Category Archives: Musical Equipment

Product Review : Tascam GB10

Hi All –

Well, my birthday is coming up.  And if you’re like me, you need to help people know what you want or you’ll end up with another shirt to fill your closet 🙂

One of my long time friends and former students used Tascam equipment to practice with.  When I came over to jam, he’d usually play background tracks on it.  I thought it was cool, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it.

Then one of my current students got the Tascam GB10 and not being very technical, he had me help him set it up.  It’s not too confusing once you do it for the first time.

As a guitar player and teacher, I figure out most things by ear.  Once in a while I’ll look up tab on the internet, but most of the time it’s wrong (sorry guys) or incomplete.  Hey at least they’re sharing what they know, but for me, I want it to be right.

Since music is all digital now, I wanted some software that would slow the mp3 player down, but not affect the pitch.  There are several ones out there but I couldn’t make any of them work for me.  Either I couldn’t figure it out, or it was buggy.

Once I got my student’s Tascam loaded up with the right file type, he plugged it in and didn’t quite know what to do with it.  It was Lynyrd Skynyrd but Ronnie Van Zant sounded like a girl.  I finally got it adjusted down to the right key for him.

So I asked for one of these things for my birthday.  oddly, it isn’t available on musiciansfriend.com or sweetwater.com.  But it is available on Amazon so there’s where it came from.

It uses 2 AA batteries (or it can run of a wall plug, NOT INCLUDED – same thing with my Kindle Fire – why do they do that??).  It comes with one cord to plug into the USB port on the guitar.

So get the batteries in, plug into your computer, turn on the Tascam unit and it says “Power / Storage” – I took the Storage option.  This loads the unit’s directory in the Windows Explorer or Mac Finder.

Next, you need your music files in one of two formats: MP3 or WAV.  If you try an MP4 Tascam won’t display it.

Luckily, we use mostly MP3’s in the band so I had plenty to pick from.  (Note: if you’re plucking tunes from iTunes, you can export them as WAV files – that’s what I did for my student).  I had about 6 band tunes in mp4 format, but downloaded a free converter via cnet and voila!  I had MP3’s.

Then it’s a matter of dragging your mp3 files unto the music directory on the Tascam.  Unplug the unit and it will turn itself off.

Next, I plugged in my headphone in the headphone jack of the unit, my guitar into the guitar jack, and then you have to adjust the volume on the side so you can hear your guitar.  Then you have to make sure on the playback screen that “input” is “on” – by default it’s off.

Next, I found a song that I wanted to double check my chart with – “8 Second Ride”.  The introduction has given me problems on that one before and I’ve changed my chart twice.  Listening to it with headphones and slowing it down to about half speed, and immediately I found my mistake.  I was one note off.

Then in the same song, there is a lead part that is played throughout the song – I fixed a wrong note in that one too, plus it was easier to figure out the higher harmony part of the two guitar lead.  So on my first song, I fixed two mistakes I was making and figured out an additional part.  Not a bad beginning by any means.

I worked on another song that has a tricky intro – “A Woman Like You”.  Again, I could hear everything much easier when it’s slowed down and I can “loop” a section indefinitely if I need to keep hearing it.

The Tascam slows things down in 10% increments, which some people in other reviews didn’t like – they wanted finer control over this.  However, that works fine for me.

The Tascam can also change the Key of the music (as noted above in my student’s Lynyrd Skynyrd song).  I’m not sure if I need to use that at this point, but could come in handy later if we change  a key for vocal reasons.  It might also help with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Van Halen who tune down a half step.  Why re tune the guitar when you can press a button?

You can also record with this thing but I haven’t gotten that far with it yet.

So for $112, it’s a bit pricey but if you can call in some birthday or Christmas favors it might be worth it.  I’m glad I got it.  I’m also working on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of VooDoo Chile and there are 2 or 3 bursts of notes in his solo that I can definitely use this tool on.

Happy Jamming!

Spencer

 

Band Thoughts, Banjo Thoughts, and Line 6 Thoughts

Hey everybody –

There have been three things bouncing around in my head lately, and only the last two subjects are related, but I figured I could combine them into one post.

Band Thoughts:

I recently watched “The History of the Eagles” on Showtime.  This 3 hour long documentary is also available to rent on Netflix.  It covers the time from Glenn Frey’s and Don Henley’s childhoods, to how they met up in California, how the Eagles formed in the early 1970’s, how they broke up in 1980, solo careers, their reunion in the early 90’s and subsequent line-up changes.

I’m not a huge Eagles fan, though I really like “Hotel California” and teach the two lead solos, which impressed me for they’re melodic content. Same thing with “One of These Nights”.  But beyond that, I didn’t know much about them.

So why waste 3 hours of your precious time to watch this documentary?  To me it’s always interesting how bands form.  I’ve formed a few myself and they are fragile things.  But nothing keeps a band going like success, even if you have to change a member or two.  And the Eagles were one of the all time most successful hit makers.  I didn’t realize just how many songs they had that I was familiar with, even though I never bought an album from them.

If you’re looking at this as in how to get tips to “make it”, well, it’s still a chance combination of talent, chemistry between band members, and some good old fashioned luck. You can work on the first part, but the second two are hard.  I’ve often said, and it is repeated in this documentary, that being in a band is like being in a marriage – more so for these guys who travelled, slept, and ate together for years.  You’re going to get on each other’s nerves, it’s inevitable.

I think what saddened me was the end piece.  The Eagles reunited, and it seemed like all bad fights had been forgotten.  But a new one emerged: Glenn Frey and Don Henley wanted to draw up legal contracts insisting they get paid more than the other members of the band.  Their guitarist Don Felder didn’t agree, but went along with it for some time and was finally kicked out for his disagreements and his questions.

Frey’s and Henley’s argument was that after the band broke up, they both had hit singles throughout the 1980’s, keeping the Eagles name out there (according to them).  Felder’s argument was just because those two had better solo careers has nothing to do with the Eagles.

I tend to side with Felder on this.  First, with all their hits (and don’t forget royalties are paid for hit songs every time they are broadcasted or used – it can be a lot of money) – Frey and Henley were already rich.

Also, the Eagles had a very collaborative song writing method.  Everybody contributed.  Everybody sang.  Everybody wrote.  Everybody had sang lead vocals on some hit tunes.  Their band members carry a heavier load than most other band members.  Don Felder claimed “The whole band was greater than the sum of it’s parts”.  I agree and wish Felder well.  (Felder does the first guitar lead on Hotel California which is pretty darn good).

Banjo

As I am now in the Turbo Fuegos band, and the line up is complete, we’ve been digging into the material and trying to get ready for our first gig.  On some of our tunes, the banjo is really featured.  I never thought much about banjo, but it’s effect is undeniable in some songs (like “Save a Horse” by Big And Rich).  So I began looking into owning one.

They aren’t terribly expensive – at least not the introductory ones.  $200 will land you one.  But I found out, there’s about 3 different models of banjo – 4 string, 5 string and 6 string.  And more tunings too just to make it fun.  For someone who just wanted to add it to some particular songs, I had to know what I would be getting into.

Which brings me to Line 6….

Line 6

If you’ve been reading my posts from the last year, you might think I love Line 6 more than any other amp maker out there.  I don’t.  It’s just that I never know what style of music I’ll be playing.  Last year I was in a top 40 band that needed straight and distorted tones, wah effects, delay, reverb, and compression.  I even used an octave harmonizer on one song.  Now I’m in a country/country rock/classic rock band.  So the straight tones have gone from a “funk” sound to more twangy.  I’m not using quite as many effects, but I am playing different distortions.

Line 6 is versatile.  I can model a lot of different amps from Fender to Marshall to Mesa Boogie.  Is it perfect? No.  If I decided to specialize – say I was going to go heavy metal, I’d start looking at Eddie Van Halen’s (EVH) brand, maybe Soldano.  Bogner is great but way expensive.

So for versatility – I have the Line 6 50W DT50 head/cabinet, and the Line 6 HD500.  I normally play my Ibanez Prestige.

Line 6 also makes a line of guitars called the Variax.  So now they model guitars like strats, telecasters, les pauls, etc.  That’s nice but it also models acoustic guitars and…..banjo!  As I want banjo for an effect on certain songs and not wanting to be a killer banjo player, this might be worth it.

However, I still wanted 24 frets and a locking vibrato bar.  At the NAMM show this year, line 6 introduced the Variax JTV 89F guitar.  They must have heard my mental messages to them.  24 Frets, Floyd rose, all the models including banjo.  They must have not have heard my mental message about price – they hiked it to $1499.

I will be keeping it in mind as the Turbo Fuegos ramp up our playing and I have a full grip on the material.  The artist side of me wants it now, the business side of me reminds me I haven’t made a dime yet from this band.  If this is going to be an investment, it needs to make sense.

