Saturday, October 11, 2014

Equipment for the Challenge

Decades ago I remember seeing somewhere (maybe Spy Magazine?  Maybe The Onion?) some satirical covers for fake comic books.  One was for a Super Mario Brothers comic book, where the Mario brothers in question were Mario Cuomo and (if I remember right) Jesse Jackson.  What made it funny was that the cover advertised it as the "All-New Text-Only Special Issue," and the cover illustration was just a bunch of word balloons densely packed with text.

Well, I thought it was funny anyway.

In an effort to avoid "text-only" blandness, I'll start adding some photos to this blog, and maybe I'll look into other options for making the site a little more interesting.

My equipment for this challenge:

Andrei's violin.  This is a no-brand 4/4 model from Amazon that cost something like $35 new, and came with the bow, a nice case, and some rosin.  I'm sure that any legit violin player would be ashamed to be seen with the thing, but it is a great option for anyone without any violin experience who wants to take a stab at the instrument before investing in a better-quality violin.  The tuning pegs are not 100% reliable; the pegs and fingerboard are cheap molded plastic.  In order to get any sound out of it, it's best to score the rosin and spend a lot of time rosining up the bow first.  I may or may not use this on any of the songs.

My M. Hohner Marine Band Harmonica, a gift from Andrei.  I think I have (or had) another harmonica with a lower register, but I can't find it and probably lost it at some point.  Not sure if I'm going to use it on any songs, especially because if I want a harmonica-like sound I am more likely to turn to:

The Grande Vox 12 Bass Accordion, on loan from my dad for the past 20 years or so. I prefer the 12 bass accordions because they're so much simpler to operate than the more elaborate models, and because my fingertips are so wide that I tend to accidentally hit extra buttons on the 24 bass and higher models (it sounds terrible when that happens).  A big drawback to the 12 bass is the absence of the not-uncommon B, C#, E, and F# chords/bass notes (and of course all the minored versions of those chords). Simply keying those chords with the right hand as a substitute for the bass buttons doesn't fly - the keys are in a higher register, and it's too incongruous to switch between the bass buttons and the keys mid-song.  Also, some of the right hand keys of this accordion are screechingly out of tune; I can work my way around them for a note or two, but not if I'm sustaining chords.  Nevertheless I am certain to use this machine for one or more of the songs for this project.

My Silvertone archtop acoustic guitar.  There is no model or serial number on this guitar, so I'm sure it's just a cheap, mass-produced mid-century model.  Silvertone apparently used that "wind chime" logo through 1957, so the guitar is no younger than that.  Looking for it on the web just now, I found a scan of a catalog ad (probably a Sears catalog?) from 1956 which might be selling this exact guitar, #57 H 0702L, advertised as "Our Lowest-Priced Arched Guitar" for $17.95.  

Despite its unimpressive origins and pedigree, I got this guitar a couple years ago because I'd wanted an archtop and this one was free of the neck heel separation and dimpled fronts that plague poorly-maintained archtops.  Tip:  If someone claims the guitar he is trying to sell is a great slide guitar, that means that the neck is badly bowed and the action high enough to make the instrument nearly unplayable unless you're using it as a slide guitar (i.e. essentially making the fretboard unnecessary).  Most vintage archtops have that problem, fortunately mine doesn't.  Not yet anyway.  

I like this archtop guitar because it has a different tone; not a 'full' tone that most guitarists would want, but a more jangly, percussive tone that I like for background rhythm work.  It's like a cross between a guitar and a washboard.

My Kent 533 Videocaster.  A few years ago I gave my last electric guitar to a nephew because I almost never used it.  I had only taken it out of its case a handful of times in the previous two decades, so why hang on to it?  The nephew had shown an interest in playing guitar, so I happily handed it over.

As soon as that last guitar was out of the house, I was irrationally desperate to replace it.  While trying to decide what to get, I became interested in vintage guitars.  I bought a couple of Teiscos that looked interesting and had those great rocker and slider switches (instead of the toggle switches that have been ubiquitous for the past 40 years), but they didn't feel or sound quite right to me.  

Eventually I came across this Kent Videocaster and fell in love with it.  I will be the first to assert that four pickups is at least two more pickups than anyone should ever need on a guitar, but whatever was done with the design of this guitar was definitely done right.  With four pickups, two volume knobs, 6 slider switches (one for each pickup, plus two solo/rhythm switches), and two roller knobs for tone, anyone is bound to find a few tone settings they like.  Also the guitar is in great condition and has a great feel.  My only complaint is that the pickups are a little quiet in comparison to other electric guitars, but that's what the volume knob on amplifiers is for (and/or input levels in Garageband).

My Norma bass guitar.  It plays very well, feels great and has low action.  Unfortunately the bridge pickup doesn't work.  I hope it's just the broken pickup slider switch (broken off and/or pushed into the guitar before I purchased it), and I will try to fix that before using the bass in any recordings.  Also I would have preferred a long-scale bass instead of this short-scale model, but it's still a great bass.  Worst-case scenario, I might just end up using a digitized bass in Garageband.

In addition to the instruments listed above, I'll be using Garageband extensively (all drums will be Garageband samples and loops, and all 'engineering' will go through Garageband).  I will continue to use my trusty Blue Snowball USB microphone.  I'm hoping I can plug my electric guitar and bass directly into my computer, but if I need amplification I'll probably just plug them into my cheapo Squire 15 amp, which is not particularly fancy or nice, but it's reliable and I know how to get a decent tone out of it.  

Ah, what a pleasant way to avoid doing actual work on the project.  But enough of that.  It's the weekend, and I need to use this time to compose and record.  Time to get to work.


  1. Found a sub-par image of the fake comic book from the October 1992 Spy Magazine referenced in the first paragraph. It was entitled Super Oratory Brothers and was not just word balloons after all, but was otherwise as I'd remembered:

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