Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clever bed

I spent part of today rearranging the boxes in the shed, plus assembling an elevated bed frame that Guitar Cousin helped me build, around 1993. I sketched it out, and GC made some improvements and cut and trimmed all the lumber.

The design was inspired by the beds in the dorms when I was at college (my second college, not my first one): turned one way, the beds were at a normal height, but with oddly tall headboards and footboards. Inverted, the bed was about belly height, to it took a bit of leap to get into bed -- **but**, you could store a **lot** of stuff under the bed!

The design that GC and I cooked up is pretty clever, if I do say so myself. The main criteria were that it had to break down enough to fit in the back of my Honda Civic hatchback, but also be easy to assemble. In addition, the platform's height had to be at a reasonable work surface (i.e. somewhere between waist level and elbow height), as its immediate purpose was to provide room for my recording gear in my moderately small bedroom, while I was rooming with Old Roommate (I was cheap, so I took the smaller bedroom in exchange for a smaller share of the rent). The recording gear went on top -- and I slept underneath.

The headboard and footboard assemblies are permanently assembled; the side rails go on next (note the triangular plywood braces, for stability --GC's idea, I believe); then I add two threaded rods, to hold the side rails against the sides of the headboard and footboard; I then drop the two cross rails into place; and finally, two square-ish sheets of plywood drop into place.

Despite not having assembled it since around 2001 (and disassembling it in 2003, when I moved to Australia), the design was straightforward enough that I assembled it by myself, and in just a few minutes. This is the sixth place I've assembled it: two with Old Roommate; one is Seattle before getting married; two places with The Lady; and now here (still married, of course -- just hadn't used the bed). In all of those places, I used it more as a work table than as a bed.

I'm using it as shelving, to help maximize storage space. Eventually, It'll be used as a bed -- or a work surface for recording gear -- again.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not stagnating in music

One of my often-shared, keen, insightful observations is that most people's musical tastes stagnate at their high school or college years: for my peers, that would be around 1987-1991 -- late ''new wave'' and early grunge (e.g. Nirvana's Nevermind came out in 1991).

I'm pleased to say that I haven't fallen into that trap: a few times a week I turn on the local, late-night, music video program and watch a few as I'm brushing my teeth. Occasionally (very occasionally, I'm afraid), something comes up that deserves further investigation.

To that end, here's two albums that I recommend hightly -- although YMMV, based on your personal taste.

One -- from a few years ago, actually -- is Jem's album Finally Woken (esp. the tracks ''They'', and ''Just a Ride'') (the links go to Grooveshark, which is a free streaming service: if you like the songs, you click on links to purchase the mp3 file).

The other, which is reasonably recent, is Lisa Mitchell (an Australian -- yay!) Wonder -- esp. the songs ''Coin Laundry'' and "Neopolitan Dreams".

Good stuff. IMO.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Tips on buying beginner electric guitar

My reply to a friend who was thinking of buying a ''beginner'' electric guitar package for his wife, for Christmas.

I've held off on posting it, as I wasn't sure if she reads my blog, and I didn't want to spoil the surprise.

I am **always** happy to facilitate people getting a guitar. :)

> I'm emailing you for help with gift recommendations. I'm thinking
> about getting her an electric guiatar. Lately, she's been messing around
> with an old accoustic and she's got to get her verse set to music.
> I have no clue and need help! I'm good with spending ~250 for the guitar
> and ~50 for the amp.
> Costco and the warehouse places are selling them -
> (There's just something wrong with buying a guitar where I get 50 packs of
> TP)
> And trading musician has a few that look promising too
> Any suggestions?

Okee-dokee... :)


I've mail-ordered from American Musical Supply -- --
and Musician's Friend --

Both were good (as of 2003, when I moved to AU...) -- but you know
what? Musician's Friend has a better web design/interface (e.g. lets
you sort within a category by price) -- and they actually stock some
things that AMS doesn't -- so, for our current purposes, phoey on AMS.

Locally, I **love** the Trading Musician. They have a wide range of
stuff; it's mostly "used" gear (which means you'll find quirky,
interesting stuff); they stock a wide range of prices (i.e.
"collectable/botique" stuff, as well as mundane, inexpensive stuff);
and their staff actually knows what they have in stock, and actually
play instruments.

Costco is fine if you happen to like what they have. :)


One of the things that I love about electric guitars (as opposed to
acoustics) is that you have tons of flexibility in modifying their
basic sound -- so you can go "country", "hard rock", "folk",
"psychadelic", and etc., with the same guitar, just by adding an
effects pedal or two.

