Category Archives: Guitars

Patriot Day

A long, long time ago, I wondered in my personal journal what my generation’s Pearl Harbor would be. Frankly, I thought it would be something much more horrific than that Day That Would Live in Infamy — a doomsday scenario, with us and Russians lobbing warheads over the pole at each other. It was the early 1980s, after all, and that seemed like the most likely kind of event. Like so many others, though, when the fall of the Soviet Bloc took place in the late 1980s, I thought we were finally on the brink of acting like the human race I’d always aspired for us to be. Of course, there would still be strife and hated — there’s just too many different opinions out there on life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — but I thought that the promise of the Shining City on a Hill would be so uniting and so persuasive, it would be the kind of obvious human goal to strive for.

And then September 11th, 2001, rolled around.

I was sitting in a meeting at work, when someone said that a plane had crashed into a building in New York City. Obviously, that was a horrible thing to hear, but it was in that weird “spectator” state for those of us in the building. This was before cell phones with internet connections were ubiquitous, and really, all we had to rely upon was the word-of-mouth of folks who were just rolling into work, or folks who were looking at various news websites. By the time we were out of our meeting, it was obvious that something very, very traumatic had taken place, and I knew then that my generation had its Pearl Harbor.

I remember not being able to get any news in the building. Most folks’ radios didn’t work well in there — lots of concrete and RFI from all the computers — so the real lifeline was the internet. Of course, an hour or so into the tragedy, most websites were impossible to hit. If I remember right, CNN actually went down to a single, simple HTML page, trying to serve up simple, quick pages to a public hungry for news on what had just happened to us. As for me, I watched the news unfurl on the BBC website, as it was slightly less taxed than the domestic news outlets.

Upon finishing the workday, I came home, and watched the first video I’d seen of what had happened. It’s one thing to read about such devastation, but to see it unfold on a TV screen was truly surreal. Like many folks said on that day, it looked like a scene from some kind of Hollywood blockbuster. And I stayed glued to the TV the rest of the night.

Oddly enough, the thing that struck me the most about what I saw on TV that night was what wasn’t happening. Many of the “entertainment” networks — QVC, HGTV, MTV and others — suspended their operations, and either were hooked into a news outlet, or had a simple slide up, speaking of their support for the families of those lost on that day. I’d never seen anything like it.

Like many, many other folks, I was in shock. I wept, I prayed, and I tried to move on.

Fast forward to today, the tenth anniversary of that awful day. This weekend, I went to Branson for the semiannual Fiddlers’ Convention with some of the folks I play music with. I knew it was a special weekend because of the anniversary, but I also knew that I could find some solace in some of the most American music ever created. Last night, I joined the circle, and played out, for the first time outside the small group of folks that are my occasional musical circle.

I tried to keep up, and follow along as these very experienced players weaved music through the night. I really surprised myself, and think I did ok. And then, unexpectedly, there were two moments that really made the night memorable for me.

One of the guys that went to Branson with me broke into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. That old song is absolutely one of my favorites, and being a part of playing it in a small group was magical, truly magical. I was swept up in the music, and for the first time, felt like I was really a part of the music itself. I really don’t know how to explain it any better than that. And like part of a one-two punch, the circle started playing “Amazing Grace.” Yet again, I was struck with being such a part of this wonderful musical event. I heard someone on the radio this morning describing music as being something that could describe events using language beyond our daily ability to communicate. I’d have to agree, and that’s definitely what I was finding last night — comfort, and solace, communicated as more than the sum of the words that were sung and notes that played.

This morning, I began the quick journey back from Branson — just a few hours’ drive — and encountered a couple of groups marking the anniversary. The first was a group of motorcyclists, riding as a group on the outer road, sporting U.S. flags on the back of their bikes. The other was a long, long line of farm tractors making the turn off the outer road, each with Old Glory proudly displayed. This kind of display as I rolled across the hills of mid-Missouri reminded me of just how special our country is, and how poignant this date is, and likely will remain.

I’ve found myself trying to steel against the emotions of the day, and every once in a while, I’m caught off-guard by a gasp of emotion, a cry caught in my throat, inspired by things as disparate as hearing “Amazing Grace” played at Ground Zero as I was driving home this morning, to seeing a commercial featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales kneeling before the skyline of New York City. Through it all, I know that God will watch out for us — not because we’re so special, but because we’ve asked Him take care of us.

New Guitar : Taylor 426ce-LTD

Taylor 426ce-LTD
Taylor 426ce-LTD

Lately, I’ve become enamored of Taylor Guitars. Bob Taylor and his crew really make a beautiful instrument, and I’ve been really taken with the quality, sound and feel of them. The GS Mini I have is a terrific instrument, and the other Taylor instruments I’ve played at Fazio’s have been tremendous.

Cruising the Acoustic Guitar Forum one day, I found someone selling a 2008 Taylor 426ce Limited Edition at a reasonable price, and in great condition. Money sent, guitar received, and all was well in the world! I took it to Fazio’s, and had Bryan set it up, adjusting the neck and truss rod, making it play like brand new.

