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Introducing Lowly Man

Ever since I started recording again, I’ve had one eye open for potential collaborators. I can write music, it’s just that coming up with ideas is a very slow and random process for me. The solo Long Division album took 3 years, start to finish.

It had always been easier to compose with a collaborator. Cloudburst and Back to the Grind were good examples of this. I have several albums’ worth of original demos from the 80s. We would bring scraps of music to recording sessions, bounce ideas and suggestions around, and have something resembling a song later that day.

Andy Bell was an occasional observer at Cloudburst rehearsals. He was a keen guitarist and songwriter, and went to the same school as us. We reconnected a few years ago, through the wonder of social media, and shared a few beers at Darrener reunions. This year, he sent me a recording of one of his old acoustic guitar compositions, and said, “see what you can do with this.”

I think he was expecting me to noodle over the top with an electric guitar. What actually happened was that I beat-mapped and pitch-shifted the recording, and dropped it into a DAW. A couple of days later, I’d added drum sampler, bass sampler, electric 12-string, Strat and SG tracks.

It was as much an exercise in recording, production and mixing as it was in composition. The bones were already there, I just had to put flesh on them. But it was fast, and we were pleased with the result. I think we both knew that we would be doing more.

So, a few weeks later, I was sent another short acoustic piece. This time, we were more ambitious, and it started to morph into a full-length track. I was delighted when Andy announced he was going to attempt to sing on it, despite being very much a guitarist first. Andy named it Lowly Man.

I had produced my first complete song since Worm Pizza in 2003. I suggested we changed Andy Bell & Keith Nuttall to something a bit shorter. My wife suggested a hybrid, made from our names, like K/andy. So we agreed on K(andyb)all. Two songs later, we went for something a little less K-Pop, and something a little more fitting. We chose the title of our first song, Lowly Man.

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Guitars

Gear4music LA Deluxe Electric 12-string

I am a product of my upbringing, and, although I have grown to prefer quality over quantity, I still love a good bargain. So, my interest was piqued when I learned that Stockport’s Fab Music Store had a very cheap 12-string electric in the shop.

Gear4music 'LA Deluxe' Electric 12-string guitar

It was on sale for a mere £75. Scanning the internet, I found that it was only another £24 brand new. Ugh, I bet it’s awful — not according to some of the reviews. This required a shop visit.

Sure enough, in person, it looked cheap and plasticky. The strings were held down on the headstock with a bar held in by 2 woodscrews — that looked like an accident waiting to happen. The neck was pretty huge, but I guess it had to be for the extra strings. It clearly needed a bit of a set-up. However, it was in mint condition, and there was still cellophane on the pickguard. I bought it. For the money, what did I have to lose?

The nut was mostly cut OK. I only had to file one slot. The action, on the other hand, needed some proper adjustment. I soon discovered that the truss rod was loose. A couple of turns later and it was just how I like it, the slightest amount of daylight under the string at fret 8, when fretted at first and last.

Solving the cheap bridge intonation problem.

I fitted new strings — a set of 9-42s — which always takes a amazingly long time on a 12-string. The bridge saddles were all over the place, and needed herding into a nice shallow arc. As expected, the intonation was awful, and I adjusted it as best I could, given the design, which had the thinner strings’ saddles screwed onto the thicker strings’ saddles.

After checking the pickup heights and tuning up, I plugged it in, and I was off. It played OK. Keeping in mind it had been a long time since I’d played a 12-string, and wrestling with the size of the neck, I managed to make a half-decent noise. The pickups sounded a bit thin and characterless, but this was a budget guitar, to be fair.

But the intonation? There was a problem. I couldn’t physically get enough distance between the high and low saddles on the 3rd string. So, higher up the neck, one was flat and one was sharp. Months later, I had a brainwave, and swapped the lower plain .016 for a wound .018, and moved the saddle towards the neck, which completely fixed the problem.

A year after the tragic scrapping of my old Melody 1200 dreadnought acoustic 12-string, I now have a working electric 12-string guitar. It’s not amazing, but it’s perfectly adequate. My outlay was £75, a bit of time and effort, and the price of a strap and a set of strings. A bit of Chorus, and I’m in 90s heaven.