Those Who Wait

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It’s taken about three weeks, but I’ve learned Those Who Wait well enough to have hope that, someday, I’ll actually be able to play it this well.

One thing I learned in this exercise (among many) was how differently an acoustic ‘plays’ through an amp. Its not just louder. The feel is completely transformed, especially with a slight delay/echo effect. Inspiring, actually – it helped to create an entirely new ending for Two Voices, about which I’m excited but which of course now sets its completion back considerably. It’ll be worth it if I’m able to pull off what I’m hoping to do.

That “Someday” thing…

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Tommy, un-Taylors, Tenacity and Turnabout

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First I want to post a thank-you to Charles Johnson at lgf, whose recent entry introduced me to Tommy Emmanuel, C.G.P. – an absolutely amazing guitarist and performer who is just a supreme joy to listen to and watch. I’ve since picked up his new album The Mystery, which is stunning, and ordered a couple of his instructional DVDs, as I really must know how he does some of the magical things he does.

As I’ve been ramping up on the music thing, and replenishing my tools, the last major item on the list is a 6-string acoustic. A quality 6-string acoustic. I’ve been looking at Taylors. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, they are worth it. I played a few at Guitar Center a couple weeks ago, comparing them to the Martins, Gibsons and others on hand. No contest. I’ve also done a considerable amount of ‘forum research’, reading numerous posts by serious players on the Acoustic Guitar Forum and elsewhere. I’d pretty much had my sights set on their acoustic-electric 614CE, but really wanted something like that in spruce/rosewood. GC had a 914CE, which strays beyond my budget, and some other more expensive ones when I was there.

Hoping Sam Ash might have some to try – plus I needed to pick up a wide strap for the B-Bender – I stopped in there. Didn’t see what I was looking for. So I tried a few Takamines, which were kinda O-K but not what I’m looking for. As I was getting up to leave I spotted this Larrivee on the counter. Never heard of ’em. I noticed a very impressive-looking premium sibling inside the display case and thought, heck, I’d give the counter model a try. It was a D-03. Even though I wasn’t interested in a Dread’, I loved this guitar immediately. It played effortlessly and had an exceptionally bright-plus-deep sound (the one I miss from my Lyle 12-string) – easily on par in sound and playability with the Taylors. What’s more, they’re considerably less expensive. I started investigating these and have found that I can get their LV-09E from Trinity Guitars or Notable Guitars for about $1000 less than the best price I can find on a comparable Taylor. At this point it looks like the toughest part of the decision will be whether to go with Trinity or Notable.

In the tenacity department, the current score is: Patty – 1; Bureaucrats – 0. As of yesterday, the interminable controversy initiated by the ADS Coordinator at Patty’s school back in May (previously discussed here) has at least been temporarily resolved. It took getting a number of organizations involved and a lot of hours coming up with the documentation to make the school an offer they basically couldn’t refuse, but in the end they did a complete, 180-degree turnabout on their previous, “non-negotiable” positions. She WILL be allowed to continue her coursework there and she WILL be supported in pursuing this upcoming residency session remotely, which means she won’t have to deal with another Survivor experience (summer version). The executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission indicated that our long (but effective) proposal to the school included all the documentation needed to “state a prima facie complaint of disability based discrimination“. Apparently the school recognized this as well, as it took less than 24 hours for them to completely change their previously dissonant tune. A formal complaint to the State of Vermont is still an option, but to be honest, even after the incredible amount of emotional stress they put her through this past summer, neither of us is interested in pursuing legal avenues as long as Patty’s able to continue her academic progress unfettered by idiots who don’t know the law. As long as the stress doesn’t result in another MS exacerbation, we probably won’t take this further. Frankly, we’re both drained by the experience and don’t want to have to think about any of it ever again.

So – time to get back to doing some music!!

I’ll take mine Sweet and Heavy

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Almost exactly a month to the day from when I originally placed the order, this arrived via UPS – Fender’s American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster. This git is Sweet… and Heavy, on multiple levels.

