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New Amp!

A chain of events started early this week beginning with an AMS ‘name your price’ event. I’m interested in the Line 6 Spider IV 120 (see last blog post). Naturally I mozy on over to the item’s page and AMS had a scratch-n-dent special in stock for $80 off regular price. Sweet!

I’ve setup a number of RSS feeds for the amp so I could frequently check my phone for fresh postings (pro tip – CrazedList lets you search an item in multiple locations at once thus you can get all the RSS links in a shorter amount of time). The Spider IV 120 never popped up in my RSS feeds over the course of a couple months, but plenty of other models did and the $80 off was comparable if not the best of the prices I’ve seen.

I gave a lowball figure for ‘name your price’ and AMS came back with a little off, but nothing compared to the scratch-n-dent. I was tempted to make the $80-off purchase right there, but decided to go check eBay just to see what I could find there (note: you can also setup RSS feeds for eBay searches too).

I quickly found a Spider IV 150 with 30 minutes left  and at $300 (+20 shipping) with only 2 bids. Holy cow batman! That is nearly $200 less than the retail price and $100 less than the model I’ve been looking at. I decide it’s worth a shot. Unfortunately the previous bidder had their bid set quite a bit higher – after three bids from me the combo was at $380 so I decided to call it quits (no one else bid – apologies buyer, you’re welcome seller).

Though that deal would have been nice, my disappointment was kept at bay by the still-awesome sales price over at AMS. I put in the order on Monday afternoon and the amp was in on Thursday. The only thing more awesome than the quick shipping was the fact that amp came in without a single scratch or blemish on it. Some of the user-presets were filled in so… probably a returned item? I plugged up my Godin Signature electric and the amp sounds beautiful.  This is the second scratch-n-dent purchase from AMS I’ve gotten, the first being the Akai E2 Head Rush delay/loop pedal, also in impeccable condition.

Line 6 Spider IV 120

I may look into a FBV Shortboard MKII for this in the future, but for now I always have my trusty Boss GT3 for hands-free effect switching. The GT3 does have a number of different types of effects the Line 6 does not and sometimes some extra options on the ones it does. I might be able to make some hybrid sounds between the two. Since I got the amp, I’ve been playing around with old effects on the GT-3, particularly with the effects chain, getting better quality sounds out of it now that I have a better amp to judge it by (more on that in a future blog post).

I’m in the market for a new amp and am considering a Line 6 Spider IV 120. The main reasons I’m thinking of going that product is that a) my guitar instructor* has several Line 6 Spider’s amps and they all sound great with guitar and b) it has lot of adjustable effects, presets, and amp models to choose from . Between that and my old Boss GT-3 pedal, I feel pretty confident I’ll have lots of versatility. Pushing the 120 watts, the amp can get loud when necessary and is still relatively portable at 50 lbs (compared to half-stacks and such anyway).

In all honesty, I don’t know what would be best for me. At this point I feel like I just need to get something, anything, better than the little Vox amp that I have. I suppose I could go out and dump a lot of time into researching a new amp… but I don’t even know what I want out of one right now. I guess that’s why the versatility with the Line 6 is appealing to me at this stage in the game where I’m, more or less, still trying to find some direction for my sound.

This blog is barely viewed right now, but I’ll go ahead and ask some general questions anyway:

  • What do you look for in a guitar amp?
  • What do you try to avoid?
  • When you are buying an amp, are you trying to go bigger and better or are you chasing a specific sound?
  • Do you care about effects and presets or are you more interested in the amp itself?

The good thing (sorta) is that my wife requested I not get a new amp until around or after Christmas, just in case her parents are feeling extra generous this year. Several days after I agreed, her mom hinted that they were just going to give me money, which is preferable anyway. Point is, I’ve got time to let this stew (and maybe get some additional perspective via comments or twitter – @onefretatatime).

Lastly, before I end the blog post, I’ve discovered my original plan for this blog is downright silly. Many days I struggle to make practice time much less blog about it on a weekly basis. For that matter, I’ll probably just post about my practice occasionally instead of attempting to adhere to some self-prescribed schedule.

For what it’s worth, I can now mostly play Porcupine Tree’s Trains. In the last week or so I’ve started practicing shredding triplets (24 notes on a 4/4 measure) in an A scale. The goal is to make it up to 120BPS; I’m up to 63 from 40 (which is as low as my metronome can go). The best thing that is coming out of this exercise (asides from gradually playing faster and faster) is it is forcing me to build endurance, it doesn’t take long for this exercise to wear out my hand.

Sometime it seems like this whole music thing going very slow, but then I just remind myself why I chose my blog’s name.

-Cee

*I haven’t had the time/money to take lessons with my ‘instructor’ here lately, so I use the term loosely

Welcome to the Progtober 2011 album reviews! Don’t be fooled, there were a number of bad ass albums released at the tail end of September. That’s practically October😉

On with the reviews (many of which aren’t prog music necessarily but that’s minor details):

Puscifer - Conditions of My ParolePuscifer
Conditions of My Parole

I’d be liar if I said I was a Maynard James Keenan fan. Regardless, his first Puscifer album didn’t have a huge effect on me. It certainly had its moments, a few songs I really liked, and considering Keenan’s other work, very different to boot.Several months ago I got the chance to listen to a pre-released track of “Man Overboard” and I liked what I heard. It had more of a ‘full band’ sound to it while still keeping that ‘layer Keenan’s voice in many interesting and varied ways’ feel to it.

That’s pretty much how I would describe Puscifer’s new album “Conditions of My Parole” as a whole. Only Keenan’s voice is frequently accompanied by a female voice on much of the time. Only thing is this description doesn’t do it enough justice.Given that I wasn’t overly ecstatic about the last album, I suppose I didn’t really have any expectations for this one. For that matter, I’m not sure where my bar was set for this album, but Conditions of my Parole has far surpassed it.

It’s light, it’s edgy, it’s ambient, and, probably most of all, very melodic.At points I was listening to tracks that sound influenced by Keenan’s vineyard project (Green Valley). Other songs have that quirky, religious element (The Rapture) reminiscent of the last album. Other songs that really caught my attention are Monsoons, Telling Ghosts (particularly Telling Ghosts, fun for singalong), and Oceans.

Regardless of how you felt about Puscifer’s first album, this is an entirely different piece of work. Really. Apples and oranges, night and day sorta thing. I highly recommend checking this out even if that first album left a bad taste in your mouth (seems it did for many of my friends at any rate).

My Brightest Diamond - All Things Will UnwindMy Brightest Diamond
All Things Will Unwind

I first learned of My Brightest Diamond (MBD) when I heard “Inside a Boy” on college radio and I was instantly intrigued. Shortly after, I checked out the “Bring Me the Work Horse” and “A Thousand Shark’s Teeth” albums and I was sold as a fan of Shara Worden, the main driving force behind MBD. Her operatic voice complimented the music which was an eclectic blend rock and classical elements.

MBD’s latest release, “All Things Will Unwind”, has taken her sounds and arrangements to new heights while providing an overall shift away from electric instruments and much more towards the use of classical, acoustic instruments. The album is all around more playful, serious, sporadic, exploratory, and a slew of other adjectives that likely fail to adequately describe its sound.

I’m not privy to how the last two albums were recorded, however I think these two videos do a great job of providing context for both the feeling of the album as well as the numerous artists who contributed. I found frequently an instrument or two will briefly flutter in on top of the core song or beat, just long enough for another instrument or two to do the same. Though there are so many instruments coming and going, they never seem to overpower the feel of a song nor does anything feel forced; the balance just feels right.

I don’t think there is any contest for me at this point, this is by far my favorite MBD album yet. Definitely worth checking out.

Mutemath - Odd SoulMutemath
Odd Soul

Mutemath’s new album “Odd Soul” is another stand-up album from the New Orleans group. Odd Soul has changed things up a bit with most of the tracks having this raw energy about them. The recording itself sounds pretty raw too compared to their last album “Armistice” which sounds very produced (not in a bad way).

I think old fans shouldn’t have any problem getting into this album, but it took me a few listens for it to catch for me.I have a tendency to expect a band’s recordings to sound shinier with each album. When first listened to Odd Soul, my initial thought was that the mix of it sounded a bit dirty, but after listening to it a few times, I think they were more just trying to capture that raw element. Possibly related, Mutemath’s guitarist Greg Hill left the band shortly left the group after recording started for the album (says Wikipedia anyways).