I’ll keep y’all informed 🙂

Spencer

 

 

Sound Advice Pt V (The Initial Gear)

By the beginning of January, I started to wonder if I had all the gear I needed.  My gig was some weeks away, and I was getting concerned that my Line 6 Spider II, even though it was 75 watts, was more of a glorified practice amp than a rugged gigging amp.  There were some practices where it struggled to keep up with volume and it was very directional having only one speaker.

I liked the Line 6 concept – using digital circuitry to mimic it’s analogue counter part – the Tube amp.  I liked the idea that I can get several amp sounds out of a single amp.  It’s a nice solution for someone like me that’s going to play all types of music from Pink to Bon Jovi.

If I was going to do a metal or hard rock band only – then yes, one tube head, one cabinet would be the way to go.  However, I have logistic issues.  I live upstairs so I’d have to trudge whatever I have 19 steps up.  I also drive a sedan – a big one, but it’s still a sedan.  So the combo amp is still the best solution for me.  (Note: combo amps are amps that have the amplifier power and cab in the same box – as opposed to “stacks” where you can buy a 100watt, 200 watt or 400 watt head and mix and match with various 4 speaker cabinets).  Combo amps are almost always mic’d into the PA system.  That’s not always ideal since you have to relinquish control over your volume to someone else and trust me, it doesn’t always turn out well and balanced.  But that’s what I was going to use.

I started googling and checking the forums for who used what, plus I started looking at ebay.

My current rig had only 4 presets on it’s footswitch and offered delay, chorus, phase shifter, and reverb, as well as a wah pedal on the footswitch.  I needed more presets than that so I bought a used FVB Shorboard for $100 that can handle up to 64 presets.  This board doesn’t have any effects on it – it’s just controlling the effects already on the amplifier.  There are about 12 models on this amp – I would be using about 4 of them, but with or without various effects.  I would have about 6 or 7 presets ready for the first gig.

So I had  a board.  Great.  I needed tools, strings, and picks and somewhere to keep them.  Tadaaa! – I went to Walmart and found the Craftsman’s organizer.  With the help of a razor, I modified the compartments to accommodate what I needed to carry.  I have a double locking tremolo system on my Ibanez Presteige – you need a hex wrench to replace strings, as well as a wire cutter to cut the ball bearing off the end of the string.  Batteries, and a flashlight.  This works great.

My search for an amp continued.  I’d heard good things about the Flextone series and the Vetta II series from Line 6 – both these amps are discontinued.  They introduced a new line of amps that seemed to be aimed more at the metal market (Spider Valve with tubes in the preamps), and then the DT series which was well over $1000 that was made to work with their Pod series of effects boards.

Finally, I found a Flextone III amp – 150 watts and 2 12″ speakers.  This had more like 16 amp models and these models were built to emulate existing amps – Fenders, Marshalls, Bogners, etc. It was old – built in 2004 – and the owner, who was local to me in Berkeley – was asking $155.  It would also work with the shortboard I had just bought. I met that bid and waited. No one bid again.  There was no bidding war – time ticked by right up to the deadline and no one swooped in to grab it.  It was mine.  I almost felt bad for the guy. Almost 🙂

I got it home and within the first 30 minutes, I found a problem.  The volume would drop out on me.  The tone would distort when it shouldn’t.  Arg!  Did I just waste $155?  Long story short, I found a great repair shop (and expensive) that would do a complete overhaul on the amp.  The only problem was I would get the amp back on Feb 3rd – the same day as my gig with no time to work with the presets.  Oh well, I was going to use my Spider II for the gig with the new shortboard.  (Although when I did get the amp back, they had cleaned and re-soldered all the connections and knobs and it has been working 100% since.  Only cost me $280, so total money spent was about $435 – still not a bad deal for the power and versatility).

Some stuff I couldn’t get used.  I used a combination of Musiciansfriend.com and Amazon.com. I picked up an amp stand by On Stage – they make pretty good stuff.  When you have a combo amp, it helps to get it off the ground and tilt it up a bit so you can hear yourself better.

And since this band uses music stands, I bought a (again On Stage) sturdy music stand.  And miscellaneous stuff including pick holders, clip on reading light for the music stand, string winders, multi-tooled guitar tools, and a few other things I’ll talk about when I post about my final, complete rig.  This took some time and thought to pull together, plus I will take pictures.  I wasn’t done making purchases by the time I played my first gig, so I’ve got more to say on that, but for that time, I had what I had to get through the night.

On to the show…