Monday, June 20, 2016

Gauging Your Choices In Guitars and Strings and Life

This message came from someone who has participated in a number of my guitar classes:
Hi Gary Lee Joyner, guitar teacher extraordinaire,
What do you think of light-medium gauge steel strings for acoustic guitar?
An acquaintance of mine has this preference in strings.
Martin MSP4150 SP Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings, Light-Medium

My response:
When artist Edward Gorey was asked one time for a list of his “most admired or adored” books he said, “I am almost never invited to tell the world at large what it ought to be reading.” I love that quote.

For similar reasons, it took me a couple days to respond to the string topic. I balk at the prospect of anyone thinking that any thoughts I come up with might imply a directive.

I first had to follow your link to find out what “light-medium” means. I think of strings in terms of specific gauges and never quite trust the consistency of general product names. And so I now know that Martin SP phosphor bronze light-mediums are .125-.55. Interesting.

In the days when I offered guitar lessons at various music stores and played four hours and more a night, many nights a week, in bars and coffeehouses filled with string-destroying smoke, I had the need and employee-discount-opportunity to change strings very often. Every four days or so. It gave me the chance to experiment. A lot. If I were to suggest one directive it would be to experiment as much as you can manage…and discover what works for you. Not only gauge (including creating your own sets), but also brand, composition, winding, etc.

After that halcyon period I tended to get into a specific set for 4-5 years at a time. I had to have the current choice. Then I would suddenly find myself totally dissatisfied with that choice and have to find a new one that I would then stick with for another 4-5 years.

Shortly before we were at Blue Bear School of Music I took a real left-hand turn. It had to do with my getting my first good quality magnetic pick-up for one of my acoustic guitars. (I had owned a DeArmond monstrosity in the early days…weak, unbalanced, noisy, clunky, and it chewed up the underside of my guitar’s soundhole. I wish I still had it!) I had mostly used phosphor bronze strings for a long time up until then. But it occurred to me that electric guitar strings might respond nicely to my new pick-up. I didn’t notice any real difference in terms of the pick-up. But!...I found out that I really liked the acoustic sound of the nickel strings. I loved getting away from the full warmth that is generally associated with phosphor bronze. The sound is…cold…in a way I like…a lot. And oddly enough, I never had as many positive responses regarding my sound before the switch as I have since. And people are surprised by my explanation. “That’s ‘wrong’! You’re not supposed to do that…”

At that point I was teaching in a music store in Petaluma. (Charlie Cowles’ great Tall Toad Music.) So I again was able to do a bunch of experimenting. Along the way I found myself drawn to “.13s” for the first time since my early years of playing. Which is how I found my way to D'Addario EJ22 Nickel Jazz Medium strings. It has caused problems on the road because a lot of music stores don’t carry that particular set. 20 years later I’m still using them on all my steel string guitars, electric and acoustic. For a while I even concocted my own set for a 12-string that I tuned down to C—starting with EJ22s. Lately I’ve gone back to “.11s” on that guitar in order to bring it up to standard tuning.
Some assorted recent circumstances have forced me to vary other things a bit, as well.

I bought a Yamaha Silent steel string guitar for travel. It came with a set of “.10” phosphor bronze, including an unwound G. I’ve never liked an unwound 3rd on any guitar. It’s gotta be wound for me. So after asking around about safety for the guitar I put EJ22s on it. The neck and structure could take it, but a series of perplexing problems occurred with the piezo pick-up. Bottom line—it seemed that the gauge was causing the problems. I searched around and found a D’Addario set of nickel “.11s” with a wound 3rd. It’s working out nicely and I’m enjoying the difference in gauge. It’s imposing some alterations in my playing approach on that guitar.

On another front, some physical issues made me try moving to EJ21 “.12s” on one of my acoustics. I do miss the string resistance on that guitar so I might go back.

Picks create another element that influences gauge choices. These days I am constantly switching my pick combinations. Thumbpick and bare fingers, thumbpick and four metal fingerpicks, flatpick and bare fingers, flatpick and three metal fingerpicks. Each combination makes a different demand on string gauge. And each brand and size of thumbpick, or each size and thickness and make-up of flatpick, strikes the strings differently. A large thin Fender flatpick hits the strings very differently than a Tusq, or a Dunlop Ultex, or a tiny “jazz” pick. And I like to try them all. Varying sounds. Varying feels. Varying demands on string gauge. It’s all so much fun.

