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.