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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Jags

Oh man, I sat down with a Fender Jaguar today at Mr. Music for about an hour and now I want one so bad. It was a new ‘classic player’ model, with the full old-style electronics and the weird strat-with-metal-teeth pickups. Definitely the best sounding electric guitar I’ve ever played, and it was just going through a little Roland solid state amp. My take on its sound is this.

  1. Pickups have crazy extended high end. Not chimey, singing high mids like some Les Pauls do, but airy, tingly GNARL noises (in the >4kHz region?). I found like 5 distinct sounds just by altering my pick attack with the right hand. The gnarl really comes out on the low E. That’s the sound I always thought was a Jazzmaster. Turns out Jazzmasters sound a lot darker, more like a p90 Les Paul (my second favorite guitar).
  2. The Jaguar does sing, in the high mids that is, but the shallow break angle over the bridge makes the fundamentals of plucked notes die off quickly. Result = better rhythm/harmony guitar than one with a lot of sustain (less headache-inducing resonance).
  3. It’s so comfortable to play sitting down. And light weight, so easier to play standing up.
  4. The 24″ scale feels a little weird. But I think that gives the guitar its attack/decay characteristics (much different from a strat, tele or JM). The Jag has a lot more attack in the low mids (“punch”) than a strat or tele.
  5. It’s got two distinct circuits for filtering the sound. First one give you two toggles for PU1 and PU2 on/off, a toggle for this VERY subtle (passive) filter (LPF? HPF? can’t tell), and a V-V knob setup. Second circuit disables all of the controls described, when you engage it with this toggle on the upper horn of the guitar. That one has two metal rollers recessed into the body to control– I don’t know what, really. V-V? V-T?
  6. So clearly the electronics aren’t simple. As someone mentioned, one combination shuts off your guitar completely with the flip of two toggles (the two PU switches in circuit 1). The twin circuit design isn’t just poorly designed, though. What might have gone through the mind of the engineers: how often does a performer want to switch from one pre-set tone to a radically different with minimal attention to the controls on the guitar? Often. Especially for someone who plays clean mostly, who plays a single channel amp. For someone who wants the possibility of a bright, cutting tone and a very dark, resonant tone in one guitar. Now, consider the situation with a clipping element in the signal chain (amp preamp, “clean” boost pedal, distortion pedal). The dual circuit electronics of the Jag still lets you get two very different sounds very easily (once you’ve set each circuit’s controls the way you like them). Say you want to play clean rhythm guitar with the bridge pickup, then play an overdriven lead with the neck pickup. You just kick on the pedal and flip the top switch up. Now you’re on circuit 2, with a dark, neck pickup tone to push the overdrive stage in a pleasing way for lead playing. The main point against the Jag seems to be that it doesn’t overdrive well. “Well” here meaning, “to sound like a Gibson guitar with PAFs.” Granted, the PUs are so bright that distortion or amp overdrive sounds kind of harsh without any high end roll off. And though I bet Fender designed circuit 2 for jazz people (Joe Pass played one for a while! So, I think, did Pat Martino), it works GREAT to put the guitar quickly into a darker tone for distorted playing.
  7. Speaking of which! I have heroes like anybody else, and I immediately figured out how I could switch from this Tom Verlaine thing to this Greg Ginn thing by flipping from circuit 1 to circuit 2 while turning on overdrive. (I was playing “Nervous Breakdown” and “My War” when someone’s baby waddled over to listen). For the first: neck PU, tone full on. For the second: both PUs full on in the darker circuit. The thing even does a reasonable take on thrash metal (I was playing “Killing Is My Business” haha): put it on circuit 2 with just the bridge PU full on. As everyone knows, Jaguars sound like the Ventures and such with a lot of reverb.
  8. What I don’t like about this instrument: Fender chose to retain the sixties style tuning machines, even on the ‘classic player’ models. They go out like Gibson Klusons, unfortunately, and string bending does not help. You have to remove the neck from the body to adjust the truss rod (as usual with “vintage” style Fenders). Some of the toggles seemed to pick up tapping on them over the amplifier, like a pickup does. Might not be great for high volume playing.
  9. What I was really glad they fixed since the ’60s: The bridge isn’t that POS with screw-threaded saddles that the strings slip off when you play hard! They moved the tailpiece slightly towards the bridge to increase the break angle a bit. I’ve heard ’60s Jaguars with almost NO sustain, possible because of the old tailpiece.
  10. The Jag at Mr. Music didn’t have its trem arm attached, so I didn’t get to play with that. I don’t know if I’d end up using it much, but since I bet it’s a shitty slide guitar, and has some tuning problems with hard bending, the trem might be useful.

