Much Ado About Something

Musings of a curious mind

Why It Matters: Jonny Buckland’s Guitar Solo in Coldplay’s “True Love”

So, this new Coldplay album. It’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s heavy (obviously, given what’s going on in Chris Martin’s personal life). And it’s really great.

I’ve listened through the album a couple of times now, and I find one of the most viscerally heartbreaking songs on it to be “True Love,” in which Chris Martin longs for his lover to tell him she loves him, even if it’s a lie. It’s a song which doesn’t mince words about the unimaginable pain in the breakup of a marriage, shrouded in confusion and grief and a deep longing for a return to the way things once were, all the while knowing that such a return will never be possible. It’s heart wrenching and haunting and poetic.

And it has this really…interesting…guitar solo.

I can’t lie: the first time I hard it, I grimaced. It had to have been a bad joke…a bad something. The solo is a phrase consisting of one and then another out-of-tune note bent in tune, repeated twice, then a descending riff repeated twice, then repeats all of that. At first glance, it’s horrible. Really bad.

But it catches your ear, and you listen again.

And when you hear it for the second, or third, or fourth time, and then process it in the context of the entire song…there really isn’t any guitar solo that Jonny Buckland could have played that would fit the song so perfectly. You realize, it’s a solo of pure genius.

Why? Because IT FITS THE SONG.

The song is painful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s captivating, and haunting, and profoundly…sad. And this unique little solo captures all of the language and poetry and emotion of the lyrics and translates them into an equally painful and haunting and sad guitar solo.

And that makes it beautiful, and perfect, and fitting, and genius.

And that–they way it mirrors the song so accurately–makes it matter.

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April 2014 Update: Guitar Rig, New Album, Revival Amps, #UN1T5D

Hey y’all!

Lotta exciting things happening – first of all, Hillsong UNITED has been leaking studio shots from the beginnings of their next album, as far as I can tell codenamed #UN1T5D. I don’t know what that stands for (obviously a tie to UNITED – is this their fifth studio album?), but – needless to say – I’m very excited for it. ZION is one of my favorite albums right now.

Moving right along, those of you who’ve been keeping up will know that I’m also hugely excited for Drew Shirley’s amp company, Revival Amps. As of April 1, they’re accepting orders for new amps. I can’t wait to get my hands on a 12E1 model (12″ speaker), hopefully sometime this year. You can see and hear the amps at http://www.revivalamps.com.

Closer to home, I’m currently writing (and aiming to finish this weekend) an article for The Church Collective on amps and headroom, and how they can affect your tone and playing dynamic. Fun stuff. If you haven’t checked out The Collective, please do – it’s a great resource for worship leaders and musicians, with a lot of helpful blog articles and also preset libraries for the Eventide Timefactor and Space, Line 6 PODs, and the Strymon Timeline & BigSky. You can see it all here.

ALSO, my church in Memphis (Highpoint Church) is releasing the Live to Love [Deluxe Edition] record this Sunday, April 6. We’re all super excited. It’s a re-release of the 2012 record Live to Love with some extra features: a live recording and video of “Risen King of Glory,” as well as a stripped-down version and video of the same. I’m particularly excited because I got to play on the live version of RKOG! It was great. You can check out Highpoint Worship here, and I’ll post the link to L2L Deluxe in iTunes once it’s up. Here’s the live video:

Finally, I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about my guitar rig and how I use a lot of my pedals, so I’ll post a gear rundown here:

Right now I’m basically only using my Elliott Tonemaster and Matchless Lightning 1×12″, but I do occasionally bring out my ’63 Jazzmaster or Supro Trojan amp for different things. My pedalboard is:

Guitar > Diamond Comp > Goodrich VP > JHS Bunrunner > JHS Prestige boost > JHS Morning Glory > JHS Moonshine > JHS Superbolt >  EHX Micro POG > Strymon Timeline > EHX DMMTT1100 > Menatone Pleasure Trem 5000/Malekko Vibrato > Boss tuner > Stereo WET.

