Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Gig Review - Bellowhead Margate Winter Gardens 25th November 2014

Bellowwho?  Is what many people seem to say to me when I mention them - well go find them out.  They are a large multi instrumental folk group.  However before all you rock fans turn away and ignore them - they are very rock sounding to me in their arrangements even if they don't have a traditional rock rhythm session - in fact the bass instrument of choice is brass - Helicon, Tuba or Sousaphone...  Most of the band are multi-instrumentalists too adding incredible range to the bands sounds.  The venue I thought would suit them well, the Winter Gardens is an old seaside dance hall/ theatre- very ornate big rectangle with the stage on one of the long sides, which was more suitable with a dance but not maybe a modern gig.  But what made it worse was the decision by someone for it to be all seated.  I've been to gigs there before when the "dance floor" is standing only.  Sadly this lack of dancing/jumping about meant the atmosphere was a little flatter than I'd expected from them until into the second half.

However they did hit the ground running with Roll Alabama as the kick off song- one of my personal favs of theirs and a highlight off the lastest album Revival.   The mix then onwards was a mix of a lot of the new stuff off Revival (Let Her Run, Let Union Be, Fine Sally, Gosport Nancy ... etc.)  and old hits - a lot from Hedonism album which is my favourite album after Revival from them.

Sound I thought was good for me although one friend thought it not so clear but I thought it good, to cope with so many acoustic instruments without a muddy mix and only one or two little feedback squeals I was suitably impressed with.

Top gig!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas Gift Guide for Guitarists

Inspired by my friend Judy over at So Very Slightly Mad here are some ideas for Christmas Gifts for the guitarist in your life.

NOTE - the recommendations here are made purely on my experience I'm not being paid or otherwise reimbursed by any shop or manufacturer neither does my endorsement imply an exhaustive set of tests alongside competitor products... it is just my recommendation based on my experience, unless otherwise stated.


Seriously any guitarist with any kind of collection goes through so many sets of strings.  Find out what they use - or what they'd like to try.  We're a conservative bunch.  I had never tried coated strings but kept reading players raving about them that I respected.  I went to a guitar show in London and got a free set as part of a goody bag.  I'm sold!  Once I get through the box of old ones I'm moving to them on all my acoustics.  Not convinced yet on electrics but on acoustics I am sold big style.  In the UK I use Strings Direct - fast good service never had an issue with them.


Or Plectrums if you aren't bother by the grammar police commenting on your blog... ;-)  Again you can never have too many plectra.  There is some fundamental rule of Physics which states that any plectrum dropped will suddenly accelerated beyond the speed of light, become instantly so massive it creates a mini black hole about your knee area on the descent and before hitting the floor it disappears beyond the event horizon into another universe and the black hole disintegrates leaving you looking all about you for the little sod which is never ever seen again.  Somewhere in another universe is a planet where they build lavish multicoloured temples out of these plastic triangle things that materialise out of nowhere almost continually. Inside they house weird mechanical contraptions trying to recreate an off Cadd9 kind of chord sound which they hear a mere snippet of as each little triangle appears.

By the way if you're not a guitarist one plectrum is not as good as another - we all like this shape, not that shape, this material not that material and this thickness not that thickness... ;-)  Jim Dunlop though is where to start - they must have something that'll suit pretty much anyone.


Like plectra there is another rule of physics that says the hour before your big gig one of the cables in your rig will start to splutter and squawk.  Again you can never have too many cables!  I recommend Cleartone cables - built really really well and much better than more expensive leads I've bought in shops.  All made to order too so you can really get a series of sensible lengths that work for your exact situation.


If your pet guitarist doesn't have a capo - they should!  If they have one they'll be needing more.  For a laugh one thing I've yet to try but would like to are some great partial capos by Shubb which offer ultimate total confusion after the Christmas festivities.


Clip on ones, foot pedal ones, bog standard ones... the range and cost is almost limitless but a cheapy clip on one will always find a potential use on an acoustic instrument in the hubbub of the pub open mic night trust me!  Korg are well respected (I don't use their products to be honest) and have a great range to consider.

Books about guitars!

If we're not playing them, stringing them, tuning them, upgrading them or sniffing them... err... sorry TMI ... we love to read about them.  If you have the total guitar geek in mind then the latest book on Brian May's Red Special is just superb!  My son bought it for me for my birthday - pouring over the photos of that legendary 6 string being completely disassembled and then all the stories of how he and his Dad built it etc.  Just wonderful.


Finally I still use an old little wind up one that I bought as a teenager and I'm surprised how many people don't even seem to own one.  I find it indispensable for practising keeping my stuff to time and even figuring out the best tempo to play stuff I've written and getting rigorous at playing it repeatedly at that tempo.  I've been thinking about a newer flashy electronic one but glad to see essentially the same model of the one I own is still available even if it is frighteningly costly compared to other options out there now including really great electronic ones.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

CD Reviews - Uriah Heep - The Outsider and Blair Dunlop - House of Jacks

Uriah Heep - The Outsider. 

 I've passed by Uriah Heep over the years. I remember really liking Conquest back about 1980 and there last album had some good stuff on it but... The Outsider the first one they've done since long standing bass player Trevor Bolder. I gave it a listen on Spotify - I found myself repeatedly playing it so when my sister gave me an Amazon voucher for my birthday I bought the CD... I'm an old Luddite and still love to have the CD in my grubby mits!

 Just brilliant - great searing vocals, stomping drums and bass, super riffing guitar work and above it all a throbbing Hammond Organ! Yes part of the "Heep sound" since Ken Hensley was in the band and still brilliantly there front and centre. You can do what you like with synth patches and what have you but in great rock a Hammond just has such a great warm sound. The Opener Speed of Sound is a punchy jump to your feet rocker and that mode continues throughout. Is Anybody Gonna Help Me, Jessie and Kiss the Rainbow are other favourites of mine but there is no dud track on this album at all... buy it and ROCK!

 Blair Dunlop - House of Jacks. 

 Blair is Ashley Hutchings son. Who? Well if you are into English Folk Rock Ashley has been a legend for years with stints in The Albion Band, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. I love his last album and this is better! Great songs, well written. His guitar playing and singing are top notch throughout. Some of the songs deal with difficult issues like the albums first track and initial single release - Somethings Gonna Give Way - which is about a young lad persecuted at school, a traveller who ends up resorting to violence to make his mark. Dark stuff but well exectued. You can listen to the album on Soundcloud via Blair's site.  I urge you to.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Cover tunes.

Now if you're going to do a cover, make it your own.  I was thinking this when I remember this stunning song I first heard on Unleashed in the East and bought my leather wrist band and headbanged along with the faithful at Hammersmith.

Somewhat different from the original...

That's how to do a cover... :-)

Friday, 7 November 2014

What it sounds like

Here is the first appearance of the 12 string anywhere!

Really I was just trying it out after a bit of fiddling with the nut etc.

So - you'll hear all 7 sounds on a little motif from one of my songs (On Christmas Day) starting from bridge, then bridge and middle, middle, middle and neck, neck, neck and Bridge and all three on together.   Then a little noodle with me just playing about - middle position I think which I really like.  Direct into my little Boss BR-600 with a Roland JC clean amp patch.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Final Assembly

I've completed the final assembly on the 12 string.

First the string ferrules at the back.

Then the Tuners... so many tuners!

One minor mod, like all my electric guitars I've fitted this with Schaller strap locks - I've used these on everything for so many years now it is just a default for me.

Final wiring up.

Waiting for stringing.

Fitting the string tree and getting it strung up was one of the most challenging and stressful bits of the build!

Finally all strung up.  It plays!  The wiring mods all work.  It needs a lot of set up work, the g pair in particular are way out in intonation initially.  I need to look at the intonation, action, nut depths and adjust the pickups.   I'll let is settle for a day or so then have a slow look, might take one or two stabs I think.  Also I will finally restring with some better strings - those on it now came with the kit but I've bought some Ernie Balls which I'll use in the final set up.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Book Review - Ken Follett - Edge of Eternity

The last installment in Ken Follett's "Century Trilogy".  This whole series has been about showing the history of the 20th Century through the lives of intertwined families in the UK, USA, Germany and Russia.  The story shows the rising of the Berlin Wall and the descent of the Iron Curtain and how that broke up families in Berlin.  A Kremlin insider who manages to maintain his career from Khrushchev to Gorbachev provides great insight into the workings of the Kremlin.

This is a well researched and written book that covers the later part of the 20th century history expertly.  There is less emphasis on the UK this time around but no doubt due to the bigger story being the oppressive Soviet administration continuing to maintain its grip on power and the civil rights movement in the USA, the separation of Germany etc.  However that does miss a trick in telling the building of modern Britain with the NHS, university education opened for all in short the building of the welfare state which is to me a great triumph of post-war Britain.

The use of people's lives and how they interlace is a great technique to embroil you in the story so that when the Berlin Wall was finally let down you join in the excitement of the reunification of a country through a family.  That is where the book ends in Nov 1989 with the opening of the crossings in Berlin allowing free flow from East to West Germany.  However there is one epilogue into the 21st Century which reflects on the USA struggle with civil rights.

Frankly a good book if you like reading about people's lives and a great way to teach modern history - I recommend all three in the series for that from the class struggles of the early 20th Century in the UK through the slaughter of the first world war the inter-war years and and the rise of fascism the atrocities of the second world war, particularly the final days in Berlin and then on through the brink of nuclear war in the month I was born (Oct 62) to the dismantling of the Soviet Bloc.   Great read

The whole series is a two thumbs up on the  FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Gigs are like buses...

... they come along in packs.

I was asked back to play at the Coach & Horses in Strood at the last minute this weekend.  Really nice to be asked even if it was because a scheduled act pulled out a the last minute.  But I got a longer set time on this occasion.  I must have had a premonition as only a couple of days earlier I'd restrung the 12 string acoustic so was ready to use that and the Yamaha for a full set.  It was quieter this time around, no doubt due to it being the predominant "fireworks night" of the year so I expect a lot of people were at events as we would have been if I hadn't had the call Friday night asking me to play. 

I've also got a gig lined up early in December in Faversham supporting Wax Collector.  Looking forward to that one too.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Body finished

I've finished the body.  A quick rub down with 0000 wire wool and then a polish with my old beeswax finishing wax.

I've just test fitted the neck in these photos.  I'm going to leave it a few days for the finish to harden before starting to add hardware etc.

Really pleased with how it is looking.

One thing this kit (for the 12 string) was only available with a basswood body.  In retrospect I should have sanded it more with 250 grade paper prior to starting finishing maybe, or it maybe basswood is less "grainy".  Personally I'd prefer Ash which has a better grain pattern for me.  Pleased with the colour though