Thursday, 26 November 2009

New Shoes

I went to Ochanomizu and Akihabara today again on my day off.

I shouldn't do it, but I love looking at lots of pretty guitars that I wish I owned. Although I didn't buy anything, I did try a 50s LTD Les Paul that was a green colour instead of the blue that I sadly missed out on. This sounded good too, but was too scratched up to persuade me to get it.

With every pair of shoes I've had, they've all eventually lost their waterproofing, and I've often found myself uncomfortable in soggy, wet socks.

I didn't want to spend a lot of money on shoes so I was going to torture myself with another pair of Sanpei shoes, but I found a pair of comfortable shoes in Fareg Shoes called "Field Trip" on sale for only 1,980 yen.

There were some Gorilla 517-NBL hiking style boots for 2,980 yen that I liked the style of, but they were a lot more pointy, and they didn't have any smaller sizes so I settled on the other ones.

On the way home we popped into Maccas. It was the last day of our free coffee coupons so we had two cups. McChickens at the moment are 100 yen so I had two of those, and a hot apple pie too. I was hungry and I didn't care if that meant Macdonalds was the chosen option.

Oh, almost got a Darth Vader helmet with a voice changer for 1,050 yen in Akky today. I was *this* close to getting it. :O

Monday, 23 November 2009

Hip Hip Hooray

My special day has come up once again.

Last year I attempted to organise a get together which only left me feeling worse than not doing anything at all.

This year, I did just that. Nothing. Maybe if I was much younger I'd expect a big fanfare, but now I'd rather forget.

What reinforced this was that all the well-wishes were from people not even in Japan! Many others all over the world sent me messages which was great to hear though. Thank YOU.

One thing about teaching here is that a lot of the teachers are just out of uni and they can be so immature. So much of the backstabbing and gossip reminds me of high school sometimes. The stuff I hear about others only makes me think what people are saying about me behind my back.

Anyway.. I know it must be hard, nay impossible for the gf to choose things for me. I'm a bit of a prick in that I don't let on or give hints about what I like.

So.. this time I got a Elmo Live! talking plushie. Dunno what to say. It appeals to my otaku senses. I remember seeing it in Shibuya last time we were there. I once wanted a "Tickle me Elmo", but this is kind of sweet. Irritating sometimes, but so is a gf.

We did eventually leave the house to eat at Paul's and later walked around Jingu Gaien to see some Autumn leaves. Of course I had to have a drink or two to celebrate in the final hours. That along with finally finishing the Pecorino cheese. It takes a long time to finish two 1 kg chunks of cheese! I'm sure I'll pick some more up when I go home this New Year's.

かんぱい everyone!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Michael Jackson's This Is It

It might be hard to believe, but I'd never been to the movies in Japan before now.

The average price for entry is 1,800 yen. Compared to Australia, that's quite pricey, and therefore it'd have to be one special movie for me to fork out that kind of money.

There are all kinds of promotions for discount tickets - first of the month, between certain off-peak times and *cough* "Ladies" Day. (No, there isn't a men's day)

The gf had been bugging me to see "This Is It", the Michael Jackson doco/rehearsal movie. They said it was only going to be shown for two weeks, which now has been predictably extended for as long as people show up I guess.

I found a streamed online cam video of it online. We watched it together and it sounded alright. The picture was washed out, but it was good enough to see what it was like.

I think cam videos are a good way to encourage people to see the real thing. It got us to go there! So, today we decided to see it at Wald9 cinemas in Shinjuku. It's on the 9th floor of the OIOI building.

It was a 5pm session so it only cost us 1,200 yen each. Not too bad. We bought some overpriced popcorn and drink sets for the full "cinema" experience. By the looks of things we were one of the few to do that.

The cinema had quite a few people there. Unlike back home, everyone is allocated a seat. Ours were on the left side. This multiplex screen was a bigger than the ones in Australia so that's a good thing.

So what about the movie? It sounded great, very punchy. Michael talking to his musos and crew was unusual. He would never be too demanding and quite modest for his requests. He referred to them as his family.

What made it quite surprising, yet sad, was that his voice and dancing was in top form, so it's even more hard to believe he's not with us anymore. What an amazing talent to have lost. He'll never be forgotten.

So, this will definitely not be the last cinema experience. I (again) watched a cam video streaming of 2012, and it looks amazing. The story is pretty good and this is DEFINITELY one to witness on the big screen.

Do yourself a favour. See you at the movies!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

I Need A Hug

I didn't need to do it. Two things.. UFO catcher and.. I'll get to the other thing in a minute..

The bear was cute. Back home we called it a Huggies bear. It was used in ads to show how soft the fabric softener was in the laundry, and it was SOo cute. Ne?

In Japan they call it something different, but it works on the same principle.

I've been good lately. Real good. Haven't played for a while, but someone else had a go at Taito in Shibuya, and it looked like it wouldn't be too hard to get.

I lose my count when I am in the throes of catcher ecstasy, but I kind of remember having 1,300 yen in my wallet to try for it. At the end there was 600 in coins, so even with my poor maths I had spent 700 yen all up.

I'm sure I'll find it in a shop someday, but I've realised that's not the point. It's the hunt that is the reward. I took a photo of my face as I was about to put the next coin in.

While I was in Shibuya I thought of going to Tower Records for no particular reason. In the two and a half+ years here I'd never been. It was just a music shop right?

Actually it's really good. Not just for music. If you go to the 7th floor they have an excellent foreign book and magazine floor that had everything that I'd think to look for. Nice.

In my opinion it's definitely better than my previous top pick, Kinokuniya in Shinjuku. The music floors have plenty to choose from as well. Do yourself a favour.

Ok. Onto the other thing I didn't need to have done.

I booked a plane ticket back home for Christmas. My father asked this morning if I was going to come and I told him it would be too expensive to go. The last time I checked Jetstar had sold out it's tickets, so I felt it would've been prohibitive in cost.

On a whim I checked the Best Flights website. It's one of the few sites (apart from the airlines themselves) I can book flights from Tokyo myself. I found a fare that including the booking and credit card fee, airport taxes and of course the ticket, came to approximately AU $1530.

That's still quite expensive but MUCH less than the $2300 I spent last Christmas *shudder*.

I didn't need to go. I'm not homesick at all since I was home not long ago in Australia's winter season. Still, I'm not used to Tokyo's cold so I'll be happy to go home to soak up the sun and hopefully go down the coast for some eye candy and surf.

It'll give me a chance to bring back some more junk, lovingly acquired new guitars and stuff.

So see you VERY soon Australia. OH, after deliberating on a few names ("Killer"? "Bruno"?), the bear's been dubbed "Huggy". Aww..

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Chiizuyoubi

Last night we had station beers outside Yokohama station as usual.

What added a humorous (or maybe sadistic) twist, was watching people doing the "shimmy" on a seemingly innocent slippery part of the walkway. Although it was mostly Japanese people, even one of us almost fell down in the same place.

It gave me a good laugh that's for sure. By the way, did you realise it was Pocky Day yesterday (11/11)?

Today I planned to wake up earlier for two reasons. In the morning I wanted to see if that blue guitar that was "on hold" was still there in Ochanomizu, and while close by a quick look around Akiba for good measure.

From 1 o'clock we were all geared up to go celebrate "Cheese Day" at Cheese Festa 2009. If you look back here you can see we went there two years ago quite satisfied. I wanted to go last year but it slipped my mind and we missed out.

This year it was held at Bellesalle in Harajuku. It's not all that far from Aoyama, that it was held at last time I went.

It was much the same. They used the sample ticket system as before and there were again, a heap of almost all, Japanese people. I'm surprised more foreigners weren't there.

A nice touch was a Japanese troubadour playing Italian songs like "The Godfather theme" and "Volare". He sounded pretty good and was nice background music to the consumption of cheese and wine (500 yen a glass).

There was much more lighting in this place which made it much easier for me to take photos.


There were quite a few demonstrations which gave us more opportunities to eat. I didn't understand much of what they said though. I was only thinking, "Hurry up, bring out the cheese!"

This guy reminds me of Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid. He's part of the Japanese Pizza Association (Yes, there is such a thing apparently). He told a really emotion-charged story about the origin of the Margherita pizza. Sure had a lot of "flair" with all them pins. He's sure to get promoted at TGI Fridays.

The German smoked cheese was my favourite this year. They had a constant cheese song playing in the background reminiscent of the Ponyo song, but I didn't mind it too much.Like last time, people were a little pushy (and hungry I guess) to get their samples, but I still really enjoyed it. If you're here next year, I strongly recommend it.

Just to give everyone a little advance notification, it's pizza day on the 20th. See here (Japanese flash site, damn!) for details. Good eating everyone!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Sustain-n-n..

I kept this secret for quite a while now.

On the 23rd of October I decided to mail my headless Steinberger to the US of A for a very special modification to add a Sustainiac pickup to it. What do they sound like? This.

It was quite a spur of the moment decision.

I wrapped my gig bag in bubble wrap and made my way to Japan Post. In broken English, the girl said it had to be in a box to transport it. Problem was, I didn't have one, so on the way back to the apartment I looked for places that might have a cardboard box.

The guitar is an unusual shape, so that wasn't easy to find. There was someone selling some clothes out of cardboard boxes from outside a house near my street, so I asked if they had one to spare. It wasn't the right size but I figured I could cut it and tape it up into a custom made box perfect for shipping.

Luckily it was a Friday so I had a little time up my sleeve to do all this. It cost me 6,900 yen ($75 US) weighing about 3.9kg. I love EMS. Japan Post is really efficient. It only took 3 days to get there. (Same to Australia as well).

The Sustainiac is a special pickup made by Maniac Music in Indianapolis, USA. His website is a little basic, but the price wasn't too bad. (If I save a bit of money from him not having a costly website to maintain, I wouldn't care if he did himself in Frontpage).

I was quoted $229 for the actual pickup, $175 for the installation including the additional routing for the electronics and battery cavity, $16 for the battery case and $69.50 for Express shipping back to Tokyo. That's $489.50 US dollars total. Including my shipping from this end that comes to about US$564.50 all up.

In Japan there IS a company that has a Fernandes Sustainer quite similar to this, SO.. why didn't I just get it done here?

Of course that did cross my mind, but there were a few issues involved. I did attempt to go to a few music shops here for an idea of installation costs, and they were all quite hesitant to do a modification on such a small guitar. The Fernandes version is bigger, uses toggle switches, and would require a lot more wood taken out of it.

The cost here is 31,290 yen (US $348) JUST for the pickup. I imagine the cost of routing and installation would've been about the same, but they couldn't give me a firm price on that. The language barrier didn't help either.

The guitar arrived back to me on Monday, 9th of November taking only slightly longer (4 days?) to get back to me. Thankfully, I didn't have to pay any extra fees in relation to duty through customs either way. I told the gf I was "Happy as a pig in ****" to getting my hands on it finally, which confused her quite a bit.

From reports on the internet, the consensus is that the Sustainiac is a better unit (than Fernandes). They had to remove my tone knob for the mode switch toggle, but the on/off works simply as a push/pull pot on the volume control. It doesn't get in the way of the whammy at all.

I wish the rear panel was indented into the body like the original cover (would have increased the cost), but it was a clean job overall.How does it sound?

Pretty darn good. It took a bit of fiddling to find the best mode (Fundamental, Harmonic or Mix) for the most ideal areas of the fretboard, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. I'll hopefully make a video of it sometime.

It's a heap of fun playing around with my whammy bar. Flutters are much easier than before, and a bent note goes on and on. The harmonic mode screams like an amp on "11" feedbacking nicely. E-bow sounds are much easier to control with all the hardware built-in to the pickup.I kind of wish the neck pickup had a fatter humbucking sound, but with the versatility of this unit, I guess it's an ok compromise.

One thing that I'm really happy about is that unlike the Fernandes, when you take the battery out, or if it goes dead, the passive pickups CONTINUE to work, so no worries of a dead guitar on stage. Perfect.

Alan Hoover is the guy who's in charge and he's been great to talk to. If you want to do this to one of your guitars I'd highly recommend getting in touch with him.

Look here for an install on a Ibanez Jem. I like to keep my uber-expensive Jem stock considering how much it cost, but on a guitar like this it's a no-brainer. If guitar makers had any sense, they'd make these standard on all guitars. It's the world's best kept secret for sure.

It's definitely going to encourage me to play that Steinberger even more. I wish more people would play these guitars so the strings would be a little cheaper (in Japan they are). You can use standard strings though, with a special string lock up top. The choice of locked bridge or whammy takes away the pain of tuning (including drop D), and string changes are easy and quick. Great transport guitars too.

C'mon people!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Yokohama Music Fair 2009

If you've been reading my blog for a while you'd know that I like a guitar or twenty.

You'd think that I love going to guitar shows but to the contrary, the last one I went to I had a massive headache from too many "widdly-widdly" solos and "Stairway To Heaven" etc. There's something very un-musical about people playing their own thing in different keys and not so well at that.

I mentioned the Yokohama Music Fair about a month ago when I thought it was going to be on. I was highly recommended to go by one of the other muso teachers and I'm really glad I did.

Of course I brought my camera, both lenses this time AND she drove my other camera so we had pictures-a-plenty.

The Fair was held at the Pacifico convention center, not far the sail-shaped Intercontinental and Minato Mirai.

At first sight Pacifico resembles the sails of the Sydney Opera House sort of, well not really. Good for fisheyeing!
Inside the Pacifico complex.
A cool trio of Fender Japan telecasters guitars - the "Donald", "Mickey", and "Minnie". I'd seen a Mickey Strat before, but I prefer teles. I liked the "Donald" the best but I was trying to see where the duck cues were here.

Aria isn't a brand I get excited about, but I like mirror guitars and this is no exception.

Fujigen are a company most foreign musicians wouldn't be aware of but they used to make Fender Japan guitars and Ibanez as an OEM. They also make their own high quality guitars too.

If there was one company that stood out more than any other it would undoubtably be ESP.
How're you supposed to play these guitars? Great attention to detail, but it looks all a bit gay to me.
Sexy Finger? I don't think so..
A guitar for the Mad Max generation.
These guitars looked pretty cool, but normal in comparison to the other ones.

A "grim reaper" bass. I don't see this selling too well.
I like this really tastefully done Strat. Not sure about the fluffy one though.
I was happy getting some freebie picks at the show. Player, I'm a "playa".. ne.

One thing I kind of missed was the lack of hot car show girls fawning the guitars. That would've added a little pizazz to the proceedings. There were these girls though. I could insert a tasteless joke about liking girls that blow horns. Oops, I guess I just did.

I thought I'd be safe here thinking the guitars weren't for sale. In the Premium Guitar Show area there were plenty. Uh oh. Take a deep breath..
Some were so expensive they had "ask" for the price. This "Koi" Fender Strat looked amazing and yes, I was too afraid to ask how much it was.
I'm a sucker for Les Pauls and this one wasn't too bad. 108,000 yen! The tuning pegs weren't original but I couldn't talk them down much more than that. I was close to buying this one. It was about an '89 model, almost the same as my 1990. A good (heavy) weight too.

Another surprise was this taxi yellow Parker Fly guitar. It was the lightest guitar I ever picked up. Unlike other Parker's, this one didn't have a piezo pickup. Sounded pretty nice though. Much better than I expected and the fingerboard felt like butter. Lots to like here. I like the colour. I'm not crazy for the shape and it was more than I'd want to spend anyway.

I had little time to decide to make more big money decisions so I passed and we ventured out around Minato Mirai.

We went south of the Red Brick warehouse to quite a newly developed area leading to the sea bus terminal. It was nice to walk around there at night.

Almost enough to keep my mind off guitars for the rest of the evening.