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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

DR. TWANGSLOVE, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Telecaster

Posted by r on February 5, 2014

Although I’m still loathe to give new acquaintances this information until they know me well enough to understand I’m not a complete douchebag, I’ve played electric guitar for twenty-six years (…man, that is one terrifying number, and certainly not one that reflects my degree of “mastery” of the instrument in any way).

For most of the first 24-ought years of that time, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Les Paul Guy (or, at least, being a naturally contrarian anti-Fender / -Gibson snob in my instrument choices, I was a Les Paul-Derived Guy). In the last couple of years, I’ve had the sort of change of heart that most guitarists would consider on par with switching political-party affiliation overnight… that is to say, somehow, somewhere in my mid-30s, I woke up and found I’d become a rather militant Telecaster Guy.

It’s not just because I developed an obsession with trucker country and steel guitars half a decade ago, either (the Tele, of course, having the strongest association of all “traditional” electric guitar designs with country music). As sad an excuse as I make for a guitarist generally, I’m certainly no blazing chicken-picker makin’ jaws drop on a Nashville club stage.

But in the spirit of the listicle-times, here are the five most significant reasons why I’ve decided, in my old age and “wisdom,” that the “lowly” Telecaster– Leo Fender’s unabashed attempt to make the cheapest, dirtiest functional electric guitar that he could bring to mass market in the early 1950s– has an awful lot to offer over the Les Paul-style instruments that I thought were the end-all-be-all of electric guitar design for far too long.

1. No bourgeosie bullshit. The Les Paul and all of its sundry Gibson relatives are usually decked out with luxury accoutrements– carved flame maple tops, binding everywhere, scarf headstock joints (which are only too happy to come apart when the guitar falls off the stand), a comparatively difficult / expensive set-neck “architecture”– that look awfully funny if not outright garish in our new, economically-lean times in the West. The design frankly reeks of bygone rock excess. (Yet, when you try to strip some of the original bling away, as Gibson has recently done in trying to bring out more affordable versions of its classic instruments for players in our current thin-wallet reality, the result just looks flat-out cheap.)

At its core, the Telecaster has always been basically a rough-cut slab of any ol’ wood crudely bolted onto a neck, with the simplest of possible hardware to hold strings on and electrify the result. It is the tiny / Tumbleweed house of the electric guitar world.

2. Simple guitar = simple maintenance and repair. Anybody can slap together a playable Tele, as I found out myself a few years back. Changing strings, with the fixed-bridge design and the headstock tuners all very conveniently on the same side, is far easier / faster than on any other electric guitar design save perhaps a Steinberger. Unlike Gibsons, the wiring and cavities are all accessible from the top of the body, so there’s no flipping the thing over constantly during more “major” maintenance operations like pickup swaps or pot replacements.

Biggest plus of the bolt-on design (aside from the potential for easily building Frankenteles, which is a big plus from my vantage point): if you snap your neck / headstock or break the truss rod on a Paul, you’re in for a multi-hundred-dollar visit to the luthier and (probably) a serious downgrade in resale value thereafter; if you do the same on a Telecaster– which by nature of the design is actually much harder to do accidentally in the first place– just go get another neck for a few Jacksons and bolt the damn thing on yourself in five minutes.

3. Sounds as lean / mean as its build. A Tele with a carefully-chosen set of single-coil pickups cuts through a loud rock mix like nothing else. Dissonances soar through your distortion stompboxes unmuddied. In a band setting, you quickly learn with a Telecaster that you need far less distortion than you used to think you needed anyway.

4. Conventional wisdom about “correct applications” for Pauls vs. Teles is largely nonsense. The conventional wisdom I speak of: “Teles are thin-sounding funk-and-country-only guitars,” “Pauls have better sustain,” “…sound better / fatter for rock,” etc. Teles are crazily versatile / genre-agnostic instruments in a way a Paul could never be.

Undoubtedly, Pauls have somewhat better sustain – but not so much better that it matters if you can actually sort of play a guitar properly, and also at the cost of the clarity and additional expressive range the Tele brings to the table. With creative use / possible modification of electronics and/or careful control of your fingers, you can come “close enough” to the rolled-off, Les Paul-like rock tone with a Telecaster; good luck ever getting anything like the angry, glassy Tele “spank” out of a Paul.

5. Conventional wisdom about the “better” nature of set necks vs. the Tele’s bolt-on design is TOTAL nonsense.  I drank the Kool-Aid on this seemingly universal MI-industry claim for a very long time, but spending much more time with Telecasters due to all of the reasons above finally made it clear to me that the “set necks are better” cliche was a decades-long myth motivated by a desire to sell more (more expensive) Gibsons.

It doesn’t take much undue added weight / pressure on the neck, in the heat of a particularly aggressive musical moment, to make my set-neck Gibson-style guitars bend just enough to go “temporarily out of tune” while I’m playing them. And yes, I’m talking about multiple pro-grade set-neck instruments that have forced me to be super-careful to avoid inadvertently flexing the neck in live play.

