Category: RANDOM THOUGHTS

Don’t Change

New Year’s Resolution? Pffft! why would you change what got you here? (unless you don’t like where you are. In which case, NOW is the time to change. Why even wait for the new year?)
You’re alive because of the decisions you made throughout the year. So good job! Keep up whatever you’re doing. And don’t do what almost didn’t get you here.
The only other thing you need to do is be kinder.

So be kind, and buy me a beer. Then I’ll be kind, and buy you a beer. See how this works? 😛

Cork Sniffing , Or Silly Things We Gear Nerds Do

Though i DO repair vintage tube equipment and used guitars partly for a living (and mostly for fun!),  it’s no hidden fact that I am, unashamedly, a gear hound. I troll forums and sites and craigslist and ebay and other auction and gear store sites, for gear information, gear itself, and gear knowledge. In combing through all these sites, there’s always some things i’ve noticed with the same like-minded people as i am:  they/we are all NERDS!

There are a lot of information on the internet and among offline players and industry people, but a lot of them are fluff – for every question,  there are more questions, side-car questions, questions to questions, rebuttal of a question,  wrong answers, vague answers, answers that do not answer the question, and then there are the valid and truly informative answers. Like some google searches, you may have to read thru pages and pages of replies before you truly get a golden nugget, the real answer to your question.

  • There are those that recommend a special type of gear because “they have one and they love it!”. “it’s the bee’s knees!”. “Nothing else like it!”. “plays like a dream!”.
  • There are those that immediately tell you what NOT to get, but never telling you why. Or they’ll tell you why, but never tell you what to get.
  • There are those that prefer “boutique” gear, no matter how expensive they are. Because they’re very expensive, they must be the best! Even though there’s a similar gear costing half as much and using the same parts. “it’s just not the same!”.
  • There are those that prefer “brand name only”,  because that’s what pros use. To this i slightly subscribe to – there IS a certain workmanship involved with higher-end gear, where labor is mostly intensive and usually what drives up the price. Though I HAVE come across brand name gear that are simply crap, and ‘cheap’ gear that simply “plays like a dream!”. 😀
  • There are those that insist they are THE expert on [insert field here], and back it up with NO substantial proof other than ‘it is what it is’, and reply with nerd anger and indignation when questioned.
  • There are those that make sweeping statements, such as preferring hand-wired amps because “they sound better”, and that the green PCB “muddies the tone”, that the reissues are far less superior than the gear teh reissue was based on, etc.
  • There are those that run with whatever is the ‘hot’ thing at the moment (low-wattage amps, boutique DIY pedals, etc.), and talk about nothing else for weeks.
  • There are those that will ask the same question that’s been asked hundreds of times already (Use the search, Luke!)
  • There are the brave/foolish newbies- those that ask about highly technical things they absolutely should NOT even handle, like trying to Bias a tube amp because it was written somewhere that “it will sound better and can be done easily”. Yes – BY A TRAINED TECHNICIAN, SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN DOING IT FOR A LONG TIME. Tube amps require high voltages, and the risk of electrocution is great for the uninitiated. Maybe it’s ok, it would be sad if they die or injure themselves, but we can nominate them for the Darwin Awards.
  • there are those that boast of getting a ‘rare’ sought after gear for pennies on the dollar. Though it’s great, one can’t help wonder if it’s simply just trying to bait for compliment or make people jealous or envious. “i got something you don’t!”.
  • then there are the Ferengis. those that find a great deal online and decides to snap up ALL of it. Why get just 1 when you can get ALL of them, so you can sell them for twice as much later? Profits to be had! By the way, for those who are not Star Trek savvy, Ferengis are a race of beings whose primary goal in life and culture is profit. At all times. And they’re hideous and ugly.  On purpose.
  • then there are the Trolls. those that do nothing but contribute nonsense and nonsequiturs. replying to questions with answers that make no sense or add little or nothing to the topic on hand.
  • THen there are the flame-baiters. those that start incendiary posts just so they can elicit a response, ANY response. Kinda like what news reporters do these days.
  • As there are flame-baiters, there are flame throwers and first responders. those that either dont know theyre being baited, or are obligated to correct anything and everything that comes in. Ignore is NOT in  their vocabulary.

Bottom line is it’s not the gear, its HOW you use it, and how you make it useful in making music. The same can be said about ANY gear. If you’re making a successful living with it, and if it makes you happy in the end (there IS a happy ending! 😉  IT DOESN’T MATTER!.

Do you see yourself in there?

OF TUBES AND TONE

Hello, internet ghost world! how have you been?

not much going on here, except a full-steam-ahead decision to get serious/ get more focused with guitar tube amps. Repairs, mods, building, playing, selling, buying – you name it, i want to do it! I have collected a bunch of vintage amps from the unlikeliest places, and im currently studying/refurbishing them to get educated with an arcane and VERY OLD technology.

why? I LOVE music, most especially rock n’ roll. Tube amps powered the birth of rock in the 50s and its global musical domination from the 60’s on. Silicon chips and transistor/solid-state came in around the late 60’s, ushering in a different era of technology. Smaller, faster, sleeker, cooler/less heat, easier to power amps, less bulk in a more powerful small package.

But solid-state has not quite gotten that “mojo tone” that tube amps produce – after 4 decades of solid-state guitar amplification, recording and performing artists have come to find out where they can get “that tone”, and have always come back to tube amps each time. Or they start out with transistor amps, and eventually move on to tubes, as that realization hits home of what a true guitar tone should sound like.

At any rate, tubes (or valves) have now become near-obsolete technology, existing primarily only in hi-fi equipments (for music playback), and musical instrument amplification. It simply is NOT taught in schools anymore. Possibly the underlying concepts, and the most basic electrical principles and fundamentals are still taught, but that is the extent of it. Most classes branch out immediately to solid-state technology, and to what is used and what is prevalent in the world today.

But books still abound that teach tube technology. And unlike transistors that continue to evolve and continue to change, tube technology has contained itself in a bubble, and not much can be changed or added to it at this point. Tube technology has peaked close to 50 years ago, and not much if any has changed since. Though not perfected, its application to music has. The technology learning is in most cases already finite and set, and that allows ANYONE to come in and learn from start, knowing there IS a finish. No new developments, no new concepts – all the groundwork has already been laid down half a century ago. All we need to do now is to follow the path.

Granted, one has to at least know the basic electrical concepts to move into the realm of valves/tubes, and more importantly also know what true tone SHOULD sound like. I am admittedly still learning, and i WILL BE learning the rest of my life, but what i have learned so far has been my stepping stone towards tube technology. This has facilitated an easier shift (after coming from the hi-tech world of fast computers), thought it still poses a mountain of knowledge i need to climb. Fortunately it is something i gladly will undertake. It also helps to like (and even better, LOVE) what you’re doing. Everything becomes simpler at that point.

The goal: to understand how tube amps work, so repairs and even building one can be done. Later on will be a line of custom-made tube amp heads and combos, crafted in the traditional way – point-to-point wiring. Ultimately to produce that guitar tone that oozes mojo. 🙂

October 16, 2009, 08:51:33 PM
right now in my limited library, i have:

radiotron designer’s handbook by F Langford-smith (4th ed.)
valve amplifiers by morgan jones (3rd ed)
audio cyclopedia by howard tremaine (2nd ed)
inside tube amps by dan torres
new book of standard wiring by les schatten
The Ultimate Tone, volumes 1 and 3 by Kevin O’Connor
Tube amp workbook by Dave Funk
The Vox Story by petersen and denney
the history of marshall by michael doyle
the tube amp book by aspen pittman (this was signed!)
rca receiving tube manual
kepco power supply handbook

the gerald weber book/DVD ive only heard about. Mixed reviews – some say it recommends changes straight to the point, but doesnt tell you why (like adding or changing a resistor value, but with no explanation behind it). but there are those that say that, hey, they work and sound good!

December 14, 2010, 01:22:29 AM
Here’s another case why older technology is superior to what we have today: the method of using point-to-point wiring.

Having worked on or inspected PCB-based wiring on the Blues Custom 30, the Epiphone Valve Jr, the Peavey Windsor head, and the Fender Prosonic, contrasting them with what ive seen and handled on a 1974 Bassman 10, 1970 Plush Congress IV and P1000-s, and the ’65-67 Kalamazoo amps, ive come to appreciate the wonderful “easiness” of reading the mess of wires as opposed to the simple straghtforward pathways of the PCB.

Changing components is easy too. simply clip, replace, and solder. On a PCB its not as simple, even if its staring you in the face. The copper path the tiny component is soldered on to is so thin you run the risk of destroying it if youre not very VERY careful. Thats why its sits under a film of silicon or epoxy so it wont get damaged by errant sharp things in any case it scrapes across the board.

theres also the case of double-board PCBs.  I found i have to get to TWO boards in the Blues Custom 30, before i can even get to the pots. You have to unscrew several places, then slowly and carefully lift the first board out of the way, secure it, and then get to another set of screws to get at the second PCB.

