Tag Archives: Amp

“Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” by Jon Maclennan

Today, there are endless ways to learn about the guitar.  From traditional teachers, to YouTube, to books, to good old fashioned trial and error, there are so many ways to go about your journey towards guitar mastery and musical nirvana.  But what if there was a new medium that combined the best of all these methods?

My good friend, fellow UCLA alumni, and passionate guitar player Jon Maclennan has just released an iBook titled, “Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line,” designed specifically for the iPad.  What is an iBook?  It’s a “multi-touch textbook,” an interactive electronic book that integrates audio, video, photos, graphics and more, bringing content to life in ways previously unimaginable.  It’s everything you’d get from a book, and then some.  Plus, it’s digital, so you can store thousands of iBooks in a single iPad, while saving the trees!

Like me, Jon is an avid fan of guitar great Carl Verheyen, and Carl’s approach to improvisation.  In short, this school of playing is based on “lines,” instead of scales and arpeggios.  So often guitarists become trapped by scale shapes and boxes that ultimately inhibit their melodic creativity.  With this new alternative approach, the player practices “lines,” or melodic phrases, that can be used in improvisation.  In the same way a player would use a scale shape or an arpeggio when improvising, they can use these “lines” to create far more interesting and creative phrases, and ultimately more personalized expression.

Jon’s book is divided into three sections – Major, Minor and Dominant expressions.  Each section is filled with various licks, corresponding to the given harmony, that range from Rock to Blues to Jazz and even Country.  With the interactive iBook medium, each lick has multiple audio samples, and the option for you to plug into your own iPad and play along!  There’s also a “general tips” section, where Jon will teach you  how to create your own melodic expression and cultivate your own personal harmonic vocabulary.  Very cool!

Ultimately, I find this approach to improvisation and general music making to be the most fun and effective.  Although it’s important to familiarize oneself with scales and arpeggios in order to understand music in a theoretical way, these tools should not become crutches in developing your melodic voice and improvisational style.  It’s much more fun to create exciting lines and phrases that express your personal style and sound like you.  Although at first it may be difficult to write your own licks, books like Jon’s are a great place to learn the craft and gather inspiration.  So check out Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” today on iTunes and take the first step on your journey towards developing your own personal melodic sound!

Check out this promo video on “Melodic Expression: The Art of the Line” for more info, and be sure to check out Jon Maclennan’s website for more about him and his music.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan

I recently visited the “live music capital of the world” –  Austin, Texas – a city drenched in American culture.  Although its roots date back to the mid 19th century, in the last 50 years Austin has become well-known as a hotbed for musical artists.  From country blues to Texas swing to “South by Southwest,” Austin is a city on the pulse of American music culture.

One of the greatest musical treasures and cultural icons to emerge out of Austin was Stevie Ray Vaughan.  From local guitar hero to international blues ambassador, Vaughan is now a legend.  Achieving great success with his group, Double Trouble, Vaughan pioneered the sound of modern blues guitar, evolving what Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix had previously made contributions to.  But more than just a blues artist, Vaughan crossed over into pop culture.  His debut album Texas Flood went double-platinum, and he was a featured musician on David Bowie’s infamous Let’s Dance.  SRV continued to make groundbreaking records and give inspirational performances until his early death in a tragic helicopter accident following a show with Eric Clapton.  At age 35, SRV made an early departure, leaving behind a legacy that is still shaping the music world today.

Aside from his amazingly innovative and identifiable playing style, SRV is known for his guitar tone.  Although he used other guitars, Vaughan is almost exclusively depicted using Fender Stratocasters, most often a 1962/63 model called “Number One” – his favorite.  He used “heavy” .12 gauge strings which, like many other blues greats, he tuned down a half step, thus allowing greater flexibility when bending strings.  Another crucial element to his distinctive tone was a 40-watt Fender Vibroverb amp, which he often blended with other amps, most notably a 150-watt Dumble.  SRV was also a huge proponent of the infamous Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which became a staple of his dirty sound.  Fascinated by the endless combinations of all elements of guitar tone, Vaughan created many iconic tones that enthusiasts everywhere are still trying to emulate!

So in a nutshell, Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most innovative guitarists and musicians of his era – a true American musical icon.  As you walk the streets of Austin, Texas today, you can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan everywhere – in every club, band, and musician contributing to this musical hub.  The echos of his legacy still ring loudly, and his playing continues to inspire generations.  Next time you’re in Austin, be sure to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial statue to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural icons, SRV.

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The Vox AC15 Custom 1×12

Although ideally most of us would be practicing through a 50 Watt Marshall stack everyday, few of us have living situations that permit such awesome noise levels.  Sure, you can get an attenuator, but still, size, price, and general inconvenience are issues.  That why it’s important to have a bedroom amp – a smaller, quieter amp suitable for the apartment building or close quarter living.  But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t rock!  That’s why I picked up the Vox AC15, a bedroom amp that doesn’t make me feel like I’m putting on the world’s smallest performance for the local spider population.

Truth is, the AC15 C1 is more of a hybrid bedroom amp.  Today, almost every venue you play at is going to mic your amp and run it through the PA.  You can have a Fender Blues Jr. and it’s gonna come through the PA as loud as a stack.  50/100 watt amps are essentially pointless, unless you’re doing a stadium tour – but they are still awesome.  Nonetheless, bringing a smaller amp to a gig makes transportation easier, and as long as the amp sounds as good as a larger counterpart, will perform equally well when mic-ed through the PA.

The Vox AC15 C1 is a great, little amp that gives you bang for your buck.  With just 15 Watts of tube power, this amp has one 12″ Celestion Greenback Speaker and offers the full array of classic Vox tones.  It has built-in analog Tremolo, spring Reverb, a “Tone Cut” knob and full EQ for the “Top Boost” channel, giving you a lot of tonal flexibility.  I use it mostly for “chimey” clean tones and  dirty blues sounds, but have found that it breaks up nicely when pushed, without being overly loud.  It’s just a great amp for getting awesome tones at quieter volumes.  That being said I have used it on multiple gigs where it was mic-ed, and it sounded fantastic – nobody even knew it was a little 15 watt box.  The major downsides are no Effects Loop, and although foot-switchable, it doesn’t come with a foot switch, but at around $520 it’s hard to beat the quality and versatility of this classic amp.  Plus, the aesthetic of Vox is iconic, and their amps looks great on stage, subconsciously forcing the audience to draw connections between you and little band called The Beatles – not bad!

For more on the Vox AC 15 C1, check out the Vox website.

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Lollar Charlie Christian Pick Up

In the world of aftermarket Pick Ups, Lollar is a breath of fresh air.  Started by expert guitar luthier, Jason Lollar, Lollar specializes in boutique PUs for guitar, bass, and steel guitar.  Unlike most aftermarket PU companies, which are geared toward high output, modern tones, Lollar makes classic, vintage-styled PUs – using modern technology to achieve classic tonality.  Their product range is probably the most unusual and diverse of any PU company, making Stratocaster, Telecaster, Humbucker, P-90,  Jazzmaster, Charlie Christian, and “Miscellaneous” PUs.  Within these categories are many classics, like the Stratocaster Vintage Blackface, Dog Ear P-90, ’52 Tele Neck PU, and special PUs inspired by Peter Green, Johnny Smith, and Charlie Christian.  Jason Lollar also makes some unique, one of a kind PUs, like the Chicago Steel, designed for slide playing, Single-coil within a Humbucker, and “the Broiler,” which has a bell-like tone a la John Lennon.  Ultimately, Lollar is constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional PUs, creating exciting and new inventions to compliment any playing style and achieve any tone.

For those of you who don’t know Charlie Christian, he is one of the original guitar legends.  Christian was a key developer of Bebop, the language of improvisation, guitar technique, and was one of the very first people ever to take an amplified guitar solo!  He was most well-known as a member of Benny Goodman’s Sextet, one of the first integrated bands, but has become legendary for his influence at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem – the birthplace of Bebop.  Here, in after hours jam sessions, Christian would exchange choruses with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and other Bebop greats, as they developed this new style of Jazz.  Christian’s improvisational style is his greatest legacy.  Often said to be “horn-like,” Christian was one of the first guitarists to play single-note solos instead of chords, emulating the solos of a horn.  Through his single note improvisational style, Christian invented many phrases, licks, and ideas that would become building blocks for the language of Bebop.  His influence can be most strongly heard in Wes Montgomery, who learned to play by transcribing Christian’s solos.  Adding to his legend, Charlie Christian died at age 25 from tuberculosis, leaving an incredible legacy behind.

The style of the early pick ups used in the first electric guitars have become known as Charlie Christian PUs.  Preceding Humbucking technology, these PUs were single coils, but had a different sound than the modern-day single coils you would find in a Strat.  They had a depth and richness more akin to a P-90, and a unique fullness that set them apart from other PUs.  Today, Lollar makes Charlie Christian PUs designed to be housed in a traditional arch-top guitar, but their most popular CC model is designed for neck position in a Telecaster.  This is the PU I have put in my Telecaster, and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” associated with the Telecaster, you gain a new dimension of tone that is sweeter and richer than the conventional Telecaster sound.  I originally used this PU to adapt my Tele for a Jazz setting, but as I have experimented more, I find it’s a perfect sound for Blues, Rock, Pop, and Folk-Rock.  It makes my Tele sound more like a Strat, but even more harmonically rich.  The only downside was the shape of this PU required my local shop to cut my pick guard, an operation they weren’t too familiar with.  However, they learned, and did just fine, leaving me with a unique and great sounding modification to my Telecaster.

So if you’re interested in after market pick ups that will help your guitar, and your tone, stand out from the crowd, check out Lollar Pick Ups!

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The Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store, Los Angeles

Alas, another new section for ROW – “Shops.”  Boutique guitar shops are some of the most unique and interesting stores.  Often owned by passionate enthusiasts, each shop has its own niche specialty, and the few authentic guitar shops that remain are quickly becoming historic icons in their given communities.  From vintage rarities to custom builds to quirky items, boutique shops offer refuge for the true guitar aficionado, fed up with the mass cookie-cutter production of chains like Guitar Center and Sam Ash.  So, in the “shops” section, I’ll highlight some of my favorite authentic guitar shops from around the nation.

First up is one of the finest modern guitar shops, geared towards helping the contemporary professional – Mesa Boogie Hollywood.  As many of you know, Mesa Boogie is an American amplification company.  Started by repair man Randall Smith, the company has its roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, with original clientele including Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and Keith Richards.  What initially started as “hot-rodding” Fender amps turned into the development of an entirely new amp company, MESA/Boogie.  Today, Mesa Boogie is one the premier amp manufacturers, and has a wide range of products, from classic rock tubes to modern heavy metal rectifiers.  One thing that’s unique about Mesa Boogie is their authenticity.  Although equally popular as some of the name brand amp companies, (Marshall, Vox, Fender) Mesa Boogie operates like a boutique manufacturer, not supplying mass-produced gear to Guitar Center or Sam Ash.  That is one of the very reasons for the Mesa Boogie Shop Hollywood.  Directly across the street from a booming Guitar Center, this store is an understated showroom for a refined company, stocking only the finest gear for the true aficionado.

Primarily, the Mesa Boogie Store is an outlet for Mesa Boogie amps.  They keep a great selection of new and used MB amps that exemplify their entire range of product.  Mesa Boogie is a custom shop – they take custom orders, and build custom amps one at a time – so this store is sort of showroom to give you all of the potential options in person.  Aside from testing out all of the amps, they are also swatches from all of the custom finish options and great examples of all the possible customizations you could order.

But aside from being a custom shop, the Mesa Boogie Hollywood store is just one of the best guitar shops in the world.  Their pedal selection is immense. This photo features one of about 7 cases filled with boutique pedals from Xotic to Suhr to Maxon and beyond.  As for guitars, they have a huge selection of amazing axes from some of the finest boutique builders.  Nash, Suhr, Collings, Mike Lull, and Sadowksy are just a few of the great brands they always have in stock.  They also have a massive selection of accessories, featuring tubes, pick ups, picks, and a custom-length cable station.  And did I mention they also have dozens of Mesa Boogie Amps?  Basically, this store is a dream come true for any modern guitar player looking for cutting edge gear.  You can walk in, grab a great axe, a fine pedal, and plug into a world-class amp – it’s a must visit.

So if you’re in Los Angeles, make sure to check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store @ 7426 W Sunset Blvd.  Also, for inventory and a list of suppliers, check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood website – you’ll be impressed!

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