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Month: March 2017

Lakbayani History Tours: More Than A History Lesson.

Lakbayani History Tours: More Than A History Lesson.

They say you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but no one ever said you can’t make it cool. Greg Mercado’s Lakbayani History Tours begs to differ from the typical walking tour experience that we’ve all been accustomed to. It has all the ingredients of a typical walking tour, but what Lakbayani brings new to the formula is the much added “Pzaz!” Greg, who’s also a rapper since his youth back in California, occasionally unleashes his hiphop beats and rapping skills at certain parts of the tour. He raps about Philippine history, relevant issues, even his life story, which is why he coins his tours “the walking history concert”.

Aside from a musical experience, the tour is also a transformative experience, as Greg shares his advocacy of spreading heroism among the people who joins his tour. Greg shares his vision of Lakbayani, which is rooted in the words “lakbay”, meaning journey, and “bayani”, extending to the Filipino concept of “bayanihan”, which in essence means heroism. “My vision is to be able to impart the spirit of bayanihan through my tours, and that every person would see themselves as heroes, contributing to the betterment of society”, says Greg.

I was privileged to have experienced his “Manila Bay-ani” walking tour. As both a music lover and history lover, I’d say it’s definitely by far the coolest walking tour that I’ve ever been to.

THE EXPERIENCE

Manila Bay

The tour begins with lunch at the Aristocrat restaurant in Roxas Boulevard. The highlight of the lunch is the Adobo Flying Saucer which is actually the jumping point of our journey through time. Greg explains how the classic Filipino dish Adobo connects us to our ancient roots. Before leaving the restaurant, Greg starts a brief activity, of which would be revisited at the later parts of the tour.

Right outside the Aristocrat is the first stop, by Rajah Sulayman’s monument. In the middle of his discussion, Greg pulls out his iPod and portable speaker. Beats started blasting, and the master rapper started busting out his rhymes with the Lakbayani theme song in full spirits. It was definitely an attraction as passers by stopped to watch, bobbing their heads with the beat. It’s not everyday you’d see a rap performance in the streets of Manila after all.

Right after the special number, we headed towards Manila Bay for the next part of the tour.

We stopped by certain points of interests along Manila Bay, and it was fascinating to see how much history can already be told right along this stretch.

Intramuros

After covering Manila Bay’s stretch, we hopped on to Greg’s van on the way to Intramuros for our next destination.

Points of interests covered in Intramuros included Fort Santiago, old churches such as the iconic San Agustin Church, several baluartes, and other historical sites and monuments.

In typical Lakbayani fashion, Greg inserts some rap numbers every now and then.

The activity that we started back in the Aristocrat also gets revisited at certain points.

Before leaving Intramuros, we took a rest at one of the shops there for some halo halo. This is a good break for participants as walking along Intamuros for hours can be very exhausting on a hot day, and what better way to rejuvenate from a tiring history tour than to have one of the Philippines’ most popular dessert.

Rizal Park

After capping off the Intramuros tour with dessert, we hopped back to Greg’s van once again to head to our last destination, Rizal Park.

image from Getty Images

Right after going through the points of interests in Rizal Park, it was time to conclude the tour. For the last part, we revisited the remaining activities that we started at the Aristocrat, and these activities were finally drawn to their conclusions. I would not want to reveal what happens in those activities so as not to ruin the element of surprise though. Right before we said our farewells, Greg whipped out his iPod and speaker for the last time and ended the tour with a grand finale.

What Lakbayani provides to its participants is a very unique and engaging experience. Greg’s raps are more than just gimmicks for entertainment, but rather, a personal and artistic take on showcasing history and relevant issues. It’s definitely a good break from the monotony of plain discussion. But the heart of what makes Lakyabani special is that while most history tours are focused on being informative, Lakyabani’s approach is geared more towards being transformative. Lakbayani’s objective, more than anything else, is really to be able to spread the value of heroism through the amazing stories of the heroes of this nation. The activities that are conducted in the tour are very effective in encouraging participants to reflect not only about relevant issues, but moreover, about themselves and their roles in society.

