Stick Tech 2005
October 9, 2005
Music Resource Center, Charlottesville, VA

Click any image to see the slide show

If there's one thing that Stick players like to to, it's talk about gear. Oh sure, we all know that your fingers and your heart make or break you as a musician and we occasionally preach the purity of just instrument and music. But underneath, we'll all check out the latest multi-effects unit in the hopes of finally finding that one missing piece that will deliver the perfect tone (as impossible a task as that might be). But aside from all of the frills that come with a wicked new processor, the Stick by itself is beautiful sounding instrument that deserves a quality path from the pickup to the ears of your audience. Said path doesn't necessarily have to be an expensive or complicated path but should, at least, be tweaked and setup correctly.

It was the notion of good amping, gain structure, and recording techniques peculiar to the Stick that led Greg Howard to the conclusion that these topics should be discussed in a seminar setting. The result of that thought was the first ever Stick Tech held at the Music Resource Center in Greg's home town of Charlottesville, VA.

The Music Resource Center itself was started in 1995 as a non-profit. There is a fully equipped recording studio as well as several small workshop rooms where teens can come after school and learn all about making music, recording music, etc. It is quite a remarkable place and served as a perfect setting for the workshop as it allowed recording ideas to be not only discussed but demonstrated as well.

The attendees of the workshop were as follows:
Greg Howard - Virginia Glenn Poorman - Michigan Vijith Assar - Virginia Paul Walters - Virginia Dave Brosky - Pennsylvania Frank Ford - Virginia Rob Martino - Virginia Jamie Duquette - Massachussetts

I had decided to make a weekend out of it quite a while back so I piled into my vehical early on Friday morning and made the long drive through the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes eventually crossing into Virginia and arriving at Greg's house around ten hours after leaving home. Greg and his wife Joyce were kind enough to feed me that night and already the arrivals started. Jamie Duquette had opted to come into town a day early as he knew the area and wanted the extra day just to spend in Charlottesville. He called over to Greg's place and it was still relatively early so Greg and I drove into town and met him at Starr Hill for a couple of beers.

Saturday was more or less a work day for us. I was surprised and pleased to see that Greg had a prototype of the new Stick Amp at his place and so we spent some time playing with that (very very nice piece of gear). The plan was to bring it along to the workshop to give everyone a crack at it. As for the rest of Saturday, we spent a good chunk of the afternoon in Greg's studio working on some recordings I'd been making for an upcoming record release. In the evening on Saturday, Greg had been hired to play a full evening in a local Charlottesville restaurant. While that was going on, I nabbed a table with Joyce, her mom, Jamie, and Vijith Assar. Vijith is also a resident of Charlottesville. He is a Stick player and works at the Music Resource Center. We had a great time Saturday night talking and listening to Greg's tunes until they finally closed up and tossed us all out (side note: we ended up on the topic of strange phenomenon and our ultimate favorite creepy movies and I think everybody left just a little freaked).

Sunday was workshop day. We were up early and packed up my vehicle with everything we would need for the day (and night). We got down to the MRC about a half hour early but already people had started to arrive. This was actually good since they all lended a hand unloading my car. We were inside and setting up in record time. As we started assembling various rigs for the day, Greg plugged in the Stick Amp and let everyone take a crack at it. There was some good feedback on the unit. Especially noting the nice sound and compact size.

So with all of our gear setup, the first order of business for the day was recording. Seeing as how we weren't a very large crowd and also seeing as how the control room in the MRC studio was suitably large and comfortable, we packed in there for Greg's morning talk on recording. This was a really cool session. The studio was computer based and Greg used a nice large display along with a running copy of Digital Performer to display wave forms and show the difference between, for example, plucked bass guitar and tapped Stick. He also used the display to manipulate the wave form using compression and EQ along with explanations on crafting your sounds to blend in nicely with other instruments in a recording. He also demonstrated using these same tools to smooth out and pretty up the sound of the Stick itself.

