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Thread July 4, 2015 editorial: comments

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1 July 4, 2015 editorial: comments

The Notorious Mr. Murphy

Happy Independence Day, everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying a great holiday weekend with some time off to spend in your studio or just chilling. I’m really looking forward to some free time, in part because the last couple of weekends were extremely busy, and they featured an unwelcome visit from Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame. Here’s what happened.

I had a string of five gigs in eight days, playing with a few different bands. The common thread was that on all of them, I was hired to play pedal steel, one of the instruments I play in addition to guitar.

I’ve had my current pedal steel for a couple of years, and it’s never given me any mechanical trouble. For those unfamiliar, pedal steels have a lot of moving parts. The pedals are attached to rods that push and pull mechanisms inside the instrument, which bend certain strings either up or down by a half or whole step.

I was at rehearsal the afternoon of the first gig, and, after pressing down on one of the pedals, I saw to my horror that the metal ball joint that connects it to the pedal rod, had sheared right off, rendering that pedal useless. I was freaked, because without that pedal, I would be almost completely hamstrung on the instrument. Fortunately, a couple of the guys in the band, who were more mechanically inclined than myself, figured out a way to temporarily jury-rig the pedal to the rod using zip ties. That temporary fix, along with a little duct tape, got me through the first few gigs.

On the Monday afterwards, I drove 90 minutes to get to the nearest pedal steel repair guy I know (they’re few and far between here in the Northeast). He was only able to temporarily fix the broken pedal, and told me I needed to order a replacement. I thought I was all set to get through the next two shows, before the new pedal arrived and could be installed, but on the final show, a different pedal broke — in the exact same place.

This got me to thinking about the issue we all face of preparing for instrument and gear breakdowns. My pedal steel disaster was not something I could realistically have prepared for, pedals don't usually break like that. (It was apparently an issue of metal fatigue.)

That being said, there are many predictable gear issues that performing musicians face, such as broken strings, broken drum heads, broken cables, dead batteries, and so forth. We should all carry spares for any such “consumables” — to use an annoying business-jargon word — that are likely to give out on a gig. Without overloading myself with stuff, I do try to have spares of most items other than instruments and amps whenever I go to a gig.

It’s certainly more critical in a live performance situation, because it’s not possible to run to the store in the middle of a gig for replacement items — but it’s also a good idea to have important spare parts on hand in the studio. Who wants to interrupt a good recording session to go get guitar strings or replace broken drum sticks or a bad mic cable?

So what do you do to prepare for Mr. Murphy’s inevitable visits?

On another subject, I wanted to mention that the Summer NAMM show starts this Thursday, and runs through Saturday. Yours truly and the Audiofanzine crew will be in Nashville, TN to cover it, and we’ll be posting news and videos about the new gear that’s announced. Hopefully, there will be some cool stuff. Stay tuned.

2
Talking of this subject John Williams told me a story about Julian Bream the famous guitar player who also played Lute. Due to give a Lute recital he got on stage and the Lute neck went. Disaster. Bream calmly announced to the audience..
Slight change of programme. I had better get the box (guitar)!!
3
Happy 4th of July to all across the water! Hope you all have a great weekend!

when I was a gigging guitarist, I always expected the worst. And of course the worst that can happen WILL happen. I`ve often had to raise/lower the action on my guitar, adjust the truss rod and intonation during a gig, ... I mean between songs without others in the band, or the audience even knowing. I feel like its my job ( as I don`t have a tech guy.. or never will)Same goes for recording sessions. I learned the hard way many years ago... by using a floyd rose system at a gig and breaking a string. I dropped the locking nut, and helplessly watched it roll along the stage and down through a crack in the floor. The rest of the gig makes me ashamed to this day when I think about it. LOL

I have a checklist, I check every time nowadays before I leave home. I know a lot of musicians panic when it comes to Mr Murphy`s visit., and just can`t think straight, and become flustered even having having to change a string. I usually have to do it for the guys in my last band. They were all younger than me, and become like Deer in headlights under any pressure. It really amuses me to see how people act under pressure LOL. I turned up one night and our drummer was stripping the kit, Our Boss informed me the gig is cancelled as the drummer put the kick drum pedal through the bass drum skin and did not have a spare skin. Big commotion and drama all around! I suggested he use the front skin, and put it on the back. Through all the panic nobody had though of it! I had just traveled two hours to get there and needed to get paid! so ingenuity rapidly kicked in (no pun intended)

Seriously though, I bring a small road case, with spare leads fuses, strings, plecs, capos, mini tool kit, flashlight, and loads more - spare machine heads, soldering kit, tie wraps, electrical tape, end even more again, and even a nail clippers and file! It sounds like a lot, but the lot would fit in the pouch of a gig bag. Believe it or not I even have spare bass strings in there, and a set of drum sticks and drum tuning key, though I`d dare not tell a drummer or bassist about it!

Happy 4th July!
4
As an amateur pilot and a constructor of my own aircraft (Van's RV-6A) metal fatigue is always on my mind both on pre-flight checks but even more on the 100 hourly service (I get to do it because I built it). Aircraft have to be stripped and inspected inside and out for tell tale signs of problems whether you have been flying just around the airfield or across the country or even performing aerobatics.

As a musician I can't say that I apply the same thinking, as I replace cables and strings on a needs base. Batteries are the only thing I replace, no matter what state they are in, before a gig.

So far, Mr Murphy hasn't caught up with me.

When chatting to a RAAF Roulette (like the USAF Thunderbirds) PC9 pilot he showed me a gauge that calculates the total stresses on the airframe and when its number is up the airframe is discarded.

So perhaps all the rods will go sooner rather than later. Break 1, replace it. Break 2 replace them all?

As far as the broken pedal rods are concerned, if they are like the stainless steel ones on my piano with a ball at each end, I would keep the old broken rods, cut to half the full size of the new rod and tap a thread. You could then just get a 'long nut' to join the rods together for a spare.

All the best
Royce
5
Hi Mike,

Found your post quite entertaining in that as a gigging guitarist from the late 1960 thru the 1980's I almost never had gear breakdowns and the one instrument that sits in my home studio is a no longer used Carter pedal steel. Had its share of work over the years and after reading your post I'd decided to just check it out for tune and a quick medley. The rod broke in 15 seconds.... Imagine that... Of course, I no longer play outside of my own house so it's a moot point. Haha
6
Quote:
The rod broke in 15 seconds.... Imagine that...
That's quite a coincidence about the Carter. Generally, they're very well built steels, at least the professional models. I was very surprised when I had the issues that I did.
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Quote:
Slight change of programme. I had better get the box (guitar)!!

Wow, cool story. Of course, it's a lot easier if you're a world-class talent like Bream to just switch instruments and play the show.
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Quote:
I have a checklist, I check every time nowadays before I leave home.

A checklist is a good idea. Sometimes I think I could also use one for when the gig is over, especially when playing on a multi-band bill — one of those situations where you have to get your gear off the stage really fast after the show. It's so easy to forget something in those situations.

Quote:
Seriously though, I bring a small road case, with spare leads fuses, strings, plecs, capos, mini tool kit, flashlight, and loads more - spare machine heads, soldering kit, tie wraps, electrical tape, end even more again, and even a nail clippers and file!

Very smart to have all that with you, especially since it doesn't take up much space. I'm sure it's been a gig-saver on many occasions.
9
Quote:
When chatting to a RAAF Roulette (like the USAF Thunderbirds) PC9 pilot he showed me a gauge that calculates the total stresses on the airframe and when its number is up the airframe is discarded. So perhaps all the rods will go sooner rather than later. Break 1, replace it. Break 2 replace them all?

Yes, I am replacing all three pedals after what happened. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the third one goes too. Fool me once...

BTW, very interesting info about the airplanes and metal fatigue. I'm glad to know that there's such a high level of inspection that goes on. It's one thing to break a pedal on a steel guitar mid gig, quite another to have an airplane part go in mid air.
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Mike... that's so true. I actually (like a nerd) check my checklist even more thoroughly AFTER the gig! I have left so much gear behind in the past. When being rushed off stage for the next acts "line check" I have in the past left behind sm58`s sm57`s boss chromatic tuners lead/cables etc. It is very sad to say but none of them ever seemed to surface the following morning. To be very honest, before boss and line6 multi-fx, a boss chromatic tuner or a shure mic, was the (and probably still is) the bones of a weeks wages for a huge percentage of musicians. Trying to stay organized is a real chore , but taking a bit of pride and dignity into my job is the only thing that keeps me sane in the world of cowboys gig promoters record companies etc... etc,,, etc. I am saving at the moment to buy the Axefx Fractal audio system, with the floor control and full rig.(compatible /best preamp) :aime: Now thats something I couldn`t ever leave behind... though I know I am capable!