Friday, December 31, 2010

The Last Blog Post for 2010

What makes a good post for the end of a year?  A recap of the year?  A look towards the upcoming year?  What should the blog focus on in 2011?  Who is reading this blog anyway?

From statistics given to me by my StatCounter account, it seems people from all over the world check out my blog.  It has been that way since its inception.  I don't think people read every post I write, although some people do.  Most often, people do a Google search and my blog pops up as something to check out on a given topic.  Or, people will look for photos of a certain subject and my blog will offer some photos that match that search.

So really, I can write just about anything and there will probably be someone who will eventually see the post.

I found that if I post about "popular" things like cameras, guitars, celebrities... I'll get a bunch of hits to my blog.  The most hit post was probably my post about Charice Pempengco, the amazing Filipino singer.  I don't recall the exact number, but I think I got over 600 hits in one day.  I wonder if just writing her name here will get some hits too!

You may wonder why I often end each post that have photos on it with the instructions, "Be sure to click on each image to take a closer look."  Well, I found that many people only look at a single blog post, not the entire blog.  So that one phrase is the first (and possibly the only time) they will ever read it.  My weekly blog readers see it all the time, but they don't.  And, a reminder for them to click on the image is necessary because I don't downsize my images too much.  I usually leave them at 4x6 size at 300 ppi., so you can see some good details if you click on the images to view them closer.  Many photos on the internet have been downsized so much that you can't see any details if you enlarge them.  Not mine.

So what is interesting to write about?  What will my readers want to read?  That's a question I have to ponder twice each week.  Usually on Mondays and Thursdays, my blog is updated with content.  While not all posts are interesting to everyone, I find that my readers still come back to check up on me.  I may not know who the people are, but I can tell from my StatCounter that the same IP addresses have come back often.  Hundreds of times actually.  To those people, I'd like to say, "Thank you" for your continued interest in seeing what I'm up to weekly.

I go through phases it seems when I post.  Sometimes I'll do a whole string of posts on fishing, or perhaps guitars, or photography related posts.  I keep wondering if I'm going to run out of ideas to keep the blog fresh.  Writer's block... you know.  Just kind of like this post.  I'm not really sure what to write about, so I'm just rambling here.  And, if you've read all this so far, I guess you don't really mind reading all of this babble either.  Otherwise you would have already moved on to something else, right?

I also find that having a photo along with a blog post makes a huge difference.  I don't know about you, but I like seeing pictures with things I read.  For instance, this post doesn't have a photo.  So have you been thinking, "Why am I reading this?  It doesn't have any pictures to look at!"

While this post hasn't had any real value to speak of, it's been keeping me busy at 4:30 AM.  Yes, I often have weird sleeping patterns.  Sometimes I go to bed late and get up late.  Other times, I go to bed early and get up early.  Other times I go to bed at "normal" hours and still end up waking up at 3 AM!  There are no "normal" hours for me.  I don't sleep throughout the night either.  I often wake up many times during the night.  It's been like this for years.  So when I don't have the ability to sleep, you'll often find me on the computer.  Just like right now.

OK... seems I've typed enough.  This post looks "long enough" to be legitimate, even though it's been nothing but worthless information that most people will think was a real waste of their time reading.  You are probably wondering why you've even stuck with it this long right?

Have a great 2011... better posts to come next year!  :)

Monday, December 27, 2010

R Taylor - Style One with Maple/Sitka Spruce



 


 
I never posted about this guitar until now.  It's been my main steel-string guitar for over a year.  While it is basically a more advanced Taylor GS guitar, the R Taylor Style One is the "hand-built" version made by just a few select Taylor employees.

Back in 2006, Taylor decided to make some hand-built instruments and so they formed the R Taylor company.  The company makes a little over 300 instruments per year.  Consider that Taylor's yearly production is well past 70,000 instruments per year, this is a very small division!  But only the best woods and construction techniques are used and yes, you CAN hear the difference!

I've owned several Maple guitars from Taylor over the years, two of which were GS models.  The Style one has been described by some guitar forums as a Taylor GS Guitar on steroids, but I like thinking of it as a more refined Taylor guitar.  Deeper bass, clearer trebles... an overall more satisfying sounding guitar.

This particular R Taylor happens to be the third R Taylor ever made, with serial number 003 from 2006.  It not only looks great, but sounds that way as well.  Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ovation Classic 2073LX with Tremolo



I took a photo of the Ovation Classic 2073LX (my new nylon-string guitar) and Photoshopped in a tremolo onto it.  Rock 'N Rollers would call this a "Whammy Bar."  This would never really work on a classical guitar as it would probably cave in the top if you tried to work it.  Plus the constant stretching of the nylon strings would make it go way out of tune!

Looks pretty cool though, don't you think?

The before and after photos are included.  Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Studio Work





Recently, I was asked why I didn't do more studio portrait work.  After all, there's a lot of money that can be made doing that!  But my response was that it takes more space, time and effort than I can often give right now.  Even a simple two umbrella, backlight, and hairlight setup requires a lot of work to set up correctly.

I initially set up for a 17 person session with a black backdrop and a gelled backlight, but  found out the night before that several of the people planned to wear dark colors.  So I switched to a white seemless paper backdrop instead.  While it doesn't look very wide here, the backdrops are 10 ft wide.  They still weren't wide enough for that many people and so it needed to be "extended" via Photoshop.  Individual photos of the people were also taken and I used a smaller 5 ft wide black velveteen backdrop with a gelled backlight for those images.

All of my living room furniture needs to be moved away for photo sessions.  Basically, the entire house is turned upside down to do a session.  Washrooms are turned into dressing rooms, the family room becomes a staging area... it's too much to ask to do it more than perhaps a couple of times per year.  Still, my family has put up with it when needed.  (The second photo shows what the room looks like with furniture still in the way, but with the softboxes used for main and fill lights.)

Umbrellas were used for the group images, but later I switched to softboxes for the individual photos  I have a little more control of the lighting with softboxes, but umbrellas spread the light wider which is good for high-key photos (white backgrounds.)  Ideally, I would have lighted the backdrop with two umbrellas and then used two more ro light the people.  But there just wasn't enough room to do that.  Years ago when we lived in the San Diego area, I had used my three car garage as a studio.  It had plenty of room to shoot out of.  All I had to do was pull the cars out.  The garage was fully finished, so it had walls, not like some garages where you can still see the 2x4 wood supports.

One day I'd like to have some real shooting space where I can leave all my gear set up.  Then perhaps I can do more portrait work or commercial photography work.  One day...

Be sure to click on each image to take a closer look.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hawaii Five-O

Hawaii Five-O was one of my favorite shows while growing up in the late '60's through the 70's.. It seemed every high school and college band played the theme song from the hit TV show.  Every half-time football game had the bands playing the song.  (They also played the song Vehicle quite a bit too, but that's another story.)

In the original TV series, the character "Kono" was a big Samoan guy played by an actor named Zulu.  But in the new TV show, Kono is now played by a Korean actress named Grace Park!  How did that gender change happen?  And not only that, but the new Kono is now detective Chin Ho Kelly's cousin!  

Look closely at the video below and watch for the credits.  

Here it is:


Monday, December 13, 2010

Ovation Classic 2073LX





(All Images Borrowed From The Internet)

Years ago, I had an Ovation Legend nylon-string guitar, but sold it to get a Godin Grand Concert Multiac nylon.  That got sold to get my new Ovation C2078LX... which has already been sold to get the new Ovation Classic 2073LX.  I've come full circle!

The new Ovation has a 1-3/4" nut width which will make it much easier to play.  The new contour body shape is better than my old Legend which had a super shallow bowl.  It should sound deeper and fuller.  The OP Pro Studio preamp should also make it sound nice when plugged in and played amplified.

While the guitar looks virtually identical to my old Ovation Legend, it should be much different in its playability. It's slightly smaller nut width should help a bunch and I am excited about the new bridge design as well.

The guitar is expected to arrive on Friday.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Russ Lowe Method Of Success In School

When I went through college (the first time) to get my bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering Technology, I was an ok student.  I got B's and high B's mostly and a few A's sprinkled in here and there.  My Grade Point Average was 3.3 out of 4.0.  Not bad, but nothing spectacular either.

Years later, I decided to go back to school to get two Associates Degree's in Evidence Technology and in Pre Law / Court Management.  I was older than many of my fellow classmates since it was technically the second time around for me at college.

I made the decision that if I was going to put myself through the torture of studying again for another degree, I had to be the top student in the program.  After all, I was older than the other students, I was already married, and I didn't really want to be in school any longer than I had to.

To get these two degrees, I decided I wanted to finish the program as quick as I could.  Three semesters total was my goal.  To do that, I had to take 18 to 21 credit hours of classes for the three semesters, plus take one summer session (Biology and Sociology.)  That's a lot of classes, but I petitioned the Dean and was granted permission to do it.  A lot of my general education classes transferred over, so I was able to skip those classes again.   On top of that tough class schedule, I worked at the San Diego Police Department after my morning and afternoon classes and then returned back to the school to take a night class.  I literally went from 8 AM to about 9:30 PM.  Sometimes too, I'd go out on homicide calls at night.  I barely slept for three semesters!

The way I did it was I kept telling myself these things: "I LOVE this class!  I really like this teacher!"  And, I always sat in the front of the classroom.  That's it.  Even if I hated the class, I told myself that I loved it.  It worked.  I graduated at the top of my class with a 3.92 out of 4.0 GPA (I got one B+ which threw off my 4.0 goal.)  I graduated with honors from the Administration of Justice department.  I was granted a special law enforcement memorial award for being the top student of the program and given a plaque, but a trophy with my name engraved on it (along with others who won the award each year) sits at the school.

