Night Beats guitarist Danny Lee Blackwell joins PG editors and our reader of the month in sharing strange experiences from the online gear market.
Q: What was your weirdest Craigslist/online gear purchase experience?
Danny Lee Blackwell [Night Beats]
Danny Lee Blackwell
Photo by Hamilton Boyce
A: One time I replied to an ad for a keyboard (Vox Continental) on Craigslist in Fort Worth, Texas. He wanted to meet in the parking lot of a Whataburger, which sounded strange but I agreed. I didn't know how we were going to test out the keyboard, because how were we going to plug it in, right? Either way, I meet up with him and he has a van with a built-in power supply and full moving workshop.
He ended up being awesome and invited me back to his place to check out more of his gear. After a little deliberation, I said, "Why not?" We ended up playing music in his home for a few hours. I got on drums and played simple kraut-style beats on his drum kit while he tinkered around with organs and keys. Nice guy.
I've been a fan of Mdou Moctar since we opened for him in New Orleans a couple years ago. There's something about the inclusivity of his music that's so refreshing. I'm always coming back to my favorites though ... Smokey Robinson, Barbara Lynn, Selda Bağcan, Bill Withers. Lee Moses' Time and Place might never leave my head. He was the guitarist for the legendary Atlanta R&B artist, the Mighty Hannibal. That solo on Lee Moses' "Adorable One" is one of my favorite guitar phrases of all time: It's so simple and powerful, but ties the rest of the guitar work of the song together so beautifully.
Tyler Wells [Reader of the Month]
A: This happened last week ... I traded a Fender reissue '62 Strat for a fake John Mayer Stratocaster. The guy wouldn't trade back after I figured it out. It ended up costing me around $2K in value. On a happier note, I ended up trading the fake guitar for a Mexico-made Tele, which I traded my way up to an American Deluxe Strat. Almost back to where I started!
Spotify playlists! I'm loving how new music is curated to fit your musical taste while throwing old favorites into the mix. If you haven't experimented on Spotify playlists, you're missing out on some amazing music that you normally wouldn't listen to. I've been loving "Dionne" by Bon Iver/Japanese House, "Anyone" by Justin Bieber, and doing a throwback to some of the Black Keys' earlier albums.
Shawn Hammond [Chief Content Officer]
A: I've got two. #1: The weirdest was in a dream I had just last night. I lived in the same place I lived 25 years ago and I was using my 2021 iPhone to navigate my long-gone '93 Nissan Pathfinder to meet some Craigslist guy and sell him my Deluxe Reverb. My dream self was very dumb and agreed to meet him out in the boonies at the foot of massive, very ominous-looking mountains. Suddenly my GPS stopped working, I was badly lost, night was falling, and my phone wouldn't exit out of the current app to the home screen. I was so mad I bent the phone in half—and then immediately freaked out about it.
#2: In real life, a guy wanted to meet me at Wendy's and buy all three pedals in my ad. Once we were at the late Dave Thomas' place, the buyer just handed me the money without even opening the boxes. The next week, all of the pedals were for sale again on Craisglist, and from then on I periodically noticed ads for entire batches of pedals for sale from the same guy.
Shawn HammondChief Content Officer
I'm still obsessed with recording!
Tessa Jeffers [Managing Editor]
A: I only have one Craigslist story because of what happened to me in 2011. I'd just moved to Iowa to start an exciting new job at PG. I needed a couch, so my brother, who helped me move, suggested I grab a cheap one off Craigslist. We found one quickly for $50 and picked it up. That evening, I saw a bug crawling on the arm of the couch, a curious type of insect I'd never seen before. I captured the bug in a Ziploc, Google ID'd it, and then immediately shoved the couch off my apartment balcony to the dumpster below. It was a bed bug. The couch was definitely the source because I called an exterminator ASAP and no other bugs were found. NEVER again!!!
