A Review of the EJ200CE, Musician’s Friend and the Gibson/Epiphone Experience

May 18, 2008 at 6:22 am | Posted in Musings, Reviews | 5 Comments

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.

Is Time On My Side? (Or What Rudolph’s Shiny New Year Taught me About Life)

May 4, 2008 at 7:19 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

There’s a Puddle and Some Mud…

April 22, 2008 at 6:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We have a massive puddle in our driveway – it’s so big that every spring my neighbor and I joke about having waterfront property (and somehow, the joke never gets old – I think it’s because we’re delerious due to the warm weather).

Spring is finally here – and the kids are out all day, every day in the puddle and mud. I thought I’d share a clip from my tribute to puddles – it’s a song entitled “Puddles” (ok, so I’ve never been terribly creative in the title department). Enjoy!

Puddles Clip – Steve Dreher and Friends

The Virtual Campfire…or how about a little Chicken on a Raft?

April 11, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Need a song, or two, or seventy? I was casting around for some tunes to sing and play, and I must have typed in” campfire tunes” and KABOOM (or KA-GOOGLE) I found The Virtual Campfire.

I ignored the fact that somehow the idea of a virtual campfire is a little pitiful and clicked onward…to find…lot’s of songs! Not only lots of songs, but lots of songs sung by British people around a real campfire…crazy, but just so crazy that it works.

To give you a sample, here’s that well-known favorite, Chicken on a Raft.  OK, so maybe it’s not your favorite song, but it’s a darn good song, worth singing, and it’s some indication of the depth of Virtual Campfire’s library…it’s big, and fun, and goofy at times, but definitely worth perusing and singing along.

p.s. If you do sing along, try to light a real fire so you’re not so pitiful…or if you’re entirely comfortable with the virtual world, play this video of a virtual fire and then sing-a-long – with your virtual friends.

Snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…snow…sno

March 31, 2008 at 5:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I love the snow as much as the next guy, I just want to say that at the outset. I know that for those of you outside of what I have come to call “the inverse global warming belt,” it may be hard to imagine three feet of snow on the ground in late March (yes, I did say THREE FEET and meant it). Furthermore, it might be impossible for you to imagine the the despair of having a foot of snow fall on you AGAIN. See, we’ve had over 10 feet fall on us since November, so we’re approaching six months of being covered in ice and frost – AND WE DON”T LIVE IN GREENLAND – but sure enough it hit yesterday.   The late season storm that started with predictions of 1-2 inches, became 7-8 inches (predicted) and then became 12-13 in reality…

Let me tell you how we spent our Easter. We have a very nice little ski area about 10 minutes down the road. It’s amazing to be able to jump into the car and be on the slope within 20 minutes. Well, that’s exactly what we did on Easter. No white shoes, no Easter bonnets, just Rossignol boots and Head skis strapped to our feet. The thing is, daffodils couldn’t peak their delicate little heads out to say hello to the spring on a lovely Easter morn because they are buried beneath (did I mention?) 3 feet of snow…so we made the best of it and hit the slopes.

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Easter on the Slopes…

I love skiing, especially with my kids – there is nothing quite like seeing them become coordinated and realize how all the moving parts work together to get them down the slope – often more gracefully than I could ever hope to be. BUT, enough already.

So, consider this my sun dance of sorts, my plea to the gods who control these things to fire up the furnaces and warm up our little corner of New England – we know that under all that snow the daffodils are waiting to give us a proper spring.

Bloggin’ Fun –

March 23, 2008 at 7:16 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, just thought I’d share that I just had my first blog posted at www.dadbloggers.com – It is, not surprisingly, a group of Dads writing about being Dads.  You can find my first post here…I’ll be writing a new one for that site on the 21st of each month.  Enjoy!  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I signed on as “RockerDad” – Steve was already taken.  Rock on!

So, how much money does your tooth fairy leave…?

March 21, 2008 at 5:59 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A kid in my daughter’s class gets five bucks for every tooth…apparently, his tooth fairy comes from the other side of the fairy tracks (the rich side), because Isabel only gets $1 for the regular teeth and $2 for the front four.