Today, whenever I get asked by people who are thinking of going back to school, I tell them this story.  I tell them that the secret to success in getting good grades is to tell yourself you love the class and teacher and to sit in the front every day.  One person I know has been doing just that and he swears it works.  I hope others will take the hint as well and do it because it really does work.  Psyching yourself up for class every day, paying attention in class, doing your homework diligently and basically concentrating 100% of your daily effort on your goal, will guarantee success in school.  That's the Russ Lowe Method of Success in School.

Monday, December 06, 2010

DVD-R Discs


I've tried many different brands of DVD-R media, but the one that seems to work the best on a variety of DVD players for me is made by Verbatim.

It has gotten to the point that I only seek out Verbatim discs now when I shop for DVD-R media.  Other brands sometimes do not play in my DVD players.  Also the "minus R" discs work best too, not the "plus R" discs.

While it has been nice to print images on plain white discs for my wedding clients, going forward, I think it is actually safer that I simply put their wedding images on these DVD-R discs without an ink-jet image printed on the surface of the discs.  My computer seems to be able to play just about any brand of disc, I wonder if I just used the Verbatim discs even for computer files like JPG photo images, maybe the data would be even more "universal" for more computer disc drives.

Whatever...the Verbatim discs have always been rather reliable, so that's what's going to be used going forward.  While it is not as "fancy" when no picture is printed onto the back surface of the discs anymore, on the long run, it's probably better without it anyway.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Glee And Other Series DVD's

 
I just finished watching the first season of GLEE on DVD.  I love the show!

While others may not like Glee because they think it's annoying or that it promotes things like teen pregnancy, homosexuality or other issues, I think it shows the various kinds of social groups at a typical high school.

I know when I attended high school (many years ago) we had similar issues.  There were guys who were obviously gay, although back then, "coming out of the closet" wasn't something that was done at that early of an age.  But you could tell... everyone could.  Interestingly, many of them were either in the theater club or glee club as well.  Years later, these same people have openly "come out of the closet" and we as a group of high school friends have accepted them the way they are.  They are our old friends, after all.

As for teen pregnancy, I know of a couple of people at my old school who went through that.  So really, I don't think the show promotes either issue, it just shows what happens in real life.  It's more about accepting people for what or who they are and not to be hateful about it.

Other characters include a physically disabled kid in a wheelchair, an overweight African American girl, a "Goth" dressing asian girl, stuck-up cheerleaders, jocks, and more.  Yes, it's about a typical student body at a school in Ohio.

This is not the first TV show I've watched on DVD instead of on TV.  I've watched the entire eight seasons of Monk on DVD.  I've also watched all of the episodes of Deadliest Catch on DVD.    I've watched at least three seasons of 30 Rock this way too.  I've also "re-watched" all of the old Brady Bunch shows on DVD.... so I'm no stranger to DVD TV show releases.

I actually prefer to watch shows this way... no TV commercials!  Plus the shows really move by faster as it doesn't take a full hour to see the episode.

As for Glee, I'm a HUGE fan of Lea Michele who plays Rachel Berry on the show.  Her singing is amazing!  Put right next to Broadway stars Kristen Chenowith and Idina Menzel (both of whom I absolutely love as well) who starred in many shows including Wicked, Lea's voice competes very favorably.  She can belt out a tune with the best of them.

To date, I've yet to see the show on TV though.  Since I'm now "late" in catching up to season two, I'll just wait for the second season's shows to be available on DVD.  And yes, I watch these shows from discs I get for free at my local library!

Monday, November 29, 2010

New Musical Tools - Electro-Voice, TC Helicon and Ovation


Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to play my guitar and sing for a group of women at a women's shelter in Chicago while others from my church served lunch.  I played mainly Christian praise songs as well as a few Christmas songs.

This was the first time I had a chance to try out the Electro-Voice N/D 767a microphone with my Mackie SRM350 speakers.  It worked great!  The microphone gave me a lot more depth to my voice as I sung mostly within 1 to 2 inches from the windscreen.  Since the microphone has a lot more volume than a standard Shure SM58, I was able to turn down the overall volume level on the PA and I was still louder than with an SM58 microphone!

The Electro-Voice mic really sounded nice with my rather "thin" sounding voice.  The proximity effect from singing close to the windscreen never sounded "boomy" but rather just gave me a fullness that I was often missing when just using a Shure SM58 microphone.

Just before lunch was served, my cousin Sue gave a testimony and borrowed my PA system.  I switched the microphone to a Shure SM 58 as I knew that she would never hold the microphone anywhere close to her mouth.  I was right.  She held it around chest level and so I had to turn up the volume on the PA to compensate for the distance of the microphone to the source.  Since the Electro-Voice N/D 767a really only sounds good when close mic'ed, I figured the SM58 would be the better choice for her to use.  I was right.

Besides the microphone being used for the first time, I also had the chance to use the TC Helicon Harmony G XT harmonizer as well.  I used it sparingly to give some of the songs a little extra vocal punch with two extra harmony parts singing along with my main voice.  It worked great too!

