Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Guitar Aging Experiment – How to Create a Relic

The relic guitar market has really taken off and you have to pay a bunch of money to get your new guitar pre-aged, which drives interest in do it yourself approaches. Serendipity happened this morning as I was catching up on my feed reading and ran across the start of a DIY guitar relic experiment on Electric Guitar Review.

Actually, I’m more interested in anti-aging treatments since I’ve hit midlife and try to keep my guitars looking good so they age gracefully. The only “relic” treatment I’ve applied to a guitar was unintentional. But, for those interested in aging their guitars, this series should be right up your alley.

The article is entitled Chop Shop: And So Begins ERG’s Great “Tele Relic” Experiment Of 2008. Anyone who follows these posts should see a blow by blow account of aging a Classic Player Baja Telecaster as well as related links in the articles and comments that should be a treasure trove of information for relic enthusiasts. I’ll include links to these posts as shared items so you can keep up with them as they are published or just subscribe to EGR.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Play Acoustic for Improved Electric Guitar Tone

Practicing regularly on an acoustic guitar is one of the best ways to improve your electric guitar tone. While this sounds counter intuitive bear with me because this really works.

Think of the adage garbage in garbage out. Your signal chain starts with your fret and picking hands. No amount of adjustment will overcome garbage going in. Practicing on the acoustic will fix this as nothing comes between you and your sound. If your playing is not clean and accurate it shows up in stark relief. This is great because you also get instant feedback on what adjustments create improvement. Think of it like the behavioral modification scenario where you get a treat if you do what the mad scientist wants; do the wrong thing and you get a shock (bad tone in this case).

After a week or so working with the acoustic, you will notice how much better your electric tone starts to become. The cleaner and more accurate your playing going into your effects chain, the better it sounds when it comes out the other end, no rocket science here. An added benefit is that the heavier gauge strings on the acoustic with their higher tension really helps build your chops and makes playing the lighter gauge strings on your electric seem effortless.

Try it and you will be enjoying your tone treats in no time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Les Paul is Still Going Strong

I ran across this Bob Edwards interview of Les Paul during my morning browse. Les Paul should be a motivator for anyone seeking to learn the guitar later in life (10 for some, 70 for others).

Give it a listen.

Bruce Cameron – Psychedelic Rock Redux

While browsing my vintage rock news sources I came upon a story of Bruce Cameron and a free download of Midnight Daydream, his one and only album. I’m listening now and this brings me right back to nighttime FM radio of the late 60s early 70s (wind chimes tinkling in the background, unstructured playlists, lots of b sides).

Part of this sound is no surprise given he somehow got artists such as Jack Bruce, Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, and Mitch Mitchell of Cream, Band of Gypsys, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience to play on this album. But, that is not the strangest part. He dies mysteriously just after the album is released; kind of like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Did he take his own life or was he murdered by a jealous girlfriend?

While none of this is overly memorable (track 1 “Midnight Daydream” sums it up; inane lyrics along with some incredible psychedelic guitar runs) it does instantly evoke the vibe us aging baby boomer rockers grew up listening to. Since it was recorded using analog equipment it also has that presence in the mix that you just do not hear anymore with current recording and mixing techniques.

So, take a look at this strange bit of rock history, and let me know your thoughts. As for me, I’m going to get my guitar out, plug in the crybaby and fuzz face, and have some fun!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Remember Transcription Study in Your Practice Routine

I used transcriptions when I first started learning the guitar to try and duplicate some of my favorite vintage rock tunes. I go back and play some of these tunes along with backing tracks for exercise but find I’m not that happy with how they sound anymore.

I think it is a combination of a more discriminating ear with experience and my lack of technique and understanding when I learned these tunes originally. So, I've started going back to studying these transcriptions. This little exercise revealed a treasure trove of improvement opportunities.

I was really shocked at how many nuances I had missed in learning these initially. Also, I saw instances where I just did not have the technique to duplicate sections as written and evolved fakery approaches to get by. With some review and changes to how I played my favorites I was able to get quick and dramatic improvement.

I’m not advocating that duplication is my only goal as we all want to evolve our own sound. However, when trying to learn a particular technique or lick I want to learn it well and not just have my ear pretend it sounds right. If you are of a similar bent I recommend you make studying transcriptions a steady part of your guitar practice diet.

Don't have handy transcriptions; check out Guitar World Tabs.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tone Tips and Tricks for the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

The Unofficial Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Owners Guide
A coworker forwarded me a link to the Unofficial Hot Rod Deluxe Owner’s Guide the other day and I took a look. Lots of interesting content but the bonus for me was an excerpt on tone tips from the original manual, which gave me new appreciation for this amp.

