Reading - April 2017

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Brave New World is generally acknowledged to be a more perceptive and accurate look into the future than the (probably) better known 1984. While Orwell foresaw totalitarianism as forced control, Huxley correctly predicted voluntary (albeit largely unconsciously so) control. What both considered likely though, was that such control would exercised by a central, unelected government, whereas what we have ended up with (if you leave aside conspiracy theories) is a similar result through pure sociological drift. Although, to be fair, we still have five hundred years for things to change until we reach the year in which the novel is set.
The Week (1 April 2017 / Issue 1118)
Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding (1980)
I think I saw the film first, but bought this book soon after. It's an amazing story but loses some impact on the page because of the matter-of-fact way it's told. The sheer cajones and brass neck of the guy is astonishing, but after the fiftieth account of how he cashed a phony cheque, it wears a little thin. Still, it was an entertaining and easy afternoon's read. This film tie-in edition has an interesting little catch-up interview with Abagnale himself at the end.
Asterix And The Soothsayer by Goscinny & Uderzo (1975)
A little light reading over breakfast. Given how much and for how long I have loved Asterix books, I don't know why I didn't and can't get into graphic novels. But there it is.
Asterix And The Golden Sickle by Goscinny & Uderzo (1962 / 1975 (English))
Another bite-sized installment of Asterix, not read it for ages. Gently amusing and imaginative.
Guitarist (May 2017 / Issue 419)
Republican Party Reptile by P.J. O'Rourke (1987)
Plus ├ža change ... despite being 30 years old (and hence some of the pieces collected being older than that), there are articles in here that could have been written this year or last year. O'Rourke is funniest when he's being scathing about real life subjects; some of the deliberately comic pieces here are dated and forced. The standout articles for me are "Ferrari Refutes The Decline Of The West", an account of a journey across the US in a 308 with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner ("Julian Weber" in the book), and a highly amusing telling of a trip to the USSR with a group of American socialists. I think I was introduced to this by my friend George.
The Men From P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T. by Harry Harrison (1978)
Jolly kids sci-fi from one of my favourite authors as a child. I read this to Z - I think the next book needs to be The Stainless Steel Rat.
The Week (8 April 2017 / Issue 1119)
The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison (1961)
I was wondering about reading this to Z next so I had a quick flick and got drawn in again. I'm not going to read it to him - it's a bit too grown up - but it's a great romp that's not really dated at all ... apart from some reference to something called "camera film". Anyone any idea?
Guitar & Bass (May 2017 / Vol 28 No. 08)
Asterix And The Goths by Goscinny & Uderzo (1974)
I'm not sure why, but this was always one of my favourites, way back when. Silly, as usual, but a nice way to pass a breakfast.
Asterix In Britain by Goscinny & Uderzo (1966)
I think this is the first Asterix book I ever read and for some reason I own it in at least 3 different languages. Lots of clever references to British customs, some of which may be the translator's work but not all - the inclusion of a game of rugby is amusing. Great fun.
The Week (15 April 2017 / Issue 1120)
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You by Harry Harrison (1978)
I seem to be revisiting series of books I read as a child this month. This was, if I recall correctly, the first Stainless Steel Rat book I read, and loved the amusing, irreverent take on science fiction. In fact, it might well have been one of the first science fiction books I read.
Asterix And The Laurel Wreath by Goscinny & Uderzo (1972)
More jolly japes.
Asterix And The Roman Agent by Goscinny & Uderzo (1970)
I like this idea, of someone who is so unpleasant that people around him just start arguing.
The Stainless Steel Rat For President by Harry Harrison (1982)
Only "science fiction" in the loosest sense - really this is a short thriller for teenagers and those with little time. Jolly good fun though.
The Mansions Of The Gods by Goscinny & Uderzo (1971)
Asterix And The Big Fight by Goscinny & Uderzo (1966)
My last two Asterix books. What I haven't mentioned yet is the superb translations, by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge. The text is full of puns and jokes, many of which must surely be specific to English since they wouldn't work in French.
The Week (22 April 2017 / Issue 1121)
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World by Harry Harrison (1972)
Amusing, time jumping, short novel. Probably the last one I'll read now for a while, as the formula is getting a little wearing.


Solo of the Month #26

April 2017

This month's backing track is a medium paced, poppy sort of chord progression to start with, but then in the second half it moves through a more jazzy sequence of chords, which all resolve nicely back to the original.

I can usually work out what the base key of a track is, but this one had me stumped and, for the first time, I had to ask what the chords were. The first section is straightforward enough, it turned out (Emin7, A7, Dmaj7), but the second was completely beyond me. Still, once I knew the key, I could do the rest by ear, since I don't really have the theory to work out the "proper" notes.

