Archive for the ‘guitar lifestyle’ Category

I just finished cooking my lunch of Potatoes O’Brien which consists of diced potato, onions and red and green peppers. You fry up the mixture in hot pan with a bit of oil, seasoning to taste until the potatoes turn golden brown. When they’re done, I like to sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese, and I also like to add some chopped bacon for a nice contrast. Very tasty indeed!

If you’ve ever cooked with potatoes in a regular frying pan (not the non-stick kind), it can be a painful process because potatoes have a proclivity to stick. But I have a great cast iron skillet that has been seasoned from years of frequent use, and sticking is not part of its modus operandi. It has taken years of care and cooking, and keeping the pan lubricated to where the oils and the fats from the food have worked into the pores of the metal. It is now a masterpiece of cooking utility, and I’d be heartbroken if it got ruined.

The same thing can be said of a guitar. When you first get it, it’s all shiny and new – though I suppose that doesn’t count for relicked guitars, as they’re supposed to already be broken in… But even if they’re vintage-ized, out of the box, they’re still new, the new gear “feels” new, and thus needs time to season through use. Woods take time to settle. Oils have to work into the neck and fretboard, etc., etc..

Especially with a fretboard, it takes time to work the oils from your fingers into the pores of the wood and fret metal. Ever wonder why new fretboards feel “sticky?” They need lubrication. I read in an interview with Neal Schon of Journey fame that he actually rubs a piece of salami on a fretboard to help break it in! Now THAT’S about seasoning! Ha!

Moreover, I just don’t feel a guitar will actually sound right until it has really broken in through regular use and exposure to all sorts of environments. When I first got my MIM Strat, “Pearl,” I loved her tone, but after playing her for over five years now, her tone to me is so much more mellow than when I first got her, and the frets and neck are nicely broken in from regular use. She’s just a dream to play.

One of my kids once asked me why I get so attached to my guitars that I give them names. I told them that I give my guitars names because I’ve spent so much time seasoning them, like I do with my “special” pan. They all know that my cast iron skillet is “Daddy’s special pan” so when I gave them the reason, they immediately understood.

It doesn’t end with just a guitar, though I focused on that. Amps – and especially speakers – take a long time to truly season. But that’s another discussion altogether. 🙂

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Last Friday before I left for work, I went to my garage/studio to fetch my trusty acoustic guitar for my weekly solo acoustic gig, and I couldn’t find it! After a bit of searching, I finally found my guitar – buried under a pile of stuff my wife had taken out of her van! OMG! I unpiled the stuff rather unceremoniously, picked up my gig bag, opened it up, and pulled out my acoustic. Upon initial inspection, nothing seemed amiss. But when I strummed a chord, I could hear a slight buzz issuing from inside the guitar. I shook it to see if something was loose, but nothing rattled inside the body, which led me to believe that the weight of the stuff on the top of my guitar was sufficient enough to loosen up the glue to one of the bracing spans. That’s fixable. I could live with the buzzing if it didn’t show up when I plugged in the guitar. So much for my rationale. The buzzing was even worse when I plugged it in, as the vibrations from the top were transmitted to the under-the-saddle pickup.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t freak or get pissed off at my wife, partially because the fault was mine for placing it in an area where that could happen. But I had a gig that night, and I had to figure out something – and fast! To make a long story short, I ended up buying what has turned out to be a surprisingly versatile value-priced guitar from Fender, the Stratacoustic Deluxe. I recently wrote a review of this guitar, so I won’t go into details. But after I bought it, the thought occurred to me…

Is it really a case of GAS, when you have an obvious need?

Part of me says that I just acquired more gear, so it’s technically GAS. But the other part of me says that I was replacing a critical component, so it’s not GAS.

In any case, I’m very satisfied, but thought I try to get some feedback. Your thoughts?

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I’ve been on this blues thing lately with my music; not going all out with the blues, but definitely having a huge blues influence on the music I write. But one thing that I was sure of was that I didn’t want to just learn blues licks – the same licks practically everyone plays. I suppose you could say I want to play with a blues style, and I’ve been searching far and wide to learn the blues. In my search to learn the blues, I’ve come across several instructional series and video tutorials, but many focus on playing blues licks, without really getting into learning or more importantly, acquiring a vocabulary to express the blues. Technique I can learn, but really what I want to acquire is an intellectual “sense” for what works in a particular phrase, if you catch my drift, then learn technique as a secondary thing.

I know, a bit confusing, and I’m having a hard time articulating what I’m after, so I supposed the best way to explain it is that I want to intellectualize my playing, then practice the hell out of what I learn. The only problem with this approach is that once I’ve mentioned that to teachers or others, they jump right into modal theory. Sure, that’s really useful, but in many ways, it’s also really abstract. Enter Chuck D’Aloia, who has come up with a wonderful series called “Blues with Brains.”

Blues with Brains is a two volume set. I’ve only gotten through half of the first volume so far, but what I’ve learned in just this short amount of time has really made me leap light years ahead in how I approach doing solos. I’ve always played by feel, and have fallen back a lot on the minor blues scale – mainly because it’s easy. But after I wrote my last song, I realized that while it sounds pretty good, and I have some interesting ideas, there was part of me that knew I could do so much more with it.

And by pure chance, I happened to read a thread on a popular guitar forum where this dude was demonstrating his new MIM Strat. His technique was absolutely flawless, and his presentation and tone were simply to die for! So I clicked on one of the links in his signature, and came to this site: Chuck D’Aloia Music. I read through the explanation, and saw that he also did Skype lessons, so I immediately contacted him about taking his lessons. In my email I explained about how I felt I could do more with my music and attached my latest song. He replied back several days later with exactly what I was thinking that ideas and tone were good, BUT rather than jump into lessons, I’d get a lot more out of his Blues With Brains series. It would be stuff that I could learn at my leisure, and once I digested the material, then we could explore the Skype lessons.

How cool was that? Rather than taking the higher money route, he just pushed his video series. So I downloaded both volumes for $40. When I got home that evening, I launched the first volume, and within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES, Chuck had effectively changed the way I looked at playing solos! That’s all it took! Obviously, I’ve had to apply and practice those concepts as I don’t have the fingering down completely, but the mere fact that I was able to attain a sense of what to do in a relatively short amount of time was just amazing to me!

Chuck’s approach is simple. He plays over a chord progression first. Then he takes apart the progression, and discusses and demonstrates what is possible to do at that particular point. The cool thing is that he also intersperses modal theory into the explanation, but doesn’t make the central to the discussion. It’s like, “Here are the notes you can play, and here’s what you can do with these notes…” It’s a very straight-forward approach, and while I realize I have a lot of practicing to do, I’ve gotten more out of the 40 minutes I’ve spent so far in these lessons than I have poring over books of scales and modes. The most important thing that I’ve gotten out of these lessons is that Chuck doesn’t teach licks. What he teaches is possibilities. He leaves it up to the student to express themselves! That is EXACTLY what I have been after all these years!

Without a doubt, I’m a total believer in Chuck’s series! If you want to learn the blues, and not just blues licks, and you want to really understand what you’re playing, you owe it to yourself to get this series. You will not be disappointed in the slightest!

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Courtesy of zentao.com

Courtesy of zentao.com

This will be a pretty short entry, but it is something that it seems I’ve spoken about with various young guitarists I work with on a constant basis, so I thought I write my thoughts about it here. BTW, this is not necessarily going to be an instructional article. For that, do a search on “guitar right hand technique” and you’ll be rewarded with lots of sites that provide instruction on right hand technique.

But that brings to light a problem I’ve seen with a lot of guitarists I’ve worked with over the years, young and mature alike. Many playes focus so much on the left hand and playing “lead” guitar that they completely forget about the right hand! The left hand my make the notes, but the right hand makes the sound and just as importantly, keeps the tempo. Music is a function of making notes and playing those notes in a rhythm.

Don’t forget about the right hand!

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gstringDon’t you love double entendres, especially when they’re said completely by accident?

I was on the GuitarGearHeads.com forum this evening checking on a thread I posted to, mssmith, posted this in reference to the new Reason Bambino:

Last night my wife asked me what I want for Christmas, so I said a Bambino (we have 4 girls already) and she almost had a heart attack. Then I told her what I meant and got snubbed. Go figure….

I almost fell out of my chair when I read this! I have to pass this on to the Reason guys!

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The title roughly translates into “honesty in singing or playing a musical instrument.” I’m constantly coming to terms with my own playing and singing – especially when I’m doing my solo gigs. And while I’m not the best singer and God knows I’ve got a long way to go before I truly consider myself a great guitarist, one thing that I’ve always strived for is honesty in my performance; that is, I want to stay true to myself while I’m performing. That’s not to say I’m not open to learning new stuff. I’m an eternal student when it comes to music. But when I’m performing, what possesses me is expressing a song or my part of a song in an honest way. I guess you might say, just being me in the song, and expressing it in my own unique way. For me, that’s not many bells and whistles and it’s not many tricks. I wouldn’t call it a comfort zone per se; I just do my best to express a song from my collective experience, not trying to do what someone else might do; though admittedly, my musical influences definitely come out when I play, however subconsciously that may be.

I’ve had many years to develop that sense of honesty, and it comes from being attracted to the sound of musicians over the years who I believe have taken an honest approach to their music. To name a few, musicians such as Elvis Costello, Sting, James Taylor, Peter Frampton, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Joe Satriani, Santana, Journey, Sarah McLachlan, U2 and, of course, Neil Young, whom I wrote about yesterday. I know, it’s kind of an eclectic mix of musicians, but that’s the beauty of it! Each of these musicians has their own sound, their own approach to making and playing music. I love Elvis Costello’s versatility, the cerebral nature of Peter Gabriel. But one thing that commonly resounds between all these musicians is an almost uncompromising drive to write and play music on their own terms.

For instance, I had the good fortune to catch a broadcast of Elvis Costello doing Burt Bacharach music – with Burt on the piano! He took some timeless tunes from the Bacharach and David period and sang the shit out of them! At a Sting concert several years ago, after opening up with the expected “All This Time” from the Soul Cages tour, he surprised the entire crowd by breaking out into Purple Haze! It freakin’ ROCKED!!! It didn’t sound like Jimi – it was all Sting and his band.

When I first heard Sarah McLachlan, I was absolutely blown away. This was a chick who had a totally new take on pop. And while she experienced considerable success for a short period of time, what most people didn’t know was that before “In the Arms of the Angels,” she had a few albums to her credit that up until that time saw very little commercial success though lots of critical acclaim. But I thought that some of her best work came from her earlier albums. Like the others mentioned, she writes and performs music on her own terms!

The point to all this is that I’ve learned an important lesson in my own performance. I can only be who I am, and not someone else. I can only sound and play like me. It’s daunting and even humbling realizing how much I DON’T know, yet it’s also what inspires me to keep getting better and developing my own musicality. When I work with younger musicians, I always tell them to never be afraid to experiment, to break out of the patterns of their lessons. The lessons are great; let’s make no mistake about it, but music is expression. The very nature of music is such that how it is performed is a highly subjective, interpretive affair. Mechanics will only take you so far. You need only look at some of the names I’ve mentioned, and you’ll see what I mean.

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neilyoungIn the latest issue of Guitar World, Neil Young was quoted saying (when it comes to his guitar playing), “I suck. I’ve heard myself!” That made me laugh when I read this, but it also got me thinking. From a purely technical standpoint, I will agree 100% with him. But despite that, I still love the way he plays, and have always loved his sound, and for the very simple reason that his playing is completely honest.

It’s clear to me every time I listen to a Neil Young song that he is clear with how he uses his guitar; and that is to express his musical message. You listen to his solos, and if you’re a technique snob, you’ll most probably say, “Yikes! What is he doing.” But try to put any other guitarist in the lead role, and the solo just wouldn’t work. Bad technique or good, Neil Young’s playing is integral with his music. It’s simply an extension of who he is, and while on the surface you might be lead to believe that his playing is simple, and you’d be right, but place his playing within the context of the whole song, and you realize that what he is doing with his guitar is meant to be simple. It’s meant to fit with the song. It’s not meant to show off his chops or showcase tricks that he can perform. It’s meant to act as a color on his palette as he paints the picture of his song.

From that perspective, I’ve always believed that he was a true genius at guitar. He may not rip it up, but even he says that his guitar playing is secondary to the song and the band. It’s only a part of the presentation. But it’s an integral part of Neil’s music that fits in perfectly with his musical vision.

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kiyosakiBack in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!

Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!

It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.

I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.

