Strings can be one of the most overlooked pieces of gear by many guitarists. In essence, strings are the input source of the energy that goes into your instrument. Many players will choose a string type based on the recommendation of a friend, teacher, or guitar shop salesman. As you develop your ear and become a more fluent player, you will begin to learn the subtle nuances that the strings alone bring to your particular style of play. Once that occurs, one will find that there are an infinite number of choices out there in the marketplace and one type does not fit all instruments and playing styles. This can be confusing so it is best to ask yourself some questions to help narrow down the choices. I outlined two specific questions you should ask yourself to get started.
What gauge strings should I put on my guitar? This question can be answered though an evaluation of the style of music you play, how much physical strength you have in your hands, and the type of instrument you play. The string gauge will impact the stiffness of the string. I typically recommend that beginner guitar players start with an extra light or custom light set because the strings are not as stiff and easier to press down to get a note. Once a player gets more experience and the strength increases in their hands, it is good to move up in gauge to produce a louder, fuller tone. However, you may find that a lighter gauge string works better for your style of playing. If you tend to bend notes often, you may find that a medium gauge strings does not work as well as a light or custom light gauge.
The gauge of the strings has a direct impact on the amount of tension that is exerted on the top and neck of the guitar. All modern Martin guitars can handle up to a medium gauge set of strings. However, some instruments may be a little more fragile due to the construction. Some may require a lighter gauge to reduce neck bow and keep the top from lifting. Both of which will have a negative impact on the action and playability. Also, some instruments just seem to respond better acoustically to certain string tensions than others. This requires a little experimenting to find the right fit for your particular instrument. You may find yourself using different gauge strings on different guitars if you own several.
Do I like a bright or mellow attack? String attack can be defined as the actual sound of the string at the time your pick of fingertips strike the string. This characteristic is often overlooked but it is what makes a plucked instrument such as a guitar sound plucked as opposed to bowed. Lead players will often prefer a harder or brighter attack so they can cut through a mix of several instruments. Solo players may prefer a slightly rolled off or mellow attack as it may better suite the style of music they play. Plus, they are not competing with other instruments for volume.
String materials can influence attack. Probably the best place to start is to compare phosphor bronze wrapped strings to 80/20 wrapped strings. 80/20 is often preferred by bluegrass pickers due to its bright attack. Phosphor Bronze sounds bright out of the box but mellows a little quicker than 80/20. This characteristic tends to be a plus when recording since you get a little less sizzle on the high end and can sound a little more pleasing.
The string construction can also influence the attack of the string. For instance, our “SP Flexible Core” line of strings has a thinner core than the SP and traditional counterparts. The difference in the density of the materials and mass distribution will have an effect on the initial pluck of the string. We also have silk and steel strings that utilize a silver-plated copper wrap wire on a round core wire with nylon strands sandwiched in between which make of a very soft attack favored by finger style and folk players.
What you will find in the long run is that your choice of strings is a product of your specific taste. Over time, you may find that your taste in sound or physical requirements may change or perhaps you may need a new sound to inspire you. Strings are a great place to start because they are relatively inexpensive and a temporary piece of gear that will not last as long as your favorite axe.
-Bert Germick, R&D Technican
“The crazy German is back,” said famed film composer Hans Zimmer as he again took the outdoor stage Sunday night at Coachella. “Tonight is all about the these people behind me and you. These are amazing musicians.”
A 40-piece orchestra and choir playing and singing some of the most famous movie scores of all-time on the last night of the 3-day festival?
Sounds a bit left of center even for Coachella, and maybe too dizzying of a contrast from other acts on the bill. But, not so. Well done to festival promoter Golden Voice. Well done. It was an inventive choice, and one that offered a truly stunning and mesmerizing moment for the masses.
As cast member and guitarist Guthrie Govan told us before the set, “I like the subversive aspect of it. As Hans himself put it at the last show we did a week ago, it takes a special kind of crazy person to bring an orchestra out into the desert but someone had to do it. The crowd reaction was amazing. I think no one knew what quite to expect. Maybe they gathered out of respect, maybe out of sheer curiosity, but no one knew the type of show they were about to experience and you could feel the enthusiasm in the crowd growing so I think it was a successful experiment.”
The cinematic trip included scores from Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean, Interstellar, Gladiator, The Dark Knight trilogy and crowd-favorite, The Lion King.
