Easy stuff for beginners

Mark Knopfler’s contribution for the Soundbreaking series

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If you have not seen this already, here is Mark’s contribution for the Soundbreaking series on Youtube.

Soundbreaking is a documentary series about the creation of new sounds in the rock music history, based on more than 160 interviews with celebrated recording artists, producers, and music industry pioneers.

Mark is demonstrating various guitar techniques and instruments. I guess you have seen one or the other lick in similar videos with Mark before but it is a great video for sure.

Misc

Great Android Music Player App: AB Repeat Player

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With this blog post I want to recommend a free Android app that I use myself not only for listening to music but also for figuring out licks, riffs, or lead stuff. It is the AB Repeat Player.

The feature I love most on it is not the one that gave it the name – the ability to define two loop points – but the three ‘Jump’ buttons. These are labelled with 7,5 / 5 / 2.5 and simply make the music jump back for 7,5 / 5 / 2.5 seconds as soon as you press one of these. You are listening to e.g. a fancy Mark Knopfler guitar lick, thinking ‘Wow, what was that?’ – press one button to hear it again. This is to me the best solution, as rewinding or moving the position slider in other apps is very inaccurate and take too much time. You can also combine the three buttons or press one of them several times, e.g. press the 7.5 seconds button twice to jump back for 15 seconds to repeat a longer part.

ab-repeat-player
I love the three jump buttons to hear a phrase again

The rest of the app is fine, too – it simply does what you expect of a music player app.

Here is the feature list:

* AB Repeating Function (Ad hoc and saved)
* AB Points post-adjustment Function with “Check Mode”
* Interval (Pause) between AB Repeats
* Easy traverse inside A and B points
* Easy to play recorded A and B points list.
* Customizable three Jump Buttons
* Bookmark Function (Ad hoc and saved)
* Bookmark position adjustment function with “Check Mode”
* Unlimited recording of AB points and Bookmarks
* Editable list of AB points and Bookmarks
* AB points and Bookmark database clean up
* Backup and Restore of AB points and Bookmark database
* Display order in AB points and Bookmark list. Creation date, name and A point with reverse order for each.(New)
* Mp3 Lyric Display.(Font size and previous position memory)
* Playlist (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Setting to the Ring Tone (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Shuffle modes (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Search (same as Google’s standard media player)(Enhancement: can be invoked from menu)
* Artwork Display (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Audio and Video Support
* Automatic pause/resume on received calls.
* Automatic pause on headset unplugging.
* Controls by Bluetooth.
* SD card installable for Android 2.2 or later.
* Database Migration to a new device.
* Sleep Timer
* Float Pad: Translucent Control Button Pad floating over any other apps.
* Saving the sound between AB as a ringtone, alert, Ankidroid flashcard sound and othe

Dire Straits/ Mark Knopfler live pictures and videos

The black Fender Strat on Portobello Belle on the Love over Gold tour

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The song Portobello Belle has been played as a great ‘Irish-reggae-calypso’ version on the Love over Gold tour. An edited version has been released on the Money for nothing compilation sampler a long time ago. However, it was not included on the Alchemy video, and there is no youtube video at all of this song from that tour.

For this reason we do not know much about the guitar on this song. The only info came from myself on my old Dire Straits guitar page where I stated that it was played on a black Fender Stratocaster. The source of this info is my own memory, as I visited the concert in Cologne, May 16, 1983. But I never have seen the guitar I remember well on any picture, until recently when the following picture appeared:

 

black-fender-portobello-belleNote the capo at the third fret, a clear indication for an open G tuning, shifted to Bb by the capo, the key of Portobello Belle on this tour (it is C on the Communique album and D on the Making Movies tour!). The guitar might be the Amercican vintage reissue which was released just a year before (it does not llok like 50ies vintage guitar).

Mark played a lot of cool solo licks in the long outro of the songs, often in dialog with Mel Collins on the saxophone, as seen in the picture.

Guitar in general

Jamming with the BOSS DR-80

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The BOSS DR-80 is an astonishing little device with a vey high fun-factor. In short, it is a digital 8-track multitrack recorder with a lot of effects, and at the same time a virtual band  with a great number of jam grooves. And maybe the most astonishing feature is the price which is just about 200 Euros.

I already had a lot of fun with this little device. Here are two spontaneous jam videos that were created with nothing but the effects and grooves from the device. Partly I even used the suggested effects and amp simulation for the backing tracks, without any further editing.

 

Guitar in general

Simple trick to meaure neck thickness with strings on

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Recently I wanted to measure the neck thickness of some of my guitars. I was surprised to find something as trivial as this to turn out to be rather difficult job. The strings always hindered my calipers from lying flat against the neck surface, no matter how I tried.

