Wireless guitar systems: cooler than I thought!

A question I have found myself asking: “do I, generally low-key jazz guitarist, need a wireless guitar system?” My reply to self was often, “No! Of course not! Those are like for rock guys who jump around and stuff”. That’s not exactly my vibe.

This archtop’s input jack is mounted to the pickguard, a cable stomp could potentially be disastrous. Among other benefits, the wireless system prevents that.

But my curiosity about these gizmos was revitalized when I noticed that they were starting to hit the market for very cheap… like as low as $40 cheap. And what’s more: they are no longer this clumsy, VCR-sized receiver appliance paired with a belt-clipped transmitter box that I remember folks rocking in the late ’90s. Now they are a pair of internal-lipo-battery-powered devices that plug directly in to your amp and guitar. And they’re pretty small–I’ve seen objects dangling from ears that are bigger.

While I’m not jumping around arena stages, I do find myself in very awkward cable situations. I manage a weekly jam session and find myself on my feet shuffling around a lot to rotate musical guests in. It only takes a couple of guitarist sit ins and the floor becomes cable spaghetti. I also sit when I play, and when I get up I have done my fair share of cable stomping, resulting in awful electronic pops at best and busted cables/output jacks at worst.

In the past few years, I’ve seen a couple of acoustic jazz musicians start to show up with these wireless things and sing their praises and I figured it was time (shout out to Duo Gadjo, Alex Fernandez and Jess King). For $50, why not? Some guitar cables cost more than that.

There’s a wide range of these things on Amazon from various Chinese companies with prerequisite nonsense names like “Flamma”, “Getaria”, and “Masingo”. Makes me wonder if they name them by throwing darts at a wall of phonetic sounds.

The various options that might be confusing at first, but the real things to look for are which frequency band they transmit on. There’s three classes of these: 2.4ghz, 5.8ghz, and UHF.

While cheaper overall, 2.4ghz is the same range that wifi broadcasts on, so it’s more likely to get signal interference. I’d stick to the latter two types: 5.8ghz or UHF. But I do know people with 2.4ghz units with no complaints at all, so your mileage may vary.

I ultimately ended up with the 5.8ghz Lekato model (affiliate link). It didn’t exhibit the noise gating*, and I haven’t noticed any issues in terms of connection and interference right out of the box. Sound wise, I can’t detect much of a difference A/Bing these with physical cables. They last about 5 hours on a charge, which is enough for a couple of gigs at least.

It’s been several months with these things and I still use them. Some unexpected benefits:

  • I can walk out to the audience area and soundcheck the band while playing.
  • I can easily change positions on stage and communicate with the band without shouting across.
  • I can put my guitar on a stand without unplugging it (can be difficult with endpin jacks)
  • Makes unexpected sitting in at a gig super easy. Just hand the receiver to a person with an amp with an extra channel or PA to plug in.
  • Works great with ukulele, which always feels weighed down by cables.
  • I can parade around with the tip bucket while taking a solo! (Ok, that was uncharacteristic of me, and it was a pretty wild night at Club Deluxe).

One thing with these is that it’s really hard to tell between the receiver (plugs into the amp) and the transmitter (plugs into the guitar). They look identical, save some tiny text on the front. My “stick a piece of blue tape on it” life hack fixed that problem right quick.

Blue tape = plug this end into the amp, dummy.

Some other issues I have with it, which are mostly not the fault of the device itself, but good to know:

  • The slider power switch tiny and sort of awkward to toggle. I’d prefer a tactile toggle button.
  • Can be easy to forget to turn them off to save battery life and you have to do it on both the receiver and transmitter ends.
  • Makes a pop sound when turned off.
  • I often forget to unplug them and unknowingly leave it on the guitar when I case it. Thought I had lost one on multiple occasions, it was just plugged in to the guitar.
  • They have separate micro-USB charge ports. It comes with a Y-cable for charging both simultaneously, but would be cool if they could be attached in series and you could charge them on the go with a cell phone battery and a single cable.
  • As the player, you’re in the worst position to determine if the battery is about to die, since you can’t really see the unit from behind. Last time I got close to that, my band members pointed out “uh your thing is blinking red”, so they will probably let you know 🙂

*Warning: the first one I bought (on recommendation) was the UHF-based Swiff WS-50. I don’t know if all UHF units do this, but it turned out to cut the volume significantly, and have a horrible noise-cancelling / noise gate effect which absolutely destroying the sustain and dynamics of my instrument. I’m honestly shocked any musician would want to use it and I sent it back immediately. So avoid that one, and be sure to read the bad reviews specifically to see what folks are complaining about.

Update: another colleague rushed to the defense of the WS-50 and said his does not exhibit this problem. It’s possible I got a lemon or they addressed the issue in later revisions.

Updated tone volume control boxes

I’ve updated my volume/tone control boxes. Both have a very convenient standard 1/4″ cable output jack. No more dongle hell!

Volume/Tone control box

The design now more closely resembles the original DeArmond Rhythm Chief boxes, with the omission of the “Rhythm” toggle button. To be honest, I’ve had ones with this button and I’m not really sure what it does. If it changes the sound, the effect is VERY subtle, though maybe mine was broken. Do comment if you know.

I can make them with a 1/8″ input jack for the pickup too, in case you want to add a plug to your pickup and make it detachable. Otherwise, you need to solder the cable directly from the pickup yourself. See picture below for an example using a Krivo pickup:

Available on my store here.

Volume-only control box

For the minimalists. A single volume knob, leave the tone to your amp and hands.

Available on my store here.

Tone/Vol Box Installation

Note: this is not a super-easy soldering job. There are tight clearances and tricky angles. If you’re not experienced with this kind of work, you may want to seek an expert to help.

  1. Pry the panel under the box off with a flathead screwdriver.
  2. Strip about 3/4″ off the end of your pickup’s cable and separate the hot and ground wires. The ground wire is either the shielding wire woven around the middle hot wire, or it will be colored black.
  3. Thread the pickup cable through the hole on the side of the unit
  4. Solder the pickup to the correct terminals:
    • Tone/Volume box: You’ll be soldering to the closest potentiometer from the hole. Solder the hot wire to the furthest terminal on this pot (the same one as the capacitor), and the ground wire to the closest terminal. Do not solder anything to the middle terminal.
    • Volume-only box: Solder the hot wire to the closest terminal on this pot, and the ground wire to the metal back of the potentiometer or the ground terminal of the input jack (it is on the angled side of the black housing), whichever is easier.
  5. Secure a ziptie tightly around the cable on the interior-side of the unit and cut off the extra tail of the ziptie. This will prevent the cable from putting strain on the solder joints when pulled.
  6. Put the panel back on and press around the perimeter to snap it into place. (If it has trouble staying, you can also put a dab of glue on the black input jack housing to keep it in place.

All about that DeArmond Rhythm Chief pickup screw-on connector

If you’re here you probably just acquired an earlier vintage DeArmond Rhythm Chief (RC1000 or RC1100) archtop guitar pickup, got all excited to plug it in, then looked at the volume/tone control box thought, “huh? what the heck is this weird screwy connector?”

Well I’ll tell you what that is: it’s a very antiquated microphone jack that isn’t really around anymore. And to save you the time, the part number is Switchcraft 5501FX, and you can get them at Mouser, Digikey, or Angela Instruments. You supply your own guitar cable, chop off one end, and attach this instead. Done.

Well, actually it’s not that simple. It’s a very unconventional connector and not really a “unscrew some stuff, then solder two contacts” sort of affair. But I’ll get to how to install one of those in a bit.

Another option is to just buy the whole dang cable. Archtop.com has them here…. for $49 + shipping. And I see them on Reverb for more or less the same.

Now, I don’t know about you but something doesn’t sit right about spending over $50 on on a cable (sorry, readers who work for Monster). Sure, if you’re a busy multi-thousandaire you will probably think nothing of snapping one up, but chances are you’re a dumpster-diving jazz guitarist wondering if there’s an alternative.

So is there a cheapskate, DIY, stuff-around-the-house solution? Well, as it turns out… yes there is.

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Steel guitar pick and bar caddy

So I originally designed this to keep my cat from knocking all my steel guitar picks and bar onto the floor and batting them into her secret black hole portal… and it does a fine job of that.

But the real killer feature is I can put on all my thumb picks in one quick motion. Often the hardest part of regular practice is getting started. Less friction = more practice.

