Rants and Meanderings

George Carlin called one of his greatest stand up routines "Free Floating Hostility".  Eager to share thoughts here where social media  can't censor me.  Right now, I am gathering ideas for here but I will share as I think of stuff. 

Top Lists and the Fallacy of Ranking Musicians 

A Response to Numbered Rolling Stone Magazine Guitar Lists
Well, they did it again. Someone earning a salary to voice their opinions about something they clearly think they know something about wrote the list to end all lists ordering the great guitar players from 1 to 250. And they proved themselves wrong again. The problem with a numbered list, particularly one that goes all the way to 250 is that someone has to be listed dead last at 250 and someone has to be listed at number 1. 
Ok, so maybe they even fixed past errors. For example, now Eddie Van Halen is ranked 4th… way better than past years when he was ranked in the high 70’s. Good for them. While I do appreciate them fixing a previous wrong, no way Eddie Van Halen is not a top 5 for all time. But there - I just did it. I assigned a number. I guess that make me guilty too.
So, to be clear - my objection to the list is not the placement of someone on a list.
It’s numbering.
Why? It’s a false premise. 
So, let’s change the mentality with a little truth. EVERYONE has their own #1 guitarist. Usually, guitarists have a list of top 10 favorites that they can share with you pretty readily, but I, for one, would have great difficulty numbering them. I would just do what I am about to do, which is pick 10 that are not numbered but that I feel are tremendous performers and writers. Then, maybe a non-musician, or maybe a beginning level musician can have their ears opened to the sublime skill and passion that these amazing guitar players have given me. And while my opinion may not matter to many, sharing my experience might count for something amongst friends, family, fans, and listeners of mine. In that spirit, I openly welcome any critique of my non-numbered batch o’ guitar players.
To me, the important thing is NOT to discuss why someone is ranked somewhere, but TO discuss - for the benefit of people who are looking for new inspirations – how someone inspired others. Maybe even be bold enough to identify how some players changed the game, while others just played it. By listening to clear developments in technique, we can study and appreciate the unique qualities that got these guitarists on any list. And while there is always value in studying those who play for the love of playing, there is a lot to be said for those players who keep re-inventing the sounds and showing their versatility and skill in the use of this six stringed device. 
I don’t need Rolling Stone’s opinion as to where and why Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck etc. are ranked where they are. It’s beyond subjective and into fantasy with that annoying touch of idiocy where there are winners (“I made the list!”) to losers (“I made the list but now I am number 247… I can see where this is headed”). 
Remove the numbers. List your favorites, not with numbers but reasons why you love what they did, what they do, or even what they are going to do. Maybe remove the subjectivity of it - George Harrison was a great guitarist and songwriter, and the Beatles STILL own some of the biggest ear worm songs of all time - but why would he be listed above Eric Clapton? Sales on SoundScan in 1997? (Spoiler alert - sales don’t necessarily indicate skill).  If you remove the numbering, and just talk about the WHY - what was played in this circumstance and how it affected you (or others) – now we are talking about having to LISTEN. 
And that should be the goal of any list of guitar players. Listen to what they are playing, listen to the sound, learn the elements of their tone, and incorporate their genius into yours. I'll be explaining my list:

Andy Summers
Alex Lifeson
Randy Rhoads
George Lynch
Eddie Van Halen
Jeff Beck
Steve Vai
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Andy Timmons
Charlie Byrd
Jimmy Oblon

Open Mic with a FM9 


So I recently performed at my local open mic and tried my greatest and newest gear. Thanks to my good friend Kevin Brady, I own the amazing Fractal Axe-FX FM9.  Since I was already familiar with the Fractal Axe-FX 3, it didn't take too much time to set up and work on creating some killer guitar tones. 

For those of you who don't partake in the Digital Modeling of amplifiers, let me make one thing clear - I don't care if you are an analog, tube amp purist. I'm very happy for you and understand why you keep your gigantic 100-watt tube amplifiers and multi-ton speaker cabinets. But my aging back and desire to enter into a new and challenging phase of my music career, where I may perform anywhere with anyone and need my sound set up to be professional and portable as possible, I welcome this unique challenge. In my humble opinion, there is no better-sounding digital modeler than the modelers in the fractal modeling ecosystem. 

The Challenging Scenario

So performing at an open mic show is one thing, but it's entirely different when you are performing as one of the musicians in the host band. First, you don't necessarily know who else is playing with you in the host band that night. I have had the rare honor to have been asked often to fill in with some exceptional 518 area performers. 

A few other “challenges” to this scenario are:  

1. You will be asked to perform songs you don't know. Do you know the song well enough to fake your way thru it?

2. You will need to be listening to singers, and other musicians, that are in different places in their musical journey than you, and your job as a member of the host band is to support them and make them sound as good as possible. 

3. Repeat rule 2 for up to 3 hours. 

4. Mistakes happen. Learn from them. Always.

Add the Challenge

Do you know how to use your FM9 in the most musically compatible manner to sound professional and have fun? Fortunately for me, the answer was a resounding yes last night! 

The challenge to the Philosophy 

Funny how I got so used to a Mesa Boogie tone, but my go-to sounds with this Fm9 are splawn amps (a very marshall-plexi amp sound). I suspected this when I was experimenting with a Splawn amplifier patch and kept coming back to it to add wah-wahs, and other effects, and during sound check, that was the most lively sound in the room. I stayed with that patch for 90% of the night. I may have 511 patches available to switch to, but ultimately, I need to have my ears and attention on the musical situation that is going on around me. Rehearsals, and sound checks, that's where the attention is on the FM9 and what to adjust, not in the middle of a song. 

Humorously, I discovered I needed to have a lead boost (+3db) scene added to every patch in my Fm9, and I confirmed that with the sound engineer of the night, Ryan Nilsen, after chatting with him after the open mic was over. Don't rely on the sound guy to “ride” your slider. Make it easy and have your boosts at the ready. 

Now, I have always relied on my pedals to provide a slight boost when playing leads, so it's funny that I didn't pre-program that, or even, during the show, add that boost to a scene inside the FM-9. The problem I have is that the way I play, I add little leads all the time, so clearly, those little colors are getting lost in the mix. The solution is to add an auto-boost EQ whenever my hands bounce around the upper strings. I am researching how to add that tonight. 

Lessons Learned

  1. Adjust global settings at sound check. Reverb/Digital delays can always be reduced quickly if your tone is getting lost and washed out. 
  2. Thank your sound engineer for providing stereo inputs. 
  3. Repeat rule 2 ALL THE TIME.
  4. While I had a good time performing plenty of songs I knew, next time somebody asks me to play message in a bottle, play it at least ½ step down. Even Sting plays that out a full step down on “My Songs” record, and I suspect it may have been even lower live!!

Comments welcome and I will share more as time permits!