My new Ovation Custom Elite C2078 LX acoustic guitar was also used on this gig.  I did not utilize my full array of pedals with the guitar but decided to only use the built-in reverb from the TC Helicon unit.  While I missed the fullness I get from my other pedals and processors for my guitar, it still sounded very good!  Definitely, the Ovation's built-in preamp and pickup does a terrific job all by itself.


Now that I think about it, the one Mackie SRM350 speaker that I used was also "new" as well as it was purchased on eBay to compliment my other speaker.  So actually, every piece of equipment I used on this gig was new!  It was great to try out all the new gear together.  I'm looking forward to the next time I can play live again... which will be this Sunday at church!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TC Helicon Harmony G XT


Harmonizers aren't new.  They've been around for a while.  But this one is unique because it's my first one!  :)

What does it do?  Well, several things.  It's main function is to create 2 and 3 part harmonies out of one singing voice.  All you have to do is sing and the unit will figure out a third above and a fifth above your singing voice and "clone" your voice singing in those new notes!  (Or, it can sing an octave above or below, or even a third or a sixth below.)  Instant harmonies of three voices!  How does it know if you want a major harmony chord or a minor?  Well, it follows your guitar which is also plugged into the unit and figures it out based on the chords your guitar is playing.  Pretty nifty, eh?

Besides harmonies, the TC Helicon Harmony G XT also has effects like Reverb, Echo, Doubling, flanging, compression and pitch correction.  Yes, it will even make a slightly off-pitch singer sound like he/she is singing on the correct pitch.  The effects are also shared with the guitar if you decide to use the unit to control your guitar sound too.

So, no more singing by myself... I now have two singing partners whenever I need them.  I just have to step on the switch and there they are!

My first public performance with it will be the day after Thanksgiving at a women's shelter in Chicago.  Our church will be serving lunch that day and I'll be the entertainment.  It will be interesting to see people's reaction to this when they see one person at the mic, but hear three people singing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rectilinear Correction of Fisheye Images in Photoshop CS5





The upper two images above were taken with a Nikon D3 camera and a Nikon 16mm f2.8 Fisheye lens. The venue is the Marriott in Burr Ridge, IL.  The top image is the original image and the middle image is one that was corrected in Adobe Photoshop CS5 Camera RAW.  The bottom image is a standard 24mm image taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens.  All images were taken in the RAW format.

While the corrected image "fixes" the curved distortion so typical of fisheye lenses, it does stretch the image on the far left and right sides.  If you zoom in, you'll see the distortion.  Still, it is possible to crop the far left and right sides to eliminate the distorted sections, but it makes the image less wide by doing that.  The 24mm image doesn't have the curved distortion, as expected, but it has a much less wide angle of view..

Remember too that the Nikon D3 is a full frame camera.  So the equivalent focal lengths using APS-C sensor digital cameras would be 10.5mm (compared to the 16mm full frame fisheye) and 17mm (for the 24mm full frame lens.)

I suppose you need to make decisions as to what's most important.  Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not My Wedding...


Nice looking wedding couple!  Unfortunately, I don't have a clue who they are!

I was at the Marriott in Burr Ridge, IL this past Friday taking photos of their banquet room on the hotel's behalf and the bride and groom who had booked the room for their reception came in to check out the progress of the decorating.  They were amazed and happy with the way the room looked and afterward they shared a private moment together.

Since their photographer was outside of the room taking photos of other events at the time, I decided to take a shot of the couple to cover it for him.  I've given the photo to the hotel who is welcome to give it to the bride and groom with my compliments.

Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time...

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day

Thanks to all our military personnel for keeping our country safe and defending our freedom!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Undercover Boss - Season Two Episode 7 - Chicago Cubs & Rocco Caputo

 
Like many other Cub fans and television viewers, I tuned in to watch Sunday night's episode of Undercover Boss on CBS.  Episode 7 of Season Two featured Todd Ricketts, one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs as he went undercover to see how employees of the Cubs organization did their everyday job.

One of the featured employees teaching Ricketts how to do his job was a food vendor named Rocco Caputo.  The second I saw him on the TV screen, I knew immediately that I had taken his photograph back in July 2007.  I was attending a Cubs vs. Astro game at Wrigley Field and as I normally do, I was taking photos of everything that happened at the game and that included food vendors!  I don't know what triggered me to remember his face, but I immediately knew that my photograph was of Rocco.  I did not post his photo on my blog at the time, but I still remembered his face.  You can see that post by clicking here.

Rocco was assigned to teach Todd Ricketts the ropes of how to sell hot dogs.  Despite his best efforts, Ricketts failed at selling hot dogs and actually threw away four of them just so he could go back and claim he sold all his hot dogs.  But Rocco found four hot dogs that were thrown into a trash bin and confronted Ricketts about them.  Ricketts denied it was his hot dogs, but you could tell Rocco did not believe him.  Since he could not prove it belonged to Ricketts, he had to take him at his word.

