European Vacation Fotoz, Part I

Here’s the first installment of pictures from our vacation to Europe last month. The first part of the trip was in the Alps: Zürich Switzerland and Innsbruck Austria, and the surrounding environs. As usual, these galleries are protected, so ping me if you need login credentials. Enjoy!

You Can Fake Talent But You Can’t Fake Effects

You might recall I got a new electric guitar a few months back. It’s an Epiphone semihollowbody, and I play it paired with a Roland JC amp, which is great if you want a clean jazzy tone. But what if you want a different tone? I’ve been practicing and learning new songs and I figure it’s time to expand my sonic palette.

Even though I’ve played guitar for many years, it’s been mainly acoustic, with a focus on rhythm and accompanying myself singing. But lately I’ve become more interested in using it for writing, arranging and recording. Still I’ve never really gotten into the whole electric thing. Mainly it’s because the instrument is not just the guitar, but the combination of the the guitar, the amp and the effects. Every guitar player has their own pedalboard set up in their own unique way for their own personal tone that’s, as David Lee Roth says, the ultimate expression of who you really are. This is just too much for me.

I actually have a couple old Boss stompboxes from the ’80’s. They’re both classic effects, Chorus and Overdrive. I used them as part of my synth signal chain back in the day when synthesizers sounded pretty thin live. These days if you look around there are about 1,000 different distortion pedals, blue tone and brown tone and everything in between, for just the right sound, like a wall of exotic hot sauces at a Mexican restaurant. And then another realm of delay, reverb, and modulation to season your tone further. But some odd building blocks do not a temple make. In any event most of my effort in this direction goes toward honing my tone on saxophone, and a close second is learning my way around all the knobs and sliders on the myriad synthesizers I already own.

So I’ve had my eye on a digital multi-effects processor for a long time. Last time I checked in with this space was years ago when Martin lent me one of his Zoom boxes, and I could never really figure out my way around the thing. More recently, Vinny, the guitar player for G-Force, had a single box that was a programmable multi effects board, and he used it to great effect (heheh) on a wide variety of songs in different styles.

So I looked around. I didn’t want anything too complicated. Boss makes one for about $300 with maybe a dozen or twenty knobs, four footswitches and an expression pedal. Seemed like the one to beat. Then they announced a brand new one with maybe forty or more knobs, for about $1000. Definitely moving in the wrong direction.

The one I zeroed in on is the Stomp Lab by Vox. It has only 3 knobs, 2 footswitches and a pedal and is under $100. It arrived the other day, and turned out to be just the thing. Super cool and super fun. Very small but well built with a metal shell and and heavy duty moving parts, made to be stomped on. It’s one to select the patch, one for pre-amp, and one for output gain, plus the expression pedal. Easy peasy! The presets run the gamut from light to heavy, old to modern, all the styles, with varying degrees of things like flange, echo and reverb. You can even program in your own sounds: it’s a full-on amp simulator and mutli-effects modeler. But I bet I can get pretty far just learning my way around the presets. With the knobs on the box plus the ones on the guitar there’s alot of space to color the tone.

I must say I’m really happy that modern digital gear generally sounds really good. I remember when it all had a “digital” sound, that generally meant thin and harsh on the ears. Nowadays even a cheap little FX box sounds killer. I mean, just the guitar and the amp sound great as-is, but it’s that jazz guitar sound. With the FX it’s anything from psychedelic to heavy metal and it’s frickin’ amazing. It’s also super loud! I gotta turn way down.

One big difference between applying effect in post on the computer and doing it live is that the amp makes it interactive. My guitar is very resonant, so it’s easy to get a ton of feedback. Totally changes the way you play. It’s very satisfying to just chug along on a simple riff and let the amp fill in the sound. So it should be fun to explore. Hopefully some new song ideas will come out of it.

Meanwhile I’m practicing sax every day for a half hour these days to seriously memorize all the material for our next jazz gig, in two weeks. For the new rock band we’ve started picking tunes and I’ve been woodshedding those too. And, I bought a new pair of rollerblades last night. More on all this coming soon.

Endless Summer Slacking

We get the nicest days this time of year. It’s getting on a month since we got back from our trip, and for the most part it’s been just beautiful and great to spend time outdoors, although it’s starting to get dark noticeably earlier.

I’ve gotten back into biking and skating.

I took my mountain bike out three times now, to a place near my house called Nature Study Woods. It’s mostly pretty flat but the hilly parts also tend to be the stoniest trails, which is unfortunate. First time out it felt pretty difficult. I was thinking of getting a new mountain bike since mine is from the ’90’s and doesn’t have any shock absorbers like modern bikes have. But then it got easier next time out. Still it might help with pulling up a really stony hill.

Last time out I saw a fox, which is cool, and there was a tree down across the trail, which was not so cool. It had become so overgrown with vines that the weight of the vines caused the tree to collapse. So to get by I had to hack out a tunnel thru the wreckage with my bare hands.

As for skating, I haven’t gotten off my block yet. Three times so far I put on my skates and rolled up and down my street and to the dead end around the corner for a half hour or so. My skates are old and pretty shot too, and the pavement around here is old and bumpy. I used to go all over the place and it never bothered me, hills and all. But I’m thinking of getting new skates too, and also finding a place where the pavement is nice and smooth.

I told my friend Brandon at work I was thinking of new skates. Like me he’s a half-Canadian former hockey player. He said, “those are words I haven’t heard in a long time.” It’s question whether it’s worth it, if I’m likely to keep on skating thru the fall and again next spring. As luck would have it, they paved part of my street last week, up near the dead and, so I have a nice smooth place nearby now. I’m gonna test it out next time I go out and then decide.

We also managed to do a camping trip this summer, over Labor Day weekend. Jeannie and I went up to Mongaup Pond in the Catskills, where we met Martin and his family. It was a great campout, best I’ve had in years. We used to go for many years when our kids were little and it was a whole lot of families. Now our kids are older and not into camping, but Martin’s are at the age where they really enjoy it. So we did some hiking an built some fires and cooked lots of meat over flame, stayed up late talking, even rented a couple canoes and paddled around the lake. It was actually really cold at night, and I’m glad we brought lots of warn stuff to bundle up in. All in all very relaxing, and perfect break before the new school year and all that.

Last fall Jeannie and I went for a few hikes, and this weekend we started up again. We went to a nearby place this morning called Saxon Woods. The hike was about three miles of moderately hilly trails, nothing too taxing, very pleasant. We have a whole list of places to check out but many are further afield, so it’s good to explore what’s close by too.

Now all the fall stuff is back and happening. Michelle is in school, Jeannie is working five days a week, my jazz group is rehearsing again and has some gigs coming up (more on that soon). My new rock band looks like it’s getting off the ground; everyone is in and down with the plan. Now we’re picking tunes and lining up the date for the first rehearsal. Meanwhile I’ve recorded all the sax parts for my song Sun of the Son, and it’s sounding great, including a shredding solo. Next is to fill out the keyboard parts and go back and tweak the drums, then on to mixing.

At work we seem to have finally won the epic marathon battle against bugs. It’s been my primary focus off and on the last year, as well as lot of other developers and management and the company as a whole. My team has gone from hundreds and hundreds of open bugs to just a couple dozen and still dwindling. Along the way we’ve made substantial improvements to the code quality at every level from architecture to formatting.

In other news I’ve been putting alot of time on the Global Jukebox. We’ve been making an educational section called Find Your Musical Roots, for use in New York City School classrooms. It’s been a big effort and there’s still a way to go. We have a major check-in tomorrow. It ought to be ready to go live sometime this fall.