Saturday Night Special (Fender Blues Junior)

Saturday night’s gig was the highlight of a dramatic three-day weekend that included meaningful interactions with apathetic police, nutty nay-bores, energetic children, confusing local roads, cool liquor store owners, strong imported beers, sexy girls, whisky, torrential rain, shopping malls, sunsets, DVDs, greasy noodle shops and my future ex-wife. However the most pleasing interaction by far was between my Ibanez George Benson guitar, mini-pedal board and a blue Fender Blues Junior amp.

More than lack of practice, what to wear and who hang with after; I was worried about having to use an 80-watt Fender Twin, overpowered for a Shibuya cafe that would barely accomodate 80 people. At my last gig with this R&B cover band, I had a choice between a Roland JC-120 and a 15-watt solid state Fender Studio Drive with an 8″ Celestion “Red Force” speaker. I chose the latter, and was very pleased with the results, though the band lamented they couldn’t hear me enough.

This wasn’t a problem this time. I was able to dial in a tight, bright and balanced sound very easily even with the reggae DJ spinning in the background. With the gain and bass set to about 1~2, I had enough clean headroom and none of the boominess I get with big amps in small rooms with the GB-10. Not wanting to repeat history, I engaged the Fat, and cranked the Master up to about 7, tweaked the treble and literally never looked back.

My pedals that night were my new Xotic SP Compressor, AMT “Japanese Girl” Wah, SD Tweak Fuzz and Line6 Echo park all running on my portable Eneloop power supply.  I love these pedals, but was a bit disappointed with their performance with this amp. That’s probably because my settings are optimised for a different environment (usually headphones), and I never really had a change to test them during sound check.

Back home, I did some research on this little machine. Some people complain of harshness, but playing a dark-sounding archtop with overwound humbuckers, brass bridge saddles and flat wounds, this wasn’t an issue for me. Extended highs are welcome for cutting through a 12-piece funk/R&B for a percussive attack and chord clarity. It turns out that this amp can be easily modded to sound more like a Twin, which is what I’ve been seeking in an amp for years.

That doesn’t mean I’m going out to get one, though — not just yet anyway. I’m still waiting for a handmade Little Lanilei 3350LT right now which is cheaper, more portable and should sound better at higher and lower volumes. Even 15 watts would be too much my apartment and the crazy old unmarried and unemployed bitch who lives next door. Then again, I’ve been changing amps about twice a year since selling my Mesa/Boogie Studio.22, so who knows.


Friday’s Set List

Chasing anything important, it’s inevitable that you come across some or several obstacles in your path. Instead of listing up those up those obstacles, I’m going to list the tunes that survived the final full rehearsal before tomorrow’s gig at Crawfish:

  • Walk Talk
  • Voices Inside My Head
  • Lady Day & John Coltrane
  • Live and Let Die
  • The Pinball Number Count
  • Summertime Madness
  • In My Wildest Dreams
  • Don’t Know Why
  • Feel Like Makin’ Love
  • You’ve Gotta Have Freedom
  • Chameleon
  • Fly Like an Eagle

If you don’t know these tunes, you should. If you do know these tunes, you will hear them like you’ve never heard them before.

I’ve hinted on FB that I would do a special rendition of Space Oddity, but someone in NASA has beat me to that. Still, that version omits the emotional climax of the song: the part where ground control looses contact with Major Tom, and we can only speculate as to his fate. If not death by freezing or asphyxiation, then perhaps Major Tom’s capsuled slipped into a wormhole, and he is picked up by a ship of selfish alien muppets. Maybe his capsule is intercepted by a big black monolith that expedites his evolution into a being of pure energy. Or his frozen body is found 500 years later and resuscitated by our sexy leotard wearing descendants. Then again, the capsule might be claimed as salvage, and Major Tom’s body is rebuilt with nano machines, so that he can never die…

Anyway, the point is not show what a sci-fi geek am, but that none of us really knows what’s going to happen tomorrow night, in spite of my best laid plans, and boldly go where no man has gone before.  After that adventures is over, I will do my own version of Space Oddity properly, as a dedication to an adventurous friend from college who already left this world much sooner than I expected, dashing my hopes for a reunion someday.


A Dirty Old Guitarist’s Session

Jazz standards are not what I had in mind after the last week’s two sessions, but at least all the tunes that got called were tunes I actually knew, like Stella By Starlight, and There Will Never Be Another You, Black Orpheus, and All of Me (thanks Paul McCartney). Of course I forgot some of the changes, but not the melody. So I’ve gotta thank my former (tor)mentor  for beating the importance of the melody into my head. There were four other guitarists, three drummers, a vocalist, and one house-bassist holding it down. No pianos or horns, so  it felt like a jazz guitar class. Again, I was not the best or the worst there, but I was definitely the only one who played like me, and my GB-10 had the fattest, warmest tone.

