Friday, October 30, 2009

Guitar Picks - Plectrums

Not all picks are created equal. Though I often play guitar with my fingers as this was the way I was taught since childhood, I do use picks and in some circumstances could not live without one. For example; playing rock of any type and there is shred, classic the techniques often require a pick. Playing Bebop jazz I tend to use both and keep the pick tucked in my hand during performance. Nevertheless, I have my favorites and I'd like to share which type I use and why.

I really like Wegen picks because the material gives me a bright tone and it is hard enough to allow for quick picking.

The picks are also grooved and this groove prevents the pick from slipping out of my hand at the worst possible time. I also like Redbear picks, I was told about these from a certain player who now plays a lot of Zappa tunes. The Redbear is probably the closest thing to real turtle shell. The tone of the Redbear is also very good.

Finally, I like the Jim Dunlop picks as my all time favorite. Jim Dunlop has the Jazz picks and rock picks at substantial savings compared to the Wegen and Redbear which will set you back upwards of $25.00 a pick depending on the model. However, the Wegens and Redbears are worth it if you are recording. If I lose one - I cry! Another brand I like is the Steve Clayton picks.

Picks are fun and generally cheap additions that can really help your playing and also if you find the right one for you - Make playing more enjoyable. Anything that increases your time on the instrument is good for you and your playing. Go buy a few picks and see which particular models suit your needs. Have fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Acoustic Guitar - String ends chewin up your wood?

Horror of horrors! Imagine your favorite Acoustic guitar with a failing top! If you own an acoustic guitar then you should know or will know soon that they are temperamental as a weasel in a blender. Humidity, heat, food, drink, children, friends will all conspire to ruin your baby. If that ain't enough, your strings will attack the underside of the guitar top. The ball ends of the string will wear against the wood and your top, lord forbid, could look like this picture below. Granted, this is a top view but you can imagine what the bottom side might look like as well. A torn up bottom can lead to problems with the top as well. Given the humidity, temperature and unknown problems - Your guitar could look like this! Gawd say it ain't so!!!
Therefore, I propose a solution if you wish to avoid this problem. Now, this proposal is not without strings as usual. The suggested preventive measures could color your tone in a manner that you find to be too obtrusive. Hello Platemate! The Plate Mate guards against the eventual wear of ball-end strings on the bridge plate holes beneath the soundboard. It helps prevent costly bridge plate replacement. This simple .032" brass plate is held in place by the strings and the supplied adhesive backing. Players have also noted enhanced tone and improved tuning stability after installation. See the example of a PLATEMATE.
For under $25.00 you can save yourself some issues down the road and depending on your ear, maybe improve your tone along with the added protection. See your local luthier and ask them to install the Platemate from Stewart MacDonald.

Laser/Smoke Microphone

American digital audio pioneer David Schwartz, who invented the MP3 sound format, has come up with a novel new type of microphone. Sound reproduction can be used for many applications including military, security, recording industry, entertainment and smoking (checking to see if you are still awake). Traditional microphones have used diaphragms. The diaphragm reacts to sound and the measured results of deflection is what we know as sound reproduction. The problem with this method is that the accuracy of the reproduction is reliant on the diaphragms ability to react. Since diaphragms are made of various substrates the reaction will be different for each substrate. Each substrate will have it's own inertia, resistance, and mass. These variations ultimately color the sound reproduction with their unique attributes. Enter the Laser/smoke microphone. The lack of mechanical interference virtually eliminates the microphones effect on reproduction of sound.

The laser/smoke microphone is the lucky combination of technology that is now commonplace. We use lasers daily in our lives at the grocery store checking out, during workplace presentations, in our CD players and even in surgery. How does this new technology work? A laser beam is passed through a column of smoke to detect the deflections that sound waves cause in the smoke particles. As each smoke particle is virtually weightless, the theory is that they will deflect in ways that much more closely follow the contours of the original sound wave. The microphone is currently in a very early prototype stage, but Schwartz is already able to take a low-quality signal from it. See below:

The use of light in sound transduction isn't new - in fact, it can be traced at least as far back as Leon Theremin's

infrared remote eavesdropping system in 1947, which used an infrared beam to detect the sonic vibrations in glass windows. More modern surveillance laser mics work by measuring the vibrations in any surface that is free to vibrate with the sound waves.
Audio engineering is an arena which leaves a vast crevice for exploration. In my former life I used light and chemical synthesis for nanometer size etch patterns. Sound might be the solution for light in this circumstance as light uses chemicals in a fiduciary manner while sound can physically move particles. I digress....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's not about the Guitar

Carl Verheyen, Chad Wackerman, and Doug Lunn

Musicians Institute | MySpace Video

It's about music................

Intonation problems: might be something to fret about!!

Have you played a chord near the head stock of the guitar then play the same chord in a position further down the neck? We all do as this is part of playing. Are the two similar frequency chords in tune with each other? NO? Well, this could be due to a number of issues due to normal play wear or simply an intonation adjustment. The first five frets usually have the greatest amount of wear but wear is not limited to this region alone. This example is a guitar that is in decent condition.

To conclude if the guitar frets are worn and eroded; pull your strings to the side and look for fret wear. Fret erosion usually look like this.

These indentations are a result of the string vibrating on the frets and thus eroding the fret wire. Strings are generally made of a harder material than the frets (except for Stainless Steel frets) and these marks will inevitably appear on your frets over a period time dependant on usage and technique. Here is a closer look at the fret erosion.

The effect the indentation has on the note being fretted is not welcome. The worn fret will allow the string to move closer to the fret board thus increasing the tension and making the note sharper than a note fretted on a unworn fret. These indentations or string erosion patterns can wreak havoc on intonation. In fact, setting string intonation on a guitar with worn frets is ineffective.

If you discover worn frets then you need to take your guitar to a Luthier. As long as the frets are not deeply eroded then your local luthier can file and level all the frets at a small cost that is usually approximately $100.00 US dollars. Do not try to simply level the frets in question. Doing so will only remove the erosion but the guitar will still not play in tune with itself. The guitar is a beast of burden and the more it is used the more maintenance it will require. If you play with this aforementioned situation you will find that the guitar will not play "in tune" throughout a scale and will not maintain "tune" through multiple chord positions.

If the guitar does not have string erosion but still will not play scales or multi-position chords in tune, then it may simply need an intonation adjustment. An intonation adjustment is where single string saddles are moved to increase or decrease the effective string length to make the given note play sharp or flat as required. Bring the guitar to a shop for repair. This is a non invasive repair that dependent on the shop work backlog can be repaired in usually an hour.

Lastly, changing the guitar string gauge, raising, or lowering the string height will create intonation problems. Unless you have great repair book, mechanical aptitude, and common sense then it is best to leave these adjustments to the pros. If you screw it up then the pro's will realize this quickly and you will probably receive an increased fee to untangle the mess created on the instrument.

The only work around for fret wear is not acceptable because it requires that you stop playing the guitar!! Besides, fret wear is a badge of honor as only those who practice and play receive fret wear. Stay home and practice or stay home!!!

Gibson Sonex 180 Custom

In the early 1980's Gibson was going through an R &D experimental phase. They made the Marauder and the Sonex models. Taking a Que from Fender Guitars, Gibson decided to make some bolt on Les Paul style guitars. I can only guess as to why they decided to do the bolt on style neck but usually when things change drastically the primary motivation is evil, err or money. They also used what they called resonwood. The resonwood had a solid core and resin casting around the core. This made for a lighter guitar and frankly a very durable guitar. These guitars had excellent string sustain and if you are a metal, thrash, shredder, then these are attributes that mean money baby.The colors were primarily black or white and the finish had a satin patina. The cool thing about these guitars is that everybody wanted a Les Paul and for a lot less than a Les Paul Standard you could own a guitar that arguably had the same tone if not better tone. They offered these guitar with complex wiring schemes so one could run the pickups in or out of phase or simulate a single coil pickup sound. The 80's necks had the funky heel piece behind the nut where the owner based on my consensus, love or hate the contour. Nevertheless, these guitars played well and have withstood the test of time and if you have one - It's a keeper! These guitars with the Fender like necks ultimately do NOT play like a Fender guitar. I find them to be Gibson-ish through and though. These guitars a capable of playing all styles and you can get them at a bargain base price on Ebay.

If you are dying for a Les Paul but you have yet to inherit a fortune for that vintage Les Paul Standard from 1959, then you might just want to try one of these guitars out. Don't pass it up based on looks. Some of the nicest guitars 'ain't the prettiest so get your own diamond in the rough! Sonex 180 Custom and the The Marauder.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guitar Signal Cables- If you can't hear the difference.......

Hey now! I saw an ad that remarks rather arrogantly, "If you can't hear the difference, you probably don't need one." They are implying that if you can't tell the difference in their guitar cords then maybe you are simply lame... One thing is certainly the truth, the longer your cord the more your signal will be challenged. A good quality new cord will sound better than some cheap cord or an old cord. The question is - HOW GOOD? Once again this is a question where the answer could bore you to death as raw data is subjective to the desired results. Do you want low noise, accents on high frequency, accents on low frequency, low signal drop over length, clarity, color, or just that minty green taste?

There are many manufacturers of guitar signal cables. Even Radio Shack has guitar cables! I would say that if you are playing metal and using a solid state low powered amp (under 50 watts) then you shouldn't spend too much money on a cable. Depending on your tube amp which tend to make more noise and induce 60 cycle noise, you should at least buy a medium priced cable. If you are have tube amps and you are recording in a studio then you need a good cable and that means even the cabling between your effects pedals. The cliche' about the chain only being as strong as it's weakest link applies when recording.

Most cables just don't hold up to decades of abuse. Stepping on your cable will toast it. Over time, the cable will induce noise that sounds like finger nails on the chalk board or a scratching sound. This is due to the millions of times the cable has been bent, abused and thus after a while the wire starts to break down inside even though the cable looks fine on the outside. If you play daily then you will probably find yourself needing a new cable once a year. You can take a voltmeter and check the continuity while moving the cable around and bending it. If the meter spikes then you have issues and the problem might only require that you install new jacks or re-solder the connections. I almost always try the re-solder as after a while the solder joints fail. It is best to cut the cables and strip the wires with good tools. Tin the wire ends and then solder the proper wires to a new jack piece. Be certain to solder in a well ventilated area and use safety glasses for eye protection.
Cable suppliers:
Cable induced noise will elicit the scourge of your band mates, friends, family, and dog. BEWARE - cables have produced more marks on guitar surfaces than any other human produced devise! Never swing your cable around or pull it like a whip unless you plan on dinging up your beautiful new guitar.
See pictures of dings for the evidence! Ouch!!

Finally, will good chords make a difference. Yes! The caveat is it will make a difference if you are doing recording but if you are just practicing and playing with friends then I think a medium priced cable will do just fine. If you have a lot of effects in line and a long cable then I certainly suggest that since you have spent a great deal of money on fine guitar effects (opinion warning) then it is only natural that you spend the extra money and purchase good linking cable and guitar lead cable. Also, as an added bit of trivia, many European's refer to guitar cables or cords as - LEADS. FYI :) Besides; unless you have decided to take up this vocation, hobby, career for only a short time then I find that buying quality products will reduce headaches.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fender Duo Sonic - Vintage Guitar warning

The Fender Duo Sonic II

This is a nice little student guitar. What I mean by little is that the neck had an option at purchase where you could designate a 22.5" inch scale (mighty short) or a 24" inch scale (still very short). There is some cool engineering going on with this guitar in that you can utilize both pickup simultaneously and doing so will help eliminate 60 cycle hum like humbucking pickups. Other features are a soft "V" back contoured neck, 7.25" inch radius finger board and light weight. The sound is somewhat reminiscent of it's brethren Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars certainly not as much twang. String bending is easy with either scale but most certainly one would be able to bend strings like mad on the 22.5" scale guitar due to the lack of string tension. If you have small hands and not too much money - This might be the guitar for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Practicing Tools - How to practice without Police intervention!

