Tone Rite: Results are in!

Cape Cod Acoustics - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:51
As promised, my totally unscientific report on the results of using the Tone Rite device. For those unfamiliar with this gadget, it is an electronic device about the size of a cigarette pack that is inserted between the strings close to the bridge of an acoustic guitar and when turned on it emits a humming vibration that is supposed to simulate the effect of playing the guitar for an extended period of time. That is, the vibrations are supposed to “open up” a guitar which may be brand new and expected to improve in things like resonance, sustain and clarity as time passes. It is not inexpensive. I paid the full retail price of $149 for mine and it was shipped promptly by the manufacturer. This is the “third generation” Tone Rite, which as far as I can tell means it has a variable dial to regulate how much it vibrates and also improved rubber “feet” to fit more securely than previous versions.
It comes packaged in a very slick box with instructions, and a welcome-to-the-Tone Rite Family bit of promo hoo-ha. One of the recommendations that I’d read about and makes perfect sense is to hang the guitar from a yoke-style guitar stand or even suspend it so the guitar can vibrate to the maximum, rather than leave it in a case which would absorb much of the vibrations (which it should!). I hung my brand-new Martin OM-28 from a high quality Hercules yoke stand and the guitar only touched the stand up at the head stock and at two points on the edge of the lower bout. Upon turning it on I could feel the vibrations throughout the instrument.
Then the question was – how high should I turn it up? According to the instructions, turning it up to max vibration will improve the bass end, sound-wise, while turning it to a medium setting will mostly affect the mids and treble. This was what I was looking for because as I wrote about in the previous post I felt my OM-28 was a bit tight sounding in those area; the bass end wasn’t quite what I want at this time but I’m confident that area will improve in a relatively short amount of time, based upon my experience with many new Martins.
Initially the hardest part was being patient! The manufacturer recommends at least 72 hours of constant use initially, with periodic re-use if the guitar starts to “tighten up” again. Well, staring at my beautiful guitar and not being able to play it for that amount of time was difficult, to say the least. Plus a small part of me was a bit worried that the thing might be vibrating too much (!) and perhaps I was doing nothing more than loosening up the interior braces, or worse. That fear proved to be unfounded, thank goodness. So I stuck it out.
Finally the day came to turn the thing off, tune up and hope for the best. I wish I could say the result was radical; it was not. But I do think there was a subtle improvement in the mid range and perhaps a bit less in the treble. The bass end remained the same, to my ears anyway.
Then it occurred to me – why not try it on a lesser guitar and see what happens? I have a nice 000-size Seagull that I bought a few months back with the idea it would be my “travel guitar.” It is a nice guitar for the money. Seagull has really upped their game in the last couple of years in terms of fit and finish and overall sound. Not long ago every one of these Canadian-made guitars sounded dull and lifeless. Mine sounds pretty darn good when strummed, probably thanks to the solid spruce top with scalloped braces. The back and sides are cherry (composite) and the neck is also cherry with both the fingerboard and bridge made of rosewood. The best part is the neck shape. Although a bit narrow (1 11/16”) it has a rolled edge when makes fretting barre chords and chords requiring the use of the thumb on the fretting hand very comfortable. So I hooked it up to the Tome Rite, but this time I let it hum away for a bit more that the suggested 72 hours.
The results? Interestingly, pretty much same as with my much more expensive Martin. No noticeable improvement in bass, but clearer mids and treble and it seems like the sustain has improved somewhat. It still has a very woody, somewhat stifled sound that works much better as a guitar to strum rather than finger-pick but I would call this part of the experiment a success, on a limited basis.
But here’s the problem with all this. Although I tried to keep the basics the same for both guitars (fresh strings, same use of suspended guitar stand) over that week+ of my experiment the weather and relative humidity in my area has changed quite a bit. The humidity gauge in my studio has varied from the low 30% range into the mid 40% territory. I cannot deny that when it’s breezy outside, which it has been for about a week, my house is a bit drafty. And I absolutely believe that changes like that in humidity make a HUGE difference in the sound of ALL guitars, regardless of how inexpensive or fancy they may be. So you see what I mean about this being a totally unscientific experiment? I would need a totally sealed room with absolute control of temperature and humidity to come close to definitive results, I think. Which I do not have.
There are plenty of guitarists who swear by the Tone Rite and claim borderline miraculous results. Others hear very little change. Still others are outright disdainful of the thing and claim it is a total scam, not unlike the urban legend of one of the Japanese manufacturers putting new guitars in a big room with huge speakers blasting at them to “open” them up.
I wish I could recommend the Tone Rite without hesitation but I just can’t. I did hear some positive results, but would I have anyway in a relatively short amount of time without the thing? No way to tell. Further complicating this is the fact that in a few short months when our weather here on Olde Cape Cod gets hot and muggy, just about all acoustic guitars sound pretty dull and lifeless.
Maybe my next guitar should be one of the modern carbon fiber models that players and manufacturers claim are impervious to the weather. Nah. I’m too much of a traditionalist for that. Nah.
OK… well maybe…
Peace & good music,
Categories: Acoustics

