Pt.6 – “The one where you tear it apart!!!”
Since going off on a couple weeks of a tangent with the blog, which was fun, I have discovered even more important and pertinant points about the subject of “frankenstein” guitars and even pedals, etc. With doing a lot of different style sessions lately, and blending in this new live gig that definitely calls on me to pull off lots of different styles, I have learned that in putting gear together for the gig at hand that sometimes its not the “name brand” that always wins the battle. My head always wants to take me to the big names first, like my Les Paul, and my PRS. I unfortunately listened to this urge for about 3 weeks and forcibly played these two guitars in situations and pushed them upon myself and the songs/gigs for no other reason than that they “should work!” for the part or the gig. Deep down inside I knew that I should pick up my two guitars that I made for myself, for different reasons, and play them in these situations, but I was somewhat falling victim to the name brand syndrome! After these weeks of fighting it, I finally gave in and put together a new pedalboard, and plugged in my home made Telecaster. Now, a bit of back story on this guitar and how it came to be. I made it last year out of a sheer need for a super light guitar, and it just so happens that I needed a telecaster. I used Paulownia wood, which is insanely light weight but resonant. I used a Bareknuckle Yardbird single coil pickup in the bridge and made it an Esquire style tele with just the one pickup, which is all I need. I also wired it with just one tone and one volume, but backwards like one of my guitar hero’s, Danny Gatton, for the faux wah effect when rolling the tone knob with my pinky. I finished it with my favorite cream color with white binding and put mint green control plates on the front. Basically, it turned out to be one cool tele whacker! Oh, and it weighed in at an astounding 5 lb. I was skeptical at first about it being so light with this almost unheard of wood that I used, but I was taken aback by just how resonant and responsive this guitar actually is. I would definitely say, more so than any that I have played, and I’ve played hundreds of tele’s over my almost 30 years of playing. So, back to the story! I finally put down the big boys, plugged in my little monster, and boom there it was! The next rehearsal was awesome through every song, the tone was spot on for the gig, and I wasn’t fighting the guitar and effects the whole time. I will mention that I did make one huge addition to my board that would probably shock anyone who knows me; I added a compressor! Now, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I have had a life long battle with compressors, and both have loved certain ones, and hated others. I just went with a newer addition, with the new Keeley Compressor Plus. It is one awesome comp. I love the addition of the single coil/humbucker voicing switch, and the blend knob. This one does the job just right for me and I think I’ll be sticking with it for a while! I had the Keeley 2 knob compressor for years and love it too, but Keeley made some super cool and usable updates to the circuit. With these 2 key updates to my guitar rig, I all of a sudden opened up a world of comfort and unlocked the tone that I was searching for. Now lets look at my other theory that working on your own gear, and learning how to do it effectively and professionally, benefits you as a player in all situations. I have, from day one, opened up every pedal, piece of rack gear, guitar, and amplifier that I have ever owned to see how it was wired and what made it tick. At the beginning, it all looked crazy to me, but I learned how to read schematics, and I learned how to solder through hours of practice on pieces of wire and switches. Eventually as I grew up and became a professional musician, this took on a bigger role in my musical life as I was setting up/intonating my own guitars for tours, swapping out tubes on the road and biasing my own amps between gigs, modding my own pedals because they were almost but not quite what I needed, and swapping out guitar necks/pickups etc to make my guitars just right for me. I contribute most of this need to tinker to my ultimate guitar hero, Eddie Van Halen (RIP!), with his early influence over me and my constant reading about his tinkering to achieve his sound. With all of this said, it is important not to be afraid of your gear. At least open it up and look at it, it’s cool. If it’s not quite what you want, make it what you want, and use it until it falls apart, then rebuild it again!!! Of course there will always be a few casualties upon the way, but it’s only stuff, and those lost ones will only make you better years down the road a what you do! Sometimes, and in my case more often than not, the pedals, guitars, and amps that I end up using are the ones that I know the best; the ones that I made tick for me, my way! If you know your gear inside and out, you will feel more comfortable with it, and ultimately be able to diagnose any problems that may arise on a session or gig within seconds, pull out the corrects tools and soldering iron, and have it fixed in minutes. Oh, and this is impressive too! So, like I said in the title, tear it up, frankenstein it, see what makes it tick, plug it up, and make incredible music. That’s all for now on this one, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it later, so check back in!
