Location may be more important in music than it is in real estate.
Your humble author hanging with L.A. session legends Tim Pierce and Michael Thompson while sharing stories about our respective times coming up as guitarists in Los Angeles.
I recently had a telephone conversation with a friend who is a talented, young singer/songwriter/guitarist. She lives outside of the U.S. and has been noticing that she's receiving more attention on social media for her guitar playing skills than for her songs or singing. My friend wanted my advice about whether a career as a session and touring guitarist would be a good thing for her to pursue. I gave her an enthusiastic “yes," but with one caveat. I recommended that she move to a major music center such as Los Angeles or Nashville, since these are the places where the major tours are put together and where sessions happen. Still, she responded with some apprehension and wondered why people couldn't just scout her online. In this month's column, I'll detail why making the sacrifices and commitment for a move to a music capital is the way to go if you want a career as a pro musician.
Woody Allen was right. I've mentioned in previous columns that if you want to make a go at a full-time career as a professional musician, you must have an almost obsessive passion for your instrument and music in general. You also have to be physically present. Even with the Internet and its ability to bring us all closer, you need to actually be there to do sessions and audition for gigs. And in order to get those calls for touring gig auditions and recording sessions, you generally have to be a part of a music scene, which requires a considerable amount of networking and beating the street. Like Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up."
Case in point: Late one evening in February 2007, I received an email from a colleague alerting me to be at Center Staging the following day if I wanted to audition for Chris Cornell's touring band. I was given a list of five songs, so I woodshedded furiously for a few hours, got some sleep, and woke up early to go over them all again. I played well at my noon audition and got a callback audition that eventually led to being offered the gig. There's no way any of this would have happened had I not been physically present in L.A. for some time, because I needed to build the relationship that led to me getting a call to audition. Just as important, living in L.A. gave me the ability to audition at a moment's notice.
Success, hardship, and commitment. My good pal Tim Pierce and I recently stopped by session-great Michael Thompson's studio to interview him for an upcoming episode of our web series, Tim and Pete's Guitar Show. And he shared some incredible stories about his early days in L.A. Though Michael got his start as a working musician in the late '70s in Boston, Massachusetts—where he found enough paying gigs to avoid working a day job—he knew L.A. was where the real top-quality gigs were and relocated to California in 1979.
A mutual friend of Michael's from Boston had scored a gig in Joe Cocker's touring band, so Michael asked his friend to try to get him an audition. He got the gig (within one week of moving to L.A.), but the job didn't last long and he was soon looking for another one—which didn't materialize. Funds ran low. Michael had to look at the help-wanted ads for the first time in his life, and he spent the next year driving a taxi to make ends meet. He never forgot those lean days where his hunger and desire to succeed was so strong that he poured all he had into every single session he did get. Michael always brought his full amp, FX rig, and multiple instruments to sessions no matter what or who it was for, and he was always working hard to come up with unique parts and tones. Word spread, and through a combination of drive and talent, he became a first-call session musician.
I clearly remember the lean times during my early days in L.A. I took whatever gigs I could get and often played for free to gain experience and make connections. I taught lessons when I could and worked jobs for minimum wage. I remember rolling my spare change—mostly pennies and nickels—and taking the rolls to the bank for a few bucks to help pay rent. I remember living for an entire week on $13 by existing on bread, peanut butter, tuna fish, and mayo. I just barely got by, but continued to take every gig that came my way. When I did start to get calls for auditions and occasional sessions, I poured everything I had into trying to be the best. My philosophy was/is simple: All I have to do is be the best guy that shows up for the gig, and I'll get it.
Even in this age of social media and devices that keep us connected 24/7, there is still no substitute for showing up, literally and figuratively. Sure, it's a sacrifice to move to a major music center, but nothing good ever comes easy. If you do come to L.A., just don't take my gigs!
Until next month, I wish you good tone ...
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.