Different configurations or styles of electric gutars have their own
broad "sound", which is somewhat affected by the amplifier (but,
you're not going to be getting into that) -- and majorly affected by
plugging an effects pedal into the signal chain (guitar --> F/X pedal
--> amp).

So, it depends on the type of music she hopes to play.

-GUITAR -- broadly speaking, there are four basic electric guitar
sounds (which can be mostly overwhelmed by the F/X pedals).

-Single-coil - fake Stratocaster -- these tend towards a thin and
bitey sound. Jimi Hendrix, a lot of Nirvana's stuff, Buddy Holly,
surf guitar (those 1960s California instrumentals...). Some "oddball"
ones as well, like this one at Trading Musician --

-Telecaster version of single-coil -- Used a lot in country; Bruce
Springsteen also uses, and some Buddy Holly. Bitey.

-Lipstick pickups -- Danelectro guitars are famous for this.
Inexpensive example here --
-- guitars with lipsticks tend to have a "retro" look (1960s?), as
well. I describe the sound as "buttery".

-Humbuckers -- Meaty, thick, possibly "heavy". AC/DC uses them, and others.

Most of these can emulate other sounds: for example, by using the
tone knob on a guitar with humbuckers (and using the pickup near the
tail end, rather than near the neck of the guitar) you can decrease
the lows, to give you more of a single-coil (thin, trebly) sound.

Most "beginnner" electric gutiars are what I call "fake
Stratocasters". Nothing wrong with them -- although it'll be harder
to sound "heavy". Otherwise, very versatile as far as genres and
over-all sound. :) The Costco guitar package that you linked to
falls into this category.

-AMPLIFIER -- I'd suggest getting an amplifier that has at least a 5"
diameter speaker -- any smaller than that and the sound quality
suffers (unless you only listen with headphones) -- the tiny speaker
can't reproduce the low-frequency/bassier/lower-mids frequencies,
which gives you a weak sound. This ends up sounding disappointing,
which dampens the enthusiasm with playing. (Again, your Costco kit
sounds good.)

I have a preference for ''open back'' amplifiers for guitars: if you
can see the rear of the speaker from behind the amp, it's open-back;
if you just see the back of the speaker, and not its insides, then
it's close-backed. ;)

Bonus points if there's a headphone output on the amplifier.

Don't worry about if the amplifier includes a "distortion" or
"overdrive" button. At the beginner/intro-level guitar amps, the
sound will be rather cheesy (although useful as a special effect, I
suppose).You're better off buying a dedicated distortion pedal for
around US$30 -- e.g. the Danelectro ones here (I own some of them [not
the "FAB" line, though] --|0&rpp=20
). Put differently: at this price point, you're looking for an
amplifier that's neutral -- better to outsource the sound-altering to
a dedicated f/x pedal (which you can always upgrade, or add to...).

-EFFECTS PEDALS -- Broadly speaking, I'd start her off on one (maybe
two?) effects pedals. If she gets into it, there's room to expand.
( I own fifty(?) -- so clearly, I'm partial. :) )

If she wants just a bit of sweetness (e.g. bluesy distortion, Eric
Clapton), get an "Overdrive" pedal (or "Blues").

If she wants **obvious** distortion (hard rock, heavy metal), get
"Distortion", "Fuzz" (slightly cheezy sounding, but I like it -- old
punk rock?); or "Heavy Metal" (These are all shorthands -- people
have a sense of what general range of sounds the pedal will provide.)

If she wants a subtle to moderate amount of echo (parking garage;
"Well since my BABY left ME..."; rockabilly; surf guitar
instrumentals), get a "Reverb" pedal.

For stuff that says "Hey! I'm in outer space!", or doing artsy,
obvious echoes (e.g. play a note and it repeats twenty times), get a
"Delay" pedal.

For a psychadelic, swirly sound, get a "Flanger" or a "Phaser".

For a shimmery, slightly underwater effect (e.g. most of the Police),
get a "Chorus" pedal.

If you want a "funk" sound (wah-chikka-wah-chikka), then you want a
wah-wah pedal, or an auto-wah -- e.g.

There's more categories -- but those are the solid foundational ones. :)

They tend to take a 9V battery -- and/or you pay extra for a "wall
wart" power supply.

My personal recommendation would be to get an overdrive or distortion
pedal if she's going for some flavor of rock, or a reverb pedal if
she's not. (A bonus with the reverb pedal is that you can put it
in-line with a microphone...!)

