The Return Of Vinyl Records

Posted in Gadgets, Lifestyle, Music with tags , , , on 06/03/2013 by Baghead Kelly

Vinyl blog

My grandfather gave me a reel to reel tape recorder when I was around eight or nine years old. It wasn’t one of those fancy home studio kind of arrangements it was small and had little three inch reels that you would have to thread through like a sewing machine. I loved it to death and I would listen to the radio and try and record songs without the DJ talking over the top. That tape player was the beginning of my lifelong love of music and general musical geekery.

I also had a little portable record player with a speaker in the lid that I would play my 45rpm records on. Later on my father got a real stereo and I started collecting 33rpm records. The records were appealing not only because of the music but also for the artwork and literature displayed on their covers. They were tactile objet d’art that you could read whilst you listened to the record itself.

Alas records gave way to CD’s and the digital revolution. Digital laser technology promised an end to the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl records. It promised a purer sound experience and I fell for it hook line and sinker. I was an early adopter and when I bought my Phillips player there was only a choice of 10 CD’s to choose from. I still am a true believer in CD’s but in the department of album art they were a retrograde step. The second evolution of the digital age the MP3/Wav era has reduced album art to a mere thumbnail.

Lately I have realised that something was missing in my audiophile world. I missed records. I missed the albums and I missed marvelling at the wonderful engineering of a good record player. It was like the difference between having a solitary cuppa with a tea bag and the ritual of sharing a pot of tea with good friends.

This whole mid life crisis event came about when a record store opened in a nearby town. In an earlier life I had harboured a desire to open a record store in that very same town but wisely declined when another one went bust nearby. So with a vested interest I watched closely as the little record store prospered and eventually I was seduced back into the allure of all things vinyl. I went and purchased a turntable and once a week I trot off down to our new record store and buy an album. It has become my Saturday night highlight.

The little record store owner and I have developed a friendly rapport but I have noticed that the price of Jimi Hendrix records have increased now that I have been identified as a fan. I think the proprietor sees me as a new revenue stream. Not to be deterred I have widened my net and discovered a whole new underground of vinyl enthusiasts that I didn’t know existed. Although not a purist I am looking forward to my first vinyl fair to hopefully track down some old favourites. It’s the thrill of the hunt especially when I find a gem from my old record collection. You see there certainly is an element of nostalgia not only in the process of playing records but also because I am essentially recreating my old record collection. One that I foolishly gave away many years ago. This time around though I am being very selective of which records are worthy of my collection because I believe that playing music on a record player is special. Like bringing out the fine china. These days I even like the snap crackle and pop.

Rainy Day Pedalboard For Guitar

Posted in Carpentry, Design, Gadgets, Home Studio, Music, Songwriting with tags , , , , , , , , , on 06/02/2013 by Baghead Kelly

PB 1
If your into electric guitar, then chances are that you’ve got a few stomp boxes, lying around. Once you’ve collected a few then eventually you get to the point where you start thinking about a pedal board. Such is the dilemma that I faced on a recent rainy afternoon.

The brief was simple I just wanted a board that I could walk up to, plug in and play –  no flat batteries and no multiple adaptor clutter.

I went about researching such a thing simply by checking out a whole lot of other peoples boards on Google’s “Image Search”. Interestingly, during this process I saw a few pedals used more often than others. The four common stand outs were;

  1. a Wah Wah pedal of some kind,
  2. an Ibanez’s tube screamer as made famous by SRV,
  3. Boss’s RC20 looper and
  4. Boss’s TU3 Chromatic Tuner – the one with the disco lights.

Beyond these four pedals it was open slather. Each pedal board was wildly individual, incorporating a plethora of designs and configurations – some home made others just plain obscure or whacky.

In assimilating these designs another design concept came to the fore and that was the use of velcro tape and hook carpet to enable the pedals to be securely but temporarily mounted. In the end I went with this idea because it was simple and allowed for ongoing adjustments and configurations.
PB 2
I started with just a simple 15° wedged box (800mm x 300mm) shown above.

Originally I planned to enable the wedge to sit over my microphone stand and the red and green lines on the bottom of the wedge indicated the microphone’s legs that would sit in the as yet unbuilt slots. I abandoned the idea for the sake of simplicity but I still think the idea has merit.

The power supply is the Gator G-BUS-8. This worked out fine because one of my pedals was the 18volt Dunlop Univibe and the Gator was the only supply that would accommodate 18V (3 of) as well as 9v (8 of) plugs. It was for me, expensive but in the long run all the electrical work was thus pre-solved. The Gator is not the only option here for those of you contemplating such an adventure; there is also a Dunlop version and T-Rex have several models.

The other practical concern was to be the fact that there was going to be a whole lot of cables that were to be stuffed into this wedge shape and so eventually I would have to make a sealed cover to keep them tidy within the wedge. Ultimately when it was finally set up I would only have to plug in my wedge, guitar and amp to be good to go.

I have three commercial pedalboards, which all have their own unique benefits but some of them are extremely complicated affairs and my needs are simple. A little distortion, some chorus maybe some E.Q. is all I really need. That’s not to say that I don’t like experimenting with the kinky stuff because I do but in the end its all about the music. The old K.I.S.S. adage seems to apply here and this pedal board is both simple and adaptable which I really like.

Laser Violin

Posted in Design, Music with tags , , on 03/23/2013 by Baghead Kelly

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http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/03/a-laser-violin-would-have-surely-blown-amadeus-mind/

Vintage Fender Factory

Posted in Home Studio, Lifestyle, Music with tags , , on 01/25/2013 by Baghead Kelly

Take a trip back to the 1950s in this restored film footage of a tour of the Fender factory.

Zoom H2n Review

Posted in Design, Gadgets, Home Studio, Music, Review, Songwriting with tags , , , , on 01/10/2013 by Baghead Kelly

Zoom H2N

I purchased one of these little microphone recorders awhile ago after sniffing around the Line 6 Back Track recorder. The unit is about 4”in -100mm in length.

Mostly I am very pleased with the recorder as it has done for me what digital cameras have done to photography. Record as much as you like and as many takes as you like. If I have too many false starts I just stop it and start again. You can easily trim the fat through the machine or with your computer afterwards. (You will have to buy a decent SD/SDHC card for it as it only comes with a 2GB card to get you started.)

You have several options with regards to how you can record using the 5 on board microphones. Most notably the mid-side  configuration which essentially mixes Left & Right microphones with a unidirectional microphone at the front allowing adjustment of the width of the pattern from 30° to 150°. The other major configuration is an XY pattern of 90° which is my favourite.

The unit  takes two AA batteries which give you 20 hours play time. It can use rechargeables but you have to register them within the unit so that it can accurately tell you how much usable time you have left. For me 20 hrs is plenty and AA’s are more preferential then AAA’s because of the cost.

I should also mention that it comes with Cubase LE which is the light version of Cubase. As I already have Cubase 5 I didn’t play around with it too much but it all seemed quite adequate for editing etc.

Along with the Zoom H2n I also bought the accessories kit that in my view should really come with the unit. The accessories kit comes with:

  • Wired remote control with extension cable
  • Windscreen
  • AC adapter (USB type)
  • USB cable
  • Adjustable tripod stand
  • Padded-shell case
  • Mic clip adapter

Personally I’m not likely to use the remote or the windscreen but the rest is essential. Even the strange looking handle attachment means that I can clip it into my existing mic stands and it looks like its meant to be there.

The recording quality is excellent once you get your distances right and I would thoroughly recommend this unit for both enthusiasts like myself and serious recording aficionados who would like a field unit. This is probably my favourite piece of kit that I have purchased in 2012 and I would rate it a whopping 5 out of 5 rubber chickens.

Baghead Bags the Stones

Posted in Art, Lifestyle, Music, Review, Songwriting with tags , , , on 11/12/2012 by Baghead Kelly

I just bought the new Stones album Grrr! I haven’t read much about it and so it was a bit of a shock to find it was a compilation album with only two new tracks; “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot”. “Doom and Gloom” kicks arse and “One More Shot” I could take it or leave it, maybe it will grow on me. The album comes in a few different configurations to drive the hard core fans and completists nuts but essentially there are only two new tracks. You can add this one to your pile of other Stones rehashes ; Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), Flowers, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), Hot Rocks 1964–1971, Hot Rocks 1964–1971, Metamorphosis, Made in the Shade, Rewind (1971–1984), Singles Collection: The London Years, Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones (UK) and Rarities 1971–2003. In fact if you’ve got any of these I wouldn’t bother with Grrr! just buy the singles. As for the hard core Stones fans, I’m sorry but I’ve got to call it as I see it – 1 out of 5 rubber chickens the Stones are getting lazy.

