Saturday, April 7, 2012

Best Laid Plans

Hello Friends and Family,

I've had one of those weeks.  Spring quarter started on Monday.  This means that, as an teacher, you have a lot of running around, printing out syllabi, talking to new students, dealing with overflow forms, dealing with financial aid issues, putting out fires, and generally being swamped from the second you walk through the door till the second you clock out.  It is also the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  As a sound man for a church, this means extra rehearsals, extra services, early call times, late release times, more complex setups, and generally being swamped from the second you walk through the door till the second you clock out.  On top of all of this, I am still trying to finish up a couple recording projects for a client.  In other words, I've had one of those weeks.

I've been wanting to do a bit of video recording for a while now.  I play guitar and sing every single day of my life, I've got a Flip camera and video editing software.  This just makes too much.  So, after a week like I've had (that isn't over yet), I decided that I was going to have a nice fun day of recording and making music.  You know.  Something fun and relaxing.  What could possibly go wrong with a foolproof plan like that?

I woke up this morning to a sore throat and a scratchy voice (just my luck).  I'd also managed to cut my thumb in my sleep (how does that even happen?).  Off to a great start.  Its uncomfortable to sing and play, but I'm able to do both and I've been looking forward to this, so I procede with my plans.  I discover that my Flip camera is dead.  Not entirely surprising, but the rechargeable battery won't charge.  Not a major problem.  I bought a Flip Ultra HD (the larger and more expensive version of Flip cameras) for a couple of reasons.
  1.)  Ultra is in the name (worth the price of admission, alone)
  2.)  It was larger and more expensive, so it must be better.
  3.)  Its bulkier frame supports regular alkaline batteries if you can't use the rechargeable one.

BINGO!! That came in handy.  Things are starting to turn around.  I didn't have any AAA batteries, so I just ran to the store and picked up a pack on the way.  I set everything up with no issues and start recording.  I decided to mic the room and the amp so I had a little more control of the audio in post.  This requires syncing up the audio from the camera and the audio from my mics, but its a simple enough procedure.  I end up recording a couple takes (2 or 3) of the minute and a half arrangement.  The Flip camera flashes a "low battery" screen at me and dies.  I take a couple deep breaths, find my happy place, and convince myself that that must have been a fluke and replace the batteries.  The exact same thing happens.  It lasts for about 10 or 15 minutes and then dies.  During this whole camera fail, I'm having musical fails left and right and I'm starting to get discouraged.

I decide, at this point, that this is only getting worse (from a musical standpoint) and perhaps it would be best to just focus on one of the better takes and try to practice syncing the audio and video together.  So I move my laptop to a better spot in the room and get comfortable, but I needed to get my laptop's power cable (I think many of you see where this going).  As soon as I'm just out of arms reach, my laptop falls off of the piano and lands on its side, completely destroying my headphone cable.  While the computer seems to be fine, I think my life expectancy dropped a few points due to a mild heart attack, stroke, and enough adrenaline to kill an entire generation of Clydesdales.

So... I'm home.  After a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day; I did what any normal person would do.  I went home to take a nap and write a blog.  I haven't given up on making videos, I just think that somebody out there is telling me to take a nap today.  I can take a hint.

Peter Jones

Friday, March 30, 2012

New Music

Hello friends and family!!

PROOF!! That is a piano
and microphones.
It's been a few weeks since I made my last post (I'm not sure how you all survived without me for that long).  I know you've all been waiting with baited breath (what does that saying even mean?) for my newest blog entry and I don't like to disappoint.  I'm officially up to 5 followers, so... you know... I feel like its safe to announce that this blog has officially gone "viral".  So, thank you.  I wouldn't be able to do this without each and every one of you.

Anyway... I've got a bit of an announcement to make.  Brace yourselves.  I've begun to record new original music... again.  While I don't have anything to share yet, I'm hoping to start posting "works in progress" soon.  I would love to hear all of your opinions, thoughts, concerns, deepest, darkest, most intimate secrets, etc.  You know... when there is something to actually listen to.

