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Jeff Beck Live at Montreal Jazz Fest

Beck_tal_mtl

After counting down the days to the long awaited Jeff Beck  gig at the Montreal Jazz Festival (MJF), the moment finally arrived. JB took the stage for the second time on July 6th (the 9 PM concert sold out in 7 minutes so Jeff was nice enough to add on another set. No surprise on the 2 sell-outs when you consider that Beck is one of the few living legend guitar slingers who’s just as musically gifted and exciting to watch today as he was back in the late ‘60’s and early '70's.

Beck moved through the night serving up many of the tunes offered on his "Live from Ronnie Scott's" project. I was quietly hoping he would include some other classics like "Freeway Jam" and maybe even some vocal accompaniment to deliver us some oldies but goodies like "Lady" or "Superstitious". Yes I’m a demanding long time fan but that's what happens when you have to wait around for decades for the king of the whammy bar to finally show up in your neck of the Canadian woods.

Beck's unique erratic slapping and twitching on the tremolo bar coupled with a penchant for bending notes while thumbing his volume control dial is more aptly described by the master himself as a man who suffers "Musical Tourettes".

Winning the crowd over easily with a tune he and Jimmy Page put together "Beck’s Bolero", Beck then moved on to one of my hard driving favorites ‘Stratus". It is impossible to figure out what he is doing most of the time because of his complete use of every possible feature on his Stratocaster. One amazing thing that I realized at the end of the night is the fact that he never changed guitars once (despite the physical work out he gave it) nor did he ever once have to re-tune a single string ! Incredible when you think that he also did a bang up version of "Big Block".

Later on Beck came up behind Tal during her bass solo to join her on the upper part of the bass neck so that they were both playing her bass at the same time. As they worked through her improv solo, she segued into the melody for "Freeway Jam" which got the three thousand fans charged up.

The encore finished with a very haunting version of "Jerusalem" after which he put his guitar down and raised his arms up in down in praise and worship of his heavenly ‘60 series Strat.   There is no mistaking the fact that Jeff Beck is much more of an artist who just happened to pick up an electric guitar instead of a paint brush.

Seeing as Beck has admitted in public that he’s decided to forget about retirement, I can only hope he will try some new, different material with the band mates he brought together for the Crossroads Concert.  Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, Jason Rebello on keyboards and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums make for one heckuva a performance.  Each one of them a gifted musician in their own right and together it's absolutely explosive.

With Beck at the helm, this is a band that could knock out 2-3 more albums of great/original material. Jeff Beck certainly looks like he’s got lots of energy, stamina and above all musical genius to pull it off. Can’t wait to see what he’s going do next.

If you cant’ find a ticket to catch Jeff Beck in concert, get the DVD for "Live at Ronnie Scott's."  I only managed to see it for the first time following his gig in Montreal and it is truly the next best thing to a live show.  The interviews with Beck and guest appearances on stage make it a real collectors item for JB fans.

  • Jeff Beck: Official site, Live Stream, Tour DatesBio, Wikipedia
  • Amazon: Live At Ronnie Scotts CD, DVD, Best of Beck, Crossroads: Guitar Festival

  • Guitar Pro 5 - Tabs in Stereo!

    Guitarpro_louie 

    I recently discovered Guitar Pro 5 tablature software.  I had been using PowerTabs for quite some time but was growing frustrated with some of its limitations and the fact that there haven't been any updates in a long time nor any clear indication if there will be in the future. 

    If you're not familiar with the idea, Guitar Pro, PowerTabs and other applications enable guitar players to easily compose or play music written in guitar tablature notation, also known as tab format.  As the old joke goes, the easiest way to get a guitar player to stop playing is to put sheet music in front of him.  Tablature is a more accessible way of writing out musical pieces for the guitar since the visual representation matches precisely to the frets along the 6 strings of the guitar.  If you can find, say the 5th fret on the 6th string, you can read music from guitar tabs.  Tablature has actually been around hundreds of years.  Although it is sometimes looked down upon in formal musical instruction, magazines such as GuitarWorld and books routinely publish songs in tab format for budding musicians to learn. 

    Thanks in part to the Internet, there's been tremendous growth in the number of amateur produced tab files.  Typically these have been written in ASCII text format like the following (starting from the 4th bar):

    Louie_tab_2

    In fact, I'm guessing that Lutists tabbed Louie Louie back in the 1400's -- though they could never quite decipher the lyrics.  Although tab files are helpful even in text format, these notations typically don't tell you much about the notes' duration; you can guess at it if you know the time signature since each bar has 4 beats in 4/4 time, but you can't hear a text file.   That's where Guitar Pro comes in handy.

    Guitar Pro displays the tab notation below the standard staff notation so even if you can't really read music you can at least learn what symbols represent different note durations, like half notes, quarter notes, etc.  You can also view the fretboard or piano keyboard at any time, which makes it easy to identify the notes being played and visualize the patterns.  For example, as the fifth bar of the solo is played it will show you all the notes of that measure and the current note (G) in red.  Louie, Louie is kind of a crazy solo, but in other cases it makes it easy to recognize, say, a Pentatonic scale, a Blues scale, some weird Dorian scale and so on.

     Gp5_fretboard

    More importantly, Guitar Pro can play the music through your PC speakers so that you hear the song in real time along with any additional instruments that have been added, such as bass, percussion, etc.  While the quality of the rendition varies greatly depending on the effort that has gone into it, the guitar, bass and percussion tracks can be played using the Realistic Sound Engine, which sounds far better than the average MIDI file.  That enables you to exploit other features of Guitar Pro such as muting the part you are trying to learn.  GuitarPro also makes it easy to practice loops, slow down the tempo, etc.  You can easily import files in MIDI, ASCII text or PowerTab format.  And you can export the file as an audio WAV file and print the notation with lyrics and chords

    As you can tell, I am quite impressed with Guitar Pro.  It seems I'm not the only one.  There are dozens of sites with quite literally hundreds of thousands of tab files in Guitar Pro format.  If you're trying to find a low-cost tool to help you learn or practice specific songs, or if you want to compose your own songs, Guitar Pro is worth looking into.  The trial version is good for 15 days and lets you check out most, if not all, of it's extensive set of features.

    Update:
    I didn't realize Guitar Pro 5 had the ability to display the fretboard until someone pointed that out to me last week at National Guitar Workshop in Chicago. 


    NGW Friday: Bringing It All Back Home

    After thursday morning's great session with Buddy Guy we were pretty pumped.  We spent most of the afternoon polishing up the solos for "I'm Toredown," getting through some run throughs with "Diamond Drey," our bass player, and trying to locate our drummer.  Luckily Jordan was able to play the song perfectly from the first run through.  Then we hung out, got nervous, and tried to enjoy those on the bill before our song. 

    I'll admit that we probably played a bit better in the on-stage rehearsal than at the actual concert, but we were as prepared as we could be and it came out just fine.  That's not to say that everything was perfect --it wasn't.  There were a  few clunker notes and off-beats, but the audience clapped along, everyone had a few moments of brilliance and it felt great. 

    Everything we learned came together in that performance and  the experience, at least for us on stage, transcended the quality of our playing.  None of us are going to turn pro.  But we all played better at the end of the week than we did at the beginning.  And it was the first time most of us played with a band or on stage before.  In short,  it was awesome.

     I can understand why so many people come back to the National Guitar Workshop.  It's an addictive and intoxicating experience.  When the music comes together it's pretty incredible.  There's a feeling of being a part of something larger than life.  To hear the sound coming through your fingers and amplified in front of an audience rocking to the beat is inspiring. 

    A lot of the credit goes to the quality of the instructors.  We were very fortunate in the Blues Core course to have a superbly gifted musician, John Horne from Athens, Ohio, who is also a heckuva good teacher.  He kept us focused, gave us the right amount of theory and enabled us to tackle a pretty tricky song in just a few days.   That's no simple feat.  Here's a short video where John talks about the Blues Core course.

