To degloss one’s neck

Posted in gear, machinery with tags , on March 24, 2015 by dukewisdom

Let’s just be clear: I’ll never be mistaken for a luthier. I mean, really, I sort of despise even changing my own strings. So I’m not really sure where I got the idea that I should undertake something like altering the finish of one of my necks, but that’s what I did. Don’t get me wrong, this procedure isn’t on par with brain surgery or setting up a Floyd Rose, but I still had reservations.

The idea was to make slicker my Michael Kelly Patriot, possessor of a neck most glossy. So I procured some painter’s tape (Scotch), 1000 grit sandpaper (3M), and a beer (Boulevard E.S.B.) and, following the video below (except for the beer part), set about customizing my guitar. It was really easy and took hardly any time. Here are some pics anyway:

I’ve been using the guitar while giving lessons this week and am very pleased so far. Now, to turn this baby into a double-cutaway. Just kidding. Probably.


WORMHOLE GUITAR | Binary Arpeggios

Posted in wormhole guitar, writings with tags , , on March 4, 2015 by dukewisdom
Example 1: Am | E

Example 1: Am | E

Example 2: Am | Ebm

Example 2: Am | Ebm

Example 3: Am | Bm

Example 3: Am | Bm

What about it?

A “binary arpeggio,” as I’m calling it, is a pattern created by interweaving the tones of two complimentary or opposing chords. The first note of the sequence belongs to the primary chord, the second note to the secondary chord, and so on. The concept is simple, but there are multiple ways to realize such frameworks. In Examples 1 and 2 the facing chords are represented by toggling between their root notes, then thirds and fifths. Example 3, on the other hand, shuffles the chord tones into a more complex root¹- fifth², root² – fifth³, third¹ – third² distribution. Note also that the chords which are paired may be diatonically related as in Example 1 (A minor) and Example 3 (F major) or harmonically at odds as in Example 2.

Why bother?

As with previous Wormhole Guitar material like Compound Arpeggios No. 1, the binary shapes provide unusual fingerings which makes them valuable as exercises. Run these patterns on loop to a metronome observing the picking notations and watch your technique develop. But of course the more important function of the concept is to spark creativity. Stuck in a writing rut? Do your new riffs sound like third-rate Jimmy Page? Try to intertwine some logically connected or wildly disparate chords and marvel at the unique sounds.

RECORDING | Gentleman Echo – Absolute Ozone Robot

Posted in recordings with tags on January 23, 2015 by dukewisdom
Gentleman Echo - Absolute Ozone Robot

Gentleman Echo – Absolute Ozone Robot

Please listen to and/or download the album at Bandcamp.

Program notes and self-indulgent minutiae

According to the date on the folder, Absolute Ozone Robot was created in late December, 2012. Then it was mostly neglected for the next 23 months, occasionally receiving daylight and water. Finally I got tired of the project hanging over my head like a small, festering planet peopled by creatures missing arms and feet, and so on. And in December 2014 (with rusting apparatuses finally removed from my literal and spiritual driveways) I made the push to complete the thing. Yeah, so, here it is.

Absolute Ozone Robot (the album’s third official title) was realized entirely on a MacBook, utilizing a borrowed microphone, some software of dubious origin and every guitar I own. Here’s a guided tour:

01 “Pink Opera Glasses”
Wherein an atmosphere is established. Wouldn’t you like to come in?

02 “Gold Coin Eyes”
And, welcome. This spacious construction was intended to be the first movement of a single 50-minute piece. Maybe next time. Nestled among the harmonized feedback and drifty percussion there’s some sound that reminds me of the shitty werewolf in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Not even sure what that is anymore. Anyway, this track introduces the first of many field recordings grafted into the music, in this case some ambient racket from the Washington D.C. subway as captured by my phone. There is no record of the tuning introduced at 2:44; guess I won’t play this one (or anything else here) live. “Gold Coin Eyes” (name borrowed from a phrase in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, I believe) was one of the first pieces recorded and one of the last finished, the sawtooth-y synth part being added in the 11th hour.

03 “Filthy Science”
That’s my idea of a I-IV-V riff. (Right here there used to be some self critical, second guessing talk. Instead, here’s a quote from John Cage: “The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I feel it’s not beautiful? And very shortly you discover there is no reason.”) The outro introduces the idea of overlapping rhythms which will be prevalent throughout, along with some found sound.

