Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fichman Aura Acoustic Imaging Pedals

It's always refreshing to quote someone, so why not quote myself? In a thread on the UMGF about the Fishman Acoustic Imaging Pedals someone asked about the differences between the pedals and the Blender box, and since I'd just recently been talking about the Aura stuff with Ian at The Music Emporium, I felt almost knowledgeable enough to offer the following overview. Of course, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

Note: The Imaging Pedals should be shipping about now, so I'm waiting to hear some user reports:

My understanding is that the pedals are a sub-set of the Aura Blender. The Blender includes a lot more Aura Images, and also has the capability to download new Aura Images (via a MIDI connection though.)

And then there's also the Ellipse Aura, which can be installed inside your guitar (the controls are accessible through the sound hole of the guitar.)

So you have three products to choose from. This is how I see the differences (but am interested to get other's take on this.)

i] The Blender gives you the most options and you can install custom images. It's much larger than a pedal though. It's best for those that have multiple models of guitar they'd like to play through Aura.

ii] The Imaging Pedals are much smaller than the Blender, so convenient for performing. If you have multiple guitars of the same body size, then that's great. If you want to use two different body sizes (a dread and an OM) then you might have to get two pedals (though you might be happy with the way the OM pedal sounds with your dread or vice versa.) Cons: Two pedals cost as much as the Blender, and are almost as bulky, so if you're thinking of getting more than one pedal you should probably get the Blender.

iii] The Ellipse Aura mounts inside the guitar. You can download custom Aura Images, so you can set it up for the guitar. Less hassle than pedals. Cons: If you have more than one guitar it becomes expensive.

USB Mics

I bought one of those Samson USB mics a while back, and while it's nice to just plug the thing into a computer and go, I'm not really that impressed with it. Particularly since - the last three times I've tried to use it - it's had an annoying static noise that I haven't been able to isolate.

Compound that with problems getting it working in the first place (on a Mac) and I can't really recommend it.

But if you are in the market for a USB microphone, then check out the April issue of Electronic Musician, which has an article comparing six different USB mics.

My own perspective: I have a Line 6 Toneport USB box which I use with 'real' microphones, and while it's a little more baggage to work with, the results are much more consistent and satisfactory.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mark Hanson Workshop

This past weekend I attended a workshop at The Music Emporium given by Mark Hanson. Mark is an accomplished fingerstyle player who has written a number of instruction books including The Music of Leo Kottke.

The title of the class was "Arranging Beatles for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar" and it was a great lesson. He gave us the tab to three songs; I'm So Happy Just to Dance With You, It's Only Love and Good Night.

The big takeaway from this class for me - apart from the tabs and having him go through the songs talking about how they are played - were Mark's comments about how he approachs these pieces. His theory is that he trys to mimic the phrasing of the vocal, because that's what people hear in their heads (they are so familiar with the songs.) When working out the fingering, he's looking not just for an easy way to play the notes; he's looking for the smoothest way to play it. So it's important to think about where your fingers are coming from; and where they are going to.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Building a 3D guitar

In August 2006, Suzanne Vega performed live in Second Life avatar form.
Robbie Dingo was commissioned to make the Guitar and animation for the Vega avatar, and you can see an animation showing the "building" of this guitar at the Second Life Showcase.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ukulele Chords

Since I'm on a bit of a ukulele kick at the moment, here's a new chord book: Ukulele Chords - C Tuning, published by Curt Sheller Publications.

Ukulele Chords includes information on how to transpose any chord or chord progression, add and sus chords, and an introduction to more advanced chords. It's 44 pages long and has an MSRP of $9.95. G and D tuning editions will be out next year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New York Ukulele Festival

The 2007 New York Ukulele Festival runs Thursday thru Sunday, April 26 thru April 29 and includes concerts, vendors, workshops and jams. If New York wasn't so d*&m expensive, I'd pop on down to check it out...I mean, why not? It says there is free beer...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Violin Busking

He emerged from The Metro at the L'Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
So begins an interesting article on an experiment the Washington Post conducted to see how the average communter would respond to high art. For just under an hour one morning they had the classical violinist Joshua Bell play classical music in a Metro train station. The piece is interesting; though perhaps predictable. Somehow, you knew that had there been a positive reaction, there would have been no article.

Some of the quotes from the musician are particularly revealing;

"At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change." This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

THERE ARE SIX MOMENTS IN THE VIDEO THAT BELL FINDS PARTICULARLY PAINFUL TO RELIVE: "The awkward times," he calls them. It's what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn't noticed him playing don't notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgment. So Bell just saws out a small, nervous chord -- the embarrassed musician's equivalent of, "Er, okay, moving right along . . ." -- and begins the next piece.

The article doesn't slam the commuters, and I think some of the analysis is spot on:

Leithauser's point is that we shouldn't be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.

The comments of the people they interviewed are also revealing;

When he was called later in the day, like everyone else, he was first asked if anything unusual had happened to him on his trip into work. Of the more than 40 people contacted, Picarello was the only one who immediately mentioned the violinist.

"There was a musician playing at the top of the escalator at L'Enfant Plaza."

Haven't you seen musicians there before?

"Not like this one."

In 43 minutes of playing he made $32.17; but twenty of that was from a person that recognized him. Which really translates to $12.17. Hardly a great way to make a living...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Neil Aspinall Leaves Apple Corp.

Neil Aspinall, The Beatles original road manager, and later chief operating officer of Apple Corp is leaving Apple Corp.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fingerprints get me down: Nera to Bianca conversion

Nera to Bianca

The 000-ECHF Bellezza Nera is the fourth of five signature models that Martin has produced in collaboration with Eric Clapton. It's a great guitar if you like playing blues; with it's rosewood back and sides, short scale for easier bending, and 1 3/4 inches at the nut. All in all, a nice box; though the glossy black finish turns out to be horrendous. After a short time finger prints and scratches scream at you.

Now they've come out with the 000-ECHF Bellezza Bianca, which replaces the black finish with a white glossy finish; problem solved - but wait! It's maple. Now some people love maple, but to me it's just a bit too bright. The solution of selling the Nera and getting a Bianca would solve one problem and create a new one.

Then I had an idea; why not paint it? It's a little unorthodox, but it's not like people don't paint their guitars.

A highly painted guitar

The good thing about this solution is that there's not a whole lot that needs painting; these guitars are sisters, and many elements are identical: the bindings, rosettes, even the perghead torch and background are identical (just as well, how would you mask that torch?)

The first job was masking out the parts that didn't need painting. This took some considerable time getting the tape in exactly the right position. Several times I had to pull off and reapply the tape to get it to wrap right. The 'real' painters masking tape works much better rather than 'regular' tape; it comes off much easier.

The Tools

I found it better to mask the back and paint it, then remask to do the sides, and then do the front. That way I only had to align the masking tape on one surface rather than trying to wrap and trim to cover both edges of the binding.

Masking the backstrip

For painting I tried brushing on an enamel coat on the back and then lightly sanding, but that did not work very well, so I then switched to aerosol paint. Using multiple coats you can build up the color without having to sand; you just have to be careful not to get dust in the paint as then you will have to sand to get the surface smooth.

Brushed coat

The painting job itself didn't take that long; and with the quick drying enamel it was possible to get three coats done in a day. Since I didn't remove the strings (just masked them) the guitar was ready to play by the evening; though I really didn't handle it that much until the next day when the paint had hardened.

Spray paint; first coat

The adventurous would remove the tuners while painting, but I simply masked them off; any paint that went on the tuners I just scratched off with a pick.

Unmasking the tuners

All in all I think the Nera-Bianca conversion is something a little unique. I know it's not for everyone, but that's not the point. It solves a problem and doesn't look too bad either. Also, with the enamel paint, I think this guitar will be less susceptible to humidity swings.

The finished "Nera-Bianca"