Friday, April 25, 2008

Six Rounds Review: Recap

So I recently wrote about Six Rounds Rockabilly Recoil pickup. After a few weeks of gigging. I'm totally sold on this pickup. Way easier and better sounding than the K&K pickup. If you're playing rockabilly and looking for a good sound, get this pickup. Definitely worth the price, but follow my installation suggestions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Defining Success

In a recent post Arnold Kling made the observation regarding how important it is to define success in an appropriate way for your preferences. I've seen this argument here (where there are benefits to having different people define success differently) and here (where the idea is applied to the underclass). Needless to say, I agree with Arnold's observations.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The only way to Carnegie Hall

Practice, practice, practice. We all know its the key to really understanding and being able to make great music with you instrument. Now, the Harvard Business Review has an article about the importance of it: Check out Ericsson et al "The Making of an Expert."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Six Rounds review

I recently received the Six Rounds Rockabilly Recoil and Double Barrel pickups for upright bass. At a recent gig, I broke an old Underwood when I fell off my bass unexpectedly (long story; maybe another post). I was looking for an inexpensive pickup to replace it and came across those made by Six Rounds.

The Recoil has one wing pickup and one fingerboard pickup (similar to the K&K rockabilly system) while the Double Barrel has two wing pickups (much link an Underwood). The Recoil also has a separate volume control for the fingerboard pickup which, unlike the K&K, is passive and doesn't require a battery. I use a separate preamp and really liked this feature.

I got the pickups before the first in what was a long series of gigs. I was short on time and didn't have the option of experimenting with the pickups. Installing the pickups was easy, although the fingerboard pickup on the Recoil is much larger than that of the K&K. As a result, I had a harder time finding a large enough flat spot under the fingerboard where I could install it. I ended up putting it at the top of the fingerboard.

I started with the rockabilly recoil pickup on a Czech plywood bass, but also had another underwood hooked up to do a comparison. While I had briefly tested everything at home before the show (albeit at low volumes) that night the recoil did nothing but feedback. I ended up having to roll off all the bass in order to get anything usable. (I should mention that throughout these gigs I was using a Fishman Preamp, an Acoustic Image Focus and a Bag End cabinet.)

The next day, I decided to run a few experiments. I tried a lot of different EQ tricks but then used something harder (a saw reed) in place of the cork spacers that came with the Six Round pickups. This solved the feedback issues immediately. Its as if the cork absorbs too much vibration from the bass and weakens the signal received by the piezo. As a result, what should have a sharp attack gets muted and those low frequencies are left to bounce around the room. The reed (or anything harder) solved this problem. After some more experimenting, I found that a reed on the bottom and a cork spacer on the top gave me the best sound for the wing pickup.

That night I tried the same set up and the Recoil gave me a more natural sound, rivaling the Underwood. When I slapped, the Recoil was an improvement over the Underwood.

On Sunday I had a gig at an art gallery and used the Double Barrel with one reed and one cork spacer in each wing. It sounded great.

Over the next gigs I compared the Double Barrel to the David Gage Realist on a plywood bass and a carved instrument. These were mainly jazz, swing, and folk gigs so I didn't do a lot of slapping. Across all of these gigs, I needed to modify my tone to fit the genre. Again, using a reed in the wing as a spacer, the Double Barrel gave the Realist a run for its money. The only cases where the Realist and the Underwood were noticeably better were when I mounted the pickups on a carved bass (the Realist captured more of the tonal color of that bass than did the Six Rounds) and when I was bowing.

So, after giving the Six Rounds pickups a workout over two weeks of gigs, I'm impressed with them. For the price I don't think they can't be beat. They sound great and are easy to control in terms of their ability to give you the tonal color you want. I think for regular gigs, this is a great option, particularly the Recoil as you have the extra control with the fingerboard pickup.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nice tool for research, music, and general computer use

I just came across Evernote. It works like Google Notebook (which I use frequently) but does not require you to be online to use. Rather you can sync your computer with your online store of notes and access everything off-line. I use this not only for my research, but also to save blog comments, lead sheets, etc. Its a great tool.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bass Buggie review

I recently received a Bass Buggie from KC Strings. I'm impressed: It's easy to attach, easy to remove, and moves great in traffic. The fact that you can strap the buggie to your bass without any modifications (i.e., removing your endpin) is great.

