Thoughts on Stage Sound

As per my last post here re. tone and gear- we’re all at the mercy of our ability to hear and hear well.

Here are just a handful of considerations as of course many books and indeed many wiser, more experienced peeps than I can teach a lot more…

First a little background info. as to an element of how and why I’ve learned a bit about this.

So having shot multiple loud or high “cracking” firearms at ranges and hunting for years along with blasting music 24 x 7 via radio, vinyl re. sound systems, amplifiers, massive p.a. systems, close to 40 full length records and more singles, countless demos, many hundreds if not thousands of rehearsals and live shows, as a live music fan and performing musician myself -the high end (treble frequencies) in my ears, particularly right ear took a beating. Ya think?!!

My kind friends at Grrr Records did two things my wife, people at shows and anyone else who wants to communicate with me got blessed with. Ed came up with two solutions that have helped me MASSIVELY especially as I age (yep- I’m truly bald, fat and old :). Nearly deaf? Read on…

My prediction is many younger folks due to any/all of the above plus constant earbud music and phone listening will make the hearing aid business truly -boom- (pun there…) in the next 20 or so years!

So Grrr found Sensaphonics, a full service pro-audio-sound-for-musicians biz in Chicago who fit me with hearing aids that put frequencies back into my brain that had long gone south. I’ve now two diff. sets (digital) from them and it’s a night and day difference for basic hearing and a super help upon working with their pro audiologists who test hearing, help program, tweak and in their case cater to pro musicians. They offer amazing in-ear monitors and so much more as well.

Now I’m not even close to ashamed to let folks know how central this is to my basic communication and certainly music making both in studio and live sound.

There are also often options for many if you search, ask around and work to find government programs that can help re. your income. I’ve several veteran friends who have experienced severe hearing loss and hearing aids have changed their lives for the far better!

Ok, some thoughts on (mainly) live sound: I frankly strongly dislike drummers -ok, their kits… placed behind plexiglass, etc., in shows regardless of room but of course understand several good reasons for it. I have the very same view about running all instruments direct into the p.a. mixing desk- and again can argue the “why” it’s done -but ugh. Tone is the deal and if the musicians on stage aren’t inspired there’s a loss even if the crowd doesn’t know it.

Now the more control the sound tech has re. the room (church or otherwise) may be and in some ways is great and that -can- help the musicians maintain sane sound levels for themselves. Placement of p.a. speakers (the “mains”) and various kinds and placement of quality (?) monitors, small “hot spot” monitors, and setting stage volume of amps and all the the other adjustments are part of the equation as well. Yet as I just said… for most applications I think there is a better approach then super-quiet or all via d.i., sans speakers.

Even our GKB blues/rock trio sets my amp to my left facing me sideways as it’s always mic’ed through the p.a. anyway, this gives techs power and control they’d not have if typically set up with amps facing the audience. Of course that’s true. And some techs are more gifted and efficient than others same as we musicians… so that’s a big variable of course. Hats off to them all, without them it could/would be even greater mayhem!

More on what we do and what I like and why in a moment.

So electric bass players may well have their amp both (or only) run to house via a direct in, and often also with mic placed on speaker (live, my personal fave for bass tone is both).

Ok- what about in-ear monitors?

The truth is, like hearing aids, often the more expensive the better quality, more adjustments available, etc., but again Grrr Records has helped me hear better and likely saved hearing wear and tear by finding me some that have basic adjustments right at my vocal mic stand. So out come the “aids” and in go the earbuds, and in our case with a wire rather than wireless. Cheaper and they work fine for what we do.

So no typical speaker-monitor is needed for me when GKB plays live or rehearses because I get a specific mix from the main mixing console via the sound tech person.

I hear a little “bleed” from my amp but mostly get exactly what I want/need via the in-ears and thus can keep the overall volume quite a bit lower than if we did not use ’em. This also means my stage volume (my amp) is about tone rather than sheer volume, and the tech has huge control over my amp volume to the house, meaning at least a better chance of great tone as well as sane volume level of the band overall.

My approach live for SOLO shows: I can tell during sound check if I even need a monitor speaker and if so normally only use one. I typically have a bit of my vocal and either zero or just a little of my mic’ed amp (yes, even when I do acoustic sets for the most part) in a floor monitor. In some venues I don’t need monitoring as I hear so much from the mains and my stage amp I just don’t need any.

For some years now I’ve either brought a quality amp to shows or require one from the local or tour promoter. What I bring or use are amps small enough to place up on a chair or angled amp stand, and have the tech mic it unless it’s a super tiny venue which is rare. So again, the tech has control except that I literally plug cigarbox and even acoustic guitars (sometimes just use a d.i. to the house on six string acoustics) in and out of the amp through the set. Eventually I’ll use a simple 4 channel mixer w. an individual cable for ea. instrument, then it’s a matter of small adjustments as I use different gits throughout a set. The tech and I go over all this in sound check so they already have a sense of what’s up w. each guitar and/or harmonica.

I normally don’t blow harp though a mic and amp but sometimes want that growl, so that changes depending on the gig, the crowd and my mood.

So, my amp is up and only about 4 feet from me on my left side (the better of my ears) on a slight angle towards me. Often I stand the entire show, sometimes I sit, all depends on the vibe. Yes, you lose low end when an amp isn’t on the floor but I adjust tone for that to compensate.

This way I have control over volume levels, tones, and on occasion use a stomp box (guitar effect box) to adjust git tones and volume throughout in solo sets.

Doing what I/we’ve learned to do may not work for you, but for me these considerations have proven productive and workable in varied circumstances.

We continue to grow as we continue to learn. Hopefully some of this is worth your consideration.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

Tone, My Gear Thoughts

From time to time people ask me about music gear, like what is my personal fave guitar, amp, acoustic, dobro or cigarbox guitar, effects pedals and etc.. I often also get asked about what I used in studio on a particular song.

Be warned, I have far too many instruments, amps and pedals to take the time to offer a complete list here, and want to mainly focus on how I approach tonality. But I’ll list a bit of my gear further down in context of tone.

Frankly, after so many years of recording a ton of full projects and a zillion songs I rarely remember exactly what I used on a given tune. Sometimes I recall a particular guitar I used a fair bit on a specific record for a number of the tracks, but that’s about it.

As for live shows, it’s “all over the map”, but this post is about something a bit more general to playing electric or acoustic blues in live shows.

My personal opinion is: if the sound you want isn’t in your heart and head and ears… if you don’t have a sort of “ballpark” idea of what you want before you begin you don’t have much to shoot for.

Tone and feeling for a sound in my view, relates most to that.

Certainly we’ve all just doodled around with gear and almost by accident stumbled upon a sound we really like for what ever application, but I’d say that’s a sloooow way to get where you’re going. So how do we decide where we want to land?

First, what are you wanting sound-wise. Next- what does the SONG or those songS call for?

Of course, what gear is already available to you, also what you honestly are able to afford without breaking the bank is part of the answer. Gotta play the hand you’re dealt.

Next consideration on my list is re. live shows- depending how you travel, what gear you can fly or fit in the car or train or whatever, and how excess baggage fees will be covered (or not) all affects what you’ll take. When and where I tour overseas or on a longer, mostly flight or train all of this comes into play.

In terms of solo shows if the folks inviting me (promoter, tour manager or individual cities/events) have good gear available I often only carry a couple harmonicas and perhaps two or three cigarbox guitars (which all fit in one soft carry bag) and go. I bring those because they won’t have them, they cost me nothing to bring along, are light and hopefully make the set/s interesting, even inviting to the audience.

Touring Europe I’ve done it all sorts of ways but unless flying my own Trimmed and Burnin’ “59er” Bassman-type amp head (the tour or local shows provide speaker cabs) I typically prefer Vox AC 30 or Orange combo amps of some sort finding for electric blues or blues/rock, they rarely disappoint right out of the box.

Overseas, if I don’t fly one or two of my own guitars (perhaps Warmouth Strat and Gibson lap steel guitars) I ask for good quality Fender Strats and/or Gibson Les Pauls, and either Taylor, Martin or Takamine acoustic guitars with onboard pickups.

Recently for a Bike Rally I flew one Hohner Special 20 harmonica (key of G) and two Shane Speal cigarbox guitars with onboard pickups. The main cbg is a 3 stringer Shane built for me (killer!) and the second is another 2 stringer he gifted me with that I’ve converted to a diddley bow (1 stringer) and modified some with a cool woodburned wooden top someone gave me. The venue provided me with a couple sweet Strat/Les Paul options (I chose the Strat) and a Vox AC30 amp. ALL sweet for those particular shows.

I decided to blow the harp straight into the vocal mic rather than bringing a Shure Green Bullet. Everything worked out fine.

It’s been said many times- and is absolutely true… that THE TONE/S are IN YOUR FINGERS, your own heart and head. That’s the truth!

You of course use whatever gear gets you close if not spot-on. This is the ongoing quest for all musicians, certainly recording and touring-wise.

Lastly, for my solo blues sets or jamming sets with other musicians in blues mode (not GKB) I try to use very sparse or zero outboard “stomp boxes” (affects pedals) though I have several and use several with GKB. I prefer great gits and amps that get the tone, volume and “crunch” (distortion/sustain/just a bit of break-up tone) without any pedals if I can get it.

I love not having to use outboard pedals when doing solo or jam sets because I can then concentrate on the songs and performance not worrying about “that ellusive TONE”, focusing on the playing of those I’m jamming with when doing those sort of blues sets.

Now get this as it’s really important: there are those who like extreme treble or bass or midrange tones in their guitars. I don’t, so when the gear allows, I like a full low-end but also good midrange and just enough brightness to cut through the rest of the band. Sometimes with piezo pickups or even some single-coil pickups (whether store-bought Fenders, Gibsons or whatever) or in my cigarbox guitars one must really tweak the amp or use a pedal to modify and try to move away from BIG extremes.

Regardless, you may love, hate or just feel so-so about my sound (or yours or another artist) in live show settings or on recordings because after all I’ve said, the p.a., mic and mic placement on your amp/s, choice of speakers… on and on it goes including each sound tech person dials in your tones at least in some measure re. what they like to hear, what they think works best in a given show.

Reality: in live shows, you being on stage never truly hear what you sound like in the room or outdoors, whatever, because you aren’t out there and never are when you’re playing! 🙂

Remember too, the acoustics of the venue (inside or out) is another major sound-modifier of your tone and volume.

So there you go, a bit of overview of my personal thoughts and approach to tone, gear and live gig, blues in particular.

Now there are some out there who have asked why, after so many years of using Les Paul Customs in REZ Band am I often seen on stage with a Strat? Or my fave Epihone or some other guitar?

In RB I did only the occasional blues solo while Stu (magnificent lead player) preferred Jacksons or Strats, and in that I held down mostly rhythm guitar/power chord stuff in REZ it finally became clear Les Pauls were the best for that full sound as a band overall.

I often use the very same guitars with GKB but the fact is I much prefer my Epiphone Shereton with any electric blues- but do not prefer to fly it. It’s too precious to me to risk the airlines hurting it.

I also (in GKB) often use an old and sweet Gibson lapsteel and that puppy is AMAZING. But again, even re. GKB, thicker tones work.

Jamming with others (non-GKB) I choose what I like best, and I love both the sound, feel, and flexibility as well as sing-songy clarity of most Strats I’ve borrowed for live shows. My own Warmouth Strat goes overseas a lot. It has 2 Fender Tex-Mex single coil pickups in neck and middle positions and Seymour Duncan JB (Jeff Beck) Jr. stacked humbucker in the bridge position w. a 5-way toggle switch. I’ve always liked my Strats to have tone controls disconnected, then move the volume control to the bottom position so I don’t run into it when soloing!

If I added all details of all my other electric and then acoustic and finally huge stable of cigarbox and found-object guitars I’d never finish this post so I’ll stop now 🙂

So there you go, some of my thoughts and preferences re. tone and gear.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

“A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote: “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

Update, Plus a Word About Love

Well moving through an upper chest cold, cuz my Wendi and I share everything , ha!! But she and I are both slowly on the mend.

The weekend sets at Lawrenceville Correctional w. my friends Todd Anthony Joos and The Revelators, then solo in a private house show w. dear ones and another set that night at Connexion Church in Danville, IL were so sweet. Just amazing, kind folks, receptive, great chats and a safe trip home through a bit of rain on the back roads.

Tonight I speak at Cook Co. Jail, and the plan is to be at CCJ the next two Mondays after, then comes a solo blues set and hanging with a lot of great players at the Chicago Cigar Box Guitar Festival at the Friendly Tap in Berwyn. You likely know to hit http://www.GrrrRecords.Com/Shows for details on all I do re. touring. We also post all shows here and in Facebook and Twitter.

Continuing work on records, books and loving autumn. So very Thankful for my Wendi, family and JPUSA, ECC fellowship!

As I walked through the garden today the ol’ Chicago wind is blowing big-time. Birds are flocking up and I noticed feeling that sense of peace, almost like a hug when I walked in even though it’s raining now and then and the wind is going nuts at the moment.

The Holy Spirit reminds me in many and varied ways that a sense of peace, safety and acceptance doesn’t come from people all the time, sometimes it just ain’t there -but this isn’t the case between myself and God.

I’ve been blessed with a mountain landslide full of amazing friends who are truly friends. The love of Jesus is our actual link, not tacit or complete agreement on every issue. I suspect they, like me, work at not allowing “triggers” within each of us to fire off salvos when our views are not aligned. That “iron sharpens iron” comment in Proverbs of course means heat, sparks, sometimes outright outrage. And yet… by God’s love, grace and I hope wisdom, a  bit of humility and willingness to hear even when in stark disagreement… we walk together even though at times we don’t agree.

Doesn’t that sound like the relationship God has with us?

Pretty cool. And can be safe -if we’re willing to “lose” sometimes, or be thought of as a dolt, which on occasion any of us can be and likely are!

I also pick my battles. Today it was with the wind, and like with the wind I cannot control (nor do I need to!) either the wind nor another person’s mind on any issue. What I can do is put on a jacket, hat, gloves and walk. I can re-visit, try to really grasp the other person’s viewpoint/s and go again and again which I do on most hot-button topics, to God’s Word (Bible) with an open heart and mind. If I don’t agree after that, at least at that time, we don’t agree. Therefore… what?

The core of it all?

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” -Eph. 5.1,2

If full agreement is the only solution, your relationship with God, spouse, family, workplace, sports team and eventually yourself as you learn, grow and change your mind on issues is impossible. But what God tells us via Paul in Ephesians, like the Lord’s other statements, is never impossible.

A brilliant quote from a colleague was posted recently. Read it carefully and you’ll get the modern English meaning. I don’t agree with PPW on every point but this is in my view, sooooo spot-on:

P. P. Waldenstrom, speaking in Arvika, Sweden, July 2, 1872: “Hold fast to the confession but love those who think differently. If one thinks this way, that he who does not think as I do does not therefore think as God does, then it is farewell to all peace and love.”  (Recorded by C. J. Nyvall  P. 141, My Fathers Testament, by David Nyvall)

Something to remember when strong winds blow.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

Two W. Reverb :)

2ReverbCBGgits
Diddley Bow and 3 Stringer Reverb Gits!

Been wanting to try this for years. I don’t have time to give all the details on these but both are fretless acoustic (no pickups) slide guitars. One is a 3 stringer, the other 1 string diddley bow. Inside each- the 3er has 3 springs attached, the 1er 5 springs attached. You get a somewhat subtle reverb sound from them. Cool 🙂

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

A Sense of Place

Some nearly always seem settled and not just in survival mode no matter where they are or whom they’re with. Others seem to deal with near-continual uprootedness and never land, rarely feeling comfortable with people or space. What’s up with this?

Last week at Cook County Jail I was invited to bring a word to nearly 30 dudes in jumpsuits. The essence of the content follows.

Paul writes in Philippians 4.12, 13 “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

When I first read those words I was in process of coming to saving faith in Jesus. I don’t even remember where I saw them, either a booklet or a book or whatever, but there was a bit of writing that included some six or seven scriptures and these verses were part of it.

I immediately thought “Either this guy is flippin’ CRAZY or a complete LIAR or else he has what I need and -where did he get this?!”

Now some who riff on such things might beat you up royally about faith. The Bible says even faith is a gift from God. But consider that Jesus told us “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” But His full statement includes these words just before those: “”But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”! (Matthew 5.44, 45)

The context is my/your/own attitude (get this) toward those you really dislike. Jesus uses the term “enemies” and says we must pray for them. Note also the context is not to pray for their misery to increase, but in the broad realization that God has control of sun and rain and knows how to minister to them -and us… according to our real need.

God apparently brings both sun and rain into all human experience.

