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Lockdown Learnings

I’m aware that I have been very quiet on this blog since the arrival of Coronavirus in the UK. It’s not directly a result of the virus or the lockdown. I’ve been working on a few things. Call it a period of incubation…

Yours truly in quarantine

Music Outside Sheds

When it became clear that the British government was unable to do the right thing, many national and Greater Manchester institutions took matters into their own hands and self-imposed lockdown. Stockport Music in Sheds was no different. Our last Heaton Moor session was on 11th March, and we are on hiatus until the Coronavirus situation permits us to restart.

Half Gauges

I tried half gauges last year. As I was brushing up on my rusty guitar playing, I went through 9s, 9.5s and settled on 10s. 10s were strong enough to resist my iron grip, which was causing some of my chords to play out of tune.

I put 10s on my SG too. Having a shorter scale, the strings are a bit easier to bend. I liked this so much, I recently decided to revisit the gauges on my Strat, and lowered the plain strings’ gauges a half step. Who knew! It’s worth reviewing your gauges occasionally, especially if you’re still learning. (And, let’s face it, when do we ever stop?)

Wireless Wanderings

Under pressure to suggest a reasonably-priced birthday present, I thought, “what does a guitarist not really need, but would like?” I looked into Wireless, and found that it was neither complicated or expensive. So, a couple of weeks later, I was prancing around the house, seeing how far I could go before the sound stopped. (Not that far, it turns out.)

Nonetheless, the freedom you get from a wireless guitar is a minor revelation. I’m not sure I could go back to cables now — although no doubt I will have to at some stage, when I forget to recharge the batteries. (A charge doesn’t last that long, it turns out.)

Helix

My love affair with Boss effects ended in March. Despite a multitude of options at my fingertips, the ME-80 just wasn’t providing the sounds I wanted as easily as I’d have liked. It was time to move on.

Helix LT

I took the plunge, bought a Line 6 Helix amp/effect modelling processor from PMT in Salford, and stuck the Boss on Reverb. It worked out to be a smart move. The Helix both sounds amazing and is pretty straightforward to use (once you get the hang of it). It’s not so much a multi-effects pedalboard as a floor DAW with footswitches.

The amp modelling is very impressive. I quickly created 8 presets with popular amps and a Swiss army knife array of standard effects pedals. 60s sound? Switch to Vox AC30. Hard rock? Fire up a Marshall stack. West Coast flower power? Where’s my Fender Twin? Much cheaper (and lighter) than 83 valve amps!

Reverb.com

Since I’ve got back on the guitar-playing horse, I’ve become aware of a website called Reverb.com. It’s like eBay for music gear. I’ve bought a couple of things off it, but the disposal of my Boss effects box seemed like a good opportunity to try it as a seller. Besides, my last few experiences with eBay had been increasingly unrewarding.

Reverb doesn’t do auctions. You work out a reasonable price for your gear and add a bit of haggle room on top, slap on a description and a few photos, and wait. Within a couple of weeks, I had one guy taking the piss, and one reasonable offer. Very civilised. Reverb doesn’t take 10% like eBay either. It takes a more reasonable 3.5% 5%.

Orion and Live

I stopped recording around 15 years ago. At the time, I was using Orion and Live on Windows XP, with an M-Audio sound card! Recently, I’d started to entertain the possibility of writing and recording again. But what would I use?

Orion DAW

I opted not to reinvent the wheel, and dug out my old backups. An hour later, I was running all my old software on Windows 10 with my old sound card. I even restored my old samples, VST instruments, VST effects and song files. It all worked perfectly, with the added bonus that my computer had seen a couple of major hardware upgrades in the interim. All I need now is musical inspiration.

Adam Audio

The last time I recorded on a computer, I ran a couple of long cables to my stereo, which was used throughout the whole writing, mixing, and mastering process. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this course of action, but it worked pretty well for me at the time. The only minor problem I found was that my final mix was a little muddy and bass-heavy.

This time around, the stereo is at the other end of the house to the computer — not exactly ideal for monitoring! So the credit card came out again, and Andertons supplied me with a couple of Adam Audio nearfield monitors — hilariously sold as single speakers. Wow! They are certainly a step up from the £5 Asda PC speakers I was using.

If you are tempted to splash out on some nearfield monitors, whatever you do, please buy stands too. These are often supplied with monitor pairs as bundles. Do it.

Home Studio

I have this tendency to get carried away with projects. This time, the room over the garage was the casualty. My music gear was taking over different parts of the house, so it seemed sensible to consolidate my work stuff with the studio and music gear, in one room.

the new studio

After a bit of sweat and toil, and a few unpleasant surprises underneath well-established furniture, my new office/studio/rehearsal space was assembled. All it needs now is a cheap carpet to absorb all the echoes.

Strap length

I’ll end this meandering monologue with an epiphany I experienced this weekend… Last year I swapped a few guitar straps around. As I did this, it occurred to me that I never really understood what determined the correct length for a guitar strap. A trip to the font of all knowledge (YouTube) gave several alternative philosophies, including:

  • The guitar should hide your groin
  • The guitar should be the same height standing as when you are seated
  • Your fretting hand’s thumb should end up on the back of the neck

In my past life as a guitarist, I always liked to have the guitar high up, John Lennon style. These new suggestions all had their merits, but none seemed particularly definitive.

When I was playing rhythm guitar at the weekend, strapping on the SG, I noticed that it was a higher than I was comfortable with, and I was fluffing the low notes in barre chords. Then the penny dropped: my barre finger was at the wrong angle. I dropped the guitar height a few inches, kept the neck up, and my barre chords were fixed.

Not so much groin as belly button, in my case.

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