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February 2007
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April 2007

Hofner Shorty

Hofner_shorty

While it's not a headless design like the Steinberger, Höfner of Germany has re-introduced their travel guitar, the Höfner Shorty.  While most famous for their series of basses in the 1960s used by Beatle Paul McCartney, they also produced a well-regarded travel guitar known as the Höfner Shorty in the 1980s.  The guitar went back into production a few years ago.


Lapstick: The Ultimate Travel Guitar

Lapstick_2

I happened to be on business in Europe this week and was able to check out the Lapstick, the ultimate travel guitar.  The Lapstick weighs just over a pound (500 grams) and measures a mere 20 inches (51.5 cm) end to end.  It's so tiny, you can play it in a coach class airline seat or on a train on the way to a gig.

The Lapstick was designed by guitar wiz Phil Neal and has been a labor of love for many years.  As a professional musician, Phil was frustrated by how much unproductive time there is travelling to gigs.  So he designed a guitar that could be used anywhere --whether on a train or in a coach seat of a plane.

The Lapstick includes a built-in pre-amp so you can plug in headphones with settings for clean, overdrive and distortion.  It has a noiseless EMG Select pickup and can be plugged into a regular amp or portable effects box, like the Korg Pandora.  The guitar itself is beautfully designed and provides surprising resonance given its small size.  Each Lapstick is handbuilt with custom-designed hardware. It comes with its own case, which makes it look like you're carrying a flute or perhaps a clarinet, but certainly not a guitar.

The Lapstick has been optimized milimeter by milimeter for travel.  The small size means that the Lapstick is slightly smaller than 3/4 scale.  It's a 17 inch scale (435 mm), as compared to standard Les Paul scale of 24.75 inches (630 mm) or a Fender Strat at 25.5 inches (648 mm).  This means you can play the Lapstick in pretty tight quarters --like in the backseat of a car --but it makes for some challenges.  The frets are pretty tight and it can be disorienting initially.  In fact, it probably takes a couple of hours to get the hang of it.  If you want to get a feel for it, it's like playing with a capo on the 5th fret. So you're working within some pretty tight constraints.  The good news is, that by using the Lapstick, you'll become a more accurate player.  It forces a degree of precision in your playing. 

I spent a couple of hours with lapstick inventor Phil Neal in Amsterdam and will provide a more detailed write-up shortly.


Bum Rush The Charts

Bumrush

Today, March 22nd, is Bum Rush The Charts Day.  This is a day during which thousands of independent podcasters and bloggers will attempt to show the strength they have compared to traditional corporate media. How?  By making an indepedent single the #1 item on iTunes.  You can support this effort by buying the song "Mine Again" by Black Lab, a band that was dropped from two labels and had to fight back to get the rights to its own music.  Every commission made on the sale of the song is being donated to support college scholarships and 50% of the royalties the band earns will also be donated.  If you believe in podcasting and independent media, make it known.  Buy the song and podcast or blog about it.

Also, March 25 is International Waffle day (Våffeldagen) in Sweden.


Guitar Man

Guitarman

Guitar Man, is a non-fiction account of  UK writer Will Hodgkinson's mid-life quest to learn guitar, going from zero to a live gig in six months.  Hodgkinson is entertaining as he trots around London and then the United States seeking wisdom and inspiration from a cast of professionals including Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, James Williamson of the Stooges, 84-year old southern bluesman T-Model Ford, british folky Davey Graham and the godfather of guitar, Les Paul.  Hodgkinson's book conveys the frustration and allure of learning guitar when you can't play a note. 

My only gripe with the book is the occasionally sloppy spelling which should have been caught during proofreading.  But for any middle-aged aspiring guitar wannabe, it's a fun read. 


Traveler Guitars

Traveler_speedster_black2

Traveler Guitar of Redlands, California, has made an art with the niche of lightweight, headless guitars.  I've owned several Traveler Guitars over the years including the original Traveler Pro and the Speedster electric, pictured above..

