Showing posts with label acoustic guitar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label acoustic guitar. Show all posts

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Expand Your Guitar Horizons with Lawson Rollins

I take advantage of annual “Top 10” lists as one mechanism to discover new music. These lists offer plenty to choose from since they are broken down according to Critics Picks, Reader/Listener/Viewer Picks, Genre, and everything between. One fulfilling discovery this year is Guitarist and Producer Lawson Rollins. He has renewed my excitement about this blog’s favorite musical instrument.

Rollins’ style is the Spanish guitar as characterized by his playing as one half of Young & Rollins. A look at his video The Fire Cadenza on YouTube expresses much more than I can say in words though. I did a double take at first because I could not fathom how such depth comes from such economy of movement. You can download the Guitar Tab for this piece on iTunes courtesy of transcription help from Guitar World's own Andy Aledort. How cool is that?! I downloaded Infinita, Rollins’ first solo album during this same iTunes visit and there is much more going on here than just Spanish guitar.

Infinita is a World Music tour traveling through salsa, samba, and Latin jazz. Rollins throws in some blues, the bossa nova, and flamenco for good measure. He provides virtuoso guitar playing and writes the songs and basic arrangements. He achieves an improvisational feel on the tracks by leaving space for the other players to create their own interpretations for the album. Rollins’ digs deeper into the roots of world music on his second solo album Espirito, which just came out January 19th.

Espirito’s world tour takes on the characteristics of the Amazing Race as it digs into biguine, reggae, son, and swing rhythms. He takes me beyond Spain to hit styles of India, Persia, and the Arab world. This is definitely off the beaten path and worth checking out if you want to expand your horizons or even as music immersion in the event you are scheduled to visit some exotic locale abroad!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Build Your Chops - Enjoy Your Guitar Favorites “Unplugged”

I posted an article about how playing an acoustic guitar builds fretting hand strength so your electric guitar playing will seem effortless in comparison. This only works though if you find something interesting to work on. Otherwise the acoustic part of your practice routine becomes boring and you will not do it enough to get the full benefit. One way to add interest is come up with “unplugged” versions of your favorite rock tunes.

This idea struck me while sitting in a coffee shop subconsciously listening to music wafting out of the sound system and realizing it was an acoustic version of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Interstate Love Song” a perennial favorite. The acoustic version sounded great.

A couple Internet searches after returning home I worked out the basics and began creating my own rendition. As this involves experimentation and repetition my fretting hand was numb and fingertips sore after the first day. After a couple days the chops are stronger than ever (strong as post middle age chops get anyway). You can find examples everywhere in our connected world. I checked out radio streams from iTunes for example and ran across an acoustic rendition of 10 Years’ “Through The Iris,” my next acoustic experiment.

Acoustic playing is a great way to keep the chops in shape and keeping the fun up motivates you to put in the time necessary to gain the benefits. Try the “unplugged favorites” approach; you will be glad you did.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Support Your Local Guitar Store

I like going to Guitar Center because it has almost everything for everybody. It became my default location for any guitar related needs. I finally broke out of that routine and visited a local guitar shop and found I’ve been missing out.

While local shops carry a fraction of what Guitar Center does they do fill niches in depth that larger stores cannot. I happened by Artisan Guitars earlier in the week and this represents a great example.

Artisan specializes in acoustic guitars and it feels part guitar store part art gallery. I got exposed to everything from completely hand built guitars with recovered exotic woods (works of art as well as functional) to CNC machined ultra low cost yet high quality guitars built offshore. I was able to take my time and find what I needed plus learn a whole lot about acoustic guitars.

Although I say local, not much is local anymore in the Internet and rapid shipping eras and Artisan provides online shopping for their inventory of new and preowned instruments. So, although the large stores have quantity, don’t forget to check out that guitar store around the corner if you want to do a deeper dive into a particular guitar niche. You’re missing out if you don’t!

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.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Greenpeace and Guitars?

I was perusing guitar related news the other day and ran across “Greenpeace” and “Guitar”, which I thought was an odd combination. It turns out that Greenpeace has enlisted the aid of guitar manufacturers to avert a crisis with Sitka spruce.

Sitka spruce is a wood species prized by guitar manufacturers for soundboards and their source is Sealaska, a Native American logging company; the largest private landholder in Alaska. The best tone and appearance is from old growth forests but there is only a 15 year supply left if logging practices do not change. Oops.

Although the vast majority of this wood goes overseas for construction, Greenpeace enlisted the participation of the guitar makers because they and their customers are a high profile group as compared to a maker of door sashes for instance. Greenpeace brought Sealaska and guitar makers Gibson, Taylor, Martin, and Fender together at the 2006 NAMM to launch the effort. Yamaha has since joined the organization.

So, add yet another benefit to making music; promotion of sustainable practices. The current status is Sealaska has agreed to a full assessment of its logging practices this summer and will hopefully move to full certification against the Forest Stewardship Council standards from there. You can keep up on this information by visiting the Greenpeace Musicwood site.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pickup Innovation for Your Acoustic Guitar

I began the guitar as a midlife hobby driven by guitar heroes such as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page so an electric guitar was the thing. Recently, I took the plunge and bought my first acoustic and glad I did. During the process I discovered some very clever engineering going on when it comes to acoustic pickups.

Since I did not see the familiar sound hold fitted magnetic pickup on the Epiphone AJ-500RENS I purchased I assumed it did not have a pickup. Later I ran across a review of the guitar and it was talking about L.R. Baggs pickups. Well, I didn't see anything so went to their website and realized the guitar came pre-fitted with an under saddle piezo strip type pickup. This is cool technology!

The unit is L.R. Baggs' "Element Active" system and has a transducer strip that goes under the saddle on the acoustic guitar. I've included a graphic from the manual to the left showing how the transducer sits under the saddle. It has what is called an endpin pre-amp; basically a tube (pictured above left) that threads through the tail block of your guitar. The endpin serves as your strap button and input jack.

The final component of the Element pickup system is the volume knob pictured at right. This is sound hole mounted as pictured. It is convenient to use but unobtrusive.

The great thing about this pickup system is you retain the clean looks of your acoustic guitar but have a great sounding amplification option when you need it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Guitar Gear: Going Acoustic

I finally fell off the gear abstinence wagon and bought my first acoustic guitar; well, the first since the cowboy special I had at age 12; the one with the action an inch off the fretboard. The journey began with a wine tasting at Arrington Vineyards and ended up with a helpful salesperson guiding me through a dizzying array of models and features at Guitar Center.

My parents came into town for a visit and we brought them out to Arrington because they frequently offer live music (makes sense given it is owned by Kix Brooks). While enjoying an acoustic trio I cracked the ‘how many guitars does a guitarist need; just one more’ joke, fishing for validation and my 72 year old mother comes through with “if you don’t have an acoustic guitar yet you really do need one more.” Thanks, mom!

I got a crash course in guitar physics during my recent visit with Bill Hollenbeck, master luthier. I also read a helpful acoustic guitar buying guide from my Guitar World back issues where contributing writer Chris Gill echoes my mother’s statement. According to the article, regular practice on an acoustic helps build your technique by encouraging you to play more cleanly and accurately.

Entering the acoustic room at Guitar Center was still overwhelming in spite of my bit of research. My goal was a low priced import that sounded almost as good as a higher priced domestic model, like the Epiphone Dot Studio I wrote about recently. No go. After trying 5 or 6 different models in that range I realized the price would go up.

The salesperson outlined that the main difference for the next price range up was solid woods vs. laminates. So, the next 5 or 6 I tried were Sitka spruce tops with rosewood sides and backs and mahogany necks. From the first strum I realized this was a different world. The tone was lively and had a lot of presence. They all sounded great, just different and I chose an Epiphone Masterbilt (AJ-500R pictured above), which had the sound I envisioned for an acoustic.

Whether you want to explore your gentle side or simply improve your technique, take it from Guitar World and my aging mother; every guitarist needs an acoustic guitar. Go out and get yours today!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Hamblin Small Jumbo

I was commenting on an article from “eric makes music” where he mentioned his tenure at the Roberto-Venn school of luthiery. He also provided me a lead on Kent Hamblin, and Hamblin Guitars; Guitar Boomer’s guitar of the week.

Hamblin Guitars builds handmade guitars catering to fingerstyle players out of a shop in Telluride, Colorado. His guitars are handmade (no CNC equipment) with traditional techniques except where needed to achieve tone goals. For example, the guitars feature some modern techniques such as bolt-on necks with carbon fiber reinforcement. The design goals strive towards achieving an even response across the scale length and a sparkling tone quality.

The Small Jumbo features a mahogany neck with bound ebony fretboard, chrome Schaller tuners, and a single cutaway option and is available in a variety of woods (cocobolo back and sides with a cedar top recommended for the Hamblin signature sound). Kent Hamblin will also tailor neck shape, width, and string spacing to order.

If you ever make it to the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, stop by and visit or better yet, visit Hamblin Guitars online at