A roar to rival that of Mufasa’s went up among the audience when South African composer Lebo M. returned to the Coachella stage to sing his parts from the Academy-award winning animated film.
Govan also enjoyed the spotlight during several songs, including a demonstration of his masterful and face-melting playing on his signature Charvel model during “One Day” from Pirates.
The addition of electric guitar and bass took many of the orchestral arrangements to a new, and if possible, even more grandiose level. Johnny Marr’s son Nile, who Govan said “uncannily has the exact same timing as his father,” traded riffs with Zimmer during the Inception opus, which also included a lengthy drum breakdown.
“It’s going to get considerably darker,” Zimmer warned the audience in an ominous and deep voice before what sounded like an air raid horn and a hair-raising pounding bass line kicked in for the Dark Knight trilogy.
And while, yes, it did get darker, Zimmer’s masterpieces also fed a sea of festival souls with inspiration and a true sense of magic.
Experience some of the thrilling set with a few choice video clips courtesy of Coachella, and click here to get Hans Zimmer Live tour dates!
I own a bunch of Martins (000-15M, 000-28 Eric Clapton, LX1) and I love them all for different reasons. For years I’ve been toying with the idea of my perfect Custom Martin. This is going to be it for me… the last guitar I buy for a while so I really want to go for the gold and make it the ultimate guitar.
I’ve decided on an OM-Honduran Rosewood. I’m going for tone over glitz so I’m putting my money into hide glue and Golden Era bracing rather than pearl inlay. This will be a no-frills, killer sounding guitar! I’m stuck on the top though. I love the sound of Adirondack but it usually has wider top grain. I’ve always read that you want super tight grain on the top. Should I go with Sitka because the grain is tighter?
This question is asked more than you’d think! In short, it’s all about the stiffness baby! The sound quality you like so much about Adi (Adirondack) is probably the stiffness of the wood more than anything. And stiffness has a lot more to do with the internal structure of the wood than the actual width of the grain lines. People like to dissect it and try to find a formula for the perfect top. I’m not a botanist so all I can tell you is this…. Are tight grain Adi tops often stiff? Yes. Are wider grain Adi tops often stiff? Yes. Adi is one of the stiffest spruces out there. I’ve flexed some wide grain Adi tops that really surprised me with how stiff they were.
With that said, a player who really likes to dig in and bang on the guitar might like a stiffer top because he/she can drive it without things getting muddy. Less stiff tops like an Engelmann can really lend themselves to a softer player, finger picker, maybe a classical player. With that said, a stiffer top could be just fine for that same player. It depends on what your ear likes. I have yet to say, “wow, that’s a stinker” about a particular species of spruce. They’re all pretty great in their own way.
Anyway, let’s get back to Adi. My advice to you on your custom build is get the Adi! Dive in the deep end, my friend! It will work so well with the Honduran. I would go with ¼” Golden Era bracing. And YES on the hide glue… but that’s a whole other blog. Contact your local Martin dealer to get this thing started!
Emily has worked at Martin Guitar for 10 years. She has been cross-trained in every aspect of guitar building and currently serves as the Martin Guitar Custom Shop Administrator. Dear Emily is an advice column that will appear bi-monthly on the Martin Guitar Blog.
J. Gelis was the leader of what was perhaps the preeminent band to come out of the Boston rock scene in the 1970’s.
|The J. Geils Band|
His group started up In Worcester, Massachusetts in 1967 and by 1970 the band had released their first album. By the 1980’s The J. Geils Band had a string of chart topping hits, including Centerfold, Love Stinks, Come Back, and Freeze-Frame.
While Peter Wolf stood out as the lead singer and front man, J.Geils was the guitarist and the name behind the band. .
|You're Gettin' Even, |
While I'm Gettin' Odd
The bands final album, Your Gettin’ Even, While I’m Gettin’ Odd, was released in 1984. The following year the band officially split.
|1999 Reunion Concert|
The group reunited for a reunion show in 1999. However in 2012 Geils filed a lawsuit against the band for conspiring to go on tour without him and unlawfully using the band’s trademarked name.
|Bluestime - J. Geils and Magic Dick|
After leaving the band Jay Geils remained a busy musician in the Boston area. In the mid 1990’s he put together a band called Bluestime along with The J. Geils Band harmonica player, “Magic” Dick Salwitz.
|New Guitar Summit - |
Geils,Beaudoin, and Robilard
By the next decade he remained active as a Jazz guitarist and recorded three solo albums. J. Geils was part of the New Guitar Summit along with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin.
|Geils - KTR Motorsport Shop|
Geils even started the KTR European Motorports Shop in a garage in Carlisle, Massachusetts which serviced vintage Italian sports cars; especially Ferraris and Maseratis . He eventually sold the business in 1996. But he remained active in the vintage car community, attending shows and displaying some of his personal automobiles.