Practice is essential to gaining confidence and ultimately playing well. I've heard of stories about John Coltrane where neighbors would hear Coltrane and his band playing Favorite things

when they departed for school and upon return the same song was being played by the band.

Playing loud is a lot of fun and an experience unlike playing at bedroom sound levels but doing so can annoy, disturb and provoke already unstable others. After my own "run in's" with the law and threats of confiscation I found a few tools to help me out. The cool thing about these tools is that I can play at all hours and not tick anyone off regarding the noise. However, there are a few required tools.
Tools Required for quiet practice:
  1. Electric guitar - Acoustic will emit too much sound
  2. Guitar cords - Usually need at least two short cords
  3. Headphones - Try them on and get a comfortable unit for prolonged use
  4. Electricity or batteries - Sign of the times!!
  5. Computer or amp simulator - We'll discuss this further...
I use my computer along with CD's or mp3's. The sound output of my CPU is connected to an old Korg Pandora's box unit. I bought mine so I could use it on the road but I often use it at home late at night. These units are not cheap and it's a third party accoutrement to the CPU that consumes electricity whereas if you have the jingo ($$) to buy software and a laptop the need for two guitar cords is eliminated and the the entire system is in your laptop. There are a lot of products on the market that are software based. Let's talk more about those...

There is software that you can install that will allow you to play along with your favorite mp3's and cd's. Some of these allow you to actually eliminate the original guitar lead track and I find this useful as a learning tool. VOX jambox is one such tool. Upon testing it I found that there was still a bit of a ghost track of the original lead in the background. Otherwise this is a cool product. Other units like the Peavy Revalve unit is fairly robust and for some, might even replace effect pedals thus allowing you to mount a laptop with the a laptop loaded with a product like REVALVE and trigger the effects via the laptop. I've seen laptops mounted to Furman power boards. The software has many AMP simulators and for the novice tone chaser this is a great learning tool.

Currently there is a free Amplifier Simulator available at this site. The FREE MUSIC SOFTWARE SITE is very cool for students and musicians who are curious about the latest in simulation software.

REMEMBER - PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO EXCESSIVE LOUD NOISE, MUSIC, AD NAUSEA WILL PERMANENTLY DAMAGE YOUR HEARING!! I am serious as a heart attack about this disclaimer. I've always tried to limit my exposure by using methods like ear plugs and distance but I had my own hearing tested and was surprised at the loss in frequency recognition. As a added warning, age will cause decreased frequency recognition, therefore it is better to be safe than sorry and therefore utilize safe practice technique by using normal volumes while limited exposure to the Rock and Roll your head off volumes!

Stay home and practice or stay home!

Guitarist of the Week - Laura Chavez 10-22-09

Laura Chavez

I live on the peninsula in the S.F. bay area. Talent has been burgeoning in this region for years. The economic slide of recent has forced many people to re-evaluate their status, future and job outlook. During these days of introspection one might find themselves looking for an outlet or place to hang whilst pondering life. Being one of these wayward individuals I found myself looking for a little R &R while listening to Lara Price

at the British Bankers Club. Lara is great and I hit her web site and I found a diamond in the rough. Lara's former guitarist is Laura Chavez who now plays for Candye Kane. Laura plays with panache and she just rocks it. People say you have to have the blues in order to play them. Dunno but Laura has the touch and if you have a chance to see her play with Candye Kane or with any body for that matter - Do so. She's special.

Check out this video and you'll see what I mean! Kudo's to Candye and the rest of the band!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Improve your Tone!!

Changing Strings!

Admit it! You don't know the date that you last changed your strings. Aside from jazz players who use Thomastik Infeld flat or semi flat wound strings... Ya'll should change your strings at least once a month. Doing so will brighten your sound up and correct intonation due to deformed strings. I often find guitars with months of grime, dirt and all sorts of juju on the backsides of the strings. Sweat and dirt work their way to the backside of the strings in a rotational orientation that is unapparent at first glance. However, this juju crud is also going to be ground into your fine rosewood finger board and after years of this type of treatment, the wood will start to deteriorate because of acids built into the dirt. Maple fingerboards will simply look buggered up! The only positive effect is that your informed friends will avoid your bio-hazard guitar.

Therefore, carefully (don't cut them off under tension and wear safety glasses - I'm serious!) remove your strings at least once a year and clean up the finger board using a little water or naphtha - Use caution with flammable products! I use a micro towel and a lot of elbow grease. I lightly oil the fingerboard with lemon oil only once per year. I let it set for about 30 seconds then wipe off the excess lemon oil - Don't use automotive oil or like substances! Do not use lemon oil on Maple finger boards as it just will not work well but at the same time it won't hurt. BEWARE >>If you have a tremolo and especially if your guitar has a Floyd Rose tremolo bridge then you better know how to properly set up your bridge before attempting this procedure.

Strings are often made of nickel and this material oxidizes. Oxidized will feel rough when played and the string will exhibit dead tone. If you experience this phenomenon then it's time to install new strings. New strings stored on a guitar for two years will play like crap unless your case is hermetically sealed. This is why strings are sold in sealed packaging now. I recommend changing guitar strings once per month if you play on occasion. If you practice often then the frequency will increase. If you are not a gigging professional than string replacement frequency is a judgment call that is subjective to your experience. If you are a pro or expert then I probably don't need to tell you anything!

In the United states I prefer to purchase my favorite strings in bulk and I will change my strings before each gig or jam session. I usually set up my guitar at the latest, hours before the gig but preferably the day before (since I am my own roadie) because of time constraints. I check prices based on number of sets and compare two primary vendors - JUST STRINGS AND MUSICIANSFRIEND.

Changing your strings is a quick and easy way to restore and maintain your excellent tone!

Guitar Finish and Tone

Nitro Cellulose verse Polyester Finish
If you have looked into buying a new guitar lately you've probably heard the pitch about "Thin" Nitro cellulose based lacquer. Often the sales person or the marketing flyer accompanying the product will state that the "thin skin" allows the guitar to "breath." Horse Hockey! These same misinformed barn-yard chemists also tell us that the Nitro is cellulose based and that since wood is a cellulose then we have a shell of similar properties. Phooey! Nitrates are often synthesized from cotton rather than wood and saying that similar substrates make for a better tone is tantamount to stating that because water is comprised of 80% oxygen, we can in fact breath water at 80% efficiency. The coating; be it Nitro or poly based specific purpose is to prevent wood decomposition and protect the wood from the elements.

Wood resonates better with nitro than poly. False. This statement leads to another popular myth where people believe that the guitar with aged nitro is cured better. However, Nitro remains active and it is thinning as it ages whereas poly finishes harden and do not remain active or thin over time. Nitro casting solvents can be used to redissolve the Nitro finish and fix finish defects and scar's - In this case I like Nitro a lot. With Poly if you have a chip the only practical remedy is to fill the crack or dent with cyanoarcrylates. Filling the crack is a repetitive exercise with the fill spot still being apparent as a dull lack lust spot on the finish at best. Another myth is that Nitro is more labor intensive and takes longer to dry. Once again, Nitro doesn't EVER dry as it starts thinning the moment it is applied. Both Polyester and Nitro Cellulose take about the same time to dry and that is dependent on the ambient environment.

I reason that the rage regarding Nitro finish is due to the distressed or relic guitar market and disinformation regarding the "coolness" or playability of these guitars. No doubt these guitars have a certain panache and lovely patina. I think these instruments play well but do not necessarily believe that Nitro finish or better yet - scratches and lacquer checking make better tone! After all, guitar pickups determine sound reproduction as do the strings and electronic components. These processes have a far greater impact on tone than the finish on the guitar.

In regard to finish repair: unfortunately, poly finishes cannot be dissolved with the casting agent, sanding or chemical erosion is the only method of poly surface removal. For this reason, repair is very difficult but the advantage to Poly is that the finish is far more durable than Nitro. So does Nitro coated guitars have better tone by virtue of the finish? No.

Guitar production companies are NOT pouring in millions of dollars into surface finish research because with music there is the omnipresent mystic. The Mojo Voodoo effect, the Spinal Tap amp that goes to Eleven effect - It's one more! The thin skin is marketing hyperbole and nothing more. All you guys that want to flap your gums about the guitar breathing can save it. Show me the data and you better have FR's and DP's nailed and if you don't know what I am talking about then I doubt you could provide me with objective scientific data. The finish is a preference and the two finishes do fell different to each, that is a given fact due to the nature of the material.

Now, I prefer Nitro on the body and unfinished necks. Nitro cellulose on the guitar neck leaves a tacky feel for me. Beware during outdoor gigs, Suntan lotions dripped onto the instrument by perspiration will effectively break down Nitro well! Beware as simply laying your guitar on your vinyl case can blister your finish. Store your guitar in your case!!! Poly is resistant to blistering, sweat and staining. Ultimately if I was playing my guitar and sweating up a storm it is the unfinished neck that would help me play my best. There is a price to pay for unfinished necks as they are far more reactive to relative humidity and the lack of finish is likely to make the neck less stable and prone to torsion - a grave affect. I like the Nitro coated body for selfish repair simplicity. I also find myself a slave to fashion and prefer the relic look. Again, I like the relic look on the body because it's harder for me to see where I've dented or scratched my guitar! The caveat being, I build my own guitars that are of the relic order. I still have a fit when I ding, dent or scratch my Vintage ES 175 or any other guitar.

Finally, will the new thin skin guitars have better tone? I reason that these guitar will have better tone but that is because of the sum total of the parts and workmanship. Are the guitars worth the cost? Yes, they have better parts, select wood, better skilled craftsman. If I had to place a numeric value on the finish surface relationship to tone I would guess it to be a value of 2% or less. Determining which surface is better is more of a subject task than one of tone chasing. Save your tone chasing for parts and workmanship and leave the finish arguments for the uninformed.

