Sunday, September 14, 2014

Acoustic Strap Secure Review

Aloha!

If you have an acoustic guitar with an endpin jack for the pickup, chances are good that there have been a few close calls where the strap has slipped odd the endpin, and if you are lucky you were able to catch the guitar before it hit the floor. There is not much of a flange on most of these jacks, so there just is not enough surface area to hold a strap properly in place. As time goes on and the hole in the strap wears from taking it on and off the guitar the problem only gets worse.

This is where the Acoustic Strap Secure comes into play. This product is the brainchild of Marcus Daniels Luthiery in the state of Washington, and they have definitely filled a market need. It is a 1-inch diameter machined brass knob that fits through the strap and then screws onto the threads of the output jack. The outer edge is knurled so you can crank it down with your fingers and no tools are required. That is all – it is not complicated and there are not many parts to lose or chances for things to go wrong.

The Strap Secure is available in two models: standard 3/8″ x 32 tpi to fit Switchcraft and Fishman output jacks, and metric M9x.75 to fit L R Baggs and other output jacks. You will probably want to trim the end hole on your strap a bit so the Strap Secure busing does not cause the strap to bunch up, and it is up to you if you want to leave the strap permanently installed on the guitar. I leave mine installed most of the time to avoid wear and tear to the output jack.

If you decide to pick one of these up, they are $20 (shipping included) from www.acousticstrapsecure.com or $14 from Stew-Mac, but you have to pay for the shipping separately. Give one a try and let me know what you think.

Mahalo!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Album Review: Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the August 22, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Various Artists – Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series

Rounder Record Company

www.rounder.com

13 tracks / 48:40

I do not watch much television, let alone reality shows, so I was a bit nonplussed when the Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series CD showed up in my mailbox. I am not familiar with the show and figured that it would be a compilation of mood music and kitschy dialogue from the show. I was wrong – this disc is chock full of first-rate blues, country, Zydeco, bayou, soul and roots music.

In case you are in the same boat as me, Swamp People is a reality show that has been broadcast on History since 2010. The show follows groups of Cajun alligator hunters as they ply their trade in Louisiana. It is quite a hit for the network, with millions of viewers for each episode. Who knew?

The songs on Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series are not really derived from the show, but instead fit in with its theme. There is only one original track (the theme song, “Swamp People”), and most of the rest of the collection pre-dates the show, sometimes by decades. There are famous classic recordings mixed in with more obscure new music, and it all fits in well with the premise of the program.

The title track, Steel Bill’s “Swamp People,” is the newest song of the bunch and it was written specifically for the show. Its country rap stylings and lyrics remind me of what Kid Rock has been doing for the past decade. It will probably not become a classic, but Billy Joe Tharpe did a good job of making it match up with the subject matter of the show.

Things really pick up after this, and the rest of the album is fantastic. The Rounder folks did a nice job of combing their catalog for gems, and they stuck with the alligator theme whenever possible. First up is Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses,” a hilarious country song from 1970 that details a one-armed gator hunter’s troubling upbringing and brushes with the law. Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie” is another winner. This swamp rock hit from 1968 was written by drawing from his hardscrabble upbringing on a Louisiana cotton farm. The lyrics are funny and a bit corny, but he pulls it off and it is a great song. Elvis covered it, you know…

The other king, Hank Williams, makes an appearance on Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series. This CD would not have been complete without “Jambalaya (on the Bayou),” his 1952 country hit. There have been so many covers of this song that it was refreshing to hear his original again, which adds a bit of Cajun flavor as he recounts the life of partying and eating in the Louisiana style. If this song is not in your library, you are missing out.

One song that I never saw coming was The Neville Brothers’ “Fire on the Bayou.” I had not heard this 1981 soul/funk piece in the longest time, and it features the tight back line and beautiful vocal harmonies that these gentlemen are known for. The Neville Brothers are native sons of New Orleans, making the inclusion of this hit all the more appropriate.

