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BARITONE GUITAR: What It Is & Why You Need One

One of the best selling models from Eastwood Guitars is the Sidejack Baritone. More recently they have also introduced the Airline MAP Baritone. Why are they so popular? First, let’s take a look at what a Baritone guitar is.

Baritone guitar

Simply put, they are exactly the same as any standard electric guitar but with a lower voice. A standard guitars tuning (from lowest string to highest) is E A D G B E. Baritone guitars are usually tuned a fifth lower (A D G C E A), or a fourth lower (B E A D F♯ B). Therefore, all the chord patterns you already know are exactly the same on a baritone, but simply produce a lower voice.

Why use a baritone when I can tune my standard guitar lower?

“So why not just take my trusty Fender and tune it lower?” you might ask. If you did, you’ll find the strings to be too “floppy” and not enough tension to produce a useable sound. The solution? Make the neck longer and use heavier strings. More precisely, make the “scale length” longer and use heavier strings. What is the scale length?

Airline Baritone Guitar & Eastwood Baritone GuitarAirline Baritone Guitar & Eastwood Baritone Guitar

The scale length is the precise length of the suspended string, the length between the nut and the bridge. Generally speaking, most Gibson style guitars have a 24 ¾” scale and most Fender style guitars have a 25 1/2” scale. String sets of 10-46 gauge are typical for these guitars tuned E-E. On the other end, tuned a full octave below the standard guitar at E-E, a Fender Bass has a scale length of 34” and strings in the 45-100 range. Eastwood produces a number of “short scale” bass models, with a 30 ½” and 32” scale, also with the 45-100 string sets.

Most Baritone guitars fit in the middle and have a scale length ranging from 27” to 28”. Eastwood’s Sidejack Baritone has a 27” scale and uses D’addario Baritone Light strings, 13-62, tuned B-B.

 

Tension Chart

        Diameter     Tension  
Item # Note Inches mm lbs kg  
PL013 B 0.0130 0.3300 20.940 9.500  
PL017 F# 0.0170 0.4300 20.100 9.120  
NW026 D 0.0260 0.6604 25.020 11.350  
NW036 A 0.0360 0.9144 25.920 11.760  
NW046 E 0.0460 1.1684 23.020 10.440  
NW062 B 0.0620 1.5748 23.780 10.780  

Why is a baritone guitar useful and why should I buy one?

OK, with all that technical stuff out of the way, the next question, “why is a baritone useful and why should I buy one?” The real advantage is that ANY guitar player can pick one up and be an expert baritone player immediately as the tuning is identical to their standard guitar, just lower. So every chord pattern you play is identical on the baritone. For example, when you play an open E chord on your guitar, you’ll do exactly the same on your Eastwood baritone, but it will be an open B. Get it? So you can play any song or riff you already know, right out of the box, but you’ll notice a darker, more haunting texture in your tone.

Coming Soon: Classic 6 Baritone semi-acoustic

New Eastwood Custom Shop Classic 6 Baritone

New Eastwood Custom Shop Classic 6 Baritone

Truth be told, baritone guitars are still a little bit of a niche, though not as much as it used to be, and we’ve notice a steady increase in the number of users over the years. But still, you won’t find many semi-acoustic models available out there, which makes this recent Eastwood Custom Shop very appealing: Imagine a George Harrison Country Gent-style guitar… but with longer scale for a slightly darker tone! Sounds amazing… at the moment, the Eastwood Customs Classic 6 Baritone is a crowdfunding project, and those interested need only leave a small deposit to guarantee theirs and make sure the guitar gets made. 

Classic 6 baritone

A brief history of… Baritone guitars

Next, let’s take a look at the history behind the baritone. Danelectro was the first to introduce the electric baritone guitar in the late 1950s where it soon appeared in a lot of 60’s surf music as well as background music for many movie soundtracks, especially spaghetti westerns. These days you’ll hear baritone in all types of music from folk to rock to heavy metal. The voice of the baritone is low enough to stand out in the mix next to a standard guitar and is high enough to cut through well above the bass.

The Evens

Ian McKeye and his baritone guitar, live with The Evens

Brian Wilson used baritones often in his arrangements with the Beach Boys. Glen Campbell used them in great songs like Wichita Lineman.  Ian Mackaye from Minor Threat uses a Sidejack baritone with his band The Evens. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny uses baritones in his arsenal of guitars. Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters also uses a Sidejack Baritone. Colin Newman of Wire (who came up with the idea) uses the Airline MAP Baritone. The great Richard Hawley (can you tell I’m a big fan?) uses a Sidejack Baritone on his recordings, many of which were inspired by one of the earliest adopters of the baritone, the fabulous Duane Eddy.

If you have a studio, you really NEED a baritone electric. You won’t have to invest any time in learning to play it and you will quickly discover many useful applications. Eastwood produces a few variations and price points to suit every need. The Sidejack Standard and Deluxe baritones are under $500, great bang for the buck. The new Airline MAP and MAP DLX are killer baritones and come in under $900.

shop for baritone guitars

OK… How does a baritone guitar sound?

Here is a great example, where RJ Ronquillo rearranges Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus using the new Airline MAP DLX Baritone. The result is a deep, dark, beautifully haunting and more tearful composition than the original – “stripped” down to just a Baritone, without the need for gratuitous nudity.

 

Check out RJ here again, riffing along with his Sidejack Baritone giving “Hey Joe” a darker bluesy vibe, then showing the versatility of a baritone in surf and western styles.

Here is Lance Keltner taking a Sidejack Baritone for a spin with his band. Note the clarity when played along with a Stormbird Bass.

The baritone is also very useful when paired with a wide variety of effects:

..and with a little dirt too to give you that garage rock sound.

..and you can have hours of fun driving the baritone through GuitarRig 4:

So there you have it. Starting at just $429, it’s time to jump on the baritone bandwagon! Take home one of Eastwood’s family of baritone guitars and add some punch to your playing and recording endeavors. You’ll be glad you did.

update Oct 5/2014: here is a link to a recent Premier Guitar review of the Airline MAP Baritone:

http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/20377-eastwood-guitars-airline-map-baritone-review

Also just announced the MAP Baritone received the 2014 “Premier Gear Award”

tips-for-getting-reviewed

Tips for Getting Reviewed – Part III: When to Use a PR Firm

What Can a Public Relations Firm Offer Me?

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me at DrDaveBlogFeedback [at] gmail.com for all of your kind words about my articles on self-publicity. You raised so many good questions that I want to take this opportunity to talk about when you don’t want to do your own publicity. So:

When should you consider using a professional PR firm?

The short answer is when the advantages out-weigh the cost. So let’s consider what a good PR firm can do that you can’t.

Most importantly, a good PR firm will have a list of contacts that will be very difficult if not impossible for you to get. Many of these influential people will not accept unsolicited submissions unless they come from a trusted source. So your PR firm should be able to get your music into the hands – and ears – of the movers and shakers in your area of the music biz.

Related to this is a good firm’s ability to pre-screen music for their clients. In essence they rate your music compared to the field, and will only pass it on if it is considered good enough. While this can sometimes be exasperating for an artist, it helps cement the bond with the critics, reviewers, A&R folks, etc. who they deal with. The better this relationship is, the more weight their recommendation will carry.

So a good firm will provide extra sets of ears for your music. They will also give you extra sets of eyes for your other materials, punching up the text and maybe suggesting more effective photos to help you stand out from the crowd.

It may seem redundant to say that the business of a public relations firm is public relations, but at a certain stage in your career you will need someone with just this focus. I deal directly with the presidents of several small- and medium-size labels, and while our initial contacts have always been good there comes a time when other issues draw them away from artist promotion so that some of their artists, or some of their music, is not given the attention it needs. The example that comes to mind right away is follow-up. The PR firms that send me music always follow-up in a few weeks time to be sure that I have listened to the (usually) CD and to ask my opinion. Some will discuss the music and compare it to other artists to get a better idea of my taste and the tastes of my readers so that they can fine tune what they send me. Not surprisingly I review a greater percentage of their submissions because I like more of what they send. No, it’s not rocket science but patient, long-term work that eventually pays off for both the company and the artist.

Cross-promotions might be something that interests you. Some firms can arrange guest spots for artists on recordings or tours that can introduce your music to new fans in different genres. These don’t just work at superstar levels, and they can be a real career boost to both artists as well as a lot of fun. So you need to know who the firm represents and whether these possibilities exist. It also pays to keep your eyes and ears open for these types of opportunity as you meet other musicians at your gigs, or theirs.

