I recently acquired a Purple Hazel PRS P22 to complement my existing arsenal of mag/piezo-equipped stereo guitars. It all started with my Parker Fly Deluxe. Then I got a Mojo, then a PRS Custom 24 that got a Graphtech Ghost system installed the day it arrived. These were followed by a Parker Custom with Graphtech LB63 Floyd Rose piezo bridge and 13-pin midi hexaphonic as well as a late-model Fly Artist and a Bronze Fly. An American Deluxe strat got the treatment too.
Bronze, Custom, Artist
Deluxe and Bronze Fly
All the guitars are routed stereo on stage: electric mag pickup signals go to the amps (lately this is a Kemper KPA, subject of another blog posting here), piezo signal goes to a DI for the house and routes back to an acoustic amp or in-ear monitors, depending on which stage I find myself on.
Sometimes when switching the P22 with another P22 or another piezo equipped guitar like a Parker, you may hear a pop. This is particularly bad when your guitars are plugged in to the house PA via a DI box. The popping sound is apparently due to rail voltage used to power the active preamp for your piezo guitars.
Funnily enough, the early model pre-refined Parker Fly guitars had this issue solved in the 90’s with their ribbon circuitry. If you plug two of those Parker’s into a stereo switcher like a Lehle, you can switch between the two guitars silently. If, however, you introduce a PRS P22 or a recently built point-2-point wired Parker into the chain, you will probably hear the pop (read BANG if you are plugged into the PA) when you switch the guitars. Sometimes you can experience this pop when switching between piezo and mags on the guitar itself, depending on the quality and integrity of the switch.
Im not particularly savvy when it comes to electronics, but the explanation several people in the know have given me about this is that the guitar is unloading unwanted electrical charge, causing the pop. This is also called ‘DC offset’. The way to defeat this is with a capacitor and possibly a balanced resistor in the audio chain. The most logical course of action to solve this issue seemed to my tech and I to be the installation in the guitar itself of a capacitor/resistor combo.
I had two of my Parkers wired like this, but it caused problems with the intelligent switching, as the rail voltage was used to switch the late-model Parker pre between mono summed and stereo operation, depending on whether your jack cable plug was TRS or TS. Subsequently I had my tech build me a small box with 2 capacitors in. This seemed to work better, but altered the tone of some of my guitars, thus not 100% desirable.
Finally, I discovered a product by Lehle called the DC Filter. I bought two of these and placed them on the piezo lines of my guitars in the signal chain. Hey presto! That was it – problem solved. Of interest here as well is the fact that I have not detected a significant change in my guitar signal or tone since putting the DC Filters in my rig.
It’s been a busy week! We finished the last leg of tour and zipped home to South Africa. After a whirlwind visit with the family, it was back out on the road for part two of the Johnny Clegg north American tour. We traveled back for 32 hours into Calgary via Amsterdam and then drove up into the mountains to Banff, where our first show was.
Bus in Portland with 12,000 lb trailer
Banff is a beautiful location in the Canadian Rockies and home to one of the best music colleges in Canada. We played outdoors at the relatively new Shaw Amphitheatre, with the show starting just before sunset – what a great evening! I also got to see some old friends from that part of the world, which was great.
Banff show in the mountains – Shaw Amphitheatre
From Banff, we moved our band of merrie skwirrels to Salt Lake City (an interesting flight next to a cavalry 1st troop sergeant from fort Riley extolling the virtues and bemoaning the costs of the Abrahams tank) and on to Portland OR for a night off. Let me tell you that the steaks at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in downtown Portland are some of the best I have eaten, and as a South African, that’s saying something. Go there, but take lots of money or plastic – don’t let the Ferrari and Maserati at the door scare you off – be strong!
I had a Mono case for my pedaltrain delivered in Portland. The speed at which stuff moves overland in the USA never ceases to amaze me. All night truckstops, 24 hr couriers and immense infrastructure make for a highly efficient fossil fuel-based economy. I tracked the (free) shipment real time overnight from LA into the hotel lobby via free wifi on my iPad
From Portland we drove out to Roseburg OR, but disaster struck in the form of a DOT cop (department of transport – think officer Poncharello). Apparently, we missed a scheduled weighbridge (where you stop your heavy vehicle to get weighed, or else) and we were pulled over. In the ensuing checks it became apparent that our existing driver from Nashville was licensed to pull a 10,000 lb trailer behind the bus, but we in fact had a 12,000 lb one. Within the hour Susie was headed back to Nashville and a new driver had arrived (apparently rated for 12,000 lbs) and off we went to Roseburg OR. Arrivederci Susie.
In Roseburg, Dan (our keyboard player) and I got some lessons pre soundcheck from Ricky the frisbee king of Roseburg on how to throw the disc properly, then it was a quick soundcheck with our own in ear monitoring and a great show for around 3000 people at Music on the Half Shell. The volunteers at the festival were all wonderful, warm-hearted Oregon folks, something we have come to expect in Oregon. They cooked mountains of food and really looked after us fantastically well. Here’s the boss after the show:
Johnny Clegg – Music on the Half Shell
From Roseburg we had a short day drive to Bend OR, where we did a show right on river near the best pizzas I’ve tasted in years from Flatbread at the Old Mill centre. Watching the inhabitants of Bend floating down the river past the stage (a continual stream all afternoon long on a Wednesday), I sincerely doubted that there is a high incidence of stress-related heart attacks in the community.
Wednesday afternoon floaters in Bend OR
Here’s a pic of the show in Bend last night:
JCB show in Bend
Right now, we’re on a 9 hour drive to Sandpoint Idaho. Almost there now.
Some good news just came in. Look and Listen in SA have put in their first order for Anthems of a Stranger in brick and mortar stores. The first single, Angels, went to radio this week – we should know within the next two weeks or so if the stations are going to play me. That’s the first step in an exciting process to promote the album and get live shows booked and running.
This is the first of a few posts detailing some of the recordings on my recent release, Anthems of a Stranger. Here I’d like to write about the tracks Emaweni, on which Johnny Clegg played Zulu (Umhupe) mouth bow, and Tugela Crossing. “Emaweni” literally means “at the cliffs” in Zulu. “Tugela” is the name of a large river in Kwazulu/Natal, the historical boundary of the Zulu kingdom up until the Anglo-Zulu wars of the late 1800’s.
Apart from the stellar cameo in Emaweni by Johnny, another interesting thing about both of these tracks (and I suspect a worldwide first) was that I played Zulu trad maskandi guitar in Zulu tuning strung Nashville High on the recordings. This is a method of stringing your acoustic guitar like the high strings on a 12-string guitar. Read on at the end of this post for more technical information about that.
Anyway, I approached Johnny late last year about working on the album.
“I’d love to be involved but what do you want me to do?” was Johnny’s response to my request that he do a session on the recordings. Knowing how amazing his mouth bow playing sounded on the early Juluka stuff, my immediate rejoinder was “…if I can be greedy, mouth bow and vocals please!”
Johnny agreed to do it, providing I collect the kit necessary to build a new mouth bow for the session. I went off to Builders Warehouse and a music store to collect bamboo, dowels, viola strings and rosin on the day of the session. Johnny brought a strong supple branch he had picked from his garden and the mouth bow building workshop was on. There’s some video footage below of Johnny building the mouth bow he used to record on the song.
Being as I am not particularly well-versed in the art of building a Zulu mouth bow, it turned out that the bamboo which I had bought was a little too thin for the task at hand, so Robin, the engineer and owner of the studio where I recorded most of the tracks, got a short piece of metal tubing that worked for the stem of the bow. Johnny and Robin hacked it to the right length for the mouth bow and, some rudimentary carpentry and snapping of twigs notwithstanding, within the hour the mouth bow parts were going down to disk in the session.
Here are some pics of the Johannesburg winter nighttime building process and the session:
Johnny records mouth bow parts
Johnny builds mouth bow
More mouth bow building
The mouth bow sounds incredible. Apart from the usual rhythmic sawing sound that one expects from this instrument, there is also a whistling overtone generated by the player’s mouth against the stem joint that can be shaped into a melody, which Johnny did here with remarkable dexterity. The end result is a stunning, quintessentially southern African sound that plays during the fade in and outro sections of Emaweni.
Check the track out on Soundcloud:
Kudos and thanks to Johnny Clegg, king of the pale mouth bow fiddlers. His knowledge and experience of African tradition brought something unique to the project. The rhythm section work on Emaweni features the remarkable talents of Neill Ettridge on Drums, Tlale Makhene on percussion, Ashish Joshi on Tabla and Denny Lalouette on Bass. Tugela Crossing features Rob Watson on drums, Trevor Donjeany on bass and Tlale Makhene on perc.
The Sitar parts for Emaweni were played through a VG-99 on my Custom Midi Deluxe, built by the great folks at Parker Guitars in Chicago. I actually flew to Chicago to collect that guitar in person. That was another adventure all by itself.
All leads for these two pieces were played on my modded PRS CU24, verses through a Dr. Z Route 66 / Z Best 2×12 and Mesa Roadster Brit channel / Roadster 2×12, chorus and solo parts through the Route 66 and a Mesa Mk V running hot. The levels were purposefully loud to get decent tone, sag and character from the amps. It was so loud in the booth with the two amps running, I’m sure the levels from the cabs could have killed small insects in their path at hundred feet! On the Tugela Crossing electric solo I used a Fulltone Clyde wah and for the acoustic feel solo in that tune, a Parker Fly Bronze, tuned to isiZulu for interesting high note combinations in that particular passage.
Here’s a sample of Tugela Crossing:
As promised, the low down on the Zulu / Nashville stringing and tuning:
Nashville tuning is a relatively common style of stringing an acoustic guitar in the Country genre, to wit the name “Nashville Tuning,” Nashville being pretty much the traditional recording and performance capital of country music. When you double a standard acoustic guitar part on a Nashville High strung instrument (i.e. play the same part in as identical a fashion as possible a second time), the resultant sound is like an exceptionally wide-sounding and versatile 12-string guitar part, but with far more interesting sonic possibilities.
I used a Taylor 410 CE dreadnought, tuned EADGBD (standard isiZulu Maskandi tuning), but with the lower strings an octave up to achieve my Zulu Nashville High setup. This guitar doubles the Zulu claw-picked fingerstyle guitar part done in standard Zulu tuning (an octave below on the low EAD strings) on my Patrick James Eggle Saluda C custom and Martin OMJM. I think I doubled the Eggle with a Taylor 815CE for Tugela Crossing and the Martin for Emaweni
I was fortunate enough to have some of the greatest masters of the style teach me Maskandi Zulu guitar (Mfiliseni Makubane, Johnny Clegg, Sipho Mchunu and Mahoyana Nkwanyana). Hopefully the playing here lives up to the quality of the lessons imparted by them. It’s worth noting that there are two main variants of the Zulu guitar style – Maskandi (drop-D) and isiShameni (a completely different tuning requiring a capo and a clothes peg!). Both styles require a running bass line on the thumb, and melodies and chord formations played and insinuated with the index finger.
The Zulu guitar parts for Emaweni and Tugela Crossing on the album are both played in the old school Maskandi style (no 3rd in the chords). This gives the tunes a dramatic Celtic 5th harmony ring to them. This sound is what attracted me to Zulu trad styles in the first place.
I trust you’ll enjoy the tracks. I’ll be writing some more about the studio experiences in upcoming editions of this blog. Stay tuned and bookmark this site, or monitor the Facebook page for updates.
We arrived here in Chicago around 1 pm after a ride from Ann Arbor. The venue is located a short walk from the now somewhat popularised Lincoln Park.
I had decided a while back that I was going to pick up a small Pedaltrain here (basically an aluminium board to put my guitar switchers, tuner, DI and wah on), as my current board is made of… wait for it… WOOD! It constituted 70% of the weight of my checked luggage on the way here.
So I made my way three blocks up to Guitar Center – fresh out. Lesson learned – call ahead. The Chicago Music Exchange informed me they have four in stock and they were theoretically 1.5 miles away according to my iPad, so I tootled over there in a cab (after I’d walked five city blocks in that general direction) to collect a Pedaltrain PT Jr.
I have been to Make’n Music before in Chicago, so I’ve seen what a ridiculously large guitar store looks like, but the Chicago Music Exchange was a new level of largeness. Being as I find it difficult to describe in words, I’ve just included pics below of SOME of the floorspace there. Read more
I’m currently on tour with the Johnny Clegg band in north America. We’re in Ann Arbor, Michigan today for a day off after about two weeks on the road, then we carry on with the tour tomorrow. The whole thing runs with breaks until mid-August when we do the last show in Poitiers, France.
The Bus – Ann Arbor
I have had several questions from people about my live rig and this seems like as good an opportunity as any to write about that. Some of this may get a bit technical, but it wouldn’t be a particularly useful article without that content. Let me just say up front, that I have no commercial relationship with Kemper GmbH (beyond having paid for their products). Maybe that will change if I write enough nice things about their kit (hehe). I do, however, have a relationship with Parker Guitars and with Lehle. Read more
It’s been an incredible journey, putting this album together over the past two years, but now it’s done and we’re here. Just having the chance to play on a track with my daughter, Kerri, made it all worth it. She plays the piano on the trading bars outro of The Devil and the Rainbow. I’ll be writing more soon, for now – enjoy and, if you like the music, please tell everyone you know. If you don’t like it, well… shhh.