And…..Done. Final Blog Post

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It’s hard to believe I’ve been running my blog for 6 years now, even more difficult to believe that I’ve done 282 posts in that time period.  But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and I’ve decided that now is a good time for me to step away from the blog and focus on other avenues for sharing my views on creativity and audio production.

It’s been really enjoyable talking to everyone and sharing your views on how you approach all the struggles and joys of writing music.  I can’t thank everyone enough for all the insightful comments, indepth replies, and most especially for all the donations you’ve made to help make all this possible.

As a way of saying thanks one final time, I’ve collected all of the best blog posts into one document, which you can download here:

BEST BITS OF THE BLOG (Zip File)

The zip file contains both PDF and epub versions of the document so you can view it on any of your devices.  I’ve made a few changes here in there in the text to update my recommendations on gear, and make it easier to read all of the posts front to back.

Thanks again everyone!
Tarekith

The Practice Guilt

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Last November I finally achieved a dream of mine by buying a really nice acoustic guitar. While providing me with a musical outlet that was a break from the electronic-inspired songs I work with all day, it also was a chance for me to finally spend some quality time improving my guitar chops. Something I hadn’t done much since I first started playing over 20 years ago.

So I made a pact with myself that I would at least pick up the guitar and play SOMETHING every single day. Even if it was only 5 minutes of exercises to keep my fingers in shape, such as the excellent “Finger Gym” by Justin Sandercoe.  Probably one of the simplest and best practice routines for finger independence and strength that I’ve found yet.

For months I was successful at my goal, every single day I played my guitar, sometimes for hours, sometimes for minutes. As you would expect, it didn’t take long for me to see some pretty dramatic improvements (even considering I was also finger-picking for the first time). If nothing else I FELT like I was playing better than ever before, and when you’ve been playing as long as I have, that’s a great feeling.

Then something unexpected happened that threw a wrench in my works, I went on vacation.

Specifically to Europe for two weeks, which meant I would have no access to a guitar the whole time (and I did attempt to find local shops on our travels). I was in a panic, not only was I about to break my vow of daily practice, but I felt like it was going to be a step backward in my progress too. But, at the same time I knew I had to be practical and that life was bound to throw me obstacles that would make daily practice impossible eventually.

When I returned from that vacation, one of the first things I did was pick up the guitar, fearfully expecting it to feel a bit clumsy again. I was more than a little shocked to discover that my playing actually felt better than before I left by a little bit. My fingers hadn’t forgotten everything, and they weren’t weak little sausages that couldn’t play for more than a couple minutes without getting tired.

I was happy, but convinced it was a weird fluke. However, as I’ve had the chance to take a few more days off for other various trips this fall, I keep experiencing the same thing. After a couple of days break from the guitar, I wasn’t struggling to return to the level I was at before. If anything, my fingers felt more confident, and my muscles felt stronger for the break too. A couple minutes of warmup and I was feeling better than ever.

This got me thinking about how I’ve noticed a similar thing when I come out of long bouts of writer’s block. I might go months without any solid ideas, feeling like my skills are slipping and things are going to be harder once the muse revisits my studio. But in each case, I’ve come out of these long periods of rest with my music being stronger than ever (I think anyway).

As I’ve looked into this some more, it seems this is a common phenomenon among musicians. Players say that after having troubles learning a difficult passage in songs, sometimes taking a break for a day and then trying again means they nail it first time. Or producers who struggle all day to achieve a balance in their mixdown come back to it after a good night’s sleep and suddenly the issues are obvious.

I think our brains need time to adapt and learn, and sometimes trying to force yourself to achieve a goal backfires, and we just end up making the same mistakes over and over. By taking a break, and especially sleeping for one night, we allow our brains a chance to process the new information we’re trying to learn at it’s own pace. The neural connections we need can form properly, and often we can suddenly achieve what we wanted the next time we try.

I don’t dread long times away from my studio like I used to anymore. I accept it’s a natural part of any learning curve, not just for something specific like the guitar. Sometimes trying to push through a problem doesn’t actually solve the problem, and you either never conquer it, or it takes way longer than it should.

It seems counterintuitive, but I guess sometimes you need to take a break from something to get better at it!