Finally, a firm can help with bookings. Some firms double as booking agents and will send CD’s out in advance of a tour. Others work with booking agents (or the artists themselves if they book their own gigs), pointing out areas where their music has been well-received and in demand. They might be able to supply a good opening act that will bring in the local crowd as well as complementing your own music. And even though it is painful to consider, a good firm can even suggest postponing a tour that is potentially disastrous due to lack of interest in the music. Even small local tours can be costly and I know of several good groups that have broken up over these financial fiascos.

So the bottom line is common sense. If self-promotion is getting you the results you want, save your money. If you feel that you have tapped your current market completely and are ready to move to the next level, consider some professional representation, but find a service that is within your budget. A good first move is a trial deal for your new CD. If your sales improve and new markets open up you may want to move into a longer-term relationship. Even if sales stall, if you find that you get valuable feedback on your music or marketing efforts, you probably want to try again with your next CD having learned from experience.

In any case, don’t be afraid to ask the important questions when approaching a PR firm. What contacts do they have in your particular field? What strategy do they have to get you to the level you want to attain? Who have they represented and what have they done for them? Get references. Get their opinions. Get prices. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But it’s work that will pay off in the long run, and free up your time to concentrate on your music.

Post by Dr. Dave

Tips for Getting Reviewed – Part II: Your Publicity Package

Thank you to all of you who wrote to me at DrDaveBlogFeedback@gmail.com. I am glad to hear that so many of you found my tips on getting reviewed helpful. Since so many people asked about what to include with a submission I thought I would answer you all here.

The good news is that you don’t need a professional publicist to get your music out into the world in a pro format. In fact, some of the best material I’ve received over the years has come from individuals, while some of the worst has no doubt cost the artists a fair amount of cash. Here’s what you need to know:

CD or Download?

Most reviewers want a CD. This is a more expensive option than having them download your music, but many reviewers and critics will refuse to download. Some people are still technologically challenged, while others are so busy that they feel they don’t have time to download. I’ll often give an album a first listen in the car, and for those albums I download I’ll maybe have to convert to MP3 and put them into iTunes and on to my iPod, so if I’m pressed for time I’m most likely to just grab a CD from the pile and listen to it. But there is a big exception, for me at least: if an artist sends me a link to one song that they feel is representative, I’ll usually listen to it as soon as I can, and if I like it I’ll download the album. But that’s me, and others tell me they won’t do that – they need a CD.

Data Sheet

Most CD’s are accompanied by a single sheet. Laser printing is fine, but use colour if you can. The title should be the name of the CD and the artist. The label, recording studio, producer, etc. can all be mentioned later, but you want the title and your name (or your band’s name) to be the focus and stick in the reviewer’s mind. Finally, display your web site’s URL prominently.

The trick with the data sheet is to give enough information to hook the reader, but still keep them wondering “Who is this artist? How can I find out more?” You want to give an idea of the musical style, the makeup of the group or style of soloist, if the music is original or covers or a mix, and maybe a little about where you are coming from musically.

Try to find a starting sentence that will grab the attention of someone who will like what you’ve done. Remember that you can’t please everybody, so try to hook the reviewer or critic who is going to be favorably inclined.

Talk a little about the music but don’t explain each song. Give a capsule overview of the music and what you were trying to achieve.

Give a one or two (at most) paragraph musical biography of yourself. It should tell something about what made you the artist that you are at this point, and how it led to the music on the album.

No Glossy Photos Please

At least once a month I’ll get a glossy photo of an artist with a CD, and it always saddens me to think of the pointless expense. These are very rarely used, and it is much better to include a number of digital shots in your online Press Kit.

Online Press Kit

It is expensive enough to send out a CD and single data sheet without sending an entire press kit to every potential reviewer. Set up a “Press” section on your web site, and include the basic components of a press kit there. Have shots of album covers in different sizes and resolutions, artist photos, gig shots if you have them, and any other graphic PR material that might interest a fan or other reader. This is the place to include previous reviews, testimonials, and fan comments, as well as tour schedules and upcoming events. A full biography of every member of the group and other info such as gear endorsements should be here as well. Think of this as the one stop a reviewer or critic will make and give them as much information as they could possibly want, clearly labelled.

The “Don’ts”

OK, so here are the things that you should not do.

DON’T exaggerate claims wildly. Saying that everyone will love your music will only determine some critics to contradict you, often very unkindly.

DON’T give your life story. Give the musical essentials and let the reviewer check your web site for more, if they want it.

DON’T cite testimonials unless they are from major sources. Even the most glowing quote is meaningless if the source is unknown (let’s hope you have at least one friend who likes what you do!).

DON’T include your CV. One page is enough, and some won’t even read that.

DON’T cite your parents as your “greatest fans.” Do I have to tell you why? Don’t laugh though. I’ve had two of these in the past month.

DON’T think that “formal” language will sound impressive. Let the reader know who you are by speaking naturally. Use good grammar and spelling but your own words. “I thought to myself I’m gonna make the best damn album I could!” is better than “I took upon myself the consideration that I should produce a product the most praiseworthy that one in my situation might conceivably produce, given of course the constraints.”

DON’T be afraid to follow up. Give the reviewer a few weeks to receive the CD and to listen to it. Remember that most of us get one or more a day, and often this is not our main job, so it might take a while to get around to your work. Remember to be polite; you don’t want an angry reviewer taking their first listen.

… and …

DON’T get angry and attack someone who decides not to review your work. I’ve occasionally listened to a rejected CD and decided that my initial impression was wrong and given it a good review. But I’m only human, and a really angry email back would probably make me want to just toss the CD in the trash. (Fortunately this has not happened to me, but I have heard from critics that it does happen.)

Press Release

I will talk about press releases because I still get them from some press agents and publicists, as well as some artists who seem to have taken business courses or seminars. Except for the major media, these are largely unnecessary. A good data sheet is all most people really need. So unless you think your CD may sell more than 100,000 copies this might be a waste of time.

Even when I write for a magazine, I have to smile at the start of almost every press release: “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!” Realize that most magazines have a lead time of 3 or more months and you will see what I mean. A major artist may stoke interest by pre-announcing an upcoming album, but few reviewers or critics will write much until they hear the music. And those who will are usually well aware of what is in the pipeline well before a press release arrives.

If you do decide you need to send out a press release for whatever reason, even to the local newspaper, follow some simple guidelines. Use the “For immediate release” as the starter. Remember to indicate the date and city of origin. Order your paragraphs in decreasing order of interest, remembering that most small papers will start at the top and cut when they get to their maximum word count. Give the essentials of the album, and then of the artist. Then details of the recording and artist. Think “If they only publish up to here, will they know what they need to know?”

In this case you DO want to fill at least a full page in case they decide to publish the whole thing. Who knows? Maybe you will hit a slow news day, or maybe they are looking for a local music story, or maybe someone there saw you last week and liked what you played. But try to make it all interesting to a potential new fan.

Finally, be sure to include all contact information. This means web sites for the music as well as the artist (if they are different) so that fans can learn more and buy the music. Include also contact information for the media outlet in case they want clarification or maybe even an interview.

Write the release with the expectation that the music will be a big success and the media will publish the entire thing, but for your own sanity be realistic. Be confident but not over-bearing. It’s the killer combination.

Written by “Dr. Dave” Walker
blog.davewalkermusic.com

Dr. Dave Walker is a writer for blog.davewalkermusic.com and for Just Jazz Guitar. A former computer science professor, he has since come to his senses and now teaches music.

tips-for-getting-reviewed

7 Tips for Getting Reviewed

Spring seems an appropriate time to clear out the music shelves, so I started sorting the CD’s I received for review over the past 8 months into two piles: Reviewed and Not. I was a little surprised to see that about 400 were Not, and nearly 100 were Reviewed. I should mention that I call myself a reviewer instead of a critic because I will not pan somebody’s work in print. It’s hard enough to get a career going without bad press, and not everybody shares my opinions, so I just don’t review those I don’t really like. I will, on occasion, send a critique to a player whose work has real promise even if I don’t review it. So in that spirit I would like to offer up some tips that have come to me from decades of reviewing as well as talking to other reviewers and critics about their methods.

