Solo Guitar Album Progress

I’m currently weeding through the takes from two days of sessions for my solo guitar album. I’ve got about 4 tunes done so far, but I recorded quite a few more, and we’ll see what fits together best on the album.

I recorded everything at Digital Brothers in Costa Mesa, CA, with Bryan Shaw (who played Trumpet in the Campus Five and Orchestra many times over the years). He set up the multiple mic setup shown here:

That’s FIVE ribbon mics, and one condenser. In our mixes so far, we’re using the pair of Cascade Victor Ribbon Mics for most of the sound. I’m hardly a mic expert, but Bryan described them as having the same kind of sound as classic RCA44, but in a much more reliable, usable package. They are, sadly, discontinued. The Royers (one stereo pair further out for “air” and one close up to catch the “body” of the guitar) and the Oktava (pointed sort of near the 12-14th fret area for string “zing”) were just there to provide options and shading. Yes, phasing was taken into account.

Guitar-wise, I brought four guitars along, my two Gibson L-5 guitars (a 1932 and a 1939), my National Style 1 Tricone, and my 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR.

 2012 National Style 1 Tricone, 1932 Gibson L-5, 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR, and a 1939 Gibson L-5

2012 National Style 1 Tricone, 1932 Gibson L-5, 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR, and a 1939 Gibson L-5

I used the 1932 on about 70% of the tunes, and the 1939 on the remainder. The sustain and sweetness of the 1932 were the trick of the slow and medium tunes, while the zing and punch of the 1939 were better on the peppier tunes. In fact, the second day, I only brought back the two Gibsons. Sadly, I ended up not using the National after all, but I made a point to use the Waterloo (which is patterned after a 1930’s Kalamazoo KG-14, but made with Collings consistency and playability, oh and a truss rod) on a Roy Smeck tune, “Itching' Fingers” from 1928. Given that Eddie Lang wasn’t yet playing an L-5 in 1928, I doubted that Roy Smeck was either, and I though a 20’s-30’s flattop was more appropriate, since that was likely what the tune was written on.

Oh, and since I get asked a lot, I had Martin SP 80/20 strings on both L-5’s with a .014 and .018 plain string swapped in for the high E and B, and the Waterloo was strung with Martin Retro Monel 12’s. I used a Bluechip TD40 for everything, though we did experiment with other picks, including an original “AR” Allan Reuss model pick from Fife & Nichols music store in Hollywood from the 1940’s.

I’ve got two original compositions recorded that I’m quite proud of, a medium tempo piece that starts with an Eddie Lang-style noodle-y guitar intro called “Pickin’ for Charlie,” and slow piece called “Charlie’s Lullabye”. Even though I’m a huge Charlie Christian fan, these are actually named for my son, Charlie. Then again, he’s named after Charlie Christian, so perhaps they are in a roundabout way.

I’ve got both tunes transcribed already, and I am planning to release a transcription folio of all of the original arrangements. Considering how far along I am, I think this is pretty doable. I’ll likely self publish it, but I’ll have details soon.

Here’s a little sneak peek:

More soon….





Jonathan Stout Solo Guitar News (CD, Live Sessions, Lessons)

Solo Guitar Album Coming Soon

So, I have a couple pieces of news to share. First, I’ll be recording an album of swing-era, plectrum-style solo guitar in about a week. It will should be available before Christmas. You may heard some of the pieces on my youtube channel, or on my facebook Live porch practice sessions, but I’ve tried to really hone them into something special.

New Facebook Page for Live Sessions

If you’re a fan of the facebook live porch practice sessions, which I occasionally republish to youtube, then you should give my new facebook page a follow: Jonathan Stout, Swing Guitar. I’m going to be moving the Porch Sessions over to my guitar page, as well as other live content.

Here’s one of the latest sessions that I reposted to youtube:

Solo Guitar Album Transcription Book

In addition to putting out the CD, I’m going to look at publishing a folio of transcriptions from the CD as well, but that’ll probably be about 6 months after the CD release.

Lessons via Skype / Facetime / Hangouts

I currently beta-testing offering online lessons. I’m still working out which platform will work the best and how to set up the camera/mic etc. for optimal learning and clarity. I will do another post when everything is ready.

