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

Friday, June 6, 2008

Too Focused on the Guitar and Not Enough on Age

I encounter something new every few days since picking up the guitar as a hobby at age 50. I get feedback from readers (positive and negative) and appreciate both. My “editorial calendar” evolves from there. I have been worrying about whether I focus enough on aging issues. After all, the name of the blog is Guitar Boomer and we boomers are not getting any younger. Then I ran across this quote from Groucho Marx:

Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.

Jeez, he’s right! Not particularly interesting. Then I realize that the real root of my of my editorial worries is that I'm having too much fun learning the guitar to write about aging issues. Reality is that aging and the guitar have nothing to do with each other. It is just that perceptions of the aging process can hold back otherwise excellent guitar playing prospects from getting into a great hobby.

Not saying there aren’t issues around aging. I’m an AARP member now so I'm far enough along to know that there are issues with aging; just not issues that relate to pickup up the guitar and rocking out. Let this article be your catalyst to join or rejoin your fellow guild of guitarists!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Where Do You Find Parts for Your Guitar and Amp and Everything Else?

I picked up an Antique Electronic Supply® catalog at a recent vintage guitar show. The catalog is a veritable cornucopia of goodies, ranging from phonograph needles and stranded aerial wire to reverb tanks and replacement grill cloths. For some reason I loaned it out as soon as I got it but it was returned today.

Broken knob on your amp or guitar? They have it covered. Want to experiment on your guitar? They have a full range of pickups and capacitors. None of the above? Take a look out of curiosity; it is an eclectic selection of cool toys.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baby Boomer Guide to Guitar as a Midlife Hobby

Researchers have proven that music making will:

· Exercise the brain
· Fight memory loss
· Reduce stress
· Lower blood pressure
· Stave off depression

Who wouldn’t want some of that? Especially those of us with a few hours on the meter. The guitar is a highly portable instrument enabling music making anywhere any time. So, what stops us Baby Boomers from picking up the perfect hobby? Well, here's some common mental blocks and how to avoid them.

People will think I’m nuts starting at my age.” Don’t worry; you will have lots of company. There are so many people in the baby boomer demographic picking up or re-picking up their axes it is almost a clich矇.

I don’t want to even go into a guitar store; I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.” I interviewed a guitar store worker last week for an upcoming post and he indicates 80% of their business is "old guys" coming in with a gleam in their eye and they’ve got the money right now. Believe me, the guitar store will be happy to see you.

I’ll need lessons and I can’t see myself dealing with some hotshot teenager.” Hey, your money spends like anyone else’s and they will be ecstatic to have a student who will actually practice between lessons.

I’m just too old; I don’t have the reflexes anymore or whatever is involved.” Well, they don’t have a little blue pill for guitar playing prowess but Les Paul is still playing in his 90s arthritis and all (doctors orders – there’s those benefits again). Just don't think you can use this one as an excuse.

I feel like a rocker inside but I’m bald now on the outside.” Listen man, check out lessons, you don’t play with your head! Granted, when you were growing up, rock was synonymous with big hair. Lots of rockers shave their heads now anyway whether bald or not. Joe Satriani is bald. ‘nuff said.

Rock out, you'll be glad you did!

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Get Great Palm Muting Tone on Your Guitar

This is another one of those posts (palm muting in this case) about stumbling on to correct technique that experienced guitarists don't even think to mention. My first reaction is always “duh” and I want to be quiet about it to avoid embarrassment. Second reaction is to write a post in the off chance anyone else is having the same problem.

Although I’ve played for awhile now I’ve always been disappointed in the tone I achieve when employing palm muting. I get more of a dead cat bounce than the percussive tone I’m shooting for. I always assumed I wasn’t applying the right pressure with my palm until I stumbled on the fact it is all about where you place your palm; near the bridge rather than over the active pickup like I was doing.

I added a simple diagram to illustrate my point. Since I was muting near the active pickup (‘A’ in the diagram) the strings don’t really resonate over the pickup. By moving the palm back towards the bridge (B), the strings are still muted but they now have an opportunity to resonate over the active pickup and thus a much fatter percussive tone.