GRAND TOTAL RECOMMENDATIONS: You have a better sense than I,
regarding her musical ambitions (i.e. the genre of song she's
intending to write), and her musical tastes (if you don't know her
ambitions, her listening tastes is probably a good predictor.)

-SHOPPING LIST -- Get a guitar, an amp, and one or two effects pedals.
If you get a pedal or two, you'll also need an extra guitar cable
per effects pedal. If you get two pedals, then one of the "extra"
cables only needs to be a 6" or one-foot cord, to go between them.
She probably already has a guitar tuner from her acoustic guitar
(although if a "beginner kit" includes one, that's good.) Guitar bag
and a guitar stand are bonuses, but not necessary (one of my guitars
is in a pillowcase + bath towel + some cord wrapped around...).

If you're getting just one pedal, get a reverb pedal (e.g. $30 --
), OR an overdrive or distortion-ish pedal.

If you're getting two pedals, get reverb AND a
distortion/overdrive/metal/fuzz pedal.

-BEST BARGAIN -- The Costco kit for $130. Either mail order an
effects pedal (standard shipping may, or may not, get it to you by
Christmas), or support your local **excellent** music store by going
to the Trading Musician for your effects pedals.

If the lady is the sort to "personalize" stuff, include some poster
paint, stickers, cans of spraypaint, or etc.

-MORE UNIQUE: Stop by Trading Musician and tell them you want a
beginner's kit, at the cheap end. Ideally, the guitar will be around
$150-$200, although the amp might then be around $80. Doesn't leave
much room for the effects pedals...

Trading Musician may have a Kay/Teisco-ish guitar --$20tulip$20definit.JPG -- in
stock. These can either be bizzarely pricey (collectable), or dirt
cheap (during my 2006(?) visit, I picked one up from them for around
$80 -- plays well, good sound...). Certainly unique looking.
(They're inexpensive because the bodies tend to be plywood, rather
than a solid chunk of wood -- and just generally cheezy --e.g. smaller

-SMALL HANDS -- I forget whether Laura has small hands -- but there's
a "cutesy" brand, designed by a woman, called Daisy Rock. Musician's
Friend carries 'em, and they seem to be around $200 for the starter
pack (the amp seems a little small, though) --

-- or $150 for the star-shaped one --
-- and the heart-shaped one --

(...not including shipping...)

Also butterfly shape, daisy shape, etc. --|0&Ntk=All&Ntt=daisy+rock&Nty=1&rpp=20

They're "real" guitars, not toys. I've heard good things about them,
and I've tried out an electric bass of theirs, once (seemed fine).

Similarly, the Hannah Montana electric guitar -- really!!! -- is good
(I own one). It has a Telecaster-ish sound (i.e. twangy/bitey) -- so
you won't get a "heavy" sound out of it, but it'll do fine for folk,
blues, non-heavy rock, jazz, blues, etc.
--$50 -- but it **is** a real guitar. And, a I recall, it's a shorter
length than "regular" guitars.

If you don't want to wait, you can probably find one at your local
K-Mart, Target, or Fred Meyers (although, being the Christmas season,
it may be sold out). And you'd still need to pick up a guitar amp
(with >5" speaker!) from somewhere, as well.

So -- how's that? :)

I check my e-mail near-daily, so feel free to e-mail back if you want
clarifications or confirmations/verifications on stuff...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

iPhone audio studio apps

(Cross-posted from an e-mail to Guitar Cousin...)

Kinda interesting. Still not enough for me to plop down the $$$ nesc. for an iPhone, though. (US$180-$220?)

Four-track recorder - $10 -

dB meter - $20 -
spectrum analyzer - $25 -- SAME
tone generator (e.g. pink noise, test tones) - $10 - SAME

guitar toolkit (tuner, metronome, etc.) --

piano keyboard --

4-track plus samples - $9 -
frequency analyzer - $10 -- SAME
electronic drum kit/sampler (16 pads) - $20 -- SAME
4-track, metronome, simple drum machine - $1 - SAME
dB meter - $6 -- same


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Insight on high chairs

A semi-random thought on high chairs, and recommendations for detachable trays, versus fixed. If you've already bought high chairs, then this is a forewarning; if not, then you can use it to guide your purchasing decision.

Because we already had a high chair from our first child, we bought the second one separately. Thus, it's a completely different style: one has a detachable tray, whereas the other one is permanently mounted. So, we have one of each style.