Gear Updates and Reviews

For those of you who follow me on facebook or youtube, you’ve probably already noticed that I picked up a blonde 1939 Gibson L-5 at the end of last year, after I sold of my 1935 Gibson L-12 and 1932 Epiphone Deluxe. As well, I picked an amazing Waterloo WL-14LTR that was lightly used in January. I owe a video to you all on each of those.

But I’ve also got some gear reviews planned that I think will be helpful to other practitioners of the pre-bebop jazz guitar arts. I’ve been a big fan of Hoffee Carbon Fiber Flight Cases for the last several years, as well the Reunion Blues Continental Gig Bag for stuff around town. Lastly, I picked up a Nocturne Brain Jr. Barnyard Pedal a couple months back, though I haven’t yet spent the time experimenting with it that I should’ve. All I know for now is that it’s a great invention for bringing the pre-war, octal-tube flavor to direct outs and later clean amps. But I’m excited to do a full video review of it soon!

Plectrum Guitar Resources: Rob MacKillop

"Plectrum guitar" can refer to a long necked 4-string guitar tuned like a plectrum banjo. However, in this case, "plectrum guitar" refers to the style of a chord-melody pieces played on steel string guitars (often archtops) using a pick and not fingers. While some many of these were "jazzy", many of them weren't really jazz. Essentially they were like classical guitar pieces, but updated for the harmonic vocabulary (i.e. jazz), and equipment (i.e. steel string guitars and picks) of the day. The Mel Bay Book, which I've mentioned before on here, "Masters of the Plectrum Guitar" uses that terminology and is a vital collection of Lang/Kress/McDonough and other similar guitar pieces. 

But another of the best resources of this style is the website of Scottish guitarist Rob MacKillop.

Rob is someone I've come across mostly on the Just Jazz Guitar Board (they still have online forums?! no way!), and he's always been a nice guy and an advocate for the acoustic archtop as instrument worthy of consideration separate from the electric archtop. 

I was browsing the forum a couple months ago, and noticed a video he'd posted of a couple Roy Smeck solo guitar tunes from 1928. This caught my eye because I'd just been working on learning pieces out of the Allan Reuss book, I was primed to explore some of the early "plectrum" guitar pieces of folks like Smeck, Nick Lucas, Eddie Lang, Frank Victor and Harry Volpe.

Once I clicked through to Rob's website, archtopguitar.net, I was blown away by there being a lot more than just the two Smeck pieces. The blog had posts the included not just videos of Rob expertly playing many, many pieces from this mostly ignored repertoire, but also posting the sheet music. 

For my part, I jumped into learning "Itching Fingers" by Roy Smeck. And it inspired me to go back into the Mel Bay book above, and learning "Pick It and Play It" by Frank Victor. Between those tunes and two Reuss tunes I've learned, that's four vintage plectrum guitar pieces I've placed into my solo guitar repertoire, along with my own chord-melody arrangements. 

Take a look at Rob's site, and consider donating as well. 

The Snark: the best/worst tuner, and how to make it better....

Some people consider electronic tuners a crutch, but in loud environments, or for tuning discreetly, they are practical necessity. When I started playing guitar, electronic tuners where kind of expensive, and unless you sprung for the Boss TU-12, they weren't particularly road worthy. But today, the tuner market is pretty much dominated by pedal board based solutions, and the ubiquitous and inexpensive clip-on tuner. Since I spend most of my time playing acoustic instruments without a pickup or transducer, the clip-on is the solution of choice for me. 

The first generation of low cost clip-on tuners weren't particularly accurate or durable. They always seemed to stop registering signal well after a while. When the Snark line was introduced, they really seemed to improve both the accuracy and durability problems, and at a bargain basement price.  But even improved, they always seemed to eventually stop performing well, but continue to soldier a while before the battery actually died. I assumed the problem was just wear and tear, so that the device no longer made good contact, and stopped being able to detect the vibrations. Wrong.

I finally realized that it was the battery running low that caused the performance drop off. Once the battery got below that point and the performance started to suffer, there was still plenty left to power the tuner for a significant while, just with terrible performance. Once a tuner got a low battery, I would have to remember to swing by a drugstore to pickup a replacement. Buying one or two watch batteries at time at retail is expensive ($3-$5 per battery for a $10-$20 tuner), and I always seemed to find the one drug store that had just run out of that most common of watch batteries, the CR2032. Or I'd forget the number and buy a CR2025 by mistake. 

Then I figured out the lifehack that made living with Snarks so much better: buy the batteries in bulk on Amazon! For the cost of two batteries at a drug store, you can get blister packs of TWENTY ($7.96 for 20, instead of $7 for two at Walgreens).

At that price, I basically take one sleeve of batteries and one snark tuner, and keep a set of both in each guitar case. As soon as one of the Snarks starts to act crappy, I just replace the battery, and they go back to working great. 

Snarks are easy to leave "On" all the time while playing, so just be mindful of turning it off once you're done will go a long way to improving battery life. 

 

So, I usually go for the SN-8 "Super Tight" Snark, which apparently has better accuracy. I sprung for the more expensive HZ1 Snark tuner, but I didn't find it's performance worth the additional cost, and it's bright white color draws too much attention on stage.

I have also had success with the D'Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner. It's super low profile design worked great on the headstock of my 1939 L-5, but didn't really fit well on some of my other guitars. But bear in mind, those use a different battery, the CR2025, but you can get those in blister packs on Amazon as well. 

NEW: Oscar Alemán Play-Along Book - by Greg Ruby

My good friend Greg Ruby has just completed a years-long project to help spread the music and playing of the great Oscar Alemán. Oscar was the oft overlooked contemporary of Django Reinhardt, who's hot jazz playing was mixed with his Creole Argentine roots for a distinctive sound that totally stands toe-to-toe with Django. 

For years, there have been basically no resources for those interested in the playing style of Alemán, and Greg provides a treasury of information that will not only allow a player to learn the style, but to perform it as well. Greg has transcribed not just solos, but also the arrangements, and provided authentic sounding and feeling play-along tracks 

In just a matter of days, the project was successfully Kickstarted, but you can still get it in on it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gregrubymusic/the-oscar-aleman-play-along-book

Greg is not only a player I admire, but really good guy. Supporting the project is a win-win-win, all around. 

Guitar String Composition and Swing Guitar - 2018 Update

UPDATED: 

Because Swing Guitar straddles the worlds of both acoustic and electric instruments, the choice of string has been an open question for since I began playing Swing Guitar. At times I tried to "split the difference" between, but I found it was usually better to treat an instrument as either purely electric or acoustic, since electricifing an archtop so often leads to it loosing the essential acoustic character needed for proper swing rhythm guitar, or Reuss/Van Eps-style chord melody. 

I started researching these questions in earnest in 2013, and in the last four years I have come across a bit more information to help flesh out the picture. The rabbit hole of string archeology leads to some areas that I am still trying to figure out (such as historic gauges and intricacies like core:wrap ratios), but I think we can draw some important conclusions about historic string composition for particular circumstances. 

Strings Today

Electric vs. Acoustic = Nickel vs. Bronze

Today, guitar strings come in an almost endless variety, but most are one of two basic flavors: "acoustic" bronze-wound and "electric" nickel-wound. Almost all strings have the same steel core wire, and the difference is the wire wrapped around it, though there is sometimes variation in the shape or size of the core wire. The plain, unwound strings (usually the high E and B, and on very light sets, the G) on bronze and nickel sets are generally the same. 

While you can technically use either string on either guitar, the use of magnetic pickups on electric guitars require a string that is ferromagnetically responsive, and nickel-wound strings and unwound plain steel strings are much more responsive than bronze strings. Besides bronze wound being very inefficient, the difference in metals causes there to be a staggering volume difference between the plain, unwound strings and the  wound strings. Bronze strings, while not being as magnetically responsive, do sound much louder acoustically. They are both fuller and zing-ier sounding than nickel-wound. 

Nickel and Bronze Varieties

Bronze-wound strings come in two main flavors: 80/20 bronze and Phosphor Bronze. Phosphor Bronze is much newer, having been introduced in the 1970's as a brighter, longer lasting string. Nickel-wound strings come into two main flavors as well: so-called "pure nickel" and nickel-wound (which are nickel-plated steel wrap). Nickel-plated steel strings were introduced in the 60's as nickel prices rose, and the brighter sound of nickel-wounds was desired. 80/20 bronze and "pure-nickel" are generally considered the more "vintage" choice by mainstream guitar culture, though really that only means 1950's or 1960's vintage.

