Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pic of the Day: Wild Bill Donohue!

Ever wonder how to describe your favorite right-wing demagogue's personality?

Ah, the wonders of the GIMP, Photoshop, and similar software!

This was my first (and only, so far) attempt at face-swapping, done for Wild Bill's bio page over at the Kook Clearinghouse. Wild Bill is what I call a Professional Hysteric: it's his job to lose his shit any time something happens that he can pretend to be horribly offended by. Then he dashes off a note via his hysterical megaphone, the Catholic League, so other people can get offended as well.

What? GAY MARRIAGE?!?!? AAAAAAAAAUGH!! They'll destroy the family!! (he's divorced, himself)

Oh noes! A movie I haven't seen yet doesn't kill enough Muslims! AAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGHHH!!!! "2012" offended him a week before it premiered!

Once I had the idea for this pic, it just had to be done. It's a perfect description of a man who defends pedophile priests: an incredibly childish grown man who waves his religious six-gun around, demanding to be treated as an authority figure.

The technique is ridiculously easy...and after looking at HumanDescent.com I'm feeling like I've been lazy the past couple of years.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Blog Review: humandescent

I stumbled across this critter a few years ago and found the Photoshop job jaw-droppingly cool.

Credit goes to Martin of HumanDescent.com and Deviant Art, where you'll find more of his cool, twisted, hysterical critters.

I couldn't find a name for this one, but I've seen a crappy-looking modified version of it called a "moonbat."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

POTD: Guitar Porn--the MotorAve BelAire

I don't usually rave about guitars; there are plenty of axes I'd like to try out, plenty I'd pass on for whatever reason. My approach to music--playing or listening--has always been more about the musician. Joe Satriani (for example) could make a cigar box and rubber bands sound amazing. Eddie Van Halen used to be like that--but he lost his way after "1984" and became a footnote. I couldn't really say what guitars either of them have played without having to look it up: I'd rather just listen.

So no, I've never seen a guitar that really excited me until a few nights ago, watching Them Crooked Vultures on "Austin City Limits." Singer Josh Homme used several guitars for that gig, but it was his red MotorAve BelAire that dropped my jaw--especially the clean aluminum pickguard that follows the body's lines. There are smaller aluminum pieces--the output jack plate, truss rod cover, and tailpiece--that match the guard and really set the guitar off. No way I'd be able to afford the several thousand bucks for it, so I'll have to admire this one from afar.

It's given me some ideas, though. I've been interested in setting up a small back-yard forge where I can cast aluminum and maybe copper, brass or bronze. How cool would it be to go to a pawn shop, buy a decrepit, unloved guitar, then strip it down and rebuild it with a thin cast-aluminum pickguard and other one-off parts?

[Update] I poked around the Backyard Metal Casting site overnight. It's amazing how low-tech but effective Oliver's tools and techniques are. I've gotta try some of that.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gear Review: Peavey T-15

'Way back in 1989, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to start playing guitar. It was just a few days before the National Guard unit I was assigned to took a tour most of the way across Florida to a little town called Live Oak.

Once our camp-out-in-the-fair-grounds was over and the military stuff was put away, we got our pay...and I went hunting through Live Oak's pawn shops and music stores.

The first thing I saw was a pawn shop no-name red guitar for under $100, but when I plugged it into an amp, nothing came out. I wasn't looking for a project, didn't know what else might be wrong with it or even what to look for, so I passed.

I ended up at a proper guitar store, explained that I was a newbie, and the salesman took me directly to a shiny black one with a short-scale neck. It wasn't an exciting neon speed-metal axe; just a quiet, unpretentious instrument. I shelled out the $149 for it and bought some music books. The next day I went back and bought a little practice amp. Still have both of them 22 years later.

The T-15 is styled along the lines of Fender's legendary Stratocaster with two large single-coil "blade" pickups. The short neck is closer to a Gibson's scale than a Strat's (23.5", 20 frets; Gibson typically uses 24.75"; Fender uses 25.5" on the Strat). This puts less tension on the strings, making for a looser and easier instrument for a beginner or someone with small hands.

From what I could find online, this Mississippi-built guitar's probably got an ash body. It feels solid without being heavy, but it's heftier than the poplar-bodied Tux. Mine was almost immaculate, but it's accumulated a few dings and scratches over the years. It's smoothly rounded, with rib and elbow reliefs blended into the curves.

