Archive for November, 2010

Find the Right Guitar

Monday, November 29th, 2010

This past weekend we, here in the United States, celebrated Thanksgiving. However, the day after – affectionately known as “Black Friday” — is arguably becoming as if not more important. You may consider that a tragedy but the reality is that we are a consumer nation and the philosophy these days is it’s never too soon to buy gifts.

Well, with Christmas rapidly approaching, I’m guessing that a few of you may be looking for Santa to bring a new guitar. Perhaps you’ve never played before and have always wanted to try? Or, maybe you are a seasoned guitarist who wants to upgrade? Regardless, embracing your new guitar will be one of the sweetest days of your life.

But is a guitar really an ideal gift?

Not exactly and here is why. Prior to buying an instrument that will set you back several hundred, you should test it out with your hands. You’ll discover in our guide to finding the right guitar below that you should check several features of the guitar before handing over the cash. Hence, if you really want a guitar for Christmas let your parents know, go with them to the store, try out a few different guitars, tell them which one suits you best and then act pleasantly surprised when you get that very same guitar Christmas day.

Finding the Right Guitar

Before we begin, please note that a common pitfall for beginning students is simply that they are learning on the wrong guitar. Heed to this advice and you will be properly equipped.

#1 Do you really need to go full-size?

Going “full-size” may sound like a question from a car salesman or a McDonalds combo meal, but the term also applies to guitars. When we say “full size” guitar we mean its a guitar with a full-length neck. However, does your nine year-old son who may play for a week and completely forget about the instrument really need the full package? Even for serious students, full-size instruments can be bulky, delicate, expensive and harder to play than reduced-scale acoustics. Consider the later for the first guitar.

 #2 Electric vs. Acoustic?

Ah, the time tested question. Everyone has a different opinion but the reality is that electric guitars (when properly set-up) are easier to play and chances are, most aspiring musicians want to play music that was recorded with an electric guitar NOT acoustic. Thus, electric is more than likely your answer. Manufacturers like Fender, Yamaha, Ibanez and Washburn all offer quality and budget friendly electric guitars.

#3 Go with the Package

You’ve probably shopped at Wal-Mart or Target before and noticed a beginner’s package that is equipped with everything you need to get started. This, of course, includes the practice amp, cables, picks and actual guitar. You can find quality packages for as low as $300 and make the perfect gift for a beginner.

#4 Double check for “Playability”

What exactly is “playability”? This is determined by the height of the strings from the fretboard, spacing between strings as well as width of the neck. The bottom line is that if these dimensions do not fit to your individual needs, it’s going to make learning twice as hard. Before you buy a guitar, always check to see if you can reach around the body of the guitar with your right hand. With your left, reach around the guitar neck. If the guitar does not pass these two simple tests, it’s not for you. Abnormally large fingers? You may want to look into a guitar with a wider neck.

#5 Consult the expert

This step is so simple but often overlooked either because A) you think you already know everything or B) you’re too afraid to ask because you consider it a dumb question. If you go to a reputable music store, the employees are suppose to be knowledgeable, experts even, with guitars. They can answer your individual questions, concerns, needs and whatever else you need addressed prior to the actual purchase. Ask. It’s not going to hurt you.

The Guitarist Survival Guide — Ace Your First Gig

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

So you’ve been playing the guitar for quite some time now. You’ve developed a nice practice habit, absorbed all the information possible and even joined a band. Where do you go from here? You play your first gig, of course.

I’m guessing that what motivated you to get into playing the guitar in the first place was eventually to perform. Do not get me wrong, practicing in your lonely old room is fun and all but the true joy of music comes from playing it in front of others. However, your first gig is going to be a little nerve-racking and more than anything NOT perfect.

Which means do not set your standards low (always shoot for the best) but after the gig is all said and done realize that you made mistakes and the beauty is that you can learn and improve on those mistakes. So what’s The Guitarist Survival Guide to acing the first gig?

I like to divide this guide into five separate steps…


This is the entire build up to your very first show. I’m talking about both the personal practice needed to hold your own in the band as well as the business side of actually booking that first show. You should obviously know the songs by heart and be familiar with the set-list prior to the gig. However, for an artist approaching the business side it may not be so easy. Remember to start with something small. This is your first show after all and it’s going to take some time to make your act known. Do not be afraid to play in a little venue and if all else fails, playing for free is not the worst thing in the world. Just do not make it a habit — you’re a respectable guitarist in a respectable band.

Gear Prep

If you’re nervous, it’s easy to overlook the gear prep. Big mistake! You must know your gear in and out, from what guitar works best for which songs to amp and effect settings. Double check that your strings are in good condition and that you have plenty of extra picks, string, cable, etc. Even little things like an extra set of batteries for your FX are important. Remember, nothing screams amateur more than a band that is not properly equipped.

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The Arrival

You may idolize rock stars who did not play by the rules but for God sakes be respectful and BE EARLY. You’re not Led Zeppelin and the world does not revolve around your music. Those bands may have been able to get away with murder and unreasonable requests, but your local venue has plenty of other acts they can book if you’re just plain rude. Trust us, they’ll not give you a second chance. So do the little things (like being nice to the sound guy) and handle personal business (like arranging how your getting paid) in a professional and respectful manner.

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The Performance

This is your opportunity to shine. In sports you hear the cliché, “preparation is everything”. The same is true of the rock show. It may look and feel great but those acts put a hell of lot of preparation into that performance. If you’re prepared, you’ll do great. A few pre-show jitters are expected. Take a deep breathe and relax. Remember, amazing performers are beloved because they have terrific stage presence, interact with the audience and do not just stare down at their guitar the entire time. HAVE FUN!

Wrap it Up

You may think your first gig ends with the final note of the final song but you are wrong. You have to tear down the set, thank the individual who booked you, meet and chat with your fans…and get paid. Most importantly do not forget to get paid. Pack your stuff up first and be courteous. If the manager likes your music and likes you personally, they’ll surely look to bring you back. Enjoy the rest of your night!

These are the Bends

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Today we’re going to take a look at guitar bends, something that you could classify as an “moderate to advanced guitar technique”. What are the bends? Simply, the guitar bend is designed to give what some guitarists simply refer to as the “voice”. Think about it this way: You can play the note but what happens when you play that same note and also put a twist on it? That twist is what we define as a change in the pitch.

Depending on your skill level, either guitar bends have become something that is simply second nature or rather a particular skill you’ve always wanted to master but afraid it could be too difficult. Truthfully, bends are not exactly extraordinary complicated but they will give you a lot of trouble in the early stages.

As I already mentioned, guitar bends is all about changing the pitch in the note. While this may sound relatively easily it does take some practice and focus to make it work right. Which is what we’re all after, right?

Guitar bends are executed by using not one, not two, but three fingers. This is accomplished by placing your third finger on the fret you are trying to bend while placing your first and second fingers on the frets behind it. Exert pressure with all three fingers and ah-la — you got a bend.

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So, for example, you could fret the note on the eight fret, third string with your third finger. Then, you would place your second finger on the third string seventh fret and your first finger on the third string, sixth fret.

Got it?

Your ultimate goal is to bend the note up one semi-tone – or what guitarists refer to as a “half step” – and then return the note to its original pitch. You do this by picking the note you want to bend, pressing (in an upward motion or toward you) while still putting some pressure on the strings. A common mistake is to only want to bend the note with your primary finger (in this case, the third finger) while the other two remain still. However, a wise guitarist will use all three fingers. After you have accomplished the bend desired, return the note to its original pitch.

If the first time you practice a guitar bend the pitch does not seem to alter much, fret not. Guitar bends do take practice and you will not master them at first. Acoustic guitarists, beware, I hate to break the news but guitar bends are even a little tougher on acoustic.

Remember when you first started playing the guitar and your fingers ached for like two weeks? That’s how you have to approach the bends. You’re likely using finger muscles you’ve never used before and they will take time to develop. Hey, Hogan did not become the Hulk overnight either.

Patience truly is a virtue.

Note: Once you master the “half-step” bend try a “full-step” bend which requires that you bend the note up TWO frets.