Monday, December 30, 2013

Quick Guitar Mod: Upgrade Your Strat Tremolo Block

I’m going to digress on my blog and talk about a quick upgrade for any Stratocaster type-tremolo.

I play lots of guitar for work (and bass, and banjo, and mandolin, and ukulele, and whatever), but I’m also an inveterate tinkerer and modder. Usually I mod/upgrade small stuff like tuning keys and knobs or bridge/saddles, but I know how to fix the big stuff (like electronics) too.

I was in the market for a fun and kooky guitar so I bought one of those Fender Modern Player Marauders. They’re 25” scale (like a Stratocaster), have a Strat trem, and a nifty offset body. They’re also cheap and made in China so I wasn’t really sure what to expect quality-wise.

First of all: I really really really like it. It feels good, and better yet, what really makes it a formidable working-musician’s axe is that it has all three major pickup types on tap (P-90, single-coil & humbucker) 

I’ve already put a lot of gigging hours on it and the Marauder delivers the goods.

But, if you’ve ever bought a non-American-made Stratocaster, chances are if you look under the hood you'll find that the tremolo block is not your normal solid chunk of steel.

It probably looks more like the one on the left below: 

Cheap original on left, solid steel replacement (standard size) on right
This is called pinching-pennies. It is a lightweight piece of some sort of crappy alloy.

And you know what? I kind of got angry. I stamped my feet. I crossed my arms. I wasn’t going to take it any more. I was going to fight for my right to party. (er…)

Anyhow, I did a little research and bought a solid steel replacement tremolo block from

I wasn’t sure how much of an actual difference it would make. But, hey, the solid steel block was only $25 bucks, so why not give it a shot? (They also offer solid brass)


I noticed first and foremost how SOLID the guitar felt even when playing it unplugged.
I always set up my trem bridges flush-mounted, so it wasn’t some sort of “play” in the tremolo. It just felt more solid when I played and bent notes all over creation. It was noticeably heavier, less “toy-like” in weight. It now weighs a fraction more than my American Strats (which if I’m not mistaken makes sense, the offset body being a little larger).

When I plugged it in, I perceived a sonic difference in the sustain (the notes decayed less quickly) and in a snappier response. Before I changed the tremolo block, the guitar had strings that were a few weeks old, so I won’t declare “Dude, it totally increased sustain by 50%!” But I perceived a difference… and I’m pretty darn skeptical about these sorts of things.

So, if you’ve got non-American Fender/Squire (or cheap knock-off) with a Synchro Tremolo, why not upgrade?

Before you get started, remember to take pictures of each step BEFORE you remove things so you know how the go back together. And consider numbering or tagging or otherwise separating/organizing each component you remove so you don’t end up with a pile of mystery screws afterwards.

Ok, here’s how you do it:

1) Start by removing the strings and the string saddles
for Pete’s sake find a little dish or jar or something to put all your parts and screws in!

2) Remove the tremolo back plate and the tremolo springs (careful not to make them snap out at you)

3) Unscrew the three flush-mount screws connecting the bridge plate to the tremolo block (not the six screws attaching the bridge plate to the body)

4) Slap in and secure the new tremolo block of super powers. 

5) Check that the hole for the tremolo arm lines up. Feel free to facepalm if it doesn’t, and reorder a different config.
misfit... boo.
6) Reattach the springs. (careful now, and put them back the way you found them. Or rearrange to your heart’s content. You’ll be adjusting the spring tension anyways)

7) Reinstall string saddles. (you’re going to adjust intonation later, right? RIGHT?)

Put on some new strings and tune up.

Adjust tremolo spring tension to taste (I like my tremolos flush mount with no backwards play) and reattach back plate.*

That’s it!

If you do it, report back whether you think it made a difference or not, and with any technical glitches, tricks, or advice from your experience.

*One strange glitch was that the claw of the springs where they attached to the new block were a half millimeter higher than the level of the guitar body, so the backplate couldn’t be mounted flush—and more importantly the end of the springs would rub/press against the tremolo block. (not the block itself, mind you, just the claw of the springs)
UNACCEPTABLE! So I got a file and grooved out the inside of the backplate to accommodate the height discrepancy. One could also, theoretically groove out the tremolo block so that the spring claws sat lower. But I didn’t want to bother filing steel.
The springs are sticking up! Drats!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chiral Mad 2 Released

Ladies and Gentlefrogs, Chiral Mad 2 is out so get thee to Amazon and order yourself a copy.