The Fender VG Stratocaster

Posted in Design, Gadgets, Home Studio, Music with tags , , , , , , on 11/03/2012 by Baghead Kelly

My favourite guitar is my Fender VG Stratocaster, which I call ‘Freddy’. I love it for multiple reasons including the fact that it was the first decent guitar that I ever owned. Nostalgia aside I think it is still a great guitar on its own merits. Based around an American Series Stratocaster the VG was introduced in 2007 where it won “Best In Show” at NAMM but was discontinued after April Fools Day in 2009. The VG was a collaboration between Roland and Fender and featured electronic modelling to give it some unique features or at least unique at the time. Two extra knobs were included; The T knob (Tuning) and the M knob (Mode)

Mode :

  • Normal
  • Stratocaster
  • Telecaster,
  • Humbucking
  • Acoustic

Within the guitar modelling mode I would have to say that Normal and Stratocaster are somewhat smoke and mirrors. Normal isn’t really a feature it is…well, normal and in case Fender don’t realise it you are actually playing on a Stratocaster (you could play around with the tone knob to achieve the same results). Telecaster comes under the same umbrella and as I own a Tele I would have to say it doesn’t even come close to the real thing. For Humbucking you could read ‘Les Paul’ and I love it and use this a lot to give that warmer tone. Acoustic is also terrific and one of my favourites. Another thing about this guitar particularly with the acoustic mode is that its easy to play and there are a lot of songs that I struggle to play on a real acoustic but I can play perfectly on the VG in acoustic mode.

Tuning :

  • Normal,
  • Drop D,
  • Open G,
  • DADGAD,
  • Baritone,
  • 12 String.

The ability to change tunings at the drop of a switch was a major selling point for me. Drop D in case you don’t already know has the bass E string tuned down a tone (DADGBE). Now this is not hard to do in a live situation as it is, after all only one string but it’s a popular tuning and I use it a fair bit. Open G is the big attraction for me being a Keith Richards fan and is the altered tuning I use most often. The ability to throw in an G song into your set whenever you like and then revert back to standard is pretty damned cool. DADGAD or Dsus4 tuning, is a modal tuning that is very popular in Celtic music. Unfortunately I’m not much into this folk tuning but I sometimes have a crack at Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. Baritone – baritone tuning is tuned lower than the guitar, but with the same relative tuning. There are variations on the theme and in this case it is based on the quart bass; the same as standard but lowered a fourth (BEADF#B). I fool around with this tuning a bit just to see what songs sound like relative to my voice. Sometimes I come up with little surprises. I also capo this tuning on the fourth fret to give me Hendrix’s Eb tuning, handy if your playing along with the records and Eb quite often suits my voice. 12 String – the option of six and twelve strings is really handy to have on board and colours your repertoire nicely all on one guitar. I have read criticisms of the sound of the two acoustic models but for my money they sound authentic and are a major plus in this guitars arsenal.

*Note; The Tuning functions don’t work if Mode is in Normal. Tuning functions are also relative, that is if you tune down to E flat, all of these tunings will transpose down a half step.

Many criticisms were cited for the guitar’s demise including price. In my opinion this was a fair cop but some of the other criticisms were somewhat unfair.

The choice of tunings has long been a bone of contention within VG forums and it must be said that there is merit to this argument. I don’t know why these tunings were chosen but a user defined system would be the ultimate guitar. Imagine being able to program your guitar to any tuning that you could think of and then switch between say half a dozen options at the flick of a switch. At the very least the inclusion of open E would have been a bonus.

