Sunday, August 23, 2009

ErgoPlay Review/Further Blackbird Rider Thoughts

My initial review of the Blackbird Rider Nylon is here. The Rider came with a NeckUp support - and I now now why they did that - but the ErgoPlay works much better for me.

Here's the situation in a nutshell: The NeckUp has a single large suction cup, and it fits on the Rider's shallow sound chamber, while the ErgoPlay has three smaller suction cups, only two of which will adhere due to the shallowness of said sound chamber. Nevertheless, the leather NeckUp is too flexible, and I was not able to hold the guitar securely with it, while the ErgoPlay works fine, despite the fact that the third cup does not adhere to the ax.

As you can see, from the front all looks well with the ErgoPlay.

But if you look at it from the rear view, the third cup will not stick.

This is neither the fault of Blackbird or ErgoPlay, as the Rider is simply not a traditional classical guitar, and the ErgoPlay is obviously designed for a traditional ax. A model with a single cup front and rear would be best, but it isn't strictly speaking necessary.

Since I have the oversized suction cup from the NeckUp, I'll probably just fabricate another slider piece out of sheet metal and put that one on... or not. It works fine, and as I said, it is far more stable than the NeckUp in any event.

These are just the kinds of things you deal with on the bleeding edge of technology. LOL!


Now that I've played through my entire repertoire on the Rider a couple of times, I can definitively say that I love this guitar. I'm already thinking about getting a second with the RMC Triple Source Polydrive - it has the hex pickups, a condenser mic, and a ribbon transducer - and then I could sell the Godin and the Parker. That's right, sell the Godin and the Parker.

Back in the 80's when I got the Steinberger GL2T-GR to use with my Syncalvier, it totally ruined me for traditional wood electric guitars. They just felt very low tech and primitive in comparison. Well, the Rider has done exactly the same thing to me. The Godin feels positively archaic and even the classy Parker is just not in the same universe at all. This is one of those things I didn't see coming, but probably should have.

I'm currently programming my four Lexicon MPX-G2's for the Rider - I have both performance rigs and one recording rig done - and as soon as I have the sounds in the bag, I'll record some test tracks and post links to them here.

One great fringe benefit of the fact that every note on a given string sounds exactly the same with the Rider, and that every string is perfectly in balance, is that any EQ setting will work with it. Think about that, for a second: Any EQ used is purely for tone control with the Rider, since there aren't any quirks to iron out, and no matter how radical you want to get with the EQ, it will work!

This carries over to effects programming too: With the Godin and the Parker, very short delay-based effects, like phasing and flanging, could lead to unfortunate resonance peaks and valleys that the guitar's quirks would accentuate: Not with the Rider. This is great!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blackbird Rider Nylon Has Arrived

I misread the dates - I often forget what day it is (Typical musician) - so the Rider arrived Friday morning. It took only a few minutes with it to realize that it will replace the Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA as my go-to main gig ax, and that I also like it better than the Parker Custom Shop Cedar Nylon Fly I've spent so much time and money on. Here's why:

1] The intonation is perfect on the Rider. The Parker is perfect too, but the Godin is quite poor in this department, mostly because I needed to loosen the truss rod a lot to get the action usably high.

2] The action is perfect on the Rider. The Parker's action is user-adjustable, so I was able to raise it to where I wasn't getting too much rattle when I play forte, but I had to cut some additional shims to do it, so the guitar is really out of the range it was designed for. As mentioned previously, I got the Godin workable, but at the expense of intonation accuracy. Joe tells me the lower-than-classical "Flamenco" action I ordered is actually 1/16" higher than a traditional wooden acoustic Flamenco guitar. This is exceedingly valuable information, as this is the absolutely perfect string height I've been searching for the past twenty years.

3] String balance is perfect on the rider. Both the Godin and the Parker have problems in this area - and the problems are different between the two - which is simply the result of resonance inconsistencies in the woods used in those guitars. Since carbon fiber is consistent and neutral, those problems do not exist at all with the Rider. The only other guitar I ever had that was this perfect and neutral was the Steinberger GL2T-GR steel string electric/synth guitar I used with my Synclavier back in the 80's. The Steinberger was made of an epoxy resin composite, if I remember correctly, so this is no surprise. Wood is just a crappy material to make guitars out of.