This thing is gorgeous. It’s top, sides, and back are solid Tasmanian blackwood, sporting a gorgeous shimmer. And the tone… well, the tone is out of this world. It’s thick sounding, complex, with lots of body, and compares nicely to my Carvin mahogany. I really love playing it.

It’s been with me now for about two-and-a-half weeks, and has been my “first picked up” guitar when I look to play. I’ve been comparing it with my Takamine and Carvin, and while they each have their own voices, I really like the feel of the neck on the Taylor, and find that I can play this guitar for hours at a time, without getting tired.

What a terrific instrument!

On Being Picky

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring the world of guitar picks. There are ga-zillions of picks out there, and by no means, have I looked at even the smallest fraction of ’em. However, here’s a few that I’ve tried over the last few months during my quest for sound.

Gravity Picks
Gravity Picks

Chris, from Gravity Picks, put a deal on the Acoustic Guitar Forum a while back, offering a free pick to evaluate. Chris makes a boatload of picks, and I suggested what kind of playing I did, and what sound I was looking for. He sent a Classic XL. Most of what I’d used up to that point was Dunlop Tortex yellow (0.73mm) and red (0.50mm) picks, and this pick is pretty comparable in size and weight as the Dunlops, at least to my fingers. Playing-wise, it’s a thin, sorta “slappy” sound on the strings. There’s a time and place for that, but as I’ve discovered during my pick vision quest, I’m finding that I don’t care for that sound as much as I thought I did. Chris has some other kinds of picks, and I suspect I’ll be trying some of them out at some point. Picks, like strings, are pretty cheap ways to experiment with the sound coming out of the instrument.


Vinny, from V-Picks also put up a freebie deal on the AGF. Unfortunately, I missed out on the deal, and ended up just buying a set of picks from him. I ordered the Acoustic Premium Pack, which included the five picks in the image. Four of them were acrylic, similar to the Gravity Pick sample I’d received, but that white beauty in the middle, the “Screamer”, was gold. I really like that pick. It’s thick, which I’m learning I like, and it has a very, very crisp sound on the strings, without the slap of a thinner pick. Definitely a pick to keep playing around with.

BlueChip Picks
BlueChip Picks

I’d been hearing about BlueChip Picks for a while. Bryan, at Fazio’s, demoed a few picks for me, and the one that really grabbed my attention was the BlueChip. These aren’t exactly cheap picks, with the pick I chose — the TP40 — running $35. Frankly, I was skeptical that there was that much of a difference with this pick, but, oh was I wrong. This pick is a jewel. I love the different voices I can generate on the strings with it, spanning a tinny, treble sound to a thick, luscious womb of sound. Really, really great product, and I’m finding that it’s a go-to pick for me.

StoneWorks Picks
StoneWorks Picks

Last week, the Mike at StoneWorks Picks sent out a deal for 25% off. That’s a good deal, but along with that they’d throw in a “Plain Jane”. Mike creates picks from stone… cool looking stones. And there’s loads of different kinds of stones he uses, making every pick unique. I ended up with a couple of picks in the 2.7mm area, with the Plain Jane being a little bit thicker — maybe 3.0mm or so. Mike also included a couple of nylon-like picks. This collection of picks is just cool. It oozes the organic nature that I attribute to my acoustic guitar playing, and there’s just something cool about dragging a rock across a piece of metal, stretched across a bunch of wood. Much like the BlueChip, the stone picks really can generate a lot of different tones. I was absolutely blown away with the range of “bright” to “dark” that a single stone pick could generate. Now, I don’t know if there’s any sonic difference from stone to stone, much less material to material, but I really do dig these picks and their sound.

So, what did I discover?

Well, I found that I didn’t like the thinner picks as much as I thought I did. The sound and feel of the thicker picks has really grown on me. I also discovered that I’m not as big a fan of the nylon and acrylic picks as I thought I would be. In fact, it seems like the picks that either are — or emulate — natural materials are where I’m turning my attention when I’m playing. There are still some types of picks out there to try, and I’m sure I will, but the first part of my pick quest seems to have netted some real results, and helped me figure out what kind of sounds I like.

This is, after all, a journey!!!

GS Mini Redux

Colosi Saddle and Pins

First, let me say that I’m loving my Taylor GS Mini. It’s just a neat guitar, compact and full of punch. Amazing little instrument.

Having read a bunch of real nice things about the improvements to be gained by replacing the saddle and bridge pins with bone, I contacted Bob Colosi to order a saddle and set of bridge pins for the Mini (nicknamed “Peanut” BTW). Bob is really considered to be “the source” for replacement saddles, pins and nuts, made of all kinds of crazy natural materials. I elected to get mine fashioned from bone, dyed and aged to look like they’d had a few miles on ’em.

Colosi Saddle and Pins

I also decided to get the ES-Go pickup for the Mini. Bryan at Fazio’s had one in stock, and offered to install it for me. Win! Bryan had also suggested some Curt Mangan strings to warm the tone of the Mini beyond what the stock Elixir PB’s were giving me, so in the process of installing the pickup, he also installed the new saddle, strings and pins. That’s why I keep going back there — great customer service.