I discovered, eventually, that the real reason for the shipping delay was that earlier this year Music123 was absorbed by the Borg of the retail music instrument industry – Guitar Center. Going all the way back to 1977 – I still recall the smug attitudes of the wannabe-guitar-hero salespeople in their Hollywood store when I was shopping for a new Bass – I’ve never liked Guitar Center. The fact that they’re in the process of gobbling up all competition makes me like them even less. Recently I went to their local brick-and-mortar outlet to play some Taylors and bought a guitar strap. The sales guy was nice enough, but it took him freaking 10 minutes and two different checkout computer stations to ring up that single $6 item. First he wanted a credit card. Then decided that wouldn’t work and asked if I had the exact cash. Luckily I did. Kind of the antithesis of those idiotic Visa commercials where we boobs with cash or a check bring the world to a grinding halt because we’re not falling into lockstep with the rest of the Cashless Society.

Anyway, in this particular case, apparently, part of the reorg process involved moving Music123’s inventory from one state to another. This of course is simple economics and logistics, and perfectly reasonable. What was upsetting was the fact that the customer service organization danced around this fact from the time I began inquiring about the delay. And of course they never mentioned anything about the merger with Guitar Center. I got no less than four different stories “explaining” the delay and shipment, which was very frustrating.

To boot, before I discovered that they’d snorted Music123, I had an online chat support session with one of Guitar Center’s reps while looking for an alternate source. I was told by him that Fender’s Nashville B-Bender had been discontinued (a lie, as it turned out, since there’s no reflection of this on Fender’s site, and it’s still in their 2007 price list), and that they didn’t carry them. At that point, though, this new information made it look like Music123 simply didn’t have the item in stock, was trying to get one, and simply wasn’t telling me. That surmise was supported by experience with Music123 the month before, when I’d ordered a supposedly in-stock American Series Telecaster (before I learned about the Nashville), only to be emailed a week or so later with a notice that the item really wasn’t in stock, and that they wouldn’t get any for weeks – so I canceled. In the long run, I’d have probably been better off ordering from some anonymous piker on EBay. Maybe next time. The way my luck works, zZounds will be carrying them next month.

All’s well that ends well, though, as the guitar is just awesome, and if it really is discontinued I’ll consider myself lucky to have picked up one of the last few. It plays like a dream and has an almost infinite range of sounds due to its added Strat-style center pickup and 5-position pickup switch. And I LOVE having only ONE volume and ONE tone knob – I’ll never understand why this didn’t remain the standard for all electric guitars (the Tele’ – at that time called the “Esquire” – was one of, if not the first). The classic ‘twangy’, Luther Perkins Esquire sound is there, but with the right amp setup, it also has balls to spare. This is all before we even talk about the bender mechanism, which gives it a whole other dimension. The thing was shipped, this time, in a not-very-pretty, but very functional molded case, which prevented a repeat of the shipping damage I experienced with the Vintage ’52 Telecaster, which Fender sends out in a stunning, but not-at-all-appropriate-for-shipping tweed ‘suitcase’ case (full disclosure: I may still buy this case for the Nash’, just ‘cuz they’re so damn cool… :-).

So color me happy, but a little bit sore. The only drawback (well, there are two, but one is due to my own playing habits) is the guitar’s weight. I haven’t actually weighed it, but this puppy is easily the heaviest thing I’ve had hanging around my neck in a long time, maybe ever – including all the basses I’ve played. Not a surprise, really, since the body is almost 2” thick solid hardwood. Some of that hardwood is routed out where the bender mechanism is installed, but that doesn’t make it any lighter. In fact, possibly adding to the weight is the heavy chrome steel plate Fender uses to close up the back. The Parsons/White version uses plexiglass, which I’m sure is considerably lighter. Either way, this thing definitely needs a wide, padded strap, as it’s pretty heavy just for normal playing, plus the bender mechanism is actuated by pulling down on the guitar neck. The other minor nit is a characteristic of the Tele’ shape itself – the cutaway is a little small for my big hands, so if and when I get ripping into any extremely high-end solos, I’ll need to work on hand position up there to squeeze my hand between the ‘horn’ and the neck.

Anyway, let’s contrast this Music123-cum-Guitar Center experience with the superhuman response one gets from zZounds.