4] Sustain is supernaturally mind-bogglingly long on the Rider. The Parker has amazing sustain too, which is what you'd expect out of a solid body guitar, but the Blackbird's sustain is actually longer and better, because it's more consistent. This is not at all what I expected, as the Rider is acoustic, but Joe says the hollow neck does not dampen the sound like a solid one does. Quite interesting! The Godin is kind of half way between a traditional wooden acoustic classical and the Parker, but it's nowhere near as consistent.

5] The Rider sounds more "natural" than the Godin or the Parker. Because it is acoustic, and despite the ridiculously eternal sustain, the Rider actually sounds more like an acoustic classical guitar when amplified than either the Godin or the Parker. Of course, the Parker was my attempt to get a solid body electric nylon string guitar, so I don't care that it doesn't sound acoustic, but the Godin never sounded particularly natural to me. I remember mentioning this to Richard once, and he said it was the guitar, not the Polydrive. Well, he was right. My pursuit of a solid body electric nylon string guitar may be over. I'm beginning to think nylon strings and solid bodies may just not be meant for each other. Or, then again, perhaps a solid carbon fiber guitar would be less problematic than the Parker.

6] The Rider can take full advantage of the possibilities of carbon fiber treble strings. A carbon fiber guitar with carbon fiber strings: Match made in heaven. Carbon fiber treble strings are the greatest advance in classical guitar strings since nylon replaced catgut. They are brighter, they project better, and they settle into tune faster. Problem is, wooden guitars expand slightly - they actually grow - as the performer's body heat warms them up. Since CF strings don't change dimensions with that range of heat, they tend to go sharp until the ax is fully warmed up. This happens a little with nylon too, but to a lesser extent. So much less, that acoustic classical guitarists may not even notice it. However, with a wooden semi-hollow guitar like the Godin or a wooden solid body guitar like the Parker, this tendency is exacerbated. Nylon trebles are pain enough, but the G string on the Parker will go nearly a full 1/4 tone sharp in the first 15-20 minutes of playing if I use CF trebles. I had to give up using CF trebles with those guitars because of this problem. Well, with the Rider once CF trebles settle in, they stay dead solid stable in tune. This is because the Rider doesn't grow with the absorption of my body heat. Truly, an excellent development.

So, after twenty years of trying to find the "perfect" (Nothing is ever absolutely perfect: I wish the rider had a full cutaway, but the 14th fret join is workable) electric nylon string guitar, I have. It is surprising to me that it's also a competent acoustic! It's not as loud as my 1979 Anthony Murray guitars, but they are spectacularly loud and very, very fragile because the tops are so thin.

The only thing I didn't like at all was the NeckUp guitar support it came with. It's made of leather, so it's flexible, and that makes the guitar go too face-up for me to play because of the Rider's rounded sound chamber. I hate it so much I ordered an ErgoPlay support after wrestling with the NeckUp for only fifteen minutes. LOL! The ErgoPlay is rigid, so it will be more like a solid extension of the guitar, which is what I want. Plus, the NeckUp prevents me from locking the Polydrive II's cable onto the receptacle because the leather is too hard and thick. The ErgoPlay won't get in the way.

As for that RMC Polydrive II, I'm really glad I got this guitar before I finish the fretted Glissentar project, because it's basically the same Polydrive IV that's in the Godin, but with only the pickups inside the guitar and the controls located remotely. The PD IV has all the tone controls, which are missing from the PD I as installed in my Parker, and that is just a lot more flexible for gigging, where you never know what the acoustics of a venue are going to be like. The PD II gives all of that control without putting heavy stuff inside the ax that would deaden the sound. So, the Reynolds-fretted Glissentar will be getting a PD II.

Well, that's it for now. I'm not playing the Rider any more until the ErgoPlay arrives. LOL!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Legendary Guitarist and Inventor Les Paul Has Died

Les Paul, the man responsible for creating one of history's most iconic guitars, as well as overdubbing and multitrack recording, has died. He was a ripe, old 95 years of age.

"Paul was a guitar and electronics mastermind whose creations -- such as multitrack recording, tape delay and the solid-body guitar that bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul -- helped give rise to modern popular music, including rock 'n' roll. No slouch on the guitar himself, he continued playing at clubs into his 90s despite being hampered by arthritis...

Guitarists mourned the loss Thursday.

