More Guitar Talk (part II)

So I’ve just finished off an incredibly busy week. I haven’t had time to post here about it, but I did end up buying the amp I mentioned in my last “More Guitar Talk” post.

I called up the pawn shop that had the amp on Monday morning. “I was in there over the weekend and I saw an amp that was for sale, and I forgot the price, ” I said. I’m put on hold, and the woman on the phone returns with a jaw-dropping price. “It’s $200,” she says. I tell her I’m coming to play it, and head to the pawn shop.

I get there and ask to try it. I ask for any Strat-style guitar, and they hand me some off-brand strat copy. It wasn’t too bad. The action was nice and the strings felt fresh, but the pickups left a lot to be desired. Still, it was enough to run the amp through a test, and play it for a few minutes at volume. It sounded nice, even with their knock-off Strat. I bought it on the spot.

New Guitar Setup

I took the amp over to a friend’s house in the country last night so I could get it up to a real volume. I popped my blues backing track on, and turned the amp up to find the sweet spot. Let me tell you, it sounds nice.

One of the power tubes is on the way out on the clean channel, and it is basically unplayable at decent volumes. The tube has become microphonic, so the speaker rattles the tube, which amplifies the rattle, which rattles the speaker, which in turn rattles the tube, and so on. It does *not* sound good.

I’m looking at buying a set of JJs from Eurotubes. The ones I want are $56.50, so that’s not too bad.

I’ll post a sound sample later this evening, after I get back from grocery shopping. :P

Mike

Let’s talk numbers

Citizens Against Government Waste issued a press release yesterday outlining pay increases for House staffers:

Maximum salary: $156,848/year
Increased from: $153,022/year
Increase percent: 3.71

Congressmen are issued a Members’ Representational Allowance based on their district’s demographics and their distance from Washington, D.C. The MRA is used to pay their staffers and cover their office expenses. According to CAGW, the MRA for House offices ranged from $701,136 to $1,636,750 in fiscal 2004.

According to the Members’ Congressional Handbook, Members of the House are allowed a maximum of 18 permanent employees.

Enter the Constitution.

Article I, Section II
The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;

Let’s explore this for a moment. As of this instance, Census.gov claims there are 295,343,316 people in the United States. If we divide that number by thirty thousand, we arrive at the maximum member count for the House of Representatives– a whopping 9,844!

Exploring further, we can take the total number of people in the United States, and divide that by 435, the total number of Congressmen, to arrive at the average constituent count per Representative– an incredible 678, 950 people! Imagine that– your Congressman could be representing you and 678,949 other people.

So, we’ve got 435 representatives, and it is theoretically possible that we could have 9,844 representatives. Each representative has to have a district of at least 30,000, but the average is over 23 times that.

Let’s take a break with the numbers, and I’ll try to tie this together a bit. Those of you who know me from America’s Debate know that I am a conservative– at least I claim I am. I’m not one of those new-fangled neo-conservatives. I consider myself to be a real conservative.

I take a very literal read on the Constitution. I consider it to be the proverbial “rules of the game,” and I consider it to be the definitive guide on the role, function, and limitations of the federal government.

I have a definition of “liberal” and of “conservative” that is outside the mainstream, although certainly much more accurate. My definitions of these easy-to-apply labels start and end with the Constitution.

If you believe that the power of the federal government is limited to what is specifically outlined in the Constitution, you have a conservative read of the Constitution, and you are a conservative. If you believe that the power of the federal government is not limited to what is specifically outlined in the Constitution, you have a liberal read of the Constitution, and are by definition a liberal.

By my definition, nearly all elected officials at the federal level are liberal. They are willing to assume powers not bestowed upon them. This means that congressmen from both sides of the aisle are liberal in my eyes. Yes, I truly believe this.

I provide the background information so you may understand that I am not merely a liberal in conservative’s clothing when I suggest that we should dramatically increase the number of Members of the House of Representatives. I’m not certain of the number, nor do I have any effective or logical means by which we can determine the appropriate amount of Representatives, but I do imagine it could be quite high while still providing a substantial reduction in operating costs for the House of Representatives.

Back to the numbers. Well, the numbers we have. It seems that finding information on how much Congress allocates for itself is very hard to find for some reason.

