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more... Premier BlogJanuary 2014Tuning Up

Tuning Up: Checking in on the Yoga Kittens

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Exactly one year ago, I railed about the ridonkulousness of considering big life changes primarily when we pick up our new Gregorian “Yoga Kittens” calendars at that kiosk in the mall every January. I then hypocritically reinforced this dumb cultural phenomenon by listing 10 semi-serious resolutions for 2013. There was some nonsense about using a Garden Weasel as a prepared-guitar treatment and not using slash marks incorrectly in my writing—but there was some, er, meat in those tongue-in-cheek resolutions, too.

I looked back over them today, and I gotta say—as stupid as our whole New Year’s resolutions thing is, it’s pretty rad when you look back, take stock, and see that you actually made some progress. Although, when you read what’s passing for “progress” here, you might say, “That’s it?

On the easy, just-buy-something end of the spectrum, I said I’d replace my ancient dung heap of a pedalboard with something more ergonomic and practical, and I finally did. I even got all charitable and donated the old one to John, the bassist in my band. He’s always carrying his pedals around in this pathetic reusable shopping bag, so I figured he might want to use my old board to keep his stomps from banging against each other in transit. I guess the fact that he hasn’t used it after six months kind of confirms how lame the old POS was. Sorry for the crappy gift, Lightwad. You could always build a bike jump out of it.

Another of 2013’s resolutions was to improve the clarity, precision, and articulation of my flatpicking. I did … but partially by abandoning my year-long experiment with using the broad side of the pick and going back to the normal way. The rounded-off attack and gritty sound of the textured grip hitting the strings was neat and all, but not that neat.

Let’s see, what other self-improvement rubbish did I spew? Oh yeah, I said I’d try to tame my reverb addiction and perfect my two-pedal stomp to avoid hitting my tuner pedal. Does it still count if I transferred some of that reverb jonesing to delay? And what if I primarily improved my two-pedal stomp by just moving the tuner to a less busy part of the board? I say I should at least get a half credit.

I’ll ignore the stupid stuff I said about polishing guitars and avoiding zombie stickers—yeah, right. I plastered my Danelectro Baritone with glorious undead adhesives. (How about another half credit for removing one from my Tele … and putting it on my amp?) But I did live up to my goal of trying to play more unpredictably: I busted out a slide and incorporated it in a couple of our band’s tunes. It’s the first serious Pyrex playing since I was 15 and my band played “Rocky Mountain Way” at a high-school pep rally—an endeavor that was not pleasant to the ears. I don’t aspire to play it like Walsh or Duane or Trucks, but it does sound pretty amazing with the grinding Baritone drenched in self-oscillating delay.

I also finally dug into capo playing. I’d long deemed those things to be the sole purview of crooning strummers, but it actually sounds friggin’ rad for mid-song key changes—especially on that zombified Dano. I keep it waiting on the metal nut, then, after a strategic one-measure break, I reach over, capo up, and—voilà—the deep-toned tune has a whole new raging dimension.

I’ve also played more major chords this year than in the previous 30. Bass-man John observed the lack of them in our songs many months ago, but now several newer tunes feature them. It’s fun to figure out how to incorporate open strings and other quirks to make them sound optimistic and refreshing, yet somehow still weird and/or sinister.

So that’s it for my 2013 resolutions. I didn’t set out to become Guthrie Govan or anything. What matters is that—in my ears, at least—I’m still pushing myself, still trying to move forward, explore, and not stagnate. I’m certain you guys have some pretty great stuff to share, too. Stuff that’ll probably make my goals look lame. I’m okay with that, though, so let’s hear ’em.

Onward into 2014, fellow yoga kittens!

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