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The Incredible Enya EM-X1 Guitar

There was a time when buying Chinese made western instruments was a nerve-racking experience. I have seen (and bought) some absolute rubbish over the years. But there’s an increasing number of companies producing top quality products at irresistible prices.

Enya is a Chinese instrument company making some of the best value instruments I have ever seen. I have one of their tenor ukuleles. It’s been a workhorse over the last couple of years with a wide, playable neck; a good-quality pick up system; stable tuners and an adjustable truss rod (seldom seen in ukuleles). I’ve recommended their ukuleles far and wide.

Enya recently branched out into guitars and while I didn’t need another acoustic I eventually folded and bought one. Their most popular model is the EM-X1 and it comes in two sizes: a 41-inch dreadnought and a smaller 36-inch guitar. I’ve played on both several times and on a recent shopping trip took the plunge and got the more portable smaller version.

The body of the Em-X1 is made of HPL (High-Pressure Laminate). This is the same material used in some recent Martin models —essentially layers of paper mixed with resin under pressure. The fingerboard is mahogany. Purists turn their noses up at anything that isn’t solid wood but like the Enya ukuleles, this guitar manages a warm, round tone so the HPL doesn’t seem to impact the sound in any negative way. There’s a big upside with HPL as well, and that’s how well it copes with changes in humidity and temperature. The weather in Hong Kong is a nightmare for traditional wooden instruments so the material of the EM-X1 is much better suited to the climate.

The electronics on this guitar are worth mentioning. In addition to the 1/4 inch jack input you get a XLR in, something you rarely see on acoustics but potentially useful all the same. The pickup produces a strong clear signal and an onboard EQ gives a range of useable tonal options.

And the cost? I paid around $180USD for the guitar — which included a padded case, coated strings, a tuner, a capo, a strap, a little songbook of songs I can’t understand and a lead. The little Martin I had was more than twice the price and I personally prefer the Enya.

The quality control on these guitars looks solid, I played 4 or 5 and they looked identical. I’ve no idea on the availability of these guitars abroad, but I would feel confident buying one unseen. These are great little guitars and at the price it’s hard to imagine finding something better.

Musical examples to come!

Book 34: Eat and Run – Scott Jurek

Anyone who has read Christopher McDougall’s classic ‘Born to Run’ will know Scott Jurek. He’s considered one of the greatest runners of all time and is an ultra-running legend.

Jurek’s won all the biggest ultramarathons, set a US record for ‘distance run in 24 hours’ (165.7 miles) and won the 152-mile ‘Spartathlon’ on three consecutive years. These ultra-marathons are absolutely insane races —to put these distances into perspective, remember that the marathon, at 26.2 miles is considered the benchmark of endurance running.

‘Eat and Run’ is a personal memoir of Jurek’s life and career through to 2012. It’s an interesting case study of the ways in which the limits of the human body can be redefined. Jurek achieved success not through innate ability but through force of will, meticulous planning, extreme preparation and incredible determination. While his superhuman exploits won’t necessarily motivate readers to try a 152-mile road race; they do make you consider what it means to ‘give 100%’ and what might be achievable with more focus and effort.

For readers interested in running there’s tips and strategic advice about how to race but this book is as much about food as it as about running. Jurek’s been a hardcore vegan since 99′ and he’s not shy about telling you. In fact he attributes a lot of his success to his food choices and this is an ongoing theme of the book. There’s even recipes in every chapter. To be honest, I skipped through most of these parts but appreciated his enthusiasm for a sustainable, healthy, plant-based diet —other’s may not.

Jurek finishes ‘Eat and Run’ by reminding us to stay focused on the process of moving towards to our goals without focusing on the finish line:

Life is not a race. Neither is an ultramarathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now. Everyone follows a different path. Eating well and running free helped me find mine. It can help you find yours. You never know where that path might take you.

‘Eat and Run’ — Scott Jurek

Eat and Run is a worthwhile read, particularly if you need a shot of motivation. Recommended.

Book 33: The Master & Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ is a dark, satirical comedy set in 1930s Moscow. It’s uniquely bizarre, brilliantly funny and like nothing I’ve ever read.

For Stones fans out there (aren’t we all?) — important things first: The Master and Margarita is Mick Jagger’s favourite book. Marianne Faithful gave him a copy in 67′ (the book was published in 66′, 30 years after Bulgakov’s death). Jagger went on to write ‘Sympathy for the devil’ soon after reading the book and it shows…

Just compare the opening lyrics of ‘Sympathy’…

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste..

…with the first words of the devil (Professor Woland) when he shows up at Patriarch Ponds…

“Please, excuse me,” he said, speaking correctly, but with a foreign accent, “for presuming to speak to you without an introduction . . . but the subject of your learned discussion is so interesting that . .

Aha!

As well, the novel’s parallel story of Pontius Pilate inspires the next verse:

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

So now we know!

There’s lots of info online about the book so no need for spoilers here! Just to say it’s an unforgettably absurd book that deserves to read if only for the demonic talking cat.

Some may enjoy digging into the book’s philosophical layers (good vs evil, light vs darkness, freedom vs bondage, the nature of man, religion etc) but for the rest of us the book stands as terrifically comic, surreal fiction. It’s quite a ride — highly recommended.

The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 6

As this epic summary of Kelly Starret’s ’12 standards’ for runners draws to a close, we move on to the final two: hydration and jumping and landing.

Standard #11: Hydration

Here’s an easy standard to understand: You need at least 2-3 litres of water a day.

Starrett discusses the science of exactly why water is required but my main takeaway was that we should be drinking water with electrolytes unless eating with food. This could be either shop-bought special formulations (Nuun etc) or a simple pinch of salt.

The metaphor of parched thirsty joints and muscles being like ‘tinder for a campfire‘ brought the idea of proper hydration home for me so I’ve been drinking more of late.

Standard #12: Jumping and Landing

If you think of running as an endless cycle of jumping and landing, mastering this movement is central to good running mechanics.

There are two tests for this standard:

Test 1: Jumping onto a box

  1. Get a box (something a few feet high, perhaps a short wall)
  2. Load the hips and hamstrings i.e get ready.
  3. Jump on box
  4. Land with knees and feet straight
  5. Drive knees outward on impact (As always make sure the knees don’t collapse inward.)

Test 2: Single leg jumps

For this test you’ll need a skipping rope

  1. Use hips to power the jump
  2. Keep a neutral position throughout (head, shoulders, feet)
  3. Land on your forefoot and allow your heel to ‘kiss’ the ground
  4. Do 30 skips on each leg (Again, the knee collapsing inward is a no-no)

For both tests, use slo-mo video to reveal see your own patterns of movement and adjust accordingly. If you haven’t skipped since school then this standard will take some practice.

There you have it. The 12 of the standards of being ‘Ready to Run’.

Yes I could have listed all the standards in a single post. But breaking them apart like this has allowed me to explore them in much more depth. I’ve been coming back to ‘Ready to Run’ on a daily basis for a few weeks now and have enjoyed the process of working systematically through the material — it’s a great way to learn. Hopefully someone out there will benefit as well.

Happy running!

The 12 Standards for Runners: Part 5

There was quite an uproar online after I elected to postpone part 5 of my ‘Standards for Runners’ series for a couple of days — but never fear faithful fitness fans, I am back on the case today discussing ‘compression’ and ‘hotspots’.

Standard #9: Compression

Compression boosts blood circulation. The medical community knows this well and uses it for both healing and prevention. But how helpful is it for runners? I have seen some debate regarding this online but a quick look on pubmed supports Kelly Starret’s recommendation.

This research from 2017 reports that “wearing compression socks between repeated running bouts can aid recovery and subsequent performance…reducing muscle pain, damage, and inflammation.”

I find that compression socks do relieve tired ankles and calves but this improved recovery comes at a cost — a fashion cost —they look ridiculous (see photo). Especially as part of a beach shorts/singlet/sandals ensemble. For around the house though they great and highly recommended. In winter (which never really arrives in HK) you’d be good to go all day under trousers.

Standard 10: No hotspots

This standard develops a zero-tolerance attitude towards running with pain. Pain is a reflection of non-functional movement which tends to worsen over time. Problems need to be addressed as soon as they arise and the purpose of this standard is to get runners tuning in to the signals of the body and responding appropriately.

Starrett recommends a range of methods for dealing with hotspots but his preference is ‘voodoo floss’ band compression.

‘Voodoo floss’ is a thin band of latex runner — called voodoo for its miraculous (anecdotal) healing capabilities.

I have some. I can’t say whether I used it correctly though and it is a strange sensation to get used to. If I had a serious issue I would investigate this much more as Starrett is a big advocate and devotes detailed instructions on different ‘voodoo floss’ application in the book.

‘Voodoo floss’ can benefit runners by:

  • Restoring sliding surfaces between joints
  • Restoring range of motion
  • Increasing blood flow after release
  • Reducing inflammation and swelling

Take it easy with this one. Know where the end of the tape or have scissors handy in case you can’t find it. Good luck!

Amor Towles on the Kindle Store today for $1.99

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is an absolutely incredible book. The best thing I’ve read this year.

The author Amor Towles has only one other book out: ‘The Rules of Civility’ and today it’s selling at 94% off on the kindle store. It’s set in 1930s New York, is filled with music and the reviews are great.

If you’ve got a kindle this book should be worth getting. No idea why it has been discounted so deeply but these deals usually disappear quickly so try a sample and see what you think — I’d be shocked if it’s not a great read.

A Song for Sunday with New Pictures of Jupiter

I thought the Hubble telescope was on its last legs but you’d never know it looking at this incredible picture of Jupiter released this week:

Scientists noted that some of the colours are intensifying around the red spot (which is huge storm system bigger than Earth) as it gradually reduces in size.

But how to choose a song to match the scale and grandeur of our largest planet?

What music would evoke the swirling turbulence of the storms while speaking to the vibrance and beauty of the colours?

…and of the course the video would need be truly epic. Cinematic in scope. Of the absolute highest quality.

Ladies and gentleman, your celebratory song for Sunday: Dunedin’s own 3Ds with none other than ‘Outer Space’. New Zealand’s TVNZ put absolutely everything they had into this video so please enjoy.

PS Turn it up — this needs to be loud, loud, loud. How loud? Crank it until the guitars feel like they are melting your ears, then pull it back a hair: