June 13, 2008

Hey Dudes! I will be calling in to Q101.1’s successful Crash Test Radio on June, Friday the 13th at 11pm (CST). I’ll be discussing the Ask the Dude advice column, as well DARKEST HOUR’s upcoming US tour supporting the reunited AT THE GATES.

“Crash Test Radio has been featuring metal and hardcore every Friday night and was thrilled at the idea of having Mike call into the program. Crash Test Radio airs at 11pm (CST) on 101.1FM in Chicago and streams live online worldwide at Listen to this interview on Q101.1’s blog!

Double Shot of Rock

June 13, 2008

Dear Dude,

I own a Krank Revolution and Marshall JCM 900 head. I would like too know how to run both heads through one cab. Is there any advantage in doing so? I love the tone of both heads and would love to create a single tone from both of them. I have a Mesa standard cab. I get confused with all the ohms and shit so I was wondering if you could help me out?!

Double Shot of Rock

Dear Double Shot of Rock,

Ow….you are so close my friend. So close to the true secret of LIVE rock toneage! Translation; mixing the sound of two or more heads is the real secret to nailing that sick guitar tone live. I have been running stereo guitar heads live for almost 12 years. I originally saw guitarist Ken Olden, of Damnation A.D., run two Marshall JCM 800 at the same time and I was sold. It sounded so full, so loud, so raw, and yet so under control that I had to try it. Once I did my young rock mind was blown. Here are the best ways I have found to run duel heads live:

First, you really shouldn’t try to run two high gain and high powered amps through one cab. I think it probably would be possible to run both through a guitar cab that could be set to stereo (in other words you would be using the two jacks on the back of standard Marshall Cabinet instead of just the 4 or 16 ohm side). But I have never really tried it, because, like I said, I think it’s a bad idea. If you want to blend the sound of the two heads, then you want the extra width of sound that is added when you use two cabinets. That’s how you get the sound of two half stacks at once. This allows you to run one on one side of the stage and another on the other side giving your audience your blended tone in true stereo. Trust me, just go out and buy another cab.

OK, so now you have two cabs and two heads. For me the classic set up was two JCM 800’s, then I changed to two Peavey 5150’s, and later found that I actually liked the sound of one 5150 and one JCM 800. Recently I switched to the Randall MTS heads. Since you can customize them a bit more, it allows me to use the same heads but different preamp modules. Now I can get that blended sound on 3 guitar channels and if I ever want to just have the same sound doubled I can do that too. But either way, my set up will work with whatever heads, or combination of combo amps and half stacks, I use.

I have three time tested ways of spitting signals. The first is simple; I use a Whirlwind A/B box. They are fucking amazing. You can use them to split a signal or combine a signal. They allow you to switch one off or toggle between each. It’s really cool if you’re running two heads and two cabinets at the same time on two different sides of the stage. You can really fake the sound of two guitars better this way (its not perfect but it’s pretty good). I used to use two different overdrives for my 800’s so I would go from my guitar > Boss Tuner > Whirlwind AB >> two tube screamers >> two Boss Noise Suppressors >> two amps.

Sometimes I use the stereo split of my Line 6 pedals (and this will work with most stereo splitting pedals). This does not give you the options that the A/B box does and I am convinced there is some tone lose this way, but I have done this overseas and on many tours when, well, everything else breaks. This is a good way if you need to do this on the fly.

The third way is now my current mode of split-a-tion, if you will. Right now I run through all my effects and then send them to my Decimator ProRack G Noise Suppressor. I use the stereo split on the noise gate to run to two Randall MTS heads. I am also running a Digitech GSP 1101 as my effects in the loop’s of the heads so that gives me the ability to make all my delays and effects true stereo (again if your running your cabs on two different sides of the stage you will now get that stereo sound of those effects live). This is my new way but I am not yet convinced it is better then the original Whirlwind A/B.

There ya go dude, my advice go buy another cab since you have Mesa check out a Marshall, Randall, Emperor, or an Orange cab to compliment that. Oh, and turn that shit up loud!

The Dude

*Read the Gear Guru's take on this letter here.

Why Sling it Low?

June 11, 2008

Dear Dude,

I was wondering why you wear your Les Paul so low. Is it for looks or is it just more comfortable? When I do it it’s a bit harder to play on both hands.

Why Sling it Low?