Strymon Timeline Review

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Finally got a chance to do my video review of the Strymon Timeline, which you can view here:

As always, let me know if you have any questions, happy to help if I can!

Welcome To The New Blog!

Woo hoo, welcome to the new blog location.  Sorry if you got multiple notifications for this blog post the last day or so, still working out a couple last minute bugs with notifications.  Ummm, that’s all I have, but more soon!

(Strymon Timeline review…..)

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Garage Sale, Goodbye Maschine Studio

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Well, I guess at the very least the last thing I will ever need to worry about is where to store all my gear. Kind of hard to stockpile stuff when you barely hang on to it for even a year.

Maybe I should back up.

I’m selling the Maschine Studio, and likely most of my guitar pedals. Sigh, I know, I know, not again dude, didn’t you do this before? Yes, in only a few short weeks my love affair with Maschine has come to an end, once again. Although this time around the fault lies entirely with me, and not with Maschine like before.

It’s impressive, again and again it surprised me at how capable and well thought out Maschine has grown. The Studio controller was fantastic, really well done, and unlike the MKI version, let me create all the music I wanted out once needing to look at the computer. It truly is the best groovebox I’ve ever used, hands down. Kudos to Native Instruments for really nailing it on this one.

Unfortunately, the more I used it, the more I realized that right now perhaps the groovebox workflow is not really the best way for me to work at the moment. A bitter pill when you have the best groovebox in front of you, but lately I’ve just been more into recording longer passages for my music. Doable on Maschine, but cludgy compared to just recording into a DAW.

I was afraid this might happen, but luckily I bought it during the big sale last month, so I hopefully won’t lose too much money selling it. In the meantime, Control Voltage in Portland has a Teenage Engineering OP-1 on its way to me, something I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile. More on that at a later date though. 🙂

On to the guitar pedals, why in the hell am I selling those?

Going with separate pedals and making a really nice pedal board has always been something I’ve wanted to do. It was a fun experience planning and putting it all together, and it was everything I wanted it to be when I was done.

Except that I realized I’m too much of a sound designer at times to settle for such a simple set up. Not so much simple, but really to get the best use out a pedal board you’re leaving all the pedals largely to set and forget mode. I wanted to explore more, and most importantly be able to save those explorations if I hit on something cool sounding.

Another factor was just that I realized I’d likely have more fun with just a really nice delay and looper pedal, and that the TE-2 and MO-2 pedals just weren’t getting used that much. The EP Booster and Hall Of Fame Reverb I’ll likely keep for now, but the rest are up for sale to help pay for the Strymon Timeline that’s also on its way to me right now. More on that at a later date as well 🙂

So, in the meantime, I’ve got a few bits of gear up for sale if anyone is interested. Everything is in like new condition and comes with all original items/boxes, shipping extra if you’re outside Seattle.  If you need pics, let me know.

Maschine Studio (black) – $780

Akai MPK25 – $100

NI Traktor Audio6 – $120 (does not include Traktor software or scratch vinyl, this version was released before those were bundled)

Pedaltrain JR with dB11 Hotstone SM PSU – $120

Boss Tera Echo Pedal – $90

Boss Multiovertone Pedal – $90

Sony MDR V700 headphones – $40 (carry bag only included)

Wind Swept – New Tarekith Track

WindSwept

Wind Swept <- Right Click to Download

A lot of my recent work has been shorter songs with weird sounds, abrupt changes in the song structure, and a bit more “out there” overall.  So for this one I wanted to create a more flowing, almost trance-like song that drifted along a bit more serenely.

The basis for this song was an acoustic guitar jam I had one night using the looper built into the Flashback X4 pedal.  I liked how it turned out, and luckily I had recorded it at the time too.   I used Auria on the iPad Air again as my main DAW, along with the included Fabfilter EQ and Compressor for mixing duties, and Pro-L for the mastering.

The drums were from DrumJam and DM1, and Alchemy handled the couple of synth tracks.  Everything else was my Taylor 814ce heavily processed with my new pedals, the Xotic EP Booster, Boss Multi-Overtone, Boss Tera Echo, the aforementioned Flashback, and the TC Hall Of Fame.

It flows and builds slowly to a discordant peak, then tapers off to nothingness.  Enjoy!

Pedal Power

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Whew, it feels like it’s been forever, but I’m finally done with Physical Therapy from my shoulder surgery.  I also had the cast removed from my broken hand earlier this week, talk about relief!  Feels good being able to hold a guitar properly or play a keyboard, not to mention just being able to type like a normal person again 🙂

All of which means…. I can now get back into writing regularly for the blog, woo hoo!

I figured now would be a good time to go over the guitar pedal board I’ve been assembling over the last few months while I was healing, as well as offer some quick reviews on the pedals I ended up using.  While I’ve long been a fan of modeling devices like the Line6 Pod series, I’ve always wanted to put together a really nice custom pedal board too.  Since I’ve mainly been using my Taylor acoustic guitar these days, the pedals I ended up going with were bought largely to use with that guitar.  But, guitars are guitars, so I know they’ll work well with my Parker electric too if I need to.

TeraEcho

This whole idea started when I got the Boss Tera Echo pedal last year.  I was really happy with my HD500 at the time, so I’m not sure what prompted me to buy it other than it sounded like a unique delay pedal (and I love delays!).  I ended up liking the simplified editing and small form factor so much, that I started giving serious thought to taking a break from modelers and focus on individual pedals instead.

Here’s a (sorta) quick break down of what I ended up getting and why:

1. Pedaltrain Jr.

When looking at all the options out there for a board to place the pedals on, I kept reading a lot of good reviews about the Pedaltrain brand of pedal boards.  I knew I didn’t need a huge amount of pedals to place on it, so the smaller Jr. version worked the best for my needs.  The board itself is a nice light-weight aluminum that has just the right amount of angle to it, along with plenty of ways to hide all the cables for the pedals to keep them out of the way.

It comes with a nice gig bag, and more than enough velcro to attach many pedals to the board and move things around while you find the best layout.  I have to admit, I still find it weird attaching expensive electronics to something using sticky tape with velcro on one side, but so far it seems to be working well 🙂  There’s also two brackets included if you want to mount a power supply (PSU) for the pedals underneath, though you’ll need to drill your own holes into the frame depending on the PSU you pick.  Easy enough.

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 2. Decibel Eleven Hotstone SM Power Supply.

I knew I wanted a dedicated PSU for the board, something with isolated outlets for each pedal.  There’s not a ton of options out there for this, and most of the more popular ones are pretty expensive too.  I almost went with one of the Voodoo Labs PSU’s since they get such great reviews, but then I found the Hotstone SM for half the price.  It has just the right combination of power outlets for my needs too, since the digital pedals I use can draw a lot of power.

I had to hack together a way to get it to fit with the brackets the Pedaltrain came with, but once done it’s a nice snug fit underneath.  Nothing too exciting to add about the Hotstone, it powers my pedals just like it’s supposed to 🙂

3. George L’s Cable Kit.

Cabling up all the pedals turned out to be one of the more frustrating aspects of this endeavor, something I didn’t expect.  I tried a lot of the shorter cables intended for guitar pedal boards, including some from Mogami and other higher-end brands.  But I kept having issues with the cables being too short or too stiff for my needs, it looked sloppy too.

Right when I was about to hunker down and solder my own, I came across the George L pedal cable kit.  You get 10 right angle connectors, and 10 feet of cable you can cut to exactly the lengths you need.  The cable is super flexible for easy routing, and best of all you don’t need to solder the connectors.  It’s an ingenious system and it worked perfectly for my needs, I can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s move on the the pedals, in order of the signal flow coming from my guitar:

EPBooster

4. Xotic EP Booster.

The downside of pre-amp in my Taylor acoustic, is that the output signal is quite low, too low to feed normal guitar pedals.  I tried a few pedal pre-amps, but most had a lot of functions I didn’t need or altered the tone of the guitar too much for me.  Eventually I found the EP booster, which provides a simple gain boost with a tiny bit of color.  Combined with a mic to line transformer prior to it in the signal path, I can easily boost the acoustic guitar signal to useable levels.  Sounds great too!