I had two gigs yesterday and needed to walk my for a couple of blocks downtown (in both pedestrian and vehicular traffic). I know I could have done it without the buggie (I have before), but it was so much easier with this little contraption. Plus, it looked way cooler than huffing and puffing with my bass on my back. Moreover, given that I usually carry my bass using the shoulder strap or one of the handles on my gig bag, the buggie may actually extend the life of my gig bag as it won't have the stress on the strap or handles from long walks carrying my bass.

Kudos to KC Strings.

The buggy is priced at $110 or so, which seems comparable to the price of wheels (ranging between $75 and $136 depending on what you're looking for). That said, the practicality of the buggie over a bass wheel make it well worth the price.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

PJ Tan Violin Shop, Edmonton AB Canada

In a recent Contrabass Conversations interview, Barrie Kolstein gave some advice on buying a bass. I think the most interesting piece of advice he gave was something along the lines of “If you find a bass that feels right to you, that you can play and feel comfortable with, buy it.” I had received this advice from others, including Ken Smith, Arnold Schnitzer (both via email) and a guitar player I used to play with (over drinks).


On a recent trip to Edmonton, I stopped by P.J. Tan’s Violin Shop. This is a beautiful shop with exquisite violins, cellos and violas. I’m talking about simply amazing instruments. As a bonus, P.J. and Graham are absolutely great. Genuinely good people who are committed to the music and the instruments they support.

I played one of the few basses they had in stock. I loved the neck immediately. It’s a bit shorter scale than I’m used to, but has a nice flat round feel that reminds me of my old King bass and (oddly enough) a Fender jazz bass. The sound is awesome: big and hearty, dark but with a bright finish. (It’s like I’m describing a bad wine.) It felt great and, following the advice above, I bought it. Surely more money than I could afford to spend, but what an instrument. P.J. is doing a few things to it (e.g. repairing a seam and re-shaping the bridge) and delivering it this weekend.

I’ll write more and post some pictures of the bass soon. Right now, I want to give my endorsement right now to P.J. Tan’s Violins. It’s difficult to find a good luthier who you trust. I would make the drive to have P.J. or Graham work on my bass.

LaFaro, Bremy, Bruce

I recently picked up a copy of Scott LaFaro transcriptions by Phil Palombi. I'm a big fan of LaFaro's. I've often joke that if Paul Chambers is the Charlie Parker of the bass, then Scott LaFaro was the Randy Rhodes of the bass, but ahead of Randy's time. (Listen to his solo on Waltz for Debbie and tell me there's not a little bit of Hessian in LaFaro.)

In any event, I've been working through this book and learning a lot. At a recent gig I was playing to an almo0st empty room with a trio and decided to try some of the LaFaro-ish tricks I had picked up from the book. I was quite happy with the results, particularly how rhythmically using triplets and quintuplets in my solos added a nice feel and gave me room to explore different note groupings. I was also incorporating a lot of double stops into my playing that night.

I was really excited when, on one of our breaks, a patron came up to me and mentioned how much he liked my playing and, to my surprise, said that some of my playing was reminiscent of Scott LaFaro. I graciously thanked him for the complement and told him about the book. A little while later somebody else came up to me and said how much they like the band and mentioned how my playing reminded them of a young Pete Bremy (of the Vanilla Fudge) or Jack Bruce (of Cream). I thanked them for the complement. That said, I liked the first complement better.

Man, Jenny McCarthy drives me nuts...

and not like she used to back in 1995.

I'm at the point now that I think she's doing a disservice to the autism community. Yesterday she was on CNN with three doctors for debate regarding vaccines and autism. (For those of you don't know, yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day. April is Autism Awareness Month.) While three doctors were calmly debating the relationship between vaccines and autism, she was freaking out, interrupting and talking about how vaccines contain mercury, aluminum, and ( I'm not sure about this one) antifreeze. She railed about when her son died. When Larry King questioned her about this, she said it was only for two minutes. (I guess her son has something in common now with Nikki Sixx and Dave Mustaine.) I think her main point is the following (slightly related to, but ten years than, the accompanying picture):

"In 1983, the vaccine schedule was 10. Ten vaccines given. Now, today, there are 36, and a lot of people don't know that. I do not believe that vaccines are the sole cause for autism. I do believe they are a trigger. There's something in the immune system that is weakened in these kids, they maybe can't process the vaccines. I don't think it's solely the vaccines. I think there's toxins in the environment, pesticides. It's kind of like a pile-up. If you can fill up a bucket of all this stuff going on with these kids, if they have a weak immune system, all that crap is going to overflow."

The main reason why she drives me crazy and I think she's doing a disservice is that she's pushing parents in a direction that leads them to pointing fingers rather than working with their children. I fear that her writings about how she cured autism to lead parents to scouring the Internet for the secret cure rather than spending time with their kids. I've seen too many parents get caught up on a diet which will supposedly cure autism but really only results in a child not eating what is put in front of them. If there was really a cure for autism, it wouldn’t be a pharmaceutical industry trade secret. It would be out there and available.

Second, I think Jenny McCarthy lacks a fundamental understanding the economics involved with making decisions. I'm not talking about the economics of the health-care industry and budgets and the like, but rather about the fact that every decision requires us to trade off costs and benefits. Although vaccines may be related to the increased incidence of autism, eliminating vaccines is not the alternative. While forgoing an MMR vaccination has the potential benefit of reducing the likelihood of the onset of autism, it also increases the likelihood of contracting mumps, measles, rubella (all of which can be fatal in small children). In turn, it increases the risk of an outbreak of these diseases.

That said, maybe Jenny McCarthy does understand these trade-offs and she did say in her CNN interview that she would rather her son have mumps and autism. I think this is kind of a crazy statement: I don't think I'd be capable of making any type a decision like that.

I think this autism debate just highlights another place in which individuals need understand some basic economics with regard to the fact that every decision we make, be it buying a house or deciding whether or not to vaccinate our children, involves trade-offs. Some of these trade-offs affect a small group of people; others that can affect a large group of people (as in the choice to forgo vaccines and risk an outbreak).

Note: My fundamental feeling on the issue is that there is a genetic component which determines your sensitivity to various compounds and chemicals, some of which are included in vaccines, some of which are included environment. Vaccines interact with these inherited sensitivities and sometimes results in the onset of autism. I don't mean to make light of the issue or the struggle that the parents of an autistic child face. I just think it's important to keep these trade-offs in mind.

Albertan Tar Sands

Calgary made the Democracy Now broadcast of April 2nd. There’s an interesting discussion of Calgary in regards to the actions by U.S. oil companies regarding investments in clean(-er) energies and the availability of oil in Albertan tar-sands (which is about the dirtiest way to get oil). Much of this discussion came from Naomi Klein’s piece “Baghdad Burns, Calgary Booms.” Worth reading and listening too if you’re interested in Alberta’s oil reserves, the environment, and how the behavior of world markets and the lack of investment in alternate energies can make extraction from the tar sands actually economically feasible.

Worse Paper Cut Ever

Last Wednesday I suffered what must qualify as the worst paper cut ever.

I picked up a ream of paper at work and slid my hands along the sides of the package with the intent of opening it. Unfortunately, the label on the end of the package slipped underneath the fingernail on my right-hand middle finger, putting a 7 mm cut between my finger and fingernail. After cleaning up the blood and using some super glue to reattach my fingernail, my thoughts turned to the weekend. I had five gigs between Thursday night and Sunday morning, each about four hours in length and each requiring that I slap on my bass (rockabilly and jump blues). Basically I prepared for a weekend of pain and suffering.

To a large extent, the weekend went as I expected: I was in pain. Every time I slapped (which requires pulling the string away from the fingerboard with my right hand) my finger ached. Every once in a while I would try to slap only using only my index finger. Unfortunately, is left my middle finger dangling in the air where on more than one occasion it smacked into the fingerboard or hit a string fingertip-on. By Saturday night, the cut on my finger was big enough to fit a G-string.

I did the best I could to take care of the cut (short of having been more careful opening the package of paper). I used lotion and wrapped my finger at night. During the day I tried to keep it covered and used Polysporin to help it heal. I was really amazed at how well Polysporin worked at speeding up the healing process. Before each gig (and sometimes between sets) I used a little bit of Liquid Skin to avoid opening the cut again. In the end, I learned was a lot about taking care of a cut and a little about how not to open a ream of paper.