The neck is maple with a clear-coated fretboard. I've rarely ever had to mess with the truss rod, never done more than tweak the intonation from time to time. The lower body cutaway gives very good access to the upper frets without much interference from the neck joint.

Most of its chrome hardware is still bright after minimal care, but the bridge has some pits and scratches.

The bridge and neck joint are the most unusual aspects of the guitar's setup: instead of individual saddles for each string, there's a single metal bridge saddle that can be positioned via a pair of set screws. You can raise or lower the strings slightly by turning a different pair of Allen screws under the bridge block, but for larger changes you have to crank out the 4 neck screws, then adjust the neck's "tilt" with yet another Allen screw.

The control knobs are solid aluminum, a nice touch for an entry-level guitar, and my only complaint has been that their set-screws don't hold them on very well. Fortunately, both control pots have solid shafts instead of the splined split shafts you'd find under cheapie plastic knobs or modern low-end instruments. I drilled small holes right where the set screws had marked up the shafts. Very simple fix.

The only hardware/electronics failure I've had was in 1994, when the pickup selector switch disintegrated. I couldn't find a proper replacement (Peavey wanted $50 or so!) and ended up using a tiny 3-position toggle. It did the job for another 17 years.

Swapping that dinky toggle switch into the guitar forced me to rewire the guitar slightly so that I could still get the same Bridge/Both/Neck pickup choices as before. I tried a few other mods over the next 17 years, but I've never really liked how the thing sounded after the last change. Compared to my other two electrics, the T-15 sounded brittle, harsh, and unmanageable if there was any distortion. Its clean tone was a bit thin.

I finally decided to do it all over again--new switch, same wiring as the original (fortunately, I drew up a schematic every time I changed something)--and now I really like the sound. With those single-coil pickups, this guitar's never going to have much bottom end, but it's got a pleasant bluesy twang to it. Output is hot and bright. Get the right amp and distortion behind it and this little axe will sing. It's never sounded better than when I was playing through a borrowed Fender Bassman amp head and 15" cabinet. I just wonder how it would sound with a pair of humbucker pickups, instead....

Overall, an excellent $100 to $200 guitar, and not just for a beginner. It's well-balanced, solid, comfortable to play and easy to maintain. You won't get Metallica tone, here--not without humbuckers or maybe some different capacitors in the tone circuit--but it's good as-is for surf, country, rockabilly or similar "twangy" tones.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scott The Frog: still there.

Well, not in the air conditioner. I can hear him somewhere out in the yard right now (his sort of frog is a nocturnal predator; by daybreak he'll be looking for a spot to bunk down). But now Scott's taken to getting right outside the window to either side of his former penthouse to complain about getting evicted. The fillers are just pleated vinyl, so there's no blocking outside noise.

He gives me time to fall asleep. Then it's like he rings the doorbell and runs. By the time I slide one of those fillers aside, he's gone, probably watching me groping around trying to get him.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Attack of the Killer Tree Frog!!

For the past three weeks, I've had a tree frog living in my air conditioner. I remember there was a plague of frogs in someone's religious story or other. Can one frog be a plague?

I never laid eyes on it until early yesterday morning--but I've heard the little bugger several times a week. Never at the same time of day, either--but almost always when I'm trying to sleep. I dubbed him "Scott," because it's a great name for an annoying little prick that keeps me from sleeping peacefully.

I never realized how freaking LOUD those things are before this one set up camp. The A/C unit's just a small metal box; there are slots in both sides and on the top on the outside part of the case. The only divider between the inside and outside halves is a couple of inches of Styrofoam. Not soundproof at all.

So there I am, sound asleep, dreaming, peaceful, and GRAK...GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK!

Always 8 times, and always with a significant pause after the first, and always loud as hell. There were a few times when I was in my car, backing out of the side yard, and I'd hear Scott loud and clear. I put some gray cells on the problem, trying to think up a way of getting him out of there and keeping him out.

Usually I could just slap my side of the A/C unit and Scott would shut up.

Until yesterday morning. It's 5 a.m., I'm just dozing off and GRAK...GRAK! oh for GRAK! fark's sake GRAK! smack! GRAK! smack! GRAK! smack! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK! GRAK!

Scott's not having any of it. Didn't stop with 8, either--he kept on going even after I pulled one of the window fillers aside and whacked the side of the A/C box. He stopped once I turned the lights back on.

I grabbed a screwdriver and got the freaking A/C undone and pulled it into my room. Cold water and algae and dead bugs came pouring out of my side of the thing once it tipped just right in my direction. Once I had the thing wrestled around sideways, I could see the little shit sitting on top of part of the equipment inside--and just sitting, staring me down like a little green red-eyed badass daring me to come in there and start something.

I dribbled lemon juice on him, hoping it'd irritate him enough to leave. He turned and went deeper amongst the A/C parts. I didn't hear him again until this afternoon, somewhere outside.

I hurried out and wired pieces of carpenter's mesh over the outside vents. It's ugly, but I can't take the case apart without pulling the entire thing out of the window. Assuming Scott's actually evicted, I'll just leave it alone until Fall, then open the thing up and make the screen permanent on the inside.

I'm not sure if I found the right species, but I managed to find something close to Scott's racket. Turn it up 'till it's too loud!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gear Review: The Tux

I found this little beast in a pawn shop for $60.00 back in late May.

I wasn't really in the market for a 4th guitar (5th, if we count the bass...6th if we count the old & damaged Classical acoustic...but I won't count the crappy Wal-Mart acoustic that won't stay tuned), but I was bored and looking for something new to play with while I recovered from having the Killer Kidney removed.

Turns out I made a hell of a good choice, getting this thing. Yeah, it's a cheap guitar, part of the FirstAct line of entry-level instruments, something to buy the kid who wants to try being a rock star without putting a bunch of money into it. If the kid quits, you're not out several hundred or thousand bucks.

This one--the Overload BB391--originally shipped as an all-in-one set: guitar, gig bag (basically a nylon 'soft case'), cord, some picks, and a small amp, all for about $125.00.

What I got was just the guitar and the gig bag. I played a bit with it at the store and liked it. Once I got it home and plugged it into my Crate GFX-120 amp, I loved it. I immediately nicknamed it "The Tux" for its clean black & white finish.

This is the first humbucker axe I've played or owned, so I wasn't prepared for how much hotter its output is than either of my other electrics.

The BB391 kind of looks like an early-60s slab-bodied double-cutaway Gibson Melody Maker; it's got a lightweight poplar body and maple neck with rosewood fretboard and 22 frets (which could use some filing along the ends). Access to the upper frets is about average for a bolt-on neck.

Overall finish is neat and clean, with properly-finished edges (I've seen some Samick guitars for three times as much, but with crappy-looking, splintered cut edges around the pickup openings and other fit & finish issues). Since the body's a simple slab with rounded-over edges, there's no arm or rib relief, but I don't even notice the difference.

The only playability issues I had with the axe is that the upper strap peg's position makes the guitar want to hang horizontally. I ended up adding another peg on the lower side of the heel. This limits access to the upper frets a little, but tilting the neck up a little takes care of that.

The other problem was string height; each saddle is individually adjusted with a pair of small Allen-head setscrews. No problem in adjustment (I dropped each at least 0.10"), but the screws should be either dressed with a file to cut the sharp edges or cut down so they can sit flush with the saddle tops. Aside from that, they don't interfere with palm-muting.

There's a lone humbucker in the bridge position and single volume and tone pots. The control knobs are a bit loose, but don't get in the way. The white-on-black numbers are easily read against the guitar's white plastic pickguard. Hardware's all nickel.

Hooked up to my Zoom 505 guitar effects box and the Crate amp, this little beast does a passable impersonation of James Hetfield's crunchy Metallica tone ("...And Justice for All") or Dimebag Darrell's insane harmonics ("Cowboys From Hell").

Zoom: default A1 patch
Amp: Bass & Treble all the way up, mids all the way down.

Keeping the same Zoom and Crate settings and turning the guitar's volume down gets you a good '80s hair-metal sound, like in Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock."

Changing the Zoom and Amp settings around, you quickly learn that it's loud and bright even with its volume almost at "0"--it doesn't like to mellow out.

Cutting the Zoom out altogether and setting the amp's "dirty" channel around a little got me a Texas-fried tone suitable for Billy Gibbons, but the Tux stays loud and bright no matter what.

If you're guitar-hunting, keep an eye open for this one. It's a surprisingly good axe for the price.