Yes, I know, this is obvious and I wish I had figured it out before. Sounds great thought now that I have.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Reverend Charger 290

Man, that’s cool looking. Given I think this every time I see a guitar from Reverend Guitars that is more than enough reason for an article. One especially retro looking and affordable (always a great feature) model is the Reverend Charger 290; Guitar Boomer’s guitar of the week.

Reverend Musical Instruments was founded in 1996 by guitar and amplifier technician Joe Naylor, a graduate of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery. The unorthodox construction methods and retro looking styles derive from a design philosophy focused on individuality amidst a “…sea of clones.”

The Charger 290 is from Reverend’s Stage King series and according to Guitar Player Magazine, “…sounds like a muscle car that Mopar would have cooked up in the late ‘60s.” Some of the coolness factor for me comes from use of the retro soap bar style P-90 pickups along with the gold top and Telecaster style knobs. It evokes famous guitars but has a style all its own.

Coolness counts for a lot. Coolness along with great playability and tone at an affordable price counts for a lot more. Check out all the models at

>>Related Articles
Guitar of the Week: Hollenbeck Jim Nichols Signature Archtop
Guitar Gear: Import Lines Make Playability More Affordable Than Ever
The Vintage Guitar Circuit: Where Guitars Find a New Home

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guitars as Home D矇cor: Check out Wall Brackets

Reality based home improvement programming on cable runs the gamut from removing excessive clutter to transforming rooms on a shoestring decorating budget. I took a cue from these shows and used guitar wall brackets to reduce clutter as well as transform my hobby room.

In my house I have artistic hegemony over one room (other than a variance allowing a Jimi Hendrix live at Fillmore East poster in the bedroom). Once I began the guitar hobby and adopted gear addiction I ended up with a collection of floor stands, guitars leaning against the wall, or inside their cases on the floor. This created clutter in my one room domain. Enter the guitar wall bracket!

You simply attach these brackets to the wall and hang up your guitar. I use “Off The Wall” brand brackets available at zZounds and Guitar Center. These are sturdy, look great, and the material does not react with the finish on your guitar. The only criticism I can come up with is the included screws are not long enough if you are going directly into wall studs.

Once these went up on the wall I gained all my floor space back. But, the real advantage of wall brackets is d矇cor. Guitars are works of art so what better art to put on the wall as a transformational decorating approach? Plus, these things are inexpensive so it also fits the concept of transformation on a shoestring budget. Thank you, home improvement shows!

>>Related Articles
How to Build a Pedal Board for Electric Guitar
Learn to Play the Guitar: More Shortcuts for Baby Boomers
Connections: How to Create a Simple Home Studio

Friday, February 15, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Hollenbeck Jim Nichols Signature Archtop

I recently attended a vintage guitar show and ended up spending the bulk of my time learning about the art and science of guitar building from Bill Hollenbeck of Hollenbeck Guitars.

Bill Hollenbeck specializes in archtop guitars that feature fine artistry as well as an intense focus on chamber tuning or the physics of the guitar. What caught my attention in the first place was a partially carved backplate displayed in his booth with pencil markings all over it.

I learned that he works with tolerances to thousandths of an inch and angles down to half of a degree as he carves the soundboards and neck. He continually measures the thickness of the soundboard using a micrometer and marks where further carving is needed in order to achieve the even response he is looking for, especially where the bridge and saddle attach on the top. He zeros in on this even response through use of a tuning fork. The payoff for this level of detail is exceptional sustain and evenness of sound at all points on the fretboard.

One of the guitars he is most proud of building is Ebony-n-Blue, shown at right, for Scott Chinery's Blue Guitars project, which was in homage to Jimmy D’Aquisto, considered America’s all time greatest luthier. Bill Hollenbeck is featured in the book, Blue Guitar by Ken Vose and Ebony-n-Blue was displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 1998.

Some interesting anecdotes I picked up during my visit were that violin makers do not make good guitar builders and vice versa. While violins share the archtop design, the physics are completely different and “physics is physics.” Seems violins do not have sustain where that is something you want a lot of in a guitar. Another interesting tidbit was Bill Hollenbeck describing some of Les Paul’s early experiments with multi track recording. He would record takes directly to the wax disk. Then, for the next track, he would record over the first take and get a multi track effect. Needless to say, any mistake meant starting with a new disk!