A couple of neat instrumentals were thrown into the mix, too. Buckwheat Zydeco’s “Zydeco La Lauisianne” has a frenetic party pace and some lovely accordion work, and Amanda Shaw’s “French Jig” is full of fantastic Cajun fiddle. This young lady is one to watch, as her singing is just as good as her violin playing. Though she is only 22, she has already released four very good albums, and we will be seeing a lot more of her.

The album finishes off with an obvious choice, “See You Later, Alligator.” But instead of the popular (and predictable) Bill Haley and the Comets version, they went with the original performed by Bobby Charles, who is the man who wrote the song in the first place. Charles’ original is in the New Orleans blues style with some nifty drum work, and I prefer it over Haley’s rock and roll cover. To me, this is the standout track on this project.

So, do not judge Swamp People, Music Inspired by the TV Series by its title or by the show that inspired it. If you write it off because you dislike the show you will miss out on a fabulous amalgamation of Southern music. This stuff was recorded by the best the business has to offer over the past 50 years, so check it out if you get the chance!

Mahalo!

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 Art and Lutherie Ami Cedar Parlour Acoustic Guitar

Hiya!

If you are looking for a new parlour guitar, this might be a good candidate: a nice Art & Lutherie Ami Cedar. Art & Lutherie guitars are a fabulous value -- they are an offshoot of the Godin family of guitars and are made in Princeville Quebec. They claim that 95% of their wood comes from Canada, too, and the other 5% must be all of that Indian rosewood.

I am impressed by the sound and the build quality of this guitar, and even more by the price, which is pretty reasonable. Godin’s concept was to make an instrument that is similar to the parlour guitars of the early 20th century. But its small size does not mean it is a toy. It has a full-size neck and plays like a real guitar.

The Ami is a handsome instrument, with a vintage burst finish over the solid cedar top, and red wild cherry back and sides. The fretboard and bridge are made of Indian rosewood. The finish is sort of a semi-gloss, and the body has a simple binding around the top. The super cheap-looking stick-on rosette is my biggest gripe with the appearance.

The sealed tuners are nice quality and hold well. It has first-rate Tusq (synthetic bone) compensated nut and bridge saddles that are made by Graphtech.

The neck is made of a single piece of maple, with added sections for the headstock and heel. It has a smooth satin finish, which does not get sticky over time. The nut is 1.72-inches wide, so it is a little narrow if you do a lot of finger picking, but this is a close to normal scale (24.84-inch) guitar so the frets are not too close together. There are 19 medium frets and there is an adjustable trussrod. This guitar had a great set-up right out of the box, and the frets ends are finished well, with nice edges.

The Ami is a nicely-made guitar, with solid materials and it sounds nice and plays well too! It has a fairly balanced tone and surprising volume when picked hard. It is pleasant to play, and is a great travel guitar.

Should you take it on a trip, it is nice and light, weighing in at around 3 pounds, 11 ounces according to my scale. They come with a good quality padded gig bag, which is a nice bonus.

If you do not want the burst finish or the cedar top, there are other options available with the Art & Lutherie Ami guitars. You can get Ami cedar tops in blue (shudder), natural, and black. Or you can choose a spruce top in burgundy. There is also a nylon string model available.

MSRP on this guitar is a mere $419, with a street price of about $349. You can negotiate a bit lower than the street price so check around before you buy. It is definitively one of the better small-sized acoustic guitar for the money.

Mahalo!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Big Al & the Heavyweights – Sunshine On Me Album Review

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the June 20, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Big Al & the Heavyweights – Sunshine On Me

Self Release through Blusiana Records

www.bigal.net

11 tracks / 39:01

New Orleans is a mixture of different cultures, sensation and vibes, and it is cool that a few of Louisiana’s native sons have formed a band that is producing diverse music that any Crescent City native would be proud to call their own. That band is Big Al & the Heavyweights, which had its genesis in 1992 as the Unknown Blues band with founding members Warren Haynes and Al Lauro. After Dickey Betts tapped Warren on the shoulder with an invitation to be in the Allman Brothers (how could one resist?) Al pushed on and changed the band’s name to its current moniker.

They have earned a stout fan base by sticking to a solid game plan: making good music and getting out there to prove themselves to live audiences. The band has cut six well-done albums and is on the road more often than not, playing regularly around the Gulf States with occasional forays into the Midwest and points beyond, including the Chicago House of Blues. It does not hurt that they have staunch celebrity advocates (Dan Ackroyd and Emeril Lagasse) who are in their corner and are who do a stand-up job of getting their music out to the masses.

The Heavyweight lineup for Sunshine On Me includes New Orleans native Al on vocals and drums, bassist Dean Galatas from Bayou Liberty and two guys from Baton Rouge: Harmonica Red on the harp and James Bass on vocals and lead guitars. John “The Colonel” Fuhrman plays the harmonica and provides background vocals and Wayne Lohr plays the B3 and accordion as well as handling the lead vocals on a few of the tracks. This is an impressive line-up, and their talent is outshined by their ability to bring out the best in each other.

This most recent release includes eleven tracks, and you will find that their recordings have become more eclectic over the years, integrating element of blues, rock, jazz and Zydeco. The band has arrived at a place where they have their own sound, and it is a marvelous thing to behold. This is evident from the first track, “Don’t You Want Me,” which is hard to categorize in only one genre. It has an obvious blues foundation, but the hand percussion gives it a Cajun / roots music feel, and the break at the end of each verse is a real kick.

“What’s Up With That” has a more traditional blues feel, with a driving bass line and some nice work from James Bass on the sax and vocals. His voice is versatile, sounding very different from the opening track. You will find that their songwriting is mature, with this song constructed well to sync with the clever lyrics.

In the title track you will hear the heavy sounds of producer Anders Osborne’s electric guitar and the familiar tone of guest artist Warren Haynes’ slide guitar. This southern rock feel is seasoned with a tasty bit of Wurlitzer piano from Wayne Lohr. He takes over the vocal chores on “Money Matters,” a slow low-down blues song with wonderful harp playing from Fuhrman. Lohr also whips up his accordion for “Dance With Me,” a short Louisiana-fueled dancehall tune.

The Heavyweights pull out the stops with two down home Zydeco songs: “Pass a Good Time” and “Zydeco Boogie.” The combination of squeeze box, fiddle and washboard on these tunes provide a fun contrast with the road house and blues elements found throughout the rest of Sunshine On Me. Osborne did a fabulous job of producing this album and integrating all of these different styles, and all of the tracks play perfectly due to the engineering work of George Cureau and mastering by Parker Dinkins.

My favorite track on this disc is “Midnight Train to Memphis,” a blues rocker with some fine bass playing from Dean “The Bass Machine” Galatas. He does an admirable job of doubling Bass’ guitar work as Lohr belts out the throaty vocals while working the Hammond organ. The Colonel brings everything together on this one with his groovy harmonica stylings.

Big Al & the Heavyweights have come a long way since their first album, and Sunshine On Me is a just reward for two decades of hard work. It is a great listen and you should check it out for yourself. Also, make sure that you look through their website to see when they will be in town next so you can catch their live performance. With over a hundred shows per year the chances are good they will be near you at some point. I will surely be keeping an eye out for them during my travels!

Mahalo!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2008 Fender Japan Telecaster All Black TL-71-AB Electric Guitar Review

Hi there!

It would not be a trip to Japan for me without wandering through a few music stores and checking out the instruments that we never get to see her in the states. Today we are looking at another gem – a fairly rare 2008 Japanese Fender Telecaster – the “All Black” model. I think the model is TL-71-AB, meaning that its basic design is similar to a 1971 Tele.

You can see why they call it this – it is almost all black! The body is glossy black, as is the back of the neck and the headstock. I am willing to bet it originally had a black pick guard on it too, but it was wearing a red tortoise shell one when I found it hanging in the store (it was a used instrument). I do not mind, though, because I think it is a nice contrast. They went for a silver Fender logo and no other markings on the headstock.

I read online that these are made of basswood. but it weighs 8 pounds, 1 ounce, which is a tad heavy for basswood, so I had to pull the neck. It looks like ash in the neck pocket to me. The neck is maple, and it is has a pretty rosewood fretboard.

The hardware is certainly good enough, with chrome Gotoh sealed-back tuners to hold the strings solidly. Their clean modern look goes well with the color theme of the guitar, and I am glad they did not choose black tuners. And fortunately they went with a three-saddle bridge – Telecasters with six-saddle bridges just do not look right.

The electronics are where I get a little lukewarm on this thing. This was not a super high-end guitar, so it ended up with a basic run-of-the-mill pickup set and chintzy pots. The wiring looks awfully thin, too. But, all-in-all, it is a solid instrument.

I found this one at Komehyo in Nagoya, which has the biggest secondhand guitar inventory that you will find in the city. It is in like-new condition, with not a scratch or ding on it, and the price was cheaper than what you would pay for a MIM Telecaster here in the United States.

Of course it looks awesome, and the finish is just beautiful. But it also plays very well, with nice fretwork and a great set-up and action. I wish there was a little more bite to the sound, and this one might get a set of Lollars and nicer pots and wiring if I am able to hold onto it for more than a month or two, but in the meantime it is certainly good enough for anything I will be doing.

Mahalo!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Things that the Sound Guy has That Nobody Else Does

Hello!

If you have ever been in charge of sound at an event, you know that you are probably the best-prepared person there. Whether it is a company picnic, a carnival or an awards show, the sound person is the go-to for anything that anybody else forgot to bring. One exception is my wife’s friend, Leslie, who has a Broadway background and organizes her events like I have never seen before. She knows how to put on a show!

I have thought it over, and here is a list of stuff you are going to have in your road case or tote that nobody else thought to bring, even though they desperately need it for their job. Here goes:

1. Tape. Chances are that the poor folks running the school carnival did not plan that the booth signs that the kids made would need to be stuck up somewhere. They see your roll of gaffer tape and start salivating. Besides the fact that it costs you 20 bucks a roll, it does a terrible job of sticking down banners and tablecloths. Maybe toss a roll of masking tape in your gig kit – it will save you trouble in the long run.

2. The Schedule. How many times has the event organizer come up to you and said there will be a skit, or a dance act, or an award presentation, but could not tell you when any of these things were going to happen? Everything is a last minute call on their part, it seems. Bring a piece of paper and a pencil so you can help them figure it out. You know they won’t have anything to write with…

3. Power. One way or another you have the power. Electric power, that is. If they are looking for an extension cord, you are the one that has it. If you are in the middle of a park with your own generator, you know that the snow-cone guy’s POS Harbor Freight generator will not start and he will have to glom onto one of your outlets. So, you get static through your speakers every time he grinds up a block of ice. Every time.

4. A Table. Nature abhors an unoccupied flat surface, and you have one. That award they are going to hand out? It ends up on your table. Random cell phones just end up there – keep an eye on yours so it does not disappear by mistake. And miscellaneous drinks – they always end up on your table, even though you have plenty of expensive electronic crap to spill it on. Someone else’s drink has a half-life of about two seconds on my table. Go set it on the guitarist’s amp, please.

5. Tools. Screwdriver? Check. Pliers? Check. Pocket knife? Check. Your multi-tool is priceless, because nobody else has any of these things. Flashlight? Yeah, right.

6. Direct box and cables. Hey high school kid with the cheap-o acoustic/electric guitar – did you bring a cable? No. Did you bring a direct box? What’s a direct box? Exactly.

7. Shade. Out in the middle of a field in the dead of summer your easy-up will become a lot more popular than you could ever imagine. Stake out your turf early so that you get to enjoy it too, and make sure you figure out which way the sun is going to cross the sky so you are not frying in the late afternoon.