Monday, October 19, 2009


1. Never start a trio with a married couple.
2. Your manager's not helping you. Fire him/her.
3. Before you sign a record deal, look up the word "recoupable" in the dictionary.
4. No one cares who you've opened for.
5. A string section does not make your songs sound any more "important".
6. If your band has gone through more than 4 bass players, it's time to break up.
7. When you talk on stage you are never funny.
8. If you sound like another band, don't act like you're unfamiliar with their music ("Oh does Rage Against The Machine also do rap-rock with political lyrics?")
9. Asking a crowd how they're doing is just amplified small talk. Don't do it.
10. Don't say your video's being played if it's only on the Austin Music Network.
11. When you sign to a major label, claim to have inked the best contract ever. Mention "artistic freedom" and "a guaranteed 3 record deal".
12. When you get dropped insist that it was the worst contract ever and you asked to be let go.
13.Never name a song after your band.
14. Never name your band after a song.
15. When a drummer brings in his own songs and asks to perform one of them, begin looking for a new drummer IMMEDIATELY.
16. Never enter a "battle of the bands" contest. If you do you're already a loser.
17. Learn to recognize scary word pairings: "rock opera", "white rapper", "blues jam", "swing band", "open mike", etc.
18. Drummers can take off their shirts or they can wear gloves, but not both.
19. Listen, either break it to your parents or we will; it's rock 'n' roll, not a soccer game. They've gotta stop coming to your shows.
20. It's not a "showcase". It's a gig that doesn't pay.
21. No one cares that you have a web site.
22. Getting a tattoo is like sewing platform shoes to your feet.
23. Don't hire a publicist.
24. Playing in San Marcos & Alpine doesn't mean you're on tour.
25. Don't join a cover band that plays Bush songs. In fact, don't join a cover band.
26. Although they come in different styles and colours, electric guitars all sound the same. Why do you keep changing them between songs?
27. Don't stop your set to ask that beers be brought up. That's what girlfriends/boyfriends are for.("and/or lead singers!" -Timbo)
28. If you use a smoke machine your music sucks.
29. We can tell the difference between a professionally produced album cover and one you made with the iMac your mom got for Christmas.
30. Remember, if blues solos are so difficult, why can so many 16 year olds play them?
31. If you ever take a publicity photo, destroy it. You may never know where or when it will turn up.
32. Cut your hair, but do not shave your head.
33. Pierce your nose, but not your eyebrow.
34. Do not wear shorts onstage. Or a suit. Or a hat.
35. Rock oxymorons; "major label interest", "demo deal"," blues genius", "$500 guarantee", and "Fastball's second hit".
36. 3 things that are never coming back: a)gongs, b)headbands, and c)playing slide guitar with a beer bottle.
So, how many have YOU broken?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Guitarist of the Week - Warren Haynes -10-15-09

Warren Haynes
Warren is the hardest working guitarist in the business. The list of bands for which Warren leads or participates is the who’s who of music. Bands such as; The Allman Brothers Band, The Greatful Dead, Government Mule along with guest appearances with Wide Spread Panic, Dave Matthews, MOE. and a seemingly endless list of gigs makes for one hard working guy. Warren seems to prefer humbucking style of guitars pickups and is often seen using Gibson Guitars. Warren has a deft touch with the slide as well and playing with the likes of Derek Trucks makes for some musical nirvana. Do your ears a favor and give Warren a listen.

The Warren Haynes Gibson Les Paul (oh my I want one)- Warren is a true inspiration! Check out the video provided by Gibson Guitars >>X<
Learning to Play
Now vs. Then

I saw an excellent blog post recently where the author postulated about the experience of a young person learning to play guitar verse learning late in life. The post was based on the tools available now in 2009. Ultimately, the author decided that students learning late in life might miss the joy of learning whilst playing catch up while in contrast the author concluded that the young person might enjoy the process more than an adult. To me that supposition is a dangerous generalization. The dawn of the World Wide Web and Integrated Circuit Chip has brought about a tremendous amount of resources that where unrealized in the past. People can down load songs to their house. Look up tablature that is relatively accurate depiction of recorded songs. Images and home recording can be shared in seconds. There are many methods for creating more informed musicians today. Therefore, the student needs guidance to be able to use the learning tools in a manner that will keep practice and performance fun.

Furthermore, like the amount of News available, we must learn to use this information in a useful manner while not over saturating our learning curve. To try to catch up against a perceived pool of skilled players is foolhardy at best. I use the following quote to make my point, "It's a very hard instrument to accept because it takes years to start working with it - that's first - and it looks like everybody else is moving on the instrument except you. Then when you find a cat that's really playing, you always find out he's been playing a long time. You can't get around it."
Wes Montgomery comments on playing the guitar c. 1960.

I don’t think it could be said better or by a better player. With Wes Montgomery’s quote we realize that time is important and as adults we are acutely aware that time is finite. The ability to separate psychological time from present time is where the true secret to fun could lie. I might define this as non cognitive time. I believe the adolescent reaches this unbridled space without thought in a pure manner while the adult has spent most of his/her life trying to be there; now, present, in which the adult often over looks the gift of non cognitive thought, zero thought parameters or lack of dynamic forces on the mind. I postulate that the adolescent can use any tool can have more fun only because young people lack the social pressures (However the pressure is increasing - another topic...)of being judged while the adult has many years of trials and tribulations which condition their responses.

In my humble opinion learning to playing the instrument or any musical instrument does not become easier due to the vast educational resources available. In fact, some of those resources could limit some skills such as interval recognition because the individual may not be as dependent on their ear. Conversely they might have a better grasp of reading sheet music but these tendencies have been the same tendencies that may have been acquired prior to technological advances due to specific teaching methodology. Learning to do anything well requires time and patience. A great college professor of mine, Joe Davis used to say, “Stay home and practice or stay home.” Joe used that expression to imply that practice is important. If he was wrong then ‘wrong’ sure worked well as Joe’s son, Mike Davis has lead the brass section for the Rolling Stones for more than a decade. As a student of music for most of my life I have gathered some gems in terms of quotes. Learning is something that doesn’t stop and I have learned to deal with the process and be comfortable in the fact that I will play a few clams but remain resolute. Plenty of music theory is under my belt but as my teacher once told me, “learn it all then forget it and break all the rules.” It might be that a young person is less critical and therefore easier to please therefore finding practice more enjoyable and fun while the older person tempered with years of critical listening would be more inclined to be critical of ourselves. In summary, it is my profound belief that playing can be a ton of fun no matter what your age is but this condition is dependent on the player’s ability to find peace with time, technology and personal criticality.

Focus on these three points:
  • Repertoire – Choose it and stick with it while avoiding vacillation between genres.
  • Technique / Theory development – Work on fundamentals.
  • Memory – Remember, this is all about fun!
  • Ultimately it's all about - Time, pitch and sound.