Later, after Ricketts identified himself to Rocco as one of the owners of the team, he awarded Rocco the first "Wrigley Field - Employee of the Year Award" for his dedicated work.  Now his name will forever be in the hallowed halls of Wrigley Field.  I remember watching Rocco working in 2007 and at that time he was selling beer.  I recall thinking to myself that selling beer had to be one of the hardest jobs for a food vendor because beer is pretty heavy to have to carry all day long.  Maybe that's why I remembered Rocco's face after all these years!

Congratulations to Rocco for his award for 2010.  I wonder if anyone will remember him when they ask him for food at Wrigley Field in 2011 after having watched this episode.  I hope they do.  I know I remembered him and that's even before this show aired.

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mic Showdown - Shure SM58, Beta 58a, Beta 57a, Electro-Voice N/D767a



I decided to do a comparison of various vocal microphones to find the best sounding microphone for my voice when singing live into a PA system... I reported this on a thread on www.acousticguitarforum.com...

I've now lived with the Beta versions of the Shure mics for about 4 days. The Electro-Voice... only one day. So please keep this in mind. Also, the tests I made are not scientific... these are just my own observations of the mics with my voice, not anyone else's. While all mics are great mics in their own right, there are distinct differences that can easily be heard. Whether they suit you or not is hard to tell. But these are my own conclusions based on what I hear for my own voice and my own preferences.

Also please note that my voice is rather "thin" in comparison to other male tenor voices. It doesn't have much depth to it when I sing. So I rely a lot on proximity effect (rising bass response when singing up close to a mic) to get some depth to my voice.

Also, these tests are geared for LIVE use... not for recordings. I'm not listening for the best recorded sound... I'm listening for the best live sound through a PA.

Shure SM58...
This is the standard by which most mics are probably compared to and that's most likely due to the fact that it has been around FOREVER. It's an old design, but one that has definitely lasted. I've used this line of mics for probably 40 years. The one I'm using to compare is perhaps 3 years old and hasn't really been used all that much. Relatively new, I'd say.

By itself, the SM58 is great. It's very smooth sounding and has a decent sound for most voices in my opinion. I've heard this mic used by a lot of people over the 40 years. Everyone seems to be pretty good sounding with it. While it claims to have a rising frequency response, you don't really hear that when you compare it to the other mics in this test. By itself, perhaps. In comparison.... no.

While some may say it's muted, I don't think it really is. I think its response is just smooth and so when compared to others that definitely have brighter sounds, it makes this mic sound muted.

Shure Beta 58a...
This was the obvious choice to compare against the SM58. Essentially, it's the updated version of the SM58. In comparison, it was louder than the SM58, slightly brighter, but seemed to lack bass response in comparison. I think this may be due to the relative level of frequencies, but not actually lacking in bass. Since the brighter high frequencies are more pronounced, you feel you are having less bass. Even singing close up on the mic (lips touching the screen), I don't seem to be able to get back the bass I think it should have for my voice. Mid frequencies also seem more forward to me. So with these two areas being emphasized more, the bass seems a lot less in comparison.

Shure Beta 57a...
This mic is advertised to be an instrument mic, more so than a vocal mic, although many people use the Beta 57a for vocals as well. In the past, I had a standard SM57 and recall it to be great sounding for vocals as well as instruments. An SM57 would work great for snare drums, toms, percussion and guitar amps (from what I'm told... although I never needed to mic my guitar amps in the past.)

The Beta 57a is similar to my recollection of what an SM57 is capable of as it seems to be much brighter than both the SM58 and Beta 58a. Of all, it had the least amount of bass response with my voice. Even singing with lips touching the mic, I could not get a decent bass response increase with proximity effect. So it could be that its proximity effect is very low, or that perhaps it just has low bass. I'm not sure what, but it definitely cannot give the kind of bass I hear with the other three mics. But due to its clear high frequency range, I see this mic as something that would be a killer sound if you want clean, crisp percussive sounds reproduced. For this, I agree, it's probably best suited to mic instruments...especially percussion instruments.

Electro-Voice N/D767a...
My first initial impression of this mic was, "Wow... this is so much louder than the other three mics!" Then, my next impression was, "Wow, this mic sounds funny..." Why? Well, with the gain moved up so much more, I found I had to move farther back from the mic than with the other mics so that I wasn't influenced by the shear volume increase! So my thin voice sounded even thinner and actually sounded really bad. I was extremely disappointed on my first try with the mic.

Then, I found out something interesting with the EV... it absolutely sounds awful if you sing without your lips within perhaps 1 inch or less to the screen! When I turned the gain down on my PA to compensate for the increased volume and I started singing with my lips literally touching the windscreen, this mic was AMAZING! Of all the mics, it has the deepest proximity effect but it doesn't seem to make the mic muddy sounding in the low-end! This is probably what they advertise as their VOB effect (Vocally Optimized Bass.) It actually works! Deep clean bass for thin voices.