Flat = Jazz?

One other variation worth mentioning at this point is "flat-wound" strings. Flats are the darkest, and mellowest-sounding strings tonally, and because they have a flattened playing surface, they make almost no finger noise. The main varieties of these are what I think of as "true-flats" or "ribbon-wound", where a flattened strip of metal is wound around the core wire, and "ground-wound" where a round string is wrapped and then the outer surface is shaved or ground down to a flat surface. Ribbon-wound strings are the darkest, with ground-wounds being a step brighter, but still mellower than round-wounds. 

Flat wounds are often thought of as "jazz" strings, though in reality that means the "jazz" of the 50's and 60's. As I mentioned in a previous article, legendary studio guitarist Bob Bain related to me that flat wounds were not really used until the mid-50's (I noted he was introduced to them by George Barnes - wow!). La Bella claims to have introduced flats in 1940, but I'm guessing they weren't commonly adopted until the 1950's. Flat wound strings have the distinctive sound of post-bop and hard-bop guitarists like Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, etc., which is something distinctly different than swing-era electric players like Charlie Christian and early Barney Kessel. I don’t recommend flats for swing-era playing. 

Strings Types and Swing Music

So the question remains, “what were they using before 1950, and more importantly what were they using during the swing-era?” That question has been difficult to answer, and I after some research and some theories.

Pre-History of Strings, part 1: "Steel"

As best as I can tell, metal musical instrument strings go back hundreds of years. They came to guitar in the middle of the 19th Century. During this time there was no particular standardization. Originally steel strings were oiled to retard oxidation, and other coatings were tried before plating came into the picture. Gauges were not specified, and you basically had the choice of brands. 

For figuring out the timing of advancements and product introductions, the best resource I found was a collection of manufacturer’s catalogs at www.acousticmusic.org, all of which were available for download as PDFs. There were quite a few discussions in various forums asking many the same questions, but this one <http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/1743#.UV0JXKsjqXQ > from the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum was especially helpful. The extensive collection of string packages provided some missing information.

In the 1903 Gibson catalog, the only steel strings were listed as "silver wound."  Just judging from the catalog, it is hard to determine whether these were actually silver-plated, or whether they were "silvered" with some other alloy or method. Many of the string packages shown on the martin guitar forum, however, do specifically say "silver-plated", and judging from the packaging art and lettering, these could easily be from the era the teens and 1930's. Thus, I would bet that "silver wound" meant "silver-plated steel." 

The 1930 Martin catalog only lists "wound steel" (with wound B and G), but with no further description of composition. The 1934 Epiphone catalog also offers no clue to composition beyond "steel."

Monel: The missing link

Before being my research, I had never heard of a metal called "Monel," let alone did I realize that it was probably the dominant guitar string alloy for a period in the 1930's and perhaps into the 40's. According to wikipedia (I'll do some legit metallurgical research eventually), monel is a nickel-copper alloy is commonly used in applications with highly corrosive environments. Monel guitar strings were produced from the 1920’s up until the 1970’s, and new old stocks had mostly run out years ago. 

The 1930-1931 Gibson catalog introduces "Mona-Steel" strings, which was Gibson's name for monel. No other steel-string choices are listed. 

The 1934 Gibson catalog, offers only mona-steels, but does offer the option of "hand polishing." There is some conjecture on various bulletin boards that this is a reference to flat-wound strings, or at least an early "ground-wound" string. I do not think that is the case. Rather, I am guessing that the manufacturing standards of the day may have led the strings to be a bit "fuzzy" and perhaps a bit poorly finished. There are pictures of Mapes brand strings from the 30's that came with a "sepam cloth" to polish the strings. Sepam cloth is something like an emery board. The 1944 Epiphone catalog mentions strings can be "hand-polished" to "reduce swish." Reducing finger noise may also have been a concern. However, I would argue that while "hand-polishing" may have rounded off the gullys between round wrappings ever so slightly, they are not "flats" as we think of them. Also, given how much material would have to be removed to make them flat, I doubt that could really be achieved with something like an emery board or by hand. 

Amazingly, right after drafting this original version of this article in 2013, Martin re-introduced Monel strings under the “Tony Rice Signature” moniker, but in only Tony’s signature gauge. It was so successful the line was broadened to a full range of gauges under the Martin “Retro” moniker. D’addario followed suit with the introduction of their “Nickel-Bronze” line.

