• About
  • First time here?
  • Sitemap
  • Archives
  • Categories
  • FTM: The Kanstul Wayne Bergeron / Model 1600 Trumpet

    2016 - 04.20

    This month I acquired something of supreme importance in my own little world: a new (to-me) Trumpet.

    actual reaction quote: "Ughhhh its so beautifulll"

    It’s been amusing to share this news with my musical cohorts and hear their reactions. Several of them commented “new toy!” or “playing with new toys is always fun!” which is true… however I think that players on non-wind instruments don’t grasp what a leap this is for the core of my musicianship. Unlike pedals or other musical accouterments, to a horn player a new axe is the foundation of the sound, the origin of everything. And build quality changes a lot. Sitting in front of a new keyboard or a different drumset will certainly inspire a different result, but a better brass instrument is something even more powerful. Many instruments won’t affect the actual technical facility of the player… but this, this does.

    Trumpet playing has been a constant in my life for close to three decades now. I’d say it’s maybe not the “main” quest in my life, but it’s the top side-quest. One with a sprawling cast of characters and a gigantic outlay of time invested. A lot of the time when you practice you’re working to improve some aspect of your capabilities; range, speed, clean attacks, tone, accuracy when doing lip slurs, etc. Well my level in all of those little skill-tree branches just jumped up, some of them significantly. That, and it all “feels” more natural and nimble as well. It’s super incredible!!

    The Kanstul Wayne Bergeron aka Model 1600For twenty years I’ve been playing on a Bach Stradivarius model 37 ML bore. This is the “gold-standard” trumpet, the one that can be found in any bandroom almost without a doubt. And for good reason. Bach horns are respected for quality. Since they are hand-built in relatively large numbers, when you buy one of these you need to try several out and find the one that feels best to you. I tried probably close to a dozen before selecting mine as a teenager. I believe I chose wisely and the instrument has served me excellently for a long, long time. We went on some real odysseys together. Then two years ago a cornet showed up and changed the way I saw things.

    My 1960s King Master Series Cornet built in Cleveland Ohio was bought for $120 by my mom at a farm auction. It had presumably sat in a closet for a very long time before being auctioned off. When I got it, for some reason it refused to play in tune. So it sat for a while longer before I took it to a professional for full chemical flush, and a complete servicing. After that was done, wow, it opened up my eyes to how a good horn could feel. My range instantly went up several steps, my sound seemed clearer, more focused. Everything felt just… better and easier. Suddenly the strad was second fiddle in terms of pure fun.

    But a cornet is still a cornet. I’ve had a killer time playing on the King and I will still keep playing it. But the intonation on a cornet is never going to be as good as a trumpet, something which has become painfully clear to me when I tried to use it to overdub more parts on recent recordings. When I begun listening for it, I found lots of intonation problems. In the crazy melange of sounds I’m shooting for with all these electronics, the basic fundamentals of musicality still apply. The cornet, as bright as it may be, also doesn’t project and ‘zing’ the same way a trumpet can. And in the end I want to be a trumpeter, not a cornetist. It’s time to get back to home base.

    Looking into an upgrade for the Strad seemed hopeless at first. One, the Strad is a venerable horn and the list of horns that would play better than a strad (on paper) is far smaller than the list that plays worse. What’s “better” is often times wholly subjective so researching this in text format is somewhat of a fools errand. Really if want to upgrade you should travel to someplace like Woodwind Brasswind in Indiana and spend a whole day (or three) trying different models and comparing them back to back. Then you’d probably spend about 2 grand at a bare minimum buying whatever you liked better. This all sounded prohibitively expensive and would involve a trip and a hotel on top of it.

    D-shape tuning slide and 3rd valve heavy capSo I started reading around on the web and slowly looking older horns, thinking that certainly there have to be hidden gems out there like my King cornet. You just need to know what model to look for, what serial numbers and what years. That’s somewhat guarded knowledge among those who do know, but you can find out a bit by asking around. In the end though it still does comes down to luck finding a horn that somehow miraculously plays well among lesser instruments of the same make/model. And rarely do people ever get rid of something that’s excellent.

    A name that kept coming up over and over though was Zig Kanstul. I won’t rehash his impressive biography here, but suffice it to say he has been a lifelong master craftsman at building trumpets. You can trace his career path by noting the models of older horns that are still well-revered despite their age: The Olds Ambassador & the Besson 609 are two, both designed or built by Kanstul in his younger days while he worked for those companies. In the 80s he founded his own company and they’ve been steadily producing small numbers of superb instruments.  If I were to buy a horn without being able to try multiple copies of the same instrument to select the best one, I’d want it to be from a manufacturer who had the highest level of consistent quality.  Which sounds like Kanstul from what I know.

    As far as my own personal needs, I’m a jazz player, roughly speaking. Mostly small group fusion jazz, solos and melodies within the staff, but I do tear off on some high note overdubs now and then.  Listening back to my own playing I hear two main technical flaws that stand out. One, loose intonation as a whole, and two, too many chipped notes or “fracked” pitches upon the initial attack. Ideally whatever I get should help me with those shortcomings.

    Ebay seemed impossible. Too many people watching, too hot demand. So it was Craigslist to the rescue. In Dallas Texas a band teacher had listed a used Kanstul WB for around a third of the retail price for a brand new one. Here we go!!  I began researching on this particular model and instantly loved what I was hearing about it.  Perhaps most exciting was the fact that this model is a custom “artist” horn.  That is to say Kanstul designed it for trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and when it was complete they decided it was appealing enough that it should be a production model, not just a one-off.  Below are a few snippets from reviews and comments from players who talked about using it which I’m compiling here for my own easy future reference:

    side by side bell comparison of the Strad 37 vs Kanstul WB“I have played for 35 years including Bach, Benge, Holton and Schilke (4 of them) … this is the absolute best horn I have ever played. The tone and intonation are superior as is the slotting (particularly in the upper register). The valves are fantastic. The slotting is phenomenal. The horn has a heavier feel to it (than the Schilkes & Yamahas); however, has a laser beam tone in the high end along with a rich beautiful tone in the low end. This horn has a very unique brushed lacquer finish with some nickel as well. I traded a custom gold plated Schilke in for mine and am very very happy with the Bergeron Kanstul”

    “Picked up this horn about 2 weeks ago and I couldn’t be happier. The slotting is amazing, a joy to play.  I can play anything I want on it, jazz, lead, classical you name it. EXTREMELY versatile horn.  Sounds very mellow playing a 3c and can light the room on fire with my Monette b5L.”

