Malkmus tour Omaha

Coffee is a mandatory fuel for everyone on this trip, so much so that the TM carries an aeropress and the band stops by our room before we leave the hotels– with the first stop usually being a coffee shop. We follow a similar routine and roll into Omaha in time for a decent breakfast before loading in at the Slowdown. Someone tells me Connor Oberst invested heavily in building up a good venue in Omaha, and the place is nice– intimate and spacious at the same time, with a small, high quality line array for FOH and a friendly, professional crew.


I’m trying to improve the band’s experience little by little, and in Omaha I spend time taking setup specs on Stephen’s guitars. His jazzmaster is an early 60’s with a few changes, and a lot of quirks. Continue reading

Malkmus tour day 5

Data speeds have been spotty out here in the middle of the country’s open spaces, but things are going nicely. The pacing of the days is nice, with later load-ins, generally brief sound checks, and the long drives broken up into multiple days to keep fatigue down. The SLC show was a great tour kickoff, and I’m getting the hang of the tunings and changes. The band are all great performers and low maintenance. You can tell they’ve been doing this for years and there’s a good chemistry.

image Continue reading

Malkmus tour day one: SLC


Salt Lake is at its best with a little snow on the peaks, beautiful as soon as I hit the ground. The downtown grid is one of the most confusing I’ve ever traveled, with almost every street named something like “east 200 st south”, so even the GPS on the way back to the venue seemed mixed up. Flying in day of show and jumping into a totally unfamiliar situation is a little nerve wracking and I wasn’t fully sure what to expect, despite having talked to the band and TM ahead of time about their needs and preferences.


The urban lounge is a good old fashioned rock club, graffiti covering the bathrooms, small, loud, and gritty, but the back stage area is relatively clean and the staff are all nice and helpful.


I’ve tried to anticipate problems despite being told all gear is in good shape. When I arrive everything is already set onstage, so I use the opportunity to take some pictures and note settings, pedal placement, signal routing, etc. There’s nowhere near enough time to assess everything, but I start with some immediate basics, adding Velcro cable keepers to separate cables, checking batteries, adding power supplies to pedals without them, dressing cords down with gaff tape do they’re not a tripping hazard… Before I know it the band is on stage and I shift gears to watching their stage presence, asking everyone what they’ll want throughout the night, and getting a feel for the performance.


Everyone is pretty self sufficient on stage and laid back off, so I get a good feeling about how it will all go. My biggest challenge will be learning which tunings are for which songs. With around ten different tunings and a song repertoire of 50 songs, it’s a lot to keep straight, and with only two guitars going through all those wild tunings, there’s not much margin for error. The band changes the set every night, will be hand writing the set list, and Steven will denote which guitars he wants to use for which song. Hopefully I’ll have time to note tunings as well and not screw anything up during the gig…

Below are just a few snaps of various spots on stage. Hopefully the settings and everything sink in; they’re straight forward, but I’ve had hardly any time to go through the gear. Cross your fingers for me tonight and I’ll try to update later…





Setting up an SG for drop C tuning with no buzzing


Here we have a newer Gibson SG standard belonging to Sam, guitarist for hard-punching local band Manrock. Everything feels and sounds pretty good on the guitar, but the bass strings have no sustain above the 13th fret.

Here we see why: Continue reading

Sick String on the road 2/13-2/28: follow here and on Facebook

Hello all–

I’ll be out of the shop for a couple of weeks starting the 13th working as backline tech for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (see dates and stops here). This should be a really fun trip and I’m looking forward to getting back on the road.

In the past I’ve really enjoyed writing some tour blogs, giving readers a look behind the scenes at the triumphs and tragedies of a stage tech, and I hope to have time to do a bit of that on this trip. You can check for updates here on the website, subscribe to our RSS feed, or follow along on Facebook. If I can figure out how to cross post to myspace I’ll try to revive that site for us too, especially if anyone comes forward and says they still use it 🙂 If you haven’t already, become a fan of sick string at:

I’m going to try to travel light and post from my phone. Hopefully this will mean more streamlined, but more frequent posts. Let me know if you have questions, tips, suggestions, or requests. Definitely be in touch if you know where I can play pinball in the cities I’m visiting!

Right now I am on track to have most projects wrapped up before I leave, and I’ll be straight back in the shop in march, so feel free to drop new work off for me while I’m gone and I’ll turn it around quickly. Lastly, if you’ve had a good experience with us, please leave a review on google, yelp, or what have you. Positive word of mouth is always appreciated.

More to come soon!

Brian Watson

Ibanez Musician Overhaul

This is a job I’m glad to have finished– my customer dropped the guitar off six months ago! It’s a cool old Ibanez Musician, but had a number of issues. Lots of uneven frets, a collapsing bridge, and a set of pickups that just wasn’t doing it for the owner.