In spite of my initial disappointment at playing old standards instead of The Chicken, it was a good night. The place was near Kinshicho station which is just over the border between Chiba and Tokyo, making it a bit closer to home. It was a bit hard to find in among the stacks of hostess clubs, and I rode the elevator up with an adorable little Philipino girl and her Dad who got off at one of those. My obligatory glass of red wine was very nice, and the walls were covered with 60s/70s memorabilia, so I could wander around gazing at pictures of old Japanese pop groups, movie posters and even household appliances while the other guys played, instead of just sitting at a table fidgeting or smoking. But of course it’s the customers that give a bar it’s character.

Sitting up in the front was the cutest Japanese jazz guitar girl I’ve ever seen. She could play, too. In the back, a trio of older jazzers. One of them (the best) gave me his card, and at the top above his name, it said, “A Dirty Old Guitarist.” I couldn’t stop laughing. He proudly told me that his card also got some laughs from Marlena Shaw when she was last in Japan. (Incidentally, Marlena Shaw is BIG in Japan, in jazz/funk/R&B circles.) I also had a long chat with a drummer about unemployment and rural depopulation, public health care, the downside of curing cancer, why Brazilian rosewood is banned as import to Japan, and of course the construction of cymbals.

I was seriously thinking of leaving early, but I stayed until the end. I’d probably go back, too. Even though I haven’t had any desire to play standards for almost a year now, once in a while I guess it’s nice to remind myself that I can actually play real jazz (e.g. improvise something coherent based on standard chord changes with liberal harmonic, rhythmic and articulative embellishment) after years of struggling with it, and then let it go. I’m sure I’ll come back to it seriously when I become a dirty old guitarist myself.  Right now, I want to make the most of my few remaining years as a sexy, sensitive, 30-something guitarist.


Mo’ Fun with the GB-10

Fun fiddling with my GB-10 this week. Youtube browsing brought me around to the coolest James Bond theme ever, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I can’t think of any better way to break in a fuzz than playing John Barry’s brilliantly ominous line of half-notes. With my Keystone-loaded G&L , the SD Tweak Fuzz produces some very nice, thick distortion but didn’t get get the raspy, nasal nastiness you hear on 60 and early 70s recordings. It doesn’t However, with the GB-10’s hotter mini-humbuckers, I can nail that tone. I got a hint about this from watching Freddie Stone using an semi-hollow, like a lot of guys probably did back then. Something about the attack must help get this tone.

Shortly after finishing with the Tweak Fuzz, I took the GB-10 to Guitar Lab to have the new Gotoh brass/aluminium ABR bridge installed. Ito-san said he could slot the saddles in an hour and for 30% less than his initial estimate. When I came back, he let me test it through the ’68 Silverface Twin in his shop ,and the guitar sounded better than ever. Even with the bright new DR Legend flatwounds, the guitar had the round, warm jazz tone I have been seeking for over a decade, minus the sharpness and hardness I sometimes get with this guitar. It also sounded better unplugged, but everything is a trade-off. The extra-sustain and warmth comes at the cost of some funkiness and presence, but it’s still worth it.

Last night I went to a soul/funk jam session in Akasaka for a field test. On the way up the steps in the subway, I tripped and the gig bag hit the stone stairs hard, but the guitar was fine — a testament to the durability of the design. However the tuning pegs still confuse me. The repair guy mistakenly replaced the high-E string with a .013, and I tried changing it before my turn to play but didn’t get it quite right. All the players at the session were very good, but everything they played seemed rehearsed. Before playing, I was presented with a book of charts to choose from, and was delighted when I saw that Too High was in there. However, the other musicians couldn’t play more than just the vamp.

Forget trying to call anything that wasn’t in the book. I called Everybody Loves the Sunshine. The bassist on the stand knew it, but the house keyboard player didn’t, which surprised me. My friend Yosuke wanted to play Do Me, by Prince. This is easy enough, but later he said he was disappointed at the lack of effort these younger less experienced musicians put into performing. They weren’t particularly friendly either, not like the other session we usually hit. I thought maybe they were intimidated, but it was more likely just a the sort of college in-group vibe where everybody’s interests are similar, but unfortunately not really open to anything else. Still, I think I’ll go back with some of my own charts next time.


More Practice Amps !?!?!?

This summer, I did fairly extensive web and hands-on research to find the best practice amp for my needs. Ironically, the practice amp I decided on was an Ibanez Valbee. I had my eye on one of these years ago, but didn’t bite. However you can get these for about 6000 yen now, much less than they were back then. After modding it, I love the way it sounds, even at volumes which in theory shouldn’t disturb the neighbors (though I secretly suspect it is being reminded a non-Japanese lives next-door that really bothers them.) Unfortunately, at such low levels, the amp’s humming and buzzing even in clean mode is much harder to ignore. So in spite of the various mods I’ve made, the amp’s basic functionality is severely compromised.

