New Tuning Pegs for that Masterbilt EF-500M

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

I’m enjoying some time in Hawai`i and part of the fun is getting back together with my Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500M. This is the first Epi EF-500 I bought, it’s a “second” that I bought used (second squared, I guess). For that last few years I’ve left this guitar in Hawai`i so I don’t have to carry an instrument on the plane.

I’ve tweaked and fiddled with this guitar for a while, especially since I brought it to O`ahu. The humidity is pretty tough on instruments. The tuning machines have always been stiff and they’ve gotten worse lately, so I decided to swap them out for the new Grover Vintage Sta-Tite 18:1 machines. (more…)

 


Installing an end pin jack

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I love the clean, natural sound of an acoustic guitar, but when it’s time to play for a room full of people in a coffee shop, restaurant, or club a pickup inside the guitar comes in mighty handy. There are several different styles of pickups, but they all need a jack so they can be connected to an amp. And installing that jack is a lot easier with a couple of tricks.

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We’ll miss Lance McCollum

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

On February 1, 2009, Hank Mauel posted the following message on Usenet news group rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic:

It is with great sadness that I write of the passing of Lance McCollum. He suffered an aortic aneurism early Sunday morning. He was rushed into emergency surgery at Auburn Faith Hospital but the damage was too massive to overcome.

Please pray for his wife Dawn and their children in this hour of need.

There will be no memorial sevice per his wishes. He will be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea over the Southern California area he surfed as a youth.

He will be greatly missed by a broad group of people, myself at the top of the list. He was a friend, mentor, musician, luthier and all around great guy.

Please direct any correspondence to my email and I will forward it to his wife, Dawn, at the appropriate time.

Hank Mauel
Mauel Guitars

Lance was a devoted family man, a fearless artist, a consummate craftsman, a mad adventurer, a passionate enophile, a compelling conversationalist. His guitars added a real measure of beauty to our shared world, so we – all of humanity – are richer for his time and energy.

If you’re not familiar with Lance’s work, you can see some examples at his web site, which was designed by his daughter.

Lance was a regular at our guitar parties, and his guitars were often the stars of the event. You can find pictures of Lance, his wife Dawn, and his guitars in the picking party pages.

Lynn and I will miss Lance, and our hearts go out to Dawn and the kids.

Fran

 


New Guitar – Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RCCE

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I’ve owned an Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500M for a few years now. It is a very functional instrument that I bought for a very reasonable price. As a result, I’ve been curious about the relatively rare EF-500RCCE model for some time. When a 2nd showed up on Ebay for a reasonable price I snagged it. Here’s a pic:

The EF-500 is the 000/OM body size. R indicates rosewood back and sides. The first C stands for cedar top, the second for the cutaway. And the E says it has built-in electronics. The electronics are listed as a Baggs pickup, and since there’s a battery inside there must be some sort of preamp or buffer amp as well. There are no controls mounted in or on the guitar, though, so I’ll have to use an external preamp for tone and volume adjustments. Like all the EF-500 models this one has a 1 3/4 nut width. Unlike the others I’ve tried, it has a modified oval neck shape instead of a V. It also has very slightly narrower bridge spacing, 2 5/16 instead of 2 3/8.

My Epi Masterbilt EF-500M came with a decent semi-hard case. Gibson recently revised the line and now does not include the case in the base price of the instrument, so I’ll be carrying this one in a gig bag.

As I mentioned, this is a 2nd, a QA reject. While many 2nds have invisible issues, the big sap streak in the top makes it clear why this one went on the reject pile:

Luckily I’m not a fanatic about the appearance of my guitars, so I’m glad to get a price break because of this flaw. However, there are two other issues, one minor but annoying, the other serious.

The minor issue is the routing of the pickup wiring – it’s downright sloppy, hanging from the top and touching the bottom, so that I sometimes hear a sympathetic vibration buzzing along with the notes. I will fix it with a few bits of tape, but I hope other E models are put together a little more carefully.

Here’s a shot of the battery wire hanging down:

and here’s the pickup lead also hanging:

In the second shot you can also see the “broom handle” back braces, much more substantial than I see in higher end instruments.

The significant problem with this guitar is the saddle. It’s leaning forward, which is a definite structural problem.

