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My review of the Shure SM58 Microphone
My Introduction To Moving Coil Induction
(It may sound complicated but at least it rhymes :-)
I won't bore you with lots of background on the history of the Shure Company or that of the Shure SM58 Microphone since there's already bags of info available from some of the other SM58 reviews if you're so inclined -lol!!...
I'd rather give you my personal opinion as both a (recently dragged out of retirement) singer songwriter/guitarist; now you know why I don't write on Dooyoo much anymore... ah the good old days...sigh ;-)
... so that you can, if you're considering purchasing a microphone perhaps find a few useful insights to help guide you.
I'm just upgrading my own PA (public address; speakers + amps + mics etc) system, and needed a new mic for my backing singer and percussionist (who also just happens to be my girlfriend too; small world -lol!!) ... So we decided on an SM58 (since that's what I use too).
So after a quick search on the net we bought one from Amazon for £96 including free postage. I used to sell mics years back when I used to work in guitar/music music shops so I already knew what sound, polar pick up pattern (nothing to do with artistic polar bears -lol! I'll explain later for anyone unfamiliar with microphones ;-) and qualities, I wanted from a vocal microphone.
Not Sure What To Buy? ...
Then Give Your Vocal Cords A Try :-)
If you want to buy a vocal mic (or to put it another way; are you sure you want a Shure? Sorry couldn't resist it -lol!) but don't have much experience of them, I'd always gently suggest that you visit a good music shop and try a wide range of them out; there is no such thing as the best vocal mic...
... we all have different voices and different requirements so test a range of high quality mics out if you get the chance, then you'll have the best chance of finding the one that suits you best!!
Testing mics in a shop is not a time for shyness if you want to find your ideal one- saying 'testing, one, two is not going to tell you anything... See how easily it feeds back (that shrill nasty high pitch sound you sometime hear at gigs -some mics depending on polar pattern and design feedback much more easily than others -though room acoustics, EQ and proximity to the speakers etc are contributing factors too of course), how clear is the sound? Is there a lot of handling noise? If you're a singer testing mics then you need to sing -lol!! (and don't forget to take a friend or two for a second opinion).
Seriously; any music shop assistant worth their salt will respect you for your efforts and try to help you (if they don't you're in the wrong place, try somewhere better instead!)... Who knows if they like you may get offered a gig or job in a band too; and all you were after was a mic!! :-)
Break Resistant Clip? Mr Shure; Get A Grip -Lol!!
So a few days later our SM58 arrived. Included with the mic was a mic clip which screws onto a boom or straight mic stand to enable hands free use (the clip was quite brittle plastic; I don't favour this type for serious gig use as they snap so easily if trodden on (and when you're setting up or packing away that's a distinct possibility if you have lots of equipment to pack up and lots people around).
As you can imagine; the Shure mic clip went straight into the 'spares' bag and I used a rubber mic clip instead -lol!! Strangely Shure describe their supplied mic clip as break resistant - my humble opinion as one who has played over a hundred gigs this year so far is that the mic clip looks break resistant in the same way that brick houses look like they might float!
Also included is a nice black zip-up bag for the mic which protects the mic when not in use.. not that an SM58 needs much protecting; they have a reputation for being near indestructible.
Only Captain Scarlet Is Truly Indestructable!!
Dropping an SM58 is fairly unlikely to do it any harm, though you can bend/warp the metal grille fairly easily (this doesn't affect the sound; but if you do want to replace a damaged grille - it's worth knowing that the metal grilles are screw off and easily replaced... generic replacements are cheaper than Shure grills if you're on a budget; last time I saw a generic one it was about £6).
Certainly the SM58 has possibly the best reputation for ruggedness of all vocal mics, but in truth any well built dynamic mic (dynamic mics are very common and require no power supply; your voice or other sound vibrates a diaphragm inside the mic which creates a small voltage as the coil moves through a magnetic field and this gives us the sound; that's why dynamic mikes are also known as moving-coil mics) is pretty tough...
...at least when compared to ribbon mics or condenser mics which are a bit outside the scope of this review - suffice to say that they're generally far more fragile than dynamic mics).
The SM58 isn't really (at least not quite) indestructible though... there are some very thin wires inside the cartridge, and also it's possibly to damage it by blowing into the grille/top of the mic hard (the practice of blowing on a mic to hear if it's plugged in; as I've occasionally seen done in live situations is never a wise one; replacement cartridges are not cheap -lol!).
I Didn't Understand Twin Peaks;
I Do Understand Presence Peaks :-)
So why did we buy an SM58? Well I like the slight presence peak (upper mid range boost) it has that makes singing/speaking more intelligible... I've lost track of how many times I've heard someone talking/singing through a mic and it was just a muffled muddle of unfathomable syllables!!
A slight boost of mid frequencies helps the human voice 'cut' through better and with increased clarity -though not necessarily quality (great studio mics often have very flat responses -no peaks/troughs - so they capture the most natural sound, but those super expensive capacitor mics are not too practical for live gigs; they can be fragile, require a power supply and unless they have a switchable polar pattern will often feedback like they were competing for first place in the world feedback championships!! ;-)
The SM58 is not the only mic to have a presence peak though, so don't think that there are no other dynamic with this feature, but since we already had one SM58 it seemed a good choice to go for two mics with identical spec. to give our voices a consistent blend and mix.
The Deepest Bass Is Close To Your Face!!
I also like (or perhaps I'm just very used to?) making the most of the proximity effect of the mic. The proximity effect is where a sound/voice becomes more bass heavy the closer it is to the mic. If you're aware of the proximity effect you can use it to great effect on certain words and notes when singing. You need to be careful not too overdo the effect though as in some rooms you can end up with a sound that's so bass heavy, singing becomes unintelligible (despite the presence peak - lol!) and we're right back to the undesirable scenario I described earlier...
Any cardioid pick up pattern mic will have a proximity effect to some degree or other, but once you get used to/ know how to get the best out of a certain mic, the proximity effect can be very useful for almost any style of singing/music. For me it's the SM58 mic that I know best in a live situation.
Here's Some Feedback You Really Don't Want To Receive!!
But what else do I like about the SM58? Well I can get a fair amount of volume out of it before I get into problems with feedback. Even in 'tricky' rooms (from a room acoustics/ambience point of view) I rarely need to resort to using a graphic EQ to control any 'ringing' frequencies, and if there's one thing I like it's hassle free PA set ups!!
Now there's nothing magical going on here with the SM58 - it just has (as I mentioned earlier) a cardioid pick up pattern, which in useful (though simplified) terms means the mic only picks up sounds right in front of it and 'rejects' (or is deaf/unresponsive to) sounds behind it (the further off-centre a sound is the less well the mic picks it up).
Now to briefly explain feedback, for anyone who would like to know (this is the simplified version ;-) occurs when the mic picks up sound from the speaker, and the mic then again 'feeds' that sound 'back' to the amplifier that drives the speaker, the speaker outputs the sound yet again, the mic picks the sound up from the speaker yet again and the whole thing is continued ad nauseum until (like a car rolling down a steep hill gathering more and more speed) it gets completely out of control; and hey presto; that's the horribly screeching sound we hear as feedback
The good news is that if your speakers are position well to the sides and preferably in front of a microphone like the SM58 (so essentially the speakers are, if you think about it, behind the mic from the singers point of view... and as you may recall, any sounds behind the mic are 'rejected' (ignored/not picked up) by it -hence (in theory at least; volume levels, room acoustics, reverb/echo levels and EQ also can all work against you to encourage feedback if you're not careful -lol!) no feedback!!
There are even tighter pickup patterned microphones (called hyper-cardioids) than the SM58, but I've always done just fine with my trusty old SM58, so for me/us another SM58 was just the right mic for us to buy.
My Verdict; Singing It's Praises;
Or Is The King Looking Dated??
My girlfriend and I (sorry... my backing vocalist and I -lol!!) are very pleased with our new mic purchase. If you want a great vocal mic you really can't go too far wrong with an SM58, though as I said earlier; unless you're really sure of the sound you want go and try loads of good mics out, as the SM58 is certainly not the only great live gig mic on the market.
The mic doesn't come with a lead, so be sure to budget for one of these too (if your equipment has XLR/Canon inputs as well as ¼ inch jacks go for the XLR leads as they're what's called 'balanced' and thus cancel out a lot of interference and allow for much longer cables without treble loss.
If Your Budget Is Blown Can You Use It At Home?
PS if you're one of the many singers/musicians out there with a little home studio on their PC etc and are wondering if the SM58 will double as a studio mic as well as a live mic; well it's nowhere near as sensitive as a studio capacitor mic, but it's certainly not unknown for rock vocalists to use them in the studio (and decent results can be obtained for most styles of music, though bear in mind that a dedicated studio mic will always have more 'top end' frequencies and a more natural sound.
Also, the SM58 makes a fine choice for guitarists wanting to mic up their guitar combos at home (though arguably an SM57 is a better choice - if I get time I'll try to get round to doing a review on the SM57 at some point ;-) I know there are an endless stream of guitar fine amp modelling devices out there in both hardware and software, but there's nothing quite like the sound of the real thing... as long as you have forgiving or at least hard of hearing neighbours -lol!!
So yes; the SM58 will double as a studio mic too if you can't afford a dedicated studio mic, though it's not the ideal tool, great results can still be obtained if you're careful...
But it's at live gigs where the SM58 earned it's crown as the king of live mics... and decades later the SM58 is still the vocal mic of choice for many singers, and even though there is some stiff competition out there from other manufactures, once you've used a 58 it's easy to see why it's so popular!
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!
As a gigging musician since the year 1843... (Ok I may be exaggerating slightly -lol!!) ... more accurately; as a gigging musician with 25 years experience I've had quite a lot of experience with PA speakers (PA in this context = Public Address System; as might be used by a band, DJ or installed in a Social Club or Church etc).
One of the better known makes of PA equipment is Peavey; in fact they have been gaining an increasing market share over the past decade, at least among the musicians and DJ's I know. The name Peavey is much uttered among the formerly mentioned; but is this acclaim justified or is it all clever marketing? Here's what Uncle Caveat Emptor thinks of Peavey PA equipment in general and of the PRO 15's specifically :-)
Valve-ue for money
There was a time when Peavey were perhaps best known among guitarists for their valve amplifiers (especially popular with country guitarists). But around a decade or so back (as I recall, during my time working in music shops) suddenly there was a 'buzz' around Peavey PA gear; both speakers and amps (solid state not valve).
If memory serves me right it was the DJ/Karaoke enthusiasts more than live bands that began to favour Peavey equipment. As time went on bands/trios/duos and solo artists (wouldn't it be good if they were called one-oes? Just kidding ;-) caught the Peavey fever too...
It's not that other PA makes weren't selling, but at the slightly budget end of the market that was perhaps formerly dominated by manufacturers like Carlsbro - Peavey gear became an increasingly popular choice.
Were Peavey's PA amps better than anything else in their price range; well, not to my ears no... but they were usually just as good as the competition - but significantly better (as some people believed) nope, not in my opinion! (Actually in terms of reliability far less Carlsbro amps came into the shop for repair than Peavey ones; though of course this was before Carlsbro moved a lot of their production to China).
Speaker to me!!
But what of the Peavey PA speakers?
(PA speakers should never be confused with hi fi/home music speakers. Hi fi speakers almost always have superior sound reproduction but good PA speakers are designed for heavy duty night after night use at gigs/venues)
...well surprisingly they (in my opinion) are (mostly) surprisingly good value for money.
Peavey PA speakers are not by any stretch of the imagination the best PA speakers I've heard or used, but for the price they do a very respectable job... But it's horses for courses; what do you need your PA speakers to do?
Punchy Or Thumpy?
The Pro 15 speakers cabinets contain (as you've no doubt already guessed -lol!) 15 inch speakers.
