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 

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. 

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) 

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. 

For Sale: 1935 Gibson L-12

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?"

Read More

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 

Jonathan featured in Norm's Rare Guitars Video

From time to time, I drop into Norman's Rare Guitars in Tarzana. Occasionally, I buy things like my 1932 Gibson L-5. This time, they were kind enough to ask if I'd do a little video for them and one of the 16" L-5's they had in stock. Norm's youtube channel features drop ins from a huge number of world-famous guitar legends, so it's a great compliment to be among them. 

 

(Technically, I've played 4 different Stromberg Master 400's in my life, all of them in the last year, three of them were at Norm's, and 2 of the three at Norm's were there at the same time. TWO Master 400's in ONE store - jeebus!)

 

Review: Studio Slips Padded Amp/Gear Covers

About 9 years ago, I noticed how much wear and tear my 1939 EH-185 was taking, just being loaded and unloaded from my car every gig. With a bit of research found that there were any number of people on ebay that would make custom amp covers to order. But, when I found out about Studio Slips, I could tell these were another level above what I'd seen on ebay. It took me 5 months of cyberstalking their website before I finally bought one. I opted for the "Padded Slip Cover" model, with "double padding", in brown, with a pocked added to the back. Even with those upcharges, it was $115.00 plus shipping. 

I don't think I could really appreciate how great it was until now. Sure, it looked nice when I got it. fit perfectly, and was surprisingly well padded (I've always gone with the "double padding" option). But it was only today when I realized that the cover was NINE YEARS OLD that I realized how great a job the cover has done protecting my 77 year-old amp. 

This is as the amp and cover look TODAY. Other than a little fraying on the stiching of the logo patch, and a bit of dust, there's little indication that the cover has accompanied that amp from gig to gig for nine years, and it cost only a little over a $100! Wow. 

The main reason I came upon this astouding realization today was because a new cover arrived for my Vintage '47 Amps VA-185G. I went with exactly the same options, it only ran $110.00 plus shipping, and it fits like a glove. The amp was already starting to show a bit of discoloration on the tweed, so I'm stoked to have a cover for it that will keep it looking great, and provide a good bit of impact protection and shock absobtion. Of course, it's not the same as a hard-sided road case, but it also only adds a tiny bit of size to the amp itself, which for most gigging situations, is a lot more practical. (Oh, don't mind the wrinkles, I literally just pulled the cover from the box and threw it on the amp).

Now, in 2010 I order another Studio Slip case, specifically a "Briefcase Gig Bag" to carry the amp head of the EH-185 separately outside of the cabinet. This was also a great product, however I don't use it anymore. Ever since I had my amp guy reinforce and reglue some parts of the EH-185 cabinet, I've just decided to keep the head in the cabinet, so I don't need a separate case. The case is packed away somewhere, but it worked great for it's intended purpose. Heck, the only thing I didn't like about it was that I accidentally ordered one in black, and it didn't match. 

I highly recommend Studio Slips padded covers for protecting your amp, and I've been using them for nine years. They're great!

Happy 100th Birthday, Charlie Christian - Part 2

In further celebration of Charlie Christian's 100th Birthday, I've got a couple of things to share with you. 

First, I was made aware the Leo Valdes' Charlie Christian Website, Solo Flight is BACK UP at a new web address: www.soloflight.cc - nice domain name, if you ask me! There's a bunch of transcriptions, as well as exhaustive biographical and discographical information. One thing to be aware of, Leo holds an alternative view of Charlie's fingerings and shapes, so some of the transcriptions are in decidedly different positions, than say the Garry Hansen one's (which are mostly the same as the Wolf Marshall Transcription Books available from Hal Leonard and this one)

Second, I've been talking with Garry Hansen, and there's a chance his website may be coming back as well, so stay tuned for that. 

Third, here's a bit more of my woodshedding on Charlie stuff, a bit of "'Til Tom Special": 

Again, I'm using my Vintage '47 VA-185G amp. I've been really pleased with it's ability to nail the essential character of my old '39 EH-185, while being half the weight (~20 lbs.), under $1000 new, and solid, new construction. Is it exactly the same? No. Is the circuit an exact duplicate of an EH-150 or EH-185? No. But it sure gets into that zone. 