The upper-end clarity is there as well. Very clean sounding. Mid frequencies are not too forward, but very clear as well. For my thinner sounding voice, this mic is what does the trick for me. It makes me sound a lot deeper than I actually am without a mic, but doesn't make me sound boomy. And it has a lot more clarity on the high frequencies than the SM58 or Beta 58a. Brighter than the Beta 57a? I'm not quite sure. It may be on par with it... I just can't tell. The two mics are so different that I don't think it is fair to compare them together with my voice.

Can the EV mic work with instruments? I haven't a clue. I didn't try it. But my gut feeling is that this mic is really a vocal mic. It's best qualities really only work when you are within about 1 inch or less from the windscreen. That would be hard for an instrument to be played properly with that kind of requirement.

In conclusion, for me, the Electro-Voice mic wins for my thin voice. Will it work for your voice? Who knows. Get one and try it. I'm really curious what it will do for people with deeper voices. I've read reviews where they all say it's great on female voices. But not many mention about male voices with this mic. Perhaps my thin male voice works with this as it falls closer to a female voice due to lack of depth. I don't sing as high as a woman... but the thin quality puts it as a good candidate for this mic.

Also, I'd like to mention that I don't think the EV mic would make a good general mic to use for various people who need to pass the mic around for announcements. For that, the Shure SM58 would be best. Why? Well, the EV needs your lips within one inch to make it sound good. Anything farther away lacks all bass and volume. Most people are afraid to sing or talk into a mic within one inch of the windscreen. Ever see what people who never use a mic do when you hand them one? It's probably about one foot away from their mouths! You'd never hear anything out of the EV mic if it was held that far away! With the Shure SM58, it's overall smooth sound and lack of need to be close to it would definitely work best. Very bright mics would just squeal in feedback if you turned up the gain to compensate for someone holding the mic a foot away from their mouth.

So in conclusion, for my voice, I'd rank the mic preferences like this:

1. Electro-Voice N/D 767a
2. Shure Beta 58a
3. Shure SM58
4. Shure Beta 57a

With your voice? Who knows...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sometimes It's A Parent's Job To Make Their Kids' Lives Miserable...

Back in the late 70's and early 80's our family owned a stereo store in Skokie, IL.  My father, brother and I worked at the store selling mid to high-end audio gear.  It was a lot of fun working in a business where I got to play with the latest stereo equipment and listen to music all day long.  Many "regular" customers of our store would come in to just "shoot the breeze" with us and listen to music and play with the new gear too.

Since our store was in Skokie, many Jewish families frequented our store since Skokie (at least at that time) had a large number of Jewish families living in the town.  If you know anything about Jewish culture and stereotypes (no pun intended), you'll know that sometimes it was the Jewish mom's job to try to make their kid's lives miserable.  It wasn't done to be mean... it was more like a game they played with their kids.  While I am not Jewish, many of my friends were and so I got to see how all this often played out.

Anyway, I recall one incident where one of our regular store customers named Joel came into the store one day with his mom.  Joel visited quite often and so my brother and I knew him well.  He was about our age and was still deciding what to do with his life, so he thought he'd go to college and take up "Business" as his major.  Well, the decision to go to college was probably the best thing he could have done and I'm sure his mom knew that and was proud of it too.  But it was her "job" to make his life miserable, right?  So here's what his mom did right in front of us at the store...

Joel: "Ma, I'm going to go to college and major in Business."
Mom: "Business?!  Are you crazy?  You don't need to take business to be in business!"
Joel:: "Ma, I"m going to take business."
Mom: "You don't need business!  Business?  Why take business?  Here, look at these two guys (my brother and me)...  did you guys take business?"
Russ: "No 'mam."
Mom: "See, HE didn't take business.  But he's IN business!  Isn't this a business?  (referring to our store.)
Joel: "Well... yeah..."
Mom: "HE didn't take business, but HE's in business!  You don't need to take business!"
Joel: "Ma, it's not the same thing..."
Mom: "What do you mean?  This is a business!  Is this not a business?  What are you talking about?  This is business!... You don't need to take business to be in business!"

With that, she gave us a sly smile while Joel squirmed around trying to figure out how to cope with his mom.  My brother and I were doing our best to hold in the laughter.  :)

Sometimes, you just gotta love 'em.  I love Jewish moms!  :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Skunked Again While Fishing


I went fishing with my friend AJ yesterday.  We were skunked!  Ok, it's a term we use when we don't catch any fish.

All I came back with is this photo of Sand Lake in Lindenhurst, IL..  I sent the photo to AJ and he said the photo looked nice, but hopefully next time it would include a fish.  I told him it did have fish... they are just all under the water...

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mackie SRM350 Powered Speakers


After playing with the Chicago tribute band on October 1, many people have been asking me what I used for a PA system.  Well, that evening, I only used a single Mackie SRM350 powered speaker to handle my vocals, guitar and my brother's keyboard.  Surprisingly, it handled it fairly well considering it was only one speaker and had to compete with an entire band!

