Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald -

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Habitual Choice and Guitar Playing

 So I'm listening to Jude Gold's _No Guitar Is Safe_ podcast last week, and he's interviewing Zakk Wylde.

 Takeaway #1:

I'm not a big Zakk fan.  I am, however, a big Randy Rhoads fan.  But that's not why I was listening.  I was listening because even at my advanced age I still try to absorb everything I can. I listen with the hopeful expectation of gleaning some little morsel of something I didn't know before, a bit of wisdom, anything. 

 One of the cool things about Gold's podcast is that you get to hear the interviewer au naturel, playing along with Gold.  What the guitarist he's interviewing has to play through varies, and that in itself is interesting, as well as how they've apparently decided to set their sound as recorded in a less than perfect, less than pristine-studio condition.

 I digress.  The takeaway is that I listen and read everything when I'm not playing.  You should, too.

 Takeaway #2:

 While listening to said podcast, you hear Zakk fiddling around with various songs in a casual context.  Whenever he plays a chord for more than a beat - he puts vibrato on it.  It's obviously a nervous habit, and the basis of his ultra-aggressive vibrato. 

 The takeaway is that his habits are what makes him "Zakk Wylde".  Habits can be a good thing, and a necessary thing in the case of style.  You only acquire habits through practice; and what you practice is unique to you, and should be unique to you. 

 There are bad habits relative to technique, but that's not the same thing as a habit in choice.  
 The percentage of habitual choice relative to the generic is style. 

 You have to play.  A lot.  You have to play something you really like, a lot.  You have to do this to the point that it's automatic, a reflex.  When you think you might be doing it too much - that's maybe enough.

 When you improvise it has to be deliberate in the moment.  Not well before, and by "deliberate" not the byproduct of a conscious thought that requires math.

 If you don't have your entire life to devote to music, you have a choice: make a study of it, make it academic.  A worthy pursuit, if you're going to continue to listen to music the rest of your life, you should at least know something about how it works, right?

 Another choice is to embrace the habits of the value of specific things you love in music.  As an example for some it might just be the classic "Chuck Berry double stop lick".  In which case you should wear it out.  Don't worry about anything else for "a while", weeks, maybe months.  Be able to do it in all permutations, double time, backwards, off beat, accellerandos, pulling back, alternate picked, strummed, all of it.

 To the point where no matter the situation you're in, you can take that musical phrase and really and truly use it.  

 You have to make it a habit.  Style is the result of habits.  You must play enough, long enough with intent, to form habits if you want the musical "food" to produce the semblance of style.  Reading this, watching a video, reading a book on technique, buying a new pick or guitar won't make style happen.  Concentrated effort on a very specific thing is required for a habit to form.  Even if you only have one stylistic habit, it's the building block for a style.  You may as well start now...


Monday, April 16, 2018

"What Amp Should I Buy?" 2018

 That question is always loaded, because the answer can vary in so many ways depending on who is asking.

 Instead, here are some things that are on the forefront of my mind as "good gear that presents a unique value for some reason".  I don't own most of it, and I don't intend on buying it, but for the reader it might be of use.

Suhr SL68: if someone asks about what Marshall to get, this is actually the first thing I think of.  It's built right, the right components, the right component values.

... but then, I also think about the new 20 watt Marshall Origin.  It's less than $700, sounds like a plexi, has a couple of bonus features that are well thought out.  And it's less than $700.  Enough power for any situation short of an arena.  Less than $700.

 Egnater 15 watt Tweaker.  Still the most useful all around tube amp, plexi/Fender/AC30 tone stack/path, less than $500. For most probably the best choice if one isn't sure what one likes or wants.

 Boss 50 watt Katana: yes, a gazillion people have already written about this.  I had not heard one until last week, and I was impressed.  These will eventually be what I use at my office for lessons.  They've got it dialed in perfectly. While the tone control response is non-traditional behaving, and somewhat compressed, in reality that's more useful in most situations than what the "real" version does.  All the effects you'd ever need.  $210, 50 watts, plenty loud for, again, any situation.  And it doesn't weight anything, I think it's actually levitating, so for a "toss in the car" kind of gig it should rule.  I hate, hate liking something that has received such overwhelming mainstream acclaim, but it's deserved.

 Yamaha THR-10: the Almost Katana.  I have one of these because it's more portable than the Katana and because it's stereo, more conducive to being used as a portable writing/recording situation.  I believe Yamaha's circuit emulation is pretty spot on, the downside of the amp being the tone controls are very exaggerated sounding and can get you into trouble too easily.  The bizarre thing is the lack of a speaker output jack; if I could easily plug it into a 1x12 cab these would be what I'd use for guitar lessons. The little speakers means it sounds "thin"; but the recorded-via-USB sound is very good.  But the important thing (that Boss gets right with the Katana as well) is that the touch-sensitivity/feel is "realistic cranked amp".  It can be tonally manipulated by touch, something most modelling amps can't do.  It's accomplished here because they're "modelling" the circuit path instead of just doing a "snapshot" impulse response.  I believe that's also why the Boss works as well, because it's Roland's COSM analog-circuit emulation.

 Used Blackstar HT-1R: this is what I've been using for guitar lessons, does Fender/Marshall with the turn of a knob.  A positive thing about it is that they do the Apple product thing in that they don't give you much choice to allow you to get into trouble: just a tone control.  It has a 1 watt tube push-pull output that through a 4x12 sounds very, very authentically plexi.  The reverb sounds very good in it as well. I paid $89 for mine on a Guitar Center "Daily Special" deal; if these sold for $100 new I would recommend these to any new student automatically.  It can do any style of music from country to the metuhls.

 Fender Deville: a cheap way to get Tweed Fender sounds.  Not quite perfect, printed circuit board, weighs a lot.  But a lot cheaper than a reissue.  But not as authentic (but I prefer them; I wish I hadn't gotten rid of my 4x10 because it was killing my back getting it in the car as my clean amp).

Fender Deluxe R.I.: most common all around amp.  The Hot Rod versions are good.  For some this would be the last amp they'd have to buy.  Another amp I wish I still had one of laying around if I were rich.

 Where are the boutique amps?  "Boutique" amps are effectively just better built versions of various Marshall/Fender circuits.  A person taking advice on amps shouldn't be spending money in this category!  As far as I'm concerned, the Suhr Sl68 IS a boutique amp, but it's not *that* much more than a reissue, and I can definitely say - having owned maybe a dozen vintage Marshalls - that it's the thing to get.  I could maybe say Matchless would be the thing to get for an AC30 enthusiast, or the U-2 Edge/church gig guitarist, but in reality it's actually *better* than a real AC30 and in turn sounds clearer/brighter.  Fenders - there are so many variants that it is it's own minefield of decisions.

 Get a Boss Katana if you don't know.  Otherwise - dive in!  It's an interesting field, learning what your favorite guitar player actually uses, on what recordings, and figuring out if that's what YOU want.  It's a learning process of discovery about YOU, your preferences and what YOU want to hear.  Be warned it's a very deep thing people spend their lives studying, researching, and exploring.  It can quickly become a blackhole of info, that in reality the Average Listener can't consciously discern a difference between.  BUT, if YOU can hear it you'll play better and have more fun.  That's what it's about, right?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Omakase and Guitar Lessons

 Often people have predetermined ideas of what a "guitar lesson" is or should be.  For good or bad, right or wrong, that's just how it is.  Which is fine, because in reality there isn't a set way, and I think that's a good thing.  You should try different guitar teachers until you find one that makes sense to you, or seems helpful.

Stairway to Heaven?

 In the world of sushi, there is a concept known as "omakase".  Simplified it means "entrust the chef's choice". 

 I don't teach from a book, or even a particular plan or angle after the initial 4-6 week "basic training" period.  Everyone has different objectives, different expectations, different goals - or lack thereof.
  I've been teaching guitar all my life.  Early in my life I tinkered with programming, got as far as Assembly language and conceded my mathematical acumen wasn't adequate without a lot of updating.  My artistic skill was always sky high, but my drawing skills petered out around age 12 and again, needed updating I wasn't willing to bother with.  I last thought I would do photography - but like programming (and now recording music), "everybody does that". 

