For a while I’ve been looking for a new acoustic to replace my old Takamine ESF-40C. It’s a nice guitar that I got when I was about 18, but it’s worn out now and ready to retire. Had a look at a few Taylors, including the 214, but ended up going with a brand called Faith. The guitar I got is a Neptune High Gloss, it’s a baby jumbo shape without a pickup (I’ll put my own in). It’s a bit cheaper in price than the Taylor 214 but has solid rosewood back and sides, I was quite surprised that the Taylor is mostly laminate and not entirely rosewood.
Anyway, I’m very happy with it and here are some pictures. I’ll probably do a video soon, too.
Recently (lets say the last six months) I’ve been more or less completely consumed with my work at ACM. It’s such a great place, but as an inevitable consequence of it’s sheer size and number of students, it is a mad house and everyone is busy all the time! The kids I’ve been working with have all been doing practice journals as part of thier project for the term, it’s an opportunity for them to set themselves some targets and work towards achieving them while, importantly, tracking and evaluating their progress as they go. Just for the fun of it I thought I’d do the same over a short period of time, so I picked a piece I’ve wanted to learn for a while and made little videos illustrating my progress learning one of the tricky passages in it. The piece is Tango en Skai by Roland Dyens, and here are a few videos going from not knowing it, to being able to play it as a stand alone phrase, and then being able to play it in context.
Day 1: Learning the notes.
Day 2: making corrections and further practice.
Day 3: consistent playing at slow tempo.
Day 4: the run in context.
It’s not a perfect rendition at all, and my approach wasn’t particularly scientific but I really enjoyed this process: it was a tangible and motivating reminder of the magic of practice. I mean, it’s not rocket science, but it’s easy to forget it sometimes…
Enough of that though, it’s now Christmas eve and everything has wound down nicely.
I decided to spend a few £s upgrading the old SG. Not that there was too much wrong with it, but it needed some tweaks and let’s be honest – messing about with guitars is fun.
First, it needed a proper set up. The guy who had it before me strung it with 9s and had a ridiculously low action (it was more or less unplayable) so I went up to 10s and then 11s but it was still buzzing and there were dead spots all over. The other big issue was the intonation. With a wraparound bridge it’s always a compromise but the one that was in there made very little effort to compensate, and it was quite noticably crap. I took it to Richmond Guitar Worshop (Andy and Andrew – the guys that used to be in the workshop at Chandlers in Kew). Ive had all my repaires and set ups done by these guys since about 2003. They are total wizards. They dressed the frets, sorted out the neck and, importantly, replaced the crappy stock bridge with a compensated Gibson Lightning Bar. It’s still not perfect, obviously, but I could do a gig on it now and not get shouted at for being out of tune!
The second step was to replace the Gibson 490 pickups. The bridge one was ok but the neck one was a bit dull. Having always used Seymour Duncans for humbuckers, I thought I’d maybe see what else was around. Had a look at Bare Knuckle, which are pricey (though worth it, generally) and a few other “boutique” makers. Amongst them, one that I thought was pretty interesting: The Creamery. After a bit of research I was unable to find anything even resemblining a slightly negative review, and what’s more they’re really well priced. Less than Bare Knuckles which seem to run at £200 + per set but not so cheap as to arouse suspicion like, say, Iron Gear. They are hand made by one guy (Jaime)and they are fully customisable, from the covers to the magnets. I had to wait about a month, but they’re great! I went for the Creamery ’59 set, I wanted better versions of the 490s with a tighter sounding neck. He suggested these with alnico II and IV magnets in the bridge and neck respectively. I’m really pleased with them – and for £150 (with nickle covers) you basically can’t go wrong, they compare very favourably to the Seymour Duncans that I’ve owned (Pearly Gates, Duncan Custom, Jazz, and JB). Well worth a look, as there is a huge range of stuff available!
So… you know, I’ve spent about as much again on upgrades as I did on the guitar itself. But it’s personalised now, whilst still cheaper (and as far as I’m concerned, better) than an off the shelf SG standard. So there.
The 16th of May marked the anniversary of the death of Django Rienhardt, so I asked the guys at ACM if I could do a little video by way way of tribute, and here it is. There’s a lot I wanted to talk about but it’s hard to know what to fit in a video that has to be so short, so it’s a very simple demonstration of one idea: taking the minor pentatonic (1, b3, 4, 5, b7) and lowering the b7 by a semitone to make it a maj6th (so it’s now 1, b3, 4, 5, 6 – like a m6 arpeggio, and implying the Dorian mode). This is one thing I found that really helped me start to build some Gypsy style vocabulary and move away from the minor pentatonic licks that are omnipresent in rock and blues improvisation.
The lick I play is based one of Django’s phrases found in the solo of Swing 42 (click here and skip to about 1’07”). Swing 42 is in C major , but here I’m using it in the context of a Gm6 chord. The TAB is here: Django Style Minor 6 Lick