Sound Quality rss

Up, up and away…well I just lifted off to attend NAMM 07. This is my 6 or 7 NAMM show. And as I rise above the clouds can I only think….I hope this bird doesn’t fall from the sky in a fiery inferno similar to that of a Phoenix rising from the ashes. No seriously, I’m wondering what will be new and exciting this year? What can we expect from the big guys and smaller boutique builders? Where is technology leading us and how will that shape our music, gear and sound? I really don’t have a clue. We’ll just have to wait and see when I return.

However, I have a confession to make. I’ve become complacent with my gear and tone. Is that ok? I mean I know there are many of us suffer from GAS and the pursuit of that ultimate gain stage. But what happens when it’s over? I’ve heard of post partum depression, but post..gear tone depression? Does this even exist? Could I have discovered a new type of trauma?

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about beating depression is getting busy, working, being active. If this is the formula then, it’s not working. I’ve very fortunate that I get to play in a new 30 million dollar 3,000 seat arena almost every Sunday. Any my glorious Fuchs and BB tone is being routed through a $360k digital mixing board. Yes a $360k mixing board!!

I should feel very fortunate and happy about what’s available, somewhat to my disposal. Don’t get me wrong I’ve very happy, but I feel like I’ve climb the mountain, so to speak, and I’m looking for a higher peak. But the question is, what am I looking for? Indiana Jones had the Holy Grail, Yu-Gi-Oh had the Egyptian God Cards (I hope that gets a laugh), what do I have?

But, I feel like I’m abandoning my fellow Gear Heads. Actually I feel like the uncool kid in High School. While all the “cool” kids are driving the latest greatest car that mommy and daddy bought or wearing the new fashion, there’s old Benny Leck driving the clunker and wearing hand me downs. But don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m not calling my rig outdate. But I see a new amp, pedal or guitar and its like “Yeah that’s cool, but just not interested”.

Am I sick? Have I lost the will to get tone? How do I get the passion back? Can I be saved? Am I missing out? Would love to hear your suggestions on how I can get out of this funk.

Well now that I think about it, at this year’s NAMM show, we’ll be releasing two new pedals, the 2-channel AC Booster Plus and BB Booster Plus. Well….wait…..wait a minute….yeah it’s coming back I can feel it. New pedals, new tone! Perhaps that’s the remedy. Santa will be coming to town soon. (Right Hiro?) He’ll be bringing me a new Xotic guitar (Actually I just found out that my new guitar will not be finished till the end of January. Slipping back into a slight funk). This one is similar to my first Xotic. See the picture of Paul of Yesterday’s music and me. I basically did the same guitar but in a brown color scheme. Some differences are, a C-shape boat neck, 6000 stainless steel fretwire and a bone nut. There are different pickups this time to. There are 3 DiMarzio Cruisers, courtesy of the great Steve Blutcher and a new pickup by Budz of Budz Guitars. Budz got some pretty interesting stuff. His new tele saddles look really cool, worth checking out. Once I have this guitar, I’ll be reviewing Budz pickup. He’s website is www.budzguitars.com. Check him out and tell him I sent you. Check out Dimarzio’s website simply, www.dimarzio.com. Steve is a great technician and extremely knowledgeable. He definitely can lead you to want pickup will work for your sound.

This year has been very exciting with endorsements. We’ve added Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons, Jonathon Trebling (Rascal Flatts) and many others. By the way, special thanks to Andy for recommending the Cruiser pickup for my new guitar. Can’t wait to try it out. And if any of you see Eric, offer to buy him a $3 cup of green tea. He loves the stuff. Man, I hope he remember this inside joke.

Speaking of Andy, upon confirming his endorsement he sent me his latest CD Resolution. The last time I hear Andy’s playing was back in the 80’s with his band Danger Danger. Hope I’m not stirring up any bad memories. Honestly, I don’t recall a single song they did, but no matter. His new CD is filled with Tone! Right from the start it hits you square in the eardrums. And we’re not talking just wailing guitar. Man the guy can play anything. What do you want? Rock, Jazz, Country, Swing, ok maybe not swing.