Dear Why Sling it Low,

Where your guitar sits while you play can have a huge impact on how you actually play it. I’m not sure how much thought most musicians put into, but it really comes down to one thing, personal preference.

Yes, it is harder to play your guitar with it swinging at your knees then if its choked up to your neck like an Ibanez necklace! If you’re going to be shredding faces off you’re probably going to want the guitar to sit pretty high so you can reach all those tight areas more freely and quickly. This is a stark contrast to the type of player who loves to just riff power chords and chug along. This player can wear his guitar where ever he wants and still get the job done because he or she doesn’t have to worry about hitting all those hard to reach places.

For me, where I sit my guitar is kind of more about my development as a guitar player. When Darkest Hour first started I was this second type of guitar player, I just riffed on some power chords. As I developed my style I became much better technically on the guitar, but since I was so used to playing the guitar low it never felt right to change it up. As my growth to an aspiring uber shredder began I adapted to shredding low.

When a sick shred part comes up during a live set, I need to make sure I have my knee up on something so the guitar is propped right in front of me to play it. I usually use a monitor, kick drum, kid that’s stage diving, really anything to be able to rest the guitar a bit closer. As soon as the shred part is done I can drop the guitar back down. Its funny, but Mr. John Petrucci of the band Dream Theatre has an actual step built so that he can put his leg up when he needs to get the rock out. Now that’s a little more elaborate than me, but it just goes to show that he likes his guitar a certain way, and has to compensated a little to shred all our faces off.

Some people think a guitar slung low just looks cool. I mean you can’t deny that James Hetfield, Zakk Wylde, or even Andy Willlams (Every Time I Die) look fucking badass with their guitars hung low. Shit I am sure the reason I started playing mine as low as I could was because I thought it LOOKED cool. But you know some people also think Ben Weinmen (Dillinger Escape plane), Tom Morello (RAGE), and Vernon Reid (Living Color) also look bad ass when they rock and all of them sit their guitars very differently. My point, be yourself and play where the guitar feels comfortable. Its not a fashion show, if you walk out there and look like Slash with your guitar hung low ready to slay and you just suck because you cant reach the fret’s, well your going to be embarrassed to say the least. Don’t try to emulate the way anyone holds a guitar because in reality the only thing that will matter to your playing is how you hold it.


Going Down Under

June 9, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ll be immigrating from the United Kingdom to Australia in a couple of months, which of course means I’ll have to pack my stuff into storage to be shipped over in a container. My main issue with this is the amount of heat that builds up in these containers and the effect it would have on my gear (possibly warping of the neck maybe? etc). This has lead to me deliberate whether or not to buy new stuff now and ship it over or wait until I get to Australia and buy new stuff there. I was hoping you’d maybe have some experience in these areas, and any help you could give me would help a whole lot.


Going Down Under

Dear Going Down Under,

Traveling with music equipment can be an unforgiving, torturous act. I have heard horror stories of dudes opening their guitar cases to cracked headstocks. I’ve flown with my gear too many times to count and let me tell you I have see baggage handlers fuck up some bags in ways you couldn’t even imagine possible. Traveling with your gear is just part of life on the road, but what happens when it comes time to actually move all your gear? This can be tricky and for you, it’s compounded by the fact that you’re deciding to move almost across the globe! Here is some food for thought.

First, I have been to both the UK and Australia many times and there is a huge difference in the types of products available in each place. So, if you are thinking about buying new equipment in Australia, do some research about what is available there. Sounds crazy, we are so used to living in such a globalized world that we may over look that its WAY easier to get cool Marshall, Hiwatt, Vox etc. amps in the UK than Australia. I’ve also found its actually easier to get US made gear in the UK, so really you’re leaving a place with easy access and moving to a place where getting the same things might cost a bit more and be a bit harder to come by. Now, don’t get me wrong they have the Internet in Australia and dude, you can buy whatever you want as long as you look hard enough and are willing to pay.

