Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Squier Fender Strat switches and knobs

I just got a new Fender Strat made by Squier, from Guitar Center. It was part of the Strat Pack. This is a standard Fender Stratocaster design, but it is made in Indonesia to encourage fair labor standards. Just kidding, it's for the low cost. A decent American-made Fender will set you back over $1000, but a Hecho en Mexico model is somewhat less, and then these are an entry-level option for essentially the same design, but made in Indonesia. I am just getting started in electric guitar, so I opted for the low-priced model. The Strat Pack, for $250, included the guitar, 15-watt practice amp, strap, bag, picks, whammy, tuner, and an extra set of strings, along with an ultra-beginner "fender method" guitar-playing book. What it did not include, however, was instructions on how to use the dang thing. I don't mean play it, because coming from an acoustic guitar I was familiar with the concept of frets, chords, and strumming. What I mean is, what do all those damn knobs and buttons do? There was no instruction along those lines in the Strat Pack. So, after literally hours of searching the internet, I was able to find the answer, and have reproduced it here. The Squier Strat mimics the Standard Stratocaster found here, which site also has wiring diagrams and whatnot in case you need those.

Starting with the basics, the standard strat design has three single-coil pickups. These are labeled number 6 in the diagram. The topmost one is the neck pickup, the middle one is just called the middle one, and the bottom one is the bridge pickup. The switch, labeled 5 in the diagram, has five positions available. By switching it to the top position (closest to the neck), this activates the neck pickup only, so that any sound picked up by the other two pickups is not sent to the amp. The next click on the switch turns on both the neck pickup and the middle pickup. The third position activates just the middle pickup. The fourth position activates the middle and bridge pickups, and finally the fifth position activates just the bridge pickup.

Since they are single-coil pickups, there is a natural 60hz hum that will occur whenever any single pickup is selected. Special humbucker coils are available which are wound in two different directions and cancel out each others' hum. Short of that, most Stratocasters have the middle pickup wired in the reverse direction from the other two, and whenever you select position two or four, the hum is cancelled out.

Meanwhile, the tone knobs also work in conjunction with the pickups, and consequently are affected by the pickup selector switch. The tone knob labeled 3 in the diagram works with the neck pickup only, so it is only active when the switch is in the first or second position. The other tone knob labeled 2 in the diagram will adjust the tone for the middle and bridge pickups. Having the tone turned up to 10 will bring out all the rich, clean tones from the pickups, but turning them down will mute the sounds somewhat. Experiment with these knobs to get the sound you are looking for. Naturally when the pickup selector switch is not selecting the appropriate pickup, the corresponding tone knob does nothing.

The knob labeled 4 in the diagram is for volume. Set this in the middle and adjust the amp accordingly, so that you can turn volume up or down directly from the Strat body.

Screw the whammy bar into the hole in the bridge, labeled 11 in the diagram, made for that purpose. Don't screw it in too tight or it will damage the bridge. Leave it one turn from tight, so it will fall by itself when you let go of it. To use the whammy, press down or pull up on it. This will bend all notes that are currently ringing out either down or up, respectively.

The FrontMan 15 amp which comes with the upgraded strat pack is suitable for a practice amp, which means it's plenty loud for old fogies like me. The cord connects from the output jack, labeled 1 in the diagram, to the input jack on the amp. The amp has two main modes, selectable by a pushbutton on the front. It has treble and bass adjustments, too, but the dirty/clean sound is the most radical difference. Out, you get a clean sound; in you get something like the effect of a distortion pedal, great for that "Iron Man" powerchord sound. When out, the volume control works, when in, the gain and dirty volume work together for varying levels of distortion/loudness. The highest gain is the dirtiest sound, and of course the regular volume does not work in this mode, but the other volume controls that.

Rounding out the diagram
The remaining parts of the diagram are: 7, frets, 8, neck, 9, keys, and 10, headstock. Number 1 is where you connect the amp to the guitar, by plugging in the included cord. To adjust the tuning of each string, turn the keys in one direction or the other to get a higher or lower pitch until it is in tune. The included tuner helps with this for standard tuning. To play a note, strum the string(s) you want to sound, with your fingers in between the appropriate fret bars. Rarely, you will actually want to put your finger on the fret bar. Now go take some lessons.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Evesham NAV-CAM

On woot.com, I took advantage of the low low price of $159.99 for the Evesham NAV-Cam 7700 GPS system. I wouldn't count on getting this price again any time soon (I wish I'd bought a dozen at this price), but even for 200 bucks it's a bargain. This particular GPS is one of those that gives you street-by-street verbal guidance as you drive. On the main screen, which is a touch-screen, it lets you choose from an "easy" mode, which in my mind is worthless, or a more feature-rich mode. The easy mode just gives you a few features, but the full navigation lets you browse the map, pick points of interest such as restaurants or gas stations, or find specific streets within a zip-code. You can also have it display gas stations live on the map.

You can choose a 3D or 2D map depending on which you are more comfortable with, and it will highlight the major streets but it will also track all the neighborhood streets as you drive. When you approach your turning spot, it will say something like "in 100 yards, turn right," up until "arriving at destination." If you take a wrong turn, it will quickly re-calculate your route to let you know where to turn next. If you want, you can look at the route it has chosen and tell it to avoid specific roads, or, for example, all highways. You can optimize for speed or distance. All of this is done through a simple touch-screen interface. A few times, it has told me "turn left, then turn left again" when it can't quite figure out where I am (such as if I'm in a parking lot), but once I get on the road it figures it out and calculates a proper route.

If you're someone like me, who gets lost a lot, I highly recommend this device, or one like it. It has a few other features that might be useful for travellers, such as picture storage/viewing and mp3 player, and it is overall very small, but I find the built-in US maps/GPS to be the main use. The experience of driving with this thing is almost like having a sense of direction.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Call 811! Call 811! (before you Dig)

There's a new number in town (811 to call before you dig), and it's reachable starting today. If you go to the www.call811.com website, you can see how many times it has already been called. This new nationwide (US) number can be used to have the appropriate utilities and other agencies come out and mark the area where you are going to dig. The need for this should be obvious to most people, but every year some 10000 still insist on digging their way through gas lines, electric lines, and other underground lines which will flat kill you. This included people who are simply trying to install posts for a fence.

The release of this number rounds out the N-11 numbers in the U.S. So if you were planning to lobby your local government to provide a dog-watering emergency service, you'll just have to use a longer number.

The Common Ground Alliance is a non-profit organization which attempts to educate the public about these risks. In addition to public safety, they also protect the infrastructure and the environment. There are many advantages to having all those unsightly cables and pipes underground, so please, people, call before you dig.

If you need 811 logo items for you business, you can find them here.