Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Menagerie in Studio Moodio

It seems like I've been talking about classical music a lot lately, not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not the only kind of music I do. At ye olde academy I mainly direct the Seishin Flying Eggheads, which is a jazz big band (a rarity among schools in Japan, particularly in this area). Recently I've also somehow wound up in charge of directing the 9th grade chorus to help them prepare to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at their graduation ceremony. As for the home front, I just finished recording and mixing the three "muzak box" tunes for my wife's school's graduation ceremony. That was actually the first time I'd fired up my home studio in weeks. I just haven't had time to indulge in my favorite hobby, which is ironic since my main tools for my home composing and recording are so prominently displayed in my room:

(If you think that's ridiculous, there's actually more behind me including a 12-string acoustic guitar among various string and electronic instruments. I also have another acoustic guitar at the school plus my two saxes and three clarinets.)

(No, I'm not rich.)

(No, my wife's not happy.)

I'm sure a lot of people would wonder, "Why the %#$& do you have so many guitars?" Well, you might also ask some people why they have so many pets. My friend in Singapore, Robin, has introduced me to his wonderful family of dogs (thanks, Robin!). My old friend the professor down in California, Dewkid, has also spoken of his trio of cats. I figured that, since they were kind enough to introduce me to their intimate companions, it's only proper that I introduce mine.

First I'll talk about the black guitar in the very center of the picture, and it really is black. Everything on it is black except the bridge and the machine heads. It's a Yamaha RTS 102, which is a discontinued model based on the Fender Telecaster. I bought it a few months after first arriving here in Japan. At the time, I picked it up because it was 70% off the original price (and I was still broke), figuring I'd trade it in once I had enough to get a "real" guitar. However, I wound up keeping it because it has served me very well. The pickups don't really have much oomph, so I've been thinking about replacing one or both of them, but it has done the job quite well. I've always used heavier guage strings on it than on the others and also keep the action fairly high so that it's perfect for "banging". It actually does have kind of an acoustic guitar feel to it, and that makes it ideal for rhythm guitar. In my earliest recordings I used it for both lead and rhythm, but since mid 1991 it has been my rhythm workhorse.

The bone-white and black guitar in front of the RTS-102 is my Fender (Japan) Stratocaster HSS. My friend and sometimes fellow performer (I am not worthy! I am not worthy!), guitar hero and music sage Paul "Crusty" Lauritsen says it's not a real Strat. He's right. In mid 1991 I actually bought a "real" Strat for lead work, but I sold it (to Jeff) a year later and got the Strat HSS. What's the difference? Well, for one thing, the Strat HSS is bulkier and a whole lot heavier (which is why Paul says it isn't "real"). It also has a "super-distortion" humbucking pickup in the lead position instead of the traditional single-coil type. However, the main reason I got it was for the locking tremolo system, which allows me to bend hard into every chord or even bang the tremolo bar against the body without the thing going out of tune. For the "prog rock" that I tend to write and record, it does a fine job. (I'd probably rather use a Fender Jaguar, since that seems to be a standard for British alternative and prog rock, but oh, well.) The Strat HSS has a wide range of sounds. The single-coil neck pickup gives me that nice, gritty, bluesy feel for which the Strat is famous, whereas the bridge pickup can punch out a wonderfully dirty, aggressive tone when I want one. I can also add in the middle pickup in or out of phase to round out the sound a little.

The pearl-white and black guitar to the right of the RTS-102 is my Epiphone (Japan) SG. The SG was developed by Gibson when, ironically, it stopped making its famous Les Paul model in the early 60s due to slow sales. (The Les Paul was put back into production in the early 70s, when artists such as Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, and Ace Frehley made it popular.) The SG has been used by such artists as Pete Townshend of The Who, Angus Young of AC/DC, and James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins. It has the same basic layout as the Les Paul, but with a thinner, lighter, double-cutaway body of solid mahogany rather than layered maple. Epiphone is actually a division of Gibson now, so you could say that I have a Gibson SG, albeit of a bit lower production standard (hence a lower price). Mine is very much the standard model with vintage pickups. It is a very light guitar, and the balance tends toward the headstock rather than the body (which takes some getting used to!). It has a very punchy sound which is excellent for rock but not always very adaptable for soft or clean tones (so I use the RTS-102 or the Strat [neck pickup] for those). Its neck is shorter than that of the Strat or the RTS-102 and has thicker frets spaced closer together. Because of that, I can usually move faster and smoother on it when playing (rock) leads (though the Strat feels better in bluesier solos and is good for short bursts of speed) and can also play a strong vibrato with more ease. I actually didn't like this guitar so much at first and was afraid I'd made a mistake in buying it, mainly since it went out of tune so easily, but it has since gotten better, and now I love it. (Still...I've been drooling over those Les Pauls in the music shop a bit too much for my own good lately...)

Okay, those are my three electrics. I think they complement each other well. Firm, chorded rhythm or a clean lead? RTS-102. Bluesy lead, dirty fill, or experimental noise? Strat. Punchy riff or "jammin'" lead? SG. Still, it's an interesting combination, partly because one of my favorite rock bands of the past decade has been The Smashing Pumpkins. Billy Corgan mainly used a Strat, and James Iha used an SG. Coincidence? I doubt it. probably doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter that all my electric guitars (and bass) are black and/or white. What happened to color???!? (In retrospect, the [cheap piece of junk] electric guitar I had before coming to Japan was BLUE!!!!!)

(Aw, fuggit! Maybe I should run out tomorrow and buy that purple PRS guitar I saw in [SMACK!!!!])


Incidentally, the bass is a Fender (Japan) Precision. The acoustic guitar in the picture is an Epiphone, as is the 12-string leaning against the wall behind me. Epiphone acoustics are actually very highly rated and many people swear by them. (I've heard that John Lennon actually used one of that same model at one point.)

What other instruments can you see in this picture? Well, let's see... There's a flute, a bamboo flute, a crystal piccolo, a fife, a shakuhachi, soprano and alto recorders, five Irish tinwhistles (2 C, 2 D, 1 F), a kalimba, 6 harmonicas (all different keys), a shichiriki, an ocarina, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

So why the hell am I sitting here typing about them when I could be playing them??!? 'Kay...gotta go.


  • Ah you're trying to get away with it. Cats, dogs, guitars? :p

    Well, as long as you are happy, my friend :) Cheers!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 1:32 AM  

  • Guitars are cheaper than vintage automobiles and take up less room, so you've got that argument going for you.

    Make sure you cover recording equipment and software at some point, cuz I am really curious about that (and not just because I want to rob your house).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:53 AM  

  • MM, Wow! Your collection rocks! So tell me, when do we get to hear your music?

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 2:31 AM  

  • All my guitars are either black or blue. Those are my favorite colors. My favorite is the seven string Ibanez studio series, all though I wish I had a six string version of the same caliber.

    I have a twelve string bass which I reconfigured to serve as a bar guitar, but the string register is still too low. I will have to order a custom string set to do what I really want with it.

    I have a Peavy bass with the string set offset to start with a low B, and did away with the G string. HAH! G-string...

    The there is my custom fourteen pound MoonRider Bass which I built, it features a through the body all steel carrier frame with aluminum head stock, mahogany neck, and maple body. Yes, it is as heavy as it sounds, and very bright too.

    Then there is unfinished MoonRider Guitar, and then the Jackson PS1, and finally, a steel string acoustic with pickup.

    I use a Marshall twin super lead amplifier with rack mounted special effects, compression, equalizer, digital reverd and delay, and aural exciter, signal eith hardwired, or by radio receiver.

    I like the radio, but it requires fresh batteries to sound good.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 9:50 AM  

  • I agree - one can never have too many guitars ... or kayaks! :)

    By Blogger FH2O, at 4:19 PM  

  • hmmm well see every person has an addiction, drugs, coffee, cake, chocolate, and the list goes on...personaly my addiction is getting myself into trouble..:P..anyways i see ur addiction harmless
    1. less drugs
    2. ur not gaining weight
    3. u add wonderful music to the world
    so keep it up ;p

    By Blogger saba, at 5:19 PM  

  • Low
    I'm happy except when I have to clean or maintain things...

    My recording setup is actually ridiculously simple and embarrassingly dated. Everyone else I know who does home recording went all digital some time ago. I still use my 8-track MD recorder. I was using an old IBM ThinkPad as a MIDI controller till I found out that my Roland synth can play MIDI files directly and do a better job of it. (Now I use either Sibelius or Studio Pro 4 to make the MIDI files when I use them.) I have both Yamaha and Alexis rack-mounted effect processors and a compressor/noise gate I don't use very much. Although I have a pretty good sized amp and a whole lot of effect pedals, I rarely if ever touch them since I mainly use my Line6 PODxt guitar processor for my recording. As for mikes, I use a Shure SW-57 for acoustic instruments and an Audio Technica phantom-powered condenser mike for vocals and wind instruments.

    If I can find some good hosting, I might try posting links to a few mp3 files of some of my better stuff.

    A 12-string bass? And I thought Steve's 6-string bass was a monster! Isn't that kind of like an amp that goes to 11? Speaking of amps, do you actually use the Marshall for anything besides home jamming? (Heck, a Budda or Pignose could probably do an even better job of that without taking as much space, power, or expense or pissing off your neighbors!)

    (Did I get your name right?)
    This is true! I'm almost afraid to ask you about your kayak collection!

    Well, I'm sure your addiction brings you no end of fun! :-)
    Actually, at one point in time my addiction was causing me to lose weight. When I first started putting my home studio together (not long after coming to Japan), and before I started dating someone steadily, I used to spend whole weekends (as in all day and all night) composing music and recording with only occasional breaks for short naps or cup ramen. I used to enjoy doing that a lot. That tells you what kind of person I am (i.e. bizarre).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:38 PM  

  • Hahahahaha i never said i was normal now did i? lol belive me no one is normal...BEsides normal is BORING, so keep up the weirdness ;)

    By Blogger saba, at 1:58 AM  

  • True, its a twelve string bass, however, unlike the bass you are referring to, this design uses multiple strings for the same note, just like a twelve string guitar, except there are three instead of two strings per note.

    And the Marshall isn't that big really, its just a twin twelve kinda like a Fender twin reverb, two twleve inch speakers at a 120 watts! Still, I have never played it above 4, on account of the neighbors.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 8:50 AM  

  • Lets not mention cats and guitars in the same post, hmmm?

    That's amazing, Moody, but not surprising to me. You are the ultimate music guy after all. But Happysurfer does bring up a good point - which has been raised in the past - when do we get to hear your music?

    I've had the priviledge, but only with you on clarinet (which was damned good) playing someone else's compositions.

    The world awaits. I hope we won't have to wait for the K-tel records late night TV advertisements - "but wait there's more!".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:32 PM  

  • I'm just wondering, "Why the %#$& do you have so many guitars?"

    Whoa, you were right!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 7:06 AM  

  • Yeah panda, when do we get a sample of your music? Do you need any votes for that coz I know we're rootin' for you!

    Boy, you and pa've are hard core!

    By Blogger agus, at 11:37 AM  

  • I remember an album I had back in the sixties by a guy named Roland Kirk. The album was "reeds & deeds"

    He would play two or more saxes at once sometimes playing a nose flute at the same time as a sax. He was good, it wasn't just a gimmick.

    I was thinking, maybe you could put together a combo with you on flutes, reeds, guitars, keyboard....

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:42 PM  

  • I played with a funk/new wave band in Portland for a while in my early college days. On one of the tunes I played a riff on my sax with one hand while playing a melody on a keyboard with the other. I was bloody hard to do, and I probably didn't pull it off very well, but it got a lot of audience attention.

    Why the %#$& do I have so many guitars, Dewkid? Well, the main reason is that:

    I can't get no...

    Actually, all of my guitars are different. They look different, they feel different, they sound different, and they play different. I also get different ideas depending on which guitar I'm holding at the time.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:11 PM  

  • I get different ideas depending on which guitar you are holding too. "Excuse me, do you know how to play that? Then put it down!!"


    Oh, this is tooooo funny. My word verification is:


    That's the Transylvanian disk operating system.

    By Blogger DewKid, at 4:45 AM  

  • I can't believe you said that...

    No, wait, I guess I can, being that I heard you say that to someone in person once.

    Well, I've been doing some recording recently after a long drought. ("Open Halls" wore me out...or maybe just life in general.) I still seem to be stuck in guitar rock mode, not that there's anything wrong with that, but my other instruments are collecting dust.

    Maybe a kalimba accompaniment and koryu melody...? (First I need to learn how to play the koryu.)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:41 AM  

  • Don't worrie, as long as you don't have 40 horses, 15 + - dogs, a bunch of cats, chickens and goats as well as sheeps.. it's aaalll okay.. ;)

    By Blogger Tanker Angel Nelly, at 11:54 AM  

  • oh np, dun relate me with your collection of such wonder strings..

    I have always fantasies me carrying one of this baby and swing around from one end of the stage to another and swinging my long long long hair.

    Just fantasy....

    By Blogger Robin, at 12:32 PM  

  • I got something you can play....


    By Anonymous Some Guy, at 2:21 AM  

  • No you DON'T get the Flying V my wife found in a nearby garbage and brought home. I don't CARE if it's in perfect condition.
    Is that a banjo case I see hanging up way back there?

    By Anonymous Jeff Nicholson, at 8:29 AM  

  • Jeffu, that's actually my flute with my Greek fisherman's cap (the one I wore at the last St. Mary's you can see on your website) hanging in front of it.

    This time it's a Flying V in the garbage?? How the bloody mother H do you keep coming up with these things? What's next, your newspaperman giving you the Soldano SL-100 amp his son no longer needs???!? Kee-ryst!!! Do people understand that you don't have an Ochanomizu address???"?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:24 PM  

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