Yeah yeah, I know I've been far too quiet in recent times. Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, guys. ANYWAY, despite all that malarkey, I couldn't let this freaky Hendrix-inpsired Strat/Flying V mutant axe that I just saw offered for sale on eBay go unmentioned.
I'm sure it'll be sacrilege for some, but I'm no purist, I quite like it although perhaps not enough to warrant the tune of the US $2,430.00 Buy It Now price.
GIBFENDRIX...? You can almost hear the vulture squawks of the lawyers circling overhead.
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Charvel signature artist Guthrie Govan is currently in the middle of a summer-long Hans Zimmer Live tour, but he found a few minutes for this quick chat about the gig and his newest signature models.
Q: Is it a true story that when Hans Zimmer first contacted you on Facebook you thought it was a joke?
A: Yeah, it might sound paranoid but my experience with Facebook – I’ve had a few episodes like that where people purport to me that which they are not so experience taught me to be suspicious and it just seemed so farfetched.
Q: How did you reply then?
A: I think it was something along the lines of, “Come on, we both know you are not Hans Zimmer. You are wasting my time and your time. You are not really Hans Zimmer so who are you and what do you really want?” And he replied, “no, no it really is Hans, the dodgy German composer. Here’s my phone number, please call me,” and I did.
It sounded authentic somehow, something about the second message and the persistence— like okay, he’s keeping up the charade, maybe it is really him.
Q: How did that call go when you rang him?
A: Very encouraging, very flattering because this is what Hans does. He stays up until 5 in the morning watching YouTube videos and looking for weird new musicians that he might want to work with and he found some clip of me playing fretless guitar and he liked the eccentricity of it. Originally he was looking for people playing fretless guitar because he wanted to reinvent the Thelma & Louise soundtrack and on the original recording it was played by Pete Haycock. Pete was very good friend of Hans and is no longer with us so it’s a very emotionally charged piece of music for Hans. So he went to all of this trouble to look for someone who could play slide guitar in a different way and then realized the piece of music was close to him that he didn’t want to do it in the set —he wasn’t ready and so we did a whole European tour last summer and only on the last gig of the tour did we play Thelma and Louise. I guess I didn’t screw up too badly because its back in the set every night now.
Q: How familiar were you with his work before getting the gig?
A: I don’t know if anyone is familiar with ALL of his catalog because he’s just such a prolific guy but yeah, I was fully aware of his work and what he does. The funny thing is—even people who don’t the name have been exposed to that music. You can’t really escape it, he’s such a big deal in the world of Hollywood scoring.
Q: Is there a certain song in the set that is your favorite?
A: Everything is fun in a different way. From a guitar’s perspective, where I have the most spotlight if anyone’s curious, is the Thelma and Louise piece. It’s just a six-minute guitar solo. And there’s some stuff in Crimson Tide and Angels and Demons that I enjoy.
It’s just an interesting gig because it’s like acting almost. You have to be a different musician for each song. If you listen to the original soundtrack, there’s not that much guitar going on. When Hans gives you the gig, he just says, “I’ve hired you because I believe in you. I trust your mind, and I trust your fingers so you’ll know what to do. I’m not going to micromanage you. Do what you think is right and if I disagree, don’t worry, you’ll know about it.” So it’s flattering and high pressure. I’ve found a mindset that work, which is I just have to imagine what type of guitar player would complement that song and then become that guitar player for its duration.
So, it’s a really good contrast. Before I started this tour I was going around India and Japan playing my solo stuff with a trio of local musicians. This is completely the opposite in every way. I think balance is a healthy thing. I’d be tearing up the furniture if I just had to do one thing for the whole of my musical life—variety helps to keep things fresh.
Q: What led you to guitar to begin with?
A: It kind of found me. I started playing when I was so very young. I don’t remember choosing a guitar but there was a guitar in the house. My dad knew about five chords. So it was just part of growing up — a matter of thinking “What’s that object I see every day in the living room, and I need to learn how to operate it.” Then I discovered you could use it to play Elvis songs and the rest wrote itself.
Q: What was it that brought you to Charvel?
A: I just had a good vibe the first time I met people from the company and I sensed they actually wanted to work, and cooperate and collaborate to make a guitar that is perfect for me. It felt like they would listen to all of my input, and we spent about two years just fine-tuning and tweaking. They probably did get tired of me but they didn’t say so, and I think there is a unique and versatile instrument that came out of all of that process.
There are other companies I could have worked with, but it would have been more like “Here’s our flagship heavy metal guitar, we can put your initials on the 12th fret – what kind of paint would you like on it?” That would never feel quite right. If I’m going to stick my name on the back of a headstock, it feels so much better to have input into everything.
The most painful part of the genesis of my signature guitar was the tremolo. We spent a lot of time attaching different arm attachments and stuff like that. I can remember being on tour with Stephen Wilson, the guys would send me a new bridge and metal working tools and I’d be there changing the size of the hole where the arm goes into the bridge plate and leaving a pile of iron filings on the carpet when I checked out of the hotel. It was a lot of back and forth, but we got there in the end. The thing that really cheers me up is occasionally I’ll see a YouTube video of a respected player who doesn’t do the kind of thing I do and they found this guitar and found something about it that works for them.
I was very happy when I heard John Mayer bought one. I was like, “Okay, you are not really the target audience for this guitar but you found merit in it – that’s great.” That’s the proud parent feeling.
Q: You’ve got two new models out now. Can you talk a bit about what you were going for with the Signature HSH Caramelized Ash and Signature HSH Flame Maple guitars?
A. Yes, the Caramelized Ash … I like an ash guitar – it has a different frequency response, and I have also always liked the neutrality of basswood with a little bit of maple on the top. I think you can get pretty close to the sound of a lot of different guitars with that wood because there’s no EQ bias anywhere with that wood combination. Ash has a bit more of a character and asserts itself in a bit more noticeable way. It just kind of works for me. When we did the last Aristocrats album I deliberately wrote all of my contributions using a bolt-on guitar with three single coil pickups, which will go nameless, because guitar tones will make you play differently and you get a different kind of inspiration when the voice of a guitar is sounding a certain way. I very much went down that, okay, I’ll say it, the Strat route, and I thought for playing that live, wouldn’t it be really cool to have the GG but with a little more of that single coil DNA? Also, I really like the new secret switch — it kind of makes the humbuckers sound like single coils without the hum you would normally associate with those.
Q: How many guitars do you have in your collection in total?
A: I don’t know. Not that many. More than 10, less than 20. In touring and flying around so much, it gets confusing and sometimes I have no choice but to leave a guitar in a certain destination and I’ll see it in a year when I come back. My Charvel signature model in the Britannica Red – it’s currently in one of the Charvel offices. I’ve got a couple of these guitars stationed in unfeasible parts of the world right now.
Q: Are you one of those guys who will play guitar incessantly?
A: Not really. I like the idea of walking on stage and picking up a guitar and being pleased to see it. If I’m recording, yes, a lot of playing and your fingertips feel the difference and you are changing strings twice a day. Day to day life, sometimes I’ll take the guitar in the hotel room on a day off, sometimes I don’t. I’m always thinking about music. A lot of the practice I do now is just listening to musically actively or thinking about music and imagining how something would sound, and the actual guitar playing aspect of it is just motor skills. As long as you do some playing every day, you remain gig fit. I’ve never been one of those people to warm up for 8 hours before a show. Sometimes I’ll just walk on stage, plug in the ear-monitors and go.
On the bench is a curly walnut dulcimer having its head attached with hide glue.
It is important to attach a head onto a dulcimer, because if you don’t, it will go searching the night to find a head and the one it chooses could be YOUR HEAD!
But I digress.
This dulcimer is one of three I am currently working on. The other two dulcimers are ready for final preparation before receiving the finish and tomorrow this dulcimer will be ready to join them.
I wait until I have 3 or 4 dulcimers ready to go through the finishing process at the same time. I put the woodworking tools away, clean the shop, and dedicate the space to finish work for about a week.
After all coats of finish are applied the dulcimers hang on the wall for several days so the finish can further cure before being rubbed out.
While the finish is curing I start work on the next 3 or 4 dulcimers.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
You can see my work in progress by following me on Instagram.
Hey Meet my Kiesel Vader! She’s a V7 with Hipshot/Kiesel vibrato. One of the coolest things about Kiesel is that every guitar is essentially a custom instrument: there’s an almost overwhelming range of options from which to spec out your dream guitar. Funnily enough, there’s a pretty similar guitar to mine on the V7 gallery, but that’s pretty much coincidence: whoever ordered that guitar just happened to have similar tastes to me. There are some differences too though, and as Homer’s assistant Karl said on The Simpsons, “My reasons … are my own.” Let’s break down what I selected and why.
So. Every element of this guitar was selected for a particular reason related to synesthesia. I’ve written about this before, including this article for Guitar World. Essentially synesthesia is a condition where a sensory input will set off other sensory ‘resonances.’ For instance, the number ‘2’ is blue to me, and always has been. It tastes kind of creamy and is very smooth to the touch. My brain has just always thought of it this way, and ditto for the other numbers, letters, shapes. It can happen with anything: particular speaking voices remind me of certain times of day. Certain guitar tones can generate really specific and complex chains of association that might incorporate texture, perception of size, levels of luminance, and so on. I’ve never done mushrooms cos I probably don’t need to. My brain is psychedelic enough on its own. That’s why I dig sensory deprivation tanks.
But back to the guitar: each of my specifications were based on specific things I wanted this guitar to be for. Things I wanted to play on it, sounds I wanted it to make, feelings I wanted it to generate or represent.
* Colour. This particular Aqua Burst reminds me of a shade of blue I often see in my dreams. I have a recurring dream of a futuristic city rising out of the ocean on the horizon, and it’s always an exciting place to visit. I wanted this guitar to embody that same sense of freedom and joy I have in those dreams. That’s also why I selected a flame maple top: to give the feel of waves in the ocean.
* Fingerboard. I always feel musically influenced by the colour of a fretboard. I feel like I play more ‘sunny’ on maple, and more ‘dark’ on rosewood. I chose Zebrawood because its mix of light and dark colours will (hopefully) encourage my subconscious to blend those two approaches.
* Neck. This is a 5-piece Black Limba/White Limba neck-thru. I wanted something that had more of a natural, ‘this used to be a tree’ look, and the particular colour of Black Limba reminds me of tree bark. This is a pretty futuristic-looking guitar so I wanted to balance that with something a bit more earthy.
* Body. The body is Alder, and I chose a natural finish because, again, I just wanted to offset the futuristicness of the design. And the almost desert-like colour balances really nicely against the Aquaburst top. It kinda makes the guitar look like Scarif from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
* Satin finish. I didn’t want this one to be shiny: sometimes it feels like a glossy finish is a barrier between me and the guitar.
* Pickups. This guitar as shipped has Kiesel Lithium pickups, but I’ll be installing my Seymour Duncan Custom Shop model, the Magnetar, soon. The bridge Lithium has an Alnico V plus ceramic booster, and a DC Resistance of 13.16k, and the neck model is Alnico V with a reading of 7.78k. The Magnetar is a pickup that MJ created for me when I asked her for ‘A pickup that sounds like the look of sunshine through a glass of beer, the feel of freshly-sanded wood and the taste of creme brûlée. It has an Alnico 8 magnet and it sounds both woody and airy, with a nice kick in the upper mids. Not too hot, not too gentle. This guitar will also have the first neck version of the Magnetar, and I’m going for a Zebra look for the same reason as choosing a Zebrawood fingerboard.
* Logo. I went with a white logo with black shadow because it stands out nicely and I wanted to proudly display the Kiesel name. Also another Zebra/light-dark balance thing.
* Seven strings. You can get a Vader in 6, 7 or 8 strings in standard or baritone scale or multiscale. I selected 25.5″ 7-string because 7 feels right to me, and I tend to be most comfortable on 25.5″ 7-strings rather than longer scales because I like to think of the 7 as a 6-string with a few extra notes when I need them, rather than orienting the whole guitar design towards those lower few notes. And I went with standard instead of multiscale because my multiscale heart belongs to Ormsby Guitars. Heh.
* Tremolo. Because whammy bars is fun.
So what does one name an instrument like this, designed to evoke both natural beauty and a certain space-age aesthetic, and to hopefully serve as a catalyst for better things?
|Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band|
|Sargent Pepper recording session|
|Paul McCartney with 1967 Bassman|
We know that McCartney first used this amp in 1965 and continue to use it until 1967 in the recording studio.
After that Lennon and Harrison both put that Bassman to use. Lennon continued to use it in the studio on some of his solo work. This Fender Bassman was the 1964 6C6-B circuit and featured twin Utah 12” speakers. It was a similar circuit to the one used on in the same era Bandmaster.
|Beatles with Vox AC30's|
|1964 Vox AC30|
The Vox AC30 was a 30 watt class A amplifier, which technically speaking is very inefficient, because the power tubes are operating at full power. However class A is very pleasing to the ear and makes for a great performing amplifier.
The Vox AC30 had cathode biasing and no negative feedback loop. In my opinion the AC30 is one of the best amps ever made.
Despite the popularity of Vox amps in the U.K., the company was facing financial difficulties as early as 1964.
|Jennings and Denney|
Some of the former JMI employees cut a deal with the bank that held the assets and they were able to procure the Vox name. Vox equipment was then produced under the name Vox Sound Equipment until 1969 when yet another bankruptcy ensued.
|Vox Birch Stolec AC30|
But let’s back up to before 1967 when Sargent Pepper was being made. Even before that date, when the Beatles and other bands were touring, as early as 1964, the folks at Vox realized the AC30 at full volume was not going to cut through the screams of the female fans. So they investigated producing a larger version.
|Vox AC50 MKII|
They had already come up with the AC50 MKII that McCartney can be seen using in concerts. (He still uses this amp today.)
What they came up with was the Vox AC100 aka the Vox Super Deluxe. This was a a one channel amplifier that came with a large speaker unit, which contained four 12" Celestion speakers. It was Vox' answer to the Fender Dual Showman amplifier. The Beatles can be seen using this amp in concert footage.
Later in 1964 JMI reached an agreement with the Thomas Organ Company of the United State that they would be the sole US distributor for Vox. This may sound like an odd arrangement, if not for the fact the JMI was once known as the Jennings Organ Company. It may have been short-sighted of the former Jennings Organ Company to believe a US organ manufacturer would be a great vehicle to distribute Vox amplifiers. But during the guitar boon era, many companies were trying to get a piece of the pie.
|US made Vox Super Beatle|
This is how the US Vox Super Beatle and other US amplifiers came to be made by the Thomas Organ Company aka Vox US.
Dick Denney traveled to the USA in 1965 to visit the Thomas Organ/VOX US manufacturing facility to see their products first hand. He was impressed with their solid state amplifiers. This lead him to come up with his own solid state/tube hybrid versions.
The guitar amps that Denney designed were called the UL7 series and the bass versions were the UL4 series. UL was suggestive of Underwriters Laboratories, a group the put its approval on electronic merchandise.
The UL705 was a 5 watt amplifier,while the UL710, and UL715 produced 15 watts. Both had solid state preamps, with tube based power amplifier sections.
The power tube (or valve) selection of the UL730 included one ECC83 and a quartet of EL84 tubes. The ECC83 is actually a preamp tube, but was used as a phase inverter.
The UL730 was a two channel amplifier with two inputs per channel, a boost switch for each channel. Channel One featured volume, treble, middle, and bass potentiometers, and controls for tremolo speed and depth.
|Vox UL730 front panel|
The separate speaker cabinet was loaded with twin 12” Celestion speakers. Of course the amplifier featured the trolley.
|The Beatles session |
with the UL730
Vox manufactured only 100 units. This was not a popular amplifier since out of the 100 units sold, 76 units were returned. Some may have been defective, while others were exchanged for another amp of the era. The 76 units that were returned were said to have been destroyed.
The amplifier that was delivered to the Beatles included a promotional sticker inside of it that stated it was “Promotional Stock - Model No. 760 Amp A/C Current - Serial # 3020 - Artist The Beatles”.
It is said to have been in George Harrison's procession and was to be auctioned on 12/15/2011, but the seller withdrew the offer prior to the sale date.
|Vox single spring reverb|
To avoid this fee he and Denney came up with their own reverb design.
|McCartney using UL730|
During the albums creation, McCartney played his Rickenbacker 4001S bass through it on most of the songs. Although it is said that he employed the UL430 bass amp on Lucy In The Sky.
In addition to the Bassman and the Vox UL730, The Beatles utilized a 1967 Fender Showman amplifier that was in the studio.
|1967 Fender Showman|
It is also written that Paul McCartney used a Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 MkII on Good Morning, Good Morning, which he may have used early in The Beatles career.
|Selmer Thunderbird Twin 50 MKII|
|1967 Vox Conqueror/Defiant|
Both channels featured volume, treble, and bass potentiomers and a boost switch. And both had two inputs.
|1967 Vox Conqueror |
top and front panel
The Vox Conqueror came with a modified trolley that contained the speaker unit only. The head stood on top of the speakers.
The Beatles also used two other Vox amplifiers; the 7120 and the 4120 bass amp, which they had used on the Revolver LP.
The 7120 was the most powerful amplifier that Vox had produced. This was another hybrid amp, with a solid state preamp section and a tube power amp section, which consisted of four KT88 power tubes and an EL84 and an ECL86 which acted as phase inverters. It was rated at 120 watts. It utilized one ECL86, one EL84, and a quartet of KT88’s. The amplifier had two channels.
Channel two featured two inputs, a boost switch, volume, treble, middle, and bass controls, and a reverb control.
The 7120 speaker cabinet had two 12” Celestion T 1225 speakers and two Goodman midax horns. The controls on the amplifier section were on the bottom of the amplifier head.
|McCartney with a Vox UL730, Harrison and Lennon with Vox Defiant amps|
Click on the links under the photos for their links, click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)
If you look in the current issue of Mixdown Magazine you’ll find my interview with Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor about the band’s new album, Hydrograd (released today). We had a great chat about the band’s incredible new album Hydrograd. But we talked about a lot more than could be fit into that article, so I thought you’d like to see some other highlights from the interview.
I Heart Guitar: One moment in the single Fabuless really made me laugh: the ‘motherfucker’ in the chorus. I have a running joke where I insert unnecessary motherfuckers in songs that really don’t deserve it. Steely Dan or the Beach Boys or something.
Corey Taylor: [Laughs] Thats funny because I do that all the time when I’m in my car, singing. I’m always adding an unnecessary motherfucker to what I’m singing along to, where it just needs a little more, y’know? I mean I’m sure they would have gotten to the motherfucker eventually but they were too busy with the notes, so people like you and me provide the motherfucker for them.
That song is so eclectic. How did it come together?
That song came together from Tooch (guitarist Christian Martucci) and Roy (Magora, drums) jamming together. It was one of those songs where when we heard the demo we were like ‘Holy shit.’ It took a little arranging because it was all in different spots – it originally had a totally different feel to it – but the riffs themselves all had a great vibe. I took it and did my magic on it and worked it in with the lyrics that were going on in my head and different melodies and stuff, and it came together really quickly. It was a matter of arranging the puzzle so that the song fuckin’ figured itself out.
The first few times you listen to it you don’t quite know what could happen next.
Exactly. And that’s the cool thing. I feel like a lot of music doesn’t have that feeling any more, and you can anticipate what the next part is. With a lot of bands you can almost write the fuckin’ next riff in your head before you’ve even heard the song all of the way through for the first time. With this song it keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.
So this is the first record written with Christian Martucci and Johnny Chow.
Working with those two, honestly, was so effortless. The great thing is it all starts with us just getting along. Really getting along. We all hang out, we all love hanging out and talking shit and joking, and we’re all such dorks that it doesn’t really matter. So writing together is the same thing. We just love what we do so much that we get excited when we hear what we’re doing with the music.
How’s the spine coming along after your operation? Has it affected your range? I was thinking about how when Frank Zappa got pushed off the stage and broke his neck, and after he got rebuilt his voice got lower.
Yeah, that didn’t happen to me. It’s really only a physical thing for me. I’m slowly but surely starting to get my mobility back, and that’s even after a year. It’s been pretty crazy. But luckily I didn’t lose any of my range – actually I got some back because I quit smoking over a year ago, and I’m starting to get my range back because of that. God, if I’d know that would happen I’d have quit ten fuckin’ years ago. But I’m still in the process of rehabbing all that shit, and I’m slowing but surely getting my body back. It’s a fucking pain in the ass but I’m getting there.
I don’t think people realise how physical singing is – how much of your whole body goes into it.
Oh yeah. You can lose your chops really easily. And not only lose your chops but you can let your talent go to fuckin’ shit, and it can take you years to get that shit back. About six years ago I started to really try to keep myself in shape as much as possible, and as long as it’s worth it you just keep trying, keep going for it.
What guitars are you using at the moment?
On the road I have three guitars that I’m using, really. I have a 2008 Gibson Firebird that has a couple of Seymour Duncan pickups in it. It has a nice chunky edge to it and a really killer clean tone. Those guitars have a great clean tone. I also have a 1987 Gibson SG out with me that smells like the dude who owned it chain-smoked around it for about 45 years! It’s got the colour, but unfortunately it’s also got the smell, so I named it Keith. So I’ve got that out with me and I’ll probably bring that down with me to Australia when we get down there. And I’ve also got a Framus and I’m thinking about working some magic with those guys. I actually have a Stevie Salas Idolmaker model that I’m using right now and they’re fuckin’ pretty dope, dude. I wanna have them use that base and make a custom for me but give it more of a hollowbody vibe, and put a couple of humbuckers in it and see what happens. I think that could be really fuckin’ cool, because it plays amazingly. It’s got such fuckin’ chunk to it. It’s really great. So those three I’m kinda rotating through, just feeling them out every night.
Right off the bat I try to have them deal with what can only be described as bad habits. This can be a daunting task for some; a recreational player who’s been doing things a certain way for years or even decades has to be able to trust me enough to abandon those bad habits, even though in the short term their playing may be more difficult than the way they do it now. I am careful to explain exactly why it is that those habits need to be abandoned. Most understand but there are always a few that resist. Part of my job is adjusting both their expectations and my own based on that openness, or lack of. It can be a delicate dance!
So here are a couple things I see fairly frequently. I’ve mentioned them in past posts but this issue is so important to play successfully and satisfactorily that it is worth revisiting them. Whether someone is considering lessons with me or elsewhere these things must be addressed if one is to progress on the guitar.
Left hand (or right hand, if you’re a lefty) position. I’m not speaking of finger position on the frets, that is something I’ll focus on in a minute. Basically, we’re talking about how the neck is gripped. And therein lies the problem: you’re not supposed to “grip” the neck! This is the single most common bad habit I see with self-taught players. I call it the Baseball Bat Grip. Making contact with a large portion of the inside of the hand behind the neck, which usually leads to pointing the thumb toward the head of the guitar. This is counter-productive on so many levels! First, it is almost impossible to correctly arch the fingers and use just the finger tips to fret individual strings. When employing the Baseball Bat Grip, fingers on top of the neck almost always end up touching an adjacent string and the result is a muffled, dead tone, or no sound at all. In advanced guitar playing there are actually times when you want this to happen but not in the beginning. The Baseball Bat Grip also severely restricts fast, fluid movement.
The correct formation of hand position behind the neck requires dropping the forearm and wrist, bending wrist, and keeping the tip of the thumb parallel to the 2nd (ring) finger. Avoid any contact with the inside of the hand against the back of the neck if at all possible. The thumb is the contact point, not the inside of the hand.
Of course, everyone’s hands are different and guitar necks vary widely in width, depth and string spacing so accomplishing this requires some experimentation. In my experience, this can be one of those things that an experienced recreational, self-taught player will resist the most. Whether they realize it or not, their brain is telling them: I can use my old grip and get a decent sound from at least a few chords and oh my god, it is so AWKWARD to drop my wrist and forearm, bend my wrist and avoid contact with the inside of my hand against the neck! My thumb is just not strong enough to do the job back there! But I’m quite merciless about this with those types. While I’ve become a bit more lax about other things in the last few years relating to general technique, this one is not open to negotiation! And while it may take a few weeks, when the student hears and sees the results in terms of clean, clear tone and accurate movement between chords they often wonder out loud how they could ever have played ANYTHING the old way!
Interestingly, it is usually men who have the most trouble adjusting to this concept. Maybe it’s because men are used to more manual labor than women where the strength in their hands is more important than strength with their fingers so they naturally want to utilize that strength. Maybe women are just more flexible. Or smarter. Oops!
What’s going on under and behind the neck is not as obvious as what’s happening on top but finger placement is ultimately what it’s all about when it comes to clean playing, assuming you’ve accomplished the above. The most obvious bad habits I see are not arching the fingers enough and not pressing down hard enough but there’s another one that is almost as common: setting up too far away from the fret. Self-taught players almost always set up fingers at points about half way between the fret that is dividing the string and the one behind the finger. This is a natural presumption based on chord diagrams that are found in books and in diagrams online that always seem to show the “dot” representing the fingers at the halfway point between the frets. But here’s the thing. The fret is “playing” the note or notes for us, dividing the string at a very specific point. On non-fretted string instruments such as the violin and cello, the finger itself is dividing the string. On the guitar the frets do that work. And because of the way a fret protrudes above the fingerboard, the closer the fingertip it to that fret, the firmer the contact will be with the fret. In other words, more of the string is coming in contact with the fret. When this happens the string cannot move on top of the fret when the string is played. Movement – which you cannot see but can certainly hear – results in buzzes or muffled notes. So setting up as close to the frets as possible is a key element in clear, clean tone.
Unfortunately, with some chords this is just not physically possible with all the fingers; first position A Major is an example. There are a few generally used finger “orders” in A major but I subscribe to using 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers. YMMV, as they say. This is one of those things that I’ve grown more liberal about in recent years; it’s OK to try different combinations if my way does not work for you. The reason I use the fingers I do on that chord is that is encourages concise movement to chords often found after A Major. But again, it’s OK to experiment with that one.
If it is not possible to get one or more fingers close to the frets in a chord remember that you must press down extra hard to make firm contact with the fret. And sometimes setting up one finger too far from the fret will affect good placement of all the others. The single most common problem I see in this regard is 1st position C Major. If the 1st finger is not absolutely tight to the fret (without overlapping it of course, which you never want to do with any fingers anywhere) there is no way you will be able to stretch out the 3rd finger to the fret that plays C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, and the result is muddy sound. This is so common amongst self-taught players that I can almost count on having to correct it at the very first lesson.
Those are just a couple of the bad habits I see time and time again. The good news is that they are reversible with some focus and effort. The result of dealing with them is a pleasing sound no matter how simple a piece of music may be. There are others….. But that, I hope, is why people come to me for lessons!
Peace & good music,
After much speculation, we are so excited to debut the new D-18 Jason Isbell guitar!
Martin Ambassador Jason Isbell worked with the Martin Guitar Custom Shop to design his new Custom Signature Edition D-18 which is closely modeled after Martin’s Golden Era series. The model boasts a pre-aged Vintage Tone System (VTS) Adirondack spruce top; mahogany back and sides; and rear-shifted scalloped bracing which produces more natural volume and a clear powerful tone. It is constructed using hide glue which, unlike newer synthetic reproductions, dissolves into the grain of the wood and creates more resonance throughout the instrument. Isbell chose a thin finish and left off the pick guard - all design details that have one common goal – to make it loud.
You can learn more about the D-18 Jason Isbell here.
Back in April, New York-based guitar dealer the Music Zoo held a special event with RATT’s lead guitarist Warren DeMartini that is now available to the masses via new online videos.
The session was hosted by Guitar World’s Andy Aledort, and finds DeMartini in his element as he shares personal accounts of his successful career and details about his signature Charvel models. In between reminiscing and fielding questions from the fans, DeMartini also entertains the audience with jaw-dropping demos.
Watch the footage below, and see DeMartini live on RATT’s summer tour. Dates here.
I’m about ready to pull the trigger on a custom but I worry about keeping it out and playing it where I live – Florida. It’s so humid here. On my other guitars the tops swell up sometimes, especially in the summer. Then my action gets affected and it becomes very hard to play. I was thinking of getting my custom braced heavier but I don’t want to take away from the sound. Any pointers?
Turd Ferguson in Palm Beach
I hear you! The Martin factory is in eastern Pennsylvania which gets very humid in the summer. I’ve experienced the exact same problems you’re talking about with my guitars. It’s sort of nature of the beast but it’s part of the reason our guitars sound so fantastic. It moves and breathes and we don’t over-brace to compensate for anything.
Before you pull the trigger on your custom consider this – A VTS top. Not only do they sound full and played in but they’re also significantly less affected by climate changes. The cells of the wood do not pick up moisture like a brand new spruce top. VTS tops are way less susceptible to the swelling that can occur in the summer or in an overly humid environment. With that said, they’re also less susceptible to hollowing that can be typical during a Pennsylvania winter with little moisture. The process to make a VTS top is really fascinating. Hear more about it from Fred and Jeff here, they actually brought the VTS tops to fruition at Martin.
As for the guitars you have at home, monitor the tops and de-humidfy or humidify depending on what Florida’s giving you at the time. I do have a winter saddle and summer saddle I use. They are slightly different heights so I can swap them out if need be.
Go see your local Martin dealer and order that custom! Let’s do it!
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.
I have recently acquired a Tech 21 British V2 Sansamp from the Character series. for the purpose of recording direct.
Some of the figures were downright scary. Guitar Center (and its sister company, Musician’s Friend) is – ready for this? – 1.6 BILLION dollars in debt. It has been common knowledge for a few years that GC was in trouble but I had no idea it was of such magnitude. And that debt has a trickle-down effect. Fender is $130 million in the red, due in no small part to GC not paying its invoices. According to an industry insider I know, it is a lose/lose situation. Fender cannot refuse to do business with GC, i.e., give them very favorable terms and keep sending guitars in spite of unpaid invoices, because if GC goes belly-up (which is a definite possibility, according to my friend) Fender will have no hope of recovering ANY of the money they are owed.
The situation is not much better with a couple of the other big on-line retailers, Sweetwater and American Musical Supply, again according to my friend, but they do not release their sales figures. But suffice to say, if those companies offer 12-month, no-interest payment plans for a huge array of electric guitars already selling at a discount something is definitely wrong.
So why is this happening? The conclusion of George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, who knows as much as anyone about trends in the guitar business is that for the younger players the “guitar god” phenomenon that drove young players to want to play back in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and even the 90s no longer exists. The Guitar Gods if yore are either old or dead. How many teen age guitarists worship at the altar of Clapton, Hendrix, Vai, or Van Halen? Fewer and fewer. This seems to be a very valid argument. Sure, there are a few younger players like Bonamassa and John Mayer are legitimate monster players but they just don’t seem to inspire the rabid worship that was heaped upon their forebears.
But I think that there are other, equally important factors. Now, understand that I still play electric guitar from time to time and I fully intend to do so at least part of the time in any future group I form or join. At the end of the day though I am an acoustic guitarist, first and foremost. What I’m getting to – and I know there are many who would disagree with this – is that shredding on a distorted, loud electric may be fun in someone’s basement, but does anyone except other shredders really want to hear that? And does it sound good by itself? Because without a bass player and drummer (at least) that style of playing is not exactly pleasant to the vast majority of people, both youngers ones raised on electronica and hip-hop and oldsters who went through their blow-my-eardrums-out phase long ago and don’t care to repeat it.
Another huge factor in the dire straights (no pun intended!) those big retailers find themselves in is quite ironic. There was a time when the quality of lesser brands was variable at best and it was essential to try out a guitar before it was purchased. Now, with consistent and predictable manufacturing, plus very liberal return policies, the only thing that separates the big boys from one another is price. So they watch each other very, very carefully and cut their margins to the bone. MAP policies help, to a degree, but even those are stretched and tweaked with regular “special” sales and extremely liberal terms. My guess, and this in only a guess, is that if GC or those other big companies are lucky, they make at best a 10% margin at the end of the day on most electric guitars they sell. Even the cheapies. Yes, the margins are a bit better on the high end stuff, but getting back to the original point of the story, how many high end guitars are they selling?
There is a basic rule of successful sales that says the less expensive the item sold, the bigger the margin. That rule has been bent to the breaking point and if things keep going the way they seem to be there will be some significant attrition in the music equipment world. You cannot be solvent on 10% margins with hundreds of millions – or billions – of dollars of debt.
Which gets me back to my own observations and experience. I am so, so glad that I focus my playing and teaching on acoustic guitar. The resurgence of interest in acoustic guitar in the last 20 years both by younger players and older ones returning to the instrument after abandoning it in their youth is very heartening. Players have discovered (or remembered) how easy it is to just sit down with an acoustic and…. Play. In their bedroom, on the front porch, at a beach somewhere. No amplifier needed. Even the simplest chord pattern sounds pleasing not just to the player but to anyone listening. And it’s no accident that many of the hardest of hardcore rockers do most of their writing with an acoustic guitar. It brings things back to their most basic level. No noise, no pedal board, no beast of an amp to lug, and even the least expensive acoustic sounds good on some level, compared to the most expensive Strat or Les Paul played when NOT plugged in. The music becomes the thing, not the machine.
So God Bless, GC, Musician’s Friend, Sweetwater, American Musical and the other big guys who pushed so many small local music stores out of business in the last decade. Karma is a bitch.
Peace & good music,
I have decided to take a break from taking advance orders for custom dulcimers.
Five years ago about half my dulcimers were sold before I made them. Someone would choose from various options I offer and give me a deposit to begin making their dulcimer. I prioritized these custom orders and built them in the order they were received.
While building these custom dulcimers I also had time to build dulcimers that were not already sold. I usually had three to five dulcimers on hand for sale.
Five years ago I suddenly had to deal with some serious lower back issues that added unexpected flavor and color to my life. It has been an interesting journey and it is not yet over.
I am currently able to work in the shop about one-third the amount of time I would prefer to be working. Some days or weeks I am able to work more, some less, some not at all, but it averages out to working about a third of the time I used to.
During this time I have also had a surprising increase in custom orders. All but one dulcimer I have sold in the past 3 years was ordered in advance.
My time in the shop has become completely focused on custom work. I keep thinking I will have time to build some dulcimers to put up for sale but it just hasn’t happened.
Most of the custom dulcimers I build are pretty much the same as dulcimers I would ordinarily build but the new owner chooses particular wood, string length, number of strings, fret patterns, and other options that I offer. Occasionally someone asked for a unique feature that had to do with playability for their particular style and when I felt it worked with my sense of instrument design then I would do that as well.
The tricky part of this is that when I do have dulcimers on hand for sale they are sometimes not exactly what someone wants. If it has no dots in the fingerboard someone will want dots in the fingerboard. If it has 3 strings someone wants one just like it with 4 strings or vice-versa.
In the near future I will be offering dulcimers for sale and I am thinking there will usually be something available that will appeal to someone. If someone wants something specific I will keep a list and contact them if I make something like what they want. I’ll also be happy to contact people and let them know when I have more dulcimers available.
In the long run I think this will work better for everyone. When I put a dulcimer up for sale people can try it and know exactly what they are getting. I can ship it and you can return it if you decide you don’t care for it. I have sold many dulcimers this way and so far no one has decided not to keep it.
With a custom order the dulcimer is yours. Unless there is a problem with it covered by my warranty the dulcimer is not returnable. Again, I have sold many dulcimers this way and almost everyone was 100% happy. One person was less than 100% happy but still liked the dulcimer.
I think this is a good track record.
So in the near future I will be only selling dulcimers that exist.
If you are on my waiting list please don’t freak out! I am happily working on your dulcimer and you will get it on schedule.
I feel better already.
The 2017 Summer NAMM show will be held here in Nashville in just a few weeks, from July 13 to July 15. The final day, July 15, will be open to all music enthusiasts to visit vendor booths and demo new gear:
NASHVILLE – May 2, 2017 – The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) will welcome music industry professionals to its annual Summer NAMM Show on Saturday, July 15. The members-only conference and tradeshow will open its doors to musicians, songwriters, sound and recording pros, music educators, students and others involved in the production and creation of music and live sound, and feature special, professional development opportunities, networking events, live performances and the chance to check out the latest gear from the industry’s top music instrument and pro audio companies.
Highlights of the day include a robust professional development schedule, offering attendees the opportunity to learn from leaders in their space and network with like-minded peers. Presenters include the Nashville Songwriters Association International, guitar pros and editors from Guitar Player magazine, social media, PR and marketing experts, as well as accomplished songwriters.
The schedule starts at 10:30 a.m. and covers topics such as:
· How to Build an Audience on Instagram
· The Future of the Guitar
· Musician Marketing: Insider Tips to Grow Your Brand
· Hit Songwriting: Making the Most of Cutting-Edge Trends
· The Art of Endorsement Deals
· 2017 Songwriter Success Summit
Music Industry Day attendees will have the opportunity to demo the latest in new musical instruments and pro audio gear from top-name makers spanning all categories making it a one-stop shop for pros looking for musical sources of inspiration and to connect. To view the show floor map and list of exhibitors, please visit: https://www.namm.org/summer/2017.
Tickets are available now for only $10 at https://www.namm.org/summer/2017/music-industry-day/ and available the morning of Saturday, July 15 at Nashville Music City Center for $20.
The Music City Center is a nice venue and Nashville is a great city to visit if you’re on the fence about coming to the show.
Andreas Kisser has kept himself very busy lately — supporting Sepultura’s recent tour and enjoying the long-awaited world premiere of their documentary, while also dedicating time to his supergroup side project De La Tierra.
De La Tierra released sophomore album II last November, with lead track “Puro” debuting just days before the record dropped. Just last week, the band returned with a powerful new video treatment for the single that reinforces its “always darkest before the dawn” theme. In the clip, members of the group are tortured while in captivity, but their perseverance during eventually leads to freedom.
Watch the video now, and see Kisser on his one-of-a-kind custom Charvel San Dimas.