I HEART KEYTAR: 5 keytar essentials

If you, like me, are new to the world of keytar, you’ll probably want to jump into the deep end straight away with all the authentic trappings. Here are a few points to get you started.

1. Headbands. No self-respecting keytarist would be seen dead on stage without a headband, or at the very least some manner of bandana tied up to look like a headband. The reason for this is because the experience of playing keytar is so mindblowingly awesome that you need to do something to protect your head from exploding in the pure rock grandure that is keytar. Also, you sweat a lot because everyone can see you now.
2. Wifebeaters. If you’re up front rockin’ out, you want to show off your guns. What better way than with a wifebeater? It says to your audience, ‘Hey, I’m rockin’ these mad biceps because I have to lift this heavy keytar all day. No sitting down or nuthin‘ for me no more.’ Exposing your arms also gives you ample canvas upon which to have your I Heart Keytar logo tattooed.
3. A keytar roadie. First of all, you need a roadie who has the unfathomable knowledge to deal with any technical problems which may pop up with your keytar: a popped strap pin, a broken key, a strap that’s too long, a MIDI cable stretched a little too far, or to kiss boo-boos better when you konk yourself in the temple trying to swing your keyboard-axe around your head like Steve Vai. You also need a roadie who looks a hell of a lot better than those homely chumps who call themselves guitar techs, just to really show those guitarists what for. 

4. High-tech weaponry. When is a keytar not a keytar? When it’s also a modern take on a medieval weapon of torture. Check out this monster keytar hoisted by Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. Not only does it allow him to rock out hardcore at the front of the stage with his shredderiffic buddies, it also comes in handy fending off any stage invaders who think they can take advantage of an unmanned keyboard station to jump up and make off with a Nord.

5. A smile. What’s the point of playing the coolest instrument in the world if you’re always down and depressed? You’re rockin’ a keyboard that lets you stand up and show off your Chopin, to let loose your Liszt, to unlock your Hancock, so be happy about it!

3: MacBigot 4: Source unknown, email me if you know. 5: Doodlebops

I HEART KEYTAR: 5 Keytars you must try before you die

EDIT: This was my 2009 April Fools Day joke: I changed the entire site to I Heart Keytar for the day. Enjoy.

Roland AX-7

The AX-7 MIDI Keyboard Controller offers stage performers more freedom and expressiveness, and the ability to show off those David Lee Roth high kicks you perfected in the basement. A host of controllers—including a D Beam—opens up a new dynamic for live players, while the AX-7’s attractive pearl white design looks great on stage. It’s also very easy to use, thanks to a new LED display, expanded patch memory and GM2/GS compatibility. Rad. CLICK HERE to see the Roland AX-7 on eBay.


 

Williams Keytar V-1

This New Wave-approved Keytar V-1 was designed specifically to be easy to play, and it combines strummable strings with a piano keyboard instead of a fretboard. This wedge-shaped beauty is sure to aid you in your musical explorations into the stratosphere, and if it doesn’t you can totally use it as a doorstop for your drawbridge. CLICK HERE to see the Williams Keytar V-1 on eBay.


Yamaha SHS-10

Voted by Postmodern Keytarist magazine as the Keytar most likely to be found at garage sales, the Yamaha SHS-10 brought Keytar to the masses in the late 80s. The SHS-10 was lightweight, easy to use, and its inbuilt demo track was Last Christmas by Wham. Get strapped on! CLICK HERE to see the Yamaha SHS-10 on eBay.


 

Moog Liberation

The granddaddy of them all, the Moog Liberation was the first commercially available Keytar in the world when it was released in 1980, and it remains so today. Famous Liberationists include Herbie Hancock, Stereolab, Devo, Tom Coster of Santana, Tom Costa of TV fame, and Bryce Kushnier of The Fancy Few, known across Canada as the Moog-King of the Cold Country. CLICK HERE to see the Moog Liberation on eBay.


Casio AZ-1

Never before or since have 2 switches, two wheels, one slider and a hell of a lot of cool conspired to make so great an instrument. The weapon of choice for Thomas Dolby, whoever played keyboards in Gloria Estefan’s Miami Sound Machine and Human League’s Neil Sutton, the AZ-1 is also notable for a headstock designed to open beer cans. CLICK HERE to see the Casio AZ-1 on eBay, or just CLICK HERE to see bottle openers.

REVIEW: Queensryche – American Soldier

Every time a new Queensryche album is released, the wider rock/metal community asks “Is it as good as Operation: Mindcrime or Empire?” To me this is kind of a futile question: Queensryche have never made the same album twice, and even when they try, as with the recent Operation: Mindcrime II, the results still stand on their own. So there are a lot of things American Soldier is not. It’s not Empire, their 1990 hard rock classic. It’s not Operation: Mindcrime, their 1988 metallic concept masterpiece. It’s not Hear In The Now Frontier, which upon its release in the mid 90s was criticised as being a cynical attempt at appropriating a grunge sound (today it holds up quite well, I might add). But surprisingly, what American Soldier is, is an album which would slip in quite nicely between Empire’s heavier moments and the moody, dark vibe of Promised Land, which happens to be my favourite Queensryche album.

Inspired by a conversation with his father, singer Geoff Tate researched the album by interviewing veterans of various wars the US has been involved in, from World War II up to the current skirmish in Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is a thoroughly researched, painfully up-close look at the experience of war, spoken through Tate’s interpretations and through snippets of the actual interview recordings. Writing about war is certainly not new to hard rock or metal, but while we’re used to bands writing something Slayeresque about battle after maybe watching Saving Private Ryan, the music and delivery of American Soldier is much more personal: you’re hearing these stories from people who actually did it, from the soldiers who actually survived it. And that’s a pretty powerful thing, even for Queensryche who are used to making strong statements.

The Jason Slater-produced (with Kelly Gray) CD opens with ‘Sliver,’ which brings to mind elements of Promised Land. A snaking unison bass/guitar riff and a huge harmonised chorus appear quite early into the song, throwing the listener deep into the thick of the album’s overall vibe almost from the very beginning. It’s no doubt designed to introduce the listener to the album musically as well as thematically, and to reassure the listener that the medium (kickass rock) won’t be overshadowed by the message. In fact there’s a great push-pull between riff-based and chord-based songs on the album.

Track two, ‘Unafraid,’ is one of the album highlights for me, and a continuation of some of the musical concepts the band attempted on its Tribe album. There are a few riffs which may remind some listeners of Dream Theater, while sole guitarist Michael Wilton lets rip with one of his best solos since the Empire days. ‘Hundred Mile Stare’ is more chordal than riffy, and again sounds kinda like something from Tribe. It’s indicative of about half the music on the album, where the music hangs back a bit to serve the telling of the story.

Perhaps my favourite song on the album from a musical perspective is the crushing ‘A Dead Man’s Words,’ which really plays up the Promised Land comparisons. The seductive middle-eastern riffs and scales play in the background while Tate layers his vocals and even throws in a saxophone solo. Parts of this song may also remind some listeners of the band’s Seattle neighbours Alice In Chains.

By the way, check out the cool harmonized solo in ‘The Killer,’ a track which is not too far removed from ‘Flood,’ the opening track of Tate’s self-titled solo album. Wilton does a great job of shifting the emphasis between the high and low harmonies in this solo, recalling Queensryche’s earlier sound and providing a moment of satisfaction for those who just wish the band would stick with its Mindcrime sound.

The single ‘If I Were King’ has thrown some listeners, but in the context and pacing of the album it works well. It may not have been my choice for first single but I can understand why it was selected: while it’s not overly indicative of the musical style of the album as a whole, it’s a good thematic introduction. And although this puts me at odds with some QR fans, I really liked their Q2K album and this track is a bit of a reminder of that sound (and it’s no coincidence, given that American Solider includes production and guitar contributions from Gray, who was with the band for Q2K). But once again, those who may be put off the album by the sound of this single needn’t worry: American Soldier is more riffy, dark and intense than this one track would indicate. 

‘If I Were King’ is followed by the powerful and very very loud ‘Man Down!’ which has a huge drum sound and a bed of evolving, churning guitars. There’s also another harmonized Wilton solo which once again recalls the Mindcrime sound without directly copying it.

In ‘Home Again,’ Tate plays the role of a father who is overseas on duty, while his 10-year-old daughter Emily Tate voices the little girl at home, missing her dad. The song is played out as letters back and forth between father and daughter, both saying pretty much the same things to each other while thousands of miles apart. I’m sure that somewhere not too far below the surface the two Tates are drawing parallels between Geoff being off on tour, and a parent being away at war. Emily’s naïve voice expresses the song’s central sentiment in a realistic and naturalistic way which cuts through in a way that perhaps a more theatrical vocalist couldn’t. Finally, American Soldier is capped off with ‘The Voice,’ which includes recordings of Tate’s own father talking about his experiences at war. Musically it’s another strong song, but thematically it’s devastating: a wounded soldier is laying wounded, thinking what may be a dialog with a higher power, or their conscience, or perhaps the distant ghost of comforting memories.

