Saturday, December 28, 2013

CLEARING OUT / REBUILDING YOUR STUDIO.... gulp (anyone else done it?)

I'm about to embark on a comprehensive 2014 studio cleanup - and we're talking top to bottom here. The room isn't huge, so a lot of built up stuff has got to got, to make room for an electric drum kit I haven't had set up for several years: I want to get back into some Zen-like co-ordination drumming again.

To do this, I'm actually going to:

1. Pack the studio into boxes as if I was moving house, categorising the contents according to what they are and cataloguing everything
2. Set up the drum kit
3. Reverse engineer the rest of the studio around this, removing everything which isn't studio related.

At the end of the day, there's a lot of other stuff in there which isn't core studio stuff. I'll get some cable clips and guitar hangers for the walls too: really trick it out.

Anyone else attacked this task and won?

Tobias 2014, further developments - the tale of the Bridge...

It's great news - the bridge from Hipshot looked like it was going to cost £80 to ship(!) - but Barrie from BassGear was on the case and secured it as a custom build: brass Type B Hipshot with all the quick release goodness I've got on the other basses (warwick and aria pro II) for £135 - brass and painted black. Sweet!

I'm itching for the bass back with all the goodies onboard: the GR55 doesn't have anything to power it at the moment (I'm thinking I might fit the pickup I have to one of the other basses!), and those modelled bass sounds are calling me to play some Rush... some freebird... some original material!

The bass is going to be a real monster when it's finished. I'm hoping it'll be tap-friendly as well: I have a lot of old tap pieces (I arranged Day At The Beach for bass, also Midnight (both satriani tracks) and learned a few Stu Hamm solos years ago - these usually get practised when I use the Aria as it's strung really light and the bass itself is stupidly playable (it's on 30-50-70-90, a la Mark King!) - thin strings, low action, pro setup did that for that bass.

The 5 string gets 20-40-60-80-100-130 (I like a decent wedge on the B) - Warwick black labels. Great strings, they come up beautifully after a week in Meths!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Toby’s Rebirth: the bridge to 2014

Puns aplenty in this Bass blog… yep, as I mentioned, my 2000s era Tobias Toby Pro-6 is having a makeover – MIDI, Aguilar preamp, the lot – and fortunately Julian the Luthier has been up to his eyeballs in work, so I got the chance to realise that one of the other aspects of the bass I wanted to get right was the bridge.

The original bridge is workmanlike, but I’d really like it to have quick-release ball-end design – like the Warwicks and the old Aria Pro-II – so I can change strings quickly and easily, and indulge the economic side of my personality by not having to unwind (and therefore stress) the ends of the strings. See, I like to leave my used strings in a big vat of meths I keep for the job – leave them there for a couple of weeks, and they come out like new: no rust (no water!), and no skin / oil in them either (this is what makes strings go dead). This means I can keep using the same very reasonably priced Warwick black labels strings up to 5 times (and I do, on the Warwicks) – if the 6 string had the same design of bridge, it’d make life a lot easier, and this is supposed to be about giving an old friend a new start.

So, after some great suggestions from Barrie at Bass Gear in Twyford - looks good in Black: the curves of this bridge should work really well with the bass, and they do a lot of different string spacings, plus there’s a great PDF I could send direct to Julian of the mm-dimensions of the bridges.

I see this refit as a new birth for the bass, a new start – not a new relationship with a bespoke bass (I had considered that already), but a fantastic new lease of life – even when I removed the black clamp holding the GK-3B from the bass, it suddenly looked… well, nicer. I can’t wait to see it with the MIDI pickup fitted properly, all the electronics internal, and the original jack socket AND the 11-pin GK socket available, with the 2 patch change buttons on the lower side.

It also gives me a chance to get the bass set up from the outset as a MIDI bass – fix the fret level problems (they’re not huge, but they are tedious) – get it really humming as a fingerstyle and tap-based instrument. I’ve got other basses to slap, this one is intended to give me the ultimate fingerstyle funk/rock/synth platform to launch into 2014. I think it’ll make a real difference to pick the bass out of the case, set up the GR55 and look really pro.

Anyone out there ever done similar?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Great Tobias Toby Pro-6 Makeover BEGINS! (3 months late!)

