Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolutions and Why They Are Meh

So it's 2014. I know this because it says so on my computer:

Last year I wrote a blog entitled "New Year's Resolutions" where I listed what I wanted to do in 2013. Well, let's go through and see what I did!

First, the positives:

Get Income: Yes! For about 4 months. Then I was laid off. Still counts!
Get an Analogue Synth: Technically yes!
Learn the basics of Parkour: Yes!
Get a vinyl DJ setup: Now this is a definite, full-on yes. 3 turntables, a ton of records, and a mixer. Need a new mixer and need to repair one of the turntables, but I have them. I've also found that DJing's much easier with sync.
Get some new instruments: Yes! I got a new guitar, a sax, a drum machine, and probably other things that I've forgotten about.

Now the neutrals:
Get an HSH, 24 fret, Floyd Rose'd guitar: No! But I think I'll just put another pup in my Jackson because that's 2/3 of the way there.
Start Xanu G&M and Xanu Records: Partially! Xanu Records is at least a thing now. I don't have the resources (read: money) to get it where I want it.
Get a modular synthesizer: Kinda! I got the Tip Top Audio Happy Ending Kit for Christmas, so it at least has started.

And, the negatives:

Complete the Xanu: No!
Complete the Triple Fiver: It's being redesigned again!
Complete the Xanu Modular: That's also being redesigned and costs more than I thought!
Complete the XA-80: That was never fully planned!
Complete the Xanu Pedals: No!
Get my own house: No!

So it appears then that I may have set too many goals, or had too high hopes. Meh. Its okay though, because this year I have two goals, one of which I've already been doing for a while now!

Goal 1: Become less lazy. This is mainly a winter thing (during which I get all emotionally down and thus get all lazy and bored and stuff), but I feel that I could have done more this year if I'd simply got up and did things. I can be good at that, but I'm usually too lazy to think to do so.

Goal 2: Become less mass...ive... I guess. Now, I've been working on this, slowly, for half a year-ish now (ever since I posted about my so-called "Saxophone Diet"). But, even with getting smaller and such, I still feel as if I'm above my target weight (which I don't actually have one of but whatever). Maybe more cycling or something.

As for side goals, All I'm really looking forward to is making money in some way some how. I have a collection of gemstones that I bought to sell and have not sold many of. I have a whole box of things I want to sell but haven't. I need to get some kind of income that lasts longer than 4 months or is at least well paying and/or full time. I mean my main goal in life is to have an epic studio in a decent house with a rather nice collection of cars in the garage, so I've got to start somewhere.

Rock on, and happy new year. Or, hey, maybe you've had too many happy new years in the past and you want to have a sad new year. The choice is yours.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Making a Custom Stratocaster Part 1

So my semi-local cool music store, Manchester Music Mill, had a giant moving sale. I wish I had $1000 because I would have gotten so much awesome gear for cheap, but instead I walked out with a decent turntable and a $10 Rockwood (cheap Hohner Strat copy). I figure, hey, $10 is cheap, even if it's only good for the wood and some hardware.

I knew this in store, but when I got it home I noticed this thing is BEAT. Here's a little collage:
Oh, where to start... The body is actually in okay shape. The pickguard is pretty much trash, held together by the conductive tape on the back. The pickup holes in the body are very nicely designed, having two single coil holes and a place for either a humbucker or a diagonal single coil. The trem system has 3 springs, is grounded, the block is in good shape, and, though it's a standard Strat tail, it seems that it would work out well.

However, the neck has issues - enough that I'm going to replace it. The fretboard is separating near the nut, and the neck (or at least its finish) has two cracks in it. Also, one of the tuners is missing its knob, and the last tuner is loose (just a screw is loose). The electronics, though probably functional, were completely separated from the output (as it still is), and there's a fair bit o' grunge on various connections, so I'll just replace all of that as well, and wire it as it should be (if you were to study the electronics, you'd see that it's not quite set up like a Strat).

So, I think I will not only restore it, but turn it into a pretty awesome Strat-like thingy. I've always wanted a custom Strat, so I guess here's my chance to have total control at a fraction of the cost. Here's the plan:

  • Replace the neck with a real Fender neck, maple fretboard. I've always loved how Strats feel (aside from V-necks, but the other shapes are cool), and why not make it look like a real Strat with the Fender logo and stuff?
  • Repaint the body. I've always wanted a white Strat, so this may as well be the one :)
  • Replace the pickguard. Everyone seems to disagree with me, but I love white pearloid pickguards on white Strats, so I'll do that.
  • Replace the electronics. I have plenty of electronics parts, so I can easily build my own electronics based on Fender designs, or even just do something new and random (like a tone control that actually kinda does something).
  • Replace the pickups. This thing currently has no-name pups, so why not replace them with some Seymour's? My dad likes EMGs in Strats, but I have two issues with that: 1) most EMGs are active, and 2) most EMG guitars sound the same. They sound great, but I prefer having a more unique tone. Obviously I could make my own pickups, but that's kinda overkill. I'm not Hendrix. I was thinking a Custom Flat SSL-6 in the bridge, an Antiquity Texas Hot in the middle, and a Vintage Hot Stack Plus STK-S7 in the neck.
  • Replace the tuners. I would get Waverlys (the best tuners on the market, from what I've heard), but they are not designed for Strat configuration. Instead, I am thinking either Gotoh Schaller-style Tuners or Grover Midsize Rotomatics, but I'm leaning more towards the Gotoh simply because I prefer the shape (hey, I said I'm making a Strat-like thing, not a Strat).
  • Replace the bridge/give it an arm. I'm sure this one works fine, but if I can manage it I'd love to slap a Floyd in it. Otherwise, I'll just grab a new Strat bridge. And, it'll need an arm either way.
  • Give it a locking nut. The one issue I've always had when playing Strats is that if you use the trem too much, it'll detune fairly quickly. However, in owning two guitars with Floyds, I know that locking nuts are lifesavers. So, I'll go with it.If I put a Floyd in it I'd do this anyway.
I'll let you know how it goes!

Rock on.

Edit: so, I uh... I apparently wrote this a looooong time ago, but never published it. So uh, here ya go. lol

Review: Pearl Izumi Cyclone

So about a week ago I was chillin' in a bike shop I had been wanting to go to: Gus's Bike Shop in North Hampton, NH. While I was there, among a million other accessories and a wide range of bikes, I saw these Pearl Izumi Cyclone gloves. I bought them for $40, and today I tested them.

These gloves have strategically placed gel and leather to protect your nerves in your hands, and protect the gloves from having to be replaced every few months. They also have small holes in them in very particular places to allow your hands to breathe, and rubber grips on the ring and index fingertips for better handling of handbrakes and upward paddle shifters.

I was having trouble thinking of a decent way to test all of the features of these gloves. Then, I remembered there is a perfect solution: a high-speed hybrid track of pavement and leaf-covered, root-riddled dirt trail.

My test bike, which also happens to be my only bike, is an old Schwinn Aluminum Comp with beach tires (which have whitewalls - a nice touch). I deflated the tires a bit because I needed more traction to navigate the leafy trail. Admittedly, I may have went overboard in that respect, but despite a possibly bent rear rim I got a TON of traction. Anyway...

On pavement I was able to attain speeds faster than the cars on the generally straight road. General temperature was in the mid 40's, but going approximately 25 miles per hour that brings the wind chill factor to about 36ºF. The gloves are rated down to 40, but my hands were still tolerably warm.

The trail I went on requires going through a park, which is accessed via a very sharp (~160º turn) directly onto sand. Of course, I slowed down a bit, but I was still able to very easily handle the turn and traction difference between pavement and sand. I accelerated, on a combination of sand and gravel, and was still easily able to counter the road.

The transition from sand and gravel to leafy, root-riddled trail was oddly easy, but I had to go slower until I passed some joggers and a dog. After that was a wooden bridge, but after that I accelerated to approximately 15-20 miles per hour. Even when having to land after hitting larger roots and coping with the slip of the leaves, I was able to maintain excellent control at speed.

I followed the trail, easily swerving around fallen logs and trees, and eventually ending up in someone's backyard (that's just where the trail ends, I didn't get lost or something). The quick transition from leafy to grass to pavement was handled pretty easily, then sped back home on the roads. The gloves aren't exactly antiperspirant, so the trip back was a bit... cooler, but still not bad.

My hands were almost glued to my handlebar, and braking seemed much more responsive with the rubber grip on the gloves. The gel really helped in taking hits from landing, no matter position on the handlebars. Shifting, however, was a challenge. Shifting up was easy due to the gripped fingertips, but using the downward paddle shifter was harder as there is no grip of any kind of the thumb.

In terms of overall fit, the gloves are almost perfect on my hands (they come in different sizes, so if you can try on a few pairs), but the tips are just loose enough that the gloves do not work very well with dexterous activities, such as using a key or operating a latch. Getting them on is also a bit of a challenge as the gloves are designed to fit while they are on, which means that the wrist is a bit smaller than it should be.

