Monthly Archives: February 2016

Double the Fun: Adventures with My 12-String

My regular readers know that I am a music lover.  It’s a big part of my life.  I’ve been playing a musical instrument of one variation or another since fourth grade.  I owned my first guitar at about the age of four.  It came from a garage sale up at Matanzas Beach, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with it.  I only knew that I liked it.  I liked all musical instruments from an early age.  I think I get it from my dad, who was the St. Louis Fox Theater’s lobby organist for several years and the house organist at the Lincoln Theater in Belleville, Illinois.

That old guitar has gone to parts unknown, and I didn’t buy another until I was out of college.  It was a dark green Yamaha, and I bought it off of my friend Justin for about $70.  The action was way too high – uncomfortable to the point of intensely painful – and I didn’t get it fixed for ages.

I had the dedication of an ADHD three-year-old back in those days, and I never did more than fiddle with it.  After Brett came along, I sold the green Yamaha to a Canadian in Korea, and she took it home with her.  So it goes.  I missed the guitar, but I hadn’t played it much, and with a new baby, I actually didn’t have time.

Then I saw John Butler play “Ocean,” and I knew I had to get another guitar, at some point.  I had to learn.  If there was someone alive who could do that, I could punch out a few crappy songs.  And I by God, I wanted to punch out those songs on a 12-string.

I got on some different sites and forums to see if there were any decent beginner 12-strings on the market.  If you search for beginner 12-strings, you’ll immediately find that 12-strings get expensive faster (or so it seems to me), and you will also find no shortage of discouraging comments in regards to learning guitar on a twelver.

Well, friend, if you love the 12-string and that’s the instrument you want to learn on, I’m here to tell you that you do not have to “listen” to everything you see in print.

Most “senior” guitar players don’t seem to recommend starting on the 12-string.  Maybe if you are truly a beginner musician with literally no musical experience, this would be more true.  However, if you can’t read music, have no musical theory under your belt, etc., any instrument is going to be initially daunting.  Don’t let that discourage you.  No, the two main things that I seem to see over and over again involve tuning and the strain on your fingers.

Guys, this is exaggerated.

Yes, twelve-string guitars take longer to tune.  I mean, double the strings, double the pleasure, right?  I think the worry is that the newbie will spend so much time tuning that (s)he will get discouraged and give up.  This has not been my experience with my guitar.  Yes, it will take longer to tune your guitar up.  Duh.  Yes, there are more opportunities for it to go out of tune.  Duh.

I invite you to consider this an opportunity to familiarize yourself both with your instrument of choice and with tuning.  For most people, learning how to tune an instrument takes some work.  It’s easier for some than others, but like many things that is a little bit tough to learn, it’s worth it in the end.  If your end goal is performing in any way, shape, or form, you will be glad that you learned to tune well and tune quickly.

The second thing the pros seem to hammer on about is the pain that you will go through with your fretting hand.  Well, I have news: you’re going to go through some pain learning the guitar regardless.  If you start with an electric, which has lower action, or a classical guitar with nylon strings, you’re going to have an easier time.  Lower action, less tension, and softer strings make it easier on your fingers.  I have never seen a twelver with nylon strings.  I am actually the only guitarist I know personally who owns a 12-string at all.

Yes, with twice the strings and a modestly wider neck (an electric having the narrowest neck), you will have to devote a little bit more time to building up your calluses and doing some finger stretches.  And I will not lie to you: barre chords are a bitch.  But you know, they’re a bitch on any guitar.  Nobody enjoys learning them, but you will be so damn proud of yourself once you do.  Again, the hard things are the ones that are really worth doing.

Even if I haven’t played for a while, two solid nights of playing will revive the calluses.  The 12-string does require a wee bit of grit in the fingers.  And yes, it does hurt some, and yes, you will have to stretch a little bit more.  You know what?  If you don’t know any different, you’ll be amazed when you go to play a 6-string and find out how easy it is to press down on the strings.  I actually got myself a rubbery ball at work, and I squeeze it and hold it down three minutes at a time to strengthen my fretting hand.  It’s an easy exercise, and I can do it while I stew about the stupid things people do on insurance policies.  Helped like hell with barre chords.

So what am I telling you?  I’m telling you don’t let someone else slow your roll.  If you are honestly passionate about learning any instrument, then you will.  There will be days that you want to smash it, and there will be days that you make it sing, and the singing days will be worth it.  I am here to tell you that the rumors of the difficulty of the 12-string are seriously exaggerated.

The only thing I might agree can be honestly annoying is restringing the beast.  Once the bridle is on, I hate taking it off.  But it’s like anything else – practice makes master.  After you’ve done it a few times, it’s a lot less daunting.

Sometimes I think that the reason other guitarists find the 12-string to be like a helicopter – requires a lot of maintenance – is because it is a little bit more high-strung (pardon the pun) than your average horse.  I think maybe older 12-strings didn’t hold their tuning as well.

I will very happily recommend my Epiphone DR-212 as a great entry level instrument.  It holds its tuning every bit as well as your average 6-string.  I tweak it every time I play, but for the most part, it stays well in tune, even if I haven’t played for a few days or even a few weeks.  I have been very impressed with it, especially given the price point.  I would strongly recommend looking into this model, if you are seriously considering a starter 12-string.  It is strictly acoustic – no built-in amp jacks or tuners or anything fancy.  But the sound quality is great, and you can’t argue with a 12-string that holds its tuning.  It’s easy to play (I think), and honestly, I can’t say enough good about it.  It was love at first sight.

For the record, I have also heard good things about the 12-string Seagull.  It’s at about the same price point as the Epiphone ($200-$250 new).  Fender and Ibanez also make acoustic twelve models in that price range, and I’ve seen good reviews, but I’ve never played on any of them and can’t speak to the quality of sound or ease of playing. I’ve seen more reviews on the Seagull.  I personally think it would be damned hard to beat this Epiphone, but I don’t know that for certain.

Now, a few things I’ve learned about Pogue Mahone.  The first thing is that it takes time – I’d say about 3-5 days – for the strings I use to “settle” when I first restring it.  The first day I put them on, I get it within three to five steps of the actual note and leave it.  I come back the next day and take it up a couple of notches.  On the third day, I’ll bring it up to tune, play it for a few minutes, and let it rest.  On the fourth and fifth days, with some tweaking, we’re pretty much ready to roll.  But it does “settle,” and I kind of think that’s more of a 12-string thing because my 6-string wasn’t so fickle about being restrung.  I work with a guy who plays strictly electric guitars, and he was surprised that I did that, but I’ve heard of other 12-string players tuning new strings up in one or two stages.

I only use Martin performance-grade strings.  They last a little bit longer, they have a slightly brighter sound, and honestly, I just like Martin strings the best.  I’ve tried others, and I always come back to them.  I’d have to look and see which ones I have on right now, but they’re about $14-$17 per pack on Musician’s Friend.  That is one other thing about 12-strings – it costs more to re-string them.

Also, I would not recommend leaving the strings off for very long.  Twelve-string guitar necks hold a lot of tension when the strings are on.  (Some players will tune down a half step or so and use the capo for that reason, but I don’t know that it’s necessary for newer instruments.)  I have heard of people leaving the strings off for several months when they were playing other instruments or just not playing at all and having serious problems with the neck, when they went to restring it.  I would recommend getting the strings back on ASAP.

I would also recommend using Lem Oil on the fretboard (and body too, if you like) to keep the wood nice and pretty.  Microfiber cloths are great, if you really want to be nice to your buddy.  This keeps the wood conditioned and removes the nasties that come off of your fingers when you play.  It can also help keep your strings in better condition and therefore last longer.  Use some alcohol on your fingers before playing to help avoid string corrosion, too.

But bringing it back around to my original point, if you want to start on a 12-string, start on a 12-string.  Don’t let some “expert” tell you that you shouldn’t.  As long as you’re aware that it will require a bit more hand strength and a bit of extra patience regarding the modest bit of extra maintenance you will do to keep your instrument in good order, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

The 12-string has such a full, rich sound, and there are a number of fantastic songs that just sound better or maybe wouldn’t really be possible without the 12-string (“Hotel California” intro, anyone?).  You might never be Leo Kottke – who is, besides Leo Kottke? – but you can get the same enjoyment from a 12-string in the same amount of time that you would from a 6-string.  Any instrument takes practice and dedication.  As long as you’re willing to persevere through the ate-up, bleeding fingertips (yeah, it’s gonna happen, if you play a lot) and the occasional frustrations that accompany any serious endeavor, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

For my part, I love my 12-string.  I’m only sorry I waited so long to get one.  I let the fear hold me back, and I could’ve spent that time playing.  Pogue’s my buddy, and I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: my 12-string is the only non-inherited, non-photographic object in this house that I would care about getting out in case of a fire.  I think it might be love…

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Burning Thoughts

Ah, Saturday afternoon.  The kids are all napping, however temporarily, and Mom just blew like, $300 on shit that she mostly doesn’t need.  On top of the $40 she dropped yesterday, also for shit that she blatantly doesn’t need.  It felt awesome.