I wanted a practice amp. The BXR is just too heavy to lug up and down stairs and I don’t have room for it in my little music studio / computer office anyway. I started scoping a small guitar-only amp and eventually settled on the Roland Cube 60 after some research on the Telecaster Forum and few other places. I placed the order at 3:35pm this last Wednesday afternoon. The amp and some ancillary junk arrived at about 1:30pm – the next day! Less than 24 hours’ from form submission to delivery to my front door! It’s just a mystery to me how they do this. I’ve received pretty much the same response with other stuff I’ve ordered from them. Basically, the item arrives before you even get the tracking information for shipment. And I haven’t found better prices. Needless to say, I highly, highly recommend them and pray to all that is good and holy that Guitar Center never sets their sights on acquiring them.

The Cube, by the way, is mightily impressive – again, on several levels. First, it’s LOUD! I could easily use this thing for a small outdoor gig. THAT kind of loud. Inside gig – no question. You’d never guess this by looking at its size, which is roughly twice as big as the old 5-watt “Pignose” amp I had years ago (which ran on batteries). The design is apparently very efficient with the 60 watts it sports. But that’s not the half of it. Like the Nashville, this thing has personality to spare. Rather than go into all the details here, you can hear the various things this amp can do at zZounds’ listing (click the “Docs, Multimedia” tab). There are also two video demos at Same Day Music that are pretty entertaining – just scroll down and click on “Cube 60 Interactive Demo” under “Multimedia”. Very cool.

Some folks apparently dislike the idea (and sound) of amp emulators (aka “modelers”), where digital signal processing in the amp modifies the output to sound like, oh, maybe an old Fender Princeton, a Marshall Stack, etc. Me, I’m happy to have an amp that’ll do what this baby does, and it’s my firm belief that only a very few purists are going to be able to tell the difference between the sound of this amp’s emulated configurations and the real thing. Unless one is in a really intimate setting, the acoustics are never, ever that good. And given the difference in price and physical logistics, the Cube is a steal, IMHO. With its tuner, line and recording outputs, multiple footswitch controls, the almost infinite number of amp/effects combinations, the “JC Clean” mode, tiny footprint, light weight (not much heavier than the new Tele’, in its hardshell case) and obvious reserve of sheer volume, this piece of gear rocks, both literally and figuratively. I can’t wait to play out somewhere with it.

Speaking of playing out, Patty and I went to see Taylor Hicks at the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT on Aug. 10th. It was a great show! That boy can jam on the harmonica, let me tell you! The high point for me was their encore: Supertramp’s Take the Long Way Home – one of my very favorites. Haunting, the way they sidled into it and the way Hicks and his sax player pulled off their parts. I appreciate cover tunes when they basically emulate the original -OR- essentially create a whole new version of the tune. Bad-imitation covers bore me. This one was great. More on the rest of the show later, maybe – this is getting a bit long as it is.

Nails, Not on Chalkboard

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Something I’ve been attracted to, but like so many things haven’t taken time to really pursue, is fingerpicking. Travis Picking, in particular, I find quite fun-sounding, and after trying just a little bit of it, I find that it’s reminiscent of playing bass and singing lead vocals – simultaneously – Back in The Day.

If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it (the bass/vocal thing). There’s not much like the feeling of accomplishment you get from playing one melody and singing another with a completely different rhythm. It’s a weird balance of split-personality and a kind of synergistic, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-parts thing – the parts being hands, fingers, brain, bass, voice, two melodies, two rhythms, two musical components… and the whole being, well, actually producing all that sound at once. The first time you get it all correct is pretty magical. And being able to repeat the feat is about what it must feel like to put on the Bat Suit. You really are doing two completely different things at once, but they become one thing.

I don’t have an acoustic 6-string, only the 12-, which doesn’t respond well to bare-fingertip-style picking. I’ve pretty much used a Herco (or whatever I can find that’s close) as long as I can remember. So I’ve been letting my nails grow just to see what that does. I’ve never tried it. About a week ago they got long enough to try playing a bit. Actually, I probably would have just kept waiting and eventually chewed them off the first time I came close to putting an eye out, but I caught this video and was instantly inspired. It’s a little repetitive, but you almost need to hear some of what he does a few times to appreciate what he’s doing here (and here, here and here).

So I sat down with the 12-, assuming it would be a painful reminder of how long it’s been since I played seriously at all. Three hours later the fingertips on my left hand were aching and I was grinning from ear to ear. I told Patty it was like someone else was playing. Magical.

Not sure about a 6-, but on a 12-string it’s difficult to imagine fingerpicking without nails. And what an amazing difference it is to be able to hit both strings in each pair instead of just one! It’s an entirely new style (of course) but when you hear it coming out of the guitar in your own lap it’s a little eerie. The somewhat bastardized version of Blackbird I try to play was next to effortless but, more importantly, sounded much better.  But the best part was just fiddling around and eventually trailing into this progression/rhythm that has grown over the past week (in my head, so far) into a pretty serious rock anthem (from fingerpicking on a 12-string… go figger). I think it’ll be pretty fun and powerful – kind of Bon Jovi meets Rick Springfield – and I think you’ll like it. In the meantime, I’ll try to get the basics recorded this weekend and put something up here.

Work on the other tunes continues apace, as well as intermittent guitar practice, which is why I haven’t been posting much here. It’s kind of an explosion in super slo-motion.

We’ll see where the pieces land.

Wow. Whining to the Ether works?

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Guess I should gripe blindly into the empty blogosphere more often. The Gibson was ready for pickup last night, so at least I have that back now. The other stuff… not so much.

Can you just do your damn job?

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The past week or so has been a series of frustrations. Mostly waiting for other folks to get their acts together. I’m sure I’ve let people down myself in the past, although my ego has blocked the memory for the moment. But the stuff that’s been going on here is getting kind of stupid.

First up we have a bureaucrat at my wife’s school, who seems to think she’s suddenly been promoted to some sort of Administrator position (she’s the ADA coordinator). She’s taken it upon herself to threaten Patty with refusal to let her start her fall semester if she doesn’t comply with the workarounds they’ve concocted to cover for their lack of ADA compliance.

It’s a long, long story, but the bottom line is that she’s required to attend two weeks’ residency each semester, and the rest is done online. It’s a great program, but the residence facilities there are absolutely abysmal. Example: on the day I dropped her off last March for the first shot at this, the temperature there was a record-breaking 28 degrees below zero. And there was no heat in the “dorm” where they’d put her. I quote “dorm” because the building where students are housed is more like a summer camp billet than any kind of dormitory I’ve ever seen (including during 3 years in the Army). The list goes on: no lights on the grounds at night, cobblestone walkways at the mercy of the incessant northern New England frost heave cycle, doorways too narrow for a standard walker, let alone a wheelchair, drainage so poor that the roads turn to instant mud with each rain… and then freeze into an impassable badlands during the night. It’s a joke.

But the issue, really, is that Patty was able to cope with all that (and much, much more) and still be the first student to have her semester program approved (part of the residency activity – all done online, though, so it’s a mystery why it has to be done there). Naturally, we informed the school of the vast deficiencies in their ADA compliance, making suggestions where appropriate – from the viewpoint of one whom the ADA regs are supposedly designed to help. The newly hired coordinator has apparently decided to take that information personally, not sure why. But of course now, on top of dealing with the “fun” of MS AND completing the coursework for her summer semester, Patty has to deal with this idiot telling her she might be prevented from continuing her education because the school refused to comply with basic ADA regulations.

So that’s one… Next on the list are the guys who have my guitars.

My Lyle 12-string, which I purchased in 1973, has been through the mill, big time. In the 34+ years I’ve had it, it’s neck has gotten warped, there’s a hairline crack in the heel (from a motorcycle incident, no less), a few of the tuning machines are falling apart, there are string retention pegs missing from the bridge and it definitely needs a new saddle. But it’s the oldest thing I personally own and it has a sound that has been complimented by more than one studio engineer and at least two professional musicians. I’d like to get it fixed if at all possible, so I took it to a local music shop to see what their luthier had to say about it. Since I was making the trip, I also brought along the aforementioned Gibson The Paul II for a basic setup. Next Monday both these instruments will have been sitting at the shop for a month, with no indication whatsoever when -or if – they’ll be worked on. I’ve called numerous times to no avail. The option at this point looks like just picking them up and starting over somewhere else. Unfortunately, the paucity of luthiers in the area makes it a bit difficult to know where to go next, and I’m getting tired of researching the issue.

According to one of their salespeople, the Nashville B-Bender Telecaster I ordered from Music123 last Saturday was packed up and ready for shipment on Sunday… and it’s been sitting in the warehouse since. Several calls and emails to them as well. The most recent explanation is “The reason it has not gone out yet is the warehouse started shipping everything at the same time so there has been a slight delay although your order should go out soon.” I guess “at the same time” means they’re now trying to save money by having fewer pickups. Like once a month? Not sure what “soon” means. Maybe October. Hey! zZounds!! Why don’t YOU folks carry this item!!! *sigh*

Finally, I had the joy on Monday morning of learning that my boss had either quit or been fired. I still don’t know which. His boss (my new boss) won’t say, and he’s not responding to the emails I sent him asking what happened and, then, letting him know he’d be missed. What I do know is that the reasons he’s gone (there are multiple) are wholly due to the fact that his bosses won’t do their damn jobs. To boot, my new boss is now “out” for a couple days – with nary a mention of this to me – and apparently won’t be back until next Monday. I’m a big boy, and I can certainly manage my own time for the next couple days. That’s not the point though, is it. It is, however, a good example of the sort of thing that ultimately led to the issues that culminated in Monday morning.

Then there’s the 110th Congress…

Happy Friday the 13th!

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Marking time here.

Part two of the Tascam adventure will need to wait a few. I really wanted to redo/document the steps I used to get a clear, low-noise, direct-input, simple guitar recording, but part of what I was doing was to get the difference in tone ‘on tape’ and the pickup switch transient finally just pissed me off. So the Telecaster is on its way back due to the electrical problem. I really couldn’t see spending the time and effort to ship or bring the thing in for a warranty repair after having spent that much on what should have been an excellent git, out-of-the-box. I know, Fender quality isn’t the greatest. At this point I’m willing to accept that sometimes getting the right instrument requires a few tries – or spending lots of time (which I don’t have) playing multiple guitars in lots of stores.

Hopefully the Paul II will be back from the shop soon – it’s having it’s first mechanical tuneup/setup (after well over 10 years, it deserved some love) – and I can continue the process with that while considering the next move on acquiring a nice Telecaster.

After having seen what was done (by Fender) with the Vintage ’52, I have to say that, ultimately, I wasn’t very impressed – except maybe with the remarkable tweed case! Anyway, I think I’m leaning back to my original plan, which was the American Series Telecaster – Natural Body / Maple Neck model (0118400721), although I’ll definitely be putting a single-ply black pickguard on it. The white just doesn’t quite cut it, IMHO. The hitch at this point – and this is something that’s been in the back of my mind all along, ‘cuz I’ve toyed with the idea of getting one since I first saw a Bender back in the ’70s – is whether or not to choose the Nashville B-Bender. The options are to get a nice, basic model – like the American Series – and have it refitted later by The Man (Gene Parsons), or get the factory-installed Nashville model straight from Fender.

The former choice is quite a bit more pricey, but in the long run probably a better way to go in terms of quality and – though it’s not really a consideration at this point – resale value later on, having been installed by the Master. The question is whether or not the difference in quality will be noticed by a relatively mediocre player like myself. Also the Nashville Telecaster Fender ships with their factory installed Bender seems much more versatile, tone-wise, than the simpler American Series model that I’d probably have refitted: extra pickup, 5 tone combinations instead of 2-1/2. Most importantly, those combinations include the ‘standard’ Tele’ pickup selectors, so it would seem you get classic Tele’ sound plus others as well. Maybe one of the local shops has one to try out. Downside: it only comes in black and 3-color sunburst, no natural. Upside: black is my second color choice (with a single-ply, black replacement pickguard, of course).

