Chris Caffery – Your Heaven is Real

Chris Caffery – Your Heaven is Real

It’s funny…I remember seeing Chris on the “Gutter Ballet” tour and he just kind of hung back a little and let Criss do his thing.  From that point on, though, I’ve watched him grow as a guitarist, musician and producer.  His most recent work is something that we saw come to life through myriad postings on Facebook and it was an amazing process to watch unfold.  That’s kind of why I have resisted writing a review, to this point.  I had just finished producing an album, myself, so watching the process here, knowing what goes into it from a recording, producing, mixing and mastering stand-point, I have a different approach than I used to.  It kind of becomes a little club (you, the artist and thousands of his closest friends Smile ) watching a project grow and come closer and closer to fruition and wanting so badly for everything to pan out perfectly and become a sort of cheerleader.

That’s why *I* felt a little too close to it, even though I, really, had nothing to do with other than a few posts of encouragement along the way.  Then something changed.  I read a review.  Now, it wasn’t a horrible review, mostly.  It’s one of those that looks like it comes from a place of expectation that may or may not have been in line with what the point or purpose of the album actually was.  I feel a little sorry for the reviewer inasmuch as the full fury of Chris’ fans have been unleashed upon him.  For the most part, this is because the reviewer barely reviewed the music and, instead, chose to review Chris, himself.  That’s not how reviews work, really.  That said, as reviewers usually do, he brought it upon himself.  This is because no matter what your opinion is, someone will disagree.  Additionally, when you go after a person a lot of people care about, they’re going to push back, hard.  With that in mind – I’m going to talk about what I know with Chris, my perspective on the album and, towards the end, the music.

I’m not going to address much more of the other review, really, save for a couple points.

So, first and foremost, this is an 80s metal album.  Sure, there are some modern aspects to it, stylistically, but it conjures up — without sounding overly like — Savatage and Dr. Butcher with ease, and shows a lot of influence from those bands and from the songwriting he was exposed to, contributed to and learned from.  So, here’s where the divide, I believe, comes in.  I *love* hearing 80s metal musicians producing 80s metal.  I just do.  I loved a band from Richmond called Claude Zircle for exactly that reason — there were no pretentions.  They played their 80s metal hearts out, and that’s exactly what “Your Heaven Is Real” does.  Chris isn’t trying to win the nu-metal crowd.  He’s not looking for the prog-metal crowd.  He’s looking for people who enjoy honest, solid, metal.  In this, he delivered, in spades.  There’s something for every metalhead, here — there’s so much groove on this disc, it’s quite tasty.  If you don’t feel the 80s screaming through in “Just Fine,” I don’t know what to tell you.  The album, itself, also has a consistency across it — the tone, the energy, the love, the effort.

It’s funny, though, because it’s at this point in a lot of reviews where the comments start veering into “you’re a fanboy” or equally derisive terms that basically are implying that because you honestly like something and have good things to say about it, you’re a kiss-ass.  That always baffles me.  Me?  You get what you get.  If I like it, I say so, if I don’t, I say so.

Another aspect in which I felt a little too close to really review the album, objectively, was knowing the stories behind a lot of the songs, as revealed by Chris over the creation of the album via Facebook.  Once I know what something’s about, and how deeply personal these things are, and how much of an artist gets exposed by “putting himself out there” in a way that few people ever know — how the hell do you criticize that?  Even on the album I was just working on, it was much easier to be critical, as a producer, about musical and production choices, when I didn’t know that it was a song, for example, about the brutal hole left in the artist’s heart after the untimely death of his brother.  It’s at that point that it becomes the artist’s complete game – even as producer and mixer, there are things about which you just accept you have no say.  The same falls, for me, into that realm, here.  “Your Heaven Is Real” isn’t some attempt at a catchy chorus (have I mentioned that the song *crushes* and the chorus will get stuck in your head for a while?) without substance, but a very personal revelation about a pretty damned scary situation and brings, to me, two interpretations of the song that aren’t disparate — as a result of the experience, there’s a new appreciation of what is an isn’t real to Chris when it comes to the afterlife, and, really, it’s more of an affirmation and uplifting message than we’ve gotten from Chris, previously.  To me, that’s awesome — he’s in a happier place, which is exceedingly obvious if you follow him on Facebook.  Chris has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and produced music from the heart, and this is no different — something for which *I’m* grateful, though, I do understand how some folks aren’t always comfortable listening to songs that aren’t just about political rants, sex drugs and rock’n’roll, or any of the impersonal, banal topics we’ve come to expect in recent years.  That said, I’m in no position to criticize personal experience and expression for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

Oh, but make no mistake — Chris has socio-political rants, too, but there are more songs, here, about new and more personal topics, and are addressed with the same lack of compromise as “Pissed Off” though handled with more experience, wisdom and maturity.  What?  We all mature as we get older and, in this case, it just means the music is growing, proportionately, with Chris.  That’s not a bad thing.