Tunings also affect gauge choices. And playing slide guitar (bottleneck or bar). Some of us like heavier gauges for lowered altered tunings. On the other hand, guitars probably aren’t gonna like being tuned higher while they are wearing heavier gauges. Martin Simpson told me that he used a .15 (!!) for his 1st string because it supported his slide in a way that he liked. He also stipulated that he would never tune it up to standard tuning.

So you aren’t going to hear any rules or dogmatisms out of me. No surprise there, right?
Summation: There are no laws in my art world. It all depends on the needs of the player. Physical issues, sound objectives, style, strength of attack, etc.

I guess I didn’t actually answer your question about light-mediums. I’d try ‘em. Especially if I could find them in a nickel electric set.

Now…nylon strings…that’s were choices really get complicated for me...

By the way, Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises In Style”, Sylvia Waugh’s five “Mennyms” books, and Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities” topped Gorey’s list. Great choices. We all OUGHTA read them.   :^)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Folk Music and Cowboys and How Did We Get From There To Here?

Here's another view of GLJ explaining the nature of sound to the Minneapolis Police Department on Lake Street. Back in those days there was an objection to live music at the Uptown Art Fair...businesses and artists believed that it hampered the entrepreneurial activities of the event...hard to believe such a thing now when people don't know they're having fun unless they're being bombarded by decibels.
May I digress? The cowboy on the left is a-hankerin' to slip his hand over to the blunderbuss on his hip. And me there holding my lethal guitar.
It reminds me of an episode that occurred when I was 4. I met a real-life cowboy who was working for Billy Graham...rustlin' up some souls. His name was Redd Harper. The BG film company had made a movie about the guy and Redd himself made an appearance at a showing that I attended. Four year old me sashayed up to the varmint and asked, "Where's yer gun?" He looked around, grabbed a Bible and waved it in my face. "Why it's right here, ya little sidewinder!" I stumbled away from the ravine, confused, disappointed, and eager to get back to my Lone Ranger/Rifleman/Wyatt Earp on TV.
(The moral of the story: They were indoctrinating us 'merican children already in those days via TV and movies and radio...convincing us that the only real convincer was a piece of weaponry. It's buried deeply and subtly in our culture. Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger had his two six-shooters and those silver bullets. Chuck Connors as The Rifleman had that tricked out Winchester. Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt Earp had the strangely hyper-extended revolver. Doc Holliday had a big mustache and a double-barrelled shotgun that could take down the side of a building. Steve McQueen as Josh Randall, and Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma, had their curiously sexy sawed-off shotguns. Johnny could spin his around his finger in a fun way. I used to think that these were all nothing more than painfully obvious phallic symbols. Now I realize that they are also simply and blatantly intended to implant a subconscious love for guns. )
The pivotal point of my recollection is not Redd’s response…which was quite predictable for a missionary evangelist.
No, it hinges on the question that preoccupied my undeveloped four-year-old mind. I didn’t stride down the noonday street with the sun glinting in my eyes and ask the imposing rounder “Where’s your horse?” or “Can I see your guitar?” or “Do you eat your campfire beans right out of the can or off a tin plate?” or “Does it hurt the cows when you brand them?”
Firearms were nonexistent in my household—not even a hunter in the family—but I was programmed to think about smoke-wagons. “Where’s your gun?”

Who's Judging Whom?

I've been performing an experiment today.

Randomly throughout the day I've been turning on the radio. Every time...every single time...the first words to come out of the speakers have been Orlando, massacre, guns, or shootings.

Once the ecstatic self-serving media frenzy dies down, like the after-gloom of an unsatisfying episode of sex, things will go on. Nothing will change. We'll go on being cowed by affluent monied corporate interests, and voting in people who make the stasis inevitable.

We're getting what we deserve.

Certain bizarre right-wing media mouthpieces are once again ranting about "God's judgement on homosexuals". If Americans are under "judgement" it's not because of our sexual choices. It's about all the evil being done in our name all over the well as here at home...things that are being advocated and supported by those same mouthpieces. They have a peculiar vision ailment that only allows them to see the "sins" of others, and never their own. And some of you will recognize what I'm talking about here...they still think that Rev. 3:20 is a "salvation verse". Claiming to understand and live by the Bible they are completely missing it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banjo Rights

Linus van Pelt once said that the world would be a better place if everyone was issued a banjo at birth.

So here's my thought...

Abolish the NRA. Replace it with the National Banjo Association. Make it easy for people to get banjos without a background check. Sponsor unregulated banjo shows. Create a class of high-paid banjo lobbyists.

Some say (some say!) that people should need a license to operate a banjo in the same way they need a license to drive a car. I disagree.

Some people just like to take their banjo to a picking range. And as citizens they have that right. It's a social thing. They don't want to hurt anyone with their banjo. They just get off on making noise and hitting a target note. And they always wear proper hearing protection.

There's got to be an amendment somewhere that can be twisted enough to apply to banjos.

As far as I know, there has never been a mass murder committed by someone holding a banjo.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Look Into My Eyes...You're Getting Sleepy

This is the most important aspect of everything that is going on around you in current political "news".

It is infinitely more important than Trump's latest inanity or why Bernie chose to give a speech at a Christian university.

As an example for my point I'll use a recent article that posted about Bernie Sanders' visit to Liberty University.

One line in their article:

"Oddly, the response to this news was not impressed with Sanders reaching out a group he didn’t agree with, but questioned why he was going."

When media tell you what people are thinking, how people are responding, it is all a fabrication. Media are the transparent creators of what you think.

You don't even know that you see the media. You think you are looking at the topic of the moment, but you are seeing, hearing, and thinking what they want you to see, hear, and think. They are controlling you. You are only seeing ideas that they want to impose on your mind. It isn't exactly subliminal, but it is powerful and it is devious.

People take in the statements. The statements play upon innate drives to be a viable part of whatever is "trending" (a ridiculous concept to begin with)...and those drives have previously been implanted using the same methods.

Upon consideration the statements would reveal themselves to be vague and meaningless. Ask questions. ASK QUESTIONS! Who is responding this way? Was I responding this way before they told me how to respond? Are they forming my response without my even being aware of it? And what AREN'T they telling me?

Two words you should always mistrust when you hear them used together: "Some say..."

Yes, this is going to entail some activity on your part because you are going to have to find your own answers.

And those of you who are capable of more abstract complex thought...consider this: There is no such thing as an "objective documentary". The moment someone decides which way to point a camera and when to open the shutter subjectivity is running the show.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

This Little Light

You may be asking yourself, “Has GLJ gone off the rails? Has he abandoned his life to sit drooling over a keyboard and ranting like a maniac?”

Oh ye of little faith.

First of all, I hope that my posts and blogs don’t come across as rants and rages. Someone told me I need not fear, that my concise, focused, well-honed writing wouldn’t be mistaken for “rants”.

I hope he was right.

I’ll tell you a story.

I really wanted to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Circumstances did not allow me to participate in the categories that were specified at his campaign website. So I looked around and asked what CAN I do?

Here’s what I came up with:
1. I’m a deep thinker.
2. I’m a highly skilled writer.
3. I’m a highly skilled communicator.
4. It’s been proven repeatedly around the world that social media are effective tools for spreading messages, advancing causes. The Sanders campaign is benefiting hugely from this.

So this is what I can do…I can participate in this way.

I know that my audience is comparatively small. But we sang a song in Sunday School…“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

And even if I'm only preaching to the choir, I hope that the choir finds some encouragement.

You can help by sharing my FB posts and blogs when you appreciate them. “Likes” are encouraging and greatly appreciated, but “shares” put the ideas on the road.

From now on when you see one of my posts I hope you think, “There’s GLJ doing volunteer work again. Now what can I do?...”

And by the way, I’m writing songs and making visual art like a madman. A new set of songs will be available soon.

Sympathy For the Victims

It's clear to even a passing glance that the current Republican Party is completely different than that of our parents and grandparents. It's similar in name only.

I've heard it put this way:

Today's Republican Party is made up of three classes.
1. Those in control. (The oligarchs, the One-Per-Centers, the corporations, the banksters.)
2. Their hired shills, (Politicians; the pundits; the media. Mercenaries who are being well compensated for their participation.)
3. The suckers. (The real people "on the ground" who are being tricked into thinking and voting in ways that serve class number 1. They are fooled with emotional triggers that get them heated up and blinded to what's really being perpetrated. Issues that are usually based around race, gender, birth choices, and all sorts of misrepresented "rights". Stink bombs. Trojan horses.)

I don't like the term "suckers". It has an unuseful pejorative tone. Sometimes "The Duped" is used in an attempt to be more conciliatory. I prefer "Victims". They are good people whose own better natures are being turned back to knife themselves in the heart. And they are coerced into grabbing the handle of the knife to help drive it in.