Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One of my First Real Sessions...

From back in 1990. The engineer was Tim Bomba who helped me to sound good with mediocre gear. This from the early 90's sitcom Herman's Head. I played on the theme. It was quite a complex piece of music with all the personalities in the opening credits...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Eight: Get That Endorsement

Are you a famous rockstar? Or a guitar hero? Or like me are just a legend in your spare time?

If you are in the first two categories then getting an endorsement is easy. For the full time no name musician not so much.

Early in my career I kind of resented the successful pro players who got the free gear through endorsements. I mean they could afford to buy a hundred Les Pauls and they are getting them for free? Come on!

But of course it made sense. The big time players offer exposure as their payment. They may play in front of 10,000 or even 100,000 people on a weekly basis. Or on TV. Or in videos. Or their album credits may be a real selling point for a manufacturer. However, you'd be surprised at how much you might qualify for getting free or at cost gear. Some situations that make you valuable to manufacturers...

Do you play with a mid-level artist? Someone who does festivals, concert halls, theaters regularly?
Do you play at a meg-church? One with over 5,000 weekly attenders? Are your services on TV?
Do your gear reviews get 10,000 or 50,000 or more views on youtube?
Do your cover song videos have millions of views on youtube?
Do you teach clinics or at a university?

Many of those are reasons I have acquired gear for cheap or even free. But probably the best way for me was to make a "love connection" at the NAMM Show.

What is the NAMM Show? I blogged previously on getting to the NAMM show here.

With just about every manufacturer is represented at the NAMM show in LA in the winter and Nashville or Austin in the Summer, it's an opportunity to meet and greet and make connections. However, know that they aren't there for you. They are there to make sales to buyers from stores. So remember that. Don't interfere with their business. My tacked, and it's really more of an anti-tacked, is to not have an agenda, just ask intelligent questions, be helpful, offer informed advice if asked. Make a friend. It costs them little to give you a good deal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Seven: Where?

I've talked about making lists, "checking them twice", having cash ready, avoiding the impulse buys and trusting your senses, now the question is once you are ready, where does one find the deals.

First off, if you have a need and the resources to fulfill that need then you could just go to the local guitar store, be it a Guitar Center or a "Mom and Pop" place and buy it. However if you are willing to be a little patient you might be able to get a couple of things checked off your list for the price of one. 

Some starting places...

1. eBay - Here's my post on eBay from a few months ago. One trick I just found out about is not new but new to me, and a great for finding valuations for things you're looking to buy or sell.  Go to advanced search and check the "completed listings" box and search for your item. This will show you recent transactions so you can see if that deal the store around the corner is really such a good deal.

2. Craigslist - Craigslist has a bit of a bad reputation as of late, however if done right you can find some great deals this way. I picked up a 1940's Kay "archtop" last year. I didn't bring any cash, the buyer met me at a neutral site where we sussed each other out and I sussed out the guitar. Then we went to the bank to get the money and made the exchange. He thought I was cool so he took twenty bucks off the fair price and I thought he was cool so I took him to lunch. I used the guitar in the film Gangster Squad. Just in the background of a few scenes, you aren't actually hearing it. One has to be cautious when going to places with large amounts of cash or when inviting strangers to your gear strewn music room. But I don't really need to tell you this. The neutral site thing works great.

3. Yard Sales - Deals still exist out there. It's been a while, but have in the past gotten some very good deals at yard sales. I generally go looking for cheap things. If you look in your local Friday classifieds you will see listings for yard/garage sales. Look for the ones that actually say musical instruments. Could be an accordion or charango or a Stella acoustic or an early 60's Strat for $300. The latter, 20 years ago, I actually found once and told the seller it was worth $50,000, even though it was worth more like 10-20k, but I couldn't bring myself to buy it and I didn't want him to sell it to any one for less than it was worth. There were times when I would go to yard sales at their listed start time, say 8am or 9am, and be told that guitar buyers were knocking on their doors as early as 6am or the night before sussing out the deals and then low balling their prices. I never did that.

4. Thrift Stores - I picked up a couple of 60's Stella acoustics for $20 each at a Salvation Army once. A match pair - standard and tenor. Both worth easily over a hundred each. Don't care so much about that, they sound cool. The six-string has a very Robert Johnson quality to it and is great for slide and the tenor (4-string) is a very unique sounding instrument which is always good to have. My wife is always on the prowl at thrift stores and will call me if she sees something she thinks I might be interested in. Because of eBay, good deals at thrift stores and yard sales are getting tougher to find. Everyone seems to know what stuff is worth.

