Becoming jazzy fluent – still long way to go


Jazz is a weird species. The more I like the farther it steps back. The more I dig in the more I get confused. My love-hate relationship to jazz has proved again by the recent change of my jazz guitar instructor in weekly jazz school. Young and passionate, this genius teacher had nonetheless strict discipline in occasional combination of yelling and bullying. Each time I take lesson I was feeling like I deal with the nonsense professor of Whiplash movie. Before meeting him, I myself was building confidence over years’ practice and equally getting more acclaims from the other instrument players in ensembles. Now I have turned to nothing, or something close to a ugly shitty guitar learner. Is this hard training the nature of nurturing in music field? I will answer this question same time next year.


New Sharpened Flat Logo


It’s always been left as an unfulfilled agenda by the end of each year. The makeshift Sharpened Logo which I designed using the basic tools of Windows Paint Brush and Pixlr keeps telling me she needs more beautification, to whom I responded with ignorance and negligence for a few years, until I came in contact with a young passionate designer Joowon.

With her being located in Seoul whereas me in Tokyo, our conversation mostly took place over a messenger app. My request in terms of concept was to make our new logo look vintage but graceful. Her initial design came up with 3 suggestions.


The top one instantly rejected, and the second and third showed a certain extent of creativity but I didn’t see the element of grace or elegance. To comment on the third particularly, symbolizing the guitar headstock was a brilliant idea but it may mislead to a visitor as hockey stick, in other words the first glance of this logo wouldn’t give much idea that Sharpened Flat has something to do with guitar.

So she gave me 2nd version of designs, emphasizing the image of guitar + vintage-like font.


Much better than the previous but I couldn’t say Yes yet. Fonts look somehow like the ones used for 19 century cowboy pubs, still lacking the sense of something chic and stylish.

The third version of her portfolio still sort of disappointed me but I found the silver lining of hope when seeing the unique design in simplifying the guitar pick.


So do you see what was pictured in the pick? Initially I thought it was just a silhouette of random image but now you must be able to identify, there is a musician touching the high frets of guitar!

I was getting more interested in pick-based images, thus requested Joowon to develop more ideas on that. Her response was as below.


Here the key of this version was minimalism, high contrast of fore- and background. I liked the top one depicting a folk guitar body and fretboard, but unfortunately it was pretty close to plagiarism of a US-based retailer Guitar Center logo. We are unique and distinguishable, therefore rejection again.

While asking the revision multiple times I was increasingly feeling sorry for her but she didn’t give up and came back with another set. Let’s have a look.


Well well, the top one fails, nothing to mention, and between the second and third, I found my intuition being drawn to the vivid color of red. I myself was able to interpret the image of a shadowy hand figure strumming the cherry hollow body, but the question again was if an ordinary visitor can have the same sense within a couple seconds when the logo exposed to them? I wanted to see more innovation from the design by chasing Joowon harder.


Sticking to red and blue color combination, she challenged me with even more simplified logos. I was almost about to say OK with the bottom image. My last remaining concern nonetheless, was the logo was for a folk guitar, not for a hollow body that Sharpened Flat mainly deals with. At the same time I also asked myself a question – from the customer perspective, would it matter? As long as the logo illustrates a guitar, wouldn’t it be acceptable whether it being a acoustic or electric?


My obsession drove her to design one more set of images. Guitars now represent their shoulder cut away, resembling more the hollow bodies. I like the bottom one better the top. Now the next step is to decide either the hollow body bottom image, or folk, which was shown in the previous version. If you were me, what would be your take?

In fact I asked a second opinion to one of friends Rashoo, a art school graduate. Her advise is graphic looks good but further improvement is required on color setting, for example painting guitar in brown, adjusting the background accordingly, and the font also needing further touch. In the next round of contact with Joowon I was going to see how her design reflect those requests…

Then a week passed and she responded with the revised design.


Colors in this version are sort of tamed, or settled. I can even say bored, compared to the previous color selection of red and dark blue. Designer’s eye must be seeing something in more delicate and subtle dimension. Asking for a quick vote to my art school friend, I finally decided to take the 3rd one with dark green background. So the homework finally done after multitude of rejections, improvements, and revisions. How happy I am with the new face of Sharpened Flat!

Lastly, I thank Joowan so much for enormous effort and instant feedback. If anyone is interested in asking for design work, here is Joowon’s contact


ebay japan vintage guitar search engine

Glad to announce that Sharpened Flat eBay search engine (SF search engine) has been launched.  It has started actively collecting the major brands and models for Japan vintage guitars since April 2013. While eBay itself provides a search feature in which you specify the wanted brand / model to look it up, the completed auction in eBay archives remain online only for limited period. SF search engine has no boundary at all! What is more, SF search engine displays nicely formatted table for the inquired brand & model as well as the detailed descriptions and photos to be shown when clicked. Table can also be sorted as per title, date, and price.

SF search engine is available at, or simply click Guitars menu under any of Sharpened Flat page. The picture on the left is the screenshot of the search engine. It is pretty much same as how you would use google search engine.


SF search engine collects the sold guitars from eBay at the price above USD 800 for the following brands: 

  • Aria-Pro-II
  • Burny
  • Epiphone-Japan
  • Edwards
  • Greco
  • History
  • Ibanez
  • Navigator
  • Orville
  • Seventy-Seven
  • Tokai
  • Yamaha

To see the particular guitar and its model, simply type the brand and model name split by space. You may omit the model, leaving the brand only, if you want to browse all the models belonging to a particular brand. Here’s the screenshot when the keyword ‘Yamaha SA’ was entered in SF search engine. Note, keyword is no case sensitive so you may mix upper & lower case.


Furthermore, just clicking ‘go’ button without typing anything will display all the above-mentioned brands + their respective models.

The result output is by default in order of sold date, from the most recent to the oldest. Sorting can also be done in order of name and title by clicking the corresponding field descriptions.

And here’s the most important bit! For the most of the listed guitars in the table, you can view their detailed descriptions and photos by either clicking on the guitar photo itself or the title. A new window will open, which is basically the eBay archive. Remember I proudly announced in the beginning – I am archiving those eBay pages on my own storage so when you come back to my site in 3 years time, you will still be able to see all the records just as now. How convenient! you would no more need to surf all the different internet forums to get any slight idea of the vintage you are looking for. As far as Japan vintage guitars are concerned, SF search engine has the answer and your search will finish here!


Jazz Standard: how to play – I’ll close my eyes

This is what I’ve been planning to do from long while ago. Happy to see I finally took some action after procrastinating again and again with trivial excuses. As a passionate jazz guitar learner and weekend jazz school student for the last 3 years I had a chance to study and play the variety of jazz standard and the thought of blogging the lessons I learned on the web always has always been hovering in my mind. Also recently I came across a great music score writing tool named Lilypond, a speedy text-based compiling modules, which saved me hours of manual writing. So now’s the time (thanks for reminder Parker), and my first tune to share with you is I’ll close my eyes.


hear how it plays speaker_icon


This 32 bar tune consists of A-A’ with 16 measures each. A single key F major is being play all across the song, with temporary 2 bar minor keys appearing such as:

  • D minor (relative minor of F major): 3-4th measures, 19-20th measures
  • A minor : 13-14th measures
  • G minor: 27-28 measures

Rest of the measures are largely variation of ii-V-I. Notable exceptions are

improvisation – base note

One day I was playing this tune with my ensemble at the jazz school. After listening to an ugly arranged performance the teacher suggested keeping in mind the guide note of each bar and trying to play using, or play around the tone. For the same song I had the following base notes.

base tone

sub_dominant_min When improvising along those guide tones, ensure to stay close to it, not jumping too high or low. For example when I see ‘E’ as guide tone on the first measure, I would improvise something like


rather than


I wouldn’t raise any objection if you prefer the latter phrase. Jazz is all about the improvisation from your own feeling. I am just sharing what the most great players advise. Chromatic movement is the key!


The common ii-V-I phrases can be applied to Dm7 – G7 (5-6th, 21-22nd measures), Cm7 – F7 (7-8th, 23-24th measures). Some variations of ii-V-I is also seen, for example on 29-32th measures have G7 – Gm7 – C7 – F69 progression, which is ii7 – iim – V7 – I69. Playing the first bar of this progression, I improvised as Lydian dominant 7th (or D melodic minor). A quick formula is

play Lydian 7th for sub-dominant 7th in ii(7)-V-I progression

Below is a sample phrase:

hear how it plays speaker_icon


Another lick I can share is for IV-VIIb7-I progression, found at 9th measure. Bb maj7 – Eb7 – F maj7 progression can also be interpreted as IV maj – IV min(6) – I maj. In other words the original chord progression can now be played as Bb maj7 – Bb min(6) – F maj7. An easy way over imprvise maj 7 – min (6) is play maj 7, followed by min 3rd above from the maj 7. Db is minor 3rd above from Bb. You may play the same phrase twice to stress out, for example:

hear how it plays speaker_icon


The same theory can be applied to 25-26th measures. When comping, play Eb7 (original chord) or Bb min(6) to hear how the suggested improv works along.

study on Lydian 7th

Back to my suggestion that secondary dominant 7th can be played with Lydian 7th, let me explain why it is and how to put that into practice.

Lydian 7th is Lydian + flatted 7th. Starting with G Lydian scales,

G A B C# D E F# G

Now Lydian 7th flats its 7th note:

G A B C# D E F G

Interestingly, this is the same scale as perfect 4th down melodic minor, i.e. D melodic minor for G Lydian 7th. Now D melodic minor scale plays:

D E F G A B C# D

Which is the same scale as G Lydian 7th isn’t it?

Theory is great. I think I’ve read this theory from many different books. Every time I read I nod, saying to myself “Aha that makes good sense” and felt like I was ready to put this theory into play when I come across ii(7)-V-I. But in reality, once I start playing a tune I had to go through this thinking process, such as G7 -> ii7? -> yes then Lydian 7th -> perfect 4h down is D right -> D melodic minor, and most of the time I miss the chance to play the altered scale because it takes too long to convert the theory to licks.

My whole concern was to shorten the time which it takes from spotting the chord to improvising an altered chord. To begin with, let me illustrate D melodic minor scale.


Now, lets look at D melodic minor from G7 perspective. You can see C# marked as b5, so playing D melodic minor over G7 would sound like G7b5 (or G7#11)


Switching back to D melodic minor. This is an arpeggio form. Remember the shape. Similar to D major, but sliding the 3rd one fret left.


Lastly, combine the D melodic minor arpeggio shape with G7. This is what you may want to remember as a photoimage. Close your eyes and visuaize this shape. G7, D melodic minor, G7, D melodic minor, and put them together.



flying back to tokyo

6 weeks of break in San Jose was fantastic. By far the best. Away from my daily duty as a father of a new-born, a husband of single income family, and as an employee of a working-long-hour-preferred startup company, I wholeheartedly enjoyed every single moment of the last 1 and half month.

Why San Jose and why 6 weeks? Before explaining, I have to admit Sharpened Flat is so far my after-hours job, or moonlighting, whatever you name it. I have a burning desire and strong passion on my site. I breathe, live with, and dream of it. I am seeing and feeling S/F occupying more of my evening hours. Until now however, I am still not brave enough to say goodbye to my day-to-day job and not audacious enough to throw out the benefits I am being offered from the company I work for.

6 weeks business trip in west coast, offered by the company was something I really couldn’t refuse. And time literally flied while in San Jose, now on the flight back home, I am just recalling how sweet those dreamy days, same time waking myself up for the tough ordinary life awaiting me in Tokyo.

5 more hours, this airplane touching down the Japanese soil will be the sign that tells me your solo honeymoon is over. With this confused mind, I am reading a book of the stories about the people who stood up against their office trademill.

by Chris Guillebeau

My Kindle ebook notifies I’ve read only 19% of the book so far, but what impressed me most was an illustration of a man bicycle, carrying a mattress on his back under the moonlight. The chapter on the book introduces the industry first bicycle mattress delivery business.


Haha it is exactly what I am doing. How many times have I been carrying the boxed guitars on my bicycle to the nearby local post office. For those who are less familiar with bicycle culture in Japan, most of people here have so-called ‘daily life bicycle’ which has single gearset and a basket at its front wheel. When delivering the boxed guitar package to the post office I lay it horizontally on top of the wheel, holding down with my left hand while maneuvering with my right hand.

I tell you, this looks clumsy. On a rainy day, not to mention it’s even worse. I normally carry the guitar at night when not many people watch me and laugh. Well honestly I don’t give damn. I am the owner of my business and I am proud of it.

So the book is telling me, hey Kev you are not alone. Looking around the world and you’ll see countless number of people have come out of comfort zone and join the track of the soho entrepreneurs. You jump in and take the ride together!


jazz musicians i met in bay area

My jazz life in San Jose couldn’t be better, mostly thanks to Scott’s guitar lesson. Bi-weekly jazz jam at De Anza hotel, weekly jam at Stanford coho cafe, world renowned jazz lives of Kuumbwa jazz center and Gryphon Stringed Instruments guitar shop are all introduced through him. And the last week at the end of the lesson, he came up with another news that a jazz live led by a virtuoso guitarist was going on at a nearby restaurant.

A trio was just about to start playing when we arrived at the restaurant. The band leader introduced himself as ‎Joshua Breakstone. His band including bassist and drummer played a mix of jazz standards and his own compositions. As an intermediate jazz player and listener, I am not able to critique what was great about their live in terms of jazz theory but what impressed me most was their teamwork. All the players in the band having grey hairs hinted they must have been playing together for good years, let alone they are all veterans. Guitar solo, followed by bass solo, and continuing 4 bars / 8 bars of drum and the melody / rhythm part interplay expressed their vivid color but also beautifully harmonized flow.

During the intermission Scott introduced me to Joshua and his band. Quite impressed with their play, I didn’t mind buying one of Joshua’s special promotion CD on the spot. Excited was not only I, but he himself as well. He was even counting how many copies of his CD was sold, by jutting down my name at his small notebook. Lucky number I had was 747!


He is visiting Japan late this Fall for gigs at local jazz bars. Surprisingly, during his national tour he plays with one of the bass teachers from my jazz school, Roots academy. Small world mate, small world… so, I do hope to see him again in the lovely jazzy city Tokyo.


6 weeks jazzz guitar cram sessions in san jose

While staying here in San Jose for 6 weeks of early summer, my enormous curiosity in exploring Bay area jazz and keenness to continue my study of jazz guitar led to searching for a local jazz guitar instructor. Advised by San Jose jazz, I had a deal with one of a prominent local jazz guitarist to take weekly 1-on-1 jazz guitar lesson at reasonable fee.


Scott Sorkin.

His webpage (seemingly idle for a year or two) introduced him as a veteran jazz player, engaged with multiple activities including local schools and communities. Trustful. Good to go.

My lesson got kicked off with jamming Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia. I classify myself as a less experienced, intermediate level jazz player, to whom Gillespie’s tune is surely challenging. After playing boring dorian arpeggio repeatedly for several measures I had to give up when I found myself blushed and warmer around my face.

Well, jazz is all about the improvisation. Nothing to be shamed. Now you know where you stand so we work together on how to improve. You know, whoever the top musician is, they have the same disappointment against their play. No worry Kevin.

For the last 3 years I’ve been attending a Tokyo-based weekly jazz school, taking private lessons from virtuoso teacher, mr Ozaki san. Aged slightly below my father, he teaches in relaxing and easygoing manner, like the flowing river, with no specific textbook or clear goal. I normally pick a song, play based on my ugly interpretation, to which most of the time he comes back with nodding, smiling, and complimenting ‘good good excellent’. Lessons finish with him writing one of his vast II-V(ii-v) vocabularies. I’ve been used to his methodology.

In San Jose with Scott, I am experiencing different aspect. The way he teaches focuses more on the fundamental exercise, more theory, more analysis, and more talk. Except for the first lesson, we don’t play any jazz tune but deep dive into the chromatic exercise. This passionate American teacher easily passes over the agreed 1 hour, because he comes up with idea after idea of exercise to fit in my level.

To visually compare his methodology vs my Japanese teacher’s, it would be something like ‘kick kick breathe in breathe out’ vs ‘you swim freestyle and I rescue when I see you drowning’.

Written during the night flight from San Jose to Seattle


a dormant jet lag troubling me

Until today, 10th day since I flew to different time zone which turned the day straight opposite to the night, I was proud of myself not being tired during the long sunny day time in San Jose. Some sort of magic has been done to me today however, it’s now 3:28 AM and I am still awake after a few hours of toss and turn on the bed. I am not here for relaxation, my work starts in 4 and half hours. If this weird jet lag having lied dormant were a human I would certainly file a suit against her for the following:

– made me flick through the whole cycle of 40 boring TV channels for half an hour
– made me check out porn sites which otherwise would draw the least attention from me
– made me heat up the half-left Subway sandwich to stuff my hungered stomach
– made me smoke a Marlboro red in the chilled patio
– troubled me with sudden urge of making phone call to the almost forgotten, my ex-ex-ex girl friends
– made me ask myself metaphysical questions about why I am here, why I exist, where I came from, what I will become of once I die

Luckily thanks to the local FM jazz radio channel ( I find myself starting to yawn, which is a good sign leading me to long-waited sleep. What song is being played now, let me listen, is this I fall in love too easily sung and played by Chet Baker? Oh that’s a killer, thanks Chet for your sleeeeeeeepy voice mate. G’nite…


how to find the best japan vintage guitar in ebay

Haha if I were you I would buy at an off-line shop where I can feel and touch the guitar I wish to own. But the dilemma is the most sought vintage guitars are hardly seen in off-line market and over the decade shopping a guitar online (even from a overseas market) is getting more and more common. With that in mind I’d like to share my findings with you on how to find your dream vintage guitar without being ripped off.
Let me start with the pricing.