There are many history tours out there, but not all of them can leave a lasting impact on a person like Lakbayani does. I find it very significant that a simple history tour with a positive message can be an effective tool for change, and Lakbayani definitely hits this dead on the spot. You come in wanting to learn about history, and you come out wanting to impact society.

Check out the video below for the Lakbayani teaser —>

For more information about  Lakbayani History Tours, click here for their official webpage, or here for their facebook page.

 

Gear Review: Strymon Mobius and Timeline

Gear Review: Strymon Mobius and Timeline

They say GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) never ends, and when it strikes, it strikes hard – deep in your pockets! The pedal board will never cease to evolve in search of the “perfect tone” as what satisfies the ears today might not be as satisfying tomorrow… Then again, it could just be GAS from watching too many gear videos on YouTube.

As a guitarist, I’m more of the Mike Einziger and John Fruciante type who leans more towards tone coloring effects and guitar textures rather than ala Paul Gilbert and Rhandy Rhodes who focus heavily on macho riffs and heavy shredding. Given my guitar influences, I’ve always relied heavily on delays and modulation effects in my playing. These effects are staples in how I think about writing music so much so that I could hardly think about making music over the naked guitar tone.

My pedal board has seen many changes and switch ups over the years since I’ve started using stomp boxes. I’ve always preferred the more simpler plug and play, set and go, analog pedals rather than the super sophisticated multi-effects with so many  knobs and buttons of what looks like something hung on Darth Vader’s chest. I just found the simplicity and sound of the analog effects much more appealing to me. Plus, I find satisfaction in looking at a board with differently colored little things, rather than just one big black machine with many buttons. I think that for stomp box fans such as myself, it’s also the art of collecting that’s part of the fun.

Hearing so much rave about Strymon pedals, I’ve recently developed a GAS for them. These digital pedals have been said to be at the top of the stomp box echelon in terms of both sound, performance, and of course, price. The first two are obviously what draws most guitarists, while the third makes a lot of them turn away. Their delay pedal, the Timeline, costs about $ 450 new. This is pretty steep considering it’s a digital pedal which only does delay sounds. You’ll have to shell out another $ 450 for the Mobius if you want modulation effects, and another $450 for the Big Sky for reverb. That would be about $ 1,350 getting all of them new. Compare that to just getting a top of the line multi effects such as the Line 6 Helix which already has distortion and amp simulations for almost the same amount of money.

But like any GAS inflicted guitarist, I just had to give in. As always, I lurked on eBay and Reverb for some good offers on used products, and was able to score a Mobius and Timeline for about $ 380 each. That’s still pretty hefty on the budget, so with fingers crossed, I decided to cash in on some of my rarely used beloved gear to cover for my recent purchases, hoping that it’s going to be a worthy tradeoff.

So they’ve arrived… The highly glorified Strymons! After carefully mapping out my board as to how and where to place them, it’s now time for the boy to play with his new toys! After a couple of times of using them both in a bedroom and band setting, I can finally share my thoughts and honest opinions about these pedals.

CONSTRUCTION AND AESTHETICS

Enclosed in a solid metal body, these pedals have the typical “built like a tank” construction. The controls, labels, and LED layouts look welcoming and un-intimidating. Colors and the beautiful matte finish does make these pedals aesthetically pleasing which is a plus. The only thing I’m not impressed with are the knobs which you press for toggling functions. Both these knobs on the Timeline and Mobius are already a bit wobbly when I got them, which should not be. This worries me as they may get wobblier in time due to constant use.

CONTROLS AND FUNCTIONS

One reason I stayed away from multi-effects is that I find them too sophisticated for simplicity. Having a lot of options and tweakability is great, but I’ve always found the control schemes for most multi-effects pedals a bit confusing and less user friendly. Some pedals require you to do advanced tweaking on the computer for best results, of which I certainly do not want to do at all.

