Friday, May 28

Drink Spotlight: Gin and Tonic

I realized yesterday that it's probably been several months since I've even thought about putting up any booze-based information, and while the vast majority of my (imaginary) audience is way more interested in guitars than in gin, I felt I was being untrue to the spirit of this place! So I decided I'd share with you one of my all time favorite cocktails: the Gin and Tonic.

What? Way too simple? Pedestrian, even? I'm okay with that. As much as I appreciate a well-crafted cocktail made with foreign and difficult to obtain ingredients and mixed just perfectly, there's a lot to respect with the simple G&T. For one, in the modern-era bars where service is defined as speed at all costs, one of the very few cocktails that is "safe" to order is the beloved Gin and Tonic. It's really, really difficult to screw up, particularly in most bars where the hand holding the liquor bottle is a bit on the light side. It's one of very few cocktails that you can order in a bar that will turn out exactly like you'd expect, no matter what bar you order it in. And, well, gin is delicious.

That's not a popular opinion, but it is mine. Whenever I try or get a new gin, the iconic Gin and Tonic often does as much for me in telling me about the gin as taking it straight. The other litmus-test cocktail for me on the gin front is, of course, the Martini, but there are a lot of gins out there that simply aren't balanced well for a Martini, some of which will give you a truly awful drink no matter how you mix it. Tonic is forgiving, however.

So, let's talk about it:

The Gin and Tonic:
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • tonic water
In an 8 oz glass filled with ice, build gin and top with tonic water. Garnish with lime.

Extremely easy, but there is one detail that is very important, and is often missed or misunderstood by the beginner. The term "top" is a very dangerous one, as any recipe that involves topping a cocktail with something needs to pay very, very close attention to the size of the glass. In an 8 oz. glass, as I've suggested, this will tend to work out to around 3 oz of tonic water, which is just about perfect, once the ice melts a bit. A bigger glass will require more gin, a smaller glass, less, but always try to account for the volume of ice, and attempt to get your tonic:gin ratio to 2:1, as that's where the magic happens with this particular drink. Once you've found a suitable recipe for any particular glass, this actually makes dispensing Gin and Tonics extremely easy, as the only ingredient requiring measuring is the gin.

This drink, perhaps more than any other, is summer to me, so wherever you are, as the temperature begins to approach that of the ninth circle of hell, enjoy!

Monday, May 24

It is finished.

Well, it finally got here.

I put my order in just about six weeks ago, and my Loopmaster bypass strip, tap tempo and pedal board bypass arrived today. I had about ten things to do today, but upon finding a long, thin package on my doorstep this afternoon, I put aside non-childish things and spent the better part of the day getting things set up. Step one (cut a hole in the box?) was to take a side trip to the he-who-must-not-be-named and pick up some more patch cables. And by some, I mean lots. I ended up going with a kit (or three) made by LiveWire, simply because I needed to get the biggest number of cables at as cheap a price as I could, and I got these for around $6 per cable. And it's DIY, meaning that I got every size I needed without any guesswork, which was a huge plus. I am planning, some day, maybe, on getting some really nice cables of the solder variety, simply because, well, I could have paid just a bit more and gotten fantastic cables instead of generic ones, but I also play on a weekly basis and could not have waited for shipping. But first impressions are that they conduct signal passably well. I did have a digital multimeter on hand to check them after assembly, and had to re-assemble two of the twelve I made, so that saved me tons of stress.

The little box next to the strip is a tap tempo. I used the Boss FS-5U for a long time, and it works perfectly, but I could never get velcro to stick to it, and it took up an awful lot of space for a tap tempo, so I went ahead and got one while I was ordering. All the functionality, 1/4 of the size. The box next to that, with the fun stickers on it, is called a pedal board bypass. Basically, I've got everything routed so that I have one consistent and easy-to-reach place to plug in my guitar and amp (marked G and A, respectively), instead of having to find the right place on the bypass strip or to track down which pedal is last and first in my chain. A small touch, but I really like it. I was also going to try to zip-tie it to the bottom of my pedal board, underneath the wah in my picture here so that the I/O ports would seem to almost be a part of the pedal board, but there wasn't quite enough clearance. Still good this way, though, because I can see what I'm doing.

And so, for the last time (until I completely change my setup again...), my chain is:

Guitar -> Strymon OB. 1 -> Loopmaster bypass strip:
1. Vox Wah
2. Boss GE-7
3. Fulltone Fulldrive 2 MOSFET
4. Keeley DS-1
5. Voodoo Labs Tremolo
6. Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
7. Line 6 DL4 -> Boss DD-7 (with tap tempo)
Tuner out: Hardwire HT-2 tuner
-> Amp.

The logic here is that the Strymon compressor is always on, and is true bypass anyway, so it doesn't need to be in a loop. The bypass strip has a master bypass switch, so I can clear out everything and go guitar -> compressor -> amp when I feel like it, and it has a tuner out so that's not in my signal path anymore (though I really don't mind that particular tuner's sound when it's off). The only other thing I have to say is that it's almost like Loopmaster makes their stuff specifically for Pedaltrain pedal boards. The bypass strip fits perfectly on one slat, with the right angle cables hanging neatly down through the first open space. Very orderly and awesome.

I'll leave you with a spaceship shot, since I've never done it and I now have like twice as many LEDs looking back up at me. Happy pedal board day!

Tuesday, May 18


So my beloved acoustic is currently in the shop. In the two or so years that I've had it, I never had it set up, aside from my own clumsy attempts to adjust the truss rod to keep it from buzzing. But it's in the extremely capable hands of a guy named Skip Goez, who is the best tech in St. Louis, and has reportedly worked on the guitars of all of the biggest names to come through (Clapton is a name that stands out), and, oddly enough, my dad and his brothers were friends in high school. St. Louis really is the biggest little city in the world...

Anyway, not much else to talk about just yet. My loopmaster stuff is awaiting shipping, and I've been working more and more on piano. Maybe leave you with a cool new song? It's a band that John Mark McMillan has been digging and gigging with, and they're pretty sweet. This acoustic version is INSANE!

Saturday, May 8

Squier Classic Vibe 50's Telecaster

Ok, so after like a year of never being able to find one of these in a Guitar Center (a.k.a., the devil), I've found two in two different ones over the last week. This is extremely exciting for me, even though I have a fantastic Tele in my ASAT, and even though there's no way, musically or economically, I could justify owning two Telecasters at this moment, I just had to try it out. There's been a lot of internet hype about this particular guitar, so I figured I'd add to it.

First, I saw the one I really like; the original one they came out with, in a vintage white with a black pickguard. I believe that it differs from the newer model, which is sunburst with an alder body and a rosewood fretboard, by having a pine body and maple fretboard. I was in the South County Guitar Center (here in STL, we like to descriminate based on where you live. I live in prestigious West County, where the wine flows and every other area looks upon us and dreams. I only go to South County to do missionary work, and to teach the indigenous peoples the ways of culture and grace and civility. Also, I work there.) and I saw it, and so I did what came naturally; I plugged straight into a Blues Jr., this being the time of day when all Guitar Centers are quiet (around 1 p.m. during the school year), and I felt alive. So alive that I didn't think to do a side-by-side comparison with, say, a '52 reissue Tele, which is the same sort of feel that Fender has been trying to cop with the Classic Vibe series. But I did get one of the workers to ask me to turn down. At a Guitar Center? I was playing tasteful rhythm with a divine set of tools. How dare thee! I could have been ripping it up with Crazy Train 10 times in a row, like every other day in Guitar Center. I guess they don't like good music.

Anyway, about a week passes, and I find myself once again at a Guitar Center, this time in North County (where I have also been known to conduct works of charity. Also, my grandma lives up there.) and they had the other CV Tele; at the time, I couldn't remember what distinguished them, but I like Telecasters, so I wasn't too picky. As I had a lot of free time, I thought things out a bit more, but I couldn't find a RI Tele in the store that day, so I settled with another sort of standard, the American.

The issue I have, looking back, is that there's really nothing to distinguish the two at this point, other than electronics. The cool think about the blonde Tele is that it's made out of pine, and you can really hear something special in the tone. This alder version, it was certainly different from an American Standard tele, but not really in any way that I would say was better or worse. Noticeable right off the bat, the CV was significantly louder. The pickups seemed to be at a good height on each guitar, so it would lead me to believe that the CV's pickups are hotter than the American. The CV was a lot more unfocused, so while turning it down a bit gave you back some clarity, the tone remained a bit all over the place and messy. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. I've been thinking about guitar tone a lot lately (as usual), and I'm coming to find a lot of value in that sort of broken-in-half, messy, falling apart kind of tone. Like a good fuzz pedal, or an amp that's breaking up. Or me, before God. Tight and focused is great if you're in control, but I find myself, when really praying, just falling apart, so there's a sort of beauty in a guitar that's a little all over the place. Not sloppy, and not poorly played, but almost like the guitar itself can't help but tremble before God. That's ridiculous. That's where I'm at right now.

Which makes a nice segue into something I discovered on Thursday night: I will always* play electric in sandals, because it makes it easy to turn certain knobs on my pedalboard with my foot in a controlled way. The certain knobs I speak of would be the drive knob on a Tubescreamer, or maybe the repeat knob on a delay. I was playing How He Loves for the youth group kids on Thursday, leading from electric, and I felt compelled to end with the chorus by cutting out the rest of the band, doing some arpeggio work and turning the repeats up on the delay (that has of course been going the entire song) so that it just starts to feedback, then fading back out. I love delay.

Anyway, back to the review. Love. Love love. I don't need another Tele. If you do, get one, but try out both, because they are different. I prefer the blonde one (though my first and only mod would be to swap out the black pickguard for a white one, because I think that looks boss), and you might too, but the newer, sun-bursted model is not without it's charms. Biggest charm: $350 new. A 52RI tele will cost at least $1600 new. The Classic Vibe line is just great in sound and, honestly, in build quality, so as long as you don't mind having a big Squier logo on your headstock (which, let's be honest, we've all been that guy, and some, like me, still kind of are), you're getting an amazing tone-to-dollar ratio. If you don't have a Tele, now you don't really have a good excuse to not have one. I already have one. I'm considering getting another. If I had a wife, she'd kill me.

*probably not always.

Monday, May 3

Is anyone else using this song?

How He Loves. It certainly seems to be the next new thing, what with DC*B having covered it on Church Music (and playing it live at a lot of shows, which is just awesome), but like a lot of people who have any inclination to read this, I'd heard it years ago. I talked to a worship leader that I respect, and he said that he had to hear how Crowder did it live before he'd play it, and that struck me as kind of odd, but again, I really respect his opinions. Now that he has started playing it, he's in love with it (as is everyone), and he can't believe he'd never done it before.

Long story short, this weekend I played it for the meditation song for both of my Masses, and it was incredible. The line that blows me away, even years later, is "if His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking". I don't do the little Kim Walker giggle, but usually there's some kind of crack or vocal break in there. I can't help it. I also tend towards the "emotional" side when I lead worship...

I also love the DC*B music video. I can't embed it, but you can find it here. It's messy and it's real, and it's so faithful, musically, to the band's style, both in the way that they play it there, and the way it's shot. Just wonderful. But I will leave you with the original, because it's also messy and real and beautiful.