One of the boys is quite the climber. He hangs on to (his full body weight, feet dangling off the ground) counter edges, table edges, etc. Has hung off the tray of the high chair (the one with the detachable tray) so much that he's broken the "runners" underneath the tray -- the ones that lock it to the armrests. So in that respect, the high chair with the "permanently connected" tray is better.

BUT -- there have been occasions where the boys have made such a mess on the tray that I've just taken the whole thing to the sink. With the tray that's permanently connected, you can't do that...

(For what it's worth: twice, one of the boys has made such a mess -- vomit, I believe -- that I've taken the whole high chair and just put it in the shower!)


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where do hobbies and careers come from?

How do people end up with their hobbies, their interests, their careers? "Where do 'tastes' and 'interests' come from?" Preference for romantic comedies, vs. action movies? Preference for jazz, vs. heavy metal? Watching sports on t.v., or not?

I've thought about that stuff a lot, and my assessment is that it's an intersection of natural inclinations (i.e. innate), which then get channeled into specific manifestations based on exposure and happenstance.

My daughter **loves** drawing: nearly every day she makes a few drawings (pencil; pens; paint, if we set her up). She's 5yo, and she'd been like that since she was 3yo, maybe before. My wife doodles when she's on the phone; I don't doodle, even though I've tried -- but I'm just not that way inclined. Took a few drawing classes in high school -- but I don't have enough patience or natural enjoyment from it to pursue it on my own time.

On the other hand, I consider myself a songwriter and recording musician (i.e. I play various instruments and record the same myself). My sister took piano lessons as a kid, so we had a piano at home -- but somehow, I never made the connection between the music I heard on the radio and "real" people playing it. If I had an uncle or older sister that played in a rock band, then I probably would've figured it out. As it was, it wasn't until my freshman year in college, when a guy down the hall had an electric bass -- and the next year I ended up buying an electric guitar...

My grandpa always did woodworking (mostly lathe stuff), and built shelves and such for around the house. I tried making a few things as a teenager, but I didn't know what I was doing (and my parent's ''shop'' and tools weren't suitable for what I was trying to do). Wasn't 'til my mid-'20s when I realized I could design and build music eqpt. racks that were more to my specifications than anything I could buy ''off the shelf'', that I ''got into'' woodworking.

I wasn't into sports, working out, etc., and didn't think I was into martial arts -- but my dad once brought home a videotape documentary on Aikido -- which included this footage -- so a few years later when a college course I took required us to learn a new skill (and keep a reflective journal on it), and I saw that college gym offered Aikido, I took it. Which led me to a karate class, which led me to Shaolin five-animals kung fu, which led me to dabbling in five or six different martial arts (unfortunately, I kept moving towns, so I didn't stay with any of them).

An ''adrenaline junkie'' that grows up in one household becomes a bank robber; in another, a BMX stunt biker.

Inclination plus happenstance. :)


Friday, December 11, 2009

Technology rewards me for my slowness

Being a songwriter who performs and records his own songs is a large part of my identity -- but somehow, I haven't recorded a complete song since about 1997 (or maybe 2001 -- I don't remember), and haven't recorded **anything** since about 2006.

There's lots of reasons for this: graduate school; moving countries (and having all my old gear be the ''wrong'' voltage); having a kid (and then having a kid again); not having a good place to set up. All that stuff.

Yeah, and maybe a lack of focus and discipline: could be.

And, realistically, I don't see it being any sooner than mid-2010 before I get my gear set up: even though we now have our mega-shed (the size of a three-car garage) next to the house, I've had to scale back my ''one to two hours a night of going through old boxes and shifting things over to the shed'', in favor of putting in more time on the timesheet (I stay at home with the kids during the day, so I put in my hours (i.e. earn $$) at night). Once we clear the boxes out of our ''library'', we'll shift our computers out there. Then maybe I can set some gear up, and steal some hours here and there to record.

The irony is that, as a ''solo artist'' (sadly, no bandmates or collaborators...), as I wait, technology is facilitating my success. Sure, I would've been great to put out an album when I was 25 (or 30), rather than 45. But then, web-hosting one's mp3 files wasn't around; the whole ''iTunes'' (pay a buck per song, online) didn't exist; and doing recording on your home computer was just getting started.

So, the longer I wait, the more technology lays the groundwork for affordable, good-quality recording gear and music dissemination conduits.

What inspired this blog post is an ad I saw tonight in Tape Op magazine (#69, Jan/Feb 2009, p. 6). M-Audio has a new recording interface called the ProFire 610 (owner's manual here): it uses Firewire (natch!), has six ins, and ten outs. Six ''ins'' means that you can record up to six signal sources (microphones, guitars, etc.) at once. For AU$595 -- or US$400. Niiiice! Two or three years ago, for that price you'd only have two inputs -- not six.