If you're not familiar with speaker characteristics: with PA speakers a good starting place might be this;
(speaker characteristics are a complex business without even getting into cabinet design, porting and resonant frequencies; which are outside the scope of this review, and more abuse than I care to put my typing finger through -so forgive me if I stay with the basics :-)
For 10 and 12 inch speakers -think vocal PA (a PA system where only vocals/acoustic guitars etc are put through the mixer; i.e. no bass heavy instruments). These sizes of speaker are very 'punchy' with the 12 inch speaker usually having a slightly better bass response than the slightly smaller 10 inch one.
For 15 inch speakers -expect a significantly better bass response, so they're more suitable for bass guitars/ kick drums/ discos/ full band mixes. They still work fine for vocals and guitars too, but they're not so punch as say a 12 inch PA speaker.
For 18 inch speakers; these are big, move a lot of air and are perfect for very bassy or so called 'sub bass' sounds. Not too useful for anything like vocals etc though when used without other smaller speakers though.
It is of course possible (provided you're careful matching the impedance of the speakers to that of the amp/amps to avoid over burdening the latter) to create a PA system with 12 inch speakers plus 15 inch or 18 inch speakers too (or other combinations)...
...and indeed this is what some bands/DJ's do... But many of the folks buying PA speakers just want to take a single pair of speakers to a gig (they're quite enough to carry/transport without bringing additional speakers along -lol!).
Another consideration is the horn which provides the sparkling end of the frequencies (without a high frequency horn a PA speaker would sound decidedly dull)...
..so unless a PA speaker is a special twin cone extended high frequency design (not too popular nowadays) or it's an 18 inch bass bin purely for low frequencies (see above) then it will have some sort of horn built in... as does the Peavey Pro 15.
So now you know (if you didn't already ;-) the very basics how to match the PA you want to the sound you make (your sound onstage that is; what you do in your personal life is your own business -lol!!), but let's see how the Pro 15's stack up...
The last gig I used a pair of Pro 15's at was about as good a test as any to evaluate them. It was a large function room (think social club main room size) with a fairly high ceiling and a fair bit of natural ambience to muddy everything up -lol!
We put the speakers up on stands (and the stands stood upon the elevated stage) to help project the sound better. The evening was a short DJ set followed by the band I was playing guitar with.
The Pro 15's were excellent for the DJ's CD/MP3 offerings; plenty of bass thump and a good clear(ish) mid range (even though I confess I hated most of the chart music the DJ played, but I can't blame the Pro 15 speakers for that!!). The top end wasn't exactly shimmering but it was reasonably crisp.
Then it was the band's turn. The recorded music a DJ plays is all nicely compressed and sanitised as far as volume levels are concerned, but a band can vary in dynamics in a way that no modern slickly produced pop record will; so a live band is a great challenge for any PA speaker.
Sure enough the vocals were a tad muffled - partly because a 15inch speaker just doesn't have the punch of a 10 or 12 inch, but also partly because of the room itself was so ambient, but still the vocal projection and sound weren't too bad at all considering the room acoustics.
The michrophones on the kick & snare drum from the drummer 'bumped' and 'thwacked' through quite well respectively -lol! The bass guitar and my guitar were plugged into our own separate combo (meaning amp plus speaker) amplifiers (commonly called backline) so we made quite a bit of noise on our own anyway...
but just to fill the large room better, my amp (via a mic) was fed through the PA system, and a line out was taken from the bass amp combo to the PA too.
The bass guitar sounded good through the Pro 15's though it was slightly hard to separate the backline sound from the sound emanating from the Pro 15's, but from where I was -it wasn't too shabby :-)
The guitar I think faired slightly worse and seemed a tad weak in the upper mid range (though not terribly so) despite an attempt to improve it by using the PA mixer's EQ (tone controls)... but it wasn't too bad.
I think the Pro 15's are pretty decent speakers for pubs and smaller clubs. The venue we used them at was probably a little large for just the two Pro 15 300w (RMS) speakers, but they performed quite well considering that we fed a full bands worth of instruments and vocals though them. For small gigs with just vocals and acoustic instruments I much prefer 12 inch speakers...
For full band gigs (or for DJ's) in smallish venues, I think the Pro 15's perform very well overall ... They're not breath taking but then again at sub £300 a pair neither is the price ;-)
Impedance is 4 Ohms each speaker - so if you have a stereo amplifier/powered mixer that can go down to 4 ohms per channel as many of them do - you'll get a great little PA system (if you aren't familiar with how speaker/amplifier impedance works I would strongly advise you to read up on it before buying a PA system -else buy a good fire extinguisher -lol!).
So is Peavey the last word in PA equipment -no, not in my opinion; but they're certainly well worth considering if you're on a budget!!
PS Thanks to Goosey for persuading me to come out of retirement and write the odd review again when time allows :-)
Hope you enjoyed my review and found it useful!! Thanks so much for taking the time to read it.
Martin Guitars: The 000-16GT Model
'I Don't Know Anything About Guitars; I'm Really A Lumberjack'
Some things in life always come back to haunt us; be it an embarrassing moment or maybe it was that other 3 numbers you were going to pick for the lottery last week but you changed you mind... With me it's something far worse; I used to work in a guitar shop -lol!
So what? I hear you cry (or perhaps hear you type??? :-) well the problem is I'm still many of my friends/family's first port of call when the word 'guitar' gets mentioned... Now don't get me wrong; I love guitars, but I don't like having to have someone I know pop a guitar in my hands and say something like 'I've just bought this guitar; isn't it great?' - which is a loaded question, especially if the instrument is definitely not 'great' -lol!
... And so it was (I'll start a sentence with 'and' if I want to -lol!) that recently one of the people I see regularly around the local acoustic clubs asked me to have a look at his latest guitar; bought second hand, privately; a Martin 000-16GT. (I've had a quick search on the net and a new one is around £930 from Thomann.com)
Martin Make Exceedingly Good Cakes, I mean Guitars!
Martin Guitars are some of the most respected instruments in the world so generally you can expect very hi quality, though the older ones tend to sound the best (for reasons that guitarists still can't agree on to this day :-). The Martin guitar company has been going since 1833 so you're getting a lot of expertise, tradition and of course guitar for your money when you buy a Martin.
Even so the cost is relatively high to the average musician though, and that's why many guitar players opt for cheaper instruments (for example my main acoustic is a 20 year old Japanese Takamine that cost £250 and holds it's own pretty well with most prestigious guitar brands). But over the years, having seen, played, restrung, setup and occasionally owned various martin guitars (oh no we're back to my guitar shop days again!!) I do have a place in my heart just for them -lol!
000-16GT ... What A Catchy Easy To Remember Name :-)
But back to the 000-16GT it was pretty much what you'd expect from a Martin; nothing too fancy to look at, but very well made... A workhorse rather than a 'hang on the wall/look pretty' guitar. This model had had a neck that joined the body at the 14th fret (some model join at the 12th making higher fret access more inconvenient).
The top (the piece of wood with the sound hole in, just under the strings) which more than any other part of the instrument defines tonal quality of the guitar is made from solid sitka spruce - which is an excellent choice for a 'top' and a pretty standard one (you'll find much cheaper guitars with solid sitka spruce tops too).
The back and sides are apparently solid mahogany which (like the use of sitka spruce on the 'top') an excellent and very normal choice for a guitar. Scale length was 25.4 inches so there's plenty of tension on the strings to give a punchy sound.
Martin Takes Centre Stage
But what about the sound; well it projected well. I was in a fairly busy acoustic/folk club at the time - choc full full musicians all sat round in a large circle in a quite a large room (to perform in without a PA system and microphones etc). I had only popped in that night with my girlfriend to say hi to a few folks I knew on my way back from giving a guitar lesson - but got asked to perform a few songs... So I got to put the Martin through it's paces.
Projection was excellent, the guitar really threw the sound out well, as for tonal quality it was still a tiny bit dull for my tastes (the strings were fine it just didn't sound 'lively'); but I don't think the guitar was very old -so I'm sure it will sound better as time goes on. The action (height of the strings above the fretboard) was fine; not so low it buzzed, but not so high as to make fretting difficult or cause intonation problems.
Even with me singing and my girlfriend on harmony vocals the Martin still cut through well and wasn't drowned out; though granted I chose to use a plectrum rather rather than finger pick it; - but even so I was impressed by the guitars volume.
One Final ...Ahem... Note
Would I part with £930 for a new one - probably not (unless I suddenly found myself with oodles of spare cash from winning the lottery or something -lol!) because I think there are cheaper guitars that sound as good. But having said that the Martin is only going to improve with age, it is built to last and you are getting a slice of all that wonderful Martin guitar tradition and magic thrown in...
So going back to what I was saying at the start of this review; I am pleased to say that on this occasion I was able to hand the guitar back to the person who bought it and say 'that's a really nice instrument' ...and genuinely mean it :-)
Thanks so much for reading my review, hope you found it useful and interesting.
Caveat Emptor x
The Essential Simon And Garfunkel
What is it about sunny days and acoustic guitars?
So anyway springs finally sprung and summer's just about to err... sum? :-) The point is the long hot days are upon us. So what better way to celebrate than to update the music in my car to something that (to me) reminds me of summer; enter good old S & G better known as Tom and Jerry (Just kidding; though that was really one of the famous duo's early names!) ...sorry; better known as Simon and Garfunkel.
There's something about sunshine and the strumming and picking of acoustic guitars that go together so well; so I splashed out £6.99 of my hard earned pennies for a 2 cd set of S & G from Amazon.co.uk
'Holy mackerel Batman, what are the dynamic duo like then?'
Just in case you've never heard any S & G recordings before I'll briefly describe the style; in a word 'Folk'. Now of course the term 'folk music' covers a very broad spectrum of styles...
But rest assured we're not taking one finger in the ear, men in woolly jumpers singing songs, in their most nasal toned monotonous voice about 19th century Whaling here (thank goodness! My sympathies are with the whales anyway!)
With S & F we get a cross between a good pop song (but with mostly acoustic instrumentation) and the best bits of English Folk (with perhaps a sprinkling of Irish folk influence mixed in here and there too) plus an occasional dip into non European folk music for good measure. The results are often (but not quite always -lol) very good...
Songs are (mostly) really well constructed in terms of melody and lyrics(Paul Simon is the songwriter) and usually brilliantly sung (Paul Simon has a good voice but Art Garfunkel's is in my opinion the better singer of the two).
To summarise; S & G's music is kind of what the a more introspective and socially aware (of the great upheavals of their era; the 60s) version of the Everley Brothers. Indeed S & G are well known for their cover of Bye Bye Love the Everley's track... You won't get any rock from S & G but you do get everything from up tempo tracks to reworkings of traditional English folk songs.... If you like acoustic music and great singer songwriters you won't be disappointed with what S & F have to offer... In fact if you've never heard their music before, and you like this genre; I'd say you are in for a bit of a treat.
OK; so what's on the album that's any good?
Now I know what you're thinking; for £6.99 I could get nearly 7 lotto tickets or a really, really, really big mix-up from the sweet shop; or those 500 paper clips you've always dreamed of... But before you spend your money let me tempt you with just a few of my favourite tracks from The Essential Simon And Garfunkel album....
The Sound Of Silence
Originally Paul Simon intended this song to be an acoustic track, and was less than happy when a full band complete withs drums were added, but it is quite an interesting mix because of the clash of styles. The truly haunting melody and 'dark' lyrics contrast well with the 'pushy' rhythm provided by the additional overdubs. This a fantastic song, and shows of the duo's talents very well. There's one teeny giggle factor in that the vibrato (the 'wobble' lol) in the vocals is unbelievably extreme in places if you listen closely - but that doesn't detract from this being one of the all time great pop/folk tunes. I'll never forget when I first heard the chilling line 'Silence like a cancer grows'....