    For anyone who is on the fence about attending National Guitar Workshop all I can say is you gotta just do it.  No matter what your skill level, no matter what your age, you will come away as a better player and better equipped to learn on your own.  And it may just be the one of the most memorable and fun experiences you'll have.

    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York. 


    NGW Thursday: The Amazing Buddy Guy


    This morning we headed to downtown Chicago for an open Q&A with blues legend, Buddy Guy.  This was a rare occasion for several dozen guitar geeks to meet and learn from one of the greatest living bluesman in the world.  Buddy Guy influenced the sound of rock and roll and blues around the world paving the road for big name acts, whether it was Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn or Kenny Wayne Shephard.  Buddy Guy, more than any other artist, was the bridge between traditional blues and rock and roll.  That said, it's ironic that the blues were ignored for a long time in America and it was only with the British Invasion of the '60s and with a blues resurgence in the '90s that artists like Buddy Guy got their due.

    Guy talked about every topic you could think of whether it was growing up poor, moving to Chicago, playing with BB King and Eric Clapton, recording his new CD "Skin Deep," and even what's wrong with bottled water. 


    Throughout the entire time, Guy was warm, gracious and generous with his time.  Many of the younger NGW students were smart enough to bring their guitars and get them autographed.  And although Guy did not play guitar for us, students in the Blues Summit had a jam session on stage at the Legends Club.

    I came away inspired from the visit.  Not just because Buddy Guy is a great guitar player, but he's a tremendous human being.  Not only that, but it created a tremendous positive vibe that I took with me for the rest of the day.  All the tension around rehearsing our song melted away and I was able to focus on what a great week I've had being part of National Guitar Workshop.  This is one heck of an experience. 

    Still, we do have that evening conecert to get ready for...

    I've posted a brief excerpt on YouTube where Guy talks about growing up in Lettsworth, Louisiana and the effect that music had on him as a young man.


    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.


    NGW Wednesday: Down in the Groove

    IMG_6319  

    One of the things that's most interesting about the National Guitar Workshop (NGW) is that new experience of finding a groove with a band.  There are four of us in the "Blues Core" course together and none of us play in a band.  So when we are able to work together on a song, especially when everyone is dead on the rhythm, it's pretty exciting.  One of the students commented on how the sound comes together to create something unique.  And to do that with a drummer and a bass player together and each of us taking our solos, it's pretty incredible.  It's an experience you can't read about or ever get playing on your own.  And you don't have to be shredding some complex solo.  It can come from just playing a rhthym pattern, knowing and feeling your guitar part and how it contributes to the overall sound. 

    So in a way, it's not surprising that many of the attendees at NGW are what I call "repeat offenders."  Some of them have previously attended the "Rock Core" curriculum, others started in core classes and have expanded their skills and repertoire by getting into Jazz sessions or the Blues Summit.  Some of the attendees are local, but many others have traveled a long distance to attend.  I've met folks from St Louis, Orlando, Mexico, Italy and Paris.  There's nothing else like the NGW. 

    I think the Core curriculum is possibly the most fun because you get a balance of theory and that time to develop a groove.  Tomorrow morning we're going to head into Chicago to go see Buddy Guy at his club.  Should be fun. 

    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.


    NGW Tuesday: Theory Behind the Blues


    This morning's rhythm training session on stage in the auditorium started off strong.  We played a slow tempo version of "I'm Tore Down" and it sounded a lot like music.  Occasionally we'd meander off course a bit, but overall it seemed to be working.  As usual, the drummers and bass players were awesome and it was great to play in a "live" band session where we could lock into the beat.  In some ways, this is the most fun of everything we've been doing. 

    After that, we got back into "Blues Core" course with John.  We started to dig deeper into some of the musical theories that make up the blues.  John showed us how the various pentatonic forms are connected and then we went on to the blues scale (with an added flat fifth) and an overview of how chords are formed in general with the CAGED system.  Whole books have been written on the CAGED system, but John presented it in a way that gave us some of the reasons behind the theory and how we might apply it in the song we're working on to use different chord forms. 

    After dinner we got back together to practice our ensemble piece, working on the intro, the outro and some horn patterns that overlay on top of the basic rhythm.  After John left we stayed working on it for another hour or so, but by the end of evening I think we were all having trouble focusing and keeping time.  Where's the drummer and bass player when we need them?  Will it all come together by Thursday evening?  More importantly, will we ever leave the campus for a good meal and a cold beer?  Stay tuned...

    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.


    NGW Monday: Working on the Basics

     IMG_6220

    Today was the first full day of the National Guitar Workshop session in Chicago area and we're getting into the "Blues Core" curriculum.  Things started out this morning with a great rhythm training session playing on stage with a drummer and bass player. We played a basic blues shuffle in the key of A.  Even though we have 4 guitar players in our class, the rhythm section is the lifeblood of a band, so they were in charge.  The instructors gave us tips to help us tune in to what's going on in the band and lock into the rhythm.  And despite our occasional sloppy playing, they were always encouraging.  Everyone took a couple of solos and then the instructors wrapped up with an improvised a blues jam.  John, our blues instructor, played some impressive lead guitar. 

    Once we got back with John on the Blues Core curriculum, we went through some exercises to help us develop our ability play together as a band.  It included different rhythms, different pentatonic scale patterns, and learning how to mix things up with some fancy-pants 9th and 13th chords.  John is not only an excellent musician but also a great instructor.  He knows when to give us theory, balances things with a lot of guided playing and makes sure that no one gets lost.  I'm also picking up some licks from the other students. 

    At the end of the day, we picked a song to work on as a group.  It's an old Freddy King song "I'm Tore Down" as played by Eric Clapton from his album "From the Cradle."  It's a bit more complex than anything we've seen so far, but I think everyone is up for the challenge.  Still, I skipped the evening concert in order to get more practice time. 

    In the late afternoon there were Special Interest Clinics on a variety of different topics.  This made for a nice break in the schedule and a chance to focus on something other than the blues.  (Is there anything other than the blues?)  There were sessions on drumming for non-drummers, bluegrass flatpicking, jazz, and metronome training.  Since I'm rhythmically challenged, I chose the latter and it was a good introduction on techniques on how to get more out of your practice time and develop better timing.  It will take me a while to try these techniques out, but it's the kind of basic learning that's necessary in developing your chops.  It may not sound like the most exciting topic, but the instructor Gary was passionate about it and he explained a few things about time signatures and rhythms that even impressed the drummers in the audience.  Here's a short video interview with Gary who teaches the Jazz workshops.


    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.


    National Guitar Workshop: Sunday Warmup in Chicago

    I've decided to dive in to the deep end by attending the National Guitar Workshop here in Chicago this week.  Its definitely a stretch for me as my formal guitart lessons were minimal and many years in the past.  I'll be reporting throughout the week to try to give prospective students the full blow-by-blow story.

    First of all, I have to say that the staff of NGW are all top notch.  They take good care of their students, whether it's making sure everyone's got an amp, hooking them up with the right instructors, taking care of rooming assignments or even getting an ethernet cable late at night.  And despite the incredible talent of the instructors, as has been stressed numerous times, it's about making sure everyone is learning and having fun.

    My adventure began with a very early flight from San Francisco to Chicago O'Hare and then a trek it out to Elgin.  While Elgin is closer to Chicago than , say, New York, it's still a good 30 miles west of the airport in the middle of not much of anything.  (Sing: "I been travelin' so long, I got them deep Elgin blues.")  The NGW workshop is held at Judson University a small private university with fairly stict rules against smoking, drinking and (gasp) dancing.  (Sing: "You ain't got no rhythm, 'cause you ain't paid your dues.")

    Despite all of that, the facilities are quite decent.  I chose to bunk in the university dorm for a full immersive experience.  Food on the campus is decent, but it's not going to win any awards.  It's convenient, reasonably cheap and, hey, it's all you can eat. No doubt that accounts for the famous "freshman fifteen" that gets packed on many new students entering university.

