Monday, June 29, 2009

On Meeting BB King

I had the pleasure of meeting BB King -- and indeed playing in front of him -- about a decade and a half ago. Tower Records had organized a meet and greet and a jam session, and people showed up in the hundreds to meet the man, get his autograph and pose with him for some pictures.

In the Tower Records offices before the event, BB asked to meet the band. Up close and in person, BB had an incredible aura and generosity of spirit. I felt like I was in the presence of someone, or something, truly great.

He showed us a couple of, what he called, his personal 'survival things'.

Reaching into his pocket for his wallet, he showed us the few dollar bills that were inside. And from a hidden compartment, he retrieved a nicely folded, crisp 100 dollar bill. "You'll never know when you'll need it," he quipped.

He then asked which of us in the group were guitar players. Looking at the two of us who had sheepishly raised our hands, he produced a coin and asked us to pick a side. I won the coin toss and was rewarded with a tortoiseshell BB King guitar pick. He paused for several seconds, looking at the other guitar player's expression of slight disappointment. At exactly the right moment he produced another pick, a black one this time, and put it in the hand of the other guitarist. "Always carry a spare," he smiled broadly.

It was all about timing, and giving at the right moment when one least expects it -- hallmarks of his guitar playing.

He didn't play a lick with us at the jam, choosing instead to be a true statesman of the blues by signing autographs and making pleasant conversation with an endless queue of eager fans that seemed to never stop coming.

After a long session, and clearly exhausted from jet-lag and the rigors of the road, BB took the time to come up to each musician, shake our hands and thank us personally. I felt like it was I who should have been thanking him. His words to me were something along the lines of, "You have a jazz influence in your playing, young man..." and "I know I'll be seeing you again." I was on a high for days.

It's rare that one meets someone who transcends definitions. Meeting him, it didn't seem to matter that I was standing before one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, or that his playing, singing and music are embedded in the DNA of our collective musical consciousness.

Meeting him was like coming face to face with the Truth. And the Truth of Music is difficult to describe or define. The moment one tries to define it, its meaning escapes us.

And BB King is that one ambassador of the Truth.

Allan Holdsworth's Guitar Clinic 2006

A few years ago, one of my guitar heroes, Allan Holdsworth, made a rare visit to my neck of the woods.

Fronting his classic trio with Jimmy Johnson on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums, the concert was hurriedly organized due to the band's last minute confirmation of availability.

According to a friend of mine who was a promoter for the event, they barely had two weeks to pull everything together, including advertising and publicity. But press on they did, in spite of the obvious commercial risks.

And my hat certainly goes off to them for that. Other show promoters, with their eye firmly on the bottom line would have balked and run a mile away under the same circumstances.

As an unexpected bonus, a guitar clinic with Mr Holdsworth himself was announced. After literally decades of listening to the Master, I had to be there for sure.

The guitar clinic turned out to be more of a mini-concert with both Wackerman and Johnson in support. Even with the simple sound setup, in what was little more than a small function room, the band sounded incredibly balanced and cohesive. Their chemistry, one could only construe, was the result of years of playing together.

With his Bill Dunlap custom guitar -- the immediately recognizable Holy Grail for Holdsworth fans everywhere -- the man's touch, tone and technique filled the small room with sheer musical energy.

From what I could gather, Holdsworth's entire sound was being generated by three Yamaha Magic Stomp boxes. Interestingly, the rest of his guitar amplification equipment were rentals, including a Fender Twin that I had played on when I did a gig backing up The Supremes(!) a week or so earlier.  I recognised it because of the small tear in the grille cloth. Strange parallels indeed.

During the break, the trio mingled with members of the audience wanting to get a closer look. Holdsworth, quaffing a can of Tiger beer, was in good spirits and didn't seem to mind at all that his guitar fans were picking up his prized Dunlap for a feel of its extremely low action.

I had the chance to chat with Chad Wackerman for a bit, asking him about his recent move back to the US. I had the pleasure of having Chad guest on a few tracks of my solo album 'Santiago' in 2004 when he was still living in Sydney. Definitely one of my favorite drummers in the world.

After the break, the band played a couple more tunes and then answered questions from the audience. It was interesting and enlightening to learn how Holdsworth, despite his stature in the guitar world, relies heavily on the input of his sidemen to form a tune. He presents new compositions to the band by playing the chords and melody line, leaving them to formulate their own drum parts and basslines. And whatever happens from that point is strictly a group effort.

No wonder these guys jump at the chance to play with him.

And what would a guitar clinic be if not for the usual detractors. An expat musician in our local jazz community took up Holdsworth on why he identified himself as a jazz musician when there was so little 'jazz' in his playing. This guy had obviously not heard Holdsworth blow over the intricate changes of Coltrane's Countdown.

"It's still bebop, man!", blurted bassist Jimmy Johnson, obviously annoyed and miffed at the subtle put-down. Did I mention these guys have a chemistry?

Perhaps the best question of the night was posed by another guitar buddy of mine who asked Holdsworth "How's the beer?", referring to the can of the local brew the maestro had just cracked open. Which best summed up the entire evening.

Buy Allan Holdsworth CDs and DVDs Here! The complete home study jazz guitar course

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, His Music and His Incredible Sidemen

Michael Jackson has left us, well before his time. RIP.

Jackson's impact on me through his music is profound. And his passing reminds me of things I had long forgotten; like how as a kid, I would spend days poring over the guitar chords to songs like 'Ben' and 'I'll Be There'. Innocent times indeed.

Later in my late-teens when I began to get 'serious' and wanted to learn how music was recorded and put together, I would spend hours with headphones on, exploring the audio landscape of albums like Off The Wall and Thriller. It was immediately apparent to me that every song he ever wrote was an absolute lesson in the craft of pop songwriting. And that great arrangements and production values only served to enhance an already great song. And not the other way around.

A savvy artist, Jackson frequently sought out one of my favorite producers in the world, Quincy Jones. Quincy was the perfect foil to Jackson's music and artistry. And the producer's job is to contextualize and create a vision. And what a vision it was.

Together, Quincy and Jackson were unstoppable. And both attained new heights in their respective careers, producing incredible music that I believe will stand the test of time.

Apart from Quincy's masterful production and Bruce Swedien's incredible engineering and mixing talents, Jackson also surrounded himself with great guitar sidemen. Jackson shone the spotlight on guitar heroes of the day, giving them even greater exposure in the pop kingdom :

  • Steve Lukather playing bass(!) and funky rock rhythm guitar on Beat It, topped off with Eddie Van Halen's unbelievable, other worldly guitar solo;
  • Steve Steven's sonic wall of sound on Dirty Diana;
  • the late David Williams' percolating funk guitar on Billie Jean, and almost everything else on Jackson's catalog;
  • Jennifer Batten's incendiary work onstage, on several world tours;
The barrier to heavy rock guitar in the realm of pop music was forever torn down, the cosmos opened up and the guitar became exciting again in the world of pop music.
Journey well, Michael.

8 Things To Look For When Choosing A Guitar Cable

It's time to get a new cable, and you're looking at the rack display in the music store staring down at a myriad of choices -- different brands, different models within the same brand, different prices..

This article provides a basic overview of things to look out for when making your choice. At the end of this article I'll also talk a little about some of my personal favorites.

  • The Price Factor: Not all cables are created equal, and you usually get what you pay for. When in doubt, get the mid-priced cable if you're on a budget. As a guide, these usually run about a dollar fifty a foot for a pre-made cable with 1/4" plugs on each end.
  • Molded vs Metal Jacket 1/4" Plugs: Molded plugs are characterized by the plug's outer jackets being made of the same material as the cable. The plugs are also permanently molded and fused to the rest of the cable. Personally I would avoid these as they are impossible to repair at the plug end, which is where most cables develop faults over time. I like the metal-jacket 1/4" plugs which can be very easily repaired by anybody who is handy with a soldering iron.
  • Strain Relief: In the old days (read: a decade or so ago) this was characterized by a metal spring that was attached to the metal plug which served to protect this part of the cable that was most prone to damage from being rested against a sofa cushion or chair when seated while playing. At some point, cable manufacturers all but did away with this metal appendage, replacing it instead with a vinyl or rubber sleeve. Still it's better than nothing, so look out for this.
  • Cable Length: If you're gigging you'll need a cable that's at least 15' but not more than 20' in length. 25' cables I find, are too unwieldy and can be a nightmare to uncoil if it gets entangled in itself. For recording or practicing, a cable 10' or less should suffice.
  • Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC): OFC is purified copper intended to provide the best electrical conductivity. Better conductivity equals to more transparency and truer tone transmission from guitar to amp. Many brands offer OFC cable. Even some low-end, cheap cables -- which might be a case of false labelling, so beware.
  • Nickel vs. Gold Plated Plugs: Along with Oxygen Free Copper, gold plated connectors are another concept borrowed from the audiophile industry. Gold plated plugs offer better conductivity than nickel and also do not tarnish readily. Nickel tends to oxidize over time, giving it a dull grey, cloudy appearance. Other than this, I personally don't think gold plugs make much of a difference in terms of fidelity.
  • Foil Shielded Cable: This is a feature I always look out for in a good gig cable. Foil shielding, a layer just underneath the vinyl outer jacket, surrounds the insulated copper wire and braided wire, acting as a shield against radio frequency interference (RFI). These cables are usually much stiffer and also do not tangle easily.
  • Use Your Ears: As a final test, try out different cables. Do A/B comparisons using the same guitar and amp settings. Put the amp on standby when switching between cables so you don't have to touch the volume controls. Listen for signal transparency -- the cable that allows the most pleasing frequencies through to your ears is the one you should get.
Some of my favorite cables include:
  • George L's. Great for recording as I find them to be very transparent but are too fragile for gig situations.
  • Evidence Audio's Lyric -- One of the most transparent and extremely sturdy.
  • Monster Cable, Bass model -- A friend of mine turned me on to these. The bass version sounds more transparent and has a wider sonic range than the guitar model. Thanks Serge!
  • Having said that, I've used the same Peavey cable for more than 10 years! It's my favorite for the sheer number of years of good and loyal service it has provided me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thrown In The Deep End? -- 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Sub

I just did a gig where a substitute, Mr B, was called in fill in for our regular bass player who had to attend to some pressing matters. Mr B performed admirably, given the fact that he did not rehearse with the band at all.

Here are 11 tips for anyone who is willing to be thrown into the musical deep-end:

  • Have the correct mindset. Confidence and the willingness to be thrown into a musical situation, familiar or otherwise, are two important qualities a sub must have
  • Ask for the setlist as well as the keys that the songs are to be performed in
  • Do some research in preparation for the gig, especially if the gig requires you to play music you might not be familiar with. YouTube is a great resource for pre-gig research
  • Make charts or commit the tunes to memory. If you're subbing, never assume that charts will be provided
  • Come appropriately attired -- it's better to always ask about the dress code
  • Come properly equipped for the gig -- instrument, tuner, cables and spare strings are the minimum. Do you have to bring an amp and/or your own mic? Again, ask questions and assume nothing. I always carry a power strip from which I plug in my pedalboard -- just in case the keyboard player has his rig plugged into the last remaining wall socket in the entire club. I speak from personal experience!
  • Arrive at least a half-hour early for the gig, setup, tune and leave the stage. Keep your warm-ups silent and to a minimum. Or warm-up backstage. And remember that no one wants to hear Victor Wooten slap riffs played over the house music, even if you are in the same key
  • If subbing without a rehearsal, discuss the setlist with the band before the gig and ask questions as to arrangements, transitions, key changes, tempos etc. Make little notes on the setlist so that you can refer to it during the set
  • Listen intently and stay alert on the bandstand. Be able to react quickly and spontaneously to anything that may happen. This includes being able to deal with drunken customers who insist on coming up to the stage and shouting their song request in you ear.
  • Contribute with your signature sound, be it in your playing or your vocals. Most band members love seeing what somebody who is subbing can bring to the table
  • After the gig maintain a professional demeanour -- so don't go about asking the drummer if he wants to join your other band. Save that conversation for another day. Also, don't get wildly drunk and hit on the waitresses. If you do need to hit on the waitresses, or get wildly drunk, be discreet

Musical Immersion And Developing Your Own Style

I think of music as a language.

The longer a time you spend 'speaking' it, the better and more fluent you'll sound.

If you're trying to play in a particular genre, it is imperative that you spend a great amount of time listening to it. Then break it down and transcribe choice phrases -- or even whole solos if you're so inclined.

Transcribing choice phrases of not more than one or two bars each gives us more flexibility as they allow themselves to be used in various contexts, and in various keys. Some people dismiss this as a cut-and-paste approach, but many of those same folks are still bogged down by all kinds of pedagogy, with no end in sight.

I sometimes also get asked the million dollar question -- "How do I develop my own style?"

And my answer is usually pretty simple. Jam along with your favourite recordings.

This is a good way to get exposed to a style or a particular genre. You don't have to play exactly what's on the record, but aim to play something of your own that's of equal quality as to what you're hearing on the recording.

Use every ounce of your musical knowledge -- key centers, modes, scale substitutions, licks --everything.

Aim to copy the phrasing, feel and intonation of a particular player. Listen to the nuances and really home in on them, replicating them on your instrument. All without copying the actual notes, which I feel defeats the purpose of this exercise, which is to develop a style as far your phrases and note choices.

Pretty soon your own stylistic traits will emerge.

It is musical immersion in its truest sense -- and just short of playing and hanging out with the master musicians.

Bear in mind that these developments do not happen overnight. It is a very gradual process that is slower than watching grass grow. But given enough time, the rewards will manifest.

And then I'll steal your licks.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Guitar Manufacture -- China As The New Korea And Beyond

In the mid to late '70s, if the price of a US-made guitar was out of our reach, Japanese companies like Ibanez, Greco, Aria, Hondo et al offered the next best thing at a fraction of the cost. These Japanese instruments were aethetically identical copies, and they were well-made.

By the 1980's, the Japanese guitar companies had embarked on innovative and original designs that expanded and improved upon the tried and tested iconic American instruments. The country was in a technological and manufacturing renaissance and guitar-making was at its peak -- long forgotten were the connotations of inferiority associated with the words 'Made In Japan'.

By the early to mid-90's, rising labour costs in Japan meant that many Japanese brands began to outsource their mid to low-end models to factories in Korea. High-end US guitar companies like Hamer also moved production lock, stock and barrel to Korea while maintaining only a small custom facility Stateside. Gibson resurrected their once-flagship Epiphone brand in a new incarnation as a budget line of guitars and started making high-quality renditions of their Les Paul and Sheraton models in Korea.

And it always amazed me that Epiphone Korea could offer such amazingly figured flame-maple tops on their Les Pauls.

Korea soon also began manufacturing their own household guitar brands, most notably, Cort, probably with new-found guitar manufacturing technologies borrowed from Gibson's Epiphone.

By the early 2000's, low to middle-end guitar manufacture had nearly all but moved to China. China is now where Korea stood a decade before as the go-to place to set up a guitar factory. Even Yamaha who has had a guitar manufacturing plant in Kaoshiung, Taiwan since 1970, has moved operations to the mainland.

With China's burgeoning economy and rising labour costs, it could be less than a decade or so when guitar brands seek out other shores for lower-cost production -- and already we're seeing glimmers of Indonesian-made instruments making their appearance.

And Indonesia may well be the next force to be reckoned in the world of musical instrument manufacture, given their long cultural history in woodworking.

Magic Guitars and Inspiring Guitar Rigs

This post is a sequel to my earlier article, How To Choose A Guitar That's Right For You.

Memory permitting, these are the guitars or guitar/amp setups I've played on over the years that I found inspiring.

1981 Ibanez AS50 semi-solid through an orange Roland Cube 60(!)
This was the guitar I talked about in that earlier article. What an epiphany!

'70s Fender Stratocaster through a '70s silverface Fender Twin Reverb
I also talked about this guitar in that earlier article. I had only my Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer in the chain -- classic setup.

1949 D'Angelico archtop into a vintage Standel amp
This guitar was on display at the Fine Guitar Consultants booth at NAMM 2000. Not one of D'Angelico's much prized instruments, this was actually a student model with a plywood spruce top. Knowing that John D'Angelico and Jimmy D'Aquisto worked on building it is enough for me.

It was jazz guitarist Ron Eschete's primary axe for 30 something years and he sold it for some reason. This guitar 'forces' you to play sweet chord melodies and bebop lines. The guitar now belongs to a friend of mine.

Carvin Allan Holdsworth through a Carvin amp
I tried this at the Carvin shop on Sunset Boulevard. I can't remember the exact model of the amp, but it was one of the 2x10 tweed covered ones with the beige chickenhead knobs.

This particular Holdsworth signature was one of the first ever released -- if not one of the actual prototypes. Super low action on a wide, flat fingerboard, a perfectly balanced Wilkinson trem and the warm overdriven amp made Holdsworthian legato lines a breeze.

Early '80s Fender Vintage Telecaster reissue
This one has an interesting story to it. I tried out this guitar at a local used guitar shop. I didn't ask to try it -- one of the shop guys just foisted it on me. And it felt and sounded amazing. It was a well-played instrument with lots of wear in the nitrocellulose finish on the neck and fingerboard. I put it back on the shelf to go home and think about it.

The next day, I got a call from a friend of mine who said he was at the shop looking at the guitar, and asked if I had tried it. I told him it was a fine guitar and to go for it if he wanted it. I was really looking for a reason not to buy yet another guitar.

Long story short, my friend bought the guitar, found it buzzed too much in the recording studio and attempted to shield the control cavity with aluminum foil that caused the guitar to short out intermittently. He called a week later to ask me if I wanted to buy it off him.

Sure. Thanks Josh..

But this guitar really is amazing. It has all the vibe and personality you could ever want in a guitar. Other than high gain, high volume situations where the pickups squeal microphonically, the guitar is otherwise really versatile. And it sometimes 'pings' and twangs mysteriously on my guitar stand at night. Spooky.

Mid '90s Tom Anderson tele-style through a Matchless 2x12
A friend of mine had a serious collection of Tom Anderson guitars at one point. Of the lot, I really cottoned to this particular instrument, a rather plain-looking hollow T-Classic in a sunburst finish. I can't remember anything about the Matchless amp except that I think it was a 2x12. And it was brown.

Another one of those instruments that forces you to play a certain way -- and it all feels and sounds effortless while you do it. Think Brent Mason, James Burton, Albert Lee -- twang for days.

And there you have it. 30 years of playing experience, and only 6 magical guitars.

Rare gems indeed.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How To Triple Your Chord Vocabulary In 30 Seconds

The Principle of String Transference. It's a beautiful thing I picked up from Ted Greene's Chord Chemistry.  No other chord book is quite like it.

This is a simple method for tripling your chord form vocabulary. We guitar players call 'em 'grips'.

In the first bar of the diagram below, I've stated a very common grip for Cmaj7, with the root on the 5th string. Kind of overused, but it's a good candidate for illustrating the String Transference Principle. Notice how the notes of the chord are on string set 5-4-3-2.

In order to play this chord on string set 6-5-4-3, we move the entire shape verbatim so that the root is on the 6th string, 8th fret, as in the first chord of Bar 2. If you play the chord in this form you'll realize it's not the familiar Cmaj7 sound anymore.

This is where the Principle comes into play.

The Principle of String Transference states that when moving a voicing to a lower set of strings, any note that lands on the 3rd string needs to move 1 fret down. Looking at the second chord in Bar 2, we see that the F note needs to move one fret down to E, giving us a perfect Cmaj7 chord with the root on the 6th string.

But wait there's more.

In Bar 3, we revert back again to our original root on 5th string Cmaj7. This time we'll transfer this same chord shape to string set 4-3-2-1 as in the first chord of Bar 4. The root C is now on the 4th string, 10th fret.

The second rule of the Principle of String Transference states that when moving a voicing to a higher string set, any note that lands on the 2nd string needs to move 1 fret up. This is illustrated in the second chord of Bar 4, where the Bb on the 2nd string, 11th fret is raised to a B at the 12th fret.

The great thing about this Principle is that it also works with scales and arpeggios.

Play Hard and Prosper. The complete home study jazz guitar course

Friday, June 19, 2009

Five Notes.. And You'll Know Who It Is

This is something you have to be born with, I think.

It is the ability to play three, four or five notes and be instantly recognizable. And it doesn't matter whether the player who posseses this rare gift is historically famous or a complete unknown.

For the rarest of this breed, one can even define eras by their influence on generations of guitarists, for example pre-Van Halen and post-Van Halen, or pre-Charlie Christian and post-Charlie Christian.

For most of us music mortals, a style is created by fusing several influences. And if one has listened widely, those influences can still be clearly picked out.

The unique innovator, on the other hand, has taken the amalgam of his influences and distilled them into a recognizable signature sound and style.