I will address a comment from the review within one of the points from the review I wish to focus on, just because it’s something I didn’t have an appreciation for prior to last winter, when I was in a similar situation.  So, here’s the thing the review stated, “While the mix is clear, the overall sound is muddy and not sharp enough…” We’ll pair that with one of the comments on the review that stated, “…sounds like it was recorded on a PC.”  Here’s the thing — in several ways it probably was – so what?  There’s a lot of the home studio that is now piped through the PC to record and from what I’ve seen of Chris’ studio, I have no reason to believe any different.  Even in a larger studio, again, the trend is to pipe everything through a PC. That said, having just produced an album that was recorded in its entirety on a Mac (so, kind of PC…) and mixed/mastered on my studio system, I have a new appreciation for what went into this album.  I know how bloody hard it is to get a good, consistent sound that sounds good on your monitors, in your car, on your phone, and so on, and I also know what happens when you either don’t have the right monitors, the right angle on the monitors and the right distance from the monitors, ignoring the fact, for the moment, as to whether the room is treated, or not.

So, with that in mind, there are parts that I, as someone who has just spent time mixing songs until my eyes glazed over and my ears were so fatigued, and I dreamt of the songs for weeks, recognized right off the hop while listening to the album.  I believe it was on “Why” that I thought, “Ah, the monitors were <so>” when mixing the acoustics, as there were a couple of spots where they came hard through the back-side of the mix, on the sides a bit louder than probably intended, but was probably the result of a lot of late night sessions, you know – when pouring his heart and soul into this project.  It’s one of those things that I don’t think I would have given a second thought to if I didn’t have this stupid new quasi-curse of listening to albums like a flippin’ mixer/producer.  That said, “Why” is probably my favorite track on the album.

It’s kind of like once you’ve run your first kitchen as a chef, eating out is a whole different experience where you’re all at once over critical of everything and how you would do it differently, and here’s the thing — it doesn’t change the experiences of the people around you.  The real joy of a chef is peeking out from behind the swinging door and seeing someone take a bite of a dish you put your soul into and watching their eyes roll back and that “Mmmmmmmm…”  There’s nothing like it.

Likewise, as an artist, watching people start to close their eyes, bob their heads in rhythm and get taken to someplace else for a while through the music, that’s what it’s all about.  How they get there is subjective, and that’s I think what we’ve run into, here, with the review’s mention of “clear” yet “muddy and not sharp enough.”  One thing you learn pretty quickly when mixing an album is that your ears adjust.  So, if you’re working on a song, the small changes get absorbed into the song.  Try this — if you listen to music with your EQ flat, boost your treble up for about 5 minutes.  Now, change it back.  It sounds weird — even dull and kind of lifeless, doesn’t it?  Then, however, after another 5 minutes, it’s the “new normal,” again, and it just is how it is.  I would wager some of this happened not only when producing this album but when listening to it, as well.  I know it came into play on the one I worked on.  Good gravy, it did.  At any rate, the point is this — the mix is clean.  You can pick out every ingredient — the drums (Brian Tichy is absolutely on point), the bass, the guitars, the vocals, the spices (some synths, some choir-y parts).  There are times that the bass eats the kick, a little, but that’s also something that comes into play with this observation — this, like any album, depends upon that on which you’re listening to it.  In my case, I listened on my studio rig through my monitor speakers.  I’m very used to the tone on these, now, so I know their tendencies and I also have tried to keep them as flat as possible, response-wise.

So, this album is “flat,” and what I mean by that is that it’s not jacked one way or another, not over-bassy and not treble-heavy, and it is definitely not “lifeless.”  It has a good balance.  Now, there are places where there’s a little mud right in the 120-500Hz range where ALL the instruments want to play, but that is, to me, to be expected in metal, and, honestly, in pretty much everything short of piano concertos or pan flutes.  So, the clatter about “muddy and not sharp enough” really comes down to this — poke your EQ, sparky.  I know that when producing, there’s that goal that you produce an album that won’t “need” EQ-doinking, but reality comes crashing in when you realize every human on this planet has not only different tastes, but different ears that are more sensitive to different frequencies than others and, really, in order to make everyone happy, everyone’s going to have to put in a little effort.  Hmm…That came out funny, but I stand by it.

If you think a recording sounds a little dull, it may be one of a billion variables, but one of the easiest fixes, if you think a recording is muddy, is to poke the mid-high and high EQ sliders up a bit and maybe even scoop the mids a little.  I mean, growing up listening to metal on my little walkman with the 3-band EQ on the side, I adjusted it for just about every album I ever played in that thing, and I played a LOT of metal.  So, I guess my point here is that if you’re thinking it’s a bit muddy, tweak a bit, because the overall production is tight.  There are some places where it’s a little *too* flat, for my taste, but I’d rather have it flat and be able to adjust it to sound good to my ears than have it so jacked to one extreme or the other I a way that I can’t adjust it to my preference.  Those spots are also few and far between and don’t take away from the listening experience of the album.  It’s just something that, for better or worse, I pick up and hone in on, now, that I didn’t used to.

So, after all this, what do I think of that album?!  It’s a solid-ass effort from Chris that shows just how much he’s progressed as a musician and song-writer.  The songs are more involved, complex and produced with more dynamics and appreciation for white-spaces.  I appreciate the growth that’s gone into his vocals and, truly, he’s found his own voice and I dig it.  Again — 80s metal, man, 80s metal!  I enjoy the songs a lot.  I enjoy knowing the stories behind them.  I enjoy how the stories are told.  This album embodies what I wish more artists would try — honest, hard-working and just pure Chris.  Hmmm…I’m not saying other bands should try to be pure Chris, but try putting in the love and effort into their work.  It’s funny — the review that shall not be named inferred that Chris basically churned this out because he needed the money and some form of pity grab.  I have absolutely no idea where that came from.

