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Ladies’ Night in Buffalo

Bryan and I with Ashley at Righteous Babe Records

Bryan and I with Ashley at Righteous Babe Records

One of the things I love about my day job is the occasional travel. This past week I found myself in Rochester, NY, a very nice town I will write about later. Since Rochester is close to Buffalo, NY, I decided to make the trip and see if I could find and visit the headquarters of Righteous Babe Records. Just in case you do not know what I’m talking about, Righteous Babe Records is the independent record label started by Ani DiFranco in the 90’s. Since I heard “Little Plastic Castle” in the 90’s I have been a fan of Ani and have seen her perform many times. I could not pass up the opportunity to visit the town her and Billy Sheehan (hence the title “Ladies’ night in Buffalo”) came up in.

I was traveling with a co-worker on this trip and he was willing to make the trip so we set out for Buffalo and an hour and a half later we were in front of “Babeville” the former church that Ani saved, restored, and converted into a concert hall, a small club, an art gallery, and the home to Righteous Babe Records. Bryan (my co-worker) turned to me and asked “now what?”. I responded with “I have no idea”, so we got out of the car and wandered into the old Church. We found a sign that said Righteous Babe was on the second floor so we headed that way and apparently wandered right into their offices. We were greeted by a very nice young lady by the name of Ashley (at least I think that was her name) who offered to give us a full tour of the facility. We jumped at the chance!

It was great to see all the architecture of that old church and to see how they repurposed the space while preserving its history and beauty at the same time. I think my favorite part of the space was the small 130 person space in the basement. It would be a great place to see a small show and the mosaic art done by an intern was really cool. On the way out I asked Ashley what the best guitar shop in town was as well as a good place to get wings (the buffalo wing was invented here, so there has to a be a good place nearby). Ashley pointed us in the direction of Allentown Music and The Anchor bar. First, guitars then food.

Allentown Music in this region of New York as it was set in an old house and every square inch was used to house an instrument or an accessory. That included guitars hanging from the ceiling. It was a very eclectic inventory with a little bit of everything. Great selection of guitars, but not much in the way of effects. I did pick up a used DOD Grunge pedal while I was there however. Next up, Anchor Bar!

So while in Buffalo I had to get wings and I wanted to check out the Anchor Bar. Upon walking in I immediately got a vibe that reminded me of the original Quaker Steak and Lube in Sharon, PA. I’m guessing Quaker Steak copied their vibe from here. The wings were everything I had hoped they would be and soon we were headed back to Rochester where another set of adventures was waiting. Tune in next week for the second half!

Brian Setzer and George Thorogood show review

Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot in Baltimore, MD

Back in the mid 90's the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame opened. As soon as I could, I made my first trek to visit it and just marveled at all the exhibits and memorabilia. I've been a rock and roll fan for as long as I can remember, so I really took my time and absorbed the early rock exhibits. I spent a lot of time at the Chuck Berry exhibit. They had one of his early contracts on display along with guitars. I have never seen Chuck Berry live and have always wished I could. This display was the closest I had gotten at that point. Later I made my way down to the gift shop and start browsing the very large CD collection.

I was impressed with all the CD's I found that I had never seen before. The find of the day though was an instrumental CD featuring Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry playing together. I love that disc and have always wondered what it would have been like to be in the studio when the recordings took place. That wonder is what drove me to attend the Brian Setzer and George Thorogood concert a couple Sunday's ago in Baltimore Maryland.

Setzer tearing it up at the Pier 6 Pavilion

When I saw the tour announced I immediately thought about the Bo and Chuck CD and thought that bill like this is once in a lifetime. I looked for a show close to me, but there were none to to be found. There was however going to be a show in Baltimore and I have a friend who lives in that area, so I called him up and asked if he wanted to go. He was up for it, so I got tickets and we were ready to go.

