Thursday, November 10, 2011

It Be Rainin' Guitars Up In Here!

[NOTE: I am fairly certain that were I to utter the above phrase, I would sound like an incredible dork. If anyone sends me a sound clip proving that the above phrase can be spoken in a way that is full of awesomeness, I will immortalize it in a song featuring your clip and the subject(s) of this post (it's gotta be good, though).  Just upload it to my Soundcloud dropbox.]

If you have zero interest in guitars, you might as well stop reading; the rest of those post will serve only as a sleep aid.  For those that do, at the very least you can enjoy some eye candy even if the details bore you.

In the past months, two new guitars have entered my collection. While that may make me sound like Mr. Moneybags, both of these instruments were a long time coming and the arrival of one was never supposed to coincide with the other. They are also moving guitars out as they come in, one of which has already found a new home.

Every song that has been recorded for the project (not counting Mean Left Hook of course, which was recorded long ago) has featured my Variax 500, a veritable Swiss Army knife of a guitar. A few weeks ago - after nearly a year on order - the next generation Variax has reached my hands. I'm not going to go into great detail talking about this one, not because I don't love it but because there's already a fair number of reviews on various blogs, forums, and online magazines. I'll keep my assessment short and sweet; if a rechargeable battery, custom tunings at the flip of a switch, and the ability of the guitar to remain useful if you absent-mindedly forget to charge the battery sound like highly desirable or must-have features to you, this guitar is worth it (otherwise, one of the previous generation Variax will likely do you just fine).

The second guitar is a custom build that I began back in May. I've always wanted to build my own guitar, partly to entertain the tinkerer in me, and partly to create a guitar that was exactly what I wanted it to be. For years I owned a 1983 Squier '57 Vintage Re-issue Stratocaster. Anyone familiar with this model knows that at the time Squier were making these re-issues better and more historically accurate than their American-made Fender counterparts. As wonderful as the guitar was, I wasn't enjoying it like I once was. I have developed a taste for thicker, baseball-bat like necks, the tone of the pickups didn't speak to me like they once did, and I had a desire to get creative with the electronics.  Rather than modifying the guitar and destroying the unique and coveted prize that it was, I sold it over the summer to someone who will hopefully appreciate it for exactly what it is.

And so I set to work creating a replacement that would suit me to a tee.  While I won't go into the long history of where all the parts came from (mostly a mix of eBay, a guitar parts supplier called Warmoth, and three red pearl-topped knobs I bought almost 15 years ago when the music store I was working at went out of business), I'll touch on a few of the deviations from your typical Fender Stratocaster that make it special:

At a monstrously thick 1" for the entire length, the only Stratocasters ever offered with a neck comparable to this were early Jeff Beck signature models.  In fact, despite many players commenting on the comfort and tone of thick necks (both of which I can confirm), there are almost no guitars on the market that have them.

Rather than go with a big-name pickup manufacturer such as Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio, I wanted to go with something outside the norm; a diamond in the rough, if you will. I ended up selecting Wilde Pickup's MicroCoils, launched in March of this year. Wilde is a pickup company started by Bill Lawrence - a legend in the pickup design field - and his wife Becky (also a highly respected pickup maker). They're noise-resistant, sound killer, and are incredibly responsive.

I based the wiring on the Strat Lover's Mod found on GuitarNutz, which effectively adds 8 additional settings on top of a Stratocaster's usual 5. The one alteration I made was including a capacitor in the out-of-phase switch to create what is referred to as 'half-out-of-phase'.

The verdict?  I had a lot of fun putting this guitar together, and the end result is a distinctive and unique guitar that feels and sounds exactly like what I had hoped to achieve.  When all is said and done, it really wasn't that difficult or expensive, and there's some excellent resources online when in doubt.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bill C-11, Part 2: We Don't Need No Stinking Badges!

[Just in case anyone finds the origin and evolution of mis-quotations interesting - as I do - you can get the scoop on my selected title]

Last time I talked mostly about the implications of digital locks and their ability to wipe out any rights Bill C-11 grants. From further reading it sounds like the exemptions are not governed by the locks policy; the anti-circumvention rule is only applicable in cases deemed infringement. However, my position remains the same. Circumvention methods will likely be targeted for litigation, regardless of the context they are used in.  And once again, we will almost certainly see burden of proof placed on the supposed 'infringer', an individual or group without the means to adequately defend their perfectly reasonable actions in a legal setting against the onslaught of a large media corporation's legal team.

But there's also another scary part to the bill.  If passed, it would make mandatory the "notice and notice" system that is currently used on a voluntary basis by Canadian internet service providers.  For those unfamiliar with the "notice and notice" system, it works like this: an Internet service provider receives notice from a copyright holder (which these days means large organizations like the RIAA/MPAA) that one of it's subscribers may be engaged in infringement by making available copyrighted material.  The ISP then has the option - now obligation - to forward that notice to the subscriber and keep records on their identity for six months.  No further action is taken by the ISP; they do not forward on the subscribers information, remove the supposed offending material, or punish the subscriber.

While this is still undeniably better than the notice-and-takedown system found in the states, I have a couple issues with this system. Firstly, we're once again seeing a great deal of power placed in the hands of organizations like the RIAA and MPAA to stir up trouble unchecked. They do not have to go through any law enforcement or judicial body to verify their actions are just; there is no requirement for them to provide evidence for their allegations. There is no punishment if they make false claims, so there is no reason not to make frequent, spurious claims. If they tell the ISPs to jump, the ISPs don't even have to ask "how high?"; this bill has told them exactly how high, and to do so without question.

The second problem is the impact of this mandate on Internet service providers.  An indication of the volume of these notices has already been presented, and it's no small number, reaching thousands of notices per week.  For the large ISPs, this is likely an inconvenience, but manageable given their resources.  For small ISPs, on the other hand, even being forced to deal with several hundred a week could be a burden in an already difficult uphill battle against the powerful oligopoly (we Canadians all know who they are).  This ineffective system will only serve to place a damper on competition in the Canadian ISP market.

All right, enough of this darkness and despair... back to happier events in the next post.