I have really been into playing guitar lately. My 3-year-old son has become a Beatles freak and the non-stop rotation of Hard Days Night and Help! has rekindled my love of guitars. I have always been mainly a guitarist, but for the last couple years I have been out in the oort cloud playing with modular synthesizers, so it has been fun reapproaching guitar. Here are some pics of my current arsenal, most of which I have had for many years.
1966 Fender Mustang
Non-original orange color, replacement pick-ups. modded with additional Les Paul style switch, non-original knobs.
This one is currently in sort of a Glenn Branca inspired tuning using only 2 gauges of string, each set of 3 strings are tuned to the same note. I originally had the sets in an octave apart, but my love of the major 7th chord made me tune the higher set a half step down from the octave.
Ovation Breadwinner Limited
More info than you ever wanted about this guitar can be found in this post.
My dad got this bass as payment for helping a friend move many years ago. I wish I had left it the original sunburst, but it does sound better au naturel. I love this bass. It has a 60s Beatles bass sound.
Roland G-707 guitar
I put Buchla style knobs on this one. Apologies to Don. I have the GR-700 guitar synth brain as well. I love this set. The guitar plays really well on its own and the synth is really fun. The tracking is touch and go, but you can work with it, especially for ambient stuff. Though it requires a re-thinking of one’s guitar approach to have it be useful, in my experience.
A customized Japanese guitar with a flat white paint job with black grid and orange outline. Customized for use in Dolphinforce. Has nice Fender tuning pegs.
Bridgecraft Flying V
My son and I discovered this in our shrubs one morning. No joke, a V in the shrubs. It was super dirty, as well as missing the tailpiece, bridge and nut. I got a used bridge for $10, had a tailpiece and got the nut free. It plays way better than it should. I’m not really a V guy, but when you find one in your shrubs, you might as well roll with it.
Japanese violin shaped 6 string
This one is currently getting a make over, hence the lack of components. I had 2 of these at one point. The other had all original hardware. I traded it (and some cash) for a sitar which I got a lot of use out of and it significantly influenced my guitar playing.
Guitar Hero Controller Mod
Not a guitar of course. Also for my son. A write up of this thing can be seen here.
DIY modular ribbon controller
By no means a guitar, but the ergonomics are certainly inspired by guitars as well as the controller in this post.
If I were to add any to my collection it would be either an older Silverburst Gibson Les Paul or a Rickenbacker 360 12-string (the classic Harrison one).
In the early ’90s I attended a guitar show in Ohio with a friend. I brought along a bag of odds & ends worth about $200 with long-shot hopes of trading for something better. Eventually I came across an Ovation Breadwinner Limited. The guy running the stand saw me looking at it and asked in disbelief, “you actually like that thing?” I showed him what I had to trade. The guy says, “yeah, I’ll trade you for all this”. He even threw in a gig bag. My friend’s eyes about popped out of his head when I strolled up and showed him what I had.
The pickguard was always a bit of a mess as someone had swapped the lead pick-up with a larger one and then put the original back in. They had hacked up the guard to get the replacement in. Years later, while using it for a project called A.M. Gold, I cracked it even more by accidentally putting stress on the jack.
Recently I dusted it off and decided it was worthy of a make over. I found a guy on eBay that had Ovation new-old stock pick-guards for this model. I picked one up and re-wired it all from scratch with new components. I had never really cared for the active electronics in this guitar and it always seemed a lot quieter than my other guitars, so I gutted the active circuitry, wired the pick-ups as passive and it became a much better guitar in my opinion. After working on synthesizer circuits so much lately the guitar wiring seemed pretty trivial, which was nice. My favorite tone on this guitar is using both pick-ups but out of phase. I swapped out the knobs but still have the originals.
I’m quite happy with how it turned out. It is a really pleasant guitar to play.
My 2 year old is really into music as well as my instruments, so I decided to make one for him. I took an old Guitar Hero controller bound for the scrap heap and added some simple circuitry and a speaker.
