Saturday, September 6, 2008

It's Harder to Break a Guitar Than I Thought

I finally got around to watching "The Complete Monterey Pop Festival" and realized it is very difficult to break a guitar.

I'm a guitar hobbyist and probably the antithesis of a relic fan as I like to keep them looking new. This affects my playing to some extent as I treat the guitar as something fragile. Although I've seen the clips of Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix breaking their guitars before I guess watching it on DVD provided high enough definition for me to pay attention to how hard they had to work at it!

These things are a lot sturdier than I thought; maybe I don't need to worry about breaking it and just play. Gave it a try and the guitar survived just fine. Good thing too as a guitar broken by Pete Townshend or Jimi Hendrix is worth lots of money where as one broken by yours truly is worth nothing!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Consignment – Another Approach to Guitar Aging

There’s a policy in my household that if you buy something new you need to get rid of something old (or new as long as it is something). This is to prevent us from being invited to one of those “Clean House” type reality shows on cable. I reached a point where this had to apply to guitars and I learned that consignment can be a guitar aging technique.

I have a relatively small guitar collection but a collection nonetheless and they hang in a small bonus room that has reached its reasonable capacity. Then, I ended up taking in a stray guitar and one of the others had to go. I decided putting one on consignment would be an interesting experiment.

I’ve used the “investment” argument with my bride to rationalize buying guitars and it took about 5 minutes setting a price at my local guitar shop to blow holes in that theory. Still, I went ahead but did not set the price low enough where a sale was guaranteed. As time went by I started missing this guitar and after a 60 day period decided it was time to retrieve it.

After some artful rearrangement of wall space and the addition of another wall hanger I restored the guitar to its space. But, although the serial number was the same, it seemed to be a different guitar. For one thing, people that play guitars in guitar shops do not seem to have clean hands. But, after a quick cleaning treatment it still had a much different and more interesting personality than before I sent it off for adoption and now is one of my favorites to play.

If you decide to use this “aging” approach, remember not to set the price too low. A down economy also helps!

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Experience Attending National Guitar Workshop

In a previous post I mentioned I was prepping to attend National Guitar Workshop and I would report back. That time is now, err… it was some weeks ago actually. To keep things simple I’ll say up front that it was worth the money for the experience as well as the improvement to my playing I got as a result.

The workshop was at the Blair School of Music on Nashville’s Vanderbilt Campus. After the usual logistical glitches that can occur things got rolling with a short orientation. All the instructors played on stage and showed their stuff following the styles for the sessions they would be teaching.

Since the venue is a school of music we had a well appointed classroom with a piano as well as a fully stocked sound system cabinet. The instructor, Jeff McErlain, kicked things off by having us all trade solos against a blues progression to determine where we were in our playing and we went at it from there.

One of my initial concerns on registering was I would be the oldest person there. They assured me I wasn’t and we had around a 40 year age range in my class. There are lots of opportunities to interact with players from the other classes and at dinner that evening I was able visit with lots of other middle age guys with variations of the “how many guitars does one person need” t-shirt; one active musician I traded notes with had 37 guitars. Where was that money when we really needed it, back in our teens!

Improvement to My Playing
My main attraction to Roots Rock was to get exposure to styles beyond the blues that I’ve focused on to date. The focus was on:

· Use of double stops
· Make use of your thumb on the fretting hand
· Use your fingers as well as the pick on your picking hand
· Improve your comping abilities through use of inverted triads
· Learn some theory to get out of the box on improvisation

I record myself so I can do some critial listening and gauge progress. A couple days into the course I recorded solos against some simple progressions and compared those to some I recorded before the class and noted an immediate improvement. My improvisation didn’t get flashier in two days but the note selection and phrasing were more interesting. My summation is that my playing improved because I learned about straight forward things that if you work on can really improve your overall sound.

The NGW workshops include guest artists and in the case of Roots Rock it was David Grissom. He does session work in Nashville and keeps a complete setup stored in town when he comes in from Austin to work. He setup shop in one of the auditoriums with this rig, took a range of questions from the students, and played some music along with Jeff McErlain, our instructor.

Some of the takeaways from this session is it ain’t easy making money playing music. If you look at some of the photos you will see there were 10 plus guitars plus two or three acoustics stored in a separate case. In a studio situation you have to be prepared to deliver what the producer is looking for and quickly. That means a wide range of gear even is something only gets used once or twice a year. Another takeaway was David Grissom’s answer to a question of how do you go about getting to where he is to which he answered “be ready to give up everything else”

As for this hobbyist, I don’t plan on giving up my day job so I’m out of the running. However, the NGW experience is open for all age ranges as well as all experience levels. Give it a try, you might like it too!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fun With Drop D Tuning

I wrote awhile back about multi-generation reactions to Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight. While three generations of family members liked it I seem to be the only one enamored by “Given Up”. So, while practicing yesterday I decided to learn how to play it and discovered the benefits of drop D tuning.

I popped the CD into my TASCAM Guitar Trainer and started working out the chords. I had the right pitch but not the crunchy tone I hear on the recording. So I did a quick online search for some tab and learned about drop D tuning (tune your low E string down a full step to D and you end up with DADGBe rather than EADGBe for your tuning). From there I have all the power chords I need by fretting the first three strings, DAD. Jeez, why have I been practicing chords all this time?

This gave me a flashback to when I took my daughter to an Avril Lavigne concert. One guitarist had his axe slung so low it seemed to have the ground clearance of a Ferrari. I was just starting out on the guitar at the time and I thought it must be advanced technique that would allow someone to play a guitar like that. In reality it was drop D tuning; all he needed to do was bar DAD using his thumb and mute the other strings with his fingers.

My first thought (after the thought that there are still obvious elements to the guitar that haven't occurred to me) was that this is like cheating. That was until I cancelled out the guitar on the recording with my guitar trainer and played along with the recording using this tuning; it sounds great! This is where that delightful crunch from metal comes from! Yes, another "should have known" moment but fun nonetheless.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The More I Play the More I Want to Play

I’ve talked recently about stepping outside my guitar comfort zone. Whether it was adding my own twists and turns during transcription study or finding other guitarists to jam with or mentoring others, what’s been behind it all is that I’ve been getting myself prepped for guitar camp.

This is not like the Camp Granada that people in the baby boomer demographic remember while growing up but is the National Guitar Workshop. I’m signed up for a course on Roots Rock with David Grissom as the guest artist. My original goal was to put some extra practice time in so I would get the most out of this course but it has started getting out of hand. Seems the more you play the more you want to play.

My playing is improving due to added practice, which makes playing more fun, which makes me want to play more. It has crowded out a lot of other activities including my blogging time but I’m going with it while it lasts. Maybe this is the kind of rush seasoned players experience getting ready for the big concert. I guess I’ll only know once I get seasoned and this upcoming workshop is the next step. I’ll post some info on what goes on there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

To Mentor or To Be Mentored

I’ve written recently about having the opportunity to do jam sessions with other players. Since these guys are experienced musicians I’m learning a lot. I had the tables turned on me recently and was in the position of being the more experienced player. I found you can learn a lot that way too.

We had friends over for dinner and one of their kids was a beginning guitar player. Since I’m looking for any chance possible to play with others I suggested we get the guitars out and make some music. I found out that is easier said than done.

My initial thought was we’d do something like in the recent jam sessions I was in, basically trade solos and rhythm back and forth. It was apparent though that he was not far enough along where that would work. His exposure was learning to read music note by note rather than on chords and scale forms like I was taught. I was beginning to panic and then I thought in terms of reverse engineering how I was mentored by experienced guitarists.