    “I drove up to WWBW not intending to buy a new horn and absolutely fell in love with this trumpet. It is absolutely beautiful; the craftsmanship is superior and the sound is fantastic. It plays very open and the slotting is magnificent in the high register. The appearance (finish) is very unique. I’ve played Bach, Holton, Benge and Schilkes, and this is the best all around horn I have ever played.”

    “It’s great to hear all you trumpet players have discovered this great horn. I have sold more 1600WB trumpets to more elated great trumpet players than any other. It is truly multidimensional in the hands of an experienced player. It’s the trumpet to audition if you are looking for one that has the potential to do everything including lead work above high C.”

    “slotting is very good for me. not to tight/not too loose. More core to my sound than on my 75 LA Benge and slots much better for me above high G.”

    “One of the things I like about it is that it sounds nice and fat in the staff but when you go up above the staff it brightens up nicely (not too edgy though). What’s really cool about is if you give it some push you can actually feel this baby reverberate in your hands.”

    “Oh yeh, don’t push your blow too much through either. Lay back and let the horn do the work. You follow that advice and you’ll catch on real fast on how to control this axe.   One last thing, you’ll love take’n it above the staff and listening to the after burner kick in! I always wondered how Kanstul could put an after burner in one of those 1600 “WB” and keep it so light????”

    “If you are looking for the best projecting horn out there… Call it Superchops. Great lead horn!”

    “Kanstul just makes an overall higher quality product than most other brands I’ve played, including Yamaha. I’ve auditioned the 1600 and love it. I can play literally any style of music I want to on it. The versatility is unmatched by any other horn I’ve played (including Bach, but they’re always in the game)…  absolutely incredible horn.”

    “I was flippin’ Amazed how much improved Larry’s live sound was! Lots of color, and nuance, and a much improved presence all over the horn. I heard Larry a few days after he got it- he’s always been a masterful jazz player to be sure, but on the 1600 it was as if somebody from above had said “Hey, this guy’s playing some serious stuff here, let’s give him The Sound to go with it”.”

    “But without a doubt the Kanstul WB was one of the finest trumpets that I ever played. In my opinion for Big Band, and especially jazz combo, it’s awesome. One way I would describe what I thought was that it had a very “CLEAN” sound… And this is coming from a guy that normally doesn’t play or like any horns made past 1964. The Kanstul was an exception. A great made trumpet.”

    the WB and her new colleagues

    Wayne Bergeron is perhaps best known for being the lead trumpet player in Maynard Ferguson’s band, although his full biography is far more wide in scope than just that.  This horn was designed to his needs as a lead player and soloist.  It has a reverse lead pipe and a lightweight bell which is supposedly modeled after that of a Bach model 72, a very bright trumpet.  As some trumpet-savvy readers may know, Wayne Bergeron switched endorsement to Yamaha a while back, although some say it was purely because they’re a huge company with deep pockets that can give free promotion to their artists.  For that reason, the WB is currently sold as the “model 1600.”  However TrumpetHerald users also dropped this information:

    “I was with Wayne yesterday and got to play his Yamaha with his new GR mouthpiece. I like the mouthpiece but I prefer his/my 1600. I got Charles to make me a rounded tuning slide for mine, it made a big difference with the resistance for me. I love it! The best horn I’ve ever played for every style in every situation.”

    “The old “WB” horn had a heavy bottom cap on 3rd valve.  “1600” has all normal caps.  Wayne used heavy caps on 1st and 3rd valve when I met him(few years ago).  He said 1st valve heavy cap has a better slot for D.”

    closeup of that scratched lacquer finish; I've never seen another instrument with quite this lookSo far I’ve had two sessions with the horn and I’d say I agree with the majority of what the reviewers had to say.  My immediate reaction was one of  joy, freedom.  This Kanstul just feels so easy and fun.  I think of a phrase and I play it with no fighting, and it sings out however intensely I choose.  If I want smokey and dark, I can get airy and contemplative.  If I want bold and melodic, this horn can be positively searing when you push it.  The versatility is real.  The horn is exciting, the same way it is to drive a car with a ton of horsepower.  You just push it and it goes.  It’s very cool the way you can feel the sound vibrate the instrument, more than any other brass instrument I’ve played.  This is probably due to the fact that the WB is designed with an unusually thin bell which keeps it light in terms of weight and allows the bright, brassy sound the WB can have.  This has the awesome effect of making it feel alive in your hands when you ‘push the accelerator’ and make the horn light up…  Man.  Super fun to play.

    This Kanstul really is a phenomenal axe. I can’t get over it. Maybe my Strad is in need of a valve alignment or something? When I went to try it out (a five hour drive each way) I was hoping it would be a clear, obvious difference over the Strad and indeed; the jump to this instrument is quite significant. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I do all my practicing on a mega open-blowing Holton Cornet from 1911 with a large 1X mouthpiece, but I don’t feel like the WB is a dauntingly open horn the way some people have characterized it. Stacked up against my Holton, the WB does offer some resistance.  Perhaps the best feeling about this horn, to me, is that I feel like I’ve truly “leveled up” to it.  I put in the years, I invested the time to where I knew the difference right away and had built up enough skill that this upgrade felt earned not just bought.

    On all sessions from 7/11/14 until 3/13/16 I played almost entirely cornet, and it’s been a year and a half of great sessions for sure. That first session on 7/11/14 yielded some glorious cornet “moments” that I still look back upon fondly. Similarly, the session on 4/10/16 was one for the books. That excitement and “freshness” is back, even more with the Kanstul. The King added range and zip, but the Kanstul, properly piloted, adds accuracy and speed, which is even more electrifying. That, and the vibration of the horn itself is a real treat.  My 1960s King Master cornet is a surprisingly responsive instrument and a pleasure to play. It’s easy to jump between dynamics/timbres/ranges on the King but I always felt dissatisfied with the intonation and the overall tone. Over the past year and a half on cornet I have been struggling with the acoustic sound, not liking what I’m getting (and for that reason favoring the wet signal more). However this Kanstul is giving me a beautiful brassy tone straight out of the gate, and sounds full even when I lean heavy on the stand-mounted Sennheiser e609 which always felt thin and abrasive with the King. In terms of the “dry” trumpet mics I am feeling positively thrilled with what the Kanstul has given me, which is why in this latest session from 4/10 I leaned heavier than I think I ever have on the acoustic signal. I see that trend continuing.