MO2

5. Boss Multi Overtone.

After being so pleased with the way my Tera Echo sounded, I wanted to try out another pedal from Boss’s new line of pedals.  The Multi Overtone (MO-2) has three settings altering the pitch of the overtones, from bright and shiny, to an added 5th, and then an octave lower.  But it’s more than just a pitch-shifter or harmony pedal, it responds dynamically to how you play, and alters parts of the frequency spectrum differently.  It’s a very unique effect, definitely digital sounding, though the Tone knob takes the edge off things some to give it a bit more warmth.

I find that having too wet of a signal from the MO-2 just sounds too weird, even for me.  Used subtly though, it really thickens up and sculpts the sound in a pleasing way.  At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep this one, but the more I use it the more I keep finding  some great and unique sounding tones.

TE2

6. Boss Tera Echo.

I’ve already covered the Tera Echo in a review, so I won’t go into it again.  Still an effect I enjoy using for that cascading waterfall of delays sound.  Like the MO-2, best when used in moderation or it can be too much.

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7. TC Electronic Flashback X4.

Did I mention I like delays?  🙂  I knew I wanted a pretty well-featured delay pedal given how much I’d use the device.  I briefly considered something from Strymon or Eventide, but both were pretty expensive and seemed to require a lot of menu diving to program.  In the end I settled on the Flashback x4 since it has quite a few options without needing to deal with any menus.

The best part is that TC Electronic has the Toneprint function if you DO want to dive in deep and program your own patches.  With the iPad or computer software they supply for free, you can edit all of the underlying parameters for each of the 11 delay algorithms accessed on the front panel. Each algorithm has different parameters too, so there’s a ton of depth here if you want it.

The neat trick is that you can save the patch to pedal via USB, or by holding your iOS device speakers near the guitar pickups and hitting send in the app.  This causes a loud noise burst similar to a fax machine to play from the speakers, which the pickups on the guitar hear and transmit to the pedal via your regular patch cable.  It’s dead simple, takes a couple seconds, and feels like magic in use 🙂

I don’t plan on editing my own patches too much right now, trying to avoid doing sound design when I want to play.  Nice to have that option though, and you can store up to 4 Tone Prints on the X4 at a time (well 7 if you save three to the footswitch presets).

The Flashback also has a looper built in, great for doing cool ambient droney things.  All in all a great pedal, my only complaint is that I wish there was at least a Tone knob to alter the sound of the delays.  Other than delay time, feedback, and note division, there’s no control over the sound of the delays from the front panel.  They sound great though, so it’s not a huge deal.

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8. TC Electronic Hall Of Fame.

I was so impressed with the Flashback x4, that I knew I wanted to go with TC again for my reverb pedal.  It only has one Tone Print slot, but that’s fine for me.  The rest of the reverbs are lush, smooth, and sound different enough from each other than you get a lot of variety in one pedal.  It kind of freaked me out the first time I used this pedal, the sound is incredible and feels so weird coming from such a tiny box on the floor.

The Tone and Decay knobs do more than just simple EQ and Time tweaks, they can control multiple parameters at once over defined ranges (via the Tone Print Editor).  You get a lot of control and tweakability from just a few controls, it’s a brilliant way of doing things and reminds me in some ways of my Ableton Live DJ Racks!


Well, that’s the run through on the new pedal set up.  I still have room for one more, likely a modulation-based pedal, but for now I’m going to wait awhile before I buy more pedals! 🙂  Really happy with the range of sounds I can get out of this set up though.  Combined with the looper on the Flashback, I think it would be a really fun thing to use in my live sets.

But first I need to find a new drum machine….

 

… Stay tuned!

The Tarekith Update

Well I know it’s been a bit light on blog posts here lately, so I thought I’d do sort of a general update on a what’s been happening here in the studio. I’m in sort of a bit of flux in a lot of areas right now, so my apologies if this comes off as a little rambling! 🙂

For starters, I wanted to thank everyone wishing me luck with my shoulder surgery earlier this year. Things have been progressing great, I almost have full range of motion back and the physical therapist has me weight training already. Still fiending to get on the bike, but I know I’m almost halfway there now so trying to be patient 🙂

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My plan while recovering from surgery was to renew my focus on learning guitar, especially with the new Taylor acoustic I bought. Happily that has been going very well, I’ve been practicing almost daily and already starting to notice huge improvements. I’ve ditched the pick all together at this point, and am now focusing a lot on fingerpicking. Not so much traditional fingerpicking, but definitely learning as many techniques as I can to add my own style and feel to it.

Because I’ve been enjoying the guitar so much, I’m starting to consider putting together a new live set using it as my main instrument. Quite a jump from hardware groove boxes! I’m still mentally toying with different options, but in the mean time I decided it was time to start playing around with some dedicated guitar pedals. My Boss Tera Echo is still a dream to play, and I just ordered a TC Hall Of Fame reverb pedal, and an Xotic EP booster to get the Taylor’s signal a little more usable.  Thinking about the TC Flashback x4 as well.

TeraEcho

When I haven’t been working on the guitar, I’ve been thinking about where I want to focus next when it comes to studio and live work. I’m still happy working on the iPad for tracks now and then, but I want get back into more of a hardware workflow too. Not just for writing tracks but for performing them too.

Strangely, for some reason I’ve really been giving serious thought to Maschine Studio. Crazy, I know 🙂 But it looks like the newest software updates have solved a lot of my previous complaints about Maschine. And it’s hard not to appreciate how much more hardware-like the new display will make the controller feel. As much as I love Push and Live, I have to admit the Live library really doesn’t do much for me when it comes to finding sound ideas to use when creating tracks. That was one area I really liked about Maschine when I tried it previously.

But, we’ll see, nothing is decided yet. I still might go with more traditional hardware too 🙂

The mastering business was a bit slower than normal to start the year, but with me being out for surgery anyway it worked out.   Things have ramped up a lot since then though, and 2014 is already looking to be a great year.   And it certainly is fun listening to those Tyler D2x’s every day!  🙂

Last but certainly not least, I  broke my right hand in three places last week.  Yes, right when the shoulder was starting to feel better, I decided it would be a good idea to hit the refrigerator in a rare display of frustration.  Stupid I know, and now I get to pay for it.  Oh well, no guitar for a bit I’m guessing, so I’ve decided to just spend my time focusing on music theory again.   I was doing a little every day as part of my guitar practices anyway, now I can sped more time on it 🙂

Well, that’s about it, and not terribly exciting I’m afraid.  Hopefully the hand heals up fast and I can get back to writing again soon!

A Quiet Time

2013 was an interesting year for me, quite a few things happening that I just wasn’t expecting at all.  I went through a very long and frustrating period of writers block for most of the year, but ended it being very productive.  I ditched my Elektrons and bought a really nice acoustic guitar, but I still love playing with music apps on the iPad too.  I raised my mastering rates and actually started turning clients away for the first time.  I ditched a ton of social media baggage and cut back on the amount of time I spent on forums this year.

Fun stuff.

The biggest  change in 2013 was having shoulder surgery the day after xmas though.  Due to an old snowboard injury, I disocate my left arm every 3-4 years.  It just happens randomly most of the time, and typically starts to heal in a few days.  This past October I however, it happened again while mountain biking on Vancouver’s North Shore, and it didn’t heal.

Best option was to go in there and rebuild everything, which means 6-7 months of rehab and recovery.  No bike riding, no snowboarding, no athletic activities beyond walking.  Ungh, not something I was looking forward to, but things couldn’t stay as they were either.

Luckily the surgery went fine, and now it’s been almost a week and I’m on the mend.  Sore and not able to do much more than type very slowly, I have a feeling the next few months are going to be a long process of getting my strength and flexibility back.  Physical Therapy here I come.  🙂

I can just barely play the upper positions on my guitar still as luck would have it, so at least I have that to focus on and work with.  Using a computer and any sort of normal music keyboard is painful though, so I have a feeling new blog posts might taper off for a bit while I focus on getting back in shape.

Here’s to hoping that things improve quicker than expected though, because I have a lot of new ideas I want to write about this year.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Dude, Why The Taylor?

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This recent trip of mine down a 6 string path has thrown a lot of people I know into a loop.  Been getting a lot of emails and messages from other producers largely falling into one of two camps:

– Those who don’t get the sudden fascination with the acoustic guitar of all things, especially not for someone known for many things having to do with electronic music.

– Those who get the shift in focus of my tools, but are curious why I choose exactly what I did out of all the guitars out there.