The video for their new single “Blood Pressure” is excellent and the making of video is even better. Between their engaging, energetic live performances and videos like those, I think it is safe to say Mutemath likes to have fun with their music. Other tracks I’m digging from the album are Prytania, Sun Ray, Walking Paranoia, and All or Nothing (which is most reminiscent of Armistice).

Russian Circles - Empros

Russian Circles
Empros

I think Russian Circles (RC) really like the number six. With the addition of “Empros” into their catalog, three out of their four albums have six tracks (the odd album out had seven songs, what were they thinking?!). All kidding asides, Empros is a great album. It is being described as their heaviest to-date.

I certainly agree with that. The bassist really uses some deep crunch that adds to the heavy factor quite a bit. This can be heard in the first track, 309, a little over half-way through the song. Though Empros accounts for their heaviest sound bytes yet, other tracks like Schipol and Mládek (named after their European tour bus driver apparently) still provide airy, melodic tones while working their way back toward that signature RC sound. Also of worthy note, the closing track, Praise Be Man, actually has vocals on it (not sure whose voice it is, but I like it all the same).

If you are familiar with and enjoy other RC albums, Empros will not disappoint. If haven’t heard of them yet, quit reading this blog post and head over to the RC bandcamp page to check them out.

Peter Gabriel - New Blood

Peter Gabriel
New Blood

I was very excited when I heard there was a new Peter Gabriel album coming out. I was a little disappointed when I found out what that meant. Peter Gabriel did in fact release a new album called “New Blood”, however it is basically another cover album using a backing orchestra similar to his last album, “Scratch My Back”. Only instead of covering other people’s music he’s simply covering his own.

Don’t get me wrong, the album is still enjoyable as was Scratch My Back. I suppose I’m just anticipating new content from Gabriel and for two albums now it has been older content done in a somewhat unique way. I suppose I would have felt the same if Metallica had done orchestra CDs twice in a row.

So I’ll break down very easy like – do you like Peter Gabriel? Do you like orchestra? Then there’s a good a chance you’ll like this album. Gabriel’s solo career has seen quite a number of albums so here is a quick breakdown of the song selection for what was covered in New Blood:

  • 4 songs from “So”
  • 3 songs from “IV”
  • 2 songs from “OVO”
  • 1 songs from “III”
  • 1 songs from “I”
  • 1 songs from “Us”
  • 1 songs from “Up”

I guess it doesn’t help much that my favorite album is Up.

Alrighty, so it’s mid-October and I’m blogging about albums released at the end of September. I’m a terrible blogger, but whatever, I’m publishing it anyway.

On a lighter note, the end of September and all of October has so many awesome progressive albums released in it, Twitter folks started calling it Progtober. And I wholeheartedly approve of this title🙂

Steven Wilson - Grace for DrowningSteven Wilson
Grace for Drowning

When does Steven Wilson sleep? I think he’s an alien stranded on earth personally, passing his time while making many observations about humanity in the process (Ford Prefect?). “Grace for Drowning” (GoD) marks Stephen’s second solo album, released not terribly long after Porcupine Tree’s “The Incident” and his work with Blackfield’s “Welcome to my DNA”. Not to mention his upcoming joint project with Mikael Åkerfeldt (currently titled “Storm Corrosion”). Again, alien… maybe demigod…

I enjoyed Stephen’s first solo record, “Insurgentes”, as I tend to do with most things involving Stephen Wilson, but GoD I find even more enjoyable. The album takes more time to explore sound scapes than its predecessor and flows better as well. This album is definitely a ‘head phone’ album. By head phone, I just mean the album has a lot of intricacies that get lost without a good sound system or a quality set of headphones. And as most ‘head phone’ albums go, listening to this in my morning/evening car commutes doesn’t do it justice.

Stand out tracks for me from the first disc are Deform to a Star and No Part of Me and, from the second disc, Index and Raider II. I specifically like the percussion tracks in Index; I found that aspect of the song to be very dynamic in a good way. I’d also like to make mention of some of the impressive guitar work found in parts of Raider II (23:21 long) which meanders back and forth between dark and edgy to light and airy. Overall the album is fairly piano driven with a variety of ambient background tracks which certainly helps the songs be defined from one another.

