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The Fifth Course

Session #1 "Dollars to Dharma"

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"Dollars to Dharma," despite its allusions to eastern philosophy, has a latin feel. A few years ago, Carlos Santana had a nearly ubiquitous hit with the lead singer from Matchbox 20. You remember it?

[I can hear you saying, "Yes, thanks so much for reminding me. Now I have to go post to the ear-worm thread."]

Well "Dollars to Dharma" is kind of that feel, so I went for a Santana kind of sound on the Mando(la)bird.

The first step in getting a Carlos Santana feel is not the tone. It's the riff. It needs to be catchy and fairly short, no more than 4 bars. I think I got it with this tune. The song is in A, but the verses spend their time stepping back and forth between F#m and C#. Riff starts with a quick slide up from the F to the F# and then exploits the rhythmic back and forth movement between F#m and C#.
[I'll include sound files if I can get permission and figure out where to post them.]

While the riff is indeed the first step, tone is nearly as important. It needs to be overdriven but smooth, and needs to have lots of sustain. I was thinking I'd need to get a compressor, but I was happily mistaken. All that time I spent on the effects pedals through which I run my signal paid off, and the isolation booth came in real handy.

First, we put my amp (Ampeg J-12T, see previous posts) in the iso booth and cranked it up. The breakup was great, but when I went up an octave to the F# note on the A string, I got a weird little secondary distortion. So we backed it down to normal stage volume (about 3 on the dial).

I was hoping to go straight and avoid any effects, but the volume of the amp required the use of the Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive pedal. I spent maybe 10 minutes playing with different settings and finally settled on turning the Level and the Drive knobs al the way up while turning the Tone knob all the way down. That was really close, so I backed all the way off the tone on the Mando(la)bird. Voilá! Saturated overdrive for days without any harshness.

So we worked our way through the song. I did riffs and a lead with that tone. I needed several takes to get the lead right, but I've been playing the riff so much in the past 9 months that I just blasted through the song with it. Only needed to rerecord one or two spots for exactitude.

Rhythm was a little different. No overdrive. Went straight into the amp, no effects. For most of the song, I left the tone knob on the Mando(la)bird all the off. For the end/lead breaks/crescendo I rolled it all the way up. It gave the tone a little more "air" and allowed it to cut through all of the other tracks that will be going on to that section.

Rhythm took a bit longer than riff/lead, but it was still fairly straightforward. It turns out "Dollars to Dharma" was a good place to start. I'm very familiar with the song, I like it, and I generally know what I am doing with it.

I did backing vocals too. Fifths for emphasis in one verse, thirds on the first half of the chorus, and "ahs" on the second half of the chorus. Stood in the iso booth and delivered. No mando, no amp, just me.

So far so good, and the process is fun too.

More installments as recording sessions occur.


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Updated Feb-15-2009 at 4:11pm by Daniel Nestlerode

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