The prologue

Way back in the mists of time (2003), Andy bought a Toby Pro-6 – a fine, very reasonably priced 6 string bass. He used it for many years, on many projects, and many bands – including the epic 15,0000 crowd gig with Janeiro in 2005 – and it’s been in use for 10 years. Over time, it’s picked up a few idiosyncracies – including a GK-3B, bracketed on with the pickup glued in place using the nifty shims Roland supply.

Bless em, the Internet Archive wayback machine even still has the Musicyo site on it!

It’s got a good sound, but… it’s always been a bit quiet. I cranked it as high as I could get it - I used to use the Bass POD to boost it further, then when I got the GK3B and GR20 I ran it with the output volume turned up, which made a big difference (and told me the pickups had a pretty good intrinsic tone).

Then I got the GR55 – about 3 months ago. That unit is excellent. My eyes were opened to a world of lower latency, and the modelling… I play the toby, and a vintage precision comes out. Now it’s a rickenbacker. Outrageous. But…

the bass is now in need to upgrade. D’oh, it’s G.A.S. (gear aquisition syndrome, if you haven’t heard of it). I thought I was past that… but there it is, the old familiar feeling.

So I decided it was time for a 10 year tune-up. The whole 9 yards – fix the buzz that appeared at the 15th fret… upgrade the electronics (I started thinking about aguilar preamps)… get the GK3B fitted internally.

This was all about 3 months ago – I approached a luthier in Reading, who initially sounded enthusiastic, then went utterly silent – no response! OK… I post a message to BestBassGear on twitter, and they give me the details of… BassGear (no relation) in Twyford! These guys are much more friendly. Much more interested. And they secure the services of Julian Mullen – round about my birthday in October, we get together at BassGear HQ and talk, discussing how to fit an aguilar OBP-3, 18v of battery AND a GK-3B kit into it.

Then Roland take over a month(!) to ship it! And today… I dropped off the Toby with them! Keep tuned for how this goes – I’m truly excited that this bass, which has served me well for a long, long time, is going to get a comprehensive makeover in every department.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Work / Music Balance

While I'm not one of those rabid bloggers who thinks every last aspect of their lives is worthy of scrutiny, there is one thing I've been considering lately which definitely falls into the "mid-life (most would say tediously self-indulgent) metaphysical reassessment" cateogory.

I've recently purchased a GR-55 to go with the GK-3B on the bass, I'd been using the GR-20 on and off for years, with varying success - the tracking on the low B was always pretty suspect, but with a bit of judicious shifting you could play an octave up and get some great bass synth sounds out of it.

The GR-55 is a revelation by comparison - I've only gigged it once, but the fun I had creating sounds on it for that gig was great. The rig emerged as the bass POD and GR-55 as two sides, switched through a boss 2-way channel switcher. I used some synth sounds with modelled bass mixed in, which sounded great, but on some other tracks I wanted the regular sound of the bass - the GR-55 has a live direct feed of the unfettered bass pickup sound.

That last paragraph relates back to the title of this post. I lost myself for nearly 2 hours just... well, *playing* with settings and sounds! It was musical playtime at its' finest: directed, to try to find sounds for the songs we were playing (we did "moves like jagger" and I really wanted something like that inverted "waaaaaahp" on the original recording), but playful, with constant changes, like sculpting or painting, until I was happy enough with the solution.

Pure quality-led concentration: the best kind.

Trouble is, I'm getting that at work as well: this means I have 2 sides to my life, both of which are fulfilling and engaging - I literally have to tear myself away from work at the moment, it's great stuff.

I'm not trying to give myself the big up btw, or encourage trolls, etc. I'm going to have to schedule more playful music work - jams with Tony at PhatTone studios in Reading are a good start, had one week before last, we had a blast - some really cool funky lines, he laid some down on logic pro.

So I guess the moral is: love what you do, love your music: I appreciate I won't make anything like the money I make at work doing music stuff - these days, making money from music is frankly a pipedream unless you're a clinician, teaching, etc - so it becomes a job: enjoy being able to be playful while you can. Maybe work has its uses after all.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fully filled weekends

It’s been a while since I had a weekend that full. We covered nearly 26 miles on bike on the Thames path, although we did forget to cross the bridge at Sonning so the route to Henley from Reading was… interesting. The route back was great. We have a habit of doing that, we’ll set out thinking signs will tell us what we need to know, then get sort of lost.