Anyway, I'm thinking of really focusing on Charlie Christian for the rest of the year, so I hope to provide you all with more as we go along. Cheers. 

Happy 100th Birthday, Charlie Christian

This Friday, July 29, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth the "Genius of the Electric Guitar", Charlie Christian. I'm planning a great show at Clifton's Cafeteria in Downtown Los Angeles this Friday (you can find the facebook event page with details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1202966519776658/), and in anticipation, I've been doing a lot of woodshedding. I figured I would share some of that with you guys in honor of the great Charlie Christian. (By the way, both video showcase the Vintage 47 Amps - VA-185G amp, modeled after the Gibson EH-185, used by Charlie Christian). 

"Flying Home" 

"Stardust"

I'm planning to add to this throughout the week, so check back. 

Here's the flyer for Friday's show, in case your in the area:

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Allan Reuss!

I meant to get something up yesterday, but I didn't have a chance. As luck would have it, it worked out because thanks to Matt Munisteri, who shared this yesterday on facebook, I get to share with all of you a new discovery - a great Allan Reuss performance with a great solo that's never been released on CD. And even

bigger thanks are owed to Tohru Seya who's posted an amazing collection of rare 78's, including this new Reuss solo, as well as several other great recordings featuring Allan Reuss. 

Here is the information provided by Tohru Seya:

You Know It
Corky Corcoran and his Orchestra
Mercury 1097 (mx HL-96-5A-25)
Emmett Berry(tp) Willie Smith(as) Corky Corcoran(ts) Dodo Marmarosa(p) Allan Reuss(g) Ed Mihelieh(b) Nick Fatool(d)
Los Angeles, May 15, 1946
EQ: 500Hz/-12dB


Allan's solo is first up after the head, and, wow. Classic Allan Reuss chord melody soloing. There's not much I can say, except "wow". 

Also, of note, I just picked up some Harry James airchecks from the mid-40's that, if the liner notes/discography is to be believed, features Allan Reuss taking some single-string ELECTRIC guitar solos. Also, there appears to be a live version of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" where somebody beside Allan Reuss is having to play at Allan's chord-melody interludes. I'll try to get those posted soon. 

Lastly, one of my obsessions lately, has been the brief period in 1943 where many of Benny Goodman's best almuni returned to the band all at once. Reuss, Jess Stacy, Hymie Schertzer and even Gene Krupa (following his 1943 pot bust) all rejoined the band for a short period of magic. 

Here's perhaps the most blazing performance that was captured, a redux of Fletcher Henderson's 1936 arrangement of "I've Found a New Baby". This 1943 performance is absolutely ferral - so intense!


An MP3 album, Benny Goodman - "The Forgotten Year 1943" is available from amazon.com for $7, but since it's a digital download, there are no liner notes. Also, the sound quality is fair to pretty terrible tune-to-tune. Still, several of the tunes are revalatory! 

Upcoming: Jonathan Stout Clinic on Allan Reuss

Have you been digging on Allan Reuss? Now's your chance to check out a live, in person clinic all about Allan Reuss-style chord melody and rhythm guitar playing, followed by a concert with Jonathan Stout and Casey MacGill. It's all part of our good friend Tommy Harkenrider's Blues and Roots Guitar Clinic Series. 
And we can't leave you with a little Allan Reuss to get you inspired:

Sat.Mar.19
Tommy Harkenrider's Blues and Roots Guitar Clinic with Jonathan Stout

Jonathan will be teaching and talking about chord melody/rhythm guitar style of Allan Reuss!
The Beatnik Bandito Music Emporium
417 N Broadway - Santa Ana 
$25 - 2pm-4pm
Facebook event page 

AND

Sat.Mar.19
CASEY MACGILL AND JONATHAN STOUT
Swingin' Strings at the Beatnik

The Beatnik Bandito Music Emporium
417 N Broadway - Santa Ana
$15 - 7pm
Facebook event page