I solved the problem with the help of a little battery that turned out as the ideal tool to help with the job:

neck-thickness-0
Tricky job: string hinder the calipers
neck-thickness-1
Take a little battery (here an AG13) and set the calipers to zero
neck-thickness-2
Place the battery between the strings…
neck-thickness-3
… and measure neck thickness.
Amps

Easy way to cure a scratchy voice coil in a guitar speaker

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I recently had a problem with a Music Man HD130 amp (the one Mark Knopfler used in the early days of Dire Straits). One speaker was creating a scratchy, distorted sound, surprisingly only at very low volume while it was fine at medium or high volume. I managed to cure it with an easy trick, nothing too special or secret but nevertheless something I want to share in case someone runs into similar problems with his amp.

When I removed the speaker to have a closer look at what might be wrong with it, I immediately noticed that infamous scratchiness when moving the cone carefull with two fingers. It was worse when pushing more on particular places while it disappeared when doing so at some other spots. I quickly came to the suspect that the problem came from “standing” upright for decades (it was a 1976 amp with original speakers). The voice coil is not really a heavy part but still it has some small weight, and after years this weight can deform the cone slightly so that the voice coil scratches on one side. For the same reason you should always store speakers horizontally but who stores a combo amp or a speaker cabinet this way?

mm-amp-speakers
The speakers after turning and swapping – the two ‘Music Men’ on those stickers with their heads down now – but the speakers feel happy again

The solution was very easy and inexpensive, even without any costs at all: all I had to do was turning the speaker for 180 degrees, so that what pointed to the top became the bottom end. I did the same with the second speaker, not only to prevent similar problems with it in the future but also to make the connectors of both speakers look to the middle between the speakers again, which means I also swapped the left and the right speakers. Hopefully it will work fine for the next 41 years now 🙂

Of course this easy fix does not always work, if the cone or the voice coil is damaged only a recone job will help. But before doing so you should give it a try.

Guitars

Preview: Tunnel of Love Birch Dream Machine Strat Copy

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Here are just two quick pictures of what I have been spending time with lately:

dm-birch-1

This is a body of one-piece (!) flamed (!!) birch (!!!), shaped like a Schecter Dream Machine body (yes, the shape is slightly different to a Fender body, e.g. slimmer horns and cutaways) . The neck is a one-piece birds-eye neck, the neck profile is copied from a Van Nuys era Schecter neck.

The wood is not finished at all yet, not even finally sanded. I admit I just could not wait to hear this guitar so I assembled it for a true ‘preview’. 🙂

The guitar sounds very cool !!! And before you wonder why this neck has no dots on the front (Mark’s Schecter – the one that was stolen – had dots): there are a few more bodies waiting around here, of different kinds of mahogany, birch, and ash. I have not decided yet on which body this neck will end (Mark’s other Schecters were dotless).

dm-birch-2
The flame of the wood will come out when the guitar is finished. This is the raw untreated wood (!) but you already get an idea of the flame.

Here is the video of the first soundcheck:

Guitar in general

Building a Schecter Dream-Machine Style Telecaster Copy

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Finally, I finished the second Telecaster-style guitar with Dream Machine brass hardware. You might remember my first build report about a Dream Machine Telecaster clone. Even back then when I started that first project, I already got the body and neck to start a similar project with these but never found the time to complete it. The idea behind the project was to assemble an affordable guitar that looks great, and – most important – sounds great and gives you the ‘Walk of Life’ Schecter Tele sound of the tapped F520T / F521T pickups and the brass bridge, in other words a guitar with high-quality brass hardware and electronics but without any parts so cheap that they might ruin the sound of the guitar. It turned out to be a really great guitar, great look, great feel & great sound. As I already have more guitars  than I have room for, I put it for sale into my online shop.

DM-Tele-sb-600-3

The body is a really nice looking, extremely light sunburst Tele body. I have no idea how old it is exactly (I guess you can call it ‘vintage’), or who made it. It is not 100% accurate compared to the Fender specs, e.g. it is only about 90% (ca. 40 mm) of the Fender body depth (44 mm) but still it seems to be a great piece of wood without anything indicating inferior quality. The grain looks great, the tap tone is nice, and, given its age, it is completely dry tone wood. There are some dings & dongs, e.g. at the edges of the body, so it looks  a bit ‘naturally relic’ed’.

DM-Tele-sb-600-1

I got the neck together with the body. It has a rosewood fingerboard without center dots (like Mark’s ‘Walk of Life’ Tele, although this one has little dots on one side of the fingerboard, between the two lowest bass strings). So the look is similar to a dotless Schecter but you still have something that helps to orientate. The neck even has a slight flame on the peghead.

DM-Tele-sb-600-4

I used a set of brass hardware that I produce myself, even the control plate is brass like on vintage Schecter Dream Machines. The pickups are two ‘Walk of Life’ pickups, clones of the original Dream Machine pickups of the early 80ies.

DM-Tele-sb-600-5
Here is a first video:

Amps

Strange guitar sound on the Werchter 1981 recording – Did Mark mix direct out and microphone?

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On July 5, 1981, Dire Straits played on the Werchter festival in Belgium. The concert was broadcasted on the radio and on TV and is one of the very few soundboard recordings from the 1980/81 On Location tour.

