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For Free or for Fee? 5 Reasons why you’re not making money from music.

For Free or for Fee? 5 Reasons why you’re not making money from music.


Every kid who has picked up an instrument has always had this dream: to be a real rock star. From jamming in the garage to playing in small clubs in the underground scene to getting discovered by a major label and eventually trashing big shows and cashing in on sold out concerts. The life of a rockstar is always pictured as owning fancy cars and big mansions ala MTV Cribs. But in reality, for the majority of gigging musicians, the line stops at playing in small clubs. As much as many musicians would really like to push through with living a life of music, after a certain point, adulting kicks in. Working in a job, getting married, and having kids don’t seem to sit well with late-night gigs, collecting gear, and hours of rehearsal time. At least not when there’s no monetary gain. The reality is that keeping up with the lifestyle of a gigging musician is a privilege left for those who can shell out their own cash to continue such a pursuit. It’s really more expensive to maintain the lifestyle than what it earns if it even earns any. So for most musicians who don’t have the luxury of disposable income to pursue mere passion, there eventually comes a time to throw in the towel and call it quits.

It’s a reality that any adult with financial responsibilities has to face. And it can be frustrating to see other artists in the mainstream who don’t have half the skill or artistry but are garnering huge support from major labels and are the ones living the dream of a rockstar life.

There’s so much activity in the underground music scene and it’s filled with really great independent musicians. Gigs are everywhere, and great songs are always out on streaming apps. But with all these going on, still, most, if not all these musicians can’t even buy a decent instrument from proceeds out of their music. Gigs usually don’t pay, and if they do, it wouldn’t even be enough to cover for gas when you split it among a band of 5. So why are so many gigging musicians not making money?

Here are 5 realities to look into:


As much as the underground music scene is filled with incredible artists producing music that’s always pushing the boundaries of the artistic norm, the vast majority of listeners are simply not open for these types of artistic expressions. These artistic expressions usually alienate the common listener which is why many underground musicians appeal only to certain niches. Sure a lot of effort is put into making songs that would require a certain degree of skill to play such as irregular time signatures and high-level callisthenics, or simply melodies that are non-typical. But the vast majority of listeners will always prefer familiar chord progressions, steady time signatures, and very predictable melodies. Although every now and then some artists can get away with a game-changing sound which sets a new norm in musical tastes, those are very rare occasions.


In as much as there’s clamour about how much of the independent music scene is not getting support from those big corporate backers and how the industries’ bigwigs prefer profitability over real art, this is already a reality that should be accepted. It takes money to promote, and investing in artists can be expensive. It is just but natural and logical for someone spending so much to expect a return on investment.

This goes back to the issue of artistic marketability. Labels usually get the flack for not supporting underground artists, but in reality, the real issue has more to do with the market rather than the labels. Labels won’t sell something that the market won’t buy, and it’s just logical. Just setting up a show is already expensive with the cost of the venue, sound equipment, promotional activities, etc. Promotions can always get some mileage for artists, but it would still be artistic marketability that makes people buy tickets for the shows.


Anyone who has been active in the underground music scene knows that there are gigs everywhere. Gig organizers, or prods, hold a lot of events and charge tickets to guests. But artists getting proceeds from gigs remains a rare occasion. One of the reasons why artists rarely get a cut is that prods don’t always meet the venue’s bar guarantee. The bar guarantee is the sales quota each venue, usually a bar,  sets that the prods have to meet for every event. In cases when the total sales fall below the bar’s requirements, the prod will have to fill in that gap. This will consume any ticket sales, and if that’s still not enough, the prod will have no choice but shell out from their own pockets, leaving nothing for the prod, all the more nothing for the artists.

One of the reasons why prods don’t always meet the bar guarantee is that gig-goers just don’t buy enough from the venue. Some gig-goers just choose to eat and drink elsewhere before going to the event. Either because it’s cheaper somewhere else, or they just don’t like the food served at the gig venue. The ideal setting where guests come to watch artists and also want to eat at the same venue is not usually the case. So even if some events look jam-packed with people, it’s not always in tangent with good bar sales.


Just like how many gigs there are in one night, some prods also have too many artists in one gig. For a typical gig that starts 8 PM and ends at 1 PM, 4 to 6 bands should just be enough to give each band a good set time and also for the audience to digest, appreciate, and have a good recall of each performer. But some prods push the numbers further by having around 15 or so bands in a 6-hour event. While this gives more artists a chance to be heard, this setup is just not conducive for good audience-artist recall. At the end of the event, it’s easy to forget who played what and who’s who. The extended hours needed to accommodate that many artists is also not a delightful idea for those who have work the following morning.

Another thing is that almost a majority of the audience in these band-packed nights are just the same people who will be playing. Band members outnumber total ticket-buying guests so ticket sales won’t be enough to generate significant gate share.


This is a bit controversial as this is one that can be controlled the most. Some prods hold events for their own personal gain. Sure they keep the music scene alive by making events here and there. But some are really just doing it to make a living at the expense of the artists. We all know that artists just really want to play,  hence the “play for exposure” is being exploited. These prods usually just pay certain VIP artists per event, while the rest of the bands who aren’t known enough are paid with the benefit of just getting an audience.


The underground music community is definitely alive and well. It’s filled with brimming talent and overflowing with artistry. But the conditions set by either natural or human factors certainly do put a fence between financial gains and most musicians. The question of playing for free or for fee will always remain a dilemma for many, especially for the veterans in the scene who have already come to struggle with financial responsibilities. It’s simply a matter of finding whether a life of music is something worth the expense, or just a phase in life that can be graduated from.




Scenic Alberta (Photowalk).

Scenic Alberta (Photowalk).

Sometimes words are never enough to describe what the eyes can see.


Alberta, Canada.

All photos taken using Fijifilm XT-10.

Gear Review: Lindy Franlin Unbuckers on PRS Standard 24

Gear Review: Lindy Franlin Unbuckers on PRS Standard 24

So I’ve recently acquired this PRS 20th Anniversary Standard 24. Looks great and plays great, but I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with its stock pickups. The 20th Anniversary Standard 24 comes armed with PRS’s Vintage Bass (VB) for neck and Hot Fat Screams (HFS) for bridge of which are the typical pickup combination on older PRS models.

While the VB/HFS combo does sound good, my recent quest for tone has seemed to have developed a different palate for my now very picky ears. I guess after owning dozens of guitars, and being in a band where we only play our original songs, I’ve begun to have very specific preferences about the exact tone I need. I’ve found the Vintage Bass to be lacking the character I’m looking for, while the Hot Fat Screams seemed to be a little too harsh for the type of music I play.

Seeing that the built-in tones wouldn’t work for me in the long run, I decided it was time I swapped them out for something that suits my style. I was actually a little iffy about the idea of having to change the pickups for a supposedly high-end guitar. So to do justice to my PRS, I thought that only a boutique, high-end aftermarket pair will do. I searched online, reading forums and lurking on eBay and Reverb, and have stumbled on the Lindy Fralin Unbuckers. The clever naming of this pickup already suggests its specialty – a humbucker that can also sound as a real single coil, hence the “unbuck”. I thought this was a great idea, as I’ve always loved both the thickness of humbuckers and the sparkle of single coils. The problem with splitting humbuckers is that while their humbucking tones sound good, their split coil tones always sound second rate. There’s usually a volume drop when running split, and you never really get the mojo associated with real single coils.

Wanting the best of both worlds, the Unbuckers seemed to be where my direction was heading. I also own a PRS Paul’s Guitar which also features great coil splitting abilities and has set the bar with how coil splits are supposed to sound to my ears. I decided to take a shot in the dark and bid for the Unbuckers I saw listed. The problem with purchasing pickups is that you never really get to try them first, and they can always sound different depending on the guitar you mount them onto. So I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers as I won the bid at $ 172. That was actually a great deal as these pickups are usually listed for $ 300 brand new.

