Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Cosmic Comic

I've been reading a lot of Alan Watts books about Taoism and Zen lately and find the inherent humor enlightening and a kind of "satori" (awakening) in itself. I put this droning track together today using an Animoog synth, a Pocket Operator PO-12 rhythm generator, Launchpad, a Hokema Sansula Kalimba, and my Kodakaster 4 Sapele Gold 3-string Canjo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Levy's Straps, As Good As It Gets

From time to time, I write posts about musical products or accessories I come across that I regard as exceptional values. So, here's my take on one such product, Levy's Leathers guitar straps.

I already own two other Levy's guitar straps, wide and made from soft, beautiful suede leather, which have helped me be a better bass player since they make my two thumpers more comfortable on my shoulder so I can play longer. So yesterday, when I was practicing with my Telecaster which weighs almost as much as a bass, I decided that I needed a new strap that might be a bit more comfortable than the nylon web strap I was using. Plus, I figured I should buy a strap that was not only better on my old shoulder, but looked cool, too, and matched the black and white motif of my guitar.

I headed down to Asheville's Music Center store where I was greeted by one of the sales staff, Jim, who always helps me find just what I need. I told him what I was after and he said, "Well, your timing is good, Bill". The store had just received a shipment of straps from Levy's and he proceeded to go through a large carton of straps with me until I found just the right one at a very reasonable price. Sold!

As you can see, I got a perfect strap for my black and white Tele with soft, black cloth webbing and white accents. Ta Da! Problem solved.

But, while looks aren't everything, this strap, like all Levy's products I've seen, are built to last with great design, quality materials, and the highest workmanship. And best of all, this strap, about an inch narrower than my other two Levy's straps, is just as easy on my shoulder as the wider straps. I really like that feature the most.

So, am I happy with my Levy's Leathers straps (all three)? Well, if you don't know the answer to that question by now, you might want to read this post again.

Note: I see that Levy's motto is Your Guitar Is Worth It. I would add that their guitar straps are worth it, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sony PXW-X70

During my long career as a professional film and video maker, I used and owned many really wonderful state-of-the-art film and video cameras, so I've seen the rapid evolution from silver halide emulsion imaging to orthicons, vidicons, plumicons, saticons, newvicons, trinicons, and then into CCD's, HD and now 4K.

In my work. I used cameras made by Arriflex, Panavision, Cinema Products, Ecair, Bell and Howell, Bolex, Mitchell, Beaulieu, Canon, Panasonic, RCA, Ikigami, JVC, Sony and recently, GoPro.

But, I'm retired now and last year I sold my 4-year-old pro video camera (a beautiful Sony EX1) while it still had some life left in it. So, when my wife, Anita Gayle, wanted me to shoot more videos for her cooking blog and promotional videos to help market her paintings of fruits and vegetables, I thought that I could shoot them with my really nice Sony Alpha 65 DSLR since it shoots beautiful HD video images as well as 24MP stills..

That's what we did and her videos turned out pretty darned good, if I do say so, etc., etc.

But, there were some issues with the camera that presented me with particular challenges I had not experienced before during my career-for-pay.

First, the audio. The thought of using a built-in camera microphone is as foreign to me as a surgeon using a butter knife to remove an inflamed appendix. It can be done but the results take longer and are less than optimum. Sure, the A65 does have a little mini jack that allows plugging in an external mike, but there is no manual adjustment of audio levels  possible, no limiter, and no headphone jack to monitor sound quality when recording. But, hey, you might get lucky, right?

Second, the kit lens that came with the A65 camera is f3.5 and gets slower as one zooms in. No chance of using "available" light without shooting at ISO 800 or above resulting in a big increase in grain. And, oh yes, the zoom lens only operated manually and not very smooth, either - not acceptable if desiring professional video results.

True, the images were stunning enough, but I had to play back each shot to check the audio and pump light into the scene when shooting indoors, and oh, yes, NO ZOOMING. It was similar  to attempting to trim the branches of a fruit tree using a shovel. Less than satisfactory.

So, we kept the Sony A65 since we also take stills and it is perfect in that role, but, after much research, came up with the best, most economical professional video camera I could find in the long, drafty halls of the internet stores - Sony's PXW-X70. It's lightweight, sports a new 1" Sony CMOS imager, has all the audio controls one could ever want, and a relatively-fast Zeiss zoom lens. I won't bore you with the specs, but you can find out for yourself at Sony's site about their PXW-X70

I note on the portrait I took of the camera above:  I took that image today on our kitchen table. The reason I choose the checkered tablecloth and the blue-tinted 50's look to treat the subject was because if, in the mid-1950's when I first became interested in cameras, movies and TV shows, this Sony digital video image and sound capturing device would have magically appeared on my mom's kitchen table, we would not even have recognized it as any kind of camera at all.

So, the bottom line is that it's great living in the future - even for a "seasoned" Camera Geek like me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fender Rumble 40 Combo Amp

The Fender Rumble 40 Combo Amp is a great addition to my bass kit. Shown with my Gibson SG Special Bass, the combination really provides a versatile lower end for any type of music. The newest models in Fender's Rumble series are much lighter than previous models with completely new designs from the ground up.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ibanez Gio 6-String Bass

This Ibanez 6-string electric bass is the latest addition in my growing musical arsenal of deep-end stringed instruments. It's built like a tank and really opens up my possibilities as a bassist by adding more notes at both the high and low sides of the scale.

With a beautiful mahogany body, rosewood fretboard and maple neck, it's not really as heavy as it looks, but it does sound heavy - very heavy.

This affordable but quality-built Ibanez 6-string bass features a DXH-6 neck pickup and a DXH-6 bridge pickup, and Phat EQ active bass boost which adds additional low-end power, reportedly more that any other 6-string bass in its price range. It really gets down on the get low.

Paired with my Fender Rumble 40 combo amp, I've recently been shaking the foundations of my home with this 6-string monster. I've also noticed that playing it makes going back to my other two 4-string basses seem easier. 

But hey, this is a good thing and I'll take whatever I can get, right?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ambiant Gulf

Recorded by Billy Radd near Panama City Beach, Florida.