In comes Bronze

So far, the earliest reference to "bronze wound strings" that I've come across is in the 1935 Martin catalog. Both Monel and bronze sets are listed, with bronze being listed as being "heavy gauge" and wound on a hexagonal core, and the monel listed as being "medium gauge" and wound on a "piano core," which I'd assume is a round core. Paul Alcantara, who maintains the fantastic site www.prewargibsonL5.com related to me that his 16” Gibson L-5 which was shipped in 1935 was listed in the shipping ledger as have a “thick top, old style” and specifically with “bronze strings”. By 1937, the Gibson catalog also adds bronze-wound to the line up, along with the mona-steels. It isn't until after the impact of the electric guitar that there is any text describing the qualities of monel vs. bronze. 

Electric vs. Acoustic

The 1937 Gibson catalog is also very important because it introduces Gibson's electric line of guitars, banjos, mandolins and hawaiian steel guitars. Gibson's first electric guitar pickup, usually known as a "Charlie Christian" pickup, had an issue with the B string being significantly louder than the rest. By 1938 Gibson added a notch in the pickup under the B string to try to equalize the difference. Finally, in 1939 Gibson introduced a CC pickup with individual pole pieces on the ES-250 to improve string-to-string balance further. In 1937, the Gibson catalog simply directs electric guitar users to use a set of monel strings. But consider that, by that time, the first electric jazz guitar solo had not yet been recorded. (Now, famous Western Swing steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recorded what is clearly the first modern, Spanish-neck electric guitar solo in 1935, but it seemed to pass without having much of an impact. Eddie Durham’s solos with the Kansas City Six in 1938 are often considered the first electric jazz guitar solos, thought George Barnes electric solos with Big Bill Bronzy were recorded even earlier that year. And of course, Eddie Durham had done a lot of experimentation to amplify the guitar using resonators and microphones previously, but these were not electromagnetically amplified “electric”.)

There was a significant amount of experimentation and innovation in those earliest years of the electric guitar. The next two catalogs in the collection show major changes. The 1942 Gibson catalog finally differentiates electric strings from acoustics. Mona-Steel and Bronze are both offered without reference to "acoustic", but the newest addition is Mona-electric strings. The catalog only says that they are specifically selected gauges of mona-steel. Presumably monel was still used for electrics, but the gauges had been altered to deal with the "hot B string" problem. 

There is a particularly telling paragraph in that 1942 catalog: 
"Our Mona-Steel Strings are noted for their non-tarnishing long wearing qualities, and are better suited for electrics. The bronze strings have that clear tone of soft brilliancy, which is preferred by many especially in orchestra work. Light gauges are more responsive and ideal for light, fast picking; while heave gauges are designed for the orchestra players who need volume and solidity." 

The difference becomes codified

The 1942 Gibson catalog mentions that heavy-gauge bronze strings are standard equipment on Super 400's and L-5's. By the 1944 Epiphone Catalog the split between electric strings and acoustic strings appears to have solidified. It offers  "special bronze wire covered" strings as well as now specifically electric "Electar" strings of "magnetic materials." 

After this my resources dried up. I can't find any catalogs until 1950, when Gibson was offering both generically "Guitar" (presumably monel) and "Bronze Guitar Strings", as well as specifically electric strings. Again, there is a lapse in the resources until 1959, when the Fender Catalog describes their electric guitar strings (as they only made electric instruments then) as "pure nickel-wound." 

Conclusions

Based the catalogs, I would feel comfortable making a couple of inferences. 

  • I would bet that someone like Eddie Lang was using a silver-plated steel string until the introduction of monel and perhaps adopted monel until he died in 1934. So you’ve got a 16” pre-1935 guitar, it probably came with either “silver-plated steel” or Monel, and I think monel particularly suits those early 16" Gibson archtops. 
  • I'm guessing that Monel strings were probably used by the second generation of guys, like Carl Kress, Dick McDonough, George Van Eps, though they may have switched to bronze-wound when they were introduced in around 1935.
  • The post-1935 swing rhythm players (Allan Reuss, Freddie Green, etc.) probably adopted bronze-wound strings because of their greater volume, although it's possible some stuck with monel strings. 
  • Because I can't find any references to specifically electric strings until 1942, I would bet that Charlie Christian probably used monel strings, possibly Gibson Mona-Steel, though there are references to him having used Black Diamond Strings, who made both Monel and as well as Bronze. 