The Tele’s bolt-on neck joint, being a less intimate connection to the body with some degree of built-in play in the system, doesn’t have this problem; feel free to flail-bash away within reason, the thing still stays in tune. I find even my beater Teles actually hold their tuning longer / better just generally, across the board, than any high-falutin’ Paul-clone I’ve ever had.

The other widespread belief about bolt-ons vs. set necks is that Paul-style set necks have a comparative “sustain advantage,” which I’ve already mentioned above – in my experience, nothing but BS, BS, BS. Maybe it would matter to a narcissistic lead player who wants to vibrato-hold a single note for eight bars while making the “O” face, and/or to Sunn0))). But for actual-listenable-music purposes, the difference in sustain between a Paul and Tele doesn’t matter much if at all in the majority of musical contexts.

None of which is to say I’m so over the Paul / selling all of my previous-favorite Paul-clones or whatever. I still love ’em, and there will always be a use for them, especially in my home recordings. But they’re definitely seeing a heck of a lot less play time these days, as Leo’s pine slab gets spanked over and over. Yes, I meant to sound like I was accidentally talking about masturbating, because what lengthy discussion of a particular guitar’s merits would be complete without some double-entendre-or-not phrase that read like a colorful description of the author’s personal time the first time through?

Note: if I ever end up writing this same sort of thing about the primary-guitar merits of thin-sounding, thin-feeling, pure-rock-douche-associated Stratocasters (or at least, Stratocasters in their original 3-single-coil Fender-conceived form) 20+ years from now, please send me to the nursing home with all due haste.

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The myth of dynamic crowdsourced help (or, why we’re all well and truly FAQ’d)

Posted by r on January 13, 2014

The Internet is now approaching its third decade of mainstream acceptance. Available dynamic resources for the self-taught and continually curious have, in an on-paper sense, never been better. But in 2014, God help the thoughtful, rational individual who, having lurked endlessly in relevant places and having Googled / site-queried appropriately and having read FAQ upon FAQ, still has a question that falls between the cracks, and requires an intelligent answer from someone more well-versed in the topic.

The regulars in discussion groups and forums dedicated to specialized topics nearly always automatically assume anyone who self-identifies as “inexperienced” in a given matter, or who simply has a low post count, hasn’t done the reading.

The comic irony is that the responses from the regulars could nearly always be used as examples in a textbook on reading comprehension fail.

PRIMA: Hi, I’m new to Hobby X, and I have a question involving Plausible Condition Y. I’ve read the linked community-respected FAQs 1, 2, 3, and 4 on Subinterest Z of Hobby X, but while Situation That Could Very Easily Involve Plausible Condition Y is addressed in detail in FAQs 1 and 3, Plausible Condition Y itself is outright ignored in all four documents. Can anyone clarify?

SECUNDA: In addition to an obvious-n00b question, I see you have a zero post count and thusly I am certain that you have not read the FAQ. Read the FAQ.

[Before PRIMA has a chance to respond politely, the post has already been downvoted into oblivion and/or moved to the forum graveyard by a mod.]


PRIMA: I have read 900 posts on Topic A at this very forum over the last four months of daily lurking and constant forum refreshing. I have learned a lot, namely that everyone on this forum seems to believe that the optimal solution to Topic A is either Solution 1 or Solution 2. However, this seems to be a subjective matter of debate.

It seems to me that if someone performed Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z on both Solutions 1 or 2, the matter could be settled (for my own purposes at least). I have searched this very forum many times over the last few weeks and can find no evidence of Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z in any discussion. Has anyone ever performed Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z with Solutions 1 and 2, and if so, could you please report back with your results?

SECUNDA: This topic has been discussed a million times before and still comes up weekly here. Do a forum search.

TERTIA: Solution 1 is the solution. Everyone who has tried it knows it, including me. If you look at my forum sig, you’ll see I’m a professional. I should know.

PRIMA: Right, Secunda, well, what I’m asking is if anyone has ever done any kind of valid measurements on Solutions 1 and 2, instead of just going back and forth about how their Solution of choice is the best one. I know this is a hot and tired topic, but I’m pretty sure it would take 30 seconds of add’l effort from any given Solution-user to settle it for me, if not many others. However, I have yet to see anyone try such a measurement before despite, again, many efforts to find something of the like here. You seem like you are quite well-versed in the history of this topic here… do you happen to know of a thread where such measurements were presented?

QUARTA: Tertia is talking out of his ass. Solution 1 is only favored by the old and clueless. The world’s gone to Solution 2 now.

QUINTA: Oh, man, this question again. (headslap emoji) (popcorn-eating .gif)

TERTIA: The “old and clueless?” Quarta, this “old and clueless” ~PROFESSIONAL~ made dozens of referrals and mid-six figures last year using Solution 1. Care to share your new-fangled 1040, you hipster fuck?

PRIMA: Secunda / Quinta, yes, again, I know the question itself is tired, but I’m asking for specific information / tests relating to this topic that might help settle it for good. Or maybe Tertia or Quarta could help, since they both have Solution 1 and 2 on hand respectively, and the Quasi-Empirical Check Z I have in mind is really very fast and simple. How about it, guys?

QUARTA: Fuck you and your predictable condescension, Tertia. I’m tired of your constant shitting on Solution 2 in these threads. No one cares how much you made last year. Besides, I talked to four guys that hired you last year who all said you sucked.

[eight more thread-pages of ad hominem follow; neither Secunda nor Quinta ever return to thread]


PRIMA: I already know from extensive reading / lurking / searching that the usually-recommended approach to Problem X is Solution A, but for Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4, I cannot use Solution A. Is there something I could use in place of Solution A to solve Problem X?

SECUNDA: Sounds like Solution A is what you need. (link to promotional literature for Solution A)

PRIMA: Sorry, Secunda, as I said, I know about Solution A but it won’t work for me due to Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4. Is there any current alternative to Solution A?

TERTIA: Man, if I ever had to work in a place that enforced Good And Inflexible Reasons 3 and 4, I’d be looking for a job elsewhere.

PRIMA: That’s as may be, Tertia, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury right now, and Problem X really needs to be solved. Are there any alternatives to Solution A? Has anyone here personally tried Possible Solution B, for instance?

QUARTA: Have you ever heard of Solution A? I’ve used that and I think it would work great for your application.

TERTIA: Here is a site that might help you solve your REAL problem. (link to

QUINTA: I don’t know why anyone would want to try anything other than Solution A. We use it here and it works fine. No point reinventing the wheel.

PRIMA: Well, Quinta, except for Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4.

QUINTA: Oh, jeez, you should have said those were part of your solution requirements upfront, then. (rolleyes.gif)

SECUNDA: C’mon, everyone’s telling you the answer is Solution A, but it seems you just don’t want to hear it. Why post a question in a forum if you already know you have another specific answer in mind? Mod, please close thread.

World, let’s all make it our 2014 resolution (if a couple weeks late) to actually read the questions posed to us, particularly if we’re the ones taking some kind of “personal responsibility” for educating or helping others in a public forum. The road we’re going down, have been going down for years now – that of valuing upvotes over actual answers, and even the smart among us allowing ourselves to have attention spans shorter than the max length of tweets – is a very frightening one indeed.

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Boopaleep my McNothing

Posted by admin on June 27, 2012

What does this dumb little ambient instrumental, from the recently “reissued” Aprosody full-length of 2000, have in common with U2’s billions and billions of dollars?

No, the answer is not “insider trading before the Facebook IPO.” The answer is the Korg SDD3000. It’s a simple little rack delay (more broadly, an effects processor) which, at least in terms of its specs and original purpose, would be considered hopelessly basic and outdated by any modern standard of effects processing.

(more on the joys of exploring abusing vintage effects vs. the current Preset Culture after the break)
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If this post is ignored, I vow that I shall make the computer industry taste the “oddly” cupric sharpness of my cold, hard steel

Posted by r on April 29, 2012

(edit 3.19.13: This one’s just a dumb rant about the crappy state of laptop hardware for my personal purposes. I just needed to vent. Ended up buying yet another nice little Acer, but it was a compromise. Anyway, carry on.)
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The loudness wars and the damage done

Posted by r on January 10, 2012

(edit cleanup 3.19.13: Lots of people like to bitch loudly about the so-called Loudness Wars of post-1999 or so, and apparently I am one of them. In this post, I talk a lot about a specific set of vintage loudspeakers that were once a mid-century reference standard in studio monitoring and now, when presented with a Loudness War-era recording/victim, reveal quite clearly that 95% of everything new sounds like shit. What’s below the cut, however, is probably of little interest if you don’t want to hear a lot about a particular obsolete model of speakers that 99% of us will never be able to afford nor find room for in our living rooms, myself included.)
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The kids are alright

Posted by r on December 13, 2011

(edit cleanup 3.19.13: On Spotify / Internet-music-service payouts and the tenuous link made by some other guy on the Internet between those low payouts and today’s general lack of musical innovation, re: which I disagree and instead put the blame on both musicians eager to find their way through the worst signal-to-noise ratio in content history and the modern-day listener with a 15-second attention span. Whatever.)
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Posted by r on December 11, 2011

(edit cleanup 3.19.13: This post is mostly about mbiras– which we dumb Westerners might otherwise know as a “thumb piano”– and other related lamellaphones, including some dumb-Westerner takes / “reboots” that make me upset. I have been slightly obsessed with mbiras for almost 20 years now, but I still don’t own a good one yet.)
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