Open up....your mind?

Cape Cod Acoustics - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 15:29
Much has been written on the process of an acoustic guitar “opening up.” This is the improvement of sound that comes as a new instrument is played over some period of time. What is it, really? Why doesn’t a new guitar sound as good as it can, right from the get-go? More importantly, how can someone judge what the potential of a guitar is, or will be?
I’m in the middle of that quandary right now, something I’ve experienced many times but that doesn’t mean I understand it and the relative certainty that a fine guitar will improve with age and playing time doesn’t make my impatience any less. At least experience has finally begun to override my gut reaction with a new guitar. The impatient little man on my shoulder whispers in my ear: Yeah, it sounds good now but not as good as you’d hoped, so maybe you should send it back and try a different one?
I don’t listen to the little man nearly as much as I used to, which is the right course I think. What I try to do is address those two key questions – is this new guitar at its full potential, and if not, what will that potential be?
Let’s suppose I answer yes to the first question. This may be just fine. I recall a Martin HD-35 that I bought some years ago and it sounded fantastic from the very first strum. And more telling, it still sounded that way the next day, and the day after that. I knew it was a winner. That one ended up being traded for a smaller bodied Martin, which suited my playing style at the time a bit better but in spite of the fact that I find dreadnoughts just too big and unwieldy to play these days I’d love to be able to afford to have that one back. On the other hand, I spent $3k on a “revoiced” Taylor a few years ago and I only needed to play it for a half-hour or so to know it was dull and lifeless and it was not going to improve. Taylor just introduced yet another generation of “revoiced” guitars so my guess is that I wasn’t the only one to have that reaction. That Taylor, although gorgeous in every way except sound went back and I had no regrets (and perhaps a bit of relief!).
Then there is the second question: potential. This is where my experience with hundreds of guitars comes into play. And make no mistake, it truly has taken that many (both owned and played at guitar shops, and listened to student’s guitars over an extended period of time) to learn how to make a reasonably informed guess. I have to start by putting aside as much as possible the issue of aesthetics. I’ve made some mistakes in that regard. Some years ago I bought a very limited-edition Martin 000-40 Graham Nash model that was just about irresistible in looks with quilted mahogany top, back and sides that almost glowed and cool inlay. It sounded…plain. It took some swallowing of my guitar pride to realize the mistake I’d made and that one only stayed around for a couple months.
You would think that would have taught me a lesson, but no. A year or so later I bought a limited-edition Martin dreadnought that featured a curved three-piece back and koa binding. It was a joy to behold and sounded pretty good, but not good enough to justify the expense of the aesthetics. And there were other cases of falling for a pretty face, like the first-generation Martin GPC-1 that I realized too late was not much more than Martin’s attempt to imitate a fancy Taylor! It sounded unremarkable and the sharp edge of the new design, thin neck was downright painful to play.
Here’s where I’m going with all this. I just received my latest Martin, a brand new OM-28. Martin has made lots of noise in the last year or so about the improvements they’ve made in some of their standard series guitars. I’ve played the new 00-18, 000-18 and D-18 that have the new scalloped bracing and more modern neck designs and without exception they were all very fine guitars indeed, and definitely a step up from their already fine original versions. Until recently the OM-28, thought by many to be the perfect size Martin for both finger-style and strumming was a special order only model but it now is in their regular catalog. The only change they made with the new version of the OM-28 is to use the Performing Artist profile neck, which makes playing higher up the neck more comfortable. If mine is typical, they also are very slightly “rolling” the fretboard edge so that razor sharp neck edge may be a thing of the past, thank goodness. Can’t neglect the aesthetic entirely though, but hopefully my taste has matured in this regard. My OM-28 has the understated and elegant look of a vintage Martin, with small diamond inlays and old-style curved fine-line logo on the head stock rather than the raised gold foil logo that I never liked that much. They have also toned down the almost orange color “vintage toner” to something more subtle, which was long overdue.
So, how does it sound? To be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed when I tuned it up and began finger picking some blues tunes. Must be those coated strings they use on new guitars, I thought, so I immediately changed to my favorite Martin Clapton’s Choice light gauge phosphor bronze. This improved the tone a bit so my slight disappointment turned to reserved optimism. I played some more, finger picking and then strumming with my thumb. Better, better…..
But then I picked up a flat pick, fingered a 1st position E Major chord and gave it a solid strum. Oh my. There it was. Volume, clarity, excellent note separation, even response from low to high E strings, and resonance. Beautiful resonance. Yes, it faded away a bit faster than I would have liked, but that classic Martin sound was there, trying to come out like a bird emerging from its shell. I strummed it again. And again. And again, harder, trying to make the sound “break up.” And it didn’t. There was a wide grin on my face about time.
My conclusion: this is one fine Martin OM-28 that will surely “open up.” And with a bit of extra effort it sounds superb right now. This one ain’t goin’ nowhere!
But having said that, I have a confession to make. That impatient aspect of my guitar personality cannot be denied. I have no idea when the opening up process will really make this guitar bloom but I’m going to try to speed up the process. Next week a device called a Tone Rite will arrive in my mailbox. It is an electrical device that is temporarily attached beneath the strings near the bridge and when turned on it emits a low, steady hum and soft vibration that is supposed to at least somewhat emulate what playing the guitar does over an extended period of time. If used according to directions and employed for about 72 hours, many reports from other guitarists indicate a marked improvement in sound, especially in resonance and sustain. There are others who feel it is electronic snake oil. I will report back!!!
Peace & good music,
Categories: Acoustics

Back in the saddle again

Cape Cod Acoustics - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:23
A bit of this and that today, or in the words of the immortal Dude, a lotta in’s, a lotta out’s, a lotta what-have-you’s.
I’ve been bad about staying in touch via this space so here goes!
I fully intended to attend the recent NAMM show in Los Angeles last month but opted for a quick getaway to Key West instead. I’m hoping to attend the show this summer in Nashville, a place I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never visited. Could be a very expensive trip considering the number of amazing guitar shops in that town. We’ll see….
But the trip to the Keys was great as always. The musical highlight was again hearing the truly amazing Ericson Holt at Two Friends bar. He had just returned from Memphis where he made the final 16 of over 800 musicians entered in the yearly International Blues Foundation Challenge. I’m pretty sure Ericson was the only blues pianist/singer to make it that far in the competition. He is certainly worthy. His warm and raw vocals combined with New Orleans/blues piano playing is a joy. He also has a quiet and funny personality and is well loved in Key West. Check him out online or better yet, catch him live if you can. He is truly the real deal.
Unfortunately, my favorite band The Doerfels (now calling themselves Fuel On Fire) have pretty much relocated to Nashville even though their home is still Big Pine Key. They were missed for sure, but they are young and hungry and talented enough to go as far as good fortune will allow. You can’t help but hope for the best for this ultra talented band of five brothers (really!).
The rest of the live music I heard was pretty average, sometimes bordering on mediocre. I have to wonder if they all share some secret set list because they all seem to play the same two dozen or so songs. This is OK I guess, but in my last couple of trips down to Key West I’ve noticed more than a little complacency in the typical one-guy-with-a-guitar acts. Not just singles either. I had dinner at one of my favorite places (Blue Heaven) and there was a duo playing and the first three songs they played were slow tempo, minor key things. Granted, this is a restaurant with an outdoor stage but geez guys, a little energy tells the audience that you like what you’re doing and appreciate that someone is listening. I have a real issue with this: ALWAYS start your set with something that shows some spirit. Doesn’t have to be loud, just energetic. I get the whole laid-back Keys thing but my guess is that someone who plays with enthusiasm and smiles once in a while and even – gasp – talks to the audience would get plenty of work in that town where live music rules.
For my part, I knew I was only going to be there for a week and also knew that there is a nice little guitar shop in town, Grateful Guitars, who happen to be an Eastman dealer and I fully intended to buy an OM size, mahogany body model as that is a gap in my collection right now. And I love Eastmans. But alas, the only one they had did not “speak” to me, plus it had dead strings and was more than a little over-priced, so I passed. Really wish I’d had a guitar that week though to play while sitting on the deck of the houseboat I rented at a small marina. When I return in April I will most definitely have a guitar with me!
As regular readers of this blog know, I am a Martin guy through and through. Strange to say, I am Martin-less right now having sold a D-35 recently. I’ve got a strong urge to take that money plus a bit more and spring for one of the new “re-imagined” OM-28s that Martin has debuted for 2018. This is yet another in the revamped line up of standard Martins and judging by the recent 000-18, 00-18 and D-18 I’ve owned since they started this re-vamp a few years ago the new OM-28 should be great. It keeps the classic herringbone binding, ebony bridge and fretboard, diamond inlays and scalloped bracing but has the new thinner low-profile neck with Performing Artist Profile, all of which are very appealing to me. They also have a revamped 00-28 but my guess is that one will be too close sound-wise to my Eastman AC-422ce, although an entirely different body shape and size. That 00-28 sure is a pretty little thing though! I’m waiting for a call from my favorite Martin dealer about that OM. I will report back when I’ve had some time with it.
A few songs I’ve been teaching students lately:
“Sparkle and Shine”, “Tennessee Blues”, “Days Aren’t Long Enough” by Steve Earle
“Someday” by Passenger
“River Song” by Tom Rush (a great oldie that I recently rediscovered)
“Any Old Time” by Sara Watkins (a real oldie, Jimmie Rodgers, done in a cool Texas swing style by Sara)
“Naked As We Came” by Iron and Wine
“Cavalry”, “House of Stone”, “Daylight” by Mandolin Orange (what a great duo!)
“New Coat of Paint” by Tom Waits (without being asked, Ericson Holt opened with this one when I heard him!!!! GREAT song!!!)
“August” by Mark Erelli
“Life is Beautiful” by Keb’ Mo
“When God Dips His Pen” by Alison Krauss & Union Station (a great old gospel tune that is tons of fun played in a ragtime blues finger-picked style).
These are all great tunes and of varying degrees of difficulty but none are too over the top, playing-wise. Just a reflection of my taste I guess and my students seem to like them. Check a few out but remember it’s just Gene’s way of doing things. Or to again quote The Dude:
Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man!
Peace & good music,
Categories: Acoustics

Muriel Anderson at TG Central with Neil Hogan 2018 – Part 3

Acoustic Snapshots - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 10:51 My January 2018 visit with Muriel Anderson ended with Part 3. Part 2 ended with a brief run through of Pat Metheny’s Last Train home, which inspired Muriel to bring up her piece Train To Arnhem. She patiently explained the constantly changing time signatures and confidently expected me to join in. We then went […]
Categories: Acoustics

Muriel Anderson at TG Central with Neil Hogan 2018 – Part 2

Acoustic Snapshots - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 16:18 Part 2 of Muriel’s visit to TG Central started off with another improv from her Eclipse CD, Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. Then we spent some time talking about her musical history, her love of Bluegrass, and her not catching much popular culture growing up (with an innocent slam on a band still going strong […]
Categories: Acoustics

Muriel Anderson at TG Central with Neil Hogan 2018 – Part 1

Acoustic Snapshots - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 09:30 Acoustic Snapshot – Muriel Anderson at TG Central (in 3 Parts): At the start of 2018 Muriel Anderson was on her annual California and West Coast tour and spent a couple days with us in Los Gatos. Before she left on Saturday the 13th, we sat down in the studio to chat and jam […]
Categories: Acoustics

Looking forward

Cape Cod Acoustics - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 10:19
Looking forward to the New Year is always exciting but also a bit scary, especially now in these increasingly uncertain times. The best way I know to keep things is perspective is to make music. It calms the soul and reminds us of the “better angels of our nature.” For me it is often a kind of meditation and a reflection of how I’m feeling at that moment in time. It’s the best way I know to find and achieve focus.
Rather than look back at the year gone by, today I’m going to relate some of my hopes and goals related to making and teaching music. The trick is to take a step back and look at the big picture, what I’d like to achieve with and for my students and in my own playing. I think that for most of us, looking at any macro aspects of our lives can be daunting and I’m no different. The first thing is to be relatively sure you’re at least walking down the right path.
Based on the feedback I get from students and musician friends I know I am. Compared to a decade or so ago, I’m much more confident that I understand the needs, hopes and goals of my students. It’s more apparent than ever that my techniques of totally personalized instruction based on plenty of lesson planning is the way to go rather than relying on standardized by-the-book methods. I can’t deny that this is a big, time-consuming challenge pretty much every week. Almost all my students are adults and while a routinized guitar method might work with kids, who need well defined structure and goals, adults who are recreational players and doing it for their own enjoyment above all else need to be handled differently.
One of my goals this coming year is to concentrate a bit more on theory and ear-training with my experienced adult students. I’ve always done this to a certain extent but with an unlimited amount of information about songs and the styles of particular musicians available on-line this needs to be higher on my priority list. Why? Because lots of the information out there is either incomplete or outright wrong. I plan to push those more experienced students a bit harder to do more exploring on-line of their favorite players and style of music. My job will be to help them weed through what they find (songs, chord sequences, rhythms, etc.) and teach them to compare what they hear to what is on their computer screen. That’s what I do in some cases. Usually I can figure out songs by ear and boil them down to a guitar part that is as accurate as possible and close to the original recording. Much of this comes from many decades of experience of course but my plan is to spend more time helping them recognize the subtleties of a song and how to incorporate those things in their playing.
