Back to boring everyday living again…

These days trying to save up as much money as I can to help purchase a place in Vancouver hopefully next year.. ideally I want to 1) get my mortgage down to $200k 2) leverage my current SF home to get a home equity loan of at least $310k and 3) save up at least $60k this year in cash.
I want to take advantage of the US dollar strength because $310k + $60k = $370k which equals roughly $500k CAD which is just enough to get a decent 1 bedroom condo in a decent location in Vancouver. Of course, I want to purchase a home back in Canada for several reasons.

One is that the US is not particularly friendly to immigrants and especially so since Trump took office, and I get harassed every time I go across the border, since I am not a green card holder, and the TN visa is not a dual intent visa which means I cannot apply for a green card on that visa. Furthermore, recent changes to the H1B, the only dual intent working visa, have made it more difficult for programmers / software engineers to obtain. This means that my time in the US is likely limited.
Two is that Canada is the place that I want to start a family and retire anyways. I have often said before after all my travels, is that America is the best place for working due to the high salary and low taxes and low cost of goods; China and Europe are the best places to travel due to all the history and natural beauty; Korea is the best place for nightlife and having fun; and Canada is the best place to start a family and actually live, since it has a combination of European and American culture, the tuition fees are lower, the healthcare costs are lower etc. And Vancouver is unique as the warmest city in Canada as well as being on the lovely West Coast, and having lots of Koreans (Long term workers not just students) there doesn’t hurt my future plans either.
Three is I want to finally be able to purchase my own place with my own money. I always felt like my SF home is kind of my parents home, since they helped out with 40% of the cash. I want to finally purchase a place all with my own cash and call it my own.

So I’m trying to save a lot of money, but of course this being myself I do buy some things still… among the things I purchased recently is the Milkman Amp 1 Watt Plus model. This is a Class A Tube Amplifier that was handmade in San Francisco so I thought I might support a local shop here. But don’t I already have a Class A hand-wired tube amp? Yes I do, the Swart Atomic Jr. But this one has more wattage (10W vs 5W), 12″ Alnico Blue speaker (vs the 8″ Ceramic in the Swart), built in attenuator (goes from 0.5W to 10W) and is better for traveling due to the tubes being covered (the Swart has uncovered tubes which makes it risky to travel with it, despite being lighter).

It definitely has more headroom than the Swart does. I’ve also finalized my pedal board! My pedalboard contains 10 pedals. I’ve gone through tens of different pedals in my career, and I’ve finally settled on this configuration (for now): (from first to last in the chain)
BBE Wah -> Boss Waza Tuner -> Dunlop EP101 Preamp -> Wampler Euphoria -> RambleFX Marvel Drive -> Keeley Magnetic Echo -> Xotic SP Compressor -> BBE Sonic Stomp Mini -> Hermida Reverb -> Boss RC3 Looper
Retired my Maxon TBO9 (served me well) and the Keeley Oxblood Germanium (might use as backup to the Euphoria), and had to get the Hermida Reverb due to the Milkman amp not having onboard reverb. It was a compromise I had to make, the bigger Half Pint model had onboard reverb, but it was also 5lbs heavier.

And I want to get rid of my Gretsch White Penguin and Traynor Amps, even though the Gretsch is a great guitar, it has intonation problems, and is still a bit heavy for my tastes. It’s definitely the best looking out of all my guitars though. So ideally I want to keep the custom Partscaster that I built (Fender Telecaster Thinline ’72 deluxe with Filtertron/WRH pickups) as my main jazz/blues guitar, with the Fender Stratocaster doing rock and blues as well, and the Martin OMJM as my acoustic doing mostly pop tunes.

I’m doing a lot of jazz guitar these days. I love it! Playing a lot of Larry Carlton and George Benson these days. And I also love that John Mayer’s new album (Search for Everything) has great funky jazz-type riffs like ‘Moving on and Getting over’ and ‘Still feel like your man’. That man is a genius. Best album for me since Battle Studies (Continuum obviously still everyone’s favorite). Here is my ranking of John Mayer albums btw (from best to worst) as well as my favorite songs from each album.

1. Continuum (blues/pop masterpiece) – Best song: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
2. Room for Squares (great acoustic pop) – Best song: St. Patrick’s Day
3. Try! (his best guitar album, great blues/rock songs) – Best song: Gravity
4. Battle Studies (more great guitar-pop) – Best song: Friends, Lovers or Nothing
5. The Search for Everything (blends all his previous styles + adds funk/jazz) – Best song: Moving on and getting over
6. Born and Raised (acoustic-folk pop) – Best song: Walt Grace’s Submarine Test 1967
7. Inside Wants Out (like Room for Squares but more raw) – Best song: Victoria
8. Heavier Things (some songs are great, others not so much) – Best song: New Deep
9. Paradise Valley (not many songs I liked from this album) – Best song: Who you love

In other news I’ve also been playing games with my friend, being bored a lot at home these days makes you do that. We still play Far Cry 4 a lot despite it being a 3 year old game just because of how amazing the co-op experience is. I think I have like 30 videos on Youtube of our play sessions together. I even made my own map and published it!

Other games I’ve been playing are the fantastic JRPGs Persona 5 and Yakuza 0. I’ve loved both these series (wayyy more interesting than Final Fantasy XV for me) so that’s no surprise. Also finished Root Letter (it was alright, but the ending was unsatisfying), and both Blazblue Central Fiction (love that series) and Steins Gate 0 (also love that series as well). Also bought Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Mass Effect: Andromeda mainly because both of them have co-op but both of them were letdowns for me. And of course still playing Hearthstone, which just released a new expansion (Journey to UnGoro).

Also looking forward to: Fire Emblem Echoes (3DS).. Akiba’s Beat (Vita).. Agents of Mayhem (PS4).. Quake Champions (PC).. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

And that’s the state of my life right now.. everyday work, go home and play games, and save money. Boring existence. When’s my next trip to Korea?

My guitar gear

I’ve played guitar for over 10 years.

Edit: In fact, I’ve also been recording guitar videos for over 8 years! Here’s a compilation of those videos since 2006 all the way up to the current year 2014.

I’ve played Stratocasters, Les Pauls, Flying Vs, even 12 string and double-necked guitars, but here’s what I have right now (Jul 2014):

The big news is that I got a Gretsch White Penguin a few weeks ago in immaculate condition. I love this guitar.

Gretsch White Penguin
Gretsch White Penguin
Gretsch White Penguin
Gretsch White Penguin

I’ve been wanting to have this guitar ever since I saw a Gretsch White Falcon being used in the anime Beck, and the White Penguin combines a smaller body with the amazing gold finish of the Falcon. How does it sound? I did a review here:

Here are my other musical instruments:

Guitars

Fender American Relic Stratocaster (custom)

Fender American Relic Stratocaster
Fender American Relic Stratocaster

I’ve been playing this guitar for about 5 years now. It’s a reliced Fender Stratocaster body with an American standard neck (not a vintage neck), with custom handwound Alnico V/III pickups from Rumpelstiltskin. Great guitar, nitro finish, I’ll probably keep this one forever.

Martin OMJM

Martin OMJM
Martin OMJM

The Martin OMJM is my primary acoustic guitar, and being a big fan of John Mayer, I had to have his acoustic sounds. It’s great. Electric Acoustic and with Englemann Spruce top – you can see it in action in many of my youtube recordings.

Amps

Traynor YCV40

Traynor YCV40
Traynor YCV40

Had this one for about 5 years too. All tube, 40 watt amp. I custom installed a Celestion Alnico Blue speaker in it, which makes the tone very very sweet with lots of highs.

Swart Atomic Jr

Swart Atomic Jr
Swart Atomic Jr

This is my main amp, it’s a class A 5 watt all tube amp including the rectifiers. It’s got an amazing amount of reverb for such a small thing, and a hot/cool switch to toggle between more highs and more mids. A great small studio amp that I can use for years to come.