0. Price search

eBay features advanced search to show the sold items. This is a good guide to estimate the price of the guitar you are after. It is also worth checking out the guitar forum sites in which people discuss the right price for a guitar. I recommend you look through the following sites:

Also helpful I believe is Sharpened Flat Vintage Guitar price report which I publish in monthly basis. There are two versions, one for the price report from eBay listings and the other from Japan online market. Please have a look at

1. Feedback score

Seller feedback count and rate is the key indicator of how trustful the seller is. Never buy any product from the seller with 0 feedback count.
It doesn’t necessarily means the seller with a higher score is more trustful. There are some sellers who keep changing their IDs due to the concern on being chased by a local tax agent. For me, a seller with 100 feedback score and 99% trustability is same as a seller with 1000 feedback score and 100% rate.

2. The more the photo the better

And the less likely to come across the hidden damages. In my experience of taking the photos of the last 50 guitars I’ve sold, I ended up taking at least 20 photos per guitar.

  • guitar itself: front / rear
  • body: front / rear / left / right
  • neck: front / rear / left / right
  • headstock: front / rear
  • top (or arched top), i.e. photo taken from the headstock looking down the bottom vertically
  • bottom including the strap pin
  • hardware (pickup cover and pickguard) and bridge
  • knobs
  • tailpiece
  • label
  • case: with guitar in / closed

3. Compare the photo with best practice

Related to the above topic, please make sure to compare the listed photos with an original guitar from other web sites. This is to find out any part deliberately missing (such as pickguard), or parts replaced with non-genuine ones. I’ve seen from my collection tuner pegs replaced quite often. And recently, I acquired a Yamaha SG-2000 with white pickups, so excited, but later I noticed all the SG-2000 have black pickups only. Hope you don’t go through the same mistake I made.

4. Question question question

Ask as many questions as possible. Ask for taking the detailed photos or even video on the area you want to clarify. Serious buyers are concerned about fret wear and neck profile. I was often asked to provide the detail and the best way to come back to them is take additional photos, for example (put the photo here, instead of putting the link)

In terms of neck profile you would be interested in knowing the width and depth of the neck. Here are the examples

5. Listen to how your guitar plays

Now you are still wondering how the guitar sounds. Then ask for the seller to play and record. You may ask the seller either to play each fret to hear if there is any string buzz, or play a simple tune to hear the overall intonation. In either cases please ensure the seller play without turning any effector on, and ask him/her to switch the pickups from neck (front) to bridge (rear), or to whatever other pickups there are.

6. Serial number

there are several websites which help date your guitar based on the serial number. But for some MIJ(Made In Japan) models different numbering scheme is applied so the way the websites teach you doesn’t always match. For example, Epiphone MIJ has 5 digits serial numbers but so far any of English-based website provides proper way of decoding. I managed to find one from a Japanese website by the way.

Look at the rearside of the pickup. Yamaha pickups (Alnico especially) have Japanese Showa calendar year stamped on it.

7. Package

If the guitar is to be delivered in a hard shell case, make sure the seller put the pads or anything similar beneath the neck to fill the gap between the neck and the case. Neck is the most delicate part and easy to be broken as far as the shipping is concerned. Also ask the seller to loose the strings before shipment so that the neck can be protected from the higher pressure during its air cargo delivery.

8. Guitar arrived safely! but one last step

If the guitar moved to another country or state with different climate it may take some time for the guitar to be climatized. Also, to do a proper setup on action / intonation / truss rod adjustment you may consider taking the guitar a local luthier and have him repair if required.

As for strings – I am basically a jazz learner so I would string flat wound but rock / blues players would want to put thinner strings (1st string .09 maybe)

9. Quiz

Do these guitars below look good? Do you find any defect? Look very carefully part by part.

  • not the fluorescent light. Lacquer wear
  • bottom left corner pickup cover damage
  • nut left end chipped off

lacquer_wear pickup_cover_bottom_left nut_chipped_off

  • trussrod nut missing
  • tuner peg replaced, leaving a punched hole

truss_rod_nut tuner_peg