Epilogue

I have used Martin “Retro” Monel strings on several guitars with pleasing results, including on my 1937 ES-150. Those first generation ES-150 guitars were made out of L-50 acoustic guitars and have quite a bit of acoustic volume and character, and the monel strings seemed to allow the guitar to sing a bit more acoustically, and this translated to the electrified sound as well. The string-to-string balance is not perfect, but it mostly good enough that I don’t mind it. I sometimes use D’Addario “Pure Nickel” instead which sound good, though not quite as distinctive sounding. 

On acoustic archtops, Martin “Retro” Monel strings definitely had a distinct sound as compared to either bronze or nickel. They were bright and cutting without being shrill. They seemed to have increased mids and upper mids, with somewhat reduced bass as compared to bronze. When playing solo chord-melody guitar they seem to allow the guitar to sing without being boomy or shrill, and this was helpful on both my 1932 L-5 (16”) and my 1935 L-12 (17” x-braced). My 1939 L-5 has not yet had Martin Retros on it, but given that it was made to be a big band rhythm machine, I think it is probably best suited to bronze. 

I’ve tried the D’Addario Nickel Bronze several times, but given that they often substantially more expensive than the Martin Retro, I haven’t used them often enough to draw strong conclusions. 

Rig Rundown 2017

Since my last post about switching to a Lavalier-style mic back in 2014, I’ve done probably 150 gigs, and my gear situation has gone in a couple interesting directions. I hope that my discoveries help you all in dealing with the ever present challenge of amplifying pre-bebop Swing guitar. 

Guitars

I used to bring several guitars to each Campus Five gig - to make each gig a bit of a “sampler” of classic guitar sounds. While most of the material calls for acoustic swing rhythm guitar, plus some electric and acoustic solos, I would switch to a Selmer-style for when we played a tune like “Dark Eyes” or “Minor Swing”. 

But a couple of years ago, we started separate bands that specialize in different “flavors” of Swing (“Les Boulevardiers” for Django, “Rhythmbusters” for 20’s-30’s, etc.), so there was less need to include those other sounds in our main band, the “Campus Five”. Since most of our gigs are with our main band, I now mostly just bring an acoustic archtop and an electric archtop. Plus, and this an oddly cosmetic point, but believe it or not, the different guitars help people understand the identity and branding of each individual band, which is a legitimate problem when one bandleader has six bands. 

So on most Campus Five or Jonathan Stout Orchestra, I use both my ’32 Gibson L-5, or my ’37 ES-150. For the occasional gigs where I can only bring one guitar, I’ll bring the L-5 and put a 5-’s DeArmond Guitar Mike (aka Guitar Mic or FHC). Thankfully, the positioning of the DeArmond and it’s “monkey-on-a-stick” mount, allows the guitar top to vibrate freely, so the guitar is still performs acoustically. Although it seems like it might be a lot of hardware attached to the guitar, I can easily use my DeArmond and the clip-on mic rig at the same time, so I can easily play acoustic rhythm, mute the acoustic with a footswitch, and roll up the DeArmond’s volume knob and take an electric solo, without changing guitars. 

 1932 L-5 with both a DeArmond Guitar Mic magnetic pickup  AND  a DPA4099C microphone

1932 L-5 with both a DeArmond Guitar Mic magnetic pickup AND a DPA4099C microphone

 Another angle to show the positioning of the DPA4099 and the DeArmond Guitar Mic

Another angle to show the positioning of the DPA4099 and the DeArmond Guitar Mic

For Django-gigs, I’ll bring my LeVoi. For gigs with the Rhythmbusters (our 20’s-30’s band), or for un-amplified outdoor gigs, I’ll bring my National Style 1 Tricone. 

 Family photo....

Family photo....

Acoustic Amplification

Since 2014, I’ve been using a clip-on, gooseneck mounted lavalier microphone exclusively to amplify all of my acoustic instruments (archtop, seamer-style, resonator, whatever). I started with the Audio Technica 831b as I detailed in 2014, but switched to the fancier DPA4099 and I use the Cello mount to attach it to the tailpiece or the strings between the tailpiece and bridge. Besides sounding even better, the DPA4099 this is a vast improvement over the “clip-on” mount of the AT831b/AT8414 combination, which although it works great, it did end up scratching the top of my L-5, which was heartbreaking. That said, I still think the AT831b/AT8414 combo is still a great one, provided one pays attention, and adds some padding. 

