I’ve got something coming up that’s going to require some slide playing, so I thought I’d give this little gadget a try. It’s just a chunk of aluminum (I think) that you put over your existing nut to raise the action up for lap steel playing.
Now, in the video, I was just playing it like a normal bottleneck slide. It works that way, but since then I’ve been playing that guitar as a lap steel (as intended) and it works much better.
I still don’t understand what they mean by their promise that it “will not throw your guitar out of tune”. It’s a bizarre thing to put on the package… and they put it there twice! You’ve got to completely detune the guitar to put it on there, and intonation is all on you when it comes to slide playing. Of course, that’s got nothing to do with whether or not the product works as intended, which it does, but it’s still a weird thing to put on the package.
About 5-6 weeks ago I livestreamed the installation of the K&K Pure Mini pickup in my Ibanez EW20-ASNT. I was quite impressed with it at the time, however, I noted then that I would provide a more thorough review of the pickup after I’d had a chance to try it live, in my lesson studio, and other situations. Since then, I’ve tried it out in all sorts of setups and venues. I’ve tried it hooked straight into an amp in my lesson studio, I’ve tried it running into a small PA in a dingy little bar, I’ve tried it on a proper stage with monitors blasting the sound back at me, I’ve tried it in all manner of scenarios and I’m no less a fan than I was on day one!
As I mentioned in the livestream, when I was researching pickups for that guitar, everybody was recommending the Fishman or L.R. Baggs systems. I even made it a special point to check out various acoustic pickup manufacturers while I was at NAMM this past January. I hadn’t seen or heard any recommendations for the K&K. It wasn’t until after I’d tried out their Twin Internal mandolin pickup (and been thoroughly pleased with it) that I decided to look into their acoustic guitar pickups. The various demos that I watched and listened to showed me a pickup that got much closer to capturing the acoustic sound of the instrument than many of the other systems I had looked at. Microphone equipped systems like the Fishman Infinity, L.R. Baggs Anthem, and the Seymour Duncan Mag Mic sounded quite good, however they were also significantly more expensive than the K&K Pure Mini. I also liked that the Pure Mini was passive. I don’t have anything against active pickups or systems, but never having to worry about the battery dying on you is a nice bonus.
In my research, many folks pointed out that the K&K was significantly more susceptible to feedback than other systems. This wasn’t a huge concern for me, as I don’t play live acoustic guitar that often (although I am doing so much more since installing this pickup). I figured if the feedback was a problem, a sound hole cover would likely fix the issue for just a few bucks. However, I’ve had hardly any issues with feedback in the 5-6 weeks I’ve had it installed! The only time I’ve had feedback issues is in my lesson studio when I’ve got kids playing trumpet or saxophone. I’m in a tiny room, I’ve got the amp a little louder than normal, and horns blaring straight into the sound hole. It’s not a great environment. The feedback isn’t unmanageable though. Whenever it started up, I had no trouble stopping it. Having the piezo elements mounted underneath the bridge plate means that you’ll have to dampen the sound board as well as the strings, but that’s no trouble.
But how does it sound?! I imagine you asking… well, great! I’ve always loved the sound of that guitar. It’s very bright and it sits perfectly in a mix without any additional EQ or tweaking. Whenever I record with it, a good microphone is all that I need. I wanted that guitar to sound as good on stage as it does in the studio, and now it does! It also sounds great recording direct, which is excellent if you don’t have access to a quiet studio. Below I’ve included a few samples of the recorded sound. I recorded these direct into Audacity with an old M-Audio JamLab USB interface. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s the point! If you’re in a nice studio, you’re probably going to just record your acoustic guitar with a pair of condenser mics or something like that. You’re not going to record the pickup direct. But recording with a microphone isn’t an option (perhaps you live in a noisy neighborhood) or if you’re just on a really tight budget, this pickup is perfect. It’s inexpensive, easy to install, and it sounds great. Give it a listen for yourself below. As a bonus, I’ve included a clip that A/B’s the direct sound of the pickup with a clip from Fox & the Red Hares’ song “Beneath Boot Hill”, which was recorded with the same guitar, but mic’d. I’m using a fresh set of DR Zebra strings in a custom light gauge.
K&K also make a variety of preamps designed to compliment the Pure pickups. While I’m quite satisfied with the sound of the pickup by itself, I’m interested to hear how the preamp can make it sound even better. I’m particularly interested in the Pure XLR Preamp, which serves the additional function of a DI. If I end up getting one, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on it as well.
K&K Pure Mini
Inexpensive (only $99 from many online retailers)
Easy installation (it only took me an hour, power drill required)
Passive (no batteries, no big preamp unit to install)
Doesn’t alter the appearance of your guitar
Provides a great, natural, acoustic sound
More susceptible to feedback than other systems (but not problematically so)
This is a series that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I was waiting until I could get myself a Mosrite Ventures II copy (I’m obviously not going to get a real one, as there are maybe only 50 in existence). Ideally, I’d like a Fillmore; Johnny actually played those near the end of his life but they just don’t come up for sale often. Eastwood has one that is reportedly quite nice, but I want to play it first! If something ever pops up nearby, I’ll probably jump on it, but for now, my new G&L ASAT Bluesboy gets the job done. It’s got a fairly hot bridge pickup that lends itself well to the Ramones sound.
Anyways, in this series, I’ll be showing you how to play EVERY (yes, every) song the Ramones ever recorded, even the covers. We’ll be going through them alphabetically, but first, we need to go over a few things about how Johnny played. While Johnny was a really limited guitar player, he did what he did exceptionally well, and it’s more difficult than a lot of folks assume. For starters: Johnny didn’t play power chords. He played full major barre chords pretty much all the time. He’d occasionally throw in a minor chord, but it was rare. The shapes he used were your basic E and A shape barre chords, as seen below:
Note that when using the “A shape”, you still play the 6th string. This additional fifth on the bottom of the chord really fattens up the sound. While I included the 1st string fingering in the diagrams, you don’t need to worry about getting that top note. Johnny didn’t. You’ll want to check out the video for some additional tips on efficiently switching between these two shapes.
Aside from the chord shapes, the next most important thing about sounding like Johnny is your picking. Unlike the barre chord thing though, everybody knows Johnny only did down strokes. Lots of folks are lazy about this part though, and you shouldn’t be. It makes a big difference in the sound. If you’re getting tired, try lowering your guitar a bit so that your arm is fully extended. Pick from your wrist, not your elbow, and keep at it. It’s tough, but worth it.
I’ll be uploading the lesson for the first song, 53rd & 3rd, soon.
Someone commented on my Bloodstains tutorial video recently asking if I could do a video on “Fire In The Rain”. It’s one of my favorite Agent Orange tunes, and while it’s not that difficult to play, it is a bit unusual. In the video I show two ways to play the song: the way Mike Palm does it, and an easier way that uses a capo. I think the non-capo way sounds much better though, so I recommend learning that version.
Solfege is a pretty invaluable tool for any musician, but most of the videos on Youtube discussing it do so via the piano, or just vocally. Having something explained and shown to you on your own instrument is a big help in getting the idea across and allowing you to start practicing and implementing that idea. So I’m gonna show you how solfege works via the guitar!
In the video, I mention that I’m using “moveable Do chromatic solfege with a Do based minor”. What that means is that, in this system, Do is always your tonic pitch. So if you’re in A, then Do is an A note. If you’re in Bb, Do is a Bb note. If you’re in D, Do is a D note. You get the point. Fixed Do solfege is the other main method of solfege, and it’s just an alternative to using letter names for the notes. So a C note is Do, a D note is Re, an E note is Mi, and so forth. I find this method to be a HUGE waste, as moveable Do solfege is the absolute best system I’ve ever encountered for relative pitch classification. If you’re using fixed Do, then you can’t use moveable Do, and you’re missing out because of it. Letter names are fine. The alternative systems for relative pitch classification all fall short of moveable Do solfege for various reasons. So that’s what I use.
I also use a “Do based minor”. This just means that in a minor key, your tonic is still Do. The alternative is a La based minor, where your tonic in a minor key is La… I honestly can’t make any sense of that. You’re just undermining the benefits that moveable Do solfege offers in the first place. I’m yet to hear any argument for La based minor that holds water. It’s just a dumb idea. For example, what happens if you’ve got a song that switches from the A minor to A major? Does La become Do? Does Do move up a half step and become Mi? It’s just stupid, but that’s a lot of exposition. Let’s just talk solfege.
If we take a major scale, such as G major (G A B C D E F#), we can use different syllables to sing the different notes of the scale. The root of the scale (G), is Do. The 2nd scale degree (A) is Re. The 3rd (B) is Mi, then Fa, Sol, La, and Ti. Consistently using these syllables to sing these notes is a great way to memorize the relative sound of those notes in the context of a key! Check out the video for some examples.
But what about the other notes? We’ve got unique syllables for all of them too! Here they are in relation to a tonic C note, major scale notes are in bold text:
C – Do, C# – Di, Db – Ra, D – Re, D# – Ri, Eb – Me, E – Mi, F – Fa, F# – Fi, Gb – Se, G – Sol, G# – Si, Ab – Le, A – La, A# – Li, Bb – Te, B – Ti
For musicians in the know, describing a song as “I V vi IV in F” is WAY more helpful than saying “F C Dm Bb”. Often times, when my bassist and I start talking that way, our band mates just sit there looking confused, curious as to how what we said was sufficient enough for us to teach each other a song in just a few seconds.
If you’ve ever been in that situation, and want to be in the know, then this video is for you!
For quick reference, here are all the chords for major, natural minor (which are just the major chords shifted over), and the harmonic minor in both the traditional and “Berklee” way.
Major: I ii iii IV V vi vii° -or- I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VII°
Natural minor: i ii° III iv v VI VII -or- Im II° ♭III IVm V ♭VI ♭VII
Harmonic minor: i ii° III+ iv V VI vii° -or- Im II° ♭III+ IVm V ♭VI VII°
I recently installed the K&K Mandolin Twin Internal in my mandolin, and I was really pleased with the results. Now that I’ve been doing regular solo acoustic shows, I decided that it was time to upgrade my acoustic with an internal pickup. I’ve been using the Duncan Woody for a few years, and while it certainly gets the job done at a fair price, it really doesn’t capture the acoustic sound of the instrument. I asked some friends who play acoustics live, and they recommended either the Fishman or L.R. Baggs systems. Nobody was recommending the K&K.
Given how pleased I was with the mandolin pickup, I thought I’d look into their offerings, and after watching this video I was sold! A passive pickups that sounds that much like a mic’d up acoustic? And it’s only $100?! I bought one on Amazon right away, and roughly 24 hours later it’s now in my guitar! I’ll be doing a full review of it after I’ve had a chance to try it live, but I’m quite pleased with it so far.
The installation was really easy. The pickup came with a little plastic jig and everything you needed to install it (except the super glue). It was a significantly easier installation than the mandolin pickup, as the sound hole of the guitar give you more room to work than trying to get everything through the f-holes on the mandolin. The whole process only took me an hour (including time sitting there waiting for the glue to set). You can watch me install it below, and hear a sample of the both the pure mini and the mandolin pickup.
Also, check out my high-tech overhead camera setup:
So I see a lot of questions on reddit and whatnot asking things like “What sort of weird scale am I in?” or “What’s the deal with this song?” and all they’re dealing with is a pretty basic minor chord progression. The major V chord throws them off, and they think it has to be something complicated and “proggy”. While the minor tonality is more complex than major, it’s still… pretty simple. This is especially true if you take a “songs first” approach to learning music. The major V is by no means uncommon, and the only reason people think it’s “weird” is because it doesn’t fit within their limited understanding of what it means to be in a minor key!
Minor keys are, traditionally, taught as three different scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor (which is bizarrely taught as being different ascending and descending).
This is stupid.
Yes… it is. It’s just a stupid way to teach the minor tonality. It doesn’t make sense, people think that songs are written in one of the three scales but not the others (to be fair, they are… nowadays), and all sorts of other nonsense. But traditional minor tonalities are still very common in pop, rock, jazz, and other styles. They shouldn’t be cause for somebody to ask “What the hell is going on here?” because they’re pretty basic!
Just focus on the songs first. Stop worrying about the scales stuff comes from, and chill out. It’s music. It’s creative. You don’t need to force so many restrictions upon it.
So Fox & the Red Hares has our annual St Patrick’s Day show coming up, and we’ve never actually had banjo in there. Banjo is a big part of traditional Irish music, but I already play too many different instruments in that set to add banjo in there.
But everybody else plays guitar… And I saw this 6 string banjo at work the other day. It’s tuned just like a guitar, so if you play guitar, you can play this thing.
I made this video so the other guys could hear it and check it out, but I might as well share it with everybody!
What do you think? Does Fox & the Red Hares need to add some banjo to the mix?
Guitarists have a REALLY bad habit of stubbornly avoiding flats, and not only can that make your charts and stuff awkward for other musicians to read, but it can also prevent you from gaining a proper understanding of how music is put together!
In this video, I’ll tell you when and why you should be using flats so that you can stop perpetuating the stereotype of the ignorant guitarist.