The difference between two inputs and six inputs is the newfound capacity to record a drummer with a moderately-complexity micing setup (one mic each on snare, kick drum, floor tom, between the rack toms, and an overhead pair for the cymbals) -- or a small band, live, with a bare minimum drum micing (lead vocs, guitar, bass, kick drum, two drum overheads).

For years, I'd been toying with getting an external (USB or Firewire) recording interface, but couldn't justify the cost of paying for six- or eight-channels of input -- and figured I would get frustrated with just a two-channel input (you could do vocals plus guitar at the same time -- or a stereo input from a keyboard or guitar). **This** new thing is right in the zone of my requirements versus justifiable cost... Yowza. :)

Technology is catching up to my needs.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Robust wood

About a week ago on the OldTools e-mail list, there was a discussion about how well lumber would fare if it was stored out in the open, unprotected from the sun and rain, but with good air circulation (i.e. allowed to dry out, once it got wet).

The photos here are from my own little, unintentional experiment. The wood here is some sort of mystery softwood, grabbed from my wife's university about two years ago: the maintenance folks had cut down a tree and chainsawed the trunk into sections, and I grabbed one of the short (about a foot and a half) logs.

I'd stripped off the bark, and split it into sections to minimize splitting and checking. I didn't put anything (e.g. paint, beeswax) on the ends, so the end-checking is what it is. And because I didn't have a good place to put them, I just laid the pieces out in the open, in direct sunlight. They got rained upon; they suffered direct summer sun. And between rains, because they were suspended by some strips of wood (old tomato stakes?), they were allowed to dry out.

Occasionally I'd flip the pieces over.

Some fungus grew -- which I sometimes knocked off, and sometimes I didn't. It doesn't seem to have impacted the strength of the wood (we'll see for sure, once I process the pieces into dimensional lumber). Maybe I'll have some interesting spalting.

Anyhow: after two years of being out in the sun and rain -- unprotected, but with naturally-circulating air -- here's what it looks like (click if you want to enlarge)...

Some surface discoloration, but it seems to be entirely surface. I reckon if I remove the top 1/8'' of it (and I'd have to do that -- or more -- to turn it to dimensional lumber), it'll just look like regular softwood.

Some end-checking (I haven't investigated how far, but it doesn't look too bad), but there doesn't seem to be any splitting (beyond the initial splitting caused by my ham-fisted efforts to split the original log).

IMPLICATION: If you let it dry out after it gets wet -- rather than letting it remain damp -- wood is remarkably resiliant!


Monday, December 07, 2009

Update on geek status

Some further self-reflection on my computer geek -ness:

Was reading my Linux magazine the other night (OK -- most folks don't subscribe to computer magazines -- and esp. not Linux ones...), and in the Letters to the Editor page a guy was talking about getting his Linux certification, since he already had his Microsoft cert. And I thought: bleh.

And, I also don't want to have to mess with various configuration files to get stuff to work: I just plain, want it, to work.

So: not gonna be Troubleshootin' Computer King.

I **am** open to looking thru the various drop-down menus and customizing things -- to a certain extent. I like knowing -- more or less -- how computer stuff works (both concepts and terminology). But just not to the level of having to fix it when it goes awry.

And I **do** like old-timey (i.e. 1970s-1980s) laptop and desktop computers. Kinda like I think 1950s and 1960s cars look neat. So I'll probably keep around a computer or two from each era (translation: not getting rid of any of our old computers!), just to show the kids.

And I still skim the local classifieds for Apple II and Commodore 64s/Amiga computers.

If I wasn't into playing music, songwriting, recording my music, building useful things out of wood, martial arts, and shooting a few film shorts and music videos -- then, yeah, I'd be getting into computers. But given all those other hobbies and interests, I'm just an ''appreciative user'', I'm afraid.

There ya go.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Little kid humor

I love how little kids mis-understand humor -- the intended ''point'' of a joke.

My daughter, to my wife (the original joke was on a Milly & Molly DVD, I believe):

Daughter's version: ''Where does a cat have the most hair? The sides!''

Original joke: ''Which side of the cat has the most hair? The out-side!''

A subtle -- but important -- difference.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not got the gig

Sadly, I didn't get the jr. professor's job I'd interviewed for. The Dept. Chair personally phoned me to tell me I didn't get it -- which is rare, and thus gratifying. Apparently, I was pretty close.

Better luck next time, I guess.