Finally, it has arrived. The patina on the chrome covers gave them a beautiful aged look which very well compliments the slightly worn finish of my guitar. Once I had the VB/HFS pair replaced, it was time to give my judgement and see if these so-called boutique pickups really live up to their hype.


I tested the humbucker mode first starting with clean. Both neck and bridge pickups had great PAF characteristics, leaning more towards the brighter side. The low output gave a very clear and defined note articulation. The neck pickup had a nice open sound, while the bridge pickup was kept tight and balanced. Running with some dirt using my Strymon Sunset, the Unbuckers had a nice spanky grit on low gain mode. On high gain mode, they’ve managed to maintain their distinctive clarity without getting muddy at all even as I’ve pushed the gain knob further and further.

One thing to note though is that the Unbuckers are not “chugging” pickups. As opposed to the stock VB/HFS which really did give that macho testosterone filled low-end crunch and wailing highs, the Unbuckers will certainly leave you hanging in that area as it never gets over saturated with gain. Not an issue for me though since I don’t play music that requires that much distortion. I ran my signal through my effects laden board and the tonal fidelity was just amazingly clear amidst all my delays, modulations, and reverbs running at the same time. This is perfect for ambient guitarists such as myself who like to have plucked notes cutting through.


I pulled up my tone knob for split coil mode. I repeatedly changed between full humbucker and split to check if there was any signal loss and couldn’t really perceive any. Volume was very consistent in both modes. As for the tones, the split mode was not only useful, it was actually very desirable. Splitting doesn’t just thin out the sound, but really gives you fantastic single coil goodness. I like that it’s got the twang of a Telecaster while still being distinctively unique. After all, I didn’t get a PRS only to have it sound like a Fender.  Hitting the strings hard gives a nice percussive tone which is great if you’re into chicken picking. Even when on high gain, both the neck and bridge pickup never sound ice-picky even when you move further up the neck up to the 24th fret.


The Lindy Fralin Unbuckers were my first jump into boutique pickups. It was a risky move but was very much worth it. Lindy Fralin’s claim of no volume loss and great tones hold true which makes these pickups a great choice for those who love humbucker and single coil sounds and want just one guitar to cover both bases. The clarity and tonal characteristics of the Unbuckers are simply astounding, which for my taste, makes them a great upgrade from the stock VB/HFS pickups. Although my Anniversary PRS has lost its ability to wail and scream due to the mellower pickups, that is something I really wouldn’t miss. I’d totally recommend the Unbuckers for those who prefer clarity over output.

You can check out the Lindy Fralin Unbuckers here ->

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 beg to differ from the usual 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 join 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 for 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.


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.


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 desserts.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. —>


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.


Guam: A Picture of the Philippines on American Soil.

Guam: A Picture of the Philippines on American Soil.

This will be my second post about Guam since my trip to the island last June. In my last post (click here for the article), I focused on my experiences with Guam as a tourist destination. Having stayed in Guam for eight days, I’ve noticed how much similar it is to the Philippines. For one, Filipinos comprise 26% of Guam’s total population, second only to the native Chamorros who make up 37%. In fact, Tagalog is officially Guam’s second most spoken language, next to English. Guam and the Philippines also have common culinary specialties such as: lumpia, eskabeche, pancit, and so much more. Philippine independence day is also officially celebrated in Guam. You also can’t tell whether a person is Chamorro or Filipino as both look alike sharing the same anthropological roots. They also have similar sounding names – a Spanish last name, and an English or Spanish first name. Guam’s geography is also similar to the Philippines – a tropical biome whose urban and rural areas are much like a scaled down and compressed version of Luzon. For a Filipino, Guam is a good mixture of the foreign and the very familiar. I found it very fascinating how a tiny island somewhere in the pacific seems but like the American extension of our Philippine archipelago. So I did some research and learned about how far Guam and the Philippines’ common roots go back with their shared and intertwined history. That said, I’m writing this article to share my learnings about the two countries, and my sentiments about how one has become fully American and the other just almost American.