He is further quoted by Luke “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6.27)

Isn’t that what God does every day? He loves His enemies working to build bridges, not some celestial fiend who takes pleasure in trashing people. He waits for prodigals to come home. Isn’t that a revelation of His patience and grace even toward sinners -like you and me?

What does all this have to do with our feelings of love, acceptance, comfort in our surroundings and “place”? What about when you both feel and in stark reality are repeatedly treated as a misfit, what then?

Obviously after staying put with people and place, if repeated, in situations like that it’s time to move on, go elsewhere, hard as it may be, to make new friends in a fresh place. The rub is when you find this to be a fairly common “story of my life” thing. Then I’d advise some serious soul-searching and before God and your mirror, honest truth-telling self-to-self. “A friend must show themselves to be friendly.” (Pro. 18.24)

Two key reasons I finally surrendered to Jesus Christ were 1. I was an out-of-control self-loathing addict, a narcissist of the first order, and hated my life 2. The “lights came on” within my own thinking as I realized in my addictions and influence I had wrecked so many people via drink, drugs and simply being a massively self-centered jerk who was trying to “find my place” but never arriving at that moving target.

I cannot honestly say anyone was abusing me but if I wasn’t satisfied by what I was getting out of others I created a huge space between us. This is part of why as a musician I was in more than a dozen bands between my 13th and 18th birthday!

I would join, leave, re-join, leave, start a band, kill it, on and on. I was out of control and largely wanted control. Wherever I went there I was and I brought my internal turmoil in (and out) the door with me.

I had to learn to see myself through God’s eyes, through God’s Word in particular and the more I studied it I recognized my life-long habits of self-protection to the extent I finally realized that the far greater portion of the time, the greatest enemy I’d ever had -and consistently so… was ME.

HOW could Paul talk about being content in -all- circumstances?!!

I suggest his sense of identity and therefore place was in the Person of Jesus Christ, and in the mission God gave Him on earth. He was repeatedly rejected, heckled, beaten, stoned to the extent his enemies left him thinking he was dead… and on that occasion he got up and walked (likely limped or was helped to move) back into that very town!

Paul’s sense of place was “in Christ”, and where God told Him to go and share the Good News of Jesus he went. His contentment had a price, that being both Jesus’ Own blood as well as Paul’s blood at times, chains as a criminal and as far as we know, his own death by the self-worshiping Roman government.

Paul further writes to young Timothy “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” Well godliness isn’t automatic nor a matter of self, rather a deepening relationship with God whereby He works more and more of HIS character and nature in us. THAT my friends, is a miracle and a sweet one!

“Place” isn’t about me. It’s not about you or us, not entirely about any particular group of assembled “us”. It’s about Him and others in need wherever you are.

Lastly, there are certainly those with mental illness, folks sustaining injuries from accidents, war and etc., and there is no quick fix if these are true, legitimate issues in regard to our topic. We can and should pray for, be kind to and do what we can to help such people link with professionals where fruitful results at least sometimes happen.

I note the weather is changing as I write this, back and forth from warm and sunny to rainy and now quite windy and colder as autumn comes to Chicago.

Throughout my lifetime I’ve experienced bitter cold and brutal heat. It’s all part of the journey.

Do I always LIKE what’s going on? Nope. But there is something deeper happening inside me. God the Holy Spirit lives, works and changes my attitude. I’m at peace as I’ve found my place.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

My Reply To Art/Political Record Post in FaceBook

A recent Facebook post went up, was responded to by some and as I tried to reply with the following it had been taken down. So, as I quote the quote (below) every so often, this would have been my response to the issue of art, “political” records and artistry.

As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

“Agape Lovers, Activists -both/and rather than either/or. So imho, the best single quote I have thus far heard or seen re. artists and artistry, from the now defunct “Tell” Magazine:

‘Great artists have always been at the edge of growing awareness about what was happening in any society. They have been not just entertainers, but poets, painters, agitators, teachers and even prophets. It seems their gift to us is to help us see vividly what is taking place around us; to raise our awareness about social conditions, about our natural surroundings, to call for a response to human beauty and tragedy, to help us get inside the skin of others. Perhaps the greatest moments for artists are when they move us towards justice, mercy and compassion. Maybe then they are fulfilling their real destiny as artists and human beings.” – From Australian Christian magazine “Tell'”