Current slang for this between us is “is this the road to Loutro?” which I’m sure some will recognise.

I can recommend the cycling from Reading to Henley: there’s a long stretch in the countryside, it passes by some very pretty locks on the Thames (one of which has it’s own Tea Shop) and the sunbathing potential is HUGE on days like today. I can safely say that the F1 race didn’t even cross my mind.

So Saturday, I spend the morning getting ready for the evening wedding gig (the drummer from Breeze, Steve), including some great tone-hunting on both the bass POD xt and the GR-55 synth pedal I’ve just got – that thing has some serious capabilities, including on-board USB stick music file playing, your own backing tracks? Not a problem. I got back from the gig and was asleep just after 2am after winding down.

Sunday, we get up late (maybe 9am), I sort out the bikes (mechanical checks, brakes, tyres, oil chains etc) we get them on the back of the car, drive to where I work, which happens to be a short ride from the Kennet and Avon canal, which has excellent cycle paths. We then ride to Henley and back! Now utterly exhausted, body humming after the exertion. Loved it.

Roland’s GR-55: It can Save Your Gig

I had a great gig last night, but it could have been so very different. I’ve had a GK-3B pickup on my 6-string bass for a while now, and I’ve used a GR-20 synth a few times for tracks, mainly for small backing sounds and laying down backing while writing tunes. I dipped into the technology again for the first time in years and found out about the GR-55 from some posts on Twitter, mainly about a spectacular fretless bass player in the US who uses a slightly modded one as his main solo gig-machine.

Intrigued with the apparent capabilities, I was lucky enough to be able to buy one – I haven’t bought any new gear for several years now, last thing was the NEO cabs for the stack, and that was probably 7 years ago. So, suppressing GAS, I decided to try one out, properly, with the bass, and see if it was all it was cracked up to be. I was impressed enough to buy it.

My plan was to use the GR-55 on “forget you” (Cee Lo Green) to get the high-pitched glockenspiel-type stuff during the choruses, as it tracks the bass. I got something which just about worked on the GR-20, but it tracked really badly on the low B (the guys in the band pitch the track down a semitone). The GR-55 coped very well, and additionally it let me put a piano underneath as well. The UI is intuitive enough that I worked out how to get the expression pedal to act as a volume control just for the synth bits, leaving the real bass signal untouched.

Then I started to explore the signal modelling capabilities – they take the signal from the GK3B and turn it into other instruments, not MIDI triggering, so no lag. We were doing some tracks which sound great with an old P-bass, so I dialled up and EQd a really nice sounding vintage Precision. Sounded great!

So the gig comes around, and I’ve got this great rig going – I’ve got the GR-55 feeding 2 signals into a 2-way Y switch, with the single feed back to my amp. On one side is the “full” output, which contains all 4 channels (synth 1, synth 2, modelled and real bass pickup) and the other is the bass output, which is just the bass. This is going through the Bass POD XT, which I’ve got patches on for some of the other songs (auto wah, etc).

All went well in the gig, until… the battery in the bass went dead! Cue silence in one of the tracks, my sheets of patch to song are out of the window… and after some confusion about what the hell is going on, I realised I could use the P-bass patch on the GR-55 because it doesn’t use the bass pickups at all!

Bingo – I play the rest of the first set on a vintage P-bass – although without any synth effects on some tracks. The audience do not care, it’s a wedding and they’re having a great time. The guitarist (the excellent Ryan Robinson) doesn’t even notice, but the drummer does because the bass failed at the start of “living on a prayer” – ummm, I think the bass is mandatory on the start of that track…

Moral of the story – complex tech can be complex, but it can give you a great safety net!

The second set went beautifully: Nigel Parsler is an excellent drummer and Ryan Robinson nails more styles than any guitarist I’ve come across, his funk chops are great.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Weather: crap. Diagnosis: studio time.

I've done a lot of cycling recently, thanks to the better weather. Since it's turned wet and crap again, it's time to work on the... Smaller muscles. In my fingers. In the studio. Yay me!