 My path was an individual one.  I quit college ( a foregone inevitability since age 15), haven't looked back.  Music is what I do, and have done for decades. The way to learning effectively isn't the lowest common denominator, procedurally obvious "book learning", quizzes-based semester school system method.  Private lessons affords you the opportunity to streamline the process in many different, and better ways. 

 I have a friend that is a sushi chef (Ito san, are you out there...?) that introduced me to sushi based not on my ignorance of the subject, but his experience.  I don't particularly recall what he made for me, but here I am many years later a sushi fiend; I've even read books about it, and of course the movie _Jiro Dreams of Sushi_ should be on everyone's bucket list IMO.

 The concept of omakase is that you sit there, and the chef decides what he prepares for you.  Perhaps with a little inquiry as to your tastes; but also there is the aspect of what fish and ingredients are available, their quality and freshness.  Maybe you think you want one thing; but maybe he knows there is something you might like better because of the aforementioned reasons.  Or maybe he specializes in a particular thing, or maybe there is a specialty you're unaware of. 

 Personally I'm not into that, I'm too much of a control freak and OCD - I know exactly what I want and don't like gambling.  But for some, it's a very worthy idea, and educational. There is a side benefit, in that often it means you're going to get more for your money.

 See where I'm going with this....?

 There are things that are fun to play on guitar because of the kinesthetic experience. There are things that are educational in subtle ways, that are not evident until you're into the process.  There are connections to different types and genres of music that are not immediately apparent.  There are things to be learned from just about anything; and I also claim that you don't even have to like "guitar music" to like playing guitar.  I like bowling, but I don't want to watch someone bowl.

 So if you're not sure, you may want to ask me or your guitar teacher for suggestions.  It may not seem appealing at first, and it may lead to a dead end, BUT - I've been doing this for a lonnnnng time and really, that's what you're paying me for!  Playing music is always, always a deeper thing than most people imagine, there are many paths.

 If you're a beginner, I do believe there is what I call a "basic training" period of things everyone simply has to know in order to make the process go smoothly, and to snowball into a steady learning curve.  But after that, maybe try "omakase". 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Check Out Norman's Guitars "Guitar of the Day" / Mark Agnesi

 Norman's is a vintage guitar/instrument store in California that has been around for as long as I can remember.  His store caters to high end collectors and artists - lots of them - and is as they say "the real deal".  

 Why I'm suggesting a student watch these videos is for a couple of reasons:

 1 - you get to see and hear about rare guitars that have acquired value through providence, and in some cases fame.  From a "learn what is what about guitars" this is a good resource.
 It's one thing to see endless listings of vintage-y gear, an old guitar hanging on a wall with a big price tag.  It's another when they come with some history presented alongside.

2 - the store manager that does the videos, Mark Agnesi, is a great salesman in the "old school music store" sense.  As a salesman he is a double threat.  He knows the history of guitars in great detail, but most importantly he's got the patois down for the description of the individual guitars he shows you.  He knows the salient points, and he is good at telling you in a manner that conveys the gravitas of the instrument.

 His other threat is important, something of an art that I think was once relatively common in the larger pre-Guitar Center Apocalypse era.  That is, he knows how to demonstrate an instrument!

 What I mean by that is that in the videos he plugs into a vintage tube amp, and doesn't proceed to shred Pantera licks in front of you on a Gibson L5. He plays what the particular instrument is good at, and perhaps something in a historical context - and he's a good player. 

 Having worked in a lot of music stores, I can say I know for a fact that Guitar Center's main reason for being on the precipice is for not respecting and hiring Experienced People.  It used to be you only worked at a music store because you knew what you were talking about; that was necessary for SELLING gear!
 That turned into hiring whoever, people that didn't really know what they were talking about but would work for minimum wage.  In turn, almost all information given out at music stores became fraught with both misinformation, and contrarian opinion that wasn't relevant to the customer.  I know this because I witnessed it time and again in stores I worked at, and other stores during this "interim" era as Guitar Center extended their tendrils.

 At this point I can say you probably shouldn't ask for advice from a GC employee, if they even bother to communicate with you.  I have friends and know people that work at the Odd Guitar Center that know what they're talking about. but it's not like the (... are you stepping on my lawn...?) Old Days.  Yes, I miss that era when I started out, and yes - it was better.  It was actual capitalism based on knowledge and skill.  What a concept.

 There was a time in the late 80's/early 90's where one could say guitars almost sold themselves - but that is no longer the case.  The music retail industry has been taken over by accountants and people with marketing degrees, and employees with scant real knowledge, and is - surprise - in a down turn.  I would suggest that this may also be what has happened in the auto industry, and the consumer electronics field.  Sure, people buy a lot of junk from Best Buy, but people used to spend more on nicer things.  Now it's expected that people get rid of their $450 IPhone to buy the $1,000 IPhone, mindlessly. 

 I suggest spending that on music gear instead of a phone - but with Guitar Center employees sitting on stools staring at their IPhone instead of playing a guitar or helping you, that's probably not going to happen.  Sheeple gotta sheep I suppose?

 So check out Norman's Guitar of the Day, you will probably learn something and get GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) in the process:



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why I'm Not Making Music at This Moment and Why It's Pro Tools' Fault

 As I sit here on an over cast Tuesday morning, I'm waiting for a new water heater to arrive. 

 Yesterday evening I thought "hey, I think I'm going to get to sleep before 1 a.m. tonight, and there is nothing scheduled for tomorrow morning, so I should be able to do music!".  That was theory, of course: last night I discovered the hot water heater was leaking on the floor, so zzzzzotttt!  So much for today.

 "But Chip, why aren't you doing music right now instead of writing this blog post?"

 I'll tell you why....

 "Because I hate Pro Tools".

 Another Curiously Non-linear Chip Statement.

 Pro Tools as a recording medium became dominant as Alesis ADAT recording studio fell, what, around 2003-ish?  With the demise of the ADAT based recording studio, the demise of the Traditional Music Recording Process occurred.

 Until that moment, an aspect of "making music" stayed the same.  Because the recording gear was still fairly expensive (unlike now, when literally everyone has a way of making a decent recording) it was also in turn exclusive to Special Places called "studios" that required booking and preparation as a personal event. 

 This meant "Recording Music" was a special event.  This lent a particular gravitas to what you were doing, and in turn there is an inherent respect for it.  This is no longer the case as there is no "special event" related to making music anymore.

 Another aspect: the process itself was still akin to the traditional manner of using a multitrack tape machine.  Meaning,

1) tape still had to be rewound.  This meant there were gaps, breaks in time during the tracking process.

2) you didn't have infinite tracks.

3) you didn't have infinite takes, exactly.  You still had to go between 2 tracks, or continue to record over what you just did.

 Pro Tools changed all of that.  Plus, it added an additional aspect:

 The ability to streamline, reduce and strip down the process to it's fastest, most business-like reduction.

 Business like.  A skilled Pro Tools operator does things in a flash with short cuts that would have taken hours to do with ADATs or tape.  There is no waiting around.  Boom boom boom, record record record.  Time is of the essence!  "Music is a business!".

 When I ran a recording studio it was based on tape, so I have not a lot of experience running a commercial operation based on a DAW. But it's a wholly different enterprise. It's all about speed and practicality.

 Music is not about speed and practicality.

 My personal beef with Pro Tools is that it is an out growth of a program that was never meant to do what Pro Tools became, and it inherited a lot of peculiar, software-bureaucratic workarounds.  In the DAW world I prefer Reaper because of this; once you have it set up to your liking you're done.  Pro Tools does not allow any customization, and furthermore requires you to jump through all sorts of arcane hoops to do things.

 Mostly, things involving key stroke shortcuts.  I never had a Mac until recently, and I admit I mistakenly presumed the World of Apple, being so "user centric", meant the GUI was king and the mouse was the main I/O device.

 Yeah, that's funny.  It made sense to me.  I now know that ironically, Apple people LOVE key commands.  Which I despise, because... wait for it..



 Key commands require 2 hands, or an oddball splaying of fingers.

  It's a kinesthetic activity.  When I'm working on music, I have my guitar in my lap, and probably at least my left hand on the neck. 

 In the old days, I'd have to hit a button to arm the track.  Hit another button, RECORD. A button for rewind. Etc...

 A mouse is a little more complicated, but you're still clicking one thing, not a Rubik's Cube Solution or a Pac Man level pattern.  One thing.  Click RECORD. 