The most common questions I’m getting right now are:

1. How do you like/use _______ drive pedal?

2. How do you use your Bunrunner?

3. How do you use your delays?

So I’ll just answer those right down the list.

1. I love all of my drive pedals. JHS makes absolutely great stuff, and although my drive section is (for now) all JHS, I also love pedals from Walrus Audio, Emerson Custom, and Bearfoot FX, and there are tons more that I just haven’t tried yet. So, my first “gain stage”* is the Morning Glory. It’s almost always on, just to add a little bit of grit to my tone. I run my  Matchless totally clean, and use the MG to get it to “edge of breakup” or a little past that. For more gain, I’ll use either the Moonshine or Superbolt by themselves or stacked with the MG. The Moonshine is, to me, a more versatile drive, whereas the Superbolt really nails that Supro/Valco/Tweed breakup tone – and is a fantastic drive pedal by itself – but doesn’t have quite the range of tones that the Moonshine does. That’s not a downside to the Superbolt, just a difference between the two. The Moonshine is based on a TS-style overdrive sound, which is a great base overdrive tone to have, and is very shapeable in terms of its gain range and tonality – I can get anything from throaty blues to piercing ’80s rock from the Moonshine. So, I like them all and use them all in different ways that compliment what I’m playing.

*as someone pointed out on TGP recently, one pedal circuit can represent multiple gain stages within a guitar rig; however, since “gain stage” has come to refer to a pedal as one “stage” on a pedalboard, I’m going to stick with that terminology for this discussion.

2. The JHS Bunrunner is great. Yes, I bought it because I love Drew Shirley (I also got it signed by him at a meet & greet). The Bunrunner is a 2-in-1 pedal, the right side being a Tonebender clone and the left being a JHS Astro Mess fuzz – germanium and silicon, respectively. When I first got it, I absolutely loved the Tonebender side, but for the past 6 or so months I’ve been using the Astro Mess almost exclusively. The TB is more affected by temperature and humidity, so the external Bias control comes in a lot of handy when adjusting your fuzz tone. In general, I’d say the TB side is more squishy and the Astro Mess is spittier and nastier. Both great fuzzes with a wide range of applications – I tend to just cycle between which one I use the most. I’ve found that both sides react well to having the Morning Glory on after them, to fill out a little of the decay inherent in the fuzz.

3. I have two delays: the Strymon Timeline (digital) and the EHX Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo 1100 (analog). I always tell people that the Timeline is the “brain” of my delay sounds – digital, programmable, 100 preset banks, infinite tweak ability. For a week’s set, I’ll usually browse the Church Collective preset library to see if there’s an existing preset for the songs we’re doing (assuming they’re not Highpoint songs) and download those onto the Timeline if they require a specific delay setting. Otherwise, I’ll generally stick to a couple of my favorites: a “Worship” setting I created, which is just a simple dotted eighth digital delay with a little modulation, and the Strymon presets “EEPLEX” and “Marigold” for a nice tape sim and a big shimmery wash, respectively. Every so often, I’ll use the DMMTT as the main delay in a song (usually set either to a quarter note or dotted eighth subdivision), but its main role is just as a big washy delay in the back: low mix, med-high repeats, nice modulation. Especially when I’m trying to create ambient washes or do slide parts, I run a main delay from the Timeline into the DMMTT set like that, usually with only the Timeline set to tempo (leaving the DMMTT off tempo is a trick James Duke gave me). Additionally, I’ve got the DMMTT hooked up to a mini expression knob from This1smyne which controls the repeats, so at the twist of my foot I can send it into crazy oscillating feedback. It’s a blast.

So there you have it! I hope that clears up some questions and gives you some new ideas for guitar gear.

Talk soon!

