Suppressing my disappointment

BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor pedal for guitar. A grey block with 3 knobs and 5 jack inputs.Last night at the Powerpoint band rehearsal I discovered why my guitar hums more on stage than it does when I’m playing it at home.

It’s been quite annoying these last few months. When I’m playing, it’s not too bad because I can’t hear the hum and buzz because of the volume, but as soon as I stop playing it sounds as though I’m in the middle of a lightsaber duel!

Well, last night I discovered for sure what the problem was. And it wasn’t my cables, which is what I’d previously thought. I tried three different cables (one own-brand from SoundControl, two Whirlwinds — which are my cables of choice) and it didn’t make one iota of a difference: I still buzzed.

Until the stage lights went off.

Where I am standing on stage is next to a wall, behind which is a huge electrical something that powers the stage lighting. When the lights went off my non-playing sound was remarkably quiet. I mentioned this to Richard, our extraordinary sound desk guy, and said that I was going to build a giant wall of ton foil. “That’s no make any difference,” he said, “you need a noise gate.” A noise gate! Fantastic! Now I know.

I also knew that my Vox AD50VT amp has a built-in noise gate, but embarrasingly at the time I didn’t know how to activate it, because it’s still quite new. (I’ve since read reviews at Harmony Central that don’t really rate the built-in noise gate.

The <a href=”” title=”BOSS NS-2 reviews at Harmony Central>reviews for the BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor, however, are glowing. But can I find one for sale in Edinburgh?

So, I’m going to see if I can convince my Digitech GNX2 multi-effects pedal board to be a mono-effects pedal board for this evening. Off to change three sets of strings now, over lunch.

February Powerpoint

Flyer for Powerpoint, a monthly youth event organised by SU Scotland, at St Thomas’s Church, Glasgow Road, Edinburgh.

Another month, another Powerpoint. I’m just back from our pre-Powerpoint setup, soundcheck and rehearsal … and my ears are ringing. But then what else should I expect when I’m standing next to the percussion powerhouse that is Mr Andrew Weir.

I’ve really enjoyed the Powerpoint band this year. This is, I think, my fifth year being involved — with a three years hiatus somewhere between 1999 and 2003. Andy led during my first two years, I was on bass; now Andy is drumming and I’m playing lead guitar. We’re playing a kind of musical chairs. Literally.

While I’ve enjoyed it in years past, this band is different. It’s the first time that we’ve had a solid, stable, and committed line-up since the 1998-99 band (which was Brian Allan on lead drums, me on lead bass, Rik Brown on lead guitar, Andrew Weir on lead vocals and lead acoustic guitar). This year we’re a five piece: Andrew Weir on drums and backing vocals, Mike Arthur on bass, Tim Cocking on keyboards, me on lead guitar, Neil Costley (with an ‘e’) on lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Actually, we also have a sixth member without whom we wouldn’t sound quite as … well, LOUD: Richard Mitchell on mixing desk, microphone placement and bass amp repairs.

We’ve really gelled as a group. There is a commitment to the band, there is a real commitment to worshipping Jesus and putting that before anything else. I can’t speak for the other four but there is something about playing my guitar that makes my whole being want to worship God. When I’m playing I don’t tend to sing the words, as I’m too busy concentrating on what I’m playing, too busy listening to what the others are playing, and weaving in my sounds with theirs.

We often tend to think of worship as being something that is said, something that is vocalised, something that is intellectualised. When I’m helping to lead worship with my guitar worship is something that I feel. In my playing I offer my whole self to God: mind, body and emotion. The word “worship” comes from a root meaning “to give worth” — it is worth-ship. And I praise God that he has given me the ability to play music, and blessed me with a guitarsenal of wonderful equipment (most of which need restringed before the event tomorrow evening!).

So, Powerpoint tomorrow evening from 19:30 – 22:00 at St Thomas’s Church, Glasgow Road, Edinburgh.

All things lead to Brian May

Vox Valvetronix AD50VT, Vox Brian May Special amp and Burns Brian May guitar
From left to right: Burns Brian May guitar, Vox Valvetronix AD50VT 50W amplifier and Vox Brian May Special amplifier and treble booster (VBM-1).

This evening I’m playing again in the Powerpoint worship band at St Thomas’s church, Glasgow Road, Edinburgh. Powerpoint is a monthly Christian youth event overseen by Scripture Union Scotland. It will be my first live gig with my new amplifier, the Vox Valvetronix AD50VT which I bought a couple of days ago from Guitarguitar on St John’s Road.

I didn’t have much time to play around with it on Wednesday evening before taking it down to St Thomas’s for the band rehearsal, but I’ve since brought it back home and spent a few hours both yesterday and this morning trying to get a good, usable Brian May-like sound from it, and to good effect.

This month I’m omiting my Digitech GNX2 from the setup and focusing on a more simplified setup: Burns Brian May guitar into the Vox Brian May Special (VBM-1), used as a treble booster, into the Vox Valvetronix AD50VT set to model the Vox AC30TB, and with a bit of compression and chorus.

Just like BM’s setup I have the gain, volume and master volume controls all cranked up full on my amp, and the treble booster up full on the VBM-1, which allows me to control the overall tone with my guitar volume knob.

I got this advice from the Brian May World website:

The Treble Booster is always first in line, and both it and the AC30 are set on full volume, thus giving maximum presence and sustain, with the overall volume controlled from the guitar. This gives a flexible range of tone and distortion choices, starting low down on the guitar’s volume control with sparkling clean tones and as the volume is increased, sliding smoothly into the creamy compressed overdriven sound that Brian is famous for.

I found the advice on the Brian May World website really helpful, particular this article on The Brian May Sound and this section on the Red Special. As a website it’s a great resource, but it could now do with a good bit of updating and rationalising the design to make it much easier to find the material there.

One of the great things about the Valvetronix AD50VT — apart from the fact that it is about £1,000 cheaper than a Vox AC30TB — is its adjustable output wattage:

The AD50VT let[s] you adjust the output wattage from 1~50W … so you can lower the volume without losing the sense of drive that’s unique to tube amps. You can get the great distinctive tube sound at a volume that’s appropriate for any location.

And it really works, it’s great! So I’ve got the guitar, the treble booster and if not the actual amp, one from Vox that models the AC30TB, and I even have an old English sixpence. All I need now is the curly wig, the curly lead, a pair of clogs and the ability to play like a guitar legend! I’d better go and practice now.

New year revolutions

Close-up of a bicycle chainset
Bicycle Gear by donjolley at Stock.xchng.

Today was the first day in weeks that I’ve not woken up with a sore throat. So to celebrate Jane and I cycled down to her aunt’s to deliver a card.

I read the other day “a quarter of all car journeys are under two miles”, and that “cycling for fifteen minutes a day halves your rish of a heart attack”. I really need to cycle more.

Gosh it felt good to be back out on our bikes: new year revolutions, indeed. I just need to keep it up. Here are some of the other things I’d like to achieve this year:

  1. Spend more time with God in prayer
  2. Spend more time with Jane
  3. Exercise regularly: cycling and free weights
  4. Eat more sensibly, and cook more often
  5. Get a new job (for those who don’t know my current post ends in April 2006)
  6. Keep in touch with friends more faithfully, and not just by email
  7. Read more
  8. Play guitar more (maybe even start a band?)
  9. Be more environmentally aware and friendly
  10. Play more Mah Jong
  11. Finish the backlog of websites that I’ve promised people
  12. Learn PHP and MySQL more thoroughly; learn how to setup and administer an Apache server under Linux; improve my CSS knowledge

What am I doing still sitting here?! I’d better get on and start doing these things!

Emerging Church

Resource logo

Now this is the kind of stuff that get’s me excited. I followed a link from Jonny Baker’s blog — I used to play bass guitar in the worship band at St James the Less, Westminster about 10 years ago with Jonny, though I doubt he remembers me; I always remember him as being the worship leader that brought copies of music for the rest of the band, and didn’t (like some) expect us to know every-worship-song-under-the-sun™ off by heart — which took me to the Resource website, where there is this amazing quotation:

“We need to stop starting with the church. Rather, we should plant the seed of the gospel in all sorts of new and emerging cultures and contexts — and make disciples of what sprouts. The fruit will be all sorts of new expressions of authentic church – that is, Jesus communities of disciple-making disciples.” Bob Hopkins, ACPI

How that quotation makes my heart sing. I would love to get involved deeply with something that engages with church and culture. I would love to do something that uses my gifts and passions for Jesus, theology, writing, computers and the internet, and music. Anyone out there with that perfect job?

As it happens, Neil Costley blogged today about postmodern church and culture.