, I've loved my little Strat that I built, that was actually the impetus for starting this blog, but I've started to get just a little dissatisfied with some of it's quirks. Even with a good, professional setup, it never really clicked with me. Sure, it plays fine. Sounds okay. The tuners are solid. All in all, it's a very serviceable Strat. But it's just hasn't delivered that jaw-dropping tone that I've wanted it to. Not that I blame it; I had basically no idea what I was doing when I built it, let alone what it was that I wanted it to sound like. I was just picking pieces because of what other people told me and what was affordable.

Then I started playing real Strats, legit vintage ones, and I heard what a Strat was supposed to sound like, felt the smooth action of the neck and really just had an overall mind-bending experience. So I couldn't take it much longer. I had to fix things.

I decided to do a lot more "hands-on" research this time around. I went out to a really nice guitar store in the area and tried out as many Strats as they'd let me. Most specifically, I was looking for tonal differences between fretboard materials (they were all alder Strats, which was probably what I was going to go with anyway), and then tried out a few different neck profiles. Between the Maple or Rosewood neck, all else being held constant, I was pretty amazed at the tonal difference. It was subtle, but definitely there. The Maple neck was a little snappier, the Rosewood one a bit more restrained. I really like both, and could honestly see owning one of each at some point in the future, but I decided that for my one-and-only, I'd go with Rosewood again. Then I tried a few different neck profiles, and found the one I like. The thing that made the most difference to me? The radius. I'm a 9.5" guy all the way. Just feels right.

After that, I started thinking more about specifics. I came across a John Mayer video where he talked about the hows and whys of making his "Black One" Stratocaster at the Fender factory. The thing that struck me was when he talked about making his guitar with no paint on it. That really, really got me thinking about finish. I'd always heard that finish mattered, but I'd only ever owned guitars with a poly-finish, like most modern guitars. Then I got my Mustang, which is from '66 so it's got a nice thin nitro-cellulose lacquer on it. I love the way that guitar sounds. So nitro it is.

I wanted to not repeat some of the mistakes that I made with the first Strat I built, so I went searching for guitars that could fit my standards and not be so expensive that I'd feel bad for customizing them. My search brought me to the Fender Highway One guitars, mostly because they've got the 9.5" radius neck and a body with some nitro on it. Now, digging in a bit more (and confirming it mid-relic-ing), I found out it's more of a compound finish, with a clear poly covered by a colored nitro finish, but either way, it's a thinner finish than most Strats out there.

So to make a long story short, I bought one off of eBay (from 1993, so it's got the medium-jumbo frets, which I prefer, and a vintage-sized headstock, which I'm ambivalent on), swapped out the guts for those in my other Strat, and then got to relicing it. Here's how it turned out:

As you can see, it's not nearly as relic'ed as Mayer's Black One. Like he said, the idea isn't so much about the look as it is about letting the wood breathe. I also think that the whole "heavily distressed" guitar look can come off looking a bit cheesy, particularly when there's paint worn away in areas where there never would be, if the guitar were just worn from normal playing. The upper horn is a pick thing, the lower slant where the arm makes contact makes sense, and the back around the belt buckle is definitely something that happens, along with dents and dings along the edges and around the jack. But how are you going to wear out the paint inside the horns? That just doesn't make sense. So that's about the extent to what I did. Don't get me wrong; this is definitely pretty heavily distressed. But I could definitely relic it more. I also wiped the whole thing down with some lacquer thinner to just thin out the paint that much more.

Then, I rubbed the whole thing down with some black wood stain. The parts that are just wood colored are still covered in the poly coating, but the places that came up black are where I scratched all the way through to the wood. It added a lot of depth to the relic work, making it look way, way more realistic. It also added a nice tint to the plastic parts, aside from the pickup covers which were the same ones from the earlier Strat. If I don't like the way that they look next to the other parts, I'll relic up some white ones and pop them in. I also sanded the neck so it plays really smoothly.

The end result is a guitar that really sings. It's clear and aggressive at the same time. The pickups do most of the heavy lifting, but this guitar sounds an order of magnitude clearer than the guitar that those pickups came from. It's not quite at the same level as Mayer's guitar, which frankly is the best sounding Strat I've ever heard, even over YouTube, but it's close. Maybe chucking some of his Big Dipper pickups in there would take it to the next level, but I'm extremely satisfied. Maybe someday you'll all hear it...