And after the work was done, the Mini sang! I mean, really sang. The depth of tone and the sustain in the instrument were way, way enhanced with these changes. It’s a much, much warmer sound than a guitar of that size should have.

Between the strings and the bone products from Bob Colosi, I invested about $80, and those eighty bucks have made this already incredible guitar an incredible sounding instrument.

New Guitar Day : Taylor GS Mini

One of the things that I’ve some struggles with is figuring out how to carry a guitar with me when we travel. I did carry one when we drove to Monument Valley last year, and I’ve taken ’em down to Mom’s place before, but in the Jeep, even a single acoustic fills a lot of space. I also carry one to work every now and then for a little playing after work. However, when I hide that in the closet in my cube, it takes up the whole closet — no room for my messenger bag or anything else.

All that put me on the hunt for a travel guitar. Last night, I went to Fazio’s Frets and Friends to try to solve this little problem.

Taylor GS Mini and Carvin Cobalt C350
Taylor GS Mini and Carvin Cobalt C350
I’ve been working with Bryan at Fazio’s for a few weeks, and he’s got a pretty good sense for the sound I prefer. He and I walked through some guitars from Taylor (Baby Taylor, Big Baby and GS Mini), along with a couple of small instruments from Martin and Art and Lutherie. After playing with ’em all, I landed on the Taylor GS Mini.

Of all the small bodied guitars I played and listened to, the Mini really sounded the most like a full-size guitar, while still being small enough to cart around pretty easily. It even came with a “soft case” — sorta a cross between a hard-shell case and a gig bag — which is configured for backpack-style carrying, or carrying with traditionally located handles. That’s a nice bonus.

Another nice bonus — Bryan had three of them for me to choose from. I think I chose wisely. 🙂

Playing it is a little different from my Carvin C350 (seen next to the Mini in the photo). Visually, the size really smacks you — it’s small. The scale on the Mini is about 23.5″, compared against the 25.5″ scale of the Carvin. And yep, the body’s smaller too, both across the top and body thickness. It’s solid-topped spruce (laminate sides and back), and I suspect that’s part of why it can get so much sound out of such a small box o’ wood. And it’s feather-lite.

I played it for about two hours last night, and another hour or so this morning, and I’ve gotta say, it’s really fun to play, and even after all that playing, there was no real arm fatigue. I think part of that is from two factors. One is the scale. The shorter scale means that my left arm isn’t outstretched nearly as much, especially when resting the guitar waist on my right knee. The other factor is that due to the small size, I’ll play it more “upright” — almost like a classical style — when I sit on the couch and play. This is more comfortable for me most of the time anyway, and again, with the smaller scale, I’m not having to reach for the sky.

When playing it, though, it’s not as forgiving as my Carvin. Fretting nearer the fret wires is really where the sound is at on this guitar, and the sloppy play I usually engage in doesn’t ring quite as nicely as good, solid technique does. You could make the argument that playing a less forgiving instrument may force me into better habits. If so, that’s nothing but good!

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I like this little guitar. It seems like it’s solid, portable, and has enough tone to project well in a small crowd. It’s even got a user-installable pickup system available. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Watch out world — here I come, guitar in hand!

Well, It Ain’t Fireworks…

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get to any fireworks this weekend. However, with the success of the raindrops under my belt this weekend, I turned my flash to another subject I’d been thinking about.

I set my Carvin Cobalt C350 on a flat surface, and mounted my flash and Canon 7D on a couple of tripods. By using my new DIY cable extension, I had a ton of latitude in placing the flash. I set the flash to strobe at 20hz, and plucked the low E-string, capturing 1/2 second of vibration. I need to try it again, though, as this image didn’t exactly turn out the way I had envisioned, although I do like it.

So my fireworks tonight is a little stroboscopic action, with the aid of some new strings. Enjoy!

Plucking the E-String

New Guitar : Carvin Model 50 Lap Steel

For Christmas, I picked up a little eBay present — a 1954 Carvin Model 50 Lap Steel guitar.

Now, this is definitely a project guitar for me. This thing was a little dirty, could stand new strings, and needs a little TLC to get back up to snuff… all of which will be fun. Kevin’s indicated that I should keep it stock, but I have some desire to pretty it up — new hardware, etc. — and maybe even replace the pots for volume and tone, along with the 1/4″ socket.

However, I still have to learn to play the thing. I’ve laid some questions out on some guitar fora to see if I can get some help figuring out what tuning scheme to use on it, where to get strings, and what kind of learning materials I can find to teach me to play the steel guitar.

And if I like playing it, I could see me picking up another of these down the road. Will it be a Carvin/Kiesel? Who knows… Part of me likes the idea of keeping to vintage instruments like this, but part of me would like to put a “new classic” instrument in the corral.

Of course, that assumes I figure out how to play the steel guitar, and find an opportunity to use that knowledge from time to time!