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On Selling Your Stuff (aka regrets)

When I was 16 years old, my parents got together and purchased an electric bass for me as my combined Christmas/Birthday present (my birthday is two weeks before Christmas). It was a big deal; we weren’t “made of money” by any stretch, so it meant a lot to me – and changed my life, musically. My dad is also a bassist, so he was able to “vet” the purchase with knowledge of getting a “good” bass for the money. It was an Epiphone (by Gibson) Rock Bass, a four-banger with J-bass pickups and a slim neck. While a relatively humble instrument, Dad picked out a really good one with excellent resonance, clean electronics, and he set it up to play well. I played that bass for many years, onstage and in rehearsal, with several different bands. Some songs I wrote during the period only felt “right” on that bass. I later upgraded it with a set of EMG pickups and it sounded amazing.

When I felt like making the jump to a five string, I found a fiver made by an (at the time) unknown brand called “Samick” at a local music store for $350. It was nifty, with a modern body style, J/P config active pickups, a pearlescent white paint job, and cool Saturn inlays on the fretboard. Again, played the hell out of that bass, and also upgraded to EMGs, this time with 18v electronics and their BTC circuit. Sounded, played killer.

In times of low income, or desire for new gear, regretfully I sold these “firsties” to other folks. They both went to good homes – the four-string went to a co-worker who wanted to learn to play bass, and the five-string to an online bass forum friend, who bought it as a backup bass (but later admitted that it took first-call duties over his formerly “main” axe because it played and sounded so good.)

Now that I’m older and have a bit more spendable cash, I really wish I had both of those basses back. I almost have contact with the old co-worker (I’m friends with his friend and have emailed his spouse on Facebook, but not gotten directly in touch with him) and I’ve tried to locate the email address of the guy who bought the Samick (but lost the original email trail in a computer crash several years ago).

Recently, the band where both basses got lots of play re-formed for an anniversary concert (see my last blog entry for details). The show was a great time for both us and the audience; I’ll post links to the YouTube clips soon. I really would have loved to have both of those basses for the show, but I had neither. So I recreated them; I got a black Epiphone just like my old one (but not quite as good) and found a Samick that was pretty close; I played the Samick for the show. It had the feel and sound of the old white one, but I still wish I had the old one back.

I went through all that to say this: gear has to be sold to make way for new gear. But if at all possible, try to hang on to your substantial “firsts,” even if they’re cheap Epiphones, Samicks, or otherwise inexpensively obtained instruments. I can say from experience that you’ll probably regret it.

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Blast from the Past – 20th Anniversary Concert Event

From 1990 to 1994, two of my best friends and I performed in an all-original, progressive hard rock/metal power trio called Ransomed Soul. Those were some of the most fun musical years of my life; I was in college, in my early 20’s, in much better shape, and fully enjoying the moment. We had the common pipe dreams of “getting signed,” and spent every waking moment doing things for the band. In fact, my college achievement (and subsequent job prospects once I graduated) probably suffered a good bit thanks to Ransomed Soul. But I don’t regret it. Over the years, we composed at least 20 songs together, and played loads of clubs all over South Jersey and Philadelphia.

It was incredibly frustrating at times; we were playing a fairly complex, “thinking-person’s” brand of hard rock, which didn’t exactly find a very strong foothold in an market where teased hair, spandex, and simplistic rock anthems were the norm; plus, towards the end, the new “Seattle Sound” was starting to take hold and was effectively pushing us out. It wasn’t at all uncommon for us to play unsatisfying, unpaid gigs to seedy rooms of 4 people — 3 of which came in the van with us (and the other one was drunk and heckling us).

But that is the original music scene for most of us, so I’m not complaining (much).

Yes, we took ourselves awfully seriously – we wanted desperately to create music with a message that meant something, and wanted the music to be intellectually interesting, yet catchy. And of course, we wanted to impress everyone with our stellar chops (which, in retrospect, were only moderately stellar.) Certainly, if we had it to do over again, we’d probably scale back the pretentiousness a bit – but your early 20’s are a time when you’re sure that you know everything; I just like to think that we dove in headfirst, taking full advantage of our own naiveté.

Why the name? I’m not 100% sure, we just sort of liked it. Scott actually wrote a song called “Ransomed Soul,” and we decided that it made for a cool band name, too. We’d previously flirted with names like “Valkyrie” and “Solitaire” but figured they were too common to not be taken. Ransomed Soul was never a religious band, but people often confused us for one; the concept of a “ransomed soul” or “soul held for ransom” is often found in religious songs and writings. Unfortunately for us, the name — while original — also was very rarely spelled correctly on marquees or club posters. Some of the unintentional misspellings were laughable (but most were just annoying.)

We played our first real “gig” at the venerable (ahem) Bonnie’s Roxx in Atco NJ; a rock/metal club with the infamous “party cage.” Wait, what? Explanation: The club was “all ages,” so younger patrons could pay the cover and see some live music – but Bonnie’s also had an area of the club which had a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence “cage” with a single entrance, manned by its own dedicated bouncer. Those who were of legal drinking age (or who had a very good fake ID) could get into this separate area, where they could both see the bands AND consume a selection of adult beverages. It was also common for the frontman of particularly frizzy-haired bands to climb the fence as part of their posturing. That, and swing around the support pole that sat just off dead-center in the middle of the stage.

Good times.

We played at Bonnies on at least a dozen other occasions; other venues included the Fastlane in Asbury Park NJ (no, we didn’t run into Bon Jovi or Springsteen), Reds in Margate, the 23 East Cabaret in Philly, and a bunch of other bars and clubs, mostly seedy. A particular favorite was Miller’s Inn in Tuckerton NJ – we’d get there with our gear, and while we were loading in and setting up, the pole dancer at the bar would be collecting dollar bills and occasionally slipping a “peek-a-boob” for particularly generous patrons. Then the lights would go out, the dancer would get dressed and leave, and the rock show would begin. Truly an experience.

We also played lots of shows on campus at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), including winning a “battle of the bands” and performing several Earth Day concerts and other benefits. We had interviews on the air on the college station, too. It was altogether a really fun time, and we were so rock and roll!

Our last gig was at a short-lived rock club called “Six Shooters” in Atlantic City. Despite my having just purchased a brand new bass rig, the turnout was so small and response so lukewarm that we just decided, while we were packing up, to pack it in for good. It was a good run, but the time had come to move on to other projects – we were just tired of beating the pavement and only ending up with bloody knuckles.

Mike (Drummer), Scott (Guitarist) and I continued to remain the best of friends, and we even occasionally got together over the ensuing 16 years to jam, hang out, and reminisce. We even had a jam session at the surprise 40th birthday party our wives planned for Scott and myself. That jam was so much fun, we decided to celebrate our band’s 20th anniversary with a “real” full-scale reunion concert.

So… we’ve scheduled it, and we are looking forward to a fun night with old friends, and hopefully some longtime fans hungry for a fresh dose of live “RS” music. Details are below, and you can also visit our Facebook Event page for the Reunion Show. Some photos and other info about Ransomed Soul can be found at our Facebook Ransomed Soul Band Page.

If you’re in the region and want to enjoy a fun, old-school, slightly tongue-in-cheek performance of earnest, progressive-tinged hard rock, performed by a couple of 40-somethings with nothing to prove anymore, why not come on out? It promises to be a really good time.

Ransomed Soul 20th Anniversary Reunion Concert

Saturday, June 11 · 8:00pm11:00pm

Auction House Center for the Arts


Audubon, NJ
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Les Paul Robot Guitar

One of my acquisitions during my downtime was one of the Les Paul Studio “Robot” Guitars. People’s opinions of this guitar’s usefulness vary pretty widely around the net, but I quite like it, especially in the studio. And since they were essentially on clearance, I got a USA-made Les Paul for under a grand, with all the rights and priveleges pertaining thereto… AND got a guitar that can fricking TUNE ITSELF.

“Big deal,” you probably say. “I can tune my guitar just fine.” Well, sure! But it’s pretty handy, I gotta say. Especially if you’re constantly retuning to different tunings for different songs – for instance, this thing would be awesome if I was a guitarist in a cover band. To silently, quickly retune to drop-D while the singer was addressing the crowd would be useful, no? No waiting for the guitarist to stomp on a pedal tuner, and trying to fine-tune with all sorts of stuff going on? And it does all six strings at once, which I know you can’t do. So it’s efficient and cool. And I gotta admit, it’s hard not to grin while watching the tuners spin whilst doing their thing.
Another aspect that gets overlooked: re-stringing. It has locking tuners, and a mode where you simply get the string on the post, hold it in place, and the guitar automatically winds the string up to pitch! No more bleeding fingertips from the damned high E string, no more of the string slipping off the post.
Finally, the guitar has a built-in intonation mode. You play the note at the 12th fret, then play the 12th fret harmonic – the guitar then tells you how many turns on the intonation screw to make to get the string properly intonated. C’mon now, that is cool.
Now, would I have spent the original $3000+ price for this guitar when it first came out? Hell, no. But for the very slight upcharge from a standard Les Paul Studio, it was a no-brainer. I did sell my heavily modded Fender Toronado to fund the purchase, which was bittersweet, but since I’m not a guitarist, I couldn’t really justify having both (since I still have several other guitars as well). But I’ve been very happy with the Les Paul – it’s a very resonant, great sounding guitar, plays really well and is lots of fun to play with.
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Update! It’s been a while…

Sorry – to anyone who bothers to read this blog – for the long, long delay in new postings. A lot has been going on in my musical life, and I should have some new things to post about.

  • I’ve completely upgraded the computer and software in Digital Din (my studio)
  • My project Din Within has recorded a track for a tribute album to the band Yes
  • I’ve been recording an EP for a local band called “The Fynline” – a nice group of teenagers from my hometown
  • Josh and I have continued to write and record for our second Din Within Album
  • I commissioned and received an awesome new 6-string bass from Karl Hoyt – the one-of-a-kind “Monkey Bass”
  • I have acquired not my original Ransomed Soul bass, but an “exact replica” on eBay — and am in the process of modding it to be like my original bass
  • I’ve also done the same with a 5-string Samick bass – it’s black instead of pearl white, and has a slightly different headstock, but it’s pretty close!
  • The above two points are particularly relevant because we’re planning a 20-year reunion concert for the band Ransomed Soul – coming this Spring!

Not music-related – but one other major thing; my wife and I are expecting our first child in a matter of weeks (if not days!) So… that’s had me pretty preoccupied.

So, hopefully, I’ll get back on the bandwagon and post some new stuff!


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