The Music, the Technology,
and the Philosophy
Connecting the Dots, with Rich Koerner.
Who is this Rich Koerner?
(Read Rich's Bio here)
Everything has a starting point, and everyone experiences them. I am sitting here at my computer heavy in thought because of an e-mail and a phone call that I received from Doug Roccaforte. Doug presented me with the idea of writing a column for his musicians amplifier magazine.
You could have knocked me off my chair with a feather as this was very unexpected. I remember picking up those guitar magazines when they hit the music stores in the late '60s and early '70s only to find that after a year's worth of reading that they were not telling me anything that I didn't already know. After all, I was a product of earlier days and had surfed the waves of the latest and knew where the music had come from. I had stood on my Fender in the thick of things with the musical currents running beneath my feet. You were on your own back then and it was sink or swim. It was a time when there were no magazines to help us players out.
All there was, was what you could learn from other musicians hanging around the popular music store or hanging out with the "in crowd" of musicians in the hot clubs at the time. But there was one really good music magazine I had gotten a look at back then and that was for the jazz musician. Yeah, Down Beat was a really neat magazine. It had the right stuff for the budding jazz musician. It did a good job connecting you with the jazz scene but there was really nothing that came my way that would help a pop or rock player. Looking back, maybe that was a good thing!
Hey Rich, how could not having an informative rock magazine be a good thing? Well, I certainly know the SOUND of the music was a lot better and more diverse when they were not around. That's for sure. But, let's stop and think about that for a second or two.
In the early '60s when we could jump in the car on a Saturday morning and ride all day listening to the radio from the top of New Jersey to the bottom and back again and find a lot more pop and rock stations than there are on the radio today.
You would not find many stations with the same style of delivery. You had jocks like Murray the "K", Scott Munie, Herb Oscar Anderson, Cousin Brucie on WABC, Joco Maxwell, Big Daddy from Sponge Rubber Hall, etc..... all of which, gave each station its own personality. Not to mention, the jocks played the records THEY liked and wanted to play. Yeah, they were free to do that. It was a different world back then.
In our ride listening to the radio we would not hear two tunes that sounded alike. There were no two artists or bands that sounded exactly alike. Nor, would you hear two guitar sounds that were exactly alike.
There was a sonic identity or sonic signature in the music. It was so prominent a garden slug could pick out a Jazzmaster on a Twin Reverb or a Les Paul with another amp. Each amplifier company had their own signature in the music and the guitars had theirs too. Do we have that, today? Come on, be honest here.
How did we start from a time when the sounds in the music were so different to wind up in a place where it all sounds the same? Some of you may find that hard to believe.
Here, try this little experiment. Go for a walk down the street and take a poll from strangers and non musicians. Walk up to the first friendly person you happen upon and ask them to describe what the electric guitar sounds like to them, as you were thinking of playing one and wanted to know how they sound to others and what they thought of the sound.
Do you know when I did this, the sound of DISTORTION was included in some of their descriptions of what they thought was the sound of the guitar itself. Wow, how did we come to this perception of the electric guitar sound. Could it be the over use of effects because of some sort of perceived musical dependency on them by the musician? Where did we get that from.
So, I have come to conclude that starting points and music magazines may have something to do with this situation.
Ah,... But, I know what just went through your mind. You are thinking that these are different times and the technology in the music is so advanced today. In the guitars, the amplifiers, the effects, the whole ball of wax, and.... you'd be 100% right in such thinking. However, that would be dependent on your starting point and how well the music magazine promoted the use of this technology for the music you had been subjected to.
You see, your awareness of the impact the technology has made on the music would not be the same as mine because of the difference in our starting points. We do not share the same awareness. But we can, and that may be the subject of one of my future articles.
My starting point in music had been in 1956 and by 1970 when Jimi, Jim, and Janis died I was fried and burnt out from too many gigs in the trenches. One night, I was on the stage playing in a power trio I had put together and something was different that night. I was different. It was Ho Hum. I didn't have the fire. I didn't have the passion. I could not hear the music. I don't mean that I went deaf. I mean, my spirit could not hear the music. I didn't know why I was on the stage. I had lost something, and didn't know what it was. The only thing I was sure of was that I was no longer having FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really wanted to be some place else.
That set the stage for yet another starting point for me. You see, while travelling down my musical road as a full time pro player, I had learned a lot from all the recording studio work I had done and with the money went to school for electronics. So I had been working on instruments and doing amp repair work for the other musicians I had come in contact with the whole time I was in the trenches.
One day after I gave notice to the guys in the band that I was through playing, I was looking at all the amps laying around and decided to made that a full time thing, and started Time Electronics.
That was the official start of a 34 year love affair with the technology side of the music. It was always fun for me to tweak the amps with the same gusto I had tweaked my 1962 Corvette. They go hand in hand for me. Watts and horsepower, it is the same thing. Which makes me one of those power freaks.
Putting what I had learned from school into practice, I gained the reputation for being the guy who could get unbelievable performance from what was once a stock amplifier. Well, at that time the vacuum tube technology we had was the best in the world. The USA vacuum tube companies were at the summit of their technology.
Pulling over 560 watts clean before clip at 50 Hz from only six GE-6550A tubes is no small achievement and is a testament to the high level of amplifier design engineering that had been reached in 1970, while working hand in hand with the engineers at GE. But this is a thing of the past because we have lost something in the technology along the way. Which may be the subject of one of my future articles.
This is how it was at my new starting point of the parade of amplifiers to march across my workbench for the next 34 years. You name it, it sat on my bench at one point in time or another. All manner of instrument, amplifier or speaker system. In 34 years, you get to see it all from the old to the new, to the popular, to the unknown.
I watched the technology of guitar, bass, keyboard and PA amplifiers evolve right on my workbench.
Not all of this technology was great, and not all of it was good for the music either. Which, may be the subject of one of my future articles.
Yeah, in 34 years of working with the technology you get some insight into what it is and from the owners of the technology the strong and weak points. Then, there is the impact on the music those musicians give us by their application of this technology. The understanding and proper application of technology by the musician is another subject for one of my future articles.
You know, the funny thing about this starting point thing is sometimes they sneak up on you when you do not expect it. Nor, do you know where they can take you. In spite of Bernie's and Elliott's efforts to get me back on the stage, I resisted. It was Steve "Black Alice" Blaufeder, who kidnapped me one Sunday and tricked me into playing on stage again at a Jam Club. If Steve had not done that, I would still be sitting at the work bench seven nights a week.
Now that I am back as a player on the stage again, I can't believe how things have changed from where I had left off. The musicians are different. The music is different. The sound of the music is different. It is like waking up from a case of amnesia, and here you are with a 34 year hole in your life. It really threw me for a loop. I thought I had a handle on things from the relationships I had with my customers. Boy was this an eye opener.
SIDE NOTE - I had decided to go back to my roots on bass rather than guitar as I wanted more playing time at the club on bass, than waiting time on guitar.
A very strange thing happened at the club one night after I had been playing bass up there for about a year. I came off the stage and sat with Steve and he's giving me a strange look. So, I ask what's up? He says, if on any given night there are two or three other bass players in the club it is a lot. But tonight he tells me there are 12 bass players in the club. So, I ask, how come? He says, it's you! The words on the street and they are coming to check you out.
Now, I am floored. Here I am thinking I'm a rusty old gate on training wheels trying to get my act together like it was before the amnesia hit. I do not get it, so I ask Steve what is the attraction?
So Steve tells me that it is my playing technique that is off the wall compared to what the bass players of today use. You do not really see my hands move, yet there are all these notes coming out of the amp. They wonder where it's all coming from.
Then he says, that is only the half of it. I ask, there's more? He laughs, and smiles. He says no one gets a Jazz Bass to sound the way you do and drive the music the way you do. With that, I am speechless. Because all the bass players use the same house bass amp supplied by the hosting band. We all use the same amp!
By the look on my face, Steve can see I am really having doubts about all this. He then tells me that there is definitely a Rich "thing" going on with a distinctive FAT Jazz Bass tone, no matter which amp I'm using at the club. You do have a way of getting more out of an amp than the guys who own them.
I honestly had no idea that this was going on. Here I am, thinking I am the guy doing the catching up on things, doing my natural born, and as it turns out, it's the other way around. I really do not see that I am doing anything special.
Why, is this happening, and what exactly is going on here? What is the deal?
Well, it only took me a few weeks of paying attention to what the other bass players were doing to find out what it was. It basically turned out that their understanding on how the technology works best was not there and the dials on the amp were placed in all the wrong places. You see, I started checking the settings the other bass players had used to get THEIR tone. In spite of the fact that these settings were not the most bass amplifier friendly settings to use.
I would plug my Jazz bass into their settings and my bass would not sound close to what my idea of a Jazz Bass should sound like. As I dialed in the amp things improved quite a bit and my Jazz Bass started to sound like itself. Yet, when I leave my settings on the amp without fail the next bass player, even if he had a Jazz Bass, would change my settings back to somewhere the player before me had his settings.
So, now there is the question. By what road did these bass players come to the settings they chose? Which, is another subject for one of my future articles.
Well, I guess this brings us back to that starting point where you came in on. That phone conversation I had with Doug about writing a column for his magazine and the subject matter for the articles.
With respect to selecting the subject matter, I am going to follow my own advice I try to live by. I try to set trends, not follow them. Likewise, my approach will be to write about the things you will not have found in any other guitar or bass magazine.
You won't find the old, tired and recycled subject matter in any of my articles. But one thing that is so important once you have the information, is how you CONNECT THE DOTS. You have to connect the dots to three things every time to be successful.
No matter the issue or topic of my writing, we are always going to be “Connecting The Dots”, to the The Music, The Technology, and the Philosophy behind it all. When those three things line up, and seen clearly, There will be a better understanding by the musician, on how this all works together, to make better sounding music for the world to enjoy.
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