Monday, January 11, 2016

Some thoughts on Bowie...

Just like Lemmy, this was an artist who did things on his own terms (most of the time!) - something of an innovator, with an inscrutable talent which came from a background of "whole-art" performance, as it were.

The music industry (such as it is!) doesn't have space to identify, nurture and promote this kind of Maverick any more (and hasn't for some time). That's something to be mourned.

Not so much that Bowie is gone - he's left behind decades of thought-provoking and interesting music, so we'll always have his emotional output, his essential humanity to listen to and think about, which is an epic legacy - no, no that he's gone, but that we now live in a world where music is so disposable, so instant, so cheap, that investment in an auteur is a non-starter.

Maybe Kickstarter might have something after all - if Bowie started today, would be develop a local following for his off-the-wall stuff, then launch a Kickstarter to do something bigger and manager his own entire career, living off nothing but YouTube ad revenues, pitiful streaming residuals and merchandise?

And if he did, would he have time to actually be an artist at all?

Shaydes: the new band, and another resurrection...

I live in interesting times, and it's good. Around June last year, I resolved to get engaged with live music around Berkshire and Bucks a bit more. I did the website thing, looked at Muso sites and had a couple of bites: but, as they say, there's no substitute for pressing the flesh.

Tony Tomlin is an excellent fellow; he runs phat tone studios (http://www.phattone.co.uk) and he an I have collaborated on stuff in the past, and gigged a fair amount. Via him, I found out about a songwriter/vocalist named Marisa Rodriguez: I checked her on SoundCloud and thought her stuff was excellent, and very different from what I'd played in the recent past to that point.

I found out she was running an open mic night at the Butler in Reading (https://www.facebook.com/Picnmix-Jam-Night-1625485404332208/), and thought I'd check it out. I hadn't done open mic nights in a long, long time. A lot of jam nights are worthy affairs - but tend to have somewhat restricted set lists - the kind of music which was popular in pubs 10-30 years ago: guitar-based Rock. Good crowd pleasing stuff, but if you do it week after week, it can get tiring.

The Pick n Mix was a revelation. As was Marisa. It turned out she was a hyperactive, ultra-friendly, musically-connected machine: the musicians who came to the jam night were about as eclectic as you could get. So many good drummers. Percussionists. Sax players. Guitarists. Songwriters who genuinely turn up to play their own material. And freestyle guys with genuinely professional flow: I got to back some serious rhyme, and I LOVED it.

Marisa pulled together some musicians for the Marvellous festival 2015 in August; and I was pretty stoked to be asked to join her. We rehearsed - a lot - and by the time the gig came around we sounded great. Huge band, huge sound.

After some rearrangements of lineup, Marisa had pulled together something a little more permanent, and I'm proud to be part of it. Last night we played what I think was our most intense gig: the beats laid down by Demetrius were stone for my low end to wrap around: James's guitar solos were beautiful: Marisa's voice transcended the venue: And David's keys gave us the extra dimension which pushes the music into the dense, layered and dynamic sound I am coming to love.

It's been a hell of a journey since last June. I've always held on to the idea that those who say that "the last year has just flown by" just aren't DOING enough. I always hope that I can look back on a year, and wonder how the hell there are so many memories in it.

This last year had been absolutely stuffed. It's full. It can't eat any more experiences or it's going to burst. No, seriously, it can't have a wafer-thin mint of gig.

And the ongoing musical interest that is Shaydes (www.shaydes.co.uk - still in progress! - and https://www.facebook.com/shaydesofficial/ - now heading for 500 likes since we put out our first single in December 2015) is an excellent antidote to wondering where the hell your year went.

When you know good people, and their energy and enthusiasm, their musical talent, prowess and sheer will to make great music, plus their empathy for the music's dynamics means that you just love the onstage feel - and the music is original material - this is something I've wanted for more than a decade (since Janeiro / Tempa Tempa in 2005!).

It's going to be a great 2016. If we have more gigs like last night's, it's going to be epic.



Tuesday, January 05, 2016

A Bass Cover Video? Me? Why yes. Yes, I'll finally do one.

Anyone who knows me will know I've played "midnight" by Joe Satriani on Bass for a long time. Today I finally recorded a version, and videoed the result, as an experiment: the video was shot on an iPhone and the audio was recorded through my gear.

