A PA Makeover

Welcome to John's worldI mentioned in a recent post how frustrating it is to mix live sound with my band, The Drop Daddies. After helping a buddy’s band with their recent ballroom sound check and being stunned by how good their sound was- I became very motivated to research and assemble a new PA for our live rig.   Well, the results are in. and the difference is astonishing!

Our old PA setupPrior to the new setup, we had been using an old powered Mackie 808s mixer, driving a pair of enormous passive Cerwin Vega 3-way 18” speaker cabinets.  We didn’t mic the guitar cabs effectively, so we had to blast the amps on stage to be heard in the back.  The result was a mushy mix, very prone to feedback because of high stage volume and lack of gates on the mic’s.  And it was a chore to adjust the mix, with the mixer installed at the back of the stage.  The mixer was underpowered to drive the speaker cabs, and the cabs were so heavy that we couldn’t get them up on stands, so the sound was directed at people’s knees.

What a mess!  We could never get a well-balanced mix- vocals were easily buried in the mix; you could rarely hear the harmonica loud enough;  the rhythm guitar was usually lost in the mix; and my lead guitar struggled to reach the whole room.  We bought a Feedback Destroyer to try to reduce feedback in the monitors, which certainly helped a bit, but was really just a bandaid.


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2 Million Views!


Just catching up on some replies today on my YouTube channel, and was surprised to see this on my channel!

Wow!  It seems like such a short time has passed since my channel reached the first million, but actually it was a year and a half ago.

In that time, I have indeed continued to play guitar every day – my chain is unbroken!  Unfortunately, due to work and band commitments, I haven’t had the necessary free time to produce many new videos and blog posts.  

Estimated Minutes WatchedSo, maybe it’ll be interesting to take a look at some stats for my existing videos.  2.5 million estimated minutes watched- that’s a completely mind-blowing stat! 

Of my 53 videos, the top 5 most viewed videos are:

  1. Potentiometers- How They Work, Disassembly and Exploration   (130,886)
  2. Guitar Ground: Dealing with ground noise problems (118,301)
  3. Guitar Tone Capacitors, part 1: Evaluating Material Types (114,661)
  4. Wiring Up Guitar Electronics 4, Connecting Tone Cap (111,317)
  5. Epiphone Riviera P93 Review (96,960)

Interesting to see the Epi Riviera Review video on that list.  It was my first video on YouTube, and was just a quickie one take low-quality webcam video, with lousy audio.   I’d obviously rather see that video fall to the bottom of the list, while my more well-produced videos get more attention.  But it is what it is!

As I say at the end of most of my videos-  “hope this has been helpful, and thanks for watching.”

Play on,


A Year in the Drop Daddies

Drop Daddies posterIt’s been a very busy year. I haven’t had much time for making videos and posting blog updates.  Here’s why:

About a year ago, I started up a band – the Drop Daddies – with some of the other Dad’s at our kids’ elementary school.  Originally, the idea was just to get together on weekends to play some music and have fun.  Almost immediately however, a friend invited us to play at her 2012 end-of-the-world party.   That humble little gig by the Christmas tree kicked off a very busy year for the band.  So far, we’ve learned 60+ songs and played at least a dozen gigs- bars, an auction, carnivals, and parties large and small.

A few observations – each of which should be its own blog post, but I’ll collect them here for now and maybe expand on them later:

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Don’t Break The Chain

CalendarIn my Millionth Anniversary video back in 2012, I talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s motivational technique for tricking yourself into getting things done.  “Don’t Break The Chain!”

Since February 19, 2012- I’ve kept my pledge to play guitar every day, no matter what.  That’s 660 days!  Yes, sometimes it’s just a few minutes right before bed.  But more often, once I pick up the guitar, I end up playing for a good session.

I no longer need to draw X’s on a calendar, as in Jerry’s technique-  I just know that I don’t want to miss a day.  This technique really builds new, effective habits.

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Output Jack Considerations

In this article, Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe Guitars goes in-depth on the simple, often overlooked output jack. 

Thanks again to Pete for the permission to post this here!


September 2013


The topic for this tech tips newsletter is the all-important output jack.

While there are a few different styles of output jacks have been used in electric guitars and basses including cables with XLR connectors, ¼” stereo output jacks and 1/8” size mono and stereo jacks, for the purposes of this newsletter I plan to focus on the industry-standard ¼” mono output jack. I quite often use output jacks manufactured by Switchcraft and unless specified otherwise in this discussion I will be referring to the Switchcraft model output jack designed for strat, tele and Les Paul style instruments.

This simple and often overlooked component provides both a mechanical and an electrical interface to the guitar cable and is one of the most frequent causes of electrical issues in an electric guitar or bass.

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Epiphone Riviera P93 Stupid Deal

Stupid Deal of the Day

I just love Musician’s Friend Stupid Deal of the Day.

Right now, for one hour only (until 8am PST), they have the Epiphone Riviera P93 Black Royale, for only $399, shipped free.  You’ll never find a better deal on it.

Satchurator Volume Mod

Vox SatchuratorMy pedal board is flush with overdrives, but sorely lacking in distortion.  I’ve never loved my RAT – it has scurried on and off my pedalboard over the years, never finding a permanent home there.  I’ve really been needing a solid traditional distortion lately, to use with my band covering tunes by Green Day, Blink-182, Weezer, etc.

