Monday, 13 July 2015

The Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Tony Iommi Signature SG

Well it looks like a Tony Iommi and sounds like a Tony Iommi... have to say this new signature Epiphone is worth some investigation.  I love the inclusion of many of the features from his original Jaydee Old Boy - 24 frets, the high output humbuckers and even the little feature of the side not front fitted jack socket.

Love this!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

CD Reviews

I went mad and bought a bunch of CDs over the weekend.

Muse - Drones

I've liked Muse since Absolution.   I did delve back into their back catalogue too but the first two didn't quiet tick the boxes with me.  The last effort 2nd Law was ok but I felt a move away from the "Muse" sound they'd defined up until then.  I remember commenting at the time that it sounded a bit like Porcupine Tree - which wasn't a criticism but simply an observation that it didn't sound really like a Muse record to me.   Drones is much more on song for me.  Heavier, the distorted bass riffs are there, Bellamy's soaring guitar sounds heavily over effected too and his voice is right on song.   I heard a review on Jo Whiley's Radio2 show about this in which the guest reviewer went on about how hilarious Muse were with the bombastic instrumentation, hand built guitars etc.  He seemed to think they are a parody of themselves.  I completely disagree but then I get the feeling we'd never sit down and listen to Yes Relayer and be able to meet anywhere on a level for a conversation either.  However here's a funny observation.  The title track - he expected a post apocalyptic attack on unmanned combat aircraft (that is on Reapers actually).  I had already thought to myself DADGAD... i.e. some sort of droning musical statement.  It is largely a vocal chant.  I think showing I'm more in touch with Muse and their output than the reviewer.  So... if you were switched on to them with 2nd Law but didn't like Absolution et al look away now.  If you wrote them off after 2nd Law - put them back on your list.

The Plague Within - Paradise Lost.

I like Paradise Lost.  I first came across them at Knebworth in 2009 where their performance was one of the highlights for me and they were the discovery of the weekend.  This is really dark and heavy from the starting out doom laden riff and the gruff shouted initial lyrics we know where we stand.  However Paradise Lost for me have a couple of bits that make them stand out.  Firstly Nick Holmes vocals.  He switches effortlessly between the gruff shouty metal genre to melodic and attractive lyrical singing easy and it adds something many lack in this area.  He is a really great singer.  Secondly Greg Mackintosh is a unique lead guitarist.  He uses a set up with two wah-wah pedals open but set normally in specific positions.  This gives his lead lines a very unique tone and quality.  They are ethereal and not what you initially expect, you expect a more typical over driven scooped sound with machine gun attack but this high pitched middle heavy lyrical and melodic tone and feel is hypnotic.  The Plague Within is their heaviest offering for a while but attractive none the less.  If you like any heavy metal try them out - I think you'll be as enamoured as me.   BTW my son met the rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy in Aberystwyth last summer, I'm not sure if my son had any influence but the latest videos show Aaron has now moved to using an Ltd Vintage Black EMG loaded EC1000....  just like my son has... hmmm... ;-)

B.B. King - Definitive Collection

I had some old vinyl BB King when I was younger a studio album and a live one.  Sadly long lost.  I have a few others bits of him - esp Riding with the King the album he made with Clapton which is one of Clapton's best albums too frankly.  But with his passing I realised I have a BB hole in the collection this was as cheap solution.  Every song on here he nails.  His vocals are fantastic and the big bell ringing clean tone he had with that instantly recoginsable vibrato - genius.  There is a duet with Robert Cray on there - now Mr Cray is no slouch and his first solo has is characteristic strat snap and bite to it but then BB hits the first note in his reply and sorry Robert should just join the employment line.  I mean that with the greatest respect - Robert is great but BB .... well he was just something else entirely....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

YesSongs #7: YES - Roundabout

Sadly today Chris Squire is laid to rest. In memory of one of the greatest bass players ever I offer this great version of Roundabout from 1973. RIP Chris.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Formula E - season finale review

Mrs F and I went to the very last Formula E race in Battersea Park on Sunday.

Formula E is a totally electronic racing car series.  This has been its inaugural year.  There is some interesting banter going on around it involving such lumineries as Christian Horner the main man at Red Bull Formula 1.  The fact that he is having to make derogatory comments about it as a series, trying to compare it to a lower formula than F1 shows it has made some sort of significant mark in its first year. 

A quick summary from my point of view about Formula E...

The good....

The season runs Oct to Jun so means some of the races are over the "winter" period when most other series like F1, Indy Racing League etc. are not running.
The promotion and development of electric vehicle technology can only be good.
The races run in city locations - for many who are not die hard fans of motorsport going to a city and taking in the race as well as other attractions is a new approach to traipsing to some airfield in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing else but the race venue.
Close racing - possibly due to this year everyone having exactly the same machinery (that is planned to change in time)
A great driver line-up.  Getting into F1 is hard, staying there harder when so many are desperate to get in as well.  So most races have had a majority of recent F1 refugees and you can't deny quality like ex F1 race winners like Trulli and Heildfelt.
Completely new tactics about power management can influence races greatly
Cheap to watch
All the practice, qualification and race action is all on the one day.
Good TV coverage - all races shown live on ITV4 (better than F1 on free to air services in the UK)

The bad

The battery only lasts half of the approx 45 min race distance.  The drivers have to stop and change car, whilst this pit stop spices up the races a lot it seems a glaring issue with the technology if you wanted to consider it for a road car.
Driver swaps - like IRL and other series like A1GP in the past some teams have had too many drivers coming and going.
Single make car - I like to see development, I have the same issue with all one make series.  They have close racing but little car development obviously.  I like both... I'm greedy!

That's my view - I like it as a championship.  The first race back in Oct in China ended in a spectacular final corner crash as Heidfelt who'd managed his power consumption better tried to pass a slow Nicolas Prost.  (Oh yes and there are three drivers with the names Senna (nephew), Piquet (son) and Prost (son) - so to hear Senna is closing on Prost is still alive and well in motorsport.

We took the train up to Victoria and the four min hop to Battersea Park. The park was a few yards from the station - see my comments above about accessibility of the races.  Somewhat easier than getting to Silverstone!  And the cost - we'd only  bought the cheapest general access tickets but were right trackside by the entry to the last chicane, we could see them coming along the last part of a long flat out left hander and then into the heavy braking zone.  I'd figure from the layout it'd be a potential overtaking spot that was reinforced with watching the Saturday race on the tv when Jean Eric Vergne used it for one of the best overtakes of that race.  Clearly others reviewed his tactic for Sunday.  So tickets were under £20 each.  For any motorsport that is a total bargain.

The race was terrific.  The back story is that going into the last weekend Nelson Piquet jr was ahead in the points and favourite but 5 others mathmatically had a chance.  Realistically that was really only 2 others, Sebastian Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi (all three F1 refugees).  Saturday Piquet didn't qualify well, Buemi landed poll (worth 3 points in this championship, something I think F1 should adopt).  So suddenly all the weight of expectation was shifting.  After Saturday's race Piquet had the lead by a mere 5 points. 

Sunday qualifying started at 12 noon under typically London leaden grey skies.  Not good for Piquet he was in the third group to go out.  And indeed with a red flag in group two delaying things the rain, although the that heavy or constant did really hamper the third group in particular and now Piquet had a mountain to climb from 16th on the grid with Buemi in 6th.  Frankly on the very tight temporary circuit I think most people just expected that the title was handed to Buemi.  But not so.  Piquet passed several cars on the first couple of laps and then once changed to his second car there was more good fortune.  Buemi span on cold tyres on his out lap and was passed by Senna putting him 6th on the road.  Try as he might be couldn't repass the clever Brazillian, Senna positioned his car just right into the chicane in front of us so Buemi couldn't get down his right hand side.   Meanwhile Piquet was handed more good luck with a safety car bunching the cars up for a last sprint to the line.  His team mate easily gave way and he passed Salvador Duran into turn 14 right in front of us - see my careful analysis of the best place to stand paid off!   So suddenly Piquet was running 8th on the road and with neither him or Buemi looking likely to get the 2 points for fastest lap now everyone was bottled back up in traffic he was 1 point ahead in the championship.  And so it stayed to the line.  Even a large penalty for using too much power dished out to Sarrazin on the slowing down lap robbing him of his first victory had any effect, Buemi and Piquet both moved up one place and still Piquet had that crucial single point advantage.