    Since we're somewhere near Chicago, I decided to take the "Blues Core" course and see if could lay a foundation that would be helpful for later explorations in rock and R&B.  After all, the blues is where it all started.  While the NGW attracts a broad cross-section of students, it's somewhat polarized into kids under 18 and adults over 40.  I guess most teenagers would rather learn shredding than the blues, so "Blues Core" consists exclusively of middle-age white males.  There's a good teacher / student ratio in all of the classes and in our case, the group of eight students with two instructors.  So we split into two different groups based on skill and hairline levels.  While there are some excellent players, everyone was courteous and there was no showboating. 

    Today's instruction was just a few hours and mostly informal as we got to know each other. John, our instructor, got to assess our abilities and what we want to learn.  So far, I'm doing my best to keep up, but there's a lot of new information and only so much space in my head to retain it all.  I'm not overwhelmed, but its clear that it will take a lot of practice to reinforce the instruction. 

    The evening finished off with a brief concert featuring some of the instructors playing a broad range of different styles of music including classic rock, blues, jazz, bluegress flatpicking etc.  While the music wouldn't necessarily be everyone's taste it was good to mix it up.  I suspect for some of the younger students it may be the first time they're being exposed to certain genres.  And they seemed pretty enthusiastic about.

    All in all, it's been a good start.  Hopefully tomorrow things will get a bit more structured even more immersive.  But I'm looking forward to it.  Later in the week, we'll be heading out to Buddy Guy's club to meet the man himself.  That promises to be a unique Elgin, I mean Chicago, experience.  (Sing: "When you're in Chicago, you ain't got nothing to lose.")


    The National Guitar Workshop has additional sessions through the summer in Austin, Texas and at the main campus in Purchase, New York.


    White Ephiphone Les Paul Studio

    White_epiphone

    A buddy of mine from London was in town recently and wanted to stop by Guitar Center to pick up an effects pedal, taking advantage of the lower US pricing.  While I wasn't planning on buying anything, 30 minutes later, I walked out with a new Epiphone Les Paul Studio in arctic white.  I was planning on buying a second guitar which I would keep over at my in-laws place.  (I think this is part of my wife's overall plan to get me to spend more time with family.  Hey, if that get's me a new guitar, I'm fine with it.)

    Originally, my plan was to test out some gear, and then just buy something locally near my in-laws.  Since this would be a spare guitar that would only get occasional use, I was aiming for something around $200-$250.  I tried a few sub-$200 guitars, but the quality just wasn't there and I figured I would just get frustrated if the action was too high or if the guitar wouldn't stay in tune.  I tried a few low-end Squire strats and telecasters and while they were ok, nothing really set me on fire. 

    But then I spotted a beautiful white Epiphone Les Paul Studio for $300.  I was really impressed with the playability and the tone.  Admittedly, it's not a high end Gibson, but the action and setup are decent right out of the box and it feels sturdy.  The guitar is also lighter than I had expected, my estimate around 7.5 pounds.  The pickups are great, the neck is good and it's got nice sustain and a beefy classic humbucker sound.  Plus, I gotta admit, in arctic white, this guitar looks very cool.  If a white Les Paul is good enough for Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, it's good enough for me.  And my in-laws.

    Steve_jones_lespaul

    Overall, it's a very high quality guitar with a nice warm tone and plenty of sustain for blues or rock, especially when you apply a bit of overdrive.  The only thing that I think degrades from the overall quality is that the tuners are not that stable.  But if you can live with occasionally re-tuning, it's a great sound at a bargain price.

    Update:
    I've added a video review on YouTube below.


    IK Multimedia Fender Studio

    Fender_studio_wide

    I'm always eager to try out the latest in computer software and hardware for guitar players.  As the PC has become more powerful, it's now able to handle more complex sound modeling and recording than ever before.  As a result, there are some great products out there for guitar players willing to boot up a computer instead of an amplifier.  And a lot of these products are now focusing on ease-of-use, so you don't have to be a computer expert in order to make things happen.

