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Guitar Musician e-zine     01/11/06

In This Issue:

  "... I think people overemphasize the importance of gear in their search for tone. Your sound comes from how you pick and dampen the strings, and from your attack as much as anything..."

                                                                                            - Eric Johnson

Some Humor

  Two old guys are pushing their carts around Home Depot when they collide.

The first guy says to the second guy, "Sorry about that.  I'm looking  for my wife, and I guess I wasn't paying attention to where I was going."

The second old guy says, "That's OK.  It's a coincidence.  I'm looking for my wife, too.  I can't find her and I'm getting a little desperate."

The first old guy says, "Well, maybe we can help each other. What does your wife look like?

The second old guy says, "Well, she is 27 yrs old, tall, with blonde hair, blue eyes, long legs, big boobs, and she's wearing tight white shorts.  What does your wife look like?"

The first old guy says, "Doesn't matter --- let's look for yours.


A Lesson For The Learning

Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar

Click here for all products by Gallien-Krueger.

Gallien-Krueger Backline Bass Amps

Gig-ready amps with the GK sound, affordably priced

By Thurston Willmier

It's a wonderful thing when gear becomes more affordable. It also calls up such questions as "is it any good?" This was precisely my concern when given the assignment to review GK's Backline series bass amps and speakers. I have used a GK combo for years�a 700RB�and have liked it a lot. It is strong, clean, and a highly adjustable bass rig. Since the Backline models cost about half what the RB amps cost, I knew they couldn't match the RB features, but would they have the sound? GK amps have always had a character and quality that have won the respect of bass players over the years. Would the Backlines dent that reputation or build on it?

Gallien-Krueger Backline Bass Amps Two for the show . . .
I was given two rigs to try as representative of the Backline series: a Backline 600 head (the newest addition to the series) with a 410BLX speaker cab, and the Backline 112 combo. I decided to start small, so I hauled the 112 out of its carton.

Immediately I saw its resemblance to my 700RB combo�same rockback-style cab, same carpet covering, same 16-gauge stamped grille, same corner protectors. Only the amp face is different�definitely a GK look, clean and businesslike. They've done away with the red Backline logo, which makes it look more like an RB. It has fewer controls, a three-band EQ, and a simpler line out setup, but it is definitely a little brother of the RB.

The sound check
I plugged in and started thumpin' away and what I heard amazed me. It sounded so much like my RB I couldn't believe it�that same clean, strong tone with solid, tight, very defined lows. It lacks the horn biamped feature, so you don't get that sharp top edge, but otherwise it has the GK sound square on. One recent improvement in the Backline combos, I was told, was a speaker upgrade to SBX speaker specs and that is one reason for the similarity in sound.

Though only three bands, the EQ is active and works very much like the four tone controls I'm familiar with, and the contour button was essentially the same as on my RB. I understand that many of the components used in the Backlines are the same as in the RBs.

One thing the Backline amps have that the RBs lack is a second channel for overdrive. It's not a fully independent channel, but it has gain and level knobs for dialing up any degree of distortion you want from just a bluesy touch of grit to a full-on grind. Quite a few current bands play a style that wants a degree of distortion, so it's a nice feature.

I would sum up the Backline 112 as a great-sounding, quite versatile and very portable combo with enough volume to cover smaller gigs. Compared with others in its price range, it has to be a standout. It delivers an amazing high ratio of what you get for what you pay. And it's all GK. The series also includes a 115 and a 210 with more power and several step-up features.


Gallien-Krueger Backline Bass Amps


Next, the big gun
The 410BLX speaker cab has the look of quality: heavy-duty grille, recessed steel handles, interlocking corner protectors, and wheels! The wheels are important. It weighs 70 lbs. so it's great that you can roll it instead of carry it. And the wheels are removable once you get it there.

Click to Enlarge It's a fairly compact cab. The four tens pretty much fill it. It's just under two feet high and wide, and a full 18" deep, which is good for low-end response. It's unported, wired for 8 ohms, and the speakers rate at 100 watts each for a total of 400 watts handling. It's just what you need for a powerful head like the Backline 600.

The Backline 600 is just the head to put on top of a 410BLX or two. It is the powerhouse of the Backlines, with 300 watts. It can easily push the 410BLX or even two of them for the really big gigs. It's not just a matter of volume, although the 600 can crank up enough to shake the nails out of the floorboards. With this kind of power, you can get such clean, focused lows�the kind of sound that can punch you in the face or blow puffs of wind at you. And with this reserve power connected to four tens, the result is a very defined sound, the kind that assists your articulation and timing. It's an amp that works with the bass player striving to improve.

Gigging essentials
The Backline 600 is fully equipped as a gigging amp. The output section has a master level and boost control. The EQ is the same active four-band used in the RBs, and it sports the same contour control as well. The direct out features an XLR connection, pre/post switch, and a ground lift to silence any hum that shows up when you plug into a board. On the input there's a -10dB switch for active basses, and a mute switch for silent tuning (it mutes the speakers but not the tuner output). It has a clip LED that lets you know you're clipping before it becomes audible.

The Backline 600 has the same distortion channel found in the combo. I wish my RB had it. It lets you get a tone as nasty as you like it without astronomical volume. Some of us aren't playing in big coliseums regularly, and with the drive channel, you can get extreme tone at any volume.

Overall, I was quite impressed with both Backline rigs I tried. They certainly have the GK sound I am used to hearing. Both are perfectly gig capable with all the essential features you want in a working amp. And be prepared for a reverse sticker shock when you check out the prices. They are jaw-droppingly low. Now the GK sound and the power to groove is within reach of any bass player.

Features & Specs:

112 Combo:410BLX Cab:
  • 400RB design with a distortion circuit added for extra growl
  • Active EQ and voicing controls
  • 100W driving a 12" woofer
  • Rock-back cab with carpet covering and pro hardware

600 Head:

  • 300W @ 4 ohms
  • 4-band active EQ
  • Adjustable contour
  • Effects loop
  • Boost valve effect
  • Distortion circuit
  • XLR out with ground and pre/post switch
  • Tuner out
  • 2 - 1/4" speaker outputs
  • Super-tight tone
  • Perfect for Backline heads
  • 4 heavy-magnet 10" speakers
  • Interlocking corners
  • High-quality hardware

On All Backline Gear:

  • 1-year warranty on speakers
  • 2-year warranty on electronics




Tuning Your Guitar For Beginners

Gavin Harrington; Sydney Australia

Q: I can't get my guitar in tune! No matter what I do it sounds real bad when I play my chords because it is so out of tune and I don't know what to do...Please help me. I even have an electronic tuner and still have no luck.

A: Tuning is the most difficult thing for beginner to tackle because your ear is not trained enough to hear exact pitches yet, but don't get discouraged your ear will develop quickly as you progress. Here are some tips to get you in tune now.

Hold down the 6th string 5th fret and pick that note, than play the 5th string open and tune it to match that pitch.

Hold down the 5th string 5th fret and pick that note, than play the 4th string open and tune it to match that pitch.

Hold down the 4th string 5th fret and pick that note, than play the 3rd string open and tune it to match that pitch.

Hold down the 3rd string 4th fret and pick that note, than play the 2nd string open and tune it to match that pitch.

Hold down the 2nd string 5th fret and pick that note, then play the 1st string open and tune it to match that pitch.

This method should get your guitar in tune with it self pretty close but it will take some time to fine tune (pun intended) the process.

Here are a few tips to tune with an electronic tuner:

      Make sure that the battery is hooked in properly and is fresh.

      Make sure that your volume knob is turned up all the way on 10 or your tuner will not pick up the sound of your guitar.

      If your strings are way out of tune the tuner may not pick up the right frequency so you would want to use the section in the beginning of the DVD to get your guitar close to tune then use the built in tuner.

If you still don't have much luck with the tuning you can always bring your guitar to a local music store and ask them to tune it for you, they are always very eager to help.

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House

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Eyes Wide Open
By Tommy Tompkins
Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, is making waves with two new CDs, one an acoustic gem that recalls Nashville Skyline and other folk-country classics, and the other laden with electronic effects. He's made the leap from heartland wunderkind to indie-pop idol by saying exactly what he thinks and mining his personal life for universal truths in his finely crafted songs.
If you haven�t heard of Conor Oberst or his band Bright Eyes, chances are you don�t know that Omaha, Nebraska, has emerged in recent years as a breeding ground of alternative pop music, much like Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, did 25 years ago. Groups like the Azure Ray, the Faint, the Good Life, and the Sokol Underground, were born in the Omaha scene. But these days, Oberst and Bright Eyes tower above them all.

Oberst began making music at age 11 and, as a member of Commander Venus, cut his first record, Do You Feel at Home, at 13. Since then, Oberst has lived and created his music in the public eye and has developed a persona that has been hallowed and scrutinized in chat rooms and bulletin boards across the Internet.

Today, at 25, Oberst records as Bright Eyes and lives in lower Manhattan. Though he lifted his band name from an obscure movie in which the male protagonist called his love interest �bright eyes,� he puts the tag over himself and the musicians he collaborates with to underscore the point that he is not strictly a solo artist.

Last April, he released a pair of albums concurrently: the loose, gentle I�m Wide Awake, It�s Morning and the impeccably arranged, played, and produced Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Both albums are powerful statements; each finds a young man who has grown up in the spotlight honing a vision that is honest, wise, and tough enough to be tender and vulnerable.

The mostly acoustic I�m Wide Awake stays close to traditional singer-songwriter material and Oberst�s personal concerns are common to the genre�relationships, a greed-driven culture, the threat of war, drug abuse. But his observations and questions are so clearly articulated that the album is often delightful, despite the emotional, often down subject matter.

Digital Ash explores some of the same questions, but does so by creating a musical mosaic, embellished with noisy electronics, quite unlike Awake�s acoustic approach. Taken together, the albums stake an ambitious claim to the �voice of a generation� title. Last May, when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Oberst�wearing a ten-gallon hat, a pearl-buttoned red shirt, and a black kerchief�sang a pointed, poignant new song, �When the President Talks to God.� The performance resonated with those old enough to remember Bob Dylan�s 1969 televised duet with Johnny Cash on �Lay Lady Lay� and that �voice of a generation�s� subsequent unique take on country music: Nashville Skyline.

Oberst�s song, meanwhile, referenced an earlier, pre-Skyline Dylan:

When the president talks to God
I wonder which one plays the better cop
We should find some jobs. The ghetto�s broke
No, they�re lazy, George, I say we don�t
Just give �em more liquor stores and dirty coke
That�s what God recommends

When the song was over, Leno loped toward the young singer, his hands waving unctuously in the air, as if the gulf created by several generations didn�t exist. In truth, although Oberst�s stirring burst of unrepentant blasphemy has the elegant simplicity of timeless songwriting, his lyrics use contemporary idioms and address issues that have everything to do with the present perilous moment. Perhaps next year he will be overthrown as the voice of his generation; for now, Oberst is bearing the weight on his shoulders.

Last summer, Bright Eyes returned to the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, for the second time this year. The band had been on the road for three months, both albums were selling well, and spirits were high. It had also been three months since Oberst had talked to the press, and he seemed to enjoy talking about songwriting after the personal tone of previous interviews. As the security crew for the evening show rehearsed evacuation drills around us, Oberst talked earnestly about how he works, the role of Bright Eyes collaborator Michael Mogis, and the potential embarrassment of putting your life in your lyrics.

�I�ll never shy away from saying what I think,� Oberst says when asked about the activist streak that had him sharing the stage in 2004 with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the Vote for Change tour. Activism is not unusual among artists these days�witness the many stars who spoke out during the 2004 campaign. Oberst feels the burden of social responsibility, and he expresses a certain ambivalence about how to express it in song. �Before, I resisted changing a lyric in a way that would make it less specific,� he explains. �I thought that would be a compromise I didn�t want to make. Now, while I would never shy away from writing about anything I wanted to write about, I might make the lyrics more universal�but they�ll still relate to what�s going on.�

Oberst�s ability to address universal subjects with thematic sophistication and spare lyrical precision�refinements that have come with age and experience�is evident in �Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)� from I�m Wide Awake, It�s Morning.

And there were barricades to keep us off the street
But the crowd kept pushing forward
Until they swallowed the police
Yeah they went wild

�I�m a little more careful,� he continues. �When I was younger, that didn�t enter into the equation at all. I just wrote it all out, played it on guitar or piano, and that was that. I still write songs in a similar fashion, but I like to distance myself from what I say now. It�s not a way of removing myself from the spotlight or the line of fire. It�s an aesthetic decision�a way to distance myself that permits the songs to have a more universal quality. Along with that, they�re less visceral, a little less complete. When I work that way, the lyrics feel more sophisticated; that full-bore approach, when the lyrics channel me directly, is limiting.�

Oberst has been on this path for more than a decade now. �We�d write songs, we�d play, and as I got older we�d do small tours,� he recalls of his early teens. �I wasn�t really aware of things�we just did what we did. There were friends and fans and support out there, and it was a natural thing to use it.� After recording two CDs with Commander Venus, Oberst put together the group that became Bright Eyes, and over the course of two years they recorded 20 tunes that were issued in 2000 as A Collection of Songs: Recorded 1995�1997. In 1998, Bright Eyes released Letting off Happiness, followed by Fever and Mirrors (2000) and Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002).

�We went on tour to LA or New York,� Oberst recalls. �Then it was like, �OK, this time we�ll go to Europe, and this time we�ll go to Japan.� One minute we�re going to school and playing hooky to go on tour, and the next minute people are coming from all over to go to our concerts. At first, our goal was to make records; now, it�s to make records that we�re really proud of, and we�re really proud of these two most recent albums.�

We is Oberst and longtime musical partner-multi-instrumentalist Michael Mogis, and for Oberst, �longtime� means �We�ve been friends for, like, forever. Since we were 11 years old.� Mogis was once a member of Lullaby for the Working Class, and as one Nebraska peer has said, �produces everything that comes out of Omaha.� In addition to producing Saddle Creek albums by Azure Ray, Cursive, the Faint, and LA�s Rilo Kiley, Mogis has recently worked with singer-songwriter Jonathan Rice and Sweden�s the Concretes.