My latest attempt to fix the problem by using additional capacitors to check for bad ones failed, confounding me. Right now an electronic engineer in Sweeden who is also a fan of the amp is also helping me to diagnose the problem. After ruling out the preamp, ground  and transformer as the source of the noise, he thinks it’s the tube bias, or maybe even loose rectifier diodes. However, I’m starting to noticed that spending more time messing with things I don’t understand (circuits), is taking time away from something I do understand: playing. Because my goal is to enjoy myself, I’m back in the market for another amp. I still love the valbee, but this amp is better for high-gain. For cleans, I might needs something else like a VOX VT20+ or a Blackstar HT-1R.

The VOX was highly recommended by a pro guitarist from New Zealand I met over the summer who used to work for Ibanez. I just missed an auction for one for starting at 5000 yen, because the aesthetic made me hesitate. The truth is it looks like a lot of fun, but my prejudice against mainstream, mass produced gear for the masses is holding me back. Then again, I’m not on a boutique or rare-vintage budget. Amps like the VT20 were made for amateurs like me, so I should be grateful and buy one. Slightly more appealing is the all-tube Blackstar HT-1R, which costs a bit more. I’ve tried this in stores and wasn’t disappointed with the sound. Actually, I was rather impressed.

Both of these amps also offer an 8″ speaker, built in reverb and speaker emulation and other bells and whistles which the Valbee does not. The only thing the Valbee can offer is real power-tube distortion and a cooler looking cabinet. So what. The other two use pre-amp tubes to simulate power tubes, and nobody’s looking anyway. And I’m free to beautify the amp as I like, right? So now that we’ve sorted out that issue, the only obstacle now is the money, which isn’t really an obstacle either. In conclusion, if the amp is stopping you from PLAYING, something is very wrong. However, there’s nothing wrong with having side-projects to learn from, either. Right now I have about seven projects on my work bench, including the Valbee. Only the Valbee is inhibiting me, though.


池袋(英:Pond Bag)のライブでは結局BOSS RC-3をリアルタイムにループを作成することが失敗しました。踏み方が練習不足のせいだ。しかし役に立たなかった訳にはないんだ。一つはIsn’t She Lovelyを演奏した時にSHUFFLEのリズム(R06)がバキングとして助かった。ソロの時はきついけど、ワウも使っていてさらにリズム間を改善。実際にソロしたりii-V7コードを弾いたりするパタンでギリギリ出来た。全曲に変わらない打ち込みリズムを使うのはつまらないから次の曲、「初めてのチュー」はBALLADとしてドラムなしで弾いた。これには先週に手に入れたMESA/BOOGIE F-50の良さがはっきり聞こえてきた。自分の6畳部屋に比べライブの現場で音が全然違う。

その次の曲にRC-3を使うつもりだった。先ほど練習した時に録音したループが再生しただけ。生演奏からリアルタイムにループを構成したかったがこれは相手にとしては間違えに聴こえないはずだからよかった。最後の曲は「SATISFACTION」、RC-3に使わずギターのカッティングに頼ってリズムが出来た。さらにMESA/BOOGIEのクランチサウンドを始めてチューされてECSTACYだった。残念ながらアンプを終電で運べないのでお店に預かってもらった。またすぐ使いたいけど週末に取りに行けるまで待つしかない。その間はTUBEMANを使えるけど早く繋ぎたい。


繰返し繰り返し繰り返し繰り返し繰り返し繰り返し・・・

さらにダブルライブが決定。6月18日に先月と同じようなスケジュールはベースを持って渋谷のリハそしてギターも持って池袋のVOCAL DUOライブ。しかし今回は車で行く!この間は肩にすごい負担かかってしまったから。

ライブの曲はStevie Wonderの「You and I」をやる話、ギター一本で何を弾こうかと考えるとJOE PASSのスタイルでバックイングして見ようか。今回はまたLOOPERを使い、ソローギターより深いアレンジが出来るようになるけどこの曲はまるでSTANDARDと同じような物だから渋い方が適切だろう。

LOOPERについてBOSS DD-7のDIGITIAL DELAYを出品、その代わりにBOSS RC-3のコンパクトな専用LOOPERをゲット!色々な機能が装備されて楽しみにしてるけどこの機材のSTEREO機能は勝負になるんだ。例えば、ギターの音をループしてその音源をわけて別の出力(L・R)から出ることが出来るか。昔に持っていたLEXICON JAMMMAN又BOSS DD-3がこの機能があったけど最新モデルのDD-7が出来ない。不思議ともいえなく、ただ不便だからBOSS DD-7はもうさよなら。

どうせベースも持ってるからこのライブにベース・ギターを同時に使おうかと考えてる。確か両方をBOSS RC-3に接続できるからベースのループにオーバーダビングの機能でギターを重ねることが可能。この場合はスタンドも必要だな。