After the morning studio session, we broke for lunch. Setting out on foot, we all got a nice look at downtown Charlottesville. The main drag through town had long since been closed to automobile traffic and was bricked over. We made our way through town and ended up at a local joint that served small pizzas and calzones. Seriously well fed, we ambled back to the Music Resource Center for the afternoon session.

I started the afternoon off talking about my rig, looping, and the use of MIDI for control and for time syncing. Much of the session was simply playing snippets of my own tunes and taling about the motivation behind them. I did talk about crafting loops of varying complexity with the simpler loops leaving more room for harmonic changes and the more complex loops leaving you locked into an idea. Then I wrapped up my session going into some specifics about various looping devices on the market along with their strenghts and weaknesses.

From there, Greg took over to wrap up the day. This session was one I found particularly useful as it's a topic that not nearly enough players talk about and that is gain structure. This was where Greg invited anyone who wanted to come in and setup their rig for trouble shooting. Dave Brosky setup and plugged in. With some very noticeable noise problems, Greg proceeded to tweak and re-arrange in such a way that Dave's overall sound was noticeably cleaner with the very same equipment he walked in with. This was always a topic I felt needed more attention as I can personally attest to how much of my own sound resulted from tweak sessions with Greg during previous seminar weekends. With some time left, Greg opened the floor to general questions on amps, effects units, etc.

We wrapped up and packed up for the evening gig at the Gravity Lounge. The plan for the evening was to open the stage to any workshop attendees to play followed by a full set from me and then a full set from Greg along with drummer Matt Wyatt and percussionist Darrel Rose. Things began and ended well enough but the night was not without it's glitches.

Greg opened the evening with some spacey solo improvs and then passed the stage over to Paul Walters. Paul did a set of tunes all composed by Charlottesville natives and even threw a vocal accompaniment in with one of them. Paul then passed the stage over to Dave Brosky. Dave performed a handful of tunes and continues to improve with each appearance. Next up, local Vijith Assar did a nice set of tunes. We were doing great on time at this point and Greg suggested I do a good long set. I had cooked up quite a few tunes mostly technology laden, since that was my main topic for the weekend. The nightmare of nightmares then occurred. Ten seconds into my first tune, my rig lost it's mind. Things going out of sync. Loops playing backwards. Buttons having no effect. Greg came up and did some more solo improv while I desperately tried to bring my rig back to life but it was simply not happening. Time for plan B. We'd setup the Stick Amp right in the middle of the stage and that was what Paul, Dave, and Vijith had played through. I had brought my 10-string and was planning on doing a couple of tunes on it anyway so, I shut off the beast, plugged my 10-string into the Stick Amp, and played a very short set before turning the stage over to Greg. Greg wrapped up the night doing a nice extended set with Matt and Darrel. These three guys really brought the house down and Greg commented later that he'd had a blast (although he didn't really need to tell us that). The trio ran several of Greg's classic tunes of both the original and cover variety. There were many extended improvs by everyone on stage and a lot of really cool interplay between the musicians. It was a really nice wrapup and a nice high energy way to close out the weekend.

With the show over, we packed up, parted ways, and headed home. I went back to Greg's for the night and headed out early the next morning. The drive home was fast with very few stops. Somewhere just after Cleveland, my radio began picking up WJR, the voice of the Great Lakes, and that drew me home like a beacon.

All in all, I would call the first ever tech seminar a success. The somewhat small turnout, in hindsight, was actually a perfect number for breaking in this new idea and it appeared that everyone who came took a lot of notes and left feeling like the whole event was worth their time. Personally, I hope that more of these events get into the works in the coming years.

So until the next one ... I'd like to say thanks to the Music Resource Center and Vijith Assar for providing us a place for the event, to the Gravity Lounge for holding our Sunday evening event, to all of the guys who signed up, to Greg Howard for organizing the event and inviting me to come out and talk, and to both Greg and Joyce for their hospitality (and surrogate animal companions).