Friday, July 22, 2016

Customer Service Excellence: QSC

Aloha!

I recently had a touch of difficulty with one of my QSC KSub subwoofers, and since it was still barely within warranty I figured I should see if there was anything the company could do about it. I came away very pleased!

QSC is one of the leaders in live sound equipment: they have been making high-quality amplifiers for years, their K and KW series speakers are ultra reliable (and powerful), and their Touchmix board is amazingly innovative. All I have are QSC speakers (K12s, K10s, and Ksubs) and I have given up on buying equipment from anybody else. I am not alone here, most clubs I go to have QSC speakers permanently set up for bands and DJ activities.

Anyway, I called to tell them about my problem, and actually got a customer service agent on the line right away, and she was from their headquarters right here in sunny Southern California. I explained what was going on, and after a little discussion about whether it was a quality defect, they sent out the parts I needed right away (it was a minor thing that I could fix myself).

The parts arrived the next day and this just confirms why I am a loyal QSC customer. They build great stuff and stand behind it. This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but good customer service is a thing of the past, and it is nice to know there are still companies out there that care about keeping their customers. Throw them some business if you get a chance, you will not go wrong!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold – Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the February 19, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold - Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s

Self Release

10 tracks / 36:53

A lot of new blues music has to be described in terms of the other genres that have influenced its sound, for example, blues-rock, country-blues, and the old standard: rhythm and blues. There is no struggle to figure this out with Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold’s new CD, Blues at Barkin’ Jacks. This release is mostly blues at its most basic level – guitar, voice, and harmonica, and all of it is played with a remarkable brilliance. No drums, bass or keyboard were needed to achieve their goals, and the effect is really cool.

Both of these gentlemen hail from the Twin Cities, and those long cold winters in the great white north have apparently given them the opportunity to hone their chops! Doug Otto provides the guitar and vocals for this project, but he also finds plenty of work with his own bands, the Getaways and North Country Bandits, as well as sitting in with the No Accounts. Hurricane Harold Tremblay is a master harmonica man (a mentor of Curtis Blake), and co-founder of Cool Disposition. He also hosts a weekly blues show on KFAI radio in Minneapolis and leads the All-Star Revue, which features some truly fine artists from Minnesota – he is a genuine renaissance man.

Blues at Barkin’ Jacks has ten tracks that are mostly covers of wonderful vintage blues tunes, along with three originals that were written by Otto. It was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and no more than two takes for any song. Jeremy Johnson did a wonderful job of engineering and mixing the guys’ time in the studio, and the final product has a clean sound that makes it sound like these guys are playing in your living room.

After starting off the set with a slow-driving rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Asked for Water,” the duo plays the first of the three originals, “Broken Thoughts.” Otto’s writing on these songs has more of a roots and country-blues theme, and all of them are well suited to his pleasant tenor vocal range (which makes him sound a bit like Eric Clapton). His songwriting is mature, with good imagery and phrasing, which can also be found on “Heart to Heart” and “My Time is Moving Slow.” The latter gives Tremblay a chance to sing harmonies, which is a cool effect as his voice lends a unique droning effect. This is the standout track in the album, without a doubt.

The rest of the songs are straight-up Maxwell Street blues material, as can be heard from Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” which uses subtle electric guitar chording with a heavy bass beat while Harold shows off his fine feel for the harp. Otto’s guitar tone is outstanding on Skip James’ haunting classic “Hard Time Killing Floor,” and he also delivers a surprisingly good falsetto vocal performance, which is a hard thing to accomplish for most singers.

The classics continue with Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopie (in Hell Tonight)” which would be a hard song to write today, but in 1930 there were no political correctness police to contend with. There are also a couple of well-done Robert Johnson tunes, “Hell Hound on My Trail” and “Kind Hearted Woman,” that are delivered in a wonderfully laconic style.

Despite the good craftsmanship these gentlemen showed on the cover tunes, the originals are exceptionally special, and are the highlight of this disc. A full-length album of Otto-penned originals would surely be a good listen, and hopefully this pair will have the chance to continue their work and head back to the studio to give us a bit more of this wonderful stuff.

There is a lot to like about Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s, and Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold really delivered the goods. Their bare bones live sound is clear, and the selection of tunes that they assembled works well together. There is no mistaking this album for anything but the blues, and you should certainly give it a listen!

Mahalo!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Goya G-312 Acoustic Guitar Review

Hello!

Today we are going to look at something a little different today - a pretty cool budget acoustic guitar that I picked up from Craigslist. This is an early 1990s Goya G-312 6-string dreadnaught.

Goya guitars were an offshoot of Sweden’s Levin, and were an effort for the company to enter the US Market. Martin bought the Goya brand in 1976 and used it to produce budget instruments overseas. This was particularly important to them as around that time many Japanese companies were building guitars that looked just like theirs, and it was hurting their business. So, the Goya brand was Martin’s effort to fight back. Initial production was in Japan, and eventually was moved to Korea. Martin gave up on this experiment in 1996 and eventually sold the name to a food company. Goyas are generally good guitars, though they were not wildly successful.

The G-312 guitar that we are looking at today was probably built in Korea, though it is hard to get an exact date as there is no serial number and very little information about these instruments online. I am thinking it is from the early 1990s. The model name is a complete mystery, as this is pretty much a copy of the Martin D-18 dreadnaught and nothing seems to correspond to this. The “G” might stand for “guitar” or “Goya” or “good enough.” Who knows? As far as the “312,” that is anybody’s guess.

The triple-bound body has the traditional broad-shouldered shape, and there are 14 frets clear from the body. The top appears to be solid spruce, and the back and sides are mahogany, though I cannot tell if it is solid or a laminate. I am going with laminate until I figure out otherwise. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood overlay and a silkscreen inlaid logo that is fading, and the fretboard is rosewood too. The bridge is painted to look like ebony. Sad.

This guitar had been played regularly and was kept in a loving home, so it did not really need much attention when I got it. It has a good set-up and there are no repairs or unsightly damage to speak of.

It plays very well. The neck has a pleasantly rounded profile that is fairly slim and fast, and the tone is very rich and loud. The sounds is well balanced from string to string, though I think it would be nice to find a compensated bridge saddle as the intonation is just a touch off. Also, the sealed tuners are cheap and do not hold as well as I would like them to. But, it is certainly good enough for anything I will be doing with it, especially at the bargain basement price I paid for it.

I rarely see Goya guitars on the market as once players get their hands on them they do not let them go. Generally they are solid instruments, but it is a good idea to try before you buy (be careful with eBay), as I have run into a few clunkers and shoddy repairs. If you have one, post a comment below, I am curious what you think!

Mahalo!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism | Album Review

Reverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism

Treated and Released Records

www.www-reverendfreakchild.org

www.treatedandreleasedrecords.com

3 Discs / 35 tracks / 2:29:00

Reverend Freakchild is not your everyday average bluesman. Sure, he can play the blues in all of its forms, but his albums are way out there in the blues realm: they confuse old people, make little kids cry, and cause fellow musicians to grin from ear-to-ear. His latest project is no exception, and it is a worthy follow-up to last year’s amazing Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues. This time around he has put together Illogical Optimism, which is two discs of his own material plus a third disc from another reverend, Ramblin’ Jennings. Personnel for this project included the Reverend on vocals and guitar, Chris Parker on the skins, Hugh Pool on lap steel, and backing vocals from The Mulebone Singers.

Disc 1: Odds, Ends and Other Amazingness is 67 minutes of a little bit of everything – it is not just a clever title. You will hear that the Reverend has mad guitar skills and a versatile voice, and that Chris Parker is one hell of a drummer. These songs are a collection of popular and obscure covers, and none of them are performed as they were by the original artists. “Who Do You Love” maintains its Bo Diddley beat, but gets a spooky spoken-word vibe. “All Along the Watchtower” goes reggae, but keeps a Hendrix-like solo. And John Lennon’s “Imagine” has Lou Reed written all over it, so there are surely dead hippies everywhere spinning in their graves. This might seem terrible on paper, but everything works out beautifully and in the end and it all sounds wonderful. Trust me.

Disc 2: Everything is Now is something completely different. In a little under an hour, the gang gives a dozen completely different takes on the same song: the catchy “All I Got is Now” from the Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues album. How different? He does versions of the song in French and German, as well as interpreting it in genres such as punk, funk, reggae, and even “hillbilly.” The hillbilly version (“Alla Gotta Na’”) is breathtakingly stripped down, with lovely banjo and harp accompaniment. Likewise, the acoustic demo version is really cool with a roots vibe and barely intelligible lyrics thanks to a really up-front guitar sound.

Disc 3: Kairos is from Florida’s Ramblin’ Jennings, and this EP (24 minutes) is stripped down and full of awesome. Jennings gets the work done with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica. There are seven original tunes of Gulf Coast blues that use plenty of slide guitar, and Jennings’ voice is perfect for them -- full and timeworn, and dripping with character. There is also one traditional tune, and this vocals-only version of “John the Revelator” is powerful and full of terrifying biblical imagery.

Well, I cannot recommend Illogical Optimism enough. Reverend Freakchild pushes the boundaries of blues and approaches old songs in new ways that really makes the listener think. And his buddy Ramblin’ Jennings brings blues down to its basics to provide a touch point for the other two discs. Give it a listen for yourself, and check out his website for upcoming tour dates as he his getting around quite a bit this summer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shredneck Dreadneck DN-7 Guitar Trainer Review

Howdy!

A while back I reviewed the kind of odd Shredneck guitar trainer. This is a practice tool that is designed to simulate the string tension of an electric guitar help improve strength and dexterity in your playing hand, as well as helping to build or maintain calluses. Well, I just got one of their Dreadneck models (the DN-7), which is the same concept except for acoustic guitars, so here we go!

It is weird - just a chunk of guitar neck with tuners on the end. You get seven frets to play with, so you can master the cowboy chords in no time flat. This acoustic model has a 1 ¾-inch wide nut, and the whole thing is about 16 inches long. I have no idea what it is made of (mahogany?), though the fretboard appears to be rosewood with just a little grain. There are not really any specs on their website about what it is made of. It has a nice feel, with flat C-profile that does not feel like any Martin or Taylor I have ever played.

When you play it, it does not sound like a guitar, or even terribly musical. How could it? With such a short scale length the frets would have to be stupidly close together to make it sound like a guitar, so just tune it so the strings feel like the same tension as your regular guitar and go to town. The headstock acts as the body, and there is some felt stuck to the end so it does not slide off your knee. There are also strap pins, but I am not sure how you would ever use them.

And, you know what? It works pretty darned well. For my left had, it feels like a guitar, and I can sit there and noiseless fret chords while chatting on the phone or watching TV in the hotel room. It is pretty cool to keep my fingers in shape and my calluses nice and thick while on the road or when parking my butt in otherwise useless situations.

The one I got is relatively well built. The fret ends are good, and it is a solidly made piece of work from China. My wife has messed around with it a bit too, and as one who ants to build up her calluses she gives it her seal of approval.

The Dreadneck comes with a handy carry case, and it would be easy enough to throw in a briefcase or carry-on bag for your next flight. One nice add-on is the tuner tips which fit over the ends of the tuner posts to cover up pointy string ends that could puncture your hand or snag on your sweater. All of this can be yours for the low price around 70 bucks from Amazon or Musician’s Friend (MSRP is $99.99).

If you like the concept of this tool, it is also available in models that approximate the feel of 6 or 7-string electrics, basses, and a model that simulates playing in the upper registers. Also, if you have a hankering to get one that is inspired by your favorite artist (Zakk Wylde, etc.) they might be able to hook you up.

Mahalo!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Mike Stern and Eric Johnson – Eclectic

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the January 15, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Mike Stern and Eric Johnson – Eclectic

Concord Music Group

www.mikestern.org

www.ericjohnson.com

www.concordmusicgroup.com

12 tracks / 72:22

Two powerhouse guitarists, Mike Stern and Eric Johnson, first got together when Mike asked Eric to play a few tracks on a recording project, which led to a performance together at the Blue Note in New York City. They had such a good chemistry on this show that they could not just go their separate ways, so they recently completed a neat cooperative effort, Eclectic.

Mike Stern is a top shelf jazz guitarist and Berklee graduate who has released 16 of his own albums, six of which were nominated for Grammy Awards. His big break was in 1976 with Blood, Sweat & Tears, and since then his career in the various genres has been nothing short of impressive. He has performed and recorded with an amazing cadre of artists, including Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, the Brecker brothers, and Bela Fleck. The list goes on and on, bit you get the point.

Eric Johnson provides the rock half of the equation, and his curriculum vitae is no less solid, with a Grammy Award and five nominations of his own. Eric took up the guitar at the age of eleven (as Beatlemania took hold of the US) and in just a few years he jammed with Johnny Winter who later remarked, “When I heard Eric, he was only 16, and I remember wishing that I could have played like that at that age.” After a four-year stint with Austin, Texas’ seminal fusion band, the Electromagnets, he went on to cut ten of his own albums. Along the way he garnered the respect of big name guitarists such as B.B. King, Billy Gibbons, and Steve Morse, and had the opportunity to tour with his fellow guitar gods Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Eclectic was recorded in just 3 days at Johnson’s Austin, Texas studio, with few overdubs and a decidedly live feel. It clocks in at well over an hour and serves up eleven original tracks and one kicking cover. Stern and Johnson handle the guitars (obviously) and they are joined by the rock solid backline of Anton Fig on drums (late night with David Letterman’s World’s Most Dangerous Band) and Chris Maresh, Johnson’s regular bassist. A few key guests contributed as well, and their disparate backgrounds ensure that Eclectic is not just a clever name.

Austin’s pre-eminent soul man, Malford Milligan, helps kick things off with his growly vocals on “Roll with It.” His chops are a good match for the intricate guitar work on this funk rock piece, and the backline delivers a rock steady beat without being too flashy. After this things get jazzy with “Remember,” a six-minute fusion instrumental piece that might not be terribly radio-friendly, but it is super-listenable and features a killer bass groove from Maresh, who has no trouble keeping up with Johnson and Stern.

The instrumental “Benny Man’s Blues” is a tribute to Benny Goodman, and though it has the word “blues” in the title it defies categorization. There is a blues backbone, but it is layered with distorted bluesgrass picking, jazz rhythm guitar / bass, and knockout rockabilly drumming. Things calm down a bit for “Wishing Well” which is peaceful despite its fast tempo. This is surely helped along by the sweet vocal stylings of Grammy winner Christopher Cross, Johnson’s longtime friend and fellow Texan.

Maresh’s “Bigfoot” benefits from a world music intro that features Mike’s wife, Leni Stern, on vocals and n’goni. After 90 seconds of her lovely melodies, things go all experimental electric jazz, and it is hard to believe that the band was able to put songs this complex together in just a few days and still have them sound good.

Eric is not known for being a jazz guitarist, but one of his big inspirations is Wes Montgomery, and “Tidal” is a tribute to him. He also does not forget his own musical past, as he placed an Electromagnets song, “Dry Ice,” into the mix. This high-energy fusion instrumental exercise sounds huge, and Fig’s driving snare and kick drum propel this thing into overdrive for almost seven minutes. In keeping with the eclectic theme the horn section of saxophonist John Mills, trombonist Mike Mordecai and trumpeter Andrew Johnson join in on “Hullabaloo,” the most poppy and accessible track on the disc.

The album finishes up with a fresh take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” with Stern and Johnson switching off on the vocals, and it turns out that they can both sing well too. Jimi inspired these guys, and their talent makes sure it is a fitting tribute. For good measure Guy Forsythe kicks in some tasteful harmonica work, which add a new element to this blues-rock classic.

Mike Stern and Eric Johnson’s Eclectic is a spontaneous collection of very good songs that were recorded by two of the best axe men in the business. If you love guitar music with no boundaries, this is the album for you. Hopefully their collaboration will continue after this project and we will get to hear more from this dynamic duo!

Mahalo!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Inventory Update: 3rd Quarter of 2016

Hi there!

Another three months have gone by, and here is the quarterly list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has gotten smaller since April Fool’s Day, but things are always coming and going. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:

∙ EBMM Stingray 4

∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Precision Bass (somehow found its way back home)

∙ MIJ Fender 1970 re-issue Precision Bass

∙ ESP Phoenix-B (2 of them)

∙ 1980 Yamaha Pulser Bass

Electric Guitars:

∙ MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ MIJ Fender ’52 re-issue Telecaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job

∙ LTD George Lynch Kamikaze 1

∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Matt Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin Backpacker steel string

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele (it’s back!)

∙ Epiphone PR 150 NA

∙ 1990s Sigma SDM-18

∙ 1980s Goya G-312

Amplifiers:

∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets

∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP

∙ Fender Champion 300

Check in again in October to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!

Mahalo!