John Warren Geils was born February 20th, 1946.
|J. Geils 1946 - 2017|
He was found dead in his home on April 11th of this year when police responded to a well-being call. He died of natural causes at the age of 71.
Aside from collecting automobiles, Jay had a wonderful collection of vintage guitars and amplifiers.
|Modified '58 Flying V|
During the years with The J. Geils Band he could be seen playing a Les Paul, a Fender Stratocater, or even a Gibson Flying Vee.
|J. Geils with Gibson ES-335|
His taste in archtop guitars was influenced by his love and admiration for the guitarists that he believed changed the way we played guitar; Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, and B.B. King.
He sought out the instruments similar to the ones that they played.
|1936 Gibson ES-150|
He owned this guitar as well as a Gibson ES-250 with a Charlie Christian pickup, just like the guitar Christian used later in his career. In the picture you can also see an ES-150 tenor guitar. These are paired with Gibson EH-150 and EH-185 amplifiers. He parted with the Gibson ES-250.
|1939 Gibson L-5|
|Geils Archtop Collection|
In fact Geil's collection of archtop guitars represented each of the major builders of archtop guitars.
|Geils Archtop Collection|
These included a Gretsch Synchromatic, an Epiphone Emperor, a D'Angelico New Yorker, a Gibson Super 400, and the Stromberg archtops.
|1950's Fender Deluxe Amplifier|
Geils also collected amplifiers. He states that he wanted to get the sound similar to what his guitar triumvirate of Christian, Walker, and King used to get "their sound".
Jay even owned an early 1950's Fender TV panel Deluxe amp that was decorated with the same wording as the one that B. B. King had used as a young man.
Jay got his love of Jazz music from his father, who encouraged him and exposed him to well known Jazz acts by taking him concerts when Jay was a child. As a boy Geils played trumpet up until he was almost out of high school. At this point he took up the guitar.
|Geils' '60's ES-345|
In 1967 Geils had purchased a 1960’s Gibson ES-345 after seeing B.B. King in concert playing an ES-335 through a Fender Super Reverb.
|Geils with 1956 Les Paul|
|J. Geils with 1959 Les Paul|
|J. Geils with a Fender Stratocaster|
During that era he also purchased a Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster and a Martin D-28 for use in the studio.
|Geils' '58 Flying V|
During his band years he purchased a 1958 Gibson Cherry Les Paul and put it to use. Geils later sold this guitar for three times what he originally paid for the guitar. The 1959 Les Paul is still part of the Geils' collection.
|Ampeg Gemin II|
As for amplifiers, his first amp was an Ampeg Gemini II.
|Late 1950's Gibson GA-40|
During the early J. Geils Band recordings, he played through a tweed Gibson GA-40.
|Fender Bandmaster Reverb|
On the road he played through a pair on Fender Bandmaster Reverb amps, each with a cabinet housing two Electro-Voice SRO’s.
During the final days of the band he was using a 100 watt Music Man amplifier.
|KTR European Motorsports|
Eventually he came back to the guitar, but this time as a Jazz player.
|J.Geils and Gerry Beaudoin|
He ran into guitarist Gerry Beaudoin, a notable jazz player, who invited him to join him on one of his regular gigs. This lead to his career as a Jazz guitarist.
|Geils at a jazz gig with ES-250|
He utilized several of the guitars in his collection at his jazz gigs, including the Howard Alden L-5 and his Gibson ES-250. He usually played through different Fender combo amplifiers.
|Jay with his classic Ferrari|
Martin Ambassador Thomas Rhett is flying high in 2017! He is becoming a father of two bundles of joy this summer, is racking up major award wins, and is now the owner of a 1940 D-18!
To celebrate his ACM win for Male Vocalist of the Year, Thomas Rhett's father, Rhett Akins, surprised him with a D-18 from 1940. Not only did Rhett surprise Thomas with the guitar, but he also picked himself up a D-18 from 1941. That is some serious father-son bonding right there!
Wishing for a D-18 like Thomas Rhett received? Check out the D-18 Authentic 1939 that was designed to exactly mirror a guitar from that time period.
Rabea Massaad and Pete Honore over at Andertons Music got a workout in with Charvel’s Pro-Mod guitars in a new video gear segment.
After a really peaceful and nice opening jam session that the guys referenced as #thingsthatyoudontthinkispossibletoplayonneonyellowguitars, the guys delve into the versatility (well beyond “80s hair metal”), craftmanship, features, unique colors and reasonable price point of these Charvel Pro-Mod Style 1 San Dimas and So-Cal instruments.
And of course, the segment would not be complete without a bit of shreddage, too.
Check it all out below!
Our team has the pleasure of working with clients from all corners of the world from all stations of life. From pro musicians, to studio hounds, to blue-collar enthusiasts. It doesn’t seem to matter if their venue is the big hall downtown or the living room. There seems to be a critical window when we see interest in a Custom Shop creation begin to gain momentum.
We collaborate on designs for dealers wishing to differentiate themselves from the market at large. Favorite features among their staff and regionally popular influences often drive their motivation. We work closely with others who wish to incorporate interesting bits of our diverse design history into their instrument. We may even take a walk through our expertly curated museum to gain inspiration for in-house designed creations.
Then there’s the most important design of all- yours.
Despite the countless combinations of materials, construction, shape and size we’re still presented with special requests that have never shown up in the hands of any player. Sure the occasional Brazilian Rosewood with pearl dripping off every corner gets commissioned, but the bread-&-butter of our work are what we refer to as “player preferences”. A simple change or two that can affect the comfort / playability or offer a desired shift of the instruments sonic potential. It’s surprising that most of our clients have a base level of familiarity to begin with (I.e. 000-18) and they know what they’d do to make it their one-of-a-kind like a wider neck and braces that might help to open up the top for finger-style. Now more than ever our work comes from someone excited to learn that they can get simply what they want.
Thankfully you don’t have to be a Martin hi2storian or have nerd-like ninja-knowledge of our construction strategy to make that simple change. This is the best time in history to get anything you’d rather have. It happens every day- your prescription for glasses is just a little different from mine. It’s possible to trace your feet to have custom shoes or orthotics made. Pick some material, provide a few key measurements and PRESTO- I’m wearing clothes that fit my awkward frame like a super model. Your house, your car, your computer, your phone, your dinner tonight . . . you’re making choices every day that customize the world around you. You’re the dreamer. . . You’re the designer . . . someone else might be hammering out the details back in the shop, but you’re calling the shots.
From the first guitar you ever picked up to the one you just put down, there’s a good chance the voices in your head are describing your custom. Check with your Martin authorized dealer. They know that “one-of-a-kind” is what we do.
The inspiration always comes down to passion and enthusiasm. And we build “one-of-a-kind” . . . one at a time . . . all the time.
Scott Sasser is a gear-o-holic. When he’s not buried in spreadsheets & collaborating with our clients on special products & programs as Custom Shop Director, he unwinds by building custom audiophile headphones and restoring vintage drums. . . or just trying to leave it all behind on a motorcycle. With a musician’s background and a specialized MI history, 2017 marks Scott’s 9th anniversary with Martin Guitar. If the iPod’s playing, there is a good chance he’s listening to Elbow or Nada Surf.
Joanna is a nurse and has never hesitated to let me know what she’s thinking, regardless of the subject (!) and in this case she had a valid point, at least from a health standpoint. She made this comment a couple years ago and now I wish I’d listened to her! My back has been giving me fits all winter, despite multiple trips to the chiropractor and downing ibuprofen by the bottle. I can no longer ignore my posture.
Over 50 years of guitar playing can certainly take its toll. I thank my lucky stars that arthritis has been only barely evident in my hands and fingers up to this point, although it runs in both sides of my family so the prospects are not good. But I suspect it is making itself evident in my back so some radical changes must be made.