The current Hot Rod Deluxe manual does not include much information on how to get the most out of this amp. This site though is packed with useful tips including tone settings. The original manual excerpt pictured above, lists varied tone descriptions and the amp settings (drive channel, treble, presence, etc) required to achieve each. This bit of information provides a great foundation to start experimenting.

I warmed up my Hot Rod Deluxe, gave these settings a try, and learned just how much untapped potential the Hot Rod Deluxe has. The typical comment I hear is that the overdrive channel is useless, which was my experience. These settings gave me the insight on how to get great tone from both the normal and drive channels using single coil and humbucker type pickups to bring this amp alive. It feels like having a brand new toy!

Give these settings a try and see what you think.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Highballs and Hydrangeas – Multi Generations Gather and Rock

Continuing music education for my wife and I this weekend was Highballs and Hydrangeas at Cheekwood. Cheekwood is an art museum and botanical garden located in the mansion and on the grounds of a grand estate completed in 1932. Most notable is the diverse crowd this event now attracts.

Highballs and Hydrangeas is a great party that raises money for Cheekwood. Music was provided by the Pat Patrick Band. Although Cheekwood might be associated with the longhair art crowd all demographics were represented. We saw everything from two rockin’ grandmothers accompanied by their grandson designated driver (iPod ear buds firmly in place) to the youngest and hippest of the contemporary crowd.

The Pat Patrick Band rocked (my favorite moment being when the lead guitarist slipped the intro for Purple Haze into one of his solos) and the dance floor was like a roller derby tournament.

This all reconfirms for me that music (and highballs) knows no age boundaries.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Girls Are Back in Town - Groupies That Is

While roaming the blogosphere I ran across The Girls With the Band and realize the groupie movement is back in the guise of the “Plastics”, a global organization that seeks to return “Groupie” to its glamour roots of the 60s and 70s. Maybe this aspect of rock & roll is better left in the past.

Groupies seek fame by being around famous people. In keeping with that concept I guess the name “Plastics” is homage to Cynthia Plaster Caster who is famous for making plaster casts of rock stars’ private parts. I’ve seen “Almost Famous” and “The Banger Sisters” (their shtick was snapshots of private parts rather than plaster casts; another homage to the Plaster Casters) and viewed those as a nostalgic look back at the vintage rock era.

However, these movies while nostalgic and funny also come off as cautionary tales; the groupies don’t come off looking so glamorous in the end. Here is a “Where Are They Now” article on vintage groupies from the Gibson website. Give it a read and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amps – They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

I wrote awhile back how I wanted some of that Marshall crunch at marriage preserving sound pressure levels. I picked up a DSL 401 and all was right with the world until it wasn’t.

The great thing about this amp is it can still generate enough volume to strip paint from the walls and any time the cat is out so to speak this mouse gets out the DSL 401 and cranks it up. On my play day last weekend the Marshall crunch deserted me and the DSL 401 started cutting out and sounding hollow.

I consulted my resident expert co-worker; “sounds like it could be a tube, I’ve got a bunch you could experiment with but it could be something else because they don’t make them like they used to.” Since my life insurance policy does not cover electrocution while digging into the backside of a guitar amp I called the local amp doctor.

“Hey, I have a DSL 401 and…” I start off. “It’s cutting out on you, isn’t it” says the amp tech. It could be tubes but more than likely it’s cheap circuit soldering. They don’t make them like they used to.” I finally caught on to the theme and brought it on over.

During my educational visit I learned how a hand soldered circuit board differs from the machine soldered boards in the lower priced amps and that if you are buying an amp, check to see if it is a double sided circuit board. Although those are still done by machine they come out a lot better and he never sees those come in because of soldering problems.

Anyway, lesson learned and once he’s done working on it I’ll report back on the results. I would be curious to know if anyone else out there has had similar experiences with their amps or is it just me. Maybe I have some solder eating microbes in the house...

Monday, April 14, 2008

I’ll Never Play Like Jimi Hendrix

I’ve outlined the many benefits to making music in midlife and beyond. Beware though the baby boomer overachiever complex (man, I’ll never play as good as [insert your guitar legend here]).

You have a few hours on the clock now and likely have achieved one or more key life milestones; education, reproduction, career, scratch golfer, sports car, etc. You’re going to come into music making with high expectations only to have them dashed when you realize you aren’t measuring up to your favorite guitar legend. Don’t sweat it.

The guitar legend that got me motivated to learn the guitar was Jimi Hendrix. Reportedly the floor was awash with the tears of the other guitar legends of the day when they first saw him perform so I was setting myself up for disappointment. The thing is, comparing yourself to a guitar legend is no different than comparing yourself to Tiger Woods if you are a golfer.

The guitar like golf is a matter of practice. It takes 10,000 practice hours to become an expert at an instrument or the golf course. At this stage in your life you have a lot going on and probably do not have 50 hours per week to allocate to the guitar. So, why stress out by comparing yourself to those that do? Instead, maximize the potential of the time you do have for this hobby and enjoy its benefits!

>>Related Posts
Baby Boomer Guide to Guitar as a Midlife Hobby
Why It Is No More Difficult to Learn the Guitar at Age 50 vs 15
Do Baby Boomers Really Need Permission to Learn the Guitar?

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Must Listen To For Anyone Interested in Music

I was flipping through stations one evening and heard discussion around home and studio recording techniques, which immediately caught my interest. Turns out it was an episode of Music Business Radio, a talk show you should check out.

Nashville’s own WRLT 100.1 FM is the flagship station for this program and it is great listening for anyone interested in music. The latest episode features Ken Mansfield, former US Manager for Apple Records and US/UK liaison for the Beatles and he recounts his experiences working with them as well as the Beach Boys, the Band, and many more.

So, visit their site to find a broadcast radio station in your area or simply subscribe and listen to episodes through streaming audio or podcast free of charge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dating Advice for Baby Boomers: Learn the Guitar

I’ve found a set of baby boomer oriented blogs that I like to visit and often see ads for baby boomer dating services. So, it occurs to me that this may be yet another benefit of making music. If you find yourself back in the dating scene in middle age, learning to play the guitar may really help you in your quest to find that certain someone.

Flimsy you say? Maybe, but do you see any guitar legends (male or female) lacking for companionship? It can't hurt.

It’s not too late to pick up the guitar in middle age. Apparently the number of dating services oriented towards baby boomers says it’s not too late to be out there dating if you are unattached. “Guitarist” will look great on your online dating profile under “Hobbies” :-).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New DVD Documents Fifty Year Reign of the Stratocaster and Les Paul


Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul solid body guitars are like the Baby Boomers I write about; around for over 50 years and still rocking. Solidbodies, The 50 Year Guitar War documents the history of these influential axes on rock history and is available on DVD now.

The film includes player commentary from Joe Bonamassa, Henry Garza, and Derek Trucks. It also features Nashville’s own George Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars and one of the world’s leading vintage guitar experts.

The documentary is written and directed by Guy Hornbuckle and you can find a trailer as well as downloads and purchase information on the film’s website:

Any gear enthusiast is going to want to check this out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bob Dotson Covers Aging Rockers

Bob Dotson on Today's American Story covers rockers aged beyond anything I've been imagining in my posts. The segment is "Not Too Old to Rock" and it is worth a look. This group of rockers, the Young At Heart Chorus, has been performing around the world to sell out crowds and will be well known here because they are going to be starring in their own movie.

I realize I've been way too conservative in my posts. Middle Age is a piece of cake.

Three Generations Test Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight

I finally got around to buying Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight and brought it to Florida for the annual Spring Break ritual (not the wild Daytona Beach type; visiting grandparents in active retirement type) where it became an interesting test of music’s universal appeal.

My Gen Y offspring became instant converts on the plane trip down. We’re picked up at the airport by the grandparents and half way through the track “Given Up” the Silent generation is into it as well! Since I bought it I’m biased but my Baby Boomer wife is enjoying it so that covers generation three.

We ultimately pull into a pirate themed beach restaurant for the early bird special with the speakers thumping and heads bobbing. The innocent bystanders getting out of their cars at the same time to beat the early bird cutoff (picture a crowd of salmon rushing up stream to spawn) didn’t know what to make of us. I guess we were difficult to categorize. But, within seconds, the bystanders adjusted (more focused on the special maybe) and we blended right in.

The conclusion I draw from this non-scientific study is that playing and enjoying music is universal regardless of age. My job is to keep reminding people of that. If you have a desire to make music, get going because time is a wasting. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Aging Rockers: You’re Not Alone

I received my issue of AARP magazine today and they feature “Rock of Aged” in the trends section. Seems many of the top touring bands of 2007 are “kinda long in the tooth.”

The Police, average age 59, were actually the top touring band of any age last year with gross receipts north of $120 million. Other high revenue acts were Van Halen, average age 54 (not counting Eddie’s 17 year old son who plays bass), Rod Stewart, 63, and Genesis with an average age of 57.