I’ve included a photo of my favorite, the Jim Nichols signature model as well as a photo of a partially carved soundboard displayed at the show. You can visit for more information on the full lineup as well as on Bill Hollenbeck.

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The Vintage Guitar Circuit: Where Guitars Find a New Home

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ceiling Fans as a Guitar Aging Technique

I wrote a recent post on using strap locks on your guitar to avoid unintentional aging. Now I know that ceiling fans are another aging source to take into account.

I have set up a quick launch practice rig in a dedicated corner in my house. I was slinging my strap lock equipped guitar over my head and wham! For a second I thought this was an invitation to sell my soul for guitar skills as in the Robert Johnson legend, but no. It was just the headstock of my guitar getting beat up by the blades of the ceiling fan above my head.

Although unintentional, it did leave random markings on the headstock that could have come from use on a nationwide tour or a frat party gig. Best of all, it was still playable. So, for those interested in the art of making a guitar look like a veteran of years of touring, this might be a technique to try. For everyone else, take note of the location of any ceiling fans you may have in your practice area.

>>Related Articles
Guitar Gear: Invest in Strap Locks
Learn to Play the Guitar: More Shortcuts for Baby Boomers

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Vintage Guitar Circuit: Where Guitars Find a New Home

I was driving down the road wondering “where have all the guitars gone?” to the tune of “where have all the children gone?” I mean, they make a huge number around the globe and except for the dime store variety they don’t simply go to the landfill. Well, one place they go is to the vintage guitar circuit to find a new home.

I had the pleasure of attending the Amigo Nashville Guitar Show today put on by Texas Guitar Shows and co-sponsored by Vintage Guitar® magazine. We are talking a guitar bacchanalia here. There was something for everyone from the vintage Stratocaster® pictured above to the completely hand built archtop by Hollenbeck Guitars shown below.

I’ve included a slide show on the right sidebar, which will give you a look at a fraction of what was there to be seen and purchased. Enjoy and attend a show coming to a town near you!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Guitar Gear: Invest In Strap Locks

On my first visit to a Guitar Center I asked the salesman why the ratty looking guitars displayed in a protected area had such high prices. He went on to explain the art of aging new guitars to the extent they look like touring veterans. If you want to avoid unintentional aging of your nice new axe though, I would recommend strap locks.

I’ve been playing awhile now and do not think twice about an accessory like this. I never heard of them starting out though. That is until I had a brand new guitar pop off the strap and come crashing to the floor when I reached over to answer the phone. Bummer!

At a subsequent lesson, my instructor filled me in on the whole strap lock thing after I told him the reason for the new divots on my guitar. Turns out he had strap locks on his guitar; I just hadn’t noticed the finer detail whilst sweating the details of music theory and guitar technique. He recommended and I ended up with guitar strap locks from Schaller.

If you look at the picture you see they are pretty foolproof. You remove your original strap buttons and install the Schaller buttons. You will likely find that the screws supplied are too small so I reused the original screws from my guitar. You may have to grind down the screw head so it fits into the new strap button.

Attach the strap locks to each end of your strap; the supplied washer and nut enable you to attach them securely. The strap locks connect securely from there because they have a spring loaded pin; you pull out the pin, slide the lock onto the button, and release the pin, which snaps into the strap button. This thing won’t come loose.

From there you can fling your axe every which way but loose or even answer the phone without fear of it coming off!

>>Related Articles
· Guitar Resources: Gear Fundamentals
· Middle-Aged Rocker: How to Avoid Guitar Store Angst
· Guitar Strap Revelation

Friday, January 4, 2008

Guitar Lessons: A Great Investment Anytime

Some of my earliest posts on this blog outlined how valuable finding a good instructor was to meeting my goal of maximum results in minimum time. This is more universal than just for someone wanting to make up for a late start it turns out.

I had asked a friend of mine who has played guitar for 25 years and is still active in well paying gigs to review my blog for authenticity. The last thing I want is for anything in a post to steer someone wrong in their efforts; so I like to gather feedback. Seems he read these thoroughly as he has gone back to take some lessons!