    Below is a video of a brand new tune, first time I’ve ever played “Red Baron” by Billy Cobham, and my first new posting with this magnificent instrument:

    So one, the tone, and two the speed of the Kanstul is really popping out to me on the recordings. The King is not that far off from the Kanstul in terms of ease and upper range openness, but where the Kanstul pulls away from it is in the dexterity. Sure the valves are very quick but when you combine that fact with how strongly it slots, even within the staff, the Kanstul is really lightning fast. The real limiting factor on speed is mental clarity. You can hear what I’m talking about in the phrases at 5:33-5:42 in the video. I knew what I wanted to play right there and it comes off clean and crisp. Shortly after that I biff a few notes and that’s because I wasn’t mentally committed to the phrase as it was happening. So if I can keep up, mentally, in the moment as the improv is happening, I see a lot of really ambitious and intricate phrases being within my reach which is very exciting for me.

    All this isn’t to say that the Kanstul won’t be limited by the shortcomings of the performer. It can still frack and play out of tune if I drive it poorly, a fact I’ve already proven to myself. I still need improve my skills in all 12 keys and always focus on the fundamentals of intonation, attack, phrasing, mental clarity, and timbre. All the rules still apply. But. The ceiling of what’s possible just jumped up and I can feel that. If I can play up to the ability of the instrument, there are a series of new magical things awaiting me that weren’t unlocked until just now.

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 3/29/16

    2016 - 04.12

    Electric Trumpet setup from 3-13-16

    It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve done an update on the electric trumpet pedalboard and posted about it on here, although I’ve been busy using it. A few aspects of the setup have evolved since I posted the last signal chain and there’s been many rental pedals in the interim as well.

    Here’s the chain, as of March 2016:

    Boss OC-2 octave
    Eventide Pitchfactor
    Source Audio SA143 bass envelope
    Morley Power Wah
    Damage Control Liquid Blues
    Malekko BIT sample rate reducer
    Keeley 6-stage Phaser (rental)
    Moog Minifooger Ring Modulator (rental)
    A/B splitter
    A chain:

    Line 6 DL4 delay modeler/looper
    Maestro PH-1 Phaser
    Moog Bass MuRF
    TC Electronic Flashback delay
    Line 6 MM4 modulation modeler

    B chain:

    Boss TE-2 Tera Echo (rental)
    Damage Control Glass Nexus

    I moved the OC-2 back to first in the chain because it needs a raw signal to track well. The Pitchfactor can still track the output while the OC-2’s active just fine, although the inverse is not true. The purple envelope is new and it rocks. More on that…

    The Source Audio SA143 Pro Bass Envelope:

    At last, this is the envelope that I’ve been searching for. It’s got a fast, responsive filter, a ton of variability thanks to the knobs, and I can save six presets. These presets are valuable because like the SolidGoldFX Funkzilla, this pedal includes an LFO (oscillator) which can control the filter. That makes for a lot of possibilities.

    Source Audio SA143 Pro Bass Envelope filter

    Source Audio found ways to bury a ton of functionality inside this pedal. The center display shows an EQ which can be used to tweak the timbre of the filter but more interestingly, if you press the two black buttons to the right of it, the function of that display changes, allowing you to access the “backpage” parameters. Most of these simply control expression input but two of them are very juicy: one, the Q of the filter which changes it from mellow to insane and two, the shape of the waveform used by the LFO. There’s a good selection of waves to choose from. I created a laserbeam sound by using a high Q and an upward sawtooth wave, a step filter (at last I have one!) by using the random waveform with a medium Q, and a third, crazy setting that sounds like beeping robots and computers by using the random waveform and a high Q. This pedal is rife with creative potential if you take the time to play with it.

    Digging deeper into the Eventide Pitchfactor:

    If there is one pedal that’s truly bottomless on my board, it’s definitely the Eventide Pitchfactor. The Pitchfactor does need some one on one time with the player before trying to use it in context if you want to milk the most interesting effects out of it though. I have taken 3 sessions now sitting down with it and creating some custom presets for myself which is really where the magic happens. Initially I covered the basics with a 5ths harmonizer, a pitchflex mode that allows for +2 octave bends with the expression pedal (which I have surprisingly used a ton), and a four part harmonizer. Second time around I added a few more basic modes and dual-delay with a long repeat time that ascends sub-chromatically in frequency each time the delays repeat, which is super unique.

    Most recently I created a few new presets that take advantage of the other modes I have not been using on this pedal. I added a synth setting although for whatever reason the synth seems to have the worst lag of all the modes in this pedal so we’ll see how useful it turns out to be. Next up was an arppegiator which might be neat in the right moment, especially looped. Finally I added another ascending delay that climbs up the whole tone scale as it repeats, inspired by a video of the Earthquaker Devices “Rainbow Machine” pedal. This whole-tone ascending thing was what I had originally set out to create when I built the previous sub-chromatic ascending delay. What I had discovered by accident was just so cool that I forgot to complete what I was actually trying to do!

    Do I like this or not? The Boss Tera Echo TE-2:

    20160311_175809

    I can’t decide what to think about this guy. It has generated a lot of buzz for a Boss pedal since the aim here was to combine reverb and delay into one pedal which was a low-cost attempt to reach for a sound like you get with the Strymon BigSky (the descendant of my Glass Nexus reverb/delay). The Tera Echo does get a “big” sound through a mono amplifier when you’re in the room with it, but since I record in stereo, direct from the pedalboard into a mixer, I can listen to it on headphones and hear exactly what it really sounds like in comparison to all the other things in my arsenal.

    Inside the headphones it’s surprisingly… small. It gives a long-trail reverb wash but in terms of stereo soundstage when you compare it to the TC electronics reverbs/delays it’s not anywhere close in grandeur. It also has some kind of bandpass bump in its frequency response that gets tiring to me after a while. You can clearly tell when the Tera Echo is in use, as opposed to the other delays/reverbs I also use. Which maybe pidgeonholes it–a distinctive sound that you can’t change all that much. I will say that it does have a killer knob twist squeal when you change the delay time knob. That was a lot of fun. But ultimately this pedal feels like too much of a one-trick pony, ‘there-it-is-again’ type of effect.

