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. 🙂

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »