Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington: March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jim Singleton – 8 O Clock in the Afternoon

Hello!

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

Jim Singleton – 8 O’ Clock in the Afternoon | Album Review

Self Release

www.jimsingletonband.com

10 tracks / 42:47

Jim Singleton grew up as an army brat, so he has lived all over the world and he ended up with a hankering for American blues from the epic festivals he attended abroad. He brought this hunger for music back to the states with him, as well an understanding of how badly European players needed to get quality guitars into their hands. An export business grew from this, and now he is a respectable vintage guitar dealer and an acknowledged expert that contributes regularly to industry publications. But he is also an accomplished guitarist and singer, and he is not afraid to head into the studio to lay down some ambitious tracks!

8 O'Clock in the Afternoon is a self-produced effort by Jim Singleton, and he provided guitars and vocals for the project. He called on some amazing talent to join him in the studio, including legendary bassist Joe Osborne, Grammy-winner Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, and guitar maven Bernie Marsden. It is a testament to his talent and extensive industry connections that he was able to make this happen. This disc has ten tracks, with three original and seven covers that include a few crazy surprises.

Jim starts the set with Fleetwood Mac's 1969 hit "Rattlesnake Shake" which is arguably one of the best songs that Peter Green ever wrote. It provides a good dose of gnarly blues-rock and Singleton plays a mean guitar and his hearty voice really shines through the mix. This is followed up by Jerry Lynn Williams' “Nothing to Do With Love," which was cut from the same cloth. This song, most famously recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, is a hard rocker with killer organ from Michael "the Professor" Hensley and a driving drums from John Martin.

The work of Irish blues man Rory Gallagher is also represented on this CD and Singleton's crew captured the raw energy of this legendary performer. "What's Going On" is all raucous guitars and emotional vocals, and "A Million Miles Away" gives Jim the chance to show a little more versatility on the axe. The latter is a killer British blues jam with plenty of layered tracks that gives plenty of room for Jim to do his thing on the vocals. This song is one of the stronger ones in the set, and it was a wise choice to finish off the record.

A few of the covers really come out of left field. Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" has been re-imagined into a slow paced country ballad with some beautiful lap steel work, and it turns out very well. Though it is also very well done, the same cannot be said for Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" which follows a bit too closely to the source material. With its fairly faithful arrangement it is just too hard to disconnect it from the original, and Singleton's voice is just too different from Isaak's to pull it off.

In the midst of all of these cool covers, there is a sprinkling of well-written originals, too. Bernie Marsden contributed "Place in My Heart," a slow and moody blues tune that includes some marvelous interplay between the guitars and Musselwhite's harp. And guitarist Gary Vincent contributes a touch of country with "Don't Take" (including some neat squeezebox from Mark Yacavone) and the blues-rock of "Place in My Heart." Vincent delivers the goods here with strong songs from two different genres, and it is fortunate that he was included on this project.

8 O'clock in the Afternoon is a solid effort from Jim Singleton, and it is a great album for fans of blues and British blues-rock. The songs are all very good, and they were completed with fine musicianship and good production values. Hopefully Jim and his friends will be heading back to the studio again soon, as they provide cool music that can be listened to more than once!

Mahalo!

Yamaha VA-10 Guitar Amplifier Review

Howdy!

While cruising the Long Beach Antique Flea Market recently, we ran across a cool little Yamaha VA-10 guitar amplifier, and since it was dirt cheap it came home with us. I had not seen one of these before, and after doing a little research online, I learned that these were made in the late 1990s and they cost 11,000 Yen (around 90 bucks back then).

The VA-10 is a very portable amplifier, measuring around 13 by 9 by 7 inches, and weighing in at a little under 7 pounds (without the 6 D-cell batteries). It is loaded up with a 6-watt amplifier and a pair of 4-inch drivers, and it is loaded into a durable plastic case. There is a leather handle screwed to the top of it, which I assumed was something a previous owner did, but this is not the case. Looking at old catalogs, they show the leather handle too, so I guess it is original equipment.

There are quite a few things on the front-mounted control panel and they include:

- Two ¼-inch input jacks (high and low)

- VOLUME knob (and no GAIN knob)

- 1/8-inch AUX IN jack

- Headphone jack

- Power switch

- DISTORTION (ON/OFF, DIST., LEVEL)

- CHORUS (ON/OFF, SPEED, DEPTH)

- DELAY (LEVEL)

There is not much going on at the back of the case -- just the power jack (for the optional PA-3 AC adapter) and the battery compartment. Supposedly this thing will run for around 10 hours on batteries.

This Yamaha has no untoward buzzing or hum. I tried out a bunch of settings, and got the best results with the volume at 12 o'clock, bass and mid at 2 o'clock, and treble at 12 o'clock. Plugged into the high input, I put the distortion at 8 o'clock with its level at 11 o'clock, and the chorus at minimum speed and full depth. With the delay was set to 9 o'clock there was good sustain and a usable warm overdriven sound (I was using a Strat, by the way). Anything higher on the distortion produced a very harsh and grating tone.

Overall volume is not great, but this thing is what it is. It is pretty much a practice amp or something you can use on a street corner to busk with, as long as there is not too much traffic noise.

On the used market, these Yamaha VA-10 amplifier are pretty scarce, and I do not think many were sold in the US. When they do come up, they usually sell in the $40 to $50 range. It is a cool little unit that sounds good and has the flexibility of battery power, so if you are looking for something to jam with for solo practice, it would be a really good choice if you can find one.

Mahalo!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen: Love and Life

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 8, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen – Love & Life | Album Review

Self Release through Dolly Sez Woof Records

www.scissormen.com

11 tracks / 51:02

Ted Drozdowski, leader of the Scissormen, is one hell of a writer. He has written for glossy publications such as Rolling Stone and Travel + Leisure, but more importantly to blues fans he also does a first-rate job of penning excellent songs. The new Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen album, Love & Life, is a testament to this fact.

This is the Scissormen’s sixth album, and it has eleven tracks with ten Drozdowski originals. Matt Snow joined him on this project behind the drum kit, with Marshall Dunn on bass and a few of their friends as guest artists. Ted was the producer and took care of the vocals, guitars, and diddley bow in the recording studio, which was actually a mountaintop tent in Pasquo, Tennessee. But this was not just any tent: this was Omega Lab Studios, home of the Mando Blues Show on Radio Free Nashville. The record was a crowd-funded project, and their faithful fans (including Reeves Gabrels) put up the cash to make sure this record became a reality.

