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.

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?

Gear, General, Guitar, People Comments Off on Can you just do your damn job?

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…

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