There’s a bit of irony here. If I do my job well, they should need me less and less. But that’s OK. I’ve always felt that I’m something like the captain of a ship and when that ship reaches its destination the captain shouldn’t be needed anymore. Not a good plan from a business perspective but a good captain feels satisfaction when the ship is safely moored and that’s good enough for me.
Another goal is to work a bit harder on stretching the minds of certain students in terms of the music they like. This is harder than it might sound and is especially true of much older and young students who often have pretty entrenched ideas about what constitutes “good” music. I get great joy from turning someone on to an artist or even a style of music that held no appeal to them previously. One of the things I’ve always told students at their very first lesson is that I will do my best to teach them the type of music they enjoy – but they must also keep an open mind. Depending upon the personality of a student this may be a challenge. On rare occasions, it even comes to the point that someone is so entrenched in their musical tastes that a wall is finally reached. I have one or two students right now who are just about at that point and part of this particular goal I have on my mind is to be less sensitive to what they may think of me both professionally and personally if I have to let them go. This is one of those “macro” things I mentioned in the beginning. Sometimes it’s best to stifle one’s ego and just do the right thing. But again, from a purely business perspective, this is not very smart! Whenever I’ve had to do this in the past however I never just put them out to sea, using another ship captain analogy. I always suggest they do their own research about the style they are most interested in, or take a workshop or guitar class in their particular style that are sometimes offered at places like the Music Emporium in Lexington, MA (a great store, by the way), or even….gulp….seek out another teacher.
The bottom line in that is I know that I’m doing the right thing and hopefully, sooner or later, the student will too.
Something that I definitely need to improve upon this year is developing and/or adapting techniques for left-handed students. I don’t see a lot of them but right now I have two lefties and spend more time than usual on weekly lesson plans for them. I know of a couple guitar teachers here on the Cape who will not even accept left-handed students because of the lack of texts for them. I wouldn’t do that but there’s no question I need to work on my teaching techniques in this regard. The worst thing is to force a lefty to learn right-handed technique. I have a student who has been with me for quite a few years who never told me she was left-handed until about a year into lessons. Huge mistake. She struggles mightily with finger-picking because of this and it was really too late to start all over again. Lesson learned. By me.
Finally, for my own improvement I intend to force myself into a more consistent practice regimen. Between my weekly gig at the Daily Brew, which I have been doing for seven years now, lesson planning (4 – 6 hours every weekend) and teaching about 5 hours a day, four days a week, it’s just really tough to get motivated to push all those things out of my mind and just PLAY. I have a somewhat depressing mental list of major weaknesses in my playing that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. I’m not getting any younger and the first hints of arthritis have begun to appear, something which is a curse of my Bourque genetic makeup. But so far, it hasn’t affected me all that much and I know I’m playing better right now than I have for my entire life. Just do it, Gene.
I hope you have a joyful and satisfying 2018. Treasure your time with family and friends, and see as much as you can of our world. Then pick up your guitar and let the things you learned and felt at those times come out.
Peace & good music,
Categories: Acoustics