For those of you in the first camp, what can I say, I’ve always been a guitar player.  My first music dreams were of playing the guitar and it was the first instrument I ever bought.  I went from being a guitar player to being an electronic music producer without realizing it, and the two never really integrated as closely as I would have liked in hindsight.  Without a doubt for a long time the electronic world was my focus, and it still is to this day for obvious reasons.

But these days I feel the need to spend more time with a traditional instrument in my hands too, there’s goals I have on that front that I haven’t even tried to reach in a long time.  It’s time to step back and refocus my attention on a way of expressing musical emotion that I haven’t explored fully yet.  And it’s a chance for me to find a way to bridge these two worlds of mine; the incredibly beautiful world of traditional music making, and the hauntingly bold new sonic landscapes electronic music offers.

For those of you who just want to know why an acoustic guitar, or more specifically why a Taylor acoustic guitar, well…

I have a nice electric already, a one of a kind Parker DF724 Dragonfly. I got it for far less than it’s worth, and it’s just a joy to play.  It’s the first guitar in 20 years that made me think of giving up my Ibanez S540, something I never thought I would do (HA! says the Elektron crowd).

Parker-SetUp

But… it’s not perfect.  There are tiny flaws here and there (really small things admittedly), largely due to the one off nature of it I’m sure (Parker never made a blue DF724 for production, this was a test unit).  But still, as an admitted minimalist when it comes to gear and “stuff” in general, and I want the instruments I own and plan on investing time into to be perfect.

I also like companies who look forward and don’t get stuck in the past way of doing things.  Those who find a blend of the best of the old and new, and in the process create something really unique in this time period.  For a long time I thought my Ovation acoustic would be that, a guitar that used old and new techniques to create a modern day blend of the two.

And while it was impressive when I got it, I knew very quickly that it just didn’t SOUND the way I expected it would.  Too much like the modern way of things, not enough depth and beauty from the past.  Too bright and sharp, not enough warmth and subtlety (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, it was an incredible guitar for $600).

No, for a long time I knew it was going to be a real acoustic guitar that was my instrument of choice.  That would be the path where I would find that blend of old and modern craftsmanship that would create an instrument I could spend a huge chunk of my life learning to play better.

The problem was, even though I loved the guitar, I never really bonded with traditional acoustic guitars.  They were too loud (hehe), to uncomfortable, just plain too old fashioned looking despite the craftsmanship they obviously involved.  So for a long time it was just a plan that percolated in the back of my brain, someday I’d buy a nice guitar that suited me and spend some time relearning that.

And then recently I was watching the (slightly depressing) movie “Musicwood”, about how Sitka Spruce forests are disappearing, and some of the most famous guitar makers like Martin, Taylor, and Gibson use these woods in their best guitars.  I really recommend the movie, it’s an interesting look at a complex issue.

Anyway, it was the first time I had seen a higher end Taylor in awhile, and it struck me by how modern it looked.  The more I looked into Taylor guitars, the more I realized here was a company making beautiful instruments using the best of the modern world while still doing a lot of the more intricate work by hand.  So I tracked a few down at local stores here in Seattle and sat down to play a few to see what I think.  I guess we know how that turned out!

Having owned my 814ce for about a month now, it’s definitely not something I’ve regretted even for an instant.  Not only is it beautiful sounding and feels incredibly natural while I play it, but it’s put together perfectly.  I mean literally.  Every fret, every binding, all the joints and woodwork fits together flawlessly.  I really can’t find a single flaw, no matter how tiny or insignificant.  Truly a testament to how painstakingly these guitars are put together!

Still, I like to tinker and I couldn’t leave it completely stock.  For one, I never was really a big fan of gold hardware on guitars, even though my last couple of guitars had it.  So the first thing I did was swap out the Taylor tuners for some nicer cosmo black Gotoh 510’s (seen in the top pic), along with a cosmo black strap button up front, and replaced the gold truss rod cover screws with black ones as well.  Much more my style, still looks classy but not so blingy!

So, there you have it, a few reasons why I went the route I did recently.  If you listen to some of the new music I’ve posted the last couple of weeks, I think you’ll hear that it’s already being put to good use too!