  1. WRITE MELODIES.
    I can’t tell you how many guitarists think that blazing speed or awesome technique will impress listeners. They don’t. Most people listen to music, and the heart of music is good melody. Why have songs like Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair lasted for centuries? Why do Hey Jude and Stairway to Heaven remain so popular?
  2. EXPAND YOUR CHORD VOCABULARY.
    Three-chord songs have been done to death, and unless you have a really exceptional melody (see tip #1) you should give the melody as much emotional depth as possible by supporting it with rich harmony. A little harmonic surprise now and then will keep the listener interested. Make us wonder “What will happen next?”
  3. BALANCE REPETITION AND CONTRAST.
    The two basics of music are repeating things enough so that they sound familiar, and contrast to keep the repeated stuff from becoming boring. Constantly repeating a small phrase, even on different scale steps, is enough to drive most listeners crazy. Too much new material without any repetition just sounds disorganized and pointless. This applies to melodies as well as chord progressions.
  4. PLAY MUSICALLY.
    Too many good albums are ruined by robotic playing. Learn to accept a take that may have a flaw or two but really gets the feeling across. Don’t aim for that perfect take that has the soul played out of it from doing hundreds of earlier takes. Often you are the only one that can hear the “imperfection” anyway, but most listeners will hear the lack of spontaneity. If you just can’t get it right, take a break or do a different song and come back to it fresh.
  5. DEVELOP YOUR OWN SOUND.
    Don’t fall into the trap of buying your idol’s gear setup and trying to get their sound. They’ve already done that and the audience knows it. An original sound stands out from the mass of wannabes and will always get serious consideration. This doesn’t take a rack of expensive gear. Use your ears and the equipment you’ve got and see what sounds you can get that you really like. You may be very pleasantly surprised. If you want a new pedal, try one that not everybody uses.
  6. LISTEN TO AS MUCH MUSIC AS YOU CAN.
    See what others have done that you like. Listen to stuff you don’t like and try to figure out what makes it popular. Listen to classic songs that keep getting re-played and covered, and try to figure out what is so special about them, keeping in mind all of the previous tips. It is very important to know what has already been done, to keep you from “re-inventing the wheel” or inadvertent plagiarism.
  7. IMPROVE A SONG.
    I’ve saved the best tip for last because you need to keep all of the previous ones in mind for this one. Pick a song that you think is good, but could be better. Then come up with your own version that you think is better. Keep the good parts and improve the weak parts. Let your imagination go with this one! After a couple of these you will be able to listen more critically to your own songs, and improve them in the same ways. Learn to hear like a listener, instead of the songwriter!

Written by “Dr. Dave” Walker
blog.davewalkermusic.com

Dr. Dave Walker is a writer for blog.davewalkermusic.com and for Just Jazz Guitar. A former computer science professor, he has since come to his senses and now teaches music.

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: eBay Myths & Misinformation

Myths and misinformation (Mythinformation?) abound in the vintage guitar and amp world. Want to start a fight on line? Go to some gear forum and say, “This, without a doubt, is the amp Jimmy Page played on the first two Zep albums.” The amp you use for this example could be a small single 6V6 Supro, a Supro Thunderbolt, a Fender Champ, or any number of others. No matter what, you are guaranteed to get a bunch of folks agreeing with you, and another bunch so angry they start banging their shoes on their desks al-la Krustef while hacking frustrated spittle onto their screen while they post about what an idiot you are.

I recently saw a later model (Blue faced) Supro Corsica going on eBay and the seller claimed THIS was the Jimmy Page amp…he was positive…everyone had it wrong…if you wanted THE TONE this was the Page amp. It, naturally, got the “question/comments” section crackling with replies (including, yes, I admit it, one of mine…I just can’t help myself sometimes) asking where this guy got his information, how did he know, and so on. He also claimed the Bluefaced Supros were EXACTLY the same (minus cosmetics) as the earlier Gray Tolex-ed models, which just isn’t true (I’m hardly a Supro expert, but just easy simple research will show you they often changed the guts over the years).

The upshot? The amp, which looked to be in so-so condition, sold for $450 amidst a series of increasingly angry and defensive responses from the seller about what idiots the people who were writing him were….Along the way, there were wonderful stories and theories about Page’s amp (it was destroyed in a fire, yet somehow is at the R&R Hall of fame…some have seen photos that prove it’s a Thunderbolt; some that prove it’s not…I half expected someone to say they had a photo where the grill cloth had the outline of the Virgin Mary head-banging in it or something).

And Thunderbolts (the most common, and probably correctly, Page-associated model) these days are drawing anywhere from $800 to $1,200.