The use of batteries to power the modelling system was often sprouted as an issue but having a second wire attached to the guitar cable seems to me, to be more problematic. In the owners manual the use of nickel–metal hydride batteries (Ni-MH) is recommended and is indeed the key to powering up the system for acceptable periods of time (my experience is 1 hour for normal batteries and 4 hours for rechargeable NiMh). I personally like GP ReCyko+ batteries because they were easy to identify the + ends and they worked well but interestingly my local supplier discontinued them because they said that people were having problems with them and they were replaced with the ‘eneloop’ brand. I’m looking for a new supplier. One issue I do have with the battery system is the fact that when they do run out the sound deteriorates rapidly and sounds fairly ugly at high volume levels. A second battery pack would therefore be an advantage.

Rise of the Phoenix : Roland G-5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKhGu-BPpng

The VG seems to have arisen from the ashes in the form of the G-5. Where as the original VG was MIA the G5 seems to be somewhat mongrel in that various parts are from different countries which has addressed the pricing issue from the previous version. The other change seems to be that the five way pickup switch has been pimped to enable some variations on sound colouring. In the acoustic mode the 5 way switch enables steel, nylon, resonator, electric sitar and jazz modeling from the original VG. The 5 way switch also allows both a wide range variation at the bridge and neck position for the Strat, Tele and Humbicking models. I can’t find anything majorly different from the original that would require me to upgrade to the new version but if I didn’t already own the original I would seriously consider checking it out.

At the time that I bought my VG the alternative to such a guitar was the Gibson Robot. I seriously considered the Robot but it was more expensive and since the principle was based on mechanics I thought there was too many components that could break down especially considering the poor quality of the finish. Now the VG has been resurrected the competition includes Line 6’s James Tyler Variax and that is a serious contender which addresses many of the concerns of VG critics. The Variax however isn’t a Fender and for my money that is still worth something.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4fBdFbym34&feature=related

Lennon vrs Christ

Posted in Lifestyle, Music, Religion, Sixties with tags , , , on 10/01/2012 by Baghead Kelly

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Maureen Cleave’s John Lennon quote from the London Evening Standard; March 1966;

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhpyxoOeYGY

What does the internet think?

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When The Music’s Over

Posted in Lifestyle, Music, Politics with tags , , , , on 09/25/2012 by Baghead Kelly

Allans Music has been  a part of my life since I bought my first harmonica some thirty years ago. It is part of the fabric of my home town and every musician that I know.

Uniquely Australian the business was started in Melbourne in the 1850’s by Joseph Wilkie and George Allan. With some 25 stores the annual turnover was around 110 million per annum so it was somewhat of a shock to hear that they had gone into liquidation. The contributing factors cited for the companies difficulties were Australians love of buying online together with a climate of cautious discretionary spending.

My heart goes out to the 500 odd employees of the company, all of whom were there because they were passionate about music.

My own remorse and shock however has not deterred me from picking over the dying carcass of such a great establishment. In my vulturistic endeavors I am not alone. There was only one Gibson Les Paul left when I swooped last week and it was somewhat disturbing to see the pearls had already been plucked by the time I got there. I did however score  myself quite a few gems including an electronic drum kit (my work mate thinks I’m going through a mid life crisis).

Over the years I have bought many things there including an early computer interface that I demanded they refund my money when I couldn’t integrate it with my PC. A classic case of PICNIC (problem in chair not in computer). Allans duly refunded my money without complaint. I did note however on later shopping sprees that whenever they punched my name into the system an eye brow was raised in an unnapproving manner.

With not a great deal of choice in my town I will truly miss Allans Music and I now realise that you cannot take these things for granted. I can only hope that they can trade themselves out of these trying times.

Gibson And The Future Of Modern Guitar

Posted in Music on 08/19/2012 by Baghead Kelly

Recently Gibson Guitars agreed to pay a $300,000 fine for its role in importing illegal timber from Madagascar and India. Now I don’t want to dwell on specifics here or debate the moral aspects of the situation (which dates back to raids back in 2009 and 11). What I would say however is that; if you have  been drooling over that Les  Paul or Hummingbird hanging up at your local dealer then now might be the time to make a plunge on that purchase. These classic guitars will only become rarer and more valuable as time marches on and global awareness of these dwindling resources becomes more regulated. The future of guitars will eventually shift to modern materials and these beautiful wooden instruments will eventually become museum pieces or the possessions of the wealthy. It won’t be in my lifetime but the direction is becoming apparent.