On my Fender dual pro, I have a smaller version that I stick on to the guitar with mounting putty, which helps me get ready to play in no time at all. The bar can just rest in the tuner pan, as has been the way for generations before me.

All options are available on my store.

Removable 1/4″ input jack enclosure for Archtops and Selmer-style guitars

I started with volume/tone control boxes, then volume-only control boxes, and now it only seems natural to go the “purest” form: a simple 1/4″ input jack enclosure for the various pickups you might encounter. And if you’re like me, you no doubt have a dusty drawer full of them: Krivo, DeArmond, Stimer, Kent, and so on. Why do we do this? Who knows.

These are available in my store.

A standalone input jack strapped on to the top 3 strings.
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DeArmond FHC-style Volume Control Box

Edit: I have discontinued this model. See this post for the most recent version.

More news on the DeArmond control box front: I started making these more compact volume-only control boxes. Available in the store.

Why? The original DeArmond FHC pickups only had a single volume control knob. Minimalism at its best. After all, you can set tone on the amp. Personally, I don’t mess with tone much in the middle of my playing… too complicated. I’ll leave that sort of thing to Jerry Byrd and Danny Gatton.

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Django’s 1939 J’attendrai: AI upscaled, de-noised, and re-sync’ed

Every gypsy jazz guitarist knows this video well. It’s 1939. Joseph and the fellas are getting a card game in before the show. Stéphane’s having a cigarette in bed (tsk!). And Django Reinhardt’s lounging on the couch playing just about the most beautiful intro to J’attendrai imaginable.

I used AI upscaling to bump this video up to 1080p. The AI also did a great job of removing noise, and a decent job sharpening up edges. I then used some old-fashioned video editing to enhance the colors. Nothing I could do about the fact that someone forgot to turn on the lights halfway through!

The audio was also processed. The source video was a bit out of sync. I did better, but it was tricky to get right for reasons I’ll get into later. Also amplified the audio, added some EQ, and removed the hiss from the background.

Anyway, I didn’t work miracles, but it’s still way better than any other version of it out there. It’s fun to see the furrow of Django’s brow as he plays his legendary solo.

A few realizations working on this video:

  • This video is not, in fact, live. At least not all of it. You can hear a clear splice when Django’s solo begins.
  • There’s also a part in the guitar intro that’s impossible to sync with Django’s fingers. My only explanation is that it’s dubbed.
  • Joseph Reinhardt’s guitar is very, very beat up!

Django Reinhardt en couleur

Have you ever wondered what Django Reinhardt looked like in color?

I’ve been very fascinated with AI image processing, specifically upscaling and colorization of old black and white photos. Having looked into a few open-source libraries, DeOldify kept coming up with the most impressive results.

The first images I thought to throw at DeOldify were those of my hero Django Reinhardt, of course. There are few color photos of him. In my obsession with his music, I’ve stared at these images a lot and seeing them in color is truly surreal for me. I hope it is for you too. Enjoy!

First a couple of stills from the classic 1939 J’attendrai video: one of only two known live videos of Django. Fans know it well:

Next, some of my favorite shots of Django, where he’s uncharacteristically playing an Archtop in lieu of his usual Selmer petit bouche:

This was Fred Guy’s Levin Deluxe guitar, which Reinhardt borrowed for a visit to the US. The AI did an amazing job. Look at the flame on the sides of that guitar!
Another shot of the Levin Archtop and the day’s sports section. The guitar was auctioned a few years back. Anyone know who got it?
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Swing Guitar Intros – Part 1 – Crispy Matt Munisteri Voicings!

If you’re a jazz guitarist you’ve probably experienced this: a band member calls a tune, then casually looks over at you and asks, “got a little intro for this?”. In a matching casual tone you respond, “yeah, sure,” hiding the swift internal panic you are, no doubt, really feeling.

Matt Munisteri – fretboard magician

An “intro”? Now what? There’s an endless galaxy of possibility and now it’s your job to come up with a succinct, crystal-clear, improvised micro-composition before the band starts looking at their watches.

To be honest, I never really formally explored the matter until now. But having transcribed a few nice intros from the masters, I may have some suggestions on the business of starting a song.

Continue reading “Swing Guitar Intros – Part 1 – Crispy Matt Munisteri Voicings!”