"Les Paul was truly a 'one of a kind.' We owe many of his inventions that made the rock 'n roll sound of today to him, and he was the founding father of modern music," B.B. King said in a statement. "This is a huge loss to the music community and the world. I am honored to have known him."

Joe Satriani said in a statement: "Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls. Last October I joined him onstage at the Iridium club in [New York], and he was still shredding. He was and still is an inspiration to us all."

In a statement, Slash said, "Les Paul was a shining example of how full one's life can be; he was so vibrant and full of positive energy."

Lester William Polfuss was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1915. Even as a child he showed an aptitude for tinkering, taking apart electric appliances to see what made them tick."

Like literally generations of guitarists, my first electric guitar was a Gibson Les Paul. Modern guitar playing, rock and roll, and modern studio technology would not even exist except for this man's life body of work.

RIP and Godspeed, Les.

Les deserves an eleven.

No makeup, no hair coloring, totally natural, and absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Blackbird Rider Nylon Has Shipped!

News so nice, I'll say it twice: My Rider Nylon has shipped!

It might even get here later today!

A dark, sultry guitar can only go with a dark, sultry woman.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Where Music Distribution is Headed: The App Store on iTunes

I'm an optimist by nature. Always been that way. The empty part of "the glass half full" is just an undiscovered water source to me. You can drill a well in the desert, you know, you just have to dig really, really deep.

So, while many people who I consider foolish have been lamenting everything from the fall of free-format FM radio through the decline of the major labels, to... well, just about any music industry change they can't fathom the ramifications of, I've been smiling and cheering the "pedestrianization" of technology, because it has been taking power away from knot-headed elites - many of whom are lawyers (glorified accountants, in my book) - and giving it ALL back to the artists. Remember: First-class citizens create things, second-class citizens produce things, third-class citizens provide essential services, and fourth-class citizens provide optional services: Lawyers and many in the music "industry" are fourth-class leaches. So, being, as I am, a radical libertarian individualist, I'm all about letting tech put these leaches out of bee's-wax!

What I, and every other pundit I'm aware of, have not foreseen is the emerging paradigm. What will it be? There will be one, that's for sure, but exactly what it could look like has escaped our grasp. No harm/no foul, because there just hasn't been enough information to reach a conclusion... until now.

Perhaps a deeper thinker than I could have seen this coming with the advent of iTunes and the iTunes Store, but selling single tracks a la cart really didn't trip the trigger for me... or, anyone else. What paradigm is going to replace the venerable album? Not single tracks and ring tones, that is obvious. To really replace the album in the internet age, you're going to have to offer MORE, much more. Just offering fourteen tracks with high-resolution album art isn't going to do it.

Well, the lightbulb just lit up above my head: The successor of the album in the digital on-line age will be the app, as in apps from the iTunes App Store for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the forthcoming Apple Tablet Device!. Wish I could claim full credit for this moment of enlightenment - this epiphany - but the much more tech savvy Eliot Van Buskirk at WIRED beat me to it.

"The iTunes music store sells single songs at approximately the same price, with artist presented in more or less the same way.

Apple’s app store, however, is still somewhat like the wild west (at least as far as music goes), where the rules are being made up in real time. Artists and labels can sell music alongside other digital offerings through the app store at any price from zero to $999.99.

As we suggested last summer, this creates an opportunity for artists and labels to distribute a new type of product, especially because the app store concept is spreading to other mobile phone platforms.

On Monday, six of the 20 most recently submitted music apps to appear in the App Store featured a single artist: Jason Carver, Jessica Harp, Jimmy Cliff, John Butler Trio, Kadence, or The Cribs. Each showcases music videos, photos, news, photo-jumble games, concert listings, and/or community features that let fans share photos with each other. And all of them were made with iLike’s iPhone app toolkit — as was Ingrid Michaelson’s app, pictured to the right.

Since iLike launched the service in May, about 250 of the over 300,000 artists with access to iLike’s dashboard feature have launched customized iPhone apps through the system."

See that - hey, look past the super-cutie - Music, Videos, Photos, a Twitter feed, Gig Schedules, and even Games.

That's it, right there: Musicians can now record, engineer, and produce their music at home, distribute it through the iTunes Store, and provide massive amounts of additional content through The App Store. No blood-sucking leach middlemen from a label involved, and there's already an intuitive program available to design the apps. Now this I absolutely love.

This calls for a redhead!