Archive for March, 2011

Ready…Set…Guitar — The Proper Guitar Set-up

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Congratulations! You’ve just invested in your first guitar!

Perhaps you have been saving for awhile and finally got that expensive Fender that you have always wanted? Or, maybe you’re like the vast majority of most beginners and decided to save a little cash and go with a cheaper priced instrument? Nothing is wrong with the later but you should know that if you pick up the guitar for the very first time and hear an awful buzzing noise it does not necessarily mean you bought a bad guitar.

Rather, it is highly likely that you just need to give the guitar a proper set-up.

Note: Of course, you can avoid this scenario almost entirely by testing out the guitar prior to buying and/or avoiding budget guitars sold at places like Wal-Mart and Target.

The reality is that most guitars require at least some set-up before playing, especially if they intend to use the instrument for one particular style. The first thing you should do with a new guitar is strum the open notes and check for any buzzing or muted sounds. If you do encounter such a sound, a nut is likely bad and will need to be filed down. While it is possible to fix this dilemma, we HIGHLY recommend you hire a professional.

Once the guitar passes the first test it’s time to tune the guitar. First, you must find out if the open note is tuned with a fretted note. In order to do this, test the open and twelfth fret notes of each string. They should sound the same. No dice? It’s time to adjust the intonation. Again, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional although (unlike filing down a nut) you are unlikely to cause any major damage to the instrument.

To adjust the intonation on most electric guitars you will need to tighten or loosen screws on the bridge to move each string’s saddle up or down. However, if you are using an acoustic guitar (or any other guitar with a non-adjustable saddle) you will definitely need to bring in the instrument as there is no way an amateur can fix this properly.

After your guitar passes the first two tests you must check for fret buzz. Fret buzz is when the strings are too low or the truss rod is improperly adjusted, resulting in a terrible buzzing noise.

Once again, the problem is fixable but this time you have a variety of alternatives. Some experts will advise you to try playing with an amp (as sometimes the fret buzz is not picked up) or play softer to hopefully eliminate the buzz. However, your best bet may be to try a heavier gauge string on the instrument. Talk to an expert to see what he or she recommends. Your very last resort is to adjust the truss rod.

Last but not least, a wise guitarist should polish, retune and restring the instrument. Consult your local music shop for a correct polish. Always buff with a dry, soft cloth. When not in use, store your guitar in a temperate, moderately dark and slightly humid area.

5 Myths about the Guitar (and its accessories)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society
b : an unfounded or false notion

When it comes to the guitar and the abundance of information that is now available on the Web, it is very easy for beginner guitarists to get caught up in the misconceptions, fabrications and downright myths that are directly related to learning the guitar.

We here at GLC consider this really unfortunate because learning the guitar is going to take some time, determination and patience much less if half the time you are getting the wrong information and/or basing your reasoning on unverified facts.

So…In order to combat guitar myths we strongly recommend that A) you do some research before buying a new guitar B) invest in a high rated guitar course and C) seek further advice from experts/seasoned guitarists in your respective community.

Here are five common but complete myths about the guitar (and its accessories)…

Myth: Acoustic guitars, due to their simple construction and lack of electrical hookup are easier to play when compared to electric guitars

Quite the opposite actually. Electric guitars are easier to play because they have lighter strings, lower action and a smaller neck. This is not to say that it’s impossible to first learn on an acoustic guitar but most experts would recommend electric over acoustic.

This revelation should interest a far share of our readers because we have found that most beginners would prefer to play electric guitar anyhow.

Myth: Expensive guitar strings rust and lose their tone just like cheap guitar strings so why pay the extra price? I can save so much money!

Like anything, you truly get what you pay for. It’s true that even the best guitar strings on the market will eventually lose their tone and need replaced, but high-end strings will last way longer if you maintain the strings regularly. For example, did you know that you can clean your strings after practice with a lint free cloth (i.e. handkerchief) as well as coat the string with a protective chemical such as FingerEase or “Fast Fret”?

Invest in quality strings, apply proper maintenance and your strings will last way longer than you might think. It’s vital that your instrument sounds great and for the guitar it all begins with the strings!

Myth: …But low action and thin strings still play faster!

Again, another common misconception about guitar strings.

In theory, you would assume that lighter strings are faster because of less resistance, right? It’s simply not true. In fact, a lot of legendary classical and jazz guitarists absolutely kill it with either acoustic or nylon strings which are traditionally very thick. Consequently, virtuoso technique is all about correct strength, control, technique, etc and very little about the size of the strings.

We should note that action and size of strings vary largely depending on the guitarist. Consequently, it’s easy to fall into the illusion that thinner strings create more speed but always focus more on accuracy and control if you really want to play faster. On a site note, you should also consider that thinner strings create a weaker tone.

Myth: Large amp equals biggest sound possible, right?

Wrong. In certain circumstances, larger is better but not always the case with guitars and more specifically guitar amps. Actually, some of the most gigantic sounds that have been recorded have been done with smaller 10 to 20 watt amps with the tube jacked up loud. As a result, a lot of bands prefer to put a lot of large amps on stage that are empty of speakers (and really only there for looks) while they tuck a small amp that is mic’d up to the PA system.

A lot of guitar “starter packs” include a practice amp which is a slightly less powerful, smaller amp and like the name implies intended primarily for practice. But just up from the “practice amps” you can find a lot of quality amps for a far less price.

Myth: What about cheap cables? Are they worth the risk?

I imagine you’re starting to see a trend here? Just like cheap strings, amps and guitars can alter the quality of sound output the same is true with cheap cables. Moderate to High priced cables will last longer and the difference in quality is quite noticeable.

How noticeable? A wise guitarist could invest in a phenomenal guitar and amp but with low quality cables the setup will never produce the sound the instrument and amp is capable of producing. Like anything, you can shell out a small amount of cash every six months or spend some more upfront and increase longevity.

Beginner Power Chord Basics

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

While one can certainly appreciate the electric guitar for a wide variety of reasons, for me, and probably a great deal of other guitarists, the aspect that really separates the electric guitar are the loud, thundering guitar riffs that are often composed from power chords.

You got the power!

Power chords are, without debate, the signature of modern rock, grunge rock, hard rock and metal (NOTE: If you are a true beginner and are not sure what I am talking about, peep the opening riff to Deep Purple “Smoke on the Water” for a classic example).

The interesting thing about power chords is although they are organized into the chords category they are technically not a “chord”. Why? In music and music theory, a chord is three or more different notes that are sounded simultaneously. They are further broken down into “Major” or “Minor” Triads. However, a power chord is an abbreviated version of the full triad chords playing only the root and fifth notes of the scale as a chord. In other words, it’s not technically a “chord” because it only has two notes.

Due to one less note, most beginners would assume that power chords are easier to play. While true in theory, the importance of learning music theory should not be de-emphasized. In order to learn power chords effectively, you will NEED to really understand the names of the notes on the neck of the guitar.

Interesting enough, power chords have a history that dates back to the birth of blues music although the guitar technique was probably not fully realized and used effectively until the 90s grunge era. At that time, most bands relied on power chords almost exclusively, as they were simply easier to play and more appropriate for the genre when compared to “traditional chords”.

Power chords are incredibly versatile in the sense that you can literally move them up and down the guitar neck. This is not possible with regular chords, therefore giving it yet another distinct advantage. Again, this is where your knowledge of the note locations on the guitar neck will really come in handy.

Remember: Each power chord only contains two notes — the root note and another note called the “fifth”. The power chord does NOT contain the note which traditionally tells us whether the chord is major or minor. Consequently, power chords are neither defined as major or minor chords.

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Additional notes:

  • Guitarists may optionally omit the pinky finger on a power chord to strum the two-note chord we discussed (above). However, some guitarists will still stick with the full, three-note version as it tends to sound more “full”.
  • Another common technique for three-note power chords is to play the root note with the first finger and then let the third finger cover the other two notes. As a result, still only two fingers are technically needed.
  • Power chords ideally sound best with moderate to maximum distortion, although personal preferences may differ.

5 Useful Guitar Scales

Monday, March 7th, 2011

When it comes to the guitar, scales harmonize the organization of music. What we mean by this is that without guitar scales the instrument would be much more difficult to understand and play, therefore likely not making it near as popular.

As we all know, most Western music divides the musical octave (when one note is twice as high as another) into 12 sections, called semitones. On the guitar, each semitone is represented by a fret. Scales start and stop on the octave, and the most common scales (Major and Minor) consists of seven different notes, other scales may use more or less than seven notes.

Therefore, if you know the pattern of a particular scale you can seemingly move that same pattern anywhere on the fret board to adjust to a particular key.

Several different scales exist (major to minor, blues to pentatonic) but today we wanted to examine five important guitar scales/modes that you may have never heard of before.

1. Dorian

The Dorian scale, or mode, is the second of the seven musical modes. It is similar to the natural minor except for the raised sixth. The Dorian scale is the minor scale that appears when a major scale is started from the second note (second scale-degree). In order for Dorian to be part of the system the notes have to be exactly the same as the parent major scale’s notes (i.e. a major built on the second degree of the parent scale will have its third and seventh degree lowered a half step).

Check out the Dorian positions.

2. Ionian

The major scale, identical to the Ionian mode, is the cornerstone of western music for over five hundred years. As with other diatonic scales, the major scale is made up of seven notes (eight if you include the octave). The Ionian scale, or mode, is the first of the seven musical modes. This major scale is also the parent scale to six other scales known as the “church modes”.

Check out the Ionian positions.

3. Lydian

Lydian is another major mode that is built on the fourth degree of the Ionian mode. The formula is as follows: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7. Lydian is only one note different than Ionian but the one alteration, the raised fourth degree, makes a huge impact. The Lydian scale is the scale that appears when a major scale is played with the fourth note (fourth scale-degree) as the root.

Check out the Lydian positions.

4. Mixolydian

Mixolydian is the fifth of the seven musical modes. It is similar to the major scale except for the lowered seventh. The Mixolydian scale is the scale that appears when a major scale is played with the fifth note (fifth scale-degree) as the root. Similar to Lydian, Mixolydian’s single alteration adds a whole new spectrum to the guitar’s sound.

Check out the Mixolydian positions.

5. Phrygian

The third of seven musical modes is the Phrygian scale. It is similar to the natural minor except for the lowered second. The Phrygian scale is the minor scale that appears when a major scale is started from the third note (third scale-degree). Phrygian has a borderline dark side with a deceptively catchy feel, too.

Check out the Phrygian positions.

Note: As with all of the scales/modes above, you will notice that the mode is the same as the C major. The difference? There is no difference; it’s the chords that create the magic. Playing a scale over a C major chord will sound exactly like playing a C major scale. However, playing a scale over a D minor chord will sound “Dorian” and so forth.