Tame Impala at Nashville Ascend Amphitheater
Photo by Tessa Jeffers
Live concerts, because it's been two years, summer of 2019, since we enjoyed a full concert season. Reminiscing about special ones I saw during that time: Anderson .Paak, Raconteurs, Lana Del Rey, Tame Impala, the 1975, and Foo Fighters.
Don't be scared of diminished scales.
• Understand the mechanics of the half-whole diminished scale.
• Use basic triads to break from the fear of symmetrical sounds.
• Learn how to use bebop phrasing with wide intervallic leaps.
It's nearly impossible to improvise over a tune without hitting a dominant chord. They are ubiquitous in rock, pop, jazz, country, and nearly every other type of Western music. I'm sure you've heard the phrase about how all music is based around tension and release? Well, I want to teach out how to make the tension cooler and the release more musically satisfying.
Instead of walking through basic 7th chord arpeggios, which have their place, I want to investigate the half-whole diminished scale and the four major triads that are inside it. We can all get our head around triads, right? Let's start with a quick review of the half-whole diminished scale.
The half-whole diminished scale is a symmetrical scale created by alternating half- and whole-steps, which creates an eight-note scale. In C this would be C–Db–Eb–F#–G–A–Bb. The other defining factor is that—much like diminished chords—this scale repeats every minor third. In other words, the C, Eb, Gb, and A half-whole diminished scales all contain the exact same notes. Not coincidentally, those four notes also outline the major triads included in the scale.
Because of the symmetrical nature of the scale and the fact that it repeats itself, there are a total of three half-whole diminished scales: C (which is the same as Eb, Gb, and A), Db (which is the same as E, G, and Bb) and D (which is the same as F, Ab, and B). In essence, once you've learned all three scales and have gained a strong sense of how this scale sounds, you will able to apply it to any dominant 7 chord from any root.
Why Not Just Play the Scale?
Great question. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with using scales to improvise, I find that isolating and combining the major triads in the scale can provide a fresh perspective and distinct color when playing over dominant chords. It gets me away from familiar sounds and patterns. Using the triads in combination creates a strong dominant sound that's begging to resolve, while also often sounding mysterious and far less like you're just running up and down the scale.
In the following examples we'll be looking at how to use major triads from the diminished scale in combinations of two to four and hear how they resolve to major chords, minor chords, and other dominant chords. Worth noting is that for most of the examples we'll be using the G, Bb, Db, E major triads to resolve to some sort of C, Eb, Gb, or A chord. The reason we're able to do that is because the scale repeats in minor thirds. Therefore, G7 can be treated the same as Bb7 (and can resolve to any type of Eb chord), which can be treated the same as Db7 (and can resolve to any type of Gb chord), which can treated the same as E7 (and can resolve to any type of A chord). Let's get started!
Feel free to learn these examples using positions and fingerings that feel comfortable to you. As long as you're paying attention to the quality of your sound and playing the lines with a strong sense of rhythm and phrasing, there is no single "right" place to play these on the guitar. The tabs are merely a suggestion.
We'll start off simply in Ex. 1 with a IIm-V7–I in the key of C. On the Dm7 chord we have a line essentially constructed around the arpeggio with a bebop sensibility. Once we arrive at the G7 chord, notice that while there is no major triad played in its entirety sequentially, the line is constructed using the notes of a Bb major triad and a Db major triad. As we resolve to Cmaj7, there is a slight suspension of the #5 (G#) that quickly resolves to the natural 5 (G).
Dominant Chord Domination Ex. 1
In Ex. 2 we clearly outline and connect a C triad to a Gb triad over the A7 chord resolving to Dm7. This time on the G7 chord we use the two other major triads from the scale that we did not use in Ex. 1: E and G. In this measure the E triad is played in its entirety in 2nd inversion and for the last two beats we use a combination of notes from the E and G triads resolving to the 7 (B) on the Cmaj7 chord.
