Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guitar Warm Up Exercises - Make Learning Easier and Beneficial

Practicing without warming up first is not recommended.

The fact is that you will not get better without practice yet sustained practice could cause repetitive stress on your bones, muscles, and tendons. Therefore, to minimize the wear and tear and ensure that you get the most from your practice time, it's prudent to complete a few warm up exercises.

I start by doing at least four repetitions of each task. The stretch should be held for at least 20 seconds and this task shouldn't be painful. If you feel pain while stretching then you are pressing too hard. There should be a sensation of extension of your muscles but not hyper extension. Hold the stretch for longer than 20 seconds only if you feel comfortable; otherwise, complete enough short duration repetitions equal the four/20 second sequence (420 ha! - I didn't mean that!).

It is important to note that you should have a planned practice routine. Everything you need should be organized and ready at hand prior to stretching. Setting up a practice routine coupled with organization can help expedite your learning curve and make learning easier and more beneficial.

I usually follow this sequence:

Neck exercises - Lean your head to one side and hold, then repeat in the other direction.
Shoulder rolls - I roll my shoulders forward then backwards.
Back stretch - clasp hands together and raise them above your head.
Leg stretching - Legs straight, attempt to touch your toes and hold - don't bounce.
Thigh - Bend your leg behind and hold your heel - you will feel your thighs burn!

I have photographed a few wrist and hand exercises.

Gently push your wrist against a stationary object and hold.
Reverse bend of the action listed above.
This therapeutic aids in building finger strength and flexibility.
Another view of the amount of resistance created by the web device.

After completing my stretching exercises I then set up my metronome to an Adagio meter (or slower) and run a three note per string scale chromatically from Low C to high C using the Major, Dominant, and Minor scales. Therefore, I'll start on the root of C and play a Major scale and wait usually four beats then play a Dominant C scale, then a Minor scale in similar fashion. I think it is important to play at a slow even tempo. This takes more time and helps simultaneously stretch and build muscles. Upon completion I stretch my wrist a little more because it simply feels good. I then double check my practice material and get to another round of productive practice.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Broken Les Paul on EBay - Many tips in this post!

I discovered a very honest merchant whilst scouring the Ebay want ad for guitars. This ad screamed "Truth in advertising," because the merchant verbally listed all the defects of the guitar and then included excellent graphic images detailing the defects. This merchant is honest but not all of the Ebayer's in this universe are honest. Look for ads that do the following but not limited only to this list:

  • Describe the defects.
  • Show the defects.
  • Explain that the guitar is sold "as-is".
  • Ask questions of the merchant if you have any inquires.
  • As a merchant - List everything and detail everything and over do it!

I purposely didn't include the ad I am speaking about because though it is a great example of salesmanship - I wouldn't want to affect the sale positive or negative. The pictures speak for themselves but I'll throw in my two cents...

The following photos show excellent examples of what happens if you think you know how to fix a guitar but really don't know what you are doing. The logic is there but the application is flawed and the detail is rushed. The results is a guitar that a skilled luthier can fix but probably never recover the actual value lost due to errant repairs. This guitar was mid-way through it's bidding process on Ebay and was up to $800. If it is completely repaired and brought back into shape - It probably will be worth about $1200. The caveat being "professionally repaired." which in reality would probably take hours to fix over a series of days. At $60 per hour (conservative), this guitar isn't a worthy prospect for a repair hobbiest. Safe to say you could buy a decent guitar at Guitar Center for about $800.00.

Therefore, don't get in over your head and do what this barnyard mechanic did to this once fine Gibson Les Paul Custom. Take your guitar to a professional luthier. An now with no further delay... The pictures... Enjoy!

Photo details heavy scratches - Also, none original jack (evidence - long jack shaft)
Nails used as dowels. Don't try this at home!
Wood screw dowel = Fail. Not refinished Fail by a magnitude!
Hidious metal dowels - Whiskey tango foxtrot?
I guess the original replacement weren't good enough?
Awesome - Original pickup - detail in photo and words!
Not original - Also, the pickup bracket screws are too long!
Distinct difference in pickup appearance is an unsettling clue about the originality of the instrument's parts.
Most likely non original pots and definitely not factory wiring!
These circa late seventies Gibson cases were great in concept but failed in reality because the plastic became brittle and over time the latch key stops broke off - Kudos to the merchant for detailing the defect!
The Gibson Logo was epoxied to the case - It's gone from the rectangular recessed area on the case face.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Guitar Health - Cramping, Tendonitis - Do your hands cramp up during playing?

Okay, so there you are jamming away at the gig; it's fun and the singer finally gives you a chance to showcase your bag of tricks - You hit it and all of a sudden - CRAMPS! If this has never happened to you then consider yourself lucky. It is said that up to 95% of the earth's population has experienced cramps at one time or another. You don't have to be a woman!

Now, if I had a cure for cramps - I wouldn't be posting on this blog. My profession has led me to encounter cramps, people with cramps, and it's safe to say there isn't a simple solution that works for everyone.

