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?

Building my own guitar

I’ve been wanting to build my own guitar as a project for a while now… at least since high school. So now, I finally had the time and resources to do it!

Keep in mind I haven’t soldered much outside of fixing my old Thinkpad Yoga laptop 2 years ago, so I had to find a ’72 Telecaster Thinline wiring diagram and solder it up. Here are the components:

-Fender Lonestar Deluxe Stratocaster neck (70s style, Maple, 22 frets, Modern C shape)
-Pots, Caps, Switches etc from Emerson
Warmoth Body (Cherry Sunburst, Tremolo Bridge, ‘F’ hole, humbucker pickguard)
Lollar Pickups Lollartron Neck model (4.4k)
Lindy Fralin Twangmaster Bridge model (8600 turns)

I was really interested to see the combination of a Filtertron style pickup (the Lollartron) with a Wide Range Humbucker style pickup (the Fralin Twangmaster) to see what that combination would sound like. I don’t know of any production guitars that combines those two.

For reference, here is a list of all the different production pickups in order of increasing strength:

Single Coil:

-Strat style single coil (used by Fender Stratocaster, Telecasters etc this the most common single coil design)

Strat style single coils
Strat style single coils

-Lipstick style pickups (used by Danelectro guitars and a few others)

Lipstick style pickups
Lipstick style pickups

-Charlie Christian pickups (used by Charlie Christian’s Gibson)

Charlie Christian style pickups
Charlie Christian style pickups

-Jazzmaster pickups (used by Fender Jazzmasters)

Jazzmaster Pickup
Jazzmaster Pickup

-DeArmond / Dynasonic (used by Gretsch guitars)

Dynasonic Pickups
Dynasonic Pickups

-Gibson P90 (used by Gibson guitars)

Gibson P90 Pickups
Gibson P90 Pickups

-Blade style / stacked single coils (usually noise cancelling single coil alternatives to humbuckers)

Joe Barden bladed pickups
Joe Barden bladed pickups

Humbuckers (dual coil hum-cancelling pickups)

-Filtertron (used by Gretsch guitars)

Gretsch Filtertron
Gretsch Filtertron

-Wide Range Humbuckers (used by the ’72 Fender Telecasters)

Fender Wide Range Humbucker
Fender Wide Range Humbucker

-Gibson PAF style (used on Gibson Les Pauls, SGs etc this is the most common style of humbucker)

Gibson Burstbuckers
Gibson Burstbuckers

Anyways thats alot of different styles but I chose to combine the unique Filtertron style with the Fender WRH style…

Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar
Building a custom guitar

…And the results speak for themselves!

Oh, and I’m now finished porting my Java based stock simulator (such a hassle to download csv’s from the deprecated Google Finance API and install a JVM on the computer to run) to React/Node so now it has a complete graphical UI and fetches in real-time. Which is nice, but it still needs stock index fetching capability. Github repo link here check it out.

… and also had enough time to make a video about all my UMPC gadgets! yay!

My interest in guitar, Top 100 Greatest Electric Guitarists of All Time

Well, after all these ranking lists (like the 100 greatest NBA players ever), its time to talk about guitarists because well, I’m a guitarist and I’m self-taught so I’m influenced by a lot of different guitar players, and I want to make a list of the top 100 electric guitarists who I think are the best.

Beginnings
I started playing guitar after high school when I was 15. I remember starting with acoustic guitar, but then hearing a classmate play electric guitar was amazing, the first time I heard it, I thought wow I really want to have a tone like that. So my first guitar was a starter guitar package by Behringer back in 2005. I practiced for 2-3 hours every day after high school, so much so that my mom at one time (being a strict Chinese mother), locked away my guitar and laptop because she was so worried about me not studying. I played in two coffee houses events at my high school, at that time I was hugely influenced by Jimi Hendrix (clips downloaded off of Kazaa) and Jimmy Page (I watched the Led Zeppelin DVD numerous times) so I started trying to play guitar with my teeth, behind my back, behind my head etc for showmanship. This got me a lot of fans in my high school, and the first time I performed at the freshman talent show at the University of Toronto, I put on a display by doing all those tricks while playing Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. I would play in several battle of the band type shows after that, but haven’t really done many public performances since.

Influences
I had a few bands in high school and university, but didn’t perform that often. I played once in Barrie, Canada at a show and performed with university friends at a show at my university, but thats about it. 2005-2007 I was hugely influenced by blues and rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Page, then started playing piano in 2008, and was influenced by classical composers like Chopin and Liszt. Around 2009 I bought an acoustic and started to play more pop songs. I was hugely influenced by John Mayer, my favorite contemporary electric guitarist. Around 2010 I was obsessed with the Beatles and played a lot of Beatles songs, 2012 John Mayer’s Born and Raised came out and I was quite influenced by that as well. And from then on I played a mix of pop/rock/fusion/jazz songs whatever I like to listen to, I like to play. Recently I’ve been quite into jazz guitar, the likes of Larry Carlton, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and finger picking styles used by Chet Atkins.

Gear

My guitar of choice was and still is, the Fender Stratocaster. I first started with a Behringer beginner guitar in 2005 (which I painted to look like Hendrix’s Monterey strat sometime in 2006), then 2006 moved onto a G&L Tribute S500. Around 2009, I got myself an Ovation acoustic, my first acoustic guitar. Around 2010 I got myself a Fender Roadworn Stratocaster and swapped out the pickups first for Tonerider pickups (quite good value), then for actual handwound pickups from a guy in Virginia (Rumpelstiltskin Pickups). In 2012, I bought myself a really good acoustic guitar, the Martin OMJM. Then in 2014, I bought a Gretsch White Penguin. In 2015 I bought a Boho Moonshine (unique oil can guitar). You can see these in all my Youtube videos. But I think out of all my guitars, I will keep just the Fender and the Martin, those are the ones I play the most.

As for Amplifiers, of course I prefer tube amps like many people, but more specifically small Class A vintage style tube amps for their nice clean tone and easy breakup and portability. In 2005 I started with the Behringer practice amp, then in 2006 got a Vox Valvetronix 30, which was also a solid state amp but had a pre-amp tube to simulate tube power. In 2009, I got my first Tube amp, a Class A Epiphone Valve Jr, but the tone wasn’t to my liking, so in 2010 I switched to a Traynor YCV40 which is an actual Class AB big Tube amp which in 2011 I swapped out the speakers for Celestion Alnico Blues to make it more vintage and clean sounding. In 2012, I bought a Swart Atomic Jr, which is still the amp I use today. It’s perfect, small, portable, hand-wired class A tube amp that only weighs 14lbs and has a built in reverb which is nice.

I’m not going to talk too much about pedals, because I’ve used so many. But I have owned various pedals from Digitech, Boss, Electro Harmonix, BBE, Visual Sound (now Truetone), Dunlop, etc. Since 2014, I have used mostly boutique pedals from the likes of Xotic, Maxon, Keeley, Wampler, Seymour Duncan, Catalinbread.

Top 100 Greatest Electric Guitarists of all time
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
3. Eric Clapton
4. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
5. Jeff Beck
6. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan
8. B.B King
9. Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)
10. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
11. Pete Townshend (The Who)
12. George Harrison (The Beatles)
13. Chuck Berry
14. Duane Allman (Allman Brothers)
15. Albert King
16. Freddie King
17. Charlie Christian
18. Les Paul
19. Chet Atkins
20. Slash (Guns N Roses)
21. Carlos Santana
22. Frank Zappa
23. Buddy Guy
24. Buddy Holly
25. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
26. Brian May (Queen)
27. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)
28. Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne)
29. John Lee Hooker
30. Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones)
31. Muddy Waters
32. Rory Gallagher
33. Johnny Winter
34. Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac)
35. Wes Montgomery
36. Michael Bloomfield
37. Otis Rush
38. Dick Dale
39. Prince
40. Angus Young (AC/DC)
41. The Edge (U2)
42. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
43. Dimebag Darrell (Pantera)
44. Yngwie Malmsteen
45. Larry Carlton
46. Gary Moore
47. Roy Buchanan
48. John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
49. Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
50. Hank Marvin
51. Ry Cooder
52. Eric Johnson
53. Joe Satriani
54. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
55. Joe Walsh (The Eagles)
56. Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
57. Stephen Stills (Crosby Stills & Nash)
58. Carl Perkins
59. Allan Holdsworth
60. Alex Lifeson (Rush)
61. John Petrucci (Dream Theater)
62. Robin Trower (Procol Harlum)
63. Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)
64. Scotty Moore (Elvis)
65. Dicky Betts (Allman Brothers)
66. Elmore James
67. Steve Cropper
68. Tom Morello (Rage against the machine)
69. Link Wray
70. Steve Vai
71. Neil Young
72. James Burton
73. Johnny Ramone (The Ramones)
74. Bo Diddly
75. Albert Collins
76. Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
77. Duane Eddy
78. Robby Krieger (The Doors)
79. Johnny Marr (The Smiths)
80. John McLaughlin
81. Eddie Hazel (Parliament/Funkadelic)
82. James Hetfield (Metallica)
83. Kirk Hammett (Metallica)
84. Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)
85. Steve Howe (Yes)
86. Mike Rutherford (Genesis)
87. Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
88. Robben Ford
89. George Benson
90. John Mayer
91. Mark Tremonti (Creed)
92. J.J Cale
93. Peter Frampton
94. Paul Kossoff
95. Jason Becker
96. Steve Morse
97. Zack Wylde
98. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
99. Joe Bonamassa
100. Ted Nugent