The performance has a couple of fluffs, but it flows well enough to show, I think. I'm a little beyond spending 7 days to achieve perfection! This was done in about 45 mins, including mixing and video editing.

Here's the video!







Saturday, March 07, 2015

Fake books and rediscovered shedding

I've recently completely cleared out the studio and found my fake books: I'm not a huge jazz fan, but the complexity of the music (in comparison to other styles) and the way the books are laid out (just melody and chords) is a great study tool for "knowing the chords".

Historically theory isn't my strong suit: I remember a disgusted sax player who couldn't understand why I couldn't play through changes in a more complex song, just by knowing the chords. The truth is, like lot of self-taught players, I've done it all by ear, really: I can learn basslines from the dots but I don't have a cerebral grounding in chord theory and knowing the language, so to speak.

I plan to start stretching myself in this department. Today I just started with a youtube video of a backing for Donna Lee at http://youtu.be/fVOTUXfqhhE and the fake book entry: Listening to the backing, I know where the song is having learned the Jaco solo: but playing the bassline through the changes? Once again - I'm not fluent, not fluid: I don't yet understand how this is done. I can see a lot of work ahead, and the thing is to break the blank sheet anxiety and get stuck in with the modern resources at hand.

Wish me luck. What are you shedding with?

P.S. Tomorrow is Rikkers pick-up day!! I suspect the bass is currently on the front of the Rikkers stand, where it's picking up some attention :-)



Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Rikkers Build, Part 5: THE FINAL STRETCH….!

Background - I commissioned a custom Olive-faced 5-string bass from Rikkers in Holland - 15 years or so after first considering a custom bass. The experience has been an education, and a great experience (I can recommend Rikkers), so I thought I'd properly document it.
The other parts:
Really excited about this post, I got the final shots from Ferdinand and Jacco about 20 minutes ago. My excitement started earlier today though, when Jacco posted me some pictures of the pickups and said they were being installed today along with the electronics!
Nice to see the guys sign the bass on the inside as well as showing their quality on the outside!
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Getting the pickups fixed in place is an interesting job, and wiring her up (for 18v of wicked overhead via the OBP-3 preamp) takes a while, and needs Jacco the Wiring God and his Goggles of Extreme Precision.
Marvel at his prowess in this video!


The wiring job looks excellent – we’re well screened here. I like the way the twin 9v batteries have their own little compartment: no way to damage electronics if they broke free, because they can’t!
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Ferdinand worked his magic on the frets (stainless steel – they need some work, a set of files gets used up!)
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And so, we reach the final shots – and my new beauty emerges for her closeups, Mr DeVille.

The Bass.

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I’m booking the train tickets for Sunday TONIGHT!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Rikkers build, Part 4: The Bass Emerges (and "The Inlay")

Background - I commissioned a custom Olive-faced 5-string bass from Rikkers in Holland - 15 years or so after first considering a custom bass. The experience has been an education, and a great experience (I can recommend Rikkers), so I thought I'd properly document it.
The other parts:
Recap:

The Bass Emerges...

Continuing the sequence, we see the face emerge from the clamps...


The Inlay

My original plan for my input to the bass was to have a single celtic knot band at the 12th fret: we keep markers along the top, and the board itself is unmarked apart from the 12th fret. I found some great designs, including these -



I figured something around the middle of that picture would be good: done in abalone, with a bit of sparkle. Ferdinand agreed, and I sent the URL of the site across. We worked through this early on, just after settling on the materials for the build.

The build progressed nicely: we got to this stage:


And I was getting pretty excited: but then.... argh! The inlays are delayed, so we have to come up with a rapid solution (this happened a week ago last Saturday: with 2 weeks to go!!!)... so I start looking for images I can use. I measured up a different 5-string with similar spacing, and decided 40 x 15mm seems about right. We have another Facetime session, and Ferdinand tells me he knows some guys who have a computer-controlled CNC machine, and he shows me a selection of abalone which the inlay could be made out of. I'm intrigued about what might be possible, and want to keep the core idea of a celtic band.

I'm searching for celtic bands, and I find things like



which is pretty good. I filled in the shape to see how it might look, white-on-black: it wasn't bad, but still not great. And besides, with my geek hat on, I know the computer CNC guys are going to want something which isn't a JPG - they're going to want a vector format (see, I can geek!).