Now, according to the National Institute of Health, kids have 20 teeth; so little Johnnie’s tooth fairy is going to drop $100 on teeth between now and the time he’s 14 – and he’s going to brag about every dollar. In the meantime, Isabel’s tooth fairy is making the conscious choice to NOT give her $5 per tooth.

teeth.gif
cha-ching!… $5-$10-$15-$20…

I gave Isabel’s tooth fairy a call recently, to talk about this situation, and she (tooth fairies are woman, right? – I’m not trying to be sexist here, but I just can’t imagine a guy spending an extra five bucks on anything less than, say, a craftsmen wrench.) patiently explained that, in more than one way, it doesn’t pay to over-pay kids for their teeth.

She pointed out the fact that a six year old doesn’t really understand that money matters – they’ll have a long life to figure that out, so why start so early? Furthermore, she asked, what does a six year old need $5, $10, $15, etc. dollars for anyway? Granted, a “My Pretty Pony” is going for about $4.76 at Wal Mart, but if we teach our kids anything, shouldn’t it be the joy of waiting…saving up and finally being able to get something (remember my “Let Her In” post…) ? Wouldn’t it be better for her (the tooth fairy that is) to give Isabel $1 for each tooth, and invest $4 in a 529 college fund? That way, she (and Isabel) could take advantage of the wonders of compound interest…

Our tooth fairy had some excellent points. When I ask her what was up with little Johnnie’s tooth fairy, she said, “Tooth Faries these days have lost touch, know what I mean? They’ve forgotten that the wonder of childhood is about anticipation and imagination…once a kid gets the thing, it loses it’s magic.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Girls Have Power…

February 29, 2008 at 6:46 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment
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My niece is in 3rd grade – and she’s a real zinger. I remember playing songs for her pre-school when she was three or four (the kids were rocking out to “Five Little Speckled Frogs”…so that’s my age reference) – and Celia walked out in front of the entire class, like a sergeant leading her troops through a basic training drill. I mentioned it to her teacher, and she responded, “She is an organizer – ” That’s the kind of appropriately vague, non-evaluative statement that makes me wonder. At the time, I decided to take it as a compliment to Celia.

About a week ago, I was watching the brood (my 3 plus my sister’s 5, and, yes that does equal 8 kids…), when Celia asked, “Uncle Steve, will you write me a song for the talent show we’re having at school?” I said (of course), “Yes, honey, what do you want it to be about?” She said, “I’m not sure, I’ll think about it…”

Celia called tonight and said, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” PAUSE – this is my 9 year old niece talking – allow me to review that quote, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” WOW! I hope, when my daughter is 9, 12, 15, 18…and so on, she wants me to write her songs about how girls have power, about how she has power – I’ll start writing those songs now and (hopefully) continue for a long time.

girl-power.jpg
Girls have power? Indeed they do!

I did have to ask Celia what it means to have power as a third grader (mainly because I don’t want to invest all MY hopes, dreams and political opinions in this song). It may well be, in her perception, that having power means having parents who have the best car – but I really hope (and believe) that it goes deeper than that. She’s writing me a list of the things that make her feel powerful – so it remains to be seen – but I actually think that Celia is tapped into something that’s pretty profound as far as our society goes. She is a girl who knows she has power – she’s not second guessing herself at all.

My experience as a teacher suggests a similar dynamic – girls know they have power. I have asked my eighteen year old students how many would call themselves feminists, and felt like a dinosaur because none of them would- the term itself feels obsolete (don’t get me wrong here, I do call myself a feminist and I argue the cause), but girls today seem to look at you like an alien when you even suggest that the idea of feminism is needed. “Of course we are equal – why wouldn’t we be?” (Could this be why Hillary’s campaign has found traction among middle-aged women, but not in the younger crowd – for them, is it just a detail that we haven’t had a woman as a president?)

So Celia is writing her list, and I’ll be writing her a song…I just hope I can do the sentiment justice – stay tuned!

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – the 2nd variation (and another free MP3…the deals never stop!)

February 28, 2008 at 6:33 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments
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Here’s variation #2 – Twinkle Twinkle.mp3

(Go here to get variation #3!)

After writing about this song (here), I set to work recording it – you may have been one of the few lucky ones to have downloaded the now rare (and deleted) version that I posted earlier today – I tried to clean it up, and offer this version now – Mozart did 12 variations on this tune – I’m on my second, and may try a few more before it’s all said and done. It’s an interesting song – weird that I could do a bass line that isn’t too far from Pachabel Canon in D – Anyway, enjoy this variation – I’m going to shoot for at least 10 more. Look for them to pop up every now and again.

(…MORE than a few months later, I finally got to number three…check it out here!)

Oh yeah, here’s the entire poem…if you wanted to keep singing –

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveler in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
– Jane Taylor, 1806

Hamlet, Hillary and Obama…Words vs. Action – 400 years later

February 26, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Musings | 2 Comments

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!

-Hamlet II.ii

Whoa!!! Stay on this blog! As shocking as it is to see the words ‘ass,’ ‘hell’ and ‘whore’ on a blog committed to kids’ music, let me explain (by the way, all those words were written by stuffy old Shakespeare, so they should be ok…right?) …It may come as a surprise to the three of you who read this blog regularly that I am more than my kid’s music credentials. I actually have another life, as an English teacher. It is not uncommon (and actually it’s desirous) for the world and the classroom to intersect. But this campaign season, as I’ve watched the primaries unfold, it just so happens that I have been teaching Hamlet; the intersection between real world and classroom has witnessed a crash (apparently no one heeded the stop signs).

I know what I said I’d write about on this blog, but, this has been so monumental that I need to at least acknowledge it – here we are, 400 plus years after Shakespeare penned Hamlet, and Barak and Hillary are slugging out the same debate that Hamlet held in his own head (that’s why he was a hero – he could hold two presidential candidates in his psyche and still have intellectual room to spare…). Hillary (and Bill) accuse  Barack of using his rhetoric to weave false hopes and fairy tales while asserting that she (they) can get things done. They are, they seem to suggest, the Fortinbras to Barack’s Hamlet.

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Hamlet – Words vs. Action?

Just to review, Hamlet is about a young man who is visited by the ghost of his dead father, Hamlet (ok, so they weren’t awfully creative in the name department in the 12th century…). Hamlet Senior tells Hamlet Junior that he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle – STAY WITH ME HERE! The rest of the play is Hamlet Junior debating between words and action…most of the words are in his own head – BUT (and this is important for Hillary to understand) some of his words ARE action (apparently, the two aren’t mutually exclusive) – Hamlet uses a play to “Catch the conscience of a king…” – In other words, he uses words to achieve a really important end.

Hamlet is a poet – he talks a lot – he uses more than any other Shakespearian character. He uses words to catch the king, to free his mother from her self-imposed moral corruption and to set Denmark on the right path after his death. Unlike every other character in the play, Hamlet does not simply act – he thinks and talks before he acts. By creating such a talkative character, Shakespeare sets Hamlet apart from every other character in the play. They are lost in the Middle Age mentality of responding without thinking. Often, when Hamlet does act, it’s an indication of his decline – he shuns Ophelia, he accidentally kills Polonius, he has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed.

It’s not that Shakespeare (or Hamlet) completely trust words. One of the central metaphors of the play is pouring poison into someone’s ears. The wonder of words is that they can bring redemption – the danger is that they can be used to manipulate and corrupt.

A close reading of Hamlet would be instructive for both Hillary and Obama. She would be reminded that words are not always bad… I suspect she may be figuring that out with the recent polls. They allow us to define our world – and our experience. Unfortunately, for the the Clintons, words have been used over the years to defiine them unfairly and inaccurately. Obama might learn that his considerable gift to use words as poetry is not enough. When (and if) he moves into the general election, he has to use his words to explain how he will act.

In a recent article for “The New York Times,” Frank Rich compares Obama’s poetic language to JFK’s (you can find it here ) – it’s a frequent comparison, and it reminds us how a very young and oratorically gifted president can reshape the reality of our national experience – and can use words to great effect.

The great irony of all of this is that Hillary is using words to discredit Barack’s words. She should be careful, however, because at times, her acerbic rhetoric feels a little like poison in the ears.

If this post was too wordy for you – stay tuned – I’ll get back on the kids’ music and post an MP3 of “Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star,” as promised, tomorrow.

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