Chiral Mad 2 on Amazon

My short story "Another Man's Bones" opens up the collection (a big honor for me)

I know I've mentioned it before, but the people I share the table of contents (TOC) with are AWESOME.
Some serious luminaries and all-around great people.

One aspect of this publication which may be of interest to other hungry writers out there: my story had been rejected by dozens of other markets before being accepted. I had several really positive personal rejections, but all rejections nonetheless.
I knew the story was solid. This isn't just vanity, I can tell when I write a stinker (usually after a few days of perspective). This story I knew was good. And I'd also put it through the wringer of my writer's group (The Illiterati) and it got their stamp of approval.
Point being, if you've got a story you believe in, keep submitting it! Every editor is looking for something different. Eventually you'll find a home for it.

The key word of the day is PERSISTENCE.

For us writers, with our perennial vacillation between soaring ego and crushing self-doubt, it is persistence and plain-old dogged cussedness that drags us through.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

You Used Song Lyrics in Your Self-Published Book?

Some things you never want to hear. That your best friend was swallowed by a Kaiju. That your mom won the lottery, but decided to disown all of you and retire to Fiji with the pool guy. That your little brother is now a world-famous dub-step dj.

Add to that list, "My self-published book contains song lyrics."

Some of you may be asking “You mean I need permission to use song lyrics in my novel?”
(my awesome graphic design skillz)

I was speaking at a conference recently, and during one panel the topic of using brand names and trademarks in fiction was in full swing when somebody asked the above question.

The short answer is: Yes, you need permission. Song lyrics are copyrighted material. You need legal permission from the copyright holder to reprint copyrighted material--even a line or partial line of song lyrics.

The problem was that this individual had self-published their novel… and apparently there were scenes where the protagonist sang in the shower.

OMG. He illegally used real lyrics to a popular song right there in his self-pubbed opus.

He didn’t know it was illegal.

The record label doesn’t even need to win the lawsuit, they just need to sue you with deeper pockets. You’ll capitulate and then move your family down to the homeless shelter where you’ll cry over your garnished wages for eternity.
"Hmm, this scene could use a popular song lyric..."
This alone is a strong case for having an editor. A real editor (hint: not your mom) would have caught this. Just like they would catch you using a brand name, and tell you to genericize it.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t reprint song lyrics in your novel. Not unless 1) you wrote the darn song and have every legal authority to use it, or 2) you’ve gone through all the legal hoopla to reprint the excerpt by permission of the copyright holder.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Acceptance and Contest Win: Dark Fuse & Vegas Valley Book Fest 2013

Well, it's been a productive past few months.

While I've been neck deep in the heavy rewrites and revisions of my current WIP (work in progress for all you not yet in the know), I've also been throwing my proverbial hat into the ring by submitting short stories all over the place.

1) My short story "The Resurrectionist" won 2nd place in the 2013 Vegas Valley Book Festival Flash Fiction contest. (I'll be reading my winning entry at the VVBF on Saturday Nov 2nd at noon in the small courtyard of the old 5th street schoolhouse in downtown Las Vegas)

2) My short story "Rainmaker" was just picked up by Dark Fuse for their Horror d'oeuvres flash fiction outlet. Fun stuff. Rainmaker was my entry in the Killercon 2013 Creative Fiction contest, judged by the peerless Ellen Datlow and Christopher Rice (a rising star to watch).

Both stories were written on the same day (within a few hours of one another) in two timed contests. The first contest allowed 90 minutes to write, edit and submit, the second only 20 minutes.

Most of you know that I have a super-duper writers group. The Illiterati.
Watch out, better hide your kids, hide your wife.
One of the best things about having a group in this solitary life of a writer is that you roll together. Any triumph for one is a triumph for all. Life is better when you travel as a pack.

In September the Illiterati as a group entered two short story contests in a row: The Killercon 2013 Creative Fiction contest and the 2013 Vegas Valley Book Festival Flash Fiction contest.

We won both.
(Congrats to Matt Czarnowski for his Illiterati-representing Killercon win!)

I credit as much to our own (growing) writing ability as I do to the sense of friendly competition of "outwriting" one another. I admire and enjoy the unique writing voice and style of each member of my group, and to go head-to-head with them is both an honor and a real challenge.

What are you waiting for? Find some like-minded writers and start yourself a writers group. You won't know what you're doing at first, but you'll learn.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Whispers From the Abyss Anthology

Hey dude, you've got something on your face...
Hey there kiddos, you can read my latest short story "When We Change" in the WHISPERS FROM THE ABYSS anthology.

This is the story that Jack Ketchum deemed awesome enough to be declared winner of the 2012 Killercon flash fiction contest.

Snatch it up on Amazon!

Check out the table of contents here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ukulele Madness

Others have done great Killercon 2013 debriefs (such as John Palisano), so I won't rehash any of that.

Instead I'll tell you that Mercedes and I brought our ukuleles to the convention.

Now, just so's you know, my ukulele super-powers are well documented. (example 1: World Horror Con with Mort Castle, example 2: audio/video proof ) But on with my blog...

Ukuleles bring joy wherever they go.
Joy. And astonishment.

Christopher Rice totally amazed by our AC/DC rendition
And sometimes violence.
Michael Bailey and Mercedes M. Yardley remembering The Clash
But the important thing is that ukuleles bring people together.

Passing the ukes around with John Skipp

One thousand million pounds of love go out to my pals who shared and shredded the humble four strings of fury (meaning, my ukulele)

Michael Bailey, Matt Czarnowski, John Skipp, John Palisano, Sarah Peed, Mike McCarty, Stacy Scranton-Morgan, Edmund Colell, and the half dozen I probably also forgot... (oops)

So everyone should go buy themselves an ukulele. I'll wait right here while you do.

And a few of you will be able to view this video of me playing "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails on the ukulele.
(That's John Palisano on wall drums and Mercedes M. Yardley on chocolate chip shaker)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chiral Mad 2 and Heading to Killercon

Hello boys and girls.

Got some good news, my short story "Another Man's Bones" has been accepted in the awesome anthology CHIRAL MAD 2, the follow-up to the award winning CHIRAL MAD.

Check out some of the great names I'm sharing a ToC with!

Jack Ketchum, David Morrell, Mort Castle (MORT!), Ramsey Campbell, Gene O'Neill... that's just the first reveal. (also P. Gardner Goldsmith and John Skipp via Written Backward's FB page)

There are also some awesome rumors floating about, but we'll go there if they happen. M'kay?

So with this great news, I'm off to Killercon 2013 held right here in Las Vegas NV.
I love writer conventions. And I love the people who put on and attend Killercon.

It will be a fun fun fun weekend. I'll fill you in on the deets later.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Illiterati World Domination Tour 2013

My writer's group, The Illiterati, will be speaking this Thursday night at the Las Vegas Writers Group monthly meeting. We're kind of a big deal (at least my mom says so).

Thursday July 18th, 7:00 PM at the Tap House
(5589 W Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89146)
$5 at the door. Food and drinks and fun!

We are talking about Critique Groups: How to form one and run one without going insane.

When we started The Illiterati 5 years ago, only one of us had ever been published before. Since then we've all made multiple professional sales including novels, non-fiction essays, and many many short stories.

We have been featured on panels at World Fantasy Convention, World Horror Convention, KillerCon, and have caused much general mayhem.

If you are interested in taking your writing to the next level, join us.

Also, we are very serious and you should listen to us.
Billie the Girl, Mercedes M. Yardley, Ryan Bridger, Mason Ian Bundschuh

Friday, June 28, 2013

New Orleans Jam

I meant to write an insightful post about my amazing adventures in New Orleans for World Horror Convention 2013.

But instead I wrote this song. It’s on the ukulele, so you know it’s probably heavy metal.

But you can read a little about my experience by surfing over to these blogs.
(any of you jokers reading this, link drop those I am too lazy to remember in the comments)

What you need to know boils down to this:

  • I travelled with my great friends Mercedes M. Yardley and Matt Czar. Bailey Hunter and Harley May joined us. And we explored the city like champs.
  • We rented a house instead of staying at the hotel. Best. Idea. EVAR. Way to go AirBnB
  • Bats fly around the city. This is awesome to me.
  • Horror writers are far more cuddly and friendly than they have any right to be.
  • I met with my publisher. Yes. My publisher. I’ll spill the deets when we have the cover, promise.
  • I ate alligator and it really did taste like chicken. I wonder if bats taste like chicken too.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Friday Funny: Best Hamburger On Earth, Evarrrrr

Have you ever asked yourself: "Self, how can I tell the difference between a burger that is weak, and one that has strength?"

Well ask no more, because Daym breaks it down for you.