This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”

One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”

What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…

That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…

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If you’re a visitor here, it’s more than likely that you suffer from an affliction commonly referred to as GAS or Gear Acquisition Syndrome, which is a uncontrollable urge to buy gear to affect your tone. Be honest, you know you have it. 🙂

This morning, in search of some new material to write about, I came across a new pedal from Elite Tone called the Smooth Boost. You can read the announcement here. What excited me about the pedal was that it’s a handmade pedal for $99! Damn! That got the GAS flowing. After I calmed down a bit, I sang to myself, “I feel some GAS a-comin’…” and that sparked off me humming Johnny Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” playing in my head. Then I started laughing, and writing down some alternate lyrics to the song. After I was done I recorded the following tune:

This one was a lot of fun! I wanted to share it because I’m sure you can relate to the lyrics. By the way, here are the full set of lyrics:

The GAS Blues

I feel some gas a-comin’
It’s comin’ ’round the bend
I haven’t been GAS-less
Since I don’t know when…
I’d said that I am finished
My rig’s as full as it can be
But this new gear’s got me GAS-in’
The GAS keeps hauntin’ me…

When I was just a young man
I had just one guitar
Ole Betsy made me happy
She took me oh so far…
But then I went electric
and needed so much gear
to get that perfect tone now
that’s pleasin’ to my ears…

My wifey always asks me
Just how much do you need?
I look at her and tell her
just one more, don’t you see?
There’s nothing that’ll cure me
from this expensive disease
It’s a curse I’ll always carry
my GAS is never pleased…

I don’t know what to tell you
if you suffer from the same
affliction that I have now
My friends think I’m insane…
No one understands it
Look! There’s another axe!
And it just keeps on comin’
This thing we all know as GAS!

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Back in the late ’80’s to early ’90’s when getting your “personal power” was all the rage, I’ll admit, I took several of these courses designed to help me face my weaknesses, conquer my fears of success and learn to grow; gaining my own sense of personal power. Most of the ground we covered in these seminars has proven to be invaluable over the course of time, and while they were fairly expensive, I consider them a great investment, as I don’t think I could have grown both personally and professionally had I not taken them.

As I alluded to above, the courses covered a lot of ground. But over time, I’ve learned to distill and refine the subject matter into much more condensed versions. An area of particular interest to me is personal performance; that is, how I honestly perceive my performance in any situation and evaluate whether or not I’m showing up 100% and providing myself with opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge, efficiency, or output. Granted it’s not always an easy thing to determine whether or not I am, but I’ve come up with a little saying that has helped drive me to constantly look for ways to improve and at least do my best to “show up.” Here it is:

If you know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good.

The idea behind this is many of the limits we place upon ourselves and thus growing and developing in anything in which we’re engaged have much to do with what we believe the outside world – our culture, society,  or peer groups – may accept to be the line of good or satisfactory performance. Hey! There’s nothing wrong with performing satisfactorily or good, and meeting the standards placed before us. But to me, that’s just maintaining the status quo. I suppose you’ll eventually grow by meeting the standards, for as soon as you hit a particular standard, you go to the next harder level with its own set of criteria for satisfactory or good performance. Meeting the standards is safe. But those who truly excel at their endeavors take the standards into account and draw their own line of optimal performance; especially if they know they can exceed the commonly accepted standards.

But what really holds us back? I will submit that it is an inherent fear of being successful; of breaking free and traveling beyond the comfort of the pack. Excelling at anything can cause anxiety, especially if you’re always used to doing what everyone else does. That inner voice will tell you, “You’re going too far too fast.” You may have waking dreams filled with images of your peers saying, “Don’t leave us behind!” I will say this: Ignore those images! You inherently know of what you’re capable, so use that as your guide.

That’s not to say that you trudge forth with a vengeance that is lacking in compassion, wreaking havoc with your friends and close relations; rather, you march forward with the conviction and determination that you are who you are as the result of your choices, and no one else’s; that no one else can be accountable for the progress you make in life but YOU. So I will say again, if YOU know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good!

So how does that apply to playing guitar? If you’re like me, you interact with other players, be it locally or globally online. As you encounter various personalities, you’ll get lots of opinions on what people agree is “good” playing at a particular place in your development. And while there’s lots of great and helpful advice, you’re still the one who has to develop your skills. My point is this: Don’t let anyone define what your ability should be. Don’t be discouraged by the haters out there – especially in the online forums – who have very little good to say about anything, and are quick to criticize. In other words, don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t! That’s just the pack speaking.

So you want to get better at playing guitar, or better at doing anything in life? This has been expressed in many ways: Break free of the pack, find your own voice, make your own luck. For me, it’s not settling for just being good. Be good, but work to be even better than good.

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