Ukulele Amplification, Schertler Yellow Blender and Recording

In recent times I have turned my attention to the issue of how best to amplify acoustic instruments and ukuleles in particular. I have an extensive background in amplifying electric guitars and a really excellent collection of rack equipment and combos that would be the envy of most recording studios, but little awareness of acoustic amplification! With electric guitar amplification I have found that great tubes, preamps and speakers are the key to a great sound.

SchertlerIn past times I picked up an Alpha AER amp and still have an old Marshall acoustic amp. Both of these do a decent enough job but I am always on the hunt for the best possible sound and often this means investing in higher end gear. Such investments usually mean a higher ticket price but experience has taught me that not only do you get a better sound, but you also equipment tends to last much longer as well. It’s also useful to find amps that have a lot of headroom, so they can be used in a variety of live situations. Unfortunately often the more powerful the amp, the heavier it tends to be, but that’s literally the price you pay. In past times I blogged about the excellent Schertler Unico amps and I just purchased a Schertler Yellow single preamp for recording and live use. As with all Schertler products this is made to the highest specification and to date I am once again really impressed with what I am hearing. The preamp can be used as a direct recording device for studio work as well as a front end pre amp for the AER combo. The AER Alpha amp is a perfectly respectable workman like unit for playing. However by using the Schertler pre amp in the front end the sound is massively improved and the EQ options are greatly increased. It’s clear that Schertler focus on using quality components and everyone who has heard the Unico amps comments on how great they sound.

A New Shimo Ukulele returns to the UK

In my jetlagged state I have now had 24 hours to really explore the latest Shimo addition to my ever expanding ukulele collection. This one is a walnut soprano uke bought in Tokyo and it’s very different to everything else I have at present.

My first uke was also a concert, the pre-production Collings which was made from mahogany. The “walnut sound” is to my ears somewhere between the Collings and my African Blackwood custom tenor.

As with all Shimo’s instruments it not only looks great, but it also plays great too. Increasingly Shimo reminds me of Stefan Sobell the genius instrument maker from the UK. Both Stefan and Shimo have fantastic attention to detail and no corners are cut. Of course both instrument makers only make to order, so there is a 2 year waiting list, no production lines in sight here!

The detail on the new soprano is fantastic and the tuners look like they were forged from some mountain in Lord of the Rings. When we met up again in Tokyo Shimo commented that he wanted to be “The Morgan car” equivalent to building instruments and in my view he has already certainly surpassed that goal. I have commissioned a second tenor from Shimo for live playing!

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Japanese previews for SCD material and Shimo discussions

I’m on my way back from Japan and I had the opportunity to try out some of the Small Change Diary material in a live setting for the very first time! Regardless of how much you practice a piece, a live situation is always different and it was great to preview some of these songs!japan

I was also very fortunate to hook up with longstanding professional musical Brian Cullen from Nagoya and although we only had a few hours the previous night to work on a few tracks, it turned out pretty well, culminating in a mass dance off to “Birdman!”

I was also lucky enough to be able to give my latest ukulele acquisition a try outm this being the Shimo walnut concert uke. I had met Shimo a few days earlier in Tokyo and as well as discussing a future instrument I want him to make, I looked at two of his concert ukes. He only makes instruments to order, so these are always pretty rare, but crucially always quite amazing to play, sound brilliant and are the most stylist instruments on planet Earth!

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The Elizabethan Sessions, a real sonic treat

I was lucky enough to have heard an advanced preview of The Elizabethan Sessions a number of months ago while meeting up with Martin Simpson Two things immediately struck me about these sessions. The first was how wonderful the singing and playing was, especially the harmonies and fascinating use of instruments. The second impression was just how fantastic these tracks sounded. As an unashamed hifi fanatic when I heard the original mixes at Martin’s House I thought this CD to be one of the best recordings I have heard to date for sonic quality.

I’m not surprised that even though it was released only this week, it’s already receiving a lot of positive feedback. I enjoy folk music but would not consider myself to be a massive fan of traditional folks songs, BUT as the vocals of Nancy Kerr are quite superb and the harmony singing is second to none. Stand out tracks for me are “London” and Martin Simpson’s wonderful “Elizabeth spells death”. Its a wonderful haunting, musically provocative work and I shall certainly have it on my play list for some time to come. Hopefully there will be some gigs showcasing this material!

