Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - September 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Influences Out of the Blue?

 I discovered something curious last year.  As a dilettante drummer I've taught myself many of my favorite drummers parts at different times in my life for my own edification.  I want to know how things work, and the process of learning always has knock-on effects in other fields, in ways that are never predictable.

 I remember after going through my nascent period of learning guitar, going through the wringer of all sorts of complicated guitar challenges, I one day put on a Pink Floyd record for the first time while holding a guitar, and discovering yes, I knew how to play just about everything spontaneously.  I had been listening to Pink Floyd most of my life to that point, and it was no surprise that I could play all the parts almost instantly and of course intuitively knew them. 

  When I'm listening to music I'm not trying to focus on any instrument per se.  But kinesthetically I have muscle memory for my limbs to play drums.  The drum beat corresponds to the limbs that would be used to play the drum beat.

 Guitar parts, yes, I know how to play whatever it is I'm hearing.  Drums I can't naturally reproduce on a super technical level, hence the learning bit mentioned above.  If I hear something that I'm not sure about how it's reproduced sticking and feet-wise on drums, I might be compelled to break it down and figure that out.  I might not be able to execute it at full speed, but that's not the point: I want to know how it works.

 I was/am also a super big ELO fan.  I realized last year that I already know all of Bev Bevan's drum parts from their record _Out of the Blue_.  I could probably scratch by in an ELO tribute band if given a week or so practice.  I know all of the fills and breaks, accents.  It's imprinted. 

 I've written about "mainlining" music before.  I love the _Out of the Blue_ record, I think it's perfect.  I've listened to it over and over for weeks when I was a little kid; I subconsciously absorbed the drum parts even before I could technically play drums. 

 It dawned on me not only did I know all of Bev Bevan's fills, but that my preferences drumming wise are very influenced by him.  He has a fairly pervasive 16th note swing, and a spartant post-Bonham, post-Ringo drum fill style.  This rhythmic sense translates to guitar: it's my right hand.  My rhythmic influences that affect how I play guitar are not just guitar players - but drummers as well.

 So two takeaways:

1) You can be influenced by things outside of guitar, whether you know it or not.

2) "Mainlining" your favorite music is educational.  It's necessary as far as I'm concerned: listening to the same song 10 times in row allows you to listen into it with much more awareness of detail than you'll ever have hearing it once one day, then maybe a week later, a month after that.

If you've never really listened to anything intently before - it's not going to flow out later.  If you've only listened to one thing intently - that WILL flow out, and it will be limited and one dimensional.  People look to music theory to circumvent this, but the reality is that you are what you eat. 

So listen to your favorite music, over and over and over and over until you're not sure if you're tired of it.  Listen some more.  Come back to it.  You're empty otherwise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I'm Using Paradigm Strings (for now...)

  I think I'm settling into Paradigms as my new norm.

 The D'Addario NYXL's seem to last a fair length, may have their own pluses and minuses - but cost more.

 I'm making this post because I still have sets of  "normal" D'Addario XL to use, and put a set back on  my work guitar after the NYXLs gave up. 

 An interesting experience, what used to be the norm I'd forgotten about: I found myself back into the old routine of fiddling with the tuning as the intonation immediately starts drifting a few days later.  A week later I already know "yeah, going to have to retune to play in this register for this song", "yeah, touch up the B and E for this part", etc.. 

 Not to mention the feeling of oxidation I'd learned to discount, and the slight tension difference, the floppy-ness as the strings get "old". 

 So I'm on the Paradigm wagon for now. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Do You Have a Monotheistic Guitar Rig?

 "Hero worship" is a good thing for guitar playing.  It makes a person strive to achieve something that is already deemed remarkable.  In extreme sports, one might risk great personal injury to acquire Tony Hawk's skill set, or certainly Travis Pastrana.  Relatively little bloodshed is required to try to accomplish what one's favorite Guitar Hero does.

 Ironically, a lot of people do something funny compared to becoming an X-Games hero.  Buying the motorcycle Pastrana has isn't going to help much in becoming "Travis Pastrana, Wild Man of Extreme Sports".   Guitar gear on the other hand, is out there for everyone and can go far to at least fulfilling the sound side of the equation.

 Guitar players do one of 2 things: they either try to buy the most superlative examples of what Their Hero uses gear wise - the Most Accurate Vintage Strat SRV used, the Most Accurate 808 Tube Screamer, the Most Accurate this or that.

 For a lot of those people that is fun in itself, it's a collecting hobby.  Which is fine, but not practical.

 Other guys will buy one piece of the puzzle, and use a bunch of junk for the rest and muse about why it doesn't sound the same.  Well of course it doesn't sound the same, Hendrix used a Fuzz Face but he didn't use a humbucker, a hollow body guitar and a Mesa Boogie.

 The question, though: is your guitar rig "monotheistic"?  

  I can look at someone's guitar rig and tell you what genre of music they play, and probably who their favorite guitar player is.  Can I do that with your rig?


  I haven't seen anyone talk about this, but it's true.  Your pedal board shouts out what you honestly like.

 I know if you've an SRV devotee, that's the easy to spot.  The dual Tube Screamer set up?  You've been to Bonaroo a few times, haven't you?  Fuzz Face, wah pedal... we all know who that is.  Variaced Marshall with the script-logo Phase 90, Floyd Rose guitar?  3 delay pedals and a Vox amp?  Chandler Tube Driver, T.C. Chorus, "Echoplex" delay, maybe a clean/dirty switched amp setup?  Strat, Big Muff, reverb and delay?   I know who you like.

 I know this, because I've had everything basically at this point, and I've worked in music stores most of my life.  I definitely don't recommend that, by the way, but - I've seen what everyone buys and uses.

 I'm not monotheistic, luckily.  I don't have to try not to be.  I don't have a single main "guy": David Gilmour?  Hendrix?  Or Brian May, or Jeff Beck, or Allan Holdsworth?  Jimmy Page?  I've probably been as influenced by the record _Frampton Comes Alive_ as anything, or Jeff Lynne of ELO.  Some of my favorite guitar solos are by people that are not "guitar heroes", and actually people whose names I hardly know because they weren't the "marquee" people.  Which leads to the next blog, but not just yet...

 In the 70's, as mentioned in the previous blog, there wasn't the 21st century effort of "finding the best Stevie Ray Vaughn Tube Screamer".  It was merely "this is the distortion pedal/overdrive that I use".  There weren't as many choices, but the choices available tended to be more iconic (as they are now copied either verbatim, or with "more precision").  Angus Young used a Schaeffer-Vega wireless system and as it turns out, the preamp circuit in that was his sound.  He didn't decide to one day use that, it turned out to be serendipity (again).

 Probably the use of Marshalls being a common point is the closest thing Back in the Day to being a nod to "precision", trying to get Hendrix' sound.  Les Pauls for sustain.  But people were not buying $800 Tube Screamers, or $500 "vintage" humbuckers to get "that" Duane Allman sound.  It's not that they didn't care, it's that they were looking at their own personal forest and not the trees.

 People today are trying to make a forest, one tree at a time, instead of letting it grow wild.

 I'm leaning towards low-output PAF style humbuckers in the bridge because of my affection for Van Halen's percussive distorted sound, but probably also because of Jeff Lynne and Peter Frampton's sound.  "Vintage" single coils for the neck because of Hendrix and David Gilmour, but also Jeff Beck.  A Burns in the middle because of Brian May.  Strat bridge for the sound of the rolled saddles - but I wish a Floyd could have that.  Maple necks because the attack is more "poppy" and drastic, manipulatable.  The body is a chunk of wood, I don't mind a Strat but I prefer the Warmoth Soloist shape for comfort.

 I prefer a Fender Bassman-ish to Blackface Twin-ish amp.  Which is funny, because I've owned vintage plexis most of my life - and it seemed reflexively logical: Van Halen, Hendrix.  But what about my love of Gilmour and Jeff Beck?  Brian May?  I prefer a hybrid in reality, a Fender circuit path.

 Always had my faithful Marshall cabinets with Greenbacks.  I dallied with a compact Peavey 412 with Scorpions in it for awhile; and in reality, they sound a lot like Greenbacks.  I may even prefer them, but... at the moment I know I always was missing the snappy attack of Alnico speakers.  I've not tried the  Eric Johnson Eminence speaker that is effectively a Greenback with an alnico magnet, but I'm guessing that's probably my ticket. Kudos to Derek Trucks, who used to use a car stereo speaker made by Pyle, of all things!
 I'm using a hybrid "Landgraff" style distortion (when I use distortion) but mostly a custom Baxandall eq pedal for overdrive.  The only tube amp I have now is a VHT Princeton clone.  I consider my Boogie Formula pre on the blackface/clean channel mostly my "amp", and it's kinda like a Fender Deville/Bassman with Twin characteristics.

 Now and then I like a Univibe - which is both a Hendrix and Gilmour influence.

 I do not have a reverb pedal, although I kind of need one.  I have a DL4 delay, but use it mostly for looping at work.  If I had a regular gig I would simply use my cheapo laptop as my delay and reverb with VSTs that do that job 1,000x better than any pedal.  Any day now I'm expecting other guitar players to realize this and start using their laptops in their effects loop.

 I could identify the origins of these items from a 3rd person point of view, and it's obvious where the influences come from; but it's not just a single source.  I could get by with just about any basic tube amp probably, but these are the things I've figure out I like, and what comes out is what comes out.  Hopefully this makes for a good mean that isn't just frozen pizza pretending to be a multi-course dinner.

 If you ONLY, exclusively listen to just ONE single guitar player, all the time, forever - sure, I think it makes sense to just go ahead and copy their rig.  Otherwise, look to the 70's for inspiration: a polyglot is more interesting, right?