Check out the first track from McErlain’s forthcoming album that hearkens back to Ford’s early fusion days.
A new solo album had been on Jeff McErlain’s to-do list for a while, however the nexus of material, time, and money had to come together in just the right way. While McErlain was teaching at Robben Ford’s Guitar Dojo summer camp, Ford suggested that they do an album together. Coincidently, Ford was also in the early stages of starting his own label and had taken up residence in Nashville. The pieces were all coming together for McErlain, an NYC-based blues-rocker who has made his name as a top-notch instructor through TrueFire. The resulting album, Now, will be released on February 25.
“It’s Your Groove” is a funky tune that appeared in a different version on McErlain’s first solo album. “It reminded me of Miles Davis with that angular, diminished head,” says McErlain. Although the music came from McErlain, the new title was based on something Miles said to Ford when he called him up to join his band. “Because the song sounded fresh to me, I brought up the idea of recording it on this album,” says Ford. Over the years, through countless gigs around NYC, McErlain developed the song into a hip jam vehicle that pushed Ford into a style that he hadn’t explored recently.
Now was recorded at Sound Emporium in Nashville and features drummer Terence Clark, bassist Anton Nesbit, and was engineered by Casey Wasner.
The album’s basic tracks were recorded in Nashville at Sound Emporium, a legendary room, with engineer Casey Wasner, who worked on Ford’s latest album, Purple House. Drummer Terence Clark and bassist Anton Nesbit were brought in to round out the quartet. Ford’s approach to producing was all encompassing, from the smallest details to the overall vision of the album. “Producing is what I want to do from here on out, and I realize that all of the really successful producers found a mode in which to work that really doesn’t change from record to record,” says Ford.
McErlain kept his signal simple for the album. For “It’s Your Groove” it was his Michael Tuttle Custom Classic T through Ford’s ’71 Marshall Super Bass. McErlain also used his own vintage Marshall Super Lead and a pair of Two-Rock models: a Bloomfield Drive and a Classic Reverb Signature. Naturally, Ford relied on his trusty Dumble along with a 1952 Fender Telecaster and a custom-made PRS SC594. The big surprise was when it came time for Ford’s solo on “It’s Your Groove,” he stepped on an Electro-Harmonix POG for some octave-style organ effects.
Following the release of Now, both McErlain and Ford have plans to tour together and work some of the new material into the set. Keep an eye on jeffmcerlain.com for more information.
An offset-design 4-string that charms with both attitude and tone-sculpting power.
Clip 1: Bridge pickup only. Slight treble boost and bass boost.
Clip 2: EQ flat, both pickups engaged.
Clip 3: EQ flat, neck pickup only. Slap style.
Solid design, great neck, pro features.
May not appeal to traditionalists. Tiny screws for the battery cavity.
ESP LTD GB-4
ESP takes great pride in providing instruments for musicians with a more powerful, hard-hitting approach. The company’s artist roster is full of tremendous players that have made a name for themselves in the many subcategories of hardcore and metal, and ESP’s guitars and basses are known for handling these genres (and beyond) with practical design and big tone. Continuing that tradition, ESP recently offered up the LTD GB-4. It’s a 4-string offset monster of a bass that looks like it’s built for just about anything one could throw at it.
Upon opening the (very nice) form-fitting case, I was greeted with a bass that was not what one would expect from ESP. The GB-4’s offset, retro body and seafoam-green finish is a combination made in vintage heaven, and the overall presentation evokes a hint of “come at me, bro” swagger. Unplugged, the bass resonates wonderfully. I did find the GB-4 to be a bit neck dive-y while seated, which made me have to fight it a little. The bass is also a little on the heavy side, clocking in about 10 pounds on the bathroom scale, but that’s nothing a wider strap can’t handle, to save the shoulder.
The engineering of the bass doesn’t necessarily break through any design ceilings. With that said, ESP has carefully chosen the components for the GB-4 to give maximum tonal flexibility and to make it budget and stage friendly. The swamp-ash body is comfy, and I like the belly scoop on the back. Speaking of the back, I was both happy and a little sad when I flipped the bass over. First, the neck has a 5-bolt design, which helps with a rock-solid joint connection as well as sustain. The bass can also be strung through the body, which I love, and the pockets and seams on the ferrules were clean as can be. Then I saw the battery cavity, with its tiny Phillips-head screws. I know we all have these screwdrivers in our kit, but, in my opinion, a clip would have been the way to go. It may sound a little nitpicky, but we are reviewing, right?
ESPecially the Tone!
Plugging the GB-4 into an Eden Terra Nova (with the amp settings flat) and matching Eden 2x10 cabinet, I started with all the controls even: both Seymour Duncan SSB-4 pickups at equal strength and the stacked EQ at zero. The tone of the GB-4 out of the gate was strong. However, I feel the active EQ is needed on these pickups to give the bass the full chance it deserves. Dialing up the treble and bass controls a little really opened up the sound. That gave the GB-4 a tonal character ranging from thick, modern rock to a subtle, mellower vibe.
The separate mid control is helpful as well, and with a quick turn it allowed me to get pointed and articulate or subterranean low. The mid control could also be helpful on pesky “bass trap” stages when more mids are needed. And when paired with effects—such as some OD—a simple turn of the mid control really springs the GB-4 to life.