Since they figured out how to pick material that adapted to my skill level I tried the same approach. We ended up picking a song out of his lesson book he could do and I accompanied him on rhythm. I then showed him a simple blues progression and outlined what sorts of notes he could play over it. For me it reinforced what I already knew and highlighted areas I need to learn more about.

Turns out you can learn as much mentoring as being mentored.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Moog Guitar Debuts Tonight in Music City

I ran across an article in the local paper this morning about a showcase hosted by the National Association of Music Merchants at 3rd & Lindsley, one of Nashville’s local music venues. My interest in this was that it was something happening locally. But then I started reading up on it and it's more than just another synth guitar.

Of course, me like anyone else of a certain age remembers the advent of the Moog synthesizer and the impact it had on the music of the day. This is the first guitar from the Asheville, North Carolina company that bears the Moog name. What makes the guitar unique is its sustain and muting features. This guitar can provide unlimited sustain that even Nigel Tufnel would appreciate and it can mute strings automatically.

Nashville award-winning guitarist Kenny Vaughn along with Fareed Haque, lead player for Garaj Mahal will be demoing the guitar tonight at its official debut. For those that can’t attend in person take a look here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rock ‘n’ Roll Is My Golf

A coworker dropped by the current issue of Baseline magazine, an Information Technology trade journal because of a “Changing Careers” article. Seems Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are semi retiring to becoming consultants. Some, like Brian Kilcourse, are using their new found spare time for rocking out.

Now, for CIO types, semi retirement as a consultant is more along the lines of going from a 24/7 job to just a full time job. Nonetheless, Brian Kilcourse has extra time in comparison that he uses to pursue rock and roll addictions going back to the 70s. Rock ‘n’ roll is his retirement pastime rather than golf and he sees it as “…loud, pointless and cathartic.” Not sure I see the “pointless” aspect although if you look at life in terms of the grand scheme, what about life doesn’t seem pointless in comparison? Pointless or not, it’s sure fun!

One product of this pastime is the release of original music on CD. Unfinished Business and Megaton Melodies can be found at CD Baby. So, yet another poster child reinforcement for the main purpose of this site; there’s no correlation between age and your ability to pick up a guitar and start making music. Get out there and start rocking!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prep for Playing With Others; Add Variables to Your Practice Routine

The largest adjustment for me since adding jamming with others into my guitar journey is learning how to interact with a someone vs. a something. I’m not talking so much about the tension and satisfaction of making music with others as one reader puts it. It is more along the lines of someones are variable and somethings are not.

When I practice against the metronome and backing tracks I've become used to their predictability and my ability to control everything. My short experience playing with others showed me there is a lot less I can control other than showing up and doing my best. Everything else is about adjusting to changing variables in order to complement the playing of others. Hopefully the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s difficult; for me anyway. But, the recipe for dealing with difficulty in this hobby is practice!

Since I don't have others to jam with at every pactice session I'm trying to get better at dealing with variables by playing through an amp whenever possible rather than through my quick practice rig and headphones. Although convenient, I realize that interacting with digitally modeled amps through headphones is a much more controlled environment than a real amp and room dynamics. The amp also seems less forgiving and thus better highlights aspects of my playing needing improvement.

Another set of variables I've added is getting family members into the mix even though they tend to enjoy listening to music more than making it. Since this is summer break from school, all I need is to hear someone complain they are bored and I pounce. This has meant learning a couple of Avril Lavigne songs but hey, if someone is willing to sing something I’m willing to learn it so I can get some more practice!

If you have picked up the guitar later in life, playing with others is a great step. Do it sooner than later. To help you prepare, explore some options to add more variables to your practice routines. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One More Step Outside My Guitar Comfort Zone

In a 1991 interview with Guitar World’s Alan Paul, Albert King indicated “I rehearsed to myself for five years before I played with another soul.” Running across this quote motivated me to step outside my comfort zone yet again; this time it was to begin jamming with others.

I started my guitar journey over two years ago and my mantra has been “not ready yet, keep rehearsing to myself.” So, how did reading this quote motivate me to rehearse with others instead of doing the full five years of self rehearsal like Albert King?

Albert King created a distinctive style that has influenced legions of guitarists including Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Although he was inspired by Blind Lemon Jefferson he forged his own path. One example of that is he was left-handed but played a right hand Flying V turned upside-down. That meant his bends are pulling where others are pushing since the the low E string is on the bottom. I decided I was inspired by Albert King to go out and forge my own path too. What I was most daunted by at my stage of developement was playing with other guitarists until I'm "ready." Seemed Albert was telling me to get over it and get with it so I did.

I’m playing a couple times each week now with a work buddy. He’s a seasoned guitar player so has the mentoring role but he gets the benefit of added practice so it’s a good tradeoff. It was daunting at first for sure. After the first couple of sessions though I really wished I had started doing this a lot sooner! Turns out I can become “ready” quicker by getting out there and interacting with other players. It is really accelerating my learning.

If you’ve read any of my posts I’m pretty consistent in the call to arms; I mean axes. This is a great hobby to start in middle age (or any age). Take my advice, forge your own path but keep in mind that you may want to start jamming with others sooner than when you think you are “ready.” You’ll be glad you did!

BTW, here's a great video of Stevie Ray Vaughan in session with one of his main influences, Albert King.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Too Focused on the Guitar and Not Enough on Age

I encounter something new every few days since picking up the guitar as a hobby at age 50. I get feedback from readers (positive and negative) and appreciate both. My “editorial calendar” evolves from there. I have been worrying about whether I focus enough on aging issues. After all, the name of the blog is Guitar Boomer and we boomers are not getting any younger. Then I ran across this quote from Groucho Marx:

Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.

Jeez, he’s right! Not particularly interesting. Then I realize that the real root of my of my editorial worries is that I'm having too much fun learning the guitar to write about aging issues. Reality is that aging and the guitar have nothing to do with each other. It is just that perceptions of the aging process can hold back otherwise excellent guitar playing prospects from getting into a great hobby.

Not saying there aren’t issues around aging. I’m an AARP member now so I'm far enough along to know that there are issues with aging; just not issues that relate to pickup up the guitar and rocking out. Let this article be your catalyst to join or rejoin your fellow guild of guitarists!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to Eliminate Annoying Pops and Clicks With Your PC Audio Interface

I recommend that you record your playing for an unbiased measure of progress. The only downside for me has been time spent trying to diagnose annoying pops and clicks instead of playing the guitar. Although it seemed to be a complicated problem, the solution was simple and hopefully this can save you time if you have the same problem.

Pops and clicks with a PC audio interface are usually caused by the buffer size being too small. Buffers serve the same purpose as your local water tower. As long as the water department keeps a sufficient level of water in the tank you’re ensured a continuous stream of water and won’t be stranded mid shower. Your Operating System (OS) is like the water department; as long as it comes back often enough to refill the buffers you’ll get the continuous audio stream your audio interface needs. The smaller the buffer the more likely the OS will miss refilling it on time and you end up with the audio interface version of an interrupted shower; pops and clicks.

I increased the buffer size (essentially a larger water tank) to the point the pops and clicks went away but ended up with an unusable level of latency (you don’t hear your playing until it goes through the input buffers to your recording software then back through your output buffer through the soundcard and into whatever you are using to monitor such as headphones). The larger the buffer the longer the delay.

I use a PODxt as my audio interface and the Line6 website had articles on how to use a computer with Line6 gear. My thought until then had been that a new and relatively powerful computer in terms of RAM, CPU, and hard drive speed with the audio drivers properly installed should be golden. Not so it turns out. Seems the newer the computer the busier it is. If it is too busy (no matter how powerful) it doesn’t keep the buffer filled consistently. Duh! Seems perfectly reasonable and wish I had thought of it.

Following recommendations I disabled my wireless card, went into performance options through “My Computer” and set it to “Adjust for best performance”, and disabled a lot of programs set to start automatically with Windows and my Vista base performance score increased by 40%! I set the PODxt audio interface back to optimal latency (small buffer size) and no surprise, it came out sounding great. Now I can get back to actually playing the guitar!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Your Guitar Amp is Louder Than You Think: Check Decibel Levels

I was browsing my feed list and the mention of hearing aids from The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide caught my eye. I still had some ringing going on in my head after cranking up the volume last night so it got me wondering how loud is too loud?

There’s the saying “if I’d known I’d live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.” Given I’m just now asking myself the "how loud is too loud" question it may be too late. Then it occurred to me that I could use my sound pressure meter with analog display from Radio Shack to at least figure out the damage so far and limit future damage.

The test was simple, I just fired up the amp and the sound pressure meter and started playing at what I thought was a reasonable but rocking volume level. Oops; the meter was hitting a range between 110 and 120 decibels. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association anything over 80 decibels can lead to hearing damage. 120 db is in the "painful" range: jet plane take-off, amplified rock music at 4-6 ft., car stereo, band practice. 110 db is just in the "extremely loud" range; rock music, model airplane. Interesting...rock music is mentioned in both ranges. What did you say?

The moral of the story is that it is louder than you think. But, with some basic measurements you can calibrate your rock out levels so that if you live longer than you expect, you'll still be able to hear the music.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Maybe I Am Recommending Premium Guitar Cables

I did a recent post comparing a really bad guitar cable to a pretty good one. I closed by indicating that while I wasn't necessarily recommending premium cables I was dis recommending really bad ones. That changed for me today when I made an impulse buy of a premium guitar cable.

I was in the checkout line of my local guitar store moving through the consumer gauntlet and they had a selection of guitar cables displayed for my convenience. As I had just done a post on pretty bad and pretty good cables I couldn't resist picking up a "really good" example for testing.

As you can see in the photos, the packaging is certainly premium. No saving the planet here. On opening the package I was a bit concerned that I was getting a basic cable with a pretty wrapper to justify the higher price.

Extracting the cable from its illustrious packaging took some doing but I finally got it free. One nice feature is it comes with its own integrated cable tamer (Velcro strap). I did my comparison with an American Stratocaster going into the clean channel of a Marshall DSL 401. My rationale was the single coil pickup would introduce the most noise while the clean channel would be neutral and better highlight the noise or coloration that each cable could introduce. The difference even compared to my pretty good cable was still dramatic!

I was surprised to say the least. I had a lot less noise and more dynamic range with the premium cable. Now if you are using lots of gain on the overdrive channel you'll note less difference. However, if you think about it, the less you introduce into your signal chain that isn't you, the more of you that will come out on the other end, regardless of what effects you add from there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Move Out of Your Guitar Comfort Zone

One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar - Oscar Wilde. So, what’s this have to do with guitars? How about: Even though I’ve got guitar heroes, I’ve never tried to work out exactly what they’re doing. I just try to find out what’s behind it – Robin Trower.

I often write about how important transcription study has been for my development as a guitarist but found out the benefit comes from figuring out what’s behind it rather than simply attempting to duplicate each note.

I was studying “Bold As Love” as transcribed by Andy Aledort where he includes statements like “...add some twists and turns of your own.” Now I’m the sort of person who reads the manual to be sure I’m doing things by the book. Adding my own twists and turns does not come naturally.

I dove in and started twisting and turning following the same chord progression and it was great; maybe not sounding at first but as a departure. I started thinking up all sorts of licks I had learned from transcription study of other artists and began incorporating them into the progression. Not only was this a lot more fun but it caused me to learn more about what was behind the composition. If you have the blinders on move out of your comfort zone and do some twisting and turning of your own!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Guitar Cables

Lately, I've noticed magazine articles, blog posts, and advertisements for "premium" guitar cables. Premium cables have long been a feature in the home theater hobby world where you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on cables for a relatively small setup. I've tested standard AV cables side by side with premium cables (I used a calibration disk to help gauge differences in video quality for example) and never noted a difference. How about guitar cables?

As an experiment I bought a cheap plastic cable for $1.29 (pictured above left). Step one was to play using my normal setup. Then, I substituted my "test" cable and was amazed at the difference. It wasn't about what the test cable added, it was what it took away. I noticed a large difference in transparency. The amp sort of closed in on itself and I felt like I was listening through a porthole. My usual cable (above right) was a $20 cable. Maybe not "premium" but it certainly would fit into the pretty good category.

While, I'm not advocating you spend big bucks on buying really good cables, my little test does show cable quality matters. Maybe I am advocating that you make sure you are not using really bad cables!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How Much Guitar Practice Is Enough?

I get asked this question a lot. Studies tend to zero in on 10,000 hours as the time needed for mastery. If your goal is to become a virtuoso, there’s your number and no need to read further! For us boomers with a few hours on the meter looking for a great hobby “enough” falls between the minimum (below which you suck) and the maximum (above which you encroach on other necessary life activity such as relationships and career). My minimum is one hour per day and the maximum is two hours and here's how to calculate yours.

Think of the minimum hours boundary in terms of a level below which your playing is such that you don’t enjoy it; the long way of saying you think it sucks. If you come out of a playing session with aching hands and a “glad that is over” feeling, your practice rate has fallen below your minimum threshold. I follow qualitative and quantitative approaches to gauge my progress and how much time it takes to keep the enjoyment factor and that's how I derived my one hour minimum per day. If you practice enough to maintain your minimum you will be energized and want to keep playing, which brings me to the maximum.

If you come out of a practice session and your significant other says something like “well, hello stranger” you know you are in upper boundary territory. Notice, this upper bound is not defined by desire or goals; just practical reality. You’ve reached middle age and have stuff happening man! This becomes sort of a self correcting limit (you know when you've reached it) and that's how I arrived at my two hour maximum per day. If I'm really into it I find optimal ways to get the time in so it minimizes impact to the life balance. I have plenty of time management tips for that. Just click the labels “practice” and "guitar practice".

So, over time, just keep track of your playing time in relation to your enjoyment level balanced against everything else going on in your life and you will come up with how much is "enough" practice time for you. Simple huh? Now, time to rock!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don’t Let Tube Rattle Rob Your Tube Amp Tone

Tube amp technology has not changed much in 50 years because the tone still can’t be beat. This is not all good news as 50 year old technology comes with quirks such as tube rattle.

I was playing through my Marhsall DSL 401 amp and started to notice an unpleasant background tone occurring on certain notes after the amp had warmed up. It was a metallic rattling/squeaky sound; like when the wheel bearing started going out on my ’66 Plymouth Fury. I could understand something being loose inside amp but the rattling was amplified!

I now know an amp tech and he had me bring it on over for a listen and he said "Oh, that sound?" “Yep!” I say with a dawning realization that this was going to turn out to be one of those obvious things everyone knows but me. “Tube Rattle” he says.

If a vacuum tube starts going microphonic (certain frequencies cause it to vibrate internally) the sound will be amplified through the system. The amp tech opened the back panel and tapped on each of the preamp tubes. Sure enough, once he reached the second one it reproduced the exact sound. A couple of new preamp tubes later (if replacing power tubes replace all at once with a matched set) the irritating sound is gone.

If your tube amp starts to issue a metallic rattling effect it may not be your playing or your wireless access point or your power outlet grounding or your effects pedals.... [oops, gave away some of the rookie things I checked]. Just do the tap test (observing caution of course, don’t dig around inside the guts of your amp, use a pencil to do the tapping) and enjoy your pure tube tone!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Guitar Next Door: 1991 PRS Custom 24

Paul Reed Smith (PRS) has become one of the top guitar makers (what better measure of success than to be sued by Gibson) and is known for its exacting attention to detail. The Custom 24 that Paul Reed Smith showed at his first NAMM show in 1985 still represents the core of their line and is one of the few recognized classic designs done outside of the 1950s. This unique and very red 1991 Custom 24 is today’s Guitar Next Door.

PRS moved to their new automated factory in 1994, so the pre-factory guitars are valued more by collectors even though the quality of the factory guitars sets the bar for how to do automation without compromising quality. This guitar was custom ordered completely in red, even around the top edges where PRS guitars normally have a contrasting stripe. It has the bird inlay option, locking tuners, PRS tremolo bridge, a 5-way rotary selector, and a sweet switch (filter in place of standard tone control). It also features the PRS hallmark carved and figured maple top with the flame option.

I plugged the guitar into my DSL 401 Marshall and wow; these pickups are hot; “native” at your local Thai restaurant hot. The switching positions weren't doing much for me either so I was disappointed that something so beautiful sounded so bad. Figuring it was just me I persevered and was glad I did.

Step one was to look up the switch positions so I could correlate them to the more traditional pickup switch options I’m used to. The switching options according to PRS are:

Position 10: Treble pickup
Position 9: Outside coils- deep and clear - parallel
Position 8: Series single coils – Warm version of the "in between the treble and middle pickups"
Position 7: Parallel single coils – Crisp version of the "in between the treble and middle pickups"
Position 6: Bass pickup

Then I started tweaking switch position, guitar volume, and amp settings and turned out some great sounds. This thing rocks! It still retains its own identity even though you can give it a Strat or Les Paul character. The “sweet” switch is sort of a kludge way of doing a tone control if you ask me and not surprised they did away with this option after 1991. I just moved it back and forth until it sounded ok but didn’t focus on it much.

Action, fit, and finish (the flame is a work of art) are all perfect as expected. I've never played a guitar where the neck meets the body at the 22nd fret. The neck keeps going long after I expect it to run out. It takes some getting used to but opens up a lot of possibilities. The tremolo is silky smooth with great tuning stability.

This guitar has its own sound. While you can replicate a Strat or Les Paul character with it why would you want to? Since your goal as a guitarist is to create your own sound a PRS may just be the ticket!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fired Up About the Guitar

I always enjoy hearing from readers who have recently started playing the guitar and just witnessed one of these stories in the making.

We joined some friends for dinner at their house recently and I was surprised to see some guitars as I walked in the door. “Hey, great seeing you...who’s playing the guitar?” I wish I got the full greeting out before jumping to guitar talk but I thought their kids were more sports oriented. There I go being stereotypical by assuming it was one of their kids. Everyone that comes to my house and sees guitars automatically makes the same assumption. In this case though the stereotype was correct and it was their 10 year old.

He had just gotten an Alvarez Regent Series acoustic as an upgrade to his starter guitar and he proceeded to demo his new found prowess; intro to Smoke on the Water, blues licks, flat-picking techniques, etc. It was like overnight he became a member of the Masonic lodge or something as he was now steeped in guitar rituals and we had a common frame of reference.

While it would have made a great story if his dad was the one playing (shows why I need to keep going with Guitar Boomer) it was exciting nonetheless to see someone learning the guitar and getting enjoyment out of it. I got so fired up I rushed home after dinner so I could play for awhile before packing it in for the night.

Picking up the guitar is beneficial for any age. If you are like me though and have a few hours on the clock as well as dealing with all the stresses of middle age, the benefit is even greater. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bill Hollenbeck 1933 – 2008

I had the pleasure of visiting with Bill Hollenbeck at a vintage guitar show in Nashville this past February. You can read a brief background here and condolences from friends here.

He was the genuine article and very generous with his time given he spent over an hour giving me a crash course in guitar making at the show. I met him once and miss him so I can only imagine what his family and friends feel.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guitar Hero as the Ultimate Guitar Trainer

Like everyone I’ve seen millions of references to Guitar Hero but was surprised on seeing it featured in Guitar World (June 2008). It seems the editors of Guitar World have reconciled themselves to the existence of Guitar Hero after feedback indicating the game has given many first time players the confidence to pick up the real guitar. Anything that gets someone interested in the guitar is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. But, what happens to your Guitar Hero playing once you do get interested in the guitar?

I picked up the guitar at age 50 and now that I’ve played for awhile I view playing Guitar Hero as taking away from practice time. While the game is lots of fun it always comes down to how much better I would be on the guitar if I invested time in it vs. Guitar Hero. Since I really need the practice I opt to play the guitar. This is not the usual 'why play a game when you can play the real thing' post but an 'I want to have my cake and eat it too post'. Why can't they invest development effort into an interface so a guitar can be used as a controller and create the ultimate guitar training platform?

Guitar Rising and Guitar Wizard coming out later this year both provide a guitar interface. The full integration of this type of interface into Guitar Hero would be the best of all worlds, especially for us aging rockers learning the guitar. We could play the game and get our guitar practice at the same time. Anyone reading my articles knows I’m a big guitar trainer fan. We’re talking the ultimate trainer here.

In addition to all the benefits of a standard guitar trainer you would also get continuous quantitative feedback on your playing as you will get the clam sound for missed notes and an actual score for accuracy. You also get what traditional guitar trainers cannot offer, rock and roll initiation of the sort depicted on Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. The game may not throw things at you but you will get booed off the stage if you suck!

If games like Guitar Hero are indeed creating interest in the guitar like the Guitar World editors say, these game makers are well served by full integration of the guitar in order to hold on to the fans they’ve created for the long run.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Interesting Experience Nets a "Free" Ibanez Bass

You know the legend where someone stumbles upon a vintage Corvette sitting in a barn somewhere that was only driven to church on Sundays and you pick it up for a song? A reader sent this in and I thought it would be of interest:

Yesterday I was in my local pawn shop checking out the guitars in stock and asked the music "expert" there if they had any guitars that might need repairs that they might be willing to sell cheap. He responded that he had a bass that had the head broken off, they shipped it to an on line customer and it had a bad day. It turned out to be a 2001 vintage Ibanez EDB 600. They sold for about $400 to $500 back then. I asked him what he wanted for it and he said make me an offer. I said $10 just for laughs and he said make it $20 and it's yours. I hauled out my debit card and got the bass, Gig bag and Peavey Leather strap for the agreed price. The bag and strap were worth $30 so the bass was essentially free. 40+ years of woodworking and furniture making has taught me to use glue and clamps and the neck is now drying. I'll touch up the paint and for the cost of a set of strings I have a really nice bass, to sell or play. It's worth asking for what you don't see. I would recommend checking out these places as in this time of economic disaster, many such instruments are available. I've never seen so many nice guitars for sale, really cheap. Amps and effects as well. I would recommend that you visit your local pawn shop, as they are anxious to sell now.

Cheers, Gary

Man, I think I'm going to visit my local pawn shop!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Guitar Amp Repair Part Two

I recently wrote about problems with my Marshall DSL 401, which led to a trip to my local amp doctor. When I received the call that the amp was ready for pickup I eagerly rushed out to give it a test.

