Posts Tagged ‘lessons’

Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve been playing guitar for almost 50 years and have been performing publicly for over 40 years. In that time, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I thought I’d share.

There’s always someone who’s better

This is the ego check I give myself to ensure that I never get complacent and always stay humble. It’s not that I spend time comparing my skills to other guitarists’ skills, but if I found that if I let my ego get in the way, I stop learning. Simple as that.

You will never sound like the original artist

And that’s a good thing. The sound of your voice and the sound of your instrument come from YOU. I get that in some cases you want to at least get an approximation of the original artist’s performance for context’s sake. But your sound is yours. And especially with guitar, your hands are different, your strings are different, your gear is different. So own it!

Learn to get the most out of what you have first

Having gone the route of buying tons and tons of gear and eventually selling off 90% of it (though I’ve kept most of my pedals because I still like them), only to realize that I had everything I needed in the first place, I’ve learned to take a much more measured approach to gear. I now spend countless hours trying to discover different ways to eke out all the different sounds I can get with what I have. If there’s a sound that I just can’t get, then and only then do I look to new gear. By doing this, I discovered sounds I never thought possible with my existing gear, and all it took was learning techniques to achieve those sounds.

I give this advice a lot, especially to young players. For instance, one of the kids in my church band has been buying up gear at an alarming rate. He has the means, and most of the time, I’d just say que sera, sera. But this kid has the potential to be a GREAT guitarist one day, so I was honest and told him to take the time to discover the sounds he can get from his current set of gear before he moves on.

Never play in an altered state of mind

I was in a cover band a couple of years ago and we did a gig where I got drunk off my ass on half a bottle of bourbon. I thought I was ripping it until I heard the recording at our next rehearsal. I was SO embarrassed. My bandmates laughed and were very gracious, but I sounded like a hack! I vowed then and there that I’d never perform in an altered state of mind again.

And even if I don’t play drunk, I spend about 15 minutes before a performance getting myself emotionally centered. Extreme emotions can affect your performance in a bad way, especially negative emotions like anger.

Your gear is what YOU make of it

This is related to the section above about getting familiar with your gear. But this takes a different tack: Don’t ever be embarrassed by what you have. You will encounter several gear snobs – especially on the gear forums – in your life who will tell you to get such and such guitar, or as soon as you get a new guitar, swap out the pickups, etcetera, etcetera. Just remember that “truth” is purely subjective. We all look through the lens of our own experience and while it’s not wrong to listen to what other people volunteer, it’s their truth, and in the end, you’re the one who has to play your gear and more importantly, you’re the one who made the investment in the first place. Free advice costs nothing for the giver so be careful on the value you place on it.

So just remember this: If what you have inspires you to make music, then that’s all that matters! Anyone who tells you different is just a frickin’ wanker!

If it sounds good, it is good!

Yeah, I’m copping Duke Ellington, and I’ve written entire articles around this phrase, but it’s important so I’ll keep on repeating it. This phrase especially applies to the tube vs. digital/solid-state amp debate but can be applied to just about anything such as boutique pedals vs. mainstream pedals. Doesn’t matter. If it sounds good to you, and like I mentioned above, if it inspires you to make music, then that’s all that matters.

Especially with the tube solid state vs. digital/solid-state amp debate, bear in mind that some guitar greats such as Joe Satriani and Buddy Guy have used solid state amps. You’re not going to tell them their tone sucks. So please, don’t get pulled into that kind of thinking. Keep an open heart and mind, and you’ll open yourself up to a big, wide world great gear!

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Important Lessons…

Yesterday, the power supply on my pedal board (Dunlop DC Brick) went out. It sucked because it’s a great power supply that isolates and regulates the power to each individual pedal. But luckily I had a Visual Sound 1-Spot plus two 5-pedal extensions. With that, I could use one plug on an extension to power up the other extension, and that would cover all nine pedals on my board. So I removed all the wiring from my DC Brick, removed the brick, then got ambitious and took off all the pedals so I could clean my board and get all the wiring right. The result is to the left. Click on the picture and you’ll see. It’s not pretty, but it works, and everything flows.

In any case, I decided to experiment a little bit with my pedals and swapped out a couple of stalwarts for pedals I hadn’t used for awhile. I first swapped my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 for a Doodad Guitars Check-a-Board red overdrive. I then swapped my beloved BOSS CE-2 Chorus for a Homebrew THC, then swapped out my trusty Hardwire RV-7 Reverb for a ToneCandy Spring Fever. I got everything wired back up, then did a sound check. Everything sounded great. Then I went to my gig, and that’s where I learned the important lessons that I’ll share here; lessons that I’ve spoken about in the past, but hadn’t experienced them in awhile, so I needed to relearn them.

Lesson 1: Your Rig Never Sounds the Same On Stage

Once I got my pedal board squared away, I ran a test through the amp I would use for my gig yesterday. I was sitting three feet away from the amp. But at my gig, I was 10 feet away, and the settings that I had used for sound check sounded like CRAP! The bottom end was all loosey-goosey, and my overdrive pedals sounded extremely harsh. Ouch! Puzzled, I moved closer to my amp, and everything sounded great, which was good because I rely on the PA for sound projection. But it made me extremely uncomfortable to have it sound so bad; especially with my overdrive pedals. So my solution was actually to turn down slightly and turn the amp a few degrees – and I’ll talk about that in a second. But the lesson here is that until you get on stage, it’s a whole different ballgame; and if you’re relying on the projection of your amp for your gig, be prepared to tweak.