This is not a cookie cutter 12-bar blues album, but is most certainly the blues and there are strong Delta elements to prove it. Ted is a creative soul with a vision that he was able to fulfill by making this a rich tribute to blues legends that laid the groundwork before him. This took the form of righteous overdubs and a heavy sound that venture at times into the land of the psychedelic. And do not let the tent recording studio thing fool you into thinking this is a rough cut -- Love and Life is a well-made album that should be listened to with a good set of headphones.

The set kicks off with a song that is more musically complicated than what Scissormen fans have come to expect. “Beggin’ Jesus” features the Hammond B3 of Grammy-nominated Paul Brown, many layers of distorted guitars, and hard-hitting bass and drums. The story here is as old as Adam and Eve, as Ted ponders sin, salvation, and the duality of mankind.

Ted is not afraid to get personal and “Black Lung Fever” was written in memory of Drozdowski’s grandfathers, both of whom died after spending their lives in the coalmines. This song has a fairly normal Delta blues feel to it, but it is spiced up with a modern bass tone, scorching riffs and a hearty helping of Brown’s Hammond. There is a palpable sense of a hardscrabble existence throughout: “My mama had no shoes / till the day she went to school / and her clothes were hand-me-downs / that’s how miner’s families do.”

A favorite moment from Love and Life is a special appearance from the storied soul singer Mighty Sam McClain on “Let’s Go to Memphis.” This track is a marked contrast from the rest of the album, as it eschews modern styles and takes a straight-up 1960s rhythm and blues path. This is the kind of song that is right in McClain’s wheelhouse and his pleasantly aged voice on this romantic tune (about a great blues city) provides a nice break in the middle of the action. Sam passed on in June, and he will be sorely missed in the music community.

There is a sole cover in the set, the Scissormen’s take on the Muddy Waters’ hit, “I Can’t be Satisfied.” But this is pretty far from the source material with only a howling diddley bow and percussion as accompaniment to Drozdowski’s eerie vocals. This totally works on every level and is nearly as revolutionary in this format as the original was when it was released in 1948.

There are a handful of songs that were created in honor of some true musical heroes. “Watermelon Kid” uses a cool drumbeat and searing guitars as the backgrounds as it relates the genius of Watermelon Slim. Marshall Dunn lays down an awesome bass line with killer tone while Ted experiments with stereo effects for “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return).” And finally, the album draws to a close with “Unwanted Man,” which was written for another of Drozdowski’s inspirations, Weepin’ Willie Robinson.

It may take more than one listen to fully grasp most of what is going on in Love and Life. It is worth the effort, as this is the best effort so far from Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen. Their energy and innovation carry over to the stage too and fortunately this trio tours both domestically and internationally on a regular basis. So, head over to their web site to check out their gig schedule, and try to get out of the house to see their live show if you get the chance!

Mahalo!

Billy Corgan Gear Sale at Reverb: Mark Your Calendar

Aloha!

Love him or hate him, Billy Corgan is an influential musician and his work with the Smashing Pumpkins is certainly important. It also turns out that Billy is quite the gear houn,d and he certainly has collected an amazing collection of equipment over the years. He has arranged a sale of over 150 pieces of really awesome gear through Reverb, and everything is up for grabs on August 16, 2017.

There is a mouth-watering assortment of collectible vintage guitars (pre-CBS Strats and whatnot) for sale, and a lot of gear that was used on stage and in the studio. Here are some favorites that Reverb listed:

- Corgan’s #2 Stratocaster. A modified, star–covered 1988 Fender AVRI Strat that recorded most of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, including "Today," the solo of "Cherub Rock," and many more.

- A pair of Marshall JMP-1s that were the main preamps for Mellon Collie album and the tour.

- Two Alesis drum machines, one used for the loops on "1979" and another that was used to record many early Pumpkins' demos before Jimmy Chamberlin joined the band.

- The modified 1990s Les Paul Special used to record much of the Machinaalbum and played regularly on that tour, and the two backup LP Specials from the tours.

- The rackmount ADA MP-1 preamps used to record Gish.

- A Fender Subsonic Stratocaster in Sonic Blue from the Zeitgeist era signed “This is what true freedom looks like. Billy Corgan.” One of the few items in the shop signed by the guitarist, it was originally set to go to auction in 2008 before Corgan decided against it.

- The Fernandes sustainer guitar used in the studio and on tour for most of Adore.

- A 1969 Gibson EB–3 Bass in Walnut dubbed the Mountain Bass used as a “secret weapon” on everything from Mellon Collie to Machina.

- The small Crate combo amps used to get the distortion sounds on Machina.

- The arsenal of Diezel and Bogner amps used to record and tour for Zeitgeist.

- Dozens of collector–grade vintage guitars, including two '58 Strats, a '63 Candy Apple Red Strat, a 1953 Gibson Super 400, and a '66 Rickenbacker 360.

- A vintage 1950s accordion and an autoharp used on the Mellon Collie tune “We Only Come Out at Night.”

If this sale is anything like the Jimmy Chamberlin (also from Smashing Pumpkins) sale that Reverb held earlier this year, the items will sell quickly, even though nothing was very cheap. So, if you are interested in any of this stuff, be ready to pull the trigger when the sale starts.

For more information, go to: https://reverb.com/news/billy-corgan-artist-shop-preview

Mahalo!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live)

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 1, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live) | Album Review

33 Records

www.bluecommotion.com

www.33jazz.com

12 tracks / 60:52

Sometimes bands release live albums when they have not recorded anything new in a while and they need to get something new on the market quickly. This is not the case with Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion’s new live disc, I’ll Be Yours Tonight, which is has been released hot on the heels of their Exposed disc. They had no plans to make a live album at the time, but the opportunity arose and it turned out wonderfully!

I’ll Be Your Tonight is Blue Commotion’s fourth album in three years, and their first live release. It was recorded last November during a show at Richard Dunning’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” in south London and there are twelve songs in this set, all of them Koral and Schwarz originals, with the exception of a single cover from Billie Holiday.