The diagnosis was bad soldering (three connections not soldered) and bias out of adjustment (way out). I again learned about the difference between single and double sided circuit boards and hand soldering (a big issue with this amp tech). I plugged it in, warmed it up, and the magic is back!

The clean channel was crystal again and fattened up nicely as I turned up the gain. Playing with the gain and volume knobs on the overdrive channel yields great crunch and sustain; all the things that caused me to buy the amp in the first place.

The moral of the story for those of us who cannot put out $2,500 plus for a hand wired amp is get to know a good amp tech!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Support Your Local Guitar Store

I like going to Guitar Center because it has almost everything for everybody. It became my default location for any guitar related needs. I finally broke out of that routine and visited a local guitar shop and found I’ve been missing out.

While local shops carry a fraction of what Guitar Center does they do fill niches in depth that larger stores cannot. I happened by Artisan Guitars earlier in the week and this represents a great example.

Artisan specializes in acoustic guitars and it feels part guitar store part art gallery. I got exposed to everything from completely hand built guitars with recovered exotic woods (works of art as well as functional) to CNC machined ultra low cost yet high quality guitars built offshore. I was able to take my time and find what I needed plus learn a whole lot about acoustic guitars.

Although I say local, not much is local anymore in the Internet and rapid shipping eras and Artisan provides online shopping for their inventory of new and preowned instruments. So, although the large stores have quantity, don’t forget to check out that guitar store around the corner if you want to do a deeper dive into a particular guitar niche. You’re missing out if you don’t!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Guitar Aging Experiment – How to Create a Relic

The relic guitar market has really taken off and you have to pay a bunch of money to get your new guitar pre-aged, which drives interest in do it yourself approaches. Serendipity happened this morning as I was catching up on my feed reading and ran across the start of a DIY guitar relic experiment on Electric Guitar Review.

Actually, I’m more interested in anti-aging treatments since I’ve hit midlife and try to keep my guitars looking good so they age gracefully. The only “relic” treatment I’ve applied to a guitar was unintentional. But, for those interested in aging their guitars, this series should be right up your alley.

The article is entitled Chop Shop: And So Begins ERG’s Great “Tele Relic” Experiment Of 2008. Anyone who follows these posts should see a blow by blow account of aging a Classic Player Baja Telecaster as well as related links in the articles and comments that should be a treasure trove of information for relic enthusiasts. I’ll include links to these posts as shared items so you can keep up with them as they are published or just subscribe to EGR.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Play Acoustic for Improved Electric Guitar Tone

Practicing regularly on an acoustic guitar is one of the best ways to improve your electric guitar tone. While this sounds counter intuitive bear with me because this really works.

Think of the adage garbage in garbage out. Your signal chain starts with your fret and picking hands. No amount of adjustment will overcome garbage going in. Practicing on the acoustic will fix this as nothing comes between you and your sound. If your playing is not clean and accurate it shows up in stark relief. This is great because you also get instant feedback on what adjustments create improvement. Think of it like the behavioral modification scenario where you get a treat if you do what the mad scientist wants; do the wrong thing and you get a shock (bad tone in this case).

After a week or so working with the acoustic, you will notice how much better your electric tone starts to become. The cleaner and more accurate your playing going into your effects chain, the better it sounds when it comes out the other end, no rocket science here. An added benefit is that the heavier gauge strings on the acoustic with their higher tension really helps build your chops and makes playing the lighter gauge strings on your electric seem effortless.

Try it and you will be enjoying your tone treats in no time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Les Paul is Still Going Strong

I ran across this Bob Edwards interview of Les Paul during my morning browse. Les Paul should be a motivator for anyone seeking to learn the guitar later in life (10 for some, 70 for others).

Give it a listen.

Bruce Cameron – Psychedelic Rock Redux

While browsing my vintage rock news sources I came upon a story of Bruce Cameron and a free download of Midnight Daydream, his one and only album. I’m listening now and this brings me right back to nighttime FM radio of the late 60s early 70s (wind chimes tinkling in the background, unstructured playlists, lots of b sides).

Part of this sound is no surprise given he somehow got artists such as Jack Bruce, Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, and Mitch Mitchell of Cream, Band of Gypsys, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience to play on this album. But, that is not the strangest part. He dies mysteriously just after the album is released; kind of like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Did he take his own life or was he murdered by a jealous girlfriend?

While none of this is overly memorable (track 1 “Midnight Daydream” sums it up; inane lyrics along with some incredible psychedelic guitar runs) it does instantly evoke the vibe us aging baby boomer rockers grew up listening to. Since it was recorded using analog equipment it also has that presence in the mix that you just do not hear anymore with current recording and mixing techniques.

So, take a look at this strange bit of rock history, and let me know your thoughts. As for me, I’m going to get my guitar out, plug in the crybaby and fuzz face, and have some fun!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Remember Transcription Study in Your Practice Routine

I used transcriptions when I first started learning the guitar to try and duplicate some of my favorite vintage rock tunes. I go back and play some of these tunes along with backing tracks for exercise but find I’m not that happy with how they sound anymore.

I think it is a combination of a more discriminating ear with experience and my lack of technique and understanding when I learned these tunes originally. So, I've started going back to studying these transcriptions. This little exercise revealed a treasure trove of improvement opportunities.

I was really shocked at how many nuances I had missed in learning these initially. Also, I saw instances where I just did not have the technique to duplicate sections as written and evolved fakery approaches to get by. With some review and changes to how I played my favorites I was able to get quick and dramatic improvement.

I’m not advocating that duplication is my only goal as we all want to evolve our own sound. However, when trying to learn a particular technique or lick I want to learn it well and not just have my ear pretend it sounds right. If you are of a similar bent I recommend you make studying transcriptions a steady part of your guitar practice diet.

Don't have handy transcriptions; check out Guitar World Tabs.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tone Tips and Tricks for the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

The Unofficial Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Owners Guide
A coworker forwarded me a link to the Unofficial Hot Rod Deluxe Owner’s Guide the other day and I took a look. Lots of interesting content but the bonus for me was an excerpt on tone tips from the original manual, which gave me new appreciation for this amp.

The current Hot Rod Deluxe manual does not include much information on how to get the most out of this amp. This site though is packed with useful tips including tone settings. The original manual excerpt pictured above, lists varied tone descriptions and the amp settings (drive channel, treble, presence, etc) required to achieve each. This bit of information provides a great foundation to start experimenting.

I warmed up my Hot Rod Deluxe, gave these settings a try, and learned just how much untapped potential the Hot Rod Deluxe has. The typical comment I hear is that the overdrive channel is useless, which was my experience. These settings gave me the insight on how to get great tone from both the normal and drive channels using single coil and humbucker type pickups to bring this amp alive. It feels like having a brand new toy!

Give these settings a try and see what you think.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Highballs and Hydrangeas – Multi Generations Gather and Rock

Continuing music education for my wife and I this weekend was Highballs and Hydrangeas at Cheekwood. Cheekwood is an art museum and botanical garden located in the mansion and on the grounds of a grand estate completed in 1932. Most notable is the diverse crowd this event now attracts.

Highballs and Hydrangeas is a great party that raises money for Cheekwood. Music was provided by the Pat Patrick Band. Although Cheekwood might be associated with the longhair art crowd all demographics were represented. We saw everything from two rockin’ grandmothers accompanied by their grandson designated driver (iPod ear buds firmly in place) to the youngest and hippest of the contemporary crowd.

The Pat Patrick Band rocked (my favorite moment being when the lead guitarist slipped the intro for Purple Haze into one of his solos) and the dance floor was like a roller derby tournament.