8. A sense of humor. Someone has to keep things light, and it will not be the cranky principal, the stuffy vice president, or the overwhelmed scoutmaster. Maybe you should be that someone!

Mahalo!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

BOSS CS-3 Compressor Sustainer Guitar Effects Pedal Review

Aloha!

You can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, and the choices include crummy junk for twenty bucks (probably put together by little kids in sweatshops) all the way up to boutique pedals with prices so high that they must use unicorn hair for wiring. Somewhere in between are BOSS pedals, which are reasonably priced, good quality, and the mainstay of many working musicians. Today we are going to take a closer look at the BOSS CS-3 Compressor Sustainer pedal.

What exactly is a compressor sustainer pedal? Well, this one compresses louder signals and boosts softer signals, resulting in more even output. At the same time it can sustain your notes, making them sound longer. Putting these two features can result in a smoother sound, and this will work with either guitar or bass.

The CS-3 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2-7/8 inches wide by 2-3/8 inches tall by 5-1/8 inches long. Take that, metric system! In that same vein, it weighs in at around 15 ounces. This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter. It draws 11 mA at 9 volts, in case you are thinking of hooking it up to a pedal board power system.

By the way, if you run the unit on battery, make sure you unplug the input when you are not using it, as the input jack acts as the power switch.

It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a lovely shade of blue. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a single 1/4 input, a single 1/4-inch output and a jack for the aforementioned AC adapter. The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include Level, Tone, Attack, and Sustain, so it is not too complicated. Here is what they do:

Level: adjusts output level, not input level

Tone: high frequency boost and cut

Attack: enhances the intensity of each note by controlling how quickly the compression activates.

Sustain: adjusts the sustain time. If turned counter-clockwise it acts as a limiter.

The CS-1 was one of BOSS' first mass-production pedals, and it has changed quite a bit over the years as the model name has changed to CS-2 and then later to the CS-3. There seems to be a bit of hate out there for the CS-3, particularly with the changes in the circuit and the addition of a tone knob. That being said, I like having the tone pot on the unit so that no changes are needed to my guitar settings when I switch the pedal ON.

The CS-3 is at its best when it is asked to provide a high level of compression, and combining it with the right guitar/amp combination (think Les Paul and a Marshall). It certainly can squish things down, and there are definitely usable ranges, to be found though I would avoid anything outside of the 9:00 to 3:00 range as there is too drastic of a difference in tone when the unit is switched on. Increasing sustain seems to enhance the compression effect, so I usually keep it below 10:00. The tone control is very useful, and it helps dial out most of the muddiness that comes bout from the compression. With these settings the attack can be spot on without a ton of mush.

In a nutshell, the CS-3 is a pretty good pedal for a reasonable price, which is what BOSS is all about. This pedal would be good for hard rock and metal, but if you are playing jazz, country or blues it will not make you very happy because it is hard to get a clean sound out of it.

Unfortunately, there are a few downside to this unit. For starters, it does not have true bypass, which is something that everybody and their brother wants. In truth, there is some color added to the straight tone when bypassing the pedal, and gear nuts are fanatical about this. But more importantly, is that, no matter what the manufacturer says in their sales literature, this pedal is pretty darned noisy if the controls (Level and Sustain) are used very aggressively.

By the way, there is a considerable number of folks out there modifying these pedals to reduce noise and improve tone, but I have not had the opportunity to try one. If you have, please add a comment to let us know what you think!

If these are the features you are looking for and if you can handle a little extra noise in your signal chain, the BOSS CS-3 Compressor Sustainer may be the pedal for you. It will get the job done and is certainly reasonably priced with a list price of $154.50 and a street price of $99. They are way cheaper on the used market, but you will be giving up the 5-year warranty if you go that route. Check one out before you buy to make sure it is really what you want, and let me know what you think.

Mahalo!