Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why doesn't my guitar rock?

When you finally upgrade your acoustic to a brand new electric guitar, and you plug it into the practice amp that came with it, the first thing you expect is to sound like Jimi Hendrix on acid. Oh, wait, Jimi Hendrix was on acid. Anyway, what you may be wondering is, why does this guitar sound more or less like my acoustic guitar, only louder. The answer, my friend, is distortion. The one guitar effect that is emblematic of Rock and/or Roll is quite simply distortion, also known as overdrive. If you are fortunate, your amp comes with an overdrive button, like the Fender 15G Frontman does. Distortion is just an effect which makes the signal sound like it has been overdriven through a tube amp. This gives it that edgy rock sound.

However, even if the amp supports some form of distortion, what you really lack, especially with a whammy bar, is sustain. That gives you the ability to really rock out while you shake your guitar around and wave it in front of the amp, and slam the whammy bar down for that signature Jimi Hendrix growl. I know, by now you've cursed yourself for buying a cheap guitar with no sustain, or perhaps cursed the dealer who sold you this expensive guitar with no sustain. But none of that matters. All you need to get the long rockin' sustain is a little bit of compression. Compression works by cutting down the dynamic range of your signal, making the soft sounds louder and the loud sounds (relatively) softer. This makes your notes seem to last longer, because the louder sound right after the attack is dampened a bit, and as the vibrations fade, the volume is raised to compensate. Of course, all of this is subject to parameters controlling the compressor.

To accomplish these effects, especially if they are not built into your amp, you need some kind of guitar pedal. This could be a chain of pedals, or it could be a single multi-effect pedal. Purists will say you need the chain of pedals going into your tube amp, but that can get, you know, expensive. And heavy. In this era of digital simulation, maybe close enough is good enough for you. I know it is for me; and it has the added advantage of being more portable. A small practice amp can go just about anywhere, and if you're just practicing for yourself, a multi-effects pedal with a headphone plug-in is all you need.

Ready to play
With just these two effects, you can go a long way by adjusting various parameters, such as how much gain to apply for distortion, or various envelope factors for compression. However, if you do pick up a multi-effects pedal, you can go way beyond this to add all kinds of effects like wah, ya-ya, crunch, etc., which are all just ways of writing in English that which can really only be experienced aurally.

Friday, August 10, 2007

FIRE HAZARD: Do not read!

I wanted everyone to know that I received this IMPORTANT and ALARMING e-mail from my brother in San Antonio:

FIRE HAZARD: Don't open conspiracy or panic e-mails! Forward to everyone you know
This isn't one of those panic e mails like you've seen floating around the internet; this is REAL! A friend of mine who works for the San Antonio fire marshal in the arson investigation squad warned me about this, after having investigated several fires caused by this DANGEROUS NEW TREND!
We've all seen them: the panic or conspiracy theory e mails: Boy's corneas burned out by Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, warn your friends! Glade Plug-Ins cause house fires, forward to everyone you know! God isn't on the new dollar coin, refuse to accept them! I've always wondered who has time to sit around and come up with these crazy e mails, and now I finally know.
My friend told me that these panic headlines are nothing more than a way to get you to open the e mail, so that it can implant a (literally) deadly virus in your computer. Then it preys on your good nature and your natural desire to protect your friends and loved ones, by getting you to unknowingly forward this virus on to them. I wasn't sure if my friend had his facts straight, so I called Dr. David P. Snopes, the director of the Snopes Computer Virus Protection Project at MIT, and he confirmed that it was true! The evil plot then unfolds as follows: One night while you are sleeping, your computer will turn itself on. Dr. Snopes said that some of the viruses are rigged like a time bomb, to go off at a certain time, while others key off of your word processor, so that the first time you use a certain word or combination of words in a letter or document (like "Sincerely yours," or "Dear Sirs" or some other combination that the hacker knows you will eventually use) the virus is activated at 3:35 a.m. the next morning. The virus then causes your computer to generate an algorithm that tries to solve the infamous Zeno's Paradox. For those of you unfamiliar with this PRE-CHRISTIAN (!!!) conundrum, it says that moving from one place to another is impossible, because to travel any distance, you have to travel half that distance first. And in order to travel half the distance, you have to travel half THAT distance, and so on ad infinitum.
Your computer's CPU usually only works a fraction of the time. You can verify this right now by hitting the CTRL + ALT + DELETE keys all at once. This will bring up your Windows Task Manager. At the bottom of that dialog box is a little message reading "CPU Usage: xx%", where the xx fluctuates anywhere from 5% to 50%, sometimes a little higher. Dr. Snopes assures me that this is crucial, because your computer needs the "rest time" to allow the built-in fan to cool down the CPU. The problem with this Zeno algorithm is that it is impossible to solve, but your computer doesn't know that, so it keeps dividing and dividing by half ALL THE TIME! Within seconds, the CPU usage is up to 100%, sometimes even higher! The resulting heat causes the computer's internal fan to break down, and then the virus reaches what scientists call the tipping point. Because the fan no longer works, and the CPU is still working overtime, the heat levels inside your computer get higher and higher, faster and faster. Before you know it, the thing catches fire, and can KILL YOUR FAMILY, not to mention your PETS, or burn down your whole office building while you sleep!
This virus is so insidious that Dr. Snopes brought it to the attention of his congressman, who immediately started congressional hearings to determine how dangerous the virus is, how many fires have already been caused by it, and whether Congress should pass a law outlawing a computer program FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY. You can check out the transcripts of the congressional hearings here:
Dr. Snopes says there are three things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your friends: 1. Don't open ANY conspiracy theory or alarmist e mails. It doesn't matter if you download anything from the e mail or follow any links; simply opening it will cause the virus to infect your computer.
2. Call or write your Congressman to encourage them to pass a bill banning this DANGEROUS virus. Let those slackers in Washington know that we're tired of them sitting around bickering about things like the war in Iraq or whether the Attorney General of the United States perjured himself, WHILE OUR HOUSES ARE BURNING DOWN and our FAMILIES ARE IN DANGER! You can find your congressman's e-mail here:
3. Most importantly, forward this to everyone you know! Especially if you have ever sent on a panic or conspiracy theory e mail. I know, it will take a few minutes of your precious time, but imagine how you'll feel if you don't do it, and then you get the call at 4:00 one morning telling you that a friend or loved one's house just burned down, killing all their family and PETS, and knowing that YOU MAY HAVE BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR SENDING THEM THE VIRUS IN THE FIRST PLACE! I'll be keeping tabs on Dr. Snopes website to see how many hits this thing gets, but remember, folks, you heard it here first.
I don't know who these evil people are sitting around concocting conspiracy theories and alarmist e mails just so that they can burn down our houses, but I for one am MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

I wanted to know if it was true, so I called my local post office in Dallas. They verified that not only is it TRUE, but that it has now spread to Blog posts. Do not, whatever you do, read any ALARMING blog posts on the internet, particularly if they have to do with FIRE or 9/11!!!!11!OnEONE! Please, for your own safety. Tell all your friends, and please tell them to post a copy of this to their blogs, for the love of God (who is not on the new dollar)!