This all reconfirms for me that music (and highballs) knows no age boundaries.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Girls Are Back in Town - Groupies That Is

While roaming the blogosphere I ran across The Girls With the Band and realize the groupie movement is back in the guise of the “Plastics”, a global organization that seeks to return “Groupie” to its glamour roots of the 60s and 70s. Maybe this aspect of rock & roll is better left in the past.

Groupies seek fame by being around famous people. In keeping with that concept I guess the name “Plastics” is homage to Cynthia Plaster Caster who is famous for making plaster casts of rock stars’ private parts. I’ve seen “Almost Famous” and “The Banger Sisters” (their shtick was snapshots of private parts rather than plaster casts; another homage to the Plaster Casters) and viewed those as a nostalgic look back at the vintage rock era.

However, these movies while nostalgic and funny also come off as cautionary tales; the groupies don’t come off looking so glamorous in the end. Here is a “Where Are They Now” article on vintage groupies from the Gibson website. Give it a read and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amps – They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

I wrote awhile back how I wanted some of that Marshall crunch at marriage preserving sound pressure levels. I picked up a DSL 401 and all was right with the world until it wasn’t.

The great thing about this amp is it can still generate enough volume to strip paint from the walls and any time the cat is out so to speak this mouse gets out the DSL 401 and cranks it up. On my play day last weekend the Marshall crunch deserted me and the DSL 401 started cutting out and sounding hollow.

I consulted my resident expert co-worker; “sounds like it could be a tube, I’ve got a bunch you could experiment with but it could be something else because they don’t make them like they used to.” Since my life insurance policy does not cover electrocution while digging into the backside of a guitar amp I called the local amp doctor.

“Hey, I have a DSL 401 and…” I start off. “It’s cutting out on you, isn’t it” says the amp tech. It could be tubes but more than likely it’s cheap circuit soldering. They don’t make them like they used to.” I finally caught on to the theme and brought it on over.

During my educational visit I learned how a hand soldered circuit board differs from the machine soldered boards in the lower priced amps and that if you are buying an amp, check to see if it is a double sided circuit board. Although those are still done by machine they come out a lot better and he never sees those come in because of soldering problems.

Anyway, lesson learned and once he’s done working on it I’ll report back on the results. I would be curious to know if anyone else out there has had similar experiences with their amps or is it just me. Maybe I have some solder eating microbes in the house...

Monday, April 14, 2008

I’ll Never Play Like Jimi Hendrix

I’ve outlined the many benefits to making music in midlife and beyond. Beware though the baby boomer overachiever complex (man, I’ll never play as good as [insert your guitar legend here]).

You have a few hours on the clock now and likely have achieved one or more key life milestones; education, reproduction, career, scratch golfer, sports car, etc. You’re going to come into music making with high expectations only to have them dashed when you realize you aren’t measuring up to your favorite guitar legend. Don’t sweat it.

The guitar legend that got me motivated to learn the guitar was Jimi Hendrix. Reportedly the floor was awash with the tears of the other guitar legends of the day when they first saw him perform so I was setting myself up for disappointment. The thing is, comparing yourself to a guitar legend is no different than comparing yourself to Tiger Woods if you are a golfer.

The guitar like golf is a matter of practice. It takes 10,000 practice hours to become an expert at an instrument or the golf course. At this stage in your life you have a lot going on and probably do not have 50 hours per week to allocate to the guitar. So, why stress out by comparing yourself to those that do? Instead, maximize the potential of the time you do have for this hobby and enjoy its benefits!

>>Related Posts
Baby Boomer Guide to Guitar as a Midlife Hobby
Why It Is No More Difficult to Learn the Guitar at Age 50 vs 15
Do Baby Boomers Really Need Permission to Learn the Guitar?

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Must Listen To For Anyone Interested in Music

I was flipping through stations one evening and heard discussion around home and studio recording techniques, which immediately caught my interest. Turns out it was an episode of Music Business Radio, a talk show you should check out.

Nashville’s own WRLT 100.1 FM is the flagship station for this program and it is great listening for anyone interested in music. The latest episode features Ken Mansfield, former US Manager for Apple Records and US/UK liaison for the Beatles and he recounts his experiences working with them as well as the Beach Boys, the Band, and many more.

So, visit their site to find a broadcast radio station in your area or simply subscribe and listen to episodes through streaming audio or podcast free of charge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dating Advice for Baby Boomers: Learn the Guitar

I’ve found a set of baby boomer oriented blogs that I like to visit and often see ads for baby boomer dating services. So, it occurs to me that this may be yet another benefit of making music. If you find yourself back in the dating scene in middle age, learning to play the guitar may really help you in your quest to find that certain someone.

Flimsy you say? Maybe, but do you see any guitar legends (male or female) lacking for companionship? It can't hurt.

It’s not too late to pick up the guitar in middle age. Apparently the number of dating services oriented towards baby boomers says it’s not too late to be out there dating if you are unattached. “Guitarist” will look great on your online dating profile under “Hobbies” :-).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New DVD Documents Fifty Year Reign of the Stratocaster and Les Paul


Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul solid body guitars are like the Baby Boomers I write about; around for over 50 years and still rocking. Solidbodies, The 50 Year Guitar War documents the history of these influential axes on rock history and is available on DVD now.

The film includes player commentary from Joe Bonamassa, Henry Garza, and Derek Trucks. It also features Nashville’s own George Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars and one of the world’s leading vintage guitar experts.

The documentary is written and directed by Guy Hornbuckle and you can find a trailer as well as downloads and purchase information on the film’s website:

Any gear enthusiast is going to want to check this out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bob Dotson Covers Aging Rockers

Bob Dotson on Today's American Story covers rockers aged beyond anything I've been imagining in my posts. The segment is "Not Too Old to Rock" and it is worth a look. This group of rockers, the Young At Heart Chorus, has been performing around the world to sell out crowds and will be well known here because they are going to be starring in their own movie.

I realize I've been way too conservative in my posts. Middle Age is a piece of cake.

Three Generations Test Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight

I finally got around to buying Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight and brought it to Florida for the annual Spring Break ritual (not the wild Daytona Beach type; visiting grandparents in active retirement type) where it became an interesting test of music’s universal appeal.

My Gen Y offspring became instant converts on the plane trip down. We’re picked up at the airport by the grandparents and half way through the track “Given Up” the Silent generation is into it as well! Since I bought it I’m biased but my Baby Boomer wife is enjoying it so that covers generation three.

We ultimately pull into a pirate themed beach restaurant for the early bird special with the speakers thumping and heads bobbing. The innocent bystanders getting out of their cars at the same time to beat the early bird cutoff (picture a crowd of salmon rushing up stream to spawn) didn’t know what to make of us. I guess we were difficult to categorize. But, within seconds, the bystanders adjusted (more focused on the special maybe) and we blended right in.

The conclusion I draw from this non-scientific study is that playing and enjoying music is universal regardless of age. My job is to keep reminding people of that. If you have a desire to make music, get going because time is a wasting. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Aging Rockers: You’re Not Alone

I received my issue of AARP magazine today and they feature “Rock of Aged” in the trends section. Seems many of the top touring bands of 2007 are “kinda long in the tooth.”

The Police, average age 59, were actually the top touring band of any age last year with gross receipts north of $120 million. Other high revenue acts were Van Halen, average age 54 (not counting Eddie’s 17 year old son who plays bass), Rod Stewart, 63, and Genesis with an average age of 57.

