Archive for the ‘instruction’ Category

This is a hotly debated topic, and there are great arguments for or against using one. I’m of the former group and have used attenuators to great success over the years. To demonstrate how useful an attenuator can be, I put together a quick video. Here you go:

I wanted to be as non-technical about the usage of an attenuator because there are so many attenuator designs on the market. So I kept this video at a fairly high level. I’ll get into more detail in the next video when I discuss the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

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There are two things you should consider doing before you decide to get rid of it. I’ve done this on two amps, and have ended up keeping them both.

1. Change your speaker(s)

Let’s state the obvious: An amp’s speaker produces the sound, but it is amazing how many people I’ve come across who don’t look at replacing this vital component first when they’re not happy with their tone. I know, evaluating speakers is tough, and a lot of the time, you can only rely on people’s words and frequency response charts. I actually find frequency response charts useful in making a decision on a new speaker. If I want more mid-range and presence, I’ll look at speakers whose frequency response charts are big in the mids and high-mids, with a much more smooth bass response curve, like the Jensen P12N. If I’m looking for more bottom end, and a slightly scooped tone, I’ll look for a speaker that has those kinds of characteristics, such as the Fane Medusa 150. Of course, you have to hear the speakers in the end to decide if they work for you, but the frequency response chart is a good place to start.

2. Change your pre-amp tubes

I’m a NOS tube fanatic. To me, there’s nothing like the build and tonal quality of a good NOS tube. The ones I’ve chosen tend to have a bit less gain than newer tubes, and they break up so much more smoothly. But that’s just me. I want a smoother overdrive tone, whereas someone else may want a harsher tone. To each their own on this. However, changing tubes – especially pre-amp tubes – can have a profound effect on your tone. Like speakers, you have to try several before you find ones that fit your tastes, but it’s worth it once you do. And note, with respect to tubes, you get the most bang for your buck by replacing the pre-amp tubes as opposed to the power tubes. I use JJ power tubes for practically all my amps, and you know what? I’ve never replaced any of them because I just haven’t seen that much tone improvement by replacing them.

Where I have seen LOTS of improvements is in replacing the pre-amp tubes, as you’ll see below…

As I stated above, I saved two of my amps from the chopping block. Yeah, I had to spend a bit of money to save them, but save them I did. My most recent “save” experience was with my Aracom PLX18 BB. This amp is based upon the classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi “Bluesbreaker.” When I first got it, I loved it, but one thing that I didn’t quite bond with was the fizz that the amp naturally produced. I really dug the mild distorted tone of the amp, but there was just something that wasn’t quite “right” when I’d crank the amp all the way.

So the first thing I did to bleed off some of the highs was to replace the stock speaker. The Red Coat Red Fang is a nice, bright speaker, but brand new, it’s pretty harsh, and I didn’t want spend a lot of time breaking it in. But even still, the amp was naturally bright, and with a bright speaker, I just didn’t feel it was a good fit. As luck would have it, I had another speaker on hand, a Fane Medusa 150. The thing about this speaker is that it has a real strong, tight bass response. Once I had it installed, I couldn’t believe my ears! It really balanced out the brightness of the amp, and curbed a lot of the fizz.

But there was still some fizz left. Knowing that there were JJ’s in the pre-amps, which have a lot of gain, my thought was that they were throwing a lot of gain at the EL84 power tubes, which can get fizzy when driven hard. So I swapped them out for a set of NOS circa 1959 GE and RCA long plate 12AX7’s, which are oh-so-smooth and a have a bit less gain than the JJ’s. The result was simply magnificent!

That clip was recorded with the Aracom PLX18 BB, and using my LP copy Prestige Heritage Elite. Sorry, I don’t have a “before” clip, but before I did those two simple modifications, the amp produced a ton of fizz that I just couldn’t connect with, even though I loved the dynamics when it was fully cranked. Now, I can crank that puppy up, and get those rich tones with no fizz.

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I purchased Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” series. After a month, I still haven’t moved past Volume 1, but that’s only because I’m going slowly and methodically with the process. Besides, the one thing that I found is that Chuck throws A LOT of stuff at you in a very short period of time, and I’m one of those types of learners that has to let information soak in before I can move on.

There aren’t any step-by-step lessons in this series. It’s very free-form, which I find is totally cool. But as I mentioned above, there are several places where Chuck throws in lots of material in a short span of time, so I’ve found myself going back and forth and listening and practicing for a couple of days before moving on. This is a real change of approach for me because I’ve operated by this little saying for quite awhile: “If patience were a virtue, I’d be a slut.” 🙂 But this time ’round, I made a conscious decision to not move on until I could execute on what the teacher was talking about proficiently.

What about the fruits of my labor? Well… I know I’ve used this clip before, but it’s a good example of applying what I’ve learned:

Excuse the obvious mistakes, the song’s not really in a finished state (can’t decide what guitar/amp combo I want to use). But here’s what I’ve learned so far that I’ve applied to this song:

  • I now pay lots of attention to the current chord being played and playing notes that “fit.” I used to be a real pattern player – especially the minor pentatonic – but I’m learning to break free of those patterns.
  • I’ve lately put a lot of emphasis on learning various triad shapes up and down the neck. This not only helps with getting the proper fingering at a particular place, but it also helps in coloring.
  • I’m also learning to let my solos breathe. One thing that I haven’t heard Chuck mention yet – though he’ll probably share it – is taking some time to let my idea sink in, then playing to build on it. Yeah, that song is somewhat composed, but it came about through playing over the rhythm track underneath. The themes you hear are ideas that I came up with while just playing around!

Regarding that last point, that is probably the salient point that I’m getting out of the lessons thus far, and that is taking an idea, then developing it and building upon it. It’s incredibly freeing!


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I’ve spoken about him before, but Mark Wein of Mark Wein Guitar Lessons really knows his stuff, and I’ve gotten a lot mileage from his free video tutorials. One set of tutorials that I found as a real useful review, plus learning some new stuff as well, is his series on Partial Chord Shapes. Really great stuff!

Anyway, here are links to the lessons themselves:

Partial Chord Shapes Primer
Partial Chord Shapes #2 – Backbeat Rhythm Guitar!
Partial Chord Lesson #3 – Funk and R&B Guitar Parts
Partial Chords #4 – Rock guitar parts on the first 3 strings.

Mark is such a great teacher! I love his no-nonsense approach to teaching guitar. Anyway, definitely give these videos spin!

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I normally don’t write about instructional sites, mainly because they’re a dime a dozen, and most follow the same model of discussing theory, and providing scale diagrams that accompany the theory. Not that these aren’t helpful, but I tend to be the type of player that learns more effectively by actual example. So it was fortuitous that I happened upon a discussion on a forum about guitar lessons. Someone asked a question about guitar lessons online, and to a person, the respondents all replied that the original poster should go to: Mark Wein Guitar Lessons (http://www.markweinguitarlessons.com).

Intrigued, I went there, and was totally blown away by what Mark Wein offers: Free instructional videos that not only cover theory, but provide instruction on practical applications of the theory. Take, for instance, the following video on the minor blues progression and some variations:

While Mark mentions some theory in the video, it’s mostly about interesting ways to “liven up” the minor blues chord progression. Now that’s useful!

After I viewed several of the videos, I decided to give Mark a call and just chat with him about his vision for the site. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

GuitarGear: So Mark, tell me about the site… Why would you just give away great lessons like these?

Mark: I wanted to differentiate my site from other instructional sites that simply offer text-based discussions of theory and give you a few diagrams of scales. Frankly, the videos draw in a lot of business for us. But as far as the videos are concerned, I didn’t want to just show the information, I wanted to provide the “why” behind the instruction. It’s all about communicating these ideas; teaching them in an easy way for students to understand and adopt in their playing.

GuitarGear: So what would say your overall philosophy is with respect to teaching?

Mark: There’s a real concentration on really teaching the guitar and more importantly, making music. I found that it students progress a lot faster when they have a context. Sure, I can teach mechanics, but to me, it’s more important to teach students to play music.

GuitarGear: Mark, I have to tell you that it’s refreshing to hear that. I work with a lot of young people who join my Church band, and some of these kids are incredibly talented, being able to cop their favorite guitarists’ licks like there’s no tomorrow. But ask them to strum some simple, funky blues progression, and they flail hopelessly.

Mark: Right. That’s my point exactly. Lots of people know technique, but are they really playing music? Probably not.

GuitarGear: Let’s move on… Can you tell me a bit about your history? How did you start with guitar?

Mark: It’s actually kind of a funny story. Like a lot of kids I got together with a few guys to start a band. I had been around music all my life, so it was only natural that I’d do the band thing. Anyway, I wanted to play drums, but one of the guys already played. So I couldn’t do that. I did bass for awhile, but another guy did that. You really don’t want me singing, so I basically got stuck with guitar. When I got older, I went to a local community college to study music theory and performance, then I got accepted to USC – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, so I started working in a couple of bands, produced some stuff, and did teaching as well. Anyway, I decided to put a real focus on teaching, which I loved anyway.

GuitarGear: So you’ve had this business for awhile…

Mark: Actually, we’re celebrating our fifth anniversary this year. But it was my wife who was really behind me opening up a school, and since we’ve opened, we’re up to ten teachers, teaching all sorts of styles. Plus we have a performance program so bands and musicians can learn performance.

GuitarGear: Very cool…

Mark: We also offer online lessons…

GuitarGear: Really? Now you’re talking. That’s exactly what I’m looking for! And since we share similar philosophies about guitar playing, I’m going to set up some lessons in the near future…

At that point, the interview kind of ended, because we got into a discussion about what I was after, and how I could take lessons and stuff, then of course, we got into the obligatory discussion about gear. Here’s a brief synopsis of what Mark plays:


Suhr Classic
Suhr Classic T
Les Paul Standard (cream-colored – nice)


’66 Bassman
Silvertone 1484
Peavey Pentone

Tons of pedals…

It was great talking gear with Mark. He’s a true believer in using lower-wattage amps so you can take advantage of the power tube grind. He shared a story with me that had me chuckling where he played a gig on this HUGE Van Halen-size stage and only had a 22 Watt amp. People laughed, but the sound guys loved him. And that’s a great story because unlike the bad old days when sound reinforcement wasn’t nearly as good as it is now, you had to have multiple stacks to get your sound out. But nowadays, you have great PA gear, so it’s just a matter of getting a stage volume that you can hear, and let the PA handle the rest. That makes a lot of sense, and Mark’s sensible approach to guitar is what has given him success so far.

Rock on, Mark!

For more information, go to http://www.markweinguitarlessons.com

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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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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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