The GB-4 has another trick up its sleeve: the slap switch. It’s a push/pull switch on the volume control that has a preset EQ voiced for slap bass. This is generally a “smiley face” EQ setting, with the lows and highs brought up for thump and clarity. The GB-4’s internal controls allow for taking this additional EQ setting a step further, with its adjustable trim pots in the control cavity giving discerning players even more tonal depth.
But does the slap switch work? Well, it certainly didn’t make my slap game any better, but it did provide that warm scoop with plenty of low-end boom. It didn’t have as much richness as I prefer, even with the stacked EQ adjustments. I did, however, find a great little trick with the slap switch. By engaging the slap contour and soloing the bridge pickup while diming the mid control, I found a very articulate, robust, and very J-like tone, which gives this bass even more room to play.
The overall feel of the GB-4 is what really helps this bass along. The maple neck is skinny and fast—really fast—yet feels rock solid, which will appeal to chops guys and meat-and-potatoes players alike. Fingerstyle players, plectrum players, and thumb/slap players will dig the GB-4’s thin-U neck for its quickness and overall dynamic possibilities. If you are a more traditional player, don’t let the offset body give you pause. It isn’t cumbersome or odd, and the upper frets of the GB-4 are wonderfully accessible.
The ESP LTD GB-4 is a mid-level-instrument winner. The bass can fill gaps for players that have more than one style of gig, and it would make for a great No. 1 bass or a well-rounded backup if multiple tones are needed. The rocker side of music is covered with striking features and playability, and with the different EQ options available within the bass, it gives a wide range of players a pretty decent range of tones. ESP has done a great job with professional build features in an affordable bass, while giving us an instrument with some attitude. All in all, the GB-4 is worthy of solid consideration to whet your offset appetite.
Watch the Review Demo:
What if brain cramps are really a sign of genius?
There are a lot of glitches in human design. Our backs were built for climbing trees, not walking upright. Our narrow pelvises make childbirth dangerous/painful and prevent our brains from increasing in size. Our teeth are too crowded in our mouths, and our appendix's sole purpose, it seems, is to kill us. Of all our design flaws, the most troubling to me is that when the pressure is on and we need to perform at our best, that's when we're most likely to choke.
Start a casual conversation with a friend? No problem. But when I try it with someone I'm attracted to, I sound idiotic at best, dangerous at worst. Parallel parking on an empty street? Challenging, but eventually I'll get somewhere near the curb. Parallel parking with a line of cars behind me and people on the sidewalk? I usually give up and look for a wide space to pull straight into.
Here's an example in our world of music. Most of you witnessed Nick Jonas' famously painful guitar solo with Kelsea Ballerini on the 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards broadcast, right? If not, here's what you missed: Jonas was to walk out for a big showbiz reveal, rip a guitar solo, and then join Ballerini on vocals. Jonas started strong, but hit a bad note, followed by a few more equally bad notes, then gave up and tucked his guitar behind his back—leaving the remaining bars full of shame rather than music. This led to much YouTube mockery.
I feel a tad guilty about this reference, because I genuinely like Jonas. He's wildly talented, clever, funny, and, most important, a genuinely good person. So, Nick, if you're reading this, please know I'm not picking the scab but holding you up as someone to emulate. Nick responded to his fumble with a humorous tweet, then went back to dating supermodels and earning millions in music and films. Good on you, Nick.
I'm a seasoned musician who has been playing on TV perhaps longer than Jonas has been alive, and yet I routinely jack up under pressure. About a decade ago, I was playing The Tonight Show and had a simple signature guitar riff at the head, turnaround, and outro. “Mary Had a Little Lamb" is more complicated than this riff, yet I bumbled one of its four simple notes in front of millions of people. To this day, it pains me to remember that shameful five seconds.
So, why do we miss the easy layup or the two-foot putt? I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast called “Why We Choke Under Pressure," where Sian Beilock, cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College, explained the science behind our bumbles. Beilock says her research shows that “individuals who have the most ability to focus, the most working memory, the most fluid intelligence, are actually more prone to perform poorly under stress. And the idea is that if you normally devote lots of cognitive resources to what you're doing and being in a pressure-filled situation robs you of those resources, you can't perform as well. There's research showing that when you have friendly faces in front of you, people who are supportive—although that could feel nice, it actually creates pressure-filled situations. You often start thinking of yourself as they might."
The way I see it, there are two types of mistakes:
1. Your fingers go to the wrong place.
2. You think about what people may think of you instead of just playing.
Your fingers not going where you want is unavoidable. Luckily, the more you play, the less often that's going to happen, but it's still going to happen. However, those errant notes are more of an opportunity than a problem. Handled the right way, they will lead you to a more interesting melody than you may have played if everything went right. As Miles Davis said, “Don't fear mistakes. There are none." That flatted fifth you hit because you are one fret off will be the note that your audience will love the most.
But nothing good comes from getting in your head. Dr. Beilock's research suggests that great performers choke when they pay too much attention to the details of what they're doing, and that “these details should be left on autopilot."
I was at the home of my friend, author Robert Hicks, for a small dinner party a few years ago. It being the South, there was prayer before we ate. It being Nashville, Larry Carlton happened to be there with his guitar, so the prayer became Carlton playing his arrangement of “The Lord's Prayer." Near the end, a phrase veered off course, and I thought I saw Carlton wince while he whispered “dammit." No prayer had ever made me feel better about myself.