He felt trapped in a Pentatonic box and wanted to improve his improvisational skills both for rock as well as jazz. Two lessons into it he is already reporting an overall improvement in his playing; definitely a good return on the time and money invested.

Although I am gratified that someone read my post the main excitement I feel is that this confirms my belief that there is always something new to learn in this hobby and lessons are a great way to achieve maximum results in minimum time.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Aging Rocker Demographic and its Impact on Guitar Sales

I was discussing my perception that aging rockers must be having an impact on guitar sales worldwide with another blogger at World of Baby Boomer’s fudge. So, I did a quick search on Google and quickly came upon articles showing that a large number of aging rockers are either picking the guitar back up or learning it for the first time as a cure for the midlife crisis.

While the aging rocker demographic has helped fuel the increased demand they also benefit from the explosion of innovative new gear now available as a result. There are guitars, associated other gear, and resources available at all price points to make it easier than ever before to start back up if you are a lapsed rocker or get into the guitar for the first time.

Let's Rock!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Aging Rocker: Side Benefits of Rocking in Middle Age

With some time off over the holidays and over two years into my guitar hobby I thought I would make a list of the side benefits I get besides fun.

“Coolness” Factor: My kids are still not sure why I keep pursuing the guitar. It does enter into the teenage calculus though along the lines of; dad may not have much hair left but he can play “Highway to Hell!”

Concert Awareness: I actually know something about what is going on at a concert now. Previous to picking up a guitar a concert might as well have been a CD player running through the PA system. Now, I know what the equipment is, why it is being used, and have some appreciation for the techniques used by the artists. Concert going is much more enjoyable as a result.

Art of Conversation: I am still a poor conversationalist but now I have more to talk about at a cocktail party than “what do you do for a living” or “how is your 401K plan doing?”

Instant Gratification: With the guitar as in other hobbies you can put in effort and directly see the results. Often times the correlation between effort and results are more nebulous in the work world.

Home D矇cor: Hanging your guitars on the wall is a great decorating approach.

Blogging: My infatuation with the guitar is what got me into Blogging, which is almost as much fun as playing the guitar!

Happy New Year and keep rocking!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rock Band: The Collaboration Effect

My kids bought me Rock Band for Christmas. Ostensibly, this would be construed as them recognizing my interest in the guitar and music. In reality, it is more along the lines of me buying my wife a Telescope for Mother’s Day. I haven’t been able to get near the game since hooking it up.

The version I bought, I mean they bought for me, included a drum kit and microphone in addition to the guitar controller. The first reviews I got based on solo play with the guitar controller, was that it was not as good as Guitar Hero III but had a couple of interesting features. Then, they got together with friends and played all three instruments (you can add another guitar controller to play bass but the package only includes one guitar controller out of the box). That is when the transformation occurred.

They are already avid Guitar Hero players. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great game. The primary difference is they play Guitar Hero as a video game. They stand there with the controller in a trance and hit the notes when they fly by on the fretboard. Although they play it a lot their interaction is no different than with "Call of Duty 4" or "Gears of War". With Rock Band, they are actually rocking out. They actually move to the music, which I've never seen happen with Guitar Hero.

The only explanation I have is there is some kind of social networking thing going on. Rock Band creates interaction with the music that comes from the players collaborating as an actual band. I would say the game designers met their goal in my household anyway.

At any rate, it will be awhile before I can get close to it to try the game out. That is ok given it takes a lot of my time just keeping up with playing the real guitar!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Guitar Resources: Great References from the Blogosphere

When you take up the guitar in middle age you want to move fast and make up for lost time. Doing this just means taking the same systematic approach you’ve taken in living your life to this point. One important aspect is availing yourself of the valuable resources at your fingertips thanks to the Internet.

I recently outlined a set of resources that have helped me pursue my midlife guitar goals and when roaming the blogosphere yesterday I encountered a couple more I wanted to share.

