Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald -

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sloppiness Pt. 2: Claude Monet and Lead Guitar

1) What is the threshold of acceptability for your audience?

(this is actually a very accurate meta visual example of what this article is about...)

 (the above picture I took using a pinhole lens I made, deliberately making my modern technology digital camera to yields results that look soft and "sloppy" - like an Impressionist painting.  It is of an artist making a copy of a Monet painting titled "The Stroll: Woman with a Parasol (Madame Monet and Her Son)".  Why?  1) Because the painting was already made, I couldn't make it. 2) You're not allowed to use take pictures of certain pictures at museums. 3) ... which doesn't matter, because it doesn't take any particular skill or mindset to take a "perfect" picture of a painting! 4) The pinhole lens has an element of mystery to it because of it's imperfection and inherent chaotic light scattering.  In a staid setting such as a museum, this makes for a more interesting picture to occur in my opinion.  How many pinhole pictures of the inside of a museum have you seen....?)

  .............This may seem self-explanatory, but it's not.

 Your "audience" might be a record producer or engineer.  In which case, they are going to be listening more closely than The Random Person On the Street.

 Your audience may be people in a music store: it shouldn't be, but having worked in music stores most of my life I can say that this is a reality for some people.  The interesting thing here is that there is a profound disconnect between what the Budding Guitar Store Rock Star thinks is "ok" and what the Experienced and Jaded Music Store Employee thinks.

 Another audience might be, as in my case, a guitar student sitting point blank in front of you.  Which is a curious thing, because everything is on the table in this giant question mark of a case.

 Then there is the "traditional" sense of the word.  In a big arena, "sloppiness" is almost relative given the over-amplified whorl of distortion and volume that is a live show.  In this scenario the audience is going to be ultra forgiving, simply because - they can't really make out much detail in a lot of cases, unless it is "that soft part in the song".

 As venues get smaller the stakes go up, actually.  Because a more and more significant portion of the audience is likely to be hearing your amplifier directly off the stage, or as the capability of the p.a. system to the size of the room becomes greater and greater.  So there is trade off here, depending on the p.a. and the sound of the room.  But...

 At this stage (pun intended) there is a Default State of Acceptable: you have to presume your audience is going to have a pretty good chance of hearing at least as much detail as they would hear on a recording.  The thing to note here is that in general, this is NOT "perfect technique"; it's a mature and pragmatic technique.  A practical one.  This is somewhat my position for myself (as I think of it).

 Then there is the Solo Acoustic Performance In a Small and Intimate Setting.  This is difficult.  This is where "approaching perfect technique" comes in, because everything can be heard usually to a more detailed degree than on a recording.

 This is the realm that "singer songwriters" and solo performers work at, which is actually a much higher level of "getting to perfect" than is necessary for the Rock Musician.   In turn these people are stronger on fundamentals and consistency, because there is no forgiving in this situation.  Combined with 21st century expectation of perfection, this is a high-stress place to be, which is why I choose not to do such things anymore. 

 I used to regularly play gigs at bookstores that used to be part of a large national chain.  These gigs were always weird, because invariably I would find myself playing with what is obvious other guitar players literally at arms length in front of me, staring at my fingers with their arms crossed.  These Musical Buzzards were waiting for their chance to prey on the remains of Any Morsel of a Mistake, and I knew it.

 So instead of thinking about music, I was thinking about string squeaks.  I was thinking about That Really Tough Stretch Coming Up.  That Suddenly Super Quick Legato Part After This Chord.  Execution.

 Which means I could have played easier music (and maybe I should have?).  Or practice even more, which was not a wise utilization of my time given the diminishing returns of what said gig paid!

There are angles around some of the pitfalls.  Some Famously Skilled Acoustic Wizards have acoustic guitars set up with crazy low action, resulting in guitars that when unamplified do not sound very good.  You can also use compression (audio electronic effect), and weird guitar amplifier-like equalization to approach an electric guitar-like feel, but at that point one has to ask are you deluding yourself or the audience?  Hats off to the singer-songwriter guys that just use electric guitars, negating this downside as well as side stepping the "trying to make an acoustic guitar loud/amplified and still sound like an acoustic guitar" battle.

Using a lone microphone, not a pickup, in front of an acoustic guitar is very revealing and challenging.  When you watch footage of James Taylor or Neil Young playing solo in the early 70's, they're not playing hyper-technical licks BUT - they're playing point blank in front of a microphone, not an "acoustic guitar" with a pickup system through a processor/p.a..  That is something of an anachronistic skill set in the 21st century.

 At the bottom of the barrel is the "Fool My Friends" skill set.  In this scenario as long as you almost hit enough notes that whatever it is you're playing is recognizable - you've accomplished something.  And I'm not ragging that - it *is* an accomplishment.  It's something the Friend that is Your Audience can't do, and something you couldn't do at one time.  You can have fun in the garage band, and it's a stepping stone to the next level as long as one understands that concept. 

 The question is, do you let yourself stay there?

2) What is optimal in order to be artistic?

  Jimi Hendrix wasn't perfect.  He didn't strive to be.  He strove for balancing on that Live Audience Acceptability Standard versus going out on a limb improvising.  In my opinion, that is what you want. You want art you've never heard before, right?

 On the other end you've got the Technical Metal Guy who is looking at it as a sport, as is the audience.  Can he play hyper-technical and note-dense music flawlessly, all the way to the end?  GO!!!

 That's... interesting somewhat, but not artistic in itself.  It also runs counter to making art.  This is the realm of what I was talking about previously: the guy that is listening as if another guitar player is sitting in front of him.  Which has nothing to do with Making Art but impressing someone.

 Even within that idiom there is a scale of slop.  Some people think Yngwie Malmsteen is sloppy, others think he's "perfect". Does Yngwie care?  No.

 But this is a very hard road to travel, because we're already at the end of it where there is a sign marked "THE LIMIT OF HUMAN KINESTHETIC ABILITY".   Diminishing returns.  Bands like Rush and Yes set a high bar int he 70s, along with fusion acts like Return to Forever, Weather Report, Al DiMeola, Allan Holdsworth, and the king of complicated music, Frank Zappa.

 In reality, humans are not going to exceed what Zappa did with a group of people when it comes to playing Complicated Music.  It's been done.  Note density, tempo, duration can be made into hurdles, but that's all they are.

 Life is too short to spend worrying about What the Other Guitar Players Think.  I'm OCD so I worry about that - but I shouldn't.  I'm not playing music for musicians, even if a lot of them are. Having said that, the following caveat should be heeded:


3) What is best for a given practice routine? 

  This is where not being sloppy actually counts the most.  There are things you should practice at a certain minimum tempo, even at the expense of sloppiness, but in general striving for perfection when practicing will pay off.

 Which brings me to this point: the reason I'm writing this is in the hope that a student or students will note the gravitas of this.  I've said it a thousand times: playing fast is the easiest thing to accomplish on guitar.  It's just a matter of making yourself practice PERFECTLY.

 The trick is understanding what that means, and most people don't really embrace the idea that it's quite literal.  Not only that, but it's then multiplied by the perfect, optimal rate against duration.  At that juncture it's just repetition and training, patience in waiting.  If you're doing this properly, you can't help but to get faster.

 Which goes back to my point about the guy sitting in his bedroom in the 80's.  If you put a microscope on your playing, and do it enough - you get better.  It's very simple.  Patience.

 The flip side is that I encounter, about once a year, the Random Student That Has An Unrealistic Idea About Where Their Skill Set Should Be.  This person gets stilted by trying to make perfect something that takes more time than they allow, at the expense of not taking time to work on other things.  This is the "horse with blinders" brute force approach, that seems to make sense to some people.  Perfect practice has to include the calculus of the bulk of what needs to get done, not just one hay bale in the corner of the painting!