On the writing front, I’ve gotten the chorus, bridge(s) and the bulk of the first couple verses put together for a rewrite of Hard Road Down – something I started and actually finished quite a few years ago, but was never totally satisfied with. I have always felt it had the potential to be a ‘great’ tune, but lacks in the area of compelling lyrics. They’re just so-so, IMHO. Workin’ on that, and now I have motivation and inspiration in the form of the stuff needed to do a “full-band” recording for it, complete with a cello/guitar duet instrumental section I’ve been noodling on. Most likely it’ll be me playing everything, so it’ll stay pretty simple, but the important thing is to finish it, for the sake of finishing it, and get it down for posteriority.

Recording-wise, back when I got to This Page in Rich the Tweak’s awesome Guide, I took him up on the challenge there and actually started putting down the basic drum/bass tracks for Wannabe Life, another tune that’s only ever been heard by the demons in my head. When they’re listening. Which isn’t often. There are some nice vocal “Doos” in the Vocal expansion I have in the JV-1080, so I put down some (super)scratch vocals just to hear what the harmony might sound like with a little pseudo-B3 along for the ride. Here’s 30 seconds’ worth – everything centered, no mix, no effects. Progress on this has been interrupted by EDLI (every-day life issues), but things are settling a bit, and so once things are hooked together tomorrow, I can get back to it.

So, tomorrow is a minor Moving Day. The JV – which right now is kind of neatly buried in my corner cockpit desk here – will get a new home over there underneath the Tascam so I can use short cables to connect them. After that, install SONAR 6, which arrived this week, and get back to tweaking!

First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804

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The Tascam FW-1804 Audio Interface has mixed reviews here and there. What originally drew my attention to this unit, frankly, were threads like this one and Rich the Tweak’s comment here:

One of the best deals, if not the best deal, for a Mixerless rig in terms of bang for the buck.

For my setup, he’s right. And I spent a lot of time reading, learning, thinking and looking over specs, etc., to come to this conclusion. The only other contender, for my needs and budget, was the Presonus Firebox. That probably would have been fine, but it didn’t have effects insert send/returns. Plus ideally, I’d like to have four inputs just for the Roland JV-1080 (Dry L/R and EFX L/R), although 2 will suffice (MIX L/R). So, for an additional $30, the 1804 lets me experiment and has expandability for later. I wasn’t too-too concerned about preamp hyper-quality. When we get there I’ll get an actual preamp that does nothing else. In the meantime, it’ll be a long time before I need anything more, so I decided this was the best deal for my needs.

Some folks have actually taken to replacing “Tascam” with “Trashcan” (some with domains like… erm…). I’d seen all this stuff before purchasing and although it sounded like a few had genuine beefs with reliability or Tascam support, quite frankly, many of the negative reviews were so inarticulate in terms of the real problem that I wrote them off to simply being unwilling to read the manual, etc. “WORTHLESS PIECE OF CRAP!! I COULDN’T GET IT WORKING!!!” doesn’t do much to describe the actual problem. At least not a problem with the gear.

I see this daily in my Tech Support position, though I’m thankfully no longer responsible for coming up with diplomatic responses to such screeds. Remember: the customer is always “right”, even when they’re blatantly, inexcusably wrong. It’s usually easy to identify the people who install a piece of complex software – one that’s designed to simplify the use of a complex standard (in this case, WS-BPEL 2.0), which is in turn based on a bunch of other complex standards – and who dive right in with no training, none of the peripheral or prerequisite knowledge and no time spent reading the thousands of pages of documentation, tutorials and examples we created to support it.

The questions these kinds of folks post to the support forum tend to be rants rather than real questions, and they sometimes even get indignant if you suggest training, reading the manual, going through the painstakingly constructed tutorial (at least once, fer crissakes!) or simply checking the text of the standard to resolve their confusion. They seem to want to be able to jump right in to using it with no real investment in time. I see this most frequently with college students working on “theses” and other school projects. Most of these folks, basically, want YOU to resolve their issue (i.e., do their homework for them).

Seems like many users of Audio Interfaces (in general) fall into this category, i.e., they see a CD, an interface unit and one cable going into the computer, and they think “Huh. Just like a USB external drive!” Uhm… no. Sorry, you can’t simply plug one of these into your SONAR-equipped computer, stick a guitar into the “Guitar” input, turn the Trim up to +40dB, open your mouth, throw back your head and start recording that last wailing track of Black Star. It simply won’t work. No doubt at least one or two (ok, probably more) of the neg reviews on the Tascam (and others!) resulted from exactly that sort of scenario. As it turns out, one needs to work at it to get any sort of sound at all… let alone something acceptable. In my case this took a few hours of reading, installing, tweaking, reading, thinking, rewiring, tweaking and then some more tweaking.

Here’s the basic sequence I used, including some of the wrong turns, to get what is (so far) a very nice electric guitar sound recorded on a track in SONAR using direct input – with and without a distortion box. I’m using Windows XP SP2 and SONAR 2.2 (yeah, I’ve heard a million times that it’s old – bite me – 6 is on the way). Be sure to follow directions specific to your system if you’re using Vista (god help you) or a Mac (lucky bastid). These may seem a tad too meticulous, but I’ve learned not to trust anything anymore – especially when it’s manufactured in certain parts of the world (anyone had a pet made ill or killed by supposedly “safe” pet food in the past year? ’nuff said), which most stuff is these days.

Read Everything First, THEN Start Tweaking

  • Whatever documentation you get with your unit, read it all before you install any software or take the twist-ties off any of the cables.
  • Get a soda (or a pop), go back, and re-read the parts you didn’t understand the first time.
  • Make sure all the A/C adapters, parts, cables and CDs are there. There’s typically a list (with pictures) in the Owner’s Manual.
  • Unpack the A/C adapter. Plug it into wall outlet. Verify that it doesn’t blow a circuit breaker.
  • Unpack the main unit and connect it to the A/C adapter. Turn on the power. Verify that the lights stay lit. Punch the buttons, watch the lights change.
  • Plug a microphone into one of the inputs (or a guitar into Input 8, which has a duplicate input marked “Guitar” on the front panel) and plug a set of headphones into the Phones jack. Verify that you can hear sound in the headphones when you speak/play.
  • Power the unit off.

Software Drivers for the new Hardware

Dealing with hardware drivers in Windows (any flavor) is always “fun”. I’ve already gotten at least one BSOD since installing this unit. Though it occurred just after a SONAR crash during a “Remove Silence” command, it was while the unit was connected and powered up. If it had anything to do with the Tascam drivers, I would guess that it was because the hardware wasn’t gracefully informed that the client application (SONAR) was no longer there, and cacked the system trying to interrupt a nonexistent process (i.e., the error message was the standard IRQ_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL, or however Micro$oft spells it – “IRQ” stands for Interrupt ReQuest). BSODs are a part of using software that gives your computer a workout. Hopefully SONAR 6 will be better behaved.

  • Create a Windows XP System Restore Point in case you need to back out any driver changes. Never done this? Time to go read/learn about it.
  • Determine which FireWire inputs to use. If you’re like me, you’ll probably have at least two: one on the motherboard and one on your sound card. Follow the instructions in the Setup Guide and locate your FireWire interfaces using the Device Manager. Don’t have any? Well, you probably should have checked before you bought the unit, huh? Sorry. Time to shop for a sound card with a FireWire port.
    • Here, I decided to use the one on the motherboard and disabled the one on the sound card. Why? My theory is to remove latency whenever and wherever it can occur. In this case, why have the data go through the PCI bus, through the circuitry on the sound card and out the FireWire port (and back!) when I can have it go to/from the FireWire port connected (almost) directly to the CPU? Couldn’t think of a reason, so I’m using the mobo port. Since I won’t be using the sound card’s, I disabled it to free up any resources that might have been allocated to it.
    • To determine which FW port was which, I looked at the Properties for each and disabled the one whose Location was PCI Slot 4. Your mileage may vary.

    Disabled FireWire Port

    • Note: I didn’t say plug the 1804 in yet.
  • Install the driver software.
    • In the 1804’s case, they instruct you to install the drivers BEFORE hooking up the unit. Be sure to do this.
  • The install program will probably suggest that you reboot. Do it.
    • I’ve had mixed combinations of success and BSODs (failures on reboot) when I allow the installer to reboot my system. Interestingly enough, this happens most often with Micro$oft’s Update Manager, which is not really a surprise. So I’ve gotten in the habit of responding “No, reboot later” to this sort of dialog and then immediately powering the system down (using Start / Turn off the Computer), then back up. This makes sure EVERYthing gets power-cycled, and when you’re installing hardware drivers and enabling/disabling things, this will often make a difference. For me, it’s just a habit now.
  • Once the computer system is powered back up, check to make sure everything still works okay. Run WoW, Tomb Raider, SONAR – whatever gives your system hardware a workout, just to make sure there was no conflict with the driver installation.
  • Power down the computer and the 1804.
  • Locate the physical FireWire port on the computer and connect it to FireWire #1 on the back of the 1804 using the cable provided.
  • Power up the computer and get back to the desktop.
  • Power up the 1804. In a moment, you should see the standard XP dialogs coming up, telling you how excited they are that they just found new hardware and can’t wait to install drivers for it. Follow the steps in the Setup guide, as written.
    • When I did this, the installer actually went through discovering two sets of hardware and installing two sets of drivers. The Setup Guide isn’t specific about this and, again, your mileage may vary. I believe one set was for the 1804 FireWire control interface and the other was for the WDM/ASIO/etc. sound drivers. I answered ‘Yes’ whenever the dialogs asked if they could install a driver “automatically”. This worked for me.
  • Everything OK? Okay, power your computer down, then back up, one more time. Check to make sure everything that used to work, still works.

Next time: Connecting to SONAR

Christmas in July

Gear, Guitar Comments Off on Christmas in July

I’m worn out.

Two of the items I ordered on Tuesday arrived this afternoon (yay for amazingly fast shipping from!!): the Tascam (see previous post) and a brand new American Vintage ’52 Telecaster. The Tascam is still in the plastic wrap – I’m waiting for some cables for that anyway.

But I must have spent 3 hours already playing the Tele’. If it weren’t for the transients it throws intermittently when I switch pickups, it’d be perfect. The cable it came with just plain doesn’t work at all – not that I’d ever use it anyway. Guess they don’t even test those anymore. All-in-all, a little disconcerting for what is actually a fairly expensive guitar. I’ve emailed Fender to see if it’s something I should bring it in for service on, or if it’ll wear in (like a dirty potentiometer).

Finish-wise, I was initially disappointed (that changed). When I look at this, I see a fairly light colored wood, and that’s what I was expecting – lots of contrast between that and the very black pickguard. The actual color is more of what the finish name – Butterscotch Blonde – actually implies. The wood grain has an almost grey tint and the wood/stain combination is, well, butterscotch-colored. The effect is that at a distance it has a kind of flat look to it, but as you get closer, the surface starts to look three-dimensional. Very cool. The finish itself is like polished stone – smooth as glass and hard. The inevitable first nick in the body of this babe will be a real heartbreaker. They always are. Same will be true of the first scratch on the case. This one is just a work of art – signature Fender beige tweed with leather accents. It’s built like a steamer trunk one might’ve taken on a cruise… in 1950.

Oh and by the way, I think the majority of consumer instruments have a polyurethane finish these days. This one doesn’t. If you’ve ever purchased a lacquer-finished instrument but neglected to read the literature that came with it, it turns out that they’re allergic to latex – as in the surgical tubing that covers most parts of a guitar stand. I’ll be looking for something to deal with that.

Being so completely out of practice, it’s difficult to tell if the neck “plays well”, although what playing I have done has been next to effortless – the way I always envisioned playing an electric guitar should feel like. I’ve never quite managed that with the instruments I’ve owned which, other than a Gibson The Paul II, have always been lesser-brand copies that didn’t have very good action and always sounded “pretty good” but not great.

Very interesting going from the almost manhandling mode of the cello to barely touching the light, almost airy electric guitar strings. Tomorrow we’ll throw in some bass practice – just to really make things interesting!

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