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. . . to a blog about all the things you can do with — or to — a guitar. Topics: DIY, instruments, amps, effects, recording, software, technique, music history, music heresy.

Loopocalypse: A Live Looping Concert

This 65-minute performance features 17 of the songs I’ve been performing live over the last couple of years. In concert, though, I use a single instrument. But here I get to play most of my favorite guitars.

I’ve posted each of these songs individually over the last few weeks, but this is the first time I’ve shared them as a single video.

Song List
1. Heroes (00:20)
2. Thunderbeast Park (05:28)
3. Just Like Heaven (09:09)
4. Shake It Off 11/8 (13:14)
5. God Only Knows (18:14)
6. Monospace (21:12)
7. Lujon (24:39)
8. Disco Plato (28:15)
9. Pumped Up Kicks (32:00)
10. Pandemonic Waltz (36:44)
11. Love Will Tear (38:16)
12. Midnight Cowboy (42:57)
13. In Like Flint (46:13)
14. Space Shrine (48:45)
15. Rhiannon (52:34)
16. Luxardo (56:55)
17. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (01:00:58)

Tech Notes
1. Joe’s Looping Rig (01:05:25)
2. The Guitars (01:08:39)

Loopocalypse Day 17 (of 17): “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.”

For the last day of Loopocalypse, here’s a cover of Spiritualized exquisite “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.” I often close my show with this tune.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

In first heard this song in while asleep on one of those coffin beds on a tour bus. I was listening with headphones, and awoke during the tunes final seconds, with earlier passages still in my head. As it it weren’t already sufficiently dreamlike and spacy.

Spiritualized’s original studio masterpiece flirts with the melody of Willie Nelson’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” though it never quite crosses the copyright line. In concert, however, the backing choir breaks into the tune near the end, (as heard here at 08:00) and it’s magnificent. What a masterpiece!

The guitar is my DIY Kitschcaster, with Warmoth parts, TV Jones Filter’Tron pickups, and some very weird electronics. More details here and here.

How my looping rig works: https://bit.ly/2SO5JcU

Loopocalypse Day 16 (of 17): “Luxardo”

Inspired by the most sublime thing you can drop into a cocktail. Or maybe that and the cocktail.

The guitar is a random collection of Fender Strat parts with Duncan lipstick tube pickups. They sound a zillion times better than modern Danelectro pickups. (Plus I boycott Dano on principle because their parent company is a major supporter of homophobic far-right legislation.)

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

Loopocalypse Day 15 (of 17): “Rhiannon”

Gawd, did I hate this song as a ’70s teen. But I sure loved Stevie Nicks in Season 3 of American Horror Story.

This is far from the best “Rhiannon” cover, but it may be the only one based on Olivier Messiaen‘s Second Mode of Limited Transposition.

The guitar is a bitchin’ Gretsch/TV Jones baritone on loan from a generous friend. I’m tuned down to Bb, F, Bb, Eb, G, C, low to high.

Loopocalypse Day 14 (of 17): “Space Shrine”

This one is a tribute to Fela Kuti and afrobeat.

I’m not trying to play in an authentic Nigerian style, obviously. But I lived for this stuff when I was in my early ’20s. Back then there was a thriving expat African musician community in Oakland, and I was privileged to be mentored by monster players who’d played with the greats, or who were the greats.

The first good band I ever played in was with Orlando Julius, a highlife star who’d come to the States with Hugh Masekela. (At the time, he performed under the name O.J. Ekemode, and everyone called him O.J.)

At the time, I’d just dropped out of a classical music composition PhD program, where I’d focused exclusively on abstract and complex music that no one liked. It was a revelation not only to play in a great dance band, but to play a single one- or two-bar pattern without (intentional) variation for 30 or 40 minutes at a time.

Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve played somewhat authentic African pop, the style influences me every time I pick up the guitar. I’m eternally grateful to have learned from such masters. Ever since that experience, I’ve maintained an exceedingly afrocentric view regarding the history of American popular music.

The last time I swapped email with O.J. he was living back in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, and doing well. He still performs in African and Europe.

The guitar, a loaner from singer Greer Sinclair, is a 21st-century Tele Deluxe reissue, retrofitted with a Bigsby and Lollar Wide Range pickups. More info.

Loopocalypse Day 13 (of 17): “In Like Flint”

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s version of John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy theme. It’s the main title from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for In Like Flint, a kitschy Bond parody that predated Austin Powers by decades. I was too young to see the film as a kid, but a radio ad featuring this theme blew my impressionable mind. I seriously believe the theme’s #4s and b2s triggered my lifelong love of dark chromaticism.

I’ve covered this once or twice before, though the sounds are quite different here.

The guitar is an unremarkable 1982 Les Paul Custom — the cheapest real Paul I could find when I needed one for an Apple sound design project. It’s even stamped “SECOND” on the back of the headstock. But the only original parts are the neck and body. The pickups are unpotted Duncan Seth Lover PDFs, and the guitar houses the most ridiculously over-the-top wiring scheme I’ve ever attempted.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

Loopocalypse Day 12 (of 17): “Midnight Cowboy”

I was way too young to see Midnight Cowboy when the movie came out, but I was obsessed with Ferrante and Teicher’s hit instrumental cover, featuring Vinnie Bell’s “drops of water” guitar tone. (It took me decades to figure out he’s using a combination of fast phase shifting and heavy reverb.)

I once got to interview the late John Barry, who composed this along with most of the early James Bond music, plus many other iconic scores. He was the coolest — friendly, funny, and modest. Film score fans probably know the story about how he wrote the entire Dr. No score, with all that iconic guitar work played by Barry’s longtime accomplice Vic Flick. But to this day, the music is credited to Monte Norman, the original composer who’d been fired. John never actually said he wrote the score, but he used some phrasing like, “Well, listen to the rest of my music, and then listen to Dr. No.” It’s pretty darn obvious!

I’m playing my ’90s 000-sized Lowden. I’d originally intended to record the 17 Loopocalypse songs on 17 different guitars, but I cheated, and this instrument appears twice. (I also used it on Day 3’s “Just Like Heaven” cover. Naturally, it sounds nothing like an acoustic guitar.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

Loopocalypse Day 11 (of 17): “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

In 1980 I was mainly listening to avant-garde classical music and post-punk. Even so, the darkness of this Joy Division classic scared me. But last year I heard the song on the Muzak at a Palm Springs grocery store, so I guess everything is okay now.

The guitar is a real weirdo: a Baldwin Virginian from the last ’60s or early ’70s. I scored it for $90 at Starving Musician in San Jose, where we’d sometimes play hooky when I was working at Guitar Player magazine. It’s got great Burns pickups. Burns had sold their brand to Baldwin, and off course, everything went to shit. Still, this is a cool instrument, which I usually tune down a few steps. I eventually learned that both Lenny Breau and Al Green’s Teenie Hodges played this model. Here’s a clip of me playing it with PJ Harvey at Glastonbury ’95.

Loopocalypse Day 10 (of 17): “Pandemonic Waltz”

I always feel a bit guilty playing this one, because it uses the one looping technique I’ve always tried to avoid: simply slathering one part on top of another till you have a damn racket, and then lurching to a halt. But hey.

The guitar is a Lowden 15E, a cool yet bargain-priced 12-string. Not that it sounds anything like a 12-string here. Here’s a more naturalistic demo.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

Loopocalypse Day 9 (of 17): “Pumped Up Kicks”

Best pop song ever about a school shooting (and yes, that includes “I Don’t Like Mondays.”)

The guitar is my latest DIY experiment: A bunch of random Strat parts with magnificent Lollar Firebird pickups. I’ve built my Cult overdrive circuit into the guitar, and you hear it during the solo (though it doesn’t sound quite the same as it does through an analog amp). I recently made a side-by-side comparison video of these Firebirds and Lollar mini-humbuckers — two pickups that look quite similar, but which sound very different.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.