 Which is where I come in as musical "coach".  People in general are all over the place with their notions of expectations and sloppiness, and how that impacts what they play.  For most it's an inefficient perspective and combination.

 Knowing and understanding the above concepts will help a guitar student meter out their efforts, hopefully.  I can't impart to the Technical Metal Student that having a sort of Kurt Cobain level of coarseness applied to technique is not going to work, or to the guy that just wants to play punk music that obsessing about the angle of their pick in degrees while not working on playing barre chords is also wasting their time.  There are things one should consider "sloppy" from the outset and other things that are not as much of an issue, depending on where someone is in their development.

 In conclusion: "sloppiness" is relative, but something one should consider as a concept that one accepts as a philosophy, depending on your "audience".  There is no reason to expect your technical high-gain metal chops to translate to a steel string acoustic.  There is no reason to try to bother with legato lead guitar technique if you're not interested in that, either.  These are specialty skills that have different expectations for "cleanliness" in execution, and there is no reason to impose non-logical restrictions when 98% of your audience won't hear it.

 For the 2% that do, they're probably of a mental state that is non-congruent with reality, making and appreciating art.  Claude Monet was trained as an artist of the "baroque" school of portraiture and technique. In his early paintings you can see him still clinging to that (literal) school of thought, but with hints of rebelliousness.  It shows that he did have a legitimate baroque technique; but this is post van Rijn and Vermeer.

 Monet took what I think may be the biggest authoritative creative step in history, along with a group of peers in the Impressionist movement.  He started making paintings that were deliberately, intentionally disregarding notions of "sloppiness" of technique.  That is not the same as saying he did not have technique, or that there was no technique present!

 That is not the same as saying he did not have technique, or that there was no technique being used in the presentation. 

He gambled on his audience understanding, literally, the big picture.  Not the gatekeepers of the art schools, or the pundits.

 It took a long time, but obviously people have come around to appreciate his art. Music has, since the late 60s, been mired in a weird corporate-imposed state of limbo somewhat like what existed in Monet's life, a pre-determined set of "rules" that defined "art".  When people ask me "do you play classical guitar? Do you play jazz?" my first thought is literally "Andres Segovia already happened.  Joe Pass already happened".  I'm not practicing to simultaneously have perfect classical technique, or perfect jazz technique.  That has been done, and one human isn't going to do it all as perfectly as one human has done these specific idioms already!

 I do not adjust my "output stream" of acceptability based on the idiom.  I do not care to play Bach as perfectly as Segovia and will not waste my life bothering.  I do not care to play modern jazz as Joe Pass did. Paul Gilbert as the cleanest, precise metal guy.  Holdsworth the most legato.  Stevie Ray Vaughn as the most lurid blues player. They have already happened!

 I am all about hybrid vigor.

 I want something new, in some respect.  We have to move forward.  Monet couldn't be Rembrandt and Monet at the same time.  A 21st century artist does not have multiple life times to become the perfect Impressionist, Surrealist, Classical, Baroque, Picasso, Pissaro, Van Gogh etc..  They have already happened. If you look at that list, Picasso could never have happened if he'd worried about Vermeer's standards of execution.  Also note that Pollack, Kadinsky is not on that list; anti-technique as an approach is outside of what I am discussing.  There are actually people that play instruments deliberately untuned, deliberately out of time with no sense of meter.  There is a movement in Japan for "noise music".  You don't have to have technique at all if you want to make sound.  It might even being artistic; but again.... that's not within the purview of what I'm writing about.

 For some the challenge of being "perfect" might be appealing. For others, the acceptance of "being sloppy" may actually be a hindrance and misguided.  It may be perfectly fine to pursue one of the above, or multiples - I'm not saying that wrong, but I AM saying you want to be aware of the concept of differing approaches to sloppiness vs. perfection.  Where do you sit on that scale?



Friday, June 15, 2018

Sloppiness Pt. 1: For Whom Do You Play, and Pig Skateboards?

 On the planet right now, there are a gazillion different guitar players.  They all feel they slot into a mythical and intangible scale of "sloppy vs. not sloppy".


Part of my quiver


  A lot of people don't evaluate their outcome goals to meter that.  Worse, I think that the 80's wrecked a lot of people's sensibility regarding the concept and turned it into a overly simplistic, all encompassing unobtanium throne of "Perfect Technique".

 I'm going to digress (because it's easy), to an even earlier time of the mid-70s and tell a story about skateboards.  Then, I'll try to tie that into a useful analogy for guitar playing.  I call this "stunt blogging":

 In the early 70s skateboards were very skinny.  They were undeveloped engineering and design-wise, still mired in a limbo zone of being mostly a "toy".  Then, in the mid -70's skateboarding exploded and suddenly there were companies whose sole purpose was to make not only just skateboards, but skateboard parts.

 One company was Dogtown Skates.  Previously there had been a few companies making skateboards, but the shape and size of the skateboards was never really explored (except in length).  Somewhere along the line, the guys that rode their skateboard decks start noticing them getting bigger and bigger, and suddenly it became apparent that a wider board is more stable.  Boards reached beyond being 6-7" wide.  By the 80s people started using boards averaging 10" wide, or more.

 Since then, things have settled down into the typical popsicle stick board seen today, 7.5"-8.5" wide.  But wider than the early 70s, and some still prefer wider today.

At Dogtown, there was a guy in charge of cutting out the planks of wood for the new decks.  This was pre-CNC milling, computer controlled manufacturing.  What he was doing was taking and old deck, and using it as a template to cut out new boards.  Then for the next run, he'd take one of the new boards... and use it as a template for the even newer run of boards.

 Every time he made a new run of boards, he was gradually making them wider.

 For someone who doesn't have a real artistic mind set, the obvious answer to "what is an acceptable amount of sloppiness?" is "obviously" none at all.  The 80s saw the dawn of people staying at home in their bedrooms practicing for many hours a day with their amplifier probably no further than a few feet from their ear.

 The new urge to play faster and more technical led to countless people sitting in front of their amp - in a sonic-microscopic fashion, playing their favorite technically challenging guitar parts from recordings. 

 The thing is, the people they were copying didn't record in that fashion, with their ear up on their speaker.  They heard it blended in professionally by the recording engineer, or maybe out in the studio room with the rest of the band: a less than optimal way to hear what they were doing.  Unless they deliberately soloed their tracks, to polish what they were doing.

 But that was in a *studio* setting.  When that generation and prior was learning guitar, they were listening to more primitive recordings on more primitive playback gear.  They may or may not have been able to make out most of the detail of what their favorite Chuck Berry lick was.  Which was a good thing: this allowed for mutation and hybrids.

 Practice amps were not that great, nor were guitars for beginners prior to the 80s.  So the process of sitting in the bedroom to copy what one's Favorite Guitar Hero did was a more coarse experience, also not tempered by the social pressures of having to have extraordinary technical skill.

 So what was happening in the 80's was akin to the skateboard deck getting bigger and bigger by default. 

 People were transcribing guitar solos with more accuracy and precision than in some cases the original guitar part was played.

 Not only that, but since in most cases the guitar solo on the record represented the guitarist at his "best, peak performance", the practice of replicating that performance over and over and over in the bedroom meant that the Bedroom Guy's skill set was elevated over the original. 

Was art getting better by that process?

 Most would say "no".  Most became intimidated by the anti-punk philosophy of being not just pragmatically skilled, but highly skilled. Then it became trendy to say "no", and that begat the "alternative music" rebellion in the late 80s/early 90s. I think that was a harsh and moronic herd-mentality reflex, to the countless technically adept guitar players that came out of the 80s  unburdened by an artistic sense. But something else just as bad came out of it:

 The moronic, Dunning-Kruger notion of Attaining "Perfect Technique".

 It became kind of tres-cool to say things like "oh yeah, Hendrix... he was sloppy" in the 90s.  I would hear this from both metal guitar players, and technical blues Stevie Ray Vaughn aficionados.  Which was doubly stupid for the SRV fan to say, given Vaughn wouldn't have existed without being a Hendrix fan.