Vox Mini5

Vox Mini5
Vox Mini5

I like Vox, my first amp ever was a Vox Valvetronic 30 watter, so when I needed a busking amp to go to Korea with, I chose the 5 watt Vox, which is pretty decent for a battery powered amp.

Pedals

My preference in pedals have varied greatly over the years. I’ve had Electro Harmonix, Voxes, Danelectros, Digitechs, Bosses, MXRs, Behringers, Dunlops, Visual Sounds, etc but here are my current pedals:

BBE Two Timer

BBE Two Timer
BBE Two Timer

This is a pretty good analog delay. It has two different delays which are both adjustable, and BBE makes some good quality, good value pedals. I’ll probably keep this as my main delay pedal.

BBE Ben Wah

BBE Ben Wah
BBE Ben Wah

While I’ve played Dunlop Crybabys and Vox Wahs, the BBE Wah is the best value for the money. A great sounding vintage style wah, at about half the price of a vintage Vox or Crybaby wah. Great pedal.

Digitech Hendrix Pedal

Digitech Hendrix Pedal
Digitech Hendrix Pedal

I’ve had this pedal on and off for a long time, since my high school days. Since I grew up idolizing Jimi Hendrix, it makes sense why I had this pedal so early on. It’s been discontinued now, but I still keep it as a pedal that does a pretty darn good job of recreating classic Jimi sounds like the Univibe, Octavia and Fuzz Face.

Maxon TBO9

Maxon TBO9
Maxon TBO9

This pedal is very interesting as I don’t use it strictly as an overdrive. It’s both a booster and an overdrive, powered by a miniature tube, and is best in combination with other overdrives and distortions. I use it mainly to beef up my tone, but by itself it doesn’t get a lot of distortion. But man, what a great tone.

MXR Modified OD

MXR Modified OD
MXR Modified OD

This is my main overdrive, and in combination with the Maxon, pushes the amp to breakup very easily. This overdrive is incredibly versatile, it has a 15db boost on it, and you can choose the 100Hz cutoff to shape the frequencies, which makes the sound totally different. Very versatile pedal.

MXR Custom Comp

MXR Custom Comp
MXR Custom Comp

You know, I’ve gone many years without using a compressor, and now that I have one, I can’t go back. The compressor keeps the same sound you have, but makes it more consistent, you just feel like someone just mastered your guitar sound in a studio. It can also increase or decrease your total playing volume yet keeping the overdrive constant, so I use it to play rock songs at a low volume. Great pedal, should have bought it earlier.

Boss RC3 Looper

Boss RC3 Looper
Boss RC3 Looper

I also had the Boss RC2 Looper pedal, and I kind of preferred the drum beats on that pedal to this one. But the RC3’s advantage is that it has 99 slots for storing your music, and you can hook it up to your computer to transfer .WAV files for looping, which is a great feature. It also records from AUX input.

Hardwire Chromatic Tuner

Hardwire Chromatic Tuner
Hardwire Chromatic Tuner

What can I say? It’s a tuner, it does its job, its a basic requirement for guitarists.

And lastly…

Casio Celviano Digital Piano

 Casio Celviano Digital Piano
Casio Celviano Digital Piano

This is my piano whenever I need a piano recording, and it does a pretty good job for the price, which was $800 when I bought it.

Tips on improving guitar tone, equipment

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

Alright, a break from politics for a while. Since I’m one of the rare Asians that can play guitar better than piano, some ask me for improving their tone on guitar.
Well, there’s several key guidelines to follow.

Firstly, tone is subjective. What kind of tone do you want? Hendrix? Metallica? Slash? Those all have very different tones. Personally though, my tone tends to go somewhere in between Jimi Hendrix and John Mayer with a bit of Eric Clapton on the side. Though I do play blues, it’s not the overwound, in your face, Stevie Ray Vaughan type. For this reason, I tend to play clean alot. Here is an overview of what equipment I use and what tips I can give people:

1) Amplifier: Your amplifier is probably what constitutes most of your tone. I recommend a good tube amp, because tubes sound more natural and organic than solid state, plus they can be driven louder. However, tube amps are pretty expensive. That’s why I suggest starting out with a solid state amp and then progressing to a tube amp. Good tube amps for clean tone include Fender Twin Reverb, as well as Fender Vibroverb, Fender Bassman, or any other Fender amplifier. Vox are also a good choice for that British sound. If you are looking for a more boutique amp, try Victoria Amp. I personally use a Traynor YCV20.