5. Local Guitar Store - So much of life is about relationships. This is true in gear acquisitions too. Some of my best purchases were from stores that I frequented. And by frequented I mean, bought stuff at, not hung around at. Store owners can be friends too. Sometimes they'll give you their cost on something because they appreciate your business. Sometimes even lose a little on a sale because they need the cash, just like anyone else, and would rather lose money to you than a stranger. I've gotten some of my best deals in such situations.

6. Friends - I have a acquired a few instruments from friends who either wanted me to have an instrument of theirs and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse, or had friends with guitars that I've told, "if you ever decide to sell this instrument talk to me first." In those situations I always offer/pay market price as I don't want to take advantage of my friends. My son got a great deal on a Gretsch Tennessee Rose in such a manner. I got my 60's 175 from a friend I'd known since 1974. Known the guitar that long as well. You can always make known your offer. In the case of the 175 it took 30 years to "adopt".

Monday, February 20, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Six: Trust Your Senses

Ok. This is a sad post. If you are prone to cry at failed relationships of the gear variety read no further... or at your own risk.

There have been a few times when I didn't listen to my heart, or my intuition, and passed on something that I would never forgive myself for. Ergo, this post. Let it be a warning to you all!

Now while my last post dealt with hasty, ill-conceived purchases, the bad twin, I'm going to deal with the good twin here - purchases of the heart.

It's a fine line. We've all confused the two, bought a guitar and later thought "what was I thinking?" and other times we didn't buy a guitar and thought "what was I thinking?". It's a tough distinction and one that will have you second guessing every purchase. But let me tell you of a couple of missed opportunities and see if through thorough analysis we can avoid the mistake of the missed opportunity in the future.

Dateline 1981 - I taught guitar lessons at a store in Indiana. A lot of lessons. I was there Monday-Thursday and Saturday morning every week. I made about $300 a week, which for a 20 year old kid was pretty good coin, but my focus was moving to Los Angeles so I was power saving big time. Most of my days were four to six hours of half hour students, with the occasional no-show or cancelation. There was a two month period where when I had the involuntary half-hour break I would faithfully gravitate to the blonde Gibson 175 hanging on the wall. OK, sit down. It was a 1959 and was only $300! Hindsight and all that so hold your trap. This is when old guitars were called used and not vintage. The thing played like butter. I was really in to Wes Montgomery and George Benson at the time, but I already had a 175. Well, not really. I had an Ibanez 175, bought at the very store for my 13th birthday. For $300 I believe. Well one day it dawned on me that I needed that guitar. That day? My day off...  Friday. Did I wait until Saturday to drive the fifteen or twenty minutes to the store? Nope. Apparently I sensed the need to move on the guitar that had been hanging in the window innocently for the last couple months. Of course you know the outcome. When I got there it was gone. Sold that morning to a guitarist in town who played with a fairly well-known local band. I was literally in shock. I had played it the night before. "I should've..." "If only I had..." still echo in my head thirty-plus years later. Stayed tuned for analysis.

Next story - Dateline - mid 90's - There was a store in Pasadena that I frequented, and by frequented I mean bought gear at, and even occasionally worked at. One time there was this weird instrument I'd never seen before. It was an acoustic instrument. Made of Koa. It appeared to require a slide to play it. And it seemed to need to lay on one's lap. What kind of crazy guitar was this? Even the neck was hollow. OK, most of you know what this is. And it was an actual 1930's Weissenborn. The price? I'm embarrassed to answer that question. $300. What is it with me and things priced $300? I thought about buying it right then and there but hesitated. I went home. This was before the internet revolution so I didn't really know what it was. But I went back the next day and it was gone. That was the going price at the time. But that would would quickly change. "I should've, I should've, I should've..."

OK, example one. My saving-at-all-cost nature cost me the 175. If I'd added up the facts, done the math as it were, I would have realized...

  1. I had a COPY 175, here was the real thing. For the same price.
  2. I was into jazz. It was the perfect guitar for that. Though my teacher said, any guitar is a jazz guitar if you play jazz on it.
  3. I loved it. It played itself. At the risk of being over dramatic, my hands felt like they were home when I played it.

Example two. My hesitation cost me a Weissenborn that would soon be worth ten times what I would've paid for it. Did I know that then? No. No one did. That's why it was going for three bills. This is not where I made my mistake. Here's where I blew it...

  1. It was an instrument I didn't own. I have a policy to get one instrument a year that I don't know how to play. This would've fulfilled my quota for that year.
  2. It was well within my "cash on the side" budget.
  3. It was at a friend's store.
  4. My wife told me to get it.

Even my lovely bride saw that it was a good deal. If I could kick myself in the pants right now I would.

So had I been following many of my own rules of engagement I would own both of these lovely instruments. There have been others, but I'm too sad to talk about them now. Share your's in the comments.

Gibson 175
Goldtone Weissenborn Hawaiian Style Steel Guitar

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Five: Avoid Impulse Buys

There are few times when I bought something I regretted. Usually when I thought I really needed something, for what ever reason, and I rushed out and picked it up.

One time I got a call from a composer I'd never worked with before and he asked if I could get the Beatles sound. I had much of the gear that would facilitate the sound of the band that is the reason I play guitar, a Les Paul, a Strat, a Rickenbacher 12-string, a Gibson acoustic, but I didn't have an Epiphone Casino. Because I wanted to make a good impression on this composer I decided that I would get a Casino that day. I called around to many stores and the only one that had one was quite a ways away. I drove out and bought it. Didn't even negotiate the price. The fee for the session was going to enough to cover the cost of the new axe.

One problem: the session got canceled. I never ended up working for the composer.

The Casino has seen very little game time. It's a little toyish feeling and it's soap bar pickups were too noisy to be much use for live use and especially session work. It looks cool though.

Another purchase was a 60's Marshall 50 watt head. Ultimately I got a good deal on this one, but at the time I actually took out a loan to buy it to help build credit. I very rarely used it as it was way over powered for any situation I might need it for and the one time I used it for a session I hooked it up to a Rocktron Juice Extractor and blew the power transformer. Doh! It was one of those things I thought I should have, not something I really needed. Still to this day hope to start doing sessions where I can bring lots of heads (as I have a few now). Some day.

My point here is that resources for most of us are limited and can't be wasted on ill-conceived or hasty purchases. Take a deep breath, count to ten and put your wallet back in your pocket. But if it meets the criterium for your next purchase pull the trigger.

In my next post I'm going to contradict everything I just said here. Haha.

Guitar Gear of the Greats

Get That Gear - Part Four: Keep Money On The Sideline

Even while your list will be your main source of gear acquisition focus you need to have the freedom to completely abandon "listmania". That freedom can come from having literal cash on the side, say in a gear account, or just know that you have some extra scratch in you checking account for some opportunities.

Here are some examples of acquisitions made just by having a little extra cash around...

1. $1100 for an unloved 70's Martin D-35 at a Guitar Center. Had to put a little into it but it is my fave acoustic right now. But it was pretty sweet right off the rack. Used it on this track...

2. $140 for a 60's Sears Silvertone 1484 with Jensen Blue Frame speakers. Brought to life in the capable hands of Bob Dixon (his favorite vintage amp) an amazing garage sale find.

3. $750 for a new matchless Clubman head from one of the original owners. He was their accountant and they bought him out by giving him a bunch of amps back in the 90's. He didn't really need to make a lot of money off of them.

4. $175 for a 1940's Fender Triple 8-string neck lap steel from the same guy. When I bought the Clubman he asked, "would you be interested in this?" I had never seen one but thought "what the heck." I've used it for some pretty cool effects in soundtracks. It's worth about ten times what I paid for it.

5. $200 for a Silverface Fender Deluxe. Used on this track...

To name but a few.

You never know when opportunity knocks but it can't knock if you don't have enough extra coin to open the door. OK, that made absolutely no sense. But hopefully you know what I mean.

I would even suggest stopping your gear purchases for a while so you can save a thousand or so dollars to keep on the sidelines giving you the ability to pull the trigger when you run into that no brainer.

Martin D-35
Fender Deluxe Reverb

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Three: Prioritize

Now that you are making a list. It's time to get realistic with that list. Or at least get real. Unless you have eight figures in your bank account replace "'59 Les Paul" with just plain old "Les Paul". Forget the Dumble Amp and maybe shoot for a Two Rock.

Your list should be in no particular order, allowing for a free flowing, stream of consciousness that will allow you to be flexible with your gear acquisition. Priorities will change often. Sometimes daily. So don't be bound by the position of where things are, let need or opportunity dictate your next purchase.