I hunt around and find this: Now granted, this looks pretty pixelated, but... it's an adobe illustrator file - a vector format! This could be an ideal way to get things moving quickly…



I tell Ferdinand the bottom one is preferable: I didn't twig at the time that it was a pair of infinity signs: it's a nice figure, and it scales to 15x40 well.

Anyway, I hear back from Ferdinand a couple of days later: The CNC guys were able to rout out the shape nicely, and he then engraved the piece and added black lines to give it the 3-D over/under look - and see the result!


... and when the light hits it right!!!


And after the fretting over the inlay...


And finally - she's got a full set of stainless steel frets!


These are a little more expensive - Ferdinand tells me he uses an entire set of files because they're so hard: this is exactly why I wanted to specify the materials though, longevity and a trouble-free bass!

I did a little editing on my iPad to make a backdrop out of it - you can really see the beautiful work here: the CNC guys made a fine piece, and Ferdinand's engraving has absolutely made the inlay: it's just stunning!


Finally... where the controls go?


This last show is the latest one I've got: I've seen her in one last facetime session, last friday, where Jacco (the God of Wiring, tremble in his Mighty Presence!) and I discussed how the controls would work: a great chat, where the flexibility of tone was paramount - I'm going for the switchbucker pickups, so I want to be able to get as many tones as possible. The recent work I've done on basses with OBP-3 was on basses which were modded, and already had a set layout: this meant stacked pots and blend controls.

Jacco and Ferdinand were kind enough to recommend twin volume pots for the 2 pickups: this bass has a good sized space for 5 controls!

So our final control layout is 2 above, 3 below: we have
- bridge pickup (with push/pull for passive - yay!), neck pickup as 2 separate controls
- bass, mid (with push/pull for the switchable mid on the OBP-3), treble.

That brings us up to date: My next post will be the final build blog post! See you then…

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rikkers Build, Part 3: Hand-carving the back and neck joint

Background: I've commissioned a bass from Rikkers in Holland - it's proving to be a seamless, easy and fun process (I saved the money up before I ordered, so less worry there!), so I thought it would be cool to document the experience for myself, and anyone else who wants to know what it's like. I can recommend Rikkers - I'm lucky enough to have synchronised the order with the London Bass Guitar Show so I can pick it up at the show - in a week!
Recap:

The Back of the Bodyline: Hidden, but beautiful

This video shows some of the great work which happens at Rikkers, and it was a real pleasure to get shots of the bass being carved: Ferdinand loves working wood with hand tools, and it shows!
Lots more good backdrops here... here's how we start out - the machine does a nice job, but the neck heel needs that personal touch :-)

So Ferdinand gets stuck in: Wood mallets and chisels. Nice!

And the rough-hewn shape emerges:

Now he refines things using a tiny hand-plane!

Very nice.

Now - the bodyline back has some great contours in it, which also needs some carving: more work with the chisel. Love the curve on that neck heel - done by eye and gorgeous!



And, of course, we need to level that out a little...

The end result - very nice.
Next time: The Inlay Crisis and Tantalising Shots of the bass!

Rikkers Build, Part 2: Hearing about early progress!

As I type, it's the 1st of March 2015 and I pick up the Bass in a week at the London Bass Guitar Show: I'm documenting the process for posterity, hopefully it might help anyone who thinks about getting a truly custom bass built.

In this post, I discussed how I came to realise I wanted to commission a bass - short story, I fell madly in love with a Rikkers bass at the 2014 LBGS (careful how you type that) and over the year came to realise that if I set my mind to it, I could get the cash together to commission one.

In this post, I detailed how Ferdinand Rikkers (the man himself!) gave me a great experience choosing woods - and the highly-figured Olivewood top which this bass will have.

Progress!


With enough inputs from me to get going, Ferdinand set about building the bass. I was keen to get plenty of shots: To see the component raw materials converted into the wonderful end result, and the care and attention that goes into the Bass.

The guys have great communication, using Email, iMessage, FaceTime video, regular calls and Facebook messaging - so you're always able to find out what they're up to: and they respond really quickly to incoming messages (we'll see how handy that is in the next installment...)

First, he cut out the top and the ebony for the board. This is a great shot, because it shows the bookmatched olivewood and how it'll contrast with the neck: you can really see the figuring in the top.




I think I got this a couple of days after we decided what the woods would be. As you can imagine, this basically became the desktop backdrop on every machine I have...

Cut your neck out,,,


Next I got updates showing the neck sandwich!