About 4,000 years ago, people from mainland Asia travelled east, migrating to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Certain groups that went further beyond the Philippines were able to settle in other pacific islands which include Micronesia, the Marianas, and Guam. Having common ancestry, these people had a common language and culture, which were then eventually diversified by geography and time.

The Spanish Colonization

The name Magellan is as common to Filipinos as it is with the Chamorros. Ferdinand Magellan’s travels to the South Pacific in 1521 has led to Spain’s colonization of both the Philippines and Guam. Both colonies were then converted to Catholicism, and both were considered important Spanish trading and military outposts. Being situated between Mexico and the Philippines, Guam became a stopover for the galleon trades. Spain sent many Filipinos to Guam, among whom were priests, professionals, laborers, and even political exiles. Many Filipinos deployed to Guam have stayed there ever since, along with other nationalities involved in the galleon trade. Some of the Filipinos who stayed in Guam started intermarrying with the Chamorros, creating a next generation of mixed descent.

The American Occupation and Post World War II

Spanish rule on both Guam and the Philippines ended when the two colonies were sold to the US under the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Both Guam and the Philippines then became US territories, with the Philippines still addressed as “The Philippine Islands”. Many Filipinos still continued moving to Guam at the turn of the century. Some ventured on their own, while others were deployed by the US as workers. After World War II, the Philippines proclaimed independence from the US in 1946, eventually being recognized as the “Republic of the Philippines”, while Guam officially received status of “Unincorporated and Organized US Territory”, of which Guamanians received US citizenship. More Filipinos kept being sent to Guam as contract workers for rebuilding Guam’s infrastructure that were destroyed during the war. Many of these Filipinos have opted to settle and live in Guam after finishing their contracts, eventually becoming naturalized US citizens.


I’ve felt so much at home in Guam during the eight days that I’ve spent there. With the strong Filipino presence, familiarity of the people, food, place, and weather, it’s literally like the Philippines, but on American soil. Of course it would not do justice to the native Chamorros labelling Guam as such, as they too have their own identity and take pride on their own unique heritage as the people of Guam. But speaking for the many Filipinos who call Guam as home, it is not so farfetched to view Guam as what would be the Americanized version of the Philippines.

Centuries of colonial occupation has left the Filipinos with lots of colonial mindset. The Spanish paints most of our known history, while American influence deeply permeates into our modern culture. There has always been mixed sentiments with regards to the Philippine-American relationship. Unlike Guam, the more established government of the Philippines back then have always pushed for total independence from the US. This eventually led to Philippine independence, making the Philippines a sovereign nation ruled only by the Filipino people. Conversely, Guam’s non-resistance and annexation with the US has made itself officially American.

Having conversed with many Filipinos in Guam, including those who were born there and those who have recently just moved, I can’t help but to compare and contrast in terms of what life is like for fellow Filipinos in both places. In my observation, the Filipinos who have just recently moved to Guam for work are very much happy with their jobs and their status. For them, Guam is the greener pasture and a dream come true. Some of them still have families in the Philippines which they are able to support beyond necessity, while others have already moved their entire families to Guam. Guam’s familiarity also does a good job of allowing them to settle with the least adjustment. Filipino-Guamanians, or those whose roots in Guam traces far back many generations, though still acknowledging their Filipino descent, are much more American than they are Filipino. As locals in Guam, much like their Chamorro counterparts, many of them aspire to move to the mainland US to work and settle. But what’s really interesting to see are the blue collar workers, such as those in construction, drivers, and fast food crew. These people are actually living comfortably with their families, and all within reasonable working hours. Plus, they get substantial benefits from the US government for healthcare and social welfare, including rights and privileges that come with being a US citizen (with certain limitations). All of the Filipinos I’ve talked to said that they can’t imagine doing the same type of jobs, or even just having a job in the Philippines, and keep the same living comforts they have in Guam.

