Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A new axe....

It's been years since I bought a new guitar! The last one I bought was a bass whose only owner was the great Jaco Pastorius when he was still alive, and he died in 1987. I still use that thing.

We used to follow Jaco around when we first came to NYC, and see him in various clubs. One night we even saw the Word of Mouth Big Band with Toots Theilemans on the harmonica and Paul McCandless among others! Jerry Jermont sat in for a lot of the gig on Bass. That was at the original Lone Star Cafe (now a deli). Jaco liked to party (not letting any secrets out) and he let his bass go so cheap (in order to fund the party) that I couldn't help but pick it up. Simon found it at Matt Umanov's.

Well, I got a new acoustic last week. It's an Ovation, which is the kind with the rounded back. I bought it sight unseen since I heard that they were closing some factories and were going to start making them overseas. Also it was severely discounted on closeout.

As you may know though, guitars are a very personal thing, so it was a gamble. Acoustics are even trickier. I never even owned an acoustic steel string till I was in college.

I remember about 30 years ago (college days - yes I am old) my good friend Tom Bolling was working at a guitar store in my old hometown of Richmond Va., and he called me one day about a steel string guitar in his shop and said, "come down here immediately and bring your checkbook, because I just found the guitar that's going to change your life" (I still remember the exact words). Up until then I had only owned electrics and classical (nylon string) guitars. I had stayed away from steel string acoustics.

I did as he said, and later that day I had my first steel string -- and it did change my life.

Of course that was a fellow guitarist, a good friend that still lives about 50 feet from me to this day (different city even), and he was talking about this one particular instrument he'd found and personally played. This is because he knew that for me, I need really great action. The sound on that guitar wasn't unbelievable, but it opened up a little over time. The action was killer though...these days the instrument has gone downhill, as the neck is becoming warped. It's really unplayable, and right now I'm using a loaner steel string (an archtop - also Tom's). I used the loaner on a "School House Rock" (Yes, it's coming back) session a couple of months ago (thanks Andy!), but I hate the sound of the recorded instrument (sorry T). It did make it on that recording though (at least I think, more on this later...).

Fast forward a little -- to about 10 years ago I went into Sam Ash guitars on 48th street and while browsing picked up a guitar that played so well and sounded so good that I put it down immediately, because I knew that in a couple of minutes I was going to fall in love with it, have to buy it, and spend 5 grand on it (or 10 grand by the time I amortized the credit card debt). I realized at that moment how far guitars had come in the years since I bought that 1st steel string guitar back in Richmond. The guitar from 30 years ago was as costly as non-collector guitars were in those days. But there were no 5 grand guitars that I remember.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good about about the new axe.

A few things actually caught me by surprise. For one, I love the sound of it unamplified! I was expecting - based on my discussions with Bob Mondok at Sweetwater - that I was not going to be overly enthusiastic. It's not really loud (I don't need really loud) but it has a nice rich well balanced sound. Given Ovation's reputation, I was expecting loud. It has rich low frequencies, good highs, no annoying midrange, just like I like in an acoustic. I got the balladeer model.

I'm not in love with the direct sound, but I haven't heard the acoustic guitar yet on which I really liked with the internal pickup, so I'm not surprised by that. It's thumpy (but that's the nature of the beast). I was willing to be pleasantly surprised given what I gathered from Bob. but it's OK. It may be great as supplemental to a miced sound, we'll see.

I recorded with it today, and we had to go direct because I couldn't leave the control room (I was playing guitar but didn't want to leave Andy to fend by himself, although he's totally up to it, and because it made sense to talk to the other people in the room for suggestions). The sound worked for what this project is (guitar sits in a richly populated pop/funk mix), but it won't make me give up good microphones.

I'm still excited to see how microphones work with it. When I get some time, or the right project, I'll blog about it. I have a feeling I'm going to like it with my U87.

The action is a little on the high side, I read in the owner's manual that the bridge has shims in there that can be taken out, so I'm going to try taking one out and seeing about that. In the old days, I would lighten up the strings, but I don't want to lose that richness of tone.

All in all a hit.

...and the built in tuner was a nice surprise I wasn't expecting!

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