American Soldier may very well be Queensryche’s best moment since Promised Land, and the way the band is handling the marketing of the album is very sensitive and true to the message. Those looking for another Empire may be disappointed, but those with an open mind who are looking to be moved and rocked will have their heart torn by the narrative, and their butts thoroughly kicked by the music.

CLICK HERE to buy American Soldier from Amazon.com

Photos (c) Greg Watermann 

REVIEW: GIG-FX Mega Wah

The Gig-FX roster of users includes such names as Prince, who played the Chopper tremolo pedal on Saturday Night Live; Adam Jones of Tool; Juan Alderete of The Mars Volta/80s glam shred band Racer X; Adrian Belew of King Crimson/Bowie/NIN; Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge and Creed; Living Colour’s Wil Calhoun; and Richard Fortus of Axl Rose’s latest incarnation of the Gunners.

WHY DON’T YOU CRY ABOUT IT
The Gig-FX Mega-Wah combines six wah effects and a volume pedal, in a sturdy, practically bombproof construction. The wah modes include Classic, in mono or stereo; Mega-Wah, which is described as the Classic wah on steroids; Trig-wah, a funky envelope filter type effect; Auto-wah, a straight-forward touch wah effect; Stereo- Wah, in which two circuits give twice the awesome wah power, especially good for use in stereo effects chains; Stereo-Reverse Wah, which reverses one channel for some phasey phreakiness; and Foot-volume control (does what it says on the tin).

The Mega-Wah operates with optical technology, which uses an LED array and an optical sensor to control the effect. In this design, the closer the LED gets to the array, the more intense the effect. It’s a method used on some other high end wah pedals, tremolo and compressor pedals, and the entertainingly squeaky Digitech Whammy Pedal, and it provides a very smooth taper difficult to achieve with traditional pots.

HEY, WAH HAPPENED?
The coolest feature of the Mega-Wah is the Stereo-Reverse mode. The ability to have one side wahing up while the other wahs down is undeniably funky. It reminds me, bizarrely, of Eddie Van Halen’s rarely heard and unorthodox wah technique, where he tends to rock the pedal backwards rather than forwards so the wah sweep goes from high to low instead of the other way around. This is such an attention-grabbing sound, especially in the context of 40 years of standard wah operation, that its inclusion here is a further breath of fresh air for this innovative pedal.

BOW-BOW-WAKKA-WAKKA-BOW-BOW-CHICKA-CHICKA
The Classic mode has all the vibe and tone of the original pedal it pays tribute to, while Mega-Wah takes it a step or two further. Trig-Wah sounds especially great with bass for those phat Bootsy Collins moments.

The sound quality and flexibility cannot be argued with, nor can the sheer number of sound possibilities. There was a little bit of extra noise audible with the review model, but these issues have since been addressed: At NAMM this year, Gig-FX released the second generation versions of the Mega Wah and Chopper that feature ‘Better than True Bypass’ circuitry, which will be incorporated into all gig-fx pedals in the future. Gig-FX explains: “Unlike True Bypass, there is no loud pop when the pedal circuits are engaged. gig-fx pedals use optical switching and are noiselessly by-passed when the pedal is all the way back. The bypass circuitry preserves signal harmonics better than a True Bypass by driving cable lengths at the optimum impedance value with open frequency response circuitry. In comparison, True Bypass pedals are audibly less transparent with losses of high frequencies into instrument cables, even expensive cables. Spectrum Analyzer test results of the gig-fx bypass v True Bypass are to be published on the company’s web site and provide definitive results. The tests were performed with cooperation from DiMarzio.”
SPECS:
All analog circuitry
Transparent bypass achieved by a FET switch
Stereo in/stereo out, mono in/stereo out
Optical operation.
Bypassed when pedal is in ‘heel down’ position
9V operating voltage, 30mA to 40mA current consumption

REVIEW: Carvin CT6M

Carvin’s California Carved Top, looks somewhat reminiscent of another popular double-cutaway mahogany/maple dual humbucker axe out there, but differentiates itself on several important fronts, including attention to detail and customisability. The standard base model is impressive enough, but want a Floyd Rose instead of the Tune-O-Matic bridge? You got it. Your name on the truss rod cover? Have at it. Birds Eye maple fingerboard? Of course. Hard-wearing stainless steel frets? You just gotta ask. Half the fun of owning a Carvin is knowing that while it comes from a rich 60-year heritage, it can be still be made to your exact specs.

The review model is a CT6M, the flagship of the California Carved Top range. It’s a 25” scale, 8.25 pound behemoth with a mahogany body featuring an extremely high grade quilted maple top (2 centimetres thick at its deepest point) in Deep Sunsetburst finish, natural faux-binding and classy gold hardware. The maple waves in the maple top have that three-dimensional quality you only find in the top-shelf stuff, and I must have stared at it for about ten minutes before strumming a note.

The set-neck is also mahogany, but feels like real wood, with no gloss to slow you down as you zip from one end to the other in a Jason Becker moment. The neck features a 12” radius, 22 medium jumbo frets, a pristine ebony fingerboard, mesmerizing abalone block inlays, a flamed maple headstock overlay, Sperzel locking tuners and a pair of graphite reinforcement bars accompanying the truss rod. The neck feels pleasantly chunky, and fits snugly in the hand without impeding playing comfort or fret access. A graphite-Teflon nut keeps the strings from binding up at this crucial point, averting the possibility of tuning problems. The position markers on the side of the neck appear to be made of some type of polished metal, and seem to pick up whatever light is present in a dim room – crucial for when the stage lights go out between songs and you need to find your way from “Jessie’s Girl” to “Play That Funky Music” without coming in a semitone too low.

A pair of C22 humbuckers (with 22 pole pieces each) are complemented by master volume and tone controls, with the tone pot doubling as a push-pull coil split for a total of 6 distinct tones, ranging from Tele-on-steroids to Les Paul on red cordial.

Straight out of the box, the CT6M features a flawlessly buzz-free action from one end of the neck to the other. String height is medium height on the review model, giving the player heaps of room to dig in on gutsy chords but still low enough for smooth, effortless sweep picking or Santana-style tender moments, if that’s your poison. The fret ends are polished so smoothly that if you push the high E string off the fretboard the note glides up smoothly in pitch as if you’re using a slide or a whammy pedal. It’s a neat trick, and usually one that requires a bit of extra fret finishing from a tech – rare to see in a brand new guitar. A quick glance at the pickups reveals a little bit of factory tweakage of the 22 pole pieces to even out the volume of each string – another nice little touch that reveals further attention to detail.

So what’s it like plugged in? Well, it bears certain sonic similarities to other mahogany body/maple top twin-humbucker designs, but the attractively cream-coloured C22 pickups seem to add a few extra harmonics to the sound, like playing through a wah left in a stationary position. If you crank up the gain high enough, the tone is almost Satriani-like, with overtones and harmonics rising up into the stratosphere. Unlike most guitars, the tone knob is actually useful – roll it all the way back and the tone becomes even fuller, taking on an almost flutey quality. Santana tones are definitely lurking around, as are classic Led Zeppelin humbucker rhythm tones. Clean sounds are very solid and clear, and in a pinch this guitar is equally at home on cruisy jazz licks and speed-picked Megadeth riffs.

In single coil mode, the CT6M sounds like a heavy duty Telecaster, equally at home with bluesy double-stops, funky Chic-style rhythm or ballsy Junior Brown-ish country. Whether in single coil or humbucker mode the pickups seem to love Drop D tuning, with a gutsy tightness in humbucker mode or a tough-sounding punch on the single coil settings. The pickups are evenly balanced with each other no matter which setting is used.

The overall quality of this guitar is outstanding, from the big things like overall tone and tuning stability to the less obvious stuff like the positioning of the controls and the reduced mass of the smaller headstock, which helps keep everything nicely balanced on a strap and prevents the guitar from getting too neck-heavy sitting down. Sustain is impressive, playability is flawless, and the guitar looks as good as it plays. Best of all, you can choose your preferred options from a huge list of possibilities to turn this already impressive model into the guitar of your dreams.

WONDERHOWTO: How to avoid fret buzz on an electric guitar with techniques

I was just cruising site sponsor WonderHowTo’s site and stumbled upon this video, which originates from Music Radar, about avoiding fret buzz. This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart because I keep one of my guitars (a 1987 Ibanez RG550) set up with extremely low action, and if you play with a heavy hand on that one you will get fret buzz.

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