And you know what? Page or no Page, cheap (ten years ago) or not cheap (today), they’re TOTALLY worth it. They’re very well put together (if not as easy to service as a Fender – but then, what, except for a Fender Clone, is?), have plenty of volume for a gig, take pedals well, and sound awesome without a pedal at all. It doesn’t really matter what Page played on those albums (or if and when Hendrix used a Supro), because IF YOU use a Thunderbolt, you will sound REALLY GOOD. And isn’t that the point of all this tone chasing us sick, diseased, deranged gear-addicted people do?

And, despite the enormous (and goody for all of us, I say) amount of boutique amps companies, there really aren’t many Valco-ish boutique amps out there. In the early 90’s, everyone seemed to be building a Fender Tweed copy (with variations, of course). Then, it was Fender Blackfaces. Then, the current 18-watt craze.

1960s Harmony 525B Bass Guitar Amp

1960s Harmony 525B Bass Guitar Amp

And it makes some sense. With Tweed Fenders going in the 3-5 Grand range, why not pick up a point-to-point (or hand stuffed circuit-board) copy of one of those great amps for two thousand? But no one could build and market a Supro Thunderbolt clone, with high grade parts, for any less than the $1,000 you’d pay for an original with a cap job and a tune up. So, while their price has gone up (lots) in recent years, they are still something of a vintage bargain, and they’re awesome amp.

But what if you can’t scrounge up $800-1000 for that tone, let alone a couple thousand? Enter the Harmony 420 and the Harmony 525 bass amps (made by Valco in the, respectively, mid and late 60’s). It’s much like a Supro Thunderbolt, with some minor differences, on a budget. On a super budget. They can be found, with some regularity, in the $200 range. Wow! Well-built 60’s tube tone for that kind of price?

The 420 (in the black paper covering with the silver grill cloth) and the 525 (racing stripe!) are the same amp on the inside. They run a ½ of a 12AX7 for the preamp (leaving ½ unused for you gain-adders and modifiers), another 12AX7 as the phase inverter, and two 6L6’s for the output (all the same as the Thunderbolt). The speaker is a 15″ ceramic Jensen (ditto- same as the Thunderbolt).

Where they differ from their Page-ian (Page-esque? Page-larian?)brethren? A solid state rectifier and a different tone control (the Harmonys have separate 500k Bass and Tremble controls, while the Supro has a single tone pot) that makes it a little more constipated sounding than the Bolt (this can be addressed).

I snagged the one in the photo (posed with a beat up, amazing Harmony H-72) for 100 bucks from some clown who refused to ship it. Local pickup is always nice…especially when it’s all they offer and you are the local one! Turned out it was a pawn shop about fifteen miles away. This was a great deal – the speaker needs a recone, or I’ll probably buy a Weber Alnico for it, as I’ll gig with it and tend to get new speakers for that. Some minor (very minor) modifications to the preamp for more gain, new filter caps, and this thing is a sustaining singing overdrive blues/rock amp.

Even if you have no interest in picking up a soldering iron, you can buy these for around two hundred bucks and invest very little at your tech’s and get a vintage Valco-made amp with boutique tone for under $400. You can’t beat that.

If you can afford it, though, get the Thunderbolt, too. That tube rectifier sings. And, you know, it was on every single song Jimmy Page ever cut. EVER! He never ever ever ever recorded without his Supro! And, just so you know (and capture THAT tone), he always put it 18 inches to his left and 17 inches behind him, wore a paisley shirt whenever he played it and never ate hamburger the day of the recording.

And before that, Arthur pulled a sword out of this most legendary of amps and became king of England……and after that, the Supro Thunderbolt discovered America while looking for spice routes to Asia…and after that it wrote the Canterbury Tales. Or maybe I’m thinking of Communication Breakdown?

Bio: Rob Roberge is the author of Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life (due Oct 10th), the novels More Than They Could Chew (Perennial Dark Alley/Harper Collins, February 2005) and Drive (Hollyridge Press, 2006). He teaches writing at the Antioch University Los Angeles, MFA in Creative Writing and the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003. He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including the legendary Punk pioneers, The Urinals. In his spare time, he restores and rebuilds vintage amplifiers and quack medical devices. For news and more info, visit & or email at either www.myspace.com/robroberge or www.robroberge.com

Rhythm & Lead Guitar

I did my monthly gig in Sydney on the weekend with The Train. A long way to go for one gig, but I do it anyway. I leave home at 3 pm, drive an hour to the airport, wait for the flight, fly for an hour and a half, drive to the gig and set up, play til 1:30 am, get to my friend’s place by 3 am to crash til 8 am, wake up, shower, and taxi to the airport for the 9:30 am flight back to the Gold Coast, and drive an hour to get home by noon. Why do I do it? Because I love playing those two sets. It sure ain’t for the money. By the time all the expenses are paid, it works out to about $13 an hour!