Having said all the aforementioned, if you want to start out late and play with the best, your intensity and perseverance is essential.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Buying Guitars - Inspect inspect inspect!

Sometimes the guitar you see is more than you bargained for when you made your purchase. A lot of guitars are delivered to me and the emphasis is on upgrading the guitar. Inspection of the unit is essential and documentation is paramount. Often I find things lurking under the hood, making build quality questionable at best. There are a lot of good deals out there but there are some fine points that are missed and you would never know if you don’t take your guitar apart. I don’t recommend taking your guitar apart because what you find may not please you. My point is that in order for the manufacturer to keep the price down there are some trick used and some can kill your tone.

Included in this post are pictures are of a guitar similar to a Gibson ES-335 but make no mistake, this guitar is not a Gibson. Upon removing the guitar pickups I found that the wood is not simply one piece of wood. The solid part of the body is surrounded by nice laminated maple but the solid structure of the guitar is a glue up of what most reputable companies would call scrap wood. The pieces are glued using a method similar to making cutting boards. The wood is glued together then planed to a specific thickness. Due to the nature of glues available this method does not really affect the strength of the instrument but it will definitely make the density vary. At the very least it looks rather unprofessional. I’ve found knotted wood and torn pieces which make for a rather ugly site to behold.

Then there is the hidden wiring. Maybe the new guitar feeds back or has a lot of 60 cycle hum. Maybe the guitar is just plain noisy. Maybe both pickups do not work. These hidden mistakes are a nuisance and could ultimately mean that you need to have work done to correct the guitar. If the owner takes the guitar apart, some stores will not honor the warranty. Therefore, doing a thorough test of the guitar and all of its switches and knobs is very important and will save you trouble down the road. If the guitar doesn’t operate well there is no secret mojo or voodoo that will cure it as time goes by. The problem will be harder to correct as the long you have the instrument the less likely the possibility that the retailer will honor the warranty. That is just how it goes. Therefore testing is paramount. This can be intimidating but worth your time. If you cannot play like Van Halen or Andres Segovia it doesn’t matter. Just play the guitar and flip the switches and if the sound stops or the volume or tone switches do not work. GET A DIFFERENT guitar! If the guitar is an electric guitar – Hook it up to an amplifier. Make sure the guitar cord itself is not bad because it too will yield poor results. You don’t have to be loud, just diligent. Test it or be sorry. Bring it to a technician will cost about $40 (or more!) and hour and most shops will not touch it for less.

The some of the following pictures are of instruments that have been in for repair and the customer could have avoided trouble by doing a few tests. All of the following instruments had problems with pickups and such. The wood being frayed would not be found but I’ll advise you that this is the type of workmanship to expect on a low cost instrument. The saying is cliché but ultimately “you get what you pay for” and sometimes you will find these errors on expensive instruments as well. Again, test it or pay the piper later.

Used guitars can present problems. Ebay guitars are bought sight unseen and are a tremendous risk. Ebay in their infinite wisdom provides guides for purchasing guitars through their auction and this tool can be very handy. The red guitar obviously has suffered some tremendous tremolo use and abuse. The body fractures were not apparent with basic inspection but removing the pick guard and tremolo revealed a nightmare. Cliché’ number two – “there is no free lunch.” The person selling the instrument might be doing so for a good reason. The guitar is ruined and you won’t find out until it’s too late. The bridge showing holes is due to poor casting of the bridge. In the case of the bridge the manufacturer was horrified to discover this oversight and promptly replaced the bridge – This was an expensive instrument so might the point is that even if the guitar is expensive – Inspect it and if you are uncertain about the instrument – Pay a technician to do a check. I cannot emphasis this point enough. I think the pictures tell the story better than my best prose.

Be certain to look your guitar over carefully. Bring a friend that is objective. Take the used guitar to a luthier. Be aware that you are probably somewhat emotional about getting the new instrument and this can blind you and cost you later or worse, cause you to suffer buyer’s remorse! Buying a new or used instrument can be a lot of fun so do a little homework about the manufacturer, read reviews on Harmony Central and you will not be sorry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gibson Les Paul Chambering - To be or not to be?

Chambered Les Paul’s suck man, un-chambered is the best. It’s not problematical to determine ones intellectual capabilities based on their opinion. First of all, all the Les Paul’s are chambered. The dissimilarity is that now we have a little more wood removed and the amount of wood is based on some actual data rather than some subjective guess. Are very heavy Les Paul’s better than light Les Paul’s? Does lighter guitar mean that it is less dense or that they is less trapped moisture? Is a heavier Gibson Les have greater density and also have more trapped moisture? Does my guitar suck whilst yours rules – man? Well, I suggest we cut them up and find out. No not really but in reality determining the formative hidden Mojo behind a guitar could quite possible be solved through testing. Let’s say you take the perfect Gibson Les Paul and study it thoroughly, reproducing that exact guitar would difficult because of the temperament of wood. The problem is that the material is subject to the environment in which it was grown, manufactured, shipped, stored, and then tested. These variables make arguing about whether chambering sucks or doesn’t silly.

For me, it’s more about the amplifier or I’d say at least 65.4895439873% of the tone is amplifier driven. Then we can argue about the variable within that element. I think it would be safe to say that if you have a weak back and love a Les Paul then the latest version of chambered guitar is for you. If you have a strong back and recently competed in the Tough man contest then by all means, get the old Swiss cheese chambered guitar. Just don’t start ranting about chambering being bad because they all have it to a greater or lesser extent. Besides, arguing about what sucks is great if you are under 18 and have nothing better to do. If you have a hypothesis and can support it with data – Let’s see the data and read your report. Otherwise, beat it - !

See pictures and make a determination for yourself. Rant you later!