I like the way you can see the markings on here for the body and headstock:




And bottle jacks are evidently a great way to glue neck laminates :-)



We could use a little body...



The block's got a headstock! My first chance to see how the neck laminates look - I like the contrast - and you can see the body wings and top together...




Time to glue our wings on. How are we going to fly without wings?




It's a little like an 8-bit pixel version of the curvaceous beast it will become at this point, but the neck heel is emerging! I like this picture as it shows neck angle in comparison to the wings: interesting!

Giving it some BassFace


With apologies to the LBGS's facebook campaign ;-) How many clamps? LOTS!



And, of course, we need to glue the ebony on. You can see the curves are emerging!




Next time: The hand-tooling shots (gratuitous use of human faculties for shaping raw materials - very Zen)


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rikkers Build, Part 1: Choosing the components

A little background first - after some great success modifying basses (and having them modified) and trying one of their olive-topped 5 strings at the london bass guitar show 2014, I decided to get a similar bass built by Rikkers (based in Holland - http://http://www.rikkersgitaarbouw.nl).

Rikkers go into great detail and apply great craft to their instruments, hand-winding their own pickups - their SwitchBucker units have a great USP - microswitches on the individual coils for superb tonal flexibility. Ferdinand has been making basses for 30 years, and his entire demeanour speaks of a quiet inner satisfaction in the work he does. He's a happy man.

So, it was with great anticipation I entered into the design phase of the project! Rikkers being in Holland, the guys decided to use facetime and general Apple-y tech goodness to consult: I'd already decided that I wanted the Bodyline - which I suspect is amongst the first shapes Ferdinand made when he started out. It's a great looking bass, balanced with a nice taper at the bridge and a great headstock shape. First order of business though, choosing the olive top!

Choosing the top


With enthusiasm and patience, Ferdinand showed me a huge hunk of Olive he has (part of a diminishing stock, apparently!) and proceeded to use a black outline of half the bass and a mirror (neat!) to show me potential tops: the eventual outcome would look slightly different as the wood is cut and then bookmatched.

Here's what I had to choose from:

I liked this one, it has lots of interest and a sweeping curve from the bridge end to the horns:




Ferdinand thought this one would be fun - it's got a frog in it!




This one reminded me of zebras:




And this one has very strong lines with interest on the wings:




Another interesting combination of shapes here - the bass almost has a sort of rounded triangular shape on it.




After some deliberation for a couple of days, I went with my gut instinct: the first one! The combination of sweeping curves in a V, combined with the interesting shapes on the wing pieces, had a Quality about it which drew me to it: I'm a strong believer that your initial instincts are often the best ones, particularly in visual stuff.

Neck and Wings...


Then we settled on materials for the rest of the build: I wanted a "nathan east" style sound - something modern, focussed, with plenty of scope for tonal variation (the OBP-3 Rikkers uses gives a lot here) - Ferdinand had great suggestions, and I did some research via some guitar builder websites: there's some excellent material out there on tonewoods and the kind of attack, decay etc they will give your sound. The bass is a through-neck, so the wings don't contribute a huge amount to the sound: the neck woods are the engine here. After reading about how ebony fingerboards help give a focussed tone, I decided on that (tips from Mr East there) - but what to do for the neck?

After some discussion, we went with a 5-piece laminate of hard maple, Ovangkol and Wenge: the headstock gets faced with another slice of that glorious olive wood.

Hardware and little touches...


We go for black hardware (I like the contrast) and top dot-markers on the edge of the board, but only one inlay on the front of the fingerboard: I wanted to have a single statement input into the bass. I decided to put some kind of celtic knot band at the 12th fret, in abalone so it would shine in the darkness of the ebony.

Frets are stainless steel (I hadn't realised you could make frets in stainless steel!) - a little extra as dressing them actually wears out a set of files! But the longevity will be a great thing: apparently the frets wear out strings, which is great.

In terms of playability, I went for a wide spacing: this bass is to be an all-rounder, with a leaning towards ease of thumb-work for funk!

All these items were discussed with the kind of open, friendly chat you'd want: gentle recommendations, agreement on good ideas: an exciting and engaging process!

How you pay


Rikkers take 25% up front, with the balance before delivery: in my case, this worked really well as I wanted to pick the bass up at the bass guitar show - and kicking the build off in time was crucial.

Next time: How the build progressed, and the updates I got while it was happening!