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Pentatonic Puzzle Contest

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In the first three episodes of Season 2 of Cracking the Code, we spent a lot of time understanding the downward pickslanting system of Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Johnson. And now it’s time to put that understanding to the creative test!

Yngwie is famous for his mastery of sequenced ideas, like fours. Eric Johnson is famous for his mastery of the pentatonic scale. And if we join these two aesthetics, we can do something really awesome: ascending pentatonic fours. There’s actually a really simple way of playing this that fits perfectly with the Yngwie and Eric picking system we’ve outlined so far. It sounds great, it’s easy to do…and we’re not going to tell you how to do it. And that’s because you are going to tell us!

If you can figure out the picking pattern to ascending pentatonic fours, we’ll give the first five correct responses a free Masters in Mechanics subscription. Watch the video above to learn more!

UPDATE: After 80+ responses in < 24 hrs, we've closed the contest. Contest aside, though, this is a great practical exercise in the power and flexibility of pickslanting — a homework assignment that will add an awesome pattern to your arsenal. We encourage you all to give it a try!

Headless in the Saddle

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The only thing more terrifying than being chased by a guy with no head is doing justice to an American icon in animated form. So when author and historian Betsy Bradley approached us about applying our animation chops to the Headless Horseman’s famous equestrian pursuit of Ichabod Crane, we were quaking in our boots. Read More

Derryl Gabel: Interview with a Modern Virtuoso

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Eddie Van Halen reinvigorated ’80s rock guitar with a double shot of blazing energy and subversive creativity. In the process, he kickstarted a kind of breathless arms race in guitar technique — a promise of stardom via innovation — that was sometimes a little like a Silicon Valley guitar bubble. But out of the melee of technical competition, something ironically straightforward actually happened: we all got better.

A particularly stunning product of the generational advance of musical technology is fusion virtuoso, and Cracking the Code viewer, Derryl Gabel. The archetypal modern lead player, his total command of the guitar’s many colors is both highly enjoyable as a listener and terribly scary as a fellow player. Derryl employs his seemingly effortless dominance of the instrument’s physical mechanics, both left hand and right, in service of an encyclopedic and endlessly tasteful command of modern jazz and fusion harmony. His blazing speed and tasty phrases have won a number of celebrity admirers, from George Lynch to Dweezil Zappa — with whom he’s set to release an album later this year. Read More

Building the Much-Stang

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I sold mens suits in high school. Compared to the stockroom at the dollar store, the clothing business offered a far lower risk of maiming my fretting hand with a box cutter, and of course, took place at the very location I’d likely end up anyway: the mall. It was a suburban sinecure of the highest order, offering fringe benefits like girl-watching and free tailoring, while simultaneously conferring valuable life skills. Full Windsor knot anyone? To this day, I can still spot a neck size from twenty paces. Read More

No More Bull: The Moog Taurus I

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The Taurus had actually been designed by Moog as part of a trio of synthesizers called the Constellation. The lower portion, operated via foot like the pipe organs of yore, would handle bass duties. The upper sections, supplied separately, would present more traditional keyboard interfaces. While the Constellation project faltered, the bass pedal section became a success on its own.  As a rock band accoutrement, its hands-free operation provided guitar-driven songs a keyboard part without, quite literally, lifting a finger.
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Behind the Scenes: Envisioning the Arpeggio Mystery

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In the Arpeggio Mystery, we explore the difficulties a person is likely to encounter reverse engineering Yngwie Malmsteen’s arpeggio-based solos in a world populated by jagged trees, wolves shrouded in fog and shadows, and a circus full of little moving angular pick people. It’s a scene that’s become a favorite of mine, but it didn’t just form out of the ether. A lot of consideration went into the conceptualization of this world, and a lot of work went into its execution, so how did we go about making it? And where did the inspiration for the scene come from?

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Behind the Scenes: Rock Concert Regenesis

Behind the Scenes: Rock Concert Regenesis

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Let’s go back to November 19, 1990, to a mid-size concert venue on the edge of campus in a college town on the eastern seaboard…back to one rocking night at Toad’s Place, where both Alice in Chains and Extreme took the stage, performing to a crowd of twenty-somethings, buzzed, and abuzz with excitement. While Troy remembers this night clearly — the cheering crowd, the lights, the energy, the unique sound of Alice in Chains, the picking mastery of Nuno himself — I don’t remember it at all; I was still in Seattle (and in diapers) and wouldn’t set foot in New Haven for another couple decades. If you weren’t there either, it’s hard to imagine the atmosphere and excitement that permeated the space, hard to feel the experience of being at that particular concert. But it’s an important scene to the narrative of Cracking the Code, and in the process of creating Episode 7: Licks et Veritas, we had to come up with some way to depict this event in all its glory.

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Hail, the Cab: Building a Custom 2x12 Cabinet

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Cracking the Code Impulse Response Pack

Record the speaker cabinet sounds of Cracking the Code with the Cracking the Code IR Pack!

Includes all the pine cabinet H30 impulses — plus the Marshall 1960A impulses we use for rhythm tracks, and a couple ultra-rare Cornford 2×12 impulses featuring the Vintage 30 speaker recorded via the Shure SM57.

UPDATE: We don’t currently have the impulse response pack for sale, but will try to get it added to our new store soon.

Amid the seemingly illimitable interest in amplifiers, with their mysterious tone crafting abilities, and their steam-punk innards so attractively aglow with filaments and glass, it’s easy to overlook the humble wooden box at the end of the chain. But if your 10-second Chevelle is only as fast as the slicks that hook it to the tarmac, then your supercharged big block of an amp only sounds as good as the device actually emitting those pressure waves into the room: the speaker cabinet.

Indeed, the speaker and cabinet assembly is a good part of any classic tone. That sparkle on the first Van Halen album? Reportedly the work of the glittery JBL D-120 speaker. But with a nearly endless variety of speaker cabinets available in all shapes, sizes, and power handling capabilities, why build your own? As is often the case in the world of extreme guitar sports, the answer is simple: because we can.
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