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I took early retirement by means of voluntary redundancy today. The consultation was last Thursday and my employment ended today. Said my goodbyes to some great workmates and took all my 'stuff' home. It looks weird. All this stuff that doesn't belong in the house is here. Not just tools & books, but works mug, cutlery and tea caddy etc.


I've worked with some of these fellows for more than 30 years. Its pretty emotional, and leaving is a bittersweet experience. I will meet up with most of them in a weeks time anyway for a dinner. Another retiree, from a month ago, will be there too.


I don't ever expect to set my alarm for 6.am again. Nor work 12 hours in a day. There is plenty to do at home. All the stuff I tried to do but never finished. In fine weather I will be out trying to sort out the garden. When its inclement, I'll be inside decorating. When I dont want to work, I'll indulge in my music. Outside I'll continue (with more regularity) both my karate & dance classes. That will get me out 4 times a week. I hope to meet up with family & friends more regularly as well.


I have engaged an independent financial adviser to look into my pension options. I met with a couple of them, but this one was recommended to me and he's been helpful already.


So many conflicting feelings right now. Happy, sad, excited, tired...




Pensive melancholy thoughtful contemplative

brooding pondering preoccupied absorbed engrossed. Yep I’m fragile alright.

The intensive shift pattern I'm working is partly to blame. So the last day of the rest period may be a Thursday, but it will feel like a Sunday because I'll begin work in the morning. If working on Sunday, I'll drive in and wonder where all the traffic went. I'll probably never see other engineers who work opposite me ever again. They are working the inverse of my shift pattern.

Oddly, it may be conducive to making music though. I am making progress again despite suffering ongoing jet lag like disorientation. Having 4 or 5 days off in a row is certainly helping me record.


Yesterday I completed the recording of my instrumental 'Flamingo'. This is a major landmark for me. It was begun when I was in my 20s. I'm in my 60s now. Its only 5 minutes long, but it has undergone steady changes throughout a period of about 30+ years. Parts of it came and went (were lost through neglect or purging). It was in constant a state of flux. Always changing with only a couple of core themes to anchor it to. After buying my Camps spanish guitar, I worked on Flamingo in earnest. This was the voice it needed. Within a couple more years I finally completed the tune. That is, I formed it into a fixed (well, 98%) and repeatable piece of music.


Since then I tried to record it a couple of times, but its my most technically demanding instrumental, and the Camps is my most difficult to play guitar. Being a classical guitar, the Camps has a much longer scale, and I had to adjust parts of the left hand technique to suit. I even invented a new technique to straddle frets, because my fingers could no longer stretch far enough. I gave up the task of recording twice. I couldn't get a good enough take.


I had another try this week and could not get the mics working successfully (a Shure SM58 and a Shure Unisphere). Before abandoning the attempt I thought I would try using the Yamaha Silent. This is a nylon strung practice instrument that uses a piezo pickup. Its still a classical guitar with the long scale & wide flat fretboard, but it isn't acoustic. I got a performance I was satisfied with (still with flaws though) in a mornings work.

It was certainly easier than using the Camps, but I was unsure how the sound quality would hold up on the Yamaha. Well it doesn't sound as rich, and you can hear the piezo sound too. Being a simple single instrument, I was bolder at tweaking the EQ and choosing a mastering toolset. Reverb also helped a lot too. But I'm enjoying the way it sounds.

So its done at last. True, it was always a complete mess as a composition, but then it isn't a composition. It was never written. It was never arranged. It just evolved.


Maybe I should just stick to acoustic guitar instrumentals. I've been steadily turning down the gain on my electric for years now. I'm never happy with my vocals. I cant play bass, keys nor drum. It makes good sense.



Still well overweight. Exercise is essential but difficult. I take dancing lessons at the moment. Have done for about a year now. When I started the instructor asked if I was a musician; which impressed me a lot!

Dancing is complicated and an ongoing struggle to remember all these steps. I fail most of the time but I'm still trying.


I also took up badminton at the suggestion of my son Ben. Only once a week though. Then it transpired that they break during the summer months. So not enough badminton going on! To make matters worse I am now working a complex shift pattern that means I can only get to half of the remaining sessions. This is also going to affect the dance classes next year.


I used to do karate training. I did it for 15 years and loved it. I eventually stopped because I had so much time out with injuries. I knew that age was taking its toll & that I needed to start taking it easier, but I just couldn't do it. I stopped training 16 years ago. I wondered maybe if I could take it easier now?


So I phoned up my old Karate instructor yesterday and had a wonderful conversation with him. He's a older than I am and has seen people stop & resume training a lot through the years. My absence is not the longest by far, and his oldest club member is in his 80s.


He also told me an incredible story about himself. First of all its important to understand that he is the longest serving indigenous karateka in the whole of the uk; meaning he has been training longer than any other Brit. He started in the 60s, and is now an 8th Dan. For more than 50 years he has presided over many thousands of gradings, from white belts up to senior black belts.


Its not always realised that when someone of his seniority advances in Dan grade, that its 'awarded' by his peers. This is simply to maintain the 'gap' between all those others continually rising in the ranks below them.


There is nothing wrong with this. Its how things are done. However, when he started his own organisation recently, his peers were no longer there & he was not altogether comfortable with his status of 8th Dan. So he decided to undergo a grading himself to ratify his rank. But who is senior enough to grade him? He decided to seek such people out. After some time he eventually he arranged his grading with a panel of senior karateka headed by a Japanese Sensie in Bulgaria. He had never met any of them before.


Always one to consider his students, took a bunch of those with him also, so they could benefit from training with different people. So he arranged the trip. The airport run, the flights, transport to the hotel in Bulgaria etc. They duly arrived the day before his grading was to commence.


However, on arriving at the hotel, his name was being called in the lobby. He was approached by an envoy of the Karate Sensies and politely told that he must accompany him to attend his grading. He was given 10 minutes to be ready. He tried to explain that the grading was scheduled for the following day, but the delegate was adamant that he attend 'now'.


So my teacher had been up and traveling for 24 hours. He hadn't had a shave, a shower, eaten properly, nor had any rest. Now he was being conveyed to the dojo for his grading. I dont know what he had to do during this session (and its not good etiquette to ask!) but it will have been thorough and extensive. Whatever transpired, he achieved his objective and his 8th Dan was endorsed by the Sensies he had sought out.


I was not at all surprised to learn that the sudden 'change of plan' and haste was in fact part of his grading and evaluation. They knew well enough his time of arrival and deliberately surprised him in that way. That's karate for ya!


Anyway, I start back karate training tomorrow morning (just as well I'm not grading eh?).



what girlie's like

On Tuesday, I went to Mazak in Worcester in the West Midlands on a work trip. My friend and colleague Danny drove. In the back were the the office interns; three young ladies (girlies to us) who witter & giggle constantly. We felt lucky to be going in a Merc S series hire car for the 280 mile round trip.


The radio was on most of the time. On the return journey a pop-rock tune was being played at one point. Towards the end of the tune, an unusual change occurred. It sounded as if two chords were overlaid. In addition to that, the phrasing was dramatic. It sounded great. The girls had noticed this also, and commented on it immediately (yes they were listening passively despite the chatter). Except to them this was not good. They thought it was horrible. Its good that this piece of music was noticed and commented on at all of course. It kind of 'did its job' IMO.


This couple of seconds of remarkable music was the only interesting thing I heard during the entire trip. The girlies are in their early twenties and find acceptable what I regard as bland. I suppose that you have to hear this sort of music for many years before it seems bland to you.


I recently bought some albums. All of them old. A Blossom Toes one, four Dr John ones and four Jimmy Giuffre ones. I recall hearing Dr John's 'Gris-Gris' when I was 16. I couldn't handle it. The voice was weird. The music was odd. Now it sounds refreshing and it makes me smile.


Even music that I was beginning to appreciate at age 16, I knew would make more sense over time. JS Bach did and Charles Ives did. I know most people dont want to challenge themselves at all musically, but to me its an ongoing process and part of getting older.


the signal processor method

The amount of knobs I’d want on my ideal guitar would be none at all. I only need one pickup; a single coil in the neck position.

I don’t need a tone knob because I leave them on max treble (the one exception being the Hofner Archtop, but that’s not a gigging guitar).

Volume? Don’t need it. The expression pedal on the signal processor is always set to ‘volume’, so I use that. It’s also much easier to control volume that way. Once the soundcheck is done, the max volume doesn’t need altering either.


When I got my latest signal processor (a Line 6 POD HD400), I spent a long while constructing the ‘perfect’ tone for my Soloist XL guitar. It turned out beautifully.

This tone has been copied & adapted to suit other gigging guitars. TBH, the small tweaks are minimal and are mostly just EQ levels.

When I get a new guitar, I select the neck pickup (I don’t use anything else) and turn the tone to full on treble. Then I allocate a new bank for it on the signal processor, I clone the ‘master’ tone patch and tailor all the EQ settings right there. If I get it right, I never touch it again. So depending on what guitar I use, I just select it’s custom tone patch bank.

There are 4 slots in a bank. I only really need one, but I clone it and add some tremolo to suit ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ on one. So it’s only used on this song.

For the 650C and the Deuce I have added a second clone. That second clone has a tad more gain (about 6%) and perhaps a smidgeon more treble (3%). This is used as a ‘boost’. The 650C needs this past the 12th fret on solos. The Deuce needs it on a couple of songs that benefit from a little punch at the last bars of some solos.


The 3rd position in the bank is pure guitar with no amp modelling or FX at all. This ultra clean setting is for ska rhythm.


I don’t need the 4th patch slot.



I know what sound I want. (except that Fender one :))

I have the sound I want.

Therefore I don’t need to faff about with it.


not another one...!

I thought I was going to finish 2016 without getting any more guitars. But no, I have another on the way. The pickup change on the Esprit was supposed to provide me with the Fender sound I miss. It sounds good, but it doesn’t sound like a Fender.


I’ve been considering options for quite a while now. Oddly, actual Fenders are low on my list. I’ve looked at G & L, MusicMan, Flaxwood, Chapman (Yes Rob Chapman. His models are made in Korea and most have ebony fretboards), Yamaha, Godin and MIJ Fender copies.

The MIJ’s look wonderful but all of them have 21 frets. It’s not enough. It must be 22 minimum.

Most of everything else has high output pickups. Some have nasty bridges too. Whatever I go for will need some mods. It’s mostly a question of what is the simplest. I did very much like the looks of the MusicMan Silhouette Special, but finding one was the main problem.

I have plumped for a Flaxwood. These are made in Finland and are made from an artificial material (also called Flaxwood). Again, the pickups are the weak point here, together with the floating bridge.

The pickups

Single coil version 3SC-:
- bridge: Seymour Duncan SSL-2 Vintage Flat
- middle: Seymour Duncan SSL-2 (RwRp)
- neck: Seymour Duncan SSL-2 Vintage Flat

These are 6.5 output, so quite high, but at least they are alnico 5. I’m not a great fan of Duncans, but if needs be, I only need to replace the neck pup. I don’t use anything else.

Bridge: It’s a trem bridge, but it looks like a robust one. If so I should be able to block it up rather than replace it.

This particular Flaxwood is what they term a ‘Hybrid’, meaning that only the neck is made of the eponymous material; the body being of European alder.

These Hybrids are cheaper than the rest of the range. Unfortunately, there is only one uk shop that stocks them, and that’s in Scotland. It’s also miles above the list price published by ZedMusic (the official distributer). What swayed me to buy were the two Hybrids held at Thomann (the vast German shop). They had both the single coil & humbucker versions at a greatly reduced price. They are ‘B’ stock, but that doesn’t worry me.

So an affordable Flaxwood Hybrid 3SC is on its way from Bavaria. I have used Thomann before. The first time was for the Deuce (now discontinued by Hagstrom). Let’s hope this turns out as well.



more pick stuff

One or two of you may know that I’ve spent a deal of time and money on picks. It’s been ongoing for about 2 years now. Changing picks has been of more real benefit than any new guitar or any other piece of kit could’ve been.

While renewing the edges & points on favoured worn picks, I have experimented by adding bevels or a modifying the shape using files, emery cloth and whatever has come to hand. Some mods have been successful, others not.

I’ve even considered making some, and schemed up a couple of jigs and a list of tools. For now though I’m going to continue to try to perfect the design mods I’ve made to existing picks.

To make the alterations I want easier and quicker, I’ve just bought a multi angle vice (modelling type) and an assortment of grinding bits for use in a variable speed drill.

I usually try to avoid the ‘white noise’ type sounds that come with coarse textured materials. This is when a rough pick surface scrapes on the string. But a very small amount is nice. I found this when using ‘Chicken Picks’. I never found out what these are made of but they are harder wearing than most synthetics. More importantly they won’t take a high gloss shine, so the texture is always satin-like. It sounds great.

Stone is the opposite. It’s a great material for jazz. It’s warm (though not very loud) and suits round wound strings. The only disadvantage is that highly polished stone adds a ‘bottleneck effect’ (extraneous high chirpy sounds). Using the neck pup with reduced EQ highs sorts that out nicely though.



These are most of the picks that I’ve used/accumulated so far:


Gibson Wedge (triangular) Medium & Heavy


Chicken Picks Tritone III 2.1mm (now modified)

Chicken Picks Series Bermuda III 2.7mm


Blue Chip TAD-40


Timber Tones Gypsy (triangular)

Timber Tones Gypsy BUFFALO BONE :

Timber Tones Gypsy BLACK (BUFFALO) HORN :  (1 now modified)

Timber Tones Gypsy AFRICAN EBONY : (3220 hardness Janka scale* )

Timber Tones Gypsy COCONUT HUSK :


Timber Tones Jewel Tones Amethyst

Timber Tones  Groove Tones jazz pointed WHITE HORN

Timber Tones  Groove Tones jazz pointed BUFFALO BONE

Timber Tones  Groove Tones jazz pointed CLEAR HORN

Timber Tones  Jazzy Tones Max Turquoise

Timber Tones  Jasper Tones Mookite Jasper 1


V-Pick (Pointed Medium) : 2.75mm

V-Pick (Pointed Ultra light Medium Red) : 0.8mm

V-Pick (Pointed Large) : 2.75mm

V-Pick (Pointed Freakishly Large) : 2.75mm

V-Pick Snake : 4.10mm

V-Picks Screamer : 2.75mm

V-Pick Diamond : 4.10mm

V-Pick Colossal : 8.85mm


Dunlop Ultex : 0.88 thickness

Dunlop Tortex: 0.88 thickness

Dunlop Primetone: Jazz-3: 1.4mm

Dunlop 473P : 3.0mm Tri Stubby (3 of which now modified)



Stagg Elliptic :  0.88mm (1 of which now modified)


Fender Classic celluloid medium

Fender Heavy Shell


Clayton US80


Hawk Picks Tonebird 4 Plectrum 1.2mm Std Bevels


Planet Waves Nylpro Jazz Guitar Pick 1.4mm


Tusq PQP-0488-G4 .88mm


Gravity (Tri-Point orange) Stl-std-3-Pol-NA


Stone Picks: Agate jazz pick. Gauge range: 2.5-3.0mm

Stone Picks: Agate jazz pick. Gauge range: 1.5-2.0mm


Stone Works Guitar Picks (Mike Stone) 1 x GP2174 (bloodstone-triangle-thick) 

Stone Works Guitar Picks (Mike Stone) 1 x GP2632 (petrified-triangle-thin) 

Stone Works Guitar Picks (Mike Stone) 1 x GP2485 (mozarkite-triangle-thick) 

Stone Works Guitar Picks (Mike Stone) 1 x GP2331 (brazilian-jazz-thin) 



Le Niglo N6 Bronze

Le Niglo Titanium (le NiTi-SG Titane pointu - Tour de cou:)

Le Niglo N4 Chrome (le tour de cou)

(Le Niglo supplied) S16 Indian Horn


Picks & Stones: Brasilian Agate 3.5 Jazz

Picks & Stones: Bloodstone Ultra Thin 1.5

Picks & Stones: Brasilian Agate 4mm Jazz Style Finger Groove Pick

Picks & Stones: Customer Special Order (tri-corner sharp x 4) Malachite Azurite + 3


Stone Guitar Picks (Jerusalem Israel) : Mozarkite (Tri) 2.5mm

Stone Guitar Picks (Jerusalem Israel) : Black Jade (Tri) 5.1mm

Stone Guitar Picks (Jerusalem Israel) : Snake River Agate (Tri) 2.9mm

Stone Guitar Picks (Jerusalem Israel) : Brazilian Agate (jazz) 1.8mm

Stone Guitar Picks (Jerusalem Israel) : Bloodstone (jazz) 1.6mm

These picks are the ones that I now use live.


V-Picks Freakishly Large (Tri-points) 2.75mm for soloing (Timbertone Coconut Gypsy are a close 2nd).

Any synthetic (nylon/celluloid etc) for rhythm work (light enough for flexing) Gibson, Dunlop etc.

Stone picks (various) for the odd occasions I play jazz. These are usually listed as ‘one-off’ items.



minimal work is optimal

This hot weather has been making my guitars move. The careful set-ups are compromised or ruined. Only a couple seem ok.

I re-adjusted the Les Paul on Monday, just prior to practice.

I tried to adjust the Esprit yesterday, but that’s proving a little awkward. Rather than undertake a lengthy comprehensive set up, I thought I would just play it for an hour as it was.

‘As it was’ is with the G, B and ‘e’ sitting higher off the fingerboard than is usual, and the strings are also more taught than normal. So I had to apply more pressure to play properly. That’s not a huge problem, but I had become unaccustomed to this feel. Before I knew it, I had overcompensated and became heavy handed. That’s a big no-no!

I had to spend a few minutes re-adjusting my left hand to minimise the pressure needed to fret properly. For some reason, my left hand had ramped to the same force as my right (picking) hand. This is how I used to play, and it’s how many less experienced players play too.

I was surprised at how difficult it had suddenly become to consciously make each hand do a different amount of work. They just seemed to want to synchronise their effort.

I made up a corrective exercise on the spot. I used a quick alternating pick with my right hand on the low E. When I thought I had that at its optimal level (it varies according to what pick is being used), I gradually brought a fretting finger to bear on that string so it was only just enough to bring it into contact with the fret. Now I had just the right amount of force needed in each hand to do their job properly.

Crucially, each hand was doing a different amount of work. Still keeping the fanning action of the picking hand constant, I slowly played an ascending scale with the other hand, with 8 picks to every fret change. After running up and down the scales in this way I got each hand working at their optimal best.

I haven’t had a pupil for many years, but that would be a useful exercise to teach them.


I'm not a Gibson Player

I have a couple of Gibsons, but I am realising that this does not make me a Gibson player.

(all that follows only concerns soloing, not chords)

I plugged in the Les Paul last night & played for a couple of hours. My regular alternating pick technique didn’t sound as good as it should. It has something to do with the sound (and definitely the sustain) of the guitar. So I concentrated more of hammer-ons & pull-offs. This made it sound much better. There was less pick noise and made the decay of the notes sound much sweeter.

The sound of a guitar has always influenced how I play it, and for 44 years I never owned a Gibson. I’ve had my 339 & Les Paul for less than a year.

I always loved the sound of a Les Paul, but knew from the earliest days that ‘my’ sound was something else; essentially more of a Fender sound.

When I gigged the 339 last year I even felt there was less of me in the performance. I played fine and enjoyed the gig but I felt as if I was acting the role of different guitarist.

Try and imagine a machinist who has used his lathe to turn metal for 45 years, now suddenly working with wood. He has to change the speed of the spindle and the feed rate of the cutting tool. He’s the same fellow with the same experience using the same machine, yet everything has changed.

I could change the sound of the LP with my signal processor, but it would be inhibiting the natural sound of the guitar. The main reason for buying a different guitar is to experience a different voice. So it’s me that needs to adapt to the guitar, not the other way ‘round.  


What About White Dirt?

This morning I awoke tired again. It was my fault I didn’t get to bed early enough. While brushing my teeth I wondered what sort of day I’d be in for. Fridays are usually quiet because few people are onsite. But… when problems do occur on Fridays it becomes manic for the same reason. I then idly wondered what I would say to myself 12 hours from now if I’d had a really bad day.


It would be along the lines of; [i]‘don’t go in. Just take a day off. Never mind that you’re using up premium days, just save yourself the stress.[/i]’


Well, it turned out to be a quiet day. However, if it had gone the other way and became manic, I could have said to people later [i]‘You know what? I just knew it was going to be a day like this. I had this premonition about it’. [/i]


The point is that I’m glad that I remembered that toothbrush moment, because those thoughts are usually forgotten unless the worst does occur. I think this is probably what happens when people say ‘I knew this would happen’. It’s surrendering to pessimism after the defeat. More importantly it’s a way of lying to yourself, and the more it happens the more credence the lie gets. It’s a sort of dysfunctional form of self protection. To deal with the possibility of failure, I prepare for it by artificially expecting the worst and calling that normality.


Behavioural Scientists say that us humans are very good at lying to ourselves. They say we develop habits of self-deception as a way of coping with problems and challenges.
It’s as good a reason as any for brushing my teeth regularly.


When the bathroom is finally finished I can resume flossing too. More insight? More bleeding gums? Like most bathrooms, it’s white. Why are there no black bathrooms? After all, black tiles would show up white dirt just as well as white tiles show up black dirt.


Now that August bank holiday has past, I am reviewing the past year critically. A lot of what has happened since is connected to the hole in my life that opened up when my partner Jan died on August bank holiday 2014.


My employer sent me home on 2 weeks compassionate leave, during which time I helped clear Jan’s flat of all her possessions. I did this together with her son Ian and her friends Pam & Lorna.


I spent ages taking her stuff to charity shops and to the tip. When the funeral was over and the flat emptied I returned home and started all over again. I got rid of a lot of stuff from my house. My mind was somehow preoccupied with this. I couldn’t think of any other way to spend the time I had on my hands. So back and forth to the tip I went. I was almost on first name terms with the totters there. But I got rid of a lot of stuff I didn’t need.


I had a lot of work done modernising the house. Central heating installed last year, and a bathroom suite fitted this year. It was done while I was on holiday in the Mediterranean during August 2015. The bathroom still needs some remedial work to finish it.


Music: Weirdly my music took an odd turn. I have never been a collector of guitars. In 44 years I had only bought 9 guitars. Of those I still had 7. Of the 7, I only really used 5.


Since December 2014 I have bought 5 more guitars (and sold only one in the same period). Do I need these guitars? Of course not. I only need 4: An acoustic, a Spanish acoustic, an electric and a practice model.
Am I using them all? Yes, and I don’t regret acquiring them. However, the simple truth is that I am in the same behavioural rut that I found myself in following Jan’s passing. I now have become more knowledgeable about guitars and curiosity has driven the desire to try out more models. The more models I try out, the more likely I am to find another I really like.


I have replaced house clearance with a guitar fixation. Not a music fixation. I already had a music fixation since I was a boy. This new thing is quite different.


I never knew much about guitars before, beyond playing them that is. Other players knew far more about the history, diversity and detail of guitars in general. They are to me, still just tools, but I now have a disproportionate interest in the tools.


Another change is occurring. I am now in 2 bands and am considering starting another. Blown Out has been going for many years now. We are in a rut though. Much of our material we were playing we were doing 16 years ago. We are getting out less and it feels like we are running down. The Jazz band offer came by recommendation from a young drummer who I’d played with once. I have certainly augmented (no pun) my chord knowledge since trying to learn some of this new material.


Why a third band? I don’t know. Blown Out’s singer Pete has always wanted to gig more than the rest of us. He has ‘moonlighted’ with other bands before now. He and I came close to doing duo work before, and got a fair few songs rehearsed up. It was just some covers we liked and also a few original songs too.


Now, the idea is to launch a blues band. Why a blues band? The simple truth is that its easy music and we won’t need very long in rehearsals. We should be able to get a couple of sets together fairly quickly and get out gigging with minimal delay. Of course we like blues too, but the decision on the genre is mainly pragmatic.


If Jan were still about, I wouldn’t be looking outside of Blown Out for gigs and I wouldn’t have 5 more guitars now. I would likely have the Hofner I started with (in December 2014), and perhaps nurse a little curiosity about a couple of others for a while.


What else has happened? I have worked a lot of overtime to better afford the home improvements and the 2 holidays. Jan had booked both these holidays for the two of us. One last September and the other this August. I had serious doubts about going on either of them, but I’m glad I did. I met a lot more people and started learning to dance and also to talk pointlessly. Both are valuable skills. Why was I so late understanding that?


At 61, retirement is looming, but I don’t really want to retire anymore. Maybe that will change when things get rough at work again. Those things always happen, and it’s only a matter of time before the next crisis descends on us.


Based on my parent’s longevity, I reckon I’ve got maybe 16 years left. I need to make better use of it than spending money and working 12 hour days. On Sunday I begin taking more dancing lessons. So eventually I may be able to meet yet more people, talk pointlessly and dance a tango. There’s ambition for you.


Picks Review


Picks Review:


Using and choosing picks is highly personal. No one can give a generalised review. My review is based upon what I am used to and the techniques I use. My use of picks is confined to electric guitars only. I never use them on acoustics.

The techniques I use.


Lead: predominantly alternating up & down, AKA speed picking. Hammer on/pull off. Basic sweep (not the shredder type). A personal Staccato version of economy picking.

Exceptions: I do not tap.


Rhythm: Various kinds. Specifically jazz (light touch) rock & blues (light touch to hard attack) ska (quick & muted upstrokes) Soul (fast and fluid).


Gibson Wedge (triangular) Medium & Heavy £0.60

These are what I am comparing everything else to. I have used these picks for 20 years. The mediums I use on 10-46 gauge strings and the Heavy on 11-50 and upwards.

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges. I actually use 6 playing edges. I use the proper edges for lead and the ‘flat’ in-between areas for rhythm playing. The index finger rotates the pick to the desired position in play.

Grip: Average. The size is fairly large & this helps. There is a minimal impression of the name on one side only. The gold lettering wears away after only an hour or so of playing.

Sound: Neutral. Neutral is good.

Playability: The gauge size choice allows for a minimal amount of flexing. This is deliberate and is a good compromise between lead & rhythm playing. It also enables easier control of picking volume.

Other: Gauge sizes are light, medium & heavy. There is usually some variation in batch sizes. This can be a small nuisance.


Chicken Picks

Tritone III Series Bermuda III (one x 2.7mm thick & one x 2.1mm thick) about £10 for the pair.

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges.

Grip: Embossed with the Chicken Logo & gauge size each side, the grip is very good. The material itself is not entirely smooth so this helps also.

Sound: The pick adds some scratchy white noise to the sound due to the surface texture. It looks smooth enough to the eye but the extraneous sound is unmistakable. For this reason it would not suit clean sounds such as Jazz or Country, but is ok for Metal and higher gain tonal colour.

Playability: It’s very good for alternate picking (also called speed picking) with scant lag (latency) between strokes. The picks have a pronounced curved bevel at the edges.

Other: Of the two gauges I initially preferred the 2.1mm, but after living with them for a few days, I became more used to the 2.7mm. Now I find I no longer have a preference between the two.



Elliptic shaped picks 88.mm thick. Six pack £3

Shape: The ‘elliptic’ name is misleading. The ellipse shape is triangular rather than eye shaped. Not exactly a misnomer, but not what you might expect. (Stagg make a plethora of budget priced stuff from classical string and wind instruments to gig bags and stage lighting).

Grip: Pretty good. There is surface embossment to help.

Sound: neutral.

Playability: These are ok for everything except fast picking. There is some resistance iN string contact resulting in latency. I don’t know why this is. The point of contact looks clean enough. As an experiment I took one and filed on a left handed bevel in the same proportions as a Blue Chip pick. The difference was negligible.

The Stagg picks are not bad at all. Ok as a standby. Best suited to rhythm playing.


Blue Chip TAD 40 1.01mm thick £22.21

I have already given a thorough review of the TAD 40 previously on this board (Blue Chip Picks).

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges.

Grip: No texture to assist grip, and the makers claims for a ‘tacky grip’ are IMO, specious.

Sound: neutral.

Playability: Good for lead and rhythm. Slightly better than my benchmark Gibsons. The pick I have features a left-handed ‘speed bevel’. Right-handed & non-bevelled are available. This is nothing more than the way a pick wears at the point of contact with the string. Look at the edge of a well worn pick to see what I mean. So the pick is ‘worn in’ already. I suspect this does give some advantage.

Other: This is a good pick. It’s better than most. Is it worth its very steep price? No, it most certainly isn’t.


Tortex by Dunlop USA

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges.

Grip: Similar to Gibson with minimal raised lettering on one surface. This will wear down with use.

Sound: Neutral. The material used is a synthetic representation of tortoiseshell, which was highly regarded by players of yesteryear. I can’t find anything special about it.

Playability: Reasonable. Better for lead than Stagg and not as good as Gibson. The differences though are very small.

Other: These are popular picks.


Ultex by Dunlop USA .88 thickness

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges.

Grip. As Tortex.

Sound: Slightly bright. Probably due to the material which is hard and surprisingly rigid.

Grip: Similar to Gibson with minimal raised lettering on one surface. This will wear down with use.

Playability: Good for lead. Average for rhythm. Initially I thought these inferior to Gibsons, even after a couple hours of use.

However when I returned to Ultex (after using V Picks and Chicken Picks) I found I had adapted to them (in some way) and actually found them a tad better than the Gibson. No doubt this was due to having become accustomed to rigid picks.

Other: The Ultex material is very hardwearing and should last for ages.

V Picks V-Pick Medium Pointed, 1.50mm £3

Shape: Triangular with 3 playing edges. Grip: average to good. At 1.5mm (the thinnest I found) they are chunky enough to hold confidently. However this is offset by the size which is smaller than I prefer. Sound: Bright and clear. This is due to the polished edges which impart no extraneous noise when drawn across the string. Playability: For lead, surprisingly good. This is partly due the pointed tips. I had not used pointed tips since my late teens when I made my own picks from thin acrylic sheet. This heavy acrylic took days to get used to, but paid off dividends in speed and clarity. The V-Picks have the least latency (or ‘lag’) in alternate picking. The edge bevel is less curved and more acute than the chicken picks. Unsuited to most kinds of rhythm playing. Other: I now find that I want to use this pick in my critical lead work, but in my band I am the only guitarist and play rhythm also. I have yet to find a good way to swap picks within songs. The biggest problem with V-Picks is that they are easy to lose. I lost one with a couple of days of using it. It is because they are transparent. Coloured ones are also made by ‘V’ but only in other styles. Tusq PQP-0488-G4 (.88mm thick)

Shape: Triangular with 2 playing edges. One of the three edges has a larger, blunter radius. I assume it is not designed to be a playing surface (or could it be for rhythm?). It seems an odd design choice.

Grip: The grip is average and little better than Stagg or Tortex. The small improvement is down to the embossed surface.

Sound: slightly bright. Again, the brightness seems attributable to the rigidity of the material. It is almost as rigid as Ultex.

Playability: Lead: There seems to be some ‘drag’ against the string. Probably due to the material and its finish. It is not pronounced, but it’s there. This is a shame because everything else pointed to this pick being great for lead. Sadly it’s mediocre.

Other: Tusq is of course the same material that is used for a guitar nut. They are said to be ‘self lubricating’. I can only assume that the material itself is the ‘lubricant’ (like graphite?). I have personal doubts about this claim but am happy to be proven wrong.



I’ve collected quite a few picks this year, and spent about a week with all of them. It has been worth the time (of adapting) and the expenditure too.


There can be no ‘winner’ because everything described here is entirely subjective. However I will be using V-Picks from here onwards for all my critical lead work. I’ll try a few others V’s too.


I will also persevere with Dunlop’s Ultex as I suspect they may replace my favourite Gibsons in time.


Picks / Plectrums


Pete Walker, a guitar store owner and lifelong enthusiast said to me that
‘everybody can hold down a few chords & string a couple of phrases together, it’s the picking hand that makes a guitarist sound unique’.


This is a big subject. Nothing varies so much between guitarists as the sort of pick they use and the way they use them. It’s the most neglected subject too. Players obsess about their main equipment more than anything else (and spend a lot of money doing it). Paying attention to picks and picking technique is the best and cheapest way to refine your sound and improve your versatility.
This article deals with both rhythm and lead work, that being strumming and melodic lead guitar lines. It’s a big subject because there are so many variables. I will keep it as simple as I can, keeping to the bare essentials.


Holding the pick: Usually held between thumb and index finger. There are variants. You may find you hold the pick differently when strumming than you do when melody playing. This view shows the pick held as if melody playing.




These are the main variables. Each of these main is covered in separate sections below


1/ Pick attitude. The picks angle to the strings.
2/ Pick thickness. Thin picks bend and thick picks are stable.
3/ Pick shape & size. Comfort and the best fit to your style.



I have drawn a ‘pick attitude diagram’. On it I have shown 2 axes.


The ‘X’ axis is in RED and is mainly concerned rhythm playing (strumming).
The ‘Y’ axis in BLUE This is mainly concerned with single string lead lines


These 2 axis lines cross at the centre of the pick. The pick is shown in the horizontal position pointing directly at the fret-board. Imagine the red dotted circle as a wheel that you can turn to change the angle of the pick. If you rotate it in the + (plus) direction through 90 degrees, the pick will be pointing directly at the floor. If you then rotate it in the – (minus) direction by 180 degrees it would point at the ceiling.
Most often, the advice is to leave the pick in the horizontal position (as shown).
Now look to the ‘Y’ blue axis. The pick is shown at 90 degrees to the frets. If you were to rotate the wheel in either the + (plus) or – (minus) direction by 90 degrees it would then be in line with the frets and useless for picking.
Starting with the pick in the normal position as drawn, most advice is to tilt the pick about the blue axis in the – (minus) direction between 20 to 45 degrees for normal alternate (up & down) picking.
At 20 degrees, picking will become easier, as will crossing over to adjacent strings. When you increase the angle to 45 degrees it becomes as easy as it can get because you now have minimal resistance when striking the string.


00 degrees (as attitude diagram)
clearest sound
Awkward to pick fluently
20 degrees minus
clear sound
Easier to pick fluently
45 degrees minus
rougher sound
Easiest for fluent picking




The next diagram is the ‘usual’ pick angle about the ‘Y’ axis. The angle shown is -30 degrees.




Of course you can angle the pick any way you choose, but this is generally more comfortable and natural.
A quick note about technique: Alternate picking is literally continuous up & down strokes. If you are unused to this, it might seem awkward because your pick will sometimes end up in the ‘wrong’ position for crossing to another string. Don’t worry about it. With sufficient practice, it works out fine.


Rhythm Playing

Strumming / rhythm work. This is when you might wish to hold the pick nearer to the horizontal position in Y (zero degrees). As you are now sweeping the pick across several strings, this is where the X axial angle can come into play. When strumming there are two kinds of motion.


1/ the wrist moves up & down. It’s the forearm that actually does the work.


2/ The forearm pivots and rotates the wrist (as in the X’ axis motion). X + on the up stroke (pick pointing down) and X- on the down stroke (pick pointing up). The picture below shows X – angle on a down stroke strum.
Strumming is a combination of both motions. Experiment to see what sounds & feels best, but it should be a natural choice, never feeling uncomfortable or awkward. This photo shows the pick in a pronounced X- minus position; angle at about -45 degrees.







Thin picks:
Thin picks will bend on contact with the strings. You cannot apply much force with a thin pick, so very thin picks will always give you a soft quieter sound. The reason is simple. You cannot strike the guitar hard enough using a thin pick for full string vibration.
Thinner picks are generally more useful for strumming. For strumming use a pick that is thick enough to permit changes in volume according to how hard you strike the strings. This provides optimal control. It should bend easily in contact with the wound strings, but less so with the unwound strings. Picks less than .025” (.63mm) are generally considered to be thin.


Heavy Picks:
For soloing, a thicker (or firmer) pick is better. Many players will use heavy picks that will not bend at all on contact with the stings.
Some of us like just a little give on the wound strings. For this reason I use a heavier pick on guitars with heavier gauge strings, and a lighter pick for lighter strings. The reason is that this gives me a little more control of the sound and its volume using just the pick alone. The disadvantage is that its usefulness diminishes when picking fast and hard together. The reason is the attack is a little slower and cant develop properly before the next note is struck (the pick has to flex back and recover its true shape & position). Remember we are speaking of one note per strike here (not hammer-ons & pull-offs). I call this ‘latency’.


To avoid latency altogether, a firm inflexible pick is necessary.


Some picks are massively thick. These obviously have no give at all. They also are more likely to impart extraneous noise into the notes produced. For example a pebble will scrape against the string and you will hear that scrape as ‘white noise’. The rougher the surface, the denser the noise is likely to be. Look at surface roughness on picks. They will sound ‘scratchier’.
Everything I’m describing here can be experienced best used on an acoustic guitar. With an electric guitar, use clean EQ settings in order to hear the effect.

String Contact Position

Middle Position.

The string vibrates fullest at the middle of its length. This middle of the string is where its tautness appears to be least. Here, it is easiest to pluck. Try plucking some open strings at the 12th fret position. You will notice two things:
1/ There is more give in the string here. And it offers the least resistance to plucking.
2/ The resultant sound will be a deeper warmer tone.


Bridge Position.

The string vibrates least at the anchor points of nut and bridge. Now move your picking position further back towards the bridge and strike the same strings at about 40mm (1.5” inches) from the bridge. This time notice:
1/ There is more resistance in the string here. It is much firmer.
2/ The resultant sound will be a brighter treble tone.


What this means for your picking is obvious. Depending on where you pick, you can alter the tonal colour of the sound. The ease of picking is also affected. There is no right or wrong choice here. Just be aware of the differences, how it affects your technique and vice versa.



This is a matter of personal preference. It’s not a bad idea to buy a few different picks for comparison. Even experienced players can benefit by trying an unfamiliar pick from time to time. But it’s no use trying out a new pick for just a few seconds. You will likely need to adapt your technique to it first and that could take time. It’s not unreasonable to use a different pick for the bulk of your practice over the course of a week. At the end of that time you should have learned to use it to good effect and it may help inform your picking technique. Even something that feels ‘wrong’ at first may surprise you after a couple of days use. You might find improvements in your tone, control or speed. You’re unlikely to find one that does everything perfectly. It’s more likely that you will just ‘like’ one better than others.


Be aware of any changes you make to the ‘X’ & ‘Y’ attitudes, as you will likely make small unconscious adjustments with any new pick. I am being deliberately vague about shape & size, because the variables are too many and varied to encompass. Chances are though, the one you ‘like’ will simply be the best fit to your style.


RZS 29-07-2015


This has been written as an expression of regret. Not a challenge nor an attack.


I watched another youtube video of willseasyguitar recently. I have learned a fair amount from Will (if that is really his name) and been entertained sometimes too. I can say the same for Scott Grove. Both these fellows like to broadcast on a broad variety of topics, though they are best known as guitar buffs.


I’m now used to hearing ‘hey’ as a greeting. I also realise that ‘How’s it going?’ is not a question; rhetorical or otherwise.


It does sadden me a little when both Will and Scott use the word ‘retarded’ as a means of demeaning someone they disapprove of. Some of the nicest, warmest and most genuine people I have ever met are mentally retarded.
Will has apparently received criticism for this. He answers this by saying he is exercising free speech.


The last Will diatribe I saw had him label as a someone ‘a dumb f**king sh*t’ for holding an opinion contrary to himself. I understand the frustration of dealing with people that don’t listen or speak rashly, but all he needs to say is that person is mistaken or wrong.


However, the ‘dumb f**king sh*t’ accusation goes further than this.
It is an assertion of dominance by the speaker. It is a human equivalent of the assertive posturing demonstrated by the higher social animals. Will is a clever guy, but I doubt this has occurred to him.


I had believed that only those with insecurity issues were overtly aggressive in this way, but I was wrong. Not wholly wrong, but there are other factors to consider.


1/ The culture of over-exaggeration. When people abandon the implicit method of discourse, such as listening attentively when spoken to, and being listened to attentively when speaking.


When people talk over each other they are not interested in listening, only speaking. Then they raise voices to gain advantage. This engenders frustration and then aggression which ultimately leads to personal abuse. To speak and not to listen is be literally dictatorial.


This is still basic attention grabbing for the purpose of elevating yourself in the pecking order. They then get angry because they just receive the same treatment back. So it hasn’t worked. The problem is that it is never going to work.


Personal abuse is provocative, but this runs out of control when the ‘other side of the river’ syndrome kicks in.


2/ The ‘other side of the river’ syndrome means: I will verbally abuse you because I feel safe on this side of the river. Without the river (or the internet) you would seldom dare show such disrespect. being more vulnerable. This certainly does involve insecurity in some measure.


We are all living in societies where most children (and often ourselves) have not been socialised properly.
To habitually speak to people this way directly in the more deprived would result in violence within days if not hours; probably in the US and certainly in the UK. This could then result in a visit to prison, hospital or both.


Another frustrating thing Will & Scott have in common is repetition. I suspect this is also part of the same issue brought about by feeling that continual emphasis is needed to make a point. Well it certainly is if you are always dealing with people trying to talk over you.
But this isn’t appropriate on a youtube video. You already have the platform and no-one is arguing. Some of these videos are 30 or 40 minutes long. The actual content without repetition could be cut to a quarter of that time usually. Sometimes Scott Grove will say ‘ok I’m done. I’m going now…’ but you can see there is still 10 minutes remaining on the time bar. This repetition seems to have become habitual for them.


It’s not all gloom and doom though. There are pleasant and respectful folk out there too. It’s a shame because Will & Scott are by no means bad people You can tell that they are feeling pressured and frustrated so much of the time. Despite the abrasive manner I do like them both. I’m still watching so far anyway.


Juggling Guitars

My guitars are mostly leisure instruments, but some are grafters.


The Soloist is the main grafter; a real workhorse. I’ve had it 18 years & it feels like a part of me.
I’m trying to spec up the Deuce to become a grafter too (it’s cheap). It will never be anything like as fine as the Soloist but I just like it for some reason.


The elderly Washburn G5V is a practice model. It has been played more than any other guitar, and it shows. Both The Soloist & the G5V have significant ruts worn into every fret through nearly 20 years of constant playing.


Both these guitars have rosewood fingerboards. This is why I prefer ebony. My 40 year old Fylde has an ebony fingerboard with no sign of wear. When I used to play solo, I gigged the Fylde (acoustic) quite a bit too.


I didn’t manage to sell the G5V, so decided to make a project of it. I’ve hacked the body down to a much smaller new shape. I may try to fret level it myself if I can get some files ground & modified for the task.


The Elite has been gigged but I struggle getting a usable sound on stage. Its overwound active PUs are clean but muddy. By this I mean the signal is crystal clear (great for recordings) but very bass biased. Yes, it’s really for metal. On the plus side, it plays like a dream, and it’s got an ebony fingerboard!


I am looking to sell the Jackson Elite. I will try e-bay with a £700 reserve. If it doesn’t make that I will treat it as another project and disrespect the design by removing the nasty Seymour Duncan PUs and replacing them with something sensible. Someone suggested just removing the active circuit, but I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. Maybe Simon Jones would advise & do this for me?


The PRS will also work for a living. I bought this at the Exeter shop I visited with Steve Perrett in February. I should not have bought it at all. I swore I would never buy another guitar with a trem. However, once I had played it, there was no way it wasn’t coming home with me. So I changed the .009 strings for .010s, made the truss rod adjustment and set about blocking up the trem cavity. It’s now good to blow.


I have gigged the Yamaha Silent (classical) a couple of times and recorded with it (Papa & the Sky). It’s a weird guitar, but immensely practical. I kept it at Jan’s place so I could practice at weekends when I was there. Since Jan died last year, it has been brought home. It had broken a string at some point and I have not had the inclination to re-string it. It’s been 7 months now. Somebody said recently. If you haven't used it in 6 months, get rid of it. Hmmm...


The Hofner J17 (jazz) and the Camps (classical) are strictly recreational. They are both a challenge to play. The J17 has high tension, and the Camps a high action. They are pampered lambs with nary a scratch on them.


Hagtrom Deuce Update

update to 'Hagstrom Deuce' thread I started in the guitar area of the forum.

I tried out the Deuce at gigging volume on Saturday morning. I brought it out for the last few minutes having done most of the rehearsal with my usual Jackson Soloist.

I was also trying out the Line-6 pod 400 signal processor (with the custom tones I had tailored to each guitar). Not an ideal situation to introduce 2 major changes at once, which is why I used the trusty Jackson for all but the last few minutes of the practice/jam.

Jackson Soloist: The Line 6 worked out great. The extra volume brought forth more treble than I had expected. I was able to compensate using the guitar tone control. It worked perfectly. The extra ‘gain’ I had anticipated was there and in just the right proportion. No need for any tweaks of any sort.

The Hagstrom Deuce: It worked out very well. A little louder & more distorted than the Jackson, so I may go back in (to the Line 6 unit) to back off the gain a little for the dedicated Deuce patch. The main exercise was to try out the Deuces pickups and they sound absolutely fine & better than expected.

My electric guitars are now configured to the Line 6 pod to use the neck pickups exclusively. On the Soloist this a single coil and on the Deuce a split (HB) coil. They both sound excellent. Definitely the best sounds I have ever used.

There is still a little work to do on the Deuce. This is the message I sent to Simon the luthier before the practice.

Subject: sows ear into silk purse.

Hi Simon, Re: Hagstrom Deuce . You did its first set up in February. It’s the least of my guitars but I like it. I’d like to improve it and make it into a reliable gigging guitar.

1/ The pickup selector switch worked loose again. Part of the problem was that the cavity was not machined deep enough so there was insufficient thread poking through to engage the nut. So I replaced the washer with a thinner one. This works ok but the switch just feels cheap & nasty.

2/ The jack socket also worked loose a couple of weeks ago. I tightened it carefully because I could feel the wiring rotate beneath. I suspect this is also sub-standard.

3/ Frets. Although ok. I think they might be improved. A flatness check & fret levelling where required. The artificial fingerboard sound is deceptive though. Acoustically it’s loud and trebly and this accentuates the least bit of fret noise. This is not transmitted through the pickup however, and the notes ring clear when amplified.

4/ Pots, capacitor, shielding. Check over & replace if necessary.

5/ I will be trying out the Deuce in a Studio at gigging volume on Saturday. I hope to be able to evaluate the pickups properly then.

I do think the Deuce will work out fine as a proper working guitar. As originally said, the carcass of the guitar is good. A few mods will improve confidence & reliability.


Guitar Watching

The Gibson Les Paul Special Double Cut 2015

I’ve been curious about these ever since finding the Hagstrom Deuce. This is the model the Deuce is based on. The more expensive 2014 Special had the full arch-top shaped body cap and trim. The 2015 version is half the price with a slab body and minimal features. It looks basic & cheap, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It has a rugged visual appeal.

I handled one a short while ago. It didn’t seem too bad.

I played one at Nevada Music yesterday. I couldn’t get on with it at all. I felt clumsy. It’s as if my technique was applied to the wrong instrument. I was catching adjacent strings with my fingers and so had to try to palm mute pretty much everything. The sound from the P90s pickups & the Marshal amp didn’t help. Everything sounded nasty.

If the experience had been positive, I might have followed it up with bringing my own amp along to try it with. It wasn’t even worth it though.

I also tried the Epiphone ES-339*. (they didn’t have a Gibson one) If anything, the fingerboard on this was even smaller, but it felt better. It was playable and I managed to coax some nice sounds from it.

These Epis actually have one advantage over the Gibsons. The pickups (the humbucker versions) are coil split. A useful feature.

*The ES-339 is a Gibson Hollowbody based on the ES-335 (Chuck Berry, Alvin Lee, BB King etc). The body is scaled down and so less bulky.


Thumb Osteoarthritis

thumb osteoarthritis: Had this in both thumbs for about 3 or 4 years. Until last year it never interfered with my guitar playing. Now it does.

Now I cant use the thumb-over-the-top technique to fret the bass E. I use it a lot in fingerstyle. The thumb just doesnt bend enough anymore, and if I try it hurts too much anyway.

For soloing and band work. I only discovered yesterday how I minimise thumb use.

Normally the thumb grips the back of the neck when the fingers press down on the fingerboard. This became severely painful and I didnt know how I was overcoming it.

Now Ive noticed that the missing thumb support is replaced by the elbow of the picking arm (right arm). My right elbow uses the entire guitar as a lever with my body acting as the fulcrum. So by pushing the guitar body backwards, the neck wants to swing forward, and providing enough support to enable my fingers to fret properly. All the while, my left thumb is doing almost nothing.

Theres nothing I can do about the 'thumb-over-the-top' thing though. Maybe re-arrange some fingering? Probably not but I'll try it on a couple of rags and see what might be done.


Hard & Easy Guitars

‘Hard Guitars & Easy Guitars. I love ‘em both.

As a young’un I wanted ever lower action, lighter gauge strings, lighter string tension and all the things that go to make playing easier. More than that, I needed these things in order to play properly at all.

I don’t recall exactly when it was I realised that I didn’t need those features anymore, but it took a little while to sink in.

Moreover, I now seem to be able to play any guitar at full throttle regardless of its set up.

The Spanish guitar is full scale, with a very wide neck and very high action. At first, everything about it was a challenge, but within a few months I had managed to adapt my most technically difficult composition to this guitar. I had to adapt my technique because the 26” scale meant I could no longer span the frets needed to perform it properly. I had to invent a ‘new’ technique in order to play it at all.

The work was worthwhile because that piece sounds much better on that guitar than it could on any steel strung model.

Likewise the Archtop was difficult because the heavier string gauges created such high tension. The only thing to slow me up on that was the realisation that the notes didn’t ‘ring out’ properly at higher speeds. I now make a point of allowing the archtop full voice by just slowing up a bit.

Make no mistake, both these (and other) guitars are more challenging to play.

The Spanish is a challenge in terms of maintaining accuracy. A quick chord change is likely to find the frets but miss a string along the way. It’s a serious issue with high action & wide fingerboards.

The archtop took more physical strength to play and made my arms & hands tire quickly. It’s also more difficult to judge intonation, because when using thick wound strings past the 12th fret, you just cant feel those frets anymore. The string cannot bend into the fret recess.

But these ‘hard’ guitars don’t really slow me down technically whether fingerpicking or using a plectrum. I’m able to play both just as fast as the super easy PRS and higher end Jacksons.

Even trying to master a 'hard' guitar is liberating, because it expands your range of what you can play & therefore the different (& even techniques) timbres available to you.

Preference. I get great satisfaction playing the higher action / higher tension Hagstrom Deuce. It requires some effort to bend the strings. More than 2 hours straight and I would start to struggle with it. It’s masculine. You can play anything on it, but it somehow suits Chicago blues or balls out rock.

By contrast the PRS demands the very lightest & most delicate touch. It’s every inch a feminine guitar. I could play it all day and night without complaint.


Guitar Cases.

Unusual for a blog entry. I am posting it here in addition to the forum so I can retrieve it if needed in future.

Instrument cases.

Cautionary tale #1

On picking up a guitar from the luthier, he pointed out that the tip of my guitar’s headstock was resting on the base of the case. In other words it was not being supported by the neck as it should be. He warned me that he had seen a lot of broken necks due to poorly fitting hard cases and that a heavy shunt or two could do that. He actually told me that a gig-bag was safer.

He was referring to the old Fender case that I’ve been using for more than 40 years. I used to keep a Strat in there, but for the last 17 years or so it’s been home to a Jackson guitar.

It has been fine, even though it’s had the odd tumble to & from gigs. This usually happens when making an emergency stop with a vehicle loaded with band gear. But I heeded his warning and did something about it.

There is a neck support ridge in the case but it was only good for the zero relief type of Fender headstock. The Jackson headstock has a backward tilt angle of about 10 degrees & that’s why it was touching bottom.

When I got home, I measured the gap in the case where the neck ridge was. I then got hold of some spare pipe lagging and cut it in half lengthwise and wedged it over the ridge & between the sides. I used a bread knife. Pipe lagging has plenty of give, so it’s easy to make an interference fit.

It fit the case well and needed no further adjustment. Lastly I placed the Jackson back in the case and the mod supported the neck nicely. I checked to see if the body was still supported properly (not just resting on the strap pin part). The job took about 5 minutes in all. It didn’t look very pretty but it was now functioning as it should.

Lesson : Understand how the case should support & protect the instrument. If it doesn’t, change it.

Cautionary tale #2

Later, when buying another guitar, the salesman told me that it ‘comes with its own case’. He also said that he could make a reduction if I didn’t want the case. Thinking that the case was made for the guitar I opted to take the case. When I got home I realised that the case was actually a generic 3rd party one. It also didn’t fit properly. The neck ridge did keep the headstock off the bottom but it didn’t hold the neck in place. When the case was picked up by the carry handle, the neck slid down out of the slot and the whole guitar rotated inside the case.

Obviously it only stopped when the headstock impacted on the side. The case was also too long and the guitar slid freely backwards and forwards as well.

Lesson: Always check the case yourself and do so thoroughly.

Cautionary tale #3

I needed a new guitar case. I called the shop that supplied the guitar. The assistant tried another guitar like mine in some cases and got back me. His e-mail gave me the make & model of the case. He said it was a ‘snug’ fit.

A couple of weeks later I was ready to go & fetch the case.

I called to check with them first. Another assistant re-checked the case and he reported that despite the snug fit, it was too deep for my guitar. He had looked at the case more thoroughly and saved me a wasted trip.

With this situation several things could have gone wrong.

  1. Had they sent it mail order, & I would had a bad fit case.
  2. I could have visited the shop without the guitar and brought home the bad fit case.

Lesson learned: Check every aspect of the fit, including the depth. Always take your guitar along.

In Conclusion:

If you are buying a third party case, you need to be very sure it’s going to be fit for purpose.

The guitar should have no free movement along length, width & depth. The body should lay flat and the neck should be supported.

When checking a case in a shop, place the guitar into the case yourself and do the following:

  • Check the neck is supported and that the head stock is isolated. Feel underneath the headstock. There should be a gap.

  • The neck should be held firmly in place with the case closed. With the guitar inside, pick up the case by the carry handle and make sure it doesn’t slide out of position.

  • There should be no forward or sideways movement (length & width).

  • Depth (thickness) fit. If the case is too small you will not be easily able to close the lid. Do not force it, especially with an acoustic guitar inside. To ensure it’s not too big, close the lid and do up all the clasps. Pick up the case and place it upright on the floor (lower bout on ground and head pointing upward) and tilt it forwards carefully. Does the headstock fall forward into the lid?

If you have a case that doesn’t fit your guitar properly. You may be able to modify it. I was lucky with the pipe lagging solution. It usually isn’t that simple.

Foam and/or polystyrene can be cut to shape & used to fill gaps in the case. This is usually a temporary solution, as those ‘bits’ will get lost in time.

Polystyrene (EPS) can be cut with hot wire cutters without risk of producing noxious gases. It can also be cut (with care) using a serrated knife making a sawing action.

Foam (spongy type) can be awkward to cut. Do not risk using hot wire cutters on this stuff. The best thing to use is an electric carving knife (yes, the sort you carve the roast turkey with). Check out Youtube vids of Pelican gun cases. The interior foam is cut to shape using this method.

You could also strip out your flight case and use large sheets of foam as per the Pelican case example. Before you do, make sure your case is sturdy enough. The interior may be braced with some of the parts you strip out. Try to flex the lid and the base by holding them by diagonal corners and carefully bending them. If they flex too easily it might not be up to the job at all.

If you use the foam ‘bit n pieces’ modification. Consider taping the parts together and covering them in a suitable fabric. Sewing is a skillset most of us don’t have. You could staple the fabric, but you must do this with the covering inside out. Do not allow staples to come into contact with your nice shiny guitar.

If you don’t care what it looks like, just use lots of gaffa tape.

Finally. There are some very cheap hard cases out there. If you are gigging the guitar, they may not be good enough.

Hiscox cases are expensive, but are a very good build standard. Check these out even if you don’t buy one. It will give you some idea of what you to aim for.

I’m not even going to get into the business of sending the instrument as freight. Don’t do it. If you really must, get properly insured first. And if you got religion, pray.


Choosing A Back-Up E-Guitar

How to choose a guitar? The easiest way is to go to some shops and try out a couple in each (any more than 3 can become confusing). What about when you have a pretty good idea of what you like already.

17 years ago I spent 18 months looking for a replacement for my Strat. I came away with a Jackson Soloist that is still the best fit for all my needs. However, there are some things I don’t like.

1/ Floyd Rose Bridge. These cost about £215. So I definitely paid for something I didn’t want. It’s now completely disabled, having two blocks of wood filling the trem cavity.

2/ I’m not too wild about rosewood fingerboards. There is no problem as such but my nails gouge out tiny bits *, and over the years it shows. I like ebony. Ebony is nail proof.

(* my string bends pull, rather than push, bringing the nail in contact with the fret material. This sort of thing occurs when you don’t take guitar lessons)

3/ The image of a metal guitar doesn’t bother me. I use it for what I want to play and it delivers with aplomb. It does confuse the public sometimes though. But I don’t particularly care for its shape or colour (black).

When looking for another gigging guitar, I really wanted something a little different. Certainly not to replace the soloist, but serve as back-up. Also, sometimes the punters get confused when they see a ‘metal’ guitar used in a ska & soul band (snigger…chortle….).

Fenders? I love the Fender sound more than any solid bodies. I can’t get on with those tight radius narrow necks though; and I have really, really tried. Flatter frets are more solo friendly.

Gibsons? You bet. But they have short (24.75”) scales and all humbucker PUs. Should I try to get used to a short scale? Dunno. One day I may get a real cheap Epiphone and experiment for a while.

The shopping list then is determined by these specs. Here they are.

  • 25.5” scale
  • Wider fretboard. 1.69” min at nut (but string spacing not remain narrow like the new SGs)
  • 15 or 16” radius (or suitable compound radii)
  • Fixed bridge.
  • Single coil pick up. At least one, and at the neck position.

Sound simple? Well, just try & scare up this sort of animal. I found only one direct match.

it’s the Hagstrom Metropolis-S


Otherwise the closest I could get were humbuckers with split coils. There’s not many of those either and they are all shy. Here are a few candidates:

Peavey Predator: Cheap and pretty good quality. If the retailers are all correct they are made (variously) in Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. Who knows if one is better than another? The trouble is that in the UK there are almost none.

Hagstrom Deuce: Similar problem to Peavey. Almost no stockists.

Godin LGX-SA: Expensive at £1,500. It’s also very high tech with direct Synth access. There is one stockist 130 miles away.

After weeks of deliberation and stock searches I decided on the Deuce. For the longest time however, I thought I was buying the Godin.

I think the Deuce is poorly represented (on the web generally and at stockists) precisely because it doesn’t look like one of the iconic ‘few’.

*The Double Cutaway Les Paul doesn’t look like a Les Paul. It was only in production briefly so not even Gibson managed to market them effectively. Perhaps when faced with this option, buyers would reason ‘If I’m paying money for a Les Paul, then I want it to damn well look like a Les Paul’.

The Deuce is the least reviewed or demo’d model of all (Web & YouTube). It’s difficult to find also, appearing on so few retail web sites in the UK (the US, as usual can get everything).

All this meany I had to take a chance and order one blind. I'll post a review shortly.


Last Gig Of The Year

Last gig of the year: Friday 19 December 2014

Club V Fareham Recreation Ground. Denny’s 60th birthday bash.

Denny himself is in a covers band, and they opened for us (Blown Out). I was very glad that people did get up and dance to them. Though it was at the last song!

This was their first gig, and they did well. They did one of the songs we do ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’, so the party heard 2 versions that night.

Club V is a wonderful place. It’s got 2 control rooms for DJ/audio & lighting engineer, a nice big stage and all the power sockets you could wish for. Noise is not an issue as its set in open ground and surround by fields.

A buffet was provided which the drummer and the alto sax player made for straight away (as usual).

We played 2 sets, though I think we should have played longer. It was pretty good and everyone enjoyed it.

The only problem is…

As we were clearing the stage, our bass player Paul toppled my glass of soda water into my stomp box. It was a nearly a full pint too. Fortunately it was powered down and unplugged by then, but I spent a good couple of minutes shaking water out of it.

I took it home and left it by a radiator. The box is an aged Boss GT5 which has served me with only one minor breakdown in 15 years. It has now died however. It cost close to £600 when new, but they are no longer made, and Boss gave up servicing them when it was superseded by the GT6.

The current unit is the GT100 and it’s a good deal cheaper than my old GT5. However, none of my carefully crafted patches will work on anything else and I am unlikely to be able to source another GT5 easily.

So, I have decided to go about things differently from here on in.

I have ordered a Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor. This is basically just a pre-amp with a vacuum tube (valve = uk) at its heart. Every music retailer are out of stock or no longer supply them. Except one; GAK still offer it. However, even they had to order one from Germany.

I’m looking forward to trying it out, and I will probably want a reverb unit of some sort too, but haven’t selected which one of those yet.

I may review the Tube Factor later.



Performance - Failure & Success.

Sometimes the band plays well but I am unhappy about my personal contribution to the music at a gig. This is what I am talking about here.

To my own standards, my success rate is quite low. I feel good about perhaps 40% of my performances. I’ve never felt like giving up, but I do feel pretty bad after some gigs.

I could improve my success rate by being less demanding of myself. The trouble with that is, I would probably eventually get bored and give it all up anyway. Most of the time I just fail to live up to my potential & end up playing blandly. It can be down to several variables.

1/ Sound quality : timbre & acoustics can restrict what I will attempt to play.

2/ Fatigue : tired hands & fingers due to extensive chord work

3/ Losing place : phrasing problems due to wrong tempo or plain clumsiness.

The re-entry problem.

The absolute worse thing I do is to drift into the wrong key. Now, it happens extremely rarely, but it does happen. Usually I can correct it after a bum note or two, but I have on occasion soloed in the wrong key without realising it. This can only really happen when the acoustics are so poor that I cant hear the band properly.

Again, I could eliminate this problem quite easily. It’s just a question of discipline. The reason I don’t is because I happen like the way of playing that gets me into this sort of difficulty.

What happens is this. During a solo, sometimes I will literally let go of the understanding I have of the music. This is not when things go wrong, in fact this is the ‘sweet space‘ that appeals to me. It during the return to musical structure that these mistakes occur.

Anxiety at the moment of needing to remember where I am in the song is the first & only sign of trouble. It happens (fortunately) more during practise rather than in the short solos I tend to do play in the band; but happen they do. Hopefully I still have enough years of playing in me to see some improvement before I have to stop altogether.

There remains some satisfaction in the struggle to improve.



Band Crisis

30th Aug 2008 Gig at Romsey Comrades Club. Blown Out have played here several times. All 7 band members have known about the venue since spring of this year. On the night however, we were dealt a cruel blow.

Our bassist Stan didn’t turn up. Both I and Pete (vocals) phoned his mobile but he had switched it off. Maybe he had an accident on the way to Romsey, maybe he was sick, maybe anything. However this had happened once before some 4 years ago. It was the first gig I ever took Jan to. Stan didn’t show & had turned his mobile off.

So why couldn’t we just apologize to the Entertainment Manager, have a drink & go home? Well, this gig was on a contract. We were obliged to pay them if we bailed out. The same situation in fact as we had to face 4 years ago. We did then as we did now: we played the gig without the bass.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds. The bass will actually play the intro to some songs, will feature & provide timing cues to the rest of us in many cases. It is not just a case of playing what we normally would without a bass. It affects what everyone else plays. I personally had to make my rhythm work much simpler that night. The keyboard player altered his sound setup to add a bit more ‘bottom’, the drummer was less connected to the band etc etc. Stan had left a gaping hole in the band. Even the sound seemed bizarre, as if we were playing in a medium other that air that night.

Well we got through the evening as best we could. We didn’t do such a bad job of it. We got people up & dancing and several people thanked us.

I tried to contact Stan the next day. His phone was still off. This wasn’t looking good. Pete Aubrey (singer) managed to get through to him a couple of days later. He didn’t have much to say for himself. Anyway, Pete was more concerned that he now show up for our next gig. Stan confirmed that he would.

The day after this conversation, we all got a text message from Stan. It said this:-

‘Hi, I am leaving the band. Its been a great 9 years but its time to move on. Sorry for any incon. – Stan’

We had a charity gig on the next day. We were playing a fund raiser for mentally disabled children near Winchester. No contract, but we felt strongly that we could not let them down.

We drafted in a replacement at short notice. The new bassist, Paul would have to just ‘wing it’ as best he could. He was given a tape the evening before the show together with the address of the venue.

This following is an e-mail I sent to Blown Out’s sax player Mark Adams the next day.


So Stans done it again, big style too. Quit a day prior to a gig by text with no notice or further contact. Words fail me.

I didn’t have to cancel Comrades on 29th Nov either. I got a letter from them Wednesday; they have cancelled us!

Tonight: We had better try to stick with simple tunes that our stand in (Paul?) will stand a chance with.

That leaves out:




and maybe...




...at the least I should think

See you for another 'seat-of-yer-pants gig' tonight. –Rudi

Paul made a damned good job as stand in. The evening was a great success, lots of money was raised. The food was excellent, everybody danced, the atmosphere was just great. I played much of the evening with my guitar turned towards Paul so he might ‘read’ the chords off me. It was a bumpy ride, but we all enjoyed it, even Paul too.

We were doubly pleased that he agreed to join us as permanent bassist for the band. Due to holidays etc, we had to delay band rehearsals until now. With a couple of rehearsals, Paul would have some idea of where to start & stop, provide & take cues and learn the less straightforward material.

A new band member changes the whole dynamic of a band. Stan was a solid riff player (& ex drummer) who rarely deviated from what was expected. Paul is a ‘busy’ bassist. He explores a song rather than fixing it down. A more accomplished player certainly. Not better necessarily, just different. The next gig we played with Paul, was much the same. He certainly influenced my playing that night, I took more risks during my solos & played more aggressively than usual. Drummer Simon upped the tempo of everything. The saxes were having to listen to the whole band rather that reply on the bass lines. We are a new incarnation of Blown Out.

Stan. I still have had no personal contact with Stan since that August. He has been a friend of mine for many years. I forgive him & I hope that he’s ok.


A Day In The Life

A Day in the Life

6.00am: Rise with the untitled tune in D minor running through head. Briefly wonder why bathroom mirror light is on. Recall that the toothbrush is plugged in there because I left shaving adaptor at beloveds. Shave. Brush teeth while loading carrots into briefcase. Climb onto scales. Only ½ lb lost this week.

Dress & run mental checklist before leaving house. Phone, wallet, ID badge, briefcase, keys.

6.30am: It’s still dark. Leave house, get car out of garage, head for work. Listen to 'The Wasps' Incidental Music by Vaughan Williams.

At the end of Swivleton Lane (a farm road) discover flashing blue lights at the T-junction. There’s a cherry picker, ambulance & other sundry vehicles & the road is blocked. Do 9 point turn in road, and take detour.

7.00am: Arrive at work dead on time. Complain to colleagues. Put kettle on. Read e-mails. Wake up. Consume breakfast bar with tea.

8.00am: Meeting. It’s a familiar litany. Project leader: `What’s the engineering status for the Isolator?’ and we all solemnly intone “material…”.

9.00am: Look for WIP material.

9.40am: Fail to find WIP material. Make phone calls. Follow up with e-mails.

9.45am: Receive text from beloved. Reply. Make cup of tea.

10.08am: Phone St. James Hospital to check how mum is this morning. She slept well and has managed breakfast without choking.

10.20am: Look for WIP material

11.15am: Fail to find WIP material

Check pedometer. I have walked 3334 steps & covered 1.57 miles.

11.20am: Return to office. Answer E-mails. Make phone calls.

12.00pm: Lunch time: Leave site and walk along the beach for 30 minutes. 3024 further steps done.

12.30pm: Lunch: carrots, tomatoes, radishes, multi-grain crispbread with marmite. Apple, passion fruit.

12.45pm: Assist machine shop

3.00pm: Return to office. Put kettle on. Drink decaf tea.

4.30pm: Clock out. Drive home. Listen to more Vaughan Williams. Swivleton Lane now clear.

4.55pm: Garage car. Check for post; none.

5.00pm: Prepare food for dinner. Open bottle of wine.

5.25pm: Dine on grilled pork, spinach, asparagus, jalapenos & noodles.

6.00pm: Put kettle on. Wash dishes.

6.00pm: Turn on TV. Watch news. Drink decaf coffee.

6.50pm: Phone: Report in to beloved. Turn off TV.

7.20pm: Play Spanish guitar:

Improvise in D harmonic minor & Dorian mode (in 2/4 as Vaughan Williams Wasps)

Play through ‘Flamingo’ x 3, ‘The Entertainer’.

Play around with untitled tune in D minor.

Improvise cross key in 11/12

Try to play theme to ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’. Got about 30% wrong

8.30pm: Turn on TV, catch the end of ‘Top Gear’. Play major scales only as James May conducts a road test.

9.00pm: Put guitar away in case. Go for walk on the foreshore.

9.25pm: Return home. Check pedometer. Total of 8459 steps done today. Text beloved.

9.30pm: Pour glass of wine. Put on DVD: Michael Woods In Search of Myths & Heros - ‘the Queen Of Sheba’.

9.40pm: Take medication.

10.30pm: Stopper wine (one glass left). Turn off TV & DVD. Relax & think

11.20pm: Retire to bed. Fall asleep with untitled D minor tune in head.

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