~ Ryan Ridgeway – 10/19/20
Pt.5 – “THE ONE WITH THE SITUATION”
Alright, this one may be a bit of a jumbled one on subject matter! I have a few different projects going on right now and my mind is a flurry with situations, theories, ideas, and opinions about what I have going on and the musical interactions that I am currently faced with. First off, as a musician that is getting very busy, and faced with learning lots of new material for a new band or musical endeavor, it is really important to pace yourself and plan your days out in such a way that allow you to have a few minutes here and there to recoup, and more importantly rest your hands! So far I have been doing an ok job at spacing out time to learn/chart new music between preparing lessons, teaching lessons, composing music, and allowing for time to pack up guitar rigs, load in/out, get changed into clothes for the gig, and plug in and warm up. Whew, that’s a ton of stuff to think about, and somehow last night I let myself get to a point that I had a hard time conquering! After all that planning and doing, I actually got to the rehearsal session that I had planned so much for and hit a wall of sorts. I hadn’t planned for a long drive to the rehearsal with multiple wrecks on the way that turned a 30 minute drive into an hour and fifteen minute one. This wore on my nerves that were already stretched thin, and by the time I settled into the gig with my guitar on, I started to yawn almost uncontrollably and my brain wanted to shut down! I still had 2 hours of new charts to sight read and a new band to try to fit in with. What do you do? What I did in that moment allowed me to get through it all and semi-recover and play well. I took off my guitar, walked outside, looked around at the situation, took a few deep breaths with my eyes closed, and thanked God for the opportunity at hand. That all put a smile on my face and a good feeling in me about the rehearsal to come. I will of course learn from my situation and do better next time, but I thought that it was important to share my busy week and maybe glean something from it, because I know that we all get crazy busy, and how we deal with it can be the difference between absolute disaster or success! Anyway, that’s all about that for now at least! On other fronts, I have been restless trying to find the right sound to fit into the new gig/job that I have been rehearsing for. It is important to be able to adapt quickly in rehearsal and gig situations too. I have been showing up prepared to do one thing (from albums given as reference), and upon playing it once with the band, promptly asked to completely switch gears and make the song/sound almost night and day different from the album. This of course catches you off guard, but you have to ditch that feeling and quickly look at your pedalboard, amp, and guitars and make a decision as to how you will accomplish this reboot, in the moment, to make the rehearsal roll on accordingly and also make the band leader happy in the process. This whole thought process is a quick one, but draws from your time researching and listening to all sorts of music and guitarists. Look at the style, the player, and what they were using and currently are using to make complete these tones. I will say that years of playing, touring, charting, and rehearsing for gigs have made it easier over the years to switch gears effectively, but I also had the chance and good fortune to get my college degree in guitar performance from Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. This experience was tailor made for a guitar player/multi-instrumentalist like me that would spend the rest of his life gigging, recording, teaching, composing, modifying instruments, and searching for the next cool music venture. I was taught to look at the situation and get through it professionally and quickly, no matter what the gig or recording session asked for, and believe me, I have had some that were amazing and quite a few that were ridiculous that took all that I had to get through. I definitely thank MI and my teachers, especially Al Bonhomme, for preparing me for this cool, professional, life of music! So, pay attention to your gig at hand, pack your gear that you know you need, and always pack a little bit of extra goodies that you may not even use, but its there just in case. Listen to your other band members and find your pocket and it will be a great gig! I had to get these subjects out of the way because they were eating at my brain and needed to get out, but I promise to get back on track next week with modifying guitars and pedals. Hopefully you can take away something helpful from my story this week and apply it to getting through your job or gig. Thanks and check back next week for part 6!
~ Ryan Ridgeway 10/2/20
Pt.4 – “THE ONE WITH THE HYMN”
It’s that time! The time all session musicians and recording musicians look forward to; time to pick the amp, guitar, and effects for the gig!!! I absolutely love it. This time when I know what the gig is and know what the gig sounds like, and I get to go into my arsenal of gear that I’ve collected for so many years and pull out what I deem fit for my parts in this particular recording session. Oh man, my brain starts churning with possibilities and I really get into it. At this moment something in me normally tells me to chill out a bit, pull back from crazy gear nerd world, and calmly, professionally look objectively at all of my gear and start to put it together in my mind for what I’m about to be called on to do. A great example would be earlier today when I came into the studio. I had two completely different sessions ahead of me that called for a drastically different approach. The first session was going to be a re-arrangement of an old church hymn. So, I immediately thought about doing it on my old trusty Stratocaster, set very clean, into my Eleven Rack where I set a very lush plate reverb. It still wasn’t quite there with the dry tone though, so I thought about what I wanted to accomplish, and pulled out my Way Huge Pork Loin pedal. I set it to 100 percent clean boost with the drive all the way off and clean knob all the way up. I then adjusted the curve knob and tone knob to give it a little roll off of high’s. That did it! It boosted the signal a little bit and gave it that push into the eleven rack. The result was a beautiful track! The next session was a little more complex in a different way. I was going to be playing rhythm, lead, and bass on this one and it was to be a heavy, “Alice in Chains” type feel. I immediately thought of one of my favorite guitarist of all time, Jerry Cantrell and his tone. I went into my Eleven Rack and dialed up a very close tone with the Soldano SLO 100 patch. I used this tone dry with a Gibson Les Paul R8 for the rhythm, and added just a small amount of tape delay for the lead tone. I went to one of my favorites for the delay, a newer purchase for me, but has quickly become my go to pedal for a lot of tones, the FoxGear EchoSex. Finally, I had one more track to lay down and that was the bass track. I needed to shift gears quickly from guitar land to laying down some awesome low end! I went for my old fender P-bass and ran it through a very very light chorus and boosted it with yet again the Pork Loin pedal (very versatile pedal). I ran it into the front of my Eleven Rack unit and dialed up a trace elliott style bass amp simulation with a light compression in the circuit, and I was off to the races! The bass tone fit like a glove with the drum track and added a nice roundness with the light chorus effect. As you can see, there is no hard and fast rules here, or any book to tell you what to do! It normally starts with a gut feeling with me once I know what style i’m going for, then my brain normally jumps to a inspirational player reference where I can draw on the countless hours of research on other players that I have done over the years. Then, It all comes down to simple experience in hooking up the right signal chain for the project, and ultimately your very own fingers to complete the task! It pays to do your research, and it pays to try all sorts of gear for all sorts of genres of music. This will allow you to be able to effectively pull off any style in any session, and even do it back to back without skipping a beat! I Today was a fun day, and just like many it resulted in very cool tracks after being edited and mastered, but even the sessions where you fall flat on your face and maybe even pick the completely wrong equipment make you a better player. These sessions almost make you a stronger player than the ones that go perfectly, for the simple reason that they hit you harder, stuck with you, and pushed you to work harder on your craft! I hope this installment provided a little insight into what I consider one of the hardest worlds to enter into; session work. It is my passion and if it is yours, go whole hearted into the studio and don’t be afraid to be you. Don’t hold back, and always remember to rock out wherever you play!!! Tune back in for part 5 on Frankenstein guitars and pedals…don’t be afraid to hack and solder!!!
~ Ryan Ridgeway 9/9/20
Pt.3 – “THE ONE WITH THE LOOPER”
So, I have to admit that I have been having a lot of fun with looper pedals recently! In particular, the new MXR Clone Looper. I have it wired up to the fullest of its capabilities with an external footswitch and Dunlop mini expression pedal. I rarely use it to just record a rhythm part, kick it into play mode, then solo over it. However, this is also fun and useful when I’m in a teaching situation and want to demonstrate scales over a rhythm part or chordal changes. The way I have been using my looper on recordings and writing new music lately is by having the expression pedal rocked all the way off, which has the volume all the way down on the output of the looper. I then will at random, record pieces of what I am playing for about 3 to 4 loops worth of material. Keep in mind that all of this is being done in real time, while I am playing a piece of original music. After all of the recording is done in the looper, I step on the playback button. At this point, I have some cool options with the MXR looper especially; I can change the playback speed, or my favorite thing to do, hold down the external switch for 2 seconds and send all of my recorded parts into reverse mode. Normally all of this is done pretty quickly in a song and by the chorus of the song I can start to fade this wacky reverse coolness in and out of the rest of the song at will! Sometimes I will take these recorded loops and towards the end of the song or for a specific part, change the speed of the loop to double time or 2x speed, hit record, then playback that loop in reverse, giving it all a crazy octave up reverse sound to fade in and out. As you see, I like to mess around with sounds in real time, particularly when I’m recording, just to see what I get! This is really exciting because most of the time you end up with something awesome and off the cuff! Another thing to think about is how to do all of this during recording sessions. You can do it in real time and have it all embedded on one track, as is, no separating or editing. The second way is to do your rhythm or lead track on one track and your loops on another separate track. Doing it this way allows the engineer to edit both parts separately and come up with exactly the way they need it to sound for the session. One last cool pedal that I’ve come to love after fighting with it for so long is the Freeze pedal by Electro Harmonix. This is another one that takes a ton of getting used to, or at least it did for me! I tried and tried to use it like my favorite players, ala Krantz or Frisell, but I just couldn’t meld with it like that. As usual, I had to go down a long path of putting it on and off of my board about 4 times before discovering how it best fit into my playing and song writing. I definitely tend to lean on it for simple drones behind solo guitar songs that are more avant-garde in style rather than tap it often and change the frozen note frequently. I really like to use it in recording sessions to freeze a chord and run it through a warbly chorus, then tape delay, then record that sound that can then be brought in and out of a song as needed. Using this type of frozen sound with the reverse looper craziness that I described above, and fading it in and out as you play can also be incredibly inspiring and lead to some wild explorations! Well, that’s the way that I use these two innovative pedals that expand your tonal palette. I know that there are many players out there that may use pedals in the same way that I do. I am just trying to impart a little bit of outside the box thinking that I experience in my everyday pursuit of tone, in hopes that you will take your own fun journey and end up in a place with your music that you ultimately thought you would never ever be! Check back for part 4 with next weeks installment on how to choose the best amplifier and guitar for a recording session. My favorite part of it all!