2) Speakers and Tubes: This kind of goes along with the amp thing. Speakers and tubes affect the amp, which affects your tone. Popular tubes include JJ Tubes, Electro Harmonix and Groove Tubes. 6L6 power tubes tend be a better fit for clean tones than EL84 or EL34s. For speakers, try Celestion, Jensen, Tone Tubby and Eminence. I personally use a 12″ Celestion Alnico Blue for my small amp.

3) Strings and Cables: Yes, the type of strings and cables you use for your guitar affects your tone. Use a good quality set of both. For strings, there’s Ernie Ball, D’addario, and Dean Markley. I personally use Elixir Strings because of their longevity and smoothness. For cables, there’s a bunch: Pro Co, Monster cable, Planet Waves, but personally I just use Fender cables.

4) Guitar: yes, obviously the guitar affects the tone. I prefer and have always used Fender Stratocasters for their versatility and gorgeous clean tone compared to any other type of guitar, but for clean tone, good calls can also be made for Fender telecasters, Epiphone Casinos, Gibson ES-335, Gretsch Country Gentlemens, etc. I usually prefer nitrocellulose finished guitars as opposed to polyurethane finished because the nitro lacquer is a thinner layer of paint, which gives the guitar more room to resonate, and therefore more tone. However, most new guitars these days will be poly finished, and the only way to get nitro finished would be to get a vintage guitar or a vintage reissue. I personally have a 1960s reissue American Stratocaster in sunburst with nitro paint and it plays wonderfully.

5) Pickups: Yes, guitar pickups affect tone. There is evidence that handwound pickups sound better than machine wound pickups because of their uneven wind and dispersed frequencies. Therefore, try to get handwound pickups, even if they are expensive. The big three pickup makers include Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan and of course, Fender. More modern pickups are Lace and EMG. However if you want handwound pickups, try Lindy Fralin, Lollar, Bareknuckle, Rio grande, and a whole bunch more of small pickups businesses.
Generally, Alnico magnets sound better than ceramic (Alnico II, III and V are most used for single coils). Either formvar or enamel wire is used for vintage pickups, and make sure they are staggered for your neck (ie. vintage radius 7.25″ should have vintage stagger and modern necks should have flat stagger pickups).
I personally use a set of custom wound Rumpel pickups, and they have been amazing.

6) Pedals: What I’m going to say is… try not to use too many pedals. Too many interferes with tone purity. If you are going to use alot of pedals, make sure they are true bypass so that they don’t color your tone when they are bypassed, and use an equalizer or compressor to smooth out your dynamics. A side note that analog effects tend to be warmer sounding than digital effects, but that’s just personal preference for me. It’s almost like a vinyl record vs a CD player. They sound similar, but the analog sound is created more naturally. You have many different effects makers today. Digitech, Boss, Dunlop, and most large gear manufacturers such as Ibanez, Vox, Marshall, Fender, and even Seymour Duncan. I personally use BBE and Tonerider (who also makes a great set of pickups), because they are cheaper, and are good quality. But if you really want the best tone, there are boutique effects makers such as Keeley, Fulltone, Teese if you really want to spend more money to get the best.

7) You: Most importantly, tone is in your fingers, so you can’t really improve this one with money. You’ll have to practice and get better, make sure notes have vibrato, smoother licks have legato, and quicker licks have alternate picking and staccato, and so forth. You can visit Ultimate guitar if you want tabs or tutorials.

And that’s it! I’ve been working on my tone for a while now, and I think it’s getting better and better. I will continue to post more videos as soon as I get some more songs recorded. I’m also thinking about getting a good microphone, studio monitors and mixer so I can do a professional video recording, but that will have to wait until my financial situation clears up.