Rambling On

Thoughts, Opinions, Inspirations

My kid wants to start playing the guitar – the 5 big questions

People often ask me what kind of guitar should someone start with. They either have a kid that wants to start playing or they are curious about it themselves.

There is no hard rule for everyone, but the short answer is: get a guitar that the new guitarist will be excited about.

When I first started, I had a musician uncle who was trying to convince my parents to buy me a classical guitar, or worse yet, learn the piano first. What???? Hell no. Like that geeky kid from the old Twister Sister video, I said, I wanna rock! (more…)

Guitar dogma

dogmaGuitar players, like everyone else, are set in their beliefs. Some of these beliefs and opinions come from experience, but many come from something they’ve heard or read somewhere. In conversations and online posts, some spew dogma completely ignoring many examples of notable contradictions. So, here are some I’ve seen and heard regularly over the years.

1. “Real” guitar players use thick strings

They say: You should use a string gauge at least .11 and above. You can only get a great, thick tone with heavier strings. Stevie Ray Vaughan used real thick strings, so there.

Reality check: Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana and a bunch of other “real” guitar players have been known to use much lighter strings (.08 and .09), and nobody would dare question their tone. (more…)

Pimping up my Mexican Strat

I recently got into guitar playing again after shelving it for several years. I was asked to sit in for a gig, but had no electric. So, I grabbed some cash, went into the local Guitar Center and started looking. I had no idea what to get, so I j just went with a cheap, Mexican made Fender Strat just to get me through the gig. It only put me back $350 and it sounded and played pretty well.

I started getting into playing more and bought an amp and a couple of pedals. I later bought a nice Ibanez Joe Satriani model, followed by a Les Paul and a nice Telecaster. I loved all of the new ones, but still had a thing for my cheap Strat. It was the guitar that brought me back into playing electric, so it had a lot of sentimental value. But, compared to the nicer guitars, it didn’t sound as good, and the quality of some of the components was obviously sub-par.

So, I thought about getting a new American-made deluxe, but I wasn’t in the mood for spending a grand or more on a new strat. So, I decided to start upgrading my baby.

Upgrade #1 : new pickups.

My strat has a H-S-S configuration, and the humbucker was a little ear-piercing. So, I put in a Seymour Duncan JB. Woah!! All of a sudden, my strat sounded killer. It rocked. The other pickups were good enough for now, but I knew I would switch them out one day as well.

Upgrade #2 : new Tremolo Steel Block
So, I researched about other upgrades. One that kept coming up was upgrading the block under my bridge. So, I talked to my local guitar repair shop guy, and he said it will make a big difference. I also didn’t like the current bridge and tremolo bar, so asked that he put in a new one as well.

Upgrade #3 : locking Tuners

My strat went out of tune frequently just after a couple of aggresive bends or tremolo dives. Because of that, I refrained from doing such things. But, then when I’d watch videos of others playing Strats and totally abusing them, they stayed in tune.

When I got the guitar back from the shop and strummed my first chord….I nearly teared up. It sounded amazing and that was just acoustically without plugging it in. The new bar was adjusted nicely and they did an overall setup. I plugged it in and for the first time since I’ve had this guitar, it sounded like a real strat. It quacked, it rocked, it growled and just plain, knocked me over. Even the original middle and neck pickups sounded much better. And, I could finally use the tremolo bar like a madman (I don’t normally, but I now could).

So, with the parts and labor, i’ve already spent more than I paid for the guitar, but still less than if I bought a high end strat. Plus, it’s my guitar. The one that has so much sentimental value to me.

Other Upgrades I’m considering:

1. Coil Split the JB Humbucker – the guitar shop guy said that a popular upgrade for HSS strats is splitting the humbucker so that you can go from single coil to humbucker at the flip of a switch (or a push of a button). And, he said that the JB humbuckers are especially great for doing that, so I got lucky on my choice of pickups.

2. Upgrade the middle and Neck pickups – I still have the stock Mexican strat pickups in the other two positions. They’re not bad and actually sound better due to the other upgrades I made. But, they’re lower output than the JB so they’re not balanced well in terms of volume. Plus, they’re a bit noisy and crackly. But, they’re usable. I’ll eventually get new ones but haven’t yet done the research.

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment. I don’t mind spending the money on a special guitar I know I’ll keep forever.

NAMM is coming, NAMM is coming

NAMM showThe NAMM ticket confirmation email arrived a few days ago and I’m beside myself. I’ve been to NAMM several times over the years, missed last year, but back at it again. (Read my previous NAMM post for reasons why you should go).

I’m a total NAMM nerd and love everything about it. I love walking for hours and hours through the noisy convention center, looking at all the gear, trying things, seeing amazing musicians jamming, and snapping a few pictures of the stars. It’s also entertaining to see some of the has-beens from the 80’s strolling around still decked out in their old clothes but not rocking them as well. There’s also a bunch of freakish people with small entourages that are probably in some new popular bands that I don’t know about yet. And, there are the buyers and the people working the booths who obviously don’t want to be there, but have to for work.

It’s entertaining to watch the whole mix of folks. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s exhausting. But, I love every minute of it.Last time I went, I came in on a Friday afternoon, checked into my hotel, and hit the show for the last couple of hours on Day 2. Then did a full day on Day 3, and left earlier on Day 4. This year, I’m getting there on Thursday afternoon and leaving when the doors close on Sunday afternoon.

Every year I have a list of gear I want to check out. This year, I’m jonesing for some hollowbody guitars so I can’t wait to try some Gretsch, Ibanez, and Godin boxes, as well as some other lesser known brands. I also can’t wait to see the latest pedal offerings. Some of my favorite brands are Wampler, Xotic, MXR, Electro Harmonix and Earthquaker Devices. I’m also checking out amps by Egnater, Bogner, Orange, and Fender.

The coolest thing about NAMM is that you get to try things out that are not always found in your local guitar shops. And, you get to discover new things that you didn’t know about. The bottom level of the convention center usually has the smaller, lesser known brands that offer some innovative products. Sometimes, you find some gems there.And, then there’s the after show parties, jams and concerts.

Anyways, I’m getting excited and hope to catch up with some of my friends that go as well as make some new ones. I’ll take pictures and post details when I get back. See ya there!


Guitar Snobbery

A few weeks ago, I was setting up my gear for a gig at a big wedding reception. After soundcheck, I was sitting down nursing a beverage, when one of the waiters working that evening comes up and says hello.

Waiter: “Hey, you’re the guitar player, right? So, how do you like your power supply?”

Me: “What??? My what?”

Waiter: “Your pedal power supply?”

I have a nice Les Paul, a pretty cool Fender amp, and some pedals that are not typical and ubiquitous, and this guy is asking me about my power supply?

Me: “Uh, I don’t know. It gives my pedals power, so I guess it works. What?”

Then he goes into this thing about how he’s a guitar player too, and he only uses batteries for his pedals. He says that other power sources degrade his tone, and was wondering if I ever have noticed the difference.

Trying hard not to roll my eyes, I said politely, “yes, I’ve heard some say that before that there’s a bit of a difference for some pedals, but for me, the convenience of a power supply far outweigh the nominal improvement in tone that some people seem to notice when using batteries”.

Now, I have heard people claim this before in forums and blogs. And it might be true. But, I bet if these self-proclaimed tone experts were put through a blind test, they couldn’t tell the difference between battery power and a good power supply. Isn’t power just power, assuming the power supply is of good quality and there’s no electrical interference?

So, I thought about this short conversation a bit after and wasn’t sure what to think of it. My guess is the guy was trying to sound smart, and maybe he is and could be a great player and a guitar tone expert. But, common sense told me he was full of shit and just trying to impress me with something he read somewhere. Well, I wasn’t impressed.