JB

A Few Exciting Updates

Hey guys! I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up. Things have been pretty busy lately. I hope to write a longer post soon, but here are some cool things happening in my life…

1. Today I got a road case in the mail that I ordered for my Matchless Lightning, to keep it safe while moving around and stuff. It’s not a huge big deal, but it’s cool to me because it’s got my initials stenciled on the sides and makes me feel like a legit rock star. Speaking of which…

2. Last week, by some random miracle, the guys from Elliott Guitars – Andy Elliott and Jason Barr – were stopped off in Memphis on their way back to NC. They were at my favorite restaurant here, Hog & Hominy, so I decided to pop over and pay them a visit. Lo and behold, they’re at dinner with none other than John Mark McMillan and his wife Sarah. What?? It was crazy awesome. They had me stay for dessert, I drove them back to their hotel, and we hung in Jason’s room and talked and played some Elliotts for a while before everyone headed to bed. It was a night I won’t soon forget, and just the coolest random thing ever. What a night.

Andy, Jason, Sarah, John Mark and me at dinner.

3. I just got word today that my church, Highpoint Memphis, is recording a live version of one of our songs, “Risen King of Glory,” this Sunday during worship. How cool is that? We’re recording both audio and video, and planning to release it on iTunes soon. Now, as many of you know, my dream is to be a professional guitarist in the P&W world – well, I’m about to play on my first single that’s headed for iTunes. More details to come, but suffice to say I’m PUMPED for Sunday, and for the future. God is so good.

That’s all for now! As I said, check back soon for a longer update, iTunes link, and maybe (likely) a gear rundown from Sunday’s service. Thanks!

Supro Amps

So, those of you who know me may know that my favorite amps ever are Supro amps. Supro was a brand of the Valco company from the 1930s until its demise in (I believe) the late ’60s/early ’70s. The amps they produced in the sixties, however, rock. I’ve got two and I love them very dearly (plus I use them almost every time I play) and I’m always on the hunt for more.

Today, everything changed.

Yesterday, it was unveiled that the Supro brand had been bought from Bruce Zinky by Absara Audio, LLC, the company behind the Pigtronix effects pedals brand. They plan to reissue the original Supro amplifiers, with more details to be released at Winter NAMM 2014. More interesting stuff from the press release includes that they will be USA-made in Port Jefferson Station, NY, they’ll be reissues of “the most highly sought after Supro amps,” and they’re slated to begin shipping in April 2014.

Needless to say, I want one.

More details, info, and updates can be found at: http://www.suprousa.com

Read the official press release here: http://www.suprousa.com/press-release/

Update: I’ve just talked to Drew Shirley, guitarist for Switchfoot and famous user of Supro amps, about these via Twitter. We’re both pretty excited. On a related note, be on the lookout for Drew’s new amp company Revival Amps, who are also giving off the Supro vibe and coming out in 2014 as well.

 

Update 2 : I’ve just gotten an email back from David Koltai, the man at Pigtronix who is in charge of PR for Supro USA. He confirmed to me that the Winter 2014 NAMM Show will see the release of models, reissues of the Supro Thunderbolt and Model 24, which he says will honor “both the sound and the aesthetic of the old Supro amps.” He also says that the new company has accurately recreated the unique and illustrious blue rhino-hide tolex that adorned the original amps, adding that “it looks amazing.”

As a Supro enthusiast, not only must I reiterate how very excited I am for the release of these amps, but also that I’m very much hoping to see the new Supro USA make available some of the rarer elements of their reissue amps – the rhino hide rolex, the correct amp handles, and the Supro logo piece – so that owners of the original amps can restore them accurately. Also, if anyone from Pigtronix/Supro USA is reading this piece, I hope that they’ll consider reissuing the Supro Super, one of my favorites from the original catalog. I also hope that they’ll keep the reissues affordable and accurate, and that they’ll send me one to review! *crosses fingers*

Lastly, I want to thank Absara Audio, LLC, Pigtronix, and Supro USA for making these reissues happen.