Another reason: built in obsolescence in PCBs. Tubes run hot, and so do most other components in it. PCBs are made thinner and thinner these days for cost cutting reasons, and it makes for a nice warping board due to heat, and of course a toasty little wafer to start smoking and smoldering, and before you know it, catastrophic failure throughout the amp. Old amps are STILL running today, after 40 to 50 years, with only a few components changed. Amps then were not that cheap, but they were justifiably made to last. They were made when materials were fresh, standards were higher, and  quality workmanship counted. This was before the era of the greedy shareholders and corporate profit-mongers who insist on unrealistic yearly improvement on profit, either by more sales on an already saturated market, or the diminishing of its cost and budget, or worse, both.

Its not only that production have been shipped overseas for lower costs of labor. Sure, its made amps and other gear easier to produce at cheaper prices, making it easier for the masses to become their own garage, basement, or bedroom superstars. Maybe the quality control HAS improved over the past several years. But it all comes down to the materials used. Why do those amps still fail easily? Why dont they sound the same if theyre still the same circuit?

Its the materials used that make up those components. Alternative materials are used instead of what was used 50 years ago. It could be of environmental and health concerns, it could be that materials used then are more expensive to produce now, so alternate materials and methods are used instead. You have thinner grade of metal made. In china whee most of manufacturing and assembly are done, this is regulated since anything thicker or as thick as how they made speakers or amplifier chassis 50 years ago is banned – the same materials can be used to make armaments which the government frowns upon. This also makes for a more profitable angle – thinner metal means less metal used, means you can stretch the quantity of components even further, enabling you to make more items. But how thin can you get it before affects tone? Unfortunately this has already been answered in today’s cheaply-made gear.

Realistically though, that golden age is gone, and this IS today. We will continue to have new cheaply made, easy to break, easy to replace gear which sound “adequate”, and “just ok”, if we lower our expectations just a bit each time. Not to say theyre all bad, some do provide amazing sounds (the windsor and Prosonic are a keeper).

But i suggest to go ahead and purchase one anyway, use it once to fully understand its complete and utter rubbishness and underwhelming under-achieving “make-do” attitude under the hood- its cheap, go buy it, it wont hurt at all (until it starts breaking down). If you prefer to “settle” and underachieve, and just “make do”, there is nothing wrong with it. Its a choice, an alternative.

But consider the OTHER alternative – the one you get when you dont compromise, and not only ask, but DEMAND excellence and better, higher quality. Go find a dusty, rusty, musty-smelling little 50-yr old no-master volume amp, so you can then  appreciate what treasures they are to this day. Those time machines that stood, and are STILL standing, the test of time and are the hallmarks, benchmarks, and cornerstones of tone.

The way i see it, older/vintage gear have been waiting over 50 years (a half century! and counting) for me – FOR YOU! – to play them. theyre waiting…

The Case For Old Gear

These days much has been said about purchasing NEW. It’s a no-brainer. Fresh, unused, unmolested. Warranty-laden and the guarantee that if you dont like it, you have the option to return it. There is no question about satisfaction – you WILL be satisfied. Sometimes there is simply no alternative BUT to buy new. That being said, we focus on why it makes sense to buy used, old, vintage, and/or second-hand.

First and foremost, price. In most cases older or second-hand items cost less than the same item in new condition. The fact that someone else had it at one time means its not new anymore, and therefore cant be sold at the same price as a new item. This is when the item is still in wide abundance. Most of the time, its cheaper, but there are times when it can command a higher price, as in the case of discontinued items that are now hard-to-find, or have become unavailable. It doesnt matter if the item is not “vintage”, it may just simply be a matter of a few years, but if demand is high for an item thats not readily available, cost goes up.

Second, its what people now call “green”. Though the concept isnt new and has been around for decades, recycling or reusing of older items always makes sense. Its one less item that goes in a landfill, it’s not taking up space and collecting dust anymore, and youre giving the item a sense of purpose – it still has its use. Its one less tree that’s cut down.

Third, durability. Think about it, that amplifier or guitar that sounds great is about 40 years old,  and is STILL WORKING. We all know about today’s products, and how they break down easily. Disposable has become the norm. People often say “they dont make ’em like they used to”. And they dont. Regardless of where theyre made from, things arent durably made anymore. “Made in USA” doesnt mean much if the workmanship is shoddy, and means even less if priced out of reach. Most people do not have a lot of money, and the most logical thing to do is to stretch the dollar further by buying cheap, which usually means imports. “Made in china” doesnt always mean its bad quality – its just the stigma of the press generating the negative connotation attached to imports. Though it has to be said that some manufacturing processses overseas still leave a LOT to be desired. Cheap underpaid labor, poor working environment, copyright infringements still happens, though not as much or as blatant as before, thanks in part to the globalization and freedom of the press. This has brought about improvements the recent decade with not only the manufacturing process and the prducts that are turned out, but treatment of the workers in those far-flung factories.
Manufacturers have clued in to two things: less material brings manufacturing costs down, which in turn brings up profit. “How thin can we make this before it breaks?”. Also, if its made cheap enough, people wont mind buying a new one. This keeps the cycle of disposability full circle. This is indicative of pretty much ALL medium to large-scale manufacturers.

Lastly, there’s the “mystique” of owning an old piece of gear. Much like the quarter in the movie “No Country For Old Men”, that guitar and/or amp has traveled forty some odd years to get to where its at now. There is so much history tied to that old gear. Someone has owned it and played with it, wrote songs on it, saved someone’s rent by getting sold. It’s probably traveled across the world, and got stolen and pawned, and a kid bought it to start learning music, to write a song about a girl he loves, or broke his heart. That ding or scratch or rip is a testament that it’s been used well, and enjoyed well. There is a bit of good karma and spirit infused in it (as well as other intoxicants of legal and nefarious nature). Who knows what wild and crazy stories it can tell if it spoke. By owning one, you can add on to that. All those years and stories and songs add up to the soul of that instrument. It may be inanimate, but it comes alive when its played. With a new gear, you have to start fresh – theres no soul to it until youve crafted your own stories and songs with it.

Another Station Bites the Dust

So i learned today that G-Rock 106.5 has changed formats.

To Top 40 tunes. This happening just over the weekend. They used to play not just alternative rock music, but a GOOD selection of it. Not just your run of the mill well known hits, but digging deep in the archives of forgotten faves. Imagine playing old school Tool, or vintage NIN. Stuff you dont normally hear alternative stations play. And this during the drive home in the afternoons, not in some ungodly hour, or a one-time nugget thru a request.

A sad SAD day.

Several years ago the same thing happened to 100.3, from which Y-Rock has sprouted. Now a part of 88.5 WXPN, but still not getting a FULL airtime on the dial, still relegated to online streams, HD substation, and the occasional couple of hours on weeknights.

What is baffling in all this is the fact that rock events and rock shows CONTINUE to thrive well in the south Jersey (including the shore area), and Philly area. Shows continue to have record attendances, and some sell out well. Apparently LIVE music does not equate a healthy radio lifespan.

Some people promote the notion that radio is a dead medium, when in fact nothing can be further from the truth. Its just the dearth of quality programming pervades the airwaves. Special mention go to 88.5 XPN and WRTI 90.1, Whom support comes NOT from advertisers and commercials, but from listeners who GIVE MONEY to keep these member-supported stations running, running healthy, and playing non-commercial radio music. They are dictated not by the whims of what the payola people have in their de-evolved sense of selfworth, but by the mandate of finding good music, interesting music not commonly heard thru normal channels or PR machines generated by the large corporations of the music industry. They have been a haven for the fledgling artists, the veterans who have been playing ball in the outfield, and for those who crave to listen to something other than the saccharinic deluge of crap shoved down by commercialism.

So what’s on my radio dial presets? 106.5 is now erased, but i still have from the left of the dial
– 88.5 XPN (of which i am a proud card-carrying member),
– 90.1 WRTI (classical in the morning, REAL jazz after 6PM),
– 93.3 WMMR for the Preston and Steve show in some mornings, and in some cases hearing Citizen Pierre light up the early afternoons about his hatred for Axl Rose, and occasionally for a fixin’ for some crusty old rock’n roll,
– 94.1 WYSP, now that they’ve reverted back to PLAYING rock, instead of yapping to death (though i never really hit that button much),
– 103.3 WPRB – eclectic mix of GOOD music coming from Princeton U,
– 104.5 WRFF – what defines commercial alternative rock radio these days. could be better, but its better than nothing. I think they’ll be around for a while, being a part of the huge company that is Livenation/Clear Channel. With them, the radio station has access to a multitude of commercial artists, allowing them to promote the music playing easily. Who knows, the station can be a part of one big machine, but sometimes you can find a bright star in a dark night.

Any other stations? not of any good note.  Decidedly, i lean towards rock, and alternative rock specifically. Why dont i change to satellite? I have to buy equipment, and subscribe. Subscribe to the same thing i can hear for free, subscribe to something i wont really listen to. Subscribe to something that goes towards no noble cause other than self-gratification, and propagation of the same bland shit we hear everyday

MP3 players cant give you what’s new. All they do is bring your tired favorites along with you, bring you a false sense of control. All it does is enforce a closed door of thinking and listening, never challenging your interest. You wither at the vine. You don’t grow, you just grow older.

SO here’s to another dead station. But for every show i go to, it will be one more clap and shout that will reverberate louder, in memory and continuation of the spirit of rock n’ roll.