This United Kingdom-based band is led by Zoë Schwarz on vocals and Rob Koral on guitar; their fellow members are Pete Whittaker on the Hammond and Paul Robinson on drums. On this evening they were joined by Si Genero on the harp and backing vocals, Ian Ellis on sax, and Andy Urquhart on trumpet. This line-up results in a very rich sound as they throw down an hour of the blues with a healthy injection of jazz, soul, and rock.

Blue Commotion’s set kicks off with “Your Sun Shines Rain,” a blues rocker with crunchy guitar, pointed harp accents, and a touch of cowbell in the intro. From this song forward you will hear why they decided to burn this show to a disc: the mix is well balanced and the band is obviously having a good evening – they are tight as a drum. Zoë also has a stellar evening as her vocals are strong, and her voice is one of a kind. It is tempting to compare her sound to other famous lead singers, but on further reflection her unique tone, diction, and inflection truly make her voice unique (in a good way).

For the second track on I’ll Be yours Tonight the crew dispenses the sole cover, Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” and they gave this jazz standard a thorough rearrangement. They cut the tempo way back, added some blues, and gave Schwarz room to breathe her uncommon interpretation of the tune. The extra time and space adds a new dimension of drama to what is already a really heavy tune. The band can change moods in a heartbeat, as shown by their quick segue into “Let me Sing the Blues,” a countrified blues rocker. Pete Whittaker shines on his Hammond (with an awesome solo!) and Si Genero turns in a tasteful performance on the harp and joins in on the vocals for the chorus.

This group has a lot of depth and can carry off most any genre, and they include a lot of them in this show. One example of this is the plaintive jazzy blues of “We’ll Find a Way.” This slow song of loss and love is howled with true emotion, with an unexpected crescendo into a dramatic power ballad midway through. Then on the next track, “Say it Isn’t So,” they band unleashes a full force soul review with horns galore. These kinds of drastic changes from song-to-song could kill the momentum of an album, but this playlist was carefully sequenced, and the final result fits together very well.

After the heartfelt and soulful (though unconventionally rocking) gospel tune, “Beatitudes,” the band closes out this set with “Take Me Back.” Blue Commotion burns the club down on this one with Robinson’s jackhammer drums, Koral’s killer guitar work, and a little call and response from Si Genero. This was a cool way to finish things up, and it certainly leaves the listener wanting more.

If you want to see Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion play live, you had better make your way to England, as all of the gigs on their schedule are at clubs there, but hopefully someday they can be lured to the States with some sort of festival or blues competition. In the meantime, you might want to think about picking up a copy of I’ll Be Yours Tonight, as it is the next best thing to being there.

Public Service Announcement: Shure Wireless System Rebate for Auctioned Frequencies

Hiya!

I was shocked to hear recently that the FCC auctioned off radio frequencies in the 600 MHz range. What this means for the general public is that many of the frequencies in this range will be used in the future for television broadcasting. What this mean to musicians is that if you have wireless system in this range (like I do), it will no longer be legal to use, and if you do use it there is a good chance that there will be interference to your signal. Remember the air force base show in the movie Spinal Tap?

Our good friends at Shure are offering rebates for owners of their equipment that are affected by this change in ownership of the air waves. If you own one of their products in this range, if you return it to Shure along with proof of purchase that you bought one of their new systems, you can get some cash back. These rebates range from $50 to $500, so you should see Shure’s website for details: https://wirelessrebate.shure.com/

I am not sure if the rebates are worth it, so you should research and see if it makes sense for you. This is a regrettable situation, but I am not sure of any good way around it.

Mahalo!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Travis Haddix – Love Coupons

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the September 10, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Travis Haddix – Love Coupons | Album Review

CDS Records

www.travishaddix.net

www.cdsrecords.com

10 tracks / 47:01

Travis Haddix has been rocking the blues since before many of us were born, but he is still a stone cold bluesman of the highest order. This Mississippi native transplanted to Cleveland (the Cancun of lake Erie!) in 1959, and is still doggedly touring the United States and Europe at an age where most folks would be sitting at home on the sofa and napping though retirement.

Love Coupons is Travis “Moonchild” Haddix’s most recent album, and it is a sweet blend of Midwestern blues and soul with plenty of horns, organ, and ripping electric guitars. Travis takes care of the vocals and the lead guitar parts, and the rest of his main crew is Gilbert Zachary on keys, Robert “Red Top” Young on the Hammond, Edward Lemmers on bass, and Jeremy Sullivan behind the drum kit. There is also the righteous horn section of Tony “T.J.” Fortunato, David Ruffin and Norman Tischler to contend with.

Haddix wrote all of the songs on this disc (his 20th, if I counted right), and it was recorded in just a month in a Beachwood, Ohio studio. The set kicks off with the title track, and everything is right in the world as the band delivers heavy and soulful blues. Guest artist Mike Calhoun plays a steady rhythm guitar part throughout, helping set the tone over Young’s spooky B-3 and the super-tight horn section. Moonchild’s voice has held up well, and he delivers the humorous vocals with a pleasant growl.

Though Love Coupons is a studio album, the recordings have a live feel and avoid the overproduction that is so tempting with all of the wonderful digital technology that is so readily available today. A good example of this is “Art to Gettin’ Even,” which is a gloriously funky track. This song has a lot going on, but the horns are well arranged over the gnarly rhythm section of Lemmers and guest bassist Ray Deforest. Haddix puts out even more tasty guitar leads and solos throughout, again with Calhoun on rhythm guitar.

The band can slow things down too, and “Dinner with the Devil” is a guitar-heavy ballad with a cool horn ostinato. The lyrics make clever parallels between the culinary world and a frustrated man’s love life. One cannot go wrong with lyrics like, “They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I know you disagree / Lean Cuisine is not part of your scene, that’s why you never cook for me / I never say that I’m hungry when we’re out in the street / Because it’s like having dinner with the devil every time we sit down to eat.” Note that there is also some great harp work on this track courtesy of Bob Frank.

Travis saved a dramatic mid-tempo show-ender to close out the set: “Sweet and Sour Loving.” Again, the lyrics lament a miserable love life, which appears to be mostly caused by not being picky enough in the dating process! Haddix has a good formula down for his songwriting, as the lyrics are self-deprecating and humorous, and the music fits in perfectly with the message. Of course, it helps to have the musical skills to back it up.

Love Coupons delivers over 45 minutes of very good contemporary blues and soul, and Travis Haddix and his band once again put a solid performance on wax. But he is not just a studio hero -- he gives his all in his live performances too, and he will be touring Europe and the United States for the rest of the year. So, head over to his website to check out his schedule and make the time to go see him up close and personal!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dean Markley Artist Transducer Acoustic Pickup

Aloha!

It can be a daunting task to figure out how to modify your acoustic instrument (guitar, violin, etc.) so that you can plug it into an amp or the mixing board. Many of the options on the market are expensive, and a lot of them require modifications to you axe that might not be easy to undo. On easy way I have found to make this happen is the Dean Markley Artist Transducer acoustic pickup.

Surely you have heard of Dean Markley before, as this company has been selling strings since 1972, and in the years since they have branched out into picks, strings, cables, DI boxes, tuners, and pickups. Markley started making these pickups in 1980, and they have been one of their more popular products.

The Dean Markley artist transducer acoustic pickup has to be the easiest pickups on the market to install. When you take it out of the box, there is a small puck with an integrated cable that has a ¼-inch male connector on the end. There is a gooey adhesive on the puck, which allows you to stick it wherever you need to on the top of the instrument, and it can be easily removed and stuck on something else if you wish. As the adhesive is re-usable, the pickup can be pulled off the top pretty easily, so it is a good idea to route the cable so that your guitar strap supports it so that the adhesive portion does not support the entire weight of the cord. A strip of gaffer’s tape might come in handy here.

The pickup itself is housed in a maple wood housing and through use of a lead differential weight, the piezo reacts through compression rather than just bending like all other Piezo pickups. The sound is passable, but it does not really have the pass the full character of whatever you are plugging it into. It is a good idea to try it in different location on the top to reduce feedback and to try to get the best sound. At some point you will find a passable sound, and you should probably not spend much more time on this, as it will probably not get very much better. As Voltaire said, the better is the enemy of the good.

In practice, I have tried out the Artist Transducer on my Takamine EF341 guitar and on my Kala SMHS soprano ukulele, and the results were mixed. The Tak has an amazing onboard pre-amp that is very transparent, so the crispness of the sound comes through it beautifully. With the Markley, the basic sound comes through, but the sound is similar to most any lower-end acoustic. The uke is a different story, as its nylon strings do not punch through quite as well, so it does not matter that the output with the transducer is a bit muddier. The overall output is adequate, but it is not terribly loud due to the nature of its construction.

Overall, I think the Dean Markley Artist Transducer acoustic pickup is pretty cool, and is a simple and cheap way to electrify your instrument. It installs in seconds and only costs around $25 (with a 5-year warranty), so it is a great way to plug in your guitar, mandolin, violin, or whatever. You would be hard-pressed to find an easier way to get your instrument into the gig, Check one out for yourself and see what you think!

Mahalo!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Bernard Allison – In the Mix

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the August 27, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Bernard Allison – In the Mix

Jazzhaus Records

www.bernardallison.com

www.jazzhausrecords.com

10 tracks / 57:20

In any business it is hard to try to live up to the success of one’s father or mother, but in the music business there is the added challenge of trying to meet the expectations their fans and trying to make new ones. Bernard Allison has been walking this tightrope for his entire career, and has done an admirable job of living both in his father’s world and in the one he has created for himself.

Bernard Allison is a supremely talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who also happen to be the son of the late Luther Allison, the Chicago bluesman who was renowned for his red-hot live shows. Bernard got an early start on his career, joining his dad on stage at the age of 13 and moving on to play lead guitar for Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine a week after graduating from high school. He has been recording solo projects for the past 25 years, and has since made his home in Europe where they appreciate his music too!

In the Mix is Bernard’s 17th solo album (if I counted right), but it is his first release in almost six years and it is a bit of a departure from what he has done before. He is a killer guitarist, and with friends and tutors like Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan, that is not too surprising. But this time around, he has put aside the usual heady guitar work and focused more on the vocals and arrangements, making this a rock solid disc in all dimensions. Allison was the producer, vocalist and guitarist, and he was joined in the Minneapolis, Minnesota studio by the core band of George Moye on bass, Mark “Muggie” Leach on the keys, and Mario Dawson on the skins.

Bernard wrote five new songs for this project and the other five tracks are well chosen and rearranged covers, including two written by his father. Given his recording hiatus, it is cool that Allison starts this set with “Five Long Years,” and surprisingly this is the Colin James version, not the oft-covered Eddie Boyd hit. Here we get to hear contributions from two guest artists: Bruce McCabe on piano and Jose Ned James on the sax. There are a few stout lead guitar licks, but this song remains accessible to a large audience with its conventional rock approach.

This is followed up with a “Call Me Momma” tune that Bernard co-wrote with his mother, Fannie Mae Allison. In this funky and soulful piece, Jose’s sax takes an early lead over Leach’s B-3 and Bernard uses his solid tenor voice as he sets the example of asking a sage woman for advice, even as a grown man. It is apparent that his mother brought him up right, and that he wisely continues to learn from her experience.

There are a few well-chosen covers on this disc, including Tyrone Davis’ “I Had It All the Time” and a funky take on Freddie King’s “I’d Rather Be Blind,” but there is also more great original work to be found here: Bernard is a mature songwriter who know what he is doing. One of these is “Lust for You,” a collaboration with another master, Ronnie Baker Brooks. This could have been a blues or rock song, but the instrumentation makes it come off almost like a country tune. It is not what would be expected from either of these gentlemen, but its complex structure and different sound work out really well with the other songs on the albums.

There is plenty of other great original music, too. After slowing things down with the rhythm and blues of “Tell Me Who” Bernard cranks out some righteous straightforward blues with “Something’s Wrong.” The band really shines here with the tight backline of Moye and Dawson keeping the beat under the dueling keyboards of Leach and McCabe. Allison does not disappoint his old fans here, as he takes the opportunity to show off a bit on the guitar with an awesome solo towards the end.

It would be a shame not to mention the two songs that were written by Luther Allison, as there is nobody more qualified to cover them than his own son. “Move From the Hood” is one of the strongest tracks on In the Mix, with a bouncy 12-bar blues shuffle feel, fun doubled sax and organ lines, and a couple of killer guitar breaks. The other tune is the closer, “Moving on Up” which delivers the message that there can be hope, despite whatever the present circumstances are. Leach’s Hammond carries most of the melodic weight in the song, including a trick solo midway through.

Bernard Allison is his own man, but he is not hiding from his heritage either and In the Mix is his most thoughtful and well-planned album to date. This mix of blues and soul is powerful and should bring his music to a wider range of fans that expect more than guitar pyrotechnics. Keep an eye on his website for tour updates, and hopefully he will be coming to this side of the Atlantic so we can see him again soon!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Product Overview: Ernie Ball MusicMan Caprice Bass

Hello!

I have long been a big fan of the MusicMan instruments and I think they make some of the best bolt-neck production basses on the market. Their most famous instrument has to be the Stingray bass that was designed by Leo Fender and Tom Walker back in the mid 1970s. This was one of the earliest productions basses with an active pre-amplifier, if not the first. This gave it more output and a more aggressive sound than the competition.

Ever since Ernie Ball Strings bought the MusicMan brand in the 1980s, there have been new models introduced: Cutlass, Sabre, Stingray 5, Sterling, Bongo, and the Big Al; oodles of variations of each have been introduced with different string configurations , woods, and electronics packages. One thing they have not had is a bass with passive electronics, until they came out with the new Caprice bass.

The Caprice is a 2-pickup version of the Cutlass, and it has a few of the traditional features that you would expect from a MusicMan bass, including the 3+1 headstock and pickups with large pole pieces. Things vary a bit after that, starting out with a body shape (alder) that is more P-Bass than Stingray. The top-loading bridge looks familiar, but a closer look reveals that the plate is smaller and does not have the large bolts into the body. There are the usual choices of rosewood or maple fretboards, and both necks have Schaller tapered BM tuners and compensated nuts, which is not unusual for their product line-up.

Then there is the pickup configuration, which borders on heresy as it comes with a set of P-J humbucking pickups. The pickups each have their own volume control, which sends the output through a single tone knob for both pickups. I like this set-up as it is very versatile, and avoids the “knob farm” syndrome.

I finally had the chance to see a Caprice bass in person the other day, and it was an impressive instrument with a classic aesthetic and a nice balance on the strap with a sub 9-pound weight. The craftsmanship was amazing, with jewel-like fretwork (21 frets) and a lovely yellow vintage tint to the maple portion of the neck. The neck has more of a jazz bass feel with its 1.5-inch nut width and 7.5-inch fretboard radius. As this was an artist model, it was in a custom color, but normal folks have a respectable number of color choices, including natural, burst, coral, white, diamond blue, and my old favorite, black.

After this I got to experience the bass’ sound in the real world, at an outdoor club gig with 3 guitars and drums. The rig was a Mark Bass amp and 2x10 cabinet, and overall volume levels were pretty reasonable, as it was an outdoor restaurant situation. The bass player also had a Bongo and a Big Al, and there was a surprisingly powerful sound with the Caprice when compared to the active electronics-equipped basses. The mids were crazy good, and it overall it cut through the mix nicely, so it was a winning choice; my general impression was that this would be a good bass for blues, rock, and country gigs. Of course, the bass player had a lot of experience, and a lot of tone comes from the fingertips and touch, but everything is there with this instrument to help make a player successful on stage.

The MusicMan Caprice bass looks cool and sounds good, and if you are looking for a new bass and can pull together $1700 (starting street price), you will not go wrong unless you play leftie or are looking for a fretless bass. For sure, try one out and see what you think, I would be interested to hear what others have to say!

Mahalo!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jericho Road Show – Times Ain't Like they Used to Be

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the August 20, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jericho Road Show – Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be

Hoo-Doo Records

http://bluzzz2u.wix.com/acoustic-house-party

12 tracks / 41:18

There is plenty of soulful Americana music to be found in Mississippi, and the Jericho Road Show delivers their own take on this unique sound with plenty of gusto in their new CD, Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. This collection of twelve classic and original tunes is a marvelous sampler of Southern folk and blues that is delivered by some of the best in the business.

The Jericho Road Show is sort of a roots and blues super group that was founded by Rambling Steve Gardiner. He grew up near Pocahontas, Mississippi, but has called Tokyo his home since 1980, and he has been charged by the US State Department to spread the good news of American music in Japanese schools and universities. Steve produced this album and the other core members of the crew are Libby Rae Watson (of the Liberaetors and a 2015 IBC finalist), Wes Lee (of Blue Roux), and Bill Steber (of the Jake Leg Stompers and Hoodoo Men). There is more than enough experience to be found here as they are all seasoned professionals, and they have put out over 20 CDs between them. A few of their friends joined in on this recording too, as you will see in a bit.

There are a lot of shared roles on this disc, with each member taking turns on lead vocals and guitars. First up, we get to hear Steve Gardner on vocals with the traditional tune, “What’s the Matter with the Mill.” This song is a great example of what you are going to hear throughout the album: it has a live feel, but a crystal clear sound with excellent mixing and production values. Gardner’s vocals are throaty, the backing vocals are enthusiastic, and there is sweet guitar picking and nice harp work on this folk blues tune. Making it just a bit more fun, the bottom end is held down by some cool tuba playing from Brandon Armstrong.

After a slightly more complex take on Robert Johnson’s “Stones in my Passway,” the band launches into a toe-tapping rendition of Bo Carter’s “Whiskey Blues,” this time with Libby Rae Watson up front. Her pleasing alto vocals are delivered perfectly with nice interplay from Gardner’s harmonica. Guest artists include Nick Vitter on bass drum and Chaz Leary with his washboard, which is just perfect for this song: “I got the washboard, you got the tub, gonna stick them together, gotta rub, rub, rub!”

There are only a few originals to be found on this disc. One is “Gray Sky Blues” from Wes Lee and the other is “Shake it Loose” by Bill Steber, who also provided the soulful lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica for this track. Though this song is one of the newest ones on Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be, it fits in well with the rest of the vintage material, and it is very well written. Libby Rae chips in with spot-in vocal harmonies and Leary again provides the percussion with his washboard.

After around 40 minutes of pure fun, Wes Lee ends the set with one last traditional, “You Got to Move,” which is chock-full of his marvelous resonator guitar playing and his Clapton-esque vocals. This song is the essence of Southern blues with its bare-bones instrumentation of Delta guitar, vocals, hand percussion, and bass drum. A nice twist is the fresh gospel call and response at the end with the other members of the Jericho Road Show.

If you like acoustic roots, blues, and folk music, then you will love what the Jericho Road Show put together for Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. It has a fun and informal vibe, but still delivers first-rate musicianship, and it would certainly be a worthwhile addition to your collection. Plus, now is the time to see their live show as the band is touring the United States this summer. So, catch them while you can – they make their homes all over the place, and who knows when they will be able to get together again!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Product Review: Roland Micro Cube N225 Guitar Amplifier

Howdy!

My son and I were doing our usual monthly hike through the Long Beach Antique Flea Market recently, and we ran across a cool Roland Micro Cube amplifier, and I was pretty stoked because I had wanted to pick one of these up for awhile. It was in perfect condition, and the price was really good so I snatched it up before anybody else could.

The Micro Cube was introduced in 2004, and it was a revolutionary product from Roland, as it is a modeling amp that is battery powered. The specs have changed over the years, but this is an early model with a little less power than the newer ones. Either way, the end result is an extremely portable and versatile practice amp that also sounds amazing.

It is a small amp, measuring around 10 by 7 by 9 inches, and weighing in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces (without the 6 AA batteries). It is loaded up with a 2-watt class B amplifier (very efficient, and perfect for a battery application) and a 5-inch driver, and the whole thing is covered in the usual super-durable Roland tolex. It comes with a carry strap, and I think it originally came with a 9-volt power supply, but that was not included in my secondhand sale. The strap attaches to a pair of guitar strap pins, so I guess you could grab a guitar strap and wear this thing around the house or march in a parade with it. If that’s your thing…

There are quite a few things on the top control panel and they include:

- A ¼-inch input jack

- VOLUME knob

- GAIN knob

-TONE knob

- EFX knob that is broken into four segments: CHORUS, FLANGER, PHASER, and TREMELO. You can only select one of these effects at a time, so choose wisely.

- TYPE switch that models different styles of amplifiers. These include ACOUSTIC, JC CLEAN (like Rland’s Jazz Chorus JC-120), BLACK PANEL (Fender Twin Reverb), BRIT COMBO (Vox AC30), CLASSIC STACK (Marchall JMP), and R-FIER STACK (Mesa Boogie). There is also a MIC setting if you want to use it as a vocal amp.

- DELAY/REVERB knob that is broken into two segments: left of 12:00 for delay, right of 12:00 for reverb.

- TUNING FORK that plays a concert A tone, with switch positions for ½-step and 1-step down

There are also a few things to be found on the back. These include the power jack and the battery compartment. There is also a pair of aux inputs: 1/8-inch and ¼-inch (so you can plug in an MP3 player or something else to play along with), and a 1.4-inch output that can be used for headphones or a line out. When something is plugged into the output, the speaker is disabled. Lastly, there is a little hole that you can stick a laptop cable into in case you are worried about somebody wandering off with your Micro Cube.

When you take all of these features and add in Roland engineering and quality, you end up with a killer product. This thing sounds awesome, and the DSP for the different amps is surprisingly accurate. It is definitely loud enough for around the house, and it would be great for road trips and dorm rooms too.

So, I am super glad that I finally got my hands on one of these, and though I will use it out in the shop, I had an ulterior motive for picking one up. You see, I will only meet Craigslist buyer in public places, and it will be really handy to have a battery-powered amp so they buyers can try out a guitar before buying it. It is also really handy that this thing sounds so good, so the player gets a true idea of what the instrument can do.

On the used market, these earlier version Roland Micro Cube amps sell in the $60 to $80 range on eBay, and they are worth every penny. If you want a new one, they have a few more features now and an upgrade to a 3-watt power amp, for the princely sum of $149 (street price). Check one out, and you will see what all the fuss is about!

Mahalo!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Lazer Lloyd

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 30, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Lazer Lloyd – Lazer Lloyd | Album Review

Lots of Love Records

www.lazerlloyd.com

12 tracks / 56:01

There are not exactly a ton of blues albums coming out of Israel, but fortunately for us one of the most talented artists around, Lazer Lloyd, is the country’s blues statesman. His new eponymous album is a departure from the tasty acoustic folk blues that he perfected on Lost on the Highway, and this blend of electric blues and rock is a winner!

Lazer Lloyd has taken quite a journey to get to this point in life. He was born in New York (his birth name is Eliezer Blumen), and he started playing the guitar when he was 15. After attending Skidmore College he drew the notice of producer Gary Tallent (from the E Street Band) and was ready to continue his music career in Nashville when another opportunity presented itself. After playing a gig with the late Ray Shlomo Carlebach (The Singing Rabbi), he decided to visit Israel and he figured out that was where his calling was. For the past 20 years he has been using that as his home base, and been busy gigging, recording, touring, and raising a family.

Lazer Lloyd is a powerful collection of twelve songs, with all but one being written by Lloyd. He is the frontman, harp guy, and guitarist, and he is joined by a seriously dangerous backline that features Moshe Davidson on bass, Elimelech Grundman on drums, and Kfir Tsairi on the keys. He co-produced the album with Yocheved Seidman and all of the tracks were cut at a studio in Tel Aviv.

Though Mr. Lloyd has a wonderfully strong voice and good harmonica chops, his most notable talent is his uncanny guitar feel and tone. He is a bit of a gear hound and is always searching for the perfect sound, but electronics are only the icing on the cake. Without his fingers channeling the mojo from his soul, it would not be possible to produce the killer tone that he achieves.

This disc is a journey through blues and rock, and all of the songs should please blues fans and guitar aficionados alike. If you like traditional blues, “Time to Love” is as close as you are going to get, though Lloyd does throw a few jazz chords into the mix. There is also a little country rock in “Rockin’ in the Holy Land,” which features some slick harmonica work from the man, as well as a little insight into how he ended up in Israel.

But this album is most populated by catchy blues-rock, including the opener “Burning Thunder,” the extra greasy “Out of Time,” and the poppy “Love Yourself.” The latter is ripe for airplay, and could certainly be a great opportunity for Lloyd to get some radio time in the states.

