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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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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I’ve written two articles in the latest issue of Australian Musician Magazine: interviews with Aussie bands The Screaming Jets and Children Collide. You can see the whole magazine online by going HERE and clicking on the cover.
The Screaming Jets interview is on page 17, and the Children Collide interview is on pages 26 and 27.
I got a copy of this to review the other day, but you can check it out for yourself now at the VH1 website!
Here’s one that’s bound to put the wind up Chris Cornell and his attempts to become the next Justin Timberlake or whatever: Soundgarden with Tad Doyle on vocals and Tom Morello on second guitar, rocking Spoonman at the Seattle stop of Morello’s Axis of Justice tour.
Former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick will make a “BK3″ limited-edition EP available at his upcoming clinics for Allans Music in Australia. The CD features guest appearances by TOTO’s Steve Lukather and John Corabi.
The songs included are:
* No Friend Of Mine (feat. John Corabi on vocals)
* And I Know (vocals by Bruce Kulick)
* Between The Lines (feat. Steve Lukather)
The EP will be available to the general public in mid-April after Kulick’s Australia trip.
Bruce Kulick’s Australian Allans Music clinic schedule:
April 01 – Melbourne – 7:00pm
April 02 – Brisbane – 6:30pm
April 03 – Adelaide – 7:00pm
April 04 – Sydney – 5:00pm
Head on over to Lewis’s Me And Mace: Japan Guitar Journeys blog. I’ve just written a guest post in the form of a review of the Cole Clark Guardian guitar.
Speaking of interesting things on eBay, check this out! Stryper bass player Tim Gaines is selling one of the black and yellow striped vests from the band’s heyday. A must-have for collectors or anyone who wishes to look like a heavy metal bumblebee!
On the auction page, Gaines says “I was the bass player for the Rock Band Stryper from 1983 through 2004 when I retired. I have a whole wardrobe full of these costumes that I will obviously never wear again (at my age) and taking up much needed space, I thought I would offer them to someone who would appreciate them better than I – whether fan, collector, museum or ?
Up for auction is one of my OFFICIAL SPANDEX STAGE COSTUME TOPS – Worn by BOTH ROBERT SWEET and myself TIM GAINES. This is absolutely a RARE ONE OF A KIND ROCK MUSIC COLLECTORS ITEM. This spandex top was worn by both Robert and myself during the years 1984 thru 1986 on several Stryper world wide tours. It was also worn by Robert Sweet as seen on the album cover for our single Together As One as well as a promo photo of the same picture that was circulated to press and the Stryper fan base. This top was created by clothing designer Tina Henderson, who also created many of the first Stryper costumes in 1984 and 1985. Again, this is absolutely RARE ONE OF A KIND ORIGINAL stage costume.”
I’m thinking of picking up (no pun intended) the non-relic version for my blue Ibanez RG soon. If I do I’ll post a video review. Last year I bought the MXR EVH Phase 90 pedal, so I’m looking forward to putting the two together and chugging through ‘Atomic Punk’ for a few hours. Hehe.