Recently, I decided I would get a second SRM350 to help spread out the sound better.  Putting a speaker to each side of the band works much better to spread out the sound for the entire room.  On Oct. 1, I had to move the single speaker to one side to avoid feedback for my microphone and guitar, but that just made me sound "off centered."  Having two speakers will give me more volume level while keeping my feedback problems minimized at the same time.

In the past, I had two JBL EON15 speakers, but I sold them to country singer Dana Malow.  They were getting too hard to move around at 44 lbs each and they wouldn't even fit in my car's trunk!  The Mackie SRM350 is smaller in size and the weight is only 32 lbs each.  Much better for me!

I hope to perform live a little more in the future and will be relying on the Mackies to handle my sound.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road


I looked out of my front window today and saw this little guy lying in the street by our driveway.  OK, he actually wasn't so little... in fact he's kind of big.

I called the village hall and was connected to the village's public works department  and reported the roadkill.  But I was told someone had already beaten me to reporting it.  So he's going to be removed eventually.  Of course that only meant that right after hanging up the phone that I had to get out there to take a photo for my blog!  I used my Nikon D3 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens to take the shot as I really didn't want to get too close to the skunk.  While I could smell him (or her as the case may be), it wasn't as bad as I thought it could have been.  It must have been a quick kill.

I once ran over a squirrel accidentally.  I felt really bad about it and actually circled back to check on it.  I had hit him as another squirrel was playfully chasing him.  I hit him with both my front and rear wheels as he darted right out in front of my car.  I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the other squirrel look at him and slowly walk away.  I was devastated!  So I drove around the block and went back to see if he was suffering or not.  But having hit him with both the front and back wheels, I was pretty sure he died quickly.  For that I was glad, but I still felt awful afterwards.

While I didn't have anything to do with the demise of this little skunk, I still feel bad for it.  I guess animals just affect me like that.

Be sure to click on the image to take a closer look if you have to...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fishman Aura Spectrum DI


Used with undersaddle pickups, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a preamp / "effects" box designed for bringing back the natural tone of an acoustic guitar when amplified.  Often criticized for the "quacking" characteristic sounds, the undersaddle pickup's piezo elements are shunned by some guitar players who seek to amplify their acoustic guitars naturally.  But undersaddle pickups often are the way to go if you want to minimize feedback while playing extremely loud.

For me, I had installed a K&K Pure Western Mini bridge pickup in my R Taylor Style One Maple / Sitka Spruce guitar.  In the past many of my installations of the K&K performed just fine without feedback.  But for some reason, the R Taylor guitar just did not cooperate in handling the K&K and it had major feedback issues with it.

After playing a gig with my brother in the spring and finding out that I could only amplify my guitar to certain volume levels without feedback, I decided that the K&K pickup had to go.  I installed an LR Baggs Element undersaddle pickup in its place.  Immediately, I found that my feedback issues dropped considerably.  But turned up to concert hall levels, the guitar could still generate feedback at certain frequencies.

Always in a quest for better sound quality, I decided to try the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI.  This unit is known for bringing back a certain quality of tone that simulates simply using a microphone to amplify your sound.  But what I found was that besides its sonic qualities, the feedback suppression circuit and built in compressor is what amazed me the most!  When feedback happens, just step on the footswitch marked "anti-feedback" and the unit instantly looks for the objectionable frequency causing the feedback and eliminates it while maintaining the overall tone qualities of the guitar!  Easy and effective!  The compressor helps smooth out your transient peaks and volume too making it easy to keep a level sound quality.

As for the various sound "images" that the unit offers, there are many options available to match the tone of prerecorded guitars using expensive microphones to the various body types and wood options of acoustic guitars.  Matching one closely to your own guitar's body type and wood type makes your guitar sound better than it would by simply using the undersaddle pickup alone.

While the manufacturer claims you should use the right sound image to get the best sound, I found that by playing around with various images, you can get a wide variety of tones.  It may not be the way the pedal was intended to be used, but hey... who is to say what I can do and can't do?  It's fun to be able to change the tonal characteristics of my sound if I want a certain quality for a particular song.  This unit helps me do that.

So while I can simply just make my guitar sound one way, with the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI pedal, I can also make it sound like a lot of different guitars.  Perhaps on the long run, that's cheaper than buying lots of guitars!

Besides the sound qualities, the unit also offers me the ability to sidechain my other effect pedals and then output the final signal through an XLR balanced line to be plugged directly into my PA's mixer.  I can now run extremely long lines if I want without fear of signal loss.  The unit runs on a single 9 volt battery with about 20 hours of usable life, or you can use a 9 volt adapter to power it up.  I prefer to plug it into my pedalboard along with all my other effects pedals so I don't have to worry about battery drain.

In addition, the unit offers a phase switch to also help suppress feedback and it has a built-in chromatic tuner.  A three band equalizer effectively adds to the tonal palette.  Besides the built-in sound images, you can plug the unit into your computer's USB port and download more images as well.  This offers updates to the unit as new sound images are made available.

Overall, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a great pedal.  While it's not one that you can point to and say it has made a major sound change to an amplified acoustic guitar, it's one of those pedals that works without you knowing it has made a difference in your quest to perform loudly without the typical piezo quack.  The build quality of this pedal is incredible as well.  Highly recommended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chicago Tribute Band Videos Now On YouTube






I received some videos from my friend who also gave me the photo of our performance of Chicago songs on Oct 1, 2010 at a church's coffee house event.  While a bit dark and grainy, I'm just happy to have them.

It's interesting for me to watch the videos as I don't usually get to see the audience's perspective of my performances.  I never knew I tap my feet as much as I do while playing! I've got to work on that...  :)

Enjoy the videos!  Click on the lower right icon to enlarge each video.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Doyle Dykes Performs With Future Son-In-Law Jake Johnson and Daughter Haley Dykes At The Skokie Theatre

 













What a night!  After a surprise engagement for Haley Dykes and Jake Johnson early in the morning on WGN Radio, they joined father (and future father-in-law) Doyle Dykes to perform at the Skokie Theatre in Skokie, IL.  This was the first time Jake has performed with Doyle on stage.  Rehearsal?  No way!  Like Doyle said, "You're a musician.  Get up there and play!"  Jake did a great job playing the bass, so I guess he passed the criteria of joining the family!

I actually met Jake several years ago the day after I photographed Doyle's daughter Holli's wedding in Tennessee.  He was playing bass for Haley for a church performance she had the day after the wedding.  Who would have known that we'd meet up again here in Chicago the day after his engagement to Haley?

The show opened with introductions from WGN radio personalities, Steve King and Johnnie Putman.  Doyle started the show and later invited Jake to come out to play bass.  For someone who never had a chance to practice with Doyle before having to perform with him, he did a great job laying down the bottom-end.  Later, fiancĂ© Haley joined them on Mandolin and vocals.  She wowed the audience as always.

I made a mental note that the sound they had playing all together at the Skokie Theatre was really nice.  Usually, I've heard Haley sing and play with Doyle without a bass and having that extra low-end sound from the bass really helped fill out things.  Mandolin and guitar are rather bright sounding instruments so having a nice bass line really makes the sound full.  And hearing it in an acoustically balanced room that is the Skokie Theatre made it so much better too.

The Skokie Theatre is having some financial problems and really needs the support of the community to keep it open and running.  Knowing this, Doyle was moved to donate his entire pay from this concert back to the Skokie Theatre to help it out.  Way to go, Doyle!  How many guys do you know that would do that?!

Pastor Steve Lyon who was instrumental in getting Doyle to write a book which is coming out on April 1, 2011 joined everyone for a group photo.  I first met Pastor Steve when he was the pastor of the Des Plaines Bible Church.  Today he works with Moody Publishing.

Doyle also announced that he will begin taping a new cable TV show for the RFD network which will be based on his Live Sessions DVD.  Guests will include a LOT of great musicians including such musicians like Roy Clark,  Duane Eddy, James Burton, Tommy Emmanuel, and Eric Johnson!  This is going to be one incredible show!  Seems EVERYBODY who is anybody is scheduled to be on this show!  Congrats Doyle!

After the show, my friend Jerry Moy and I joined everyone for a late night dinner.  We were all very tired as we have had very little sleep since staying up for the WGN radio show which started at 12 midnight Friday morning and ran until 3:00 AM (actually the show runs longer, but Doyle's segment finished at 3:00 AM.)  I think the only ones that didn't look tired was Steve and Johnnie!  Well, I suppose they do it every night anyway, so they are used to it.  For us, we were all tired by the end of the night.

Here it is, now 4:44 AM as I'm typing this and I'm still up finishing things!  I told Haley and Jake that I was tired and will work on the images later.  But as Haley predicted, "You are going to stay up and work on them right after you get home."  I guess she knows me better than I know myself.

Congrats again to the happy couple!  Love you guys!  :)

Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Here's a video I got off YouTube of Jake and Doyle:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haley Dykes Gets Engaged - Live on WGN Radio


I'm listening to The Steve & Johnnie Show on WGN Radio as I'm typing this....

Best Wishes and Congratulations go out to Haley Dykes and her fiance' Jacob Johnson as Jake just popped the question on the radio!  Amazing!!!

What a surprise to everyone listening, but apparently many people were in on this to help pull this off.  As Jake called on the phone to the show from Washington state (or so we all thought) he comes into the station instead and asks her if she will marry him!  Cool!

Congrats to both.   See you guys at the Skokie Theatre later tonight!!!!

Edit Note: Video of the proposal is now on line here: http://www.wgnradio.com/shows/stevejohnnie/

Monday, October 11, 2010

HDR vs Non-HDR... again

Here is a comparison of HDR vs Non-HDR.  This was covered before on one of my previous posts, but I thought I'd show another comparison anyway.  Check out the details under the A frame of the house and also under the top porch.  Can't see any details at at all with the standard photo.  The richness of colors is of course very obvious.

Be sure to click on each photo for a close up.