�He has real genius quality,� Oberst says. �Some people are talented, but then you meet one or two who are just touched by something. He�s technically proficient, he�s always ready to go with me on weird tangents.

�A lot of what I find,� Oberst continues, �are abstract ideas or concepts�like taking a superexpensive microphone down to a neighborhood bar and getting people at the bar to sing a part. I come up with the ideas; he actualizes them. I can describe a sound I have in my head and Mike can make it with an instrument.� This collaboration is why the albums are credited to Bright Eyes, rather than Conor Oberst. �It�s gotten to the point where I wouldn�t feel right making a record and not calling it Bright Eyes.�

Although Mogis travels with Pro Tools, and the pair get some work done on the road, for the most part their collaborative composing takes place between tours, initially separately because Oberst now resides in lower Manhattan and Mogis lives and works in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Of his songwriting process, Oberst says, �There will just be a melody in my head, and maybe a few lines of lyrics. Then maybe I�ll pick up my Martin�the same one I use in concert�and find a chord structure that�s right for what I have. And then I start playing it through, and I hear it starting to develop. Sometimes I have the melody and at some point sit down at the piano and find the chord structure to go with it. Once you start playing it enough, the melody will change and sort of form itself that way. I actually do a lot more with a Dictaphone-like tape recorder than with a notebook, but the nice thing is that usually, once I have the melody and the chords so set in my head that I remember it well, I can keep it there, and I can work on it truly at anytime, just silently, and don�t have to rely on anything complicated.�

When they�re both ready, Oberst and Mogis get together in Lincoln, where most of the recording is done. They recently bought a building in Omaha that they�re turning into �the perfect studio,� as Oberst describes it, his eyes lighting up. The new studio will not open for at least a year, and details of what it will offer are vague. For Oberst, however, it�s clear the attraction is having a comfortable place to call home in the city he grew up in.

Oberst is notoriously prolific, averaging nearly an album a year since he began. It�s a remarkable track record, although he�s not altogether comfortable with it. �People judge my songs and, god, there�s stuff you wish people would not hear,� he says, shrugging his shoulders and laughing. �But on the other hand, it�s made me totally uninhibited about what I do. There�s nothing premeditated about any of it. I think a lot of artists maybe go through some huge change, and they want to keep that in the dark. For me, that�s impossible. I don�t know how to be any other way�to just record my songs, which are a chronicle of me and my relations with the people and places in the world.�

At a certain point in Bob Dylan�s career, his songs were personal, pointed, and acerbic. In Oberst�s life in a fishbowl, he too runs the risk of offending those he writes about. �Fans and people feel like you are your song,� he says. �But really, that�s just a moment. I�ll write about friends and people I know, but to me, the pronouns in songs are not that important. I could write I or you or she or him or it, and it wouldn�t matter. It�s the rest of the line that matters. Sometimes people think they know you better than they do.� His music and persona may seem to be everywhere, but the world is just getting to know Conor Oberst.

�I write and perform emotional music,� Conor Oberst says. �So it stands to reason that I�d like soul and R&B music. A friend of mine gave me a tape recently, and I don�t know what albums the songs are from. But if that�s all I could listen to for the rest of my life, I�d be happy.�

1. Aretha Franklin�s version of Sam Cooke�s �A Change Is Gonna Come�
2. Al Green, �Take Me to the River�
3. Dusty Springfield, �Son of a Preacher Man�
4. Marvin Gaye, �Inner City Blues�
5. Ray Charles, �Lucky Old Sun�  

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Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

Alec Stone Sweet, Tumblin' Gap: Clawhammer Guitar Solos
By Ron Forbes-Roberts
Alec Stone Sweet didn�t just transpose 16 oldtime dance tunes, Appalachian folk pieces, and originals from clawhammer banjo to guitar for this album; to preserve the idiomatic flavor of these melodic, mostly modal pieces, Stone Sweet transposes, as best he can, the clawhammer style itself to guitar. To approximate the five-string banjo sound on many pieces, Stone Sweet retunes his guitar and replaces his low E with a high treble string to create tunings like the G G D G B D setup he uses on �Farewell Trion.� He also uses the thumb/index-finger clawhammer banjo picking technique to play the melodies and drones of these tunes. The entrancing result is enhanced by the sonority and rich sustain of Stone Sweet�s guitar. The material is a good mix of well-known tunes��Angeline� and �Cluck Old Hen,� among them�and more obscure pieces, like �Texas� and �Joe Bane�s Reel.� Throughout, Stone Sweet�s rhythmic sense and phrasing are spot on, and he gives the music the drive it needs without ever sounding hurried or overwhelming the simple melodies. Compulsory listening for guitar fans, Tumblin� Gap is the kind of surprising recording that inspires new guitar movements. (Solid Air,


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