 Close up of the DPA4099 C Mounted on my L-5

Close up of the DPA4099 C Mounted on my L-5

There are two essential considerations that make a clip-on lavalier mic feasible: 1) a “mute switch” to easily turn the mic on and off, and 2) thoughtful speaker geometry to avoid feedback. 

Mute Switch / Channel Switching

As I talked about in 2014, I was using a Rolls MS111 passive mute switch. It’s cheap, easy and it works. That said, I upgraded to the Whirlwind MicMutePX, which is ACTIVE, so it prevents any popping, and it provides phantom power - which the DPA requires (the AT831b has it’s own battery pack, so it can live without phantom). The MicMutePX also has an indicator light, which makes it far more obvious if the mic is hot or not. 

If I’m running into a PA system instead of my own acoustic amp, I will often also use an A/B box to alternate between two channels, with one set for a rhythm volume level, and the other boosted for lead. I had been using the Radial ABo box, but it is passive, so it occasionally caused some popping when switching, and it had no indicator light, so it was occasionally possible to loose track of which channel was which. I’ve since upgraded to the ProCo Panic Button, which is active, so popping is minimized and there IS an indicator light. 

 My full channel switching rig on stage at Lincoln Center&nbsp;

My full channel switching rig on stage at Lincoln Center 

Acoustic Amp

If I’m not going to go directly in the PA system, I’ll plug into an AER Compact 60. It’s super portable, rather loud, and it sounds great. It’s not by accident that AER Compact 60's are basically the gold standard among most gypsy jazz folks. Even when I am going into the PA, I can plug into the AER, use it as a personal monitor, and use the DI out on the amp out to the board. I’ve never tried to use both channels of it, but I suppose that would probably work great with the Panic Button/MicMute set up. 

Bonus points for the included carrying case. It protects the amp, provides storage for the power cable and maybe one or two others, and the shoulder strap makes carrying the amp easy. 

Electric Amps

I've been lucky to have had to opportunity to play an original 1939 Gibson EH-185 for the last 10 years. To quote Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." Although it has required a fair amount of maintenance over the years, it's been surprisingly rugged for something built 78 years ago.  

But, over the last couple years I've been using a new amp on at least half of my gigs: a Vintage '47 VA-185G. Vintage '47 specializes in replicas of octal-tube based Valco amps from the late 40's/early 50's, and I've been recommending them for years as (one of) the closest thing(s) available to the amps of the Swing-era and immediate post-war period. There are any number of quality replicas/reissues of the 9-pin based (like a 12AX7) Tweed Fender Amps of the mid- to late-50's, but such Tweed amps have too much fidelity and fail to get the same tone as the Octal-tube amps. 

 Vintage '47 VA-185G on stage

Vintage '47 VA-185G on stage

I've used their Ric Style amps several times, and they sound great (one borrowed from Mike Faltsek, one purchased by Michael Gamble for Lindy Focus and recording the last Rhythm Serenaders record).  While not exactly modeled after a 30's Gibson, they are next closest thing, and I've gotten proper Charlie Christian-type tone out of them with no problem. 

But two years, ago came out with the VA-185G. While not a strict reproduction of the Gibson EH-185, it was a modification of the Ric-Style circuit to bring it closer in tone to a real EH-185. I've been using one pretty consistently for the last two years

Stage Geometry

 A typical evening stage set up - L-5 with DeArmond and DPA, with the VA-185G mic'd up, and a floor wedge running parallel to the neck of the guitar, so that it is off-axis to the DPA.&nbsp;

A typical evening stage set up - L-5 with DeArmond and DPA, with the VA-185G mic'd up, and a floor wedge running parallel to the neck of the guitar, so that it is off-axis to the DPA. 

Whenever you're using a sensitive condenser microphone on stage, proper stage geometry is crucial to prevent feedback. Making sure that any stage monitor or amp (carrying the acoustic guitar signal) is "off-axis" to the microphone is probably the most important thing you can do to avoid feedback. 

