31/01/2018

Reading - January 2018

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
I last read this for English Literature O Level, which gives you a rough idea of how long ago. Obviously the broad plot is well known, but perhaps it's no surprise then that I remember so little of the details. It's a classic, of course, and I enjoyed reading it enough, but I can't say that I thought it was amazing.
Total Competition: Lessons In Strategy From Formula One by Ross Brawn & Adam Parr (2016)
All is fair in love, war and Formula One, apparently.
The Guitar Magazine (Vol 29 No 05)
What If? by Randall Monroe (2014)
A very enjoyable collection of the online column in which the xkcd head honcho takes illogical questions to logical extremes, usually ending with the annihilation of the world.

25/01/2018

Solo of the Month #32

Although I love playing the guitar, I'm not a big fan of "guitar music", by which I mean the Steve Vai's of this world. However exciting the playing and sound, it has to be in the context of a good song, because outside of that, it's all a bit meaningless. As a result, there aren't many guitarists of whom I would say I was a big fan, and who I've tried to emulate. However, there's a few whose playing I've absorbed more than others, purely by dint of listening to music that features them, and probably none more than Larry Carlton.


Carlton is not widely known outside the guitar fraternity, but a legend within it, for his tone, taste and timing. In particular for me, it's his playing you can hear in much of Steely Dan's later seventies work (although they used lots of guitarists) and especially Donald Fagen's superb solo album from 1982, The Nightfly. He's the very essence of a supporting playing, enhancing the music rather than showcasing his ability. Listen to "New Frontier" or "Ruby Baby" and marvel at how the guitar winds around the performance, never intrusive but always beautifully judged.

So when this month's Solo of the Month backing track turned up, a clever pastiche combining, to my ears, the two Fagen tracks named above, there wasn't really much else I could hear over it other than Larry Carlton's elegant phrasing. Unfortunately, it's a very difficult style to pull off well, and also it's very easy for me to fall into default phrasing. I tried to think of something completely different but failed.

As a result, I felt like I struggled with this one and I'm not hugely happy with the it. Because of its jazzy feel, it's not a straightforward minor pentatonic and since that's where my knowledge of theory largely ends, I can only do things by ear. I copped a few licks from looking at tab from "New Frontier", then played over the backing track again and again until something started to emerge. As a result, it's a bit of a mix of my standard licks and others. There's lots of space because I felt that's what it needed - and if you listen to Carlton playing on those tracks, that's what he's doing too, so I think that's his influence. If I'd had more time, I would have done it again, because the timing's not particularly good in places, but it's OK.

I recorded it using the Yamaha SA2200's neck pickup, straight from the amp with no effects. I added a little eq (small boost around 5K, removed the bottom end) and added a rather nice "Studio A" reverb from Acon CM Verb (free with Computer Music) for some subtle air. Bit of balancing and here it is: