So a month or two ago someone at our church was talking about needing more musicians. This actually surprised me a bit, as I know we have a lot of talented people. Talking to our worship minister, turns out they have a lot of people that can play, but he's only got a few for any given instrument. By the time you add in scheduling conflicts, he's apparently had some trouble filling all the roles every week. Playing music is fun, and I like to help out, so I told him I could fill in on guitar (lead/rhythm), bass, or drums as necessary.
And I thought, yeah, I miss playing.
Getting the Axe
After that conversation, it occurred to me that it had been some time since I'd even played my SG. Sadly, it and my amp had been in the basement for a year or two - mostly because there isn't an "out of the way" place for them to live. Playing again sounded like fun, so I brought it in and set it up in a corner of the living room. It's not "out of the way", but the biggest problems are keeping the 3yo away from the knobs, and competing with the TV for audio time.
Anyway, the first thing was to change the strings and clean up the fretboard. The second things was a bit less expected: re-solder the input jacks on my amp. They'd been finicky for some time, but apparently they finally snapped - quite literally. The old solder had given out from years of stress and the jacks had simply popped off the circuit board. Luckily, it was about the easiest possible thing to solder, and thus within my meager capabilities.
Since then, I've been playing quite a bit - trying to squeeze in an hour or so most days. I've been working a lot on my fingering, alternate picking, and generally expanding my repertoire of techniques. I've been going through spotify playlists picking out riffs that sound like fun, and then learning how to play them. I haven't tried anythng objectively difficult, but I'm pretty pleased with how I've been able to take something truly challenging for me that I've never attempted before and then be able to play it fairly proficiently after just a little practice. I think I've reached a point now where I'm actually a little better than I was back in college when I was playing a lot more.
So I play through an old Peavey Special 212 Transtube amp I got in the late 90's when my highschool band outgrew my little Fender practice amp. When I got it, I was playing a fender Duo-Sonic my parents got me after I'd been playing for a while (still one of my most memorable Christmas presents). It's still a great amp, but Peavey's favoring of the midrange combined with the darker tone of my SG's humbuckers means that, while you get really fat lead sounds from it, you can't get a rhythm tone that isn't 5-year-old-puddle-jumper-level muddy. After a couple weeks playing on it, I decided I needed to tweak that - and I ordered MXR's 10-band eq pedal.
I (obsessively) looked at a number of eq pedals before landing on this one. The big reasons I decided on this one were that it offers an eq range that's useful for guitar and bass, and that it has a 'gain' slider as well as a simple 'volume'. I figured that bumping the gain would be good for my passive instruments when doing direct-inputs, and I've found that pulling the gain all the way down (when running it post-preamp) quiets the hiss of my amp and enables me to turn the volume and post-gains on my amp up further than "1" (the other thing about my amp is that it's 200 watts - which is great if you're on an outdoor stage, and not-so-great if you're in your small house with sleeping children). I've been pretty happy with it so far.
I'm now looking to expand my pedal selection a bit more - if only so that if I end up playing at my church, I don't have to lug my amp (the other other thing about this amp is that it is unnecessarily heavy). Think I'm going to pick up a distortion pedal, a compressor, and a reverb to start. After (also obsessively) looking at a lot of the options, I've got my eye on some Boss models. They seem to be a solid mix of quality + value, they're well-reviewed, and I know Boss makes good stuff.
I was never really "a drummer" - Justin always took care of that. But I have always loved to play drums. I think it's the energy in feeling the music that comes with it. When my brother started playing, I developed a habit of playing his drums pretty often, teaching myself the basics and developing that particular kind of coordination. Actually, I think it made me a better musician overall.
Since then, I've played drums in a few ad-hoc music groups - usually praise bands at camps/churches/whatever. Basically, wherever someone was just needed. I don't know that I would pass too many auditions, but I can keep a beat and I play well enough on simple stuff to get by. I'm the percussive equivalent of that guitar player who only plays straight rhythms with with open fingerings - I'll get it done, but it's usually nothing special.
That's not to say I'm satisfied with my meager skill level. I'd love to practice more, but I don't have a kit of my own, so I'm kind of stuck here for now.
So last week I was asked to play drums for service this sunday. We had a rehearsal last night, which went fairly well. I've been deemed passable - which I consider a success if only because the guy playing percussion is a good drummer, and he said he didn't hear any big issues with my playing. Still, the once-through rehersal was not enough for someone like me who likes to be over-prepared. I've been told we'll go through everything "for real" on sunday morning. Meanwhile, I'm scrambling to make recognizable notes on what I was doing that worked vs. what didn't. As the new guy, it's maybe 1/4 the rehearsal time I'd like, but it's been a ton of fun.
Until yesterday, I actually hadn't played drums in at least a few years. Just haven't had the opportunity. Knowing this, I made arrangements to get to the church a couple of hours early to warm up, break off some rust, and generally have a blast rocking out. I played for about 2 hours straight, soaked myself pretty good with sweat, and made my shoulders sore. If I end up doing this regularly, I think I'm going to need to get a kit. Or make arrangements to be at the church...often.
Yesterday was the first time since playing my brother's that I got to sit down, undisturbed, and really get comfortable with a kit. I have to say, that by itself was awesome. The difference between then and now, however, is that this kit is electronic.
Like a lot of actual drummers, I prefer the feel of an acoustic kit. Unlike others, I do like the tighter sound of the electronic kits (maybe I just haven't played a really good acoustic), and the fact that I can, in a church, hit drums hard and not have to worry about being uncontrollably loud is fantastic. The "gentler" I have to play, the worse I am - or, at least, the less I can pull off.
The church's electronic kit is pretty decent. As you can see from the photo, it's a Roland kit, and it uses the TD9 module which is solid enough. I actually read the owners manual ahead of time so I was able to program the sounds I wanted into my own kit on the thing (piccolo snare is a must). The drum pads have all-mesh heads, and the response feels good. The cymbals are decent to play on, if nothing particularly amazing. The hats are really my only complaint. They're not the worst I've played on, but like most of them, the trigger is "lazy" in that letting up on the foot controller after hitting the pad doesn't change the sound. This is my continual pet peeve on electronic hats. I do know that Roland makes a hat trigger system that mounts on an actual hi-hat stand that doesn't have this annoying behavior - I've just only got to play on one for like 10 minutes at a Guitar Center.
All this has brought my songwriting back onto the radar. Other than recording a dozen or so chord progressions as voice notes on my phone, I haven't done much with it yet - but if the musical momentum continues, I'm hoping to be able to channel it there.