 That attitude matured into what is now a finely shaded and graded scale of "how perfect is your technique?" by a lot of players.  Finely shaded, because what constitutes "perfect" is different depending on who you ask, and actual reality.

 Here's reality: there is "sloppy", and there is "making mistakes". The question is: what is a pragmatic approach to being a a fallible, imperfect human?

 There are 3 concepts that should be recognized in this context, in order to have a practical, pragmatic and useful philosophical attitude on this subject... (outlined in Part 2):



Monday, May 28, 2018

Speakers Are As Important as Your Amp or Guitar!

"What kind of amp should I buy?"

 I get asked this a lot.   And I beg out of the question because of the complexity involved in answering it properly.  I'm never asked "what kind of speakers should I buy?" As far as I'm concerned, this is more important than anything else!

 It's fairly easy to put amps into the Basic Food Groups: Fender, Marshall, Vox, solid state. What's harder to do, with less experience, is to understand how different models of speakers affect that selection.   

 Those amps have certain characteristics that one can learn to hear, and guitarists in general tend to be aware of these characteristics.  Speakers are a different story.

 If a guitar player has spent their life as a person that has always used combo amps, they're accustomed to hearing "the amp" as a whole as including  whatever speaker came with the cabinet.  This would tend to be, going out on a limb, more Fender amp players because of the fact that it's fairly rare to encounter a Fender amp as a separate head.  Even when that happens, the player is typically going to have it plugged into the accompanying cabinet the amp came with.

 Marshall players are typically not combo users.  As such there is always the question of what speakers is in one's cabinet, what does it sound like plugged into a buddy's cabinet, the oddball 1x12 with the speaker-in jack, the 2x12 that fits in the car instead of the 4x12, or maybe even what does the bass player's SVT 8x10 cabinet sound like with the Marshall going into it?

 So one tends to hear hard rock/metal players talk about speakers fairly often.  At some point all experienced players start evaluating their speaker preferences, including the Vox aficionado.  I'm writing this to suggest that the reader - if you don't already know what speakers you like, their different characteristics - should educate yourself on the subject before you spend $$$$$ on gear that you are not evaluating properly.   You may buy your Holy Grail favorite amp, only to discard it for something else because you're hearing it through the wrong speaker!

 I'm not going to get into detail about the differences; you can Google that, and there are ample videos where you can HEAR the difference.  Having said that, one should look up one's favorite players and note what speaker they prefer, and use that as a starting point. 

 Effectively speaking you need to learn about the following.  Note that a speaker magnet makes a big difference - alnico versus ceramic versus neodymium, and their relative size.  The cone and dustcap design matters as well.

Celestion (brand)

 "Greenback" style
"Vintage" series
Alnico Blue and Silver
"Generic" Celestions (65,75, 80 watt, etc.)


C12 series
P series (alnico)

EV (ElectroVoice)

EVM series


E and D 120 series

 Note that the company Eminence makes effective clones of all of the above, as do a few other  brands.  You still want to think in terms of the above, though.

 So first, note what your favorite players use (Google!).  Then, rummage on YouTube across the bazillion demos and comparisons of the above speakers.  Try to see if you can think of some common characteristics you hear: dark (less treble), bright, bass-heavy, thin.  Do you hear the pick attack more with one speaker or the other?  Does one sound more percussive?  Does one sound "clearer", or "muddier"?

 Not only should you know this before going out and buying amp after amp and hoping something magically works out, it also increases your listening experience to music: you're educating your sonic sensibilities to these differences.  I can point out these things in a lesson, but unfortunately not "here" in writing.  If you're motivated enough, this is one thing you can learn off of YouTube somewhat.  It's not to say that playing through these speakers isn't it's own thing, because it is - as well as playing through these speakers at actual volume!
 But you'll be much closer and have a better idea of what you like and don't like.  It might save you $$$$$ as well...





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.