One thing I discovered though: The new soft case I bought for my Strat fits into the overhead locker of the 767 so I don’t have check it in as baggage. I’ve always hated to see my old Fender disappear down the conveyor belt. You’re never quite sure that you’ll ever see it again. Now, I don’t have to part with it. I did however get asked the question.

Why is it that so many people think that there are two kinds of guitar player — rhythm and lead? I’ve been asked the question a million times in my playing career, mostly by beginners and non players. “What do you play? Rhythm or lead?” like they were two different instruments. I like to say I play music.

If you want to call yourself a guitarist, you must of course be able to do both, and for me the distinction between the two becomes more and more blurred as the years go by. A simple muted single note melodic line can become a great rhythm part conversely, a sequence of chords can easily be heard as the ‘lead’ part if approached with that in mind. Both are music.

The song should dictate what’s required. Obviously, when the singer is singing, the spotlight should be on him or her. To be riffing away would be distracting if not downright rude. This is when you should be thinking ‘rhythm’. This is when you should be listening to the singer, the lyrics, and asking yourself “What’s the least I can do here to help give the singer and the song their best shot”, and by least I mean “minimum amount of playing”. You will never go wrong thinking small, especially if you play with others in a band. This is very difficult to do, by the way, as some of you may already know. It’s much easier to play a continuous, mechanical strumming part than to break it up into little pieces and throw three quarters of them away. The first first technique is robot-like, the latter requires thought, consideration and taste.

As for ‘lead guitar’, even after thirty nine years now of playing guitar, I still don’t really know what it is, but I think it has a lot to do with what George used to do with The Beatles: playing the intro themes, filling the gaps between the vocals with riffs, either improvised or written into the song, and of course, taking the solos, again, either improvised or set in concrete. I must say though, that after all these years of playing and hanging out with players, I’ve never met a ‘lead guitarist’, a guy who just plays themes, riffs and solos. Before you can do that, you must first know about chords (rhythm) so that you know where to find your riffs, licks and solos. They are born from chords.

Again, when playing ‘lead’, less is best, and again, much harder to do. Running mechanically up and down scales at breakneck speed is not really making music. Killer melodies come from the heart, not the fingers, not the scale, as I’ve stressed over and over in these columns.

I used to see music as a building process — adding this element to that, collecting riffs and licks, connecting bits of information. Now that I know, I see playing music as a process of subtraction. I ask myself questions like: How few notes can I use out of all the possibilities to covey what I want? What’s the smallest way of stating (for example) Am7, and how big can the holes be between plucks or strums without losing the feel of the song. The challenge of deciding what NOT to play is much greater than collecting all the bits and pieces in the first place. As I’ve mentioned before, this is where taste comes in.

That’s it for now. Gotta go do some pickin’.


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Guitar Player

I finally joined the late 20th century and bought a decent computer. I’ve been working on an Apple Mac LC-475 for 6 or 7 years. Tiny little thing. I was just about to switch over to a PC when I had a good look at the iMac brochure. After due consideration, weighing up all the pros and cons, comparing the two technologies, I decided that having a green computer was the only way to go. Green, to match the philodendrum that sits next to my desk. Seriously though, I’ve always admired the wonderful logic of Macs, and I found a shop here in Brisbane that were doing a good deal on them. What a computer! I took it out of the box, plugged it in, turned it on and there it all was. Ready to go.”Blinding speed”, the ad says, and blinding it is. Comes with the latest Netscape, Explorer, Adobe PageMill etc. etc. etc. The first thing I did was revamp my site. What luxury to have five or six applications open at once, to zoom between them at light speed. It sure makes this Internet thing easier.

I felt the same thing years ago about guitars. I had been playing for Four or five years. I can’t remember the brand of instrument I was playing. It was a nylon string Spanish guitar, the rosette around the sound hole was a decal, it was a piece of crap. My playing had hit a plateau, and my plan to master the instrument was looking shaky. I just couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, and I thought it was something to do with me.