Strymon’s interface is rather simple. Looking at its controls for the first time might be a little daunting, but it actually is very user friendly and has a very shallow learning curve. Everything is straightforward. The “type” knob lets you select the type of effect you want, or as they call, “machine”, while the other knobs are for general tweaking. Pressing the values knob lets you tweak even further, giving you more options and parameters to play around with. It’s very apparent that Strymon’s engineers have put a lot of thought to make sure all the features, flexibility, and customization, can be configured using such simple controls.

Notable Feature for the Mobius

One notable feature I like on the Mobius is the “pre/post” option. This function lets you change the position of the Mobius either before, or after the pedal you chose to pair it with, without having to physically reposition and rewire anything. I paired the Mobius with the Timeline. That way I can choose either to have the modulation go before the delay, or the delay go before the modulation. This is very useful for stacking effects like phasers and delays if you find it very significant having a choice between repeating sweeps versus sweeping repeats.

Notable Feature for the Timeline

A notable feature for the Timeline is the feedback loop. Attaching another pedal to the Timeline and enabling the feedback loop option lets you add the attached pedals effect to the Timeline’s wet signal. This lets you stack a chain of pedals on the Timeline to expand the variety of tonal characteristics of your wet signal. I don’t really use this feature as of now, but I think this is a cool feature I might use in the future.

SOUND QUALITY

Good looks and great features would mean nothing unless the sound quality is superb. And in this area, the Strymon delivers, and it delivers so well! The usual apprehension that analog purists have towards going digital is that digitals pedals tend to sound inorganic. To illustrate, it’s like comparing a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade versus a juice concentrate. The concentrate can come close to tasting like the real thing, but it’s still not the real thing! Typical digital pedals sound processed, as compared to the pristine and natural sound that analog pedals deliver. But over the years, refinements and advances in technology have been bridging that sonic gap, and Strymon has secured itself well in this position. I’m certainly no tone connoisseur, but to my ears, I can confidently place my bet on the Strymons when it comes to tone.

I stack them together with my Jekyll & Hyde overdrive/distortion and my Neunaber Wet reverb. With proper mixing, notes are clearly defined and playing dynamics remain accentuated. Even under a thick band mix, my guitar tone can still cut through with every “swoosh” and “wuaoh” from the Mobius riding the repeats of the Timeline. It’s really just that good.

SAVING

Both the Timeline and the Mobius have one hundred banks which allow you to save up to two presets for each bank. That’s a total of two hundred customized presets which you can name using using a maximum of sixteen characters. That’s more than enough space anyone could ever need. However, you can only use one effect at a time for each pedal.

EXTERNAL CONTROLLERS

Scrolling through the banks is done by pressing two of the three foot switches simultaneously. While this is the best way to do it given the Strymon’s physical layout, it can be a bit of a nuance when you want to get to a preset that is banks away. Since I assign one bank per song syncing both pedals in my band, this means that I have to scroll on each pedal every time for every song change. Good thing the Timeline and Mobius are compatible with third party foot switches. There are programmable midi based ones which allows you to control bank switching and even give you more space to save presets such as the ones made by Disaster Area and American Loopers. There are also simpler TRS based foot switches for just bank scrolling. I got a TRS based one from Analog Endeavors which I had custom made to be able to scroll across bank simultaneously on both devices. Here’s a video review / demo of the Analog Endeavors auxiliary foot switch in case you want to check it out. —>

CONCLUSION

The Timeline and Mobius definitely live up to the hype. Strymon has maximized technological advances to deliver flexibility and incredible customizability that can only be done through digital pedals, while delivering clear and pristine tones sought after from analog pedals. The wide array of tweakability you can do per machine gives you almost endless customization allowing you to make your own unique personalized sound, while the intuitive and straightforward controls let anyone easily become their own boutique pedal builder. The ability to be able to adapt to third party manufacturers for expandability is also huge bonus. The price may be steep, but serious tone aficionados who constantly seek after the best tone money can buy will surely find the Timeline and the Mobius a worthy investment, and a staple in pedals boards for the long haul.