The owner wanted to try something unconventional and was craving something that would give him decent humbucker sounds but also something brighter and more Fender-esque, and inquired about the Nordstrand NDC pickups. I’d never heard them, but after a phone conversation with Nordstrand we decided it would be cool to try them, and ordered a set. A series of personnel changes at the company led to several delays, but I used the time to get other parts on order and draw up a circuit that would allow the pickup coils to be wired in both series and parallel, with individual coil taps as well. Continue reading

Repairing a crushed input jack cavity quickly

This gretsch was in the shop for a setup and small finish chip repair, but no mention was made of the damaged jack area! With a show the same day, an extensive woodworking repair wasn’t an option.

The thin hollowbody side was crushed, with chips of wood missing, and the old jack holding on by wood fibers that wanted to give way, causing a bigger problem.

The solution: pull together as much of the old wood as possible and reinforce with an external jack plate. Continue reading

New Bass and Guitar Pickups Available for Order

Bassists especially, take note:

We are proud to announce that we are now a dealer for Delano Pickups and Nordstrand Pickups!

We’ve been doing a lot of work for bassists lately, and have frequently heard complaints that there isn’t much available for them in Portland besides the usual– Gallien Kreuger, Ampeg, SWR… and when it comes to pickups, Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan, and in the hand-built realm, Fralin and Lollar

Both Lollar and Fralin make excellent traditional passive pickups for Fender basses. What makes Delano and Nordstrand so cool are their innovations and offerings for bassists seeking something unique. In short: they make great traditional pickups, but also ask, why stop there?

Both companies offer active electronics; Nordstrand offers custom preamp configurations. If you’re considering moving beyond standard passive tone-shaping abilities to get more control and extended range from your bass, definitely consider these options– a great alternative to Alembic, Lane-Poor, Aguilar, Bartolini, and others.

Even more exciting to some might be some of the more unusual configurations that could fit a Music Man or Gibson EB series humbucker route– for one example, check out this Delano pickup that combines P and J bass-style pickups in one:

for another cool option in a more standard footprint, check out these Nordstrand hum-cancelling jazz bass pickups– a side-by-side dual coil!

Regardless of whether you’re looking for something specialized or adventurous, however, these pickups sound great, and are a really outstanding tonal improvement for most basses with stock electronics. I recently got to check out a set of the passive Delano JC 4 alnico jazz bass pickups, and they were simply awesome. Extremely detailed, remarkably balanced, and perfectly voiced for bass. Huge lows, crisp highs, and excellent string-to-string clarity. Full chords were rich and pianistic. They mated really well with a set of DR Jonas Hellborg signature strings, which use a single nickel wrap wire for a more even harmonic content. Both the pickups and the strings are most definitely worth checking out. If you have the chance, you can hear them in action by catching local rockers Sleepwalk Kid live– Nick also plays the only Soursound all tube bass amp currently out in the world.

One last thing I’ll mention that I’m excited about: DR’s new DDT “drop-down tuning” string sets. With players bringing me guitars and basses for low tuning setups on a weekly basis, I know these are going to be a really helpful addition in the shop. There are a handful of “drop-tuning” sets already available on the market (GHS, Ernie Ball,) and all leave something to be desired, as they are standard strings on hex cores in heightened gauges. The DR’s are hand-wound, and built using a unique process to stabilize the string at lower tunings. Not just a standard guitar string, but a string formulated from the core wire, to the wraps, with stable tuning and responsive feel at lower pitch in mind. I’ve already got several sets on the way, and if you play in lowered tunings, you should definitely plan to try them out. They might finally change all the compromises you’ve had to make to your setup to get a tight feel from your hybrid tuning setup!

Stop in or drop us a line to give some of this great new stuff a try! We’re always looking for ways to take your playing and tone to the next level, so be in touch.

Q&A: Will Taking All The Strings Off At Once Hurt My Guitar’s Neck?

I got an email from a friend recently asking this common question, and when I’d replied he suggested I re-post the info here, so here you go!

Q: My friend found this quote online and asked about it: “I have been using Dean Markley strings for over 20 years now. I’ve gone through all the popular brands like DR, Rotosound, GHS and Fender. I started with the Superwound series. I played those for years. I thought those strings were the best until I tried the Blue Steel series. I was completely blow away by these strings. They were very consistent from box to box. They kept their brightness and tone for a much longer period than the other brands. The thing I really like about them is their feel. Very soft. Other strings use a thicker core and that tended to be hard on my hands since I play so much and the fact that I play a lot of slap bass. Another benefit of these strings is that they come back great when you boil them. Well, I should say that I use to boil them, now I just run them through the dish washer. I have many vintage Fender Jazz basses and it is important to me to have a consistent feel from bass to bass. That is why I don’t mix and match. The only strings I use are Blue Steel – Light Gauge. Remember to only take one string off at a time when you change your strings. If you take them all off at once or if you put on a different gauge set of strings, the neck will check and throw off your action. Find the set of strings you like and stick with them. Your bass will be glad.”


Is that right? You should take the strings off one at a time — the above quote is from Anthony Vitti – Berklee Bass Guru – so I don’t doubt him but have never heard that before…. Continue reading