I will open with a YouTube video of the Holderness family panning the pandemic. These people are hilarious, and I recommend visiting their channel.
Sometimes I feel as though I am dreaming. Pictures of cities full of people wearing masks, not just in the US but globally. There are signs outside every store requiring that all who enter wear a mask. The number of infections and the loss of life is breaking our hearts and numbing our minds. We have an election coming up for the leadership of a country torn apart by conflicting ideologies and problems that have been hundreds of years in the making.
Everyone is separated whether they are working from home, taking the risk of working on site or flat out unemployed in numbers not seen since the Great Depression. The kids were sent home from school in March and are just getting back. A nightmare for the parents, a dream come true for the kidsters.
No March Madness. NBA teams are operating in a virtual bubble and baseball started in late July. The Sturgis motorcycle extravaganza happened with 250,000 bikers whose disdain for masks and social distancing defined this year’s rally. And by the way, the term “social distancing” was coined and forever became part of the lexicon, much like “soup kitchens” from the Depression.
This will certainly be a defining moment for a few generations just as happened after the Crash Of 1929. Little kids and teenagers, moms and dads, the home-schooled and the homeless, grandparents and teachers, milkmen and mobsters will all have their stories. My dad had vivid memories of growing up in a mansion on Turtle Island in Massachusetts. He was one of six children born to wealthy parents. Pop was six years old in October 1929; my grandfather lost everything and became a milkman.
I have been working from home since March. My job is in manufacturing, but we have a crew that has been able to maintain revenue working staggered shifts, while those who could have been working from home. In July I started going in two days a week to support the guys, but I am still at home more than on site.
There has been a great deal of handwringing over having to stay at home all the time. My work is 100 miles from my home and commuting was always too much. For seven years I have had a series of boarding rooms and apartments to stay in during the week, and then I’d go home on Friday. I am still putting in the hours but nowadays the moment I am done with work, I am miraculously already at the house. For those of you lucky enough to go home every night this probably doesn’t seem important or perhaps seems trivial. However, I find myself with more free time in the evenings and I know how crucial it is that I fill that time wisely. If the dear reader will abide, I would like to share some of what I’ve been up to.
A primary tool has been the television. Now, this can be either a bad habit or a learning experience. I’ll admit to leaning towards Jay Leno’s Garage at times, but I have managed to stay away from binging on streaming TV series. I know myself; I am far too susceptible to couch potato-ness. So, I’ve looked for opportunities.
I work for a company that makes high-end audio including hybrid tube/solid-state amps, and I own a few guitar tube amps. [For those who don’t know, WL is the Director of Operations for PS Audio. – Ed.] Quite often I would hear that a fix for a problem with the sound of a product was a change to a capacitor. That always pricked my antennae. I have some circuit design background but could not understand how a capacitor change could affect sound quality. I know if some of you merry pranksters are still reading, you may feel compelled to howl at me because I did not know this. Have at it; I figure I’ll learn something.
I started watching YouTube vids on tube amp repair and circuit design. I tripped over a guy named Uncle Doug who runs a channel dedicated mostly to these topics. His videos on how tube amps work, how capacitors and resistors work in a tube amp circuit, and on amp repairs on amplifiers going back to the 1930s are entertaining and instructive.
Uncle Doug did a video on a repair of the circuit of a 1970s-era Fender Deluxe Reverb guitar amplifier, an amp I happen to own. It was such a gas to sit with the printout of the circuit and have Doug go through the exact replica of what I was studying.
I learned a lot about tube amps but I now have 157 more questions. When we all return to non-socially-distanced work the engineers are going to hate to see me coming.
I am going to admit something shameful at this point, but the tale goes to the essence of my story. For Christmas 1977 my family pitched in and bought me an Ampeg V4B 100-watt head for my bass rig. I added a pair of Sunn 15-inch speaker cabs and I was set as a gigging musician. I eventually came off the road and concentrated on my career, like millions of others. The bass rig was dispatched to the garage in favor of a solid state Peavey that I’d use at the occasional church gig or open mic night. The Peavey was a lot easier to carry around.
My son Dean started playing drums when he was 10 years old, much to our chagrin, and of course he was soon in that first band we were all in at one point. You learn one song and play it to death because you can’t believe you actually know a song, until your parents either stop you or get a divorce. Dean asked if his friends could use the Ampeg/Sunn rig. This was a mistake.
I didn’t see the rig for two years; Dean had left that band (of course) and I had to ask for the stuff back. When the gear came back it was trashed. There was a missing rectifier tube in the Ampeg head, and the stock two-prong power plug had been rewired as a three-prong in a fashion that must have involved Pee Wee Herman and should have killed somebody. Both the head and the cab were all scuffed up. The cabinet looked like it had been through a flood and the speaker cone was busted. Inside the cabinet were these little plastic beads rolling around. These jerkamoes had used my seventies-era Sunn cab for target practice!
I know. My fault completely. But we haven’t gotten to the shameful part. The rig went back to the garage, forlorn and forgotten for another ten years.
Watching Uncle Doug’s videos inspired me to take the boys out of the garage and see what I could do to get the gang back together. The natural-finish Fender Jazz Bass that I still have was the bass I used with the Ampeg/Sunn rig in the day. This would be cool.
I took the Ampeg head to a professional for evaluation. No matter how many repair videos I’ve watched I will not go into a vintage chassis with a soldering iron. A few hundred dollars later and the head was fixed and quiet as a mouse. I had to clean and re-build the Sunn cab with a new speaker. But the rig is now in the studio next to the J-Bass and life is sweet.
Meanwhile I started taking bass lessons online from Scott’s Bass Lessons. Scott is a fine player but more importantly a great teacher. The beauty of this method is that you can replay lessons at any time. I fear the tradition of going to a teacher in his/her home or at a music store has been permanently co-opted by current conditions.
Doing online instrument lessons means you can learn how to play one song or dive as deep into theory as you wish. This has really been a great experience. Videos about pedalboards and guitars by Rhett Shull, theory and favorite song construction by Rick Beato, lessons by long time session players like Tim Pierce and interviews with everybody from Vinnie Colaiuta to Steve Cropper and Stevie Vai are a rich representation of a musical world exploring a new experience and practical survival.
You can get just as deep into car restoration and growing tomatoes. A wonderful world.
Many musicians have begun performing on live streams or doing videos themselves. I found Lee Sklar in this way. I had always known the name from the thousands of albums he appeared on but never knew anything about the man. How would I? Sklar was known for being a workaholic; his prodigious catalogue and tour schedules are a testament to resilience. Now he is stuck at his house for the foreseeable future. So he started doing videos on a freaking daily basis telling road stories, playing his bass to tracks he’s played on and generally sharing opinions on everything from where the industry is headed to what his Basset Hounds did that day. I have had a ball getting to know something about a sweet man who always looked like a Doomsday prophet to me.
There is one fact that is ubiquitous about the current climate. We are all going through this together, under different circumstances but because of a common enemy. We may resort to complaining but will survive by adapting. Something fundamental has changed. Life’s systems evolve and so do we. Vive la difference.
Please be safe out there; we may have just seen the middle of this horror.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.