    Phaser Malaise:

    I am apparently lucky to be spoiled with exquisite phasing, since I have pitted several very high end phasers against the Maestro PH-1 and all of them fall short. The latest is the Keeley 6-stage phaser. Before that was the Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone reissue, and the SolidGoldFX Apollo. The Apollo did sound uniquely great with the random LFO driving it but again, the phasing itself clearly did not sound as good as the Maestro. In the last session I still had it, I did figure out that slow movement of the Apollo expression pedal input did yield some deep textural shifts that sounded excellent with reverb and delay giving it a wash. Idunno, I keep thinking there has to be a lusher, more Steve Miller-ish, more Tame Impala-esque phaser out there for me, but I keep trying and failing to find it. Perhaps I should be looking for a flanger or something along those lines.

    The TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb:

    Since I had such an excellent experience with the TC Flashback delay, I decided I needed to check out his partner in ethereal crime, the HOF reverb. The Flashback blew my socks off in terms of the sheer size of it’s soundscape and I would say the HOF was almost right there with it. Maybe not quite as large, but not too far behind. This pedal presents an impressive array of reverb styles, which was very fun to scroll through and try on my own, but left me with the question, how many of these would actually be distinguishable if you were changing between modes during a jam session? I suppose you could ask the same question when it comes to the Flashback’s many delay types, but I do think the differences are even more subtle when it comes to ‘verb, in the midst of an actual song.

    That said, if I didn’t already have the superb reverb of the Damage Control Glass Nexus, I’d be swayed by this pedal. Obviously many people are because I saw a recent list of the 10 top-selling pedals of 2015 and this was near the top. Deservedly so. I tell you, if TC Electronic ever made an all-in-one multi-effects unit that combined the HOF, Flashback, and a smattering of their many modulators, now that would be very difficult to resist. Multi-effects typically means an inferior version of 20 different things, but I gotta hand it to TC, they make excellent stuff.

    Moog Ring ModulatorMoog Ring Modulator:

    Ok, now this thing rocks. I have a ring mod on my Line 6 MM-4, but like everything the MM-4 does, it’s not as rich as the real McCoy of whatever effect you’re talking about. On the most recent jam as of this writing, I threw this ring mod all over the place and it produced some crazy, impressive sounds. I keep coming back to the Billy Cobham album “Spectrum” which has a ton of ring modulator on it and this Moog version comes closer to that “get him away from the knobs, he’s out of control!” type of feeling than anything the MM-4 has given me. Although that’s not a surprise given that it’s a Moog pedal. I would enjoy having this guy around full time although with great power comes great responsibility. It’s hard to use this in moderation since it’s just so goofy and fun. Maybe I should not have this much power. I’m still not sure yet.

    Walrus Audio Janus Fuzz/Tremolo:

    This pedal was a letdown for me. Obviously, its ULTRA cool looking. It’s got graphics and two huge joysticks; you take one look at it and it screams ‘how could this not kickass?!’ Well at least on the trumpet, I don’t think it kicks ass. Two reasons why: one is that I have never been a big fan of distortion/overdrive/fuzz on the horn. Unlike guitar, I think trumpet should project its natural tone and I’ve never heard a distortion that took that tone into a differently-interesting direction. This was no different. And two, the tremolo joystick control was a wasted opportunity: vertical axis controlled wet/dry and horizontal axis controlled speed. Speed is great, but damn, couldn’t they have made the vertical axis waveform shape?! That would have made this thing like 20x more interesting. Opportunity missed. I have also used a lot of tremolos and I wasn’t blown away by the sound of the trem itself. I’ll chock this one up as another example of “here’s a pedal that guitar players seem to go nuts over, but I can’t make it do anything special on trumpet”. That seems to happen a lot. You can also include in this list the Chase Audio Warped Vinyl, The Red Panda Particle Delay, and others. I know, I know. Those pedals are practically worshiped. But for me, they didn’t deliver. These are the lessons that I’m learning through Pedal Genie.

    I had also tried the Mad Professor Snow White Bass Auto Wah but found that it was both too slow in terms of speed and too tame in terms of the filter Q to give the proper tone that I wanted. Prior to that I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo which combines a wah, a step filter, and an autowah into a single package. Cool idea but again the frequency content of trumpet was not a match with what that pedal was trying to do.  Although the lowest note on a conventionally tuned guitar is E2, 82.4Hz it seems that many pedals are voiced to have the ‘meat’ of their frequency content much higher than that. In my own setup I often favor the “bass” version of a pedal if the maker has two versions.  Nowhere was this better illustrated to me than on the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo, which seemed like a very alluring treadle box on paper. However the autowah was not even able to trigger at all on the trumpet! No matter what setting I used, the autowah did literally nothing at all.

    The Infanem Small Echo Array was a unique concept–it has four separate delays which are all based off the same speed. Dialing up each of the individual four delays produces different rhythmic patterns. That was pretty neat.

    So there you have it. Tons of effects were tried, lots of things were learned and hopefully some sweet music got made along the way. I should post updates like this more often that summarize my findings (note to self). Another thing I want to do sometime soon is create a video about the macro-level philosophy of playing horn with effects and why my setup has evolved into what it is now. But that’s for another day…

    Liquid Light Show visuals: unlocked

    2016 - 04.06

    Ever since seeing it live on a gig in college at this tiny bar in La Crosse Wisconsin called the MouseTrap, I’ve always been interested in learning how to create Liquid Light Shows.  These are the psychedelic oil and water mixing of colors which often accompanied music for videos in the 60s and 70s for many rock and roll acts.  So with a bit of internet searching and the aid of this incredibly helpful tutorial video I saw on youtube, I’ve created my first attempt at visual art in this medium.  It’s nothing masterful but it’s a first step and sometimes that’s the hardest part.  I hope to do a lot more of this.  It’s pretty fun.  The music that goes along with it is a recording from my most recent recording session as of this writing and has some excellent moments with improv, ring mod,  Jungle Boogie, and the Mission Impossible Theme.  Enjoy:

     

    The first of many new videos

    2016 - 03.11

    So I’m very pleased to say that on January 31st, my band The Acropolis of Soul got together along with a friend Scott Birch and shot a whole ton of videos.  I have been working on the multitrack audio with an unparalleled amount of perfectionism and my guitarist comrade Vincent has been editing the videos.  Here is the 1st tune from that session, an improvised jam that I named “P-996 Lazer” after the fighter jet in GTA.  I feel like improvising or maybe playing music in general is, to me, all about trying to get up and do something spectacular, something bigger than your normal everyday stuff. Hopefully it’s exciting and electrifying, hopefully you take risks and in the end do something sweet.  Which also sort of describes trying to steal the fighter jet and blow up some unsuspecting fools back in LA from GTA!  Anyway, check out this jam and Vince’s great video editing and effects work.  There’s soon to be a lot more and I’ll post them here in a playlist.