For example if you only have one amp and it's starting to die, move your amp choices to the top of the list.  The list should be a living, fluid document. If you have an audition with a funk band and you don't have that wah pedal that's number 15 on your list, move it to number one. If at the bottom of your list is a mandolin and you see a nice Gibson at a yard sale for $100, need I say more?

Needs vs. wants. Know the difference here. I have had items stay on the top of the lists so long that they were no longer desired or needed. As Garth Brooks sang "Thank God for unanswered prayers."

Here are some items from wish lists past, with commentary...

G&L S-500 - got it and sold it, too noisy
Lexicon MPX-1 - didn't get it right away, then the MPX G2 came out, got it at artist pricing (50% off), loved it and still use it.
Mesa Boogie 2:90 - never got it and kind of glad too
TC Electronics M2000 - never got it, didn't really need it once I got the Lexicon
Egnator Preamp - Never got it
Dobro - got a 1929 National Duolian that I use all the time
Taylor or Guild 12-string - got a Taylor 655 for a great price
Danelectro Baritone - Got it
Neumann KM 184 - still on my list
Gretsch Country Gentleman or similar - still on my list
ADAT Player - didn't get and glad

This is just a small sampling of prior lists, some even included smaller, more attainable items like capos, strings, recordable CD's, etc. But you can see in my ability to predict through wishing was batting 50/50. But that's OK, because most the stuff I didn't get I didn't need.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Get That Gear - Part Two: Make A List

Back when I first moved to LA I was way under-geared. I had spent the previous three years saving money for the move. Money I might need to live on if I couldn't get work. Money that wasn't spent on a bunch of guitars and amps and pedals. The gear I owned for the move fit easily in the back of my Pontiac Gran Prix and the 2000 mile drive to the West coast. It was as follows...

An early-70's Ibanez 175 copy (lawsuit model)
A 1979 Ibanez Artist 335 electric
A 1981 G&L F1001
A Yamaha Classical
An Acoustic 165 amp
And some misc. pedals

This was all I brought to compete with Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Lukather, Carl Verheyen, and so many others. What was I thinking? Seriously.

I had used up all my guts and courage to move to LA, and had none left to take chances with savings or credit cards, so that list didn't change much for a long time. Disposable income didn't come easily those first few years and my savings was slowly dwindling.

Once I got married and my wife (God bless her) got a real job, I started to make wish lists. My income from students and gigs and occasional sessions began to grow slowly, and gear purchases were the easiest way to write off some of that income.

I made pretty extensive lists. Dreaming big but with some practicality thrown in for good measure. There were a lot of things on the lists that I didn't get and that's not a bad thing. But I printed up the lists and kept them in a drawer and every now and then would go back a look at lists from five or ten years prior and be amazed at how much from these lists had been acquired. And how much I didn't get and was extremely glad.

There's something about making lists, whether you are checking them often or not, that tend to be self fulfilling prophesy. Call it "visualization" if you like. If you haven't done this I suggest you start one right now.

You can use sites like Amazon or Musician's Friend to create wish lists. But better to just create a doc, date it and print it. You can make one list or separate it out into sub-lists, "pedals", "guitars", "amps". It can be specific like... "Lowden F25" or more general like... "good finger style guitar." Like.. "Carl Martin Fuzz" or like... "fuzz pedal"

Text or e-mail yourself ideas when at guitar stores or at shows of things you liked and add them to your list. Maybe put some context... "Fender Tele Baritone, saw at the Burned Out Monkeys show"

Lowden F25
Carl Martin Fuzz Pedal
Fender Tele Baritone

Get That Gear - Part One: Intro

Having the right gear can help you quit that day job and work as a full time musician. It may be guitars, amps and pedals for gigging and sessions, it may be a computer, mics and preamps for writing and recording, it may even be just an area of your home set-up and dedicated to teaching lessons. Whatever your future needs are you'll need to break out that check book/wallet/credit card and make some purchases. My prayer for you is resources, patience, intuition and general all around smarts.

In the next few posts I'm going to give you some tips to get that gear...

1. Make a list.
2. Prioritize
3. Keep money on the sideline
4. Avoid impulse buys
5. Trust your senses
6. Where?
7. Get that endorsement.

Hopefully they will help you get the gear you need to build a career.

Saturday, February 4, 2012