Nonetheless, I very much like these gloves, and I feel that $40 is a decent price to spend on such gloves. I recommend you find a dealer near you and try them out!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why Being a Dishwasher is Pretty Rad

Don't worry, I've got an interesting guitar-related blog post coming up soon. For now, check this out:

So a couple weeks back I happened to nab a dishwashing job at an organic restaurant (because those apparently exist). I totally Elder Scrolls'd it, too: I just walked in, said I noticed they needed help (they had a help wanted sign) and said I'd help, and about 20 minutes later I was working. Not bad.

Now, you may think that dishwashing is the lowest of the low jobs that any high school dropout can get, and on the surface you'd be right. But, I've noticed a few neat things about dishwashing in a restaurant, and I thought I'd tell them to you.

1. Without the dishwasher, the whole operation ceases. Think about it: the chefs would have nothing to cook on, the customers would have nothing to eat off of or with, and your wine would come in the bottle instead of a glass. Take out the dishwasher, kill the entire operation. Funny how that works. (Thanks to Veronica for pointing that out)

2. You get paid to make things wet. Literally, the entire job is simply you spraying water all over stuff (sometimes making the stuff you're spraying off fly away), shoving it on a rack and into a machine which gets hot and wet, then you put said stuff on shelves. Yeah, sometimes you have to scrub stuff, but that's a given. And people give you money to do that. Makes sense, I guess, but still kinda cool.

3. You get free food. This may only be where I work, but I can get $15 sandwiches and $7 smoothies for free. And, I can get custom stuff made (for example, turkey and swiss on rye with mustard, toasted, or even a banana milkshake, both of which you'll never see on the menu).

4. You get to help out in the kitchen. If you happen to have downtime and don't feel like looking busy when you're really just wasting time (I've yet to have such an opportunity), you can always ask some chef somewhere if they need help. So far all I've done is peel stuff, chop stuff, and sort stuff, but it's better than just making stuff wet all day.

5. You probably won't have to work all that much. Again, this could just be where I work, but I only work about 22 hours a week. There is a whole team of like 6 dishwashers working all shifts, so the chances of having to work a lot are quite low. On the downside, you get paid less, but if you're anything like me and can't be in one position for too long, it's a welcome thing.

6. The pay isn't horrible. I mean, sure, you won't be living off of washing dishes, especially for only 22 hours a week (unless you are decent at investing your money properly, which I'm still learning), but at the same time I get paid a fair bit better than minimum wage. Again, to make things wet and eat free food. Wewt.

7. Games!! For when you start getting bored of doing the same thing over and over, you can start playing random games. I personally like the "WTF Is That?" game, where I try to guess what the f*** was cooked or stored in what I'm currently washing. It gets... interesting. One time there was this blackened whole carrot, and I swore that it was a -- nevermind. It just gets interesting is what I'm saying.

8. Responsibility. Now, look, I hate having some kind of responsibility as much as the next guy. I'd much rather be the guy who sits in his office and rakes in millions instead of the guy working his arse off for nearly no pay. But, being a dishwasher is a decent transition into learning prioritizing and responsibility, because you need to wash certain things at certain times for near-future use, and you need to occasionally go out and put away dishes and stuff. I mean, they're small responsibilities, but for someone whose main concern but a month ago was getting that kick drum sounding just perfect, it's useful. Note, this isn't to say I've had no responsibilities before, but I've also never had to worry about some agitated baker wondering where her favourite knife is. That can get dangerous.

9. You learn people. If you've people-watched or -studied before, this is no new concept (as it really wasn't to me), but as a dishwasher you tend to meet everyone behind the scenes and form your own opinions on them. And, you get to see how they work together. All I know is I really don't want to be a head chef. Or a lone baker. Or a number of other jobs I've been watching.

10. You have time to think. As the dishwasher, it gets wet and dirty, so not many people bother you. And, your job doesn't really require much, so after a while your brain can start to wander as you learn to keep pace, and you can think about all sorts of stuff, like a blog post, or songwriting, or stare blankly at a wall, or - what I love to do for whatever reason - design complex electronics in my head while simultaneously washing plates and eating lunch. Hey, we all have our own weird things we think about.

So, to recap, as a dishwasher you get paid to get things wet, eat free food, spy on people, play mental games, learn some life lessons, and be a lynchpin, all while still having time to repair that $10 Strat you got at a major moving sale. Oh, wait, that's the next blog post... Well, until then:

Rock on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Time At A Roulette Table

Note: if you have a thing against gambling, I'd recommend not reading this. If you do anyway, it's your fault.