Dominant Domination Ex. 2
Ex. 3 changes key, this time playing over a IIm7–V7–I resolving to Ebm6. Notice that we're able to draw from the same pool of triads for Bb7 as we did for G7. We're still using two major triads on the dominant chords, this time E and Bb, resolving to the natural 6 (C) of the Ebm6 chord.
Dominant Domination Ex. 3
Next, we get a chance to hear the other two triads (G and Db) played over the Bb7 chord, this time resolving to Ebmaj7 instead of Ebm6 (Ex. 4). It's worth noting how well this dominant sound can resolve to both major and minor chord qualities. Here, we also begin to break things up with eighth-note triplets and larger intervallic leaps.
Dominant Domination Ex. 4
Ex. 5 gives us our first chance to hear a dominant chord moving to another dominant chord before resolving to the I chord. Pro tip: You can change any IIm chord to a dominant chord to create a half-step move to the V7. On the D7 chord we hear a syncopated Ab triad followed by a B triad with a D natural leading into it (the note is not outside of the chord, but in this instance still functions like an approach note). Next, the line combines the notes of an E and Db triad on the Db7 chord, finally resolving to Gbmaj7 with a line built around seconds and fourths and highlighting the #11 (C).
Dominant Domination Ex. 5
In Ex. 6 we have a similar progression to the one in in Ex. 5, but this time each dominant chord is two measures long instead of one and we resolve to a minor chord instead of a major chord. Because of the longer duration of the dominant chords, we're able to utilize all four major triads on each dominant chord (F, B, D, and Ab on B7; G, E, Db, and Bb on Bb7).
Dominant Domination Ex. 6
This one tackles a tricky part of George Shearing's song "Conception" using our triadic approach on the quickly descending dominant chords (Ex. 7). I find this approach helpful on this type of progression in terms of playing a line where the trajectory moves independently from the downward direction of the chord movement. In this example we get into some more challenging rhythmic phrasing and generally use only one major triad on each dominant chord.
Dominant Domination Ex. 7
Finally in Ex. 8 we see an often-encountered progression where the root motion is V–I from beginning to end. Here, we are back to using two triads per dominant chord (but this time with some approach notes) mixed with a strong bebop sensibility.
Dominant Domination Ex. 8
As you can see, the diminished chord gets a bad rap for being overly complicated and too pattern based. By thinking of more melodic fragments (triads!) you can tackle more difficult harmonies with ease and give your lines a fresh perspective.
How light-sensitive pickups could replace your instrument's standard magnetic humbuckers—no routing required.
As mentioned in last month's column, "Let There Be Light in Your Tone," there are more ways to optically sense a string's motion than to just analyze a shade's dance on a photoresistor.
Optical transmission mode pickups are relatively simple designs—at least in theory, although magnetic pickups are even simpler. For an optical pickup, you need a source of light and a sensor on the opposite side of the string to "watch" the change of the shade. That's it. This works for any string material in wide frequency ranges and can easily deliver signals for separate strings.
- Due to the small sensing area, only small string movements can be detected. Also, the pickups need to be positioned extremely close to the bridge, and we all know about the tonal influence of a pickup's position on upper harmonics and tone in general.
- This small sensing area results in the need to recalibrate after every setup.
- There's no chance to give it a casual try on your favorite instrument, as the necessary mods are—to date—severe and mostly irreversible. And if there's no drop-in optical replacement for conventional pickups, or you test one on an unfamiliar instrument, who can guarantee that any sonic advantages might merely be the result of superior tonewood?
- It's easy to protect these pickups from ambient light using a simple enclosure, although playing palm-muted gets harder.
There's no chance to give it a casual try on your favorite instrument, as the necessary mods are severe and mostly irreversible.
Here's a different wrinkle: The alternative construction principle of these pickups is a reflective mode, where the light source is directed at the string and its reflection is sensed on the same side—actively using the string's reflection and not just its shade to generate sound.