My shot isn’t great for showing the tilt, but it shows the gap behind the saddle clearly. This incorrect construction will likely lead to early failure of the bridge, requiring a somewhat expensive fix. I plan to have the saddle slot rerouted at the correct angle and an oversized saddle fitted to correct the problem, but it is playable in the meantime.

Obviously if I think it’s worth fixing the saddle, I’m pleased enough with the guitar to want to keep it. The playability is just fine, the sound is a bit rough but quite loud, and it’s just generally a fun guitar to play. The cutaway is a big part of the fun, since I do a fair amount of playing around and above the 12the fret. Because of the broad neck heel the cutaway fits smoothly against it, giving a very clean appearance.

Since the real point of a guitar is making music, I put up a Shure KSM141 mic in omni mode, fed it through my John Hardy M-1, and captured a brief clip. I used this setup to give the most accurate picture of the guitars tone, rather than the most flattering recording, and I think the clip is pretty successful in conveying the sound of the guitar in this room.

Sample recording

Note that this is a WAV file rather than an MP3 so the download will take a bit longer. I prefer to use WAV format to maintain the best fidelity.

To summarize my feelings about this guitar, I continue to be amazed by the price/performance ratio of these Epiphone Masterbilts and other recent all solid wood instruments from China. While the construction details, playability, and sound are a step down from a Martin Vintage series (or Standard or 16 series for that matter) this is a functional instrument that’s fun to play, one I would use in just about any situation without feeling shortchanged.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
UPDATE!
* * * * * * * * * * * *

I started doing a little in depth fiddling with the Epi and made a couple of discoveries. Since I had the strings loose I pulled up the saddle to see what kind of Baggs pickup is installed, and the answer is, no Baggs at all! Instead, I found an Artec PP607. Hmmmmmm, is that legal, since the Epiphone site states very clearly that the pickup is a Baggs?? I’m sure they have a disclaimer in there somewhere but this doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the Masterbilt operation.

The extra thickness of this multi-layer pickup may be responsible for part of my saddle problems as well.

Next I checked the battery holder, to see if I should replace it with my favorite, the B-Band “bag.” Well the answer is YES because the existing holder was barely clinging to the velcro patch. Believe me this a serious problem, because a 9 volt battery banging around loose inside a guitar can do a LOT of damage.

I’m still keeping this guitar for now, but these two discoveries certainly take some of the rosy glow off our relationship.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
UPDATE 2!
* * * * * * * * * * * *

With a little further research I have learned that guitars that pass through the refurb shop, like this one, apparently have the Baggs pickup removed and replaced with the Artec. Something to watch for when you purchase a 2nd with electronics.

 


G Natural – Saving User Settings

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I ran into a little problem when I upgraded the software in my G Natural to the 1.03 release. I have to confess that I didn’t check the status of my user patches before installed the software, but after I finished the upgrade my patches were gone. I contacted TC support and they told me that the upgrade should not wipe out the user patches, so I suppose I did something else wrong, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But at least one other user on the TC G Natural support forum said he had the same problem.

I asked TC if they could offer a suggestion for saving my user patches, and they pointed me to Midi-Ox as a tool that can capture and restore MIDI information. Since I’m nearly totally ignorant of MIDI, I ran into a few issues but I’ve now succeeded so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

Hardware

The hardware you’ll need are a MIDI port on your computer (actually two of them, one for input and one for output) and one or two MIDI cables. Connect the computer MIDI OUT to the G Natural MIDI IN, connect the computer MIDI IN to the G Natural MIDI OUT.

Software

Download and install the MIDI-OX software on your computer.

Start the MIDO-OX software, you should see a screen something like this:

Select Options | MIDI Devices… and you should see this, but with your own set of available devices:

Click and highlight the input and output MIDI devices you hooked to your G Natural earlier. Click OK.

G Natural

Here we come to a possible gotcha of the first order. The 1.03 software update is advertised to enable MIDI functions. This makes sense because these functions are not yet documented in the latest manual on the TC site. So I suppose users who want to save their settings before upgrading to software version 1.03 are just out of luck. Oops. Still, once you have 1.03 installed, you’ll have a way to save settings in the future.

You get to MIDI functions by starting with the Menu button. Using the Edit D knob, scroll to the MIDI selection, then press Menu again to activate the MIDI menu.

Again using the Edit D knob, scroll to PrgChg.In: and make sure it’s set to Off. If it’s On, use Edit A, B, or C to change the value to Off.

Scroll with Edit D to PrgChg.Out: and once again make sure it’s Off.

Now scroll with Edit D to Dump System (for system wide settings) or Dump Bank (for user patches).

MIDI-OX

The particular corner of the MIDI world we’re using is called SysEx. This stands for System Exclusive, and it seems to be a method for storing and retrieving configuration information via MIDI. If you’re really curious. I’m sure there are lots of great tutorials out there in webland. Regardless, we can use MIDI-OX to capture a SysEx dump from the G Natural, save it to a file, and send the dump back to the G Natch.

In MIDI-OX, click View | SysEx… and you should see this:

In the SysEx View and Scratchpad window, click Sysex | Receive Manual Dump… and you’ll see this:

G Natural

Press the Menu button on the G Natural and you’ll see a message telling you the dump is taking place.

MIDI-OX

You’ll see a byte count in the Sysex Receive message box. Press the Done button and you can view the results of the SysEx dump. The lower Display Window now contains the data from your G Natural, displayed in Hexadecimal format.

Click Display Window | Save As… to save the SysEx dump to a file of your choice.

Restoring Saved Settings

To restore your settings, simply activate the SysEx window and click File | Send Sysex file… and navigate to the file you saved in the previous step. You don’t have to take any action on the G Natural except to have it turned on and connected to your MIDI port.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this writeup will help other G Natural users. Even though I still enjoy the great sounds and control provided by the G Natural, I’m a little disappointed that I had to figure this procedure out on my own, and gather the tools myself. I’m also disappointed that an update to the manual has not been provided to go along with the software update. We’re once again operating our machines without accurate documentation. And finally, I expected to have a computer based patch editor available when I bought the G Natural. I had one with my much less expensive Yamaha MagicStomp, so I’m really unpleasantly surprised to find that TC Electronics does not provide one. A proper editor would make saving and restoring settings a snap, and make creating and configuring patches a lot easier as well.

TC Electronics has setup a forum area where we can share experiences and possibly encourage TC to expedite updates to the documentation and to provide a patch editor. I hope to see you there.

 


Initial G Natural Explorations

Friday, August 31st, 2007

I busted the budget for a new toy – the TC Electronics G Natural. I’ve been using a simple Boss DD-3 Digital Delay for my only effect, running into either a Fishman Performer Pro amp or a PA based on an old Peavey XM-6 mixer amp. I’ve never been too thrilled with my amplified sound, so I’m starting the process of (hopefully) upgrading.

The new G Natural is a floor box with big sturdy stomp switches controlling a collection of pristine effects with a clever system for storing user settings. The box includes routing for a microphone, pickup, and line inputs, but there are some limits on how these can be combined.

I’ve been working around home with the G Natch, and I’ve used it on two gigs, so I’m beginning to get a handle on the major features and capabilities. I’m sure it will reward a lot of study and tweaking, but I’m ready to pass along some first impressions even though they’re preliminary.

I made a big goof when I first began using this device. The input gain setting is buried in the levels menu, and in the “preliminary” manual that came with my unit did not have the correct information for the unit I received, so I did not understand the importance of the “Input Gain” setting. Instead, I used too much gain to boost the ouput from the G Natural, and the result was a lot of hiss. After a day or so of frustration I discovered the correct setting, then I found the updated manual online at the TC site, and since then I’ve been extremely impressed with the sound quality and low noise of the unit. So kudos to TC for creating such a high quality box, and lemons for shipping the unit with an incorrect manual.

Even with the updated manual the information is fairly skimpy, and the organization is a bit less than ideal. But since the book (actually a PDF) is so short it’s not too big a challenge to read the whole thing a couple of times and gradually pull the pieces together.

One question I had before working my unit – can the G Natural be used as a DI or Direct Input device. A DI is a device which takes a 1/4″ high impedance unbalanced input, like a guitar pickup, and converts the signal to a balanced low impedance output on a male XLR connector. This is very handy for stage use because low impedance balanced cables can be run for long distances without signal loss or noise buildup. DIs are also used in the studio for connecting bass, guitar, or other unbalanced signals to balanced mic inputs.