Mastadon - The HunterMastodon
The Hunter

I thoroughly enjoyed Mastadon’s last album, “Crack The Skye”. I wondered a number of times if they were going to be able to ‘top’ the album with their next. I think my inner jury is sticking to Crack the Skye, but so far I’ve really enjoyed “The Hunter” as well. It is the second non-concept album from Mastodon and in some ways I do enjoy it more than the last.

One issue I had with Cracke the Skye is that I found myself easily lost in the album, but not a whimsical sort of way. I mean I would pretty much stop listening to it, even though the music was nothing short of rocking. I did not find The Hunter holding that same quality.

Overall, The Hunter came off as more playful than previous works. Between the music and the track titles (which I found were very humorous), it just feels like Mastodon had a lot of fun making this album. Drummer, Brann Dailor, sings on several songs now instead of just one, including Creature Lives where he is the only member performing vocals (score Dailor!). I like this aspect a lot because Dailor’s voice adds yet another unique voice to the already diverse Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds. And speaking of vocal duties, Scott Kelly of Neurosis has yet again contributed his voice, this time on the Spectrelight track.

Some of the stand out tracks for me this album are Curl the Burl, Dry Bone Valley, Creature Lives, and Bedazzked Fingernails. One small side note, I can’t listen to Stargasm from The Hunter without being reminded of The Czar from Crack the Skye (which is fine by me, The Czar kicks arse!.

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt TwoPain of Salvation
Road Salt Two

I remember back when a friend of mine threw some Pain of Salvation (I will not abbreviate out of respect) at me for the first time, specifically Remedy Lane and Entropia. It didn’t take me long to become a fan of their music. Unfortunately I don’t get into all of their albums and Road Salt Two (and it’s predecessor, Road Salt One) falls into that category. Being this is album #8 for them, I’d say there would have to be some hit and misses, right? That said, I don’t think it’s bad at all, I just didn’t get into it.

This has more to do with what they were trying to accomplish; something different from their previous works which I can’t fault a band for. In this album’s case, I can still appreciate that the songs all had a different feel to them. To the Shoreline had a western/desperado vibe about; Eleven made me feel like I was listening to Black Sabbath song; 1979 had a light bluesy air to it, etc. Regardless of my overall enjoyment, the display of diversity still garners my respect and admiration.

Matt Stevens - RelicMatt Stevens
Relic

I joined Twitter only recently (@OneFretataTime) and started out by following a number of bands that were apart of the progressive rock circuit. Not long after I joined, I got a follow from a gent in the UK named Matt Stevens who happened to just release his latest solo album dubbed “Relic” and I was blown away to say the least!

I started off by listening to some of his earlier solo albums which were mostly instrumental acoustic. The music used many a loops of his acoustic adding waves of melodic beauty at many times and cacophony of discordant solos at others (in a very good way). Then I had a listen to Relic which expanded his sound to include more instrumentation more often such as electric guitar, bass, and a full drum kit; this expansion improved on the various tones and soundscapes bringing Relic to a new level of instrumental awesomeness.

The best part? His music is on bandcamp using the ‘name your price’ method. Typically the way I support bands is by going to their shows and buying merch, but unfortunately we’re separated by an ocean. Next month I suspect he’ll get a little contribution from me to show my support🙂

All that said, you, reader, should go check Stevens’ bandcamp for a listen, maybe download the album, maybe donate a little or purchase some products (support good indie music!). Steven’s also plays in a group called The Fierce & the Dead but I’ve yet to check it out yet. They are getting compared to some other post-rock groups I listen to so I’m sure I’ll find some gems in there too.

American Political Activist Mario Savio

American Political Activist Mario Savio

I listen to a lot of music, but of all the music I listen to, there is one particular speech I have seen used rather frequently. And I heard it again last night for the 4th time in a Fear Factory song with my MP3 player on random (I have quite a bit of music other friends have given to me I stumble on using random). The speech? It’s from American political activist Mario Savio given at University of California, Berkeley in late 1964:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

I decided to make a running tally of songs with this speech in the order I have heard them (date is when the song was released via that band, not the year I heard it):

And I should have known all this information would already be in the Savio wiki page; here are two other songs I had yet to hear it in:

For what it’s worth, I also saw it in an episode of the new Battlestar Galactica before reading that wiki article, which I thought was a very clever and humorous way to use it. I suspect we’ll see more Savio’s speech in future songs.

-Cee

P.S. Take note of the gap in the speech’s use between 99′ and 07′; after that it was roughly popping up in music on a yearly basis. One quarter left before 2011 is out; someone ought to get to work on this🙂

First post!

My current plan for this blog is to create and update posts one week at a time to discuss what I am learning or working on for that week. If you read my About page, then you  know that I am not a seasoned musician by any stretch. Most of the information contained below is likely boring to any professional, but these are steps I’ve skimped on as ‘self-taught’ guitarist.

I use that term loosely as for the last 11 years or so I’ve basically just recognized certain patterns and developed an ear for certain things as I generally played whatever sounded right. The upside to this is that I know more than I think I do and some of things I will be working on should come a bit more intuitively. The huge downside is I’ve developed some sloppy habits that I’ve yet to become conscious of.

But enough of that, this is what I am working on this week:

  1. Learning Trains as written by Porcupine Tree
  2. Practicing A minor scale up and down the fret board
  3. Practice timing using chromatic scales

1. Trains by Porcupine Tree

When attempting to learn a song, there’s usually two things I do to establish a starting a point. First I look up tabs for the song on the Interwebs or, if I’m lucky, will already have the song in my cache of Guitar Pro 5 tabs. The second thing I’ll do is search out some live footage to see what the band is doing themselves. The second part can be particularly useful as many tabs seem prone to error. However in this case it threw me off a bit due to a small discrepancy.

Most tabs, including the Guitar Pro tab I had available, were playing the song with in standard tuning with a capo at the 5th fret (setting the root note at A). However all live versions of the song I could find, including the Arriving Somewhere DVD, Mr. Wilson used a capo at the 2nd fret (F#). After reading comments and listening to live versions compared to the studio version, I think I figured out that live versions intentionally had the capo dropped to the 2nd fret, possibly to allow for singing in a lower range for performance purposes.

With this knowledge in mind, I decided on sticking with the studio version focusing on the acoustic for now.  The song meanders between 2/4 and 4/4  around an 86 tempo, save the banjo breakdown which seems to be the only significant change in time signature. Just tapping out the the banjo part I was thinking it was a 3/4 and the tab I’m working off of says it’s 6/8 so I guess my intuition was right there. I don’t think timing is a strong suit for me so I hope working on things like this will help me wrap my head around it better.

[Update 09/26]
Learned about half the song, which means a little more I suppose since the verses and chorus use mostly the same chords. Really fun to play; I’m excited for the acoustic solo! But first I’m going to learn the entire rhythm section, make a quick n’ dirty recording, practice for a week, and then make a second so I can really compare.

2. A minor scale

I intentionally chose A minor for this week because of my practicing Trains and I tend to favor minor scales over major anyway (years of listening to rock and metal are permanently engrained in my soul I think). With this scale, I can just start practicing straight off the open E string due to the capo at 5th fret. This is convenient as I found throwing a capo on or off my guitars always slightly alters the tuning enough that I hear the need for tuning adjustments. I find that if I can keep the momentum going during scheduled practice time, I make much better use it.

3. Timing with chromatic scales

This is quite possibly the easiest exercise I have ever done; now if I only I had been doing it consistently from when I first learned it. The exercise consists purely of picking 4 consecutive frets on each string, switching between low E and high E as the starting point. After each run, I simply move up one fret and repeat the process until I make my way up the end of the fret board. At this point I reverse the exercise and go down the fret board.

I try to stay very conscious of the clarity of my notes as well my alternate picking while keeping on time with my metronome. I will occasionally double or quadruple my picking speed while keeping the same tempo on the metronome. Naturally doing this on my acoustic provides a bit more of a finger workout, but also makes doing the same exercise a piece-o-cake.

That about wraps this post up; I’ll come back later this week and post my progress; possibly update this page with some imagery and maybe some recorded bits of Trains using my Line 6 BackTrack. This is an amazing little recorder for the price; it gets pretty decent quality and provides instant playback of anything I record. Based on my use thus far, I recommend getting the version with the microphone as it has provided better recording quality vs the line-in. Not to mention I can bring it just about anywhere I plan to be playing music with friends and I can get an instant recording of that session. I’ll have to revisit using the 1/4″ line-in one day when I get around to scrounging up the cash for a DI box.

-Cee