Gearing Up For An Ozzy Gig

It’s not every day that Ozzy Osbourne calls me up for a gig. Okay, he never calls me for gigs. But when Osbourne impersonator-par-excellence Izzy Ozborne contacted me, it was a license to rawk I simply could not refuse. Few tribute gigs could be more fun than tearing through the Randy Rhoads catalog at full volume on a huge stage, but, first, I needed to get into character. That’s where the flame-maple-topped, shark-tail-shaped slab of alder and chrome known as the Jackson RR3 Rhoads ($799 retail/$559 street) came in.
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As exhilarating as this sleek, Japanese bolt-on-neck rendition of Rhoads’ famous Jackson signature model is to play, it’s also dangerous. Sure, the Seymour Duncan-Designed Detonator humbuckers scream with paint-peeling intensity through a Marshall half-stack, but the real threat is that, a some point, you will accidentally impale band mates with the guitar’s large upper fin—as well as chip the guitar’s finish through collisions with mic stands, other objects, and the floor (just try to put this thing on a standard guitar stand). Though the RR3 doesn’t have quite the solid feel and sustain of high-end neck-through instruments (such as the flagship American-made Jackson RR1), its wide compound-radius fretboard, straight neck, and huge frets deliver slick playability, and the Floyd Rose-licensed, double-locking trem let me come out of Rhoads’ extreme dive-bombs on “Mr. Crowley” and “Over the Mountain” in tune.

To share views of this striking guitar with audiences on both sides of the stage, I added the Audio-Technica 2000 Series ATW-2110 wireless system ($429 retail/$299 street) to my rig. The ATW-2110 doesn’t have the accoutrements of higher-end wireless systems (such as a battery charge level indicator, battery recharge circuitry, belt-pack LCD channel indicator, or a GHz broadcast range), but it offers ten strong UHF channels, two independent receiver stations, automatic frequency scanning, and a rack-mounting kit. In use—even on gigs where other players were also using wireless systems—I never had interference or dropout problems.

However, the biggest challenge in performing early Osbourne tunes lies not in having the right gear, but in delivering the right notes. For this, two high-tech transcribing tools helped me immensely. Tascam’s CD-GT1mkII ($199 retail/$149 street) plays CDs as slow as half-speed without lowering the pitch, and it has a versatile onboard preamp with multiple effects that allows you to play along with tracks through a pair of headphones or studio monitors. The CD-GT1mkII is a spectacular practice tool, but when you slow down songs to half speed on a CD-based tempo-altering device, the audio quality can decline significantly. It’s still more than clear enough to decode most solos, but between the flamming of Rhoads’ dual lead guitars (his doubled solos can get a tad messy in spots), and the hazy half-speed audio, accurately deciphering some of Rhoads’ fastest guitar passages was downright impossible.

The solution? Seventh String Software’s Transcribe! (30-day free trial from Available for Mac and Windows, this slick piece of code converts any mp3 or audio file into a digital waveform that can be manipulated in a variety of ways. The program’s best attribute is that its slowed down audio, though not perfect, is extremely clear at half-speed. And get this: When you’ve slowed down a song, solo, or riff in Transcribe!, you can export it as a standard audio file that can be burned onto an audio CD. If you’re a hardcore transcriber who wants the best of both worlds, the sly thing to do is to pop that disc into the CD-GT1mkII. Now you have hi-fi, half-speed tracks and full use of the CD-GT1mkII’s guitarist-friendly features (such as phrase loop). This is what I did, because Randy Rhoads’ vast repertoire is metal’s “classical” music—the literature, if you will—and if you’re going to play his solos onstage, you’d better do your best to get every note right.