04 “Black Velocities”
Title phrase lifted from some other sci-fi book. The song’s main riff was conceived at double the speed, but reveals more of its facets as it came to rest. I went full on “fake Michael Schenker” in that middle harmony section. Forgive me. While many of the guitar solos contained here were very (too?) stream-of-consciousness, this one was mapped out.

05 “Migration Hypnosis”
Most of the tracks on AOR were composed organically and arranged via editing: A progression, riff, or beat would suggest another part, then a complementary section, and eventually a “song” would take form. “Migration Hypnosis,” on the other hand, was totally written out out on paper beforehand. Ehhhr, with the exception of that middle section. And about that: Before I realized what was happening, I wound up with several pieces that include “weirdness freakout bridges,” interrupters that send the proceedings off into a confusing miasma of tangled thoughts (not unlike a conversation among many I know). Call it a motif.

06 “Here to Identify the Head (featuring Forklift Chase)”
I consider this the centerpiece of the album, a sun around which the 11 neighboring tracks revolve. I guess I was thinking Fripp/Belew King Crimson when assembly of this prickly tangle of polyrhythmic parts began. I’m very pleased where it all went. The “Forklift Chase” section was one of the final bits recorded, a late addition to the song and a way to take it in another direction (and a chance for another polyrhythm—5/4 versus 4/4 in this case, for those scoring at home). Regarding that “Forklift” riff: I knew what the atmosphere of notes would be but was unsure about the rhythmic phrasing. Then I was teaching a student the bass line to “Blood & Roses” by The Smithereens and … the rest is history.

I had the worst time mastering “Head.” A few failed runs told me to return to the original track for a remix/EQ, which eventually did the trick, such as the trick is. Incidentally, I was making an A/B comparison between these tracks and Culture Clash by The Aristocrats. That thing is mastered like a mother and I lose—but it was a great benchmark.

Another side note: About three days before I finished mixing these tracks a friend made some passing comment to the effect of, “do they even do fade outs on records anymore?” (I think someone had put on Toto IV – seriously). Well, AOR, perhaps owing to its studio-born nature, is full of fades. So there you go.

07 “The Traveling Ear”
I had just taken possession of a Joyo Classic Flanger pedal.

08 “Soil Sample”
It’s just a little ol’ asylum blues stomp about contaminated earth. A lot of the guitars on AOR were recorded at a fairly low volume and with me positioned fairly near the microphone. The result is that sometimes there’s an interesting blend of the sound coming out of the amp with the actual sound of the unamplified strings in the room. That texture can be heard here on both guitar parts.

09 “The Myth of Shared Hydraulics”
The David Byrne/Brian Eno album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a subliminal driver for this one. And the brief clean tone guitar solo contains an accidental reference to “Total Mass Retain” by Yes, so we’re all over the map here. When the melody is restated at 1:44 it has been shifted by an eighth note on purpose. I think it’s cool how it adapts in the busy environment. Midday church bells from Astoria, Queens can be heard during the fade.

10 “A Radar is Born”
Now isn’t that a pretty chord? “Radar” was born with the B section riff, which haunted by brain while driving for hours on I-29 during the late summer of 2014. The entire song is another example of the slippery rhythms that permeate AOR: The feel is slightly unhinged, yet not overtly nuts like some of the other dance numbers herein. The guitar solo section features a bed (queen size with paisley comforter) of harmonized bass, making it a distant relative of “Walk on the Wild Side.”

11 “Femur Simulator 2”
Winding down now. This one came to life while visiting some friends’ lake house. As such I consider it a strange souvenir of the Ozarks. “FS2” contains another freakout bridge, this one featuring some more found audio along with a sample of “The Frown Returns” from the Gentleman Echo album Research Arc.

12 “Disembarker X”
“Disembarker X” is the one who departs, who steals away into the amethyst evening, possibly without finishing his or her drink (but probably doing so). “Disembarker X” is the sound of Absolute Ozone Robot signing off.

Thanks and a tip of the space helmet to:
Venus for enduring the rumbling and clanging emanating from my office; Mas for the Yeti; Benny for Fender delivery and everything always; Ryan for enduring the mixing process; Rex Woodwind for soup; The Great Vehicle; Alberto and Dahveed from Giant Deer Bear; Duke Wisdom; and to the mysterious “Chaucer” who painted the version of Paul Klee’s “Senecio” that serves as the album cover—purchased in an antique mall in Harrisonville, MO. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

Finally: This album, of course, is dedicated to Jim Van Horn, 1947-2014. I used a few of his guitars on here and their Juju made it all the better.

Realized at The Prussian Film Commission.

It ain’t me, babe

Posted in observations with tags , on December 11, 2014 by dukewisdom
Can you see the real me?

Can you see the real me?

You have Googled yourself, right? If not, you really should because you might find a gem like the above. “Troy Van Horn” isn’t exactly a common name, but there seems to be a another music-scene-related version that’s not yours truly in the Kansas City area, a promoter of apparently debatable reputation. So, when he searches himself, he finds a bunch of stuff about guitar playing and, I guess, a bunch of people (justifiably or not, I have no clue) bitching about him on discussion boards. Anyway, I have no idea who “Tyger Rhames” is, but thanks for having my back!

WORMHOLE GUITAR | Compound Arpeggios No. 1

Posted in columns, wormhole guitar with tags , on October 16, 2014 by dukewisdom
Compound Arpeggios No. 1

Compound Arpeggios No. 1

What about it?

“Compound Arpeggios No. 1,” as the name suggests, comprises a series of arpeggios glued together, a confluence of patterns which yields distinctive results, both melodically and in terms of fretboard execution. The chords outlined here are linked up based on neck geography: The last note of the first shape (Gm) is a half step away from the first note of the next shape (B) and so on. This mechanical closeness is what adjacent chords have in common, as opposed to being unified by key. Taken as a whole, then, the pattern is tonally ambiguous, lacking a gravitational center. If you dig in, however, you’ll notice that alternating chords go together: Gm, F and Am (chords 1, 3, 5 in the sequence) all belong to the key of F major; B, F# and G#m (chords 2, 4, 6) belong to F# major. This internal logic keeps the thing from sounding entirely chaotic.

Why bother?

First of all, these two measures function as an exercise. If you’re one who practices arpeggios, chances are that you’ve worked with straightforward major or minor triad-based patterns. Those sound great and are easy to apply. But here we have material with peculiar twists and turns which melds chords in various inversions. The unfamiliarity of the structures will make the music more challenging to perform at first. And honing dexterity never hurt any guitarist. Next—and more importantly—compounding arpeggios as a concept is meant to make you think outside the confines of standard guitar procedure. We’ve all heard those guitarists who out of habit—though dazzlingly—trot out the same old sweep patterns in solo after solo, which is ultimately as interesting as wallpaper. The idea is to get creative and fashion new patterns that work inside the music you’re playing. What’s more, the concept can be applied to composing ear-twisting riffs or unearthly melodies. This theory, by the way, was inspired by Nicolas Slonimsky’s mammoth Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns

A note on picking: There are multiple ways to approach this example; the indicated pattern employs a combination of alternate and directional (sweep) picking.

Click here to download a PDF of “Compound Arpeggios No. 1.”

Wormhole Guitar is a journey through time and/or space. Maybe. 

ARCHIVE | The TrueFire experience

Posted in archive with tags on October 13, 2014 by dukewisdom

Dusting off a video lesson: In late 2013 I was fortunate enough to find myself among the ten finalists for TrueFire’s “Next Top Guitar Instructor” competition. For those who don’t know, TrueFire is a massive interactive guitar instruction site featuring (and operated by) some very talented and respected figures in the world of guitar—and once in awhile the likes of yours truly. The competition involved several weeks of voting on video lessons submitted by the ten contestants. In the end, I got utterly destroyed, but that’s alright; it was a great experience and I got to interact with some fascinating musicians as well as have my playing and teaching exposed to a large audience.

Featured here, for posterity, is the video I presented as an audition for the competition, an esoteric little lesson that did the trick. (The contest videos themselves are still live on TrueFire’s YouTube channel. Make sure to read the user comments for insightful arguments on music theory topics, remarks about my hair and so on.)

And while you’re at it, click here to download the transcription of “Hybrid-picked legato triple stops.”

MACHINERY | ’70s Fender Pro Reverb

Posted in gear, machinery with tags on October 9, 2013 by dukewisdom


Sometime in the late ’80s (I think), a close friend of mind (and fellow guitar fanatic) traded some lesser amp and a couple of shotguns to my dad for this ’77 (I believe) Fender Pro Reverb. For years I told him that if he ever wanted to get rid of the thing, I’d need first shot. Well, he got rid of it, alright: He brought the amp to my place and gave it to me. Thank you, Dave Benscoter. This baby sounds gorgeous.

(In order to not really back up that last statement, here is an iPhone video of the amp in action with a Les Paul. The piece is called “The Human Voice.”)