I've always thought having a woodshed in your house was odd. Especially when the axes are all blunt.

Enough punnery!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bass boogies

I remember years ago reading an interview with Joe Satriani who said he used to just sit and noodle, and end up coming up with what he called Satch Boogies. It's where the song of the same name came from, I think.

I was sitting with the acoustic bass yesterday, which I've enjoyed a lot more since I strung it with electric strings (elite blue labels, very light) than the phosphor bronzes I had on there - the bronze strings always felt sticky, uncomfortable and I didn't like the smell (which I'm guessing is copper). I fiddled around with some shapes as usual, climbing around, but ended up doing some kind of open E boogie thing with high neck register figures in between, which turned out to be loads of fun on a sunny day.

Anyone else do this when they're not trying to overtly write or learn something? Those moments when you're just indulging in the pure playfulness of music? I need to make more time for those moments.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Upcoming wedding gig, for one of the Breeze boys! Setlist reactions…

The drummer for the band I filled in a season with in Andorra in 2007 is getting married. Apart from having a stag do in Vegas (not too shabby), he’s putting the icing on the cake by employing my fingers to put the low end into his wedding band.

I’ll be working with a couple of great guys to form part of the core band – Ryan Robinson on guitar and Nigel Parsler on drums.

Ryan stunned me with his Talkbox on “living on a prayer” when we gigged in Brackley with Steve on drums – suddenly what could be seen as something of a cheesy rock song actually took on a huge amount of energy. He’s a great player, Ryan, we share some music tastes as well.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever gigged with Nigel though, according to his bio he’s done the ACM as well so we’re guaranteed a great night.

I thought it might be interesting to list the setlist I have so far – there’s a lot of personnel changes as you can imagine, Steve has the breeze guys up and down in both sets for a sort of supergroup – and give me reactions to the tracks. A lot of them are Breeze staples. The keys are in the list, as is the persons involved, to a degree…

1st set

crazy little thing called love (jay)(D) – realised I played this first time in about 1989 with Fat Freddy’s Cat in St Andrews. I’m taking the time to go through it again and re-learn the feel, it’s a bouncy bassline and I didn’t appreciate that before. Finding fun!

shine (jay) (Eb) – Never played this, it’s the Take That tune. Thankfully the progressions are simple and the tune spent so much time advertising Morrisons that it’s earwormed enough into my long-term memory and just seems to come out of the fingers on demand. Cool, might even be able to try some vocals on it.

sweet home (jay) (D) – The original feelgood track with the original feelgood frontman, Jay

3 tracks with kelly singing – don’t know what these are yet, I’ll have to wing it on the day!

forget you (neill) (Bb) – learned this a while back for a Brackley red lion gig but we never did play it, have been learning that little funky bass breakdown to get it just so. Definitely a 6 string job, I’ve been considering the synth to give the bass a little more pop (literally)

dont stop me now neill (F) – great track, this one will be one to enjoy

billy jean neill (B) – always enjoy this one, that metronomic beat is infectious to play, always find myself bouncing from foot to foot while I play it.


2nd set

mustang sally (steve charlie) (C) – Steve will sing this of course. I reckon his voice is better than the bloke from the commitments

valerie  (michelle) (Eb) – I don’t have the Winehouse version lying about, I’ll just have to work on the original Winking smile

sex on fire (jay) (E)  - wonder if we’ll do the start properly… I’d better polish it just in case!

moves like jagger (jay neill kelly rich) (A) – Now this one I think I will get synth bass on, I think there’s a patch on the GR somewhere which will do the job.

funky music (rich and caj) (E) – another track I’ve been playing for 20 years, but these guys get the modulations at the end right, it’s a great track when you do it right to the end!

shake your tail feather (neill) (Eb) – I’ll be channelling the Duck himself on this one. Look down on me and wink with a puff of yer pipe Mr Dunn

dont stop believing (neill) (E) – Neil sings this really well, the man’s a star – how to keyboard players do that?

bo rap (breeze) – at last, bohemian rhapsody. Another track I learned ages ago!

let it be hey jude (breeze) – or, as I coined it after seeing McCartney miming at the olympics – “I, look like , your, Nana na-na, Nana na-na, Hey Jude”