In contrast, back in the Philippines, blue collar workers aspire to be able to work abroad just to be able to provide for their families or live a comfortable life. Some in the middle class pursue moving to greener pastures such as Canada, New Zealand, or the US. It is an undeniable fact that the Philippines has been gaining economic traction for the past decades, and it would not be unthinkable to see this country rise within this century. But just out of fascination and curiosity, it’s but natural to wonder – what if we had taken a different turn? What would the Philippines be like today if we had continued to be part of the US instead? This controversial issue has always had mixed, emotional, and contrasting opinions, but I think my trip to Guam may have painted a vague picture. Two places with intertwined history took different turns in the middle of the century, taking with them the destinies of their people. One now benefits from the status and economy of a first world country, and the other takes pride in sovereignty.

I look forward to the day when the Philippines becomes a first world country. Perhaps in the next generation, or the generations after. Only in those days can we be able to claim that choosing sovereignty was worth it, and that we as Filipinos have made it happen for ourselves. But while those days have not yet come, we can only be proud of our independence.



Gear Review: ZT Club

Gear Review: ZT Club

Bringing an amplifier to gigs is a great way to be able to get a consistent sound wherever you play. But the hassles of lugging them around from room, to car, to bar, isn’t half as enjoyable as hearing them sound. I’ve been using a  50 watt tube amp which is already relatively light, but still considerably hefty.  While I really dig the way it sounds, I find the back breaking lifts quite a nuance.

So I thought that I needed something lighter and smaller, but at the same time, can give an uncompromised roar during live performance. Searching the web for some leads, I found out about the ZT Club. It’s a small solid state amp, 14″ x 15″ x 9.25″ in dimensions, and weighs only 22 lbs. ZT claims this little guy to be really loud, as concurred with by the few reviews I’ve read online. It got my interest. However, despite gaining a handful of following, the amp has been discontinued by ZT in favor of their smaller Lunchbox model.

I’ve searched around local distributors, but since it’s a discontinued model, availability has been a problem. Determined to get the amp, I turned to the used market via eBay and, lurking regularly for the chance that something might just pop up. Persistency paid off when I was able to score a Club for about $ 400. The cosmetics were far from top notch, but the function was superb. Besides, amps are made to rock; a treat for the ears rather than the eyes.

So it arrived, and it was time to test it out. I live in a 36 sqm flat, and with the volume and gain knobs at just about 8 ‘o clock, it was enough to be loudly and clearly heard in every corner of my condo unit. I couldn’t pump it more than that so as to not disturb the neighbors. I had to wait for band rehearsals in a studio to be able to gauge the true potential of this amp.

Come band rehearsals, bringing it along was a breeze. The size and weight was so convenient for transport, saving my now grateful vertebrae. I plugged it in with my pedal board and my PRS Paul’s Guitar. The drummer and bassist played to their usual levels as I dialed in the knobs to get the sound I wanted. First thing I adjusted were the volume and gain controls. I was able to match the levels of the band with the volume knob at 9, and the gain knob at 10.

The volume and gain knobs work just like with any other amps with this type of feature, but the application here is rather different. With the Club, the gain knob gives the amp more of a tubelike push, rather than a real distortion. Turning the gain knob past 9 is where the convincing “tubey” character begins. It’s got the distinct voice, push, and density we look for in tube amps, and it is seriously convincing. Pushing it past 12 is like using a tube screamer for a clean boost. Going past 2 and maxing it to 5 gives it a little over driven grit. I’ve found my perfect mix to have the gain at 10, just enough for a tubelike character, and the volume at 9, just enough to level with the rest of the band.