There is one thing that always strikes me about that recording: Mark’s guitar sound was what I’d call ‘strange’, and completely different from all other recordings of the same tour we have (and there are many…). It had a very different, harsh kind of treble. To my ears it sounds like a direct out of the amp, and not like the mic’ed guitar speaker you would expect here.

You will probably know that a typical guitar speaker is a ‘woofer’, a loudspeaker aimed mainly at low and midrange frequencies. It has a pronounced treble roll off, which means it hardly produces high treble frequencies over maybe 6 kHz. For this reason it strongly colours the sound; it automatically filters out unwanted harsh, crisp frequencies. Without the guitar speaker especially a distorted guitar would not sound as we all expect it to sound. For this reason there are – unlike in a PA system – no tweeters (high frequency speakers) in a guitar cabinet.

celestion-graph
Typical frequency response of a guitar speaker

What is strange about the Werchter guitar sound is that I feel to hear exactly these frequencies that should not be there. How is this possible, as we know that Mark of course used guitar speakers on this tour, Marshall 4 x 12″ cabinets to be precise? And on all other recordings from the tour the sound is not like on this one.

It seems unlikely to me that they had a completely different setup for this day – especially as Mark’s live sound required a full effect rack that is not easy to substitute. And even if a guitar speaker suddenly fails, you can simply put the microphone in front of another one – there are four of them in each cabinet! The only theory that makes sense to me is that there was a second signal path involved, one without the guitar speakers. This ‘direct out’ was blended with the signal from the microphones/speakers. One possible reason to do so might be that this way you have more high end and low end to enrich the ‘normal’ sound of the speakers to a desired extend.

I guess for the radio/TV broadcast the concert was mixed separatedly from the PA mix, most likely by engineers of the broadcasters . This is not unusual, you normally want to mix to a much wider stereo signal than you’d do for a PA system. And the sound guys responsible for this mix simply used the direct signal rather than the mic’ed speakers signal, they maybe did simply not know why there were two different sources and what to do with these.

Interestingly the youtube video of this concert includes a few songs that were missing on the radio/TV broadcast. These came from an audience recording in bad quality (see video description), but you can clearly hear that on these songs the sound is very much as it is on all other recordings from the tour, not as thin and trebly as on the radio mix!

Of course this is speculation but if I am right indeed it tells us something about the way Mark created his stage sound on this tour (or even on others, too ??) .

Guitars

Bridge on the Dire Straits Stratocaster: Japanese or Original?

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You probably know the discussion started by John Suhr about the originality of Mark Knopfler red Dire Straits Stratocaster (the one with the maple neck, not the 1961 Strat with the rosewood fingerboard). John Suhr worked on Mark’s guitars in the early 80ies and stated that this guitar was not an original vintage Fender but a ‘fake’, probably a Japanese copy.

I always used to be a bit uncertain what to think about this. John Suhr is of course a great guitar expert who makes wonderful guitars but this does not automatically imply to be an expert on vintage Fenders, especially not back then when information was generally harder to get than it is now, it was of course pre-internet era, and even books on this topic were rare or simply non existent yet. And mind that of course Mark’s guitar was – if it was a vintage Fender – not in an original state: new body finish, new neck finish, new fender decal, new fingerboard, new pickguard,…

In this blog post I will show you a part of the guitar which – to my knowledge – cannot be a copy: the tremolo bridge.

80470-bridge-2

In the picture (from early 1978, Mark got the guitar in 1977) you can see a few details that in my opinion are not possible for any Japanese copy parts from the 70ies. Let’s start with the red arrows: here you can see a part of two of the three screws that hold the tremolo block to the bridge plate on any Fender vintage style tremolo. Well, this does not sound like any spectacular detail but I’d say most Japanese bridges were die-cast one-piece tremolos, similar to the Fender tremolos from the 70ies. All the ones by Tokai or Greco at least were.

There were a few two-piece constructions, I have one on a crappy Japanese copy myself. But on all of these that I found so far, the string spacing is different, almost three millimeters (1/8 “) less (52 mm compared to 55mm). If this was the case on Mark’s guitar, the strings would run differently (blue arrows) across the pole pieces of the bridge pickup (this is Mark’s original 1961 pickguard from his 1961 Stratocaster, with the original pickups). Also the base plates of the Japanese bridges are not as wide, due to the narrower string spacing. There would be a bigger gap between the bridge and the pickguard (green arrow).

These is enough reason for me to claim that this bridge is not a Japanese copy! Before you say, well, maybe it is a Chinese, Corean or European copy part… forget it, in the 70ies there were no copies from other Asian countries except Japan, and the few European copies of this time were not even close to a Fender bridge. They did not have the vintage-style bent string saddles etc. And what about American replacement parts? – Well, these were the 70ies, you could not buy any replacement parts except the ones by Schecter, and possibly Mighty Mite. These however were not close Fender copies but ‘improved designs’ with the more solid saddles, typically of brass, and hard to get in England about that time (Schecter’s first English distributor Chandler Guitars started in 1979).

I still might be wrong but I doubt it: show me a non-Fender bridge like this to prove me wrong!