Ask Charlie...

Are We There Yet?

Hello Troubadourians! I didn’t want to write another COVID-related article. But it has been on my mind a lot lately as I’m sure it has been on the minds of most readers. I certainly hope that with the increasing number of people getting vaccinated we’ll soon be able to have some real live music again. We’re not there yet, not really, so let’s hang on a few more months, but I can finally see the finish line. At least, I think I can. I haven’t played a live gig in public since November of 2019. I have gotten together with a couple of different friends for socially distanced casual playing and I’ve done two masked recording sessions since then but it isn’t the same. Many of my musician friends have taken to social media for some performances (Good for all of you!), but I haven’t been moved to do that. Not that I haven’t considered it, but honestly, I’ve been far too busy with my day job to experiment with online videos. That is ironic since the motivation to perform seems to stem from most of you having nothing else to do. I have channeled my motivation and isolation from playing live into practice sessions, which I certainly hope bear luscious fruit when I can be back playing with my bandmates, doing regular sessions, and playing live for appreciative audiences.

There are areas where live music is making a struggling restart. I have a friend who lives in Orange County who has started gigging again—mostly for private events, off-the-radar clandestine gigs at biker bars, or socially distanced outside shows, he has been playing again because he has to. We’ve spoken about it many times and he knows that he’s risking a lot as many of the gigs only pay lip service to the COVID rules. A couple of the places have been shut down more than once for violations, only to reopen a week or so later after a slap on the wrist. I worry about him and I know that I couldn’t play under those circumstances or with that much on my mind.

When we can go back, I want to be ready, so I’m getting my gear together starting with my guitars. In addition to all that practice, I’ve been adjusting and fine-tuning every guitar so that it plays exactly like I want it to. I was surprised at how different they felt, especially since they were purposely designed to be as similar as possible. I think I’m there. The tricky parts now are my pedalboard and amplifiers. I play both electric and acoustic guitars on most gigs and that requires two separate rigs. I don’t mind so much having to schlep two or three amps, but having two pedalboards is a real pain, especially on small stages. I’ve tried combining and condensing them down to one board, which worked for a while when I mostly played acoustic guitar with the electrics as an occasional divergence. Now, the situation is reversed and the electric guitars require more variations for effects and tones while the number of pedals required for getting my acoustic tone, and at the volume I need to compete with a drummer, hasn’t changed.

I could make a bigger board, which isn’t my favorite solution, or sacrifice some accuracy in my acoustic tone to make more room for more electric effect pedals, again not a favorite solution. I can get some of the electric pedals I want to use in new mini sizes, but the additional requirement for more power ports to support more pedals is the real killer. My “right now” dual purpose pedalboard has two tuners that serve to split the acoustic and electric signal paths and mute the chain not being used while sending the signals to the different amps, which in the case of the acoustic signal chain, includes a direct box (DI) for sending the signal to the PA. My acoustic amp is really only used as a personal monitor. I’ve been adding my Tech 21 Fly Rig 5 to my dual board for my electric tones and effects, but it sits off of the main board and because it runs off of 12 volts rather than 9 volts like most pedals, it requires that I use an additional wall wart power supply for it. The Fly Rig is excellent for electric-only and guerilla gigs but it isn’t what I want for a permanent addition to my pedalboard. I’ve been thinking about using a volume pedal again and I really like the Ernie Ball model that has a built-in tuner and a digital display for you to know where your level is. I could easily have that pedal off of my board and run from a battery that leaves more power ports for other pedals that are on the board. And the switching for the two signal paths can be performed by a small, passive A/B switch. And besides, I really miss my Line6 DL4…

I used to use the DL4 running on batteries and that too was doable—as long as I remembered to unplug the input which turns off the battery. The stereo outputs are something I want to use for when I have the need to use, and/or have space for, two amps so whatever I can do to get it back in my signal path is worth exploring. Two Fender Princetons in stereo sound awesome, adding fullness without being loud.

I’d like to get a more powerful and up-to-date acoustic amplifier as well. My Acoustasonic 30 is cool and matches the color scheme of the Princetons, but it’s a bit under powered and can be a bit “quacky” in some situations. And while I’m down for buying some new pedals for my electric sounds, I’m not sure I’m ready to shell out over $1k for a quality acoustic amp that is only going to be used as a monitor. If that changes, or if I find myself playing more acoustic dominated gigs, I’m seriously considering a Mesa/Boogie Rosette. The model with the 10” speaker sounds exactly like I want my acoustic guitar to sound and it has a 300-watt digital power amp so it can get plenty loud if needed. Plus, it looks really cool…

As we’re getting closer to getting back to normal, I’m anxious to see what “normal” looks like in 2021. I’m working on my stuff and I’m so ready for this to be over. I’m sure you are as well. Are we there yet?

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (