Guitar Shopping in Nashville

My wife and I had an opportunity to travel to Nashville, and since Nashville has long-been hailed as the “Music City,” I decided that I should take advantage of the situation to check out some of the local guitar shops while I was in town. As a brief bit of background, I have a good friend, Harold, whom I have known from my earliest days at Microsoft. Harold lives in Nashville now, but when the two of us lived in Seattle, we used to hit all of the guitar shops in that area from time to time. With that in mind, I pinged Harold prior to my arrival and suggested that we should plan to visit a couple of guitar stores while I was in town. (Because the algebraic formula for how many guitars a guy should own is G = N + 1, where “G” is the optimal number of guitars that you should own, and “N” is equal to the number of guitars that you currently own.)

Having said all of that, Harold and I spent a great afternoon visiting two stores, and here’s the lowdown on them.

Store #1 - Carter Vintage Guitars

The first store we visited was Carter Vintage Guitars (www.cartervintage.com), which has thousands of vintage guitars, amps, and pedals…

carter-vintage-1_2_3_Painterly 5

On a personal note, it was a little disconcerting to see an original tape-based EchoPlex selling for $1250, since I sold mine for $50 way back in the 1980s. (At that time in my life I was a poor 20-something and I needed the cash.)

I tried out dozens of amazing guitars, all original and vintage, and most of them selling for a hefty price. (Hey – they are vintage guitars, after all.)

I didn’t buy anything, but they had a beautiful 1974 Gibson EDS-1275 that I would have loved to bring home with me – if only I had the $7,500 to spend on it. [Deep Sigh.]

Store #2 - Gruhn Guitars

The next store that Harold and I visited was one that I had on my list before I arrived: Gruhn Guitars (www.guitars.com), which is a Nashville institution. They have two floors of guitars: the first floor had hundreds of guitars – many of the newer models are what you might expect in your typical guitar store are on that floor, although there were dozens of special gems scattered around, too…

gruhn-guitars-1_2_3_Painterly 5

The second floor has an amazing collection of vintage guitars, (although you need to talk to a salesperson to access that floor)…

gruhn-guitars-2nd-floor-1_2_3_Painterly 5

I found a pristine 1918 Gibson Harp guitar on the second floor that would have found a nice home in my studio, but once again – the $7,500 price tag was more than I could muster.

There were several guitars nestled among the vintage collection that were even more valuable based on their previous owner; for example – one of the acoustic guitars had belonged to John Denver, and the following Flying V used to belong to the great Albert King

albert-king-flying-v

As Harold and I were perusing the various vintage guitars on the second floor, we bumped into George Gruhn, the founder and owner of Gruhn Guitars. George is something of a legend in the Music City, and he’s also the nicest guy you could ever meet.

George invited Harold and me into his office to see his amazing collection of – pythons. Yes, you read that correctly – George has a dozen or so pythons and other snakes in his office. The three of us talked about his collection of reptiles, and then George brought out a couple of his snakes for us to hold. Harold held a tiny but friendly pale-colored python, whereas I held a species of serpent that resembled a coral snake a little too close for comfort. He was a full-sized and quite curious fellow; he kept trying to inspect what I had in my pockets, and I had to keep shifting him from arm to arm in order to prevent him from falling. After ten or so minutes of reptilian admiration, we returned the snakes and resumed our discussion of guitars.

George had an amazing resonator guitar in his office, and the three of us took turns playing it; I played a little jazz piece on it, Harold played excerpts from a classical etude, and George played some amazing vintage improvisational fingerstyle (with hints of Celtic influence). This particular resonator had an amazing sound, but the price tag was a bit out of my range. (Although Harold was seriously contemplating adding it to his collection.)

As we discussed the various guitars we each owned, George shared a bit of his guitar wisdom with Harold and me. For example, he said that there are three primary reasons why someone buys a guitar:

  1. They don’t have a guitar
  2. They want a better guitar
  3. They collect guitars (which all three of us obviously do)

We all laughed about George’s observation, but George pointed out that many collectors do not seem to actually care about the quality; some of the collectors he meets are simply trying to fill a generic void in their collection. I responded that I buy different guitars for specific purposes; each of mine is unique and purchased for an individual sound or purpose.

George also produced a Martin that I played briefly, and when I commented that I much preferred the neck on my Taylor for playing fingerstyle, George produced a trio of Taylor prototypes that had not yet been assigned a specific model number. (One of the prototypes was personally signed by Bob Taylor and addressed to George.) I liked the Taylors much better; their necks were more like what I was accustomed to playing. After a few minutes George needed to head back to work, so Harold and I headed downstairs, where Harold continued to put the resonator from George’s office through its paces while I browsed through the wide-ranging collection of acoustic guitars.