Lesson 2: Floor-Bounce Effect Can Totally Screw Up Your Sound

Floor-bounce is a well-known audio effect that has to do with sound reflecting off a floor that causes cancellation or emphasis of certain frequencies; mind you, that’s fairly simplistic explanation, but the effect is that it could make your tone sound harsh as certain frequencies cancel out and others get emphasized. Actually, reflectivity off any surface could cause your tone to sound harsh, which is what happened to me at my gig yesterday. Close up, there was no reflectivity, but my speaker sits on the floor, plus I had it closer than normal to a low wall, so reflectivity off the wall was coming into play. Because I stack my amp, attenuator and wireless base station on top of my cabinet, tilting the cab back wasn’t much of an option. But turning the amp slightly away from the wall helped quite a bit. Also, turning down my volume (increasing attenuation, not reducing gain) helped as the reflectivity effect was much less pronounced. Since I use the church’s PA for projection, turning down wasn’t an issue. Our sound guy would balance that lower volume into the mix.

It’s hard to describe exactly what it sounded like, but the effect was as if I had ripped my speaker cone. The bottom end was extremely farty, and even at low- to medium-gain settings on my overdrive pedals it was like sanding with 50 gauge sandpaper which is super rough and used for stripping paint versus 400 gauge sandpaper which is gritty but leaves a much smoother finish.

Lesson 3: Affirmation of the Effects Loop

When I got my DV Mark Little 40, it was the first time in a long while that I had an amp that had an effects loop, and now I’m completely sold on the importance of having one. Running mod effects in front of an amp is fine if you’re running into an amp set for max clean headroom, and you put your drive pedals in front of them. But mod effects in front of a distorting pre-amp sounds really harsh – at least to me. Not sure the technical details behind all that, but I do know that running my mod effects in my loop sounds so much better to me. With my current board setup, I run four wires out to my board. Two are for the effects loop, then two are for input from my wireless base station through my drive and wah pedals into the front of my amp.

Lesson 4: Boost Placement

Another important lesson I learned was something I picked up a few months ago from Gene Baker of Fine Tuned Instruments and luthier of the B3 guitar. In a demo he did of the Xotic Effects EP Booster, he said he ran the booster at the end of this effects loop chain. He said it “steps out a lot nicer than trying to hit it on the front end.” I’m a big fan of power tube overdrive, so I tried it out, and put my trusty Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 transparent clean boost at the end of my effects loop chain. OMG! It’s never leaving that position. The cool thing is that it’s like adding a separate gain stage after the pre-amp to slam the power tubes, but not necessarily with a more pronounced volume boost. It also provides a different kind of distortion than the pre-amp distortion on my amp which tends to be a bit bright. When I slam the power tubes, I get a beefier overdrive sound. It’s very cool for doing solos. So now, I put my OD’s in front of the amp, then when I want “more,” I slam the power tubes.

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Ran across this site today called SpeedPicking.com that actually looks pretty interesting. In their words:

The Speed Picking Workshop is for any Guitarist looking to vastly improve their Speed, Accuracy and Coordination using an alternate picking technique. The online workshop allows you to develop this technique using a measured and methodical approach. This method promises fast, solid and measurable results for the guitarist that demands real progress and has the determination and patience to achieve their goals.

Wonder if you could get the same stuff from a book… Check it out at: http://www.speedpicking.com

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I’ve spent the last 30 years or so learning how to play guitar – and I’m still learning. Over time, I’ve acquired, or I might say, stumbled upon various techniques that I made part of my playing, and I’ve recently started to share what I’ve learned; that is, I’ve started teaching guitar. I’ve been informally teaching guitar for a number of years, showing various folks how to do this and that, but just recently started doing formalized lessons (read: I’m getting paid now… 🙂 ). Admittedly, it has been a bit of a scary thing. Not having taken a single guitar lesson in my life, I didn’t know if my approach to teaching guitar was going to work. But to my overwhelming surprise, I’ve found that I’m not too bad at it, and my students seem to respond well to what I have to share.

Mind you, this isn’t a plug for taking me on as a teacher by no means; especially if you’re already an accomplished guitar player. I’m only taking on beginning to intermediate guitar players. Besides, my approach might seem a bit cockeyed as I focus less on technique and more on developing musicality. But I digress. The point of me sharing this is that I’m really jazzed at the prospect of teaching! To me, it’s incredible to see the progress people make and it makes me feel good that I can play a part in that. It’s not an ego thing: I truly want my students to develop the same kind of love (or some might call it obsession) I have for the guitar, and it’s very cool to see them gain that as they learn new things.

I can now understand why teachers love what they do. There really is nothing like the satisfaction of sharing what you know, and having people delight in that knowledge. If you’re an accomplished player, I highly recommend sharing your knowledge if you have it in you to teach!

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