Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Ironbird Project

Since I'm running a blog now, I figured this would be a great time to talk about my guitar restoration project. I'm in the middle of restoring a BC Rich NJ Series Ironbird. My obsession with BC Rich guitars drove me to seeking down an Ironbird model a few years ago, no matter the condition. The one I came across happened to be a very poorly mistreated model, and was in desperate need of a teardown and redo.

Quick story about getting the guitar: my wife and I were driving around one day, and randomly decided to stop by a music/pawn shop we were driving by. As I parked the truck, I said "I wonder if they have an Ironbird... yeah right." Keep in mind, that I've been looking for an Ironbird for literally years, with no luck. Obviously I could have bought one on eBay, but always for an outrageous price. We walked into the shop, and there was a wall covered in guitars, in a midst of a maze of amps and cabs. I look up on the wall of guitars, and sure enough - the first guitar in the lineup is an Ironbird. So of course, I looked right at it. Unfortunately, it was badly mistreated. It was covered in an awful spraycan black-and-white camo paintjob, followed by an obscene amount of clear coat. The electronics are a huge mess; only one pickup worked. Intonation was off. After examining the pickup and switch configuration, and the antique Kahler Flyer tremolo, I determined it's an NJ Series Ironbird.

A large facepalm followed.

The price - $150. I had to have it. It needed a good home and a restoration, so I had to have it.

I bought the guitar back in 2009. As soon as I got it home, I dove right into it. The first steps - tearing down, gutting, and sanding.

Fast forward to today - the guitar is still in the sanding stage, but it's because life got in the way. I had to put it aside to take care of other issues around that time. But now that we're settled and moving forward again, I'm pulling the guitar back out, and finally carrying on with the restoration.

Here are the beginning pics of the project.

How the guitar looked originally. Looking at the pics, the custom paintjob doesn't honestly look half bad. But trust me - the photos play trickery. The paintjob close up was quite atrocious.

The guitar, broken down. The spray camo left no square inch untouched. You can see how reflective the layers of clearcoat were.

Inside the trem cavity - the paint layers underneath the top and clear coats were still wet! These bits in the corners flaked right off, revealing the original red paint. This custom paintjob was just caked on with no time to properly set.

All the layers are revealed - factory base coat, factory red paint, custom paint base coat, and custom spray paint coats. Unbelievable.

The beginning stages of sanding. Fortunately, the contours and edges are very well preserved. Used BC Riches are notorious for having some damage on the many jagged points of the neck and body, this is not quite the case for this guitar. The sanding took a LOT of effort, as you can see.

You can see how much material has already accumulated on the bench. This was roughly halfway through. It only got worse after this.

These pics were taken in the summer of 2009, when we lived in Georgia. I had a house with a shed, which was my work space for this project. Since I no longer have a place at my home to work on this, I have to take the guitar to work and work on it when I get a chance. I'm very eager to continue this project, and it's hard to find a chance to work on it. So, progress will be slow but sure. The guitar is 95% sanded now, as you can see. The bulk of the heavy sanding is done.

It's getting there. Just a little bit more sanding. I'm having to use an electric rotary tool and a steady hand on the pickup, bridge and service cavities. No, the random piece of thread on the floor is not part of the project.

The next step: I'm having the fretboard removed and replaced with an ebony fretboard, with no inlays. I'm going with the professional route on that, since I lack the resources to properly replace a fretboard.

Check back for updates! This project is up and running again, after sitting stagnant for nearly 3 years. The final product will be well worth the wait. I already have a color scheme in mind, and will be ordering the paint in the next few weeks. As far as the electronics go, I haven't decided yet on the pickups. Should I stick with the stock NJ Series-era hums, or go with something hotter? I may swap them for a more modern pickup, since I want this guitar to be a crushing metal monster. I haven't done any research on that yet, so I'll touch back on that at a future date.

- Vhyle

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Vision Without a Voice

After some contemplation, I've decided to make Algarothsyum into a full-on instrumental project. A few reasons:

Right now, I simply don't have the necessary equipment to record vocals properly. I would have to record them in the same fashion as I did on the demo, which is pretty insufficient. I don't really have the resources to get the proper equipment now or in the near future. Renting studio time to record vocals is definitely out of the question.

I haven't finished lyrics. I have an extremely hard time conjuring up lyrics to convey exactly how the story unfolds. I have to be in a very certain mindset to write lyrics, and it almost never happens. My mindset to write the music itself in a post-apocalyptic manner is almost always there, though. I'm always coming up with riffs and ideas for mood-setting, atmospheric music to travelling the wastes. I severely lack in the lyrical creativity department. My brain works the best with sounds, not words.

I think that the flowing, melancholic atmosphere that the music usually provides, is easily broken up with vocals - especially death or black metal vocals. I know, if it's done right, it can be pulled off. Many bands have proven this before. But with the specific sound that I'm after, vocals just don't fit in, to me. I try to paint a vivid mental image of an epic wasteland landscape, living in it day after day, and dealing with anything that happens along the way. I feel that vocals tend to distract from that. Instrumental music allows the listener to have full personal interpretation, with their own mental image of what could possibly be happening in the music's setting.

Lastly, when I'm writing new riffs and arrangements, I NEVER think about how vocals will fit in. The way I tend to compose is progressive and instrumental in nature. It's just simply how my brain works when putting new music together. It's somewhat hard to explain, I guess. My brain is wired a certain way when it comes to music, and this is the result.

With that said, I think my music and its moods are plenty enjoyable without vocals. In fact, in regards to the "Spiraling to Realization" demo, I've had several people tell me they prefer the instrumental tracks over the one track that had vocals. Maybe I'm just bad at vocals? Who knows! It's all up to the listener.

In a nutshell: Algarothsyum has gone full instrumental. With that said, this will greatly accelerate the album's release. I'm projecting mid-May for the release.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Going Outside the Comfort Zone

Last week, I decided to do something a little different. I very briefly took a break from recording the Algarothsyum album, and decided to record a cover song. But it's the type of song I picked, and my approach to it, which essentially made me step outside the comfort zone somewhat.

I picked a track from the Soulcalibur IV Original Soundtrack. I went with "Gigantesque", which is the background music on the Tower of Remembrance, if I'm not mistaken. Ever since I started playing the Soulcalibur series games, one of my most favorite features of all the games is the musical scores. There's been many different composers over the course of the game series, but I owe them all gratitude for showing me a whole new level of video game music. I've always liked well-written video game music, but the Soulcalibur music reached a new level for me. So, I wanted to take a shot at playing it myself.

The particular track I chose is one of the tracks that sticks out the most to me, from the fourth game in the series. So I wanted to record my own take on it. What I did was listen to the track in Windows Media Player, and at times, utilized the variable playback rate feature. I slowed the song down on a few sections, so I could hear exactly what was being played. This of course wasn't necessary for the whole song, though, but it came in handy for the very beginning riff, for example. I listened to the song, repeating sections at a time, and transcribing the music in GuitarPro. I went with using 4 guitars to capture what was being played. 2 guitars simply wouldn't be enough, and would yield a pretty simplistic cover, which I didn't want to do. I wanted to challenge myself more, by transcribing a 4-guitar arrangement and recording it in the same fashion.

Naturally, it contains quite a bit of counterpoint (which is a term in music theory, which I'll explain in a future lesson/post). Recording each guitar track, sections at a time, proved to be a pretty hefty task. Even though I recorded along to a click track (which I always do), it still proved to be a bit trick to keep each note and riff perfectly in sync. Another issue is keeping perfectly in tune during recording, with 3 other guitars. In the recording, there's a few bends and notes that are slightly off. I realize this, but I decided to leave them as they are. Normally I wouldn't do that, but this is my first attempt at recording something like this, so I didn't think being obsessive about such details was necessary. The final product came out pretty well, I think.

Mixing four intertwining electric guitars is also definitely challenging. Even though each guitar was recorded at the same input levels, the volumes sounded like they fluctuated constantly, when compared to each other. I think that could partially be an illusion. Certain notes in harmonies can always seem to be louder than other notes within that same harmony - this is no different, especially with a "busy" piece such as this one. So I had to increase and decrease levels, riff by riff, to achieve a better balance. It's still not perfect, but as I said before, I wasn't shooting for perfection on this.

Finally, I added drums to it - programmed, of course. I went with a basic kit, and programmed some run-of-the-mill metal drumming. Nothing spectacular or original; just something to complement the piece in a metal fashion. Including the particularly black metal-sounding outro. I couldn't resist!

No effects were used anywhere; there was no point. Just 4 guitars, a drum track and level adjustments. That's all.

I probably babbled on a little too much about this one recording, but I felt like sharing anyway because this is my first attempt at recording something like this. To summarize: it was definitely challenging, but rewarding. I fully intend on recording more songs like this. The lesson here is to not be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone as a musician. It's an old mantra, I know, but I can't stress it enough. If you do something that's unusual to you, and have a positive experience doing it, you WILL greatly benefit from it. I promise. Whether the end result is good or bad, you'll get something out of it that will only solidify your abilities as a musician.

You can hear the cover on SoundCloud and YouTube. Feel free to comment on this recording!