Thanksgiving

So.

Thanksgiving’s coming up.

It’s been a while since I posted on here. I suppose if I’m gonna keep up a blog, I need to write more.

So here’s today’s tidbit.

I don’t really have a lot of time, since I’ve also got a research paper draft to finish by 4pm tomorrow. But I’ll jot down what’s on my mind, because isn’t that what blogs are for? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, here it is:

Thanksgiving’s coming up.

Recently, Bethel (Church) Music has been posting a countdown of things they’re thankful for. I think I’ll do the same, although since it’s so close to the big day I’ll just do a list – here are five things I’m thankful for this year:

1. My family: Mom, Dad & Tom

2. My wonderful girlfriend Sarah

3. My first semester at Rhodes College

4. My involvement at Highpoint Church in Memphis

5. My absolute blessing of a guitar rig

God is good, gracious, merciful, and generous, and I hope that I never take it for granted.

Here’s a little bonus inclusion, something I’ve seen my Memphis worship leader, friend, and mentor Josh Maze do on his blog: I’m going to make a list of the things I’ve been listening to lately. Just so we’re all on the same page. And because I’m always thankful for the gift of new and interesting music to listen to and learn from. Here are a few recent picks:

Flagship – Flagship

I found out about this band because my favorite guitar hero and Facebook friend James Duke’s band, All the Bright Lights, opened for their album release show. I bought the album without even listening to it. I guess I thought if they were good enough for James Duke to play with, I’d probably  enjoy their music. I was right. This album has definitely been a recent inspiration of mine, especially the song “Gold and Silver.” I think it has a lot in common with The Joshua Tree-era U2, which I’m always down for. So, good on you Flagship. And James Duke, thanks for playing with them.

A Silent Film – Sand & Snow

Kind of the same story here. I was browsing Instagram, saw James Duke playing a cool Revelator T, saw that he was going on tour with A Silent Film, and bought the album. Kind of the same reasoning, too: if they’re good enough for James Duke to play with, I’d probably enjoy their music. Kind of the same turnout: I was right. James Duke has good taste. Is it a coincidence that he also loves U2? Probably not. But back to A Silent Film. I like this album a lot. It’s got more cool British ambience than Flagship does, but they’re both awesome in their own ways. I think I like Flagship better, but that’s probably because I haven’t listened through Sand & Snow as many times. It could change. Who knows. When it first came out, I didn’t really like “Oceans” by Hillsong UNITED, and now I can’t make it to the first chorus without crying. But yeah, I like A Silent Film.

The Shouting Matches – Grownass Man

James Duke did not introduce me to this band. Curveball. Nope, this was what I listened to in the car with the aforementioned Josh Maze on our trip out to Collierville one Sunday morning, to play at Highpoint Church’s new campus. At that point, Josh still hadn’t actually heard me play guitar. He just knew that I liked James Duke and had a pedalboard the size of his backseat. Anyway, after our Starbucks stop, Maze put this on the stereo and we talked about it. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver heads up the trio. There’s also a guy who plays drums and a guy who plays cool organ parts and mad slide guitar. I remember we discussed Vernon’s use of a white SG Jr. on this record. Also it’s really good. I got to see The Shouting Matches play at Austin City Limits about a month after that, and it was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen yet. They’ve got good mojo. There was also an adorable couple who danced together for a couple of songs. I took an Instagram vidja of them. But the Shouting Matches, man. They’ve got it going on. Highlights for me are definitely the epic bluesy instrumental “Milkman” and the sleazy, groovy bass riffin’ “New Theme.” My third favorite is probably a tie between all of the other songs on the record. It’s just really good.

Billie Joe & Norah – Foreverly

Does anyone else feel like Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones are an unlikely pair? Me too. And yet, I’m really really really glad they got together to make this record. It’s a remake of the Everly Brothers’ “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.” But I like the modern one better. It’s like they’ve put their own spin on a classic, and I like that. I like that concept a lot. But it’s not just something that works out conceptually – this album is really great. It’s beautifully Americana as well as relevant and engaging. I often feel nostalgia for the fifties and sixties – saudade – but this helps soothe it with a contemporary twist on the music and instrumentation of that era. It’s a beautiful record and it makes my heart happy. I’ve only listened through it once (literally finished as I write this paragraph) but I’m sure I’ll do it at least 100 more times before the end of the year.

Fiction Family – Fiction Family Reunion

I guess I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of explaining where I found my music. It’s usually through bands and people I already like and their connections. But this one is also not through James Duke (sorry James). Anybody who knows me knows I’m a huge Switchfoot fan. What do Switchfoot and Fiction Family have in common? Jon Foreman. And a Supro Super amp. But mostly Jon. We all know and love Jon Foreman’s raspy vocals and penchant for social justice and stage presence and energy and overall goodness, but did you know that he’s got a crazy folky side to him as well? Yep. It’s true. And this is it – Fiction Family, or an alliance between Foreman, Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, and some buddies of theirs. The bottom line here is that when you mix ’em all together, they make really good music. It’s different from Switchfoot but Jon’s vocals are just about the same – albeit with a tad more twang – and the whole thing is really cool. Standouts for me include “Avalon,” “Up Against the Wall,” “Give Me Back My Girl,” “Damaged,” and “Just Rob Me.” Especially “Damaged.” I think it says a lot of stuff that people don’t usually say and it does it in a really cool way. I didn’t mean for that to rhyme, but it did. I’m a poet and didn’t even know it. That one was intentional. Man, did you see that? I literally listed half the record as my favorite songs on the record. That’s a good record. Go check it out. Or Czech it out. I don’t discriminate.

Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors – Good Light

So I had heard of Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors because Noisetrade featured them once. I downloaded the taster and never listened to it. Boy, did I make a mistake. Fast forward about a year and my girlfriend Sarah makes an offhand comment about wanting to see Drew Holcomb when he comes to Memphis in a couple of weeks, so I realize I’ve heard that name before and get us some tickets (aww). And we go. And it’s awesome. We were front row, right between Drew and his (phenomenal) guitarist, Nathan Dugger. I will freely admit that I was watching Dugger play for the majority of the show, but the whole band were great and their music was awesome. A very homey, country-rockin’ good time. The chemistry between Drew and his adorable wife Ellie onstage, too, is so romantic and definitely adds to the music, especially when the Neighbors leave the stage to let Drew & Ellie sing their duet, “The Wine We Drink.” Great record, great show.

Hillsong UNITED – Zion Acoustic

So Hillsong UNITED. Why do they capitalize the UNITED? Mysteries of the world. Regardless, I think we can all agree that Zion is one of the most noteworthy worship albums released in 2013. And how do you make a great record greater? Acoustic sesh. So the guys (and gals) in UNITED all got together with a lot of Christmas lights and rugs and played through the whole album, stripped. It’s powerful. Gone are the huge synths of the original release, replaced by strong acoustic guitars, a Rhodes piano, awesome raw vocals, and Dylan Thomas breaking the “acoustic” rule with a Gretsch White Falcon (but hey, I don’t mind). If Zion was a great worship album, I don’t know what adjective to attribute to Zion Acoustic. But it’s awesome. And perhaps the best part (you mean it gets even better??) is that the audio album is accompanied by the live videos of each song. I’ve watched them a lot. Especially “Oceans.” As I said before, I really didn’t like that song when it came out. But the first time I heard it played at Highpoint, I cried. A lot. That song wrecks me. They played it again yesterday and I literally didn’t make it to the first chorus before I started crying. The bridge? Don’t even get me started. The bridge of “Oceans” is such – such – a powerful prayer:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,

Let me walk upon the water, wherever You would call me.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,

and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Saviour.”

Right? Can you imagine if we all had faith like that, to let the Spirit lead us wherever He pleased and we followed willingly, knowing that we couldn’t possibly make the journey by ourselves but only by relying 100% on and trusting unwaveringly in Jesus? Amen, church. That would be amazing. And the thought of it, just those words passing my lips and being sung, prayed up to the Lord above – it gets me. Every. Time. I’m supposed to play “Oceans” with FPC for the first time in a couple of weeks, and I legitimately don’t know if I’ll be able to make it through the song. But I guess I’ll just trust the Spirit and see where it leads me. Coincidentally, UNITED is going to play at Passion this year. I’m psyched. Also everyone in my youth group is going to see me bawl. But hey, it happens.

I should also mention that “Oceans” isn’t the only song on the Zion album. There are, like, 11 others. They’re all great, but “Oceans” is special. Regardless, I also really love “Relentless” and “Scandal of Grace.” So…yeah. Zion is a winner, Zion Acoustic is the champion of all worship music ever. And if you’re in the mood to lose yourself in worship of God the Father, here’s “Oceans”:

Boom.

Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane

This is an album that’s rocked my socks for a while. Those of you who are particularly savvy may know that Switchfoot is gearing up to release Fading West, a Rattle & Hum-esque documentary about their lives as people, musicians, and surfers. I’m pumped for it. The Fading West EP has been released, with the movie slated to come out Dec. 10 and the album to drop a month later. I’ve already pre-ordered both. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Switchfoot lately, and (as usual), I came back to Hello Hurricane. It’s such a good record. The lyrics are good, the instrumentation is good, it’s all good. So good. “Hello Hurricane” (the song) is my jam for when things are good or bad or anywhere in between. “Mess of Me” and “The Sound” both have some really rockin’ fuzz tones compliments of Mr. Drew Shirley. “Your Love is a Song” and “Sing it Out” are both beautiful songs of praise, and “Always” absolutely rips me up with its cry “I am always Yours” and its bridge:

“Hallelujah, I’m caving in.

Hallelujah, I’m in love again.

Hallelujah, I’m a wretched man.

Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance.”

Another bridge of a song that often leaves me in tears. As I said earlier, God is so good, gracious, merciful, and generous, and I hope I never take that for granted. I’m a wretched man, but every breath I take is a gift from God, a second chance that I don’t deserve. And that’s just amazing. It’s good news – THE Good News – but that’s for a December blog post. As is Citizens’ (Mars Hill Church) Christmas EP, which I’m half-heartedly refusing to listen to until after Thanksgiving.

But now, to end on a little bit brighter a topic: I recently was playing around with a simple guitar rig: Elliott Tonemaster > JHS Prestige boost > Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo > Supro 16T. It ended up sounding a lot like some of my favorite of The Edge’s tones (something I was very happy with) and reminded me of a song that’s one of the most influential ones I know: Until the End of the World. In 8th grade, I saw U2 perform it on the Live from Slane Castle DVD, and it hit me in a new and different way. It inspired me to learn every part, note-for-note the way The Edge played it. I did, and it was one of a few turning points when I really hunkered down and became a guitarist. It also ignited my search for a 30th Anniversary Les Paul goldtop, which I still haven’t gotten. But I’m sure I will one day. What’s important is the music and the way that song changed me and my life – it got me one step closer to being the guitarist and man I am today, and I want to share it with you:

So, there you have it.

Thanksgiving’s coming up.

Y’all have a good one.

Inspiration

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the things that inspire me; here are a couple:

-Rain. My favorite music that I’ve written has all been done on a rainy day. 

-Quiet. When it’s quiet, I relax and my mind wanders. It’s a beautiful feeling.

-Natural light. Turning off the lights and letting the sun stream in through the windows, even on a cloudy day, just nourishes my creativity in a way artificial light can’t. I guess that’s a testament to natural creativity.

That’s all for now. I’m excited to see where this goes.

JB