cover photo

Mike Macgirvin

Learning to play guitar (again)

  last edited: Mon, 22 Sep 2008 12:16:12 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
The brain is such a fascinating machine. Whenever you exercise it and stretch its abilities for one thing, it makes new synaptic connections in seemingly unrelated areas.

I'm learning to play guitar all over again. Don't get me wrong - I've been playing for forty-some-odd years now and can play quite well.  But I play backward. Not just left-handed, but upside down as well. A few years ago, this led to a desire to play 'true' left-handed so that I could learn to Travis pick (fingerstyle).  The exercise didn't go as planned because it made me mildly schizophrenic. The strings were all backward - even though I was using the same hands I'd always used; and you've no idea how confusing this is. Depending on which guitar I picked up I could be strumming/picking and fingering chords either one direction or the other.

But after doing this for several weeks, I discovered that I was soon able to Travis pick backward - which I couldn't do before. Granted I only used my index finger and thumb, but it was quite dramatic. I no longer play with a plectrum (guitar pick) as fingerstyle sounds so much better. I've improved this style in the intervening years, and can play some awesome stuff backward, but once again felt limited as I wasn't using the whole hand to pick.

So a couple of weeks ago, I took on learning to play both upside-down and backward - or actually the way everybody else plays guitar - right handed. This didn't lead to the schizo problem I had a few years ago because both hands were now doing different things entirely.

The first thing I discovered was how hard it is to learn to play in the first place. I was starting over from scratch. For the first week, the fingers of my left hand were tender and blistered, and my right arm ached. It takes time for the ends of your fingers to get damaged and heal again - and eventually callouses develop. My right arm wasn't used to playing rhythm, it was always doing melody and complex fingerings.

Now a couple of weeks later it's starting to get easier to play and progress to barre chords and all the other stuff one needs to learn to play effectively.

But something changed.

If I flip the guitar over and play backward again, all of a sudden I find myself able to do a full clawhammer; the ultimate in fingerstyle picking. I've tried it before but wasn't pleased with the result. Now it suddenly becomes completely natural - as if I had been doing it for years. With clawhammer picking one can produce an entire orchestra of sound with intertwined rhythm, melody and harmony. I've managed to include everything but the pinky in my clawhammer, which will take a bit more work. It's really strange and difficult having your pinky beat out a rhythm on the bass strings, but I find there's no problem doing it with my ring finger. So now I've got four fingers actively picking out rhythm/melody/harmony instead of just two (and sometimes three).

If I continue down this path, it should be amusing to try a public performance. Start out right-handed and play something impressive; then flip it upside down and blow everybody away.
Another Perfect Guitar

  last edited: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 10:43:20 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
I've got this Minarik Goddess Special Edition guitar that I picked up to sell a few years back, and it never sold. So I kept it. It's really an awesome guitar, but I could never quite figure out why I didn't like it. It's 'meaty' (the best way to describe it). Not a speed demon. Should be great for jazz, rhythm, or chordings like heavy metal or ACDC. Beautiful to look at, exceptional tone quality. But it sounded like shit. I didn't do anything with it until recently because of this, and the fact that it was best left as-is as a collectible to hopefully sell some day. (Serial # 000025).

But finally I figured that it wasn't much good to anybody if it sat in the case year after year. So I put some decent strings on it, changed the neckstrap button to play it backward, and then did a setup (to match the new strings to the scale length). That improved things quite a bit. It no longer sounded horrible. But it was still lacking sustain. Curious because being so meaty you'd think that is where it would shine. The problem was the frets - big meaty badass frets that had been hand shaped. And therein lies the problem. The hand shaping left them a bit rough. It took a few weeks of playing for the strings to 'polish' both the frets and the intricate inlays and smooth them out. Now it sings like a bird. I can add it to the list of 'perfect' guitars that I've acquired over a lifetime of searching. It doesn't matter that it's 'meaty' because that's a quality that makes it suited for particular uses. No guitar is perfect for all uses. They all have their special qualities which makes them best suited for one thing or another.


Looks pretty much like this one,  except hers is left-handed. Mine is right-handed but I play it backward (left-handed). Don't ask. The answer will make your brain hurt.

Coincidentally, my Phoenix acoustic (which is currently showing in the main website banner) also has improved recently - although it was already near perfect. This was from a batch of guitars I bought a few years back that were all awesome except they all cracked and split. I've spoken about this previously. This one didn't actually split, but developed two hairline cracks on the backside (that didn't affect the sound or beauty). Anyway, I'm pleased to report that with relocating to a more humid environment,  the hairline cracks completely vanished! It's perfect once again, and as far as I know, the only surviving specimen of this incredible line of guitars.
Axes: Bold as Love

  last edited: Sun, 14 Oct 2007 21:21:19 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings

Took this composite. Clockwise from left:

Martin SPD-16TR
Martin Acoustic Bass
Phoenix VG-180
Gibson Flying V
Minarik Goddess SE
Epiphone EB bass
Schecter Scorpion Elite
Ibanez RocketRoller II
Turser Warlord
Epiphone Biscuit (resophonic)
Epiphone Les Paul (lefty-righty)
Turser ES (lefty-righty)
! (That's the name, I built this in 1997)
Minarik Inferno Xtreme

Visitors to Sonica (my former music store) might recognize a few of these.  Especially the oil painting of the girl with the violin, which hung in the center of the shoppe for a couple of years.
Aussie Power (Digitech)

  last edited: Thu, 04 Oct 2007 12:32:45 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
This is yet another informational post to save somebody a lot of headaches. It's about trying to convert a Digitech guitar effects board to work on native (220-240V 50hz) power.

In this case the model is a Digitech RP-12, which isn't made anymore, however this applies to most of the large pedal boards that Digitech has made in the last ten years. The actual power supply is a separate component that likewise isn't made anymore. They do offer a replacement (the PSS3), with an adapter (PS4BC) to fit the non-standard DIN power socket on the pedal board. These run about $110 AUD. Yikes. It's really a $20 power supply, and there's plenty of profit selling them for $20. I refuse to pay over a hundred. It's a freaking hobby transformer, fercrysakes.

It turns out there are reasons they charge so much. Nothing else seems to work. The ratings as specified are 9VAC, 2.1A. Simple enough. I can do this - yes?

Not quite. The commercial 9VAC wall-warts usually stop at 1 amp. A couple of months ago I tried to get around this by purchasing an adequate transformer and building a box for it. After much effort, I finally plugged it in and tried it. HUM and BUZZ. Loud and nasty. Not something you want for studio recording. I scratched my head a while and went back to using the original (110V/60hz mains) unit through a step-down transformer. No hum. So clearly it's not the 50hz that's causing me grief. I brought the original supply into work and put it on an oscilloscope to see what was special about the Digitech branded supply. Couldn't find anything obvious, except that it was a cheap transformer with a lot of inductance artifacts and the waveform was skewed a bit - pointy instead of pure sinusoidal.

So I took one of my 9VAC 1A wall-warts (that I have several of to power other equipment) and tried it briefly - maybe there was something wrong with my wiring. The 1 amp unit likewise gave me nasty HUM and BUZZ. I didn't leave it plugged in long enough to cook it.

There's no ground and no shielding in the Digitech supply, but I even tried grounding and shielding the lines to reduce the hum - no luck. I tried phase reversing both the primary and secondary (one at a time) in case it was phase sensitive. Nope. There's something obviously different about the Digitech supply.

Hmmm. Back to the drawing board. OK, looks like I just have to use the original 110V supply through a step-down transformer. It's the only thing that makes it work. I gave up on the project and that got me by for the last month or two.

Then last weekend, I turned everything on and the pedal board was dead. Defunct. After some probing it looks like the Digitech transformer just decided it was time to die. Open primary. This gave me an excuse to open the hermetically sealed enclosure to find out what was magic about the Digitech unit.  

Absolutely nothing. It's got a transformer and a fuse. Period. (And the fuse was still good.) OK. So I pulled out my homebrew transformer again. It's only a transformer. What's wrong here? Why is my solution so darned noisy? Why is a generic 9VAC supply so noisy? How do I get rid of the noise?

I tried to order a new 110V supply from the states (to save $50), but nobody will sell me one (even with the huge profit they get). They are forbidden from sending new Digitech products overseas. Even if it's a just a wall-wart that I need to make my old pedal work.  

So getting desperate, I tried a 9VDC supply. The logic boards work and the display lights up, but there's no audio signal at all. So obviously the audio circuitry requires AC. That's weird and I can't imagine what the engineers were smoking when they made that decision, but it doesn't matter - that's just the way it is.  

So I started trying different voltage taps on my homebrew transformer box. I went down to 3V. Nothing worked anymore. Not enough voltage to drive the logic boards. 6V, logic boards work, but the noise is back. 8.5V, noise. 9V, noise. 9.5V, noise. But now it's getting dangerous. Too much voltage can cook something. However, I've got nothing to lose. Right now it's all just an expensive paper weight. The absolute worst that could happen is that I'd be forced to buy a new pedal board, which wouldn't be horrible but the good ones run about $1000 here. Yeah, a new PodXT Live would be ok, as would a GNX4. But maybe, just maybe - my old board just needs a little bit more umph than they claim it does.  

So anyway I cringed (as one normally does when doing something that could end up being a thousand dollar mistake) and tapped into 10.5V. Bingo. Everything works, no noise, no hum. I breathed a sigh of relief. I finally found the issue. They lied. It doesn't take 9VAC, 2.1A. It requires something above 9.5, and probably about 10V for everything to work properly.

So that's the bottom line. If you need a replacement Digitech power unit, ignore the 9V rating. It won't work worth a darn. Get 10.5V (to be sure, since I don't have a variac handy to figure out exactly where it starts working).
Something about a flying V

  last edited: Thu, 04 Oct 2007 10:10:37 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
There's something about a Flying V guitar. It's not for everybody. Even fifty years after its introduction, it retains a small following in the heavy metal set, but still is a rarity. That's because the guitar makes a statement. You can't just pick it up, unless you intend to play it with attitude.

I remember watching patrons of my music store getting uncomfortable as they got near one on the rack. In four years, I think a grand total of three people besides myself actually picked one up to play. Everybody else went for something more conventional. Myself? I've got three of the things.

That's all a long-winded way of saying that I kinda' like this picture.  


I think it's Grace Potter, 'cause she's one of the few girls (OK, the only one) I've seen that has the cajones to play a flying V in public.
 music  guitar  sex
The things you can't live without

  last edited: Fri, 30 Mar 2007 03:59:28 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Currently camping out at home, with just a computer in one corner and an air mattress in another. All I need to get by for a few weeks. (I'll be arriving a few weeks before all our belongings land). I don't miss the TV. Spending a month without it doesn't even register as uncomfortable. But there's one thing that has me climbing walls. I've got no guitar. Don't think I've ever spent a month without one - at least not since about age 10.

So it looks like I'm gonna' be hanging out in music stores. Nope, don't need one thank you. I've got more than enough, and they're all hand-picked over a lifetime; better than anything I'll find here.  But I just want to play something for a half hour so I don't go berzerk.
 guitar  home
Strings and Things

  last edited: Sat, 27 Jan 2007 08:58:44 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
The waiter seating us at Chilis looked at me quizzically.

'Hey, what happened to the (music) store?'

Sonica? Closed it. Went broke. (Nice to be recognized though. I still run into former customers occasionally).

'When did that happen?'

It was almost exactly a year ago.

'I went there to buy some ESP strings last week and it was gone. Now it's a Chinese store selling crafts and furniture and stuff. Had to go to Guitar Center.'

Sigh... That's Castro Street. I was perhaps the wrong ethnicity to survive there.

So I know you change your strings less than once a year and don't buy anything else at music stores. That's one of the reasons why the store didn't make it. But really - you went twenty miles to buy a $5 set of strings(?). Probably spent $5 on gas. Starving Musician is right there(!) - about 500 yards from where we are standing, and I'm pretty sure that they've got ESP's. Haight-Ashbury (the largest Sunnyvale music store) is about a mile that direction and they've also got ESP's.

Oh well. Whatever. It's long gone now, the memories starting to fade. Can't look back.
It started...

  last edited: Sun, 03 Dec 2006 06:13:30 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
I get offers in the mail all the time. New credit cards, life insurance, you name it. But this one was different. Seems that now that I'm a pentagenarian (fifty-something) I'm officially eligible to join the AARP. Oh no! That's like for old people. How depressing. I guess it means that I'm not young anymore. If you're reading this at a much younger age, don't laugh. It's going to happen to you too.

Did you know that nowhere in the mailing or even on the AARP website does it say what AARP stands for? That's interesting. They just assume everybody knows. I was just checking for accuracy. Best as I can tell it's the 'American Association of Retired Persons'.

But it's interesting timing. This month marks the first time in about 6-7 years that I had more money at the end of the month than I had at the start of the month. So it's the first time in a long time that I haven't been 'living off retirement'.

Partially this is due to the fact that the advertising contract between Sonica Music Company and AT&T finally expired. That's $600 a month I don't have to waste anymore. (Sonica has been closed for almost a year now, so the Yellow Pages advertising isn't doing me much good). Next month the (postal) mail forwarding finally comes to an end; and also my last remaining account - Valley Yellow Pages; is due to expire. Thankfully it is nowhere near the AT&T monthly amount.

Then all that will remain of Sonica is a website or two. (OK 5, but who's counting?). I'll probably keep them running since they are reflections of and profiles of this site. I thought they would be useful community sites for Mountain View musicians, but there hasn't been much interest. Not like any of the other community sites are faring better - but we're finally up to 50 members. That's about two per website.

Oh, and I still have the signs. They're cool signs. Oh, and a bunch of cool guitars. And ... oh nevermind.
I'm in Rolling Stone! (Well sorta')

  from Diary and Other Rantings
So I'm looking through the latest Rolling Stone and they've got an article on the new Silicon Valley billionaires. Mark Zuckerberg is one of them. Started a company called 'Facebook'. I remember him. Came in to my music store one day after the n'th round of VC funding and decided it was time to buy a guitar. Nothing fancy, and nothing so cheap it's pathetic. Just something decent for learning guitar at home. I ended up selling him a $300 guitar and a $100 amp. We talked a bit about instant riches and dot-com wealth. Been there, done that.

Anyway, in the Rolling Stone article, he's mentioning that he doesn't really care that his company might be worth billions. He mentioned that upon becoming somewhat important, he made the outlandish purchase of  a $100 amp...

So there you go. I know it's weak, but it counts for something.
Lim Jeong-hyun does Pachelbel

  last edited: Thu, 28 Sep 2006 12:11:29 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Seems that I get about a hundred searches a week for this, so here it is.

Heres a thought..... I've spent a few hours poking around on Second Life. You've heard of it, I know, but I don't know if you've taken a look at it. It seems that people are setting up avatars and storefronts and selling things, and a prime commodity is music. Have you thought of putting some of your music up for distribution? And if not, or if you'd rather not take the time, would you consider licensing someone (me?) to sell a (small) portion of your 'inventory' for a (large part to you) percentage of the take?

there he goes....always thining of money again...
The stuff that's already out there has been in the public domain for free for so long that I can't fathom trying to charge anybody for it. That said, some new material is long overdue... The MIDI sequenced material takes way too much time to produce - and you're well aware that I've got other priorities these days. Overproduced pop drivel isn't worth the plastic it's burned on anyways. I think I might have to just sit down with a beat-up dobro and a six pack and let the tape run. That's what folks will pay money for.
A sucker born every minute

  from Diary and Other Rantings
A New York dealer is selling a guitar that looks just like one that Robert Johnson played - for $4 million. Oh yeah, Robert Johnson played it - presumably. There's not a shred of evidence to support the claim. Mr. Gruhn; the world's most prominent guitar appraiser - won't touch it.

OK, folks, I've got a guitar that looks just like one played by Mike Macgirvin - and I've got proof that he played it. You can have it for $1.5 million, and I'll get it autographed, with a notarized photo of the serial number with Mike signing it - for an additional $250,000. Not only will you save $2.25 million, but this one is documented.

Which one is the smarter buy? The second one of course. Unlike the first, you know exactly what you are getting - and it's a much better deal. Hurry, this offer won't last. Act today and I'll even throw in a hard case and a new set of strings.
So you wanna' be a rock-n-roll star?

  last edited: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 08:00:51 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
I thought it would be cool to do some internet searches for various folks that I used to be in rock-n-roll bands with in the late 70's and early 80's. Where are they now? Did any of them stick with their musical careers? This provided some interesting results -

2 are in county lockups

1 in federal penitentiary

1 on death row

1 is a registered 'extremely dangerous sexual predator'

4 are dead

Spooky... Oh, but there's a bright side -

1 runs a small computer business in Costa Rica
Lester Polsfuss

  last edited: Sat, 29 Apr 2006 03:56:25 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Rock and Roll wouldn't quite be the same. That is if the top-selling electric guitar of all time was the Lester Polsfuss. Can you imagine Jimmy Page rocking out on a vintage Lester Polsfoss? In case you're not catching on, Lester Polsfoss now uses his stage name instead of his real name. His stage name is 'Les Paul'. Although for a while before he became a runaway success on the jazz circuit he was known in hillbilly circles as 'Rhubarb Red'. Now that's a guitar name.

Les Paul indeed...


By the way, that gal holding the white SG Custom isn't really Mary Ford either. Her name is Iris Colleen Summers, aka Iris Hatfield (or Colleen Summers). They divorced in the early 60's. No doubt she got tired of living a lie. Les Paul and Mary Ford never really existed. It was all a fantasy life created by Lester Polsfuss and Iris Summers.
Guitar - An American Life

  last edited: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 03:36:23 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Currently reading "Guitar - An American Life" by Tim Brookes. Believe I mentioned this book several months or a year ago. It was on my must read list, so when I spotted it at Borders it was an easy sale - despite the torn cover.  

I was expecting a historical treatise of the guitar and its construction. I'm pretty big on technical books. What year was the X-brace invented? Instead what I found was a historical treatise of music in America. What happened in American music in the last four centuries which led to the guitar becoming the most widely played musical instrument ever? It was an odd mish-mash of the importation of Hawaiian culture combined with the rise of radio combined with recordings of local blues music providing unexpected income during the great depression. Who invented 'country music' and why? And how did fretted instruments completely change the composition of American music? The answers are quite interesting.

Very highly recommended.