The show was at Pier 6 Pavilion at the inner Harbor and is very nice, small outdoor venue. It's right on the water, so there is a great ambience and the sound is pretty good. First on the bill was Davy Knowles, a blues singer out of the U.K. He did a solo acoustic set and it was pretty good. Good enough that I bought a CD. Next up was Setzer. This is what I was here for. I have follower Brian Setzer since the Stray Cats. I'm huge fan of the Brian Setzer Orchestra and was super excited to see Brian play with a small ensemble. Brian and his band knocked it out of the park. They played classic Stray Cats songs and a great selection from his solo material. The show just rocked start to finish. Brian Setzer is the kind of guitarist/musician I have always aspired to be. He is well versed in many genres of music and is in complete control of his guitar at all times. After Setzer ended, I could have gone home. The show was just that good.

George Thorogood Badder than ever in Baltimore, MD

Next up was George Thorogood. George was good but I was a little disappointed. George, like Brian is a guitar hero of mine and I wanted to hear him tear it up. He seemed to wear the guitar more than play it, and relied on his rhythm player a lot. I can say that George's voice sure has help up. He sounded just like did when I first heard him on the radio. When I got home I goggle George because I was curious of how old he is now. Turns out he is 65. Disappointment gone. I can only hope to play that well when I am 65. The crowd was the biggest bummer of the night. Crowds just don't get into a show like they used to and I am willing to bet the average age of attendees was 55+. It was definitely an older crowd (not like I'm that young, but still…I wanted to dance). Still, George knows how to work up an audience and played every song you'd want to hear. It was a great show.

George taking a bow at Pier 6 Pavilion

I'm really glad I got to see the show. I got a couple cool souvenirs. I bought a Brian Setzer pick tin and a George Thorogood can cooler and pick set. And you are a serious George Thorogood fan like I am, you'll understand why I was conflicted about buying a George Thorogood guitar pick.



Confidence Booster

My soldering station

Last week I wrote about Makelab Charleston and relearning how to solder. Well, this past weekend I bought a new $25 soldering iron and set to work on a kit from Build Your Own Clone.

In October of 2008 I read an article in Premier Guitar Magazine about the Build Your Own Clone company and the pedal kits that they sold. Since my buddy PJ in high school turned an old portable cassette recorder into a fuzz pedal I have wanted to build my own stomp box. In the 90’s I bought a book on how to build pedals but could not make heads or tails of it. These kits seemed like a good option for me. Early in 2009 I bought my first kit from BYOC, a Tremelo kit. At the time they offered a special for new customers. With my purchase I got a signal tester kit and a booster kit for free.

Back in March when I attempted soldering again I started by working on the BYOC kits. I quickly stopped as I mentioned earlier because I was making a mess of things. Now, with my new knowledge I pushed forward. BYOC appropriately call their booster kit the “Confidence Booster”. And that’s exactly what it did for me.

Saturday night I put together a small soldering station in my kitchen and started putting the booster together. One modification I did was buy an IC socket from Radio Shack rather than run the risk of burning up the chip. I started by soldering the IC socket. Thanks to the new iron, this went pretty quickly. One thing that threw me off at first was the solder I was using. This was the first time I had used a lead free solder. It melts differently than the solder I am used to. I was surprised how quickly the booster kit went together. I had it completely assembled in about 2 hours. It was late, so the real test had to wait until the morning.

In the morning I plugged it in, made sure I had a screwdriver to adjust the trim pot, and hit a chord. Nothing, not a sound. So I sat the guitar down and adjusted the trim pot and heard my guitar! Woo hoo! Now we’re talking! I grabbed the guitar played through it a little and then turned the gain up more just to see what it would do. I was playing it through my Vox AC4 so I got a little more break up and sounded great.

Finished and working confidence booster!

The best part about the whole thing is that I finally did it. I did what I set out to do in 2009, I built my own pedal. Now I can’t wait to build the other two kits I have waiting!


