Thursday, August 09, 2012

Adventures of a 1968 lefty Fender Stratocaster Reissue (Part 2 - the final chapter!?)

Well, it took me long enough!  :)  Well, to the point.  After my last post, I spoke to several people whom I consider experts in the matter, including a luthier, a guitar manufacturing guy, a guitar sales guy and someone from another shop.  A good friend of mine also helped me with the research and was basically told the same thing by the folks he spoke to: that the guitar should be left untouched.

I really tried to find reasons to keep it, but unless I learn to play left handed, it's probably best that the guitar goes to someone who will play it and enjoy it (and who can play left-handed as well!).

I still think the two guys I spoke to originally were pretty sneaky and dismissive.  True, they didn't have to be helpful since they're in the business of making money, but I think there's more to being a business person than that.  A few days after my original experience, I talked to a very reputable luthier in the area, and he in essence told me the same thing as the other guys.  The difference was that he actually took the time (about 20 minutes of his time) to explain to me why the modifications I wanted to make were more complicated than what I had thought, and he also went into detail on what it would take to make it work (at a significant expense) but basically, unless one's making a living playing in a Hendrix tribute band or something, in the end it's best just to leave the guitars as they are.  He explained things to me very clearly and in terms I could understand.  He didn't get any business from me at the time, but who do you think I will think of when I have guitar repair needs or when I am in the position of recommending someone?  There were other people to whom I spoke who were very nice and respectful.  They offered their respective services and depending on how this goes, I will definitely take them up on it.  However, I still won't be going to that original shop anymore!

There were some happy things that came out of this experience.  First, since I was itching to play, I went to the dark depths of my garage to retrieve an old Ibanez Electric I got back in the early 90's and that had sat, neglected for years!  I cleaned it up as best as I could, got new strings and now I have a wonderful-sounding electric guitar again!  Very soon, I will be taking it in for a nice guitar tune-up, and guess where I'll take it?  I also went and retrieved my old bass from a closet, wiped it clean, got new strings and got into playing it again!  I also have a nice Ibanez acoustic guitar that needs some repairs, so I'll be dealing with that, hopefully very soon.

Even though I'm still a little rusty, my bass playing apparently was good enough where I think I may have joined a band!  (we've been rehearsing once a week for about a month, and I * think * I got the job).

So all's well and I hope the lefty Strat finds a good home.  In the meantime, it'll be here, safe with me!  :)

Pics of my axes will be coming up soon.

So, what do you think?  Do you think I'm doing the right thing?  Any further advice?  Also, check out the band links and tell me what you think (it's not me in the recordings obviously), but we'll be playing some shows soon starting this coming Saturday.  Pretty exciting!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Music Store / Repair Shop Adventures of a 1968 lefty Fender Stratocaster Reissue (Part 1)

A short while ago, I got this beautiful 1968 Strat reissue (made in Japan, 1993).  Very nice lefty guitar.  Thing is, I'm a right-handed player.  No matter though.  I can just restring it, flip it and play upside down.  I'm certainly no Hendrix, but Hendrix did it (well, he played right-handed guitars upside down).  I'm perfectly aware about design issues, pickups, necks, knobs, pickguard etc.  Being mainly a finger-style bass player and acoustic guitar player, it actually quite works (playing a lefty upside down) given the way I play.  I just need a couple of adjustments made to the bridge and the nut.  I don't need any high precision adjustments, just enough to make the guitar more comfortable and playable.  I'm not gigging or anything, and just play casually at home.  Slam dunk, right?