Billy Tipton - The Houdini Secret of Musician's

Every now and then we come across a compelling story that is almost too fantastic to believe. The story of Billy Tip might just be one of those luring stories that one reads like a motorist gawk while passing an accident. Oddly enough, they gawk yet still they look even whilst afraid of what might horrify and quake our soul. Billy Tipton lived as a man from the age of 21. Billy was born a woman and actually had three adopted children that didn't know the truth about their mothers gender until the day she died.

Tipton's story would be one of a rather normal life as a jazz musician of modest ambition and success if it weren't for the discovery that he was not who we had thought. Both a piano and saxophone player Billy never seemed to take the path to success. We can only speculate about why Billy did what she did but it seemed like a life of torment. Ultimately, severe arthritis brought Billy's career to an end and she died of emphysema amongst squalor in a trailer park.

Incidentally, a movie was made about Billy Tipton. The whole tale is rather pathetic but I thought I'd throw in a little trivia in my blog for a change.

To me this sort begs a question. Who might be out there now, famous or otherwise that is living a similar life?

Guitar Effects - Keepin it fun!

Guitar effects are really a blast. I love being able to put something between me and the amp and have weird things happen. The sound is shaped, time of the signal is twisted, signal distorted, squeezed and its all just wrong. As they say, IS IT? Well, if I am playing my bebop I would probably not show up with anything other than a volume pedal. My rock purist friends also would have nothing but caustic diatribes regarding this subject but alas, I know they won’t read this far! The point of playing the guitar is to keep it fun and every now and then achieve and eargasm – LOL.

Let us get the negative aspects of the pedals out of the way. Pedals do in effect (no pun intended) drop your ultimate signal value so the tone changes even if you have the entire pedal systems turned off or inoperable. You can add boost to your signal but noise will be boosted as well. However, you can add noise gates to decrease the noise. Does this system seem like a loop of problems? The truth is too many pedals create the need for more pedals unless you build your system smart. Another problem, AC adapters! Oh those wall warts and the various voltage ratings, the positive and negative polarities – cannot be mixed. Doing so will be the certain early demise of your expensive pedal. I recommend color coding your AC adapter cables to the proper pedal – I have destroyed at least one pedal by using the wrong polarity. Therefore, signal drop, added AC consumption, effect footprint, stage clutter and proper voltage and polarity could be some negative aspects of utilization of pedals.

Now this is where I go back to engineer geek/snob. I love checking out the pedals on YouTube. I think the people there marketing their wares as well as those giving us insight rock the planet. However, too often they don’t list the amp used, the volume of the amp, size of the room, type of microphone used for recording, placement of the microphones blah blah blah. Ever listen to Led Zeppelin One? Jimmy Page recorded that using a Telecaster than Jeff Beck loaned him. Page used little amps pushed to the edge of burning up to get that sound on the album. To me the sound is similar to what I would think is a wall of amplifiers. Wrong, it’s all in the art of recording. Therefore, I wish more information would be given (but at least they post while I have not!) because it’s hard to tell if we are hearing a super bitchin amplifier or effect. Often the testing is confounded due to convoluted testing where there is a vast lack of information. Where is the pedal in the signal chain, what type of amplifier (A, A/B), what brand amplifier, speaker, wattage, room size, analog or digital recording, and more ad nausea. Therefore, concluding that the effect pedal will warm the cockles of your heart is still very subjective even with the lovely technology available today.

Effects can be mixtures of each fundamental type of signal modification. There are many hybrids and many large and boutique manufacturers. In my opinion the greatest innovation comes from the boutique small business environment. The effect world can be confusing so let’s start off with the fundamental effects.

  • Dynamics
  • Tone
  • Time based
  • Frequency

Effect chain usually work well in the following order:

  1. Pre amp
  2. Compressor
  3. Distortion
  4. Wah wah
  5. Chorus/Flanger
  6. Delay
  7. EQ
  8. Noise gate
  9. Volume pedal
  10. Digital reverb

This list is just a baseline effects chain you can do what sound best to you.

Embedded in this post are a few samples of effects. I chose these posts because the author shares a lot of information and this will only lead to good things. Whether the effect will be your ultimate sound is not for me to determine. Sound and tone are very objective and doing a scientific test is silly in this regard. Be certain to take into account whether the author shares the amplifier information as this will color the tone witnessed on the video/recording media. It is best to test with your amplifier and guitar but this will rarely be the case. One would hope that given fair return rules, most manufacturers and retail outlets would allow exchange or money back if you are dissatisfied with the tone. However, be responsible! It’s not fair to anyone to return damaged goods or simple go on a testing spree at the establishments expense.

This FULLTONE MINI DEJA VIBE 2 pedal sounds pretty killer. My good friend Rogers (awesome skater from Brazil) has it recommends it as it does the Voodoo Chile sound pretty. Kudos to Rogers on this gem!

Another Fulltone pedal is the OCD. To me this pedal has a little more kick than your standard Ibanez Tube Screamer 808.

Wampler effects that rock

Pro Guitar Shop site

Thursday, October 1, 2009

String Oscillation and its effects.

String Oscillation is what gives your guitar sound. Devoid of oscillation, no sound would occur. I suppose all players will profit from watching this exhibition of string oscillation. The demonstration will give you a better idea of the physical nature of the string upon being plucked. The string moves in a violent manner in terms of the action. Supplemented by the definite frequency of the note will be artifacts of the string oscillation; fret interference, nut lock (too small of a groove in the nut, neck bow or lack of bow. These coupled artifacts will give what many call guitar personality while it is truly a multitude of variables. I encourage insightful individuals to view this demonstration with a open mind. Think about the microscopic fragile world of your guitar. Doing so will help you gain a better conception of your instrument.

Gibson Long Neck Tenon - Here comes trouble!

Okay folks, to be more precise I am going to talk guitar necks and their tenon construction let’s stick to long neck tenon vs. short neck. Guitars with long neck tenons originally were constructed in the Kalamazoo Michigan facility. Instruments made during the 1950’s to 1960 have had long neck tenons as part of the original design. However, if you are familiar with Gibson guitars, they decided to move the facility to Nashville Tennessee as the company was sold to Norlin who in my opinion proceeded to screw up the company. Like many companies in the United States, profit is paramount while quality is job # 100000000. Take my word, I ran a quality assurance program for a large semiconductor company and when they needed to save a penny, it was the quality department that was terminated to free up cash reserves. Forgive the rant. So Gibson in their infinite wisdom decided to shorten the neck tenon and some players started noticing lack of sustain, less brilliance in tone, muddy sounding, and a less resonant instrument. Most of these issues would never be noticed by the audience or listeners but the player would notice this phenomenon.

At some point someone got smart and wanted to know why the old Gold Tops, 1958 and 1959 Les Paul’s had such clarity and sustain. Basic autopsies revealed the neck tenon to be the greatest dissimilarity between the old guitars and new guitars. Anyone with a basic understanding of construction should be able to visualize and conceptualize the difference between the long neck and short neck tenon. The basic disparity is that amount of mass between the old and new with the old having greater mass in the joint area of the guitar while the new had less mass. I could at this point compare apples to oranges and bring up the Fender Stratocaster but lets save that for another time and place. Back on topic; the idea that the deeper neck joint and increased mass gives improved sustain to me has proven to be true, yielding superior sustain and bright sounding individual notes.

I conducted most of my testing in a small sound proof room approximately 12x12 feet sq. I tested without any amplification and with amplification. The non amplified testing seemed to produce the best results in terms of definition and comparison. Still, variables are numerous so my conclusions are not wholly scientific as god only knows where and which tree, which glues, what day, blood alcohol content of the builder, truly affected the build of a given instrument. I tried my best to do a blind fold test and actually feel the resonance. Give me a break; I didn’t get naked with the guitar! Simply stated; the guitar with the long neck tenon felt more resonate than that without the long tenon. Utilizing a guitar amp seemed to be a bit inconclusive test because the amount of contribution from a guitar tone is negligible compared to the tone shaping uniqueness of a given guitar amplifier.

Okay man, should you go out and buy a long neck tenon guitar? Hell ya if you got the cash! If you are in a band and ya’ll are on a budget then I speculate that any Les Paul will suit you fine. I don’t think the median player will see a substantial gain in their tone based on the neck they choose. I do think the long tenon is exclusive but not enough to warrant paying an extra 1500.00 for a VOS guitar. However, effective 2008, Gibson really increased the engineering and quality of their neck selection and fretting quality by adding the keyed neck joint and employing PLEK tool fret leveling machining as standard neck production process. The new keyed tenon which is something I am surprised they hadn’t done sooner but I am sure it was a matter of money and retooling. Plus, unfortunately, larger companies are not known for technical innovation and in fact they fight against it (another subject).

Gibson 1958 Reissue VOS

Let's talk about Les Paul Standard 1958 Reissues. For the most part this guitar is very similar to the 1959 save for a few exceptions. The top on the 1959 could be tiger stripped and the neck on the 1959 might just be a little bigger. There are many players who are noted users of the the 1959 so that is an appeal itself. Billy Gibbons (Pearly Gates), Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Peter Green used '59's. An original '59 is cost prohibitive - they are rare and frankly over priced due to collectors hording the few left. I know players who can afford them and most would rather add a new room onto their house than buy this pricey collection piece. I like the fact that Brother Warren Haynes plays Les Paul's and I really like his artist model. I digress. Enter the Gibson Les Paul 1958 reissue VOS. The effective retail price is around $3200.00 USD and within reach if you are not bankrupt from the housing crisis. This particular model is NOT chambered. Personally, my back loves the chambered guitar due to its lack of mass but my ear likes the non chambered guitars. I think the tone difference at normal Db levels is negligible. However, I did notice that they chambered seemed to reach higher in the high frequency range than the non chambered but one must remember that each guitar is unique and my sample size was limited to only 2 instruments - Hardly a good sample size if I was talking tech statistics. Not to mention variations in wood density, resin glues, finish properties, wood MC (moisture content), wood age, builders, builders experience or lack, mojo, voodoo... all of these variables make for guitar magic. I like to think no two guitars are alike. The baseline product should be good but really the proof is in the tasting.

Tone? Gosh, who doesn't like the scream and low end of a humbucking pickup? I found the 1958 VOS to be very satisfying. I ran it through a Marshall 2203, Mesa Boogie Mark I, and a Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special and I could get the ZZ Top tone down to the Peter Green tone save for the mixed up pickups. The volume roll off was smooth and the tone maintain good levels while the guitar was equipped with bumble bee caps. I ran D'addario EXL 110 gauge strings which gave me about the same amount of tension as a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster with 009 gauge (Les Paul has a shorter scale length of 24.75"). What I also like about the Les Paul is the short scale length. Compared to the Fender products I found the decreased tension to make string bending easier. In the order of aesthetics, it's hard to not love the washed cherry or the Ice tea. These colors were derived from the ultimate tint and stain changes due to light exposure over the years. It makes for a wonderful patina. I think a Les Paul should be in every players arsenal. If you are in a band playing classics you will need a Les Paul. Will you need this beauty? That is for your wife to decide! LOL Really, the only negative thing I can say about the Gibson Les Paul is the fragility of the neck. I won't get into that here - ! At the same time, I do like the bigger neck even with my hands which are not overly big. I think the sustain and tone seems better than the 1960's style neck. This is just my opinion!! Again, a Les Paul should be a guitar you own.