This is a reworking of a traditional English folk song. Paul Simon came to England in search of authentic folk music in the 60s, (before he achieved huge fame) and played the folk clubs in the UK. He met up with one of the premier names in the folk world (who is still playing today) Martin Carthy. Legend has it that Carthy taught Simon Scarborough Fair... Simon took it back to the US and had his major hit with it. So while S&G certainly can't take credit for an already well established great folk song, their version of it with divergent vocal lines occasionally merging to create little seconds of musical heaven throughout the piece. Go somewhere green, pleasant and well away from the urban sprawl, close your eyes and play this track (in fact press play before you close your eyes or you may have difficulty finding the play button -lol) and let the imagery wash over you... This is a spectacular song for summer.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
This was Paul Simon's 'piano song'. Having used a guitar for composing a lot of his tunes he wanted to try out the piano as a composition instrument in order to be able to play lots of little extra chord changes.
A piano is better suited to lots of intricate little chord changes because you can use all ten fingers at once -where as with a guitar (played in the traditional manor) you have one hand to strum/finger pick with and hence only one hand to play chords. That's not to say piano is a superior instrument - there are many things a guitar can do that a piano cannot - they both have their advantages/disadvantages - but for intricate tiny chord changes the piano is easier (it's not impossible on a guitar just harder work).
So drawing on some of his favourite piano based songs from other composers (I seem to remember him mentioning 'Save The Last Dance For Me' as one of his influences) Paul Simon went on to write the classic Bridge Over Troubled Water. It's such a moody and magnificent song; a mini epic, perhaps reminiscent of the enormous scope of Roy Orbison's compositions. From the first rolling piano chords and wispy vocals of the opening verse to the huge sustained note ending; this is a classic track! Bridge Over Troubled Water may be lacking the acoustic guitars that I love to hear, but when a song is this good I'm not complaining :-)
America is such a sweet summer song to listen to. The tight harmony vocals, the swaying 3/4 (waltz) rhythm. America is jam packed full of little gems -the unexpected dips, and clever transitions, sudden perfect moments of lyric/harmony. Everyone seems to agree that 'the moon rose over an open field' is their favourite line from this song, but non of us can agree why -lol! The lyrical content goes from the light hearted and superfluous to the profound as the song takes you on it's journey. I've never been to America, but somehow the imagery of taking a trip on a Greyhound bus (do they even have Greyhound buses anymore? :-) in search of something intangible, resonates with me. But I don't think the song's location really matter; this is a song about a journey into your own thoughts rather than an external destination... Which is very handy for me if I'm listening to it in a traffic jam and don't have much chance of reaching my destination anytime soon either -lol!
But what about the other tracks?
The above tracks are by no-means the only great ones on the album; they're just the songs that I've really got into listening to this week in the car -lol! There are other classics like The Boxer, Mrs Robinson, I Am A Rock, Feeling Groovy and many others. There are also inevitably a few run of the mill songs that crop up, but they are few and far between so for £6.99 I'm not complaining.
If you already own a few S & G albums and a 'best of' there is little point in buying The Essential Simon And Garfunkel album. But if you are new to S & G or if you've misplaced, broken, worn out or otherwise lost your S & G albums (like me, though I'm not sure which -lol) then The Essential Simon And Garfunkel is a bargain! A final word of warning though; if you do buy this album under no circumstances do I advise you to copy either of the hairstyles on the album cover :-)
Thank you for reading my review and I hope you found it enjoyable, useful and interesting.
Caveat Emptor x
My review of the Yamaha CS101C Classical Guitar
Intro: Or should that be Prelude?
I teach guitar sometimes. Not so much as I used to but a few students just won't let me retire... obviously they're gluttons for punishment :-)
One of my students picked up a cheap classical guitar from a friend of a friend for only £15 pounds and asked me to set it up for him and restring it. I try to avoid doing much guitar work these days as I don't have the time any more, plus I set up enough guitars in my music shop days to last me a lifetime; I once had to restring a whole school's collection of cheap and nasty nylon strung classical guitars... Brrr I still have the flashbacks -lol!!
Anyway as you've already guessed being the smart bunch that you are; the guitar my student bought was a Yamaha CS101C Classical Guitar. Well if I've got to spend time setting up a guitar and giving my opinion of it to the person I teach then that's got to be an ideal opportunity to do a dooyoo review hasn't it? :-)
You're body is an eighth too small!
Now for starters I've got some slightly bad news for my student who is an adult male (at least as far as I can tell; I understand that Joan of Arc fooled a lot of people once but I'm pretty sure that my student isn't French, doesn't lead armies and is a man -right; now we've got that straight lets move on ;-).
The bad news is that this isn't quite a full size guitar. It's larger than a 3/4 size but it's not quite a full length scale I feel it in my poached egg on toast... or at least in my fingers. This is a 7/8 sized instrument if ever I saw one.
There's nothing wrong with a 7/8 size guitar -especially if you're not particularly tall; but why compromise tone, projection and that bit of extra string tension if you can possibly avoid it by having a full size 4/4 model? So for starters the CS101C Classical Guitar is not an ideal instrument -though it's fine for smaller adults and teens who struggle with a 4/4 classical.
When being the 'top' still isn't good enough!
My opinion of the build quality is that for a student/first guitar it's fine, though by no stretch of the imagination is it great. The top (the piece of wood with the sound hole in it that lies under the strings) which is responsible for a lot of the tone of the guitar is a laminate design rather than single piece.
Most cheap acoustic guitars have laminate tops so no great surprise there but it does limit the sound quality slightly to my ears.
Like a lazy squirrel; the nut needs to be deeper!
The fretwork and fingerboard are reasonably good with no dead notes. The nut work is a little more sloppy and I had to deepen the nut slots slightly to bring the action (height of the strings above the frets) down to stop the bass strings pulling sharp when fretted.
The tuners (tuning pegs on the machine heads) feel a bit creaky and cheap. They are the typical plastic headed variety. They work well enough though... but I suspect that sooner or later one of the plastic heads will fly off or crack (easily remedied/replaced but annoying all the same).
The CS101C Classical Guitar looks nice; in fact it looks better than it really is, if you know what I mean -lol!. Still, as a first time student guitar it's perfectly good.
CS101C are all gone; Yes the CS (has been sent to Room) 101!
You are unlikely to find one of these new in a shop -though it is just possibly that a shop still has one gathering dust in a storeroom somewhere -as it's been superseded by other Yamaha classical guitar models and is now discontinued.
Don't worry if you're buying one second hand as guitar parts are pretty standard on these sorts of generic designs. So if you break anything like a tuning peg you won't struggle to find a replacement even though the guitar isn't being made any more. It uses normal classical (nylon) guitar strings so again no problems getting replacement strings. Incidentally it doesn't matter if a guitar is 2/4, 3/4, 7/8 or full size (4/4) you can use bog standard classical guitar strings; you just trim them to length once fitted.
The 1970s Generation Game
So back to my student's purchase of a CS101C Classical Guitar; to reverse-paraphrase Bruce Forsyth (now there's a line I don't use every day -lol!) ...did he do well?
Well the CS101C Classical Guitar sounds quite good for a student guitar, it plays quite well, wasn't much trouble to set up and other than the fact that the body is slightly less than ideal at it's 7/8 size... Yep!
... Considering it only cost £15 (second hand) the CS101C is not too bad at all. I've seen these guitars sell for up to £40 second hand, so getting the guitar for almost a third of that price is a pretty good bargain I think...
Now my guitar student will have more money for his trip back to France and for some nice shiny armour to lead the French army.... oops I've said too much!!)
Thank you for reading my review, I hope you found it interesting and useful - and forgave me my daft sense of humour!!
My Review Of The Martin Back Packer Travel Guitar
The teeny meanie!
Around a decade or so tiny little guitars started appearing on the market. Known as travel guitars they were tiny body instruments of something like 3/4 scale length that look like children's toys. They were in fact designed for adults. But not just any adult; these adults were prone to moving about -lol!
The concept behind travel guitars is that you can have a tiny instrument that you can easily take about with you on holiday or to work etc so you can play it any time you have a free moment.
Travel guitars can easily be spotted (but are never striped) because;
...they look small and silly...
...they all come with cute little tiny guitar bags that you can slip over your shoulder to leave your hands free for important stuff like eating ice cream or doing the hand movements from the Saturday Night Fever dance (white suit is optional)...
...they often have an adult attached to them (often playing a free form jazz variation of Wonderwall or Stairway To Heaven, punctuated with intermittent stops and and cries of 'no wait I can do this' or 'let me start again from the beginning').
... though they look like toys they're surprisingly expensive instruments...
... and the final clue to identifying a travel guitar; they almost without exception sound really weedy and crap.
A better class of hopeless?
But there are degrees of erm... crapness (is that a technical term :-) and after all no-one in their right minds buys a travel guitar for the sound... Martin make probably the best known (and one of the most expensive) travel guitars; in fact they make a range of them...
Martin Backpacker Guitars (that's BPK for short apparently!!) come in Nylon Strung, Steel Strung and with or without pick up variations (presumably so you can amplify the weedy sound to the point where many other people can hear what an awful sounding instrument you have perhaps???).
If they're so naff how come you know so much about them???
Oh dear, I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that question!! OK you've got me, I admit it I do own a travel guitar but we'll come back to that later. First I want to explain (excuse??? lol!) why I bought one.
I have a little home studio, and when I'm working away at the mixing desk I sometimes like to test out little musical ideas before I record them; guitar parts, or working out vocal harmonies etc. Like everyone else with a home studio; I have a piano keyboard. Keyboards however are not my favourite instrument, not by a million miles...
Have you ever seen that Clint Eatwood film (I think it was called Firefox) where he steals a secret Soviet experimental fighter jet (I'm going somewhere with this; honest!) that he controls with his thoughts, but the only snag is that to fly the jet poor old Clint has to think in Russian?
Well when I write music I think in 'guitar'... A piano keyboard to me is like knowing a second language; you can use it but you can't truly express yourself.
But finding a guitar that I could quickly, comfortably pick up and put down while seated in front of my mixing desk - a guitar that wouldn't bang into anything or get in the way... that was a tall order that demanded a short and tiny solution... Yes (gulp); what I needed was a travel guitar!
My short-list of short guitars!
Once I was convinced that only a cute little travel guitar was the best solution for me, I got stuck into testing them and narrowing down (much like a travel guitar's body size ;-) the field to short-list the best ones.
Fortunately for me I was ideally placed to test out most of the travel guitars available because at the time I was working in a guitar shop - you can't be much better placed than that!
Most of the travel guitars I tried were small enough but some I discounted because they sounded so bad that I couldn't live with the noise (or lack thereof) they made.... I finally narrowed it down to two instruments. A Crafter travel guitar and a Martin Backpacker.
The Mini Martin!
Martin seldom do things by halves. They make some of the worlds finest acoustic guitars and even though they didn't stand a hope in hell of making a tiny bodied travel guitar sound great, they had a really good go at making one that sounded decent.
The 'top' (the wood under the strings that has the sound hole in it -and is most responsible for the tone and volume of the guitar) is made of solid spruce. Solid top guitars are always more expensive than, and usually better sounding than laminated tops so no compromise there.
The body shape is an original Martin design and looks like someone took one of their dreadnought acoustics and then chopped away all the body except for a thin sliver in the middle. The body shape is very small and easy to manoeuvre but still very comfortable to play on considering there isn't much of it.
The bracing is another Martin original design, which isn't too surprising given the weird body shape. It is interesting to note that non of the travel guitars (including the Martin Backpacker) could cope with Light (.12's) or Medium (.013's) gauges of strings. They all recommended nothing heavier than Extra Light's (10's). This is a shame because if the travel guitars had been more sturdily braced so as to accommodate thicker strings (and their increased tension) the travel guitars would have had a bit more (for the want of a better word -lol!) body!! The Martin shipped with a set of Martin bronze 10's strings on it.
The machine heads (tuners) were small little chrome ones that worked smoothly and had a good solid feel about them. The Backpacker in general seemed very well made -which I'd expect from Martin anyway especially since it's not a cheap guitar considering its intended market (it was a few years ago that I was searching for my travel guitar -but currently the Backpacker can be picked up for £230 or thereabouts without a pick-up).