My embarrassing "get the
idea out of my head quickly"
scratch notation. 
So, why the long hiatus (BOOYAH!! spelled it right on the first try)?  I think many musicians go through phases.  Writing phases, practicing phases, recording phases, performing phases, and the obligatory early awkward teenager phase where you know that you look kinda stupid on a daily basis, but have NO IDEA how bad it really was until many years later... phase... es.  I've been stuck in a very long practicing phase.  I say stuck, but in reality I've just been really motivated to becoming a better, faster, strong musician (that was a Daft Punk reference if you didn't catch that) and engineer.  I've recently gotten the writing bug again and I'm ready to start working on some new stuff.  I hope you dig it... you know... when there is something to actually listen to.

Peter Jones

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Victor Wooten Metronome Trick

Now that I'm truly "flying soulo", I've been spending a lot of time going back to the basic principles of music.  Specifically, rhythm and time.  Like many singers and musicians, I have a tendency to rush (speed up) or drag (slow down) depending on the complexity of what I'm working on.  We've all seen or heard this at some point in our lives.  The bass player is having no problem playing in the pocket throughout the whole gig until they step up for their "awesome" solo and all sense of time goes right out the window.

The best way to battle this problem is to practice with the humble metronome.  I've heard every excuse imaginable.  "I'm a singer, so its the job of the drummer or bass to keep time" or "I practiced a lot when I was younger, so I don't need to practice like that anymore".  The truth is, you're wrong.  5 seconds with a metronome will show you how wrong you are.  I'm not trying to call you out here.  You're in a loving and safe space.  We're all just here to help you through this.  I'm certainly as guilty (if not more guilty) as anyone.  Trust me.

Recently I stumbled onto a video of Victor Wooten talking about practicing with a metronome.  While he may or may not have invented the concept, I'll give him credit for the idea because he was the first person I've ever heard say this.  The concept is to start the metronome at a fast speed and play a simple idea at "half speed" of the tempo.  For example: I've downloaded an app on my iPhone called Pro Metronome.  It's free and works fantastically.  Its fastest speed is 240 BPM.  So I would practice a lick that I would play as if it was at 120BPM.  This gives me every 8th note and make it really easy to feel the beat and play the lick.  Once I feel comfortable there, I turn the metronome's speed down to 120 BPM and continue playing at the same speed.  This forces me to internalize that beat much more.  Once I feel comfortable with that, I turn it down to 60 BPM.  At this point, I'm only getting half notes and I'm forced to rely on my own sense  of time much more to keep in the pocket.  If I speed up or slow down I'll quickly lose that internal pulse.  I've notice that as I'm forced to depend on my own sense of time, I end up putting the time in my body more and more.  My head starts to bob and my foot starts tapping to help internalize that rhythm.  Once I'm comfortable with 60 BPM, I turn it down to 30 BPM (the slowest speed that this metronome app will go).

I dare any of the musicians reading this to try this simple little exercise.  I guarantee you'll find it harder than you think it is.  You can practice like this with any and EVERY instrument (that includes singers).  Practice a bass line, a drum beat, a chord progression, or even scales.  I spend an hour, every day, running the pentatonic scale up a down my guitar neck.  In time with the metronome.  This allows me to see how quickly I can actually play it (accurately) and I can use the aforementioned trick to internalize rhythm while I'm practicing scales.  Its an easy exercise that's flexible enough to allow you to work on practically anything and is applicable to every musician (I'm looking at you rappers too).

For more challenges you can try playing a 4/4 rhythm against a 3/4 click or knocking the meter down to 2/2 to get the metronome to play even slower or playing everything a 16th or 8th note later than the metronome's time.  The goal here is simply to instill a solid sense of time and to build confidence in your sense of time so that your become less and less dependent on the metronome for time.

Here is the video that inspired this blog.  Perhaps seeing a master do the exercise and seeing him make mistakes might encourage you to think about implementing these exercises into your own practice regiment.

Good luck.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New Beginning

I haven't written a blog entry in such a long time.  Almost a YEAR to be more specific.  Well, that hiatus ends TODAY!!!


I'm going to start writing again.  Scratch that.  I have started writing again.  My musical life has gotten a major overhaul and I'm going to start chronicling my new journey here.  I hope all of my faithful readers will join me for the ride.  If not successful, it should at least be fun to watch.

Thank you for all of your support.

Peter Jones

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Bass

I was so thrilled with my strat, that I went ahead and got a jazz bass from the same company ( While it desperately needs to be setup, I am loving it right out of the box. I plugged her into my rig for the first time today and decided to record an idea. That idea turned into a little snippet of a song that I may or may not ever finish. I'm just being honest. I didn't spend too much time on it and all the bass stuff is just improv, so don't judge it too harshly. Ok? Sheesh. You guys are kinda brutal.

The bass sports a natural finish ash body (that looks great), maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard.  The neck is the perfect shape for my hands.  Not at all like the huge chunk of wood that I called a neck on my previous bass.  For the recording below, I'm using both pickups (neck all the way up and bridge at about halfway) with the tone turned all the way down.  I wanted to see how warm I could get the tone and she didn't disappoint.  I ran it straight into my TubePre and then directly into my 003.  After I tracked, I compressed it a little and ran it through some amp modeling software.  Thats it.  Take a listen.

As always, I'd love to hear what you think. I know that there isn't much of a vocal idea there, but you'll have to just use your imagination. Imagine me writing something cool. It couldn't hurt. Right?

Peter Jones

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stratocaster Examples

As promised, here are some recordings I quickly did this afternoon.  Emphasis on quickly.  So the recording consists of a simple and short riff that cycles through all of the possible pickup configurations.  Because adding tone knob demonstrations would be a ridiculous and pointless, I decided to record the neck pickup with the tone knob set pretty low and the middle pickup's tone knob set pretty high.  This will help emphasize when I switch pickups and (hopefully) shows off the tonal range from the stock electronics.

The recording progresses as follows:
1.) Neck
2.) Neck and Middle
3.) Middle
4.) Middle and Bridge
5.) Bridge

The signal chain on this recording is Strat --> 003 DI input.  It doesn't get any more raw... er(?) than that.  Most people never hear a guitar that raw, so I decided to run that raw recording through some amp modeling software to get a more familiar (and livelier) sound.

This is the same recording as above.  Its just running through IK Multimedia's Amplitube software.  The emulated amp I was using for this example is a Fender Twin Reverb.  The "mic" used to record this fake amp was a Shure SM57 set in the "far" setting.  I didn't touch the controls (except to turn the reverb down).  I used the default settings (essentially everything set to 12:00).

So that is a little example of what a budget strat sounds like.  Remember everything is stock at this point.  I haven't even changed the strings.  This is what an SX strat sounds like right out of the box.  Let me know what you think.  My first major change is going to be swapping out the stock pickups.  I want to go noiseless so I'm looking at the Fender Noiseless Pickups, Lace Sensors, and the Fralin Split Blade pickups. Any and all recommendations are greatly appreciated. Whats your favorite strat pup?


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SX Hawk

So... I got a Strat. I don't think you heard me. I GOT A STRAT! While I haven't been playing guitar for very long (and to be perfectly honest, I'm not that great of a player), I have ALWAYS wanted a strat. Sorry for yelling at you so much in this post. I'm just excited. The problem is... I haven't been in a position where I could afford a Stratocaster. I mean lets do the math.

An honest to god MIM Fender Standard Stratocaster
$500 (plus tax)An honest to god Fender American Special Stratocaster
$800 (plus tax)
An honest to god Fender American Standard Stratocaster
$1000 (plus tax)All the way to Artist series and custom Fender Stratocasters being well over the $2000 mark.

Well, I don't like any of those numbers and neither does my wallet (I just felt it shiver a little bit because it could sense that zero key being tapped a few too many times). So once you purchase this small piece of American music history you have to get it setup, get an amp (or 2) that it sounds great through, some great pedals that define "your sound", and potentially some after market pieces like new pups, tuners, strap pegs, pots, switches, and caps. Now that $500+ guitar has turned into a $1000+ investment. Worse yet, you now want a killer Tele because you want a different "color" and you need to start this process over again. If you're smart (and can swing it) you save up and buy the Tele, but odds are you sell your "old" Strat so that you can afford the Tele, so you can fix it up, so you can figure out that you really miss that super Strat that you had that one time. Silly. Right? I didn't want to be THAT guy, so I went hunting for a great deal and what I found was SX.