We know that each office gets between $701,136 to $1,636,750 a year, so we can, for the sake of continuing, calculate that each office gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,168,943 per year. Multiply that by the number of Congressmen, and we arrive at $508,490,205– a half of a billion dollars. Add in the actual salaries that we pay the Congressmen themselves (base pay $158,100 = 68,773,500) and we arrive at the price of our Congress: $577,263,705 per year. Of course, that figure is most certainly off, but I’d be happy to recalculate it if someone can find me the accurate numbers.

Now, what could we do with $577 million. At the current annual salary of $158,100 per year, we could pay 3651 Representatives. Of course, that wouldn’t cover expenses. When calculating expenses, we have to consider that a dramatic increase in the number of members of the House of Representatives would dramatically reduce the workload for each Representative. If we doubled the number of Representatives, we would halve the number of constituents, halve the district size, and halve the number of staffers on the federal payroll.

Continuing with our rough estimates, expenses should not exceed $365,000 per year. A thousand dollars a day is a lot of money to spend, especially when you consider the following. If each Congressman was allotted $365,000 per year, that would put the overall cost of each Congressman at $523,100. At that price and using our $577 million total-cost-of-Congress figure from above, we can afford 1,103 Representatives. That is nearly 2.5 times the Representatives! We could increase the total number of Representatives even further by decreasing their salaries to a more reasonable figure.

So, with 1,103 Representatives, would we be better represented? Well, using the census figure from earlier, the average Representative would have a constituent base totaling 267,764– quite a considerable difference compared to two-thirds of a million people. In theory, that would mean better representation for the average citizen.

A congressman could definitely manage with a constituent base of that size with two staffers supplemented with interns. If anything, it would be a lesson in time and financial management. If they can’t manage their own time and money effectively, the likelihood that they can manage our money effectively is quite small.

We are under-represented and over-governed. Maybe this would help.

More guitar talk.

So, earlier in the week I decided that I needed some new blue jeans. I’m down to two pair after having degenerative knee failure on one pair, and a zipper misalignment on another. I asked Jaime yesterday if she wanted to head out to the Salvation Army/Goodwill stores to look for some jeans with me, and she agreed. I have to admit, I was looking for more than just a pair of jeans. I was looking for a tube amp.

See, Savannah, like much of the south (from what I’ve seen) is riddled with pawn shops. They’re everywhere. If you have something– anything– someone will pay you a tenth of what it is worth to take it off your hands, and in a less-than-comfortable retail environment to boot.

I’ll also readily admit that I’m not very experienced when it comes to pawn shops. I’ve been to maybe a half dozen of them in my life, and have never bought anything. They seem like semi-legitimized flea markets. I imagine that most of what they have on their sales floor is stolen.

Well, we did the rounds for about 5 hours yesterday, and I still bought nothing. No jeans from the thrift shops, and nothing from the pawn shops. But, I did find something interesting.

My main goal in stopping at the pawn shops was to look at music equipment. My attention could certainly be grabbed with a sub-$200 American guitar, or a decent tube amp. Who knows– I may even be interested in a banjo (I am in the south, after all).

My main focus, though, was a tube amp. I really, really want one! I’m coming to the realization that while I am capable of learning how to build a tube amp, I may not be daring enough to do so. Every website I see that discusses tube amps comes with a standard disclaimer like:

“Warning: Tube amps contain enough voltage to kill you. Several times over. Even if they are unplugged. Seriously, don’t mess with tube amps if you don’t know what you’re doing or you could die. Really.”

That means that if I want a tube amp any time soon, I need to find one that is (a) already built and (b) cheap, and therefore (c) used and (d) probably pretty old.

I was kind of surprised that the pawn shops don’t deal more in older amps. Just about every pawn shop we visited sold amps by a manufacturer named Kona. These amps look very crappy. Sure, they have a nicely polished circular faceplate on them, but it seems that they are junk. Searches for Kona brand amps at American Musical Supply, Musician’s Friend, and Sweetwater all turn up nothing. I would imagine that these amps are made overseas out of poor quality components, and yield an unacceptable tone. Any way you look at it, they are solid state, and therefore off the table for me.

I did stumble across an amp that I am actually considering. It’s a Peavey Delta Blues. I know, Peavey isn’t typically known as the best amp maker, although they do seem to sell a lot of them. But this amp really looks pretty good.

It’s a 30 Watts all-tube amp, using three 12AX7 and four EL84 tubes. It comes in a nice vintage-looking package. I haven’t actually heard this amp yet, and I can’t find any sound samples online, so it’s hard to tell if I’ll like it or not. Having played a huge solid state amp for years, though, I have a feeling I will like it.

My only concern is that the amp has a 15 inch speaker. Holy cow! I used to have a couple of speaker boxes that had 15s in them. They were EV Force15s, I think. Man, these speakers had some bass! It was way too much bass for me. I know that the tone I seek is light on the bass, moderate on the treble, and heavy on the midrange. So, I’m a little concerned that this amp’s single 15 might cause problems. The good thing is that the amp has an output so I can hook up to an external speaker cabinet if I’m not happy with the tone of the 15.

The other concern is that the tubes are reported to be cheap, unprotected, and to rattle at high volumes. As for the tubes being cheap, I have no idea. I’m sure they can be easily and rather inexpensively replaced. The tubes can be protected with a tube guard for about $26. It looks to be high quality. The tube rattling problem can be addressed for another $24.95 with one of these.

The amp was listed at the pawn shop for $349, I think. I can’t believe I don’t remember the specific price. I’m pretty sure it was $349. I’m hoping to deal down on the price. The folks at the pawn shop made it clear that the price on the tag was not final– “Those prices are just suggestions. Just ignore them.” I’m hoping to talk them down about 20%. That would take the price down to about $279, which seems to be about right based on other used versions I’ve seen sold. Still, that $279 is about $100 more than I can spend on this amp.

I’m a less-is-more kind of guitarist. I’ve been trying to work my “effects chain” down to nothing. I don’t need heavy distortion, I don’t need reverb, and I certainly don’t need chorus. I really just need a hot guitar with thick strings plugged into a good-sounding amp.

I went through and did an inventory on my pedals last night:

  • MXR noise gate line driver
    • Pot marked 1378013– made in 13th week of 1980.
    • Works very well
    • Good cosmetic condition (minor chips in paint, foam inside disintegrating)
  • Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
    • From mid to late 90s
    • Good cosmetic condition (minor blemishes)
    • Seems to work fine, just not for my tone
  • Boss CH-1 Super Chorus
    • From mid to late 90s
    • Good cosmetic condition (minor blemishes)
    • Why the hell did I buy this pedal?
  • DOD FX-80B
    • Origin unknown. It magically appeared in my collection.
    • Bad cosmetic condition (no battery cover, knob missing top piece)
    • I think it works, but I haven’t tested it in a few years.
  • DOD FX20-B
    • Origin unknown– another mystery pedal.
    • Poor cosmetic condition– missing battery cover, and has a piece broken off one knob.
    • Scratchy pots, if I recall correctly.

Yep, that’s right– I have an incredibly crappy pedal collection! The only one worth a dime to me is the Noisegate. It’s one hell of a pedal. Simple to use, effective, and built like a tank. This pedal ways about a pound, I’d say.

I ran the numbers, though, and I think I can conservatively expect $100 – $135 total for all of them. I’ve never sold anything on Ebay, but now is the time. I’m considering selling them as a “lot” so I don’t have to deal with a lot of hassle. I also might see if the pawn shop will take a direct trade.

If you take into account the cost of the pedals, that would bring the remaining cost of the amp to around $179-$200 or so, and that is definitely doable!

I’ll be calling the pawn shop tomorrow (closed Sundays) to see what their best price is. If it’s reasonable, I may be stopping in to test out this amp. If it sounds good, I may try to buy it.

Of course, this could all change. I’m going to scour other pawn shops, and check the classifieds for someone selling an “old guitar amp.” There’s got to be someone in Savannah with an old vintage amp and no clue as to what it is worth. I’ve just got to find them.

Anyway, all this guitar talk has got me itching to go fire up the guitar. I’m considering recording a sound sample so you can see that I can actually play. I’ll see if I can get the laptop configured. :)

Mike

American Idol: Not another one.

Fox has been pumping up their American Idol show again. I really hate this show. I hate everything about it from its annoying music to its obnoxious graphics to its awful, awful “judges”– and that doesn’t even touch the potential “idols.”

I read this article with a big grin on my face. Fox was scared that their ratings would slip.

Well, leave it to the masses to watch this garbage in record numbers.

Now we’re going to have to watch a whole bunch more of this show, for years and years. Thanks a lot, American Idol watchers.

With the current idol count at three, I don’t know how many more idols I need.

DIY Tube Amps

About four or five years ago, I stumbled upon the AX84 project. The folks over there have spent considerable time and effort in devising plans and schematics for average people to build their own guitar amplifier. They’ve got 8 designs ready to build/prototype, ranging from a simple 2-tube design, all the way up to a six tube monster that is designed around the plexi circuit.

I’ve been telling myself for a long time now that I would try to build my own amp, but I have either come up short on money or time and haven’t been able to do it. Now, though, I think I may be able to do this.

I repair computers for a living (well, try to, anyway), and I have a customer who is in his 80s. He knows that I’m interested in vintage electronics, and in particular anything with tubes in it. A couple of months back, he gave me an Eico amplifier, complete with tuner, phonograph, and speaker. He built the amplifier and speaker himself back in the 50s. It works, but needs some fresh tubes to put out at the level required for casual listening.

He also gave me a Hammond A0-15 speaker cabinet, which includes a massive tube amplifier. This thing has 10 tubes in it, and is quite the piece of work.

My plan is to gut the Hammond amp for parts, and use them to build my very own tube amplifier. It will take some time, and a lot of assistance from other people, but hopefully it will work in the end. I figure that using the parts from the old Hammond will get me more of a “vintage” tone when I’m done, but really, I have no clue.

I am really looking forward to having a true tube tone. I played my Ampeg VH-140C for about 10 years. It’s a solid state amp, and has way too much power. Who needs 140 watts? Certainly not me.

I replaced that amp with a Roland full frequency amp that I garbage picked about 8 months ago. It was broken, but a phone session with an electrical engineer friend and a bit of soldering fixed it up nicely. It’s a 4 channel amp, made for PA use or keyboard use. It’s pretty nice.

Right now I run my crappy Ibanez AX series into an Akai Shred-o-matic that uses a 12ax7 preamp tube for distortion. I picked it up for around $35 new on closeout, and it’s a pretty nice pedal. It can manage some good tone, but it’s not necessarily the tone I seek.

I play mostly blues, in the style of Buddy Guy or BB King. The guitarists out there are probably cringing at the thought of playing Buddy Guy style blues on an Ibanez, but for now it’s the best I’ve got. The other option is a Yamaha classical– nice guitar, but not bluesworthy.

In the next three months or so, I plan on getting my real guitar put back together. It’s a 1993 American Standard Strat that is currently disassembled in my closet. I had a coil on my bridge pickup break about three years ago (how I don’t know), and it has been disassembled ever since.

I have plans to pickup a set of Fender Texas Special pickups. These are the same pickups that come standard on the SRV Strat, and they offer a lot of midrange punch and a hefty dose of that beautiful Fender quack. I’ll be wiring that up to a Torres Engineering BluesKaster Wiring Harness. This harness includes a volume pot mod, a midrange boost/cut, and a tone pot called the “woman tone” cap. Out the door, I should be in under $200.

We’ll see how well this works out!

Mike

The new and improved food pyramid

We are all familiar with the food pyramid, technically called the “United States Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid.” Apparently, this guide was initially released in 1992, although I thought it was much older.

In its current form, the Dept. of Ag. recommends:

Fats, Oils, & Sweets: Use Sparingly
Milk, Yogurt, & Cheese Group: 2-3 servings
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, & Nuts Group: 2-3 servings
Vegetable Group: 3-5 servings
Fruit Group: 2-4 servings
Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group: 5-11 servings

The government released the new food pyramid today. Well, that isn’t technically correct. Even though Google News lists 157 articles summarized as “US Unveils New Food Pyramid,” it is clear after reading a few of the articles that the new pyramid will not be officially released for several more months.

Apparently, we (the taxpayers) picked up the tab for 13 doctors and scientists to get together and decide how much everyone should eat. The panel basically said that we should restrict transfats, eat more fiber, eat less salt, and– get this– up the fruit and vegetable count to 13 servings! Additionally, they have decided that Americans are too stupid to determine the quantity that constitutes a serving of certain items, and they are now recommending that the food pyramid should be setup for these items to use ‘cups’ instead.

The part that really gets me is the 13 servings of fruits and vegetables. 13! Now, I understand that is the recommendation for people who are extremely active– not for people like me who spend most of the day in front of a computer. But that still seems to be excessive. That’s 13 cups of salad, or 6.5 cups of carrots. You could opt for 13 baked potatoes, or over 1/2 gallon of tomato juice. Either way, you’re going to be eating a heck of a lot of food.

Add to that the fact that you’ll be eating up to 11 servings of the Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group, and you are consuming an amazing amount of food.

So what does the future of the food pyramid hold? Eventually, the Fats, Oils, and Sweets Group will be a mere speck in the pyramid. I imagine it will be something like this:

Future Food Pyramid

Buyer Beware: SOYO / Tiger Direct

I don’t have a lot of money, and I don’t make a lot of money. It seems to go hand in hand. So for me, I will most often only purchase items that I perceive to be an excellent value. This theory of purchasing has earned me the nickname of “the deal king” from quite a few of my friends (online and off).

I’ve bought a big box of Kraft’s newest food, valued at over $40, for $5 delivered. I’ve bought a very nice set of cold cathode tubes for my computer for $3 delivered (no, I didn’t need them). I’ve picked up up two office chairs that initially cost $120 each for $40 each. I’ve bought a $40 coatrack for $4. I’ve picked up 120 gig hard drives for $40. I’ve had dinner for two at Quizno’s subs for under $6– over 20 times. I receive over 15 magazines on a monthly basis, and I haven’t paid for a single one.

I am the deal king.

So, when I get screwed by a company, I do not take it sitting down.

An example:

HardDrive.com

They have to be one of the shadiest companies with which I have had the pleasure of dealing.

A while back, I decided that my computer’s CPU was running too hot. It is a Prescott, after all, and they are known to run hot. I decided to purchase some Arctic Silver 5, which is a thermal compound that is applied between the CPU and the HSF (heat sink & fan).

I searched my deal sources, and was able to locate Arctic Silver 5 for a steal of a deal– around $5-7 I think. I ordered it up, and waited for it to arrive.

Several days later, it arrives. I open it up, and it isn’t Arctic Silver at all! It’s some crap brand that, after research, offered little to no cooling benefits over the wax pad installed by Intel at the factory.

I contacted the company, and the gentleman (it’s a long stretch to call him a gentleman) said it must have been a picking error. He said that Arctic Silver 5 had since gone out of stock. The first thing that told me was that this company was willing to intentionally send the wrong product in hopes that the customer would not have the drive to complain.

He told me to head to the post office and send it back to him at my expense. Well, seeing as the item was under $10, and the shipping was going to be over $1, I was not willing to spend over 10% of the total item cost to make up for the incompetence of a company to whom $1 is a drop in the bucket. I requested that that they send me a postage-paid envelop to allow me to return the incorrectly shipped merchandise. They refused. I suggested that they eat the cost of the item, and simply ship the item to me at their expense– after all, picking errors are the fault of the company, and writing off product losses is a cost of doing business. They again refused.

I decided to call back and try to get another customer no-service rep. I called the “general” line. To my surprise, the very same person answered. I thought that was fishy, and I hung up. I then realized that this company also operates several other companies (Thortek.com and DieCastAutos.com). All of their phone numbers rang to the same place, and the same guy answered the phone.

Finally I decided to speak with this guy again, and told him that it was his duty to make the situation right. He informed me that since he didn’t like my attitude via my refusal to ship the incorrectly picked product back to him on my dime, he would not be offering any sort of assistance. No RMA, no credit, no prepaid envelope– nothing. Surely this is the sign of a scum bag working for a scum bag company. What a mope.

I told the person at HardDrive.com that I would be contesting the charges on my credit card, and he would be getting no money out of me. He challenged me to do it. Lesson learned– don’t challenge me.

That was enough for me.

I rang the folks at Arctic Silver. I spoke with a nice gentleman over there who was very interested in listening to my story. I explained it, and offered to send him photos of my receipt and the product shipped. He went well beyond the call of duty and offered to UPS me a *real* tube of Arctic Silver 5 at no cost. I was amazed.

He was very interested in hearing that HardDrive.com was scamming their customers. See, Arctic Silver 5 is the *best*. There is no better thermal compound I have found. Because they are the best, they have an amazing reputation. There are people out there who swear by Arctic Silver, and I am one of them. It truly is an amazing product.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

- I sent the photos of my order to Arctic Silver.
- 1 day later, HardDrive.com had disappeared. They were *gone*.
- 1 day after that, my real Arctic Silver 5 arrived, direct from the manufacturer.
- 1 day after that, a credit appeared on my credit card statement showing that HardDrive.com had credited my purchase in full.

I WON! Actually, this was more than a simple victory. This was a lesson to places like HardDrive.com that a resourceful individual could make it very uncomfortable for them to do business with their suppliers if they don’t take care of their customers. It was also a lesson to Arctic Silver– one they must have already learned long ago– that providing both an outstanding product and equally outstanding service earns repeated business, word of mouth referrals, and an excellent reputation.

SOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo……

Now let’s talk about SOYO. I hate SOYO. They are scam artists– have no doubt. A couple of Google searches proves this:

soyo rebate complaint
soyo rebate ripoff
soyo rebate scam

Yep, they’re scammers alright. Here’s my story:

Back in July, I purchased a SOYO barebones kit. It was priced at $179.99. According to TigerDirect, the product qualified for 3 rebates to the tune of $140. That means my out the door cost would be $39.99 + shipping ($15.57). A good deal, right?

Well, I’ve only received one rebate check for $40. The rebate form suggests that it will take 12-14 weeks from the time the rebate form is postmarked to the time I receive my checks.

As of today, it has been 22 weeks!

I’ve emailed them numerous times. I get generic responses like (December 1, 2004):

“We would like to apologize for the delay. Your rebate has not been processed. Please keep checking www.verifyrebate.com to check on your status. Thank you for your patience.”

So, I’m basically out a hundred bucks for now. That is entirely unacceptable. Tomorrow, I will be emailing them with my demands– 2 checks, $100 total, FedExed to my house. The email will be carbon copied to my attorney. That will hopefully light a fire under their butt.

If it doesn’t, though, I will be headed to the Chatham County courthouse next week to file a small claims suit against both Soyo and Tiger Direct (the retailer). Soyo and I have a contract, and it is clearly outlined on the rebate forms. If I make a mistake, the contract is void and they do not fulfill the rebate. Understood. But, if they make a mistake, the contract is still valid. Soyo and I have not mutually departed from the rebate contract, and they are therefore liable for the $100 total payment to me. Additionally, Tiger Direct advertised that I would be able to submit and receive three separate rebate forms. If, however, I am not able to collect the rebates as specified in the presale terms, the transaction is not complete. Tiger Direct almost certainly knows that SOYO is a scam of a company, and while I cannot prove it, I can prove that they advertised 3 separate rebates for this product. They are complicit.

So, we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been calling Soyo all day at 909.292.2500, but it is either busy, or dumps me to a voice mail. I may call their investor relations department, and let them know that both Soyo-rebates.com and Soyo-rebate-scam.com is available, and hosting is cheaper than ever.

So, here is the lesson of the day:

NEVER TRUST SOYO. NEVER NEVER EVER.

Soyo is a horrible company, and their rebate fulfillment is on par with Belkin (another horrible company for rebate submission– don’t get me started on them)

We’ll see how this works out!

Mike

So here we are.

A blog. I can’t believe I’m starting a blog. I’m sure I’ll get hell from just about everyone who has been the receiving end of my ridicule and mockery. But, that’s OK. I can handle it.

Anyway, this blog is not going to start with a long, drawn out introduction as I imagine most other blogs do. I’m simply going to welcome you to my blog, and thank you for reading.

So, welcome to my blog, and thank you for reading!

Mike