If I was going to move I would take my guitars (Les Pauls, Fenders, Washburn’s) and my amp heads (Marshall’s, Vox’s, Randall’s, Peavey’s) because these will be really expensive there and very hard to come by. I might not bring all my pedals (Boss, Line 6, Digitech), they are all available down there and don’t seem to travel as well. I also wouldn’t bring my Berhinger Compressor/Gate, Digi 002, and my other cheap rack recording gear. Lets face it, the world of recording changes so fast you might as well use this experience for a chance to sell all that old recording gear so that when you get to your new spot you can get a better set up. By all means, if you have a piece of recording or audio gear that is really cool and sounds unique then definitely bring it, because it maybe hard or impossible to find once you get there. Guitar cabinets are a hard choice because they take up a lot of room. I know for a fact its easy to get Peavey, Marshall, Randall etc. down under but if you have special cab that you are just in love with, I say bring it because those items are just too hard to replace. You can see it’s all about prioritizing. So, take inventory of what you have and decide what’s important. Figure out if it’s more cost effective to keep it and ship it, or sell it and buy a replacement in Australia. If you’re going to go through the hazard and expense of shipping gear such a long way, make sure it’s worth it.

The first thing to consider when moving gear, or traveling to a foreign country, is the power voltage. Countries all over the world use different style plugs and more importantly voltages to power electronic equipment. This becomes very difficult if you are using gear that is hardwired at US power (110V) and you are going anywhere that uses 240V, for example the UK or Australia. Lucky for you the UK and Australia are the same voltage but they do have different style plugs. So, for all your electronic gear you are going to have to get some adaptors in order to actually plug any of them in. There are plenty of safe and relatively inexpensive ways to do this but it is something to keep in mind.

I know you’re worried about the heat in the containers and overall travel conditions your gear will have to go through. Let me say this, fuck it! It’s musical gear, it’s meant to be on the road! You have to be willing to travel and experience life with your gear otherwise those instruments are not tools but collection pieces. There is no way those shipping containers are going to be worse than driving through the desert in Arizona with the heat baking everything in the trailer. And they can’t get colder than when you have to leave your van and trailer parked in a blizzard in Calgary, Canada! My point is, take the risk with the gear you do decide to travel with; chances are it’ll survive.

Before packing your stuff, make sure to:

– De-tune all your guitar strings so that they are floppy as hell (you don’t want them to travel all tuned up, especially if your going to fly anything).

– Pack your guitars good and snug, with good neck support, in an appropriate travel ready guitar case. Do not ship these things in gig bags!

– Take all the tubes out of your guitar heads. Whenever I travel I always take out the Power and Pre Amp tubes so they don’t break inside the head.

– Pad and pack every knob and little item. If you decide to bring your pedals you should get some foam for padding, or even use T-shirts to wrap around the pedals, over and over. Then take some tape and wrap the whole thing in tape. You’ll have like a pedal ball! Sound crazy? Sure! Is there a more pro way to pack them, probably. But this method has always worked for me. Look, all you have to do is make sure you protect those knobs from getting knocked off, that’s what usually breaks when traveling long distances.

It all comes down to being prepared, taking your time, and most of all prioritizing what you actually want to bring. Lets not forget that your moving from the UK, you’ve got one of the strongest economy’s so that British pound your traveling with will go a lot further then normal. Use this trip to figure out what you really love and what you might want to get rid of before you go. It can be both a cleansing experience and a good way to start your new rock journey down under!

The Dude

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

June 6, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for ten years and have been with my current band for four. It began as a bit of fun, as all bands do, and it has gradually grown into something a little bigger than I ever expected. We are currently playing gigs in support of an EP – released on a small independent label with national distribution. It has been getting some good reviews and selling consistently, and we are starting to make a name for ourselves. The next step is to start writing our debut LP.

Despite all this positive growth, I am no longer enjoying my time in the band. For the past six months or so, I’ve gradually been losing interest due to a number of reasons, from personality clashes, to questioning other members motivations and dedication, to even getting bored with the music. I’m missing that variety of styles I started out playing. In short, we can just label it the age-old classic, “personal and musical differences”.

This has reached a climax as of late, and I’ve decided that to preserve the fond memories I have of the band, I should leave. I feel selfish for wanting to leave at such a pivotal point. I feel I wouldn’t be giving the necessary 110% if I stay, but also fear losing the friendships I’ve made if I do leave. I do still want to be in a band and play gigs and tour, just not in this band and style. I know you’ve covered the subject of band members leaving from the one side – members being asked to leave – but what’s the best way to approach it from the other side, when you want to leave the band?

I’d like to know if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, and how you approached it. Or, how would you suggest I approach this issue and explain myself to the band in a way that won’t hinder the band’s progress, or affect my relationship with the remaining members?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go,

You know I have received many emails about member changes and issues, but I have never had the chance to write about it from this angle. Though I’ve never actually quit a band before, I have had to deal with this issue several times in my life and have successfully made it through with friendships intact. It’s not easy, and will take honesty, trust, and most of all understanding to make it work.

OK, just so you know, it’s totally cool to have the feelings you do. Music is about creativity and expression and it certainly involves a lot of sacrifice and dedication. Therefore, one of the most honorable things you can actually do as a musician, and fellow dude to your friends, is bow out if your heart’s not in it. I have both been in bands and worked with bands who have members that are just buying their time. The worst type is the dude who just sticks around because they think there’s going to be quick success right around the corner. Look, its just best to be honest. Do you love what you’re doing? Does it fulfill you creatively, professionally, and personally? Leaving a band, especially one that is a working band (touring, playing shows, releasing records), is not a decision you should make overnight. You have to remember there is only so much time to rock before it’s all over, so if you’re unhappy don’t waste your (and everyone else’s) time doing something your heart’s not into.

So there you have it, some food for thought. But you’ve already decided you want to leave the band, so what is the most positive way to go about doing it? What’s the most DUDEIFIED way to gracefully leave and still remain friends with the rest of the band?

These are my suggestions;

– To start, you need to have a one on one talk with the band leader or leaders and tell them why you’re leaving. Its almost like breaking up with a girlfriend, so just remember its best to be short, honest, and keep it relatively simple. Give your friend a chance to talk and make sure you allow them to be angry, depressed, worried, whatever their reaction is. It’s ok, take it from a band leader who has had this happen to him numerous times, they will survive.

– Second, tell them that you’re committed to helping in the transition of a replacement. You will promise to help in anyway that is reasonably possible to keep the band moving and functioning seamlessly. You have to remind them that you have dedicated a lot of time, energy, emotion, and self to giving life to this band and you do not want to hurt the band. You only wish to leave to follow another path.

– Next you’re going to have to notify the band. You want to make sure it is the band and only the band that is there for this conversation. Try to keep it short and tell them what you told the leader (who should not tell the band you are leaving before you do). Remind them that you care about their friendship and that you have really enjoyed your time together. It’s important to bring up big picture things here like friendship, hard work, and all the things you have accomplished together. You should remind them that being in a band is not just about being a rock star, it’s also about the time trying to get there. After this conversation things will be weird. The band is going to have to see you as an outsider for itself to survive. They may treat you a bit differently and they may act almost crazy, but you need to give this both time and space to heal. It’s not something that will work itself out in one night. The natural response is for them to be upset to you leaving, but I promise if you handle it with respect, loyalty, and understanding these feelings will subside after they find a suitable replacement.

– You should define what the band needs to be able to survive. Are there any current shows booked? Are there songs left unwritten? Do you owe any of them money? Whatever it is make sure you define exactly what they need you to do before you go. If they have shows booked or songs half written offer to close those lose ends. You should definitely either tab out or write out all your guitar parts in a way that another guitarist can easily read or pick up. It would be ideal if the band would allow you to train other members, but chances are they are going to want you out of the picture as soon as possible, so make sure you have a map of all the music for the new member to follow. This is a really helpful way for bands to move on from a line up change fast. You need to make sure you allow the band to function as if it were business as usual right up to the point where you exit the band. If you have followed through and kept up every commitment, they should, hopefully, not resent or have any ill will towards you.

– After you and the entire band have fully discussed all the details of you leaving and you’ve committed to completing any and all obligations, its good to figure out when your actual exit will take place. Now this might not happen right away, it could take as long as a few weeks before you’re free from all commitments, but its good to set an actual end date. See, you don’t want to quit a band just to become a fill in guitar player for the same band! You have to be able to set goals and one of them is defining when it is this actually over. This is going to be different for every band but the easiest way to set this goal is to say, ‘ok after this tour, or after these shows, or after we record this, I’m out.’

Obviously, these are not hard and fast rules, but it’s at least a good place to start. See, every band is like a family, or a gang, and every band is going to have its unique set of members, attitudes, and inter-dynamics. You have to go into this thing with an open mind. If the bandleader slams the door on you and throws your Les Paul in the pool next to the practice space, then so be it. But, if you want to quit the band while maintaining your friendships, you’re going to have to be patient and give it time. In the end, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Shit, when you started, or joined, the band I am sure it was great fun and very simple. Try to keep that in mind too. Some people go to work all day in hospitals, or as police officers, and deal with real drama, so try not to blow it out of proportion. In the end it’s a band, and there will always be other bands. You need to keep both your perspective as well as your cool. Make sure you’re open about your feelings and you do everything in your power to be fair and help your bros continue. When they see you are working to make sure they can survive so you can move on, then they will forgive you for leaving and respect you as a true friend.

The Dude

Run for Cover?

June 5, 2008

Dear Dude,

I play drums and am into fast hardcore/metal music like Darkest Hour, Dillinger Escape Plan, Devil Driver, Unearth, etc. l I have been jamming with these dudes recently and they are more interested in covering songs and doing just covers where as I’m more interested in making my own music and possibly playing shows. What advice would you give to me? Should I spend time working on these covers or should I find some dudes to play my own music with?


Run for Cover?

Dear Run for Cover,

First things first, I learned how to play guitar by learning others peoples songs. Learning riffs, solos, techniques, all made me, and continue to make me, a better guitar player, songwriter, and musician. However, too much imitation can lead to creative stagnation. Sounds catchy, I know, but you get the point. You have to learn to balance imitating & creating.

There is not one true path to either stardom or creative satisfaction. Shit, I know numerous musicians that play in cover bands who make more money, have steadier work, and play to bigger audiences then us touring types. And sometimes it’s a path to success; just look at Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrel, and Randy Rhodes for example. All shredders who started playing in full time cover bands.

All that aside, my honest advice is to find some other dudes you can make your own music with and don’t look back. The thing is, you’re probably not going to be able to make a living (or even get a gig) playing covers of Dillinger Escape Plan, Devil Driver, or Unearth. If you truly love metal, punk, and hardcore then you have to reach out and start expressing yourself in the genre. Sure, you can still jam with your dudes who want to play covers, as I said, it’s a great learning tool, but I wouldn’t have it be your only outlet. What it comes down to is it’s always better to try and be yourself then a pretty good copy of someone else.

The Dude

The Practice Police

June 4, 2008

Dear Dude,

How many hours of practice do you devote to your guitar a day?

The Practice Police

Dear Practice Police,

Practice is something that I mention in almost every letter. Probably because it’s the single best, time tested, unmistakable act you can do as an artist to improve. There are not too many of those, so it’d be wise to heed to it. I would also like to take a moment to dispel a common misconception that most guitarists sit around and practice at all. In fact most guitarists I’ve toured with have confessed to me that they never practice. The grind of life can sometimes take its toll on your free time. Even as I write this I think, “FUCK I need to practice!” But it’s good to know everyone faces this challenge. Finding the time to practice is a hard thing to do, but it’s a must if you want to continuously get better.

When I am at home I spend anywhere from at least one to three hours a day practicing or playing guitar. Notice I didn’t just say practicing because at home I don’t do too much actual studying. I try to play and pull off shit I usually can’t. I spend time learning a few songs I love, but most of all I sit around and try to write music. I make sure to schedule that time into my day, because the first step to getting better at guitar is sitting down to start.

When I am on tour it’s a bit different. I play almost all day non-stop. I carry around little ripped off pieces of tab paper so that if I get a free moment I can run through an exercise or run I have been having problems with. To be able play stuff out of your range you have to able to analyze every detail and look at it in slow motion. It’s the combination of practicing and just jamming that has made me both a faster and cleaner player. Its best to split your overall playing time between repetition (straight practicing) and creation (writing, riffing, and working on your own jams). Each of these things is a separate cognitive process that will push your playing to the next level.

Practice takes time and as a musician you have to learn how to balance this time. It’s just that LIFE also need to play a huge role in creating music. All great songwriters need to not only be able to rock, but also have something worth expressing. So, the agony of wrestling between spending your time practicing and actually living is born. Let me tell you how many people I know who can jam the hell out of a guitar, but have nothing new to offer or express. And that just doesn’t interest me.

If you want to get better, you have to practice. This might be the most true thing written on the Internet right now. If you really love to riff, then the act of practicing shouldn’t be the hard part,  it’s finding the time to commit that is hard. A lot of dudes out there think they need to spend hours promoting their band, schmoozing with record labels, and being seen at all the right places, but in reality you need to make sure you don’t forget the one thing you know will actually make you better, practice.

The Dude