Am I saying that an SX Hawk is of the same quality as a Fender American Standard? Hell no! What I'm saying is that the SX Hawk delivers where I wanted and takes a back seat where I expected. First of all, I should probably mention that this is a $100 guitar. That is not a typo. This is a $100 guitar. At that price, one might expect little more than a piece of cardboard with some strings glued on; but you would be sadly mistaken. The major selling point for this axe is how much guitar you get for a hundred beans. In this particular case you get a solid alder body (with a 3 tone sun burst finish), maple neck (bolted on) with an ebony fretboard, a tailpiece (similar to a les paul), and your standard 3 single coil pickup configuration with typical 3 knobs and 5 way switch. Anyway you slice it, its a Strat. Again, not an American Standard. From my research, QC on these babies aren't nearly as high as Fender and some people have gotten some lemons. I would also like to mention that there are quite a few people that review SX guitars as if they were replacement guitars for their $2000 custom shop axe and I think that is simply unfair. Anyone that reviews this guitar with the mindset that it cost them $100, should be absolutely floored by the quality of the instrument. The sunburst on my Hawk is fantastic (to be honest I was a little worried). While the wood on the neck is a bit "knotty" (a little wood humor there in case you missed it), it is smooth and feels great. Appearance wise, this baby is gorgeous. I was truly surprised when I opened up the box.

So... how does it sound/play? Again, this was quite a surprise. I came in to this project expecting to immediately gut this guitar and start over with brand new pups, electronics, tuners, etc. I am rethinking some of these purchases at this point. I'll probably still do all of that stuff, but its not something that I feel has to happen right away. In fact, I'm planning on buying an SX PJ bass and Tele before I ever start modding the Strat.

The setup out of the box isn't perfect, but is more than playable. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I will start to compare the SX Hawk to my first guitar which is an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. To get perspective we are talking about a $100 SX vs. a $500 Epiphone.

The action on the SX Hawk was leagues better than the Epi LP. While the strings on LP were/are miles too high, the SX strings were/are pretty much perfect for me and my playing style. Some people like their strings right on the fret board, but I like mine at around the standard string height recommended by Fender. Again, very happy with the action right out of the box. I do have to make some adjustments at the bridge to adjust string length, but its actually a hell of a lot closer than my Epi.

One of my primary concerns. I have had nothing but problems with my Epi and I expected the same from this but worse. I was pleasantly surprised. My LP has Grover tuners and I'm constantly retuning. My low E string goes in and out of tune depending on how hard you strike the string so its impossible to tune properly and there is so much binding at the nut on the G string (yes, thats what she said) that it is impossible to get the string in tune (and that is with lubing the nut with graphite). In contrast, the SX has been a dream to tune. While there is a bit more play on some of the tuning machines than I would like, they stay in tune for days and I've had few binding issues (with stock strings and no lubing of the nut).

These are pretty decent actually. A bit generic, but it sounds like a Strat. Admittedly, quite lifeless, but this is where I expected the guitar to let me down. At the same time, I can say the same thing about my LP. The pickups function, but they aren't something you pee your pants over every time you strum a chord. This is my first single coil guitar, so I was a little annoyed with the 60 cycle hum, but it was something I expected. I'll probably swap out the stock pups with Lace Gold Sensors. These pickups cost more than the entire guitar and with an entire electronics overhaul, I plan on sinking quite a bit into the guts of this little guy ($200-$300). But if I can get this inexpensive Strat to sing, it'll be completely worth it.

All in all, I couldn't be happier with my purchase. I've only had it for a week, but I feel like I've already gotten my $100 out of it. I look forward to modding it and seeing what kind of sounds I can get out of this baby. I plan on doing a few recordings with stock gear and tracking the progress as I make upgrades, so keep your eyes pealed for that.