The sound of the Martin Backpacker wasn't horrible; that 's a compliment for a travel guitar. -but neither was the sound inspiring. The Martin's top end sounded good but there was no depth to the tone.
The only other travel guitar I was interested in was a Crafter TRV 23. Like the Martin it too had a solid spruce top and small chrome machine heads. The TRV 23 also had a slightly more cumbersome body than the Martin because it was simply a scaled down 3/4 size normal acoustic body shape. The Crafter also had a cutaway on the treble side of the body (a weird and arguably pointless feature on a guitar without a pick-up) but the guitar also had some lovely features like inlays around the sound hole, smart white binding on the body, a nicely decorated headstock and my favourite feature; a very slightly bowled (wooden) back to better project the sound.
The Martin guitar had no embellishments to the finish, not that that is particularly important (don't you just love sentences with 'that' in twice?), but it couldn't compete with the volume and tone produced by the Crafter's more traditional shaped (though much smaller than normal) body. Crafter had obviously spent some time looking into the weaknesses of a travel guitar's and then done their best to counter the effects as much as they could. Amazingly they did a lot better job of it than Martin! Talk about David and Goliath!!
King Of The Weeds!
It was clear to me that both the Martin and the Crafter would be suitable for what I wanted. The Martin with it's slender body would be the easiest guitar to pick up and put down quickly... but the Crafter was still small enough for me to use and sounded much better.... I bought the Crafter (for about £150 if memory serves me right -it was significantly cheaper than the Martin; of that I'm certain).
I don't regret my choice; the Crafter was by a long way the superior sounding instrument, but if I win £200 or so on the lottery I would still love to have a little Martin Backpacker to take about with me on my travels too...it's such a cute little instrument -despite sounding as weak as a politicians promises.
I can say with confidence that the Martin Backpacker was the second best travel guitar I ever played... Now if they can only invent the travel grand piano -lol!
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting and useful.
My Review Of Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings
Introduction (or bar 1 as it's better known :-)
Ernie Ball electric guitar strings are quite possibly the most popular brand of guitar strings in the world. I won't reiterate what I've already said about Ernie Ball strings in general, as I've previously covered that ground in my other recent Ernie Ball strings review...
Instead I'd like to set out what I consider to be the some useful information concerning exactly why and where I use this particular 8 to 38 gauge. So if you've ever wondered what these strings are like, or when you might want to use a really light gauge of Ernie Ball strings, or even why Elephants can't jump; then proceed on gentle reader...
Although if I'm honest you won't find out any useful information about Elephants, but perhaps finding out a little about guitar strings will take your mind of your pachyderm problem ;-)
And The God Of Guitars Said 'Let there be Light...Gauges'
So you may already know (especially if you read my last review ;-) most electric guitars ship from the manufacturers fitted with and set up for .009 to .042 gauge strings (the measurements indicate thousandths of an inch - thankfully the metric system has had little impact on good old traditional British measurements here -lol!).
Sometimes however you may need a thinner gauge of strings. Now changing string gauges isn't an entirely wise thing to do unless you have a pretty good reason for doing so, and a little experience with setting up the instrument as in many cases a number of adjustments will need to be made to your guitar. The truss rod, the saddle height and the intonation may all need a tweak...
Why Get Thinner? Is It A Guitar Diet?
So why change down from the .009 to .042 gauge that the guitar was probably factory set up for to a slightly thinner (lighter) .008 to 0.38 gauge of Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings?
Well the advantages of 8's are;
Bend Me Shake Me...
1) Bends. Yes, if you thought you could bend strings easily on a set of 9's (9's is the shorthand name for .009 to .042 gauge strings) you just wait till you do those same bends with 8's (the shorthand name for .008 to .038 gauge).
You can bend faster and further with a lot less effort using
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings 8's than you can with 9's. There is far less resistance as you push the strings up across the fret towards you. If you struggle with bending in tune because you find it hard to bend notes all the way up to the correct pitch then you'll be a very happy bunny when you try those same bends on 8's
Obviously 8's have certain advantages for those just learning to play lead guitar, but very serious players who use two and very occasionally even three strings while performing bends find 8's a very useful gauge.
Drop The Coal And Raise The Pitch!
2) Higher than normal tuning. Some player (including me!) use open and non standard tunings. Some tunings involve taking the pitch even higher than normal. This rather unsurprisingly tends to lead to strings breaking a lot more often. For instance one common variation on open E tuning requires the strings be tuned from normal (E,A,D,G,B,E -low to high) to E,B,E,G#,B,E (low to high)...
...So the 5th A string has to go up a tone (2 semi-tones) to B, the 4th string D also has to be raised in pitch a tone to E (1 octave above the 6th string E) and the 3rd G string (ooh er misses as Sid James would probably have said in a Carry On film!) needs to come up a semitone to G# (Ab).
Tuning the strings up above normal pitch to give us our open E tuning is all very well and good but there is a tendency for the strings moved to higher pitches to break (sometimes during the act of tuning them higher before you even get to your new tuning -lol!).
There is another problem that can arise with higher than normal tunings; what about all that extra tension on the neck now you've tightened the strings up to raise the pitch? You may find the truss rod (the metal rod that runs the length of the fretboard and is concealed underneath it) bends too straight or even concave under the new string tension. The result of this flexing of the truss rod could be buzzing or even dead notes. You can adjust the truss rod if you know how (I don't advise doing it without getting advice or reading up on it first or else you can do some serious damage to your guitar's neck)... but when you take your guitar back to normal tuning you'll need to re adjust the truss rod again!! Not an ideal solution I'm sure you'll agree.
Pickle Jar Power!
3) Weak hands. I have been told be a few guitarists who have had arthritis that thinner strings are much easier for them to use. I don't have arthritis myself so I can't vouch for this personally. But it makes a lot of sense; Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings 8's require less effort to fret and bend than the standard .009 to .042 gauge. I've also seen 8's employed successfully by younger electric guitar players and by those who lack a lot of muscle strength (like my girlfriend who passes me all the pickle jars to open -but is a fine player non the less -lol!).
Like The Blues Brothers Said; 'I Have Seen The Light!!'
So what's the solution to beat regular string breakages and to soften the effects on the truss rod when raising the pitch for our open E tuning ... .008 to .038 gauge Extra Slinky strings of course :-) Thinner (lighter) strings are far better suited to tuning to higher pitches and because they are thinner they don't create as much tension so the truss rod is usually moved less.
As I see it , those 3 reasons set out above are the main advantages of using Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings. (My reason is for the higher than normal pitch alternate tunings).
The Flip Side; AKA String Theory!
Of course there are also disadvantages to weigh against the positive reasons of moving to thinner (lighter) gauge strings (indeed 008 to 038 are the lightest set of guitar strings commonly sold -there are rare even thinner ones but I wouldn't recommend them for reasons of intonation -see below).
Thinner electric guitar strings, even these really well made Ernie Ball Extra Slinky ones, produce a weaker quieter sound that requires more amplifier volume (or you can raise the pick ups to compensate but this can cause other problems that are a little beyond the scope of this review for me to go into here -maybe if I do a pick-up review sometime? -lol!)
The problem is that because the strings are so thin there is less steel to react with the pick-up magnets hence the sound is a little weaker and thinner... Not terribly so, but the lack of punch is still sometimes noticeable.
You Mean My Guitar's Still Out Of Tune?
The second problem is intonation. Thinner strings are harder to keep in tune. No normal guitar is perfectly in tune across the fretboard, it can't be... Even the simple act of fretting a note stretches the string down on the fretboard and pulls it sharp (as does finger vibrato -lol!)... the way the frets are set out is also a compromise (it's a tempered scale), so although I consider the guitar the most expressive (although I'll accept that the human voice and possibly also the sax are equally expressive -lol!) and versatile instrument, it leaves a lot to be desired in the tuning department.
To counter these tuning (intonation) problems on the electric guitar there is the clever use of moving saddles which can be set to shorten or lengthen the scale length of a string fractionally and counteract the slight tuning problems. A well set up guitar is so close to being in tune across the whole fretboard as makes no difference. It is a joy to play and hear.
Unfortunately the thinner the string the harder it is to counteract the inherent tuning problems in a guitar. Even a chord or note fretted with too much pressure on a really light set of strings can pull the chord or note unpleasantly sharp. You have to pay attention to your fretting pressure quite closely when using Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings to negate the intonation problem.
I'm Lighter Cuz I Already 8!!
Ernie Ball Extra Slinky Strings are very good strings (currently on sale for around £5 a set unless you bulk buy them) and I find them very useful for when I use above normal pitch tunings. I tend to buy more sets of these Ernie Ball 8's (Extra Slinky) than I do the Ernie Ball 9's (Super Slinky) because I can usually buy very good quality 9's alternate brands much cheaper...
Cheap 8's however are not usually so freely available in my local music stores so I tend to opt for the Ernie Ball Extra Slinky ones most of the time. If you're on a budget, I'm sure you can find cheap alternate brand 8's for sale on the internet if you're on a budget -but I'm usually in a hurry to get my strings bought and fitted quickly so I tend to zoom straight to the shops -lol!)
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!!
My review of Ernie Ball Super Slinky Electric Guitar Strings
The Bird May Be The Word; But String's The Thing!
If there's one simple thing a guitar can't live without it's strings. Strings to guitars are what tires are to cars - ain't nothing much gonna happen without them -lol!!
Can You 'Pick-Up' Steel?
Electric guitars always use steel strings. I know a few players will perhaps thoughtfully be saying at this point; 'aren't most sets of guitar strings made of nickel?' A common misunderstanding. The plain strings (that's the high E, b and G string on any electric guitar set up for a 9-42 gauge) are steel. The wound strings D, A and low E are often wound with Nickel as is the case with these Ernie Ball strings (some manufacturers occasionally use other materials too-lol! Vox had a hexagonal copper thing going on in their wound strings once I seem to remember) but the core is always steel.
Guitar strings are steel for a very good reason -the magnets on the guitar pick ups need a metal they can easily react with - and Steel is just about perfect.
So since all electric guitar strings at their core are steel why by a good established more expensive brand over a cheap set?
Cheaper Than Ernie? 'Balls' I Hear You Cry!!
Good question -I'm glad you asked it -lol! There are some legendary names in string manufacture that have a great reputation. Fender, Gibson, Rotosound, Vinci to name but a few ...and of course, arguably the most popular brand of them all; Ernie Ball.
Ernie Ball strings used to outsell all the other brands in music shops I worked in. The most popular gauge was always 9 to 42. There is a good reason for this gauge being so popular. It has been adopted by most guitar manufacturers as the standard string gauge for the electric guitar.
So almost every electric guitar shipping from it's manufacturer's base comes factory fitted with and set up for gauge 9-42 strings.
Ernie Ball call their 9-42 gauge strings 'Super Slinky' Strings. The exact gauge of each string from thinnest string to thickest is .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042 (the numbers represent thousandths of an inch). They are excellent strings and I've used them (and every other popular string brand) on more occasions than I can recall. I've also restrung more guitars in my years working in music shops than I care to remember so I feel well placed to give a good opinion on the EB Super Slinky strings.
Stuck In The Middle (of The Road) With You!
Super Slinky's are a little too lightweight to offer flawless intonation (the ability of the guitar to be in tune with itself) and being a relatively light (thin) gauge there isn't an enormous amount of steel there for the guitar pick ups to work on so the sound isn't as full as it could be with a heavier gauge (thicker strings).
Where the Super Slinky's gauge really comes into its own is in its middle of the road-ness. Super Slinky's are a good all-rounder choice. They are quite good for bends while still being punch enough for most chord work. They offer reasonable intonation without being cumbersome and thick.
Ernie! He (Didn't) Sell The Cheapest Guitar Strings In The West!
But what's the advantage of buying a set of EB Super Slinky's (the price of which can easily exceed £5 in high street music shops) over a cheaper set of strings?
Surprisingly not that many. If the gauge is the same (9-42) then all the above advantages/disadvantages that apply to Super Slinky's hold true for other cheaper brands too.
Question. 'Cola Or Pepsi?' Answer. 'A Diet Ernie Please!'
But why then are Ernie Ball Super Slinky's still such popular strings? I think it's the 'cola' factor. (The what??).
Well you know how there are all these fancy ad campaigns showing how cool certain groups of people look by drinking a certain brand of cola? Or how a certain brand crops up in films or TV shows -a well placed aluminium can in a prominent position near the actors? That's what the cola factor I'm talking about is...
Ernie Ball strings are great, but so are a lot of other brands and they are often a bit (sometimes a lot) cheaper. But you open up a guitar magazine and you see those Super Slinky's looking back at you or you see a list of famous musicians like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Angus Young etc and you find out they all favour EB Super Slinky Strings... Those things leave an impression, and make the brand more desirable I think.
You Don't Have To Have Broken To Lose Your Sparkle; But It Helps!
A lot of people talk about longevity of strings. 'Oh you can buy cheaper strings they say but they wear out sooner'. Well it's possible of course but considering even an enthusiastic bedroom guitarist will want to change his strings every 3 months max (a pro may change them almost daily!) if he wants to maintain a good sound - the longevity factor rarely comes into play.
Often long before a string will fatigue and break it loses it's tone and sparkle -so the discerning guitarist changes his strings long before they break... So I'm not sure it matters that one brand can outlast another unless the difference is enormous and they can retain their tone and sparkle too. (No serious gigging musician unless they were skint would risk playing live with an ageing set of strings in case one of them broke at a crucial moment).
Can You Afford To Have A Premium Bond With ERNIE?
If you're not on a budget then keeping your guitar strung with Ernie Ball Super Slinky stings is a really good idea. They are high quality premium strings that you can rely on. If however you are on a budget (like a gigging musician needing to replace set after set after set) then you won't be committing a music crime to go downmarket a bit and buy cheaper sets. They may be slight differences in quality but the strings are seldom on your guitar long enough for the differences to manifest themselves noticeably.
Slinky Is Dinky But Cheaper Is Sweeter!
Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings are superb. The price isn't helped by the 'cola' factor that I mentioned earlier but you just can't argue with the quality. Don't forget about the cheaper almost as good brands if you're on a budget though ...
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!!
My review of the QwikTune QT8
When I first started playing guitar as a child there was a certain reverence and awe that we beginners experienced in the presence of someone who could actually tune the instrument. Battery powered tuning devices were rare and expensive and often we had to resort to the evil pan pipes... sorry pitch pipes of doom. Pitch pipes had all the pitch accuracy of your common or garden variety of modern pop star without the kindly retuning of errant notes by a sympathetic recording studio engineer!!
Time moved on and the prices of guitar tuners dropped, and more models and variations than you could shake a tuning fork at popped up on the market. Now guitarists are spoilt for choice. There are; floor based footpedal tuners, tuners built into guitars, tuners built into multi fx pedals, tuners that clip on to the headstocks of acoustic and electro acoustic instruments, tuners built into standalone digital studios, tuners built into PC sequencers, there's even a tuning app for the iPhone so they tell me... Just the other day I saw a polyphonic tuner that can discern pitch inaccuracies in any of the 6 strings even if you strum all the strings simultaneously. Amazing stuff!! All guitar tuners are not equal some are cheap some are good - occasionally some are both... But what of the QwikTune QT8?
A Little Background (In C#m)
I first happened upon the QwikTune brand when I was working in a guitar shop many moons ago (or at least the very late 1990's). We had some really naff (in my opinion) little plastic guitar tuners in the shop that looked like a smaller cut down version of the QwikTune QT8 tuner but without the jack lead input and output.
The mics built into the cheapo QuickTunes were pretty insensitive and unless you tuned in absolute silence and hit the guitar string with the weight of a politicians expenses claim - you really weren't going to get very good results.
If there was even a hint of background noise you found yourself tuning to pitch using only the Jedi Force in a Luke Skywalker Zen kind of way...
You might ask yourself; If a tree falls down in the forest and there's no-one there to hear it would it make a sound? But in the case of the cheap smaller brother to the QwikTune QT8 you may as well ask; if a tree falls down in the forest would it make enough noise for the cheapo QuickTune to register it's pitch??? ...to which the answer is; only if it was a bloody great big one like a giant Redwood!!
I recommended to the shop owner that we gave the cheapo tuners away to customers as there was no way I was going to suggest anyone in their right mind pay actual money for one -lol! Fortunately my suggestion was heeded.
Enter The QwikTune QT8
So much for the small crappy brother of the QwikTune QT8 what about the genuine article? Well given the enormous choice of tuners available the QT8 doesn't seem to stand out either in design or features. It certainly is hugely better than the cheapo mini version though.
The built in QT8's mic is a lot more sensitive (than the cheapo QuickTune I described earlier) and works well though not spectacularly. The LCD display is adequate and works fine in normal indoor light conditions...
...(though it's no good on a dark stage or in bright sunlight -so gigging musicians or guitarists playing outdoor festivals may not be impressed. Many tuners suffer with display weaknesses under adverse conditions so it would be unfair to single out the QT8 especially in this respect).
The QT8 is an autotuner which means that it automatically detects when you are near any of the expected guitar string pitches (E,A,D,G,or B). As soon as a string comes into range - for instance if you are tuning up the 5th A string and you get close to the correct pitch - the (LCD) needle will register the note as flat (left of the display).
As you get closer to the pitch the needle will move ever nearer to the central position (marked as '0'). If you accidentally. overshoot the pitch the needle moves right (sharp) to alert you.
When you get the pitch just right (on the A pitch in this example) the needle points directly at the '0'.
Autotuning mode (which is built into the QT8 and many other modern tuners) makes for easy hands free operation - which is very convenient when you have a plectrum in one hand and are turning a machine head with the other hand.
The QT8's display certainly updates to reflect the changes in pitches adequately quickly - though there are more responsive tuners available (tuners that don't update their display quickly are a nightmare to use and are much more useful for testing hammers with -lol!).
When tuning an electric guitar or an electro-acoustic guitar you can plug it directly into the QwikTune QT8 via the jack input socket -thus bypassing the internal mic. There is also an output socket so you can leave the QT8 tuner 'in-line' (in between your guitar and amplifier in order to make tuning adjustments quickly without the need for unplugging during a performances).
The QwikTune QT8 is powered by a 9v battery which will last for months of accassional or quick use.
My opinion of the QT8
Build quality of the QT8 is reasonable. In fact everything about this tuner is reasonable or average -the display, the ease of tuning, the accuracy. It's a decent piece of kit but is easily eclipsed by almost any more expensive tuner...
But I suppose that's the whole point isn't it? The QT8 is quite an old design (relatively) and can be picked up new for under £15... or probably a fraction of that 2nd hand. I wouldn't recommend it to a pro or even a semi pro player, but if you just play for a hobby and you're on a budget; this most average of tuners will probably be all you need.
Just one final note -if you harbour any dreams of future ventures into open or obscure tunings -or perhaps doing a 'Hendrix' and stepping all your strings down a semitone -then the QT8 isn't the tuner for you; you'll need a chromatic tuner to cope with all the sharps and flats.
I confess I didn't buy myself a QT8 -it was given to me, and it isn't a tuner I would ever consider using for anything important... but for a quick tuning check around the house it does the job nicely...
Thank you so much for reading my review!
Caveat Emptor x
My review of MySpace.com
The buzz word of the last 5 years or so has been social networking. As I'm sure almost everyone reading this will already know; this involves signing up to a web site that gives you the ability to send private messages (like emails), public messages (in the form of comments left visible for all to see on a persons page) or even chat (as fast as your wee typing fingers allow) in real time to any number of friends and acquaintances online.
There are a number of popular social networking sites -including Bebo, Facebook and of course (the Granddaddy of them all) MySpace that have been attracting an ever growing number of ermm... social-networkees (sorry it's the best word I could think of :-)
If you listen to the more enthusiastic voices; social networking is THE thing, it's THE future, it's THE way to talk to all your friends from the comfort of your own home, it's THE way to make new friends, it's THE way to meet that special someone without an endless stream of rubbish dates, it's THE way too catch up with friends and family members who've moved away or who you've lost touch with, it's THE way to express yourself, and if you have a talent -as a writer, painter, sculptor, naked Morris dancer (or is that just me?) or musician/band it's THE way to reach a huge audience and secure world wide fame and fortune...
Except of course the above expectations of social networking are mostly a load of hype and should be taken about as seriously as the hysteria over the Millennium Bug!
There are quite a few faults with social networking; you can fool yourself into thinking you have 10s or 100s (thousands?) of friends if you want to - but a wise person knows they are truly blessed if they can count enough true friends to account for the fingers on one hand... You can brag about your exploits online to your 'friends' like how you pulled a sickie and didn't go to work yesterday - only to find your boss has been online and read the comment you've posted...
You can catch up with old school friends that you lost contact with/forgot 20 years ago; but if you couldn't be bothered to keep up with them then why are you befriending them again; just because it's easy to say hi to them once every 3 months online? Lol... You can try and meet that special someone online, but of course you have no idea if the person you're chatting too is in anyway like the person they claim to be in their online profile (so perhaps that 20 year old Nobel Prize winning fashion model and co-founder Greenpeace that you've fallen for on Facebook could actually be telling fibs!!)...
You can express yourself on a social networking site, but if you change your mind or write something when you're in a bad mood that in the cold light of day seemed like a really bad idea -it's too late, although you can change what you've written -it's already been seen and possibly even reposted elsewhere too!... If you're the artistic type you can certainly promote your music, art or whatever it is you do (or want to do) to the world via social networking but the trouble is the world isn't listening, only individual people listen and they are mostly on a social networking site to chat to their own friends and express themselves.
Rather unsurprisingly these people mostly do not spend the day trawling through millions of different band/artists etc to try and find ones they like; you're probably no more likely to have your talent 'discovered' online than you are to bump into someone who could help your artistic career if you put on a show on of whatever you do at a small local venue.
So is social networking really truly the future? Only in the same way that a clock is the future -if you see what I mean :-)
Like The Pretenders Song; Don't Get Me Wrong!
Don't get me wrong; I'm not anti social networking sites, I just think that their uses and the reality of what they can really deliver are limited (unless you're the one of the lucky few who created a social network site that became popular and are now reaping the rewards of millions in advertising revenue -lol!) and their pitfalls are often overlooked...
On the news recently I saw someone had created a website that checks people's posts on some social networking sites to let other people know when they're not at home and their home can be burgled!!... But if you have realistic expectations and a good idea of what you are using social networking for, then it can be a very useful tool -whether you use it for chatting to REAL friends or promoting your talents etc...
Most people who engage in social networking (that sounds rude; like a line from a Carry On film :-) are members of more than one site. This is no problem as they're free to join anyway, and fine if you genuinely have time to log into multiple sites and check all your messages!! Facebook is probably the BIG social networking site of the moment, and you don't hear so much about MySpace nowadays, which is odd because it has an enormous amount of members and shows no signs of flagging.
Although MySpace is older than Facebook it still has a few tricks up it's sleeve (like the way you can customise your page - more on this later) that make it the number one choice of musicians, bands and artistic types... though Facebook seems to be the preferred sites for chatting to real friends (which is good) or imagined/not-seen-for-years-so-why-bother-now? friends (which is bad) and for chatting up the opposite sex online - by folks who often seem to lack the ability to do it in real life (which is sad -lol!).
...MySpace however is still the number one choice of musicians, bands and artistic types to network, promote themselves and build a fan base -and although MySpace is older than Facebook it still has a few tricks up it's sleeve for those who like to do there own thing...