And then there is the true innovator.

The true innovator takes what has come before him, throws most of it out the window and re-invents the instrument. While sometimes influencing generations of players. You'll usually know who they are after just four or five notes.

This is a partial list of who I feel are the true innovators of the guitar world, past and present:

Robert Johnson
Charlie Christian
Freddie Green
Django Reinhardt
BB King
Wes Montgomery
Grant Green
George Van Eps
Joe Pass
George Benson
Jimi Hendrix
Carlos Santana
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Pat Martino
Eddie Van Halen
Yngwie Malmsteen
Jeff Beck
Al DiMeola
John McLaughlin
Pat Metheny
Chet Atkins
Allan Holdsworth

Murphy's Law As It Applies To Guitar Players

Last Monday, at my usual weekly blues/rock gig, I was reminded of the importance of having a spare for all my essential gear.

I arrived, as usual, about an hour before the gig, hooked up my pedalboard and then proceeded to stretch-tune the new strings on my Suhr Classic.

I saw two of my guitar students in the audience, went up to them to say hello and make some small talk and then went outside with a drink to relax and discuss the set list with my band’s vocalist.

Maybe I was too preoccupied with stretching the strings on my guitar, or perhaps it was the surprise of seeing my two students, but I had neglected a key part of my set up ritual – that of firing up the Marshall JCM900 amp and checking to see if everything was working.

And Murphy knocks when he is least expected.

At 10pm the band was onstage and the house music had been turned off. I did some final tuning on my guitar, hit my volume pedal expecting that familiar roar. And nothing.

I’m usually a pretty cool customer in these circumstances having developed a deductive process for troubleshooting a ‘no sound’ situation. In this case, the amp was powered on, not on standby and the preamp and master volumes on the channel I was using were slightly above the halfway mark. My first thought was that the house guitar cable connected to the amp was faulty.

I pulled the cable from my pedalboard, leaving it connected to the amp. I turned the volume down a little and tapped on the cable end -- and nothing. I knew it was the cable. And 99% of the time I would have been right.

I switched to a different cable. And still nothing. Uh oh.

I tried a third cable with the same result.

Now I was starting to sweat. The club’s workhorse Marshall looked adamant at taking the night off.

I have great guys in my band. They were looking on with much concern and offering suggestions unobtrusively while I scrambled with the troubleshooting. Off to one corner of the stage, my drummer spotted a spare Fender Deluxe 90 amp and my singer helped lug it over, and plug in the power cable.

And we were in business.

The moral of this story is to always get to a gig early and check out all the gear to make sure everything is operating. And always carry a spare if that spare has not already been provided for you.

A guitarist’s checklist of spare equipment should include, at the minimum, spare guitar cables, pedalboard cables, extra packs of strings, and in my case, a spare overdrive pedal on my board. For important shows I also always carry a spare guitar and I ensure that the rental company has an extra amp in the van just in case.

We can’t always keep Murphy at bay, but we can be prepared if he comes knocking.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Diminished Scale As Two Partial Minor Scales

Here's a useful tip I picked up from a Barry Greene book.

The diminished (whole/half) scale is usually viewed as a series of consecutive whole steps and half steps:

A diminished whole/half scale = A, B, C, D, Eb, F, Gb, Ab

Playing the diminished scale in this manner usually yields mechanical patterns and sequential licks.

If we look closely at the first 4 notes of the A diminished scale we'll notice that they spell out the first 4 notes of an A minor scale, namely A, B, C, D.

The next 4 notes, Eb, F, Gb, Ab spell out the first 4 notes of an Eb minor scale.

Using Barry Greene's concept, a diminished (whole/half) is made up of 2 partial minor scales a b5 apart! Which should make for more melodic lines when playing diminished ideas.

Note #1: The whole/half diminished scale is used to improvise over diminished chords.

Note #2: Over dominant 7th chords resolving to a 4th above, eg. G7 to C, play the half/whole diminished scale. Or use the Barry Greene concept and play your partial minor scales a half step higher than the dominant chord you're playing over. Eg. for G7 think Abm/Dm partial scales.

Pretty useful stuff.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ten Unusual Things To Be Told An Hour Before A Gig

These are from my own experience. Some of these last minute surprises were pleasant, some not so. Some were just plain worrying.

  • "There's no room for a guitar amp onstage, but our soundman will help you plug your guitar directly into the PA."
  • "The agreement with your bandleader was that the band only gets paid if there are at least 300 people in the club."
  • "You guys are the jazz band? Great! Some guests might want to come up and sing some songs in Mandarin."
  • "Can you find a sub for me? I've got tickets to Metallica.. woohoo!"
  • "The bass guitar your bassist is playing looks like mine. It was stolen from my car last year!"
  • "Didn't your agent mention that the dress code for tonight is all white?"
  • "Do you have a business card? Next time I will call you guys directly instead of going through your agent."
  • "The President will be seated at the table directly in front of the stage. Try not to play too loud."
  • "The band should start playing Happy Birthday immediately after the Bunny jumps out of the cake."
  • "Can you guys play striptease music?"

Five Things I Learned From My Cat

Yesterday was one of those rare days. I had the chance to just stay home all day, catch up on some chores and, as usual, play some guitar.

I also spent some time observing my cat, Sunny. Felines have always amazed me.

From watching him, these were some of the things he taught me, or at least reminded me about:

  • Focus:- Cats concentrate intensely on the task at hand, be it in trying to capture that bird or insect, or lying in wait to pounce on our ankles. As guitarists we have ingrained so much information into our muscle memory that we often practice without really thinking about what we are doing or exactly what we are trying to accomplish.
  • Agility, Relaxation and the Coiled Spring:- Cats have amazing ability when it comes to leaping. This agility seems to be the result of being able to go from a state of relaxation, to a momentary state of intense muscular contraction and energy during the jump, and then back again to a state of total relaxation. Rather like a coiled spring. Humans on the other hand often play music while holding continuous, unrelenting tendonitis-inducing tensions in the arms and hands (and even in other parts of the body that have nothing to do with playing music).
  • Alertness:- This is an inherent survival trait, even in well-fed, domesticated animals. ("Cats? Domesticated?", I hear Sunny mewing). Unfortunately it is also a trait noticeably lacking in many musicians. Singers who day-dream onstage during a 16-bar guitar solo and miss their cue; band members who are oblivious to the drummer who has dropped a stick and who's been signalling desperately for the last 15 seconds while attempting to keep the song's 16th note shuffle groove going with one hand.. Sound familiar? If this were Wild Kingdom we would be eaten alive.
  • Listening:- Another key survival trait in cats. Their ears are always attuned to their surroundings, even when napping. Which should also be a key survival trait for the practicing musician. Other than popping in earphones to listen to Britney (and singing along loudly, and in a public place at that), attuned listening applies to qualitative practicing, transcribing and ear-training. Listening to oneself, preferably with the aid of a recording device, is essential for developing one's sound. On the bandstand, Listening and Alertness go hand-in-hand.
  • Meowing:- I've read that cat's do not meow to one another as a regular form of communication. Instead, they vocalize to each other when they get into fights or are looking for a mate. Cats only meow to us humans. They meow when they want our attention, be it for food or for that little pat on the head. As musicians we have to 'meow' and meow constantly. We have to network with agents and other musicians, sell our services, market our music, hustle for that choice gig, do interviews, promote and publicise. At one point or another we've all missed out on that golden opportunity because we didn't 'meow' loud enough or long enough.
To paraphrase the great Bruce Lee, "Be the cat, my friend.."

Seven Steps to Heaven -- 7 Jazz Licks

When I first got into playing and studying jazz guitar I figured that developing a working vocabulary of licks was important.
And so my meticulous self set about writing out a multitude of 1-bar and 2-bar licks transcribed from various sources, filling page upon page of loose manuscript paper.
While my not so meticulous self filed those pages away in a book -- The Jazz Style of Tal Farlow by Steve Rochinski, no less -- to lay dormant and forgotten for several years.
I chose these 7 licks out of the batch and I think they convey the jazz/bebop language pretty well, including the usage of some common chromatic devices. I'll tab out some more later.
All examples are in the key of C or Am for ease of reference and should be played everywhere on the neck in different octaves and then transposed to 3 or 4 keys for maximum benefit. And here's the fun part -- they can also be mixed and matched freely into longer lines and played over a ii-V-I (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7) progression in C, so you'll get much more than just 7 licks.
Click on the images for a larger picture and enjoy.
The complete home study jazz guitar course

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scholz Rockman

 Here's a Rockman ad from the early 80's.

Tom Scholz, the guitarist and leader of rock band 'Boston' was quite the tinkerer and genius inventor.

At a time when the only way to get a decent distorted tone was to mic an amplifier, Scholz created a barrage of home-brewed electronic boxes that allowed him to plug directly into a mixer to track his monstrous guitar tones in his home studio without waking up the neighbourhood.

Also a smart businessman and savvy marketeer, Scholz soon unleashed his creation upon the world.

Advertised as both a versatile headphone amp and recording device, the Rockman soon caught on in a big way and was the secret blackbox of nearly every guitarist plying his trade in the recording studios.

When it wasn't always practical to mic up that 4 x 12 Marshall cabinet, the Rockman provided a viable alternative in the form of a DI unit from which you could also get great rock guitar tones.

Simple to use, there were 4 mini-switches on the Rockman's control panel:

  • A 4-way switch for selecting between Clean 1, Clean 2, Edge and Distortion tones
  • A 3-way switch for Normal (which was actually full stereo mode with both chorus and echo), and Chorus Off and Echo Off
  • A 3-way switch with three fixed volume levels in lieu of a tapered volume control
  • The on/off switch
Also included was a 1/4" Aux input so you could play along with your favourite records or cassettes (!)

And not forgetting the Scholz Rockman stereo headphones which were supplied with the unit. Mine still work after 25 years.

A cool feature was the red LED power light that blinked at 1-second intervals in a constant hypnotic manner.

The only downside to the Rockman was that the only outputs were 2 parallel stereo mini-pin headphone jacks, which meant one had to deal with dinky hi-fi cables with stereo mini-pin to dual mono 1/4" plugs in order to interface with a recording console.

The unit ran on 8 'AA' alkaline batteries (yikes!) or more economically off a wall wart that cost about a third the price of the Rockman unit itself!

The Rockman's clean and distorted tones became the hallmark of many an 80's hit song. The Clean tones were incredibly glassy and crystalline and really cut through in a rhythm track, especially with single-coil pickups. I would get a Rockman again to use it solely for this sound.

The Edge and Distortion tones were very processed sounding like the ads claim, but provided good utilitarian tones for the obligatory 8 or 16-bar guitar solo mid-song if one was so inclined. Think Michael Sembello's guitar solo on 'Maniac'. (If you can remember that far back..)

If like me you're nostalgic for some good ol' 80's guitar tones, Dunlop has reissued a version called the Rockman Guitar Ace.

Rock on!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Have You Met Miss Jones -- Tune Analysis

I remember kicking around with this tune a few years ago, trying to learn the chord changes by heart. After learning it -- and several other tunes -- I realised that it was best to simplify one's thinking, break chords down into elemental major, minor or dominants, analyse the important movements and realise that some chords in between the important movements are just pleasant filler like the Bb7 passing chord I mention below..

Jazz musicians have a knack for looking over a tune once and committing it to memory, noting all the important landmarks in the form, recognizing typical ii V I's, and noting the key modulations.

Here's such an analysis. We'll look at Have You Met Miss Jones in 8-bar phrases. The chords have been reduced to their elementary form and the slashes indicate beats in a bar:

F//// F#dim//// Gm//// C7///
tonic, passing chord, ii V

Am//// Dm//// Gm//// C7////
iii vi, ii V in F

In Bar 1 and 2, F goes to F#dim. Here the F#dim is functioning as a smooth transitionary chord to Gm in Bar 3. In Bars 3 and 4, Gm and C7 form a ii-V in the key of F.

Bar 5, 6, 7 and 8 are a iii (Am), vi (Dm), ii (Gm), V (C7) in F. 

The next 8 bars are nearly identical to the first 8 bars. Except for the last 2 bars which go to Cm and F7 which are ii-V's of the Bb in the first bar of the Bridge.

F//// F#dim//// Gm//// C7///
tonic, passing chord, ii - V

Am//// Dm//// Cm//// F7////
iii - vi of F, ii - V in Bb

The Bridge section consists of several ii V I's modulating in different keys, going from Bb, Gb, D and back to Gb:

Bb//// Abm// Db7// Gb////
I in Bb, ii - V - I in Gb

Em// A7// D//// Abm// Db7//
ii - V - I in D, ii - V -

Gb//// Gm// C7//
I in Gb, ii - V leading back to F of last verse

The last verse has the same movement in the first 4 bars as the previous verses. In the Real Book there is a Bb7 after C7 in bar 4 but I see this as a passing chord creating a half-step chromatic movement into Am which isn't a part of the overall movement so I'd leave it out when first learning this tune:

Last Verse:

F////F#dim//// Gm//// C7// (Bb7)//

Am// D7// Gm// C7// F////
iii - VI7, ii - V - I
The complete home study jazz guitar course

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Spiritual Sayings of Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is one of my guitar heroes.

I spent a good part of my teenage years listening to him, and it became a ritual of sorts -- I had to have my daily one-hour fix of Santana. While his music played, I pored over his interviews, re-reading them over and over again in magazines like Guitar Player, Musician and Guitar World.

The idea for this column came from a music journal I used to keep as a kid. And as a true Carlos fan, I devoted several pages to his quotes which I entitled 'The Spiritual Sayings of Carlos Santana'. These are just some of them.

I dedicate this column to Carlos.

"When music starts playing you, you don't play music anymore. Music starts playing itself through you instead of you trying to make it happen."

"The most beautiful music goes beyond the musicians who played it. Certain people, like Jimi Hendrix or John Coltrane, don't play just for themselves or their immediate families. They play for a whole generation."

"The main thing is the cry. That's what I'm trying to do with the tone."