I've heard some people complaining that it is a "boring" formula running on "Mickey Mouse" tracks that mean you can't get decent racing.  Well that certainly wasn't the case on the last race.  16th to 7th was a stunning drive my Piquet and he really did deserve the title with Buemi no doubt left really regretting that spin on the cold tyres.

Next year allows manufacturers to enter the series to start developing their own powertrains - Renault who had been involved in the initial development has announced it will develop a new version exclusively for the e.dams team.  That will add some additional spice to a good series already.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Rush - Losing It (HD) :: Live in Toronto June 2015

One of my favourite Rush songs ever - finally played live.  Terrific!!!  Look at that Zemetis bass too - is that an original?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gear Review - Cheap Mandolin Pickup

I've had a mandolin about 18 months now - frankly I can strum a few chords on it that is about all.  But it's a fun addition to the Furtheron music family.  I had thought about if I wanted to ever use it live or easy recording, i.e. without miking up etc. and did a search on eBay for mandolin pickups.

One of these popped up.

It was madly only £6.35 ($10.00) including postage from China.  I mean - you can't lose can you.  How can they make this stuff and ship it at that price?  I know people moan about putting local firms out of business but simply that is too good a bargain to resist.  If I'd seen this in a local shop at say £15 I'd have thought twice, £20 I wouldn't have considered it.  You get my point.

Simple to install.  I placed the pickup centrally behind the bridge using the adhesive pad already on it.  You get one more spare in the pack too.  That has a cable to a small jack you plug into a passive vol and tone unit.  You can see I've clipped that easily to the instruments strap.  The clip is built in.  You need the provided small jack to large jack cable to connect to most amps, recorders etc.  However they are easily replaced via many suppliers if that goes missing or you want a different length etc.

So £6.35, a few days waiting for it to arrive, a few mins install and we're ready to go.  Now this is not an active preamp or pickup so the output level is low, but then don't write that off.  Yamaha in their latest L series use a passive system which is by all accounts stonking.

So when I did plug it in to my amp yes it needs the volume pumped up a bit.  I'm most likely to use it via a PA live and have a channel for its sole use so that really is no issue.  Into my trusty Boss BR600 and I had to crank up the input level a bit but it wasn't bad.  I mean I could get a good usable level out of it.

So demo time.  Click on this link to hear a short demo recorded via my Boss.  First passage is straight in, no effects or any fiddling at all.  Second passage I used one of the standard Boss available effects patches.  I used P81 Natural which is intended for use with acoustic guitars.  I was really pleased with the results given the cost etc. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Alex Lifeson R40 Les Paul

Not the first Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess signature model but I think the best looking in terms of colour and the look of the maple used for the top.

The Axcess main feature is the re-shaping of the neck joint, so whilst it is a traditional glued mortice joint it has the feel of a neck thru body.  Added to that the Axcess is subtly thinner and has a "belly scarf" - like the back contour on a strat body.  Whilst you can get the Axcess with a standard Les Paul stopbar they are most often seen sporting a Floyd Rose locking trem adding dive bomb whammy option to your Les Paul crunch.

The electrics are actually the biggest departure for the Alex Lifeson signature model from the standard Axcess.  It is fitted with a Piezo powered bridge allowing you to get an acoustic like sound from it too.  This can be routed via a dedicated output jack to go to a separate amp or the PA whilst the magnetic pickups feed through the standard jack to your amp, or if you insert one cable into that jack you get a mixed sound.  There are coil taps as well.  The pickup choice is interesting too with Alex choosing the 498T and 496R combination that the Axcess comes with - the same as used in the Les Paul Custom.  These are notably more focused and hotter particularly in the bridge than the Burstbuckers that many standard Les Pauls use.

Anyway - terrific looking guitar!   I wish I could afford/justify one!

Here is Alex chuntering on about it!