The original Traveler Pro was designed by pilot Leon Cox, and business has been in operation for 15 years under the direction of Corey Oliver. The Traveler Pro is the lightest of the bunch; a feather-weight at just 3 1/2 pounds and measuring 28 inches end-to-end.  The Traveler Pro is made of a single piece of American Maple  with a Rosewood fretboard and plays like a steel-string acoustic guitar.  It includes both a single coil and a Piezo acoustic pickup, which can be blended together.  It can also use included Stethophones for completely battery-free operation.  While I found the idea of the Stethophones interesting, in practice they aren't loud enough for overcoming ambient noise and after a while they bother my ears.  So if you're travelling a lot you'll likely want to invest in a pockets-size headphone amplifier such as the Pocket-Rock-it.

The Speedster has evolved from the Traveler Pro to be more suitable for electric guitar players.  It has a 24 3/4 inch Les Paul scale and weighs 4 1/2 pounds with the optionally attached tear-drop arm.  I typically don't bring the tear-drop arm when I travel and find it very comfortable --and about a pound lighter.  The sound has improved over the years with a more powerful dual-rail humbucker pickup replacing the earlier single-coil version.  I travel frequently with the Speedster and a Korg Pandora PX4, and I find it an ideal combination when I'm on the road.  Instead of being frustrated by flight delays, I just take out my guitar, plug in and start playing. 

In 2003, Traveler Guitar brought out the Escape series of instruments including a steel string, nylon string and bass.  The Escape series had a more traditional look and feel and a full 25 1/2 inch scale and included a built-in headphone amplifier.   Now it appears Traveler Guitar has new models coming out this year, including an updated version of the Escape steel string and a new Escape Electric.  Can't wait to try these out.


Everyone Stares - The Police Inside Out

Everyone_stares

Stewart Copeland was in town this past weekend for the San Jose Cinequest film festival which presented Copeland with their annual "Maverick" award in filmmaking.  Although Copeland may be better known as the founder and drummer of The Police, he's also had a prolific career as a film composer. Copeland got his introduction to scoring by working with Francis Ford Coppola to do the soundtrack to Rumble Fish and has since completed the scores for over 40 other films and television projects for directors including Oliver Stone, John Hughes and John Waters.

Last year, Copeland screened his "home movie" Everyone Stares - The Police Inside Out at Sundance.  The film was shot largely on Super-8 film during the early years of The Police and provides a very personal account of  how they evolved from a UK new wave band in mid 1970s to stardom  in the course of seven years.  We see the early days of schlepping their own equipment to gigs in a rented van to their playing to an audience of several hundred thousand at the US festival in San Bernardino, 1982.

Copeland held the audience captivated during a Q&A session that ran nearly an hour covering everything from how the band got started to his life as a suburban dad and his focus on crafstmanship as a film composer.  Copeland, ever the showman, kept the answeres lively and entertaining.

He acknowledged that The Police had more musical talent than they were willing to show in the early albums. Copeland, Sting and guitarist Andy Summers were all professional musicians.  But they cut their hair and decided to trim down the music to fit in with the less ambitious sound of other punk / new wave contemporaries.  Copeland also acknowledged the influence of The Clash on their sound, citing The Clash's cover of the reggae song "Police & Thieves" as an inspiration to the band.  "We were the Police and the thieves," he said.  The Police were not the first white rock band to incorporate the reggae sound, but they did it better than anyone else before or since.

Stewart, congratulations!


Cabo Wabo

Cabo_wabo2

While we were in Mexico, we also stopped by Cabo Wabo, former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar's cantina and club in Cabo San Lucas.  If you're in the area, this is just about the only place for decent live rock and roll.  The food is decent, if pricey.  There's a local band, the Wabos who play routinely as well as other bands on occasion.  For die-hard fans, Sammy Hagar will be playing at Tahoe Wabo in May. 

We didn't see any big stars like Sammy Hagar or Alice Cooper, but we had a couple of good waboritas and nachos before hitting the road.