    Van Gogh in motion

    2016 - 03.03

    So I just found out about this awesome movie that tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh entirely in oil painting… a feat whose labor intensity is outstripped only by the resulting beauty of it:

    J-Sub mk.III completed

    2016 - 02.13

    I’m very pleased to report that the audio engineering and woodworking arms of Microcosmologist Industries have concluded their latest joint venture with the completion of the J-Sub mark III.

    IMG_0246 v2

    It’s exciting to have this bad boy completed. I’ve been enjoying the sounds over the last week and its been surprising me with the way that a subwoofer really adds power and heft to almost any track. It’s been a while since the last sub was around so it’s a real pleasure to have this guy in the house. I already went into detail about the design goals and component selection in my prior entry so I won’t get too nerdy here. As a final touch I added some handles on each side since this thing weighs a LOT and it’s cumbersome to move. The feet I ordered for it had optional “tiptoes” (ie supersharp spikes) on the ends of them, which I elected to remove because of the weight. Those things would go straight through any carpet, no question. I also filled the bottom half of the enclosure with cheap polyester batting used for making pillows.  For more technical information, take a look at this post.

    Overall I’d say it turned out excellent! I’ll get a feel for its performance in the weeks to come, as I continue listening to different material and the cone itself gets broken in. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

     

    The Leslie Model 205 and Electric Trumpet v3.5

    2016 - 01.27

    I’ve made several tweaks to my electric trumpet setup over the last few months and I’m feeling fired up about the results. Most notably, I managed to score a Leslie rotating speaker off Craigslist, which is a rightous acquisition on many levels. I’ve been at many live shows and studio sessions that used a Leslie for organ amplification and having stood next to one, I can attest that although there are many rotary emulations and good quality recordings of rotating speakers out there, there’s simply nothing like being in the room with the real thing. There’s a rich 3D quality when you hear it in person that needs to be experienced in realtime. For a long time I’ve always thought it would be so cool to have one, and now it’s sitting in my living room!!

    My Leslie is a model 205, which is a weird, obscure model. It sat on Craigslist for over a month before I showed up to buy it, probably because it’s a rotosonic model. Rotosonic means that instead of the traditional double horn on top, this model has a rotating drum with a Jensen 6×9 speaker inside of it. Since organs sort of need that screaming, bright sound that a horn gives, most keyboard players would scoff at this substitution. However the trumpet is bright and screamy enough already so the 6×9 speaker works out well for my needs.  Here’s an album of pictures I took (click the arrows to see more):

    Leslie Model 205

    The model 205 is also weird in several other ways as well. It incorporates 5 separate speakers which are independently amplified by a large tube amp and selectable with a relay box. There’s the rotating drum up top with two 6x9s inside (one on each side), another single 6×9 on the bottom inside the rotating drum which spins in the opposite direction, a stationary downward firing 15″ inside the center portion of the cabinet, and a stationary 6×9 which is mounted in one corner on the top. The top drum has a two speed motor for fast and slow rotation and the bottom drum has a fixed, fast-speed motor. The cabinet itself is also slightly unusual, with a different number of louvres than most Leslies and no split in them.

    All in all, it’s a total oddball, but one that I think I can configure nicely to fit my own preferences. When I searched for pictures of this model online I could not find any photos of it, only a single video on YouTube from a guitarist who had reconditioned one. For that reason I have posted a lot of photos here in case someone else is trying to research this obscure model.  The top drum itself is also different than the bottom drum despite the fact that they appear to hold identical 6×9 drivers.  For some reason the designers at Leslie decided the angle the top speakers downward slightly, and added that lightning shaped baffle which partially covers them.  Why?  It just is.  Roll with it.

    Getting this Leslie is a major coup for my little home recording operation, and also for the realtime enjoyment of the sounds as they’re being created. It’s gotten me thinking about the major shifts I’ve gone through in the evolution of my electric setup into what it is now. This feels like the beginning of a new era for me. Looking back, I think I could group my setup into three distinct phases:

    Version 1 (The Muse Cafe Dawning):
    Yamaha Silent Brass as pickup, softshell pedal case on the floor, amplified by a Mesa Boogie wicker-faced guitar amp

    Version 2 (The Crystal Gravy Setup):
    Audio Technica wireless mic as pickup with feedback suppressor and SWR bass amp for amplification with pedals in a hardshell case on top of a keyboard stand

    Version 3 (100% Juice Style):
    Barcus Berry brass transducer as pickup, custom wooden pedalboard on top of keyboard stand, SWR bass amp, DI input box for recording pedalboard (later a Behringer mixer), shure SM57 on straight stand for acoustic sound

    Version 3.5 (The Acropolis Refinements):
    Leslie rotating speaker, PedalGenie rental pedals adding variety, powered Mackie mixer for recording pedalboard, Sennheiser E609 Silver on boom stand for acoustic sound

    Anyhow, I’m very excited about this baby.  You can hear it on this recent recording which I uploaded to my YouTube channel.  It’s being used by the organ in that recording, which is the traditional, easily identifiable way to hear it.  Note that the keyboard is not adding its own leslie effect, so the warbling and the tremolo you hear on the organ is all due to this speaker.  Man this thing is neat!  I’ll have some trumpet recordings with it in the near future…

    J-Sub mk.III build progress

    2016 - 01.21

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #1Somehow, I’m not sure how, it has taken me this long to report the news that I am building a giant subwoofer.  I ordered the drivers all the way back in September and now I’m excited to finally be making some real progress on the J-Sub mk.III. Although this is the third subwoofer I’ve built, this is the first one that I get to keep, which makes it especially exciting. This time around I tried a few different things on the enclosure and overall I’m feeling very pleased with the results.  First off, a few specs: The amp is 300W, class A/B which means it has a very classy THD of merely 0.08% which is unusually great for a sub amp (Keiga KG5230 Subwoofer Amplifier). I elected to mount it on the side of the box so that it’d be easy to reach in case I want to fiddle with the controls. The driver (SB34NRX75-6 datasheet) is a 12″ SB Acoustics, one of the few available which is intended for a sealed box (SB Acoustics SB34NRX75­6 12” Woofer). I took this approach because my goal here is accuracy and tightness, not loudness or low frequency extension. I’ve had subs before that went loud and low, but I’ve never had one that was super clean and punchy so I decided that’s what I wanted. This makes sense given that I’ll be using it to help master recordings. And there’s also the fact that super low frequencies are incredibly good at punching through any wall imaginable, which means I’d be wary of letting her rip. In college I built my roommate a passive/active sub with Peerless XLS (extra long excursion) drivers and 500W behind it. Our room was on the east side, 1st floor but you could hear that sub on the 4th floor west side… in a concrete cinder block building! That’s just too much.

    Sealed boxes always demand a larger size than a ported box. My enclosure is four cubic feet, which is very big in person. I knew there would be a side wide enough to accomodate my 12″ driver, so I elected to proportion the internal dimensions according to the golden ratio–the height is 1.62 times the width, which is 1.62 times the depth of the inside volume. This ratio was famously used in the Egyptian pyramids, The Parthenon, works of art by Da Vinci and Dali, and also naturally occurs in both plants and animals. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the golden ratio and how it pops up so many places

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #2For the enclosure I used 3/4″ MDF, which is the ideal material for speakerboxes thanks to its acoustically-dead properties. MDF is basically wood ground up into fine pulp then compressed back into a solid piece with high density and perfect uniformity. The downside is that it’s very heavy and it generates clouds of superfine dust whenever you cut it, which is very annoying and unhealthy to work around. I did all my cutting outdoors with a fan blowing the dust away from me. Even then I held my breath while cutting and walked away before inhaling again. That dust is no joke.

    The MDF was then covered with 1/4″ oak veneered plywood. Since it’s plywood, it has a fantastic looking outer layer and then some unknown garbage wood sandwiched inside it. Initially I had felt pessimistic that I would be able to get good-looking edges since I thought using my high speed router would cause chipping and rip-outs on the thin oak layer. Fortunately I was completely wrong about this! Using a scrap piece as a test, I found out that my laminate cutting bit created perfectly flush edges with zero rips in the oak, and my 1/4″ roundover bit actually created a smooth edge with a nice grainy look. This was a very pleasant surprise. My one flaw was not having the 40+ inch clamps it would have taken to clamp the top and bottom laminate pieces. Because I didn’t have enough pressure on them, there is a small 32nd to 16th inch gap at the center where the sides meet the top/bottom. I can live with this.

    A few coats of stain and a few coats of poly and she’ll be ready for action!

    `J sub Mk.III build progress #3

    2015 In Funk: Going Out on the High Notes

    2015 - 12.14

    In the words of Frank Sinatra, “It Was A Very Good Year” for funky music, 2015. The following is a long-form discussion and dissection of the many pieces of musical news in my world; it’s big but hang with me there’s lots of substance to talk about.  We got new albums from Lettuce and The New Mastersounds, and a new festival right in my backyard brought some mean groove to the Texas countryside. And.  I made some pretty fresh music myself, if I don’t say so.  The Funk is alive and thriving although I’m pretty sad to chronicle it: Bear Creek was cancelled this year.

    2015 In Funk Pt 1: The October Bear Creek that wasn’t

    This year the Legendary Bear Creek Music Festival which I’ve written about time and time and time again was initially rescheduled about a month earlier than its traditional mid-November timeframe, which was a tantalizing proposition for literally hotter dancing and brand-new-good-old times, however due to undisclosed complexities, the organizers cancelled the fest this year which was… devastating news. According to at least one trusted source the odds are not favorable that it will return (although never say never). This is pretty sad news for the feet and the spirit….

    Screenshot_2015-12-07-15-13-55About one year and some weeks ago my friend Bill and I were taking a breather after a long day of soaking in the incredible vibes at Bear Creek 2014. We were sitting by the edge of a pond to let our feet rest and I said to him, ‘you know some day they’re going to stop putting this fest on, for one reason or another, and we’re going to look back at this time period like it was some kind of utopia or a golden age for music like this.’ Little did I know at the time how prescient of a thought it was. I wish it hadn’t been.

    Me, I hate to wear bracelets so as soon as I got home from the fest I clipped mine off and kept it to put inside the frame with the festival poster I had picked up. But Bill loves to keep his on as a daily reminder of the fest. When I heard the news I texted him right away and you can see his reply in the screenshot here. When I talked to him on the phone about it later he said “Man, I wore that thing to work every single day… every business meeting.”

    It’s a testament to the power of what happens when everything goes right at a fest and some incredible magic is created which can only happen there, away from the business meetings and the grind of existence. Something ‘big’ enough that it becomes part of who you are. Bear Creek inspired me to push off in certain direction with my own music for sure. With the concentrated dose of pure funk, jazz, and soul I think that fest tipped my scales toward a certain sensibility much more than an eclectic fest could have done, and drastically more than a series of small concerts peppered througout the year in a drip-feed. If you love this kind of music, if it speaks to a certain thing inside your being, Bear Creek was a lightning strike to the soul.

    These days there are tons of great fests out there, and plenty of them offer what feels like an escape to some alternate reality, or at least a vacation from your typical reality. But Bear Creek was that and something more. It was a meeting of the minds. A congress of groove-seekers unmatched. It was a place where the headlining acts were Lettuce and The New Mastersounds, a place where heroes of the genre got to really get up there and rip it at 200%, boosted beyond the normally possible range by the energy of this crowd. Everyone could feel that vibe.

    It was a place where, when the final act had finished, the crowd chanted for an encore by singing a looping rendition of the chorus from the Parliment anthem “We Want The Funk”. Replete with the falsetto “ooohhh weeeeeee” it went on until the musicians came back out and fired up the jams once more. We Want The Funk.

    Word, Bear Creek. Word.

    2015 In Funk Pt 2: Top Tier Inspiration on the Stereo

    Within the last month, two superb albums have dropped and I feel it’s worth discussing them together. 1. Made For Pleasure by The New Mastersounds and 2. Crush by Lettuce. These two bands are sort of like two sides of the same coin. They both are well-established and highly-talented groups of musicians making original funk music although they’ve each got a different philosophy on how. Lettuce is pushing further into their own direction with a huge number of members in the band, lots of effects, a clean/modern mastering sound, and complex song structures. Their identity is still evolving. The New Mastersounds are rooted in their quartet playing tunes of simple structure, mastered with a vintage/analog sensibility; all of which have been refined to such a beautiful richness that there’s really no need to start flipping knobs around. NMS are pretty well “dialed-in” as far as their identity and what you might expect from them, but they do manage to toss in plenty of treats for their returning listeners.

    The New Mastersounds - Made For Pleasure vinyl LP

    A common theme between these two albums is the studio-implementation of things they’ve been doing live for quite some time now. In the case of the New Mastersounds, I’ve seen them perform reggae grooves as far back as 2008 but until “Made For Pleasure” there’s never been a proper reggae tune on one of their albums. Adding to the novelty is the fact that it’s a cover of the Iggy Azalea tune “Fancy” transplated into a reggae groove with the lyrics “I’m so Irie”. That’s perfect.

    A very welcome additional treat for this listener is the presence of the peppy and crisp West Coast Horns on four of the album’s eleven tracks. In particular their trumpeter adds a hot sizzle to the action which I really love. In the words of my friend Vince “try as I might, I just can’t get into Mastersounds with vocals” and I will echo that sentiment. The tunes with Charly Lowry, on their own, are a great soul tribute that would feel good on an album of their own. But sandwich them between the high-level instrumentals at which the Mastersounds are so adept and cranking out, the the vocal-driven tunes feel like a sideshow, a distraction.

    “Pho Baby” centers around a chord progression style which feels abnormal for the Mastersounds, but in a pleasing way. I imagine that tune would feel great toward the end of a festival set. “Let’s Do Another” gives you a dose of vibraphone, tabla, and horn section on top of the mastersounds which was a wholly unexpected combo that continues to please on repeated listens. But my favorite track is definitely “Cigar Time” which is a no-frills tune that simply delivers what the mastersounds do best: a steady groove with that magic ratio of funk and jazz behind some superb-sounding guitar and organ solos that compel you to nod your head. How these guys keep producing such quality material album after album is a marvel to me, one I plan to continue studying indefinitely.

    Lettuce Crush Album CoverAnd then there’s Crush, the 4th album from Lettuce. This record’s got a lot of meat and a lot of attitude, as you’d expect from the boys. I gotta admit, I’m not sure I’m totally a fan of how they mastered this album. Compared to other offerings in the genre (as described above!) this album sounds thin and digital to my ears. In particular the obvious noise gate on the beginning of “Phyllis” is a confounding production fail, if you ask me. One thing I AM totally (read: predictably) loving about this new Lettuce album though, is the amount of effects on the horns! In track 2 “Get Greasy” Ryan Zoidis has a killer solo using what sounds like envelope and a synth pedal. it’s making me want to dig into my own synth pedal capabilties…

    This is also the first studio album with trumpeter Eric Benny Bloom and he fills the large shoes of Rashawn Ross nicely I think. Rashawn’s high range is… formidible. Bloom takes the “screamer” dial to about 80% of where Rashawn had it, but he makes up for the rest with his much more thoughtful solo capability. The sheer firepower of his successor was always a thrill but given a choice I’d take Eric. Plus, this guy is into effects and I have… let’s say “more than just a casual penchant” for that. In 2014 he was present for Bear Creek and I got a taste of his approach.

    That year’s fest was also the moment in which the stylistic shift on this record was first displayed. There were a lot more spaceout/dubout moments than ever before, which I think is a fantastic counterpoint to the “Rage” funk. In so many different ways, musicians of all genres try to take their listeners up to a high place then give them some breathing room to cool off. That’s the essence of dynamics since staying planted at 100% all the time turns into a grind.

    I’m glad to see Lettuce taking this new direction. My friend Bill had a more tepid reception to the change and prefers the tone set on their previous record Fly. I’d argue there are still plenty of in-yo-face numbers here, in particular “The Lobbyist” stands tall for me, and “The Force” is a spectacularly dramatic opening theme. I’d love to see them open a show with that, and maybe reprise it once before the end.

    2015 In Funk Pt 3: Art Outside

    Jammin under the Oaks @ Art Outside 2015

    As chronicled previously, the incredible Bear Creek music fest was cancelled this year, leaving an opening for some other musical experience to fill. Fortunately for our heroes, right here in our Texan backyard there was a gathering called Art Outside which had a very enticing lineup of both funk and electronic music. I had been badgering my wife to come along with me to a music festival for a long time and the variables had lined up to persuade her to join in. Only problem was the weather. Hurricane Patricia was just making landfall in Mexico and the effects would soon be sweeping across the state, leaving just enough of a window for two glorious days before the drought-cracked soil of Rockdale TX would get all the moisture it could handle and more…

    TAUK at Art Outside 2015I opted for the 4-day pass since my favorite band, The New Mastersounds were playing that day, along with soul virtuosos The Nth Power and TAUK whom I heard for the first time at Bear Creek 2013.

    The New Mastersounds had the closing slot on Thursday night where the elite crew of 4-day warriors kicked off the festivities. Having seen them over a dozen times now, I’d say it was a lovely festival set with a great song list. Summercamp with it’s delicate and sparse breakdown flowing into a 4-on-the-floor dance groove was a favorite for me, as well as their rendition of “Hey Fela” with West African master percussionist Weedie Braimah from the Nth Power imbuing the tune with an afrobeat feel. Eddie Roberts seemed a bit reserved that night, opting for cerebral jazzy phrases and never really rocking out full-tilt the way I know he can. I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure they played a dubbed-out cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Well Dressed Man” in which Roberts actually used a delay pedal; a common piece of guitar equipment he purposely eschews.

    Having seen these fellows at their finest there was a feedback loop which never connected that night–Eddie seemed visibly annoyed at times with the lack of crowd reaction to push the band higher and likewise the crowd never really went wild because the band never really took-it-there. “Are you all still awake out there?” he asked at one point. That aside, the set delivered the goods in a mellower way for sure. I did a lot more standing and listening than dancing, but my ears were thoroughly engaged for the entirety of their set.