The Boomer Chronicles has a recent post regarding The Berklee College of Music out of Boston and that they provide instruction online. My first instructor went through the program there and spoke highly of it. Since I have to hold down a full time job with lots of travel, doing a program in Boston would not be possible. However, I earned an MBA online at the University of Phoenix for the same reasons and that worked well. If the Berklee program is set up the same this could work out great. Check out the post and the Boomer Chronicles.

I ran across this post yesterday on "I Am an Offering", a site that has some easily digestible coverage of music theory. What theory I have learned to date has really benefitted my progress. However, I still have a lot of gaps in understanding. This site has helped and also provides information on another online resource;

Hopefully these will be of interest. Let’s Rock!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Guitar Technique: The Iterative Approach

In my previous post I describe a recent revelation I had regarding parallels between the waterfall and iterative methodologies in the software world and methodologies for learning the guitar. I left off at the point where I had hit a brick wall in attempting to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". The best thing I ever did for my continued progress was drop it and move on to other areas.

I continued practicing the fundamentals; scale exercises, learning new licks, and working on speed. At the same time, I continued exploring new songs. GuitarWorld is a great resource as it includes transcriptions in each issue. A few months later I picked up “Crazy Train” again and iteration two was much improved.

Although I hadn't been practicing “Crazy Train” specifically, I had been building my chops by working on other songs and continuing to learn new licks and build speed on my scales. I was able to hit about 80% of the song at its actual tempo such that it was recognizable compared to only hitting the intro at a reduced speed on my first iteration.

The premise of all my posts is maximum results in minimum time for us midlife wannabe rockers who want to make up for lost time. When starting out, you will make the most progress by iterating through a variety of songs and technique exercises rather than slogging away on one song in a waterfall approach. I know it is gratifying to be able to play one of your favorites beginning to end. But, if the song requires technique you do not yet posses, move ahead to new territory. The key though is to incorporate those difficult technique areas into your daily practice routine.

For example, I incorporate the licks for “Crazy Train” that I still cannot handle into every practice session. Once you feel you have improved in those technique areas, do another iteration. The critical thing about iterations is that you measure the outcome of each as I have indicated in previous posts. I guarantee that after you compare a second iteration to a first iteration you will realize this is the quickest approach to developing your technique baseline.

If you keep this up you will reach the point in no time where you have mastered the fundamentals such that you could quickly learn a song whatever methodology you choose to follow. I'll be here trying to keep up with you :-).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Learning the Guitar: Waterfall or Iterative Methodology

In the software business there are as many methodologies around how to create good software as there are around becoming a good guitarist. As I worked on developing my guitar skills I stumbled on the fact that there is a relationship between the two. First, a brief outline on software development methodologies.

Software methodologies fall into two main types: waterfall and iterative. In waterfall, you plan everything up front and move through the project in a sequential fashion like water running over the falls. In iterative, you do everything you would do in waterfall but in much shorter cycles. You use multiple cycles to reach the end product rather than one cycle over a longer timeframe. While there are raging debates over which is better, I will outline how this is relevant to accelerating your progress on the guitar.

Let's say you set out to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". This song requires techniques such as hammer ons, pull offs, tapping, palm muting, harmonics, alternate picking, and most of all, the ability to do all these at a tempo around 140 beats per minute. If you are already an accomplished guitarist, you can learn the song quickly. If you are more of a novice with ambitions to get better, not so much.

I took an initial run at learning this song thinking that if I kept slogging away I would learn the song as well as all of the requisite techniques. After awhile I reached the point where I could play the intro cleanly at speed and little else. In hindsight, I realized I was following a waterfall approach to learning this song.

The waterfall approach calls for planning everything up front and my problem was that my “plan” lacked a key prerequisite, the base resources needed to complete the project, or, in my case a stronger foundation in technique.

In my next post I will outline how I stumbled on this revelation and how I improved progress by adopting an iterative approach.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nashville Natives: Jack Pearson and Stan Lassiter

I received a comment on my recent post about aging rockers and Led Zeppelin that closed with "Other "old cats" worthy of consideration: Ed Van Halen, John McLaughlin, Pat Martino, Jack Pearson, Stan Lassiter. (go to youtube and search out nashville natives jack and stan)." I went to YouTube, did my search, and they are worth a look!