 Yes, you can do that in Pro Tools. But if you get too far into the menus short cuts almost become necessary.  In Reaper you just click once on the track panel, and a new track appears.  In Pro Tools - maybe it's different now, but you have to click on the menu, select this, that, this other thing.  The Pro Tools Operator does it with short cuts, quickly. 

 But I don't want to have to do that.  Because...

 My mindset is on the guitar as, literally, a proxy for what's in my mind.  I am "there", the guitar.  I am "thinking on the guitar".  If I have to take my left hand away from it, that illusion goes away.  Worse, if I have to change my posture to lean to get to the keyboard with both hands - I'm literally no longer "feeling it".  I'm out of my game, between two worlds.

 Yes, I can make music that way.  And, it would appear, that means nothing to 99% of the musicians on the planet.  But it's a different mindset, a more clinical and non-art based thought process.

 Even when I'm not with my guitar, and I'm mixing something or arranging something on the computer, I want to be in that Art Mindset. Complete focus on what I'm doing, so I have the greatest ability to model what I'm hearing mentally, muse on it with a clear mind that is only concerned with "how does this strike me?".

 I can't do that if I'm thinking about the guitar slipping off my lap as I reach for the keyboard.  Or if I've got to keep my consciousness divided between what I'm hearing musically and the Guy Delivering the Hot Water Heater.  Knowing I could be interrupted at any moment, and will have to come out of my creative, artsy mindset back into Harsh Expensive and Oppressive Reality. 

 It's not art at that point.  I don't care what anyone says, what you do might end up being "art" but you're not *doing* art.  You're not fully committed.  It makes a difference. 

 Music today is so refined to being Perfectly Acceptable that yes, you can make "that" without the mindset I'm talking about.  I would argue that it's a bit reverse to the Pre-ADAT era; and that music today is different because of that mindset being gone. 

 Not just because of Pro Tools, it's mostly the "this is a business, kid, don't mess around!".  That has always been floating about, but it is NOT the origin of pop music.  The bad thing is that in today's shark-capitalism competitive environment, Pro Tools is an enabler.  Combined those things work against art.  You can make music that sounds Perfectly Acceptable so quickly these days, but that shouldn't be the reason for the process!  Art is, in itself, the process.  Not JUST process, but if the only aspect of the music making process is "how fast we can make something that sounds perfect" that's glossing over the lack of artistic muse.  

 So no... I'm sitting here writing this, because I can do "this" and the end result is not going to drastically be affected by part of my awareness being stuck on "do I hear the truck pulling up outside?".  Or any of the other negative hassles.  This is why studios in the Grand Old Days were so resplendent and luxurious; the music industry back then realized you don't create great music when your brain is occupied by toil and tedium. It doesn't mean that situation automatically creates great music (and what a stupid thing I've had to write there, that reflexive attitude of today's mindset is another problem...), but as decadent as some of those days were in retrospect, one has to consider what truly great art was made and ask oneself "are we hearing the equivalent being made today?". 

 Sorry, I don't think so.  I could very easily make Yet Another Perfectly Normal recording project, and I still might - but I prefer not to.  I'm really, really tired of hearing that, or making myself try to listen to something "new" in order to glean a little morsel of something special or different.  Everything sounds perfect now, doesn't it? 

 Holy frak the dog is barking her head off, that must be the water heater being delivered outside...


Friday, February 9, 2018

Laugh At This Guitar Teacher's Influenza Guard!

Mark I Peasant Flu Guard

Good, I got you to look.

 WAIT!  Before you go away...

 1) There is a right and a wrong way to cover your face/mouth/nose when you sneeze/cough: use the crook of your elbow.  Period. 

 Not just your hand!

 I've seen people do the old "fist in front of the mouth" routine - that doesn't work.  You're still blowing aerosolized influenza into the air, waiting to float around into my nose or eyes.  Thanks for nothing.

 I've had almost everyone in my present student roster call out sick with the flu in the past month.  I thought I was coming down with it yesterday evening, but luckily it passed (I think).  Never the less, I consider that a close call.  Too close.

 I had a "flu like sickness out of season" during the swine flu epidemic a few years back.  It nearly killed me.  There is the following situations in your life:

A time when you think "I could have died";  A time when you think "I'm dying".

 You really don't want to experience the later.  It changes your life, not for the better as some might suggest.  For all I know I may have gained some immunity from that, at the expense of having my DNA scrambled by some alien-machina looking virion that may cause a problem later in life.

 I should have been more wary.  As I am now.

 In addition to being a hand sanitizer fiend (up your nose with a rubber hose, people who subscribe to the utterly-non-scientific "you need to strengthen your immune system through exposure"; you're wrong.  It doesn't work that way), I've come up with my Amazing $5 Mart of Wal Influenza Guard.

 Yeah, it's funny, and I'm paranoid.  It doesn't mean I'm wrong.  I don't care if you laugh at me.  I don't want the H1N2, and for all you know I might have it and you don't want to get it from me, either.  Which brings me to another point, if I still have an audience at this juncture:

 2) You don't know if you're contagious based on how you feel or how symptoms present themselves.

 About half the people I've had cancel on me because of the flu told me the previous week "no, I'm not sick, it's just (sinuses, allergies, cold).  

 Well, you don't really know that for certain.

 Another thing

3)  just because you're no longer symptomatic doesn't mean you're not still contagious!




I said, 



  Feel free to look this info up and say I'm wrong, but remember to cite your sources.  I'm not giving you any sources, so you should look it up yourself! 

 So in closing, remember to check your tuning to +/- .1 of a cent and 

 Cover your face with the crook of your elbow when you sneeze/cough!!!!  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Audio Terminology Etiology, and Why Modeling Amps Are Popular For the Wrong Reasons

 I've been putting this post off for awhile, but here goes.

 I tried to get an "official" decree on this by some Big Shot Big Name Engineers and Producers on a couple of different pro audio message boards, but to no avail.

 It occurs to me now in the 21st century that "Chip, this isn't something anyone really has bothered to think into much".  Literally.  Which is odd, and problematic for me as someone that needs to communicate to other people; the audio engineer does not.  In a sense, he is internalized the way a guitar player/musician should be: he/she knows what something sounds like and can manipulate it mentally without regard for the "official" label.

 No problem, except for me.

 "Chip, what do you think about (Famous Guitar Player)'s "tone"?"
"Chip, how can I get Famous Guitar Player's sound?"

 I get this fairly frequently.  It causes some consternation, because there are hidden variables the person asking the question is not aware of (that I go into in my book, _Experiencing Guitar_ available for Kindle or hardcopy on Amazon... ahem).

 Those variables aside - the speakers, microphones, studio devices - the big issue in discussing said topic boils down to effectively nobody differentiating the following 2 terms -


.. and their use in describing things at two points in time.  TWO points in time!  This is critical, something people completely miss:

When the sound was recorded IN THE ROOM, in front of the guitar player;
When you the listener is hearing if AFTER having been recorded.

 Those are 2 radically different things, with radical differences.

 Everyone - yes, everyone - refers to Particular Guitar Players without qualifying these things, and in reality it's almost pointless to think your really "discussing" what a Particular Guitar Player does on a Famous Recording without doing so!

 You can make vague generalizations - "that's a single coil pickup he's using" - sometimes.  "Sounds like a Fender amp" - sometimes.  But to get more specific, if the discussion is qualified with the above it's going to go off the rails, and is really a waste of time.


 Is the innate quality of what you hear in the room that identifies it.

 "This is a small body steel string acoustic".
"This is a Les Paul humbucker guitar through a cranked Marshall"
"This is a 26" kick drum with no muffling"


"This is a *bright* acoustic guitar".
"This is a dark, bassy Les Paul"
"This is a bright, cracky sounding kick drum".

 Those still use loose terms BUT - there is a distinction being made.

That also applies to the RECORDED sound.  A sound might be bright, dark, "thin", "thick", whatever imprecise adjective on the recording, but... here's the important part...



 The SOUND of a recording has *additional aspects that are not part of THE SOUND THAT WAS HEARD IN THE ROOM.


 When you're talking about a player's sound - you have to consider which aspect of the above you like, or all of them.

 For instance, Billy Gibbons is famous for having a "great tone". Is it just one "great tone"?

 Except for the later era Z.Z. Top recordings that used the Scholz Rockman device, his *recorded* sound varies a good bit.  