The ultimate tone is the elusive quest of most of us guitar players. But, in my opinion the majority of the tone comes from the player, a good guitar, a good amp, and maybe some good pedals. Secondary are the other parts of the puzzle: picks, cable quality, cable length, number of pedals, etc. Yes these secondary items can negatively affect tone, but assuming cables are ok, their lengths are not too crazy, and you’re not running 50 pedals through your chain, your tone should be ok.

I think if this guy looked into it a bit, he would see that most professional musicians, some considered purveyors of godly tone, aren’t that snobby. And, some of the best pedals seen on boards of the biggest concert stages and best studios don’t even have a battery option.



Art is encouraged until it is not

Many parents spend most of their free time driving kids around from piano lessons to dance classes, to sport practices and games and back again. They value a well-rounded experience and exploration of the arts, or sometimes feel like they need to compensate for the things that are not available in their schools. But, they don’t often think of what happens when that art becomes a passion and obsession for their kids.

I started playing guitar on my own motivation when I was 8 years old. My parents encouraged me, drove me to lessons, and checked on me from time to time to make sure I practiced. When I was in high school, I played in the jazz band, formed a couple of rock bands, and they encouraged it.

But, then, as I began my college years, they changed their tune. School and career plans were seen as the only priority. Playing music was ok as a hobby, but only after I’ve studied all I could study. The problem was, I couldn’t just turn it off like that. I was addicted to music and the guitar. Even if I tried to concentrate on other things, a melody or a riff would come to me, and I felt compelled to develop it. It became the most important thing at that moment. (more…)

Be good, but don’t be too good of a guitar player

In sports, the most successful athletes are those with the best abilities. The fastest runner, the strongest weightlifter, the main goal scorer, the best baseball hitter will be at the top, winning the most championships and earning the most money.

But in music, it is not so. The fastest guitar player is not the most successful. The best technical player does not earn more money than those less able to shred. Actually, sometimes the best and most technical players are unknown, local small town heroes at best, barely scraping by financially.

So, why is that? Why does a guitar virtuoso often earn less than a kid that can barely play 4 chords?  Should we hold back from becoming too good? (more…)

5 reasons why playing your electric guitar acoustically is good for you

MarshallStack Slayer

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plugging into a huge Marshall stack, pushing the volume up to 11, and hitting that first power chord is a life altering moment for us guitar players. If you have not done this yet, you must go now and do it.

But, as awesome as that is, I believe that we should often play and practice without being plugged into an amp. What? Yes, that means keeping that nice Marshall Stack off most of the times. Why?

  1. You will learn to be more accurate since you won’t have distortion and effects covering up your flaws.
  2. When you come up with licks and riffs that sound great acoustically, imagine how great they’ll be through that stack.
  3. You will be able to play more often without bothering anyone. No more excuses like it’s late, my kids are doing their homework, etc.
  4. You might explore some other genres which could add richness to your playing.
  5. You might be inspired to write more instead of spending endless hours of dive bombing and pinching harmonics.

Top Ten Things to know before you marry a Guitar Player

coupleMy wife is awesome! She gets my guitar obsession and quirks now, but it took her a while to get there.

She spent years scratching her head wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Is this madness ever going to end?

Guitar players are a unique breed.  At first, you might think it will be fun to date the guy from the band. You’ll tell yourself, wow, he has so much passion and emotion for music. He will bring all that passion to our relationship. He will always play for me and write songs about me, about our love, etc. And, oh, those fingers. They are so dexterous. (more…)

Practice everything before a gig – songs, technique, stage presence, gear, etc.

I had a gig last night and I was ready, so I thought.

I had my parts down, I knew the songs inside and out, had new strings on my guitar and had a copy of the set list printed out. But then I hit the stage and it all went to shit.

I couldn’t hear the bassist or my backing vocals, my solo boost pedal made my volume go up to 23 , my feet were frozen to the ground yet I knew I had to start moving around. My first solo came and I started shredding but noone was even paying attention. I started making weird faces and people looked frightened. And, that was just the first song. (more…)