For me, the standout tracks are the title track – a perfect, blistering opener – “Why,” “Hot Wheelz,” “I Never Knew” and “2-26-15,” which is elevated that much more if you know what that date means to Chris.  If you don’t, ask him.  That’s not to say that “Arm and a Leg” isn’t heavy as hell and well executed or that “Just Fine” isn’t a bad-ass jam that channels the 80s perfectly, or that there is any filler on this album.  It just means that those were the songs that I gravitated to, thus bringing this back to how subjective this all is.  I dig the album.  More to the point, I take the album as a whole – the effort, the late nights, the love and everything that goes into taking what’s in your heart and getting to unleash it on the world.  It’s the blistering solos, sure, but it’s also the person poured into it.  Take some time to get to know it and you won’t be disappointed.

In closing, “Your Heaven Is Real” is pure Chris and executed not flawlessly (though pretty close), but honestly — and it’s honestly a great album.

Where to go if You Want to Die in a Hailstorm of Bullets

A less provocative title for this still invites controversy, and that is “At What Point do We Acknowledge a Need For Gun Control?”

My rants on this on Facebook have gotten long and emotional.  My opinion on this is constantly met with “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” when I even say the words “gun” and “control” in the same sentence.  There’s this visceral need to equate the idea of preventing people from getting guns that should not have them through mandatory background checks with taking away everyone’s guns that has ever owned them, ever.  Honestly, I’m not going to espouse the virtues one way or another.  I’m just going to put statistics in front of you and let you decide for yourself.  Actually, statistics might be wrong term, as well, since people are fond of saying that “statistics lie” or “you can make statistics say whatever you want.”  This is true, and I think I’ve been guilty of presenting data in a way to support my research a time or two back in school.  So, let’s just look at raw numbers shall we?

Here are the numbers, by state and by year, of mass shootings, per year, where “mass” is defined as more than three people being involved and “shooting” being defined as an event that involved the use of a firearm.

State 2013



Incidents Deaths Injuries Incidents Deaths Injuries Incidents Deaths Injuries
Alabama 8 15 22 3 3 11 4 4 14
Alaska 0 0 0 1 0 6 1 4 0
Arizona 8 20 16 1 1 3 5 15 9
Arkansas 0 0 0 1 4 4 1 1 3
California  53 68 200 37 47 134 14 16 51
Colorado 4 7 10 1 0 4 0 0 0
Connecticut 4 6 13 1 0 5 3 2 16
Delaware 4 3 14 0 0 0 1 0 6
Florida 23 40 72 21 42 79 15 12 53
Georgia 7 5 30 12 15 46 13 23 40
Hawaii 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Idaho 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 1
Illinois 23 22 104 29 31 102 11 7 45
Indiana 8 8 26 7 4 29 5 4 21
Iowa 1 1 3 0 0 0 1 0 4
Kansas 7 15 17 2 3 6 1 2 2
Kentucky 6 11 14 3 5 7 3 1 15
Louisiana 10 10 55 13 8 60 10 15 40
Maine 1 1 3 1 5 0 0 0 0
Maryland 5 5 19 3 5 11 8 7 28
Massachusetts 1 2 2 3 0 15 5 3 21
Michigan 15 11 62 14 9 55 6 2 36
Minnesota 5 6 11 3 1 16 0 0 0
Mississippi 2 2 6 3 6 7 2 2 7
Missouri 12 14 43 4 2 17 7 12 21
Montana 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
Nebraska 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nevada 6 12 14 5 6 16 1 3 1
New Hampshire 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Jersey 12 9 46 8 8 29 9 6 30
New Mexico 4 6 11 1 1 3 0 0 0
New York 16 19 56 11 5 41 16 14 62
North Carolina 18 13 62 8 17 19 5 11 12
North Dakota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ohio 13 14 42 9 19 20 10 12 41
Oklahoma 7 17 12 4 7 11 5 5 15
Oregon 0 0 0 3 1 12 1 1 3
Pennsylvania 17 16 63 10 11 43 5 3 27
Rhode Island 1 0 4 1 0 5 1 0 4
South Carolina 6 14 15 5 5 20 5 17 9
South Dakota 0 0 0 1 4 1 0 0 0
Tennessee 11 19 27 9 10 30 6 8 24
Texas 15 36 47 20 34 83 12 25 56
Utah 1 3 1 2 5 6 1 4 0
Vermont 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Virginia 11 12 39 7 10 24 5 3 20
Washington 4 8 13 5 8 17 0 0 0
West Virginia 3 5 9 1 5 0 0 0 0
Wisconsin 2 0 8 4 1 16 3 6 9
Wyoming 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Washington DC 6 14 37 4 0 19 2 2 6
Puerto Rico 3 11 10 0 0 0 0 0 0

Totals 363 500 1258 281 348 1032 205 260 752

So, take 2013.  That’s 500 people killed in 363 separate incidents with over 1,200 people injured.  I’ll only use my personal knowledge for comparison, here, but that 500 people is more than if you killed the entire graduating class of Wabash College for that year…two and a half times.  The year of 2014 was a little better, but still would have killed off more than the entire graduating class of Wabash College for that year, almost twice, as well.  So far, in 2015, it’s looking like another wipeout, having already eclipsed this past year’s graduating class number – which was the highest it’s been in over decade.

So, for perspective, if you were to average that out to fit within the graduating class paradigm, the number of people killed in mass shootings over the last three years would be the equivalent of wiping out the past 5.9 years of Wabash College graduates.  We haven’t even addressed the number of people injured in these shootings, which has eclipsed the 3,000 mark over the past three years and we’re just over half-way through this current year.

If you want to look at it, in totality, for the past three years per state, it looks like this:


Incidents Deaths Injuries
Alabama 15 22 47
Alaska 2 4 6
Arizona 14 36 28
Arkansas 2 5 7
California  104 131 385
Colorado 5 7 14
Connecticut 8 8 34
Delaware 5 3 20
Florida 59 94 204
Georgia 32 43 116
Hawaii 0 0 0
Idaho 1 3 1
Illinois 63 60 251
Indiana 20 16 76
Iowa 2 1 7
Kansas 10 20 25
Kentucky 12 17 36
Louisiana 33 33 155
Maine 2 6 3
Maryland 16 17 58
Massachusetts 9 5 38
Michigan 35 22 153
Minnesota 8 7 27
Mississippi 7 10 20
Missouri 23 28 81
Montana 1 5 0
Nebraska 0 0 0
Nevada 12 21 31
New Hampshire 0 0 0
New Jersey 29 23 105
New Mexico 5 7 14
New York 43 38 159
North Carolina 31 41 93
North Dakota 0 0 0
Ohio 32 45 103
Oklahoma 16 29 38
Oregon 4 2 15
Pennsylvania 32 30 133
Rhode Island 3 0 13
South Carolina 16 36 44
South Dakota 1 4 1
Tennessee 26 37 81
Texas 47 95 186
Utah 4 12 7
Vermont 0 0 0
Virginia 23 25 83
Washington 9 16 30
West Virginia 4 10 9
Wisconsin 9 7 33
Wyoming 0 0 0
Washington DC 12 16 62
Puerto Rico 3 11 10

Totals 849 1108 3042

So, if you take that over the past three years, and I’m going to fudge and make the data look “less bad” by counting 2015 as a complete year for our purposes.  I’ll address it, correctly, in a minute.  Over the past three years, that translates to 0.77 incidents per day.  Remember, this is counting 2015 as a complete 365 days. These numbers translate to  1.01 deaths per day.  That’s a person a day, every day, for three complete years.  For injuries, that translates to 2.78 injuries per day as part of a mass shooting.  Remember, that’s if we’re going on the assumption of 365 days times three – 1095 days.

It looks slightly worse if we consider that we’re only 209 days into the year.  So, that would make a total of 939 days.  This changes it to, over the past two years and this year, to date (as of July 28, 2015), 0.9 incidents per day.  This may not seem significantly different, but we’re that much closer to a mass shooting every single day for the past two and half years.  Think about that.  The death per day number is, now, 1.18 – that’s over a person a day being killed in a mass shooting.  Counting up the injuries, we are looking at 3.24 people per day.

So, if you’re looking at choice vacation spots, it might be wise to avoid Chicago or Detroit whose mass shooting violence is on the uptick.  California still shows the largest numbers, but it is a pretty big state.

I’m just putting the numbers out there.  How you feel about the numbers is up to you.  My question is only this – at what point are the lives of the dead and injured important enough to admit something needs to be done?

For those wondering, here are the data sources used.  I know the danger inherent in using a single source and I’m pretty sure they’re incomplete just because of the sheer numbers, but even if that’s the case, the picture they paint is gruesome and worth considering.

Flying Without A Net

It’s interesting…I’ve been doing an experiment. So far, in the three months since I reimaged my system back to Windows 7, I’ve not installed an antivirus application. “WHOAH! That’s CRAZYPANTS!” you say. Here’s the thing…I’ve been able to run my system at full-bore speeds. I’ve got MANY layers of JavaScript blockers going on my browser of choice (Chrome, in this case). I’ve modded my hosts file to have over 39K entries of blocked malicious sites and I add to it just about every day. I run a malware scanner ever so often, usually once a week with nary a nasty other than a couple of tracking cookies.

Honestly, I find antivirus software to be bigger hassles than the majority of viruses (other than the REALLY nasty ones that require scorched earth methods). Symantec/Norton and McAffee are, themselves, viruses – one of the banes of my work laptop experiences is the Symantec Endpoint ridiculousness that is installed.  Whomever configured it was the devil, as it will, randomly, throughout the day decide it needs to scan, no matter what I’m in the middle of doing, and will – sometimes, if it’s bored – run the scan a couple of minutes down to 30 seconds apart.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t give itself full priority, shoved what you were working on to the background and do it’s thing.  While this may not be Symantec’s fault, they get the blame for writing this bloated warthog of an application that chews up 500+MB of RAM on a system only graced with 4GB.  Avira blew their chance with me when they started being SEVERELY obnoxious with the popups pushing you to purchase a paid copy of the software and all hope for them was lost when I decided to uninstall it and instead of running the uninstaller, it downloaded and launched the updated version of the software.  Talk about virulent behavior.  Honestly, the best I’ve used is Avast, but even it taxes my system at random times enough to be severely annoying at best and  production killing at worst – and this is on a 3.9GHz hexcore with 20GB RAM, so if it grinds THAT to a halt, there’s something fundamentally wrong.

So, Mr. Flying Without a Net, why do you feel safe without any antivirus software on the most susceptible OS known to man? Honestly, I’ve changed my computing behavior. I rarely download anything from the net anymore that isn’t a purchase from a reputable vendor. I visit “normal” sites — the exception being a TV viewing site that necessitated the modded hosts file to begin with (if you’ve not encountered 23 popups within a 10 seconds span, you haven’t lived) — and I never do anything unexpected… So far, I’ve managed to stay clean. Now, I consider myself lucky in this regard and know that if something goes *bing,* it will go *bing* in a big way. That said, walking the straight and narrow has done wonders. Additionally, the use of firewalls – multiple layers has made life easier.

I will recommend a modded hosts file, in general, though, simply because it has sped things up immensely to have all the ad-pushing sites stopped dead so it actually loads CONTENT on a website rather than a ton of ads.  I’ve found ad-heavy sites will load orders of magnitude faster.

So you know – for hosts file replacement goodness, go here:

Do I think I’m 100% safe?  Not a chance.  This is Windows.  Do I think that behavior modification has made a world of difference?  You betcha. Would I recommend this to others?  I guess it depends on the person.  If you can’t live without certain high risk behavior that tends to result in viruses being strewn throughout your system, then I wouldn’t choose this route.  Again, it also comes from experience and knowing how to avoid certain fast-tracks to infection.  We’ll see how long this age of antivirus-free tranquility lasts…

My Experience Converting a Passive Jackson Stealth to Active Pickups

I can not be the only person on the planet who has ever wanted to take a Jackson StealthEX or any other Jackson dinky or otherwise with the HB-SC-SC one volume, one tone, 5-way switch configuration and basically swap out the factory pickups with actives and replace the box switch.  I can’t be the only one.  If I repeat it enough, I may believe it.

Now, for the purposes of this article, the 5-way switch was quite generic and the pickups were Seymour Duncan Blackouts (AHB-1, AS-1b, AS-1n).  So, to review and convey the simplicity of what I wanted to do

  • Factory humbucker -> AHB-1
  • Factory mid -> AS-1b (tapped/split)
  • Factory neck -> AS-1n
  • Factory 5-way box switch -> new 5-way box switch
  • 250K Volume pot -> 25K volume pot
  • 250K Tone pot -> 25K tone pot
  • factory mono “lipstick” jack -> stereo “lipstick” jack
  • Fix any other internal weirdness encountered.

Simple, right?  Well, don’t you believe it.  Let me rephrase…don’t be fooled into thinking that this fairly thorough swapout will have *specific,* *applicable* help files on the internet to help you.  I spent close to a week pouring over stewmac and guitarelectronics and seymourduncan not to mention more obscure sites, in an effort to gain as much info going in as I could so that this would be a nice surgical strike…or as close to a surgical strike as replacing all the electronics in a guitar can be.  No dice, really.  I ended up with just about every wiring diagram available on Seymour Duncan’s site printed off as well as 4 others from different sites.  They all had one thing in common – they were all applicable to a point.  Not any one diagram covered every part of what I needed and my electronics theory is so rusty (this is the stuff I used to do in high school – over 20 years ago) that cobbling together the wiring diagrams into a happy, all-inclusive and functional wiring diagram that I could use for quick reference was not really in the cards.  Since, as we all know, using four+ schematics is about the opposite of “quick reference.”

With that in mind, I am, now, setting out to right this wrong and get a working wiring diagram out there for everyone, like me, who is/was looking for this information and could not find it for the life of them.  Here it is.  Eventually.  It would really help if I could remember exactly what I did.

An additional kibitz, on my part, was I got to a point where I got the theory quite well enough, but just needed to know what wire got soldered where, something not entirely obvious from some of these diagrams.  So, my plan with this is to draw up schematics for those who would like them and a wiring diagram for those who prefer that route.

Additionally, here’s what I did, once all the other parts were out:

After all the pickups are in their nice little homes on the front of the guitar and the wires are routed through and ready to be connected to things to make them sing, we say a small prayer, sacrifice a small goat, and set about some wiring.

Isolate all the white wires from the pickups.  These are hot, happy, and what you’re going to connect to the switch.  Go in reverse order from what your brain would say to do logically:  looking down on the switch connections on the back, numbering down the left side, 1 through four.  So, to reverse your brain’s desire, connect the neck pickup to connection 1, the mid to 2, the humbucker to 3.

Now, you’re left with one more on the left side.  Ignore it.

We’ll get to the right side in a bit.  For now, let’s just worry about getting the hot wires to their respective connections.  In looking at where the white wires originate, you’ll notice you’ve got about ¼” to work with as it splits from the main black wire as a white-bare wire pair.  Since the bare wires all go to ground, it’s impractical to run them right in to the switch, so, for what it’s worth, I added an additional short length of wire to each hot, enough to reach the switch from the volume potentiometer, basically, since that’s where the common grounds congregate.

Once the hots are soldered to the switch, it’s time to make sure the battery connections are all square.  You only need one (buying 3 active pickups, you now have three), and will take all of the red wires, one for each pickup, and solder them to the red battery wire.

To complete the circuit, the black wire from the battery connector should be soldered to the common ground of the output jack.

Now we have all of those bare wires to deal with from the pickups.  Ok, three, but still…  What I did was to do basically the red-wire trick and solder them all to a single wire and then solder that single wire to the top of the volume potentiometer (pot).  It may not be the best solution, but is a lot cleaner looking.

Now, so long as you’re soldering things on the volume pot, solder the third connector, the one on the right looking at it from the top, to the top of its pot.  A fairly painless way to do this, if you don’t want to bend the connector back to the metal of the pot, is to run a *very* short wire – like ½” – connecting the connector to the top of the pot.

Again, so long as we’re soldering grounds to the volume pot, run a short length of wire between the top of the volume to the tone pot.

The tone version of the connector soldered to the top should come with the AHB-1s in the form of a 25K pot that already has a 0.47pf capacitor soldered from the right connector to the top of the pot.  If this is not the case, then, you know what to do – solder a capacitor (at this is based on preference and desired outcome, more on this later) from the right connector to the ground spot on the top of the pot.  For your everyday tone, the 0.47pf capacitor will do just fine, but I’ve heard other companies talking about better results using a .10pf.

Finally, we’re to the right side of the switch and ready to tie everything together.  First, solder a ground line between the jack ground and the #2 position (counting from the bottom) on the switch.  Now, run a wire between the center connector on the tone potentiometer to the leftmost connector on the volume potentiometer.  Now, connect the leftmost connector to the #1 (bottom) position on the right side of the switch.

Once that’s finished, solder a wire between the center connector on the volume pot to the hot output of the output jack.

That’s it.  Now, if you’ve done it like me, you’ve got a bit of a bird’s nest going on in there.  I feel your pain.  Also, if you’re like me, and are migrating from passive to active pickups, you’re presented with a whole new problem: where are you going to stick the battery?  Well, if you are like me, then you will just wedge it in between the switch and the inner wall beside the jack.  It’s not pretty.  So, further, if you’re like me, you decided to purchase a battery box from a local electronics store, got some velcro, and attached it to the outside of the guitar on the back, close to the heel.

[Disclaimer of doom] I wrote this from memory looking at a schematic I drew…from memory…  What this means to you is that it could be completely wrong.  I don’t want you to hose up your guitar based solely on my info.  If there’s anyone out there who can either confirm or debunk any part of this, please do.  I’ll be placing the schematic and wiring diagram up, soon, maybe — I’m not sure where I put my drawings, since we moved — so those can be used as reference.

The original wiring diagram:
In progress:
Finished — note the different switch:

Losing My America

So, there’s this meme.  I had a very visceral reaction to it – it’s the one with the drill Sargent from “Full Metal Jacket” telling us in no uncertain terms that we’re losing our “beloved America” to “goat humpers.”  Honestly, that’s just offensive.  Because of our country’s history of racism and propensity to name-call, I know who and what this is talking about.

Honestly, I find that I’m losing MY America to intolerance and hate. #ScarSpangledBanner #TrueAmericanHate (BTW, the most recent Testament/Exodus tour was freaking amazing…just saying) It’s not some Muslim insurrection I fear because of the Muslims I know, most of them have better values and place more value on life and peace than their Christian counterparts in my life. If it’s about “growing a pair and acting like Americans,” it’s time to establish what that means and I, for one, don’t recall this country being founded on the “values” of hate, bigotry and ignorance. Isolationism and freedom, yes. Being an asshole, no. Well, maybe…there’s plenty of historical precedent, I suppose…

For me, it’s not anyone from any other country, race, religion or so-called-creed that’s undermining and destroying the fabric of our country, it’s those that perpetuate that to be American, you need to be an asshole who instead of taking time to understand the cultural differences, choose instead to call names. My America is being destroyed by my government’s insistence on sending my friends and family overseas to kill a fabricated and media-amplified enemy when the real problem is who holds the petroleum resources and something that could, really, be negotiated without threat of violence.  We’re just not wired that way, apparently, because it’s the more difficult way to do something. It’s harder to accept someone for their differences than to dismiss them as different and “other.” I’ve said it for years — we need to stop listening to so-called “war experts” and invest serious time and energy recruiting “peace experts.” I, for one, don’t want this world blown all to hell for my kids because people have forgotten how or think they’re too good to use their words…

It says, “Wake up and smell the bacon.”  I do like waking up to the smell of bacon, although with my thyroid medicine I can’t eat it until a bit of time AFTER my coffee. This is medicine prescribed through American health care, taken with Swedish coffee, in front of my American built (except for the Singaporean semiconductors, Taiwanese case, Thai hard drives…), sitting on top of a Japanese stereo receiver (studio setup…long story…). There’s a point to this — everything is from everywhere. We, as a planet, are together on our ride in this compressed and screwed up span of time, and we can choose to live our lives finding reasons to hate and kill each other, or we can choose to find our commonalities and work towards making this world a better place…and there are VERY few exceptions where discriminating against or killing someone makes a positive difference.