"The tone is more important to me than anything else because it will disarm the listener to let go of whatever is in their mind. That's what people try to do when they go to church."

"The tone, first of all, is your face. So why do you want to look like somebody else?"

"Unless you have a good engineer, the first thing they take from you is the ghost sound, the spirit sound -- so they leave you really dry. Without the ghost tones, I may as well be doing gardening or something else."

"I would say about 25% (of the tone) is in my hands. The other 75% comes from my legs, my guts. After I play a solo my throat and my calves hurt. This is projecting."

"I can just about get (my tone) from any guitar. But I really go out and jam with a lot of people, and a lot of times, as soon as I put my finger on a guitar, the guitar will say to me, "Who are you and why are you playing me this way."

"With my guitar, it's like, "Where do you want to go?"

"If you put your whole being on that note, man, your hair stands, your spine tingles."

"B.B. King hit the note and it changed everything for me."

"I'll take sincerity over soulfulness anytime. Whether you play fast or slow, if you're sincere, the people will pick it up."

"Deception, ego. Those are the things that block pure creativity. Ego to me is like a dog or a horse. Make him work for you. Don't you work for him."

"You can tell what people have in their eyes -- malice, expectations, the beauty of things."

On guitarist Bola Sete: "Mortal music deals with my baby left me, I can't pay the rent, or whatever. Bola's music tells you that inside, we have roaring cosmic lions."

"A lot of times, I can't stand my playing. Other times, I can't believe that it's coming out of my fingers."

"A note is like a rose. It can be closed, or halfway open, or all the way in bloom. Choose how each note is going to be. You want to present the best possible bouquet."

"Play like you don't know how to play. Take chances and make new mistakes. Go for what you don't know and make it brutally honest."

"A good way to develop (your sound) is to get a tape recorder and for half an hour, turn out the lights and then just play with a rhythm machine."

"Universal language (of music) is deeper than the surface. That way, when you play cowboy music, even the Japanese will be doing a hillbilly dance."

"I needed to know about discipline. Now I know that out of discipline comes freedom."

"When Tony Williams plays the ride cymbal, there's a lot of melodies in there. Listen to those melodies. A lot of times it's not the pianist who states the theme. It's the drummer."

"Actually, if you don't read music, that doesn't make you ignorant. Birds don't read. Birds can go out there and they'll still have a song in the morning."

"Whatever happens between the 23 hours that you're not onstage is going to affect you when you come onstage."

"When things get too crazy with the world, you can click a switch and go into your own sanctuary and play music that is stronger than the news."

"Whether you are doing it in the bar, the church, the strip joint, or the Himalayas, the first duty of music is to complement and enhance life."

Guitar Truss Rod Setup Tips

This is how I like my guitars to be set up, so much of the information here is really based on my personal preference. Take these ideas as a starting point and feel free to experiment and get it to where you like it.

There are three primary areas on the guitar that can be (and are meant to be) adjusted.

These are:

  • the nut
  • the truss rod
  • the bridge

Of the three, the height of the nut is best taken care of by an experienced repairman/luthier, and the complexity of bridge adjustment qualifies it for its own unique article. We will leave these out of the equation for now.

Bear in mind that both the truss rod and bridge adjustments will affect how a guitar plays and feels -- the 'action'.

In this article we'll focus on truss rod adjustment, which is something I get asked about a lot by my students and guitar-playing friends.

Truss rod adjustments need to be done before working on the bridge section. This is because any adjustment done to the height of the bridge will be negated when the truss rod is adjusted.

This is how a truss rod works:

A truss rod adds strength and stability to the guitar's neck and also plays an important role as far as string action and left hand playing comfort. When the truss rod nut is turned clockwise, the rod tightens, pushing up against the guitar's fingerboard and straightening out the neck. The truss rod nut is located either at the headstock end or at the body end of the fingerboard and it is usually adjusted with a specifically sized allen wrench, or a flathead screwdriver depending on the type of nut.

Most times, new guitars come with too much 'relief'. Using the low E string as a sort of straightedge guide, press and hold the string at the first fret (a capo in this case is invaluable) while simultaneously holding the same string down at the highest possible fret on the guitar (21st, 22nd or 24th fret depending) with the right hand index finger.

Now look closely and check for the slight gap between the 7th fret and the bottom of the 6th string.

If you can slip a 1mm pick under that gap easily and without moving the string, you have way too much relief. The gap should ideally be about the thickness of a business card.

Or, as I prefer it, with no relief at all.

If you're going the 'no relief' route, be prepared for some string buzzes around the first to third frets on the low 6th and 5th strings. This is normal, and the buzzes are usually inaudible through a guitar amp, since these lower frets are too far away from the pickups for the imperfections to be heard. If you're adjusting an acoustic guitar I would recommend going the business card route.

If you have too much relief, you need to tighten the truss rod. At this point, if you're not confident in your abilities, or if the guitar is old and hasn't been adjusted in a while, do not proceed and take your guitar to someone who knows how to do this stuff.

Loosen the 4th and 3rd strings only so you have some room to maneuver and insert the appropriately sized allen wrench or screwdriver.

To tighten the truss rod, face the truss rod nut towards you. If the truss rod nut is at the headstock end, sit with the headstock pointing directly at you. 'Righty tighty, lefty, loosey' applies here so we need to tighten the nut by turning it to the right, or clockwise. If the truss rod nut is at the body end, rest the guitar on a workbench and with the nut facing you, do the same, turning clockwise.

Adjust in small increments of no more than a quarter of a turn at a time.

If the truss rod nut seems unusually difficult to turn, do not proceed. It might be a simple a matter of lubricating the threads of the nut a little. In a worst case scenario, your truss rod may be maxed out -- in which case you have a problem and pretty much have to live with the relief. Or pay a pretty penny for a luthier to remove the fingerboard, adjust the rod, and re-glue the fingerboard.

On the flip side, if you can't fit a business card underneath the string when doing the 1st fret and last fret procedure, and your guitar is buzzing excessively and/or fretting out at the lower 3 or 4 frets on all the strings, then you have a 'reverse bow' which means that the truss rod is too tight and pushing up excessively against the fingerboard causing a hump. Loosen the truss rod by following the above procedure but turning the truss rod nut to the left or counter clockwise.

I'll cover bridge adjustment thoroughly in a later article. For now, once you have adjusted your truss rod correctly, adjust your bridge height to taste, which may be as simple as the turn of a thumb-screw in the case of a Les Paul tune-o-matic bridge, or adjusting the heights of the individual saddles on a Strat.

Go for an action that allows the guitar to play reasonably cleanly. But remember, a little string buzz is your friend! Check out Hendrix's Little Wing and you'll hear his guitar strings buzzing all over the place.

The amount of relief affects how your guitar feels, plays and sounds to a very great degree.

Stay tuned for my article on bridge adjustment where I'll talk a bit about the various kinds of bridges and some of their adjustment quirks.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Monday, June 8, 2009

Blend Control for the Stratocaster

A guitar tech buddy of mine recently showed me a Strat he had wired so that what would normally be the tone control for the middle pickup (the tone control farthest from the volume knob) now became a Blend control for getting pickup combinations hitherto unobtainable.