I used a 555 timer circuit for the tone generator and used different resistors for each of the buttons so each one changes the pitch differently and they can be used in various combinations to get many different notes.
Today I made a couple modifications to my main modular synthesizer system. I recently sold a module I wasn’t really using so I had some space to fill.
I have the 4MS Rotating Clock Divider, which I really like, and I decided I wanted to add the breakout expansion which is a panel with six switches that gives you more control options. There is also new software for this unit that you can buy on a chip and swap out in the RCD unit. To buy the wired up unit and upgrade chip as a set it would have cost me $95 plus California tax which would put me over $100. However, I saw on the 4MS site that you can get a kit for $50. But then I saw they also offer just the faceplate for $15 and the upgrade chip for $8 and I would only have to supply the switches and wiring. Shipping is just a couple bucks. I have switches here that I got at a surplus store for 50 cents apiece, as well as ribbon cable and a $1 connector, so I ended up making my expansion unit for under $30 plus about 30 minutes of work.
Here’s the RCD with the new chip swapped in.
Here is the panel with the switches mounted and the ribbon cable and connector soldered to the switches.
Next I just had to remove the jumpers and connect the panel. I realized today why jumpers are named as they are. It is because when you remove them they jump out of your hand, onto the ground and run to the nearest shadow.
So far, so good – time to test it out.
Success! Time to get clocking.
The other modular mod today was to address a quirk on the Flame Tame Machine. The Tame Machine is a really elaborate voltage quantizer and beat looper. The quirk is that when the cv input goes above 5 volts the keynote value is affected and starts jumping all over the place. Likewise whenever the keynote input goes above 2 volts the patch value goes nuts. The work-around has been for people to attenuate their voltages before going into those jacks. I often send rows from Pressure Points modules and just try to keep the voltages low, but often accidentally cross into crazytown. I’d really rather not have to use up attenuators for these two inputs. I had thought that perhaps zener diodes of the appropriate value across those jacks would solve this issue but was not too keen on experimenting on a $400 module. Thankfully gimlay & jeannot on the MuffWiggler forum did the guinea pig work and posted their results. Thanks to them both! On to the mod…
I ended up leaving more of the leads on the diodes than I needed to in case I ever want to remove them in addition to the fact that it was easier to solder that way with my helping hands alligator clamp holding the diodes in place.
Another success! The Tame Machine has been tamed.
Two projects without a hitch? I’m going to quit while I’m ahead today and just do some patching tonight.
NAMM 2013 is here and despite an uncharacteristically rainy day here in Los Angeles, I headed down to the convention center.
Of course since this is my blog, this will not be a comprehensive summary of the NAMM convention, but rather just a view through my narrow lens of interest. In other words, I first hightailed it downstairs to Hall E where the dregs of the convention hock their wares. I hung out at the Analogue Haven booth most of the day but did make a couple disoriented loops through the whole convention. Come along, here’s what I saw…
The most surprising offering this year is the revival of the Buchla Music Easel or Electric Music Box as it is alternately known. I have lusted over this piece of ’70s gear for many years.
At $3995 it’s cheaper than a small Buchla 200e system (such as the Skylab which is about $15K). I’m not sure I can resist this. I sense an ebay purge coming up in my near future to fund a purchase of one of these.
Meanwhile, the Eurorack modular synthesizer world continues to explode. In an earlier post featuring my briefcase modular I mentioned my friend Stephen who helped me build my custom ribbon controller. He has been prototyping modules and has a couple modules on display at NAMM which will be available at Analogue Haven. His company is Noise Engineering and his first module, the Ataraxic Translatron is amazing. It is an oscillator that uses the same technology that made the Atari 2600 sounds (but is not slaved to the video clock!).
I’ll post more about this module soon. Here is Stephen showing as much enthusiasm as his programming allows.
Tiptop Audio had a bunch of new modules on display as well:
Digital Hits which uses CopperLan technology to communicate with the computer
Trigger Riot which looks like a trigger cousin of the Z8000 sequencer
and Circadian Rhythm which looks bonkers and awesome
Make Noise also had their new wares on display:
The RxMx (pronounced “Rix Mix”) is a strangely animated mixer design with a lot of stereo options. Tony is working with Grant Richter on this.
The MMG, which is like one channel of the QMMG but with more options.
And development continues on the waveguide oscillator known as “??????” or the “Mystery Module”
Also on display were flat black Rene sequencers and pressure points. Tony says this is how he originally wanted them to look but there was a mistake in the manufacture of the original runs, which were glossy. I think the flat black looks better.
4MS was showing some new stuff as well:
Here’s Dan from 4MS dialing in some alien signals
Pittsburgh Modular had their new housings on display:
Snazzy FX had some new goodies – I’m digging the newer faceplates:
And over at the Moog booth…Bernie Worrell!!
And the Anniversary Moog Voyager. I thought it was an odd choice to have my friend Stephen’s face printed on the gold faceplate, but hey, what do I know?
Analog water is warmer
Stylophone 2013! This is not your grandad’s stylo…this is pretty cool, actually. It comes with a stylus but you can use your fingers as well.
The union jack model:
And to wrap up, some odds & ends:
That insane bowed string keyboard that’s been making the rounds on the interwebs
I was digging this silverburst Hofner bass copy
A passionate conversation about shift registers (not kidding)
Hanging out with Tony of Make Noise and Tomio of Tiptop Audio
Rasta Tele, mon
Evil Knievel’s clarinet
And I can’t even tell you how many ukuleles I saw today. More than I thought existed in the universe. And only at NAMM would one witness this spectacle
Thank you Gur from Tiptop Audio for the pass! See you all next year!
ps – Special thanks to the woman dressed like Pocahontas who saved me from standing in the 2 hour long line outside and advised me to take my printout to the the Hilton basement to get my badge. They could have made that a little clearer with some sort of signage.
What better way to start off the new year than with a new track?
The details for the curious:
Light Cycle Joyride is an instrumental track using most of my arsenal of musical devices.
The seed for this track was one of my earliest explorations using my modular synthesizer. The spine of the track was recorded in stereo directly out of my modular into a Zoom H2 and was performed live (though the note sequences were pre-established, the starting, stopping, key-note and quantization scale changing and manipulation of these sequences as well as filter tweaks were done on the fly). There was one 16 step sequence and one 8 step sequence. The note-repetition parts were done by manually hanging on the first pressure point (the Doepfer A-151 changes the pressure point row note every 16 steps resulting in a note change. These parts can be heard in the beginning, middle and at the end of the sequenced part of the track).
This is the modular sequence before all the overdubs were added:
Sound sources in order of appearance are: Kyma software (with Capybara hardware), Eurorack modular Synthesizer*, Slingerland jazz drum kit, Moog Etherwave Theremin, ARP Axxe synthesizer, Roland G-707 guitar synthesizer with GR-700 brain (effects; Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi, ZVex Fuzz Factory, MXR Phase 100, Line 6 delay), Norma hollow body electric bass, Glockenspiel, Star Synare 3 drum synthesizer, Roland RS-202 String Synthesizer, Yamaha VSS-30 sampler, Roland JD-990 synthesizer, Akai S-900 sampler, iPhone 4S w/Moog Animoog synthesizer app, Nintendo DS lite w/Glitch DS software, Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano (effects; Multivox MX-201 tape delay).
*Modules used: Tiptop Audio (Z-DSP,) Make Noise (Brains, Pressure Points, Maths), Intellijel (Mutagen), Flame (Tame Machine), Malekko (Anti Oscillator, Borg 1), Doepfer (A-151), Flight of Harmony (Choices).
Recording devices: Zoom H2, Apple MacBook Pro w/ProTools.