Itís not every day that someone offers to build not one, but two brand new models of electric guitar, each being your dream design, having all your favourite features, and then go and put your name on them. My good friend and guitar tech, luthier Perry Ormsby has decided to do just that, and so the guitar world will soon be welcoming two new citizens - The Ormsby GG6 six-string and GG7 seven-string guitars. This is rather awesome on a couple of levels. Firstly, this is just about the biggest compliment I have ever been paid by anyone. Secondly, I know how good this guy is at making electric guitars.
I have played a few of his creations and recorded a couple of demos for them as well and they are beautiful, to a one. He has even corrected inherent flaws in some classic designs, which will always score points from me. My new guitars, from what Iíve seen so far, are going to be absolutely stunning. The specs and finer points will soon be on my website, on the soon-to-be-redesigned Equipment page.
This is indeed the most exciting thing that has come along for me in a long while, and I look forward to sharing the experience with you all. Of course, you will be reading a full review of both guitars, as soon as I get my hands on them!
If you haven't read Chris's May 14 article in the Nagís Head (Mutton Jeff?) regarding the state of modern recordings, I'll wait here while you go and do so.... - Okay, you done? Good.
My learned colleague has raised some interesting and valid points regarding the somewhat 'sterile' sound of a lot of today's modern recordings. The advent of digital equipment has removed a lot of the bugbears of the recording process, while introducing a few unique problems of it's own.
First of all, we should consider the human ear, which is far from perfect in it's design and function - I mean, if Darwin is right, they may have been gills at one stage. Our perception of sound is quite limited in comparison to that of some creatures further down the food chain. However, they're all we've got to hear with, so I shan't go on about it. The loudspeaker is another relatively inefficient mode of conducting sound which has yet to be improved upon.
The first thing we noticed about compact discs was the absence of extraneous noise on our recordings, such as tape hiss and the crackling of a stylus scraping around on a piece of vinyl. This was hailed as a great breakthrough in music technology, and indeed it was... there was, however, a down side to this new 'clean' sound, namely a lack of warmth that could be easily be translated as sounding 'sterile' or mechanical.
There is a certain personality to older analogue recordings that is sadly missing from a lot of today's music, although it is not all because of the digital recording age. When the techno dance craze hit, the majority of this style of music (using the term loosely) was created using sequencers and computers, thus eliminating the human factor. To the trained ear, there is a vast difference between a musician playing a part and the same part being generated by a piece of electronic equipment. In musical parlance, this indefinable human 'something' is called feel. There are drummers out there who can play as perfectly in time as any drum machine (Steve Gadd comes to mind), but can alter the beat imperceptibly so as to create feel and mood within a rhythm. The same applies to other instrumentalists who can create a mood or a feeling with subtle inflections of melody or groove.
The same technological overkill that affected the creation of sounds also affected the way that those sounds were recorded. There is a very important factor that is removed when you plug a box straight into a mixing console and hit 'record' - the movement of air. Sound waves create pressure on our eardrums, which then send information to our brain. The brain makes sense of this data, and tells us what it is we are hearing, and at what volume. Loud noise or music puts more pressure on the eardrum, hence the term Sound Pressure Level (SPL), which is a fancy way of saying 'volume'.
Normally, when we listen to something, we are not only hearing the sound from the source itself, but the sound reflecting off objects in our immediate surroundings and eventually finding it's way to our ears. This, of course, is what happens when we hear an echo. Another factor involved in our normal perception of sound is that we very seldom hear just one thing - there is always background noise, be it obvious or subliminal. This background noise creates 'colour' in our perception of sound, and it is this subtle absence of background colour that can create the sterile sound mentioned earlier.
Sir George Martin, one of the greatest record producers of our time, is reputed to have included tracks of random noise (people talking, doors closing, street noise) on some of his later recordings, placed way back in the mix, just to add warmth and colour. You couldn't hear it, but the effect was to retain a human element in what had become an almost impersonal recording procedure.
While this latter day obsession with 'clean' has wound up sacrificing some soul in the process, recording digitally does not necessarily mean that the result is going to sound soulless and sterile. Now that the craze for all things new and overly clinical has settled down somewhat, a lot of studios and producers are returning to some of the old equipment, such as valve amplifiers, equalizers and compressors. These pieces of gear have a little more warmth than their solid-state counterparts, and help to retain a bit of personality in a recorded sound. The beauty of recording in the digital domain is that 'non-musical' noise is no longer a problem. The art of recording now is to create 'air' and 'movement' in the sound of a recording, so as to retain a little humanity in the music. This can be achieved with all our new toys and gadgets, but having said that, it is easier said than done. That is why the top producers get paid so much money!
This is obviously a broad and involved subject, so if there is something in particular you wish to know about, please feel free to drop one of us a line here at The Herald, and we will do our best to shed some light on the subject.
...You got a beer to go with those crisps, Chris?
For the last 25 or so years I have been a professional musician, making my living from doing that which I love - playing the guitar. When I was 18 years of age, I was involved in a serious car accident, which left me with a broken neck. I was extremely lucky in that the injury did not result in any permanent disability... I was a very fortunate young man indeed. My career went from strength to strength, and by the late 80s / early 90s, I had become a well-known musician and personality in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia. While I had the occasional aches and pains associated with growing older, I never had any serious problems with my neck injury, and didn't give it much thought until a particularly vigorous dance move on stage one night gave me a twinge. I saw a few specialists, and was advised to take it easy for 4 - 6 months. At the time, I was too busy being a rock star to take time off, so I carried on with what I loved to do.
Roughly 14 months ago, I began experiencing an ache in my shoulders. I didn't give it much thought at the time - I was, as usual, busy playing music. My wife Donna and I were working as a duo, and were just getting the act off the ground. We were that busy concentrating on doing gigs that by the time I got around to seeing someone about it, I had been in constant pain for quite a few months. Once again, I was too busy to take time off, so I battled on, taking painkillers to get by.
Donna and I joined a showband, and the workload increased. So too did the pain, radiating from my left shoulder and now starting to cause numbness and tingling in my left hand fingers. The strength and amount of pills I was taking was increasing along with the pain, to the point where I was too medicated to drive to engagements, Donna taking on the chore of full-time driver. My disposition was deteriorating along with my ability to cope, so I eventually sought medical help, after a particularly ugly scene at a hotel gig where I lost my temper with a drunken member of the audience.
So started a series of doctorís appointments, visits to specialists, tests and more tests. Nothing seemed to be helping, although prescription painkillers were dulling the shoulder pain somewhat. I was no longer carrying any of my own equipment, my band mates being kind enough to do the heavy work for me, but even that was not helping. Eventually, I was finally told that I had the choice of just keep on with the drugs, or risk spinal surgery. Of the two options, the drugs seemed the safer bet. I had resigned myself to putting up with the pain, and working through it. This, however, was not to be the end of it.
At the beginning of February 2003, I lost the use of the ring finger and pinky of my left hand. This happened in dramatic fashion, as I was onstage performing when the fingers stopped obeying commands. Fortunately, it was almost the end of the show, and I was able to bluff my way through the last two songs of the night before putting my guitar down and walking out of the room a shattered man. It appeared at that moment that my career as a performing musician was over.
Conventional medicine had proven ineffective in finding a cure for what looked like permanent nerve damage in my neck. The endless tests had shown that something in my cervical spine had stopped the nerves from effectively carrying messages to my hand, hence the loss of the use of the fingers. Having spent my entire adult life as a musician, I was at a loss as to what I was going to do next. A couple of friends had been to see Laurie at his Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre, and I figured that I had absolutely nothing to lose in trying every alternative open to me. An appointment was made, and with no small amount of trepidation, I went to visit Mr. Shortland, the naturopath. I explained to Laurie and his staff the nature of my problem, the work I did, and everything that had transpired to date. I have to say at this point that Laurie Shortland was the antithesis of every GP and specialist I had been to... casual, witty and irreverent. - My kind of guy! The first session was amazing in itself, with Laurie using Reiki to unblock 20 years worth of bad energy in my shoulder and body. For the rest of that session, and every session after, Laurie and his people used a variety of treatments and therapies to not only treat the nerve damage, but the other conditions that had manifested as a result of the imbalance my body had endured for so long. Acupuncture, Electro Magnet Therapy, Moxa (Chinese candle therapy), Massage and manipulation were all used by different members of Laurie's team to treat my ailments, and all the while I enjoyed the relaxed and positive atmosphere that pervaded the clinic. Even Laurie's dog, Jackson (himself a beneficiary of his master's healing), played a part, wandering from room to room and keeping a canine eye on things. My problems began to ease.... my hips, painful and arthritic from years of a crooked spine, began to feel looser and less stressed. My backaches eased, and my general well being improved dramatically.
Then finally came the day when, after a couple of hours of preparatory treatments by the team, my scruffy, cheeky naturopath sauntered into the room with a towel in his hand and stretched my spine as I lay on the treatment table by looping the towel around the back of my head and gently pulling me along the table. What happened next was, in a word, amazing. After shaking me around like a rag doll, the diminutive healer gave me an almighty crack, as one would crack a whip. The result was instantaneous.... I saw stars, and a shock like a bolt of electricity shot down the entire length of my body. I lay there stunned, as Laurie advised me to rest for a minute, then leave. This I did - and upon reaching the car, realised that I had done so completely without pain! For the first time in what seemed like years, I was pain-free. I laughed, cried, and laughed again. Leaving the car where it was, Donna and I did something I had previously been unable to do... we went for a walk. I walked without pain, without hobbling, and I was able to look around without fearing the shooting pains that would accompany certain movements of my head. I noticed for the first time in ages that there was in fact a world over my left shoulder, as I could now turn my head properly to see it. Where medical science, with it's multi-million dollar machines had failed, Laurie Shortland had succeeded with a $2.50 bath towel. My joy and amazement continued over the next few days as I started to feel my fingers again. I said a quiet prayer of thanks for this little man with the huge gift.
I am still receiving treatment from the wonderful people at Laurie Shortland's Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre, but the worst is behind me, and I am teaching my hand to play the guitar again. Fate and an old injury left untreated took away my gift, and Laurie Shortland gave it back to me. All of these words cannot express my gratitude.
Aldous Huxley wrote: "Next to silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music" - Laurie, my next song is for you.
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