It’s not the Muslim you need to worry about, it’s the Extremist — and that goes to ANY religion or belief. You also have to see through the media representations and perpetuated stereotypes. You have to care enough to take the time to learn why a certain people or person does something in order to understand that it’s probably not a threat to the threads of your reality and, more likely than not, is just as odd to you as whatever you’re doing is to them…

So, to wrap this up in a tidy bow, if you feel being an asshole is the most important American value, then you are the problem, not the person who is trying to make a better life for his or her family by coming to what used to be called “the land of opportunity,” but, now, seems more to be “the land of intolerant bigotry.”  Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Producing an Album for the First Time: Part VI – Lesson Learned

A Time and Place

One of the more significant lessons I learned was about…well, honestly, patience. The situation was clear, however, I just didn’t anticipate the disruption. The album had some tracks that were monsters, literally and figuratively, and when editing them on my original desktop setup, I ran into major problems with the CPU seizing and, sometimes, simply rebooting the entire system. It had enough and, honestly, so had I. Additionally, there was just not enough RAM overhead to handle some of what I needed to do, as well. Applying a filter would involve significant drive-grinding time as the virtual RAM disk swapped data back and forth for what seemed to be eternity. For reference, my desktop, at the time, was a 2.6GHz Duo-core with 12GB RAM. The problem? It was a Dell, so I couldn’t just swap things out – I had to make sure they would play well with all the proprietary nonsense Dell saddles you with so that your next upgrade will have to be through them, or be done, yourself…

Now, this isn’t to cast aspersions on Dell products, it is, however, pointing out that there are some proprietary things about Dell systems that will make upgrading a …maddening… experience. First and foremost, the chassis connection headers are not going to match up to any motherboard you purchase and hope to put into your Dell case. Why would you want to replace your motherboard? Well, because you are limited to the type and power of the CPU you get, should you wish to replace it. In my case, I would only been able to upgrade processors to a quad-core and only up to 3GHz. Considering the deal I found for the Hex-Core 3.9GHz processor, I knew I was going to have to upgrade my motherboard, as well.

So, it came to be that I had the motherboard and the CPU, but I quickly discovered that there was no way I was going to be able to use it without a new chassis, since the panel headers were never going to line up and there were a couple of important ones – power on and reset. For reference, I didn’t realize that systems wouldn’t even boot without the reset being attached, at the least at the motherboard header level. The one that worked?  After a couple of attempts, I settled on probably the cheapest chassis out there that’s sold by reputable dealers.  The edges of the metal inside the case aren’t ground or beveled so are, in some cases, lethal…  However, the power supply location allowed the connections to still reach the motherboard, something the more expensive models missed being able to do by scant centimeters, but very real distances that couldn’t be overcome by wishy thinking.

The problem was that this process took a solid week and a couple days to get a system back up and running and able to do anything moderately useful.  The REAL problem?  This was smack in the middle of mixing Brendan’s album.

My justification was simply that I had run into a problem where there were three to four songs that I wasn’t able to listen to, in real time, when I was mixing, because the horsepower needed was more than the system currently had.  Here’s the thing – there are two approaches to take here and I obviously took one, which is to up the horsepower of the machine so it can handle all the plugins across the multitude of tracks in the mix.  The other approach, which I would recommend, is to simplify.  If you’re using that many plugins on that many tracks, it’s probably time to change your approach – but I was so new to this world that I didn’t know how to execute that fairly simple process.

For reference, something as simple as setting up a couple of FX busses and sending your tracks to the single FX source will go a long way towards reducing CPU overhead and also make it easier to keep a uniform FX application across all tracks on that particular FX bus.

So, really, the moral to this story is that if you have a song or four that have 15 to 20 tracks, each with effects, and when you hit the space bar to listen and it starts stuttering all over the place because your CPU is seizing and begging for mercy, the FIRST thing to do is look into simplifying the overall makeup of the song either through the use of FX busses or just reconsidering all of the effects, period.  If you’re still running into problems, it’s tempting to upgrade your hardware. Fair enough. My advice?  Don’t do it in the middle of a time-sensitive project.  Really.  It was bone stupid on my part and something I won’t be doing again, trust me.

So you know, though, current incarnations of the songs have 40+ tracks, limited effects bussing and relatively no CPU taxing.  It also helps that system is now a bit more juggernaut-esque, boasting a 3.9GHz six core processor with 20GB RAM. So, maybe the bigger lesson, for me, was how to craft a better mix without being reliant on CPU-heavy effects.  Yes, they sound better.

Metallica’s Tone, Lars and Production

So, an article surfaced on the net speaking of a man who says that while he was working as a mixing engineer on Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” album, conscious decisions were made regarding tone by Lars Ulrich.  If you wish to read it, it lives in a lot of places, but the version I read was from here ( ).

There have been conspiracy theories, there have been musings, there have been rants, but one thing remains a constant – “…And Justice For All” is a solid, seminal album that shaped a generation of musicians and helped start the meteoric rise that Metallica enjoyed and, for the most part, has continued to enjoy.

Here’s the thing – I, for a long time, considered “AJFA” to be darned near close to perfect.  I noticed the drums sounded paper thin and there was no audible bass, but those were things that once I got a stereo and external EQ, was easy to take care of and I didn’t think twice about it.  Having started that road down mixing and production, however, I’ve discovered that one of the goals of a producer should be to deliver an album that doesn’t need external equalization, but will hit the listener with full-range, full-bodied music with a flat EQ.  “…Justice” just doesn’t do that, unfortunately.

The thing that I find most interesting, over the years, is how many of Metallica’s “bad” decisions come back to Lars.  I’m not sure it’s a 100% fair criticism, but I will say that his choice of drum tone on “Justice” and then “St. Anger” should be clear enough evidence to keep him away from the EQ knobs even regarding his own tone. His personality must be extremely overpowering to be able to push around producers to a point of having “this tone stinks” be countered, successfully, with “I like it, so it stays.”