I decided today to hit up my local casino. It's not a big one, and actually part of a Greyhound racetrack, but it's got various games and such, like Poker, Blackjack, and, as you can guess, Roulette. Now, I've only played one hand of Poker in my life, and though I won it the game is simply too confusing to me (odd, considering my hobbies). I like Blackjack, and seem to be fairly decent, but I don't think I'd ever spend much money on it. Roulette, however, I really like: it's simple, no real skill or challenge, and oddly fun.

I should point out that my only experience with casino games is from apps on my tablet, so I knew the basic premise of the games but never played with real money or real chips, or even real tables. It is a very different experience.

So, when I showed up, there was a guard there who I asked a few basic questions about the casino, like rules and how to get into a game, then I moved in. There were mostly Poker and Blackjack tables, and only one Roulette table. The other tables were full, which suited me just fine. I walked over, semi-awkwardly, to the Roulette table, and stood for a while watching. I asked the Croupier if it were fine if I just watched, and it was, so I sat down and watched for about 20 minutes.

There were three players there. Two of them, a couple I presume, seemed to be working together. They had maybe $70 between them. The other, a man, had at least $230. I found later that one chip is one dollar, and chips were stacked in groups of 20. As I watched, I saw that their bets seemed to be random and plenty, placing bets from $1-$4 (the minimum and maximum bet sizes) in various inside locations, making different types of bets. When the ball in the Roulette wheel fell on their number, they felt both happiness and remorse because, though they won at most $140 (depending on the exact bet), they lost more in other bets. I eventually watched all three players run out of money. They were also buying more chips throughout the time I was watching, so I don't know exactly how much the casino made off of them. I assume a fair amount.

Aside from this, I decided to try my hand at it. By this point there were no other players and a new Croupier, so it was optimal conditions for learning the game in a real environment. I bought $9 of chips, just to play it safe. I told the Croupier that I was new and he walked me through the various bets (I should point out that he only showed me inside bets, which pay more but are harder to win, thus making the casino more money), and I started playing.

I was doing primarily outside bets, which are easier to win but pay less. More precisely, I was betting on colours (red or black) and 1st, 2nd, or 3rd groups of 12. Colours pay 1:1, meaning that if your colour wins, you double your money. Groups of 12 pay 2:1, meaning that if your group of 12 wins, you triple your money. The maximum bet you could place on any one spot was $4, so if I lost even with a max bet it wouldn't hurt much.

So I was mostly betting in the groups of 12 with $1-$2 bets, and ended up (after going negative and positive from my starting amount) with a $12 win. I more than doubled my money, which I'd say is pretty good for my first time. I decided to see what it feels like to place a maximum bet (which I know, with $4, it's not as cool as placing a bet of thousands, but it's the best I can do), so I placed 2 $4 bets. I lost, but since I was still on free money being $4 over, I thought I'd try the same bet again. Worst thing that could happen is I lose and end up with $5, right? Well, that happened.

Since I went in with money to spare and was now down to $5, I figured I'd see what it's like to go home losing what I started with. Get the whole experience, I guess. I placed down all my money in various places, and ended up winning with a group of 12, so I went home with $3. You may be thinking, "but dude, you lost money!!"

Overall, I lost $6, which is a small price to pay for the fun and experience I had. Could I have made money on it? Easily. But for me, I consider it very important to see casino games as just that: games. They are fun, and like most games they cost money. I happened to spend money on a game today. I also see it important to limit your starting amount to what you are willing to lose, which is why I only went in with $9. I literally had no other money on me, just in case I did get pulled into the whole "play until you win" thing that many gamblers seem to have.

I must say that, if you have the ability and you are smart about it, Roulette at least is a fun way to pass the time, and maybe make some money.

Rock on.

(Yes, I know this isn't about music. I'll post about that later this week, probably.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Saxophone Diet

So I somewhat recently bought a saxophone!! I must say, I love it. Here's a vlog about it:

One thing about me is I obsess over keeping my instruments in good shape. No, I don't spend hundreds of hours cleaning and polishing, but I do keep them working perfectly and sounding amazing. The interesting thing about this is I also play woodwind instruments (aside from the sax, this includes the harmonica, recorder, pan flute, and a few others), and such instruments require a certain level of upkeep, part of which includes the idea that you can not drink or eat sugary consumables before playing as the sugar will turn to gum and impair their playability.

I do not really keep to this idea with my other woodwinds because they were cheap and do not sound that great. That all changed when I got this sax, though. So now, I introduce you to what I am calling the Saxophone Diet (which isn't really much of a diet, but laziness):

Step 1: Drinks. I used to drink pretty much primarily soda and coffee. By those, I mean Mountain Dew and Starbucks Frappucinos. Now, I still drink those, but it is far less work and much better to drink water. I have a bottle that I refill and it's big enough that I can drink from it all day and not have to keep getting up to get another Dew. Also, water has no sugar and stuff, so you can drink and play all you want.

2: Snacks. My dad is the biggest fan of cookies and Little Debbie snacks. Don't get me wrong, they're kind of epic, but thankfully I watch Adam Montoya (Seananners), who happens to have a thing for Cashews. I decided to grab a box of them and try it out. As it turns out, they make for an incredible snack, especially when gaming. And, assuming you drink some water after eating, you can safely play a sax afterwards. The nuts just stay on my desk, so no need to move around much. Also, fruits like grapes and bananas are pretty epic, but still contain some natural sugars so I don't eat those and then play. Much more complex flavours than sweet snacks, though, which, I mean, interesting is way better than OMGSUGARW00T.

3: Food. After living in the south for some years, you tend to take on their foods and eating habits (especially if you were young at the time). Sadly, this made me fairly overweight, yet I was smart enough to stay fit enough for what I had to do (ride my bike to school, do stuff in Boy Scouts, etc). Now, though, and even before getting this sax (though it is more prevalent now), when I get the chance to cook dinner I tend to go for something different and at least mildly healthy, mostly thanks to Google. I also tend to make less food than, say, what you can order, which I feel makes me more able to hold notes longer with woodwinds.

4: Activity. So you may have noticed that this new diet means I don't have to move around much (yay!), and may think, "oh, man, this dude is going to have some major problems in that case." Well, my friends, that where where years of loving riding a bike comes into play, as well as living in a place I have not explored much of. Just about every day, weather permitting, I go out on my bike and see what's around. I go in different directions, half the time end up on the inside of places with 'No Trespassing' signs around them, and generally have fun. And, yeah, it takes away from designing things and playing games, but I feel that's a decent tradeoff. What this does for playing a sax, no idea.

So after all of this, you may wonder if I have lost any weight. The truth is, I have. Last time I weighed myself, I was 260lbs. A lot, yes (totally mostly muscle... well I mean some of it really is), but 3 weeks prior I was 275lbs. Something is working, anyway. Just not sure what, or how. I just think it's cool that I am shaping my life over an instrument, and I can do so rather lazily!

Rock on,
Devin T.

PS Yeah, I know, this is a music blog and I'm talking about my diet, but I don't have much else interesting to talk about!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Electric Guitar Repairs

I proudly own a BC Rich Tribal Fire Kerry King Signature Warlock. I changed out the neck pickup for a BC Rich/Epiphone EMG-style pickup, which has a much fatter sound than the usual. I also keep it tuned in B because, well, I don't have a 7 string, but also because its body seems to resonate nicely at that tuning, thus it sounds incredible for lower guitar parts, like for jazz or metal.

However, my beloved KKW (which is what I usually call it) does have one slight issue: every few months, it has an electrical issue. The jack will be loose, the output wires will get weak and break, the internal grounds will break, the controls won't work right - small stuff. Well, today I picked it up, and literally everything that had ever been wrong with it was wrong with it, but in different places. Here's my documentary of repairs:

First and foremost, when I found that the guitar output was highpassed and very quiet, I thought that maybe the output jack had a weak wire. Sure enough, both the ground and hot leads were broken.
So, I repaired them by stripping the wires back, rebraiding, and soldering them where they go. I then bent the tip connector in a bit and tightened the jack as to have a more solid connection. So far, so good: 
I had hoped this was it, but in fact the problem persisted. So, I looked under the hood. I don't have any pics of the broken bit, but there was a group of ground wires I had dealt with before that decided to, as one cluster, remove themselves from the master ground lines. It also managed to connect itself to the audio output THROUGH the tone control's capacitor, hence the highpass sound. So, I created a new ground lead a bit more solidly (green wire):
 It simply wraps around the black ground and is actually inserted and wrapped around the cluster on the left. Then, I soldered the heck out of it. I know, I know, you aren't supposed to do that, but it does make for a slightly more solid connection mechanically, and it also soaked into the cluster, bonding things more tightly. Besides, the solder I use is like the second cheapest on the shelf:
So, what did we learn today? BC Rich needs to use better wires. Seriously. All of my BC Riches have had these problems, and I've heard that even good ones have these issues. But, we also learned that if your guitar is having output issues, instead of selling or paying a ton for someone else to fix it, check ALL of the wires, and be sure that you have solid grounds. Solder and irons are cheap (generally), and you don't even need good equipment or skills to get your guitars in perfect working order :)

Rock on.