My Ibanez Jem 555 switch-job: out with the Lo-TRS II – in with an original Floyd Rose Tremolo as replacement

So, about 8 weeks ago I saw a used Ibanez Jem 555 in my music shop and as luck would have it I was actually looking to buy one.
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It looked old, had some stains on the hardware and the original Lo-TRS II tremolo didn’t stay in tune face with ‘regular’ abuse, but it played like a dream and the sound was overtone-rich even without amplification, the neck resonating beautifully with the body.
The status of the trem wasn’t enough for my playing though so after I bought it I immediately researched options on jemsite.com: there was a Dremel solution to make an Edge tremolo fit but I wasn’t kidding myself to believe I had the skills to do this mod. However, an Original Floyd Rose supposedly was just a swap, out with the old, in with the new. Not thinking much further I went on ebay and bought one.

Out with the old was not a problem and I took the opportunity to clean it too…
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As you can see: quite some use on the old parts, the edges jaded very bad, no wonder it didn’t stay in tune.
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Putting in new strings with no springs and then noticing that my new strings had higher pull than the previous ones took some adjustments and time (as you probably have figured out: I am not a pro guitar tech) but the end result is worth it. The new all black block looks great, stays perfectly in tune, and sounds great as well:

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Review: Neal Morse and Flower Kings live in Hamburg, Markthalle 2/25/2013

I had originally planned to interview Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy for Backstage in Hamburg but my request wasn’t even answered. So I changed plans, spent the afternoon with the kids, arranged with the neighbors to take the baby monitor once they were asleep and then headed to the Markthalle.
I did catch the last two songs by The Flower Kings and with the little time they had they have intrigued my interest. I will definitely revisit and spent some time with their albums on spotify.
I had seen Neal Morse only twice before: with Transatlantic 10 years ago and with Flying Colors last September but spent lots of time listening to Testimony 2 and the new album Momentum as well as the newest Transatlantic release plus of course the Flying Color album. To make the story short: I think his style of composition is marvellous and his music has – at least for me – the perfect mix of rock grooves and catchy melody lines. On most songs you can join in humming the chorus after one listen and realize they have already crept deep into your melodic memory. It’s uncanny really, especially adding in the fact that the lyrics are sometimes not the easiest to digest or accept.

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(as always I took many bad pictures, you can find them on flickr)

From the opening sequence of Momentum it was obvious that Morse and his band – Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on bass plus the YouTube-found threesome of Bill Hubauer on keyboards, violin, saxophone and vocals, Eric Gilette on keyboards, guitars and vocals and last but not least Adson Sondre on guitars and vocals – were there to have fun and had no place else to be. How refreshing when everybody brings the energy, his A-game and is totally in the moment. I had watched parts of the Momentum live DVD ahead of the concert and was fascinated by Morse’s openness, gratefulness and the moment of pure emotion when he had to wipe away some tears after a song had ended. On Monday there were some close calls but the whole experience showcased that he chooses to be a musician 100%. And the audience thanked him and the band for this attitude, singing along, rocking along, knowing the music and it’s nuances. Weathering Sky‘s epic chorus made it into every last corner of the room and people were very happy to hear Thoughts Pt 5.

Advertised was 1.5 hrs Flower Kings, 1.5 hrs Neal Morse and 30 minutes Transatlantic. Neal Morse’s setlist (linked is Cologne but HH was very similar I think) was heavy on the new album and the arrangeur Morse took full advantage of the versatility of his band in order to bring the album sounds to life, from 5-6 voices on Author of Confusion to slide guitar to Dregs-ish feelings when Bubauer brought out the violin. Every musician had a little solo spot as well, so it was a real band effort. I am not the die-hard Morse fan so I admit there was one part in the program where I wouldn’t have minded two shorter songs instead of the World without End Suite from the new album but that is really petty whining – I enjoyed all the melodies immensely, Morse is right there between the Beatles and Frank Zappa. No kidding!

A lot could be said about the Morse/Portnoy partnership, I think this picture of the two says enough.


In my book the song Momentum is in a way a little bit about Portnoy…

And in case you are a guitarist like me and were wondering: Adson Sondre played wonderfully, playing Paul Gilbert’s solo in Momentum with ease and a smile.

The Transatlantic encore did surprise some parts of the audience and turned into a great party – aside from the Flower Kings’ keyboarder, all musicians were on stage at one point and they had a great song selection covering all studio releases.

A lot of notes, for sure, but again, few composers in today’s music have the ability to write hook lines as catchy as Neal Morse. If you get the chance, go watch him and the band for a great live show.

What a musical year ahead: Releases by KSE, Satriani, Soilwork, Adrenaline Mob, Sebastian Bach, Dream Theater

At one point last week I began collecting album release dates from bands I like and I have to say, 2013 is going to be a big year:

March 1st Soilwork
March 8th Bon Jovi
March 11th Amplifier
March 12th Adrenaline Mob
March 26th Sebastian Bach, Sevendust
April Spock’s Beard
April 2nd Killswitch Engage
April 8th Mike Tramp
April 23th Queensryche (with Geoff Tate)
May 7th Joe Satriani
May 27th TesseracT
June 11 Queensryche (with Todd La Torre)
July 16th Aristocrats
July 23rd The Winery Dogs
August 31st Bleu
September 24th Dream Theater
September 13th Sharron Levy
October 15th Trivium
November Dream Theater Live DVD

Plus Steel Panther, Flying Colors coming with unspecified dates.

Call me excited!

2012 in Review: Top 10 albums

Lots of music last year. Not enough time to listen to everything yet. But here it goes (see 2011 here):

  1. Flying Colors – Flying Colors
  2. Van Halen – A different kind of truth
  3. Black Country Communion – Afterglow
  4. Paul Gilbert – Vibrato
  5. Steve Vai – The Story of Light
  6. Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire
  7. Bend Sinister – Small Fame
  8. Tremonti – All I was
    And the last two spots I give to older albums I discovered and loved a lot this year:
  9. Steel Panther – Balls Out
  10. Sixx:AM – The Heroine Diaries

 

 

Review: Black Country Communion – Afterglow

This is a review I didn’t expect to write. Not that I don’t mind writing bad reviews or anything but I’d rather write about records that trigger some kind of emotion. And I didn’t expect Black Country Communion’s (BCC) Afterglow to do that for the simple reason that I am not such a big fan of the late 70s rock sound unless everything falls together. In addition, I had listened to the first two albums and thought, nah, not my cup of tea.

Long story short, Afterglow (Spotify link) is a hell of a record. Very moody but the perfect fall release. If you don’t know, Black Country Communion is Glen Hughes on bass guitar, Joe Bonnamassa on guitar, Derek Sherinian on keyboards and Jason Bonham on drums. Yes, one of these supergroups. What really surprised me most is that the vocal melodies and timbre of Hughes voice appeal to me. I wonder why he has never popped my horizon so far. He brings a big range to the table and is able to go very high which complements guitar and bass lines very nicely.

What also separates this release from similar sounding material e.g. Led Zeppelin (hey, I said similar, not the same. It’s just so you have a hunch of what this could sound like) is that the long instrumental passages are missing which makes it much more listenable in my opinion. While I appreciate a great guitar riff probably even more than anybody it serves the song when it’s not overdone.
Thumbs up!

Here is a snippet from the title track Afterglow:

And here a snippet from my favorite The Circle: