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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guitar Pickup Controversy

I don't know if it is officially a controversy or not but there is enough communication traffic about which pickups to buy on the web to make you want to stick your head in the sand and hope it all just goes away.

Being a praise and worship leader at our church and gigging with a friend of mine,  I have no choice but to amplify my acoustic guitar and there are three or four possible ways I can do this:

1.  Mic the guitar with a condenser or dynamic mic mounted on a mic stand. 
2.  Use a magnetic pickup mounted in the sound hole.
3.  Use a piezo  pickup mounted under the saddle or under the bridge or both.
4.  Any combination of the above.

Ok, so what is the problem?  Just pick from the above until you find the right sound or tone you would like to achieve.  What can be simpler? Well because some of these solutions are ideal but may not fit into the budget of a weekend guitar player. If money was not an object I would most likely have gone with a system such as the Seymour Duncan SA-6 with an integrated mic.  In the end I have decided to buy a piezo pickup system from Barcus-Berry, but let me share how I arrived at this decision.

The Condenser or Dynamic Microphone -   This is the traditional approach and is the best approach for natural sound reinforcement, but it has several key drawbacks for me.

Drawback #1:  Using microphones generally mean that you are stuck sitting or standing in one spot and although this is many times not a problem, I like to be free to move when possible.  Also I tend to feel a bit crowded by all the clutter and the microphone's proximity to my guitar. Product Example: Shure 58

Drawback #2:   Too many cables and stands make for more stage clutter.  On small church stages too many cables makes for not only a danger to people who approach the stage to speak but also make it difficult for the musicians to maneuver.

Drawback #3:  Feedback.  Although controllable it does require a good sound tech and/or feedback suppression systems.

Magnetic Coil Pickups - Inexpensive, quick and easy to use, these pickups mount into the sound hole of any acoustic guitar. Example:  Seymour Duncan Woody

Drawback #1:  The sound is completely synthetic and is based on the vibration of steel strings over the coil.  This is how electric guitars are generally amplified.  Spending money on a really good acoustic will not be heard using one of these pickups.  It does in my testing sound better when strumming and not picking individual notes.

Piezo Pickups - These are a good compromise when looking for a pickup which better simulates the sounds your guitar creates. Basically they take the vibrations created from the saddle/bridge area of your guitar and translate them into sound.  Here there is no mess with too many cables and microphone stands.  Many professional guitarists use this pickup in conjunction with a microphone.  This approach is called a blended approach. Product Example:  Barcus-Berry Insider

Drawback #1 - Still a synthetic sound but doesn't suffer from completely sounding like an electric guitar.

Drawback #2 - Harder to install than your typical sound hole mic.

Blended System - Blended systems are usually a combination of microphone and piezo pickups.  This is the best of both worlds and is becoming very popular. Product Example: Fishman Rare Earth Blend

Drawback #1 - The price.  Systems like this run in the hundreds of dollars.

Drawback #2 - Usually more complicated to install and may require a luthier's help


Well that is how I arrived at the modestly priced Barcus-Berry piezo pickup.  In the end it was all about the money and how to achieve the best sound for under eighty dollars.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hooked on the RPG

Ever since I first gazed at the massive statues outside the city of Stormwind, I have been fascinated with the computer based role playing game.  Perhaps it is the feeling that you are someone you are not in reality or maybe it is just the amazing worlds which have been created, but either way I love it.  Whether you are playing a Hobbit hunter in LOTRO or a sneaky Rouge in WOW it is an intriguing and awesome experience. We as humans love to escape the reality of sin and heartache that is all around us.  The idea that if I had enough strength(xp) and clout (levels) that maybe I could change the world simply by brute force.  If only it were that easy.

Being a 38 year old family man though I have a couple questions.  Is it and was it waste of time?  Should I be spending more time working on music and playing with the kids?  I think the obvious answer is yes, but somehow gaming has become a part of me.  I remember  as a child sitting in my room playing Pirates and Amazon on the Commodore 64 for hours.  My parents worried constantly that I would turn into a freak or something for playing games like that, but I didn't really :)  I did all the same things other kids did my age.  I rode my bicycle, played baseball, got into scrapes with the neighbor's kids and ate mama's apple pie.