The following are methods to staving off cramps - No guarantee!

  • Limit caffeine intake.
  • Be certain to drink WATER every day. Soft drinks don't count!
  • Eat a balanced diet with a lot of fruits, vegetables, and your favorite source of protein.
  • Warm up (see article about that on this blog).
  • Practice
  • Limit alcohol consumption - This should be obvious but if you are young - Consider yourself warned!

Supplements and Foods that help?

Vitamins (I know this is not food but take multi vitamins once a day)
All fruit for that matter - especially if it contains a lot of water!
Sports drinks - Cytomax, Accelerade, Gatorade, etc...

I cannot stress stretching and doing flexibility exercises enough.

Proper practice can help limit Tendonitis and Focal Dystonia.

Excellent video regarding Tendinitis!

Above all, pay attention to what your body tells you! Don't play through pain! Take time off if you feel pain and if the pain continues beyond 3 days - SEE A DOCTOR! Don't be a buster!

This is an addendum to the aforementioned and validation from what is mentioned and outlined above. It's a real life account from Robben Ford. This section was from the following web page:

This is from 10/20/2003, with special thanks to Tonemaster2_11.

The following very information is vital to pain free guitar playing.

Hi gang, 

CTS is a bitch, I had to quit playing for 18 months because it hurt so 
much. Regular MD's were not of much help, I went through hell with 
physical therapy, electric shock to get steriod gels to soak through my 
skin, Yes it sucked. 

Here is what I have learned over the years and as a result I can play for 
3 hrs a day now with little or no problem, your experience may vary. 


CTS is caused by an inbalance between the muscles in your forearm (inside 
of your elbow to heel of your hand) and the muscles in the back of your 
arm. The inside muscles become strong, thick and short. The backside 
muscles become weak, and stretched out. 


You must restore the balance. 
You must work at it every day 
If you are like me it will never be cured but it can be managed. 

Here are the steps. 

A. Get a Wahl deep muscle vibrator, about $30, 815-625-6525. It is model 
4196-003. Now if you think this baby will do double duty forget it unless 
you like a jackhammer applied to sensitive parts. This vibrator comes 
with a cup type attatchment, use it on the inside of your arm to relax the 
muscles. I do it twice a day. Works wonders, expecially before practice. 

B. You must stretch the muscles to get back the flexibility in your arm 
and wrist. 

The first stretch is with your arm (I am assuming right handed players who 
fret with their left hand) bent 90 degrees at the left elbow with 
your forearm across your body with the palm up to your face as you look 
down. Use the heel of your right hand to contact the tips of the fingers 
of your left and and GENTLY bend the entire hand down as if you were going 
to position your fingers to point directly at the ground. 

Do not bend beyond a discomfort level. You need to work into this slowly. 
You should feel very tight and inflexible muscles in the inside of your 
forearm. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat. DO NOT OVER DO IT!!! 

The second stretch is with your left arm extended in front of you at 
shoulder level. Your palm is facing down. Lock the elbow. Use the 
finger tips of your right and to grasp the fingers of your left hand and 
bend the fingers up. Keep the elbow locked. Hold for 10 seonds and 

The third stretch is with the arm in the same position except the palm is 
now facing up. Again grasp the fingers of your left hand with the fingers 
of your right and and bend down. Hold for 10 seconds and release. 

I do three sets of 10 second holds as a warm up and again DURING THE 
PRACTICE SESSION. Take breaks often, every 10 or 15 minutes. If you feel 
discomfort in your CTS, get out the vibrator and use it. It works better 
than anything to relax the muscles. It is probably the most important 
element in the treatment program. 

C. Building strength in the back of your forearm. 

Get a 5 lbs dumbell. Find a flat surface, like a table top. Lay your arm 
on it with your hand hanging over the edge holding the dumbell. Do 
"reverse curls" by extending your hand all the way down then raise it. Up 
and down 10 times. Here is the trick. The up part, or using the muscles 
in the back of the forearm should be done at 1/2 the speed as the down 
part. All of it should be slow. Hold the weight at the top of the 
reverse curl for 1 sec. Increase the weight as you feel your self getting 
stronger. I use about 15 lbs now. More is not necessarily better here. 
Building back muscle strength is the key. 

Again I do 3 sets of 10. 

Follow this routine and the pain will go, you will be able to play longer 
and maybe better. But, and this is a big but, your must keep up with the 
program. CTS, in my experience, never goes away, but you can manage the 
process and win in the end. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Les Paul Google Doodle Goes Viral !! - Les Paul's Birthday was Thursday June 9th

Les Paul's Google Doodle is just too cool. It's had so many hits that they decided to give the doodle it's own site - Les Paul Google Doodle is here!!



Not a day goes by that I don't use something Les Paul invented. Not a day goes by where he is far from our thoughts!

Les - You Rock!

Circle of Fifths - Major and minor keys shown

This is the simple version of the circle of fifths showing the letter name for the keys.

This illustration shows the alpha characters for the key as well as the G clef key signature accidentals. Being able to determine which key as song is played requires the knowledge of accidentals and their use. You must learn how to and where notes are placed in the staff to help you identify the key signature.

I am going to start posting more music theory on this site in an effort to help people with the basics of music. In essence, it all starts here. If you want to get an idea of how the circle has been utilized to genius level - check out this John Coltrane song with a genius graphic depiction of the project scales and modes of the song.

I hear a lot of people who can play one part of a song well but cannot play entire pieces or the piece they play in the music store is the extent of the musical repertoire. Don't be that person and strive to expand your knowledge because knowledge IS cool and will never go out of style. Sure, many greats lack theoretical musical experience. I am certain the average person could name hundreds of musicians who made a living without knowledge of music theory but the fact is that there are over a billion people who don't know it and will never be great. Learn to like it and consume it - Then forget it and be yourself. However, there is no substitute for practice!

Collings I35 Carmel - Perfection

The Collings plays better than it looks. I really want to love Gibson guitars and at a time they set the bar for all others to climb above but the quality of the work from Gibson simply undermines the product value. I can pay $3200.00 USA for a lovely Gibson Es 335 or I can buy a Collings for $800 dollars more and get the guitar in the following pictures. The Fret work on the Collings is top notch work and the finish is almost without equal. Or I can buy a Gibson Es335 which is a fine instrument but my dollar buys me more with the Collings.

Hard to argue with the photographic evidence. This is a Gibson Es 335 1959 reissue replica.

.... And there is the photo's taken by Collings of their curly caramel I35 for comparison.

Where would you place your money. Something is wrong at Gibson - one side of the arguement is linked here but keep in mind that there are always other perspectives!

Imelda May - Superb

This is Music that exudes rock and roll means fun for all!

Saw Imelda and her band at the Fillmore in San Francisco. The entire ensemble simply slayed the crowd who knew that this was a tribute to Les Paul and a San Francisco debut for Imelda May.

Oh yeah, Jeff Beck was there too playing songs made famous by Les Paul. I saw some reviews from people expecting Jeff Beck playing his own discography - some expressed disappointment. However, those with diverse musical experience loved the event. What's more; I don't think San Francisco can handle the Imelda May band without life support and emergency staff present - They simply slayed our town. Ya'll pay attention now!

Watch below or click here for Imelda TV - it's smokin'

Instrument Cables - Asterope

This is one of the cables I use to help bring my guitar alive. A longer guitar cord dictates that you have a higher quality medium for signal transfer. This is especially true if you are not using pre-amplified [active] pickups that boost the signal and make up for the signal loss. Cables are especially important because they transfer the tone from your guitar without increased interference. The Asterope products help me maintain my tone. Test them out at a shop near you.

How transpose a major key to it's relative minor?

There is an old joke; how do you make a guitarist stop playing? Put sheet music in front of them!

Let see if I can help you a little bit in this regard by helping you to convert a major key to it's relative minor key.

In big the big band in college our leader would often change the key of songs on the fly. I had to learn the relative pitches quickly and this is my cheat method for transposing major to minor and vise versa. It's easy when you have time but this still can be a challenge when you have the whole chart in front of you and the change is instantaneous.

*This simple trick could come in handy if you know all the notes on the neck already because this works on all strings.

Determine a root key. Take the key of A for example: Fret the note A on your 6th string (sometimes called low string). This note would be fretted on the 6th string at the 5th fret (either your high or low E string will work). Now slide or count down 4 frets. The note fretted will be F# (C-sharp). Therefore, the relative minor of A Major is F# Sharp.

Try another: Fret the 7th fret of the 6th string = C, move down 4 frets and you are now fretting A. Again, Fret the 9th fret of the 6th string = C# major, now slide or move down 4 frets. You are now fretting A# minor. Keep in mind that there is something called enharmonic keys where notes or keys such as C# could also be called Db but they have the same pitch and use the same key.

Learning simple theory can help you trick out your playing without having to do finger gymnastics.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Falling Down Parody - "Walk" Foo Fighters

Seeing Michael Douglas in Falling Down is the difference in understanding The Foo's parody or not. We all have days like this! Hang in there!!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quick tip about re-stringing a guitar that will save you time!

Old Strings

Making simple written reminders can save you a lot of heartache. Knowing the differences between your old string set and new will help you sort out the affects of a string change.

Each time I restring a guitar for myself, or for a customer, I write the date of the change, and any pertinent information on the string package with a Sharpe pen. The information is immeasurable because the label will contain the string gauge and brand along with the date I've recorded on the packaging. If you change strings and use a different gauge, there will be some dramatic changes to your instruments performance. The intonation will change, a tremolo will require adjustment, string height and also pickup height.

Recording this data is a great aid for me, because there are times when I grab a guitar and I have no reference as to when I last played this instrument or changed the strings. I could measure the gauge but if the caliper is not handy the notes will save you time. If you own more than one instrument you will understand how quickly we forget what gauge and how old our strings are now. Furthermore, I can observe that the strings are oxidized and I can sense the dead tone.

This is a simple tip and it works!