Along with this, I have a couple older students who hunch over when they play and yesterday I spent the better part of a lesson just working on getting one of them to hold the guitar correctly and sit up straight. This sounds simple if you’re young and flexible; not so much with posture habits that have been learned over a long lifetime.
Obviously I’m talking about playing while sitting, although good posture habits should show while standing and playing too. I have a picture of myself standing and playing at a large outdoor concert back in the 1970s and a couple more from various later years and I never noticed my less than perfect posture. But looking at them now, I sure do.
The first and most important step is selecting the correct chair if you’re going to sit and play. I use standard wooden chairs in my studio (without arms of course) that measure just a shade under 18” from the floor to the front of the seat. They serve the purpose for most students and myself while teaching. The backs are straight but reasonably comfortable. At that height most players can comfortably place their feet flat on the floor, which may or may not be necessary to play with good posture. More on that in a minute.
My favorite seating is a couple of padded stools I used for a while. They are 22” from floor to seat, with lightly curved backs for extra support. The seats swivel, which makes it easy for the student to rotate to watch me and then look at the music on its stand. They also have cross bars that serve as foot rests if needed. But while most of my students liked them, a few wanted the old standard chairs so those stools now reside in the basement. But I think they will be coming back into the studio because they are comfortable, functional and encourage correct posture and playing position.
Quite a while back I tried some standard “bar stools” but at a height of 29” and no back they were not very comfortable for extended playing, even with cross bars for foot support.
When I play out I use a great little stool called the StagePlayer II. It has a padded seat, measures 24 ½” from seat to floor, collapses easily and is light to carry. It has a cross member for the feet that folds up or down, plus a wonderful feature of two padded braces that fold down to function as a guitar stand when it’s break time. I’ve gone through a couple of them over the last five years or so, which is why I don’t use it in the studio to teach: unfortunately, it is not super durable and over time the bolts tend to fail. I replace them as needed though, and retailing for about $50 it is very reasonably priced.
Then there are the debatable factors relating to posture and playing. Some players are absolutely adamant about keeping their feet flat on the floor when seated and playing. They do not like resting one or both feet on a cross member on a stool. I get that but my experience with many hundreds of students and pro players is that often there is a bad habit that they develop that pretty much requires feet planted flat. That is holding the guitar neck on a downward angle and resting the forearm on the thigh when fretting chords. Never, never should one do this! It restricts easy movement of the hand and fingers and encourages bad technique like the “baseball bat grip” on the neck.
So what’s the solution? If you can stand it, ALWAYS use a strap when playing, adjusted to the correct length while sitting and playing. The overwhelming majority of guitarists think that guitar straps are only for standing and playing and this is absolutely not the case. A correctly adjusted strap takes the weight of the instrument off your arms, allowing for holding the neck slightly on an upward angle. Now add in the use of a stool that forces your thigh downward slightly (foot on the floor, or on a cross member) and your forearm is free to move without your leg being in the way. Which leg holds the guitar is another discussion that I won’t get into now, except to say it’s worth experimenting with guitar body position and you may find things easier if you change up the way you normally hold your instrument.
Never, ever sit slouched on a couch while you play. Couches are nice for many things but playing the guitar is not one of them. Bad posture and poor technique are the inevitable result of playing while lounging on a cushy couch.
Finally, just why is it that we hunch over the guitar? To see what we’re doing with our hands of course! This conundrum is the worst of all as it relates to posture. Again based on decades of observing players of all levels I have to conclude there are three solutions to the issue of seeing what we’re playing, but two of them are bad. Hunching over – you will pay for this over time. Believe me! (as our president is fond of saying – ha!). Holding the guitar on a more flat plane to better see the fretboard….bad because you have to reach that much farther around the neck to arch your fingers correctly and not damp out adjacent strings. So that leaves only one solution, tough though it may be.
Learn to find the strings and frets as much by feel as by sight. Yes, you can see at least part of the neck without hunching over or craning your neck but the temptation to hunch over will always be there. But with perseverance and practice you WILL develop muscle memory regarding placement. If you have any doubt about this, consider the great guitarists Doc Watson and Jose Feliciano. They were never able to see the neck of the guitar and it didn’t keep them from mastering their instruments.
So sit up straight, keep the body of the guitar as flat against your body as possible. Your back will thank you. And just think how cool you’ll look!
Peace & good music,