    Fender_studio_box One such company, IK Multimedia, has developed the innovative line of AmpliTube modeling software in conjunction.  Their latest release, AmpliTube Fender Studio is made in conjunction with Fender to recreate some of the classic sounds of Fender amps and effects.  Fender Studio provides a basic software set up that runs on both Mac and PCs along with their "Stealth Plug" that allows you to plug your guitar directly into a standard USB interface.  It's a full 9 foot cable giving you plenty of room to maneuver and uses built-in low-latency ASIO and CoreAdio drivers to ensure high quality sound.

    While the Stealth Plug is indeed smaller than competing connectors from companies like Line 6, it still looks a bit like your guitar cable has swallowed a mouse.  But overall, it works, and as a result of the small size, it's a practical package for those who travel and want to bring a guitar and computer with them, without hauling around a lot of extra gear.

    I tried out the Fender Studio package on a Windows Sony Laptop.  While the computer did a surprising reboot once after I got everything installed, overall the product works as advertised.  It's surprisingly easy to tap into various Fender amps and effects.  And you can immediately start jamming with the included RiffWorks T4 recording software. 

    The Fender Studio puts four classic Fender amps, five cabinets and a slew of effects at your finger tips faithfully recreating the front panels with all their nobs and dials.  If you're already familiar with Fender amps, then this makes it a snap to try out different sounds.  You've got the '65 Twin Reverb, SuperSonic, a full on Metal Head amp along with a bass amp and various fuzz wah, echo and chorus effects. In short, there's a lot of settings you can experiment with.  IK Multimedia also offers a broader range of a dozen Fender amps in their more expensive AmpliTube Fender package including the Fender '57 Deluxe, '64 Vibroverb, '65 Deluxe Reverb, Champ, Bassman, Proj Junior and others, but even what's supplied here is plenty.

    Fender_studio_amp There are some great settings built in for classic rhythm and lead sounds and you can customize just about anything to get exactly what you want.  But given so many settings, it's easy to get lost among all the tweaking.  But hey, that's half the fun with this kind of a package!  If you're trying to recreate the distinc Fender sound without spending a fortune on amps, software is the way to go.  Obviously you're not going to get the same kind of oomph from a computer as you get from a tube amp, but for recording and experimentation, it's incredible.  And unlike a lot of modeling amps and software that emphasize the overdriven metal sounds, Fender Studio has a lot of clean settings that are perfect for classic rock, blues and jazz.

    For $100 street price ($139 list) AmpliTube Fender Studio is a good deal.  The software or the Stealth Plug itself is easily worth $100, so you can consider that you're buying the software and getting the Stealth Plug free, or vice verse.  There are only a few areas I think IK Multimedia could do a better job. 

    First of all, the Stealth Plug is a bit fiddly.  It's solid enough, but you've got to make sure your headphones are plugged in properly before you're going to hear anything.  Secondly, it installs driver software that automatically loads when you turn on the computer, something that always makes me nervous on a PC.  And finally, the version of RiffWorks T4 that they include, is basically a free fully functional demo version rather than the more feature-filled standard edition.  Since you can download the T4 free from their web site, this is just a convenience for those with slow internet connections.  Personally, I think RiffWorks is one of the best pieces of software to show off what's possible with IK Multimedia's modeling package, so it's a shame that they don't include the full version.  But still, at $100 for the whole package, it's a heckuva good deal and I can understand that at that price, they can't afford to give you the whole kitchen sink.

    IK Multimedia has also announced a series of free Guitar Recording Master Classes this summer through the US and Europe as well as an online web event.  It's a great way to learn more about digital recording and see what's possible with computer software.

    Below is a great video demonstration of the full blown AmpliTube Fender package so you can see and hear how easy it is to use to get just the sound you want by experimenting with different classic Fender amps and settings. (Note that not all of these amps are included in the lower priced Fender Studio package.)