 Sometimes it's brighter, sometimes duller.  Sometimes there is a room sound on it, sometimes it's very dry.  That is the tone of the *recorded sound*.

 But the recorded sounds are captures of different things:

Single coil-based guitar sound;
Humbucker-based guitar sound;
Fender amps? Marshalls?  "El-Diablo Whatever Oddball Amp" sound?
Fuzz distortion? Amp distortion? Preamp distortion?

 Many variables in the *innate SOUND*.

  He's actually had a number of slightly different "sounds".  As opposed to the Young brothers in AC/DC - it probably has been their same respective guitars and amps, the differences in RECORDED SOUND being the audio engineering.


 I can say "I like the SOUND of Billy Gibbons on "Just Got Paid" - and the TONE/TIMBRE of both the recorded end result, and probably the original, innate sound.  The recording is a little bit dark, which is fine, but I'm sure the innate TONE in the room was NOT dark.  For me - the important thing is the sound of the distance of the mic from the speaker!  This is as important for the end result as anything else, and yet nobody talks about that.

 "Jesus Just Left Chicago" - that's not a Les Paul, is it?  I like the sounds of the recording, and probably what it sounded like in the room.  BUT  - I can say that the TONE in the room when recorded was probably brighter than on "Just Got Paid".  And the end result TONE on the recording is fairly bright.

 One can prefer the brighter SOUND that was recorded but maybe the darker *recorded* TONE of these two different things.

 In turn, you can't talk about "Billy Gibbon's "tone" without addressing the specific song, AND whether you're addressing the recorded sound and tone, or the original, in the room sound and tone.

 The question as a generalization is very vexing, because if these things haven't been thought out it's a moving target.  There are recorded sounds I like that I probably wouldn't have liked the sound of in the room, and vice-versa.  There are definitely RECORDED TONES that I hate, where the sound in the room was probably something I would have liked.

 "Yes, I generally like the sound of a Les Paul through a vintage plexi Marshall turned up loud.  Or a Strat.  Or through a 59 Bassman.  Or, or or....".  That doesn't mean I like all RECORDED sounds using that combination, or tones.  Some of my favorite guitar player's TONE in reality, not the recordings, I actually find too bright, and in one case too dark.  Some of my favorite guitar player's SOUNDS on recordings I might not like - a lot, actually - but I can separate that from what they were probably hearing in the room.

 One particular guitar player I can think of has such a massively bright, Tube Screamer cranked up fizzy TONE in reality, that his recordings are a massive improvement tonally.  Hearing this person's guitar being line-checked at a concert was ... almost surreal.  His tone on his recordings are "baseline normal" for his genre; you'd never really know just how insanely bright his actual TONE was based on the recorded TONE.

 Another Famous Guitar Player is known for his "tone" when in reality it's his recorded SOUND that is so popular.  In essence, this person's real TONE is so dark that a lot of people think there is something wrong with his setup when they hear it live for the first time.  The recorded TONE is made brighter; the resulting SOUND requires his particular setup AND a particular recording environment.

"Ok Chip, what does this have to do with modeling amps...?"

  For the first time Everyday Guitar Players can get not just an approximation of the SOUND a Famous Guitar Player might get in a room - a Les Paul and an old Marshall - but also the RECORDED sound.

 Which then makes the process of dialing in the TONE of the "non-recorded (amp)" sound easier and more satisfying.  In turn the end result - a recording - can also be dialed in to a more satisfying result.

 For decades, the recording process - the microphone, the room sound, the studio effects - were incorporated into a diffuse cloud of "this is what My Favorite Guitar Player's Sound Is", without detaching what was making the SOUND in the room of said recording.

 In reality, it's fairly easy to get anyone's SOUND.  You can easily buy approximations of what any Famous Guitar Player uses.  People get off track, though, when it doesn't "sound" "just like the record".  Well - it doesn't, but that doesn't mean your 100 watt plexi Marshall with a humbucker hooked to a Variac at 98 volts through 25 watt Greenbacks was wrong in trying to get "Eddie's "sound"", it's that you left out the part about the SM57, the room bleed into Alex VanHalen's overhead mics, and even Michael Anthony's cabinet mic. Hard L/R panning with a plate reverb and delay. Then, you left out Don Landee or Ted Templeman's eq choice on the mixing console.

 Literally almost half the sound is the recording process.

 People are hearing recording-process effects now, and responding to it.  


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Zany Chip Prediction 2018: the All Chorus Pop Song

 The writing is on the wall, I think.

 The death of the verse.

 The birth of the sub-2 minute long "song".

 A structure of chorus, chorus variant, end "jam" chorus.  Finish.

 It will be even cheaper and faster to produce, and the immediate novelty of it will allow it to unfortunately further destroy the art of what a "pop song" is.

 I think this will happen by the end of 2018.  A Big Name Artist will come out with such a creation, and then start a trend.  At which point, the push back to what was prior will be regarded as "old".  Ultimately, the Industry will want to push the ultimate end-stage product:

a single chorus.

 I'm already hearing "song structure" morph this way, even in some pop/country recordings: the verse is going the way of the link, and when it occurs to someone you can simply use a variation of a chorus for the B section - poof, that will be it, no more verses.

 If you doubt this, go to the Mart of Wal and endure half an hour of moozek heard there, and count how many songs start on the chorus instead of the intro: they don't have intros anymore.  The intro is dead.

 Then, count how many unique lines total are sung, and look at the percentage of the chorus/hook relative to that.  Also note the inclusion of "drops", sound effects that are 1 or 2 bars long used as links.

  Faster to make, doesn't require as much effort to construct.  In turn cheaper to make. And easier to throw out in bulk.  I'm afraid one day the 3 minute pop song will be regarded as an anomaly like Stairway To Heaven once was.  3 chorus structure, with knick-knack noises/sound effects in between.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

All Information is NOT Online Somewhere

 Lately I've encountered a problem that I believe is brought about by the ubiquity of information seemingly available on the Internet. It's a watershed moment in human history, and I think from a human-centric standpoint will be the most defining factor in the human race from now forward. 

 And while I'm prone to say "A.I." at the drop of a non-existent hat, I'm not referring to artificial intelligence. 
 This is a rather obtuse post relative to "being a musician" or "learning how to play guitar", but it's already affecting people and in turn altering my teaching process.  That aside, it's also somewhat disturbing to consider from a Big Picture viewpoint.

 It's a premise that did not exist 30 years ago.  It may have reared it's head 20 years earlier than now, but it really started gaining traction a mere 5-7 years ago.  It's such a profound thing that I think it escapes most serious discussion; it's a sentence/statement that is said aloud very flippantly, with jaded tedium. 

 A statement that was laughable and implausible within most people's lifetimes who are reading this.  There was a period of mild scrutiny, curious amusement regarding the thought for a few years.  Then, maybe 5 years ago or so, it was just merely accepted as being "truth", truth within popular pragmatic reason:

"All information is online somewhere". 

No.  It isn't. 

If anyone wants to debate me on this I'll do so on the basis of, oh, I don't know, a $100 at least of a bet that I will win.  I throw that out there because I'm kind of at a breaking point relative to a Certain Population Demographic that has grown up on that statement being the literal basis of their existence.

 (....I'll get to how this relates to guitar playing, patience...)

 "Oh Chip, nobody really believes that, fully". 

 No, not 100%.  The problem is, it doesn't matter if you think every last bit of info humans have come up with or recorded is online - if you behave like that is the case.

 Learning the terminology of music is one utilization music theory.  Which is to say memorizing vocabulary words doesn't mean you know what they mean, but you can at least recognize them.  That alone is a good step forward, but consider learning grammar doesn't mean you can construct a sentence with the vocabulary words that conveys any information.  The street was painted with cats; horizontally the endeavor was colored.  The form isn't the point.

 Lately students have wanted music terminology to completely explain and recreate the process that a Famous Artist has used to make a Famous Piece of Music. 

 Music is not Ikea furniture or a plastic model kit.  It can almost be misconstrued as what used to be called a "paint by numbers" kit (look it up on the Net, all information is there).  It is not instructions. 

 On a very, very basic level one can describe the ingredients.  But it's not cooking.  You're not going to make pad Thai with music "theory".  You can make something that resembles bland baroque classical music, if you're deaf but studious - but that doesn't fit the description of any of the people I've ever taught.

 At some point the student MUST try to integrate the information I give them, or the fabulous Internet, with the experience of playing and listening.  You're not going to be able to go online and get the exact instructions on How To Be Jimmy Page.  It doesn't work that way. 

 So, I'm getting a lot of students that are saying they are "confused" at a particular point in their development.  This is not new, and this is just part of learning to play music.  BUT, there is now a new aspect: saying "I'm confused", and then reciting something relevant or not from the Internet, in regards to what is an abstract question:

 "Why did Page play that F?"

 I can explain why it works; in a semi-heretical manner.  Why he decided to do it is never, ever going to be online.

 I realize that for younger and younger people, that notion that something can't be fully explained by information online is literally creating cognitive dissonance in people.  It's also wrecking the creative process, because in turn people have given up: "everything has been done, and it's online".

 No, it only seems that way.  You have to try.

 You have to continue based on being amused by the serendipitous result.  That is being a human.  You can encourage a good result, but it's not guaranteed.  Most importantly, it wasn't guaranteed by any of the humans making music you like; it was only increased in likelihood of a good outcome. 

 The impetus of decisions in music are not online.  They are in the music itself.  Every great song
has it's own internal rules.  Learn the vocabulary, experience it and take notes.  Just learning the vocabulary isn't a substitute for experiencing or taking notes.

  And those last two things are nowhere to be found online. 

 Experience. Take note.





Friday, January 5, 2018

The Mythical Boomer Guitar Solo Aficionado


 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

Somewhere in the late 80's, at the height of the hair-metal boom, something awful happened.  It's sort of related to the evils of "Playing Guitar with a Jock Attitude", but from the observer's point of view.

 As guitar playing in solos became more and more "heroic" in the late 80's, something changed for the worse in the way the listener "evaluated" what they were hearing.  It's overhung into everything today, in that it would seem it's now the defacto nature of how a person listen's to music live today:

 Perfect execution over spontaneous creativity.  

 I had always sort of suspected this as a contrast.  It wasn't until I played in a Beatles tribute band that I became cognizant of it as a reality.

 In the Beatles band I did not take liberties with anything, and tried to execute things as flawlessly as possible given circumstances.  Except in one ironic instance: the outro of the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".  With this song the solo at the end, for various reasons, became something of a showcase spot, and effectively I improvised the end solo - and another 2 minutes or more afterwards.

 The funny thing is, this became a Big Deal Showstopper.  Ironically, because it was the only part of the show that wasn't 100% Beatles content.  So I can take pride in that, given the context, but more importantly it was comments after the shows that was enlightening.

 These shows were mostly filled with Boomer age audiences, which was a novelty in my experience.  A very, very different thing compared to Gen-X and younger audiences.  But the comments afterwards were the most different thing: very specific observations of what I did during the lengthy While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo.

Comments like:

 "I like that Hendrix thing you did in the middle", "the soft part when you started doing the bending stuff, I don't play guitar but that was cool", "that fancy thing you did on the part that goes (tries to emulate the phrase verbally)".  Etc.  

Very specific compliments.  These people were actually listening!

 What a strange thing.  Not  "dude, you shred!!!" or "man, you can play mutha f****** guitar!" - not that I mind that, I love that, it's always great to get compliments, and enthusiastic ones.  Basically the only thing that fuels the Peasant Income Musician.

 But these Boomer age people really paid attention, and appreciated the notion that they understood I was improvising.  

 I never knew what I was going to do for that 2 minute long solo.  That was the whole point, for me it was a nice valve versus the rigid "stentorian rendition of the Beatles oeuvre".  It wasn't perfect, and that wasn't the point.

 I grew up listening to guitar players that from my vantage point were based on that.  In fact, when I finally did see Queen (post Freddy Mercury) it was both shocking and reaffirming how much Brian May improvised.  Maybe a half, or more of what he played was not based on the recordings!  On the live records (Queen _Live Killers_) he pretty much stuck to the recorded versions, but what I saw was someone stretching out on all of the solos.

Which was great!  That's what I wanted, I was hearing Sir Brian May, professor of infra red astronomy, coming up with stuff on the spot, in my presence, that maybe had not been heard before.  Maybe even by him, or even possibly by Any Human In History!

 The most interesting I've heard Steve Vai play is on a bootleg of him around the time of his first solo record, playing in what sounds like a small club - and he's winging solos, embellishing stuff left and right.  Very interesting to listen to.  I'm not knocking Steve, but these days he does nice, extremely perfect renditions of what is for the most part the Expected Recording Solo that has passed Rigorous Introspection and Production Gauntlet Checking.

 Which seems to please his more rabid fans, and makes tremendous sense: 99.9% of his audience, or mostly any guitar player's audience, is probably only going to see you play live just one time.  In which case, presenting the absolutely best rendition of a piece of music is logical.

 Right?  It's very professional.  It's what is expected by every touring act today, and it's also pretty much what is expected by audiences.

 It's also very boring and role in my opinion, and is one of the big reasons I've lost most motivation to go see a "live" band today.  I'm Gen-X, but I'm listening like a Baby Boomer listens I think.  The generation that grew up on pride in their "hi-fi" stereos, their record collection, their knowledge of their favorites artists. Nobody wanted to hear Hendrix or Clapton play the solo from the record - they wanted their experience of that solo section.  This was true for most rock guitarists through the 60's and 70's I think; there was a structure for the solo, but it was a solo - you were expected to take a chance.  You might mess up, but the point was to take a chance.

 Those days are gone.

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music.

Nobody plays music anymore.


Friday, December 29, 2017

The Ironic Nature of Rock Guitar Sound in the 21st Century

 A long time ago, on a planet not far, far away, 



It was the year 2017. Music retail was in ruins and rumor of the demise of the guitar was rampant. 

The Corporate Empire had decimated music as art.  Small groups of rebels called "guitar players" scattered across the planet still maintained the Order of Guitar, while practicing "music".

Despite being reduced in numbers, they unconsciously sought the rebirth of the Era of the Guitar Player......

 Everything recorded today sounds "good".  It's hard to find a really bad sounding recording, and believe it or not there was a time when that was possible. Recording gear used to be astronomically expensive, and in turn people who knew how to use it were like acoustic Jedi, a rare and almost legendarily mysterious group.

 Everybody now has access to equipment capable of making a Professional Sounding Recording.

 Let me point out something I think people are missing "these days":


In reality, today the word should probably be "Professional Sounding Creation".  

Recording implies a certain documentary aspect that no longer applies. You're no longer "capturing" a Crazy Rock and Roll Band in the wild of the recording studio.  You're making a sound creation.

 Which is fine, it's what I spend most of my time doing, despite the paucity of public release. But bear with me Anonymous Reader, and consider the following:

 There was a magical time between say 1950 and 1980-ish when everything was recorded with perfectly vintage gear!


  While recording technology has all but been perfected, the last holdout of Sound Creation is the mythical "great guitar sound".  Everyone kind of knows how to get it: use the same light sabers that were used by the Jedi.

 The irony should not be lost on the reader that while everyone has some sort of semi-professional recording device and capability today, most do not possess the things required to create the signal source to make a professional sound.

  In 1972, it was by default you had a tube amplifier.  And probably a non-wacked out pickup configuration on your guitar.  Even if you didn't have a Marshall or a Fender, it was probably a tube amp you played through.

 I would bet that while guitar players at the time were very concerned about sustain, beyond that it was a more abstract thing as to what good "tone" was.  Ironically again, it kind of didn't matter since everyone had the necessary components to get one.

 Which meant that "rock guitar sound" was a tube amp turned up.  That's about all.  In turn all of the weird varieties of tube amps, guitars and speakers plus microphones and studios yielded a lot of Great Guitar Sounds back then.

 More importantly, great but diverse sounds.  Not-homogenized.

 Today most guitar players are super obsessed and hung up with not getting a "good guitar sound", but getting someone else's sound.

 I will digress and say that most guitar players are not equipped with the mental apparatus or technical acumen to really fathom that idea.  People will cite their favorite guitar player, but said guitar player's recorded sounds can differ greatly, using a lot of different combinations, not to mention recording techniques. 

 That being said, they still gravitate towards Holy Grail ideals already established, and go to extraordinary lengths to buy exactly the Right Thing to get it.  Except it's a red herring. Most of these ideals were serendipity.

 In the 60's and 70's, everyone wasn't trying to get an exact sound someone else had.

 Brian May, Jimmy Page, VanHalen, Randy Rhoads, Eric Clapton, none of these have sounds like the other.  Despite a lot of gear overlap.

 The reason I'm writing this is that I'm having a nostalgia-dive through the Eric Carmen/Raspberries catalog, and there is this song:

 Not something I want to listen to, but the guitar sound on the intro is "pretty cool".  Almost kinda pre-Van Halen Van Halen.

 There are freebies there for the era: a Marshall, or a Bassman, or "?"? I don't know.  But it's probably turned up to get that distortion, and the mic was probably not right on the speaker and in a 70's Storyk flat-dry, UNCOLORED sounding room.  And a plate reverb. Vintage gear.

 It's not that it was SPECIFICALLY magical gear, just that it was obviously of the era, turned up and recorded with period gear. It doesn't sound EXACTLY like Van Halen, and vice versa.

 Which is good.  Blast it, as a guitar teacher, I am soooo tired of hearing the Perfect Metal Guitar Sound Variation #76778. There was a time when the band SOUND was supposed to be unique, and was prized.

 Now it's the opposite, there are pedestals.

 Consider the following songs by Joe Walsh:

Walk Away
Funk 49
Rocky Mountain Way

 All 3 are GREAT FRAKKING GUITAR SOUNDS.  And all 3 do not sound like the other.

Consider the following songs by Billy Gibbons:


All 3 are GREAT FRAKKING GUITAR SOUNDS.  And all 3 do not sound like the other.

Consider (insert favorite New Metal Band Songs)


 "Great" sounds?  The last Great Unique Metal Sound was Dimebag's solid state Randall's IMO.  Those recordings sounded like "those recordings". Past that recording we have nth number of super saturated Metallica Black album variations, all interchangeable.

 Brian May hits one chord, and you know it's Sir Brian May.  That can't be said for anyone "new" IMO.

 You Retro Vintage Music People: I'm looking at you.  You're not excused.  You buy the gear, but then you want to set it just like Your Hero.   You never get there, because half the sound is the recording process.  But that's ok, you're having fun I suppose.

 Here's what you're doing wrong:

 You're not using your gear like people used your gear when it was brand new.

 It's not turned up to 10.  Yeah, it sucks, it's loud, and now sound engineers get to dictate what you do.  But if you spent a ton of money on a vintage amp, and you run it on 2, it probably sounds ok.  It does NOT sound like a band in the 70's, or early 80's.  You're fooling yourself.

 I sold my vintage amps.  Because it wasn't practical to run them at levels that might damage them for what they cost.  I could put them in a closet, or in my case a complete other building to deal with the volume.  But I couldn't justify running a vintage 1968 Marshall at levels where the transformer might let go.

 ..and see, unlike a vintage guitar circuitry doesn't get better with age.  It just gets different, weird of malfunctioning.

 So I have a New Tube Amp solution.  It's very much not a "traditional vintage" replicant.  I'm not concerned about that, just as the guy on the Raspberrie's recording wasn't worried about the pedigree of the tubes in his amp.

 Those sounds from the 70's recordings were easy.  They were not all Van Halen approved Marshalls, or Stevie Ray Vaughn approved Supers/whatever.  Keith Richards wasn't worried about not sounding like SRV while deciding he liked Ampegs, or whatever.  But in reality, anything "old Marshall like" with real Celestion greenbacks, or alnico speakers, with the right mic and recording chain is going to be good.  Not unique but good.  Any tube amp is going to sound good with those speakers.

 Or even with the "wrong" speakers.  Kudos to Derek Trucks for using car radio speakers.  Bravery in action.  A unique and great sound.

 But seriously, one should go back and listen to those old 70's hard rock recordings; they don't all sound the same, but they all sound mostly great from a guitar standpoint.  Not bland, not generic.  What a concept...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Vocabulary Differentiation and Guitar 1: Subtle and Profound

 In the 21st century we find ourselves in an intellectual dark ages.  If you don't agree with that, that is a discussion for another time, but I'm here to say people today are throwing words around without any care as to the distinctiveness of the words versus other words.

 In turn, that looseness of use affects the way a person thinks using that looseness.  
 If I have the choice to use two different words to describe an aspect of something, my awareness of the difference between the two means I'm thinking about that difference relative to said subject/object.

 The person that can speak the two words but has no bias towards using one over the other, cannot in turn think about the possible difference!

 Vocabulary alters your processing ability.  We've stressed math in "education" for the past 30 years, and now we have 12 years olds that know calculus but can't actually think about reality because their vocabulary is non-existent or worse - distorted.


 It occurs to me that people taking lessons lately want a Big Epiphany Result.  When that kind of thing happens they're very happy.  The problem is that every moment of learning can't be that.

 If I tell someone "go listen to this song, play this phrase and then count the remainder of the measure" it's for very specific reasons to address an aspect of their musical awareness.

 The problem is that when doing such a thing "fixes" a problem, the result may be subtle, but profound.


 The student thinks "oh, I can now play accents on the offbeat of 4 when I couldn't last week".  They're thinking it's just a tiny moment in music, and maybe (incorrectly) that "it's that thing in that one song I couldn't do".


 It is PROFOUND.  Previously you were blind to that entire beat.  A very big thing, that means previously if a piece of music used that beat to great effect - you completely missed it. Let's say you're 40 years old; how much music have you listened to in your life while being unaware of what happens on that beat?  You should be dismayed, but also happy: because now all of that potentially can be new to you again!  And from then on, music potentially can be "more" than it was before.

 That is the meaning of the word "profound".  The result is subtle - you can't readily explain it to a non-musically trained person, and it doesn't make you instantly Beethoven.  But, it is PROFOUND.  You have changed the way YOU perceive sound, the way YOU organize your thinking about sound, and also they way YOU can think about music.

 Subtle and profound.  Most skill acquisitions in music are going to be subtle, but don't discount their value. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Holy Frak - They Work? Ernie Ball Paradigm Strings

(Special Star Wars Crawl Edition)

  I'm very impressed.  Enough so that I'm writing something that is akin to a product endorsement that I don't actually endorse.

 The set I had on my guitar at work  made it from early October to late November before intonation issues happened.  Let me say right now that I hear string intonation going bad almost within a few hours.  So the above is almost miraculous.

 I'm sitting here having to think about it, "wait, is that right....?".

 What is curious is that they still sounded pretty bright throughout, particularly the wound strings.  It was a little disconcerting to find myself thinking "ok, I can't make these work", being the economically bereft musician, trying to extend their utility way past any other strings due date.

 Part of the disconcerting bit was that they didn't sound "used up", so I found myself in the middle of giving a lesson fighting the intonation, part of my mind thinking "they don't sound like they should be doing this" while the other part is thinking "gee, this happened suddenly?".   If these strings have a downside it would be that when they start to go south, it happens fast. Surreal fast.  As in, I thought something had physically happened to my guitar, "why won't my guitar stay in tune?  Did something happen to the neck joint??  Oh... the strings won't intonate anymore...".  A curious phenomenon.  

 Not really a downside in reality, unless you actually want to try to pull off repeated gigs with them until this happens. 


 When new they have a curious not-quite bright as new strings sound.  This is a bonus in my opinion, but again let me qualify that.

 I HATE COATED STRINGS.  They're not just duller sounding, they're duller in a weird way, and they seem to sound odd as they sustain (and they tend to not sustain well).  Putting goop on a string and saying "see, they'll last longer!" isn't rocket science.

 It also doesn't work in my experience.  The coating wears off on the unwound strings faster, and then they die like an uncoated string.  The coatings on the unwound strings only seem to last a very short amount of time, anyhow.

 The wound strings, when coated, may seem to hold their sound a little bit longer - 15%?  But then, they sound off, and "hold their sound" in this case means, "not completely dull/dead".

 And the worst thing is they feel peculiar.

 I know that the Paradigm strings are coated, but it's not noticeable. They don't sound coated, they sound very balanced through the overtone series, much like DRs do.  I'm not sure how much their coating counts versus the string composition, but it doesn't matter: I like how they sound.

 The best part being, they pretty much sound the same for ... months, plural?  Not dull or dead, but "broke in new".  It's ... a little odd, actually. A very strong fundamental (the most important thing as far as I'm concerned), and very pitch stable through the overtone series. 