Songwriting and arranging material for The Small Change Diaries

Since last October I have been heavily involved in writing material for The Small Change Diaries. There are now eighteen completed songs and two sets of lyrics that still require music. In recent months I have also been co writing with Jessica Bowie. This is proving to be a fascinating process, but one that is working exceptionally well.Sometimes I will get so far with a song and then need a new set of eyes and ears on what I have come up with. This was certainly true with “Miles Ahead” and “One Day I’ll disappear” Jessica very quickly came up with some superb melodies for both these tracks and I anticipate that they will make it to the album.

nick codyOften when you are creating your own material its often difficult to be objective after a while. Usually an idea for a set of lyrics will appear that then spark an entire train of thought. Personally I find many of my best ideas come immediately after waking up in the morning and I always have a moleskin diary close at hand to capture whatever comes to mind. One we have the basic song structure in place, the next stage is to look at final arrangements for the band.

The Small Change Diaries has in my view a really interesting combination of instruments with two ukuleles, guitar, percussion and double bass. This allows all manner of possibilities and sonic explorations crossing over into jazz, blues, ragtime, and roots music.

Practice, practice and practice

The Small Change Diaries ensemble is now complete with all five members now in place. We are now in regular practice mode to refine and develop the material. Its fascinating to see songs develop and come to life. Its also a real pleasure to work with such seasoned musicians. The addition of Garry Jackson adds a different sonic dimension to many of the tracks and today we rehearsed “Birdman” and “Airport Codeine Blues” both of which benefit massively with great double bass lines. Its taken a while to find the right person to fill this slot and Rob Sayles has done a great job recommending Garry!

The next few months will be really busy as we decide which of the current 18 tracks will make the final cut for recording. Its a tough task, but we are already discovering a number of tracks that sound fully formed. Its strange for me to see a song develop from a scribble on one of my moleskin diaries to a fully formed song. Jessica Bowie has co written a number of the recent songs and bring a brilliant sense of melody and timing to the proceedings.

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Not One of Us Lyrics

This is the first song I wrote for The Small Change Diaries. Its also the first protest song I have written with a fair bit of social commentary!

Not One of Us by Nick Cody

Nothing I could say to you will make you change your mind,
This is not the first time but you still don’t see the signs,
When heads are in the clouds not a foot upon the ground,
You’re the one now long gone, the damage left behind…

Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every thought you think right now, will someday disappear…
Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every song, you hear right now will someday disappear…

They say this land is your land, but that’s not strictly true,
Fifty foot down in the ground still don’t belong to you,
Time to create some street art, paint the neighborhood,
A kaleidoscope of colours that will only do you good

Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every thought you think right now, will someday disappear…
Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every song, you hear right now will someday disappear…

You’re fucking with the future, fracking with the past,
It’s a waste of time and energy, but at least you’ve had your blast,
We are all just passing through; none are here to stay,
Don’t think about the future that just gets in the way, cause

Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every thought you think right now, will someday disappear…
Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every song, you hear right now will someday disappear…

Half the country’s drowning, now is the rising tide,
You say perhaps you’ll drop by and at least you tried,
This defense won’t hold water, no longer holds ideas,
A perfect storm is coming, for this to end in tears

Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every thought you think right now, will someday disappear…
Not one of us is smarter, than all of us round here,
Every song, you hear right now will someday disappear…

No more benefits for us but there’s benefit for you
A tick box of uncertainty, no one knows what to do
Four more local suicides keep this population down,
Here’s your call to action when you hear this sound

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Welcome to the Site

Welcome to www.nickcody.co.uk my site for musical discussion, song writing and random thoughts. I have been fascinated by music from an early age and am delighted to be involved in The Small Change Diaries – www.thesmallchangediaries.com with Jessica Bowie and Rob Sayles.

I am interested in creating original thought provoking music and am an avid collector of all manner of acoutsic and electric instruments. In recent years I have become fascinated by the ukulele and now have a growing collection from around the world. Take a look at the video section on this ste where I talk about my instruments.

Nick Cody

Please take a look around and check out my Facebook page as well

Warm Regards

NC