Don Grosh, I believe was the first guitar manufacturer to install this system on their custom strat-style guitars. I even tried one sometime back, was duly impressed, but somehow forgot totally about it, perhaps due to my jaded disposition toward guitar gear because of new hobbies like this:

With the Blend control installed, the Strat's 3-pot configuration becomes Master Volume, Master Tone and Blend. The Master Tone is also a real plus as it tames the banshee-like treble characteristics of the rear pickup which would otherwise not have any tone control.

What the Blend control does is:

  • When the selector switch is set to position 5 (the rear pickup), the Blend at zero makes only the rear pickup audible. When the Blend is gradually raised from zero, the front pickup is gradually brought in to the tonal mix with the rear pickup. With the Blend at 10, you get equal ratios of both the front and rear pickups.
  • When the selector switch is set to the 4th position (mid and rear pickup combined), dialing in the Blend gradually brings in the 1st and 2nd pickup to mix with the sound of the 3rd pickup. With the Blend at 10, you get equal volume from all three pickups simultaneously.
According to my tech buddy, this is a very simple modification that entails adding only a single internal wire to the guitar's circuit.
Pretty cool. Count me in.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Ted Nugent's Road to Hearing Loss

Here's a little Ted Nugent ad nugget from 1978.

In the previous article I discussed the joys of bi-amping. In that case, six amps rated at 180 watts each, and six cabinets each loaded with two 15" speakers must surely be the road to nirvana.

Or serious hearing damage.

But the late '70s were an innocent time. Bands were competing for decibel records at their live concerts and tinnitus sounded like something one got from eating a tainted can of Spam.

If we are to believe the content of this ad, Nugent was easily putting out well over 1000 watts of raw volume from his guitar -- a Gibson Byrdland hollowbody jazz guitar no less, stuffed with foam to dampen ensuing feedback.

Ol' Ted said he performed with a earplug in only one ear to protect that ear that was facing his amplifiers. By the early '90s he was saying that he had lost all hearing in his unprotected ear and it was "just there to balance out his face."

Uh oh..

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roger Mayer's Voodoo 1 and the Virtues of Bi-Amping

I purchased a Roger Mayer Voodoo-1 pedal about 10 years ago. I stuck it on my pedalboard as the last pedal in the chain for its signal buffering qualities and set it for a slightly gritty boost and left it 'on' always -- volume at 3 o'clock, tone at 10 o'clock and gain at 9 o'clock. I liked the gritty boost because it sounded like a clean amp set to LOUD and on the verge of breakup.

For the uninitiated, Roger Mayer designed and built some of the pedals Hendrix used, most notably the Octavia which created the random octave generating effect heard on Purple Haze. It's no small feat coming up with a whole new category of pedal like Mayer did with his Octavia, and have it become a sort of cult classic.

But after a few months, for some reason or another, I relegated the Voodoo to the dark recesses of my pedal closet.

To my ears my Ibanez Tube Screamer or Boss Blues Driver sounded better -- particularly the Blues Driver for its clarity of tone.

With its design pedigree, the Voodoo 1 was a 'semi-boutique' pedal, with its more reasonable price being the only factor in its not qualifying for full-boutique status. Bear in mind that around this period of time, boutique pedals hadn't yet taken off to the degree they have today. And the ones that were out there were seriously over-priced and generally sounded like 'carefully executed farts' -- to quote bassist Michael Anthony. Damn germanium transistors..

Of the better known boutique overdrive pedals of note 10 years ago, the Klon Centaur and Fulltone Full Drive were high on the tone list. But I didn't think they were very good despite the hype and hoopla. I dislike pedals that color the basic guitar tone too much, or make everything sound like you're playing through a vintage Fender Bassman -- that dark, thick, clunky, fat for fat's sake tone.

I'll say it again -- the Tube Screamer and Blues Driver sound pretty good. Still do.

Getting to the point of this story (finally) -- I recently got out the ol' Voodoo 1 again to explore the dual buffered outputs of the pedal. I got it out totally on a whim prompted by a sudden recollection of the bi-amp possibilities of this pedal.

I fired up my Marshall TSL amp and Fender Stage 160. The tube TSL100 has really nice classic Marshall tones while the solid-state Stage 160 does a half-way decent job of replicating a clean Twin Reverb. The words 'fired up' when applied to tube amps always makes me feel uneasy..

Combined together via the Voodoo 1 set to the cleanest setting, I was amazed at the complexity of sound, even at the relatively lower (for me) volume I was playing at. Setting the Fender on a very mild overdrive and with the Marshall's preamp channel pumped, I got a clear singing tone and great note separation on diads and 3-note chords.

Playing around with the guitar's volume pot yielded a whole spectrum of colors. Single notes had definition and character and were easily nuanced by changing pick attack. Feedback also seemed so easily attainable at certain notes on the guitar, particularly on the upper frets on the second string.

If you ask me, bi-amping is the way to go -- it truly is 'the secret' as tonemeisters Lukather, Landau and Thompson will attest. And we haven't even scratched the surface of the stereo reverb/delay possibilities.

The Voodoo 1 might have a little voodoo in it after all.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dinner with James Tyler of Tyler Guitars

I met Jim Tyler in 2000 when I and a friend attended the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Los Angeles. We were interested in becoming the Tyler guitar distributor for the region and so we arranged to pay him a visit at his small guitar facility on Sepulveda in Van Nuys.

Over the phone he had given us directions to look out for a certain burger joint and to make a turn down that road. It took us a while to find his shop.

Further up the road we were greeted with a small single-storey building with corrugated zinc walls and a small rather inconspicuous shop sign.

Jim graciously showed us around his facility. One of his workers was busy hand-sanding a newly routed body to the soundtrack of a Beastie Boys CD playing on the boombox, which was met with some consternation from Jim.

Much of the work at that time was being done by hand. Notably lacking was any kind of CNC machine or computerized router -- it was very much a jig and bandsaw operation. Jim spoke about the cost of investing in such a machine and how he would have to massively step up production from the current 20-odd guitars they were building every month, just to pay for the machine. (Although I gather the company has since made some investments in CNC armory.)

The wall over Jim's workbench was covered with pictures and autographed memorobilia. Including an old picture of himself in another incarnation as a long-haired Strat-wielding guitarist in a rock band. Meanwhile on the bench, a guitar on which he was dressing newly-installed frets, patiently awaited his return. Jim did a lot of the fretwork on the guitars himself.

I also had the opportunity to plug in and play a bit on the Tyler Psychedelic Vomit #1. The strings were really dead as it had been up on the shopwall for goodness-knows how long, but all the chimey, resonant characteristics were still there.

At 630pm we made the drive to a restaurant on Sunset in Jim's old Mercedes.

Over dinner Jim revealed much about the insider goings-on of the of the guitar manufacturing world. He spoke fondly of his days at Schecter in the 70s and early 80s where he and Tom Anderson both got their start before venturing out on their own.