The rest of the mixing is for the tone controls. The Club only has knobs for treble and bass. Dialing the tone knobs is very responsive and super excellent for tone shaping. With both knobs at 12, the Club sounds very fat and beefy on the low and midrange.  I set my treble to 3 and bass to 11, giving me a brighter sound, while still maintaining some of the fat. The amp also responds well to stomp boxes. I got the perfect crunch I wanted from the Jekyll & Hyde, and the delays and modulation effects sounded crystal clear. Turning the volume knob a little more further pushes my levels beyond the rest of the band even with the drummer not holding back. Going past 12 would probably be enough to shatter glass. This thing is really loud! It also has reverb, but I didn’t find any use for it since all of my reverb comes from my pedals.

Convinced of its tonal prowess, I was confident enough to take it to its first gig, so I unleashed it at a local bar. The place was about 60 sqm in size with full band set up and acoustics for ear bleeding rock and roll. I didn’t mic the Club as to have all my sound be heard from the amp itself. I found myself adjusting the volume knob between 9 and 10, depending on how pronounced I had to be. With gain fixed at 10, I never went past 11 for volume as it would be too loud for the audience already. The size of the Club’s speaker was also enough to push air giving a good sonic distribution allover the place. It clearly stood up at par, if not better, against the in-house tube amps there. Given my first gigging experience, I’m confident that the club can definitely handle much bigger venues without a problem.

There are limitations to consider though. Its reverb is just on the mediocre side, and those who prefer built-in amp distortions should definitely look elsewhere. But for guitarists like me who get all those from pedals, the Club’s limitations are non-issues.

All in all, I am very pleased with the ZT Club. Its size is perfect for transport without compromising tone and output power. The bass and treble controls’ responsiveness allows for flexible tone shaping, making it very adaptable to various musical situations. And its tubelike sound is highly convincing despite being a solid state. It is not without question that there are so much better sounding, real tube amps out there. But considering the Club’s portability, price, and overall great sound, this thing can definitely be a serious go-to amp for both the bedroom and the gigging musician.


Food Tripping in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

Food Tripping in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

If you’re looking for other must see places in Kyoto that isn’t a temple, a shrine, or a castle, then head downtown and check out the Nishiki Market. A good walking distance from the Karasuma train station, the market is a long straight stretch of food stalls selling traditional street foods and ingredients.

Items here can be bought either raw or ready to eat. There are seated eateries here but I think that the best way to maximize the market experience is to stroll the entire stretch and try bits and pieces of different stuff from the wide array of vendors.

One of my favorites here is the Takoyaki. The lines can be a bit long for these goody balls though, but the wait is definitely rewarding.

If you want something quick and ready to eat, the Yakitoris and other on-stick snacks are instant gratifications.

You can have them reheated first…

Or eat them outright.

They come in different shapes and sizes from meats, seafoods, and vegetables. As long as it’s small enough to be skewered, you can probably find it there.

One of the oddest things I’ve eaten so far are those small octopus with quail eggs. The quail eggs are stuffed inside giving them their voluptuous figure.

Some stalls allow you to sample a few pieces first before you buy. This is one way of knowing what you’re getting into before you decide to dive in.

One of my personal favorite Japanese desserts here is the Matcha. These are green tea powder extracts, usually infused on drinks, pastries, rice cakes, or anything edible that they can make of. I love it when Matcha is infused on ice cream. There’s a stall here that lets you choose the intensity of the infused Matcha to your liking.

If you pick the highest matcha level, you will notice that the ice cream is much darker has a bit of a powdery consistency from all the infused matcha. This is something not for everybody as the matcha taste can become too strong and bitter, which I personally prefer. Note though that matcha comes from green tea, so those with caffeine issues should beware as too much can leave you jittery.

If you just want to buy something you’d want to prepare yourself, there is also plenty of fresh selections and raw ingredients to choose from.

You can also find other souvenir items such as trinkets and refrigerator magnets here.

Nishiki Market offers a fun food tripping experience. It’s the best way to experience the diversity of Kyoto’s street foods & snacks all in one place.

It’s open from 9AM to 5PM. Admission is free.