So check me out on Lord of the Rings online if you get a chance.  My character's name is Cudagin (level 38 Dwarf) and I formed a kinship named Logos.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Always the Fool Part 2

Apparently cellular service providers also will make every effort to make someone the fool. Back in 2006, I purchased a Palm Treo 750.  A good phone for its time no doubt, but as most people do I grew tired of its poor battery life and decided to upgrade.

It was your typical upgrade contract.  I upgraded to a Blackberry Curve which I really liked quite well, but unfortunately it stopped working a year into the contract. A bad system board.  Ok, a bump in the road, but I figured a quick call to AT&T and all would be well.  I mean I have been a customer for many years, and pay $60 a month.  They will respect that.  They will cut me a break, right?  After all they are sitting on a ton of refub phones surely they can give me another Curve.  I wished they would have but all I got from them was the whole tough luck and chin up kind of speech.

Yeah I know, I signed the contract and it says they don't have to do anything for me after 90 days.  I know all that but what happened to customer service.  What happened to a company taking it on the chin once in a while for a customer.  After all I wasn't asking for an IPhone.  All I wanted was another junky refurb to get me by until my contract was up.

So after begging AT&T I gave up and popped the SIM back in my old Treo.  It's still going but the battery doesn't last more than a day and the call quality is terrible.  I don't know, maybe I shouldn't complain.  Maybe I am just a snobby American who needs a wake up call.  I do after all still have a cell phone that works but somehow the whole customer service issue bothers me.  When I worked in retail we bent over backward for the customer to make him happy.  Sometimes we took a bath and lost money but the customers kept coming back because they new we were fair.

I'd like to think dumping AT&T would solve my problems but I have a feeling it is the same everywhere.

The Town that Time Forgot

I recently spent several days in the Wellsboro area of Pennsylvania and even with the never ending miners driving by the house, it still hasn't lost its charm. Wellsboro will always hold a special place in my heart as this is where I was born and where my extended family spent a great deal of their time growing up.

The area is teaming with wildlife and indeed it is not unusually to see deer and even the occasional black bear roaming the country side.  Few sounds can rival that of Pine Creek cutting its way though the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon on a warm spring morning.  Throughout the year fisherman roam the country creeks trying to catch their limit of trout, while in the winter hunters spend countless hours in search of the trophy buck.

Main street is lined with quaint shops from the familiar department stores to specialty candy shops.  It is something to behold and at some level seems more like a Hollywood set than a town, but this is the way it has always been.  It has always been simple.  No room for the hustle and bustle of the big city and its rude corporate executives.  No place for those who despise the simple life and its backward, old fashioned roots. 

My mom summed it up in one statement.  "Matt, we had a murder here this year!" The reality is that the city where I live, we have had 8 already and the theft is through the roof.

Wellsboro: It is simply a town that time forgot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Coyote Hybrid - Hidden Danger

To me it seems astounding that the coyote has made such a comeback on the east coast of the United States, but there is a hidden danger here.  There is a breed of coyote called the "Hybrid Coyote" or the "Eastern Coyote."  These coyotes breed with dogs or wolves and create a strangely aggressive coyote.  The coyote we are all familiar with are docile and mostly afraid of people but these hybrids are not and will attack children and in rare cases grown adults.

What bothers me most is the government's stance that coyotes are not likely to attack.  Yes that is true and I happen to think coyotes are a great creation from God, but the hybrid will attack and it has proven this time and time again.  The hybrid is not truly a coyote!  I wish they would make the connection and stop their false rhetoric.

http://www.myfox8.com/news/wghp-story-coyote-attacks-toddler-girl-trinity-randolph-110618,0,3125115.story

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2009/10/28/ns-coyote-attack-died.html

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Legacy of Christianity - My Grandmother

This is the day after my grandmother, Marion Northrop passed away and my mind is filled with the memories of a great childhood with she and my grandfather.  I remember visiting her frequently as a child and   I clearly remember that she was entirely a meat and potatoes person. Always mashed potatoes and some kind of meat and vegetable.  I don't know why that is the first thing that popped into my head but I guess I love food too much.  Some of my favorites were mashed potatoes, gravy and roast beef, chicken and biskets and creamed potatoes.  For breakfast she often made pancakes which were very good, but the women would put ketchup on her pancakes (paincakes as she called them). That I could never do!  She and Gramp were also big fans of real Pennsylvania maple syrup and it was not unusually to have a gallon of maple syrup and some maple candy on hand.  The woman also ate a ton of bologna sandwitches.  I don't know why but she did. Perhaps it was a money saving effort, I really don't know.