Since the G Natural has a male XLR on the back, it might seem that this is a DI output, but that is not the case. This connector will only deliver the signal connected to the Mic Input, not the signal connected to the instrument input. So the simple solution won’t work. However, the 1/4″ outputs are balanced, which means that a simple adapter cable can be bought or made to provide DI functionality from the main outputs. HOWEVER, TC warns that these outputs should not be connected to an input providing phantom power. This is important, and easy to overlook. On your own mixing board, you’ll probably check phantom power and turn it off as needed, but if you’re working with various sound engineers in various venues, the chance for a mistake may be too high. And in some PA mixers, the phantom power cannot be controlled for individual channels, so this limitation may lead to other problems. In other words, I think I’m going to buy a DI to add to my signal chain before I connect the G Natural to a PA other than my own.

A look through the manual will show that all the effects needed for enhancing an acoustic sound are present – compression, eq, modulation, delay, and reverb. The unit also features a “one click” boost feature that simply raises the level for solos. Notice that there is no distortion effect included – if distortion is part of your acoustic sound, you’ll probably want a different multi-effects unit.

Finally, here are some samples. I played each clip separately, so there are plenty of performance variations. The guitar is a Martin OM-18GE with a K&K Pure Western pickup.

I miked the guitar with a Shure KSM141 set flat, cardioid pattern, about 6″ from the 12th fret, through a John Hardy M-1.

Here’s the direct pickup sound, through an M-Audio DMP3.

The pickup through the G Natural, all effects bypassed (setting F9-3).

The G Natural setting F0-1, Subtle Acoustic.

Something on the wild side, F4-3, Clean Cowboy.

F5-3, Clean Chorus.

I’ve created a few user settings, here’s the one stored at U0-2.

Next time I’ll talk about the stompbox-edness of the G Natural. There are lots of useful variations to be had by stepping on the big chrome buttons.

 


Go Type II Parlor travel guitar

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Just before we left for Hawai`i in April, I received my handmade Go Type II Parlor guitar from Sam Radding at Go Guitars. You can see some clips of this little instrument in action at my Kaleponi Music News blog.

For the last few years, I’ve checked my full size guitar in a Calton case, but I really enjoy having a guitar with me during those long airport waits. When I learned that Mr. Radding would build one of his parlor guitars with a custom neck shape and bridge spacing, I signed up. His guitar turned out to be a great success, small enough to fit in the airliner overhead compartment, good enough to play on stage at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

When we returned from our trip, I contacted Matt Hayden to see if we could get together to compare his Larrivee Parlor to this new one. Matt’s guitar is walnut and sitka, just like the Go, so the comparison seemed like a natural.

Here are some pics showing the two guitars side by side.

The Larrivee is several years older, so the sitka spruce top has mellowed to a lovely shade. The smaller body of the Go is evident in this shot, as is the compact headstock and lesser overall length.

Looking at a closeup of the backs, I prefer the walnut back of the Larrivee with its slight curly figure and darker finish, but many people commented favorably on the interesting figure of the Go walnut. The bookmatch on the Go two piece back is nicely done, and the backstrip adds a little appeal as well.

This side by side shot illustrates the shorter body and longer scale of the Go. I think it’s amazing that Mr. Radding has squeezed so much guitar into such a diminuitive shape.

I plugged a DPA 4061 mic into my Marantz PMD670 recorder and played a verse of “Kui Lima” on each guitar. Here’s the Larrivee sample (link). The Go sounds like this (link). In person, the Go seemed a little fuller and a bit louder. In fact, everyone who tried the Go so far has expressed amazement at the amount of sound that pours out of this tiny guitar.

As far as playability, the comparison is a bit unfair. I owned a Larrivee similar to Matt’s but sold it because I had a hard time with neck shape and bridge spacing. One of the great advantages of the Go Parlor is the availability of custom neck shape and bridge spacing. The slightly wider neck and bridge on my Go Parlor makes all the difference in ease of playing.

The first generation of Larrivee Parlors, like Matt’s, were built as style 01 Larrivees, which means they were stripped down models. They were also a wonderful bargain. But these days Larrivee only builds these guitars with style 09 trim. They’re much more nicely finished but cost over twice the price of the older model. The Go, which is handmade and available with custom features, is a terrific value and a very fine way to carry your music with you wherever you go.

 


The $4.00 Digital Studio

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

On the acoustic guitar forums I visit, one common question goes something like:

How do I record my guitar so I can judge my progress (or lay down a rhythm track or even make a CD just for family and friends). I have a pickup in the guitar, I don’t need great quality, and I don’t want to spend a lot.

Since this person is posting on an internet forum, I will assume they have a computer. If it’s a PC type, it almost certainly has some kind of built-in soundcard, with at least a mic input. So all we need to do is hook the guitar pickup to that mic input and use some sort of program to capture that input and save it to a file. It just so happens that there are some very effective recording programs available to download for free, so that leaves as our only problem some way to connect the guitar pickup to the mic input. And here it is:

This is a 1/4″ phone female to 1/8″ mini male adapter. A normal guitar cable like the one just above the adapter in this picture (male 1/4″ phone plugs at both ends) fits into the hollow side. The pointed side plugs into the mic input of the computer. It costs about $4.00 at any store or web site that sells electronic geegaws (like Radio Shack). This is all you need to connect your pickup to your computer (assuming you have a guitar cable).

Now, on the software side what are the options? Unfortunately, the built-in Windows Sound Recorder is not very useful. It’s limited to about 1 minute of continuous recording without intervention. There are not effects or editing features, no click track or metronome, no metering, and certainly no multitrack overdubbing and mixing.

The easiest free program I’ve found is Audacity – it’s a little clunky but it is full featured. It includes plenty of editing capability and built-in effects, and you can save your recordings to various formats like .wav for burning to CD and (with some free extra software) to .mp3 for your portable music player or web site. I’ve used this little adapter and Audacity to record new song ideas on our laptop when we’re traveling. I’ve also used it to create practice loops when I’m trying to nail a tough section of a new song. Compared to a decent microphone, preamp, and audio interface these recordings are fuzzy, noisy, and crude, but they do the job, and the price is definitely right.

Here’s one verse of an old Hawaiian song, “No Ke Ano Ahiahi,” recorded as a solo guitar instrumental using the the 1/8″ mini plug adapter and Audacity.

And here’s the same track with some reverb added.

Obviously these are not “major label quality” recordings by a long shot. The direct output from a pickup is not very close to the natural acoustic sound of your guitar. But we’ve looked at a tool that can help get your pickup based recordings much closer to a natural acoustic sound in a previous blog entry: “Better EQ Through Software”. And, as we stated at the beginning of this entry, the whole purpose of using this simple, cheap adapter is to get simple, cheap recordings, not Grammy awards.

 





About the Blog

    Howdy, my name is Fran Guidry and this is my Homebrewed Music blog.

    I play Hawaiian slack key guitar and recorded my solo acoustic CD at home. Most of the recording information I find on the internet seems focused on bands, drums, multitracking, and so on but my main focus is recording solo acoustic guitar. Lately I’ve been enjoying video recording along with audio, so that shows up in the blog as well.

    I’m also a guitar nut. I love big ones and little ones, handmades and factory guitars, cheap ones and expensive ones. So I’ll be sharing the fun of exploring guitars as well, along with the challenges of amplifying acoustic guitars for live performance.

    Welcome!

Philosophy

    My recording philosophy is pragmatic, skeptical, not super critical. After all, the performance is by far the most important component of a track, and every aspect of any recording is a matter of taste.

    But I do like to know “about stuff.” Back in hifi days I learned about double blind testing. I learned that we humans can easily hear differences that don’t really exist. The more I’ve learned about our human auditory system, the more I’m skeptical of what people say they hear, especially if they claim that a particular microphone or preamp or cable has some magical property.

    I’ve only been recording since 2001, and when I started I found the usual places on the internet. I sought advice and accepted it, thought I would improve my recordings by using more expensive equipment. It didn’t work.

    Two things that did seem to lead to better recordings were experience and room treatment. Getting an appealing sound is the combination of many small details, and learning those details only comes from experience. Amd the sound of the recording space is obviously a big factor.

    I’ve only recorded seriously using digital technology, but I remember trying to record rehearsals and gigs back in analog days. I don’t have any nostalgia for analog recording and playback systems at all. I think even low end digital systems can capture marvelous recordings. So when I look at gear, I look for good specs: low noise, broad flat frequency response, wide dynamic range, low distortion. I’m not interested in colorful components, mics and preamps with a sound, I want the sound to be the sound of my guitar.

    But the last word is that I’m just learning and I hope you find something useful in my posts.