Mesa Boogie Roadster Repair

Having had a dual rectifier, I can relate to the challenge for an amp tech to troubleshoot and resolve issues as these are very complicated amps.

Although the video is long at roughly 45 minutes, I found it, well, really engaging, almost like a mystery novel. The Guitologist is quite the tech.

So much circuitry in this guitar amp.

The Training

Taking stock, thinking about where you might be over time, setting up goals and objectives, all of that really doesn’t mean anything without consistent actions.

One of Thomas Edison’s famous quotes: Vision without execution is hallucination.

I would add to his quote: small actions, applied consistently over time, yield amazing outcomes.

And so it is with this journey of mine to become a better jazz guitarist.

I am making it a point to go to the guitar gym at least five times a week if not more. I have a great program to follow and I am learning a ton about the jazz guitar.

Building extensions from shell chords has helped to demystify jazz comping.

Learning difficult chord melodies has improved my fingering and hand strength.

I’ll document my progress as I go.

At times, I am playing like an absolute beginner. At times, I am showing signs of being fluid and dynamic.

It is certainly a process not unlike what Benjamin Zander demonstrates here (the difference being my age as I am a wee bit older than 7):

The Program

Just beginning the journey to becoming a better jazz guitarist.

I’ve taken stock of where I am as a player and where I want to be in six months and out five years — should I still be on planet Earth.

To build a program to keep me on track, I needed to address four elements:

  1. Define practice areas
  2. Create a framework
  3. Follow specific exercises
  4. Feedback and refine as needed

Define Practice Areas

Based on my six-month objectives, this was pretty straightforward. Here are my practice areas:

  1. Standards (repertoire)
  2. Improvisation
  3. Comping
  4. Chord Melody
  5. Phrasing

Create A Framework

How will I spend my practice time? Not on duration but as a percentage of the time?

  1. Warm-up — 5 percent
  2. Repertoire — 50 percent
  3. Comping — 20 percent
  4. Chord Melody — 15 percent
  5. Phrasing — 10 percent

Follow Specific Exercises

In my case, I have an online teacher even if most of what I am doing is self-directed. The courses are very specific and well designed. I can readily measure my progress with this online course.

Feedback and Refine As Needed

Don’t rush. Keep each session focused. Don’t take on too much at once.

In other words, be patient. Build the skill on an incremental basis. Small changes performed consistently will yield impressive results over time.

I might revisit my framework and adjust the percentages here and there. I may not need to spend as much time on comping over the next few months as I already have a pretty rich chord vocabulary on the guitar. I might need to spend more time on chord melodies and phrasing as they are both areas of development for me.

Every two weeks, I will give myself an evaluation and see where adjustments need to be made.

Take Stock

Although aimed at the jazz guitar student, the lessons I have been taking are widely applicable to other pursuits in life.

I was asked to do the following as part of my jazz guitar training:

  1. Take Inventory
  2. Dream
  3. Define Long-Term Goals
  4. Define Short-Term Goals

Take Inventory

Here I was asked to identify my musical victories, failures and strengths. It was relatively easy to identify musical victories over the past 50 years. There were specific highlights, special concerts during my touring years, my first paid gig as a session player in a recording studio, my first album as a sideman, teaching and mentoring younger players, serving as a guitarist in various churches, and so on.

Failures? Well, there have been many. Some were tough to write down but basically my failures all centred around one basic theme: I was never good enough. The positive side of being so harsh on myself is that I had a strong incentive to become better. And it grounded me in terms of the journey of life. We all start from somewhere and, if we apply ourselves, we can improve and we can help others to improve. I would consider that desire to improve to be a strength. The inner critic, not so much.

Dream

This was hard for me to do. It is difficult to dream about where I might be as a player in 5 or 10 years when, without being unduly morbid, I could be dead. Joe Pass, an incredible jazz guitarist, died at 65.

So I have to choose the mountain carefully. My dream is to play with enough skill that I can be a strong contributor to a skilled jazz trio or jazz quartet before 65 years of age.

Long-Term Goals

Ten of them. I had to think of ten long-term goals. And by long-term goals, specific objectives within 5 years.

Here we go:

  1. Have 50 standards memorized and under my fingers in my jazz repertoire.
  2. Cut a 10-song smooth jazz instrumental project.
  3. Play out with a jazz group at least once a month for a year.
  4. Be able to improvise effortlessly over the most common jazz progressions.
  5. Master arpeggios across all the jazz chord types.
  6. Learn to play effortlessly off a fake book.
  7. Create chord melodies from scratch for 10 songs.
  8. Learn to comp across all dominant jazz styles.
  9. Study the improvisation of five jazz masters by learning solos note for note (2 songs per jazz master).
  10. Move from novice to advanced skill level with the instrument.

Short-Term Goals

Five goals for practicing over the next six months. Which, in theory, supports achievement of the long-term goals.

  1. Memorize 3 standards: Misty, Autumn Leaves, Take The A Train
  2. Complete Jazz Improv 101 course
  3. Complete Jazz Comping 101 Course
  4. Complete Chord Melody Crash Course
  5. Complete 25 Exercises For Better Jazz Guitar Phrasing Course

That is what frames the context for my musical journey over the next few years. Although a similar approach could be taken for almost any area of interest: where am I now, where do I want to be in the future, what specific goals do I want to achieve in the next five years, what will I achieve over the next six months.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll write about the program I created to guide my daily practice activity.

Become The Best Jazz Guitarist

I forgot to add: “you can be” to the title above.

I’ve been playing guitar for a long time now. Almost 50 years. And, in a moment of excitement at the prospect of having more time in retirement, I set a goal of becoming a better jazz guitarist over the next few years.

I’m not completely unfamiliar with the genre. I listen to a lot of jazz and I am secretly envious of the immense talent that I see in jazz players. They have discovered some sort of magic that allows them to improvise beautifully and construct incredibly intricate chord melodies seemingly at will.

This is an example of me attempting to do something similar:

Not too bad for a novice jazzer I suppose. What you don’t know is how much time I put into playing this piece. I spent over an hour a day on this one song for a period of two months.

I could not play it today. I would need to re-learn the tune and likely spend a few weeks to get it under my fingers again.

To help me in my journey to become a better jazz guitarist, I signed up with Marc-Andre of Jazz Guitar Lessons. I have the unlimited membership. Which is a problem. Being unlimited means that there are so many course modules and I really don’t know where to begin.

I have picked one chord melody, Misty, and one improvisation course. Both of them are really tough.

It is almost embarrassing to be at the beginning of something. At least that is the way it feels to me. I’m not sure whether the content is hard because it is unfamiliar or whether the content is hard because, well, the playing is hard to master.

So different from what I have been used to playing over the years.

But I will persist and I will make it happen. I am a determined fellow.

I will chronicle my progress with it and, hopefully in six months or so, be in a better place with it than where I am right now.

Is That A Stock Photo?

I have a couple more amps up for sale on Reverb. And, as it happens every time I post photos on Reverb, I get messaged by someone asking me if these are the “real” photos of the amp or if are they stock photos.

Reverb won’t upload stock images if the listing is for a used item. They check the EXIF data of the images. Amongst other things, the EXIF data of an image includes information that can determine whether a photo is stock or not.

What do I do to take a great product photo?

Simple.

A sheet of white paper.

The paper was taped to a wall and rolled out. The amp was placed on the sheet of paper. I used my Olympus EM1 camera mounted on a tripod. I shot the image at 1/60th of a second, f2.8 with a 50mm equivalent lens (25mm f1.8) and ISO 1600. I did not use any studio lighting for the shot. I used the existing halogen lighting that was in the room.

Brought the image into Lightroom. A little bit of colour correction. Boosted the whites. Exported it out to Pixelmator where I brushed out the remaining shadows and then I cropped out the background clutter.

And?

This is a stock photo from the Mesa Boogie website.

And my front-facing shot again:

Maybe I take too good care of my gear? My Lone Star Special is over 12 years old and still looks like new. Perhaps that is why I get people asking me if the photos of the amp are real or not. I need to rough things up a bit. Rip out some tolex. Throw some dirt on the grill cloth. Smear the control panel with grease.

Rock ‘n roll!

Why I Sold My Kemper

Morgan AC 20 Deluxe. Sold.

Clark Beaufort. Sold.

Fender Super Champ. Sold.

Mesa Boogie Road King Dual Rectifier with 4×12 Cab. Sold.

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18. Sold.

Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. Sold.

Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special. For Sale.

Fender ’64 Deluxe Reissue. For Sale.

Fender ’57 Tweed Deluxe Reissue. For Sale.

That leaves me with two amps: the Swart STR Tremolo and the Swart AST Mk II head and 1×12 cab.

With retirement, downsizing and a focus on travel for the next few years, carrying all of these amps really made no sense which is why I sold most of them.

Getting older comes with its own set of challenges. Hauling around heavy amps and heavy pedalboards being one of them.

I have always been a tone snob. As far as I was concerned, tube amps were the only way to get a great guitar sound. I found the early digital modellers, like the Line 6, to be less than satisfactory. Some players I knew were able to get some great results from that class of technology but it wasn’t for me.

And then the community of guitarists that I hang around with started jumping into modeling. Specifically the Kemper platform.

I’ll be south during the winter months travelling in a 40-foot diesel coach. Although the coach offers a lot of living space, given the form factor, I have to travel light.

Guitar amps are bulky.

Modellers like the Kemper promised great sounds and portability.

I bought one.

I struggled to get “the sound” I was looking for from the Kemper rig.

I purchased thousands of profiles trying to find a few gems in what appeared to be a large pool of mediocre tones. I ditched my pedalboards and went all in with the Kemper for about a year.

I gave it a chance.

The Kemper just didn’t work for me.

It also grew in size and weight.

By the time I added the rack case, the Kemper remote, and a bunch of external pedals, I had a rig that was pretty much the same bulk as my smaller amp rigs.

I sold the Kemper and bought the Fractal AX8.

Very portable. Very affordable (relative to the Kemper). Really great sounding models out of the box. And great sounding effects.

The software side of the Fractal was significantly ahead of the Kemper.

I came across this post: Why I Bought a Modeling Rig and Why I Didn’t Go Kemper.

Similar journey.

Having made the move to in-ear monitors, I don’t miss the “amp in the room” sound. The tones from the Fractal are consistent stage-to-stage relative to an amp, the amp models and effects are pretty easy to tweak and even with some limitations on the CPU, I find that I am so close in tone to what I had been using before with my amps that the few drawbacks are pretty insignificant.

Plus I can carry a guitar, the Fractal and a small gig bag without breaking my back. Setup and teardown is a snap. I don’t worry about tubes going microphonic and I don’t worry about being too loud on stage. I rarely play gigs where I am not being mic’d through a system. And, whenever that does happen, I pull out one of my Swart amps.

I use the Fractal for everything now, even my jazz playing.

It sounds great to my ear and I can take it with me wherever I go.

But I will still keep a couple of tube amps.

Just in case.

Real Guitar

Good thing I brought a hat.

We had a beautiful day with a large group of people in one of the main parks in downtown Kingston. The stage was out in full sun which really messed with the tuning on my guitar. Every moment I was not playing, I was tuning.

I used my Fractal AX8 digital modeller and my Shure wireless in-ear rig. Everything worked flawlessly.

Especially on a small stage. With the Fractal, I don’t have to worry about an amp being too loud for everyone else in the band. Direct to the FOH and let the sound person set the levels.

The iPad, which you might make out on the leftmost side of the picture, controlled my monitor mix to my in-ear rig.

Even though I was only a few feet from the drummer, I could barely hear him. Not sure if that was a good thing. I love his drumming.