So, there’s your dilemma.  You’re a mixing engineer, or producer, being paid a zillion dollars  by Metallica, and you have a mix that you think sounds GOOD.  Lars, the most vocal and, arguably, the most influential in this portion of the recording process listens to it and promptly says, “no.  I don’t like it.  Go with the other one.”  The other one is the one you listened to earlier and thought was god-awful.  So, what do you do?  It would be different if you thought any discussion would end with something other than, “I’m @#$%@#$ Lars Ulrich in @#$%^&@ Metallica.”  It’s kind of hard to argue with that, really, except that I would have to take the stand I take in programming, which is “do you want it, or do you want it right?” which, of course, refers to unrealistic deadlines imposed in the software industry.  In this case, my argument would have to be “do you want it how you want it or do you want it to sound good?”

I don’t really have an answer for this because, honestly, it *does* come down to the band signing off on an album sounding the way they want it, even if the producer disagrees with the production.  I went round and round with my wife on this very topic a couple of times because I would vent in frustration about not wanting to do something specific to the album I was producing, usually involving volume, and would just get back, “it’s what the artist wants and it’s the artist’s album.”  I agree with this…to a point.

It’s kind of like the adage, “the customer is always right.”  For the record, the customer is rarely purely “right,” but more than anything needs the feeling of validation that comes with being listened to.  The same is going on, here, when an artist seems to be making requests that would be counter to what the producer thinks would sound good on the album.  I’m just not sure how I would approach the situation with Lars, you know?  I’d love to have the opportunity to work with Metallica, and help shape that seemingly elusive next album, but wonder about how it would be to work with such strong personalities on their artistic baby.  I say that because “…And Justice For All,” “St. Anger,” and “Death Magnetic” all have choices that were made on them that I find truly baffling.

On “…AJFA,” the obvious questions revolve around the drum kit that when the album was released friends and I joked, “oh, he found his ‘Muppet kit!’” as well as the burying of the bass in the mix.  I have messed with the “stems” from Guitar Hero for some of the “…AJFA” songs and I can tell you without a doubt that giving the drums some dimension and bringing the bass up to audible levels makes the songs not only completely different from the album versions, but also come alive in a way that I think has been missing for close to 30 years.

With “St. Anger,” there is a certain amount of “where to begin,” especially when it comes to the overall “production” of the album.  I know they were going for raw, but even “raw” garage bands have a better sound that this album.  I also have an “A Clockwork Orange”-themed fantasy regarding Lars’ drum tone and just imagine him being stuck in a room with his snare on infinite repeat for hours on end.

Finally, “Death Magnetic” has problems from the ground up, as a lot of the “unmastered” stems that have circulated over years, thanks to Guitar Hero, still have audible clipping.  This is a problem.  There’s nothing you can do with it, ultimately, if the recording process gives you inferior audio to work with and if you’re mixing pre-crackly, pre-clipping guitars and drums, all the gentle mixing and avoiding being a participant in the “loudness war” will matter very little – you’re still going to have a crispy, clipping album that will displease the listener, much like Metallica has seen with “DM.”

You know what I think would be fun, though?  I think it would be awesome to have Metallica have a contest.  You know the kind of contest Metallica is known for – BIG, BOLD and OVER THE TOP.  What kind of contest, you ask?  Simple: Remix and Remaster their albums. This could be a free-for-all OR controlled chaos.  Honestly, in order to protect the music, since we know that Lars and the boys – rightly so – are big on this, have a buy-in.  For example, $10 gets you an albums worth of honest-to-goodness raw stems for the album…none of this Guitar Hero nonsense, no I mean straight from the Zazula archive, in the case of “Kill ‘em All” or Rasmussen’s for “Ride,” “Master,” or “AJFA.”  I’m not sure you really need “NMB” (James’ pet name for “The Black Album” was “None More Black,” and I always have found it more poetic…) or the “Loads,” as, despite what your feelings are about the actual music on the albums, they sound GOOD. That would then leave “St. Anger” and “Death Magnetic.”  Maybe have a sliding scale from $10 up to $50 to get a chance to reshape the albums that have shaped us.  At any rate, with a buy-in like that, it would cut down on rogue distribution, a bit, since there would be a list of who had what album, and so on.  Also, it would give added incentive to produce an awesome album because you would want the prize – your name as producer on a Metallica album, a chance, perhaps, to meet the boys, be flown out to wherever, have a release party and whatever else Metallica would feel like making it worthwhile for you to pay for stems and them to have to listen to thousands of versions of their songs.

Now, this is all just in fun to think about, but I think it would be an awesome opportunity.  Of course, my preference would be to actually get to work with Lars, James, Kirk and Robert, producing their next album, but I see that as being as likely as Jimi Hendrix playing live at my next birthday party…

So, in summary, there’s that line between giving the band what they want and giving them what they need and I’ve found that, in my experience, the big bands win.  I’m not sure it should be this way, but when you’re faced with, “I’m Lars, I like it, so it stays,” sometimes that’s how it has to be and when asked about it, later, you say, “Lars liked it, so it stayed.”  That said, I’d still love a crack at the next Metallica album…