Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tools of the trade

I take a lot of things with me when I play a gig. Well, I think I do. If I'm using an electric guitar I take a guitar (or two) along with an amplifier (obviously!) and several leads (you've got to have some spares haven't you?) along with effect pedals if needed; I also take some tools (screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters etc) along with things like spare fuses and valves. I've only got one acoustic guitar so as there's no spare for that I always make sure that I've got plenty of strings with me - mind you I take plenty of strings with me even when I've got a spare guitar. Part of this neurotic attention to detail is probably that I'm neurotic (!) while the rest is the ever-popular 'if I take it, I won't need it' syndrome - a bit like thinking that if you take an umbrella with you it won't rain... and normally that line of thinking seems to work, as I rarely need to use any of the myriad spares that I take with me. I'd like to think that I look after my equipment, and generally I try keep everything in good working order - which is why when something does go wrong it comes as something of a shock...

I was halfway through my solo in 'Maggie May' (the first song of The Uppercut's second set at The Halfway House in Rickmansworth) on Friday night when a very strange sound came from my amplifier - a kind of spitting, crackling noise which lasted a few seconds then stopped. On the one hand I was pleased that it had stopped, on the other hand I was somewhat dismayed to find that everything had stopped and no sound whatsoever was forthcoming. Not good. Worse still, the little red light on the top on my amplifier (a Fender Blues Deville in case you were wondering) had gone off. Not good at all. I took my guitar off as the rest of the band ground to a halt; I made a quick 'erm, my amplifier's gone wrong' announcement, and then made myself concentrate on the optimistic thought that 'it must be the fuse' - which was 'optimistic' because that was pretty much the only thing that I knew how to fix...
As I undid the screw on the plug I wondered what I would do if changing the fuse didn't solve the problem; when it didn't solve the problem I swore a bit. Quite a bit if I remember rightly. When that didn't make the amplifier work it was time for another approach. In one of the compartments in the top part of my toolbox (which is so unfeasibly large that I can also keep all the leads and pedals in it) were some other, smaller fuses. I remembered buying them from Maplin in Uxbridge, ooh, 15 years ago, maybe more, they're for the fuse that's inside the back of the amplifier where the valves are. I'd better try that one then.
I took the fuse out of the amplifier and held it up to the light. It's one of these little glass ones that you can see through, and even through the tinted glasses that I wear when I'm gigging I could see that the wire in the fuse had broken - in other words it had blown. Great. I'll replace it and then we're back in business - provided of course that there isn't a fault somewhere in the amplifier and it blows the replacement fuse. If that happens then we're in trouble.
As I went to switch the amp back on I looked around to the rest of the band, all of whom were looking at me with what I took to be a mixture of apprehension and optimism; I said something like 'as Dave Allen would probably have said, if you have a God then hope that he is with you now' and switched the amp back on. The red light lit up, a beautiful sight. I waited a few seconds... it was still on. Now the moment of truth - try the guitar... I thought it crackled a bit, but maybe that was just me. The red light was still on. Good.
We debated what to do next, eventually reaching the slightly bizarre decision that we should restart the song from the guitar solo rather than from the beginning. So we did. The guitar sounded great, better than before. Surely a fuse can't make any difference to the sound? Of course it can't.
'That was a good fuse that you put in there' said Roger cheerily. We'd finished a fine show and were feeling great. He went on to say that he thought the guitar had sounded better than before the fuse had blown. I told him that I thought it sounded good too. Strange. I looked at the control panel on the top of the amplifier. The volume was higher than I'd had it earlier in the evening. A lot higher. I must have knocked it when I was leaning over it to change the fuse. So that's why it sounded better!

I was in the shop all day yesterday and didn't feel too well when I got home; I woke up today with what feels like a bit of a cold. Bah! Still I thought I'd plug my amp in this afternoon to see how it was sounding - it made a horrible high pitched screaming noise, and that was before I'd even plugged a guitar in! Looks like I'd better ring Roger the amplifier repair man in the morning...

In the meantime a splendid time was had at The Crown And Sceptre in Uxbridge (now that's something that I never thought that I'd ever write!) on Wednesday evening when Darren and Simon hosted their first Good For Nothing club evening. I met Esso from The Lurkers there just after 9.30; sometime after 10 o'clock Colour Me Wednesday played an excellent acoustic set to an increasingly appreciative audience. The rest of the evening saw slightly bewildered pub regulars recoiling in confusion as their requests for tracks from the likes of Pink were met with replies along the lines of 'sorry we haven't got anything by them'; Esso and myself were approached by a less-than-sober chap who asked us to feel his biceps (I'm not making this up, honest) and when the music was over the pub guv'nor seemed optimistic about upcoming Wednesday gatherings, which should hopefully bode well for the future. This week Scott from Balcony Shirts is playing an acoustic set, aided and abetted by at least one other member of the shop staff. It should be fun.

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