While transmission mode pickups have been available since the late 1960s, reflective-mode pickups have become commercially available only recently. Light4Sound is the company that released the ōPik as the first available pickup using reflective mode, with the impressive design goal of using it as a replacement pickup for humbuckers on almost any of your favorite instruments. As always with new developments in our industry, the ōPik's primary focus is on guitarists, but the bass design already exists in the form of several working prototypes (see below).
As you can see, it's an open design with purple-red glowing infrared LEDs for each string. Just in case you're wondering how it handles ambient light, it helps to start remembering a few similarities between optical pickups and their magnetic counterparts. You can have the strongest magnets and the thickest strings, but as long as these don't move within that magnetic field, nothing happens at its output. In the same way, you can point all stage lights onto an optical pickup and, as long as there is no modulation or variation, there will be no signal (a photoresistor is not a solar cell).
The ōPik will soon be available in this 4-string bass version.
Courtesy of Light4Sound.com
Unfortunately, varying light is a main purpose behind a light show. So in the same way as magnetics need to fight radio frequencies, these optical pickups have to cancel out surrounding lights.
Our common means to fight radio frequencies is humbucker wiring, with the phased-out signals of two coils, and the same can be done with two out-of-phase optical sensors. Here, a second noise reduction is achieved through optical filters. These eliminate specific wavelengths from entering the sensors and also limit the directions light travels into the pickup.
The ōPik is an active pickup with a low impedance output that's high enough to be directly combined with passive pickups. Furthermore, it can connect to a mobile app that allows the player to set each string's volume and several high- or low-pass filters, or adjust roll-off frequencies. These settings can be saved as presets, but it's worth mentioning that this is merely digital tweaking of parameters. The signal chain stays purely analog at all stages. Until next time….
The PG Dawner Prince Pulse review.
Deep, thick, luxurious rotary simulations—particularly in stereo. Super intuitive and easy to use.
Side mounted output gain pots are useful but awkward to access.
Dawner Prince Pulse
When you think about David Gilmour's guitar sounds, you tend to think of big Hiwatts, creamy Big Muff or blazing Fuzz Face tones, and Echorec delays bouncing infinitely off the columns of Roman amphitheaters.
But modulation has always been an equally foundational part of Gilmour's outsized sound picture. And while he's probably most famously associated with the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress when it comes to signal wobbling, he has embraced rotary speakers regularly since 1969. For much of his career, Gilmour used Leslie 147s or Yamaha RA-200s in this role. But at some point, he started to work with the Maestro Rover—an unusual stand-mounted rotating speaker that his technicians would use as inspiration for his more powerful, custom Doppola units. By the mid '90s—a period that looms large for Gilmour tone hounds of a certain breed—the Maestro and Doppolas were elemental parts of his sound.
If the name wasn't hint enough, Dawner Prince's Pulse pays homage to this sound in a loving and well-executed way. But even if you aren't out to replicate Gilmour modulation textures from The Division Bell and Pulse, this Croatian company's exceptional rotary simulator is a fine way to introduce the immersive, extra-liquid textures of a rotary speaker to your signal chain without hauling a cumbersome antique and its own team of mechanical medics.
With five staggered knobs, two footswitches, stereo outs and an expression input, the Pulse looks more complex than it is. In reality, it's very intuitive to use. And even superficially esoteric controls like the distance knob (which shifts the proximity of the virtual "mic" picking up the rotary speaker signal) and the inertia knob (which regulates the rate of the virtual speaker's acceleration or deceleration) have a very organic, natural feel and are simple to add and modify to taste. The more straightforward controls are satisfying to use, too. The slow and fast speed controls have great range (the modulation rate spans .4 to 8 virtual speaker rotations per second). You can toggle between fast and slow rates using the fast-slow footswitch and you don't have to worry about "progamming" a fast or slow preset—the switch simply ramps up or down (at a rate prescribed by the inertia control) between whatever speeds you've set on the respective knobs.
Dawner Prince also accounted for the possibility of perceived volume loss at some of the most intense modulation levels by mounting small gain pots adjacent to each output jack. You need a small flathead screwdriver to adjust them. Obviously, top-mounted knobs would be user friendly, but I was generally pleased with the output level at maximum modulation intensity. And on the whole, I'd venture that Dawner Prince made a smart compromise between cluttering the main control panel and concealing these pots inside the enclosure.
Worlds of Whirl
If you had to briefly characterize what sets the Pulse apart from lesser rotary simulators, it would be the deep and real sense of motion that pedal communicates. This quality is especially apparent if you take time to set it up for stereo output, which I did through two amplifiers as well as a DAW.
The Pulse's output very effectively replicates the complex interactions between fundamentals and overtones that occur when moving air and speakers are added to a tone equation.
These highly kinetic qualities don't just come from bouncy stereo pictures, however. Even in mono, the Pulse's output very effectively replicates the complex interactions between fundamentals and overtones that occur when moving air and speakers are added to a tone equation. At the right settings, you can almost see and feel the rise, dissipation, and passing of sound as bodies and particles (entirely without pharmaceutical assistance, I might add). It's a very visceral way to experience a guitar sound, and it comes pretty close to the thrill of parking your head right by a rotary speaker in motion.
The harmonic complexities and kinetic sensations generated by the Pulse are best enjoyed, at least to my ear, at slower settings where it's easier to perceive the bloom of these sounds. And even though the Pulse's fast modulation settings generate very rich, throbbing pulses, I preferred to keep my fastest modulation sounds on the slower side so I could bask in the dimensionality of the sound picture.
The Pulse also excels at walking the fine line between the practical and the ridiculous. Even the most modulation-heavy mix settings are never overbearing. And while you can generate relatively extreme metallic high-mid peaks in the modulation by bringing the virtual mic proximity in close and cranking the mix, these sounds still have a full-spectrum richness and help the Pulse achieve some of the funkier sounds you hear from Leslies and Fender Vibratones.
The very-well-made Pulse is also super quiet, by the way. I wouldn't hesitate to try it on other instruments or vocals in a mix situation.
If you're chasing realistic rotary speaker tones in a stompbox, the Pulse will likely pay back the extra money you'll spend. The sense of real mechanical motion and dimensionality is perceptibly stronger than a lot of digital rotary simulations I've played. And while the Doppola/Rover-based tone emphasis does give the Pulse a unique voice, it rivals the best high-end Leslie emulators I've encountered in terms of realism and atmosphere.
The Nashvillian's interstellar pop rock soars on the backs of a futuristic 12-string, a Gibson-Fender hybrid, and a "new" pedal that makes "old" sounds.
Aaron Lee Tasjan's metamorphosis from solid sideman (New York Dolls, Alberta Cross, Drivin' n' Cryin' and Everest) to a modernistic '70s-revivalist, psych-pop, songwriting frontman has been a thrilling transformation.
While making the musical transition from the shadows to the spotlight in the early 2010s, Tasjan left New York for slower-paced East Nashville. 2015's self-released debut In the Blazes was bouncy and buoyant like anything Newman or Nilsson put out. The following year New West signed him, and he dropped the humorous, charming, rootsy, alt-Americana Silver Tears.
Still mutating, still refining, 2018's Karma For Cheap psychedelically honors the music that first drew him to 6-strings—Beatles and the Heartbreakers. And 2021's Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! mixes his tongue-in-cheek storytelling with '70s production sheen and spacy-pop jaunts. Needless to say, wherever Tasjan musically goes next, we're along for the ride.
In this episode, the good-vibes artist shows off some main rides—including a funky 12-string and a marriage between a Firebird and Telecaster—tells a heartwarming backstory on a sentimental 335, and shows how a modern pedal is the key to his vintage-sounding sonic disintegration.
[Brought to you by D'Addario Pro Plus Capos: https://ddar.io/ProPlusCapo.RR]
This space-age 12-string was built by luthier Scott Gorsuch who hails from Columbus, OH (one of ALT's former stomping grounds). Gorsuch specializes in modular doubleneck instruments that are secured by magnets. As you can see above, Tasjan has opted for the chambered, single-neck 12-string.
A hidden weapon on the 12 is the bridge humbucker that can be split, when the tone knob is down, unlocking single-coil chime and jangle. And as for the neck P-90, Aaron Lee loves throttling into a solo with it because it creates a unique grind and purr with single-note runs.
An oversight on the ingenuity of the 12's design might be the headstock utilizing two different style of tuning pegs. The Fender-and-Kluson-style keys allow for blind tuning (feeling for the key while talking to the crowd or staring at the tuner) and increased spacing so fingers don't unintentionally knock other keys out of whack.
Southside Custom Guitars Firebird-Tele Hybrid
Depending on your opinion, this mash-up could either be a match made in heaven or a divorce forged in hell. This Southside Custom Guitars (built by luthier Tom Gauldin in Birmingham, AL) model combines a Gibson Firebird with a Fender Telecaster (and a little Jazzmaster touch with the bridge/saddles).
ALT got turned onto Gauldin's creations by way of St. Paul and the Broken Bones' guitarist Browan Lollar who rocks several Southside T-styles.
Tasjan typically cruises in either standard tuning, a full step down, or drop D.
Southside Custom Guitars JM Model
Here's another one-off from Southside Custom Guitars—a JM-style offset with black prism flow finish, a set of Seymour Duncan Antiquity Jazzmaster pickups, and Offset Mastery bridge.
1969 Gibson ES-335
Here is a special instrument to Aaron Lee. It was a gift from his friend Ken Rockwood (of Rockwood Music Hall fame). Earlier in 2021, Tasjan told PG why it's so important to him: "My biggest gear regret would have to be a 1967 Gibson B-45 12-string that was stolen from me at SXSW in 2012. It was the first fancy guitar I could ever afford, and by "afford," I actually mean, "spend every last cent I had on it," [laughs]! There is a silver lining to this story though.
When I returned home to NYC a few days later (I lived there from 2005-2014), my old friend Ken Rockwood (of Rockwood Music Hall fame) had heard about my guitar being stolen and insisted he give me his 1968 ES-335. Obviously, it's not an acoustic 12-string, but it is an equally incredible guitar to the one that was taken and having a friend in your life who treats you the way Ken Rockwood treats people is a gift I wouldn't trade for anything."
Fender '68 Custom Princeton Reverb
Aaron Lee Tasjan is two-amp kinda rocker. The first part of Fender pairing is the above '68 Custom Princeton Reverb that has a few mods up its sleeves. Both the bass and treble knobs independently pull out for their own boost function. This gives ALT added bass and increased midrange when the time feels right. He typically uses the 12-string with this one because it's cleaner and has onboard reverb.
Fender '57 Custom Deluxe
"This thing is full on rock 'n' roll, man," says Tasjan when referring to his handwired Fender '57 Custom Deluxe that's used for his dryer, hard-rocking songs.
Aaron Lee Tasjan's Pedalboard
"The Strymon Deco is a perfect pedal for sounding like something is being destroyed as it's being made, [laughs]… and that was a big part of Karma For Cheap," says Tasjan. Reverse and deeper oddball delays are twisted by the Boss DD-7 Digital Delay. The Diamond Pedals J-Drive MkIII is there for added midrange-focused, overdrive crunch, while also offering an independent clean boost side, too. The single-knob jobber is an octave fuzz that was built by a Norwegian friend who gifted it to Tasjan. And a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check.
"I use this really cool pedal in really dumb ways," smirks Tasjan. The Electro-Harmonix Mel9 emulates nine classic Mellotron sounds, but ALT uses it as a synth-like fill in for songs like "Sunday Women" that feature keys on the recording but is typically performed as a guitar-bass-drums power trio.