I've been a customer of Music Unlimited in San Leandro in the past and had been very happy with their service.  They were very helpful the times I visited, so it was the first place I considered going to.  I went in and showed it to one of the guys there.  This guy at first feigned ignorance about my guitar and suggested that it might be a fake even after I told him exactly what it was.  He gave the impression at first that they just didn't want to do the work as he was presenting obstacle after obstacle to try and talk me out of it.  He then said to wait for another other guy.  After the other guy said my guitar was "a real Fender" and after I told him what I wanted done, he, instead of working with me, started asking me how much I had paid for it, what kind of investment I had on the guitar, and if it had any sentimental value to me.  Then both of them mercilessly tried to get me to instead trade it in for another guitar (any guitar! even the low-end Squiers and unknown brand guitars!) on the spot while offering me a ridiculously and insultingly low trade-in price. When I finally asked them if they could just do what I originally asked, they were very dismissive and not encouraging at all.  It was clear to me that they didn't want my business.  They just ignored me after I told them I didn't want to trade my guitar in. I didn't even feel like returning to buy strings!

It was a very unfortunate experience because one wants to support small / independent business, but those guys just made me want to stick to the Guitar Center instead (not a knock on Guitar Center mind you).

So now I'm actively looking for a local place where I can take my guitar.  Hopefully "Part 2" is going to be the happy ending of the saga of the bridge and nut!

Have you ever been treated like that before?  Have you been in a similar situation to mine?  Any advice?

Here's a not-so-good picture of a great guitar:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why I like (what I like of) Bob Dylan

News just came out that Bob Dyan will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom - The Nation's highest civilian honor, along with Shimon Peres, Toni Morrison, John Glenn, Madeline Albright and eight others.  it's quite an honor, and Bob's musical longevity and influence are certainly deserving of such an honor.

I really, thoroughly enjoy a portion of Bob Dylan's catalogue, so I thought I'd write how I "discovered" Bob Dylan, and about why I think I like what I like of Bob Dylan.  I've known about Bob since I was about 12 because I read that The Beatles were anxious to meet him and that were jealous that his audiences were silent while he performed so they could listen to his every word, while The Beatles couldn't even hear themselves from all the screaming.  At that point I guess I made a mental note that I should seek out his recordings, but it would take another couple of years.

At about 14 years of age, I checked out Bringing It All Back Home and Another Side of Bob Dylan from the local library.  Since I've always been more drawn to sparser musical arrangments, I liked Another Side a little better, but what called my attention more than anything at first were the liner notes to Bringing It All Back Home.  I realized then that this guy was a serious wordsmith and became a fan.  As a 14-year old who was learning English, listening to Bob's tunes and trying to learn and make sense of the lyrics was a frustrating and rewarding experience at the same time!  No one in my family could stand his voice and repetiveness, and my dad would ask me why was Bob angry and who he was scolding!  :)

When I was about 16, I had a job, and a little money to spend.  Near the bus stop near my work, there was a used bookstore called Recycle Bookstore, and in addition to used books, they sold used records.  I would go there after work to browse books, read a little and check out the records.  I bought the Greatest Hits album and loved it!  Shortly afterwards, I got the second Greatest Hits double LP, and loved it as well!

As an aside, I should say that most of the records I got as a teen, I got from Recycle Bookstore and cost between $1 and $3.  My parents still think that I must have spent a fortune there, but I actually didn't!

Anyway, I then saw the Before The Flood live double LP Bob did with The Band.  I was a much bigger fan of live recordings back then, so I bought it and was looking very much forward to be amazed by his live renditions.  Well, I didn't really like it that much.  I enjoyed his acoustic tunes more than the others, but overall, I was somewhat disappointed with that album.  At least I had my greatest hits albums, and the tapes I'd made with the albums I checked out from the library.  I never really got The Band, but that's another story.

Shortly after that, The Traveling Wilburys came out and enjoyed their recordings very much.  I subsequently got Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited.  I also got a tape of the album Infidels (for free), but couldn't get into it for some reason at that time (maybe it's time to revisit it!).  Whenever I listened to Bob, I always ended up going to the Greatest Hits and his early acoustic stuff.

Fast forward to many, many years later.  In 2010, it was announced that an 8-CD mono recordings box set would come out.  When I found out, my interest was rekindled.  The box had his first eight albums in mono (self-titled through John Wesley Harding).  I was happy that the box set definitely included the albums I liked and was familiar with.  I got the CD version that came with a live bonus disc that had some songs from a 1963 concert!  Right up my alley!  The biggest revelation for me was listening to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan complete for the first time.  I was mesmerized, particularly by the first half.  I listened to the self-titled album and John Wesley Harding for the first time as well.  The fact that the set came with a complimetary download of the whole thing in MP3, made it even easier to listen to this on the go!  Freewheelin' is one of my favorite albums ever!

I also managed to get a few other CDs with live tunes from the early '60s, AND in one fell swoop, I got (very cheaply I should add!) all the Bootleg Series volumes.  Now, as of now, for the Bootleg Series, the only ones I've really listened to are the concerts from 1964 and 1966.  I'm hoping to listen to the rest and hopefully enjoy other eras of Bob's long musical history at some point in the future.

To wrap things up, I was really wondering why I like the early acoustic stuff so much.  Maybe it's because Dylan was not much older than I was when he wrote those songs and I could relate to them to an extent?  Also, maybe it was because his lyrics were a big part in my development as I learned the English language, and also because of my affinity, as I mentioned before, to sparser musical arrangments (it can't get much more sparse than guitar, vocals and harmonica).

Yay! Zimmie!

What do you think?  Do you like/dislike Bob Dylan's music?  What do you like/dislike about his music?  What other albums of his do you recommend?  What do you think are highlights from The Bootleg Series?

See you next time!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Your music secrets - Do you want others to know or not?

The first time I heard U2 was around early 1984 when I was a little kid.  The song was "New Year's Day" from the War album.  It is a great tune and not only did I think the bass line was awesome, it was easy enough for me to play.  I don't exactly remember where I heard the song for the first time, or who introduced the band to me, but I had a 90 minute tape with War on one side and the earlier album October on the other.  The sparse instrumentation in those two albums was simple, awesome and easy to break down. I liked U2 and I told all my friends about them.  Nowadays you say "U2" and everyone pretty much knows you're talking about the band, but back then, the word "U2" wasn't part of world vernacular, none of my friends had heard of them and would give me really annoying and predictable responses when I mentioned the band's name:

Me: "Hey, there's this band called U2, they're really cool!"
Other kid: "What's the name of the band?"
Me: "U2"
Other kid: "U2? Me too!  Hahahaha!"
Me: (sigh)

I liked U2 a lot and was really happy that, among my circles at least, no one had heard of them, but I did know about them, and felt really good about knowing about a band that I felt was going places, when no one else did.  It was a fun feeling and I would have loved for things to stay that way.

In a matter of months, the album The Unforgettable Fire came out and the band started to get mainstream notoriety with the song "Pride (In The Name Of Love)".  Everybody started jumping in the U2 bandwagon,  including many of those to whom I had told about the band before.  I didn't think The Unforgettable Fire was as good as War, and since everybody was listening to U2 and gushing about them, I just kind of moved on.  I was a little bummed out that U2 wasn't my "secret" anymore so to speak, and now, well, I read that Bono is worth about $900 million!

Right now, the singer Adele is all the rage.  I carpool to and from work often and the friend with whom I carpool likes to listen to top 40 radio stations.  Adele is played a lot.  She has a distinctive voice and has catchy tunes.  I understand she writes her own songs as well.  To me that's really commendable, however, I'm already getting somewhat tired of the three songs that are getting played a lot so far.  Nothing against Adele, and I'm sure she has a great future ahead, but right now I could do without listening to another one of those tunes again.

There is a 22 year-old singer named Renee Olstead.  She was a child actress who was in a sticom called "Still Standing".  Renee is an outstanding singer.  Her style is pretty jazzy and not dissimilar to Adele's.  I prefer Renee's voice and songs to Adele's.  I think that if she were given a record label push she could be very successful, but she's been releasing albums since about 2004, and no one I've asked knows about her.  My wife and I enjoy Renee Olstead's music a lot and feel like it's our cool secret, but as opposed to my U2 experience, I would love for the whole world to know about Renee Olstead and that her songs got played everywhere.