No excuses Boomers; pick up that guitar and start rocking!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Baby Boomer Wannabe Guitarists: Check Out Free Guitar Lessons

I’ve always stressed the importance of guitar lessons, especially for those of us with a few hours on the clock; not because we’re slow on the uptake, we just want to make up for lost time. One of my readers recommended Free Guitar Lessons by Watch & Learn as a site that’s working great for him. I spent some time this morning looking it over.

I felt in a Bluegrass mood so I checked out flatpicking and learned some basic Bluegrass rhythms and improvisation. This is a great site, especially if you are starting out and overwhelmed with the options. If you find an area of interest they offer premium downloads where you can get more in depth from there.

Another area that should be mentioned is their Guitar Jam Tracks section. My first instructor set me up with “Let’s Jam” by Peter Vogl right away and it was invaluable to learning the rudiments of improvisation, ear training, and staying with the beat. Another benefit of the CD is the suggestions they provide for how to improvise over each track.

If you’re starting out and trying to get your bearings or been playing for awhile and want to discover new territory, give this site a look.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Choose the Correct Signal Chain Order for Your Effects Pedals

You’ve gone to your local guitar store and bought some pedals and the next question is “what order do I put them in? Try this common order first:

  1. Dynamic Range – Compression
  2. EQ – Wah Pedal, Equalizer
  3. Drive – Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz
  4. Modulation – Phaser, Flanger, Chorus
  5. Time-Based – Reverb, Delay
Here's why:

Each pedal imparts its own coloring to the audio signal. This order goes from least alteration of the signal to the most and minimizes the chance that the effects introduced at each point in the signal path cancel the previous ones out.

Dynamic Range
If you have a compression pedal this should be first in your default signal chain order. Compression automatically “rides the gain” by pumping up volume when levels are low and cutting it when levels peak too high. The behavior of the rest of your effects chain becomes much more predictable by receiving this more uniform and consistent audio signal.

If you have an EQ type effect it is most likely a Wah pedal, which creates its distinctive effect by sweeping a narrow frequency range up and down as you move the pedal. Placing the wah pedal next in this suggested default order enables it to benefit from the consistent audio signal coming from the compressor and it yields a more open vintage sound. In addition its output is more predictably colored by other effects down stream in the signal path such as gain and modulation.

Drive pedals emulate the saturated gain sound of a tube amp turned up to 11 by clipping the audio signal. Since this effect adds lots of gain to your signal it works best in this next position as we’re still dealing with a clean signal from the compressor and wah pedal; thus you avoid boosting unwanted noise.

Modulation type pedals operate by splitting off a portion of the signal and applying slight delays and or altering the pitch of the incoming signal before mixing it back together with the unprocessed portion. This signal treatment increases the likelihood of cancellation effects if modulation is placed earlier in the signal path.

Time-based effects are last in this suggested default order because they repeat the original signal without alteration. This treatment earlier in the signal path will conflict with other effects that alter the waveform if they were later in the signal chain giving you unpredictable results.

Now that I’ve laid out the “rules” I can move to the inevitable exceptions.
  • If you have a Fuzz Face pedal you will need to plug your guitar into it directly. I learned this the hard way. It goes nuts if you have anything other than the guitar in front of it.
  • Try the wah pedal just after drive pedals for a thicker sound.
  • While modulation effects generally go after drive try placing phaser effects in front of your overdrive and distortion pedals.
Be sure to balance the volume across the signal chain (ensure the same volume when an effect is on or bypassed). Lastly, don't forget the most important effects; your guitar volume, pickup selector, and the type of guitar pick you use. Since these are the very beginning of the signal chain they have the largest impact on your tone.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Take a Look at Project Song from All Songs Considered

On my way home from the office today I heard a story on National Public Radio® regarding Project Song, an NPR Music feature on that illustrates the entire music creation process from writing through recording and post production. The entire process is done over two ten hour days.

Whether this paricular example is your style of music or not this really highlights that there is a process for how music is made rather than a bolt of lightening coming out of the sky.

You can hear the story and watch a video of the process at NPR Music.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Does a Beard Improve Your Guitar Playing?

One blog I visit frequently is The Boomer Chronicles, which recently discussed baldness. If you visit my profile you'll see I’m an expert and this article prompted me to go the shaved head/goatee route like other rock legends. I did some analysis to see if going for the look has improved my playing.

I evaluated qualitative and quantitative aspects of my pre and post goatee playing and no discernible difference other than an itchy chin. Dang! I was hoping I would maybe pick up a Kerry King/Slayer vibe or something as a result.

Nonetheless, I'm going to stay with the goatee because it sure feels like it makes me play better.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Where Do You Find Parts for Your Guitar and Amp and Everything Else?

I picked up an Antique Electronic Supply® catalog at a recent vintage guitar show. The catalog is a veritable cornucopia of goodies, ranging from phonograph needles and stranded aerial wire to reverb tanks and replacement grill cloths. For some reason I loaned it out as soon as I got it but it was returned today.

Broken knob on your amp or guitar? They have it covered. Want to experiment on your guitar? They have a full range of pickups and capacitors. None of the above? Take a look out of curiosity; it is an eclectic selection of cool toys.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Warm Up Hints When Learning Guitar in Middle Age

If you are learning the guitar in middle age it takes awhile each time you play for your fingers to start responding to what your brain is telling them to do. This isn’t because you are “old”. You just need to warm up like any other guitarist. For maximum progress in minimum time establish and follow a repeatable warm up routine.

Repeatability allows you to judge where you are in terms of flexibility as compared to previous sessions. Your warm up period will give you the feedback to let you know when you’re limbered up enough to start pushing harder. Properly warmed up you will get more benefit out of each playing session as well as avoid injury.

If you pick up your guitar and pound out the intro to Dragonforce's “Through the Fire and Flames” at 200 bpm (transcription in the May Guitar World) as your warm up you may strain something regardless of age. “No pain no gain” doesn’t apply here. If you’re warming up and things aren’t clicking, avoid the pain but get the gain by just doing something else for 10 minutes and coming back to it. You will be amazed at the difference.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Greenpeace and Guitars?

I was perusing guitar related news the other day and ran across “Greenpeace” and “Guitar”, which I thought was an odd combination. It turns out that Greenpeace has enlisted the aid of guitar manufacturers to avert a crisis with Sitka spruce.

Sitka spruce is a wood species prized by guitar manufacturers for soundboards and their source is Sealaska, a Native American logging company; the largest private landholder in Alaska. The best tone and appearance is from old growth forests but there is only a 15 year supply left if logging practices do not change. Oops.

Although the vast majority of this wood goes overseas for construction, Greenpeace enlisted the participation of the guitar makers because they and their customers are a high profile group as compared to a maker of door sashes for instance. Greenpeace brought Sealaska and guitar makers Gibson, Taylor, Martin, and Fender together at the 2006 NAMM to launch the effort. Yamaha has since joined the organization.

So, add yet another benefit to making music; promotion of sustainable practices. The current status is Sealaska has agreed to a full assessment of its logging practices this summer and will hopefully move to full certification against the Forest Stewardship Council standards from there. You can keep up on this information by visiting the Greenpeace Musicwood site.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Can Baby Boomers Go Home Again?

I ran across this Associated Press article: Returning to the family roost where it highlights a trend towards baby boomers returning to live with mom and dad due to the slumping economy. Yikes!

When times are tough you do what you have to do; I can understand that. However, since I actively advocate that Baby Boomers get music, this scenario is not one I’ve accounted for.

If you’ve decided to take the guitar plunge and will be moving home for awhile (hopefully not because you got in finacial difficulty due to guitar gear addiction), keep in mind that mom and dad may view that as a mixed blessing. Take it from me, in the early going; things may sound better to you than they do to others.

You may want to consider headphones for your practice rig…...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Do Baby Boomers Really Need Permission to Learn the Guitar?

I did a brief interview about Guitar Boomer on the Growing Bolder radio show. One of the comments was that it was great that aging people had permission to take up new interests and be successful. I didn’t know how to take that at first until I realized it is about permission from within.

What happened with me was that hitting age 50 was a noticeable aging milestone because of AARP eligibility. While I was happy to join a new club (exploring life at 50 and beyond) I felt like I was no longer eligible for my current club (everyone not clearly defined as ‘old’). This was a bummer given nothing about my attitude and preferences had changed. Instead of learning the guitar which I had wanted to do for years I felt like society expected me to take up water aerobics instead.

In reality it turned out the expectations were in my head rather than societal. While everyone seems to care about what Britney Spears does next, society could care less about someone deciding to start rocking in their 50s.

The bottom line is that if you’ve never played an instrument or haven’t for many years you may experience some angst. However, your angst need not have an age component to it. Once you overcome that attitude you are no different than anyone else wanting to make music. Just view it as a way to obtain dual membership in both the "not yet old" and "50s and beyond" clubs.

Remember; you have your permission to rock out!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Why It Is No More Difficult to Learn the Guitar at Age 50 vs 15

One comment I get frequently is “it must have been a lot harder to learn the guitar when you were in your 50s than in your teens.” I have to admit, this is something that weighed on my mind when I contemplated learning the guitar later in life. My experience however was that it is equally hard to learn at age 50 as at age 15.

I found an instructor early on and I had the benefit of observing a beginning player scheduled in the slot before mine. Although he was in his early teens I saw we both had the same issues. We both seemingly had mittens on our hands given our speed and dexterity at the time. We both had sore fingers as we built calluses on our fingertips. We also overcame these impediments at roughly the same rate for about six months until my younger counterpart began pulling away from me.

My first thought was “there it is, he’s got a 35 year advantage on me and it’s finally showing up.” I commented to my instructor one day that his student was really taking off to which he indicated that 9 hours of playing a day will do that for you.

Learning the guitar or golf or any other skill is a matter of storing information in your brain’s neural tissue. The way this happens is through practice. Rocker turned neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin indicates in his book “This Is Your Brain On Music” that 10,000 hours of practice rather than talent is what makes a virtuoso. In fact, reading this book may be one of the best guitar accessories for aging wannabe rockers as it shows the connection between music and brain function and how that is what determines your musical progress vs your physical age.

If you are in average health there is no evidence supporting the assumption that picking up a guitar later in life would be more challenging than earlier in life. It is just a matter of training your brain (practice) and you already have decades of experience doing that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pickup Innovation for Your Acoustic Guitar

I began the guitar as a midlife hobby driven by guitar heroes such as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page so an electric guitar was the thing. Recently, I took the plunge and bought my first acoustic and glad I did. During the process I discovered some very clever engineering going on when it comes to acoustic pickups.

Since I did not see the familiar sound hold fitted magnetic pickup on the Epiphone AJ-500RENS I purchased I assumed it did not have a pickup. Later I ran across a review of the guitar and it was talking about L.R. Baggs pickups. Well, I didn't see anything so went to their website and realized the guitar came pre-fitted with an under saddle piezo strip type pickup. This is cool technology!

The unit is L.R. Baggs' "Element Active" system and has a transducer strip that goes under the saddle on the acoustic guitar. I've included a graphic from the manual to the left showing how the transducer sits under the saddle. It has what is called an endpin pre-amp; basically a tube (pictured above left) that threads through the tail block of your guitar. The endpin serves as your strap button and input jack.

The final component of the Element pickup system is the volume knob pictured at right. This is sound hole mounted as pictured. It is convenient to use but unobtrusive.

The great thing about this pickup system is you retain the clean looks of your acoustic guitar but have a great sounding amplification option when you need it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baby Boomer Guide to Guitar as a Midlife Hobby

Researchers have proven that music making will:

· Exercise the brain
· Fight memory loss
· Reduce stress
· Lower blood pressure
· Stave off depression

Who wouldn’t want some of that? Especially those of us with a few hours on the meter. The guitar is a highly portable instrument enabling music making anywhere any time. So, what stops us Baby Boomers from picking up the perfect hobby? Well, here's some common mental blocks and how to avoid them.

People will think I’m nuts starting at my age.” Don’t worry; you will have lots of company. There are so many people in the baby boomer demographic picking up or re-picking up their axes it is almost a cliché.

I don’t want to even go into a guitar store; I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.” I interviewed a guitar store worker last week for an upcoming post and he indicates 80% of their business is "old guys" coming in with a gleam in their eye and they’ve got the money right now. Believe me, the guitar store will be happy to see you.

I’ll need lessons and I can’t see myself dealing with some hotshot teenager.” Hey, your money spends like anyone else’s and they will be ecstatic to have a student who will actually practice between lessons.

I’m just too old; I don’t have the reflexes anymore or whatever is involved.” Well, they don’t have a little blue pill for guitar playing prowess but Les Paul is still playing in his 90s arthritis and all (doctors orders – there’s those benefits again). Just don't think you can use this one as an excuse.

I feel like a rocker inside but I’m bald now on the outside.” Listen man, check out lessons, you don’t play with your head! Granted, when you were growing up, rock was synonymous with big hair. Lots of rockers shave their heads now anyway whether bald or not. Joe Satriani is bald. ‘nuff said.

Rock out, you'll be glad you did!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Parker Fly

Back in 1992 luthier Ken Parker did an X-Men type thing and created an evolutionary leap with the Parker Fly. Luckily, this Mutant was for good and is Guitar Boomer’s Guitar of the Week.

Ken Parker has repaired and built guitars for 25 years. He poured all of his knowledge working with thousands of guitarists into a design whose features were completely original to the Fly. His unique contributions included features such as a flat spring vibrato with built in piezo-electric pickups along with standard magnetic pickups (a first in 1992), lightweight resonant wood body strengthened with composites, and a totally unique shape.

All this tone potential is controlled with three-way magnetic pickup selection with push-pull coil tap as well as custom Fishman piezo-electric pickups and stereo voltage-doubled pre-amp. This provides guitarists with an extreme acoustic and electric range out of one instrument. The use of lightweight woods strengthened with composite fibers means this guitar weighs in at a svelte 5 pounds.

If you want everything in one guitar that stands out from the crowd, you need to try out the Parker Fly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to Choose the Right Guitar Pick

Your guitar pick or plectrum if you want to be formal about it is one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of your technique and tone.

Think of it this way, the pick is the absolute beginning of your signal chain and half of your interface with the guitar (fretting hand being the other). This should be viewed as a pretty important accessory. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and thicknesses and Wikipedia has an exhaustive entry on everything you could ever want to know about picks if you are interested. However, all this variety of technique and tone potential is untapped unless you try some of these out!

Next time you are at your local guitar store, pick up a variety and start experimenting. Try one of your best licks (or worst) out with the pick you are currently using. Then, pick up one of your new picks and try the same lick. Quickly grab the next pick and do the same lick. Rinse and repeat. With each pick, if you know it is a loser right off, set it aside. Keep iterating through this process until you’ve narrowed it down to the pick that feels the best. It may be the one you’ve been using all along and then again maybe not.

Also, keep the rejects on hand for later. As your playing continues to evolve, you will want to go through the pick selection process periodically going forward. What you don’t like today may be just the thing tomorrow as your playing evolves.