Andy’s sound is shape largely by a couple of Mesa Lonestar’s. I don’t have a look of experience with Mesa’s, other than maybe a Mark II here or there. But after checking out the videos on Xotic’s site and Youtube.com, they are on my list of “To-Do’s” for NAMM.

Around the same time Andy and I hooked up, he was so impressed with the BB pedal he recommended us to Mesa’s Sales Manager Steve Mueller. Steve immediately purchased a BB. Because he liked it so much, he wanted to try our other pedals and ended up buying an AC. I think my next amp purchase will be a Lonestar head. Just seems like the right fit. Now in this business, its common knowledge that we manufactures scratch each other’s back, right Steve? I see Lonestar in my future. Hey remember Lonestar in Space Balls, great movie.

After wearing Resolution out on my iPod, I downloaded Andy’s previous release “That was then, this is now.” Again, we’re seeing the full spectrum. However, I think I like this better. There are many more of those goose bump moments we’ve experience during the right climax of the song. Each CD is thick with tone! If you don’t have it, please put this on your list of things to download this year. On the Playloud’s It Goes To 11 scale, Resolution is a solid 10 with that was then a definite 11.

By the way, some of you may not know that Andy is the musical director for Olivia Newton-John. I’m going to request that on his next CD, he covers Olivia’s “Let’s Get Physical”. Can’t wait! Platinum baby!! Andy…don’t forget I’m still waiting on that autograph glossy of Olivia. You see when I was, man I can’t remember, the “Physical” album came out and I had a huge crush on her. There was a book at the local library that listed all these actor’s and actress’s mailing info. I wrote her a little mention how much I enjoyed her music, yeah right her body, was a big fan and all that, and looked forward to getting that 8×10 glossy autographed photo. Well here we are 20+ years later and I’m still waiting. I guess it got lost in the mail.

One thing I hate about the New Year is every magazine and TV show looking back at who died that year. I’m the glass is half empty kind of guy, so it’s not so much reflecting back on their lives and what they have accomplished, its more like “man all these people I know are dying all around me, pretty soon there memories will be lost and maybe I’ll be next soon.” Don’t like that feeling of knowing someone only by the TV show they did and now its over. Feels like a friend is lost, hope to see them soon.

For our Japanese readers, I’d like to hear from you. Japanese culture has always been a fascination with me. I remember several Japanese anime type cartons growing up. Wish I could remember them. But, I’d like to hear from you. Partially on, do you have open jams in Japan? In American, these jams usually are held at a local bar. There is a sign up sheet for those who want to play. Usually you have about 900 guitarists to one or two drummers and/or bass players. But these are simple I, IV, V chord jams with a three song limit. I’ve had a lot of fun at these events and highly recommend them. I’ve actually followed a couple of these guys “open jam careers”. It’s very interesting to see the growth of these guitarists. Some are young teens and other are in the middle age crisis mode. I’ve notice great strides they made in just a few years, pretty neat to watch their progression.

What’s different about being in Japan? Is this type of thing common? As I understand, there is a park, perhaps in Tokyo, where on a Sunday the park is open to having bands play. But not in the sense of playing a concert, almost like a music showcase. I think either they were advertising their music/style for getting gigs or record deals. Does this still go on? Please email me any link of pictures or music files and any information you may have.

I almost forgot, I recently changed string vendors. There was an amp show in Charlotte, NC where I met Bill from Firewire Strings. This is a company out of Canada that utilizes military technology to help make almost anything better, strings, tubes, cables, etc. I wasn’t able to pry out of him the specific technology. I guess next time I’ll try the Jack Bower method.

Bill sent me a set of 11’s. I strung up my Xotic on a Tuesday night to prepare for the open jam on Wednesday. After tuning up, I put the guitar away until I went to the gig. At the open jam, I was number 397 on the list of 900 guitarist, I pulled the guitar out and it was in tune! Immediately I noticed that these strings had a different feel from others that I had used. They felt broken in and maybe a little more compression. After playing each of our three songs, checked tuning and we were there. Still at 440!

The Firewire sets list for about $11, probably street around $10. With the added cost, you’re going to save in the long run with not having to change as often. The special technology Bill mentioned, helps these strings last longer than regular. Please check them out at www.firewirestrings.com. They currently have a few specials for you to take advantage of.

Only a few more hours until we land in LA. For those of you not attending, I’ll try to bring you a full report soon. I’ll be updating you on my “condition”. Hopefully it will change. Your e-cards and motivational thoughts can be sent to, playloud@triad.rr.com. No suggestions from Old Dogs Ears, you know who you are.

Time: 6:05am
Location: Los Angles Airport

I know its 6:05 in the morning and I’m continuing to write this column, but we just finished the NAMM show and there’s a lot to tell. By the way, what’s on the minds of musicians at 6:05 in the morning? Going to sleep.

I’m exhausted. Four days of living in what sometimes sounds like a trash compactor. The noise levels at NAMM can not only damage your ears, but also scramble your brain. However, what an exciting show. We met some very exciting players.

In a past column, I review a promo CD by a cat named Matt O’Ree. Since last year, Matt has won Guitar Center’s King of the Blues contest and gaining popularity. NAMM also asked he and the band to play at the Hilton Friday night or should I say Saturday morning. Matt had the great spot of 12:30am. Actually it was 12:45 once things got started. This would have been the first time I’ve seen Matt’s band live, other than him just jamming at the Fuchs’ booth. Man, his tone is THICK! Chunky Soup thick! This also marks the first time I’ve heard the Fuchs’ Train 45 at a volume level beyond 1. That thing is insanely loud. Matt’s configuration was very simple, Les Paul into tube screamer to wah and straight into the Fuchs. Simple, big and thick!

The first song they launched into was ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses. Billy Gibbons was kind enough to sing lead, however he looked exactly like Matt. Go figure.

There were two of the most exciting players at the Xotic booth this year. Jean Baudin and Paige Harwell. You may know Jean from the youtube video of him playing the theme to the Mario Brother’s video game on his 11-string bass. Kiyoshi and I were waiting in line to get lunch. Jean and his girlfriend ask to cut in front. I agreed only if he would come to our booth and check out some pedals. He agreed and actually showed up. Creditability was established from the get go.

It’s not often you get so see a master of an 11-string bass do some amazing things. And its not often you’ll have a bass amp on hand that will actually hand a low F#. Next time we’ll be better prepared. That was a little of a let down, but just to watch was a treat. Please check out his site at www.jeanbaudin.com.

Paige’s career has been pretty extensive. Some of you may recall a country band, Reckless. They got to be pretty popular in the mid-90’s. Some pretty cool video’s at Paige’s site, www.paigeharwell.com. Paige’s style is pretty unique. He mixes country twang with metal shred. Check out on the video link the track, Palmerized. Not sure if I’ve experienced this type of mix and match technique before. He certainly has his chops together.

Some of you may have heard about some of these players. The interesting thing is how you learned about them. With Jean, it was the Mario Brother’s theme. With Ben Lacy, he just walked into a vendor’s booth and blew everyone’s mind. I believe Paige can be one of those guys as he started to play something very familiar, with his own technique, that if the environment at the booth had just been right we could have possibly made some history. For most players, they picked up the guitar after hearing Eruption. I’m certain Paige perhaps had this influence, but I haven’t confirmed. I’ve never heard Eruption “chicken-picked”! One of the parts I could hear distinctly, that finger tapping section near the end of the solo, Paige chicken-picked this part! How cool is that. I think he should highlight this on his site as I’m sure it will get rave reviews.

It’s now boarding time and time to get back to normal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Ben Leck
ben@xoticeffects.com

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