There are those times when you are on the internet and you think, “This is the perfect use of this medium…” One of those times was when I discovered “just strings.com,” an online string retailer based out of NH. They sell only strings (surprise, surprise), so their overhead is cheap (a relatively small warehouse), they buy in bulk, and shipping is negligible, so *PRESTO* anyone in the world (with access to the internet) can have cheap strings! You can find them here: www.juststrings.com/ (and I promise, I don’t own stock in the company).
There is the pesky little issue of keeping those strings in tune once you’ve got them – which brings me to my latest discovery – ‘Get Tuned.com’ (http://www.get-tuned.com).
I’ve been working on my ukulele skills – love the instrument, but, man, does it go out of tune a lot.
I know the uke is tuned to “My Dog Has Fleas,” but it’s hard to figure that one out when your sitting at the fretboard (at least for me). So THANKS Get Tuned.com – not sure how you win in all of this, other than the satisfaction of knowing that more people in the world will be in tune, but sometimes, I guess that’s enough:
(I don’t own stock in Coke, either – just like the song!)
In March, I had the opportunity, along with my bass player and fellow teacher, Gavin, to spend a week with five high school kids as they wrote and recorded original music. We coached them, offered feedback and criticism, set up the time in the recording studio and picked up the pizzas. The result is a six song EP that is available on CDBaby.com (HERE), and here it is on iTunes. The name of the band is “The Nameless,” and the EP, “Winter Sessions.”
Here are a couple of clips from the songs these very talented young musicians recorded:
The kids elected to have all proceeds from the sale of their music go to a charity that focused on music. We chose Tipitina’s Foundation, which provides musical instruments to public schools in New Orleans.
Go, listen and download a few tunes from The Nameless – it’s great music for a great cause.
Gibson mailed me a EJ200CE two weeks ago. For the uninitiated, the EJ200CE is billed as “the guitar you’ve seen in the hands of everyone from Elvis to Emmylo.” (This isn’t quite true, you actually saw the Gibson J200 in their hands – and in the hands of Clint Black, Motley Crue, The Eagles, Vince Gill and Jimmy Page – the EJ200CE is a cheap copy made by Gibson subsidiary, Epiphone.)
Elvis and his J200
In any event, Gibson kindly included a note explaining how to adjust the truss rod. It’s a good thing too, because this particular EJ200CE had some nasty fret buzz when I played a C. So, after reading Gibson’s note and getting moral support from this web site: Frets.Com and this one: Athens Music Network, I busted out the allen wrench and went to work. My diagnosis? The truss rod nut needed to be tightened (I can’t exactly remember how I reached that conclusion, but I was forging ahead…). I tightened; things got a little better. I tightened more, they got a bit better…15 minutes later…I pulled the wrench one last 1/8th of a turn and BINGO, the guitar sounded GREAT.
I mean that, it sounds really good, and it makes me happy every time I play it, but it was a LONG road getting here – here’s a condensed version of the story…
I ordered my first EJ200CE about 7 months ago from Musician’s Friend – black. It was my first new acoustic guitar in a lot of years, so I was going for a different look. I thought I was getting a good deal at $399.00 (especially considering the fact that the real thing – the J200 – goes for about $3500…) They sent it within a couple of weeks and I was pumped when I pulled it from the box. It looked good, it sounded good…until I plugged it in. The built in pickup didn’t work. I did all the obvious things like change the battery and curse, but it didn’t work no matter how many times I swore at it.
In the meantime, I’d also ordered a hard case for $90. That arrived the next day and, OOOOPS, it was the wrong case. The guitar didn’t fit. Amazingly, when I called for the second day in a row, the operator at Musician’s Friend felt like debating this fact with me, suggesting that I wasn’t putting it in right. I’m not sure when you last put a guitar into a case, but there really is only one way it can go. (Musician’s Friend’s moto? “We’re cheap, and our service shows it!”) I assured the nice saleswoman than I wasn’t attempting to put the body of the guitar into the neck of the case, and she agreed to send me a label to send the case back along with the guitar.
The second shipment arrived some weeks later, and this time, the case was right, the pickup seemed to work, but there was some serious fret buzz. I resolved to take it to a guitar shop to have the set-up adjusted, then the holidays hit, ski season, 10 feet of snow, all that, and before I knew it, it was March before I pulled up to The Guitar Gallery . The good people there informed me (free of charge, I might add…which will inform the eventual moral of this story), that the truss rod was already adjusted as far as it could go…in other words, the buzz was here to stay.
So, I called my good friends at MUSICIAN’S FRIEND and guess what? Somehow, unbeknownst to me, we’d had a falling out. Apparently we weren’t friends anymore (“But will you still sign my yearbook, Musiscan’s Friend…?”) See, at three months, I was well outside their 45 day return (no questions asked) policy.
I may be old fashioned, but I cut my teeth on LL Bean’s Gurantee (God, I love those people…), so this 45 day thing seemed a bit cold, I mean the guitar WAS substandard. But, me and my friends were really on the outs; my arguments fell on deaf ears. So it was goodbye Musicians (not my) Friend…and hello GIBSON!
To cut this short, Gibson/Epiphone agreed to take my reject guitar back. I sent it in and waited, and waited, and waited. About two weeks in I contacted them. A day later, I was informed by a very nice e-mail agent (named Jon Sutherland – maybe even a real person) that they would figure it out soon…blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth…many e-mails later we (Jon and me) figured out that no black guitars were available, but they did have a ‘natural.’
I took it….and waited. Finally, OVER A MONTH LATER, I got the guitar. It’s not ‘natural,’ it’s YELLOW. My wife’s first comment? “That guitar looks like a banana.” So much for being cool like Johnny Cash. On the other hand, I can see myself accompanying Jimmy Buffet with this thing.
My Big New YELLOW EJ200CE
You know the ending – almost. I adjusted the guitar and it does sound great. But, BUT…Gibson broke my case. No joke, when I pulled it out of the box, the hinge was broken off. So, the saga continues. FED EX just picked the broken case up last Thursday. According to tracking data, it’s recently been picked up by a Fed Ex truck in Willington, CT. Eventually, I may get a new one.
The moral of this too long tale? Buy local. Go to your ‘Guitar Gallery” equivalent. You’ll spend $100 or so more, but, I promise you, I have spent much more than that in both time and money. Learn from my mistakes – and fight the online corporate music bastards – they’re not your friends. Do me a favor and read Guitar Gallery’s web page. Notice how hesitant they are to send you a guitar? That’s because they know that picking a guitar is like picking a friend – it’s not something you want to do at a distance. Apparently even a well known company like Gibson lacks in the quality control department these days. Let the guys at the retail store deal with the lemons (or bananas…) Let them send them back so you don’t have to.
Look at the guitar you’re buying, feel it, play it. I bought my last acoustic at a little guitar store in Burlington, VT. It’s a Yamaha FG-420E-C. I played it for two hours before I bought it and I’ve played it for 20 years since. My new banana sounds good, and I’ll use it at shows, but somehow, I know I’ll go back to the old Yamaha because it, and instruments like it, are the only ones who have really earned the title of musician’s friend.
I turned forty last week and I’m reading Water for Elephants – probably not a great combo – if you’ve read Water you know why…here’s the beginning of the synopsis from Amazon:
“Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition…”
Existentialism…remember that? It’s that philosophy they taught you about in high school when (and if) you read The Stranger, Crime and Punishment, and/or Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy. The basic idea is that, if we assume some higher power isn’t justifying our existence what is?
At the very least, it’s an interesting mental exercise, especially when you have kids. What justifies your every day? Really? What happens when you die, and I’m not talking about where you’ll end up (is it heaven or nirvana…?) – I’m talking about looking around you and wondering how things might be different if you disappeared tomorrow.
At the most basic level, I hope, for your sake, that you can say that they would be different – very different. If not, you’ve got some changes to make – start now.
Pick up shells with your kids…play “pretend you’re a lion – a dog – a baker – Spiderman – my pet – etc. ” Read a few books with them, leave the dishes undone, wrestle every now and again – you know. Make it matter – every minute. I began this blog by citing a Rolling Stones song – here’s anonther “T-i-i-ime is on my side…” Is it?
I remember a Rudolph special, “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.” It presented a direct challenge to the Stones (although I have to wonder who would win in a fight…) Father Time, the guy who goes from a baby to an old man in one year, knows we have to make it all count, but isn’t so sure that time is on our side. Here’s what he has to say about it…
Thanks Father Time – we’ll keep your advice in mind…it seems to amount to this: Time is not on your side, but you’re a lot happier if you go down fighting.