In case you haven't read any of my other reviews (why not? If you sat there for three hours without going to the toilet I bet you could read them all in one sitting -just kidding!) I'm a musician and music nut in general so that's why I favour Myspace (though I've enjoyed using Facebook etc too on occasion) and why I relate to the site...
Joining MySpace is very easy to do, and free. There are two types of account;
1) Normal Account - use this type of account if you just want to use MySpace to chat to friends on the site. This is the equivalent of a normal site on Facebook etc. You can fill in as much or as little detail about yourself as you want to; everything from favourite films and books to your favourite food.
I would personally never put my home address, phone number or any information that could be used by cyber or real world criminals. You can also add photos of yourself or anything you want to (within reason) as long as they're your photos. If you have a favourite band/single you can add it to your MySpace page as well as links to your favourite (or your own!) youtube videos etc.
You can talk to your friends by sending them a private message, or you write a comment on their page that everyone can see (there is a wonderful comment approval feature that let's you check every comment before allowing it onto your page just in case someone posts something you don't like -lol!), or you can instant message your friends if you like.
You have a list of friends which is searchable (very useful if you befriend the entire population of New Zealand) and your top/best friends are displayed (if you want them to be -and you also control who is in your top friends -up to 40 of them) on your page so you can quickly find them/ contact them/ visit their page to add a comment.
Built into MySpace is a blog so if you want to share your musings or announce that charity car boot or nude Morris dancing festival (what again?) that you have organised -you can!!
If you're an avid music fan you can pop across to your favourite band's MySpace page to see when their next gigs are or to listen to their music. Music is usually playable via the MySpace player, and you can usually (as long as the band have given permission) add their song to your site with your own (free built in) MySpace Player. You can even create your own playlists of favourite tracks by people if you like. You can sometimes even download and buy songs straight from the MySpace Player on your favourite band's page, if you want to.
2) Band Account - use this type of account if you are in a band and you want to promote your own music on MySpace. There are lots of very famous bands and musicians on MySpace so why not put your music on there too? You can upload your songs to the MySpace Player on your page so people can hear you and hopefully you gain some exposure. It is also possible to sell your music via the MySpace Player.
Instead of adding friends -the way you do with a normal account -you instead add fans to your page. So in theory you can add hundreds or thousands of new fans to your page to help support your band. In practice those 8 thousands 'fans' are unlikely to ever attend your gigs or ever buy your music but at least you are getting your name out to people who hadn't previously heard of you. You can also network with other bands and share venue/gig information etc, so it's not all doom and gloom... But be realistic in your expectations; you're unlikely to have a million fans buying your music or a stream of record companies knocking down your door... A myspace site for bands is best used to augment and promote what they're doing out in the physical world.
What else should I know?
Regardless of which type of account you open there's one very cool things you can do with your MySpace page that leave Facebook users feeling a tad jealous...you can customise it! You can change background colour, add a picture or pictures ... a drawing ...a logo etc. If you know how to use HTML (Hyper Text Mark-Up Language if memory serves me right! It's used for creating web pages) you can design your own page. If not you can simply go to any of the websites offering free MySpace page designs and get the code for the design you fancy... then it's just a matter of simply copying and pasting the code into your myspace page when you're editing it. Either way you end up with a fairly (or totally if you designed it yourself) unique page!! This is one of my favourite things about MySpace.
Adding friends (or fans if you have a Band Account) is easy... You can either contact someone you want to add to your friends and send them a request to join your page -or they can send you one. If you change your mind about having someone as a friend you can of course delete them from your list of friends.
There are a few annoying things;
...There are loads of adverts on the pages which can be distracting until you learn to 'tune' them out mentally (or of course there's always the option to use a good pop up and flash blocker).
...There are too many invites from everybody and their dog to attend such and such a function/gig/party/online radio show etc which you need to delete or they'll swamp your MySpace Inbox.... Most of these invites are to attend events that aren't even in the UK so I think MySpace could do with tightening their filters up to stop invites being sent to people outside a 100 mile radius of the actual venue (unless it's an online thing).
...My penultimate gripe is that MySpace is a bit naughty when it comes to blocking links that take you away from the site. You might be on a friend's MySpace page and they've put a link onto a blog run by a rival (non MySpace) site... and if you try to click on the link MySpace will flash up a warning about the site not being safe so they've disabled the link... (you can of course copy the address and put it into your browser address bar thus bypassing MySpace's efforts to stop you).
This link blocking of rival companies is I think a bit naughty. MySpace won't even allow links through to Google's blogspot which if anything is probably more trustworthy than MySpace! I get the feeling that perhaps this is sadly a battle to maximise advertising revenue by keeping members on site (and away from rivals) as long as possible....
.. The last thing I don't like, because it confused the hell out of me and everyone else who has ever signed up to MySpace -is why when you sign up you get a default friend called Tom... Tom apparently started MySpace so he tends to crop up as everyone's first friend.
... It's not that I mind having very rich influential friends; it's just that Tom crops up unexpectedly the first ever time you log into MySpace :-) Has anyone ever actually managed to get a reply from Tom??? I messaged him once for a laugh but I always got a message back saying he wasn't available... Humm!! Some friend Tom turned out to be -lol!!
On the positive side;
I have (but don't get carried away and forget my warnings about expecting too much from social networking sites!!) in fact made one or two new good friends from MySpace, and even occasionally conversed with a few famous musicians too (who shall remain nameless ;-)... but having said that I've also made a least at couple of good friends from being on Dooyoo too (though neither of them is famous as far as I know -lol!).
As I've already said I don't think social networking is all it's cracked up to be... but it can be useful if you don't expect too much from it and don't try and use it as a replacement for interaction with real people -who you really know or actually have met or intend to meet!!
Despite not being flavour of the month (that honour currently belongs to Twitter and Facebook) I believe MySpace is still at or very near the forefront of social network sites -especially for artistic types! (Though arguably there are better more specific social sites like ReverbNation for musicians -but they just don't reach or have the same huge numbers of people as MySpace).
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!!
My Review Of Greatest Hits CD- By Janis Joplin
Like John Miles sang; music was my first love, and it will be my last... My music collection contains songs and albums that will both impress and horrify pretty much anybody; such is my span of genres -lol!
One of those artists among my collection that has the love it or hate it reaction with people is Janis Joplin - the long deceased wild but delicate flower child of the hippy generation.
Janis' brand of hippy love tunes meets rock meets blues meets soul music, twinned with her either (depending on who you ask), strangled croaky tones/ soulful heart ripping voice is -no matter which side of the fence you sit -unmistakeable and unforgettable.
I am of course in the 'Janis is great and Janis for President' camp -lol! I'll never forget the first time I that footage of her (with her then band Big Brother & The Holding Company) performing Ball & Chain at the (1967 possibly?) Monterey festival...
I was only 13 or 14 at the time - though it was already a couple of decades after the footage of Janice's performance was immortalised on film - but she moved me. That voice reminded me of playing blues guitar; suddenly raspy and explosively powerful... just as suddenly delicate and clear as glass; wow!!
I'm blessed with quiet a good vocal range - until I grew up and got a little older and wiser I never could work out why I had no problem with all those high notes yet other male singers I knew struggled a bit in the higher registers... but now I have a theory; I think I owe the top end of my voice to Janice... and many a happy band practice session screaming out those high notes of Ball & Chain...
Of course I don't do that sort of thing nowadays (at least when anyone's looking :-) but the point is Janis Joplin's heartfelt delivery really had a positive impact on me and my own music...
There were also many, many other musicians and singers of many different styles -pop, jazz, rock, country (you name it -lol!) who influenced me too; but I always have a place in my heart for dear ol' Janis.
I think it's useful when you like an artist to find out a little about them and see what makes them tick; to better understand what drove them to create the music they did.
I saw a documentary on Janis once and was surprised to find out behind the screaming, wild cat of a girl who's sexual exploits are legendary (what late 60's musicians aren't? lol! Though I think Leonard Cohen lacked a lot of gentlemanly tact when he wrote about Janice in one of his songs and their exploits in a hotel) was a frail, insecure dispossessed soul in torment...
Sadly that inner conflict is probably what made her music so great and 'true' but was also responsible for making her life so short (Janice died age 27), such is the way of destructive genius unfortunately.
So when I listen to the Greatest Hits Janis Joplin album, I always have in mind that balance of frailty and power, loneliness and extrovertness that Janis so personified...
** The album **
The album open's with a rip roaring version of 'Piece of my heart' I prefer this version to any other's I've heard; it's just got so much soul and bite to it.
Summertime; the classic track from the musical gets the stunning Janis blues treatment; and the results are spectacular. The twin guitar parts are very nicely worked out too. I seem to remember there's some footage of Janice recording this song, and she was a real sulk in the studio... I love this track but I wouldn't have wanted to be in a band with her I think :-)
Try (just a little bit harder) -Cracking bit of late hippy rock before the whole Glam rock thing happened and spoiled it -lol!
Cry baby -I don't like this track it doesn't have much to offer in the way of song composition, music or even a particularly engaging vocal performance. The song's not bad it's just not one I'd sit through when there are much better offerings.
Me and Bobby McGee -The song that launched Kris Kristofferson's song writing career; Janis does a fine job of improvising around this excellent country tune.
Down on me -Yet another great slice of late hippy rock, with its quick changes in the chorus and rock solid almost motown influence on the verses with those snare drum hits.
Get it while you can -Another ok but not great track that I generally skip.
Bye bye baby -Likewise, this is another skip-able track. I expect better from Aunty Janis :-).
Move over -I think Suzi Quatro based her career on this track possibly? Janice got there first though, and a whole lot better too methinks!! Rockin'!!
Ball and chain -Now as you may remember from what I wrote above; I love this song. This is a pretty good version of it (though spilt a little by the fact that Janice goes on just a little too long acapella at the end -even though the feeling in voice and the ideas she wants to share are very heartfelt and in places philosophical). I still wish they'd but the Monterey festival version of the song on this album though as it's a tad better. Still at least it's a live recording; audience, crackles and all.
Maybe -I SO LOVE THIS TRACK!!! It's like what would happen if Burt Bacharach met Otis Reading, country music and the Ashbury-Haight movement and they all fused into one. Janice's voice is simply stunning and on the top of her form; from full power grit to crystal clear and sweet it's all here. Great song, great arrangement... Amazing that this song is not much more widely known!!
Mercedes Benz -Janice's jokey acapella tune that got a lot of people who'd never heard of Joplin turned onto her music thanks to Mercedes using the song in their advert a few years back... This song crops up everywhere; during my hols last year I went to Cheddar Gorge to find the old sensible museum had been closed and in it's place over the road Lord Bath (who still looks like he spent one too many days at a 60's hippy festival -lol!) had sanctioned some daft new age pseudo museum with lots of pointless crap in it about human mortality, and erm... 'art' involving phallic symbols (you don't want to know what I wrote in the guest book -lol!).
But just as i was leaving; which wasn't soon enough for me... there was a display of a human skeleton in a glass see through burial coffin thingy (get a grip Lord Bath!) and guess what was playing on endless repeat above the silly display; yes Janice's Mercedes Benz track...
Well I suppose they needed something to cheer people's moods after shelling out money to visit that daft exhibit -lol!! (I hasten to add Cheddar's a great place - I just hated the new silly 'museum'). But that's the point -even though this little song is so lightweight, and throwaway it really is fun and mood lifting to hear -humourous too when you get to hear all the verses...
** In Conclusion **
Janice, as critics will tell you had many flaws... She wasn't always on form, her band (she changed bands later in her short career) sometimes over reach a little musically and the effects are a little ropey, but sit back on a Sunday afternoon with Janice's greatest hits album to entertain you -and non of the flaws matter; It's just a shame she didn't have a longer life and make more music...
But like Janice's hero blues singer Bessie Smith - she died well before her time
Greatest Hits - Janis Joplin; current prices are £6.99 at Play and perhaps a little more expensive in the shops... (Amazon are doing it for around £4 but I'm not sure if that includes postage)
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting and useful.