No excuses Boomers; pick up that guitar and start rocking!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Baby Boomer Wannabe Guitarists: Check Out Free Guitar Lessons

I’ve always stressed the importance of guitar lessons, especially for those of us with a few hours on the clock; not because we’re slow on the uptake, we just want to make up for lost time. One of my readers recommended Free Guitar Lessons by Watch & Learn as a site that’s working great for him. I spent some time this morning looking it over.

I felt in a Bluegrass mood so I checked out flatpicking and learned some basic Bluegrass rhythms and improvisation. This is a great site, especially if you are starting out and overwhelmed with the options. If you find an area of interest they offer premium downloads where you can get more in depth from there.

Another area that should be mentioned is their Guitar Jam Tracks section. My first instructor set me up with “Let’s Jam” by Peter Vogl right away and it was invaluable to learning the rudiments of improvisation, ear training, and staying with the beat. Another benefit of the CD is the suggestions they provide for how to improvise over each track.

If you’re starting out and trying to get your bearings or been playing for awhile and want to discover new territory, give this site a look.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Choose the Correct Signal Chain Order for Your Effects Pedals

You’ve gone to your local guitar store and bought some pedals and the next question is “what order do I put them in? Try this common order first:

  1. Dynamic Range – Compression
  2. EQ – Wah Pedal, Equalizer
  3. Drive – Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz
  4. Modulation – Phaser, Flanger, Chorus
  5. Time-Based – Reverb, Delay
Here's why:

Each pedal imparts its own coloring to the audio signal. This order goes from least alteration of the signal to the most and minimizes the chance that the effects introduced at each point in the signal path cancel the previous ones out.

Dynamic Range
If you have a compression pedal this should be first in your default signal chain order. Compression automatically “rides the gain” by pumping up volume when levels are low and cutting it when levels peak too high. The behavior of the rest of your effects chain becomes much more predictable by receiving this more uniform and consistent audio signal.

If you have an EQ type effect it is most likely a Wah pedal, which creates its distinctive effect by sweeping a narrow frequency range up and down as you move the pedal. Placing the wah pedal next in this suggested default order enables it to benefit from the consistent audio signal coming from the compressor and it yields a more open vintage sound. In addition its output is more predictably colored by other effects down stream in the signal path such as gain and modulation.

Drive pedals emulate the saturated gain sound of a tube amp turned up to 11 by clipping the audio signal. Since this effect adds lots of gain to your signal it works best in this next position as we’re still dealing with a clean signal from the compressor and wah pedal; thus you avoid boosting unwanted noise.

Modulation type pedals operate by splitting off a portion of the signal and applying slight delays and or altering the pitch of the incoming signal before mixing it back together with the unprocessed portion. This signal treatment increases the likelihood of cancellation effects if modulation is placed earlier in the signal path.

Time-based effects are last in this suggested default order because they repeat the original signal without alteration. This treatment earlier in the signal path will conflict with other effects that alter the waveform if they were later in the signal chain giving you unpredictable results.

Now that I’ve laid out the “rules” I can move to the inevitable exceptions.
  • If you have a Fuzz Face pedal you will need to plug your guitar into it directly. I learned this the hard way. It goes nuts if you have anything other than the guitar in front of it.
  • Try the wah pedal just after drive pedals for a thicker sound.
  • While modulation effects generally go after drive try placing phaser effects in front of your overdrive and distortion pedals.
Be sure to balance the volume across the signal chain (ensure the same volume when an effect is on or bypassed). Lastly, don't forget the most important effects; your guitar volume, pickup selector, and the type of guitar pick you use. Since these are the very beginning of the signal chain they have the largest impact on your tone.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Take a Look at Project Song from All Songs Considered

On my way home from the office today I heard a story on National Public Radio® regarding Project Song, an NPR Music feature on that illustrates the entire music creation process from writing through recording and post production. The entire process is done over two ten hour days.

Whether this paricular example is your style of music or not this really highlights that there is a process for how music is made rather than a bolt of lightening coming out of the sky.

You can hear the story and watch a video of the process at NPR Music.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Does a Beard Improve Your Guitar Playing?

One blog I visit frequently is The Boomer Chronicles, which recently discussed baldness. If you visit my profile you'll see I’m an expert and this article prompted me to go the shaved head/goatee route like other rock legends. I did some analysis to see if going for the look has improved my playing.

I evaluated qualitative and quantitative aspects of my pre and post goatee playing and no discernible difference other than an itchy chin. Dang! I was hoping I would maybe pick up a Kerry King/Slayer vibe or something as a result.

Nonetheless, I'm going to stay with the goatee because it sure feels like it makes me play better.