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The FrankenStrat

Here she is, my favorite electric guitar. It’s a true FrankenStrat, and over the years I’ve put a lot of work into it and I’m quite happy with the results.

Humble Origins
The guitar got its start when I worked for a music software company. Among the products offered by GVOX was a computer interface for guitar; it allowed you to connect the guitar to your computer and use it for learning and composition. Nowadays, guitar-to-MIDI systems by Axon, Roland and Yamaha surpass (by far) the capability of the GVOX Guitar System, but at the time, they were cheap and pretty effective.

Over the years, they’d acquired a fair number of guitars at GVOX, for testing, giveaway prizes, etc. They had even forged a special relationship with Fender at one point to market and sell a “GVOX-Ready Strat” which had the mounting hardware for the GVOX pickup built in. So there were a lot of guitars around the office. I even had a pretty cool Strat next to my desk. That said, some of the technical gurus had even, at one point, apparently been working on wired-fret guitar systems and other such tech toys – so a lot of the guitars around the building had been somewhat “abused.”

One such instrument provided me with the body for my favorite guitar. One day, while helping to take out the trash, I noted that a Squier Strat was being sent to the dumpster; its electronics gutted, its neck de-fretted and cracked… but the body, a cool yellowed semi-transparent, was in really good shape! So the body (with permission, of course) ended up in my back seat instead of the dumpster.

Similarly, some months later, I was helping to clean out our basement storage area and a Mexican strat whose body had been heavily battle scarred (but whose maple neck looked to be almost perfect) was marked for disposal but found its way to my house. A little bit of Dremel work later, the neck fit securely into the pocket, and I had the beginnings of a rippin’ Strat!

(to be continued tomorrow)

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Secret Stash Volume I

Occasionally I will roll out a cool demo track, archive or other interesting tidbit from my musical past. Here’s #1 in the series.

This could have made a very cool bonus track on the Din Within CD, for sure – wish I’d thought of it at the time. It’s an early demo of the song “The Bottom/Between Two Lives” that I put together to show Josh my early concepts. Some of those concepts made it into the final song, some didn’t. And of course, this track is before Josh got all his gooey guitar goodness into the track.

The demo clip (and the “Between Two Lives” part of the song) is based on “Thru the Haze,” a song I actually wrote for a songwriting contest when I was in High School. You can read the “Din Diary” (blog) at DinWithin.com for more details on the song’s creation, but the condensed version of it is this: I radically re-arranged parts of that song, and Josh and I re-orchestrated it and combined it with a song he wrote called “The Bottom” to create the song that made it onto the album.

So, the lyrics used in this demo are the original “Thru the Haze” chorus, which we scrapped and completely re-wrote for “The Bottom/Between Two Lives.” The drums on the clip are my programmed sample drums, and the instruments and vocals are all me. The synth solo was replaced with an amazing guitar solo (by Josh) in the final song. And of course, the song’s overall layout was changed substantially, with new parts that Josh and I composed and produced together, etc.

But you can hear the beginnings of some of the textures we used, and I always find it quite interesting to compare songs with their early demos; you can hear my stamp on the song by listening to the demo, and you can hear Josh’s by comparing it to the released version.

So without further ado: the early demo (circa Feb. 2005) of “The Bottom/Between Two Lives”!

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The H-Clamp Microphone Clamp

One of the issues that I’ve always dealt with is getting a good, consistent mic signal from a guitar or other stringed instrument, especially in the studio. Once you get the distance, angle, and orientation set, the player starts playing and moves around – and the whole thing gets out of whack. Plus, who wants to sit stock-still while trying to record a guitar part? You just end up with a stiffly-played, unevenly recorded part.

No fun.

That’s where the H-Clamp comes in; it’s a very simple – but super-logical – answer for the need for a stable mic holder for guitar, upright bass, and a host of other acoustic instruments. Made by a UK-based manufacturer called ExplorAudio, the simply conceived but extremely well-made clamp-on mic boom makes mic-ing up an upright bass, acoustic guitar, etc. easy. It is equally at home in the studio and on stage.

Made of durable and lightweight alloys and composites, it doesn’t load up your instrument too badly, and its instrument contact points are covered with silicone and other protective surfaces to prevent damage or scratching. The boom can hold most mics; you can use an optional shock mount for isolation purposes. And since it’s a boom, you can adjust the mic’s positioning pretty freely. It allows for a large variety of placements, angles, and positions. And of course, where you place it on the instrument is pretty much up to you. So if you prefer the “off-axis towards the soundhole” option or the “pointed at the 12th fret” position, you can pull it off.

ExplorAudio makes several different models; a version for acoustic guitar, a version for Cello, a version for Upright Bass, and a version for “Extra Deep” Bass (for basses of unusual depth). They also make a “Guitar Plus” version which includes three separate depth shafts, allowing you to get one H-Clamp for multiple instruments. Very cool! The photo to the right shows my H-Clamp on my carved upright bass; it’s holding one of my Oktava MK-012 small-diaphragm mics.

The only place I know of to get these things in the USA is Gollihur Music – of course, I happen to work there. We always have them in stock, and the feedback from other musicians has been very positive. I have a couple of them in my home studio, and they’re definitely money well spent.

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HOW many strings are on that thing?

If you really want to get the audience’s attention, you pull out a bass like this one. It’s a 12 string bass (yes, you read that correctly.) It is actually sort of like a combination of a 4-string bass and a 12-string guitar; the strings are tuned in groups. There are four “root” strings for the standard bass guitar pitches of E-A-D-G. Then a pair of matching strings tuned one octave up are placed in close proximity to the main strings. So what you end up with, in the case of my instrument, is a tuning as follows (where a capital letter indicates the root string and lowercase letters are the octaves):

eeE aaA ddD ggG

The groups of strings are called “courses” and they are fretted and strummed/plucked in groups of three. What results is a HUGE, ringing, naturally chorused sound that can just fill the room.

Here’s a clip from the second album from Second Story – a bit of “Truth Is…” which features the 12-string.

You’ve probably heard a 12-string before – Jeff Ament used one for the intro and outro riff (and much of the song) in “Jeremy”; playing a repeating figure complete with octaved harmonics. It’s the signature line on the song. Another popular user of the 12-string is Doug (dUg) Pinnick of King’s X; he’s used it a number of times over the years, and since King’s X is a trio, having the extra “girth” that a 12-string provides comes in handy, I’m sure.

As for me, I used it in two Second Story songs – “Truth Is…” and “Wise” – it also makes a brief appearance in the Din Within song “The Bottom/Between Two Lives.” And I intend to use it a good bit more on the next Din Within album.

My particular bass is made by “Galveston,” which is one of several names slapped on instruments that come to the States from China under several brand names (including several store brands). While the bass is quite solid, the stock electronics sucked big time, so I replaced them with some Seymour Duncan actives and a Bart preamp – the new pickups really emphasize the “chimey-ness” of the octaves, and yet they really helped to fill out the bottom end, too. And the Bart preamp really gives the bass a lot more headroom, which is necessary for a bass that creates so much bandwidth. Altogether, quite a worthwhile upgrade, even though I had to do a little work with the Dremel to make it happen.

It’s not for everybody (or every song, to be sure) but the 12-string is a pretty awesome tool to have in your arsenal. I’m sure it intimidates most of the guitarists I know!

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