My review of The Secret Of Monkey Island
Spending (mis-spending?) my young life circa 1990 as a hard working musician it will come as no surprise (to anyone daft enough to have spent much time in musicians company) that between gigs and recording and the obligatory part time job at a recording studio/music shop/PA hire company (delete where applicable -lol!) I would often be reaching for the PC on button to feel the surge of god like power that exuded from the erm... mighty 386 chip with 4 meg of ram and a 1gb hard disk...
But why? To surf the net; nope hadn't even heard of the thing then... To write up my songs on some prehistoric word processor? Not likely... To tweak my configsys file to optimise Windows 3.1 (bloody hell what a clunky operating system!) or was it to learn the wonders of DOS 5 in all it's confusing crappyness? Never!
PC's were good for one thing and one thing only; playing games o' course!!
I love computer games even though I seldom get the time to play them anymore -but back in the early 90's one game in particular caught my attention. The Secret Of Monkey Island by Lucasarts. (George Lucas of Star Wars fame).
As computers were becoming more powerful the games were becoming more interesting - and the genre of the point and click adventure games was born. I was never that keen on the boring - hold down the fire button (or press the auto fire button on the joystick) type games - I liked puzzles and characters where progress through the game had something to do with the old grey matter (or young grey matter as it was then!).
The Secret of Monkey Island game had puzzles galore, good ones too that really took some solving. The game also had a lot of well defined characters, a well composed, coherent if surreal plot and... the thing that attracted me the most ... vary daring for it's time; Monkey Island was slap bang (slap stick??) full of humour!!!
Not the cheesy humour of stale jokes, but it was genuinely hilarious. The Secret of Monkey Island often had me/us rolling on the floor in painful laughter (and no we weren't under the influence of anything illegal at the time; and anyway no one ever accuses train spotters of being stoned when they laugh a lot... we musicians have a bad press -lol!).
The boring stuff!!
First the boring stuff! Game play is simple in The Secret of Monkey Island you get little non interactive movie like scenes here and there as you progress through the game/levels after which you simple point and click with the mouse to guide your character around the screen and explore the various places. Certain items/things can be interacted with or collected and stored for later use and most of the characters you encounter can be spoken to...
By 'spoken to' I mean you would get a bunch of choices in the form of written lines of dialogue that you can select to direct at an onscreen character - then they would respond with another line of written dialogue. It sounds clunky and rubbish by today's standards -but for some reason it worked, and it worked brilliantly.
Operating the game was simple -point click, load floppy disks when prompted if you didn't have it all on hard drive. The annoying bit was the screen/scene changeovers which would take a while in some cases - especially if you're playing the game on floppy disks. The screen was always split horizontally; top half is where all the cartoon like action takes place -bottom half is where all the dialogue or the actions possible are written.
I get the operation of the PC version and the Atari ST version of The Secret of Monkey Island a bit mixed up as I had both computers at the time (would you believe the Atari was the serious music computer back then; not my PC) but I think they both were able to load the game just from floppy disk (as opposed to requiring hard disk storage space) - but after 20 years it's a tad difficult to remember exactly as I played the game on both thanks to my friend Adrian -who gave me the Atari version when he'd completed it. An act of supreme charity I always felt -lol!
So what's it all about?
Well the plot is a bit hard to nail down as it's wonderfully silly, but as best as I can phrase it -you play a wannabe pirate called Guybrush Threepwood. Guybrush, the young trainee swashbuckler suddenly turns up on Melee Island in the Caribbean during the era of the pirates and privateers. After a little conversation with the Melee Island lookout -who you eventually discovered is blind (yes a blind lookout; no politically correct nonsense here -lol!) you get stuck into your quest to be a pirate.
Important characters (and recurring characters as they mostly turn up in every later version of the Monkey Island games too) you encounter when playing as the dashing but inept hero Guybrush are;
Elaine Marley governor of Melee Island - the girl Guybrush will soon fall in love with, and much of the plot revolves around him rescuing her from the clutches of the evil ghost pirate Le Chuck. Le Chuck is the baddie in this tale -and as a dead pirate could well have been the inspiration behind The Pirates Of The Caribean films.
We also meet the Voodoo Lady with all her strange accoutrements and Stan the salesman - to say nothing of the sword master -Lol!!
There are to many great moments in this game to pick a favourite - but a serious contender has to be the sword fighting section where you defeat your opponent by (or are in turn defeated by) insults!!
In good time and after many adventures you guide Guybrush to Monkey Island for more mayhem before returning to Melee to battle the evil Le Chuck and stop him marrying your girlfriend Elaine...
From start to finish this a brilliant game. Despite the start stop nature of puzzle games (while you stop for two hours to try and get every item in your inventory to work -lol!) the pace of Monkey Island still seems pushed and urgent, ever driving you on through harder puzzles and sillier humour. The graphics and sound won't compete with modern games (or even the more recent versions of Monkey Island games) but I would still recommend giving the game a go if you haven't played it before...
A quick search on Ebid or eBay etc will usually turn up a copy of Secret of Monkey Island for very little money (I've seen it as low as 99p). Getting the game to work with modern Windows operating systems like .XP, Vista and Windows 7 may be a little tricky, but as long as you run the game in Win 95 compatibility mode you should be ok...
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!!
My review of the Behringer Ultra Metal Guitar Effects Pedal
As regular readers of my reviews will know I'm a guitar playing nut (sort of like a peanut but in C minor). The downside of this is everybody I know within a 9 million mile radius phones me (usually while I'm doing important work like watching The Simpsons!) for an opinion on this bit of gear or that bit of gear...
Just once why won't someone ask me for my opinion on Tolstoy's War and Peace...such is the meager existence of a lowly musician -lol!!
Alan what have you bought?
Anyway so the phone rings (through The Simpsons surprisingly!!) and my friend Alan, who I used to teach guitar to - phones up to ask if he can pop round with a new Behringer pedal he's bought, so I can show him how to set it up (what! do Behringer pay me for advice?? no -lol!!)
Anyway being the kind hearted soul that I am (at least that's what my parole officer and anger management councillor say I am now; just kidding :-) I invited Alan round with his new pedal.
I missed the Simpsons for this?
Turns out Alan had bought a Behringer Ultra Metal pedal - which is a foot pedal designed for an electric guitar (or anything you care to plug through it) that generates artificial clipping of the waveform and adds extra harmonics to produce a heavy, distorted sound - such as you might hear with bands like Metallica etc.
Not my sort of music (especially Metallica ever since I found out that their lead singer James hunts bears and deer etc - I'm not much for all that animal killing pseudo macho crap; It'd warm the cockles of my heart to spend a quiet afternoon giving him a free martial arts lesson; the HARD way!)
Anyway pleasant daydreaming of a badly bruised James Hetfield from Metallica aside -lol! Back to Alan's pedal - he paid £23 pounds for it new, which is very cheap for a guitar effect. The equivalent Boss pedal (a rival, market leading brand on which Behringer pedals seem to be modeled) would easily be 2 or 3 times more expensive...
... and though the Boss pedals are generally better sounding than the Behringer range, the difference is often only small.
The pedal itself (That's a clever bike!)
The pedal itself is housed in a metal casing, and looks quite strong and durable; it's powered by a 9v battery or an adaptor (not included).
In operation the least exciting knob is the level control - which simply balances the output level of the pedal when turned on (via a single footswitch click) with the 'clean' sound when the pedal is off. Some folks prefer to have the same volume for off and on, some prefer the pedal to be louder so that it can be used as a volume boost for guitar solos as well as a distortion effect.
Next in order of simplicity comes the Distortion control. This rotary knob simply drives the input signal with increasing ferocity as it is turned clockwise - into heavier and more pronounced signal clipping. Or put simply - the further you turn the knob, the more distortion effect you get -lol! It's a raspy, fudgy (for want of a better word) distortion - not like the drive from a classic Marshall amp for eg.
Most complex of all the controls -but that's good if you know how to use them to your advantage... are the 3 tone controls.
Yes I know there are 4 knobs -but trust me on this you are only affecting 3 parts of the signal; let me explain...
High and Low tone controls are simply shelving type eq's; they over a straight 15db cut or boost over a predefined frequency. Think of them as the bass and treble controls on a hi-fi and you've got it. The third control is the slightly more involved one.
The human ear is more sensitive to mid frequencies so it stands to reason that subtle and not so subtle changes here will have big tone shaping results.
Hence there are 2 mid controls - a 15db cut/boost (as there is with the high and low tone controls) plus a frequency sweep selector. The sweep selector lets you pick a certain frequency you like (and boost it with the other mid control) or pick a certain frequency you dislike (and cut it with the other mid control).
This is similar (but not quite as involved/advanced) as the way analogue mixing desk eq's work except that there's no control over the 'Q' width (don't ask -lol!) and it's cerainly where the design of a sweep mid comes from...
... if memory serves me right it was Boss in the mid 80's with their Heavy Metal pedal that first borrowed the swept mid control from desks to use in guitar effects.
I found a range of useful tones could be attained by boosting certain frequencies and applying just a little distortion... It's not what my mate Alan wants though; he wants to know how to get that big 'metal' sound... easy - you just 'scoop' (ie cut the mid frequencies) out - and that boring muddy indistinct heavy guitar sound is there for the taking... not a sound that impresses me much though - as I prefer my rock solos to cut through like a sonic razor blade :-)
In mid scooped conclusion
The Behringer Ultra Metal pedal is very good value for £23 and it holds up quite well against even the brand leader Boss's equivalent pedals. But then again an indistinct heavily clipped sound doesn't require the same finesse as more demanding sounds, so that isn't too surprising.
This is the pedal of teenage angst (or at least teenage angst without too much musical grasp -lol!) if songs about Satan, murder and stuff are your cup of tea (sorry I meant to say; are your post nuclear wasteland of headless corpses -lol!) then you'll enjoy the Behringer Ultra Metal pedal... and don't forget to drop tune to C :-)
Me? I won't be buying one -but Alan looks happy -now to take the phone of the hook and get back to my Simpson's episode... too late it's time to walk my dog -lol!
Thanks for reading my review, hope you enjoyed it and found it useful.
Mr review of the Born In The USA Album
It was the mid 80's -the cold war was still in it's death throws, the Berlin Wall was still up, the size of electronc gadgets was going down and I was going out with an amazingly beautiful 21 year old girl -pretty impressive for a spotty 16 year old who'd just left school a few weeks before I felt -lol! Does that make me a toy boy??? :-)
My then girlfriend introduced me to a fast growing popularity album, by one Mr Bruce Springsteen -a hard rock n rolling gig monster who blended the music of his two favourite artists Elvis and Dylan to produce his own distinct blend of music and songwriting...
... aided as ever by the Boss's ~(Bruce's nickname; well it's better than shorty!) musical posse the E street band. (The E street band contained a a number of musician who were already, or would go on to achieve fame in their own right -so they were/are a fair band to be sure).
The album of course was Born In The USA (well if it wasn't this would be a very silly review considering the title - lol!). Though I was vaguely aware of Uncle Bruce's work from the often much 'darker' and gritty Dark Side Of Town album (that had brought Bruce to the attention of many music fans -though not quite into the popular media mainstream - with his legendary track; The River).
I've never heard of this Boris Sprigtoon chappie; what's he like?
If you're unfamiliar with Bruce it can be a little hard to gain a handle on his music; much like Cliff Richard and Nine Inch Nails (bet you never thought anyone would mention those two in the same sentence) reactions to Springsteen are mostly polarised - you either love him or hate him! Serious fans have a nerd like knowledge of Bruce's albums (don't even get them started on the album Bruce recorded at home on a cheap cassette 4 track) and have a nasty habit of going to gigs with bandanas wrapped around their heads and a white T Shirt and torn jeans...
... Which can be a tad out of place in Aston on a chilly February day - lol! I shouldn't pick on them to much though; many of the rap music enthusiasts made me smile a lot more with their fashion sense (I still titter even now at the sight of the would be rapper who I met once with a pair of jeans on -and he'd cut one leg of the jeans off... Oh happy days :-)
Anyway my point is that it's often difficult to get an objective view of Bruce - it's a work of genius or the spawn of Satan depending on who you ask! So here you go;
Bruce is a very dedicated musician who I believe achieved fame through his relentless hard work more so than his talent as a writer and performer... (I feel bandana wearing fans already putting down their air guitars -erm... telecaster air guitars - ready to tell me off.. yes but wait I haven't finished...)
But I'm for a second suggesting that Bruce isn't talented; he clearly is and has written some breathtakingly good songs -but they do get mixed in with a lot of mediocre and not too bad tracks along the way. Live; Bruce is very exciting to watch (yep I have seen him play live in a stadium when he's doing his songs properly -he does have a terrible tendency (as does Sting) to wander off into some mind numbingly boring over long showmanship bits where he adopts silly poses or otherwise generally wastes time; stick to doing the songs Bruce!!
Bruce's melodies are occasionally inspired but usually nothing special - though they mostly contain a memorable hook... and his lyrics; though they are in some cases very good, insightful and passionately felt can sink to run of the mill or very cheesy on lesser album filler tracks.
Bruce's lead guitar playing skills are quite good too, though he often lets other guitarists in the band do most of the fancy stuff. Bruce isn't a virtuoso musician but he's very competent.
So overall Bruce is a very good performer and writer who deserves his fame and most of his reputation - but he can slip into mediocrity at the drop quickly...
Born In The USA -The Album
So there I am, mid 80's with my hot girlfriend and my new sound system (from Tandy -lol!) and my the Born In The USA album - I liked quite a few of the tracks back then and I still like them now...despite the occasional lyrical/musical weaknesses.
Born In The U.S.A.
This is Bruce's take on the Vietnam War -a good solid rock track with a big bold vocal and a solid anti war message, though perhaps told with a big paint brush rather than a sharp quill pen. I like it but I have to be in the mood.
Oh, this is a classic -much underrated, strangely overlooked Springsteen song. As soon as the infectious minor chord riff kicks off you know you're in for a roller coaster ride of a song... Stonkingly good lyrics, melody and a cracking guitar solo too. Judge Bruce by this track and you'll see why he's so popular in many quarters... This song should be as famous as Free's All Right Now -strangely it isn't (yet!)
Bruce at his most annoying and Country influenced (and not good country at that!I like good country music and country rock more than most -but this song isn't it). Yuck; me no like!
Working On The Highway
There's not a lot of lyrical depth to this song but neither do most upbeat songs! It does rock along like a freight train though - I love having this playing in the car, or when I'm about to go out -the tempo drives me along somewhat. A happy straightforward rockin' little tune. Me do like this one!!
Another classic track -one that made Born In The USA legendary album status a valid one I think. Musically this song is probably a reworking of Bruce's earlier classic The River. But we mustn't judge him for it (after all many a classical composer uses variations on a theme) as this clearly is not a rip off song it's a genuine new angle to a Springsteen chordal mood. I love this track it's brilliant; genuinely!
I'm On Fire
Ohh the sexy flirting track! -and amazingly Bruce pulls this song off without it sounding cheesy or annoying (not something easy to do with this kind of flirty; hey baby here I am, why don't you and me get together while your boyfriends elsewhere songs -lol!). I owe a lot to this song; back in mid 80's I worked it out on the guitar and sang it to my older girlfriend to great effect -lol!! (Of course she wasn't a patch on my current girlfriend -who is much better in every single way -oh hello dear I didn't see you there reading this review I'm writing over my shoulder :-)
Stonkingly good rock song that really speaks to me - it's about a bunch of kids growing up forming a band and then even though they grow up and go there separate ways/ take on the realities of adult life they never lose that wild promise they make to each other about their life and music; no retreat no surrender.
Reminds me of the band I used to have with my old school friend for sad reasons that I won't go into -but the song really speaks to me... and hopefully I can hand I heart say i lived my life that way too for the most part; Yea way to go Bruce!!! Superb Track!! (I'd better be careful or I'll be buying my own bandana and white T shirt next -lol!)
I love the melody on this track, most of the lyrics are very good too. I have a special place in my heart for this track as it's the song that my then 21 year old girlfriend said would always remind her of me after we split up and went our different ways (well it could have been worse; she could have said the Birdie Song -lol!).
She was a lovely girl who wanted to do sensible stuff -I was a spotty rock n roll musician who didn't want to settle down so it just wasn't going to work - but much like this song my mid 80's girlfriend was a really class act!! (Though as I said not even a patch on my current, and only girlfriend till the end of time, who is totally superior in everyway... Oh thanks for bringing me a cup of tea dear, while I'm sat here still typing my dooyoo review... I didn't hear you come in the room!!).
I'm Goin' Down
Another great track, though with a slower (but still beefy) tempo. The chorus lyrics are a little repetitive (let's just say the word 'down' gets so worn out it needs a rest and a good lie down for a bit). But it's still very good and enjoyable.
This is a song about past glory and recounting the great tales of our youth (much like me going on about my old girlfriend -lol!). The first time I heard the song I really liked, every time since then it has bored me stupid... Just goes to show that too much nostalgia isn't a good thing :-) But seriously, there's just too much blandness to this song -melodically and lyrically (the boring country rock arrangement doesn't help) to make it work. This song gets skipped a lot by me!
Dancing In The Dark
Oh Yea!! Classic song, one of the better 80's singles and beneath the catchy pop song lays a darker more engaging lyric. This song works for me on multiple levels -well deserved classic status. Brilliant.
Boring, boring, boring - Bruce sometimes does long drawling songs that don't really go anywhere musically or lyrically and this is one of them. It's pleasant to have on as background music -but to sit and listen too/enjoy? Nope I don't think so. A muted end to an often brilliant album.
In Conclusifinallyificationism (I know I made it up!!)
Bon in the USA is without doubt a classic album -though I think it has it's flaws and weaknesses. Not every song is great, not every lyric is meaningful -production nuts will point out (this one's just for musician/sound engineering types, so don't worry if you don't quite follow what I'm waffling on about -lol!)
...that in the studio extensive use was made of drum samples (that is the drums were played by a real drummer, but the sounds of those drums were replaced by samples of (arguably) better sounding drums) -which at that time tended to all be at one volume -rather than the common more authentic sounding multi sampling used today... OK I promise I won't mention studio production again -lol!
... But despite the negatives (which pale into insignificance when compaired to some of the music albums I've had the misfortune to hear) - Born in the USA is still a superb album (mostly) and I recommend it!! (It's currently available for just under £4 on amazon). I also recommend dating hot older (21 year old) women when you're a spotty 16 year old guy too -lol!
Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you found it interesting!!!
My (wild?) review of Amarula
There's no getting round it; I got quite a lot of booze given to me over Christmas, which is slightly odd as I probably only get through 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks on a good week! Gone are my mad days of University gigs in the 90's where the beer would be stacked up to the ceiling in a bubbly tower of crates in our dressing room...
...(and then mysteriously disappear slowly one crate at a time, as the more enterprising students risked a quick sortie into the band dressing room while we were out doing various sound checks -lol! Not that I minded; there was enough alcohol there to give King Kong a hang over).
But nowadays I prefer to finish my social nights in the same condition I start them; upright and without any slurring :-)
Among my clinking glass collection of donations from Santa was a rather nice bottle that caught my eye, and hence got opened quickly... Nice because... well because... OK I liked it because it had a picture of an elephant and I happen to like elephants -lol (despite strangely never owning one; just no room in the garage with my folding bike!).
What is this Amarula tribe, Tarzan?
Despite all the mysterious references on the bottle to elephants (which I'm pretty confident it doesn't contain any of -lol!) and exotic African fruit, Amarula is a cream liqueur - very much following in the footsteps of Baileys and other Irish Creams.
Even the bottle is very similar to a generic/supermarket home brand Irish Cream bottle - with its smoky brown glass and gold screw cap, though somehow the addition of the elephant picture and a bit of thin gold rope knotted around the neck of the bottle under the cap - combine to make Amarula more eye catching somehow.
Something new; or same old witch doctors brew?
As I mentioned - as far as I'm concerned Amarula is basically an Irish Cream variant... but it does differ slightly in the addition of a fruity flavour. The fruit is supplied by the wild marula fruit (ok I have no idea what that is either; but I'm sure I saw an episode where Tarzan averted a tribe wide fever by bravely going off to fetch a similar plant for the jungle doctor to administer -so it's probably something like that -lol!).
As Adam an Eve may have once said - during their run in with the big fellow; 'Does a bit fruit really matter?' ... and in this case (I mean the Amarula not Adam-and-eve -lol!) make a difference... Well yes, it sure does...
As soon as you unscrew the cap (a disappointing way to open the bottle - I was hoping the top needed to be levered off with coconut husks or dried giraffe droppings or something; in keeping with the mood) the aroma of fruitiness hits you.
Not an unpleasant citrus fruit smell -which would turn my stomach in the presence of all that cream (yuck! I love oranges, grapefruit etc but that kind of smell mixed with cream would be nasty!) -but a rich, dark fruit... perhaps distantly akin to the darker berries you might taste in a yogurt.
The marula fruit (marula; it'll probably turn out to be African for cherry or blackberry won't it? You know; like they rename everyday food in restaurants so it sounds more exotic -and er...costs more :-) mixes well with the thick aroma of cream and the sharper fragrance of 17% vol alcohol that hits your nostrils harder than a distracted, dentist (hey it's the only analogy I could think of so cut me some slack please; you can use the rope tied round the Amarula bottle to do it if you like -lol!)
(Or has Jane put purple spider wallpaper in Tarzan's tree house again?)
Poured into a glass with a little ice (I recommend cubes from the fridge rather than collecting it from outside during very cold weather!!) and then left to settle in a warm room for a while so that some of the ice melts in with the Amarula -I put my glass on the shelf above the gas fire for about 5 minutes before drinking it (if all you're ice melts immediately you should probably dial for help as your house may be on fire :-) ...then the taste is really quite spectacular (if you like the Irish Cream type drinks).
The fruity taste is quite evident as you sip Amarula, but so too is the predictably warm rich creamy taste that you'd expect from this type of liqueur. It is at heart simply Baileys (or similar Irish cream) with a bit of a fruity kick thrown in for good measure; and very good it is too.
Worth going on Safari for; or just a big Cheetah?
Although I think Amarula is not quite as original as it thinks it is... being just an Irish Cream variant with a bit of fruit thrown in... I can't dispute that it is a fine blend of ingredients and that the end result, for folks like me who enjoy Irish cream; is one of pleasant surprise!
I don't think I could be tempted away from the usual Baileys variants to drink Amarula exclusively -but it is a welcome slight change from the norm and I will certainly be buying the drink at some point when my current bottle is empty (I think there's a an old legend whereby when the bottle is nearing empty it must return by long and perilous trek to the jungle from whence it was created, and then seek out the secret Amarula graveyard... You know; I really must stop watching those old Johnny Weissmuller films :-)
Last time I saw a bottle of Amarula on sale it was hovering (not literally!) at just under £10 for a 700ml bottle which in my book (my Jungle Book -sorry couldn't resist it -I am in jovial mood today aren't I? It's not the alcohol I assure you :-) puts it in the category of -not too expensive a treat, but not one I'd buy every few weeks -maybe once every 3 or 4 months possibly? But the point is; buy it I would -I really liked the drink...
The only negative I can think off regarding Amarula would perhaps be for someone who doesn't like Irish Cream in general and so naturally they wouldn't like Amarula by default.
I bet even our black and white, Olympic winning, Tarzan AKA Johnny Weissmuller would have enjoyed a little tipple of Amarula in ye olde tree house -that is of course on nights he wasn't going down his local jungle pub; The Vine!!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my review, hope you enjoyed it, found some useful information and forgave my terrible humour!!