Relearning to solder

My solder station at Makelab

For quite a few years now I have wanted to build my my own effects pedals and swap out pickups in a few of my guitars. I have been gathering up several pedal kits, reading books on electronics, reading blogs, watching videos, and acquiring service manukau for pedals I want to try to modify. One thing stopped me from actually doing anything. Soldering.

The irony is that in my younger years I was quite handy with a soldering iron. I probably soldered something at least once a week for ten years or better. I have swapped out countless electronics in guitars from jacks to pickups. I tinned every speaker wire I ever used on any stereo system I ever hooked up. Despite all that experience, I was afraid to move forward and try assembling one of the pedal kits I had. Looking back I think it was all the components that frightened me. As a kid my dad taught me to solder on some old heathkits and we never got one to work. But we were able to successfully change out my 1/4″ jack on my bass, so I guess that's why my soldering never went past wires.

This past October I picked up a copy of Premier Guitar Magazine's “Pedal Issue” and there was an article on how to build your own stomp box. Complete with a step by step PDF and several links for finding the right parts. This lit the fire again. I really wanted to do this. I read the article a few times over, acquired all the parts needed and decided to start practicing how to solder. The first thing I did was assemble a signal tester that I got from Build Your Own Clone (BYOC). It kind of works, but I'm pretty sure I burned up the capacitor. Next, I made a guitar cable. It transmits sound, but it does it poorly. Now it was time to tackle the “confidence booster” kit from BYOC. I started by trying to solder a socket in place. I globed solder all over the board. It was time to stop.

I felt very defeated, but I was unwilling to give up. A coworker had suggested to me a local group called Makelab Charleston that is a collective space for its members to work on projects. He said that they have classes from time to time and was pretty sure someone there could help me solder. He was right. I googled the organization and found out I had just missed an intro to soldering class. I contacted the president of Makelab and asked about future classes. He said there would be some coming and to join the “Meet up” group to be notified of all classes they group would be having. So I did. And then I did the best thing I could have done. I stopped obsessing over the pedals and learning electronics and put it on the shelf.

I stepped away from all that and just focused on playing guitar, working on song ideas and just having fun. Next thing I knew I got an alert from meet up about an upcoming Soldering 101 class at make lab, $30 for non-members. So worth it. I showed up ready up ready to learn. I had my iPad with me for note taking and I was ready. It was a small group, but everyone there was super nice and very low key. The class started with a safety presentation and covered the basic tools. Next, there was a nice diagram on how to solder properly and what a good solder joint looked like. This is where the magic started to happen for me. Finally I could see where I was making a mistake. I was not placing my iron correctly. Next I learned my second problem. My soldering iron at home was not heating the way it should. The iron I used at the class was an old dual wattage Radio Shack iron that I was very familiar with. It worked exactly as I remember, right down to the handle getting super hot.

We opened up our project pacts and began populating the circuit board. All my reading and research paid off. As I looked at the board, it actually made sense. I recognized where components should go and was able to populate my board very quickly. Next up was the soldering. I immediately felt a difference in this iron from the one I have at home. Now was my chance to apply what we were just shown. The first lead I soldered did not cover well, so I adjusted the iron and was able to get better contact with the pad and lead and the solder jumped onto the board. I was surprised how easy this was going. I was sharing the soldering iron with the guy next to me, so it gave me a chance to take a break from soldering and take my time. It was nice to have a partner to bounce things off of. We helped each other through the process. To my surprise I was the first one with a completed project and that meant I got to test mine first. I kept thinking “please turn on, please turn on” the whole time I was putting the batteries in. I through the switch and viola! The lights turned on, the switches worked, and I was smiling ear to ear.

My working project!

I left with a renewed confidence and re-kindled excitement to build a pedal. In a week I am going to visit a friend, and now I am super excited to to go looking for old broken pedals to try to fix and modify. Next stop is Radio Shack to get a new soldering iron and start building those kits!


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