Weekly Workout: Using Horizontal Harmonies to Express Chord Changes

Acoustic Guitar - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:28
 Using Horizontal Harmonies to Express Chord Changes
From the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM LEVY Guitarists tend to think of harmony and melody as two distinctly different musical elements. For most players, harmony consists of the standard chord grips. Melodies are played one note at a time and are usually related to familiar scale patterns. While those conceptions aren’t incorrect, there are ways of […]

Lesson: Expanding Your Harmonic Palette

Acoustic Guitar - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 16:11
 Expanding Your Harmonic Palette
From the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY JIM JOSSELYN THE PROBLEM You know the basic open chords but want to expand your harmonic vocabulary using the entire fretboard. THE SOLUTION Learn a system for turning shapes you already know into a new way of seeing and hearing what you can play on the guitar. GET EXPERIMENTAL Begin by conducting […]

Alberto Lombardi Embarks on a Fingerstyle Journey with ‘Birds’

Acoustic Guitar - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 14:43
Alberto Lombardi Embarks on a Fingerstyle Journey with ‘Birds’
From the January 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY MARK ARI Alberto Lombardi is in love. After 25 years as a producer, arranger, and electric session player, the Italian guitarist has given his heart to acoustic guitar. He credits Tommy Emmanuel for his conversion, and Emmanuel’s stylistic influence can be heard on Lombardi’s first acoustic album, Birds (Fingerpicking). The 2016 […]

Throwback Thursday: Jerry Garcia & David Grisman Play ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’

Acoustic Guitar - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 09:35
 Jerry Garcia & David Grisman Play ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’
Having trouble getting into the holiday spirit? We’re here to help! Here’s a cool performance of Jerry Garcia and mandolin titan David Grisman performing a jammy, jazzy instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on December 7, 1991. Helping out on the song are two members of […]

Summer Guitar and Music Camps, Workshops, and Clinics

Acoustic Guitar - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 16:09
Summer Guitar and Music Camps, Workshops, and Clinics
We asked Acoustic Guitar readers and audience members where they’ve been to camp recently. Here’s the list: EVENT NAME STATE/PROVINCE COUNTRY Acoustic Alaska AK US Alabama Folk School  AL US Folk Music Festival at Sharlot Hall Museum AZ US Alex de Grassi’s Mendocino Summer Guitar Workshop CA US California Bluegrass Association Father’s Day Festival CBA Youth […]

Lesson: How to Play the Blues Like Charley Patton

Acoustic Guitar - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 13:56
 How to Play the Blues Like Charley Patton
From the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PETE MADSEN Not enough can be said about the influence of Charley Patton, a musician who is widely considered the father of the Delta blues. He informally mentored none other than Robert Johnson, and Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and John Lee Hooker are just a few of […]

Jazz Chord Improvisation Lesson with Martin Taylor

Acoustic Guitar - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 10:35
Jazz Chord Improvisation Lesson with Martin Taylor
Sponsored by Artistworks Martin Taylor has been teaching fingerstyle guitar online at ArtistWorks since 2010. Check out this free lesson where Martin breaks down how to improvise over jazz chords. For beginners, this exercise is a great way to try out improvisation and practice playing a clean solo without too many notes to complicate it. […]

How to Shop for a Used Guitar, Part 2

Acoustic Guitar - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:37
How to Shop for a Used Guitar, Part 2
From the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY MAMIE MINCH The first part of this series appeared in the January 2018 issue and is also available at So you’ve been shopping for your new favorite old guitar, and you’ve done everything right: You’ve got an idea in mind of what kind of guitar you’re looking for, you did […]

Lesson: Up-The-Neck Octave Exercises for Acoustic Guitar Players

Acoustic Guitar - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 04:14
Lesson Up-The-Neck Octave Exercises for Acoustic Guitar Players
  Posted by Scott Nygaard Excerpted from Weekly Workout: Move It On Up This workout starts with octaves on the E and D strings and continues with octaves on the B and A and then G and E strings. You’ll notice that some of the octaves on the G and E strings (measure 3) require […]

Throwback Thursday: Jackson Browne Sings ‘For Everyman’

Acoustic Guitar - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 21:04
 Jackson Browne Sings ‘For Everyman’
No hype needed here… Just a deep and powerful performance by one of our greatest singer-songwriters of one his all-time best songs, “For Everyman,” the title track of landmark second album, released in 1973. As relevant today as it was back then.  —Blair Jackson 

The perception of "good" tone

Cape Cod Acoustics - Sun, 11/12/2017 - 12:31
One of the most subjective topics related to acoustic guitars is “tone.” What do we mean by that, or getting right down to it, what constitutes “good tone?”
So many variables here. What type of music do you play and how do you play it, with a pick, your bare thumb or with nails, flat pick, finger and thumb picks? Do you play unamplified, in front of a mic, or via onboard electronics – or some combination of those things?
Then there are physical aspects related to judging tone. How good is your hearing? How’s your finger strength and are you able to vary how you attack the strings?
I don’t have the answers for those questions because we’re all different. I can only relate my own experiences in trying to attain what I consider the best possible tone. And the thing is, my standards have changed and evolved many times over the many years I’ve played the guitar. So here goes.
It’s important to state right off the bat that I don’t play big venues anymore; mostly I play coffee shops, galleries, private functions, wedding ceremonies and the like. When I’m home I play in my studio most of the time and it has quite good acoustic qualities in spite of having a vaulted ceiling and lots of junk (my wife’s term!) hanging on the walls. Sometimes I enjoy playing outside if the weather is right. If I was still playing large venues and festivals like back in the days when I toured with fiddler Marie Rhines, things would be different. Banging away on my Martin D-28 of the time produced the tone that I needed; loud and percussive, the rest was up to the sound man. But now I totally control my sound wherever I play.
I’m not going to get into the intricacies of electronics as they relate to tone. That is a huge and separate subject. No, I’m talking about the player’s perception of sound from an acoustic guitar as he or she plays. I will relate one bit about the use of electronics though. One of the things that I’ve found quite astounding in the last few years at my weekly gig at the Daily Brew Café is that my sound seems to get more muffled or “mushy” the more I play. It took a while but I finally figured out that this is because I play with the pads of my fingers (not nails) and as the playing progresses I think those finger tips soften up. I fix this by boosting the treble control on my RedEye pre-amp (a wonderful little device by the way, highly recommended) that gives my guitar that is equipped with a K&K pick-up a bit more bite in the high strings.
This same obvious change in my fingers takes place while I’m teaching too, when I hardly ever play amplified. My guitars sound quite different the first couple lessons of the day compared to later. I thought this was just my perception but I’ve been able to confirm it via the CD recordings that I do during each lesson. The same song, played the same way, sounds much muddier later in the day. Seeking that crisp sound again, I sometimes run the side of my thumb across the string instead of the tip and the difference in sound is remarkable. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to actually PLAY that way but you get my drift. I’ve begun pointing this out to students who complain about not getting clear tone and are working hard on finger picking. Not much you can do about it I guess, but at least understanding why that guitar sounds better when one begins practicing than later on – even if the mechanics of playing have improved over the course of the practice session – seems to help a bit with their frustration.
Ah, the mechanics of playing. That’s what we think about all the time when we practice, and rightly so. Buzzes, muffled notes, scratchy sounds…. many of those things can and should be corrected with good technique. Let’s assume you’re OK in that department or at least you know what’s causing those annoyances.
Another thing to consider in searching for good tone should be quite obvious but is almost always overlooked by players: you’re sitting BEHIND the guitar when you play! Acoustic guitars are designed to project their sound AWAY from you! So it can be very difficult to truly judge whether or not your overall tonality is good from that perspective. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tuned up a student’s guitar at the beginning of a lesson and played it a bit, to hear them say: wow, I wish my guitar sounded that good when I play it! Sometimes this comes down to my playing experience versus theirs but in some cases, they sound just as good as I do. This is especially true with students who own very nice guitars. I have a few students right now who own very expensive Martin, Taylor and Gibson guitars and when they play and I listen the glorious sound of those guitars comes through just fine. But they have trouble hearing it. This assumes those nice guitars don’t have dead strings of course. Buy new strings for those nice guitars!!!
To counteract this I sometimes urge them to play a few feet directly in front of a wall in their house. The reflected sound can be much more gratifying and pleasing compared to playing in a wide-open space. I discovered this a few years ago in my studio when I was figuring out songs I had on my computer, which is on a desk against a wall. Suddenly a guitar that didn’t sound all that good took on a whole new personality. Try it!
So what do I consider “good tone”? I seek a combination of clarity, resonance, a kind of melding of the sound of the strings with no one register overpowering another. With a well-made guitar a player should be able to accentuate any of those attributes as needed. Unfortunately the guitar that gives me all those things perfectly hasn’t crossed my path just yet.
Maybe it never will. Because our perception of sound is just too changeable. That’s my conclusion anyway! And one final note. Never discount the emotional aspect of the perception of sound from a guitar. Here’s a prime example. A few weeks ago I put down my Eastman AC422CE, which I’ve been using at playing engagements for about two years because I thought the tone was not satisfying anymore, or at least not as much as it used to be. I’d been feeling that way for a couple months and I have to admit it affected how well I was playing. I began using my Martin D-35 at gigs. It sounded great, my playing was better, and I felt better about my playing. But dreadnoughts are big and to me at least, much more unwieldy than they were in my younger days. So today I brought my Eastman to my regular Daily Brew gig and you know what? It sounded GREAT, played like butter (which it always has) and the result was I played better than I have in while, and damn, that felt good! I think the Eastman is back in the rotation. For now, at least.
Peace & good music,
Categories: Acoustics

Blues Land by Jerry Reed – Solo Guitar by Neil Hogan

Acoustic Snapshots - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 13:14 I have been messing with Jerry Reed’s Blues Land for quite a while now and it is finally starting to take shape. One of the obstacles was that the original was done with a back up band, and maybe even multiple guitars so I had to come up with some ideas as far a […]
Categories: Acoustics
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