There is something so magnetic and delightful about this guy's profound enjoyment of his food. I personally think more people should get this excited about what some might call "mundane" and "everyday" things.

But maybe not THIS excited...

(Unless you're also riding a dinosaur while filming this rainbow)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

World Horror Convention 2013 Preshow

As this post launches itself into the waiting arms of the interwebz, I'll be halfway to New Orleans for World Horror Convention and the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards.

I like writers' conventions. My personality type is energized by people. As stated by one online personality test (always so accurate!) "Strangers are just friends that Mason hasn't met yet."

However, I am doubly looking forward to this convention.

Not only will I be hanging out with some really incredible people whom I've met at recent conventions (whom I've blogged about here and here and here) but we're renting a party house.

Ok, maybe not like, raging parties. But my dear pal Mercedes Yardley of Illiterati fame, and Matt C (a writer friend and coincidentally my neighbor!(and who is in our rival critique group that has yet to come up with a name)) and the ever graceful and sly Bailey Hunter (@Slave_To_Coffee) are renting a house in the French Quarter from which to launch our midnight attacks.

Well, we might be reading and writing lots. That's kind of like a midnight attack, right?

Kind of like how these are really cute stuffed beavers... right? Right? RIGHT?

These devil beavers were for sale on Craigslist...
They haunt my dreams with their beady eyes.
No really, they have beads for eyes.

Plus, when I get back I'll have some exciting news to share with you peoples.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Non-Luddite Rant Over eBooks

Moving stinks, don’t it?

Especially when you possess more books than most county libraries.
This is just the foyer area...
Floor to ceiling, baby

I more than once heard exasperated friends (who’d I'd roped into helping me lug boxes around) ask whether I’d ever heard of eBooks.

Why yes. Yes I have.

See, I’m not really a Luddite. I have the smart phone, I do the Twitter thing (I still think people who tweet should be called twits, just saying)

But gosh darn it, I want to FEEL pages when I read a book. I love the wood pulp smell of my old battered paperbacks, and the dusty tang of all those gilt-edged hardbacks.

And there’s a part of me that doesn't entirely trust digital media.

Not the content, but the technological architecture and it’s susceptibility to manipulation by anyone with either power or an agenda. Since eBooks are a post-Napster commercial enterprise, the architecture is “locked”.

As opposed to, say, MP3s.

You can make MP3s to your heart’s content. There’s nothing really stopping you from playing, copying, distributing or sharing MP3 files—at least not from the technological side. The MP3 was originally a proprietary audio file format designed by Steinberg in Germany; they used to charge a licensing fee to create MP3 files. But no one programmed in DRM so somewhere along the line the genie was let out of the bottle and no power on earth can put it back in the bottle for Steinberg to control.

In other words, you are the master of your MP3 files. Enjoy that, revel in it, cackle a little maniacal cackle if you must.

It is different for your eBook.

Did you know that in 2009 Amazon pulled copies of George Orwell’s “1984” from Amazon AND FROM the eReader of everyone who had purchased the book? (They call that irony) It’d be like a publisher reaching into your bookshelf and removing the book you bought last week. It doesn’t even matter the reason the book was yanked: IT WAS YANKED. Sure, sure, the internet goes berserk when it happens, but this feature is BUILT INTO THE ARCHITECTURE.

Are you picking up the paranoia in my all caps?

Yeah it’s convenient, and yeah it feeds our instant gratification itch. But it’s not really ours so long as the technological architecture facilitates content control by anyone other than the end user.

What do you think, O great expanse of Internet?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Funny: Sweet Brown ain't got time for that

You know when there's a fire in your apartment complex?

Ain't nobody got time for that.

You know when smoke inhalation somehow gives you bronchitis?

Ain't nobody got time for that.

You know when you get up in the middle of the night to grab a pop?

Ain't nobody got time for that.

'Specially not Sweet Brown.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Acceptance! Whispers from the Abyss anthology

Hey kids, just coming up for air to announce that I will be in the upcoming Whispers from the Abyss anthology ( 01 Publishing - )

The crew at 01 Publishing are all comic book and video game geekery, so naturally I think they are pretty rad. This alone is enough of a reason for me to be excited about getting into this anthology.

Other reasons for excitement include: it's an H.P. Lovecraft inspired anthology (and I have a soft spot in my heart for the dude, as well as for all weird fiction) and, the cover art is pretty durn cool.

I'll let you know when it comes out so you can flock by the thousands to buy it...