Why is that?  Why did I want U2 to stay "indie", and why do I want the entire world to know about Renee Olstead?  Weird, huh?

How about you?  Are there any artists whose work only you and a few others know about?  Do you want this artist to become famous, or to stay not so famous?

Ah!  And I managed to get a post in before March was over!  :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cliff Burton: 50 years of Cliff!

Yesterday (February 10) would have been Cliff Burton's 50th birthday.  Imagine that!  Cliff's tragic death happened at age 24.  He has been gone longer than he was around.

I bought Metallica's album Ride The Lightning shortly after it came out solely based on the cover being mostly of my favorite color back then (dark blue).  I was also intrigued by the picture of the bass player, who was playing an old-school Rickenbacker and bending the strings!  I was blown away by the album.  I had never heard anything so heavy and fast.  I dubbed the album onto a cassette and listened to it a lot over the next few weeks.  As I listened to it more, I was very blown away by the bass playing.  Although low in the mix, I could still tell this was no ordinary bassist.  Some time later I managed to get Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All, and I was blown away even more particularly after listening to his bass solo!  Playing like a lead guitarist, with distortion and a wah-wah pedal?  Wow!

I became a devoted fan.  I didn't have a bass yet, so I learned to play Cliff's bass lines on the top four strings of my acoustic guitar!

With a lot of anticipation, I got Master Of Puppets once it became available.  I was a bit disappointed that the bass still seemed to be low on the mix, but was again blown away by the whole thing, particularly by the track "Orion".  I managed to catch the band at one of those "Day on the Green" concerts, but honestly I couldn't really see or hear them very well.

Now, when all of this happened, I was between the ages of 14 and 17.  There were no personal computers or internet, and the only information I got was from Circus or Hit Parader magazine whenever I could go to the record store or bookstore to read them.  I didn't find out about Cliff's death until about a month after it happened.  When I learned about it, I was pretty devastated.  By now I had a very cheap bass and (due to Cliff's influence), a distortion pedal.  To mourn, I guess I played a lot.  A few weeks later I taped myself playing Anesthesia, The Four Horsemen and Jump in the fire, and sent my tape to the address in the back of one of the albums.  I can't imagine it ever got to anyone's hands!  :D

So, as a bassist, Cliff was one of my main influences.  His style cemented my decision to remain a finger player and to not play over the song, but try and do amazing things in the background instead.  Can't say I became an awesome player, but I think I'm OK, even though I haven't played in a very loooong time!

I've read up about Cliff and apparently he was a guy who was very dedicated to his music.  He studied theory and composition at Chabot College (just down the road from where I live), and was very influential in Metallica's development as a band.  There isn't a lot out there in the way of all things Cliff, but the DVD Cliff 'Em All is just right.  It's a must have in any collection!  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened with Metallica had Cliff lived, but they did just fine.  Still those first three albums still get heavy rotation in my portable player.  My go-to versions are the early 90's release of Kill 'Em All with the two bonus tracks, and the DCC versions of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets (yes, I finally got both!)

All Hail Cliif!!


As I write this, the death of Whitney Houston at age 48 is being reported.  I always appreciated her huge singing talent.  48 is way too young.  Rest in peace Whitney.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Resurrecting the blog?

I have not posted anything for about a year and a half. Since then, I've had some ideas about things to write about, but obviously nothing's come to fruition.

I was having lunch with a friend a couple of days ago, and we started talking about Thin Lizzy. Back in 2006 I wrote a review of the Gary Moore tribute to Phil Lynott DVD and I directed him to it for a chuckle. He encouraged me to bring the blog back from the depths of neglect, so I am considering a comeback.

2012 is still young enough that I can add this blog to my pile of New Year's Resolutions! Stay tuned.