I love my Vox Ice-9 overdrive, so I decided to try out the Vox Satchurator.  It’s apparently a boutiquey version of  the classic Boss DS-1.   When I received it, I immediately plugged in and lost myself in its glorious tones for an hour or so.  It sounds really really good.   Very different from my overdrives and fuzz.  It has a big, saturated, overtone-rich distortion.  Excellent for thick heavy leads, but also equally good for massive chunky rhythm.

So, when I first played with the Satchurator in a loud rehearsal context with my band, I was utterly disappointed to find that the thing just isn’t loud enough.   No, it doesn’t go to 11- not even close!!  Searching for answers, I see a number of other Satchurator users with similar complaints.   Even with the volume up full, I find there is very little volume boost when switching on the pedal.  And unlike the Ice-9’s 12db volume boost when engaging the “MORE” switch, the Satchurator’s “MORE” switch instead kicks up the gain voltage, providing more gain and distortion, but not much volume boost.

These pedals are a collaboration between Vox and Joe Satriani, and I’m sure these work great in the context of Joe’s live rig.  But in my rig, I need more volume out of a distortion pedal.

Reluctant to bail on the Satchurator, I instead decided to modify the circuit.  There’s no simple component change that’ll boost the signal, so I added an extra clean boost stage:

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Replace Those Worn Out Picks!

Dunlop Nylon Standard Pick .60mmI’ve been using the same Dunlop 44P textured .60mm grey nylon picks for the last 20+ years.   I’ve tried tons of other picks (mostly freebies I picked up at the NAMM show), but I tend to always come back to these Dunlop 44P’s. 

Unlike with smoother picks like the Tortex, I find that I never really drop these.  I have one of those Dunlop mic stand pick holders, and I dutifully load it up with 3 or 4 picks at the beginning of every gig and rehearsal.  But honestly, I have never, not even once, needed to reach for a replacement pick!

Worn Out .60mm Dunlop PickI change strings every couple months- more often in summer, when I’m playing in sweaty situations.  But it has never really occurred to me that picks also get worn out and require changing.

I’ve always thought these picks would just last forever. But I recently ordered a new 12-pack, and was amused to see such a big difference.  

I hadn’t realized that these picks I had been using were so ridiculously worn out!  The new picks have a more clearly defined (undamaged) bottom edge, so they dig a little deeper when picking.    Practicing with those worn picks, I’m actually getting used to holding my picking hand at the wrong pick-depth – not good!   Time to throw away these old picks!

Dunlop .60mm vs .73mm pickIn years gone by, I was always a rhythm player- and the .60mm was the perfect pick gauge.  But I’m starting to realize in my role as lead guitarist in the Drop Daddies, that a thicker pick may be a better fit.  I just got a set of .73mm picks to try out, with the same Dunlop 44 tactile grip.  They definitely feel different – more aggressive.   I think I like!

On Feedback, Good and Bad

In this article, Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe Guitars describes the various causes of guitar feedback, both good and bad, and provides some suggestions for eliminating unwanted feedback.

Thanks again to Pete for the permission to post this here!

Vintage Vibe Guitars

June 2013


Feedback: when it is used in an appropriate, controlled manner it can be glorious; when it appears unwanted it is about the worst sound ever. In this Tech Tips newsletter both types of feedback will be discussed.

Let’s start with the undesirable out of control high pitched screech we want to eliminate, and then move on the good stuff.

Unwanted microphonic feedback in guitars with magnetic guitar pickups usually arises from one or more of the following sources listed below. With each of these sources I have added suggestions in italics for eliminating the associated feedback.

Vibration of the coil windings inside a magnetic pickup. Most modern pickups are potted in molten wax under vacuum to reduce the possibility of unwanted microphonic feedback.


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Les Paul’s Estate Auction

Les  Paul Auction CatalogLester Polsfuss passed away at the age of 94 after a fight with pneumonia on August 13, 2009.  Nearly 3 years later, the property from the estate of Les Paul went up for auction in Beverly Hills, CA. 

The auction company put together a beautiful 400 page book listing the items of the estate.   In case they end up taking down the book, I have saved the PDF here (68MB) for posterity.

The estate items range from the awesome, to the slightly disturbing, to the nostalgic and the just plain silly. Let’s take those in order:

  • awesome: tons of guitars of all types, prototypes, design drawings and notes, amps, oscilloscopes and test equipment, electronics (pots, tubes, caps, transformers, etc), mixing desks and early multitrack tape recorders, and even some  hand-cut wood acoustic wall panels
  • slightly disturbing: his social security and union cards, Chase credit card, drivers license, passport, Christmas cards, and signed checks.  Oh, and a white terry cloth bath robe.
  • nostalgic: photos, awards, scripts and letters, the bronzed army boots that Les was wearing when he met Mary Ford, and his gloves and glasses.  Ok, also slightly disturbing!
  • just silly: $400 of used picks, a New York state license plate reading Les Paul, a signed vegetarian cook book from Linda McCartney.  Lots and lots of turtleneck shirts.   Apparently the license plate sold for $10,000!
  • I don’t know where this fits- but a  top-hat given to Les Paul but Slash (Valued at $6000-$8000! Hah!)

Man, did Les Paul have an amazing guitar collection!

Fender 1951 No-CasterIn addition to the gorgeous specimens from Gibson and Epiphone that you would expect, you’ll also find lot 722- a 1951 Fender No-Caster signed by Leo Fender (valued at $40,000-$60,000).   It actually sold for $180,000 (!) as documented in this handheld video from the auction floor.  That’s some kind of crazy, right there.

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