Then I went to a music shop and played a good guitar. It’s still with me, leaning over there against the wall. A nylon string Goya, made in Sweden, a real guitar. Within minutes of buying it my playing ability had doubled, no, tripled. I had been wasting my time on the other thing, limiting myself to it’s mediocre workmanship.

If you’re one of those players — frustrated in your playing by an inferior instrument — do something about it. Either get it fixed up (if that’s possible — some cheap guitars are so poorly made that they can’t be adjusted) or save your money and buy something decent. You won’t regret it.

And how to find the perfect instrument? I’m asked that question all the time. “What kind of guitar should I buy Kirk? What’s a good brand?” My answer is always this: There is no such thing as a good brand. Sure, Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, Gretch etc. are all ‘good’ brands. They meet a certain standard. But there are some great guitars out there of unknown brand, and even out of a hundred seemingly identical ‘good brand’ guitars, there will only be 10 or so which will really be outstanding and only a couple greats. The rest will be good guitars, but I’m talking about upgrading to an instrument YOU LOVE to play.

You’ll know it when it happens. My favorite guitar is still my little Gibson nylon string I bought maybe fifteen years ago. I was in a shop and was intrigued because I didn’t even know Gibson made nylon strings. I picked it up to try it out and was still there plunking away a couple of hours later when the shop was closing. They couldn’t pry it out of my hands so I bought it. I had to have it. It was made for me.

I digress. I titled this article ’10 Golden Rules I just made up’. Here they are:

  1. Get tuned up and stay that way. There’s no excuse these days for being out of tune. You can pick up an electronic tuner for just a few bucks these days. If your guitar doesn’t stay in tune, or is out when you play up the neck, chances are you need new strings. If it’s out of tune with new strings, have the intonation adjusted.
  2. Listen.
  3. Pay as much attention to what you don’t play as to what you do. In other words, let the music breathe, let it be an exercise in contrast. The holes you leave make what you do play sound better. Even if you don’t hear it at the time, your audience will. The great players we know and love wouldn’t be household names if they over-played. They’d be sitting at home wondering why the big break hadn’t arrived for them.
  4. Listen.
  5. Avoid alcohol when playing. It makes you sound bad and look stupid. A few years ago, my band, The Train, was playing in Sydney at a venue where a certain ex-Rolling Stone, had been playing the night before The manager asked if it was alright if he got up with us and had a play. We were thrilled of course. “Yes, by all means”. Unfortunately, he was pissed as a fart, couldn’t play a thing, kept stepping on MY effects pedal, was abusive and I had to ask him to desist. Alcohol. (Mick, if you get to read this, it was at The Bridge in about 1995. I know you won’t remember. I hope you’re feeling better)
  6. Know what you’re playing. Never play anything without knowing its context, how it fits into the tune. By that I mean: know what key you’re in; know what chord is being played (the chord of the moment) and its role within that key; know which notes you’re playing in the context of that chord (is it a I, II, III, flat V, VII) etc. This becomes automatic after a while. It’s hard work at first, but stick at it until it does become automatic. Playing away without knowing what it is you’re doing will get you nowhere fast.
  7. Listen.
  8. Play within your own limitations. We’re all made differently. Some of us have long quick fingers, some of us are getting old and stiff. There is nothing worse than listening to someone trying to play beyond their capability. Much better to make beautiful music with one or two notes than to go for twenty and muff them all. Lucky for all of us. playing guitar was never a contest.
  9. Let the song rule. Guitarists often think they are indispensable. So do drummers and bass players and keyboardists… I won’t even mention singers. The fact is, the piece of music is boss. Let it be so.
  10. Listen.

There. I’m sure many of you have different ideas about the discipline of being a guitarist. These are mine.

Have a look at the new-look PlaneTalk site. All of a sudden, I can do anything I want design-wise. I have so many options, the difficulty has become settling on one. In all the hours I spent changing my pages, this iMac didn’t freeze once. I love it. Don’t forget, if you still haven’t ordered PlaneTalk, the ‘trick’ to keeping track of all music is written in and illustrated in it’s pages. The Guitar Slide Rule that comes with it is so revealing that even I, its inventor, marvel at it. All for the cost of a couple of lessons! And now, you can order it through a secure online shop. How much easier could it be?

Those who have ordered it (thanks) won’t even be reading this. They’ll be playing the guitar. You can read some of their comments on it at the Testimonials page at my site.

Until next time.

– Kirk Lorange (written in 1998)


Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com