I have a new toy, a Frederic Effects Unpleasant Companion (mk II), which is an absolute fuzz monster, so whatever I did was going to include that if at all possible. I had Ernie Isley's superb work on "Summer Breeze" and, in particular, "That Lady" in mind, and the simple signal chain of the Unpleasant Companion and an MXR Phase 90 gives something very close to that tone.

Sometimes it takes me a long time to work out a few lines for the solo, but this was a short piece with two clear sections and it didn't take long at all. A little practice to get it all in one go, and I was there.

I recorded it without reverb and added it in Reaper using the TAL Reverb 4 plugin, which is a nice and simple, to give a properly spacey feel. Finally, I'd fluffed the ending very slightly by not allowing the note to ring as long as I wanted, so I added a synced delay (iZotope DDLY plugin) on the last couple of seconds to extend it slightly.

Here's the final result:


Pedal Power 2017

Nearly two years ago, I surveyed my effects pedal estate. Here's an update, and what's striking (to me) is how much has changed. Gone are a few old favourites I'd hung to for years, decades even - sacrificed to the obsession with new things (and the realisation that I never used them). However, I haven't bought anything new for months so I thought it was worth documenting what I have.

Cry Baby Super Wah [1]
This now needs a replacement potentiometer, but I'm somewhat nervous about doing it myself. If it was working properly I'd probably use it more.
Korg AX1G [2]
I've had this multi-effects box for ages, but I forgot about it last time, because I hardly ever use it. It was cheap and cheerful at the time, and now it seems very out-dated, but it offered a lot of bang for the buck, including as it does a bunch of simple but effective settings and an expression pedal, in a small footprint. Good fun. I can't remember where I got this or how much it was though.
MXR Phase 90 [3]
A simple, good quality effect. Adds a nice, certain something to the sound.
MXR Carbon Copy [4]
This is always on my board and has in fact supplanted any chorus pedals, because I prefer the sound of the delays being modulated rather than the direct sound, and it's a more subtle and very good quality chorus. Also fantastic as a simple, longer delay on lead lines. A modern classic.
BOSS FB-2 Feedbacker/Booster [5]
Despite what it says, this isn't a Metal Core, but an FB-2 with a replacement switch cover because the old one was broken. The FB-2 is something of an unappreciated pedal and it's tempting to say that if a boutique company came out with it now, it would get rave reviews. As a boost, it's very versatile, and the ability to add sustaining feedback at any volume (or even at no volume, via the amp's direct output) is great.
Mission Engineering VM-PRO [6]
A buffer and volume pedal. Somewhat expensive for what I needed really, but it's wonderfully solid and the action is super-smooth. Pro quality.
Moog EP-3 [7]
A few of my pedals have the ability to use an expression pedal, so eventually I caved in and went for this very reasonably priced example. Great fun with the Pitch Fork, which basically turns it into a Whammy.
TC Electronic Flashback X4 [8]
Having bought the Carbon Copy [4], I realised that, while it's a great pedal, what I wanted for some things is a longer delay. This has a number of different delay types, including a modulated 2290 (TC's famous rack delay), multi-tap (instant Edge!) and a looper too, which is good fun. It's rather big and I can't figure out how the expression pedal is supposed to work with it, but the delays are superb and you can edit sounds via the PC app, so it's incredibly versatile.
TC Electronic Hall Of Fame [9]
I wanted a bunch of different reverbs and this just does the job. I keep the reverb on the amp off (it's digital anyway) and run this last, in the loop. Originally I'd bought a HOF Mini, which is great if all you want is a "set and forget" reverb sound, but I like being able to adjust things more. This also works with the TC PC app.
Electro Harmonix Soul Food [10]
I think this is a bit of a modern classic, for all that it's a copy(ish) of the Klon Centaur. It adds a certain something to any sound, whether as a clean boost or adding "more" to another drive. The one thing I am not as keen on is its standalone drive sound, which is a bit harsh.
BOSS TR-2 Tremelo [11]
I was specifically after a square wave tremelo, which is why the Joyo trem I had last time got sold on. This BOSS model is simple but effective, and can do a basic amp-like, subtle trem, or an aggressive hard choppy trem. Ideal unless you're after something really different ... like the Super Pulsar [17].
Tech 21 Double Drive [12]
I saw this up for grabs on the board and it had been around for a while with no takers. Tech 21 isn't one of the favoured brands of the board (it definitely does have favourites), which must account for it, because it was an absolute bargain at £45. It's a superbly versatile overdrive that (along with the amp drive) has pretty much removed any desire for more drive pedals.
Mooer Blues Mood [13]
I bought this drive new, which was a mistake, because it was expensive, and it turned out I didn't really need it once I'd bought the Douuble Drive [12] a few weeks later. I've had it up for sale for a while but no-one seems interested - odd, because the BOSS Blues Driver is a board favourite, and this is a copy of it. Still, while I have it, it's another option.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi Tone Wicker [14]
Everyone needs a fuzz and a Big Muff is where you start. Does what you expect.
Electro Harmonix Pitch Fork [15]
Multiple intervals - octaves up and down, 3rd, 4ths, 5ths etc. Great fun and, with an expression pedal, much like a Whammy. A bit digital in nature but some very cool effects.
Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus [16]
Once you have this many pedals, particularly the higher-draw digital pedals like the Flashback [8], things can start getting a bit noisy with a daisy chain power supply. This does the job perfectly. Expensive but absolutely worth it.
Electro Harmonix Super Pulsar [17]
Only a couple of weeks after I bought the BOSS Tremelo [11], this came up second-hand. I'd been wondering about getting one for a while and I couldn't resist. It is incredibly flexible - as well as sine wave, triangle wave and square wave tremelo, you can make it work to a pattern you define, it can change depth or speed based on the volume of the guitar ... and it can take an expression pedal too. I haven't managed to use it in a track yet though!
Mooer Graphic G [18]
I saw Dan & Mick on That Pedal Show discussing graphic EQs, and then this came up in the classifieds. Pretty close to the industry standard BOSS pedal in function but nice and compact, and useful tailoring a tone.
Bright Onion Pedals Mini Looper [19]
Simple and effective.
3Leaf Audio Proton [20]
A bit of an indulgence - a superb example of an envelope filter, but quite niche. Popular with bass players, apparently.
Phase 45 Clone [21]
A very subtle but nice phase sound, with a mod to kinda do a Univibe sound.
Ken Multi MCP-7 [right]
Bought new from Maplins in the late 80s for about £40 (equivalent to £80 now), this is obviously a BOSS CS-2 clone but in all grey plastic. I hadn't used for literally decades until recently when I tried it - and it still works, and surprisingly well. Definitely worth keeping for those occasions when I want a compressor.
Frederic Effects Unpleasant Companion [product page]
My most recent acquisition is this completely bonkers fuzz, based on the "classic" (it says here) Shin-Ei Companion FY-2 Fuzz. Whatever. Far wilder than the Big Muff, but a fantastic "guitar about to explode" sound. 

Shopping 8 April 2017

Retail therapy

I haven't been listening to previous purchases as much as I expected, and probably haven't given them enough of a chance if I'm honest. So this time round I decided I would buy fewer albums and divert some of the cash into a pedal (or two) on Denmark Street. Nevertheless I still found myself browsing and taking a chance on a few albums. Here's what I ended up with this time:
Green Onions by Booker T. & The MG's (1962)
Soul Limbo by Booker T. & The MG's (1968)
I have McLemore Avenue by these guys, their own take on Abbey Road, and it's nice stuff. I thought a couple more in the same vein wouldn't go amiss.
Whirlpool by Chapterhouse (1991)
A shoegaze classic of course, but one that I don't really know, as evidenced by the fact that when I got home I realised I already owned it. Doh!
Garlands by Cocteau Twins (1982)
Early 'Twins that I don't have in my collection, despite having been a big fan for a long time.
Wheels Of Fire by Cream (1968)
Odd half studio, half live double album. Some great tracks but feels a bit contract filler to me.
Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
A classic album, which is probably why I already own it. I must be getting old.
Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie (1967)
I've known this for ages thanks to dad, and it's a bit of a classic, or at least the title song is.
The Inner Mounting Flame by The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin (1971)
This could be either superlative, influential guitar jazz-fusion or utter tripe.
Octahedron by The Mars Volta (2009)
Modern prog, as far as I am aware.
No Room For Squares by Hank Mobley (1963)
I'm a sucker for Blue Note covers. Hey, who isn't?
A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead (2016)
One of the finest bands ever, full stop.
I Wasn't Born To Lose You by Swervedriver (2015)
Swervedriver have possibly the best name in rock, and a great back catalogue. Whether this reunion matches up remains to be seen.
Future Disco Vol. 8 - Nighttime Networks by Various Artists (2015)
Can't go wrong with a bit of disco, although I imagine this isn't really the same. Happy to have a listen at £2 though!

What pedal did I buy, you ask? Well, thanks for asking. After spending an enjoyable hour or so browsing along Denmark Street (possibly for the last time ever if what I've heard about it's redevelopment is correct), I splashed out on the utterly bonkers Frederic Effects Unpleasant Companion, a superb remake/update of the "legendary" Shin-Ei FY-2 Companion Fuzz (no, I'd not heard of it before either).