    So I’m gonna sell my saxophone and probly my Les Paul copy ASAP so I can get one of these and a Pignose 7-100 with some $ to spare. Did I mention that Jags and Pignoses are small & light? 🙂

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Idols not dead; criticized (& my special Romantic-feelings)

I watch as the whole country slides by below the wing.
Deep red clays and burned out browns, followed by snow bleached peaks
and now the flat geometry of the middle lands.
Hundreds of miles of patchwork squares and circles, an occasional
building group here or there isolated and tiny city clusters shrinking
in the capillary sprawl, grey and lifeless from above.
What is this all about?
The ground moving does not really alter my perspective up here.
Nothing seems to affect my view these days.
My life beyond stable, static.
35 years, 10 years, almost 5 years.
All these time line hash marks seem have ground me to a halt.
How do dreams and hopes end up frozen?
How can I get back that burning desire?
I am at a standstill now.
The days goes in and out and I get nowhere.
Still no great clang of astonishment, no brilliant flash of light,
no steeple with a wide view.
All that surrounds me, all the things that I have gathered and continue to gather
at such an obscene rate seem to be stones tied to the cuff.

[Lee Ranaldo, “Notebook,”

    Amarillo Ramp (For Robert Smithson)

]
..says the more-or-less rockstar. Once you’re a rock star, you get beyond the possibility that your own history smothers you under its weight,
RIGHT?!
Otherwise, you’re not a rock star, but a musician (and LR is clearly a pretty great one). And that’s not necessary or sufficient for being a rock star; I know this much.
You might not know it by reading this, but I feel like I would have to be drunk or something to make the claim I just did, publicly. I’m not, though. I just had a great clang of astonishment, in fact. (LR, maybe this is one way that they happen? Could be). I have a way to detect unconscious rock star ethos. If I ever want to check if I mean rockstar when I say musician, I just take another look at the art business. Substitute “fine artist” for “musician” in what I just said and see if it keeps the meaning. (Not gonna go into what that means, here). Most times I try this, I just get a little ashamed in my mind and then go do something else. Because what I just thought or said fails the test. “Life as a musician[/fine artist] would be a better use of my youth;” “musicians[/fine artists] don’t get hung up on this abstract baloney,” etc. See what I mean? Never mind some mild ‘quizzical’ effect, etc.– the second versions of these sentences could be punchlines. OK, so Gene Simmons will never come out with his equivalent to “Notebook” or “Amarillo Ramp.” You can’t get upset over the lack of something you never expected your main life project to get you. So if you expected mainly money and limousines, and you know what it takes to get them, then you might get them and have no regrets. Romantics don’t get off the hook so easy. (Nor do they get off so easy; what really gets a Romantic off, anyway?) For me, it comes to this: if you’re a Romantic and you know it, but also ambitious and you know it, will the vagueness and ambiguity of aesthetic criteria for success drive you nuts? Not the good crazy that Romantics like; more like inertia from self-doubt. Because the kind of ambition that I see in pure Romantics, people who just seek various experiences for their own sake, is just the drive to get from one such experience to another. Probing what’s around with your greedy pseudopod. But that would drive me nuts. A Beat poetry trance of breathlessly listing memories, that’s what you thrive on in that kind of life. Theme? “Things I have experienced” or “things that came from my mind.” Then it’s all on you to become a damned fascinating theme. Because anyone can breathlessly list what they saw and did today. Your life is your real art, on this model, whether you like it or not. But the life that’s the art, it’s not a bio in an artist’s statement of things you’ve objectively done or said. It’s the life that’s passed behind your eyes, the one you lived through. And I guess a lot of that, if it really is special and unique to you, is inaccessible to others in principle. So, for example, how can documentation (writeups, recordings) not become a chore when you think this way? What you can document is not the art, by definition. Maybe it’s what you can sell, though.
I’m not recommending these beliefs to anyone, and I’m not saying that most artists I know believe that. I mean to say that when I wonder if music would be more fun (than academic research), the kind of fun I have in mind would necessarily lead me to these opinions about the point of a life lived for the sake of that fun. Thing is, as much self-denial and labor as philosophy involves, especially for someone with a Romantic bent, its criteria of success jibe with my neurosis about the point of life better than the “pure Romantic’s” do. The lack of substantial success is what can drive you crazy doing philosophy. Doing Romantic art, do you really know what success even looks or feels like? In a gentler, warmer world without money or clocks or food or illness I could deal with vague, ambiguous goals and vague, ambiguous plans all the time. In the actual world, I think that vague, ambiguous plans are about all my tender, rationalist mind can handle. My brother said the other day that he sees people laugh sometimes to refuse absurdity. People who are “zoomed out” all of the time, i.e., satirists and even cynics. They laugh harder and louder all the time, as the world gets more absurd. He thinks that they try not to see and feel what is real, which is absurd. So I guess he would say that they lack a virtue of seeking the truth. I doubt he would put it that way, though. Cause truth-seeing, as you know, cuts two ways. You can avoid seeing further, since you didn’t expect to see what you did. But you can also avoid seeing the truth altogether if you pretend that you expect nothing and pretend that the nothing you claim to see is more than what anyone can speak the truth about. Kantians, for example, do a lot of the second, but in practice, they care almost not at all about their precious ineffable stuff, and use it as an excuse to put the world behind categorical bars without a real trial.