 They're maybe a little stiffer.

 Which led me to think, "what if they're using a slightly higher gauge, but not labeling them as such?".  Maybe.  I dunno. They don't feel a whole gauge heavier, and actually, again, the tension feels balanced from string to string.  Completely not an issue.

 Most importantly they don't feel coated.  I don't have to think about the tactile friction being unpredictable.

 Which, again, a strange thing is that the only real indication of "I've got to change these" is that the intonation went off.  I'll try to get a long life out of a burned out unwound string in lessons by retuning for whatever it is I'm teaching in the lesson, but the string feels corroded and shot. Plus it's not pitch steady, and doesn't intonate.

 With the Paradigm strings, it's as if they're aging about a 5th as fast as normal strings, except for when the intonation does actual go.  


 I go through a lot of strings.  I'm playing a constant 5+ hours a day, and it's a brutal regimen on strings.  If I'm teaching an aspect of bending or vibrato, I might be doing each for 20 minutes continuously out of the 30 minute lesson.  It is highly, super duper unlikely, that anyone tortures their strings more than this environment.

 On the whole for me, the price works out to be a little less than "normal" strings.  I milk strings along a far way with tuning/intonation tricks (I'm financially insolvent), and I did a little of that with these strings.  However, the reason these strings are now my default choice is very simple:

 Instead of having to change strings 4 times or more in this time span, as well as go through a period of "intonation obfuscation" to get more mileage out of each set - I've only had to change strings and do that once with these.

 I cannot express how big of a deal that is to me.  I HATE changing strings.  It can only be done so fast, and it just sticks out in your daily life like a sore thumb, a hangnail.  Hate it almost as much as I hate being out of tune.

 I would prefer my students use these strings. It's bad enough people don't change their strings often enough, but thinking about it, these strings would probably match up well to what the new guitar player might expect from strings.  Instead of going months past when they should change strings, with these they could actually be IN TUNE and not dead sounding during that time.  A hard sell because of the cost, but in reality a good deal.


 For "most people" they might be more expensive value wise by a little bit.  That being said (paging Bobby Owsinski), that is only in the context of the non-professional player using strings well beyond their due date.  The point in the non-professional getting these strings is that you will sound in tune and not dull throughout the same period of time.

 Which in reality is a better deal.

 Spooky metallurgy, alien technology coating?  Great strings.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Timing/Time - Timing Over Time

 I recently subjected myself to an onslaught of YouTube gear demo videos.  I'm looking for a "replacement solution" for my ailing, sketchy amp situation at work.

 As it turns out, post Guitar Center Retail Apocalypse Denoument, there are no longer singular places where you can travel to and try out "most everything" as you once could in Ye Olde Tyme.  As predicted, Guitar Center is now wallowing in mediocre Mart of Wal descent: random selection of bland products in general, coupled with an annoying environment.
 It's so bad, that in order to try all of things that have interested me for said use, I'd have to spend a week on a road trip across the south east to maybe find these things and maybe try them out.  So I found myself studying the wild and wooly world of Super Amateur Hour Product Demos (which reminds me, I need to write a post about how to navigate such things in a more efficient manner...).

 I digress, sorry.


 It's not as simple or inane as "being on beat".  In fact, if someone thinks playing to a click means trying to match the click on every beat - sorry, you don't hear music properly. 

 Nothing in the classic, performed-by-humans pantheon of recorded music is perfectly on beat. 

 That is NOT the same as "off beat", "out of time", "having poor meter", or any other sundry bs terms I'm sick of that are bandied about by mediocre musicians incapable of making an artistic decision.

 I've ranted before about playing to a click perfectly as being wrong.  But what I'm going to discuss now is the flipside to that.

 It would seem...  "most" people's internal clock is either too rigid, or too fragile.

 Rigid: I know people that play perfectly in time.  Drummers that play perfectly on top of the beat, naturally. 

 This is overall a great thing for a drummer, because they can get by in almost any situation.  Generally.  Actually, I suppose these days, in everything - people don't hear the difference I'm talking about post-70's music:

 Great music requires push and pull. 

 When I hear endless demos of bits of people's favorite songs when they're doing their gear demos, it's revealing of two phenomena about humans.

1) Some are capable to "playing back", in detail, timing from an "inner recording".

2) Some are capable to manipulating this recording.

About #1: I hear some people play a part of their snippet eerily perfect.  The part they like most.  The part they remember the clearest.  Because then, they'll play the rest with an apparently completely unaware sense of a part having a push and a pull they obviously don't hear.  Something that falls into the micro-rhythmical realm, sub 75ms or so.

Their inner timing resolution goes below that, but only for a small part. In reality this is where the nebulous "feel" resides, maintaining that. Playing perfectly on top of the beat isn't "wrong", but it's not right in this context. 

#2: a dividing line in the sand.  Some people are trying to get within the ballpark, driving in the parking lot with dirty sun glasses on.  Others are inside, looking for the best seat.

 When I hear someone play an excerpt from a Famous Blues Guitar Solo, and it's not verbatim, the cliche "feel" comes up: there is a lack of diversity to the push/pull in the timing.  It's often quite literally "too correct".  That also goes for the dynamics and tone manipulation (if any).

 Why I think I hear this: music was like religion to me since I was a toddler, literally.  I "mainlined" it daily.  I knew what I liked, and wore it out.  Even before I became a "professional musician" I knew a lot of music inside and out. I wore out records and cassettes. 

 After I became Mr. Musician, I did the same thing.  I played to sides of records over, and over, and over, and over, and over some more.

The fun was in mimicking this great music I'd heard all my life!

I hated the post-mp3 term "music should be free!" (no...).  In a sense, it always was to a musician!  You can learn to play a piece of music that someone who is regarded as a historic genius has created, and you can practice and reproduce it over and over, as much as you like.


 Increasingly these days it seems like I have to struggle to motivate people to spend more than a few moments with a piece of music.  

 I can demonstrate where music is pushing and pulling, and try to wake someone's ears up to that aspect, but that has to be ingrained.  You have to want to do it perfectly; but for your own reasons!

 Meaning, because you love the music.  For me, there isn't enough time in the day to spend playing music; even if it's just a 5 second part!  If it is  great, and you love it, you'll want to do it over and over.  Being able to capture the magic of the gestalt of something great - it's free in music, if you want it.

 But if you can only tolerate "practicing" a part in a piece of music you "love" - maybe you don't know what you like as much as you think?  Or maybe just not as much as the OCD person; regardless, it is something that you have to pass through to get that "Full Featured Inner Metronome".  If you want to reproduce a feeling, it can't be something you have to consciously pull up, it has to be reflex: because you've done it so much.

 You must past through the gauntlet of having spent hours and hours reproducing your favorite music.  Not just barely getting through it and shutting the hood.  Not playing something once, moving on.  Doing it over, and over, and over, and over.  If you've never done that, you absolutely must if you want to both hear the difference AND be able to manipulate it.

 And most importantly - if none of this seems to make sense - then you need to do it.  Take 5 of your favorite songs, *favorite* songs mind you - not "the most difficult" - and play each of them 10 times in a row.  

Every day.

For at least 3 months or more.

THEN, go listen to people play the same 5 songs on You Tube; you'll hear rhythmic differences you couldn't hear before.

 Drummers are the worse about this. Lots of John Bonham and Stewart Copeland "big fans" who know a couple of beats, maybe some fills - but they can't trick you on the *feel* through an entire song. It breaks down, something gets averaged out that is either pushed or pulled.  And it's that subtlety that makes them great, not just the technical expertise or ultra clever parts!  It's their human side in control.  

 Anyhow... yeah.  There can be more to that "simple, easy to play" riff than you think.  The feel is just as much part of the technique.






Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Music is a LANGUAGE; theory is SCIENCE!

 Music is a language, theory is science. Seems very simple to me, but in reality the misuse of syntax has put a pox on becoming a musician historically.  I'm a heretic, but I can explain myself.

 In my experience as a guitar teacher most people consider "music theory" to be something like a set of rules.  Alternatively, a set of instructions.

 This is partially true, but ONLY within one context:

 To become a classical music composer in the historical style of Bach.

  More specifically, I'd say it's an obtuse scripting language that yields "classical music" when a data set is applied. Another way of putting is, your whim is the data set and if you follow the ascribed rules and instructions, the output will be classical music. Which is fine, if you live in the 1700's, perhaps in Austria.  Some people virtually do, and have a wardrobe of frilly shirts to show for it.

 Sorry to digress into Viking metal.

 People I teach view the intellectual side of learning music to be something they can digest in a month or two, maybe even a few weeks.

 Would they think the same about learning Spanish?  Chinese?

 You're learning labels for subjective human musical experience. 

 Grammar doesn't inform you as to what to say.  It doesn't tell you how to describe what a flower looks like.  You have to have something to say.  Theoretically you don't need to know it, but you'll be limited in communicating.

 You don't have to follow grammar (obviously in the 21st century...).  Grammar allows you to communicate in a traditionally acceptable format.  When you decide to break from grammar, you tend to fall into idiomatic styles.

 You also are subject to being inadvertently comical.
  Music as a language is no different.  Music "grammar", when ignored means chances are you'll end up playing in an idiomatic style, and you'll also possibly risk being a cliche.

 Ignore it and you mind end up whimsically playing circus music passages, out of tune, or out of key.  Comical.

 Learning music as a language..... 

is a more appropriate description of what a person does when deciding to pick up an instrument than "reading the instruction manual" or "going over the rules".  I know a lot of people view it as something akin to math.  I also can hear a lot of people doing it as a math process.

   There are grammar, vocabulary, and literature aspects to it. 

How you form a sentence (melody).  What style of phrasing (vocabulary).  What stylistic antecedents you draw from (literature).

   You can watch a video that tells you that "dogs don't drive cars" in order to not know that "Bob the Labrador drove his Tesla to Kroger" is probably not a sensible sentence.  It's not a practical way of learning how to communicate, unless you want to be deliberately comical.  Yet, this is how many/most people think or expects the process of making music to work.  "Thou shalt not play parallel 5ths" is an adage in classical music, yet you'd be hard pressed to write a rock and roll song treating that as a rule or instruction.  

 Instead you use your "literary" experience, what you have listened to and love, as a filter for what you create.  Non-metaphysically you're using your subconscious awareness, the parallel processing ability of a human mind, to effectively handle the math behind the scenes.  That doesn't mean the process isn't super technical, maybe the most technical process humans do; but it is empirical observation that each human makes through experience being utilized that creates good music, not algorithms. 
 That an algorithm can make a result that sounds like music, does not consequently mean that is how all music or arbitrarily good music is made.  Human subjectivity trounces that approach, despite being abstruse and indeterminate.
 Learn music as a language, not a science.  This is maybe the most important difference among musicians in my opinion.  This should not be construed as simply some homily like "play from your soul, man" or some such; it is a very self-introspective awareness of how one does the process.

..... Learn music as a language, not a science.




Saturday, October 7, 2017

Ernie Ball Paradigm Strings - Will They Last?

 I'm trying a second set of the new Ernie Ball Paradigm strings, 9-42/Super Slinky.

Can't wait to hear someone refer to these as "Par-uh-dig-em"

 These are going on my main "at home" guitar, a Floyd bridge equipped Warmoth kit guitar with stainless 6100 frets.

 My first set I put on my main guitar at work/guitar lessons, and the B popped while tuning up.  Not a good sign, but that was about a month ago and I've been impressed by how not "old" they are by this time.

 Usually for me 3 weeks in I've got to change strings.  Intonation has gone beyond spotty (more than +/- 4 cents on the the treble strings), and tonally they're going to be dead and pitch unstable.

 The pitch unstable bit is what I'm hopeful about with these new strings.  It's not so much  that they don't sound dull, but they are still very pitch stable, the note doesn't do something wonky, there is no out of tune vibrato effect.

 They don't feel coated, and perhaps may sound less peaky in the treble than "normal" strings but that's welcome as well.  I'm not sure what they're doing, if it's some sort of bi-layer graphene fermion Kool-Aid coating, or a super-magical ancient Nihongo samurai sword ally, but I'm going to try to quench my need to know and just get on with things.

 My home guitar shares duties with my custom Suhr, so it doesn't get as much physical use as my work guitar, but what I'm interested in seeing is if they can stay on the guitar 60+ days and not get corroded/pitch sketchy.

 So I'll try to remember to revisit my blog 90 days from now -  December 16th-ish?  And try to give an assessment/review then. I'm feeling pretty good about them, but we'll see.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Precipice Vertigo Accomodation and Music

   I hate analogies except when I'm pondering them. Sorry.

 There may be a French word for the concept I'm about to present, I don't know.  When a person takes on a new challenge, in some cases before the person makes the decision to "jump" they may find themselves in a moment of cognitive dissonance.  They're mentally confronting for the first time embracing the scale of what they're about to do.

 What's interesting to me about this is how radically different humans treat circumstances that are similar, what they seem to tell themselves, and how they prepare.  In the case of music, there are ample "precipices" one can encounter.  The decision to try to learn a new genre; the decision to learn all of the music of a particular artist; the decision to learn a new technique; the decision to join a band; the decision to learn a new instrument, etc.

 I have been producing a student's solo project for the past few months.  For him, it was one of those precipice moments to take on the idea to do such a thing initially; as a learning experience I think it's been very potent, as his ability to approach making a song as become much more facile and efficient. 

 Now it's time for him to start thinking about the final product, and the idea of mixing down the work.  So he goes,

 "What is mixing?"

 He's on the precipice of deciding to do the mixing himself, or "another option".  He's not sure what's over the edge of the cliff, but he's peering over it to assess. 

 Which is wise, given the time he's invested so far.  On the other hand, weighing what there is to learn has to be taken in as well. 

 I'm contrasting that with another student.  The other student wants to eventually become a "singer-songwriter/performer" guitar player in a Certain Large Music Town. 

 This student's gung-ho attitude serves him well, he is charging into battle.  I'm not sure if he realizes the sheer scale of the battle he's joining.  The skill set required is greater than I believe he sees at the moment, so his approach is going to be fraught with moments of frustration when obstacles become evident.  Obstacles that were always there and visible, but inseen for the moment.

 The question is, does he maintain his course at each one of these obstacles, or does the gung-ho attitude dissipate?

 Does the first student look over the cliff, and decide "nope"?

What I've learned myself, is that in both instances I have to let them both "free wheel".  Which is to say, coast under their own momentum into whatever it is.


 People are people.

 I've learned that  there isn't a one-size-fits-all way of "teaching" or "learning".  There are some general categories (as posited above), but you can't force a strategy on someone when it's conceptually against the grain of who they are. 

 It just doesn't work.

 It makes me mad, because I know now, fully, just how corrupted and wrong the U.S. education system is, and how much the world could be better with just a little bit of optimizing.  Many problems in our society are the result of people that were "misfit" for the public education system, not of their own fault.  It's both wasteful and inefficient that this goes on.

 I think most people would agree with me on the following anecdotes:

 We all know someone from grade school that had no problem studying 24/7 and made perfect grades.

 We all know someone that didn't have to study at all, that still got by (... ahem..).

 We all know someone that was smart, but out of control in a classroom.

 We all know someone that wasn't particularly smart, but did seemingly quite well.

 We all know someone was too busy trying to get other's attention to do well. 

 We all know someone who wasn't particularly smart, except they could game the system.
 ... and so on.

  Within each of the above frameworks, these archetypes stand out because of the forced process of the "30 person per 6 classes period" generic system.  It's only optimal for one of the above students, obviously.  From my experience, that would be literally one person out of 1,000. 
Everyone else is a misfit to some degree. Meaning, the reader of this.  In a perfect work there would be schools tailored to each mindset; or a more flexible system from the outset.

 From a music standpoint, I try to teach within the mindset of the student.  I can't go about things with the first student above as the second.  I don't expect it to work that way, because it simply doesn't. 

  The flip side to this (I write about this in my book to a degree) is that people should know, as a human being, the "how" of how they themselves learn.  I've seen big mismatches, and it's to their detriment.  This is a concept I wish I had learned when I was a child, because from my point of view I wasted a lot of  time "not learning" when I could have been learning.  It wasn't my fault because I was bored, but because the process itself had zero to do with the way I learn.

 If for no other reason than to discover this principle I'd suggest "take guitar lessons" until you understand what I'm writing about.  I think it could probably be life changing.