Site Meter

December 20, 2007

Tools Of The Trade

Unlike most wannabe guitar gods I'm starting 2008 with a distinct advantage. Not only can I play a bit (if running scales and general noodling constitutes a bit) but over the last couple of years I've managed to collect some decent kit.

A while back, when I was still using a far-eastern Les Paul copy made by Stellar, I decided to graduate from a small Orange practice amp to something a bit meatier. I ended up settling on a half valve, half solid-state Marshall VS100 combo. I got it for £100, second hand off eBay. For home use it's obnoxiously loud unless you depress the “Power Dimension” (PD) switch, which according to Marshall themselves "gives the effect of the greater saturation of a valve power stage of lower wattage being driven hard". Put into English, if you use PD it sounds like you’re running the amp on 10, even if you’re not. Even so, it’s bloody loud for an enclosed space and with the ultra-hot Seymour Duncan pickups I welded into the Stellar LP the amp was unusable. If you cracked the gain/volume controls off zero you stripped paint off the walls.

Round about the same time as I got the Marshall, I made my first real decent guitar purchase. I bought an Ovation 1861 Balladeer. It’s a mid-level steel-string that plays somewhere between an electric and an acoustic. The neck is relatively thin, like an electric, but you get the strummability of an acoustic. It’s a nice piece of kit and distracted me from playing electric for a long time. Most weekend mornings I’d sit out in the back yard, pulling chord progressions out of my behind and finger-picking the occasional tune.

Yet, I still hankered after ‘that electric feeling’. Playing an acoustic is great… it’s lovely, actually… but it’s not the same thing. Every time I passed one of the guitar shops around Denmark Street in London I’d stare in the window, fixated on the Gibsons. I’ve always loved Gibsons. I think it’s a Marmite thing. Years ago I was in the States and I came close to buying a Les Paul, but I baulked at salesman pressure and ended up with a Strat. Nice guitar. Nothing wrong with it (except the floating bridge). I didn’t ‘love’ it though.

Long story short, one day a couple of months ago I forced myself to go into one of the stores and try a Les Paul out. I did love it. I loved it so much that I was even tempted to buy the guitar there and then, despite it not being the colour I wanted!

I held out for 3 days, then, having found a store which had not one, but two of my preferred-colour LP’s in stock, I took the bold step of putting 10% down with 9 interest-free payments to be made in following months.

I passed over one of the lightbursts, a merely average 2007 model, for a radiant work of art crafted on the 352nd day of 2006. It played beautifully, singing to me, even before I plugged it into an amp. At the time I was concerned that buying a 2006 guitar in preference to a 2007 was foolish as the resale value could be lower. I then rationalised that the 2006 was a far superior guitar and, possibly more to the point, this guitar wasn’t one I was going to sell. This one was a keeper.

As an aside, on a random whim I checked the Chinese Horoscope for the guitar after buying it. It was born in the Year of the Dog, with an associated colour of Red. Dog… Red…

Red Dog.

For those who know anything of the history of the Allman Brothers Band, that name should strike a chord. Also, as a strange coincidence, while I was trying to decide whether Red Dog was a suitable name for a guitar, my husband was researching prices of a piece of modern art by a guy called Jeff Koons. The piece is a plate with a balloon dog on it. He has the blue version, but was looking to find the original red one.

As I was fooling around on the computer, googling cool guitar names, I looked down at the desk. A lone Post-It note caught my eye. It had two words on it: Red Dog.

Strangely I still fought against the name. It didn’t feel right to me. That was until I plugged the beast straight into the Marshall and let rip. Pure Allman Brothers, circa 1971. Using the Gibson, the amp didn’t strip paint off the walls, it make the whole universe resonate. Wow! Red Dog it was.

Which, as an aside, is where the name of this blog came from. “One Way Out” is one of my all-time favourite Allman Brothers Band songs and it's track 5 on the 1971 Fillmore East concert recordings. Somehow “The Fillmore Five Project” felt right…

December 18, 2007

Starting From Zero...

...Got Nothing To Lose.

Almost a year ago my husband and I were bellied up to the bar at one of our now-traditional "beer & ribs" joints in Amsterdam. It was mid-afternoon, New Year's Day, and we were well on our way to resurrecting our drunk from the night before. Our last day in Sin City was slipping by. London, and real life, beckoned.

Neither of us are big on making New Year's resolutions but as we sat there chatting about how far we'd come in the past year it seemed only natural to speculate about what we might achieve in the months to come.

During a discussion which ranged from getting more tattoos to deciding whether or not to adopt a child, one theme kept on rearing its ugly head: music. More specifically how I manage to constantly under-achieve when trying to improve.

Another twelve months have passed and I have yet to make significant progress in my playing. Why am I not in a band? When am I going to be good enough to play open mic's or jam sessions?
So, here it is, the question that I'm asking myself for 2008: how can I go from zero to hero in a year?