About ten minutes later George found me; he said that he had a 1946 Epiphone upstairs that he wanted to show me, so the two of us headed back upstairs to check it out. I own an 1965 Epiphone 12-string, and George’s 1946 6-string was somewhat reminiscent of my guitar, (albeit in better shape than mine). I swapped out the Epiphone for one of the Taylor protoypes, then George picked up a 5-string banjo and started to play various melody lines in Old Americana, Celtic, and Klezmer/Yiddish styles as I tried to keep up with the rapid chord changes on the guitar. It was a fun, impromptu jam session between guitar geeks, and I had a blast.

Eventually Harold joined us on the second floor, and it was time for us to go. I had to meet my wife downtown for a previous engagement, so Harold and I bid George adieu and headed off into the proverbial Tennessee sunset.

The Further We Move Away From Peace

A fellow Army veteran from Germany recently posted a photo of the following 1980s-era poster to Facebook:

je-mehr-wir-uns-fur-den-krieg-rusten

The text of that poster reads, "Je mehr wir uns für den Krieg rüsten - um so weiter entfernen wir uns vom Frieden. JETZT ABRÜSTEN!", which roughly translates as, "The more we prepare for the war, the further we move away from peace. DISARM NOW!" This poster was an advertisement for Germany's Green Party, which was advocating disarmament during the time of the Cold War.

I have waxed poetic about this subject before, during which I have illustrated that generations of imbeciles have contributed to their own destruction by promoting the naive belief that laying down their arms will somehow lead to universal peace. However, as an old saying elucidates, "Peace is a fleeting fantasy, embraced by fools, signifying nothing."

That idiom is obviously an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth, which states in Act 5, Scene 5: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Personally, I think a link between the contemporary idiom and Shakespeare's prose is warranted, for both phrases capture the same sense of ultimate futility.

Please do not misunderstand me, I think that everyone should ardently desire peace instead of war; but as I have pointed out in other blogs, a lack of war does not constitute peace. The callow conviction that everyone longs for peace is rooted in a childlike world of fantasy, which unfortunately bears little resemblance to the actual affairs of humanity.

History is replete with epic and horrific tales of despots, dictators, and destroyers: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Francisco Pizarro, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Napoleon Bonaparte, Josef Stalin, Cyrus The Great, Adolph Hitler, etc., etc. Countless populations were ravaged by these marauding conquerors, who were hell-bent on amassing empires and riches that were far greater than any one human should ever need or desire. And therein lies the great fallacy of those who seek peace at any cost: for every noble aspirer to peace, someone evil is waiting in the shadows to kill, maim, rape, and destroy everything and everyone that these pacifists hold dear.

While we should all strive for peace, we need also be acutely aware of the world we live in, and we should act accordingly. Our planet is inhabited by billions of people, many of whom would do harm to other people in order to take what they have, or simply to prevent others from expressing their worldviews. In short, we share an evil world that is populated by an untold number of evil people; and the only way to prevent destruction is to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

There is a Latin adage that states, "Si vis pacem, para bellum," which translates as, "If you want peace, prepare for war." I could not have summarized that sentiment any better.

My Thoughts About Rush's Studio Albums

A long time ago Rush ceased making albums where everything was good on it. It used to be that you could put on a Rush album and every track was going to be great, but that time has long since passed.

At the risk of too much information, here is my completely biased assessment on the "listenability" for each of the Rush studio albums:

RUSH, FLY BY NIGHT, and CARESS OF STEEL
There are good tracks, there are bad tracks, and there are weird tracks on each album. I seldom listened to any of these albums in their entirety.
2112
"Lessons" and "Tears" weren't amazing songs, but the rest of the tracks more than made up for them, and I could listen to this entire album over and over.
A FAREWELL TO KINGS
I would call "Cinderella Man" this album's weakest track, but still... I could listen to this entire album repeatedly, and often did.
HEMISPHERES
There aren't any weak tracks. Period. I listened to this entire album repeatedly.
PERMANENT WAVES
Rush was firing on all cylinders now, so there are no clunkers on this album, and I listened to it more times than I can remember.
MOVING PICTURES
Rush had evolved into prog rock masters. This album is a masterpiece. Every song is a winner. I played this album more than any other album in my lifetime.
SIGNALS
There really aren't any exceedingly weak tracks on this album, either. But this marks the beginning of the synth takeover... still, I could listen to the whole album in one sitting.
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
I will admit, this album had a couple songs that I liked less than others; for example: Red Lenses was fun to play in a band just to see if we could pull it off, but it wasn't that great to listen to. (Way too much synth.) Nevertheless, I could listen to this entire album, just not as often as others.
POWER WINDOWS
Several bright moments, but waaaaaaay too much synth. And the lyrics were nowhere near Neil's best. If MP3s had existed, I probably would have created playlists that left off a song or two.
HOLD YOUR FIRE
Wow - which band is this? Is this even Rush? The synths have completely taken over. As with POWER WINDOWS, I didn't want to hear every song, and by this point I had a CD player that allowed me to pick and choose what songs to play and what songs to skip.
PRESTO
High points and low points... and Rush continues to sound like a totally different band than a decade earlier. I continued to pick and choose which songs to play. Lyrically pretty weak at times, like Neil was trying too hard to be good or trying too hard to be funny.
ROLL THE BONES
Strong points and weak points. (Are you seeing a trend yet?) Plus - RAP??? SERIOUSLY??? (Okay - the video of the skeleton is funny in concert, but still...)
COUNTERPARTS
This album had a few bright moments, but truth be told - I despised this album so badly that I packed up all my Rush albums and gave them to my brother. (Seriously... all my picture discs, all my bootlegs, all my collectibles... everything went.)
TEST FOR ECHO
I was done with Rush, so I never listened to this album. The only way that I heard tracks from this album is when I went to see Rush in concert in later years, and I was happy to see that there were a couple good songs on it.
VAPOR TRAILS
As with TEST FOR ECHO, I didn't listen to VAPOR TRAILS, so the first time I heard tracks from this album was when I saw Rush in concert.
FEEDBACK
A friend let me listen to this album, but let's be honest - it's all cover songs, so it's not really Rush, is it?
SNAKES & ARROWS
I heard this album when it came out, although I will admit that I didn't actually buy it. Nevertheless, it was a strong album with very little hint of synths. I was hooked from the first few notes of "Far Cry," which hearkened back to the old Rush we used to love. Still, though - there were several weak points, too.
CLOCKWORK ANGELS
Wanna know a secret? I still haven't heard this album in its entirety. I heard "Caravan" and "BU2B" when they were released as singles, and I heard a couple more songs when Rush played them in concert, but... for some reason this album just didn't pique my interest, so I still haven't sat down and listened to it.

And there you have it: my completely biased view of the studio albums that were released throughout Rush's career. Please note that the views expressed were entirely my own and are not intended to infer any lack of awesomeness for the Trio from Toronto.

That being said, Clockwork Angels was not the best swan song for a band this awesome. I know that Rush has said that they will never tour again, but hopefully they'll put out another studio album that will make up for Clockwork Angels.

I Love Levy's Guitar Straps

I have played guitar for over 40 years, and I have to say - without a doubt - that Levy's makes the best guitar straps. I know that this is probably going to sound like a paid advertisement, but I have used their straps for the past 25 years or so, and I have never had one fail on me. (And trust me, I have abused the heck out of them.)

With that in mind, I thought that it was pretty cool that I stumbled across the following short video which shows how their straps are made:

FYI - I currently own a dozen different straps from Levy's, and I use them together with Schaller Strap Locks. That combination is, in my opinion, the best setup for any guitar player.

Reflections on an Mi-24D Hind

I recently saw this old warhorse at the Pima Air and Space Museum outside Tucson, AZ:

Mi-24 Hind

The Mi-24D was a formidable enemy in its day, so my first thought was that this once-mighty gunship living out the rest of its years as a rusting museum piece seemed such an ignoble end for this amazing aircraft. And yet - like the empire this beast once served, its days of usefulness have long passed.

With that in mind, this ancient relic seems a fitting epitaph for the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Its fortuitous demise and relegation to the junk heap of history should serve as a stark reminder of the atrocities committed in the name of Communism during the 20th-century's flirtations with that particular brand of unspeakable evil.

My hope is that future generations will leave this aircraft, and the failed political system that it represents, in the past - where they belong.

The Future - and Past - of Dual-Screen Laptops and Tablets

Nearly a decade ago, Microsoft cancelled the Courier tablet (see below), which would have been the first dual-screen tablet/laptop on the market, and it would have been competing head-to-head with the single-screen iPad when that tablet was first released:

Now the Courier's untimely death seems especially premature, since the big news coming from Computex 2018 is that several of the big computer manufacturers are coming out with dual-screen tablets/laptops that look all-too-familiar to anyone who saw a Microsoft Courier tablet back in the day:

It seems that - given enough time - foresight and hindsight can become blurred...

The Walking Dead is a Dead Man Walking

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog titled How The Walking Dead Lost Me As A Fan, wherein I described how AMC's television series The Walking Dead (TWD) lost me forever through their lack of artistic direction and their apathetic and unnecessarily-grotesque methods for killing off major characters. I also pointed out that I was not alone in my opinions: fans and critics alike have lambasted the show, and its ratings have continued to plummet into a near-fatal nosedive. While TWD's average viewership is still garnering numbers that would make some other series proud, the show is at it's lowest point since its second season, and nearly half of what it was at its peak. In short, TWD is driving its fans away for many of the reasons that I wrote about in my blog two years ago - and more.

Having said that, I recently stumbled across the following videos, each of which does a great job of summarizing many of the problems that TWD's production staff has failed to rectify:

If you used to be a fan of TWD, those videos might be worth your time to watch, because they will reinforce your decision to abandon the sinking ship that was once one of television's best series.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I would try to keep up with the series by reading episode synopses, but I have no intention of actually watching the show again. With that in mind, I discovered that The Telegraph provides great recaps for most of TWD's episodes, with just enough detail to help former TWD fans know what's happening to their favorite characters, without having to waste an hour each week suffering through yet another pointless offering from TWD's misguided creative team.

So if you're like me, have fun catching up on the show, and enjoy all the time you're saving by not actually watching it.

Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

The following study of 1,256,407 children conclusively shows that there is no link between vaccinations and autism:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X14006367

There is no other way to put this mildly:

  • ...if you choose to ignore the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that supports vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to listen to some ignorant celebrity's rant against vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to believe some dim-witted anti-vaxxer's blog...
    - or -
  • ...if you think that you somehow have more information than the thousands of disparate scientists and researchers from around the globe who have repeatedly shown that there is no link between vaccinations and autism...

...then you are an idiot.

Trying Not to Overheat

Today's afternoon cycling adventure through the desert was not the hottest ride that I've been on, but it was the second-most.

2018-06-13-temperatures

I had to force myself to ride slower and constantly douse myself with water from one of my water bottles to keep from overheating. As a result, I added a little over a minute to each mile on my ride, but I managed to keep my heart rate low as I kept saying under my breath, "Don't kill yourself," which was meant both literally and figuratively: I didn't want to push myself too hard and overheat, and I didn't want to make dumb choices that would simply get me killed. (Although it is arguable that riding in that level of extreme heat is a dumb choice by itself.)

SunSurprised smile

Transcribing It's the Right Time by Mitch Malloy and Van Halen

Every month or two I decide to transcribe a song; it's a weird hobby, but it's a lot more challenging than Sudoku. Anyway, today's song was "It's the Right Time," which is the only song by Van Halen with Mitch Malloy on vocals. (See https://youtu.be/NBXjQ8FASug for the original song.)

My transcription is pretty faithful to the original - the only artistic license that I took was to add an ending since the original recording fades out.

While I have usually liked EVH's grooves, this song had some particularly interesting parts to it: the main hook for the verses is a four-measure progression, wherein EVH hits the opening chord for each of the first two measures an eighth note before the beat, and he hits the opening chord for the third and fourth measures on the downbeat; this creates a cool groove with a heightened tension, because your ear usually wants to hear the chords hit on the downbeat. When EVH gets to the bridge, he changes accents all over the place; so sometimes he sounds on the beat, while at other times he sounds like he's playing in a different time signature. As a whole, all of EVH's inventiveness on this song results in a really fun piece to listen to; it sometimes sounds like it's not quite right, but in the best possible way.


Note: Mitch Malloy was probably Van Halen's shortest-term vocalist; Van Halen hired him right before the Gary Cherone debacle, although Mitch eventually declined the gig due to a mix-up regarding David Lee Roth. (See https://youtu.be/dxF4WRORQ9s for Mitch's story.)

Nevertheless, back in the 1990s, it seemed like Van Halen was going through a different vocalist every other month. It became kind of a running joke, so Eddie and Alex Van Halen posed for the following milk advertisement:

Van Halen Milk Ad

The text in the advertisement reads:

"Of all the lead singers we've had, most never got enough calcium. Typical. But not for Alex and me. Because every time we change singers, we have an extra glass of milk. That way we're sure to get more than the recommended three glasses a day. As you can see, sometimes all at once."

Open-mouthed smile