I avoid having any monitor in front of me, because the top of the guitar will just reflect that sound source into the microphone (which is pointed down at the top). The best placement is to have a floor monitor aiming the sound parallel to your strings (so that it's 90° to the microphone), and have the monitor angled up directly at your ears, rather than lower at the guitar body. That placement is ideal because it allows you to hear the guitar the most directly (which allows you to keep the monitor level relatively low and still hear it) and avoid the source bleeding into the mic.

If the gig doesn't have monitors, but there IS a PA, I will often bring my AER acoustic to use a monitor, and run the DI out of it into the PA.  The AER is mountable on a mic stand, so it's possible to raise it right up as a "personal monitor". While I've never done that for myself, I have done that to give a piano player a monitor, and he love it. 

Here's a VERY rudimentary stage plot drawing:

 Here's a handwritten stage plot (excuse my terrible penmanship)&nbsp;

Here's a handwritten stage plot (excuse my terrible penmanship) 

Now, when I'm a sideman and I can't plug into a PA, I use the AER Compact 60. I place it behind me on my left, which allows my body to act as a buffer between the mic and the amp. You'll never be able to get as much volume before feedback when the amp is behind you, compared to the side-monitor strategy, but I still find it very workable. 

And well, there's more, but I want to put this up before months go by with it incomplete. 

SOLD: 1935 Gibson L-12

UPDATE: SOLD

So, it's come time for me to part with a guitar I really love, but just don't play enough to warrant having around: my 1935 Gibson L-12.

It's a first-year, advanced 17" Gibson with an X-braced top. It has significant play wear, but that does allow for a well-played-in sound that you just can't get any other way. I've had it PLEK'd and refretted, which necessitated new neck binding (done at Westwood Music in Los Angeles), and it plays perfectly from stem to stern. Outside of the pickguard, and the frets/neckbinding, it's all original. No evidence of cracks, or neck resets, or anything major. Bridge height has plenty of travel in either direction, and the neck angle is good. 

As far as the play wear, it's got plenty of dings, the back of the neck is well worn-in, and there's a patch of strum wear on the top hidden behind the pickguard. 

It came to me in a 1940's or 1950's Lifton Case with a crocodile pattern. I will include that as well.

The advanced L-12 was just below the L-5 in the Gibson heirarchy, with identical construction, except with a rosewood fingerboard. The L-12 had gold hardware, and fully sunburst back (unlike an L-7 which had nickel hardware and brown back). The L-12 is the first appearance of Gibson's iconic "parallelogram" inlays, and the deco headstock inlay is unique to the model. 

It's got that classic "advanced" X-braced tone. Rich, full, round, and most importantly open, with great natural reverb. 

Honestly, I'd happily keep her for a long, long time, but with a '32 L-5 around the house, I just don't get around to picking my L-12 up often enough. I'm asking $4500.

Photo Jan 11, 3 10 03 PM.jpg

The realities of playing Acoustic Swing Rhythm Guitar

The realities of playing Acoustic Swing Rhythm Guitar

Here's a collection of thoughts that are culled from a discussion that can be found here: http://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=454453

Basically, someone (member 815C) asked about Freddie Green and whether he was close mic'd on the "Sinatra at the Sands" album. "Was he really that loud?" "Are you guys playing unplugged in a band? If So how do you mic it?"

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Chord Melody Arrangement: "Moonglow"

"Moonglow" is one of my favorite ballads, and given it's link to Willie Desatoff, it's also important to the swing dance community, particularly the balboa community. 

Personally, I doubt it's ever been played any better than by the Benny Goodman Quartet in 1936. Take a listen:

While I know I'll never come close to the magic created by Benny, Teddy, Lionel and Gene, I did want to be able to render the beautiful tune when playing solo guitar. I came up with this arrangement a while back, but there are a couple streches that have taken a while to get under my fingers. The solo section was just ad libbed as I was recording it. Anyway, I hope you dig it. 

And as requested by my friend in São Paulo, Cleber Guimarães, here's a notated version of my chord melody arrangement:

Click here to download a PDF: Moonglow - Chord Melody - PDF

FYI - I've heard some people have been having trouble with the youtube audio - I can't explain why, and there's nothing I can do to fix it, and it plays fine for most people - so I've also uploaded to Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/186495334