~ Ryan Ridgeway 9/3/20
Pt.2 – “THE ONE WITH FUZZ”
Ok, well I promised you that I’d be back with another installment and I believe I said it’d be about my different uses of OD pedals and Fuzz pedals. First off, I LOVE overdrive pedals! I mean, you could fill up a room full of all of them out there and I would swim my way to the top having tried every single one of them (and probably opened up a few to see what makes them tick!…my favorite thing to do). All that madness behind us, I also have a funny relationship with fuzz pedals. Over the years, I would call it a love/hate relationship. My very first pedal that I bought with my own money was a Dunlop Fuzzface in 1992. I still have it and have pulled it out on numerous occasions over the years to use in various different ways, but I never remember bonding with it and saying “wow, that feels great”. I have also purchased and have used dozens of different from mass produced to boutique fuzz’s and rarely do I love any of them. Remember, I did say that my use of pedals is different and what makes me tick and get that warm fuzzy feeling is very different that most, so let’s always keep that in mind…thats why I’m writing this blog! I did however run across a fuzz about 5 years ago that I love, and it is not one that most people love. I bought a Boss FZ-5 and turned it to the octave setting and turned the gain all the way down. This produced a very weak octave up sound that I like to pair with my favorite overdrive pedal (for about 10 years now that has been a Way Huge Pork Loin). I rarely use it in that classic rock way or “Hendrix” way, but I almost find myself using it to produce filter like textures for rhythms behind tracks, or by itself run it through a looper and throw it into reverse as a texture to fade in and out behind a solo avant-garde type song, but more on that later! My other favorite fuzz that is currently on my board is a Fulltone Octafuzz. I find myself turning the boost all the way down and the volume almost all the way up. I will use it to get a slightly broken up sound with a tape delay or flip the switch and get that octave sound that I can’t get enough of. This one is a great pedal that is built like a tank and achieves a bunch of sounds on my board. So, I never really crank a fuzz and use it to get that classic rock sound, but have fallen in love with it in a different way, my way! I think that in most things that I have encountered in music, whether it be with an amp, guitar, or the way you use pedals, it is most important to use it YOUR way and find your own sound. I have never felt like I needed to sound like anyone else when I played or recorded original music. Of course there are influences, but those are like spices to be used here and there, and in my playing at least will never overtake the song. Hopefully you can take something away from each of these installments on pedals and how I use them and try some things on your own to create your own sound and find your very own unique place in music. Check back for my next installment on Looper and Freeze pedal uses! FUN stuff!
~Ryan Ridgeway 8/26/20
Pt.1 – “THE ONE WITH DELAY!”
Delay pedals, I know, I know, you’re thinking, here we go again with another guitarists take and review of yet another pedal! Well, not really. I am anything but mainstream with my ideas in music, or even my uses of the cool tools available. Since I was 13 years old when I bought my first fuzzface pedal, I can remember wanting to rip into that sucker and do something crazy to it to either make it sound “different” or just flat out crazy! I have followed this mentality all through my career and have always been the session or touring musician with the pedals on their board that start a good conversation. In my blog I want to hold to that experimental attitude and take a look at the weirder or more unexplored ways to use pedals, instruments, and amplification. On that note, the first thing on my mind is looking at a more unconventional view of delay pedals. I have learned that I am a bit different in my approach sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or un-useful to someone else. On my pedalboard I always have the first delay that my guitar hits as a slap-back delay that is normally always on. Then the second delay that my guitar goes through is always a longer, smoother, more ambient delay that is more geared towards avant-garde music or even rock or fusion. This delay is normally a tape based delay with some warble or degrading sound to it. Finally, I have discovered that I don’t play well with a reverb pedal, but by putting a third delay in the mix and turning the level down, and the repeats up, I get my desired effect. By doing this, it allows the analog delay pedal to self-oscillate into a warm, chaotic, fun frenzy that will keep multiplying and building in the back of whatever you are playing, and after a few seconds becomes a wash of beautiful coolness behind your playing, in a way that I have never been able to achieve with a reverb pedal. Now, there is definitely no hard and fast rule to when and how you use these three delays, but this is just how I approach my sound and what I have found to be “tasty” as my favorite guitar instructor at MI in Hollywood used to say! Now pair a cool wobbly chorus pedal that can sort of mimic a warped vinyl record before your delay section, and some sort of “freezing” or hold function type pedal after all of this, at the end of your chain, and you’ll have some real ambient fun with so many options that it will leave you playing and creating for hours! Check back for Pt.2 for my use of overdrive pedals with boost’s and fuzz’s for some more cool ways to arrange pedals on your board for a massive pallet of creative fun!
~Ryan Ridgeway 5/28/20