Reading - July 2015

Guitarist (August 2015 | Issue 396)
Prelude To Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1988)
I find it amusing that my copy of this book has the following quote on the front: "One of the most staggering achievements in modern SF" (from The Times). The quote's not dated but Asimov's Foundation series, staggering as it indeed is, is not modern SF and wasn't when this novel was released. This particular book is a little too long and has the trademark clunky-ness but Asimov fans quite like that, I think. A nice easy read.
The Week (4 July 2015 | Issue 1029)
iWoz by Steve Wozniak (with Gina Smith) (2006)
The world according to Woz.
The Week (13 July 2015 | Issue 1030)
This week's Week came with a free copy of the US Week of the week. I expected greater differences in reporting but as well as the format being almost identical, many of the stories were not just the same, but written pretty much the same way. Obviously there are differences in domestic reporting and it's interesting to reflect that if their political in-fighting seems trivial to me, from a distance, so does ours to anyone else.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
Even more enjoyable the second time round. Full of great ideas even if the kitsch 80s references start to get a little too cute.
Brian May's Red Special by Brian May (with Simon Bradley) (2014)
Another read of this fascinating book. I still can't quite believe all the thought that went into the one guitar Brian and his father made. So many good ideas that haven't made the mainstream of guitar making - I wonder why not?
The Week (18 July 2015 | Issue 1031)
Forward The Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1993)
Second in the Foundation series but the last to be written, this does a decent job of pulling together some of the pieces in earlier books, but is probably one for completists really. A good read though.
Guitarist (Summer 2015 | Issue 397)
The Week (25 July 2015 | Issue 1032)
Another Man's Life by Greg Williams (2007)
Kind of male chick-lit - the cover quote compares it to Nick Hornby which is close enough. The big concept is of two men - twins - one single, one married, who decide to swap lives for a fortnight - "with hilarious consqequences", as the cliche goes. Predictably, it turns out that both of them can learn from each other. Aaaah. An enjoyable read though.


Pedal Power 2015

How joining a forum can be dangerous to your bank balance

In January this year an equally guitar-obsessed colleague recommended I have a look at The Fretboard - a UK-based forum for guitar obsessives everywhere. As well giving me opportunity to put my level of interest into perspective (very mild!), it also introduced me to a much wider world of guitar equipment than I had previously found in the pages of Guitarist.

It also has a classifieds section. I had a few pedals up until the beginning of this year, but of those on the right, twelve were bought since joining the forum. I sold a few, and sold a guitar too, so I'm not out of pocket ... yet.

Following are some notes about what they are, approximately in the order I bought them, and why I bought them, primarily for my own interest in years to come.
Cry Baby Super Wah [1]
This is the first pedal I ever bought, probably in about 1986, via the classifieds in Guitarist magazine. It cost about £25. It's a late 70s Cry Baby, made in Italy by Jen and has inside it a white Fasel inductor. This is now quite a valuable model. At the time wah-wah was very unpopular, but I bought it because I read (in Guitarist) that it was a mark of skill to be able to use one. It's been with me ever since and I don't anticipate ever selling it, although it now needs some maintenance on the pot. But the Cry Baby is legendary! Watch the documentary in the link if you don't believe me!
Bright Onion Pedal Mini Looper [2]
This is the first pedal I bought on the forum this year, specifically so I could isolate the Cry Baby in a loop (it's that kind of looper). The wah is a great pedal but when it's off it still has an effect on the overall tone - and not a good one. Also perfect for auditioning pedals in a chain. Cost - £15.
DOD FX65B Stereo Chorus [3]
Back in sequence, this was bought in the early late 80s in a long-gone music shop in Amersham for the princely sum of £66 (it says on the box - the equivalent now of about £145!). No idea why I thought I needed a chorus pedal and I've never used it much, but it's a lovely wet 80s chorus.
BOSS CS3 Compressor/Sustainer [4]
Bought secondhand in the Record & Video Exchange in Notting Hill for £40 or so in the late 80s, this has had quite a lot of use but mainly (I now realise) as a boost. Given what I know now, I would have been better off with a treble booster or a Tube Screamer, but it's a classic anyway. I don't use it much now.
MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay [5]
About the same time as the DOD and BOSS I had an early digital delay pedal (a Frontline FD1200). It's long gone to the electronic graveyard but last year I decided I wanted a delay again and for some reason I wanted an all-analogue path. This got plenty of good reviews, so I went for it - cost, about £130 in Stompbox in Northwood Hills. It's a good pedal for short ambient delays.
MXR Phase 90 [6]
Another old pedal I owned long ago was a phaser made by Ken Multi - possibly a Maplins own brand thingy. It was very cheap but, even off, it had a nice effect on the sound. I wanted a phaser again and they don't get more classic than the Phase 90 ... but I was disappointed. I've since done the R28 mod and it definitely improves the sound. Cost was about £70 at Stompbox (bought at the same time as the Carbon Copy).
Electro Harmonix Soul Food [7]
At the beginning of the year I got some Amazon Vouchers from work. I'd been reading about this, apparently a clone(ish) of the legendary Klon Centaur. I've not played a Klon but I've played a J Rockett Archer (which is supposedly very close) and the Soul Food is the same kind of pedal - lots of boost and some overdrive if you want it. But compared to the Archer, it's a bit rough and shrill. Still good for boost and light drive, and contains an excellent buffer. About £50.
Electro Harmonix Neo Clone [8]
I had a bit left over on my Amazon vouchers and managed to translate this into another £50 on a chorus pedal I didn't really need. In my defence I thought the DOD was broken at the time, and its defence it does the "Come As You Are" wobble perfectly, but give I don't use chorus much, it was a bit pointless. I'd sell it but it's worth nothing really.
Joyo Tremelo [9]
I always fancied experimenting with a tremelo, mainly inspired by Jonny Greenwood I think. This was £20 on the forum. Does what it says on the tin, doesn't do a square wave trem which I realise is what I really wanted, but a good basic sound.
Marshall EH1 Echohead Delay [10]
The Carbon Copy is a great sounding pedal but because it's analogue, it's only got a short delay (about 600ms) and I decided I wanted a longer delay. This is a surprisingly versatile pedal and for £40 (off the forum) it's a steal.
Meridian SK12 Volume Pedal [11]
Very poor volume pedal acquired in a trade for my Pocket POD. A fundamental design flaw means that it cannot rotate its internal pot fully, so it either goes from off to about half volume, or goes from about half volume to full volume. The guy who sold it to me very kindly sent me a replacement pot to try, but the design issue remains. Probably only to be kept for soldering experimentation.
4114 Effects "Eight Zero Eight" [12]
I traded my EMG T-Set pickups for this. It's an Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS808) clone made by a custom effects maker in the UK. Since I traded with Dan himself, I think he must have made this for his own use. It's a bit noisy but pretty good. No idea how close it is to the original.
ZCat Poly-Octaver [13]
Bit of an odd one this. It does octave up, octave down, reverb and chorus - any or all at once. I call it "Cocteau Twins in a box". Traded my old DOD flanger for it.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Tone Wicker [14]
Everyone needs a Big Muff. £60 in Stompbox. I'm inclined to regard the tone control as superfluous since it sounds much nicer without, but it's pretty cool whichever way. Perfect in combination with the Phase 90 - instant John Martyn on "Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhail" (from Inside Out) - one of my favourite guitar sounds.
3Leaf Audio Proton Envelope Filter [15]
I bought this because it came up the FB classifieds, I was curious and then I saw an awesome demo and realised this was the pedal I never realised I needed! £75 later it was mine. It's an auto-wah which, just like a manual wah, requires a certain amount of practice, and it has a very distinct tone of its own. Great fun though.
TC Electronic Ditto X2 Looper [16]
I'd been messing around with overlaying sounds using the Echohead and realised what I really needed was a looper (the other kind of looper, one that records and plays a recorded loop for you). The X2 added a couple of interesting features, although in hindsight I could have done without them. Lots of fun working out layers of sound.
ProCo Rat [17]
Came up cheap on the forum (£40) and it's a classic, so I thought I'd give it a go. Fizzy 80s distortion a-plenty, but probably needs a properly wound up amp to sound really good.
Handmade Phase 45 clone [18]
Another purchase on the forum, this handmade custom job set me back £60. On reflection it's probably not really worth that, but it's very tidily made. Still pretty new to me and so I am still dialling it in, but it sounds like it's got real potential as a "sweetener" at the front of my chain.



Steve Wozniak (with Gina Smith)

The world according to Woz

So synonymous has Steve Jobs become with Apple that most people don't even realise that there were other people involved, let alone the fact that it was arguably this other Steve who was the real driving genius behind the Apple II and Apple's original success. Steve Wozniak is certainly not short in the ego department, but as he explains, as an engineer, all he wanted was to be able to do engineering. So he never took the limelight in the same way as Steve Jobs.

In fact, Jobs doesn't get much space in this book. Wozniak spends much more time on what he obviously considers the important subject - the engineering - and appears unconcerned with, or even downright scathing of, the sales and marketing which must have been an equally important part of Apple's success. (In his few appearances, Jobs comes across as a bit of an arse.)

One thing that Wozniak does have in common with Jobs - and indeed with just about every successful person - is that he gives too much credit to his own genius, effort, application and insight - and too little to luck. If Wozniak hadn't designed the Apple II then someone else would have designed something similar or something that would have taken its place. It was clear (with hindsight) where the industry was heading and Apple was far from being the only company working in the area. History is written by the winners and the winners are often just fortunate. No-one's going to deny Wozniak is a legend, but there are plenty of unsung geniuses who just weren't in the right place at the right time.

The book is an interesting read, even for someone like me, who has no real interest in Apple as a company. It is fairly clear that it was only "written" in the loosest sense by Wozniak; he probably spent hours talking to Gina Smith who then transcribed it. The tone is surprisingly childish in some respects; maybe "conversational" would be another way to describe it - it's not particularly stylish.