The reality is she was a Christian woman who I believed loved the Lord and loved her children and grandchildren.  Gram, as we all called her, took us on vacations with her to the outer banks in NC,  kept my grandfather in line :), took us to church with her and loved on us whenever she could. Every morning, she and my grandfather had devotions at the kitchen table and would pray for each person in the family.  Isn't that an amazing legacy and testimony to her faithfulness?  I remember her yelling at Gramp to get up and take me fishing. Gramp would have some excuse and would say the fish are not biting because..., but Gram would stay on him until he took me.  By the way Gramp was usually right and the fish were not bitting, but who cared.  That is dedication to the family unit!  Take a kid fishing even when you know you won't catch anything.  Even with the suffering she had early on in her life with bad stomach ulcers which the medical community claimed was from worrying, she did quite well at keeping her cool with all of the little grandmonsters running around.

 I also remember that she liked to watch people.  What I mean is she would just sit on the porch and watch people.  I as a youngster could not understand this even a little bit but she loved to do it.  At one point she even began parking downtown and would just sit and watch people go by and see which ones she knew.  Intersting hobby I suppose and it didn't cost any money.  I remember taking walks every night I was there with she and gramp down to the donut shop and she was horrified that I could eat an entire eclair. This of course would cause her to worry about my weight and the weight of each member of my family.

I sit  here  now wondering why I am not in total tears after her recent death.  Have I become hardened by the world and all its sin that I can no longer feel?  I don't know. Perhaps it is because I have been expecting it and know she is with God and her husband.  All I can say is that I loved her and I will miss her.  Till we meet again Gram on the other side!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Always the Fool

Today's subject is Tires.  That's right those little round pieces of rubber that stand between the body of your car and the surface of the road.  Once again my tires are in need of replacement and I am trying to find the best deal.

So I did some web searching (what every red blooded software developer would do) to find the best deal, but low and behold the tire companies were trying to make a fool of me.  Needless to say I typed in my car's make model and so on and the list of tires pop up for me to choose from.  Right off I see a tire for 55.00. Wow what a deal I thought!  So being a somewhat bright individual I start looking for the catch.  Sure enough there is this tiny button to the right that says "Get Total Pricing."  Clicking on this button revealed hidden charges such as an  environmental fee, disposal fee and installation fee.  Come on people, what was I going to do install it myself?

Needless to say my 55.00 a tire went mysteriously up to 78.25 per tire. Why must they always try to make us the fool?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Matt and Buck Project

I have been a member of Christ's Church for many years and belonged to many Baptist churches during that time and there is something sadly lacking in many of these churches.  Music leadership and fresh styles.  There is a great need for small groups of Christians to band together and provide mini concerts for these churches without charging high fees.  About once a month a church could greatly benefit from two or three musicians singing and praising God to help breath life into the christian life.

Many small country churches simply lack the talent to support a good music program and many are blessed to just have a piano player and a small choir.  Although there is nothing wrong with this approach it can become stale and uninteresting as an act of worship before the Lord.  David wrote in Psalm 144:9, "I will sing a new song unto you oh God; on the ten stringed Lyre, I will make music to you." 

I believe what David understood was that singing new songs before God showed God that he was willing to author a new song which came from his heart and sing it with great passion.  When we as church members sing older songs we often (not always) sing them with less passion because the repetition becomes an automatic response and not something we are thinking about and singing from a renewed passion.

So basically, the Matt and Buck project is this...
Two guys with two acoustic guitars performing cover songs from great Christians like Rich Mullins, Third Day and Chris Tomlin in the context of a helping both believers and unbelievers find God. What better place to sing to the Lord than at the church. We are singing songs which spread the same message of God's forgiveness and grace which has been preached generation upon generation.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My New Web Site

Well I finally got around to creating my new web site and of course a new blog.  I mean who doesn't have a blog these days. 

The web site was done to mostly sharpen my skills with silverlight and just for kicks.

Anyway check out the new site at http://www.mattcuda.com/