Some of it I legit needed.  New pants.  I’m hitting the New Year’s diet hard, and I’ve lost about 30 pounds.  The post I wrote ages ago about dieting – specificially Somerizing (a.k.a. the Schwarzbein Diet) – is probably the most popular post I’ve ever written, which I suppose is almost a sad testament to how much weight maintenance sucks for a lot of us.  And it’s the maintenance that sucks.  Losing weight has never been that hard for me, although neither is gaining it back.  Sadly, I think three kids and hitting 30 have made it harder.  I always thought women lamenting, “Oh, wait until you hit 30 – everything slows down and your metabolism changes!” was complete bullshit.  Then it happened to me.  I didn’t think my metabolism could get any slower, but hey! Surprise, bitch!

Anyway, I’m doing HMR this time around just because I’ve gained back most of the weight I lost Somersizing, and I just want to get it off like, yesterday.  I’m sick of being a lard-ass, and I’d like to get laid again before I turn 40.  Also I’d prefer to have more energy and feel better about myself, but there’s also getting laid.

I have to laugh when people get all butt-hurt about members of the opposite sex paying more attention to them after a major weight loss.  It messed with my head when I got thin in high school.  You want people to like you for you – for your personality and all that good stuff (assuming you have a good personality which a tragic number of people don’t).

Here’s the thing, though: when you look across the bar, or the grocery aisle, or the parking lot, or the gym, who’s the first person you notice?  (And this applies to men and women.)  Do you notice the fit, attractive person who isn’t schlubbing around in SpongeBob sweats, or the dumpy one who perhaps isn’t dressed as sharply?  Sure, there are chubby chasers out there, but the vast majority of people will pay more romantic attention to Hottie McHotterson.  Fact.  It’s not that people don’t care about your sparkling personality, but getting to know someone takes time.  Getting a good look at them takes approximately three seconds, top to bottom with a potential linger if it’s really good.  And why waste time on someone you aren’t physically attracted to?  This doesn’t really take into account becoming more attracted to someone over time, but let’s face it, when you’re out for one night and need to make hay while the sun shines, you’re probably more willing to give up on a good conversation than good coitus with a reasonably attractive person.

So in the interest of making that happen at some undetermined point in the future: diet.  And exercise.  Got the treadmill, rarely have time to use it, don’t care because it’s awesome and someday I will when the oldest decides to sleep again.

Anyway, losing weight also means new clothes, and I’m not gonna lie: Mama Margaret likes to spend money.  I’m really fucked for life because my grandparents (who raised me, in case you missed those posts) did fairly well.  We were comfortably middle class, and I was comfortably spoiled rotten.  I spent money like it was water.  I had the clothes, the bags, the shoes (holy shit, the shoes), and the jewelry.

And now I’m fucked.  Because it’s stupid easy to spend someone else’s money.  When you have to get out, earn your keep, and pay for your kids, it suddenly becomes a whole different ballgame.  And because I was too stupid/not confident enough apparently to actually follow my dreams, I am working a job whose salary is not really adequate to my, um, spending preferences.  I probably need to be a millionaire.  That would hit the target window about right.  I’m just really not good with money.  It is my biggest shortcoming as an adult, and I need to work to get better at it.  That is one value that I plan to hammer into my kids because I guarantee that if you don’t teach your kids about spending properly and saving, they will live to regret it.

That said, I’ve learned to curb my spending impulses a lot.  I no longer go to Frontenac and drop $750 at the designer shoe sale or buy three pairs of $100+ Lucky jeans just because I feel like it.  I buy stuff as I need it, mostly, and preferably on sale.  Prior to the split from my ex, I hadn’t bought clothes in nearly three years.  I bought an eyeliner pencil while I was traveling for work because I didn’t want him to know that I bought it.  And that sort of brings me to the next topic…

He was a fucking control freak.  He was good at not spending money.  And any time I ever spent money on anything that wasn’t food, bills, or something he wanted, I’d hear about it.  Oh, I’d hear about it.  Ad nauseum, probably.  Looking back on it, it’s pretty telling that I had to sneak that eyeliner pencil in there.  But buying clothes?  Pffft.  Forget it.  He guilted me about spending money on new maternity pants when Parker was en route.  I mean, the old ones were getting holes in them.  Can’t wear that to work, yo.  But that didn’t stop him.  Yes, he was an asshole.  I will never get tired of saying that.

Anyway, after he left, I finally bought myself a couple pairs of pants.  I’ve never gone overboard (well, until today), but there were some things that I honestly needed.  And I did get myself a couple of cheap eyeliner pencils because dammit, I like a good tight line when I don’t have much time to do the rest of my face.  It’s that or hooker lipstick, and the hooker lipstick I like is from Chanel.  … I’m side-eyeing myself after that comment.

But today I sort of went wild.  Okay, not really.  I need new pants.  Legit.  My current favorites are falling off, and my backups aren’t far behind.  I no longer have a fitting pair of dress pants.  I don’t have a decent push-up bra anymore, and I didn’t have a nice little blazer to wear over shirts.  I like a good jacket.  Always have.  So I ordered myself a couple pairs of pants, a couple of decent bras, and a belt.  (Belts are your best friend during major weight loss campaigns, I’ve found.)  … And I ordered a T-shirt, three necklaces (all on sale – three for the price of one not on sale!), and a bottle of J’Adore perfume.  The ex made me leave my nearly-new bottle of perfume in Korea because it was too bulky to bring back or some shit.  I’ve been wearing Chanel Miss Coco ever since, and while I like it, it’s just not my main jam, perfume-wise.  And I wear perfume every day, so this isn’t something that I will never use.

My ex hated it when I wore perfume.  Oh, he didn’t care if all I was doing was hanging around the house where only he could smell it.  But he didn’t like it if I put it on before going out somewhere, especially without him.  He’d ask why a woman would wear perfume if she wasn’t out looking for a guy.  I responded that sometimes you just want to smell decent, but he never bought that.  He assumed that I was wearing perfume so the cheating could commence.  I started wearing high-end perfume on the daily when I was 16, and I haven’t deviated that much from it since then.  Chanel No. 5 was my winter smell back then (I found an old coat of mine when we were moving and it still smelled like Chanel No. 5!) and some discontinued Escada stuff in the summer.  In college, I switched to Dior J’Adore, and I’ve been a faithful follower ever since.  And yeah, men love that shit, if memory serves.  So yes, dear ex-husband, I do believe I’ll have a fresh bottle!  Only $75 per ounce now!

I’ve always loved shopping, but I’ve gotten a really perverse sense of joy from it here lately, and I think it is entirely due to the fact that my ex would hate it.  He would hate every last thing that I’ve spent money on, including the stuff for the kids for Christmas.  And I love that.  Because it’s my money, and I will do with it as I damn well please.  I will buy my work BFF a birthday gift and not feel guilty about it.  I will replace the perfume that you made me throw away because I like perfume and I wear it every single freaking day!  I will buy the kids a “big ticket” Christmas gift instead of a bunch of little pieces of junk that they’ll either break on the day or never use at all.  Screw you and your control freak self!

I know that some of this is stemming directly from last weekend.  After a month of ignoring the fact that he has kids, the ex decided maybe visitation would be a good idea (never is).  He did what he does best, which is manipulate and rile up the situation, and like the idiot I am, I fell for it.  I have a pretty hard time not rising to the occasion, at this point.  Maybe someday I’ll be detached from it, but right now, I’m still angry and bitter and thirsting for blood.  I’ve decided to let my attorney slake his thirst for blood on the ex and his hired gun, and I’m feeling pretty solid about that decision.  I’ll just continue doing things for myself that I know he’d hate and rejoice in it.

One big thing that I know he would hate is Burning Man.  I have a friend who is a longtime attendee, and my cousin (the bro-co from previous posts) and I have decided that Burning Man is a must for the future.  We both have young, needy children right now, but we are resolved that it’s going to happen.  I’m not sure how or when, but Burning Man must happen.

For those of you not in the know, Burning Man is an annual festival in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.  Every year, 60,000+ people cram themselves onto a two-lane road and head into the wilderness for this insane festival of community, art, music, and a whole bunch of hippie shit that I would assume includes a lot of psychedelics. There are cops there now, but it’s still pretty major, best I can tell.

Everyone is expected to be self-sufficient, which in the middle of the desert at the end of August is a tall order.  Scorching days and chilly nights along with a lot of dust and literally nothing out there but Port-A-Potties and other people makes planning a must.  I’ve already figured we’ll need a solid 20 days of vacation to get there, enjoy the event, and get home.  Also, we’re going to need an RV… I feel like I’m uttering lines that belong in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  And that’s roughly what I would expect a road trip with the bro-co to be like.  Full of weird circuses and bat country…

Anyway, the thing looks amazing, and I feel like it would be one of the most important events of my life, if I got to go.  So the planning is happening now, shooting for when my kids are teenagers.  This will give us time to save for all the crap that we’re going to need to get there, and also time to get the kids to the age where they can feed themselves and operate a stove without burning the house down.

So that’s where I’m at today.  Weight loss shopping (excellent).  Revenge shopping (feels good but probably psychologically bad, like drugs or something).  Hating ex-husband (obvious and unavoidable, given startling levels of assholery).  Extremely desirous of Burning Man excursion (something to strive for – always good).  Also I’m soaking whites in bleach water for the first time in my life.  I’ve never been committed to laundry beyond separating whites from colors, adding some bleach and possibly fabric softener and trying out different soaps.  I just stepped up my game.  Also got my credit report online.  Look who’s adulting so good today!