This is all good, but where Lazer Lloyd really shines is with “Set My Soul Free,” an awesome 1970s style psychedelic blues-rock song that is chock full of licks that would make Robin Trower jealous. This song has everything: smooth guitar virtuosity, fat bass from Davidson, and amazing drums courtesy of Grundman. In fact, the drums have a tremendous presence, and at times it sounds like a drum solo that just happens to have a song happening on top of it.

Then there are a couple of softer songs to round things out. Notably, there is an acoustic cover of “Dock of the Bay” that transforms it from Otis Redding’s easygoing melancholy tune into a stone cold bummer. The other is Lloyd’s testimony, “Whole Heart,” a soft blues-rock ballad that closes out the set with a touch of Hammond organ from Tsairi.

Though all of the songs are very good musically, his lyrics might be even more powerful. They are not terribly fancy, but they are heartfelt and most seem autobiographical. They are a portfolio of sadness, hope, love, and faith. There is a spiritual feel to much of it, but this is not a preachy or religious album – instead, the words come across as personal and heartfelt.

With his new disc, Lazer Lloyd shows once again that he has strong writing skills, a mature voice, and guitar skills that are hard to match. Each of the dozen tracks has a different feel and they are sequenced perfectly so that this is project is a complete picture. It would be a shame to cherrypick a few songs off this album, as they are all winners. So, do yourself a favor and buy the whole disc, not just a few tracks from your favorite online seller. Also, if you go to his website you will see that he is touring Israel and the United States extensively through the end of the year (including my home town!), so make of note when he is coming to your area so you can catch his live act. It will certainly be a worthy use of your time!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: 1986 Fender PJM-65 Jazz Bass Special

Hi there!

I have long been a fan of the Japanese Fender Jazz Bass Specials, like the ones that Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses made famous back in the day. I have owned many of these over the years, but have run into a few that came with different specifications from the factory, and the subject of todays post is one of these: 1986 model PJM-65 Jazz Bass Special that I found in the secondhand section at the Ishibashi store in Nagoya, Japan.

For starters, there are plenty of obvious physical differences from the regular export model Jazz Bass Special. The alder body is sculpted, and painted in a cool shade of minty green metallic with a matching headstock. There is retinue of gold hardware, including the sealed tuners and a massive bridge. The Lace Sensor pickups do not have exposed pole pieces and there are four knobs instead of three (but the original knobs are still there!), with no select switch. And flipping it over, there is an aggressive cut at the heel for more access to the frets that bass players should never use.

Less obvious are an active electronics pre-amp, and the fact that this is a medium scale (32-inch) instrument. The rest of the good stuff is there, including the rosewood board with 21 frets, an output jack on the edge of the body, and the expected fine Japanese craftsmanship.

This bass is remarkable condition for a 30+ year old instrument (with the exception of the faded gold hardware), and it came with a wonderful set-up and a nice Ritter soft case for a very good price. It sounds killer and plays well, with much better sustain than I have found on other medium-scale Fender basses - maybe that huge bridge has something to do with it. Also, the 2 tone / 2 volume knob set-up is versatile and intuitive, and I think it actually has a bit more punch and warmth than the more traditional Jazz Bass Specials I have played in the past.

I am not sure where this will fit into my collection, but I like this one a lot, so it might not be going anywhere soon. Unless I get an offer I cannot refuse…

Mahalo!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: David Corley – Available Light

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the July 30, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

David Corley – Available Light

Self Release

www.davidcorleymusic.com

10 tracks / 54:21

Some artists need to produce a few albums to find their groove, but that is not the case with David Corley as his debut, Available Light, is a heavy piece of work. He is not some fresh-faced, wet behind the ears kid, either: he passed the mid-century mark a few years ago and has been writing and playing for over thirty years. Fortunately he has chosen now as his time to shine, and he has delivered the goods in a big way!

Corley has a lifetime of cool experiences. Starting off life in Indiana, he moved all over the country and held down plenty of day jobs, but finally settled down back in the Hoosier State where he is a carpenter. But over the decades this mostly self-taught musician never quit reading and writing. His literary influences are no lightweights, with the works of Walt Whitman, James Joyce, and William Blake (and untold others) rattling around in his mind. You can get a glimpse of how his mind works as, breaking from what other artists are doing these days, he actually included handwritten lyrics for many of the songs on this disc. They are perfect evidence of his mature songwriting skills.

David wrote the music and lyrics for all ten tracks on Available Light, and laid down the vocals as well as some of the guitar, piano and bass parts. It is a self-produced effort and he enlisted the able help of Hugh Christopher Brown, who took on the producer role and manned the keyboards. They were joined in the studio by a respectable crew that included Tony Scherr on bass and guitar, Gregor Beresford behind the drum kit, and backing vocals from Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermitt.

It is not possible to classify these songs in any neat or orderly way. There is a bit of roots, blues, folk, country, and rock to be found here. Americana is probably the closest you will get to pigeon-holing this thing, but the depth of the lyrics and the musicality goes a bit beyond what you might expect from that genre. Corley’s voice is equally hard to place: there is some Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan in there somewhere, but David has definitely developed his own unique growly baritone style.

Production values are high for this release, almost sounding like it was recorded live in the studio, but it is just a little too slick and well put together for that. Not that there is any digital trickery going on here: just a lot of hard work with analog equipment and a good set of ears to guide things. This is true for every song, including the title track, which kicks things off. “Available Light” is a solid opener that is built around the acoustic guitar and vocals, and it builds with drums, electric guitar, piano, B-3, and ethereal backing vocals.

After a few of these softer tunes, Corley turns up the rock with “The Joke” which layers acoustic guitar with electric rhythm and lead parts, and a significantly harder dose of drums and bass. This ability to switch easily from folk to rock, and everywhere in between, shows that David is not a one-trick pony. Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum is “Dog Tales,” which is the standout track from Available Light. The intro and the music are beautiful, but it is his vocal delivery that sells this song. His emotional howls are a marvelous contrast with the sexy sighs of Fenner and McDermitt.

It was hard to pick a favorite song, though, as there is not a single clunker to be found here. The sequencing of these diverse songs is spot-on and they flow well into a singular entity. With a running time of almost an hour, most of the tunes are pretty long, but before you know it, “The Calm Revolution” closes thing out with a slightly more psychedelic take on things thanks to its gloriously distorted electric guitars.

Though Available Light might not sound like the blues as you have come to expect it, David Corley certainly captures the spirit of the genre, and there is no denying that this is a mature album that is very well crafted. If you are willing to step outside the land of more conventional blues and venture into the realm of roots and Americana, this disc will be a great addition to your collection. Hopefully he will be gigging in the United States soon, as he is currently touring Europe where his music has really taken off. The really good news is he is thinking about starting another album this fa

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City

Aloha!

Whenever I get anywhere near New York City I make every effort possible to get into town to see a Broadway show. There is absolutely no better place on the planet to see quality musical theatre, as all of the best singers, dancers, actors, and musicians aspire to perform there. Also, the shows run for extended engagements, so the sound, lights, effects, and sequencing are all absolutely flawless. I was recently in town and decided to see Kinky Boots, which was the best choice out of all of the musicals I have not seen yet. Without a doubt it is the most entertaining show I have ever seen.

The show is playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, a gorgeous venue that opened in 1924 at 302 West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan. It was supposed to be the most opulent theatre of its time, and it has over 1400 seats and dressing rooms that can accommodate up to 200 performers. In 2003 it was renamed after the famed Broadway caricature artist, and you can find examples of his work there, as well as cocktails that cost around 30 bucks.

Kinky Boots has been playing at the Hirschfeld since April 4, 2013. It is based on a 2005 British film that was inspired by a 1999 episode of a documentary that told the true story of Steve Pateman, who saved his family-run shoe factory from closure by producing fetish footwear for men (Divine Footwear). Tony-winning producer, Daryl Roth, thought this story would make a great musical and she obtained the rights to adapt the film to the stage. She brought on the team of Cyndi Lauper (2 Grammys and an Emmy) and Harvey Fierstein (4 Tonys) to write the show. It has been an unqualified success, receiving 13 Tony nominations and bringing home 6 of the awards. Cyndi only needs an Oscar to finish off her EGOT!

From the last paragraph, you probably already have the gist of the plot, and the show is set in Northampton, London, and Milan. It follows the lives of Charlie the shoemaker and Lola the entertainer as they meet, learn from each other, and eventually become friends. There are the usual themes of love and strife, and a good sense of drama is developed as crises arise. Fierstein wrote the book for this show, which is tight and in line with his previous work that includes drag queens, including La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy.

As it has been four years since the show debuted, the original cast has mostly moved on, but there is no shortage of talent on Broadway, so their shoes have been well filled. J. Harrison Ghee plays Lola, and his amazing voice and charisma makes him the hands-down star of the show. Opposite him is Killian Donnelly as Charlie, who is also very good, though perhaps a little less believable in his part. Taylor Louderman and Shannon O’Boyle play the ladies in Charlie’s life, and both are perfect for their roles. There are a few holdovers from the original cast, including Daniel Stuart Sherman, whose portrayal of Don (the shop foreman) is essential to balancing the mood of the show.

All of the other elements of the show were spot-on. The full orchestra was very good, and the sound engineers did a great job of making sure that everybody could be heard with a good balance and not too much volume. The sets and costumes (those boots!) were also first-rate, and the lighting worked well without being a distraction. Pretty much, everything was set up to allow this show to succeed, and after all these years they seem to have figured it all out.

All that is left to talk about is the show itself. The score and lyrics are great, though there is not really a musical theme that carries over through the show, so it can seem disjointed at times. Also, the plot is kind of predictable and I thought that bringing Lauren in as Charlie’s replacement girlfriend seemed to happen a little too suddenly. But these are fairly minor quibbles, and the show really rocked from start to finish.

I have to say, I have seen a ton of musicals over the years, and I have to rank the Wicked and The Lion King as top of the heap due to their overall quality, from writing to production, but none of the shows have beaten Kinky Boots for overall entertainment value. The rest of the audience agreed, and I have never seen a crowd react so enthusiastically for a show before.

If you are visiting New York City any time soon and can only see a few shows, Kinky Boots should definitely be on the list. Trust me!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Custom Kitchen Countercaster Guitar

Aloha!

A friend of mine from work brought in a guitar he built, and I must say I have never seen anything quite like it, so I asked for his permission to share it with you. Introducing the Kitchen Countercaster!

Doug is a mechanically-inclined fellow and he is always tinkering and trying to find better ways to make things work. Maybe you have run across one of his online tutorials about a better way to tie your shoes or how to make your own mini sander. Well, he also restores amplifiers and works on guitars, so it was only a matter of time until something like this happened.

On first glance, the Countercaster looks like a normal everyday Stratocaster. Until you try to pick it up and then you realize that this one is made from something special. It is solid as a rock, built from scraps of the newest generation synthetic countertop material: LG HI-MACS. As this stuff is only ½-inch thick, Doug had to stack, glue, route, and shape multiple layers of this material until he had the exact body shape he was looking for. Once things were at this point, it took a lot of finish sanding to achieve the smooth and shiny appearance that you see here.

The next step was the neck, and Doug found a good deal online for a maple neck that would bolt right to the body. But that would not be quite as special, so he planed down another piece of HI-MACS, heated it up so it could be bent to shape, and laminated it to the front of the headstock = instant matching headstock! Then he designed a custom logo, printed it out and clear-coated the headstock to preserve it for history. This thing will outlive all of us!

The rest of the build is fairly straightforward Stratocaster stuff, with the exception being a hardtail bridge that strings through the body – he even did a fine job of installing the ferrules into the back. He went with a Dragonfire “Pro Series” pre-wired pickguard, which is probably the most cost-effective way to put together a Strat if you do not already have a collection of the parts on-hand.

How does it all work out in the end? It has good sustain and plays well, and it is apparent that Doug knows how to do a proper set-up. It also sounds great, with a unique character that is unlike typical wood guitars. With his Princeton Reverb, it does have some of the typical “Strat” qualities but with a thinner and slightly metallic tone. It also seems to work better with the overdrive channels on his Carvin V3M than his Mexico-built Stratocaster, but the hotter pickups could be the difference.

Some people would say that the Achilles’ heel of the Kitchen Countercaster is its spine-compressing weight of 14.5 pounds, but I think its heft is part of the charm. After all, this thing is made out of synthetic stone, so what could possibly be better for rock and roll?

My hat is off to Doug, as this project took a lot of effort to complete, but he carried on with it to the end and fulfilled his vision and destiny. I cannot even imagine what he will come up with next!

Mahalo!