I asked him about the Tyler Studio Elite that I owned, mentioning how the pickups seemed to be very similar to Anderson's design both in look and tone. He attributed that to the design commonalities he shared with Anderson, based on their time at Schecter. I also asked him about the unusually girthy neck on my guitar to which he humorously replied that it was probably a reaction from his chewing out one of his workers for carving several necks too thin.

He talked about his display booth at the NAMM show and how he had been chided(!) by one of his Japanese distributors over a new line he was planning on releasing -- a more modestly priced TG range with a new headstock logo he was intending to manufacture overseas. Although since then a Japanese-made Tyler line has appeared.

He became slightly animated on the topic of guitar endorsements, and mentioned how he adamantly never gave any guitars away for free. He mentioned artist endorsement fees and how some signature models were often not truly representative of the guitars the endorser actually played.

He also raised a sore point about how he had been approached several times by a well-known US guitar magazine who had asked him for a free guitar in exchange for a favourable review. It was also apparently the reason why his guitars, up to that point, had never been featured in a US guitar magazine. Or why, in his company's history, he had placed literally less than a handful of advertisements in these guitar publications. And, he reasoned, he wouldn't have been able to keep up with the orders anyway.

It was clearly not just about the numbers or the bottomline.

I walked away from that meeting feeling a little buzzed. It might have been the wine, or the fact that he had given us the dealership for his amazing guitars.
Most of all, what I did walk away with was that if one had a clear, uncompromising vision and a truly great product, the world will beat a path to your door. Marketing and publicity be damned. More power to you, Mr Tyler.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Establishing A Practice Regimen And Finding Things To Work On

In this column I'll touch upon the topics of practicing and establishing a practice schedule while also briefly exploring the bottomless pit of what to practice.

First off, let me just say this -- practicing should be fun! If it isn't fun for you you're probably approaching it in the wrong way.

Here are some examples of bad practice habits:

  • Attempting something that is beyond your current level of technical ability or understanding. In this day of freely available tablature and video lessons, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to play something that is beyond you.
  • Spending too much time on mindless scale practice. If all you practice are scales, guess what's going to come out when you play? Scales are necessary for building technique but there's no point spending, say, more than 45 minutes a day on it. Technique needs time to develop gradually and forcing in more hours just makes one a scale robot.
  • Trying to focus on too many topics at one go. Instead, pick one topic per practice session, set the goal that you want to accomplish and work at it. Make it an attainable goal so that you finish the session with having actually accomplished something.
Having said that, if I had to start out on the guitar all over again, these are the things I would work on. Come to think of it, some of these things I'm still working on:
  • Map out the major and minor scales in all 5 positions vertically in position and then learn to connect the positions to each other horizontally. I would start in the key of C/Am and then gradually progress through all the other keys, learning one key a week. In 3 months you're done and you have total visualization of the fingerboard! Then do the same with the melodic minor, harmonic minor, diminished and whole-tone. I would also spend time learning to play all the scales on one string.
  • Spend time with chords and build a vocabulary of ready-to-grab voicings. Start with root on 6th and root on 5th string chords and get to know the shapes. There should be no hesitation in being able to grab, let's say F#7sus4 or Gmaj7#5 in two positions at the drop of a hat. Get a chord dictionary if you have to but realise that it is better to be able to figure out extensions and alterations to a chord yourself. Then move on to root on 4th string chords and after that, the inversions. Phew!
  • Develop your ear! Transcribe and memorize. Learn how harmony and chords function.
  • Develop and practice a repertoire of tunes in the genre of your choice. Learn to play the rhythms, chords, melodies and solos. You want to be able to function with other musicians and repertoire is your currency.
  • Choose a new style or genre of music you find appealing and work on the stylistic elements of that genre.
  • If you're so inclined, spend at least several hours a week writing you own material. Make it original and be careful not to be overly derivative.
  • Learn to sightread, or at the very least, read. Standard music notation, folks.
  • Spend some time playing along with CDs. This will greatly improve your technique, touch and tone and sense of phrasing. You can do this with solos that you have transcribed and memorized or you could do this while improvising along with the recording which will help more in developing your own style.
  • Spend a lot of time just listening to music, and tune in to what you're trying to play. If you're trying to play bebop and all you listen to is rock... it will be a long road.
Lastly, to help you on your musical journey, get a teacher whose knowledge and understanding of music is profound. A good teacher can guide you towards a practice schedule based on strengthening your weaknesses. Such a person is rare and hard to find but keep looking. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ibanez Guitars Ad from Guitar Player Magazine April 1978

This is a two-page ad from the April '78 issue of Guitar Player.

(Yes, I actually own this issue -- Herb Ellis is on the cover).

In 1977 the Norlin Corporation sued Ibanez/Hoshino and its US distributor over design infringement. Norlin Corp. at the time owned Gibson guitars and the lawsuit was over the design of the headstock which Ibanez had copied and used throughout its Gibson-copy product line.

But it turned out to be a cat-and-mouse game as Ibanez had already changed their headstock design by the time the 1977 lawsuit was filed! An out-of-court settlement was reached and henceforth, all early 70s Ibanez guitars that sport the Gibson-style headstock came to be known as 'lawsuit' models.

1978 saw the emergence of many original Ibanez designs -- not due in small part to the legal hassles the company had been through.

The scan at the top shows the Ibanez Musician MC300 with passive electronics, multi-laminate neck-thru construction, heavy brass hardware and proprietary Super 88 pickups. The design is more akin to the basses made by Alembic than it is to anything Gibson ever made.

In the background is the Musician MC500 which was the top-of-line Musician model that sported active electronics and a 3-band EQ for bass, mids and treble. You'll not see that on too many guitars being made nowadays. Again, a distinct Alembic influence.

The pic at right shows a closeup of the Gibraltar bridge and tailpiece design. The late 70s was the era of heavy woods and even heavier brass hardware. It was a common belief among guitarists of the day that brass added a lot of sustain to an instrument.

This notion changed in the early 80s when a certain Allan Holdsworth started extolling the virtues of the natural resonance and the true sustaining advantages of extremely light woods and aluminum hardware! Brass blocks, he reasoned, were what were placed under violin bridges to dampen the sound when practicing.

The instruments depicted on this page are the Les Paul-styled Ibanez Performer with Tri-sound switching for humbucking, single-coil and out-of-phase sounds and, at far right, the legendary Ibanez Iceman.

The Iceman was the first original Ibanez design that was a radical departure from the conventional -- sort of like their take on the Gibson Explorer or Firebird. It was mostly closely associated with Paul Stanley of Kiss, who later had a signature model based on the Iceman. For some reason it never really took off. I feel it should have.

It don't get much more rock 'n roll than the Iceman..

Korean-made reissues in the early 90s were decently made but didn't capture the vibe and feel of the 70s Japanese versions. There is a new Indonesian-made version with an Ibanez Floyd-Rose type whammy bar. I haven't tried it so I'll reserve my judgement on this one. Ibanez should make a Japanese reissue Iceman that will probably sell like hotcakes around the world.

It will happen, I'm sure of it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...