Monday, January 25, 2010

Acoustic Info and Websites

I'm sidling up on the end of a dissertation chapter and trying to decide between rewarding myself with a new tattoo and a new acoustic. The tattoo would be easier, since I already know the design (Viking spirals and a snake somewhat like the one from Marebro, Sweden) and the artist (Adam Kilss). Acoustic...not so easy.

I know that whatever acoustic I get I'm more interested in fingerpicking than in heavy strumming or bluegrass and country flatpicking. Ideally I'd be playing acoustic stuff a la Opeth or Mick Mills' Antimatter material -- some Zep, maybe. Stuff like that. Price wise I'm looking under $500. Sound wise I want something that is less boomy than a Martin dreadnought but still has decent bass response when played softly.

Other concerns -- my wrists and fingers aren't what they used to be before all that typing from academia (and years of IT work before that) tried to cripple me. Plus I've got strong, square hands, but relatively short (and slow and clumsy) fingers. I love my Hagstrom, but ain't no way I want to try to fingerpick on it. The neck is to slim and fast and too tight at the nut even at 1.68". I want something a little more supportive and hand-filling for chords and a tad more space between the strings. Oh, and that lower bout on a dreadnought is an arm killer, too, but I'm not sure I want to go to a 000 despite my earlier post because I don't want to lose too much bass if I tune down a little. I'd say OM or GC, except that those usually up the scale length and my wrists and fingers keep telling me to stick to a shorter scale if possible.

So far this all sounds like it makes me a candidate for a Seagull guitar. They mostly have shorter scales and slightly wider necks and they have a great rep. And they are made in Canada, eh? I'm down with that.

Anyway, what I'm getting to here is that finding and evaluating all this info has made me wish that online music stores did a better job of organizing their stock and informing their buyers of the crucial things. Guitar marketing is straight up stupid most of the time. I love abalone purfling and quilted backs and sides as much as the next guy, but body size, scale length, nut width and string spacing at the bridge are much more important to whether or not I'm going to like playing the damn thing. And if I'm not going to be able to play the thing myself, I'd like to at least see a picture of someone else holding it seated so I can see where that lower bout sits relative to another body size. I know that a mini-jumbo is bigger than a dreadnought, but with a tighter waist does that put the upper bout in the same place, lower, or higher where it hits the arm? It would be nice to know this. For that matter it would be nice to search for guitars by body size rather than by brand and for acoustics and acoustic electrics together with a check box to filter on electronics if that were a deal breaker rather than having to run separate searches and try to aggregate the results.

It shouldn't take much to build a website right for this. If Elderly or Sweetwater were to put a little design time into it they could really put the other companies on their asses. I'd be there.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheap, Good Guitar

Tuned the old Fender Gemini II down to C# standard today to noodle after learning a bit of Den Standiga Resan. I picked up some of the intro, but got distracted by some meandering improv. Somehow tuning down three steps made the guitar sound better in addition to making it easier to play with the reduced string tension. I'd always thought the Gemini was a nice guitar for the money I payed way back when (and was the only acoustic under $250 I found that had good intonation and action with no setup), but, like most dreads, I thought it was a bit boomy on the bottom end for my tastes. Tuning down balanced it out a lot more and made the treble sound richer and louder.

I'm honestly surprised by how well the laminate top on the guitar has aged over 20 years. It's responsive and woody, but has never had any of the problems with humidity that a lot of solid tops develop. This was especially nice when I was in Colorado, where the humidity dropped alarmingly in the winters. In fact, other than one little issue with one fret fairly far up the neck (and on one string only...need to tap or file that sucker down), it's been entirely maintenance free for the whole time.

Good little Korean made guitars, those Gemini.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Quiet, Bad Guitar

It's been over a week since I last played my Swede.

It started one of the days of our hectic holiday interim. We were going somewhere and it was unclear at what moment we would be leaving. I hadn't played guitar for a couple days and I was feeling the jones, (and fearing for my callouses). So I dug beneath the Swede's case to the battered chipboard shell that sheathes my battered old Fender dreadnought and dug it out to save having to plug in and boot up my Pod Farm and fiddle with settings only to have to shut down and unplug once our friends showed up and we took off. What could be simpler than an acoustic? You just take it out, tune up, and play.

The holidays are over and I haven't put it back yet.

Somewhere during the time that I picked up the acoustic I also pulled out Opeth's Damnation and listened through it. Then I pulled out Antimatter's Planetary Confinement and listened to it. Then I pulled out Green Carnation's The Acoustic Verses. Before I knew it I was dusting off how to play ELP's From the Beginning and trying to learn a bit more fingerpicking than just being able to stumble through Travis picking Dust in the Wind.

All the playing on the electric has payed off in one respect. I'm starting to get a feel for the fretboard and where notes are in relation to what I'm playing and beginning to be able to play what I'm hearing in my head (as long as what I'm hearing is slow). All the melancholy acoustic stuff gives me a chance to play along, but also to play counterpoint and improv a bit.

It's killed my GAS for a solid body with a trem, (for the time being, anyway), but now i'm GASsing for a mid-sized acoustic with a little wider string spacing at the bridge and some nice mellow strings. Maybe an OM or a 000 with a cedar top or the like.

It's still buzzy, muffled notes, but it's quiet and honest buzzy and muffled notes.

Except that as far as my wife and neighbors are concerned, outside the headphones, the quiet, bad guitar has just gotten louder.