    The Friday itinerary was a sandwich stacked high with lots of wonderful ingredients. The Easy-Star Allstars performed their reggae cover of “Dark Side of The Moon” in its entirety along with a smattering of Micheal Jackson, Radiohead, and The Beatles. As a last-minute surprise to close the set they broke into Led Zepplin (could it be foreshadowing for their next album??) and out of nowhere 4 or 5 people in the crowd started throwing long streamer ribbons which zigzagged the audience in a web of colors. That was a very cool festival moment.

    Coming off the Easy-Star streamer surprise we caught Nightmares on Wax, who opened up with “Les Nuits” one of my all-time favorite downtempo tracks. In a live setting it felt totally different than it does on the stereo at home though! His set was surprisingly packed with soul-tunes: “Sir Duke” from Stevie Wonder, “Give The People What They Want” from the O’Jays, and a very memorable Marvin Gaye “Inner City Blues” remix. The sound was bone-jarringly loud and we kept telling ourselves we were going to move back ‘after this track ended’ but his DJ set kept it locked and there was no good time to come up for air! It feels weird to say it but even among all the other great artists, this set was my favorite moment in the fest. The buzz of the crowd, the tune selection, and the DJ mixing from NOW was on-point. The dome stage which wrapped around the audience definitely added something as well.

    Dome Stage Art Outside 2015

    Third heavy hitters on the Friday night agenda were Lettuce, touring the country to promote their aforementioned new album. The show was a fun time, I’d even say it was great, but after talking to 4 different people about it at length, the jury agrees unanimously that something was… off. First off, Eric Krasno wasn’t there. Lettuce has about all the musical firepower that you can wish for but Krasno really is a soloist of unusual caliber. His sound, soaring above the raging rhythm section and searing hornlines, is what has sent many a Lettuce jam over the top. Without him, something just feels missing. Chatting about this at a party, I later learned that Krasno is only playing certain Lettuce shows these days. That’s a pretty unfortunate changeup. But all that aside, they did play a crazy-fast version of Lettsanity, many of their older classics including Squadlive, and the new tune “Sounds Like A Party To Me” which I was feelin. Nigel Hall hooked it up there.

    Finally the last show that we stuck around for was a Bonobo DJ set. Gotta say, I liked what I heard. I’ve seen Bonobo play a live set before, with drumset, horn soloists and the whole nine yards and it had just felt… low energy. So my expectations weren’t very high. His set sort of started out with a simmering energy and gradually built up, with a lot of rich-sounding atmospheric tracks that had a steady 4-on-th-floor beneath it all. I honestly didn’t think Bonobo had what it took to keep the dancing masses moving from 2-4am, especially after a Lettuce set, but he proved otherwise.

    After Bonobo handed the turntables over to the next act we adjourned for the night, pausing to grab a slice of late night pizza on the way back to our tent, and that’s when it hit: An incredibly loud thunderclap signaled the flipping of a switch in the atmosphere above us. About five minutes after that sound a steady, strong downpour began which did not relent until perhaps two days later. By sunrise the grounds had been utterly drenched and the soil turned from cracked and hardened into a mud-pocalypse the likes of which I had never been involved with until that weekend.

    2015 In Funk Pt 4: Onward and Upward in the Living Room

    Ampex 900 Reel to Reel vintage audio

    This year has been an incredibly great period in my own musical development and productivity. It saw the creation of a new project, The Acropolis Of Soul and the conclusion–on a high note–of my long-running group 100% Juice. I’ve refined my recording and mastering techniques along the way and finally started to produce a few YouTube videos as well, something I’ve long wanted to do. I also became a member of PedalGenie.com which is an effects pedal rental service, allowing me to try out lots of new sounds. And of course, we had lots of great jams which allowed me to grow as a player. Listening back to these moments has been enjoyable on a visceral level but also deeply enriching on a cerebral level as well.

    I was sad to hear the news that Bob Saviano, the drummer for 100% Juice had decided to move to Colorado, but the silver lining was that it gave us a push to polish up our songs and have that two-day recording session we’d been talking about for a long time. 6/27 and 6/28 produced several top-tier improvised jams and a few “best-ever” takes on songs we’ve been playing for a long time. The fact that these would be our last sessions also gave me a blank check to spend as much time as I wanted on post-production to clean everything to a spotless finish and add all the overdubs I might want. Adding overdubs–that is also another thing I had always wanted to do but didn’t begin until 2015!

    In retrospect, 100% Juice has been one of the best musical projects I’ve ever had in terms of personal development into the kind of music I want to make. I’m feel very proud of the sounds that came out of it, even though I can still nitpick my own playing to death. We did some video recording on 6/28 and there are still several tracks remaining to publish from that day. As of this writing, two tracks are completed and published to YouTube. The video below is our take on the Lettuce tune “Blast Off”. For this video I took our multitrack recording and bounced it to quarter inch tape on reel to reel to get that analog warmth. Again, another thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Hear it for yourself:

    My musical partner in crime, Vince Chihak has joined up with our new group The Acropolis of Soul, which first met in February of this year. Over the year we’ve had 11 sessions and there’s been some killer stuff to come out of those. Our soundcloud page is accessible by clicking on the cassette below:

    The Acropolis of Soul

    Schedules have been a challenge with this group since everyone has busy lives. The Acropolis will probably never become as prolific as 100% Juice was, but the flip side to that coin is that it gives me more time to work on the production for each session and add overdubs more often. To reflect all these nice things that have been happening I made a few updates on the music section of Microcosmologist which now has links to my soundcloud and YouTube pages as well as links to download some of my favorite recordings under the Trumpet section.

    One never knows what the future may hold but right now at the end of the year, looking back, I’m feeling fantastic about everything that’s transpired musically, thankful for my excellent counterparts, and couldn’t be more jazzed to see where the adventures take us next… on to 2016.

    The Puget Sound Model Railroad in photos

    2015 - 12.04

    Some major model railroad inspiration here from the Puget Sound Model Railroad at the Washington State History Museum, in Tacoma, WA.  I took these photos when I was visiting Seattle this summer.  Unfortunately the glass keeps you pretty far back from a lot of the cool action but I think I got some decent shots.  For a guy who models the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific, this layout is like a fantasyland.  Check it out:

    Puget Sound Model Railroad